Welcome to the Hotel[s in] California!

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov

One of my fellow travel writers used to amaze me with her uncanny ability to publish multiple travel stories about different destinations in different outlets that sounded very much the same. Most of her articles ended with a simple affirmation, “If you want to eat, drink, and sleep well, go to [insert any destination] and book a room at [insert any hotel brand].

Silly at is sounds, I often remember her words when I stay at different California hotels, be it for business or leisure. There is something about the established hotel culture that makes travel so much more pleasurable and memorable—something only a nice hotel with a great location, well-maintained premises, multiple amenities, and trained staff can provide.  

The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Spa Napa Valley – American Canyon

When the last year’s Worlds of Flavor International Conference and Festival was happening in Napa, we’ve experienced a short dip between the two COVID surges, and the attendance was off the charts. All the wonderful chefs, culinary educators, and food industry purveyors were so eager to have an in-person event again, after the 2020 virtual experiences, that hotels in Napa proper filled up at a record speed. Those that still had rooms available when I got around my own booking showed an ouch-inducing price tags…

What came to the rescue? The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Spa Napa Valley – American Canyon. About 20 minutes’ drive from Napa, the hotel is large, clean, and nicely decorated, with a spacious lobby behind a fountain, surrounded with flowers and fruit trees, like kumquat and feijoa. From my comfortable room with opening widows I could see a gorgeous reed-lined lagoon with some resident ducks, and marvel at the beautiful landscaping. There was a tempting-looking spa, which I couldn’t visit due to time constraints, and a cozy swimming pool with a hot tub, which I gladly indulged in before and after the conference happenings.

Well-rested, and grateful for the unexpected convenience of the American Canyon’s DoubleTree location, I spent three days at the Worlds of Flavor at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa, watching multiple culinary presentations and listening to the words of gastronomic wisdom from some of the best chefs and most advanced food companies in the world.

The theme of the 23rd Annual Conference was, “Cities of the Americas: Landscapes of Flavor.” Every day there were general sessions with the most exciting topics, like the future of fine and casual dining; the cultural heritage and early childhood memories in culinary influences; local ingredients in Latin American markets, etc. etc. There were educational seminars on reinterpretation of Peruvian and Cuban flavors in Miami; on Mexican influences in San Antonio, Italian influences in Portland, and Thai influences in Atlanta. There were kitchen workshops on wood-fired global innovation, on sandwiches and dumplings, and on Brazil’s exploration of Afro-Indigenous traditional dishes.    

And then there were Flavor Discovery Tastings and World Marketplace Tastings, sponsored by Kikkoman Sales USA, Mitsubishi Chemical Cleansui Corporation, National Peanut Board, National Watermelon Promotion Board, National Mango Board, Smithfield Culinary, and other big names in the food industry.

Spending my entire day at Copia, and participating in various activities that were happening non-stop everywhere on campus, from the Ecolab Theater to the Wood Stone Outdoor Kitchen, from the hallways with live entertainment to the gardens with wine tastings, I wouldn’t be able to engage all my senses at all moments to listen, watch, smell, hear, and taste if it weren’t for my home-away-from-home base, the glorious DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Spa Napa Valley – American Canyon. https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/oakacdt-doubletree-hotel-and-spa-napa-valley-american-canyon.

This year, Worlds of Flavor Conference is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov 2, 2022 – Friday, Nov 4, 2022. The 2022 Program will be focusing on Africa and the World—Reclaiming the Past, Crafting the Future: An exploration of food, culture and innovation on the African continent and impacts and flavors of the African Diaspora. Find out more at: https://www.worldsofflavor.com/.

Wine & Roses Hotel, Lodi

On a recent trip to Lodi to research the massive wine country region producing more than a hundred of wine varieties with European and American origins—I had to stay close to the multiple wineries, and far enough from the city center to have some peace and quiet after hours. Wine & Roses Hotel Restaurant Spa fit the bill on those and many other points.

This locally owned and operated historic boutique hotel features 66 nice cozy rooms, some with balconies, in neat two-story cottages surrounded by manicured lawns, lush gardens, and flower beds. In the green depths of the hotel campus, under the old shady trees, there are even a few bird houses—homes to gorgeous and delightfully chatty parakeets.

The Towne House Restaurant on the premises has spacious indoor/outdoor dining areas and a full bar with an impressive list of more than 80 wines from the Lodi Appellation. The restaurant follows its commitment to support California farmers and food artisans, and serves a delicious seasonal menu of locally sourced organic products from the surrounding region.

Many creatively used fresh ingredients make appearances in craft cocktails, like Golden Bear Old Fashioned made with local peach and fig infused bourbon, and beautifully plated dishes, like a vegetable soup of the day, Carlton Farm pork chop with duck fat poached potatoes, snap peas, apple butter, butternut gastrique puree, and pomegranate kernels, or roasted Petaluma duck leg with crispy sunchokes, seared Fuji apples, Cru chocolate mole, Bartlett pears, and pickled corn. 

