Tag Archive | Dallas blogger

Yountville

Napa County, California

 

The town of Yountville, California will always hold a special place in this girl’s memory. This little intimate community is home to my very favorite hotel and one of my favorite restaurants.

Yountville is located in the very heart of Napa Valley wine country. This quaint, manicured town was named for early pioneer George Calvery Yount who was responsible for establishing the first vineyard in Napa Valley in 1867. I wonder if he ever knew what he was setting in motion? Great foresight there, George!

 

Today Yountville is known as the “Culinary Capital of Napa Valley.” Bouchon Bistro and The French Laundry are both Michelin-starred restaurants. Redd, Ad Hoc, Lucy and Bouchon Bakery are all first-class eateries with world-renowned chefs. One of my favorite restaurants was Bottega, where my husband and I had a delicious four-course meal and first fell in love with the Napa Valley “buttery” chardonnays. My memory of our dinner here was of impeccable service, elevated Italian cuisine, a stunning wine list, and a delectable parmesan-garlic spread to enjoy on their fresh-baked ciabatta bread. My dining experience at Bottega was a love affair from the first bite! 

 

Not only is Yountville full of world-class restaurants, there are gourmet shops, boutiques, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, top-notch accommodations, and incredible natural surroundings – all in the immediate area. You can casually stroll down the main drag of oak-lined Washington Street and find almost every kind of shop, restaurant, bakery, and spa within walking distance. Be sure to keep your eye out for the over 40 works of art and outdoor sculptures scattered throughout the beautifully landscaped scenic downtown area. 

 

For some day excursions, how about golf, a wine tour, a hot air balloon ride or a bike tour? David and I took off on our own and toured some of the local wineries. Domaine Chandon (owned by French Champagne Moet and Chandon), Frog’s Leap and Goosecross Cellars are all located in close proximity. It is not a far drive to most of the Napa Valley wineries or vineyards from Yountville. Most Napa wineries close at 5:00 p.m. so enjoy your winery visits, have a nice lunch, and come back to Yountville. You can then park your car and walk to one of the 15 tasting rooms. No need to drive any more – just stroll and sip!  

 

If you are wondering where to stay, there are plenty of up-scale hotels, quaint country inns and a few bed & breakfasts. My favorite hotel “of all time” was the Bardessono, located in the heart of Yountville. This was an excellent hotel for location, service, and amenities. With automatic blinds and toilets, a jacuzzi tub, a steam shower, and an outdoor shower on our private patio – I did not want to leave this hotel! The entire place was very “Zen-like” with beautiful flora, fruit trees, fountains, gardens and art work at every turn. The entire Bardessono property was very peaceful and quiet – with the exception of the lively bar, outdoor fire pits and the Lucy Restaurant in the evenings. We also enjoyed the lovely pool and private cabanas a couple of afternoons after returning from our winery expeditions. There may have even been a nap or two in those relaxing roof-top cabanas – just sayin’.

 

This stay in Yountville was one of those trips that we keep saying we want to repeat – and that doesn’t happen for us too often. We visited in October and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Combine the wine, the weather, the hotel, and the meals we enjoyed – and it makes perfect sense why we want to return.

 

My suggestion – set a date, plan ahead, book a couple of restaurants on Open Table and mosey over to Yountville for a great Napa Valley getaway! We may see you there. Cheers!!

For you foodies, here is the recipe for the Bottega Parmesan Garlic Spread: 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, 1/2 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until well chopped and combined. Spread on fresh ciabatta bread and enjoy!

Abacus

Dallas, Texas

I look forward to August every year because that means Dallas Restaurant Week is here! For a certain week(s) during August, many prime Dallas restaurants will offer a price-fix menu and give proceeds to the North Texas Food Bank. It is a great way to try new places and sample their menus (at a considerably lower cost) and it helps benefit a very worthy cause .

One of my restaurant choices this year was Abacus. I have heard about this high-end restaurant for years but never had the opportunity to dine there. Luckily I got reservations on a weekend evening and anxiously looked forward to our visit.

