Book Club time again! This time the gang headed down to Victorian Village to basi ITALIA. basi ITALIA was tucked right in with the homes on the quaint cobblestone streets of the village. Victorian Village is tight on street parking but lucky for us valet service was offered. We made reservations ahead of time and thank goodness because the inside is not that big. I did note that an outdoor patio space was available too. I was glad we had a table right by the window looking out at the street traffic. I like the window seat in a venue like this because it makes me realize that we left suburbia for something more authentic and fun for once!basi ITALIA offered some very authentic menu choices with delicious food combinations. I couldn't resist ordering simple on this evening. I ordered the Summer Bean Salad with roasted peaches and ricotta cheese with a light hazelnut vinaigrette. It was wonderful and very fresh! basi ITALIA prides themselves in using local fresh ingredients and changing their menu seasonally. While we tasted all of our delicious salads Mona got right into the nitty gritty of the book discussion. The book choice this time was; "And the Mountains Echoed", by Khaled Hosseini. Khaled Hosseini is also the author of the "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns". I really don't have much to say about the book because I didn't read it! Thank you Mona, I know I was a slacker this summer ;) Anyway... most of the group liked the book but thought the previous writings by this author were better.For the main course I went simple again! Braised Lamb Meatballs. I always have to sample meatballs and sauce! Must be an Italian thing. I was pleasantly surpirsed when my dish was served in a mini cast iron skillet. I love my cast iron skillets at home and I explained to the gang that real cooks have cast iron. My only suggestion for this dish is that it could have had a little more sauce but I like a lot of sauce! Some of the other main course choices were Shrimp Pomodoro, Eggplant Parmesan and Rigatoni Salumeria. Of course there is always a sweet ending with this group and it was a Pumpkin Roll and it was beautifully plated. As for my dessert.. I had a cup of decaf and I was VERY disappointed that there was no ability to make me a cappuccino! I would recommend basi ITALIA for a Girls Night or a Date Night!SMAC Approved!
Welcoming us to the Dishcrawl Clintonville event! (Patrick J's)
Looking for a "food adventure?" Yes, that's right, a food adventure! How about not knowing where you are going to dine until you get an email telling you where to meet for your first meal? (48 hours prior you will get an email as to where to meet!) Welcome to Dishcrawl Columbus! Dishcrawl Columbus provides you with a one-of-a-kind "foodie" experience. You have the opportunity to go to 4 restaurants (within walking distance of one another) in a local neighborhood. You purchase tickets online ($45 a ticket) and choose your adventure. (I also had 3 other friends come and join me for this experience too!) Cobb Salad at Patrick J's!
Last month, I had the opportunity to go to Dishcrawling in Clintonville. We were sent an email to meet at Patrick J's in Clintonville (7pm). Once we arrived, we were greeted at the outdoor patio by Kelly G. (Dishcrawl Ambassdor) and were given nametags. Once we sat down, a waiter took our drink order. (Note: beverages are not included in the Dishcrawl ticket price) After that, we were offered a cobb salad plate to sample while we waited for other people to arrive. There are large tables for you to sit at so it was quite easy to carry on conversations with other people at your table. (This is why I love Columbus, people are so friendly!) Shortly thereafter, we were given a spicy white bean chili in a tiny shot glass cup! (see pic below) The spicy white bean chili was one of my favorite dishes of the night!
Next, the owner spoke to the Dishcrawl group about the history of Patrick J's and how it's been around for 26 years. The final plate they served up was a club pretzel roll, vegetarian pizza on ciabatta bread and the greek wrap! Among our group, the club pretzel roll was the hit! (Other food was delicious too!) After sampling and talking, it was time for us to move onto our next restaurant-Aladdin's Eatery! It was nice to get up and walk around the Clintonville area. Once we sat down at Aladdin's Eatery and ordered some drinks, then the manager spoke of the Mediterranean dishes that they we would sampling . (they have been in Clintonville for 8 years) We had a chance to sample Falafel (Mildly spiced vegetarian patties made with chick peas, fava beans, parsley, and scallions) ,Tabouli, (A delicate mixture of parsley, onions, cracked wheat and tomatoes seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and herbs) Baba ganoush (Puree of eggplant, tahini, garlic, and lemon topped with fresh herbs and extra virgin olive oil) and hummus! All of it served with fresh pita bread on the side! For some of us in our group, it was the first time that they had tried Mediterranean food! The food was delicious but some of us did experience a slightly burnt taste of our falafel and pita bread. For meat lovers, they brought our Pita Pitzas for everyone to taste. We sampled the Sultan's Shawarma's Pitza (Tahini Yogurt dressing topped with lightly seasoned grilled beef strips, onions, sliced tomatoes, diced cucumbers and flakes of sweet basil) and the Aladdin's Chicken Pitza. (Tahini Yogurt dressing topped with lightly seasoned grilled beef strips, onions, sliced tomatoes, diced cucumbers and flakes of sweet basil) Of the two Pitzas, The Chicken Pitza was our favorite! Aladdin's and Giorgio Restaurant sign in Clintonville.
