Friday, July 24, 2009

we are finally putting our trip where everyone can see it!
be warned, there are LOTS of photos, and I tried to resize them, but in some cases it just wasn't happening. there are EVEN MORE pictures that didn't make it into this blog; feel free to check them out at

Thursday, June 4, 2009

day ten

Time to head home!
We started off with a drive into San Francisco. As we were getting ready to cross the Bay Bridge, we got stopped at a toll plaza, where the guy behind us tapped the rental car! Ryan told him to pull off at the next exit past the toll plaza for us to get his information, but the first exit was on the left hand side, and the guy was driving a pretty nondescript dark car. Fortunately he was able to follow our car (being bright red and a convertible), and he happened to be a nice enough guy that he really did follow us to the exit we turned off at (the first one on the right) and gave us his information. The car looked okay, just a small indentation in the plastic of the bumper, but we didn’t want to take any chances.
We headed into Chinatown to pick up a wok at the WOK SHOP. They didn’t open until 10 (like everyone else in California it seems), so we checked at a couple of trade shops that had opened early. The woks there were fairly disappointing, so we waited around at the WOK SHOP until they opened… and man was it worth it! We picked up a cast iron wok, made all in metal and all in one piece (including the handles) for $15! The owner was fabulous as is our new piece of cookware, and if anyone is ever looking for a wok, we will definitely recommend them.
After Chinatown, we zipped off to the airport, and it was time to fly home.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

day nine

We walked around Sonoma for a little bit, but as nothing opens before 10 am, we didn’t get to do much (which was too bad because we had hoped to pick something up for Henry from the Three Dog Bakery). We headed for Napa, where we walked around their town center in search of a charm for Emily’s charm bracelet. We found one of a bunch of grapes. We didn’t have anything else to do, so we stopped in at the yarn shop, Emily picked up a book, and then it was late enough for us to go to lunch.
Lunch at Mustard’s Grill… amazing. So many things looked great on the menu, so we started out just ordering appetizers. Urban Spoon reviews had strongly encouraged the ahi crackers, which were thin tostada crackers with seared ahi rolled in black sesame seeds on top, sprinkled with thinly sliced scallions and red bell peppers and drizzled with wasabi crème fraiche.
Another table had ordered the onion rings, which came out looking much like those from the Pine Club, except less greasy and with some extra spices in the coating.
They were served with apple ketchup, which was a little difficult to eat (we ended up mixing the two on a plate and using a fork rather than dipping) but was also delicious. We had asked for a bottle of Qupe cuvee; we enjoy the Qupe line and thought we’d keep in the California theme, but they were out of it, so we ended up with a bottle of Goat-Roti from South Africa that was a similar blend. After the appetizers, we were both still really hungry and excited to check out the other dishes. Ryan order quail that had been roasted and rubbed in flavorful Cajun seasoning with mushrooms and a mushroom wine sauce drizzled on top sprinkled with raisins. He thought it was like the best chicken he had ever eaten.
Emily ordered ravioli with a citrus mint butter sauce and asparagus, along with some pickled onions.
We were still not stuffed to the gills, so we were handed dessert menus. The waitress began to walk away, then came back, suggesting that we get the lemon lime tart with “that ridiculously tall brown sugar meringue”, because, as she put it, we are “kinda foodies”, and that is their house dessert.
This was probably our favorite meal of the trip. Fortunately, they have a cookbook; although the onion rings aren't in it,they are in a newer book, Appetizers.
Lunch had taken 3 hours, so we decided to go ahead and try to check in at the Meritage Resort, even though we were an hour early. They let us in, and we changed into our swimsuits and headed for the spa. Photobucket
Like Mission Inn, Spa Terra had a bit of a bathing ritual, but this was not co-ed, and not quite as nice.
There were showers and then a Jacuzzi, which neither of us could figure out how to turn the jets on in, followed by a wet steam room, which was much easier to breathe without the eucalyptus of the first. We met back up in the reception room and lounged in bathrobes while sipping on lemon water. At 5:00, it was time for our tension tamer massages, which focus on the neck-shoulder area for 45 minutes. At the conclusion, it was suggested that Ryan spend 20 minutes in the Jacuzzi if he didn’t want to be sore tomorrow because he had needed so much work, so we headed to the pools.
We went swimming for a little bit, then headed inside to grab dinner. We were so ready to be home that we chose to get burgers. That, combined with Ryan’s Dayton tee led to the couple sitting next to us to ask if we were from Ohio and what brought us out. The man, a Nebraska native, paid for our salad and burgers to celebrate our honeymoon. The only thing we had to pay for was our dessert, which was a Valhrona chocolate flourless lava cake.
We finished packing and headed to bed.

