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!
A few months ago, I visited Scottsdale, Arizona during the National Alopecia Areata Foundation’s Annual Conference. Typically when I travel, my trips become more about the food and wine available at my destination than the main reason for the trip, so I do more research on places to eat/drink than I do on anything else! Since my hotel room at the Gainey Suites Hotel was equipped with a full kitchen, I planned to get groceries and make my own dinner for the first evening. Then on the second evening of my stay, I would dine out. Since I had never been to Scottsdale before, this would require some web surfing on some of my trusted travel sites.
I stumbled upon Starlite BBQ and Whiskey Bar after only searching for a few moments. Since opening last year, Starlite BBQ has been named one of the Seven Metro Phoenix Restaurants you Need to Try Right Now by the Phoenix New Times, as well as one of the 11 Best New Restaurants in Phoenix, Arizona (area) by Eater.com. Starlite BBQ was also selected as an 2018 OpenTable Diners’ Choice Winner. This would be the place for Friday night’s dinner for sure!
So on Friday evening, after a short Uber ride, I ended up in a shopping center where Starlite BBQ resides. It sits prominently on the edge of the center, complete a facade decked out with hip white font lettering that can’t be missed. There is an outdoor seating area, but during my visit it was over 100 degrees, so I opted to sit inside and people watch as the filled up the place for dinner.
I sat at a small table against the wall, facing an already lively bar scene and two televisions broadcasting different sporting events–one of them a Diamondbacks game. Across from me on the table was a selection of house-made sauces. I was eager to try them all, but stopped short of squirting the bottles directly into my mouth. First, I selected a beverage to nurse while I contemplated what to eat.
Prosecco was the perfect drink for an opening act. Starlite also has a specialty cocktail menu featuring many whiskey-based drinks, as well as four rotating handles of beer on draft, an ample selection of bottled and canned beer, and a nice list of wines available by the glass or bottle.
While I was selecting my entree, this skillet of cornbread topped with an enormous dollop of melty honey butter appeared on my table. Now this is something I don’t normally eat, but it was really calling my name. The cornbread was still warm, both sweet and savory, and I still remember its delightful texture (just enough crumb without being too dry) even three months later! I’m not exaggerating when I said it was one of the best cornbreads I have ever had.
The Grilled Cauliflower (with Green Goddess, Crispy Black Eyed Peas, Arugula, Pickled Onions) dish really caught my eye (I saw it served to another table as I was about to order), so I snagged one for myself. The dish’s flavor was expertly balanced by the sweet and sour of the dressing (and just enough of it without making the dish soggy), the char on the cauliflower, the crunchy texture of the black eye peas and the peppery arugula.
For the main course, I selected the 1/2 plate of Chopped Pork. It comes with pickled onions and mustard on the side. I ordered a glass of rosé to pair with the pork. I could have gone a little heavier on the wine, especially because of the sauce on the meat, but in the heat of summer, I am hardwired to order bubbles or rose, no matter what the protein or the “traditional” pairing.
I guess you could say I ordered these potatoes for “dessert” and an excuse to try one more dish. Crispy little potato nuggets. This is where the aforementioned BBQ sauces come in. I tried them all on the potatoes and it turns out the middle “Starlite BBQ” is my favorite. I wish my husband had been with me so I could have sampled a little bit more of the menu items. Instead, I was already taking half of the meal back to the hotel in boxes, which was great because it made for the next night’s dinner. In other words, the portions are large and perfect for sharing.
Also good to know: Starlite BBQ supports local organizations and uses local vendors, such as Arizona Beef, organic produce from McClendon’s Farm, fresh breads daily from MJ Bread, and local pecan and mesquite woods to smoke their meats.
Starlite BBQ and Whiskey Bar is located at 7620 E Indian School Road Suite 101, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. You can contact them at 480-553-9330.
They are closed on Monday and Tuesday, and open Wednesday and Thursday from 4pm-11pm, on Friday from 4pm-midnight. They are also open on Saturday for Brunch and Regular Menu 10am-midnight and on Sunday for Brunch and Regular Menu 10am-10pm. The bar is open until 12 Midnight on Wednesday and Thursday, until 2 AM Friday and Saturday and 12 Midnight on Sunday.
