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Photography by Yuri Krasov

Enamored with Mendocino County, its wild Pacific coast, wind-bent cypresses and towering redwoods, roaring waves, and squeaking seagulls, I never miss a chance to visit this magnificent part of Northern California.

This year, the occasion was enormously grand – I joined the ranks of the judges for the 19th annual Crab, Wine & Beer Festival benefiting Mendocino Coast Clinics.

In my past endeavors judging all kinds of food and beverage competitions from barbecue ribs to chocolate truffles, and from chilled sake to hot cocoa, I developed quite a keen understanding of subtle differences between the good, the excellent, and the outstanding, but nothing had prepared me for the never-ending feast that awaited me in Mendocino this past January…

My husband and I embarked on a road trip from our San Francisco Bay Area home early in the morning, not to miss the many opportunities of frequent stops along the coast – to look at the ocean, to walk on a trail framed by flowering aloe vera, or to swerve into a quaint little town for some good coffee and street art viewing.

By the time we’ve reached our destination – the newly opened Noyo Harbor Inn in Fort Bragg – a lavish reception for the crab fest judges, organized by the Inn’s management and Visit Mendocino County staff was about to start. We were greeted by the festival organizers, treated to the wonderful local wines and delicious bites, and instructed on the next two days’ itinerary.

When we ventured upstairs to our room I clung to the window overlooking the Noyo Harbor – serene and pearly-gray in the approaching sunset under the cloudy sky. Enchanted, I observed a few seagulls gliding on the water, and a couple of sea lions cavorting by the docks.

Our suite was spacious, lovely, beautifully appointed with hand crafted wood panels, plush furniture, Mission Prairie style lamps, and a gas fireplace with intricate metalwork. By the window, an electric teapot, brand name tea packets, and French press coffee were neatly placed on a little table. In a full-size bathroom there was a large soaking tub.

We took a short tour around the property, marveling at its elegant beauty, warmth and hospitality of its staff, and a significant collection of mesmerizing art pieces – the majority of them produced by some talented members of the Inn owners’ family…

We could’ve slept in our comfortable bed for many hours, but the harbor view right before dawn with crab fishermen getting in the ready on their boats was too gorgeous to miss. After a well-served breakfast at the cozy Noyo Harbor Inn Restaurant we were ready for the day.

As the 2018 Crab, Wine & Beer Festival judges we were participating in an important fundraiser helping to raise money for the Mendocino Coast Clinics, a non-profit, board-governed community health center that provides medical, dental, perinatal and behavioral health care to all Mendocino coast residents and visitors, regardless of their ability to pay.

Our first order of the day was to tour the sparkling-clean, highly-efficient medical facility with Lucresha Renteria, Executive Director, and to meet with Lawrence Goldyn, the Medical Director of the Mendocino Coast Clinics. We were thoroughly impressed with the impeccable state of the buildings, the roster of medical services, the abundant financial support available to low-income patients, and the overall feel of a close-knit community of deeply engaged caring people.

A crab fest poster, attached to the announcement board, reminded the Clinics visitors where they have to hurry for the upcoming weekend.

Inspired by the wonderful goals reachable through popular events like our eagerly-anticipated crab fest, we headed for our first judging session to the Little River Inn in the town of Little River.

The white cottages and emerald-green lawns of the Inn, splashed by the recent rain shower, greeted us with a double rainbow across the sky – definitely a good omen!

At the Little River Inn’s Abalone conference room we were first outfitted with the special goofy crab hats, and then seated around a table with multiple wine glasses in front of every judge. That was the wine tasting portion of the judging – we were supposed to blind-taste 40 wines in eight flights, including sparkling wines, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc, Riesling, gewürztraminer, and rosé to identify not just the best tasting wines, but the ones best paired with Dungeness crab.

Freshly cooked and cleaned, the succulent chunks of sweet California crab arrived in little plates in front of each judge, while the festival volunteers were pouring the wines, produced mostly in the immediate Mendocino area.

The three winning wines were decided upon by the majority of votes, while many of us were having a really hard time making our preferences. By naming the winners here I only want to stick to the facts, not to imply that all other participating wines lacked in anything! That was really an exquisitely capable selection of the best California whites and rosés! The First place was given to 2016 Husch Vineyards sauvignon blanc, the Second place to 2016 Handley Cellars Riesling, and the Third place to 2015 Yorkville Cellars organic Semillon produced in Anderson Valley.

That same evening, we were hospitably invited to the Mendocino Coast Clinics Cioppino Dinner – a family-style celebration for hundreds of local residents, and also a fundraiser at which the Clinics directors, staff, and countless volunteers served piping-hot bowls of seafood stew from a gigantic vat attended by a cool-looking beer-in-hand Cioppino Chef James Hoffman.

The main event of the Festival, Crab Cake Cook-Off and Wine Tasting Competition, was happening the next day, on a Saturday, in downtown Fort Bragg, in The Big White Tent with a “Sold Out!” sign in front of it.

Once again we, the judges, were seated around a big table and supplied with numbered graphs to take notes of the 17(!) competing crab cakes coming from the ambitious chefs of the best Mendocino inns, hotels, restaurants, and wineries.

All imaginable varieties of crab cakes – from lightly- to heavily breaded, from embellished with soft-cooked egg and caviar to smothered in chipotle mayo, and garnished with a variety of sides, like coleslaw, citrus fruit, watercress and microgreens, were brought to our table, some artistically plated, even though the plating was intentionally left out of the score to help us concentrate on the taste and texture of the chefs’ creations.

Once again, the task to pick and choose the winners was not easy. After thorough consideration, the First place was taken by Chef Marc Dym of Little River Inn in Little River, Second place – Chef Andrew Wells of Mendocino Jams & Preserves, and Third place was a tie between Chef Willy Real of Noyo River Grill in Noyo, and Chef Taylor Pedersen of Ukiah Brewing Company in Ukiah.

For my readers’ sake, I’m listing all the other chefs and their respective venues, so when you’ll be driving to Mendocino (hopefully soon!) you’ll know where to look for the succulent crab cakes and other delicious local fare.

The crab cake competition chefs (from Mendocino when location isn’t mentioned): Adam Celaya of Adam’s Restaurant in Willits, Julia Kendrick Conway of Assaggiare Mendocino in Fort Bragg, Jim Modesitt of Maple Creek Winery in Yorkville, Victor Hugo Aguirre and Joe Niesyn of Brewery Gulch Inn, Julian Lopez of Café Beaujolais, Miguel Mex of Café 1 in Fort Bragg, Joe Harris of Cucina Verona in Fort Bragg, Richard Scott Klaisner of The Golden Pig in Hopland, Margaret Fox of Harvest Market in Fort Bragg and Mendocino, Jon Krebs (individual master-chef) from Fort Bragg, Fabrice Dubuc of Noyo Harbor Inn in Fort Bragg, Singyn Hunter of The Inn at Newport Ranch in Westport, Mayra Ahumada and Carlos Villafania of The Q BBQ in Fort Bragg.

There were also People’s Choice Awards. The Best Crab Cakes: First place – Chef Jim Modesitt of Maple Creek Winery, Second place – Chef Taylor Pedersen of Ukiah Brewing Company, and Third place – Chef Marc Dym of Little River Inn. The Best Winery: First place – Maple Creek Winery, Second place – Toulouse Vineyards, and Third place – Scharffenberger Cellars.

As a result of the Festival fundraiser and generous donations from its participants, Mendocino Coast Clinics has reached a new record high of more than $150,000 (www.mendocinocoastclinics.org).

The 20th annual Crab, Wine & Beer Festival is scheduled for January 25-26, 2019. Online ticket sales start on October 15, 2018.

The annual Crab, Wine & Beer Festival is only one of the many culinary-, arts- and sports- events happening in Mendocino County all year round. Find additional information at: www.visitmendocino.com.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Mid-winter my husband and I try to use at least one weekend to travel down south. Since in California both winter and south are relative terms, our trip to Monterey Peninsula takes less than two hours in a car, and mostly coincides with the annual Big Sur Foragers Festival benefiting the Big Sur Health Center.

We are usually staying at our favorite place – Hofsas House Hotel in the fairy-tale town of Carmel-by-the-Sea (this year in a beautifully renovated room with lots of sunlight, luxuriously comfy bed, and pristine spacious bathroom). Every time arriving here, we first of all rush to the ocean, visible from the hotel balconies and terraces, to catch one of those legendary Pacific sunsets and a few distant fountains exhaled by the migrating gray whales, and every time we discover yet another park, beach, or trail, new to us and never seen before. Or maybe those amazing vistas just look different every time, so the sensation of discovery is always present in our adventures in the area.

