Saturday, December 31, 2011

Leaving Santa Rosa for Michel-Schlumberger

This trip to Sonoma was filled with great food, phenomenal wine and quality family time. It was the latter two I got to concentrate on my final day.

We all enjoyed every moment of the Mayacama house in Santa Rosa that Inspirato has available to its members. The hot tub was especially popular with the kids. I was happy just soaking up the views and I explored the community a bit before we left.

I loved to watch the deer frolicking through the wooded areas before I checked out the tennis courts and swimming pool. There was still time to head to the very large country club. It was quite impressive inside and out, complete with a gym, spa and restaurants. There was even a concierge available for those unlike me who didn’t have all of their plans made for the stay.

Unfortunately, our time in Santa Rosa was running out. We were heading to one of my favorite wineries and I was excited about taking the family there. Michel-Schlumberger offers something for everyone and I knew my brother and his family would be especially interested in their green practices. 

The always welcoming Jim Morris, Michel-Schlumberger’s Vice President of Marketing, took us around on a private tour. We stopped first at the bee hives, where he talked about the importance of their pollination. Next to the hive is the stream where local fifth graders helped bring in fingerlings from the dam to help rebuild the dried out creek. 

The kids were also fascinated hearing about the Monarch Butterfly Waystation and the importation of owls to help keep the gophers away. (The geese, ducks, chickens and bass in the lake are more than welcome to call this winery home, however.)

We went past the various pepper and onion plants in the “Salsa Garden” to the top of the vineyard. The rolling hills were even more beautiful than I had remembered as we looked out at the 100 acres of land, 87 of which are planted with 16 varieties of grapes.

After a tour of the winery, where we got to taste a bit of the grape juice before it is actually wine, we (at least the grownups) got to sample some of the latest Michel-Schlumberger offerings and were not disappointed. The 2010 Pinot Blanc is a perfect mix of lemon and grapefruit, light enough to complement any food.  I loved the 2010 La Nue Unoaked Chardonnay, with enough butter and vanilla to make you feel like you were drinking pound cake.

In the reds, not to be missed at Michel-Schlumberger is the 2009 La Source Syrah, with a bit of viognier to keep it from being as dry and spicey as most, and the 2009 Zinfandel, a fruity blend with a hint of black pepper, yet retaining its light body.  I also enjoyed the 2007 Le Sage Merlot, blended with malbec and cabernet franc, with fruit in the front and spice behind.

We chatted with Jim a bit longer before it was time to bid him and Sonoma farewell.  I’m sure I won’t be gone for long.

I’d like to take a moment to wish my readers a very happy new year. It’s been quite a year for me, from Australia to California, and many places in between. It looks like 2012 is going to be just as exciting. I’ll be starting my stories in the new year with a new hotel in Chicago, my first beer (you’ll have to keep reading to find out about that one), a trip to the island of St. Maarten and a visit to a ski resort in the Sierra Madre Mountains. I’m also planning a few overseas trips in the new year and, of course, lots of wine and spirits!

I leave you with my favorite photo of 2011, from Kangaroo Island, Australia, where I got to sit right next to these frolicking sea lions.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Luxuriating in Mayacama and Feasting At Coppola

I don’t get to spend as much time with my family as I would like, so it worked out perfectly that they were able to join me in Mayacama, an incredible development in Santa Rosa. It’s within this community that Inspirato has a  property for rent.  This spacious villa is not available to members until the spring (and booking up fast), but I had a chance to check it out first hand.

With four bedrooms and a den with a large couch, we were able to spread out nicely throughout the house.  My nephew Jake started my day out right by making me a very special (and chocolately) brea. He had a party to go to with my brother so it was a girls’ day and I had a very special one planned at one of my favorite places in Sonoma – the FrancisFord Coppola Winery.