Disclosure: My meal was complimentary in exchange for social media exposure and this blog post, however my opinions are all my own.
Guest Blog Post by Alana Savard
It seems like there is always something new popping up in the Sacramento area! Here are some of the newest eateries, food trucks, and breweries to check out in Sacramento. Whether your ideal is a laid back environment or you’re more into a high energy spot, there’s something that you and your group will enjoy checking out. Looking for a way to visit them without dealing with traffic or parking? This Sacramento and Napa Valley Party Bus offers the perfect solution to all of the inconveniences that often come with a night out on the town.
This food truck serving Sacramento is serving up vegan goods! These tacos are ridiculously flavorful, and you will not be missing meat at all. They also have a delicious menu of hand crafted frozen fruit pops to choose from. Their schedule is listed on their website, and can often times be found at Two River’s and the Our Street Night Market.
The Other Side
There are never enough beer destinations in Sacramento! You will primarily find comfort food on the menu here. The panic fries are the perfect mix of flavors. They also fill growlers here for you to take home and enjoy!
Maya Traditional Mexican Cuisine
Traditional and authentic Mexican food is the focus at this new restaurant downtown. We love the infusion of classic and creative flavors on the menu. It has a charming, rustic interior that gets pretty busy, especially during the weekend. Don’t miss out on their amazing margaritas during happy hour, as it’s a total steal.
Bru Co Taproom
Here’s a new taproom located in downtown Sacramento! We love the cheery, bright atmosphere and their varied selection of brews to choose from. Their selection changes daily, and there are also wine options if you are not a huge beer drinker. If you have any questions about their selection, the staff is happy to give you information and help you make the best decision.
Here is another new food truck that is serving Sacramento, and they’re focused on creating a menu that represents all different cuisines! You can really take your taste buds on an adventure sampling the food here. Some of the dishes include Thai noodle salad, a Mediterranean meatloaf sandwich, Asian pulled pork sliders, and an Indian madras wrap.
And speaking of wrap, that’s a wrap for us now! Here’s to trying something new everyday. Cheers!
Like so many people across the world, I am still processing Anthony Bourdain’s untimely death. Honestly, I feel a little strange to be mourning someone I never met. It bothers me that I am so sad about a celebrity’s passing. Bourdain was not just a celebrity, but a kind of ambassador to all nations, reaching out and breaking bread to make a deeper human connection with all cultures and ethnicities. A role that he never initially intended to play, and quite possibly took its toll on him.
I was much more a follower of Anthony Bourdain long before Parts Unknown. Full disclosure, I didn’t watch the show that much because I thought it got too serious. I preferred the lighter, more food-centric shows like No Reservations and The Layover. But I first became an AB fan when I saw his first TV show on Food Network called A Cook’s Tour. The book of the same name was a follow up of Bourdain’s wildly successful Kitchen Confidential. The A Cook’s Tour TV show was born when in addition to an advance from his publisher, Food Network execs threw money into the ring for permission to follow Bourdain around with a camera crew and film his travels. Bourdain reluctantly agreed to allow Food Network do their thing. The first time I saw the show I was hooked. I also bought the book A Cook’s Tour, then I quickly circled back to pick up a copy of Kitchen Confidential. I wanted to read everything Anthony Bourdain wrote, including his first two novels Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo. Never before had I read an author’s work that made me chuckle out loud so many times, while opening my eyes to faraway places and different cultures.
Anthony Bourdain made such an impression on me and made me excited to see the world outside of the small town of Franklin, Ohio (my hometown). Even though he was no longer working at Les Halles, I traveled to New York in 2002 to dine at the restaurant. I also tried Dim Sum for the first time in Chinatown (though I skipped the chicken feet that time). I went to Jacques Torres Chocolate. I was all of a sudden a developing (though I loathe the word) “foodie.” I was ready to open my mind to go beyond American staples. I wanted to experience different cuisines and regional specialties, and try dishes you can only get if you go to THAT particular restaurant. Like Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn. BEFORE you could order the Devils Food Cheesecake online. 🙂
The New York trip was not just because of Bourdain, but a big thanks to a long-time friend of mine who had moved to New York much earlier and was able to curate the perfect culinary tour for me during my visit. But Bourdain definitely influenced me to try things I would not know if I liked or not.
