Corn Maze and Apple Picking


We took advantage of cool weather and beautiful blue skies to drive 60 miles west of Chicago to All Season Apple Orchard in Woodstock, Illinois. From Late August until early November they have a corn maze, apple orchard, and many other attractions.

We were fairly early, and I expected to be almost alone, but there were already hundreds of cars in the parking area, and a long line to buy tickets. I guess everyone else thought is was a great day to pick apples, too. Once inside, it wasn’t particularly crowded, as the place is huge, and it was mostly families with small children playing on the bounce houses and in the corn pit.

We began by watching the pig races, which were pretty funny.


Then we ventured into the maze. Dani complained that I was looking at the map, but I pointed out that she was taking the well-trod paths, which seemed much the same thing. There was a fun “Clue” type mystery to solve by finding clues in the maze and punching your card.





Once we found our way back out of the maze we had a quick bite to eat (while dodging the bees who really liked our cider). Then we took the wagon ride to the orchard to pick apples.


We paid extra to pick Honey Crisp apples, and boy are they sweet and crisp, especially right off the tree!


I had never been in a corn maze or picked fruit before, and both were really fun activities.

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From Lincoln to Twain

At the start of the Labor Day weekend Dani and I made a quick overnight road trip to Hannibal Missouri to see Mark Twain’s birthplace. Along the way we stopped in Springfield, Illinois to checkout The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where some of Alcorn McBride’s gear is used. After a nice lunch at Incredibly Delicious we headed for the museum, parking in the underground garage to escape the 95 degree heat.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum


I’m a huge fan of BRC Imagination Arts, the designers of this experience. Bob Rogers is a master storyteller, and this facility demonstrates the power of storytelling like few others I’ve encountered.

It’s amazing how much information you can retain when it is presented in a meaningful and moving context, and that’s what the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is all about.


Both of the automated shows are real blockbusters, with amazing effects and immersive narration that really draws you in.

The “Holovision” show Ghosts of the Library uses a live performer and many of the effects developed for BRC’s famous Expo ’86 Spirit Lodge Show (and Knott’s Berry Farm’s Mystery Lodge), plus some new effects that will delight even jaded theme park goers like me.

The Lincoln’s Eyes show uses multiple screens and a lot of moving scrims and impressive theatrical sound to very effectively tell Lincoln’s story in an unconventional way.

Don’t let these elaborate shows fool you into thinking this is shallow theme park-like entertainment. You’ll leave them with a truly deep knowledge of history, having learned many things you never knew you didn’t know about a seemingly familiar story.

Equally impressive to me was the way that Lincoln’s childhood and presidency were presented in two separate walkthrough exhibits. Signage didn’t overwhelm, but was just enough to invite reading and interpreting each stop. I wish all museum curators would learn how to do this.

Similarly, the displays of artifacts were perfectly interpreted, with just enough information to draw us in without overwhelming us with verbiage, yet with plenty of hard information that was easy to absorb. I certainly learned ten times as much as I expected to.


This museum is a delightful place to spend as little as a couple of hours, or as much as a full day. Highly recommended.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum is at 212 N 6th Street, in Springfield, Illinois.

Hannibal, Missouri

In the afternoon we headed west, across featureless cornfields, for Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain’s boyhood home, and the setting for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Hannibal sits just across the Mississippi River from Illinois, and it’s a bit of a one horse town.


The major industry seems to be tourism along the four blocks of historic shopping that run from the Mark Twain Museum up to the statue of Tom and Huck.


We stayed at a charming bed and breakfast called the Dubach Inn, and had dinner three doors away at LaBinnah Bistro. After dinner we walked down to the steamboat landing on the Mississippi River.


In the morning we had a delightful breakfast with other guests of the hotel, who were emcees for a steampunk convention that happened to be in town for the weekend, and would provide some interesting color along the main street during our stay.

Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum

Our first stop was the Mark Twain Museum. The ground floor provides a fairly elaborate interpretation of some of Twain’s books, including Tom Sawyer, The Innocents Abroad, and his time in the gold rush territory of California. While these displays looked nice, they didn’t do a great job of conveying their message, especially to their intended audience, which seemed to be children.


The upper two floors of the museum did a much better job, displaying artifacts and artwork from Twain’s life and books. For those with the patience to read the detailed signage, there was a lot of interesting information here.


The museum ticket is available as a package that also grants access to other buildings down the street, and that’s definitely worthwhile. You can tour the homes that provided the inspiration for Tom, Huck and Becky, and all were interesting.

At the end of the street is a statue of Tom and Huck at the foot of the path that leads up to the lighthouse.


Mark Twain Cave

After browsing through the steam punk festival’s booths, we headed three miles down river to Mark Twain’s Cave.


This cave may not be filled with spectacular stalactites and other formations, but it is rich in history, since it is the cave from the Tom Sawyer novel (and four other Mark Twain books). Walking through its labyrinthian passageways really brings the book into focus, and the guides do a great job of identify various locations mentioned in the book.



It’s a very easy cave to traverse, with flat floors, no steps, and no climbing. It’s also a cool 52 degree respite on a hot summer day, so bring a jacket!

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After our tour of the cave, we headed back, stopping at Lover’s Leap for a last look at what is still very much Mark Twain’s Hannibal before heading home.


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Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical

Ron organized this four decade tasting of one of California’s first great flagship wines. We met at Eddie V’s and began with three flights representing the 70s, 80s and the 90s/2000s.

I was struck by the distinct stylistic difference between the flights. The 70s represented old school California winemaking, while the 80s showed a distinct Bordeaux influence, and the wines from the 90s/2000s reflected a significant leap in overall winemaking technique.

Although I scored the wines throughout the evening, all of the wines were of such consistent quality that the scores aren’t really meaningful. The Ridge wines improved through the three flights. The group’s favorites were the 72, 74, 81, 91 and 96, while the 2007 was felt to have long term potential.

Following the formal tasting the attendees poured an additional dozen wines. These wines, all French, were consistantly of stunning quality, all rating well into the 90s. Many of these wines were poured blind.

The most impressive moment of the night was when Ron identified the appellation, year, and producer of the 1999 Cote Rotie. That definitely earned a round of applause!

My notes:


Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon

Flight 1

1972 – wood, some, good fruit, wax

1973 – a bit maderized, caramel

1974 – tight, acidic, wax, wood, dill, slightly short, still has some years

1975 – corked

1977 – good fruit, simple, balanced

(Raymond 1974 CS added for contrast – fruit, vanilla, probably what happens to a fruit bomb after 40 years)

Flight 2

1981 – big fruit, blackberry, smoke, tobacco

1984 – coffee, dill

1985 – acidic, good fruit, slightly off balance, dill

1987 – vegetal, dill, slightly off balance

Flight 3

1991 – big fruit, vanilla, dill, some, coffee, the most complex of all

1992 – good fruit, a bit vegetal

1996 – game, tobacco, gun oil, Bordeaux like

1997 – big sweet nose, tannic, very ripe

2007 – big fruit, vanilla, seems balanced


Dinner Wines

1971 Corton alexis Lichine (Steve) – light color, lilacs, strawberry, cedar, delicate, balanced, nice fruit finish

2006 Dominus (Andres) – black cherry nose, very tannic, ripe prunes, vegetal, much too young

1978 Antonin Rodet Richebourg (Ron) – burn wood, vanilla, fresh fruit, herbs, Fig Newton

1999 Cote Rotie Le Grandes Places Jean-Michel Gerin (Steve) – Bacon fat, olives, superb. Blind identified exactly by Ron!

1966 Ch. La Mission Haut Brion (Ron) – fully mature Bordeaux, very balanced, tobacco

2003 Ch.Cos d’Estournel (Gary) Dense, coffee, chocolate, very tannic, gravel

2005 Ch. Las Combes (Martin) – Great fruite, balanced, vanilla, tannic

2010 Ch. Pontet Canet (Steve) – Surprisingly accessible for its age, huge fruite, vanilla, slate, stones

2009 Ch. Gazin (Andres) – Big, silky, fruitier than the 2010. Blind identified as a 2009 Pomerol by Steve

2010 Cardinale (Brian) – Superb steak wine, black cherry, baking spice really smooth and balanced. My favorite

2001 Ch. Rayas (Ron) – Light, elegant, fully mature. Misidentified as Burgundy (again!)


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The Victory Bottle


There are not very many wines on my wine bucket list. In fact, there has really only ever been one. It was the 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild “Victory Bottle.”

The victory bottle is famous for a couple of reasons.

First is that 1945 was a miracle vintage. After a string of awful vintages throughout World War II, 1945 produced the greatest wines of the century, and perhaps ever.

Second, Baron Rothschild commemorated the recovery of his winery with a unique label featuring a “V” for victory. This was the start of Chateau Mouton’s tradition of making each year’s label unique, and led to the long string of famous artist’s paintings that have graced the label since then.

Because of its fame, the Victory Bottle is perhaps the most faked bottle in all of the wine world, so it must be pursued with great caution. After many years, I was able to locate a bottle through a Hart Davis auction that carried an indisputable provenance, and I purchased it last fall. Since then I have been working to assemble a tasting of Mouton’s other greatest vintages to accompany it. Our group, The Wine Syndicate, met to sample them last night.


Often when experiencing anything that has been subject to so much hype and anticipation, the results are disappointing. I am happy to report this was not the case here. Not only did the great bottles exceed their reputations, the Victory Bottle was, indeed, the greatest of them all.

