Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bistro 45's Wasp-Worthy Prix-Fixe

I love Pasadena for its charming architecture and old buildings that still have character in an age where many L.A. cities have either lost their charm under levels of seed and decay as in the downtown Theater District or are trading in their antiquated mementos of endearment for the new, technological and flashy. I also love the feel of history that is embedded throughout its streets, home of the annual Rose Bowl parade, and the way whole generations of families will walk down the streets and dine together in a very Wasp-ian fashion reminiscent of old school burgeoning orange grove and ranch land Southern California before it became the melting pot that I do still indeed love today, but for different reasons.

Last night we ate at Bistro 45 in Pasadena for the Pasadena Restaurant Week prix-fixe dinner, an excuse to visit the charming area. The Cute Gardener had already been there and hardly goes back to places twice so I figured we had a leg up on knowing the food would be good. I was surprised at how much I actually ended up liking the dinner, considering I have been to so many restaurants of late and my bar has risen considerably. It’s not often that I enjoy a whole meal in its entirety; feeling like each dish carries the overall quality consistency of the entire meal into on cohesive impression of goodness. I also like places that can’t be pigeonholed by its inhabitants as being a joint serving any particular demographic solely a.k.a. seniors, hipsters, etc. but draws a crowd of diverse diners across age, social, and other classifications. Bistro 45 fit all of these characteristics for me.

The portions here were perfect throughout the meal, and yes, it’s because it was a prix-fixe price portion but nevertheless I was happy about that. The roasted beet salad contained honey yogurt, frisee leaves, candied oats (a nice touch from the overdone walnuts or pecans), cocoa and winter greens. The beets were perfectly cooked and flavorful and the lettuce was dressed separately from the beets (nice touch!) in buttery oil and a salt tang.

The filet of fatty, pan-roasted Atlantic salmon was cooked exquisitely and melted in the mouth. It was served with roasted organic eggplant that carried a surprising caramelization of oil and cumin that was musky, smoky, masculine and scrumptious. The spiced pearl pasta made a nice bed for the fish and roasted cherry tomatoes were hot and plump-ly popped in the mouth.

The Pitman Family Farms Duck Cassoulet arrived with tender duck meat falling off the bone, three kinds of beans with varying textures, yummy peppery lamp sausage bits, shards of crispy bacon, dried tomatoes and fried bread all topped by a heavenly and rich mustard cream that when swirled in, blended all the otherwise biting flavors.

A chocolate “soup” in individual pots was served for dessert. Like a soufflé, it had a light and bready top but the innards were a luscious thick hot and porous pudding of decadent chocolate. I could have done entirely without the extra chocolate sauce or the generic vanilla ice cream.

I liked the fact that as the room got fuller, the waiters turned down the lights a couple notches every twenty or so minutes. The darkness went as nicely with our dishes as our bottle of Copain Pinot Noir Tous Ensemble.

Teasing the Taste Buds at Epicure Imports

What would make two food geeks drive through scathing Los Angeles freeway traffic on a bustling Friday afternoon? A chance to buy exotic, hard-to-find gourmet foods in a warehouse setting for less then grocery store prices, that’s what.

The very quirky little nondescript Epicure Imports warehouse sits in a North Hollywood neighborhood brick to brick with candle manufacturing companies and other industrial spaces. A few times a year it throws its doors open to the general public for a warehouse sale. You basically grab a shopping cart from their bizarre collection of mix and match carts from various grocery brand stores like Ralphs, Albertsons, and VONS in the Southern California area and then you go to town walking down the aisles in two separate spaces – one for dry foods that can be stored at room temperature and one for cold foods that need refrigeration.

