Tuesday, April 29, 2014

One of the things we look for each Spring is a visit to the poppy fields that suddenly appear over much of the western part of the Antelope Valley.  Here is located the Antelope Valley State Calilfornia Poppy Preserve but those golden fields of poppies extend far beyond the Preserve itself.
Not all springs are productive for the poppies.  Much depends on the amount of winter and spring rainfall.  This year a three inch rain storm saved the day and the result was the best show of poppies in three years.
Our visit was one day after the annual Poppy Festival but we were not alone as we stopped to frolic among the fields and take lots of photos.
Close by is the Arthur Ripley Woodland State Park which has been preserved to show how the Antelope Valley looked before being cleared for farming.
It  is one of our favorite sites for a relaxing picnic lunch. There is a trail to wander through the woodland with Joshua and Juniper trees as well as blue sage and cacti.  In the spring there are wild flowers to be seen as well and  we took photos with the Tehachapi as a backdrop still showing patches of snow.. 
Here we enjoyed our picnic lunch and  continued our trip through the Valley, then Highway 14 for home.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Once again we attended a meeting of the Ventura Chapter of Wine Investigation For Novices and Oenphiles, WINO, for short.  This is the 39th year Jeanne Bartlett has guided the group that meets with an individual winery and joins with an outstanding chef in presenting a menu to match food with wine.
Last evening we were at the Residence Inn in Oxnard with Executive Chef James Smith showing us a menu that matched the wines of Folie A Deux Winery in Sonoma County.
This winery, established in 1981, uses \almost every region of Sonoma County in selecting a vineyard for each of its varietals.
We opened with a wild Arugula salad matched with  Folie A Deux 2012 Chardonnay which was from the Russian River Valley.  Next up a French onion soup with Gruyre cheese accompanied by 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley.  With our Coq au Vin the wine was 2011 Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley.
The Sonoma Coast region was the source of the 2011 Pinot Noir that was served with the Beef Bourgugnon.  Flourless chocolate cake with dark forest berry compote was the dessert with 2011 Alexander Valley Merlot.
It proved to be yet another successful evening for this almost legendary gathering of wine groupies.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ever wonder how a restaurant achieves a five star rating?  Our dinner last evening at Renaissance, located at the Manor Hotel in Hollywood, showed once again why this restaurant consistently earns this five star award
The ambiance is outstanding with diners offered a view of the perfectly cared for gardens of the hotel.  The staff is well trained and professional in their work.
Most important is the skill of the chef, in this instance Phil Christodoulou who shows amazing talents in using a huge variety of vegetables and herbs in preparing  appetizers and entrees.
The same care given the cuisine is displayed in the wine list under the watchful eye of Maitre d' and Sommelier Gerard Marini.  The Renaissance has one of the best stocked wine cellars in the west end of the city.
The menu here is large, two poster sized pages long.
We opened with the Sashimi Yellow Fin Tuna with shaved Fennel, marinated in tomato water with soy, wasabi and micro greens.  Next to arrive Confit Duck Risotto, confit duck with reggiano parmigiano portobello mushrooms and risotto.
Entree was pan fried Chilean sea bass on a bed of sauteed spinach with portobello mushrooms with white wine butter sauce.
The menu includes a full range of steaks all prepared and served with specially prepared sauces or vegetables.  We have never seen a menu with as many side vegetables and sauces as that displayed by Chef Phil. Twenty different items by count.
Desserts are memorable at this restaurant thanks to the skill of Pastry Chef Christian Boinard.
Renaissance is located at  5930 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles.  As restaurant for the Manor Hotel it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week.  For more information call 323 960-3100.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ever wonder how your favorite wine choices fit in with the general population.
According to the Wine Institute, in retail sales, the most popular wine types were Chardonnay (20% share), Cabernet Sauvignon (13%), Merlot (9%), Red Blends/Sweet Reds (9%) and Pinot Grigio (9%), followed by Moscato (6%), White Zinfandel (5%), Pinot Noir (4%), and Sauvignon Blanc (4%). Moscato, Malbec and Red blends experienced double digit growth, while after that, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir exhibited the next strongest upward trends.
No need to worry about a shortage of your favorite California wine.  The state enjoyed back to back record wine grape harvests in 2012 and 2013.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

