Central Coast California- Party and Wine Tasting

The weekend after an East Coast family trip, SMS and I made our way from Silicon Valley to the Central Coast.  First stop?  Great-Uncle Al’s 90th birthday party in Arroyo Grande!

Before we went to the party, we stopped at our favorite taco place in nearby Pismo Beach, Papi’s Grill.  We ordered a few tacos and they were delicious.  The potato taco is always a hit and a few of the meat ones were also very tasty.  Then we checked into the SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel and went to the beach for a bit.

Uncle Al is SMS’ grandfather’s younger brother.  The brothers are both very active and live life to the fullest.  Although there was no formal toast, Uncle Al got up at one point to tell us “terrible news:” “I just went to DMV and they renewed my license…for five more years!”  It was very funny.  Although as I type it, it sounds worrisome- I promise, it was light-hearted!

It was fun to see family members, including SMS’ aunt and uncle whom we don’t see as often.  We had tri-tip for dinner, which was pretty delicious.  Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and watched the sunset.  It was a pretty great day.

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World Cup viewing

The next day, SMS and I went to a local bar to watch the World Cup final.  I am an unabashed follower of sports when it comes to championship games.  The road to the championship?  Not so much but when it’s time for the finals, I’m usually there.  It was a good game and both teams played with gusto. I was rooting for Croatia as the underdog but France winning was also ok.

After the game, we checked out of the hotel and headed for Paso Robles.  We had decided to take a couple days off and go wine-tasting with SMS’ parents.  Since we were early for check-in, we headed out to do what we do best- drink wine!  Our first stop was at Eos winery, where Rip had a complimentary tasting due to reciprocity from another wine club he belongs to.  Our pourer was really nice but the wines were…ok.  We enjoyed talking to her and she gave us a tip that was AWESOME (more later) so it wasn’t a bust but we definitely didn’t buy any of the wines.

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Heart Hill, Niner Winery

Rip wanted to try Niner winery so off we went for a tasting and possibly lunch.  There, by total chance, we ran into his sister and brother-in-law.  We enjoyed a tasting and decided to eat lunch at the on-site restaurant.  It was really good and the outdoor seating even better.  It was a really nice lunch setting and it was very enjoyable.

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Lunch table at Niner

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Although we had gotten the message that our hotel rooms were ready, we decided to keep going with wine tastings (yay!).  Since Justin is an old favorite and a little out of the way from the places we were planning on for the next day, we headed there.  We split wine tastings there and I bought a few bottles.  We ambitiously thought we’d drink them while we ate S’mores later at the Hotel Cheval but that ended up not happening.  So SMS and I still have them.  Darn.

We headed back to town to check in and then go to dinner.  We went to Thomas Hill Organics, which has excellent food and a beautiful indoor/outdoor covered patio.  Afterwards, we went to Hotel Cheval’s famed evening S’mores which ended up driving me crazy.  Let me say, SMS thinks I shouldn’t write about this because it does make me look slightly insane.  He is probably right but I press on, regardless.

So, first, you cannot make your own S’more.  There is a s’more concierge/waiter who takes your S’more order and then makes them for you.   He is taking orders from many people who would like s’mores and yet, he can only make two at a time.  Not the best system in the world but this is not the part where I lost my mind.  What was driving me crazy was his insane level of inefficiency and resulting level of stress.  It’s like the scene in August: Osage County when Abigail Breslin’s character states she doesn’t eat meat because she’s ingesting an animal’s fear.  Well, I was eating a person’s stress while eating a s’more, which is antithetical to the s’more experience.  Also, why could he not move his s’more ingredient wagon next to the fireplace where he was actually making the s’mores rather than running back and forth.  Wwhhhhhhyyyy?!?!? Argh, just let me make my own s’more!  Except I couldn’t.  And the whole experience made me weirdly grouchy because I am crazy.  The end.

So, if you’re still with me rather than reporting my fragile mental status to concerned authorities, we had another day of wine tasting the next day!  After a delicious breakfast, which featured a buffet and, thankfully, not a breakfast s’more waiter, we headed out to Villa San Juliette, which had been recommended the previous day at Eos.

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Villa San Juliette
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Happy couple at Villa San Juliette

It was amazing!  The wines were really good- I ended up becoming a member!  Also, the tasting was $10 and a lot of wines were served.  SMS ordered a pizza because his hunger levels were reaching imminent crisis levels and it looked delicious.  We spoke to the chef for a bit and he really knew his stuff.  I sort of wanted to eat there because everything he described sounded amazing, but we had already made plans for Daou which is another great experience.  But before I move on to Daou, if you are in Paso Robles, I give Villa San Juliette my highest recommendation!

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Daou lunch crowd!
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Daou vineyards

Rip has been a member of Daou for a long time and loves their wines.  It also sits on top of the largest hill around for miles so the view is spectacular.  There is an outside sitting area that is covered so, although it is quite hot, it’s comfortable in the shade as there’s often a gentle breeze as well.  We had a great tasting there and lunch.

