Tag Archives: #restaurants

The Willows: When a cheeseburger alone just isn’t enough

Yes, your eyes didn’t deceive you. That featured photo was neither your standard grilled cheese, nor your standard cheeseburger. It is an insane, lusty menage a trois wherein two textbook American grilled cheese sandwiches surround, yet manage not to completely overwhelm, a meaty cheeseburger. Yes, what I’m describing is food porn and nearly almost is too obscene to write about.

I can give you a million reasons why I shouldn’t have given into the Willows’ heart-stopping concoction. Why would anyone need to make a burger anymore artery-clogging, triglyceride spiking, carb-laden, diabetes engine than the restaurant burger already is. Western society, thanks to the plethora of burger joints in the past 10 years, each of which constantly fights to be distinctive, has moved far beyond the paltry fast-food hamburger. (Hey, don’t knock the McDonald’s classic cheeseburger! Yes, it might be short on actual meat or “meat products”, but it’s tasty and only a respectable 320 calories). A quarter-pounder? Not enough. You’ll rarely see a restaurant burger that is less than a third of a pound on any menu. So to substitute grilled cheese sandwiches for the standard buns?

It’s emblematic of everything stereotypically wrong with America and yet its iconography. I wonder what first-time visitors to the U.S. would think if exposed to this maddening concoction. The Willows, a San Francisco-based gastropub, certainly isn’t the first or only restaurant to throw down the gauntlet with such a sinful mash-up, which I fondly refer to as the Turducken of burgers.

I could have lost my willpower somewhere or another time else, but thanks to some work stress and open-minded co-workers, I lost my burger innocence in San Francisco, thanks to The Willows.

That morning, I certainly began the day, like many of us, with every intention of eating healthfully. But after hearing a coworker describe that his daughter found a place where one could get a burger with grilled cheeses instead of buns, a few of us were intrigued. I opted to ask them to mule me back one of these burgers, going to a yoga class while they ate in the restaurant. It was a weak attempt to earn that burger.

Any of their amazing burgers can be customized with the grilled cheese “buns.” I chose The Mary burger. It wildly exceeded my expectations. The burger itself was fantastic – excellent quality meat, perfectly salted and seasoned, cooked to juicy pink center. Cheddar cheese to compliment the American grilled cheese, bacon, and avocado, as well as pickles and crisp lettuce added so much flavor and texture. Then, adding the grilled cheese – completely upped the game. The grilled cheese sandwiches themselves are your childhood variety – not the gourmet, raclette and gruyere filled versions you might see at your average San Francisco gastropub. These are all basics – basic white bread and that slightly metallic tasting tang of processed American cheese slices. Underwhelming alone, these sandwiches make the perfect bookends for that awesome burger. It’s a truly terrifying sight, not to mention the pangs of regret one feels a few hours later realizing the extent of the sin.

So yes, I felt pretty terrible after eating it. Terribly awesome…! Sometimes, one just has to throw common sense to the wind for a spectacular experience. The Willows was just such an occasion, and it didn’t disappoint.

Mykonos: Know Before You Go

Mykonos. The Greek isle has quite the reputation as a luxury party destination. Does it live up to the hype? The island can offer a wide range of experiences, depending on your preferences. 

Looking to party like European royalty? Mykonos has you covered. Relaxation or a romantic retreat? Check. An action-packed LGBT-friendly getaway? Check. Looking for land, sea or cultural experiences? Mykonos has plenty. Ancient history? Sure. Family-friendly resorts? It’s not Mykonos’ strong suit, but it’s doable on the island. 

The island offers a variety of experiences to meet everyone’s needs, but travelers should be aware of the island’s nuances to make the most of your next vacation. After having spent a fair amount of time at work and leisure on Mykonos in the past year, I have accumulated a few high points that every traveler should know before the trip.

