London: food + drink in Berkshire Co.


The Yorkshire Rose — We weren’t terribly hungry after a substantial Sunday roast lunch, so we were drawn by the options of small plates. Not too busy on a Sunday night with just two other tables in the back room. I opted for the small mussels appetizer and the small carbonara – more than enough food! Thankfully Eric ordered the small risotto because he barely finished it. Our evening was capped off by an exciting birthday song in which a candle the celebrating party brought to the restaurant exploded into a cloud of confetti! Overall, the staff was very friendly, the food was good and I would return here if we found ourselves back in Bracknell.


The Botanist — We met Eric’s co-workers here for a quick drink before dinner. I had a large glass of pinot noir and Eric opted for the “Yule Fuel” ale on draught. The food coming out of the kitchen looked good as did their curated selection of specialty cocktails.
House of Flavors — The very first time I have ever seen Scottish salmon curry on a menu, so of course I had to try it. Not disappointing! Medium spice and the perfectly cooked salmon was delicious, pairing nicely with a glass of Indian rose. Eric opted for the sizzling chicken laziz, which was a nice medium spice as well.


Cote Brasserie — We opted for this French bistro on Tuesday night and the whole experience was very good. Eric loved his starter of warm goat cheese, apples and mixed greens, and followed that with a delicious pounded flat steak and fries. My French Onion soup was better with the addition of salt and after letting it cool down for about ten minutes (seriously, why do restaurants serve soup so hot?!?) My steak tartare was good, I liked that the egg was mixed in but there were WAY too many chopped onions and the flavor became overwhelming. The chocolate cheesecake-like dessert was also on par with Eric’s meal – delicious.

Cote Brasserie  Cote Brasserie


The White Hart —  a cozy local place a half mile from our hotel, I stopped in for a quick lunch of a brie and bacon sandwich that was completely worth the 6£ price tag. Paired with a half pint of red ale and my Kindle, it was a lovely way to spend an hour outside of the hotel room. Two women with one fluffy white dog were relaxing in front of the fire after splitting a bottle of white wine. Based on our drive by on Wednesday evening, trivia night also seemed popular!

The White Hart

Duke of Edinburgh — We were in the mood for pub food, perhaps a meat pie, so we opted for the Duke of Edinburgh. Located down a narrow lane, it had a cozy vibe from the start. Eric was not disappointed with his steak and ale pie (one of the best he’s had!) and my liver pate was also great (the onion relish was amazing). We each had a pint of one of the cask ales that was malty with a bit of a dunkelweizen banana character.

Duke of Edinburgh

enjoying a pint @Duke of Edinburgh  steak and ale pie @ Duke of Edinburgh

London: Imperial War Museum, a Polish Kitchen + the death of my phone

Our flight landed early at Heathrow and because we have done this trip over a dozen times it took us no time at all to get to our hotel in Earl’s Court. As it was Saturday morning there were (unsurprisingly) no rooms available at 8am. So we dropped off our luggage and headed out in search of coffee (hot cocoa for Eric) and to waste an hour before the Imperial War Museum opened at 10am.

Chelsea stadium

Brompton Cemetery  Chelsea doorway

After grabbing two almond croissants at an Elephant & Castle Tesco, we walked over to the museum. The collection of war vehicles (tanks, SUVs, planes), bombs, and paraphernalia was impressive and the entire floor dedicated to the Holocaust with videos of survivors playing was incredibly moving. Given our post-flight haze we started to run out of energy before the WW2 display, so those artifacts warrant a future visit.

main hall @ Imperial War Museum  war planes @ Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

All that mental energy was replenished by a trip to Mamuśka, a Polish restaurant near the metro station. We split an amber ale, a small order of potato, cheese and onion pierogies (sprinkled with sour cream and crispy bacon), smalec (creamy pate served with white bread), and pork gulasz with fried chips. Everything was delicious. The atmosphere in relaxed with mostly family style seating and a few 2- and 4-top tables.