This time it was Garrapata State Park that greeted us with grassy rolling hills, and sweeping views of the roaring waves under strong whistling wind, scented with seaweed.

When, wrapped in two jackets – my own and my husband’s – and in a scarf around my cap that was trying to fly away I finally got enough ocean air and sunset photos, we returned to town, where a pleasant surprise was awaiting right on Ocean Avenue, the main drag of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

At the new Mediterranean cuisine restaurant, Artemis, with a comprehensive list of rare Turkish wines and a menu filled with exotic delicacies, we were greeted by Oğuzhan Demir (or simply Ozzy) the owner’s son who looked like a movie star manning the bar under the multicolored glass lanterns amid Turkish rugs.

Our server, well versed in the viticulture of Turkey, and with the knowledge of the language, recommended delightful Sevilen wines and traditional dishes – Eggplant Meze, Walnut Ezme, and The King’s Plate, Hünkâr Beğendi made of sautéed lamb in a special sauce over pureed eggplant.

Full to the gills, we also had a dessert, recommended by Ozzy and called Künefe, made of two layers of shredded filo dough stuffed with sweet cheese, baked to golden, and sautéed in syrup, then topped with crushed pistachios and served with ice cream.

My husband’s perfect cup of Turkish coffee filled the dining room with subtle aroma while I was trying to abstain and not to disrupt my night sleep in anticipation of a big day ahead.

This year, the Big Sur Foragers Festival’s main culinary event – the sixth annual Fungus Face Off competition – returned to its feature venue, Ventana Big Sur Ocean Meadow Lawn up on a hill, with spectacular views of the ocean shimmering under the bright sun. What a difference a day makes in California weather!

Clad in sun dresses, tank tops and shorts, festival guests were sampling an array of exciting dishes prepared by the best area chefs and paired with locally produced wines and beer, with the proceeds from all of the events going to support the Big Sur Health Center whose continued presence assures local healthcare services in the Big Sur.

To be fair, and to acknowledge every participant of the Fungus Face Off, simply because everything put up to the public judgement was extraordinarily good, let me list all the chefs/restaurants that showed their mastery with the most exquisite mushroom dishes.

Those were: Roy’s, Carmel Valley Ranch, The Sur House at Ventana Big Sur, Alvarado Street Brewery, A Taste of Elegance, aligned with the local wineries and breweries: Mesa del Sol, Morgan Winery, Bernardus Winery, Comanche Cellars, Mad Otter Ale, Boony Doon Vineyards, Blair Wines, Baker and Brain, Paul Lato Wines, Fillipponi Winery, Alvarado Street Brewery (who also did a chef’s presentation), Fly Wheel Wine, and Chappellet Vineyards.

Other participants included the Marketplace vendors and tastings from Carmel Honey Company, Quail and Olive amazing original oils and vinegars, and Percy Pies.

Later that night, we had a plateful of flash-fried Monterey calamari and some panko-crusted sand dabs at the picturesque, over-the-water time-honored dining establishment – the Beach House restaurant and bar at Lovers Point.

Happy to make it back to the Hofsas House in time for sunset, we were clicking away with our cameras, joined by a few groups of international guests of the beloved hotel.

For those who plan to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea this year, Hofsas House offers several lucrative special packages:

Get Artsy Package includes a stay in the Room 47 — painted by Diego Rivera’s student, Maxine Albro, who also created the famous hotel’s Bavarian-themed mural. Mention the Hofsas House “Get Artsy” package with the code “HHArt” and receive a gourmet cheese tray and bottle of wine upon arrival. Hofsas House can help arrange a tour of Carmel’s art galleries and artists’ studios with Carmel Art Tours. Discover secret passageways and visit hand-picked galleries with an opportunity for a chance encounter with an artist at work in a Carmel studio. Cost is $25 per person, reservations are required, and participants meet for the tour at Carmel Visitors Center. Info at www.carmelarttours.com, or 800-979-3370.

Wine and Chocolate Package allows to upgrade your stay with a four pack of handcrafted artisanal sea salt caramels from Monterey’s Lula’s Chocolates and a bottle of award-winning Monterey County wine. Monterey County produces 42 different varietals of high-quality award-winning wines, especially Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For this special package choose either a Monterey County Chardonnay or Pinot Noir from a personally selected list of wines.

Lula’s Chocolates, founded by Scott Lund, are made the old-fashioned way, using recipes passed down from Scott’s grandmother, Lula herself. Each small batch is hand-dipped and deliciously fresh. Cost for this wine-and-chocolate package is $25. Use the code HHChoc when booking.

Tail-Wagging Package includes a complimentary “Doggie Welcome Package” upon arrival with Hofsas House dog Frisbee, Hofsas House collapsible dog bowl, special dog bed, a letter from Tank, the onsite Pet Concierge, special dog amenities package, tips and recommendations for your four-legged friend’s stay, walking trail and hiking guide, a package of treats, and Coastal Canine Magazine offering the best four-legged options for visiting Carmel. This package requires a minimum two-night stay, $30 fee per night for one dog and $50 per night for two dogs.

Relax at Cinq Mondes Spa Carmel is the French cosmetic company’s first and only Cinq Mondes spa in the United States and serves as the company’s flagship location in the U.S. at the Crossroads Shopping Center in Carmel. Hofsas House is partnering with Cinq Mondes to offer guests a spa package that includes a 60-minute massage or facial. Cinq Mondes’ signature facial is the anti-aging “Ko-Bi-Do” with unique use of Dermapuncture, or “acupuncture without needles.” Its signature massage is the Moroccan massage. $120 per massage or facials. All Hofsas House guests will get a special gift from Cinq Monde. This special package must be booked at least 72 hours in advance and is subject to availability.

More information at: www.hofsashouse.com, www.carmelcalifornia.com, www.artemiscarmel.com, www.bigsurhealthcenter.org.

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When one thinks of Denver Colorado, often the first thing that comes to mind is The Mile-High City because its elevation is exactly one mile (5,280 feet) above sea level, making it the highest major city in the United States. Because it is only about 12 miles east of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is an outdoor city with 85 miles of paved bicycle trails and 800 red bikes at 87 stations (bike share program). One can ski and snowboard in the winter and hike, climb and camp out in the summer. That proximity and the many days of sunny weather, with an average year-round temperature of 64 degrees, led to the city being named in 2016 as the best place to live in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. The metro area population has approximately 2.9 million people. Since the 2010 census there has been an almost 16% increase in population with very little unemployment. I saw construction cranes everywhere and was told that one large builder offers scholarships at a local college for students completing a course dealing with building construction. They could not find enough qualified workers for their open jobs. Businesses headquartered there include: Molson Coors Brewing Company, Newmont Mining Corporation (second-largest gold producer in North America) and MapQuest. Other large employers include: Lockheed Martin Corp., United Airlines and Kroger Company. I was told that Smashburger, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Quiznos were founded in Denver. Did I mention the 35 breweries on the Denver Beer Trail with over 100 different brewpubs and breweries in the metro area? www.visitdenver.com.

I was the guest of Visit Denver for my four-day visit that included airfare from NYC and the availability of Hermes Worldwide limo service while in town. Airport to hotel; hotel to downtown for my walking tour and then back to the hotel. Downtown for a free day of touring and to my new hotel The Brown Palace. Finally, back to the airport and home. Founded in 2007 by Jorge Sanchez and his wife Rocio, Hermes Worldwide has 30 vehicles and the best and most professional staff I have ever encountered. A big shout out to them for making my trip so enjoyable. www.hermesworldwide.com.

I was in town for the Denver International Wine Festival run by Chris & Darcy Davies and their company Wine Country Network (I write for their magazine). Named “One of the Best Wine and Food Festivals in America” by Food & Wine Magazine. www.denverwinefest.com, www.winecountrynetwork.com.

I was a guest of the Denver Marriott Westminster Hotel that was the site for the 13th annual wine festival. Located a half hour from the airport and equidistant from downtown Denver, Boulder and Golden, it has 215 rooms with a fitness center and indoor pool. I found it very convenient to ride down the elevator and into the wine festival. www.denvermarriottwestminster.com.

Thursday night was the Pairsine Chefs Fine Food & Wine Competition with 10 chefs/restaurants in addition to vendors for non-wine products. The silent auction items benefited There With Care. There was a VIP early admission area that included wine seminars and a private room with a raw seafood bar and premium cocktails and additional wines available. VIP admission- $195; regular admission- $120.

