I’ll never forget last October (2017). It was a month of great loss. The strange thing was that only days earlier, Andy and I had celebrated our marriage at Caverna 57 with my mother and about 50 or so friends. We were so happy on the last days of September.
Then October came. Las Vegas (where we married in March) was rattled by a great tragedy that Sunday evening. I had to take my mom to the airport so she could fly home on Monday morning (this is never easy, BTW). I went from a great state of joy to being bummed out for the world. Then exactly one week after the Las Vegas incident, wine country caught fire. For a little while, I thought the world was going to end. Smoke drifted all the way to Sacramento by Tuesday and we all knew just how serious the situation had become, however, we faced the heartache of helplessness. Since the fires had popped up all over wine country, and the unusual winds howled on, the fires spread and became unmanageable despite the efforts to fight them.
What do you do when your favorite place on Earth is burning down? It seemed like a nightmare, but how could I even say that? I was not there or displaced from my home. I was not a first responder who had to battle the smoke or the flames. I was sitting safely on the sidelines in Sacramento, a place that would have more of a chance of floating away in a flood than burning up. When the fires were finally extinguished and the smoke cleared, I sent myself on a mission to visit Napa. I realized that reports of the damage had been highly exaggerated in the media. In fact, there were only about 50 wineries with any direct damage, and less than 5 wineries with significant damage! I felt it was my duty to visit, spend money and publicize on social media that Napa had not burned down and was open for business!
It was October 27th when I finally made it out. My real job gets very hectic until the end of the month, but I came as soon as I could. As I was driving through the valley, it was as beautiful as ever! The air was so clear and the sun so bright! All of the wineries on Highway 29 were all still intact and sort of majestic looking in a way.
I scheduled to meet a friend (now one of my very best friends) in St. Helena at Ehlers Estate. I tasted several phenomenal wines there, and even bought a few bottles (though out of my normal price range). If you’ve never been to Ehlers Estate, its located on the east side of Highway 29 on Ehlers Lane. The tasting room is in a beautiful old stone barn surrounded by 42 acres divided into five blocks (based on soil type) and 25 sub-blocks, defined by clone and rootstock combinations. 25 acres are are home to six different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon planted on multiple rootstocks. The vineyard also produces sub-blocks of Merlot, four of Cabernet Franc, two of Sauvignon Blanc and a block of Petit Verdot.
Below, I’ll share a view photos from my tasting at Ehlers Estate. I was impressed with the way they greet each guest with a little personalized sign. Bonus points for spelling my name correctly! 😉
I’m not going to jump into reviewing all the wines, but the most notable one at Ehlers Estate (in my opinion), is the 2014 Merlot. If you know anything at all about contemporary wine culture, you know that Merlot has suffered a bit of a backlash, but it’s finally making a comeback. But drinkers of good Merlot will tell you this varietal never went away! October happens to be International Merlot Month, and International Merlot Day is on November 7th. Worldwide, there are 600,000 acres of Merlot planted. If you happen to be a fan of Merlot, this is the one to try. I am really looking forward to opening it with my mom when I go visit her this year.
My friend and I had lunch at Brasswood Bar + Kitchen, (literally a stone’s throw from Ehlers Estate). We both ordered the diet-friendly Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad, with bacon, carmelized onion, parmesan, and soft cooked egg. I sipped a Diet Coke because I knew I was off to more wine tasting later in the day. My friend had to return to lunch after work, but I was on to Mumm Napa for sparkling wine!
Driving to Mumm Napa down the Silverado Trail was the first time I noticed fire damage or any sign that a fire had come through at all. If you can imagine my trajectory, I was headed south from St. Helena on the Silverado Trail towards Napa, so the damage I began to see was on my left hand side, from the Atlas Peak fire. Still, I was surprised at how little damage there was overall, compared to how much damage had been reported on the radio, internet, and television. Here I was with dozens and dozens of wineries open around me on a gorgeous day, and hardly anyone in them because all of the Valley had (allegedly) burned down. I was giddy to be there and see for myself that it was business as usual. When I arrived at Mumm, I was ready to buy some more wine! But, first, more tasting. 🙂
The wine on the far left is the Brut Prestige, made with 45% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Gris & Pinot Meunier. Lately, it’s my go-to sparkling wine at a restaurant for a starter glass (I usually get the split) because it’s on so many menus and I know exactly what the wine will taste like and that it will make me smile. It’s just under $20 for wine club members, and $24 for non-wine club members.
The DVX is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. The name of the wine honors the late Guy Devaux, founding winemaker of Mumm Napa. The grapes for DVX come from a half-dozen of the winery’s vineyard sources. The wine is available to wine club members only.
The Brut Rose is a 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay sparkling wine with the most lovely blush/coral/salmon color. It is my favorite sparkling rose under $25, and I bought 3 bottles to enjoy myself when Andy is out of town or is on a “bro date”. 😉
I also bought a bottle of the most interesting wine I tasted while at Mumm. It was a sparkling Pinot Noir. It is made from 100% Pinot Noir and is dark in color like a still Pinot Noir (ruby/garnet). Suggested pairings on the sell sheet for this wine are rack of lamb and prime rib, but Andy and I will open it this Valentine’s Day and we plan on making a turkey breast to pair with the wine. I am pretty sure as of November 2017 this wine is completely sold out.
