Paleo & Primal Food, Wine, Travel & Living

Posts tagged “travel

Carmel’s Most Charming Hotel By the Sea: Hofsas House Hotel

Last month (November), we were invited to visit Carmel and to stay at The Hofsas House Hotel, a family-run Bavarian-style boutique inn that celebrated its 70th Anniversary in 2017!

The hotel is as welcoming as it was during my first stay there in 2013 and has undergone some major renovations (new paint and outdoor carpeting outside the rooms) to keep her looking as pink and fabulous as ever!


As the beautiful, wood-carved sign above says, The Hofsas House Hotel has a heated pool… but did you know they also have saunas? I never realized during my two previous stays there were saunas at the hotel, and I just loved using them after my workouts this visit!

The Hofsas House Hotel is located within walking distance of everything Carmel has to offer, including a stunning beach, fine restaurants and shops, and wine tasting. It provides a peaceful respite and European charm just minutes from Monterey, Pebble Beach, Big Sur, and Pacific Grove. The Hofsas House Hotel‘s 38 spacious, one-of-a-kind rooms boast European comfort and lovely views, not to mention amenities like fireplaces, private balconies, wet bars, kitchens, and patios.

As for our particular accommodations, the room we stayed in at The Hofsas House Hotel had a big comfy bed, fireplace, heated tiles in the bathroom floor (which I didn’t know I needed, but I do, thank you!), and a kitchenette equipped with mini-refrigerator, microwave, sink, and giant coffee pot, which is so necessary for people who don’t want to talk to anyone without coffee first—um, me!! There is even a countertop and barstools for in-room dining. Let’s not forget, there’s also an ocean view from room 45! Why aren’t you here yet?

Treat yourself with the Monterey Wine and Cheese Pairing upgrade at The Hofsas House Hotel (for $30), and you’ll have a bottle of Monterey Wine, two engraved wine glasses, and a cheese plate from the Cheese Shop Carmel ready for you.
🍷
We enjoyed this bottle of 2017 Scheid Vineyards Estate Grown Pinot Noir and two selections of cheese:
1. Fromage D’Affnoi–A brie-like cheese that hails from the Pilat Regional Park in France’s Rhone-Alpes.
2. Mt. Toro Tomme: A firmer cheese named after Mount Toro, which is one of the more prominent summits in the nearby Sierra de Salinas mountain ranges–Tomme refers to a cheese that is made to reflect the terroir of the product made.)


🧀The Cheese Shop Carmel (since 1973) sells countless other varieties of cheese, as well as wine and other gourmet foods. They are located in Carmel-by-the-Sea at Ocean and Junipero.


🍷Scheid Vineyards (since 1972) has a tasting room also located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, just blocks away from the Hofsas House Hotel, and they are open Sun-Thurs 12pm-6pm, and Fri-Sat 12pm-7pm.

 

LUGANO SWISS BISTRO
During our visit to Carmel, we enjoyed dinner at Lugano Swiss Bistro, a not-so-easy to find restaurant located in The Barnyard Shopping Center off of Rio Rd. Typically, we like to walk to dinner someplace nearby our hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea, however, after returning from a visit to Switzerland back in July, we were longing for another authentic fondue experience and the decor we had seen in Europe. Through some internet research, I found Lugano Swiss Bistro. Not walking distance from The Hofsas House Hotel, but a quick drive and we were there.

Andy and I ordered the Swiss Original Fondue with Sausages. It is served with house salad, dipping bread, steamed vegetables, and apples. We also ordered a bottle of 2017 Bernardus Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands), because let’s face it, Pinot Noir is a very versatile wine to drink with an eccentric dinner like this one.


LA BICYCLETTE
Every time we visit Carmel, we stop at La Bicyclette for lunch/brunch. Nothing beats sharing a bottle of sparkling rosé in the early afternoon… especially when I can pair it with eggs! I had their brunch du jour, and Andy had a lamb tagine dish. If you go, yes, there will probably be a wait. But it’s because it’s that good.




Once you get a table, you’ll get excellent and knowledgeable service, and there’s actually a sommelier on staff! Why am I not shocked to find out the same owners operate Casanova? (Also a must-visit restaurant in Carmel-By-The-Sea.) Tip: Lookout on the hours, they close in the late afternoon for a while and then re-open for dinner guests.

BIG FISH GRILL
On the second night of our trip to Carmel and Monterey County, we visited Big Fish Grill for a hosted dinner on the Monterey wharf. The restaurant is located at the very end of the wharf, and offers rustic charm, classic seafood dishes, and offers some of the best views in Monterey.

Andy and I shared a crab cake appetizer. I ordered the Pacific Rockfish, and Andy ordered the Blackened Salmon. Our wine selection was a 2017 Hahn Pinot Noir. I should note that there is a “locals” special served daily for $13.95. The special includes a choice of Clam Chowder or Mixed Green Salad. You can also add on a glass of house wine or beer for $3.99.



FRIAR TUCK’S


Our last stop in Carmel was Friar Tuck’s on the corner of Dolores and 5th. I immediately fell in love with this time capsule of a 70’s “greasy spoon”. It was established in 1978, and I don’t think ANYTHING has changed since! There was so much charm in everything from their coffee cups, to the mural on the wall, to their wood-carved sign out front. They specialize in breakfast and lunch, egg-specially omelets (13 to choose from on the menu)! Served with toast (no gluten-free here) and Friar Potatoes, our breakfast platters were so good, I have to make this spot a tradition every time I visit Carmel!



Many thanks to our host hotel, The Hofsas House Hotel, for inviting us back to Carmel and allowing us to experience a new adventure each time!



The Hofsas House Hotel is located on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea. For more information or to book your room, call (831) 624-2745 or visit www.hofsashouse.com. You can like them on Facebook here, follow them on Instagram here, and follow them on twitter here.


A Wine and Dine in Liechtenstein

Personally, there is nothing that makes me feel more free than the opportunity to travel. The ability to pick a place on the map, book a flight, select a hotel, and plan all the wonderful sights and restaurants I’ll visit during my trip.

To celebrate the Fourth of July this year (and also as a belated birthday present), my husband and I traveled to The Principality of Liechtenstein (a country who is currently celebrating its 300 Year Anniversary). Liechtenstein is the world’s sixth smallest country positioned between Switzerland and Austria. The primary language spoken is German, and its capital is Vaduz. Vaduz is also the location of Schloss Vaduz (Vaduz Castle) and the home of the Prince of Liechtenstein and his family.

The Residence Hotel is also located in Vaduz almost directly below the Prince’s Castle, and it’s the hotel we chose for our home base as each of the four days of our vacation, we planned to drive into different countries for the day and return to Vaduz at night to stay.

The first day of the trip, we flew into Zurich (Switzerland) from San Francisco on a non-stop flight, rented a car, and drove about 90 minutes to Vaduz. Not only is the Prince’s house in Vaduz, but he also has a winery there, and that evening, we walked from our hotel room to the winery, The Hofkellerei of the Prince of Liechtenstein, to attend an all-you-can-eat grill buffet featuring an all-you-can-drink wine tasting.

It was surreal to spend Independence Day at such a magical place. Guests of the event along with my husband Andy and myself were given a welcome toast and seated at tables outside within feet of the rosebush-lined vineyard. We were then dismissed table by table to fill our plate in the buffet line. There were many different items from which to choose: sausages, hamburgers with speck and cheese, steak, fish and shrimp, sauces to dress them, multiple salads, roasted potatoes, breads, and rolls.


I was very excited to taste the wines of another country besides the United States, Italy, or France. Now it was time for an Austria and Liechtenstein degustation. (Tip: degustation means tasting in German. Put that together with “wein” to say “wein degustation” and you’ll be off to having fun and making friends!) At the BBQ they were pouring many wines, but I’ll mention one in particular called Zweigelt, because it’s Austria’s most planted red wine grape, and not widely known in the United States amongst non-wine geeks. The varietal is a cross between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, and is described as similar to a Pinot Noir.

I’ll also add that the Princely Winery includes this Vaduz location “Herawingert”, and Domain Wilfersdorf in Austria (why I noted Austria above). Other wines the locations produce are Zweigelt Rosé (what I drank most of that evening, because rosé all day in summer!), Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, F.L. Classique (sparkling wine), Merlot, Chardonnay, and many more.


For dessert, there were multiple flavors of gelato, cheesecake, Linzer torte, petit fours, macarons, tiramisu. No one left hungry, as after dessert, the chefs brought out more plates of sausages and meats as we all lingered on the patio enjoying the wines and the perfect weather.



I’ve never been to heaven, but this al fresco wining and dining experience with views of the Princely vineyard and the mountains must have been close. It had only been a month prior that I had found the BBQ event on the Hofkellerei’s website and told my husband about it. I couldn’t believe I was finally sitting there, and that it was only the first day of our vacation!

The next day would be wine tasting in Switzerland. Until then…prost!

The Hofkellerei of the Prince of Liechtenstein can be found at Feldstrasse 4, Vaduz, Liechtenstein 9490. You can find them on Facebook here and here, and you can follow them on Instagram here.


A Day on the Willamette Wine Loop–Stop Two: Tumwater Vineyard

Last weekend, I visited Lake Oswego, Oregon and the surrounding area on a media trip organized by Mt. Hood Territory. In the blog posts today and to come, I will be featuring some of the places on my itinerary that was specifically tailored to me and readers of this blog. I hope you enjoy my several mini-blogs from Mt. Hood Territory, Oregon.


On the Sunday afternoon of my trip to Mt. Hood Territory, I went wine tasting and visited three wineries in the Willamette Wine Loop. My second stop of the day was Tumwater Vineyard, which in the beginning, was not supposed to be a winery at all.

During my tasting flight I was introduced to the owner of Tumwater, Gordon Root (aka the accidental vintner). He told me that he and business partner Rick Waible had initially intended to develop the land that the winery sits on into a subdivision of about 40 homes. However, after plans were submitted and zoning changes took effect, he was only permitted to build five houses, and would have to think of a way to use the rest of the property. Gordon and Rick then decided to fix their dilemma by removing the trees, blackberries, poison oak and other vegetation on the remaining 45 acres. So in 2015, three acres of Chardonnay and fourteen acres Pinot Noir were planted on the land. An additional five acres of Pinot were planted in spring of 2018, bringing the total to 23 acres.

