Apr
01
2014

April 1, 2014

“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”
― Annie Dillard, The Living

Spain's Ribeira Sacra wine region (see Wandering Traveler)

Spain’s Ribeira Sacra wine region (see Wandering Traveler)

This issue finds me in Seattle, moderating a panel on Women in Distilling at ADI’s Craft Spirits Conference, attended by over 1000 industry folk, with a gala dinner last night announcing craft spirits medal winners from the judging I was part of in February (also held in Seattle). In writing news: I’ve helped write Zagat guides, but I just wrote my first article and slide show for Zagat on a fantastic new spot, Trou Normand.

This issue:

The new Lolo (see The Latest)

The new Lolo (see The Latest)

The Latest3 Reasons To Check Out the New Lolo: One of the Mission’s long underrated gems gets a new home and new life.
ImbiberWhy You Should Hunt Down Real Schnaps: Drink lovers are missing out on the real deal. Exploring exciting producers in Austria, plus where to find quality schnaps & cocktails in the US.
Wandering TravelerThe Spain You’ve Never Met: Exploring the brilliant seafood and drink of Spain’s northwest Galicia, a region that feels as much like Ireland as Spain.
ImbiberWhite Spring: Alsace varietals (and more) in Mendocino County – and a few other Alsace-influenced wines from the West Coast.
Around the BayCarmel Weekend: A romantic hotel in the center of town with a Michelin-starred restaurant.
ImbiberImbiber: St. George Spirits lovely new Nola coffee liqueur.

As your personal concierge who tells it like a good friend would, I also create personalized itineraries: trips, meals, explorations (under “Services“).

Virginia
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Spoonwiz Restaurant Reviews & Travel Articles
Liquor.com Contributor Page
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**Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Virginia Miller**

Written by in: Intro Letter |
Apr
01
2014

The Latest

Lolo's new space is as unique as its last

Lolo’s new space is as unique as its last

3 Reasons To Check Out the New Loló

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

LOLO, Mission (974 Valencia Street, between 20th & 21st, 415-643-5656)

Enter Lolo

Entering Lolo

Loló, with its whimsical, colorful decor and unusual interpretations of Mexican food, has been one of my underrated dining favorites since it opened six years ago. In all honesty, I miss the two-roomed intimacy of its original 22nd Street location. But since they moved just a couple blocks to their new Valencia space (formerly Lot 7), opening February 3rd, business has picked up as they’re more centered in Mission. The gains are a more open, sunny (and also noisier) space, a liquor license allowing for cocktails and agave spirits, and lunch hours Friday and Saturday.

Pancko-crusted avocado tacos

Panko-crusted avocado tacos

Panko shrimp tacos on jicama

Panko shrimp tacos on jicama

1. Loló’s Three Inventive Tacos: Co-Owner and Executive Chef Jorge Martínez has smartly kept the original restaurant’s best dishes intact – and they tend to revolve around reinvented tacos. Taco Tropical ($9) was always the most inventive. Think a thin sheet of jicama acting as a tortilla, panko-fried shrimp, pineapple relish and a healthy dose of aioli. It’s light, creamy, crunchy, and Loló’s most inventive bite.

Gold Digger cocktail

Gold Digger cocktail

Another longtime Loló fave is the tuna tacon ($10). On a traditional flour tortilla, long, rectangular, seared albacore tuna is perked up by shellfish aioli, lush avocado and roasted tomatillo sauce. On the vegetarian tip, panko avocado tacos ($9) complete this trinity of creative taco goodness. Also on a flour tortilla, melted Oaxacan cheese, caramelized onions and Anaheim peppers underlie panko-fried avocado. It’s another play in textures, vibrant with flavor.

Of the new dishes, mostly inspired by the Mexican state of Jalisco, a few are a bit of a let down, like goopy Mexiterranean cheese fondue ($9), a thick mesh of Oaxacan cheese, tomatoes, cilantro and oregano, or rather slippery huitlacoche (corn fungus) requeson cheese-stuffed wonton raviolis ($13) swimming in basil and arugula sauce. But other dishes gratify, like mezcal-soaked BBQ beef pulled short rib, tender and shredded over gorditas/corn cakes ($9).

Tuna tacon

Tuna tacon

Vibrant decor

Vibrant decor

2. The decor is still a knockout: Executive chef Jorge Martinez, his wife Lorena Zertuche (who designed the new and the original restaurant) and GM Juan Carlos Ruelas have taken over the new space with the same playful, gutsy design of the original Loló. There’s a salvaged car door wall, origami boats, cowboy boots enclosed in circles, flower baskets and, near the bathrooms, lively rooster wallpaper.

3. And then there’s the addition of cocktails & spirits: Cocktails ($11) are a welcome addition to what was already lively sangria and wines at the original location. Don’t miss out on a shot of sweetly spicy ancho chile liqueur from Gualillo, Mexico, as a digestif post-meal. Bar Managers David Gallardo and Leon Vasquez naturally go heavy on agave spirits mezcal. The nine-seat “agave bar” features a rotating flight of mezcals and tequilas (three one-ounce tastings for $10-12).

Rooster wall by the bathroom

Rooster wall by the bathroom

My favorite of all the initial cocktails is easily the Benito, served up. Mezcal mingles with herbaceous Yellow Chartreuse, lemon verbena and Aveze (Gentian liqueur), with understated heat and a subtle bitter backbone. It’s a beauty.

The crisp, clean Gold Digger would be my next choice. Also served up and featuring mezcal and Yellow Chartreuse, it plays like a twist on a clean martini, supported by tonic syrup and grapefruit bitters. There’s twists on a Moscow Mule, the Mezcal Mule, featuring mezcal and tequila, with a splash of pomegranate molasses and Angostura bitters, and a generous dose of ginger beer over crushed ice, or a drink inspired by the ubiquitous Paloma (the common cocktail in Mexico): Gin Dove uses gin instead of tequila, mixed with Campari, grapefruit soda and a little salt.

