Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sip This: Refugio Ranch Barbareño

This red blend’s name, a reference to one of the Chumash dialects, hints at how the wine is a native expression of the Santa Ynez Valley. With 75 percent syrah and 25 percent petite syrah — at least in this vintage (the 2015 is sold out and the 2016 just released, and those percentages are slightly different) — is big and bold, hale and hearty. There’s a lot of French oak, but it’s very well integrated.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Monarch and Silver Bough Abruptly Close

(A halibut dished served at the Monarch at a March 2019 wine dinner with Liquid Farm and Kings Carey.)

In a somewhat shocking case of burying the lead, The Santa Barbara Independent and other media outlets received the news Friday afternoon that Scratch Restaurants “will begin swiftly expanding in 2020 by opening additional outposts of Sushi|Bar,” one of which is housed in the Montecito Inn.

The buried lead is that Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee — the husband-and-wife chef duo who own Scratch Restaurants — have pulled the plug on The Monarch (which recently won this paper’s Foodie Award) and the lavish dinner-as-spectacle Silver Bough. Both restaurants are not just closed; their spaces have in fact been sold.

Want to read the rest than do so at the Independent's site.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Index: Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Thank you all who have read your way through our five-country grand tour along the Rhine, Main, and Danube, with a handful of days in Prague to boot (we were gone May 12 - May 30). To sum up, here's what was best about this Viking Cruise, beyond the wonderful company of Judy and Roger, our too kind benefactors:

  • Wonderful, personal, attached local guides
  • Great location-appropriate onboard food and drink
  • A chance to see so many places that only seem to exist in films or dreams
  • Our terrific, patient, funny and knowledgeable cruise director Stein Dyb, who stayed with us the whole trip even though we had to take two different ships
And to help you find all these posts, as the chronicling of the trip took 10x longer than the trip itself:

Prague, Czech Republic (flying and arrival) Day 1
Prague, Czech Republic (city touring) Day 2
Prague, Czech Republic (Sedlec, Kutna Hora) Day 3
Budapest, Hungary (bus trip, night cruise) Day 1
Budapest, Hungary (bus tour, friend visit) Day 2
Vienna (Prater, plus Slovakia sail through), Austria Day 1
Vienna (city tour and The Belvedere), Austria Day 2
Melk (and Danube sailing), Austria
Passau, Germany
Regensburg, Germany
Nuremberg, Germany
Bamberg, Germany
Wurzburg, Germany
Wertheim, Germany
Koblenz (castles, Marksburg), Germany
Cologne, Germany
Kinderdijk, The Netherlands
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Monday, October 14, 2019

Sip This: Babcock 2016 Bright Fortune

Leave it to the mad — in the best of ways — scientist of wine Bryan Babcock to be one of the Santa Barbara producers eager to bring back cabernet franc after a virus wiped out most of this region’s vines in the 1990s. The new stock led to Bright Fortune, this ripe and delicious red there isn’t enough of.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 18)

Speak Double Dutch to a Real Double Duchess

Pardon the obscure Elvis Costello allusion, especially since it's from a song called "New Amsterdam," (hey, there's a video for it, who knew?) when we were briefly in the old one. See, obligatory canal photo. I will spare you the one of many many bicycles (a whole parking garage of them!) and one of realizing we were in the red light district as the amount of unwashed vomit from the cobblestones increased.

We didn't get to do much this morning as our shuttle to the airport was heading out at about 10 am. We got up, ate breakfast, cleared our stateroom by 9 as required, and said farewell to Judy and Roger, who were doing the extension in Amsterdam and taxied off to their hotel. Some of us, after three weeks off, had to go back to work, though. That's in America.

Still, Chryss and I had to walk about a bit, didn't we? Peek our heads into one Gouda store? Worry the oddly slanted building fronts might slide into us on the sidewalk? (Clearly not Californians worried about the Big Shake.)

It was drizzly, though, so that made a town of water seem even damper. We did find a neighborhood of cute cafes and shops we wished we had time to dawdle in. We were impressed by lots of brick, especially the imposing Beurs van Berlage, once a stock exchange, and now a spot for conferences and snacking.

The damp meant I didn't drag the camera around, and I guess the idea it was all over saddened me enough I didn't really take phone photos, either. We did wish that Viking figured out a way you got some actually time in Amsterdam and didn't just say, "Hey, we're docked--now get on that shuttle!" It seems almost a cheat to pretend it's part of the cruise itinerary.

