Hangout Fest 2018!

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My sister has been in Pensacola, FL the past few months and earlier in the year, we decided to meet up for Hangout Fest, a three-day festival in Gulf Shores, AL.  There were several bands I was excited to see and I knew that at a festival like that, I’d make several new-to-me discoveries.

I flew in Friday morning and took an Uber to her house.  After I made sure that their bulldog Peaches wasn’t too disturbed with my presence, I let him out of the bedroom and gave him a few pats.  He was so happy, I received a drooly shake of the head.  Brady came home for lunch and we packed the car for the Fest.  I went to drop her off at work but good news- her afternoon class was cancelled.  Hooray!  After a stop at the Mini-Mart, we were off to Alabama!  We picked up some Everclear and dropped off our shuttle passes for resale by StubHub, which were successfully sold later that day.  Yay!  

We stayed at a group house rented by one of her classmates.  They were a really great group of people and a lot of fun to hang out with.  Brady and I stuck together all weekend while the group slightly shifted depending on who wanted to see which act.  There were several overlaps where choices had to be made.  Brady and I were pretty happy with our chosen line-up!

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Friday was the highlight day for me, which was why I had taken the day off.  We saw half of the Cold War Kids set, Portugal. The Man, Zedd, and the Killers.  I really liked Portugal, who had a more modern rock sound than their radio single would suggest.  Zedd was a surprise as he ended up DJ’g a huge party on the beach.  It was so much fun.  Finally, although I love the Killers, I feel like Brandon Flowers’ vocals have been better.  The band was good, though.  Maybe I’m just snobby since I’ve seen them with excellent shows in smaller venues.

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Saturday featured Anderson.Paak and the Free Nationals, Poolside, Halsey, and St Vincent.  I really liked Anderson.Paak- his energy was awesome.  Poolside was a bit more mellow and I didn’t realize that a band, rather than a computer/synth, made their sounds.  Brady and I spent an hour on “Corona Beach,” one of the three beach access points.  Swimming and taking a quick snooze made for a fantastic break.  As the evening approached, Halsey was awesome and way better than her radio singles would suggest.   Finally, St Vincent put on a great show, which we enjoyed rather than seeing the Chainsmokers, which we were both “meh” about.

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On Sunday, Brady dropped me off at the Florabama bar since my flight left at 7, which was too early to make going to the concert worth it.  I sold my ticket to a friend of hers and then spent the afternoon sunning, swimming, and drinking Bushwhackers.  It was a relaxing afternoon.

Then, it was off to the airport.  Although all the flights went through, there were massive delays I didn’t get to my final destination until 4:30.  People were going through TSA for the morning flights by the time we arrived.  Yuck.  Work was a little rough since I had such little sleep but it was worth it for an amazing weekend!

Marriage on Cinco de Mayo!

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Wedding Crashers!

Cinco de Mayo was extra special this year because my brother got married!  His now-wife Meg has been part of our family for years and it was so much fun to celebrate at their wedding!  

SMS and I made a weekend getaway out of it and started in Baltimore.  Our hotel was near the Mt Vernon District and we went on a really nice walk Friday morning.  We saw a small street fair.  Then I saw a sign for a Fabergé exhibit at the Walters Museum, which is free to the public!  After grabbing breakfast sandwiches at Jack and Zach food (which were delicious!), we went to the exbitit.  There beautiful pieces from the Faberge workshop.  The highlight of the collection were two Fabergé eggs of the approximately 50 ever made.  One egg, the Rose Trellis Egg, was given to Alexandra by Ncholi II on the birth of their son.  It was a love egg, green with garlands of patterned pink roses, 49 in all.  The other had a miniature of Gatchina castle.  Both eggs had exceptional fine-detail and I felt lucky to stumble across this treasure of an exhibit.  

Then, we were off to Annapolis and a blue crab experience.  We went to Cantler’s Riverside Inn.  I had never been but it was the real deal- picnic tables with brown paper covers for those who ordered crabs.  We ordered two to have the crab-cracking experience, in addition to a crab pretzel and crab cakes for SMS.  It was on Mill Creek, a little outside Annapolis and I recommend!  Afterwards, we walked through downtown Annapolis.  

