Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wine Wednesdays - 2015 Channing Daughters Muscat de Boom

Last night we went over to a friends' for a late-summer get together.  I love these nights, when drinking wine on a rooftop on a Tuesday feels totally normal, bedtime gets pushed a little later, and we shared an absolute feast of build-your-own pizza comprised of farmer's market finds.  

The wine we drank with dinner was spectacular (2013 Malbec from Carmelo Patti and 1993 Joseph Phelps Insignia, both were great, for different reasons).  But what really stole the show was the after dinner sipper we paired with homemade hummingbird cake!  Give me anything with cream cheese I right??  

I'm not typically one for sweet wines but the 2015 Muscat de Boom from Channing Daughters was delicious.  It's incredibly sweet (105 grams residual sugar!!) but it was so perfectly balanced.  A golden honey elixir of the gods that would pair equally well with something savory, a cheese place perhaps?  It's so good it could stand in as dessert sipped on its own if you wished!

Wild fermentation of Muscat Ottonel grapes is then fortified with a neutral spirit to stop fermentation and preserve that sweet residual sugar.  The flavor was full of baked fruits, peaches, apples, apricots, as well as honey and raisins.  I chowed down on the cake so unfortunately didn't pause for a photograph!  

So here's a photo of our pizzas instead!

Purchased:  Our friends are part of the wine club, this wine along with several others are highly allocated so I would suggest signing up to get in on the action; all of their wines are great and they do some really cool and different stuff!  If you live in the NY area they are located on the South Fork of Long Island and had a great tasting room for a visit!  
Price:  $30

Friday, August 11, 2017

Travelogue - Havana, Cuba - Where To Eat?

The food in Cuba we found to be very hit or miss.  As we researched and asked around, the same few restaurants rose to the top of recommendations.  Unfortunately we found little to be "outstanding" but did have a few good meals.  Few restaurants have actual websites, we made several reservations over the phone or through Facebook.  

Le Chansonnier - French inspired in a beautiful old mansion, we ate here our first night in Havana.  We were one of only 3 tables in the entire restaurant so it was a little quiet and felt a bit stuffy.  Food was ok, mojitos were large and strong!       

La Guarida - any guidebook or prior visitor to Havana will probably mention this restaurant.  It was one of the first Paladar's (restaurants privately owned vs. government) and was made famous in the only Cuban film to be nominated for an Oscar, Fresa y Chocolate.  The setting was gorgeous and this was our best meal in Havana by far.  So good that we actually came back on our last night and ate on the rooftop where they serve a smaller bar menu (get the chicken!).  

Allll the desserts at La Guarida

Drinks and food with a view at La Guarida

304 O'Reilly - multiple people told me this was their favorite meal/restaurant in Havana, unfortunately I can't say the same.  I think we went too late. by the time we sat down for our 8pm reservation almost everything we wanted they were out of.  I do highly recommend their sister restaurant across the street for ginormous gin and tonics on a beautiful roof.      


While no one recommended 5 Esquinas, we happened to stumble upon it our first afternoon in Havana and decided to sit down for a drink because of the adorable courtyard setting.  We accidentally ordered a 5 cheese pizza instead of what we thought was a 5 cheese plate but the pizza turned out to be so good that we came back for a snack on our last day.  Giant salads and casual "non-Cuban" food all looked really good as well.  

Another recommendation from multiple sources was Dona Eutimia.  We snuck in for lunch and were overwhelmingly disappointed when we were informed that the main thing we were told to get there (ropa vieja) they were out of.  We decided to have a snack and ordered frozen mojitos and garlic shrimp.  All 4 of us got sick within an hour of eating so if you do try it, do so at your own risk (and be sure to make a reservation as it was really crowded)! 

In a quest to find authentic "Cuban sandwiches" our walking tour guide pointed us to La Bien Paga.  Turns out, Cubans don't really eat Cuban sandwiches as we know them (not nearly enough pickles or mustard), but this place did have large sandwiches for $2+ if you're looking for a quick, cheap eat.

On our last morning we had breakfast at Dandy which was really great.  The banana bread muffins were delicious!

