Archive | June 2013

California Road Trip: Crush 29 – A Wine Country Experience

The last full day of our California Road Trip was going to be in Sacramento.  We headed over after doing the 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, and had an uneventful drive with just a little bit of rush hour traffic just as we were heading into Sacramento.  After we got checked into our hotel, Jon and I had a chat about our dinner agenda.  Jon was craving some Thai food from a restaurant that he used to go to with his grandmother.  However, I had seen an ad in the hotel information book and I was intrigued.

Now, if you follow this blog, you know that food porn isn’t my primary focus.  I like a great meal on occasion but I can’t afford to have the kind of meal that you want to blog about every night – neither my wallet nor my waistline would hold up for very long.  But on this particular night, I gave Jon the puppy dog eyes until he agreed to take me to Crush 29.  Jon was skeptical – he thought that a restaurant that advertised itself as a wine country dining experience would be pretentious and snooty.

We got there and were seated right away and had a chance to look over their wine menu.  I selected the Chalk Hill 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma.  Jon picked the Ferrari Carano 2009 Fume Blanc.  They were both excellent choices, but we each liked the other wine better.  So we traded!

Then we moved on to the food.  We started out ordering an appetizer – the Lamb Lollipops.  I don’t normally eat lamb, but I couldn’t resist this description: skewers of marinated lamb tenderloins around a sweet potato puree with a hot mustard-pomegranate drizzle.  But, for better or worse – they were sold out, so no Lamb Lollipops for us.  So instead, we ordered the Whole Sesame Artichoke, steamed in a spiced broth and flash grilled with a chipotle-basil aioli.  It was absolutely delicious!

Whole Sesame Artichoke

Whole Sesame Artichoke

For the main course, I chose the Achiote Glazed Mahi-Mahi, with a blood orange gastrique, sweet corn sauce, forbidden rice, sautéed spinach and a picante pepper-pineapple chutney.  I hadn’t even heard of Achiote, so I had to look it up.  Apparently it is a paste, used in Yucatán, Oaxacan, and Belizean cuisine, made from the slightly bitter, earthy flavored, red annatto seeds, mixed with other spices and ground into a paste.  The paste is dissolved in either lemon juice, water, oil or vinegar to create a marinade, and marinated or rubbed directly upon meat. It is also sometimes it is added to corn dough to create a zesty flavor and color in empanadas and red tamales.
Achiote Glazed Mahi-Mahi

Achiote Glazed Mahi-Mahi

Jon ordered the Hawaiian Spiced Ahi, on a macadamia nut rice with a ginger infused coconut plum wine sauce.  I knew all of the ingredients in his, so no having to google his meal!  Our server accidentally switched our meals, so we each tried the other first.  I thought Jon’s meal was fantastic!  Then when we traded, my meal was even better!  I think Jon was jealous…
Hawaiian Spiced Ahi

Hawaiian Spiced Ahi

We were so impressed with all of the food – everything that we had was so full of flavor and so well done!  I thought it couldn’t get any better, until I saw the dessert delivered to the table next to us.  The Chocolate Bomb.  Oh. My. God.  It looked so good that I immediately found more room for dessert in my belly.  The Chocolate Bomb was presented on a hazelnut crust with creme anglaise and fresh berry sticks.  Here’s the photo:
The Chocolate Bomb - Pure Heaven!

The Chocolate Bomb – Pure Heaven!

I don’t think any more words are required.  If you are near there – GO.

California Road Trip: The 17 Mile Drive

After visiting the San Carlos de Borromeo Mission, we headed into the nearby town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.  Carmel is a cute, resort town a few miles away from Monterey, which has evolved as a quirky, artsy community over the years.  Back in the early 1900s, several well-known writers lived there, including Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis.  Apparently it is very dog friendly, with pups being welcomed in most shops and hotels and the outdoor areas of restaurants.  Clint Eastwood was the Mayor there for one term in the late 1980s.  Curiously, there is a law prohibiting wearing women from wearing heels over two inches high – to lessen the risk of lawsuits from tripping on the sidewalks, which are uneven from being pushed up by tree roots.  If you are interested in wearing high heels, don’t worry, you can get a permit for free from City Hall – and the law is not enforced.

