Thursday, September 21, 2017

Where to Eat in the Willamette Valley

My prior post on The Painted Lady is my top choice for a high end multi-course menu with wine pairings in the Willamette Valley. It was unquestionably our favorite dining experience during our stay. However, most of our meals were a bit more casual. I'm listing some of our favorite spots here along with another option for a more extravagant night out.

For breakfast, lunch or dinner -
Babica Hen Café - There are two locations of this restaurant, we went to the one in Dundee which is open everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had a late breakfast here on the last day of our trip before driving back to Portland. I ordered the Shredded Chicken Tostada which came with two crispy tostadas topped with tinga chicken, two fried eggs, avocado, black beans, pico de gallo, salsa roja, lettuce, sour cream and cotija cheese. This was one of the larger options on the menu, it was hearty and very flavorful. I paired it with a spicy Bloody Mary which had a definite face-flushing heat, be forewarned. My husband opted for the more basic Hen
House Breakfast with coffee, simple yet well-prepared. The post-breakfast menu looked crowd friendly while the nice by-the-glass selections of local wine will ensure our return on our next trip.

For lunch or dinner -
The Dundee Bistro serves up locally sourced produce and meats in the form of freshly prepared salads, pastas and pizzas along with a few main course options that make it a solid dinner pick as well. They have a large wine list with a good range of prices affording most guests the opportunity to enjoy a bottle along with their meal. We stopped in here  for a late lunch on our first day after driving in from the airport. We wanted to eat light so we shared a salad and a pizza with pepperoni and broccolini along with a glass of Ponzi Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. We had good service, the salad was fresh and the pizza was crisp, gooey and delicious. It is open from 11:30am to 9:00pm daily and the menu makes it easy to just get a quick snack or build yourself a multi-course meal.

For breakfast, lunch, dinner and picnics -
Red Hills Market - We went here one morning right as they were opening at 7:00am. The Red Hills Market has fresh baked pastries and breads along with sandwiches and other quick serve items, like the quiche of the day, dished out in a country store setting. We went for a quick grab and go type breakfast but my husband decided to go a bit bigger and get the breakfast sandwich. I chose the vegetable quiche so we sat down inside and enjoyed it there. The seated area in the restaurant is on the cozy side, its not a place I would try to bring a large group. We did enjoy our meal and we also enjoyed looking over the gift shop. They also sell a gourmet picnic lunch box, pictured here, which we would enjoy later on in our trip as part of our helicopter tour experience.
Stay tuned, I will be posting on that soon.

Honorable mention for a Willamette multi-course dinner with a wine pairing option goes to Joel Palmer House. Also served up in a white table cloth setting in a older house turned restaurant, the menu here is centered on the local mushrooms and truffles and gives diners both a 3 or 5 course option.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Wining and Dining at The Painted Lady - Willamette Valley

The quintessential dining experience in Willamette Valley is to enjoy the tasting menu with pairings at The Painted Lady. I made sure to book this reservation as soon as I knew the dates of my trip. The restaurant is located in Newberg in a Victorian house which was the inspiration for the name. In American architecture, a painted lady is a term for Edwardian or Victorian homes that were painted in three or more colors to enhance their design features.

We arrived for dinner shortly before 8:00 and were immediately ushered to our table upstairs. This dining area was filled with cozy couples enjoying the full tasting experience which was perfect for us as we were there to do the same. An array of canapes immediately arrived to our table along with our water and the assurance that our first wine pairing would be delivered shortly.

Our wine selections began with Régis Minet Pouilly Fumé Vieilles Vignes 2014 which would
accompany both the mixed canapes and the asparagus-based amuse bouche.

Next up was a serving of the JB Becker Wallufer Rheingau Trocken Riesling 2014 alongside a miso custard with Dungeness crab seasoned with sesame powder and pickled red onion.

A palate cleansing pour of Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne arrived next as the complement to a ricotta and sorrel stuffed pyramidelli with roasted sunchoke, fava pesto, honey foam, whey broth and toasted walnuts.

