This was a delightful 12-day trip around Washington State and part of Oregon. Dani and I initially planned it, but I was able to talk Linda into going, too. It was so much fun to have the whole family traveling together!
I’ve embedded the best travel photos, but for photos of the meals and wineries, click on the links to my Yelp reviews.
Monday, August 2, 2021 — Seattle
Linda and I flew in to Seattle from Orlando, and Dani flew in from Chicago. First class makes the 6-hour non-stop trip on Delta much more pleasant. Covid meant the fares were cheaper, but it also meant that first class service consisted of a box of junk food!
We picked up our SUV from Alamo at SEATAC. Since we wanted to bring back wine, we had a couple of wine case pieces of luggage, so we needed a pretty good sized vehicle. When they offered us an upgrade I took it, but we were a bit startled at the massive size when we saw it. One thing’s for sure, we never had any trouble fitting in our luggage!
Since it was just past noon we had some time to kill before check-in, so we drove north of downtown to Sisi Kay Thai Eatery & Bar, where we had a delightful lunch, dining all by ourselves. A few blocks away was our first tourist stop, the bizarreness that is Archie McPhee!
Because our itinerary happened to take us to the major cities of this trip (Seattle and Portland) on Mondays and Tuesdays when lots of places are closed, it was a little tricky getting into some of the restaurants I was most interested in. The pandemic has also created some irregular operating times and staffing challenges for them.
But we were lucky and the new Loupe Lounge at Seattle’s Space Needle was open, and I’d managed to book a table. This was a fantastic experience involving lots of liquid nitrogen cocktail making, a whiskey flight, and endless pours of Taittanger Comte Rose Champagne, along with plentiful bites of gourmet foods to accompany everything. For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip.
Next stop was our condo on the waterfront just north of downtown Seattle. This was our first of four Airbnb stays on this trip, and all were lovely in their own ways. This one was a two bedroom condo on the 16th floor with a view of the bay and Puget Sound.
Tuesday, August 3, 2021
We walked back to the area around the Space Needle (which is on the World’s Fair grounds from 1962), stopping at the Artisan Cafe for excellent Bahn Mi sandwiches, which we ate on park benches. Then we visited the Museum of Pop Culture. This used to be The Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame started by Microsoft’s Paul Allen, but its theme has been broadened. I was a bit disappointed that there was more pop culture in the gift shop than in the somewhat limited exhibit spaces, although there was a good LGBT history exhibit, and a few interesting bios in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
We took the monorail back to downtown (a two minute ride!) and sampled some just okay tacos off the Solamente Pastor taco truck. Later, for dinner, we walked to Wann Japanese Izakaya, probably Linda’s favorite meal of the trip.
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Dani and I got biscuits for breakfast overlooking the waterfront at Honest Biscuits. My shoes were falling apart, so we walked to Nordstom’s Rack and I got some new loafers. Then we rode motorized scooters back! Great fun, but we should have ridden them UP the hills to Nordstrom’s, too!
For lunch we walked downtown for sandwiches at Cherry Street Coffee House, then went next door and down Beneath the Streets for a tour and history of Seattle’s past. I highly recommend this, as you can see how the city was built up and elevated a full story after being destroyed by fire.
I really wanted to see the spectacular new tiki bar Inside Passage, and this was our only time slot when it was open. You enter through a hidden door from the adjacent bar, Rumba (I think this space was previously a speakeasy theme). This was the only place on our trip where we were asked to show proof of vaccination. Bravo!
Inside Passage did not disappoint! I wish we’d had more time to spend there. Had I known how much food they offered I would not have made a dinner reservation elsewhere. The space is absolutely spectacular, with wonderful nautical decor, a beautiful bar, and cozy booths. But the most spectacular aspect is the giant octopus that looms overhead!
Dinner was a tasting menu at Art of the Table. It was very good, but we were still talking about Inside Passage.
Thursday, August 5, 2021
We checked out and headed for wine country. Dani wisely suggested we take a detour over the mountains, which was a great plan, since much of the road to Walla Walla is pretty desolate. A scenic drive took us to Snoqualamie Falls and then Leavenworth, Washington, a Bavarian themed tourist town that reminded us of Salvang, California.
We had German food at Colchuck’s and then continued south to Gard Vintners Wine Tasting Room in Ellensburg. I was familiar with Gard from wines I’d purchased on Casemates, so I wanted to try their other offerings. This was the first of many wine clubs I joined along our route!
We arrived in Walla Walla after 8pm, so dining options were limited. We had okay Mexican food at the incredibly brightly lit El Sombrero. Then we checked into our Airbnb, a cute two bedroom home built in the 1920s, and right across the street from Pioneer Park, with its lovely lawns and big trees.
Friday, August 6, 2021 — Walla Walla
Our Walla Wala Airbnb had chickens in the back yard, so Dani and I had fresh eggs every morning!
Friday was our big day for Walla Walla wine tasting. We followed recommendations from the wine club director we met the previous day at Gard Vintners. Our first stop was at L’Ecole No. 41, housed in a gorgeous historic schoolhouse. The wines were good, but not something we wanted more of, so we actually bought a bottle of something we hadn’t tasted.
At some wineries there is a tasting fee, so if we don’t like the wine we don’t feel obligated to buy. Other times the fee is waived for a certain purchase, or if you join their club. But if there is no fee, we always buy a bottle of something as a thank you.
Our next stop was Woodward Canyon, a nice facility, where we had a relaxing outdoor tasting. The wines were good if not spectacular.
Our best discovery was Reininger, where we tasted their wines under a big shade tree on their lawn. We loved the way they served the wines all at once, in essentially shot glasses, along with big wine glasses, making it easy to share and to compare. We joined their club, which gives us the flexibility of picking our wines each quarter.
Back in downtown Walla Walla, Kontos had a spacious tasting room but few customers, and the wines were not inspiring. We had a wonderful French lunch at Brasserie Four. It was so good we considered going back for dinner!
Our final tasting stop for the day was at The House of Smith, a barn-like facility in downtown Walla Walla where you can try all of crazy man Charles Smith’s wines, including our favorite offerings from K Vintners. Again, the wines were served in flights. We joined this club, too.
Dinner was at The Kitchen at Abeja. This restaurant, located in the tasting facility of Abeja Winery, had only been open three weeks, but they served an ambitious tasting menu under the direction of a young chef who interned at two Michelin-starred restaurants in France. Her food definitely shows promise, and it will be interesting to see how this restaurant evolves.
Saturday, August 7, 2021
Saturday we went for a walk in the park across the street. They have a very large aviary with many birds, especially various types of pheasant. It’s a great town-supported feature.
Our final Walla Walla wine tasting stop was at Alton Wines. It’s a gorgeous new facility with a stunningly modern tasting room. I’d guess it is a rich entrepreneurs passion project. It was a bit odd, because they were out of most of their wines, and their club is on a waiting list because they have only limited wines. The only wine we really liked was a Sangiovese which—you guessed it—they were out of. They were only planning on being open one more weekend this season, and I can see why!
We went to lunch at the historic Ice-Burg Drive-In, which was very slow, and more historic than good.
Dinner was far more successful. We ate upstairs in the loft a TMACS in downtown Walla Walla. Our waiter, Caleb, was one of the best we have ever had, and this was one of the best meals of the trip. The restaurant was dimly lit (upstairs, anyway) and quiet enough for good conversation—an oasis from the lively bar directly below.
We were surprised, in retrospect, by Walla Walla wines. My expectation was that the Syrahs would be the best, since I’m most familiar with Charles Smith’s fruit bombs such as BOOM BOOM Syrah, and Troublemaker. But he has sold those brands off, and his focus (and that of all the other wineries we visited) is on a much wider range of varietals. Overall, I think it was the Bordeaux blends that most impressed us.
Walla Walla is actually split by the Washington/Oregon border, and there are different micro climes in different areas. It’s also worth noting that many of the best wines we had from Walla Walla wineries were actually made with grapes from the Columbia Valley.
Sunday, August 8, 2021
The drive along the Columbia River is not particularly scenic until you get close to Portland. Multnomah Falls is really the first photo op. I reminded us of Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite, but that might be because of the drought the whole Pacific Northwest has been experiencing. We were lucky that none of the resulting fires affected our trip much, although we often smelled smoke.
We picnicked along the river, watching the hundreds of kiteboarders taking advantage of the constant, strong winds that blow up the valley.
The one thing Portland is known for that was a must for Dani: a stop at Voodoo Doughnuts! They were as good as they look, although I must say that Chicago has become quite a donut town, and I think you could find their equal there, with a little work.
Since we were early, we drove on past our accommodations and visited Carlton Winemaker’s Studio. This is a neat concept that offers tastings of the wines of fifteen different wineries. We had a lovely afternoon sitting on the patio tasting wines and munching on charcuterie from their charcuterie vending machine(!)
In the evening we checked into our beautiful Airbnb in Dundee, about 20 miles west of Portland, and in the middle of Willamette Valley wine country. This home was gorgeous, two stories, with three bedrooms and a professional decor. Dinner was just down the hill at Tina’s, a charming restaurant where Linda ordered the winning dishes.
Monday, August 9, 2021 — Willamette Valley
Our winery day in the Willamette Valley was somewhat limited by it being a Monday, and we had to plan ahead because nearly all the wineries here require 24 hour advance reservations. But we made good choices. We started at Archery Summit, with a tasting on the patio overlooking the vineyards. While a few different wines are produced in this area, pretty much everything that impressed us was Pinot Noir. That ws the case here, and we joined their club, which allows you to custom select your wines.
Our next stop was Domaine Serene, easily the most beautiful winery I’ve ever visited. Looking more like a Four Seasons Hotel, it’s perched high above the Willamette Valley, with expansive views in all directions. In addition to Oregon wines, they also own two properties in Burgundy, so they offer both an Oregon and a Burgundy club. We ended up joining both! They also serve food, so we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon of wine, charcuterie, cheese, and bread. I’d never heard of this winery, but it was clearly the highlight of our wine tour.
Linda had hit the wall, so we dropped her off at our Airbnb and then Dani and I continued on to Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton. They produce a myriad of pinot noirs, but they seemed clumsy after the wines at Domaine Serene, and they weren’t particularly cheap. Linda made the right call.
