Saturday, August 31, 2013

Heineken House at US Open 2013

As much as I love to sip the champagne at the Moet & Chandon bar, I have to give credit to the Heineken people for their innovative spaces at the US Open this year.

It’s actually been 22 years since Heineken began their sponsorship of the tournament. While at first it meant the supply of the Dutch brew chilled at all the stands, it expanded to the original Red Star, a bar located near the President’s Gate.

Last year, this “bar” turned into a two story building, the top of which housed the new Red Star Café, a full service restaurant and bar. This year they have gone one step further, creating an entire village on top of the food court.

I took a walk through Heineken House and I was impressed. Not only is it a great place to relax away from the crowds, you’ll find a selection of food and drinks, as well as games and televisions showing live action of the Open. All of this with incredible views of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. 

Tyler Kord, chef/owner of No. 7 Sub, paired a menu of light fare to go with Heineken and Heineken Light, including the popular Broccoli Cuban.

If you don’t want to spend all your time relaxing on the swings, sitting back on the couches, eating and/or drinking (and I’m not sure who wouldn’t), you can try your hand at a round of “cornhole” or get your picture taken at the photo book. There’s also a “Pro Shop” where you can purchase Heineken merchandise.

I made it up to the village in time for yesterday’s “Heineken Perfect Pour” competition. There was a pretty good crowd there trying their luck at the perfect pour, judged by local bartenders (the competition will continue at 2:00 pm everyday through September 5th.

If you can’t make it to Heineken House at the US Open this year, you can (presuming you are over 21 years of age) participate in the “Crack the US Open” photo hunt on Instagram for a chance to win tickets to the Men’s Final next week.  Beginning September 3rd, visit @Crack_the_US_Open on Instagram, flip your phone and scroll through a panoramic view of a stadium to begin the hunt. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tasting US Open 2013

For more years than I’ll admit, I have spent weeks at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships covering tennis. It’s one of my favorite times of year. I catch up players and friends from the media. I also get to sample tons of delicious food and drinks, a task that has become more prevalent since I’ve focused on lifestyle writing.

I got started this year at the U.S. Open Food Tasting Preview. It was enough to convince anyone to come to the tournament whether or not they wanted to see tennis and the tournament is ready. The restaurants are prepared to serve 27,000 people during the tournament.

The tasting included appearances by chefs David Burke, Tony Mantunao and Masaharu Morimoto. They showed off their signature dishes and also told us about what’s new this year.  Here’s what was sampled (my friends Melanie and Meredith took care of the seafood sampling for me) from each restaurant:

Wine Bar
Burrata Cheese on French bread-light, tasty and a perfect wine accompaniment.
Salumi Antipasto with marinated artichokes and tomatoes and rosemary breadsticks-a nice selection of flavors mixing perfectly on this small plate.

Village Market
Kale Salad with yellow and green beans, tomato, carrots and cucumber in honey Dijon vinaigrette-fresh and light for a hot day at the National Tennis Center, but not very filling without added chicken.

Patio Café
Curried Crab and Watermelon Salad on a bed of baby lettuces with a curry aioli-large clumps of crab meat and sweet watermelon is a perfect match.

Hill Country Barbecue
Signature Brisket, pit-smoked over Texas oak-tender and tasty.
Pulled Pork Slider-one of the best I’ve had.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon Pecan Pie-save room for this one. Too bad they don’t make a full pie to go!

East Gage Grill
Pat Lafrieda Steak Sandwich topped with Monterey Jack cheese, caramelized onions and au jus on a French baguette-rare filet mignon with a bit of tangy sweetness.

Champions Bar & Grill
Grilled Portobello Burger stuffed with ratatouille, low-fat mozzarella and roasted pepper and served with chipotle mayo on brioche-an excellent combination that will be calling more than just vegetarians to the restaurant.

Morimoto Sushi-a selection of fish and vegetarian sushi that gets rave reviews.

Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche-large shrimp in a nice presentation, but not one of the top choices.

Even the Players Dining is getting an upgrade this year.  They have added gluten-free sandwiches; a Juice, Smoothie and Espresso Bar; and a Chocolate Milk Bar. I’m looking forward to sampling some of those offerings.

