Bottle Rock Festival Napa Valley May 10, 2013

It’s not often when you can say you were a part of music history. So, when we heard about the first-ever Bottle Rock Napa Valley 2013, a four-day festival of music, comedy, wine and food taking place May 9-12 at the Napa Valley Fairgrounds (bottlerocknapa.com), we jumped at the chance. They had us at Napa, really, but when we found out that Vintage Trouble and Alabama Shakes were going to be there we knew we were all in.

We made our way to Napa Friday morning. The drive from our hotel in Petaluma to Napa was spectacular. The hills and mountains leading from Sonoma County into Napa Valley are lush, fertile and dotted with wineries large and small. Getting to Napa was half the fun. Once in town we decided to get some lunch at the famous Oxbow Market. We shared a freshly baked bread, burrata and prosciutto at an Italian eatery called Enoteca Ca Momi. Everything was fresh and delicious. Then it was time to park the car and head into the festival. Speaking of parking: To ease over-crowding in town, festival planners set up a large parking area outside of Napa. Shuttle buses took concertgoers to and from the event throughout the day and evening. This was a minor inconvenience logistically, but understandable given the amount of people expected to attend the festival over the four-day period (over 100,000). We purchased tickets for the day both were performing which was the second day of the event. Of the 16 acts performing that day we our goal was to see the blues rock quartet Vintage Trouble; Alabama Shakes; The Shins, The Black Keys and The Flaming Lips.

Let the music begin! Vintage Trouble went on around 2:15 and rocked the house, though at this point people were still filing in. At around 4 p.m. Alabama Shakes took the stage and really got the crowd involved. Once their set was finished, The Shins took the stage just after 6 p.m. and played for nearly an hour. The headline act that Friday were The Black Keys. In between, we wandered to the one of the other stages to see The Flaming Lips. By the time The Black Keys came on stage at around 8:30 (it went from very warm during the day to chilly as soon as the sun went down), the field was packed with people. Speaking of people, Bottle Rock was an eclectic mix of young and old; hipsters and tree huggers – and, scores of “patients” who brought their medical marijuana to the festival. People watching was just as interesting as the bands themselves. Throughout the day we also managed to visit several (many, really…) winery booths, the shopping village and the local stage where an impressive local band, Buttercream Gang, was playing. Bottle Rock was a large event, but it had an intimate feel to it.

The food and drink choices were plentiful. Over 30 restaurants and eateries as well as over 40 wineries in the Napa Valley area took part to give concertgoers a wide array of eclectic menu options. The short-rib and arugula pizza we ate from Travigne was delicious, as were the sticky ribs from Morimoto, definitely several notches above typical festival choices. We expected as much as Chef Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards Grill) was involved. A perimeter of tents was set up around the grounds to allow easy access to wine and beer; food was available in a dining area close by the three stages with plenty of picnic tables available and a video screen showing the main stage. Winery partner booths that we visited included Gloria Ferrer, Grgich Hills, Priest Ranch and Silver Oak. Prices for the food were reasonable but some of the wines by the (small) glass were exorbitant. Because of the warm weather during the day we ended up drinking more of the sparking and white selections. The reds were perfect when the temperature started going down, though.

All in all Bottle Rock Napa was a lot of fun, and a tremendous success for the town of Napa and the first time organizers. Bottle Rock Two is scheduled for the same time next year, so we’re seriously considering attending this amazing festival again. Our only knock, and it really is a minor one, was the parking situation. Next time we’ll take our private helicopter.

 

“Taste of Napa” Pairing Dinner, Ruth Chris Steakhouse March 14th, 2013

MenuIf you can’t make a trip to Napa Valley (but any wine enthusiast will tell you it’s practically mandatory), it is good to know there are local food and wine pairing events like the “Taste of Napa,” a five-course pairing dinner that took place at Ruth Chris Steak House, in Fort Lauderdale. It was the perfect opportunity to experience several Ruth’s Chris dishes paired with some top-notch Napa Valley wines, including Beringer Vineyards, Stags’ Leap Winery, Etude and St. Clement Vineyards. Local crooner Tony Martelli was also on hand for the event, entertaining everyone throughout the night with his soulful renditions of great American lounge music standards.Arugula Salad