Tequila and sangrita shots

Tequila and sangrita shots

Flower wall

Flower wall

Gorditas

Short rib gorditas

 

Benito cocktail

Benito cocktail

Written by in: The Latest | Tags:
Apr
01
2014

Imbiber

Drinking schnaps cocktails at Trocadero Club, San Francisco

Drinking schnaps cocktails at Trocadero Club, San Francisco

Why You Should Hunt Down REAL SCHNAPS

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Hochstrasser schnaps at Sporer, Salzburg

Hochstrasser schnaps at Sporer, Salzburg

Whatever association you have with the word Schnapps, or Schnaps, as it is known in Germanic countries (the word means “swallow”), it likely isn’t good. Sour apple, pucker, fruit flavors… you might think of cheap, sugary liqueurs in unnatural colors. But this, my friends, is not real schnaps.

In Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and the French region of Alsace, schnaps, edelbrande or brand (as in brandy), is another thing entirely. The French term is eaux de vie, among my favorite spirits categories and the supreme example of distilled fruits. A classic fruit eau de vie/schnaps will never be too sweet or cloying, but rather fresh, sometimes clean or lush. Production is involved, requireing tons of fruit to produce a mere bottle. The fruit is macerated, fermented, and distilled, typically in a grain liquor base, sometimes a liqueur with sugar added, other times a clear spirit.

McMenamins Pear Brandy (photo source: www.mcmenamins.com)

McMenamins Pear Brandy (photo source: www.mcmenamins.com)

One of the most classic eaux de vie, and my favorite strain, is pear, typically made from Williams pears (the same as Bartlett), aka Poire Williams. I judge American eaux de vie producers by their pear, and the best producers make a crisp version, tart with the taste of fresh pear skin, sometimes floral. In the US, I love the pear brandies/eaux de vie (and plenty of other eaux de vie) from St. George, Clear Creek (which, after decades as an independent distillery, was just sold to a larger spirits corporation so I would keep an eye out for changes in quality), Old World Spirits, McMenamins, and Stone Barn Brandyworks. While decidedly American, these are fine examples of quality eaux de vie.

The great American pioneers in brandy? Jörg Rupf, who founded St. George in 1982, brought Old World methods and precision to California from his native Germany with his brandies. Another US/California pioneer important to mention in a brandy discussion – known for his Cognac/Armagnac-quality spirits rather than for fruit brandies – is Hubert Germain-Robin, who founded Germain-Robin in 1982.

How I wish for this book to be translate to English (or better yet, I read German)

How I wish for this book to be translate to English (or better yet, wish I read German)

In Austria, there are such fantastic brands that would surely be in demand among spirits lovers in the States were we able to get our hands on them. What would it take to get more of them imported here?

I wish I spoke/read German anyway, especially while thumbing through this fantastic book, Edle Spezialitäten in Österreich, a giant, coffee table book outlining every schnaps/brandy and wine producer in Austria via photos and facts (available at Sporer in Salzburg, below). If only someone would translate this invaluable book into English.

Wall of Rochelt spirits at Culinarium in Innsbruck, Austria

Wall of Rochelt spirits at Culinarium in Innsbruck, Austria

Many schnaps made an impression this visit to Austria. One is Golles, produced in the village of Riegersburg in the region of Styria, near Hungarian and Slovenian borders. Alois Gölles distills his schnaps in copper stills, the ones I tasted boasting a rustic elegance and welcome earthiness, among the most lauded in the country.

Tyroler Single Malt Whisky

Tyroler Single Malt Whisky

Reisetbauer in Axberg, northeast of Salzburg, is a beloved, award-winning brand from Hans Reisetbauer, who leased barely 4 acres from his father’s farmland to grow fruit used strictly for schnaps. While many producers source their fruit from other parts of the country and Europe, he has direct supervision and control over fruits grown on his land. Reistebauer schnaps are clean and refined, fragrant and unique, like carrot schnaps, which reminds me of St. George’s experimental carrot brandy years back which I wish was released.

Sporer barrels, Salzburg

Sporer barrels, Salzburg

I was intrigued by and wanted to taste more Siegfried Herzog schnaps. The surprisingly refined, nutty Nusserl or hazelnut schnaps was so brilliant, I bought a bottle at Sporer in Salzburg (see below). Another Sporer win was a recommend from the shop owner: forward-thinking Hochstrasser bottles in sleek black with galaxy/space labels. They produce a range of products from zirbenz (pine liqueur) to banana liqueurs. Their fruit vakuum-destillat, or vacuum distilled, schnaps is a fascinating line. It has been explained to me as a slow-heat, slow “cook” process akin to a sous vide concept where maximum flavors are taken from fresh fruit without “overcooking”. The result, particularly with Hochstrasser’s Rote Williams Birne (red pear schnaps) is tart, clean, tasting of pear skins. I also brought home this stunner, wishing I could have transported the entire line home with me.

Rochelt (photo source: www.rochelt.com)

Rochelt (photo source: www.rochelt.com)

Rochelt is the most exciting of the many schnaps I tried and is respected – almost worshiped – in Austria. Just 15 minutes drive outside Innsbruck, Gunter Rochelt (who opened the distillery in 1989) and his son-in-law, Alexander Rainer, who now runs the business with the three Rochelt daughters, Julia, Annia and Teresa, distills a wholly different kind of schnaps. While still using fruits, from wild rowanberry to morello cherry, these are boozy, high proof schnaps, often 50% ABV or more. Bottled at cask strength and blessedly not sweet, they feel like the whisk(e)y of schnaps. Bracing and complex, I bought bottles of quince and Poire Williams, marveling at the nuance and depth of each. This is fruit liqueur from a completely fresh angle. There’s a whole wall of Rochelt for sale at Culinarium in Innsbruck (see below).

pür bierbrand (photo source: www.purspirits.com)

pür bierbrand (photo source: www.purspirits.com)

Taking an overview of the category, the range of schnaps is broad. German schnaps are often made from pears (Poire Williams or Williamsbirne), apples (often combined with pears and called Obstwasser), plums (Zwetschgenwasser), cherries (Kirschwasser), apricots (Marillenschnaps), Himbeergeist (a raspberry spirit). But non-fruit spirits are also referred to as schnaps, including popular kräuterlikör (herbal liqueurs) such as Underberg, Wurzelpeter, and the infamous Jägermeister. Bierbrand is another ubiquitous category in Germanic countries, essentially a brandy that is distilled beer. One quality brand available in the US is pür•geist bierbrand from pür spirits.

