Road Trip: Pacific Northwest

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!

Road Trip: Orlando to Chicago

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.

June 2

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.

June 3

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.

June 4

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.

June 5

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.

June 6

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.

June 7

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.

June 8

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.

June 9

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.
Cinnamon

We had a nice dinner at Butcher & Bee, recommended by one of Dani’s friends who went to Nashville for graduate school.

June 10

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.

June 11

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.

June 12

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.

June 13

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.

June 14

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.

June 15

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.

Western Roadtrip

Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico in 12 days and 2600 miles

In July 2019 Dani and I set out on a 2600 mile, 12-day road trip of the western states. We had a bucket list of places we wanted to see, including Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Four Corners, and Mesa Verde. We flew from Chicago to Denver and rented a car, and with no further planning set out on the grand, counterclockwise loop.

Here’s our complete itinerary as a pdf:

An app called Roadtrippers proved quite useful for finding accommodations, restaurants, and points of interest, allowing us to plan just a day or so in advance, and change our route on a whim.

Along the way, we recorded videos for some future travel writing classes, and of course, we took many photos. Here are some of my favorites.

Paul McCartney

For the first time, Linda and I both were able to spend a month in Chicago together this summer. It was fun to kick back and chill in River North. A bum left calf and foot kept me from walking all around town like I love to do, but we were able to use Lyft to explore many new restaurants. Our favorite discoveries were the Cherry Circle Room, BLVD and Mexique. Biggest flops were mfk, Tavern on Rush and Proxi.

The highlight of the trip, and the event I planned the schedule around, was Paul McCartney playing at Tinley Park. It’s a bit of a hassle to get to Tinley park, which is in the suburbs about an hour away, but we rented a car and it was definitely worth the trip.

It was hard to believe Sir Paul is 75 years old! He played an energetic set without a break for two and a half hours, then came back and did a thirty-minute encore. The sound and staging was great, and often spectacular:

McCartney played nearly forty of his best songs, ending with my all-time favorite Beatles suite from Abbey Road:

Full setlist for Paul McCartney at Tinely Park Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, July 25, 2017:

A Hard Day’s Night
Save Us
Can’t Buy Me Love
Letting Go
Temporary Secretary
Let Me Roll It
I’ve Got a Feeling / Hendrix Jam
My Valentine
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Maybe I’m Amazed
We Can Work It Out
In Spite of All the Danger
You Won’t See Me
Love Me Do
And I Love Her
Blackbird
Here Today
Queenie Eye
New
The Fool on the Hill
Lady Madonna
FourFiveSeconds
Eleanor Rigby
I Wanna Be Your Man
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Something
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Hey Jude

Encore:

Yesterday
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Hi, Hi, Hi
Birthday
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End

Comprehensive Bordeaux Tasting: 1989/1990

Comprehensive tasting of 1989 and 1990 Bordeaux
Comprehensive tasting of 1989 and 1990 Bordeaux

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:

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Oriole With Our Wine Group

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We saved the best for last! After several days packed with wine events, great dinners, museums and sightseeing, we had our farewell dinner at Oriole. And what a dinner it was!

Chef Noah Sandoval and Pastry Chef Genie Kwon knocked it out of the park.

Speaking of knocking it out of the park, not the Chicago Cubs won the world series this week, after a 108 year drought, so it was a really fun week to be in Chicago. But that wasn’t even the most exciting thing happening at Oriole. On Monday they learned they received four nominations for Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence. Sommelier Aaron McManus was nominated for Best Sommelier and Genie Kwon was nominated for Best Pastry Chef. And the entire team was nominated for Best New Restaurant and Best Service!

But that wasn’t even the biggest news. On Wednesday the discovered that they had been awarded two Michelin stars, which is unheard of for a restaurant that has been open only seven month!

Never was an award so well deserved. This event even managed to surpass our previous dinner, which I would have thought impossible,

Sommelier Aaron McManus served the wines we brought and acted as a wonderful host.

This was the first time Oriole had guests bring in wines like these, so it was quite a treat for everyone.

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Alcorn Tours Guide to Chicago

Refer to this map:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1OuwGVQUX3rFKMRJi_Vx3DWp_OKE&usp=sharing

Geography

Chicago is on the west shore of Lake Michigan. Much of the area along the lake is various parks, from Lincoln Park on the North to Millennium and Grant Parks on the south.

The downtown area is mostly high-rise businesses and is comprised of the one square mile of the Loop (so named because it is encircled by the Elevated train tracks). The Loop is bounded on the North and West by the Chicago River. North of the river is the one square mile River North, which is where a lot of the clubs, restaurants and residences are.

