Cheers to you, Sonoma
**Took this trip before all the #socialdistancing began at the end of 2019. Wrote it up and totally forgot to post it. Hope you gives you something to look forward to...when we can eat cheese and drink wine face to face...not just during #virtualhappyhour**
Colee, Vanessa, and I have been friends for 20+ years. When you have been a relationship that long you gotta find ways to keep the relationship spicy. Right? So how do we do that? Obvi, it had to be a: Girls trip! (airhorn sound)
Sonoma was on the bucket list for Vanessa so I said we “gotta go and drink wine.” All three of us booked tickets and an Airbnb and then I immediately started researching the quintessential “Things-to-do-in-Sonoma” phrase. Winery Tour. Check. Lists of local eateries to try. Check. Then I was stopped in my clicking tracks.
A food tour? Tell me more. Sonoma Food Tour. A three hour walking tour that includes food, wine, and history. You had me at food. Since I would be getting into CA before my friends, I needed an activity. Eating sounded like a totally valuable way to spend my time.
Take me to the 3 hour tour.
Click to set custom
First Stop: Vella Cheese
I was running a little late since I had to wait for a ride share from the Airbnb, but luckily when I got there my tour group hadn’t started eating yet. I mean, you know how much I love hanging out with my best friend, Cheese.
The tour consisted of the tour guide, Abby, an older couple and myself. A small but mighty group. Armed with a bottle of water, my food note-taking journal (yes, I am one of those people now) and my appetite, I was ready to start shoving all of the cheese into my mouth.
Vella Cheese is a sustainable, locally owned business that hand makes its cheeses and is renowned for its jack cheese recipe. We started with a sampling of seven different cheeses, all cow’s milk.
1. Toma- a wonderful melting harvarti
2. Mezzo Secco- a partially dry Monterey Jack
3. A dry jack that is aged for 12-24 months
4. Golden Bear- extra dry aged jack
5. Pesto jack
6. Habanero jack
7. Sharp cheddar
All of the cheese tasted wonderful, but my faves were the Golden Bear and the habanero jack. They weren’t kidding about their jack recipe. The Golden Bear was almost like a parmesan and had so many flavor crystals- I love that extra crunch and pop in my cheese. The habanero had a good kick to it without being scary spicy. There was a slight minty taste to it as well. Which had a refreshing effect on your palette.
We toured the quaint cheese shop and, yes, I wanted to buy everything...but with more than 2 hours to go on the tour I felt like it would be unwise to carry around cheese on my person in the nice, warm California weather. But! Then I found out that Vella Cheese vacuum seals their cheese and can stay fresh for 7-10 days WITHOUT refrigeration. So, I mean...what choice did I have? I had to buy some cheese. What better way to welcome my friends to #winecountry than with a cheese plate. I bought some dry jack and the pesto jack because I thought it would be the most pleasing for everyone. I rounded it out with some crackers and some dry sausage. This tour was officially starting out great!
Next, we walked to Mission San Francisco Solano, the last mission to be built on the El Camino Real. I love a little history lesson. Did you know that the curved shape of the Spanish tiles that are used on roofs are originally from monks slapping them against their thighs? So not all the tiles on the Mission are the exact same shape.
Oh, and I made a friend as we were exploring the naturally occurring peppercorns!
Third Stop: Figone’s Olive Oil
But first, some yummy olive oil. The Sonoma food tour specifically showcases local and family owned operations. Which I love! This olive oil has got roots, baby. It started with the owner’s great-grandfather planting a few olive tree saplings from Italy in the San Joaquin Valley and from there the delicious olive oil is produced from descendants of these trees today. They don’t even sell the olive oil in stores because they can’t maintain the standard of quality that they would like. Don't worry! They have a subscription membership so you can enjoy this delicious olive oil even if you don’t live locally. But wait, there’s more! They have delicious vinegars (as well as olive oil lotions and soaps). I left the tasting with a subscription membership to Figone’s Olive Oil. My first delivery will be a couple of bottles of the Blood Orange Olive Oil and the White Balsamic Vinegar.
