Random Things I Learned in Paris
02/13/2012, 11:52 PM
Filed under: Travel

I had heard lots of things about Paris before I arrived.  I have a few things to share with you upon my return:

  1. Never take taxis.  They are INSANELY expensive and totally not worth it.
  2. Do take the Metro, the RER, the TGV, etc.  The train system is amazing effective and very fairly priced and super convenient and very clean.  We took all three train lines and had good experiences on all.  The cafe at the Reims train station beats anything in NYC Penn Station in case you are wondering.  It was a swanky, contemporarily designed and fairly priced space.
  3. France IS in Northern Europe.  This one has a funny story.  Upon taking a taxi for a tasting at Pommery in Reims, we were headed inside.  I decided to quickly snap a pic, as I feared it would be dark upon our return.  A very tall, very gringo American white man shouted out, “We ARE in Northern Europe.”  It provided us chuckles for the rest of the trip.  Not so surprisingly, he was the know-it-all on the cave tour too, yelling out the three types of grapes used to make champagne.  Duh, we just left the tour at G.H. Mumm too, jack@$$.  (Fun fact:  Madame Pommery invented the Brut style of champagne – elevating it from dessert wine to all the time wine.)
  4. It is COLD in Northern Europe in January.  REALLY COLD.  Bundle up.  Wear a full length mink as the Asian women married to white men do.
  5. Get a pot or pitcher of wine with your meals (or without as we often did to warm up.)  As long as you stick to the red or rose (the white – not so much), you can get tasty wine – usually 500 or 750 ML for around 9-10 Euros.  We loved the pots so much that Rox made her way to the restaurant supply store to by us each a pot for future drinking pleasure! 
  6. For this same reason, avoid drinking beer.  It is more costly, less satisfying, more bloating… not a winner in the Paris cocktail book.
  7. While the proper French breakfast of toast, croissants, butter, jam, cafe creme and orange juice is tasty, we much preferred the ham, arugula, and cheese ciabatta sandwich (with a tasty pesto I think) at our local Snack Shop.  For 4.40 Euros it was big enough to split each morning.
  8. Onion soup in France in F-ing delicious.  For real.  You will never eat it at Friday’s again. 😉
  9. High quality and tasty wines can be found at the grocery store for less than 3 Euros!  Enjoy an evening cocktail in your room.  (Pre-gaming is how I roll, people.)
  10. Macarons are overrated.  I said it.  I know they are pretty and multi-colored, but the delicate flakiness was not really for me.  I had this pomme (apple strudel-like pastry) in Reims and spent the rest of the trip looking for another one, which I never found.  A good old apple tart will do too!
  11. Always order the “menu” AKA the price fixe meal.  Whether 2 course or 3 course, it is ALWAYS the best deal on the restaurant’s menu and sometimes includes mineral water and wine for around 20-25 Euros.  We found a few places with menus as cheap as 12 Euros!
  12. Parisians are NOT rude and snobby and will speak to you in English mostly.  There are the few exceptions…
  13. Parisians SO love dining al fresco that they will do it when it is literally 29 degrees outside.  I’m sorry, the heat lamps don’t do THAT much on the cold @$$ sidewalk.
  14. The Eiffel Tower is truly magnificent, even if the twinkle lights are a bit TOO MUCH. 😉
  15. French women don’t get fat.  Because they run in the Jardin du Luxembourg and hire trainers and go to gyms.  Not because they are naturally thin.  What a myth!
  16. French people MIGHT start getting fat.  We saw loads of processed food and fast food advertisements and even fitness product infomercials too.  Watch out!
  17. Hotel Louis II is the best hotel ever.  I will ALWAYS stay there when I am in Paris.  Clean, friendly, and the best location ever in St. Germaine… even with the fist fights we heard in the streets each night after the nightclubs and bars shut down and the lack of moving about space in the rooms.  Proximity to Metro and non-touristy restaurants is critical for traveling to Paris.
  18. Travel during soldes if you can.  Sales rock, but are not common in France.  We did choose a good time to travel for this purpose.
  19. 800 dollars duty free can go very quickly in France.  Bring your checkbook so you can just pay your duties and keep it moving.  BTW, if you are a baller, you can get 12% of the VAT refunded to your credit card or 10.8% refunded in cash at the airport.  Watch out for the long lines and PLEASE get your customs stamp first before getting in refund line!
  20. While my time in Paris was cool, I’d probably return in spring or fall and do 3 days in paris, 3 days at the beach and 2 days in wine country if I did it all over again.  I’m just sharing…  I don’t really think you need more than 3 (maybe 4) days in Paris unless you want to see every museum or hit every shop.  And France has a lot to offer!!!

