Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 2012 Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Rosa: The Wineries

On January 7th, we left for a 14 day adventure in Beijing, Shanghai, San Franciscio and Napa Valley. This post details our winery visits in Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Rosa.

We had a day and a half in the Napa Valley area and we visited 19 wineries. Yes, I said 19. This is not for the faint of heart. Here’s some tips:
1. If you choose to visit 10 wineries in 4 and ½ hours and not eat lunch, you will be very drunk. It is imperative to have a husband who is much smarter and takes smaller sips.

2. Split the tastings. They cost between $5 - $25 in many of the Napa wineries so it’s economical. Plus – if you are visiting a volume of wineries, you are only going to want a sip or two per wine per place.

3. Water and pretzels in the car. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

4. It’s okay to pour out the wine after just a sip. It seems wasteful, but again you only tasting the wine. Once you make it clear you just tasting, the host will usually pour smaller portions.

Okay, that said. Here’s my rundown of the wineries we visited:


Turnbull -

The Reserve tasting room was very nice. They were hosting a photography exhibit from a local artist and had several rows of used barrels on display. Favorite was 2007 Leopoldina Cabernet at the Reserve tasting. It’s a high vineyard only 2 tons of grape yield per acre. The vineyard is so steep, the growers have to slide down on cardboard to harvest.  The wine was supple yet had a nice body and smooth finish.

Peju -  This was the only room that made us wait. We walked in and had to wait for a “host” even thought three people were standing around. They led us through a general area to a bar for tasting. The pretense seemed very unnecessary since it is the off season and the place was pretty much empty. We did not like the Red and White blend Provence. It seemed like watered down Red, but we had to agree it was unique. We did like the 2007 Merlot – very good with a big, fruity taste.

BV – Our favorite Reserve tasting room and some of our favorite wines. The Reserve Tasting is must do here. The Reserve Cabs are phenomenal. Glenn’s Favorite was the Clone 6 Cabernet while mine was the 2008 Georges de Latour Reserve Cab. We also liked the Port.

Elizabeth Spencer – Across the street from BV.

Worth a stop. The Chardonnay was pretty good. The best was the 2008 GPS Red Wine Blend.

Provence – We were referred here by BV – it’s one of their “sister” wineries. Good tasting room. Very friendly staff.  The 2010 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc was great. Great Cabs. The 2008 Winemaker Reserve Blend was fantastic.

Alpha Omega – Great 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was pretty rough – needs at least 5-7 more years in the bottle.  The tasting was $20 which is very high. I would consider skipping.

Milat – Very small bar for tasting. Family owned winery. Best wine there was the Chenin Blanc. Good average Reds.

Heitz – One of my favorite tasting rooms. It’s set up like a living room with a large fireplace and sitting area on one side of the room and tasting along the other. Good overall wines.

Port was a great compromise between a tawny and ruby port.

Prager – Good stop if you like ports. Wish there had been a couple more to taste.

Charles Krug – Very expensive tasting fee. At this point, I was referring to everything as “needs more time in the barrel”. Glenn was not a big  fan of the wines there either.


Schug – Great location near Sonoma – up a dirt road with great views of the vineyards.

Very nice staff. We loved the Reserve tasting. They had two single vineyard Pinot Noirs so we could really taste how different soil impacts the flavors in the wine.

BR Cohn – Big white house on the top of a hill. Very nice tasting area with a separate gourmet shop to taste the olive oils and vinegars.

The 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir was very good. It was a frustrating tasting because the staff was name dropping left and right with another couple – showing pictures of her private jet flights. We just wanted some info on the winery and the wine. Maybe we will try again in the future because I think we would have probably bought some wine if we had been treated differently.

Martinelli – One of our favorites!

Great, friendly staff. Fantastic Zinfandels. Single vineyard Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Zins make for an interesting and instructive tasting. The standouts were 2006 Lolita Ranch Syrah, 2008 Zio Tony Ranch Pinot Noir and 2007 Martinelli Road Chardonnay.

Hook and Ladder – Another one of our favorites. We have been in the wine club since 2008. The tasting room is in the warehouse. We love their reds – very drinkable Cab Francs and Red Blends.