1.  Mykonos operates seasonally.

Thinking of hitting Mykonos in the off-season?  Like many islands, Mykonos essentially operates May through (early) October. Its year-round population is only about 10,000; yet with the addition of seasonal workers coming from mainland Greece and tourists, its “population” can exceed 100,000 in the summer. Why is this important? Hotels and businesses close down over the winter; repairs and renovations often take place over the winter and seasonal workers return to the mainland. That means that opening weeks for the season can be a little rough. While you might find hot deals on hotels, don’t be prepared to experience Mykonos fully if you travel in late April or early May as hotels, restaurants, and shops slowly begin to open their doors. You might be disappointed when your hotel room isn’t what was promised in the booking.  Also, rain is more likely in the spring. 

Bottom line:  If you want the ‘full’ Mykonos experience – particularly the party atmosphere, go during the summer high season. You’ll just pay more. If you’d like more peace and quiet – and are looking to save money, wait until mid to late September. The weather may be a bit cooler, but the hotels will operate much more effectively by the end of the season.

2. Mykonos is (essentially) a desert island

If you envision lush green Mediterranean hills that you’ve seen in a few magazine spreads depicting Greece, know that it isn’t representative of Mykonos. Mykonos is an arid, rocky, and windswept island. On the windward northwest side of the island near the Faros (lighthouse), it’s easy to imagine Homer’s Odyssey and his ship being derailed by the sirens in a rocky pass. Plan on wind being your constant companion, especially in the spring and fall (there’s a reason why high season is high summer). Rain comes mostly in the early spring, and thunderstorms are rare but possible.

Looking to enjoy the great outdoors?  Stick to the beach or sea, or explore the island by car or open-air Jeep.  Hiking and more traditional outdoor activities are less prevalent than water sports or relaxing by the pool or beaches. While Mykonos is relatively rocky and dry, it has numerous beaches. Water can be quite chilly, so you may wish to lie in the sun. The island’s tour groups operate a number of sailboats and motor craft, as well as ferries to other islands. High-speed RIB boats are an exciting way to explore nearby islands, including the ancient ruins of Delos, the self-proclaimed world’s first duty-free port; ferries also take larger groups of the public there. It’s a fantastic sight for anyone looking for a cultural experience.

Bottom line:  Prepare for wind; dress in layers; outdoor lovers should stick to the sea and beach. 

3. Mykonos town is the epicenter of the island
If you choose lodging near the town of Mykonos, you’ll find easy access to great restaurants, water excursions, and shopping. You’ll also be surrounded by tourists an day visitors from the numerous cruise ships and ferries that transit Mykonos’ port.  Ornos and Platy Gialos are nice alternative locales to town, each with family-friendly beaches and plenty of restaurant options – but both are close enough to town to get around. If you’re looking for a getaway, resorts outside of town are a good bet. Elia Beach, for example, is oh-so-close to town by water, but by land, it is a 20-30 minute drive on winding road. Elia and other similar beaches are best suited for those looking to avoid the Mykonos party scene. If  you choose to stay outside of Mykonos town, you may wish to rent a car, as taxis are not plentiful, and car services like Uber are nonexistent. Some visitors choose to rent scooters and ATVs, but I highly discourage it, as locals note the prevalence of accidents. If you find yourself in a trauma ward of a local medical center, that’s a bad sign. Especially when that means you’ll need transport to Athens for adequate critical care.

Bottom line:  To stay near all of the action, choose lodging within walking distance to Mykonos town. If you prefer to get away from it all, look outside of town! Don’t rely on taxis or scooters.

4. Mykonos has amazing food

The Greeks know hospitality. Their food, wine, and ambiance are unparalleled. The flavors of Greek cuisine, from surf to turf, are a highlight of any visit to Greece. Mykonos is no exception. While it IS a desert island and thus most ingredients aren’t produced or caught locally – with notable exceptions of cheese and seafood, Mykonos’ numerous restaurants compete for your love and money with near-perfect expressions of Greek and international cuisine. Stick to Greek food, or Greek-influenced fusion, and you won’t be disappointed. Stay away from the restaurants that try to lure you in from the street; the truly great ones need no advertisements. 

A few recommendations:
Remezzo – Restrained when you want your waiters to be slightly snooty and sport man buns. In en elevated position by the water near the old port north of Mykonos town (within walking distance), it offers international fusion in an elegant setting.

Nammos Beach Club: Exclusivity galore! Where the wealthy and celebrities hang out. Snagging a beachside chair and umbrella will cost you, but be glad it’s not a cabana – their “Cabañas” are full-fledged four-walled structures made for special occasions, and they will cost upwards of €1,000 for a day rental.