The Cute Gardener and I were on the hunt for palette pleasing items for our personal pantries as well as the makings of a deluxe Saturday night supper to share. We came away with an illustrious bounty that included the following items:

Organic Olive Oil
Rice Sushi in a 15-pound bag
Avocado Oil
Almond Oil
Soft baguette
Bonne Bouche cheese
Valrhona chocolate
Mimolette cheese
Epoisses Berthaut cheese

Organic Olive oil
Raspberry whole grain dijon mustard
Vanilla Chestnut spread
Harissa chili sauce in a tube
Peppercorn crusted duck pate
Duck liver mousse with port
Dark chocolate
Dried figs

Even though the warehouse boasted six cashiers for the occasion, we still had to stand in line for a half hour with our fellow foodie freaks. It was a pleasant experience though because everyone was so happy to be there shopping for their favorite things and finding unique culinary surprises that the line became a big chat parade about various things food related. A gay couple was hilarious in that they kept leaving their line to get more things and one half of the male duo was enthusiastically touting Bouchon’s fried chicken dinners. A woman in front of us was waxing poetic about her balsamic vinegar while enjoying the milk chocolate truffles that a kind sales person was passing around to all of us for enduring the wait.

Nice little chunk of foodie heaven and one of those little gems in life just waiting to be uncovered.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reggae Kale Burrito Sunday with the Girls

One of my favorite teenage memories was of being at my friend Beth’s house on Sunday mornings. Beth lived in the sometimes-bastardized town of Desert Hot Springs where I grew up in latchkey oblivion from age six to twelve. After I left I thought I would never go back but ended up loving the time I could spend at her house in high school. She lived next to Cabot’s Indian Pueblo museum, which at the time was not regulated as it is today. Outside of her bedroom window was a huge Indian totem head that I would imagine protected me while I slept. Her house and the museum were on a stranded plot of sandy sprawl and wild land ridden with tumbleweed, creosote, sage bush and sand. On Saturday nights we would dress up and stay up late in the desert doing avant-garde photo shoots on the skeletons of abandoned couches and washing machine drums. We would wake up on Sunday mornings, the pillows flaked up with the night before’s geisha white pancake makeup, to the smell of her herbologist mother making fresh poppy seed muffins in the kitchen. Her mother’s boyfriend then, who slept in his van and was a breatharian, would come in lured by the smell and we would crank up the KCRW reggae marathon for the morning. With the French doors thrown open we would eat and sing along with the tunes of a mellow mood and the whistling desert wind breathing through the rooms and hallways. The sound of low-key reggae was forever memorialized in my mind as the soundtrack to good food filled Sunday mornings.

Last weekend for my birthday, seven girls who form the core of my friendship soul swarmed into my beachside home for the weekend. I treated them to a special kale burrito scramble on Sunday morning to show them the gratitude I feel that they are all in my life; these women who know me better than anyone and who love me unconditionally. One of them switched on her IPod while I cooked and the sounds of Bob Marley swooned through my home as I was reminded of Beth’s house and the love that is shared unconditionally between real girl friends.

A simple pan of garlic sautéed provided a beautiful bath for the chopped up tomato and kale. Once simmered down, the whipped up eggs and Parisian spices were tossed in to scramble along with the juicy vegetables. Served buffet style along with “Natty Dread” and the pounding Venice Beach rain, we ate the lovely mixture atop Ezekiel wheat sprout tortillas with black beans and cheddar cheese. In our world, it was a version of a cleansing Sunday sermon morn.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rainy Day Romance at Le Vallauris

They must have been in their late 60s and it was clear they had been together for a long time when they sat down at the table next to us. We were at Le Vallauris, my favorite French restaurant in the desert, where the Cute Gardener was treating me to a romantic birthday feast.

In the darkened, masculine bar on plush seats with the most attentive and classy, old school waiters we shared a bottle of Chateau Mouton with a perfect pink label. It had been raining all afternoon and the usual tree filled courtyard was not available so we sat nearly thigh to thigh with others in the more-than-normally-intimate lounge.

We ordered the most luxurious appetizers of escargot and foie gras while the couple next to us popped their own bottle of wine.

