U.S. & Canada

Save Water, Drink Dry-Farmed Wine

It's not exactly news that California is struggling with water issues. Grapevines, however, are extraordinary creatures and, with careful planning, they can thrive in difficult conditions if planted in the right soil and in the right area. Dry-farming basically relies on the right type of soil, typically clay-based, to store the area's natural rainfall. This practice was, and is again becoming, the new norm for many wineries across the state - saving countless gallons of precious water in the process.

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Historically speaking, large-scale agricultural irrigation is a relatively modern luxury. Although irrigation has been practiced for thousands of years, it wasn't until the mid-1960's in Israel when drip irrigation really revolutionized global agriculture, including the wine industry. In Europe, dry-farming has been the only option in many renowned wine regions throughout France, Italy, Spain, Greece, etc. for as long as anyone can remember. In fact, it is illegal to irrigate wine grapes in many regions, like Bordeaux and Burgundy, due to the belief that irrigation will lower the quality of the wine. 

The trouble with California is that our climate is much drier and, in many areas, much hotter than a lot of Old World European vineyards. However, many winemakers hold strong that dry-farming is better for the grapes. Since dry-farming tends to produce lower yields, some believe that this will intensify the grape's flavor and produce better wine. The idea is that more irrigation = watered-downed grapes and, therefore a watered-down wine. After all, some of the finest wines in the world are produced from dry-farmed grapes! 

Here are some lovely dry-farmed California wines to try:

Frog's Leap 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley

Frog's Leap is famously dry-farmed and they have a great example of dry-farmed, organic Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is everything you want out of a light summer white: it's bright, citrusy, with great depth and minerality

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Tablas Creek 2014 Dianthus Rosé, Paso Robles

A blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Cunoise, this rosé is one of the best in the region. It is bright and floral, with rich stawberry notes throughout. The finish is long and clean, delightful as a slightly chilled summer sipper. 

Emeritus Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir, Sonoma County

Since Pinot Noir is the wine Emeritus produces, it's no surprise that they do it well. Easy-drinking with great fruit character and mild acidity, this is a versatile summer red. 

Chappellet Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel, Napa Valley

It's no surprise for a Chappellet wine to be exceptional and this growing season certainly made it a little easier. This wine is ripe, with notes of jammy cherry and blackberry. It's rich and intense. An excellent example of dry-farmed, mountain-grown Zinfandel.

Stolpman Vineyards 2012 Grenache, Los Olivos

Grenache is under-appreciated in the United States and seems to be making a bit of a comeback. Stolpman's Grenache is sweet on the nose, but don't let that fool you - this is a bold wine with some tannin and spice on the palate. 

How to Eat Well in San Francisco

It's hardly a surprise that San Francisco offers delightful culinary experiences around every corner. The tough job might be actually choosing from the long list of great restaurants! 

Nibbles 

Hog Island Oyster Co.

Hog Island Oyster Co.

The Ferry Building was built to be touristy - and that's perfectly fine - but it has some delightful things within its walls. One of the first things I do every single time I'm in San Francisco is walk to the Ferry Building to find a seat at Hog Island Oyster Co.'s oyster bar. The view + the fresh oysters + the slight chill from all the ice behind the bar is sort of meditative. When you're done, go walk around. Have some organic soft-serve from Strauss Family Creamery (how often can you find organic soft-serve? Answer: almost never.), order coffee from the secret counter at Blue Bottle Coffee and then simultaneously eat your soft-serve and drink your coffee while you wander. If you need something a bit more savory, head over to Chris Cosentino's Boccalone for a meat cone (if you appreciate the use of the whole animal, be sure to get some fresh local lard soap from Boccalone as well) and then grab some local cheese from Cowgirl Creamery

Fresh local lard soap, Boccalone

Fresh local lard soap, Boccalone

Ferry Building Goodies

Ferry Building Goodies

Dried shellfish in Chinatown

Dried shellfish in Chinatown

Chinatown is also touristy, but there are some hidden gems. It's absolutely worth the time to stick your head into a few shops, smell all the dried seafood, and pick up a steamed pork bun when you get hungry. 

A cheesy tartine from Tartine Bakery

A cheesy tartine from Tartine Bakery

Tartine Bakery has an excellent reputation for good reason - their tartine (open-faced sandwiches) are delicious and their breads are phenomenal. In fact, their bread book is my bible. Do not go here on a Saturday or a Sunday unless you want to wait in an obnoxious line. The obnoxious line wouldn't be so bad if you could hold your place and run across the street to the city's best knife shop and sharpeners at Bernal Cutlery.

Bar Tartine, a formal restaurant instead of just a bakery, is one of my favorite spots for snacks and a glass of wine...my only complaint is that they aren't open for lunch. 

If you have any desire to visit one of the best cookbook stores in the world, be sure to stop by Omnivore Books on Food

The Restaurants

Avocado Toast, Foreign Cinema

Avocado Toast, Foreign Cinema

Nopa is very recognized as one of the best brunches in town. If, like me, you don't plan brunch dates decades in advance, you might have to forego snagging a reservation at Nopa and settle for Foreign Cinema. Their avocado toast is one of my favorites, but it's hard to go wrong with most of their options.

For dinner, check out the brand spanking new Cockscomb, which is Chris Cosentino's latest project. The food here is simple, unpretentious, and mostly wonderful. I would eat the Celery Victor everyday, if I could! Other favorite dinner spots are State Bird Provisions and Commonwealth for consistently delicious food. I do love A 16 for their pizza and appetizers - not even their inattentive service or snooty hostess(es) make their food taste any less delicious!

