Category Archives: Food

Where to eat local in Rome’s Prati District – Roman Food Tour

eat local on a roman food tour starting at Bonci Pizzarium

Eat local in Secondo Tradizione in Rome

Molto Male! How horrible to miss the Prati District in Rome. If it weren’t for the Roman Food Tour, I’d never know the tasty treasures it holds. After days combing the city’s famous landmarks, we met our tour in the plaza of a subway station near the Vatican. It was easy to spy our small group. Within a few hours we had bonded over tasty bites and delicious wines, learning to eat local as curated by our guide, the effervescent, Jess.

For several years, Jess has led the Roman Food Tour company journeys. Italy is in her blood. After living in the US, she returned to her family’s country and make Rome her home. All that’s to say, she’s fluent in English and Italian (plus other languages!) Her passion for fine food, traditional ingredients and authenticity were infectious.

On the Roman Food Tour discover the joys of fine aged vinegars

Eat local in the Prati District

The Prati district is a working class neighborhood that’s picking up steam. Grand, old buildings are filling with office workers and families wanting to be close to their business. The area quietly percolates in the evening. Locals fill restaurants, cafes, clubs, and bars. On weekends a high-end shopping avenue, the Cola di Rienzo, is buzzing. During business hours, lawyers move quickly across the Palazzo di Giustizia, on their way to and from the Supreme Court. There aren’t monuments for tourists to clamber over but they’re most welcome to join hungry guests who know how to eat local and well.Inside the Mercato Trifonale the perfect spot to find ingredients to eat local in Rome

The Mercato Trionfale

The Prati neighborhood also houses Rome’s largest indoor marketplace, the Mercato Trionfale. It originally opened in the 1930’s and became one of the largest marketplaces in Italy. Since 2009 it’s housed in a new glass and steel building along Andrea Doria Road. We returned to explore it the day after our tour and eat local with a few chunks of cheese and snack supplies.

The freshest buffalo mozarella in Le Ciccherie in Rome

Mozarella di Bufala

We started our food tour slowly with a bit of education and the night progressed, as more wine was poured and company relaxed. Jess fed us well with tasty clues on how to choose authentic cheeses and aged vinegar samples at Le Chiccherie cheese shop. Their specialty is Mozzarella di Bufala from the Campagna region. You’ll have to watch the video on how to recognize fresh Mozzarella.

Secondo Tradizione is a treasure trove of fine meats and wine. Once we were seated and clinking glasses in toasts, Jess ventured upstairs to chat a moment with a family who had returned for more after taking the tour a few days earlier. My time in Rome was too brief to follow their example!

Join the Secondo Tradizione owner with a prized aged ham when you eat local in Rome

Did you know that most pizza makers in Rome sell by the slice? ‘Pizza al taglio’ is sold by weight. The server will have you tell them how much you want and then weigh the slice before handing you a bill. Talk about how to eat local, I wish the US followed that example. According to our guide, most places still follow the tradition but at Bonci you pay extra for fame and innovative quality. The Pizzarium is open to the street and on our Friday evening, a crowd was scattered at the few tables and benches along the sidewalk.

The Bonci Pizzarium in the Prati District of Rome

This is pizza inside Bonci Pizzarium!

This is pizza inside Bonci Pizzarium!

The names of the pizzas and the lists of ingredients told me that was going to be like no pizza I’d eaten before. From potato (a tradition) to mixes of onion marinated in juniper, fine pecorino, fresh basil slathered with just enough sauce across an incredibly light, slim crust – each bite was a revelation. Rumor has it that the founder, Gabriele Bonci, has opened a Pizzarium in Chicago. Now that’s on my wish list.Inside the garden of the cat and fox

We were getting very, very full! But the tour continued after a short walk to a family run restaurant, Al Giardino del Gatto e la Volpe. Open for over eighty years, we were treated to two hand-made, menu items – Gnocchi and Ravioli. Settling in at a long table on the back patio, I noticed diners facing huge rounds of pizza. I marveled that a slim miss in a suit had her own. A man nearby hunched over his and a small family had no fewer than 4 personal pizzas in front of them. As full as I was, thankfully we were there for the pasta and Gnocchi. “Like pillows,” Jess described, and she was right.

Traditional Ravioli and Gnocchi

Before parting, we stopped by Fatamorgana, a gelateria. While in Europe, I had been indulging in gelato after walking for hours daily. While it tasted good, I hadn’t a clue about what I was actually eating. Jess enlightened us about the fillers and artificial colorings that most use. Not so at Fatamorgana – each scoop was dense and a marvel of flavors. Ice cream. What’s not to love?!

flavors at Fatamorgana gelataria

Traditional labeling of flavors in Fatamorgana gelateria

Fatamorgana gelato server

And with that final bite, our tour came to a close. With grace, Jess made sure that each of our small group had directions to get home. I needed a walk and strolled through the broad streets of the Prati, then across St. Peter’s plaza, full of tummy and full of the beauty that is Rome.

roman food tour brochure

Special thanks to the Roman Food Tour for hosting us. With tours by day and evening, Sundays and even a Colosseum / Food tour combo there are so many ways to eat local in the ‘Eternal City.’ As they say, “When in Rome…!”

Where to eat local in Rome’s Prati Neighborhood:

Share with a friend (or two or three!)

Local food on the Roman Food Tour

Travel Notes & Beyond

The World’s Greatest Happy Hour Tradition – Rome’s Aperitivo

Art Gallery bartender Rome one of the world's best happy hours
Owner, Alessandro Mattei and Annabel Sylva, in Rome's Bukowski Bar

Owner, Alessandro Mattei and Annabel Sylva, in Bukowski’s Bar

Bukowski in Rome? Why is a bar just outside of the Vatican city walls called Bukowski’s**? A business card from my Airbnb host was the first clue and I had to investigate. It was my first step towards discovering the world’s greatest happy hour tradition, Aperitivo.

Bukowski’s bar, Galleria and bistrot (sic) is a casual jumble of couches and small tables. Open during the day as a coffee house, jazz fills the air in the evenings as locals mingle over drinks. As a pair of travel-weary Americans on our first night out in Rome, we were a bit naive about local traditions. Two glasses of wine later, as we were about to order a snack, our waitress pointed to a modest buffet and invited us to indulge. It was all part of the world’s greatest happy hour tradition.Inside the Bukowski Bar in Rome

A modest Aperitivo inside the Bukowski Bar, one of the world's greatest.

A modest Aperitivo inside Bukowski’s Bar

The world’s greatest happy hour tradition in expensive Rome begins around 6:30 pm and lasts until 8 pm or later. I indulged early as a Westerner unaccustomed to eating dinner at 9 or 10 pm.

The Aperitivo tradition reportedly began in Milan. ‘L’aperitivo’ (as they say in Rome) is a chance to hang out with friends after work and before dinner. The classic drink is a Spritz made with white wine or Prosecco, Campari, or Aperol. Some claim that drinks are over-priced during Aperitivo hours but that wasn’t my experience. In fact, Aperitivo is an inexpensive dinner for the budget minded (and mind you, we only visited smaller bars.)

Trastevere charms

The next day after a steamy afternoon tour of Rome’s Colosseum and a coffee meeting with a Roman local, we were pointed to the charms of the Trastevere neighborhood. It was perfect for getting away from the crowds. Cafes and bars spilled onto narrow avenues. Small shops and galleries lured lookers. Trees lined small squares. While tourists passed quickly, locals sauntered and paused to visit with friends. We searched for a cool drink and stepped into the quirky art bar, Alembic.

One glimpse inside the Alembic Art Bar and one of the world's best Aperitivo, happy hours.

One glimpse inside the Alembic Art Bar and one of the world’s greatest, Aperitivo, happy hours.

The Alembic Spread in Trastevere

The Hybris Art Gallery and Bar

Another find in the Travestere area is Hybris. While it’s inviting and creative inside, we parked ourselves at a table near the door and watched the neighborhood unfold. The tall bartender mixed gorgeous cocktails. The Aperitivo buffet was delicious and we pretended to be Italian for an hour.

 

Hybris art gallery and bar in Rome has one of the world's greatest happy hours

My dear Dave in Hybris – note stylish street life behind him.

Stylish in Travestere
Hybris bartender at work
Off the Tourist track – the Pratti Neighborhood

Come Friday, we joined a small group and the Roman Food Tour company. Over a few blissful hours, we sampled and learned about Romes’ most delicious and authentic foods. (Story to come.) As an appetizer, here’s a glimpse inside our Aperitivo at Secondo Tradizione.

Aperitivo with the Roman Food Tour company inside Secundo Tradizione.

Aperitivo with the Roman Food Tour company inside Secondo Tradizione.

How to find some of the world’s greatest happy hours in Rome:
  • Secondo Tradizone – Serves fine aged meats and cheese pairings with wine. Open for dinner as well as Aperitivo. Website.
  • Bukowski’s Bar – Casual hangout day or evening. Affordably priced drinks. Facebook page.
  • Alembic – Set on a corner in Travestere, Aperitivo costs 10 Euro including selected drinks. Facebook page.
  • Hybris Art Gallery and Bar – Rotating art shows, great people watching, food and drinks.
  • Take a food tour! The Roman Food Tour offers many options and times.
Links to Rome Aperitivo listings:

** About Bukowski in Rome: There’s no record that the Beat Poet ever made it to Italy but an Italian movie immortalized his debaucheries in Los Angeles. The Italian director, Marco Ferreri, shot ‘Tales of Ordinary Madness‘ in Los Angeles and in English. The movie was panned in the US but found critical success in Europe. Perhaps the Bukowski’s bar owner saw it and somehow identified with the rough writer. Looking at his fresh and happy face, it seems his fate is much kinder.

 

Linked to these fine travel bloggers:

Travel Notes & Beyond

It’s time to ditch plastic bottled water. GoPure Review

Bottled water options

plastic water bottles shelf

On a remote island in Thailand, I perched in a comfortable bamboo hut above massive boulders and a gently lapping, tropical bay. As the sun set, I could hear a didgeridoo. The thrumming rhythm was courtesy of my German neighbor, his head full of dreadlocks. We toasted to the night, each raising our plastic bottled water.

The next day I climbed up to the platform restaurant and beyond when an acrid aroma hit me. Smoke was billowing into view. As I climbed over the crest, the view swerved from tranquility to trash. This was the inn owner’s dump where they burnt my leftover plastic water bottle. It was 1991.

Disclosure: I received no monetary compensation for this review but a GoPure capsule to test.

Go pure bottled water purifier

GoPure capsule at work

It was a problem then – toxic fumes, no infrastructure for waste, reliance on foreign sources for basic needs and a rising tide of plastic waste in our oceans and in our bodies. Drinking plastic bottled water is a bigger problem twenty-five five years later.

That’s why I was curious about the GoPure pod. On the plastic water bottle front, it not only saves money but one pod also keeps 2,000 plastic water bottles out of our environment. It lasts up to six months and can treat up to 264 gallons of water.

Go Pure Infographic

I knew that having an easy way to purify water while traveling would be a big plus. There are concerns about drinking tap water in the US but also around the world. The pod rids water of these dangerous impurities so you can have peace of mind that the water you’re drinking is clean, safe and tastes delicious.

There are other benefits I discovered while using it at home. Refilling my BPA free water bottle daily has become a new ritual. I’ve been drinking more water and making sure to drink the full bottle of water each day. That’s great for skin and organs. I’ve begun traveling with it and as long as I keep the bottle clean, don’t lose the pod, and have tap water to draw from, this should keep me well hydrated for months.

A little of the science* behind the GoPure bottled water purifier:
  •  The PuriBloc pod is a well-designed device manufactured under GMP. It is simple and convenient to use.
  •  A wide range of tests on the PuriBloc pod and its components demonstrate a marked ability and efficacy in reducing bacterial numbers in water. This property still remains for over 6 months whilst in constant use.
  • There is also an effect of raising pH and alkalinity of water which can improve the taste.
  • An exceptional capacity for removal of health risk contaminants by the PuriBloc pod has been demonstrated at high loading levels. This is a dramatic feature in light of current global anxiety over such contaminants.
  • Trace minerals are released from the pod but will depend on equilibrium dynamics of the prior mineral content of the water. This may also serve to enhance the taste*
* Data sources 
 
Product Safety Data Sheet Customer’s information Sheet. NanoHorizons In-house tests re
port 16/4/2015 CAL Ltd Report of June 2013 Moyne Institute Laboratory Reports of February and October 2014 Waterford Institute of Technology Report on ICP analyses of water post-PuriBloc exposure City Analysts Report of June 2013 NanoHorizons GMP certificate NanoHorizons In-house tests report 16/4/2015 Ceramtec GMP certificate AquaNu High Porosity Ceramic Overview. Report by The Potable Water and Hygiene Laboratory, Universitätsmedizin Göttingen, Federal Republic of Germany 11/4/2014

How to find edible mushrooms – Forager, Adrienne Long

Wild edible mushrooms can be found in Southeast Alaska
A glimpse into the wilds of Ketchikan, Alaska where edible mushrooms hide

A glimpse into the wilds of Ketchikan, Alaska, where edible mushrooms hide

 

We met on a long weekend camping trip in SE Alaska. I had no idea that Adrienne was a fungi expert until the two of us took off on a trail into the woods and she began pointing out edible mushrooms and more suspicious varieties.
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Adrienne Long works as a forager and guide based out of Mendicino County. Her biggest passion is getting out into the forest, into the wild, and being able to live off the land. Most of us don’t have a clue about where to find them, which are edible mushrooms or might be fatal.  I asked what got her interested in mushrooms?
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A – I always really enjoyed nature and something called me to the fungi. I knew I wanted to learn more and it exploded from there. First I studied in botany classes, mushroom, and natural history. So, I know a lot about what we have growing wild in the Mendocino area, where I’ve lived about 16 years.
mushrooms on trees are sometimes edible mushrooms
E -You can learn a lot about mushrooms in a book but it’s also an experiential thing. Who did you work with to learn about mushrooming?
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A – My husband taught me the basics, then I took a class at College of the Redwoods with Teresa Scholers. We had a Teacher’s Assistant, Dr. Ryan Snow, a well-known mushroom forager and internationally recognized. With Teresa, the class was half lecture and half in the woods. Every year that she taught I would T.A. so there was more opportunity to be out in the woods and learn about new mushrooms. Maybe one year you didn’t see it and the next year there’d be a bunch of them out, so with the quantity of mushrooms we have in that area, the more you go out the more you learn.
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E – The conditions along the California North West coastal region are prime for edible mushrooms because of the weather?
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A – Weather and the trees are important. A lot of mushrooms are reliant on a specific species of tree. That makes for prime mushroom habitat.
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E – I used to think that mushrooms were a sign of death; that they broke down things as parasites but you’ve said that they often work with plants. Do you see that often?
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A – Oh yeah. Mushrooms are the most important decomposers we have on this planet. If we didn’t have mushrooms we’d just have piles and piles of plant matter that would never decompose. But we also have mushrooms that work with the trees to survive. They help the trees to gather water. There are some that weaken trees and allow other pathogens to enter the system to weaken the tree. So, there are all kinds of fungi out there. When you’re out it’s important to know what kind you’re looking for; if you want a decomposer or a Mycorrhizal mushroom that’s connected to a tree.
Our SE Alaska crew, Adrienne is seated with her daugher on her lap.

