Tuesday, January 23, 2018

When visiting Mendocino County in the far north of California think big.  The trees are bigger and taller, the rugged coast line bordering the Pacific Ocean appears endless and the curves on Highway One that will take you there seemingly without number.
In planning our most recent trip to this region we were fortunate to learn about Brewery Gulch Inn which offers five star accommodations and amenities while maintaining in architecture, decor and ambiance the life-style of the region and its history. 
On Highway One we spotted the water tower graced with a sign proclaiming Brewery Gulch Inn and once inside the attractive reception area and lodge found a wondrous refuge.
Waiting inside was a smiling innkeeper who had been expecting us.  What we saw was a beautiful redwood paneled front desk with adjacent wine bar, then a huge fireplace with blazing logs surrounded by a large lounge.  This lounge overlooks a stretch of ocean that is called Smuggler's Cove and on this day under fierce attack by angry ocean surf.
Soon our Innkeeper had our luggage in our own suite which was named the Madrone.  Each of the ten rooms at the Inn has the name of a tree.   Our room had windows and patio overlooking Smuggler's Cove, and its own gas fireplace surrounded by easy chairs.  The luxury continued with a king size bed,  and a full bath with a two person tub, desk, flat screen TV and complimentary local and domestic long distance telephone service.
That evening as we were tasting the complimentary wines that are part of the service we met Guy Pacurar, proprietor of Brewery Gulch Inn who has a most interesting history.  After a very successful career heading a national student exchange program based in Southern California Guy decided he would like to become an Innkeeper of a resort in a scenic and exotic location.  After a search that took a full year and included viewing twenty nine proprietors in five states he found what he was looking for at Brewery Gulch Inn located close to Mendocino on Highway One
.Amenities at the Inn include complimentary gourmet cooked to order breakfast.  Following the evening wine hour a light dinner buffet is offered that is changed each night by the in house chef.  That first evening we tasted four wines, all from surrounding wine regions.  First was Fathers and Daughters 2015 Sauvignon Blanc for adjacent Anderson Valley, then Michael Sullberg 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon,  and McNab 2013 Petite Sirah from Hopland.  Our buffet dinner included an much admired French Onion soup, Shrimp Risotto and the Chef's inspired Quitch.
Another evening our wines included Old Vine Red OVR from Marietta Cellars, Fathers & Daughters 2014 Pinot Noir and, an Italian white wine Arneis from Enotria.  For the buffet Chef Joe Niesyn prepared a peppercorn flank steak with a most tasty mushroom sauce, steamed fresh vegetables, baked sweet potatoes and his own freshly baked chocolate cake.
Brewery Gulch Inn proved to be the perfect base for some explorations of the surrounding areas including the delightful community of Mendocino,  originally a lumber company town but now with the traditional look and decor of a New England Victorian town.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Five Star Phoenicia in Glendale was the restaurant chosen by the Academy of Culinary Professionals to open its eighteenth year as one of Southern California's premiere dining groups.  It was conceived and created by the late Doris Crandall and James Woodin who continues to head the AOCP.
For the occasion the menu was designed to display traditional Lebanese cuisine and served family style.  At Phoenicia Proprietor Ara Kalfayen has showcased the classic foods and wines of Lebanon  for decades earning the title of being the best place in Southern California to experience this interesting cuisine.
Some fourteen difference appetizers and specialities were on the table along with some traditional wines as well.  Some of the specialties included Sambusik, Labni, the traditional Lebanese Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, roasted eggplant and one of this Writer's favorites., Shenklish, and Kibbeh Nayeh,  classic Tartar.  Then there was Shish Taouk, marinated chicken breast on skewers, Lehem Meshwi, choice marinated beef cubes, also on skewers as well as Muhamara, a spicy dip.  And the dishes continue to arrive including Basturma, slices of cured beef, Smoked salmon,  and Beef Kafta, ground beef with onions, parsley and  grilled on skewers.
 Through the years Ara Kalfayan has always featured  excellent wines from Lebanon in his cellar.
When it comes to wine Lebanon has a history that extends back almost six thousand years. The land and climate was friendly to viticulture and it was peopled by Phoenicians who were renown principally for their wide travel and trading. They were shipping wine to Egypt two thousand years before Christ. Modern vineyards and winemaking received fresh stimulus when the French arrived in the country during the last half of the 19th century. First by Jesuit monks and then by French vintners.
This is a restaurant where everything is done well and most professionally.
Phoenicia is located at 343 North Central Avenue in Glendale with off street parking. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except on weekends there is live entertainment with a 2 a.m. closing time. For more information or reservations call 818 956-7800.