“This is the second favorite preparation of this dish I’ve had,” my guy described as he ate the foie gras that will soon be forbidden, handing me his spoon across the table so that I could enjoy a bite. It was sincerely the most silky and unctuous piece of heaven on a spoon.

As I fished through the remaining pools of my escargot butter with hunks of porous French rolls having already slurped up the snails, I snuck another peek sideways at the two senior lovers.

She was clearly the conservative one, her brown/grey bob coiffed while his white/gray head was unruly and wild. He giggled like a schoolboy when the charming waiters brought them their bread. As he looked across the table, he said, “They just don’t have service like this anymore anywhere but here,” cut short by his sudden declaration to her from out of the blue, “I will never forget the first time I saw you.”

I had a feeling I was more like him than her. I looked across my own table and smiled at my guy noticing the way his luscious lips closed up around his meticulously placed and apportioned bites. I remembered the first time I had seen him too, in a place not so unlike this, and how his eyes had glanced up at me back then between bites, over the top rim of his eye glasses.

We moved on to entrees as the couple next to us received their own dinners: venison for him and sweetbreads piccata for me. The man was getting a little loopy and saying loud things to the lady like I do sometimes and it made me laugh. His woman was reaching across the table to hold his hand and mentioned that he should save some room for the morning when they would try another restaurant in town. It happened to be the same place we were going to dine for breakfast as well.

“Maybe we should invite them to go with us,” my boyfriend said while we shared my tangy sweetbreads and the strange little homemade potato puffs that accompanied them. 

As the interesting dessert of rice pudding arrived topped off with plump and ripe berries the couple next to us were sharing a sprightly salad of avocado and crab. I shared a nice smile with the gentlemen as we were brought out our check.

Our debonair waiter who could easily have been around in the same job for the last twenty years bid us good bye and hinted that we were all obviously going to be blessed with kisses later, garlic be damned. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Guanciale Garden Pasta - Cute Gardener Style

If the old adage is true and the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, then my boyfriend has wound his way through mine with his never ending variations on the simple bowl of pasta.

When we first met I was pretty amazed by the assortment of pastas he kept on hand in the cupboards and the fridge. The thing that makes his pasta sing is the fact that he uses whatever ingredients are fresh from his garden combined with genius little touches that are not distinctly Italian or of any particular food genre, but more about what’s available, creative, and tasty. You know what you’re getting in a traditional pasta joint whether it be the blander versions of red and white checkered tablecloth spaghetti and meatball fare or more refined, gourmet ragus and exotic meat bologneses in the better osterias; but at the Cute Gardener’s house each time I eat pasta, it’s like receiving a new and unusual little gem of a meal in a bowl.

Last week, he introduced me to perciatelli, a fat version of spaghetti with holes in the middle to expedite the cooking.

It started with two questions. What kind of red wine would you drink with peas, he asked innocently enough on a sunny afternoon. Something burgundy and fruity, I answered. And what about bacon, he asked next, making my mouth water in anticipation for what I was hoping to be a dinner of some form of carbonara. Something bloody, I replied. A sangiovese/cabernet sauvignon blend provided the answer.

Then the excitement begun, as in watching the parade of ingredients that would make up my dinner being carefully combined and cooked in a pan. First, a big chunk of guanciele, an exquisite pork cheek accentuated by a seasoning rub, was sliced and sautéed to render down all the fat into a wonderful base of flavor.

Next up were the diced white onions and items fresh from his garden including plump fava beans and fresh green peas.

A raw egg thrown into the pot at the last minute was stirred in to create some depth and texture before a dusting of pecorino.

The final touch of crumbled cooked bacon added the exact amounts of saltiness needed to finish off the dish.