Our SE Alaska crew, Adrienne is seated with her daugher on her lap.

E – I wasn’t a very good hippie but remember that some people loved to find certain kinds of mushrooms which were hallucinogens. Do you have those in your area?
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A – Not so much. They’re some of the hardest to come by. They’re little and brown. The forest is full of hundreds of species of little brown mushrooms. You could pick one that is extremely toxic or one that is Psilocybin, those are the ones that are hallucinogenic but where we are it’s not very common to find them.
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E – One of the most surprising things I learned from being in the forest with you is that the biggest part of a mushroom is not what you’re going to see.
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A – They found in Oregon the largest mycelium, the roots of the mushroom underground. The largest one is four miles wide and it grows in a circle. So if you see a fairy ring, a circle of mushrooms, that circle is the mycelium and the mushrooms are on the outside. That ring if it’s large it means that it’s really healthy and the only reason the mushrooms are there are to spread spores and reproduce. The whole fungal body is either in the ground or in a tree decomposing and eating the tree matter.
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E – It sounds like something out of a science fiction story but it’s happening all over the world. Is there anywhere you’d like to go to forage for edible mushrooms?
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A – Anywhere and everywhere I possibly can. We’ve been to Mexico and I saw Chanterelles but they don’t really forage for edible mushrooms there. I’m willing to go anywhere in the world to hunt and see what species of mushrooms different places have.
Our chariot, the Resurrection, in a SE Alaska fjiord

Our chariot, the Resurrection, in a SE Alaska fjiord

E – One of the most popular edible mushroom varieties are truffles. Do you ever find them in your region?
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A – Not along the coast, we don’t have the right tree situation for truffles. I think it’s more the Washington and Oregon areas that have those. But even going to Washington is a great thing to do because they have such a great foggy climate. There’s a lot of wild crafted mushrooms that come out of Washington and Oregon.
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E – We’re sitting in Ketchikan, Alaska, and spent some time in the forest. Did you find some surprising things?
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A – I found a slime mold but it’s not really fungal. That’s another whole organism.
It’s a single cell ameba that goes wandering around the forest and then when it finds something to eat it will send out a hormone. Then all the other little ameba join up and make this mass. It’s pretty amazing and comes in all different colors. The one I saw was a nice shiny black.
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E – They come together and then come apart at different times too. Does it react if you touch it?
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Here’s a cool, short video about the kind of slime mold Adrienne found in the forest:
A – This one kind of molded together when I touched it but you can watch them move if you want to sit there for a long time. Once it’s finished eating and full, then everyone re-disperses into the forest until they’re ready to procreate. Then they’ll have a big ameba orgy later.
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E – There were yellow mushrooms coming out of a tree on our SE Alaska trail and you pointed out that some are better to eat at certain times.
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A – Yes, that was called “Chicken of the Woods” and they’re better to eat as little buttons. Some species can be toxic though and you need to watch out. They’re also called “Chicken of the Woods!” if they’re growing on something that’s toxic they could be absorbing those toxins and possibly be toxic to you.
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E – That brings us back to an important aspect of mushroom hunting, “Go with someone who knows what they’re doing, who has the experience” like yourself. You work out of Mendocino and Fort Bragg with different organizations. What is the best time of year to go foraging with you?
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A – Usually first rain into February, so usually October to February is great. If you want really high mushroom count, December is the best depending on what species of mushroom you’re looking for. Google ‘Mushroom foraging in Mendocino County’ to find me or look for the Stanford Inn in Mendocino. I do nature tours and guided walks out of the inn.
Wild edible mushrooms can be found in Southeast Alaska
E – You have children, are you teaching them to forage as well?
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A – Of course, I have a four year and a ten-year-old and that’s one of their favorite things to do in the winter time. My son loves to go out with his friends and bring home mushrooms. He’ll go, “Oh, see this gelatinous mushroom?” and he’ll eat it. Audrey just loves to carry her basket around and go hiking with me. I feel it’s definitely something they need to learn.
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E – Do you have a favorite edible mushroom that you like to cook with? A lot of people are familiar with Chanterelles, but you want to find a particular kind, right?
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A – Yes, but there are false Chanterelles but those can be toxic and give you gastro-intestinal disorders, so you want to be careful. You want to know your edibles but more importantly, you want to know the toxics and toxic look-alikes so you don’t mistake those. One of the most important things when cooking mushrooms is to do a double sautee. So you cook them in a dry pan with no seasoning and no oil until the water comes out and evaporates. Then you add butter, oil, garlic, or whatever for flavor and they’ll absorb all that flavor. It makes them much tastier that way.
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E – So, when you’re cooking, all that moisture out is it also for safety reasons or just for the flavor?
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A – Just for the flavor. You want to cook out the moisture first before adding other ingredients, say for a sauce. I’ve ruined a few just by adding raw mushrooms. It cooks all that water into your sauce and can be very overwhelming. With all mushrooms, it’s better to pick a small mushroom than a larger mushroom. All mushrooms have the same number of cells, whether they’re small or large. They don’t grow by cell division. They grow by cell elongation, so when they’re really big it’s because their cells are elongated and water logged.
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E – So bigger is not better.
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A – Right, bigger is not necessarily better!
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This has been so much fun. What a world you live in! I look forward to seeing where you take all this.
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Interested in finding edible mushrooms?
Find Adrienne at mendomushroomforager@gmail.com or at the Stanford Inn in Mendocino, California.

Pebble Beach Golf Resort – Indulge in sustainable luxury

Pebble Beach Golf Resort greeen.
Between the petite village beauty of Carmel-By-The-Sea and the boardwalk diversions of Monterey lies one of the most iconic drives in the world – California’s 17 Mile Highway. The world class golf resort of Pebble Beach is tucked into that drive. The course is usually reserved there is usually reserved for the members, the wealthy and deep-pocketed international tourists. During tournaments, those willing to watch and party with the world’s best golfers can visit for a pittance of the price to play (about $500, if you can get a reservation.) Otherwise, there’s a guard house entry but that needn’t keep you from visiting whether you play golf or not.
Marker in the green commemorating the founding of the golf resort.

Golf course medallion commemorating the founding of the golf resort.

Historic sustainability
Nearly a hundred years old, the Pebble Beach Company has flourished through keen sensitivity and observation. Abundant water is a requirement for any golf course. In the 1970’s, a drought clenched water use throughout the state. Long before saving water became trendy the PBC thought about conservation. The efforts paid off and Pebble Beach gracefully sailed through the recent drought after investing millions in a water reclamation plant. Today it supplies all the water necessary to maintain their idyllic panoramas. Golf courses around the world have taken notice.
The 2017 IAGTO Sustainability Award
The PBC was recognized by the IAGTO for Resource Management, specifically for their water and renewable energy projects. The global golf tourism organization celebrates the outstanding sustainability achievements of golf facilities, resorts, and destinations around the world.
Tournament trophies in the Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge.

Tournament trophies in the Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge.

I spoke about the award with David L. Stivers, Executive Vice President, and Chief Administrations Officer. Solar panels built above the maintenance building were part of the accolades. A sophisticated sprinkler system helps avoid flooding in low-lying areas and makes sure sun-drenched spots never turn brown. Going green isn’t onerous, Stivers emphasized, “It’s also good business.”

journeys of discovery podcast

Listen here to the NPR Podcast interview about Pebble Beach Resort’s sustainability and conservation efforts

The Executive Vice President and Chief Administrations Officer, David L. Stivers talks with Elaine Masters about the award and the long-term sustainability efforts at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.

David Stivers in the Lodge lobby of the Pebble Beach golf resort.

David Stivers in the Lodge lobby

At the upcoming AT&T Pro-AM Tournament, thousands of pounds of recyclable materials will stay out of landfills. Pebble Beach Golf Resort is working with partners to make recycling a comfortable part of the event. It’s no simple task with tens of thousands of visitors arriving for the event.

Sea Lions relax near the Pebble Beach Golf Resort greens.

Sea Lions relax near the Pebble Beach Golf Resort greens.

I’m not a golfer but appreciate golf resort landscapes. Scooting around the greens in a cart on a lightly overcast morning, I peered into a cove where sea lions lolled. Deer were munching near multi-million dollar estates bordering the southern greens. They’re such regular visitors that the staff rarely notices them!
The mobile amenities cart is available for players at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.

A mobile snack and drink cart visits players at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.

I asked about where to stop for lunch along the 17 Mile Drive to Monterey. It turns out there aren’t any lunch options along the coast drive, so we opted for a window table overlooking the 18th hole in the Bench Bistro.
The bench and plaque commemorating American ownership of the Pebble Beach Golf Resort

The bench and plaque commemorating American ownership of the Pebble Beach Golf Resort

Dirty Harry played here
In 1999 ownership of the resort came back into American hands. Significant among the names on the plaque outside the Bench restaurant (next to the actual bench) is Clint Eastwood, the actor-director who once was the Mayor of Carmel, a long-time resident of the area and a Resort investor.
Extraordinary! Wood-baked strawberries with balsamic reduction sauce at the Bench inside the Pebble Beach Golf Resort

Extraordinary! Wood-roasted strawberries with balsamic reduction sauce at the Bench inside the Pebble Beach Golf Resort

The sun shot rays through dark clouds as we ate and I saved room for dessert – a wood-roasted, strawberry cobbler. It was served directly from the oven in a small ramekin with a warm, balsamic reduction. A scoop of ice cream melted into the crust. I will never forget how the textures complemented each other, the sweet balanced with the sour, the crunch and the cream. It wasn’t a sophisticated presentation. It was simply perfect.
What a day! To quote a song, “I’ll never be royal,” but for a brief time, I felt like an American aristocrat.
Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge

The lodge with the Bench Restaurant lower center.

Can anyone visit Pebble Beach Golf Resort?
Yes, even without a reservation to stay (although the packages may tempt you.) There is a fee to enter but not to park. The website is welcoming, noting that, “While dining at our restaurants, please present your gate receipt to your server. With a purchase of $35, your gate fee will be reimbursed.”
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Many thanks to the Pebble Beach Company for hosting our visit and congratulations again on the IAGTO award.
Spread the news! Pin this and thanks.
Pebble Beach Golf Resort Pin

Oysters and Champagne – Seafood in Sydney

Seafood in Sydney - Oysters and Champagne

Seafood in Sydney - Oysters and Champagne

Fine seafood in Sydney

Guest contributor: Marie Nieves

Nothing says elegance and style like oysters and champagne. These are the essential ingredients of any glamorous and extravagant occasion and are bound to bring your experience to a more sophisticated level. Therefore, if you’re looking for fine seafood in Sydney and you want to explore it in style, visit some of the best restaurants to savor the rich flavor of oysters and champagne. After all, who can resist the lure of living in luxury for even a little while?

Bellevue Restaurant - Great for seafood in Sydney

Bellevue, Image source

Bellevue

Not only will Bellevue lure you in with its delicious oysters, but it will also keep you inside as long as you can eat with its special offers. The former Bellevue Hotel was restored and transformed into an elegant restaurant where you can live the high life while spending no more than a dollar per oyster in November. On weekdays, you can save money on large dishes from noon until 6 pm. There’s more – keep in mind the happy hour from 5 pm to 7 pm on weekdays, and time your visit to Bellevue accordingly. Who says that seafood in Sydney has to cost you a fortune?

Sydney Cove Oyster Bar for fine seafood in Sydney

Sydney Cove Oyster Bar. Source 

Sydney Cove Oyster Bar

Have you ever started a day with champagne? If not, Sydney Cove Oyster Bar is the perfect place to try it for the first time. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to have the champagne breakfast in a relaxed atmosphere while enjoying the most spectacular view of the Sydney Harbour. Of course, you should pair up your champagne with delicious, fresh oysters served with various dipping sauces and watermelon. Start by visiting the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar and be in high spirits for the rest of the day.

The Morrison Bar serves delicious seafood in Sydney

The Morrison Bar, Image source

The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room

As a new star among Sydney restaurants, the Morrison Bar and Oyster Room has big shoes to fill, but that doesn’t appear to be a problem. With its stylish ambiance, an extensive oyster library and finest champagne, this bar is swiping its guests off their feet leaving them wanting for more.  If you’re lucky enough, grab a seat at the center bar and begin your tastings. The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room offer nearly 30 different types of oysters, so make sure to get there early, because it might take you a while to try them all.

 

Fine seafood at David Jones Oyster Bar in Sydney

David Jones Oyster Bar, Image source

The David Jones Oyster Bar

The best way to round up your day of shopping is by relaxing in style at the David Jones Oyster Bar. While waiting for your meal over a glass of champagne in a simple, yet elegant atmosphere, you can watch the chef prepare your fresh oysters. Once you’ve tried Sydney rock oysters, you’ll quickly realize why they are among the world’s best. If you want to try something different, Tetsuya’s dressing makes it a perfect choice. Other options include Mornay and Kilpatrick oysters, which might be a better choice if you like a more regular version.

Kensington Street Social for seafood in Sydney

Kensington Street Social, Image source

Kensington Street Social

After visiting many attractions in the Chippendale area, you should also take some time to have a taste of its superb food. Kensington Street Social is just one of the Chippendale restaurants that will charm you in no time. With its elegantly presented oysters and champagne, be prepared for a truly sophisticated experience. The menu features many delicious options, including native rock oysters served with cucumber, chamomile and gin pickle that you can either have as a snack or share with two or more people when dining with company. Of course, the experience wouldn’t be complete without a glass of a bubbly. Fortunately, Kensington Street Social offers a range of the best French champagnes.

While visiting Sydney, don’t miss the opportunity to explore its luxurious side. With their most delicious oysters and finest champagne, seafood in Sydney is definitely the crème de la crème.

About the author

Marie Nieves is a lifestyle blogger who loves unusual trips, gadgets and creative ideas. On her travels, she likes to read poetry, prose and surfing the Internet. Her favorite writer is Tracy Chevalier and she always carries one of her books in her bag. An avid lover of photography, Marie loves to talk about her experiences. You can find Marie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Thank you, Marie, for introducing us to these luxurious options for seafood in Sydney.

 

Celebrating Baja Wine and Food – A day in the Valle

winemakers and chefs baja wine and food celebration
Baja wine and food makers making merry

Baja wine and food makers making merry

Salud! Glasses and conversation clicked. Three of us were deep into happy hour at Baja Betty’s in San Diego but the talk was all about our travels on the other side of the border. I’m fortunate to live close to Mexico and wander there as often as I can. Not one to skip an opportunity to dine deliciously and commiserate with fellow foodies, the year ended with a spontaneous escape to join a party full of Baja wine and food.

The field behind La Cocina de Dona Esthela

The field behind La Cocina de Dona Esthela

Our van from San Diego rumbled down a dirt road and into the parking lot of Dona Esthela’s Cocina in the midst of the Valle Guadalupe. We tumbled out after the two-hour ride, stretching as we wandered to the backyard, past the small group of men tending to outdoor grills and paused at the field fence where a small cadre of pigs, cows, and geese wandered.

Baja Wine and Food Celebration

Dona Esthela’s is always morphing (Read about her accomplishments in this earlier post.) On this morning several workers were demolishing the old latrines. The new ones, shiny with their fresh tile, were open across the yard just steps from the dining patio. As she has many times over the past decade, it appears that Dona Esthela’s home restaurant is expanding again. It was Monday and the restaurant was closed to the public while a celebration of Baja wine and food was in progress.