On the way back to the Airbnb, Dani and I detoured to Honey Pie to pick up pizzas. They were good, and also provided useful leftovers for later picnics.
I’ve never thought Oregon pinot noirs lived up to the hype from the 80s and 90s. As a Burgundy fan, they have always struck me as lacking the New World fruit of California pinot, yet rarely developing the earthy complexity of true Burgundy. But perhaps the problem has been that I’ve been unwilling to pay enough for them. At Domaine Serene, where we tasted $90 Oregon pinots against $90 Burgundies, they were quite comparable. Of course, these are wines made under the same management. Still, it will be interesting to see what Oregon pinots show up this year from the clubs we joined. Perhaps a reassessment is in order.
Tuesday, August 10, 2021 — Oregon Coast
You can’t go to Oregon without experiencing the dramatic Oregon coast, so we headed out on a big circle, taking us from the vineyards through the forests to the rocky coast, and then back again.
The aptly named Haystack Rock was our first scenic stop, and Dani got a chance to dip her foot into this side of the Pacific Ocean (she’d already done the other side in Australia). The we stopped at Cannon Beach Hardware and Public House (also known as the Screw and Brew) for fish and chips. Yes, it really is a hardware store.
We’d intended to stop at the Tillamook Creamery, but the acres of parking lot were packed and there was a Disney-like line to get in.
Dinner was an elaborate, 20 course affair at Joel Palmer House in Dayton, Oregon. They have the world’s largest cellar of Oregon Pinot Noir, with 800 selections. The food emphasizes mushrooms in most courses, so it perfectly matched a well-aged 2004 pinot from Beaux Freres.
Wednesday, August 11, 2021 — Enchanted Forest
Justin told me I’d like Enchanted Forest, and he was right! It’s a mom and pop theme park located about 50 miles south of Portland. I loved the charming walk-throughs, and the way it engages childrens’ imaginations. This is my favorite kind of theme park. We went early, saw most everything, and were on the road north by lunch time.
Lunch was a quick stop at Republica in Portland. This is an interesting take on Mexican food, with a menu that changes daily. It’s probably more interesting at night, when they have a tasting menu. But with counter service and only two tables inside, it’s a bit hard to imagine how that works.
The drive to Mount Rainier National Park was quite scenic, and we arrived at our Airbnb lodging right on time. It’s called Knot-a-Care-Cabin, and it’s as cute as the name implies, with every little detail decorated in bears and other rustic motif.
A deer welcomed our arrival. The bedroom is a loft, high in the peak of the roof, accessed by a ladder—but Linda and I managed it without incident!
Dinner was the oddest, and in many ways one of the best, of the trip. We ate at one of the only places around, Wildberry Restaurant in Ashford. It is owned by a Himalayan sherpa who holds the record for fastest ascent of Mount Everest, and who has scaled that mountain ten times. The servers are also Himalayan, and our waiter was quite frenetic. He spoke in a high-pitched, almost hysterical voice. But the service was very efficient, even though their tent-covered patio was completely full. It turns out Himalayan food is very similar to Indian food, and it was very tasty.
Thursday, August 12, 2021 — Mount Rainier
Our day of sightseeing in Mount Rainier National Park made us realize how lucky we had been during the rest of our trip, as the smoke from the California, Oregon, and Washington wildfires really settled in. We were glad we had our masks. Still, we hiked a couple of scenic trails, saw some dramatic waterfalls, and circled all the way around Mount Rainier on our way back to Seattle.
We spent the night at the gorgeous Cedarbrook Lodge right next to SEATAC airport. It’s hard to believe you are near the airport in this bucolic setting. Before dinner we had a drink at the bar and the unique bartender introduced us to Amaro Amorino Riserva, made by a local distiller, which we liked very much. Dinner was at their Copperleaf Restaurant. The food and server were very good. And our server owns a timeshare in Orlando, which sort of brought the trip full circle! Then it was time for our early morning wakeup and our Friday the 13th trip back home.
It was a great family trip, and I’m so glad all three of us could do it together. Perhaps next time Trish will be able to join us, too!
In June of 2021 I sold the Lexus Ls460L to Dani and we took a road trip to transfer the car from Orlando to Chicago. It was our first trip since the Pandemic began in March 2020, so we started out rather gingerly, with AirBnB’s booked along the route, wearing masks, and only dining outdoors. But after traveling through Georgia and spending a lot of time in Tennessee, we got used to the laissez-faire attitude prevalent everywhere and loosened up. By the time we reached Chicago, all mask mandates had been lifted, and life was starting to return to normal.
Here are photos from our trip along with a chronology.
The longest drive of the trip was from Orlando to Atlanta, so we wanted to get it over in a hurry. We stopped along the way for a good hamburger at Espresso 41 Coffee Roasters in Tipton, GA.
We checked into the Atlanta Lama Luxury Cottage, and AirBnB at a small llama and alpaca rescue farm owned by two women, one of whom it turned out knew Linda from WDI days! It’s to the southeast of Atlanta, in a nice area of wooded rolling hills. Lovely cottage.
Arrived in time to host the weekly Wednesday AMI Wine Zoom (we brought the wines for the next two weeks).
Fed the llamas carrots, and had dinner at a nice place they recommended in the gayborhood, Argosy.
Visited the Georgia Aquarium. Dani wasn’t expecting much, since she grew up at SeaWorld, but when we entered the tank with three full-size whale sharks swimming overhead, her jaw dropped.
Visited the Cocal Cola museum, which still gives you the ability to taste the more interesting soft drinks they make in other parts of the word, but unfortunately doesn’t offer them for sale. Beverly from Israel is always my bitter favorite!
Visited S.O.S. Tiki bar. It’s neat inside, but we had drinks on the patio.
Picked up some sandwich makings at Public and headed for Gatlinburg, TN.
Stopped at Tallulah falls along the way. The visitor center and view were just meh. Had a picnic in the car.
Beautiful drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stopped at an interesting mill and other abandoned cabins. Dani got an audio guide that provided interesting GPS-triggered narration as we drove.
Gatlinburg was a hell-hole. Traffic inching along the only road through town, and hordes of unmasked people packing the sidewalks. Nothing but tacky tourist chains–not the charming kind of home-grown tacky, just mass produced tourist traps, half of the seemingly owned by Ripley’s Corporation.
The AirBnB was fine (we had to bring our food in from the car because of bear warnings) but the traffic was so bad we just ordered really mediocre Mexican food delivered.
We decided to abandon our AirBnB a day early and I booked a night at The Tennessean Hotel in Knoxville.
In Gatlinburg we road the chairlift to the top of the mountain and walked across the glass Skybridge.
We got a cheap discount on a photo package with our tickets (well worth it), then another company tried to sell us different photos at the top!
We finished our Great Smoky Mountains audio tour outside of Gatlinburg, then drove through Pigeon Forge–another hell hole of tourist tacky, but more spread out than Gatlinburg.
The Tennessean is right next to the old World’s Fair site, the only obvious remnant of which is the Sunsphere. Nearby there’s a nice square with lots of restaurants, but it was bustling, and the good ones were all booked. Dani got a kick out of posing on Gay Street!
We had a lovely dinner at the hotel restaurant/bar, and also had breakfast there the next morning. Very gracious service and good cocktail mixology.
On the way to Chattanooga we stopped at Lost Sea Adventure, a neat lake in a fairly deep cave. It’s a nice cave walk, because there is less elevation change than you’d expect, since you enter from the side of the mountain. The lake is stocked with trout, and you go on a short boat ride to watch them being fed. Pretty cool.
Another nice AirBnB across the river from Downtown. We ate at a big outdoor place called State of Confusion.
Just a bit outside of Chattanooga is Ruby Falls, a very deep cave you need to take an elevator to access. This is a very well-developed site, and they use Alcorn McBride equipment to tell the engaging story of the caves discovery, and to put on a beautiful light show of the very tall waterfall at the end of the path. There are a few tight spots and low ceilings, so not for the claustrophobic.
Lunch was outside at Main Street Meats, and excellent deli. Then back to the AirBnB for the Monday Wine Club Zoom.
An OK breakfast at Ruby Sunshine, a local breakfast chain, and then on to Nashville.
We stopped at Old Stone Fort State Archeological Park, which has a decent visitor center, and a pleasant walk on the river, but there are really no runs to see here, just some mounds.
The Jack Daniel’s Distillery tour was excellent. Great visitor center, and we had an excellent guide who took us on a tour and conducted a tasting of four of their whiskeys. It was really interesting to learn that their whiskeys are all the same as far as production, barrels, and aging. The only difference is how high (and therefore hot) the barrels have been stored in the warehouse prior to bottling.
Our place in Nashville is the top level of a four unit townhome near the college. Quite nice to be a bit out of downtown. It was an easy walk to dinner at a tapas place, Barcelona Wine Bar, where we ate outside.
Lunch was downtown at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, which was better than when I ordered it shipped during the pandemic, but not life-changing. I think I am over Nashville hot chicken.
We spent an hour at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which neither of us were interested in, but you have to in order to tour RCA Studio B, which was quite interesting. It’s where hundreds of hit records have been recorded, including most of Elvis’. It was fun seeing all the old recording equipment, having used much of it myself, and also interesting to get a peek into the still-operational modern control room.
Chopper is a great tiki bar! It has a giant robot over the bar, and robot-shaped tiki mugs. I had a tiki drink with coffee in it that I really liked. Here’s my approximation of the recipe:
Dopamine Tiki Drink from Chopper Nashville
Bourbon 1-1/2 oz.
Demerara rum 1-1/2 oz.
Coffee 1-1/2 oz.
Coconut Syrup 4 pumps (about 1 ounce)
Lemon 3/4 oz.
We had a nice dinner at Butcher & Bee, recommended by one of Dani’s friends who went to Nashville for graduate school.
After an okay breakfast at nearby Fido we headed for Memphis.
The Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum in Jackson, TN does a great job of presenting the history (and mythology) of that famous train wreck.
Our AirBnB in Memphis was in a particularly nice area, obviously the gayborhood, and walking distance to lots of restaurants. For dinner we walked to Alchemy and had a nice meal and cocktails on the sidewalk.
Another excellent restaurant was right around the block, so we had lunch outdoors at Central BBQ. Yum.
