Wednesday, February 27, 2013

part three (ii): napa

DAY SIX: thursday 07 february

sean went for a run in the morning, and i hung around the hotel. i opened up the balcony doors to let in some fresh air and more sunshine; it absolutely felt like spring. love. after sean got back from his run, we had another balcony picnic with food from la luna market right across the street from the hotel. it's a tiny mexican convenient store with a kitchen off to the side. we split the steak super burrito and two tacos (lengua and chicken). the lengua reminded me of the oxtail soup that my grandma makes, so i was a fan--total comfort food.

i'm glad we filled up on food because next on our agenda were wine tastings. we decided to revisit two of the wineries we went to on our first napa trip: kelham vineyards and casa nuestra winery. i'm always self-conscious at wine tastings since 1) i can't drink much and get the asian glow immediately (even after taking pepcid) and 2) i don't know how to discuss wine since i don't drink it often (see #1). well, both tastings put us to the test. first up was kelham. we were greeted by three of their dogs (all rescues) who kept (friendly) barking at and circling the car. the vineyard is owned and run by two brothers and their mom. she met us at the main house and showed us to the back room where her son ron would conduct the tasting. ron was super intense and sat with us in a stately armchair while we tasted. talk about intimidating! he was super nice, but all my insecurities were bubbling at the surface, though i'd like to think i remained outwardly cool ;P we spent some time chatting with him about wine making and napa, and he even showed us his distiller (he was working on distilling some brandy). here's what we tasted:
  * sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, rose, merlot (2), cabernet sauvignon (2), "sons" blend, port

next up was casa nuestra, the winery with two goats :) the tasting room is pretty small with a counter up front and standing room only. it looked quite different from when we were last there. the walls were painted white, and the framed artwork was cleanly displayed; it all felt much more open. we tasted about 4 or 5 wines, but i don't remember which ones--i think he might have changed it up from the usual list since they weren't very busy. [edit: sean said we had a riesling  merlot, cabernet, one or two blends, chardonnay, and a cabernet franc.] the tasting was pretty quick, and we were done in maybe 15 minutes? i guess wine tasting isn't really about dilly-dallying. get in, get out. haha.

at this point i was already tipsy (things were starting to feel diagonal), so luckily the rest of the afternoon was free. the only thing we had lined up was AD HOC!!! i took advantage of the free time and slept off the wine. hm, not sure what sean did while i napped... by the time i woke up, lots had developed: a major blizzard was headed towards the tri-state area, and flights were being canceled, in particular OUR flight for the next day was canceled. a bit of panic, followed immediately by major disappointment that we might have to skip ad hoc and head straight to the airport (irrational tears were shed), then realizing trying to fly out tonight was futile, so we might as well enjoy a nice dinner. an excellent decision.
we arrived at the restaurant right on time and were promptly seated. i didn't have a chance to take pictures of the space because i was still feeling a little off from the whole flight/blizzard situation. it felt very open and casual with farmhouse/rustic wood tables and chairs and striped booths. our menu was presented in an office file folder, which i was so tempted to take (hoarder alert). here's what we had:
  * meyer sour cocktail (me), wine (sean)
  * smoked trout salad
   (little gems lettuce, caraway creme fraiche, pickled red onion, cucumber guafrettes, granny smith 
    apples, golden beets)
  * pan seared muscovy duck breast
   (anson mills farro verder, blood orange aigre doux, navel orange supremes, braised radish, wilted 
    escarole, saffron cauliflower, roasted parsnips)
  * laura chenel chevre's melodie
   (palladin toast, pear butter, sunflower seeds)
  * pineapple galette
   (salted caramel sauce, cinnamon ice cream)

i am so incredibly happy we got to come here. thomas keller, you are too cool <3 

(oh, and on our drive to dinner, we were able to rebook a flight home for monday, which meant a couple more days in california!)

part three (i): napa

DAY FIVE: wednesday 06 february

i woke up extra early for some reason, so like any good houseguest, i made debby get up to keep me company :D we had an impromptu breakfast of assorted citrus, perfectly ripe avocados on toast, and the tartine morning bun while listening to the fresh air interview with michael apted (7-up series). we also started playing draw something; yes, we're a little late to the game--as in no one else is still playing--but we have been dominating. (i must admit that i am a little obsessed.) once sean got up, and after some more rounds of draw something, we left deb's and headed to napa.

