Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Enlightened Moment in Rome

In addition to freelance writing, I have also been a certified yoga teacher since 2008. When my yogini daughter and I saw this "levitating" yogi outside the Colosseum in Rome, we had to take a closer look.

Though it was a process for him to get into place and although he is using a bit of trickery, we were still quite impressed with his balance.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tuscan Cooking Class at Castello Banfi

One of my favorite parts of our mother/daughter trip this spring was our cooking class in the Montalcino region at Castello Banfi Il Borgo with Chef Domenico Francone. He oversees everything from the cuisine served at La Sala dei Grappoli, the fine dining restaurant, to the room service for the hotel guests. We had already enjoyed a multi-course dinner on our first night so we knew that he was going to be good.

We had been looking forward to learning to cook some Tuscan dishes from a genuine Italian chef ever since we started planning our trip. We met Chef Domenico out on the grounds and we rode with him to a guest house out in the vineyard. Inside a small, homey kitchen, the three of us set about creating a four course lunch to be paired with Banfi wines.

As the chief cook in my own home, I was happy to sit back, sample the wine and let him teach my next generation. I did help with everything though the video doesn't show it. My favorite part was making the pasta which, oddly, I had never attempted before this day.

Our menu:

  • Ricotta flan with zucchini and tomato concasse- I loved this first course and its not difficult to make.
  • Tagliatelle with ragout- My meat sauce has definitely improved since my afternoon with Domenico, I'm using less garlic and mincing up the veggies more.
  • Fillet of veal with Tuscan bacon and seasonal vegetables- Complete stove-top meal in this one course that every college student should be able to make in some rendition, perfect for my daughter.
  • Chocolate Souffle- Easier than I expected though I didn't actually participate in this dish. I watched them, took pictures and sipped on some more wine, but from my vantage point, it looked very doable.
Check out the video and get a glimpse of our cooking class in beautiful Tuscany, an amazing culinary experience.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Staying at Castello Banfi Il Borgo - Italy

I became aware that Castello Banfi Il Borgo existed several years ago due to the preponderance of wines that Banfi makes that can be found in the Houston market. I had googled it before and put it on my mental list of places that I would like to go. When my daughter suddenly requested to change the second leg of our travel plans from northern Spain to Florence and Rome, it was my very first thought even though it isn't located in either city. I quickly booked our 4 day stay.

I hired a driver to pick us up in Florence and bring us to our temporary castle. Upon arrival, we were taken to our suite which featured a spacious bedroom, ample living area and a large, well-appointed bath room. This was pure heaven after our more modest accommodations in Paris. Our castle room was once a home for an entire family when it was built in the 1700's and it, unquestionably, provided us with more than enough room to thoroughly spread out.

We quickly spruced up and headed to the hotel's fine dining restaurant, Sala Dei Grappoli, to try their tasting menu. Our meal was exceptional, though almost too large for us. My favorite course was the scallop while my daughter gushed about the duck.
The menu:

  • Scallop, peas and calamari with 2014 Fontanelle Chardonnay
  • Cinta Senese ravioli on leek cream with 2012 ASKA Bolgheri Rosso
  • Risotto with red onions, salsa Etrusco, truffle and toasted almonds with 2013 Rosso di Montalcino
  • Duck breast with rhubarb, Brunello jus and seasonal vegetables with 2009 Poggio Alle Mura
  • Crunchy chocolate dome with biscuits ice cream and 2014 Rosa Regale
Walking down to see Brunello the donkey and sneak him apples became a part of our routine while we were there. They have a pool and sun deck overlooking the vineyards but it was still too cool for us to enjoy. They have bicycles available for those that like riding the hillsides. Other activities that kept us busy on-site included wandering the vineyards, touring the winery, enjoying in-room massages, spending a fair amount of time at the tasting room, taking a cooking class and trying not to overeat. Breakfast was delicious every morning, we also indulged in a mini tasting menu at the more casual restaurant, La Taverna, and one low key night with room service.  There is also a small glass museum at the hotel which we did peruse on our final morning.

After a week of racing through Paris and staying in cramped quarters, a few days of gentrified wine country living was the perfect relaxing break for us before venturing onto the crowded streets of Rome. My daughter had been doing a study abroad for the three months prior to meeting me in Paris, we had a lot to catch up on.

If I were to go back again (and I hope I do), I would rent a car to venture out more into the surrounding area. Though we enjoyed walking and taking in the scenery, I would have liked to have seen more of the region. I would love to return at a warmer time of year. The weather was gorgeous but it was still a bit chilly for two Texas girls.

Castello Banfi Il Borgo is a highly recommended hotel (and castle) for its fantastic food, wonderful wine, breathtaking scenery, exceptional service and sheer comfort. While my daughter and I seemed to be surrounded by honeymooners, we thought it was an amazing destination for a mother/daughter trip as well. We loved everything about our stay there and the cooking class is a day we will always remember. Thank you Chef Domenico and everyone at Castello Banfi Il Borgo, it was truly phenomenal.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Touring Maison Ruinart

During our Mother/Daughter trip to Europe, we made a point to visit one of my favorite Champagne houses, Maison Ruinart. I have written about the sparkling wines of Ruinart on numerous occasions so I was very excited to take this tour.

