Hiatus

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve taken a hiatus from updating this blog. Please feel free to browse the last few years of archives. I’ll be back to update again. Just not sure when. Mahalo!

Cannabis, Mezcal, and Haute Cuisine

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Mark Passerini has a mezcal cocktail at Oyamel, Jessica - Simon - and myself at China Chilcano, at minibar, Chris holds up our Simpsons nesting dolls, myself - Whitney's friend - Whitney, the ArvView conference, view from the Constitution Gardens, Vietnam Veterans Memorial. CENTER: White House

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Mark Passerini has a mezcal cocktail at Oyamel, Jessica – Simon – and myself at China Chilcano, a chef plating at minibar, Chris holds up our Simpsons nesting dolls, myself – Whitney’s friend – Whitney, the ArcView conference, view from the Constitution Gardens, Vietnam Veterans Memorial. CENTER: White House

As a investor member of The ArcView Group, a group dedicated to funding and expanding the legal cannabis industry, I was recently in our nation’s capital to attend the most recent forum. We listen to companies pitch the investors, meet leading minds and lobbyists involved in legalization, and have a good time in the process.

I flew into DC and headed to my hotel on Capitol Hill pretty early in the morning, so my room wasn’t quite ready. I was fresh back from my trip to Miami the week before and I had rum on my mind. My General Manager had called an alcohol distributor in DC to see if where I might be able to find a bottle of Ron Cartavio XO, a Peruvian rum we’d tried the week before. He found a liquor store in Georgetown that carried it.

Since my room wouldn’t be ready for quite some time, I headed out on foot from Capitol Hill to walk to Georgetown – taking the long route through the National Mall, through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and past the White House. All in all, I think I clocked about 8 miles by the time I arrived. I got a few bottles of the Cartavio and a few others that I can’t get back at home. Then I took an Uber back. I wasn’t going to walk that far while carrying all that extra weight. I’m not THAT stupid.

A friend and I had reservations at Jose Andres’ minibar that night so I chilled in the hotel a bit before I got antsy. The reservation was for 6:00pm and I decided to head that direction a few hours early – landing at another Andres concept, China Chilcano.

I pulled up a seat at the bar and ordered my cocktail. I texted my friend Cody, the ex-sous at e by Jose Andres in Vegas. Well, it’s a small world. The response from him read, “Tell Chef Simon I said hello.”

I passed that along to the bartender. He came out and said, “I don’t know who your buddy is, but when I said his name to Simon he said to make sure you don’t leave until he comes out.” It ended up that Simon had briefly worked with Cody in Las Vegas, as did the manager. We all chatted for a few before I realized that it was nearing 6pm and I needed to walk over to minibar for our extravaganza.

minibar is a notoriously tough reservation to get. Only 14 people the opportunity each night. I got lucky. It’s a 3+ hour meal consisting of between 15 to 20 modernist courses – all prepared by the chefs in front of you. My friend Chris, the General Manager for Heliospectra USA, was supposed to meet me there at 6:00, but his flight from SFO had been delayed. He missed the first few courses, but the restaurant was cool enough to plate them when he got there.

We finished the savory phase of our meals and headed to the adjacent bar, Barmini, for our dessert course. We decided to stick around for a few more hours, drinking inventive and surprising concoctions from the team there. As the clock edged close to midnight, we both realized that the morning conference started at 8am in Alexandria. So we got our tab, hidden inside Russian-style nesting dolls, painted like the Simpsons.

The first day’s forum started off with a bang. The opportunity in the cannabis world are growing so quickly. It was probably the best forum I’d been to yet. Nearly every company presenting came to the stage with meticulously-prepared business plans, pro formas, projections, and a clear vision for the future.

I ended up back at the SSDP office afterwards to meet the current leadership and to share a few bottles of wine with some friends. After a few hours of wine, I hopped into an Uber and headed to Oyamel, a Mexican place known for its mezcal selection.

When I sat down at the bar, the barback was the only one back there. He gave me the list, but I jumped straight to it, “Do you have the Del Maguey Iberico?” I asked. He gave me a puzzled look and started looking at the shelves. It was then that I turned around in my seat to survey my surroundings and saw a quite attractive young lady walking through the bar area. And then she looked straight at me, smiled, walked behind the bar, edged the barback out of the conversation, and asked me what I’d like to drink. She knew exactly what I wanted. We ended up spending a good hour talking about Del Maguey, Mezcal Vago, and Oaxaca, Mexico. As I paid my tab she told me to come back the next night since she was working. I must have the kevorka.