The houses they did manage to build (in which one of them Gordon resides) were selected for a showcase called Street of Dreams in 2016, and the structure that would become the Tumwater Vineyard tasting room served as the showroom. One of the homes is a massive 7,500 square feet and a price tag of $3.8 million. It features enormous 14-foot doors that open directly out to a view of the vineyard and Mount Hood.

$3.8 million out of your budget? No problem! You can still come by the Tumwater Vineyard tasting room and take in the beauty of the landscape for the mere cost of a tasting flight ($15 for four different wines, but complimentary with purchase of two bottles).


The lineup I tasted was the 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, the 2016 Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir, the 2016 Arborbrook Pinot Noir, and the 2016 Prince Hill Pinot Noir. Below is a menu of the wines they have available for sale by the bottle and the glass, as well as a description of the wines in the flight. If you can’t make it into the tasting room, you can buy their wines directly from their website here.

Tumwater Vineyard is located at 375 SW Barrel House Way, West Linn, Oregon. Currently, the tasting room is only open to the public on Sundays, Noon to 5:30pm.

You can like them on Facebook here, follow them on Twitter here, and follow them on Instagram here!

Disclaimer: Thank you to Mt. Hood Territory for arranging my trip to Oregon and this stop on my itinerary, as well as paying for my tasting fee at Tumwater Vineyard.


A Day on the Willamette Wine Loop–Stop One: Campbell Lane Winery

Last weekend, I visited Lake Oswego, Oregon and the surrounding area on a media trip organized by Mt. Hood Territory. In the blog posts today and to come, I will be featuring some of the places on my itinerary that was specifically tailored to me and readers of this blog. I hope you enjoy my several mini-blogs from Mt. Hood Territory, Oregon.

On the Sunday afternoon of my trip to Mt. Hood Territory, I went wine tasting and visited three wineries in the Willamette Wine Loop. My first stop of the day was Campbell Lane Winery. Campbell Lane Winery’s story begins in 1966, when third generation Oregonian Leigh Campbell, M.D. and wife Ceille bought land at the end of a country road on Pete’s Mountain (which is positioned above the Willamette River and looks out to Mt. Hood), and named their property “Campbell Lane”. They then hand cleared fruit orchards on the land and planted the largest Pinot Gris vineyard (2.65 acres) in the United States (at the time).

The Campbells expanded the original Stoneridge Vineyard over the next 50 years and experimented with many different grape varietals. The property’s climate, elevation (700-feet), and the soil–called Jory, (a series of deep well-drained soils that formed in colluvium derived from basic igneous rock, and recently officially recognized as Oregon’s state soil on May 23, 2011)–makes the grapes grown there some of the highest quality in Oregon.

In 2014, the first Campbell Lane Winery grapes were harvested and bottled to share with the public, and their current wine list is succinct with just three types: Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Rosé of Pinot Noir. The wines feature the Clan Campbell Coat of Arms (a symbol of courage and hospitality) in the logo on their labels. Campbell Lane has also just grafted 1.75 acres of Pinot Gris vines to Chardonnay, and they plan to release an estate grown Chardonnay in Spring 2021.

For my tasting experience that day, I tried the 2018 Rose of Pinot Noir, the 2015 Pinot Gris, the 2016 Pinot Gris, the 2016 Pinot Noir, and the 2017 Pinot Noir, shown below. Since the tasting room was incredibly busy that day, I moved to a table in the tasting room so I could take my time examining the wines and not be in the way of other customers.



I was not really expecting to enjoy the wines I tried as much as I did. I admit I am kind of a California wine purist and a superfan of Sonoma Pinot Noirs. Sorry! Anyway, I tried to keep an open mind going into the tasting rooms on Sunday, and I am glad I did. From wine number one (the Rosé of Pinot Noir) I was impressed.

I went on to the 2015 and 2016 Pinot Gris, and noted they have a wonderful petroleum quality that I really enjoy. I might be buying some wine after all! By the time I tasted the 2016 and 2017 Pinot Noirs, I was sold. I won’t go into describing them too much, because wine is a very personal thing and who wants to read a bunch of meaningless descriptors anyway? I just know that I liked everything I tried, and I recommend them to you. I came home with the 2016 Pinot Gris  and the 2017 Pinot Noir! I can’t wait to open them at home and share them with my husband Andy. 🙂

Before I left, I walked around the grounds of the winery (which are extremely beautiful) and took a few photos to share with you. I noticed people buying wine by the glass and the bottle and enjoying the afternoon with their families and a picnic of both food they bought in the tasting room and food they brought to the winery themselves. I’d really love to go back with a group of people and do the same thing!

If you need another excuse to visit Campbell Lane Winery, they are having a “Last Friday (of the month)” event tomorrow, May 31st from 5-9pm. Join them for tapas including crostinis, arugula salad, and an apple crumble along with shrimp and chorizo paella from Nineteen 33 Taproom. They’ll also have musical guest Rob Rainwater, performing a “rich mix of originals and classic blues and rock covers.”

Campbell Lane Winery is located at 27411 SW Campbell Lane in West Linn, Oregon. Their current tasting room hours are as follows: Sundays, 12-5pm through December 22, 2019. Last Fridays, 5-9pm March through October 2019.

If you can’t make it to the winery, you can contact the winery and buy wines from the comfort of your own home.

You can like them on Facebook here and follow them on Instagram here!

Disclaimer: Thank you to Mt. Hood Territory for arranging my trip to Oregon and this stop on my itinerary, as well as paying for the wine I purchased at Campbell Lane Winery.


Kyra’s Bake Shop, a Gluten-Free Haven and Heaven in Lake Oswego, Oregon

Last weekend, I visited Lake Oswego, Oregon and the surrounding area on a media trip organized by Mt. Hood Territory. In the blog posts today and to come, I will be featuring some of the places on my itinerary that was specifically tailored to me and readers of this blog. I hope you enjoy my several mini-blogs from Mt. Hood Territory, Oregon.

One of my stops during the four days I spent in Mt. Hood Territory was a bakery in Lake Oswego called Kyra’s Bake Shop. Kyra’s Bake Shop is a completely gluten-free (and 100% celiac safe) bakery that sells gluten-free pastries, cakes, salads, sandwiches, and soups. The bakery is owned by Kyra Bussanich, the only four-time winner of Food Network’s popular show Cupcake Wars.


When I entered the shop, I noticed the steady stream of customers both in line and seated enjoying their gluten-free treats. I believe many of the people I saw were locals, although Kyra’s Bake Shop is definitely known for being a destination place (bringing in customers from as far as Florida and New York who long for celiac-safe goodies).

And I had come a long way from California, too. I made my way to the case, excited to order/try several things. I figured since it was already nearly 1pm (and I had another stop for lunch already planned), I would buy some items to take back to my hotel with me to enjoy later.

If you visit Kyra’s Bake Shop, I recommend getting there a little earlier than I did. Some of the items in the case were already sold out. Luckily, I picked up the last Chicken Pesto Galette, as well as the last two plain bagels. I was so happy to get them that you’d think they were the last two bagels on Earth! I was also tempted to try a Unicorn Cupcake, but opted for a Lemon Marionberry Donut instead (choosing only one sweet item for moderation’s sake). I also selected a Chicken Cobb Salad (for dinner in case I was too tired to go out later that evening). Kyra’s has various flavors of cupcakes and donuts available daily, as well as different kinds of galettes (As you will see in one of the photos below, a galette is like an open-faced savory hand pie.). You can visit Kyra’s website to see what flavors they offer on different days of the week.


Below are photos of two of the items I bought. The Chicken Galette, and the Lemon Marionberry Donut. I decided they would photograph better back at my hotel, so I skipped taking any more pictures of the case, because the items just didn’t look as good in person through the glass. You can see how amazing both the galette and the donut look up close!


My prediction about being too tired to go out that evening came true, and luckily I had the Cobb Salad and the Chicken Galette to fall back on, as well as some wine to pair with them. The galette dough was buttery and chewy and slightly crisp in texture and unbelievably gluten-free! The pesto and chicken filling tasted perfect after having been slightly warmed in the microwave.


This was the first gluten-free donut I had ever tried. There’s a shop that makes them (gluten-free) in Sacramento, but only on Sundays, and it seems like I can never make it over there that day. So, I was very excited to try this one, because I have already had all sorts of gluten-free cookies and cakes. The donut itself had a cake-like texture underneath all that crunchy glaze. I don’t have any other word to describe it except delectable. It was so devilish that I ate it over three days. The glaze was exactly flavored the way anything advertising “lemon” should be. Like a “punch” of lemon, definitely from the use of lemon zest. The marionberry flavor was jammy and delightfully sweet, and a perfect complement to the sourness of the lemon.

I also bought two bagels, and though they were very good and I was so elated to get the last ones that I practically praised God for them, after all the tasting I prefered the galette and the donut! No matter what, though, I’m definitely coming back to Kyra’s Bake Shop next time I’m in Lake Oswego!

Kyra’s Bake Shop is located at 599 A Avenue, Lake Oswego, OR, 97034. They are open everyday from 7:00AM – 5:00PM. You can like Kyra’s Bake Shop on Facebook here, follow them on Twitter here, and follow them on Instagram here.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Mt. Hood Territory for arranging my trip to Oregon and this stop on my itinerary, as well as paying for the items I purchased at Kyra’s Bake Shop.


My Top Tips for Travel to Lisbon

Dear Readers, Happy New Year!

Andy and I just returned from our first ever journey to Europe. We traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for 5 days, and I am still rubbing my eyes like it was a dream! I’ve come up with a few lists about the trip…. why we chose Lisbon, how to pack for Lisbon, what to expect upon arrival, and the must-do activities and recommended restaurants in Lisbon. After reading this, it is my hope you are further inspired to travel to Lisbon, or even to travel to a place you have never visited.

Why Lisbon?
Of course, you might ask why I did not choose Paris, Rome, or London for my first excursion across the Atlantic. Somehow, I knew Lisbon would be perfect for us. Here’s why:

1. Lisbon has a very moderate climate in the winter months like San Francisco (which we are used to), and doesn’t rain a lot in winter.