From the moment we stepped into the foyer, I was impressed. Two friendly hostesses greeted us and we were seated at a romantic table for two with a white tablecloth and napkin, candle, fresh flowers and a beautiful place setting. The noise level was energetic, but not too loud, as most of the sounds were coming from the open kitchen and bar area. Our waiter was very professional, friendly, and provided just the right amount of attention. I was very impressed with his knowledge of the menu and the wine list.

The restaurant’s ambiance is sophisticated and romantic. The upscale decor, music, lighting, and art all spell out “fine dining.”  There were many couples dining out this particular evening as well as large groups and a few families. It was perfect for a date night but not too stuffy for a business dinner or a nice dinner with friends or family. 

We began with a couple of the Abacus signature cocktails. The Lucy in the Sky was a fruity, champagne drink and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Gin Basil Gimlet was very tasty and refreshingly good. We were brought a nice bread basket with 3 choices of freshly baked breads and seasoned butter. All were delicious, especially the raisin & nut bread!

Our menu for Dallas Restaurant Week offered a choice of a small plate or appetizer, an entree and then a shared dessert. We opted for the Crispy Coconut Rock Shrimp and Texas Melon plate for our starters and both were great choices. The rock shrimp had a crispy tempura batter and was served with sliced jalapenos, toasted cashews and a mango and red curry sauce. The Texas Melon appetizer was a tasty as it was colorful. Chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon were arranged in a circle around shaved hearts of palm. It was topped with queso fresco, red onions and a cilantro and lime vinaigrette dressing. This was my favorite dish and the combination of colors, textures and tastes was sheer perfection. Delicious!

Next, our server brought over a complimentary Watermelon Mojito Mint Shooter to clean our palates between courses. It was served in a shot glass and tasted like watermelon juice with minty tapioca balls. Loved it!

We both ordered the Blackened Sockeye Salmon for our entree and it was cooked to perfection. The portion was quite large (2 fillets per plate) and the salmon was well-seasoned, but not overly seasoned, as I prefer for blackened dishes. Each entree was beautifully plated with the fish being served over blue corn grits and a red pepper butter sauce. Once again, the dish was visually appealing as well as being satisfying to our taste buds. Our server had suggested a perfect Merlot wine-pairing for this dish and it was spot-on. 

Dessert consisted of a shared plate with small servings of a chocolate and caramel torte, a scoop of chocolate chip mint ice cream and a fruit tartlett. Each one was enjoyable and ended up being a perfect end to a perfect meal.

We had a most pleasant dining experience this particular evening. I am always impressed when you get high quality food, top shelf spirits, innovative dishes, unique flair, and stellar customer service all at one time and in one place. Dining here is certainly not cheap but when all expectations are met, the cost seems justified. 

If you are interested in dining at Abacus, check out their diverse menu on-line. They have a wide variety of menu choices including fresh sushi, lobster shooters, buffalo tenderloin, and black truffle risotto. Monday through Thursday evenings they offer a 5 or 8 course Chef’s Tasting Menu with or without wine pairings. I hope you get to check it out!

Abacus is located in the Knox-Henderson area on McKinney Avenue. Complimentary valet parking is conveniently located out in front of the the restaurant.

Chautauqua

Boulder, Colorado

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Chautauqua National Historic Landmark sign at the park entrance

If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself near Boulder, Colorado with some free time, make your way to Chautauqua National Historic Landmark. Located in the shadows of the Flatirons on the southwest side of Boulder, you will find picturesque views, hiking trails, a dining hall, and over 60 lodges or accommodations for overnight stays.

This is a favorite place for locals and visitors alike. There is a Visitor’s Center at the park’s trail head where you can learn about the plants and animals in the area and also pick up a map showing the 151 miles of trails. There seems to be a trail for every level of hiker. Most of the trails start out on the large meadow in front of the Visitor’s Center and go up into the Flatirons. You can hike for 30 minutes or all day. Some trails meander along the base of the mountains through dense forests. Other trails have moderate to steep inclines and wind up well into the Flatirons for breathtaking views. Trail markers are visible all along the way. According to the season, you may see many types of flowers, flowering trees, tall pines, boulders, streams, cacti, birds, chipmunks, deer, and sometimes – black bears.

