Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The fact that West Inn and Suites in Carlsbad has two outstanding restaurants places it in a unique status.
Two days ago we wrote here about the five star West Steak and Seafood Restaurant.
But this resort also has a another restaurant called Bistro West on the property.
Bistro West is a complete restaurant with bar, lounge, indoor and patio dining, casual in decor and ambiance for both lunch, dinner plus the Happy Hour.  While emphasizing the casual aspects of a bistro the  quality of both cuisine and service rates  Bistro West as an award winning restaurant in its own right.
We thought the menu well selected  with items well suited for either lunch or dinner or just some snacks at the bar lounge.
The menu shows appetizers like Calamari, lettuce wraps and our selection which was Bistro Ahi tartare.  Like its sister restaurant the three acre West Farm supplies the fresh produce as with its roasted beet, Caesar, Greek, Scallop salads.  The Chef gave us a sampling of the scallop as well.  Here there is a large selection of pizzas with many personal add on choices all prepared in the stone hearth oven.  Pastas are big here with over seven to chose from as well as classics and Chef pasta creations.  Burgers play a big role here and the sandwiches are most creative. 
Our choice was the French dip sandwich which we shared with our dining partner.  It had a most tasty horseradish onion spread and the dip was exceptional in flavor.  With it were sweet potato fries.  Other sandwiches on the menu included warm reuben, veggie panini or Havana Cubano Pork.
For a serious dinner the menu shows a chicken cordon bleu , beef short ribs, pork loin and a choice of steaks like ribeye, New York or Filet mignon.
We had the opportunity to meet some of the staff including Justin Stark, general manager, Kathy Sellers, assistant general manager, Executive Chef John Miller and our friendly, competent waitress Leah Comas.
Bistro West is located on West Inn property at 4960 Avenida Encinas and open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. with a Happy Hour daily from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.  Telephone 760 930-8008, web www.bistrowest.com. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

The old adage that "good restaurants are where you find them" still applied on our trip to explore Carlsbad.  Paon Restaurant and Wine Bar in picturesque Carlsbad Village proved to be a real find.
We had only been in the restaurant a few minutes and a quick look at the menu and ambiance told us we were in a five star restaurant.
Steve Barr, managing partner, greeted us and showed us the premises which are extensive with a large bar
lounge, indoor and patio dining areas and the adjacent Wine Bar and Retail Shop with over one thousand labels.  Here we met Gino Campbell, Wine Director and International Master Sommelier
Seated in the dining room we found the menu stunning with a huge two page list of enticing appetizers, salads, soups and entrees.  Rare indeed on today's menus does one find items like Veal Sweet Breads, Salmon & Tuna Tartare, Black Pearl American Paddle Fish Caviar and French Escargot Bourgugnon.
Then entrees like Pan Roasted Pheasant, New Zealand Cervina Venison and two preparations of Duck.  This besides the usual assortment of steaks and chops.
The seafoods including Indian spiced Prawn and Scallops salads and entrees like Pan Seared Maine Diver Scallops with a Ragout of Organic vegetables and  lobster, potato Puree which was our fortunate choice.  Also seared Yellowfish Tuna, King Salmon and Alaskan Halibut.
With the adjacent wine bar and shop the wine list was most extensive and our glass of 2012 Napa Meritage wine outstanding.
Paon Restaurant and Wine Bar is located in Carlsbad Village at 2975 Roosevelt Street and open daily for dinner from 5:30 p.m. Lunches served Wednesday through Saturday.  Telephone 760 729-7377, web www.paoncarlsbad.com

