So, You Want to Go to Wine Country.

With the release of the Netflix film Wine Country, it’s obvious that friend getaways spent swirling around to myriad wine tastings have made it deep into the mainstream. After all, what’s better than escaping your day-to-day to spend some deserved time tipping back glasses with your best pals? 

Here’s one thing that’s better: a trip to wine country that reaps the rewards of an evening spent doing some thoughtful, proactive planning.  There are a few bases to cover. Let’s start at the beginning —

So, you want to go to wine country.

If you throw a dart at a map of the US, there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll land somewhere in the vicinity of a wine producing region. From the highlands of Texas to the picturesque, sprawling vineyards throughout California, all the way to the shores of Lake Michigan — which I just learned some people refer to as “Napa of the Midwest” — there are plenty of potential wine-fueled weekends to be had.

So, where is wine country?

Let’s start with the U.S. — WineRegions-03

There are a *lot* of wine regions in the United States; lots of wine regions, built on lots of different geographies, experiencing lots of different climates. AKA there’s a whole lot of different wine being produced here. While there are many different wine regions, these are the ones that have kept my attention:

  • California boasts over 4,000 wineries statewide. While the Napa and Sonoma Valleys are very hyped, don’t hesitate to look into other wine growing areas to quench your thirst.  Hint: check out Paso Robles in the Central Valley and/or even wineries in coastal areas like Malibu (see links in the resources at the end of this article for more hints).
  • Washington State has a total of 14 different American Viticulatural Areas (AVAs) — which can also be read as: Wow there’s so much wine!—and a reputation for producing some high quality juice. Of all the wine regions I’ve visited in Washington so far, the Columbia River Gorge is my favorite.
  • Oregon gives us the Willamette Valley. Fun fact, it’s located along the same latitude as France’s famed Burgundy region. What’s another thing both regions have in common? Very tasty Pinot Noir. Here you’ll find a plethora of producers doing both conventional and unconventional wines. (Oh! And several Willamette producers pour in Portland..which is why some people call it Pourtland…or not).
  • Lastly, upstate New York in the Fingerlakes region. If you visit this area, you’ll find a wealth of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Cab Franc as well as a variety of breweries, and distilleries. So many opportunities for activities!

TL;DR — There are basically countless wine regions in the U.S.—do a Google! One may be closer than you think.

Outside of the US —

Obviously there are a lot of wine regions in Europe, Australia, South America, and elsewhere. These are a whole different beast and require the same sort of research, and more planning. Feel free to email me if you have specific questions!


So, what are your priorities? 

Before choosing precisely where to go, it might benefit you to noodle over your priorities. If you’re stuck, start with these questions—

Flavor: What kind of wines do you like to drink?

Are you a fan of Big Bold Reds or a die hard for Crisp Clean Whites? These sorts of preferences can help guide which region you choose. For example, Napa is more known for its Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab Sav if you’re fancy), while the Willamette Valley specializes in Pinot Noir and also Riesling, Chardonnay (grown in a different climate than Napa), and Gamay. 

Despite what my brother has embraced as his key wine belief, wine tastes differently depending on what kind of grape it is and where it’s grown. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the options, try asking someone who works at your local wine shop.

Distance: Do you want to stay close to home or are you into the idea of going further away? If you’re thinking of going on a more adventurous trip, how will you get there? 

To summarize: research is important unless you DGAF because you just want wine. No shame in that game, either! Live your best life!

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So, when are you going?

As a person who hates to be caught in a crowd (cue: my social anxiety), I tend to try and avoid peak tourist seasons when I’m traveling. With wine country, though, it has it’s pros and cons.  

Cons: Peak tourist season can mean bigger crowds, higher tasting fees, and a more expensive trip in general. It can also mean that it’ll be harder for you to get a reservation at the reservation-only wineries. 

Pros: On the other hand, peak tourist season goes hand-in-hand with Harvest season, which can come with excellent benefits (such as discounts or limited releases of specific bottles).

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So, where are you staying?

I’m not saying that your decisions about where to stay will make or break your trip, but it can definitely influence what you’re able to drink—I mean accomplish.

One of the first questions I ask myself when planning a wine trip is: will I stay in-town or outside of town? For the more spread out wine regions, such as the Willamette Valley, finding a home base in the right area can make a difference in which wineries you’re able to visit. In general, choosing something more central might offer the most flexibility, but opting for a small, quaint cottage in the thick of the vineyards ain’t bad either.  

AirBNB vs Hotel vs etc

While hotels may come with benefits—like a wine shuttle—AirBnB’s guarantee privacy, and the perfect, positive-vibes-only spot to drink all those bottles you bought to waive your tasting fees. 

When trying to decide between the two options, here are a few things worth considering:

  1. Do you want access to a kitchen? Personally, I love a family meal on a wine trip.
  2. What kind of relaxation are you looking for? Different amenities are available in different places. And by amenities I mean hot tubs.
  3. Comfort. Maybe you prefer the security of a hotel, or the feeling of arriving back to “your” house after a long day of sipping the grape. Factors of comfort are different for everyone, and comfort is key. 
  4. Convenience — location, location, location. Pick what makes most sense for your adventure. Look at it on Google Maps before you book…trust me.


So, how are you getting around?

Wine trips mean that you’ll spend a lot of time getting from one winery to another. Would you and/or your group rather drive yourself, or hire someone else to drive you?

Driving yourself

Driving yourself means that someone in your group is committing to being the designated driver, for one day or for the whole trip. If one or more people can commit to abbreviating their drinking throughout the wine tasting time then I say: go for it. If not—nah! Why? Because driving under the influence is dangerous! Do not make me say it again!