Seriously, you can taste the quality in these products. I loved everything we had during our tasting. The flavors ranged from pesto to habanero. And the balsamics were delightful as well. I had never tasted a white balsamic but I am a believer now. It has a great viscosity- which I think makes for a great mouthfeel. But the flavor just pops in your mouth! Thanks to Figone’s, my current go-to snack is some burrata and avocado with a little red pepper flake, salt, pepper, with a drizzle of EVOO and this white balsamic. TRY IT!
During the tasting the facilitator commented that I have a good palette (I mean… I know. JK) and my tour counterpart said “She’s more savvy than she looks...and I just met her.” Uh... Thanks? I think it was a compliment…? I’ll just be over here drinking olive oil.
Head over to Figone’s Olive oil website and check out their products and get some delivered to your house! Because I am more savvy than I look.
Next up we have a 2-for-1. Bump Cellars with eats provided by Sunflower Caffe.
Bump Cellars is a small winery started by a husband and wife team. Their tasting room is a contemporary, modern space and was, at the time, doubling as a silent auction art venue. Mieko, one half of the husband and wife team led our wine tasting. What’s great about it being a small winery is that they can really focus on the wines that they produce. They had a few reds in stock which were very good. The tasting consisted of a couple of pinot noirs and a red blend. I am generally not a huge fan of red blends (Maybe I’m just being stuck up) but I ended up buying a bottle of theirs, plus a Pinot Noir. If I was going to prepare a cheese plate for my friends, I was going to provide the wine too. Obviously.
To go with our delicious varietals, The Sunflower Cafe provided a Smoked Roast Duck and gruyere sandwich. Served with caramelized onion and on a homemade baguette. It was the perfect companion to all the reds we were tasting. I mean homemade baguette? Duck? Gruyere? I am there!
I kept my earlier promise to myself and sauntered off to Sign of Bear and Basque Boulangerie as the last of the chocolate dissolved on my tongue. No cheese plate is complete without some bread. Sign of the Bear was temptation city. SO. MANY. THINGS. I needed...ok wanted for my kitchen. But since I didn’t check a bag on the flight, it prevented me from buying too much. However, I did get some cute SF/Sonoma coasters. Perfect for perching my glass of Bump Cellar wine upon.
I headed back to the AirBNB to await my friends. Complete with cheese, wine, and truffles.
The rest of the weekend was spent in the company of good food and good conversation...and falling asleep to movies while drinking wine (as you do in your 30s). A few more highlights:
The girls and I rounded our trip with a private guided tour and tasting at Quintessa. Have you seen the movie Wine Country on Netflix? It’s full of funny ladies and wine. Quintessa was one of the wineries that is featured in the movie. The scene where they are harmonizing in the cellar. I HAVE BEEN THERE. I felt cool, at least for a little bit.
Movie aside, if you have the chance go to Quintessa. Go there! Ask for Evan to be your guide. He was knowledgable and AWE-SOME. Mainly because he put up with our shenanigans. The ambience and the wine was delightful. Colee got to try grapes off the vine. We all got to sip wine and take in the views. And you get a delightful flight of wine paired with some cheese and snacks. Read: a lot of wine. After the tour, we took ourselves out to lunch with a view at Auberge du Soliel. Another great view with lunch, where Vanessa had the pleasure of eating her first bone marrow. That made me happy because I love roasted bone marrow. Rich and yummy. (Scroll down for my pics of food. We also enjoyed a leisurely dinner at the Fairmont one evening. )
I’m thankful that I got to spend time with these gals that have put up with me for soooo long. And I am thankful that I will have some great wine to sip and delicious olive oil to eat when I get home. Thanks for being such a good host, Sonoma. See you soon.
If you are a Sonoma county local and have suggestions about where I should visit next time I am there. Let me know! I’ll have more fresh blog posts coming out soon.
Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
(P.S. We got to hit one of my favorite spots in SF - Joe's Cafe. I used to walk there for Bacon, Avocado Omelettes and pancakes when I lived in the city. Perfect last meal to perfect Girls' Weekend.)
NOLA Love: Part 3
This is the last entry of my eating series: NOLA Love, where I take you on an eating journey through the wonderful city of New Orleans. If you missed parts 1 and 2...find them here and here. Let’s get to eating!