Sunday, May 29, 2016

 We checked into West Inn & Suites to use as a base in Carlsbad for article ideas at Legoland,  Museum of Modern Music and Leo Carrillo Park.  The problem we found was the West accommodations offered so much on the property that leaving took a good deal of  self  discipline.
 For over a decade we were on Highway 5 two days a month to San  Diego working as a reporter for a publication.  So a hotel and resort like West  Inn was just off our radar.  But at long last upon discovery we looked back on how we might have used its facilities as a mini vacation.
 However here was the opportunity to make up for earlier neglect.  Over the years we have earned a reputation for holding a secure grip on our wallet so the word "Free" has real meaning for us.  At West Inn this word is used a lot with Wifi, breakfast, parking, pool lounging and the hotel  shuttle to mention a few.        
This hotel shuttle meant we could leave our car parked at the hotel, give our On-Star direction service a vacation and use the shuttle when we visited Legoland and the Museum of Modern Music.
 As for Carlsbad we did know how much it has to offer the visitor.  We had written about it many times, for the San Diego publication, in writing restaurant reviews and  a story on the town's early beginnings.
Our room was large, the bed king sized and with all amenities.  The next morning there was the free full breakfast buffet served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. each day.  There are a good many free services at West Inn including Wi-Fi, cookies and milk at bedtime and a free shuttle service for all the nearby attractions.  This was most helpful for us.  We left our car parked and arranged for the Shuttle to take us  to Legoland that morning.  As we left Legoland we called and the Shuttle picked us up in about five minutes.
That afternoon we planned to visit the Museum of Making Music and again used the Shuttle. 
That evening we had dinner at the award winning West Steak and Seafood Restaurant which is located adjacent to the main building,  giving us a two minute walk from our room to the restaurant.  It is large with cocktail bar and lounge and a well appointed dining room and  open kitchen.
The menu is large and a full page devoted to the many steaks and chops listed.  We met with General Manager Bobby Daitch and Executive Chef Dave Abella.  West Inn has its own three acre farm so that the chef has many kinds of fresh produce on hand for all his creations.  This was proven when we ordered the fresh beet salad which was wonderful with its fresh flavors.  Next was the lobster rolls as our appetizer and then the daily special  Alaskan Halibut as our entree.  My dining partner had the Colorado rack of lamb in a port wine sauce.
The extensive wine list, the comfortable cocktail lounge and attentive wait staff all proclaimed that this is indeed a five star restaurant.

Monday, May 23, 2016

We had a special reason for our latest visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.  It was to see the Vatican Splendors Exhibition currently on show there.
This special exhibition showed Vatican history, historical artifacts dating back to Roman times,  and the closer relationship developed between the United States and the Vatican during Reagan's presidency.
Also while we had heard and read much about the addition of Air Force One the Pavilion actually seeing it was most impressive.  It includes the Marine One helicopter  and vehicles of a Presidential motorcade enclosed in a giant glass enclosure that offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.  We boarded both Air Force One and the Helicopter and had our photo taken at each.   The plane on display served Reagan and six other presidents,
Location alone is always a special treat as it has been built on top of a mountain with commanding views in every direction including the Pacific Ocean.  On this visit we made it a full day's outing with time out for lunch at Reagan's Country Cafe which also includes a Ronald Reagan Pub. 
  Twenty four galleries tell the story of Ronald Reagan's life before the Presidency and much of the personal relationship of he and his wife, Nancy.  With her death earlier this year she now is buried next to her husband at the Library.  We always enjoy looking at the perfect replica of the Oval Office at the White House and the place of business for so many presidents.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is located at 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, Ca. Phone 1 805 577-4000.  It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. web www.reaganlibrary.gov.  There is an admission fee for visits to the galleries.
The Reagan Country Cafe is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

With the presentation of a check to Riverside Community College Culinary Arts Program the Southern California Restaurant Writers concluded its scholarship program for 2016.  Besides Riverside other schools with culinary arts departments that received checks from the Doris Crandall Scholarship Fund included Orange Coast College, San Bernardino Valley College and Los Angeles Harbor College.
At Riverside we met with Bagher Moghaddam, director of the school's culinary arts department, and he then led us to the school's new kitchens, class rooms and restaurant that will be located in the downtown area.
The new facility may be the very best and most modern equipped culinary arts department of any school in the state when classes start there in August.
At the present School Cafe we enjoyed a wonderful lunch which is staffed and operated by students in the culinary arts program. 
Making the presentation at Riverside were Jim Woodin, SCRW president, this Writer as Scholarship Chairman and SCRW member Ronnie Greenberg.