The Napa River Inn is located within the Historic Napa Mill (built in 1884, and is a National Registered Landmark). The Inn spreads into three buildings with 66 rooms that are designed and decorated to reflect the period (1800s). Most rooms overlook the river and have romantic views. The Inn is located next to restaurants such as Angele and Celadon, Silo’s Jazz Club, Napa General Store, and Sweetie Pies Bakery. For more information/a flashback/torture ;), you can read my post on the Napa River Inn on cakegrrl.blogspot.com located here. NAPA RIVER INN
This time I was in Room 212 and had enough time to take a bubble bath and recharge before heading downtown for more wine tasting and dinner.
Below are a few photos of my room, equipped with a fireplace.
The Napa River Inn also hosts nightly wine tastings, free to its hotel guests. Pietro Family Cellars was the featured winery on the evening of my stay. You can find and try their wines in downtown Napa at the Gabrielle Collection tasting room and store on Opera Plaza at 1000 Main Street.
Backroom Wines must have known I was coming to Napa, because that evening they held a sparkling wine tasting. So close to Halloween, I figured this would be my trick-or treat! Even better was that once I parked my car at the hotel, I didn’t get in it again until I checked out at 12pm the next day.
I headed out to walk over to the tasting, and on my way I spotted a large wooden chair next to a jack o’ lantern ghost. This really was like trick-or-treat! I saw another couple sit in the chair and try to do selfies, but I stopped them and said, “Hey, I’ll take your picture, if you will take mine!” They nodded in agreement.
On a placard at the bottom of the chair, it asks you to tag #riverfrontchair if you post your picture online. Here’s a look at some others who have posed in the Riverfront Chair for Instagram. Fun!
OK, no more shenanigans, let’s get down to real business… more wine tasting! As I said earlier, this tasting was tailor-made for yours truly. I sauntered into the wine shop and plunked my 20 spot down on the bar! Let’s do this thing!
OK, so I did NOT take formal notes at this tasting, nor do I remember a lot about what I had, but I do remember how much fun I had at Backroom Wines, especially because I struck up a conversation with a couple visiting from Reno. I was wearing my GIANT Garmin running watch and it caught their eye. I didn’t end up buying any wine at the store, mainly because I was headed to dinner after, but I highly recommend Backroom Wines for tasting and shopping in downtown Napa!
After I left Backroom, I remember sort of stumbling around and not being 100% sure where I wanted to go for dinner. I finally settled on Carpe Diem, surely lured in by the $%&#! Truffle Fries on the menu. 😉 Yes, I’m that person. I’m the one who orders “truffle” anything.
I snagged a table in the bar, even though the server wanted to give me a giant table. Nope, just me, only need a hightop. Then I ordered a big glass of rosé. Since it seemed like I had already participated in the Winolympics® that day, I was content with one glass with dinner. 😉
My dinner that evening was composed of two small plates: a tuna tartare with seaweed salad, avocado and taro chips and a giant plate of truffle fries. For me, shame would quickly set in, but both dishes I highly recommend!
OK quick selfie at Carpe Diem! 🙂
The Napa River Trail is something I had no idea existed! I found it by accident when I was running back to my hotel from the boot camp class. I’ll certainly be running on it a lot this summer when we go back to Napa for the Napa Valley Jazz Getaway on my birthday weekend!
It was a whirlwind trip, but I packed so much food, wine, fun (and exercise) in 24 hours! Before I close, I wanted to let you know a few facts about the fires in Napa I collected while at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa (in November). I wanted to list them to encourage people to continue to come to Napa and also to continue to buy Napa wines. This includes even the 2017 vintage when it is released.
- 90% of the grapes were harvested before the fires began.
- Winemakers are very optimistic about the overall quality of the grapes.
- It was mainly Cabernet left on the vines, but it is a very resilient, thick skinned grape.
- There are many unknowns about the possible effects of smoke on wine.
- Winemakers are using rigorous and repeated lab testing and will continue to do so.
- Only the highest and best quality will go to market, because the wineries’ reputations are at stake.
There are also a few new places in town, and a few specials going on at places to stay. The Napa River Inn has a specials page located here, but since it’s timely for an upcoming Valentine’s Day trip, I will share their Romance Package, which includes Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, a Bottle of Champagne, and Breakfast in Bed from Sweetie Pies Bakery.
Also, 2018 Napa Wine Tasting Cards are available now. For $15, you can pick up a tasting card and check out ten of Napa’s best downtown tasting rooms (all within walking distance of each other), enjoying wines for half the price. Cards can be re-used with no limit throughout the year. You can buy them here.