For me, one of the unexpected highlights of the trip was the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. Following a path through 25 very well-interpreted display rooms, you find yourself looking through a glass wall into the room where Martin Luther King was staying when he was assassinated. Seeing his everyday belongings scattered about the room really brought the reality of it home.
We stopped for a flight of bourbon at just a few blocks away, at Max’s Sports Bar. Max’s is owned by a couple who owned a condo next to our in Chicago, and they kindly invited us to drop by. At their suggestion we had the BBQ nachos, which were amazing, actually better than lunch at Central BBQ!
We drove along the river and stopped for ice cream at A Schwab, a vintage pharmacy selling tourist junk on tourist junky Beale Street.
After an excellent to-go breakfast from the very busy Cafe Eclectic, we headed for Branson.
Our first stop was at the Sultana Museum, right after crossing the river into Arkansas. The Sultana was a steamboat that sank, killing 2300 or so Union soldiers who had been prisoners of war and were being returned to the North at the end of the Civil War. It was the largest maritime disaster in US history, but hardly anyone has heard of it because it happened the week after Lincoln was assassinated. The museum was hosted by a very sweet, knowledgeable woman who gave every visitor a self-guided tour of their many displays, photos, and artifacts. Highly recommended.
Trying to avoid the interstate, our lunch stop was at Whilma’s Filipino Restaurant, which was still pretty much in pandemic mode, with almost no tables, and ordering at a desk. A lot of fried stuff, not that good.
At Justin’s suggestion, we stopped at Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail for a fun golf cart journey through a beautiful (but man-made) journey through rock work, waterfalls, a cave with a tiki bar in it, and an expansive view.
Then we made our way through Branson to our condo in a luxury resort, which involved very confusing directions and an odd, after-hours check-in procedure. But the room is beautiful. We ordered pizza delivered for dinner.
This is the day that desensitized us to pandemic crowds. We went to Silver Dollar City, and the place was packed. We started with a false sense of security on the Flooded Mine ride, which we had to ourselves. It’s a charming and nonsensical boat ride / shooting gallery through animated scenes of prisoners trying to deal with leaking water.
We didn’t have such luck at Mystic River Falls. It LOOKED like a reasonable line. 2-1/2 hours later(!) we boarded our river raft. I must say, though, that it was a great ride. And we got soaked.
I’m not sure why the throughput on that ride is so slow. It seemed like it could have handled a lot more boats, and some went through empty.
After a truly horrendous BBQ bowl and a cinnamon role to recover we headed to Walmart for dry shoes, Dinner at the nearby El Lago Mexican restaurant was surprisingly good, and the GIANT margaritas were great.
Before leaving Branson we stopped at the WORLD’s Largest Toy Museum Complex. They aren’t kidding. This is a highly recommended stop, with buildings full of every imaginable toy, curated by type and vintage. An hour was not nearly enough time to explore here.
I was surprised that I liked Branson. It’s tacky, but my kind of home-grown tacky; the roads are laid out on the ridge lines, so there are great views; and there are lots of alternate routes, so the traffic isn’t as bad as in some tourist areas.
We had lunch at the Funk Yard in the gloriously tacky Uranus, Missouri, where every employee is in on the pre-teen joke (“The best fudge comes from Uranus.”)
We made a brief stop at t. James Winery, which has been a long-time supporter of the Florida State Fair Wine Competition where I’ve judged for the past 30 years. Typical of hot, humid states their wines are mostly really sweet. I bought a Pink Catawba and a Concord, both of which ended up being enjoyed as mixers during the following week.
Our last night was spent at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis. Road construction made it so difficult to get to this hotel that we just had dinner in the lobby at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
The drive from St. Louis to Chicago is almost as tedious as the one from Orlando to Atlanta. We stopped at 217 Roadhouse Bar and Grill, where the hamburger was a lot nicer than the server.
And then, by late after noon, we arrived at out condos, and Dani was reunited with Trish.
Best of all, the car fits in the garage.
The flight from Hong Kong to Sydney is overnight, and takes about nine hours. Dani had a rough night in coach, with three infants nearby, but Linda and I were able to get some sleep in business (thank you frequent flyer miles) and arrived fairly refreshed.
We checked our bags at the Quay West Suites and walked around downtown Sydney, getting Dani some wake-up coffee, and eventually ending up back at our old favorite place in the Westfield Mall, Chat Thai, for some delicious no-frills Asian food. We also picked up some glassware so we could have a proper cocktail hour in our room with Pamela, and picked up a bottle of her favorite scotch and some Champagne at a vintage wine shop.
Back at the hotel we checked in and discovered this room, number 3601, was even bigger than the one in Hong Kong, with two full bedrooms and an office! The view also rivals that in Hong Kong. I highly recommend Quay West Suites for all Sydney visitors, because of its location and rooms.
You can see the Opera House during the day, and fireworks on some nights. From Dani’s room you can also see the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
For dinner, Linda found an Italian restaurant called Intermezzo that was quite good.
The next day Pamela arrived, and we had a nice time catching up with her. We had a simple lunch as Creperie Suzette and then walked around Circular Quay, bought Opal cards for the ferries and busses, and got Pamela checked into the Four Seasons across the street.
For dinner we walked to Quay, at the end of the quay, overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Dani and I went here six years ago and weren’t very impressed by this supposedly three-star Michelin restaurant. My opinion is unchanged, but it has a great view!
Of course, the first thing we needed to do in Australia was pet a kangaroo, so the next day we Ubered to Featherdale Wildlife Park (our third visit since 2001). It seems like since our last visit you are a bit more separated from the animals, which as I recall were often climbing into your jacket, but there is still lots to see and do.
We had a forgettable lunch on the way back to Syndey at George’s Gourmet Pizza. For dinner we tried a new place, The Gantry, which is around the end of the point, still in walking distance. They don’t really have much of a view, but the five-course tasting menu was terrific, and about a third the price of Quay!
The next day Pamela checked out to get ready for a lunch she was hosting for us at her country club, and we headed for the Australia Museum. We wanted to take a photo in the same spot as on our previous two visits, to show how Dani has grown, but unfortunately about half the museum is closed for rehab, and we had to settle for a picture in front of the giant sloth.
On Sunday we took the ferry up the Paramatta River to Breakfast Point. It was an absolutely gorgeous day on the river.
We had a delightful lunch with Pamela and her family at the country club, and then stopped briefly at her condo so Linda could see it.
We stopped briefly at her condo, and then took a car back to the city for a pleasant dinner nearby at Sake.
The next day I was ready for a rest and to get caught up on the computer, but Linda and Dani went on a wine excursion to the Hunter Valley.
I’ll let Linda describe that:
Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Private Tour
It was a memorable day but not in a good way.
We had arranged for a 12 hour private wine tour. Our guide turned out to be a well educated, well traveled wine marketing consultant who also could be described as an Alpha Male, opinionated curmudgeon with decidedly misogynistic tendencies. He was well versed in the nuances of the wine industry and had a very good grasp of future emerging markets, new planting strategies with respect to global warming, and a somewhat solid understanding of future consumption projections.
But he was terrifyingly inept at true wine appreciation coupled with an unwavering belief that he knew it all. For those of you who love wine, the following narrative requires no further explanation:
WINE TASTING TECHNIQUES
Don’t smell it first! Just take a small sip and spritz it around in your mouth for 10 seconds sort of like mouthwash to shock you palate. At this point don’t try to think about what it tastes like (I’m not making this up) but just try to make associations (brunch appropriate, light, elegant, etc.).
Then jump to the next wine and do the same thing.
Then you do what any sane person does in the first place. Swirl the wine in the glass and inhale. But do that 3 times. We might have been instructed to do this intermittently with the second wine but I have blocked this out.
I was however chastised for sniffing before I tasted – apparently this interferes with your initial assessment.
The current market buying trends define the market. If you do not agree you are wrong.
Chardonnays and Cabs were popular 20 years ago. If you still like these and particularly if you like these the way they were produced 20 years ago you are really wrong – you are an affront to the new marketing strategies. American oak barrels and malolactic fermentation are so declasse.
Wines are being made better and better every year due to emerging science. So why would you want to drink older wines? If you hang on to them you lose the varietal characteristics and after several years you just end up with “old red wine” (I kid you not). I specifically asked if he would drink the $45 2015 Cab I was guilt buying tonight or if he would he age it for 5 or 10 years – the answer was tonight.
WINE AS AN INVESTMENT
In spite of our friend’s substantial success in out performing the stock market for many years our guide assured us the only way to make money was to buy $10M of a specific wine and to control the market.
On the other hand this guy is 70+ and driving a tour bus and RS is traveling on Emirates first class…
We had to check out of the hotel at 1pm, but our flight to Sydney wasn’t until almost 9pm, so we had a whole day to spend in the city. The only problem was we didn’t want to get super sweaty before a 9-hour flight to Australia.
Dad decided to stay in the hotel lounge and catch up on his computer work. Mom and I contemplated going to some antique shops we’d passed earlier in the trip, but ultimately decided to check off one more touristy item from our list and take the funicular tram up to The Peak for a last view of the beautiful city.
The tram has been running since the late 1800s but has gone through a few refurbishments over the years. The last round returned it to a retro look.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long in the queue even though the weather was clear. The journey up is so steep the floors are slanted to help people keep their feet. We sat, but it was still pretty extreme! I used the level function in my phone to estimate the incline and the steepest part was about a 30-degree angle.
The top was a touristy mall that we basically ignored. Instead, we crossed the street to have lunch at a lovely restaurant called The Peak Lookout. It’s been serving refreshments since 1947 and has an eclectic menu to please any palate.
We ate nachos and tandoori chicken and drank Australian chardonnay in an English tea garden on top of a mountain in Hong Kong. It doesn’t get any more international than that! Lunch was delicious and very pleasant (except for a butterfly that got trapped in the solarium with us and terrified Mom).
After lunch we went for a lovely amble along a flat and shady path on the side of the mountain. We couldn’t see how far down the trail went after it started to descend, but we suspect it might have gone all the way to the bottom.
We went up onto the 360-degree viewing platform on top of the mall that was included in our ticket (it was hot and not very inspiring).
We descended via the funicular and again struggled to get a cab back to the hotel to meet up with Dad. Eventually we made it and collected our bags.