We were meeting friends in Santa Barbara and chose Marmalade Cafe for our luncheon.  This is a small chain of four restaurants, all located in Southern California.
Marmalade has achieved a reputation for showing a very contemporary menu that is upbeat and with frequent entree changes.
I chose the seared Ahi with Napa slaw and was delighted with my plate when it arrived.  Another at our table ordered the chicken tacos which arrived on a platter with rice, and  black beans.  We noted that the menu showed some most interesting entree salads like poached salmon Nicoise.
There were also flat breads and unusual pastas like artichoke ravoli.
The service matched the food in excellence so it proved to be a very nice event.
Marmalade Cafe in Santa Barbara is located at 3825 State Street with both inside and patio dining and free off street parking.  Tele. 1 805 682-5246.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Before leaving Yuma we had to see  two places that are a must for every visitor interested in history.  They are the Territorial Prison and the Quartermaster Depot.  Because of the importance of the Yuma Crossing of the Colorado River the U. S. Army established a base there to supply its Forts stretched over a large portion of the southwest.
The Base  proved to be of vast importance to the early pioneers who planned to settle and farm in the region.  Also to those moving on west to the California Gold Rush.
The Territorial Prison was established shortly after the railroad reached Yuma.  It was opened in 1876 and the first prisoners were put to work in its construction.
When first opened it was a grim place indeed but over the years as it expanded  a hospital, library and recreational activities were provided for the inmates.  It closed in 1909.
Both the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park are open every day for visitors with tours available.

Friday, April 18, 2014

With the City of Yuma currently celebrating its 100 year Centennial many special events and activities have been scheduled, some while we were there. 
The history of the Yuma crossing of the Colorado River extends back many centuries before the City existed and became chartered.  It was one of the few places the River could be forded when it was large and with fast water.  It was where the Indians crossed, then the first Spanish explorers followed by the many Americans who went west to California during the 1849 gold rush.
The Colorado River was tamed with several dams but its importance is still great as the water source for all the agricultural development that has taken place in the area with Yuma as its hub.
The 2014 Taco Festival was one of the events we attended.  It took place at the Fairgrounds and was a part of Music Fest.  Fifty eight local food outlets took part in featuring their own version of this southwest tasty..  Twenty eight took part in a Taco cookoff with a whole team of judges on hand to select the best taco.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The historic downtown area of Yuma has much to offer.  First thing was to take a photo of the sign that reads "Welcome, Yuma-Gateway to the Great Southwest".
We visited Desert Olive Farms located at 224 Main Street.  Grace Benson Edgar, managing partner, greeted us and explained that the store is relatively new but that interest in planting olive groves in the region is expanding.  We did taste  the extra virgin olive oils, some plain others flavored with herbs and spices.
Wine Shops are a magnet for this Writer so we made a quick visit to Old Town Wine Cellar located at 265 Main Street.  Mike Shelhamer is proprietor and his store is well stocked with wines from many regions and countries
When we stepped into Lutes Casino for lunch we immediately knew this was our kind of place. Lutes is an institution in Yuma as a favored watering hole and bistro and has been so for fifty years.  We met and chatted with Bob and Nancy Lutes, a brother and sister team, who operate it with Bob's son, Michael.  The bar and restaurant is decorated from floor to ceiling with an amazing collection of memorabilia and artifacts.  But most important is that the food was outstanding and our tri tip sandwich memorable.  The menu is large and the service excellent.  Lutes Casino is located at 221 Main Street.   

