Monday, December 21, 2009


The remainder of our trip we spent in Portland, staying at Sarah and Mike’s and celebrating Thanksgiving with them and Josh’s parents. The first night there Sarah took us to a little taco place called Porque No? that was both tasty and relatively inexpensive. Afterward Sarah and Mike took Josh and I to a brewpub called Lucky Lab, where you can actually bring your dogs. My friend, Lynn, who lives in Portland, was able to meet up with us briefly. We then stopped at The Hub, where the other three got the beer sampler – of 10 mini glasses of beer! I played it safe and got a great merlot called “The Velvet Devil.” Sarah & Mike had planned a few other brewpubs for us to stop at, but it had been a long day and we were eager to go to bed, so home we went. Nicely – and unnecessarily – Sarah and Mike gave us their room the whole time we were there. I’m sure they were quite happy to have us go :)

We grabbed breakfast someplace and then went and toured the Japanese Garden. Very beautiful, serene place. Also stopped by the rose garden since it was right there, but since it was late fall there really weren’t any roses. We did a little window shopping and lunch in the 23rd & Hawthorne District, then headed back to Sarah’s for a nap. On the way we stopped at VooDoo Doughnut and I have to say the experience was somewhat underwhelming. Portland is a much larger city than I expected – much larger than Minneapolis-St. Paul, and seemed very crowded to me.

We went to Belly Timber for dinner, where we celebrated Fay’s birthday. The drinks there were excellent. Doug had something on his plate that none of us could identify, but all tasted it and most thought it was earthy but good. Turns out it was blood sausage. None of us ate it anymore after that! Stopped at Cold Stone for dessert and then back to Sarah’s for wine.

Thursday was Thanksgiving – and Fay’s birthday. Luckily for most of us, Sarah and Fay decided to do all the work preparing the feast, so we all got to go out and play! Mike took us outside of the city to Maltnomeh Falls and Horsetail Falls, and took us on the Washington side of the Columbia River. It is really a gorgeous area and they have the coolest trees – both the giant cedars and also these cool, mossy trees. Almost seemed like a fairy tale, with lots of cool fog. We didn’t even mind bumming around out in the rain. Sometime I’d like to check out the Oregon Trail Museum here. When we got home dinner was almost ready and, I might add, delicious.

Friday was wine tasting day in the Willamette Valley. Mike’s parents joined us. We stopped off at the Columbia store first to do some shopping on Sarah’s employee discount, but neither Josh or I found anything we *had* to buy, so we didn’t. The first winery we stopped at was Montinore Estate. Josh and I made a real point of trying lots of pinot noirs this day – 1) that’s what this valley is known for producing, and 2) we aren’t very familiar with pinot so it was a good opportunity to learn. The staff at Montinore were kind of pills, except for the gal who was pouring the dessert wines. We bought two bottles, an unusual white and a dessert. (Sadly, we will probably never get our wine as we assumed Sarah could ship it to us and we left it with her, but apparently shipping wine out of Portland isn’t as easy as shipping it out of Napa Valley. We left her with kind of a hassle and feel badly about that.)

Next up was Whistling Ridge, a small, family-owned winery that Sarah and Mike are big fans of. The family was all very down to earth and easy to talk to. Next up was Stag Hollow, which was probably my favorite place. You got nine tastes and the ninth one was mindblowing. It was also like $240/bottle or something. Rightly so! Our last stop before Mike and his parents had to leave was Lenne’. Again, almost all of the wine pourers we talked with were so nice and helpful and laid back. Such a good time! (Josh probably liked Lenne’ the best because all the women there were gushing about his purple pants!)

Last stop of the day was at Willakenzie Estate, where Sarah is a member. We had a number of good wines there but I think this is the only place where Josh and I didn’t buy any. Not sure why – I think our tastebuds were on grape overload at that point. We stopped for burgers on the way home and otherwise had a mellow evening.

Mine and Josh’s plane didn’t leave until late afternoon, so we had a little time to mess around in Portland. We went to breakfast with Sarah at a place called Jam. Good food but ridiculous portion sizes. Four people could have eaten off my plate and there still would have been leftovers. Next we went to the Saturday market, which is kind of like our art fairs but is there every weekend. They had a lot of neat stuff and I bought a necklace, a piece of pottery and a print. I could easily have bought more but behaved. They also had kind of a junky, trinkety part of the fair, but we didn’t hang out there much.