Chautauqua is where the locals go for their daily exercise. While many “flat-landers” like myself have to stop every few yards to catch their breath in the higher altitudes, locals come running by or hurriedly walk past with one baby strapped on their front and a toddler on their shoulders – moseying along like it takes no effort whatsoever. Really?! Embarrassment on the trail is when a couple, likely to be in their eighties, scamper by at a quick pace and smile at you as you sit on a boulder gasping for air. I do admit, as hard as some of the hikes have been – it has ALWAYS been worth it!

Another thing I love about Colorado and Chautauqua in particular – it is a dog’s paradise. All the trails are dog-friendly and you see all shapes and sizes of canines. All the dogs seem to be smiling, have pep in their steps, and are loving every minute of their life!  We actually parked by a “doggie van” last time we were there that picks up dogs at their homes and then takes the dogs for hikes or runs at Chautauqua. What a great idea for “doggie day out!” This could easily be my dream job….if I was in a little better shape.
Not only humans and canines enjoy hiking up Chautauqua. On one visit, I actually saw a guy coming down from the Flatirons with a big ole yellow tabby cat riding on his shoulders. Yep, it is the truth….only in Colorado.

We have been to Chautauqua during all seasons. In summer, you need to get an early start before the sun beats down on you. In the spring, the wildflowers are glorious and the trees and grass are all shades of green. In the fall, all the trees turn golden yellow, orange or red and the views of Boulder from the mountain are a burst of colors. In the winter, the snow turns the Flatirons into a silent, winter wonderland (and people are still hiking!).

Chautauqua actually became a place of refuge for me several years ago. My son, a CU college student, had spinal surgery and I lived with him in Boulder for several weeks following his surgery. When he was well enough to return to classes, I would drop him off at campus and head directly to Chautauqua. Most times I hiked short distances- other times I sat on rocks and reflected, prayed, read books, or just enjoyed the solace. It became my calming getaway and will always hold a special place in my heart.

I recently came across a travel magazine article on Chautauqua that explained in detail the history of this wonderful place. It seems there is a very strong Texas – Colorado connection. Who knew? In Austin, Texas in 1897 the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua Association began. Its purpose was to conduct a summer school for Texas school teachers. Boulder, Colorado was chosen for the location due to the cooler summer temperatures. A $75 fee covered the 6-week session for each teacher. The tuition included room and board, lectures, entertainment, and round-trip rail fare from anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Ft. Worth. The “continuing ed” for these early teachers included cello, guitar, mandolin, piano, vocals, math, chemistry, botany, physics, psychology, education, English, Latin, Greek, French, German and English Literature. When not in class, the participants enjoyed symphonies, motion pictures, burro rides, horseback rides, hikes, and stagecoach rides. This association was very active for over 30 years before the attendance began to decline. If you go on the property today, you see many of the original buildings from this era. The Dining Hall has many old photos depicting some of the summer sessions – very interesting for history buffs.

For those of you who are wondering, “Chautauqua” is an Iroquois word with a few meanings— “a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together,” and describes the shape of Chautauqua Lake, located in southwest New York. This area was the setting for the first educational assembly (Chautauqua Institution) and provided the name for the movement.

I hope you get the chance to visit Chautauqua one day and enjoy it as much as my family does. Go early, dress comfortably, and take plenty of water to drink along the way. Enjoy your hike and then afterwards, have a meal at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Ask to sit out on the veranda and have a great meal while overlooking the park.  Order the “Rachelette” and tell them Southern Savvy sent you!

Sixty Vines

Plano, Texas

I had the opportunity to dine here for a friend’s birthday brunch and we had an amazing time and a delicious meal. How had I not heard about this wonderful place? Sixty Vines is located in Plano off the tollway next to Whiskey Cake. I would describe it as a “casual American / Italian kitchen meets wine bar meets Farm-to-Market.” Now that I have you totally confused, I will try to describe it more accurately!

