5 San Diego Restaurant Must Tries

Their marinara sauce was so out of this world loaded with flavour that I don’t think I can ever taste anything as good again.


I have to admit, when we first booked San Diego, I wasn’t really thinking of it as a foodie haven. I suppose I though of it as a LA Lite with Mexican influence due to its proximity to the border. Turns out I was very very wrong. San Diego is a hotbed of amazing restaurants with famous chef such as Richard Blais and Brian Malarkey opening their own. Little Italy and Gaslamp regions in particular offer some amazing options that should not be ignored. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out the the food in San Diego is some of the best I have ever eaten.

  1. Juniper and Ivy: A Richard Blais restaurant that was @benton8tor’s pick for his birthday. It is a tapas style restaurant with some eclectic dishes. The wine list is amazing and I truly appreciated the wine options including a fabulous Sauterne to end the evening. But before we got to that, we started with a ‘deviled egg’ amuse bouche made with a meringue, The stand out dish was definitely the beef tartare topped with quail egg. I am not usually a fan of tartare but this was heavenly. Other standouts were the sea bass, and beet salad. the best standout had to be the service which was exceptional. http://www.juniperandivy.com/p/menu.html

  2. Mimmos is a restaurant in Little Italy. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting much. Italian restaurant can be found in almost any city in the world and despite its location in Little Italy, we weren’t quite sure. Never have I been more wrong Though simple in the presentation, the pasta and sauces are among the best , IMG_1485if not the best I have ever tasted. Their marinara sauce was so out of this world loaded with flavour that I don’t think I can ever taste anything as good again. @benton8tor felt the same way about the meatballs. Service and people watching along the a patio are also fabulous. A must do. http://www.mimmos.biz/
  3. Los Panchos may read like a typical Tex Mex but the salsa, enchiladas , and tequilas are fabulous. Located in the Gaslamp, this restaurant offers your typical; Tex Mex but with some very spicy, authentic flavours. The tequila selection is excellent and it is worth a try.


  4. If you want actual authentic Mexican food. Take a drive south to Tecate, Mexico. Just 45 minutes south at a considerably less busy crossing than Tijuana, Tecate is a sleepy, friendly town. We ate Taqueria Los Arcos with amazing tacos. Since I can’t read or speak Spanish, I didn’t know exactly what I was ordering but the pollo mole was amazing as was the salsa again! Tecate is worth the trip for a more authentic Mexican experience.IMG_1039
  5. Keeping with the Mexican theme, I convinced @bentontor to abandon his hipster coffee morning locales for some Mexican breakfast food. He reluctantly agreed not because he doesn’t like Mexican food but because he loves hipster coffee if it is done well. I on the other hand, could not possibly care less. So off to Cochina 35 it was. Mostly impressed by the aqua fresca, my mango papaya juice was delicious as was the breakfast itself. Instead of the standard hurveros rancheros, we opted for chilaquiles a rancheros, a spicy tomato sauce over tortilla with egg, cheese and meat of your choice. Note, 1 order is more than enough to share. @benton8tor loved it so much he forgot to crave his hipster coffee. http://www.cocina35.com/menus 

San Diego is well worth the foodie visit. There were so many more places to try and so much food to enjoy. Why not go again?

Long and Winding Road… Leads to Pamo Valley

It felt like visiting boutique wine makers who are passionate about product, and indeed it was.

@benton8tor and I knew we needed to escape this long and brutally cold Manitoba winter so we booked a ticket to San Diego not really knowing what to expect other than sunshine. Well we were definitely rewarded with sunshine, but as I did my research, I wanted to visit the underrated San Diego wineries. @benton8tor, who apparently lost his mind but gained a motorcycle license, wanted to do this beautiful drive he read about on a motorbike. He was pretty excited and I was pretty dubious but he assured me the time between stops were short. I should have remembered that @benton8tor’s ability to measure time is suspect at best. After assuring me we would have a very short time on the freeway, we were off. Side-note, @benton8tor has no idea of what ‘short time’ means.

After what was a beautiful if completely terrifying drive through the mountains of California, I was in desperate need of a drink. @benton8tor probably sensing I was seconds away from full on melt down, took it upon himself to help find wine tasting as we were now in Ramona, famous for its many wineries. Though Ramona has many wineries, production relies heavily on the winemakers and most are only open on the weekend for tasting. Luckily we stumbled upon Pamo Valley Wine tasting room, right in Ramona. I say luckily, not just because I needed a glass of wine ( I did) but because it happened to be the best winery we stopped at the entire trip. We were warmly greeted and given a tasting menu. thumbnail_IMG_1048After chatting, we found out that Pamo Valley has a woman wine maker who set up an urban tasting room, so that she can tend to the vines but customers can enjoy the wine everyday. The wine room was cozy, fun and Californian. If I could recommend one wine visit, it would be Pamo. At all the San Diego wineries, the staff, knew the wines, the wine-making process and were proud of their product. It felt like visiting boutique wine makers who are  passionate about product, and indeed it was.

Pamo has some fabulous traditions like the birthday glass (it was @benton8tor’s birthday) a giant glass with a regular glass of wine in it that you drink from and the picture goes on their social media. What struck me as more interesting however is Pamo seemed to be the location for local winemakers to come and drink. A good sign for sure.