A nice driver loaded us and our luggage into a van and took us to the airport. The Hong Kong airport is enormous. There are literally hundreds of gates spread out over miles of hallways.
The super duper lounge my parents were entitled to was on the other side of the airport, so we all made do with the regular lounge our American Express cards get us access to. They served food and I had a decent bowl of noodles (just in case the flight didn’t include dinner).
Though sad to leave Hong Kong, I felt like we’d seen a lot of stuff during our stay. I’d been keeping a little black notebook of interesting sights gleaned from my review of the guidebook on the flight over. We crossed many of them off!
Guest post by Dani.
Today we were tourists doing touristy things on Lantau Island. Many companies offer guided tours but we decided to roll our own adventure based on the sights/activities I read about in the Lonely Planet guidebook.
Po Lin monastery and the Buddha statue are located at the top of a mountain on Lantau Island. It turns out getting there is more than half the fun.
The most scenic way to go is to take a 20-minute cable car journey from Tung Chung (a city near the airport) up to Ngong Ping (a touristy village with souvenir shops).
The views were stunning.
We sprang for the “Crystal Cabin” which had a glass floor. It was neat to be able to see through the floor but it actually didn’t inspire much vertigo, perhaps because we were seated on regular benches.
We also downloaded their guided narration to accompany the journey up. A dry English narrator imparted a few interesting facts about the construction of the cable car towers.
It was quite a feat of engineering. Donkeys were needed to cart supplies up the mountains, since many places are not accessible by vehicle. The number of towers was also reduced to lower the environmental impact. That’s also why there’s a funny turn on airport island instead of a tower built in the water.
The cars weren’t air-conditioned, but they had air vents built into the sides and top which funneled a lovely breeze through the cabin and kept things nice and cool. Below our feet, we could see a long trail winding up and down, populated by a few brave hikers trekking up to Ngong Ping on foot. The most impressive sight was the Big Buddha in the distance as we approached the top.
Close to the terminal, Mom looked through the floor and said she could see a “ball,” or maybe a “bowl,” but I didn’t figure out what she actually saw/said until a bit later (see below).
Ngong Ping was (as expected) a tourist trap. But it was a nice tourist trap. We had an incredibly oily lunch before heading to the monastery and the Buddha statue.
On our way out of Ngong Ping we saw a cow in a planter! All that time Mom had been saying she’d seen a “bull.” And then we saw a whole herd of cows resting by the side of the path. They must belong to the monastery and appear in thousands of selfies a day.
Mom and I decided to hoof it up the 260 steps to see the Big Buddha up close. We tackled the 16 flights a few at a time, pausing frequently to let Mom (definitely Mom, not me) rest.
We made it to the top (eventually). We discovered stunning views of the South China Sea and a cool ocean breeze that felt heavenly. There were many tourists taking selfies, but there were also a large number of people praying.
The Big Buddha was quite impressive and an engineering marvel. It took almost 10 years to complete, and ended up made of thin bronze sheets cast to fit over a framework. Artisans overcame numerous obstacles to cast the Buddha’s face as one sheet so no seams marred his serene visage. He did look very peaceful.
Mom observed it was fascinating to study the architecture because it’s in a style we’re used to seeing only shiny and new at a theme park or old and behind glass in a museum. This was a real, working monastery (evidenced by the chanting we heard drifting from a private building towards the back).
After wandering around for a bit, we headed back to the village and discovered one of the cows wanted to go shopping (aka stand in the shade). A local lured him out with an apple.
We got cold beverages with the most appetizing names.
The Pocari Sweat was basically just Gatorade. The Jelly Grass Drink wasn’t terrible. It was a bit earthy and there really were cubes of gelatin in the bottom (which made for an interesting consistency). It reminded me of an aloe drink I had once.
Mom and I indulged in some retail therapy and purchased a few souvenirs and gifts. Before we left, we ordered egg waffles (made to order) to try out street food Dad was interested in. Mine was chocolate and I was a big fan.
We were all a bit touristed out so we decided to skip Tai O fishing village. Instead, we took the cable car back down the mountain.
We made great time on the MTR back to Hong Kong island, but then waited fifteen minutes for a bus that runs every seven minutes, only to have it skip our stop. Then we had incredible difficulty finding a cab. We stood at a cab stand for more than 30 minutes watching cabs with “out of service” signs whiz by. We were cutting our 7pm dinner reservation at Pierre pretty close since we all needed to shower.
Fortunately, they didn’t mind pushing it back for us.
Unfortunately, the meal was terrible.
Here’s Dad’s Yelp review of the experience (I’ll let him eviscerate it in his own words):
Pierre offers a lovely room with a great ambiance and view. It’s the kind you’d expect to find in a top rated restaurant. Unfortunately, the view is about the only thing that is top rated about it.
At a price equal to or above the nearby Amber and l’Atelier, it’s hard to imagine anyone returning to Pierre for a second visit. The six-course tasting meal we had was, frankly, poor. There wasn’t a single stand-out course, and no one in our party had more than a taste of the grouse entree, which had a very unpleasant bitter taste. Mine even still had a piece of lead birdshot in it.
They’ve tried to make up in quantity what they lack in quality, with a half dozen small plates bearing amuse bouche at the start, and another half dozen plates of dessert at the end. But not one of them was truly good. It’s as if they’re firing scattershot, to see if they can hit anything.
Service was also hit or miss, with the wine list not even offered until the food began showing up, and empty water glasses sitting for long stretches of time.
At about $10,000HKD for our party of three’s food alone, this must be one of the worst buys in the city. And the wine prices are just as unreasonable.
We started our day with a leisurely breakfast upstairs and debated what we should do for the day. Yvonne warned us Sunday would be very crowded. Despite that, we briefly considered going up to The Peak, however it started to pour while we were still at breakfast so we thought better of that plan.
Instead, we decided to relax and hang out in the room for a bit before venturing out for lunch.
Originally, I was interested in visiting a rabbit cafe, which is exactly what it sounds like: a cafe where you can hang out with rabbits. But a quick Google search revealed they were currently engaged in a legal battle over their lack of having a food license. So we scrapped that plan too.
Finally, we settled on The Cat Store, a cat cafe located near a part of town called Times Square. The rain stopped around lunchtime, so we grabbed a cab and headed out. The cab driver said that since it was Sunday some of the streets around our destination were closed to vehicular traffic, but that he could drop us of nearby and point us in the right direction.
The drive took us east into Wan Chai, which didn’t seem dramatically different from Central. The Times Square area was quite busy with tourists and locals alike, but the cab got us within spitting distance.
The Times Square neighborhood was fascinating. It was different than any city we’ve been to because, block by block, it fluctuated between high-end designer stores in sleek modern buildings and much more modest (even decrepit) buildings with a mix of commercial and residential.
The address of the cat cafe led us to a six-story building in the middle of a short block. Having learned our lesson at Yum Cha, we realized the address was on the 3rd floor, though it was strange that the building seemed to be mostly apartments.
The entryway to the building, the hallway, and elevator did not inspire much confidence. They were somewhat less than glamorous. Seedy is the word that came to mind.
But we persevered and found the door to the cat cafe, which turned out to be a charming little shop. It was cozy, tidy, and packed with people. All the tables were taken but the hostess said we could come back in about an hour and a half and she’d reserve us a table.
To kill time, we wandered around the shops nearby for a while, ultimately ending up in a mall across the street. We could actually see the cat cafe’s window from over there, so when it looked like there were empty tables we repeated the journey through the world’s strangest elevators and returned to get our dose of fur therapy.
We only saw one cat curled up asleep when we arrived. Understandably, the cafe has signage requesting that patrons refrain from bothering sleeping or eating kitties. Patience was required.
We ordered some food; again the criterion was cute things shaped like cats. I chose garlic toasts, toast with chocolate sauce and sweetened condensed milk, and cat-shaped butter cookies. I mean this as a compliment, but Mom grills leftover hot dog buns in butter and the garlic toasts bore a remarkable resemblance to that. The butter cookies were excellent.
Dad had homemade caramel ice cream with apple and graham cracker dust. Mom had a smoked salmon pizza (with corn?!).
While we waited for the cat to wake up, we enjoyed going through the literature on the table. All but one of the cats were rescues, and in case you’d never seen a cat before, there was a handy-dandy guide about how to pet them.
Most of the other patrons were families there with their daughters, so we fit right in. Of course, the other girls were all about 6 years old, but so what?
At long last, a cat emerged from slumber and joined the party. His name was JJ and he liked to talk. He had a raspy little mew and though he complained a lot was very patient with the little girls (including me).
His activity spurred lunchtime and the opening cans woke two other cats. The cats are permitted in the kitchen, which horrified one table of guests, but I figure there’s been at least one cat in the kitchen at home my whole life and it hasn’t killed me yet. Plus I got to pet kitties.
We headed back to the hotel for the rest of the afternoon. Though it wasn’t raining anymore, the clouds continued to whiz by. I took the opportunity to film some time lapse of Victoria Harbour.
After a couple hours we dressed for dinner and headed to Amber, which was recently ranked the 24th best restaurant in the world. It lived up to the hype!
Our table was lovely, nestled in the back corner of the restaurant with plenty of elbow room.
The food was exquisite and the wine pairing was incredibly educational. It included six wines, all from Burgundy.
The only problem is I never finish a wine pairing, and apparently in this culture leaving wine on the table is even worse than leaving food on your plate. But since all six glasses totaled up to more than a bottle of wine, I would have been on the floor if I tried to drink it all. Other than the worried looks that caused the staff, it was a lovely meal and managed to top L’Atelier (which I wasn’t sure was possible).
This morning we had a leisurely breakfast upstairs. Dad had avocado toast with a poached egg, Mom had smoked salmon (as always), but I went rogue and tried all the unusual dishes, including chicken bao (with mustard) and congee (a rice porridge with various ingredients and toppings).
Yvonne told us many people work a half day on Saturday so it actually isn’t a bad day to do touristy things. Sunday, however, should be avoided at all costs. Given that, we decided to venture out to the Hong Kong History Museum in Kowloon.
Our taxi driver had to take a very roundabout route to get there (imagine trying to get from 4 o’clock to 2 o’clock but going the long way round). We also ended up on the opposite side of the building from the entrance, but once we did manage to get inside it was blessedly cool.