La Vie en Rose: Off to Paris
09/13/2011, 11:46 PM
Filed under: Travel

Sorry for being so off the grid lately, but things have been CRAZY at work!  Anyway, enough of the lame apology.  Immediately on to more awesome things…

How much more appropriate a statement can I make than la vie en rose (live life in pink) – courtesy of a very famous French song, to let you all know that I am heading to The City of Lights this January?

That’s right.  I am headed to Paris.  In January.  (Unfortunate winter timing I know, but I am game.)  For my friend Rox’s 40th birthday.  How exciting!!! 

Did I mention this is during the famous Paris winter sales?  So you already know ONE thing I am dying to do while there, but there are a few things I plan to squeeze into the five-day vacation:

  1. Touristy stuff:  Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Boat ride along the Seine
  2. The food:  The marches (markets), patisseries, boulangeries, fromageries, all the “eries”…
  3. The wine!!! [Cuz I am a lush especially for the good stuff 😉 ]
  4. Vintage shopping:  Maybe I can score some good stuff, this is TRULY a dream of mine for years.
  5. Flea market shopping:  Some awesome old stuff for the house?
  6. Jazz club:  Maybe this is the perfect place to treat Rox for her birthday, on a Friday night.  I read up about a cool one called Les Caveau des Oubliettes that sounds promising…
  7. Cafe/bistro culture:  I picture us lounging, reading fashion mags and novels, watching Parisian life go by (while drinking wine and eating baguette of course)
  8. Regular store shopping:  I mean there are only sales in paris TWICE a year 😉

So, I need your help.  Any advice of your favorite things to do, places to go, restaurants to eat, boutiques to shop, hotels to stay, etc. while in Paris?

Wine Country Recap: Wine and Food
06/12/2011, 11:25 PM
Filed under: Travel

Before heading off to wine country, I would have assured you of one thing:  I prefer fruity, dry white wines.  Sauvignon Blanc is a staple for me most days.  The wine country trip truly started at Cline Cellars in Sonoma.  We enjoyed a leisurely tasting there, purchase some wines (Mourvedre Rose, Ancient Vines Zinfandel, Carignane, Ancient Vines Mourvedre) and thought we were headed to Napa for a 3 PM tour at Domaine Carneros… 

Instead we found ourselves on the route to Glen Ellen, further north in Sonoma.  Luckily we were able to dine at Wolf House Restaurant, one of our favorites, where we enjoyed a shockingly delish chicken pesto sandwich. 

Back in Napa, we checked into our hotel room and just as quickly headed off to dinner at Rotisserie & Wine, Tyler Florence’s place, in downtown Napa.  We arrived in time for happy hour so we enjoyed $3 watermelon beers and a dozen oysters for $1 each to start.  For our entrees, we split the Pan Roasted Ribeye and Rotisserie Fulton Valley Chicken.  Each entree came with 3 sides – we got collards, grilled asparagus, mac and local cheeses and mashed potatoes.  We basically enjoyed the sides thoroughly but by underwhelmed by the lack of seasoning on them.  The meats were perfect!  I DIED when I saw there was an apple galette on the menu; sadly, it came out cold.  All in all, we had a three start experience with superb service.