Towne Corner Café & Market offers a good variety of breakfast items, like sandwiches and pastries that can be enjoyed on the spot or taken to go for a picnic in one of the many wonderful original wineries in San Joaquin Valley. 

Lodi Wine Visitor Center, founded by the Lodi Winegrape Commission, is also located in one of the Wine & Roses Hotel buildings. It serves as a major tasting room for hundreds of Lodi wines, and helps hotel guests and other visitors to plan their exploration of the Lodi Wine Trail with maps and an official guide to the Lodi AVA. 

Find out more about Wine & Roses Hotel here: https://winerose.com/. Lodi Wine Visitor Center: https://www.lodiwine.com/.

Hofsas House, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Visiting Monterey Peninsula, and its undisputed gem, Carmel-by-the-Sea, has become my favorite seasonal pastime many winters ago. Every time, it’s the one and only Hofsas House Hotel that I return to for its Old World charm, excellent service, and trademark hospitality.  

This unique property, located on a side of a hill, with one story up front and four stories out back, looks like a painted fairy tale house, and is decorated in rural Bavarian style to reflect the proprietor’s family heritage.

Carrie Theis, Hofsas House President and General Manager, is the third generation hotelier whose vast experience, keen attention to detail, and impeccable taste create this special atmosphere of an exquisite getaway to which her guests return time and again.

Every room in the house has a different décor and its own special character. Some are equipped with fireplaces and kitchenettes, some overlook a heated swimming pool in the backyard, and the blue expanse of the Pacific behind the dark masses of coastal cypresses.

All rooms have some elements of style that make this place unique, and uniquely desirable, like Dutch doors, wooden Plantation shutters, old-fashioned bedside lamp shades, and period furniture pieces. Not to mention the luxurious beds with painted headboards, pastel-colored covers, and snow white linens.  

At the front desk office, with its copper fireplace and a cozy living room feel, a continental breakfast is served every morning. Many hotel guests prefer to take it to their own balconies, or to a wrap-around terrace with tables and chairs, and the always enticing ocean views.  

This year, Hofsas House celebrates its 75th anniversary. As one of the oldest continuously operating establishments in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and a community center of sorts, the hotel engages in various activities that support other local businesses. The proprietor family hosts annual fundraisers for multiple local organizations, like Carmel Public Library Foundation, Monterey County Food Bank, and Peace of Mind Dog Rescue.

For its in-room amenities as well as for its daily breakfast offerings, and hors d’oeuvres at community events, Hofsas House uses Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company, Lula’s Chocolates, and local deli and bakery stores.   

With sponsorship support from local wineries, like Scheid Vineyards, Bernardus Winery, and Twisted Roots, the hotel puts together Local’s Favorites Wine Fridays benefiting Peace of Mind Dog Rescue (Helping Senior Dogs and Senior People). Monterey County wines and small bites are served at the poolside meeting room, and the upcoming gatherings are scheduled for May 13 and September 16.

In the last two years, with the continuous COVID waves affecting the entire hospitality industry, Theis and her team continued to develop Hofsas House in preparation for the better tomorrow. She commissioned the local artist, Marie-Clare Treseder Gorham to refresh the historic entrance mural created back in the 1950s by Maxine Albro, and to paint a custom headboard in Room 36 (see photo). That started an Artist-in-Residence program, which extended into this year. The artist in residence for 2022 is Phillip “Rags” Rosenberg, a songwriter and poet.

Find out more and make a reservation at: www.hofsashouse.com.   

While staying at Hofsas House just a couple weeks ago, I was introduced to another local celebrity—an artist of culinary art, a chef extraordinaire, Brandon Miller, and his thriving paella business.

Since the authentic Spanish paella must be prepared for a crowd, in a giant pan, and outdoors, I welcomed a chance to watch Chef Miller masterfully perform a kind of a dinner-and-a-show gig in his own backyard, where he was doing his magic over a light-weight mobile stove. The sizzling seafood, chicken, short rib, green peas, and saffron rice emitted heavenly aromas, and looked pretty tempting to me as a colorful medley of golden brown meats and orange shrimp, plus tiny baby squid tentacles and bell pepper specks of red adding to the appetizing mosaic. The Chef explained that the paella is only ready when the rice reaches its desired crispiness, achieved moments before the entire thing might burn out in less experienced hands.   

Our paella was, indeed, a masterpiece, served with butter lettuce salad, Spanish wine, and beer. What a treat for our still precarious circumstances, when dining outdoors continues to be a much more preferable safer option!

Chef Miller caters to parties of ten or more, and travels to most locations in Northern California. On order, he would not only cook an excellent paella with a variety of desired ingredients, but would create a full menu, and arrange for servers, bartenders, live guitar music, and even flamenco dancing!   

To book a paella party with Chef Miller, call 831-917-1176.