DeLoach – Very nice tasting room and property. The owner of Hook and Ladder created this winery. It was one of the premier high end wineries and the wine of many airlines prior to 9/11. After 9/11, the airline business decreased and Cecil DeLoach sold the winery to a French investor and vintor and created Hook and Ladder. The DeLoach wines were more structured. The 2008 Swicegood Vineyard Pinot Noir was excellent.

Paradise Ridge – We went to the satellite tasting room since the weather was bad so the views from the actual property would have been lost. This winery has lower production than a lot of the other wineries we visited – about 300-500 cases per wine. The 2008 Estate Chardonnay was very good.  The reds were decent. The star was the 2008 Ode to Joy Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc – just fantastic!  We were lucky to get the executive chef for the winery to lead us through the tasting. She was super friendly and we had a great time. She even clued us in the Visa Signature Program that waives the tasting fees and gives 15% discounts at Sonoma wineries. Wished we had known about that sooner!! That is going to be a huge savings next time we come.

Ty Caton/Muscardini – Across the parking lot from Paradise Ridge is the Ty Caton/Muscardini tasting room.

 Muscardini focuses on Italian style wines and grapes. Ty Caton makes some great red wines. The stunner was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was so drinkable, well balanced, just terrific. We bought six bottles because we can’t wait to see how it ages.

Kunde – We turned in here  because it had the sign “Voted Best Tasting Room”.

While I don’t think it was the best room – Kunde did have a lot of great options for experiencing their wine:  a sit down Reserve tasting with small snacks, a ride up to 1,400 feet to see the view and taste the wine, cave tours and a food/wine seminar starting this spring. I don’t think the Reserve tasting was worth it here. I wasn’t wowed with any of their wines except for the 2010 Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc. We loved the Sauvignon Blanc.

Deerfield Farms – Across the road from Kunde. This has a fantastic tasting room in a cave! You walk down a long barrel-lined hallway.

The host was so friendly and knowledgeable. All the wines were excellent. We loved how balance and restrained they were. The host told us the vintner is a chef so he really values balance. We joined the wine club.

Next trip to California Wine Country – we are definitely going farther north and headquartering our stay in Healdsburg.  Though we may try to get up to Oregon before we come back to California.

January 2012: Three Days in Shanghai

On January 7th, we left for a 14 day adventure in Beijing, Shanghai, San Franciscio and Napa Valley. This post details our time in Shanghai.

1.14.12 – Marriott Courtyard Puxi Shanghai
We basically lost this entire day travelling to Shanghai. Our previous tour took an earlier flight so we at least had the afternoon. This time, we had a 1:30 pm, flight and a hotel departure of 10:30am. We got the Shanghai hotel – The Marriott Courtyard Puxi - around 5:30 pm. The Marriot is very nice.  Our room had a king bed with a glass walled shower looking into the bedroom.

The shower had a rain showerhead and a regular showerhead that could be used at the same time. It was one of the nicest rooms both Glenn and I had stayed in. When we arrived, it was raining and cold so Glenn and I decided to just have dinner at the hotel restaurant. I ended up getting some fantastic carrot soup and a great Black Cod dish. I wasn’t feeling well after dinner so we called it a night.

1.15.12 Big Bamboo, Propaganda Art Center, Boxing Cat Brewery, Xiantaldi, Tian Zi Fung
The breakfast buffet at the Courtyard was incredible and overwhelming. So many great options – sticky rice, BBQ pork buns, plus all the Western options, fresh fruit, Danish, etc. After breakfast, Glenn had a great idea to find a spot to watch the Patriots playoff game. After some internet research, we headed to Big Bamboo.

Walking in was a little shocking – the place was absolutely packed! We found a little spot upstairs at the bar and ordered two of the biggest beers I have seen in a while. The game started at 9:30 am Beijing time.

It was a lot of fun. After 4 hours of beer, BLTs and Patriot victory, we headed out for some culture. I had read about the Propaganda Art Centre in the guidebook so we set out to find it. It’s a little weird because it is in the basement of an apartment complex in the French Concession. Admission was US$4 a person. It features propaganda posters from the 40s thorough the late 70s. Very pro-Russia and anti-American posters in the early years. Lots of pro-worker, we will rise together, and join Korea messaging.