Wines for 3 June 2009:
Goat-Roti, Rhone Blend, South Africa, 2005 – We tried to order a Qupe Rhone Blend but they were out and gave us this bottle as a substitute. It was very good and we would both drink it again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

day eight

We started the day with another breakfast at Ramekins consisting of oranges, blueberries, yogurt, and granola with blueberry muffins. Once we had eaten breakfast, we headed down to the car to drive to Healdsburg.
We headed to Unti, a winery that specializes in Rhone varietals that Ryan’s boss had recommended. Everything we tried was drinkable—they even had a grenache rose which we didn’t hate. We were informed that they make only 7000 cases of wine per year, the most of any variety being 1600 cases of their zinfandel. This was by far the best winery that we had been to and we ended up buying a whole case of various wines.
We asked the guy guiding the tasting if there were any good restaurants nearby. He suggested Diavola in Geyersville, so we went to check it out. They had very good crunchy breadsticks that they served with chili oil.
We ordered a cheese flatbread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for an appetizer. Emily ordered a brisket panini with horseradish aioli and tomato while Ryan had a tri-tip, chicken, and sausage skewer with toasted polenta. We finished the meal with a lemon cheesecake served with nectarines and apricots.
After lunch, we headed to the Healdsburg Plaza to walk around the stores. We stopped in a jewelry and gifts store where we ended up buying a neat centerpiece tray. While there, Emily discovered a really cool jewelry artist named Michael Michaud who makes molds out of various leaves and plants and makes jewelry out of them (Emily really liked the eucalyptus necklace). There was yet another dog boutique (Three Dog Bakery in Sonoma, Fideaux in St. Helena, Vineyard Dog in Napa, and now The DogHouse in Healdsburg).
Next we headed to Michel-Schlumberger to try a vertical tasting. The roads to get there were much more winding and through the hills than the rest—a lot like Ryan had expected the entire area to be like. There was even a nerve-wracking one lane bridge to cross.
At Michel-Schlumberger, we tasted their cabernets: 2001, 2000, and 1999. We had tasted two different years of the same wine at Arroyo, but this was much clearer for us to taste the differences. We did not distinguish many differences between the 2001 and the 2000, but the 1999 had definitely mellowed out. The first sip of the 2000 we tasted seemed to taste more fruity, but then in further analysis, we were no longer able to determine this.
We returned to Sonoma to relax and pack. While we didn’t get much relaxing done, Emily repacked every suitcase we brought to include all of the souvenirs we had picked up along the trip, amazing Ryan with her Clark-family abilities to pack. We decided to eat at a small Italian place where we could get a big plate of carbs without anything complex going on.

Wines for 2 June 2009:
Unti Grenache Rose
Unti Barbera
Unti Grenache
Unti Zinfandel
Unti Syrah
Unti Benchwood Syrah
Unti Grenache Deux
Unti Petit Frere
Michel-Schlumberger Cabernet 2001
Michel-Schlumberger Cabernet 2000
Michel-Schlumberger Cabernet 1999