Friday, May 20, 2016

One day this week we had the opportunity to become reacquainted with the wines of the La Rioja region of Spain.  Bodegas Beronia conducted the seminar luncheon which took place at at the Boa Steakhouse in West Hollywood.
Beronia was founded in 1973 and its wines have brought renewed attention to the quality of La Rioja vintages that has been growing grapes since the third century B.C.
Tempranillo is the main grape selected for making the wines but other local varietals include Graciano, Mazuelo, Granacha and Viura.
Matias Valleja, Beronia winemaker and technical director, was present and conducted the seminar and we were much interested in how he uses barrels in producing such outstanding wines.  He has combined both American and French oak in single barrels using American staves and french tops.
Beronia wines on average enjoy years of aging in these barrels and then continue aging in bottles.
Included in the wines we tasted that afternoon was Berroia Rioja Gran Reserva from 1973.  This 43 year old wine was remarkable for how well it had retained its flavors while developing a subtle smooth finish.
We gave high points to Beronia Rioja 2012 Tempranillo which we thought outstanding and with a remarkably moderate price.
The white wine served was Beronia Rueda Verdejo 2014 and it offered an intense nose and dry fruit on the palate.  Again at a most modest price.
Beronia wines are part of the Gonzalez Byass Family Winery that was first established in 1935.  Christopher Canale-Parola, western manager for the Byass Family de Vino, was also present at the seminar and tasting and we enjoyed our chat with him following the event.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