The next day was again spent in Alexandria at the ArcView event but, since it was the final day of the conference, the after party would take place in DC later in the evening. I met a friend around 5pm at Jack Rose Dining Saloon for a few cocktails to prime the ole’ bloodstream. The after party itself was interesting. We smoked a little too much greenery and got a little silly. Let’s just say that if you end up seeing a franchise of cat cafes in the near future, you’ll know where the conversation started.

I’d planned to spend Saturday afternoon hunting down a place to watch the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight, but wasn’t able to find anywhere that was charging less than $100 a head for entrance. So I grabbed a ride to National Harbor to meet up with an old friend and his wife. We had a light dinner, enjoyed a few glasses of wine, and watched American Pharaoh win the Kentucky Derby. My friend needed to get back home to Falls Church, so I headed back into DC.

I got a call from some of my cannabis industry friends that were drinking wine near the White House, but I was out on foot, walking around Chinatown and the Penn Quarter trying to find ANYWHERE to watch the fight.

I finally gave up and grabbed a taxi over to meet my friends. They’d already finished 6 bottles of Chianti (if I remember correctly). I got there just in time for one last bottle before the restaurant called last call – at midnight. We’d all had enough wine and cannabis, so I suggested that we go back to drink mezcal at Oyamel since they close at 2am. After all, my new friend, Whitney the bartender, would give us great service and would be nice to look at while we had our drinks.

One of the guys in the group suggested that we just use the City Bikes instead of calling an Uber. We all agreed and hopped on bicycles. And it was an AMAZING experience. There is little to no traffic in the Penn Quarter and Capitol Hill after midnight, so the roads were ours. This was really one of the most memorable parts of the whole week. We rode around a bit and enjoyed the cool temperatures before making it over to Oyamel.

When we arrived, Whitney said “Oh you brought your friends tonight!”. And then sat 4 glasses of Del Maguey Chichicapa on the bar and said, “That should get you started while you look at the drink list.” THAT’S a woman for you.

We wrapped up the evening on a nice note with plenty of cocktails, several glasses of premium mezcal (including Pechuga and Vago Ensamble en Barro), and great service from both Whitney and Bismark.

Sunday would be my “take it easy” day. No conferences. No friends to meet up with. And no plans. I hopped on a City Bike and rode toward the National Museum of American History. I had to check out Julia Child’s kitchen that has been moved there, along with a few of the Muppets. From there I popped over to the Washington Monument for the National Cinco de Mayo Festival and spent time watching Mexican dancers, browsing the work of local, Mexican artists, and just generally enjoyed the weather on a perfect day.

As the evening rolled around, I rode over to Graffiato for a quick dinner. The bartender was a bit aloof, but made some decent cocktails. I had agnolotti and a few glasses of wine. The bartender quickly figured out that I was in the restaurant industry – probably from the types of questions I was asking – and told me about a bar that all the bartenders and servers hang out at after hours – a place called Chaplin’s. I made a quick note of it and walked over to Oyamel.

As I arrived, my new friend Whitney was nearly off work. Some of her friends were waiting for her at the bar. She told me she’d rather not go to the clubs as her friends wanted, but one of her friends was celebrating her birthday. And so they were off.

I stayed for a little while longer before cashing out my tab. I’d decided that I needed to be around restaurant industry people since my cannabis friends had mostly already left town. I made it to Chaplin’s around 11pm. Before I even walked in, I picked up my phone to call my friend Michael to see if he wanted to meet me over there. As I got his voicemail I heard, “Ed! Come in! We’re inside!”

I looked up and was greeted with a big hug by Whitney. Apparently this really was a place for nearby restaurant folks. I went in, and was immediately treated like I was one of the regulars by the bartenders. We drank a few shots, had a few cocktails, and maybe a beer. It’s hard to remember now. Whitney suggested we continue our drinking back at her apartment with her two friends. The night was getting late, and I had to fly out the following day, though.

As I left the bar, I ran into my bartender from Graffiato out on the patio, smoking a joint. He offered, and I accepted. We shared a few laughs, and parted ways.

Washington DC never ceases to surprise me. I enjoy it every time. I do wish there were a few more cocktail choices. It seems to be primarily a martini and bourbon town. But since there are several high-caliber restaurants there, you can always find some inventive drinks at those places.

It was a long week of meetings, drinking, walking, riding, and exploring. I was glad to have met such great people and to have been welcomed by several people in the restaurant community there. I’ll definitely be back as soon as I can.

