ChiTown


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Chicago has always intrigued me. Ever since I was younger and my dad came back from business trips with stories about the clean, modern city in the midwest. So some twenty years later I finally got to travel to this city of skyscrapers.

I honestly had no idea it was such a tall city but after an architectural boat tour it was made clear that this city claims some of the tallest buildings in the world (one of which I went to the top of and literally hung off the edge*). To me the best part about Chicago is that it doesn’t feel big. This must be in part because of the wide streets where light passes through the buildings (almost the opposite to Manhattan’s streets). This city, to me, felt cozy and inviting.


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We were able to explore several neighborhoods during the extended weekend. As one would expect, each had a different flare, architecture and people. You could definitely notice the differences, which is something I love about NYC’s various neighborhoods as well.

Although my concrete jungle has water surrounding it, Chicago’s lake felt so much better than the rivers around Manhattan. First of all, it is clean water and you can literally jump in off the Gold Coast walkway. Second, it transcends into the city center making for lovely boat tours and bridge walks through center city.

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Selfishly, this trip was also a chance to check out another city’s “booze scene.”** With the help of colleagues living in the area and social media suggestions, I was able to curate a nice list of bars and restaurants, most of which we ventured to. The highlights included the swanky high-profile Aviary, the amaro selection at Billy Sundays, tacos at Mercadito and the surprising dive-bar we ended up singing karaoke in on the last night.

Chicago, I will return. There is more on my list to explore…

*formerly the Sears Tower

**I did mention I sell alcohol in NYC..right?

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Smorgas Saturday

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This summer New Yorkers from all boroughs have been flocking to Brooklyn on the weekends for a food lovers heaven. Smorgasburg is a food flea market offering some of the most innovative and delicious treats. From flavored horseradish (‘Dish) and truffle honey samples to jumbo ice-cream sandwiches and ramen burgers; this place has a little bit of everything.

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The gates open at 11am and my recommendation is to arrive as early as humanly possible. We arrived at noon and were able to make a loop of the area with ample space to meander between vendors and no lines to wait in. By our second loop (about 12:45pm) the space was already getting tight and not even my hunger could justify the length of the lines at some of the top spots.
After committing to a few items (ice-cream, fancy lemonade, tacos and pizza), we took ourselves to the lawn and relaxed in front of the city view.

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When we had enough of the warm sun, we jumped in a cab and went down to DUMBO (the area where Smorgasburg is held on Sundays FYI) for a quick afternoon cocktail at Atrium.

A top-notch Saturday afternoon if I do say so myself.

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Little trivia for you: DUMBO means Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Underpass. Did you know that?

Wacky Wine Wednesday

Rosé has been in my glass these days. This past weekend we had the first real burst of sun and warmth. Windows have been left open in the apartment and we each purchased a little orchid plant*. To top it off, we went to Bin14, Hoboken’s cherished wine bar, and enjoyed a rosé wine flight.

Three wines were presented and the winner was a floral, fruity combo from Jean-Luc Colombo.

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This little night out gave me a hankering for rosé so this week I opened up a wacky pink hued wine to share with my clients.

Vicentin Blanc de Malbec is a 100% Malbec that sees no skin maceration. The grapes are gently pressed to extract the juice, not color. This is a common practice in Champagne, but quite unconventional when making Malbec from Argentina. I must say that I am quite happy with the resulting light pink wine. It is juicy, tart, refreshing and pretty. The perfect pour for a picnic, which I plan to have in the near future.

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CHEERS!

 

*No, but seriously we did each purchase an orchid without knowing it. Guess we were all feeling the spring fever.

Spaghetti….but not really.

Last night I experimented with Spaghetti Squash for dinner. I read that you can cook the squash one of two ways: whole or cut in half. I decided to cut it in half. One upside-down and the other right side up (just to experiment) . I put a little bit of water in the deep pan and put a tiny bit of oil inside the half that was right side up.*

When done cooking,  I paired the “spaghetti” with sautéed red kale, onions and tomatoes.

Delicious. Easy. Fresh.

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*Results of a soft squash ready to scrape out of the skin are quicker with squash upside down.

 

Sweet and Swedish Saturday

I have an intense sweet tooth. It was triggered during my time in France. I mean seriously, who can resist the tartes and cakes at every corner patisserie?