Friday night was the Grand Tasting of International Wines that had 80 wineries and distillers with food and food products as well as wine accessories and another silent auction- VIP- $175; regular- $95.

The following is an overview from both of my walking tours (the second one occurred when I moved to the Brown Palace Hotel located downtown). In addition, the nice drivers from Hermes pointed out many of the sites before dropping me off. I did not visit any museums or any of the sports venues.

Visit Denver arranged a walking tour of downtown Denver that started at Union Station. My guide was Austin and he knew his stuff. Union Station is a working transit station that was built in 1917 and was renovated starting in 2002. There is an Amtrak hub and bus concourse. The neighborhood is called LoDo (Lower Downtown and it is within walking distance of the financial center). Behind the station there is a light rail system that one can ride to the airport for a cost of $9. The station reminds me of NYC’s Grand Central Station with its dining options and boutiques. I only wished New Yorkers had a train to the plane. In addition, there is a hotel- The Crawford within the station (I hope the rooms are soundproof- they are). I relaxed on the benches and people watched. Everything was so clean for a working terminal. www.unionstationindenver.com.

Larimer Square is home to many restaurants, shops and nightlife venues. Located between 14th and 15th streets on Larimer I did not stop at any of its stores but did notice several street performers. www.larimersquare.com

The 16th Street Mall is to Denver what Rodeo Drive is to Los Angeles. This mile-long pedestrian thoroughfare, which stretches across the southern end of the LoDo district and bypasses Larimer Square, is lined with a variety of stores, restaurants and entertainment venues, making it a popular place to visit. My only problem was the homeless population who often sit along the mall and/or in the parks. I never felt threatened especially with the large police presence. I am told outdoor smoking is now banned along the mall. www.16thstreetmalldenver.com.

Denver Pavilions- On the 16th St Mall- 40 stores and restaurants- retail/entertainment center. http://www.denverpavilions.com/

If you’re not up for walking, hop aboard the free 16th Street Mall Ride shuttle bus, which passes by every few minutes and stops at every street corner. After sundown, skip the bus and opt for a horse-and-carriage ride instead. http://www.rtd-denver.com/FREEMallRide.shtml

Rockmount Ranch Wear is a three-generation business started by Jack A. Weil (1901-2008) who worked until age 107 and was the oldest working CEO in the US. He introduced the first western shirts with snaps and also made the first commercially produced bolo ties. www.rockmount.com

Tattered Cover Book Store is a large indie bookstore and cafe furnished with comfortable sofas and overstuffed chairs. I rested on one of those chairs while sipping tea. They sell new and used books. www.tatteredcover.com

Named for Denver’s famed beer, Coors Field in Denver’s LoDo district is home to Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies. The stadium occupies over 75 acres and has a capacity of more than 50,000. I was told that attendees could sample some of Denver’s local brews on the Rooftop, a 38,000-square-foot platform with fantastic views of the field and downtown Denver. http://www.rockies.com/

Sports Authority Field (company is bankrupt so I guess they will need a new name) at Mile High (known to Denverites as just “Mile High Stadium”) is home to the NFL Denver Broncos’. It can seat more than 76,000 fans and it boasts something you don’t normally associate with football games- public art displays. http://www.sportsauthorityfieldatmilehigh.com/

Pepsi Center is home to the Denver Nuggets (Basketball), Colorado Avalanche (hockey), Colorado Mammoth (lacrosse) & over 200 events. Seating capacity is almost 20,000. http://www.pepsicenter.com/

The Colorado State Capitol Building is the home of the Colorado General Assembly and the offices of the Governor of Colorado. It was constructed in the 1890s from Colorado white granite. The distinctive gold dome consists of real gold leaf added in 1908. The building sits slightly higher than the rest of downtown Denver. The official elevation of Denver is measured outside the west entrance to the building, where the thirteenth step is engraved with the words “One Mile Above Sea Level.” https://www.colorado.gov/

The River North Art District “where art is made” goes by the nickname of “RiNo” and has even adopted a rhino design for its official logo. https://rinoartdistrict.org/

Lunch was at the Central market- www.denvercentralmarket.com

Denver’s gourmet food hall and grocery, located in RiNo. Showcasing 11 of Denver’s top chefs and food purveyors. I choose Vero- with hand-made pasta and wood-fired pizza.

After lunch I walked down Larimer Street to Our Mutual Friend Brewery. They were not open but a knock at the door and voila I was able to spend ½ hour talking to the brew master. It opened in 2012 with the goal of creating a place for community through their small neighborhood taproom. http://www.omfbeer.com/

A few blocks away were The Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery. Here I only had to wait a few minutes for them to open for the day. I tried portable, single-serve canned wine that was available in white, red, rose, Moscato, Dry Hopped Pear Cider and Dry Hopped Sauvignon Blanc. http://www.theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com/

Briefly stopped into The Source, which is a European-style artisan food market in RiNo. Housed in a 1880s ironworks building, it has a bakery, coffee roaster, taqueria, brewery, butcher, produce vendor, bottle shop, bank, wood-fired restaurant, florist, cocktail bar, cheese shop, and design store. www.thesourcedenver.com

Shipping Container Project at 25th and Larimer in RiNo is a mixed-use complex comprised of 8,200 sq. ft. of mixed retail and office space, built using 29 reclaimed shipping containers. www.streetshope.org/container-project

Five Points is on the northeast side of Downtown Denver’s central business district. It has been called the Harlem of the West. I loved the small mainly single family, well kept homes but wondered if development was down the road. I noted many homeowners walking to work. https://www.denver.org/about-denver/neighborhood-guides/five-points//

The Big Blue Bear looking into the Convention Center- The 40-foot-high bear is the creation of local artist Lawrence Argent. It was installed in 2005 and has quickly become a bona fide Mile High City icon. www.denverconvention.com

Denver Performing Arts Complex- 10 performance spaces (4 block area)- second largest performing arts complex under one roof. https://www.denvercenter.org/

Street Art- Many of the works were business or community commissioned, while others were unsanctioned paintings or graffiti — all are in the open air for anyone to view and enjoy. They are often found in alleyways, under bridges or in abandoned lots.

Chris Davies drove me from the Marriott to my overnight stay at the legendary Brown Palace Hotel. On the way we had breakfast at Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen. There was a 15-minute wait just to place your order but it was worth the wait. And that is from a New Yorker who loves the Second Ave. Deli, Katz’s and Zabar’s. Owner Joshua Pollack had great bagels, smoked fish, salads and pastries. www.rosenbergsbagels.com

The 241-room Brown Palace Hotel (AAA Four Diamond) and Spa was built in 1892 in the Italian Renaissance style using sandstone and red granite. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the second-longest operating hotel in Denver and one of the first atrium-style hotels ever built. It joined Marriott’s Autograph Collection Hotels in 2012. It was named for its original owner, Henry C. Brown, who donated 10 acres for the new capitol building. The hotel was built on a triangular piece of land with an iron and steel frame covered with cement and sandstone and was one of America’s first fireproof structures. There are six tiers of cast iron balconies to the stained glass skylight. The spa opened in 2005. The silver drinking fountain in the lobby is from the hotels artesian well located 750 feet beneath the hotel. An escalator to the second floor was added in 1959 to cross over Tremont Street to the now named Holiday Inn Express (22 story- 231 rooms). The spa is located on the fifth floor of this property. There are free-guided tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3PM for overnight guests. The honey from rooftop bee colony is used in the spa products sold in the hotel. Afternoon tea is a highlight as is Ellyngton’s Sunday Champagne brunch (which I attended). Costs start at $53.95. Children 6-12 cost $20.95 and those under 5 are free. Add $10 if you want Domaine Chandon California sparkling wine; $73.95 for Moet & Chandon. Dom Perignon is $315 a bottle.