I had 6 tastings. The wine was really good. Unlike a lot of California wine, Pamo Valley’s wines were more complex with different spice note and pepper. My favourite was the merlot, spicy, plummy and delicious. It was tons of fun at the winery, meeting other winemakers, chatting and being introduced beautifully to San Diego wines. We stayed way longer than anticipated but I was almost relaxed enough to forget to be terrified on the way home. Almost.IMG_2436

So Why Are You Going To San Diego?

Trips to vineyards? check, Lots of foodie places to eat? check, short day trips, check, microbreweries? check.

” So why are you going to San Diego?” It was a question we were asked often once we told people we had booked a January getaway to San Diego. I get it but it is not a question I hear when we travel to New York, London or Paris. And the reality is, we didn’t know. We knew we wanted to escape the harsh Manitoba winter even for a short while. We aren’t good resort people (understatement) so where could we go? Well luckily San Diego proved affordable even if we didn’t know what we were going to do once we arrived. That can be amazing, not knowing. it is a wonderful way to discover a city without expectations or checklists. That said, we quickly scrambled to find out what matched our interests. Trips to vineyards? check, Lots of foodie places to eat? check, short day trips, check, microbreweries? check. So away we went. We soon found out San Diego had lots more to offer and I could have several blog posts related to San Diego. And I probably will. But just to start, here are my top 5 must dos in San Diego. Yes you will note the absence of the zoo which I hear is a amazing and Sea World which I will never ever recommend. Ever. With that out of the way, here we go:

  1. Microbreweries: San Diego is a haven for beer aficionados. @benton8tor is a beer guy but as he pointed out San Diego offers much much more beer than he could ever hope to try.I am not much of a beer drinker but I will say the stout at Karl Strauss was amazing. https://www.karlstrauss.com/ Half Door Brewing stood out as the best according to my beer guide @benton8tor. Set in an old Victorian building, with two floors include and upper deck patio with amazing views of the ball park.thumbnail_IMG_0939 Beer and service were amazing. http://www.halfdoorbrewing.com/
  2. Little Italy: Our hotel bordered Little Italy, at first I was thinking ah, what’s the big deal? Well some of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at are located in Little Italy. Celebrity chef Richard Blais has his restaurant Juniper and Ivy in Little Italy, http://www.juniperandivy.com/ so  does Brian Malarkey have Herb and Eatery.

    Salt and Straw is THE place for  gelato but https://saltandstraw.com/ it is Mimmos on India St where I ordered basic pasta with marinara sauce. It was so out of this world amazing that I am worried that no other pasta will ever be as good. Even the pasta I ate in Rome wasn’t this good. I seriously can’t wait to go back. http://www.mimmos.biz/

  3. Gaslamp is the hip happening district. Full of pretty much everything, chains food and shopping, there is also small shops and restaurants, interesting architecture and lots of fun. Side note, @benton8tor may have discovered that tequila will make hot food hotter so if eating Mexican, make sure to ask for some water. He said the tequila was amazing though.
  4. Coronado Island: Super touristy, super worth it for the Hotel Del Coronado if nothing else. The hotel is Victorian and boasts some of the best views of the Pacific while enjoying a drink or snack.  https://hoteldel.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=google-my-business Also prone to fog, its still worth the trip. Should mention that the Maritime museum offers a boat trip in the bay with views of Coronado Island. The Maritime museum is amazing!!! https://sdmaritime.org/ Complete with old sailing ships such as Star of India and A Russian and US Sub.thumbnail_IMG_1292
  5. Day trips: San Diego is close for day trips to explore under appreciated and under valued spots in California. Though this will be a separate post. Escondido and Ramona are under an hour away complete with some excellent wineries. Tijuana is very close, you can drive further east, park the car at the border and walk into Teacate Mexico. Tecate is also a separate post but it is a small town with a beautiful square, amazing food and home to the Tecate brewery. thumbnail_IMG_1023The border is so much easier. Make sure you have time to check out Julian and the famous Julian Pie company for what is rumored (and @benton8tor confirmed) delicious apple pie. https://www.julianpie.com/

I would obviously add Balboa Park and La Jolla and driving up the coast but we ran out of time, So look for them next time. Because San Diego, there will be a next time.

For the Love of France

This is constant reminder to me to slow down, enjoy food, enjoy friends, enjoy scenery and most importantly enjoy Provence.

This hasn’t been a good week for France and Francophiles around the world with the loss of literary icon and avowed Francophile Peter Mayle and ‘the Pope of french cuisine’ Paul Bocuse. Peter Mayle may be most famous for a Year in Provence, his memoir of moving to Provence from England in the late 80s but he wrote many other famous novels that celebrated not only Provence,


but French culture and the way of life. He also wrote the Good Year, a novel that was made into a movie by his neighbour Ridley Scott. My dad and I watch this movie every chance we get. Not because it is a great movie but because the scenery is stunning and the implication is clear, Provence encourages you to slow down and enjoy your life. http://www.petermayle.com/ Paul Bocuse is incredibly famous and revered for his French food. His restaurant L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges is famous for gaining its 3rd Michelin star in 1965 and keeping it every since (over 52 years) and for founding the Bocuse D’Or,  often refereed to as the world culinary Olympics, a cooking competition that takes place in Lyon every 2 years.https://www.bocuse.fr/fr/

It is not just their accomplishments that have left me feeling sad this week but rather the way they both championed French food, culture and way of life. Peter Mayle in particular for me was instrumental in celebrating French, rather Provencal life. His books could easily transport you to Provence, you could almost smell the lavender, see the cafes, taste the wine and food and feel the sunshine. It was a constant reminder for me to slow down, enjoy my food, enjoy my friends and enjoy my life

