Getaways | The Bizarre and Beautiful, Mendocino County

Located 163 miles north of San Francisco is Mendocino County, a picturesque rarity that showcases some of the most stunning natural landscapes that California has to offer. For an unforgettable road trip, grab your best friends (one of which should be a great driver given that a lot of the drive is on windy terrain,) and head up the Mendocino coastline, which in and of itself is beautiful. Think: cliffs, crashing waves, and adjacent green wilderness for hours.

Sure California has plenty of pretty oceanside getaways, but none compare to the quirky, thoroughly charming town of Mendocino. For one, it’s a part of the Emerald Triangle — the largest cannabis-producing region in the country. Not your thing? Totally fine. It’s also home to 90 miles of Pacific coastline, 24 state and national parklands, historic villages and outdoor adventure sites, and countless redwood trees making it ideal for nature lovers. Not to mention Mendocino is filled with strange oddities that need to be seen and experienced to be fully appreciated.

While exploring Mendocino, book your stay at the phenomenal Inn at Newport Ranch which is set on 2,000 acre coastal cattle ranch. It boasts epic ocean views, redwood forests, and over 20 miles of private trails perfect for hiking, horseback riding or whatever your heart desires. Not to mention you’ll find the most chill cows and calves roaming the grounds at any given time. Looking for something a bit more out-of-the-ordinary? Check in to The Andiron. Built in 1959, this eccentric property is spread out over five acres of woods. Each of the 12 cabins are completely refurbished and redesigned, featuring a strange theme that sets it apart from the other. Funky, retro, and unlike any other lodging in the area, you’ll spot antique items, décor, and salvaged furniture throughout The Andiron.

Be sure to make stops at:

For a complete rundown of Mendocino’s most distinctive places to visit, check out my Thrillist article.

Point Arena Lighthouse
IMG_7359fullsizeoutput_51a9The World’s Largest Redwood Tree Service Station
fullsizeoutput_51a3IMG_7057Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree

The Solar Living InstituteIMG_6968IMG_6965IMG_6958fullsizeoutput_51a1IMG_6991IMG_6985IMG_6939IMG_7006The Bluebird CafeIMG_7012

IMG_7014The Inn at Newport Ranchfullsizeoutput_51a4IMG_7244fullsizeoutput_51a7IMG_7266IMG_7274IMG_7252fullsizeoutput_51a5IMG_7286IMG_7226IMG_7168IMG_7205IMG_7144IMG_7137fullsizeoutput_66f8fullsizeoutput_66f7B. Bryan PreserveIMG_7364IMG_7387

The AndironIMG_7484IMG_7489IMG_7473Cowlick’s Ice Cream

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Travel | Seaside Tranquility at Palos Verdes’ Stunning Terannea Resort

IMG_4033Pharrell was spotted at this resort the night before I checked in. So. With that in mind, looking to experience the California Coast like never before? Then check out Terranea Resort, located atop Los Angeles’ Palos Verdes Peninsula. This picturesque luxury hotel has left 75 of 102 acres of its private peninsula undeveloped, enabling guests to fully take in the pristine, natural landscape.IMG_4219IMG_3993TR1IMG_3983TRThe resort strives to protect and highlight the environment on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, with its panoramic coastal views; hiking and bird-watching footpaths along the scenic Discovery Trail; educational tours to highlight the property’s ecology and rare flora and fauna; frequent whale, sea lion and dolphin sightings; and temperate weather all year.

Little known fact: even if you’re not a guest at the hotel, you can spend the day at Terranea’s Cove Beach (and pretend like you are!). Aside from the obvious draws — the rocky shoreline, views of the grassy cliffs in the distance, and miles of hiking trails to explore — a major highlight of this beach is the large sea cave that is accessible during low tide. IMG_4229IMG_4339IMG_4226IMG_4894Visitors can enlist the help of the adventure concierge, who specializes in excursions that include horseback rides, paddle boarding, ocean kayaking alongside otters, tide-pool explorations and even falconry (encounters with falcons, Harris hawks and Eurasian eagle owls). I opted for an exhilarating kayak ride which gave me an up close and personal experience with the sea life living within the tall kelp beds on the coastal waters. IMG_4869IMG_4069IMG_4064Another unique aspect of Terranea is its outstanding culinary program which strives to showcase the property’s natural surroundings, as well as the agricultural treasures that grow on its grounds. Lemon trees, honey-filled beehives, seasonal produce such as bell peppers and tomatoes, herbs, and avocado trees are grown on its continually expanding organic farmland at the nearby Catalina View Gardens. Not to mention, the resort also boasts an innovative sea salt conservatory allowing them to harvest their own sea salt straight from the source: the Pacific Ocean.

The Mediterranean-inspired resort is an ideal retreat from the stresses of life. Decorated with elements such as giant clay pots filled with succulents and cacti; wicker lounge furniture with sky blue accents; and lush gardens, mosaics and palm trees, the Terranea maintains a peaceful ambience. Despite the Mediterranean touches, the resort stays true to its California roots, offering guests a relaxed atmosphere to match the tranquil seascape views. You won’t feel out of place in flip-flops or beachy resort wear.