Miami Rum Festival (kind of)

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Arthur in front of Mac's Deuce Club, Don Rudawski - myself and Chris, The Rum Line menu, inside the Deuce, Chris at La Sandwicherie, Polynesian show at Mai Kai, the bartender at the Broken Shaker, street art in Wynwood. CENTER: Ocean Drive

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Arthur in front of Mac’s Deuce Club, Don Rudawski myself and Chris at the Rum Fest, The Rum Line menu, Arthur inside the Deuce, Chris at La Sandwicherie, Polynesian show at Mai Kai, the bartender at the Broken Shaker, street art in Wynwood. CENTER: Ocean Drive

It’s been two months since attending the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. Memories are funny things – they tend to become clouded when you attend a festival based around rum.

Our general manager, Chris, and I flew into Miami on a Thursday afternoon and took a taxi over to our apartment (booked via AirBnB) on South Beach. We agreed that we needed to take it easy that day since we needed to have focused palates for the rum tasting during “industry day” the following day.

We walked over to Khong River House for an early dinner and cocktails. We enjoyed some bone marrow fried rice, laab, som tum, and various other Southeast Asian treats thanks to Chef Patricia Yeo’s staff. The cocktails were solid. They didn’t leave a lasting impression per se, but we enjoyed them as a pairing with our meal.

We had a short list of “must hit” cocktail joints during our time in Miami, and The Rum Line was at the top of our list. We walked the 4 blocks over to the Loews Hotel where it’s located. After 20 minutes of being directed to various (incorrect) parts of the hotel, we finally found the bar. And we found them closed for a private party. Luckily, the party was wrapping up and we were able to get in within 25 minutes.

We sat at the bar with the bartender, LeeAnne, and started working on some serious decisions. The menu was incredible, and quite a lot larger than you’d expect from a serious cocktail bar – since a big menu can be a logistical nightmare when it’s busy.

We settled on a drink and were quite impressed with the attention to detail, the knowledge of the bartender, and the presentation of the tiki drinks. So we had another. And another. And, well, I think we ended up have around five or six rather strong drinks before we reminded ourselves that we couldn’t overdo it before the next day’s tasting.

But…

After closing out our tabs, we decided that we should trek over to The Broken Shaker for a drink or two to see what the hype was all about.

The Broken Shaker is located within a hostel and primarily occupies the pool deck. The place was packed and boisterous. It’s obviously the place to be. We walked around the deck to scope out the 200 or so people that were sprawled out on benches, stools, and beach chairs. We finally located the actual bar, where the two bartenders had a queue of people in front of each of them. We grabbed the small menu and waited our turn. We finally got our drinks after about 20 minutes in line and started the walk around.

The cocktails were tasty. I can’t say I understood the cult following. I can’t say I found the drinks remarkable. So, we gave it another shot. Stood in line again, and got another drink — bartender’s choice — with rum, please. Refreshing, please. This time we ended up with a few generic tiki drinks (rum, juices, orgeat, sugar). Feeling a little disappointed, we decided that, since it was still only midnight (mind you, we started our evening at 5:30pm), to go have ONE drink at The Regent Cocktail Club. It was the final place on our “must visit” list for the day. And that’s where the night went awry.

We popped in for our drink, sat at the bar, and I was immediately approached by a very attractive Peruvian girl. Chris started chatting with a Swiss girl sitting at the bar and the old Cuban gentleman sitting next to her. After the Peruvian girl (I’ve forgotten her name, for reasons you’ll soon understand) had spent about a half hour flirting with me she introduced me to her boyfriend, who had just finished playing music at the bar. He and his brother (the Swiss girl’s husband) form “The Fox Brothers” and are accomplished flamenco guitarists. Luckily, he was an understanding and laid back guy and realized that I was married and there was no real intent on my behalf.

We all ended up having a few daiquiris and bourbons, and chatted until the bar called last call at 2am. We headed outside and immediately smelled an herb that Florida recently failed to legalize. I MAY have shared some of that herb with the guy on the patio. The guitarists then invited us to head down the street to La Sandwicherie for some Salmon and Brie Croissants. We had a healthy appetite by this time so we hopped into his ride along with the band’s equipment and the girls and drove down the street.

The Sandwicherie is an open air food stand serving sub-style sandwiches. The guys insisted that the Smoked Salmon and Brie was the best – provided you request the croissant instead of the usual baguette. We weren’t totally convinced of the salmon with the cheese, but trusted our late-night guides. And they were spot on. That sandwich was righteous.

