This whole living in Northern California thing gave me some wild thoughts: I live near the Wine Country, I have a car, and I sometimes have weekends off. Add these three together and we’re off to Napa Valley to taste some wines.

1. First stop:  Judd Hill

Nice property.

2. Second Stop: Clos Du Val


Upon getting out of the car, you feel immediately transported into Tuscany. There is an olive grove with iron wrought benches and tables ready to host an impromptu picnic with friends. Small groups huddle around a bottle or two, fingers dipping into a messy display of breads and cheeses, slowly taking in the sun. We pause, sit down, eaves drop for few minutes and detect no trace of work-related issues, technology, or economy in the snippets of conversation.

The view seems to be taken from the Italian chapter of our honeymoon; the vines line up green hills in neat rows punctured by cypress trees. We go inside a tasting room fashioned after a stony French chateau. It’s cool, dark, and the décor is very convincing. Accept for the smell.  The real French chateau would smell of musty wine and mold. But not here – there is no identifiable smell. I peak through the iron gate into a cool space with giant steel containers and it’s all perfection. No honeyed hued oak barrels stained with pills, no smell – is it even real?

The wines are not bad – Chardonnay and Pinot seem to be the specialty here but the first is too oaky and I am too picky about my Pinot so the focus is on Merlot. We taste a bottle from the Stag Leap’s county, freshly opened, un-decanted, delicious. The flavor is full, complex with a subtle (not overpowering like most wines we’ve tasted that day) hint of oak. I can’t help but wonder if the volcanic soil is what makes it so delicious.  Sweet aftertaste of cherries leaves me wanting more. My palette is getting exited.

We leave the tasting room to spend some 30 minutes glued to the chairs in complete silence just taking in the beauty of neatly planted endless rows of black twigs stretching their delicate arms to the sun in a mysterious prayer for a blessed juice.

3. Next up: Piña Winery


We found a plenty of old work tools abandoned around the property, complete with rusty grape press to satisfy my need for authenticity. The tasting room consists of a giant barrel wheeled around a cold wine storage and it smells just wonderful. I want to bottle this fragrant aroma of French oak barrels, cool stone, and fruit.  Our host is old, funny, and wonderfully grumpy. He is hard to please when I try to probe for some insights and show my passion but pours us a barrel taste. He also regretfully utters that I seem to have better palette than he does.

We taste an array of Cabs, all really strong and heavy and overpowering.  The experience is shared by a rowdy group of tourists who seem to be most exited by the name of one of the labels: Cahoots.  We walk away most amazed by the fact that the cheapest bottle starts at $35 and prices go up to $75. For a domestic wine that’s three years old?! Really? Why?

4. The fourth and final stop: Hess Winery

A 17 mile climb to the top of Mount Veeder peeks our attention despite the time in a day, lack of food, and number of sips we’ve endured thus far (I started spitting to “save room” for the best). Our small car disappears in thick layer of a fog pierced by arms of old trees.

Forewarned by the Cahoots crowd that Hess is a weird place, I was very exited if it lives to its dark reputation. “They all dress like morticians and the art collection is the creepiest pieces we’ve ever seen!” whispered a bug-eyed lady from Orlando, FL. I found both; her comment and the beautiful HESS label promising cues to this part of our wine country adventure.

The property is old (for U.S. – dating back to early 1900’s), surrounded by luscious green and vines descending from the top. There is nothing creepy about the stuff (middle aged, well versed in viticulture, and very friendly) and I was the only one dressed in black. We took a silent, glass elevator to view the art collection and I immediately felt transported back to Europe. The Hotel Copernicus, Fall of 2003, Krakow, Poland.


All the modern luxuries harmoniously fused with a 15th Century frescoes and artifacts (yes, Copernicus did stay here once).  An unforgettable place, even after our stay at Rome and Prague.

Back to the Hess winery; the art collection is JAW DROPPING. Mr. Donald Hess, of Swiss descent has accumulated a MOMA worthy selection of most important artists of our century. I was speechless facing my beloved Rauschenberg’s recent paintings along with works by Francis Bacon, Robert Motherwell (the painting I’ve copied in Collage), and epic Anselm Kiefer. But my eyes went all watery when I walked into a room filled by the so close to heart “Abakans” by a Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz


Wait- what about the wine? The wines we tasted here were all really good. The Viognier was sweet and aromatic with nice floral notes hanging around for a while after I took a sip. Sauvignon Blanc felt very refreshing, mineral, with a hint of pineapple and the Cab was big, jammy, and woody – tested much more like some of my favorite Zinfandels.

I’ve never met Mr. Hass and  I probably never will but I deeply understand his taste in art and wine – the two things that combine magic with science and have the stopping power to make us dig a bit deeper, one glass at a time.

For more photos from the trip, please see:


permanwineimage1I am exited about our annual wine plan with Perman Wine – each month we’ll get to pick few bottles from his stylish wine store in West Loop. Owner, Craig Perman has recently expanded his modest place and added handsome tasting room. Checkout his Calendar of Tastings – he tends to bring in the real people of the wine world and often pairs the wines with great food. The guy may be funny but he is not kidding around when it comes to wine.