Dona Esthela and her Sonoran Chicken

Dona Esthela and her Sonoran Chicken

Beans, Machaca, fresh tortillas, salsa and cheese.

Beans, Machaca, fresh tortillas, salsa and cheese.

Well into the afternoon we were feted with platters of Dona Esthela’s famous machaca, grilled pork, spiced chicken and endless bowls of gravy-like pinto beans to slather over toasty-warm tortillas. Most of us started drinking well before noon. It would’ve been impolite not to! Wine bottles were cradled like favorite sons as vineyard owners appeared in the doorway and were ushered in with hugs and back slaps. Throughout the day they came and departed, their bottles uncorked and prized vintages savored. Soon a chorus line of empties stood near the door.

Pinata fun with Baja wine and food

Largesse brought me there. Fernando Gaxiola, the founder of Baja Wine and Food, is a master at curating experiences. This time he ushered a small group across the border but not before picking up four ‘special guests’ – pinatas – from a house outside of Tijuana’s Zona Rio.

Chef Andrew Spurgin and friends

Chef Andrew Spurgin and ‘friends.’

After our meal, we stepped into the covered patio to swing and cheer as the pinatas were demolished. Surprisingly enough my American compatriots swung hardest. There was no rancor from our hosts about the pinata model. In fact, one of the vintners said,”Kicking Mexicans out of the Napa Valley? Fine, come to the Valle. We have jobs here.”

Spooning on the deck at Cuatro Cuatros.

Spooning on the deck at Cuatro Cuatros.

Sunset at Cuatro Cuatros

The day wore on in sweet companionship then we piled into the van to ride back to San Diego, but not without another treat engineered by Fernando and company. On a hillside above the wide Pacific, through a gated arch we rode into the Cuatro Cuatros property, less than ten miles north of Ensenada. Sunset was racing to its conclusion and soon gilded everyone at the platform bar.

cuatros cuatros sunset

Monte Xanic Especialle

Monte Xanic Gran Ricardo

Cuatro Cuatros tentalows

Cuatro Cuatros tentalows

A few ‘very special bottles’ emerged alongside shots of Mescal. The views from the bar swept south to Ensenada and far north. Not far from where I stood, rows of swanky tents waited for guests to tuck in for the night. I look forward to resting there one day and waking to the sunrise glimmering on the waves below. This time, however, it was reward enough to have my Sentri pass help me cross the border swiftly. I was home in time to share tales of my Baja wine and food adventure with my family before bedtime.

Where to go on a Baja wine and food excursion:
Wineries to visit: (There’s dozens more!)

Thank you to Fernando Gaxiola and his team for making the trip possible. As always all opinions are my own. 

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celebrating Baja wine and food pin

 

 

Twelve tasty food adventures from a year of wanderlust

cuatros cuatros sunset
cuatros cuatros sunset

Wine tasting at Cuatros Cuatros on the coast in Baja, Mexico

A sip of a ginger-infused cocktail, a mouthful of deeply spiced Machaca whose flavors swell with each bite, a glance spurred by the scent of clove cigarettes – all smells, sounds, and tastes. Often that’s all we need to flashback to a place and time. Tasty food adventures are like that.

My life is gratefully marked with delicious and audacious bites and sips, but this year has been especially full. Most often eating well is more memorable because of the ambiance and the company – it’s an alchemy of sorts. Taste also becomes the marker of a location on an emotional level. A flood of sensations and memories may flash to mind from months ago. The following foods do that for me. I hope you enjoy the feast too.

Tasty food adventures in Switzerland

I took off for Switzerland in early spring after scoring a ridiculously low airfare through a Cyber Monday airline sale. The flight went from LAX to London and then onto Geneva. Over ten days I wandered alone, mostly via Swiss Rail Pass, and always looking to eat the local specialties.

My Alpen Hut tasty food adventure at Cafe des Alpes

My Alpen Hut dinner at Cafe des Alpes

One of the first stops was in Interlaken. I arrived as a light snow was falling and sloshed to my hotel. As the day darkened, the weather lifted and I ventured into the village ending up in a bright Swatch store full of colorful displays and a friendly staff. The manager recommended the Cafe Des Alpes for dinner as it was on my walk back to the hotel and reasonably priced. What made the meal spectacular was a rich combination of luxuries. My ‘Alpen Hut’ plate was a small but overflowing skillet with ‘jugged’ deer, spaetzle, the most delicious spiced cabbage, mushrooms and hazelnuts all topped with a petite, stewed pear. As I finished and the empty plate was whisked away, the waiter set a bottle of Pear Schnapps on my table with a shot glass and left. It didn’t take me long to indulge in an aperitif or two. Luckily the hotel was a short walk away!

Reindeer visitor on the Glacier Express

A visitor to our car on the Glacier Express!

I wouldn’t have thought that a memorable food adventure could be had by train but that’s what I encountered on the famous Glacier Express. I sat at a table in the first class car when dinner was served. The meal was delicious but not outstanding. What was astounding though was the waitress stopping by with Schnapps (again!) and filling a tray of glasses in the middle of the train with a flourish, without spilling a drop! Looking up a few moments later into the face of a reindeer had me thinking I was drunk but it was just the gift cart dressed to impress.

The Philippines – Kalui Garden and Haim Chicken

After diving for several days in the Sula Sea, my guy, Dave, and I explored Puerto Princesa with two nights in a modest inn off the main road to the airport. One day we stepped off the dusty street into an artistically decorated restaurant, the Kalui Garden.

A tasty food adventure inside Kalui, Puerto Princesa

Inside Kalui, Puerto Princesa

Once instructed to leave our sandals by the door, we were led to seats next to the garden. Our first meal there was family style and plates of chili crabs, prawns and fish soon filled the little bamboo table. The fruit salads served in half coconut shells became our favorite lunch over the next few days.

Wood Worms, Tamilok, one of the traditional Filipino foods found in Puerto Princesa

The Wood Worm dish

One day we rode out of town for a short canoe ride into the Mangroves. Our guide pointed out tropical birds and lizards, then held up a bumpy stick and explained that monkeys like to eat the mangrove roots, especially when they find wood worms inside. The worms are also a local specialty for humans. You guessed it, I had to find them before leaving town. We checked several places before finding Haim Chicken where they dispatched a waiter to stand by to help us eat the long mollusks. Here’s a short video about the meal:

They were served raw and tasted something like oysters but when chewed the dark wood taste flavor escaped. It was a tasty food adventure I’d regret missing but they must be an acquired taste!

Appetizer in Drew Deckman's, El Mojor

Appetizer in Drew Deckman’s, El Mojor

Tasty food adventures in Mexico

Living in San Diego makes venturing into Baja a relatively easy day trip. I’ve been going back and forth for years and always enjoy discovering new places to eat. There are so many in Tijuana – Mission 19, the bullfighter’s hangout near the Grand Hotel, Talle with their menu of ‘pizzas.’ A bit further south and east is the Valle de Guadalupe, a rich vineyard region with high and low dining options. I confess to visiting more wineries than restaurants, so my favorites don’t come out of exhaustive research. However, I will never forget lunch at Drew Deckman’s outdoor cafe, El Mojor.

El Mojor, Chef Drew Deckman’s Valle de Guadalupe destination

Originally from Georgia, Drew spent years in Europe and was awarded a Michelin star in Germany for his culinary prowess. Lucky for us that he’s settled in the Valle. El Mojor is lovely and unassuming with tables set along shaded patios. Drew cooks at a traditional outdoor grill. A few lucky diners grab one of the few seats at the grill to watch the maestro more closely. I will return to savor more of Deckman’s magic.

La Cocina de Dona Esthela

Down a dirt road at the base of a hill in the Valle there’s a famous ranch house. A pair of stone columns mark the entrance to La Cocina de Dona Esthela. I had the honor to join a small group venturing from San Diego to present her award from Foodie Hub for the Best Breakfast in the World! Inside the house is a large patio and a living room set with small tables. A few years ago Telenovella stars, filming at the nearby Lomita winery, brought their friends and spread the word online about Dona Esthela’s cooking. The rest of us venture in for her delicious Sonoran Machaca, grilled meats, fresh cheese, and beans. Meats are cooked long in her famous spices and served in large portions. Scooping up the mixes in warm, fresh tortillas with a dollop of saucy beans and a spoonful of salsa remains high in my foodie memory.

Duckfoot Brewery Bar

Duckfoot Brewery Bar

San Diego: Duckfoot Brewery

San Diego has an ever-rotating palette of tasty food adventures for diners and drinkers. I could rhapsodize about the beers (Current favorite: Duckfoot Choco Nut Lust, their Chocolate Hazelnut Porter which, as with all their beers, happens to be gluten free.)

Pop up entrees: Opah meatballs, granola greens , white and red sangria.

Waste Not Pop Up Dinner: Opah meatballs, granola greens, white and red sangria.

The Red Door

The Waste-Not Pop-Up dinner at The Red Door restaurant was one of my year’s most notable and tasty events. Read my full review of it here. Joining a group of passionate, sustainably-minded diners was special in itself. Having Chef Miguel Valdez present a menu full of stem-to-root, nose-to-tail ingredients was a treat. I’m a fan of whatever he cooks and that night, eating to support the Food System Alliance was doubly delicious.

A bit of the Campfire experience in Carlsbad.

A bit of the Campfire experience in Carlsbad.

Campfire in Carlsbad

I’m not one for making a big deal out of my birthday. This year I picked a well-known restaurant in San Diego for a dinner with family and a few friends. It will remain nameless for the over-priced, hasty presentations and tiny portions. However, the evening before I experienced the new venue, Campfire in Carlsbad with a girlfriend and that is an experience I won’t forget. Launched recently by John Resnick, who’s behind many of downtown San Diego’s trendiest eateries, the large space has indoor and patio dining alongside a small campfire, of course for smores, and a full-sized teepee for the little ones. The dishes, each presented with care, overflow with smoky goodness from the oak flame grill overseen by chef Andrew Bachelier, of Addison and Cucina Enoteca fame. The cocktails nod to tradition, while anything but ordinary. My favorite dish was the grilled Kabocha Squash with its spiced yogurt sauce and mustard seed relish. Splendid. This is one tasty food adventure I look forward to repeating.

Nostalgia at Cliftons Cafeteria Los Angeles

The renewed storefront on the 600 block of Broadway, Los Angeles

Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles

Clifton’s Cafeteria reopened last year in Los Angeles Downtown district and it’s one of the most delightful, tasty food adventures I’ve had. It will be hard to top, especially now that the new speakeasy-style, Tiki-inspired, Paradise Lounge has opened. Get there early as they lift the rope to the upstairs entry to score a seat at the bamboo tables and just soak up that ambiance! There are historical and creative touches throughout, including an Italian Vaporetta speedboat jutting out from the bar. The cafeteria menu features new and retro dishes. All are simply prepared and very tasty.

Friends with Rick Bayless at Lena Brava

Friends with Rick Bayless at Lena Brava

Laminados dish at Lena Brava

Laminados dish at Lena Brava

Lena Brava – Chicago

It was a lark to make our way to the opening of Rick Bayless’ newest restaurant, Lena Brava, in Chicago. The restaurant pays homage to the culinary arts and sustainable seafood of Mexico. Experiencing Rick’s family and team’s take on fresh ingredients, wood grilling, and mescal cocktails is an experience worth visiting Chicago for. Bayless is committed to quality on every level and is admirably training young chefs to manage and run his venues. That’s evidence of wise expertise and grand heart. Go.

A tasty food adventure during a Lajitas stable ride

Lunch during our Texas trail ride

Tasty food from a saddlebag

Texas. Never thought I’d visit but all my preconceptions evaporated over the week I spent driving through the small towns and the vast spaces of the western region. The people were so generous and kind, and the natural beauty knocked me out, mainly because we drove through after the late summer rains when wildflowers pop and fresh green blankets expanses. The trip was heavy on experience and my favorite was a saddle-ride through the mesas and canyons of the Lajitas Resort lands. My sister and I rode for hours with our guide, Kelly, mosying through the range north of the Rio Grande. Lunch was a surprise as we stopped in a box canyon to rest the horses. A welcome spread of roasted chicken and corn salad, rolls and cookies appeared from Kelly’s saddle bags.

Tagging wild abalone.

Tagging wild abalone.

An Abalone Feast and Walnut Roll Indulgence

I just can’t omit two other tasty food adventures, although these came out of my home kitchen. We dug two, fat, wild Abalone out of the freezer for Christmas dinner. Dave caught them free-diving in the frigid waters north of Mendocino. Preparing them is a big job – digging the flesh out of the shell, slicing off the foot muscle, cutting the meat into oval steaks and pounding them into tender slices. Cooking is the easy part and if done carefully, in two minutes you have lightly encrusted buttery Abalone steaks.

Helen Serving Potica

Mother Helen, proud with her creation.

We finished with Potica for dessert, my mother’s traditional walnut roll, that I’ve finally mastered. After years of killing yeast in every loaf or pastry, I managed this year’s well enough. The dough rose, the filling of walnuts, dates, cinnamon, orange zest and honey was spread. My son helped me roll it up carefully and lift the bulky roll into the pan. The sweet treat has been enjoyed by many, sent across the country, and a few slices are preserved in the freezer for the next family gathering. It’s a much-loved and tasty food adventure from the Slovenian Women’s Union Cookbook that my mother brought west with her from Minnesota in the 1940’s. The pages are loose but I treasure it as a connection to that generation and the old country, my relative’s home in Croatia.

Quite a year!

All these tasty food adventures have definitely impacted my waistline but that’s a temporary setback I don’t regret. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tasty food adventures.

Where to find these tasty food adventures

Happy to share with these linkups full of fine travel tales!

  

Visiting Temecula wineries – Old world style and new world tastings

Mount Palomar Winery fountain one of the Temecula wineries worth visiting
Anabel Brut is a sparkling vintage at Europa Village amongst the Temecula wineries

Annabel Brut is named after the Europa Village owner’s effervescent mother, Annabel Stephenson

Those in the know go! It shouldn’t be a secret but in the rolling hills of Southern California, well east of the coast, Temecula wineries are making a scene. Private wine clubs, live music, restaurants, villas, spas and abundant tastings are uncorked throughout the growing region. I’ve visited several times over the past few years and always return home impressed and a bit buzzed by the beauty (and yes, the tippling.)

There are two Temecula wineries that stunned me recently – Mount Palomar and Europa Village. Over one slowly paced day, I joined a small group of foodies to sip and eat, walk and marvel at all that’s been created and is on the drawing boards.

Admiring the view inside the Anata Bistro and Bar

Admiring the view inside the Anata Bistro and Bar

Mount Palomar Winery

Since 1969 the Mount Palomar winery has been garnering awards. The public vineyards are full of trails. We sauntered through the gates, past stone fountains and flower beds to a large building open to views of the countryside. Inside Anata Bistro and Bar, an open and appealing space, the chef offers a rotating, seasonal menu. In late fall, two cocktails with ingredients from the garden as well as the vine made it to our tables. The Pomegranate Martini was slightly sweet above a flourish of the signature red seeds. The Ginger Crush was muddled with a basil garnish and vanilla bean simple syrup.

pomegranate and blood orange cocktails

An appetizer plate in Anata Bistro

An appetizer plate in Anata Bistro

Lunch was inspired by Meditteranean cuisine as we were feted with appetizer plates full of hummus, marinated olives, and crostini. Steak and fries, lamb and beef kebabs, salads and various flatbreads soon covered the table. No one was going hungry and I can’t wait to return with family.

