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.

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