In closing, I want to thank the Napa River Inn for offering me a discounted stay and the staff there for making everything perfect, Elizabeth Smith for leading my tasting at Ehlers Estate and joining me for lunch at Brasswood. I’m so glad we met and I can call you my friend. I’d also like to extend gratitude to Tessa at Mumm Napa for her incredible hospitality and service, the staff at Backroom Wines (please do MORE bubble tastings, and I will be there!), and the staff at Carpe Diem. All of these people depend on your visits to make a living. I’ll be back as soon as possible.
This year it will be SIX years since I met Andy at the Curtis Park Wine Tasting! It’s an event that is really near and dear to our hearts. We are really looking forward to taking our annual walk over to the Sierra 2 Center in a few weeks to enjoy food, wine and friends. 🙂
If you’d like to read how we met at this event, you can click HERE.
I am happy to share information on this event (which happens to be one of the BEST food and wine tastings of the year in Sacramento) put together by the Sierra 2 Center and I hope you will join us for the 27th Annual Curtis Park Wine Tasting! -cg
PS: The Curtis Park Wine Tasting Organizers are STILL LOOKING for the following (click the links below for more information!):
- Donations of items for auction or raffle (printable form)
or use this online form
- Participation as a winery, brewery, cidery
- Participation as a restaurant
The 27th Annual Curtis Park Wine Tasting, Silent Auction & Beer Garden, one of SCNA’s largest fundraisers, brings local wineries, breweries and restaurants to Sierra 2 Center for tastings. Attendees enjoy delicious food and beverages along with the exciting silent auction and raffle drawings. Items available for bid include original art, spa packages, beach rentals, dance lessons and much more.
Online ticket sales will close at 11:59pm on Oct. 13. After Oct. 13: $60 all. REGISTER FOR TICKETS HERE.
The Sacramento Hotel Association’s Farm-to-Fork Fall Fundraiser will be held on Thursday, September 21st at the Sheraton Grand Hotel from 4:30-700pm and will feature festive farm-to-fork food stations from local hotels as well as craft beer tastings from local brewers, wine tastings from area vintners, silent auction of gift basket and prize packages, musical entertainment, and a selfie photo booth.
The event will benefit two local organizations that are working to address homelessness in our community—Next Move and Volunteers of America. The net proceeds from the Fall Fundraiser will go toward specific programs of the two beneficiary organizations.
NEXT MOVE | Family Shelter – Next Move, formerly Sacramento Emergency Housing Center, started in 1972. Next Move’s mission is to assist families with children and individuals toward self-reliance. The fundraiser will benefit Next Move’s Family Shelter, serving 17 families with children each night.
VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA | Veterans Family Housing – Volunteers of America Northern California & Northern Nevada’s Veteran Family Housing program is renovating an apartment complex, which was built in the 1950s. The fundraiser will assist with this major renovation. These updated apartment units will provide housing for homeless families with a veteran head of household for either short-term stabilization or long-term supported housing.
Tickets to the event are $40 per person (plus service fee). Tickets are $50 per person at the door. To purchase advance tickets to the The Sacramento Hotel Association’s Farm-to-Fork Fall Fundraiser please CLICK HERE.
Hope you see you there!
Recently, Andy and I had a chance to experience the Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa’s stunning remodel. The property, located in the heart of the Napa Valley, has within the last few months, revealed a stunning new resort-style pool and courtyard that will serve as the hub of upcoming weddings, events and activities––from poolside gatherings, dining and yoga, to movies, wine and cocktails under the stars.
Upon arrival, I explored the newly renovated room and was greeted by an exquisite plate of goodies and a fine bottle of wine. A bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon to be exact.
We had a big day ahead of us with two tastings scheduled at Walt Wines and Gundlach Bundschu, so we only had one drink in the hotel’s bar before retiring. As you can see below, the bar area has been updated and is quite beautiful.
The next morning, I snapped a few pictures of the sun outside our room before I took off to the also updated workout facility and spa.
After our workouts, Andy and I went wine tasting, headed to Walt for a Pinot Noir specific tasting, and then to Gunlach Bundschu for a tasting and a lesson on the winery’s history. We ended up spending a few hours at both wineries and then returned to the Napa Valley Marriott to relax by the pool for a few hours before dinner.
After the pool and outdoor excursion, we got ready for dinner and then enjoyed some time in the lobby with a wine tasting. The lobby wine tastings feature different wineries each day. That evening’s featured winery was Raymond Vineyards.
Soon, we settled into dinner at the Marriott’s restaurant VinEleven. Brian Whitmer is the head chef and focuses on American cuisine that celebrates culinary traditions from around the world incorporating locally and sustainably-grown produce.
Andy and I like to order several different items and share them. Our appetizers were the Truffle Fries served with Parmesan Cheese and Truffle Oil:
For our entreés, Andy ordered the scallop special, which upon tasting, we begged for them to put on the regular menu. The scallops were presented on a bed of mushroom risotto and were perfectly seared as you can see in the photo below.
For my dinner, I ordered the Spiced Chicken Cashew Lettuce Cups (which are on the menu in the appetizers section). Since Andy and I share food, it’s not strange for us to order only one main course and 2-4 different appetizers. I believe that it’s possible to get a solid impression of a restaurant this way. Appetizers are one of the most important parts of a menu because they are supposed to intrigue a customer and make them look forward to the next part of the meal.