Wine maker, James Rutherford, in Mount Palomar cask room at Mount Palomar one of many award winning Temecula Wineries.

Wine maker, James Rutherford, in Mount Palomar cask room

Prepping our tummies with food was a good strategy as we next stepped into the barrel room to meet the vintner, James Rutherford. He tapped tall, stainless casks with flair and then swept us out to the Solara where Sherry casks were aging in the open sun! The cream sherry process at Mount Palomar is based on Moroccan, then Spanish traditions before it was brought to California in the days of the Conquistadors. Stepped rows of wooden casks cook for five years in the sun before being bottled! It was a surprising set up for this wine fan!

Special Offer: Enjoy a Temecula winetasting at Mount Palomar winery

Download a coupon for 2 for 1 wine tasting coupon!

Europa Village

Inside the gates of the Europa Village Winery is a gracious world. Taking cues from Old World wineries, there are inviting gardens with shaded sitting areas, a comfortable patio, tasting room and gift store adjacent to a long Pergola, sheltering tables reserved for wine club members and events. Beyond all that grapevines flick their broad leaves in the sun.

The planned Europa Village Spainish, Italian and French-inspired wineries

The planned Europa Village Spanish, Italian and French-inspired wineries

Europa Village is becoming even more idyllic as the John Goldsmith, the General Manager, described the vineyard’s future. A grand villa is already open for guests but, over the coming years, a true village has been laid out. Soon luxury accommodations and three wineries featuring grapes and wine-making styles from France, Spain and Italy will be complete. Europa Village is a destination already but the future developments will have wine tasting fans flocking to the Temecula wineries to stay for days.

It takes a community

Over the last century, the region has had its challenges. Wineries have changed hands with the fluxuating economy. They’ve closed and then opened in new configurations. Infestations once decimatdecades-old vines. Today growers work together to alert each other of any signs of blight. Developers have attempted re-zoning the relatively affordable acerage. A passionate association of residents, winery owners, vineyard owners and affiliated businesses has grown to form the Protect Temecula Wine Country Association. They are actively working to preserve the wine making and rural atmosphere of the area for the future.

My day visiting Temecula wineries ended too swiftly but knowing how close to Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego the region is. It won’t be long before I’ll return with friends. How lovely it is to taste and meander amongst the relaxing and beautiful Temecula wineries.

If you go wine tasting at the Temecula wineries:
  • 2 for 1 Wine Tasting Coupon! Mount Palomar winery exclusive.
  • Taste the Palomar Mountain wines, have lunch, enjoy live music or dinner theater in the Mount Palomar, Anata Bistro and Bar.
  • Stroll through the gardens, attend performances, shop, and sip in Europa Village
  • Arrange tours, transportation and explore all there is to do in the Temecula wine country with help from the Visitor’s Center.

My wine tour and lunch were arranged and hosted through my membership the IFWTWA.

Where to eat and drink well in El Paso, Texas

Breakfast at the Downtowner in El Paso
Whatever you prefer, you'll eat and drink well in El Paso

Whatever you prefer, you’ll eat and drink well in El Paso

El Paso, it was love at first bite. After arriving late and missing dinner, having breakfast was our first Texas task. We found deep mugs of coffee and a meal worthy of any hungry traveler at the Downtowner Restaurant. While I opted for a Rancheros Omelette, my sister ordered the Salmon toast. My tummy was jealous!
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Food is a big part of any adventure. As I was soon to discover not all is Tex-Mex in El Paso. Here’s some of the best places to bite and sip when you’re in the area.

Breakfast at the Downtowner inside the Hotel Indigo in El Paso

Breakfast at the Downtowner inside the Hotel Indigo

Downtowner restaurant el paso

A relaxing and spacious dining room with just the right touch of elegance, the Downtowner became our go-to spot for meetings and snacks. The nooks and booths were tempting to linger in but we had much to explore in El Paso.

Camino Real Dome Bar

Drinks with a view inside the Dome Bar El Paso

Drinks with a view inside the Dome Bar

 

So lucky! We almost missed seeing the Dome Bar inside the historic Camino Real Hotel. Here’s a short video about the experience.

Local Brews

Dead Beach

Yes, El Paso has it’s own craft brewery scene! I fell for the smooth, nutty Abuelita Stout that Dead Beach Brewery creates. Infused with Pecaho Coffee, it was spicy and sweet – just like hug from Grandma. The brewery is just a year old and unfortunately for me only open on weekends, but several bars carry their variations.

Master brewer, Albert, at work inside the ODE Brewery, El Paso

Master brewer, Albert, at work inside the ODE Brewery

 

Ode Brewery

Ode Brewery is out in the University District. Bags of spent hops sat near the brewery door as we stepped towards the restaurant. The place is comfy, simple and authentic. There’s no doubt that the owners are fanatical about their passion. Loved the ‘Spoliated Barley Water’ Menu featuring seasonal beers and recent releases. La Gringa, their American Blonde Ale, is worth importing (Hear that, San Diego?) Look for the label across the country soon as the distribution ramps up.

Alligators in San Jacinto Plaza, downtown El Paso

Alligators in San Jacinto Plaza, downtown El Paso

Tap Room

No visit to El Paso is complete without seeing the Alligators in San Jacinto Plaza, the historic heart of downtown. The statue rises from a central pool and shifting lights flicker across the behemoths. In the 1950’s seven live Alligators lived in the pond. Shennaigans eventually led to them being moved to the zoo. Rumors continue about the Alligators showing up inside the Tap Room bar across from the plaza and other spots around town. Today the neighborhood hang out hosts live Jazz and a full bar. No Alligators in sight.
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Craft and Social

A friendly spot around the corner from Hotel Indigo, Craft and Social hosts local and state wide brews, a tasting menu and live jazz. The happy hour specials are not to be beat.

Vin Valle Vineyards in El Paso, Texas

Vin Valle Vineyards

Vin Valle

El Paso has it’s own wine region and we sped out of town to check out Vin Valle Winery. The shop is hosted by the owners and the barrel room is worth seeing with the lengthy, hand painted table in the center. It matches the cheery and cheeky label designs too.

coffee box el Paso

Coffee Box

Finding local coffee hangouts is tantamount on my tourist list. Downtown, the Coffee Box rises from the edge of a parking lot. Made out of cantilevered box cars, a nod to the history of the railway in El Paso, the Box is open early to late. There’s WiFi and compact lounge areas indoors and out.

Monticello and Hillside Coffee

Monticello

Monticello – Hillside Coffee

The University District has a new development brewing with housing, shops and restaurants. I found the Hillside coffee house a nice spot to cool off and check email for a few minutes. The shops carry local goods.

Crave El Paso East Location

Crave El Paso, East Location

Best Breakfast in El Paso – Crave

With several locations in the city, we decided to visit the east El Paso location of Crave Kitchen and Bar. Chiliquilles to die for, a playful interior, patio and deeply upolstered bench seating and bottomless coffee – I only wish we were there long enough to dig into a meal at each location. The locations are open for breakfast through to dinner.
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Dinner in El Paso

Anson El Paso downtown

Anson soup in El Paso

Anson 11

In the central downtown district, this elegant Bistro focuses on the finer things from table to decor. Cooling sprays keep the sidewalk diners comfortable. Wanting a light dinner I focused on the soups and breads. My sister had a salad and we were thorougly satiated. A mighty painting of the restaurant’s namesake, Anson Mills looms over the space. His local roots run deep as a United States Army officer, surveyor, inventor, and entrepreneur who even named and laid out the city of El Paso. There’s nothing stuffy about Anson 11 with it’s trippy artwork juxtaposed with a librarian’s sensibility!

tabla entance

tabla serves native beef in el paso

Tabla

Infused liquors, tapas and regional flavors kicked into high gear – that’s Tabla. Tucked into the warehouse district close to the stadium, generous servings and one of the best meals I had in the area.

Riviera Bar and Cantina

No visit to El Paso would be complete without enjoying Tex-Mex. We had platefuls at the east side restaurant, the Riviera. Satisfying, casual and full of locals.

cattlemans steakhouse

Cattleman’s Steakhouse

Even though I’m not a big red meat eater, I couldn’t leave Texas without indulging in a bit of steak. I only wish we had more daylight hours at Cattleman’s Steakhouse. The ranch has had lots of media attention; you’ve seen it in TV shows and movies. There’s a petting zoo and odd animal collections to walk around. The sunset views are some of the best – especially enjoyed over dinner. I had an appetizer of tender ‘beef cubes’ and it was perfect. No salads though on the menu! How Paleo can you go?!

Riviera Bar and Restaurant

Where to dine and drink in El Paso

Downtowner: Comfort food in a chic decor inside Hotel Indigo

Crave: Three locations open for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Anson 11: Bistro and fine dining with regional, American cuisine

Tabla: Tapas, infused liquors from an award-winning team

Riviera Bar and Cantina: Tex Mex and local hangout

Cattleman’s Steakhouse: East of town but well worth the drive. Famous for steaks, movie sets and animals.

Coffee Box: Casual spot with WiFi, patios and lounge seating

Monticello: Shops, restaurants and the Hillside Coffee Cafe

El Paso Beer and Wine

Dome Bar inside the Camino Real Hotel: Historic decor and fine drinks.

Dead Beach Brewery: Promising new brewery in downtown El Paso.

Ode Brewery:  Ambitious brewery with first location in the University District

Vin Valle:  Family run tasting room in the panhandle vineyard region.

Tap Room: Neighborhood Bar with jazz nights across from San Jacinto Plaza Alligators.

This trip was made possible by the El Paso Visitor’s Office. I thank them for pointing me in the right directions and helping me discover El Paso. All opinions are always my own. 

weekend wanderlust April 2016

Driving West Texas – Road Trip Planner, Part 2

Trip planning requires proper gear in Texas

Make the Prada art building part of your road trip planner through West Texas

Prada art installation outside of Valentine, Texas

In West Texas extremes play well together. International fashion brands mix with far flung art installations, ghost towns host chili cook offs. Dinner may be chicken-fried, wild boar or resort ranch-groomed beef served with beer, long neck or artisinal. There were more surprises than I have room to write about! Welcome to the second half of my West Texas, Road Trip Planner.

Terlingua Ghost Town Motel

Terlingua Ghost Town Motel – Basic, clean & a decent night’s sleep

Terlingua
A week wouldn’t be enough to explore everything in this ghost town area. While on the road with my sister, we spent a night in the Chisos Mining Hotel before leaving at dawn for a Saddle and Paddle tour organized by Lajitas Stables and Big Bend River Tours. Wander we did though – through oddball delights, (just what I love) with trailer murals, roadside attractions, a hillside full of crumbling, adobe buildings from the last century; all of it hosted by a jumble of sweet-hearted eccentrics. We fit right in.
Starlight Theater - must add to your road trip planner
Starlight Theater Dining – A great hangout but I sense it’s seen better days.
Terlingua Church Texas
Ghost town church that’s been turned into new businesses over the years.
  • Travel Planner Tip

    If you love chili, camping out and camaraderie put one or both of the notorious Ghost Town Chili Cook Offs on your itinerary when visiting Terlingua. Held each November, it’s really not about the chili, but dueling parties.

Lajitas Resort - Badlands Hotel Lobby

Lajitas Resort – Badlands Hotel Lobby Photo by Jack Hollinsworth

Lovely Lajitas:
Luxury refinements and true grit hospitality complement each other at the Lajitas Resort and Golf Course. Reach the spacious settlement by road or via the local airport with charter flights from Dallas. I don’t golf but truly regret the light showers kept me from touring the course by cart. What a gorgeous landscape and undulating greens!
Lajitas Stables and bluff
Lajitas Stables and bluff
Adjacent to the resort are historical sites – the golf shop is set into the old Trading Post. There’s a historical chapel, the Ocotillo Event space has seen its share of shootouts, and the Rio Grande borders the golf course. A decade ago golfers could swing to a green across the border and then back!
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Our first night at the Lajitas Resort, a destination wedding unfolded on the terrace. Not surprisingly, the groom wore cowboy boots and his groomsmen had rhinestones on their jean pockets. Our room overlooked the greens and we toasted to the sunset from Adirondack chairs on the patio.

Ocotillo Event space in Lajitas, Texas

Ocotillo Events – Once the site hosted gunslingers & shootouts but peace reigns now. Photo – Jack Hollingsworth

Lajitas dining room at dawn

Lajitas dining room just before dawn

The menu of services at the Spa was tempting for our sore muscles. The Restaurant offers a full buffet at dawn and dinners feature local game.
Lunchbox canyon with our Lajitas Stables guide, Kelly

Riding through lunchbox canyon with our Lajitas Stables guide, Kelly

If you’re looking for adventure, Lajitas makes a fine home base. Guides will help scheduling ziplining, shooting practice, horse back riding and river rafting trips. My favorite outdoor experience in West Texas was a day spent horse back riding through canyons and up to mesas. Next we floated down the Rio Grande and even swam in rapids. The Saddle and Paddle package is an easy way to get into the countryside. If only we had more time for rafting and camping in the nearby canyons.
  • Trip Planner Tip

    Don’t miss the Lajitas Trading Post and Golf Shop. Inside the historic building is an immense collection of steer horns and walls full of photos. The owner was offered a private collection of over 900 horns and they’re displayed from floorboard to ceiling throughout the space.

The famous beer swilling Mayor of Lajitas & his missus
The famous beer swilling Mayor of Lajitas & his missus
  • Trip Planner Tip

    Stop by and say ‘Howdy’ to the ‘Mayor’ of Lajitas. The old goat and his Missus live in a gated community’ adjacent to the Deli, which is a great spot to pick up sandwiches and souvenirs before heading out of town.

 On the road in Big Bend National Park
Big Bend
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I’d been warned that the best of Big Bend National Park lays off the main road. It may be the case but even a few hours traversing the park is a worthy adventure. The bluffs and mesas are stunning. We spied Tarantulas crossing the road, Turkey Vultures and a family of camera shy, Javelinas turned tail quickly, scooting out of sight. The rock formations are formidable and while early fall was comfortably warm, I imagine the blazing summertime heat could melt tires. We drove through on a cloudy afternoon, which made it easier to stop for pictures… and wildlife.
Ranch signs dot the side roads.

Ranch signs dot the side roads.

  • Trip Planner Tip

    Keep to 45 mph when crossing Big Bend National Park and watch highway speed limits carefully. There are speed traps and we would’ve been in trouble if locals hadn’t warned us. Driving slowly is perfect for spotting wildlife and admiring the landscape.

A National Historic Landmark hotel in Marfa, Texas. Headquarters for the cast and crew that filmed "Giant".

The National Historic Landmark Paisano hotel in Marfa, Texas.

Paisano Hotel, headquarters for the cast and crew that filmed "Giant".

Paisano Hotel, headquarters for Elizabeth Taylor, the cast and crew of the classic film, “Giant”.

Marfa
There just can’t be anyplace quite like Marfa in the world! When New York artist, Donald Judd, moved here after WW2, he brought a minimalist sensibility that is still reflected and cherished throughout the town.
Road trip planner for Marfa must include the Judd Foundation

Entrance to the Judd Block. No pictures allowed inside.