When I first walked in, I noticed how welcoming the interior was. There are high ceilings, many windows and lots of greenery. It is very spacious, clean and modern and I would describe it as “fun, vibrant and chic”. The entire place (and menu) remind me of  the Northern California wine country and that local cuisine. The decor works perfectly with the wines and style of food they serve. The kitchen, wood-fired oven, and charcuterie bar are all open-viewing.

The centerpiece of Sixty Vines for me was the entire back wall. There is a huge line drawing (made with one line!) depicting the farmers, the grapes, wine making, farm animals, etc. The more you look at it, the more items you see. Underneath the drawing are 60 spigots – each labeled with the 40 wines and 20 beers they serve on tap…hence the name “Sixty Vines.” The slogan on their wine menu is “C’mon, get tappy!” 🙂

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There is quite a variety of seating options. Choose from communal tables, high tops, secluded sectionals, greenhouse, patio, bar or the charcuterie bar to dine in or out. I can imagine dining here on a date, for a business dinner, for a family meal or with a group of ladies enjoying brunch – like we did. I would like to note here, the food is a little “adventurous” and maybe not for the picky eater (leave them home this time)!

My group of ladies started our meal off with Mimosas and Bloody Marys – both were made with wine and tasted quite delicious and refreshing. We enjoyed the Wood Fired Cauliflower, an entire head with pesto, parmesan and a lemon dill yogurt dipping sauce…yum! We had the Roasted Beet Salad with gorgeous red, pink, and golden beets. Next up was the Butcher’s Brunch Pizza with prosciutto, provolone, mozzarella, soppresseta, and over-easy eggs (one of my favorites this day). The Egg White Frittata with goat cheese, mushrooms and spinach was also enjoyable.

Next came the desserts – my favorite part of the meal! The Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes were AMAZING. Words cannot describe how fluffy and delicious they were. (There is no photo because we devoured them so quickly.) The Angel Food French Toast with fresh berries and whipped cream was light and sweet. The Texas Olive Oil Citrus Cake was our birthday girl’s choice and she seemed to enjoy it.  The Sweet Board was another favorite of mine. It had sea-salt shortbread cookies, chocolate ganache, pistachio cookies, brie, walnuts, pear butter, and matcha cake. There was not one bad dish our entire meal – everything, and I do mean “everything” – was eaten in its entirety!

I felt that I would do a disservice to Sixty Vines without trying some of their wine. I had watched other patrons tasting their wine flights and enjoying their wines by the glass, so I gave in finally and ordered a “Vine Hugger” (their house brand) rose’. The glass of rose’ was served at the perfect temperature and was crisp and delicious. I plan to return soon for dinner and give some of those other wines a try. (Only 39 left to sample!)

From beginning to end, we had a wonderful experience at Sixty Vines. The service was very attentive. The quality of the food was perfect. The food selections were plentiful. The ambiance was most enjoyable.

Anyone up for a night out? I know just the place!

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Fun birthday brunch!!!

The Freedom Trail

Boston, Massachusetts

If you find yourself lucky enough to be in Boston for a day or two, the Freedom Trail is a “must see – must do.” Just follow the red brick line on the sidewalks throughout Boston and you be led on the 2.5 mile tour of 16 American Revolution sites. This is a great outdoor activity perfect for most ages and especially suited for history buffs. Just wear comfortable shoes and plan on spending 2-5 hours walking, exploring, visiting historic sites, and best of all – getting to know the city.