Friday we started out the day at Freemark Abbey (enjoyed the tasty but pricey Merlot but didn’t buy), headed to Mumm (pretty underwhelming but I love bubbles) and Domaine Chandon (more bubbles, I left with some Rose; Jo got the Extra Dry Riche.)

We finally hit Cakebread Cellars, my most highly anticipated stop.  There were loads of wines to enjoy and we ALL bought some there.  (I scored a couple of bottles of 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, my single favorite wine.  Jo’ie and I were pretty tipsy at this point but even Roxann purchased a pricey library wine.)

If there is one place you MUST go while in downtown Napa, it’s Ca’Momi Enoteca, Pizzeria, Pasticceria in the Oxbow Market.  We enjoyed the pizza so thoroughly (and were so tipsy) that we ate THREE of them.  The Quattro Formaggi was to DIE for!  We also enjoyed several cupcakes at Kara’s Cupcakes, also in Oxbow Market.  We were all amped up on frosting and still very tipsy from the wine, so we headed shopping at Napa Prime Outlets.  (Check out my shopping finds.)  As we were shopping I could not get the food at Rotisserie & Wine out of my head, so I was able to convince Rox and Jo to head back there for dinner.  We got the ribeye again as well as the fried pork chop (out of this world) and also tried the roasted potatoes and biscuits and gravy, which were to DIE for.  All of the food was seasoned WAY better on Friday night than Thursday.

On Saturday, we started off with a tasting at Domaine Carneros (gorgeous – and more sparkling wines):

Then we headed to lunch at the girl and the fig in downtown Sonoma.  The starters of cheese & cured meats along with soup and salad were tasty.  We were amazed by the flavor of the duck confit (definitely get two legs, the leftovers would be wonderful for lunch the next day.)  Even the beans were to DIE for.  I am certain the burger with brie was tasty, but honestly I was SO distracted by the duck that it was just kind of … there.  As amazing as the duck was, the dessert – chocolate caramel tart with brown butter ice cream – was SICK!  It changed my life.  I am not even a lover of chocolate or caramel but talk about harmony!  The grey salt set it off!  Sadly, our alfresco lunch was brought to (an appropriately timed) end by RAIN!

Luckily, you can drink wine while it’s raining. 😉  We headed to one of our favorite wineries, Sebastiani, in downtown Sonoma.  After a lot of tasting and Jo’ie joining the club, we left with LOADS of wine and got all of our finds boxed up by the helpful staff.  It was STILL raining at the hotel, but luckily they were ALSO serving up complimentary wine tastings at two locations.  We also headed over to the hotel restaurant, Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, for the Dungeness Crab Dip that one of the staff told us about to go along with the Kunde Estate Sauvignon Blanc.  We also enjoyed the salami pizza.

For dinner Roxann and I (Jo was not feeling well) headed to El Dorado Kitchen.  We started with a dozen briny oysters.  We also enjoyed the red pepper soup, scallops and lamb chops entree.  When the server told us that the ice cream sandwich we originally wanted was out for the evening, they surprised us with THREE desserts – including the ice cream sandwich.  The smores tart was tasty, but the strawberry & rhubarb tart was the singular most deliciously springy thing I’ve ever eaten.

We enjoyed brunch at Carneros Bistro, where I finally remembered to take photos of the food:

Brioche french toast with LemonMascarpone & Berries

My bleu cheese burger and fries

Classic Eggs Benedict (over hard for Rox’s first attempt at poached eggs)

Sunday we headed back to San Francisco after stopping at Schug Carneros, where I bought a bottle of Pinot Noir Rose and several silicone wine bottle stoppers (they are truly the BEST for keeping wine fresh.)  We split a half bottle of Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs.  We also stopped for another wine tasting at Cline, some olive oil and mustard tasting at Jacuzzi, and lunch on the patio at Viansa, where I joined the Every Other Month Cucina Viansa club through the Tuscan Membership program.  What can I say, I am a sucker for fancy vinegars, mustards, oils, etc.  I also really enjoyed the Barbera and Sauvignon Blanc wines, which I am hoping to add to my first shipment in July.  If you wish to buy some delicacies or wine, feel free to shop on their website.