Before arriving one tour operator told me, “There’s not much to do in Marfa.” I couldn’t disagree more. It’s not a family vacation kind of place with adrenaline-pumping distractions and hangouts for the kids, but they’d still enjoy sleeping in Tee Pees or Silver Stream Trailers at El Cosmico. The Tex Mex meals at Mando’s Drive In (or dine in) are inexpensive and cater to the locals. Transplant hipsters eat there too but are spied more often at the St. George Hotel or sip coffee freshly ground at the Do Your Thing cafe. The main street features the Palacio Hotel, by the architect Henry Troost and the City Hall building, all Victorian embellishments, offers views of the flat countryside from the upstairs windows.
Get Go Grocery in Marfa
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Donald Judd’s presence lives on in a spare, adoring manner inside the compound he left one morning and never returned to. After failing health confined him in Germany, then New York, he spent his final months putting his effects into order. One stipulation for his compounds in Marfa was that nothing be moved. To walk the grounds, where no pictures are allowed, is a study of pensive solitude. The main bulding where he lived with his daughter when not traveling, has his sleeping loft and reflects a more homey warmth – barely.
Chinati field sculptures.

 A few of the Chinati Foundation field sculptures.

We spent a morning on the grounds of the Chinati Foundation on the outskirts of town. Pictures are only allowed in the field where 15 of Judd’s monumental cement works are set into the landscape. The play of angle and light, discovering relationships between edges and alignment would be impossible in any other space. These works are site specific and the dimensions are echoed in pieces arranged indoors, inside the large buildings reclaimed by Judd from the military. The largest buildings offer 48 and 50 rectangles, each different and built of steel. They have never moved from the spot they were designed for and will never be rearranged unless the earth heaves. Judd would approve.
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When we weren’t searching for the Marfa Lights (unsuccessfully but with great company) and peering up at the Milky Way, our nights in Marfa were spent in town, courtesy of an Airbnb host. Our little casitas near the high school was well situated for walking to galleries and restaurants. Other accommodations include the Thunderbird Hotel, Bed and Breakfast Inns and the Palacio Hotel. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
  • Trip Planner Tip

    Don’t plan on taking pictures or recording anything inside Chinati or the Judd Foundation. At first this irked me and I rebelliously took notes and sketched. Resistance was futile. I missed out and that’s kind of the point. To stand in those still spaces and just be, is to get a glimpse of what drove Judd to settle in Marfa. There is space and relationship, light and shadow. I surrendered to his vision and was far happier for the experience.

Return to El Paso
We met many Texans on holiday throughout our drive around West Texas. Most were road-tripping as we were and I wished there were time to continue on into the rest of the state. But our short visit came to an end with our return to El Paso. Before flying home to California, we toasted to the journey at Craft and Social while listening to a jazz combo over a happy hour priced bottle of wine.
Texas, we’ll be back.
  • Trip Planner Tip

    There’s no one Texas. The second largest state in the Union, it’s vast regions are influenced by weather patterns, geography, history and proximity to Mexico. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll ‘get Texas’ with one visit. I imagine it could take a lifetime to discover everything.

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Links and other Trip Planner tips:
  • Chisos Mining Company Motel – Inexpensive, comfortable and a bit rough around the edges, but one of my best night’s sleep!
  • Lajitas Golf Course and Resort offers hotel rooms, villas and vacation home rentals. There are also camp grounds and RV options.
  • Saddle and Paddle day trip with Lajitas Stables and Big Bend River Tours
  • Marfa, Hotel Paisano – An architetcural masterpiece by the renowned Henry Trost. Fully preserved and updated. Don’t miss the pictures from the making of Giant with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and an effervescent, James Dean.
  • Hotel St. George – Chic and austere but still comfortable with an inviting lobby restaurant and the best bookstore in town.
  • El Cosmico – Tee Pee, tent and trailer campground on 18 acres.
  • Thunderbird – Hotel and deep resource list for the area.
  • Marfa Chinati Foundation – The open air exhibit and studios founded by Donald Judd . Open by reservation only.
  • Marfa, Judd Block – The home compound of the artist Donald Judd. “Not a slipper moved” since his death, by mandate!
Food Tips:

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Riding Through West Texas Trip Planner Pin 1

Riding through West Texas with a road trip planner
Thank you to Visit El Paso and the Brewster County Tourism Offices for their arrangements and guidance. As always opinions are my own.
weekend wanderlust April 2016

Five casual dining spots serving the best food in Tijuana

Telefonica Gastro Park is the center of where to find the best casual food in Tijuana
Just one of the delireously delicious dishes inside Telefonica Gastro Park

Just one of the delireously delicious dishes inside Telefonica Gastro Park

Ban the thought of filling up on nachos, rice and beans when dining on a budget in Tijuana. You can save the bucks for fine dining, and there’s plenty of that here, and still explore the city through it’s more modest eating establishments. Here are five places with fine brews and some of the best food in Tijuana. You will eat very, very well!

After 9/11 it wasn’t easy to enjoy Tijuana’s culinary scene, but cross-border systems are being stream-lined and now heading over for a day or dinner is becoming simpler. Long before the 1970’s spring break bacchanals in Tijuana, the city was the west-coast Prohibition escape for celebrities and mobsters. During WW2, it was the drinking hole for the Pacific Fleet. Tourism dried up with terrorism fears as new passport restrictions were enforced. Recently innovations have made visiting Tijuana much easier (Border crossing tips here) and cartel business has moved south of Mexico City. The area’s opened up again to its glorious heart – full of feasting and celebrating life through serving the best food in Tijuana.

Dia de los Muertos altar inside the Mercado Hildalgo

Dia de los Muertos altar inside the Mercado Hildalgo

Here’s a few of the fantastico places to find great meals and drinks that will help you save money for shopping and more travel:

The bustling center of Mercado Hildalgo a great place to find the best food in Tijuana

The bustling center of Mercado Hildalgo

1.Mercado Hildalgo – The oldest open marketplace in the central city buzzes with activity every day of the year. It’s most fun to visit during the holidays, when sugar skulls and decorations abound for Dia de los Muertos and other Mexican Celebrations. Fresh fruit, cheeses, cafes and bakeries surround a central parking area where a permanent Chapel rises and seasonal altars rotate below. If you’re courageous, look for roasted crickets or Tequila imbued with rattlesnake!

Eating fried crickets inside Mercado Hildalgo

One adventurous bite! I tried fried crickets – salty, crunchy and delicious!

2.El Taller, Baja Med Cocina – Not far from the Racetrack (now greyhounds rather than horses, and casino.) Their celebrated pizza innovations slice easily with the thin crust and fresh, original ingredients (escargot anyone?!) A bit trendy, the open kitchen and lengthy dining room is often packed.

The entrance to El Taller, Baja Med Cocina

The entrance to El Taller

3. Telefonica Gastro Park – Set up in a large lot at the base of the old Telephone building, this food truck/small business courtyard is packed with fresh, local and creative drinks and bites, many based on traditional recipes. Black Zapote tea anyone? Craft beers, long tables and hammocks make it a perfect hangout for a meal with friends. Save room for coffee and desserts!

Telefonica Gastro Park is the center of where to find the best casual food in Tijuana

 

Humo chef and friend inside Telefonica

Humo chef and friend inside Telefonica

4. Norte Brewing Company – Not everyone enters through the parking garage but it’s easier to manage than finding the Norte Brewing Companyentrance via a narrow passage set deep off Avenida Revolucion. The effort is worth it for the breezy space looks out over rooftops and the beer is stellar. Flavors rotate but inventive beers such as Foreign Club Robust Porter (Nitro y CO2,) Penthouse IPA and the thickly delicious, Sugar Daddy Chocolate Oatmeal Stout just might be on tap. If you’re a true craft beer afficianado, and very lucky, ask about Súpermash, which uses the nugget of the hop flower. The blooms come direct from Rancho Loza-La Casa Del Lupulo, precursors in the cultivation of organic hops in the valle de Guadalupe.

Norte brewing company is one of the best food in Tijuana spots for the casual drinker

5. Hua Huis, Restaurante de Mariscos – Now that the Tijuana airport bridge is open you can walk in and out of the country, airplane reservation in hand, simply enough. It’s a great convenience but you miss visiting Tijuana. Should you be heading in or out of the U.S. at the Otay Mesa border crossing and find yourself hungry, stop at the blue storefront of Hua Huis. The seafood is traditionally prepared as ceviche, grilled, or marinated, and the meats are tender as well. A small bar keeps drinks flowing too.

The modest storefront of Hua Huis Restaurane de Mariscos

The modest storefront of Hua Huis Restaurane de Mariscos

Hua Huis Ceviche Plates

Hua Huis Ceviche Plates

Here’s a brief video on where to find some of the best food in Tijuana:

Where to find the best food in Tijuana for casual diners:
  1. Mercado Hildalgo – The central market isn’t far from the CECUT cultural center in the Zona Rio.
  2. El Taller Baja Med Cocina: Full bar, sauces and salsas, and famous for their Pizza Baja Med
  3. Telefonica Gastro Park: Full courtyard surrounded by food trucks and temporary vendors. Dog-friendly and open to all ages.
  4. Norte Brewing Company: In Zona Centro off steps from Avenida Revolucion.
  5. Hua Huis, Restaurante de Mariscos: Seafood specialties served minutes from the Tijuana Airport

Thank you to our Binational Liason, Juan Arturo Saldaña Angulo with Tijuana Tourism and Convention Bureau. The trip sponsors, Tijuana Tourism and Convention Bureau and Rosarito Beach Hotel. And the transportation provided by Ticketon and Turismo Express.

I hope that you enjoyed this post and will share! Three images to pin:

best food in tijuana bites and brews

Best casual dining for the best food in Tijuana

Best food in Tijuana Telephonica Gastro Park

How to find the best local food – San Francisco’s Valencia Street

Bi-Rite flowers in front of the local food emporium
Bi Rite Local Food market in San Francisco's Valencia Street food scene
When you’re hungry in a new city you can settle for simply filling your tummy or aspire to great eating. Knowing I’d be famished during my stay in San Francisico’s Mission District, where to eat in the trending neighborhood was a mystery. When Edible Excursions founder, Lisa Rogovin, suggested a tasting tour featuring local food along Valencia Street, my tummy growled in anticipation.
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Decades before local food tours were a concept, I tasted my first Tempura in a bamboo-panelled Japanese bar on Mission Street. If I’d visited Tokyo before stepping into the red lantern-lit space, it would’ve felt familiar. The shrimp and batter-slathered, veggie wedges were crunchy and cheap, perfect for a student budget. In the intervening years the Mission’s ties to Mexico have dug in deeper. The Tempura house has disappeared but the road still hosts street vendors peddling roasted corn elotes and fruit stalls spill over the sidewalk. Taquerias now open to the street in designerly tones with prices much steeper than my salad days.
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The street is still grungy but safe. Low riders have moved on and artisans have moved in, knowing there’s opportunity with the influx of tech hipsters. Iron bars still criss-cross over windows and at night, the marijuana cooperative crouches behind a roll-down garage door. One block away however, Valencia Street could be on the other side of the city and that’s where the new foodster central is growing. Boutique cafes, craft patissieries and artisinal breweries are flourishing.
Dandelion small batch chocolate roasters' cafe

Inside the Dandelion small batch chocolate roasters’ cafe

Surprisingly Lisa began our tour at the corner of 18th Avenue and Mission in front of the Duc Loi Market. No flashy store front or sparkling renovations? No, we met at a historic intersection, an apt metaphor for the next few hours.
Duc Loi Market
Cities morph. If the neighborhood was different outside, then inside should reflect that as well. The Duc Loi Market embodies that and has been successfully rolling with the changes for over 25 years. The name means “ethical earnings” and it’s become a model for the demands traditional businesses are facing in the swiftly gentrifiyng area. The owners, originally from Vietnam, continually renew their dedication to serving the needs of the neighborhood with its churning mix of Caucasian, Asian and Latino roots and wide economic diversity.
Bah Mi Duc Loi market local food San Francisco Valencia neighborhood

Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich at Duc Loi market.

Lisa led me to the back, near the long cooler counter where a sandwich, a tradional Banh Mi waited. Further down the long case were cheeses from Italy, specialty meats and she looked for a pig’s head on the counter too. It was no where in sight on the Monday we visited.
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After digging into the fresh crunch of the French baguette and through the delicious spiced meat with traditional sauce, we ventured into the rows of products. One collection of BBQ sauces said it all. Artisanal bottles with monochrome, letterpress labels and tony price tags sat on the top shelf. Other shelves held equally delicious, well-known brands for half the cost. Just another testament to a neighborhood in transition.
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Lisa founded Edible Excursions before food tours were a trendy part of travel. She’s been at the forefront of gustatory adventures from the Ferry Building to Uptown Oakland, from Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto to the Mission; helping tasters discover “the importance of local, seasonal and sustainable eats plus signature dishes.” Her custom outings, business groups and weekly tours have gained notice and awards from SF Weekly, San Francisco Magazine and Viator. Craft cocktails and local brews have won her focus recently and soon Drinkable Excursions will be on the regular rotation of tours.
Tacolicious and Mosto local food on Valencia Street in San Francisco

Tacolicious’ Valencia Street storefront

Lisa Rogovin of Edible Excursions with Joe Hargrove and Sarah Deseran of Tacolicious.

Lisa Rogovin of Edible Excursions with Joe Hargrave and Sara Deseran, founders of Tacolicious.

Tacolicious
We strolled to Valencia Street and into the subtle Mosto / Tacolicious digs. The Mosto tequila bar opened last year as a new focus for Joe Hargrave and his partner, writer and marketing pro, Sara Deseran, after the success of Tacolicious (three locations in addition to the Valencia Street space.) The moment we stepped in from the Valencia sidewalk and past the subtle-to-the-point-of-missing taco sign, I knew this place was unique.
House tequila and sangrita at Tacolicious

House tequila, Sangrita and sides at Tacolicious

A patterned Mexican tile floor warmed the chic, open space. Large windows and a side patio were open to the mild Mission micro-climate. Once we sat at a tall booth, a steep shot of the smooth, house Jimador Tequila appeared next to a matching portion of fresh Sangrita. That afternoon’s batch was a spirited melange of tomato, chipotle and habanero pepper salsa. Small, succulent taco plates featured fresh tortillas from La Palma Mexicatessen, another San Francisco treasure. We surely weren’t going hungry.
Inside the Craftsman and Wolves patisierrie case

Inside the Craftsman and Wolves patisierrie case

Craftsman and Wolves
Across the street in a low lying, re-purposed autobody repair building with stunning brick bones, sits Craftsman and Wolves. The CAW location is one of three in the city. In a case that could display jewelry, curvacious confections waited emancipation. Each was a work of subdued, edible art.
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Lisa introduced me to the signature pastry, The Rebel Within, sliced open to reveal a soft-boiled egg within an asiago, sausage and green onion bun. The skill it takes to place a peeled egg within the dough and cook all to perfection is a testament to owner Chef William Werner’s tenacity. His expertise and commitment flow from over 15 years working in fine restaurants on the East and West coasts. The ‘contemporary patisserie’ is named with a nod to predatory challenges often facing those dedicated to craft. It appears that he’s winning the battle.
CAW signature bun - The Rebel Within

CAW signature bun – The Rebel Within – served with a vial of tabasco-infused salt!