Market in L’ile Sur La Sorgue

. I have to admit this is much easier when I travel, especially to Provence. It would be easy to say, of course it is easier when you travel, you are on vacation. That said, Provence has enjoyment, love of life and time built into the culture. Businesses close in the early afternoon for either long lunches or a nap, the patisseries open early in the morning for french bread and pastries, the markets are full of the wonderful scents of fresh fruit, olives, tomatoes. Lunches are not the quick sandwich at a desk I am used to here but rather often 3 courses with wine on a patio. There is not talk of carbs, calories,  fat etc.. Just enjoyment of fresh food that is also freshly prepared. This isn’t to say fast food or calories counting doesn’t exist in Provence, it just isn’t the norm. My favourite memories of Provence are exactly what Peter Mayle describes sitting on the terrace of Le Jardin in Gordes,https://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g187248-d2262447-r172101039-Le_Jardin-Gordes_Luberon_Vaucluse_Provence_Alpes_Cote_d_Azur.html enjoying a fabulous salad at L’Orangeraie in the Ile de Porquerolles, or enjoying the fabulous wine and charcuterie at Restaurant l’Instant in Le Lavandou , http://www.restaurantlinstant.sitew.com/#ACCUEIL.A attending the weekly market in l’Ile Sur La Sorgue or tasting wine anywhere and everywhere. I love Provence not only for its beauty and culture but the reminder to slow down and enjoy what life has to offer.

Paul Bocuse on the other hand was based in France’s gastronomic capital Lyon. Though I haven’t eaten at his restaurant, reading about him, his food and watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode where he eats with Paul Bocuse. Paul Bocuse inspired me to try new dishes, not to be afraid of unusual ingredients, appreciate classic cooking and ignore food trends. Rather to eat what you want and appreciate it for the food rather than because it is trendy (looking at you kale, which I still hate). In short, Paul Bocuse inspired me to enjoy food for foods sake and understand the importance of quality ingredients. I would argue the use of quality ingredients is very prevalent in France.

Peter Mayle wrote in a Year in Provence

“And, as for the oil, it is a masterpiece. You’ll see.”Before dinner that night, we tested it, dripping it onto slices of bread that had been rubbed with the flesh of tomatoes. It was like eating sunshine.”

This quote in all its simplicity constant reminder to me to slow down, enjoy food, enjoy friends, enjoy scenery and most importantly enjoy Provence.

Bandol for Wine or Sea?

So we bought a few more bottles with the intention of coming back, tasting more and exploring more in Bandol as soon as we could.

Though I consider myself a francophile with a special love for Provence, I am embarrassed to admit, I knew little about Bandol. I mean I had heard of it, I am not entirely sure I knew it was a town on the Mediterranean, I think I associated it as a wine region. Which it is of course. However all that changed back in 2016. @benton8tor and I were visiting Provence and staying in Aix on Provence. After a crazy busy year and a very time table oriented first part of vacation, we decided to relax once we got to Provence and see where the days would take us.

Well one of those days took us to Bandol. I actually can’t remember why, probably in the back of my brain I knew it was a wine region even though I knew very little about it. So one morning @benton8tor and I piled into the car, not really sure of what we would find. Well Upon arriving in Bandol on market day, we were surprised on how quickly we found parking. If anyone has been to a French town on market day this was indeed a miracle.20160907_120616 Bandol was larger than we thought and its main boulevard along the Mediterranean was stunning. Unlike Nice with its stone beaches. Bandol had expanses of sand stretching out towards that blue sea. Behind the sand and marinas is boulevard complete with shops, bars, restaurants, and the market. We could easily spend the day in Bandol. poking around the shops, lying on the beach and drinking wine while looking out to the sea. As I write this, it is a snowy, windy January day in Winnipeg and I am ready to book a ticket in the next 15 minutes back to sunny beautiful Bandol.  If only.IMG_4959

After a quick glass of rose at Bar Pouponne http://www.bandol.eu/bar-poupoune with its prime location right on the Boulevard, I let @benton8tor reluctantly pull me away to get lunch at the market before wine tasting in Bandol AOC that afternoon. We toured the market and I felt so very French, stopping at one stall to pick that perfect Baguette, stopping at another for the perfect cherry tomatoes (there is nothing like a Provencal tomato, they are simply the most delicious things on the  planet), and my final stop with the hardest choice, what cheese to buy. I settled on a soft goats cheese and a more robust hard sheep’s cheese with rosemary. Off we went into the Bandol countryside. It is remarkable that not 10 minutes previously we were on the sea and now surrounded by small villages, rolling hills and vineyards. After arguing exactly were to stop, we found the single most perfect lunch spot in Cadiere D’Azur. But first we needed to find our most important picnic element, wine. Stopping in the Bar Central, the proprietor as super friendly and able to pick a light floral Provencal rose for @benton8tor, and a delightful Southern Rhone wine for me. However, we were in a conundrum, we had forgot our opener. Unfortunately the Bar Central Didn’t sell them and because Cadiere D’Azur is small, many of the stores had closed for lunch. Our helpful new friend suggested using our shoe and banging it on the stone street. @ benton8tor seemed to think this was good idea.