2. Lisbon has a very strong culinary and wine scene. (Important to me, because if the food isn’t good, I’m not interested!)

3. Lisbon has a magnificent history, and is manageable to see many things/places/landmarks in the amount of time (5 days, 4 nights) we actually had to visit.

4. I had a primer on Lisbon thanks to the Somebody Feed Phil documentary hosted by Phil Rosenthal. I modeled a lot of our trip on places I had seen on the show, but at the same time, we went to a few places we found on our own. You can watch the show here. #NetflixandPhil 😛

Phil Rosenthal explores Portuguese cuisine in Lisbon on Season 1 of
“Somebody Feed Phil” (Courtesy of Netflix)

5. Lisbon is on the Tagus River (aka Tejo River) and we love places that have a view/are located near a body of water!

6. Lisbon was the closest place to get to in Europe from Sacramento. If you wait until summer of 2019 to book your trip, lucky you! TAP Portugal will be offering non-stop service from SFO to LIS!

7. Many Portuguese speak English and it is easy to communicate, especially with people who work in restaurants, shops, and hotels.

8. Lisbon is less crowded than other major cities, especially during December.

9. Lisbon has a very good public transit system and you really don’t need a car! Just your legs to take you to a subway, bus, tram, or train stop/station.

10. Lisbon is the perfect mix of old world and new world. It’s an upcoming and modern city, but has the beauty of monuments and cathedrals that are hundreds of years old. You will see evidence of this everywhere. Especially on the beautiful sidewalks!

 

Preparing and Packing:

1. Speaking of the sidewalks, leave your heels at home. The sidewalks and even some of the roadways in Lisbon are made of limestone tiles (aka Portuguese pavement or calçada portuguesa) and are very challenging to walk on, especially in heels of any kind. Don’t worry about looking unhip. I didn’t see any other women in heels, either. Most of the time, I wore these Clarks with a rubber wedge and they were awesome. I also wore these shoes (also Clarks) when I wore a dress.

2. Purchase a converter plug. I found this one and bought it because it converts to EU, Australia, the US, and the UK and it has four USB ports for easy charging.
3. Select a place in your purse or carry on bag to put your passport (preferably a pocket that is inside of the bag and zips up) and always keep it in that place!

4. Pack snacks like nuts, trail mix, protein bars, beef or turkey jerky (my go-to right now is Nick’s Sticks), or pretzels in your carry on in case you get hungry and need a pick-me-up. Sometimes you’ll have to walk farther than you thought in the airport and sometimes the escalator or the elevator will be broken and you will appreciate the extra energy.

5. Pack a travel pillow in your carry on luggage. If you are traveling from the United States, your flight will be long enough to rest. I bought this travel pillow and got a lot of use out of it!

6. Use a backpack for your personal item on the plane and use it when you are sightseeing. I packed a purse (that I never ended up using during our trip). Instead, I used this Pacsafe Intasafe Anti-Theft 20L Laptop Backpack on the plane and to carry my items around Lisbon securely. I stowed both my camera and my wallet in it. I chose this backpack because it is theft-resistant. It is made with slash-proof material in the body and the straps. It also has a pocket with RFIDsafe blocking material for credit cards to safeguard against hacker scanning. It also has locking zippers. I love it, and the peace of mind I had carrying it around and knowing my items were safe was worth the expense. Bonus: the backpack has two pockets for water bottles on the sides.

7. Bring plenty of cash (you can convert to Euros at the airport when you arrive). Most of the non-touristy, local restaurants DO NOT accept credit cards. If you are afraid your cash will get lost or stolen, another alternative to packing a bank roll is to use your ATM card to withdrawal cash. There are several all over the city.

8. Download an app like Duolingo and learn a few phrases in Portuguese. It goes a long way if you can say “please” and “thank you”. Which, by the way in Portuguese is: please “por favor” and thank you “obrigado”.

9. Pack clothing that you can wear in layers. Since Lisbon is on a body of water, it can get windy, and you might get cold. Sometimes you’ll be walking and get too hot. What I am saying is, it’s easier to wear a T-Shirt and jeans on the bottom layer, a sweater or sweatshirt over that, and in winter, possibly a coat over that. You can always take layers one by one off if you get too hot.

10. Invest in a power bank to charge your phone/iPad/laptop. Sometimes you won’t be able to charge your phone on a long flight. Since you’ll definitely want to have a decent amount of power when you land to check your messages, check in with loved ones, and map out the area, it’s a good idea to have a back up power source.

Upon Arrival to Portugal:
1. Expect to wait at least an hour in line to get through customs and into the country.

2. Keep your passport and any important documents in place easy to access, because you will be showing them many times during travel into and out of the country.

3. You will have several transportation options out of the airport. Decide beforehand which one you will choose to get you where you need to go.

4. Before you leave the airport, there is a kiosk near the airport exit to exchange USD to €, and you can exchange as much money as you would like for a flat rate of €5. Again, get as much as you can, because many activities and many of the really good restaurants don’t take credit cards, and you’ll be spending a € here and there, so it’s just more convenient to carry some pocket change.

5. If you only have carry on luggage, you can most likely take the Metro to your destination. The Metro system is mapped out clearly at the airport, and it’s quite easy to figure out.

6. If you have large bags/luggage, invest in a cab to get to your hotel.

7. Be patient. The airport is very crowded–a lot of people who are different nationalities and speak different languages than you do. Practice kindness and don’t be the ugly “in-a-hurry” American.

8. If you are using the Metro or another form of public transit, you can buy a Viva Viagem card. It costs €0.50 and can be reloaded an unlimited number of times during one year after purchase.

9. It can be confusing at first when you land in a new place, but take a deep breath. You’ll figure things out and laugh about how confused you were later. I am hoping to demystify some things with this article, so if you go you will already be a pro!

10. Get ready to have a blast!!

Must-Dos While in Lisbon:
1. Eat at Ponto Final. Take the ferry (from Cais do Sodre in Lisbon to Cacilhas) across to Almada to Ponto Final. If it’s cold outside, wear extra layers and eat outside on the pier. You’ll enjoy phenomenal views of Lisbon across the Tagus (Tejo) River!


2. Visit the Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei. After Ponto Final, you can walk to a lift that takes you up to a 2-mile path up to Cristo Rei (Christ the King). The Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei was completed in 1959 after ten years of construction. The statue was built by the support/approval of Portuguese bishops at the Portuguese Episcopate conference in 1940 as a symbol of peace to both plea & thank God for the absence of Portugal in World War II. It’s quite the journey to get there from Ponto Final, but worth it once you get there!

3. See a Fado show with dinner. Fado is a style of Portuguese music that is both beautiful and haunting. It is associated with the word “saudade” or longing, and sort of represents to me a kind of sad hope. It’s kind of described like when you love someone and they go away you miss them and feel sad, but it is a good thing that you miss them.

We found a restaurant with FREE Fado every night beginning at 7pm. The food was fabulous and the Fado singer (or Fadista) was even better! We chose Pastel do Fado, a restaurant Andy happened to find when we were walking around Almada. (It’s near the Lisbon Cathedral). Remember, sometimes when you are seated at a table, there will be food already on the table. It is NOT free. If you eat the bread, butter, olives, you WILL be charged on your final bill. 😉

4. Ride Tram 28 and get a scenic view of the city. Make sure you get on at Martim Moniz (or Campo Ourique) so you’ll have a better chance of getting a seat! You’ll enjoy a memorable ride through Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela screeching and rattling up and down the narrow streets.

5. The Santa Justa Lift: A top tourist attraction, but also a transportation device that takes you from the lower streets of Baixa, up to a platform connecting to Carmo Square. Tip: Get a Viva Viagem card and use it to ride the lift, metro (subway), buses, trams, and funiculars. You can pay €6.15 for 24 hours, or choose the re-load option. You can also pay the extra €2 to climb the observation platform. It’s totally worth it!

6. Go to Time Out Market Lisboa for a meal. Even a picky eater will find something they will like. Time Out Market is like a giant cafeteria, except that there are little food stalls all around the perimeter and the food doesn’t suck. You can find everything from sushi to hamburgers, octopus, several different takes on bacalhau, piri-piri chicken, gelato, chocolates, and the ubiquitous pastry of Lisbon, the Pastel de Nata at Manteigaria.


7. Go to Sintra to see the castles! Take the train from Rossio Square to Sintra (runs every 20 minutes). If you are paying for one-way tickets, make sure you buy two zones or you won’t be able to exit the station. (This might have happened to us!)

8. Enjoy Portuguese Wines! If you are in Portugal, you might as well drink like a local! There are so many wines to choose from, they are very affordable (about €12 average per bottle in most restaurants), and nearly everything is good. Here are a few bottles we polished off:

9. Eat bacalhau! Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod, and if you come to Lisbon, bacalhau is EVERYWHERE on restaurant menus. The bacalhau in question is salt cod, which has been preserved by drying/curing with salt. Before it can be eaten, salt cod must be rehydrated by soaking in cold water for a few days, changing the water two to three times a day. This also helps remove most of the salt content. My favorite way to enjoy bacalhau is in a pastel de bacalhau from Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau! It’s basically a cod fish fritter filled with Serra da Estrela cheese. Downright decadent and one of the best bites of food I tried!

10. Stop for a shot of ginjinha! GInjinha is a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherry) in Aguardiente (an alcoholic beverage that contains between 29% and 60% alcohol by volume). There are several places to try ginjinha. We tasted it at Ginjinha do Carmo, (a stand in Comércio Plaza) exactly one block away from our hotel (so that we could stagger back to our room). The liqueur is sweet and powerful, and sipping it slowly while we talked about our trip was a perfect way to cherish the last moments in Lisbon while standing in the plaza.



Thank you Lisbon, for being so lovely and delicious in every way possible. Andy and I enjoyed everything about our vacation, and we are so glad we chose to travel there to spend New Year’s holiday. The food, wine, and weather were all so perfect. And now I know what it is like to experience saudade…but this time to long for a place. I miss Portugal already, but each day that goes by brings my closer to our next visit, and next time we will visit Porto for more adventures!