After checking out Carmel, we continued to the 17 Mile Drive.  The 17 Mile Drive is a scenic drive in the gated community of Pebble Beach.  Non-residents must pay a toll of $9.75 to get into the community – but you get a map with your admission, and once in, you can travel at your leisure visiting the many scenic vistas and pull-outs along the drive.  The map gives you a bit of information about each of the stops.

The day we were there, it was a bit foggy – that is typical – but relatively warm for March, with just a mild breeze.  There were some surfers catching a wave off the beach and we watched them for a few minutes before continuing on our way.  China Rock was next – named for the Chinese immigrants who made their homes in lean-tos against the rocks in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  They fished and polished agates to sell to tourists to make a living.

A Cloudy Day at the 17 Mile Drive

A Cloudy Day at the 17 Mile Drive

One interesting vista point is at Bird Rock.  As the story goes, Bird Rock was called that because thousands of birds roosted there.  Bird Rock was harvested for its rich deposits of guano back in the early 1900s (bird poop makes great fertilizer!) and after the guano was gone, the seals and sea lions decided this rock seemed like a good place to hang out!  So now, Brandt’s Cormorants, Western Gulls, pelicans and Ashy Petrels hang out with California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals, all vying for the perfect spot.

Bird Rock on the 17 Mile Drive - Get Your Fill of Guano Here!

Bird Rock on the 17 Mile Drive – Get Your Fill of Guano Here!

In the parking lot of the view point, there are several California Ground Squirrels that make their home in burrows they have dug in the rocky soil at the edge of the water.  Even though there are several signs asking tourists to not feed the animals, and their fleas can carry bubonic plague (not something I want any experience with!) we found someone ignoring the signs right away…

A Tourist Feeding Ground Squirrels

A Tourist Feeding Ground Squirrels

Fanshell Overlook is a great place to spot Harbor Seals.  The moms and pups love the soft white sand beach so much that they close the beach from April 1 to June 1.  During our visit there were already seals there hanging out enjoying their time on the beach.  I could stand there and watch them for hours…

Harbor Seals on the Beach Below Fanshell Overlook

Harbor Seals on the Beach Below Fanshell Overlook

Another of the scenic pull-outs is at the Lone Cypress, which is a Monterey Cypress tree growing on a rock outcropping jutting out into the bay.  Monterey Cypress trees are native to only two small areas, at Cypress Point in Pebble Beach and at Point Lobos near Carmel.  The trees in these native stands are up to 40 meters tall, 2.5 meters diameter and 300 years old.  These trees are unique because as they age, they take on a twisted, spread-out form due to the high winds that they are exposed to on the coast of California.

The Lone Cypress - Estimated Age 250 Years

The Lone Cypress – Estimated Age 250 Years

The Lone Cypress Isn't Really As Lonely As They Make It Out To Be

The Lone Cypress Isn’t Really As Lonely As They Make It Out To Be

As you drive, you see the beautiful homes of the rich and famous – this is some of the most exclusive real estate in the world.  Some of its famous residents include Charles Schwab, King Merrill Chase (GM Executive), George Lopez, Clint Eastwood and Condoleeza Rice.  On the drive, you also come upon the Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Pebble Beach Lodge.  The lodge is open to the public, and so is the golf course, but at $495 for 18 holes, it is a bit rich for my blood.  You can stay at the historic Lodge (built in 1919) starting at a mere $745 per night!  I better keep looking for my anonymous benefactor…  Good thing golf isn’t really my sport anyway.  I’ll stick to mini-golf!