Convinced they had both lost their minds, I headed back out into the sun, my mood black as my perfect French picnic would now be without wine. However it is hard to keep a bad mood for long as the views in Cadiere D’Azur are stunning and my French picnic was delicious. I started to eat, ignoring @benton8tor who I was sure was about to break a bottle of Rose and possible ruin his shoe. I turned around 10 minute later to watch him start guzzling the rose (in his defense it was hot and banging cork out of bottle is work). Yes the bizarre method of banging a bottle against the ground in a shoe had sent the cork out far enough @benton8tor could get it ut and enjoy the wine. It worked.

After leaving Cadiere  D’Azur we stopped for wine tastings at the delightful Domaine L’Olivette for some exceptional Bandol reds. I did not think that Provencal reds could be big, spicy and well rounded, but the Bandol reds are! http://www.domaine-olivette.com/ And I thoroughly enjoyed them. After buying a few bottles we made our way to Domaine Le Galantin for some http://www.le-galantin.com/ delightful rose and reds with the kindest proprietor. They take immense pride in their wine and it shows. So we bought a few more bottles with the intention of coming back, tasting more and exploring more in Bandol as soon as we could.

Champagne or Sparkling? Or Both?

some of the small champagne producers in the region are producing fabulous wines at at fraction of the cost. And Champagne is beautiful as a region, so obviously I will have to go back. The only question is how soon and where to visit?

As far back as I can remember I thought champagne was wine. Sorry I thought sparkling wine was wine, but my grandma called it champagne. In fact it was Baby Duck wine and I owe champagne, wait any sparkling wine, wait any drink you put in your mouth a huge apology for thinking Baby Duck was champagne. Or a drink of any kind. Baby Duck was a big deal in the 70s, the only way I can describe it is extra sweet alcoholic 7-up (sorry 7-up). But my grandmother loved it and I learned to associate champagne with glamour, special occasions, and celebrations. So obviously I wanted in.

It wasn’t until I was 19 I got try try actual champagne. My mom had bought a bottle of Dom Periginon to celebrate a birthday I think. Though my palate was underdeveloped (quite probably from a university diet of Kokanee beer and Southern Comfort, thankfully not together, but still shudder), I loved it. Bearing no resemblance to Baby Duck this s champagne was delicious and unfortunately  for my mother, it is the only champagne she drinks.

I say that because, the world of champagne, indeed sparkling wine are vast. varied, and delicious. I was always fascinated by champagne and learned quite early on that only the Champagne region of France can produce actual champagne. Everything else is a sparkling wine, or a cava, or a cremant, or a prosecco. Well you get the idea. But I didn’t really understand the difference. So I did what anyone would do, set a serious course of study and travel to understand the difference. That is my fancy way for saying, I started drinking a lot of sparking wine. champagne

My first real foray into the sparkling wine arena came courtesy of @benton8tor’s British cousins. My first trip to the UK was in 2006 and we were meeting them at a pub. For lunch. I thought we’d be ordering a beer maybe. Upon greeting us, his cousin ordered a bottle of Tattinger Champagne.( We actually ended up finshing 2 the rest of that day is a bit of a haze) I am still unsure if I was more surprised that the pub carried champagne or that we ordered a bottle for lunch. By the way, I have definitely gotten over the surprise at ordering a bottle of wine for lunch and embraced it. Though I still haven’t embraced the breakfast beer. Teresa poured us a glass and another and another. By this time, my palate had evolved and I was in, in in. This champagne was fascinating. The bubbles were light, with a hint of toast which I later found out is quite common due to the amount of time the wine rests sur lie ( on dead yeast cells). Ok champagne, lets do this.

However my budget can’t afford non stop champagne so I had to try other sparkling wines. I stupidly thought because they weren’t champagne, they’d be inferior, they aren’t. They are just different. I have tried cremants from Limoux in Languedoc France ( the actual birthplace of sparkling wine). They are delicious, light, easy drinking with still those toasty, nutty notes. I loved cremants from both Bourgogne and Jura. In fact I love sitting on a patio in Beaune on a hot day enjoying a Bourgogne cremant. It feels both decadent and light. thumbnail_IMG_0721

The British have really embraced champagne and upon visiting London, we often book afternoon tea complete with champagne (usually Tattinger or Bollinger). Eating those delightful cakes and tea sandwiches with a glass of bubbly is heaven. Sometimes I remember to drink the tea. The Royal Hourseguards offers a fabulous champagne tea. https://www.guoman.com/en/london/the-royal-horseguards/restaurants/afternoon-tea.html That said I personally love going to the old OXO tower factory that is converted with the fabulous OXO tower restaurant and enjoying a glass of one of their many champagnes while gazing out over the Thames.  http://www.oxotower.co.uk/who/oxo-tower-restaurant-bar-brasserie/This last trip to London we  found ourselves with sometime to kill before boarding he train at St Pancras. So obviously we had to go to the Searcy Champagne bar. http://searcysstpancras.co.uk/ Right in the middle of the station, this bar offers a extensive selection of champagne is a super cool art deco environment. It make you feel special and relaxed. Just like champagne!!! It really is the drink of celebration.

At home, cavas and prosseccos are readily available and I have learned to appreciate the cavas especially. Cavas are a sparking wine from Spain and have similar charactertics to the Limoux cremants. All these cremants,  cavas and California and Canadian sparkling wines (thankfully not baby duck) are made in the traditional method or ancestral (which is different but still recognized) method., which means they are made the same way as champagne,aged sur lie though less time,  riddled, disgorged, with a cuvee ect.. but they have a different climate, soil and grapes (well sometimes).Prosecco the Italian sparkling wine is not made in the traditional method. It is a light bright, sparkling wine and very approachable. It is not my favourite. It lack the complexity and flavours of the other sparkling wine which is appealing for some. Just not me. Either way I have learned to appreciate the less expensive but delicious cousins of champagne and use them for celebrations like Canada Day,melting snow, housewarmings, birthdays, Christmas, and Tuesdays. However champagne still has my heart.

