Pacific NW: Willamette Valley and drive to Seattle

Stopped in at the Sweet Oregon Berry Co again for another round of raspberry and pumpkin hand pies, then headed to our old favorite Arborbrook Vineyards. Per usual, the tasting here was good, it’s really too bad the shipping is so expensive (why we chose to leave the wine club a few years back). We picked up two bottles of the Heritage Cuvee (one as a gift) and a bottle of the Guadalupe Pinot Gris, which waived our
$10 tasting fee.

more yellow vines

Arborbrook tasting room

At this point it was nearly noon, so we began our drive back to Seattle. Our friends live in South Seattle, so we met them at their place, then drove a short way to Franklin Park to let their girls run around and wear off some energy while the adults chatted. It was a beautiful fall afternoon so lots of people had the same idea!

sneak peek of downtown from Jefferson Park

Dinner was at Super Six, a Hawaiian/Pan-Asian restaurant. Thankfully we had reservations as they were busy on a Saturday night! My pork ragu noodles were very good and Eric’s Asian salad with Huli-huli chicken was also delicious. The malasada donuts for dessert were good but overpriced – $4 but you had to pay $1.50 extra to get them filled with a tiny bit of cream? The fresh chocolate chip cookie with sea salt was amazing, definitely recommended. Most importantly, we were glad to catch up with our friends.

After bidding everyone good night we drove up to Redmond to check into our hotel, relaxing with more episodes of Stranger Things 2.

Pacific NW: Willamette Valley, day 2

We met our friend from college, Nate Wall, at Day Wines for a tasting and tour. Got to try a bunch of different wines and have a great conversation about wine making methods.

orange wine @ Day Camp  gourds!

Our next destination was Sweet Oregon Berry Co, for their delicious hand pies. Eric got raspberry and I tried the seasonal pumpkin hand pie, and both were great. Our timing was good too, as this was the last weekend they would be open for the season!

Re-fortified we continued to Carlton to visit Cana’s Feast, a winery that had caught our eye on the 2016 trip with some unusual white and red varietals. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any whites open for tasting, only one rose and several reds. My favorites were the “Rhone” style wines, the Syrah and Joie de Vivre. Eric wound up buying a bottle of the Arneis white we wanted to try as well. As a side note, they have a big patio that is quite inviting.

Cana's Feast tasting room

On our way to the Argyle tasting, we passed by the new Dominio IV tasting room and stopped in to search out my favorite tempranillo, the Technicolor Bat. They didn’t have any in stock but we picked up a 2015 Viognier and a 2011 Tempranillo that was drinking well, according to the wine manager.

The last stop of the day was our members tasting at Argyle.  We were greeted at the door with a sparkling rose and once the group was assembled, our host Tim led to the Spirit House tasting room where we tried the 2014 Argyle Vintage Brut, 2007 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut (Eric’s fave), 2015 Argyle Riesling Spirithouse, 2015 Argyle Pinot Noir Nuthouse and the 2015 Argyle Pinot Noir Cowhouse. After the tasting we got a tour of the facilities, including the RD bubbles and magnums. All in all, a great member’s tasting experience and awesome perk for being a wine club member.

member's tasting @ Argyle

Argyle Winery

We headed back to the hotel room and watched the sunset with a glass of wine on the back lawn before heading to Dundee Bistro for dinner. I enjoyed a half dozen of oysters and an olive pizza with a De Ponte Melon de Borgonoune, while Eric ordered the butter lettuce salad and a margherita pizza alongside an apricot ale.

After another full day we went back to the room to watch Stranger Things season 2. :)

Pacific NW 2017: Willamette Valley, day 1

Our flight into Seattle landed at 10pm, so fortunately our friends Dave and Jake who offered to host us for the night live just a few minutes from the airport. Of course we stayed up talking and hanging out with them and their three crazy dogs for a while.

filling breakfast @ Shelly'sThankfully we were able to sleep in until 9am. After a quick re-pack of the car we headed to a filling breakfast at Shelly’s, where I had a salmon benedict and Eric had an omelet with huge chunks of ham and crispy potatoes. My benedict had WAY too much hollandaise sauce but was otherwise good and the coffee was solid.

Completely stuffed we started the drive south through Tacoma, Olympia, and Portland – took a little over 3 hours – not bad! About halfway the clouds suddenly parted and we had beautiful blue skies and sunshine for the rest of the trip.

We had a 3pm appointment for tasting at Erath, and with an hour to kill we wanted to try another nearby winery. Unfortunately our first choice was closed so we decided on Hyland Estates. They are located behind our B&B so we first checked in and dropped off our luggage, hoping to find a tasting card and sure enough! Complimentary tasting for 2 plus 10% off a purchase when buying a single vineyard pinot noir.

