Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Californication Part 3: Napa

Napa trips have become a family tradition. For the past few years we’ve gone to Northern California in late summer or early fall for wine tasting, fine dining and relaxation. Of course there have been some moments of bickering – My family is very much like a dysfunctional but extremely loving Brady Bunch – but overall any time spent together is fun and full of love. What’s great about our crew is that we actually like each other. Which is lucky considering we’ve survived divorce, remarriage et al. I feel extremely fortunate to have my amazing non-nuclear, and growing, family. 
And speaking of feeling fortunate, this year’s Napa visit had extra special meaning: We were celebrating the 10-year anniversary of my Dad’s stroke. A “stroke-aversary,” if you will. Ten years ago on August 11, out of the blue, my Dad suffered a massive stroke. In layman’s terms: He randomly contracted a rare infection in his blood that caused a blood clot and ultimately a stroke. He had to undergo months of rehabilitation but fortunately he was OK physically. One side of his body feels a bit numb sometimes, but he can do all the important stuff like play golf, dance his crazy dance moves and, soon, walk me down the aisle. He does have aphasia, which makes communicating a lot harder than pre-stroke. He’s a brilliant doctor who still maintains his extensive medical (and general) knowledge, but it takes some extra time to process information and communicate his thoughts. Initially after the stroke my Dad couldn’t say his own name. He eventually relearned his entire vocabulary, starting with some curse words thanks to my stepbrother Brandt. Anyway he’s doing remarkably well and there was (is) definitely cause for celebration. My Dad now calls August 11 his birthday – and this year he turned 10.
My family believes in celebrating the good stuff, and Napa is one of our favorite spots to celebrate – so much so that Justin and I have decided to plan Napa nuptials. But first thing's first; a recap of this past trip:
We drove some more along the precarious PCH from Big Sur to Napa – but I admit the views were worth my having a bit of angst. See below.

Side note: People in California pull over along the roads to take in the views. There are outlooks carved out for just this purpose: pure appreciation of beauty. I can’t imagine this happens much on the East coast… But I really value the idea of taking a moment to really be in the moment and stop and smell the roses (or salt water).
We stopped in Carmel for lunch. We didn’t spend much time there but the town seemed adorable. Next we took a wedding-venue-hunt detour before meeting my family for our annual Napa adventure. 
This trip we tasted at a few old standbys (Caymus, Duckhorn and Stagecoach) along with a few new gems (Krutz, Paul Hobbs, Rafanelli and Ridge). We also visited extended family (my Grandpa’s cousin and his wife) that live in Healdsburg on a gorgeous vineyard. And we ate at some delicious restaurants (Brix, Farm, Redd Wood) and got sandwiches from Soda Canyon Store – the cutest old-town feeling general store (stocked with top quality wine, of course).
Overall the stay was a delicious celebration. And I’m looking forward to going back again soon to plan our wedding! I’m so excited to be celebrating there once again with even more friends and family.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Californication Part 2: The A Muse Bouche Guide to PCH Road Trippin’

From LA we headed to Big Sur. I’d never been to Big Sur before and Justin had only been once briefly. At first I loved the ride along PCH (apparently true Californians drop the “the” – Thank you Jacki). We could literally smell the salt water as we drove beside the ocean. We stopped in Malibu for breakfast and Santa Barbara for lunch. I absolutely love the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara. I haven’t stayed there yet but just from popping by I know it has the best ambiance. I was there last with my best friend Rachel – we went at night for a drink at the hotel’s Ty Lounge and the setting was absolutely lovely. During the day the place is even lovelier. The resort’s restaurants overlook the ocean. Justin and I opted to picnic across the street from the hotel, at the beach. It was the perfect pit stop.

Then we hit the road again. And it wasn’t so lovely. Don’t get me wrong – it was beautiful. But it was SCARY. Yes, I’m a wuss. I’m afraid of heights. And I’m certainly afraid of curvy roads without guardrails snaking along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Justin – my perfect complement – was the epitome of calm. He loves driving, and he’s not a wuss. He convinced me to muster up the courage to – A: Look at the gorgeous views, and B: Take pictures. I tried to capture the precariousness of the road, but the photos don’t do the dicey situation justice. Nor are the pics of the views truly representative. But they’re pretty special. See below.

We had a reservation at Post Ranch Inn. Post Ranch Inn seemed over-the-top when we initially researched it. But Justin insisted on staying there and I consented. (It turns out his original proposal plan was en route to Big Sur, hence the exceptional hotel pick.) Post Ranch was the perfect combination of rustic setting and luxurious accommodations. Upon arrival we were greeted with glasses of red wine before being driven to our cabin in Lexus hybrids. Our cabin was decked out with a fireplace and back patio with Adirondack chairs overlooking a dense Redwood forest. The kitchenette was stocked with more wine and an assortment of beverages, homemade chocolate chip cookies, cheese & crackers and more – all at no extra charge. It really was a full-service place; when we went hiking the next day we borrowed backpacks and water bottles, and the staff made sure we had plenty of sunscreen. But back to day one: We arrived just before dinner and right on time to see a spectacular sunset. We dined at the resort’s restaurant Sierra Mar. The restaurant has floor to ceiling windows and is literally suspended from the cliffs, hanging above the water. The views are ridiculous. I agree with the hostess who said there’s no bad table in the room. And the food isn’t bad either. We had a tasting menu including scallops prepared in four different sauces. After eating we went outside to stargaze. I’ve never seen a sky so dense with stars. And the hotel even has an on-site stargazing expert; equipped with the largest telescope I’ve ever seen. Not only did the expert point out star constellations, he showed us Mars and Saturn. Mars looked like a ball of fire and we could actually see the rings of Saturn. It was wild.