Surprising to me were the posters calling for support of the US Civil Rights and the US Anti-Vietnam movements. It was also interesting to see how the messaging moved to anti-Russia statements towards the 70s. I was surprised by the hand written signs containing quotes from Mao and indictments of neighbors and friends who weren’t supporters. Mao supporters would hang these indictments up in their neighborhood on any open surface.

  We headed back toward the subway – stopping at the Boxing Cat Brewery to try their Scotch Ale and Winter Warmer Ale.

It’s really developed since we were there 2 years ago though the clientele is still all expats. We bundled up and headed toward Xintaldi – a high end shopping area. It’s a few shops along an older set of buildings then conenected to a large mall. The mall was a set of very small boutiques with only a couple shelves of tops or pants. It’s amazing there’s enough business. We then headed down to Tian Zi Fung – a great little shopping area in a series of alleys.

We had dinner in a café. I had the best cup of tea – a citrus tea with honey. I also had a greal meal with Kimchi rice “cakes” – more like very dense long gnocchi. It was so interesting and so good.

Glenn had a good fried rice dish.

After dinner, we headed back to the Courtyard.

1.16.12 Science and Technology Fake Market, Fried Dumplings, Xian Nan Guo Spa and Dim Sum

The day started with a leisurely breakfast. We headed down to the fake market at the Science and Technology Museum. The area was very nice.  Individual stores had one type of item – purses, clothes, jackets, scarves, etc. We went through several of the purse stores.  Merchants offered secret rooms of Louis Vuitton and pulled LV wallets from under piles of other purses. I am not a Louis Vuitton girl so I found it very humorous. I did find a great red travel bag (or bowling bag as Glenn likes to call it). The store owner gave the price at 480RMB (US$80). I got her down to 180RMB (US$30) after walking away. I feel like I got a very good price for this lovely leather bag. I found another beautiful 8.5x 11” pink purse. She started at 780RMB (US$130). I got her down to 165RMB (US$27) again walking away twice. We headed back to the hotel with our purchases. After dropping things off, we headed back out in search of a soup dumplings. We had general info on how to find the dimpling place, but after a thirty minute search, we gave up and headed to a Vietnamese restaurant for pho soup, cuttlefish balls, and sautéed pork. YUum!

We regrouped and headed back out to continue our dumpling search. We found it!!

We bought four dumplings for US$1. The dumplings were steaming hot and the liquid poured out when I bit into them.

They were very very good. After dumplings, we headed west to a bath house. This was definitely a locals’ place. It is affiliated with and located behind a well-known dim sum restaurant Xian Nan Guo.  We were told to follow the signs through the alley.

We were pleasantly surprised to emerge from the dumpsters and employee parking to find a four story building. We turned in our shoes, got slippers, and headed to the separate men’s and women’s areas. It was time to take it all off. No one spoke English, but they pointed me to where to shower and then head out to the whirlpools, steam room, and saunas. I opted for a very thorough body scrub. I laid on a table and an attendant scrubbed off my dead skin cells with a rough glove while I got a cucumber mask. Glenn said the men’s area (and scrub) was very similar. After the whirlpools and steam room, I changed into their Hawaiian print pajamas and headed up to the 4th floor. The second floor had a café for dim sum. The 3rd floor was private mahjong and game playing rooms. The 4th floor had a VIP area, treatment rooms and the recliner room. I walked into a room with 125 recliners, each with their own tv. From here, we ordered juices, dim sum and received an intense 90 minute foot massage. I squirmed a little bit as the masseuse applied pressure to my sore feet. The foot massage even included cupping – where the masseuse heated the inside of a glass cup and applied it to the bottom of my feet. The heat creates a suction to increase blood flow. This was so weird at first and I won’t try it until Glenn assured me that it did not hurt. It ended up being the most relaxing part of the massage.  After five hours there, we figured we should head back to the hotel. The five hours, scrubs, massages, juices and dim sum all totaled $110 for the two of us. Just awesome!

1.17.12 – The Long Journey Back to San Francisco

Our long journey home started with a flight from Shanghai to Beijing then from Beijing to San Francisco. The Air China flight was Beijing to San Francisco was a little scary. During takeoff – water began streaming from the overhead bins.