Our third restaurant stop was at Giorgio Restaurant. It is a family owned restaurant that opened up 5 years ago. Beth, the owner, told us that we would be sampling a caprese salad, (Fresh tomato, mozzarella & basil with olive oil and balsamic dressing), Gnocchi (Hot Italian sausage, fennel, garlic and herbs in a tomato vodka sauce) and Tuscan Salmon (Pan-seared salmon served over linguine). The home run at this place was the Gnocchi with the Hot Italian Sausage! The sausage was spicy and the gnocchi did not disappoint either! We were also served a glass of white and red wine with our meal too. After stuffing ourselves some more, it was time to head to our last stop-Lavash Café. It was here that we going to get some dessert! Plated in front of us were Pistachio Finger Baklava, Chocolate Baklava and Mini-Rose Pastries. (Baklava-phylo dough stuffed with your choice of nuts (cashews, pistachios, walnuts, macadamia, and pine nuts) mixed with a little touch of cinnamon , cloves, and nutmeg, baked and lightly dipped in specialty syrup) All were made with pure honey and NO sugar. All three desserts were scrumptious and a great way to end our Dishcrawl evening!
A few suggestions for improvement that I would make for future Dishcrawl events: limit it to 3 restaurants instead of 4 restaurants to sample as some of us felt very rushed to finish our meal/drink. Although it was clearly stated that drinks were not part of the ticket price, at one restaurant, drinks were poured but we did not realize that they were not complimentary.
Overall, we had a GREAT time and it was nice to try something new!
Full Disclosure: Social Moms Around Columbus was given a ticket to Dishcrawl Columbus in exchange for a blog post-as always, opinions are our own!
Click here to find how you can enter to win 2 tickets to the next Dishcrawl Columbus!
That's right....Max & Erma's makes Date Night Out with the kids easy with FREE COOKIE Night on Wednesdays! Mona and I ventured out with "The Gang" all loaded up in one mini van. Can you guess what happens with all those kids in the van? Here's a few conversations: "Keep your hands to yourselves!", "He said I was ugly!", "If you guys don't behave we are not letting you have any cookies!" "That's not true!" "Yes it is, Mona and I will eat them all!" And then there was silence.......We made our way into the Max & Erma's on Polaris which has been remodeled in the recent year or so. Since we had a large group we got there just after 5pm and were seated right away. Our server, was impressed that our gang ordered for themselves and I was thinking the same thing! How did we get grown up kids? Hmmm....maybe it was my cookie threat in the van :)Max & Erma's has a wide variety of items on the menu, even the pickiest eaters will find something on this menu. I ordered the Turkey Burger which has swiss, grilled mushrooms and fresh avocado on top of the burger. Mona, placed her order for a Turkey Burger (such a copycat!) sans the whole wheat bun. Little Joe showing his passion for cheese ordered the the kids grilled cheese and the other kids ordered favs like mac n cheese and sliders. I was impressed that some of the kids chose Fresh Fruit as a side dish. The food came out promptly and "The Gang" was behaving and eating like human beings. Interesting. For the grand finale..... our server said our FREE Cookies would be right out. The kids suddenly had a wild look in their eyes....and wondered how may cookies they each got. I informed them it was 2 per customer but the best part is they are served warm. I LOVE a warm chocolate chip cooke. It is one of my weaknesses.
Date Night with the kids had ended and everyone got their cookies. I think everyone should get FREE cookies at Max & Erma's.SMAC Approved!
Check out the Giveaway from Max and Erma's!
Written by: ValerieFull Disclosure: Social Moms Around Columbus was provided gift cards in exchange for a review-as always opinions are our own!
