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Travel Diaries: Copenhagen in the Rain

July 20, 2017 8 comments

My business trip was taking me to Malmo in Sweden. At first, I was trying to book the flight to arrive at the Malmo airport, but tickets were coming out extremely pricey, and what is even worse, required at least two stops to come back to the USA – there were no other options available.

Obviously, when one gets stuck in today’s world, then one asks for help of … no, not audience, but the almighty Google. Within a few minutes I was able to figure out that it is much easier to fly to Copenhagen and then take a train from the Copenhagen airport to the Malmo central station, which is very easy and takes less than 30 minutes. After figuring that out with Google, I looked into the invitation letter for the meeting, and that is exactly what was recommended there (yep, a classic RTFM case). Anyway, to make the long story short, I got the tickets for the flight which was arriving into Copenhagen very early Sunday morning.

I connected at Copenhagen airport a few times before, but this was the first time I had an opportunity to actually visit the city. And a few weeks before the trip it dawned on me that I will be visiting the city I was so fascinated with while growing up as a child. You see, fairy tales were one of my most favorite books, and when it comes to the fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen is easily the classic of the classics, comparable may be only to the Grimms brothers.

Hans Andersen was living in Copenhagen for the most of his life, and so the illustrator for his books (translated, of course) which I had an opportunity to read, had chosen different Copenhagen city landmarks to be on the cover and throughout the books. The opportunity to see all the castles, spires and flags was truly exciting and brought back lots of childhood memories…

On the morning of arrival, the weather was grey, and by the time I was able to go drop my luggage at the hotel in Malmo and come back to Copenhagen, the rain started. I couldn’t give up the opportunity to connect with the childhood, so rain or not, this was my only day to walk around Copenhagen, and nothing was going to stop me. Thus what you see below is mostly bleak, but it is still looks beautiful to me…

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

I clearly remember the building below (which turns out to be the old Stock Exchange building) to be depicted on the cover of the books, so I really made a few attempts to find a good way to capture the view (not easy with an iPhone camera):

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

More of the “wet” views:

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

You know, you get tired walking for a day, with or without the rain. By accident, we found the ILLUM Rooftop, which is a large rooftop space on top of the shopping mall, hosting lots of different restaurants. We wandered into the Bar Jacobsen, which provided delicious locally brewed Jacobsen beer and some beautiful views:

 

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

And the last picture for today, processed with my favorite iPhone photo editor, SnapSeed:

Copenhagen in the rain

Wet but very, very happy – that was my state upon coming back to Malmo.

To be continued…

Travel Diaries: Few Restaurant Recommendations for Prague

June 12, 2017 1 comment

@ Pivovarský klubI recently shared my excitement after spending two weeks in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities on this planet – mostly in pictures. Today I want to share with you some of the dining experiences, just in case if you plan traveling to Prague in the near future.

First, let me give you a “thousand feet view” of Prague’s dining scene and Czech cuisine. Prague is a modern city, so as in any modern city, you will find a mix of different cuisines, and the range of dining style options, from the street food to the beer gardens to the bistro and then the world-class fine dining. Prague is a popular tourist destination so you have to expect to find lots of tourist traps, especially around any historical sites.

Talking about Czech cuisine, the best thing to have in Prague is pork. Pork dishes are done in a number of the ways – smoked pork cold cuts, roasted pork shank and anything in between – I spent quite a bit of time dining together with an international group, and pork dishes always were the most popular and generated the most of the “wow” references. Don’t get me wrong – of course, there is lots more to eat than just pork. The game is big in Prague – venison, ostrich, wild boar – you can easily find all of those on the menu, and all at the reasonable prices. Of course, there is chicken, and the fish dishes would also be worth your attention. If you like pickled vegetables, you might find yourself in heaven – everything I tasted was delicious, not overly vinegary and with an excellent crunch. In a number of restaurants I also saw special vegetarian sections on the menu, however, I don’t think vegetarian cooking is as widespread as it is in the USA.

One more quick note before we talk about the restaurants themselves. English menus are generally available, but not everywhere. In a few cases, we had to wait for someone to come and translate the menu for us. One way to avoid it is by using Google Translate app on your phone, where you can just point it to the text on the menu and get your immediate translation. Download extended dictionary as the basic one might not be enough.

Ahh, sorry, another quick general note. In Prague, you should drink local. The beer is excellent, not matter where and no matter which. Local wines, often made from Austrian and German varieties (Gruner Veltliner, Muller Thurgau, St. Lauren, Portugieser and more), are generally excellent and you should do yourself a favor and try them while in Prague, as many of those wines are simply not available outside of Czech Republic.