I met with Udit Dang the Director of Food & Beverage; Christopher Rogers the manager of Ellynton’s and Christopher J. Messler the Palace Arms manager & sommelier for a tour of the beverage facilities. There are 800 plus wines on the list with over 6,000 bottles in storage. The best selling high-end wines include: 1985 Petrus and 1982 Cos d’Estournel. For the wine by the glass program Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Rombauer Chardonnay and Prisoner Zinfandel do exceptionally well. The Palace Arms is open for dinner and Churchill’s Bar serves as a cigar Lounge (grandfathered in before the no smoking rules took effect). Ship Tavern opened in 1934 and serves lunch & dinner. Ellyngton’s was a 1940’s jazz club purported named after Duke Ellington. I assume there are legal reasons why the name of the restaurant is spelled differently. It is open for breakfast & lunch. The hotel also holds six wine dinners a year for 20-30 people with winemaker/owners speaking. www.brownpalace.com

Chris & Darcy Davies took me out for dinner on my last night driving about ½ hour from my downtown hotel to the area around Red Rocks Park. It is a mountain park in Jefferson County, Colorado owned and maintained by the city of Denver as part of the Denver Mountain Parks system. The park is known for its very large red sandstone outcrops. Within the park boundaries is the Red Rocks Amphitheater, a world-famous venue that added seats in 1941 and hosts many concerts and other events. www.theredrocksamphitheater.com

We ate dinner at The Fort Restaurant- The Fort is a western restaurant located just southwest of Denver. It sells sells more buffalo steaks than any other independently owned restaurant in the country. Featuring fine beef, buffalo, game and seafood, The Fort’s menu offers a tantalizing selection of old and new foods from the Early West. The place was packed but management kept a table for us. http://thefort.com

My four days in Denver were eye opening. I love NYC and where I live on the Upper West Side. If I ever did decide to move Denver would be my first choice.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Traveling to Ashland, Oregon, is enticing and rewarding all year round. For a relatively small urban area (population below 22,000) it has an enormous amount of festive public events to enjoy, excellent wineries, breweries, and restaurants, and – tax free shopping to cherry-top your cake! In winter, there’s Festival of Light, Victorian Christmas Celebration, Rogue Winter Fest, and Festival of Trees. In spring, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Pear Blossom Festival, Oregon Cheese Festival, and Oregon Chocolate Festival. In summer, 4th of July Celebrations, Medford Beer Week, Britt Music and Art Festival, and Oregon Wine Experience. Finally, in the fall, there’s Ashland Culinary Festival, Southern Oregon Music Festival, and Harvest Festival. Not to mention the most famous of them all, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, founded in 1935, that goes on every year from early spring to late fall, and produces eleven plays on three stages every season.

The culinary festival became a reason forme and my husband to drive up north from our California home at the very beginning of November, when San Francisco’s East Bay inland temperatures refused to go down, and the sweltering summery heat infused with post-fires’ residual smoke was becoming a nuisance.

We were hoping for the healing powers of Ashland that manifest themselves not only in the mineral springs that bubble to the surface from the Earth’s crust, but also in the serenity of the surrounding nature and in the unhurried balanced lifestyle of its residents.

Passing the snow-capped Mount Shasta on our way, we were pulling out our winter coats faced with the freshness of Oregon air; reminded once again of the Russian origins of the word Shasta (which means “happiness”).

A short drive and walk around the city yielded plenty of poetic views of leafy trees changing color, Ashland Creek running among the old grows of Lithia Park, and even a couple of deer grazing peacefully in someone’s front yard one block off the main drag.

We were taken by the quiet beauty of red, orange, and yellow leaves shining line precious jewels against the cloudy sky. I was thinking of how important it was to see this tempest of colors, to feel the autumnal air, to walk in silence, and – to sip from a public drinking fountain some Lithia water, so called because of natural lithium oxide deposits that presumably produce a healing tonic effect…

 

Upon checking in at the Lithia Springs Resort, we were greeted by the friendly staff, and immediately invited to the afternoon tea that is taking place daily in the beautifully decorated Tea Room, Library and lobby with a fireplace, designed by the owner/creative director, Becky Neuman.

High-quality tea, home-made scones with lemon curd and jam, and fresh berries were surely rejuvenating after a long drive, and made us feel welcome, however, the best was yet to come.

What a wonderful surprise was awaiting in our Hillside King Suite, overlooking a wooded hill in fall colors, and with a large tub to enjoy a hot mineral bath right in our bedroom!

A two-sided fireplace, open to the bedroom and to the spacious living room, a cozy kitchenette with a breakfast nook, and a plush sofa with a coffee table and armchairs – the suite was luxurious, and oh so welcoming!

It seemed there was no necessity to go outside, if it weren’t for the 11th Annual Ashland Culinary Festival Kickoff Event that was happening at the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites and included Celebrity Quick-Fire Cooking Challenge, the 2nd annual Mixology competition where local bartenders competed for the title of Top Mixologist, wine tastings by the Bear Creek Wine Trail, and small bites from the best Ashland restaurants.

The Cooking Challenge Teams were studded with celebrities: Judge and Emcee Cory Schreiber & Rolar Yondorf, a former Festival Judge, from Porters Restaurant; Judge Fabiola Donnelly & Chef Kate Cyr, the Festival Committee Member, from the Neuman Hotel Group; Judge John Ash & Dennis Slattery, a former Festival Emcee, Ashland City Councilor and SOU Professor; Top Chef 2007 & 2008, Neil Clooney of Smithfields & Trish Glose from KTVL Channel 10.

Bartenders from eight distinctive restaurants took part in the 2017 Mixology Competition: Arturo Almazan – Smithfields Pub & Pies; Freddie Herrera – Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge and Garden; .Jess Jeffery – Alchemy Restaurant & Bar; Ross Jones – Larks Restaurant; Sondra Mayer – Brickroom; Blake Satre – Ostras Tapas and Bottle Shop; Saphire Stevens – Oberon’s Restaurant and Bar, and Greg Waites – Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant.

The next day, hands-on culinary workshops were held at different locations, spreading throughout the city, and the 2017 Junior Chef Competition showcased Junior Chef Teams of Ashland High School – China Larsen & Quinn Vogel; North Medford High School – Coy Wimberly & Dezmond Barros; South Medford High School – Chase Tonini & Kyle Smith; Grants Pass High School – Kassidy Kipert & Cecil Dowdy.

Junior Chef Competition was followed by a daily festival program, Sip, Sample, and Taste with a long list of vendors, and Chefs Competition of 12 local chefs competing while using ingredients from local farms and artisans. This competition went on for two days, and involved the following chefs and restaurants: Josh Dorcak – MÄS; Brent Herud – Larks Restaurant; Melissa McMillan – Sammich; William Shine – Hearsay Restaurant; Shawn Alamo – The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant; Javier Cruz – Simple Café; Skye Elder – Brickroom; Alfredo Nava – Omar’s Fresh Seafood and Steaks; Stefano Cipollone – Standing Stone Brewing Co.; James “Cyrus” Gray – Southern Oregon University (The Hawk Dining); Tony Efstratiadis – Plancha; and Jackson Kelsay – Amuse Restaurant.

We were pleased to check out Luna Café & Mercantile, located right there, where the Festival headquarters were, in the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites – very modern, with astronomy-themed decor. By using products grown and raised in Oregon, namely in the Rogue and Applegate valleys, the restaurant supports local farmers and artisans, and serves the freshest, healthiest food as well as local wines and cheeses, specialty coffee and handmade chocolate treats.

Free range rotisserie chicken with herb relish, and burgers with Tillamook cheddar and Luna sauce on a house bun are some of the delicious hits of the menu!

For a formal dinner with great cocktails and wine, we headed to Larks restaurant in the iconic Ashland Springs Hotel – the most prominent and famous landmark of the city.

White wine and garlic steamed mussels, pork osso bucco with celeriac potato puree and wilted spinach, and local rabbit cacciatore with house-made pappardelle, bacon, and manchego black pepper sour cream were surely memorable creations of the “home kitchen cuisine” by the Executive Chef Franco Console, followed by the flourless chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert.

Our short “long weekend” in Ashland proved to be relaxing, healing, and energizing. To learn more, visit: www.travelashland.com, www.ashlandchamber.com, and www.neumanhotelgroup.com.

 

Photography by Emma Krasov

Taiwan’s growing prosperity, its high tech developing alongside upscale retail and hospitality, the freedom-loving stance and the innate friendliness of Taiwanese people, many of whom speak good English, make this East Asian country an attractive vacation spot for American tourists.

I was fortunate to visit the tropical island before and during one of the major annual events – 2017 Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade – the largest in Asia, attended by more than a 100 000 people, that was taking place in the capital city of Taipei. The 15th Taiwan LGBT Pride started on a warm October Saturday morning on Ketagalan Boulevard, between the Presidential Office building and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and proceeded in three directions, looping back to the thoroughfare, where the main stage was set for the community activists, famous musicians, and representatives of LGBT organizations from Taiwan, Japan and Korea.

