San Sebastian: food & drink

As with most places in Spain, we found San Sebastian to be absolutely delicious. One thing I had to get used to was that ordering wine at most of the pintxo bars was done at the mercy of the bartender, who rarely spoke English. With no posted menu available, I generally requested a ‘tinto’ and drank what they gave me. At an average of $2 a glass, this worked fine most of the time but I definitely preferred the places with a wine list.  Also, the pintxos skewed heavily fishy so Eric wound up eating quite a lot of jamon and cheese on toast.

Here are a few of our favorite snacks from the trip…

gilda pintxo with cava and white wine  pirate pastries!
the most famous pintxo in town, the Gilda (guindilla peppers, a Cantabrian anchovy fillet, and manzanilla olives on a toothpick); pirate donuts from a local bakery

pintxo @ Zazpi (our favorite spot in town) 
Zazpieverything we had here was amazing, but the best was the roasted beef cheek – plus they had a great rose on the menu

red wine in Old Town  a crowd gathers for snacks
Paco Bueno – crowded but good wine and blue cheese / sardine toasts

tasty mussels w/ lots of company
La Mejillonera – mussels & Padrón peppers; also very crowded!

pintxos @ Bar Sport
Bar Sport – my second favorite place for quality of pintxos


La Viña – much touted cheesecake was tasty but I am pretty sure they gave us two portions when I only ordered one

little fish on bread  how am I going to eat this?
Bar Zeruko – this place was hit and miss – the tabletop items were good but my hot tuna dish was not

Unfortunately, one of our top choices, Bar Nestor, was closed for the exact three days we were in town. Boo. We also visited La Cuchara de San Telmo but were unimpressed with the beef cheek after falling in love with Zazpi’s version.

Bilbao: food & drink

Pinxos (small plates) are the thing to eat in northern Spain, so that was the plan. We were staying in Old Town, right next to Plaza Nueva, but our favorite pinxto bars turned out to be in the Moyua district.

pintxos!  our bill ~ $2 for a glass of wine
Bar Charley – pintxos and wine

pintxos place

grilled lamb skewers
lamb kebobs @ Café Iruña

delicious pintxos  more tasty pintxos
El Globo – easily our favorite spot in Bilbao – we visited three times!

oysters @ El Puertito
El Puertito (oysters & cava)

Bar Basque 
glass of wine @ Bar Basque; cheese and membrillo gelato from Tostadero Nosshbe Pasteleria Bombonería

Leandra’s 40th: wine tasting in Willamette Valley

Wine tasting in Willamette Valley is one of our favorite activities in Oregon, and one of the main reasons I wanted to go for my birthday trip. Staying in Newberg for the weekend gave us easy access to many old favorites and some new ones as well.

Saturday

wine tasting @ Dominio IVTrisaetum Winery – We were the first people to arrive and the wine tasting experience with Jasmine was pleasant. I opted for the Red & White flight while Eric got the White only flight. They have a LOT of Rieslings (one of the main reasons we choose this place) but Eric definitely preferred the 2014 Ribbon Ridge (baked apple and lemon with some mineral) over the five other choices. I found their Pinots to be a bit on the light side and also pricey.

Arborbrook Vineyards – An old favorite of ours (we used to be wine club members), we stopped in to buy a few bottles of the Pinot Gris but decided to do a wine tasting as the fee was waived with the purchase of the bottles. Eric picked up a few of the 2014 Croft Pinot Gris and I couldn’t resist two bottles of the delicious 2014 Coury Clone.

Lachini Vineyards – Located within sight distance of Arborbrook and suggested by the staff there, we made this small tasting room our next stop. Their website touts their wines as ‘premium’ and while we thought everything was good (especially the rose), the real value was the Grape Republic label at $25 for a perfectly drinkable Oregon Pinot Noir. Ashlyn was a great hostess and another lively group tasting with us provided plenty of entertainment. The tasting room was warm given the outside temperature, but we had an enjoyable tasting nonetheless. On a cooler day their patio area would have been a beautiful spot to sit.

Dominio IV – This small tasting room in McMinnville was also a revisit for us. The tasting experience was rather impersonal until the end when it was bolstered by the appearance of the winemaker, Patrick, who chatted with us for a few minutes about the wine. The Syrah and Pinot Noirs were good, as usual, but I was less impressed with the Tempranillo on this visit and Eric thought the Viognier had a slight bitterness to the finish this year.