Dandelion Chocolate

Two doors down is a wonder that would inspire Willy Wonka – the bean-to-bar, small batch chocolate factory, Dandelion. Begun by a pair of intrepid chocoholics, Todd and Cam. They’ve grown their own cacao plants and roasted beans in home ovens, then toured major chocolate factories around the world before opening Dandelion in San Francisco.

Watch the video:

Today the company roasts and grinds a batch from one farm or cooperative at a time, creating distinctive chocolate bars with fine-tuned discipline. We watched the process, and tasted from their cafe before walking on.

Dinner counter inside the Bi-Rite Market

Dinner counter inside the Bi-Rite Market

Bi-Rite Market

Vistiing Bi-Rite deli and market brought us full circle. The Italian deli has been serving the neighborhood for decades and Lisa often brings home dishes from the dinner counter, which opens daily at 4:30 pm. With art deco signage, the market opened in the 1940’s and has been run by the Mongannam family for nearly sixty years. Brothers Raf and Sam took over from their father in the late 1990’s, instilling a chef’s aesthetic to the small market and stocking the highest quality ingredients. Now lines form at the counter for the Wagyu beef, imported sliced cheeses and much, much more. That’s where I left Lisa as she ordered entrees for her family.

San Francisco organic creamery ice cream truck

San Francisco organic creamery ice cream truck

Valencia Street buzzes around the clock. One night, searching for local food desserts, my son ordered goat milk and berry ice cream off a vintage, yellow fire truck. Parked in an empty, corner lot, the San Francisco Organic Creamery truck and it’s menu, was a world away from the industrial strength food trucks I’ve seen elsewhere.

Tart cider and Lao food at Hawker Fare.

Hard, Apple cider and Lao cuisine at Hawker Fare.

We also ate Issan Lao food at Hawker Fare, sipping tart hard cider, a simpler choice for dinner than one of their Tiki-inspired cocktails. They looked fantastic, however. I’ll just have to return and explore the upstairs bar menu next trip.

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Another evening I slid up to the bar at Dosa and slowly cut into a paneer and pea filled chick pea ‘crepe’ between sips of Transylvanian white wine. A young man sat across from me and ordered the $44 tasting menu. For himself. Before drinks. On a Monday night. The neighborhood has certainly turned. It’s gotten to the point where regulations are being placed on preserving Legacy Businesses and limitations are being proposed on the number of new restaurants or bars.

dosa local food san francisco
Lisa will keep savoring the old and supporting the new. Her local food tours and Edible Excursion’s motto is: Eat. Walk. Enjoy. Repeat. I did happily until my feet were sore and my jeans were tighter.
If you’re hungry for delicious, local food in the Valencia Street area:

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weekend wanderlust April 2016

Tastiest Breakfast Food in the World – Delivering the award

tastiest breakfst at la Cocina de Dona Esthela in the Valle Guadalupe
Tastiest breakfast food in the world - Machaca con Huevos, tortillas, cheese and beans

Tastiest breakfast food in the world – Machaca con Huevos, tortillas, cheese and beans

Merely two hours south of San Diego, deep in the Valle de Guadalupe, sits an unassuming restaurant. Inside platters of marinated, roasted meats vie for attention with griddle fresh tortillas, salsas, grilled nopales and home made cheese. This is the home of some of the tastiest breakfast food in the world and I arrived in time to see it made official. The long delayed award from Foodie Hub was about to be presented to chef Dona Esthela.
La Cocina de dona esthela - The home of the tastiest breakfast food in the world!
Rumbling down a bumpy and dusty dirt road, our van slid into a parking lot populated with cars and trucks. It was midweek and most of the Valle was still deserted. But the crowds are no surprise to the neighbors.
Tastiest breakfast food next door to Lomita Winery in Guadalupe Valley

Lomita Winery, next door to La Cocina de Dona Esthela

On the hill adjacent to Dona Esthela’s sits the sleek slab and arched winery, Lomita. Family owner, Fernando Perez Castro recounts how Dona Esthela’s grew with fondness. Fernando says, “The first time I ate there, I sat at her kitchen table and you felt like you were part of the family, invited to her place. She didn’t have a menu but served what she cooked for the family just before.” Dona has gradually been building her place out, but Fernando says the enduring secret to her success is, “The essence is still the same.”
Step into the kitchen where the tastiest breakfast food in the world is made:

 

Dona Esthela cooked for the Lomita building crew in early 2008, when there weren’t other choices in the neighborhood. Her fate changed when a popular Mexican telenovella decided to use the Lomita winery as their set. Soon the TV celebrities were eating at her table and posting pictures with Dona Esthela, tweeting and bringing their friends to the Valle location.
Dona Esthela and Andrew Zimmerman of Bizarre Foods plus telenovella stars.

Next to the cash register – Dona Esthela and Andrew Zimmerman of Bizarre Foods, plus telenovella stars.

In the kitchen of la Cocina de Dona Esthela

In the kitchen with Dona Esthela

Machaca and beans at La Cocina de Dona Esthela

Machaca and beans

Our little group was served a table full of incredible breakfast food. The award-winning Machaca con Huevo won over Foodie Hub contributor and blogger, Scott Koenig, over a year ago and led to the nomination of Dona Esthela’s place. Machaca was once a staple of Mexican cowboys who ate the dehydrated, shredded and fried meat in the early 20th century. At Dona’s Cocina I found the meat moist and full of complex, smokey flavor.
Dona Esthela Cocina tortillas and husband

Pitchers of fresh orange juice and baskets of wrapped tortillas were served by Dona’s husband.

We gorged and drank Baja wines provided by our guide, Fernando Gaxiola founder of Baja Wine and Food. When it seemed we couldn’t eat another bite, platefuls of Hotcakes de Maiz materialized. Dona has taken an American breakfast food and made it uniquely her own with a juicy batter full of fresh corn kernels. No syrup was necessary.
So much more on the menu!
I will definitely find my way back as the menu is packed with so many delicious options and daily specials. What a great day trip beginning with the tastiest breakfast food in the world!
“The secret in the flavor of our food is to cook it with love and care. And to be able to serve it on your table. It’s a joy. Be welcome. Our house is your house!!”
~ Dona Esthela
Dona Esthela, family and friends

Dona Esthela, family and friends

If you go:
  • Directions and location on the unofficial Dona Esthela Facebook page
  • Dirt roads be darned! Follow signs, make sure someone in the car has international GPS, and check out routes before you cross the border.
  • The restauant isn’t open on Mondays but don’t let crowds deter you. Pick up a few bottles of Lomita’s best and sip while you wait.
  • Eat inside unless the patio’s been completely screened. Flies can be a problem.
  • More about crossing the border through Tijuana on my earlier post here.

Proud to be part of these linkups:

weekend wanderlust April 2016

Road trip snack ideas – Tips for travelers

Road house stop full of snack ideas
Road houses are full of snack ideas - not all healthy!

Road houses are full of snack ideas – not all healthy!

Our road trip was packed full of adventure but unfortunately packed pounds on our waistlines too. We had three weeks to deliver the car to the East coast and started working our itinerary six months in advance. With all the planning however, we forgot about coordinating snack ideas.

Win a Hiking Backpack full of with snack ideas for your next trip (Details below)

My eating strategy whenever I fly has been whittled into a science, but a road trip with four adults in one car for days on end was in another league altogether. We took long hikes daily and expected that to burn calories but it wasn’t enough. Long, tedious hours of driving led to quick meals from limited roadside cafes and convenience stores. Too often that meant snack ideas of the high-carb, salt and sugar kind.

On the way to Mt. Rainier we stopped at the Viking Diner for burgers. Delicious and friendly, but low cal? Not.

Viking Cafe in Mossyrock was full of snack ideas

Locals in the Mossyrock Landmark, Viking Cafe

burger and fries

I’ll have fries with that.

When visiting cousins of course we couldn’t refuse to take their homemade sweets along.

Bazilian chocolate balls are snack ideas of the fattening kind

Rich, Brazilian Choco Balls!

My home breakfast schedule was demolished when the rest of the family needed a big meal before we hit the road. Too often hotel or road-side mornings started like this.

Waffles as road trip snack ideas

Resisting everything but temptation.

Fruit stands are a boon for summer travelers. Unfortunately, our rushed schedule kept us on freeways and off the smaller, country roads where fruit stands proliferate.

Road stand cherries are delicious snack ideas

Road stand cherries are delicious snack ideas

When you’ve endured long hours traveling in the back seat or driving, it’s too easy to ‘reward’ yourself with a big dinner or a few beers. When you do that over several weeks it’s no wonder vacation clothes get tighter and tighter!

Beer isn't on the list of great road trip snack ideas until you stop for driving for the day

Beer with dinner at Belton Chalet, outside Glacier National Park

The best road trip snack ideas include:
  • High protein, low salt and sugar, fruit and nut bars. Pick up a box before leaving home to stretch the travel budget.
  • Buy in bulk. Nuts and dates make satisfying snack ideas and travel well. Make your own mix and store in baggies or better yet, reusable containers.
  • Drink water often and limit the number of sweet, high fructose sodas and caffeine drinks. Avoid plastic bottles and refill your own.
  • Stop to eat well before you feel like you’re starving. Being overly hungry too often leads to impulsive and poor eating decisions.
  • Find grocery stores with salad bars and pick up fresh fruit at roadside stands.
  • Portion control. We were two boomers and two millennials driving together. Guess who ate most of the peanut butter pretzel crackers?! Take a few out of the bag and stick to that portion.

Golden Island Jerky are fine snack ideas

If only I had known about these Jerky packs for our trip. Most jerkies on the market are full of nitrates and preservatives. They’re overly sweetened with high fructose corn syrup as well. The Golden Island Jerky recipes are gluten-free and have no artificial ingredients. The unique flavors come from the founder’s Asian heritage and are available in resealable bags – perfect for travelers.

Golden Island Jerky snack ideas

Win a Hiking Backpack full of with snack ideas for your next trip

The prize includes:

  • Two packages of each variety of Golden Island Jerky ($65 value)
  • Four popular brand name, highly insulated Rambler 18 oz. bottles ($160 value)
  • $100 Visa gift card for gas
  • Hiking Backpack ($40)
Pack your bag and go! Enter here. Good luck!

This giveaway was facilitated by Golden Island Jerky. I was not compensated for this post but did receive free product samples, all opinions are my own.

How do you eat well on long road trips?

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BBQ road trip snack ideas

Road trip snack ideas include happy hours

weekend wanderlust April 2016

Filipino Foods – Tasty times in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Filipino foods, Palawan style, on a mural at Haim Inatu in Puerto Princesa
Filipino foods overflow tables in the Puerto Princesa market
Don’t miss these Filipino Foods in Puerto Princesa
A single Cashew ripens bizarrely poised above an ‘apple’ and yet in a shadowy market corridor in Puerto Princesa, tables were strewn with bags full of the local harvest. The work it takes to harvest them is boggling! But there they were – roasted, fried, raw or broken into chunks of sugary brittle. Seeing my interest, suddenly small bags were ripped open and samples offered. These cashews or ‘Kasoy’ had a milky taste due to how they are cooked that’s worlds apart from what my stateside big box store offers. They were fully ripened and harvested in the south of Palawan Island and dangerously inexpensive. Somehow I managed to restrain my snacking and carry several bags back to California. It was my introduction to the tasty treats of Filipino foods in Puerto Princesa.
Cashews are some of the Filipino foods to try in Puerto Princesa

Bags of cashews in the Puerto Princesa marketplace

There are so many things to see and do in the area and dozens of tours ready to guide visitors. We didn’t find a food tour and there should be! Put your own together with these suggestions of our favorite places and plates in Puerto Princesa. Most were recommended by friends, hotel staff and a few Yelp and Trip Advisor reviews. Thanks to all the help, we discovered a world of exciting eats beyond the expected Adobo (the Filipino national dish) and ubiquitous steamed fish.
Fish market for Filipino foods in Puerto Princesa
A friend had taken us to the old Puerto Princesa marketplace to see the local fish, the seaweed and fruit. Seafood tumbled into baskets, fish, eel, and crustaceans were arranged on cement stands raised to allow juices to flow into gutters. It demanded vigilant side-stepping for the uninitiated. Red leafy seaweed and small clutches of sea grapes were sorted into baskets. Cleavers bore down on Tuna torsos, shook through red crab and pressed fat bellies into fillets. I didn’t know where to look first, everything was happening at once and the show goes on almost daily.
Filipno foods include small, sweet bananasDon’t miss the bananas
After all the snacks en route and airplane meals, I wasn’t going to eat until noon on our first day in Puerto Princesa but came to the breakfast table with a few small bananas that we’d picked up from a sidewalk stand. The petite bananas were mottled with mushy tips but sweet and firm inside. Perfectly ripe and sliced onto my banana pancake they made syrup redundant.
Kalui Garden statues in Puerrto Princesa restaurant

Kalui Garden statues

Entree with sea grapes in Kalui, great Filipino foods

Shrimp with sea grapes in Kalui

Kalui
We found our way into the Kalui Restaurant for lunch. My senses were reeling from the moment we stepped in from the heat and traffic along Rizal Road. Local artwork covered walls, courtyards and the rear gallery but more than that, the owners have a flair for design. Inlaid stones formed arches and flowed over walls. Dancing ladies, shell chimes, puka shell lanterns adorned other areas. Collections of dishes, globes and even a pattern of Aunt Jemima magnets adorned other surfaces.
A glimpse inside Kalui, Puerto Princesa

Inside Kalui, Puerto Princesa

Before entering we were asked to remove our shoes and placed them in one of several baskets by the door. At our table we had a garden on one side and watched a huge family feast on the other. The menu was in Filipino and English. Quickly we ordered the local craft beer, Palaweno Brewery Honey Nut Ale, which was perfect to cool a tropical afternoon. The set meal of the day was inexpensive but included several courses. Starting with a clear broth our appetites were kindled with ginger, lemongrass and light fish flavors. Each course was full of color and flavor. We loved the space and food so much that on our last day in town we returned for more fruit and sashimi.
Entrance to La Terrasse full of tasty Filipino foods in Puerto Princesa
 La Terrasse
You might think that we were finished eating for the day but after working in an internet cafe for hours and wandering downtown we caught a tricycle to the highly recommended, La Terrasse. I’d spotted the entrance on our way in from the airport but after dark it was a bit harder to find. Along the busy road one lane morphed into two or three and back again, but finally we spotted the sign and pulled up in front. The menu is French inspired but light, featuring fresh, organic and sustainably sourced ingredients. Significantly absent were prawns and lobster – the owners claim that they’re impossible to trace to responsible harvest practices.
La Terrasse cocktails underway in Puerto Princesa

La Terrasse cocktails underway

The space was open to the elements, a theme throughout the area, but with stark Euro flair. Walls were washed in deep red. The long, bright bar sat beneath a huge TV monitor and we watched a nature documentary unwind while waiting for our dinner. Our appetizer, housemade breads sticks and a small bowl of fresh pesto, was served with a pitcher of Mojito’s before the soup arrived. It was a pale squash, light and missing the thick cream so often found in French cooking. A small tureen of Spinach Gratinee came next. Dave’s pork and chicken adobo, the national dish, was a pyramid of tasty rice topped with spicy, crispy pork and succulent chicken. Chilled, filtered water came in a bottle. No plastic bottles here! It was a light, satisfying dinner. A lovely conclusion to our first day in the Philippines.
The entrance to Badjao home of Filipino foods in Puerto Princesa