It’s Monday. I wake up and find myself thinking of all deliciousness that this city has to offer. Lindy has already gotten up and gone off to work. I feel a little guilty for sleeping in. Just a little. I may have a bit of a food hangover. And probably, a GOT hangover. It’s my last full day in the city for all things food and that makes me a sad panda. I’d better get to putting things in my mouth.
For breakfast I decided to dig into my balls. Of cake. (From Bakery Bar).The ones I neglected to eat last night as we were watching The North battle the Night King at Winterfell. I make some hotel room coffee and open my box of cake. Lindy commented last night that the baked goods were pretty “soft.” As I investigated what was left of our cake balls, I tried some red velvet, some chocolate, and some tres leche. Lindy was right, they were all a little...soft. Not just soft in a moist, well-baked kind of way. It actually felt a little too soft. Oddly moist, as Lindy would say afterwards. Even though we bought a wide array of flavors... (red velvet, chocolate and peanut butter, cookies and cream and tres leche) there was no distinctiveness. The soft, oddly moist texture actually overpowered any flavor there might have been. The cake also leaned toward the sweet side, which didn’t help define any flavors, but instead, it just was a sweet and soft ball. Definitely would have passed the test for design and finesse by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (of The Great British Bake Off fame), but I think would have scored low marks for the flavors being “a bit muddled.”
Today there was no working out, not even pretending to do the minimum. I am going out on the “Garden Tour.” It’s a walking tour, so that counts for exercise right? Last time I was in NOLA, I did a carriage tour around the French Quarter that also went into some history of Marie Laveau (a voodoo practitioner from the 1800s, who is renowned in Nola) and the importance of the cemeteries in the city. I had wanted to do the Garden Tour but didn’t have time to fit it in. I promised Lindy and a couple of her coworkers that I would deliver po-boys during the day. So basically I was on a mission. Take in more of the city and bring back bomb ass food. My husband was flying into NOLA for work that evening and we were all going to go out for dinner. I would finally meet his boss and wife and Lindy would finally meet my husband. She had never met him in the few years that we have been friends, and she is convinced that he is made up. Tonight was the night to prove that he does exist.
Before I leave the hotel room, I note that there is still a bottle of rose in the hotel mini fridge that is in need of finishing. Must make sure I do that. I travel to the Garden District, which is just West of the French Quarter. Remember, I still have no 2019 mobile technology, so I am off exploring on a whim and a paper map. On my way out of the hotel I visit Lindy who is hard at work. She’s being very important as a stage manager for a conference in the hotel. She takes pity on me and lends me her phone for the afternoon. We devise a plan for her to know that I am not dead as I am out on my walking tour. I will periodically email her from her email. Yeah, you read that right.
Plan in place, I jump into a van taxi. I arrive at the meetup point for the tour at the Garden District Book Shop. One of those locally owned bookstores that just make you feel good. I have a few minutes before my tour starts, so I peruse the books. I see that they have the newest book from George R.R. Martin (Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones). I purchase it for my husband (and me) and take off on my tour.
The only photos that I snapped during the walking tour. Cemeteries and Architecture.
Besides the food culture in NOLA, I love that there is always something new to do or see as a tourist every time you visit. NOLA, for me, will be one of those places that I will visit many times in my life and always have something on my to-do list for the next time. Case in point: during the tour, I found my next thing for me to do in between eating adventures: visiting historic slave plantations. Maybe doesn’t sound like a great time to some, but I love learning about the historic and regional culture that makes up a place. That includes all points of history, the pretty AND ugly.
The tour was informative, fun and interesting. It was led by a die hard, born and raised local and she seemed to know EVERYTHING. I felt proud that I was able to answer some trivia questions thanks to our surprise private tour at Antoine’s (Read Part 1, shout out to our back waiter). Having only really explored the French Quarter, like many who visit NOLA, it was fascinating to learn about the gritty past of the entire city and the resiliency of its inhabitants. It is one of the biggest port cities in US and has weathered storms and disease, The Garden District was settled by people coming from farms and The Plains, so the architecture differs from what you find in the French Quarter.