Oh, you all wanted to enthusiastically take part in your debauchery? Don’t worry. There are other options that allow everyone to maximize their tastings, and minimize their obligatory wine dumping.

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Hiring someone else to drive you

From my perspective, there are two clear options here: bus/shuttle services or hiring a private driver.

By signing up for a bus service you know that transporation is covered and its origin is probably a centralized pick-up/drop off spot (extra points if it’s close to where you’re staying). There are a variety of bus services (private and public), and some of then run all day as a hop-on, hop-off service. If you’re a fan of convenient and lower effort options then this is your huckleberry. 

The cons of a bus service are price variability and limited options. Oftentimes the route of the bus is already charted so you’ll have less flexibility when it comes to choosing wineries to visit. This isn’t ideal if you’re opinionated about where you want to taste. (Me. I’m talking about me.)

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The second answer to this is to hire a private driver. Because you’ll have hired the driver for the day (or for the weekend if you really want to ball out) you’re giving yourself the opportunity to participate in a fully customizable experience. If your driver has been at it for awhile, they likely have relationships with wineries that aren’t open to busses or most groups. Another plus, the driver will probably remain at a location until you’re ready to pile in and head to the next stop. Oh, and pick-up and drop-off will likely be at your doorstep. Yes please. 

I don’t have to tell you that this is definitely a more expensive option. However, you get what you pay for. What I’ll tell you instead is that I hired a private driver in Alsace and I have NEVER looked back.



So, which wineries will you visit?

Finally, the most fun part (for me): choosing which wineries to visit. This part could become intimidating, but it’s nothing an afternoon of research can’t sort out. Here’s where I like to start: 

Types of wine offered (variety)

Depending on the region, I love to make sure I plan in a way that allows me to taste a variety of wines. This way the tastings don’t get monotonous, and I may even get to try something new. 

Reputation

While a winery may be a cult favorite or a Name Brand, this doesn’t mean that the wines you taste will be mind blowing. Do your research, read reviews, and remember that hype doesn’t always = quality. 

NOTE: ~Sometimes~ the more interesting, memorable wines will be found at the smaller producers.

Great sources for wine research are: instagram, reaching out to wine writers or distributors in your city, or asking your wine-loving friends (even that person you haven’t talked to on Facebook in 10 years).

Reservations 

Some wineries require reservations for tastings, especially if you are visiting with a group. It’s important to clarify this beforehand so you don’t end up with an empty glass (full of disappointment). 

Tasting fees

Tasting fees vary by region and winery. More popular areas are likely to have higher tasting costs, and likely this extends to more popular wineries as well. Before visiting a winery, see if there’s an event calendar on their website. This way you can determine if there’s an event while you’re there that offers a more enhanced experience, or one that results in lower fees.



So, here are some FINAL hot tips to consider:

    1. Don’t overbook yourself. Be realistic with what you can achieve, and give yourself time and space to relax. You never know when you might rather sit in a circle of Adirondack  chairs and split a bottle with your buds rather than finishing the day with a final tasting.
    2. Don’t get wasted. I mean, you can if you want, but speaking as the person who just saw a man um…lose his wine into a small bag on a wine bus, I’d recommend not. Wait until you’re done for the day to invert your bottles. (Also drink water so you are not horribly hungover for the next day!)
    3. Do remember that even after all of this planning it’s also ok to be spontaneous. As with any other kind of traveling, you never know what helpful tidbit of information you’ll learn from your hotel concierge, your driver, or the vivacious individual you spoke to while in line for the bathroom between swigs of last year’s very different expressions of pinots. 


Wine country is all about choosing your own adventure. Maybe you’re a planner, and maybe you’re not. If you want to make the most of your visit, spend an evening figuring out the details. Investing time in planning now means more time for stress-free wine drinking later.

And if you don’t want to plan the trip yourself, Gastrono.me is always happy to help. 

Clink!

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Sources:
https://usawineratings.com/en/blog/insights-1/an-introduction-to-the-top-10-wine-regions-of-the-usa-38.htm
https://uproxx.com/life/best-wine-regions-in-america/3/
https://winefolly.com/tutorial/start-planning-now-wine-harvest-season/
Resources:
https://vineyards.com/wine-map/united-states

Salzburg

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I have a few things in common with Salzburg, Austria. We’re both quite small, look charming in shades of pink, and have a deep history with coffee culture. I spent an afternoon delightfully gallivanting through the city’s interconnected alleyways—stopping every few feet to obsess over a new pastel-colored building, the magnificent panoramic views, and every street market stall that taunted me with it’s twisty, aromatic pretzels. It was one of my favorite afternoons of our entire trip.

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Salzburg is a city I’d like to revisit for a week. I dream about booking an apartment high in a Mozart-era building overlooking the Salzach river. I’d spend my mornings subtly brushing the crumbs of sweet pastries off of my Kindle screen in elegant cafes. Between bowls of rust-colored goulash and glasses of Riesling I’d peruse the boutiques that line the streets of the city’s cobblestoned, historic center. Evenings would conclude with tall pints of beer in one of the buzzing beer halls, and letting myself get lost while taking the the long way home.

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Despite every Salzburg travel post you’ll see on Pinterest, it isn’t just a destination for lovers of The Sound of Music or Mozart’s biggest fans. Add it to your list.

 

Munich

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On August 30th my parents and I embarked on a two week trip across Europe. Our cross-continental jaunt spanned from Bavaria (Munich, Germany and Salzburg, Austria), to the picturesque region of Alsace (Strasbourg, France), and wrapped up in Paris. There are many memorable moments from our travels—witnessing my dad’s first glimpse of the Eiffel tower, tasting terroir-driven Rieslings with my mom in a small village near Colmar—and those moments were accentuated by the hours of research that went into the trip before takeoff.