Then, it was off to Alexandria and the rehearsal dinner.  My parents hosted it at Blackwell Hitch.  It was a fantastic party.  I saw my aunts and uncles, whom I really only see at family weddings.  Everyone seemed to be doing really well in life and it was great to catch up.  The food and drink were excellent.  It was a gorgeous venue and I definitely wouldn’t mind going to another event there!

The next day, SMS and I grabbed breakfast at the Farmer’s Market.  Ed and Meg had an afternoon wedding so it was time to get ready before I knew it.  I ordered a yellow dress from Rent the Runway, which worked out really well.  Brady wore another dress I had ordered so I felt I had done well for myself on the order.   Plus, I feel that the company is quite ethical after reading this editorial in the Times just a few days later.

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Best text of the weekend for the second-most important job! (After the tacos)

SMS and I had been tasked pre-wedding to pick up the taco catering bar.  We were excited to help, especially since food is so important.  Booze is more important but food is a close second!  I don’t know what I was thinking though.  For some reason, I thought we were picking up a few bags of tacos and then we’d come into the party like heroes, “Hey everyone, we brought the tacos.”  Instead, it was a huge order that included frames, sternos, pans and sides.  Our car was full.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a more awesome car- it was a true taco mobile!

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Then it was time for the wedding.  The ceremony was really sweet.  Before I knew it, Ed and Meg said I do/I will and they were husband and wife!  Family pictures weren’t too painful and then it was time to party.  It was a lot of mingling, talking, drinking, eating and a little dancing. 

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Ok, ok, kind of an outtake but it’s my blog and it’s staying!

The after-party was in Old Town.  The next day, we went to a small family brunch at Mom and Dad’s.  Then it was time for SMS to head out.  I spent the rest of the day with my folks, followed by dinner with Ed, Meg and friends in downtown DC.  We hung out for the rest of the night at his friends’ suite, which was really a lot of fun.  They know a really awesome group of people.  I reluctantly left shortly after midnight since I had to get up at 4 the next morning.  Yuck.  After a fun weekend, it was pretty rough to end on such a sleep-deprived note but it was totally worth it!

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Last year, Jyostna and I requalified for the Boston Marathon.  Unfortunately for our dreams of running together, my time was too slow to make the registration cut-off time.  Yes, I know, how are there seemingly two different standards for entering the race?  Well, since the Boston Marathon has become increasingly popular, a stricter cut-off time has been used the last five or so years rather than the listed qualifying time, which is based on age and gender.  The year we both ran (2016), the cut-off time was about a minute and a half faster than the qualifying time.  I thought my time for 2017 would be ok since I ran just under two minutes faster but the cut-off turned out to be about 2.5 minutes.   Sad trombone sound!

Since it was so much fun last year, I thought it would be fun to spectate.  Well, Mother Nature had a different idea of fun (more later!) but Jyotsna and I decided to have a Boston weekend getaway.  

We met up mid-morning Saturday.  We were in the Seaport area, where the expo was held this year.  We walked out our hotel and saw a line straight ahead. We joined it but it didn’t seem to be marathon-related!  Instead, it was for a limited release beer for Trillion, a well-known (except to us, I guess) Boston microbrewery.  Since I had never stood in line for a beer release before, we decided to do something new.

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A few purchased beers later, we dropped them off at the hotel and headed to the Expo.  It was  a little less crazy than last year although that’s not saying much.  Jyotsna picked up her number and then it was time to shop.  I bought a pair of running recover flip-flops and a muscle massager.  When SMS heard about the later, he exclaimed that I was going to end up with a closet full.  He may be right!  

After the Expo, we headed out to dinner.  We went to Pastoral ARTisan near our hotel since a lot of places were really crowded. It was a mellow dinner and then we headed back to the room.  Sunday was a beautiful day and again, we were pretty mellow.  We went to the Isabella Gardiner Museum, which was beautiful.  It was really fun to show one of my favorite museums to a friend who had never been before.  The highlight was an exhibit of four Fra Angelico reliquaries that had not been reunited in years.  The Gardiner owns one and the Florence Museo di San Marco owns the other three.  They were masterpieces and displayed really well.  I also enjoyed exploring the rooms in the main museum for all the John Singer Sargent paintings, since he is one of my favorites.