Monday, June 1, 2009

day seven

We started off with breakfast at Ramekins- a bowl of grapes and yogurt and granola, alongside banana muffins and scones.
We got on the road to head into San Francisco. The weather was nothing like it had been the other day when we flew in. Instead, it was foggy beyond belief (even crossing the bridge you couldn’t see the top of it), and it was very cold and windy. Photobucket
When we got to the city, we found a parking garage a few blocks from Pier 39. After we had parked Ryan threw the card up toward the windshield and we headed on our way. Emily noticed a sign that said that the garage would validate up to 90 minutes with purchase from the stores below. So Ryan opened the car door to grab the ticket, but it was missing. It had fallen in between the dashboard and the windshield a spot we previously did not realize existed. After 10 minutes of trying to fish it out and a lost bobby pin, we gave up and went on to the pier.
We walked around Pier 39 for a while stopping in various shops and grabbed lunch at Boudin Bakery. Later on we walked past the big Boudin Bakery to see them making alligator and turtle shaped loaves of bread.
We bought many souvenirs at Pier 39. We took a tour of the bay by boat, which sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and all around Alcatraz Island.
Afterwards, we were so cold from the wind that we decided to head over to Ghiradelli Square to grab some hot chocolate. Along the way we saw various street performers one of which was painting a picture of a satellite above earth with cans of spray paint, an index card, and a solo cup cut in half. We got to Ghiradelli and ordered our hot chocolate and walked through the shop. We noticed a press used for making chocolate that looked exactly the same as the olive oil press, but smaller. By this time, the whole bustling city/tourist traps were getting to Emily after the peace and calm of Napa and Sonoma, so we relaxed near a World Market. Although we had reservations for 6:15, it was nearly 5 and we decided to go ahead and eat. We went to The Stinking Rose, a restaurant completely dedicated to garlic.
Some of it was a bit too much even for Emily. Ryan ordered the Silence of the Lamb Shank with Chianti glaze and fava beans while Emily had the forty clove roasted chicken. The best part of dinner was the real garlic mashed potatoes but the rest of dinner was alright too. Emily knew that forty clove was a typical marinade, but was surprised when she got her dinner, and had a side of forty garlic cloves!
After dinner, we walked around China Town for a while. We walked by The Wok Shop and Ryan suggested that we get one there, since Emily has such specific requirements for one. Unfortunately, we hadn’t thought of this earlier, as every shop was open except for the wok shops, which would have been if we had gone before dinner. We decided to try to stop by on our way to the airport. We still got a few souvenirs in China Town, then headed back to the quiet of Sonoma.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