Our tasting with Paulina at Hyland Estates was very nice. We arrived at the same time as an older couple so we all did the tasting together. She was very knowledgable about the wines and I had no trouble understanding her even with her French accent. We tried a Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, their standard Pinot Noir and two single vineyard Pinot Noirs, Clone 117 and Coury Clone. Our favorites were the Gewürztraminer and the Clone 117. We overheard the manager tell another group that the Gewürztraminer was buy two get one free so we got the same deal plus a bottle of Pinot. Came out to be $100 with the B&B discount.

Only five minutes away, our next stop was Erath, one of our favorite places in the valley, and where we have been wine club members for years. Dixie was our entertaining server and we chose to sit out on the patio while she brought us wine after wine in a very relaxed experience. She also mentioned that their penny shipping deal was still going on (!!!) so we selected two cases to have shipped home to us in NC. My only complaint was snacks were not offered (except off the paid menu) – as our last few member tastings came with a small cheese plate. We didn’t ask after it and it wasn’t a big deal.

yellow vines @ Erath

For dinner we chose to walk to the Babica Hen Cafe. Less than a five minute walk from our B&B, it was fine in daylight but a bit tricky after dark  as there are no sidewalks. Dinner started out a bit bumpy as a few of the beers on the menu weren’t available,  but after a few false starts Eric ended up with a tasty Pale Ale and I found a Pelican Export Stout (not listed on the menu) that was very good. I had the Mad Beaver burger with horseradish aioli, crispy onions and blue cheese (cooked perfectly medium) and Eric had the Texas pulled pork sandwich with fried jalapenos, both with curly fries. Everything was delicious.

After a full day we retired to our room to enjoy some of the Hyland Gewürztraminer and plan our Friday.

Paris 2017: food & drink

Thursday

Lunch @ Le Petit Marche –  Having just landed and dropped off our bags we needed lunch, quickly! Even at 1:30p this restaurant was packed, but they managed to squeeze us into a small table. Unfortunately they were out of the Ravioles de Royan, so I ordered the Salade China, a chopped salad with lots of soy/sesame chicken, carrots and lots of Asian-inspired ingredients that was quite good. Meanwhile Leandra ordered a strange take on steak tartare with asian-influenced spices that was lightly grilled on the top and bottom. She enjoyed it as well.

lunch @ Le Petit Marché

Dinner @ Bistrot L’Oulette – After wandering through d’Orsay we were quite ready for dinner. My red wine braised beef stew was amazing, as was Leandra’s cassoulet (although it took about 10 minutes for hers to cool down enough so she could eat it). We split a bottle of red wine that went great with our meals but the most memorable part was the chocolate tart. Flaky and light, absolutely delicious.

chocolate tart @  Bistrot de l’Oulette

Cocktails @ Little Red Door – on the advice of our friends Anna and Loren, we walked the .7 mile to this hidden cocktail bar. On arrival the doorman had us wait until seats were ready before letting us in, probably 10ish minutes. Once seated we perused the suggested cocktail list which were each inspired by architecture styles. I choose the Functionalism, tequila with citrus cordial and functional oils floating on top. Leandra went with the Brutalism, mixing mezcal, St.Germain and other flavors with a sprig of fried baby’s breath flowers!

Little Red Door Eric @ Little Red Door

Friday

Breakfast @ Pauls – Pain de chocolate and hot chocolate to go? Yes please.

Lunch @ La Galerie des Pains – quick takeaway ham sandwich on a crusty baguette (of course!) from a cozy bakery in Fontainebleau, eaten in Jardin de Diane.

Snack @ Boulangerie Martin – with a late dinner planned we needed a snack, so stopped for take-away pastries. I choose the eclair with raspberries and Leandra a cheese tartlet, and both were quickly consumed in a small park by Notre Dame.

Dinner @ Au Bourguignon du Marais – our table wasn’t quite ready for our 9pm reservation, so we were asked to sit at a side table and given menus and a light appetizer while we waited. A few minutes later we were shown to our table and introduced to our waiter who was quite warm and personable. I went straight for the Boeuf Bourguignon, Leandra the Tartare traditionnel, and neither of us regretted our choice! To top it off we split the Crème brûlée with bourbon sauce. OMG.

  creme brulee!