It’s a wonderful museum. Their exhibits are arranged in chronological order, starting with the beginning of time with the formation of the islands from shallow seas to volcanos to all the various types of rock formed along the way. The ground floor also covers pre-historic Hong Kong, the earliest people to live in the area, and the ebb and flow of various peoples throughout the early dynasties of China.
The aesthetic design was lovely. They created numerous environments to give you a flavor and general impression of what the time period in that particular exhibit was like.
We saw lush jungle forests, sandy beaches, grocery stores, sailing ships, rice paddies, and towers of buns.
The exhibits were very interesting, and didn’t suffer from Too Many Words syndrome (again, perhaps because everything has to be presented side-by-side in two languages).
The museum flow allowed you to wander at your leisure but provided directional signage suggesting a chronological path. It was fairly easy to focus on the things that piqued your interest and gloss over those you found boring.
The ground floor was enormous. The exhibits just kept going and going and going… And then we discovered there was another entire floor dedicated to Hong Kong’s history since the British took over.
There was a really interesting graphic about land reclamation in Hong Kong
Toward the end of the timeline, my parents began to encounter items they recognized from their childhoods’ (many toys in particular, like slot cars).
By the time we finished going through the museum it was past lunch time and I was quite hungry. We had dinner reservations that evening but definitely needed a light bite. I pulled up Google Maps and discovered that Yum Cha, a dim sum place famous for their cute buns, was quite close. Though not big dim sum fans, my parents indulged me and we set off.
The walk was relatively short, but we had some difficulty finding the place. The map told us we were right on top of it, but it was nowhere in sight. Eventually, we deduced it was on the third floor and found an elevator.
Despite not having a reservation, they seated us right away and gave us the dim sum menu (which works very much like ordering sushi in the states).
My major criterion was that it had to be cute.
We succeeded admirably.
I liked everything.
Dad did not.
After our mid-afternoon snack, we took the train across the harbor, but couldn’t quite figure out how to walk to our hotel through all the various levels and construction sites, so we cheated and got a taxi.
We relaxed in the room for a few hours and then headed to Joël Robuchon’s Hong Kong outpost of L’Atelier.
As always, the meal was phenomenal, each dish a delightful combination of flavors and textures. Dad also ordered excellent wines!
A rather impressive thunderstorm woke me up early. The rain drops clattered against the window and there were several long rumbles of thunder. I’ve always thought thunder sounded different in Orlando and Chicago. In Orlando, it’s deep and rumbles and rolls for a long time. In Chicago, it’s more of a crack and it dies down quicker. I’ve always thought it had to do with the tall buildings and large body of water reflecting the sound in Chicago. But here, thunder sounds more like it does in Orlando. So perhaps it’s the air temperature that has more of an effect. It was a muggy 85 already at 6:30am.
Fortunately, the forecast predicted the weather would clear up by 9ish, which is when our walking tour with Little Adventures in Hong Kong started. This company offers small private tours (capped at 3 adults) that can be tailored to your interests.
We asked for a mashup of their “Essential Hong Kong” history tour and the street food frenzy, “Won-ton-a-thon.” In my initial communications with them, I tried to emphasize a focus on food over history. The end result turned out to be reversed, but that was just as well (which I’ll explain in a bit).
We took a cab from our hotel to the lobby of The Pottinger hotel where we met our lovely guide, Yvonne. Her life story is incredible. I’m not sure where she was born, but she went to boarding school in London, college in the US, lived in Wisconsin and Philadelphia, lived in East Africa working at a museum, traveled extensively, and settled in Hong Kong about 10 years ago. She studied anthropology, worked at several museums, but also worked as a film editor and a journalist. It was hard to keep track!
She was incredibly knowledgeable about the history and layout of the city. We explored a few areas of the Central district, including Soho (south of Hollywood street) and the Mid-levels.
Since we hadn’t had anything to eat yet we headed off for food.
Along the way, we stopped to admire the menu of a Cantonese restaurant, that wasn’t open yet. We stopped for a couple of reasons. First, history. The sign said they had been proudly serving since 1860. However, Yvonne explained they hadn’t been serving that long in Hong Kong. They were refugees from China.
The history of Hong Kong is punctuated with waves of refugees from China, fleeing from communism in the 50s, and then from Mao and the Cultural Revolution in the late 60s and early 70s.
The second reason we stopped was to hear a funny story about how this restaurant’s signature sauce became known as “Swiss sauce.” An Englishman came into the restaurant and ordered chicken wings in sauce, which he really loved. He asked the waiter what the sauce was called. In an east meets west misunderstanding, he heard “Swiss” though the waiter was trying to communicate that it was a “sweet sauce.” It would have ended there, except the Englishman settled nearby and continued to return to the restaurant ordering the chicken wings in “Swiss sauce.” Eventually, it stuck.
Our first bite on the tour turned out to be more of a gulp. We went to Tsim Chai Kee, a noodle shop. The owner insisted we take a nice booth in the back of the restaurant because it was cooler. She was very friendly and chatted away with Yvonne in rapid-fire Cantonese.
Yvonne ordered us three types: beef brisket, fish balls, and shrimp (or prawn in this part of the world) wontons. The bowls were enormous!
The large portions were the result of a rivalry. This restaurant opened its doors across the street from a famous noodle shop, Mak Noodles (which only opens later in the day). Mak serves traditionally sized (i.e. snack sized) wontons. Tsim Chai Kee attracted customers by serving very large portions.
The bowls were packed with noodles and protein. Each broth was different and incredibly flavorful. The noodles were perfectly al dente.
The wontons were the most familiar. The mark of a good wonton is the thinness of the wrapper. A delicate wrapper is more difficult to cook, so it means you really know what you’re doing. Thick wrappers and the mark of an amateur. That bowl had the lightest broth.
The beef brisket’s broth was more savory and had a bit more umami flavor from the beef fat. The way the meat was cut is a bit different than what you get in the states if you order brisket. This was thinly shaved pieces of beef that didn’t fall apart.
The fish balls were the most foreign to us. The best way to describe the balls themselves is like a cross between a fish sausage and a fish meatball. Dace is ground up and mixed with herbs. They’re shaped into amorphous blobs and cooked (I presume in the broth), which was salty and herbaceous.
Yvonne also ordered us a side of steamed bok choi with oyster sauce. It was very delicately cooked and quite refreshing.
I enjoyed sampling each dish. In the US, we would have tried a few bites of each but left most behind to save room for other food down the road. But it turns out the downfall of a food tour in China or Hong Kong is that it would be very rude to leave food uneaten. It would be an insult to the chef’s cooking.
So I ate the fish balls, Dad ate the brisket and half of Mom’s noodles, and Mom ate the wontons. And we were stuffed. So it’s a good thing the tour was mostly about culture and history!
There’s no tipping in Hong Kong, so we simply told the owner how delicious the meal was (but since she didn’t speak much English, that mostly meant smiling and nodding a lot).
We rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and ambled uphill.
We passed a Chinese herb shop and saw someone wrapping custom blends of medicinal brews in brown paper packaging.
We turned off the main drag and passed a couple of dai pai dong (street food stalls). These used to be incredibly common in Hong Kong but are now endangered. The government didn’t think they looked modern enough and it was difficult to enforce health codes, so they passed a law that said you could only transfer the license to a blood relative. That meant if your son or daughter didn’t want to continue the family tradition, the stall died out. There are fewer than 20 food stalls left in Hong Kong. They used to be exclusively patronized by old people, but now that they’re in danger of disappearing completely, there’s renewed interest from the younger generation.
One stall we passed serves breakfast sandwiches made of shredded cabbage, peanut butter, and condensed milk. Dad and I would totally have tried it if we weren’t so stuffed and there were any tables available.
Yvonne had some interesting insights about the health and safety of the street food stalls. She said if you see locals eating at them you know they’re safe (and probably delicious) because these people are feeding their friends and neighbors. If they poisoned anybody they’d be out of business! Also, everything is bought fresh daily and cooked to order, so nothing sits around spoiling.
To emphasize her point, we turned the corner and were suddenly in the middle of Graham Street Market, one of the few remaining wet markets in Hong Kong (named that because their streets are often very wet). These markets are a mishmash of vendors selling fresh fruits, tofu, eggs, and other ingredients. Some things we recognized, others we didn’t at all.
The market was a colorful jumble or organized chaos. The patrons were mostly locals. Yvonne told us this market was more tourist/camera-friendly than some others because they’re currently fighting to remain open. That said, we were obviously tourists, and the atmosphere wasn’t exactly welcoming, more neutral. I suspect the locals felt about me the same way I feel about tourists when I’m trying to carry groceries on Michigan Avenue (“You may make the economy go round, but for the love of God don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk to gawk!”).
Mom had a brief run-in with a cantankerous old lady when she tried to tie her shoe on the edge of her stall. In fairness, it was pretty decrepit and didn’t look like it was occupied.
Bamboo-scaffolding sprouted around construction sights all along the street market. That’s one of the reasons they’re fighting to stay open. Much of that area is being torn down and replaced with high rises, threatening to push them out. So far, they’ve dug in their heels and the local community seems to be supporting them.
At the top of the market, we turned to the right and walked along the meat and fish stalls. Each stall specialized in butchering only one kind of meat. The fish was also incredibly fresh (still flopping around in one case!).
The fish was also incredibly fresh (still flopping around in one case!).
After the markets, we passed a small Taoist shrine tucked in a steep alleyway amidst a jumble of residences and shops.
The incense coils burn slowly with prayers attached.
You can also light incense sticks and place them in bowls of sand. These should be done in groups of three, as prayers are sent up to heaven, earth, and humanity.
Yvonne led us through many side streets we never would have found on our own. We passed the historic YMCA. It’s a western-style red brick building, but to make it more inviting to the Chinese the roof tiles were made of green ceramic shaped like bamboo.
Many of the building had Door Guardian shrines, where offerings are placed. If the occupants move, the Door Guardian remains with the building.
We also passed run down or condemned tenement houses, another endangered Hong Kong sight. There’s a very large bias against old things in this city. The tenement style houses are very unpopular with the locals because of their age and lack of elevators. So many have been torn down and replaced with high-rises that there is only one row of livable houses left in all of Hong Kong! A small indie film made a few years ago (actually set in 1940s Kowloon) had to film on this particular street.