 It is arguably Mykonos’ best and most exclusive white sand beach, so for a true taste of it without extraneous costs, try a lunch at the club restaurant, which is lovely and airy in and of itself, but the food is fantastic. They make a mean risotto, as well as sushi and an incredible raw bar. You’ll feel like a million Euros after a meal and some people watching there.

Avra (photo above): A lovely “secret garden” spot in the heart of Mykonos town. Their immense menu combines Greek and continental dishes in a lovely setting that feels private and not touristy.

Alegro (photo above): Down to earth restaurant in little Venice. Relatively affordable, with great Greek and international dishes. Their complimentary Greek bruscetta and marinated olives will start your meal right! Try the kolokithokefthedes (zucchini balls – devastatingly good comfort food there), tzatziki, the seafood pasta, grilled octopus – anything really. We loved it so much, we are there three times in two trips. They have good, affordable Greek wines as well.
Elia Beach Restaurant – For those staying off the beaten path (or simply wanting to escape the crowds downtown), the casual open-air restaurant has a great selection of both Greek and international comfort food. Salads are good for those enjoying the lighter side. Their tzatziki is killer, and their Greek desserts are about as traditional as they come. Their baklava and sweet cheese pie are worth every calorie.

5. Mykonos is not a budget destination.
Certainly, good planning and a little restraint can make Mykonos less harsh on the wallet, but make no mistake, it is not cheap. If you don’t want to spend a lot, try a shorter stay before hopping somewhere else. Since the true island residents are few, you can’t use the tried-and-true travel strategy of going where the locals go. The inland village of Ano Mera offers more local color and has a few more than decent restaurants (Moussaka lovers unite!), but you’ll want a rental car to visit. Luckily, the Greeks believe in eating two big meals during the day, so if you fuel up at breakfast – which tends to be fabulous and included in most hotels’ room rates, you won’t need another full meal until dinner. In the meantime, Mykonos has plenty of cheap(er) fast food souvlaki, gyro, and crepe shops to tide you over.

Bottom line: Prepare your wallet. Indulge at breakfast.

6. Mykonos is tolerant
Why am I listing that, you ask? Allow me to put it delicately. If you are not comfortable seeing (or explaining to your children) sexuality on display, you might not wish to visit Mykonos. Mykonos developed an international reputation for tolerating what then were considered alternative lifestyles, starting in the 1960s. It was considered a safe haven for gay vacationers, and their fun, festive atmosphere continues to pervade Mykonos. For the most part, it is fairly subtle from an outsider’s perspective, but some of the window displays in Mykonos town shops might catch some tourists off-guard. Mykonos does host a few festivals during the season. Additionally, the island does have a few nude beaches, but most are secluded, and its patrons are respectful of those in the surrounding mainstream beaches.

Bottom line: Everyone just wants to have fun. Nobody is looking to bother anyone else’s fun, but they aren’t going to hide everything for fear of offending anyone.

7. Mykonos is known as a party destination.
Greeks love to party, and that atmosphere is also prevalent. The well-known nightclubs barely get started before 3 am, and sunrise is peak time at some of the largest, such as Cavo Paradiso, located a bit of a hike from Mykonos town near Paradise Cove and Beach. Cavo Paradiso, which often hosts A-list DJs and can hold up to 2,000 partiers, is so loud the bass almost seems to interfere with your heart rhythms. According to my Greek contacts, the party peaks at sunrise, after which its pool becomes a free for all for guests to enjoy a morning dunk before sobering up enough to drive back to town. Cavo Paradiso is one of the few locales on the island with a taxi stand, so it’s easier to hit than other out-of-town destinations. The late club scene translates to slower mornings in Mykonos town, and its shops are open relatively late for Europe (many remain open until 11 pm).

Bottom line: Prepare to shift your schedule a few hours later than you would at home. That’s true regardless of whether you yourself want to participate in the party scene!

Do you have any Mykonos travel tips to share? Please comment below!