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Our lunch was rather late so we decided to head back into town for happy hour rather than try and squeeze in another winery.  We got some so-so ice cream but later, went out for a really nice dinner at La Cosecha.  I ordered the seafood stew that was delicious but I wasn’t quite hungry enough for.  Still, I ate all the good stuff and tried not to waste any food!  Afterwards, SMS and I headed to an outdoor spa at River Oaks Hot Spring & Spa.  He made the reservation and it was really a good idea!  Afterwards, we still had room for a s’more so we hung out by the fire again.  This time, I was more chill.  Not uncoincidentally, there was a different s’more guy.

The next day, it was time to go.  We ate breakfast and then packed up the car.  It was a great mini-vacation and a fun way to celebrate family.

4th of July and West Orange, NJ

SMS and I visited family over the extended 4th of July weekend.  For the 4th itself, we went to the Shook family annual party.  It was a little more mellow this year compared to others (no swinging fireballs!), but it was a lot of fun.  The company was great and we had an awesome view of multiple firework shows.  I also got to run around the beach with my nephew Luca, which was a lot of fun.  He’s a spirited kid!  He also moves quite fast so no pictures from me although Mark caught him in action.

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Super cute!

That weekend, we headed up to New Jersey to see my grandfather and Dusty.  It was a quick trip since we arrived on Saturday and left Sunday.  We went out to a local restaurant since SMS and I hadn’t thought to bring nice clothes for a dinner at Navesink.  Doh!  Never fear, the local restaurant was really good and it was nice to hang out with Grandpa, Dusty, and my aunt Maria.

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Edison’s West Orange Factory

The next day, we went to the Thomas Edison National Historic Part in West Orange, NJ.  It’s at the site of his larger, industrial sized laboratory and factory.  We saw his chemical lab, production line, office with his huge roll-top desk, and the Black Maria.  The Black Maria is a tarpaper-covered video making studio on a lazy Susan to maximize light.  I’ve linked to a PBS short that talks about the Black Maria.  The current studio is actually a replica since the original burned down.  It was really neat to see someone’s idea constructed, from paper concept to large physical structure.  The scope of industrial engineering is something I’m in awe of- it’s hard for me to think on that scale.  But it is absolutely amazing to behold.

We stopped for lunch at MishMish cafe where we both ordered the Israeli brunch, which consisted of two fried eggs, halloumi, labne, sour pickles, tomatoes, cucumber, and pita.  I asked for sliced veggies instead, which also paired nicely.  It was really delicious.

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Is it wrong to think of my TESLA at Edison’s house?  The battery charger!

Afterwards, we quickly stopped at the Glenmont Estate, labelled “Glenmont Garage” on Google.  It’s the estate Edison gave to his second wife (he was a widower) as a wedding gift.  Niiiiiiccceeeee!  We didn’t have a lot of time but we peaked into an open window in the garage.  There, I saw Edison’s DC electric car charger- from  1904!  He charged neighbor’s cars and Alma Edison actually drove a 1914 Detroit Electric Model 47.  We walked behind the house and saw the gravesite of Thomas and Alma Edison before leaving for the airport.  Hmmm, typing that seems a little morbid pre-flight, but we didn’t have time to go inside!

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Back of the house

Busy (NYC) Weekend

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On Friday, I got a few hours of sleep and then woke up to start the journey home.  I grabbed my takeaway breakfast from the fridge and walked to the station.  The journey home was pretty uneventful although connecting through Brussels was a little nerve-wracking since there was a HUGE line for non-EU citizens leaving the Schengen zone.  I also had to run back to the United counter to get a sticker saying I had been through security.  This seemed ridiculous because of course I went through security, there was no other way to be at the gate.  Anyway, it was a pretty tight connection because of all that but I made it and got home, just in time for Chief’s Dinner.

After a nice dinner with colleagues and some funny roast skits (on video), I went home and slept pretty soundly.  The next morning, I got up to…take a plane to NYC.  I know.  Totally crazy but a friend of mine was having a baby shower hosted by friends with an amazing apartment.  So, off I went!

I landed in Newark and took the train into Penn Station.  I had made an appointment at the Apple Store near World Trade Center so after a delicious lunch at Sliced.  It was delicious and pretty healthy, too.  I had an open-faced toast and the counterman was really nice.

Then I walked down to the World Trade Center area.  I walked through the memorial, which was pretty somber.  It is clear that in the NYC area, 9/11 is an event that affects people daily.  I feel that elsewhere in the US, while people treat the date with solemnity, the direct impact is felt less often by the overall population on a day-to-day basis.