Try to snag seats at Cockscomb's kitchen counter

Try to snag seats at Cockscomb's kitchen counter

Celery Victor, Cockscomb

Celery Victor, Cockscomb

Eggs Eggs Eggs, Cockscomb

Eggs Eggs Eggs, Cockscomb

If you're celebrating and want to go somewhere special (read: fancy), Quince is still at the top of the list, as far as I am concerned. 

My last dinner recommendation is a hipster sushi joint on Mission Street. I can't say that I even had an interest in hipster sushi, but I went here on a whim and didn't regret it. Ichi Sushi and Ni Bar takes sushi to another level. Allow the chef to take you on a journey - order omakase and enjoy!

Cocktails

San Francisco knows how to do cocktails. Bourbon & Branch is the perfect place for a mustachioed cocktail, but do yourself a favor and book a reservation at Wilson & Wilson instead - it's a speakeasy within a speakeasy! (Wilson & Wilson is located within Bourbon & Branch). Local Edition and Rye are equally boozy options that will not disappoint.

Don't forget to drink plenty of water and take an aspirin. Then you can wake up and clear your mind with a beautiful view... 

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Exploring Monterey County Wine Country

Monterey County has been producing wine for more than fifty years, but many people are just discovering those wines for the first time. A wide variety of grapes are grown in the region, but their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are an exceptional value. Wine Enthusiast Magazine named it one of the "Top 10 Wine Travel Destinations" for a reason! It is an exquisitely beautiful area with great wines and wonderful restaurants.

In Town

People often ask if they should stay in Monterey or Carmel. The two towns are, literally, right next to each other so you don't actually have to choose. Personally, I'd choose Carmel-by-the-Sea any day just because it's mellow and quiet - probably one of the better perks of getting out of the city, right? 

In Carmel, the best restaurant in town is Aubergine and it's connected to the best hotel in town, L'Auberge (Relais & Chateaux). For something more casual, head up to the rooftop bar at Vesuvio and order a margherita pizza. Or if you're in the mood for Spanish tapas, find a hidden table at Mundaka and enjoy a carafe of sangria while you're at it! The best oyster spot in town is A.W. Shucks Oyster Bar, but get there early to avoid a wait on the weekends. 

In Monterey, you'll find that it's a bit more commercial and crowded than Carmel, though still beautiful. The saving grace for me was the Cannery Row Antique Mall, which is one of the best antique malls I've been to in recent years. Fisherman's Wharf is sort of cute (read: touristy) and worth it to enjoy the view and some seafood. I'd rather send you to The Wharf Marketplace, which is right around the corner and is the perfect place to sip an espresso while you peruse the local goods. If you want to find the best restaurant in Monterey, it's Restaurant 1833. On a chilly night, enjoy some small bites in their Library next to a roaring fire or head upstairs to their Absinthe bar!

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The view from Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey

The view from Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey

The Wine

The Cheese Shop, Carmel

The Cheese Shop, Carmel

If you're heading out to wine country, don't forget to stop at The Cheese Shop in Carmel to stock up on road snacks. For a small town, they have an impressive selection of cheese, wine, and gourmet foods. You'll also find some lovely charcuterie and other goodies at Salumeria Luca. If you'd rather stay closer to town and still do some wine tasting, there are some great tasting rooms at The Crossroads in Carmel, including Morgan Winery (excellent Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc) and McIntyre Vineyards. Since you're over that way anyway, stop by Lafayette Bakery at The Barnyard and pick-up a baguette to go with your cheese!

Talbott Vineyards and Bernardus Winery were favorites for their estate-grown Pinot Noir - and they are located in the same area. To map out your own wine route, take a look at the Monterey Wine Country site for a list of AVAs and vineyards. 

The Monterey County wine region isn't enormous, but definitely large enough for a whole day or two of tasting. If you'd rather sleep closer to the grapevines, look no further than Carmel Valley Ranch - a luxurious hotel and spa nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains, which is also a nice lunch escape (or golf escape) to break up a day of wine tasting. 

If you haven't already, don't forget to head south and take that famous drive through Big Sur!

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Coffee and Fedoras: A Weekend in Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is impossible to describe. I won't even try. Let's just say that it's awesome and you should probably go sometime. I like to think of Portland as a lovechild of Denver and Boulder, Colorado with infinitely worse weather...but, you know, in a good way. 

In my opinion, much of the country's greatest wine comes from an area just south of Portland, the Willamette Valley, and I have to say that it's nice when my itinerary contains fun adventures in both food and wine.

The Wine

While there are many other wine regions in Oregon, the Willamette Valley is the most popular. Just a short drive south of Portland, this region can produce some of the best pinot noir and chardonnay around; not to mention some of the country's best pinot gris and riesling. The Willamette Valley is often compared to the Burgundy wine region in France; I suppose because the climates are somewhat similar and they are known for producing wines from the same grapes. While worthy of the comparison, this region is also worthy of standing on its own. They are so well-known for their pinot noir that the International Pinot Noir Celebration draws wine lovers from all over the globe annually! 

One winery that offered a surprise was Argyle Winery in Dundee. While they have an excellent riesling, their sparkling wine was equally wonderful. I have a thing for sparkling wine and I also have a thing for finding excellent local sparkling wines that are comparable to Champagne. This is one of those wines. 