You wouldn’t normally pick a winery to spend the afternoon with an 11 year old and a 13 year old, but the famed director built this place with the family in mind. I love to look at the movie memorabilia and am still in awe every time I go here and stand in front of those Oscars, the Godfather’s Desk or the war torn clothing from Apocalypse Now
Then there’s the swimming pool, the bocce ball courts and the Rustic Restaurant. The place is built just the way the owner wanted it, to share with the family.

My sister-in-law Claire joined myself and the girls as we climbed our way to what looks from the outside like a castle. This was my third visit to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it (or their wine). I took them around to take a look at the movie gallery and store, where Francis and Eleanor Coppola also sell some of their favorite wine, food and decorative items from around the world.

It was a warm day and we had a perfect table at Rustic overlooking the vineyards. The menu is filled with Coppola’s favorites, mostly Italian, but all cooked with fresh, seasonal ingredients. The meal always starts with “Aunt Christine’s Pettole,” which to me are the zeppoles I would get in New York, even served the same way in a paper bag. It was tough for us to narrow down the choices, but we made some excellent ones in the end:

Short Ribs, Argentine Style
So tender and flavorful;

Moroccan Bastilla
A flaky, slightly sweet chicken pie that was both delicious and unusual;

Linguine alla Vongole (linguine and clam sauce)
Not on my plate, but everyone else enjoyed immensely;

Bumbola Con Broccoli E Salsiccia
A tasty bowl of pasta with Italian sausage, red wine, fontina cheese and just a dash of cream.

I had a perfect Coppola Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc with my lunch while Claire thought the Chardonnay (a Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition) was wonderful. We decided to wait for dessert and take the tour first. It was my first time taking a formal tour at the Coppola Winery and I learned some things that I hadn’t before about the details of the property.

Bob was our tour guide and he first took us outside to see the vineyards. There are 24 acres of grapes on this property in Geyserville, but it’s not nearly enough to make the 45 wines Coppola produces. They use 135 growers in the county, but produce everything except the sparkling wine right here. We did some sampling here which included the fruit-filled 2009 Director’s Cut Cabernet Sauvignon. I know this wine well as it was the very first  cabernet sauvignon I ever liked and you can count on this winery to consistently produce a good one.

We continued the sampling up at the tasting room, where I discovered some more standouts, including the 2009 Director’s Cut Zinfandel, fruit forward and white pepper back, the way zin should be, and the 2008 Director’s Cut Merlot, with ripe red fruit and just a hint of spice. I also got my first taste of the 2010 Francis Coppola Reserve Russian River Viognier, filled with citrus, especially lemon.

After the tour, we went back to the restaurant for dessert, sharing the Panna Cotta and the Italia's Cream Puffs, both of which can satisfy any sweet tooth quite nicely. We then headed back to the Inspirato house where the whole family enjoyed the beautiful night on the deck. I had never seen anything quite like this deck before, complete with lounge chairs, couches, a fireplace, a large barbecue and a hot tub. It was the perfect night to take advantage of that hot tub and we (at least the adults) poured some wine and watched the full moon over Sonoma. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Food, Wine and Family Fun in Santa Rosa

It was my last day at Camellia Inn in Healdsburg, an adorable Bed & Breakfast in the heart of town. I had some time this morning so I was able to enjoy the breakfast spread – Chocolate Chip Scones, Egg Casserole, Mango Smoothies, Cereals, Breads – and chat a bit with owner Lucy Lewand. Soon it was time to hit the road for Santa Rosa to finish up my Sonoma adventure there.

I made a stop at D’Argenzio Winery to meet with owner Raymond D’Argenzio. We had met on my last trip here and I loved his Italian style wines. He’s also been instrumental in putting together Vintner’s Square in Santa Rosa, a terrific spot with wineries and shops that has food and wine events each week.

As usual, there was plenty to taste here. I had raved about  their 2008 Sangiovese and the 2009 was just as good, full of fruit and very pasta friendly (a necessary food group in my household). The 2008 D’Amarone, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, is also a great find, full of plum and dark fruits.