A local wine from the Chahelem Mountain area was up next, the Crowley Laurel Hood Pinot Noir 2011 was the savory choice for the charred eggplant which had tasso ham, patty pan squash, shitake mushrooms and umami broth.

Drinking local continued into the next course with Lingua Franca Avni Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2015 paired with Golden Halibut on top of pea puree and mushrooms with olive oil jam, scarlet queen turnips, squash pave and black garlic crumbles.

A meat centric course took us into Italy with a serving of Rocche Dell'Annunziata Barolo 2011 alongside a 28 day dry-aged New York strip steak with Roman gnocchi, fennel gratin, marble potato and nettle puree.

Our cheese course was next to arrive and included Fraga Farmstead Creamery Foster Lake Camembert with pecan puff pastry, cherries and house made yogurt garnished with rose petals. this was promptly followed by a refreshing mint granita with hazelnuts, chocolate consommé and lemon confit.

The decadence continued with Oremus Takaji Aszu 3 Putttonyos 2010 and a baba au rhum with blueberry and ginger ice cream, white chocolate cream and bay leaf anglaise followed by an assortment of mignardises with coffee.

This was our favorite dining experience that we had in the Willamette Valley. The service was exceptional and it was at the level that you would expect for a restaurant offering this type of multi-course meal. The food was both delicious and thoughtfully prepared. The atmosphere was intimate yet relaxed, we felt we were well cared for while still being able to comfortably converse between ourselves. The dinner was $110 per person with an additional $75 each for the wine pairings and we felt the value was there for the price. The portions were generous and we left feeling very satisfied.

The Painted Lady lived up to her well-deserved reputation, it is the highly recommended not-to-be-missed restaurant to visit when visiting in the Willamette Valley.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Allison Inn & Spa - Willamette Valley

After the Allison Inn & Spa was repeatedly recommended as the place to stay when in Willamette, I went on-line and booked a room. The resort was built in 2009 and was the valley's first luxury hotel. It sits on 35 acres with vineyards, gorgeous gardens and a surrounding art walk. We arrived to find that we had a ground floor room with a back patio and small garden space which lent an air of privacy though it lead out to the walkway. 

Our room was fairly spacious with a gas fireplace easily lit for warmth or ambience. There was adequate storage for two people's things and comfortable seating where one could work or enjoy coffee.  It had a large marble bathroom and vanity area. While the room had abundant natural and artificial light and was easily darkened for sleeping, the bathroom could have used a bit more light for morning and pre-dinner primping.

There was a nice bar on the lobby level with a living room serving up a good array of wine and snacks. It opened to a large terrace with beautiful views . We enjoyed a flight of local sparkling rosé upon our arrival. Adjacent to this area is the hotel restaurant, The Jory. We had breakfast there one day during our stay and we both thought it was good.

We had a couple's massage appointment our first day there and it was fantastic, we both thought our therapists were highly skilled. We were also able to spend some time in the hot tub and enjoy some tea together out on the sundeck. It is very important to make all  of your spa reservations when you make your hotel reservation. I had wanted to book a second treatment but there was no more availability during our stay.

The inn is in Newberg, a great Willamette Valley location if you are planning on visiting wineries and it has many good restaurants nearby. The hotel is clean, it is very comfortable and we found the staff to be very welcoming. We loved our stay here and we would absolutely return again, The Allison Inn & Spa is highly recommended.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Walking in Santa Monica

Although we did have a car, we tried to get in our 10,000 steps a day while we were visiting Santa Monica. From our hotel, we were able to walk to the Pacific Park Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. These are some of the major tourist attractions in the area and there were people everywhere enjoying the beautiful sunny weather. We were not there for the rides as we still had an upcoming day at Universal Studios planned but it is free to walk on the pier and take in the expansive views..

There are many restaurants along Ocean Ave to get a quick bite or a beverage should you need refreshment while sightseeing in this area. In addition to enjoying the crashing waves on the sand and the people watching on the pier, you can find artwork and some historical monuments, like a cannon, along the walking trails above the beach as you move towards Palisades Park.

If shopping is more your speed, then head to the Third Street Promenade where you will find three blocks of stores and cafés with street performers and landscaped dinosaur art fountains.