The Talisman: A magical expat nook in southwestern Nairobi

The omnipresent developing world traffic of Nairobi, Kenya can’t stop expats from flocking to The Talisman, an eclectic, cozy gastropub for international culinary fusion or cocktails with friends. I joined that set for a night during my trip to Kenya, and the restaurant didn’t disappoint for food and atmosphere.

For those of you who haven’t visited sub-Saharan Africa, I’m guessing the image in your head is taken from The Lion King or, perhaps, nature documentaries: a grassy savannah with a sparse few stubby trees. Yes, Africa does have them, of course, but the city of Nairobi is certainly more green, hilly, and forested than one might expect. Or that just might be me.  

With the exception of downtown Nairobi with its skyscrapers, or its densely populated urban slums with human life beating out the plant kingdom (sometimes barely a victory), the city and its surrounding area is forested, not unlike a somewhat more tropical version of those seen in the US and Europe. The effect is that you can’t really see just how terrible the traffic is ahead of you, and you find places that are almost magical surprises in their existence within the forest.
The Talisman is one such surprise – and it should be, given that it is not the most easily accessible with a location on the opposite side of the city as its primary business and diplomatic districts. On a map, it doesn’t look quite so far. The distance is less than 6 miles (10 km) from the city center, but in Nairobi terms, its more like 60. Traffic in Nairobi is absolutely horrendous, and that means something, coming from someone who commuted in Lima, Peru and has experienced the world-class horror that is trying to drive through crowded Agra, India on a night particularly auspicious for weddings (which stop traffic completely). 
Nairobi’s baffling affinity for roundabouts, strobing road cameras, and U-turns in place of organized traffic control (signals or humans) is perhaps its own worst enemy. Bottom line, you must be very accustomed to the traffic and/or have a very good reason to drive across or around the city for dinner at The Talisman.

The Talisman itself is rather unassuming from its driveway, a rambling, one-story white stucco building that appears to be a converted residence, surrounded by tall trees. Inside, a network of rooms with working fireplaces and walls adorned with local art – impressionist landscapes and portraits – form separate dining areas, and its wooden bar evokes nothing of the gastropub marketed on its slick website. But its coziness grew on me, a respite from the traffic, from the crowded slums and bumpy dirt roads I passed through earlier in the day. I realize that probably sounds a little shallow, but it’s really all about unwinding after a day of overstimulation and too much jostling in a van.

My colleague and I were seated in their covered outdoor patio – the covering fortunate after a wet afternoon during this winter rainy season. A charcoal grill whimsically in the shape of a grinning frog (the mouth full of coals) kept us warm as the evening darkened. It was perhaps a bit too dark without a candle, but that addition made our meal feel a bit more rustic – never mind that anything but African cuisine is part of the menu. 

Having skipped lunch, I was the hungriest I’d been on my trip to Kenya, and my colleague had a bit of a scare owning to playing prawn roulette at dinner the preceding night, so we both chose starters: me a beetroot and goat cheese tartlet and him that African staple, spicy chicken wings (sarcasm). The tart was layered, with caramelized beets and onions lining the shell and crowned with goat cheese.

Excited to see wine flights on the beverage list (which I discovered to be an alien concept to the British, apparently), I decided to be adventurous and try a Sauvignon blanc flight that included variants of the varietal from Chile, South Africa, and Kenya. The Kenyan wine had an intriguing aroma of toasted marshmallows. I should have guessed right there what that meant, but I eagerly took a sip. The wine had a cloying white-grape juice flavor, which was masked by a smokiness best described as tasting like the grapes were grown in a field surrounding by heaps of burning trash (a real and not abnormal odor around Nairobi and the Rift Valley). Oh well! I now know not to drink Kenyan wine anytime soon. Rift Valley Wine: When you miss that toasty, garbage ash aroma.

For my main dish, I chose a Moroccan spiced beef stew, served with a minted couscous that looked like tabbouleh but was certainly couscous; soft pita; yogurt, chutney, and hummus. The hummus tasted subtly and weirdly of bananas – I am going to guess that was all me. Who makes banana hummus? It was a fun palette of sweet, salty, tangy, and earthy flavors at once. It was satisfying and filling to my empty stomach. 