The place is open until 6am and, from what we could tell, the cooks rarely get a minute to slow down. After finishing our meal, full and drunk, at 3:30am, decided that we should head to the dive bar across the street – Mac’s Deuce Club – where we would spend the next hour or so before realizing that we’d just spent the better part of 11 hours drinking. We’d just done the exact opposite of what we’d set out to do.

We were somehow able to wake up the next morning, make some coffee, grab a burger at Shake Shack, then taxi it over to the Miami Airport Convention Center to check in for the tasting. Unfortunately, the level of disorganization at check-in was beyond comprehension, and we didn’t get into the three hour tasting until an hour after it began. In fact, it took us so long to get in that our friend that had just flown in to meet us for the show, but was running late due to a flight delay, was still able to make it over to us right as we made it in.

Inside, we were able to make the connections that we needed to make, taste some incredible rums (which I won’t mention here, because many a cocktail writer has written about them at great length already — Check out http://www.cocktailwonk.com), and meet the people behind them. After the tasting, we went back to The Rum Line for some fine libations. Correcting our mistakes from the previous evening, we stayed at The Rum Line for the night. We did our best to try every cocktail on the menu. The clear winner was the Rum Line Punch made with St. George Agricole.

The following day at the festival was packed quite a bit more than the previous day since it was open to the public. We got a chance to chat up everyone — Christelle Harris from Hampden Estate, Neel from Amrut, Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits, and several people from Opthimus. While we were tasting, my sister drove down to Miami from her home in Orlando to meet up with us for the evenings festivities – a trip to the Mai Kai in Ft. Lauderdale for a night of tiki and Polynesian fun.

At Mai Kai, we definitely consumed a lot. We had a lot of great tiki drinks, hung out with Matt Pietrek (Cocktail Wonk), learned about Lost Spirits’ aging techniques from the distiller, talked about metal music, and watched the Polynesian show – complete with pretty dancing girls, and fire.

Once we got back to Miami Beach, the night, again, took a turn. We made it back to the apartment around 1:30am. Though we’d drunk a bottle of rum in the taxi from the convention center to South Beach, we thought it wise to try to make last call at The Rum Line. We made it – barely. We had one drink each before hunger kicked in. We followed the Thursday night model and went to eat Salmon and Brie sandwiches. Then on to the Deuce. Until they closed. At 5:00am. Well, not all of us. Our friend that had joined us on Friday made the smart decision to head back to the apartment after The Rum Line.

The next day, we took it easy. We had dehydrated our bodies to the point of swelling. It was hot, it was humid, and we’d consumed little other than rum. We’d sacrificed our bodies in the name of tasting, learning, and exploring. So we spent a few hours on the beach, had an amazing meal at Yardbird, and rounded out the evening by exploring the incredible street art in Wynwood.

Miami surprised me. I’d imagined some douchey, Vegas-meets-Venice-Beach sort of vibe. But what we found was a burgeoning cocktail scene, a seedy nightlife, and a vibrant street art scene. And rum. Oh, there was rum.

I’ll be back. You’ll find me at the Deuce. Or eating salmon and brie.

Proposal: texting acronyms for restaurants

I’ve seen the article entitled “Essential texting acronyms that every parent must know” by Kim Komando of USA Today making its rounds on social media sites this week (http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/komando/2015/01/02/texting-acronyms-parents/21098099). It occurred to me that the restaurant industry could use a system like this to speed communication along during the course of a 15-hour workday.

I’ve posted my proposal below, along with the translation of the real meaning. A (very) few of these are used within our restaurant group between senior management, but I propose that we make all of the following ubiquitous. If you can think of some other useful ones, post them in the comments below.

BAMF: badass motherfucker. MeaningA cook, chef, sommelier, or bartender worthy of much respect. 

CTWIN: check the walk-in. Used in response to “we are out of —“. Meaning: we have some. Look harder. 

NM2NITE: new menu tonight. Meaning: be here early. 

IHFR: I have first round. Meaning: I made good money tonight. 

BTIN10: be there in 10. Meaning: I just woke up. 

JFC: Jesus Fucking Christ. Meaning: not again! ; you’re kidding. 

HTD: heading to Depot. Meaning: do you need anything from Restaurant Depot?

CNW: Computers not working. Meaning: DEFCON 1…get someone here now!