There was strong consensus among the group that the two top wines were the 1945 and 1959, and that the final five wines ( 1959, 1961, 1982, 1986 and 1945) were stellar masterpieces. The first two wines (1890 and 1937) were also astonishingly fresh for their age, and remained appealing for four hours in the glass.

It was a remarkable tasting, and one for which I will cherish the memory, now that my wine bucket list is empty!

My notes on the individual wines, and information about the provenance and history of the Victory Bottle follow:


1890 & 1937

With very old wines you never know what to expect. These were both magical. The cork for the 1890, a shipper’s wine, was extremely short, but did its job. The ’37 was true to other ’37 first growths I’ve had, an unheralded year.

1890 still lively, candle wax, iron, rose petals, 92 pts

1937 youthful, aromatic, bandaid, cinnamon, mint, candle wax, soy, spices, great acid, five spice, curry, 94 pts


1962, 1964 & 1966

Except for 1961, the 60’s and 70’s were a difficult time for Bordeaux

1962 candle wax, soap, lanolin to the max, off balance, injection molded plastic, flawed bottle

1964 simple, classic mouton, good fruit, little structure, 88 pts

1966 coffee, smoke, simple, 90 pts


1970 & 1975

These are the only very good vintages of the 70’s

1970 coffee, black fruits, 90 pts

1975 soft, red fruits, 89 pts


1959 & 1961

These are considered the greatest vintages of Mouton, after the ’45

1959 huge ripe fruit, young, dark, perfect tannin balance, mint, vanilla, Girl Scout cookies, mint chocolate chip ice cream, 99 pts

1961 barbecue, soy, fully resolved tannins, iron, 96 pts


1982 & 1986

Both are Robert Parker 100 point wines.

1982 poor cork, slight wet cardboard, mint, soft fruit, 93 pts

1986 tannic, road tar, great legs, very young, black cherry, stunningly better than the 1982, mint, wood, 98 pts


The Victory Bottle

1945 wow! almost overwhelming chocolate mint, dust, great tannic structure, cherry cola, eucalyptus bark, vanilla, unchanged in the glass for two hours, this wine will likely live another hundred years. 100 pts

Historic Information about Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945

(Réserve du Château. Provenance: Purchased from Hart Davis 11/2014, Ex-Zachys 10/30/2004 lot 1205 from the cellar of Armin Diel, recently released from Mähler-Besse)

“Mouton 45” is a legend in the wine world  – there is nothing quite like it. Its renown is likely due to both its extraordinary nose  – famously redolent of eucalyptus –  and the symbolism of its date and label, the ‘V’ representing the hard-won triumph of good over the forces of darkness. To commemorate the Allied victory, Baron Philippe had the idea of embellishing the Mouton-Rothschild 1945 label with an artwork, on this occasion, a symbolic design intended to celebrate the return of peace. He commissioned this work from a  young unknown artist, Philippe Julian. M. Julian submitted several drafts for the label, and the final one is based on the ‘V for Victory’ made famous by Winston Churchill throughout the war. This marked the beginning of a series of specially designed labels for each vintage. For each year a different artist was commissioned, and the payment was always in wine.

Michael Broadbent, the renowned British expert, writes in his book “Vintage Wine”:

The first thing to notice is its extraordinary colour. I have on more than one occasion recognized the wine by this alone. And its bouquet is equally distinctive, in fact one of the most astonishing smells ever to emerge from grapes grown out of doors. The power and spiciness surges out of the glass like a sudden eruption of Mount Etna: cinnamon, eucalyptus, ginger. Impossible to describe but inimitable, incomparable, and, because of this and its appearance, several times ‘guessed’ blind. There is simply no other wine like it. Its taste is a component of smell, its fragrance is reflected on the palate. Still lovely, still vivacious. Seemingly tireless – indeed another half-century anticipated.

The doyenne of British wine journalists, Jancis Robinson, describes it as follows:

Very, very dark in colour. Extraordinary concentration in this famous wine. The aromas are just slightly porty in their ripeness and concentration but then the wine (still) has so much vitality that it rises above it all to be wonderfully vital. Truly a miraculous wine that I had the pleasure of encountering at the great celebration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war at the British embassy in Paris. So rich and wonderfully persistent. What a treat!

And Robert Parker says:

A consistent 100-point wine (only because my point scale stops at that number), the 1945 Mouton-Rothschild is truly one of the immortal wines of the century. This wine is easily identifiable because of its remarkably exotic, over-ripe, sweet nose of black fruits, coffee, tobacco, mocha, and Asian spices. It is an extraordinarily dense, opulent, and rich wine, with layers of creamy fruit, behaving more like a 1947 Pomerol than a structured, powerful, and tannic 1945. The wine finishes with a 60+ second display of ripe fruit, extract, and sweet tannin. This remarkably youthful wine (only light amber at the edge) is mind boggling! Will it last another 50 years?

The fact that this was the first post-war harvest ought to have been enough to immortalize the vintage, but the freak weather conditions made it even more memorable. In the first few days of May, there was a sudden, heavy, and very late frost, which blackened four-fifths of the vineyard. The Merlot vines, which flowered earlier than the Cabernets, were the worst affected. Subsequent hot, dry weather soon restored the situation, but the eventual harvest was extremely small. The yield per hectare was the lowest it had been in 60 years (around 10h per ha). Not only were there few grapes to a bunch, but the berries were extremely small. The juice was greatly concentrated and the ratio between skin area and volume was extremely favorable for maximum extraction. So ripe were the grapes, that the musts sometimes attained 15% alcohol.

In 2006, K&L Wines sold a case of 1945 Mouton, including a trip to the Mähler-Besse cellar to pick out the bottles, for $150,000.


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Burgundy and Bordeaux at Capa


Our friends Ron and Bev are the only couple we know where no matter what old wine I pull from my cellar, they can match it. So when they invited us to try Capa at the new Four Seasons Hotel at Disney World, we jumped at the chance, and pulled some fantastic old wines to take along. Having met Capa’s sommelier, Jill Davis, a few weeks ago at a private party on Hilstone’s dock, we knew we were in for a treat, and we weren’t disappointed.

Oddly, this is the most austere Four Seasons I’ve been to, all hard surfaces and glaring lights. It’s the sort of place where the artwork is mostly square canvasses of one solid color.

Unfortunately, this austerity continues into the restaurants, including the flagship Capa on the 17th floor. What could be a real gem of a restaurant is defeated by an environment that sacrifices warmth for trendiness.

Certainly Capa has a lot to offer in the way of food. During a marathon evening of wine tasting we tried more than half the menu, and liked most of what we had.

The Hamachi Crudo, served with Clementines and a crunchy Horseradish topping was everyone’s favorite, and we had two orders and wanted more.

The Charcuterie Board was the best I’ve had. It includes Jamon Serrano, Cantimpalo, Lomo and we added some Iberico. The Lomo was particularly good.

The olive asortment included Arbequina, Gordal and Empeltre on the night we were there. Some were pitted, some not, and being served slightly warmed really increased their flavor profile.
The Shrimp coated with Chili were very pungent, a bit overwhelming with ours wines.

Patatas Bravas Potatoes looked like tater tots, but were amazingly fluffy, with a delicious Paprika and Black Garlic coating—some of the best potatoes I’ve ever had, and small enough to not feel guilty.

I’m not a big Pork Belly fan, but this version had been seared extra crispy, and I ate all of the generous portion.

The Octopus was chewy and lacked the crisp char needed to make it interesting.

Veal Cheeks had a gamey aroma that was quite unappealing.

The roasted Cauliflower was delicious, and served with a sunny side up egg for dipping.

For entrees we tried the 8 ounce Filet and the 12 ounce New York Strip. Both were prime. The filet, having been marinated, had an exotic succulence. The strip boasted a great smokey flavor from the grill and dry aging. Both were pretty pricey, but worth it.

The Bernaise Sauce was unusually thin (and a scanty portion) but proved to be a delicious dipping sauce for the strip, and its thinness actually made it a better accompaniment. It had lots of traditional Bernaise flavor.

The best side dish was the diced Carrot and Celery Root served with Pesto. The Swiss Chard and the Wild Mushrooms were both unremarkable. Yukon Gold mashed potatoes with Brown Butter were good, but not as good as they sound.

We also had an assorted dessert platter with ice creams, cakes, and some really good churros.

Service was up to the Four Seasons standard, with everyone extremely helpful and friendly.

It’s worth the hunt for an unlocked door so you can view the Disney fireworks from the terrace outside, which is a welcome escape from the boxy dining room and open kitchen.

I wouldn’t hesitate to return to Capa for the great food and wine service, but it’s not a place I’d pick for a cozy or romantic evening. With different seating, surfaces and lighting I’d be there every week.


Notes on the Wines

Capa is lucky to have Jill Davis as Sommelier. She is perhaps Central Florida’s most knowledgable sommelier. The wine list is superb, and excellently priced. On this evening we brought our own wines, and Jill provided superb wine service and insightful comments on all of them.