Grey Goose was on hand to sample their Signature Cocktail, the Honey Deuce, during the meal and then we went down to the Moet & Chandon Terrace, where I greeted some of my friends from Moet who I was at America’s Cup with and enjoyed some of their great bubbly.

In addition to the Grey Goose and Moet champagne bars, the U.S. Open also has a Wine Bar (which offers food pairings) and the Heineken Red Star Café.

While I enjoyed trying everything new and will certainly seek some of these dishes out over the next week or so, I am happy to say some of my U.S. Open “staples” are back, including the Caprese Panini in the South Plaza, the Potato Knish from the Glatt Kosher Cart and, of course, the Chocolate Peanut Butter from the Ben & Jerry’s, where they also have a great variety of low calorie smoothies to keep me cool in the hot sun. Then again, you can never go wrong with the Classic Burger and Waffle Fries. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Exploring More California Wine Country

My itineraries are usually made up for me. Occasionally, I piece everything together on my own. I’m usually pretty good at it, but sometimes I forget to bring out the map when it counts. That’s how I ended up spending a day and night back and forth between Sonoma and Napa. Despite the excess driving, I’m glad I didn’t eliminate any of the stops.

I started the day with breakfast at Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa at a quiet table on the patio. The waiter brought me a warm scone which was delicious with the homemade jam and butter. I ordered the Heart Healthy Breakfast Wrap, a perfect mixture of egg whites, avocado, tomato, cheese and grilled veggies, served with a side of fruit.

My mom had decided to stay in a bit so I brought her what she called, “the best oatmeal I’ve ever had” before I took off for Domaine Carneros in Napa. I had never been there before and I was a bit surprised by the huge, perfectly manicured estate in front of me.

As beautiful as it looked from the bottom, the setup of tables on the large balcony was perfect for great views of the vineyards. I enjoyed photographing them for a few minutes before making my way to the entry way with a small shop of wine, books and unique food items.

I had a tour of the winery and tasting rooms and was told that most tastings take place privately with an educator who can tell you about the wine. They also serve cheese and charcuterie plates as it is believed wine should be enjoyed with food. The area for wine club members was impressive and it even included a patio of their own for tastings.

The sparkling wines at Domaine Carneros brought me back to my trip to Champagne. In fact, Domaine Carneros is half owned by Tattinger Champagne. Contrary to champagne, though, the wines of Domaine Carneros are made with pinot noir and chardonnay, never pinot meunier, which doesn’t grow well in Napa.

I sampled four wines, all sparkling. It was nearly 100 degrees so I chose to sit indoors. These wines were finely crafted and each one had its own nuances. The 2006 Le Reve tastes the closest to French champagne, not as fruity as the 2009 Organic Brut, light and easy drinking, bearing kiwi qualities of a sauvignon blanc, and making my perfect sparkler.

The 2006 Le Reve Blanc de Blanc is the most expensive and the most popular, filled with lemon, grapefruit, jasmine and honeysuckle. It is aged in the bottle a bit longer to get that blending of flavors.  I was also a fan of the 2008 Ultra Brut, dry, buttery and with a hint of citrus, none of which came from oaking.

My next stop was at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa in the town by the same name. Despite the fact that the Lodge is on a main street in Sonoma, once you enter the elegant lobby that is quickly forgotten. I met Charlotte Milan, the public relations rep for the hotel, in the lobby and we walked across the lot for lunch at the Lodge’s Carneros Bistro & Bar.

With sauvignon blanc still on my mind, I ordered a glass of the latest Kunde Estate and had a classic club sandwich with turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato. There wasn’t anything classic about my dessert.

The Cookies ‘n Cream was utterly amazing! A large warm chocolate chip pecan cookie with vanilla bean ice cream, accompanied by a shot of Kahlua, to drink with it our pour on top (I did a little of each).

After lunch we walked around the property. Past the large, modern building are trees, flowers, a pool and whirlpools, with plenty of sitting areas.

We walked all the way back to the Lodge at Sonoma's Raindance Spa. It smelled wonderful the minute I entered and I was disappointed I had filled my trip up without adding any spa treatments.