My tour guide was impressed by my eating itinerary and said I was definitely hitting all the right places. I told her that I had initially wanted to go to Domilise’s for po-boys, but felt that it might be a little too far for my limited time, and was going to settle on delivering po-boys from Mother’s to Lindy. My guide said that I absolutely had to go to Domilise’s. Can’t argue with that. Thus, the decision was made. I could walk my happy, food-loving butt down Magazine street to Domilise’s and get delicious po-boys. Which is exactly what I did.
I pop in and out of some artist boutiques and resist the urge to buy treats at every cafe I pass. I keep my mind focused on the po-boys from Domilise’s. I do get Lindy a little present and mentally take note of a NOLA tank top, with the hope that Lindy and I can be annoying and buy matching ones.
I send Lindy an email so that she knows that I have not been Taken (which is good, since I don’t know Liam Neeson). After a few more blocks with substantial thigh rubbing, I arrive at Domilise’s. Tucked off of Magazine St., in a neighborhood, Domilise’s stands on a corner. The only thing that that demarcates that it’s a business is the hand-painted sign.
I see a few people standing around outside and I assume that they have ordered and are waiting for their prized po-boys. Inside this institution was a mix of dive bar and small town diner. It had a lived-in feel...definitely felt historic. And busy! A clump of people were nestled to the side and I noticed they were holding laminated cards with numbers on them. I picked up on the system and searched for the numbered cards. Apparently, I looked like an out-of-towner because after a few moments I was pointed in the direction of the counter (it was literally within one foot of me) where the numbers were being held.
Number 11. Shouldn’t be too bad, I thought. Seems like everyone was waiting for food so I figured that I should be called up in a MacDonald’s minute to order. There were three people bustling about the kitchen and they were working the counter as well. Old school operation with a finely honed system that had been put in place for years. There is no loud speaker or some perky host that comes out to yell your number to tell you that it’s your turn. You have to remain vigilant and pay attention.
Turns out people were waiting not for food but to order. And they were only on number 4. I went back outside since there was no room to wait in the doorway. I watched people walk in and out of the door. Seemed like a mix of locals and tourists. Everyone seemed to know the drill. Grab a number and wait. I eventually started telling people where to grab a number. I felt like I was part of the system.
Some people left after seeing the line. Some people patiently waited for their food before going off to the airport to fly back home. The numbers slowly ticked by and I was happy to stand in the shade, people watch, and wonder if my thighs were going to stop being sweaty and chafing. I made friends with No. 8 so I was able to know when my turn was coming close. No. 8’s wife was from the area and when they are in town they ALWAYS stop at Domilise’s. I was happy that I was going to try a place that was such an icon in the community.
Ok, so after No. 8 left, it seemed like the No. 9 and 10 came around quickly and then it was MY TURN! I am pretty sure I skipped to the counter and I happily handed them No. 11. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t getting no small size. Mine were all large. Obviously.
Fun fact: I love oysters! And my mind had been set on getting an oyster po-boy in my stomach. I order my oyster and couple of shrimp po-boys to bring back to Lindy and I wait a few minutes longer. The ladies in the kitchen moved around almost hypnotically as they threw breaded seafood into the fryer, sliced, and built the sandwiches. She told me that they have been using the same bread for over a 100 years. It gets delivered fresh every morning. Sacks of bread were piled up against a wall all waiting to be turned into delicious sammies.
She rolled and bundled me up. I asked for directions to the streetcar, got pointed in the right direction and off I went. I clutched the bag of po-boys like my life depended on it. No one was taking these from me! I walked my chafed thighs to the streetcar stop and checked my paper map to make sure I was going in the right direction.
Even though I was hungry and tempted, I waited until I got back to the hotel to eat my po-boy. I am very nice eating friend. I went straight to the conference room to deliver the sandwiches (I kind of felt like an awesome Santa) and sat down to finally eat my treasure! These sandwiches had taken a few hours to procure and I was ready to eat.
The bread was crusty and soft. Not quite a baguette or ciabatta but a bread that was made to be a vehicle for shredded lettuce, mayo, tomato and choice of protein with a little hot sauce. I am not sure if I even breathed while I DE-VOUR-ED my po-boy but I do know it was damn good. I could tell that had it been fresh, it would have amped up the awesomeness of it… it was a little soggy by the time I got around to eating...but hey, No. 11 ain’t complaining.