Back to pinot noir, here were some of my favorite tastes:

Penner-Ash (they also have an excellent riesling) in Newberg, OR
Ponzi Vineyards in Sherwood, OR
Cameron Winery in Dundee, OR

Portland is also home to some very well-known breweries, including Rogue Ales & Spirits and Deschutes Brewery, but one of my favorites happens to be Hopworks Urban Brewery because they brew (mostly) organic and sustainable beer. Oregon, in general, is known for hoppy beers and I'd guess that this has something to do with the fact that the Cascade hop (a very popular variety of hops) was developed in Oregon!

The Food

This city is definitely not suffering from a shortage of good food! Portland does, however, suffer from one thing: there are so many amazing restaurants and products and some have gotten so popular that they've expanded far beyond a local little storefront. In a hipster town, this is viewed as negative. Places like Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Pok Pok have expanded nationally, but that doesn't mean they are any less desirable or delicious. So, yes, some of my recommendations in Portland also have locations elsewhere. I'm not apologizing.

One place that I will say to avoid is Voodoo Doughnuts. This little doughnut shop has amassed such a following that people now wait in line for an hour or more just to buy a doughnut! They show up on just about every "What to Do/Eat/See in Portland" list on the internet and their doughnuts are fine, but I will never say that they are so much better than anywhere else or that they are worth waiting in that line. I am beginning to think the only draw these days is just to take a photo of the cute pink box and share it on Instagram. Do yourself a favor: skip the line and head over to Blue Star Doughnuts. Delicious. Amazing. You won't be sorry.

But, I ask, what is a doughnut without coffee?  Stumptown Coffee Roasters produces an excellent cup of coffee and you can't go wrong, but if you want to try something new, head over to Coava or Courier Coffee.

Pok Pok, Portland

Pok Pok, Portland

One of my favorite meals was at Pok Pok - Andy Ricker's famous Thai paradise. My advice is to get there early for lunch to avoid a wait. I have the unfortunate habit of asking for things "extra spicy" because, let's face it, I just like to play with fire. A place like Pok Pok doesn't mess around with that request, so if you find that your mouth has been engulfed in flames, you may find joy in walking across the street to Salt & Straw ice cream. If you think you've had good ice cream, reassess after visiting Salt & Straw. Their flavors are always changing and evolving, but I am partial to the Arbequina Olive Oil or Honey Lavender. 

Le Pigeon is no doubt an excellent (and very popular) meal, but their more casual bistro, Little Bird, is absolutely excellent and also my preferred dinner spot. Clyde Common is another great choice for either brunch or dinner. Their food and cocktails were some of the best in the city!

If you're looking for something a little different, try Andina for dinner, which is one of my favorite Peruvian restaurants. I'm a real sucker for Peruvian food and I love to find it done so well. Andina's grilled octopus is addicting and their sangria goes down a little too easily - you can catch both items on happy hour, too! 

If you love local charcuterie, you must head over to Olympic Provisions, which is a great food shop and casual restaurant. 

Don't forget to look up every once in a while to take in the gorgeous mountains, green trees, and bridges over the Willamette River. Portland is a town for walking and biking, so ditch the car and take in the scenery!

Stopping in the Middle: A Weekend in Paso Robles Wine Country

Smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles and San Francisco lies the quirky Central Coast. Most people stop to tour the famed Hearst Castle, but among many towns to explore, Paso Robles seems to be the one to offer the best food, wine, and all-around activity. This tiny little town is now busting at the seams with hundreds of wineries, great restaurants, and some simply breathtaking scenery.

The Wine

Paso Robles has some wonderful and underrated wines. This California AVA is well-known for Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Rhône varietals like Syrah, Viognier, and Roussane. One of the most popular Rhône-style wineries is Tablas Creek Vineyard, but there are so many others to choose from. My favorite wines from Paso are almost always red blends and there seems to be a new one for me to try every time I go to the store. As funny as it may sound, the local Albertson's supermarket actually has the best (and most affordable) selection of local wine. It seems like the one thing Paso Robles is missing is a great wine shop, but I suppose it's just as easy to buy directly from the wineries when you're there!

I don't think it's fair to give a list of the "best" wineries in the area because there are so many great choices. The best thing to do is head over to the PasoWine and  Travel Paso websites to map out your wine tasting route. Pick a route and taste as much as you can! Hint: head west on the 46 towards Cambria for exquisite views of the valley and Morro Bay. While you're on the 46, be sure to stop in to Jack Creek Farms for awesome local produce and other goods. 

The view driving on the 46-W from Paso Robles 

The view driving on the 46-W from Paso Robles 

Moonstone Beach, Cambria

Moonstone Beach, Cambria

The colors of Moonstone Beach

The colors of Moonstone Beach

One thing I will say, because it's unique, is that Villacana Winery & Vineyard also happens to run a distillery. Yep, Re:Find Distillery distills spirits from their wine grapes! How cool is that? One tasting includes all of their wines and spirits and it is entirely worth it. I absolutely love finding local spirits and they make a great gin, or "botanical brandy". 

The Town

When I visit a new town, I love to be walking distance to everything, but there is no way around needing a car to tour the wineries. Still, staying downtown is the best option for me to be able to stroll through the cute boutiques and have a bite to eat somewhere. 

Hotel Cheval is a lovely sixteen-room hotel right in the center of town and also happens to be the nicest place to stay downtown. Paso Robles Inn is an equally great location, right off the park, but a bit more affordable. Hotel Cheval also happens to be home to the Pony Club, a great little wine bar where you can sample local wines and maybe even get a cheese and charcuterie board to snack on. In addition, they've recently opened Paso's only gourmet food store, Haymarket, where you can grab a cup of coffee or some snacks for the road. 