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
After the excitement of the New York trip I was ready to leave Ohio. Or at least travel more, but pretty much that was the beginning of the end for me in Franklin. In 2003, I went to Boston, Washington D.C., and to Honolulu, as well as San Francisco, the Napa Valley, and to the city I would eventually call home: Sacramento.
Sacramento? Hey, it is close to San Francisco and to Napa Valley, two cities I love but could not afford to live in at the time. Not to worry, there would be several jaunts to the City and to Napa or Yountville after I started this blog (formerly at cakegrrl.blogspot.com). There were also restaurants of all cuisines to be found right in Sacramento. I was beyond excited. Right away I found a dim sum place, a Persian restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean… I was hungry for it all. I also fell in love with wine around the same time and frequently visited regions like Amador and El Dorado in addition to my beloved Napa to try all the wines I could and then report back on my blog. My life would never be the same again.
And all the while I lived vicariously through THE travel guru, Anthony Bourdain, eventually tuning in to No Reservations in 2005 and sometimes downloading the episodes to watch on my computer in patches when I did not have a TV or cable. I remember thinking, “God this guy is so cool and so funny, down to Earth and no BS–of all celebrities, he’s the one I would like to meet someday.”
In September of 2010, Anthony Bourdain came to Sacramento and I was lucky enough to see his show as a media guest with pretty decent seats. During the show (towards the end) there was a small audience Q & A session, but I felt like I would not even be close to coming up with an interesting (or original) enough question for AB, so I sat cringing and embarrassed for others as they asked some really dumb stuff. I decided that yes, it would be cool to meet him (but not be cool to act like almost everyone else in this auditorium), so I decided I would see him again on TV, and my guest and I left after the show instead of creeping outside the venue. Can you imagine how many people did this to him? Awkward for everyone involved, so no thanks. 🙂
In 2013, local (Sacramento) chef Adam Pechal appeared with Bourdain on The Taste. I’m slightly jealous not only because he has a picture together with him, but because he got to cook for AB. Via Facebook, Pechal is in the process of planning an event to honor Bourdain that will take place closer to the end of summer/beginning of fall and the proceeds will be donated to a charity (most likely a suicide prevention organization). I will definitely share with readers here when I find out full details.
The first time I saw Parts Unknown, I happened to also be traveling. My husband and I were in Carlsbad, California for a race, and I tuned into the show when were came back from dinner that Sunday evening. It was the first episode, and I was eager to see the new show. I didn’t fully understand the concept and I was surprised the show was different and a little darker, as AB began traveling to places that had been/still are going through poverty, war, and overall turbulent times. I confess I had never really given Myanmar a second thought, and never considered Libya on my bucket list of travel destinations. I would occasionally tune in to some episodes that featured places I did want to visit such as Spain and Las Vegas (which is one of my favorite places in the world). I missed a great deal of Parts Unknown throughout its 11 season run, and now thanks to Netflix deciding to keep the show on its roster for the foreseeable future, I can go back and enjoy each one from the beginning (LINK HERE).
I thought Anthony Bourdain would be around forever, and I guess that’s why I am so sad. Half asleep on the morning of June 8th, waking up to turn off my alarm on my iPhone and then peering into it for the latest news. This time it was “RIP Anthony Bourdain.” What? How did this even happen!? How could he do this? What a nightmare. Why? I can’t imagine where he was in his mind at the time, I can only say I am sorry he was feeling insurmountable pain. I am sorry he felt so alone.
Details are still emerging on his death and the toxicology report has come out, but none of the TMZ stories have made me feel any better or more resolved. My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends, his coworkers, and anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Bourdain. The world has lost an iconic storyteller, but those close to him have lost a son, a father, a brother, a spouse, a comrade.