The East boundary of the Loop and River North is Michigan Avenue, and the part from the River northward is called the Magnificent Mile, because it’s where all the fancy stores are.  This is Tourist Central.

Transportation

The easiest and cheapest way to get from Orlando to Chicago is Southwest non-stop to Midway. Midway is a bit easier to navigate than O’Hare because it is smaller.

Uber works really well in Chicago, and is really cheap. But if you’re feeling adventurous it’s even cheaper to take the El, which is always $2.50. The El is the train system around Chicago. The different lines have colors. The blue line goes to O’Hare, the Orange line goes to Midway. The red line goes North/South and the Green line goes to the west. (The Red line is actually underground in downtown, like the tube in London.) Nearly everything converges on The Loop.

You buy a card that operates the turnstiles. You can get one and put money on it at major stations. The same card works for the buses. Google or Apple maps work well with the El

From the either airport to downtown is under an hour on the El, sometimes less on Uber (but not always).

Separate from the El is the Metra, the train that runs north to Wisconsin, but is not useful for local transportation.

There are also horse drawn carriages in the tourist area along the Magnificent Mile.

Things to Do

City Pass Chicago

If you plan to do several things, the City Pass combination ticket is the best deal. It includes:

Shedd Aquarium – VIP ENTRY

*Skydeck Chicago – FAST PASS

*The Field Museum – VIP ENTRY

*Museum of Science and Industry – VIP ENTRY   OR   360 CHICAGO – EXPRESS ENTRY

*Art Institute of Chicago – FAST PASS   OR   Adler Planetarium – VIP ENTRY

I put an asterisk on the best choices.

http://www.citypass.com/chicago

Museum of Science and Industry

This is a great museum in a huge building that is the only survivor from the Chicago 1893 World’s Fair where the original Ferris Wheel debuted. That world’s fair was one square mile, and had 700,000 visitors on its closing day alone!

Must see things at the museum are the Coal Mine ride and the German U-Boat On-Board tour. These have specific admission times you select when you get your tickets. Allow at least 4 hours minimum.

http://www.msichicago.org/

The Art Institute of Chicago

Huge, HUGE art museum with an amazing impressionist collection by Renoir, Monet, Van Goghs, plus A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and Nighthawks. Even if you think you don’t know what those are, you do.

You can not even walk this whole museum in 8 hours, so be selective!

http://www.artic.edu/

Field Museum

Dinosaurs, and all that natural history stuff. And did I mention DINOSAURS?

https://www.fieldmuseum.org/

Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise

There are a number of Chicago River boat tours and even a number that focus on the city’s architecture, but this is the best one, because it has a docent from the Architecture Foundation doing the commentary. Even if you’re not that interested in architecture, it’s a great way to see the city and the river, all the way from Lake Michigan past the Sears Tower.

https://www.architecture.org/experience-caf/tours/detail/chicago-architecture-foundation-river-cruise-aboard-chicagos-first-lady-cruises/

Chicago Loop Bridges

A retired engineer and bridge enthusiast conducts these very personal walking tours of all the different types of drawbridges along the Chicago River, and you get to go into one of the control towers that is now a museum. This is often a private tour.

http://chicagoloopbridges.com/

If you don’t want to take the tour, you can just visit the museum:

http://www.bridgehousemuseum.org/

Sears Tower (no one calls it Willis Tower)

Our condo is pretty tall, but this building is more than twice as tall. The tour, displays and glass floor of the skyjack are very popular attractions.

http://theskydeck.com/

Lincoln Park Zoo

This is quite a pleasant zoo, and it also has a great restaurant in the park nearby, North Pond, which has a Michelin star (reservations essential).

http://www.lpzoo.org/

http://www.northpondrestaurant.com/

Navy Pier

There’s a new Ferris Wheel on the pier that gives quite a view of the skyline and lakeshore. This is also where lake cruises depart from. The dinner cruise is nice although the food is nothing special. During the summer there are Disney-quality fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday.