I bid Raymond farewell and headed into the mountains of Santa Rosa. I was set to spend the next few days up in the exclusive community of Mayacama, checking out the house that Inspirato will soon have available to its members.

The place is magnificent, 3600 square feet with four bedrooms, four and a half baths, a huge modern kitchen, living room, and den. The deck is unbelievable, complete with lounges, couches, a fireplace and hot tub, and it offers sweeping views of Sonoma Valley.

With such a large house it was only natural that I had room to share the space. While it is a wildly romantic setting, I thought it would also be a great place for the family so I invited my brother, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews to spend the weekend with me. Before they arrived, however, I was sure to claim the biggest bedroom, which had the best bathroom! The Jacuzzi was one of the largest I’ve seen and there was also a steam room.

Before I knew it, the place was alive with activity and I was excited to have an evening with the kids to myself. I knew immediately where I wanted to take them. I have done numerous stories on chef extraordinaire Guy Fieri (a Sonoma resident) and I knew his restaurant Johnny Garlic's had to be kid-friendly (Guy has two boys), interesting and a bit eclectic. It was a perfect mix for Moriah, Jake and Aleas they loved trying different foods.

Guy was out of town, but his general manager Art Robinson greeted us like we were long lost friends. Before I knew it the food was covering the table and it was all amazing.

We started with appetizers and the Brick Wings are dry rubbed and just amazing. I couldn’t eat the award-winning Sashimi Won Tacos with raw Ahi, mango jicama salsa and Wasabi Soy, but the kids raved about them.

For a main course, I had the delicious Penne Pesto with Vegetables and my oldest niece, Alea, went for the Cajun Chicken Fettuccine and loved the spice. Moriah and Jake had kids meals, with more than enough food to satisfy someone twice their size.

Just when I thought we were sufficiently stuff (and had bags of leftovers), Art came over with some desserts for us to try. We had to sample the Breath Mint Pie, with chocolate cookie crust and ice cream filled with Junior Mints; the Chocolate Lava Cake, a fudgy concoction topped with vanilla ice cream; and the New York Cheesecake with chocolate sauce. I quickly decided that I had to save more room for dessert next time I was here.

We went back to the house and I enjoyed a glass of wine with my brother and Claire, just back from their 15th anniversary dinner celebration. As is usually the case, the kids outlasted me, but I would have plenty of time to spend with them the rest of the weekend. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Russian River Wining to Madrona Manor Dining

I hadn’t had a chance to see Beth from Wine Road Northern Sonoma since my 2010 trip so I was excited that she would be taking me around for the day. It was a full itinerary of wine tasting so we needed to start with a big breakfast and we did that in downtown Healdsburg at Bovolo. I thoroughly enjoyed the baked eggs, with roasted potatoes, mushrooms and truffle oil.

Our first stop of the day was at Dutton Goldfield Winery in the Russian River Valley. We met with Dan Goldfield at their tasting room, which has only been at this location for about a year. This winery began in 1998 when Dan joined his friend Warren Dutton, a fifth generation farmer in this area.  They do a lot of single vineyard wines at Dutton Goldfield. The standouts here are the 2009 Freestone Hill Pinot Noir, fruit forward with a light spice on the back; and the 2009 Zinfandel Stoetz Ridge, with soft tannins and light oak, with obvious red fruit.

Next, we walked over to Red Car Winery, which produces wines from grapes grown on the Sonoma Coast and bottles them under the Boxcar, Trolley and Reserve labels.  Owners Mark Estrin and Carroll Kemp both worked in the movie business before starting the winery in 2000. Though their first vintage was just Syrah, there’s also Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Rose now, and even a Roussane. They still know how to do their specialty and I was really impressed with the 2007 Cuvee 22 Syrah, with a long finish of nutmeg and raspberry. I also had a barrel sample of the 2010 Ritchey Vineyard Chardonnay which was out of this world.