It was this love for champagne that took me to its epicentre Reims. Reims for those of us who watched Max the Mouse cartoons growing up is where Joan of Arc met Charles the Dauphin. It is also home to the Reims catherdral where every French King was crowned.http://www.cathedrale-reims.com/ It is also the capital of Champagne and famous for St Remi converting Clovis to Christianity. thumbnail_IMG_0723And it is home to some of the most famous Champagne Houses on the planet. Mumm, Pommery, Bollinger, they are all there.  https://www.champagne-bollinger.com/en/INT/ But I had my sights set on Veuve Clicquot. Famous for being led by the widow Clicquot (hence the name Veuve Clicquot) in the 1700s who came up with the idea for riddling racks that ensure we don’t actually drink the dead yeast cells, Veuve Clicquot is rumored to be among the very best. https://www.veuveclicquot.com/en-ca

And it is. The tour led by an amazing guide Sammi Jo explains the difference and the process of crafting these beautiful wines. Champagne is set on a very distinct soil of limestone and chalk with fossilized sea creatures. Champagne is very far north for a wine producing region with less sunlight than the southern regions.  This contributes to a very distinct flavour profile. As well they take their traditions very seriously from the blending of the wine, to the riddling, to the aging to the opening of the bottle. Despite what popular culture tells us don’t pop that bottle. Instead use a towel and gently twist the cork out, you sure hear a soft hiss. This preserves the integrity and bubble in the wine and quite honestly it is much much safer. Also make sure you have the right glass to drink it in. The tulip shaped is best for fully appreciating the champagne. Flute is second best. Though retro and fun, a coupe is a terrible champagne glass and does nothing for appreciating the complexities of this delightful wine. The tour at Veuve Clicquot started with an explanation of the region and the grapes they use  ( only 3  Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay) On a 30 degree day and sweating we descended into the chalk cellar and it got cool really quickly. This is here the champagne we will later enjoy starts its life in the bottle. The cellars are fascinating but my favourite moment obviously is Sammi Jo pouring us a glass of Vintage Veuve Clicquot and it is simply the best champagne I  ever tasted. Light with floral and toast with the best bubbles, I finished my mothers as well. I am almost sure she was ok with that. Veuve Clicquot knocked it out of the park. I would recommend visiting the other houses as well. http://www.champagnepommery.com/en/marque/champagne-pommery Reims is a beautiful city that has tons to offer including said cathedral with Stained glass made by Mark Chagall. So take time to see it along with the Champagne houses. That said, some of the small champagne producers in the region are producing fabulous wines at at fraction of the cost. And Champagne is beautiful as a region, so obviously I will have to go back. The only question is how soon and where to visit?

But for now it is is the end of 2017 and start of 2018. So that means time to celebrate this first year of Vines and Voyages and welcome 2018 with a glass of Veuve  Clicquot of course. Cheers!thumbnail_IMG_0739

We’ll Always Have Paris

But back to the city of lights, Paris has so much to offer, so much history, so many romanticized locations, so many literary and historical monuments, really so much life where do you begin?

Paris, Paris, Paris, City of lights,  epicentre of art, culture, food, Paris. I have hesitated to write about Paris, thought i have visited twice. Not because I don’t’ love it, I do but how can i possibly do Paris justice? I can’t. Paris can be divisive, people love it or hate it. I fall firmly in the former. I love love love it. Despite its reputation Paris is clean, crazy amazingly beautiful and in my experience, very friendly. Sometimes if I am talking to someone who has outdated stereotypes about Paris, they will sneer ” friendly, are you sure you were in Paris?” Yes I am sure. By the way, the same said people do not like it when you suggest it is their attitude that may be the reason they don’t experience the same level of friendliness.  But back to the city of lights, Paris has so much to offer, so much history, so many romanticized locations, so many literary and historical monuments, really so much life where do you begin?Europe 2006 149

Well it is probably best to begin the first time I saw Paris (the cliches will be endless). My first European trip, I was the most excited about Paris! So excited that I exited the train at the Gare du Nord without a backwards glance and @benton8tor struggled to keep up ( well not really but he wasn’t quite as excited as me). Because we exited the train below ground I was surprised and none to pleased to see a pigeon on this level. Pigeons are my nemesis and by far biggest fear. This was not boding well. It didn’t get better, Gare du Nord was undergoing construction and pigeons were abundant. I was starting to panic. @benton8tor was busy scanning for a place to queue up for a cab. “There’s no time” I say calmly to him, “there’s too many pigeons about.” @benton8tor still maintains I screamed it at him. Regardless I was busy hailing a cab. “that won’t work here”, he tells me ” we have to queue up.” While he is relaying this inaccurate but actually polite information, a cab stops in the centre lane and the driver is beginning to load our bags. I jump in the cab, grateful for the pigeon respite and @benton8tor follows suit, though still gobsmacked. We set off for the Hotel Beaubourg in the Marais district.Europe 2006 123

This is the point my brain started to function again and I can now give my commendations for Paris Must Dos (according to me).