Today, we went there for the first time to come up with a plan of attack for our monthly wine club. Wine drinking to me means partaking in a rich history, art, and science of wine and I want to learn more about it. We decided to split our 12- month journey into regions and started with Burgundy. Craig quickly demystified the secret of French labeling system, broke down the basic rules of wine growing in the region, and walked us through the map from the Wine Atlas – all fascinating stuff. I am far from being a wine buff but exited to discover what’s in my glass. We brought home three bottles- two reds and one white- only to find a lonely white Burgundy left behind from our last year’s wine club. So the taste of Burgundy begins with four wines: Chateau de La Greffiere 2005 Macon La Roche, Chateau Vaux Sous Targe 2005 Macon – Villages, Domaine Humbert Freres, and a bottle of Domaine Des Moirots from Givry.

I’ll keep track of my wine notes right here, which could be fun should some serious wino stumble upon my blog and challenge my sophomore musings. I am also on the lookout for a used copy of World Atlas of Wine so I can learn about the climate, soil, history, and people who made that delicious glass of wine I am sipping right now!

The World Atlas of Wine

Foodsy is taking a short leave of absence while tending my other loves; design and travel. Still, my taste buds are always on a hunt and were thrilled to find a nearly perfect culinary thrill in Toronto, CA.

The restaurant was suggested by our gracious hosts; Nick, Mark, and Colin of Kolody – a men of impeccable taste and wicked sense of humor.

Colborne Lane happened to be a short stroll away from our hotel. A narrow, cobble stone street filed with the spirit of old Europe led us it. The space was both – utterly contemporary yet classically chic with Radiohead and Singur Ros humming in the background. We bravely chose the 10 course Tasting Menu which was an entire surprise. “It’s like having ten birthdays” – said the waiter. Sold!

We were presented with a wide array (certainly more than 10) of lovely small compositions – from the scallop, through fois gras, an outstanding Kobe beef with a shot of Bloody Mary, the venison with sweet potato puree, to the chocolate bomb which explodes in your mouth, and topped off by the lemon ice cream made at the table in a fog of nitrogen. Despite the molecular “pyrotechnics”, the ice cream tasted as rich and authentic as the homemade frozen custard I used to stand in line for when I was 5 years old. The atmosphere was lively and relaxed – a perfect counter-balance to the exquisite and surprising dishes. After all, who wants to be intimidated by the dining experience? It’s bad for digestion!

Chef Claudio Aprile rewarded our “ohhhs” and “ahhhs” with a lovely cognac and even came out to accept the somewhat blurry compliments. For Chicagoans: he apprenticed at “Charlie Trotter’s” and “Alinea” years ago but now seems to be doing just fine on his own. Colborne Lane has been voted one of the most exciting new restaurants in the world by the 2008 Food & Wine Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler.

To make things more fun for us, digital geeks, here is a feature on Claudio Aprile from the WIRED mag.

Continue Reading »

Mediterranean food is very sensuous. Eating is a social, joyous, and it can last for hours.  It’s also very lively and interactive act- you are eating with your eyes (colors), nose (fragrant spices), and often hands (the sense of touch and texture). Often, dancing and music is involved. The only country that can celebrate food with such passion in Europe is Italy- French are zealous about preparation but strict about proper consumption. After all, it is in Italy where I’ve had a meal of a lifetime – it was a dinner at the breathtaking Baby in Rome which lasted over five hours…While I CAN NOT WAIT for our Moroccan trip this November, I am delighted at any chance to take recommendations from my exotic friends.

Our recent late Friday night escapade led us to Kan Zaman – a Lebanese spot in Old Town. It had so many wonderful qualities – great glass doors wide opened into the busy street, belly dancer, and BYOB. If you read my last post you’d be a tad surprise that we might have needed more wine after the Wine Fest – well, think of the fest as a BIG TEASE and this time we were ready for the REAL THING! Plus, we saw a table filled with a fellow fest attendees consuming copious amounts of food and wine, which made us feel better.

We brought two bottles of rich pinot and four big appetites. The “mezas” (appetizers in Arabic) that covered our table seemed like a combination of Arabic and Greek staples (grilled cheese, spinach & cheese pie, and deliscious, succulent lamb shish kebob) with a new favorite, Makanek – a spiced beef and lamb baby sausages sauteed in garlic and lemon-pomegranate sauce, topped off with pine nuts. That dish was entirely unique – small chunks of savory meat, fragrant with hints of cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg with a touch of tart sweetness (pomegranate) and hint of creaminess (pine nuts). This was “Avec- worthy” dish ( I could just see it served there in an adorable iron cast STAUB dish for a bit more money) and we HAD to have twice that night. I will definitely be back for more and very soon!!!

Windy City Wine Fest

Friday stop at the Windy City Wine Fest left us craving for more. We did sample some good wines but the adventure didn’t end there, which, after all, may not be a bad thing…

Some of the highlights from the lower shelf include the following:

1. 2007 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand
for ONLY $9.99 at Trader Joe’s – notes of pineapple, peach, and hint of vanilla.