Jacques Selosse Initial (Ron)
Very crisp, only slight oxidation, lemon pith, brioche, green , 96

2002 Meursault Les Meix Chavaux Domaine Roulot
Closed nose, ashes, caramel, chalk, lanolin, dull, jelly bellies, 88 pts

1961 Chambertin Pierre Damoy (Ron)
Good fruit although thin, light color, slightly cloudy, cork fell in, coffee, 89 pts

1961 J. Thorin Chambertin-Clos de Bèze Grand Cru (Steve)
Fuel oil, acidic, iron, 86 pts

1961 Château Ausone (Ron)
Pleasant perfume, spice box, 91 pts

1961 Château Angélus (Steve)
Mineral nose, nice body, good fruit, 90 pts

1959 Echezeaux Pierre Ponnelle (Ron)
Deep color, great fruit, drinking 20 years younger, caramel, rosewood, caramel, raisins, cherry, baking spices, 97 pts

1959 Hospices de Beaune Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Dames Hospitalieres Maison Leroy (Steve)
Elegant, traditional, dried rose nose, soy, espresso creme brûlée, great acid, earth, iron, youthful, 97 pts

1966 Château Latour Grand Vin (Ron)
Classic Bordeaux, not a lot of fruit left, 93 pts

1971 Château Latour Grand Vin (Steve)
Deep dark color, peppers, tannic fruit, dust, amazing complexity, very fruity, 94 pts

1966 Ch La Mission Haut Brion (Ron)
Bordeaux character, smoke, straw, ripe fruit, tobacco, a good bottle of this, although I’ve had even better, 94 pts


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Dock Party at Hillstone’s


Every year Ron hosts a dock party at Hillstone’s. It’s a great venue if the weather cooperates. Last year we froze our tushes off, but this year it was perfect: mid 80s with a constant breeze off the lake.


In attendance were Ron, Bev, Keith, Parlo, Linda, Andres, Paula, Carsten and Jill, the sommelier from the new Four Seasons resort.

Sea plane landing for lunch at Hilstone's

Sea plane landing for lunch at Hilstone’s

Hillstone’s has gone to a bizarre policy of only serving appetizers on the dock, even to private parties, even though they are serving the full menu to people 50 feet away from the dock. Fortunately the manager who came up with this asinine idea was fired yesterday, so maybe next year’s event will be a bit more flexible.

As always, the smoked salmon was a highlight. I’d never had the grilled artichoke before, which was also good. And at the end of the evening we talked them out of some steaks. I loved the Hawaiian Rib Eye. The accompanying Kale salad was the best I’ve had anywhere, with a subtle vinaigrette mixed in, and a few bits of peanut.

31 Wine line up

31 Wine line up

Everyone brought some great wines. My wine of the night was Ron’s 1959 Clos Vougeot, as evidenced by the number and breadth of my notes.


Champagne sabre-ing aftermath

Champagne sabre-ing aftermath

Most of the wines were served blind, and Ron identified my 1993 CDP right down to the producer. Impressive!

My notes:


Jacques Selosse la cote Faron – Ron
Toast honey citrus light oxidation 94

Billecarte Salmon Sous Bois – Andres
Citrus 90

2002 Dom Perignon – Keith
Lemon vanilla 90

2005 Roulot Meursault Les Meix Cheval – Ron
Mineral slate butter lemon smoke 97

2003 Clos du Pappilon Baumard – Andres
Minerality outboard motor exhaust 93


1988 Ch Haut Brion 375ml – Steve
Slate, drinking older 93

1988 Ch la Grange – Steve
Herbaceous, chewy, red fruit, youthful, coffee, chocolate 95

2006 Araujo Eisele – Keith
Vanilla, big fruit, baking spices, 99

1959 Clos Vougeot Etroius – Ron
Metal, spice, lichen, brine, dirty martini, cigar, dark cherry, tannins, olive, caramel, bacon 99

1961 Corton Hospices de Beaune – Steve
Brown sugar, leather, bit o honey candy 95

1964 Clos Vougeot Gros Freres & Souer- Steve
Spicy, barbecue pork, 94


1985 Phelps insignia – Ron
Pepper, Burgundian, 94

1985 Caymus special selection – Ron
Caramel, pine needles 92

1985 Heitz Martha’s – Ron
Good fruit, mint, Girl Scout cookies 93

2007 Pagliaro – Keith
Big tannins, 90

81 Heitz Martha’s – Keith
Odd, green 90

2007 Pipparello – Keith
Young vanilla 93

08 Pontet Canert – Andres
Green, raspberries, 91

08 Ducru Beaucaillou – Andres
Vanilla, 92


08 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon – Andres
Tight tannic, dehydrated strawberries, 90

96 Montrose – Gary
Tight, green, very young, 93

96 Cos d’Estornel – Gary
Slightly corked, green vegetal, tight, 91

93 CDP Henri Bonneau – Steve
Recommended by Ron, complex, layered, mint, meat, 97

2003 Soldera – Keith
Cherry, vanilla, stewed tomato 92

2004 Madonna Piana – Keith
Fruit, vanilla 90

2004 Poggio al Vento – Keith
Vanilla, 90


1998 Valandraud – Ron
Smoke, Cabernet 96

1998 Pavie – Ron
Tight, Bordeaux-like, Cherry, vanilla, I guessed 2003 Pavie, 92

1998 Ch. L’Evangile – Ron
Classic Bordeaux 94

Champagne Larnandier-Bernier -Andres
Toast, balanced, butter, yeast 93

1992 DRC Romanee Saint Vivant – Ron
Floral, feminine, strawberry 96


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Smoked Salmon Flatbreads



  • Flatbread or flour tortillas
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Crumbled Chèvre
  • Sour Cream
  • Lemon
  • Diced onion
  • Chopped chives
  • Minced bacon
  • Capers
  • Black Pepper


  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Combine most of the Chèvre wit the sour cream and lemon juice.
  • Bake flatbread or tortilla for 4 minutes or until crisp.
  • Spread cheese mixture on flatbreads.
  • Add toppings, sprinkle with remaining Chèvre.
  • Bake 4 more minutes.


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For Christmas I gave Dani a VIP tour of Universal Orlando. She was sick after Christmas, so she flew back to town President’s Day weekend to do it.

These tours are limited to twelve people. A guide takes you around both parks, including through some backstage areas, and lets you skip the line at ten attractions. We actually got in fifteen attractions, and then stayed a bit longer to return to the Harry Potter area so we could ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions.

The attractions we visited were:

  • Despicable Me
  • Rip Ride and Rockit
  • Cat in the Hat
  • Spiderman
  • Hulk
  • Olivander’s
  • Hippogriff
  • Forbidden Journey
  • Dragon Challenge
  • Hogwarts Express
  • Grigotts
  • Men In Black
  • Simpsons
  • Horror Makeup
  • Mummy

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Ron’s Birthday Extravaganza


Ron puts together a fantastic collection of wines to celebrate his birthday, and this year was no exception.

IMG_6325  IMG_6334

We met in the private room at Eddie V’s. In attendance were:

  • Ron and Bev
  • Linda and Steve
  • Keith and Parlo
  • Andres and Paula
  • Dlynn Proctor, Grange
  • Andy McNamara, Master Somm


We began with two stellar Champagnes that could not have been more different, with the crisp acidity and oxidative notes of the Selosse contrasting the ripe peach skin and burnt orange sherbet of the Bollinger. This Bollinger VV Francaises is very rare. It comes from one of the last remaining parcels of pre-phylloxera wines, which is apparently also endangered.

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The contrast between the three whites was just as apparent. Some attendees weren’t wild about the Haut Brion blanc, which seemed to lack varietal (or fruit) character, but six hours in the glass produced a continually evolving array of other complex notes.


Unfortunately, the 1959 Richebourg was a flawed bottle.


The Bordeaux flight was fun. My three wines were served blind, and 1959 Gruaud Larose was so complex that it was immediately assumed to be the 1961 Haut Brion. The Haut Brion should have been better, but it did improve over several hours. The Latour was surpassingly unyielding, and although it was some taster’s favorite, the Inglenook was slightly cork tainted as a result of the moldy cork falling into the bottle when opened. I did not think the Inglenook was a outclassed as Ron did.


1986 Mouton was again disappointing, and I’m going to sell the rest of mine, but the 2000 Pavie demonstrated why it is the greatest wine ever made at Pavie, despite the hype of the 2003 and 2005.


I did not care for either of the CDPs, which both seemed to have obvious production flaws. I can’t imagine that was the case with the 2007 Rayas, which should have been stellar, but I returned to it over several hours and never found anything about it to like.


I’ve only had Harlan once or twice, but poured blind it was clearly a California cult. I didn’t see the similarity to Pomerol guessed by some of the tasters. A stellar wine, worth the hype.


The Burgundies provided and elegant intermezzo. I’m unaccustomed to drinking Burgundies this young, and it’s still hard for me to see how they could ever turn into the magical old ones I’ve had, but they were very pleasant (and very expensive).


Hermitage was easy to identify blind, and if the 1989 is this good I’m looking forward to trying my 1990 some day.


The final three wines were all block busters, and although palate fatigue was starting to set in, they each had their own appeal. The Grange was surprisingly accessible for a brand new release (but I can’t imagine paying $900 for it).

By the time Linda and I slipped out it was after midnight, and there were still at least five bottles not yet opened. The group has stamina!