With my Italian heritage it will surprise no one that I was ready and able to visit the new Buca di Beppo Restaurant that has opened at Los Angeles'  historic Farmers Market..
It is located on the second floor with space for a bright cocktail lounge and several dining rooms and ,of course, the room with the Pope looking on
My dining partner and I  met both David Gonzalez, assistant general manager, and Daniel Brown  and settled in for a study of the menu.  Up front the menu states that everything is meant to be shared either in Buca Small, feeding two to three people, and Buca Large, feeding up to five.
Looking at the long list of Antipasta we ordered the Calamari, how predictable since it is one of this Writer's favorites.  My dining partner ordered the Linguine Frutti di Mare. We liked the presentation with the huge bowl rimmed with mussels in the shells.   The pasta, shrimp and clams should have been a meal but than Executive Chef David Padilla came by and we had the opportunity to learn a bit about his background which included working at Disneyland restaurants in Anaheim.
He said we must try at least two entrees and so soon there was a large plate of Veal Parmigiana before us followed by Eggplant Parmigiana.
We did  our best but the only plate emptied was the Calamari.  The result was our enjoying the Dolce was questionable.  However since Tiramisu was listed we succumberd and ordered it.
All the food left on the table demanded take out so we both left Buca with bags of goodies for another day.
Buca di Beppo is in the original Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd Street, Los Angeles with validated parking.
Telephone 323 370-6560.  Hours Mon-Thur  11 a.m-10 p.m.: Fri-Sat 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Yesterday we were reminded on just how special aged Port wines can really be.  Portugal Ports have been pleasing people for centuries and when we attended  a Porto & Douro wine seminar at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles we tasted some truly great wines.
This classic wine of Portugal comes from a small but historically famous region that stretches along the Douro River from the Spanish border to the Atlantic ocean.
The fame of this region was acknowledged when in 2001 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
Moderating the seminar was Louisa Maria Fry of the Institute dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto while the speaker was Wine Journalist  Rui Falcao.
The wines we tasted included a forty year old Port by S Leonardo, a twenty year old Port by W & J Grahams,  a ten year old Port by Warre's and a 2011 vintage by Quinta De Crasto.
Comparing these wines showed just what aging does to the wine. 
We grade wines on Cal Davis's twenty point system.  We gave a full 20 points to the S Leonardo, 19 points to the Graham and 17 points to Warres.  The 2011 vintage rated 16 points.
Following the seminar a tasting of many Port wines was presented.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Day Three
In the afternoon Main Street in Woodland looked like a time warp as it was lined with three hundred automobiles from earlier decades, and all looking shiny and new.  This has been an annual event in Yolo County  and Woodland for forty years.  Main Street was closed,,with foot traffic only, as folk, including this Writer, sought out models of cars owned and cherished in another time.  I found a T Bird like I once owned and also a Chevy pickup that hauled my cabover camper for some years.
In the evening these automobiles come to life and street cruisers take over showing that besides. looking pretty, they still run as efficiently as ever.
Our day started in Davis to look in on their Farmers Market, which has  enjoyed a Saturday forty year run and now includes a Wednesday showing as well.  This Market was one of the first in the nation and still is the only one having roof protection for inclement weather.    The true extent  of Yolo County agricultural bounty was on display here and we wondered if there was anything that can't be grown here.   This Farmers Market also includes some local wineries and we stopped to check out the selection of wines at Heringer Estates Family Vineyards & Winery.   Heringer is located in the Clarksburg area of Yolo County and produces a wide range of both red and white wines. 
The extent of richness in this agricultural region is evident, once again, with the large number of wine grape varietals that flourish here and accessible to the local winemakers.
Davis is a college town home to University of California Davis, with enjoys a world wide reputation for its Viticulure and Enology Courses and attracts students from almost every wine producing country.   Currently the University has an enrollment of 35,000 which makes a huge impact on Davis's population of 65,000 residents.
While in Davis we also visited the U S Bicycling Hall of Fame.  Davis could be called the bicycling capital of the United State.  Seventeen thousand  UC Davis students have bicycles and use them for transportation.   While we were there in May it was National Bike Month with a celebration and  on July 4th a Bike Criterium and Sidewalk sale.
The Bike Museum shows bicycles from the earliest models which began in England early in the 1800s.   The Museum also honors the yearly newcomers named to the Hall of Fame.  One of the things we learned was that California was the first state in the nation to officially designate bike paths, this taking place in the 1960s.
Later in the day we also visited the California Agriculture Museum which is home to a huge collection of farm equipment from the earliest machines that replaced the horse to modern tractors and combines.
That evening we dined at Kitchen Four Twenty Eight Restaurant  which has received several awards during the years.  Mojo's Lounge Bar is on the premises as well.
We met with Dylan Madden, general manager, and told him we were impressed both with the cuisine and service staff.
Kitchen Twenty Eight Restaurant is located at 428 First Street in Woodland, Tele. 530 661-0428.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Day Two
On the western side of Yolo County there is the Capay Valley which has much to offer the visitor.  Olive Groves, vineyards and cattle grazing on the hillsides is just part of the scene here.    Our day started with a look into a new water sport we did not know existed.    Velocity Island Park introduced wakeboarding to Yolo County and is one of only two in California.  An overhead moving cable propels the wakeboarder across the water at speed much as if being towed by a boat.   The wakeboarder moves through the water much as a snowboarder on a mountain slope.
The Capay Valley has a long history since it has been home for native Americans for centuries.  The Yocha Dehe Wntun Nation still has its reservation here and in recent years built and operates the Cache Creek Casino Resort and has invested in olive groves, vineyards and Seka Hills Olive Mill.  We visited this Olive Mill and toured the facility which presses the olives for almost all the olive farmers in the region.  It was the largest such facility we have ever seen with all the machinery imported from Italy.  Then we tasted five different olive oils in a beautiful room which also offers wine tasting.
Next  was a visit the Matchbook Wine Company winery located in Dunnigan Hills.  The Winery has four brands, each from a distinct region.  We met Owners John and Lane Giguiere who hosted a wonderful lunch for us.  Then we toured the winery with Winemaker Dan Cederquist.
In the afternoon we visited another historic Yolo County community, Winters which began as a center for agriculture in 1842 and became a city when the railroad arrived in 1876.   We were there to see and learn the history of the Putah Creek Park which, as a city project, was returned to its original condition as a wooded region with the creek flowing year round and including the reintroduction of salmon.   The Creek is spanned with a new bridge which was dedicated the day we were there and also by the original railroad steel bridge built in 1906.
Our dinner was at Morgan's On Main in Woodland with a menu dedicated to using the produce grown and products  produced in Yolo County.   There is a large selection of steaks but I decided on the Shrimp Scampi  and my dining partner on the salmon.  Before leaving we had the opportunity to chat with Richard Gay, restaurant manager.
Morgan's on Main is located at 614 Main Street, Woodland, CA. telephone 530 402-1275.