Terranea features 582 guest rooms and suites, including spacious casitas and villas, and the Bungalows, a collection of accommodations that offer spa and wellness-focused amenities. Each guest room has a private balcony, most of which overlook the ocean. The rooms also come with four-fixture stone baths, flat-screen TVs and plush beds with rich linens.

Original article was featured in Travel Weekly and can be read here.

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Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival 2016

img_5535This Fall, Epcot threw its 21st annual International Food & Wine Festival. From Sept. 14-Nov. 14, over 30 food booths were stationed around Epcot’s World Showcase featuring the cuisines of various countries. Each destination area is impressively designed to reflect an experience in that country. From Africa and Morocco to Japan and Brazil, this is the ultimate event for adventurous eaters. Guests have the chance to fill out their free “passport” with stickers as they visit each booth, though it’s unlikely one person could eat their way around the world in one day. I definitely recommend getting the rides out of the way before you start feasting. Nausea is no joke. Soarin’, Mission: Space and Spaceship Earth were the three highlights of the ride experiences. Don’t miss out on them.

Here are a bunch of pictures from my first Epcot Food & Wine Festival experience.  I can’t wait for next year!
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Buttered Chicken with Micro Cilantro and Naan Bread
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Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp with Pineapple, Pepper, Onion and Snap Peas
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Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans and Tomato

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Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel & Rosa Regale Sweet Red Sparkling Wine
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Pineapple Dole Whip Soft-Serve Ice Cream with Bacardi Coconut Rum

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5 Under-the-Radar New Yorker Fall Getaways

img_3121It’s that magical time of the year when it’s no longer sweltering but not yet freezing. It’s perfect for Fall getaways, so take advantage! Though most New Yorkers are well aware of the commonly crowded, much-hyped, and occasionally pretentious vacation spots like the Hamptons, Montauk, or Martha’s Vineyard, here are five destinations that are equally — if not more so — gorgeous, quaint, and relaxing for the perfect Fall weekend getaway.

1.) Cold Springs, New York
img_3609Want to get out of the city but don’t want to drive? Go by boat! Venture on a catamaran Fall Foliage Cruise before it gets too cold and jet up the gorgeous tree-lined Hudson River to the adorable and historical small town of Cold Spring, New York. Guests will enjoy fantastic views of New York City on the way to the destination and can look forward to insanely vibrant foliage while on the water. Fiery reds, bright oranges and golden yellows — the colors are literally glowing this time of year!

While on the cruise, guests can listen to their enthusiastic tour guide point out all the noteworthy places that include the Cloisters, George Washington Bridge, huge castle-like mansions, West Point, Bear Mountain, as well as the delightful towns on the shore of the Hudson. Arriving at Cold Spring, established 1846, feels like taking a step into the past. The streets are lined with grand Victorian homes. Strolling along the 19th century waterfront main street will be a huge contrast to walking anywhere in New York City — you’ll love it.
img_3563Activity options include boutique shopping, pursuing through local artisans’ shops, and dining at farm-to-table restaurants. In addition to a variety of packed antique shops, other locales include a trendy apothecary, general store, and some great places to get unique gifts. Get some brick oven roasted pizzas at the restaurant, Riverside, while taking in views of the Hudson.

Stay the weekend at the three-story Pig Hill Inn and unwind in one of its nine individually decorated rooms or outside on its garden terrace. Built in 1895, the Inn is filled with antiques, romantic allure, and offers a full country breakfast every morning. Cold Springs is just the place to unwind and enjoy small town living in a beautiful setting.

2.) Berkshires, Massachusetts
The Berkshires is home to beautiful scenery, lots of great hiking and outdoor activity, culture and art museums, and all the charm of a small town. Check out the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art which houses larger-than-life installations and boasts over 100,000 square feet of open and naturally lit space for art lovers to explore. MASS MoCA is also home to over 75 performances year-round. Or there’s the Clark Art Institute which features a range of masterpieces that include paintings, sculpture and drawings.

img_5165Just want to be outside? Take a walk on its 140-acre oasis filled with looming trees, meadows, landscaped walking trails, and experience the vibrant colors of fall foliage. Swing by Hilltop Orchards for some old fashioned apple picking, fresh cider doughnuts, wine tastings, and hikes on its 200 acres of land. Feeling adventurous? Take a hike on one of the Berks’ many trails. Climb up Bash Bish Mountain for an unbelievable views of Bash Bish Gorge, New York’s Harlem Valley, and the distant Catskill Mountains; or hike the Jug End Loop Trail for a more peaceful, chill excursion.

Stay at one of the many lovely bed and breakfasts or inns around. A few recommendations are: Devonfield, a Colonial style inn that sits atop a hillside that overlooks 32 acres of meadows; the Gateways Inn, originally the Procter (of Procter & Gamble) mansion converted into a charming, 11 room B&B; or the Whistler’s Inn, a fairytale 1870 English Tudor mansion.

3.) Adirondacks, New York
img_3122-jpgAnyone who loves Fall needs to visit the Adirondacks now when the foliage is at its peak for the season. Mountain lovers, and anyone seeking the opposite feeling of being in Times Square, won’t want to leave this outdoor wonderland. Rent a boat or kayaks at Mirror Lake and explore; venture through High Falls Gorge, a 22-acre nature park, complete with four scenic Adirondack waterfalls cascading over boulders; or get your boots on and hike through the trails of Adirondack Park and savor its panoramic mountain views. You can also go fishing, hunting, or rock climbing… this is truly the destination to-be for any outdoorsy person.