We headed back to Seattle with plenty of time to spare so we didn’t have to worry about any unexpected traffic. We had time to grab an early dinner someplace and decided to try and go back to Paseo, the Cuban sandwich place Kyle had told me about. It was absolutely packed and only took cash, so we walked a few blocks until we found a grocery store with a cash machine. Lucky break as it also carried Dry Soda, something we had seen advertised in Seattle and wanted to try. I bought a bottle of lemongrass and a bottle of quince, and we went back to get our sandwiches.

Kyle did not lie. The sandwiches at this place are heavenly. I had the midnight Cuban, as recommended. (To quote Kyle: “Do you want to have the best sandwich you’ve ever had in your life?”) It is a Cuban roast pork sandwich with banana peppers, smoked ham and Swiss cheese melted together in a hot press. Also giant onions that I picked off. It is a huge sandwich and a helluva bargain at $8. SO. GOOD. We ate our sandwiches and drank our dry soda sitting on a bench outside, and it was a very good way to end our trip! Add to that a Shocktop Belgian White Ale at the airport and we were good to go. Goodybe, Seattle! We had a great time!

Monday, November 15 (Seattle/Woodinville)

Monday we drove north of Seattle to Woodinville to go wine tasting for the day. Our first stop was Chateau Ste. Michelle, the largest and most well-known winery in that area. We chose it not because of its fame, or because we can’t get their wines at home, but because they opened an hour before anyone else!

CSM has a huge property and the first thing we saw as we were parking were two peacocks. We made our way to the tasting room and wandered around a bit as it is fairly large and has lots to look at, from your typical wine food and accoutrements to various arty crafty stuff to, of course, lots of wine. We eventually bellied up to the tasting bar where Renee helped us. She was very nice and was impressed that we actually know a little bit about wine, could pronounce things properly, etc. Apparently that doesn’t happen too often ;) Renee, like many pourers who you get to chatting with, also gave us tastes of some wines not on the list. We love that!

We got two tastings and shared – the (basic reserved?) tasting and then the dessert wines. We were surprised to learn that while CSM is widely distributed, there are plenty of bottles that you can get only through their winery. We were also surprised to learn there really aren’t any grapes in Woodinville – all of the vineyards are in the eastern part of the state, and there are just tasting rooms in Woodinville. CSM started this trend some 30 years ago to capitalize on its proximity to Seattle, and many other wineries have since followed suit.

A woman popped in to grab a couple of bottles of wine for her Thanksgiving dinner and we thought – how nice would it be to just be able to pop into your local winery for a few bottles of wine? We just don’t have that kind of proximity in Eden Prairie. We did buy three bottles there, and if our money supply was unlimited we probably would have bought more. We did make a point of buying whatever we wanted on this trip, as we always talk about how we wish we had bought more wine on our honeymoon trip to Napa Valley.

Our next stop was Januik-Novelty Hill, which is actually two wineries but share a tasting room. It could not have been more different from CSM. Whereas CSM is very classic elegance, J-NH is extremely modern in style/design. We liked it a lot; especially this cool horse grass they had lining the exterior of the building. It was very slow in there and the wine pourer had plenty of time to chat with us. There was just one tasting menu, but it had a lot of options and we could each pick four wines to try, so we selected different options and then traded off with each other. Apparently Monday mornings are a good time to get business done, because the wine maker was in, the artist whose paintings were on the wall stopped in, etc.

We then went to Silver Lake, mainly because it was on our way to where we thought we might be heading for lunch. We figured we could fit in another few glasses of wine before we absolutely *had* to get food in our stomachs! Silver Lake was a much more commercial operation run by “Uncle Rick.” An older gentleman, but a total shyster who laid the whole wine membership sales pitch on pretty thick. Despite that, he was entertaining and we had a good time. In addition to Silver Lake wines, they also carried bottles from several other wineries.

We definitely needed to have lunch at this point! We were debating between Red Hook Brewery and a place called the Barking Frog. The Barking Frog sounded a little upscale for what we were looking for, but all the locals recommended it so we decided to go for it. It was an excellent choice! The wait for a table was insane, something like 40 minutes. For lunch. On a Monday. We were told we could eat at the bar if we wanted to, and snatched up that option! And what a great deal this place turned out to be. For $15, you could get a three-course lunch – appetizer, main entrée and dessert. For another $12, you could get a wine pairing. For $27/person, we had an excellent midday meal! I believe I had scallops, ??, and a caramel apple cake of some kind. Josh had a ? salad, pork belly and a flourless chocolate torte.