Traveling to a new place can be daunting, but I’m hoping my posts over the next few weeks will assist you if you’re planning a similar Bavarian adventure of your own.

First up: Munich.

A city steeped in history, Munich can satisfy almost any sort of traveler. You’re interested in art? Munich has 10+ noteworthy art museums. Looking into the relics of WWII? You’ll see something around every corner. The food? You’ve brat yourself to a city with culinary traditions that hold strong. While we only just dipped our toes into the second biggest city in Germany, I’ve got lots of advice for how to do it right.

Where to stay:

If you like staying in a location that’s walking distance from a lot of major attractions, top-notch restaurants, and bustling beer halls, then you’ll love choosing a hotel or AirBNB near Munich’s main train station, München Hauptbahnhof. This part of town is about a ~15 minute walk from Marienplatz aka the place to be for all your Instagram dreams to come true.

Hotels:

Eden Hotel Wolff

Hotel Excelsior

Anna Hotel

Cute AirBNBs: 1 • 2 • 3

How will you get around? Walk (download offline Google maps); use the metro; and/or use Uber to make it to your dinner reservation after you lost track of time at the beer hall.


 

What to eat:

The food scene in Munich is heavily rooted in traditional Bavarian and Germanic cuisine, and it’s also rooted in ITALIAN cuisine. Why? Because it’s v close to the border. The Italian influence can be sensed in the relaxed vibes of the city and in the architecture as well. Below are a few restaurant recommendations (I’ve got a million more if you’re curious), as well as some options for drinking, exploring, and researching for yourself.

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Xaver’s– A modern take on Bavarian traditional Bavarian dishes. My favorite place we ate while in Munich.

Tantris– for a Michelin/tasting experience (Didn’t get to go, want to go)

Mr. Pancake– American breakfast (I CAN’T STOP THE PANCAKE CRAVINGS)

Landersdorfer & Innerhofer Feine Kost– a good friend recommended this place! Would love to go next time.

Le Hank– Another place I’d love to hit next time

Boulangerie Dompierre– YES pastries!!!

L’Osteria– I couldn’t leave Italian food out, could I?

Markets – Viktualienmarkt

Shop – Allois Dallmayr

And for drinking:

Beer Halls – Augustiner BräustubenHofbräukeller am Wiener Platz

Wine Bars – M Belleville, Walter & Benjamin, Vinothek by Geisel

Cocktails – Zephr Bar,  Drunken Dragon Bar, x

Coffee – Man Versus Machine (I hear exploring this more hipster part of town is a delight), Cafe Bla

 

Dare to take yourself on a food tour? Here’s a few things to look for:

  • Sauerkraut (trust)
  • Spatzel and schnitzel
  • Apfelstrudel
  • Pork Knuckle
  • Brautwurst and/or Curry Wurst
  • CAKE. Just find cake.
  • Wine from Mosel

 

***GENERAL TIP FOR RESTAURANT SEARCHING WHILE TRAVELING: Avoid sites like Trip Advisor for restaurant recommendations and instead utilize local news sites, food blogs, and Instagram accounts. Trip Advisor and Yelp will steer you towards comfortable spots as an American traveler, but usually likely not the highest quality spots or most memorable experiences.

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Sources for research:

@munichfoodguide

@munichfood

@munichfoodist


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How to spend your time:

 

Hot tips for exploring old town:

  • DO climb the tower at St. Peters. It’s like three euro and the view from the top is *chef kiss*
  • There are * a lot * of museums. I’d recommend picking one or two to see on your visit, but keeping ample time in your schedule to wander around the city. It’s such a charming place and the vibe is a big part of it.
  • Skip the joust at Marienplatz, ya’ll. I know all the tourist books describe it as being “VERY COOL” and “unmissable”, but I’d disagree.
  • The amount of different styles of churches in Munich is nuts. From St. Peters (A Romanesque/Gothic combo) to Asamkirche (Baroque AF)—just do as we did and take a detour into the churches you pass by. Whether you spend 5 mins or 50 you probably won’t regret it.PhotolayoutsMunich2

Other things to do:

  • Go see the river surfers. Take a slo-mo video on your iPhone. Live your best life.
  • Take some time and explore the English Gardens. They’re beautiful, and you’ve just given yourself an opportunity for beers and snacks and the sun (there are also biergartens IN the English Garden, so you could always make that your destination).
Day Trips:

Salzburg – One of my FAVORITE parts of our entire two-week trip. Separate Salzburg post coming soon!

DaChau Concentration Camp site– This tour was sobering. While going alone is possible, I’d definitely recommend researching guided tours. If we would’ve gone alone we would’ve been doing a lot of reading—which I think can impede the direct impact of this memorial. By having a guide we were able to hear the expertise of someone who knew the history well, ask questions, and still have ample time for reflection. It was heartbreaking, but it was a necessary experience. We booked our tour on Viateur.

Eagle’s Nest – While we didn’t make it to this site, it would be a heavy hitter for history buffs (and I hear the views are remarkable)

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Helpful travel resources:

Rick Steves pocket guide(Munich and Salzburg — SO helpful for familiarizing ourselves with the history of Munich. We even took ourselves on a walking tour of the city).

Next up: Salzburg!

Look out for that in the next few days.