Saturday

Lunch @ Creperie Beaubourg – Crepes! I tried their house cider to go with my ham and cheese crepe, while Leandra stuck to wine with her  mushroom and roquefort crepe. Both were fine, but not great. We sat outside under the awning enjoying the people watching around Stravinsky square.

buckwheat crepes @ Crêperie Beaubourg

Dinner @ Al Caratello – reservations got us a window seat at this busy little Italian restaurant in Montmartre. Leandra ordered the gnocchi bolognese while I ordered the mushroom and ham pasta. Everything was excellent. All tables were full during our meal and there were rotating groups of diners taking smoke breaks in the street out front. The owners also have a place across the street so one waiter was frequently shuttling cocktails to the other location. After we paid our bill we were offered a small glass of limoncello to end our meal. Lovely.

Ristorante al Caratello

my date enjoying a limoncello  pasta and my glowing gnocchi @ Ristorante al Caratello  

Sunday

Lunch – picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Dinner @ Les Philosophes – another busy restaurant, even at 9pm on Sunday. I went for the wild cod fillet in coconut milk curry sauce, while Leandra choose the French Onion soup and pork pâté (Thierry Schweitzer).  Service was a bit harried here, it was definitely more difficult to get a server’s attention than at other restaurants. I did like the fact that you could get varying sizes of several wines by the glass (25cl, 50cl, bottle).

A warm weekend in Minneapolis / St. Paul

In late September we flew to Minneapolis to visit friends and explore the area, and lucky us, it was warmer there than back home in NC! The heat made us a little lazier than we might have planned, but we had a good time ping-ponging across Minneapolis & St. Paul nonetheless.

Much of our time was spent being entertained by these two pups…

play time!  such a good boy!

Saturday highlights

Como Park Conservatory – walkable from our friend’s house, we enjoyed the various plants they have on exhibit. The bonsai collection and beautiful water lilies were especially notable.

water lily pads @ Como Park Conservatory

Muffaletta – a leisurely brunch, the baked French toast was quickly devoured. Leandra’s Benedict was big enough for a football player. She finished about half – putting in a good showing.

Dangerous Man Brewing – quite busy and loud, we were underwhelmed by the beer, as most everything we tasted was rather thin. The logo was awesome and well represented by the clientele.

Indeed Brewing – has two bars, and you aren’t supposed to carry drinks between them. We went for the quieter inside bar, where I tried the Heliotropic Dry Hopped, which was quite good. Leandra had a seasonal tripel.

Minnehaha Regional Park – easy view of the of the famous Minnehaha Falls at twilight. Afterwards, we walked down to the Mississippi River and back.

Minnehaha Falls  Minnehaha Falls

The Sample Room – nice spot for dinner. My cuban was perhaps the messiest sandwich I’ve ever had, definitely knife and fork material, and very tasty. Leandra’s steak tartare was good but the egg yolk was way too large for the portion size. The fries were AMAZING.

tartare @ The Sample Room

Sunday highlights

We started the day at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Smaller than expected, but with a fun range of sculptures (including the famous cherry) and an unbeatable price (free!).

'Spoonbridge and Cherry' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

'Hahn/Cock' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden  'Woodrow' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

'Wind Chime' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Next we tried the Midtown Global Market, which was disappointingly only half open on Sunday morning. Instead, we decided on brunch at the Happy Gnome. Leandra’s poutine had a sticker in it; thankfully the restaurant staff took it back with apologies and quickly got her a replacement dish. Everyone else enjoyed their choices here, and the beer list is quite extensive.

After brunch we headed out of town to Vermillion Falls, situated next to an old mill. We may have been traveling with some excited canines as well….

peek-a-boo  Vermillion Falls

Old Mill ruins

tired pups in the back

peek-a-boo 2

After dropping said canines back at home and recharging both our phones and our energy levels, we headed for another brewery on our list, Surly. As with Indeed, they asked for ID for all patrons, which is rather laughable at our age. They have an enormous facility, with a large indoor beer hall complete with picnic tables, and an equally large outdoor patio. Since we weren’t eating we went outside and enjoyed the cooler twilight air. I definitely enjoyed their sour beer collection, best of the trip.

Our final stop was back in St. Paul at W.A Frost, a restaurant with a lovely tree filled outdoor patio and food to match. We didn’t get a chance to enjoy the basement bar area but it looked very inviting, especially if the weather is cooler (i.e. most of the time).

Monday morning

On our way to the airport we had breakfast at Tiny Diner with a woman Leandra met during her dumpling class in Beijing two years ago!

Scotland 2017: layover in London

What to do with a half day in London? How about enjoying art, beer, and a show?