FGNT: Foie Gras and Truffles. Meaning: pulling out all stops. 

DSNH: Delivery still not here. (note: D can be substituted with a vendor’s name). Meaning: the vendor is screwing up our prep schedule. 

EVDF: El Vino Did Flow. Meaning: we drank a lot of badass wine after you left last night.

YSB: yeah! Science, Bitch! Meaning: my pastry recipe came out perfect.

Become like water

brucelee

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’ve been absent from this blog since visiting Seattle and Vancouver in July. There are far too many things that have happened in the last six months to document or mention here in one post… epidural spinal injections, countless wines tasted, beautiful cities visited, advocating for the growth of the legal cannabis industry in the U.S., cancelled flights, friends moving far away – the list is long. So…

I’m looking forward to the new year, new business prospects, and re-connecting with old friends.

In fact, I had the chance to re-connect with someone this week – someone with whom I’ve not spoken to for several years. It’s genuinely uplifting to talk with them, albeit sometimes painfully nostalgic. It’s put my head in a weird, introspective space and made me re-evaluate my life to this point and my goals for the future. The stresses of my everyday life seem a little less important during those conversations, and it’s been a welcome break from my usual barrage of “the world is ending” thoughts. I don’t have many people that I’m that close with that have the ability to keep me grounded. So the re-connect has been welcome.

I’m taking a quick break from doing payroll right now to write this in-between answering dozens of phone calls, responding to countless emails, putting out fires, and trying to keep my head above the water. It’s good to have people you can count on to ground you and remind you that life hasn’t been too bad so far, though there have been plenty of highs and plenty of heart-wrenching lows in the last 38 years.

So… tonight, after dinner service, I’ll tip back a glass of rum and remember that I have known and do know some wonderful and caring people, and celebrate the arrival of 2015. The new year will present it’s own challenges. But I’m ready to face them and see what happens.

As Bruce Lee said, “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

Sincerely,
Sentimental Ed

A Tale of Two (Pacific Northwestern) Cities

Downtown Seattle (top) as seen from the Space Needle, and Vancouver (bottom).

Downtown Seattle (top) as seen from the Space Needle, and Vancouver (bottom).

I’ve been back from my trip to Seattle and Vancouver for a few weeks now, and I’m just now feeling that I’m capable to writing a post. By delaying my post, I could get a handle about what meals / restaurants / experiences stuck with me the most. I love Seattle, and am just getting starting to put a dent into it, at least as far as the dining scene is concerned. My wish list is long, and I’m chipping away at it very slowly.

We arrived early in Seattle early in the morning. After calling Über to take us to the hotel, we set out on what would become a weeklong food binge. After checking in, we immediately headed to Le Pichet. It’s always a great place to eat, especially for breakfast/brunch. We were starved, but didn’t want to overdo it right off the bat. After finishing up our Chocolate Chaud, we walked over to the Pike Place Market to get a “digestif” (pickle brine) at Britt’s Pickles. Unfortunately, no one was at the counter at the moment so we headed back up to walk around. But how can you walk around Pike Place without getting Piroshky Piroshky. Which we did before heading over to the fish markets to check out the recent arrival, Copper River King Salmon.

I had plans to hook up with my friend Nora at Rione XIII for dinner. But first we stopped by for a few dozen oysters at Taylor Shellfish Farm, beer at The Pine Box (which was the site of Bruce Lee’s funeral in 1973), and some hot tea at Remedy Teas before making our way to our way to the restaurant. I’d chosen Rione XIII (partly because Nora didn’t fall for me trying to pawn the restaurant decision off on her) because they listed on their website that they are a Trastevere-inspired restaurant. Having just spent a few weeks in Trastevere in May, I thought, “I’ll be the judge of that.” Since I can’t detail every meal I had in his post, suffice to say that they were spot on in all of their preparations. They’ve obviously spent a bit of time in Rome. The meal transported me right back to my flat on Via di San Francesco a Ripa. And kudas to them for having the oxtail dish on the menu.

The next day was probably the most gluttonous day I’ve spent in my life. Strike that “probably”. It definitely was. We started with breakfast at Biscuit Bitch, then piroshkys at the market, followed by Paseo for sandwiches, then on to Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle, soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Bellevue, and finally wrapping up the day with drinks at Tavern Law. There was no break whatsoever in between those restaurants. We literally started at 10:30am and ended at 12:30am. We were full. Extremely full. I was having visions of the glutton in the film “Seven”. I thought I might explode if someone would have punched me in the stomach.