A View of the Pacific Ocean Through the Gnarled Cypress Trunks

A View of the Pacific Ocean Through the Gnarled Cypress Trunks

The entire drive is 17 miles, and is well worth the time.  The only thing that would have made it better is if we had blue skies – but I suppose the cloudy weather probably meant that there were fewer tourists.  There are only limited options for food and fuel (super expensive gas!) – the Pebble Beach Lodge does have a public restroom tucked in among the many ritzy golf shops and clothing boutiques.

After our slow cruise through the 17 Mile Drive, it was time to hit the highway for our next destination – Sacramento!

Jon Picks a White! Coyote Canyon 2011 Albariño

Jon loves red wine.  In fact, when I first met him, it was nearly impossible to get him to try a white wine.  Over the years, he has widened his horizons, but his preference is still for the reds.  So you might imagine my surprise when the other night he told me he was craving a white wine, and pulled out a bottle of Coyote Canyon 2011 Albariño.

We were first introduced to Coyote Canyon when he went to the Red Wine and Chocolate weekend in the Yakima Valley for a President’s Day long weekend.  I posted about it a few years back.  We stopped in to Coyote Canyon, which is a family owned winery – a labor of love of the Andrews family.  The land has been in the family since 1953, and has gradually shifted from growing wheat and Hereford cattle to grapes.  They now own 1100 acres.  Like many other winemaker’s in Washington, the Andrews began growing grapes for other producers, before starting the winery in 2006.  That weekend in Prosser we got to barrel taste the 2010 vintage of Albariño, and it was awesome!  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get back over there before it sold out…

Coyote Canyon 2011 Albariño

Coyote Canyon 2011 Albariño

Fast forward to the 2012 Anacortes Wine Festival, and Coyote Canyon was serving some of their wines, and I was lucky enough to try their 2011 Albariño.  I purchased two bottles.  Two nights ago we opened the second.  It pairs a crisp acidity with honeydew melon, honey and a light floral finish.  This wine has a thick, creamy mouthfeel – perfect on its own or with a meal.  I thoroughly enjoyed this wine – I just wish we had more!

California Road Trip: Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo

The next day was our last day in Monterey.  We made our way over to the Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo (the Carmel Mission).  There are 21 missions in California, and at some point I’m going to visit all 21 of them.  Before this trip, I’ve been to four: Mission San Buenaventura (Ventura), Mission Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara), Mission San Francisco Solano (Sonoma), and Mission Santa Ines (Solvang); plus one in Tucson, Arizona – now I added a fifth to the list!

The Carmel Mission was founded in 1770 – by Junípero Serra – the first site of the mission was in the town of Monterey.  However, due to poor soil and some power struggles with the Presidio of Monterey, the mission was moved to its present location a year later.  Junípero Serra founded nine of the 21 missions in California, with this one being the second (after San Diego).  This was also his favorite – where he established his headquarters.

Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo - Founded 1770 - This Church Built 1794

Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo – Founded 1770 – This Church Built 1794

The first church and dwellings were made of wood, with the adobe structures built later.  The first years were hard and they relied on the Indians for supplies.  But eventually, they had a steady supply of labor – although it is questionable whether their methods of getting the Indians to stick around were very humane.  At the height of the mission, there were 927 Indians working and living at the mission.  Junípero Serra came and went, founding other missions along the way, and baptizing and confirming Indians throughout the region (over 4,000 Indians were baptized at Carmel alone).  Serra died at the age of 71 (that’s a long life as an adventurer out in the wilderness!) at the Carmel Mission and at his request, was buried beneath the main altar of the church.

The present church was constructed in 1794 on the site of the original church (Serra is still buried in front of the altar).  The curved walls were covered with a lime plaster made from burnt sea shells, and the floor was made from tile.  The tower is a Moorish design and has nine bells.  It is the only one of the California Missions that has its original bell tower dome.