Now, let’s eat! Well, I meant let’s talk about the restaurants. Below are the restaurants which I’m happy to recommend – there were definitely a few I was not thrilled about, but I don’t see a point of bringing them up in this post.

Kampa Park
Na Kampe 8b, 118 00 Praha
Ph: +420 296826102
http://www.kampagroup.com/en/

Let me start with one of the best dining experiences of the trip. Kampa Park was the first fine dining establishment in Prague, opened in 1992. The location is superb, right under the Charles Bridge, so you get the great view of the bridge and the river – definitely hard to beat. Make no mistake – the restaurant can be expensive, pretty much on par with fine dining prices, let’s say in New York ($50+ pp lunch) – but of course, it will depend on what you will order.

Good wine list with a good number of local wines. Food is creative European, lots of good options. We had cream of asparagus soup which was sublime, and then the pork cheek which was super tender and flavorful. The service is top class – attentive and helpful. Overall, for a great restaurant experience and the views, I can’t recommend the restaurant high enough – I think it worth the price.

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Pork Cheeks @ Kampa Park

Terasa U Prince
Staromestské námestí 29, 110 00 Praha-1
Ph: +420 602 462 260
https://www.terasauprince.com/terrace

The restaurant is located on the roof of U Prince hotel. It is notoriously difficult to get in and suggested reservations are two weeks in advance. However, many people manage to talk their way in without any reservations, so you definitely should try your luck.

Most important part of the experience is the view. There is only 1 (one) beer available at the restaurant, and two different wines by the glass (and none of them were Czech), otherwise the drinks menu is extremely expensive. Food is decent, but not amazing. Creme Brulee is supposed to be very good. But again, the views are amazing, so it is worth suffering for one night.

Prague View from Terasa U Prince

Pivovarský Klub
Križíkova 17, Karlín, Praha 8
Ph: +420 222315777
http://www.pivovarskyklub.com

If you like beer, this place is a heaven. As you walk in, you can see the walls all covered in various types of beer. Everything on draft is excellent – I had most of what they offer and all the beers were one better than another. If you don’t want to drink Czech beer, no problems – there is a great offering of Belgium, German, UK, and others. I had 5 AM Saint by the Brewdog, something which is hard to find in the USA, and it was outstanding.

The food is mostly traditional Czech. Good soups, good pickles, cured meats, port, duck. Very reasonable prices. Good location close to the subway station. Definitely recommended.

Arrosto Ristorante
Mikuláše z Husi 1709/9, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 241 405 964
arrostoristorante.cz

Located in the close proximity to Vyšehrad which I highly recommend visiting as a tourist attraction – great place, located close to the subway station with the same name (Vyšehrad).

The restaurant is charming, especially the room in the back where the tables stand around the big tree. From the name of the restaurant, you would expect that the food will be an Italian, and it is to some degree, but definitely with the local flair. Good wine list with a number of local wines to select from. We had buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and then file of sole with pasta – all delicious.

The Bašta Brewery
Sousedský Pivovar Bašta
Táborská 389/49, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 602 295 403
ubansethu.cz/en

This is a true neighborhood restaurant for the locals, despite having the menu in English available (also in a close proximity to Vyšehrad). You sit down at the communal table, and beer starts flowing – fresh, tasty, simple, without any cherry or mango flavors. Then the bread arrives, and then whatever you will decide on. The menu is not large but offers many local specialties. Cold frankfurter sausage with pickled onions was excellent. Duck fat with crackles was just spectacular, home pate outstanding, luscious and tasty. Fresh crispy fries are a must when you drink beer, right? And then the smoked pork (pork belly and pork loin) was just an incredible dish in flavor, you could smell smoke before the dish was even landed on the table.

The whole price of feast was $25 for two – I’d say you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Of course it is impossible to fit Prague’s food scene into the one simple blog post – but I still hope my personal recommendations might be useful.

One more note before we part – I also ate at a number of “fast food” places – Chinese, Oriental, Pizza, Creperie – and pretty much everywhere the food was reasonably priced and tasty. However, yes – be aware of the tourist traps.

I hope your travels will take you to Prague and you will get to enjoy this beautiful city! Cheers!