One reason these tenements still survive is that until fairly recently this district was a very undesirable location. Hong Kongers are a superstitious lot, and this sector was associated with death because of the plague outbreaks in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Locals feared ghosts and bad luck permeated the region. As a result, only things associated with death ( like coffin shops and antique shops – because antiques are dead people’s former possessions) populated the area. And the only people who lived there were poor. That history is slowly being forgotten and the neighborhood is in the process of being gentrified (hence all the construction). It will be interesting to see what the city is like in five or ten years.
Along the way, we did sample some more food (in smaller sizes). We had chilled sugar cane juice (refreshing but very sweet) and chilled five flowers tea (incredibly delicious and very floral).
We visited a British Candy Shop.
TAI Cheong Bakery is famous for their egg tarts. Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong before it was turned over to China in 1997, loved these tarts so much he acquired the rather unflattering nickname of “Fatty Patten.” The tart was delicious, served warm in a buttery flaky crust with smooth eggy/lemony custard in the center. Ten out of ten would eat again.
Lunch hour is officially 1-2pm in Hong Kong, but restaurant lines become ridiculously long starting about 12:40pm. Since we still hadn’t quite digested all the noodles, we opted to finish out our tour in an air-conditioned English pub (which is actually very Hong Kong, given the colonial influence).
I had a Hong Kong summer beer, Yvonne had a traditional British witbier, Dad had an alcoholic ginger beer, and Mom had a virgin Bloody Mary (most importantly, with ice).
Yvonne gave us some recommendations for the rest of our stay. I decided to stick around and explore the area a bit more while Mom and Dad headed back to the hotel via tram.
Yvonne left me with directions to the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Science and deposited me onto the outdoor escalators that carry you up from Central to The Mid-levels. The escalators are about one story up, so you have an interesting perspective on the shops and restaurants you’re passing.
I was able to follow her directions right to the museum. The building was very similar to the YMCA in layout and design. Originally it was the Bacteriological Institute, Hong Kong’s first public health laboratory, founded in 1906 because of the plague outbreaks. The governor of Hong Kong pleaded with Britain to send an infectious disease specialist. Eventually they did, and the Institute was founded in 1906.
It was well done and didn’t suffer from Too Many Words (a problem many exhibits have). Possibly this is because every sign had to be in Cantonese and English.
The ground floor had exhibits on the human body, reproduction, and an interesting oral history of the SARS outbreak in 2003. Upstairs had historical displays and a well done video presentation about the plague outbreaks, which lasted almost 30 years (1894-1923). Senior medical students were tasked with dissecting rats to monitor the spread.
After the plague crisis, the Institute continued to test water, dairy products, and other sources to help prevent food poisoning. After the discovery of vaccines, they produced vaccines for several diseases (including smallpox).
Making smallpox vaccines was not very glamorous work. It involved strapping down a calf, shaving its belly, infected it with cowpox, and then taking samples.
After the museum, I went to Man Mo Temple, dedicated to literature and war. The temple is famous (basically, if you see a movie and there’s a Taoist temple, it’s probably this one). It’s being heavily renovated right now, which made for an interesting experience. The outside is completely covered in bamboo scaffolding but it’s still open to the public. The inside is also being renovated (though not quite as heavily). This means construction workers, tourists, and people praying are all jostling elbows.
After the temple, I headed back to a street we had walked along with Yvonne. I stopped at a local Hong Kong Chain, G.O.D (Gods of Desire), that sells locally made products: clothing, kitchen goods, and souvenirs. Then I started wandering back towards the hotel.
Google maps told me it was only about 1 mile, but I sorely missed Yvonne’s guidance about which streets slope up versus down, where pedestrian over- or under-passes are located, and how to navigate crazy intersections. This city was definitely not designed with pedestrians in mind and it would be a terrible place to be in a wheelchair.
It was a fascinating walk, though. The transition from old Hong Kong, with shabby local establishments, street stalls, and crumbling architecture, is replaced suddenly and sharply with gleaming towers of shiny glass and steel. You’d never guess the other part of the city existed in one place or the other.
There are also lush parks that mask the city.
I wandered through one past the Former French Mission Building and St. John’s Cathedral. At the edge of that park, a right turn would have taken me towards Hong Kong Park and the Peak Tram, but a left turn took me towards the hotel (sort of).
It took about an hour, but eventually I wound my way through a maze of streets, overhead walkways, and buildings (blessedly air-conditioned) and found the hotel.
I found both my parents conked out napping. They had taken the tram home, but also had a long and complicated walk to get from the tram stop to the hotel.
For dinner, we stayed in the hotel, but sampled the Cantonese restaurant. It’s beautifully decorated and had mirrors everywhere (including the ceiling).
The menu offered half portions, perfectly sized for us to sample several dishes. I don’t think I’ve ever been someplace where the portions were larger than America before!
We had a bbq meat sampler (with honey bbq pork and crispy chicken skin), prawns with chili roe sauce, tilefish and pea sprouts, crispy chicken, asparagus, and wagyu foie gras fried rice. Everything was very tasty (even Dad liked most things). We also had a fantastic bottle of wine, a 2010 Clos de Vougeot de la Vougeraie that Dad was extremely pleased with.
After such a full (and hot) day, I crashed as soon as we got back to the room.
Our first stop in Hong Kong was (drumroll please): Disney.
Our taxi ride out to Hong Kong Disney essentially reversed our ride from the airport the night before. In daylight, it was much easier to appreciate how the islands connect to one another. There are some pretty spectacular city views along the way.
The ominous clouds from the morning did let loose a short deluge, though it was still sunny. That, combined with the heat and humidity, made it feel just like Florida. We weren’t sure how long it would take to find a taxi, so we played it safe and arrived very early for the backstage tour Dad arranged through some unique attractions.
Our guide Todd was a connection made via the former head of the French AMI outpost, Henry. Even better, we were able to add Glenn Birket to the tour (he arrived on time, being very familiar with the local transit options). Glenn is an old friend of Mom and Dad’s from Epcot days. He’s also my Godfather, though this was really the first time we’ve ever had a chance to get to know one another.
The park seems a bit small compared to other locations, but it is incredibly lush and tropical. Todd was a gracious host and spent several hours with us, walking us through the park and sharing some insider trivia.
Fun fact #1: The park was vastly over-planted, so every time a typhoon comes through and knocks down some trees, they just drag them out and turn them into firewood. They haven’t replanted a single tree since the park opened (and it’s still densely forested).
The park wasn’t crowded, in fact, it seemed rather empty. We thought perhaps it had to do with the threatening clouds and brief downpour, but it turns out…
Fun fact #2: Hellaciously hot September and October are slow months for HK Disney. But although Halloween is not a particularly big event in Hong Kong, it is a huge attendance draw (especially in the evenings and on weekends).
We saw that the park was already decked out with pumpkins, fall leaves, and trick-or-treat stations for the kids. It was also hot. Really, really hot.
Todd kindly lent us umbrellas since it was still drizzling when we arrived. However, by the time we entered the park the sun was out and steaming things up. I finally understand why people use umbrellas for portable shade. They help a surprising amount.
Our first stop was Mystic Manor (an attraction with some similarities to Haunted Mansion). The story follows Lord Henry Mystic and his pet monkey, Albert. Their story ties into the Society of Explorers and Adventurers from Tokyo DisneySea. Todd pointed out the real life designers, engineers, and composer who were featured in the pre-show “sketches” chronicling Lord Mystic and Albert’s adventures.
The ride starts when Albert opens their latest treasure: a music box. Legend says the box can bring inanimate objects to life, which of course it does, to disastrous results.
The ride vehicles are trackless, meaning they can go all over a room, including in circles, over and over again. This leads to a very interesting ride experience where your attention is sharply focused on particular elements at particular times. The show was cute and made excellent use of the ride vehicle’s capabilities.
We ate lunch at the attached restaurant, which served Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, and Cantonese dishes. Dad and I opted for the Indonesian vegetable curry. It was decent (by theme park food standards), but the roti were a bit indestructible. I did enjoy my watermelon juice (which would be called a watermelon fresca in the states).
After lunch, we continued our tour of the park, including a brief stop at an optical illusion that managed to make Mom look taller than me. That’s quite a feat of forced perspective!
Our final stop was the Iron Man simulator ride. The pre-show would be good for hard core Marvel fans because there are some cool movie props on display. Stan Lee also makes a cameo appearance in the safety video (which ran twice, once in Cantonese, once in English). Unfortunately, Stan Lee’s cameo distracted from important information both times!
The story is a bit thin for the 3D simulator. Like with all simulators, you’re there to watch a demonstration, something goes wrong (bad guys want to steal Tony Stark’s new arc reactor) and you have to help stop them and save the world (Hong Kong at least).
Mom and Dad got more of a kick out of the equipment room we visited after riding.
We elected not to stay in the park. Instead, we headed out with Glenn, who is very familiar with Hong Kong, so he could show us the ropes.
He showed us how to take the MTR, a train system that feels like a CTA-tube hybrid. It’s very convenient and reasonably easy to navigate (once you know the ropes).
We stopped briefly at Glenn’s office so he could introduce Dad to a few folks.
Then, we went on a mission to obtain a specific selfie-stick and micro-SD card for Dad. This involved a visit to Sham Shui Po, a district with a vast collection of merchants selling any electronic gadget, piece, or gizmo you could ever want. There’s an outdoor market, but we opted for the four-story indoor (and more importantly air-conditioned) option.
Dad found both items fairly quickly, though the sheer amount of stuff (and people) packed into the teeny tiny hallways was incredible. The experience reminded us a bit of Akihabara, the electronics district in Tokyo.
Mission completed, we hopped back on the train and headed to Kowloon (the island to the north of Hong Kong island). We walked down Nathan Ave (a shopping street) and past the famous Peninsula Hotel (sadly, we did not stop for tea).
As we went, Glenn shared some very interesting Hong Kong history and facts. A few memorable items included:
- All toilets in Hong Kong are flushed with salt water – though it requires separate plumbing, this drastically reduced their water shortage problem, even as the city continues to grow
- The construction scaffolding is often made of bamboo. There are special classes and certifications to make sure people know exactly how to use it, but when done properly, it can rise many stories and is very strong.