As for the airport, and a somewhat difficult two flights home, I won't bore you. Let's just say it's tricky when one person's Global Entry arrives on time and the other's doesn't, and then he gets stuck in a ridiculous customs line. We both made our connecting flight somehow, though, if a bit anxiously.

Instead, let's focus on a surprisingly good Bloody Mary at the Amsterdam airport. That's always nice, no?

Or even better, the official Vali painting from our ship. What an artful run through Europe we had. Full, fast, and even with all these photos and posts, a bit of a dream.

Go back to Day 17 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 17)

Ark, Who Sails There?

No, I had not had too much to drink early in the morning as we sailed from Germany--auf wiedersehen--to The Netherlands. For there really is a replica of the ark, not quite the full cubits as the "original," sitting there in the Rhine to indoctrinate folks into creationism. At least someone had some money to blow on it. Oddly, it fits 5,000 people, way more than the original crew. Did you recall Noah was five hundred years old when he became the father of Shemp, Moe, and Curly? Oh, I mean Shem, Ham and Japheth. I was pretty close without looking it up. I mean, why should I when most devout haven't read the book either?

There are other reasons to believe, like a blue day with puffy clouds and the ship's prow mist guard making magical reflections.

Or my wife, enjoying the sun and still cold. But she still rocks!

We are well past the land of castles at this point, with the Rhine from Cologne to eventually Amsterdam busy with other shipping and much of the shore looking a bit industrial. It's our last morning to sail under bridges, so I'm not going to miss the chance to shoot some photos of that. Always a bit thrilling-terrifying to consider the hundreds of cars zooming over us.

And trucks, too, of course. Go engineers!

So this region is largely a park area known as De Biesbosch, and this building says that, but it really doesn't seem like nature park central. Alas, I didn't get this confusion cleared up on the ship or on the internets. Sorry.

And soon, lo and behold, our first windmill!

We were going to sort of back in to get to Kinderdijk, our afternoon stop, but here's what it looks like from around the way, with a water tower that's evidently for sale--some have been turned into hotels, so if you're interested in the hospitality industry....

Like the Michel Legrand in Your Mind

The largest concentration of windmills in The Netherlands is in the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Kinderdijk. Nineteen are still preserved-restored and driving a Don Quixote batty. (Cervantes reference, check!) They are amidst the Groene Hart (Green Heart, but you probably got that on your own), an extensive peat landscape where all the Dutch cities you've heard of are--Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Amsterdam. And while it's become a tourist destination, that doesn't make it a tourist trap. Don't believe me, just look at this.

That's one of the best shots I got. Maybe ever. But the mix of water, tall grasses, blue skies, skittering clouds--it was something. You did have to watch where you walked, as it as also a paradise for water fowl, which like to poop all over human paths. I think the clay spells "restroom" in bird language. But the birds were also beautiful too. It was easy to keep getting different perspectives, but I promise not to overdo these selections, just give you a sense of it. Feel free to listen to the best version of "Windmills of Your Mind" as a soundtrack to the photos (Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Petra Haden, Thomas Morgan).

When we did our tour with the local guide, who had a super dry sense of humor (that's because her humor wore wooden shoes)

we even got to go inside one of the windmills. That's when things seemed too much full of tourists--cramped space, ladders of stairs more or less up and down the three stories. Amazing to think the one we visited had been home to a family of over 10 kids. I would think such a tiny home would be excellent birth control.

Oh, and then there was also , biking along amidst the tall grasses, unexplainable this. I so wish I knew this man's story, so hope he doesn't do it just to puzzle tourists like me, but has some greater deeper reason to perform his patrol.

Some of the folks about the windmills weren't so exotic, if definitely more dear.

One Last Day of the Big Feed

Sure, we would get breakfast the next morning, but this day was it, the last full day of cruise stuffing. Again, we couldn't have been happier with Viking food, and given they tried so much to offer the cuisine from where you were, I felt less gypped not having to find a perfect spot in all our towns. Plus--easier and included!

So for lunch you get three photos, starting with our second to last soup. Viking really nails soups, so don't pass on them if you ever cruise with them. Here's a potage garbure, Bearn style, and who doesn't want to feel the Bearn? It's a pureed vegetable soup--recipes vary, but there will be beans and probably cabbage--and this one was swirled with saffron aioli and dotted with croutons and made you want to lick the bowl clean.