BUT — If you end up in Seattle and don’t grab a Caribbean Roast sandwich at Paseo – well, then I’m not sure we can still be friends.

The next day would be our “tourist” day. We started at Top Pot Doughnuts so I could get my usual Maple Old Fashioned and some coffee. That’s when I got a call from our payroll company – reminding me that, because of the July 4th holiday, I needed to have my payroll submitted within the hour. I had forgotten that there was a three hour time difference from East to West Coast. Luckily I had everything in Dropbox, so I borrowed a pen, some napkins, and used my wife’s phone calculator for quick proof. There was a photo of President Obama in the shop on the wall behind me. I asked what he’d ordered. I was disappointed to learn that it was some pumpkin-spiced, seasonal variety. Apparently the President and I don’t share the same preferences in doughnut flavors.

From there we went to the EMP Museum (my favorite museum in Seattle), the Space Needle (see the view from the Needle above), Chihuly Gardens, and the Seattle Center. All in all, a pretty nice day. It was an afternoon filled with music, art, and beautiful vistas.

For dinner, we met up with another friend in the alcohol business in Washington, who’d previously worked in Indianapolis for World Class Beer. Together, we headed over to Melrose Market to check out Mamnoon – a modern Middle Eastern restaurant. The meal was well-made and the wine pairing spot on (NOTE: we brought our own and paid the corkage). I can’t remember any particular standouts, but would revisit. We wrapped up early because we were heading to Vancouver B.C. in the morning.

We hopped in the car the following morning to try to beat the wait at the Canadian border. In all, it took us about 3 1/2 hours to get to downtown Vancouver. And we were STARVING by the time we got there. We immediately walked to Gastown to have dinner at PiDGiN. It was one of the most memorable meals of the trip. We opted for the 8 course tasting menu and had an amazing meal, though the standout dish was the sous-vide octopus with romesco and fennel biscotti pieces. The texture was very much like that of steak. I’ve always had my octopus braised before, but I’m a convert now. It was tender and soft, but still retained that subtle snap of tentacle that you’re looking for in octopus, with a touch of char from the final warmup on the grill.

It also ended up being a smart choice to visit PiDGiN first because we asked the bar manager for food and drink recommendations after our meal was done. He was more than happy to oblige and gave us a long list of restaurants and cocktail bars in Gastown and Chinatown. By the end of our two day trip, we’d knocked out nearly every one of them. The list included Calabash, The Diamond, The Alibi Room, Bao Bei, Mamie Taylor’s, Notturno, Pourhouse, among a few others.

We hit them all, and loved them all – with the exception of Notturno. In fact, I’ve never had worse, pretentious service from a bartender anywhere in the world. He was arrogant and condescending beyond imagination. He was such a douche to the two guys next to us that we ended up leaving after one drink and heading back to The Diamond where we enjoyed wonderful hospitality. If you want the full details, feel free to ask if you see me at one of our restaurants. I hate to bad-mouth anyone in the industry. It’s a tough job. But that guy gives bartenders and servers a bad name.

I could spend the next 15 paragraphs talking about the rest. They were all amazing. We particularly like The Diamond for cocktails, Calabash for rum, and the Alibi Room for beer. And the common thread was great service. It became even more apparent how well we were being taken care of at these places after our experience at Notturno.

Our next, and last, day in Vancouver was spent all over the place. We hit up the market at Granville Island, spent a few hours in Stanley Park, dinner at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, back to the hotel, then back to Gastown. By the end of the night, we’d clocked in at over 10 miles of walking for the day. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I can’t say enough good things about Bao Bei. It’s modern Chinese brought to Chinatown by Tannis Ling and Chef Joël Watanabe. And they are KILLING IT. We ate about 80% of the menu. I wish I’d had room for the other 20%. The drinks were well-crafted and playful, and the food…. aye aye aye. In all my travels, I’ve rarely had a meal that hit on all cylinders in the way that Watanabe and crew were. I highly recommend checking this place out if you’re even close to the area (wait… isn’t that technically a Michelin recommendation?)

We’d decided that two nights in Vancouver was going to have to do it, so we planned on waking up early to head back to Seattle. But, of course, we were need of hangover cures and food. Mamie Taylor’s hit the spot. It was located just down the street from Bao Bei, and was one of the only recommendations from the PiDGiN crew that offered brunch. I opted for the Kentucky Hot Brown just for the simple fact that you rarely find anyone that is aware of the hot brown outside of Kentucky — much less on the west coast of Canada. And they nailed it, though it was definitely a riff on the hot brown. Smoked turkey confit, mornay, bacon, sourdough? Yeah, I’m okay with that.