My colleague ordered steak, which came with “matched potatoes”.  No, I don’t believe that was a typographical error on the menu. These were little fried potato cakes that made French fries seem pedestrian. If I return to the Talisman, I definitely would order those potatoes as a side dish.

If our beef-heavy meals weren’t enough, chocolate desserts were our downfall. We split a chocolate fondant (molten cake) and a seasonal special – a Bailey’s brownie, both served with ice cream; both were fantastic, but the brownie was other-worldly with the clear flavor of Irish cream infused throughout. I need no other words to describe the sensation other than YUM.

Stuffed, satisfied, and relaxed after a day of overstimulation, The Talisman was the perfect culinary antidote we needed.

Meriwether’s: Portland, Oregon’s original farm-to-table restaurant

Taste the farm without leaving Portland’s city limits at Meriwether’s, Portland’s first – and still fabulous – true farm to table restaurant.

The farm-to-table concept is no longer just a hot trend in the food world. It’s now so well-integrated into the mainstream restaurant industry that it almost seems commonplace. Yet Meriwether’s literally brought the farm to the table in Portland, well before the concept became fad. Produce, meat, and herbs from nearby Skyline Farms determine each week’s menu.

Portland, Oregon is near and dear to my heart. I’ve spent a few posts paying homage to the quirky City of Hipsters and its food scene. Some of its staples have gone from cult following to tourist trap status, such as Voodoo Doughnut and Salt & Straw (ice creamery). The real stars of Portland’s food scene are those who dared to be different well before it was cool, and who refuse to change their execution to scale up to the masses.

Meriwether’s is one of those pre-Portlandia places. Located in a mostly industrial, slow to gentrify pocket of northwest Portland, the English Tudor-style restaurant and its Ivy-covered garden patio seating area seem out of place, yet perfectly logical in that strangely hipster environment that is blue-collar Portland. Why wouldn’t a farm-to-table restaurant resembling an English country cottage be located next to warehouses, an abandoned processing plant, and a franchise of the fanciest automotive garage you’d go for an oil change maybe anywhere?


Each week’s menu tells Meriwether’s story and what is newly in season

In oft-cloudy Portland, Meriwether’s is part cozy refuge – with indoor fireplace and dark wood furniture – and part outdoor oasis for those gorgeous summer months. Created to showcase the bounty of Skyline Farm, located 15 miles away and just outside of the Portland city limits, its food is elegantly simple and uncomplicated. It lacks the hipster pretention of trendier urban restaurants, which makes it a great place to relax with friends.


Fabulous chilaquiles

I did just that for a lovely Sunday brunch in early July. Each of our brunch dishes featured farm-fresh eggs. Though the restaurant is hesitant to make any accommodations or substitutions, they honored my request to turn their breakfast scramble of the week – with asparagus, leeks, goat cheese, and basil – into an omelet. Two friends ordered the scramble themselves, while a third ordered the chilaquiles – topped with fried egg and looking amazing, as that dish I like to call “breakfast nachos” tends to do.


The farm scramble

My omelet was served with fried, skin-on potatoes. I’d call them blistered more than fried, but that isn’t reflective of how addictive they were. I rarely eat white potatoes (well, ok excepting French fries), and these were indescribably good and worth every calorie. Thick country toast from Pearl Bakery accompanied most brunch dishes. Its thick, pillowy softness really was just the perfect vehicle for the amazing homemade strawberry jam Meriwether’s did me the injustice of placing in front of me. A salad of fresh, slightly bitter garden greens made me feel a little less guilty for the potato indulgence.

Brunch in the garden at Meriwether’s was a memorable Portland experience that reinforced how serious Portland takes its food and its farms. It’s a must-try Portland legend!

Celadon: A garden spot for California cuisine in Napa, California

No trip to Napa County is complete without good wine and food. The area has an overwhelming selection of both, so how can one choose? I offer one suggestion for a great dinner of California-influenced global cuisine in a literal garden spot in the city of Napa: Celadon.

My experience with Celadon came to be after a few friends walked by it and became enchanted with its covered outdoor patio dining area and eclectic International menu. Two days later, we secured an early Saturday evening reservation (a necessity on weekends).