After listening to a brief introduction from our host, we watched a short 10-minute video that highlighted all of the wineries involved in the event. Then, it was time to eat! The menu, by course—

  • First Course: Roasted Asparagus & Herbed Goat Cheese Arugula, mustard vinaigrette, kalamata olives, paired with Beringer Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
    (The earthy tastes the goat cheese and saltiness of the kalamata olives contrasted nicely with the citrus notes of the Sauvignon Blanc.)
  • Second Course:  Snow Crab Bisque Spiked with brandy & chardonnay, garlic croutons, paired with St. Clement Napa Valley Chardonnay
    (The sweet and tangy bisque and the Chardonnay were an exceptional pairing – wish we could have had another bowl!)
  • Third Course: Warm Cremini Mushroom Tart Balsamic beurre blanc, spring vegetable chutney, paired with Etude Carneros Pinot Noir
    (The surprisingly strong oak and caramel notes of the Etude Pinot Noir never took away from the earthy flavor of the mushroom and the spiciness of the chutney.)Mushroom Tart
  • Fourth Course: Filet Mignon with Cabernet Onions served sizzling with butter and parsley, paired with Stags’ Leap Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 
Accompaniments included a creamed spinach with bleu cheese gratinée and Pecan crusted sweet potato casserole
    (This was, by far, our favorite dish of the night. Though there was a small mix-up when servers brought our steaks, it didn’t take away the fact that Ruth Chris offers amazing cuts of beef. Juicy and flavorful, the filets paired nicely with the bold, intensity of the Stags’ Leap Cab. The sides? We could have made a meal them and only them!)
  • Fifth Course: Cheesecake Brûlée Chewy gooey chocolate-walnut cookie, rhubarb compote, strawberry sauce, paired with Beringer Nightingale Semillon Sauvignon-Blanc
    (It would be nice to say we finished dessert and enjoyed every bite, but honestly, we didn’t. By the time dessert arrived we were stuffed, literally. That’s not to say we didn’t try. But after enjoying four amazing courses and the seemingly never-ending glasses of wine – dessert was an afterthought.)

The “Taste Of Napa” was one of the more enjoyable food and wine events we’ve attended in some time. Ruth Chris Steakhouse, whose reputation for fine dining goes without question, was the perfect forum to hold such an event. This was one of several events that Ruth Chris has planned for 2013, so if you have an opportunity to go, definitely do it.
Snow Crab Bisque   Cheesecake BruleeFilet Mignon

Garden To Glass Event at Miami Beach Botanical Garden Friday, February 22, 2013

Garden to GlassThe South Beach Wine & Food Festival may be all about wine and food, but there is something to be said about enjoying amazing mixed cocktails, especially when they’re served under the stars in one of the most beautiful and unique settings in South Florida, the Botanical Garden of Miami Beach. And so it was with the Garden To Glass event hosted by legendary chef Emeril Lagasse, along with the talented mixologists from Bar Lab and food provided by Chef Sam Gorenstein and South Beach’s My Ceviche. Miami Beach Botanical Garden

We arrived around 9:30 (the event started at 10 p.m.), found parking nearby and took our places in line outside the front gates. Walking in we noticed tables stocked with liquors, napkins, etc. all set up on the grass close to the sidewalks that wind through the gardens. One table seemed to have more traffic than the others. As we made our way closer, we knew why: People were there to catch a glimpse of Emeril Lagasse sitting at a small tiki-style hut with a bartender at a station to the right serving up cocktails. It was a crowded scene with semi-buzzed patrons all jockeying for position at Emeril’s table.  We managed to work our way in closer, meet Emeril, grab a cocktail and move on to the next station, leaving the chaos behind.

There were some cocktails we enjoyed, but considered them just average in terms of spirits, mixers, ingredients, etc. By that, I mean these were drinks you’d expect to find around town (and most likely, overpriced, depending on the establishment). On the other hand, Bar Lab’s cocktails were the hit of the night, as evidenced by the long lines and scores of return patrons (us included) at their bar. Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta, the mad scientists of mixology and founders of Bar Lab, have built up quite the following in South Florida.  All of the six offerings were good but the Oaxacan Palate (blood orange, smoked ancho chili, coriander bitters w/Zignum Mezcal) was our favorite of the night. Bar Lab