The entrance to Badjao

The fish platter served in Badjao

The fish platter served in Badjao

Badjao Seafood Restaurant
A British Duke once ate at Badjao, which made the restaurant famous, but the seaside setting with the large, open dining room is enough to set it apart from other places in town. It’s a special occasion spot with exceptional service. In the tall, peaked dining room, small birds flitted into chandeliers hung with wafting strands of flowers. Set on stilts between bay and Mangrove forest it was the perfect place to watch the day fade. The bar menu offered wines, tropical cocktails and local beers. Seafood entrees and platters filled the dinner listings. We enjoyed our meal but, while the portions were large, they felt tame and uninspired. I’d recommend Badjao for the drinks, the experience of walking the covered bamboo entryway and the ambiance. Make sure your tricycle driver waits for you. The location is far from town.
Ready for our firefly tour in Puerto Princesa
A floating restaurant and fireflies
The chance to see fireflies set us off on an evening tour to the Puerto Princesa boardwalk. A van picked us up at our hotel and within twenty minutes we were stepping onto a pontoon boat with about a dozen other visitors. It was getting dark and across the wide bay lightning flashed along mountaintops. Out into the darkening night we set, passing silent ships but pulled up to a bright platform where dinner waited, buffet style. A trio of musicians stirred the darkness with drums and digeridoo rhythms. The meal was a bit rushed, but full of traditional and fresh dishes. We could eat as much as we wanted but paid extra if we wanted to drink anything but water. Soon we were invited to return to the boat to continue onto the river where fireflies make nightly appearances. It was a sweet excursion, pretty touristy, but worth the effort.
The bar in Kinabuch's

The bar in Kinabuch’s

Crocodile Sisig in Kinabuch

Crocodile Sisig in Kinabuch

Kinabuch
Everyone mentioned Kinabuch as a must-do restaurant in Puerto Princesa. The beer garden restaurant is set back from the road beyond a small parking lot. In fact we’d walked by several times before stopping in. Kinabuch is laid out like a sports bar with big TV screens scattered through several dining areas and bars. There was one draft pull at the largest bar and I imagine it pours San Miguel, the ubiquitous Philippine ale. As our dinner came, the Blue Marlin steak looked and tasted more like Swordfish. The fresh spring roll came as a thick crepe wrapped around vegetables. It was decent but heavy and not as expected. The beer came late and we had finished our other dishes before asking when our Crocodile Sisig was coming. When it was finally served, the Crocodile Sisig was hot but a bland, ground meat dish. All the portions were huge and if you ask for a platter of rice, you’re served a shovelful. I can see why the place is popular. The music is loud, the prices are good, portions large and they have big screens showing sports games. It would be fun for a night on the town with family and friends.
Haim mural of wood worms a Filipino food

The traditional way to eat wood worms!

Haim Chicken
We’d been looking for a spot to try woodworms, the mollusk harvested from within mangrove roots. Finally we ventured into Haim Chicken which is close to the airport and a short ride from our hotel. Tables were arranged in raised bamboo huts We were happy to hear that Tamilok, wood worms, were available and soon Christian, one of the waitstaff was standing next to our table to make sure we knew how to eat them. He showed us how to lift the long mollusks and dip them into vinegar and garlic sauce before opening wide to swallow the wet creatures. It wasn’t as creepy as you might imagine! They had been thoroughly cleaned and tasted like oysters. If we chewed too much a darker flavor emerged, probably due to their diet of mangrove wood. It was a once in a lifetime taste-test that I’m glad I tried but probably won’t repeat.
Wood Worms, Tamilok, one of the traditional Filipino foods found in Puerto Princesa

The Wood Worm dish

Another special dish at Haim Inatu - Chicken Butts!

Another special dish at Haim Inatu – Chicken Butts!

The adventure didn’t stop there as Dave ordered Chicken Butts. I don’t care for chicken skin or fried foods that much but these were crunchy, moist inside and well seasoned. Everything else that we ate at Haim was flavorful, well cooked and served with care. The beer was cold, service attentive and prices moderate. I’d stop by again to try more of the menu.

Coffee and Internet at iToys in Puerto Princesa
iToys Specialty Coffee Haus
For anyone looking for decent WiFi and espresso drinks, I think iToys would be hard to beat. The small dining room is set with tables perfect for laptops and the patio, shaded by large trees, is a gracious spot to while away a few hours. Their mango smoothies are reputed to be best in the area.
The Bakers Hill viewing platform above Puerto Princesa

Bakers Hill viewing platform

Hopia Ube traditional sweet from Banker's Hill in Puerto Princesa

Hopia Ube traditional sweet from Banker’s Hill in Puerto Princesa

Bakers Hill

It’s a tourist stop full of photo opportunities and selfie spots but the bakery is what made the hill a destination. The most popular items in the small shop are boxes of purple, bean-stuffed pastries called Hopia Ube.They’re made with ‘pork oil’ (lard) or a newer version with vegetable oil. The hill is covered with statues dotting the lush gardens including giant snakes and tigers, Snow White and entourage, and other variations on Disney characters. A winding viewing platform near the back of the property is worth climbing for views of the city. We bought a box of the Ube because everyone else was and broke it open in the van. So glad we did and yes, it was the ‘pork oil’ version.

Enjoying this post? check out more about our adventures in Puerto Princesca.

Flipino foods forever!

We wandered the city for four days and loved exploring the Filipino foods of Palawan. I hope that you’ll stop in Puerto Princesa to explore as we did and not simply pass through on the way to other adventures on the island.

Disclosure: The Firefly tour dinner and the stop at Baker’s Hill were provided through the Philippines Tourism office in Los Angeles and coordinated with the Puerto Princesa Tourism team. Our final itinerary and van tours were provided by ITravel Tours, Events and Consultancy.

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weekend wanderlust April 2016

 

 

 

 

Chicago pub crawl and the birth of brownies

Downtown Chicago Tulips spied before a historic pub crawl
The map for our Detours historic pub crawl

The map for our Historic Chicago pub crawl

Downtown Chicago is overflowing with classic architecture and a history of high and low culture. Early skyscrapers graciously step up and back as they rise to better allow natural light to reach the street and pedestrians below. It’s just one of the architectural refinements that would’ve escaped me entirely if it weren’t for the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour and pub crawl. The promise of insights into architecture, local history, great drinks and company lured my travel buddy and me out on a vibrant Friday night. Over two hours we dipped into hidden lobbies, studied classic facades, historic photos on iPads and explored an underground watering hole. The tour began in the Argo Tea Cafe on Randlolph Avenue, an easy walk from our hotel, the Hyatt Centric on the Loop.
Hyatt Hotel Centric the Loop welcoming gift
Hyatt Centric the Loop Lobby

Lobby sitting area inside the Hyatt Centric the Loop

Hyatt Centric the Loop rooftop bar

Hyatt Centric the Loop rooftop bar with views to the lake.

Given the mild spring weather it was a pleasure to cross the river, enjoying beds of tulips scattered across wide avenues and stop to sip draft Kombucha at the Argo Tea Cafe. The registration fee covered the basics and tip cash was collected at the outset. After that we simply had to follow the leader, Elizabeth. She spoke quickly and began by engaging us in creative guessing games, then expertly herded us over the 3/4 mile walk. The veil of time was pulled aside with every anecdote, as she pointed out a sconce, bricked over window, elaborate carvings and so much more.
The clock inside the historic newspaper building of the Chicago Tribune.

The clock inside the historic newspaper building of the Chicago Tribune.

Through a doorway at the back of the tea shop we stepped into the historic Tribune Newspaper lobby. The towering skyscraper stands as a shrine to news, to a grander era with chandeliers, arched windows and a coffered ceiling that made us hush in respect. The walls and floor were inscribed with quotes with more than 120 stones embedded inside and out from important locations around the world. Most unusual was the tall, muted world map behind the desk. The layout was vertical and pale; mountains and continents stood in relief. Shredded dollar bills had been pulped and molded to create the three dimensional relief!
Out we went to the corner where the Shriners had built their Medinah temple just before the Stock Market crash in 1929. Carved with exotic reliefs with Abyssinian figures and winged embellishments drawn from Islamic designs, the building is topped by a burnished gold dome. Originally, the story goes, it was part of a dirigible docking station before the Hindenberg disaster turned those plans to ash.
Entrance to the subterranean, Billy Goat Tavern, immortalized in a SNL skit.

Entrance to the subterranean, Billy Goat Tavern, immortalized in a SNL skit.

The city is no stranger to ashes. The great Fire of Chicago in 1871 devastated nearly 4 miles of downtown. It created a new slate for the captains of industry to erect a more ideal metropolis. They created an underground where trash and delivery systems still keep truck traffic off the upper downtown streets. Downstairs, just a block from the Tribune building, stood a corner bar, The Billy Goat Tavern, immortalized by an early Saturday Night Live skit. We saw the ‘Wise Guys Corner,’ where early newspaper men and women spent long hours listening and drinking. The Goat is home to single/double/triple burgers and local brews. Our samples were served at an alcove table surrounded by framed photos of the original Billy Goat Siannis and his mascot side by side with media giants, sports figures and celebrities.
Sharing a snack on our pub crawl with Detours Chicago

Sharing a snack on our pub crawl with Detours Chicago

Those were just a few of the stops covered in the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour. As it drew to a close, we passed the flagship Dylan’s Candy Bar. Cocktails in candy hues, garnished with gummy bears and sprinkles were on the bar menu (for those over 21.) The rest of the multi-level shop was a play land full of teens and young families, topping their evening with sweet confections of all kinds.
Flagship Dylans Candy Bar on a Chicago Pub Crawl

The flagship store of Dylan’s Candy Bar

Tiffany's Peacock Doors inside the Palmer Hotel.

Tiffany’s Peacock Doors inside the Palmer House  Hilton Hotel.

 After our pub crawl tour goodbyes we chose a different dessert, a late night brownie, in the hotel where they had been invented. The Palmer House stands proudly full of marbled columns, a cavernous central courtyard. The street lobby once once housed C.D. Peacock Jewelers. When the hotel was rebuilt after the great fire, the jewelers drew the elite in through gilded Peacock doors created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Inside the lofty hotel lobby several bars were in full flow for the Friday crowd. We chose a quiet booth in the restaurant and enjoyed plates of grilled octopus and vegetables before indulging in a brownie, created from the original recipe. (I’d recommend eating in the bar where it’s a bit noisier but there are better prices.)

 

Stepping into the Palmer hotel lobby

Stepping into the Palmer hotel lobby

Brownie created from the original, first ever Palmer Hotel recipe.

Brownie created from the original, first ever Palmer Hotel recipe.

Bertha Palmer, the original owner’s wife, was a savvy business woman and patron of the arts. She ensured that the City’s elite visited the hotel often. The story goes that, for a picnic box lunch with her society swells, Bertha asked the hotel chef to create a dessert that was less messy than sliced cake. The Brownie was born. Nearly a century later we were served a round Brownie made from the same recipe. It sat on a bed of chocolate syrup sprinkled with chips, nuts and cookie crumbles. My verdict? The round brownie was light, and more milk chocolate than the dark full flavor that modern brownies provide. It’s just a matter of taste, I like high cacao content chocolate, still not a crumb went to waste.
It was getting late but the night weather was mild and the street pleasantly peopled. Full of new facts about architecture, full of delicious food and drink, the walk back to our room at the Hyatt Centric Loop was the perfect night cap.
View across the river after our pub crawl. Yes, that's one of Trump's towers.

View across the river after our pub crawl. Yes, that’s one of  Donald Trump’s towers.

Disclosure: Chicago Detours offers many architectural walking tours around Chicago. We loved the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour and look forward to returning to sample more of their trips. We also thank the Hyatt Centric the Loop for our media rate. Our pub crawl was complementary but all opinions are mine.
If you go on a historic pub crawl

DeTours Historic Walking Tours. The historic pub crawl was our choice but there are many tours to select from. It was great mixing speakeasy ambiance, meeting locals and out-of-towners, plus the tickle of learning while tippling!  Detours Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour.

 
Hyatt Centric the Loop: Just steps from downtown attractions, restaurants, the high rail, it’s a new concept in hotel luxury. The lobby is modest but there’s an upstairs lounge, the Corner, with a snack bar, espresso machine, several rooms for dining and meetings. Our room was plush but modest – we had all we needed, enough space, lots of well placed outlets and great WiFi. The staff was courteous, thoughtful and my only regret was arriving a few days before they opened the rooftop bar in the evenings. It’s a perfect perch for a mild evening. The Hyatt Centric the Loop.
Palmer House Hilton Hotel 
There are so many historic hotels to enjoy in the downtown Chicago Loop that it’s hard to focus on just one. For this foodie, when I heard that the Palmer House was the origin of brownies and that they were still baking the original recipe, the chance for a time travel tasting was too good to pass up. (Plus the elegant Palmer was less than two blocks from our hotel.)
Hope you enjoyed this post and get a chance to explore Chicago.
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Historic Chicago bar tour and pub crawl
Chicago pub crawl with Detours Historic Tours Historic bar tour and pub crawl in Chicago

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Sunday brunch, the bay and bubbly with Hornblower San Diego

Hornblower Sunday Brunch cruise ship sails in San Diego
The Coronado Bridge from our Sunday Brunch cruise

The Coronado Bridge from our Sunday Brunch cruise

It doesn’t matter if you’re a local or visiting, getting out on the water in San Diego is always a fresh delight. A Sunday brunch cruise is a luxury that shouldn’t be saved for out of town friends and family. The beautiful, calm bay, the stunning sweep of Coronado Bridge, and great company matched with an overflowing buffet and bottomless mimosas makes for an outing that only a fasting monk would find fault with.

Hornblower cruise hat and champagne on our Sunday brunch

I was lucky to step onto the Hornblower San Diego ship with a group of travel buddies for Sunday Brunch. A light breeze kept us cool as we waited to board and then walked up the ramp to greet our captain.

Captain and Elaine on our Sunday brunch cruise.

The Captain greets us

Stepping in from the sunshine, my eyes adjusted to the light as a tray of champagne or sparkling cider was offered. Large round tables were set with crystal, china and silverware. An ice bucket with Champagne waited for attention. A few steps away, table on table of food presentations; a line of hot entrees, a cutting station, and a dessert nook.

Sunday brunch cruise buddies

San Diego Travel Massive buddies: Katherine, Cintia and Alexa.

Briefly the Captain’s voice echoed through the space with announcements about the ship and our route as we slipped away from the dock. We were off! Food and conversation flowed and it was easy to forget that we were sailing. That would’ve been a mistake as the views just outside our ballroom dining hall rivaled anything else on board.

Buffet details on the Sunday brunch cruise

Carpeted stairs led up and into the daylight. The top deck held small rounds for glassware and more than one guest brought their Champagne bucket upstairs to continue the party. With gentle sun, and smooth breezes, I stood in wonder as the city, the port, and the star of the afternoon, the sweeping grace of the Coronado Bridge slipped by.

Captain working on the Sunday brunch cruise

I’m a big fan of that bridge and the chance to see it from below is always thrilling. Before we knew it, two hours had passed. The ship glided into port and paused as the final ties were made. The captain materialized once again at the top of the gangplank to say goodbyes. I imagine it’s a satisfying part of his job on perfect afternoons like this. Shaking hands with so many satisfied, well-fed, happy guests after their Sunday Brunch wasn’t part of the job description but a perk.

