Paleo & Primal Food, Wine, Travel & Living

Reviews

Luxury for Less at Scottsdale’s Gainey Suites Hotel

Back in June, I traveled to Scottsdale, Arizona to attend a conference. Instead of staying at the big-ticket host hotel, I looked for a less expensive option that was still within walking distance to the event I was attending, and after a brief internet search, I found The Gainey Suites Hotel.

After a giant airline delay in my trip, and missing the first afternoon session of the conference, I finally got settled in my hotel room. Suite 320:

Inside the room was modern, well-furnished, impeccably clean, and well-lit. It reminded me of a small apartment. I remember being very impressed, because the room looked as good or better than it did online, and I was already pretty glad I skipped paying extra just to stay at the conference hotel.


The beds at Gainey Suites Hotel are covered in 300 thread-count linens on a plush, allergy-free featherbed with down pillows, and a duo of cute Gainey Bears for guests to take home. It’s one of the most comfortable beds on which I have ever slept, even more comfy the one I sleep on at home. OK, definitely might move into this place. 🙂

My one bedroom suite was also equipped with a full kitchen (minus an oven). For dinner during my first evening’s stay, I walked over to the Sprouts Farmers Market grocery store next door and picked up groceries to stock the full-sized refrigerator in my room, and made dinner for myself on the stove top and microwave. The room had everything I needed to eat in my room, too, such as bowls, plates, cups, and silverware.

The hotel is walking distance to The Shops-Gainey Village (also where Sprouts Farmers Market is located) a collection of unique shops and restaurants. The shops feature everything from apparel to lifestyle items, and the restaurants offer several different cuisines to suite whatever you might be craving. There is also a nail salon, a day spa, and a salon located in the village in case you need a little polishing up!

Every morning at Gainey Suites Hotel, there is a complimentary hot breakfast buffet, featuring eggs, sausage, bacon, fruit, oatmeal, bagels, pastries, and cereals, along with orange juice, milk, tea and coffee. If you’re on a budget, your first meal of the day is completely covered in your room stay.


Every evening, the hotel has a reception with hot and cold appetizers, beer, wine, and soft drinks. It is unbelievably included in the price of your room. This is to say you could technically get by on breakfast in the morning and appetizers in the evening and not spend any more on food or dining except for a few snacks to store in your full-sized refrigerator!

I really appreciated the HDTV with Chromecast feature in each room, because I was able to watch Parts Unknown on demand during my dinner.


In between sessions at the conference I had some down time, so I decided I would head out to the pool and get some sun. The pool is clean, spacious, and surrounded with plenty of chairs with umbrellas in which to lounge.


Other hotel amenities include: No resort fees • Free Wi-Fi • 24/7 fitness center • Desktop power/charging stations • In-suite coffee makers with complimentary coffee & tea • In-suite hair dryers • Iron & ironing board • In-room safe (lap top size) • Cordless phone/voicemail service • Valet laundry service • Guest laundry facilities • Courtesy shuttle service (within a 5-mile radius, 7am-6pm daily) • Evening room service from The Village Tavern (restaurant next to the hotel, 5-10pm) • Complete business center services with free-to-guest PC and internet services • Daily and weekly passes available for the exclusive Health Club at Gainey Village

You can find Gainey Suites Hotel on Facebook here, on Instagram here, on Twitter here, and read reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor here. If you’re ever in Scottsdale, definitely make a stay at Gainey Suites Hotel part of your travel plans!

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A Duo of Delightful Wines to Try

One benefit of having this website is that I am often sent complimentary bottles of wine to try so that I will write about them and give my opinion. It makes my job even easier when I actually like the wine and am enthusiastic about recommending it!

This was such the case with the pair of wines I present to you in this post: a bottle of Vivanco Tempranillo Blanco, and a bottle of Vivanco Tempranillo Garnacha.

I was highly intrigued by the Tempranillo Blanco, because though I have had my fair share of Tempranillos (red wine) I had never tasted a white one. This wine is actually a blend of 60% Viura, 20% Malvasia, 20% Tempranillo Blanco. It is entirely fermented in stainless steel, which makes this wine fruitfully crisp. I would recommend this wine as a starter glass with appetizers such as cheese, or other tapas of some sort–Tortilla Española and Gambas al Ajillo come to mind. I was really impressed with the wine’s quality vs. the price. If you care to know, the wine scored 89 points in Wine Spectator. You can find Vivanco Tempranilla Blanco online here. As I write this, it’s only $9.99 per bottle. Wine.com also sells it, but they are currently out of stock.