OK, before we talk food let's talk about our Book Club book and how I have been a total slacker in the reading department! This GNO was planned to discuss our book selection, "Gone Girl". From what I could gather at the table the book was compelling and the wife in the book was extremely vindictive. Now in my defense, I read up to page 94 or so..... :) Now for our experience at Cooper's Hawk Winery. Our Book Club was actually a couple months ago and after working very closely with Cooper's Hawk, our club came back to give them another try. When I booked our reservation it was about 3 weeks out and was offered 5:30 or 8:30 on a weeknight for a party of 7, so make sure and book early to get the time you need. Just for FUN, my pal AMBER and I arrived early and did a wine tasting in the lobby. Very fun and the server was spot on with her descriptions of our tastings. After we checked in at the hostess stand, we were promptly seated on the first floor of the two story restaurant. Cooper's Hawk menu is vast just like the wine selection! Take your time picking your food and flip towards the back for the "Life Balance Menu" if you are counting calories. Forget that...I went for the Lobster and Crab Bisque, and Trio Beef Medallions! I was not thrilled with my bisque, it was more chowder to me with lots of chunks of veggies. I like a creamy smooth bisque. My Beef Trio was presented with Horseradish, Bleu Cheese and Parmesan baked crusts. It was the TRIO of CHAMPIONS. I was like a kid....one bite of this one of the next, then one more and REPEAT. No calorie counting this night. GNO rocks!
Of course I had a glass of wine. In fact, it was from my earlier tasting. I had the Cooper's Hawk White Blend. The blend was light, crisp and had a citrus aroma.
Lots of food pics from all the girls in the Club! Ordered items: Short Ribs Risotto, Mediterranean Salad (obviously calorie counting), Blackened Ahi Tuna, Filet Special and Crab Cakes. All my girls enjoyed every bite of food. The service, food and wine were delightful. Sometimes a second chance is all it takes! Thanks Cooper's Hawk Winery for an OUTSTANDING evening. SMAC Approved!
Valerie DelmonicoSocial Moms Around Columbus
Fork and Screen theatre seating.
Does this happen to you? When you say to your friends (or husband) "Let's go to a dinner and a movie!" Then, the next question is "Great, now, where are we going to eat?" After that, then it is time to think of what time everyone should meet for dinner in order to make the movie on time, etc.. Well, now you don't have to make that decision anymore because the AMC Theatres has combined the dinner and movie experience for you! AMC Theatres at Easton has a new wing called "Dine-In Theatres." Valerie, myself and a few of our friends, decided to make a "Girls Night Out"-we headed to Easton on a Saturday night to check it out for ourselves!
Now, there are some differences in buying Dine-In Theatre movie tickets vs. tickets for a general admission movies. First, you get to SELECT your seats in the theatre. Meaning, you have assigned seats in the theatre. (There are typically 40-60 seats in a theatre) You can either purchase your tickets the day of the show or buy them online for a "convenience fee" of $1.25 per ticket. We bought tickets one hour prior to the show. Since there were 5 of us, we had to split up in a group of 3 seats and 2 seats. Also, we were in the first and second rows of the movie theatre. Ticket prices were $12 each. (Some movies are $9 and $6 also) TIP: Buy your tickets online in advance to get good seats OR go to the theatre earlier in the day to save the convenience fee.
Finally, some theatres screens are called "Fork & Screen" theatres and some are "Cinema Suites." For the Fork and Screen theatres, at least one person purchasing a ticket must be 18 years or older. The Cinema Suites are for 21 and over only-they also offer reclining chairs as well. We wanted to go to the Cinema Suites theatre but the movie "Argo" was only offered in the Fork and Screen theatres. (You can bring your kids to the Fork and Screen theatres too)
Once you are in the theatre, a greeter will then help you find your assigned seat. After you are seated, a server will hand you a drink and dinner menu. They will then instruct you on how to use the "call" button seated next to you if you need them during the movie. The servers also prefer that you order items that you want to eat (appetizer, entree and dessert) before the movie so they can stagger out the meals to you. We ordered drinks-Pomegranate Martini and Caribbean Cooler. (see pics!)
There is no lack of food to choose from on the menu:
appetizers, pizza, fish, tacos, sandwiches, salads, dessert and kids' meals! Some food items we ordered-Thai Bang Shrimp, Tuscan Pepperoni Flatbread Pizza, and Queso Blanco Chips and Dip. The servers did a good job of bringing out the food in a timely manner and I did see other people use the "call button" when they needed to get additional drinks/food.
Call button to get your server.
Overall, the food was decent and service was good. Before the end of the movie, we were given our bill and we paid via cash or credit card. At the end of the movie, we were given our receipts. Two out of the five of us had issues with our bill being overcharged or food items put on someone else's bill-that did delay us an additional 15 minutes from us leaving the theatre. Hopefully, these kinks get worked out soon! Despite that, we all had a good time and we all want to try the Cinema Suites soon! SMAC Approved!