  1. Stay in the Marais. Because I love France so much and travel there as frequently as I can, people often assume I am traveling to Paris ( I am not ). So when they decide to travel to Paris they ask me where to stay. Based on my 2 times, I always recommend the Hotel Beaubourg in the Marais. Located right beside the Centre Pompidou, the Hotel Beaubourg is friendly, elegant, and affordable. Our room had a beautiful terrace to sit out and drink wine at the end of the night. http://www.beaubourg-paris-hotel.com/

2.  Paris is an art lovers dream. Though it is huge ( and I mean huge) the Lourve is an absolute must do. However be prepared, the Mona Lisa is small and the lineups to see it are huge. Also they do not allow photography and it is imperative to respect that. The Venus de Milo is right there however! The Louvre offers lots to see including the French Europe 2006 157crown jewels, which you can see up close!! http://www.louvre.fr/en 

The Musee D’Orsay located in former train station offers the best opportunity to see the works of the impressionists! And a stunning view of the Sacre Couer from the upstairs window! Musee D’Orsay offers an easy to maneuver, unique experience. I also have a thing for dance so I particularly like the Degas paintings. They also feature lesser known impressionists too. http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/home.html Don’t miss it. And The Centre Pompidou is an amazing venue for cutting edge art. See both https://www.centrepompidou.fr/enEurope 2006 183

3. Wander around! Paris is a very walk able city and any arrondissement will offer a fabulous array of restaurants, squares, side streets with charm and shopping. My personal favourites are the Marais, The Opera, and the Rue du Rivoli. Walking the Rue St Honore just off the Rue Du Rivoli is a must do. It is Paris’s first upscale shopping street easy to walk and a fabulous place to watch the world go by. I recommend Le Musset a great place for a snack and a drink.Europe June 2010 084 The food is delicious and fresh. http://lemusset.paris/categories/share/.

4. Go to Paris Landmark such as Le Dome ( In Montparnasse) not by the Eiffel Tower which is another restaurant entirely and the only sub par restaurant I have ever encountered in Paris. The Famous Le Dome is famous for a reason and worth the visit for the food and the art deco atmosphere.  https://menuonline.fr/en/le-dome Cafe De Paix is also worth the visit!http://www.cafedelapaix.fr/en/

5. Sit and watch the world go by. Any of the restaurants in the Ile de Cite offer stunning views of the Notre Dame Cathedral (where you should visit once you are done! both the inside and the outside are exquisite) and good wine selections. If you want food or different views cross the bridge back to the Marais and sit on the patio at Bistrot Marguerite along the Seine. Enjoy a red wine from anywhere in France and some delicious salads and steak http://www.bistrotmarguerite.com/.

We arrived late to Bistrot Marguerite once and they sill seated us, gave recommendation, ensured we enjoyed our food and were very kind. Or walk back the Louvre and cross the street for the Carousel  for some pasta, French wine and beer and a super arm welcome! Also you are more likely to eat with Parisians at this spot. https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d2395201-Reviews-Le_Carrousel-Paris_Ile_de_France.html

6. Finally Visit the Famous Les Halles market. I is amazing and you will be so stoked you did!http://forumdeshalles.com/ And then walk back over to the Pont Neuf and get on a boat for a sunset tour of Paris. Paris from the Seine is beautiful, As well many people relax along the Seine with wine, food and sometimes music. http://www.bateauxparisiens.com/It is a delight and confirms every romantic notion you will have ever had about Paris. Finally get a bus tour. Paris has so much to see the the hop on hop off tours are an excellent way to see the main sites including the bastille, Place du Concorde, Arc de Triumph, Champs Elysees, Sacre Couer, Monmarte, etc…

Paris, I really can’t do it justice but suffice it to say Paris, je t’aime.

Tis the Season, What Should I Drink?

6 tastings ranging from champagne (yes actual champagne not a sparking) to white to lighter reds to stronger reds to a white port. And the advice was somewhat surprising albeit very practical

Ahh December, Making the rounds of various holiday parties, events, friend get togethers and family gatherings. Also full of food and drink. And usually lots of it. It can be a challenge trying to figure out what wine pairs best with Christmas day dinner, what cocktail to have and when to serve what drink.  My MO is usually to bring my favourite French wine and I don’t really think much beyond that. So When I saw that Le Boutique Del Vino’s wine course, Christmas Crushers which offered suggestions on what to drink and what to pair, I convinced some of my wine club to come with http://www.piazzadenardi.com/chefs-dinner-wine-tasting-events-calendar

The course was exactly what we all needed! 6 tastings ranging from champagne (yes actual champagne not a sparking) to white to lighter reds to stronger reds to a white port. And the advice was somewhat surprising albeit very practical. For instance, champagne is often used for celebration, no surprise there but recommending small boutique producers as an affordable option was so helpful!! As well they recommended not saving your big, amazing wine for Christmas (@benton8tor and I have definitely done this) because you will lose the wine.thumbnail_IMG_0373 Instead they recommend saving the wine for a time when it can be the star and use the holiday dinner for a different wine. And I was caught off guard when they said no pinot noir. Again it made sense as they recommended paring with the other dinner items like stuffing, potatoes and vegetables. Again made perfect sense. He suggested wines from Spain, South Africa or South America. Panic started to set in for me. What about France? I thought. Luckily he told me  a southern Rhone would be perfect and I calmed down. Our table was divided, one half of us loved the Italian red from Tuscany, the white port, champers, blue cheese and fig. The other half loved the red from Australia, the white and the cheese with cherries. thumbnail_IMG_0379We are perfectly matched. Boutique del Vino at Piazza Di Nardi offers wine courses every 2 weeks and the courses are always fabulous. It is a great opportunity to find out more about wine.Also i bought the white port and @benton8tor loved it so much so he was ready to throw away years of tradition of drinking Sherry on Christmas for his new best friend white port.thumbnail_IMG_0378

OK, I had wine covered but what about cocktails? Well I decided to head over to Capital K, a new Manitoba craft distiller and currently the only craft distiller in Manitoba. http://www.capitalkdistillery.com/ Turns out distilling is quite intense and expensive. Capital K offer tours and tastings in their brand new facility. Here I got the helpful tips of the difference between top shelf and bottom shelf liquor.