When you're finished at Haymarket, head around the park and stop in to the beautiful AndBe Boutique and the Paso Underground tasting room. If you're looking for some local goodies to take home, The General Store is a great spot filled with local foods, crafts, and plenty of unique items. 

The Food 

The downtown area has grown over the past few years and is home to some of the best restaurants in the area. The premier restaurant in town is Artisan and I would confidently recommend it for brunch, lunch, or dinner. The menu is as local as can be, with many of the ingredients coming from the chef's own farm, and they have an inspiring commitment to non-GMO and organic ingredients. The bar is equally intriguing, with local wine on tap and scrumptious bar snacks. 

La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant is my other favorite here. The cocktails are the best in town and they are also a solid choice for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Keep in mind: they are also open late! What more can you ask for after a full day of wine tasting?

The new upscale Mexican restaurant, Fish Gaucho, is a great casual spot for reliable food. From a simple taco and a beer to beautiful ceviche and lobster enchiladas, their food is fantastic. They also make margaritas to order, the right way, with organic agave and fresh lime juice. Make sure to go during happy hour to take advantage of the $5 house margaritas!

When you are north of downtown, wine tasting off of Highway 46 E, food options are pretty slim. Luckily, the brand-new Mistura restaurant (hidden in the River Oaks Golf Course) offers delicious Peruvian food in a beautiful setting. Their ceviche, alpaca carpaccio, and beef hearts are all top sellers - and they have an impressive wine and cocktail list as well!

If you're in the mood for a simple non-brunchy breakfast, you can't beat the popular Cowgirl Café. And don't forget to stop into the great antique shops next door! You'll find steals that just don't exist in L.A. or San Francisco.

Spearhead Coffee, Paso Robles

Spearhead Coffee, Paso Robles

If you've had too much wine and are in need of a change of pace, Pasolivo Olive Oil is a fun stop and is conveniently nestled between the wineries off of highway 46. You can sample all of their wonderful olive oils (the Kitchen Blend is my personal favorite), salts, and other local goodies. If it's more alcohol you need, head over to Barrelhouse Brewing just south of town and relax on their lawn in an adirondack chair...oh, and the beer is great, too! 

Currently, my favorite coffee in the entire Central California area is Scout in San Luis Obispo, but Paso Robles has just opened a beautiful new hipster coffee shop: Spearhead Coffee! If you need a morning jolt, look no further than Spearhead, right across the street from the park. 

Either way you look at it, Paso Robles has something to offer that Napa just doesn't: unpretentious quaintness. Also, if you're coming from Southern California, it's a heck of a lot closer to drive to Paso than to Napa!

A vineyard sunset in Paso Robles

A vineyard sunset in Paso Robles

Happy Fall: Pretty Leaves & Warm Memories

Doing a fall foliage adventure through Vermont was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had. It made me realize just how much of this country I have not seen yet - and I thought I had seen a lot! Growing up in California is lovely and special, but there is just no substitute for the changing seasons and warm small towns. I loved the fact that I had no cell service for 12 hours, I loved the covered bridges, the endless beauty, and the peace and quiet. 

When I think of Vermont, I automatically think of Ben & Jerry's, cheddar cheese, maple syrup, and Diane Keaton creating a baby food empire in Baby Boom (Netflix, people, Netflix!). I was pleasantly surprised that everything was just as I had imagined. The only downside was that a huge wind storm had blown away a lot of the beautiful leaves, so some of my photos were a bit more bare than I would have liked. 

First, I stopped in the quaint town of Woodstock, VT and walked around the main street for a bit. I came across a few beautiful bridges as well as one of the more famous covered bridges (see photos below). I visited Sugarbush Farm just a short drive away, also in Woodstock, and brought home enough maple syrup to last a lifetime! You can walk around their property to see the sap lines and the sugar house. Although, you should note that sugaring season is actually just as winter turns into spring...so the maple syrup will have been boiled and bottled a little while ago. The drive to the farm is pretty adorable, too. In and around Woodstock, you will find some insanely beautiful spots to whip out your camera...between the bridges and the main square, it's endless!

Entering the charming town of Woodstock...

Entering the charming town of Woodstock...

Taftsville Covered Bridge, Woodstock

Taftsville Covered Bridge, Woodstock

Taftsville Covered Bridge, Woodstock

Taftsville Covered Bridge, Woodstock

My new friend at Sugarbush Farm, Woodstock

My new friend at Sugarbush Farm, Woodstock

Sugarbush Farm, Woodstock

Sugarbush Farm, Woodstock

Not far from Woodstock is a very special place: King Arthur Flour. You've probably seen bags of their flour at your local grocery store, but their Vermont HQ is so much fun! I tried to control myself, but I went crazy in their beautiful shop, which is a baker's heaven. They also have a little café if you need some road snacks. Highly recommended!

From Woodstock, I drove over to Weston, VT which happened to take me on one of the most scenic fall-foliagey drives I could have hoped for. It was SO beautiful. After a certain point, you have to stop pulling the car over to take photos and just enjoy the view in your own eyes. It's very meditative. Weston just happens to be home to the famous Vermont Country Store and the most adorable Christmas store, Weston Village Christmas Shop - talk about the perfect place to get some holiday gifts out of the way. 