Post Ranch Sunset
The next day we went for a hike on the Post Ranch Inn property (the resort grounds encompass over 100 acres) and unwound in an infinity-edge Jacuzzi overlooking the Pacific before braving the road again and going to Napa.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Californication Part 1: The A Muse Bouche Guide to LA

I just returned from my happy place. Of course it’s not really a “place” but rather a state of mind. But it just so happens I can much more easily access my contented state when I’m in The Golden State. Justin and I visited Santa Monica, Big Sur and Napa – with stops along the way in Malibu, Santa Barbara and Carmel. It was an accidental engagement-moon. “Engagemoon?”

I tried to be in-the-moment every step of the way. Justin too felt “unplugged” – especially at times when we were literally with no cell service. But first up on the itinerary, a destination with full-service: Oceana Beach Club Hotel. After some last minute deliberation because I really did procrastinate on picking an LA hotel, I chose the Oceana in Santa Monica. Friends and family had contributed lots of helpful suggestions including Shutters on the Beach (too pricey) and the Viceroy (too cool) and I was set on picking a place with that good hotel bedding, a relaxing pool setting and in-house bicycles.

The Oceana was 3 for 3 regarding my criteria, plus an added bonus: a room upgrade. When we arrived we were told we’d been upgraded from the original room I'd booked (at their least expensive rate) to a Signature Ocean View Suite, obviously overlooking the ocean. It had a balcony to boot. Needless to say it was much larger than our one-bedroom NYC apartment. And the suite even felt homey, with books strewn about and plants placed here and there. I credit Karma for the upgrade(s). (Also upgraded: our rental car. Hertz was out of regular sedans with sunroofs, so they granted us a Mustang convertible.)

room with a view
on-site bikes compliments of oceana 
On night one in LA we went to Abbot Kinney for dinner and ice cream, at Gjelina and Nice Cream respectively. Gjelina has a great reputation, which is well deserved especially in the pizza department. The Pomodoro Crudo pizza we ordered was absolutely delicious. We also ordered the Arugula, Shaved Sweet Corn, Cherry Tomato, Pecorino & Lemon salad and Grilled Radicchio with Balsamic & Sea Salt. In general I think the food out in Cali is fresher than here in The Big Apple. Nice Cream had a not-so-nice ambiance; it was rather sterile. But the gelato was delectable. I highly recommend the chocolate hazelnut, in a waffle cone.

Day 2:
We biked to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and along the beach for a bit. Then we went to the Huckleberry Cafe for brunch. (Thank you for the recommendation Megan!) We missed the breakfast menu, which ended at 11, so we ordered not one but two fried egg sandwiches (with bacon and Gruyere cheese), and sides of farro salad and string beans. And a chocolate chip cookie. And a glazed donut. Gluttonous? Clearly. Regretful? Just a little.

Obviously we were able to take the desserts to go. But the droopy fried egg sandys that we didn’t finish? The waiter at Huckleberry was absolutely shocked we were leaving behind leftovers. And this tended to be the reaction from servers everywhere in Cali whenever we over-ordered and under-ate. (My man has the tendency to have eyes bigger than his little tummy.) I really do appreciate the California mentality about wastefulness – I’m ashamed whenever we over-order here in NY, and I often hoard leftovers in the fridge, hoping we’ll eat them at some point. But alas, we usually don’t. So from here on out I’m resolving to be more Californian in my consumption habits.

ANYWAY after carbo-loading we went to Topanga State Park and ascended the Temescal Ridge Trailhead to “Skull Rock.” It was rigorous (and HOT) but with rewarding views including the unique sight of (surprise surprise) a rock resembling a skull.

fried egg sandwich at huckleberry cafe
“skull rock”
Post hike we hung by the hotel pool and ate guacamole & chips and drank Cupcake Prosecco compliments of our hotel staff. (Upon checking in Justin had mentioned our engagement, and the staff sent the bottle with a lovely note.) And I can proudly report that there were no leftovers of either food or drink. In the evening we went to Venice Beach for drinks at Hotel Erwin’s rooftop lounge overlooking the ocean. It was an awesome spot to see the sunset, and the vibe at the bar was very East Village. Then we returned to Abbot Kinney (which we liken to Smith Street in Brooklyn Heights) for dinner at the highly recommended restaurant The Tasting Kitchen. The food was excellent, including a standout condiment: balsamic aged longer than me: 32 years. My only negative review is of the dessert. We had the bread pudding, which was eh. Next time we’ll revisit Nice Cream.


P.S. Californication - 

Friday, August 3, 2012

A certain ‘je ne sais quoi’

As much as I appreciate the awesome graphic design skills of my Photo Editor (Justin), it’s time to say ‘au revoir’ to the lips.
My updated blog template is a much better representation of ‘a muse bouche,’ and it’s much more ‘me.’ I hope you enjoy the new look, crafted by Fabulous K and envisioned by moi.

And I’m taking even more tech savvy strides. I’ll be tweeting in the days to come. You can follow me at @amy_rosenthal. And of course you can continue to track me on Pinterest. (I’m obsessed! Especially now that I can admittedly stalk wedding boards…)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...