I guess since the soup came from France, the pasta could come from Liguria, torfie alla Genovese*, with pesto, potatoes (double the starch, double the fun!) and green beans.

*Note I did not make a Kitty Genovese joke as that's too obscure and has little to do with pasta and is just sad.

I promise we got off lunch desserts as soon as we got back to the States, but the Netherlands isn't a U.S. possession, so here's something easing us back into our homeland's good graces, apple crumb pie with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Hide it under a large enough mint leaf and it's a salad.

Dinner, of course, meant a returns to the regional specialties menu, but not for the appetizer as there was more soup--wild mushroom amped up with truffle cream--on the daily specials. Given wild mushroom soup was one of my few Slovak favorites that my mom made when I was a wee thing, this was both delicious and nostalgic--of my youth, of just a few weeks ago in Prague, which already seemed world's away.

My main was the exotically named "roast pork." I mean, it's our last night, Viking! Step up your game and wow me with some German! Seriously, it was a perfect plate, with, of course, the legal requirement sides of sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. Cumin jus gave it a bit if a different fillip and helped keep it moist--it's so easy to dry out roast pork.

Chryss, prepping for the trip home and a land where all cuisines belong to us, had the Thai green vegetable curry. Again, Viking did a fine job making things work out for a pescatarian.

And I opted to keep the doctor away twice that day, with another apple dessert, mostly because who doesn't want the word "appelflappen" in one's mouth? The only thing more luscious where the apple fritters themselves--think of them as fired red tomatoes, but adorned with vanilla custard sauce.

The First Night We Thought the Cruise Would End

It was hard to believe it was going to end, after being away for over two weeks, but here we were, with one last splendid sunset.

We had sailed legendary rivers, visited towns with centuries of history, ate and drank well, and even better met some fascinating new friends--here's the whole gang, with Steven and Carol (at left) and us at the last supper.

Chryss and I, of course, can't thank Roger and Judy enough. We cherished the trip, of course, but even more the chance to see the world with them. Thank you both.

There was, of course, one last drink treat, as the bar broke out some of the finest German brandy--of course there is such a thing, don't scoff. If you like brandy with a bit more of a bite, more caramel and oak, Asbach might be for you. On this night, it was spot on for me.

And so, don't ask for whom the Vali bell tolls, it tolls for our memorable adventure. I'll do a very short Amsterdam post (as we only were in the town for an hour--the airport much longer...). And then a wrap-up of highlights and what I hope will be a helpful index. But thanks for all your time on board this boat of a blog with me as it took me months to finish.

Go back to Day 16 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Go ahead to Day 18 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 16)

A Town By Any Other Name Wouldn't Smell as Sweet

Day 16 we visit Cologne, but since we're docked for just over 13 hours, perhaps we should call that semi-Cologne. Yep, I have stooped to punctuation puns. No wonder the gargoyles seem about to retch. So let's show something sweeter, literally, a breakfast aboard the Vali. While Chryss and I got particularly fond of the egg benedict--and that's no typo, they served a single, which is a non-gorging perfect serving--I also discovered the blueberry pancakes weren't bad either. Especially with a little side boat of bacon, as nobody wants syrup on their bacon, at least no one I like.

And the view this morning from our cabin? Glad you asked.

Yeah, it looked threatening again, but rain held off all day. So think of it as a highly Germanic, dramatic cloud show.

Walking Tour, Cathedral Wins, Spires Up

Before we get to the 516 foot gorilla in Cologne, let's go on the day's walking tour, that first skirts the Rhine where a boat says, "I'm not afraid of you, Loreley."

Or, perhaps, it is hoping to get crashed into by another boat someday so somebody whose name sounds like butt in another language writes a famous poem about it. And then there's just beautiful buildings, mostly fake old while lots are quite modern (post 1945). The fake old part goes back to WWII again, as the allies, mostly the RAF, thought a great way to demoralize Germany would be to bomb die Scheiße out of Cologne. The first 1000 bomber squadron of the war dropped their long tons on Cologne. Many of the bombs were incendiaries, but luckily the city's grand, wide streets helped the fires from turning into massive firestorms. Not that the town didn't end up looking like this in 1945.

Let's not do war no more, ok?

But even the taverns can look lovely, once rebuilt to look the old they were, like this one right across from our mooring.