At VinEleven, you can enjoy a signature summer cocktail at the beautifully lit bar or outdoor patio from 6:30 a.m. to midnight, and as late as 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The Heirloom Organic Gardens feature over 2,000 square feet of raised and in-ground beds, a lush herb garden, and a communal dining table that serves 18 guests. After such a grand meal, it was time to retire.
The hotel’s pool and outdoor wedding and event space also proves to be a showstopper. The Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa has made their outdoor space a place where visitors and locals alike can gather. The pool is a sparkling 100-by-30-foot oasis with luxe lounge furniture and umbrellas, cozy fire pits, shady Redwood nooks, and all-day dining. Poolside yoga is available for guests to begin their day and then afterward they can enjoy a swim.
All 275 guestrooms have been completely renovated with a design specifically to mimic the colors and feel of a tasting room. They have warm greys and Earth tones that appear naturally in wine caves, as well as burgundy/grape hues that take on the grape color so familiar in Napa. There is a sliding wooden barn doors with exposed hardware that provides bathroom privacy while creating a rustic wine country feel to the tranquil space.
Crisp white tile, grey granite and luxurious amenities provide a spa-like experience in the bath with electric mirrors for ideal lighting. Modular seating by large windows provide a cozy sitting area to enjoy a bottle of wine or in-room dining.
All guestrooms come fully equipped with a new state of the art guest entertainment system that provides unique content choices such as, on-screen weather, flight data, and Bluetooth® connectivity. The Enseo guestroom entertainment system will allow you to access your Netflix®, Pandora®, YouTube®, Hulu® and Crackle® accounts directly through the guestroom TV.
The Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa $20 Daily Destination Fee includes the following daily amenities:
- Culinary Garden Tour with Sparkling Wine (4pm)
- Yoga Class every morning meet in the lobby (7:30am)
- Preserve Spa Access Eucalyptus Steam Room (8:30am to 12:00pm)
- Specialized Bicycle Access with hybrid bicycles with helmet, available from dawn to dusk
- Bottled Spring Water replenished in your room daily
- Starbucks House Blend Coffee, two available daily in VINeleven Market
- Daily Vintner Pour every evening in the lobby (5-6pm)
- Wireless High Speed InternetTo learn about the Marriott Napa Valley’s special packages, you can click here.
For more information, visit www.NapaValleyMarriott.com or call (707) 253-8600. Become a fan of the Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Napahotel and follow the hotel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NapaMarriott and on Instagram here.
Sacramento is a food lover’s paradise this time of year and there are two upcoming events I’d like to tell you about happening this month. Special thanks to The Grid Agency for passing along the information to me!
The first event is called A Taste of New Sacramento in Old Sacramento. It will take place on Sunday, October 9, 2016 from 11:00 AM-4:00 PM at the Delta King Hotel.
Wineries including: Cate Ao Vinho, Lone Buffalo Vineyards, Boeger Winery, Fiddletown Winery, Lava Cap Winery, Van Ruiten Family Winery, J and K Estate Wines, Haraszthy Winery, Merlo Family Vineyards, Cabana Winery, Carvalho Family Winery, Balletto Vineyards & Winery, Bogle Vineyards and Winery. Jeff Runquist Wines, Van Ruiten Winery
And restaurants present will be: Roxie Deli & Barbeque, Sactown Bar and Grill, Ten 22, Indo Cafe, Vallejo’s Restaurant, Bingo B.B.Q, Kupros, Cabana Winery & Bistro, Shady Lady Saloon, Blue Prynt Restaurant, Coin-Op Game Room, Dad’s Kitchen, and Drewski’s.
Proceeds benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children. Featuring a live adoption run by Front Street Animal Shelter. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased here.
But, wait, there’s more….
The weekend after that, Smoke on the River rolls into town on Saturday, October 15th, 2016 from 1pm to 5pm at 2700 Marina View.
The event is hosted by Sacramento Artists Council, Inc. with its friend and sponsor The Grid Agency. Smoke on the River is a fundraiser for Sacramento Artists Council and will raise money for art programs that assist at-risk children, children of homeless families and fund adopt a school art programs for Sacramento Regional Schools.
Smoke on the River is a state championship and Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) sanctioned event. The event will feature a People’s Choice BBQ award and tastings, People’s Choice award for Best Beer and Best Cider, live entertainment from Swimming in Bengal and Sacramento Jazz Project, and beer tastings provide by local breweries.
There will also be a corn hole tournament at the event with prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.
Full Access Pre-sale Tickets including unlimited tastes of BBQ and Craft Beer/Cider are $35 + 2.75% convenience fee and $40 with a 2.75% convenience fee for credit cards at the door. You can purchase and see other ticket options here.