We headed to the scenic Russian River Vineyards for a tasting (their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is a winner, full of banana and lemon) and lunch at their restaurant, Corks. It was a perfect fresh wine country meal of Squash Soup with purple potatoes and a Chicken Breast Sandwich with mushrooms and pesto.

The next stop on the list was Benovia Winery. This large property spans 58 acres (they also have two other properties producing grapes) and even includes olive trees in addition to the vines. They have a brand new, modern tasting room for events and tours by appointment. The concentration here is on making Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache and Chardonnay in small lots for maximum quality. If you are looking for a top notch Pinot Noir, I’d recommend their 2009 Cohn Vineyard, heavy on cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, with enough fruit to balance it out.

Old World Winery was like no other winery we had visited and their wines were just as unique.  Winemaker Darek Trowbridge is the third generation in this business and he uses native yeast, little sulfite and winemaking skills just the way his grandpa did. The results include a Pinot Gris that’s got a honey sweetness and a Fulton Folderol blend of Zinfandel and Abouriou that is delicious. Also here is the Juggernat, a blend of six different wines that you can buy in a refillable jug. You also get a chance to guess the six wines (in order of percentage). I did pretty good on guessing what’s in this tasty wine, but I’m not giving away the secret.

We did a quick stop at Kendall Jackson because I was curious to see the grounds. They are beautiful and the Culinary Gardens are especially impressive. I hope to go back there at some point and check out their wine, but I was needed a break and time to get ready for a very special dinner.

Madrona Manor is an exquisite inn with a Michelin Star restaurant that the Wine Road graciously invited me to have dinner at. The dining room is intimate, yet formal, and the food of Executive Chef Jesse Mallgren is an experience as much as it is magnificent.  In between the courses, we had tiny morels that were deliciously creative. I was impressed with how the chef started and finished the meal with a churro dish and a radish dish, savory at the beginning and sweet at the end.

I started with the Fuyu Persimmon, with pomegranates, kabocha squash, pumpkin seeds, mascarpone and truffle. My next course was Foie Gras Terrine, with guava, ginger, cipollini onions, pistachios and brioche. Then it was White Truffle Risotto, with abalone mushrooms and alba truffles, followed by Roasted Duck Breast with crisped confit, apples, pine, matsukake mushrooms and beans.

Beth had the same as me except for one dish. She raved about the Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi, with lobster, winter squash, lemon and parsley. We finished the meal with their famous ice cream, made right at the table. I was glad the portion was small.

Beth took me back to the Camellia Inn for my final night in Healdsburg. I had an exciting day ahead of me as I was going to Santa Rosa to check out Inspirato’s new property for their members, and my family was joining me for three more fun-filled days.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sonoma Wining and Dining

It was a full day around Sonoma with Tracy from Wine Road Northern Sonoma, as I made first time visits to some of the area’s great finds.

Our first stop was at Timber Crest Farms, which is now the home of a collection of tasting ro.  It’s a great idea, putting together a selection of wineries you can check out in one place (and they even have a food truck if you get hungry in the middle).  

We started the tasting at Papapietro Perry, which has some of Tracy’s favorite Pinot Noirs that have also garnered critical acclaim. Though it’s not one of my top varieties, I was impressed with the 2008 Elsbree Vineyards Pinot Noir, a complex mixture of pepper and fruit. It's no wonder this winery, owned by two couples, has come so far. Originally started out of a garage, they now produce 8,000 cases a year from small lots of single vineyards.  They have made a name for themselves with their consistently acclaimed Pinots.

Next we made a stop at Family Wineries of Dry Creek. This is a combination store and tasting room, filled with food, kitchen and décor items from all around Sonoma. They sample wine from six different family wineries here and you can choose your flights based on the type of wines you like. I picked the light whites and found two standouts: 2009 Ca’Bella Moscato from Lago di Merlo Vineyards, sweet & fruity with lots of peach, pear and apricot; and 2008 Dashe Cellars Late Harvest Zinfandel, an interesting mix of ripe red fruit that was more flavorful than sweet.