Travel Diaries: Beautiful Prague

May 15, 2017 8 comments

For the first time I visited Prague in 1990 (if memory serves me right, of course). I have some scarce memories of that trip – Charles Bridge, Clock Tower, Gothic architecture and a street the food in form of the waffle with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I always wanted to come back and experience Prague once again – and finally opportunity presented as one of my business meetings took me there.

You know how it can be dangerous to rely on the past experiences while setting the expectations? Everything changes – we change, everything around us changes as well – “you can’t enter the same river twice”. And the best moment in any experience is when you say – ahh, it is even better than I expected.

That is my feeling about the Prague. Beautiful city, all covered with the red roofs (somehow, red roofs have a magical effect on me), beautifully colorful buildings, castles and cathedrals everywhere – you derive the pleasure from anywhere you look (well, sadly, once you step a little away from the old town, you see lots of graffiti and simply start dreaming about all the pain which should be inflicted on the people who do that, but this is way outside of the subject of this post).

I’m not going to try to describe my impressions in words – instead, let me inundate you with pictures – lots and lots of pictures of the beautiful town of Prague. And when I say lots and lots, I actually mean it…

Prague Views

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Don’t think you will find vine grapes growing in New York’s Central Park, but you do in Prague!

Spring in Prague

Prague Vltava River

Prague Vltava River

Prague Views

 

Prague Views

Prague Views

Prague Views

Red Roofs of Prague

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Streets of Prague - Trdelnik

These two peeing man (the parts of their bodies which attract the most attention are not only releasing the water, but also moving – heard quite a range of comments from the spectators:

Peeing man sculpture at Kafka Museum

Peeing man sculpture kafka Museum

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castle Cathedral Fragment

Prague Castles and Cathedrals (1)

The legend has it that St. John of Nepomuk was executed for refusing to give the details of queen’s confession to the king. The St. John is honored with his own statue on the Charles Bridge. The legend also has it that if you will touch two of the fragments on the bottom of the statue, you wish will b granted. However, it seems that the legend might not get it exactly right – take a look at this blog post to learn what exactly do you need to touch:

Let me leave you with the love locks at the Charles Bridge – Prague is a beautiful city which is easy to fall in love with. Cheers!

Love Locks near Charles Bridge in Prague

While The Snow Was Falling on East Coast…

January 24, 2016 25 comments

I heard about snow storm targeting East Coast of the USA on Wednesday. As I was at the meetings in San Diego, my first thought was “I have to make it back home to Connecticut”. Originally, I was supposed to take the red eye flight on Friday, come home for a day, and then leave for the conference in Florida on Sunday. I called travel agent right away, and moved my flight back to Newark to the middle of the day on Friday, and Florida flight to Monday morning – and felt pretty comfortable that I dealt well with upcoming storm.

Only on Friday, when I was practically ready to start moving to the airport, I got a message on my phone any air traveler is dreading the most: “your flight had been cancelled”… The thought of my family dealing with the snow on their own was practically unbearable. After talking to the travel agent, the truth settled in – I will not be able to make it home for the weekend, no matter how hard I will try. And yes, I will simply have to go directly to Florida without stopping in New York – no other options.

Coming out of the stupor, I realized – I have very close friends living close by in Irvine, which is about hour and half from San Diego – visiting them for the weekend would be a lot better than sitting by myself at the hotel – so Irvine it was.

My wife kept me updated on the snow situation back at home – this is what they will have to deal with today, and even for a while:

snow storm 2016,

My day looked quite different – I discovered a Farmer’s Market in California. In the United States, there are two primary sources of fresh fruit and produce all year around – California and Florida, this was of course known to me. And farmer’s market is something which is not difficult to find in Connecticut, where I live – but only during the summer, mostly offering vegetables and a bit of fruit, and somehow always inciting me to challenge the authenticity of the actual “local farm” origin of that produce, seeing it sold from the pretty big trucks.

Thus farmer’s market we visited in Laguna Beach in California on Saturday in January was absolutely mind boggling experience for me as a foodie. All the citrus fruit you can imagine – grapefruit red and white, oranges, blood oranges, mandarins, Satsuma mandarins – to be honest, I don’t think I ever tasted a grapefruit which was as sweet and delicious as the one I tasted at this farmer’s market. Then you got strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, pears – lots of them. Everything tastes fresh, delicious and almost unreal for someone from the east coast. All sorts of vegetables, of course, almonds with lots of different preparations, walnuts, dried fruit – I can go on and on – I’m sure you can tell that I can hardly contain my excitement. So here is simply an extravaganza of colors for you, in the form of the pictures – unfortunately, blogs can’t convey taste and smell – not yet, at least:

Oranges

Oranges

Satsuma mandarins

Lots of beets of all colors

strawberries - I wish you could smell them

Beets

oranges

Radishes!

