Thursday, January 31, 2013

Traverse City and Grand Rapids for Michigan Finale

It was time to head home after another adventure with my friend Lisa, but I wanted to squeeze a bit more into the Michigan experience.

We had an early breakfast with J. Michael DeAgostino, Public Relations Manager for Grand Traverse Resort. I wanted to hear about the seasonal activities available here that I might be able to check out on future visits.  

He told me about the exciting winter he was looking forward to at the resort, with snowmobiling, snow shoeing, ice skating, cross country skiing and even dog sledding. All of these winter sports operate out of the golf pro shop, which is a busy spot in the spring, summer and fall as they have three award-winning courses and a golf school here.

We bid J. Michael farewell and made a stop at the Dylan’s Candy Store in the hotel’s lobby. I had never been to this outlet and I definitely felt like a “kid in a candy store” with all these options. I was overwhelmed , and had a long drive ahead of me, so I decided to escape quickly with just a few interesting lollipops while the candy buttons attempted to call me back to my youth.

The drive from Traverse City to home is a long one. Lisa and I decided to break it up by stopping in Grand Rapids. I had never been before and Janet Korn of the Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau invited us to lunch at one of the city’s popular restaurants.

The owners of Bistro Bella Vita are known in Grand Rapids as they also have two other eateries. I can’t speak for those, but I certainly enjoyed this one.  The menu used a lot of fresh local food, including lots of vegetables. We started out with a yummy, house made Hummus Trio and some Mushroom Crostini.

Lisa and I couldn’t decide what to choose from the vast menu so we shared the Harvest Ravioli and Michigan Turkey Sandwich. The ravioli was stuffed with sweet potatoes and mushrooms in a roasted vegetable, honey-truffle sauce. It was unique and incredible. The sandwich – smoked Michigan turkey with cashew butter, red wine-cherry jam and goat cheese on sourdough – was equally satisfying.

We talked about Grand Rapids, which has its own Beer Trail, as well as five museums, antique galleries and high end boutiques, hotels and spas. We also discussed a visit to explore more of it on a return visit (hopefully this spring). It would have been nice to spend more time there, but it was time to go to my favorite place of all… home. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wine, Beer & Pigs in Traverse City

We had a full day of Traverse City exploring, eating and drinking that started with a delicious breakfast at the Sweetwater Bistro in the Grand Traverse Resort where we were enjoying our stay. My friend Lisa feasted on the Salmon Eggs Benedict, while I was enthralled with the Cornflake-Crusted French Toast.

It was a short meal as Michael Norton of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau was waiting to take us around town for the day.  I had met Mike on my last trip here and was looking forward to catching up and seeing what he had scheduled for us for the day.

The first stop was at L. Mawby, known for their sparkling wines. I had visited them a few years ago, but was anxious to taste the latest. The winery had expanded their collection as well as opening a patio for tastings a year ago.

Larry Mawby took us through the selection, which includes: Blanc de Blanc, a very good 100% chardonnay sparkling with a long finish; Cremant Classic, made from vignoles grapes and aged for a bit of wood within the fruity taste; Wet, a pinot gris and Riesling blend filled with apple notes; and the 2011 Reserve Pinot Gris, my favorite, is a combination of peach and citrus.

Our next stop was a catch all as far as Traverse City is concerned. Black Star Farms refers to itself as an “agricultural destination.” Within this property you will find an inn, a cafe, a store/tasting room for wines and spirits made on the premises and a dairy that makes cheese.

We started at Black Star with the wine and I was again impressed with the pinot gris of this area, this time in the 2011 Arcturos. The Rieslings here are equally impressive, with my favorite being the medium dry. I’d also give a big shoutout to the 10 Year Old Apple Brandy as well as the 2008 Accapella, one of the best ice wines I’ve had in awhile.

Before we left Black Star Farms we made a quick visit to the shop next door to taste the Leelanau Raclette Cheese, which was quite good.

The Towne Plaza is a fairly new, rather unique restaurant as its focus is on pork, specifically from Mangalista Pigs.  They are dedicated to fresh, local ingredients in the rather small menu and they got everything we tasted just right. For Lisa, it was a burger made from ground Angus (house smoked) and topped with pork belly and cheddar.  Mike had a charcuterie plate and I went for the pasta choice at the time, orecchiete with house-made sausage, broccolini, tomato and spinach.

We saved dessert for Grand Traverse Pie Company where we shared slices that included one of the best ever -- the Grand Traverse Cherry Crumb. I’m still dreaming about that one!

We soon found out that even Traverse City’s Right Brain Brewery has gotten into the pig business, offering a Mangalista Pig Porter. This unique brew is blended with the thigh and head of a smoked pig.  

I’m glad I was able to capture Lisa’s “priceless” face when she first tasted it, though she did decide she liked the smoky taste once the initial shock of what she was drinking wore off.

Mike took us back to the Grand Traverse Resort after Right Brain. We were pretty worn out from a day of tasting and decided to stay in for the night. In the morning we would be driving home, with a stopover in Grand Rapids for lunch. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Return to Traverse City

I love to travel and there are so many places I’d have wanted to return to. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do it too often since new destinations are always presenting themselves.

Traverse City was one of the first places I visited as a wine and spirits travel writer and I fell in love with the food and wine, as well as the beauty of Lake Michigan. I vowed I would return someday. It took three years, but I finally got to make that trip.

My friend Lisa and I were staying at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa during this getaway. I had visited it briefly my last time here and was anxious to stay and check out this full service resort.

Our stay started in one of my favorite places – the spa – and it happened that the Grand Traverse Spa has been voted when of the top spas in America so it didn’t get much better than this.

We could see right away how this spa earned its honors. Within 7,000 square feet (on two floors) there were 23 treatment rooms as well as a relaxing area and a salon. There was also a separate area for the gym, tennis and a huge pool, which included a children’s area with slides.

After enjoying the pool, whirlpool and sauna, I settled in with a cup of tea and a book before my scrumptious 80 minute Cherry-Infused Massage.

Lisa hit the jackpot with the Spa Grand Traverse Body Renewal, a spa experience she couldn’t stop raving about. She had an aromatherapy soak, hot stone massage, massage oil application, warm linen wrap and neck, scalp and face massage. All of this was done using local ingredients, such as wild birch and wintergreen native to the area.

We didn’t have a lot of time before getting ready for dinner at Aerie Restaurant. I had eaten at this restaurant before, enjoying both the night views of Traverse City and the fantastic menu. I wasn’t disappointed on my return.

I sipped an Argentinian Sauvignon Blanc from Aerie’s huge wine list as Lisa savored about her Lump Crab Cakes. She continued on the seafood mode as I warmed up with the Gratin of Onion Soup. Our appetizers were served with Aerie’s signature unique breads with (locally made) olive oil and vinegar. On this night it was a Cherry Herb Asiago and a Raisin Bread with Chipotle Olive Oil and Peach Vinegar – a perfect combination.

Both our main courses were just incredible as Lisa had a “melt in your mouth” filet with blue cheese and I enjoyed a flavorful Osso Bucco with a Saffron Risotto. We managed to find a little room left for the Assorted Mini Cheesecakes, which included a tasty Mango with Raspberry as well as a coconut one.

After a nightcap in Jack’s Sports Bar, Lisa and I headed up to our rooms at the Grand Traverse to get some sleep before a full day of exploring Traverse City.

P.S. Thanks to my loyal readers for still being here after my long absence. I am sorry that it's been awhile since I have been producing fresh blogs. It is not a habit I plan on getting into. I faced major surgery in December that was surrounded by complications, but I’m back on the mend and ready to start writing away regularly!