I really enjoyed my stop at Kokomo Winery, not just because of their fascinating selection of wine, but for the Midwest ties. Kokomo is actually a reference to the Indiana city that Erik Miller grew up in. It’s not far from Purdue University, where he met current winemaker Josh Bartels. Josh told us all about the start of Kokomo in 2004 in partnership with long time Sonoma grower Randy Peters. He joined them in 2006 and together they’ve been producing everything from Sauvignon Blanc (the 2010 is a winner full of tropical fruit) to Sangiovese (a great take on this fruity Italian grape in the ‘07). Also of note here is the 2008 Cuvee 4791, a Bordeaux and Rhone blend full of dark fruit and cinnamon spice.

We left Timber Crest Farms for a short drive over to Mazzoco Winery, well-known for their award winning Zinfandels. David – who knows anything and everything about the winery and Zinfandel – led us through a selection of fine wine that included a 2009  Schuhlmuller Reserve Chardonnay, very buttery with just a hint of oak, and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that was full of nutmeg and pepper spice. The winner here was without a doubt the 2009 Juan Rodrigues Zinfandel Reserve, and I had a glass of it during our wonderful picnic lunch in front of the vineyards. (The Roasted Eggplant sandwich from Jimtown Store goes perfectly with that Zin.)

Tracy and I were full from lunch and hit the road to visit the Raymond Burr Vineyards. The  Emmy winning star of Perry Mason started this winery in 1986 with his partner, Robert Benevides, who still runs it. The tasting room is filled with memorabilia from Burr’s television career and the grounds are beautiful. They only make a few wines here – Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and an Estate Port. I favored the 2009 Chardonnay Barrel Select, which was a bit different than most, yet had a strong butter finish.

Our final winery of the day was Martorana Family Winery. We met with owner Gio Martoran, who is as passionate about organic farming practices as he is about his wine. I really enjoyed the wines, with a big shout out to the 2007 Merlot, bursting with red fruit, and the 2007 DCV Zinfandel, with a distinct light pepper to balance the berries.

We headed back to downtown Healdsburg for dinner at Mateo’s Cocina Latina. This restaurant, opened by Chef Mateo Granados, has only been open a short while and has been receiving a lot of attention. The menu pays homage to Granados' Yucatan roots, both in the food and drinks. There’s a huge selection of tequilas and mezcals, as well as killer Margaritas (I had a tasty Kiwi Pomegranate).

Tracy and I started off nibbling on the pumpkin seed crackers with olive oil guacamole, as well as the Trio de Calabazas Fritas, slow cooked caramelized squash mixed with raw milk feta. Both were fantastic, as was my Vegetarian Tamale, served in a tomato-habanero sauce.

It had been a long day full of lots of great finds. In addition to the wine, I also discovered a new Sonoma trend – wine shirts. It seemed like every winery I went into had a collection of interesting sayings on shirts. I found them quite charming and had to take a few souvenirs: “Balanced & Complex” from Papietro and “Peace, Love & Pinot” from Kokomo.

It wasn’t long before I drifted off to sleep at the Camellia Inn, getting ready for another day of wining and dining in Sonoma.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Figs, Food and Wine in Sonoma

Sonoma is one of those places I can visit every few months and it is guaranteed that I will find things to taste and places to visit that I haven’t seen before. The planning of this trip was no different and I was really excited about the itinerary Wine Road Northern Sonoma had helped me plan that included new discoveries and reacquainting with some old friends.

I was excited to meet Sondra Bernstein, whose popular restaurants have made her well known even out of wine country. We were meeting at the girl & the fig and she was very gracious about the fact that I was running about an hour late. I enjoyed hearing all about Sondra’s trips through the South of France that led to her love of French food and wine, and a desire to bring it to California wine country.