California Avocado

radishes?

Honey!

And then of course there were flowers:

Also, you never know then the Universe might strike back, so someone always have to be ready:

Galactic Patrol Car

Spotted on the street in Laguna Beach – couldn’t resist to include this

If you are on the East Coast, I hope your digging out was successful and not super-tiring, so you can now relax with the glass of wine or whatever your heart’s desires. I’m off to continue flying. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Pleasures of a Simple Côtes du Rhône

September 7, 2015 7 comments

What do you think of Côtes du Rhône wines? Côtes du Rhône (I like to call them CdR for short) are some of my favorite home wines. A “little brother” of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, they often offer similar, may be a bit less expressive taste profile, usually at a fraction of a price. They are also quite versatile with food, offering a wide pairing range, from lamb to game to cheeses.

I was reminded today of how good these simple CdR wines can be. While traveling (I’m in south of France at the moment, near Nice), I asked for the local red wine at the restaurant. Red Provence (that would be a true local wine) are made in a very minuscule quantities, so it is not surprising that restaurant at a small hotel didn’t have any. I was offered to look at the wines from the neighboring territories, such as Côtes Du Rhône, and I ended up picking the cheapest wine on the menu. It so happened that 2013 Antoine Ogier Artesis Côtes du Rhône AOC (14% ABV, €21 at a restaurant) was an excellent choice. The wine had red fruit on the nose with a touch of lavender, very soft tannins on the palate, soft and silky profile, plums, touch of minerality and excellent acidity, overall very balanced. After about 30 minutes the wine also showed tobacco and touch of pepper on the palate – a very classic profile overall. Drinkability: 8-

Antoine Ogier Côtes du Rhône

What was even better than just a nice glass of wine was that wine worked perfectly with food – this was an accidental success, as I didn’t think about the wine at all while ordering the food. The wine paired spot on with the Rabbit Pate, elevating each bite. It did the same thing with Grilled Veal with Creamy Mushroom Sauce. Believe it or not, but it was not even disturbed by an interesting dessert – a Pineapple Carpaccio (called on the menu “raw marinated pineapple”) with Lime Sorbet. All I can say that this was probably one of the most versatile wines I ever had – kudos to the winemaker for crafting such food friendly wines – I guess 155 years of history mean something.

Before we part, I want to live you with a couple of curiosities. Below you will see the back label of that bottle of wine, providing sulfates warning in 21 languages (I already shared that on Twitter). I find this interesting and a bit ridiculous (sorry – wine always contains sulfates, and no, they don’t cause the headache). The second picture shows an extremely thoughtful presentation of the condiments. I shared this on Twitter too, noting that I like the classy presentation, something which French mastered perfectly, only to be ridiculed by someone asking me if ketchup is a French food. Of course it is not, but think about how many times you were presented with the bottle of ketchup at a restaurant, only to think “where should I put it to – on the plate or directly on the fries” – by the way, both are equally uncomfortable choices? In this case, the problem is solved in the best possible way – here is your personal bottle, and you don’t need to deal with any puzzles, just enjoy your food.

Voilà! I’m done with my “notes from the road”. If you are in US, happy few last hours of the Labor Day holiday weekend. Until the next time – cheers!

Magnificent Portugal

May 24, 2015 27 comments

Douro Valley 2Two years ago I was lucky to discover the Portugal. A beautiful country with wonderful people, great wines and delicious food. This year, I had an opportunity to experience the Portugal again, and once again I want to share my experiences with you as much as possible. There will be a few posts, as there is absolutely no way to squeeze all the impressions into one (nothing is impossible, yes, but I’m sure none of you are interested in a post with a hundred+ pictures and ten thousand words), but still please prepare to be inundated with the pictures. Let’s go.

I want to start from the wonderful trip we had on Sunday. I’m subscribed to the updates from the wine travel web site called Winerist. An email I received from the Winerist about a week before my scheduled departure contained a section about wine trips in … Douro, Portugal! How could they know, huh? This was my very first time using the service, so not without trepidation I filled up booking form for the tour called “Wine Tasting & Sightseeing in the Douro Valley” (€95 per person), requesting the specific date – actually, the only free day I had during the trip. I was informed that my credit card will be charged only after the trip availability will be confirmed with the local provider. Two days later the confirmation arrived with all the tour provider information and pickup time (the pickup is arranged at any of the hotels in Porto). The day before the trip, I got a call in my hotel room from JoÃo, who informed me that the pickup will take place next day at 9:10 am in front of the hotel’s lobby.