Friday, January 5, 2018

In San Pedro we shared one day of Viking Sun's inaugural world cruise.  During its two day stay in port the media was invited to come aboard  to tour Viking Sun and learn of its unique style of cruising.  Less traditional in ambiance than most cruise ships the Viking Sun is contemporary in decor and ambiance with more of the look and feel of a five star hotel.  This contemporary  Scandinavian decor is carried out throughout the ship including its cabins and dining areas.
Viking Sun is one of three new ships that will join the fleet in the next two years. 
We were briefed about Viking, with both its ocean ships as well as its large number of river boats that regularly tour the major waterways of Europe.  This briefing was well told by Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen  who also oultlined  the large number of superior ratings the Viking passenger experience has received over the last few years.  These high ratings in competition with other cruise lines.
It is certainly true that Viking Sun offers a unique experience from other cruise ships.  There are no photographers, casino, inside state rooms, and all passengers must be at least 18 years old.
After our tour and briefing we sat down to a most elegant luncheon served in one of the dining rooms with wide expansive windows.   Our starters were 'a taste of arctic Norway' with crab claw, lodderogn, shrimp and salmon tartare accompanied with a Noble Vines 242, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016, Monterey , California.
Next was 'Chairman's Choice', Poached Norwegian salmon with cucumber salad and broil potatoes, the wine Altano Branco, 2016, Douro, Portugal or oven roasted rack of lamb with mustard herb crumb gratinated potatoes, baby vegetables, and rosemary jus, the wine 770 Miles Zinfandel, 2015 from California.
Dessert was Mille-Feuille, crispy baked puff pastry with light vanilla cream, the wine Domaine de Montgilet Coteaux de l'Aubance from Loire, France.
This repast assured us that the cuisine and service aboard Viking Sun matched its  many other amenities.
Then we left the Viking Sun with some regret that we could not continue on its passage around plant Earth.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

It was time to visit  the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles located on North Main Street.  It held its opening early in 2017 and is located in historic Italian Hall.  This building was built in 1908 in what was then the heart of the Italian community.  Over the years freeway construction erased all of the community except for the Hall and a few other buildings..  Now as oldest remaining structure,of the once vibrant community, it is listed on the National Register of Historic places.
Upon arrival at the Museum we were met by Trent E. Sneed of the History & Events Division, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Authority.  After  introductions he personally led us on a tour of the Museum which includes cultural and educational exhibitions, film screenings and classes.   Currently there was a special exhibit on Sicily which we found of much interest since we described to Trent that my mother was born in Tribia, Sicily and arrived in San Francisco with her mother at the age of three. Featured in the Sicilian exhibit is a history of the Island that dates back to 1000 BC as well as a most  ornate Italian Carretti Cart on loan from a Sicily museum.
The regular exhibits start with the Italian imprint on the North American West with showing of pioneers and early settlements.  Then an exhibit detailing the discrimination faced by the Italian immigrants and listing the many insulting terms describing the immigrants who was all for the most part hard working and eager to fit into American ways and culture.
Another shows the influence the Italians had on entertainment and Hollywood from its earliest days while another exhibit tell the story of  Amadeo Giannini who founded the Bank of Italy that later became the Bank of  America.
That early Italian immigrants were also in the wine business from the early 1800s.  One  Giovanni Leandri, originally from Sardinia, began making wine from the Mission grape in 1820.  In those early years many of the vineyards were clustered  around what is now Olivera Street.   Best known is the the San Antonio Winery which , with an Italian legacy, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary as the oldest operating winery in Los Angeles.
We thought the Italian American Museum a very good addition to the multi ethnic mix that  is Los Angeles and  location of Italian Hall adds to the many visitor attractions of the El Pueblo  de  Los Angeles area.
The Italian American Museum offers free admission and is open Tuesday thru  Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Address is 644 North Main Street in Los Angeles at the corner of Cesar Chavez.  Telephone 213 485-8432, web www.iamla.org.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