Lastly, I want to thank Anthony Bourdain, Phil Rosenthal, and Mark Wolters for giving me a template for travel to Lisbon. Mark Wolters of Wolters World especially gave a lot of tips of what to expect when in Lisbon, and I’m pretty sure Portugal would not have been on my bucket list without all of your influences, and I know my visit to Lisbon was enhanced by all of you.

Saude!

PS: If you liked what you saw on this blog post, there’s more pictures from this trip over on my Instagram page. Be sure to visit and follow me there!


Breathtaking Views and Oceanside Fun Await in Pacifica


I have lived in California since 2004, and will admit I had never visited or heard of a small oceanside town called Pacifica until just last month. I was invited on a press trip to check out the little place just 15 minutes south (by car) of San Francisco along with a few other travel writers, podcasters and bloggers.

Quite frankly, once I experienced staying, eating, running, hiking, and basically existing in Pacifica, I felt like i had been let in on a very well-kept secret. I was shocked I had never been there before. I was spooked that it wasn’t more crowded with tourists, but at the same time that’s what I loved about it. I treasured the uncrowded (other than locals) feel to the town. It’s just a day-in, day-out beach town with incredible morning waves for surfers and a small, but great night life for anyone and all to enjoy.

I fled to Pacifica the last week of October when a work event I had organized in San Francisco felt OK enough to leave to coworkers. I escaped just in time to a media dinner at Nick’s Restaurant, an unapologetic old school joint that sits (incredibly enough) right on the oceanfront. I chose the special of the evening, which was tilapia served with butter beans, arugula, and a brown butter sauce and tried several other menu offerings along with other media and influencers seated around our table. I took several photos of the food we enjoyed and I present them to you below (beginning with that mouth-watering tilapia special!):











After introductions and multiple bottles of wine, our group walked over to A Grape in the Fog for even more wine, tarot card readings, and this fantastic cheese plate.


The next day I met up with about half of our travel group to hike along the California coastal trail segment of Pacifica led by Pacifica Beach Coalition’s Lynn Adams, and local trail advocate (and major Creedence Clearwater Revival fan) Jim Sullivan. Along with taking in some really beautiful sights along the hike, we learned the trail doesn’t groom itself and there are several volunteers who give their time to help clear the trail and plant flowers along the path for others to enjoy. There are also beach cleanups that take place on a monthly basis.




After working up an appetite, our group caravanned to the Little Brown Church/Pacifica Coastside Museum for a Pacifica Jack Cheese and Rosalind Bakery bread tasting, washed down with vodka, absinthe, rum, and gin samples from local alcoholic beverage producer, Tripp Distillery.


Pacifica Jack? Yes, according to a historian at the museum, we learned that the recipe for Jack cheese came from Italy straight to Pacifica by way of a man named Stefano Mori. The cheese recipe was allegedly stolen by an employee of the Moris, and taken down to Monterey (to the Jacks Ranch). From there the cheese began being produced commercially and called… can you guess? That’s right! Monterey Jack. Don’t believe it? Well, there is indeed corroborating evidence of Jacks’ theft in the book “Roadside History of California” by Ruth Pittman. Recently, a woman by the name of Kathleen Manning decided to put the Pacifica back in Jack cheese, and went on a mission to track down the original recipe by Stefano Mori. Along with the recipe, she also found a cheesemaker to produce the cheese, and it is currently available to taste and purchase at the Pacifica Coastside Museum.


Not being one to normally indulge in bread, I couldn’t help but wolf down a few pieces of the spongy, brown, baked goodness, speckled with walnuts, that was provided to our tour group by Rosalind Bakery. At the other end of the sampling table, we were introduced to Jason Tripp, of Tripp Distillery (also located in Pacifica). Tripp Distillery is open to the public and often invites various food trucks for their customers to buy food to enjoy with their products. If you visit, look for their original red (as in the color red) vodka (if it isn’t already sold out). You can follow them on Facebook to be notified of special events at the distillery.



Our Friday evening culminated with an appetizer reception and tour of Sam’s Castle (a properly that lived former lives as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, an underground abortion clinic, and a World War II Coast Guard Station, before it was purchased in 1959 by Sam Mazza). The castle tour was all the more interesting because every single room was decorated for Halloween.

I was delighted by the attention to detail and all the spooky props on display. We enjoyed beverages provided by A Grape in the Fog (wine) and (brews from) Pedro Point Brewery. It was real Pacifica trick-or-treating in the dining area with delights from Tam’s Cuisine of China, the Moonraker, Rosalind Bakery, and desserts from the French Patisserie and Shampa’s Pies.










We also took turns sitting on the crimson red velvet throne in one of the castle’s main rooms. I left feeling so lucky to be asked/included on these types of media events and how being a travel writer has opened up so many unique opportunities.



Our lodging in Pacifica was provided by the Lighthouse Hotel. The hotel sits right on the ocean (located in Rockaway Beach Plaza) and many of the rooms offer views of the beach and the mesmerizing waves. It was very clean and comfortable, and I would definitely stay there again. Important information for wine writers: There is FREE wi-fi and there is a refrigerator in your room. Below is a picture of the view from my room!


Ah, Pacifica… a not-overly-crowded charming little town right on the ocean with great eats and friendly locals (and even a golf course)! If you’ve never been to Pacifica, I urge you to check it out. It’s so close to San Francisco and perfect for a mini-vacation by the sea!

This Pacifica Media Familiarization Tour would not have been possible without Mortgage Loan Specialist Darlene Gonzalez and public relations guru Molly Blaisdell. Thank you, ladies! Disclosure: I was invited on this trip at no charge to write about the area, giving my own impressions and opinions.


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!


Starlite BBQ and Whiskey Bar Fires Up the Scottsdale Dining Scene

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.comStarlite 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.

You can find Starlite BBQ on Facebook here and follow them on Instagram here.

Disclosure: My meal was complimentary in exchange for social media exposure and this blog post, however my opinions are all my own.


5 Exciting New Food Destinations in Sacramento

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.

Bambi
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.

World Fare
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!


Bourdain and His Impact on Me


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 ConfidentialThe 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.”
-Anthony Bourdain

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.

Photo credit: Travel Channel website, Mozambique journal.


Alcatraz-Themed Parc 55 Provides an Elegant Escape to San Francisco

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.

Skyline ThreeSkyline OneSkyline FourSkyline at Night

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.

Welcome WineStrawberries

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!

Cable 55 Menu

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)!

Burger Gluten Free Bun

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!

Martin Ray Rose

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.

Cobb Salad

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!

Selfie

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.

Fitness Center

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.

I am looking forward to staying at either Parc 55 or the Hilton San Francisco Union Square on my next visit to San Francisco!

Disclosure: I was given a media rate on May 10th and May 15th at Parc 55, my review and my opinions are my own.


California Hilton Hotels Have the Key to an Unforgettable Summer Escape

Here’s a press release from my friends at Hilton Hotels, California, announcing a special offer for guests this summer!


California Hilton Hotels Have the Key To an Unforgettable Summer Escape

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.

About Hilton
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 FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram and YouTube.

 

 

 


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.


Make the Hilton San Francisco Union Square Your Home for the Holidays!

amazing skyline

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, CityscapeCityscape 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.

tablet

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? 😉

front of gym

 

gym 1

gym 2

gym 3

 

sauv blanc

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 🙂

skyline 2

 

skyline 3

skyline 5

IMG_2404

tree in hotel

This is the most wonderful time of year to stay at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. The lobby is fully decorated with Christmas trees, just like the one above on the main floor of tower one.

poached

breakfast two

breakfast one

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.)

union square

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.

door

parking

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.

With its state-of-the-art amenities and breathtaking views, it’s no wonder the Hilton San Francisco Union Square is my go-to place to stay in the City.

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.


Headed to Santa Rosa for WBC17

Andy_harneylane
This weekend, Andy aka (@curtisparkandy, on twitter, and pictured above) and I are headed to Santa Rosa for the Wine Bloggers Conference!

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.

Friday Excursions
    
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 🙂


We’re Married! (Part One)


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!


Listen to Me Today on Serious Talk. Seriously.


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Today I am a guest on the podcast Serious Talk. Seriously. hosted by Johnny Flores! We chatted about my rebranding of cakegrrl.com to cavegrrl.com, Paleo, gluten free, bread, Oprah, the importance of having a supportive significant other, alopecia, the changing roles of men and women and even vocal fry! Click below to have a listen and if you enjoy, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes HERE or on Stitcher here. Click the link below to listen! 🙂

http://app.stitcher.com/splayer/f/58636/48107684

You can like Serious Talk. Seriously. on Facebook here, follow on Twitter here.

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One-of-a-Kind Hofsas House Hotel Celebrates 70 Years

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In Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Theis family is celebrating 70 years of European hospitality in their Bavarian-inspired Hofsas House Hotel.

The Hofsas House Hotel is within walking distance to the beach, multiple restaurants and shops, and several tasting rooms.

The hotel is also within just minutes driving distance to Monterey, Pebble Beach, Big Sur and Pacific Grove. The Hofsas House’s boasts 38 spacious rooms (all unique) with fireplaces, private balconies, wet bars, kitchens and patios, and the Dutch doors in every room allow guests to welcome in the ocean air.

Before I jump into all the amentities the Hofsas House has to offer, I want to talk about the hotel’s rich history, and what makes the hotel so special. On the Saturday morning of our stay, Andy and I met with Doris Theis, the mother of the current owner of the hotel, Carrie Theis. She was such a joy to interview and she filled me in on a lot of the history of Carmel as well as the Hofsas House.

The Hofsas House story begins with a woman named Donna Hofsas and her husband Fred. They moved to Carmel from Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and purchased four cottages in town. They lived in one of them and rented out the other three. The cottages were the humble beginnings of the hotel, as the main building was built in 1957, adding 25 more rooms.

Donna commissioned her friend, artist Maxine Albro (also famous for painting a fresco at Coit Tower in San Francisco) to paint a Bavarian-themed mural which has since been restored and still remains as a lovely welcome to guests. A swimming pool was also added at that time, making Hofsas House Hotel a Carmel destination.