As you might suspect, we are missing out here in the states by having little access to the majority of schnaps. While I’d highly recommend traveling to Austria, I’d also love to see demand grow amongst knowledgeable industry folk (bar managers, writers, consumers, etc.) for these products, with importers and distributors working to bring more to the US. It’s time distilled fruits, nuts and the like had their day… I suspect there are many would-be fans. Consider Austria an underrated diamond in the spirits rough.

Dresden cocktail at The Trocadero Club

Dresden cocktail at The Trocadero Club

Where to drink Schnaps in the US

In LA, you can order pours of the Golles and Reisetbauer lines at Bierbeisl, a great Austrian/German restaurant. In Sacramento, there’s a surprisingly strong selection of schnaps and Germanic liqueurs to drink neat or in cocktails at hip sausage and beer house, Lowbrau. There’s also a strong collection of Reisetbauer and a few other schnaps and Germanic liqueurs at Cafe Katja in New York‘s Lower East Side.

El Chapo

El Chapo: Nocino (Italian green walnut liqueur), Mezcal, Creme de Cacao, Lillet Blanc, lemon

Trocadero Club, a newer San Francisco bar (just opened in October 2013), one of Dennis Leary’s newest spots, is ahead of the curve in its treatment of Austrian drink. Bar Manager/Partner Eric Passetti – part of the opening team for Mamacita and Delarosa and helping to run all of Leary’s bars – envisioned a bar featuring Austrian wines and schnaps. “I’m a contrarian who likes doing things other people aren’t doing,” explains Passetti. With a grandfather and great grandfather who both owned bars in San Francisco, and having bartended for 13 years himself, he wanted to do something different with this bar, noting: “The scene is exhausted as it is.”

S

Sipping a Dresden

Unfortunately, the crowds coming to the relaxed, white-walled, high ceiling bar on a grubby Tenderloin corner, are not quite there. Austrian wines have been reduced due to demand for other wines and there are really only about four schnaps, which is in part due to inaccessibility as imports. But as Passetti knows from his own research on schnaps, instead of, “being high in sugar and low in alcohol, true schnaps are higher in alcohol, lower in sugar.” He showcases schnaps in a good half of his cocktails ($10).

The Dresden shows off the subtle hops of Bierbrand with herbaceous gin, dry Italian vermouth and Green Chartreuse, while the Baroness goes a boozy-yet-elegantly sweet and bitter direction with pur spirits Bierbrand Märzan Schnaps (distilled malted barley aged in chestnut casks), sweet Italian Amaro Nonino, Tempus Fugit’s Gran Classico, and lemon juice.

Baroness  cocktail at Trocadero Club

Baroness cocktail at Trocadero Club

Where to drink Schnaps in Austria

Sitting at the bar looking at vinyl collection

Sitting at the bar looking at vinyl collection

One of the best wine and schnaps bars in Austria (and, thus, the world?) is in Salzburg. Just a couple doors down from my wonderful apartment rental on narrow, cobblestoned-lined Steingasse street, is Fridrich. Run by Fridrich himself since 1986, I would easily call this tiny wine bar one of my favorite bars in Europe. And I’m a spirits and cocktail girl first.

Intimate perfection at Fridrich

Intimate perfection at Fridrich

Though the bar, under arched stone ceiling with glowing lighting, is intimately sexy, Fridrich almost imparts a subtle punk-rock attitude to the relaxed environs. It’s partly his expert knowledge of all things Austrian – he tasted me through the crisp, earthy notes of Nigl (pronounced nee-gel) Gelber Muskateller white wine, harvested from tiered, hillside vineyards, and likewise earthy, complex Golles schnaps. Another visit, it was a glass of lovely Stiegelman Grauburgunder Weingut, a white wine I’d loved at a restaurant in the Tyrolean-chic village of Kitzbuhel.

Entering Fridrich in Salzburg

Entering Fridrich in Salzburg

The other reason for Fridrich’s uniqueness is his impeccable musical tastes and expansive vinyl and CD collection, which he plays interchangeably like a sophisticated DJ. His top of the line sound system envelops the bar with a tapestry of sound.

There’s a wonderful woman who works with him, demure yet engaging, both of them offering recommendations, pours, humorous asides. Lou Reed died the last night we were in Salzburg. Fridrich told us the news, then put on Reed’s music. We all raised a glass, shedding a tender tear. It’s that kind of a bar.

The Renaissance Man and I were so inspired, we dreamed of opening our own tiny bar like this somewhere in the world: a place where you immediately feel like a local, where what is poured and what is played is of equal importance, where there is nothing to prove, only to relax, savor to feel at home.

Where to buy Schnaps in Austria

Culinarium, Innsbruck

Culinarium, Innsbruck

Salzburg’s schnaps/brandy shop extraordinaire is Sporer, which has been on Salzburg’s main, touristy-yet-utterly-charming shopping street, Getreidegasse, since 1903. Sporer staff are informed and passionate about schnaps and can chat about it for great lengths of time, offering samples and spot-on recommendations.

In Innsbruck, don’t miss Culinarium, a father and son-run shop that’s been around over 40 years. There’s a whole wall of nearby Rochelt (see above), and fascinating local spirits like Vir Gin, an Austrian dry gin, or Tiroler Single Malt Whisky.

Written by in: Imbiber | Tags: ,
Apr
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

The stunning cathedral in Santiago de Com

The stunning Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – a prime example of Spanish architecture dating back to 1211

The Spain You’ve Never Met: Exploring GALICIA

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Ancient Celtic statue on the ocean in A Coruna

Ancient Celtic statue on the ocean in A Coruna

Windswept, green hills rolling to the ocean. Grey skies. Celtic statues and artwork. Vibrant seafood. Sounds more like Ireland than Spain, right? The northernmost Western reaches of Spain – with Ireland just across the sea – reminded me more of the Emerald Isle than it did of previous travels in Barcelona and down the coast to the south of Spain.

