Land of the Free

Well, we’re back on the road again! I’m writing this from the airport as we prepare to fly off to Dublin ((many) pints ‘o Guinness, here we come!). It was a whirlwind two month break from our global travels to do a little more fun stuff back home in the good ‘ole USofA. We came back for some very important events (a couple phenomenal weddings and even a P-town bear week bachelorette), and managed to fit in lots of things we missed whilst abroad. So we thought we’d give you a very brief update on some of the highlights of our trip, as well as introduce you to some old favorites and new finds from our visit to the homeland!

Our trip to the states had us landing in our “home” of Los Angeles. While we have no actual home to speak of (and I mean literally, even our mailing address no longer exists as my parents just sold their home!), our friends were very generous in letting us crash for much of our time (we love you guys!!!). Of course a big highlight for us was getting our LA grub on. While we love all food, Asian especially, we were beyond excited to get our hands on some of our local favorites. The very first day we arrived we hit some serious bases with a breakfast of bagels, lunch of Mexican food, and of course In’N’Out for dinner. Solid.

We also checked out a few new spots. We visited our wonderful friends Jamie and Eric over at their new restaurant: Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese. Delish. And while Greeny is cooking up some fancy and fabulous takes on grilled cheese, it’s really hard to pass up the classic grilled cheese with a side of perfectly seasoned tomato soup. Seriously comfort food at its max. And speaking of Max, we were thrilled to meet their adorable new arrival, Max, who joined the world while we were off in Asia.

I was quickly reminded of just how “LA” LA can be when visiting the new(ish) spot: Kreation on Montana in Santa Monica. No offense, and you all know I defend LA to the death against all those (crazy) haters, but this is one of those places that makes people despise LA. I overheard someone ask the waiter (literally), “Do you have a juice that would make me happy?” (Cue Valley Girl dialect.) Granted the menu invited this (with items like “Energy,” “Relax,” “Skinny,” and “Rosy Aura”), but… I mean. If there was any doubt I had made it back to the wacky world that is LA-LA-Land, I saw one lady pushing her pint-sized pup in a stroller and another carrying hers in a purse. Better yet, while getting a manicure in anticipation of Jenny’s wedding, I overheard the most absurd LA woman that might exist. She was, and I quote her directly now, “an Hermes and Chanel girl” who would “not be caught dead in” other lowly designers’ wears. She complained about her dinner plans for fear of the Paparazzi and proceeded to look at a woman roughly thirty pounds heavier than she and say, “oh my god, you’re so skinny, I’m so fat I just gained ten pounds.” But the best story of all, a friend told me she offered some food to a homeless man and he declined, telling her he was on a raw food diet.

We also joined friends to watch Swingers at Cinespia, the famed movie screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It was pretty damn awesome. Man, we love LA. We also enjoyed our friends’ pups. And spotting a woman on a pay phone! I’ve not seen one of these in use in ages! (It’s the small things in life…)

See the Practical Info section, below, for some more of our favorite eats along the way and across the country.

But the highlight of LA was for sure Jen and Albert’s wedding. Absolutely stunning. The wedding and the bride! Seriously, how gorgeous was she!? An absolute modern fairytale princess. That Albert is a lucky man, I tell ya. Also, after six months of embracing what my friends now endearingly refer to as my “traveler fugly” phase (OK the really nice ones call it my “natural” phase), I reveled in the opportunity to get fancy and glam and all dolled up. I felt like a movie star.

One of the best perks of quitting your job to travel the world is the time it gives you to spend with your family and friends, and we truly relish this. We flew back east to spend about three weeks with all sorts of family…

…Staying with Alan’s brother Kenny in New Jersey (and visiting some friends in New York while there)…

…Visiting my family in Maine for the final nights in our cottage (which is now being torn down and will soon be completely rebuilt as their full time home) and helping them pack up and move out of my childhood home in Concord, MA. We found some serious gems along the way in that process…

…spending lots of QT with my big bro, Dev, and my dog nephews, Lou and Ryder (I am obsessed)…

…and of course eating LOTS of lobstah…

…and a massive family reunion at Alan’s mom’s house in Longmeadow, MA. It was so lovely meeting these more distant relatives and spending more time with those we already know and love.

