Wednesday, December 19, 2018

48 Hours in Napa

Trip date: Nov 2017

It was snowing in Seattle, so Gail and I were doubly happy to be heading to the Napa Valley to meet up with our friend Rachel who was visiting from Australia.

The only problem was that the snow delayed our Alaska Air flight and we had dinner reservations to make! Ultimately our flight was cancelled, but we were quick and booked the last two seats on a flight to Sacramento. We reserved a rental car and as soon as we landed, hit the road for the 2-hour drive to Calistoga. We'd done this drive before!

We were suppose to get in at 6pm, but we finally rolled up at 11:30pm. Rachel had been waiting in the bar as they told her they'd stay open as long as there were people there. Trooper as she had flown in from Sydney earlier! We were staying at the very lovely Solage Resort and retired to our cute bungalow after a couple of drinks.

The next morning the three of us set out on the small roads behind the Silverado Trail for a gorgeous walk! The vineyards were just starting to turn color, and the clouds were slowly lifting out of the valley. So pretty!!!
We headed back to the resort for a very good breakfast in the restaurant before heading out for the day. Since Rachel had a rental car already, we quickly dropped ours at the office in St. Helena, and headed to our first wine tasting of the day at Paradigm.
The last time I had been to this winery was in 2005, on my first trip to Napa for Rachel's wedding! So fun to be back, this time with her, and shopping for some bottles for her husband. Also the day could not have been more beautiful as we sat outside and tasted rosé, Cab Franc, and Cabs.

Next was Turnbull which had been recommended to us. The setting and the gardens were gorgeous and we had a great time here. I don't think any of us bought any wine however. And there were a lot of people!
We had spa appointments back at the resort so we just tasted at those two. In our bungalow we popped some champagne, donned our fluffy robes, and headed to the women's only clothing optional outdoor jacuzzi.
I had a fantastic massage, and then a nice hot soak in the pool. All of the spaces at the resort are really well kept. I loved staying here!

We called an Uber and headed to The Charter Oak for dinner that night. The space is typical for the area I think, very large and open, lots of faux-country antiques done in a hip style. I thought the food was very good but the girls were put off by our service which was a bit snooty.

The next morning was another gorgeous fall day! We headed out for a morning walk, no clouds at all this time, just beautiful blue skies!

We had another great breakfast in the dining room before packing and checking out. It was at this point we found that we had left the lights on the rental car. The day before! oops! We couldn't even get the trunk or the door to open!

The staff was super helpful, looking at YouTube to figure out where the manual key entry was and then jump starting us. When we stopped at Brian Arden for a tasting we had to leave the car running in the parking lot so it would fully charge!!!

This was another lovely spot, with stunning views and adirondack chairs set up on the lawn. The wine was good, especially the whites, but not a must-taste IMHO.

Our final tasting was by far my favorite. Friends had recommended Failla, which is by-appointment only, and in an adorable old house up in the hills. 
We tasted through the Chardonnays and the Pinot Noirs and I was so impressed! There was another man who was tasting with us and as he and I started discussing our cellars (wine geeks) the woman helping us brought us an extra taste from their library collection. Great service and exceptional wines, I left with a few! Highly recommend Failla!

It was time for lunch and we were all excited for Gott's in St. Helena, such a great tradition while in the area. We had a little BYOB with our lunch, not encouraged by Gott's!

California had been riddled with forest fires just weeks before we arrived, and my friends who own Lawer Estates vineyards, orchards, and vacation rentals in Calistoga had been affected as the Tubb's fire consumed most of their properties.

On the way to the airport we drove the Franz Valley School Road, where I had stayed with my wine group in January the year before. The log cabin we had all been cozy in was now reduced to nothing but ashes. It was an incredibly sad sight. The entire drive from the valley, over the hill, and into Santa Rosa, past so much destruction, the land just char, the air still smelling like fire, was surreal.

It definitely made me thankful for the time I have been lucky enough to spend with friends in this area, including the two girls I was wrapping up the trip with.
We had an easy flight back to Seattle, with our complimentary cases of checked wine (thanks Alaska Air!), and returned to snow!