They are several ways to enjoy the Freedom Trail. My suggestion is to do it on your own so that you can spend as much or as little time as you choose at each location. If you get too tired the first day, stop. Pick it up the next day where you left off and do different parts on different days. For the techies, there is a phone app you can download ($4.99) that can be very helpful. There are also paper maps (for us old folks) that you can get from stops throughout the city or from your hotel. The National Park Service has a visitor’s center at Faneuil Hall where they offer tours and give out free maps. There are also several independent tour companies that offer 1-hour guided tours, private tours with a driver, or photowalks. (Photowalks are led by someone helping you capture each historic site in the best light and from the best vantage point.) You will see various tour groups at several of the stops. They are hard to miss since the tour guides are dressed in period costumes, wigs, stockings, shoes, tricorn hats, etc. 

My husband and I have always preferred walking the trail on our own. That way, we can stop for a lobster roll, a bowl of clam chowder, and maybe even a pastachio cannoli  – whenever the mood strikes! The trail takes you by some fabulous places to eat or stop for a “spot o’ tea”, a cup of coffee, or a cold brew. We actually had lunch with Benjamin Franklin one day! How many people do you know that can say that?

Most of the Freedom Trail guides will start you at Boston Common – America’s oldest public park and in front of the gold-domed Massachusetts State House. It will end at the Bunker Hill Monument. You see famous sites, old buildings, interesting people, the North End (Little Italy), the financial area, markets, eateries, churches and graveyards. Some of the streets are very quaint and narrow since they were first made in the 1600’s for horses, carriages and wagons – not the heavy city traffic we all know today. All of the historic sights are very well conserved and attended. Thirteen of the sixteen stops are free, and three require a small admission fee (Paul Revere’s House, the Old South meeting House and Old State House).

If you only have one day, be sure to see the Old North Church, the site of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s House, Faneuil Hall,  and Granary Burial Ground. The last time we stayed in Boston, our hotel was right across the street from the Granary Burial Grounds. This cemetery is one of my favorite places in Boston. It dates back to 1660 and houses the remains of Samuel Adams, victims of the Boston Massacre,  Peter Faneuil, Mary “Mother” Goose, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. If you remember your history lessons, only 5 civilians were killed in the Boston “Massacre.” The Revolutionists’ great PR team made it seem a much more tragic event to play up the role of the evil, murdering British. 

There is a small pub across the street from Granary Burial Grounds. We were told by our Duck Tour guide that “this is the only place in Boston where you can drink a cold Samuel Adams while looking out over a cold, dead Samuel Adams.” Tasteless – but still kind of funny!

There is SO much history in Boston. Take it all in. It makes you proud of those early Americans who rose up against a mighty nation and demanded their rights and civil liberties. Walking the Freedom Trail puts it all in perspective – at least it did for me. It is hard to stand on the hill in the North End and look up at the tall steeple of the Old North Church and not think about Paul Revere and his midnight ride….”one if by land, two if by sea.” When you walk the Freedom Trail, you are truly walking in the footsteps of our forefathers. Walk tall and walk proud….and please do not forget that cannoli!

 

 

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Dalrock Diner

Rowlett, TX

This is a nice little diner located near the intersection of Highway 66 and Dalrock Road in Rowlett, Texas. It feels like you step back in time when you enter through the front door. This old-school diner has the black & white checkered floor and red & white booths that take you back to the 1950’s. Everything is very clean, neat and intimate.

I have dined here several times now and have really enjoyed it each time. Dalrock Diner serves American homestyle breakfast, lunch and dinner. The surprise for me was the Greek influences throughout the menu.

The menu is quite varied – with breakfast foods, sandwiches, salads, and “down home” foods. Breakfast choices include Tex Mex migas, omelets, pancakes, fried chicken & waffles, breakfast skillets, and a gyro breakfast. Their burgers and sandwiches are all delicious and come with French fries. (The Yankee Ruben is my favorite!) They also have a few seafood and cajun options, which are very good. The Greek salad (with gyro, grilled chicken or grilled shrimp), the gyro sandwich and chicken souvlaki are especially tasty and a welcome change when in the mood for something different. The meat is very tender and perfectly seasoned. This diner also serves the usual comfort foods – chicken fried steaks, chili, smothered steaks, fried chicken, and a variety of homemade country vegetables and sides. The food is served in a timely manner and is always piping hot. All the meals have nice-sized portions and are very reasonably priced.