I also thought it was appropriate that my daughter's first visit to the Champagne region should begin with the first established House in Champagne. It is a truly informative tour followed by an equally informative tasting. The wines were exquisite, as expected. I would highly recommend taking this little jaunt if you will be vacationing in Paris. It is a quick trip by train.

Things to know if you want to enjoy this tour as well:
  1. Visit the website at least a month prior to your trip to set up your touring time.
  2. Be on time, not early, you will wait outside (in the rain, in our case) until the exact time that you were told and if you are late, you will be left behind and not allowed to tour.
  3. Dress for cold weather, it is chilly down in the Crayeres.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Tasting Menu at Le Millenaire

During our 24 hour stay in Reims in the Champagne region of France, my daughter and I chose the tasting menu at Le Millenaire for the one dinner that we had time for while there. This Michelin-starred restaurant by Chef Laurent Laplaige offers a regular menu along with the option of different tasting menus, we checked our opinions at the door and waited in anticipation to see what the kitchen would offer.

Though the restaurant is not large, the tables are well spaced in the modern dining room. Dark carpets, neutral walls and white tablecloths add a sleek look to the elegant space.

When in Reims, there is only one way to begin. Though we were touring the Champagne house the following day, we each ordered a glass of Ruinart Champagne, one blanc de blancs and one rosé to start. The magic was quickly underway with amazing bites of deliciousness arriving to the table.

We enjoyed everything though I don't believe that I can describe it all. My favorites were the delicately prepared John Dory fish and the stuffed zucchini flower. My daughter loved the array of miniature sweets. Though the wine list had more than Champagne, we stuck with the local beverage of choice throughout our meal. For the perfectly served, exquisitely presented deliciousness along with a phenomenal list of Champagne, Le Millenaire is a highly recommended restaurant when in Reims.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dinner with a View - Les Ombres

After our extravagant lunch, we had planned to have something fairly low key for dinner but it seems the travel gods wanted to smile upon us. 

We had strolled over to the Eiffel Tower tourist-style to take some pictures at night and happened upon Les Ombres along the way. Far more modern and pricey-looking than our original street cafe plan, armed with a credit card and not knowing anything at all about the restaurant, we took a chance and went in. I believe we were lucky to get in without a reservation and our good fortune did not end there. 

Les Ombres is located in the Musée du Quai Branly and has an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower. It has an understated elegance in the dining room where the design is all about the panoramic view of the City of Light. We were seated with a prime view of our surroundings and were quickly served two glasses of Champagne and a fabulously fresh lobster salad. 

The restaurant had a busy vibe and the service was excellent. Some guests were enjoying the opportunity to take photos out on the terrace. Our late evening meal ended with more bubbles and the fabulous Camembert cheese plate. It seemed our destiny of eating well on this trip was now firmly established.

While the food and wine would be amazing on their own, the Eiffel Tower lighting up and putting on its twinkle time show makes this a must-have Parisian experience. Les Ombres is a highly recommended restaurant.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tasting Lunch at Il Vino d'Enrico Bernardo

One of our favorite lunches in Paris was at the Michelin-starred Il Vino d'Enrico Bernardo.  The restaurant states on-line that its concept is "A place for those who live the art of table sharing the pleasure of the senses and the intellect." That perfectly describes my daughter and I, so, off we went after our morning at the Louvre.

The elegantly designed contemporary eatery boasts a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings by world re-known sommelier Enrico Bernardo. We were served wine in black blind tasting glasses with each course. The menu was innovative, everything was delicious and the pairings were perfect. It was an exceptional way to continue a morning of art appreciation, the tasting lunch at Il Vino d'Enrico Bernardo is a highly recommended way to spend your afternoon in Paris.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Morning at the Louvre - A Mother/Daughter Trip

It would be easy to spend days walking through the Louvre slowly perusing the exhibits.  It is over 600,000 square feet in size and has more than 380,000 objects on display. During our short trip to Paris, we only allotted one morning to take in the offered culture. We arrived promptly for the 9:00 opening to allow ourselves approximately 3.5 hours to see some sites before our lunch reservation. My daughter's main goal was to see Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, one of the most heavily sought objects in the museum.

We immediately got directions upon entering and headed that way. There was a tremendous crowd to take in the famed piece of art, it took longer than we expected but we did see it. Once that primary goal was accomplished, we were able to meander through the various exhibits and thoroughly enjoy our morning there.

In addition to taking in the Renaissance paintings, we really enjoyed the large collection of ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek artifacts. An obvious stop during a Parisian stay with so much to see, not just a must-do when in Paris but also a worthy re-do anytime for art lovers and history buffs.