Stay at an upscale lodge such as the Lake Placid Lodge, with luxury comforts, a view of the lake, rustic hand-crafted furniture, fireplaces, deep tubs and cushy beds; or the Mirror Lake Inn which offers a spa and salon, indoor and outdoor pools, and Colonial-style rooms with views of Whiteface Mountain. Looking for more of a nature-filled campground? Stop by the Adirondack LOJ, a 1920’s lodge on the shore of Heart Lake where you’ll sleep in classic log beds stacked four or six to a room.

4.) Portsmouth, New Hampshire
img_4749Fans of Gilmore Girls will be thrilled to know that the picturesque town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire is basically a real-life version of Stars Hallow. For those of you not familiar with TV’s most beloved mother/ daughter duo, Portsmouth is a peaceful, friendly New Hampshire town, filled with museums, history, wide sandy beaches, and good food. Did we mention that it’s also home to Lindt Chocolate USA headquarters and a glorious Lindt outlet shop? Because it is must-see.
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As the nation’s third-oldest city, it’s filled with historic sites such as the Strawberry Banke Museum, a historic waterfront museum featuring homes and exhibits from three centuries; landmarks that include Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, a 48-foot tower of Portsmouth Harbor Light; and Moran Towing Tugboats. Day trip locations such as the Isles of Shoals, which was discovered by Capt. John Smith, of Pocahontas fame are also nearby. Take one of numerous Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail Sankofa Tours if you want an afternoon of educational information and a bit of exercise. In addition, stroll through Market Square for an eclectic range of small shops, cafes, restaurants, and waterfront attractions.
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Stay downtown at the historic mansion, The Hotel Portsmouth, a 135-year-old historic hotel that is a classic example of Queen Anne Victorian architecture. Each room in this boutique hotel is individually decorated and designed with a mix of both retro and modern touches. Or spend a night at the Inn at Strawberry Banke, a unique seven-room colonial bed and breakfast.

5.) The Farm at Woods Hill
img_3216The Farm at Woods Hill is the ideal getaway for lovers of fresh air, animals, wide open spaces, excellent farm-to-table fare and those interested in sustainable farming. Owned by Kristin Canty, filmmaker of Farmageddon and proprietor of Woods Hill Table, The Farm at Woods Hill was built to supply pasture raised meats and produce to her restaurant. The farm has a variety of animals from cows and pigs to chickens and lambs, as well as tons of fresh seasonal produce growing out of its flourishing edible gardens.
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If you’ve never spent time on a farm, a stay here will be quite an experience — both tranquil and fascinating at the same time. Guests have the option of staying at the Lodge, a gorgeous 3200-square-foot log cabin overlooking a swimming pond in the peaceful hills of western New Hampshire, or the charming, sky blue Farm House around the corner which houses an extra 20 people. The Lodge has a Jacuzzi tub and shower, a loft with a queen-sized bed and sitting room, a large fireplace for chilly nights, and even an amazing library — reminiscent of the one in the Beauty and the Beast — stocked with unique reads.
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With a fully outfitted kitchen, a huge screened in porch, and a fire pit, you’ll be able to fully take in the nature around you. If you want to explore, the property is surrounded by miles of hiking trails. It is 28 miles to Loon Mountain and Cannon Mountain Ski Resorts, 39 miles to Mt. Washington, and 15 miles to the Appalachian Trail. Plus, you can opt for a stay package, which includes a farm stay with tours; a spa stay including yoga classes, facials, manicures, and pedicures; and a maple stay which offers a taste of real New Hampshire maple syrup!

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Getaways | Guerneville, California

img_7650If Napa Valley is the only thing that pops into your mind when you think of California wine destinations, this article is for you. Guerneville, located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, exudes all the charm and culinary sophistication of wine country, minus the pretentious vibes.

Unique and eclectic, Guerneville has something for everyone: for the ocean-lovers, there’s Johnson’s Beach; the adventurous can do a number of activities on the Russian River such as boating, kayaking, rafting, and fishing; hikers have a number of trail options courtesy of the Armstrong Woods State Park; the foodies can munch at numerous locally sourced eateries and cafés; and of course, there are plenty of picturesque vineyards for the wine enthusiasts.
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[big bottom market]
After a drive up to Guerneville you’re going to want to have a bite before your day of exploration. There’s no better place to relax and unwind over artisanal food and drink than at [big bottom market]. The big bottom market’s warm and welcoming atmosphere will have you feeling right at home.