Full Disclosure: Social Moms Around Columbus was compensated for tickets in exchange for a review-as always, opinions are our own!
Valerie, Brutus and Ronald!
I was extended an invitation to take a tour and learn more about the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio and their plans for expansion. I was thrilled to accept but also a little embarrassed that I had been volunteering at Nationwide Children's Hospital for 9 years and had never been to the Ronald McDonald House. The tour was in the evening so I decided to arrange for a babysitter and surprise my husband by asking him to share this experience with me. It was going to be a very different date night out. With the tour being right after work, I met my husband downtown. My husband was very aware of his surroundings as we walked over to the house. The neighborhood that surrounds the house is not for the weak of heart, although it has never bothered me personally. On this night though, the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio was shining like a twinkling beacon welcoming anyone inside their doors.
We arrived to a very warm welcome and began the tour. The tour was very informative and the one thing that surprised me was ANYONE may stay and it is not based on your socioeconomic level and your child may be a patient at any central Ohio hospital. The house was very clean and smelled like a warm kitchen full of goodies. In fact, there are only 9 employees and the house is run by volunteers right down to the cleaning crews.
The rooms were spacious but the best thing was that there was lots of common space rooms where the families could interact with other families or even meditate in the meditation room. Some of the rooms had fun themes from the OSU Buckeyes to the Lady Jackets. One fun thing I spied in the game room was a Ms. Pac Man arcade machine! Guests also have a library and laundry facilities.
The most impressive thing on the tour was the supplies room. I had no idea of the volume and variety of items until we turned the corner into this massive storage area. It was a lot to take in and it was a very humbling feeling knowing how much effort is put into making every family that visits "feel like family". Once again, the supplies are 100% donated and I learned that the website has a wish list of needed items.
Last on the tour we visited the large dining and multi kitchen area where volunteers cook nightly for the families to feed them a warm meal. The kind staff also had some McDonald's salads and yogurt parfaits for us and craft supplies set up for us to help promote GIVE A HAND. November 10-20, 2012 is Give A Hand and customers can go to any McDonald's and donate $1,$3 or $5. SMILE :)
My husband is not to artsy but he made a pretty good art project and we also had a chance to talk quietly and reflect what we had seen and learned on our date night out. We are very blessed and lucky to have healthy children.
In closing we learned that the Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio has HUGE expansion plans to help even more families! The plan is to break ground Summer of 2013 with completion targeted for 2014. The expansion will add 40 additional guest rooms, additional laundry rooms, expanded kitchen and dining space and a very cool rooftop garden! With all these plans there has to be funds right? To date they have raised $4.9 million towards there goal of $6 million. With all these expansion plans I keep thinking about stocking the supplies room and that online wish list! Check it out!
Thank you to all the staff for taking time to show us how lucky central Ohio is to have what will soon be the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world! I learned many things and I look forward to future opportunities to promote such a vital organization.
Valerie DelmonicoSocial Moms Around Columbus
Courtney, Valerie, Kerry
Thank you to everyone that stopped out to support Hayley Gallery and Ella Restaurant + Bar. Hayley Gallery looked stunning when we arrived and there was even a Christmas tree decorated with scarves. The featured Jewelry Artist, Catherina Bishopp, had all of her best pieces on display. My absolute favorite piece of the night was a multi-media painting of a ballerina (below). The painting was wispy and dreamlike. I also was having a good time with all the comical sayings I found around the gallery (see below). Can anyone guess which saying was my favorite??? The great thing about Hayley Gallery and Ella Restaurant + Bar is that they are connected by a hallway! How fun to browse the artwork with your girlfriends with wine in hand! Speaking of wine.... Ella Restaurant + Bar featured a terrific Wine Flight and Beer Flight for our adventurous readers! I had the wine flight as did a few other lovely ladies BUT one totally cool person had the beer flight and I was kinda jealous! After some wine and beer and taking in the gallery the tummy called for some foodie delights from Ella. All the guests were ordering various food and I was just bouncing around to the tables taking pictures and asking what the scoop was on the food at Ella. So here's the scoop: "The Pumpkin Hummus was a seasonal treat, The BBQ pork sliders were great, the Mushroom Tart sounded like the most interesting thing on the menu, the Basil Martini was to die for, the BBQ chips went well with the beer flight, the Mussels were prepared perfect." Thanks so much to Hayley Savage and Amy Schottenstein for reaching out to us to host our annual event at their dynamic duo location. SMAC DOUBLE APPROVED!Valerie DelmonicoSocial Moms Around Columbus
Brandee's Plate of Deliciousness
Book Club Time! Oh boy my first experience with Cuban Food and right in Merion Village! I had visions of spicy pork and some sweet plantains. I ordered the Mofango Sandwich with smoked pork and caramelized plantains on a rustic toasted bread with fresh cut fries and a side of jalapeño slaw. I was very surprised by the subtleness of the spices on the meat with the sweet soft taste of the plantain in every bite. I was hoping for a little more punch in the spice department, but the jalapeño slaw was over the top HEAT! Loved, Loved the Slaw! I was however insanely jealous of my friend, Brandee's plate of deliciousness. Brandee had the double bonus of Smoked Pork and Brisket with homemade macaroni and cheese, jalapeño slaw and a bite size cornbread muffin. The brisket was the best I have ever tasted. As everyone was sampling all their new food experiences, Mona got right down to the Book Club Agenda. This time our Club read Fifty Shades of Grey. Now before we get all judgmental or maybe excited about our choice of book, I must say that I have NEVER personally read any romance novel of any kind. I had heard of the book and thought....well I guess I could try and read this book. Low and behold 4-5 pages in and I was like a maniac. I could not sleep, eat or think about anything but that book. It was a total obsession until the very last page. I simply could not get enough of Ms. Steele or Mr. Grey and just like that EL James had produced another Fifty Shade of Grey addict. Amazing.