All Napa photos here.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Seen in Chicago

Trip date: Oct 2017

Another friend with a work conference, another invitation to join for some afterwork/weekend fun. Yes, thank you!

A direct flight on Alaska Air from Seattle to Chicago got me into town just in time for dinner. I grabbed the train at O'Hare and for $5 was downtown in 45 minutes. From the station it was just a quick 5 minute walk to the Kimpton Monaco located in the Loop.

I met Lorraine at the hotel and we headed out for the night, first stop Maude's Liquor. I'd come here on my last trip and like it for a well made drink while in the West Loop. The bar is small and gets busy so we were standing for a bit until a couple of barstools became available.

Our main event of the evening was drinks and dinner at The Office, a 14-seat speakeasy underneath the Aviary. Unlike upstairs, the vibe here is old-school classic, many cocktails contain antique or hard to find spirits.

We sat at the bar and had a lovely meal and our bartender Alyssa served us excellent drinks. Both of us thought the dishes would be more the size of small snacks, but it was all quite substantial and delicious! The steak tartare, and the steamed mussels really stood out.
And the signature ice cream sundae dessert was very fun! Drinking booze and making sundaes, excellent adult entertainment!

And just to gild the lily on the evening, we walked over to the newly opened Blind Barber. Is it a barbershop? Is it a cocktail lounge? Depends what time of day it is! Better suited for us, the shop was closed but the bar hidden behind was open for one last nightcap. Very fun space!
The next morning I worked from the hotel before meeting Lorraine and an ex-employee of mine at Au Cheval for lunch. The restaurant doesn't take reservations so we waited across the street at Haymarket Bar with a glass of wine.
It wasn't long before we were enjoying this spot's decadent fried chicken, fried bologna sandwich, and the BURGER!!! The restaurant is busy, kind of a diner style, and has very rich and excellent food. I hear it's a fun late night place as well.

Strangely for all the times I've been to Chicago I had never been to the Field Museum. Lorraine had heard about the Jurassic World exhibit so after lunch we grabbed an Uber and headed to the land of the dinosaurs.
I have to say, I thought the exhibit was really fun and very cool. There was an animatronic T-rex, the Gentle Giants pen, the raptor pen, and a cool creation lab.

Of course we also saw SUE in the museum's main gallery!

We also spent some time going through the various halls of taxidermied animals, it's an amazing collection! In fact The Field has over 19.5 million specimens from around the world!
Unfortunately we had gotten to the museum late in the afternoon and we didn't have a lot of time before they closed. We had to do a very quick walk through the Ancient Egyptian exhibit, but I'd love to go back and spend a day at this incredible museum!

That evening we met my friend Jesse for drinks at Prairie School, a stunning mid-century modern cocktail bar fashioned after the architectural style of the same name. It had just opened and was the creation of Jim Meehan, owner of New York's PDT. I'm very glad we had a chance to drink there as the bar closed in May sadly, after just 8 months.

Lorraine and I headed off to Elske for dinner afterwards, what an awesome spot this is! The outdoor courtyard is cozy with a fireplace and deerskin throws. The menu is modern Danish. The food is delicious! Highly recommend!
Avec has been dishing out their paella for years now, and I'm here to tell you it is still as delicious as ever! A 1/2 order of that along with salad and the well-known dates stuffed with chorizo in tomato sauce made for an excellent lunch the next day. And it was perfect fuel for our post lunch shopping at Eatly and Bloomingdales.
That night we started with very posh drinks at The Milk Room. This tiny 8-seat bar is inside the gorgeous Chicago Athletic Association building, and serves drinks made with rare and antique liquors.
I have no idea how they find these spirits or how often they have to change the menu because they run out, but the drinks were excellent and it was fun to try a few things. It's a spendy cocktail spot though, with prices starting at $26 and going much, much, higher.

From here we went to pretty much the opposite bar to meet my friend Beth. Moneygun was packed with hip drinkers, and offered a menu of about 30 "classic" cocktails, all priced at $10.75. The three of us then walked around the other side of the building where we entered into what looked like a loading dock; we were dining at Oriole!