One step in to the teal-framed entrance and you’re surrounded with the smell of its famed biscuits. With wooden communal tables, stools to sit by the window and people-watch, outdoor seating, and a rustic-yet-modern interior, the market is a modern day general store with “lumberjack chic style.”
img_1797The menu offers a mix of gourmet deli sandwiches, salads, and quality bites — all of which use sustainable, locally sourced ingredients. You can’t come here and start off with anything but freshly baked biscuits with options that include butter and jam; mascarpone and honey; cream and berries; gravy; and BBQ pulled pork. Or opt for one of its house-favorite biscuit sandwiches such as the Sea Biscuit with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, capers, and pickled onions or the Ham + Cheddar biscuit with black forest ham, melted cheddar served warm.
img_1799One of the best sandwiches I’ve had is the muffuletta which is packed with salami, coppa, mortadella, ham, provolone, mozzarella, and giardiniera-olive spread with garlic aioli on a toasty ciabatta. The combination of cured meats and the vinegary-pickled flavors of the spread is perfection. For something on the lighter side, the prosciutto + fig sandwich with provolone, fig jam, and arugula pressed on ciabatta is a great choice.

Also on the menu is a variety of salads that include curry chicken with spiced pepitas and a chickpea artichoke option. There is a fantastic selection of specialty meats and cheeses, along with fresh breads, to create any sandwich you fancy.

Those in a hurry can grab box lunches (complete with your choice of artisan sandwich, chips, and a house-made cookie). Don’t forget to check out the shelves of unique items that include everything from jams, chocolates, and honey, to a variety of locally made products, coffee table books, wines, candles, and more.

Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery
Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery offers an intimate, laid-back wine tasting session with the husband and wife duo of Luke and Elana Bass. While sipping wines made from their estate biodynamic grapes on the property, Luke and Elana are more than happy to answer any and all questions about the wines.
img_1839Though there’s no tasting room, you’re offered the opportunity to sit under the shade of lovely, deep-rooted tree, to take in the scenery of the surrounding vine-covered hills and billowing redwoods in the distance.
img_7656The three wines they specialize in are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel — my favorite was the Poco a Poco Sauvignon Blanc (Poco a Poco is one of their other labels). An afternoon tasting at this family-ran vineyard makes apparent how much the vines, grapes, and farming of the land is cared about. Guests can expect gracious hospitality, a welcoming environment sans any pretentiousness, interesting conversation, and delicious wines.

Marimar Estate: Tapas & Wine Pairings
Marimar Torres is the daughter of famed Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres. After traveling to California in the mid-70s, she later began planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals. Since her first wines were released in the 90s she has continued to make some of the area’s best wines and has added some Spanish varietals including Tempranillo and Albarino. Today there are 30 acres planted with Chardonnay and 30 with Pinot Noir at the Marimar Estate.
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This winery was built in 1992 to resemble a Catalan farmhouse. Unique to this property is experiencing its Spanish tapas and wine pairings lunch on its unbelievable stone terrace — the terrace faces incredible views of the surrounding redwoods, coastal forest, and an array of wild flowers.img_1851img_1864The wine and tapas pairings included the following sips and bites: 2014 Chardonnay/ Albariño; 2013 ‘La Masìa’ Chardonnay; 2013 ‘Dobles Lìas’ Charfonnay; ‘Mas Cavalls’ Pinot Noir; and the ‘Earthquake Bock’ Pinot Noir; and on the tapas side, zucchini cake Cristina; prawns in a garlic sauce with sweet red peppers; cabbage dumplings stuffed with pork, chorizo, pine nuts, and raisins; and figs stuffed with chocolate and nuts in a chocolate sauce. The authentic recipes came from Marimar Torres’ cookbooks and certainly didn’t disappoint.

Paul Mathew Vineyards
Located in “downtown” Graton is the charming Paul Mathew Vineyards which is known for truly artisan wines by winemaker, Matt Gustafson. His wife Barb Gustafson — who is wonderfully knowledgeable of the wines — manages the tasting room and the business while her husband often is out in the fields carefully selecting and farming the grapes that go into his barrels.
img_1872Treat yourself to a tasting of five wines that include: Bohemian Pinot 2013 with flavors of bright red fruit; Ruxton Pinot 2013 with touches of black berry, cherry and plum; HSB pinot with cherry flavors; TnT pinot with hints of cinnamon and clove; and the Cabernet Franc with floral notes and a touch of bell pepper.

Iron Horse Vineyards
Everyone loves sparkling wines and gorgeous views, right? Located in the heart of Green Valley, Iron Horse Vineyards face stunning views that span from across Sonoma County to Mount St. Helena.
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Think: rolling hills, wild flowers, and over 160 acres of lush vines. Known for some of the best sparkling wines in the world, they pride themselves on premiere vintage quality, of which theirs belongs to the category of “Grower Champagne”.
img_1875img_4241Iron Horse produces 12 different cuvées — all estate bottled—ranging from the Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, to the bright, bold, and very dry Brut Rosé. The Wedding Cuvée (aged three years) is absolutely refreshing and delicious.

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Travel | Videri Chocolate Factory: Raleigh’s Sweetest Attraction

Travel | Must-Try Eateries in North Carolina’s Food Mecca, Raleigh

img_1529On my trip to the capital of North Carolina, I had the awesome experience of going on a guided food tour through the downtown area of Raleigh. If you’re looking for a guide, I highly recommend going on a excursion with  Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours. Here’s a rundown of the eateries I had the opportunity to try out during my tour and overall trip, each being distinctively delicious.

Raleigh is home to award-winning restaurants, creative chefs, breweries, local hotspots, as well as restaurants steeped in history. I was surprised to learn, after chatting with several Raleigh entrepreneurs (who also tend to be chefs and owners themselves), that each of them not only wants success for themselves and their businesses, but also for the community.