I listened to how Sondra has educated her restaurant patrons and the winery community in the Rhone varietals and food, and judging by the fact that many of these wines are now being made in Sonoma (and many people are filling her restaurant), it’s a welcome addition to area. We also talked a bit about her new book, Plats Du Jour , which combines both recipes and antidotes.

The flights of wine here are a great option and I enjoyed my selection of whites. The quiche I had was light and delicious. I also tasted the Croques Monsieur, an absolutely incredible grilled ham and cheese sandwich that is worth a trip to Sonoma for alone, and some of the yummy Panisse Cake, made from butternut squash puree and covered in a pumpkin seed pesto.  We finished by sampling two of her specialty desserts which were also heavenly, chocolate fig kisses and lavender crème brulee.

Before I left the girl & the fig, I took a quick look at the things you can takeout from there.  Her cheese and charcuterie selection is available to go, as are her line of Fig Food, which includes items such as Apricot Fig Chutney and Fig & Pistachio Cake. (Some of these items are also for sale in specialty stores throughout the U.S., check the website for details.)

I made a quick visit to ESTATE, Sondra Bernstein’s Italian restaurant, where I saw a tantalizing menu and grappa cart that will need to be on the itinerary of my next Sonoma trip before I took off for the heart of Sonoma, Healdsburg. I only had one winery on the schedule for this day, but it was a good one.

Owner Peter Merriam greeted me at Merriam Vineyards and told me about their passion for both Sonoma and Maine. I was in love with their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, filled with pineapple and kiwi, with a touch of citrus to make it reminiscent of the New Zealand ones, without the grassy taste. I was equally impressed with the 2006 Windacre Russian River Valley Merlot, which is full of ripe red fruit on the palate, with a bit of light wood and white pepper on the back. Also of note here was the 2007 Cab Franc, blended with a bit of petite verdot. I really enjoyed the blueberry notes on this one.

I arrived at the Camellia Inn just in time for the evening wine and cheese hour. I quickly settled into my very large and cozy room so I could enjoy a bit of it before dinner. This adorable Bed & Breakfast is in the heart of Healdsburg and was filled with people exchanging restaurant and winery notes while sipping some of the local fare.

My dinner plans were already made. I was off to the DryCreek Kitchen, Chef Charlie Palmer’s latest. It’s definitely not for those on a budget, but the raves for the food are warranted. The includes mostly fish and a bit of meat, but there were some vegetarian options that looked wonderful so I decided to go that way (they also have a tasting menu if you want to go with the chef’s selections for the day).

I ordered the Pumpkin Soup, prepared tableside with cream and seeds. It was excellent and I was glad I had ordered a light dinner after eating the entire bowl. That entree was Red Quinoa Pilaf with house made goat chevre beats and almond cream. The sauce had a bit of anise and it was just spectacular, something I would absolutely return for.

I walked the few blocks back to my room at the Camellia Inn and settled in for the night. It was going to be a long next day of winery hoping with my friend Tracy Logan of the Wine Road and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Previewing Indianapolis for Super Bowl

I had a great trip to Indianapolis in September and discovered some of the plans the city was making to get ready for the 2012 Super Bowl. I couldn’t wait to return to the city and I had my opportunity when I received an assignment from American Way Magazine. Once I was there I had a chance to explore some more things to see, do and eat.

Evan of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association met me in the lobby of the brand new (and largest in the world) J.W. Marriott to take me for lunch. We were heading to Goose The Market, where the owner has a passion for charcuterie, combined with a taste for interesting wines and beers.

Goose the Market is famous for their bacon, and even has a Bacon of the Month Club (Apple Cider and Brandy, anyone?). They offer a few different sandwiches each day and I settled on The Goose, made with Prosciutto di Parma, basil, fresh mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil. I only had a few bites of the delicious concoction when we were also given some fresh cheese and meat platters, with treats such as Midnight Run goat’s milk cheese, tomato preserves, Calibrese (100% pork with paprika) and a homemade Black Forest Ham. It all went down very well with a glass of Australian Semillon, one of nearly 100 types of wine they have in addition to at least 60 beer choices.