My tasting notes follow. Wines provided by Ron except where noted:

Jacques Selosse (Keith)
Very crisp, oxidative, 95 pts

Bollinger 1998
Pre phylloxera
Peach skin, orange pulp, burnt orange dreamcicle, oak ,95 pts

Chevalier Montrachet 2000
Classic vanilla lemon oak
Butter coconut balanced, 96 pts

1990 Haut Brion Blanc
Smoke, gun oil, no varietal aromas
Really balanced, fading fruit, white taffy candy, shoe polish, peat, clean caramel finish, nutty, 98 pts

1990 Chablis Raveneau Montee de Tonnerre premier Cru
Flowers, heavy, briny, seashell, salt water taffy, green apple, high acid, 95 pts

1959 Richebourg
Nail polish, oxidized, caramel (flawed bottle)

1959 Gruaud Larose (Steve)
Fresh fruit, curry, almost sweet, herbal, green 97pts

1959 Inglenook cask F-6 (Steve)
Very slightly corked, great color, slightly restrained fruit mint 93 pts

1961 Haut Brion (Steve)
Dusty gravel, very smokey, after a hour unbelievably strong charred wood 95pts

1959 Latour
Walnut, spices, fruit dies in the finish, 94pts

1986 Mouton (Keith)
Tight, short, Bret, 90pts

2000 Pavie (Keith)
Big sweet fruit, shell, peppery, very young, mints, 97pts

2007 Rayas CDP (Andres)
Geranium sorbate (flawed bottle?)

2005 Quartz CDP (Andres)
Sewage (flawed bottle?)

1994 Harlan
Vanilla, baking spices, cinnamon, anise, mint, 100 pts

2003 La Tache
Green, earthy, bright fruit, mint, floral, vanilla, balanced, structured, leather, light bodied, very fresh, elegant, totally ready 97 pts

1999 Rousseau Chambertin
Elegant nose, restrained, intense cherry, slightly tannic, seashells, elegant, 96 pts

1989 Hermitage Chave (Keith)
Meat, cooked vegetables, 95 pts

1989 Ch Gruaud Larose (Andrew)
Slightly corked, quite chewy, young, mint 91 pts

1975 La Mission Haut Brion
Parker 100, Chewy, balanced, very tannic, good structure and length, sawdust, mint, 96 pts

1970 Unico
Very young, high acid, long, dill, vanilla 96 pts

2010 Grange
Huge fruit, immense sawdust, syrup, huge tannins and length 98 pts


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Home on the Grange


We gathered for a most interesting tasting at Eddie V’s. The event was organized by Ron. Because of the cost of the wines and the desire to limit the event to ten tasters, the group was comprised of somewhat different people than usual. Attending were Ron, Bev, Keith, Parlo, Andres, Paula (not tasting due to pregnancy), Linda, me, and several other wine professionals and enthusiasts new to our group.

Our special guest was DLynn Proctor, Wine Ambassador for Penfolds, the makers of Grange. From PR Newswire:

Proctor was named “Best New Sommelier in America” by Wine & Spirits Magazine in 2008.

Proctor is also one of the four featured subjects in the wine documentary ‘SOMM’, covering the three year journey through six countries of filming to becoming a coveted Master Sommelier.

Penfolds is one of the oldest, continuously operating wineries in Australia, founded in 1844, and Max Schubert’s creation of Penfolds Grange Shiraz in 1951 forever changed the face of the Australian wine industry.

DLynn was an encyclopedia of knowledge about ever aspect of Penfolds, Grange, and the wines, knowing off the top of his head weather, alcohol, acid, winemaker and anything else we could think to ask about every vintage.

I’ve had a few vintages of Grange in the past, but it was very interesting to taste 14, spanning 5 decades, side by side.

Prior to the event my perceptions that Grange takes many decades to mature, as I’d only once or twice had one I felt was ready to drink. But the tasting changed my view somewhat. I now feel that Grange, like the wineries in California and France (and I suppose most of the rest of the world) made some stylist changes in the 1980s that have affected how the wines taste and how they age. This is the reason my cellar is comprised mostly of wines from before 1980, and I will now go so far as to extend the same policy to Grange.

For me (and Linda) the Wine Of The Night was the 1968, which exhibited the characteristics we love in the (coincidentally) same vintage of BV Georges de la Tour Private Reserve. The groups Wine Of The Night was the 1976, which was more refined and Bordeaux like, and certainly another good choice.

While all of the wines (except one flawed bottle) were impressive, there was nothing about the more recent vintages that would incline me to pony up the $600+ cost of a bottle.

One other note of interest is that throughout the pre-tasting wines, the formal tasting and the dinner, there was not a single wine I scored below 90 points, which I don’t think has ever happened before.

Thanks very much to Ron for putting this together, as it was one of the most educational events we’ve done!

My Notes:

Grange Tasting at Eddie V’s 11/7/14

99 Pommery magnum (Keith) great toast and balance 96 pts

90 Krug (Ron) green apple, citrus zest 96 pts


Flight 1: 1980, 1982, 1986, 1989

1980 green vegetables, vanilla, mint, balanced, cream, 12.9%, cold vintage 93 pts

1982 mint, stemmy, plum, warm vintage, 6% Cabernet, very balanced and smooth finish, 96 pts

1986 overripe, plummy, American oak dill, old world mouth feel, bay leaf, 97 pts

1989 ripe, plum, high alcohol, Australian Shiraz, 9% Cabernet, savory beef broth, blueberry pie finish, 94 pts


Flight 2: 2001, 2004, 2006

2001 hot vintage, big fruit, big production, 14% alcohol, big black fruit finish, 97 pts

2004 simple, accessible, balanced, 93 pts

2010 Mollydooker Velvet Glove (Steve, served blind as a ringer), vanilla, velvety fruit, long vanilla finish, lots of black fruits, 98 pts

2006 simple, mint, American oak dill, creme brûlée, sweet fruit, 98 pts


Flight 3: 1990, 1994, 1998

1990 iron, blood, 93 pts

1994 dusty, vanilla, cab franc, chocolate dust 95 pts

1998 smokey, mint, big black fruits, 98 pts


Flight 4: 1968, 1971, 1976, 1978

1968 earthy, mushroom, coffee, green herbs, iron, red berries, leather, mint, soy, balsamic, 100 pts

1971 very ripe, fruity, sweet, grandmother’s attic, flawed bottle

1976 tropical, very sweet palate, 95 pts

1978 coffee, figs newtons, chocolate covered caramels, sawdust, 96 pts


Wines Served with Dinner

2008 Ch. Talbot Calliou Blanc (Steve), vitamin C, spices, wax, 96 pts

1990 Raveneau Chablis Premiere Cru Montee de Tonnerre (Ron) wax, honey, violets, 96 pts

1964 Clos Vougeot Musigni Gros Frere & Fils (Steve) baking spices, pie crust, morels, chocolate covered currants, butter an cinnamon filled pastry dough, 96 pts

1988 DRC Richebourg (Ron) bacon fat, forest floor, mint, 94 pts

2005 Harland Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Keith) vanilla, Rutherford Cabernet nose, huge, chewy, tannin for the ages, 98 pts

2011 Abbatucci (Andres) refined, dried flowers, butter, spices, 90 pts

2008 La Mission Haut Brion (Andres) very tight, closed, tannic, 90 pts

2000 Ch. La Tour Haut Brion (Alex) classic Bordeaux, pencil lead, 92 pts

2007 Masseto (Keith) big black fruits, tannic, mint, long, very young, 97 pts

1966 La Mission Haut Brion (Ron) really complex, cigar, road tar, black fruit 98 pts

2010 Hermitage La Pierelle Kermit Lynch (Andres) smoked meat, black fruit, really seems like the Grange, 97 pts




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New York

Following our cruise we spent a busy four days in New York.

Upon arrival we checked our bags at the Waldorf Astoria Towers and headed south to the World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. The memorial is very well done, just a somber pair of holes in the ground, with water flowing endlessly down into them. The new building is very beautiful.



There were long lines for the museum, and we didn’t have time before meeting our friends for lunch, so we wandered around Battery Park and the Irish Hunger Memorial, which was an impressive sloped garden featuring indigenous plants and recreating some of the conditions that forced so many to immigrate.


If you enlarge this view from Battery Park you can see the Statue of Liberty that greeted those immigrants.


We met our friends Ron, Bev, Keith and Parlo at Bouley for a four hour lunch. The four of them are in New York for a Champagne extravaganza, but we’re on a different mission. (Most of the links in this post take you to my food blog for more information about the restaurants.)


We attended a late dinner and show at 54 Below, a nice cabaret. The performer was Sarah Boggess, who played Ariel in the Little Mermaid and Christine in Phantom on Broadway.


For lunch Saturday we went to one of Linda’s favorites, Benoit, for their fabulous chicken.


We attended a matinee of If/Then, a new Broadway show starring Idina Menzell. The cast was fantastic, and made some fairly flawed material quite enjoyable.


Dinner took us back downtown to Gotham Bar and Grill. Despite its name, the food was far from bar and grill stuff, and we really liked it, although it was very noisy.


Sunday at noon found us up by Central Park, for lunch at our favorite, Jean Georges.


This is such a wonderful restaurant! The service is friendly, the room is spacious and quiet, there are great wines available by the half glass so you can assemble your own pairing, and at lunch the prices are amazing.

After lunch we saw a matinee of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which won the Tony this year. While it might not be up to the level of some past Tony winners, it was very funny and entertaining. Jefferson Mays plays nine different roles, and was really quite amazing.