I am more of a chocolate and ice cream person, however, recently I ate some amazing gummies from Sweden. Sockerbit was first introduced to me when my roommate brought home a white bag of treats. I tried them out and was impressed. Then the other weekend, on a lazy weekend stroll while waiting for brunch at Buvette (more on that later), I stumbled across the stark white candy store in the West Village.

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The smågodis at Sockerbit are all GMO free, trans fat free and colored from nature. But all of that aside, they are delicious and fun. My bag was quickly filled with shapes, colors and flavors. My favorite so far has been the salted licorice candy. Yes, salt on my gummy. It sounds freakish, but seriously, these Scandinavians are on to something here.

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Stop by the store and try it yourself:

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Parcin’ it in Philly

I recently made my way back to the city of brotherly love for a weekend with friends.  Phialdelphia is where I grew up and the city I knew before all others, but at this point in my life it is no longer home. So for this trip I made a point to get a few suggestions for bars and restaurants in the area.  I tend to go to the same few places since college and I was ready for something new.

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Lucky for me, my friend lives off of Rittenhouse Square so we were right in the thick of things. The first night, we got cocktails at a few places including Twenty Manning and The Pub & Kitchen. Both bars served up decent cocktails amid a fun ambiance, but Pub & Kitchen took home the pie. Mostly because I was hungry and the kitchen was closed during our stop at Twenty Manning, but also because the DJ knew the way to my heart: Notorious B.I.G. (I did mention I was from Philly, right?!).

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A smart man once said that Saturdays are meant for drinking and eating heavily before 5pm (I’m sure someone has said this….), so the next day we did just that. A long and lazy brunch was had at Steven Starr’s Parc Restaurant on the corner of the park. We left this French inspired hot-spot full and a bit tipsy, so I dare say it was a successful morning/afternoon.

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That evening, we joined forces with even more friends and traveled across the city to the “Brooklynesque” Northern Liberies area. This is a neat, up and coming area of Phialdelphia that I enjoyed experiencing a bit this past summer. This weekend we went for mexican dinner at Cantina Dos Segundos. Many spicy margaritas and tortilla chips later, we reconnected with old friends back in center city at Black Sheep Pub. A crowded bar that smelled of beer was the perfect spot to reminisce about high school memories.

A solid weekend that left me exhausted and thirsty for more Philly.

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wacky wine on wednesday

We went from below freezing temperatures last week to a rainy, humid 50 degree Monday. What gives?

Wacky weather is getting me thinking about wacky wines.

{wacky} slightly odd and peculiar.

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Velenosi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. This is possibly one of my favorite wines as of late. It, to me, is the definition of a peculiar wine. For one, if you were to smell it blind-folded you might think you were presented with a Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer is a white wine; Lacrima, a red wine. Can you get where I am coming from with the wacky part now?

Velenosi’s Lacrima has been described as a bouquet of violet flowers (this floral aromatic is the reason for the confusion with Gewürztraminer). If this scares you away from the wine I understand. Personally, I love the florals of this wine paired with soft tannins (meaning the wine does not “grip” onto the sides of your mouth). So I urge you to be daring and try Lacrima if you can get your hands on a bottle (use www.wine-searcher.com for a retail location near you).

The wine’s peculiarity doesn’t end with it’s characteristics. The wackiest part is that not many people know about this wine. I even presented it to one of my very knowledgeable wine buyers and they did not believe me that Lacrima was the varietal (the grape). This is mostly because Lacrima is exclusively produced in an area of Italy called Morro d’Alba and not all producers export their wine. There is not much marketing or promotion of this wine and you will not see it on most shelves. Morro d’Alba is located in Le Marche, a region on Italy’s central eastern coast. So this is one of Le Marche’s hidden gems and Velenosi Vini is a producer dedicated to sharing the region’s treasures with us in the States.  I am lucky enough to work with this wine as a sales professional in the U.S. and I hope that you all can have a sip of it in the near future. You won’t be let down.

THE Deli of New York

Last weekend I had my first experience at the famous Katz’s Deli. It was a spur of the moment decision at 3am, so aside from the noteworthy reviews the food warrants, you can imagine how satisfying it was for us at that particular moment.