Before I left I got to see the wine bar and coffee shop inside the main building. Both were very impressive with large selections, but it was time to head back to the Vintners Inn and pick Mom up for the next stop, MacPhail Family Winery.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Coppola and Fig Return While Visiting Vintners

It’s often hard to go back to places I love when there are so many new ones to try. Sonoma is one place where I often make that exception and this trip was no different. I was heading back to Francis Ford Coppola’sWinery and the Girl and the Fig restaurant. I still had plenty of new things to check out also, starting with the Four Diamond Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa.

A big gate with just the name COPPOLA greets you as you get off the freeway. It is just the beginning of the statement as the winery looks more like a large Italian villa or even a castle.  Despite the huge staircase, I managed to quickly and easily find an elevator to take my mom, traveling in a wheelchair, upstairs in

I had gone to Francis Ford Coppola’s when the pool was first beingconstructed and in the fall or winter, so I had never actually seen it being used. It actually turned out just the way it was meant to be. Families were swimming and lounging in front of their cabines (small cabanas). An outdoor café offered food and drinks. There was, of course, plenty of wine available too.

We started our visit with lunch and I was happy to hear the Braciole with Rigatoni in Meat Ragu was available. I had seen it on the menu every time I came, but only some of “Francis’s Favorites” are available each day and it was never there when I came.

We shared the Roasted Eggplant appetizer which was tender and flavorful with lots of raw garlic. We also savored Aunt Christine’s Peppole, which is also known as Zeppole.

Mom ordered the Lemon Chicken for her main course and really liked it. As for me, I found the Braciole had been well worth the wait and definitely compared to my Aunt Mary’s recipe.

I could go through the movie memorabilia and look at the genuine Oscars many more times without ever getting bored so I was happy to show it all to my mom on her first trip. We wondered for a while before heading downstairs to a wine tasting.

The selection at Coppola’s is always huge and I am always surprised at just how good they make an inexpensive wine here. It’s often my recommendation when someone tells me they want a good one that doesn’t cost much to look for the Francis Ford Coppola brand.

We tried quite a few wines among which I thought the best were: 2012 Sofia Rose, heavy on strawberry flavor but light and fresh; 2010 Votre Sante Chardonnay, an excellent blend of butter and lemon with just a bit of kiwi; and the 2011 Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, rich and not overly dry.

Ron, who guided us through the tasting, also brought out a great 2010 Diamond Malbec, explaining how Francis Ford Coppola had fallen in love with the deep dark grape when he was filming in Argentina.

We left Coppola’s property and headed to the Vintners Inn to check in. The property was filled with perfectly manicured plants and flowers and there was even a flowing fountain in the middle, between the four buildings.

Paths led between it all and it was a serene atmosphere I could see getting lost in for a few days if I didn’t have more work to do.

The room at Vintners Inn was definitely warm and comforting with a small patio that led out into the courtyard. A bottle of fume blanc was waiting for us on a small table between two antique chairs.

I decided to check out the Jacuzzi area, which was an intimate section fenced in near the vineyards, melting away my muscles for a short while before I dressed for dinner.

My last meal at the girl & the fig was actually with owner Sondra Bernstein. I had a wonderful time getting to know her and sampling her very authentic French food. I was more than excited to get back there and it certainly met my expectations.

We started, as the French do, with an aperitif. Mom chose a Kir Royale (French sparkling wine and Framboise), while I decided to try the Fig Royale, which substituted the Framboise for house-made fig liqueur. It was a nice change and went well with our selection of cheeses, both French and locally made.

Then we had the Grilled Fig & Arugula Salad with pecans, pancetta and Chevre cheese in a port vinaigrette. We both agreed it was delicious.

My main dish was Croques Monsieur, something I had been thinking about since Sondra ordered it (and let me taste a bit) the last time I was at her restaurant. My mom had the Quiche Lorraine and was surprised it was quite different from the American version she was used to. I concluded that I needed to bring her back to France!

I had a goat cheesecake with raspberry puree that was fantastic while Mom relished her blueberry sorbet. I’m happy to say the dessert portions were small because as it was we walked out of the girl & the fig quite full.

We headed back to the Vintner’s Inn for the night. A wheelchair malfunction and a flowing sprinkler in the pathway literally dampened our spirits a bit, but we soon settled down for the night.