Each of the spots I visited utilized local ingredients from their next-door neighbors. The produce, dairy, and more come from local outposts, and moreover, each restaurant will openly boast about how awesome their fellow chicken farmer or tomato grower is.

Centro
Centro is a lively and welcoming Mexican restaurant. Centro looks like a colorful work of art. Framed portraits, paintings, intricately designed masks, and vibrant creations cover the already bright walls. There are many Mother Mary, crosses, and Jesus depictions adorning the restaurant, as well as hanging, glowing lanterns and rainbow papel picados.

img_1516The food is authentic Mexican and Latin American cuisine; the menu ranges from enchiladas and tamales to chilaquiles and tostadas, and, of course, craft margaritas, mezcals, and cocktails.

Owner and chef Angela Salamanca decided to whip us up a special item for us to try: arepas with chicken salad and a side of plantain black beans. The warm, buttery arepa was filled with a fresh, flavorful chicken salad ― which couldn’t be more different from the mayonnaise-laden goop sold in many grocery stores.
img_1521Originating from Colombia, Salamanca explained that she chose to serve us arepas in order to highlight how each region and state has its own version of the cornmeal bread. Each interpretation of what makes an arepa authentically “good” is reflective of the area’s heritage and culture.

Mandolin
Chef Sean Fowler’s classy, spacious Southern bistro offers local, fresh and fabulous cuisine. While continuing to use local purveyors for its sourced ingredients, Mandolin also has a lovely culinary garden on site.
img_1501img_1500I left Mandolin stuffed and beyond happy with my brunch. The Mandolin Skillet with stone ground grits, house smoked bacon, black-eyed peas, fried eggs, ranchero sauce and crème fraiche is creamy, rich and decadent. I chose to balance it out with a bowl of beautiful fresh fruit and orange juice. And coffee, of course. Definitely looking forward to returning and trying out other standouts on the flavorful menu, like the Chicken & Waffles with braised greens, sautéed mushrooms, bacon–mushroom emulsion and truffle honey.

Gravy
Gravy is a family-friendly Italian-American eatery that specializes in quality, locally sourced fare. What’s gravy? According to the pasta experts here, “gravy” is “the pasta sauce that their [Italian-Americans] mothers and grandmothers cooked fresh every night.” This restaurant offers crowd-pleasing classics such as house-made gnocchi with mushrooms and a leek cream sauce; tagliatelle a la Bolognese with local beef and pancetta Bolognese and house-made ricotta; as well as authentic, cheesy, layered lasagna.img_1526

Chef Justin Bartolet treated us to an off-the-menu creation: espelette mezzaluna, moon-shaped pasta filled with smoked ham and served with poblano pepper sauce and marinated tomatoes. We also enjoyed a wine pairing that complemented the salty, smokiness of the pasta. Fun fact: Gravy butchers its own whole-hog meat in the kitchen and uses each hog’s meat entirely — as in nothing goes to waste — in dishes that range from traditional pasta sauces to head cheese and more.

Pharmacy Café
For dessert, get a sundae at the one-of-a-kind Pharmacy Café — an eatery that is actually a part of the Pharmacy Street Café. The Pharmacy Café is a modern take on an old-school pharmacy lunch counter set in an historic building from 1910. This Raleigh favorite offers local beer, wine, breakfast, lunch and quick bites, and homemade ice cream, fizzes and milkshakes.
img_1418I went with the Sweet & Shine: sweet potato ice cream laced with moon-shine syrup topped with candied pecans, white chocolate and an orange-fig sauce. It was everything I dreamed it would be. And more.

The Roast Grill (Hot Weiners)
This was a very special ― and unexpected ― stop on my culinary adventure in Raleigh. The Roast Grill has been in business since 1940, strictly selling hot dogs and glass-bottle Cokes only (plus its famed authentic Greek desserts). This hot dog eatery has been run with the same dedication and love by the same family since it first opened.

The only things that are allowed to go on these dogs are The Roast Grill’s famous chili, mustard, slaw, and onions ― ketchup is forbidden. Why? Founder Mary Charles and host George Poniros will tell you that “it interferes with the chili!”
img_1539img_1534This nostalgic spot has been visited by everyone from Elvis Presley to Man Vs. Food’s Adam Richman. “You won’t find generic ball-park dogs here,” said the famous eating machine. “At the Roast Grill, every frank is 90% beef with just a bit of lean pork flavor, uniquely cooked to a crisp black char on their 70 year old original grill.”

Lucettegrace
Lucettegrace is a lovely patisserie that offers French-inspired savory and sweet pastries, lunch items, and indulgent desserts. This welcoming downtown spot has a bright, industrial design that’s accented with bright yellow stools, chairs, and freshly picked flowers.
img_1562Pastry chef/owner Daniel Benjamin features outrageously fabulous treats such as the candy bar cake (almond cake with milk chocolate praline crunch, and a dark chocolate hazelnut mousse); the escazu PB pretzel cake (escazu dark chocolate mousee, caramel cremeux, and a peanut butter crunch — I tried this, but a brownie version with coffee mousse and gold flakes); and a blueberries + cream vanilla cheesecake with a blueberry mousse, pistachio cake, almond cake, and a blueberry compote.