It sits next to an upscale retail center called Santa Monica Place, this is an area of downtown where you can find whatever you need from simple basics to luxury goods. Even if you don't want to shop, the people watching is good here, too.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Eating in Santa Monica

Our most exciting discovery was a group of restaurants that I found while googling best breakfasts in Santa Monica. They feature local produce, meat and artisan baked goods, most of which is organic. The search had led me to Huckleberry, a bakery and café on Wilshire Blvd not too far from our hotel. It was our favorite breakfast that we had while we were there. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures that day (it was very early) but if you are in the area, it is one that you should not miss. We enjoyed a few different pastries along with hot breakfast dishes like the poached eggs and market vegetable bowl with basil pesto and
parmesan cheese, everything we tried was fresh and flavorful.

Also serving breakfast in this group is Milo & Olive, a restaurant I had on my list for a potential pizza night. We didn't end up doing that but we did enjoy a late breakfast/brunch there one morning which they serve from 7-11 AM daily. I enjoyed the creamy polenta and poached eggs with braised bacon bits and baby greens. They also make a breakfast pizza that looked phenomenal, we were sorry that we hadn't ordered that when we saw it. They serve breakfast cocktails along with choice of a sparkling wines in addition to a menu of espresso drinks. The lunch/dinner options looked very inviting, too.

We did have a late dinner one night at their first restaurant, the Rustic Canyon, a seasonal restaurant and wine bar. The Flannery cote de boeuf served with French fries and green pepper corn sauce was quite large and very tasty. We shared that dish along with a few other small plates.

We were impressed with all three of these restaurants from this group and they have more as well. Don't miss an opportunity to check them out if you are in the area, I will be visiting the others on my next visit.

Our favorite dinner in Santa Monica was actually outside of that group at Michael's, one of the city's quintessential dining establishments. We were seated at a table in their Garden, a mostly enclosed patio room full of plants and soft lights. I had a primarily vegetable based meal that evening along with some sparkling wine from the Loire Valley. The food was beautifully prepared and delicious, the service was exceptional and the ambience was enchanting. Reservations are a must, the restaurant remained full the entire night.

Another spot that we enjoyed was the more casual Blue Plate Oysterette on Ocean Ave. We had done a bit of a walking tour of Santa Monica and spotted the seafood towers on the patio. Steadily busy while we were in the area, we made a reservation to come back later that evening. It was a bit chilly that night so we opted to eat inside. My daughter and I shared this seafood tower with a little help from my husband and she and I also split the chopped kale salad. Good food, but it was crowded and noisy, it may be more enjoyable with the views on the patio by day.

Another honorable mention is Charcoal Venice on Washington Blvd. Though it is not technically in Santa Monica, its location on Washington Blvd is not too far. It has a meat centric menu perfect for carnivores with a good wine list and friendly service.

All of these restaurants are highly recommended!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Touring the Getty Villa

We toured the Getty Villa during our recent trip to Santa Monica, it was about a 15 minute drive from our hotel. We opted to do a self-guided tour as we had not really allowed enough time for this visit. The museum is currently under construction and will be until the fall of this year so some parts were closed or not fully functional during our time there. Check the website for more information on times and schedules.

Visitors enter through the Fleishman Theater which was added in 1996 during a renovation. It is constructed to look like an outdoor classical theater and they will do a live production here on weekends in September which does carry a cost.

Admission is free to tour the Getty Villa but parking is $15 a car. You do need to go on-line and reserve your tickets as you have a designated entry time. They also have shows, tours and live music on their calendar that you may want to schedule your visit around, some fees may apply for those special events. The shows include a wide range of subjects like luxury art of the Incas, African masks,
and the downfall of Athens.

We focused on touring the grounds and the Villa during our trip. The Villa was constructed in the early 1970s to fulfill J. Paul Getty's dream of recreating a first century Roman country house located in Herculaneum, Italy, called the Villa dei Papiri which had been destroyed by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. The Villa was constructed to house his large collection of approximately 44,000 objects of Roman, Greek and Etruscan art dating from 6500 BC to AD 400 and to showcase how life looked in the first century.