I hope that I was able to give you some great recommendations for your own trip to wine country.  We truly enjoyed it!!!

Wine Country FINALLY…
05/26/2011, 1:31 AM
Filed under: Travel

The last time I went to wine country, it did not go well.  I mean, it went really badly.  It was June 2008, and it was my bachelorette weekend in Sonoma.  How can this go wrong?  All I will say is that it went horribly wrong.  So wrong in fact that this is the first time I’ve been brave enough to return.  This time, I am off with my two best friends – Jo’ie and Roxann.  And we are also exploring Napa too – for a change of pace. 

We are headed to Cline Cellars, Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Freemark Abbey, Cakebread Cellars, and every tasting room in downtown Napa.  We are also checking out Tyler Florence’s restaurant, Rotisserie & Wine, in downtown Napa.  We’ll also hit our Sonoma faves, Imagery and Sebastiani wineries and El Dorado Kitchen and the girl and the fig.  Be on the lookout for a recap of our fun and food and wine! And shopping 😉

Nashville Rocks!
03/23/2011, 10:01 PM
Filed under: Travel

I’ve only been to Nashville once before last week, but who knew what I was missing!!!!  On Thursday, Elizabeth and I headed there to interview potential interns at Vanderbilt University.

I rather enjoyed my shopping trip to Posh, scooping up pewter high-top PF Flyers for Jamison and a cute black & gold cocktail dress. (Dress not pictured but I promise to photograph soon.  It is currently buried in the guest room closet with my small collection of other cocktail dresses and evening gowns.  And since we are having hardwood floors installed on Saturday, we had to move a lot of stuff upstairs.)

We also perused the amazing interior designed store, retropolitan.

This capiz shell chandelier was so freaking cool, but I was kinda freaked out about the flowers.  I KNOW Jamison would not really be on board for that.

Isn’t this aluminum table and bronze chair set awesome?  Elizabeth loved it!

Silver croc ottoman?  Hellz yeah!

Loved the aluminum cutout stools

I DIED for this super awesome coconut mirror.  It was even on sale 20% off, but the scale was a little small for where I’d like it to go – over the dining room buffet.  Leaving it there really killed me, but it was the right thing to do.  If I keep thinking about it, I do know that they ship! 

We dined at two really cool restaurants – Rumors East (a wine bar with an awesome patio) and Whiskey Kitchen (cool bar/restaurant specializing in assorted whiskeys).

Check out the shrimp and grits with pesto at Rumors East

Triple dip at Whiskey Kitchen

I loved the cool neighborhoods, the great shopping, (very cool) bars all over the place, Music Row…  Nashville may deserve a weekend trip some time soon.  I am certain Jamison will love it.

Reflections on (several) Miami Monsoons
08/15/2010, 3:26 PM
Filed under: Travel

So, I’ve been all amped up about returning to Miami with Jamison for our honeyversary.  We looked forward to dining at Prime One Twelve, the Blue Door and whatever else we could get our hands on after lazy days consumed by the beach.  Let’s just say that the trip didn’t go as I imagined.

Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day.  We arrived in time to lounge at the beach (a bit flustered to discover the $10.70 daily resort fee covering chairs and umbrellas was out and a $10 per chair fee was in) before leaving for the 11th Street Diner to meet my friend, J.V., before he headed off on a two week vacay to Europe.  Admittedly, we spent the afternoon lounging in our hotel room watching Erin Brockovitch and napping before dinner of 30 oz bone-in ribeye and loaded baked potato at Prime One Twelve.

On Sunday, the rain started after our morning mimosas on Ocean Dr. where a sketchy server tried to charge us $19 for $10 worth of mimosas.  In South Beach, ask before you consume anything.  There are LOADS of loopholes designed to gauge tourists.  Luckily, I have experience and know how to avoid said traps. 😉 

We spent an afternoon sitting near the pool and sipping cocktail after cocktail with our friend Joveline as the rain showered down.  We had dinner at Big Pink after a long afternoon (read between the lines = drunken) nap.