This year advocacy theme was “Make Love, Not War – Sex Ed is the Way to Go” stressing the importance of gender equality, sex education and a humanistic approach to sex and gender issues without discrimination and stigma.

The message of acceptance sounded loud and clear in the Pride chanting, “No matter who you are, no matter who you love, stand proud!” Topical activities of the event included Gender Equality Education, Social Movement Stand Together, and Marriage Equality – the latter expected to be finally legalized in Taiwan in two years term.

A giant rainbow flag, almost the length of a city block, carried by dozens of college students and members of non-governmental organizations; elaborate costumes, music, laughter, and a generous scattering of rainbow crowns, ribbons, fans, and plumes turned the always busy, congested with traffic capital of Taiwan into a festive flowerbed, studded with happy smiling faces.

What an amazing show of unity and joy! This reporter was especially impressed with the seemingly self-regulated crowd. Not a single episode of rudeness, impatience, or any kind of conflict. A lone protester with a sign invoking religious prohibitions on homosexuality was guarded by two police officers, but the biggest harm done to him or any of the parade participants was the incessant flashing of photo cameras.

By the time evening traffic started to accumulate, rainbow-marked guys and girls dispersed into buses, subway trains, and to the surrounding streets on foot, mixing with the daily crowd, entering it as a part and parcel of the big city.

Our group of American travel journalists, in Taipei primarily for the Pride, had nevertheless a full tourist program, exploring the gorgeous island with its natural wonders, historical monuments, and superb culinary scene.

From the windows of AMBA Taipei Songshan, a new boutique design hotel – a playful brand, originated in Hong Kong – near Xinyi shopping and business district, we took our first glance at the Keelung River, circling the city in the north, and at the bamboo-shaped Taipei 101 Observatory, not long ago the tallest building in the world.

A tour of the 101-story tower included and exhilarating elevator ride that took us from the 5th to 89th floor in 37 seconds; breathtaking panoramic views of the city and its environs, and a gourmet lunch at the world-famous Din Tai Fung on the ground floor of the observation tower.

Here, in the spacious dining room, separated by a glass wall from a pristine kitchen, where all workers were clad in white sanitary suits and masks, our group was greeted by my Taiwanese namesake, Emma, a deputy supervisor of catering department.

The young woman with an infectious smile, dressed for business, and speaking effortless English, she conveyed to us the history of the notorious dumpling restaurant, awarded multiple stars, medals, and mentions by the international foodie authorities. According to the legend of Din Tai Fung, it all started in a cooking oil retail shop back in 1958 that gradually turned into a “fast food” restaurant specializing in xiao long bao, or “soup dumplings” made with pork meat and pork fat jelly that turns into aromatic liquid during steaming.

The original process of kneading, rolling, filling, folding (18 folds, no less no more) and steaming the dumplings is still meticulously followed in all the kitchens of Din Tai Fung in more than 100 locations all over the world, and of course in its flagship restaurant in Taipei. Only now more than 50 kinds of dumplings, wontons, buns, noodles, and rice dishes grace the menu, appreciated by the tourists as well as regulars who dine here a few times a week.

That is not to say that other restaurants lack fans among the local and international visitors. Some of the highlights of Taiwanese cuisine, like steamed fish, crab with bamboo shoots, thousand year egg, black chicken soup, and countless others can be enjoyed in practically every small or large eatery throughout the country.

Before we left Taipei for further exploration, we visited a festive night market – one of several, each stall teeming with eager customers attracted by the delicate aromas of pork buns, green onion crepes, and other amazingly enticing local dishes.

We also spent a good chunk of time in two remarkable museums, representing the historical past and the assertive future of the country. The National Palace Museum contains immense treasures of the Chinese imperial court, transported to Taiwan for safekeeping after the fall of the last dynasty. Among the most popular exhibits at the museum is jadeite cabbage, carved from a single stone with auspicious color variations, presenting the humble vegetable in a noble form of an exquisite art piece. The never-yielding crowd around the display case wouldn’t let me take a good picture of the precious artifact, so I had to settle for a back view that still conveys the fragile elegance of the awesome work.

MOCA Taipei, Museum of Contemporary Art, brings to the public attention the bold and edgy art created here and now. During our visit, a major exhibition, called “Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now” created in collaboration with The Sunpride Foundation curated by Sean C. S. Hu was on display, showcasing 22 artists from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

On our way to the city of Taichung via HSR high speed rail, we spent a wonderful sunny day at the serene Sun Moon Lake, taking a boat tour and then cycling to Xian Shan visitor center, where we could see the open air exhibition of bonsai and decorative arts against a backdrop of the turquoise lake. At least four-five weddings were conducting their photoshoots along the shores.

At lunch at Lusihan – an aboriginal restaurant – we’ve not only tried the most exotic foods, like “wax apples” stuffed with dried shrimp and seaweed, and sticky rice baked and served in bamboo cups, but also learned about the tribal history of Taiwan – of 16 different tribes composing the island nation.

The Lin Hotel Taichung welcomed us into its luxurious fold offering boldly decorated rooms in red, gold, and black-and-white; supremely comfortable beds, and a breakfast hall filled with freshly made wonders of all imaginable cuisines.

The day program started with a visit to the historic 1927 Miyahara building – formerly a Japanese eye doctor’s hospital, currently the sought after Dawn Bakery, where dressed in Japanese military uniform sales clerks dish out samples of heavenly cheesecakes, and give cautionary warnings on expiration dates of pineapple cakes and mooncakes, packed in dainty boxes made of Japanese wrapping paper.

Then we headed to a fun and exciting Pearl Milk Tea Workshop with Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House. In a special classroom on the top floor of a popular restaurant we were educated on producing the real original bubble tea, invented here four decades ago by the founder Liu Han-Chien. We learned the difference between bubble tea (shaken into foam) and boba tea (with added tapioca pearls), and upon successful completion of our course each of us received a certificate of our iced tea mastery!

Traversing the entire country, next we landed in the Southern city of Tainan, a former capital, densely populated with historical monuments, like Chihkan Tower (Fort Provintia) a former Dutch outpost on Formosa, built in 1653 during the Dutch colonization of Taiwan, and Anping Old Fort near a “tree house” – a skeleton of an ancient structure completely overwhelmed by an overgrown banyan tree.

We marveled at the enlightened austerity of Tainan Confucius Temple and at the lavish gilded décor of The Grand Matsu Temple, a.k.a. the Great Queen of Heaven Temple, where at the time of our visit middle-aged priestesses in bright-yellow silk robes performed a ceremony to the sound of drums.

At the Du Hsiao Yueh noodle house we all took the same picture of a beautiful blue and white plate of noodles with a bright orange shrimp on top – the same that serves as the restaurant’s logo and is served to every diner who ever ventures in.

At the designer boutique hotel, Jia-Jia at West Market, we slept in artfully decorated rooms, ate at a communal table in the cozy lobby filled with inventive artwork, and participated in one of the hotel’s cultural activities – a kind of a cosplay, when we all donned Taiwanese garb, offered by the staff, and walked around in it through the lively stalls of the historic West Market. Apparently, the hotel CEO, also an artist, creates these fashions from vintage fabrics, formerly found at the West Market. She offers her guests an opportunity to try them on and walk in them, reaching a double goal – to familiarize foreigners with the traditional Taiwanese attire, and to remind the locals of their national traditions.

Posing for a group photo in my gorgeous vintage dress (which I eventually bought from the hotel and brought home to wear on special occasions) I thought that traveling in a company of gay men – well-mannered, kind and with a great sense of humor – for moi had its undeniable advantage.

More information on Taiwan travel at: www.taiwan.net.tw.

Photography by Emma Krasov

When I told my friend that I wouldn’t be able to join her in Hawai’i because I couldn’t miss a culinary trip to Austria on the same dates we were planning, she smirked and said, “What culinary – sausage?”

Oh, if only she knew…

I want this story that I’ll unfold here like a picnic tablecloth for her and for you, to be an eye-opening testimonial to the true character of Austrian cuisine – bold and beautiful, yet modest and dignified – exquisitely artful, and filled with joy of life.

Arriving via always cordial Austrian Airlines on a warm September day, I checked into Altstadt Vienna in the city center, and immediately felt at home. The hotel was located in a repurposed apartment building from 1902, very similar to the one I used to live in in the Old Country… Guest rooms with high ceilings, double doors, and windows open to the fresh autumnal air, smiley polite service, and the contemporary art collection scattered throughout tiled hallways and wrought iron staircases – everything was welcoming, neat, and unmistakably European. Beautifully served breakfast with assorted fresh breads, cold cuts and made to order eggs (pouched in champagne sauce on my first morning!) in addition to homemade coffee cakes and high-quality teas set the mood for an exciting culinary exploration ahead.