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Aperol Spritzes at The Beehive

For dinner, we had a pasta meal at Sportello.  I had an interesting pasta dish that looked like the Buggle brand of chips.  It was incredibly tasty and different from any pasta dish I think I could make.  

Then, it was Marathon Monday.  One word for the weather: YUCK!  It was rainy, windy, and cold.  Jytosna was an incredibly brave soul and headed out into the elements.  I stayed in bed.  Hahahaha.  I went out for coffee then came back and watched the race on TV for several miles.  Then I walked from the Seaport area to the finish line area.  The security was impressive but not overawhelming.  I got there about 5 minutes before the first runner crossed.  It was an America woman!  Go Desi Linden!  A few more women finished then the first male crossed- an amateur from Japan.  Gamba!  What tenacity.  Relative to their normal speeds, they were moving slowly and it was clear the weather had a major, major effect.

After seeing the elites, I stayed out to cheer for a bit but then took shelter at the Oofos party.  Jyotsna and I had been invited the day before.  I thought there would be more regular customers, but it seemed to be more of a corporate party and I felt like a bit of a crasher.  Everyone was very nice though and once they heard I was in the Navy and had run the Boston last year, I was golden.  

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Then I got a text alert!  Jyostna had just crossed the 40K mark!  I ran out, saw her on Heldesford and gave a loud cheer!  Then I cut through to Bolyston and cheered her on there!  She looked strong!  After she crossed the line, I decided to hop the fence so we wouldn’t get separated.  SMS says I look for reasons to hop fences, especially if cops are nearby.  That’s not true!  If it were, I would work harder so I could so it with Parkour flare!

I’m glad we met up because she was shivering and fatigued!  We got an Uber after going through the line then it was time to get dry and go out!  The rain let up a bit and we headed over to North End.  We ate at Neptune, which we were so happy to get into because last year we were unable to.  At the restaurant, J saw a woman she sat next to on the bus to Hopkinstown.  Such a small world!  Then we went to Mike’s pastries, where Jyotsna got several well-deserved cookies.  

The next day, J left on the early side and I was not too far behind her.  I got another nice coffee before I left and then took the Express Bus to Logan.  It was an awesome weekend and I was so happy I got to cheer on my amazing friend!

Sad postscript: My cracked iPhone met its demise that weekend.  Apparently, waterproof jackets have poor-to-none waterproofing of the external pockets.  I lost quite a few photos (backup those phones, kids!) but fortunately due to this blog, I have the highlights from my newly acquired photo gap.

Sonoma Birthday Monday

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Small study/dining room at Singlethread.

I woke up and it was my birthday!  Yay, the capstone day of our long weekend!  We were still in the dreamy Singlethread hotel and looking forward to our Japanese breakfast.  Part of what drew me to Singlethread was the incredible amenities and special touches throughout the stay.  Breakfast had been highly praised.  SMS and I wanted a throwback to our ryokan days in Japan so we ordered the Japanese set.

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Exquisite fruit cup!

There was so much food!  Little dishes abounded, including rolled up egg (tomago), several sashimi, rice, fruit, pickled veggies, and yuba.  Yuba is Japanese for “tofu skin,” which sounds way worse I think!

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Pliny the Elder and me, reflected in SMS’ lovestruck eyes 🙂

After breakfast, we hung out on the rooftop and sealed our Northern California-ness by splitting a bottle of Pliny the Elder.  It’s a double/imperial IPA beer made in limited batches with stern admonitions to drink it fresh!  We had heard of people lining up for it so we decided to sample it since it was so easily available to us.  It was quite hoppy with a slight juniper taste.  I would drink it again if I ever saw it again on a beer menu, but I wouldn’t stand in line for hours for it.

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Single thread rooftop on a spectacular day!

After checkout at 11 a.m. (we stayed as long as we could!), we drove to Calistoga to pass some time before our appointment at Medlock-Ames.  Spoiler alert: Medlock-Ames is my new favorite winery!