Featured breweries will be:
Sierra Nevada Brewing
Firestone Walker Brewing
Dust Bowl Brewing
Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Device Brewing Company
Track 7 Brewing
Mike Hess Brewing
UP IN SMOKE
Too Ashamed to Name BBQ
Bones Sauce n Harmony
The Smoking’ GrOVENators
Old Chico BBQ
Ric’s Righteous Ribs
Papa Bobs Backyard BBQ
Smokin Slabz BBQ
Big Poppa Smokers
Bones N Brews BBQ
Five Hundy BBQ
The Smoking J’s
Smokey Luv BBQ
Canyon Riders BBQ
2 Rolling Bones
Fat Dad’s Barbeque
Hickory and Spice BBQ
Smokin’ the 916
Smokey Valley Q
Ed’s Smoked Out BBQ
Smokin Fatboyz BBQ
Daddy O’s Smokin’ BBQ
Pipin’ Hot Smokers
The Brothers Throwdown
Git R Smoked
Big O and MO BBQ
J&J Smokin BBQ
Son of Smoke
G & Pops BBQ
It was a tasty scene for fans of food, wine, beer and spirits August 25 – 28, 2016 at Eat Drink SF. The event was held at Fort Mason in San Francisco.
Andy and I attended on the last day of the event on a Sunday afternoon and were introduced to some restaurants we had never tried, as well as a few new wines. There were also some familiar vendors, as Sunday was the “Legacy Grand Tasting” featuring San Francisco eateries that have stood the test of time.
Almost immediately after we arrived, we heard about a “beverage classroom” presented by San Francisco Wine School. The first presentation was on the Wines of Portugal. It was officially titled ViniPortugal. Since we are always looking to broaden our knowledge of wine, we decided to sit in on the seminar & tasting.
It was led by the founder of San Francisco Wine School, David Glancy. Glancy is one of only twelve people in the world to hold both the revered Master Sommelier diploma and a Certified Wine Educator credential.
The tasting was a very worthwhile experience, and a chance to get to know a little bit more on the wines of Portugal as well as a little bit about the San Francisco Wine School, which currently offers 65 different wine education classes.
Of course, we were also there to eat. Some of my favorite bites were as follows:
Nectarines wrapped in speck from Tosca Cafe.
A caprese salad on a stick.
This Lahmbiajeen (Arabic for “Meat in Dough”) It is fresh baked flatbread with housemade tomato beef sauce, labneh parsley and lemon zest from Reem’s.
And my food favorite item was this pintxo from Teleferic Barcelona. Pintxo is a Basque word that means “skewer.” This particular pintxo is called a Torito (bull). It has xistorra (spanish chorizo), natural honey and manchego cheese and it is wrapped in puff pastry with dulce de leche.
This smoked salmon bite was Scoma’s featured dish, and a favorite of Andy’s.
Now, back to drinking. There was much to choose from. We didn’t taste any beer, but if you are a beer or cider lover, Stella Artois, Stella Artois Cidre (that IS how it is spelled), and Gowan’s Heirloom Cider had you covered.
One of the beverage highlights for me was this Whispering Angel Rose made primarily from Grenache, Vermentino, and Cinsault. A big reason I am a rose fan is because it is a wine that can pair with many different kinds of food.
Beaulieu Vineyards was at the event pouring both their classic Tapestry (a Bordeaux blend) and the Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a treat to taste these wines, because we know their retail value. Tapestry is around $50 and the Georges De Latour is around $100 per bottle. I actually buy Andy a bottle of the Tapestry as one of his Christmas gifts every year.
There were also cocktails featured at Eat Drink SF, and my favorite was this one at the Hangar Vodka booth. It is a combination of grapefruit, elderflower, sage and sparkling wine.
I love the inspiration I get at tasting events like these and the enthusiasm I see from all the chefs, sous chefs, cooks, bartenders, and tasting room associates. It’s a joy to have another excuse to come into the city and visit Fort Mason and drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. I only wished we could stay a little longer!
Eat Drink SF supports the Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation. The foundation grants financial scholarships to students from the Bay Area entering culinary and hospitality programs. Golden Gate Restaurant Association‘s mission is to celebrate and empower the restaurant community through advocacy, education, marketing, events and training.
To see more images from the event, you can head over to their Flickr page here.
A few weeks ago Andy and I checked out some new menu items and gluten free options available at Yard House in Roseville. You might remember my visit to Yard House shortly after they opened back in 2011. We kicked off our meal with this round of drinks. On the left is a glass of Zardetto Prosecco (sparkling wine is my go-to opener) and on the right is a glass of Honig Sauvignon Blanc.
Then it was on to decide what to order. If you are reading this website, you are either eating a gluten-free diet, or you are thinking about eating gluten-free. Yard House makes it easy because there is a separate menu you can ask for when you are seated. The menu features many of items from appetizers to salads and burgers that can be served wrapped in lettuce instead of on a bun, as well as three different gluten-sensitive beers.
Our first appetizer was the Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Ripped Potatoes (served with Malt Vinegar Aioli). It’s featured on the “snack” portion of the menu, but can easily be shared if you are going to be ordering an entrée, too. The dish’s description was accurate as both items were very crispy, yet soft on the inside. The vegetables were highlighted by just the right amount of seasoning and were dressed with the Malt Vinegar Aioli.