Our group gathered and met with Bianca Gusenbauer of First Vienna Food Tour company by the Viennese most famous landmark, the Secession Building – a masterpiece of Art Nouveau nicknamed “The Golden Cabbage” by the sharp-tongued Viennese.

We’ve immediately learned a few things from our guide – that it’s mandatory to look in each other’s eyes while saying “Prost!” (yes, we started the tour with some Austrian sparkling); that on the map Austria looks like Wiener Schnitzel, its most famous dish, and that charcuterie is considered a good dinner in Austria while hot hearty meals are reserved for lunch.

On our walk through the Naschmarkt, the most important produce market in Vienna, we noshed on a variety of Austrian foodstuffs, from a golden-fried lake trout at Umar restaurant and cave-aged cheeses at Käsehütte to “blue poppy” Zotter chocolate and cloudy semi-fermented Sturm wine, only available for a couple weeks in season.

We concluded our exciting learning experience with Bianca at Café Sperl, in existence since 1880, where Imre Kálmán, Franz Lehár and a host of other composers, artists, writers, and high government officials indulged in the same atmosphere of marble tables, red velvet banquettes, and matt light fixtures as well as coffee and sweets we were enjoying on our tour – Mélange and Einspänner, Sachertorte, Apfelstrudel, Mohnzelten, and other purely Austrian delights.

Viennese culinary surprises continued to unfold in front of us. Tian, a Michelin-star vegetarian restaurant, led by Chef Paul Ivić, presented a five-course completely meatless tasting menu that sparkled with bright colors and imaginative ingredient combinations putting together pumpkin with apple and cardamom, celeriac with egg and edamame, and zucchini with mushrooms and capers to the most delightful effect. A desert course consisted of peach ice cream with dates and rose petal sauce.

Edible flowers made their appearance in a unique confectioner’s shop, Blühendes Konfekt, created by Michael Diewald. The “Blooming Confections” enthusiast picks most of his ingredients in his own garden and in the forests that surround the city. He dries petals, leaves, and whole inflorescences, and encases them in glittering sugar, creating one-of-a-kind fairy-tale stuffing and toppings for his pralines, marmalades and pastilles.

Thoroughly enchanted by Viennese cuisine, we headed south for Graz, the capital of Styria – one of Austria’s nine administrative regions, known for its forests and vineyards, mountainous lakes and apple orchards.

The most famous foodstuff in Styria is nicknamed “Austrian black gold,” but in reality its complex color palette differs from shades of emerald green to reddish-purple, colliding on the edges of a dense reflective black liquid. This is pumpkin seed oil, Kernöl, fragrant and delicious, rich and nutty, easily transforming any ordinary soup, salad, and even ice cream into a heavenly treat.

Our group was admitted to a special event – Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil Tasting in a private room of Gasthaus Stainzerbauer – a restaurant in existence since the 19th century, located in one of the oldest houses of the inner city near Graz Cathedral.

A licensed nutritionist with a degree in science, Theresia Fastian, engaged us in a lively presentation on historical facts and cultivation of the pumpkin, traditional processing of oil, nutrients and tips on usage, and finally sensory experience and tasting. For comparison, we were offered five samples of pumpkin seed oil from different origins, and after her short lecture were able to easily identify the winners of real Styrian product annual competition vs. cheap knock-offs readily available on the world market, but not worth using for food.

For the occasion, the restaurant prepared a special menu of pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed oil, meat roast with red wine sauce, and everyone’s favorite vanilla ice cream with pumpkin seed oil and seeds.

After a good night sleep at the historic Wiesler Hotel (since 1909) overlooking Schlossberg – the castle hill in the heart of the city with an ancient fortress and the world-famous Uhrturm (a clock tower and a symbol of Graz) we embarked on a walking tour of the city and marveled at the tempestuous river Mur at the high level, with an artificial island Murinsel in the middle of it. The mussel-shaped swimming platform that lights alien-blue in the dark was designed by an American architect, Vito Acconci in 2003, when Graz was appointed the European Capital of Culture. The same year and for the same occasion an art museum, Kunsthaus Graz, was built, looking like a space ship from a faraway galaxy, and locally known as “Friendly Alien.”

After a visit to the colorful Graz produce and flower market, overflowing with seasonal bounty of apples, mushrooms, pumpkins, asters, and dahlias, we sat down for lunch at a posh Restaurant Carl by Philipp Haiges near the Opera House.  A delicate filet of trout (Austria’s favorite fish) with roasted red beets and herbed sour cream was a great example of the elegant seasonal cuisine widely consumed in the country in midday.

We tried several other local favorites. At the Delikatessen Frankowitsch, a deli institution from 1932, where city dwellers are queuing up around the block for the picturesque open-face sandwiches, we had Campari cocktails at the pop-up Campari bar.

At Bar Albert on the pedestrian-friendly Herrengasse, we sampled the famous Styrian Vulcano ham, aged for six months and marinated in herbs, and aged sheep cheese from the volcanic region in the vicinity of Graz.

At Landhauskeller, inside the oldest Renaissance building in Styria, we indulged in the traditional Styrian fried chicken, and in Schlossberg Restaurant high above the city, near the iconic clock tower – in more pumpkin soup with Kernöl and house-made dumplings with seasonal mushrooms, stewed tomatoes, and mountainous cheese.

In search of more Austrian culinary discoveries our group also visited Salzburg and SalzburgerLand – one of the most beautiful places in the world – with green pastures and blue lakes, framed by snowy peaks of the majestic Alps, where farm-to-table cuisine is an inherent part of the lifestyle, and not a passing fad.

Our first stop in the area was at Wirtshaus Döllerer in a small village of Golling. Dirndl-clad waitresses promptly put on the table bottles of Stiegl beer from the oldest brewery in Austria, in operation since 1492, and slate boards with freshly baked bread, butter, volcano ham, and a Kernöl dip studded with dark-green pumpkin seeds.

Chef Andreas Döllerer, a winner of multiple awards, and a cookbook author of “Cuisine Alpine,” puts on the table authentic Austrian dishes from his native region, like seasonal young venison in red wine and mushroom gravy, and Bluntau Valley char with local vegetables and horseradish.

After a hearty lunch, we headed to Fürstenhof dairy in Kuchl, where a healthy herd of Jersey cows provides enough milk for a fully operational cheese factory and almost daily cheese-making classes that attract tourists and locals alike. At an impromptu cheese tasting we familiarized ourselves with a variety of Alpine cheeses – from mild and creamy to sharp and fragrant.

Upon reaching our beautiful Hotel Gmachl, the oldest family-run business in Austria, located in the town of Elixhausen, we had just enough time to swim a few laps in an infinity pool in the hotel spa with glass walls, overlooking the village and the Alps above it, before sitting down to a well-prepared and beautifully served dinner of beef consommé with semolina dumpling, meatball, and strudel, and other Austrian specialties.

Next day, Friday, on our visit to Salzburg, we appeared right in the middle of a festive weekend celebration dedicated to St. Rupert, the patron saint of the Austrian state of Salzburg. The entire city center turned into an old-fashioned fairgrounds with pretzel- and sausage stands, carousels, and a lively crowd dressed in dirndls and lederhosen.

On a food tour of Salzburg with our guide, Astrid Zehentmayer from Salzburg for You company, we visited Rigler’s oil, vinegar, and spice shop, and sampled some of its distinct blends; stopped by the oldest bakery in Salzburg that dates back to the 12th century – Stiftsbäckerei St. Peter on Kapitelplatz, and tried bland, flour-and-water bread, prepared by the same ancient recipe; and indulged in a real original Mozartkugel a.k.a. Mozart ball, produced by Fürst in 1890. The company shop on Brodgasse is still selling the same fine chocolates with marzipan center, wrapped in silver and blue foil with the genius composer’s silhouette.

A delicious break at the oldest continuously operating coffee house in Austria, Cafe Tomaselli, yielded lavish coffee drinks and pastries, delivered to our table on a heavy tray by a graceful waitress in black dress and white apron.

Lunch on an outside terrace of M32 on a hill by the Museum of Modern Art, with spectacular views of Salzburg, presented yet another version of pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed oil, giving us a great opportunity to compare different preparations of this popular seasonal dish, and pick the favorites. 

