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Take me home...St Emilion  kay@diddakoi.com

Updated: 11/30/05

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What's on the nightstand

by Neal Stephenson

taste wine


Wednesday, 30 November, 2005

I'm typing this next to the terrace of our room in Napa Valley. Gary (the designated driver) is taking a wee nap before dinner. We're going to Auberge du Soleil for dinner tonight - a big splurge.

We flew to Los Angeles last Wednesday, staying at a cute little hotel in West Hollywood. It is a converted apartment complex, with our room having a bedroom, living room, dining area and kitchenette. Very nicely done and on a quiet residential street off of Sunset Boulevard. It was only a 20 minute drive to Pam and Ron's house from there.

We got in late on Wednesday evening, and got up early on Thanksgiving Day. We had breakfast at the hotel, then walked - and walked and walked - up Sunset Blvd to Hollywood. It looked a lot closer on the map! We went to Pam and Ron's around 2:30 - Mom and Dad arrived shortly after we did. Aunt Mur was there and she looked really good. After a bit, Mark and Mary came over - it was nice to see everyone. Pam made an amazing Thanksgiving feast, and their friend Cora came and brought pies, including a chocolate pie. I haven't had one that good since Grandma Ruth made them. It was great seeing everyone and we sat and talked for a long time. Eventually, jet lag caught up and we headed back home.

On Friday we got up early again and went down to Santa Monica to look for anime stores. We had a nice breakfast at Jinko's, and walked around shopping. Again, it looked much closer on the map! We headed over to Burbank in the afternoon and went to Costco with Pam and picked up crabmeat to make dinner. Gary cooked his famous crabcakes and Pam made a nice salad and veggies to go with. "Good Mark" came over (Mary was busy grading papers) - the guys sat outside and talked after dinner. What fun.

On Saturday we headed over to the Los Angeles Farmers Market. I hadn't been there since I was about 12. It was great! We found a nice little place that made crepes - I had strawberries with whipped cream and Gary had spiced beef with cheese and tomatoes and a lovely side salad. We walked around and discovered a huge shopping arcade (The Grove) that is now attached to the market. Santa was there for his photo op but we chose to look at the shops instead. Gary bought me a lovely Tommy Bahamas silk shirt - what a guy!

We headed over to Sherman Oaks to check out an anime store. On the way we stopped at Universal Studios so I could go to their gift shop and buy something - which they didn't have. The anime store turned out to be a bust as well, but at least we had good family to see in Burbank! We heated up all the leftovers and Ron grilled some delicious steaks. We even got to watch one of the Africa DVD's - looking forward to it in 2007!

We tried to do a little shopping on Melrose on Sunday morning but nothing was open so we settled for a white chocolate cappuchino and an eggnog latte at Starbucks. We arranged to meet Laurie and Bill in Sherman Oaks at Marmalade cafe. They were running late but the place was packed so it turned out fine. The portions were huge and after we stuffed ourselves we caravaned up to Santa Ynez. We stopped at Gainey Winery - nothing that special wine-wise but it was a pretty place and a nice break in the driving. We made it to Santa Maria and checked into the Radisson. It wasn't bad although right next to the airstrip. We didn't hear anything but Laurie and Bill said they did.

We talked about where to go for dinner and just as I was about to suggest "Jocko's" - Ron's recommendation - Bill said, "There's a place called Jocko's that is supposed to be great." So off we went. It was like going back in time - the place hasn't been renovated - ever - and they still put out the same paper placemats, saltine crackers and trays of pickled vegetables that they have for decades. We all had steaks - the "small Spencer" (a.k.a. ribeye) was easily six inches around and 3 inches high. Everything came with salads, potatoes, veggies, beans and ice cream for dessert. And it was great! Gary said that his steak was every bit as good as his $40+ birthday dinner steak at Barclay Prime in Philly, for less than half the price, and without everything being a la carte.

The next morning we got up and went to Brick's, a breakfast place in downtown Santa Maria. Marvelous - they had a breakfast special - $2.50 for any three items: eggs, bacon, french toast, pancakes, sausage, oatmeal, etc. After, we revved up the GPS to go to the first winery and it promptly tried to have us climb the nearby moutain range. After a bit of recalculation, we made our way to the Foxen Valley Trail. We went to Rancho Sisquoc, Zaca Mesa, Fess Parker, Curtis and Firestone. Nothing really rocked our world, but we had a nice picnic lunch at Curtis, complete with Gracie The Hungry Dog. We headed back to Santa Maria and went to dinner at Chef Rick's - very nice. We had crispy crawfish and coconut shrimp to start, then halibut, steak and black bean ravioli. With their home-made garlic soup - yum.

On Tuesday we met for breakfast - should have made the trip across town to Brick's again instead of choosing the hotel buffet - yechh. After saying goodbye to Bill and Laurie, we headed up the Pacific Coast Highway. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of fog so Gary didn't get to see it in its spectacular glory, but it was still dramatic. We reached Monterey Bay around 1:00 and found a nice place for lunch on Cannery Row. After our burgers we went to the aquarium - what a great place! Such wonderful exhibits and terrific demonstrations of their conservation efforts. We especially loved the sea otters and jelly fish.

We left Monterey around 4:00, so we caught some of the San Jose/Oakland rush hour traffic. We made it to Napa around 7:00 and just had dinner in the hotel. We have a nice room - the hotel is next to the Napa River and it would be nice to sit outside if it wasn't 40 degrees!

The hotel serves a nice complimentary breakfast, so after a couple of cups of coffee and bagels, we hit the road. We went past the two anime shops that are shown in internet searches. One is now a gift shop and the other sells western wear. Oh well. We went all the way up the Silverado Trail and reached Chateau Montelena at 9:30. We spent a bit of time walking around Jade Lake behind the winery - beautiful waterfowl there. We tasted some wines and then went to Cuvaison (the place responsible for our copper countertops in the kitchen), Clos Pegase (where we had a great tour of the grounds and the caves) and Mumm (sparkling wines).

We went to a restaurant in Yountville called Hurley's (recommended by some fellow travelers at Cuvaison) where we had a burger and a terrific butternut squash ravioli. We stopped at a bike shop in St Helena to see about renting a bike but it seemed a bit expensive for the day so we passed. Maybe we'll find a different place. On the way home we stopped at Robert Siskey Winery - we like their half bottles of Cabernet that we get in New Jersey, but nothing they were serving tasted particularly good. We hit Clos du Val, but again, nothing was really shouting to come home with us.

So in a few minutes, I will wake Gary up so that we can make our reservation at Auberge. I cheated and looked at the menu on line.

[Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.]

Quote du jour:

"Most works of art, like most wines, ought to be consumed in the district of their fabrication."

Rebecca West (1892 - 1983) Irish author, journalist
Ending in Earnest, "Journey's End Again," 1931.

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