Current Favorite Wine Bars in Seattle

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetFor the last couple of years I’ve made the same resolution: that I’d get into wine. Why? Because it was time. Because it pairs with food—my one true love. Because it’s history and science and art. And because it makes me feel warm and like my jokes are landing while I swirl my glass like an intellectual and a sophisticate.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that, to get in to wine and to learn about wine, you must do exactly what you’re hoping you need to do: drink as much of it as you can. Wines of different regions, varietals and production methods; reds, rosés, oranges, sparklings, and whites (if I can get over my Chardonnay prejudices then so can you, bud); wines that make you uncomfortable because you can’t say their name which means the server is going to think you’re less cool than you were trying to convince them that you were. All. The. Wine.

The best place to taste? Wine bars (duh), and Seattle has some great ones. Here are a few that are nursing my grape cravings at the moment:

Revolution Wine — Capitol Hill

Revolution Wine first blipped on my booze radar when I learned about a sweet and satisfying summer treat they were serving in 2016: frozen rosé aka frozé (of #frozéallday fame)—a slushy unlike anything that poured from the tap of those circus tent striped Icee machines of yesteryear, and instead contained ingredients like Lillet and Pinot Grigio; Coconut and Sauvignon Blanc. I slurped them all summer long on their sun soaked patio through pink and white-striped paper straws. Try and tell me there’s a better way to beat the heat.

Wine bar and wine shop, Revolution Wine (now Revolution Wine and Cocktail Lounge) sits at the corner of Pike and Belmont on bustling Capitol Hill. Leather couches, candle light, and soft textures and tones throughout the space are offset by the pop art-style mural that spans the entirety of the back wall, making the room feel comfortable but not stuffy.

The wine’s listed on the menu are limited, but you’re welcome to purchase a bottle from their selection on display to enjoy there as well. Last time I visited I had a glass of red that I can only describe as, “colorful leaves in the fall and maple straight from a tree tap.” It was a Tempranillo and I think it might’ve forever changed my mouth.

Recently Revolution has added a full cocktail list to their menu, as well as a selection of beers. Oh, and snacks. Do not sleep on the snacks. Probably just go with a group for a happy hour sitch so you can order everything on the menu (because, truly, there’s something for everyone).

Hot Tip: In the window facing Pike Street there’s a running list of tastings and wine events that are being hosted in-store. You’re gonna want to check those out—they’re where the real revolution happens. The wine revolution (that might be overkill I’m sorry??)

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Bar Ferd’nand — Capitol Hill

A selection of carefully curated wines on display around every corner, warmly toned string lights effortlessly draped amongst the exposed wooden support beams, and an open kitchen complete with a cooking fireplace—walking into Bar Ferd’nand feels like walking onto the newly renovated patio of your cool friend’s Euro villa. A friend who is clearly living their best life, and you’re along for the ride.

The first time I went to BF (not what the Seattle sophisticates call it) was a day I’ll henceforth refer to as: The Day I Drank Too Much Wine in Public and Joyfully Frolicked Around My Neighborhood In The Rain, but that’s another story for another time.

***Important tidbit no.1 about visiting Bar Ferd’nand: Do not be mistaken—even though the sandwich board is on the left side of the hallway, the entry to the bar is on the right. This is probably obvious to most people, but I once spent five minutes looking for a secret entrance into (what I can only assume was) a storage closet.***

At the time of my first visit my wine knowledge didn’t stray far from what was available in the wine aisle at Safeway.  As I glanced above the bar, it became clear that I was unfamiliar with many of the varietals written on the three chalkboards that displayed the menu, but the bartender quickly assuaged my wine worries by inviting conversation about what I’d liked before and which wine profiles set my palate on fire. I asked her about 200 questions and she was able to answer them all with ease—it was clear she knew her shit. She poured some tastes of wines she thought I’d enjoy, we discussed, and then I settled on my first glass of red—a mouthful of olive tapenade, balsamic, and sun dried tomatoes. Nailed it.

I know what you’re thinking, “What about the snacks,”. Oh, there are snacks. Remember that open kitchen I mentioned? Yeah, it’s plating up things like a pâté of pork and dried tomatoes, cured fish and meats, pizzas and my current favorite: buttery chantrelle “alla carbonara”. You can view the entirety of the current food menu here (including the tasting menu!)

With their focus on quality, artisanal and natural wines, Bar Ferd’nand always leaves me feeling comfortable, excited, and like I’ve learned a little something. They even encourage wine education by hosting weekly tastings on Wednesdays from 5-7pm with a different theme every month. In February they did a Badass Women of Wine series and I am SO upset I missed it.

Not a wine person? They offer a CHILL list of beers, ciders and sakes.

Check it out and grab a glass—or a whole bottle from their bottle shop.

Bottlehouse — Madrona 

People had been telling me about Bottlehouse for like two years before I ever finally made my way to Bottlehouse. And I’ll tell you what, the first thing you need to know about Bottlehouse is that you have got to go to Bottlehouse. [insert clap emojis between all of those words].

First of all, Madrona is the most charming neighborhood in Seattle—so it makes sense that this is where you’ll find one of the most charming wine bars. I went for post-BBQ wine with five friends on a Friday (an untraditional series of events, but it was my birthday and I was queen) . While we waited for a table we perused the selection of wines and trinkets that were for sale at the front of the store. Before even seeing the menu we’d mentally swiped right on about thirteen bottles.

Bottlehouse’s dining room has walls of windows, so I’m sure it lets in all kinds of Seattle “sunlight” in the day time, but at night it’s candle lit and full of animated wine-fueled chatter. The artwork was eclectic, and so was the wine menu. Wines of all colors, vintages and styles. I couldn’t begin to tell you everything we ordered, but I can tell you that between the five of us we probably had glasses from 75% of the menu—including Tawny port. The wine list is extensive and easy to navigate, so it doesn’t feel as intimidating as a chalkboard might.