day six

Breakfast with Celeste was delicious. More fruit with yogurt, granola, and whipped crème, this time no chocolate and instead a piece of some sort of coffee cake. For the main course, an egg soufflé with a potato base and covered with cheese, topped with salsa. It was fantastic! Celeste had told us to check out Rubicon Estates, which used to be Coppala, because of the history. Photobucket
It was right down the road from Round Pond (our 12:30 appointment for olive oil tasting), so we went. The history truly was amazing, and the preservation is too. We skipped tasting at that point, though, so we could get to Round Pond in time.
We were the only ones signed up for the 12:30 time slot, so we got a private tour!
At Round Pond they use 3 types of Spanish olives and 5 types of Italian. Many places pick all of their olives and just press them together, but at Round Pond, they do it similar to wine: each type gets pressed on its own, and then the owner tastes each one and decides how to blend them. They are also the only one that has a stone press and a hammer mill press. The stone press just pulverizes everything,
and the other pierces the skins. When they pick the olives though, they get a lot of leaves and stems in with them, so it runs down a conveyor belt, past a vacuum that is only strong enough to pick up the stems and leaves. They head into the presses to get smashed or pierced. Then they go into a horizontal centrifuge where the spinning action separates the pulp from the oil and little bit of water. Then the oil and water goes into a vertical centrifuge that sends the water to the bottom and the oil to the top where it comes out ready to eat (although this is the point where Round Pond blends them). Our tour guide, Jill, explained that many “infuse” their oils with different things, such as lemon, by simply adding the flavor at the end. Round Pond instead throws the peels of lemons or blood oranges into the press, so the flavor is with it all along. Then, they decided to start doing something with the edible sections of this fruit, so they started making syrups out of them.
We went into a room to taste them all, along with Round Pond’s vinegars. First we learned how to taste professionally. Professional tasting cups are blue in color so that the color of the oil will not affect your opinion, because apparently the color of oil has nothing to do with its taste. We placed about 1 teaspoon of oil in our mouths, coated our mouths and then sucked in air to oxygenated the oil in our mouths. It was quite an experience as the nuiances of the oil shone through such as the pepperyness of the Italian blend (we ended up coughing during the tasting of this oil which was considered polite). Then we tasted the vinegars on sugar cubes, and then the oils on different foods. We didn’t realize just how different foods could taste; breads, okay, but for example, the tomato was good with the Italian oil, but it was fantastic with the Meyer lemon olive oil. The Italian oil was very peppery; on its own, it made us cough (which is considered a good thing). The Spanish oil was much more buttery, in part because at Round Pond, they pick the Spanish olives after they have matured much more. Jill got us each a bite of homemade vanilla ice cream and had us sprinkle a bit of sea salt on it and drizzle the Spanish oil on top. We thought it sounded odd—when she brought the ice cream out, we assumed it was for the blood orange syrup—it was delicious! We ate our fill and then placed our order, which was difficult to make decisions on because everything was so wonderful.
We drove up to St. Helena and looked around all of the shops. While we were out walking, we noticed a familiar face walking down the street toward us. It was Joe Montana. We were too slow on the uptake so we don’t have a picture as proof. He ducked into the home furnishing store that we had just come out from before we could get out the camera. We continued on our way up the row of shops. We bought a painting of a vineyard with the mountains behind it, and a tray made out of an old wine barrel. Then we picked up an olive wood cheese board at the local olive oil place. We ate a bit of salad at a little Italian place who met our two requirements- light food, and a bathroom. We then stopped at Dean and Deluca’s, an extravagant grocery store that also sells many food-related products. They have an entire shelf of salts and sugars to buy in bulk—vanilla sugar, tarragon sugar, sea salt, Himalayan salt, and about 35 more! They even stocked a 10 year version of the Jura scotch, which we wondered if it might be better than the 6 year.
We headed back to Rubicon Estate for the tasting, which was decent, but nothing we wanted to buy.
We drove back to Sonoma to check in at Ramekins, where we were the only guests that night (yes, the place where we had our cooking classes- notice a theme in the decor?)
Then we went down to the girl & the fig for an excellent meal. To drink, Emily ordered a “gin”ger basil martini… the basil was a little overpowering, so although she drank it all, she wouldn’t order it again. Ryan chose the “red varietal flight” (see the list below). All of the girl & the fig’s wines are Rhones, so the red flight consisted of grenache, syrah, etc. We started with a cheese plate, which consisted of 6 cheeses, including fiscalini bandage wrapped cheddar (modesto, california), les levezou (a french sheep's milk cheese), and bellwether farms pepato (sonoma's own sheep's milk; surrounded by black peppercorns):
Ryan started with a wild boar ragout with an oven dried tomato and polenta.
Emily had a bowl of hot potato and green garlic soup.
After this first course, the entrees came out. Ryan had a filet of grilled tuna topped with an olive tapenade and grilled artichokes, roasted garlic and sun-dried tomatoes.
Emily had a steak, which was MUCH better than the night before’s. The flavor had been seared inside, and there was a green garlic butter that went on top. The steak was served with a side of potato confit.
For dessert, Ryan had a cheesecake parfait with a blackberry coulis sauce that was delicious.
Emily had profitaroles: cream puffs stuffed with homemade vanilla ice cream, drizzled with bittersweet chocolate.
We had such a great dinner we wanted to get a memento from the restaurant- lucky for us, they sell silver figs as paperweights and bookshelf decorations). We asked for one but were told that they had sold out. They said they had one left but it was marred up from being glued to the table. Emily explained that we were on our honeymoon and we ended up with the fig at a discount. After dinner, we headed back to Ramekins to get some sleep.