The weather dropped into the 30s for one night and we decided not to make the trek to Chez Josephine, and on the spur of the moment walked a couple blocks to a small storefront and had a lovely pan-Asian meal at Wild Ginger.

Monday was our last day in New York, and we made it count, at two spectacular restaurants.


Most notable was Caviar Russe, which is about far more than caviar. We’ll definitely be returning here. IMG_5320

And for dinner we went down to Chelsea to experience Morimoto.


It was interesting in that the omakase was much more about cooked food than sushi.

IMG_5324Tuesday morning we turned back into pumpkins and headed to the airport for the flight to Orlando. It will be a shock after almost a month of traveling, but it will also be nice to be home.


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Linda got to celebrate her birthday in Boston, our last stop before New York City. We were last here (on separate trips) when Dani was looking at colleges, so it had been a while. For lunch, we decided to check out one of the city’s nicest restaurants, l’Espalier. We had a delightful multi-course chef’s tasting menu and matching wine pairings.


It’s butter.



Afterwards we walked down Boylston Street, and recognized the building used for exterior shots in Boston Legal.



At boston common we fed some squirrels, then continued on to Faneuil Hall and the Quincy Market, but didn’t stay long, and called an Uber (our first experience with this, and a good one) to take us back to the ship.

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St. John, New Brunswick (Bay of Fundy)



As we arrived in Saint John New Brunswick we were greeted by a tug spraying water jets and turning pirouettes, which produced a continually animated rainbow.



Our ship looked pretty tiny as it nuzzled the rear end of a humongous Carnival cruise ship. It was easy to tell which passengers came from the two ships, by age alone.



The major attraction of the Bay of Fundy is Reversing Falls, a section of river that changes direction with the tide, creating swirling eddies. The riverfront path took us on a five mile walk that was mostly scenic.


At least it was scenic until we actually got to Reversing Falls. Here’s a picture of Reversing Falls from Reversing Falls Park. Yes, that’s it. Apparently the place was named by someone who had never actually seen a waterfall.

After chatting with other disgruntled tourists who’d been tricked into the walk, we headed back to the pier. Not far from the ship we had an excellent Canadian Thanksgiving afternoon meal of seafood chowder and lobster poutine at Grannan’s Seafood Restaurant.



We planned ahead on our walk and took before and after pictures of the ship. The tides in the Bay of Fundy can run 54 feet, although 28 is typical. Here is the difference 3 hours made.

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Portland, Maine


The ship arrived fairly early in Portland Maine and we cleared immigration on board and went out for a morning walk. Not too many shops were open yet, but we made out way around most of the visitor’s section along the wharf and up a couple of streets.

After lunch we met a guide for a walking tour of the lobster docks. She was quite informative. About 95% of the country’s lobster comes through here, so it’s a great place to be for seafood. Maine is also second only to Vermont in number of microbreweries, so a great place for beer, too.

We had a lobster boat excursion also scheduled. I did this a few years ago with Pamela, and it was interesting, but we decided to skip it, do a little shopping at a kitchen and gourmet store and return to the ship to do a bit of laundry and relax.

Portland is a very cute town, and one of the most highly regarded small towns in the US, according to a variety of authorities.


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After a week at sea it was nice to stretch our legs in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

We were greeted by a bagpiper and drummer, who filled the space between the ship and the terminal building with a rather impressive amount of sound.


The shadow of the Oceania Insignia against the terminal building.

Halifax is an attractive city. We walked along the waterfront for a mile or so, visiting the various tourist shops and reading the pub menus. Then we headed up through downtown to the top of the hill that overlooks the harbor.


It was Canada’s Thanksgiving Weekend, so most places were closed, although there were lots of people about, mostly college students.

We stopped for brunch at Le Bistro by Liz, which was a pleasant place, then made our way back down to the wharf.



On the way we passed the old cemetery where some of the Titanic casualties were buried.



Back at the waterfront we had some delicious lobster dip at Murphy’s Cable Wharf, and fed the birds on the open air patio, then made our way back to the ship.

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Sea Daze


Repositioning cruises are semi-annual events for many cruise ships, as they move from their summer European itineraries to their winter Caribbean ones. Unlike most schedules, they feature a fair number of consecutive sea days, when the ship is simply trying to get from one place to another. As a result, they tend to appeal to more seasoned travelers with plenty of time, and no pressing bucket list of islands to visit.

Because they are motivated by deteriorating weather, repositioning cruises’ advertised itineraries tend to be more hopeful than actual. That was the case on our last trip, on Princess, when storms kept us out of Belfast and Reykjavik harbors, and has been the case on this trip as well.

The shortest hop between Europe and America is far North in the Atlantic (think of it as the Titanic route). It’s just three days between Ireland and Newfoundland. But a storm blocked our path, forcing a southerly detour, so we skipped Cork at the Irish end, and Newfoundland altogether, instead heading for our next port, Halifax, Nova Scotia. This detour turned three sea days into nearly a week.

We didn’t mind the detour much this time, though, because we’d been to both of the skipped ports before, and given the challenging sailing for the first few days (when we never got closer than 400 miles from the the storm’s center) we certainly wouldn’t have wanted it to be any rougher.


It’s a bit deceptive on a good sized ship. The Oceania Insignia is no 5000 passenger mega-liner, but with a rated capacity of something like 670 (and an actual load of 500 for this trip) she’s not a tiny ship. So it’s a bit surprising to learn that those little white caps out there are 20 feet high.

Wind is as big a factor in the sailing conditions. Our forward speed of about 20mph combined with the head wind of the storm created an effective wind speed of close to 60mph at times. Needless to say, the outer decks weren’t open.

Walking around the ship was an interesting challenge for the first three days, requiring every handhold one could find. Because this line attracts seasoned passengers, there was surprisingly little complaining, although the reception desk was kept busy handing out seasickness pills. Linda never needed them, but I confess to taking one for each of the first three days. They work great.

The mega-liners have lots of entertainment venues and things to do, but a smaller ship like this one, where the emphasis is on fine dining and a homey atmosphere, offers less variety. You need lots of reading material or other media under such conditions, and fortunately we were well-equipped.

Still, when we arrive in Halifax, it will be nice to set foot on land again, if only for a few hours.

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I’ve never developed much of an affinity for Dublin. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just that there’s nothing to draw me here. It’s a city of writers: Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, and so on. But frankly they’re writers I don’t read, and certainly don’t reread.

It’s a city of pubs, but those aren’t high on my list of places to eat or drink. And it’s a city of tourist shops—well, you get the idea.

It’s also where about a third of the country’s population lives, a million and a half of them. But it lacks the natural beauty of the rest of the Green Isle.

So we tried something different this time, a Jameson distillery tour (the actual distillery isn’t really here anymore, it’s in Cork).

We began with a tour of the city. Our guide was rather boring, and had gone to the William Shatner School of Bizarre Dramatic… Pauses.


Once we reached the Jameson “Distillery” which is really a visitor center we had a short tour and then I was lucky and got chosen to be one of the people to taste comparative samples of Jameson, Scotch and Jack Daniels, which was interesting. The Jameson is much smoother, the scotch is peaty/smokey and a bit harsh, and the Jack very perfumey and rough. But regular Jameson is also pretty rough after having only had the 12 and 18 before.

We had much too long a time there, so Linda and I went for a walk to the river, but since it was Sunday, that part of town was closed up. We did see some good street art:



After another ride around town we were dropped off back at the ship.

The last time we were in Dublin there was bad weather so we stayed in port overnight and skipped the next port, which was Belfast. It must be something about Dublin, as tomorrow we’re skipping Cork, due to predicted gale force winds. At least we saw Belfast this time. And the weather has been really nice so far. I guess there are 25 foot waves forecast tonight, so I’m just as glad to be in port.

So next stop is Newfoundland, in four days.

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Titanic Belfast

Titanic Belfast is a visitor center opened in 2012 adjacent to the Belfast docks where Titanic was constructed. It is, without doubt, the best visitor center I’ve been to.

Our day began with a short tour of downtown Belfast, a small city that is enjoying an economic renaissance since peace came in 1998. We soon arrived at the dry dock where Titanic was outfitted after the hull was completed in the nearby gantry.


After a bit of history we descended into the dry dock where we could inspect the rusted gate that was moved to seal up the dock.


Along the bottom of the dock are stacks of the supports used to brace the ship. To give you an idea of the scale, each little support weighs more than a ton.


After a stop for coffee we arrived at the nearby Titanic Belfast, an absolutely breathtaking building with five floors of exhibits.


You begin by traveling from the ground floor up to the first floor, where a gallery details what Belfast was like during the years leading up to the time of Titanic. Unlike other Irish cities, it was quite industrial, with half a million linen looms in the city, and a major boat building business.

Throughout the facility we found excellent displays, interactives and use of projections. Nearly every other museum I’ve been to should visit here to see how to properly design displays to engage and inform.

I particularly loved the floor projections of drawings and other information in this first area. Sourced from four overhead projectors, they were constantly changing, easy to read, and amazingly resistant to shadows as we walked over them.


This brought us to the base of a re-creation (at 1/3 scale) of the Arrol Gantry used to construct the Titanic’s hull. We ascended in a lift to the fourth floor and boarded a dark ride that took us on a tour of the shipyard, through sets and projections. The ride vehicles were smaller versions of the King Kong ride from Universal Studios Florida in the 90’s. Each six passenger vehicle was suspended from a scissor lift, permitting two stories of vertical travel. Ride audio was excellent.