Other things they have:

  • Cheese boards
  • A killer happy hour
  • A BIG patio where I’ll be getting too tipsy on French white wines this summer

Le Caviste — Downtown

Le Caviste translates to The Wine Cellar, but personally for me it translates to, “I’m really trying to become a regular because I love it so much.” As I’m sure you’ve already assumed, Le Caviste specializes in French wines. They also specialize in the best meat/cheese boards of this entire list so really planche out and order something unfamiliar like the chicken liver paté (do puns work with French words?).

Every time I’ve been to Le Caviste it’s been filled to the brim—from the windows to the… chalkboard walls. I like sitting at tables but I LOVE sitting at the bar because their bartenders are, how do you say, the literal best. They are so educated in the wines and will absolutely point you towards what you’re feeling, or perhaps something you really didn’t expect.

So, go have an evening’s worth of an Eat, Pray, Love experience in this wine bar that will absolutely transport you across the Atlantic—except you’re still in the same city, everyone speaks your language and the only thing that’s French is the wine (and maybe that attractive person to your left) so better just fill yourself up on that.

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Left Bank — South Park

Did ya’ll know there’s a neighborhood in Seattle called South Park? Did you know there’s a wine bar there? Did you know that not only is there a wine bar there, but they’re serving up some of the most interesting bottles in the city? Because I sure didn’t—until a few weeks ago. Left Bank is hidden behind gray, industrial walls, and the only thing announcing it’s presence is a sandwich board proclaiming the holiest words: WINE WINE WINE.

We walked in at 4pm on a sunny Saturday. After sitting down at the bar we were greeted by the owner, Campbell Scarborough. One thing lead to another and we’d decided to do the red flight. It was made up of both natural and conventional wines from all over the world. The most memorable two for me were this natural Gamay (that we got to compare with a more conventional Gamay) and a crazy Chilean red that I SWEAR tastes like Mezcal. I bought a bottle of it so I can relive the craziness at ANY moment.

All along the back wall, wines for purchase are displayed like colorful, alcoholic bouldering holds at a rock climbing gym—a focal point that I’ll soon be striving to recreate in my living room. Other than the bar seats there’s a community table in the middle of the small room, and a spacious booth in the back.

The playlist was perfect (SO much Thundercat). The wine was affordable. And the vibes couldn’t have been better. I’d highly recommend a visit as soon as you can figure out where in the hell South Park is (hint: south of Georgetown, YW).

In the mean time, check out their wine cub (LB Wine Clique) and Tuesday Vinyl Wino event.


So what are you waiting for? GO DRINK. Also, talk to your bartender/somm. Ask them questions! It’s what they’re there for and they want you to have a great experience.

Cheers!

Introducing: Gastrono.me

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Our first night in Vienna we sat silently on the couch in our AirBNB and tried desperately to outlast our jet lag. This was our first three hours in Europe of our 3 week Euro trip—what my friend and I dreamily envisioned as being a grand adventure accented by baguette sandwiches in parks, coffees in quaint corner cafes, and dinners in dimly lit restaurants on side streets that were easy to overlook.

In reality it was definitely an adventure, but one that consisted of a few meals out and a lot more frozen pizza than we ever could’ve imagined.

If only we would’ve done the research, if only there would’ve been a service who could’ve made that research happen for us. To ensure that we’d have the gastronomic travel experience that we were craving.

There wasn’t. So I started one.

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Gastrono.me exists to spread joy through food and drink no matter where you are, or what you order. A service that provides guidance for those of us who are hungry to experience the world, customized for your unique tastes.

Whether you’re looking for a cozy Italian restaurant in the middle of Boston, the best cheese plates in Boulder, or a curated cocktail crawl through a neighborhood in your own city, Gastrono.me provides travelers and locals with unique food and drink recommendations, based on their own personal tastes, budgets, and comfort zones.

Rather than relying on solely generalized guidebooks and online Must Eat lists, Gastrono.me works to get to know you and your preferences so we can make suggestions that we know you’ll enjoy, helping insure that your getaways, weekends, and staycations are lower in stress and higher in enjoyment.


How do we get to know you? Through an initial questionnaire, follow up conversations, and consultation. All about what and how you like to eat and imbibe.

What kind of guides do you provide? The site advertises guides for short and long trips, guides for eating excursions, and a recommendation subscription plan (coming in 2018!). That said, there are lots of opportunities for us to work together, so don’t hesitate to reach out!


I started Gastrono.me because I believe travel is a powerful experience that has the ability to change hearts and minds, especially with the impact of food. When we’re encouraged to look beyond the lists of standard tourist destinations we are treated with the opportunity of immersing ourselves in parts of a culture we otherwise may have overlooked. We are given the chance to see a place through our own eyes.

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And now it’s official: our website launched today! You can learn more at Gastronome.guide

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions, comments, or collaboration opportunities. I am so looking forward to this next chapter and the people and places it will bring into my life.

Cheers!

Lauren

Five Senses of Feast

 

Two years ago while visiting Portland with my parents my ears perked up at something I heard on the radio. I only remember sound clips: Sandwich. Invitational. Feast. Portland. Bon Appetit. I was still relatively new to the Pacific Northwest at the time so it was a mystery that grabbed my attention instantaneously. I needed to know more. Upon further Googling I learned 2 things: 1) Feast was an annual multi-day festival held in Portland, sponsored by Bon Appetit, that showcased Oregon’s bounty and featured several renowned Chefs from around the nation. 2) I HAD TO GO.