How to properly pour a cider, at Maeloc

How to properly pour a cider at Maeloc

The region of Galicia is comprised of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra provinces, with Portugal just to the south, influencing the Galician language native. Celtic roots and Roman influences: it’s a fascinating section of Spain unlike any other. It was chilly and blustery in November in A Coruña with biting winds and intermittent rain. But the sun shone brightly in the stunning wine region of Ribeira Sacra and the city of Santiago de Compostela, its Old Town a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I had the privilege of taking a November trip with Estrella Galicia, the region’s leading beer and one of the most popular in the country, found almost everywhere in Galicia and in restaurants and bars around the world, including Bask at home in San Francisco. I joined a group of distributors and importers exploring Estrella beer, wine, cider and spirits – and, of course – the food of Galicia.

View over the city of Santiago from

View over the city of Santiago from Monte do Gozo on the Way

Northenmost part of Spain on the ocean

Northernmost part of Spain on the Celtic sea

One aspect I appreciated about this trip was the thoughtful education and immersion we received in local culture. Typically, on food and drink press trips, the focus is, as it needs to be, on food and drink. Anything off that path can easily be information overload and a waste of time for writers who need to stay focused on relevant material to write about. The last thing needed in an already over-scheduled trip is unnecessary events. But on this trip, the Estrella team holistically weaved local history and culture into every appointment. Besides history tours, and walking a portion of the famed Way of St. James, we went to an intimate concert at the cool Sala Capitol venue featuring one of Spain’s biggest pop/rock musicians, Vega. As the whole crowd sang along to every word, it was true, engaging immersion in Spanish culture.

Outside Santiago's sprawling food market

Outside Santiago’s sprawling food market

Santiago's rambling market stalls

Santiago’s rambling market stalls

1. Among the best seafood I’ve had in the world

Pristine fish

Pristine fish

Pulpo (octopus), razor clams, barnacles, ox, and, of course, jamón ibérico – just a few regional Galician specialties I couldn’t get enough of. Though I get plenty of excellent octopus at home, I’ve never had razor clams like the ones in Galicia: milky, pure, almost like fresh crab meat in a tube shape, with a bit funk in the middle where their organs are. Unadorned, you eat them as is with no embellishments needed. Likewise, the famed (and expensive, due to the difficulty of climbing out on rocks to scrape them off) barnacles are fascinating local treasures.

Shrimps with roe intact at Santiago market

Shrimps with roe intact at Santiago market

Shiny sardines

Shiny sardines

I’ve wandered impressive meat markets from Italy to Mexico (though am still dying to visit Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market) lined with animal heads and organs. But I’ve never been so impressed with a seafood section of a market – in this case, rows and rows of stalls – as I was in Santiago de Compostela’s main market, conveniently just outside my room at Hotel Pazo de Altamira. Think giant eels hanging ceiling to floor. Little old women holding a raw octopus in each hand, trying to decide which one to buy. The cleanest eyes and freshest looking fish. Pristine oysters, clams and barnacles. Live shrimps with roe (eggs) still attached and hanging off their bellies. It’s one eye-popping delight after another. It was a bit tragic not to have a kitchen.

Pig meat in the market

Pig meat in the market

Meats and liqueurs

Meats and liqueurs

2. A stunning wine region of tiered vineyards on a river

Tiered vineyards

Tiered vineyards

Ribeira Sacra (“Sacred Shore”)… this wine region (a Spanish Denominación de Origen – DO) is truly magical. Under blue skies, steep hills covered in terraced vineyards roll down to meandering rivers Miño and Sil. This fall, sun sparkled on the river, glowing and illuminating fall colors on the vines. It’s a place that feels touched by God.

Walking up the tiered vineyard hillside at Ponta da Bega

Walking up the tiered vineyard hillside at Ponta da Boga

The region glows

The region glows

Three types of varietals are typically produced in the up-and-coming region, which is still working to attain the quality of the some of the famed regions nearby (Rioja, for one): red Mencía, white Albariño and white Godello. I particularly enjoyed Godello with seafood during my trip, while in the countryside of Lugo, A Cantina was a memorable restaurant showcasing the farms and wines of the region. Over rounds of manchego cheese, Spanish chorizo, and tortilla Española (a thick egg and potato “omelette” fried in olive oil), we savored local wines.

Ribeira Sacra

Ribeira Sacra

Ponte

Ponte da Boga tasting room

I visited Ponte da Boga, an elegant stone winery producing a lovely Godello, a range of traditional Spanish liqueurs, and special limited edition reds like the complex berry of 2012 Expresion Gotica Cosecha red wine (a blend of mencia, merenazao, souson and brancellao grapes).

Santiago glow before sunset

Santiago glow before sunset

3. Santiago’s striking architecture and spiritual history

The Way

The Way at Monte do Gozo looking out over the city of Santiago

Santiago de Compostela’s shining glory is its gorgeous cathedral, a prime example of Spanish architecture and the supposed site of the remains of Saint James, the impetus for the Way of St. James, a Catholic pilgrimage route originating in the 9th century. The Way of St. James, or The Way (which inspired a recent movie of the same name), is a spiritual pilgrimage through France and Spain, ending in Santiago at the cathedral, the shining finale to a journey that takes weeks or months for many to complete.

The world's oldest lighthouse (1 AD) on the A Coruna coast

Tower of Hercules: world’s oldest lighthouse (since the 2nd century w/ updates over the centuries) on the A Coruna coast

I had the privilege of walking along portions of the Way from Monte Do Gozo, a small mount outside of the city, into the city, culminating with a church service in the massive cathedral dating back to 1211. There are striking churches and monuments all throughout Santiago’s meandering, cobblestoned Old Town streets, but it’s the grand cathedral, from any angle, that takes your breath away.

Estrella's modern brewery

Estrella Galicia’s modern brewery

4. Drink culture

Estrella Galicia pub

Estrella de Galicia Pub

Beer, cider, wine, spirits… I explored it all in Galicia. And each of these brands is imported to the US.

Estrella de Galicia Pub in downtown A Coruna, lined with beer tanks and a locals-heavy crowd, was the ideal place in which to try their entire beer line (I tried six different beers). Hijos de Rivera Brewery, which produces Estrella, is a fascinating tour, including the most impressive bottling line I’ve ever seen. Walking around a glassed-in, elevated walkway to view the bottling machines was like overseeing a miniature city with packed roadways and constant movement.