John Hancock Tower

There a great view here because the building is on the Magnificent mile at the lake shore. However you don’t need to pay for 360 Chicago. You can see the same view by having a drink at the Signature Lounge.

http://www.360chicago.com/

https://www.signatureroom.com/

Richard H. Driehaus Museum

This mansion from the guided age is right in River North, and is the best preserved historic home I have ever been in. Elaborate marble, woodwork and tiffany glass look like they were installed yesterday. They host changing exhibits, too. When we went there was a collection of original cartoon artwork from 100 year old issues of Puck magazine.

http://www.driehausmuseum.org/

Chicago Theatre

The opulent Chicago Theatre used to be a movie palace, but now hosts major musical and comedy performers. During the day they offer great tours of the building, with lots of fascinating history.

http://www.thechicagotheatre.com/tour

Randolph Street is Chicago’s theatre district, where many shows open before going to Broadway, and where the touring productions come. The major theaters are the Oriental, the Cadillac, and the Goodman. To the north is Steppenwolf, and on Navy pier is the Shakespeare Theatre. There are also dozens of smaller theatres.

http://www.theatreinchicago.com/nowplayingrs.php

Museum of Broadcast Communications

This conveniently located museum will bring back memories of old TV programs, and has a comprehensive collection of radio history. It’s best for adults; there’s not much of interest for little kids.

http://www.museum.tv/index.htm

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

About 30 minutes to the west of Chicago is Oak Park, where Frank Lloyd write built his own home and studio. It’s very extensive, and the tour shows how his work evolved over time. Be sure to book your tour in advance. There’s also a walking tour of the homes he designed in the surrounding neighborhood, but since you can’t go in those I would skip it. You can Uber for about $30 each way, or take the Green line and be there in 20 minutes or less.

http://www.flwright.org/

Mars Cheese Castle

If you’re headed to Wisconsin, there’s no place quite like this.

http://www.marscheese.com/

Indiana Wineries

If you have a car, it’s an hour drive to Indiana Wineries. Butler makes good wine from local grapes, and Shady Creek makes good wine from California grapes. Do not go to Anderson’s Orchards and Winery.

http://www.butlerwinery.com/

http://www.shadycreekwinery.com/

Tastebud Food Tours

A local entrepreneur runs some very good food oriented walking tours. I took one where the guide stayed in character as a socialite from the days of the 1893 World’s Fair. We visited a half dozen historic stops and had foods that were invented there. They also do brewery and distillery tours.

http://tastebudtours.com/tours/chicago-tours/

Live Music & Bars

Many, many places up and down Hubbard have live music.

Andy’s Jazz Club

Good food and drinks, $14 or $20 cover for live jazz. Shows at 5pm, 7pm, and 9:30-1am.

http://www.andysjazzclub.com/

City Winery

This restaurant and live music venue is also really into wine, and serves everything in Riedel stemware. The food is good, and they have different acts every night. During the summer there is also a casual outdoor version right on the Riverwalk.

http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/

https://www.citywinery.com/chicago/riverwalk/

Untitled Supper Club

500 Scotches, great cocktails, and good food and live music are all on offer in different rooms of this speakeasy-themed restaurant and bar.

http://untitledsupperclub.com/

Three Dots and a Dash

This is the best Tiki Bar you will ever go to. It’s not really on Clark. Enter the alley on Hubbard and follow the neon light to the door. Reservations essential. Even neater is the tiny Bamboo Room within Three Dots and a Dash. A separate, prepaid reservation is needed here. For fiifty dollars you get several custom made tiki drinks, or can have a rum tasting. Ask to sit at the bar so you can talk with the bartender as he makes your drinks.

http://threedotschicago.com/

Restaurants

Chicago has a dozen Michelin starred restaurants, but mostly I have ignored those, because they take months of planning to get into. These are some favorites by category.

Things to NOT eat in Chicago:

Deep dish pizza. You can get the same stuff at Giordano’s. When the Chicago magazine ratings come out, none of the top pizzas are deep dish.

Chicago style hot dogs. It’s nothing special, just on a poppy seed bun with a pickle, tomato and pepper. There are gourmet dogs in town that are better.

Mexican food. Some people like Rick Bayless’ Michelin-starred Topolobampo, or his adjacent Frontera Grill or Xoco, but I’m not impressed. Chicago really doesn’t have a great Mexican restaurant.

Best Restaurant in Town (and the country) – Oriole

The secret is out (two Michelin stars in the first 7 months) but the best place in town is Oriole. Reservations well in advance essential. Don’t be alarmed that it looks like a warehouse and you are entering off an alley.

http://www.oriolechicago.com/

French – La Sardine

Traditional French Bistro food, perfectly done.

http://www.lasardine.com/

New American – Cafe des Architects

In the Sofitel. The trick here is to put yourself in Chef’s hands and get the tasting menu. Amazing presentations, great price for the quality.  Best to go here on a week night when the chef is bored. 

http://www.cafedesarchitectes.com/

Eclectic – Girl and the Goat

Stephanie Izzard’s flagship is always packed, but they hold some tables for people who didn’t get reservations two months in advance. Go at 4pm and have a drink in the bar.