Unlike the occasions when we eat pasta out together at restaurants, I seem to always finish my bowls at his house. He has a fine touch with pasta that makes the dish feel light and healthier than when dining out. Or maybe that’s just what I am going to tell myself so that I can keep enjoying the dishes, along with a step up in my samba practice sessions. I don’t see why not; my favorite interview with the iconic bombshell Sophia Loren read years ago was all about her daily habit of a bowl of pasta when asked about how she keeps up her beauty. When eating Roman….

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spicy Literary Lady Empanada Lunch

Three pieces of literature greatly affected my love of both words and food at an early age. One of them was seminal food writer and daring feminist-before–her-time MFK Fisher’s book Consider the Oyster. A tome devoted to the sensual sea fare in all its illustrious forms fueled me with inspiration in the culinary linguist field. The second one was Fannie Flagg’s tale Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, where drama and female lore was trotted out amongst the historical recipes of the South. And lastly, in my early twenties, I sweated profusely along with the words of Laura Esquivel as Like Water For Chocolate sealed my lust for the spicy and passionate people and foods of Mexico.

One of my closest friends Leslie, who I lunch with any chance I can get in her sunny little kitchen at her upcycled clothes and goods company Tea With Iris’ headquarters, is inspired  by Chilean-American author Isabel Allende.

Oftentimes we spend the lunch hour with her homemade empanadas, which make me automatically happy when I smell their familiar aroma coming fresh from the oven. I typically sit at the kitchen table as we catch up on our lives while she deftly pulls together her quirky and delightful creations right under my nose.

Her inspiration for making these empanadas came after reading Allende’s book, Ines of My Soul. Leslie says,In the story Ines travels from Spain to Peru to become a well-respected conquistadora. There are parts in the novel where she cooks these amazing empanadas from practically nothing. She uses whatever resources and spices she can find to feed her army or the starving people on the ship she sailed to South America with. I'm totally in love with the story.”

Here is an excerpt from when she was traveling aboard the ship to South America:

"I made empanadas with lentils, garbanzos, fish, chicken, sausage, cheese, octopus, and shark, and with them earned the gratitude of the crew and the passengers."

This last time we shared her empanadas alongside some caramelized, grilled plantain slices.

Leslie was kind enough to share her recipe with me, adapted slightly from another book “Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen.”

Leslie’s Empanadas

Oven: 30-35 minutes


1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup water
1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano (sometimes I just cut and chop it up fresh from the garden and use much more)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup flaxseed meal (or amaranth or quinoa flour)

Here is where you can get creative

Mexican rice
diced up greens such as spinach, kale, chard
diced up zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, etc.
mustard or pesto
cheese (optional- kids tend to like it more with a little cheese)

1. Lightly brush cookie sheet with oil
2. Mix flour and flaxseed meal (or amaranth or quinoa flour) together in bowl.
3. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the oils, water, oregano and salt until bubbles just begin to appear.
4. Slowly stir in flour. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a towel and refrigerate 30 to 45 minutes.
5. Sprinkle a smooth surface and rolling pin with flour.
6. Roll out dough into 1/8 inch thickness.
7. Press a bowl with 5-inch diameter into the dough to make circles.
8. Spread a thin layer of mustard or pesto
9. Spoon mixture of filling onto lower half of circle then fold upper half over and press the edges together with a small fork.
10. Bake 30-35 minutes in preheated oven at 375 degrees.

The filled empanadas can also be frozen, baked or unbaked.
Eat with a couple of days since there are no preservatives.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

All Hype for El Jefe?

I really wanted to like El Jefe when the Cute Gardener took me there on the hunt for a pile of nachos and a kick off to my birthday margarita this past weekend in the desert. We had been hankering for a visit after hearing the hype about the new bar, located in the newly refurbished Saguaro Hotel with Iron Chef Jose Garces at the helm. I was excited about the idea of a funky watering hole where you could buy Mexican street food specialties like goat and tongue tacos until the wee hours of the night; a novelty in the desert where convenient food choices narrow down as the evenings grow old. 