M

Maeloc Brewery

Maeloc hard cider (sidra) is my favorite packaging/label with its playful, mannish Grandma drawing. I particularly like their dry cider, a fine pairing with seafood due to its crisp acidity. There are plenty of fruit and sweet ciders for those who like it sweeter in flavors like pear or strawberry. I particularly loved an extra dry, funky cider we enjoyed on premises at the brewery.

H

Hijos de Rivera

Getting schooled on Galician aguardiente (which is nothing like Mexican aguardiente, aka firewater, but rather their term for all local spirits), I learned typical Spanish spirits range from coffee liqueurs to bitter/sweet herbias (herbs) liqueurs, often thick, yellow, sweet and bitter/herbaceous.

Aguardiente stills

Aguardiente stills

I particularly appreciate grappa-esque orujo, an unaged (clear) brandy made from the pomace of grapes, stems, skins, etc. Often called aguardiente de oruj (pomace firewater), or sometimes caña, it’s typically distilled in small pot stills, giving it character and depth.

The aguardiente stills I saw for Hijos da Rivera were unique to any I’ve seen in distilleries the world over. As you can see from the photo (right), they look like tall pots with arms between them, lids placed on top.

YES to paella

YES to paella at Restaurante San Jaime

Mussels in a can at Abastos 2.0

Mussels in a can at Abastos 2.0

5. Exploring regional foods

Silky salmon at

Silky salmon at Abastos 2.0

Besides the aforementioned countryside restaurant, A Cantina, in the Ribeira Sacra wine region, the standout restaurant in A Coruña was one Michelin-starred La Alborada. Avant-garde and fresh, the gastronomico menu doesn’t exactly push boundaries but it’s fine dining execution of classics like beef tartare, Iberian pork, ravioli, or grilled octopus laced with paprika and cabbage.

The most perfect razor clams at Abastos 2.0

The most perfect razor clams at Abastos 2.0

In Santiago, Restaurante San Jaime‘s sunny, upstairs room is an idyllic lunch respite for paella, Spanish chorizo, meat and cheese platters, grilled fish dishes. Abastos 2.0 was my favorite Santiago restaurant. Modern, clean lines and a Spanish gin and vermouth menu charmed. Here is where I had those unreal, perfect razor clams. And a damn fantastic burger oozing with cheese and butter. Crudo/sashimi-style dishes wowed with white wines or Spanish cider.

Simple Spanish perfection: tomato sauce on toast with jamon Iberico

Simple Spanish perfection: tomato sauce on toast with jamon Iberico

Ancient A Coruna churches

Ancient A Coruna churches

A Coruna's María Pita Square

A Coruna’s María Pita Square

Clams at the Santiago seafood market

Clams at the Santiago seafood market

Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags:
Apr
01
2014

Imbiber

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Anderson Valley from Anderson Valley Brewery grounds (photo: Virginia Miller)

Anderson Valley from Anderson Valley Brewery grounds (photo: Virginia Miller)

WHITE SPRING: Alsace Varietals (and more) from Anderson Valley

Article by Virginia Miller; Photos from winery websites

The further my palate develops, the more I adore white wines in all their wide range of complexities. Ignorantly, in my youthful days, I used to mostly drink reds, missing out on worlds of flavor. Thankfully, I’ve only fallen more in love with countless white varietals over years of incessant tasting. Among my favorite regions for white wine in the world is Alsace, on the northeast corner of France, bordering Germany and Switzerland. Due to this locale, there’s parallels between the wines of Alsace and Germany, another of my favorite white wine countries.

Characteristics of Alsace wines can be floral, aromatic, floral and certainly dry. As with Germany, Riesling and Gewürztraminer are the most common grape varietals of the region, though Pinot Gris follows close behind, with other varietals including Muscat and Pinot Blanc. Though tasting notes are largely arbitrary, I give broad descriptions as I like knowing the general categorizations, like floral vs. mineral, sweet vs. dry.

Angel's Camp

Angel’s Camp

On the heels of Anderson Valley’s Alsace Varietal Festival (held every February), and as I spent time this winter in the rolling hills, farmland and redwood forests of Mendocino County, I’ve been swimming in wines from the region. Here are a few Anderson Valley standouts, plus a few sparkling and reds, plus a few Alsace varietals from other West Coast locales for good measure.

- 2012 Angels Camp Vin Gris of Pinot Noir ($18) – An unusual, very small production rosé of pinot: only 18 cases this year, but that will increase in 2015. There’s an appealing funkiness to this dry rosé with crisp berry notes. Owner Brian Zalaznick’s story of buying this vineyard after great personal loss inspires his unique wines.

- Elke Vineyards – I liked every white I tried from this limited production winery, producing wine from twenty-year-old vines. 2011 Mary Elke Pinot Gris ($16) was fermented in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The result is bracingly crisp with an undercurrent of ripe fruit. I found it particularly lovely with seafood. A decidedly non-Alsace varietal, 2011 Mary Elke Chardonnay ($19) is another strong white. Fermented in stainless steel, aged in neutral oak, it’s both mineral and acidic, inspired by the French region of Chablis. Elke Vineyards are primarily grape growers, growing for notable wineries, from nearby Mumm Napa and Roederer Estate, down to Au Bon Climat.

Phillips Hill Gewurz

Phillips Hill Gewurz

- Phillips Hill 2012 Gewurztraminer, Valley Foothills Vineyard ($20) – Trying a few Phillip Hill whites, the clean tea and apple notes of this stainless steel-fermented wine stood out. Winemaker Toby Hill is an artist who lived and work in both NYC and San Francisco and designs the labels.

- 2012 Philo Ridge Pinot Gris, Klindt Vineyard ($20) – With a generous acidity (no oak, 0% malolactic fermentation), white grapefruit and bright tropical notes made this one a fine pairing with Asian food and heat.

SPARKLING:

Black Kite

Black Kite Cellars

Mendocino County’s sparkling producers are well known – with great reason. There’s value here from some of the best sparkling wines in the US. Roederer has long been my favorite, but I also love Schramsberg in Calistoga, on the edge of Anderson Valley. In addition, Scharffenberger Non-Vintage Brut Excellence ($20) is a strong value sparkling. I’ve always appreciated their rose brut, but the brut excellence also shines, a blend of 2/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Pinot Noir grapes, it is made by traditional methode champenoise (bottle-fermented), tasting bready and bright.