The journey to Sunrise, FL for a day of shopping at Sawgrass Mills did not disappoint – well it did.  Last year, we scored SO many awesome finds.  This shopping trip yielded a couple of slim-fit striped sweaters and three polo shirts for Jamison.  I acquired several fitted black t-shirts (to replace the current rotation of four that are more charcoal than black), 2 pairs of awesome shades, and 2 pairs of suede shoes from Nine West Outlet. 

We met our new friends, Jonathan and Tiffany, for late afternoon beach action and dinner at Grazie before enjoying some late-night hot tub action with pineapple juice and Corzo.

We started rainy Tuesday morning a bit late (because of my unfortunate reaction to the Corzo and gazillions of other drinks I’d enjoyed on Monday afternoon/evening) but breakfast at Big Pink was worth it.  Since the rain decided it just wouldn’t stop and my hangover wasn’t quite gone, we just lounged, napped and waited for the rain to stop – it didn’t.  Happy hour at Prime Italian was a lovely treat – who knew I’d like a Pear Sidecar?  And yes, we had another dinner at Prime One Twelve b/c who really wants to travel too far in the sideways rain?  Lucky for us, because we enjoyed the best five cheese truffle mac n’ cheese and only totally submerged our feet and ankles in water once crossing the street.  (Much to my suede platforms’ dismay.)

Wednesday morning actually allowed us another moment to head to the beach before jetting off to relax at the ariport bar. 

All in all, we had fun BUT I’m sure of a few things:

  • You are rolling the dice visiting Miami in hurricane season.  it could really rain for days at a time.
  • Don’t stay at the Hilton Bentley.  It’s barely a 3 star hotel at this point and the $10 per chair fee at the beach club means you can stay in a better location and a fancier hotel with more amenities for the same or less per night.
  • Do make friends with other travelers.  I love my husband, but meeting Tiffany and Jonathan gave us some other folks to hang out with when we were stranded in our hotel for days at a time due to never-ending rain.
  • Do enjoy a vacation with your spouse!  We had fun in a more relaxed environment than our every day time together.  Not worrying about taking the trash out makes time together for fun!
  • Big ups to the Myles Restaurant Group.  We ate nearly ALL of our meals at one of their spots, and they were ALL delish.

“I’m in Miami Trick…”
08/07/2010, 10:17 AM
Filed under: Travel

OK, so I have to admit that I LOVE “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami” and generally everything the Kardashian sisters do.  So I’m sure that’s the only reason I know the LMFAO song, “I’m in Miami Trick.”  This morning, Jamison and I are off for a few days in Miami to celebrate our honeyversary (a term I saw on a wedding blog and decided to embrace.)  Two years ago on August 10th, Jamison and I were married at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami.  We decided to honeymoon in Miami since Jamison had never been before our wedding, and we had a great time.

This year we are returning for a sun-filled beach weekend in Miami.  We plan to lounge in the sun, enjoy fluffy beds and eat delicious breakfast buffet at the Hilton Bentley.  We are conveniently head to Miami during Miami Spice – Miami’s take on Restaurant Week/Month.  So, we have reservations at Prime One Twelve and the Blue Door at the Delano Hotel for $35 price fixe dinner.  And did I mention shopping at Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall?  As Dorothy Parker said, “Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.”  But ours is luxury – for a bargain! 

We are also lucky enough to have friends that we can catch up with while we’re in Miami…  So I’m off.  But I promise to share photos of the fabulosity when we return darlings!

P.S. Isn’t shopping in your closet grand?  I found the sequined bag above, which I paid $38 for in a vintage shop in Pittsburgh back in April 2002.  I haven’t carried it in years but it was my everyday purse back then.  How did I fit all my stuff in it LOL?