The building is beautiful with great attention to detail including things like light fixtures modeled to look like the bronze lanterns carried on the streets of Pompei. Every ceiling treatment is a work of art as well. I spent I lot of time looking up as we strolled around. Centered between the galleries is the Inner Peristyle garden which has benches for guests to rest for a moment in a very tranquil setting.

The collection of artifacts is amazing. Part of the current renovation plan is to present the works in a more chronological order than they are currently displayed.

The outdoor grounds included an herb garden with herbs and shrubs that would have been used during this time period for food, medicine and
ceremonial reasons. The Outer Peristyle garden was open but the pool was empty and under repair and is expected to remain so through the fall. The space was beautifully landscaped and the sculptures kept your eyes busy. The East Garden was closed during our visit.

The Getty Villa has a Roman Holidays theme right now, it will end on September 3. They were showcasing activities that would have been done such as the ability to offer prayers to Aphrodite or have your future told by having a sheep's liver read on your behalf. There are live music and comedy performances to go along with this on
Saturdays and Sundays from 11-3.

If you are visiting Los Angeles, take a drive to Malibu and view this awe-inspiring trove of antiquities and wander the grounds while imagining yourself in another time and place, it is well worth your time.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows - Santa Monica

Refreshment on the patio
of the Lobby Lounge
My husband and I stayed at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows with our adult daughter this summer after her graduation from a Masters program at Claremont Graduate University.

We wanted to be near the beach but still be able to easily get into Los Angeles to visit some of the tourist attractions. This was our first time to stay at a Fairmont Hotel. I chose the Miramar for its ocean views and its proximity to the Santa Monica Pier and the beach. It has a long history with a Hollywood connection, it has been a destination of the stars for almost a century. After looking over the various room options, I decided that the Palisade King Suite would easily accommodate us. My husband and I shared a private bedroom and our daughter got the fold out couch in the living room. The six story Palisades wing which housed our room is a historic part of the property that was built in 1924. For a more luxe experience, you can also book a poolside bungalow instead.

Lemon ricotta pancakes with
almonds and blueberry
butter at Fig
We all enjoyed spa treatments at the Exhale- Mind, Body, Spa located in the hotel. We had an amazing late night wine and cheese course at Fig, the on-site Mediterranean bistro featuring local organic produce. We also enjoyed two hearty breakfasts there. The Lobby Lounge was a daily destination, an inviting space that opens out onto a patio with waterfalls and koi ponds and offered complimentary bar snacks with your drink.

There is also a rocking bar on the property that is very popular with the locals called The Bungalow. It had a huge line out the door every night. Standing in the line didn't appeal to us and we hadn't made reservations but there was definitely a lively crowd.

The property is beautiful, it is convenient for accessing the beach, the pier, good shopping and great dining. There is a 140 year old fig tree that shades the entrance and inspired the restaurant's name. The hotel offered rides to outside destinations within a certain distance which was very convenient for us as well. The room was spacious, clean and comfortable.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica, I highly recommend this hotel for your next trip.

Two eggs over easy with
toast and bacon at Fig
My daughter and I under
the old fig tree planted in 1879
Pacific Park Beach by the Santa Monica Pier

Thursday, August 3, 2017

a'Bouzy has Officially Opened

Houston's hottest new wine destination, a'Bouzy has officially opened this week and the beautiful people are flocking in to get a taste. The Champagne is flowing and the food is delicious. Reservations are a must; open for lunch, happy hour and dinner. Check out the video for a sneak peak!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Star Fish Houston

I first got to feast at Star Fish in June when a media friend made me her +1 to an early evening tasting event. Due to travel, I hadn't had time to write about that experience yet or return for another visit but I had not forgotten how delicious it had been. When my husband said he wanted seafood on Saturday evening, I quickly recommended this Heights area restaurant.

Planning a last minute dinner meant that we were not able to get a reservation for a table but we were able to secure two seats at the oyster bar. This dinner was part of a weeklong celebration of my husband's birthday so we started with a bottle of Ruinart Rosé Champagne, a smoking deal on the Star Fish wine list at $84 especially when you consider that Spec's retails it for $86.