The second wine I tried was the Vivanco Tempranillo Garnacha. The wine is a blend of 85% Tempranillo, and 15% Garnacha. It’s a true deep pink versus a pale salmon color, but it is still a dry wine (as sometimes a darker color can indicate a sweeter rosé). This rosé is made using a method called “free-run”, a term used to describe the release of juice from the grapes (after they are harvested) as a result of the weight of being stacked on one another (and before any pressure is applied to crush them). This is a good wine to enjoy with tapenade or a salade Niçoise, paella, and grilled chicken or fish. It also scored 89 points in Wine Spectator. You can find the Vivanco Tempranillo Garnacha online here. As I write this, it’s only $8.99 per bottle.


You can find Vivanco Wines on Facebook here, follow them on Twitter here, and on Instagram here.

*I was sent these two complimentary bottles of wine so that I might share my thoughts about them with my readers. Photos of the wine and opinions on the wine are my own.


It’s Always Time to Visit Wine Country!

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.

Another notable factoid: Proceeds from tasting fees/sales of wine at Ehlers Estate help support the Leducq Foundation‘s international cardiovascular research programs.

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.

Following my tasting and purchases at Mumm, I made my way to my home for the night at the Napa River Inn. They were kind enough to extend a media rate to me.

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 next day I woke up to join my friend Elizabeth for a Body Boot Camp workout at Napa Fit Body Boot Camp. After, I ran on the Napa River Trail to make it 8 miles total for the day.


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.

A new restaurant/wine bar has opened called Compline. The name Compline refers to end of the working day, when things get quiet and evening settles in. You can sneak a peek at their menu here.

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.

With much love… please continue to stay #napastrong #sonomastrong #winecountrystrong!
Beautiful video done by 3 Rock Marketing and Wildly Simple.


Seasons 52’s Winter Menu Features Savory Flavors and Holiday Cocktails

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:

savignon blanc
red wines
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. 🙂

rose
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! 🙂

gluten friendly flatbread

Of course, there are dishes that are not gluten-free, but still worth a try such as the Black & White Lobster Ravioli.

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).

steak salad

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.

steak

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. 😉

server john

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! 🙂

wine tasting

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!

desserts

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!!

Social Media Roll Call:
You can find Seasons 52 on Facebook here, follow them on Twitter here and on Instagram here.

Special thanks to the management at Seasons 52 for setting up this special tasting. We’ll definitely be back!!


Cakegrrl’s BevMo 5¢ Wine Sale Picks!!

 Last Wednesday night, I was a guest at the Arden Beverages and More (BevMo!) for a media event to help promote the 5¢ Wine Sale. This sale has become a reoccurring marketing tool in which BevMo! sells a particular wine for a certain price (for example $12.99) and the customer can purchase the second bottle of wine for 5¢.
This is the first sale of the year and it runs until March 18th. It will feature over 250 wines from labels such as Francis Ford Coppola, Kuleto Estate, and Chalone Vineyard. The bottles will range all over the board in price from as low as $7 to as high as $70 per 750mL bottle. So, if you are a high roller and buying by the case, that means you can get one case of wine at full price and the second case for only 60 cents. 
How did the 5 cent sale begin? Why don’t you submit your own creative story? Head over to the BevMo! facebook page and tell them how you think the 5¢ Sale all began. On March 18th, BevMo will pick a winner, and that person will receive a $50 discount card.
Now for a little tasting and my favorites of the evening! I stand behind my picks and recommend them for you to try as well.
The first wine we sampled was the 2010 Arco Magiore Pinot Grigio ($14.99). It was one of my favorites, slightly apricot-ish/peachy, yet fairly dry. Great wine for summer or with a light fish dish.
The next one was a 2009 Silverado Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (price not listed in my notes) from Napa. It was a total grapefruit bomb, so if that’s your style, you would like this one (BF, are you listening?). It would be awesome with Thai food, sushi, or some other sort of seafood.
Oooh, well played BevMo!… getting interesting with a Torrontes. This is a 2011 Ceibo Torrontes ($19.99)–an Argentinian wine, and for me tastes like kind of a mix between Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. The big difference (once again, for me) is that a Torrontes usually smells very floral/”perfumey” compared to a Chardonnay. When I say “perfumey”, I mean it in a good way. 😉 It’s also crisp like a Pinot Grigio, so that is why I drew that comparison. Totally worth a try.
The next two wines are some I ended up choosing to take home with me. First is the 2010 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Chardonnay ($19.99). It is pretty true to a classic Napa Chardonnay: Green apple and light buttery oak. And I kind of (not so secretly) love that style of Chardonnay.