The woman next to me collected about 7 ounces of water by making a little cup out of her plastic covered blanket. Then we hit turbulence that made the plant pitch and creak in a way that was disconcerting. The leaking began again on the descent. We will not be flying on Air China again. Ever. 
After gathering our bags and our rental car, we headed back to the Vagabond Inn Executive. We got to the hotel around 1:30 pm – about 2 hours after landing. Usually, we try to adapt to the local time, but both Glenn and I were suffering from severe colds so we just slept for 7 hours, had some pizza and went back to sleep. After a very rough night where my fever broke and Glenn could not shake a severe cough, we were ready to head to Napa Valley.

January 2012: Five Days in Beijing

On January 7th, we left for a 14 day adventure in Beijing, Shanghai, San Franciscio and Napa Valley.  This post details our time in Beijing.

1.7.11 Vagabond Inn Executive - Burlingame
We had a 12:30 pm flight on southwest to San Francisco. With all the transfers, the journey took us about 9 hours – luckily we had exit row seats for the majority of the flight. Once we go to San Fran, we headed to the Vagabond Inn Executive in Burlingame. It turned out to be a great hotel: clean rooms, nice linens and a great local restaurant right next door.  The Elephant Bar specializes in Global cuisine so Glenn and I had lettuce wraps, a wedge salad, spring rolls and Ahi tuna. I also tried the French Pear Martini: vodka, St Germaine, and sparkling wine. It was a lovely mix of sweet and bubbles. We headed to bed early to prep for a long day of flying. For this trip, we booked a 10 day Beijing and Shanghai trip including flights from SFO and hotels from Smartours.

1.8.11 – The Long Journey to Beijing
We hit the airport around 10:15 am. The Smartours documents said to check in at least 3 and a half hours before the flight, but failed to mention that the counter doesn’t open until three and a half hours  before the flight so we met all our tourmates in line. We got aisle seats. I sat in front of Glenn and next to a woman and her sister. They were travelling with the woman’s three kids and husband – such a nice family. The flight went well despite the fact Air China’s planes are basically falling apart and we had to deplane on the tarmac in the rain. Immigration and Customs were quick and simple. We met our guide outside baggage claim and headed to the hotel. Our guide was smart and used the time on the bus for our orientation. We had thirty-four people who had flown in from SFO and another group coming in from NYC. The guide also handed out our room keys which was great. This tour had all the city tours as a la carte options which we did not take.

We arrived at the Radisson Blu-Beijing. The lobby was great with a bar, nice restaurant and buffet in addition to a health club and swimming pool. Our room had two twin beds that were a little too firm but not as stiff as other beds we have endured in China. Having a flight that arrived at night was nice so we didn’t feel guilty going right to sleep.

1.9.11 Beijing Zoo, Beijing Aquarium, and the Summer Palace

Around 8 am we headed down to the hotel’s super buffet – a nice mix of western and Chinese breakfast offerings. Glenn and I were both happy to fill up on wonton soup before we headed out into the cold toward the Beijing Zoo. The subway was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel and as easy to navigate as we remembered. The zoo was pretty depressing. The Panda Houses were dreary and the barrenness of winter only amplified the feeling.  

One panda was miserable – flailing around trying to find a comfortable position, tearing off wood splinters and rubbing them on his head. The other animals did not fair much better. The lions and tigers were in small, empty cages. We decided not to see any more animals because it was just too sad. So we  beelined through the Zoo to the Beijing Aquarium. The aquarium is very nice. The first section is a recreation of a rainforest with ramps going up and down through vegetation and open fish tanks.
The rainforest section opens into a huge space with gift shops and two beautiful Beluga whales at the far end and smaller shallow ponds with fish and sea turtles along the side. The Beluga whale had this concave opening where it put its head in and blow bubbles.

The sea lion/dolphins area was interesting. It reminded me of the behind scenes areas at Shedd aquarium. You see all the tanks where the dolphins and sea lions are trained. There’s no “show” area.  Then we went into the Coral Reef area. This area was very interesting especially the jelly fish exhibit. The aquarium did a great job supplementing the tanks with pictures, lights and other interactive information.

Next stop: Summer Palace. The palaces at this location have been destroyed twice: once by British forces and once during the Boxer Rebellion so the buildings are only about 100 years old. This is where the Emperor or Empress would go during the summer when the Forbidden City got too hot. The benefit of the Palace’s young age is that a lot of the furniture is still in place in many of the halls. It is a beautiful location since a lake was dug to create a waterside retreat.  This digging process created a hill where the Emperor placed a temple. This property also features a traditional long corridor with intricate drawings.

