Friday, January 30, 2009

And finally...Mendoza

The fifth and last day in my series on Hotel Chatter takes us to Mendoza, in the heart of Argentina's wine country. For culture and nightlife, Buenos Aires takes the blue ribbon in Argentina, but for sybaritic pleasures, oenophilic oddities, outdoor adventures and breathtaking views (of the Andes), Mendoza was my favorite destination on last year's trip.

Coincidentally, I went to Silverlake Wine last night for one of their tri-weekly tastings, and they were serving up a trio of Malbecs from the region. After sampling all three, we decided to buy a fourth that they happened to have there that they were not pouring, and when we opened it to try, we found that we liked it better than any of the others. Typical.
What was fascinating about the fourth bottle, which is by a winery called Durigutti, is that they claim to ferment it under completely natural conditions, meaning no temperature controls in the fermentation tanks, and no non-native yeast additions. For all that, the wine was complex if un-subtle, and not quite as fruit-forward as some of the other ones we tried last night. All in all, a lovely little wine, but nothing to write home about...just a blog.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Haven't You Always Wanted To Know Where The Name Montevideo Comes From?

If you do, then take a look at Day 3 in my hotel series on, in which I review the Hotel Plaza Fuerte in the heart of the Uruguayan capital:

And then be sure to check out entry #4, the Hotel del Patio in Santiago, Chile:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Colonia Del Sacramento

And now for Day 2 of Budget Boutique Hotels of the 33rd Parallel South. This review/guide covers the Posada Don Antonio in Colonia del Sacramento, across the Mar de Plata from Buenos Aires in Uruguay. It's a lovely little colonial fort town with about a dozen quirky museums including one that is dedicated solely to tilework, and another known as the Portuguese Museum. Hotel options in the city are less than thrilling, but the Posada Don Antonio is a great little choice in the middle of the historical district. Take a look!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Budget Boutique Hotels of the 33rd Parallel South

This week is kind of a big one for me as a travel writer since my series on hotels in South America is going up on Hotel Chatter with one new city each day. The series is called Budget Boutique Hotels of the 33rd Parallel South. Is that title specific enough for you? Well, it may be, but I don't think I could have titled it, Hotels Eric Rosen and Other Young Professionals Like Him Would Stay At On A Solo Trip To Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. So there you have it.

The series starts with the Art Hotel in Buenos Aires, moves to the Posada Don Antonio in Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, then on to the Plaza Fuerte (which I was mad to see has been redone since I stayed in the frayingly shabby rooms last year) in Montevideo, the Hotel Del Patio in Santiago, and finally the Hotel Villaggio in Mendoza.

Though the pieces just cover the hotels, next week, Hotel Chatter's sister site Jaunted should be posting my companion guides for what to do in all those cities, so it's a pretty exciting payoff for last year's trip.

Western Regional Barista Competition

I'd like to give kudos to my colleague Joshua Lurie of FoodGPS for covering the WRBC so thoroughly this past weekend. He told me to drop by, and I thought I'd only stick around for a few minutes to see some baristas whip up specialty espresso drinks, but the competition was engrossing and I stayed nearly 2 hours.

First, the signature drinks the baristas made were fanciful, delicate and sophisticated, and involved such diverse ingredients as geleed orange juice, burnt caramel and a vanilla egg cream. The other interesting aspect, at least to me, was the way they all talked about the flavor profiles of their beans. Having just returned from wine-tasting in Santa Ynez, it was fascinating to hear the same terms being thrown around about coffee as about wines.

All in all, it was a really cool event, and I love Josh's coverage of it! You can check it out here:

Writing for Jaunted

Just a little update on how my writing is progressing. Thanks to my delightful and witty new friend Juliana Shallcross, editrix of Hotel Chatter and Jaunted, I am starting to write for both those sites. While I'm still getting the feel for each, as well as for html coding (I'm such a Luddite!) I think my first article for them was pretty fun. Here is the link to Random Facts About LA that I came up with:

The real excitement is my forthcoming Budget Boutique Hotels of the 33rd Parallel South series for Hotel Chatter where I write five hotel/city reviews for the places I stayed in South America last year, so stay tuned for that...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Healthy Foods You Can Love

I was reading the New York Times online this morning and came across the article, "The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating":

Thanks to my part-time occupation as a restaurant reviewer, I am treated to some lavish meals with a diverse range of foods...which I always partake of moderately, of course. After all, I don't want a repeat of last spring, when I was first hitting my groove as a food writer, and found that because I was going out to meals several days a week that many of my pants no longer fit. It didn't take long to get back into fighting shape, but better to eat moderately and avoid the problem altogether.

Back to the article, though. I love the suggestions they list, especially beets, swiss chard, cinammon and sardines. Such easy foods to obtain, and so many health benefits, as you'll see from the article. I can find them all at the nearest Whole Foods.

The funny thing is, several of the foods listed, especially beets, sardines, prunes and pumpkin, are foods that I thought I hated until I started eating them fresh from farmer's markets and at nice restaurants. As my mother pointed out, it's only the old, canned beets that stain your teeth (and clothes if you're klutzy like me). Fresh beets are light, moist, slightly sweet and an excellent complement to salads and cheeses. The same with sardines if they're not oversalted and drowning in oil.