While Celadon has an indoor dining area, the majority of its tables line a large, covered patio. Excepting truly cold days, the patio, with overhead heaters spaced strategically throughout, is the seating area of choice. Green and white tones, exposed brick, ivy and other plants seeming inspired by English gardens give the dining area a breezy elegance. It reminded me somewhat of my favorite restaurant in Kraków, Poland – Zielona Kuchnia (which I chronicled in the CD here), and so did the execution of its dishes.

The restaurant’s wine and cocktail menu was on par with any in Napa (that is to say it meets Napa’s unparalleled standards), but my group took advantage of the restaurant’s very reasonable corkage fee of $15 for our bottle of Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from our earlier excursion.

Based on a recommendation from a tasting room staffer earlier in the day, we shared the macadamia-crusted goat cheese appetizer. It met our expectations and was a sweet start to our meal – sweet enough literally that it also appears on the restaurant’s dessert menu. We also tried Celadon’s fried calamari, which was pleasant though not memorable.

Chicken is not a dish I often choose at a great restaurant, but I couldn’t resist the house-made, pan seared gnocchi, spinach and peas that accompanied chicken breast. That decision proved not to be a mistake; it was a wonderful combination for an early spring meal on a rainy April evening. The chicken breast and gnocchi were both cooked perfectly: tender and seared to produce a dainty, caramelized crust.

One friend ordered a vegetarian dish, of which a grilled artichoke was the beautiful centerpiece. Artichoke is not a vegetable I expect to see as a main dish, and yet this one was hearty when paired with quinoa and red pepper coulis.

The best dish of all was a bone-in lamb loin, served with Israeli couscous. This dish was another recommended above all others to our group, and the recommendation clearly had merit. The lamb was indescribably tender to the fork’s touch and seasoned with a touch of cinnamon and North African spices. If you enjoy lamb, do not pass up this dish!

Unfortunately, none of us left room for their dessert menu, which was good but fairly typical for Northern California restaurants. I certainly do not mean that as a dig in Celadon; desserts simply tend to be somewhat predictable even with California’s pride in its own eclectic style of cuisine. Which I suppose proves that “Californian” is a good style and culture all its own.

Tired of wading through a sea of great restaurants in Napa? Choose Celadon and you will have a winner.

An après ski happy hour at Park City’s High West

Join me for an après ski happy hour at the restaurant and saloon of Utah’s beloved distillery. It is one not to miss!

Park City is one of America’s best ski towns and also home of the Sundance Film Festival each spring. With predictable influxes of visitors from around the world, investment, restaurant and retail in Park City has given the town a vibrance and internationally friendly – but distinctly western American – culture.

I had the chance to visit the town only very briefly after an afternoon of Nordic skate skiing nearby. Never heard of skate skiing? Neither had I – or most anyone else. YouTube it and prepare yourself to be amused. It is an awkward combination of Nordic (cross-country) skiing and skating. I don’t know whose idea it was to invent such a thing – which also requires its own specially designed skis used for nothing else. No matter how much you have skied in your entire life, should you wish to try it (I admit it, it was fun and a killer workout), please heed this lesson, because I did not do so: Always take a lesson when starting out! Trust me on this. If you do not do so, you will feel like a giant idiot. You will flail around trying to find some sort of technique or rhythm. And you’ll fail flailing this way, using muscles you didn’t know existed. You will not look remotely cool. No, you will look like a fly that got its legs stuck in honey, trying everything possible to move forward but being counterproductive with every wasted exertion. But you also will find this frustratingly hilarious – especially realizing there are others out there that look almost equally terrible doing it.

All of this digression is to explain why the three of us needed food, and why we also needed a drink after the skate skiing debacle. So we trooped into town and made a beeline for High West.

Utes (the term still sounds ridiculous) are extremely proud of High West, which, though new, is already an institution. In the grand tradition the growing network of American whiskey distilleries, they blend other people’s whiskey into fine specimens. You think I’m making a joke? This is a legit fun fact (which you already know if you’re an American male between the age of 25 to 45, consume alcohol other than beer, are particular about the ice in your Old Fashioned, and/or have been to a few whiskey bars and wanted to learn enough about the industry to impress your friends. Or women). Producing whiskey, rye, and bourbon – like wine – takes time and aging (a lot of aging, more so than wine). Starting up a distillery is a long game with little immediate payoff, which is why so many newer ones start by blending stock produced elsewhere for their own proprietary blend. As their own product begins to mature, they might begin to incorporate that into their blends until, a decade plus later, the homemade stuff is ready for prime bar time. Thanks to my brother-in-law for enlightening the little wino (me).