Polish tastiness


Between returning to our now-available room for a quick nap and heading out for dinner, my phone died. It restarted suddenly and then proceeded to get caught in an endless bootloop, restarting but never getting past the main ‘Google’ screen. We tried every trick we could find online but nothing worked. After contacting GoogleFi support and discovering the manufacturer’s warranty was extended for the Nexux 5X phones because of this exact issue (!!!) we realized our only solution was to ship my phone back to LG for repairs. Unfortunately, I had JUST landed in the UK for the ten-day trip, so that meant no phone for this trip and up to two weeks after I got home.

To get our minds off of this annoyance, we headed out to dinner at Rocca, an Italian restaurant that Eric had visited on his last trip. We had called ahead but the hostess wouldn’t take a reservation for two and told us just to come in. So we did and we were luckily seated straight away in the very back of the restaurant. It was pretty noisy but the service was quick and efficient, if not a little abrupt. I ordered a glass of prosecco and Eric a sauvignon doc (white) and they came out quickly. My funghi pizza was pretty good with a nice crust, but a bit on the bland side. Eric enjoyed his rabbit ragu pappardelle. Reasonable prices on the food and wine, I would return but try another dish.

We decided to try and get into Terroirs for a nightcap and were surprised to find two seats along the bar. The place eventually emptied out and the post-theatre rush we were expecting never occurred on this particular Saturday night.  This meant we had a bit more attention from the wait staff and were able to get tastings of wines before choosing. Eric choose a Slovenian white from Burja Estate and I had a Vini Viti Vinci pinot noir from Burgundy (France). Eric’s second choice was an Les Vins Pirouettes Alsatian white and mine was an unusual prosecco from Casa Belfi. All the pours are 125ml, unlike many other places where the small is 175ml and the large is 250ml! Definitely a good place to expand our wine experiences and try unusual varietals.

liquers @ Terrior

Shanghai: M50 & Jing’na Sculpture Park

Today was to be the day for travel to the nearby ancient town Suzhou… but alas, we were thwarted! Though there are a reported 60 train trips available between the two cities, we couldn’t get a train for several hours when we showed up at 10am to purchase tickets. Whether that was due to actual busyness or poor communication we’ll never fully know. On a side note, the main Shanghai Railway station was quite confusing, as you have to cross the street to get to the ticket counter and you can’t enter the main station without a ticket. At least we learned that English speaking agents are identified by a small sign in the upper right corner of their ticket window.

Instead, we wandered over to the M50 Art Center area. This space is a colorful mix of galleries, workspaces, and cafes. Very chill on a Saturday morning save for the horde of teenagers on what seemed like a scavenger hunt. While there was some street art, it was nothing too special. We did, however, find a nice pottery gallery where we found a vase for ourselves and a few other pieces for gifts. Our favorite spot was the Island 6 gallery, with lots of LED ‘paintings’ and other interesting art.

M50 art district

M50 art district

M50 art district

We stopped by the hotel briefly to drop off our pottery, then traveled to the Jing’an Sculpture park near the Natural History Museum. Lots of families were enjoying the nice weather in this park. While we were here the fountain turned on, surprising everyone with several cool patterns. Amongst our other favorites were the deer with butterfly antlers and the metal hands sculpture, “Sisters.”

Jing'an Sculpture Park

Jing'an Sculpture Park

Jing'an Sculpture Park

Jing'an Sculpture Park

On a friend’s recommendation, we tried Vegetarian Lifestyle for lunch. The ‘short ribs’ were great but the Kung Pao ‘chicken’ was just OK (the texture was spot on but the flavor was very one-dimensional). Leandra’s dumplings with mushroom and other veg were also just OK, a bit bland, and the dipping sauce that came with didn’t add much to the party. Service was incredibly slow with our waitress disappearing for long stretches. Pricey for what you get, I don’t think we would return.