Savory items are equally tasty and inventive, and include items like bacon jam and cheese Danish and buttermilk scones filled with pistachios, figs, and cardamom. I also had the pleasure of tasting one of the fresh peach ice cream macaroon sandwiches, which was heavenly.

Bittersweet
Bittersweet is an excellent spot for people who are into cocktails, desserts, and coffee (that’s everyone, right?). This charming eatery/ lounge has a slightly retro feel and is beautifully designed with a classic bar, back wall filled with all sorts of colorful spirit bottles — especially gin ― cocktail glasses, espresso-makers, coffee cups, and barista equipment. Of course, it also has freshly baked goods lining the countertop.

Owner and baker Kim Hammer got her start baking for friends, and then one day it became clear that there was a demand for her goodies. Hammer began commercially baking straight from her kitchen and began selling her home-baked goods throughout the Triangle-area, including at the famed Carrboro Farmers Market.
img_1580From there she made her passion into a full-time job by opening a “terribly wonderful dessert, coffee and cocktail lounge” that offers all seasonal treats and complex, innovative flavor combinations. Also noteworthy ― she has some of the most badass tattoos I’ve ever seen. My favorite? Her dagger-through-the-heart tattoo with one, wonderful word: butter.

Death and Taxes
If you’re looking for a memorable dinner experience, get yourself a seat at the newest restaurant in Ashley Christensen’s Raleigh-Durham empire, Death and Taxes. While she maintains her other dining establishments which include Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s, Poole’s Diner, and Joule Coffee & Table, Death and Taxes is absolutely fantasic, having been named one of America’s Best New Restaurants by bon appètit.
img_1485img_1488img_1490This Southern brasserie is distinct in that the majority of its menu features wood-fired cooking. Sit at the counter where you can watch the talented chefs in the busy kitchen work their magic. With a menu divided in to three sections — of the sea, on the land and of the land — it’s pretty tough to decide what inventive dishes to order. I absolutely fell in love with the ember-killed salad with country ham vinaigrette. For my main, I ordered the incredibly succulent The Pig with charred cabbage and caraway, topped with chicharrones. Dessert was sweet summer on a plate: tres leches cake, fresh peaches, soft cream and malted milk.

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Travel | The Umstead Hotel & Spa

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Top rated cuisine, immaculate grounds, and 12 acres of forest are just a few things that set this destination apart from the rest. {Credit: The Umstead}
 As one of only two five-star, five-diamond rated hotels in North Carolina, The Umstead Hotel & Spa is a gorgeous retreat that is absolutely worthy of its reputation. Located within 12 acres of lush woodlands that overlook a private lake, the atmosphere is serene, tranquil, and downright magical.

Unlike many hotels, The Umstead is very tastefully decorated; no kitschy, tacky artwork around here. Huge, fresh, and artistically designed bouquets of flowers welcome you in to the hotel. Moreover, aside from being immaculately clean and well-manicured — both inside and outside — The Umstead prides itself on a uniquely curated and creatively displayed collection of art.

Works of art by both local and national artists can be found throughout the property. Currently, The Umstead boasts 95 pieces of original art in its collection. One of the most noteworthy pieces is a stunning Dale Chihuly glass sculpture titled “Ardea Figura,” which sits in the main lounge of the hotel.
img_1659The design of this hotel and spa embodies its desire to be a luxurious space “where nature and art collide.” The Umstead’s emphasis on appreciating the forest surroundings is showcased everywhere you go on the property. For example, if you feel like taking a walk, there’s a charming lakeside trail that gives you an even more immersed-in-nature feel. Further elevating guests’ experiences is the luxurious two-story, 16,000-square-foot spa which offers 11 treatment rooms, including three couples’ treatment rooms, separate men’s and women’s private lounges with a steam room infused with eucalyptus, deluge shower, whirlpool and sauna, a relaxation lounge, an open-roof current pool, and more.

UmsteadThere are plenty of areas to both lounge and dine al fresco, a pristine garden, benches to simply take in the peaceful beauty of the lake, and all the while you can hear the sounds of birds chirping. For chillier evenings, you can cozy up on the outdoor terrace, which is decked out with an impressive fireplace and seating to enjoy a meal or drinks.

My room was lovely, quiet, and the bed was wonderfully comfortable. (There’s nothing worse than an uncomfortable bed in an otherwise excellent space.) The first thing I indulged on was the fresh bowl of fruit waiting for me as I entered my room. I was a huge fan of the Umstead Spa Signature botanical bath amenities, which only made soaking in the super deep bath tub even more of a luxurious experience. I also loved the fact that the plants in my room were actually living — a nice touch. The staff was very nice, attentive, polite, and available 24/7 to make sure all needs were taken care of.

img_1595The food was on point. I highly recommend dining at The Umstead’s signature restaurant, Herons, even if you’re not staying at the hotel. Headed by executive chef, Steven Devereaux Greene — a current semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s 2016 Best Chef: Southeast award — this restaurant offers modern American regional cuisine that showcases seasonal, local produce. Greene has been with The Umstead since 2009 and has transformed the now award-winning restaurant, along with the hotel and spa’s other dining options, into culinary heavyweights.