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The Oculus mohawk
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Inside Oculus

Next, I walked into Oculus, a futuristic-looking multi-use space that is impressive on the outside and the interior even more so.  I walked through Eatly and then went to the Apple store where they took my laptop away to send it in.  Although the girl tried to insinuate that I must have done something by showing my photos of a few spots of micro-rust from water damage, it ultimately turned out that the logic board had failed.  I didn’t have to pay anymore than the (expensive) base rate and my computer was returned with memory intact (my last backup had been a month ago!).

After that, it was time to party!  Michael and Scott organized a great party with awesome drinks and delicious food.  We went up to their deck and socialized while admiring the spectacular views.

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The star of the party! (On the left.  Sheesh.  I’m not that self-centered!)
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Brooklyn Bridge from M and S’s apartment
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It’s all fun and games until there are unintended consequences.  Fortunately, none here!

Then the party headed downstairs where we ate and drank some more.  We played pin-the-sperm-on-the-uterus after getting fairly liquored up (varied from person to person), which was a lot of fun.  One of the (gay) guys was right on target (cheater) and very proud of himself.  Most everyone else did rather poorly but there were no hurt feelings or broken household items.

The party was still going but I had to leave to meet up with my AirBnB host.  I know I wasn’t thrilled about my Gothenburg experience but NYC is expensive!  I met up and it was a cool loft, although several units had eviction/condemned notices up for overcrowding violations.  So, a little shady but my stay was fine.

Then I met up with Hillary and Karen for Ethiopian food.  It was so fun to hang out with them and after dinner, we headed over to Hillary’s to hang out and drink some wine.  They were a little mad at me for staying at an AirBnB but both of them were so busy with family and job obligations that I didn’t want to stress them out.  But they said if I ever came again, no AirBnB!  Stay with one of them!

The next day, Karen and I met up for brunch.  Afterwards, I walked for a bit and then met two of my aunts for a second brunch.  One of my aunts and I had planned to go to the Met but my grandfather really hoped to see me.  Well, the Met can wait!  Also, it was Father’s Day so it was nice to spend the day with family.  We had a really nice dinner at Navesink.  I took an Uber to Newark.  There was very little traffic and I made my flight without a hitch.

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Aunties!!

It was a wonderful weekend.

Family Weekend Road Trip

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Scary but delicious in Santa Barbara!

After a busy start to the month, SMS and I decided to continue the trend by taking a road trip to Newport Beach to visit his grandfathers and show off SMS’ new car.  It turned into even more of a family affair because we were also able to visit our newest nephew who is, of course, super cute!!!

On Saturday, we headed to a coffee shop that SMS wanted to show me: Companion Bakeshop in Santa Cruz.  He had been there as a pre-mountain biking meeting spot and thought it was delicious.  It was!  We ordered coffee, toast, a pastry, a baguette and a strawberry pie, which had rave reviews on Yelp.  [Aside: Yes, I use Yelp.  It’s actually pretty helpful.  I don’t get too in the weeds but glancing at the reviews helps get a feel for the place.  It’s even useful for overseas travel.]

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LOOK HOW CUTE HE IS!!!!!!!!
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Ok, at first I thought this picture was cute but now I am transfixed by the sight of my giant hand!

Then we went to Monterey to visit my newest nephew.  Ghah!  He is so cute!  I was glad we could visit because there was definitely a lot going on for my brother’s family.  It was a quick visit but I got to hold a teeny-weeny baby and pose for some pictures.

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It is a little rude of Matteo to pose as if I am letting his head fall off.

Then we were off to Newport Beach.  The drive was quick and painless.  We stopped in Paso Robles at the cutest lunch spot owned by a few really friendly locals.  It’s called Galley Bite and the staff, including the cook/owner, were really nice!  I highly recommend it- delicious food without getting caught up in a fancier downtown “Wine Country” place.  In fact, I stopped typing for a bit so I could write a quick TripAdvisor recommendation- small businesses need support!

Then we arrive in Newport.  We hung out with SMS’ parents and his grandfather that night.  We had a delicious dinner.  It had been awhile since we had seen them so it was a really nice time.  The next morning, we shared breakfast before SMS’ parents took off.  Then we headed over to visit SMS’ other grandfather.  We took pictures with the car and just really had a nice time with family.

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A Neptune Feast!

On Sunday, we headed back and stopped in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone.  It is super cool and although we were thinking of eating at Lark, we passed a food tent with Poseidon incarnate inside.  He was selling oysters, lobster rolls, and uni.  Yes, yes, and yes!  The tent was outside a little winery so we had some wine tasters to go along with our lunch.  It was an excellent stop.

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Near Handle Bar Coffee

We walked to Handle Bar Coffee shop and ordered a nitro coffee (me) and decaf espresso (SMS).  We also inhaled an adffogato.  Seriously, it’s like we hadn’t eaten all day.  After that interlude of pig-a-liciousness, we got back into the car and drove back to Mountain View.  Google maps sent us on a backroad adventure near Gilroy, which was really beautiful in the twilight.  Even though it was a lot of driving, it was an awesome weekend!

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!