The time we have on Earth is so precious and finite. Hug the ones you love tightly and remind them how much they mean to you. Make people feel like they matter, even if it’s your server or your barista. If you are lucky enough to have one or both of your parents alive, call him/her/them, you’re probably overdue for a hello. Tonight, Andy and I get to meet some friends for drinks/dinner at a place I haven’t been to in ages, and that makes me so happy. I’m also buying this Zamir Vodka Tshirt for myself so that I too, can spread peace through the message of vodka!
Now I am gonna go watch some more Parts Unknown episodes. I am looking forward to the future and traveling with my husband as much as possible. Besides our annual trip to Mexico, Greece and Spain are definitely getting closer to happening, and thinking about Spanish pintxos makes me giddy. This Tony’s 13 Things I Won’t Leave Home Without made me smile.
Anthony Bourdain, thank you for your contribution to the world. May we all be a little less ignorant about/afraid of people who don’t look or live the same as us.
My current (and much more glamorous than my previous) job has me working events in San Francisco every couple of months, and I have had the privilege to stay overnight on those evenings (as opposed to driving almost 90 miles home to Sacramento post-party). During the first two events, I stayed at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, and for the last two events (and the subject of this blog post) I stayed at Parc 55, which is right down the street from the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, and also a Hilton property.
I refer to Parc 55 as an Alcatraz-themed hotel, because the entire lobby is decked in memorabilia from “The Rock” such as movie posters, and items collected from the famous prison. However, this hotel is nothing like Alcatraz, and it boasts 1,024 luxurious rooms and countless amenities for all guests. There are also nods to Alcatraz on the menu of the hotel’s main restaurant, dishes such as the “Jailbird Chicken Sandwich” and the “Impossible Escape Burger.”
Location is key and serves as quite an amenity at Parc 55, because you can literally see all of San Francisco from some of its 32 floors that offer breathtaking views of the City and the Bay. The hotel is walking distance to Cable Cars, Union Square, and the Moscone Convention Center. There are many restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, or if you prefer to stay at the hotel, there are three onsite dining venues: Cable 55 Restaurant and Lounge, Kin Khao, and Barbary Coast.
Here is a photo of my room (which was located on the 32 floor). Just out that window were gorgeous views of iconic buildings and landmarks for which San Francisco is so well known.
I could have spent all day staring outside. I don’t know what it is about San Francisco and its tall buildings, but I love looking at them. Here are a few photos I took from two different rooms during my visits.
After my work gig, I came back to my room and this lovely bottle of Chardonnay was waiting for me. The hotel also left some chocolate covered strawberries in my room refrigerator, too. Thanks to the Parc 55 marketing team for making my stays so very pleasant.
There is no room service at Parc 55, however, it you can satisfy your hunger at one of its aforementioned restaurants. On both evenings, I visited Cable 55 on the lobby/reception level of the hotel. Below is a peek of their menu. Giant thumbs up for offering several gluten-free options! It’s always a good thing when I can’t decide what to order because everything looks so incredible!
The evening of my first stay, I decided on Vincent’s Burger (angus beef, thick-cut pepper bacon caramelized beer onions, Fiscalini cheddar) on a gluten-free bun with a green salad* on the side.
*I am still on my French Fry moratorium (put into place post-Las Vegas trip because I had so many French Fries there I will never need to eat them again)!
I also enjoyed a glass (and a half) of Martin Ray Rosé of Pinot Noir with my burger. The restaurant offers a glass and a half option (this one was $17) for those who want a little more than a glass, but do not wish to buy an entire bottle. I was really tired and hungry from the work event, so this meal was really comforting and one of the better burgers I have had in a restaurant. Vegetarians, fear not, as Cable 55 now offers the Impossible Burger on their menu!
On the evening of my second visit to the restaurant, I chose the Cobb Salad (with romaine lettuce, chicken, bacon, hard-boiled egg, heirloom cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, avocado, and Point Reyes blue cheese) and paired it with a glass of Mionetto Avangarde Brut.
Because I had to get up early the next day and return to the office in Sacramento, I returned to my room for the night. Below is me in the lobby of Parc 55 in one of my favorite dresses! I love dressing up for work events!