2. 2006 Michael David Zinfandel Seven Deadly Zins
for $14.99 at Binny’s – wine we wanted to try  because of it’s fun label and glad to report that the taste was not disappointing – it’s a  solid Red Zinfandel

3. 2005 Irony Pinot Noir Monterey County – our all-time favorite: it’s a $14.99 pinot kicking some serious ass.

Off the top shelf, we’ve had a triple tastings of the amazing Heath Wines Shiraz Reserve 100 Year Old Vine. Rich and deep, this perfectly balanced act delivered hints of blackberry and sage – definitely a highlight!

Despite the gorgeous setting – next to Millenium Park, surrounded by a stunning skyscrapers peering into our glasses, the ticket price ($30) got us some play time with variety of wines but not much to nibble on. Actually, since we weren’t up for a $8 snack box from the famous The Hearty Boys (with duck mouse and crackers), noodles from Aria, or a cup of pricey frozen yogurt from Berry Chill – we were left dreaming about a substantial dinner – the only thing to satisfy our Friday night cravings. We all agreed that such lovely wine prelude can only lead to a savory and warm affair and thanks to the suggestion my exotic friend Carla next we were headed to Kan Zaman for a Lebanese feast!

Pastoral - Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine

Pastoral - Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine

Did I mention before that I consider myself a very lucky girl? Naturally, I work as hard and as long as many fellow creatives but than again-despite the occasional moans and groats – I love what I do, and who I get to work with, and where.
I work in a great location; Millenium Park is my front yard and I am only a walk or a short cab ride away from places that can be considered every foodie’s object of affection.

Pastoral is one of these coveted places, after all that’s where few of the prominent Chicago restaurants are getting their salamis from.

It has become my new favorite Friday ritual to stop at Pastoral’s loop location. The tiny space is efficiently filled with dreams of old Europe – wall of hand picked wines on the right with a eclectic collection of cheeses and display of artisan breads on the left. There are even few small tables squeezed in the middle for the more picky types who will not be consoled with Potbelly’s during lunchtime.

The crew is very knowledgeable and pleasant – it’s fun to watch them carefully carve slices off  the precious deliciousness as if  they were little sculptures. And one should be careful around this collection – Bucheron,  Humbolt Fog, Pecorino Tartufo, Tripple Cream, among some of the local stars from Wisconsin and Oregon. The staff is generous with samples so each visit at Pastoral is like a mini exploration.

Once you done selecting your cheeses (wrapped in a pretty paper),  you can pick from the artisan breads- fresh baguettes, rustic multigrains, or colorful flatbreads and than move over to decadent meats. It is at Pastoral where I get to explore a generous selection of Charcuterie. I experiment with bringing home various thin slices of ruby saucission san salami for the weekend or cubes of fragrant, fluffy pates.

What’s fun about the portions is that I never get anything by weight – rather by a slice. The crew seems used to  customers who plan small cheese parties for two and want to cram in as much variety on the table as possible without breaking the bank. That’s how they get curious girls like me who wants to explore the land of artisan cheeses, local baked goods, and quality meats on a three-bite scale. That’s three bites times two – because food always taste better when it’s shared!

Pops for Champagne- take 3

By now, I’ve dined at Pops for Champagne enough times to confirm that this place offers a consistently wonderful experience. In the meantime, I have cooked a few splendid dinners at home and dined around enough NOT to be blind-sided. AND here comes the verdict: Pops kicks ass (pardon my honesty) – but it really does! I can cook fish in many ways and my chicken never fails but what Chef Brochu is putting out is hard to reproduce at home and that’s what the fun is all about. I am talking about three kinds of pate – let me take that back: it’s four, actually; with a newly introduced fish pate (!!!) Not to mention that the ripe banana puree which arrives alongside a buttery foie gras pate is one of the most delicious culinary riddles I’ve had to resolve. I love foie gras and I was relived when the ban was lifted by the city. Are you kidding me??!! We have a third-world-class public trans system and we were discussing goose liver?!!! Chef Brochu’s foie gras pate is delicious. Now, I told you before I was a lucky girl and I did get to try foie gras creme brulee at Jean George in NYC as well as at the local staple of the old school of fine dining: Carlos’s where they bring the HOT and COLD foie gras combo. Trickery aside, Mr. Brochu makes this creamy dish as proof: foie is here to stay!
Back at Pops: pates and cheeses arrive surrounded by a lovely backup of surprising flavors: red bell pepper puree and green garlic marmalade – all imaginative and delicious! Not to mention that you get to round up our meal with cardamom ice cream with banana biscuits!! “When do we get to go back for cardamom ice cream?!!” – cry my lovely friends. “Soon”- I say- “Very soon!!!”
The modest write up in “Conscious Choice” does only a partial justice to the place and the talent that resides there.
The food is complex yet delicious just as the place is elegant yet very friendly. Not to mention a world-class dose of jazz you get if you are willing to decend downstairs into a cellar-like-European style basement…We will be back again, than again, and again…