One knock on this event was the lack of food. My Ceviche was a big part of the festivities, providing trays of various ceviche and light bites. They were hard to find and what samples they did offer were quickly snatched up by hungry, drunk patrons – oftentimes before the servers had a chance to move through the crowds. This was a disappointment, and we hope they’ll remedy this for future events. Oaxacan Palate

All in all we enjoyed Garden To Glass. A little more organization is needed to make this one of the more memorable events during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, but still, there could be worse ways to spend a Friday evening sipping cocktails amongst a lush tropical garden under a starry Miami night. The Gardens

Tipsy Boar Gastropub, Hollywood, Florida

If you enjoy fine craft beer and bar food, you may want to check out the Tipsy Boar (1906 Harrison St., Hollywood, FL), the latest gastro pub experience that just opened in January 2013, and is located at the former Luce Italian restaurant site on Harrison Street.

However, be aware that even the best eateries go through growing pains. The Tipsy Boar is no exception.

The craft beer menu is stellar, with a whole host of choices from some of the finest craft beer makers in the industry. Mixed drinks and wine are also available, but our attention was focused on the beer and the food, of course. The food menu isn’t your typical “pub grub,” though The Tipsy Boar has burgers, sandwiches and pizza, in case you were wondering.

For appetizers, we ordered an arugula, apple and shaved parmesan cheese salad, which wouldn’t win any awards for presentation, but did have a good flavor, was lightly seasoned, but most importantly, the arugula itself wasn’t soggy from swimming in too much dressing.  We also tried the deviled eggs with jalapeno and bacon.  They were tasty but didn’t have any of the heat you would expect from the jalapeno.

Next we ordered short rib croquets, but received chicken balls instead – not a deal breaker. The chicken balls had a spicy Buffalo wing flavor and came with a small side of hot sauce, crumbled bleu cheese and celery. Again, not what we ordered but they were quite delicious.

For our main dish we ordered a duck confit, caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza which was very good. The crust was crispy on the outside and light in the middle. There was a good duck-to-cheese-to-onion ratio on top, which made for a complex, flavorful pizza. We definitely would order this again.

As good as the food was, we were a bit put off by the service. We were seated at our table promptly when we arrived, but didn’t receive napkins or silverware until we asked, which was nearly 15 minutes into the experience. Everything took a while to come out and the timing was off. As soon as we finished, our plates were literally whisked away to the point we started joking that they needed them for our next item. The manager stopped by and asked us how everything was and we expressed our concern about how long it took for the food to come out. He blamed it on the server not putting the order in the right way(?!) to ensure when we received our food, which one would assume would be the kitchen’s respsonsibility. Not totally deterred by how things went, we ordered one more round of drinks and then paid our check.

Our server, although pleasant, seemed a bit nervous, preoccupied even (maybe she was new to waiting tables). After taking our food and drinks orders, we hardly saw her. Two other servers delivered our food. She did return some time later to check on us and ask how the food was, which is when we told her about the chicken balls/croquets mix-up. She insisted we received the short rib croquettes which we knew was not the case. To make matters worse, as we were leaving we saw several daily specials posted on a menu board that were never presented to us.

We’re still on the fence about this place. We’d like to think we’ll give it one more shot and head back to the Tipsy Boar one of these days, but part of us thinks we may not – at least not until they get through the growing pains.

Fordham/Old Dominion Brewery Tour, Saturday, January 12, 2013

 

Fordham & Old Dominion Brewery

Fordham & Old Dominion Brewery

Next time you pop the cap off a bottle of craft beer, take a moment to reflect on what you’re about to enjoy. I don’t mean chant om or get “Deep Thoughts With Jack Handy” philosophical about it. Just pause for a moment and think of all the time and effort that went into creating that amazing quaff you have sitting majestically in front of you.

What types of grains and hops went into it? How long did it ferment? More importantly, who created this and where did it come from? Craft beer drinkers are curious creatures, by nature, so knowing what you’re drinking is very important. Of course, you can go on-line or read books to research any craft beer that interests you. It’s really amazing how much you can learn about a particular beer from start to finish. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live near a craft beer maker, you can take a brewery tour and see the process in person (and smell that tantalizing cooked cereal aroma that hits you when you walk inside). A long weekend visiting family in Dover, Delaware, provided us with this opportunity.