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Fred Hofsas created the mosaic coat of arms, the Latin inscription translates to English as “Leisure with Dignity”.

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The various additions to the hotel proved to be very stressful on their marriage, and eventually Donna and Fred divorced. Donna retained ownership of the hotel and in the mid-1960s, she added the north wing and a meeting room. Also around that time, she built her house, and the cottage she had occupied became a family suite (Room 9/10) and is still available to guests today, as well as the three other original cottages.

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In 1981, Donna passed away, and her only son Jack took over the Hofsas House Hotel. Which brings us to Doris, the incredible lady I spoke with about the history of the hotel. Doris was Jack’s wife. Together, they had two children: Carrie and Scott. The hotel was very much a family affair and Jack ran the hotel until 1996, when he passed away. Doris and Scott then took over the management from 1996-2000.

Then in 2000, Carrie Theis returned to Hofsas House to become general manager. Carrie was no stranger to the Hofsas House Hotel, because she had been escorting guests to their rooms since she was 8 and working behind the welcome desk at check-in since she was 12. Carrie had pursued a college education and a career path of her own, however, felt it was important to carry on her grandmother’s legacy of service and hospitality at the hotel.

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And the hospitality is really what keeps the guests coming back to Hofsas House Hotel. I’m told that there are many guests that return because they know the history and the family and there is simply no other place in Carmel where they would rather stay.

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I can understand that. My first visit to Carmel was in June of 2013 and I stayed at Hofsas House Hotel. It was my birthday weekend and incredibly special. I think once you know the family and the history of the hotel, you just have to stay there. For me, it’s like being part of the hotel’s legacy. Below is a shot of the bedroom in which we stayed during this visit.

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Below is the incredible view from outside our room.

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Hofsas House Hotel is located on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea. For more information, call (831) 624-2745 or visit www.hofsashouse.com. You can like them on Facebook here and follow them on twitter here.

Before I go on to recommend some dining in the area, I’d like to list some add-ons the Hofsas House offers that you can book during your stay:

• First is the Monterey Wine and Cheese Pairing (which we enjoyed, there were two cheeses and a bottle of wine in our room upon arrival) for $30. It’s pretty wonderful to finally get to your hotel room and there’s a chilled bottle of wine with cheeses waiting for you!

Champagne and Cheese Pairing with Hofsas House engraved flutes for $50.

• The Carmel Wine Walk-by-the-Sea Passport for $65.

In-room his and her couples massage starting at $160 for 45 minutes.

Decoration of room in a romantic, anniversary, or birthday theme for $75.

Golf packages that start at $65 per person including cart.

2-day pass for the price of one Monterey Bay Aquarium tickets.

And right now and valid until December 31st, 2016, you can celebrate Carmel-by-the-Sea’s 100th Anniversary and Hofsas House Hotels 70th Anniversary with a History Tour! Delight in the special charms of Carmel on a leisurely, fun and informative two-hour guided walk past enchanting Fairy-tale cottages, through secret pathways, hidden courtyards and award-winning gardens. At the end of the tour, you’ll  feel like a local. Cost is $25 per person. Guests who book this package will also receive a Carmel-by-the-Sea history book complimentary upon arrival (value $26.00). Learn about the 100-year history of Carmel-by-the-Sea. When booking use promotion code: HHWALKS. (Block out dates apply.)

On Friday evening, we were hoping to visit, Dametra Cafe. Since the restaurant was completely booked, we ended up at Mediterranean Restaurant (the sister restaurant of Dametra and just a few doors down). I have to say, if you can’t get a table at Dametra, Mediterranean is the next best thing. OK, well, except for a few menu items, it’s exactly the same thing. And you even get the same live music! They did not host our dinner, but I am recommending them as a favor to YOU! If you like Greek-Italian-Middle Eastern food combined, you should check it out!

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Another routine in Carmel for us is a lunch stop at La Bicyclette. It’s my annual excuse of the year to eat a high calorie lunch and love every bite. 🙂 Right now they have a cassoulet special (you must try). And they have a gluten-free dough which they can substitute for any pizza on their menu (I picked the fig, arugula & prosicutto). Pretty much heaven with the Alsatian sparkling rosé we had.

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On Saturday evening, we visited Lover’s Point walked around the coastline for a while, and then and went to the Beach House at Lover’s Point for dinner. It was one of the most beautiful walks I have ever taken and the weather was still really cooperating. It wasn’t cold or rainy that evening.


 

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The Beach House at Lover’s Point is a very popular restaurant. I highly suggest making a reservation and then arriving a little early to have a drink at the bar. The restaurant is right on the water, so the views are spectacular.

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For dinner we started out with a Brussels sprouts appetizer. It was prepared with roasted garlic cloves, chorizo, butternut squash, shaved parmesan, smoked paprika oil. I am probably the biggest fan of Brussels sprouts you’ll ever meet, which is funny because I HATED them when I was a kid. Not anymore. Especially when you throw in chorizo AND cheese! This was an interesting dish and I loved the roasted garlic cloves that added a a slightly sweet flavor–balancing out the spicy sausage.

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Next was a little side salad…

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For my entrée, I ordered the Crab-stuffed Petrale Sole with sautéed spinach, smashed potatoes, saffron cream, shaved fennel, micro green salad. I am getting hungry all over again just looking at the picture and remembering the textures of the tender crab and flaky sole and the creamy sauce over the potatoes.

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Andy had the Hazelnut Crusted Sand Dabs with charred Brussels sprouts, pumpkin gnocchi, cipollini onions, beurre blanc, arugula pesto, and balsamic glaze. We shared both entrées because they were equally fantastic. By the way, the chef could have put pesto, hazelnuts, or balsamic glaze on a shoe and I would probably eat it. #allmyfavoriteingredients!!

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You can find Beach House at Lover’s Point on Facebook here.

In closing, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming events at the Hofsas House Hotel! One is the hotel’s 70th birthday celebration on Monday, November 7th, at 10:00am.

The event will begin at with coffee and light bites from Paris Bakery, then at 10:15 there will be a ribbon cutting with the Carmel Chamber and a Champagne toast with birthday cake at 10:30. There will also be a property tour and history discussion of the hotel’s 70 years.

Additionally, there will be a raffle to win an overnight stay! To RSVP (required by November 1) to marci at chatterboxpublicrelations.com

The second event is a little closer to the holidays. On Saturday, December 3rd, the 5th Annual Fundraiser for The Carmel Library Foundation will be held. The event will be a Gingerbread House Making morning/afternoon for the family. Together, families can create a gingerbread house to take home and display throughout the holidays. Children will receive one gingerbread making kit, hot cider and a cookie for a $25 donation to the Carmel Library Foundation.

Adults that want to attend will receive a glass of wine of award winning Monterey County wines from Twisted Roots Winery and can enjoy a gourmet cheese and fruit and tray for a $10 donation to the Carmel Library Foundation. Additional glasses of wine can be purchased for a $5.00 donation to the Carmel Library Foundation. (The $10 donation for adults does not include decorating a gingerbread house.)

There will be two sessions and you can sign up for 10:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m.

Cost: $25 per child and $10 per adult (Adult does not include decorating a gingerbread house. The cost to decorate a gingerbread house is $25. All proceeds benefit The Carmel Public Library Foundation.)
Call Carrie at the Hofsas House (831) 624-2745 to make a reservation.

I’d like to extend my gratitude to the Hofsas House Hotel for hosting us during our stay in Carmel and being a direct ambassador to the 5th Avenue Deli and the Beach House at Lovers Point during our stay. Happy birthday to Hofsas House Hotel and happy 100th birthday, Carmel!!

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Experience the Stunning Views of San Francisco at the Cityscape Lounge

A few weeks ago I was invited to be part of a media preview at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square for the unveiling 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).

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It’s hard to leave out hyperboles when describing the Cityscape Lounge, because it’s almost too pretty to believe. I was giddy as we rode the elevator up and as I watched the number climb on the display. Once inside the lounge, I was awestruck.

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.

“No two days look the same from Cityscape, where San Francisco weather flows over the ever changing skyline,” said Lenny Gumm, general manager, Cityscape. “What doesn’t change are the views and the great food and drinks to enjoy with them.”

Lenny Gumm is a veteran bar and lounge manager in which he’s held positions with several local watering holes, including Hotel Rex, One Market Restaurant, Temple Nightclub, DOSA Restaurant, La Urbana and the Four Seasons.

And instead of trying to put anymore of what I saw into words, below are the photos I took and a Facebook live video I broadcasted that evening to give you a full view of the space!

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The tables, couches and seats line the windows inside the lounge, which means wherever you are seated, you’ll have a magnificent view. If that’s not enough, here’s a peek at some of the libations and nibbles available to enjoy!

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This is one of the drinks from the Cityscape’s signature cocktail menu (drinks all named after areas in San Francisco)––the Mission: Maestro Dobel Diamond Tequila, St. Germain, ruby red grapefruit, and lime. Other selections include a Russian Hill: Stoli Elit Vodka, Cointreau, white cranberry, and fresh citrus, a Pacific Heights: Hennessy VS Cognac, Cointreau, squeeze of lemon, a Noe Valley: Tito’s Vodka, Aperol, lemon, agave nectar, splash of Prosecco, just to name a few. The full offering of specialty drinks as well as a list of wines and beer available can be found here.

The media group and I also previewed the Cityscape‘s menu of small plates, designed especially to be enjoyed with the signature cocktails. The appetizers were all neatly arranged on a shelf and we were encouraged to sample all of them and as many as we wanted.

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A Cheese and Charcuterie Plate with Beet Pickled Egg, Quince, Grain Mustard, Olives, Black Garlic and a Selection of fine Meats and Cheeses.

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Chilled Prawn with a “Cioppino” Cocktail Sauce and Citrus Gremolata

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Spiced Cucumbers with Sesame, Crushed Chile, Scallion, and Burnt Peanut

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The Ahi-Salmon Hamachi Poke with Sweet Onion, Inamona Jus, Micro Wasabi, and Lotus Root Chips

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The Kennebec potato crisps served with a black garlic-charred scallion aioli.