Wines for 31 May 2009:
Rubicon Estate, Captain’s Reserve, Pinot Noir, 2006, $38 – this was the best of the Rubicon wines that we were able to taste (the $145 a bottle Rubicon was not open for tasting the day we went), but it was not as enjoyable as the McManis Pinot Noir that we usually drink and especially not for the price difference
Rubicon Estate, Captain’s Reserve, Zinfandel, 2005, $30 – too many tannins and too spicy for our liking
Rubicon Estate, Captain’s Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, $52 – our third favorite wine at Rubicon
Rubicon Estate, Cabernet Franc, 2006, $56 – a interesting varietal, the smell was not indicative of the fruity taste but again not worth the price
Rubicon Estate, CASK, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, $75 – the second best wine at Rubicon
Girl and the Fig Red Varietal Flight ($15 for 5 tastes):
Mas de Guiot, Grenache-Syrah, France, 2007 – a very good wine (Ryan’s favorite of the flight)
Monte Oton, Garnacha, Spain, 2007 – too much bite (also paired with the tuna which made the wine more enjoyable)
River Run, Carignane, Cienega Valley, 2006 – a very good fruit-filled wine (Emily’s favorite of the flight)
Philippe & Vincent, Jaboulet, France, 2006 – another great wine in the flight
Cline Cellars “Ancient Vine”, Mourvedre, Contra Costa County, 2007 – good but a little complex for the cheeses we were having

Saturday, May 30, 2009

day five

We started the day with breakfast from Celeste. Celeste reminds us of Renee Saper, causing us to think that Renee should run a B&B (she pretty much already does, right?) Our first course was apples and bananas covered in yogurt and granola, topped with some whipped cream and what we later discovered was cabernet chocolate sauce (Emily complained that there was something “off” about the chocolate and that it wasn’t pure, while Ryan quite enjoyed it). Next up was a French toast bake. We decided to push back our reservations for lunch to 1:45 so we would have room.
At Celeste’s suggestion, we headed north to Vincent Arroyo Winery. Arroyo does no distribution; everyone buys it right at the winery. They showed us a newly planted vineyard. They don’t use any irrigation; just rainfall. They also have a fantastic balsamic vinegar. We were able to test a wine right out of the barrel that won’t be released until this fall.
We also got to taste a wine (which was our favorite) made of grapes from only one particular vineyard, which was planted back in the 60s. They were able to ship to Ohio! We couldn’t linger, though, because we had one more stop at Sterling Vineyards before lunch.
We went to Sterling primarily for their tour—they take you on a gondola above the vineyards so you can get to see the whole thing.
Ryan was a bit nervous about the whole experience, but he did really well and even enjoyed the trip! At Chandon, one of the engineers spoke to someone else in our group about the difference of storing barrels sideways or upright, and at Arroyo they explained that in order to be sure there isn’t any air in the barrels, they fill them until the sides of the barrel get stained from spilling wine. At Sterling, the solution seemed to be giant barrels stored upright. We were able to admire the mountains from the top of their building,
and then it was on to the tasting room to go as quickly as possible. The Malvasia Bianca was our favorite Sterling wine—a white! They explained that the sugar is removed, so most might be 6%, where this wine is only 3%. This meant we got all of the flavors of citrus and ginger without the sickening sweetness. We confirmed they are all available online, as we didn’t have time to buy now, and then we zipped off to lunch.
Lunch was at Auberge du Soleil, which was one of those places where you can’t imagine ever having enough money to actually fit in. We sat on the terrace, which overlooks the mountains and some vineyards, making Emily feel a bit like watching the serfs working in the fields. As it was brunch, it was a set menu with some options. We started with a mimosa and a bellini, in which, after our trip to Chandon, we were able to appreciate how tiny the bubbles were. We were then served bread and mini muffins with a butter and a lemon-something that Emily hadn’t realized was lemon until put on her multigrain bread (it was much better with the scone-like muffins). As a first course, Ryan chose the onion tartelette with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, and watercress, served with a side of sweet onion-mustard. Photobucket
Emily got the Ahi tuna tartare with wakame, cucumber, and ginger dressing to be placed atop brioche.
Next was halibut topped with onion served with turnips, lima beans, brussel sprouts, carrots and artichoke hearts, in a fava bean sauce for Ryan, and meyer lemon risotto with artichokes, parmesan, tarragon, and yuzu emulsion for Emily (yes, Emily got risotto AGAIN!) This risotto was more refreshing than the last, which kept it from feeling too heavy. For dessert, Ryan selected the chocolate dumplings in filo dough with a side of tarragon ice cream,
while Emily chose the strawberries with frommage mousse, basil ice cream, and little muffin-y almost oatmeal-cookie things whose name escapes us.
Each of us was happy with our own choice. The presentation was gorgeous, and Emily marveled at the ability to create some of these combinations.
We drove back to the B&B for a quick nap, then headed to Napa’s town center. Like Sonoma, much of Napa closes down early. We looked at a few different places, but haven’t committed to buying anything as of yet. We returned to have wine with the other guests and try to figure out what to do about dinner. We checked out the Oxbow Public Market, which is more similar to Dayton’s. Here, we found a winery that lets you create your own wine! You have to set up an appointment and commit to at least 2 cases, so we weren’t able to do it, but you try them all and then blend them into something you are happy with, choose a bottle shape, design a label and its text, and decide if you want foil or wax wrap.
We ended up at the Rutherford Grill, a place Ryan wanted to try. Emily was just craving some sort of simple beef. There was an hour wait so we sat at the outdoor bar and ordered a drink. Emily had a Bocce Ball (orange-pineapple, disaronno, and rum) and Ryan had a McCallan 12 year. After talking with the bartender for a few we found out he was getting married in September. Before we left for our table, he gave Ryan a small taste of GlenMorangie 18 year.
We started with their skillet cornbread. Lesson learned: only order cornbread in its native areas. California puts weird things in it, like artichokes, which is a very confusing taste given the sweetness of cornbread. Ryan ordered the Pork ribs, and Emily chose the filet. The ribs were cooked well but did not compare to Mongomery Inn BBQ. The filet was a very nice piece of meat, but they seemingly did nothing to enhance its flavor, just put it on the grill. A good Midwestern steak house is not to be had out here. They did serve mashed potatoes (with kale and cabbage mixed in), and while Ryan thought they were good, they did not deserve the praise given to them by the locals. The locals say that they are the best potatoes in the valley, but as Emily pointed out, this was day 5 and it was the first time we had seen potatoes on any menu. Not much of a competition for the valley’s best potatoes.