It's obvious why Chef Noah Sandoval's restaurant was awarded 2 Michelin stars! Everything was perfect, from entering the warehouse and being greeted with a little amuse drink, the stylish main dining room, the service, the dishes, and of course the food!
Some of my favorites from the 15 course menu, with wine pairings, were the caviar with sea urchin, the king crab with chicharrones, the pork rib, and the pasta with truffles.

But honestly, everything was fantastic and Chef Noah is both a gifted chef as well as super personable (he heard me talking about going to Sayulita and slipped me a note with his favorites places!)
After our desserts and mignardise, they sent us home with an individual sized hazelnut pear tart boxed up, it made a great snack the next day! Chicago has so many great restaurants, and I haven't been to all of them for sure, but Oriole ranks high on my list of dining experiences!

Hard to believe we were hungry the next morning, but we were! And we had an excellent brunch at Roister, Chef Grant Achatz's casual eatery, where the fried bologna sandwich lived up to the hype. 

A little shopping along the Mag Mile, and a quick day drink at Sable Kitchen & Bar was all we had time for before grabbing an Uber to the airport.
Chicago never disappoints!

All photos here.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Long Weekend By the Bay

Trip date: May 2018

A friend was finishing a week of business in San Francisco and invited me down for the Memorial Day weekend.  I flew down on Alaska Air on Thursday afternoon, the plane was one of the Virgin Aircraft. I didn't love having to order and pay for my drinks via the seat-back entertainment device, but other than that it was fine.

The city was fairly quiet when I landed that evening so I took an Uber and met him at the W where we would be staying. We had a great big corner room, with a cute little seating area, and nice views. The W is a great central location as well.

We walked to Liholiho Yacht Club, put our name in for a table, and then walked to The Progress Hotel for drinks at their rooftop bar Charmaine's. It was a gorgeous night to sit outside next to the fire pit.
Liholiho called well before the 1 1/2 time they told us our wait might be. We had a great dinner, including the game hen katsu, japanese curry, crimini mushrooms, chinese eggplant, daikon kimchi! Believe the hype, highly recommended.
The next day we did a little tour of the Salesforce towers. It's quite a compound they have with towers on 3 of the 4 corners. One of the large offices is called Puppyforce and you can bring in your dog for the day (also great for people who are allergic or don't want to be around dogs). And the park that they are building looks incredible.
We walked over to The Treasury for lunch, which had just opened on my last trip down but I hadn't had time to check it out. The space is absolutely gorgeous! And the cocktails were great! Lunch was ok. I'd say come for the cocktails and eat somewhere else. Not bad, there is just much better food in the city.
We decided on a little day drinking bar hop and made our way down to the waterfront. After a quick shop through the Ferry Plaza Market, we grabbed seats at Hard Water.
I don't know how this bar hasn't been on my radar! It's owned by the Slanted Door group, is visually stunning, and has a huge selection of whiskey as well as some excellent cocktails. I really liked it, if you are down by Pier 3 I'd definitely stop in!

We grabbed a trolly, cuz San Francisco! and continued down the waterfront to the wonderfully touristy Buena Vista. The home of the Irish Coffee never disappoints!
Dinner that night was in Chinatown so we wandered around a bit as the window shopping here is always great. We ended up stopping inside the Buddha Lounge which I've walked past so many times but haven't ever been inside. What a throwback! Cash only, family owned, very fun.

Dinner was at Mister Jiu's, where I'd eaten on my last visit, and it was just as delicious this time around, although the menu was different as it didn't have the tasting menu style from before. All dishes were great and the space is still lovely. One of my favorites!

The next morning we walked next door to the SFMOMA for the special exhibit of René Magritte. It was a great showing of about 70 pieces of his work. I especially liked the outdoor paintings "within paintings".
A friend had told me about a new champagne cafe in Hayes Valley so we headed there to have brunch at The Riddler. Absolutely adorable spot with an amazing menu of champagnes by the glass or bottle. They don't have a full kitchen but offer tater tot waffles, like this one with smoked salmon and caviar.
It was good, but both of us thought there was a bit too much topping, which took away from the crunchy tators. I'd recommend The Riddler mainly for the bubbles and maybe just a snack.

