Showing posts with label Celebrity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Celebrity. Show all posts

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Leaving the Celebrity Millennium to Discover Vancouver

It is amazing how fast 10 days on the Celebrity Millennium went. When I look back, I see that I certainly did a lot and visited a lot of places, but the saying is true, “time flies when you are having fun!”  It was time for the fun (at least the ship fun) to end as we docked at our final stop – Vancouver.

I wasn’t about to let the opportunity to check out this popular city get by, so I arranged with the British Columbia and Vancouver tourism boards for Lynn and I to spend the day and night exploring. We were also invited to stay at the Wedgewood Hotel &  Spa, a beautiful Relais & Chateau property, so we didn’t have to worry about getting to the airport until morning. I could see how people love this city, with its modern décor, great food and wide-ranged culture. For me, it was the combination of the water and snow-capped mountains that would draw me in the most.

Josie Heisig of British Columbia Tourism, the woman who had orchestrated my visit to the Okanagan Valley, Victoria and Vancouver, picked us up at the hotel. We went straight to Granville Island where we met our guide at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts for the Plugged in Walking Tour.  Granville Island is another face of Vancouver, where you can find food from every ethnicity, as well as fresh vegetables, fruits, coffees and cheeses at its huge market.

The Granville Market also has a great outdoor patio where you can watch the boats and enjoy some of the food you pick up at the market.  The rest of the island is filled with quaint shops, museums and boating activities for the casual vacationer or serious fisherman. Though I can’t eat any fish or seafood, this is certainly the place to find it, as the fisherman bring it right in by boat. There’s also an artsy hangout, the Net Loft, where you can find stores with everything from paintings to arts and crafts supplies.

I wish I had more time at Granville Island, but we had so much to see in such a short time. We toasted our goodbye with a light and fruity 2009 Little Straw Sauvignon Blanc and took a cab back to the city. Lunch was at West Restaurant. We were joined by Jorden Hutchison of Tourism Vancouver and Alex Shaw, the restaurant’s PR rep.  I started with another great British Columbia wine, the 2009 Poplar Grove Pinot Gris while they told me about this restaurant, where Chef David Gunion focuses on fresh, sustainable Canadian cuisine.

We started with a yummy Pork Pate with Pistachios before we got the perfect Lamb Risotto, filled with cheese and wild mushrooms, while we nibbled on crispy Truffle Fries. For a main course I ordered the Housemade Merguez Sausage with Chickpeas, Mint and Yogurt, and it was very good. Lynn enjoyed the Stinging Nettle and Ricotta Agnolotti with Fava, Roasted Lemon and parmesan. Although I usually tend to gravitate to the chocolate for dessert, I was intrigued by the Apple Crepes filled with Brie and topped with Ice Cream.  It was definitely a good choice and I knew I was ready for some sightseeing to burn off the calories. 

It was hard to decide what to do, but we finally chose to go down to Stanley Park. This huge park is worth walking around all day, but since our time was limited we decided to take the Horse Drawn Tour. It was a lot of fun and we learned a lot about this park, which is 157 acres larger than Central Park in New York. We rode along the harbor and passed the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Discover Island and the Gate Bridge that Guinness built. We also saw more of the beautiful mountains in the backdrop, still covered with plenty of snow.
After the tour, we had some wonderful cocktails at Bacchus Restaurant  Lounge  in the lobby of the Wedgewood with Joanna Tsaparas-Piche, the hotel’s Director of Sales & Marketing. This is a very popular place and it’s easy to see why. The chairs and tables are cozy and inviting and the drinks are interesting, but not too over the top with crazy (still recovering from last year’s bacon mania) ingredients. I sampled the Insomniac (Van Gogh Espresso Vodka, Gifford Caramel, Bailey’s Irish Cream and a shot of espresso) and the Red Satin Skipper (Vodka, Raspberry Liquor and Cranberry Juice). The drinks here are poured at the table through a shaker, one of the touches that helped it earn the label of Best Bar & Lounge in the City by Vancouver Magazine.

Dinner was at L’Abbattoir in the Gastown district of Vancouver. This place has received many accolades recently and it was packed to the brim.  Though it currently boasts a very modern décor, L’Abbatoir was actually the first jail in Vancouver.  We started at the bar, were the cocktail menu includes their own barrel-aged whisky.  I prefer something a bit lighter and the sommelier suggested a 2009 Pentage Gamay Rose from the Okanagan Valley, ideally light and fruity and it worked wonderful with the Bacon Brioche Sesame Flat Breach and Homemade Gnocchi with Poached Eggs and Cheese.

I thought my Pork Verde in Milk with Salsa Verde was tender and flavorful (though I felt it could have been served with some carbs to round it out). Lynn had the Steak Diane, which she thought was good. We were both pretty stuffed from a long day (or should I say two weeks!) of eating, but I’m glad we tasted the Warm Chocolate Torte with Vanilla Custard as it was excellent.