The next day, I hit gym at Parc 55, 55 Fitness, to workout before returning to Sacramento. 55 Fitness is a nice gym, and bigger than most hotels with several treadmills, bikes, elliptical machines, and also equipped with free weights and a few weight machines.
Check out was a breeze at Parc 55. I checked out a few minutes before 11am, and texted a code on my valet card to signal I was ready to leave. My car was ready for me when I arrived outside. This is just another amenity of extreme convenience available to hotel guests.
Though my stays were short, it’s always a treat to visit San Francisco and take in the views. I still can’t believe I live so close to such a world-reknowned place.
Disclosure: I was given a media rate on May 10th and May 15th at Parc 55, my review and my opinions are my own.
Here’s a press release from my friends at Hilton Hotels, California, announcing a special offer for guests this summer!
From San Diego to San Francisco, Collectible Hilton Key Card Unlocks Exclusive Experiences and Discounts Throughout the Golden State
CALIFORNIA – Hilton hotels in California are offering guests the key to splash into summer with the launch of a California Road Trip package, designed to let travelers experience the best of this iconic getaway destination. Travelers who book the California Road Trip package at over 70 participating Hilton hotels will enjoy complimentary breakfast or premium WiFi as well as exclusive discounts to popular attractions they can “unlock” with a collectible key card.
Designed by Kelsey Quitschau, a watercolor artist, each California Road Trip Hilton key card depicts the distinctive destination in a beautiful painting. Guest can collect all four cards as they travel up or down the coast, enjoying endless sunshine, amazing cities, best-in-class beaches and incredible natural beauty of California. These collectible cards can also be used to receive discounts at local dining, entertainment and attractions.
In San Francisco, guests who book the California Road Trip package can benefit from free Bi-Rite ice cream and sandwiches, a complimentary drink at DOUGHP SF, and discounts at the Exploratorium, GoCar and Anchor Steam Brewery. In Los Angeles, receive exclusive offers on the Catalina Express, the Aquarium of the Pacific, The Jazz Bakery and more. In Orange County, guests can enjoy discounts at select retailers in the Anaheim Packing District, The CAMP and Center Street Anaheim. Guests staying in San Diego can explore diverse cultural offerings with exclusive Hilton discounts at over 20 local museums, as well as unlock a complimentary harbor cruise with Flagship Cruises or a discount at Everyday California, offering the “Original La Jolla Kayak Tour.” There are other opportunities to explore exclusive Hilton discounts on unique local experiences throughout the Golden State.
Participating hotels include some of Hilton’s most iconic properties as well as hotels from the company’s upscale brands like Embassy Suites by Hilton and DoubleTree by Hilton and quality, value-driven accommodations like Hampton by Hilton and Homewood Suites by Hilton. Travelers can soak up the sun at Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton, celebrating their 130th anniversary, catch Disneyland’s nightly fireworks at Hilton Anaheim, see and be seen at The Beverly Hilton, and look out onto the Golden Gate Bridge from Hilton San Francisco Union Square.
The California Road Trip package is available for travel between April 23 and September 30, 2018 and can be booked by visiting Travel.Hilton.com/HiltonRoadTrip.
Hilton (NYSE: HLT) is a leading global hospitality company, with a portfolio of 14 world-class brands comprising nearly 5,000 properties with more than 812,000 rooms in 103 countries and territories. Hilton is dedicated to fulfilling its mission to be the world’s most hospitable company by delivering exceptional experiences – every hotel, every guest, every time. The company’s portfolio includes Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Canopy by Hilton, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, Tru by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton and Hilton Grand Vacations. The company also manages an award-winning customer loyalty program, Hilton Honors. Hilton Honors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels have access to instant benefits, including a flexible payment slider that allows members to choose exactly how many Points to combine with money, an exclusive member discount that can’t be found anywhere else and free standard Wi-Fi. Visit newsroom.hilton.com for more information and connect with Hilton on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.
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.
A few weeks ago, I was planning a business trip to San Francisco, and I did not want to hassle with driving back to Sacramento after dark. The event I was planning and would be working in the city was a catered food and wine event at a major car dealership, and I knew I would be exhausted by the end of the evening. That’s when I decided to stay overnight in San Francisco, preferably close to the dealership.