It was a gorgeous day and a fun day for a drive.  We passed the largest fire damage that we saw on our trip just North of Calistoga.  The fire had burned both sides of the roads, although it looked like the vineyard on one side had been spared.  We grabbed a panini in Calistoga before heading over to the vineyard.

Audra gave us a fantastic tour and I can’t wait to go back.  While the wines are delicious and the tasting pours quite generous, I mainly want to go back so I can pick some vegetables in their organic garden later this Summer!

After wine tasting, we drove to Napa and had dinner in Oxbow Market.  We wanted to stop by the CIA but it was closed.  We headed home, where I had a near panic-moment when I thought I had left my purse at the restaurant.  Fortunately, it was hidden in the car.  Phew!

And that was my birthday weekend!  It was an incredible trip and very special.  No particular reason why this birthday was such a blow-out, but it was so much fun!

Singlethread Inn and Restaurant, Healdsburg, CA

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Understated elegance

I decided I wanted to go to Healdsburg for my birthday after a too-short day trip there a couple of months ago.  When planning our Healdsburg vacation, SMS sent me a text saying, “Hey, if you haven’t made plans, check out Singlethread.”  Well, I did.  I wondered who had hacked into my husband’s phone since the luxury level of the place is sky-high with a price tag to match but after reading about the Japanese influenced American hospitality, I was hooked.  I booked a single night room-dinner reservation for 1 April, Birthday Eve!

The entire experience was amazing.  I’ve linked to an article that goes into exhaustive detail about the restaurant and inn.  We were lucky enough to be upgraded to the suite since no one had booked it for that night.  Yay, so lucky!  The room was absolutely gorgeous and filled with incredible amenities.  The spirit behind the inn is from Japanese: omotenashi, the “spirit of selfless hospitality, anticipating needs without having to be asked” per Kyle Connaughton.  I got this quote from the article as we weren’t quite at the level of hangin’ with Kyle for the evening.

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Serenity now

Some of my favorite highlights of the room include the gorgeous, minimalist design; the subdue color palate, heavy on the gray; the in-room wine and Pliny the Elder beer, which allowed us to have a true NorCal drinking experience; the homemade ice cream; the homemade candy bar; the super-deep bath with a huge scoop of bath salts; the Aesop toiletries; and the Toto toilet!

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Rooftop mobile garden box

After lounging about the room and trying to maintain the delicate balance of snacking without ruining our appetites for dinner, we headed to the roof around 5:30.  They weren’t staffed to have all the diners start their experience up there but we were allowed since we were hotel guests.  Again, the weather was gorgeous and SMS and I wandered around the rooftop, mobile gardens.

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In the greenhouse- Don’t throw stones!

At 6, we headed down to dinner.  We had a welcome drink from Brent via the “culinary window” that allows arriving guests to see into the kitchen.  Then we were seated in this nice corner table with a wrap-around wall bench which means we both got to sit on the bench rather than one bench, one chair.

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Early Spring in Sonoma. Yes, please!

The food was, surprise, amazing!  The meal starts with an incredibly elaborate appetizer course, which I think would be called Sakizuke/Zensai in Japanese.  A beautiful multi-leveled stone platter is covered in moss and seasonal flowers.  Set upon and within the moss are several small appetizer dishes (1-3 bites) on assorted ceramic dishes.  On the menu, this is identified by the unifying theme of “Early Spring in Sonoma.”  The dishes included a cauliflower panna cota, a shot-size chawanmushi (savory egg custard), a light miso soup, rice, baby barracuda, pickled veggies, greens in miso dressing, steamed and marinated kohlrabi, a perfect scallop, unagi (eel) on greens.  It was an over-abundance of perfectly crafted, delicious distillations of culinary delights!  Keep in mind, this is just the first course and I’m fairly certain I missed a dish or two!

[In fact, the next day, our breakfast waitress mentioned that during a recent fund-raiser with several visiting Japanese chefs, the chefs commented that the first course seemed the most “American” because of the quantity of dishes.  Whether that’s a compliment or complaint, I found the first course to be fantastic!]