My next favorite wine was the 2009 Schug Pinot Noir. It’s a great bargain at $24.99, and then when you get the 2nd bottle at five cents, it’s a steal. And, I will let you in on a little secret: This wine tastes even better in my Riedel Pinot Noir glass. It’s what I drank last night with dinner. 🙂 It’s light to medium bodied and has a lovely bouquet of strawberries and cherries.

Next up, a 2009 Trailhead Zinfandel ($24.99), which for me for the price was just ok, but if you chop it in half with the benefit of the 5¢ Sale, it becomes more than fair. Normally this would probably not be an optimal everyday drinker, but when you cut the price in half, it’s totally a pizza wine!

Next on the list is a 2009 Ranch 32 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99). It’s a good little wine and scored 90 points with Wilfred Wong. It’s not overly tannic and pretty much a “drink it now” sort of wine. It’s probably not going to improve all that much with age, but hey… Have some fun and buy 2 with the 5¢ Sale, drink one now, and lay one down for later. 😉

I am not sure why we tasted this one last, because it was not really much on the sweet side. It was a Cava Brut Rose by Campo Viejo ($16.99). OK, after thinking about it a bit, maybe I do know why you would drink it last. Because it would be awesome with strawberries and a cheese plate!!

Snacks provided to us by BevMo! were a Picot Brie cheese, Jarlsberg (love) cheese, Carr’s Biscuits, La Panzanella mini crackers, and Columbus Dry Salami.

You can find BevMo! on Facebook here and on twitter here. Long live the 5¢ Sale!


Valentine’s Food and Drink Picks!!

Here are a few things I have tried lately that sort of fall into the Valentine’s category, and since today happens to be Valentine’s Day, I would like to share them with you.

Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa



This brand new liqueur combines Patrón Silver tequila, the light essence of coffee and the richness of chocolate.

Distilled at 60 proof, Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa is less sweet than many other coffee liqueurs, and a mix of coffee, chocolate and tequila.

The label and outer box for Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa are dressed in red. You can find Patrón on Facebook here.

Xan Confections


Xan Confections was started by Susan Johnson and Kerry Johnson Anthony of Susan’s Healthy Gourmet. With the combination of chocolatiering creativity and Kerry and Susan’s vision of healthy, Xan created indulgent artisan chocolates, caramels, and other handcrafted treats using distinctive flavors with only the finest, all-natural ingredients. Many of the Xan products are gluten-free. I was sent a few of the CocoXan products to try, a line of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate European-style truffles paired with a selection of nutritionally enhanced ingredients.

The five new product lines include fortified ingredients targeting wellness, heart, brain, pre-natal and pre-menstrual health.

Nutritional enhancements in selected products include vegetarian Life’s DHA, Wellmune WGP, folic acid, a proprietary blend of Vitamins A, C, D3, and E, chasteberry, bilberry, CoQ10 and Kaneka QH.

You can find them on Facebook here and on twitter here.
Oren’s Kitchen

Perhaps my favorite line of samples I have been sent lately is the nut packages from Oren’s Kitchen. There are four different varieties: Rosemary Almonds, Smoked Paprika Pecans, Indian Ajwain Cashews, and Coconut Chili Macadamias. My favorite are the macadamias. The nut mix is a blend of toasted and shaved coconut, macadamia nuts, some honey for sweetness, and dried Full Belly Farms red chilies are added for a little flavor kick. They are so addictive I could probably eat 2 or 3 bags in one sitting. 😉 To order, you can go to their website here.