I am a bit embarrassed that it took me two years of living here to actually order from Katz’s. Granted I tried (once) last March. It was my birthday and I planned a lunch at Katz’s but when we arrived the line encircling the building was less than inviting and we bailed with growling stomachs.

So last weekend, after a night of late night (early morning?) concerts, we were excited to see the neon red sign glowing, indicating that this place was open 24/7. Score!  *I think it should be noted that at this hour of the day some 100 people were also eating here.

Upon entering the deli, you receive a ticket. Once the order is taken at the counter, the ticket is marked and you pay on the way out. No exit without a ticket. So even if you are not eating, you must return your ticket if you want to leave (which is what the guy in front of us realized in his drunken stupor). But honestly, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that being stuck inside Katz’s wouldn’t be the end of the world for anyone. This place knows what they’re doing. From pastrami and corned beef to half-sour pickles and matzoh ball soup; I don’t think you can go wrong unless you’re a vegetarian I guess…

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On this outing my friend and I went for the half sandwich and soup deal. For me was the reuben plus matzoh ball soup and my friend the pastrami and split pea. Word to the wise: always eat with friends. It increases your probability of eating more than what you paid for 🙂

For those who are not familiar with Katz’s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, let me shed some light on their history. Katz’s is a “kosher style” deli that opened its doors 125 years ago. They are known for their hotdogs and pastrami sandwiches, but literally any sandwich you choose will knock your socks off. The freshly sliced high-quality meat will be piled high between soft slices of bread that just barely contain the amount of deliciousness inside. Katz’s developed a strong community during the early 20th century when many immigrants packed into the surrounding area.  They have maintained tradition and quality throughout three depressions, numerous recessions, the construction of the Subway and two World Wars. They truly are THE BEST DELI in NYC. I think you should give it a try.

Exploring Wine Country

A quick drive from San Francisco and my partner in crime and I were lounging on Adirondack chairs over-looking the golden vineyards in Sonoma County. Our first stop on the winery trail was Copain Wines and from there we stopped at Arista Winery. It was late in the afternoon so most other places were just about closing as we passed by.  While enjoying a glass of wine and the setting sun from the unique Japanese garden on the Arista property, we began to get hungry and made our way to Healdsburg.  Healdsburg is a quaint town that is home to many of the winery workers in Napa area.  There are many small shops and restaurants to choose from. That night the temperatures were quite cold. It seems that this was the trend of Northern California: warm days and cold nights. It is definitely important to wear layers.

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The next morning we continued our drive down from the hills to Napa Valley. The landscape of rolling hills and farmland was a bit surprising and in the distance we could see the high hills of Mount Helena. Once we arrived in Napa County itself, I was reminded of France’s Cote d’Or the way Highway 29 is bordered by vineyards and wineries with a large hill on the western side.

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We started the day with an amazingly educational tour of the Long Meadow Ranch estate, which consists of acres of vegetables, chicken, herbs, and orchards as well as vineyards on the hilltop. My favorite part of our nearly 2 hour excursion (perks of being in the business I guess) was when we entered the winery itself. It was perched on top of the hill with a breathtaking view of Rutherford below. But more than the view and the peaceful quietness that accompanied the location, I was soaking in  the smell of fermenting wine. I associate this smell with my time living in France. It is like home to me in a strange way. In fact, this smell, and the equipment inside the winery feel comforting to me. Like home in a strange way.

Walking back into the cave of the winery, we were able to see some of the oldest bottles of wine that the winery has kept in their cellar. After this, we continued the journey up the mountain and found the some horses, bulls and old olive groves. I learned (by way of experimental tasting) that olives taken off of a tree are hard and the oils released are toxic tasting and bitter. To make edible, delicious olives these little guys need to be soaked in salt water for months on end. Lots of work!

When we finally returned to civilization off of the secluded hillside, we enjoyed a delicious farm to table lunch at the wineries restaurant. It was so neat to have seen where the kale, beef and tomatoes we ate had come from. The meal was absolutely delicious and a recommendation even if you don’t take a long tour beforehand.

With our full bellies, we made our way to a few more wineries along Highway 29 before switching over to Silverado Trail and going off the beaten path to White Rock, one of the wineries that I represent in New York . This was the only winery where we got to see the actual harvest taking place (most of the grapes had already been picked the week prior to our arrival). When we pulled up to the cellar the team was dumping the grapes from  large crates into the sorter which pulled off the stems. It was a cool experience to see the machinery we had seen “off duty” on other tours actually being used for it’s purpose.