Turns out bottom shelf liquor usually contains more methane which is a rougher drink and contributes to hangovers easier. Also rough liquors are usually paired with high sugar and that can be a headache worthy combo. Capital K is a whole other blog post but suffice to say they use local Manitoba products as much as possible including wheat and other grains. They also infuse with fresh products like Manitoba strawberries and rhubarb and in the case of dill pickle vodka, cucumber, dill and horseradish (not pickle juice). We bough the vodkas infused with strawberry and rhubarb, dill pickle, and espresso. We immediately had the dill pickle vodka in a Caesar and it the freshest Caesar I have ever enjoyed.thumbnail_IMG_0480IMG_4698

The season can be a demand on time and energy and often I fell like I need  vacation when it is over. In fact many of my friends have started doing just that. Instead of buying presents they simply go away, relax and recharge. That isn’t an option for everyone so whether is is claiming a night or 2 for your self with wine and popcorn, going away for a weekend with wine, cheese and cold meats or a full fledged vacation, just take the time t relax and enjoy your favourite flavours. As for me, well its time to crack open that champers.


Lake District Love

My personal favourite is the village of Askham, home to the Queens Head Inn a 17th century pub, with copper top bar, excellent food, and many ales from which to choose

When I travel, I love to visit wine regions too, sometimes well known, sometimes finding underrated regions but the Lake District in England is not a wine region. So why did I ravel there? Well aside from the obvious to me, that is where my family is from originally, the Lake District is beautiful, like stunningly beautiful with excellent food, friendly people, beautiful pottery and wine! But wine from other countries so if you want to stick to local, Scotch or Whisky from Scotland just to the north or British ale are your best bets.

We have visited the Lake District twice and there is lots to do depending on what you like.  Do you like Beatrix Potter? Well you are in luck, head to Bowness on Windermere! Like to hike (or if you are in the UK walk)? Well you can hike Hadrian’s Wall, the remnants of the Roman wall dividing Scotland and England, or hike many many travels in the Lake District itself! Like food and being pampered? Well the Lake District offers many Country Houses that are now spa hotel with farm to table food, English teas and total relaxation! Here are my recommendations:

  1. Visit the villages, often small and unassuming, they are less likely than the larger towns to be packed with tourists. Often beautiful with stores offering local  products, it is the perfect place to relax and walk around. My personal favourite is the village of Askham, home to the Queens Head Inn a 17th century pub, with copper top bar, excellent food, and many ales from which to choose. http://www.queensheadinnaskham.co.uk/en-GB/homepage Askham also boasts my favourite potter, Stuart Broadhurst who uses material from the Lake district itself to give his pottery its unique colour. @benton8tor still swears the teapot we bought from Stuart is the very best teapot

    ever.http://www.stuartbroadhurstceramics.co.uk/index.html Askham Hall, A luxury hotel opened in a 12 th Century Country House offers tea, luxury and regional food. A must do.https://www.askhamhall.co.uk/

  2. See Hadrian’s Wall. I am embarrassed to admit that when @benton8tor insisted we see Hadrian’s Wall, I was kind of unwilling, I thought so what. Well I was wrong wrong wrong. Hadrian’s Wall is unique in that it is Roman Structure, that isn’t a museum, you just walk right up.

    Many sections of the Wall are missing but some still have the Garrisons intact. Side-note: you may have to share a photo or two with one of the sheep who often claim the wall as their own. http://hadrianswallcountry.co.uk/

  3. Try the real ales. yes yes yes, I love wine but the British Real Ale movement is gaining ground for a reason. Though I am still not now and not ever going to be a fan of IPAs (shudder) the brown ales with the nutty flavours and the red ales are often really interesting if quite filling.  If you are a bit of a beer lightweight like me, it is probably best to go for the half pint.  Try the Beehive pub in Carlisle for a good selection. https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/cumbria/beehive/?utm_source=g_places&utm_medium=locations&utm_campaign=
  4. Go to Kendal and Cockermouth. Kendal for its beauty right on the River and Cockermouth for its history as home of Willem Wordsworth and its market.2012Jun15-8980-KendalG9-BeastBanksRd.jpg
  5. Check out the churches, especially in the north. The Church in the village of Kirkbride is quite old (by North American standards) and made with stone pillaged from Hadrian’s Wall.http://www.kirkbridecommunity.co.uk/local-amenities/church/  When you are done head to the post office to try what @Benton8tor swears are the best Cornish pasties ever.Once you are done you can get into a spirited debate about how to pronounce pastry, After that you best head for a beer. Oh Yeah the post office is a post office, small store, liquor store and lunch counter, so post office doesn’t really capture it. Try the local honey too! It is very tasty.

Whatever you decide to do in the Lake District, you won;t be disappointed. The food is amazing I say for the cheese, @benton8tor swears it is he pasties and fish and chips, the views are out of this world and the history is right there! Enjoy!