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I kid you not when I say that every dish was amazing.  The diner doesn’t actually get the menu until the very end so the composition and number of courses were a surprise.  I didn’t take many pictures after the first course because I just wanted to savor the sensory experience unadultured, rather than through my phone.

The yellowtail was delicious with brûlée miso.  Umami was definitely a feature of most dishes.  The Dungeness crab dish was similar to a deconstructed crab bisque, which is still a completely inadequate explanation.  It was an explosion of savory, rich crab…hmmm, I feel like my descriptions are just getting worse and worse.  I’ll work on it.  Trust me when I say it was awesome, rather than conjuring up an outtake from SpongeBob.

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The king salmon was an exquisite cut of salmon with a fattiness similar to the best cut of toro.  Of course, it tasted like salmon but it was so rich!  The poached fois gras was so delicious, I didn’t even feel badly about eating it.  Ok, maybe a little bit.

I don’t remember the black cod quite as well, but keep in mind that we are several courses in combined with an excellent wine pairing.  But don’t worry, my memory isn’t completely faded because the lamb dish made quite an impression. The saddle cut had perfect marbled lamb.  I am running out of superlatives and this dish definitely deserved one!

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Pecan Ice Cream

The Sonoma grains was good, but we were running out of steam.  We ate most, but not all of it as it was rather hearty and dessert was coming!  The sherbet was a nice palate cleanser and the pecan ice cream was perfect.  The ice cream was my favorite although we did enjoy the one bite dessert finishers to finish the meal.

On the menu photo above, you’ll notice that the wine pairings are listed.  SMS had ordered the non-alcoholic pairing so he had that on his menu.  We each drank most of our individual pairing but usually shared a sip or two with each other. SMS’ pairing had some fairly experimental drinks meant to complement the dishes such as a dashi-based and whey-based drink for two of the courses.  It was very cool but both SMS and I thought the pairing would be exclusively mocktail-focused.

The whole experience was exquisite.  I felt so happy and lucky to be with SMS in such a perfect environment with an exceptional menu.  It was definitely extravagant but so incredibly memorable.  Thanks for the find, SMS!!!

Sonoma Sunday

Sunday was my birthday…April Fool’s!  Ok, ok it wasn’t but the whole weekend felt like such a treat!  On Sunday, we woke up and went to Shed for Americano and pastries.  We shared two of the breakfast toasts.  The more impressive one, to me, was the ricotta, marmalade and pistachio duqqa.  It was on a crusty piece of toast- quite delicious.  The other toast was a very grainy, thinner piece of bread with egg salad.

So, our lodging and dinner for Sunday night was a super-extravagant splurge at Singlethread.  As a result, we wanted to check-in exactly at 3 so that we could maximize our time there.  So, we decided to stay local and skip any wine tasting that day.  Instead, we headed to Foothill Regional Park for a hike.  There was a small day-fee parking lot but there is a ton of free street parking.

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We did an approximately 3 mile loop consisting of the Westside, Oakwood, Alta Vista and Three Lakes Trail.  The views were really pretty and it was another gorgeous day.  One of the pourers at Preston said he wasn’t impressed with the views since it essentially just overlooks the town of Windor but I thought it was really pretty!

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Our sunhats are not helping our noses!

On the way down from Alta Vista, I took my third slip of the day.  Despite the fact that we usually like to hike, I had only packed flat-bottom, no-traction sneakers.  Unfortunately, my iPhone was in my hand and I ever-so-gently smashed the face of it into a rock.  Le boo.  It still works but it there are several impressive stellate cracks on the face.

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After our hike, we stopped for lunch at Estrella’s market/taqueria because I saw an outside grilling station.  We both ordered the pollo asada and it was an excellent choice!

SMS and I went back into town and tasted wine at the Meuller tasting room to pass some time before check-in.  The owner’s name is actually Robert Mueller but woman working there did not pick up my lame political reference jokes or maybe she’s bored of hearing it.

I’m putting my Singlethread thoughts in another post because the place deserves it!  We checked in as early as we could (3!).  Our dinner reservations were at 6.  The dinner was about 2 and 1/2 hours.  It was completely fantastic.  I wish I could go back every week!