Sunday

member tasting @ ErathErath – Because we are wine club members, we were able to secure a reservation for a private tasting out on the shady front terrace overlooking the vines. Theresa was our pourer (she also hosted me when I had the girls out two years ago) and she did a wonderful job of keeping our glasses full. We receive regular shipments from Erath throughout the year, but this tasting was helpful so we know how our existing bottles are tasting, plus notes on several of the other wines they have available. Our favorites were the 2015 Knights Gambit Rose, 2014 Leland Pinot Noir and the 2013 Le Jour Magique (White Pinot Noir).

Argyle Winery – Noticing the sign coaxing visitors to “end your day with bubbles!” (open until 7pm), we decided to stop here before heading back to the room. I was here two years ago, and since then they have built a beautiful new modern tasting facility behind the small house they previously used for tastings. Eric tried the special “Cool Whites for Summer” tasting and I got a glass of the Knudsen Vineyard sparkling to sip while he took tasting notes. :) Eric found two wines he liked on the list (2014 Spirit Hill Chardonnay and 2014 Nuthouse Riesling) and we let ourselves get talked into joining the wine club because it meant free refrigerated shipping on our first shipment, plus a free bottle of their standard sparkling since it was my birthday month!

Monday

Carlton Winemakers Studio – This place is a little further out but I wanted to go back since I remembered the tasting being good several years back. Christine did not disappoint with her energy and good humor but I was less than impressed with the Portfolio flight offerings. The price points were good but the wine just wasn’t to my liking – this is likely due to the wet 2013 season, which left me unimpressed at nearly all the wineries. Plus you have to buy six bottles to waive the $15 tasting fee. Our favorites were the 2013 Merriman Chenin Blanc and the 2014 Lazy River Estate Pinot Noir.

Carlton Winemaker's Studio

Argyle Winery (part two) – As we were now wine club members, we figured we should stop in and try some of their other options! This time Eric got the flight of bubbles and I tried the Pinot Noirs. I fell in love with the 2014 Nuthouse Pinot Noir and luckily was able to add two more bottles to our Sunday order, leaving room in our shippers for Cascade beer later in the trip.

argylewineflight

As usual, we enjoyed our tasting experiences. In general, we noted that prices are definitely rising in Willamette Valley, and that we preferred 2014 & 15 to the 2013 vintages.

Eric’s 40th: Reykjavík

We spent our first and last evenings in Iceland’s capital and main city, Reykjavík.

Tuesday

Our apartment was two blocks from the famous Hallgrimskirkja, a church design inspired by the Icelandic basalt columns seen several times on our trip.

Hallgrimskirkja  Hallgrimskirkja

After getting into our apartment we realized that the nearby grocery store was just about to close (at 6p). However, there was a smaller convenience market, 10-11, a few blocks away, so we headed there to purchase breakfast and snack items for the next day.

On our walk down we scouted potential restaurants, but none of them really struck us – reviews were so-so, and prices were definitely high. Leandra had read about Micro Bar, but when we arrived at the address there was a restaurant in its place (with a faded awning above the door that said Microbar!). Clearly something had changed, and as we found a little later, they had indeed moved locations in the fall.

We were ready to eat by this point, so we decided that takeout from Núðluskálin was probably the best option. While Leandra was ordering a noodles for us, I explored the side streets and noticed a Mikkeller bar (we returned to it on Sunday).

After a nice dinner in our apartment we did some more research and found the new address for Micro Bar, so we decided to go out a second time. On the way we found a few street art murals too.

street art  street art

Reykjavik @ 11pm

We’re glad we found Micro Bar as they had a great selection and cozy basement atmosphere. I immediately spotted a sour ale on the board and although Leandra’s first choice was out, she enjoyed her tequila barrel aged Imperial Stout (that took her nearly an hour to drink)!

Micro Bar

Wednesday (morning)

The next morning we simply went downstairs to Brod, a bakery in the next building, for some delicious breakfast danishes and after a second purchase of more pastries, we checked out the Sólfarið (Sun Voyager) on our way out of town.

Sólfarið (Sun Voyager)

Sunday

We arrived back in Reykjavík in the late afternoon around 3pm. Thankfully we found a close spot for our car right outside our room, and street parking is free on Sundays. Bonus! Our first stop was Brod – on Wednesday they told us that cinnamon buns were released after noon, so we made sure to try those. We were not disappointed!

We made a reservation for dinner at Roadhouse, then walked down a few streets that we hadn’t explored earlier.

downtown Reykjavík

Eventually we made our way back to Micro Bar for happy hour.

Since we hadn’t done so on Tuesday, we also stopped in Mikkeller & Friends to try their offerings. Housed on the upper floor with exposed beams, this was also a quite cozy beer hangout.

