Monday, June 30, 2014

Return to Long Island Wine Country

I grew up on Eastern Long Island so I’m always anxious to explore when I have a chance. This time it was a family affair, with my mother, and my daughter and her boyfriend.

You know the saying, “So little time, so many places to see?” That’s me when it comes to Long Island. For this trip I only had one day and decided we’d do the North Fork, which I haven’t been to in a while.

I contacted the Long Island Wine Council for some advice on new and unique wineries that would give me a wide range in a short period of time. They did a good job in choosing.

Our first stop was at Raphael Winery in Peconic. It’s a beautiful winery so it’s no wonder it’s popular for weddings

The winery is family owned and has been around for 13 years. Their selection included a little of everything. I especially liked the 2013 Rose, which is mostly merlot with a bit of pinot noir. It has a strawberry nose and hints of berries in a semi-dry wine. The 2010 La Fontana is a delicious red blend with a complex flavor that highlights licorice and blackberries.

I also recommend the 2013 Riesling. It’s light and fresh, perfect for a summer day. And, you can’t go wrong with their La Tavola White and La Tavola Red, both delicious and $20 and under.

Winemaker Anthony Nappa took me around the winery, which believes in sustainable practices. 

He then led us over to his own place, the Winemaker Studio, which also has Provisions for his chef wife to produce deli sandwiches, cheese plates, and other wine tasting accompaniments.

I enjoyed all of Nappa’s wines. My favorite was definitely the 2013 'Frizzante' Sparkling White Wine, a pinot noir, with some Riesling and gewürztraminer. It’s sold in a beer style bottle and just remembering it has me wondering if I can find a place around here to get some.

Also of note here is their most popular wine, a White Pinot Noir, currently bottled from 2012. It’s an orange colored wine that was produced with no oak and no malolactic acid, keeping it fruity and fresh. And, I can’t forget the 2013 Birdo Cabernet Franc with its chocolate taste.

Truthfully, just bring an extra suitcase and take home (at least) one of everything at the Winemakers Studio.

We took a tasting break to have lunch at one of the most well-known restaurants in the North Fork of Long Island, Claudios. I had heard they made a great Bloody Mary so I started with that. It had a little too much horseradish for me, but it fit the description otherwise.

The four of us shared two appetizers that were both excellent. The Fresh Mozzarella Tour was the Appetizer of the Day and was a fantastic combo of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, pesto, and balsamic vinegar.

Our other choice is always on the menu and a must try. Spinach-Stuffed Brie with a berry compote is a superb mix of flavors.

Claudio’s specializes in seafood and my mother and daughter indulged with a Lobster Roll and a Lobster BLT.

My mom agreed with the reviews that the Lobster Roll was one of the best she had. My daughter really liked the Lobster BLT, but thought it could have been better if they didn’t fry the lobster. Her boyfriend and I went for the burgers.

When I say burger, this was far from an ordinary one. It was topped with arugula, tomato confit, and cheddar.

I wished I could finish it, but a Chocolate Brownie Sundae showed up at our table and I had to make a choice.

After lunch, we drove to Kontokosta Winery in Greenport. This is another place which is popular on the wedding circuit and I can see why. It’s a 62 acre waterfront property. The winery is fully wind-powered.

It is also the eastern most winery on the North Fork, giving them the ability to produce some different grapes with unique flavor.

The winery is fairly new, with the production building not ready until 2012, so they don’t have any old vintages here, but what they have is all worthy of a taste. Their 2013 Riesling is everything a Riesling should be – semi-dry with a fresh apricot nose and a bit of grapefruit and honeysuckle on the tongue.

They also have the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted so far from Long Island, filled with lemon and kiwi, with a slight hint of peach.

I wished we had more time for more tasting and exploring, but it was time to head back and get ready for dinner. The North Fork will definitely stay on my list of Long Island places to return to. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Spa, Fun and Dining in St. Louis

Day two in St. Louis for Mom and I was my favorite kind of day – starting at the spa.

We were at the Four Seasons St. Louis in a beautiful suite overlooking the Gateway Arch. The first day was filled with exploring and we had a great time.

We enjoyed a light yogurt parfait breakfast before heading down to the spa. The atmosphere was quite relaxing and I took advantage of the relaxation room, steam room and sauna before my treatment.