The Main Altar at the Carmel Mission

The Main Altar at the Carmel Mission

In 1834, the Indian population had dwindled, and the Mission was secularized, which means that it became a conventional parish church.  The mission lands were transferred to Hispanic settlers and gradually the church fell into ruin.  When the United States took control of California, they also took control of all of the missions, but the property was returned to the Catholic Church in 1859 – the church was already in ruins by this time.  Restoration was begun in 1884, by putting a new roof on the Mission.  Eventually restoration was completed and you have the grand structure you see today.

This is Believed to be the First Confessional at the Mission - Constructed from an 18th Century Packing Crate

This is Believed to be the First Confessional at the Mission – Constructed from an 18th Century Packing Crate

In 1987, Pope Jean Paul II visited the Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo, and prayed inside the Church.  In 1988 Serra was beatified by Jean Paul II.  Beatification is the third of four steps in the canonization process, which is the process to sainthood.  During the process, his treatment of the Indians was debated – at this point Serra has not gone through the last step to sainthood, but I have no idea if that is a result of his treatment of the Indians.  The church today remains an active parish church with a school for children aged kindergarten to 8th grade.

The interior of the church is beautiful, and we took a while to just take it all in.  There is a display before you enter the church of the vestments that Serra wore during his lifetime; the garments are in amazing condition and the color and detail are vivid and intricate.  There is also an icon of the Virgin Mary in the church that is over 300 years old.  The Mission also has a museum showing the rooms that the priests lived in, the mission library and the books it contained, and information about how life was lived on a mission property.  It is a self-guided tour, so you can take as much time as you would like exploring the different rooms and exhibits.

Virgin Mary Icon - This is Where Jean Paul II Prayed

Virgin Mary Icon – This is Where Jean Paul II Prayed

A Couple of the Vestments that Serra Wore

A Couple of the Vestments that Serra Wore

The mission is designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, but the church is maintained entirely by private funds.  It is well worth the visit to see a mission that is almost 250 years old!

California Road Trip: Monterey State Historic Park

On our way back to the hotel after visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we took a look around a few of the buildings of the Monterey State Historic Park.  A little history lesson: Monterey was first established in 1770 by Father Junípero Serra and explorer Gaspar de Portolà.  Spain had begun colonizing Alta California, in 1769, and the San Carlos Borromeo Mission de Monterey followed a year later.  When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Monterey came under Mexican rule.  I didn’t know it then, but Monterey was actually California’s earliest capital city (from 1777 to 1846 – under both Spain and Mexico) and the site of the state’s first constitutional convention.  Monterey changed hands again in 1846 during the Mexican-American War, and once it was in American hands, the capital was moved away from Monterey.

Pacific House Museum - Built 1847 - Adobe Architectural Style

Pacific House Museum – Built 1847 – Adobe Architectural Style

The Monterey State Historic Park consists of several buildings located throughout the downtown area, built at various times in the 1800s.  Most are only open on the weekends, so Jon and I didn’t get to tour the inside of any of them, but we were able to check out the outside of the Custom House, the Pacific House (which contains the museum) and the Cooper-Molera Adobe.  The Custom House is the first government building in California, built in 1827, and it is the First California Historic Landmark!

Monterey Custom House - Built 1827 - Adobe Architectural Style

Monterey Custom House – Built 1827 – Adobe Architectural Style

We were able to stop in at the Cooper-Molera Adobe garden and gift shop.  They have one room of the home open daily, so you can get a little of the feel of the home.  One of the outbuildings contains information on the families that lived there. This adobe was built in 1823 by Captain John Rogers Cooper, a New Englander who sailed to Monterey on a trading mission.  He met and married a member of one of California’s most well-connected Mexican families.  After John Rogers Cooper’s death, he left the home and property to his wife, and it was eventually passed down to Cooper’s granddaughter Frances Molera.

Upon Frances Molera’s death in 1968, the property was willed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who leases it to the California Park System.  It has been restored and furnished with period furnishings left by the family.  The room that we were able to visit contained several beautiful pieces from the late 19th century – it would be interesting to see the rest of the home!