After the ride we stopped at a large window that looks out onto where the gantry stood. The window changes from opaque to transparent, in sync with a film of the launch. This shot captures it in transition, with the titanic in the gantry visible as a rendering over the view of the port:


Other displays contained whole staterooms, including first, second and third class accommodations. A particularly effect 180 degree theater provided a tour of the ship, moving upward from engine room to bridge on three walls surrounding the audience:


The displays on this floor concluded with the sinking, and on the third floor a two story high theater described the aftermath, including discovery and exploration.  In a unique bit of design, the lowest floor of this theater was glass, and below it you could watch high resolution images as cameras moved over the wreck.

With limited time we couldn’t explore further, but the museum certainly deserves at least a half day, perhaps more. It is a truly great facility.


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After Linda’s push to get “Tree” (AKA “A Bug’s Life”) open at Animal Kingdom, we were able to slip away for a transatlantic cruise. On Friday we picked up a rental car at Disney and on Saturday we packed it and headed for Orlando International airport. (This trick saves us cab fare, and is much less rushed.) We had lunch at our frequent travel stop, McCoy’s and then boarded a Delta jet for Detroit.

Since we live in Orlando we’re used to a really nice airport, but this one might even be better than Orlando’s. It’s spacious and airy, easy to get around, and the Westin hotel is even more convenient than the Hyatt in Orlando.

At the moment there is a shortage of nice places to eat in the terminal, but new ones are coming. For now, the solution is to dine at Dema in the lobby of the Westin, which is just on the other side of a private TSA entrance to the hotel’s lobby.


The Zen-like setting of this lobby restaurant makes it a welcome retreat from the hustle of the airport, and it’s literally feet away from the gates.

Service is friendly and there is an extensive selection of wines by the glass. The pepperoni and bacon pizza and the hummus and tapenade appetizer were both good.

Note that the TSA portal closes in the evening and you have to go back around through the terminal, but it’s still not that far.

Our flight departed at about11pm, the last one out of the airport. I skipped dinner and took advantage of the “pod” in Delta’s business elite class (thank you frequent flyer miles) to get an almost full night’s sleep before our 11 am arrival in London.

On the approach to Heathrow we passed over Windsor Castle, the weekend home of the Queen, and our destination for the following day.


This time our luggage arrived with us (unlike two years ago, on our trip with Martin, Audrey and Emilio) and we were met by our favorite driver, Eddie Manning. It wasn’t much after noon when we arrived at The Ritz Hotel and were able to settle into our lovely room.


I found this room on for about half price, and what a deal it was.


If the the founder of the Ritz could see his hotel a hundred years later I think he would be very pleased. Its maintenance and refurbishment are tip top, and its staff still cleaves to old-time standards of service. While the strict enforcement of the no jeans or sneakers rule may irk some, and the requirement of a jacket and tie in the restaurants may seem old fashioned, they work to enforce the tone attempted here, which some may find a bit snooty. So be it; if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of alternatives. But if you’d like to step back to the glamour of a past age, this is the place to do it.


After a nap we headed out for a snack, and after wandering around a bit ended up at our old standby, Bentley’s. Dani and I first found this play quite a few years ago, up an alley called Swallow Street (lots of bars there?) off of Piccadilly. The place seems to have been the only thing around that survived the bombing in WWII, and has been operating since 1916.


Bentley’s specializes in fresh seafood and shellfish.  It has a cozy, pub-like interior, but on this day it was great to dine in the covered area out front, basically the middle of the street.

The wine selection is particularly well-suited to fish and especially the shellfish selections. You can’t go wrong with the Albarino, and it went great with my prepared crab appetizer.


Back to the hotel and a bit of journalling, and then it was time for dinner at the very dressy Ritz Restaurant, right in our hotel.


Regarded by many as the world’s most beautiful dining room, the Restaurant at the Ritz offers a rarefied experience, at rarefied prices. But actually the tasting menu, which included eight courses for 95 pounds, was a good deal. While the food is not likely to garner Michelin stars, several courses were quite good. The matching wine pairings were generous, but few actually matched the food. Service was, of course, impeccable.

Monday morning the alarm got us out of bed, but we were pretty much on time zone for our trip to Windsor Castle. This involved navigating the tube to Paddington Station and catching two trains. This sounds harder than it turned out to be, and we arrived in about 60 minutes (although it must be said that the tickets we bought failed to work in almost every single turnstile and we had to be let through manually, a difficulty that seemed to be a matter of course).

Windsor has a nice mall attached to the train station (and in retrospect this is where we should have eaten), but the castle itself is surrounded by tacky tourist shops. We had a lunch reservation at what turned out to be a chain Thai restaurant, and we were early, so Linda had time for a bit of shopping.


The Thai restaurant, Thai Square, was conveniently located adjacent to Windsor Castle. It features attractive decor in its various interconnected dining rooms.

It was mediocre at best. The curry was the best thing we tried. The “Golden Sack” and rib appetizers were unremarkable, as was the duck entree. Service was pleasant but not particularly attentive.

Then it was on to Windsor Castle. Unfortunately no pictures allowed, but here are some.

A drizzly Monday proved to be the perfect time to visit, as crowds were very light. We had repurchased tickets which were mailed to us by Royal Post, and that allowed us to skip the short line that was there, but on a busy day this would be essential.

The castle offers a self-guided audio tour that is excellent. I was surprised at the amount of access afforded, as we toured nearly every public room, including where state visitors are entertained. At 3:15 we rendezvoused with our pre-booked Kitchen tour, and with a group of only a half dozen were taken on a very informative private tour of the kitchen used to cater dinners for more than 170 dignitaries. I highly recommend this, as there were many insights beyond the kitchen itself, and the tour was provided by a member of the Queen’s staff.

One of the more interesting aspect of both tours was to hear about the restoration following a catastrophic fire in 1992. This afforded the opportunity to restore some things just as they were, improve a few others, and to uncover a considerable amount of previously unknown history. All in all, quite an interesting day, and perhaps the top activity I’ve done in London.

For dinner we originally had reservations at a particularly difficult to ge tot restaurant, Trinity, but decided to change, and I was able to book us a late dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant I’d heard a lot about. This proved to be a great move. And it turned out to be right beyond Bentley’s in Swallow Street.

It’s hardly surprising that all of the best Indian meals I’ve had have been in London, even include some Michelin starred meals. But Veeraswamy may well be the best of the best.

I was actually not expecting it to be quite that good, because the opentable listing emphasizes their corporate connections, plus a recommendation by National Geographic(?!)


Yet everything we tried was one of the best Indian dishes I’ve tasted, and we tried quite a few items, sampling four appetizers and a vegetarian main that included four separate dishes. Particular highlights were the Raj Kachori, a fancy version of Indian street food consisting of a crisp wheat puri filled with goodies, and Scallop Moilee, which came in a stunning coconut and ginger sauce. My wife is a Chicken Tikka aficionado, and proclaimed this one the best Indian dish she ever tasted.

There is also an excellent wine list, highlighted by some very well-described white and red Burgundies.

This will definitely be the Indian restaurant we return to on our next visit to London.

I was not ready to get up when the alarm went off Tuesday! It’s not that I wasn’t on schedule, just that dinner was very LATE.

A quick taxi ride brought us to The Royal Albert Hall, for our tour. We were again fortunate to have a small group of ten, and an excellent guide. It was so much a behind the scenes tour (since there really isn’t a “backstage” in a round auditorium) as a tour that gave us a look at the installation process for a new show (although we did also get to tour the Queen’s private rooms).

We watched the seating installation, sound check and lighting tests for the night’s Spandau Ballet movie and live performance, and learned many interesting things about the 150 year old facility built to fulfill a vision of Prince Albert, who didn’t live to see it completed.

In 1851 Albert organized the first World’s Fair, housed inside the enormous Crystal Palace in Hyde Park (it was later moved to South London, and burned in 1936). With the profits of the fair he bought a huge parcel of Kensington with the intent of creating a collection of science and art museums, which has indeed come to pass. He began with plans to construct a great performing hall, but died before construction began. A devastated Queen Victoria spent the money instead on the incredibly elaborate Albert Memorial. I suspect Albert would not have been pleased. Anyway, the Royal Albert Hall was eventually constructed through the financing device of selling one third of the seats on a 999 year lease.

After our tour we caught the tube across London to see the installation of red poppies at The Tower of London.


The poppies were installed this summer to commemorate the 100th anniversary of WWI. There is one poppy for each casualty, which really makes the pointlessness of that (and every) conflict quite apparent.



After our brief stop at the Tower, we caught a boat back to Westminster. Cruising the Thames is something we hadn’t done before, and it was interesting to see Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe, The London Eye, Big Ben and Parliament from that vantage point.



In Westminster we decided to see if we could get into Roux at Parliament Square on the spur of the moment, since it was nearly 2pm and lunch hour was winding down. Luck! We did.

Roux is the sister restaurant to and old favorite, LeGavroche. There is a superb prix fixe lunch menu at a very affordable price (so affordable, we couldn’t resist spending several times as much on a wonderful Corton Charlemagne, the perfect accompaniment).

I selected a cassoulet of squid and smoked mussels as my starter. It was richly flavored without being excessively buttery, although there was certainly plenty of that on the wonderful toast served with it.