AND A COUPLE ANDERSON VALLEY REDS:

On Point

On Point

- Knez Winery 2011 Cerise Pinot Noir ($42): With a young, hip-yet-refined aesthetic, Knez wines feel fresh, whether a balanced 2011 Chardonnay, or the floral spice of the Cerise Pinot.

- 2011 On Point Christinna’s Cuvée Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($36) – The dark, artistic label jumps out first. The wine is almost as moody as the label, redolent of cherry spice, earth and silky tannins.

- Black Kite Cellars Pinot Noir – I tasted through four different single vineyard expressions. Being a small vineyard, they are all from the same plot but varying patches of land. I preferred 2011 Kite’s Rest Vineyard ($45) and 2011 Stony Terrace Pinot ($55), the former bright with bing cherry and spice, the latter with a bolder, complex tone of black cherry, wood, mushroom and dark chocolate.

FOR GOOD MEASURE – A FEW OTHER WEST COAST ALSACE VARIETAL WINES:

Anne Amie Dry Riesling

Anne Amie Dry Riesling

- 2012 Foris Moscato ($14) – Produced in Rogue Valley, Oregon, surrounded by the Siskiyou mountain range, winemaker Bryan Wilson specializes in Alsace varietals. Though muscat can be a little sweet for me, this one strikes a fine balance – and at such a value. Inspired by the moscatos of Italy’s Piedmont region, they’ve been experimenting with moscato since 1976, and the the result is this floral, white peach-evocative, slightly effervescent white wine.

- 2012 Anne Amie Estate Riesling, Yahill-Carlton District ($20) – This Willamette Valley producer caught my eye with its Old World labels: paintings of 1800′s women that feel pulled from classic literature. The wine’s dry minerality and acidity (thanks to slow fermentation in stainless steel) impart notes of lime, nutmeg and candied lemon. I appreciate their whole line of whites.

- 2012 Trefethen Dry Riesling ($23) – I was surprised to like this Riesling as much as I did. I typically don’t look to warmer Napa for Rieslings, but this one is balanced with crisp citrus and floral notes of orange blossom and jasmine. It’s a lovely food pairing with sushi and other Asian cuisines.

- 2012 Archery Summit Vireton Pinto Gris ($24) – Another Willamette Pinot Gris, this vintage is bright with citrus and floral characteristics, tempered by a hint of green herbaceousness and a clean minerality.

Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:
Apr
01
2014

Around the Bay

The brick patio of L'Auberge Carmel

The brick patio of L’Auberge Carmel where I enjoyed pre-dinner aperitifs, read books & inclusive hotel breakfast

CARMEL WEEKEND: Michelin-starred Restaurant & Romantic Hotel

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Welcome bottle of sparkling wine waiting in my room

Bottle of sparkling wine chilling in my room

Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel, a boutique hotel right in the walkable, intimate town of Carmel, is no stranger to awards. They are one of only 500 Relais & Châteaux privately owned hotel and restaurants in the world, awarded for being a standard setter in the combination of cuisine and charming hotel character. In 2013, Executive Chef Justin Cogley was named one Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, a title that historically represents some of the best chefs in the US.

Service is impeccable at the quirky, elegant hotel. From sunken tubs to breakfast in the garden/brick patio the rooms center around, the experience is pampering.

Each of the small handful of rooms is a different layout

Each of the 20+ rooms is a different layout

Similarly, a 12 course chef’s tasting menu ($145 per person, or a shorter menu $110), with three dessert bites from Executive Pastry Chef Ron Mendoza, is a pleasure from start to finish. The meal represents the region’s wealth of seafood and produce – a common theme all over California. The menu arrives as a list of ingredients merely hinting at the tastes in store. There’s only a handful of tables so the experience is intimate and the wine pairings strong.

Through my photos, journey through L’Auberge’s property and a few of the best courses at Aubergine, a winning California getaway.

Sipping a digestif post-dinner fireside in the intimate hotel lobby

I sipped a gorgeously funky, dry 2009 Királyudvar Tokaji Pezsgo Sparkling Wine post-dinner fireside in L’Auberge’s intimate hotel lobby

Kumamoto oysters topped with caviar in dashi broth and tied up inside an oyster shell, paired with Tissot Cremant de Jura Champagne

Kumamoto oysters topped with caviar in dashi broth, tied up inside an oyster shell, paired with Tissot Cremant de Jura Champagne

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My favorite course: just wowed by black trumpet mushroom in a sheet of French sheep’s milk Ossau-Iraty cheese accented by sorrel, dotted with chicken jus and gingerbread crumble – excellent umami drink pairing of Tannenbaum Imperial Korean Rice Wine made from rice neutral grain spirit & mushroom concentrate

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Artful presentation, tender flavor: dry-aged (28 days) ribeye, with a dusting of matcha green tea powder, lined with mustard greens, radish flower, kale, turnip, puree of Chinese shallots, parsley, almonds

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Lush Monterey abalone over hijiki seaweed with artichoke & tosaka seaweed, paired with lovely, rare 2011 Herri Mina Blanc blend (Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng) from Irouléguy, France

Dessert of pear sorbet over chocolate crumbs, topped with a celery leaf, next to walnut croquant & chocolate cremeaux

Dessert of pear sorbet over chocolate crumbs, topped with a celery leaf, next to walnut croquant & chocolate cremeaux

Lovely L'Auberge

Romantic L’Auberge

L'Auberge at dusk

L’Auberge at dusk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cookies & milk await in your room at night

Cookies & milk await in your room at night

Good night

Good night

Modern tub, old fashioned windows looking out over Carmel rooftops

Modern tub, old fashioned windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar
15
2014

March 15, 2014

“A writer is someone who pays attention to the world – a writer is a professional observer.” - Susan Sontag

Driving outside of Salzburg, Austria

Driving outside of Salzburg, Austria

I’m off to Oregon for a sake and izakaya press trip, but meanwhile have been savoring the continued radiant weather at home with walks in the park, front stoop drinks with neighbors, and gazing out at the ocean with The Renaissance Man.