Fast forward two years to 2017. On the morning of June 2nd I sat at my computer, cheek in hand, impatiently refreshing the page where I’d purchase tickets for the festival once they were released at 11am. The moment struck and after surmounting a delay caused by an overloaded server I was in. I scored tickets to four events: Late Night Adventures in Takeout, The Grand Tasting (like a deluxe weekend costco sample experience), No Kilts Required: American Single Malts and—the piéce de résistance—Tillamook Presents: SMOKED (A BBQ PARTY, YA’LL).

June, July, and the early days of September crawled by, but finally it was time to pack up the Mazda3 and zoom down to Portland for Feast. The weekend unfolded in what I can only describe as a sensory extravaganza. One that I’m going to try and recreate for you now.

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Feast looked like –

  • A series of electric parties across the city accented by thematic mood lighting that gave every event charisma. My favorite was the neon, untraditional at a BBQ event.
  • Crowded, enthusiastic gatherings of all kinds of people—friends and strangers, groups and soloists, from different places, of different generations.
  • A tie-dye of stains on my shirts from who-knows-which saucy snacks.
  • A never ending sea of artistically composed dishes created by chefs whose home restaurants are peppered around the US.
  • A list to which I was always adding, documenting names of new restaurants I otherwise may have remained oblivious to.
  • Caramel colored splashes on my collar from that last whiskey cocktail I shouldn’t have had.

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Feast sounded like –

  • The ubiquitous hiss of raw meats sizzling on grills.
  • Exclamations between guests about which dishes were worth standing in line for—guiding my next move.
  • Bumpin’ music adding to the energy of the night accented by the percussion of iced bourbon cocktails being shaken in both fists by the boisterous bartenders.
  • Soft speaking between members of a restaurant’s staff underneath the tents.
  • The wise words of innovative chefs being interviewed by Bon Appetit’s Adam Rapoport.
  • Clattering of metal stock pots and pans. The metal clapping of tongs.
  • Joy during a time of political turbulence—laughter, casual conversation, excited statements punctuated by each new bite.
  • The low, slow groans of indigestion around 2am.

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Feast felt like –

  • Oregon’s warm September sun, it’s chilly twilight breezes.
  • The crunch of my first air fried dumpling, and the contrasting soft textures of regional cheeses.
  • The delicate balance of my wine glass in one hand and two small paper plates in the other.
  • Warmth from open faced grills.
  • Fumbling with utensils: chopsticks, forks, spoons, skewers.
  • The constant pressure of my finger on the shutter button of my camera.
  • Conflict because my stomach was full but MORE THAN ANYTHING I just wanted to keep eating.

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Feast smelt like –

  • Competing smoky scents from the forest fires of Jolly Mountain and the plumes dancing skyward from the charcoal grills.
  • Complex combinations of spicy aromas characteristic of single malt american whiskies.
  • An amalgam of currently-being-cooked dishes—fermented, peppery, sweet, mesquite, fruity, floral.
  • The perfume of Febreeze inside of a suburban mom’s lyft vehicle.

 

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Feast tasted like –

  • Fruit-forward wines from all over the pacific northwest.
  • Sweet baked goods and fragrant berry jams from local vendors.
  • Unique combinations of sweet and savory ingredients that I would’ve never thought to combine like brussels sprouts and pomegranate seeds.
  • Umami.
  • A just-been-torched s’more donut from Blue Star that was crunchier than I was expecting.
  • The spicy, moist brisket from Langbaan served in a pool of spicy gravy poured from a hot silver kettle, and decorated with flowers that packed a peppery punch that you can’t even imagine.
  • Very high quality hot dogs with very high quality pumped cheese.
  • The kind of tastes that left an impact on your palate, and lingered even after you brushed your teeth—more like a fond memory than an annoyance.

I am so grateful to have had the chance to attend my first Feast. For every moment I was there I was filled with joy and was able to momentarily forget about daily stresses that often overwhelm me. It wasn’t just me, I was surrounded by other people who were just as I happy as I was. I already look forward to the next Feast I’m able to attend. Next time I’ll go to one of the suppers, I won’t miss the Night Market, and I’ll bring more than 2 doses of indigestion tablets.

 

To learn more about the festival check out their website at feastportland.com

 

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X Marks the Spot | Trove, Seattle

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Trove | Seattle

The first time I saw the big, red X was on the day that my office moved from Fremont to Capitol Hill. It hung proudly on a Pike Street facing wall next to several giant, almost floor-to-ceiling windows. The sun poured inside and I could see a sleek, white counter facing an open kitchen, something that looked like an ice cream truck in the corner and a menu boasting various dishes whose ingredients triggered my curiosity. “Trove?”I read out loud from the sign. What was this place?

After a few weeks of being in our new digs, rumblings about the restaurant could be heard in my office. “There’s Korean BBQ in the back,” someone said excitedly. “AND they sell parfaits!” I didn’t know what Korean BBQ was yet, but I did know that I had to go.


What you need to know
Trove is broken down into three* main parts:

  1. The Counter
    Asian-fusion will never have tasted so good as when you watch it being cooked over a giant flame. The air is thick with aromas that hold promises of imminent umami-bombs, and the menu items change regularly. Believe me when I say that you’re going to want to try the sauces that you’re offered by the chef.

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    Trove | Noodle Bar


  2. The BBQ
    While this isn’t your hole-in-the-wall Korean BBQ joint, it sure does make a strong case for itself. The quality of the meats at Trove is evident from the get-go, and the chefs are happy to cook them for you if you’re feeling a little timid about your tong technique. I’d recommend trying a variety of things from different areas of the menu. Our server (who was fantastic, BTW) was happy to help us in our selection of items, and gave us an honest opinion about how much food would be the right amount of food. He was dead on.