More Sunday Brunch details & other Hornblower cruises:

Hornblower schedules several cruises year round from two docks on the San Diego waterfront.

During Whale Watching season you’re on the water with Naturalists from the San Diego Science Museum and guaranteed sightings or a return trip.

The Sunday brunch cruises are weekly with special dining cruises year round: Mothers’ Day, Pet Day on the Bay, Sunset Dinner, Fireworks and special occasion trips too.

My Sunday Brunch cruise was complementary with Hornblower San Diego. One day I hope to sail with them at their other ports in San Francisco, Niagra and New York.

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Waste not! Pop Up Dinners with Re:Source San Diego

Wellington pop up reception guests enjoy cocktails
At the pop up dinner, Elly Brown of the San Diego Food Alliance

Elly Brown, San Diego Food System Alliance, at the pop up dinner

Pop up dining for good

The Gazpacho shooters had flowers in them.  “We tried to use everything in the garden,” Chef Miguel Valdez of the Red Door said, “And what doesn’t get used goes into compost.”

I have to admit my tummy recoiled a bit when told that the pop up dinner would be made of ‘left overs.’ We arrived for the second seating and as earlier guests exited they were smiling. Thumbs up on the Gazpacho especially. My appetite revived.

Waiting for our seating in the Wellington next door to the Red Door

Pre-dinner reception at the Wellington next door to the Red Door

The night was inspired from its inception. Re:Source, an intiative of the San Diego Food System Alliance, sponsored this first of a series of local, pop up dinners. Some of San Diego’s top chefs are using their creativity to transform ignored or un-coveted food that would otherwise end up in landfills. Other cities are hosting these and San Diego has several scheduled (see below.)

Elly Brown, of the San Diego Food System Alliance, is dedicated to building a food waste resource for people. She spoke briefly about Collard Greens and Kale which are from the same plant that grows Broccoli Weeds, another tasty green that never makes it into our stores. “People don’t realize that it’s delicious.” she said, holding a bunch as if it were a wedding bouquet. It was in our pesto.

This is the beginning of something big. Re:Source aims to:

  1. Raise awareness of the staggering volume of food that is being wasted
  2. Inspire new applications for overlooked by-products of our food system
  3. Re-define food waste as an important resource
Pop up entrees: Opah meatballs, granola greens , white and red sangria.

Pop up entrees: Opah meatballs, granola greens , white and red sangria.

Opah fish is another under-utilized food and abundant locally. It’s firm with a mild, delicious flavor. One course featured Opah ‘tri-tip’ ground into meatballs and served atop a beet pulp/carrot top pesto, with smoked carrots, sauteed greens and a sprinkling of feta cheese. You would never have guessed they were fish meat balls!

A glimpse of beautiful Opah.

A glimpse of Opah.

Chef Valdez and Dave Rudie of Catalina Offshore Products pose at the pop up

Chef Valdez and Dave Rudie of Catalina Offshore Products

Libations flowed through the evening, again using un-coveted or ‘ugly’ fruits and herbs. We enjoyed a Honey champagne cocktail with our salad. White and then red sangria followed with different courses.

“Chefs are becoming mindful of all that they source,” said Chef Valdez. He knows it too well from having to watch the bottom line. Tom and Trish Watlington, owners of the Red Door, have been encouraging. Since the Red Door was founded, they have have been supplementing menus with plants from a plot in El Cajon and bringing the harvest into their restaurant. Big into composting, they are also working on closing the loop with other chefs to do more of the same.

Turning empty lots into profitable plots

Supervisor Ron Roberts is part of the coalition behind the San Diego urban agricultural initiative. Land owners can now create income from blighted spaces and local kids will see that not all food comes wrapped in plastic. The initiative also creates jobs, provides savings in property taxes and beautifies neighborhoods.

ReSource Pop Up San Diego

Find out more about the RE:Source pop up and other un-waste events:

  • San Diego Food Alliance Events
  • National Food Waste Summit – Sponsored by Campus Kitchens
  • BIOCYCLE WEST COAST16 Connecting the dots between Progressive Organics Recycling and Climate Resilient Policies and Successful Program Execution
  • The San Diego Food Alliance is supported by Leah’s Pantry, using nutrition to promote healthier lives and prevent disease for under-served populations.
  • Not in San Diego? Get involved in other Food System Alliance programs.

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Pop up Opah meatballs served at dinner  Food Alliance pop up does good

A Solo adventure – Fun places to visit in London

London Millennial Bridge
Millennial Bridge from St. Peters

Millennium Bridge from St. Peters

The sky never changed color all day. I woke in London, in a second floor, Airbnb, walk-up facing a busy street where the light hardly shifted between the glow from street lights or sun. The sky stayed that indeterminate gray – it could’ve been dawn or dusk – but I was on a quest to find fun places to visit in London. After mapping out a few ideal scenarios for the day, I needed to figure out how to get around. I had buses, trains and lots of walking ahead of me. Taking careful notes and carrying a phone battery back up so I wouldn’t get stranded, I stepped into the winter chill.
London buses are fun places to visit.

First task – Purchase an Oyster card

The night before I had passed a shop advertising Oyster Cards. The woman behind the counter wore a hijab and in an assured British accent told me the ins and outs of the card. Being there one day only with the Oyster card gave me freedom to take the Underground and buses without digging in my purse for change (not accepted on buses) or tallying up more credit card fees. The card is simple to use – you swipe it when you get on a bus, once you’re at the turnstile into the Underground and then at the end of the journey to get out. It kept me moving in sync with the crowds around me. (*See below for tips about what to do with the card when you’re ready to leave London.)

About using London buses
  • Drivers are helpful.
  • Count stops between you and the destination.
  • Don’t be afraid to explore.
  • Sit upstairs on the double deckers’ to get the best vantage point.
  • If you’re pressed for time, avoid taking buses in the central city during lunchtime on weekdays – the streets are clogged and the Underground works much more efficiently. You miss street views however.
Leadenhall Market is a fun place to visit in London

The entrance to Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market
I would never have visited Leadenhall Market if I’d been on the Underground. After arriving the day before at Gatwick airport, managing my way to Tower Bridge stop and onto the bus to Shoreditch, I spied Leadenhall Market from my seat. Mental note – check that out before leaving and it was a major find of the trip.
In the morning I returned to the same bus line (149 if you’re interested) and waited until we passed the Market. I got off at the next stop and walked back to explore. The building with it’s flourishes, bright golds and reds, was an anachronism in the midst of the modern city. Shops lined the passage way. Turns out quite a few movies have been filmed on the premises, the first Harry Potter included. I slowly strolled through and then was astounded by the uber-steam-punk, industrial design of the Lloyd’s tower building behind it.
Lloyd's of London is next to Leadenhall Market

Two views of Lloyd’s of London

Lloyd’s
What contrast! It was such a pleasure watching suits and skirts speed up to top floors in glass elevators. Around the corner was my first glimpse of the London Needle too. That again was a study in contrasts – its belly bending into the wind in brash, symmetrical lines. There were construction crews all over the neighborhood. Who knows what other architectural wonders are in the making?
Shoe Shine girls in Leadenhall Market

Frances and friend, Shoe Shine Girls in Leadenhall Market

Back to Leadenhall I went and onto my next stop, I thought. At a corner of the hall, two young women sat astride shoe polishing boxes. Two women! I had to find out more and met Frances with her partner, both actresses with a day gig. Frances took to my boots with gusto. They soon looked better than when I’d purchased them at a consignment shop! Glad to support the arts!
Great Fire of London Monument

Great Fire of London Monument

Great Fire of London Monument
I was looking for the Underground when I spotted the golden topped tower, standing round, slender and solitary in the midst of the area’s chunky, square buildings. The base is a block embellished with sayings in Latin and English, with statuary carved on one face and inside a long, winding staircase to climb to a viewing platform. I waited a few minutes for the privilege and then left, impatient with only so many hours to explore. There was no telling when the crowd upstairs would descend, no matter what the vendor said.
Millennial Bridge is a fun place to visit in London

Millennium Bridge from the river bank

Millennium Bridge

Into the Underground I went with the goal of visiting the Millennium Bridge and St. Peters Cathedral. The bridge was simple enough to find after I exited the station. Go towards the water, I told myself, and sure enough soon signs pointed the way. It is a very popular destination and my first real crowd experience of the day.

Sweeping, metal wings lift it over the Thames in a long gliding line. I would’ve liked to see a curve in the passage to complete the snake like reflection but perhaps the architects rejected that as too expensive.

Millennial Bridge wings in London
The wings are something though – in matte aluminum rods and fittings, they lift and support. I walked out with hundreds of students on holiday and tourists like myself. Selfies were taken, family Christmas card shots made with the Tower Bridge in the background. Only wish I’d walked to the end and into the Tate museum instead of up to St. Peters. But the dome drew me on and I was standing in the official City of London in moments.
St. Paul's Cathedral Garden is a fun place to visit in London

In the St. Paul’s Cathedral Garden

St. Peters Cathedral – Sort of
The Cathedral is imposing. As I ascended the steps I imagined Julie Andrews singing ‘Feed the Birds’ in My Fair Lady but inside the church doors all was not inviting. If you were there to attend a service there was no charge. If you wanted to gawk it was nearly $20 per adult and then no pictures were allowed. I don’t mind making a donation but decided an interior Cathedral shot wasn’t necessary.
Neal's Yard in London is one of the fun places to visit

In Neal’s Yard

Neal’s Yard is one of the fun places to visit in London
Out I went to find the Underground to Neal’s Yard in Coventry Garden. Emerging from the station I found the roads full and sidewalks clogged. This is winter in London- where is everyone going, I thought? Herds of school kids giggled past. I never saw an empty coffee shop. Through a combination of GPS and excellent maps posted at various points, I found the elusive Neal’s Park.
Stepping through a shadowy passage, I entered a brightly painted, tiny square skirted with trendy shops, dotted with benches and flowering pots. A neat network of hanging lights hung over the center. I parked on a bench and watched, listened and then checked my phone. If I were interested in shopping perhaps it would’ve been more compelling but aside from taking a few pictures, having a full tummy already, and not wanting to shop, there wasn’t much to keep me there.
British Museum
Next task was walking to the British Museum. A very cool looking young man with bleached, short cropped hair passed me in Neal’s Yard. I saw him again, standing on the street smoking (a lot of people do that here,) looking every bit the artsy hipster. Still I found myself asking him, ‘ Is it possible that I’m on Monmouth Street and not lost?’ The question amused him and he melted into a kind stranger, offered me assurance that I had found it and pointed me in the right direction. It was a sweet and unexpected exchange – one of those encounters you miss if you’re not traveling alone.
British Museum Gate

The British Museum Gate

 I walked on, twisting through streets and ended up on a small street with a Museum-this and a Museum-that kind of shop or tavern. One sign claimed that Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin had lived nearby and at the end there was an imposing structure – the British Museum. It’s free to the public which meant crowds were pouring in and out. School groups squatted to eat lunch on the stairs outside, others wandered through galleries with forms to fill out, clutches of them filled stairwell steps writing and talking.
The British Museum is one of the fun places to visit

Inside the British Museum

The central courtyard is a beauty to behold. An umbrella like grid opens above you as you enter the naturally lit atrium. The ceiling is an enormous net of glass and metal over a central restaurant that I wish I’d mounted the sweeping staircase to see.
No, I opted for the Egyptian galleries. I marveled at the Assyrian friezes. I studied Greek vases. I even napped briefly on a bench in front of several sculptures looted from Crete. Before a guard could rouse me, I woke thinking it was time for coffee. The Gallery Cafe was close enough to smell the java brewing. An energetic and earnest tall, young blonde with, I believe, an Italian accent, took orders and payments. It was all delicious.
The British Museum cafe is one of the fun places to visit

In the British Museum cafe

I’ve always loved the refuge of museum cafes. There are interesting conversations to overhear, interesting characters and always good food. Alone, but not, in the way cafes can be, I felt comforted and revived for the next part of the journey, returning to Shoreditch. The goal was to get close via the Underground with space to walk for awhile. Thank goodness for GPS. When I emerged into an Indian neighborhood, no one could tell me where Shoreditch was! A taxi driver apologized that he couldn’t help with a slight Indian shake of his head. It was his first day on the job! But figure it out I did and walked on.
One shop in Spitlefield, London

One shop in Spitlefield

The neighborhood shifted and soon I was on Brick Street. Cool shops, international restaurants smaller than my single, hotel room, and a half dozen vintage clothing places filled the streets. Then there were murals. I would see one, cross the street to study it and turn back to find another from that new angle!

 

Mural in the heart of Shoreditch, a fun place to visit

Mural in the heart of Shoreditch

Shoreditch artists at work

Shoreditch artists at work

Admittedly it was all a bit rough in a non-gentrified way but I never felt at risk even as the light faded. It was a wonderful walk and finding myself thirsty at Happy Hour in a metropolis dotted with bars, I felt it was time to take courage and walk into one.
A miniscule sampling of the Shoreditch murals.

A miniscule sampling of the Shoreditch murals.

One tavern called to me, the Market Garden, surely it would add to my fun places to visit. First there was the name on a span over a street but no doorway. I turned a corner to find the entrance, strolled up to the tiny bar and asked the barmaid what was on tap. As we were talking an older woman shouted from the other side of the bar, in a separate room entirely. She turned out to be the proprietor and motioned for me to step back out on the street then into the other side. All a bit odd, but I was game.
Sonya Esquilant owner of the Tavern

Sonya Esquilant, owner of the Tavern

Inside was a larger space. After helping me, Sonya Esquilant chose a bitters, “A lady’s drink,” the owner said, “Let me show you where to sit.” She dragged a chair noisily to a short bench. It was next to a brick mantle over an anemic electric fire. The chair was for ‘Your drink,’ she said but the seat was tilted. As soon as she turned back to her other clients, I placed the glass on the steadier bench beside me and before long was chatting with a mother and daughter sitting at the next table.
My glass empty, it was time for dinner and that wasn’t an option in the tavern, so out into the cold I returned. Back in the Shoreditch neighborhood there were pop up restaurants and galleries. Before long I was commiserating about the Brazilian economy with a couple running an open restaurant in a street arcade. The meal came back to the apartment with me. Popping open a bottle of Ginger Beer, I settled next to the window to savor my last meal in London. I needed to get some work done before the light shifted to dawn and I made my way to the airport. It was a remarkable day, full of fun places to visit in London.
Shoreditch popup couple

Shoreditch popup couple

If you go:
  • Oyster Card – Pick up at stations and various shops. *Refund on unused portion and deposit in the airport terminals. More here
  • Leadenhall Market – A historic marketplace featured in many movies. More here
  • Monument to the Great Fire of London – The tragedy that ravaged acres of the city is memorialized with a tower offering great views of the city. More here.
  • British Museum – Free entrance and open daily More about the British Museum
  • Millennium Bridge – Spans the Thames, walking bridge More about the bridge
  • Shoreditch – A distinctive neighborhood full of art, trendy and new diversions More here.
  • Neal’s Yard – Close to several Underground stops. More here

Hope you enjoyed this post and will share it. Here’s some pins too!

Leadenhall Market pinSt. Pauls London pinShoreditch mural pin
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