meatless kung pao chicken @ Vegetarian Lifestyle

We had some daylight left, so we hopped on the subway to the Pudong side for views of the Pearl TV tower and other downtown buildings up close via the circular pedestrian walkway.

selfie w/ the Oriental Pearl TV Tower  Shanghai buildings

sculpture in Ming Zhu Park

Thinking a glass (or two) of wine would be nice, we jumped back on the metro (thank goodness for three-day unlimited metro cards) to the Jing’an Temple area, which was all messed up with construction. We arrived at Dr. Wine after Google said they would be open, but there was no one inside and the place was very dim. Disappointed, we started searching for other options when a man walked past us into the restaurant… they were open, just really quiet! With the choice of any seat, we grabbed a cozy couch I ordered a Nelson, NZ Chardonnay, then a Sav Blanc from the same region. Leandra had a rosé and then a South African pinotage, and we split a dried fruit and mixed nuts snack. Several groups came in for dinner and were seated upstairs so the downstairs lounge remained relaxed and uncrowded for a Saturday night.

wine bar still life

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


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


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!


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  


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).

Italy 2017: daytrip to Chianti

There are many, many options to explore the Chianti region via daytrips from Florence. We immediately ruled out any that involved being on a bus with 50+ other people, so that left small van tours and private tours. In the end, we decided to spend more money and booked a private tour with Avventure Bellissime for the four of us that included visits to two wineries and three hillside towns. A good mix of scenery and wine tasting!

Simon, our driver, picked us up promptly at the hotel at 9:30am and we drove just out of town to Michelangelo Piazza where we had uninterrupted panoramic views of Florence. Stunning.

view from Piazzale Michelangelo

The road transitioned from city to green countryside very quickly, with many charming villas and valley views as we climbed into the hills south of Florence. Our first stop was Montefioralle, a tiny hilltop village, where we walked around and got a little history of the area.


Montefioralle  Montefioralle

How do you know a wine is officially a Chianti Classico? Look for the black rooster on the label!

A quick stop in the nearby town of Greve in Chianti allowed us an hour to shop at the Saturday market and people watch. I picked up a couple tea towels for a few euros but I thought the painted pottery was too expensive for the quality.

Saturday Market - Greve in Chianti
scooters and modern art  meat shop in Greve in Chianti

Simon stopped to let us take some photos and then it was on to our first winery of the day (and lunch) at Castello di Monterinaldi.

Tuscany views

Tuscany views

Upon arrival, we had a brief tour of the winery which included large concrete fermenters (as opposed to stainless steel) and a look at their extensive barrelling caves. The dessert wine stays in a barrel for 5 years!

Castello di Monterinaldi

concrete vats @ Castello di Monterinaldi  wine barrels @ Castello di Monterinaldi

Castello di Monterinaldi

The grounds were very well landscaped with lovely views, and they even had a two story chicken coop. But enough exploring, it was time for lunch! We were shown into a private room with a huge platter of antipasto and the hostess poured us our first taste of the rose. The antipasto was followed by tagliatelle bolognese, a chicken dish with dessert wine reduction, and an apricot tart for dessert. Everything was really tasty and paired well with the Tuscan wines. Even though there was another group with us on the short tour, we had separate rooms for lunch, so it really felt private and special.

pre-lunch @ Castello di Monterinaldi 

Our last hilltown of the tour was Castellina in Chianti – a charming little town with old walls and wine cellars. We walked through the Via delle Volte, a stone arched passageway, and did some shopping in the main square.

Via delle Volte in Castellina in Chianti  fountain in Castellina in Chianti

Castellina in Chianti

Our last stop of the day was a wine tour and tasting at Casa Emma.