Not far was the Kölner Philharmonie, which you can, and cannot, see in this photo. For it's below plaza level, and that woman rolling her suitcase might be disturbing a recording, for all we know. Evidently she didn't read the signs saying don't walk, or even more so, roll stuff (including yourself) over these bricks.

Behind it is the Museum Ludwig, supposedly home to an amazing modern art collection. Again, one of the biggest faults to an otherwise fine cruise is you never feel you have enough shore time to dive into a place like the Ludwig. But it certainly plays off its neighbor the Cologne Cathedral quite effectively.

And before we get to Kolner Dom, look, here are two spires I can't ID, but make a cool photo!

And they turn trash into statues, even though, again, searching the nets I can't find the details I know our fine guide told us.

It's both fun to look at and a bit terrifying--all that's waste, and now it's a giant human. (Which is better than the large human who's a waste in the White House right now--pa da dum!).

We Go Goth

Words can't quite express the glory that is the Cologne Cathedral. Another one of those churches that got built over centuries, beginning in 1248 but not finished until 1880. And no, it didn't take that long, there were just a lot of stops and starts. It's even worse than trying to open a fully licensed new business in Santa Barbara!

Yep. the tip of the towers are 50 stories up. If you think the spire-tops are small, they disabuse you of that notion by putting models of them in the magnificent, tourist-jammed plaza.

Before we head in, here is its back, too, just because I love how much a Gothic cathedral looks like some defiant spiny creature--you can see why dragons might seem real to folks in the middle ages (or GoT fans, of course).

Just the doors are enough to impress, but you sort of have to have that given 20,000 people could fit inside.

And let's get our rhyming out of the way--there are doors and then there are as amazing floors.

Of course the hard part is to avoid looking up the whole time. So much interior space. So much light.

If not perhaps enough for me to take a shot of any of the stained glass I felt was worth sharing here. Not even of the controversial, but if you ask me abstractly beautiful, one that Gerhard Richter did for the south cross nave in 2007. Sorry. Instead, I do have a perfectly good focus on a deathly image, as usual.

Speaking of death, the cathedral goes all in on reliquaries, starting with the Engelbert Reliquary. While you thought Mr. Humperdinck's career was buried on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island...oh, wait, I just got a message from the Catholic home office...this Engelbert was one of those non-canonized saints who was Archbishop of Cologne back when the cathedral was a mere foundation stone. Still, what's left of him has quite a golden box to hold it.

Alas for Engelbert, his reliquary is practically Jan to the Marsha that's the Shrine of the Three Kings. which Those relics are why this site was a place to build what's now the third largest church in the world, as people have been pilgrimaging here to stand outside the box that holds some of the decaying parts of Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthazar. You need a lot of frankincense to cut that odor, or a lot of gold and jewels to hold it in. See if you can work myrrh in yourselves.

No Ifs, Tongues, or Butts

The Colognese (that can't be what the city's peoples are called, can it?)* are a saucy sort, even with a cathedral that would make a pope proud in the heart of their city. For on their City Hall one of the towers features a wooden face of a man who sticks his tongue out at the town every time the bells toll the hour.

*Turns out here's what they call themselves, as their own website insists: "Kölner are people who live here, Kölsche are those who where born here and in whose veins the pulse of this city can be felt."

My guess is it was a real Kölsche who decided to put up the sculpture across the plaza from the platzjabbeck above. That would be German sculptor Ewald Mataré, who in 1956 created Kallendresser. Sure, there's a history of people pooping from upper stories back in the day. But perhaps his work is an "artistic" way to tell town hall to lap some tuchas.

Heck, they even celebrate Mardi Gras here, if a statue for Mardi Gras is a hint. Or maybe it's just something to trick tourists to take photos of.

I do wish I remember the name of our great tour guide, a fine story-teller, good herder of cats. Here he is in front of some of the parts of the cathedral that have been replaced by newer parts--supposedly over 80 stonemasons, glaziers, roofers and other specialists are constantly at work on the maintenance and restoration of the building. So in addition to letting us see some of the work up-close, these massive stones double as something else in our tenuous 21st century--great barriers to keep some amped up asshole from making his mark on the world by barreling into the pedestrian-packed dom plaza with a vehicle. In this case, god does protect.