Lucky for me, I have been and stayed in San Francisco several times and have a bit of a history and relationship with the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. I have been invited to past events, such as the opening of their 46th floor lounge, Cityscape. Cityscape is located inside tower one of the Hilton (which also happens to be the largest hotel on the West Coast).
The Cityscape has a 360-degree view of San Francisco and beyond. Through it’s 14ft floor-to-ceiling windows, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, Chinatown, AT&T Park, the Marin Headlands, Nob Hill, Oakland, and giant barges on the Bay. Now that Cityscape Lounge is open to the public, it’s at the top of my list for must-see sites in the City. Below is the video I took inside the Cityscape last year. I am using it because the Cityscape was closed (for a private event) the evening I stayed at the Hilton, and I was not able to obtain any new footage. Enjoy!
I connected with the marketing team at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, and they were able to place me in a beautiful tower room with a patio overlooking Union Square. I was happy to be back and able to check in and relax in my room before I headed to the event at the dealership that evening.
Of course the rooms inside the Hilton SF Union Square are spacious, modern, and the beds are beyond comfortable, but it was the new amenities since my last stay that were really impressive. First, there is a touch pad tablet in the rooms that is personalized to each guest. You can basically explore the entire city and find things to do during your time in San Francisco. There are recommended activities and restaurants, and you can see several menus to check out exactly what a certain restaurant offers before you make a reservation.
Not only can you become a San Francisco travel expert from your room, you can also workout at any time of day or night (with just a swipe of your hotel key) in the newly-renovated fitness center on the bottom floor of tower one. It’s a 2,800 square feet Precor®-equipped fitness area with a Cardio Theatre personal viewing system, ellipticals, treadmills, and free weights. There is also a towel and water station so you can stay fully hydrated during your workout. I really enjoyed being able to tune into Food Network and watch live time as I put in seven miles on the treadmill, and I can proudly say I didn’t miss my gym in Sacramento the slightest! Can I move in with you, Hilton San Francisco Union Square? 😉
There are refrigerators in the rooms, and you can purchase wine and snacks (like the ones below) at the lobby café/store (Herb N’ Kitchen, click for menu). I also tried the Turkey Cobb Salad for dinner that evening, and it was very satisfying.
If you are looking for more of a full service experience, you can head over to Urban Tavern which features a full menu of locally-inspired cuisine (click here for menu), and highlights 50 wines within 50 miles, Bay Area beers and indigenous spirits. I dined there during my last stay, and here are some photos of the delightful dishes Andy and I sampled!
Here’s the part where I post a bunch of pictures I took from my 44th floor room 🙂
After my workout, I enjoyed the breakfast buffet at Poached, (click here for PDF menu), located on the lobby level of the Hilton. Below is a You Tube video of items available (everything!) on the buffet. I was really impressed by the Congee bar with several toppings, as well as the availability of healthy items. (There’s also lots of pastry, cereal, bread, bagels, too, if that’s your thing.)
Things to do this season!
There are lots of activities for the whole family during the holiday season, and the Hilton San Francisco Union Square welcomes you during this festive time of year. As you can see in the photo above, Union Square is fully decked out with lights and a Christmas tree, and they have their Holiday Ice Rink open for business! There’s even a package rate that includes accommodations, 2 ice rink tickets, and a Bloomingdale’s 15% savings certificate! Follow this link for full details/to take advantage of this offer!
A Charlie Brown Christmas LIVE!
A Charlie Brown Christmas—LIVE! at Davies Symphony Hall is an experience you won’t want to miss. The performance begins with a reception in the lobby, so make sure to arrive early. The lobby will be filled with festive decorations and activities, including gigantic Christmas trees and special Peanuts décor. There will be several performances beginning this Thursday, Dec 21st and running until December 24th, 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.
A Christmas Carol
Over at the American Conservatory Theatre, you can enjoy a performance of A Christmas Carol. Performances run Wednesday, Dec 21st-Sunday Dec. 24th at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street. For more information, click here.