Wines for 30 May 2009:
Vincent Arroyo Nameless, 2006, $30 – tannins were too strong
Vincent Arroyo Entrada, 2006, $65 – Ryan really enjoyed this blend, Emily still felt it had a bit of a bitter taste
Vincent Arroyo Bodega, 2006, $40
Vincent Arroyo Sangiovese, 2007 (out of the barrel; release 1 Spetember 2009), $22
Vincent Arroyo Petit Syrah, 2006, $32 – the 2006 was more fruity than the 2002
Vincent Arroyo Petit Syrah, 2002 – the 2002 was sweeter than the 2006
Vincent Arroyo Petit Syrah: Rattlesnake Acres: 2004, $62; 2005, $58; 2007, $50 – we tasted the 2004, but bought the 2007, and plan to age it at least for a couple years; perhaps this will become anniversary wine or something
Sterling Vineyards Cellar Club Pinot Gris, 2007, $26 – nice and refreshing, but little flavor
Sterling Vineyards Cellar Club Sangiovese, 2006, $30 – decent, Ryan wouldn’t turn away a glass, but not nearly as good as the Arroyo
Sterling Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, $40 – this cab was pretty good, for a cab
Sterling Vineyards Cellar Club Malvasia Bianca, $30 ($28 on website) – sweet flavors without coming off sugary
Terry Hoage ‘The Hedge’, Syrah, Paso Robles, 2005, $12 by the glass – very fruity flavors, the bbq sauce needed more spice to pair well with this wine