Casa Emma

views from Casa Emma

The weather was fine, so we were able to sit out on the balcony overlooking the vineyards while we enjoyed our four wines accompanied by bread and cheese drizzled with their house balsamic vinegar. Our notes are below…

  1. Chianti Classico (90% sangiovese) – paprika smokiness, cherry and leather (2014). Nice tartness, residual smokiness. Lt.caramel. Goulash ready.
  2. Vignalparco Chianti Classico (100% sangiovese) – jammier, dry finish. Much less smoke. Preferred #1
  3. Chianti Classico Riserva #3 – reserve, quite refined. Much less acidity. Could definitely sit for a few years.
  4. Soloìo I.G.T. (100% merlot) – berry and floral, quite light and pleasant. Very interesting.

Overall, I was happy with our choice to do the private tour. Simon was a knowledgeable guide and we never felt rushed. I don’t know how hard it would be to schedule wine tastings in this area without a guide, but I think that’s something we may explore on our next visit.

Italy 2017: Bologna


After checking into our hotel we headed out to explore the town. But first, we needed some lunch, so we stopped into a small deli, Borgo979.

Borgo979 (snacks and wine)

They had a number of tigella, 4″ round flatbreads, with various fillings or on the side. We choose three filled tigella (ham, mushroom/truffle, sausage) and then several with an antipasti platter. Our server was very nice, a little baffled by us in our first hours of Italy. Leandra paired hers with a Lambrusco, and I with a pignoletto (white).

After filling up we walked around town, stopping to check out the landmark Two Towers.

Bologna  one of the two towers has a bit of a lean

Just next door was the well-regarded il Gelato di San Crispino Valrhona, so we tried out first gelatos of the trip and were not disappointed at all! I choose a chocolate, coffee and stracciatella for my three flavors, while Leandra went for the ginger and cinnamon. From there we walked along the scenic side streets to the Piazza Maggiore.


The Basilica di San Petronio dominates one side of the piazza – the outside is a strange mix of brick and marble. Free entry, but they wanted 2 euros for photo pass… nah.

Basilica di San Petronio

Since it was our first day we headed back to the hotel for nap.

Refreshed, we started our evening with wine at Medulla Vini. Though empty when we arrived it filled up after 7p. The lone person working the bar took his time with each group, discussing the various options and providing small tastes. My Prosecco was yeasty and dry, quite pleasant, so I went with that. Leandra liked her red, which started fruity and became more intense and dry over time. Interestingly, they fill jugs here too – 7eu for 1.5 L is a great deal!

Medulla Vini

With only one meal in Bologna we decided to go traditional and choose Ristorante Donatello. This was a big dinner, with primi and secondi! Given where we were, I had to try the Ragu Bolognese and cutlet Bolognese (in a white sauce), and both were great. Leandra started with the Parmesan risotto – a little al dente for her tastes. Her secondi was carpaccio, though here it was a large slice of meat covered in mountain of Parmesan slices and arugula. We split a lemon sorbetto to finish – rich, acidic and creamy, yum, one of the most memorable tastes of the trip. The entire interior is covered with signed photographs that go many years back… made for some interesting viewing!

beef carpaccio hiding under a mound of fresh parmesan  Ristorante Donatello


Leandra and my dad went to cooking class in the morning. Given the nice day I wanted to climb the 498 steps of the tower.

It was worth it:

view from the top of Two Towers

steep wooden stairs...  top of Two Towers

view from the top of Two Towers

Afterwards I went back to the hotel to pick up my mom so we could explore more of the old town. We were disappointed in the lack of water in the canals, but we found several other beautiful spots including the Basilica di San Domenico.

Basilica di San Domenico  Basilica di San Domenico

typical covered walkway in Bologna

On our way back we stopped for a drink at Rosarose Bistrot, where I tried my first pecorino wine of the trip – I liked the pecorino quite a bit, a nice mineral and stone fruit character, and ended up finding it in several other places on the trip. We were lucky to score an outdoor table and quite enjoyed watching the mix of tourists, Italians, and the occasional motor vehicle going through the laneway. Several snacks came with our drinks which made for a nice light lunch too!