Try The Explorer's Club and I would suggest that everyone order a different meal and then sample everything in reach and also read the book! SMAC Approved!
GIRLS NIGHT OUT...on the gorgeous waterfront terrace at Bel Lago! Yes waterfront dining right on the Hoover Reservoir! How lucky are my friends??? I mean really... I work out an awesome evening with Bel Lago's Event Planner, Katie Mansfield to try out Bel Lago's Happy Hour on the outdoor terrace on the water. Ahh..I'm just such a cool blogger and friend :) One phone call with Katie and she was off and planning what would be a very fun and delicious GNO. I had no idea what to expect as far as food, it was all going to be a surprise. While Katie was doing her thing, I started my usual group text message to some friend to see who was going to help me review the Happy Hour. Well I rounded up 5 friends and of course my blog partner, Mona! We all met at Bel Lago up on the terrace where our reserved table was waiting. The terrace has black iron tables and a full bar, but a limited Happy Hour Food Menu. After everyone arrived we do what girls do best.. We ordered cocktails!
Lots of cocktails overlooking a gorgeous sunset view! I had the the Italian Ice Martini. Very refreshing. All the girls were chatting away, most of the topics were focused around 'Back to School' and the endless list of activities that we shuffle kids to around town. The staff was very friendly and made sure we were taken care of and all our questions were answered. Then the appetizers arrived. WOW! Lots of choices on big platters. I think I was drooling over the amazing platters that Bel Lago had provided and I am pretty sure all my guests were happy that they came to GNO! So many choices and lots of opinions. What was the absolute fav of everyone? PEEL N EAT SHRIMP! The seasoning was spot on with old bay and a hint of cajun spiciness. Just the kind of appetizer that makes you want to order ANOTHER round of cocktails! Second order of cocktails came out and I heard some rumblings from the girls that some of the drinks were very different from the first round. We asked to have a few drinks made again because of the inconsistency. The staff was very apologetic and brought fresh drinks over. The least favorite appetizer was the Ceviche. The girls thought the Ceviche was lacking flavor. I DISAGREE. I enjoyed the simple delicate flavors that Bel Lago presented and this appetizer was actually my favorite. My group of girls and I had no problem being in the clean plate club for the GNO! Little did the girls know that I arranged to have desserts on the terrace too! Desserts are not on the limited menu on the terrace, but I was interested in reviewing what was on the dessert menu. Bel Lago made special arrangements to have a dessert platter up to us on the terrace so we would not have to abandon the beautiful view. What was the favorite dessert? The Lemon Cheesecake won hands down. I hope Bel Lago will consider adding desserts to the terrace menu because it was a sweet ending to a great night! SMAC APPROVED!
Enter the Bel Lago Giveaway on SMAC's homepage and visit Bel Lago's site: http://bellagorestaurant.com/
Social Moms Around Columbus was compensated for the review at Bel Lago
FoodieGirl goes to Wine Country!
Ahhh, northern California! The land of plentiful wines and delicious food…what more could I want? Candidly, not much! My man and I spontaneously planned a trip to Napa/Sonoma wine country on a Saturday to leave that Thursday at the end of May; a whirlwind but very fun. We flew into Sacramento and rented a car and drove to Napa, which is about an hour away. It was a very nice drive and because of the time difference (caffeine) and catching an early flight it left us lots of time to enjoy the day once we arrived.