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    Trove | Korean BBQ

  1. The Parfaits I have had the parfaits at Trove more than I have had anything else. I will say this: if you don’t have a sweet tooth, these might not be for you. If this is the case please go inside and get yourself a sake. However if you fall into the Sweet Tooth category I’d recommend following your heart and trying as many as you can while the flavors last. They change them every season and I’ve hardly ever been unimpressed. Bonus: If you bring back the branded glass jar that they serve your parfait in you can get a dollar off your next one! (As if I needed more motivation to go back…)

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    Trove | Parfait


Still need convincing?

Here’s 10 Reasons You Should Go to Trove This Summer

1. Who doesn’t like to grill on the dinner table? It’s like the adult-friendly version of playing with your food

2. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S WAGYU TRI-TIPS. Honestly, they marbeled to perfection

3. The parfaits alone give you at least ~6 reasons to stop by. I tried the cookies and cream with homemade Oreo last weekend, and I had a taste of the Tea Lime Pie (with Matcha custard). Both were divine and I NEED to go back from the peanut butter cup…and the other Matcha one.

4. NOOOODLES. While the noodle bar’s menu changes pretty frequently, I’ve always enjoyed a savory, flavorful, and satisfying meal there.

5. AGAIN WITH THE PEA VINES. They had smoked cashews on them and a hint of a vinegar taste. A perfect side dish to our meat selection (My other favorites so far this season were at Ma’Ono)

6. THERE IS A  ALSO BAR. There’s an  international beer list, a great sake/shochu selection, unique cocktails (of which I want to try MANY), and six beer taps pouring cold, local beer. Happy hour from 4-6!

7. Because there’s not only meat to love, but also veggies dishes. The asparagus and mushroom entree was SO flavorful. Please eat as much of the sauce as possible.

8. Impress your date (or your crew) with a beautiful Asian fusion restaurant on capitol hill

9. Because a Netflix binge of 90’s movies is 300 times better with to-go noodles from their counter (pro tip: favorites right now are the rice cake/curry/kale, the Pad thai/ chipotle/pork belly/yu choy/chili peanuts, and the kimchi pork dumplings)

10. Because, truly, you’ve got to see what all the fuss is about:

Other restaurants in the Trove family include Revel and Joule. I could go on and on about both of them, but I’ll save that for another day.


Please feel free to send any hot tips my way, whether it be a hole-in-the-wall or a trendy place that lives up to the hype (in Seattle, OR ANYWHERE ELSE). Key items I look for on menus often include: Shrimp and Grits, Manhattans, Burgers with Creative Toppings, and Complimentary Baskets of Warm, Salted Tortilla Chips.

Follow me on instagram or snapchat to keep up with my never ending snack journey in real time!

instagram: @lacunningham  —  snapchat: lacunningha

A Note on Trip Planning

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Voluntary or not, planning a trip starts the moment that you let your wanderlust take over for even a second. You begin to imagine the types of places you want to go, the things you’ll do, the experiences you’ll have, what you’ll eat. You begin to plot out the sites that you couldn’t live without missing, and how your very Instagrammable AirBNB would sit in the perfect spot. Suddenly you start to notice hints of your dream destination everywhere; it invades your thoughts, your dreams, and your conversations. Until one day everything changes…because after months of dreaming and hoping you’ve FINALLY gotten your ticket.

At least, that’s how it went for me. Two years ago Tokyo was barely on my radar. It was just a city that I saw in photos and on TV shows. It was the birthplace of a style we’d learned about in Intro to Fashion called Harajuku; it was the setting of many magical Miyazaki films that I’d watched with wide eyes. Until I moved to the West Coast, traveling to Asia didn’t even seem like a moderate reality. You see, living in the Southeast meant that Europe was a convenient travel destination—it felt accessible, airline tickets were more reasonable, the time difference was manageable. Even closer than that was Mexico, but Asia? That shit felt far. Too far.

A couple of months after I moved to Seattle two of my coworkers went to Japan for a month. They returned with stories that sounded made up, fantastical souvenirs, and many tasty candies. It was then that I began to feel thirsty for Asia. I started to see bits and pieces of Japanese culture everywhere. Slowly (and hungrily) I began to familiarize myself with different kinds of Japanese cuisine in Seattle; I made friends with people who had been there before and were under the “I love Japan” spell that I’d grown accustomed to hearing about. My Netflix queue gradually went from Kimmy Schmidt and Planet Earth to Anthony Bourdain and Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and my Amazon wish list? …I’m sure you can imagine. Exactly a year from my friends’ return I exited the tab where I’d just finished watching Lost in Translation, got on Kayak and booked a flight for six months later.

(Maybe it was the sparkling, panoramic shots of Tokyo at night that tantalized me, or maybe it was ScarJo. The jury’s still out).


Choosing a destination for travel is only the first step in planning your trip. The next step, in my opinion, is identifying why you want to go there. What’s driving you to go to this new place? Is it the historic sites? The culture? The serene beaches? The pancakes? Identifying the reasons you want to go somewhere new will help you shape your itinerary for a supremely custom travel experience. It will be more memorable and enjoyable for you than one that simply covers the bases of that new place (especially if, frankly, you just can’t be bothered to care about some of those bases).