For my main I had the mackerel. This is a dish for true fish lovers, as it’s of course quite fishy, but was not at all oily, just moist, and with a perfectly crisped skin. The accompanying beets were luscious.


A wonderful cheese trolley capped off a delightful meal. Professional yet friendly service increased our enjoyment, making us feel particularly lucky to have been squeezed in without a booking.

Highly recommended as a dressy, sophisticated retreat from the tourist-choked streets outside!

We walked back to our hotel through St. James’ Park, past Buckingham Palace and through Green Park.


After an evening of journalling, we took the tube north and then walked to Pied a Terre, which has become one of our favorite London restaurants. The atmosphere is intimate, and perfectly suited to romance or business discussions.

The food–especially the tasting menus–is as good as any from London’s other top rated restaurants. But the real difference at Pied a Terre is the wine service.

Rather than simply selecting and pouring wines with each course, it is the restaurant’s practice to offer a blind tasting, where the wine is poured first so you can taste it alone, then the course is served so you can see how it matches, and then you are asked to comment on the wine and (if you wish) guess what it is.

We find this to be tremendous fun. It forges a camaraderie with the sommelier that sets the experience apart from all other fine dining experiences.

On our last visit we were fooled by most of the wines, but I have to say on this evening our performance was impressive.

Linda had by far the more challenging wine pairing, the “Discovery” series, which included very obscure wines and regions such as Croatia. Yet she managed to blind identify an  Assyrtiko from Santorini(!), a very unusual pinot noir blanc from Burgundy, and a Grenache from Australia—in each case not just the grape but the region. Wow!

I had a much easier time of it with the “Classic” pairing, and identified four out of eight wines by type and region, mostly by nose alone, including a French Sauvignon Blanc (although I thought it was from Sancerre, not Pouilly Fume), a German Riesling (always the easiest varietal), a red Bordeaux (I even identified that it was a 2009 Pomerol), a vintage port (easy). I was reasonably close but not exact on the others (Pinot Gris, an odd white Burgundy, late harvest botrytised Vouvray, and Vinsanto from Santorini [which we have in our cellar!]).


A very fun evening.

We got to bed late and slept in. At last, a vacation day!

Then is was off to the West End by to to see a show. Before hand we had lunch at The Salisbury, a very historical pub next to the theatre. It’s almost 300 years old.


It’s a good place for lunch before a matinee show at any of the nearby theatres. The food and beverage selections are what you’d expect, and there is a charming period decor. Service is friendly, and accommodating of foreign visitors, so the you can usually order at your table rather than the bar, as is more traditional.

The show we saw was a new Disney-produced stage version of the Tom Stoppard written Shakespeare In Love. This adaptation closely followed the movie, was well staged, brilliantly acted, and made extensive use of on-stage musical performers who created the score as they performed.

I really enjoyed this production, and it brought home to me how parallel the outer story is to the inner story of Romeo and Juliet (but without all that dying). I don’t know how well it will do in the States, but it has certainly been popular here.

After the show we walked a few short blocks to our other favorite London restaurant, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.

We’ve dined here both upstairs and down, and at the sister restaurants in Las Vegas and (now closed) New York. Of all of them, this is our favorite, because of the intimate size of the downstairs area. It offers arguably the best tasting menu in London, with wine pairings that superbly match each course.


The artistry of the food arrangement is really unsurpassed, and it’s great fun to watch it being assembled before you, so be sure to ask for a seat at the counter. This makes it easy to chat with the servers and sommelier, making it a friendly, energizing experience. For parties of more than two a few tables are available downstairs, which I recommend over the less intimate upstairs dining room.


After a wonderful dinner we headed back to the hotel to sleep, pack, and catch meet our driver for tomorrow’s cruise departure.

It was a great four days in London.

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NASDAQ Powered by…

It’s not every day you see your logo in Times Square!


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Quinoa Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing and Crunchy Cashews



¾ cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ red onion, diced
1 cup shredded carrots
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup diced green onions
½ cup cashew halves
1 cup edamame
Fresh lime

For the dressing:
¼ cup all natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
3 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
Water to thin, if necessary


Cook quinoa, fluff and set aside to cool

Warm peanut butter in microwave for 20 seconds. Add ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, and olive oil. Thin with water or olive oil if desired. Add dressing to the quinoa.

Add vegetables.


Add lime or serve with lime wedges.

Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1/6th of recipe
Calories: 260
Fat: 13.5g
Carbohydrates: 27.7g
Sugar: 7g
Fiber: 4.3g
Protein: 8.6g

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Chicago Architecture Boat Tour


I really enjoyed this tour of Chicago’s architecture, as experienced from the river. The volunteer docent on the 90 minute trip was a professional architect who provided great insight into the history and design of the buildings.

I had been expecting a recitation of architect’s names and dates, but this was much more, and much more interesting. I came away feeling I’d really learned a lot about the how and why of development in the city, and had a good time doing it.

It’s nice that there are outside seats on the top deck and bow to accommodate everyone, so you can see the view, but also that there is an inside cabin and bar, in case it rains (which it did!)




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Bristol Renaissance Pleasure Faire


Having grown up in Southern California in the 1970s, I thought I knew what a Renaissance Faire was: a collection of tents and small booths set up temporarily on sprawling farmland.

Bristol Renaissance Faire is something completely different, and closer to an entire theme park than a temporary attraction.

Scattered beneath giant shade trees, and wandering its was over gentle hills, through glens and at one point even across a pond, the fair is comprised of more than 100 permanent structures, each uniquely themed as a period building.

Many attendees wear costumes, and fantasy attire is almost as popular as period dress, however most people just wear regular clothes, so you don’t need to feel self-conscious if you don’t look like a fairy.

Handicrafts and food, in many cases themed to the era (not sure about the medieval french fries) make for a delightful day.

Note that lines to get into the parking area can be VERY long, so plan to arrive early in the day, especially if it’s hot.

This is definitely a must-visit annual attraction.




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Next: Trio

Next is Chef Grant Achatz’ “next” restaurant. Achatz is the creator of Alinea, regarded by many as America’s greatest restaurant, and Chicago’s only 3-star Michelin restaurant.

I approached Next with some trepidation because I’m not a fan of Alinea. I found the atmosphere and service there stiff, and grew tired of the dictatorial way we were instructed to consume each course.

But Next is nothing like that. Service is professional but relaxed, and the servers are happy, informative and passionate about the food they’re serving.

I also like their ticketing system. It was refreshing to have no transaction at the end of the meal. The food, wine pairing and tip are all included, and are fairly priced for the experience you receive.

The unique thing about Next is that the restaurant evolves into something completely new and different every four months. New food, new wine, new decor. Since you’re unlikely to go twice during any given incarnation, you just need to put your trust in the culinary team and expect something special.

That’s certainly what we’ve received on both visits. A month ago Dani and I enjoyed the Modern Chinese menu.

This time Linda accompanied us to enjoy Next: Trio, which was an even more spectacular menu than Modern Chinese. This homage to Chef’s first restaurant ten years ago pulls out some vintage tricks, and reminds us of how cutting edge that restaurant was.

21 courses, many of them home runs. Very lavish ingredients, beginning with a generous serving of Osetra, and two courses using foie gras in completely different ways.

My favorite course was a surprise, the smoked figs was that perfect union of unexpected flavors that turns the whole into much more than the individual parts.

A few of Alinea’s serving tricks were used for some of the courses, but they’re more playful and less pretentious than at Alinea.

As always a convivial staff enthusiastically sharing information and their love of what they’re doing. A great dining experience.


Off to a nice start with a healthy serving of Osetra caviar and a nice sparkling wine.


Rock shrimp on a vanilla bean pod


Mozarella balloon filled with tomato water. This was superb


Doctoring the sparkling wine for the next course to convert it to a peach Bellini


Coconut and crab, and lots of things to experiment with


Savory ice cream sandwiches comprised of olive oil ice cream between parmesan and black pepper crackers. Amazing!


Truffle explosion. Definitely one bite and keep your lips sealed.


Oops. Almost forgot to photograph the duck with lavender.


Tools for picking up the postage stamp…




Lamb, and a gelatinous lamb consume. This course was disappointing.


Honestly, this tasted like a cheddar Goldfish cracker. Not a highlight.


Frozen salad! Dani and Linda loved this.


Raspberry and roses, sucked from the tube. Delicious.


A bit chewy.


Pushed Foie Gras, the second time for this ingredient, and completely different.


Passion fruit and mustard. Very interesting.


Oops again. This was my favorite, smoked fig. Wow!


Lobster with rosemary vapor. Nice.


An Alinea serving trick. Don’t impale yourself. Burnt pineapple and smoked salmon. Excellent.


Short rib with root beer ingredients. Just so-so.


Transparency of Manchebo. Didn’t really work.


Huckleberry soda was the event here, rather than the accompaniments, although the smoked vanilla was fantastic, too.


The only real failure, impossibly hard and sticky chocolate and odd yeast ice cream. We all skipped this.


21 courses, and at least 15 home runs!

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Three Dots and a Dash

I’ve always loved Tiki bars, since I grew up in Los Angeles, frequenting Trader Vic’s, Don the Beachcomber, the Islander, Beachbum Bert’s and many others. It’s sad that they’re all gone. But the good news is that Three Dots and a Dash tops them all.