We booked a 3-night stay at the Best Western Inn at the Vines in southern Napa on the main drag. Trip advisor was a huge help with all of their reviews of places to stay in the area. Best Western had a special for a 3-night stay that was significantly less expensive than other places and even other discounts offered on the Best Western site (AAA, AARP etc). Now, it wasn’t a resort experience, but that was not our goal…we knew we would be doing a lot of exploring and driving around the region and not spending much time there, so we didn’t want to pay a fortune on a hotel…and in Napa you can drop a serious amount of cash on a place to stay. The hotel was VERY clean, the bathrooms were updated and modern and the pool/hot tub area was nice as well. They had coffee, fresh whole fruit and granola bars in the lobby in the morning, and there was a Denny’s attached to it that offered a 15% breakfast discount if you showed your key, but being the foodies that we are, we had a tendency to wander to local haunts to get the local flavor and excellent comida! www.innatthevines.comThe first night we ventured up to Yountville, which was about a 20-30 minute drive north up through Napa. Yountville is a luxury area and has exquisite hotels, inns, boutiques and restaurants. If I won the lottery and chose to stay in Yountville, I would opt to stay at Bardessono (www.bardessono.com), it is across the street from the Bouchon bakery and within walking distance of The French Laundry. True extravagance for sure. We had the pleasure to eat at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega www.botteganapavalley.com and seriously had one of the most incredible meals of my life. We sat outside in the gorgeous patio area and ordered a delightful Rose wine from Etude winery in the Canaros region of Napa. (It was so good we hunted down the winery and bought 2 bottles!) Mark started off with the grilled octopus salad (1) and had the Duck 3 Ways (2), which is one of those signature dishes that never leaves the menu. He was in total heaven…I will say, I am not a huge fan of octopus and so I will take his word for it. I had a form of gnocchi with nettles that was like pesto with braised lamb, a lamb jus and fresh shaved parmesan (3); I wanted to LICK THE PLATE! As the sun started to set we finished the meal with coffee and a Happy Birthday (it was my 29th…again, ya know) vanilla panna cotta with citrus, baby basil, almond breadcrumbs and lemon sorbet. It was the perfect light ending after a decedent feast. After dinner we wandered around the quaint and beautiful area of Yountville and then drove back to the town area of Napa.
Napa; not what I remember from 20 years ago. I remembered a quaint town with storefronts and restaurants, and needless to say, that is no longer. I would say 30-40% of the storefronts are empty. Some of the stores that are still there are quaint, and there are some restaurants but over all, the town, compared to other towns in the region, it is a bit depressed. The upside was that on Thursdays they have a street fest/farmers market with wine, beer, TONS of food (but we were VERY full) and live music. There were lots of locals, didn’t seem like many tourists, but it was fun walking around and absorbing the atmosphere, but that was really the end of our visit to downtown Napa. (4)
The next day we planned to go to Sonoma so we jumped on Urbanspoon and Yelp and searched for breakfast before the wineries opened at 10. We decided on the Creekside Café (5)…totally off the beaten path and we were for sure the only tourists. It has a fun dive café atmosphere, the specials are on a chalkboard that moves around the restaurant, there are colorful kitschy wall paintings and it was delicious! I had the chorizo, green chili, cheese and onion scramble with sour cream and fresh salsa and Mark had the Veggie scramble which he jacked up with some chicken sausage and avocado and both meals came with black beans and tortillas. They take credit cards (not AMEX) and it was a delicious and very filling breakfast…totally worth the find!