So that brings me back to the High West saloon in Park City. While I was disappointed to learn that High West’s spirits aren’t truly home-distilled in Utah, the saloon and restaurant is a welcome treat for the tastebuds. At 4 pm on a Saturday (before the après ski crowd should be migrating back from the slopes), the restaurant was already packed, and we barely managed to snag bar seats in the salon/saloon after a short wait.

 I ordered a very girly looking sparkling wine and vodka cocktail called the Pearl de Vere, accented with an Orchid. Lest you judge me, know that it’s made with High West’s own locally distilled vodka, High West 7000′ (it doesn’t have the obstacle of lengthy barrel aging as does whiskey), which I wanted to try. With bubbly and the sweet-tart Loganberry juice, how could I resist?


As for the hunger pains, we tried their burger (very high-end, sturdy brioche bun, excellent flavor and texture), baby kale and apple salad, and soft pretzel with beer cheese (shown in the featured photo at the top of this post). 

The pretzel was the perfect dose of tasty carbs to alleviate hunger. The cheese was akin to a pimiento cheese, bound together with a hint of mayonnaise. It was tasty, but I am anti-mayo and almost always detect it instantly. I preferred the stone-ground, beer accented mustard instead as an accompaniment. The salad was hearty and filling, and its bold stone-ground mustard vinaigrette was an interesting choice for a salad that otherwise emphasized the contrast between sweetness (apples, candied walnuts) and saltiness of shaved cheese. The mustard vinaigrette might have been perfect if toned down a little and sweetened with a touch of honey, IMHO.

We left High West definitely satisfied and more relaxed. I hope to return!

Trading Ski Boots For Elegant, Organic Cuisine at Vail’s Terra Bistro

After a cold day on the slopes, pizza and beer are an obvious apres ski choice. But for those in search of fine dining in Vail, Colorado, look no further than Terra Bistro.

 It’s easy to be skeptical when one’s hotel recommends a restaurant, and you find that practically everyone in your hotel ends up with reservations. Hmm. There goes the unique find!

But Terra Bistro in Vail is worth every recommendation. Great “new American” cuisine in Vail village instills confidence in ski resort fare. Terra Bistro markets itself as 90% organic, farm to table.

The restaurant lacks the typical rustic mountain/ski chalet atmosphere. It feels more like a modern escape, a sleek, modern – if not urban – vibe.

Pappadum – thin potato flour and pepper crisps, a staple rarely seen outside Indian restaurants – were a welcome departure from bread, paired with a lentil spread that resembled grey wasabi in appearance and texture but had a pleasant cumin scent. 

I started with the vitality salad (pictured in the featured photo, above), which features the restaurant’s own sprouted seed mix, goat cheese, cherries, and more. It was a great palate cleanser.

The hangar steak was a solid bet. I requested it cooked to medium rare, and it was perfectly cooked and tender with a salty crust that the scant bleu cheese crumbles only enhanced. A cocoa-chipotle ketchup was not necessary, but with a hint of Worcestershire, it seemed a bit more A1 and less ketchup, far more suited for a poorer cut of steak.

The steak was served with roast cauliflower and au gratin potatoes. The latter were not my grandmother’s au gratin – the cheese was ever so light, but the potatoes and cheese were baked to a wonderful level of caramelization. The resulting preparation was light and flavorful.

Our friends donated their heaping side order of honey-lemon Brussels sprouts to a good cause (my stomach). While they were slightly overdressed with a sweet and tangy vinaigrette, the flavors were a nice departure from the salty Unami variety that is more prevalent.

Sadly, we didn’t try one of their desserts, but I heard their chocolate stout cake was fabulous.

When typically hearty ski fare just won’t cut it, taste the elegance of Vail Village’s Terra Bistro.

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