http://girlandthegoat.com/

Chinese – Imperial Lamian

Amazing Dim Sum. Also, you must have the Mixed Mushroom Lamian and the Jasmine Tea Smoked Ribs.

http://www.imperial-lamian.com/#home

Hamburger – Au Cheval

The most famous hamburger in America is at Au Cheval, but good luck getting in. There are a few spinoffs called Small Cheval that are more accessible. But you can also get Au Cheval’s hamburger at a salad place(!) See below.

http://auchevaldiner.com/

Salad – 3 Greens Market

This place has an enormous and fresh collection of salad bars, but they also serve Dillman’s famous pastrami sandwiches from another restaurant’s recipe, and the burger made famous at Au Cheval and voted best in the country. So something for everyone!

http://3greensmarket.com/

Sushi and Cocktails – Kumiko

Created by the folks behind the amazin Oriole, Kumiko was selected by Time magazine as one of the best 200 PLACES in the world–not just restaurants. Craft cocktails and creative Asian food. Best to try to reserve a seat at the bar. Even more exclusive is the downstairs Kikko with an omakase served at a small bar.

https://barkumiko.com/

Pizza – Coalfire

The best pizza in Chicago is not Chicago Pizza, it’s Coalfire’s Pepperoni & Whipped Ricotta.

http://coalfirechicago.com/

If you just was a slice, closer by, you can get one for $4 at Dough Bros.Try the spicy Roland.

http://www.doughbrospizzasubs.com/

Barbecue – Chicago q

Chicago q is not a joint, it’s actually a nice restaurant  I’m not a fan of Midwestern barbecue sauces, I like a Southern style, which is more like wha they offer here. Try the barbecue sampler appetizer to see what you like; it comes with four sauces. They also have about 100 whiskeys and bourbons, and tasting flights of same.

http://www.chicagoqrestaurant.com/

Indian – Vermillion

This place is marching to their own drummer. It’s gourmet Indian unlike any you’ve had.  The service is amiable but very whacked – just hang in there for the food.

http://www.thevermilionrestaurant.com/index.cfm

Steak – Gibson’s Italia

There is almost a steakhouse in every block of River North. One of the most famous is Gibson’s, but this is a new location with a dramatic view of the river. Despite the name, it’s really about steaks, not Italian food. 

https://gibsonsitalia.com

Fish – GT Fish and Oyster

GT has the reputation of the best fish in River North.

http://gtoyster.com/

Italian – RPM Italian

Run by Lettuce Entertainment, a very successful restaurant operator in Chicago, with dozens of great restaurants. Avoid the Michelin-starred Spiaggia.

http://rpmrestaurants.com/rpmitalian/chicago/

Popcorn – Garrett’s

Famous for its Chicago Mix, which is half caramel popcorn, half cheddar cheese popcorn. It’s better than it sounds. There’s always a line, but it moves fairly fast.The one on Randolph in the Loop doesn’t usually have a lone.

http://www.garrettpopcorn.com/find-a-shop/chicago/625-n-michigan-ave

Donuts – Stan’s

Chicago has some great donut places – Glazed & Infused, Do-Rite Donuts, and Firecakes. But my favorite is Stan’s (six locations), an import from Westwood Village in Los Angeles. You want an old fashioned buttermilk. (At Glazed and Infused you want a maple bacon; you enter through the Davanti Enoteca restaurant.)

http://www.stansdonutschicago.com/

http://www.goglazed.com/

Hotels

Best Hotels in Chicago

Peninsula

http://chicago.peninsula.com/en/default

Four Seasons

http://www.fourseasons.com/chicago/

Ritz Carlton

http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/chicago

Trump

https://www.trumphotelcollection.com/chicago/

Langham

http://www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/chicago/

Convenient Moderate Hotels

The Intercontinental

http://www.icchicagohotel.com/

The Gwen

http://www.thegwenchicago.com/

The Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/chidt-chicago-marriott-downtown-magnificent-mile

Omni

https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/chicago

Conrad

http://www.conradchicagohotel.com/

James

http://www.jameshotels.com/chicago

Palomar

http://www.hotelpalomar-chicago.com/

Sofitel

http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-2993-sofitel-chicago-water-tower/index.shtml

Convenient Cheap Hotels

Hilton Garden Inn

http://hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/illinois/hilton-garden-inn-chicago-downtown-magnificent-mile-CHIDNGI/index.html

Courtyard

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/chiwb-courtyard-chicago-downtown-river-north

Homewood Suites

http://homewoodsuites3.hilton.com/en/hotels/illinois/homewood-suites-by-hilton-chicago-downtown-CHIHWHW/index.html

Hampton Inn

http://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/illinois/hampton-inn-and-suites-chicago-downtown-CHIHSHX/index.html

Riedel Stemware Seminar

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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!