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

At the Cooper-Molera Adobe (or the other Monterey SHP buildings when they are open) you can pick up a brochure detailing a walking tour around town showing the locations of the twelve buildings of the Monterey State Historic Park, as well as several other historic buildings (55 in all) in Monterey.  The route is about two miles, and there are little medallions embedded into the sidewalk that show the route.  Touring these homes and buildings will certainly be on my list for my next trip to Monterey!

California Road Trip: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Our next day in Monterey was dedicated to going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  We slept in a bit, and then walked from downtown out to the Aquarium – a distance of 1.7 miles.  It was a great walk along the harbor towards Cannery Row.  There is a nice paved walking trail that goes right along the water, then breaks away from the water to meander through a park, and a cute touristy shopping area.  Once we got to the aquarium, there was a long line.  I didn’t realize it was Spring Break for California schools – Spring Break at home wasn’t for another week!  So although we had to share the aquarium with more (SCREAMING!) children than usual, we enjoyed the visit.

Harbor Seal Outside Monterey Bay Aquarium

Harbor Seal Outside Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium opened in 1984 on the site of a former cannery.  Cannery Row was the home base for an active sardine fishery from 1916 until the final collapse of the sardine industry in 1973.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium primarily focuses on plants and animals that are native to the Pacific Ocean, and they are one of the premier research institutions in the United States for several animals, including Great White Sharks.

Sardines at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sardines at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

They have an Open Sea exhibit, jellyfish of every size and shape, sea horses (they are so cool!), and a Kelp Forest with lots of native fish living among the beautiful tall plants.  Jon and I really liked the Open Sea exhibit – it was very peaceful just watching the tuna and the sharks mingle with the sardines and other fish.  I imagine that they interact as they might in the wild.

Giant Sea Bass at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Giant Sea Bass at Monterey Bay Aquarium

We also really enjoyed the bird aviary.  The Aquarium has a program for raising and releasing several species of birds, but there are a couple at the aviary that cannot be released for whatever reason, and they use these birds to raise chicks from incubated eggs at the Aquarium.  You can get super-close to the birds in the aviary, but they are just going about their business, not paying any attention to the people watching them.

Sleepy Bird at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sleepy Bird at Monterey Bay Aquarium

All in all, we saw Sandbar sharks, Leopard sharks, Hammerhead sharks, Sevengill sharks, several kinds of tuna, Giant Sea Bass, Giant Pacific Octopus, a Leatherback Sea Turtle,  Sturgeon, a dozen types of seahorses, a dozen types of jellyfish, Wolf and Moray eels, giant Lobsters, Puffins, Penguins, Snowy Plovers, a Laysan Albatross, White Sturgeon, Bat Rays, and many other animals.  It was a great experience, except for all the screaming children.  My ears certainly took a beating and I fought a headache most of the time that I was there.  But I did enjoy my visit.

A Gorgeous Black and White Bird at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

A Gorgeous Black and White Bird at the Monterey Bay Aquarium – I Loved This Little Guy!

After we left the Aquarium, we walked back up to the hotel through Cannery Row.  It is a strip of touristy gift shops and high end boutiques.  We stopped and had a late lunch at the Ambrosia Indian Cafe, with Basmati Rice, Butter Chicken, Tofu Masala.  It was quick and delicious and really hit the spot after our hours at the Aquarium.

The best part of the walk back to the hotel was along the marina.  There we spotted about a dozen harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocks in the shallow waters close to shore.  They are very cute – they balance themselves on the rocks – heads and tails held up!  It looks like they are planking – what I wouldn’t give to have core muscles like that (without the blubber of course)!  We also saw a couple of sea otters, but unfortunately they were a bit far away to get a good photo.

Seals "Planking" in Monterey

Seals “Planking” in Monterey

I really loved my visit to the Aquarium and walking along the boardwalk enjoying the sunshine with Jon.  And the day wasn’t even finished!