- The district Glenn’s office is in used to be factories (from a time when everything was made in Hong Kong). After everything switched to being made in China, the buildings were repurposed into office buildings. Now, a global toy distribution company occupies many of the buildings where the toys used to be made.
We made it all the way to the tip of Kowloon and walked along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, which is directly across the water from our hotel.
The view of Hong Kong island was stunning.
We took the famous Star Ferry across the water to the convention center attached to our hotel. The sun was setting as we sailed across, and it made a striking back drop for the skyline.
We relaxed at the hotel for a bit before going to the Japanese restaurant in the hotel for dinner. We had a nice dinner, which included a delicious lotus root and sesame oil amuse bouche, crab and seaweed salad, some kind of broth with a dumpling, 5 pieces of sashimi, wagyu, tempura, and a mini matcha bunt cake for dessert.
Dani is our guest blogger.
Everyone has seen photos of partial solar and lunar eclipses, and they look surprisingly similar. In person, the experience is somewhat different, because one happens during the day, and the other at night, but it’s not that much unlike the photos.
However, there is one experience that is completely different, and isn’t at all like the photos. A total solar eclipse is the event of a lifetime, really impossible to capture in photos or video, and just as impossible to describe, although I’ll try.
On August 21, 2017, for the first time in a hundred years, a total solar eclipse traveled across the United States. For a few days it was the talk of the media, but many months before we’d made a plan to put us in position. Since we’d been staying in Chicago it made sense to stop in Nashville on our way home to Orlando. Nashville was one of the largest and certainly the most interesting city in the path, so there were 90,000 other people with the same idea, but we flew in a day early to avoid any travel issues, and encountered no traffic.
On the day of the eclipse many people went to the stadium, which baffled me, because you want to be somewhere out in nature, and where you can see the horizon. You also want to be mobile in case of clouds.
So we had arranged to rent a car, and at 10 am Linda, Dani and I began our drive about 90 minutes east, to place us near the centerline. This would increase the time of totality from just under two minutes to two minutes 39 seconds.
We had no preset plan, and looked for good viewing places along the way, and also monitored the weather, as clouds were likely to boil up in the afternoon. In the end we ended up in Carthage, Tennessee, which was almost on the centerline.
As we had lunch in a small Mexican restaurant, I searched online for someplace to buy a lighting cable, since Dani’s phone was out of charge. It turned out there was a nearby Walmart where we could get one. As we sat in the parking lot charging the phone we realized it was nearly a perfect spot to wait for the eclipse, assuming the circling clouds stayed at bay.
The eclipse had begun while we ate lunch, but we knew it would be almost 90 minutes before it got really interesting. As we waited, we could see through the special glasses that the sun was turning into a crescent, but surprisingly it wasn’t particularly apparent that it was getting darker. This continued to be the case almost until totality.
A comment on the radio about light pollution made me realize that the Walmart parking lot lights might turn on during totality, so we moved to a nearby field.
As the minutes counted down we got out of the air conditioned car and began to observe. In the last couple of minutes it started to get quite dark, and the temperature began to drop a bit from a muggy 95 degrees.
Then, as the last sliver of crescent sun disappeared, everything suddenly changed.
This is the part that is hard to explain. Suddenly, you can’t see anything through the glasses. You take them off, and above you is a pitch black rocky ball surrounded by irregular rays of cold, white light.
The temperature plunges ten degrees in a moment.
All around you it is sunset on every horizon — a 360 degree late evening.
Venus is suddenly there, brighter than you remember, and also a few other stars.
Crickets begin to chirp. A night bird sings. Otherwise it is very, very quiet.
Most of all, you are intensely aware that you are in space. You are standing on a giant rock, and above you another giant rock hangs, and behind that a great fiery ball is obscured, but its gasses stream out in all directions. There is
There is no up or down. You are in space.
And then, suddenly, a red dot erupts from the trailing edge and you slap on your glasses. As fast as it came, it is over.
The light has a cold bluish cast, and quickly swells back to daylight, taking only a couple of minutes to seem almost back to normal.
It will be 90 more minutes before the eclipse ends, but you will remember that two and a half minutes the rest of your life.
Every year, in preparation for their annual Bordeaux auction, Hart Davis Hart hosts a comprehensive Bordeaux tasting that offers an opportunity to taste two different vintages of nearly all the first and second growth Bordeaux, side by side.
This year’s vintages were particularly interesting, being of the same era but from very different years. 1989 produced tannic somewhat off balance wines for many wineries, while it was easy to make good wine in 1990. But in a couple of cases the 1989 turned out better than the 1990.
As in past years, among the first growths Cheval Blanc was at the top of my ratings, and Margaux at the bottom. Pamer, right next to Margaux, was significantly better than Margaux, especially in 1989, even though it is a second growth.
Here are my ratings of the forty wines:
89 Montrose 94 (remarkable balance for an 89)
90 Montrose 95
89 Cos d’Estournel 85 (bitter chocolate)
90 Cos d’Estournel 86
89 Lafite Rothschild 94
90 Lafite Rothschild 96
89 Mouton Rothschild 97
90 Mouton Rothschild 99
89 Latour 89
90 Latour 91
89 Lynch Bages 84 (pruny, overripe)
90 Lynch Bages 92
89 Grand-Puy-Lacoste 88
90 Grand-Puy-Lacoste 89
89 Pichon-Longueville, Baron 93
90 Pichon-Longueville, Baron 93-
89 Pichon-Longueville, Lalande 90
90 Pichon-Longueville, Lalande 91
89 Ducru-Beaucaillou 89
90 Ducru-Beaucaillou 90
89 Gruaud Larose 87
90 Gruaud Larose 83 (burnt rubber, truly awful)
89 Leoville Poyferre 85
90 Leoville Poyferre 86
89 Leoville Las Cases 88
90 Leoville Las Cases 89
89 Margaux 87
90 Margaux 89
89 Palmer 93+
90 Palmer 90
89 Haut-Brion 93
90 Haut-Brion 95
89 La Mission Haut-Brion 90
90 La Mission Haut-Brion 91
89 Angelus 91
90 Angelus 91 (these two were nearly identical)
89 Cheval Blanc 97
90 Cheval Blanc 99+
89 Troplong-Mondot 89
90 Troplong-Mondot 90
Only about half the wines are available at retail:
Last night Dani and I saw War Paint at the Goodman Theatre. It’s an excellent show starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole about the rivalry between Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. It opened in Chicago a couple of months ago, and we were lucky that it extended its run by two weeks allowing me to grab two front row seats of what was a sold out house.
The show is presumably in tryouts for a Broadway run, because the sets and lighting were quite extraordinary, and couldn’t possibly have been paid for with the revenues from a limited run at the Goodman.
The central cast of four characters were all Tony nominees, and the stars had four Tonys between them, so the talent was top notch.
I really liked the score, which has many songs, all very accessible, some quite complex, and which was rendered by the largest pit orchestra I’ve heard in some time.
As with most shows in tryouts, changes are being made. I understand 20 minutes has been cut already, which was a good thing because the show was the right length.
The problem the show faces is that the two main characters, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden⏤who are on separate sides of the stage almost continuously for the whole show⏤never actually met in real life. The show invents a scene at the end where they do meet, and it works surprisingly well. However the number at the end of the first act sets up the idea that they think maybe they should meet, and another almost 30 years elapses before that last scene. That’s a long time to wait for the payoff. I would probably cut that number from the end of Act 1, and find something to cut from Act 2 to speed it along, perhaps the number with the two costars, which didn’t really advance the story.
I would probably cut that number from the end of Act 1, and also find something to cut from Act 2 to speed it along, perhaps the number with the two costars, which didn’t really advance the story. I’m sure it’s difficult to decide what to cut when you have so much good material, and such great talent performing it.
Although makeup isn’t a topic that interests me, The show is really about starting with nothing and creating a successful business. The show’s challenge will be to find a way to connect with a mass audience, as younger people have never heard of the two women who were literally the first female titans of industry.
This trip to Chicago was organized around two events, the first of which was the Hart David Hart Annual Summer Champagne Tasting. It was held at The Ivy, a popular wedding venue in River North.
I guess the original intent was to have the tasting in the courtyard, which would have been quite pleasant. Unfortunately, Chicago weather didn’t cooperate, and the temperature was in the mid-nineties. As a result, the ill-advised decision was made to hold the event inside, in a rabbit warren of small spaces. The air conditioning–what little there was–simply couldn’t handle the task, and the rooms were soon over a hundred degrees. Even on ice, the Champagne couldn’t be kept cold. And the spaces were so small that it became impossible to even squeeze from one room to the next. A thoroughly unpleasant event.
Dani and I resolved to quickly try only the most noteworthy offerings and beat a swift retreat. My notes are limited to only numerical ratings, because any comments about blends or production were lost to the din of too many people in too small a space. We were in and out in about 30 minutes.
The event did reinforce my preference for yeasty vintage Champagnes with moderate acid levels and some pinot noir in the blend. Surprisingly, the Taittinger wines ended up being our favorite group.