Mikkeller and Friends bar

Leandra hadn’t used any of the cash she took out from the airport ATM, as credit cards are accepted everywhere in Iceland, so we used it on beer. And with the price of beer in Iceland, that $40 didn’t last long.

Roadhouse had good reviews on Google for their burgers and their fries were especially well reviewed, so we were interested to try it out. The fries (double-fried it turns out) were quite crispy and good, but the burgers were just OK – a bit dry and not all that memorable for a near $20 burger even with a bunch of toppings.

With a long day of travel facing us, we retired to re-pack our luggage for our flight home the next day.

Memory Monday: Cocktails @ The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell

I found this bar listed in an article on excellent bars several months before our trip and planned to surprise Eric here for birthday-eve drinks.

Upon arrival we grabbed an open couch near the door but were told that table was reserved and did we mind sitting at the bar? No problem. The house cocktail list is diverse and contains several unusual house-made mixers and infused spirits, including oak liqueur, samphire syrup and plum shrub to name a few. Also, the relocation really worked out for us because we got to interact with the bartender Max who described the experimentation they do and also gave us several samples of scotch, mixers and even their lovely rose negroni.

I started with a twist on a kir royale that was made with oak liqueur and champagne, while Eric chose the Priory Sour. My second cocktail was Dreaming of Salmon, simple, yet full of flavor. Eric put Max to the test with his second drink – something with Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition scotch and under 15£. He received a variation on an Old Fashioned that was fantastic.

cocktail menu @ The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell  cocktails @ The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell

We both really liked the vibe in this semi-hidden and relaxed cocktail bar and would definitely return on future trips.

Eric’s 40th: Kew Gardens & Richmond

To help celebrate my birthday Leandra treated me to an afternoon at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (better known as Kew Gardens). The District line took us within a few blocks of the entrance, and after scanning our internet pre-purchased tickets we were soon on the grounds. And wow, what grounds they are!

Kew GardensKew GardensWater Lilly House
water lily house

Kew Gardens  Kew Gardens

expansive lawns @ Kew Gardens  Kew Gardens

The azaleas and rhododendrons were in full bloom and putting on quite a show – I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a range in one place before.

bleeding heart  Eric enjoying the flowersKew Gardens

After several hours of exploring our feet were tired, and we only saw a fraction of this massive garden – it is well worth the ticket price and we will be back.

Next, Leandra’s Aunt Kim and Uncle Jules picked us up in an Uber and we headed to the nearby town of Richmond.


view from Richmond Hill

my aunt and I
Leandra and her Aunt Kim!

Richmond was a pretty part of London that we had never experienced, and it was a beautiful evening along the Thames.

Richmond Road Bridge @ sunset

We had a great diner at the White Cross, then after-dinner drinks at the White Swan a short distance away. Far too soon we had to head back to our hotel to pack for the next stage of our trip, Iceland!

Eric’s 40th: a day in Boston

We had the option of a four hour layover or a ten hour layover, and since we hadn’t been to Boston, we choose the ten hour option. Because we would have carry-on bags we knew we’d need to store them somewhere and unfortunately, the airport doesn’t have a storage facility and there aren’t many easy options in the city either. Thankfully, Rowes Wharf Water Taxi will store luggage for passengers, so we grabbed a boat from the Logan Ferry terminal to begin our adventure by a unique route into the city.

waiting for our ferry to Rowe's Wharf  city views from the water
waiting for the ferry; our view of downtown on approach

Once our luggage was stored we set a return time, then began exploring the city. Since it was now lunch time we started at Stoddards. Leandra opted for six raw oysters and a brown ale while I got a Flemish red ale and basket of fries.

We were quite lucky to have a beautiful spring day, so we decided to walk through Boston Common to find the ‘Make Way for Duckings’ statue.

Make Way for Ducklings!

Across the park we saw the State House and State Library.

Boston State Library

From the steps of the Library we started along the Freedom Trail, which wound through downtown Boston including sites such as Faneuil Hall and Paul Revere’s Tomb.

Paul Revere's gravestone   monument to Irish immigrantsmural in Faneuil Hall

We were tempted by the produce of Haymarket, but instead opted for pastries in North End.

the most incredible cannoli ever.

bicycle in Boston   modeling a lobster hat in Quincy Market

Our feet were starting to get tired so we began our walk back to the pier. Along the way we stopped for an early dinner at The Merchant, where Leandra couldn’t help but get a few more oysters.

oystersatmerchant

We definitely lucked out on weather and enjoyed a beautiful day exploring Boston before heading back to the airport and on to Europe.