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Other menu selections include California Pistachios and Almonds, Avocado Hummus, Dungeness Crab, Beef Satay, and a Selection of Seasonal Sweets Dessert Plate.

I brought Catherine Enfield of Munchie Musings as my guest and it was a fab Girls’ Night Out. The bonus of the evening was parking the car and never leaving the hotel, so in a way, it was actually a Girls’ Night In!

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The photo below is a shot of the suite on the 26th floor (also inside tower one), where the Hilton was kind enough to let me stay for the night. There is a balcony outside the room and a fairly large patio with outside seating to enjoy the views (also incredible at a 26th floor level). I can’t wait to go back and spend the night there again!

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The next morning, Catherine and I enjoyed the breakfast buffet at Urban Tavern, 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.)

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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. Much thanks to the marketing team at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square for your hospitality. I’ll be back soon!

 


Marriott Napa Valley Hotel and Spa Revitalized with a Multi-Million Dollar Renovation

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Recently, Andy and I had a chance to experience the Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa’s stunning remodel. The property, located in the heart of the Napa Valley, has within the last few months, revealed a stunning new resort-style pool and courtyard that will serve as the hub of upcoming weddings, events and activities––from poolside gatherings, dining and yoga, to movies, wine and cocktails under the stars.

Upon arrival, I explored the newly renovated room and was greeted by an exquisite plate of goodies and a fine bottle of wine. A bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon to be exact.

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We had a big day ahead of us with two tastings scheduled at Walt Wines and Gundlach Bundschu, so we only had one drink in the hotel’s bar before retiring. As you can see below, the bar area has been updated and is quite beautiful.

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The next morning, I snapped a few pictures of the sun outside our room before I took off to the also updated workout facility and spa.

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After our workouts, Andy and I went wine tasting, headed to Walt for a Pinot Noir specific tasting, and then to Gunlach Bundschu for a tasting and a lesson on the winery’s history. We ended up spending a few hours at both wineries and then returned to the Napa Valley Marriott to relax by the pool for a few hours before dinner.

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After the pool and outdoor excursion, we got ready for dinner and then enjoyed some time in the lobby with a wine tasting. The lobby wine tastings feature different wineries each day. That evening’s featured winery was Raymond Vineyards.

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Soon, we settled into dinner at the Marriott’s restaurant VinEleven. Brian Whitmer is the head chef and focuses on American cuisine that celebrates culinary traditions from around the world incorporating locally and sustainably-grown produce.

Andy and I like to order several different items and share them. Our appetizers were the Truffle Fries served with Parmesan Cheese and Truffle Oil:

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We also enjoyed the Lolita’s Fish Taco with Cod, Mango Pineapple Slaw and Sambal Aioli.

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For our entreés, Andy ordered the scallop special, which upon tasting, we begged for them to put on the regular menu. The scallops were presented on a bed of mushroom risotto and were perfectly seared as you can see in the photo below.

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For my dinner, I ordered the Spiced Chicken Cashew Lettuce Cups (which are on the menu in the appetizers section). Since Andy and I share food, it’s not strange for us to order only one main course and 2-4 different appetizers. I believe that it’s possible to get a solid impression of a restaurant this way. Appetizers are one of the most important parts of a menu because they are supposed to intrigue a customer and make them look forward to the next part of the meal.

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At VinEleven, you can enjoy a signature summer cocktail at the beautifully lit bar or outdoor patio from 6:30 a.m. to midnight, and as late as 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The Heirloom Organic Gardens feature over 2,000 square feet of raised and in-ground beds, a lush herb garden, and a communal dining table that serves 18 guests. After such a grand meal, it was time to retire.

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The hotel’s pool and outdoor wedding and event space also proves to be a showstopper. The Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa has made their outdoor space a place where visitors and locals alike can gather. The pool is a sparkling 100-by-30-foot oasis with luxe lounge furniture and umbrellas, cozy fire pits, shady Redwood nooks, and all-day dining. Poolside yoga is available for guests to begin their day and then afterward they can enjoy a swim.

All 275 guestrooms have been completely renovated with a design specifically to mimic the colors and feel of a tasting room. They have warm greys and Earth tones that appear naturally in wine caves, as well as burgundy/grape hues that take on the grape color so familiar in Napa. There is a sliding wooden barn doors with exposed hardware that provides bathroom privacy while creating a rustic wine country feel to the tranquil space.

Crisp white tile, grey granite and luxurious amenities provide a spa-like experience in the bath with electric mirrors for ideal lighting. Modular seating by large windows provide a cozy sitting area to enjoy a bottle of wine or in-room dining.

All guestrooms come fully equipped with a new state of the art guest entertainment system that provides unique content choices such as, on-screen weather, flight data, and Bluetooth® connectivity. The Enseo guestroom entertainment system will allow you to access your Netflix®, Pandora®, YouTube®, Hulu® and Crackle® accounts directly through the guestroom TV.

The Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa $20 Daily Destination Fee includes the following daily amenities:

  • Culinary Garden Tour with Sparkling Wine (4pm)
  • Yoga Class every morning meet in the lobby (7:30am)
  • Preserve Spa Access Eucalyptus Steam Room (8:30am to 12:00pm)
  • Specialized Bicycle Access with hybrid bicycles with helmet, available from dawn to dusk
  • Bottled Spring Water replenished in your room daily
  • Starbucks House Blend Coffee, two available daily in VINeleven Market
  • Daily Vintner Pour every evening in the lobby (5-6pm)
  • Wireless High Speed InternetTo learn about the Marriott Napa Valley’s special packages, you can click here.

For more information, visit www.NapaValleyMarriott.com or call (707) 253-8600. Become a fan of the Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Napahotel and follow the hotel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NapaMarriott and on Instagram here.

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Hyatt Regency Washington D.C. on Capitol Hill Home to this Year’s National Alopecia Areata Foundation Conference

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This year marked the 31st Annual National Alopecia Areata Foundation’s Convention, and this year we convened in Washington, D.C.

What the heck is alopecia? Click here to find out.

Though many rallied at the Capitol to raise awareness and urge their congresspeople to consider legislation that would help cover wigs/hairpieces for a patient diagnosed with alopecia, the home of the convention was at The Hyatt Regency Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill, where conference attendees gathered together in support of each other, danced together, cried together, dined together, laughed together, learned together, and did nothing short of have a ball together.

You see, for alopecians, this is the most important event of the year where we can get together from all parts of the world and share our experiences. Because sharing and relating is medicine for the soul. The magic of the conference is that it provides a gathering place for people and their families from all walks of life who are affected by this disease.

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I arrived very late on Thursday night, and did not go to Capitol Hill with the others, but I attended a workshop on Friday afternoon called Empowering Lives, Building Resilience, led by Dr. Renee Thomason.

Then on Friday evening, I was treated to dinner by Roti Meditteranean Grill (located in Union Station). It is only about 1/3 of a mile to Union Station (pictured below).

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Inside Union Station, Roti is located on the left side of the building, on the lower level.

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If you have never tried Roti Mediterranean Grill, it’s pretty much like a build your own burrito place, but instead with Mediterranean food. What drew me to Roti is that they have a gluten-free/gluten-friendly menu with gluten-free pita bread. Probably enough said there, too. I am sure all my gluten-free readers are now just as intrigued as I was! 🙂

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So, I went with the salad with kabob, tahini sauce, and feta, cabbage slaw #becauseprobiotics!, and a side of hummus with an order of gluten-free pita bread. I would have dined in, but I was ready to head back to my room and relax. Plus, I had some yummy wine to pair with my meal chilling in the refrigerator.

So I scurried back like a hungry little squirrel and spread out my Mediterranean feast on the coffee table in front of the TV in my (rather extravagant for one person) hotel room.

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I loved the chicken kabob salad because it was filling and healthy, which is how I like to eat even when I am out of town. I could not tell a difference between this pita bread and regular pita bread, and the side of hummus was enormous, and would be used on other food throughout the weekend thanks to the refrigerator in my room. If you’re curious about the wine, I packed three bottles with me to save money on beverages during my trip. Tonight’s wine was a Chardonnay which is a lovely pairing with grilled chicken.

You can find Roti Mediterranean Grill online here, on Facebook here, on Twitter here, and on Instagram here.

Then for dessert, I snuck down to the Hyatt’s bar, the Article One Lounge, and ordered this cocktail (below) The Ketel One Watermelon Cooler. The title describes exactly the contents of the drink: watermelon, basil, and vodka with a lime wedge. I sat with some other alopecians who were hanging out and having some drinks. I love our community and how you can just ask to sit with someone and you’re accepted. Wig or no wig. It’s whatever makes you comfortable and people understand and can relate. 🙂

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The next day, I headed out to explore Washington, D.C. via foot/running. I did a five mile run from my hotel to the Capitol building and down to the Washington Monument and back and below are the pictures I took during the run (while managing to get 5 miles in).

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When I got back to the hotel, I finished my workout in the StayFit™ Fitness Center. It is a well-equipped gym with several treadmills, ellipticals, weights, a sauna, locker rooms, an indoor lap pool, and an outdoor sundeck. The gym’s set up reminded me of a greenhouse, as detailed in the picture (below). I ran three more miles and did 20 minutes elliptical thanks to the air-conditioning!! 🙂

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Following my workout and gym time, I headed to another conference session: Ask the Experts. The Ask the Experts presentation was a panel of medical and research experts from a variety of fields to answer questions about the different aspects of alopecia areata including treatment and research. Though I don’t attend the conference anymore in search of a cure (I come for the camaraderie), it’s always interesting to hear the latest research.

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Following the Ask the Experts panel, it was time to get blown away by the strength and courage of the panel during the Young Adult Perspective presentation. Seven young adults gave their testimony and answered questions from the audience about their experiences with alopecia. I admired this panel of kids (to me, now at 39) because they were diagnosed with alopecia during more formative years. I was diagnosed at 25 and never had to deal with bullying any of the weirdness an adolescent would have to face like these panelists surely did. They all gave helpful advice to audience members, especially the parents of children with alopecia, on what to say, how to react, and what to do to be a community advocate. It was a powerful seminar to say the least.