Next up was Matthews Estate, which we had to hit up for obvious reasons – even though they spell the name wrong ;) Imagine our surprise when the “estate” was a trailer. Hot. Still, their wines were very good – albeit pricey. Went to J. Bookwalter next, as it was just up the road. Turned out to be a good move as the guy asked us where we had stopped throughout the day, etc., and I mentioned I had wanted to hit up Dusted Valley but (according to their website) they were closed. He said no, he was pretty sure they were open, and made a call to confirm. Yes, open! So, we hung at J. Bookwalter a bit and were then on our way.

Dusted Valley is a little storefront in a strip mall, which may not lend itself to being super cool. I had wanted to go there because on their website their wine club is called the Stained Tooth Society and had a cool skull logo with vines growing out of its mouth. I was hoping they would have Tshirts and they did! DV is owned by two guys from Wisconsin who are a bit younger than us. Apparently they were both working corporate-type jobs, decided it wasn’t really what they wanted to do with their lives and said “Screw it. Let’s make wine.” They seem to have a good sense of humor, handing out toothbrushes with membership to the Stained Tooth Society, etc. The girl at the counter was very laid back and fun, which is true of most people you find behind a wine counter. I think it’s one reason Josh and I enjoy wine tasting so much – it’s a great way to have conversations with people in a fun, casual setting.

We had to get back to the city eventually because we had 8 p.m. reservations at Canlis, but we decided to swing by Red Hook Brewery. I just got water, but Josh got the beer sampler. I was already full from drinking wine all day, plus I was driving. And, I really didn’t want to be stuffed for Canlis.

I really debated cancelling our reservations to Canlis. We were both full and tired and not super motivated. But, we kicked ourselves in gear to go and I’m so glad we did! Although we had a ton of trouble actually FINDING the damn place, it is a beautiful, beautiful restaurant. Definitely special occasion, like this is where you get engaged or celebrate your 25th wedding anniversary or something – i.e. valeting your car is the only option.

When we got there, the place wasn’t full but the host (Brian Canlis, of the Canlis family) asked if we could wait a few minutes while they got our table ready. I thought that was odd, but whatever. As it turned out – great idea! We probably had one of the best tables in the whole place. I never did decide if they had initially given us a crappy table because we reserved our table on OpenTable and they weren’t sure what kind of riffraff we would be, or if that table just happened to open up right before we got there and they decided hey – might as well give these people the best we have available.

Canlis is very old school elegance. Supper clubby, almost, but in the best, most elegant way. There was a piano player and everything was very dim candlelight, classy linens, fireplaces, etc. The best part, however, is the view. The front of the restaurant basically juts out over the bay (?) in Seattle and it is all windows. Absolutely gorgeous.

They had a tasting menu, but neither of us ended up getting it. I think the debauchery of the day was taking its toll. I had seared scallops to start, with butternut squash, hearts of palm and chorizo. I think Josh had the crab cake. I considered the chicken terrine with black truffles and hazelnuts, but was so glad I asked further about it with our server as she explained it’s a cold dish that, to me, sounded really, really disgusting. I instead got the handmade wild mushroom ravioli with mascarpone and vin jaune. These were absolutely delicious and I am amazed, as I get older, that I am really starting to like mushrooms and their earthy flavor. I was a little shocked that, at $36, I only got three. That being said, I only ate 2-1/2 of mine. What was up with that? Anyway, I can’t complain too much because I know you are paying, in part, for that great view and excellent customer service. Josh had the King salmon with figs, chanterelles and pinot noir jus.

We skipped dessert and called it an early night. Somehow we found our way directly home, which in no way was the case for getting there. All in all, if I were to choose between Rover’s and Canlis, I’d probably pick Rover’s for the food, though Canlis wins in the atmosphere category.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sunday, November 15 (Seattle)

I broke my first rule of traveling and ate at a place we had already tried. I usually scorn people for their lack of adventure for doing this (falls in line with my anti-Applebee’s law), but Piroshky Piroshky was just too good and, may I mention, cheap! This time I got the beef and cheese one that Josh had yesterday, and I can’t remember what Josh had.

After trekking up to Pike Place Market for piroshkies, we headed back where we came from and to the Seattle Underground tour. Pretty interesting stuff, the initial settlers of Seattle basically built on a flood plain and, being too stubborn (or stupid) to move, just let their business district flood every day, twice a day, for years. Big sinkholes formed in the streets, kids drowned, etc. Eventually a fire destroyed most things, and they ended up building the city on top of what was left of the old city. You can go underground and still see walkways, decrepit storefronts, etc. Another interesting fact we learned was, back in the day, the male-female ratio was something like 10:1 and so you can imagine what most of the women’s professions were. When a census was taken the city had an inordinate number of “seamstresses” who, oddly enough, didn’t have any sewing machines in their homes. The city fathers didn’t mind so much that the majority of its women were prostitutes; rather, they wanted to make sure they were making some money off of it. So, they created a seamstress tax of $10/month.I can’t remember the exact number, but at one time something like 90 percent of the city’s funds were from prostitution.