We also fit in lots of good old left coast time. Obviously there was LA, but we also drove up to a wedding in Sonoma, and used the opportunity to stop on the way and check out the wine scene in Paso Robles. We spent two nights at a little B&B owned by a very strange proprietor. Long story short, despite the phenomenal location of this B&B, we would not recommend it. Largely because of overpromises (and false advertising!) that were not delivered on, and less so because the property was not as nice and the room was incredibly small. It’s just frustrating to sign up for something that’s detailed explicitly online and then reeceive much less than promised. Even more annoying that the proprietor made a point of talking about the amenities that she later failed to provide. Strange.

Anyhow, the real reason we came was the wine, and that, my friends, did NOT disappoint. We adored the wines here! It’s not pretentious in the way that some might argue Napa and Sonoma have become, and it’s still in fact quite cheap. Tastings are generally $10 a piece, the pours are generous, they credit the fee against purchases, they’ll let you try anything you liked again, and a few places give you a glass to keep. The wines themselves are fairly reasonably priced, though we did splurge on a few bottles. Is there anyone out there who can not splurge on a bottle of good wine by the time you reach your third tasting? OK, it was only our second when I started buying multiple bottles. Must find a home with a wine cellar. I’ll start with just a home. See the Practical Info section below, for some of our favorite vineyards, wines and restaurants.

Also worthy of a shoutout is Destination Drivers, a company that will send someone to drive your car around to the vineyards for an hourly fee. All wine and no drunk driving, yippee! This would in theory work out to be cheaper than the wine tours on offer, that is if you didn’t spend six hours tasting. Oops! What I loved most was the tackle box full of bread and meats and cheeses that they supply to keep you going between tastings. Yum!

After Paso we enjoyed Felix and Amanda’s spectacular wedding at the Kenwood Inn and Spa in Sonoma, and even managed to squeeze in a beautiful local hike with the groom just hours before he wed.

From there, we had a great afternoon in the East Bay catching up with Brian and Kim and Camilo and Hillary and all their kids. Alan and Quinn had a nice scat session. Afterwards I jetted off back to the east coast to help my parents finalize the move, and then attend the last of the wolfpack’s bachelorette parties on Cape Cod. This was my first time in Provincetown, and it happened to be bear week, which happened to be amaze-balls. Of course, the hot pink Lady Gaga wigs didn’t hurt. Congrats KP! So excited for her wedding in the South of France! Stay tuned for the blog coverage of what I’m sure will be nothing short of stunning.

Meanwhile, Alan and D-Bell drove up to Humboldt, then took the PCH all the way back down to LA, and reminded himself how much we love this left coast. Watching the World Cup semifinal games at Patterson’s Pub in Mendocino and then The Tap Room at the Lodge at Pebble Beach were experiences to cherish. Oh California, you beautiful beast, you.

And now, we are in Dublin! Stay tuned for lots of pictures and stories, most of which will likely entail blustering shorelines and big glasses of beer.

Practical Info

We will not try to cover everywhere we ate and everything we did over a couple months in the US. Instead, we will touch upon some highlights. If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Transportation: There are many ways to get from New York to Boston, including flying or taking the train. The cheapest option is usually the bus. We have taken one of the Chinatown buses in the past, but this time friends told us about Bolt Bus. It departs New York from multiple locations; we took the train from New Jersey to Penn Station and then walked the long blocks to 33rd between 11th and 12th. In the 1980s you would not have wanted to be here outside your car that would’ve been bombarded by unsolicited windshield washing, but now it’s fine. For $27 (2 tix), we arrived painlessly at South Station in Boston. And the bus offers WiFi and electric outlets.

Accommodation: We found a great Airbnb place in Santa Monica near 20th and Montana. We were less enthused about Emily’s House in Paso Robles (see Jenni’s rant above), though the location was nice in easy walking distance from town. The Kenwood Inn and Spa near Sonoma is definitely a splurge, but the rooms are beautiful and the pool is super refreshing in the NorCal valley heat.