The neighborhood here is great for shopping so we spent some time wandering before walking across town (and up the hill!) to the Cable Car Museum.
I had never been! It's small, wasn't crowded, is very interesting, and free! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

That night we had a great seafood dinner at Anchor & Hope followed by drinks at the newly opened True Laurel.  The cocktails were interesting and good but our service was a bit off and the couples next to us at the bar were actively trying to squeeze 4 into a space for 2, so basically halfway sitting on our laps.

We were a bit annoyed so left and went to my favorite San Fran bar, Trick Dog. The menu here is always so fun, and this time the theme was worldwide airports. Very clever.
Best of all our bartender was Katie, who was my bartender the first time I went there, and she is awesome. Such a great bar!

The next morning we took BART to Oakland. We had tickets to the A's baseball game and it was a fantastically sunny and warm day! On the advice of our server at The Riddler we had a delicious brunch at Hopscotch before. Absolutely wonderful service, very good Ramos gin fizz, corned beef hash, all while sitting outside. Highly recommend.

We arrived at the stadium by Uber and had the best seats, 2nd row at 1st base. The stadium is so old and it's pretty bare bones but the game itself was very fun!
Still full from brunch, we skipped eating at the stadium. But after it ended we both were wanting a little bite so we grabbed BART and took it to 12th street and then walked up to Starline Social Club. Another excellent recommendation from our Riddler server.
This area of Oakland is super cool! Lots of nice little spots and a real hipster vibe. I'd never been and was happy to spend a little time here.

It was an easy ride back to the city on BART where spent our evening playing the free Frogger, PacMan, and Galaxy game in our hotel bar.

And when we boarded our flight home the next morning,  I knew to order my mimosa on the seatback screen before the carts came down the aisle! Always a great time in San Francisco!

All San Francisco photos here.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Stationed in Siem Reap

Trip date: January 2018

Like most travellers who come to Cambodia to explore the temples of Angkor, we based ourselves in Siem Reap for 4-days. We arrived via the Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh, a 5-hour drive through the Cambodia country. It’s always surprising to me when I travel around countries that don’t have train options or quick domestic flights. So here were were on a tourist bus heading north past really nothing but rickety shack-style homes, on stilts, with dirt yards, a few had a cow in front. I found the scenery fascinating.

The bus had comfortable seats and intermittent wifi. We made a few stops along the way, one was basically a rest stop where we could use the toilets and buy snacks. I grabbed a few cold beers. The next was a roadside restaurant that also seemed specifically there for travelers, serving fine and quick meals.

When we arrived at the bus station in Siem Reap we were met by tuk tuk driver Kong, who fellow blogger Lara from Gran Turismo Travels kindly arranged for us (she can also arrange tours of the area, check out her site!) Since there were four of us, and all with luggage, he ended up hiring an additional tuk tuk in order to get everything to fit.

It was a quick ride to our Airbnb, a 3 bedroom/ 2 bath apartment right on the river that winds through town.

We headed up to the rooftop terrace with some champagne and sausage we had brought with us, for a toast to this new location and to take in the views and the sunset.

We had hired Kong for our entire stay, so each day we would discuss our plans with him, he'd quote us the price and would then be waiting at the agreed upon time. That evening he met us in front of our apartment and we took off for the Elephant Bar in the Raffles Hotel. It was fine, but it wasn’t as nice as the one in Phnom Penh.

Kong was waiting when we came out and he took us to a big night market that was happening right down the street. It was a maze of street food vendors, crafts, and games.

We ordered an assortment of skewers and also some banana crepes, which were similar to the ones I fell in love with in Thailand.

Our next stop was at Asana, which is a really cute restaurant housed in the only remaining Khmer wood house in the area. Unfortunately the drinks were pretty actively bad, I don’t think any of us finished ours. I can't speak for the food.

Just around the corner, Miss Wong was much better. Dark wood and red Chinese decor gives an atmosphere of a speakeasy (or opium den). The manager kindly sat us at a great table straddling the inside and terrace.

We had a couple of rounds of drinks and also some dim sum bites and everything was pretty good.