Finally, we made one more excursion in SalzburgLand – a visit to Schloss Fuschl – an upscale hotel on the shores of a pristine lake, where we had our farewell dinner at the hotel restaurant Jagdhof serving goulash, spätzle, and a cake, that according to the hotel manager, far exceeds even the most famous cake in Austria – the glorious Sachertorte! If you don’t believe it you can travel to Austria and check it for yourself. Additional information at: www.austria.info, www.vienna.info, www.graztourismus.at/en, www.salzburg.info, www.salzburgerland.com.

 

 

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Photography by Emma Krasov

“Don’t eat the piranha heads,” said our brusque server, clad in a dark blue shirt and black vest. From a black ceramic bowl he put on the table in front of us piranhas’ sharp bared teeth and dead eyes stared at us and glared. Another server, dressed in the same uniform, and equally curt, put a bowl of gray stones and prickly annatto fruit with exposed seeds next to the piranha heads in one brisk movement.

A few minutes earlier, both of them promptly rid our group of female diners of all our possessions – purses, jackets, scarves, iPhones, and lipsticks – all went into a special hiding place away from the table. Nothing next to our plates, nothing on the backs of our chairs. All attention to the food presentation and degustation. We were at el número uno restaurant in Latin America, after all, and number four on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. We were dining at Central in Lima, Peru.

Some of the prominent San Francisco Bay Area chefs who happen to follow my news on Instagram reacted with envious comments to my piranha heads photo…

Yey! I guess… I’m not an envious person, and never aspire to be an object of envy, but hey, with this exceptional culinary event I was lucky to experience thanks to Bold Food Tours, I just took it.

In fact, the piranha heads were a whimsical yet fitting decoration for a dish, called Waters of Nanay, and the gray stones and spiky annattos – for the Forest Cotton wrapped in mashwa leaves.

Virgilio Martinez, the chef/owner of Central, focuses with high precision on Peruvian products and their producers in his culinary quest. He and his team travel all over the country to discover and utilize new ingredients while supporting local farmers and foragers. In his well-illustrated book, titled after the restaurant, the celebrity chef details the amazing diversity of Peruvian flora and fauna – an endless source for his inspiration and his diners’ fascination.

The tasting menu at Central is called Elevations. It follows the varied topography of Peru from below the sea level to the peaks of the Andes, and consists of 17 courses, all equally enticing in their utterly surprising nature, exquisite preparation, and unorthodox plating.

Bold Food Tours, started just last year by a former Genentech global supply chain executive, Muffie Fulton, stemmed from her original 2-year-old Bold Food company that she created to teach the science of cooking in her culinary classes and to provide in-depth consultations on all things food. Born in Colorado to a restaurant-owner family, and educated at Brown and Stanford, Muffie found her true calling in researching local cuisines wherever her business and leisure travels took her. When she realized how similar the restaurant chefs’ pursuits were to her own scientific background, Muffie followed her calling, and finally created an array of “trips for food obsessives,” as she puts it.

“I like to organize everything – high-end accommodations, a wide spectrum of food experiences, including eating at one-of-a-kind restaurants, cooking, shopping at local markets, learning about artisanal products – and to make it stress-free, while allowing for a comfortable level of flexibility,” says Muffie. Her tour activities for a group of about 12 are 80% food related, and 20% site-seeing, while regular tourist groups pursue the opposite proportion. She works months in advance securing reservations to not just fine dining, Michelin-star, or local cuisine restaurants, but to those of the highest ranking, critical acclaim, and led by celebrity chefs, ensuring a slew of unique experiences all packed in one eventful trip.

She encourages her potential group participants to call her with any questions, discuss personal preferences and requirements, and seek consultations. By developing personal relationships with the best private local tour guides on the ground she assures smooth sailing through any strange land.

Not that many lands are strange to Muffie. “I visited the majority of places before because I love to travel for food, and I travel all the time,” she says. “I don’t want to take people to a restaurant I’ve never been to. Everything is tried and true. I’m very precise, and I think of every detail of the tour. Control freaks trust me.”

The nascent tour company already conducted several successful food tours to various international and domestic destinations, and is planning to go on a few more this year, and 10 more tours in 2018. Among those – Singapore and Malaysia, Japan and Thailand, Barcelona, Mexico City, Chicago, Portland, Seattle – the list goes on.

On our Lima trip, Central was not the only outstanding restaurant visited by our group. Maido, the second-ranked restaurant in Latin America and number eight in the world, serves upscale Nikkei cuisine – the melding of Japanese and Peruvian food, developed by the substantial Japanese diaspora historically residing on the Peruvian land. Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura, who grew up in Peru and learned his craft in Japan, combines local ingredients with Japanese technologies to spectacular effects. His witty culinary hybrids, like Aji Negro Chawanmushi, Sansei Cebiche, and Asado de Tira Nitsuke are sure to stay in his patrons’ gustatory memory!

Another unforgettable experience was delivered by the TV personality chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino at his artfully decorated (with the paintings of a popular Colombian artist, Heriberto Cogollo) restaurant Malabar.

Gregarious and friendly, and in possession of fluent English, the chef personally cooked our dinner, and provided an evening of ultimate comfort food, useful information, high energy, witty comments and bursts of laughter in his spacious and spotless kitchen on Malabar’s upper floor, where we’ve learned how a fresh heart of palm salad, prepared simply yet perfectly looks, smells and tastes (light, refreshing, with subtle fruity flavor); tasted the best fish preparation in [this reporter’s] life, and even tried a piece of delicate little cuy – fried to golden brown, and tenderly fatty.

Besides luxuriating in wonderful restaurants of world-wide fame, and staying in Casa Andina Private Collection Hotel in the hip and lively neighborhood of Miraflores, our group dined on all imaginable cuts of highest quality meats at a true-blue butcher shop Osso; visited two city markets – Mercado de San Isidro and Mercado de Magdalena; went on Lima Gourmet Tour, during which we prepared our own ceviche and pisco sour at the international celebrity Chef Gaston Acurio’s restaurant Embarcadero 41; had an amazing Historical Tour of Lima and Pachacamac Ruins Tour with a highly professional guide, discovered and hired by Muffie; visited Larco Museum of Peruvian antiquities, Dedalo Art Shop of contemporary crafts, Huaca Pucllana archeological site, and a number of other sites, all within rich in the glorious city of Lima.

To summarize a Bold Food Tours experience – it’s so incredibly rich, so refreshingly well-organized, and so thoughtfully filled with first-class entertainment that there’s really nothing quite like it. It easily might be the best food tour ever! Please look for more information at: www.Boldfoodco.com.

 

Photography by Emma Krasov

Sweet dreams are made of this… How do you bring together the world’s most coveted travel destinations and attractions all in one place? Monaco Government Tourist Office presented the upcoming summer exhibition, “The Forbidden City in Monaco: Imperial Court Life in China” during its 2017 press preview in San Francisco at the Michelin-starred Hakkasan restaurant.

Present at the event and speaking to the press were Thomas E. Horn, the Honorary Consul of Monaco in San Francisco; Guillaume Rose, Director of Monaco Government Tourist Authority; special guest Mark Braude, author of “Making of Monte-Carlo: A History of Speculation and Spectacle,” and Monaco Government Tourist Office representatives.

2. Cafe de Paris

3. Casino at night

As if traveling to Monaco – the playground of the rich and famous – wouldn’t be enticing enough, the tiny principality on the Mediterranean coast tirelessly expands its tremendously significant cultural programs year after year, with grandiose art shows usually coming every summer to the spacious Grimaldi Forum in the heart of the city-state.

Flag_of_the_Qing_Dynasty_(1889-1912).svg

The Forbidden City exhibition, jointly curated by Jean-Paul Desroches, Honorary General Curator, and Wang Yuegong, Director of the Imperial Court Life Department at the Forbidden City in Beijing, focuses on the last imperial Chinese Qing dynasty (1644-1911), its pomp and circumstance, its tastes and grandeur. The Forbidden City, one of the most impressive palace complexes in the world, and the world’s most popular tourist venue, attracts around 10 million visitors annually.

In the exhibition, there will be two models of monumental temples from the China Red Sandalwood Museum in Beijing, archival audiovisual material made public for the first time, and 250 artefacts, including portraits, ceremonial costumes, furniture, precious art pieces, and scientific instruments, some of which are ranked as national treasures. The show will run from July 14 through September 10.

4. Grace cocktail

The press reception started with a glass of rose champagne with a single pink rose petal in the flute – a tender homage to Princess Grace who made America’s connection to Monaco the tie that binds.