You can find them on Facebook here and on twitter here.


Emanuel Andrén Chocolates

Emanuel Andrén Chocolates (www.emanuelandren.com) are crafted in the small town of Lilla Edet, located just southwest of Stockholm. The family-owned company has been producing confections since 1868, with recipes passed down from generation to generation. Emanuel Andrén, who has followed in his great-great-great-great-grandfather’s footsteps, transformed the family business since becoming CEO in 2002. Today, Emanuel Andrén Chocolates is recognized as some of the world’s most luxurious chocolates and truffles, each of which is deemed a work of art, with Andrén being named “Pastry Chef of The Year” in his country.

Red Carpet was featured at the 54th and 50th Grammy Awards. The Red Carpet collection makes your successes memorable with elegant chocolate creations that celebrate any occasion.

Rich and Robust is an extraordinary luscious sensory-provoking confection created from a selection of the finest spirits and tobacco with a taste of distinction.

Royal Tribute a Swedish inspired array of noble flavors reaching a new level of sophistication and designed in honor of Sweden Royalty.

Rustic Harmony offers chocolate lovers the creamy and delicious union of chocolate and cheese with a touch of sweet fruit marmalade.

Swedish Strawberries offer fresh aromatic summer berries captured in their purest form to seduce every palate.

You can like Emanuel Andrén on Facebook here, and follow on twitter here.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sacramento’s Dine Downtown Week: Mayahuel and the best steak ever!!

Hello Sacramento! Welcome to Dine Downtown week! I just want to take a moment of your time to recommend a restaurant that might not yet be that well known. It’s called Mayahuel (pronounced Ma-Ha-Kwell) and it’s located diagonally from one of my other favorite restaurants, Ella. You’ve heard of Ella, right?
OK, well back to Mayahuel and Dine Downtown. It starts today and you must try this restaurant. First, they brought out this soup. It was made with nopales, and a little on the spicy side. It was kind of like an amuse bouche. 
During this time, the BF and I made our wine selection for the evening–yes, you can get decent wine in a Mexican restaurant–the Napa Toro Chardonnay. Feel free to like them on Facebook now. 😉 Because it was actually pretty good wine. 
I have to give a shout out to our server, Franscisco. He was the epitome of service. So polite, and so genuinely kind.
After meeting us, he presented the two appetizer choices from the Dine Downtown menu. First, was the Eclipse de Sol: it was composed of beets, orange rings in a citrus sauce with pickled onions, peanuts and a touch of oregano. 
Then came the soup, called Flor de Calabaza con Perfume de Tequila: a Creamy Squash Blossom soup with infused tequila. Yes, please! It was topped with tortilla strips, providing a pleasant crunch.

And now, for the stunning entrées. And I am not kidding here, they WERE stunning. I was so blown away with the flavors, the amount of food on the plate, and how perfect everything was cooked.

First, my BF ordered the Mixiotes de Pollo en Adobo Huasteco: Chicken and mushrooms with nopales in a Cascabel & Pasilla chile Adobo sauce, served with white rice and Mexican zucchini slices. The chicken was super tender and the sauce was mild, yet incredibly flavorful. As you can see, the portion was very generous. The wine we chose previously (the Napa Toro Chardonnay) was a great complement to this dish.
And then, let me present to you, the best steak I have ever had in a restaurant, the Ojo de Costilla con Costra de Chorizo Rib eye steak with a chorizo crust, on a bed of seasoned mushrooms in an adobo salsa. I was literally cutting my steak with my fork. It was exquisite, and I am not exaggerating. If you only try one thing off the menu at Mayahuel, please give this a go, (order it rare or medium rare). It will knock your little stockings off! I didn’t even mention the chorizo. It was so flavorful and added another dimension to the meal.
And then out came the mariachi band… they were wonderful and the crowd was loving it. I was so pleased to see the restaurant packed around us and everyone was in a convivial mood.

Then it was time for dessert. First, our server Francisco, brought out the Pastel de Queso y Chayote (a Chayote cheese cake and mole in chocolate sauce). Mole is a perfect addition to a dessert because of its components and texture. The chayote works in the dessert because it’s a squash and has an inherent slightly sweet taste and tender texture. That being said, I don’t think you’re gonna find this at the Cheesecake Factory, folks, only at Mayahuel! (Thanks to the BF for tasting the sugary treats).