Visiting the wineries in California was a treat for me and a learning experience for my PIC. We had seen a lot, drank a lot and learned a lot about wine during those two days.

Next stop: the coast road!

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Study break turns into more learning about WINE

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I have been busy as a bee frantically studying for my WSET advanced exam in a week. The test, which covers all things from wine making techniques and laws, to grape varieties, regional designations (some in foreign languages mind you) and proper tasting notes, will be challenging but I am excited to have a noteworthy certificate to show off and the knowledge to back it up. Some, if not all, of you might be wondering what the WSET even is. For starters, the acronym stands for Wine & Spirits Education Trust, a British organization offering courses in wine and spirits for both business and pleasure. You have all probably heard of the Sommeliers Degree (does the Court of Master Sommeliers ring a bell?). This is another British organization in support of furthering the beverage industry, yet the focus is a bit different than the WSET whose highest title is Master of Wine. In my opinion, we know more and hear more about he Master Sommelier title because these are the folks helping you choose a wine at a restaurant or hotel. The Master of Wine might also be doing that, but it is more than likely on the behind the scenes business side of the industry. Let me quickly state that this is not the case over all, and that I am making very generalized statements. In fact, let me leave Doug Frost to explain these two distinguished sides of the industry. Doug Frost is one of three individuals world-wide holding BOTH titles…needless to say, he knows what he is talking about:

“MW’s vs MS’s?
Some nice person has made me aware of wikipedia’s entry for “Master of Wine.” In it, the author of the entry has noted that “the Master of Wine qualification is recognized as being vastly more difficult.” Of course, the entry is merely re-stating something that Ronn Weigand (also a dual MS/MW and the first person to achieve that status) was quoted as saying in a Janet Fletcher-penned San Francisco Chronicle article. Ronn is welcome to his opinion. But so am I.

I think it’s rather subjective (if not reductive) to state that one title is more difficult than the other; it really depends upon the test taker. If someone is skilled in restaurant floor service and are willing to commit themselves to the memorization required of a Master Sommelier, well, then they will likely find it fairly easy. But if you’ve never worked on a restaurant floor, there is no way (imho) that you are ever going to pass the Master Sommelier exam. You might be able to dash off three Master of Wine essays in your sleep, but for you, the MS exam would be overwhelmingly difficult. You see, it depends upon the test taker, because each of these two tests is different.

The Master Sommelier exam tests people’s ability, experience, understanding and skills in a variety of service settings. The successful candidate is likely to know a great deal about a great many things, but as is typical of a hospitality setting, that sommelier isn’t going to need to write an essay about any of those issues. Conversely, the Master of Wine exam is extremely detailed about matters of grape-growing, winemaking and maturation and, perhaps most importantly, the business of wine. The successful MW candidate probably has no idea which grapes are important in Moldova or any other obscure wine region, but I guarantee you that the MS will. It doesn’t make one exam better or harder than the other, but it does make the exams very different.”http://www.dougfrost.com

While I’ve been spending lunch breaks and nights studying the all powerful green textbook, I have also been attacking my favorite websites and blogs for deeper industry information. One website in particular has been both extremely entertaining and impressively informative.

I was directed to A Drink With Friends while at work scanning my company’s Twitter feed. I briefly jumped over to the website and was immediately attracted to the clean lines and straight forward web design (I am a creative mind at the end of the day).  I was also intrigued by the site’s emphasis on wine education through stories showcasing people outside of the wine industry. And when I say “outside of the industry” I mean beekeepers, tattoo artists and stay at home dads.  These out of the box mini documentaries combined with the witty “lessons” from Stevie really drew me in and I ended up watching each clip. I even shared them with my mom and friends who I feel could benefit from the straight forward approach to wine knowledge.

I think what Stevie and Josiah have done is a great thing. They have taken their extremely distinguished wine prowess (both studied under the Court of Master Sommeliers; Stevie at level ii & Josiah at level iii) and transformed it into an every man’s video series. A perfectly fitting name, Drink with Friends is definitely a website to check out.

Now for me…it’s back to studying so that I can one day use my wine skills for something just as cool 🙂

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