Hakkasan restaurant menu, suitable for the occasion, included some of the famed restaurant’s signature dishes.

5. Shanghai

6. Dumplings

An array of traditional dumplings included Shanghai siew long bao, har gau, scallop shumai, and prawn and chive dumpling.

The main courses presented the usual richness and variety of classic Chinese seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes served over egg and scallion fried rice:

7. Shrimp

Spicy prawns with lily bulbs and almonds

8. Claypot

Sanpei chicken clay pot with Thai sweet basil

9. Beef

Stir-fry black pepper beef

10. Lotus

Lotus root and asparagus and lily bulb

11. Desert

A duo of desserts consisted of yuzu-mango lollipops and chocolate blood orange cups.

For more information, go to www.visitmonaco.com

 

 

Photography by Yuri Krasov

San Francisco is sometimes called an Asian-American city, and judging from the sheer amount and popularity of Asian restaurants in and beyond the oldest and largest Chinatown in the United States, that rings true.

In the currently ascending Year of the Rooster, new happenings in hospitality, art, and culinary scene beacon winter travelers from all over the world to the eternally warm and snowless City by the Bay.

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Americano, Hotel Vitale

Americano Restaurant & Bar at Hotel Vitale just implemented a new menu item – Chinese-inspired steamed buns, called baozi (包子) or bao.

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Puffy baos, made of light yeasty dough and formed in circular cakes, are usually folded in half, and filled with meats, pickles, and greens to look like a half-opened sandwich.

With Executive Chef Josua Perez at the helm, Americano creates two kinds of bao – one with crispy duck confit, another with beef tongue – to bring good luck to the Year of the Rooster.

The meats are accompanied by hoisin sauce, cilantro, and cucumber slices lightly pickled in rice vinegar, chili flakes, salt and sugar.

Even though the baos will be available only through this Saturday, February 4, the restaurant has plenty of wonderful small plates paired with wine, artisanal beer, or handcrafted cocktails.

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Powell and Hyde cocktail is great take on the traditional Manhattan with Bulleit bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth, Cynar amaro, and Ancho Reyes ancho chili liqueur.

Notable dishes include deviled eggs with crispy pork belly and pickled chili; tater tots with bacon aioli, and hand-made pasta torchio with oxtail ragu, baby carrots, and horseradish crème fraiche.

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On a dessert menu, mango gelato is a lucky flavor when available – gelato and sorbet flavors change daily.

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Dining at Americano includes sweeping views of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco’s busy waterfront. Americano at Hotel Vitale is located at: 8 Mission St., San Francisco. 415-278-3700. www.hotelvitale.com.

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Grill, St. Regis San Francisco

One of the new exciting culinary events at the Grill this year, offered by Executive Chef Franck Desplechin, is called Sunday Table and presents a family-style dinner, fashioned after Chef’s own family tradition.

“My mom was always cooking, and always had great ideas,” says Chef Desplechin. “As a kid, instead of watching TV I was watching her cooking. Now, I cook dinner for my parents every time I go home [to France].”

For the first Sunday Table last week, the Chef picked his mother’s recipes for a three-course meal.

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Winter Salad of Fennel, Orange & Hazelnut, that the mom admittedly made on Sunday nights contained fresh fennel – shaved, braised in orange juice, and cooled in ice water. Peeled orange segments, Parmesan cheese, Italian parsley, and honey-sherry vinaigrette made this refreshing concoction juicy and spring-like, with an added crunch of toasted halved hazelnuts.

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Creative cocktails from the famed St. Regis bar paired perfectly with the elaborate salad – AZ-85 – admittedly Al Capone’s favorite (Barrel-aged Manhattan, Templeton rye, Carpano Antica bitters) and Thyme Out (Distillery No 209 gin, Lillet Blanc, Amaro, lemon, and thyme syrup).

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Cornish Game Hen main course was made for two, but could’ve fed four or more. Two crisp-roasted hens were cooked with rosemary, garlic, and seasonal wild mushrooms – king trumpets, beech, and hen-of-the-woods. Bloomin’ Onion was served on a side with French onion dip.

“Mom was basting chicken for hours,” says the Chef. “Roasted chicken with mushrooms was her traditional winter Sunday dish. For the Sunday Table, my goal is to highlight the everyday foods that people know and love.”

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The dinner ended up with a lavish dessert – White Chocolate Bread Pudding made of croissants and brioche, and embellished with dulce de leche and Jivara chocolate, with chocolate crème Anglaise on a side.

Sunday Table is offered on the last Sunday a month, with the following Sundays already in the planning stages: February 26 and March 26.

The Grill, located in the St. Regis San Francisco, began last year as a pop-up and grew to a permanent fixture at the city’s premier address for relaxed luxury and timeless elegance: 125 3rd St., San Francisco, California 94103 United States. Phone: (1)(415) 284-4000. www.starwoodhotels.com.

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Artist-In-Residence, Fairmont San Francisco

Gold and silver leaf, pastel colors applied in a variety of spontaneous brushstrokes, and an abundance of light are the most striking characteristics of the Michelle Sakhai’s oil paintings currently on view at the Fairmont San Francisco. Born in New York, the artist is a Bachelor of Arts in Art History with minor in Fine Arts from Hofstra University and a Master of Fine Arts from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. She divides her time between San Francisco and New York, painting and exhibiting, and uses references to the teachings of Transformative Art and its focus on light and energy in her work.

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Sakhai is the newest participant of the hotel’s Artist-in-Residence program launched in 2013 with the local artist John Waguespack.

“Fairmont San Francisco has supported and inspired artistic talent within our community and from around the world for more than a century,” said Paul Tormey, Regional Vice President and General Manager of Fairmont San Francisco. “We are honored to partner with Michelle Sakhai, whose stunning work complements the hotel’s spirit of classic-meets-contemporary style.”

Fairmont San Francisco’s Artist-in-Residence program with Sakhai offers experiential package options and promotions for art and luxury aficionados.

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THE ART COLLECTOR’S PENTHOUSE SUITE EXPERIENCE

To celebrate its 2017 Artist-in-Residence program, Fairmont San Francisco offers art enthusiasts the unique opportunity to pair an once-in-a-lifetime stay in Penthouse Suite whose guests have included President John F. Kennedy, Prince Charles of Wales, Mick Jagger and Tony Bennett; with the purchase of an original painting by Michelle Sakhai.

The 6000-square-foot Penthouse Suite features three large bedrooms, a living room with grand piano, a formal dining room, a kitchen, a two-story circular library crowned by a rotunda where a celestial map is rendered in gold leaf against a sapphire sky, a billiard room covered in Persian tile from floor to vaulted ceiling, and a terrace with sweeping views of San Francisco. The collector will especially appreciate The Penthouse Suite’s impressive art collection featuring original works by contemporary artists, including David Hockney.

“Art Collector’s Penthouse Suite Experience” includes a one-night-stay in the famed Fairmont San Francisco Penthouse Suite; an original commissioned painting by Michelle Sakhai; breakfast for up to six guests served in the Penthouse Suite; Artist-in-Residence meet and greet (based on availability); a commemorative book showcasing Michelle Sakhai’s latest works. The rate for this special package is $28,000 plus tax per night through Feburary 28, based on availability. To reserve this exceptional package, please call (415) 772-5489.

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THE ART ENTHUSIAST PACKAGE

Fairmont San Francisco highlights its Artist-in-Residence program with Michelle Sakhai by extending a limited-time offer for art appreciators to experience the best of San Francisco’s world-famous art museums while staying at the city’s Grand Dame hotel. Celebrating San Francisco’s diverse selection of art attractions, the “Art Enthusiast” package includes a one-night stay in luxurious accommodations; a pair of VIP tickets to the de Young Museum; Artist-in-Residence meet and greet (based on availability), including two complimentary cocktails/wine; a commemorative book showcasing Michelle Sakhai’s latest works. Starting at $489 plus tax per night Fairmont San Francisco’s “Art Enthusiast Package” is valid through February 28, 2017, based on availability. Please note de Young Museum is closed on Mondays.  For more information or to book package, please call (415)772-5489.

Since 1907, The Fairmont has served as the San Francisco residence for U.S. presidents, world leaders and entertainment stars. The landmark hotel offers 592 newly-renovated guest rooms and suites, three distinctive restaurants, a health club and easy access to the city’s most popular attractions. Fairmont San Francisco is located at 950 Mason St., San Francisco. For reservations, please call 1-800-441-1414 or visit www.fairmont.com/san-francisco.