From the moment you venture down the stairway full of skulls, Three Dots immerses you in perfectly themed kitsch. The lighting, soundtrack and set decoration are impeccable, and the drinks are potent and tasty.

The drink menu is divided between classic and modern sections. I had the signature drink, Three Dots and a Dash, which was not too sweet, and rendered exotic by the inclusion of allspice. It was invented at Don the Beachcomber in the 1940s. (Incidentally Three Dots and a Dash is Morse code for the letter “V” as in victory.)

Many of the drinks are for sharing, and each has its own unique presentation.

We stopped in before dinner, so we didn’t have a chance to try any of the food, but most of it is traditional Tiki menu fare, and it looked delicious.

With a place this cool, you’re going to have to wait in line unless you go at a weird time. We were able to walk in right after work, but the place quickly became packed; however we never felt rushed.

To find the door, look for the alley off of Hubbard and follow the neon stripe.

Creepy Entrance

Creepy Entrance





Classic Drinks

Classic Drinks

Modern Drinks

Modern Drinks

Very expensive group drinks

Very expensive group drinks




Three Dots and a Dash – the house drink, original created at Don the Beachcomber in the 1940s


No Bye, No Aloha

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Of all the Michelin starred restaurants in Chicago, Boka must be one of the greatest bargains. For little more than the cost of a typical restaurant you can have a spectacular meal. And the cozy yet classy, relaxed yet professional atmosphere and friendly service make it a great choice for everyone.

Our party of three was able to try the majority of items on the menu, and everything was terrific. Standouts were the carrot salad and foie gras starter.

The chicken was beautiful, but the saffron flavored brioche sandwiched between the crispy skin and the succulent meat wasn’t to my taste, simply because I’m not a saffron fan.

The duck, on the other hand, was the best I’ve ever had, incredibly tender and moist, and bursting with flavor, even without the accompaniments.

Desserts mostly included home made ice creams as an ingredient, which is always a plus with me.

The wine list is filled with excellent choices. There aren’t a lot of old wines, but there are a wide array of recent vintages from all regions, at reasonable prices.

If you’re looking for a truly fine dining experience without needing to mortgage the house, Boka is a great choice.

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Pride Sushi and Thai



What a delightful surprise! This small fusion restaurant is creating some of the most beautiful—and tasty—sushi in Chicago.

The menu is about half Japanese, half Thai, and many of the fusion items are spicy, such as their take on edamame, which had a definite kick to it. The beef salad comes with the traditional spicy rice vinegar sauce that would accompany a waterfall beef salad. These were both good, but the stars of the show were the sushi items.

We began with a plate of sashimi. Although the chef offers a sampler, we selected our own, and the pricing was very reasonable to get exactly what we wanted. All of the items were very fresh and delicious.

Then we tried several rolls. Wow! As you can see from the photos, each was a work of art. I’ve never had sushi served with such a painterly approach! All three rolls were excellent, and really different from one another. My favorite was the “All About Salmon” which combined salmon, smoked salmon and ikura, balancing them with both creamy and citrus ingredients, plus spicy and sweet sauces.

A month ago we tried the high end sushi place across the street, and it was good but extremely expensive. At about a fourth the price, our meal at Pride was actually better, and I’m ready to return any time.



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Grace is certainly deserving of its two Michelin stars. Everything about the experience is near perfection, from the extremely professional yet friendly service to the plating of the food, which turns each dish into an individual work of art, combining delicate and varied flavors in surprising and visually appealing ways.

The dining room is sophisticated, understated, and calm, a serenity that extends even into the visible kitchen, yet the contemporary soundtrack keeps the experience upbeat and fun.

My only quibble is with the winelist, which has a strong focus on wines from the Loire region, not my favorite.  This focus extends to the wine pairings served with the meal, some of which didn’t seem a great match, although the friendly and articulate sommelier explained the reasoning behind each match in such a captivating manner I was glad we had selected the pairing, even if next time I will strike out on my own.


Amuse bouche served atop and in a cork log. This tiny roasted corn ears were perhaps the single best item of the night.


A couple of treats inside the log. The pickled, caramelized banana was another highlight.


I had the “Flora” menu, almost entirely vegetables.






Snap peas turned into slice of terrine.


Black truffles.



The first of several desserts, each of which included frozen components that I really enjoyed.




The kitchen was amazingly serene, given how much food was being produced. It is interesting that it’s arranged with the stations in the order the courses are served.



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Mars Cheese Castle


We passed this place on a drive to Milwaukee, and although we didn’t stop, I felt compelled to return. It’s a little over an hour north of Evanston, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.


It was everything I expected, and more. Actually I was expecting nothing but a tacky tourist trap. But you can’t really call it a trap, since hundreds of fans return here, again and again. Why? Because of the sheer volume of “stuff” they have.


Yes, there are T-shirts and souvenirs. But really the place is about cheese, beer, gourmet foods and wine, not necessarily in that order.


They also have  a ton of hot sauces.



The beer selection alone is vast. And there were many gourmet honeys, syrups, seasonings and biscuits I’d never seen before. Unfortunately the prices are pretty much at the level you’d expect, so I didn’t actually buy anything, but plenty of people were loading up.


The cheeses I tried were actually fairly bland and forgettable, but them I’m more of a European cheese person. They also prepare hot food such as brats with cheese, which seemed popular, but I didn’t check out the menu.

On the drive back I happened to pass the Jelly Belly factory. Well, it’s not really a factory, just a warehouse and store. But at the store I made my sole purchase of the day: a carton of Belly Flops, defective jelly beans that sell for 25% of retail. I actually like them better than the regular ones, and they are certainly fresh. I think a lot of Dani’s friends are going to be getting jelly beans next week!


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Chicago Dining – Summer 2014



Having dined at nearly all the top places in Chicago, this one stands out. Just on the basis of the exceptional wine list, L2O (which stands for Lakes to Oceans) deserves its Michelin stars. Each offering is so well considered for its ability to match the food or offer something special, and there are a few real gems at reasonable prices.


The food is, of course, superb, and each dish is a true work of art. But perhaps the thing that most sets L2O apart is the service, which perfectly strikes that balance between professionalism and sincere friendliness. Truly an experience not to be missed.





I approached Next with some trepidation because I’m not a fan of Alinea, its sister restaurant. I found the atmosphere and service there stiff, and grew tired of the dictatorial way we were instructed to consume each course.

I’m happy to say that Next is nothing like that. Service is professional but relaxed, and the servers are happy, informative and passionate about the food they’re serving.


As to the food, there’s little point in mentioning it… or the decor, for that matter. Because the restaurant evolves into something completely new and different every four months, and you’re unlikely to go twice during any given incarnation, you just need to put your trust in the culinary team and expect something special.

That’s certainly what we received the night we visited. There were several home runs and nothing forgettable about the Modern Chinese menu.

I also like the ticketing system. It was refreshing to have no transaction at the end of the meal. The food, wine pairing and tip were all included, and were certainly fairly priced for the experience we received. It left me anxious to return to experience future incarnations of this excellent restaurant.





Evanston has a new high end restaurant to be proud of. The chef from Publican, and one of the owners of Brothers K coffeehouse have teamed up to take over this space, formerly a (good) noodle shop and turn it into a very trendy and noteworthy restaurant.

As others have noted, there is one major downside to the place. Because of its austere, hard-surfaced decor, it is VERY LOUD. In fact, if I had been at a regular table entertaining guests I would not be able to give it a five-star review. But since I was alone, and seated at the chef’s bar facing into the kitchen, the sound level was tolerable.

Of course, it’s wonderful that the place is packed all night after being open only weeks. And lots of people like vibrant restaurants. But when the quietest place in the establishment is the kitchen, there may be a wee acoustic problem!

So therein lies my tip for pleasant dining: ask to sit at the chef’s bar. Not only will you not be deafened, you’ll see the fascinating parade of dishes as they leave the kitchen.

Anyway, the food is wonderful. Since the menu changes often, my selections won’t necessarily be available to you, but I loved everything I had: grilled Brun-uusto cheese with sweet and sour cherry sauce, pickled cauliflower, quinoa salad, crispy potatoes (quite possibly the best potatoes I’ve ever had), a whole sardine with fennel and orange, and chicory ice cream.

There is a somewhat eclectic selection of wines, with about a third of them available by the glass, but I opted for the cocktails, because there were several interesting offerings. I prefer drinks with bitter or sour components, and these didn’t disappoint. I tried: El Mescalero del Norte (mescal, grapefruit, Compari), Evanston Sazerac (rye , bitter, absinthe), and The New Georgian (peach, bourbon, mint). They were all excellent, and I’ve listed them in increasing order of sweetness. The mescalero was probably the best, combining earthy and bitter flavors.

Given the quality of the food, I felt pricing was fair. Some of the starters and veggies are under $10, and most mains are about $20. Plan on a starter, main and vegetable, and you’re looking at $40 per person. If everyone at the table does that, and you want to sample everything, you’ll all get reasonable sized tasting portions and won’t leave hungry or broke.

Service was very friendly and professional. I’d read some uneven reviews on this, but I don’t think it’s completely fair to criticize a restaurant that’s not running like a well-oiled machine during its first few days. The service I received was faultless.

As the meal ended and I emerged onto Davis Street, a fire engine was passing with its siren on, and I noted how quiet the city was now that I was outdoors!

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