We ventured to our first winery, Arrowood after breakfast. We had a recommendation from some friends and it was a very nice place to start. Our ‘wine educator’ was excellent and she spent a lot of time with us and shared a lot of good information. Actually, 3 places we went were based on her recommendations and we were not disappointed! The wines were nice, but in hind site, not my favorites, but it was a great place to start. www.arrowoodwinery.com (6)
Just below Arrowood was a very cool winery that I really liked. It is a branch of Benziger (not to be confused with the behemoth, Benzinger) and was very cool, creative and fun. The wines were good and are all different blends of things that you don’t normally hear of which I liked; Overall, the atmosphere a bit more hip and fun. (7)Their labels are new every year and they actually have artists and designers that compete for the honor of getting the various labels every season. The caveat, each label must have the Parthenon somewhere in it and its fun to find where they are. The original art is displayed in the tasting room and their areas to sit are beautiful and relaxing. You can buy light snacks there to go with your wine and I highly recommend their Port! www.imagerywinery.com
We then took our recommendations from our first stop at Arrowhead and went to Enkidu and another tasting room that was next door….needless to say, I don’t have much to say about them…they were forgettable. Enkidu was fun, small and their wines were good, but since it is not a winery and just a tasting room the atmosphere is just OK. www.enkiduwines.com
For our last wine tasting of the day we finished at Audelssa in Glen Ellen. Yes, I know, you are thinking…cheap jug of rotgut that our parents drank in the 80’s, Glen Ellen! Surprisingly, it was wonderful. It is not in a winery, but is a stand-alone tasting room that is beautiful and the wines were delightful! Glen Ellen is a beautiful little area and worth the trek for sure. www.audelssa.com (8) I kind of just wish we would have bagged the forgettable places and just gone here, because we ended up having to come next the next day to go to (what turned out to be one of my favorites) Benziger.
We left Glen Ellen and drove down to the town square of Sonoma. STUNNING! Yes…I know you are all out there remembering the date that Ben and Kacie B had in Sonoma last season on the Bachelor. Yes, it is that beautiful of a place. Hindsight being 20/20, I would have chosen to stay in Sonoma. I did not look in to any places here, so no advice, but Sonoma has it all over Napa in my opinion. (9)We had dinner at the Girl and the Fig that had a wonderful atmosphere and a very local California cuisine menu. I started with a Kir Royal that was good, but the very large twist of lemon on top kind of over powered the normally light and refreshing aperitif. Mark started with the heirloom radishes with
mixed seasonal radishes, anchovy butter & grey sea salt and I had their puréed potato soup with ham and truffle oil. It was delicious and very fresh! Mark had the wild flounder meunière
, yukon potato puree, cello spinach, in a lemon-caper brown butter which was outstanding and I had day boat scallops with
carrot purée, garden carrots, sorrel, butter beans, lobster crème fraiche which was also very good. Needless to say, I discovered that 1) I am not a fan of Sorrel and 2) I am not a huge fan of butter beans. Lesson learned! The scallops were perfect though and all in all it was a very nice dinner. I will say my only true complaint was that it was a bit on the warm side in the restaurant…note to restaurateurs, when it hits 90 degrees in wine country you really need to jack up the AC. www.thegirlandthefig.com (10-13)
Breakfast the next day was at the Soscol Café, which was right up the street from our hotel. WOW! This is a place to have breakfast! Mark had the chicken and veggie omelet with black beans and completely homemade tortillas and I had the French toast with a fruit cup. Both were absolutely delicious and it was a ridiculous amount of food for the price, both of us couldn’t even finish! No website for them but here is there address…632 Soscol Avenue, Napa, CA 94559
From there we finally made it to one of our favorite wineries, Etude. It is in the Canaros Region between Napa and Sonoma. Their Rose (and I am not talking sweet white Zin, but chilled, dry, fabulous Rose) is one of the best wines I have ever had. The tasting room was very stunning and their whole atmosphere was very nice. Bought 2 bottles of Rose and a bottle of the 2008 Pinot Noir. www.shop.etudewines.com (14-15)
From there we decided to venture up to Santa Rosa and the coastal area of the Sonoma Coast. Be prepared, it’s quite a drive. One of the biggest tips I can give you…BRING SWEATS! It was unusually hot in wine country, but it is NOT at the coast! It was probably a good 30 degree difference in temperature, not much sun (if any) and very misty/foggy. We drove over an hour to walk to a cliff, take 2 pictures, chatter our teeth and get back in the car. We drove further up the coast on State Rt 1 and took a gorgeous drive back inland on River Road which ran along the Russian River. The Redwood trees there were absolutely stunning! It was beautiful, but 3 hours in a car was a bit much…it looked a lot closer on the map!