After the tour we decided to go check out the Space Needle. It costs like $20/person to go up, but we thought we would be clever and just go up to the revolving restaurant instead and have a drink at the bar. Yeah, they were way ahead of us. Since it was Sunday, they have a Sunday brunch that costs $45/person. We decided to skip the Space Needle.

We did, however, decide to check out the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum next door. Tickets were $13/person (we had a coupon) and we felt we got way more out of it than we would have from a ride to the top of the Space Needle. The only bummer about the EMP was that they have a lot of interactive stuff to play with, but people were already playing with everything so we didn’t get to. Darn kids.

After that we decided to drive over to this Cuban sandwich place for lunch that my coworker Kyle had told me about, but when we got over there it was closed. Bummer. So we headed back to our hotel and had a snack in the hotel bar. It was already 3 p.m. or so, and we didn’t want to eat a ton since we had dinner reservations for Rover’s at 7. We did go to the hotel happy hour again and had a nice conversation with a man and his wife who were living in Portland but he was contemplating a job in Milwaukee. He wanted to know if it gets cold and sucky and icy there, and I said yes. Turns out he is in the construction trade so we ended up talking about unions and whatnot. The couple from Sacramento was also there, and fortunately little Miss Starbucks was not.

Next stop – Rover’s! Josh found out about this place on Interestingly, he actually let me drive most of this trip. So we drove over there and it’s a little hard to find. It’s set back off the street in this small gathering of what looks like dentist offices, chiropractic places, etc. So we’re walking up slowly like, “Is this the right place?” It looked like a nondescript stucco house from the outside. But yes, we had the right place!

It’s a small restaurant and, while it is elegant, it is also not at all stuffy. Nice combo. Apparently it’s something of a special celebration place, because it seemed like everyone there was having a birthday. Josh and I think every day is a celebration when it comes to good food, so we fit right in. They have three tasting menus available, or you can order anything a la carte (also a vegetarian tasting menu). One is an eight-course menu, one is a five-course menu, and the other is also a five-course menu but it is classic French food in the style of Julia Child.

Josh and I both got the five-course menu, though I substituted out the salmon course in mine for the beef bourguignon course off the Julia Child menu. I had made beef bourguignon at home recently and wanted to see how my first attempt compared. We also got the wine pairing.

We were served an amuse bouche, but I’ve already forgotten what it was. I feel like maybe it was a small cup of delicious mushroom soup? First course was a diver’s sea scallop with marinated beet, celery root-apple salad and harissa aioli. I’m still amazed there is a seafood I actually like, but scallops are yum-mee! Next up was pork belly with parsnip puree, lacinato kale and Meyer lemon confit. Tender and tasty. Next Josh had the Bristol Bay salmon with butternut squash, matsutake and saffron butter, and I had the beef bourguignon – essentially a rich beef stew with red wine, pearl onions, carrots and mushrooms.

I can definitively say my beef bourguignon is better! Josh agrees. We were trying to figure out why, and we came up with a couple of possibilities. 1) It took me about 4 hours to make, and maybe a restaurant doesn’t have time to spend four hours on one dish. 2) I followed Julia’s recipe exactly, and maybe this chef put his/her own twist on it that just wasn’t as good. 3) Perhaps I used a better cut of meat. Who knows?

Next we had a verjus-huckleberry sorbet to cleanse the palate, and then moulard duck breast with celery root, herbed faro and thyme sauce. I find duck is one of those things I never order on its own, but when I have it I always think it is delicious.

To end the meal we had a “symphony of desserts,” which I don’t really remember but I think we had three things – maybe a crème brulee, a flourless chocolate torte and something else – you know, the usual dessert suspects. Caramel or spice cake or something. I almost wish I had gotten the chocolate soufflé instead – I really wanted to try it! The meal ended with mignardises, which I believe were classic French macaroons.