Other recommendations that we didn't get to:  Vanvan, Rio Mar, Cafe Escorial for supposedly the best Cuban coffee, Hotel Ambos Mundos for rooftop drinks. and El Chanchullero.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Travelogue - Viñales, Cuba

The highlight of our trip to Cuba was a day trip to Viñales, the tobacco valley about 2.5 hours west of Havana.  I didn't do much research and completely underestimated the size of Cuba as a country, everything was much further spread out that I thought.  When our group decided to embark on a 5 hour round trip adventure I was a little wary that it would be worth it to spend so much time in the car on a short weekend trip.  But if you have the same hesitations as me, believe me when I say, it was SO worth it!

Part of what made it so worth it was our tour guide, Tito.  We booked the tour through Discover Viñales and lucked out being paired with Tito.  You can also contact him directly to book a tour if you don't need transportation to/from.  If I were to plan the trip over again, I would allow for an overnight in Viñales, there are lots of Casa options and apparently there are nice beaches 30 minutes north.  We managed to jam pack a full day but it would have been nice to relax in the region.

We started with a tour of the Indian caves and a boat ride through the rock formations which was really cool, albeit a little Disneyesque.


Then we headed to an authentic tobacco sorting factory.  This job is typically reserved for women and it happened to be their one Saturday off so we did not see anyone working.


Lunch was hands down the best meal of our trip.  Endless plates of of true farm to table food and that view!


The "Painkiller" - although nothing about this view causes pain in my eyes!


After lunch, we headed to the tobacco farm of Tito's girlfriends' family.  Her grandparents have been growing tobacco for many years (a true family affair!).  They welcomed us in to their home for the afternoon, rolling us cigars which we then took on a trail ride through the valley; absolutely magical! 

It is certainly a different way of life in Cuba but I've never encountered a group of people more content with their lives.  We assume they feel a lack for everything we have and the conveniences of a more modern life but quite the opposite is true.  Everyone we encountered had nothing but smiles on their faces and words of love and appreciation for their country, it was really remarkable!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Travelogue - Havana, Cuba

I never thought I'd make it to Cuba for a vacation, but lucky for me I have some wonderful friends who insisted we make it happen.  My post is a bit delayed, we went back in January, so I hope this information is still useful and relevant despite the recent changes in travel policy.  

It was an easy direct flight from Newark to Havana, and after a slightly harrowing airport meet up situation, we found our driver and made it to our casa particular.  I highly recommend finding someone who has recently returned and might have a few spare CUCs on them as the line for money exchange at the airport was hours long.  We brought Euros to exchange as there is a 10% additional fee for exchanging USD.  Once in downtown Havana there are a few places to exchange money, and most hotels will do it if you are staying there, but hours are limited and there are lines, so plan ahead as there are no ATMS!  

I almost turned back when we were ushered into an open air elevator that lifted us ever so precariously to the 6th floor to our apartment, but it was gorgeous as soon as we were inside.  Fair warning, plumbing is not what we're used to in the States, the shower was a mere dribble and by the end of the four days I felt like I had been camping.  If you need more "amenities" (or toilet paper on a Sunday) you may want to consider staying at a true hotel, or planning ahead as stores that sell toilet paper are not open on Sunday!

Unreal view from a bedroom in our apartment

Once we settled in, we headed out to old Havana to do some exploring. 

Cocktails at El del Frente
We jumped in a cab to dinner at Le Chansonnier then to drinks at Espacios where we literally rubbed elbows with Enrique Iglesias!  

Day 2 we were up bright and early for a walking tour through old Havana.  

Hemingway's famous daiquiri joint - we walked in and promptly out as it was overcrowded with tourists and smokey from cigars.

We packed into a classic car for a tour through greater Havana, stopping at Cafe Laurent for lunch then mojitos at Hotel Nacional.  

We had one more full day in Havana to explore on our own.  Highlights included a visit to Fusterlandia, Finca la Vigía (Hemingway's home, a great option to make a stop on the way to or from the airport), souvenir shopping at the San José artists' market and the Cuba Revolutionary Museum.   

The streets were pretty magical to just wander and get lost in.

We did explore 2 live music venues:  El Gato Tuerto and La Zorra y El Cuervo (be sure to get in line early to get a seat).  

Stay tuned for our day trip to Viñales and details on where / what we ate!

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