The property is massive. Every corner holds another path and another set of buildings in various states of repair. Glenn continued his potato chip tasting from around the world with some chicken flavored snacks. China lost this round to Turkey. At the end of the long corridor was a “marble” boat.

The Empress had used funds earmarked for modernizing the Navy to commission a boat of wood painted to look like marble. Nice to know other countries struggle with good financial decisions. We backtracked to the subway station and searched for lunch. Near the subway station was a collection of fast food restaurants: KFC, Subway, Dairy Queen, MCDonalds and Starbucks. Luckily we were able to find a local fast food chain: Xian-Bu. It was hot pots!! The staff was slightly panicked when we walked in, but then someone remembered they had an English menu so we could more easily order. We picked hot and sour soup for the broth, the prime beef as our meat and a vegetable platter. I also got dumplings and Glenn got noodles.

It was SO GOOD! The perfect lunch for such a cold and windy day.  Rejuvenated by the great meal, we set out for Saniltun – the bar district near Workers’ Stadium. We stopped off at The Den for old times’ sake. We hit bar street.  The street hosts a two huge high end shopping malls with all the major brands: Uniqlo, Columbia, Nike, Lucky,etc. We were there a little too early for the nightclubs – though we did try one out for some Singapore Slings. We tried to go to Jazz Ya, but it was packed and we were ignored at the bar. We looked around for a couple other places and decided to call it a night. I was so tired from all the walking that I fell on the bed fully clothed – I may actually been asleep prior to hitting the bed.
1.11.12 Lama Temple, HouHai Lake, Hutong Tour and Wangfuijing Night Market

After a great breakfast conversation with Russell and Joan from Salt Lake City, we headed out for Lama Temple. This is the temple we could not find last time and it took us a while this time. It is an incredibly ornate Tibetian temple which supposedly symbolizes China’s tolerance of other religions. The site houses several halls with large Buddha statutes – the largest an impressive 55 foot tall Buddha. The smell of incense fills the space as followers lit it to honor Buddha.

Leaving the Temple, we decided to follow one of the guide book walking tours through the Hutong neighborhoods. The good was that we got to see a lot of different neighborhoods – a street filled with commerce, an old neighborhood with traditional Chinese homes and the trendy area around Hui Lake. The downside is that the hutongs are very difficult to navigate. We loved the area around Hui Lake – we could really tell that it is quite a hot spot at night and in warmer weather. We set out to find No Name restaurant – a recommendation from our guide book. It only took us one wrong turn. We were a little nervous because we were the only people in the whole restaurant, but they let us upstairs to a beautiful sun room overlooking the hutong roofs. We ordered crispy spring rolls and lemongrass roasted fish.

Both were excellent. After warming up over such a great lunch – we headed out to find Passby Bar – one of our favorite stops from last time. We found the location, but it had been torn down. We found a passable cappuccino nearby. We trekked back to the subway to head to Wangfuijing night market to grab our favorite snacks – the beef sandwiches and fried dumplings.  After eating, I needed to warm up so we popped into one of the restaurants behind the night market. They had this huge book with pictures of the menu items with Chinese and English descriptions. We ordered the most delicious duck stew – it was the perfect mix of onions, celery and other flavors that were foreign to us. It was so good.

We also had the hot and sour soup. It was just okay but went a long way to warming us up. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel, shared some overpriced beers and called it a night.
1.12.12 Jingshan Park, A Failed Visit to the Water Cube and An Afternoon at the Hotel

Today we headed out for Jingshan Park – just north of the Forbidden City. This park had been on my list since our last trip. It has a hill made from the dirt excavated building the moat around the Forbidden City. I was hoping for groups of locals practicing tai chi and other morning exercises. We paid our 50 cents and walked into a harmonica band performing with dancers.

AWESOME! We trekked up to the Pavilion on the top of the hill and were rewarded with an amazing view of Forbidden City. The haze prevented any good pictures but all the guide books were right – this view is incredible.

I didn’t appreciate how large the Forbidden City was since when we visited we stayed in the central portion. On the way back down, we came across the site of the last Ming Emperor’s suicide. The highlight of the trip was watching women practice a routine with a paddle and a ball. A man came up and invited me to join so I did.