The Sparge

The Sparge

Having been to Dogfish previously, we decided to stay more local and take a tour of the Fordham and Old Dominion Brewing facility located on the outskirts of town. Fordham, located in Maryland, originated in 1703 (when England’s Queen Anne commissioned Benjamin Fordham to start a brewery in the port of Annapolis, Maryland) and re-born in 1995 in Annapolis. In 2003 the company decided to move their operations to tax-friendly Delaware. In 2007 Fordham bought out Virginia-based Old Dominion Brewing and has carved out a niche in the craft beer world, distributing their beers throughout the Northeast.

The brewery offers tours six days a week and beer tasting events every Saturday.  For just $5 you’re given a four-ounce tasting glass, five wooden tokens to redeem for beer samples in the tasting room, followed by a tour of the facility. At the end of the tour, you simply turn in your sampling glass and you’re rewarded with a free Fordham pint glass. Not bad for five bucks.

After sampling several beers, our tour guide, Lee (who resembles actor Zachary Levi, but shorter and with a beard), took the 25 or so of us through the inner workings of Fordham Brewing, showing us step by step, beginning to end, how beer is made. It’s fascinating to see the process take place. If you’re the ambitious type and have ever taken a stab at home brewing, then you’re familiar with the process: the mashing in of the grains, the primary and secondary boiling, the sparging, the fermentation and the bottling. It’s been said, “If you can make oatmeal you can make beer.” Now, take your kitchen-sized brewing operation (one- to five-gallon production, most commonly) and expand that by thousands of square feet; add in boiling tanks large enough to swim in; booster rocket-sized 50- and 100-barrel fermentation tanks, plus the requisite bottling, capping and packaging equipment – and you can see for yourself that’s a whole lot of oatmeal. The entire tour, from start to finish, took around 45 minutes. 

Touring a craft brewery like Fordham puts the whole beer-drinking thing into perspective. And I can honestly say you’ll never look at a bottle of beer quite the same.

Fordham-Old Dominion beers available on tap in the tasting room:

  • Helles Lager – 5.4% ABV,; Brewed with Pilsner, Carafoam, Vienna & Munich malts; Perle & Hallertau hops
  • Oak Barrel Aged Stout – 6.1% ABV; Willamette & Cascade Hops; Pairs well with oysters, clams, brie cheese & chocolate; Serve in a pint glass at 50-55ºF
  • Dominion Lager – 5.3% ABV; Pilsner, Munich & Caramunich malts; Pairs well with Fish, Pork & Poultry as well as Havarti, Swiss & Gouda cheeses; Serve in a pilsner or pint glass at 40-45ºF
  • Baltic Porter – 6.1% ABV; Willamette & Cascade Hops; Pairs well with oysters, clams, brie cheese & chocolate; Serve in a pint glass at 50-55ºF
  • Hop Mountain Pale Ale – 6.6% ABV; Nelson-Sauvin, Cascade & Columbus Hops; Pairs well with Pan Asian cuisine & Poultry; Serve in a dimple mug or pint glass at 50-55ºF
  • Rams Head IPA – 7.5% ABV; Hops: Bravo, Chinook and Motueka; Malts: Pale, Munich and Rye
  • Copperhead Ale – 5.2% ABV; Brewed with German Magnum, German select & German Tettnang hops combined with Caramunich malt.
  • Rosie Parks Oyster Stout – 6.8%  ABV; German Pilsner, Crystal & Dark Specialty malts; Pairs well with grilled meats, hearty stews & even chocolate; Serve in a mug, tulip glass or pint glass at 45-50ºF
  • Millenium Ale – 10.2% ABV; 2-Row Muntons Pale Malt & Hallertauer Mittelfrühfull hops; Pairs well with sharp cheeses and a variety of desserts; Serve in a snifter or pint glass at 50-55ºF

Our favorites were the Oak Barrel Stout and the Baltic Porter. Each boasts distinct coffee and chicory notes, plus hints of caramel and spice. One of Fordham’s small batch seasonal beers (and one of the most popular amongst local beer aficionados), the Scotch Ale, wasn’t available in the tasting room. Fortunately for us, the night before we enjoyed it on draft at a local eatery called Restaurant 55. Unfortunately, after two drafts the keg of delicious Scotch Ale kicked. Maybe next season.

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