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Chicago Museums

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.

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We visited the  Art Institute of Chicago, which is HUGE. We even bought a season pass so Dani can go back with friends.

IMG_1624The 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.

IMG_1533We also got to see a bridge stuck up during the annual Chicago boat migration.

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Speaking of museums, last year Dani and I also visited the nearby Museum of Broadcast Communications.

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Back in 2014 Linda and I visited the Field museum.

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And Dani and I visited the Chicago History Museum (which was quite good) and the International Museum of Surgical Science (which was… memorable).

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And way back in 2007 we made Dani’s first visit to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry while on her college tour.

 

New York Dining

Waitress Preview Day 2

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

Waitress

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Waitress Preview Day 2

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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!

Momofuku Ko

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I’ve wanted to visit Momofuku Ko ever since I read about it in the excellent book, The Rosie Project, which you should definitely read. It’s very hard to get a reservation, but thanks to split-second timing last week I was surprised to be able to get in on a Thursday evening.

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The layout is a bit like l’Atelier, where you sit at a counter facing the chefs and watch the food being prepared. The ambiance of the restaurant is great, with excellent music at just the right level, so it’s easy to hear your companion, but no other guests, thanks to a large gap between each pair of seats.

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We absolutely loved all the personnel at Momofuku Ko. They were all warm and gracious, and genuinely glad we were there. The sommelier, Chase Sinzer, in particular, spent a lot of time with us, and helped us select a couple of superb Burgundies.

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The meal consisted of 16 courses, mostly tiny bites, and some were spectacular. I had been expecting a very sashimi oriented meal, but actually very few courses resembled anything I’d had before. Highlights included a miniature pomme soufflé; chopped black bass sprayed with shiso mist; a nice serving of Osetra caviar (that didn’t particularly go with the accompanying sweet potato puree); the visually stunning razor clam with basil seeds (a signature dish); a roasted potato served in a delicious bouillabaisse broth; and foie gras that was frozen and finely shaved over lychee.

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I must admit that not all the courses were home runs. Spanish mackerel with a runny baked egg was not particularly flavorful. Most of the hot dishes were misses, especially a tough sirloin (although the accompanying potato churro was wonderful) and the chicken pie.

Two dessert courses were pleasant and not too sweet, and at the end Chase comped us some Green Chartreuse, which we had never had before, and really enjoyed.

It was a delightful evening, and I would definitely return to Momofuku Ko.

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Chicago, New Orleans, Orlando – Linda’s Road Trip Blog

I flew up to Chicago on Friday to spend some time with Steve and Dani. The weather is very strange this time of year – we had lunch outside yesterday and it went from very sunny to threatening to rain with the temp varying by 20 degrees all in the course of one meal!

IMG_7764Our view of the Wrigley Building.

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Yesterday we went on a tour of the Chicago Theater which is about to celebrate its 95th birthday. It was originally built as a movie palace – outside of stunning architecture its claim to fame was air conditioning when it opened. Since films were silent then it has a massive pipe organ – the largest pipe was built of wood and was just over 33 feet long! The organ console has “special effects” buttons built in for car horns, sirens, etc. to accompany the silent films. The theater sat over 3500 folks and was actually a medium sized theater for the chain that it was a part of. When it opened there were well over 100 ushers employed all of whom had “to be well brought up young men of good character with a minimum of a high school education”. They also had to be 5’7″ tall and 135 lbs. to fit into the standard uniforms. Similar to our Disney operator signaling systems today, there were elaborate button and light panels all through this massive building so the ushers could communicate where empty seats were. Very impressive for its day!

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I finished a cross stitch that I have been working on for 4 years this afternoon so we are going to take it to a framer tomorrow morning before we leave Chicago.


 

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Our first road trip stop is in St. Louis. We are staying in a Four Seasons with a lovely view of the arch which unfortunately is closed due to urban renewal around its base. Also unfortunate is that the view of everything around the arch is a collection of decaying riverfront factories with black walls and smokestacks – no wonder they built the arch so high – perhaps the goal was to be able to see into another state!

Strangely adjacent to this nice hotel is a new casino which is quite lovely but filled with the dregs of humanity – dedicated gambler that I am even I was scared off and retreated back to the room.