 It took a while to get the hang of it, but when I did, he was just as excited as I was. After the park, we armed up with a pot of black tea and headed to the Olympic Village. We were acting on ads we saw that the Water Cube was converted to a water park. We were both ready for some warm swimming. We needed towels so we bought a couple US$18 towels at the Water Cube gift shop. We had trouble finding the ticket office. A man followed us trying to sell us tickets even though we kept saying NO! NO! NO! We finally made it to an open ticket window only to find out they do not take credit cards. We did not have the cash for the almost US$80 in entrance fees plus the locker rental fees. We were really disappointed and super annoyed by the man who would not stop following us. We tried to think of a way to get the cash, but decided to head back to the hotel to regroup.
For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant directly across from the subway stop near our hotel. IT had a huge book menu with pictures. We got a “fish cake” – so delicious.  The fish seemed to be marinated in teriyaki – so tender.

The absolute best thing we ate on our entire trip – and it cost US$1.45. We also had a “pizza” which was more like a quesadilla with garlic and scallions, lychee shrimp, and sesame balls plus 2 Yinyang beers – all for the bargain price of US $15.50. Such an awesome lunch. Back at the hotel, I got a bare bones 90 minute massage for about US$90. I definitely overpaid, but I needed it  because all the walking and cold was really beginning to wear me down. After the massage, Glenn and I decided to just rest at the hotel. I did not want to go back out into the cold. Glenn went exploring the local supermarket and KFC.  The potato chip tasting continued.
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Yes, I really did just put another picture of potato chips on the blog.
Cucumber – Terrible, Cheese and Lobster – Even Worse, and Italian Red Meat Sauce – Bad.  WE watched a couple shows on the iPad and went to bed early.   I always feel silly when I stay in like that. Here we are – lucky enough to be in Beijing China and I am in the hotel eating KFC and watching tv on the iPad. However, this is vacation and the stress of the cold, not speaking the language, and all the navigation can get to me sometimes and I just need to recharge. 
**On the Water Cube Water Park – When we got back to the hotel, we looked up the reviews online and they were terrible! We decided that the travel gods intervened and saved us US$100 and a lot of exasperation.

1.13.12 Beijing Police Museum, Maison Boulud, The Great Magician, Mesh and One Thousand and One Nights

Last day in Beijing. We headed down to the area south of Tiananmen Square.  I wanted to go the Beijing Police Museum.

It took us a couple turns to find it – but once again Glenn’s sense of direction was spot on. It was so interesting plus admission was less than a dollar. Win. Win. It started with the creation of the Public Safety Bureau when Mao found the New Republic of China. The most interesting sign referred to the cultural revolution as a grim and terrible time – even though it was one of Mao’s biggest initiatives. Several displays outlined the fate of dissidents who were discovered and put to death. Being in a now modern Beijing- it is so easy to forget that just 70 years ago it was still a feudal society. And just 40 years ago Mao ruled supreme. The second floor was crime investigation. The displays told the story of a particular crime with crime scene photos, detective notes and other evidence collected during the investigation. One display even had the actual bag that the body was stuffed into! Shocking! Another had the heroin that was confiscated. I often forget when we go other countries that they have very different laws and rights. This museum definitely reminded me. The third floor contained displays giving an overview of all the duties of the police. This is very different that the US. Licenses, registrations, census functions, traffic, transit and overall public safety are all under the national policy/public safety division. They showed an example of the traffic cameras that surveyed more of the local building entrances and public sidewalks than our traffic cams. Also – our experience was that the Chinese were very serious about safety. Most subway stations have security checks where bags go through an x-ray machine. All major sites – Olympic Park, Tiananmen Square have metal detectors and X-ray machines to get in. We saw a bomb detonation device on standby in a subway station. The third floor also contained a memorial to the officers who had died and been named “revolutionary martyr”. Given the population, the number seemed small. The memorial was very nice because each person honored had a picture, bio, how they died in a large leather binder. The fourth floor was the largest collection of guns UI have ever seen. Hundreds of different guns from machine guns to sniper rifles to pen guns to the tiniest gun I have ever seen. Overall, I really enjoyed the museum. I was impressed with the size and information plus most of the signs were translated into English.
After the museum, we headed to Maison Boulud – an outpost of Chef Daniel Boulud. It is located in a collection of old government buildings that have been transformed into high end shops and restaurants. The restaurant was one of the most beautiful restaurants I have ever seen.