It was a heavenly hot stone massage for me, while Mom chose to get a lymphatic massage, which she said was wonderful thanks to a well-trained masseuse.

Mary from the Enjoy St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau picked us up soon after we were done to continue our tour of the city. She told us about the Downtown Trolley, which circulates that area and the City Museum, and the other trolleys that will take you to various attractions in the city at little cost. She also told us that the city was breaking ground on a new trolley system for next year.

Our itinerary for the day took us to Forest Park, the largest park in St. Louis and twice the size of Central Park in New York. Within this 1,100 acre complex – which was the entrance to the 1904 World’s Fair -- you can find the Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Zoo, the Art Museum, the Science Center, and the Planetarium. And, most of these are free of admission.

We decided to check out the St. Louis History Museum and started off with lunch in the Bixby Restaurant there. We had a window table with beautiful views of the park. It came with terrific food, including an excellent Hummus Platter, Asparagus Bisque, Crab Cakes, Mont Cristo Sandwich, and Chocolate Tart, which the three of us shared.

While I enjoyed the entire museum, the highlights were two special exhibits. The first was in the Lindbergh Gallery and featured the Spirit of St. Louis and the Lindbergh story.

The other special exhibition at the Art Museum was made to order for me to explore – American Spirits The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

It was quite extensive and something that I recommend everyone to go see before it closes August 17, 2014.

We had planned on going to the Botanical Gardens next, but the weather was not cooperating. Instead we took a driving tour through the rest of Forest Park, where we saw the golf courses, the Art Museum (the only original building left from the World’s Fair), the Paddle Boats on the lake, and The Muny, the world’s largest outdoor theater.

We then drove by some other St. Louis highlights: Washington University; the Pageant entertainment venue; the original π Pizzeria, a favorite of President Obama’s; Blueberry Hill, where Chuck Barry still performs; and the St. Louis Walk of Fame, in honor of the many celebrities who came from the city, that includes Yogi Berra, Betty Grable, Vincent Price, and Buddy Epstein.

Mary dropped us back at the Four Seasons Hotel for a short while to change for dinner. We were then off to the River City Casino for our reservation at 1904 Steakhouse. The restaurant was impressive at the start with antiques, stained glass, and beautiful accents, yet it was still very comfortable.

Despite the fact that the menu was filled with lots of seafood, I found plenty of choices to eat while my mom and Mary feasted on Lobster Macaroni & Cheese and an out-of-this-world Oscar Filet Trio with shrimp, scallop, or crab on each steak, topped with asparagus and a béarnaise sauce!

I had the Baked Onion Soup, which was a little salty for my taste, but full of flavor. I followed it with the Colorado Lamb Rack, accompanied by goat cheese potatoes au gratin, and an order of crispy Brussels sprouts.

I wish I had saved room for the delicious dessert, which I couldn’t finish. It was a chocolate cake filled with delicate cream and caramel that I could only liken to the world’s greatest Ring Ding!

We thanked Mary for the hospitality of St. Louis tourism and headed up to the room for the night. The trip was continued the next day with finally visiting my St. Louis cousins, whom I hadn’t seen in decades. We reminisced about our visits to Grant Park as kids. I’m looking forward to getting back to St. Louis soon. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Field of Dreams 25th Anniversary-Photos 1

A sampling of photographs from the 25th Anniversary of the Field of Dreams, which I had the honor to attend this past weekend in Dyersville, Iowa. It's going to take a while to sort through the photos (and videos) on my camera, but check back for more stories (here and on other outlets) and memories.

Among those in attendance pictured are Kevin Costner, Timothy Busfield, Dwier Brown, Glendon Rusch, Colin Egglesfield, Bret Saberhagen, Kristy Swanson, Bob Costas -- and me!
As a Mets fan, I loved a chance to talk with Bret Saberhagen. 

While there were 7,000 people on day one, it never seemed crowded.

Dwier Brown, Timothy Busfield and Kevin Costner had fun during the Q&A.

Could have talked to Colin Egglesfield all day about All My Children, his latest roles,
and the all his Midwest connections. 

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star Kristy Swanson came with her husband,
hockey player Lloyd Eisler.

Timothy Busfield spent a lot of time catching up with the crowd,
many of whom were extras in the movies. 