For our second appetizer, we decided to try a new menu item (though it is not on the gluten-free menu), the Poke Nachos made with marinated raw ahi, avocado, cilantro, serranos, green onions, nori, sesame seeds, sweet soy, sriracha aioli, white truffle sauce, and crispy wontons. This plate is one of several you can get that features ahi tuna. I like this one not only because it is very shareable, but because it highlights the ahi by merging ingredients that are both used in Asian and Latin cuisine. The combination of the different textures and flavors is delightful.
What is not delightful is an empty glass, so Andy and I revisited the drink menu and ordered another round. I was curious about the Fresh and Skinny™ Cocktail choices, so I ordered a Skinny Margarita with El Jimador silver tequila and fresh lime. Other drinks on the Fresh and Skinny™ menu are the Pure Cosmo Martini, the Lite Lemon Drop Martini, the Juniper Fusion, and the Citrus Crush. For more information on the Fresh and Skinny™ Cocktail Menu you can click here. Andy ordered another glass of wine, this time a glass of Meiomi Pinot Noir.
For my entree, I chose the Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad (from the Gluten-Sensitive menu) composed of greens, kale, tomatoes, edamame, carrots, radish, egg, blue cheese, corn, bacon, avocado, ranch. I usually get dressing on the side when I order a Cobb Salad because there is so much flavor (fat IS flavor!) from the blue cheese, egg, avocado and bacon, I don’t need to cover anything up with dressing. I love simple and fresh ingredients and this salad certainly fit that description.
For dessert, we enjoyed two more glasses of wine, mine a glass of Protocolo Rose Tierra de Castilla (a Spanish Rosé made from 50% Tempranillo and 50% Bobal. Andy ordered the Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon produced by Michael David Winery (Lodi).
Another healthy menu and gluten-free option we did not try, but was recently added is the Red Quinoa Salad Bowl, which Chef Jocson describes as the greatest hits of all super foods. The salad is a nice shareable dish or can be an entrée for one with a garden of kale, parsley, Brussels sprouts, roasted beets, cauliflower, pomegranate seeds, blueberries, baby tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and feta cheese. Guests can request that the cheese be removed for a vegan option. Carnivores can choose to add chicken or steak for a heartier meal.
“In order to stay relevant menus have to evolve,” added Chef Jocson. “Five years ago no one would have imagined blueberry ketchup, but it’s an amazing condiment for our Kurobuta Pork Burger and ours is made in-house. These days offering vegan and vegetarian selections aren’t an option, but a necessity as more people reevaluate their diets and intake. We already have several of such items, including our new Vegan Burger, as well as gluten-sensitive options.”
If you’re reading this blog post, Yard House will have already debuted its new menu items at all 65 locations. Open daily for lunch, dinner and late-night dining, Yard House offers one of the largest selections of beers on tap plus a creative list of cocktails and wine by the bottle or glass.
Last Saturday night Andy and I attended a pre-opening dinner at Chicago Fire‘s newest location: 7101 Laguna Blvd, Elk Grove. The pre-opening lunches and dinners were held both on Friday and Saturday in an effort to train the staff and to ensure consistency amongst the other four Chicago Fire locations.
The weather was terrific, so we decided to sit on the patio. The dinner was complimentary for us except for alcohol (and was also free to everyone invited). It included an appetizer, a salad, a pizza and a dessert to share between us. The limitations on food were mainly because it was a training night and an effort to control conditions in service and in the kitchen. It’s kind of like when you are a brand new runner. You don’t just start out running a marathon. You train up to that distance. Likewise, the staff in the new location were learning to run in ideal conditions, a few miles at a time.
I was very excited to be there because I have loved Chicago Fire for a long time. I think it’s a great place for celebrations or just a dinner for two. Also I work for a printer in Roseville (yes, I have a day job) and we print their business cards and takeout menus as well as a few other items. The people running the show at the restaurant are great to work with altogether.
But back to the food we ordered! For our appetizer, we chose the Garlic Fries. Not really something on the diet plan, but a treat to share with Andy and always very tasty/crispy/herby/garlicky. In true Greek fashion, they are served with lemon. Super good. Diet Gods, I am so sorry. 😉
We ordered a few starter glasses of wine, but afterwards ordered this bottle of Windy City Red. It’s a wine produced solely for the Chicago Fire restaurants by Boeger Winery. It’s one of their less expensive wines and a very good value. It’s also a great pairing for anything on the menu with red sauce or any pizza that has meat on it!
Our salad came next and we chose the Pesto Chicken Salad. It’s my favorite salad at Chicago Fire. My second favorite is the Greek Salad, but I can’t resist the pesto dressing. Plus, the chicken on the Chicken Pesto Salad is grilled to perfection, and then there’s all those big cheese shavings on top. I almost wanted to take the salad for myself and leave the pizza for Andy!
Typically, I try to load my plate with greens such as the salad above, and then maybe have 20% of the main course. That way, I have had a lot of fiber, vegetables, etc., and gotten mostly full before I move on to the next course.