We went at an odd time for sure, around four in the afternoon between other plans. I love a good plate of nachos so was looking for something special. We ordered the skirt steak version, which came with tangy chile de arbol but the steak was really just shredded short ribs and the sparse portions of it plain unimpressive. A pile of thin and flimsy chips arrived  topped with lots of hardened cheese but little of the other promised good parts made up the dish.

The drinks in a bar offering hundreds of tequila choices were also quite dim, not flavorful at all and almost watered down. 

Then we ordered shrimp and chorizo tacos, which came in a portion of three small ones. The shrimp was undercooked, the chorizo bland, and the overall textures all blended together in a soft pile of mush.

There were two wait staff personnel “on” the floor while we were there and they admittedly didn’t even know each other’s names, nor did they make haste to clean up after a drunken women flung her glass off one of the communal bar tables, which shattered everywhere and sat for at least ten minutes.

I guess the bottom line is I was looking for dancing on the bar top, down and dirty charred meats and clinking glasses rimmed with salt in a place that is really only a glistening mirage in an otherwise desert oasis.

Swoon Worthy His and Hers Supper

Some girls fall for jewels and bling. Some girls fall for gifts and whispered endearments. Some girls fall for security and nicety. I don’t need any of those things because I have found someone with whom to make supper.

To me this is just about one of the sexiest things in the world.  Waking up from a disco nap at ten o’clock in the evening on a Saturday after a full day of walking the streets of L.A. in search of interesting architecture and scouring the fridge for something to eat.

Finding a huge steak of farmer market farm fresh salmon and making a snappy his and her meal. 

His = Bruschetta made of French baguette slices perfectly toasted in arbequina olive oil and topped with raw salmon slices, diced beefsteak tomato and bits of artisanal salad greens from a local farm. 

Hers = Broiled Tuscan-style salmon cooked perfectly for 15 minutes at 450 degrees, after rubbed with olive oil, basil, oregano, red bell pepper, garlic, thyme, fennel, black pepper and anise. 

Capped off with a sassy little D’Acquoise cake for two from Bottega Louie.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Frou Frou for Louie (Bottega, That Is)

I am not a very “girlie” girl. I don’t wear pink, I don’t like drinks with umbrellas and fruit, I get along better with guys, I can’t stand shopping all day, I rarely get my nails done, and you will never see me flipping through a Cosmopolitan Magazine for advice on how to live. But there is one department where I turn into a mushy female and that’s when it comes to food and pretty and/or romantic food places.

There’s something about Bottega Louie in downtown Los Angeles that tickles this feminine bone for me. Maybe it’s the huge square rooms bathed only in pristine white with hints of white marble and gold painted furniture that hints at Hollywood Regency style decor. Maybe it’s the patisserie stacked with glass counters full of gem-like tarts, miniature cakes and pastries. Maybe it’s the cute marbled bar where you can sit and watch pedestrians stroll by in the late Saturday afternoon sun as you sip your not-too-sweet glass of good sparkling rose wine. Or the cooks shuffling away in the middle of the space in their own little crystalline box where you get a strangely Willie Wonka-esque view into the bustle of their cooking and baking really good food.

Last weekend after an architecture tour in the historic theater district, the Cute Gardener and I discovered Bottega Louie while hunting for a deep dish pizza that we ended up never able to procure. We ended up at the bar for an afternoon cocktail and a bite. I could tell I liked the place way more than he did, due to the girlie-ness as well as the fact that you could hardly hear yourself talk in the ultra packed and noisy place. The bar was actually the best place to sit in the whole establishment because the other seating options seemed more like a packed cafeteria. In our own little corner though, catered to by attentive bartenders, we enjoyed a slice of the place that was unique to us. 

A glass of rose for me alongside the cutest presentation of bread that came with connected rolls that you tear off as you go and a pot of impeccably soft butter.

A tidy Old Fashioned for him.