This action-packed issue covers eight new pizza joints, rare whiskies, highlights of my return to Austria, a tribute to an SF burger legend:

Among the best Bay Area pizzas... in Los Gatos

Among the best Bay Area pizzas… in Los Gatos

Top TastesBy the Slice: Highlights from 8 new Bay Area pizza joints, from Philo down to Los Gatos.
ImbiberWhisky & Cognac Rarities: The privilege of tasting 50 Year Old Scotch and a 1950 Cognac.
Wandering TravelerDreamy Austria: Returning to the fairy tale city of Salzburg for joys in chocolate, one of the best wine bars anywhere, the oldest operating restaurant in the world, and much more.
ImbiberAmerican Whiskey Rarities: Two American whiskies with Stitzel-Weller & Old Bernheim ties.
Wandering TravelerDreamy Austria, Pt. 2: Exploring the Austrian city of Innsbruck.
Top TastesTribute to an SF Burger Legend: The final day – after 49 years – of Joe’s Cable Car, via photos.

As your personal concierge who tells it like a good friend would, I also create personalized itineraries: trips, meals, explorations (under “Services“).

Virginia
Twittertwitter.com/ThePerfectSpot
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Spoonwiz Restaurant Reviews & Travel Articles
Liquor.com Contributor Page
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**Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Virginia Miller**

Written by in: Intro Letter |
Mar
15
2014

The Latest

Oak & Rye, Los Gatos

Oak & Rye’s Puttanesca pizza

BY THE SLICE: 8 New Bay Area Pizza Spots

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Stone & Embers courtyard

Stone & Embers courtyard

As if the Neapolitan, artisanal, wood-fired pizza wave of the past decade weren’t enough, pizza openings continue to come on fast and furious. A recent interview I read with a New Yorker said they couldn’t live on the West Coast because they’d have to miss pizza. Having grown up in NJ (near NYC) and California both, and as a frequent traveler studying food and drink in cities the world over – and certainly all over Italy – San Francisco is easily one of the great pizza cities. The list of pies that are very good to excellent is long.

Amongs the newcomers, From a greasy NY slice to yet more Neapolitan-influenced havens, here are eight new pizza outposts open mostly between Fall 2013 and February 2014, from as far north as Philo in Mendocino County, all the way down to Los Gatos in the South Bay (hint: those two are the standouts of the crop).

North, South, East

OAK & RYE, Los Gatos

Oak & Rye

Oak & Rye

The best of the new pizza ‘comers, Oak & Rye, at first glance looks like just another wood-fired outpost with slick, white walls, sunny space and service. Open since October 2013, it could just be yuppy-peaceful Los Gatos’ first foray into that oft-done territory. There’s no shortage of world class pizza places around the Bay Area, but Oak & Rye, since my first visit back in December, immediately made an impression.

Blackbird

Blackout cocktail

On the drink side, they are strong on cocktails ($10), the exception, not the rule, in the South Bay. Case in point: the anise-laced balance of a Blackout uses SF’s own Emperor Norton absinthe soft with lemon, egg white and a splash of Prosecco. It’s a bright, bracing delight.

There’s ubiquitous small plates and sides like fried brussels sprouts ($8) gussied up with Nueske’s bacon, pecan and maple, or at dinner, a lightly-charred half chicken ($18) with braised kale and humble lemon wedge. Their custom, wood-fired oven glistens, covered in shiny pennies.

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The fantastic Scotty 2 Hottie pizza

But it’s those pies that stay with you: their red sauce is perfection, ideally sweet and savory.  The crust is that fine line of bubbly char and chewy depth. Angelo Womack, of famed Roberta’s in Brooklyn, recently moved across the country, bringing his mad pizza skills with him.

I adore the boquerones (fresh anchovies) brine and salty caper notes of the Puttanesca ($11), a red sauce pie liberally graced with garlic, oregano, onions and Parmigiano cheese. I’m in love with the Scotty 2 Hottie pizza ($16), despite its silly name. Tomato, basil and mozzarella undergirds a brilliant trio of meaty sopressata (dry Italian salami), sweet honey and hot pepperoncini oil. Sweet, spicy, savory… it’s perfection. Oak & Rye is worth driving down to Los Gatos for.

STONE & EMBERS, Philo

Intimate Stone & Embers

Chef Meany works his magic

The other great of the newcomers? Stone and Embers, in the small town of Philo in beautiful Mendocino County. Sad I am that this place is just far enough from home. Call ahead to make sure there’s pizza left – or go for lunch to ensure you don’t miss out (the place closes early anyway, typically by 8pm). As a one man show, Patrick Meany can only fit enough dough for about 60 pizzas a day in the small fridge next to their wood-fired oven. There’s merely three tables and a few bar seats in full view of the pizza-making action.

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Mushroom “chicharrones”

The restaurant opened in fall 2013 – I made it up there in December. Here I first tasted Boonville Bite Hard Cider, a vibrant local cider that is both dry and brightly fruity, showcasing fresh apples and dry bubbles simultaneously. I went next door in the idyllic Madrones complex housing the restaurant, a hotel and a couple shops, to Signal Ridge‘s tasting room, where I stocked up on 6-packs of the cider.

Meany’s crust is some of the best I’ve had from Italy to NY. He works thoughtfully on every aspect of dough-making to ensure balanced, complex crust. Turducken sausage is crumbled atop The Jeffer pizza ($19), layered in tomato sauce under smoked mozzarella and Parmesan, red chili pepper adding heat intrigue. Another pie, 707 1.3 ($16), refers to the area code and all things local. This time it’s the tomato sauce that’s smoked (as A16 Rockridge does in their Montanara Rockridge pie), while local mushrooms, goat cheese from Pennyroyal Farm, and Boonville piment d’espelette (a variety of chili pepper) enliven another fantastic pie.

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707.13 – all things local pie

Small plates are no afterthought. In fact, they feel plucked from San Francisco, easily at home with many hot restaurants of the moment. A risotto of barley and rye ($9) is earthy with local, roasted mushrooms, perked up by green apple and Parmesan. Likewise, fire-roasted brassicas (in this case, cauliflower and brussels sprouts) with baby carrots ($8) are lively with vadouvan spice and citrus, cooled by house yogurt. A snack of crispy mushroom “chicharrones” ($4) dusted in Parmesan and porcini salt is just a great idea. Only pretzel rolls ($1.50) tasted lackluster compared to pretzels I’ve had from places like Esther’s Bakery.