Chicago Fire serves a gluten free version of most of the pizzas on their menu. This one is called the Stockyard. If you order gluten free it only comes in one size, but that is OK because with the appetizer and large salad, it was a perfectly shareable size between Andy and myself. The stockyard is a deliciously meat-loaded pizza featuring garlic sausage, pepperoni, salami and Canadian bacon. And of course we got the gluten free crust. I also always order a side of marinara, because I love to dip my pizza crusts in the sauce.
As of all the previous visits we’ve had at Chicago Fire, I would call it consistent and very enjoyable. The difference was the great new location, the fun outdoor experience and the well-landscaped area around the restaurant.
This week, Andy and I were invited to try out the new winter menu at Seasons 52. Seasons 52 describes themselves as a fresh grill and wine bar that offers a seasonal menu inspired by the appeal of a farmer’s market and what’s good now. I would also add that they cater to people who enjoy dining out, but like to stay calorie conscious. That pretty much describes me, and why I have accepted every invitation the restaurant has sent my way. I really love the concept of the restaurant and enjoy the food!
We started out in one of the banquet rooms, (other writers were also invited and gathered there) to taste a few of the featured wines and flatbreads. Andy and I passed on the flatbreads (which Seasons 52 does specialize in because they can make them very seasonal—by swapping out the toppings when the seasons change—and low in calorie). However, later on we found out that they can make any of the flatbreads on the menu with a gluten-sensitive dough! I have been to the restaurant 5 or 6 times now and I never knew this! 🙂 More on the gluten-senstive flatbreads later, but before I get too off track, let’s get back to the wine tasting at the beginning of our evening:
I particularly enjoyed the Catena Cabernet Sauvignon, a reasonably priced food friendly wine, that is a recent addition to the Seasons 52 wine list. Their international wine list features 100 wines and offers at least 52 of them by the glass.
During the wine tasting, Andy and I met up with Susan Cooper (who writes the blog Finding Our Way Now) and her husband. Since both of our websites have shifted towards wine, we decided to sit together during dinner and talk about some of our current and future projects.
I started out with this rosé of Syrah from Casas del Bosque. It was an off-dry wine and a great appetizer in my book. 🙂
Speaking of appetizers, this is the gluten-friendly flat bread I mentioned earlier. We chose the Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken with fresh mozzarella cheese, balsamic onions, roasted red peppers and arugula. The entire appetizer clocks in at 490 calories. It’s called “gluten-friendly” as opposed to “gluten-free” because the kitchen and oven are exposed to gluten. Celiacs should always take extreme caution when dining out, but people who are gluten-free for other reasons can enjoy this flatbread as much as I did! 🙂
Of course, there are dishes that are not gluten-free, but still worth a try such as the Black & White Lobster Ravioli.
The raviolis are made with squid ink and egg pasta, and topped with shitake mushrooms and roasted red peppers. The dish is finished with a sherry-lobster sauce. (320 calories)
If you’re looking for a cocktail in between your appetizer and entrée, Seasons 52 currently features a Bourbon Berry Bramble and a Cranberry & Sage cocktail to enjoy this holiday season.
Entrée time! I think Andy and I were really feeling the seasons change and both ordered red meat for dinner.
I ordered the Grilled Flat Iron Steak Salad: Bibb lettuce, butternut squash, grilled red onion, a cheddar tuile and horseradish vinaigrette. (450 calories).
I wish I would have known the presentation of my salad was going to be so dramatic, because I would have filmed it and posted the video. The salad is brought out in on the plate with a cuff/ring around it and then it is released upon service. It was like “voilá” here’s your steak salad. I ordered dressing on the side because truthfully, there’s so many flavors going on, I didn’t really need it. Cheddar tuile, I wish I could wrap you around me like a blanket. 😉
Andy ordered another meaty dish: The Oak-Grilled New York Strip. Ut was a soy garlic marinade, charcoal roasted vegetables, Yukon potato mash and a 15-year aged balsamic drizzle. (750 calories) Whoa, Andy, hope you don’t plan on eating dessert.
Just kidding! I love it that Andy is willing to tag along with me and try all this incredible food. We both agreed that the steaks on the salad and on his entrée were perfect (medium rare).
By the way, our server was John. You’ll need to know that because you will want to ask for him when you visit Seasons 52. Here’s what he looks like if you need to chase him down. 😉
Truthfully, I am amazed this kid isn’t working as a wine rep. He knew almost as much as one. This is an instance where server training has really paid off. John is just as enthusiastic and passionate about wine as I am. Maybe. 😉 Anyway, if there are not enough reasons to stop by Seasons 52, do so, so that you can be waited on by this guy! 🙂
More wines (some of our server John’s favorites) he allowed our table to try. I went with sparking wine (sorry, John!) because these days, I try to keep the alcohol content down while I am out and about. 130 calories per glass in the prosecco, by the way. 🙂
And then it was time to order dessert! 🙂 At Seasons 52, they have a portion-controlled dessert menu that is brought out so you can see exactly what you are ordering!
I passed on the dessert plate, because I was actually so full from dinner, but I heard great things about the S’More dessert as well as the gingerbread dessert from my table mates.