We started off with some of the Raw Bar offerings, oysters on the half-shell from Prince Edward Island and a salmon crudo with sushi bar inspired seasonings. Due to our seats and our interest, we also were given some small sample tastes of both a tuna and a spicy
halibut ceviche as well, all were fresh and delicious, each was unique.

For our main course, we split the delectably crispy whole fried Gulf red snapper served with sautéed spinach and a choice of potatoes (shown with the fingerling potatoes in the photo), we actually picked the famous butter fries which are as decadent as they sound made with Kennebec potatoes fried in clarified butter. With our appetizers and imminent plan of dessert, this was the perfect-sized meal for us that evening.

Our night of coastal cuisine was completed with a slice of Key Lime cheesecake, a favorite of my husband and a delightful balance of creamy, sweet and tart on which to end. Usually, I like to eat at a restaurant at least three times before endorsing it but I don't feel the need to do that in this case.

The restaurant is part of the very successful Cherry Pie Hospitality Group in Houston that also includes the wildly popular State Fare, Lee's Fried Chicken and Donuts and Pi Pizza. Unlike some of their more fast and casual options, Star Fish offers a more stylish setting combining classic seafood house decor with a sleek modernity.

The food quality when my husband and I ate there was at the same exceptional level as it was for the media dinner I attended the prior month. The diverse menu options combined with refreshing signature cocktails and a wine list with numerous and interesting by-the-glass offerings at reasonable prices make this not just a neighborhood restaurant but a dining destination.

Star Fish is highly recommended! My husband discussed what he is planning on ordering next time all the way home.

My pictures in this post are from the media dinner, the lighting was much better that day.
I'm including a few other pictures of recommended items from then as well.

Cantina della Volta Lambrusco Brut Rosé
Starfish Bouillabaisse
with halibut, lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, tomato-saffron broth, and crouton rouille 
Sweet Red Pepper Roasted Gulf Shrimp
with garlicky noodles and chives

Sautéed Cauliflower Steak with llemon, dates and capers

Strawberry Bomb -
angel food and strawberry decadence

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Balkan-inspired Wine Dinner at Lucille's

I went to Lucille's last week for a wine dinner which featured Austrian and Balkan wines. Executive Chef, Chris Williams, was the U.S. Culinary Cultural Ambassador during a 25 day tour of the Balkans in 2015 and he has wanted to showcase what he learned during his travels ever since.

Finding available Balkan wines in our market proved to be somewhat difficult which caused the year long delay on this dinner.

Certified Sommelier, Rodney Willis, was on hand to introduce each wine to the full house and to provide diners with the opportunity to purchase their favorites that evening.

The Menu:

Guests were welcomed with a glass of Austrian Loimer "Lois" Gruner Veltliner and 3 Day Feta with
pumpkin oil and fresh bread.

1st Course - Scallop crudo with citrus oil, dried petals and sumac paired with Szigeti Sparkling Brut Gruner Veltliner also from

2nd Course - Braised pork belly with arugula, compressed melon and smoked paprika vinaigrette served with Loimer Rosé from Austria as well.

3rd Course - Black bass with roe, cremini mushrooms and tomato in fresh tumeric broth paired with  Edi Simcic Rebula Reserva from Slovenia.

4th Course - Seared filet with smoked chestnut puree, stewed porcini and charred onion petals accompanied by an Austrian red wine, Paul Achs "Lust and Leben".

5th Course - Braised goat neck with buttered carrots and štrukli served with Tikves Vranec from Macedonia.

6th Course - Compressed summer fruit with assorted cheeses paired with Kracher Cuvée Auslese from Austria.

This was my first wine event at Lucille's but this was not the case for most attendees, I learned. Table mates discussed the regular events that the restaurant hosts and highly recommended to me that I should return.

It is advice that I will take, the dinner was tasty and the wines were unique, I'm looking forward to coming back soon and seeing what Chef Chris Williams comes up with next.

Follow Lucille's on Facebook to learn about upcoming events. This dinner was priced at $70 per person.