The next day, a red minivan showed up exactly at 9:10 am (at least according to my watch), however the first thing JoÃo did after introducing himself in person, was to apologize for arriving at 9:12 instead of 9:10 – from which I figured that we will have fun in our tour. This is exactly what happened – after picking up two more people for the total of 8 passengers, off we went to immerse into the beauty of Portuguese nature, culture, food and wine. I will not give you a detailed account of everything we heard during of almost 11 hours of out trip (we were supposed to come back at 6:30 pm, but nobody was in a hurry, so we came back very close to 8 pm) – that would make it for a long and boring post. But I will do my best to give you a good idea of what we saw and experienced.

Our first stop was at a small town called Amarante. On the way there, our guide and driver had to really work hard – out of our group of 8 people, 2 of us needed all explanations in English, and the rest of the group was from Brazil, so JoÃo had to alternate between Portuguese and English – have to say he had no issues doing that for the duration of the trip. The second problem JoÃo had to deal with was … a marathon, which forced closure of many roads, so he had to find his way around. Well, that was also a non-issue, so we successfully arrived to Amarante. Our intended destination was the church of São Gonçalo (St. Gonçalo), which had an interesting story of the saint whose name is associated with male fertility. I had to admit that I missed some parts of the explanation regarding the origins of this belief, but the bottom line is very simple. Inside of the church, there is a statue of St. Gonçalo, with the hanging rope. Any male who needs help with the  fertility, have to pull that rope twice, but not more (don’t know if it would be equivalent to the Viagra overdose?). Besides, the Priest gets very unhappy when people get crazy with that rope, so all the pulling should be done quietly and without attracting unnecessary attention. I guess that same fertility power led to the appearance of so called St. Gonçalo cakes, which you will see below – I’m assuming the picture is self-explanatory. No, I didn’t try one, nor did anyone from our group, so can’t tell you how it tastes. After leaving the church, we had around 20 minutes to walk around the town, before we had to leave to our next destination.

Our next stop was the town of Lamego, which is one of the biggest in the Douro valley. As food was an essential part of our tour, first we visited a place called A Presunteca. I would probably characterize it as a food and wine store, somewhat geared towards tourists. No, “tourist trap” would be rather diminutive, as the food and wine were genuinely good and prices were absolutely on par with any other store. We had a taste few of the local sausages and cured meets, as well as cheese. We also had an opportunity to taste some of Porto and dry wines, as well as sparkling – the Peerless sparkling wine was excellent, on par with any good Cava or Cremant. I also really liked a Niepoort Dry White Port. If we wouldn’t have to spend the next half of the day in the hot car, I don’t think I would’ve left without a nice chunk of a cured meet, but oh well…

Next we got into a race with a long (very long!) line of honking old Minis, and we lost the race despite creative local street navigation by JoÃo. We still successfully arrived to our next destination – Cathedral of Santa Maria, Lady of Remedy. According to the explanations, the beautiful structure was erected as promised by the Bishop to show a gratitude for sparring the city of Lamego from the Black Plague. There are more than 600 steps which lead to the Cathedral on top of the hill, which people seeking the cure for the illnesses often concur on their knees. We walked around the cathedral and then used the steps to get down to the town level, admiring the beautiful view and exquisite architectural elements, also with the great use of traditional Portuguese painted ceramic tiles. This place needs some serious restoration work, but it is still absolutely magnificent.

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Our next stop was for lunch. The restaurant called Manjar do Douro was located very close to the bottom of the staircase we ascended from. It was somewhat resembling a big dining hall, with many groups occupying communal style tables. The bread, cheese and cold cuts were outstanding. For the entree I’ve chosen veal, as still was suffering from the fish overload from the night before (more about it in another post). This was rather a mistake, as the meat was really chewy (well, the sautéed vegetables were excellent). We had a few wines with the meal. 2014 Incantum Vinho Branco had inviting nose of a white fruit, a bit more tamed fruit on the palate, overall very enjoyable (and added another grape to my collection, Sìria). The 2013 Incantum Douro Tinto was nice, but a bit simplistic. As JoÃo learned from our conversation that I was all into wines, he showed me a few of his favorite wines, one of them you can see below in the picture (no, we didn’t try it).