The dining room is elegant and the wait staff is knowledgeable, attentive, and friendly. Dinner at Herons was a fantastic experience. Each course was unexpectedly unique in terms of presentation, creativity, and flavor.

The meal began with a trio of fun amuse-bouches, which included foie gras bon bons in the form of freshly picked cherries; quail corn dogs with truffle ketchup and pickled cucumber; and smoked trout cannoli with American sturgeon caviar. The menu is divided into four courses, plus an artisan cheese option, and each dish is described with only main ingredients which leaves much to the imagination.

Corn dogsI started with a course of cubed beets, roasted salt, elderflower, a dollop of frozen yogurt, pistachio, and lemon sorrel. I can’t exactly say how all these layers of flavor came together in the dish, but it was delicious. My dining companion ordered the oysters, which was an exceptionally impressive dish. With saffron dashi, yuzu, cauliflower, scallion, white poppy, and sturgeon, each oyster came in a ceramic oyster shell and was presented on a platter that (thanks to dry ice, I assume) was literally smoking. One of the coolest dishes I’ve seen.

My second course was the 62-degree egg, and for those of you not obsessed with food, this is widely considered to be a perfectly cooked egg. I’ve never tried to cook an egg like this, but I can say that the result is a silky, creamy, delicate egg white that gently encases a liquid gold egg yolk. It’s no joke. This special dish was served in an urchin-shaped bowl and accompanied with another spiky urchin holding crisps to scoop up the soft, eggy goodness. Along with the egg was a serving of sea urchin, Charleston gold rice, mushroom espuma, and a crinkle of edible gold.

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For my entrée, I decided on the pork loin and belly, which was artfully plated with edible violets, black plum, purple yam, fennel, salted oats, and braised walnuts, topped with a single pork rind. This loin and belly combo was tender and rich and had a flawless, well-seasoned searing. Overall, the entrée was sweet, savory, and indulgent; I’m always a fan of pork belly.

Dessert was quite a difficult choice for me. From the coconut with lime caviar, caramelized pineapple, passion fruit, black cocoa, and mango; to the tira-mushroom made with coffee, mascarpone, lady fingers, branches, and flourless chocolate cake; I was at a crossroads. So, I decided on the peach: Carolina peach nectar, raspberry cells (literally individual cells of the berry), amaretto nuage, and spun sugar (aka fancy pink cotton candy), topped with pink flower petals. This dessert was a work of art; I couldn’t have been happier with my choice.

peachAdditionally, we were served chocolate “cigars” — out of a real cigar box — complete with a chocolate-dust-covered “ash tray.” We were also served an incredible “glass” orb filled with a chocolate mousse-like filling, along with tiny balls of white and dark chocolate, and gold leaf. And just when we thought the experience was over, the servers brought over the most adorable dessert/piece of artwork.

chocolateSituated on a wooden log was a forest scene with a bed of river rocks, branches, leaves, chocolate-dipped and golden-dust-coated fruits, sugar-coated raspberries, and several green, marshmallow… caterpillars! Complete with drawn-on faces. I was amazed.

The Umstead also has a bar and lounge open for lunch that offers Herons-inspired cuisine. Before I hopped on a plane back to New York City, I had a lovely lunch al fresco, overlooking the lake scenery with a succulent plant on my patio table and chirping birds on the deck.
img_1700Smaller plates at the bar and lounge range from tuna tartare with a spiced mustard and cucumber; and fried okra with a buttermilk pimento dressing and pickles; to beef carpaccio with a curry aioli and charred beets with a goat cheese mousse and pistachios. For hearty entrées, they offer a nice selection that includes grilled salmon with asparagus and a lemon broth; and beef tenderloin with baked mac and cheese and a house made steak sauce.

dessertSaying yes to dessert at The Umstead — courtesy of pastry chef Jonathan Fisher — is a no-brainer. Having worked at fine establishments such as The French Laundry in Yountville, California, and El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, Fisher takes desserts to new heights both in taste and creativity. I chose to indulge on the salty/sweet milk chocolate cremeaux, which came with corn ice cream, caramel, and Anson Mills corn cake. Served with corn kernels, caramel popcorn, and a brilliant yellow, marbled chocolate coating, it was fabulous.

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Getaways | Napa Valley

NAPAFor our 5 year anniversary, my boy friend and I decided to go on a short, but absolutely lovely, weekend stay in Napa Valley. This trip was particularly special because it was the first time just the two of us were in wine country together! The weather was refreshingly crisp and the air had that calming and clean after-rain smell thanks to a few showers that luckily didn’t get in the way of our trip. We were able to check out several beautiful vineyards, taste outstanding wines, eat delicious foods and treats and do some boutique shopping on our strolls through town. It was a romantic and delightful way to celebrate our 5 years together!

Whether you’re escaping reality with your significant other or your best friends- Napa’s relaxing and charming vibes and, of course, aforementioned wines can’t be beat. Here’s a peek of our trip’s highlights and recommendations!