 A Lyonnaise salad came looking very pretty with its pristine poached egg on top and perfectly chewy to crispy ratio lardoons sprinkled throughout. The egg failed to run once opened which was the only sad thing.

Our thin crust pizza was delicious; my favorite kind of crust that alternates between chewy and crispy, moist and dry with valleys and folds where flavors collect and surprise. Every time we took a slice, the bartender swiveled the pie for us so we would have the next slice in front of our face. Topped with spicy rapini, burrata, prosciutto and mozzarella.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without getting some dessert for later.

D’Acquoise cake for him topped with berries and gold leaf. 

Macarons for me: Earl Grey, Rose, Cassis Violet, Matcha and Salted Caramel (never made it to the photo as it was popped in my mouth upon purchase).

And jelly candies for my sour-sweet toothed daughter.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sausage Soliloquy

I do weird things when it comes to my moods and they usually have something to do with food.

When I’m having female trouble, I crave just one bite of Lindt dark chocolate covered marzipan, taco-flavored Doritos and Diet A&W Root Beer even though I typically abhor processed junk food and soda of any kind the other twenty-three days of the month.  When I was pregnant I could only eat cheese quesadillas with potato salad piled on top of them.  When I visit my family I wake up craving bagels with cream cheese and green olives.  When I travel, I wake up craving huevos rancheros.  When I am sick, nothing makes me feel better than curling up on the couch and watching reruns of horrible Food Network shows like Diners, Drive – Ins and Dives where I can shudder under my fever and imagine eating a bunch of deep fried and seriously fatty meals like patty melts with grilled onions without ever really taking a bite of one. When I am tired, I put myself to sleep by watching Anthony Bourdain shows with my sleepy time tea.

When I am stressed, I turn to sausages. I know it’s strange but it’s what I do. Last week contained one of those nights and I was coming up with slim pickings by the time I decided I was stressed enough to need a sausage tonic.

Not in the mood to go to the store and way overdue for dinner already, I was lucky enough to find two lonely chicken sausage links in the fridge and some fat grained mustard. The beauty of sausage is that it doesn’t take much to glitz them up. These just needed diagonal slices in the meat and a spin under the broiler to give them some good burned external textures that went great with the honey, multigrain toast that accompanied.

My sausage love started in Austria a few years back when my host Hans would feed me a long skinny link with sweet mustard from a tube (condiments come in tubes in European grocery stores) on late nights when we would stumble home from the hearty Linz beer bars. I ate sausages with dense breads almost daily there and lost six pounds anyways from my daily walks along the Danube River to go to the center of town.

Upon returning home, I found myself missing the Austrian links so much that I started to obsess over finding unique sausage combinations on American soil.  All you need to do is go into any Trader Joe’s today to see a mammoth assortment of sausage options from sweet (think maple and apple infused links) to savory (like spinach and feta versions).  One of my favorite finds were some skinny short chicken sausages from Whole Foods, which go perfect, diced up with figs in a pan and sautéed until all ingredients become fruit-caramelized.

My Top Five Favorite Sausage Experiences of the Moment
(Although this list will rotate continuously and that’s the fun of sausages!)

1.     My brother in law's ingenious way to feed ten crazy children and their parents at a recent birthday party for my sister was to cook about six packages of a variety of flavored sausages and chop them all up into slices. Then the slices were served buffet style with three choices of mustard flavors and toothpicks, making them easy to eat and discard.
2.     Old fashioned bratwursts rubbed with olive oil and rosemary and thrown on a hot outdoor grill until about to burst.
3.     Polsa kiebalsa cut long and lengthwise in half and fried in a pan and served with potato hash and ketchup.
4.     Chorizo crumbled into an egg scramble for breakfast.
5.     Whole Foods fresh deli hot Italian chicken sausage slow-cooked in a pan until dense and crumbly, sliced and dipped into hearty marinara sauce.