Krazy for Kölsch

Cologne has got its own beer, Kölsch. Kölsch is warm fermented with top-fermenting yeast, then conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager--as Wikipedia puts it. (You come up with a graceful paraphrase of that line.) So it's a bit of an ale, and a bit of a lager, and brilliantly bright, fresh, clean, clear and with a good hopiness if you're not looking for a West Coast IPA (we have done so much to make our tastebuds hope for a hop-bludgeoning, haven't we?) You can bet we made sure we drank some, and at different places. So after our shipboard lunch (photos of all that food is coming, don't worry), Chryss and I hightailed it out from the boat to check out one of the spots our fine local tour guide recommended, Sion.

A version of this brauhaus has been around almost as long as the cathedral, which just goes to figure. Even better, Kölsch has got a whole sort of drinking traditions built around it, like the order of the mass. There's a special 7 oz or so glass called a stangen, so you drink it cold and very fresh. You often order a few at once, and if you don't and your glass goes empty--which doesn't take much at such a size--the new one shows up without you saying a thing. So that's even more religious--that's a miracle of beery faith. To get the beers to stop, you need to put a coaster over the top of your glass. The waiter keeps your consumption score right on the paper tablecloth or another coaster. At Sion it's 1,90 Euros per.

We enjoyed Sion so much we ran back out after dinner, too, as our ship didn't sail until 10:30 pm. We dragged along Steven and Carol, as we knew we'd soon no longer see our fun friends. But that didn't stop us from one more night of German fun. (Not an oxymoron.) This time we tried Peters Brauhaus, which charmingly on its translated website suggests: "Pleasure independent of your wallet, 'Klaaf' with friends." We klaafed away. (I tried looking that up and it seems to translate as yap-yap?)

Watching the circular tray they call a crown fly through the bar like a UFO of pleasure--I could have spent a lot more time in Cologne's bars.

Across the Rhine

OK, I've blown all the straight chronology here, but given this post is going up months after the day took place, it's fortunate I can remember any of it, let alone in precise running order. After Sion Chryss and I walked some of the beer off, running into yet another St. George, who unlike this George, clearly knew how to lay off the Kölsch.

It's fun to check out the Rhine from over the Rhine, so we did that, too, hoping to get more saintly svelte. One thing I definitely got was more scenic shots than anyone needs to view, but here's one toward Hohenzollernbrucke and the cathedral.

And then the reverse shot, toward Severinbrucke. Both taken from Deutzer Brucke. Now you know the word for bridge in German, minus an umlaut.

That also meant we got to walk over where the Vali was docked, to get this great view of the shuffleboard and putt putt we never shuffled or putted on. Too much else to do!

All Aboard the Ship

I promised you lunch photos, so here you go, with something shrimpy-salady on bready in the back and the twirled for you spaghetti alla puttanesca up front, for all you fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

And soon we wouldn't be on a cruise so wouldn't have dessert at every meal. In the meantime--lemon meringue pie!

We also has a sadder moment, the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party, since the next evening would be our final one on the Vali and I assume they figure everyone's too busy packing for their returns home to get a pre-dinner buzz on. (Amateurs!) Here's the head crew in their finest while we enjoyed sparkling.

As for dinner, I had to keep with the regional specialties, so here's rettichsalat--yep, radishes on pumpernickel. What could be wrong with that? I love the surprising sharp a radish hides.

Chryss went for a classic on the specials of the day menu, a crab cake with zippy scallion remoulade (plus some unidentified red, probably roasted pepper).

For mains I stuck with the regional menu, although I'm not quite sure how herb crusted ahi is particularly native to Cologne. Maybe it's the boiled potato and the very steaky presentation.

Chryss stuck with the evening's other specials, a risotto con zucchine, burrata e tartufo al limone, which, if anything just too much flavor.

And then here's a photo of Roger's dessert--after having the real thing in Vienna, I couldn't bring myself to try anything that might be a tragic falling off from Platonic ideals, but sachertorte has a pretty high floor, no matter.

Instead I opted to order from the "Classics: Always Available" side of the menu that adventurous-me barely even scanned otherwise. But being pretty full, with dinner and captain's toast and Kölsch before with yet more Kölsch in my future, I ordered fromagerie, figuring the whole table could nibble. And a fine collection of cheese, fruits, dried fruits and nuts it was--perfect for sharing.

After all that, and the second run to Peters, was Cologne all alight and gorgeous and glowing as we sailed on? You decide from these two, I admit, blurry wonders, but by then perhaps I was a third one, too.

Go back to Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George Day 15

Go ahead to Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George Day 17