We spent our last moments in the city visiting a few Chinese markets, looking for some fish stomachs to take home. We found plenty, but the prices seemed a little high. We ended up buying some candies and headed back to cross the border. It was a somewhat rough trip back, with full bellies, and no place to use a restroom once you got to the border crossing. Note: apologies to the gas station owner just south of the Canadian border.

We made it back to Seattle in time for drinks and dinner – in that order. Regretfully, I’d never made it to Zig Zag Café. Several great bartenders in the city have recommended it to me in the past, so we made a point to cruise by. We grabbed some bar stools and started ordering rum drinks. Our bartender thus began to school us in the art of hospitality. He was amazing. I might even have a little man crush on him based solely on his customer service skills. He never let his smile fade, regardless of whether he was being watched or not. I caught him smiling while he was washing and polishing glassware. That’s not common. At all. But it was impressive. I wish I had an army of gentlemen like him. I could take over the world with smiles.

We walked around the market for bit, listened to some of the buskers in the market, had some laughs, and ended up chilling at the hotel for a bit before heading out to Fremont for dinner at The Whale Wins. We dove into sardines, roasted beets, pickles, clams (BIG highlight of the meal), and tartare. Followers of this blog know that tartare is one of my favorite dishes on the planet. I try it everywhere I go – keeping a mental list of the best versions I’ve had. The Greenhouse Tavern (CLEVELAND) had been holding my top spot for the last year, after stealing it away from RM Seafood (LAS VEGAS). The Walrus and Carpenter (SEATTLE) was holding for that top spot since last November, but… The Whale Wins. At least when it comes down to tartare. But the top five are still pretty close together. I’d recommend it at any of those places.

Our bartender was hospitable and attentive. In fact, after noticing that we’d been asking for some nice rum drinks, he asked where we were headed for the night. We told him, “Canon”. And he nodded. “Yeah, Canon is great. But you should check out the rum list at Rumba.”

I was a little surprised. I’d walked by the place several time at Melrose Market and hadn’t even given it much thought. I mean, I’d noticed that the sign spelled rum as “rhum” – which is a good sign (no pun intended). But the interior didn’t betray any sort of serious cocktail culture to us as we passed by all week. But that was about to change.

After dinner, we walked up Pine Street and grabbed a couple of seats on the patio. And then came the rum list. Holy. Shit. For real, yo. There were hundreds of rums on that list. I’d find out later that the list only reflected about 75% of the rum carried by the bar. There was just too much to list. I honed in on a few that I’d been wanting to try that didn’t cost $200 a glass (though there were a few of those, too). And El Rhum did flow. We kept the drinks coming since I had no plans for our final day on the West Coast.

And then I got a text from a friend’s wife, asking if we’d like to join them for his birthday the following morning, and venture over to Bainbridge Island. It sounded like a nice adventure. Just what the doctor ordered.

And then began our 2nd most gluttonous day in Seattle.

We met them outside the hotel in the morning and drove over to the Bainbridge ferry. We walked about the town a bit and immediately made a lunch stop at Hitchcock deli. They were supposedly rocking some charcuterie and cheese there. We weren’t disappointed. In fact, the cashier overheard us wishing Mike a “happy birthday” and sent out a huge slice of duck liver paté for the special day. We walked around a bit more before hopping back in the car and driving north to Poulsbo, aka “Little Norway”.

The town is a little European town, right out of Scandinavia – IN WASHINGTON! We passed by Sluy’s Bakery and were drawn in by the wonderful aromas sneaking out the door. We didn’t really have plans to buy any pastries so quickly after lunch, but the aroma… yeah, that did us in. The cases were loaded with large and small treats, all GBD (golden, brown, delicious). We stood in the substantial line, picked out several things, and then headed across the street to get coffee and get down on those baked goods.

The hit of the pick was the “doughboy”. This doughnut version of a gingerbread man was perfectly crafted – the texture was soft and airy, the sweetness wasn’t cloying, and the size was ridiculous. We drove over to Liberty Bay and relaxed the afternoon away before calling it a night.

The line for the ferry back to downtown Seattle was somewhat long. We waited for about an hour before we were able to get back on the boat. It was the “golden hour” – the time of day when the sunset casts a beautiful orange glow on everything – and the views of the city were breathtaking. It was a perfect end to a perfect trip. Seattle’s sexiness got me on my first visit, but my love affair with the city is just beginning.