As many of you know, I get more excited about food than I do about most things. The opportunity to try new foods using cooking methods that have been honed for many generations, feeling it’s cultural and historical significance, it’s so life-giving to me. It’s why I’m going to Japan. I may miss some of the statues and the temples, but I certainly won’t miss Chanko Nabe in Ryogoku or “Ramen Street” in Tokyo Station.

Pro tip: An important question to ask yourself is, “When I get back, I will regret if I miss…” what? Answer that question for yourself before you leave so you know that you’re prioritizing all the things you really care about.

Once you’ve determined the WHY of your trip the rest of the planning should come fairly easy. If you’re finding it hard to come up with ideas, do some research. I think travel blogs are a really reliable resource. Take inspiration from some of the adventures the bloggers had, things they ate…but don’t be afraid to  follow their lead and seek out some of your own travel secrets. Also, check out Youtube for video travel diaries and insider information.

One of my favorite travel blogs, Cup of Couple,  just went to Japan, check out a video from their trip below:

IMPORTANT: As much as I preach about curating my own travel experience, I have a pile of books in my room that I’ve been pouring over for the last few months. Not only do they offer insight into things to do, but some also include cultural information and maps. V HELPFUL.

Some of my favorite Japan resources:

*Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who know a lot about what you’re interested in (Authors, Restaurant Owners, Etc). They can often offer up the most unique, fearless travel advice.


Traveling to a new place doesn’t have to be a checklist of obligations and tourist traps.  Make your trip memorable by making it your own, and even making it up a little as you go. A little spontaneity never hurt anyone—only made things more exciting.

One week left until take off!

Sayonara

(I’ve been practicing)

Tokyo Bound // Notes on solo travel

tokyoheaderSMWith each passing year of my life I’ve started to push the margins of my independence a little further. The first big push being when I uprooted myself from everything I knew at 23 and relocated across the country to Seattle. Alone. I knew one person, but he also happened to be the person whose apartment I’d be subletting while he studied in Germany (Hey, Finis!).

To familiarize myself with my new city, I began using Saturdays as an opportunity to explore new neighborhoods. I’d start with a vague idea of what area I’d like to see next, a plan of how to get there on the bus, and maybe one or two spots that I’d read about beforehand that struck my interest. Spoiler alert: more often than not, these places revolved around extravagant looking, waffle-heavy brunch menus and places promising pour-overs made with locally roasted, single-origin coffee. Judge me.

I quickly became comfortable navigating to and around the different areas — always expecting to get semi-lost at least once, and often finding a thrill in it. Meals alone felt like a spiritual time when I could bury my face in a dish that was lifting my spirits to the moon, and could even let a tear roll down my face if it was warranted. I began to stop caring about what people thought about “the girl who talked WAY too much to the barista and is now sipping a cold brew alone” and began caring more about the experience in Seattle that I was creating for myself. I’m a year and a half in now, and while I do have friends that I frequently brunch with, I still bask in the moments when I have a two-top for one and a whole day of discoveries ahead of me.

Some people find it thrilling to shop on Black Friday, or to try things like the KFC double down. I find it thrilling to redefine my comfort zone, so the next natural step in that process to me seems obvious: it’s time for solo travel. While my dad’s hesitations to this idea are rooted (deep) in the world of Liam Neeson’s, “TAKEN”, my expectations are completely wrapped up in the thought of waking up when I please in a city that is completely foreign to anything I’ve ever known with an itinerary that can be anything I want it to be.

The destination: Japan. For two weeks I’ll be chassé-ing around Tokyo — and a few other cities in on the island — on my time. While the majority of people I know who have been there before are encouraging me to fill my schedule to the brim with this attraction and the other, I plan on shaping my days around what I want to eat next and if I feel like spending 3 hours in a park spinning under the trees that are exploding with cherry blossoms. I want to use this trip as an opportunity to gain some insight and perspective on what I want right now in my life. Then again, I also want to use this trip as an opportunity to go to Disney World.

I want to leave Japan with an experience that I have curated, and not one that was dictated to me by travel guides and touristy checklists. I want to explore Tokyo the same way I explored Seattle — spending time in both the popular parts of town, and in the quiet neighborhoods that aren’t always explored by outsiders. I want to find the intimidatingly authentic noodle shops and the picturesque, traditional homes with manicured gardens, as well as pay visits to the famous museums and renowned works of architecture. I want to feel like I saw a side of Japan that I wouldn’t have seen without my brand of curiosity.

I know the idea of solo travel is daunting for some people, and to some it’s even downright terrifying. For me? It’s the next step into becoming the person I want to be.*

*That “person” is also one-step closer to becoming Anthony Bourdain’s successor than I am at this moment.

I’ll be writing some posts on trip planning and preparation in the days leading up to my departure. My plane takes off on March 30, and from that point on — for the next two weeks — you can expect photos and ramen-centric updates to flood my feed.

Looking forward to sharing this experience!

header photo by Alyssa Mcelheny

 

Consume | Austin•TX (Food + Drinks Want-To-Do List)

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If I let my mind wander to Austin it skips the plane ride completely and instead takes a shortcut right through my insatiable appetite for all things Tex-Mex. I imagine the types of Taco-centric lunches I’d indulge in; what kind of spicy mimosa I might stumble across on a brunch menu; and how long my eyes would be closed during my first bite of Texas BBQ.

Eating and trying new things is a part of traveling that really deepens the experience, and while I’ve never been to Austin before you better believe that I have a list that I’ve started compiling for when I get the chance to go. It covers all the bases from morning to night and even a little snacking in between. Check it out:

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And after all that I’m just here at a coffee bar eating a cold chocolate pastry and dreaming of doughnuts…

If you have any suggestions for Austin please let me know in a comment or email!

Speak to you soon,

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