We ordered the prix fix lunch menu. I had mackerel, butterfish and the chocolate dessert. Glenn had foie gras terrine, DB burger stuffed with short ribs, and the pear dessert. The food was excellent as was the service. They provided two complimentary rounds of canapes: cheese puffs, goat cheese in a parmesan crisp, a fish ball and a quiche-like square. Then our menu began arriving.  .
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The foie grab terrine was light and creamy
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The mackerel had just enough acid and fennel to cut the richness of the fish.

The butterfish was cooked well with good flavor.

The DB burger was genius – staffing a burger with delicious short ribs was just awesome.
The chocolate dessert was a nice standard chocolate mousse. Glenn’s dessert was hard to figure out.  Our best guess was that the pears had been soaked in a ginger liqueur with flavored meringue and whipped cream. They finished the meal with warm lemon shortbread cookies and little treats. It was a such a great meal.

After lunch, we headed back to Sanlitun to go see a movie. We hit the luxury shopping mall just hours after there had been a near riot over the iPhone 4s at the Apple Store. We picked the movie with the closest time: The Great Magician.

The woman selling the tickets mentioned twice that the movie did not have English subtitles. We were able to follow along for the most part except for one key plot point and one scene that made no sense at all. After the movie, we found a very nice bar Mesh in the lobby of The Opposite House Hotel. It had a great 2 for 1 happy hour so we had some Moscow Mules and pizza. We headed back toward the subway but just had to stop at the oldest Middle Eastern restaurant in Beijing – One Thousand and One Nights for some hummus, falafel and delicious lamb meatballs. Overall – a fantastic day!

On the 14th - we headed to Shanghai - look for our next post highlighting those adventures!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

12.19.11 Disney Tables in Wonderland Holiday Party

Saturday morning we hit the road for Disney. We pulled into the Coronado Springs and I was very impressed. It really looks like Mexico! I loved the pools and the lakes.

Our room was very nice.

We had a quick snack and then headed out to Epcot. This trip to Epcot I wanted to try out the Kim Possible Adventure. You sign up to receive a cell phone that gives you clues you have to find in one of the countries. Once you find one clue, you get the next one. Each adventure takes about 30 minutes and is filled with fun surprises. We headed off to Japan for our mission. It was so much fun! I am looking forward to doing more of them as we visit in the future. We only had time for one because we needed to get to our Tables in Wonderland Dinner.

Tables in Wonderland is a program at Disney where you pay an annual fee and get a 20% discount at the sit down restaurants plus they offer special dinners and events throughout the year. The Holiday Party was the first dinner we had been able to attend. It was a five course dinner with wine in the Lounge at Norway. The group met outside Norway and was escorted through a secret door up to the Lounge. We had champagne and appetizers. The appetizers included Seared tuna app that was very good.

The First course was a salad inspired by New Zealand.

 I am not usually impressed by salads, but I thought this one was very very good.

Second course was a California inspired zucchini roll up.

 Third course was braised short ribs from Argentina with yucca and corn on the cob.

All the food was very good .The only thing that missed the mark was the dessert.

 It was meant to be a grapefruit crème brulee but the burnt sugar on the top didn’t really come together. I did really like how the dessert serving dish matched the appetizer dish. After our great meal, we were escorted to our seats at the Candlelight Processional. The Candlelight Processional is my favorite show that Disney does. It is amazing. Guest narrators read the Christmas story while a full orchestra and choir sing traditional holiday songs.

After the Processional, we were escorted to a special roped off area to watch the Epcot night show. I have never been able to see it from a good spot before and it was awesome. Because it was the holidays, the end included an extra special fireworks show that knocked our socks off.
  We headed back to Coronado Springs. This hotel is one of the few on Disney property that have a “nightclub” - Rix Lounge.

We wanted to have a nightcap. The club was pretty much empty, but the bartender was a jerk so we were one and done. It was a great night and we had a nice walk back to the room.

In the morning, we tried to go the buffet at the hotel for breakfast, but it was slammed so we just headed out and had our usual breakfast at Crackle Barrel. Overall – a fantastic experience . We are looking forward to future Tables in Wonderland Events.