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Then I headed back up to my room to get ready for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Article One. I had contacted the hotel the week of my trip to see if we could work together on a Paleo meal to feature here on my website. The marketing team for the Hyatt Regency Washington, D.C. was very receptive to my request. In addition, I received a room upgrade from a regular room that I paid for to an Executive Suite with many more amenities and a separate living room and sleeping area. My room included a refrigerator and a microwave, 2 televisions, and 2 different air/heating controls for the two rooms in the suite. The Executive Suite includes access to the Regency Club King room (a private access 11th floor lounge with dedicated concierge service, Continental breakfast, daily refreshments, evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres). With the upgrade to Regency Club, I didn’t have to spend any extra money on meals during the day.

I snapped a pic of me all decked out for dinner (before heading up to the Regency Club for some early evening snacks and a glass of wine).

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Here’s what the Regency Club room looks like, along with the plate of roasted vegetables I had as an appetizer. How did they know sun-dried tomatoes are pretty much my favorite thing in the world? 🙂

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Following my visit to the Recency Club, I headed down to Article One for dinner.

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The restaurant is very contemporary with vibrant reds/burnt orange and browns in its decor, and open to the hotel lobby. I was impressed with the open feel because you can still experience the buzz of the lobby, but still feel like you are tucked away for a private meal.

And a very special and private meal it was for yours truly, as I was treated by the Article One staff and Executive Sous Chef Ryan Ward.

I was thrilled with the amount of research Chef Ryan did on the Paleo diet, and I promise you if you have a dietary restriction, all you have to do is let the hotel know when you make your reservation. The staff will do everything they can to meet your needs and make your dinner a memorable one.

For your reference, here is the wine list at Article One.

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Since I was informed what my dinner would be as I sat down, I ordered a glass of wine to pair with it. The Stag’s Leap Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Then my meal arrived, served by the Chef himself. It was a Rib-Eye steak, cooked medium rare, with turnips and potatoes. There was also a decadent mushroom sauce (I ordered on the side). Let’s just call it mushroom ketchup because I used it as a condiment for the perfectly cooked bites of steak and tender turnips and potatoes.

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I took another shot to show how nicely my steak was prepared. (Annnd also to show off my nails, of course). 😉

Chef Ryan also put together a dessert especially for me with mixed berries and mixed nuts and seeds. I ordered a glass of Pascual Toso Brut (an Argentinian sparkling wine) to have with dessert.

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After dinner, I headed back to my room to re-gussy up before the NAAF “Totally Rad 80’s Dance Party”. That’s when I found one last incredible gift from the hotel.

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The next morning, I headed out on another run, this time to visit the Lincoln Memorial.
I took the following pictures that day, and managed to get a nice 6 miles in:

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lincoln monument statue

reflecting pool washington monument
After my workout, which was again finished in the StayFit™ Fitness Center, I got my things all packed up and went down to attend the Closing Session led by NAAF Communications Director (and totally rad DJ) Gary Sherwood, Chief Development Strategist Maureen Smith, and the guest speaker, an NFL linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ryan Shazier.

Gary

Ryan Shazier. Photo cred: NAAF's Facebook page

Ryan Shazier. Photo cred: NAAF’s Facebook page

NAAF Conference Closing

 

I want to thank the Hyatt Regency Washington, D.C. for the room upgrade, as well as the custom Paleo meal and wine I enjoyed during my stay. Everything was perfect including the 24-hour room service (not previously mentioned), which saved me from starving on Thursday night after a late flight and arrival to the hotel. I recommend the Field Greens Salad with Grilled Chicken!

I’d also like to tell you about Hyatt Hotels in Washington 2016 Summer Offer, which is a great deal for anyone who wants to visit D.C. It is available for Hyatt Gold Passport® Members, and offers up to a 15% off stays at participating Hyatt Hotels in Washington DC through September 10, 2016.

Here is the link with more details about this offer: http://www.hyatt.com/content/partnerlandingpage/en/corporate/global/hyatt-member-washingtondc.html

You can find the National Alopecia Areata Foundation online here and find them on Facebook here.

You can find the Hyatt Regency Washington D.C. Capitol Hill online here, on Facebook here, on Twitter here and on Instagram here.

Beginning photo credit: NAAF’s Facebook page

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The Hyatt Monterey Hotel and Spa Offers Something for Everyone

The Carmel Highlands/Monterey getaway tour continued last weekend, and leg two of the trip was a stay at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa.

hotel front

Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa is an enormous property featuring 550 guestrooms (32 suites), a President’s house, TusCA Ristorante, Knuckles Sports Bar, Lounge, fitness facility, tennis courts, fire pit, 2 swimming pools/whirlpools, the Marilyn Monroe Spa (a full service body treatment, facial, hair care, waxing, makeup, massage and nail bar), and a conference center (with 40,000 square feet of meeting and event space).  It is located next to and overlooks the Pebble Beach Company’s Del Monte Golf Course. The beach and bay are just minutes away, as are prime attractions like Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Below is a rundown of all the amenities and services to be enjoyed at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa:

Rooms & Amenities: 550 guest rooms, 32″ LCD flat-panel TVs, iHome stereo with iPod®docking station (love!), Hyatt Grand Bed™, In-room safes and refrigerators, bathrooms with walk-in rain showers, and raised sinks.

Guest Services: Complimentary shuttle from Monterey Airport, Hyatt Fast Board™, PDA Check-in, Self Check-in kiosks, the Regency Club, a 24-hour fully automated business center, a gift shop with wine tasting room, pet friendly, les clefs d’or concierge.

Dining & Entertainment: TusCA Ristorante, award-winning Knuckles Sports Bar, Fireplace Lounge with live entertainment, a coffee bar with barrister, in-room dining.

Meetings & Events: 40,000 square feet of flexible function space, unique indoor & outdoor settings for weddings and social gatherings, innovative catering for onsite and offsite events, expert planners and an AV company on-site.

Activities: Marilyn Monroe Spa with full service salon, Pebble Beach Company’s Championship Del Monte Golf Course, a full-service racquet club, corporate team-building events, 24 hour gym, 2 pools (one of which Frank Sinatra once drove his car into!!), biking and jogging and walking trails.

Local Attractions: Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur Coastline, Monterey County Wineries, Pebble Beach Golf Courses, and Fisherman’s Wharf.

This property has more amenities than any other I have stayed. You really never have to leave the hotel if you don’t feel like it. There’s really something for everyone here, even for families. I discovered that immediately after check in when Andy and I spent some time pool side at the main pool behind the lobby and restaurants. There are giant outdoor games for kids and adults and a play area. The weather was perfect and just warm enough to swim, soak up some rays for a few hours. I read a few more chapters of Dan Barber’s The Third Plate and we sipped some Bogle Sparkling Wine.

poolside_hyatt monterey
Approaching early evening, our media group met at up with David Lambert, Director of Sales and Marketing at Hyatt Monterey. We gathered around the fire pit to talk about the property, wine, Monterey, food and share a little bit more about ourselves and our websites. We were treated to this cheese and fruit plate and a few of my favorite wines: Cakebread Chardonnay and Talbott’s Kali Hart Pinot Noir.

media snackage
firepit at night
After our gathering at the fire pit, we made our way to the hotel’s main restaurant, TusCA Ristorante, and were all seated at a large oblong table for dinner and drinks. I sat at one of the ends of the table to spare everyone from my left-handedness. 😉 We each ordered an appetizer and entree from the menu, which I would describe as California/Italian Tuscan (hence the TusCA name), and were treated to this amuse-bouche of prociutto, roasted red pepper, cheese and an olive duo:

amuse bouche

For my appetizer, I ordered the White Bean Soup with cabbage, celery root, carrot and fennel sausage:

soup
Andy ordered the TusCA salad featuring smoked artichoke, pepperoncini, red pepper, watermelon radish and lemon infused olive oil.

tusca salad
Other appetizers on the menu include a burrata cheese salad, crab cakes, fried calamari and corn fritters.

My entrée choice was the Chicken Piccata with sautéed patty pan squash, olive oil smashed potatoes and a lemon caper picatta sauce:

chicken piccata
Andy decided on the Swordfish served with roasted root vegetables, citrus, fennel and watercress:
swordfish
Other entrée selections available are Scallops, a vegan Farro Risotto and several different pizza and pasta dishes. Chef Steve Johnson oversees the culinary functions of the Hyatt which includes TusCA Ristorante, the Fireplace Lounge, and Knuckles Historical Sports Bar and all weddings, meetings and events. You can find TusCa on Open Table here.

The next morning, a few members of our tour group were treated to a one-hour massage at the Marilyn Monroe spa.

marilyn monroe spa
Monterey-Spa-Entrance
It was very relaxing to get a massage after my workout. I had been so busy with work that I had been putting it off for some time (I belong to a monthly massage place in Sacramento and I never seem to get around booking my appointment in advance. I need an assistant!!) At the Marilyn Monroe Spa, the massage session begins with a plush robe and slippers you are given to change into in one of the nicest locker rooms I have ever seen. The lockers are combination, so all of your clothes and belongings are kept safe during your treatment. After you change into the loaner robe, there is a lounge area upstairs that offers tea, water and light snacks (today it was a dried fruit and nut mix). My therapist Kim could really sense that I wanted more of a relaxation massage more than a sports massage, so it was complete chill time and nap time (kept dozing off) for me!

After my massage, I showered in the locker room in a giant walk-in shower with some of their awesome mango body wash. Can I live here? 😉

Around noon Andy and I headed out to explore Monterey, namely to find a lunch spot and to take advantage of our tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The tickets were given to us by the Hyatt Monterey and we were more than excited to go! 🙂

After walking around a bit at Cannery Row, I suggested a place called A Taste of Monterey. I previously had heard nothing about it, just saw the words “wine market and bistro”, and I was convinced we needed to try it out!

lunch view with chardonnay
lunch view
This was the view from our table! As wine lovers, we were so fortunate to find a gourmet restaurant that focuses on wine that happens to be right on the oceanfront! 🙂 The service at A Taste of Monterey was spectacular. They offer wine flights to those who want to try several wines at a time and a menu of wine friendly tapas, flatbread pizzas, salads and sandwiches. A Taste of Monterey also has a wine shop on premises and along with wines, they sell cheeses, snacks, and lots of wine-related accessories. If you love wine and happen to be near Cannery Row, stop into A Taste of Monterey for lunch or dinner.