The other dessert option was the Flan de Chile Ancho. It was a flan made with ancho chiles of all things, and finished with Grand Marnier. It has a beautiful strawberry and blueberry garnish. The BF tells me the combination of the ancho and the Grand Marnier was uniquely flavorful.

So, not only do you get the food I just showed you above, but for the $30, included at the end of the meal, is the 1/2 ounce tequila tasting. Our bartender, Oscar, was extremely knowledgeable and passionate, and had a true encyclopedic knowledge of tequila.

The tequila we tried was the Jose Cuervo Platino, and it was served in a champagne flute in order to provide the best tasting experience. It’s truly the stemware that makes all the difference in a tasting. It can really bring out the oaky and fruity notes of a particular wine or beverage. What a nice little digestif, and it was such a treat to get some background information on tequila from Oscar.

If you haven’t been to Mayahuel Tequila Museo, you are missing out on a true downtown gem. Dine Downtown week kicks off Monday, January 9th and runs through Wednesday, January 18th. This event is a great way to try out some of Sacramento’s finest.
Mayahuel is on Facebook here and on twitter here. To make reservations, you can call them at or check them out on Open Table here.

Sacramento’s Dine Downtown Week: Make Blue Prynt Part of Your Plans!

Sacramento’s Dine Downtown week kicks off on Monday, January 9th and runs through January 18th, 2012. For 10 days only, local chefs will create special three-course dinner menus for only $30 per person.

“Whether you’re a foodie, experienced restaurateur or someone looking for a little excitement in your diet, Dine Downtown is a great reason to venture out and dine at variety of restaurants that you wouldn’t normally try.” said Megan Emmerling of the Downtown Partnership. “From fine dining restaurants to casual neighborhood spots, we love seeing the participating restaurants flourish during the 10 days of Dine Downtown.”

Last night, I was fortunate enough to preview the menu that Chef Jason Lockard has created for Blue Prynt Restaurant. Before I even show pictures or describe the dishes, I can tell you that the amount of food you get for $30 makes Blue Prynt a steal. Also, it was a lot of fun to go to a place brand new to me, and to see that their menu was widely accessible to people on different diets.

(Click on the image to enlarge).

To begin our meal, we chose the St. Supery Élu, and chatted about the wine with our server Gary (bonus points to Blue Prynt for knowledgable waitstaff). The evening was already off to a great start because the BF and I love to talk wine!! The Élu is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, and was an excellent choice to pair with the main course that was to come.

I wanted to mention that if you opt for the $30 prix fixe, you’ll also get big basket of warm garlic bread. My BF and I are gluten-free, so we passed on it in order to leave room for the other courses.

The BF ordered the oysters on the half shell, served with a spicy Thai dressing…

And I ordered the shrimp cocktail, lemon poached jumbo prawns served with a fresh grated horseradish cocktail sauce. I didn’t eat a lot of the sauce, because I love fresh seafood by itself, but I really liked that kicked up horseradish flavor!

The additional appetizer option is a Mushroom Basket and is described on the menu as “a mix of sautéed Dragon Gourmet Mushrooms on a bed of house made rosemary garlic bread topped with creamy goat cheese and wrapped in a cumin dusted phyllo dough”

Now do I have your attention? 🙂

Not only did the prix fixe option include bread and an appetizer, we also had a salad/soup option.
There is a seafood chowder on the menu for a soup choice, but I went with a Caesar Salad, and BF went with a spring mix salad with dill and caper dressing.

For dinner we both ordered the “King of New York”, a 12-ounce choice cut strip loin with a crown royal and royal trumpet mushroom chasseur sauce, and served with blue cheese mashed potatoes and green beans. The mashed potatoes aren’t truly allowed in my diet, but I still had a few bites of them to try. I really loved the incorporation of blue cheese. I boxed the rest up to make room for the thick cut of steak on my plate! Beef and mushrooms is one of my favorite flavor combinations. So classic and never goes out of style, so good move by the Chef to include it on the Dine Downtown menu. Also, I want to explain that we each got a full entrée for our main course (one 12-ounce strip each) and did not have to share this plate. The BF polished his entire meal off Adam Richman style, but I don’t think I made it through 5 ounces before I threw in the towel. 