Sparkling Wine Tasting Party

Last night Jon and I hosted a Sparkling Wine Tasting party at our house.  I love sparkling wines, and I think they are under-appreciated.  I mean, they are fun, with the tickle on your lips and nose, refreshing, perfect for celebrating or even just relaxing on the deck, and they go well with just about any food.  They have become known for just being the New Year’s and wedding toast wines, but that’s really not fair!  So let’s change that!

Flutes at the Ready

Flutes at the Ready

I asked each couple to bring one wine, and gave some suggestions for categories to select from.  Then I asked each couple to check back in with me after they made their pick so I could let the rest of the group know.  That way, we wouldn’t end up with a whole pile of Prosecco.  Beyond that, brand and price point were up to the guests.  Here’s what we ended up with (left to right in the photo):

  • Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV
  • Santo Moscato D’Asti NV
  • Zenas Sparkling Riesling 1X
  • Blason de Bourgogne Crémant NV (Trader Joe’s Exclusive)
  • Domaine Ste. Michelle Luxe 2004
  • Montelliana Prosecco Treviso Extra-Dry
  • Gaetano D’Aquino Asti NV
  • Poema Cava Brut NV
The Sparkling Wine Lineup - The good, the good and the corked...

The Sparkling Wine Lineup – The good, the good and the corked…

We didn’t do a blind tasting this time, as I thought it would be too difficult to figure out the differences between a Spanish sparkling wine and a California sparkling wine without knowing what it was.  Besides, as most of the guests hadn’t done much sparkling wine tasting, they were unlikely to be biased by the price points of the wines or the regions where they were made.  (If you want to read about the blind wine tasting party that we hosted last year, you can find that here.)

We popped all the wines and went to work sampling and tasting.  Meanwhile, Jon grilled up the teriyaki turkey burgers that I made, because wine as classy as sparkling wine deserves a fancy meal!  Remember I said that sparkling wine pairs with just about everything?  They were fantastic with our burgers, accompanied by 7 layer dip and chips, fruit salad, a veggie tray and Greek salad – just to give the evening the right amount of international influence!

Here are my limited notes (I paid more attention to socializing than I did to evaluating the wines).

  • Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV – dry yeast, very nice
  • Santo Moscato D’Asti NV – very sweet, apricot
  • Zenas Sparkling Riesling 1X – sadly, corked
  • Blason de Bourgogne Crémant NV (Trader Joe’s Exclusive) – Dry, yeast.  Very good.
  • Domaine Ste. Michelle Luxe 2004 – decent, dry – like the Blanc de Noir by Ste. Michelle better
  • Montelliana Prosecco Treviso Extra-Dry – semi-sweet
  • Gaetano D’Aquino Asti NV – Creamy, with a Pineapple/Papaya Finish
  • Poema Cava Brut NV – very slight green apple flavor with bread
Tasting Sheets

Tasting Sheets

Other than the corked bottle of Zenas (an Oregon producer), I was pleased with all of these wines.  I’m not sure what happened there – I know it was purchased at the winery about 4 years ago – but I’m sure it wasn’t stored optimally either (I guess that’s a lesson for us -let’s enjoy them now!)  Most of the sparkling wines last night were priced at $10 or below, and I think one or two was even less than $5!  There weren’t any of them that I would turn down or not purchase.  Overall, a great night where we got to try some new wines.

Although we didn’t have an official winner’s list, we did tally everybody’s top 3 and the unofficial winners were the Santo Moscato D’Asti, the Montelliana Prosecco, and the Blason de Bourgogne Crémant (if I remember correctly).  The Poema Cava got an honorable mention.  Seems by the rankings that I have friends who love a sweet wine, as the Moscato D’Asti was by far the sweetest of the bunch!

All in all, I think everybody had a great time, and the opportunity to expand their horizons a bit and try some new wines.  I got to spend a wonderful evening with friends.  What better evening is there?