This Friday (Black Friday) you can enjoy Seasons happy hour menu from open to close. With $8 specialty cocktails, $6 select glasses of wine and $5 Chef-inspired small plates, there’s something for everyone!!
Special thanks to the management at Seasons 52 for setting up this special tasting. We’ll definitely be back!!
Andy and I were excited to work with Chicago Fire because it’s so close to home and we had actually been there before a few times (thanks to a $100 gift card that I won at a Christmas party my boss threw last year). Don’t ever try to win Christmas Carol Word Jumble against me. You will lose! 😉
We were able to actually use the gift card twice, so we had already tasted their fabulous version of gluten free pizza and already had a favorite wine we like to drink with our dinner (the Windy City Red blend that Boeger Winery creates just for Chicago Fire). 🙂 We already knew the service was great and were lucky enough once to have a server who had adopted a gluten free diet as well. I am seeing that more often in restaurants and it is very comforting.
It’s been a head-spinning 3 weeks since our visit (my apologies to the team at Chicago Fire for not being a little more timely on this piece–life has been absolutely crazy lately with multiple visits to San Francisco, training for a 20 mile race, working 45 hours a week, and being in the process of moving happening all at once). Still, I remember what a great time Andy and I had that night, and we always enjoy the food at the restaurant. So, here’s a recap of what we ordered:
Starter drinkys!! It was Friday night and I was ready for one of the cocktails I had seen earlier in the day on Chicago Fire’s inventive drink menu! I was interested because I saw a few descriptions that were not going to be sweet (like a lot of other drink menus unfortunately are). I picked the Basil Lemonade with Tito’s vodka muddled with fresh basil & lemon juice over ice. It hit the spot, just as I had imagined it would. Basil and lemon together in my drink, yes please! 🙂 Andy had a glass of Bolla Chianti. OK, now we’re all set…
In an effort to make the entire meal gluten-free, we chose the Baked Artichoke for an appetizer. It’s a whole artichoke, doused with lemony caesar sauce and topped with fresh parmesan cheese. Chicago Fire has quite a Greek influence in their menu and many things are flavored with lemon and garlic. That’s a plus in my book and in Andy’s, too because he is half Greek. 🙂 My favorite part of the artichoke was the cheese on top that had slightly browned and gotten crispy, and the way it tasted with fresh lemon juice on it. It was a great lead in to the salad we ordered.
Next up we tried the Chicken Pesto Salad, which is a favorite of mine. It is made of Romaine lettuce, grilled chicken, pesto-marinated artichoke hearts and red onion. We ordered the house made pesto ranch dressing on the side. Pesto is one of my favorite sauces and the dressing that comes with the salad is addictive. 😉 The chicken on the salad was grilled perfectly. I recommend ordering a large size salad because it is perfect for sharing if you are a party of two and plan on ordering a pizza as well.
I wanted to mention the wine pairing we had. This time, we did not order the Windy City Red that we usually drink, but instead went with a Greg Norman 2012 (Santa Barbara) Pinot Noir (because of the lighter nature of ingredients in our salad and our pizza). We chose the Greg Norman Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara) because it was a better value than the other Pinot Noir on the wine list (La Crema).
By now it was pizza time! We decided on the gluten free Greek pizza. The Greek is topped with Gyro meat, white Sauce, Artichoke Hearts, Kalamata Olives, Red Onion, Fresh Tomato, Feta Cheese & Pepperoncini and served with what else? Tzatziki on the side. Love it. My favorite part of the pizza (other than the super crispy edges on the crust were the little slices of Gyro meat that had also gotten super crispy/crunchy in the pizza oven. We squeezed the lemon juice over the slices for an extra burst of flavor and the tzatziki lemon combo was just paradise. It’s a real treat for Andy and I to eat pizza/things with crust/bread at all even if it is gluten free, so it was fun to try the Greek flavor combination on a crust. Bonus points for the presentation, one slice of pizza was slightly propped up with the ramekin that held the tzatziki sauce. Beautiful!
Thanks Chicago Fire, we’ll definitely be back for more very soon! We’ll continue to work our way around the menu of gluten free pizzas. We’ve already tried and given thumbs up to the Stockyard and Chicken Pesto on previous visits. 🙂
Chicago Fire has a loyalty program called Square Points. You can points as soon as you get a Square Points card from your server. By registering online, you’ll be able to redeem your points. Then you can earn more points when you buy food, drinks & merchandise. Some of the rewards from the Square Points membership include a free Deep Dish Delight on your birthday, a free specialty pizza for every 500 points, and free corkage. Of course the term FREE CORKAGE was music to our ears, so we decided to enroll in Square Points, too!
Are you hungry for a visit yet?!?! Good news for you if you aren’t near downtown but live closer to Folsom or Roseville, because in addition to the Midtown location on 2416 J Street, there are 3 other locations: Historic Folsom (Chicago Fire made its debut on Sutter Street in Folsom in March 2003), Folsom at Palladio, and in Roseville at Sunrise/Eureka.
Thanks for the wonderful hospitality and service all the way from the marketing team to the staff at Chicago Fire Midtown. We’ll see you again soon. 🙂