Food: In LA: Shout out to our man at the helm of Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese on Melrose. Jenni covered this above, and when she was back east I returned and also had the Buffalo Blue. This thoroughly satisfied my buffalo pangs…for the night. Katsuya is something we crave when traveling, so we made a few visits while back. We usually go to the Brentwood branch, but it’s much cheaper if you can schlep to the valley. The happy hour in Brentwood helps to let you afford multiple orders of the spicy tuna on crispy rice and baked crab hand rolls. Poquito Mas is solid mini-chain Mexican. We would not assert the bagels compare to New York, but a fine place to hold you over is New York Bagel and Deli on Wilshire in Santa Monica.

In Santa Barbara: Rincon Taqueria (115 E. Haley Street). Hole in the wall, but good tacos and reminds us of wedding planning.

In Paso Robles: Dinner at Artisan was great. Il Cortile was good but not great. Di Raimondo’s is an excellent cheese shop. While wine tasting outside town, we made an enjoyable stop at Pasolivo for free olive oil tasting. The cookies at Brown Butter Cookie Company were the bomb dot com.

In New York: Late night pastrami at Katz’s Deli. A superb brunch at momofuku ssäm bar…think fried duck and waffles with mascarpone and a raspberry compote.

In New England: Of course we hit the legendary White Hut in West Springfield, plus the new branch in the center of Longmeadow. Mike’s (actually now called Pool Street Market) for lobstah rolls in Biddeford is de rigeur. In addition to the standard trip to Cape Pier Chowder House, I had my first ice cream at Goose Rocks Dairy, and Jenni, Dev and I had a lovely afternoon brunching at Tia’s Topside followed by free beer tasting at the Kennebunkport Brewing Company. Jenni gives a nod to New London’s subs in Concord, where she ate her farewell Concord lunch.

Wine: Paso Robles is known for its Zin, but we actually came away with an adoration for the local Syrahs and Roses. Overall, we were very impressed with taste and value. We tasted at:

  • Chronic Cellars – Nice, fun wines made by the sons of the folks behind Peachy Canyon (which, by the way, sells a solid SUPER budget zin available in LA). We enjoyed the ’13 Kindly Swallows Rose, the ’12 Dead Nuts Zin blend, ’12 Suite Petite Syrah blend (sold out, sadly) and the Tranquilo late harvest Petite Syrah.
  • Kiamie Wine Cellars – We loved the ’08 Meritage and the R’Own Style Blend. You can find their wines at Enterprise Fish Co. in Santa Monica (the Vinocata ’08) and the Meritage at Grill 23 in Boston.
  • Halter Ranch – I don’t have specific notes on this one as we mostly chatted about foods we loved with the friendly lady pouring here.
  • Oso Libre – Loved the ’11 Carnal GSM. Otherwise we were pretty underwhelmed (especially with the whites).
  • Terry Hoage Vineyards – Jenni told them that their rose smelled like armpits, but not in a bad way. As you might surmise, our tasting ended here.

We also tasted at the downtown tasting rooms of:

  • Grizzly Republic
  • Burbank Ranch – Solid wines here. Loved the Syrah “Sunset” and ’13 Grenache “Picnic Meadow” Rose. Runner up rose was the ’13 Syrah “Friends” Rose. Overall, the roses in Paso were dry and superb! The ’13 Arneis “Little Rascal” white was a nice porch wine. ’12 Zin Estate “Fall Colors” and the Malbec were nice as well, and Jenni loved the ’11 Petit Verdot “Wood Pile.”

Other vineyards that were recommended to us, but that we couldn’t fit in were DAOU (supposedly great views), Starr Ranch, Tolo, Jack Creek, Kenneth Volk, J Dusi, Ecluse, Booker and the Treana & Hope Family. Downtown, we had tried to visit LXV, where the couple running it had a wine and Indian food pairing party (so sad we missed it!), and had also heard good things about Pianetta.

May 25 -July, 22 2014

2 thoughts on “Land of the Free”

    1. Miss you and Albert too!!! Super excited for this trip, but we are also VERY excited to be full time residents again, and hang on the regular 🙂 Get ready for lots of dinners and wine parties as repayment for your generosity!

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