Monday, May 9, 2016

It will come of no surprise that our second stop on arriving in Woodland, California, seat of Yolo County, was to the Uvaggio Wine Bar.  The first was to check in at Marriott's Fairfield Inn & Suites  which would be the hub for our two day exploration of Yolo county, its cities, communities and countryside.
At Uvaggio we met with Owner Andrew Linden who explained that besides wine tastings the menu provides some brews, taps,  bar snacks and desserts.  We told him that we were most interested in tasting some of the wines produced in Yolo county which he agreed was a very good idea.
 Starting with the whites there was a Seka Hills Viognier, a Berryessa Gap Verdelho and a Twisted River White Raven.  For the reds there was a Twisted River Petite Sirah, a Turkovikch red blend called The Boss, a Matchbook Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bogle Vineyards Merlot.
Uvaggio Wine Bar is located at 703 Main Street, Woodland,Ca  530 554-8534
Then it was dinner time so we moved on to the Savory Cafe.  Both these restaurants and bars are located on Woodland's picturesque Main Street with many of its brick building now facing their third century.
We met with Juan Barajas, manager who told us that Savory was about to add a new menu.  We said that the one we were looking at offered what we wanted.  My dining partner had the Braised Lamb Shank while I could not resist the Steak Diana, which arrived as a huge rib eye steak that covered a very large plate.  At the next table we marveled at the huge double cut pork chop being served.
Our wine with dinner was Matchbook Tempranillo.
Savory Cafe is located at 722 A Main Street, Woodland, Ca 530 668-4009.
It had been an easy six hour drive from the San Fernando Valley to Woodland, all of it on Interstate 5.    As we moved through Stockton and then Sacramento we noted how green the surrounding country was. Their El Nino had made pasture and orchard lush while our El Nino had been a bust.
Then it was time to enjoy the luxury of our room at the Fairfield Inn.  Fairfield Inn is located at 2100 Freeway Drive, Woodland, Ca 530 723-5067.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

One day this week we moved away from West Hollywood's Sunset Strip to learn more about  Loire Valley wines, its geography, heritage and why it is called 'The Garden of France'.
Actually we were at Ivory on Sunset Restaurant, the upscale dining room at the Mondrian Hotel,  to attend a combined seminar, tasting and a matching of Loire white wines with food selected by Master Chef Brian Malarkey.
The Loire River is France's longest, starting in the southeast and entering the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Brittany.  Along its banks there are fifty three appellations, each producing wines from famed varietals.
Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc favored for the white wines.
For the reds Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc Gamay and Pinot Noir.
Much of the fame of Loire is its sparkling wines which are the second largest producer following Champagne.  It is also the second largest producer of AOC Rose wines.
As we moved through the  luncheon there were five courses and two wines to taste with each pairing.
One of the first things we noted was how high the quality was on each wine and how moderate the prices.
The concept of combining a seminar, tasting and opportunity to match the wines with certain foods proved to be a memorable experience.
Ther Loire Valley Rose wines we tasted were all young, fresh in aroma and flavors and  with relatively mild alcoholic content.  Some offered a hint of sweetness which fits the American palate very well.
The food and service staff at Ivory on Sunset was outstanding and lived up to is reputation as being a truly upscale restaurant.