I knew I had only touched the surface of all Vancouver had to offer, but I had an early flight back home. As I went to sleep, the Celebrity Cruise remained docked at Vancouver Metro Port. It was setting sail to Alaska the next day.  This ship led me to quite an adventure and I look forward to meeting her (or one of her sisters) again! I will also be counting the days until I return to the Pacific Northwest.

Note: There were so many people and places that helped make this trip possible, but I would like to especially thank Celebrity Cruise Line and British Columbia.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sailing into Victoria on the Millennium

When I first found out I would be taking the Pacific Coastal Wine Cruise with Celebrity, I told a lot of friends and relatives about it. Everyone said the entire itinerary looked great, but the majority came back and said, “You must see Victoria, it’s one of my favorite places.” With that kind of buildup I was afraid the real thing would let me down.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After the ship docked, we took a cab down to Silk Road, just on the corner of the elaborate entrance to Chinatown. There we met with Cathy Ray of Tourism Victoria and Daniela Cubelic, owner and manager of the tea and aromatherapy shop. I had never seen anything like it, a combination of modern décor with the tradition of tea. Daniela has made a point of studying tea variations and customs from all around the world so she would know how to custom blend them downstairs and serve them at the store’s Tea Tasting bar. It is where she holds workshops and pairing events for customers who want to fully enjoy this beverage.

We tasted Velvet Potion, a black tea that contains chocolate and vanilla; Oolong Tea, a cross between green and black teas that is good for digestion; Silk Road Chai, an Indian style blend that is most different in its spice; and Casablanca, a Moroccan green tea that the natives of that country say should be “as sweet as love and as bitter as death.” I enjoyed them all and Lynn agreed with me that it was nice to start the morning with a little tea instead of the usual wine tasting.

From Velvet Potion we walked for awhile, exploring Victoria, a picturesque city with very European undertones. We passed Bastion Square and Lo Jo, the term used to describe the area on Lower Johnson, which Cathy described as a “hip and funky area.” I found Victoria to look like a cross between London and Melbourne, with the same clearly British influences. We even past some British Style pubs on our way to meet a real Brit, aka, The London Chef.

Dan Hayes is The London Chef and he just opened this cooking school/deli with his wife Micayla, a Victoria native.  The place is set up as one huge horseshoe shaped kitchen with plenty of kitchen gadgets and appliances. Lynn and I had an upfront and personal lesson with Dan and listened to him talk about his cooking with great passion, a passion he intends to share with others through this school.  He poured some wine and talked to us about what we liked to eat, smiling as his mind began writing recipes and his hands began pulling out herbs and oils.

First it was a Crostini with Chargrilled Vegetables. We watched him make a marinate with lots of local herbs (including mint and rosemary), olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper before grilling some asparagus zucchini and Japanese eggplant. The mixture went on top of toasted ciabatta that had been spread with goat cheese and was topped with a sauce of capers, mint, parsley, olive oil  and a bit of Dijon mustard.  While the Crostini was was baking, we talked more about Dan’s belief in fresh, local ingredients and decided that we would stick with the vegetarian theme and make a Risotto for our main course.

I love risotto, but it always seems to take forever to make. Dan showed me how to make a delicious mushroom risotto in just 20 minutes, sharing tips like adding a chunk of Parmesan rind directly into the risotto.  It was a perfect meal and a fun time. We bid Dan and Micayla farewell and took a cab back down to the water. Lynn opted to stay down by the bench for awhile and I spent the next hour and a half exploring the waterfront of Victoria. I enjoyed the mix of old and new buildings, like the Royal BC Museum and the Empress Hotel, known for its High Tea. I also loved watching the artists along the water at work, walking past as many bed & breakfasts as grand hotels.

Before we went back to the ship, we had drinks and snacks at the AURA Restaurant at the Inn at Laurel Point. The restaurant is directly on the water, offering beautiful views for cocktails or dining. We got to meet the restaurants new chef, Takashi Ito, who has worked at restaurants that included the Fairmont Empress down the road so he is very familiar with Victoria has to offer. He is excited to also be working with the sommelier to bring in more local wine and I certainly agreed that British Columbia offerings deserve more attention, as I had learned the week before the cruise. As an example, he brought us some Starling Lane Wild Berry Dessert Wine (made in Vancouver Island), a perfect accompaniment to the cheese and fruit plate.

All too soon it was time to leave Victoria and get ready for my final dinner aboard the Celebrity Cruise. It was hard to believe this was the last of 10 nights (and very busy days). I decided to go all out for the last supper and enjoyed a wonderful fruit display, French Onion Soup, Fettuccine with Veal, and a Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream!  I finally lost that $20 I had brought on board to gamble with and, with a smile at the slot machine, headed up for my last night in our Veranda Suite before my first day in Vancouver.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Eating Chocolate and Discovering Enoteca on Seattle Celebrity Stop

It had only been a month since I was last in Seattle yet I didn’t mind coming back. Aside from the weather – which was definitely not cooperating on this day – it’s a great city to explore wine, food and spirits in.  We were going to start with a mixture of all on the Chocolate Indulgence Tour, one of the offerings from Savor Seattle.