We also ordered the same thing for dessert (chocolate covered strawberries), so this picture represents what one person receives. We took the other portion home to enjoy later with The Improviser.
The Dine Downtown menu kicks off Monday, but why wait for that? Head into Blue Prynt for dinner tonight. They have a great mix of art on the walls, and even have Chimay on tap! 
Also, there is a Gin Tasting coming up on February 3rd for $12, as well as a Crab Feed on February 11th ($35 for all you can eat.) And if you want to just swing by after a long day at the office, here’s a link to their Happy Hour menu. 

Blue Prynt’s Facebook page is located here and you can follow them on twitter here.

For a full list of the Dine Downtown participating restaurants and their menus, you can click here.


Evergreen Escapes Wacky Quacky Holiday Lights and Wine Tour

Are you in Seattle for Christmas/New Years or will you be traveling there? If so, I want to tell you about a fantastic holiday venture that will delight any food and wine lover! The Wacky Quacky Holiday Lights and Wine Tour!

Evergreen Escapes has teamed with Ride the Ducks of Seattle, Fall Line Winery, and Maven Meals for a ride through downtown Seattle to view the prettiest light displays, followed by the ultimate food and wine experience at the Fall Line tasting room.

Lights Tour: This is the ceiling of the vehicle. All decked out for the holidays!! The vehicle is semi-open, so bundle up and cover up with the blankets provided in the vehicle (the DUKW ‘Duck’ — an amphibious landing craft developed by the U.S. Army during World War II) on the tour.

This is Macy’s display, which is right across from the Mayflower Park Hotel where we stayed.


Trees in Occidental Park were dressed in sweaters!
De-boarding the amphibious. I loved this kid’s Angry Birds hat.
Then it was into a HEATED caravan 🙂 and onto Fall Line Winery for the food and wine pairing (don’t worry, the kid was not on the wine portion of the tour and only there for the duck!)
The winery name: The owner of Fall Line, Tim Sorenson, and his wife Nancy Rivenburgh are both avid skiers, and the name Fall Line worked because a perfectly balanced skier will leave behind a “fall line” on a slope.
After 4 years of winemaking studies and apprenticeship, they founded Fall Line Winery in June 2003 and in 2004, moved it to the South Seattle neighborhood of Georgetown (its present location.)
Really cool map of Washington AVA’s was on the wall.

The tasting room was decorated so pretty with lights and little herb baskets (containing rosemary and sage). The lights in the room were turned down and the tables were lit with candles.

Food (provided by Seattle’s Maven Meals) and wine for the evening were set up at three stations. The first station (the Snoqualmic Pass Station) featured this table of appetizers which included locally made Beecher’s Cheeses, cured meats, an olive tapenade, and a roasted vegetable spread. The wines for this course included a 2008 Red Mountain Artz Vineyard Bordeaux-Style Blend and a 2008 Yakima Valley Boushey Vinyeard Bordeaux-Style Blend.

Tim Sorenson, the winemaker.

At the Crystal Mountain Station, a Carnival Squash Lasagna layered with a sage bechamel sauce and cheeses was served with a garlicky grilled broccoli. This pairing included two more wines, the 2008 Red Willow Vineyard – Yakima Valley and a 2009 El Otro – Yakima Valley Tempranillo with which the BF absolutely fell in love (before he found out it was rated 92 points in Wine Advocate)!

Station 3 was Hurricane Ridge and a Brandied Cranberry Short Rib served with Whipped Garlic Red Skin Potatoes. We sampled this dish while sipping a 2009 Exhibition – Yakima Valley (my favorite wine besides the Tempranillo served at the earlier station, and a blend of
46% cabernet franc, 34% merlot, 16% cabernet sauvignon, 4% tempranillo). The last wine of the evening was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon – Yakima Valley.

Dessert was a duo of Spice Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting and a Bittersweet Chocolate Cake. They went over very well with the crowd around me as I had another glass of the Exhibition instead. I really want to stress that no one was left hungry and the portions were sizable. If there was something left on the table and you wanted another taste, you were welcome to have it. The same goes for the wines.