Our next stop was finally a full immersion into the wine world of Douro. After about an hour driving, we arrived at Quinta do Tedo. Vincent Bouchard of the Bouchard Père & Fils fame from Burgundy, fell in love with the Quinta do Tedo vineyards (can you blame him? take a look at the pictures), located at a crossing of River Douro and River Tedo, and he bought the vineyard in the early 1990s. 1992 was the first vintage produced by the Quinta do Tedo. The vineyards, located on the hilly slopes around the picturesque River Tedo, consist of the vines of 30 to 70 years old. Quinta do Tedo makes only red wines, but they make both dry wines and number of Port styles. Winery’s logo has a picture of the bird on it – according to the local traditions, the birds would show up to eat the grapes when they are perfectly ripe, so that bird on the label signifies perfectly ripe grapes.

Quinta do Tedo Vineyards

Douro Vineyards

TedoThe winery still uses all of the old traditions of winemaking – the grapes are harvested by hand, into the small baskets to prevent them crushing under its own weight. The grapes are fully destemmed, and then are crushed using the … feet, yes, exactly as you expected. Grapes are stomped over the course of a few days by the men. The juice flows into the tanks (no pumping), where it is fermented for two days (in case of port production) or longer, and from there on the wines are made according to the style. Ahh, and I need to mention that the vineyards of Quinta do Tedo are certified organic. Also note that it is illegal to irrigate vines in Douro, so you can say that all of the producers in Douro are using dry farming methods.

I love the fact that wine offers endless learning opportunities – every time you talk to someone passionate, you learn something new. Let me tell you why I’m talking about it. As you might know, all the wine production in Douro is regulated by so called Douro Institute (IVDP). This is a very powerful organization, which assess all the wines made in Douro, both Port and regular dry wines, to make sure that winery’s declaration is up to the right level. I was always under impression that it is IVDP then which declares vintage year for Port. Turns out I was wrong – it is actually up to the winery to declare a vintage year (however it would be an IVDP will confirm or reject the designation). 2010 was an excellent year, and many Port houses produced Vintage Port. Then there was 2011, which was not just good, but simply spectacular. But if you mention 2009, people raise their arms defensively – it was not a good year. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop Quinta do Tedo from producing delicious 2009 Vintage Port, including their single vineyard flagship, Savedra.

The learning didn’t stop there. Our guide very simply explained concept of the so called LBV, or Late Bottled Vintage Port, which has the year designation similar to the vintage port, but typically costs a fraction of price (and something which I couldn’t figure out for a while). It appears that concept of LBV is as follows. The wine is first made with the intent of becoming a Vintage Port – 2 days fermentation which is stopped with neutral brandy, then about 2 years of aging in stainless steel or neutral oak tanks. After that the port is sent to the IVDP to get the vintage approval – and if it fails to get the approval, it is aged for another 2 years or so, and then bottled as LBV. Simple, right?

Of course it was not all talking – there was also tasting. Technically our official tasting included only two types of port, but you know how that works – once the passion starts talking, the tasting becomes “no holds barred” event.

We started with two of the dry wines. The 2011 Quinta do Tedo Tinto Douro was what can be called a “BBQ Wine” – nice fresh fruit profile, with some depth, but limited power, allowing for easy sipping. But the second wine was the whole different story. 2011 was so good that the winery simply decided to skip the Reserva level, and to make Grand Reserva only. Wine spent 22 month in French oak. The level of finesse on that 2011 Quinta do Tedo Grand Reserva Savedra Douro was unparalleled, something which you really have to experience for yourself – elegant dark fruit, spices and touch of fresh herbs on the nose (you can smell the wine for the very, very long time). On the palate, the wine is multilayered, dark, full-bodied and powerful, and it combined firm structure with silky smooth goodness. At €25, it can be only classified as a steal – or definitely a tremendous value, if you prefer that definition.

We also tasted 2010 Quinta do Tedo LBV, which was absolutely delicious, with good amount of sweetness and fresh acidity, making it perfectly balanced; Quinta do Tedo 20 Years Old Tawny had beautiful complexity with hazelnut and almonds, and dry fruit sweetness. Elegance of 2009 Quinta do Tedo 2009 Vintage was simply outstanding – fragrant nose and very balanced palate. That was one delicious tasting, that is all I can tell.

We need to round up here – and I thank you if you are still reading this. Good news is that after that tasting where I think we spent double the time versus the original plan we went back to the hotel, with one last stop to suck in the greatness of the Douro River – so no more words here, just a few pictures.