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Chicken Souvlaki

Each time we have dined here, the service has been very attentive. The servers are very personable, helpful, and are on hand to refill your drinks and check on you. The owner is present most days and personally greets patrons and visits with regulars. Dalrock Diner is definitely a little neighborhood gem and is perfect for dining solo, couples, or families.

Be sure to check out the glass display up front when you enter or when you pay your check. It is filled with all types of delicious house-made pies and cakes. Have a slice for dessert or buy a whole one to take home. 

Dalrock Diner is simply good food at good prices – nothing fancy – no more, no less. Check it out.

 

Mendenhall Glacier

Juneau, Alaska

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Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

 David and I had the opportunity to go on a small Alaskan cruise (Un-Cruise) two summers ago and this trip remains one of my all-time favorite vacations. We flew into Juneau a couple of days early to do some exploring before setting off on our adventure cruise. One of the excursions we took while staying in Juneau was to the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier. 

On a gorgeous morning at the end of May, we loaded up on a city bus and rode the 12 miles from downtown Juneau to the nearest bus stop for the Mendenhall Glacier. From the bus stop, we walked approximately one mile to the entrance to the park. This was a very easy walk and we enjoyed it. We saw beaver dams, thick alpine forests, mossy boulders, and scenic views all along the way leading up to the glacier. The weather was perfect.

We soon  arrived at the entrance of the U.S. Forest Service’s historic Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. There is an upper entrance with a ramp and lower entrance with elevators. The views from here were stunning! There are many viewpoints on the outside of the center where you can observe the marvelous river of ice, the alpine ridges, Mendenhall Lake and floating icebergs – all in the distance. 

The Visitor Center was very nice and was well worth a visit. There is an educational movie every 20 minutes (very informative), exhibits, rangers, maps, and a bookstore. One of my favorite exhibits contained photos of the glacier and its progression/recession throughout the years. There is also a glacier bear (taxidermy) which was very unique with its pale blue/silver color – most unusual. Mother Nature adapted this color change to camouflage these brown bears who live on the ice. Very interesting.

We looked at the area maps and picked a couple of trails to explore. We chose Trail of Time and Nugget Falls Trail – both of these trails were easy to walk, took us through a segment of the forest and meandered along the lake. We followed the trails through moss & lichens, skunk cabbage, blueberry & salmonberry bushes and beautiful flowering plants. Our goal was to end up at the base of Nugget Falls. 

After walking a half-mile or so, we started hearing the roar of the falls in the distance and were anxiously anticipating seeing it “up close and personal”. We soon did!

The sight of Nugget Falls cascading down the mountainside near the glacier was breathtaking. The sound was immense! We were dwarfed in comparison to the size, scope and power of these falls (see photo below). We approached the falls, got covered in the cool spray and took lots of photos. As we walked along the rocky beach – we had even better views of the glacier, ice caves, and small icebergs floating in the lake all around us. This was one of those special “pinch me” moments!

We took our time and explored the beach here for awhile. The weather and the scenery were both perfect and we knew we needed to treasure this moment and imprint these sights & sounds in our memory. We collected some small glacial rocks. We pulled icebergs (“bergies”) out of the water and played with them. We watched a group of canoers paddling out to the glacier. We watched small areas of the huge glacier “calving” and releasing more small broken chunks of ice into the clear blue, icy waters. We spotted turquoise blue ice caves at the glacier’s edge. This was Mother Nature at her best.

Experts tell us that by the end of the century, the Mendenhall Glacier will no longer be visible from the current Visitor’s Center. This 13 mile long glacier is melting at a rapid rate due to global warming. Decades ago, there was not even a Mendenhall Lake – this lake was formed due to the glacier ice melting and receding. I highly suggest that if this is something you would like to see, go sooner rather than later! You can visit on your own as we did – or book a guided solo trek,  a helitour, a guided walk or a canoe tour. It is truly a fantastic place to experience first hand. Photos and words cannot do it justice. See it for yourself!

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