A few weeks back, I read about a restaurant in Beverly Hills that is now on the list of restaurants to go with the Cute Gardener. It’s called BierBeisl and touts itself as serving authentic Austrian food. I checked them out online and they have a regular menu and a separate sausage menu. Wow, surefire way to seduce me from the get go! I already plan on trying the classic Weisswurst pair, slow simmered in milk and served with sweet mustard and a salty pretzel.

A report is sure to come on that later…

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Vino Vacation in Paso Robles

It had been nearly ten years since my last proper winery tour when the Cute Gardener told me he wanted to take me to Paso Robles on a recent weekend. Now I know why a proper wine tour should only take place once or twice a decade because it certainly is a whirlwind journey not meant for the weak or easily light-of head. One full of beautiful twists and turns through countryside where it’s easy to fall into a romanticized sense of wonder stoked by tasting various libations of the lovely and efluorescent grape. 

On Day One, I realized rather quickly why tasting rooms offer nibbles like peppery thick crackers, pungent cheeses and mammoth fresh walnuts to guests. Even though you think you are only imbibing a sip of wine per glass, the sips easily add up to make full glasses when you have a boyfriend with a master plan to visit as many wineries as possible in an afternoon. Mine, armed with his notes, was an expert at taking me to the places where he knew the wine was good to avoid useless tasting, and I enjoyed seeing the wine world through his palette as we visited places like Bella Luna with the cute dogs who came out to greet us and Olea Farm where pieces of bread dipped into various pools of creamy olive oil provided much needed soaking up of the system between stops.

By nightfall, we had consumed our share for the day and bought many bottles of wine. I was happy that I had been gifted with the beginning bottles of my own private collection, which had a special underlying direction of finding some whites that I actually liked, as I am usually a prototypical bold red girl.

To top off the vibe of decadence that had come to permeate the weekend, we chose to dine at Il Cortile in Paso Robles and were smart enough to waddle from our hotel room directly to dinner to try and work off a little of the day’s damage. We had a deal: since I was prone to his planning on the whole wine tour, I was to pick the meal for us that evening. In the dimly golden-lit dining room of the charming and bustling small restaurant, I set about ordering a feast meant only for the truly adventurous. 

Beef Carpaccio special with black truffles started us off. Translucent red disks slathered in a rich pool of sauce that we lavishly dipped bread slices in before eating the meat. This dish filled me up accompanied by the Giornata Barbara bottle we sinfully shared and I wondered why I was so full after not actually eating much during the day; that is until I was reminded that all those sips of wine still have caloric content. 

A pappardelle with braised wild boar was next. Perfect little homemade ribbons of pasta swirled delightfully around chunks of tangy boar meat, easily becoming my favorite item of the dinner. 

A whole lobster special with spaghetti pomodoro was simple and light, or would have tasted light had we not already been gluttonously inclined. 

A pork osso buco with parmesan risotto was absolutely fall off the bone tender. By this time, I hit a wall and could not possibly stuff another bite of the delicious meat into my mouth so the poor Cute Gardener had to take over. 

And even though we declined dessert, the chefs still sent us a complimentary piece of lemon tart that was really creamy and sublime. I don’t know whether they were sending it to us out of respect that we had ordered such a daring meal or if they were as amazed as I was that we could actually finish the meal and were sending us a congratulatory nail in the culinary coffin.

Needless to say, the bedtime that evening moved down a couple hours more than normal.

The next day, as we finished our whirlwind wine tour, I shied away from the tastings and only had a bit here and there on our journey, choosing instead to revel at the properties we visited and the unabashedly beautiful lands of the vineyards and ranches. I found myself oftentimes in reverie over cute little barns that were transformed in my head into personal artist studios, and old-fashioned homes with wrap-around porches that one could easily and comfortably become a hermit in for the rest of days.  

It was a worthy trip we discovered as we unloaded the bounty later at home. The Cute Gardener had accumulated over 30 bottles to add to his custom made wooden wine cellar. 

And I scored a nice little starter collection of my own.