The wines we tasted:
(this first batch was particularly warm)
NV Krug, Rosé ($240) 96 pts
2008 Moet & Chandon, Grand Vintage Rose ($85) 90 pts
2004 Dom Pérignon Rose ($320) 92 pts
1998 Dom Pérignon Brut, P2 ($275) 98 pts
2004 Dom Ruinart, Brut Blanc de Blancs ($155) 87 pts
2006 Veuve Clicquot, La Grande Dame Brut ($160) 91 pts
NV Billecart-Salmon, Brut Reserve (magnum $100) 89 pts
NV Billecart-Salmon, Brut Sous Bois ($70) 91 pts
NV Billecart-Salmon, Brut Rosé (magnum $160) 90 pts
NV Billecart-Salmon, Blanc de Blancs Brut ($165) 94 pts
NV Billecart-Salmon, Extra Brut ($70) 88 pts
NV Taittinger, La Francaise Brut ($55) 92 pts
NV Taittinger, Brut Cuvee Prestige Rose ($75) 97 pts
NV Taittinger, Prélude Grands Crus ($80) 95 pts
NV Taittinger, Les Folies de la Marquetterie (pinot noir) ($80) 96 pts
2006 Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs (4165) 99 pts
Wines we couldn’t get to:
1995 Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millénaires
2000 Charles Heidsieck, Brut
2000 Maurice Vessell, Brut Grand Cru, Millésime
2002 Piper-Heidsieck, Brut Cuvée Rare
2004 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs
2005 Philipponnat, Clos des Goisses
2006 Piper-Heidsieck, Brut
2009 Thierry Fluteau, Cuvée Prestige, Côte des Bar
NV André Clouet, Grand Réserve Brut Grand Cru
NV Armand de Brignac, Brut Gold
NV Bollinger, Rosé
NV Canard-Duchêne Charles VIII, Blanc de Noirs
NV Charles Heidsieck, Brut Réserve
NV Michel Arnould Brut Réserve, Grand Cru
NV Paul Bara, Brut Réserve Grand Cru
NV Paul Déthune, Bru Rosé Grand Cru
NV Pierre Gimonet & Fils, Blanc de Blancs Brut, 1er Cru
NV Piper-Heidsieck, Brut
NV R. Pouillon & Fils, Blanc de Blancs Brut
NV Ruinart, Brut Blanc de Blancs
NV Thiénot, Rosé
A few years ago Linda and I attended a Riedel stemware seminar while on a Celebrity cruise. The premise of the seminar was that different shaped glasses make wines taste different.
We went in very skeptical but came out completely believers. So much so, in fact, that I ordered four sets of the glasses and have conducted the same seminar for my co-workers and members of my wine group. Everyone who has ever gone through it has been amazed at the effect that even small changes in the shape of the glass can make.
So when I heard that Riedel was conducting a seminar just a block from our Chicago condo I had to sign up for it again. Why? Becuase for $90 you get four excellent wines, and can keep the glasses they’re served in!
Dani and I attended last night, and even though the venue was less than ideal for wine tasting (outdoors, noisy band nearby) it was still impressive. We also discovered a few new things I hadn’t heard in the previous seminar:
- The wine smells different depending upon where in the glass you place your nose. This was particularly apparent with the sauvignon blanc, which smelled like grapefruit on either side and like yeast down in the center.
- The glasses are dishwasher safe, but don’t use soap, as a hot glass absorbs the soap and becomes cloudy when it cools. Because of their height, you need to put them on the bottom rack.
- The Riedel decanter that looks like a coiled cobra has an interesting property: if you turn it around at an angle once before you pour, it dispenses exactly one glass of wine.
Although The City Winery Riverwalk was packed last night, the seminar was undersubscribed, and they backfilled with random bystanders (who didn’t get to keep their glasses). This was a tactical error, because these folks weren’t really interested in the seminar, and yacked through what was already a difficult listening environment. However we did meet an interesting guy and his son who sat next to us, and talked with them at length afterward.
The wines selected for last night’s event were all superb, especially the chardonnay and pinot noir. They were chosen for their intense varietal character and winemaking style, and I would be happy to have any of them again:
- Matua Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand
- Beringer Luminus Chardonnay
- Etude Pinot Noir
- 2013 Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon
We picked the right weekends to visit Chicago. The weather was perfect. We originally scheduled this trip for our Next season tickets. The Alps-themed meal turned out to be lackluster, but we had a lot of fun anyway.
We visited the Art Institute of Chicago, which is HUGE. We even bought a season pass so Dani can go back with friends.
The next weekend we took the “L” to the west to Oak Park to see the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studios and take a very interesting walking tour of the other houses he designed.
We also got to see a bridge stuck up during the annual Chicago boat migration.
Speaking of museums, last year Dani and I also visited the nearby Museum of Broadcast Communications.
We’ve had a fabulous long weekend in New York, and although the purpose of the trip was to see the new musical, Waitress, we also had a chance to visit some favorite restaurants, and try a few new ones. Here’s a recap:
We began with a dinner for two at Momofuku Ko, which I’d read about in a favorite book The Rosie Project. Dani was still flying in from Chicago when Linda and I had a delightful meal, made special by a wonderfully welcoming staff. Not every course was a home run, but it hardly mattered because everything else was perfect.
For lunch Friday Dani was still at her friend’s apartment, and Linda and I stepped back into 1962 for lunch at La Grenouille, a classic French restaurant, and the last of its kind. This is a place they talked about going in the series Mad Men, and it’s unchanged.
Dani caught up with us for our anniversary dinner at Eleven Madison Park. We’ve had two of the greatest meals of my life here, and one awful one. Fortunately they’ve returned to form, and although this one wasn’t quite as memorable, it was exceptional, particularly the service.
Despite our feelings about The Donald, we stayed at the Trump International Hotel, because we got a deal on hotels.com, and someone has to pay the unfortunates who work there. One plus is that one of our favorite New York restaurants is just downstairs. We had a lovely lunch at Jean-Georges, which—even thought the prices have doubled in the time we’ve been going—is still the best lunch deal in town, with the same food as dinner at a fraction of the cost.
A great thing about New York is that you can actually dine really late. So after the wonderful Waitress production we had an 11pm reservation at db Bistro Modern, a reliable late night choice operated by Daniel Boulud, whose high end restaurants we view with less favor.
The stunning highlight of the trip, and one of the best meals of our lives was Easter lunch at Caviar Russe, where we had the caviar tasting menu, an eight course extravaganza where every course incorporates caviar in a meaningful way. The wine list is extremely attractively priced, which just makes things better. Linda and I had one of the best meals of our lives here in 2014, and this one was even better. So of the greatest meals I’ve ever had, Caviar Russe occupies two of the top five spots. (For those keeping score, the others are two different meals at Eleven Madison Park [neither of them recent] and New Year’s Eve at Victoria and Alberts.)
We had a reservation at The NoMAD, operated by the Eleven Madison Park folks, but after such a spectacular lunch it would have been a waste. So instead we went to a local Turkish place, ABA Turkish Restaurant, which was very popular, and fine, but actually not as good as our Turkish and Middle Eastern restaurants in Orlando. But after that lunch, it hardly mattered!
We finished off our culinary extravaganza with a Monday lunch at Vaucluse, a new French brasserie by Michael White, owner of, among other things Marea (which we aren’t wild about). Vaucluse is a beautiful room, and the brasserie food was elevated, yet traditional. The best Salade Lyonnaise of my life is my parting memory of New York.
Quite the culinary whirlwind, and something we can only do every couple of years, but there were some truly memorable experiences that we’ll hopefully be remembering long after the Amex bill comes.
If you can just do one thing in New York, I have to say—well, see Waitress! But other than that, Caviar Russe is the place to be.
This anniversary trip to New York City features a lot of fine dining, but it started because of Waitress, a new musical based on the movie, and with a score by Sara Bareilles. Dani asked for tickets for Christmas, and I was able to get them prior to opening night.
Sara tells the story of how she became involved with the show in her biography, Sounds Like Me. At the time she didn’t know the director, Diane Paulus, was quite famous, and she hadn’t seen the movie. But when offered the job she went home and watched it, and immediately wrote the first song for it.
That song and most of the others are on an album, What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, that she released last year, and which Dani and I have been listening to in heavy rotation. It’s a great album, but it’s very, um, Sara-ish. So it was with some trepidation that we went to see the show, since not many people can sing—or even play—a song the way Sarah Bareilles does.
I’m pleased to report that: 1) this cast—and especially the lead, Jessie Mueller—can sing them that way; 2) the onstage band is on top of it; 3) this is an amazing Broadway show, not just some pop songs set to a movie. In fact, the songs fit so perfectly that, having not seen the movie, I can’t really imagine it without the songs.
What’s remarkable is how polished the show and cast are given that we saw it on the second night of previews. There might have been one song in act 2 that I would have cut, but other than that I wouldn’t change a thing. The audience agreed, and was wildly enthusiastic from the moment the lights dimmed. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a more enthusiastic audience.
I was struck by how much of Sara’s album made it into the show, although one great song, Door Number Three, didn’t make it in recognizable form. But for the most part her album will give you a great idea of what this show sounds like, even if you can’t exactly figure out who will be singing what number.
Needless to say, we loved the show, and if I could see it again tonight, I would!
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.
It always seems a shame to sell a place, just when you get it perfect. The Evanston condo served Dani well for six years, beginning with her Sophomore year at Northwestern. Here is a look back.
One thing you can’t do at the Chicago high rise
After purchasing the new condo in downtown Chicago we wanted to transport some big, heavy stuff like art work and dishes, so Dani and I decided to road trip via Atlanta, Nashville and Louisville. This would have the added advantage of a car in Chicago for the summer, which would ease the move from Evanston.
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
- Forbidden Journey
- Dragon Challenge
- Hogwarts Express
- Men In Black
- Horror Makeup
Prior to spending Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, we met Dani in San Francisco for a few days of sightseeing, and then drove down the coast.
Our flight in gave us a spectacular view of the coast, the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay and the city.
Things were running late, so it was a rush to make our dinner reservation at Kei on Nob Hill, which was good but not amazing.
The next day we walked down from our hotel atop Nob Hill through Chinatown.
We probably should have tried the sautéed goose intestines, as what we had wasn’t that great.
A line up of cable cars. We planned to take this line back up to the top of Nob Hill later, but the cable broke, so we had a steep climb and ended up walking eight miles!
Fisherman’s Wharf, with Alcatraz in the background.
Trying an In-N-Out burger for the first time. Life not changed.
The famous Buena Vista Cafe, semi-inventors of the Irish coffee.
At the top of the hill is the cable car museum, and also the machinery that moves all the cables. We watched them splicing the broken one, a complicated process.
Stopping at the venerable and tacky Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel for a Tiki drink. Dinner was at Jardinere, a cozy restaurant that was our favorite of the trip.
The next day we headed north across the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods.
Bear and friend.
Linda checks her wingspan.
Dinner at Gary Danko was excellent.
The next day we headed down the coast and had time for a few Paso Robles winery visits.
We stayed one night at the beautiful Dolphin Bay Resort in Pismo Beach, where we had the best room ever.
I definitely want to go back to this place. It’s an easy drive from Santa Ynez wineries.
It was a great trip, much too short for all we wanted to do. The next day we made a brief stop in Solvang and then headed to Los Angeles.
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
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 lime or serve with lime wedges.
Serving size: 1/6th of recipe
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!)
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.
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.
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.