we stopped at oakville grocrey and picked up some sandwiches and beer:
  * grass fed slow-roasted beef
   (horseradish aioli, caramelized onion, fiscalini cheddar, arugula, bouchon brioche roll)
  * fennel-crusted heritage pork
   (harissa aioli, pickled red onion, peppery greens, bouchon brioche roll)
  * bear republic big bear black stout 

the hotel (rancho caymus in rutherford) was just 10 minutes down the road, so we checked in before digging into lunch. our room was super spacious with a sitting area, kitchenette, steps to the sleeping area, and a balcony. we set ourselves up to enjoy our lunch on the balcony. it overlooked the parking lot, so the view wasn't much to brag about, but being in the bright sunshine was just so nice.

naturally, after we finished our lunch we started looking into dinner options. we decided on redd wood in yountville. it's an italian-style restaurant featuring wood-fired pizza and locally sourced ingredients etc. the dining space was industrial yet stylish but not cold or sterile thanks to the dark wood, leather details, and soft lighting. the kitchen was open, but we were seated farther away so i couldn't get a good look at the action. for a wednesday night there was a decent dinner crowd; i always wonder how many of the groups are locals vs visitors... anyhoo, here's what we had:
  * pimm and proper cocktail (me), wine (sean)
  * taleggio arancini, warm mushroom salad, pancetta vinaigrette
  * housemade burrata on toasted bread
  * redd cured meats
  * romaine, white anchovy, lemon, garlic crouton
  * marinated beets, radish, green goddess, little gems
  * pizza: fresh mozz, tomato, and basil

the arancini and burrata were incredibly indulgent and creamy and deliciously gooey. i could have done without the cured meats, but being housemade piqued our interests. the romaine salad was a simple caesar, and the beet salad tasted like spring--fresh, bright, and colorful. the pizza was good, but we felt like it was missing something. of course we might be a little biased from all the quality east coast pizza. we also might have ordered a bit too much food, seeing as we had to take home half of the pizza (almost unheard of for sean) and left no room for dessert (almost unheard of for me). whoops. we'll have to remedy that tomorrow. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

part two: sacramento and tahoe

DAY THREE: monday 04 february
today we're off to visit debby in sacramento! before we hit the road, though, we needed some food. first stop: tartine bakery for coffee, a croissant, pain au chocolat, and a morning bun. the bakery was packed, but luckily we were able to grab a counter spot by the window. the pastries were so flaky and had all those beautiful layers i can only imagine the amount of butter and rolling that went into the dough. we saved the morning bun for debby, which we ended up splitting days later :P
walking back to the car, we stopped in bi-rite market and picked up a few california-y things: a bottle of orange wine, rancho gordo good mother stallard heirloom beans, mandaquats, and a pint of bi-rite mint chip ice cream (for deb). worried that we might miss out on lunch, we had another in-car mexican meal in the mission: a steak super burrito from la palma mexicatessen. the burrito was a little soup-y but the tortilla was fresh, soft, and maybe lightly fried? still a solid burrito, but el gallo giro was definitely better. now with the food situation taken care of, on to sacramento and debby!
it was a slightly cool and foggy morning in the bay, but as we got closer to sacramento the sun was shining bright. i fell asleep for most of the drive up, so by the time i woke up we were turning onto deb's street. (i have incredible nap timing.) after a short rest at the condo, we walked through the neighborhood to the american river, where we saw some ducks and a BEAVER. nature!
the rest of our afternoon and evening was a medley of drinks (both alcoholic and non), food (pizza, macarons, 50-50s, and irish tacos?!), and some california state history. we kept it a fairly early night since we had an early start the next day--TAHOE!

latte art from old soul

<3 marin <3
one of these is not like the others...

DAY FOUR: tuesday 05 february

TAHOE!!! we had an amazing day on the slopes at northstar. i was a little apprehensive about snowboarding since it had been almost 2 years since i last rode, but it turned out to be such a great day. conditions were SO nice (especially compared to the predominately icy, hard surfaces we get on the east coast), and the weather was perfect. totally felt like spring skiing. just beautiful. AND i actually did an actual snowboarder! kiss falling leaf goodbye :P i think it's settled--from now on, i'll only ride on the west coast. heehee.


to celebrate an awesome day of skiing, we treated ourselves to some it's-its on our drive home. mmm, seriously, who doesn't love an it's-it ("the official food of san francisco")??
dinner was ethiopian at queen of sheba. we ordered the combo platter for four which consisted of chicken tibbs, key wot, lamb tibbs, fish tibbs, a veggie combo (spicy red lentils, yellow lentils, spinach and collard greens, cabbage, potato and carrot, and a green salad), and lots of injera. the stand outs were the key wot, lamb, and both lentils. considering it was just three of us, we (read: sean) made an impressive and sizable dent in the platter for four. i loved all the flavors and spices. the three of us left happy and with bellies full of delicious food. a nice end to a great day.