We started at one of our favorite museums, the National Gallery. Leandra hadn’t seen Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene (a special exhibit) so I insisted we start there. After that we explored several of our favorite rooms for the Monet, Van Gogh, and many other masterpieces, then made our way to the Reubens and Rembrandt exhibition.

mural @ National Gallery

admiring art at National Gallery

As we left a brief rain cleared out the sidewalk in front of the museum.

rainy London afternoon

The Whiskey exchange is only a few blocks away, so we headed there to pick up a bottle of Kilchoman Sanaig which we hadn’t purchased in Scotland.

Since it was May Day, restaurant hours were a bit off – Gordon’s Wine Bar cellar was packed inside when we arrived, and our second choice, Terroirs, was closed. Instead, we walked up to Craft, where we managed to get a table from a departing group. I went with the Partizan lemongrass saison, a beer I’ve had in London before – a nice mild tartness, quite refreshing, good with food – and then a Calypso Siren. Leandra went for the Pig&Porter dance first stout – quite lite but serviceable. With a 7:30p show we also needed to eat early, so we ordered the oak smoked brisket and the applewood smoked pork. Both were really nice, a great snack!

Around 7p we got the theater to pick up our tickets and find our seats for a show we’ve wanted to see for a while, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. As usual, we found a good deal on some last minute tickets just a few days earlier. We both enjoyed the staging and production, and we’re quite glad we experienced it before they closed their London run in June.

All in all, another great day in London.

Scotland 2017: Spirit of Speyside day 2

For our last day in Scotland we mixed several Spirit of Speyside events along with some drives and hikes through the beautiful countryside. I started off the morning with a photo session of the Craigellachie bridge.

Craigellachie Bridge  Craigellachie Bridge

Craigellachie Bridge

After a big breakfast at the hotel we drove south toward our first stop of the day, Glenlivet’s open house. But first we had one small detour to the old bridge of Livet, which looks like something from Lord of the Rings.

double packhorse bridge

Parking at Glenlivet was a bit confused, but after a few minutes someone left and we found a space. On our way to the party we stopped at their tiny still to try the raw spirit – lightly smoked and strong!

Glenlivet still

Inside there were several booths with cheese, spices, etc. Leandra really enjoyed the spice table with Ghilli Basan and came away with her own flavored nut mix. A food demo in the corner was quite interesting, with combinations of local foraged items paired with Glenlivet whisky. Of note: the gorse petal cocktail was really good, as was the cake and aloroso-barrel whisky pairing. In between their cooking demos the live music was also entertaining and surprisingly good. We each received a dram with our entrance, so we choose the Glenlivet 18 (very light, floral, not for me) and the Nadurra (oak and cedar, richer, but still lighter side. Fairly nice.).

making my own spice mix w/ Ghillie Basan @ Glenlivet  whisky and food pairings @ Glenlivet

Glenlivet

Our next stop was the Whisky Castle in Tomintoul, our favorite whisky shop! We spent a happy 1.5 hours here chatting with Sam, the owner, and other patrons. Sam helped Leandra find a Glenrinnes while I tried a lovely 7 year red wine barrel Caol Illa – the tannin was noticeable so I switched to a Bruichladdich instead. The Gordon & MacPhail tasting rep also convinced us on the Benriach cask – lighter than ours, more vanilla and fruit. Definitely tastes better after sitting for 20 mins, and with water.

The Whisky Castle (our favorite shop in Scotland)

The drive from Tomintoul back north to Dufftown was beautiful and filled with farms with sheep and pheasants abound!

lambs at play

wild pheasant

Compared to the Whisky Castle, our stop at the Whisky Shop Dufftown was more crowded and less helpful. However, Leandra did find several more Benrinnes bottlings, so we did make a purchase before leaving.

Dufftown

We hadn’t yet seen Linn Falls in Aberlour, so we decided to try this pleasant stroll next.

Linn Falls

Done with driving, we parked at our hotel and went for happy hour cocktails at Quaich, then headed across the street to the Highlander Inn for dinner. Though bustling, they had a cozy corner table available without a reservation (yeah!). I ordered the beef pie while Leandra thoroughly enjoyed her smoked fish trio platter (which was a lot more filling than it looks).

dinner @ Highlander Inn

The Highlander also has a noted whisky list, so after dinner we tried a Bruichladdich cask no 3093 + 3095 – 23 year, and a Benrinnes Flora and Fauna – 15 year.

After a quick walk around town, we went back to Quaich bar for the end of the Lomond Campbell session, where we scored a free dram of the Craigallechie 23. Afterwards I also enjoyed an Octomore 6.1 (beautful smokiness) and we enjoyed conversing with several of the folks hanging around, not leaving till near midnight when a Swede started some card tricks… yet another lovely day in Scotland.

Quaich Bar  music @ Quaich Bar