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

This day in Yuma, among other adventures, we learned more about the birds and the bees thanks to David Mansheim, manager of the Bard Date Company.  We went to a date palm grove to learn how they are grown and produce their fruit.  There are male and female palm trees.  The male trees provide the pollen that seed the dates which only grow on the female trees.  In the grove we visited there were hundreds of trees with only one male tree for fifty female trees.
The bees hang out in the male trees.  Palm  trees grow an average of a foot a year and produce one crop a year with harvest in September.
That evening we journeyed to the Quechan Casino & Resort located west of Yuma just off Interstate 8.  It is a very large, lush complex of casino, 166 guest rooms, a huge patio with heated pool and unique Lazy River for floating about.
We were there to dine at the upscale Ironwood Steakhouse and were not disappointed.  The ambiance excellent, the cuisine memorable and the staff most professional. 
It capped a most interesting day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Off for Yuma, Arizona to take part in the City's Centennial Celebration.  I have a golden rule for travel. It is to always know in advance were you are going to spend that night.
It was no problem this trip.  I was staying at the Best Western Coronado Motor Hotel.  When I travel an automobile is my security blanket.  The closer I stay to my wheels the better.  Which explains why I like motor hotels like the Coronado.  Parked two steps from my door the car is always available, necessary for me, since it is my closet, office and snack bar when I am traveling.
After the 300 mile drive I was happy to settle in my room.  Who could ask for more--a comfortable sofa, a desk just right for my computer, a refrigerator for cooling my water bottles, a micro wave oven, flat screen TV and best of all that king size bed.
So when I stepped into my room at the Coronado it was with the smug satisfaction that comes with clever advance planning.
Much more to follow on Yuma.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Last night I was one of the hosts when the Southern California Restaurant Writers staged their 40th Annual Awards Banquet.  The most interesting Astor Classics Museum and Events Center was the place where some of the regions top restaurateurs received their awards.
Named Restaurateur of theYear was Andrew Silber of the Whale & Tail in San Pedro.  Chef of the Year was Stefan Weck of the Highland Springs Resort.  In all some 528 restaurants received awards this year.
They ranged from five stars to two stars and were grouped in their own category.
The Southern California Restaurant Writers are a non profit organization and any proceeds from events are for culinary arts students scholarships.  Also individuals and restaurants donate to the program.  These are awarded in the name of the Doris Crandall Scholarship Fund each year to students at Harbor, Glendale and Orange Coast Community Colleges.  Also to culinary arts students are Riverside City College and San Bernardino Community College.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Casa Del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica proved to be the perfect location for the wine tasting of the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux.  The Cercle Rive Droite was established in 2002 and then Cercle Rive Gauche  followed in 2013. Now combined the Grand Cercle showcases some 200 Bordeaux wines from both banks of the Gironde Estuary.
We met with Alain Raynaud, president and founder of Grand Cercle, who explained that the thirty nine wineries represented at the tasting included almost every region of both the right and left bank of the Gironde River.
Most of the winery tables were hosted by the winery owners and we had most interesting conversations with some of them while tasting their excellent vintages.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Courses in culinary arts are very popular in Southern California Community Colleges.  Today I was at Los Angeles Harbor College to look in, once again, on their culinary arts program. As part of the program there is AM Harbor Bistro, a cafe where the staff are all students.  It is open for lunch Monday thru Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  On Thursday evenings a five course dinner is served starting at 5:30 p.m.
We were at the College to have lunch with Giovanni DelRosario who is director of the school's program.
And to present him a check of $1000 for student culinary arts scholarships.  The Southern California Restaurant Writers have had a scholarship fund almost since the organization was founded 40 years ago.  It is named the Doris Crandall Scholarship Fund in honor of the woman who founded the Writers group
Harbor College is one of five Southern California schools that will receive checks for students in culinary arts programs.
We enjoyed an excellent lunch which opened with onion soup, Potato Crusted Cod with Chive Butter Sauce and Asparagus, finishing with a chocolate brownie cake for dessert.  It was all excellent showing that the students are well on their way for culinary careers.
As Scholarship Chairman for the So. Calif. Writers I will be busy in the next two months visiting the other schools that are part of the program, presenting scholarships and attending graduations.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Web has made exploring foreign places in ways unknown just a quarter century ago.  My Father was a subscriber to the National Geographic Magazine which was a great way for such armchair explorations in an earlier time.   From my earliest memories  I read every issue and then became a subscriber on my own  to this very day.
Which probably explains my consistently seeking wines from other parts of the world.  My recent exposure to some wines from Uruguay required further investigation.  In South America Uruguay ranks fourth in the wine producing countries which include Argentine, Chile and Brazil.
In Uruguay the ranking varietal is Tannat which Basque immigrants brought with them.  It is native to southwest France and parts of Spain.  In California there are only small vineyards of this varietal and these planted just  a few years ago.
 Tannat has a reputation of being difficult for the winemaker because of high tannins and so  is usually used for blending with other varietals.
The wines I tasted were blends of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat with Syrah.  I found them interesting, quite distinctive and enjoyable.  The Winery was Tanterra from the San  Jose region in Uruguay and the wines well aged in both oak barrels and bottle.
Uruguayan wines are not easy to find in California, but I though, worth the effort.