We chose to stay at the adorably cozy and quaint Cottage Grove Inn in Calistoga. I absolutely loved our cottage which was brightly decorated in pinks, yellows and florals. They also had soft classical music playing when we walked in- a very nice, homey touch. They left us a bottle of wine to celebrate with too! Other major perks included a free breakfast spread complete with waffles, smoothies and anything else you could think of, bike rentals, free wine tours and it was super close to the main street in Calistoga.Napa2Our first night we decided to take a stroll through main street with our hot chocolates in hand. The area is filled with boutiques, funky antique stores, cafes and restaurants- all set against a mountainous backdrop. Window shopping in cute towns is one of my favorite things to do and it was particularly nice with the christmas lights still lining the streets.Napa10On to the wines! Our first stop was at one of my favorite wineries, the family owned Caymus Vineyards located in Rutherford. Caymus has a laid-back vibe, beautiful scenery and lots of soft loungey outdoor seating- which I am a huge fan of. While I’m not the most refined wine drinker, their wines are exceptionally delicious. My favorites were the fruity Conundrum White and their famed Cabernet Sauvignon 🙂

Napa1The second winery we stopped at was Regusci Winery in the Staggs Leap District. This winery is one of the oldest in Napa Valley. This tour was so much fun and really gave us an inside look at how they make their uniquely blended wines. We began with a picturesque walk through the pristine vineyards, during which we could hear the clucking of the ranch’s hens and turkeys. We also ventured through their vibrant culinary garden and were all the while accompanied by the vineyard’s two rambunctious golden labs.

The tour was filled with historical facts about the ranch as we continued through the whole estate to see how the wine is processed. It was a very cool experience exploring their underground cellars which housed tons of wine barrels. We even got to try some of their young wines straight out of the barrel! Out of all the tasty bottles we tried, my favorite was the 2012 Elders Cabernet Sauvignon 🙂 For more on this winery, check out this post.

Day two we ventured to Castello di Amorosa, also known as, The Castle of Love. This estate was constructed to emulate the 13th century Tuscan castles and does an impeccable job of recreating an architecturally marvelous Italian fortress. It’s the only Italian Tuscan castle and winery built in America, and as such, it provides a unique wine tasting experience! It was a lot of fun wandering through the castle and peeking through all the corridors and variety of rooms. The castle has a huge Great Hall with replica Tuscan frescoes, 8,000 tons of hand-chiseled stones, a drawbridge, dungeon and torture chamber and a medieval church! Moreover, their wine barrel room is unlike any you’ll probably ever see: it has ancient Roman cross-vaulted ceilings.FullSizeRender (6)Napa7Napa9

Napa5Napa3No vacation is complete without delicious food! I highly recommend the farm-to-table restaurant, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena. The food is phenomenal and the atmosphere is relaxed, warm and rustic. Plus the outdoors area is adorable- they have lemon trees, a general store and pretty gardens… and they make estate grown wines, farm organic produce and meats, and sell their own olive oil, honey and lots of other artisanal items in their store. It’s a lovely restaurant concept! In addition, if you want to venture through St. Helena, the main shopping area is right by the restaurant. There are a bunch of cute clothing and jewelry stores, a chocolate shop, bakery and other cool niche boutiques.

Another favorite restaurant of mine is R+D Kitchen in Yountville. The food is always awesome and they have a great variety of dishes, including sushi and BBQ. If you’re in the mood for something sweet to top off your meal, Bouchon Bakery is super close by, along with a bunch of shopping that includes cooking and wine boutiques and art galleries. For more on Yountville and these two fabulous eateries, check out my previous Napa post.

The only sad part about this getaway was that it had to end! On my growing Napa Valley bucket list is still hot air ballooning, hiking in the state park, picnic-ing right on a vineyard, checking out the geyser in Calistoga… and of course trying all the fantastic restaurants the valley has to offer! Next up in my Napa Valley series will be a couple restaurant reviews on Farmstead and Bistro Jeanty 🙂 I can’t wait to share my foodie experiences with you!

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Regusci Winery | Napa Valley

regusci
Credit: winemaps.com

I’ve never taken a complete winery tour, so it was an awesome experience to do so at Regusci Winery– one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley. Originally purchased as the Grigsby-Occidental Winery on the historic Regusci Ranch, it’s known as a “ghost winery.” This is a name given to wineries that date back to between 1860 and 1900. This beautiful destination is located in Stags Leap District and was established in 1878 on the 289 acre ranch. Back in the day it was known for farming staples such as corn, plums and nuts; in addition, the estate operated as a dairy and cattle ranch. Fast forward to 1996, Regusci Winery came to be and has since continued to produce fabulous wines in the Valley.

I absolutely loved walking through the pristine vineyards and grounds- it’s incredibly peaceful and refreshing to tour such a rich and pretty agricultural environment. Not to mention, they have two adorable yellow labs running around the vineyards that will melt your heart! On the grounds grows a luscious culinary garden filled with gorgeous fruits and veggies and bright citrus trees line the property. If you’re in the area, definitely check out this winery! Even if you’re not into wine (or perhaps you’re the designated driver) it’s a lovely destination to simply appreciate Napa Valley views and get some fun facts on the wine industry and California in general. If you are into wine- cheers!

Stay tuned for more posts on Napa Valley as I share with you my eating, drinking and touring experiences!

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