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Memphis was much nicer than St. Louis. We stayed at the original Peabody – what a wonderful blast from the past! And best of all the ducks are still there. It was so fun – the Duck Master comes out (sort of like a Ring Master) all dressed up in a fancy red coat and after a spiel to the crowd (of several hundred) he ceremoniously lowers red carpeted duck sized stairs and escorts the ducks to the elevator for the ride to their duck palace on the roof. In Orlando, once released from their fountain the ducks broke the land speed record to escape the lobby full of children; the Memphis ducks seem to have much more decorum and walked down the aisle with a majesty that would have befitted the Queen of England.

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We ate at a restaurant called Flights. They had wine flights of course but also had food flights as well – so for example they had a salad flight consisting of (3) salads – thank goodness we just ordered one – portions were huge – I forget this is the South and all. Along those lines it is kind of telling how many billboards there are for cardiac care!

In the morning we took a quick drive down Beale Street just to check that off the list (they were still cleaning up from last night’s partying). It’s not quite as romantic at 8:30 AM!

I took my turn at driving today as we continued down I-55 through Mississippi – what a great drive! I have spent so much time driving in Florida with idiots that I had forgotten what it was like to share the road with folks who know what they are doing. And best of all there are virtually no towns en route, so there aren’t any cops either. Everyone has agreed to go 80 MPH and it’s an overall dandy arrangement. I was driving Steve’s stretch Lexus which is SO comfortable – the only bad thing is there is absolutely no feedback as to how fast you are going – I caught myself doing 90 at one point!


IMG_0370New Orlean’s French Quarter defies description – you have seen the pictures of course but the ambiance is kind of like the seedier part of Las Vegas mixed with the funkiness of San Fransisco’s water front with a dollop of New York street life thrown in for good measure. Walking the streets is kind of like driving in Florida – you have to assume you are going to be cut off at every pass – folks start to drink around 11 AM and it is legal to carry drinks with you on the street – so it’s a happy but directionally and balance wise challenged crowd. Bourbon Street is sort of like an exercise in natural selection – the street itself is closed to traffic but the cross streets are not – you get the picture.

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Just one block over from Bourbon is Royal Street – a very different vibe. There are still many tourist shops here but there are some fine antique stores as well. We spent an hour in one that was more like a museum with price tags. It was not uncommon to find prices around $75K and there was a painting that had been sourced from the Vatican that was close to $1M. And heaven knows what they had hidden in the back! The place was huge and among other treasure they had a collection of precision world clocks from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Commander’s Palace turned out to be a dud – incredibly high wine prices, a fairly limited menu and fractured service – oh well.

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Last night however we went to and absolutely fabulous new restaurant (R’evolution). Great wine list and the food was outstanding. Steve and Dani had a 1907 Madiera to finish off the meal – perfect in every way!

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Halloween in New Orleans is… well let’s just say it ain’t Disney style.

On Bourbon Street one passes cigar puffing men in red tutu’s and matching bustier’s with a lot of muscles and an overall bad attitude. The young ladies in similar attire go down the street without comment. The young ladies (?) hooking for the strip clubs hang out with mostly bare tops covered perhaps by black paint at the most. They are about 15′ away from young boys tap dancing on the street in violation of every child labor law I have ever heard of. We saw a very dapper pair of elderly men (clearly well monied) with impeccable suit jackets, killer shoes and no pants save for very colorful boxer shorts. Then there was the black robed young woman with a large live snake draped around her neck. And the crazy guy naked but for black Speedo who was bragging about being both drunk and high on cocaine… And everyone else is just pretty much 3 sheets to the wind. Several schmucks had fallen by the road and were sleeping it off on the sidewalk. And this was about 5 PM last night. So what I could not get my head around was about this same time a NOLA police car was driving down the road – could not fathom what infraction they were going to go for first? These folks have taken live and let live to a whole new level!

IMG_0471So what I neglected to mention is the music. Music oozes from every pore of the French Quarter – they seem to be be born knowing how to play an instrument. There is nothing repetitive about it – every performance is improvised – as opposed to soul music this is music from the soul – amazing! There was a street band led by an older black lady clarinet player – the best I have ever heard! Her name is Doreen Ketchens; here is one link on YouTube but you can find others as well:

There was also a band that played in a lounge in our hotel. The room was about the same size as lounges on cruise ships and I always felt a slight rocking sensation (but it might have been the champagne…).


IMG_0529Yesterday we had had enough of the city and drove about an hour out of town to a riverfront plantation, Oak Alley. It was a rainy day so it was very uncrowded and it was a little easier to get a sense of what it must have really been like. It is named Oak Alley because an unknown Frenchman planted an avenue of oak trees 80 feet apart in the early 1700’s. He never lived to see them in their full majesty but now they have grown together and form a magnificent arch leading to the river. They funnel any breeze and in the early 1800’s a wealthy French officer built a magnificent home at the end of the Alley for his bride (who sounds like she was actually a pill but whatever.)