We met with Brett Affleck-Aring (yes, he is related to the Oscar-winning actor) at the Mayflower to start our tour at that hotel’s Oliver Bar. Brett shared our motto that chocolate is the fifth food group and he was prepared to show us all aspects of the treat, starting with the Seattle Flatliner ,a coffee and chocolate cocktail served by bartender Patrick. This yummy mixture of Café Umbria, Dark Crème de Cacao, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Demerara 151 Rum is shaken with ice (there’s no blender here). It’s the perfect drink to make you forget about the wet day, something Seattle gets about 200 days a year. While we were sitting at the bar, I also spotted an absinthe fountain and Patrick let me try some of Pacific Distillery’s Absinthe, a licorice spirit that’s not as thick as Sambuca.

We ventured out in the rain to Dahlia, a bakery that belongs within the chain owned by Tom Douglas. Everything here looked more than good enough to eat, but Brett had already set us up with rich and chewy Chocolate Crumble Cookies and mini Coconut Cream Pies with White Chocolate. I was feeling full already and glad we had to walk a bit to our next stop, Chocolate Box. This unique shop is a must visit for any chocolate lover coming to Seattle as they have items from more than 50 local, independent chocolatiers. You can also have wine here (with or without chocolate) at the Wine Bar next door. 

We skipped the wine (for now) and instead tasted some perfect Brownies from Chef Matt Carter and creamy Chocolate Dreams from Wink Cupcakes, washing it down with some Sorbet and Gelato from Gelatiamo! It was then time to head back in the rain and down toward the water. I had actually stopped at The Confectional on my last trip, but one never has to beg me to revisit cheesecake and I enjoyed a tiny taste with a short gulp of thick and spicy drinking chocolate. I also learned that The Confectional was building a larger location down at Capitol Hill.

We switched from the thick and rich to the chewy at KuKuRuZa, where the popcorn is flavored with just about everything, including chocolate. While it looked great, I took mine to go, enjoying them the next day (especially the Rocky Road Popcorn).   We then met with Soufi Farzanehpour at Fran’s Chocolates who told us about this small family owned company that is a favorite of President Obama’s (and now given out to White House guests). The basic blend of chocolate comes from Venezuela and Madagascar and their Chocolate Dates, Raspberry Truffle and Buttery Sea Salt Caramel definitely earns the phrase “chocolate to die for.”

We said goodbye to Brett from Savor Seattle and had a little while to get up an appetite for an absolutely delicious lunch at Art, the restaurant at Seattle’s Four Seasons Hotel.  I really loved this menu as Chef Kerry Sear brought the slightly unusual to the dishes without going over the top. Lynn had the Market Tray, a kind of gourmet TV dinner that brought together a meal on a plate – Mixed Baby Lettuce with White Asparagus, Capers and Egg in Morel Vinaigrette; Morel Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Tart; Grilled Chicken; and a Lemon Tart with Berries. She thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had some of the Minestrone Soup, which was a bit too spicy for my taste, but full of fresh vegetables, and a wonderful Crisp Baked Beecher’s Cheese Sandwich, which was perfectly crispy. I washed it down with a light Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc. Before we left we were treated to the restaurant’s homemade donuts, which I compared to the Italian Zeppoles you get on the streets of New York, with even more flavor and no grease.

After lunch, we walked around the Pike Place Market for awhile.  Lynn had never seen it and I didn’t mind going through again and enjoying the hustle and bustle of food and arts vendors for awhile before we were picked up by Terry Thompson for our trip to Urban Enoteca. This is a unique wine concept within the city limits where you can taste a variety of wines in a comfortable atmosphere. I fell in love with the place and wished I had one in my own neighborhood.

While I toured the huge space that Urban Enoteca has and listened to Thompson’s even more exciting plans for the future (which includes bringing in more of wineries), I also tasted some Washington wines I had missed previously, looking for the standout ones. I found it in the 2008 McCrea Winery Picoul, a Rhone varietal that is full of pear and citrus; 2006 Cote Bonneville Carriage House, a complex red blend heavy on the cabernet sauvignon; 2007 Kiona Chenin Blanc, tropically, peachy and just plain yummy; and the 2006 Cave B Cabernet, smooth with lots of fruit.  We also sampled some of Urban Enoteca’s small bite menu and you shouldn’t miss the Pork Belly Lettuce Wrap and the Risotto Croquet with Cherries.

Urban Enoteca has another way for you to check out their unique concept, one I can highly recommend after this week. They have a  Taste of the Vineyards Wine Cruise so you can spend a week in the Caribbean to “Swirl. Sip. Savor” all of the wineries they feature at this wine bar. The cruise is on the Celebrity Solstice next April and will include wine events and programs with all of the wineries in their library
Earn a $100 flight credit with code MKTNW.
When we returned to the Celebrity Cruise I was realized we were in a great spot to see the Space Needle from our balcony. The weather wasn’t cooperating for any sunset photos, but I enjoyed the view as we sailed away. Food was not exactly on my mind as ithad been a day full of eating (and drinking).  I had a very light dinner of soup and a Caprese Salad and got plenty of rest for my full day in Victoria, British Columbia.