After dinner, we headed straight to bed.  I probably could have used a little walk to help digest after such a meal but sleeping in the comfy bed was the second-best idea!

Sonoma Saturday

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SMS and I on the rooftop of Singlethread

What an amazing birthday weekend!  SMS and I had an epic few days in Sonoma.  We had so much fun together and I’m definitely sad it’s over.  But rather than drown in my pinot-tinged tears, let me tell you about our trip!

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Wisteria at Preston

We started on Saturday morning with an ambitiously scheduled 11 a.m. tour at Preston Farm and Winery.  Yes, well, that didn’t happen.  We stopped in Oakland for breakfast and even though we passed on the wait at the delicious looking Sequoia Diner, our drive there was a bit more of a detour than I realized.  We went to the World Ground Coffeeshop, which was pretty cool.

I called Preston Farm and they told us not to worry, that they’d even refund the tour charge once we got there!  Lucky us!  Preston is in the Dry Creek appellation of Sonoma. I picked it after researching several Sonoma wineries.  I liked the fact that there was a produce farm in addition to the winery.  In addition, they grow Mourvèdre grapes, which I really like in red blends.  They’re actually releasing a 100% Mourvèdre in a week so I might buy it off their website!

It’s not terribly difficult to get to although the last half mile is on a packed dirt road.  The gardens are beautiful and it is an idyllic place to sit.  There is a bocce ball court which, if I were to make a Mean Girls t-shirt for Preston, it would say, “On weekdays, we play bocce” since there were several (!) signs saying bocce was not to be played on weekends.

SMS and I each had a tasting.  We tried two whites and four reds.  We thought they were fine, but not mind-blowing.  We bought the white blend “Madam Preston” since it was our favorite of the flight and the tasting fee was waived with a bottle purchase.   Free wine!

The wine pourers were all really nice.  We got several biking recs and a few other tasting room suggestions.  One of the women enthusiastically endorsed our planned Monday tour at Medlock-Ames so we were excited about that!

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View at Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve

After Preston, we went to Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve.  We parked on a residential street near the trailhead and went on a two mile walk/hike.  There were really pretty views of the valley and it was a nice way to spend some time on a gorgeous day!

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Rockpile, the tasting room next to Rockpile, the construction site

After our hike, we went into Healdsburg.  We stayed at America’s Best Value Inn, which was fine.  It was clean and inexpensive, which was our goal for that night’s stay!  We walked into town, which I thought would be easy.  It was not.  There’s a construction zone for a roundabout that the locals, if you bring it up, will immediately start to vent about how long it’s taking and how ridiculous the whole thing is.  What was funny though is that there is a tasting room right on the developing roundabout called Rockville, which is very appropriate.  I think the name precedes the construction site though.

We went to the Idlewild tasting room, which was recommended to us at Preston.  The winery focuses on Piedmont, Italy wines.  The flight, which we shared, featured 5 single varietals, 2 white/3 red.  We also tried the Rosé, made from 47% Nebbiolo, 28% Barbera, and 25% Dolcetto.  Most rosés are made from Pinot Noir grapes so this was an interesting variation.  I got a full glass, which was definitely a great choice.  We talked with the pourer Scott for awhile!  He was very interesting and quite knowledgeable about the wine/restaurant scene. He is a somewhat recent transplant, having arrived from NYC about three years ago.

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Flowers at Shed

While the wines were good (especially paired with an incredible cheese plate- Piedmont Sola and a buffalo Camembert), we decided not to buy any bottles.  I think we were too lazy to carry them!  We headed over to Shed, where we had a reservation.  I had wanted to eat there since our last visit so I was really happy to go.

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Cheese, Salumi, Pickles- Shed

At Shed, we split three plates, which was a lot of food (as pointed out by SMS before we ordered).  I ordered the cheese/salumi plate and the ricotta-nettles dumplings.  Both were very good.  SMS ordered the savory toast, which was excellent.  The toast was pretty heavy since there was a lot of butter soaking the bread, topped by pesto and other toppings.  I never thought I would say there was too much better on toast but this one was slightly toeing the line.

After a great dinner, we headed back to the hotel.  It was time for bed in anticipation of Sonoma Sunday!