Vermont Country Store, Weston

Vermont Country Store, Weston

Village Christmas Shop, Weston

Village Christmas Shop, Weston

Driving between Weston and Woodstock...can I move in to this house?!

Driving between Weston and Woodstock...can I move in to this house?!

Driving up to Montreal (and through Burlington, VT) is also wonderful, but I'll save that for another post. Since you're already in New England, you may as well head over to Maine to continue your fall tour. If you're not already aware of how much I love Maine, see some of my older posts: New England: A Coastal Road Trip and Maine: Books and Chickpea Fries.

Stay Focused: Eating in Los Angeles

Being a native of Los Angeles, it never occurred to me to write much about this city. I am just so focused on all of the places outside of L.A.! However, when a good friend of mine admitted that she had no idea where to eat nowadays or what was happening in the food scene, I realized I may as well do a post on this fine, sprawled out city. 

Just like most large cities, the food scene in L.A. is always changing and evolving. Sure, there are a few old classics, but the majority of the best restaurants are relatively new. 

Brunch

Ahhhh, brunch. Long waits, bottomless mimosas, eggs Benedict...good times. My sister and I are both on a never-ending brunch quest. Restaurants close, hype fades, traffic worsens, or the wait becomes too long and they're too cool to take reservations...so, on to try the next spot. These are the current favorites:

Eveleigh's avocado toast is just, well, REALLY good. I always try to order it for myself and make a meal out of it, but once it arrives, the rest of the table starts pawing at it! Thieves! Make a reservation and request to sit on the back patio to avoid the noise of Sunset Blvd. 

Tavern in Brentwood has a great, classic brunch (and lunch, dinner, takeout, and bar...) and excellent cocktails. Scopa in Venice is another great option. 

Lunch

If you can snag a parking spot, Joan's on Third is my favorite place to get a sandwich and, of course, peruse the market for some snacks...I obviously need 14 expensive cheeses and a baguette for later. I try to avoid the scene/lunch crowd and go at random times, like mid-morning on weekdays or later in the afternoon. This place doesn't need anymore press or fans, but I can't deny my love for the Joan. 

Suzanne Goin's A.O.C. has a really great patio and the perfect light menu for lunch. If you're near Brentwood, her other restaurant, Tavern, is also fantastic for lunch, either in the restaurant or at The Larder.

Veggie Burger at R+D Kitchen, Santa Monica

Veggie Burger at R+D Kitchen, Santa Monica

My favorite veggie burger, to date, can be found at R+D Kitchen in Santa Monica. It's a mixture of brown rice, almonds, mushrooms, and veggies. It is really, really delicious. Note: I did not say it's "healthy". If you are looking for great overall vegan and vegetarian food, I highly recommend Real Food Daily, with a couple of locations around L.A. Their food is exceptional and their cookbook continues to be a great reference.

Dinner

For a special dinner, Providence is my #1 choice. It's a seafood-focused fine dining restaurant with some of the best food and service in the city. 

If you're looking for a more casual dinner, I can't help but recommend Son of a Gun, which may just be my favorite restaurant in L.A. Their tiny little lobster roll makes me so happy and they treat seafood with an enormous amount of respect. Their food is simple and delicious. If you prefer offal and meaty goodness, head to their other restaurant, Animal. Pizzeria Mozza (their pizza is good, but I actually go for their appetizers and salads, specifically the fried squash blossoms, caprese, and bruschette), Cooks County, and bäco mercat are also fantastic choices for a consistently great meal. 

Crispy Rice Salad at Night + Market, West Hollywood

Crispy Rice Salad at Night + Market, West Hollywood

For excellent and simple Thai food, go to Night + Market in West Hollywood, which was just named one of Bon Appetit's "Best New Restaurants". Their food is super spicy, which I like, and the crispy rice salad is one of my favorite things in existence. Order some Thai beer to tame the heat or choose from their surprisingly impressive wine list. 

Cocktails & Snacks

There are a ton of places to get a decent cocktail in L.A., but who doesn't want a nice snack to go along with their drink? 

ink. has great cocktails and their dinner menu is very playful for a fun evening out. However, I'd rather sit at the bar with a cocktail and their crudité or their (freakin' amazing) salt and charcoal potatoes instead of sitting down to a full meal.

Excellent cocktails and snacks can also be had, from west to east, in Venice at The Tasting Kitchen, in Brentwood at Tavern, in Century City at Hinoki & The Bird, in West Hollywood at Eveleigh or Connie & Ted's, and downtown at Bar Amá or bäco mercat.

Oysters: An Important Food Group

Oysters at Connie & Ted's, West Hollywood

Oysters at Connie & Ted's, West Hollywood

Since I recently lived in New England, I thoroughly appreciate Connie & Ted's in West Hollywood. It is a New England-style seafood joint and really one of the few places in L.A. to get consistently great oysters, clams, and perhaps a lobster roll. Oh, and of course they have an excellent local beer list and great cocktails! 

Afternoon Tea

Alright, so Afternoon Tea at the Montage in Beverly Hills is such a thing and I hate to admit that it really is the best and most convenient option for afternoon tea in this general area. I'm a real sucker for a good afternoon tea! Make a reservation and try to go early to avoid the worst of the traffic. Or, better yet, just stay at the Montage!

Specialty Markets

Fish & Seafood: Santa Monica Seafood

Cheese: Farm Shop at the Brentwood Country Mart, Joan's on Third, The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills (don't forget to ask them to help you choose the proper wine for your cheese. Their wine selection is small, but excellent.)