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The plantation grew sugar cane and employed about 100 slaves. There was an inventory of them from the mid 1800’s and their values ranged from $25 for a very sickly older person to $1500 for a skilled self taught botanist. Morality aside, just from an economic standpoint most of them were not given sufficient food/clothing to survive adequately – they had to supplement their incomes/food by raising crops and animals in their “spare” time; seems a pennywise approach to treating your work force.


 

 

So then it was off to Biloxi and the Beau Rivage. It is kind of sad – sort of a southern Las Vegas built on the cheap for senior citizens who have never gotten the chance to travel anywhere else. The only fun fact is for inexplicable reasons it is mandated that the casinos themselves have to be built on barges. So the hotels are built on the water’s edge and the barges are seamlessly attached to them – you can’t detect the seam from the inside. And no, I cannot figure out how they deal with the tides and it’s bugging me…

IMG_0550Last night we had a lovely dinner in a steak house on the top of another hotel – they had a very nice wine list and also were having a 50% off special on the wine – no limits! Had some really good Burgundy at below retail – yeah! And I even won $15 at the casino last night.

Eating habits in the South – no wonder insurance rates are so high! It is just kind of sad. We went to a sushi restaurant in Biloxi and out of 40 rolls only 3 or 4 of them did not feature tempura battered something or overall deep fried or both. Yuk! Amazingly their sashimi preparations were spot on.


 

En route to the Panhandle I was amazed by the sophistication of Mobile, Alabama – beautiful waterfront convention center and great local restaurants.


 

 

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Our final stop before Orlando was in Destin, Florida, at a kind of funky pseudo bed and breakfast with a killer Gulf view.

IMG_0573 I am going to sleep with the doors open and the waves lapping outside.

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Alinea – a Return Visit

Alinea is widely regarded as the top restaurant in the United States, but when we visited five years ago we weren’t impressed. The service seemed stiff, and there were too many directions involved in how to eat each course.

But it had been a few years, and since then we’ve enjoyed many meals at their related restaurant, Next, which changes its entire concept three times a year.

Both restaurants use an advance ticketing system, and it takes quite a bit of planning to book a table. In addition, Alinea won’t accept a booking for odd numbered parties, so we waited until Dani was out of town.

This visit immediately felt different than last time, as the waiters were much more friendly. Linda and I shared a reserve wine pairing, and that was plenty for both of us, because the wines were more eclectic than actually great, although there was an impressive 2005 Chateau Palmer near the end.

I was surprised how many of the courses were the same as five years ago, but there were also many new ones. I don’t think anything was as good as some of the things we’ve gotten at Next, but there were some fun items.
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These pieces of paper picture different food items, and the small tastes on top of them are designed to taste like the pictured item, even though they appear completely different.

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Pretty but not remarkable.

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This is an actual slab of concrete, but the concrete-like pieces on top are food.

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This was several courses. The best and most interesting thing of the night was a shellfish I was unfamiliar with called Percebes. There were two on the piece of driftwood, and they were consumed by simply biting off the tiny bit that extended from the shell. All the rest of that is just decorative.

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Another beautiful presentation, all edible.

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There were some interesting flavors here, but again it’s mostly about appearance.

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This was a new fun experience: a green apple flavored balloon full of helium, so you could bite it, inhale, and talk like Donald Duck. Just don’t get it in your hair!

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This was the final course, which was the same as last time, and didn’t thrill us. They put down a mat and the chef decorates it with dessert. It’s not particularly interesting, just outre.

The menu was presented at the end of the meal. The size of the circle indicates the size of the course, the darkness of the circle indicates the intensity of flavor, and the position of the circle indicates sweetness (the farther to the right, the sweeter).

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In summation, I thought Alinea was better than last time, but still not anywhere near the top of my restaurant scale. There are many places in Chicago I’d rather go, including Next, Boka, Grace, Intro and Sepia. Also, having just been to Victoria and Albert’s for Linda’s birthday the week before, it really pointed out how the experiences are not remotely on the same level.

Maybe in another five years we’ll give it another try.

Corn Maze and Apple Picking

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

From Lincoln to Twain

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

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannibal, Missouri

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

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

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

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

Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum

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

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

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

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

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Mark Twain Cave

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

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

 

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

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

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Farewell to Evanston

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.

Before

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OK, it is the world’s ugliest building.

Evanston Condo

Evanston Condo

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Roommate Era

Dani's Evanston condo master neatend up a bit

New Furniture

Dani's Evanston condo dinign and living

Dani's Evanston condo lighting

Dani's Condo: Finished!