After attending the tasting of Lebanon wines at the Beverly Hilton Hotel we could not wait till we got back to Phoenicia Restaurant in Glendale to match some of the wines we had tasted with its award winning Lebanese cuisine.  We already knew that Owner Ara Kalfayan would have many of these excellent vintages in his cellar.
When it comes to wine Lebanon has a history that extends back almost six thousand years. The land and climate was friendly to viticulture and it was peopled by Phoenicians who were renown principally for their wide travel and trading. They were shipping wine to Egypt two thousand years before Christ. Modern vineyards and winemaking received fresh stimulus when the French arrived in the country during the last half of the 19th century. First by Jesuit monks and then by French vintners.
However when we did arrive at Phoenicia we learned that some seventy five people had got there before us to attend a food and wine matching with  Chateau Ksara wines.  One of the oldest wineries in Lebanon since 1857, when the Jesuits discovered an ideal place for growing grapes and producing wine which is the Bekaa Valley.
Most wines from Lebanon show a French influence and the red wines are generally blends of French varietals like Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot. Two of Lebanon native varietals are still to be found, Obaideh and Merwah.
Our dinner opened with appetizers that included Hommos; Labni, Lebanese cream cheese served with garlic; Warak Enab, grape leaves stuffed with rice, oil and vegetables, cooked in lemon juice and olive oil, and Tabbouleh, chopped parsley, crushed wheat, tomatoes and onions. Some hot appetizers we tasted included Kibbeh Makli, beef dumpling stuffed with ground beef; Bourghoul , onions and pine nuts as well as San Bousek, freshly prepared dough with ground beef and pine nuts and Rekakat, a selection of Lebanese cheese baked in a pastry dough.
Our samplers of grill selections included Beef Kafta, ground beef, onions, parsley and spices, grilled on skewers. One of our favorites are the lamb chops marinated with spices and grilled. Also chicken breast kabob, perfectly prepared rice and the best french fries we have had in a long time.
This is a restaurant where everything is done well and most professionally.
Phoenicia is located at 343 North Central Avenue in Glendale with off street parking. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except on weekends there is live entertainment with a 2 a.m. closing time. For more information or reservations call 818 956-7800.

Monday, December 18, 2017

One day recently we managed to relive some of our Hawaiian culinary experiences by simply driving to Torrance and visiting King's Hawaiian Bakery and Restaurant.  For here one is back on the Islands with the staff in colorful Hawaiian shirts, the decor and ambiance of an Hawaiian dining experience and the menu confirms it all.
Thanks to its bread that is readily available in almost every Southern California supermarket King's Hawaiian is a well known brand name.  But there is a story here that starts in Hilo, Hawaii and then moves to Southern California and especially the southwest districts.  For here is King's Hawaiian Bakery and Restaurant. 
It was in 1950 that Robert Taira established a bakery in Hilo, Hawaii offers a unique original recipe sweet bread.  Its popularity was such that in 1977 King's Hawaiian moved to Torrance and established a bakery there which then grew to include an outstanding restaurant as well.
We must thank Bert Agor Jr., National l Corporate Executive Chef, for King's Hawaiian for introducing us to the Torrance Bakery and Restaurant.  We first became acquainted with Bert when he was Executive Chef at the Tustin Ranch Golf Club where one year he was named Chef of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers.
King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant is large and  accommodates a large number of diners from early morning breakfast to late evening snacks much of it with the flavors of Hawaiian foods and cuisine as well as hints of Asian flavors as well.  On first entering the restaurant what one sees are long, long displays of bakery goods.  A good many patrons never get past this exciting display of pastries, but make  purchases and then leave.  But for those that stay there is Hawaiian local food like Chicken Katsu, Teriyaki beef plate, Kalbi ribs Kalua Pork or Huli Huli chicken.
Then there are entrees from the 'new Hawaii' with entrees like Island Mahi Mahi, Misa Salmon, Spicy Tuna Poke or braised Paniola Beef Short Rib.
Joining us to provide more information about King's Hawaiian was Steve Kane, Manager of Retail Operations.  He explained that the bakery operations are almost 24 hours a day and include a talented group of pastry chefs.
King's Hawaiian Bakery and Restaurant is located at 2808 W. Sepulveda Blvd., Torrance, telephone 310 530-0050, web www.kingshawaiianrestaurants.com.  The restaurant is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. while the Bakery opens at 6 a.m.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

That old adage that 'there is always something new to be learned about wine'  was explained to this Writer decades ago.  And sure enough it was proven, once again, when we attended a Beverly Hills tasting presented by George K. Zanganas who heads NuGreek Wines of Sonoma.
 Member of a family that have been growing grapes in Greece for decades, George has come up with the idea of making wines "blending old world with new world grapes".  And after tasting several of the wines we must add that he has done so with great success.
Some wines like 2016 Georgos Dry Rose made from Pinot Noir grapes is all from the families vineyards located at Nuos Hpakaveous , what is known as the Temple of Hercules.  Originally  the family only grew grapes after taking over the property in 1968.  Then George Zanganas decided they should be making wines from their own vineyards.
Impressive was a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon labeled Ithaka 2014 Penelope's Spell which is 85 per cent from Sonoma and 15 per cent from Greek grapes.  Its aging in a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak barrels.  Georgos 2013 Mykonos Pinot Noir is from Greece while  a while wine, 2016 Sophis' Smile Santorini is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes blended from both Greek and Sonoma vineyards.  Another wine with a blend of both Greek and Somona grapes is 2014 Georgos Corfu Super Red Blend.
We thought NuGreek Wines of Sonoma  a most original and successful achievement by George Zanganas.