A New Year’s Event with Seth McFarlane and the San Francisco Symphony
Sunday, December 31st, at 8:00pm, Davies Symphony Hall
Celebrate in timeless style with Academy and Grammy Award-nominated singer, songwriter, actor, producer, and director Seth MacFarlane, who brings a winning combination of rich crooning and cool pizazz that would do Frank and Dino proud. Watch him light up the stage with the San Francisco Symphony in a dazzling concert of finger-snapping jazz standards and holiday favorites conducted by Edwin Outwater. For tickets click here.
Another amenity I found impressive is the valet parking service. As you are checking out, you can text the code (ten minutes before you are ready to leave) on your valet ticket to the valet number (see above) and they will fetch your vehicle for you so you don’t have to wait for it.
Cityscape Lounge is open seven days a week from 5pm-Midnight. You can find the Hilton San Francisco Union Square on Facebook here, and follow them on Twitter here. Tag them on social media with #hiltonfunionsq. Much thanks to the marketing team at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square for your hospitality. I’ll be back soon!
*I was given a one night stay, breakfast, and parking in exchange for this informative blog post.
This year will be the conference’s 10th, and it will be held at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country. We are looking forward to meeting new writers and reconnecting with the ones we met last year.
It is particularly meaningful to me to attend this year because the conference is being held in the area most damaged by the fires that recently took place. It will be wonderful to play tourist in this area and promote this region just when they need us most. I feel it is my duty to serve the area because this wine country (Napa/Sonoma) is the very reason I moved to California. I fell in love during my very first visit to the region in 2003 and moved not far away to Sacramento in 2004 (also a growing hub of food and wine with its close proximity to Amador, Lodi, Napa, Capay, Dunnigan Hills, and more).
Thirteen plus years later I will discover even more of the Sonoma region along with my husband and hundreds of other bloggers. Our itinerary and agenda for the weekend is very exciting for anyone the slightest bit nerdy about the grape.
I am especially happy to be reunited with Elizabeth of Traveling Wine Chick tomorrow and our Oregon friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings for the Thomas George Estates wine dinner on Friday. I’m sure our interactions won’t be limited to those events, because we just love all three of those awesome people! We even stayed with Neal and Alyse for a few days last June and ran a half marathon in Eugene! Have to burn those wine calories somehow… 😉
While I am at the conference, I am also actively promoting one of my lady bosses, SG Coaching and Consulting. With over 35 years of experience, the SG team creates custom-tailored programs to fit your winery needs. They provide detailed analyses and work with you to make improvements that can will get people into your doors and make your business successful. They offer Digital Marketing, Event Planning, Front Office Improvements, Recruiting and Hiring, and Wine Club Management.
So let’s do this, Wine Bloggers Conference 2017!! Let’s get together this weekend, taste a lot, encourage tourism, learn from each other, inspire each other, network, and taste a lot more. Andy and Kristy Harris from cavegrrl.com are thrilled to participate and share the experience on this blog as well as our social media channels.
See you there! Cheers 🙂
I feel slightly guilty about not writing anything for this website since November. To be honest, there wasn’t much to write about over the holidays, and pitches in my inbox have not been very interesting or have not been a good fit. So I decided to come back with something very personal which I would enjoy writing about and definitely love reading many times over the years. Please indulge me as I recall the most perfect weekend of my life (so far), March 17-20th, 2017, our trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, where Andy and I got married.
We flew out on St. Patrick’s Day (Friday) on Southwest Airlines directly to Las Vegas from Sacramento, which is probably one of the easiest and shortest flights in existence. I ran 10 miles that morning (it was weigh-in day) and I was doing everything I could do look good for the ceremony (planned for Sunday), so I didn’t have the free cocktail offered to us on the plane (it was only about 3:30 when we took off, and a little early for me anyway).
Thanks to a late(r) check-in, we didn’t get to sit together––Andy was sitting directly in front of me––and I was sandwiched in between two guys in their twenties, passing the time by doing a crossword puzzle (which is one of my go-to things to do to occupy myself on an airplane). People are so weird with their window/aisle seat obsessions. I was admittedly overly annoyed with having to sit between two “bros” and not be able to sit beside Andy. It’s just that I love our time together and know that it’s finite. I already don’t spend enough time with him because we both work so much. I love the person he is while we are on vacation. Andy really likes to have fun when it’s time to have fun. I love that about him. I love sitting beside him and looking over at his profile and his face and I love holding his hand. I love it that he kind of ribs me about stuff. But, I love that he makes me laugh sometimes when I least expect it.