Bread & Pastries: Farm Shop at the Brentwood Country MartMaison Girard in Pacific Palisades, The Sycamore Kitchen in L.A. (they also have a yummy brunch!), Huckleberry in Santa Monica

Old-School Jewish Deli: Greenblatt's has been around since 1926 - and for good reason. They have an awesome deli counter and one of the best pastrami sandwiches in the city. They also have a really great wine shop and are open 'til 2 a.m. every single day of the year, so it's no surprise that it's a popular late-night stop after nearby comedy shows and concerts let out. 

A Southern Road Trip

Starting from last week's post on Washington, D.C. and Virginia, I'll continue on my southern road trip from Raleigh, North Carolina to New Orleans, Louisiana. The south is definitely not short on food, that's for sure! If I put the humidity aside, the south provides for such a lovely road trip filled with endless greenery and places to stop and explore.

Let me just say...I love road trips so much because it forces me to go through small towns and areas that most people would never travel to if they just fly to a big city for a visit. Being on the road is a very special treat if you stop to find the hidden gems. 

Raleigh, NC

I had the perfect southern breakfast at Joule and they just happen to have some of the best coffee in town as well. 

Beasley's Chicken + Honey was a standout since they had a great beer and wine list, made a great cocktail, and had wonderful food. I can't comment on the actual fried chicken (my fellow diners assured me that it was excellent), but I can surely say that their bar snacks and sides are something to behold. 

Beasley's Chicken + Honey

Beasley's Chicken + Honey

Charleston, SC

Martha Lou's Kitchen is not to be missed - period. Martha Lou has been frying chicken and fish in her tiny little kitchen for over 30 years and no one does it better. This, really, is a true southern experience.

Be sure to spend an evening walking around downtown Charleston - so many lovely restaurants, bars, and shops. I had an excellent cocktail at The Gin Joint, then walked over to Husk for a late dinner. Definitely stop for a drink at The Bar at Husk...grab a table upstairs, order some boiled peanuts, and enjoy a beer while you wait for your table next door. 

Martha Lou's Kitchen, Charleston

Martha Lou's Kitchen, Charleston

Handwritten menu @ Martha Lou's Kitchen

Handwritten menu @ Martha Lou's Kitchen

Husk Restaurant, Charleston

Husk Restaurant, Charleston

McCrady's RestaurantCypress, and Pearlz Oyster Bar are also lovely options for dinner and they just happen to be within about a block of each other...have a snack at all three!!! 

Savannah, GA

Having been to Savannah before, I did not do much here but grab a quick bite to eat on my way to the next destination. I do love just walking around Savannah, even in the heat and humidity. The parks and the trees are something very special in this little town. I will always recommend staying at The Gastonian, which is a lovely bed & breakfast (a required experience) and forces you to walk to town to take in the views. 

New Orleans, LA

Most people don't seem to need a lot of incentive to visit New Orleans since it is its own best promoter. However, I'd love to see more visitors get out of the French Quarter and explore a bit more. Trust me, I still need a Café du Monde fix for iced coffee and beignets that are covered in eleven pounds of powdered sugar, but the best of New Orleans exists a short walk away. I have had far too many experiences in New Orleans that consisted of overpriced, subpar food aimed at tourists. This last time, it was my goal to stay away from all of that. 

Coffee & beignets at Café du Monde

Coffee & beignets at Café du Monde

Elizabeth's Restaurant

Elizabeth's Restaurant

My favorite restaurant in the city, especially for lunch, may be Pêche - a great seafood-focused restaurant with local oysters and a shrimp roll (same idea as a lobster roll) that is a MUST. For dinner, I had a great meal at Domenica and went there for the sole purpose of ordering the whole-roasted cauliflower, which was a meal by itself! 

Gulf oysters at Pêche

Gulf oysters at Pêche

Shrimp roll at Pêche

Shrimp roll at Pêche

The best cocktails in the city go to Cure and The French 75 Bar at Arnaud's. Both were really exceptional experiences. 

One final note: If you love cookbooks, don't forget to stop in to Kitchen Witch Cookbooks on Toulouse Street. They have some great finds!

A Weekend In & Around Washington, D.C.

Some people think of Washington, D.C. as a place with museums, monuments, and politicians...while that's true, there is just so much more to do in this great city. I absolutely love Washington, D.C. and almost moved there at one point, so I may be a bit biased - the amount of extraordinary food is nearly endless and there are so many opportunities for fun adventures within just a short drive.

One person to thank for bringing such wonderful food to D.C. is chef José Andrés. His restaurants include Jaleo, minibar, Zaytinya (one of my personal favorites!), Oyamel, and many others, all of which I would highly recommend. Jaleo is a Spanish tapas restaurant that is now world famous, but the quality of the food has not lowered one bit during its many years. I have made a habit of going to Jaleo every single time I am in D.C., even if it's just for one small plate to share at the bar (don't forget to get a cocktail or a glass of wonderful Cava). If you are looking for a truly exquisite and memorable culinary experience, I would look no further than minibar. Reservations may be hard to come by and it is certainly not cheap, but it is well worth the effort. It's definitely a unique and playful experience. See some photos below...

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Some other spots that I love include Proof, which is the perfect place for a cheese/charcuterie board and a glass of wine, and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, which, shockingly, has great oysters and cocktails, among other things (Hank's Oyster Bar is another great spot for oysters). All in all, it's easy to find good food in this city so I won't continue on with an endless list. 