We weren’t in town much, and after full days at the temples we weren’t up for big nights out, but we found a few good places for drinks and dinner.

We all really liked our drinks at Menaka, a funny speakeasy style bar with big map scrolls as menus. The staff was eager to please but it still felt relaxed and fun.

Downstairs it is a cute little coffee bar & cafe, but none of us tried it so I can't report.

Another friend had raved about The Sugar Palm restaurant and how their traditional dish of fish amok is a bit different. We loved the restaurant and the other dishes we got as well. By far the best restaurant meal we had in Cambodia!

The FCC had also been recommended to me, so one day after the temples we stopped in for a late lunch and some much needed cold beverages. It's a bit worn down but still a fun place to relax and check out the old decor and photos lining the walls. The food was fine, it's more about the history here.

On our last day, after we packed and spent a couple of hours at our rooftop pool, we had a very good lunch at Nest. It looks like it might turn into a bit of a club atmosphere at night, but during the day it was a good choice.

But mainly we ended our big days of exploring the temples with martinis, snacks, and Exploding Kittens around our air conditioned dining table.

Food was just ok in Cambodia. We had better meals in the restaurants vs in Vietnam we thought the street food was better.

We also found some great shopping! Artisans Angkor sells gorgeous and upscale clothing, art, and house decor. I bought some beautiful ceramics as well as a silk pillowcase with a cute little partridge on it.

At Mekong Quilts (which also has a shop in Phnom Penh) I picked up hand-embroidered placemats and napkins for my dining room. I'd highly recommend both shops as they sell from local artists, who in many cases are women.

And of course there is a big fun tourist market filled with scarves, T-shirts, tchotchkes, etc.

Siem Reap isn’t large but in the heat and humidity we were glad to find tuk tuks easy to flag down. We noticed that there were hammocks hung everywhere, entire restaurants where hammocks were hung near tables so you could snooze after eating! Even the tuk tuk drivers had hammocks they would set up for when they waited on customers. That heat makes you sleepy!

Caitlin flew out of SR back to London but Thibault, Forest, and I had to get back to PP for our flight. Kong had arranged a private car and driver for $90 for our 5 hour drive back.

It was an experience, made even more interesting by the fact that our driver spoke zero English. It took us a while to communicate that we wanted to stop at a convenience store to grab beers and snacks. The car was an older sedan style car and for whatever reason there were mosquitos inside of it! We spent the first few hours spraying bug spray in the car and swatting at the hungry fuckers!

Again, the landscape was fascinating to me. The poverty of the country is shocking. Not because the people don’t work hard, but because of the government and lingering results from wars and coups.

At one point we had to stop for a herd of water buffalo crossing the road.

Another time we let our driver know that we needed to stop for a toilet and he found a gas station of sorts. We didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone with the car full of all our stuff so Thibault stayed while we went. The bathroom was a cinderblock room with no light and a water filled cistern used for flushing the toilet. Also there was a large frog on the wall ledge watching while I peed. That’s a first. When we warned Thibault about the peeping frog he elected to go around the side of the building.

We finally made it to Phnom Penh airport. I snuck Forest into the Business Class lounge with me where we had wine and foot massages. Then we met Thibault for a cocktail before flying on to Seoul. After that car ride we deserved some big cold martinis!

We had different flights into Korea but met up in the airport where Forest and I booked into the spa for 70 minute full body and foot massages. They were great but it cost us $144 which in Asia is like a million dollars!

We said goodbye and I headed to the Business Class lounge to wait for my flight. Originally I had planned to take one of the free city tours that the airport hosts but it was only 33F outside and I didnt even have a jacket with me so it would have been pretty uncomfortable. If you have a long layover I'd totally check it out though.

I was very happy to be in business class on my flight home, it was an absolutely fantastic trip, but I was tired and the comforts of the lay-flat bed and champagne were welcome!

All Siem Reap photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
Ten Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City: Part One
Ten Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City: Part Two
Cruising the Mekong River

Sailing Away; Vietnam to Cambodia
Ringing in 2018 Phnom Penh Style
Wat a First Day
Temples Take Two

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