There was wine in particular that I liked - an unusual white – and I have the label at home so I can track it down again. All in all, we had a lovely evening – as we almost always do. After that, back to the hotel and to bed. Monday is wine tasting!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Saturday, November 14 (Seattle)

I’m a little remiss in writing about our trip to Seattle/Portland the last week of November, but here goes:

Our plane was to leave Minneapolis at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, November 14. Since we were taking our car to a friend’s house to leave there prior to our flight, this meant we had to get up at 3:30 a.m. Josh was not a happy camper. In fact, I got so much harassment for the early hours that he is now in charge of making any future travel arrangements. Fortunately, we were both able to sleep on the plane.

On the plus side, leaving so early did mean we were in Seattle before 9 a.m. (The other flight option that day would have gotten us there in later afternoon, and I wanted to spend as much time there as possible.) By the time we got our rental car and found our hotel, Pike’s Place Market was open and we had a full day ahead of us.

We stayed at the Alexis Hotel right in Downtown, just a few blocks from the market, the sports fields, the shore, etc. I felt we were in an ideal location. The bummer part was that, in addition to our room fee, we had to pay parking at $36/night – sucky. However, it was valet parking and we could come and go as much as we wanted. The valet staff was incredibly nice and helpful and it was all very convenient. The best part was that, since I had reserved the room under my name, Josh got called “Mr. Madden” all weekend. Hee hee!

I loved our hotel – very artsy and boutique-y and beautiful. Really great vibe and I would stay there again… except. Except our room was approximately the size of our bed. Which meant trying to open suitcases or sort through anything or move was nearly impossible. Note to self: Pay for a bigger room next time! It was beautifully decorated, the bed was hella comfortable and they had these fun orange leopard-print robes. Down sides were no place in the bathroom to set anything, like a comb or toothbrush, fridge was full with minibar stuff so couldn’t use it, and no shelf or anything in the shower. Clearly whoever designed the room never actually stayed in it to see how it works for real travelers.

I guess it sounds like I didn’t like our hotel that much but I really did love it. The customer service was excellent at all times. Every night from 5-6 p.m. they have a free wine happy hour, which is a fun way to meet fellow travelers. They also supply postcards and watercolors so you can paint postcards and they will mail them for you. Just a fun, quirky touch.

Walking around Pike’s Place Market was cool. We just don’t have anything like that in the Cities. I guess it’s like a combination of our Farmer’s Market, Midtown Global Market and maybe some nifty area of town that I can’t think of. We need some street food vendors around here!

One of the first things we did was stop by a tiny little shop called Piroshky Piroshky. Josh had a beef and cheese piroshky and I had a chicken, mushroom and rice one. They were both DE-licious!! After eating we just walked around a lot, walking through the craft market and the food market areas but not really going into any of the shops. I bought a Christmas ornament but that’s about it. They had a lot of really nice stuff had I been in a shopping mood. We didn’t see any fish being thrown, but the patter of the fish guys was fun. “Everyone’s shopping, nobody’s buying. Did anyone bring any money?”

After the market we decided to head back in the direction of our hotel but walked well past it (intentionally) and eventually ended up at Pyramid brewery around 2 p.m. We ordered some standard bar food that was pretty gross, and we each ordered the beer sampler. I think we got six beers each. My favorite was the apricot ale – would be very refreshing on a summer’s day! The beer was sold in super cute mini glasses that we decided we had to have. Josh kept me out of jail by buying a set for $2/each at the gift shop. Money well spent!

On our way back to the hotel we saw a sign that said Sake Tasting and we thought – why not? We’re on vacation. So we stopped in to Sake' Nomi and tried four different sakes (all of which, in my opinion, were gross). We talked with the owner, a guy about our age who had taught English in Japan after college, met his wife there and fell in love with sake. He now has his own sake pub and knows the guy who owns moto-i in Minneapolis. He seemed cool toward us in the beginning but really warmed up by the end and was very chatty.

Next stop – our hotel and a short nap! Couldn’t miss the free wine happy hour. We met a nice, albeit somewhat quiet couple from Sacramento, and a couple who currently live in the area. The husband was real nice but the wife thought she was way cooler than she actually was. She was bragging about working HR for Starbucks and the massive layoffs she’s been in charge of. She’s originally from Iowa but all she did was talk about their nanny, how important she is at Starbuck’s, etc. I was over her fast.

On the plus side, she did give us a recommendation for a great restaurant called Purple. When she said it was in walking distance she neglected to mention four of the blocks were straight up a steep hill. Good thing there was wine at the end! In keeping with the theme of the day, we each got a wine flight – I got one of sparklings/champagne, and Josh did reds. We also got a cheese tray plus pasta. By the time our food came I was pretty full with cheese/crackers/wine, but we didn’t care. We had a blast!

Next was back to the hotel and to bed. Goodnight!