When you decide that you need to get out of the city, drive about an hour west into Virginia for a fantastic wine tasting adventure. I never realized that such beautiful countryside and such lovely wines are so close to D.C. Two particular favorites are RdV Vineyards in Delaplane and Linden Vineyards in Linden, which are just a short drive from one another. There are several other wineries in the area and I did not have a chance to visit all of them. Visit Virginia Wine to find a winery map and a guide to the wine regions. If nothing else, it's just a nice drive and an excuse to get out of the city for a few hours. 

Delaplane, Virginia

Delaplane, Virginia

Linden Vineyards

Linden Vineyards

Linden Vineyards 

Linden Vineyards 

RdV Vineyards

RdV Vineyards

Another idea for a half-day trip is Frederick, Maryland, which is also about an hour northwest of D.C. It's a lovely town with a cute main street filled with local shops and it's also home to some wonderful restaurants, including the destination-worthy VOLT - definitely make a reservation for brunch and have a leisurely day walking off that meal!

Where to stay

I need a hotel that is walking distance to at least a couple of restaurants or a few things on my itinerary and these all meet that need. I don't mind uber-ing around, but who wants to drive around all weekend?!

$$$ The Willard (InterContinental)1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW or The Jefferson, 1200 16th St NW

$$ Hotel Palomar, a Kimpton Hotel, 2121 P St NW

New England: A Coastal Road Trip

I have spent the past year exploring New England's food scene and decided to put together a bit of a restaurant guide to the area. Starting from Portland, Maine and ending in Newport, RI, these are some of my favorite and most memorable spots on the New England coast. If I have one recommendation above all else, it'd be to stay in Maine as long as you can! Seriously...I couldn't get enough of its beauty and its oysters and I can't wait for many future visits.

Portland, Maine

I had a love affair with Portland. Maybe it was the lobster boat. For anyone who makes their way up to Portland, be sure to check out Lucky Catch where they'll whisk you away on a lobster boat and actually allow you to participate in the lobstering process. If you need anymore reason to go, you should know that you can purchase lobsters right from the boat and take them over to Portland Lobster Company where they'll cook 'em and serve 'em to you right on their deck. Now that's a Maine lobster experience!

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My three favorite places in Portland have to be Eventide Oyster Co. (in a previous post, I shared a recipe for my version of their amazing chickpea fries), Hugo's, and The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club. 

Eventide Oyster Co. doesn't seem to need anymore press, but it is normally the first place I go when I arrive in Portland. Their oysters are phenomenal, I love the atmosphere, and I can always use a good celery mimosa. While their lobster rolls aren't "traditional", they are more than amazing and not overwhelming in size - perfect! Right next door, their sister (or brother?) restaurant is Hugo's and is definitely more of a commitment. Their tasting menu is awesome and there's always at least one dish that I have to recreate at home. This last time, it was their egg salad. It might sound odd, but seriously, it was phenomenal. 

Egg salad at Hugo's, Portland

Egg salad at Hugo's, Portland

Oysters at Eventide Oyster Co, Portland

Oysters at Eventide Oyster Co, Portland

I don't think you can find a better cocktail in Portland than at the Hunt + Alpine Club. It's the kind of place that makes me want to return to Portland even sooner than I already do. Since I travel a lot, I find that I have a lot of regular neighborhood places in cities where I don't even live...this is one of them. 

A drink and a toast at The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club

A drink and a toast at The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club

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Don't forget to visit Allagash Brewing Company! They have a "house beer", only available there, sold in branded wooden crates...I will surely miss being able to replenish my stock. Rising Tide Brewing is also an excellent place for a tasting - I love their "Ishmael" American Copper Ale. If you happen to head over to Rising Tide Brewing, be sure to walk over to Maine Craft Distilling, right next door, and check out their unique spirits. Specifically, they have a sorta-kinda gin made from carrots, "Chesuncook", that I was thrilled to buy and take home. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, about 20 minutes outside of Portland in Biddeford, Maine is where you'll find Rabelais - Fine Books on Food & Drink. A must for all food, wine, and book lovers. They have some wonderfully unique items and you could spend hours perusing the collection.

Boston, Massachusetts

It is impossible to talk about Boston without bringing up Barbara Lynch. I'll be honest - I didn't know that much about her other than the fact that she's a pretty badass female chef. Once I got here, I ate my way through her entire restaurant group and immediately felt guilty for under-appreciating her all these years. Her restaurants are a home away from home and provided me with the type of food and drink that I so longed for after moving. Among my favorites are B&G Oysters (a must for oysters, both fresh and fried, and a lobster roll), Drink (for an excellent hipster cocktail and phenomenal bar snacks), Menton (for when you want to be fancy), and The Butcher Shop (for the animal lover...or if you just want a glass of wine). 

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That hipster cocktail at Drink, Boston

That hipster cocktail at Drink, Boston

Oysters, Shrimp, and Clams at B&G Oysters, Boston

Oysters, Shrimp, and Clams at B&G Oysters, Boston

If money is no object, L'Espalier has an exquisite tasting menu with some of the best service in the area, comparable to Barbara Lynch's Menton. Since L'Espalier actually has a tea sommelier, they do a fantastic tea service on Saturdays and Sundays - I'm a sucker for a good tea service!

Puritan & Company in Cambridge had an awesome, casual, farmhouse-y vibe with wonderful food and good cocktails. Their bread alone is worth the visit! Other great spots for dinner are Townsman, Commonwealth, and Alden & Harlow

Be sure to head over to Flour Bakery (for the best chocolate chip cookie...ever. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not!) and Bee's Knees Supply Company (great little market with cheese, charcuterie, coffee, and lots of local products) on Farnsworth St., right around the corner from Drink and Menton. 