Friday, February 22, 2013

part one: san francisco and berkeley

DAY ONE: saturday 02 february

after a late night of last-minute packing and unexpected cat-housing issues (poor casey cat), sean and i headed to jfk super early saturday morning, dropped off the car at a long term parking lot, and waited patiently for the shuttle van. it was still dark outside and bitterly cold; we were both so sleepy and cold that it was hard to process that we were going on vacation. after all the airport security rigmarole, we finally boarded the plane. our kooky head flight attendant gave us free access to the movies in support of the 49ers or somesuch :) i watched wreck-it ralph, and fell asleep through an uneventful flight--always a good thing. we landed in san francisco around 1130am, collected our luggage, and headed to our rental car. apparently if you're a hertz gold member, you get a personalized stall/parking spot for your car. baller. our trusty steed for the trip: a silver hyundai elentra.

we were both pretty hungry, so we made a quick stop in the mission district on our way to the hotel. we found el gallo giro taco truck and got two tacos (carnitas and al pastor) and a steak super burrito. the food was well-cooked and flavorful and well-portioned. the burrito was definitely super in size but held up and didn't gush out after a couple bites. we scarfed it down in the car (parking was pretty much impossible to find since it's mostly residential/permit) and knew we were off to a good start.

now, off to the hotel. we decided early on that we would avoid all parking garages ($50/day, hilton? no thanks.), so we drove over to russian hill and lucked out with a slanty-hillside parking spot where we could leave the car until monday morning. winners. 
after a little downhill walk wheeling/carrying our luggage, we made it to the hotel, checked in, and freshened up. it always feels good to shower and change after a long flight--wash away all that stale airplane air. 

we didn't spend too much time in the hotel since we were scheduled for some serious hang time with mike and sarah in berkeley. sarah and i dropped off mike and sean at a bar while we went to berkeley bowl west to shop for sarah's sunday brunch. oh my, i loved this place: all that california produce and the assortment of bulk bins! how i miss good bulk bins~ anyhoo, we finished shopping and went to pick up the guys and dinner--zachary's deep dish pizza. pair that with arancini, mozzarella sticks, and a tuscan kale salad, and we have a satisfying end to our first day in california.

DAY TWO: sunday 03 february

SUPER BOWL SUNDAY! 49ERS! WOOOHOOO! okay, now that that's out of the way...

we started the day in chinatown: dim sum at new asia, a quick stroll through the chinese new year booths, and bags of almond cookies from mee mee bakery. i really like chinatown during chinese new year; everything is cleaner and more festive, and everyone seems nicer. i love all the goodies and decorations. it just makes me happy.

we toted our chinatown treats and made our way over to north beach for some coffee and desserts from stella pastry. sean chowed down on a sfogliatella (i'm not a huge fan--too crunchy), and we shared the tiramisu. mmm, the tiramisu was really nice. it might have been one of the best i've had. it was light and not too sweet or boozy and perfectly layered. i could have totally eaten the whole thing, but caring is sharing blah blah... :P

the rest of the afternoon was pretty lazy like any good sunday. i cozied up in bed to read and promptly fell asleep. naps sure are lovely. i woke up just in time for the half-time show and the amazingness that is beyonce. we watched the rest of the game then rode a bart train full of sad 49er fans :( we had a simple sushi dinner with mike and sarah then finished with some fenton's for dessert (scoops of coffee cookie dream for me and a chocolate milkshake for sean). i think every day should end with ice cream, don't you?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


our first vacation of 2013: a seven-day trip to northern california, which turned into a NINE-day trip thanks to the blizzard that hit the northeast. two extra days of sunshine and hang time with friends? we'll take it! :)

like any true vacation, there was an endless amount of great food and even better company.

since i tend to get a bit carried away with vacation pictures (TOO many food pictures and not enough people pictures? hm, i suppose i could work on that...) and in order to properly highlight each portion of our trip, i'm gonna break it down into multiple posts. get ready!

* part one: san francisco and berkeley
* part two: sacramento and tahoe
* part three (i): napa
* part three (ii): napa
* part four: marin and berkeley
* part five: bonus days