I ate my po-boy quickly enough to get back to my hotel room to wait for my hubby to call since he was landing any minute in NOLA. On the eating itinerary, I had initially planned for Jacque-Imo’s but the only reservations I could get were for people who were their 20s (9pm) or people in their 80s (5pm) and with a five person party we didn’t want to risk standing in line forever. My hubby’s boss and wife (who are locals) helped navigate eating anxiety and suggested Meril. This is the 11th restaurant by Chef Emeril Lagasse but the 4th in NOLA and named for his daughter. I was excited to compare and contrast two of Chef Emeril’s restaurants.
Note: Due to my neverending technology complications, I don’t have all my usual food photos for this section. I used my husband’s phone for ease and after he shared the photos with me he erased them, but I didn’t get them imported...so, alas, no photos.
My husband and I get there early. We are hungry. Naturally. We decided to order something at the bar while we wait for everyone and to quell our appetites. The ambience was very chic and had a youthful and sophisticated vibe to it. They have classy hand crafted cocktails and a good variety of beer and wine. The menu is set up as sharing plates. Great! One of everything please. Okay, we didn’t order one of everything but there were many plates on the table. There was a mix of proteins, veggies (which my husband doesn’t touch), carbs, and cheese engulfing our table.
This is where you can berate me for being a bad food blogger (hey! I am still getting the hang of it). Since, I don’t have any photos to reference, I am not sure of all of what we ordered. I know, I know. Trust me, I know that I am the worst right now. But let me tell you in an overview how I felt about Meril. I think it was creative and clever. There was a definite distinction between the vibe and food crafted between Emeril’s and Meril. I am not a chef restaurateur, but I can imagine how hard it is to craft a vibe that is authentic while cooking up great food at a multitude of restaurants. I would definitely go back and check out Meril again. While the menu offered fare that was more “southern” or “New Orleans,” they definitely took more liberties to play with the flavors and offered more of a global variety of flavors too. It seems like the menu gets updated pretty often because looking at the menu now (Meril menu), there are about 20 things that jump out at me that I must eat...that I know that I didn’t eat when I was there.
But not all is lost… here is one pic at Meril.
Now it is time for THE LAST LUNCH. It is Tuesday and I am flying out today. But first I get to have one last meal with my friend, Lindy. The place is Cochon. The day is sunny and I am wearing pants so my thighs don’t chafe. I am already winning.
We both agree that lunch was good. Across the board good. It hit all the satisfying foodie checkboxes. Well cooked, well seasoned, comforting, and creative.
Lindy wept tears when I had to leave. Ok, she didn’t say she did, but I know that she was crying in her heart. She actually had the afternoon off to go explore NOLA after I left. Like a good student, she took my advice on the eating itinerary and dutifully chose a place that we couldn’t get to.
She went to Port-of-Call. I went there on my first trip to NOLA in 2011 and I was not disappointed. I was told to get a burger with everything and a baked potato. I told Lindy to do the same. She did (minus the sour cream because she’s a heathen). Still, I was proud of her. Lindy also had an amazing po-boy that was pretty close to our hotel. She is still raving about that sandwich. Now, I will have to go back and hunt it down.
I hope you have enjoyed all the LOVE I have for the food of NOLA. I will definitely be back. To eat. To talk with locals. To eat some more. My husband already has two work trips planned to the Crescent City and I am trying to figure out a way to go ...to eat. As far as more eating food trips with Lindy, we are currently trying to figure out where to eat next. Comment below with your suggestions from your travels or must-eat places in your hometown!
Some photos from around Nola. Including me helping Lindy work and her fabulous po-boy and cheese biscuit.
Thanks so much for reading! What are your favorite things to eat in NOLA? Leave a comment! Connect with me on IG @dana.does.things - would love to hear from you! Next week, we got my first Bread Showstopper - a filled loaf! And then it’s on to Dessert Week and some other (smaller) eating adventures.
Until then...happy baking, happy eating, happy repeating.
P.S. Lindy did get us those matching tank tops...
P.P.S The cross stitch that I got for Lindy as a present (she stitched it herself)
P.P.P.S (Last one, I swear) My hubby does exist.
All the juicy facts will be right here.