Anyway, I just sat there in my seat and prayed that the flight would be done soon and that my wedding dress (which I had checked in the larger of the two suitcases we checked) would arrive with me along with my designer dress I rented and all of my cosmetics and skincare products. See, it takes a lot to make me look like a girl…I mean, Industrial Light and Magic would shudder at the job. I was on the verge of hiring a team for hair and makeup for this trip, but ultimately I decided I had enough faith in my own skills.
We landed soon, and I was reunited with Andy. We were able to find our luggage right away and get the rental car fairly quickly. Our trip to Las Vegas was a package deal with flight, hotel and rental car all rolled into one cost. I think it was around $1500. I tell you that only because I want to look back ten years from now and laugh/cry about how affordable this trip was.
Our hotel reservation was for the SLS Hotel and Casino, mainly because we wanted to see a show at the same hotel on the next evening. And not just any show, but Saturday Night Live alumni Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. We figured it would be so great to have dinner at our hotel, then walk across the casino into the nightclub to see two of our favorite comedians, and then be able to walk back to the elevator to head up to our room. We stayed on the 19th floor, room #311933.
We checked in around 5:30 or 6:00, and huddled on where we might go to dinner. The only criteria I had was that I wanted to eat at a celebrity chef-owned restaurant (that night). We had already made plans for Saturday and Sunday night dinner destinations, so this was the only night we weren’t sure where we would end up. We decided to try Guy Fieri’s Las Vegas Kitchen and Bar at the LINQ. Aaaand cue the food and beverage pics!! 🙂
We arrived at the restaurant around 7:30-7:45, and there was probably a 30 minute wait. We really didn’t give a damn. We were both so happy to be in Las Vegas and all checked into our hotel, and to be at Guy Fieri’s restaurant.
To all the Guy Fieri haters, I don’t know what you’re mad about. Maybe you’re just extremely jealous. For me, I find Guy Fieri’s story extremely fascinating. Andy and his mother actually met him during the Tex Wasabi days in Sacramento. I saw him live at a food and wine festival and thought he was very entertaining. I am not sure what all the negativity is about. At the bar, we were actually excited to wait for a table amidst all the St. Patrick’s Day partying and shenanigans of others (which were actually entertaining to watch, as we could see a lot of people were having bachelor/bachelorette parties). While we waited for a table, I had a vodka and diet coke (came with one of those giant ice cubes I like), and Andy had a white wine blend.
We were seated fairly quickly and again, I just remember being so excited about the weekend to come (and all the food and beverages, OK, that, too)! We decided that we would order the Triple T Fries (because I am obsessed with Truffle flavored anything). The description on the menu is as follows: Julienned-cut fries tossed with black truffle & truffle infused gouda, served with a creamy white truffle dip.
For my entrée, I ordered the Italian Deli Salad (crown of prosciutto-wrapped smoked provolone, imported Italian meats and cheeses, romaine lettuce, olives and pickled Italian veggies with chicken breast added). The prosciutto was the largest piece I have ever seen and very thick. I thought I was taking the light way out by getting a salad, but I can imagine Guy himself laughing in my face at my attempt.
Andy ordered the Flat Iron Steak and Smashed Potatoes (8 oz. prime flat iron steak, seared and sliced with garlic smashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, onion straws and chimichurri sauce).
And to pair with our meal, we ordered a Red Wine Blend by Hunt and Ryde Winery, produced by Guy Fieri and named after his sons, Hunter and Ryder.
We had to call it a night fairly early because we had business to take care of the next day (workout, wedding license, tuxedo rental) before dinner and the show we had come to Las Vegas to see: Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz: Reunited, so we headed back to the SLS Hotel immediately after dinner.
The next day, we were off to the Clark County Courthouse to get our marriage license. And that’s where I will pick up with Part Two of We’re Married!