After satisfying our taste buds, it was time to feast our eyes on the wonder of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s such a beautiful place with many different exhibits on the fascinating creatures who live in and near our Pacific Ocean. It’s a museum as well as a giant laboratory that is constantly observing and experimenting with its inhabitants and how to prolong and enhance their lives. The aquarium is appropriate for all ages and provides an opportunity to learn for everyone. Here are a few photos I took during our visit:

aquarium1 aquarium2 aquarium4 aquarium5 aquarium3
We stayed at the aquarium until closing time, because we were fascinated just watching the fish and other organisms carry on about their daily activities. My favorite exhibit is the sea otters. We watched one of them rub its eyes, just like a human. I could have stayed and watched them all day. Adorable! 🙂

sea otter
After our aquarium trip, we headed back to the hotel to chill out for a while and think about what we wanted to do for dinner. The hotel offered us dinner in TusCA again, dinner at Knuckles Sports Bar or room service. We thought it would be appropriate to eat at Knuckles and check out Monterey Peninsula’s best sports bar for 12 years in a row.

Knuckles menu offers steaks and salads, burgers and buffalo wings, they have 20 beers on tap and 24 HDTVs, a pool table and video games for the kids. We showed up around 7pm and the restaurant was lively and full of sports loving patrons, this night in particular a crew of wrestling coaches. Our server was Yanira—she was very welcoming and good at hearing our requests, as it was pretty loud while we were there. I’m going to blame it one people having a great time! 😉

For our appetizer, I ordered the hummus, served with crudité (not pictured) and pita bread. If I had thought about it in advance, I would have ordered the gluten free bread that you can also order on the sandwiches menu… sometimes even being gluten free I fail to think in advance, so Andy and I shared some pita bread. 😉 The crudité (not pictured is celery and carrots sticks).

hummus_knuckles

Andy’s choice of entrée was the pulled pork sandwich served on gluten free bread and with a side of sweet potato fries and coleslaw. We loved having the option of gluten free bread. The sweet potato fries were crispy and well seasoned. The pork was moist and smoky and flavorful.

BBQ pork knuckles
For my dinner, I had a Diet Coke with vodka and lime. And then I ordered another. Really good drinks at Knuckles, just so you know… For my main course, I decided I would feast on Knuckles steak salad: a giant platter of spinach, tomato, roasted red bell peppers and sliced steak. The dressing is Gorgonzola, and the salad comes with croutons, both of which I ordered on the side.

steak salad_knuckles
Check out Knuckles full menu online here.

Following dinner, we sauntered into the lounge adjacent to the hotel lobby and the hotel’s two main restaurants to enjoy a nightcap and some music. In the lounge there is live jazz very Friday and Saturday night beginning at 7:00 PM, featuring jazz director Dr. Morwood. (Click Here for more information).

live jazz

lounge2
Of course I have to mention the Stay Fit gym because I spent a lot of time on both Saturday and Sunday morning. I loved having a great place to workout! Part of this food, wine and travel gig for me is to make sure I work for it. I typically spend 60-90 minutes a day in the gym to offset all the wonderful meals and adult beverages, but I don’t mind. 🙂

gym hyatt monterey

After my Sunday workout, it was time to get cleaned up and check out. We were sad to leave such a nice hotel and depart from all the media friends we met, but eager to get home and catch up on work we left behind. I was able to grab a last-minute coffee from hotel lounge (served until 11:30am) during my checkout. What a great trip!

door

A big thank you to the management and staff of the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa. You can find the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa on Facebook here and on twitter here.


A Majestic Ocean View Getaway Awaits at Hyatt Carmel Highlands

Have you ever just wanted to escape? I mean, just ditch everything and all of your responsibilities?
I was so ready to do that this past weekend!

carmel highlands view
Lucky for me, Andy and I got the chance to travel to Carmel Highlands and were hosted for an evening at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands. It’s a destination hotel heavy on amenities and a sensory overload of picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean and Big Sur coast.

hyatt carmel highlands lobby
We were invited to stay there along with a few other writers–including L.A-based bloggers Kat and Kelly of Edible Skinny–and over the course of the weekend (which also included a stay at another Hyatt property) we were treated to dinners, massages, wine tastings and other fun things. For this chronicle, I’ll focus on the sheer excellence of the Hyatt Carmel Highlands and the meals we enjoyed at the restaurants located there. PS: Color me blessed and lucky for sure!

When we arrived at the hotel, we immediately joined up with the hotel tour already in progress. Sacramento is about 3 hours and 30 minutes away from Carmel Highlands. We were welcomed by the hotel staff and a woman from Holman Ranch Vineyards. She poured us a refreshing Chardonnay to sip during the tour. I asked the woman’s name because I thought she just might be “Hunter” for whom one of Holman Ranch’s wines is named, because I had spoken with her before on twitter. She confirmed her name and I laughed saying, “I thought that was you, you’re my favorite wine!” I have written about them before here.

holman ranch wines
The tour of all the meeting facilities was very interesting. The hotel is equipped with all different sized meeting/banquet rooms to fit different needs (4,945 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces). Although the hotel can support any sort of indoor or outdoor business meeting you can think of and offers full service catering, as well as controlled heat, lighting and audio/visual systems, Hyatt Carmel Highlands is an even more ideal wedding and romantic getaway spot. Below is a picture of the gazebo (the setting for many nuptials).

balcony views gazabo
One of highlights of the hotel for me was the gym/fitness center, which many hotels in Carmel and Carmel Valley do not have. It is small, but adequate for a property of 48 rooms. From the elliptical machines, you can actually see the ocean. I spent a lot of time in that room during my stay! 🙂

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After our property tour, we gathered by the lounge and enjoyed some appetizers and Holman Ranch wine. Hunter told us a little more about Holman Ranch and their wines as well as the estate-grown olive oils.

appetizer 1 appetizer 2
After a few rounds of appetizers and the fabulous Holman Ranch wines, our group relocated to the restaurant, just a few feet away from the lounge. The restaurant at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands is called Pacific’s Edge, and oddly enough, Andy and I almost went there for my birthday in June, but we were staying in Carmel-By-the-Sea, and opted to eat somewhere within walking distance of our hotel. I was thrilled to learn we would be enjoying dinner at Pacific’s Edge with other travel writers that evening at the only restaurant in Carmel with a view of the ocean!

table view
I sat at the head of the table in an effort to shield others from my left-handedness, so the above photo is my view of the rest of the table as well as the below photo my view to the left.

another view
I felt so blessed to be with the person I love so much at what must be one of the most splendid settings in the world.

andy
dinner companions
Soon, we were served two new wines: a 2012 Chardonnay by Domaine Eden and a 2004 Austrian wine: Brundlmayer Cabernet Franc, “Vincent’s Cuvée”. Below is a picture of the Chardonnay. Andy and I had more of it with our dinner, as it was a better pairing with our food.

chardonnay

Everyone in our group was given a menu crafted just for us, just for that evening. We were told to choose one appetizer and one main course. For my appetizer, I chose the Zucchini Carpaccio with wild arugula, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, picked mushrooms and lemon olive oil vinaigrette.

zucchini carpaccio

Andy went with the Octopus “Confit” with fingerling potatoes, smoked paprika, extra virgin olive oil and Maldon salt. Since octopus doesn’t have it’s own fat to be a confit, the olive oil was used to slowly cook it, hence the name.

octopus confit

Then for our main course, Andy and I both ordered the same meal. We usually try to order something different, but this time we couldn’t resist the special being offered for the evening:

chilean sea bass
It was a line-caught Chilean Sea Bass with grapes and crispy sunchokes. It was one of the best fish dishes I have ever had. There were several layers of flavor and textures going on within the plate: flakey, creamy, crispy, savory, sweet, umami. It was everything I want in a bite of food. Comforting, but not too heavy. And so perfect I had to show you another picture:

chilean sea bass 2

We also happened to capture a picture of one of the other journalist’s dinners:

scallops dish
Maine Dayboat Scallops with asparagus, romesco sauce, shishito peppers and crispy basil.

Then came dessert: I chose the fromage plate and a glass of 2005 Château Guiraud Sauternes.

cheese plate
chocolate dessert
One of our fellow writers picked this chocolate creation (pictured above).

The next day, after a few hours in the gym at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands for myself—Andy opted to go on a 5 mile run—we were treated to lunch at another one of the hotel’s restaurants (open for breakfast and lunch): California Market.

view california market
It was bubbles for me (Domaine Carneros Brut) as I decided what I should order for lunch. The patio of California Market features space heaters to keep you warm when the sun is busy hiding behind the clouds, and gorgeous views of the ocean and the beautiful landscaping of the property. I took the picture below from my table at the restaurant.

Pool
After snapping a few photos from above, I decided on the Cobb Salad and Andy ordered the Cioppino.

cobb saladCioppino
I order Cobb Salad a lot in restaurants because it has the trifecta of love: avocado, bacon and blue cheese! 🙂 I ordered the dressing on the side (which was actually a very good Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette). It was the perfect low carb lunch after a long workout! The Cioppino was fragrant of mussels, clams, shrimp and cod with a spicy tomato broth. Andy jumped ship on the gluten free boat (momentarily) to enjoy the crusty garlic bread as a mop, catching every drop of the soup. What a satisfying lunch and sure to keep us full until dinner.

Following our meal, we said goodbye (reluctantly) to the staff at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands–one of the nicest stays I have had in recent memory. I think for me it was really all about the views and the cozy fireplace in our room. And OK, someone DID leave a bottle of my current favorite red wine in my room (how did they know about my love for Talbott Kali Hart??) accompanied by a cheese plate. 🙂

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our room
Indeed it was hard to leave, but incredibly excited to tour and stay at the next Hyatt property on our agenda for the weekend: The Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa, which I will be writing about in the upcoming week!

You can find Hyatt Carmel Highlands on Facebook here and follow them on Twitter here and on Instagram here. You can find Holman Ranch on Facebook here and on Twitter here. Thanks to Hyatt Carmel Highlands for their generosity and hospitality.