And here’s Tim at the end of the evening, adding up all the wine my BF bought!
A whole case of Tempranillo, and another case of mixed wine.

Do you want to get in on this tour and wine/food tasting fun?? There are still seats remaining for December 23rd and December 30th! You can book your experience here. Also, if you are a participant on the Holiday Lights and Wine tour, you will receive a 15% discount on a purchase of three bottles of wine or more.

You can find Evergreen Escapes on Facebook here and on twitter here.

Ride the Ducks is on Facebook here and on twitter here.

Fall Line Winery’s Facebook page is here.

Maven Meals is on Facebook here and on twitter here.


Andaluca Restaurant in the Mayflower Park Hotel

Andaluca Restaurant is located adjacent to the Mayflower Park Hotel (where we stayed during our recent trip to Seattle).
Instead of rushing back out to eat after our check-in at the Mayflower Park, we opted to dine at Andaluca. It was so nice to simply walk down the stairs and be seated at our table.
Andaluca had a special that evening (all wines from Washington were at a 20% discount), so we chose the 2009 O’Shea Scarborough Chardonnay to kick things off. This wine release is aged 18 months entirely in neutral oak with barrel fermentation and is a classic oaky and buttery chardonnay.
When it was time to order dinner, we opted for the special Prix Fixe “Tour of the Meditteranean” for $39 per person, so that we could taste a wide spectrum of the menu. It’s a great deal because it includes a salad or soup, three small plates and a dessert for each person.

The beginning-of-meal bread basket comes with a ramekin of house made hummus. Hummus is real treat for me (because I really don’t eat legumes anymore at all), but I didn’t touch the bread. Instead, I used the hummus as a dressing on the salad I ordered.

My salad was a Pear Salad with mixed organic greens, stilton cheese, hazelnuts, and balsamic vinaigrette.

The BF ordered the Green Bean and Roasted Beet Salad with mixed organic greens, goat cheese, marcona almonds, roasted carrots, and sherry shallot vinaigrette.

This is the mini crab tower with dungeness crab, avocado, palm hearts, and gazpacho salsa.
Then it was onto a Beef Tenderloin Skewer with a marsala demi glace. I really enjoyed this one!


Next, I ordered the Grilled Quail with shallots, mushrooms, black currant jus. I had just had an exquisite quail appetizer at Hurley’s in Yountville a few weeks prior, so I saw no reason to quit my quail habit anytime soon. It was cooked perfectly (it’s a tiny creature and easy to overcook).


The BF ordered the Broken Egg Papas Frites made up of fried yukon gold potatoes, chorizo, and roasted mushrooms. I had most of the egg–I love dishes with runny egg.


These are the Roasted Mussels with baby tomatoes, sizzling lemon butter, rosemary, lemons, and finished with white wine.  I have had my share of gamey, metallic mussels, but these tasted sweet and subtle. I would eat mussels all the time if they were more like these.

The next bottle of wine we tried (yes, bottle number 2, don’t judge) was a 2008 Hedges Family Estate “Red Mountain”. It is a blend of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; 14% Syrah; 11% Cabernet Franc; and 6% Malbec. It was full bodied and a great pairing with our desserts… especially my cheese plate (pictured below):


For dessert, I ordered the Cabrales Cheese Selection 1 oz. cow and goat milk cheese blend from the north of Spain, with a pear and almond compote. To my surprise, it was a blue cheese (my favorite!)

This is the Garrotxa plate that the BF ordered. It has 1 oz. goat’s milk cheese from the Catalonia region with red wine tempranillo reduction and grapes and crostini.

Meet our server, Chris. His service was exceptional at Andaluca. Since I had a gift card, he did not know he was going to be written about until I told him at the end of the meal and asked for his picture. He was very knowledgable about the menu and the wine list. Great job!

The head chef at Andaluca is Wayne Johnson. He has been at the helm since 1999. Some of you might have seen his appearance on Iron Chef America this year when he competed against Michael Symon. The secret ingredient was cucumbers! You can see video of the competition here.

If you’re in Seattle or planning a trip there, Andaluca is not to be missed. You can find Andaluca on Facebook here follow them on twitter here, and visit their website here.