Wine My Way

As an avowed Francophile, I love French wine. In fact French wine is a big part of why I am a Francophile. French wine varies exponentially on taste, price and complexity. And I don’t love every single wine I have had from France, but I have been a red wine drinker for over 20 years now. I know what I like, and what I like 20 years from now may be completely different. My wine journey started with drinking Italian Chianti and since then has covered many many countries, grapes and flavours. And despite appearances, I don’t just drink wine from France, I love discovering unknown or underrated wine regions ( Missouri, Bulgaria) and I love certain wines from all countries. Ok love might be a strong word for how I feel about wine from Australia but that isn’t because Australia doesn’t produce good wine, It is because Australia has  a climate and soil that produces early ripening and certain fruit flavours in the wine that I don’t particularly enjoy. A Cabernet Sauvignon, isn’t just a Cabernet Sauvingon, climate, soils and production methods all play a large role. But I didn’t always know this. However 20+ years of being a wine drinker, well you gain some insight ad that is exactly what this post is about.

When we go to a restaurant and are asked how you like your steak, no one bats an eye at your response (unless you order it blue rare, in which case your friend Lisa will worry there is something wrong with you). No one shames tea drinkers for preferring loose leaf over bags. When out for breakfast and asked how you like your eggs, the table doesn’t say ” well she ordered scrambled because she is an egg snob.” and my favourite” I’ll have a coke.” Is pepsi ok?” “Umm no.” So why do human beings love to shame wine drinkers? It isn’t meant to be hurtful, that I know but it happens very very frequently. So much so that for a long time, I tried to hide my preferences, pretending that any glass would do ( for me it doesn’t), Saying any red is ok, (it isn’t,), and being asked white zinfandel could substitute for red. That one I was never ever ok with saying yes. In recent years, I have stopped caring. I like red wine, particularly from France, I also like port, desert wines, and occasionally a white or rose. And I like them served in the correct glass as the glass helps with the full expression of the wine. Champagne served in a coupe is fun and retro and will ensure you drink flat champagne rather quickly as a coupe is a terrible glass to actually appreciate the champagne.For me a big bold Bourgogne, should be served in a glass made for Burgundy wines in order to best appreciate the expression of the wine. Some wines need to be aerated or they stay tight and you can’t really appreciated the fullnesIMG_8975s of their flavour. White wine served in a red wine glass or overly chilled probably won’t do anything to enhance the flavour.

My biggest pet peeve is being told I need to drink more than French wine or that I am a wine snob. Why shouldn’t I drink what  I like? In all my years as a wine drinker it is safe to assume that I have drunk wine from other countries often and I will continue to do so. In fact at my wine club last night, we tried some absolutely fabulous Spanish wines with very different flavours.But because my favourite is French, why shouldn’t I be able to enjoy it at my leisure? As I mentioned before French wine is extremely varied, sometimes I am in the mood for a Southern Rhone, other times a Bandol or Beaujolais. All different even in those regions themselves. Also when it comes to buying wine, I do usually buy French. In fact unless I am at a French restaurant in Winnipeg, I don’t usually get French wine when I am out. In fact at one restaurant recently, I asked why they didn’t have french wine wine on the menu. “Well, we are an Italian restaurant” Fair point though questionable that they were actually Italian. I pointed out that they had many wines from Australia, Chile, Argentina, United States and Spain. I think they probably spit in my food for being annoying.

My preference for French wine has come from travel, wine tours, wine classes and courses that have taught me to look for what I like in a wine and how to appreciate it to its full potential. At  Olivier Leflavie in Puligny Montrachet, I finally understood the difference climate and soil have on the flavour of a grape which is why a pinot noir from Bourgone will taste very different than one from Napa. https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/en/At my wine club, we once has a presenter and she taught me to stick my nose completely in the glass to actually smell the wine’s bouquet. She was right, it makes a huge difference. Elevage wines taught me what to look for in a natural wine.https://www.elevage-selections.com/ Sandeman got me to appreciate white ports and understand the difference between tawny and ruby.http://www.sandeman.com/ Veuve Cliquot taught me about how Champagne tastes at its full potential in the correct glass. https://www.veuveclicquot.com/en-int All of this has contributed to my understanding and enjoyment of wine.34846_447591030139_3264704_n

That said, when it comes to wine, I am a big believer in doing what is right for you. If you like wine in a plastic glass, good for you, no one should shame you for your preferences, as long as you enjoy it. Do you like Copper Moon? Good then drink it! Just do what is right for you and what you enjoy. I have 3 friends who aren’t going to let other people’s judgments ruin how they like their wine. One travels with a portable aerator, one carries her own wine glass to parties and the other has a wine travel case for topical locations so she doesn’t have to drink wine out of a red solo cup poolside.. I love them for it. And most people are very supportive of my wine choices. My hip hop class is one of the few places I will enjoy a post class glass of wine in a plastic cup. Probably because the company is so good but also no one wants glass in a studio. And I love it. That class knows my choices and they support them, as does my wine club, my friends etc.. sure they may tease me but they absolutely support me. The judgment I am referring to usually comes non wine drinkers or well meaning people who don’t know me well. But however well meaning, you don’t need to defend your choice or be labeled a snob for doing so, that’s just how you enjoy it and keep doing it.

So enjoy your wine your way. And if someone doesn’t enjoy wine your way, well so be it just let them enjoy it their way. Unless they are drinking white zinfandel in which case it is your job as a fellow human to intervene. Cheers!