Frascati: The Disappearing Appellation

Clockwise, from top left: Lorenzo Costantini, Frascati in the foreground and Rome in the background, a beautiful lunch at Lorenzo's house in Monte Porzio Catone, Malvasia di Lazio vines growing in Frascati.

Clockwise, from top left: Lorenzo Costantini, Frascati in the foreground and Rome in the background, a beautiful lunch at Lorenzo’s house in Monte Porzio Catone, Malvasia di Lazio vines growing in Frascati.

Of the time that I spent in Italy over the last two weeks, the most memorable day was the one that I spent in Frascati with winemaker Lorenzo Costantini.

Frascati? Where is that, you ask? Just few minutes outside of Rome’s city limits. And that’s why you’ve probably never had wine from there. Most of the wine is sold in Rome, with only a small amount made available for export. But that may be helping to keep the small winemakers in business. Costantini was quick to point out that Frascati winemakers are lucky because they have a large market located so close, making their wine easier to sell in this troubled Italian economy. Milan would be the next largest market, catered to by Costantini’s northern winemaking companions.

There are other reasons that you’ve never heard of Frascati. Historically, the wines of the area have been of poor craftsmanship. Quantity over quality. Winemakers would ship Frascati to Rome in bulk to be sold cheaply and served “alla spina”, or “on tap”. But that’s changing, in large part due to Costantini himself.

The new generation of winemakers in the area is adopting modern viniculture practices, growing without chemical treatments, allowing smaller yields in already-small vineyards, and, in general, treating their 7000-year-old farmland with the respect it deserves.

Wait… back up. Seven thousand years?

Archeologists have determined that grapes for wine production have been grown in the area since at least 5000 BC. More recently, Frascati was a favorite place for Roman nobility to build summer villas in the heydays of the Roman Empire. Even in modern times, Frascati has been Rome’s little brother. Italy’s first papal railway lines, built in the 1880s, ran between Rome and Frascati. Though many of the buildings and monuments were destroyed by bombs during WWII, some of these villas still tower over the hills and serve as a constant reminder of the historical significance of the land.

But, despite of (or due to) the beauty, history, and proximity to Rome, there are forces playing against the winemakers of the region, Italy’s second designated wine appellation.

Costantini has five hectares (about 12 acres) of vineyards, which is small for any vineyard. And nearly everyone else has equally small parcels of land, if not smaller. Land is at a premium, and much of it is disappearing.

The area is filled with hills and mountains, giving you excellent views of the surrounding area. But that view is alarming. Urban sprawl is increasingly evident as you look out over Rome. According to Costantini, Frascati has lost around 20% of it’s farmland in the last 30 years. It seems that, whenever the town needs a little money for the coffers, they re-zone some land as residential and *poof* — new land for wealthy Romans. Green pastures, beautiful vistas, peaceful nights away from the noise (and air) pollution of the city. It’s all there, and only a few kilometers away. Of course, the irony here is that the more people that move to away from the center of Rome and toward the edge of Frascati, the larger “Rome” becomes. In the photo above, you can see clearly see the border between Frascati in the foreground and Rome in the background.

Unfortunately, no one can predict the future of the town. Historically, it has has endured. The noble villas still stand. But the nobles do not. Visiting the winemakers in Frascati and Monte Porzio Catone makes you want to take up the gauntlet and fight for their deserved recognition. The wine may not be your grandfather’s Frascati, but the town sure is. And his grandfather, and his.

I’d encourage you to visit if you’re in Rome. It takes just 20 minutes to get there from Termini station, and you’ll learn so much about this important town. And if you’re not in Italy, you can support the area by asking for Frascati at your wine shops. There isn’t much available in the United States but you can find BORGO DEL CEDRO, Lorenzo Costantini’s label.

I’m looking forward to my next visit to the area, and my next visit to Lorenzo and his wonderful wife, Fulvia. They defined hospitality. We spent a relaxing afternoon in his vineyards and then made our way to his home in Monte Porzio Catone to have an rustic lunch made by Fulvia. They live in paradise, and they know it. They work hard, but never lose sight of the beauty of their hometown. Let’s just hope that paradise isn’t sacrificed for the sake of more buildings.

No monies were given in exchange for the promotion of Frascati in this post. Only burrata, mozzarella, porchetta, tomatoes, zucchini flowers, and wine. Oh, and dessert.