Brassicas & carrots

Brassicas & carrots

Dessert holds up, particularly house ice cream and sorbet ($3) in fun flavors like green tomato, local goat cheese or yuzu (Japanese citrus). Decadence joyously comes in the form of a pumpkin cinnamon roll ($8) with malted milk ice cream.

Though this tiny haven runs out of pizza all too quickly and closes way too early, it’s a food lovers’ treasure surrounded by the woods and farmland of Mendocino County.

SLICER, Oakland

Slicer slices

Slicer slices

Open since fall 2013, Slicer Pizzeria, helmed by Colin Etezadi (former chef de cuisine at Boot & Shoe Service), churns out pies that are not so much authentic NY or Neapolitan pizza but what feels more like Cali-meets-NY, thin crust pizza with interesting but unfussy toppings (slice $3.50, whole $23).

The crust has a nice crisp to it, while seasonal offerings could be asparagus and green garlic, accented with red onion, fennel and pecorino cheese, or savory pancetta and bitter radicchio over tomato sauce, doused with balsamic and Parmesan cheese.

BUILD PIZZERIA ROMA, Berkeley

BUILD's pizza bar

BUILD’s pizza bar

The oldest “newcomer” of this group, BUILD Pizzeria Roma, opened in April 2013, dramatically revamping a downtown Berkeley space into a sprawling, cavernous room. The dining room is centered by a pizza bar where staff build pies to your specifications, with ingredients like silky anchovies or Italian truffle. Husband/wife owners Lisa Holt and David Shapiro (she grew up in Rome) hope to open a series of BUILD – I can see how giant black and white wall photography punctuated by yellow, and build-your-own pizzas, appeal to a range of people.

BUILD pizza

BUILD pizza

So in full honesty, I’ve had better pizzas around the world. This is not so much a gourmand’s pizza den, although it will work for the pizza snob, too. It is fun, interactive and the pies certainly satisfy. With a base of rosso (red sauce), bianca (white/no sauce) or pesto, choose cheese and toppings from the line-up before you.

There’s plenty to drink on the craft beer and cocktail front, like a special beer cocktail one night I visited when Bison Organic Brewing was a featured brewery (something they do regularly with local breweries and distilleries): a Gingerbread Flip ($8) of spiced rum and raw ginger, was creamy with whole egg, effervescent and spiced with Bison’s Gingerbread Ale.

San Francisco

LONG BRIDGE PIZZA CO., Dogpatch

Long Bridge pies

Long Bridge pies

Just opened mid-February 2014, Long Bridge Pizza Co. is an airy, small shop in the heart of Dogpatch, a welcome addition for the neighborhood, cooking pies ($12-14.50 for small, $22-26 large, no by-the-slice) all day long. I wouldn’t call it a destination for those in other parts of the city, but these are gratifying pizzas. They strike a fine balance between greasy NY and Cali-fresh in their straightforward pepperoni, sausage or margherita pizzas.

PIZZAHACKER, Outer Mission

Festive Pizzahacker space

Festive Pizzahacker space

Cult pizza favorite, Jeff Krupman, a.k.a. The Pizzahacker, finally opened a brick-and-mortar spot for his beloved pizza in Outer Mission on the edge of Bernal Heights this January. Despite crowds descending on the lofty-yet-intimate space (formerly Inka’s), Pizzahacker staff are upbeat and friendly, and the vibe festive under blue ceiling and walls illuminated by strung colored lights and communal picnic tables.

There’s about five rotating pies each day ($12-16 each), with wonderfully bubbly crust and engaging toppings. One example: Yo Vinny! is laden with marinated onions, nearby butcher Avedano’s hot Italian sausage, and for lively contrast, pickled Goat Horn peppers.

THE PIZZA SHOP, Mission

The Pizza Shop

The Pizza Shop

Opening weeks ago in February, The Pizza Shop on 24th Street, is the most “real deal” NY of the thin slice newcomers, in the same class as long time, NY slice fave Arinell. I feel transported back to NY walking down the street eating a sopping (with appropriate grease, yo) pepperoni slice ($4 each, $19 for a pie), folded in half on a paper plate, not shy on the cheese.

Jersey love

Jersey love

Chef-owner Thomas Jividen comes from New Jersey and having partly grown up in the Garden State myself, I couldn’t help but cheer for the place when I saw the wood-carving of Jersey on the soda machine. Jividen comes from San Diego’s Bronx Pizza, while he’s running the shop with Laurie Badger from SF’s beloved Golden Boy Pizza. Whole pie delights include the Meat-O, laden with pepperoni, sausage, and, yes, meatballs.

PRESIDIO PIZZA COMPANY, Western Addition/Pac Heights

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Slice of Frankie’s

Presidio Pizza Company had a soft opening in December 2013, which I hit up a couple times in initial weeks. The staff has been so friendly every time, asking for honest feedback on the food. I truly appreciate their desire to improve and hone during those initial weeks.

Presido Pizza space

Presidio Pizza space

Their pizza style is NY/NJ-influenced – there’s even calzones ($8) and cannoli ($5) – though I noticed most of the staff are from Boston or the Bay Area.

Though I could use more tang and sweet-savory bite in their red sauce, meatballs ($6 for 3, $9 for 5) are tender, dotted with basil and Grana Padano cheese. As for the pizza, it’s more gratifying than a game-changer, ideal mainly for those in the neighborhood. My favorite pie has been Frankie’s ($4 slice/$22 pie) with its juicy slices of sausage with rapini, garlic, onions and cherry peppers over mozzarella. The Grandma ($3.50/$20), a thin, square pie could use a lot more red sauce, as could The Sicilian ($4/$22), another square pie, both blessedly straightforward with cheese and basil, or in the case of the Grandma, with pesto and red sauce (add any topping).

The enchanting Madones complex in the countryside of Philo houses Stone & Embers

The enchanting Madrones complex in the countryside of Philo houses Stone & Embers

Written by in: The Latest | Tags:

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