Bully Boy Distillers is a craft distillery in Boston doing small-batch rum, whiskey, and vodka. Definitely worth a visit if you're into that sort of thing. Harpoon Brewery is also an excellent place to stop for a beer tasting and a tour. 

Providence, Rhode Island

Talk about a city that has done a few backflips. When I first visited Providence, the downtown area felt like a ghost town. However, when I arrived in Providence in the summer of 2013 things were really looking up! 

My first night in Providence, I walked into birch restaurant, which had only been opened a week or two, not even knowing what was in store for me. Let's just say it was a great first night in Providence. They've gotten a lot of press since then and may just be the best restaurant in Providence at the moment. It's a tiny 18-seat u-shaped bar. It's a unique dining experience, especially for Providence, and the food and service are always above and beyond. 

And for my regular favorites:

New Rivers for $1 oysters on Tuesday nights - their entire menu is great, but I held out for $1 oyster night every week. 

Even though they've gotten plenty of press for many years, I'll still say that Al Forno has great grilled pizza and their calamari pizza is unique, unhealthy, and completely amazing. If you're looking for phenomenal Neopolitan style pizza, go to Figidini for a margherita pizza...it's some of the best I've had outside of Italy. 

The Grange is a strictly vegetarian restaurant, but in more of a hipster than a hippie way. They have great cocktails and excellent food - I especially love the mushroom po' boy and the carrot hotdog. 

Flan y Ajo is a special little place, but is in the middle of an expansion right this second. As of now, it is a teeny tiny little B.Y.O.B. tapas bar on Westminster Street downtown. There are four seats at the bar and some miscellaneous seating and standing options around. Jordan runs a one-man kitchen with two burners and cranks out excellent food. It's such a quick, easy, and affordable spot to share a few small plates and a bottle of wine. Since it's expanding, I assume it will no longer be B.Y.O.B. and there will be plenty of seating. Either way, great spot. 

Pan con Tomate at Flan y Ajo

Pan con Tomate at Flan y Ajo

Crab Toast at Flan y Ajo

Crab Toast at Flan y Ajo

For a great cocktail, head on over to The Eddy, which is absolutely my favorite bar in Providence. The Dorrance also has a great bar and is only a block or so away from both Flan y Ajo and The Eddy.

Newport, Rhode Island

This small little seaside town is home to some of the finest food in New England. For a delicious brunch with a beautiful view, make a reservation at Castle Hill Inn (or, better yet, stay at the hotel). Reservations may be hard to come by, but their outdoor bar is first come, first served. The bar is surrounded by the same beautiful view that you'd have at a table and, inevitably, you'll be greeted by a bartender who looks like a Kennedy. If you're just in the mood for a cocktail and a small snack, grab one of the adirondack chairs on their lawn and enjoy your cocktail with the quintessential New England view. 

For a casual beer and a delicious, authentic lobster roll, head over to Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant on Thames Street, right in the middle of the main tourist strip. 

There are so many great restaurants to choose from in Newport, but if I had to choose a nice dinner spot, it'd probably be Tallulah on Thames. I really care about food being memorable and creative, especially while traveling, and Tallulah definitely delivers. Reservations are a must. 

If you want a beautiful view of the sunset, head over to Fluke Wine Bar & Kitchen and go upstairs to enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail. Another great dinner option is The Mooring - usually crowded, but excellent seafood. 

Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard was never, not once, about finding a nice restaurant or fancy food. I wanted lobster and clams and to soak up the peace of the island right before the summer season started. By the way, I 100% recommend going the weekend before Memorial Day or the weekend after Labor Day...your wallet and sanity will be forever grateful. 

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My number one recommendation is to stay at The Charlotte Inn...if you have been wondering what happened to real hospitality in the U.S., it all went to this place. I walked up the path, opened the screen door, and stepped over their picture-perfect golden retriever to get to the reception desk. As Carol, the general manager, walked me up the creaky steps and down the hall to my room, I decided I was going to move in. Everything was beautiful and everything had been so well thought out...inside and out. Martha's Vineyard is no longer my destination. The Charlotte Inn is my destination and it's just a plus that it happens to be on such a nice island!

Alright, now to the good stuff...lobster! Head on over to Larsen's Fish Market in Manemsha for oysters, clams, and lobster. This is a perfect spot to watch the sunset, but any time of day is worth going. Speaking of lobster, Offshore Ale Co. in Oak Bluffs has an excellent lobster roll and it isn't a bad idea to wash that down with some of their beer, brewed right on the Vineyard.

Gay Head Clay Cliffs, Martha's Vineyard

Gay Head Clay Cliffs, Martha's Vineyard

State Road Restaurant is a great spot for breakfast or dinner and I'd go back again and again. Martha's Vineyard has some puzzlingly crowded spots that I just wanted to avoid completely and I found State Road to be the perfect alternative. 

As a final note: There is some great dairy farming happening on the Vineyard and two farms that I would recommend visiting are Mermaid Farm & Dairy and The Grey Barn. Stop by with a cooler and be prepared to bring some fantastic raw milk, cheeses, and meats home from Martha's Vineyard. I don't know about you, but when I travel I'd much rather bring home some cheese than yet another t-shirt or shot glass!

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*all photos by Shauna Burke