Eating farm-fresh food has revolutionized how I eat, and how I feel about eating. That's not to say I don't enjoy a processed food every now and again (I can't give up Goldfish, okay!?), but I like thinking that I am eating healthy by eating fresh foods that I enjoy. I hope the Times and other media outlets come up with more similar lists and recipes so we can all start making more conscious choices about what we eat.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lompoc, Here I Come!

I am currently planning a trip for two days next week up to the winemaking regions of Santa Rita and Santa Ynez in Santa Barbara County. My friend Brian and I are cruising up in his new Prius (eco-friendly, represent!) because it is more gas efficient than my car and has satellite radio. No, we won't be listening to Oprah's station, so don't ask.

The primary reason to take the trip is to see two little winemaking industrial parks in Lompoc affectionately called the Wine Ghetto and Pinot Prison, as well as to talk to some winemakers about their biodynamic practices. I first learned about the Ghetto and the Prison from Chrystal and Steve Clifton, the winemakers behind Palmina, and partners in Clifton-Brewer. I had the good fortune to try some of their wines at a press dinner at Citrus at Social last August, and have been wanting to visit them ever since. When I told Chrystal I was planning a trip, she immediately put me in contact with several of her colleagues, and now it looks like I will also get to visit Fiddlehead Cellars (whose winemaker, Kathy Nelson, promises to help me with my kugel recipe!), Sea Smoke Cellars and Ampelos, all of which produce some fantastic Pinots among other varietals.

I am also planning to stop by two of my favorite California winemakers, Au Bon Climat and Qupe near Los Olivos. I have tried several wines from each place and I can't wait to see their operation in person.

We will actually be staying in Solvang at a lovely little hotel I found called the Hadsten House. Here's a picture of one of their guest rooms. They, like many hotels, are facing quite a crunch with the economy, but their bad luck is my good since they are offering an unbelievable mid-week rate of $199 for two nights.

It looks like our itinerary is pretty complete at this point, and I am just counting down the days until the tasting begins!

Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, Dodge!

Just to let you know what's been on my plate lately, so to speak, I have started to write a few articles for The Rundown, a subscriber email blast that talks about cool things to do in and around LA. My first assignment? Find out everything about where one can join a dodgeball team in the city. Oh, and try not to use too many "flying balls" references.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My First Matzo Kugel

I would consider myself a practicing Jew, only I don't make it into synagogue that frequently. I do, however, know all my prayers and have been bar mitzvahed and confirmed, so I'm pretty Jewish. This past month saw a slight uptick in my Jewish cultural activities, starting with a little family Chanukah party at home for which I made matzo ball soup. Last week I was supposed to go to a friend's Chanukah party and make latkes with her, but I got sick, so I had to miss it. Only, I'd shlepped my mother's Cuisinart and deep fryer up to LA, so I was going to make latkes one way or another. And I did.

Despite a nasty headcold, I spent two hours peeling, cutting, grinding, mincing, shredding, cracking, shaking, stirring, mixing and frying, and I've got a freezer full of latkes to prove it. I'm going to use them as party favors over the coming months since they keep forever and they're one of the less scary Jewish foods (herring in sour cream anyone?).

Then on this past Friday evening, my neighbor Kevin had some friends over for dinner and one of them decided that we should make it a Shabbat dinner since he is Jewish and was the one doing the cooking. I happily contributed some drinking glasses and a few cooking ingredients and explained a few of the prayers to the other attendees. Only my fellow Jew had his hands full with the chicken-beer-onion stew thingy that he was making, so he would not have time to make the matzo kugel he was planning for dessert.

For you non-Yiddish speakers out there, a kugel is sort of like bread pudding which we make with noodles or matzo. We had matzo, and I had an extra set of hands, so I set about preparing it. First, the matzo was whole grain, which we all thought would be interesting to try. Then instead of raisins, we used currants from Whole Foods--delish and a little bit tangier than your average raisin. Throw in a few different kinds of chopped apples and some walnuts, and voila, you've got the basics. I mixed in the eggs, oil, salt, sugar and cinnamon, folded everything together with my hands and scooped it into a baking dish. What do you know, 45 minutes later, we had a very respectable matzo kugel.

Against my better judgment, I'll say this and hope my mom never reads it. My latkes are just as good as hers--but that is a testament to her cooking and teaching skills since we always used to make them together when I was a kid and I learned everything from her (except that year when we forgot to add flour to them and had a rough time figuring out why our latkes weren't frying right!). My matzo balls are also pretty darn good and give hers a run for the money. When it comes to matzo kugel, I have to say that while my first attempt was pretty distinguished, I need to do a little work before I catch up to Mama Rosen. Mine needed a touch more cinnamon and sugar, plus a bit more even distribution of the fruits and nuts, but it was a pretty decent specimen. I can tell it will take a while, though, before my kugel is like mom's. Hers is fluffy and light, almost like a souffle--which, when you're cooking with matzo, is saying something!

Despite the quality, I have to say, it was a great feeling to be cooking for Shabbat with friends, saying the prayers and talking about Judaism. I think I'm going to have to have my own dinner party soon so I can do it again--and get another chance to practice my kugel.