On our way back we went to what ended up being 2 (of the top 5) favorite wineries. First was Benziger. It is in Glen Ellen and their tours are fabulous. We did the group tour, $20 each and that included tastings. Normally we shared tastings but this was worth it. Benziger is a Bio-Dynamic winery and their commitment to Green and Organic Farming is impressive and it shows in the land and definitely in their wines. The tour lasts about 30 minutes and the take you around the land, to the presses and in the caves. You end up in a private tasting room to try 4 wines; they were all outstanding and I bought all four, plus an extra Sauvignon Blanc and a Rose. This was a highlight, for sure. www.benziger.com (16,17)
It was getting late, and the tasting rooms start to shut down between 4-5. We had 35 minutes and decided to hightail it up to Kunde Estate Winery…yet another referral. It was stunning! It was quite the hopping place and I think that was because so many people were at the end of their wine tastings for the day. We had a wonderful pourer in Kat. She was super friendly, gave us some extra pours off the additional menu and was very attentive amongst all the energy in the room. The tasting room was VERY nice and the outside area was everything you expect wine country to be! I signed up for their Wine Club and bought a bottle of their Chardonnay and we each got a glass of our favorite to sip out front overlooking the water and the vines as the sunset. It was beautiful! www.kunde.com (18,19)
For our Last Supper we decided to go to Mustards Grill in Northern Napa. This would be food sex on a plate in my book. The outside says “STEAKS, CHOPS, RIBS, GRDEN PRODUCE, WAY TOO MANY WINE”, I don’t subscribe to that religion but man, I am a believer! There was a wait for tables but two seats at the bar and you can order off the menu and eat there, so we did. The bartender was awesome. You know when someone really enjoys what they do AND they do it exceptionally well. He was more than a bartender, but he sure came up with some pretty outstanding cocktails while we sat there; A Salty Chien Chien (Asian version of a salty dog), and Margarita infused with Jalapeño, and a Smoke House Sour, which was like a whiskey sour with liquid smoke. I didn’t try any of them, but they looked/sounded interesting. We started off dinner with the Micro greens, blue cheese an spicy toasted pistachios, all of which were local or from their on site garden. Mark had the Korean Curry Smoked Duck with long beans and mango pickles, which was done to perfection, and I had the fish special which was Grilled Halibut, with heavenly baby local spring veggies and sweet corn with some crazy herb butter. It was truly an amazing meal. We finished it all off with their Famous Lemon-Lime Tart with ridiculously tall brown sugar meringue, and candied lemon peel and a decaf espresso. The whole meal was decadent, delicious and lively! A MUST in Napa for dining! www.mustardsgrill.com (20-23)
On our last day, we struggled to find a breakfast place to meet our standards and ended up at the Butter Cream Bakery. For some reason it didn’t sit well with me. Maybe I had just had too much good food over prior days, but the place was very popular and I can see it being a place for sweets and coffee. It is a diner/bakery, but in my opinion, was not as good as the prior two places for breakfast. www.buttercreambakery.com
After that we went to Pineridge which is a winery I visited and liked 20 years ago; what a disappointment. The setting is still nice, but the woman in charge was kind of snooty and the wines were not nearly as good as I remembered. The tasting was small and limited and more expensive than other. Not in my top 10, to say the least. From there we ventured up to St Helena to a winery called Sterling and opted not to do the tram and the tasting. It was $25 each for a self guided tour, and the prices went up from there. It looked beautiful, but there were no options to taste their wines even before we ‘invested’ and having just come from the downer of Pineridge, we passed.
We drove back down thru St Helena, which was beautiful and would love to visit there again and stay there; it was more like Sonoma. On our way up, we passed the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone so we stopped in to check it out. We wandered around the building that was more like a castle and it was pretty fascinating. We went to their working restaurant and sat inside and had a ‘snack’. It was impressive to watch them while they cooked and we chatted with some of the people that worked there. Educational, and delicious! (24) If you are a foodie, definitely a place to check out. http://www.ciachef.edu/admissions/california/default.asp
Our last ‘hurrah’ was at the winery St Supéry and it was divine! It was one of my personal top 3 and I joined their wine club and bought a bottle of their outstanding Sauvignon Blanc. It has a relaxed atmosphere, excellent wines and we enjoyed it very, very much. www.stsupery.com (25-26)
Now the trick was to get the wine back to Ohio. UPS charges $80 for UPS ground but you can check a case box (bought from one of the wineries) through as a piece of luggage for $25. BINGO! That’s what we did and it was worth it! Funny that I carried my luggage on, but checked a case of wine!
All in all, it was a great trip and highly recommend it! Tips would be: Share tastings with another person to cut down on cost. Ask locals where they would eat. Look at Yelp and Urbanspoon. Finally, if a winery doesn’t ‘catch’ your eye, find another one. There are soooo many to choose from, go to the one that feeds ALL of your senses!
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Sara Niles lives in Westerville with her 2 daughters and has been in a relationship with Mark for 7 years. Foodiegirl was born out of her love to eat and cook all kinds of food for friends and family and also for travel. She does promotional items sales and graphic design for Advertise America (www.advertiseamerica.com), based in Westerville and has had her own business in the Wellness Field since 1998 (www.nikken.com/thewellnessgrp). 26