Bob Costas moderated the Q&A.

Former University of Iowa student Colin Egglesfield showed his support.

Kevin Costner performed with his band, Modern West. 

As you can see, Timothy Busfield was a fun interview!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Finally Exploring St. Louis and the Four Seasons

Despite the fact that I only live a few hours away, it had been years since I spent any time in St. Louis. The opportunity came up when Mom was visiting me and I didn’t have to think twice about it.

Mary and Donna at the St.Louis Tourism Board worked hard to set up a girls’ getaway itinerary and it couldn’t have been better.

The trip was a quick and easy two and a half hours to the Four Seasons St. Louis. I had heard a lot about this property, which has shown up on multiple lists as a top accommodation in the country.  I certainly got that impression from the moment we stepped out of the car.

The hotel was beautiful and the staff quite attentive. We had a one bedroom, two bath suite with a phenomenal view of the Gateway Arch.

It also had the touches I appreciated in a top tier hotel, such as thick and comfortable robes and L’Occitane bath amenities, but something I wish more hotels on this level would offer, complimentary internet.

We only had a few minutes to settle in before Mary picked us up. She told us how the hotel also had a seven million dollar modern art collection.

We started with a driving tour through St. Louis and a bit of a history lesson. I learned that this is one of the oldest Midwest cities and had in fact just celebrated its 250th birthday.

One of the reasons St. Louis was so popular so long ago was that it’s only 10 miles up the Mississippi River from here to the Missouri.

A revolutionary battle was fought in St. Louis and the Old Courthouse (now a museum) is where the Dred Scot Freedom Trials took place.

In addition to the courthouse, we passed by Ballpark Village. Even though I knew I was going there in a month, I wanted to take a quick peek at this new entertainment center next to Busch Stadium.

It’s also interesting how St. Louis has all three of their sports teams – the Cardinals baseball, Rams football, and Blues hockey – all downtown. They are also all linked by the Metro Link, which connects right to the airport and the parks.

Our first stop was at City Museum. While this place sounds unimpressive, it’s a must see for everyone.  It’s pretty much an indoor paradise for kids of all ages to explore, climb, slide, and learn. The eclectic collection of pieces from places around the world is just amazing for the grownups (at least those who don’t also want to climb around) to admire.

We were pretty hungry by the time we arrived so we first headed to Samwiches. City Museum also has its own Donut Bar, as well as a real bar for those of age. I had a Pulled Pork Sandwich worthy of Midwest barbecue and a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie I shared with Mom.

We spent about two hours exploring City Museum, but I suggest spending a day there to really see everything and check out the Circus Harmony shows.

The Circus Harmony at City Museum is the same company that has a Flying Trapeze School in Union Station. That was our next stop. The 12 year old gymnast in my wanted to climb right up there, but the more practical woman with a not so forgiving back declined. I did stick around to watch the performers for a bit (see video below).

On the way back to the hotel, Mary told us about all the free activities for families in St. Louis, including the Zoo, Science Center and Grant’s Farm. I remembered the latter as my parents managed to save an 8mm film of a goat eating the bottom of my dress when I was about three years old!

We got back to the Four Seasons St. Louis in time to change for dinner at Ciello. It was too cool and rainy to sit outside on their large patio, but we were able to still have nice views of the Arch from our table by the window.

They have an extensive wine menu and I enjoyed a glass of Dr. Hermann Riesling while looking over the menu created by the new chef, Gian Nicola Colucci.

There is always a tasting menu available. As someone with food allergies, I was quite impressed with how easily you could make substitutions while still getting to try a number of courses.

Mom let me order and we shared all of it. We started with a moist and tasty Arancini and a fresh and flavorful Bruschetta. Next, was a Veal Truffle Ravioli which was as delicious as the waiter told us it would be.

For the main course, Mom had the Veal Filet and I ordered the Short Ribs. The ribs were done to perfection, but we both found the veal and accompaniments to be too heavy on the salt.

Even though we did not finish everything on our plates, I couldn’t give an honest opinion of the tasting menu without trying the dessert.  The Chocolate Torte was quite good, but it was the White Chocolate Cheesecake that stole my heart.

We went straight up to the room after dinner to rest up for another full day in St. Louis.