Remodeling

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Hardwood Floors

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New Tile

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The View

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One thing you can’t do at the Chicago high rise

Moving Out

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Road Trip: Orlando to Chicago

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.

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The route

IMG_6852Only 1268 miles to go.

IMG_6862 Atlanta

IMG_6868 Atlanta. Dani tries out my new Apple watch.

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Opryland hotel. Impressive but probably wouldn’t stay here again. Checking in is like queuing at a theme park. In fact, it is a theme park, and I did work on an AV installation here many years ago.

IMG_6902Louisville slugger. I really like the 21c Museum Hotel next door. We’ve stayed there twice. Not much other reason to come to Louisville, though!

IMG_7114Home! (Well, actually we had to store the stuff in Evanston–or the trunk–for a couple of weeks until after the closing.) Some of the heavy stuff we transported.

Burgundy and Bordeaux at Capa

Capa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veal Cheeks had a gamey aroma that was quite unappealing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes on the Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dock Party at Hillstone’s

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

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

Sea plane landing for lunch at Hilstone's
Sea plane landing for lunch at Hilstone’s

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

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

31 Wine line up
31 Wine line up

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

 

Champagne sabre-ing aftermath
Champagne sabre-ing aftermath

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

My notes:

Wines1

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

Billecarte Salmon Sous Bois – Andres
Citrus 90

2002 Dom Perignon – Keith
Lemon vanilla 90

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

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

Wines2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wines3

1985 Phelps insignia – Ron
Pepper, Burgundian, 94

1985 Caymus special selection – Ron
Caramel, pine needles 92

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

2007 Pagliaro – Keith
Big tannins, 90

81 Heitz Martha’s – Keith
Odd, green 90

2007 Pipparello – Keith
Young vanilla 93

08 Pontet Canert – Andres
Green, raspberries, 91

08 Ducru Beaucaillou – Andres
Vanilla, 92

Wines4

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

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

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

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

2003 Soldera – Keith
Cherry, vanilla, stewed tomato 92

2004 Madonna Piana – Keith
Fruit, vanilla 90

2004 Poggio al Vento – Keith
Vanilla, 90

Wines5

1998 Valandraud – Ron
Smoke, Cabernet 96

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

1998 Ch. L’Evangile – Ron
Classic Bordeaux 94

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

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

 

Universal

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

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

The attractions we visited were:

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

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San Francisco and Central Coast 2014

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.

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Our flight in gave us a spectacular view of the coast, the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay and the city.

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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.

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The next day we walked down from our hotel atop Nob Hill through Chinatown.

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We probably should have tried the sautéed goose intestines, as what we had wasn’t that great.

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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!

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Fisherman’s Wharf, with Alcatraz in the background.

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Trying an In-N-Out burger for the first time. Life not changed.

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The famous Buena Vista Cafe, semi-inventors of the Irish coffee.

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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.

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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.

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The next day we headed north across the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods.

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Muir Woods.

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Big Redwood.

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Bear and friend.

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Linda checks her wingspan.

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Dinner at Gary Danko was excellent.

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The next day we headed down the coast and had time for a few Paso Robles winery visits.

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We stayed one night at the beautiful Dolphin Bay Resort in Pismo Beach, where we had the best room ever.

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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.

 

New York

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

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

WTC

 

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

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

Bouley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Boston

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

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It’s butter.

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

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

Portland, Maine

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

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

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

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

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Chicago Architecture Boat Tour

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

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

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

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Bristol Renaissance Pleasure Faire

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is definitely a must-visit annual attraction.

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Next: Trio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rock shrimp on a vanilla bean pod

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Mozarella balloon filled with tomato water. This was superb

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

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Coconut and crab, and lots of things to experiment with

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

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

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Oops. Almost forgot to photograph the duck with lavender.

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Tools for picking up the postage stamp…

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…”pizza”

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

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

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Frozen salad! Dani and Linda loved this.

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Raspberry and roses, sucked from the tube. Delicious.

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A bit chewy.

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

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Passion fruit and mustard. Very interesting.

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

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Lobster with rosemary vapor. Nice.

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

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

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Transparency of Manchebo. Didn’t really work.

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

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

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21 courses, and at least 15 home runs!

Three Dots and a Dash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creepy Entrance
Creepy Entrance

 

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Classic Drinks
Classic Drinks

Modern Drinks
Modern Drinks

Very expensive group drinks
Very expensive group drinks

Centerpiece
Centerpiece

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

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No Bye, No Aloha