After lunch, Evan took me through town and told me about the Sky Walks that connect the Convention Center, Circle Centre Mall and a dozen hotels to Lucas Oil Stadium so almost everywhere you go in Indy (including Lucas Oil Stadium) can be reached in climate control comfort. We also drove by a few of the murals being designed in the 46 for XLVI project done by the Arts Council of Indianapolis before I was dropped at Studio 2000 for a massage.

I enjoyed the massage, but I also liked the nostalgia of the place in the Circle Tower, which has great views of Monument Circle available to those getting their hair done. It’s full of nifty nostalgic pieces, such as remnants of the architectural firm it was in the 1920s and chairs from the barbershop it then became.

Cocktails were at a new establishment, The Libertine. Neal Brown, a well-known Indianapolis restaurateur, just opened this place with a focus on cocktails and small plates. (This is another meat lovers paradise, they have a Bacon Flight on the bar menu!) The bartenders are knowledgeable and make suggestions. I had a Dark & Stormy with Goslings Black Seal and Evan enjoyed The Vesper, a James Bond favorite made here with Billicoat Gin, Penin Vodka and Lillet Blanc.

We had a delicious dinner at the elegantly comfortable Meridian Restaurant.  I was really impressed with the preparation of Chef Dan Dunville and it appears I’m not alone as Indianapolis Colts like Peyton Manning make this place a regular stop.

I settled in with a glass of the 2009 Babich New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a dish of Potato Gnocchi with mushrooms, tomato, bacon, spinach, golden raisins and squash. It was absolutely delicious and hard to top when the Osso Bucco and the Wild Boar Parpadelle came, but we did manage to enjoy it all, even sampling a little of the unbelievable desserts, which included a Banana Tart with Macadamia Nuts & Caramel.

After a good night’s sleep, Morgan from the Visit Indy picked me up and we talked some more about the upcoming Super Bowl. I learned that this event will have more possible NFL competitors within a five hour drive than any in history. A Super Bowl Village will be created for 10 days for parties and activities, including zip lining through the streets. Madonna will be singing at halftime and a host of other celebrities will be attending and performing. In all, the city expects 150,000 people – and only half will be in the stadium.

I was rather excited about the prospect of heading into a private tour of Lucas Oil Stadium and was quite impressed. There’s something about standing in the middle of this huge empty place that just currently has a “Home of Super Bowl 2012” sign and will have the attention of millions from around the world in a few months.

We took a walk through White River Park, which is home to eight museums and lots of activities in the spring and summer, including gondola rides through the canal.  I dedicated a good part of my career to writing fulltime about tennis so I loved a walk through the NCAA Hall of Fame. I was able to spot quite a few names recorded in there of players I know, including the dedication to the last school to sweep singles, doubles and team championships, my very own Fighting Illini (2003).

Before heading home, Morgan and I had a wonderful lunch just outside of town at Trader’s Point Creamery. It’s a great place to bring the kids (or be a kid with sleigh rides and caroling) through the farm, but it also has a phenomenal restaurant attached. I had some of their famous hot chocolate and a grilled cheese sandwich with avocado. Lindsay, the cheese maker, came by with some delicious samples of Gouda, raw milk cheese and feta, then we finished it up with a bit of their homemade ice cream (caramel and chocolate make a wonderful combo).

I’m not sure yet if I will make it to any of the festivities for Super Bowl 2012, but I will certainly be back. One of the reasons I moved to the Midwest was the fact that I would have the opportunity to visit so many places nearby without worrying about traffic and tolls. Indianapolis is definitely one of those cities and I have a feeling there’s a lot more to discover there.