Douro Valley 4

Douro Valley

Douro valley 5

Douro Valley 2

And we are done (can you believe it?). If your travel will take you to Portugal, I would highly recommend that you will give the LivingTours a try – I think this is the best way to explore that magnificent country. Also keep in mind that Winerist offers a variety of the wine tours in many regions, so do check them out.

As for my Portugal escapades – I’m only getting warmed up. Prepare to be inundated further. Until the next time – cheers!

Study of Port: Food and Wine Tidbits

May 5, 2013 24 comments

Here I’m, continuing to report on my food and wine adventures in Portugal (here are the first and second posts from the series). Well, I guess “adventures” is really too much of a word for simply excellent food and wine experiences, but “adventures” put the things in the right prospective, isn’t it? Never mind, let’s just talk about food and wine.

On the first night we ended up at the small place called Restaurante Nova Europa. The place looked very authentic in the sense that they had a hard time to find an English menu, and our server spoke practically no English –  that didn’t prevent us from having a very good dinner. Most of the people at the table ordered some version of the local fish called Bacalhau, which is a cod. It was offered in different variations – mine had a lot of potatoes:

Bacalhau

Bacalhau

And as I often ignore food and wine pairing rules, the wine was red:

DSC_0724 Evel Tinto Douro

2010 Evel Tinto Douro

As most of the wines from Douro, this 2010 Evel Tinto Douro, this wine is made from the “classic set” of Portuguese grapes – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz a Tinta Barroca. The same grapes are also used as a foundation for most of the Port wines, which are made in exact same Douro region. Good body, good depth, not necessarily spectacular but easy to drink and pleasant.

Now I would like to mention two of the very local products. First one is beer. I’m not sure how many different beers are produced in Portugal (I’m positive though that US microbrewery revolution didn’t take any roots in Portugal so far). The beer is called Super Bock, it comes in lager, stout and few other versions, and it is produced in the area just outside of Porto – according to Wikipedia. I only tried the stout, which was dark, rich, smooth and creamy. I have to mention though that it is somewhat dangerous to rely on my opinion about beer – for the most of the time I prefer dark beer and on contrary to many of my friends, I don’t find Guinness bitter. And here is the picture for you – the picture was taken by my friend Kfir, not by me – but he was using my camera, so I guess I have some rights to it…

Super Bock stout

Super Bock stout, as captured by Kfir

Next item to bring to your attention is a local sandwich (supposedly it is Porto’s specialty) called Francesinha. This sandwich is made out of two slices of crust-less bread with various meats (or even veggies) in between – we saw it on the menu in most of the restaurants in Porto, and it can come with steak, white meat, various ham cuts and so on. The sandwich is completely covered by melted cheese (top and all sides), and it is served with the secret sauce which is supposed to be some combination of tomato sauce and beer. I had a steak version and it was very tasty. Believe it or not, but I’m not always carrying my camera to the restaurant, so Francesinha is probably the only dish I regret not taking my picture of – but someone thankfully did on Wikipedia, so below is the picture for you, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Francesinha sandwich, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Francesinha sandwich, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

And then there was Cufra. Pardon my little drama here, and let me explain. We saw the restaurant while walking by, checked it out on the web, and it looked appealing enough. Service staff spoke not too much of English, but the menu was possible to understand, so we all ended up with decent food – but the wine was more memorable. For the white we had 2011 Castello D’Alba from Douro, a blend of Codega do Larinho, Rabigato and Viosinho – very typical blend for Douro white wine, all indigenous grapes (Wine Centurions, take note!). The wine was very nice, with good acidity and somewhat similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, only with less of grapefruit.

Castello D'Alba Douro White

Castello D’Alba Douro White

Then we had a bootle of 2009 Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo Beiras DOC, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, produced by Quinta do Cardo. The wine was nothing short of being spectacular  – with the exception of vintage port, during the whole week I only had one other red wine which was on the same level or may be even a touch higher – but I will talk about it in another post. Dense and concentrated, with dark fruit, plums and blueberries on the palate, all very round with the hint of smokiness. The wine was so good for the money (€14, in a restaurant!) that I even got two bottles right in the restaurant to take them back home.

Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo

Quinta do Cardo Selecção do Enólogo

When we went to the same restaurant second time, about a week later, the menu was quite different, and the wine were too. But – one of the reasons for the second visit was the desire to try the crab dish we saw someone ordering during the first time. Considering that Porto is located right on the cross of ocean and the Douro river, it is rather expected that fish and seafood should be very good – and this dish didn’t disappoint (hope you will find the below picture being enough of the proof):

Crab and shrimp at Cufra

Crab and shrimp at Cufra

I can’t say the same about wines – there was different 2009 Quinta do Cardo wine on the list (about €4 cheaper), and while it was not bad, it was not anywhere as good as the first one. All in all, if you are in Porto and if you will be in the area, Cufra is well worth visiting.

Last place I want to mention (but not least by all means) is a restaurant called Rabelos. Just to give you some prospective, Rabelos are actually flat bottom boats which were used to transport barrels of Port from the wineries to the Port house cellars for aging. Nowadays the wine is transported by the tanker trucks, and Rabelos are only used to move tourists around.

Rabelos Restaurante

Rabelos Restaurante

Anyway, the restaurant is actually located in Vila Nova de Gaia, a town which houses all the port cellars across the river from Porto. It is located very close to the bridge which connects Porto and Gaia, right along the boardwalk in a place which in general should be considered a tourist trap. But it was no tourist trap at all. The service was outstanding, and we got great recommendations and had great experience overall.

One of the starters was local feta cheese, dusted with Parmesan and slightly roasted with olive oil (take a note – I think it should be as easy to make it at home as it is delicious, and as a very least I’m going to try it…).

Roasted feta cheese with parmesan

Roasted feta cheese with parmesan

Then we had beef carpaccio and shrimp salad – the pictures don’t do justice to those dishes, but both were delicious

beef carpaccio

beef carpaccio

shrimp salad

shrimp salad

Next we had two dishes made from Bacalhau in different styles – one was baked with cheese sauce and one was grilled – both were outstanding:

Bacalhau in cheese sauce

Bacalhau in cheese sauce

grilled bacalhau with shrimp

grilled bacalhau with shrimp

Again ignoring the pairing rules, we went with the red wine called 2010 Borges Quinta da Soalheira Douro Red, a blend of classic Douro red grapes, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cão, made by Vinhos Borges. The wine had medium body, good acidity, nice red fruit on the palate, well balanced – perfect for every day drinking, considering you can find it.

Borges Quinta da Soalheira

Borges Quinta da Soalheira

For the desert, we had lemon cake (paired with white Port) and chocolate cake paired with simple tawny. Below are a few pictures – the first one is taken by me ( boring, sigh), and then two others taken by Kfir – I will need to learn how to really use my own camera…

Lemon cake, no excitement in the picture

Lemon cake, no excitement in the picture

lemon cake, now with excitement, courtesy of Kfir

lemon cake, now with excitement, courtesy of Kfir

extreme chocolate cake, as captured by Kfir

extreme chocolate cake, as captured by Kfir

And of course nobody can leave the restaurant without coffee, right?

Espresso!

Espresso!

That’s all, we are done for today folks. Sorry for all the pictures, hope you found them at least moderately entertaining. Until the next time – cheers!

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3 Days in Vegas – Day 1: Total Exhaustion, Part 1

October 2, 2012 8 comments

Don’t know how many of you paid attention to the tag line in this blog – “wine, food and life”. Most of my posts are about wine (sometimes it is a life through the wine glass, but still). Some of my posts are more about food with some occasional wine inclusions. And very few of my posts here are just about life as it happens. Actually this is what this blog post is all about – and I’m pretty sure that one post will not do it (or it will be veeeeery loooong), so get ready to suffer. Besides the desire to share tons of pictures with you, I also want to share our (I traveled to Las Vegas with my wife, the trip was her birthday present) personal experience in Las Vegas – may be someone, somewhere, sometime, will find it useful. And without much ado, here we go.

Day 1 was Friday. Actually, the first day was Thursday, but by the time we arrived to the hotel, found out that we used the wrong lobby, waited for check in and then dragged ourselves through the whole casino floor and got to our room, it was pretty late (don’t forget to account for 3 hours time shift for our trip from East Coast). For those who are curious, we stayed at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. THEhotel offers a full retreat from the casino noise and crowd, and rooms are extremely comfortable – if you are planning your own Vegas escape, I highly recommend it as a place to stay. Thus the only excitement of the day was my wife’s first encounter with the slot machine (she never been to Vegas before), which ended up very peacefully (actually, I’m still surprised that she didn’t win anything – I had drawn pretty big plans well in advance – oh well…).

So the real Day 1 started on Friday. Of course it started from breakfast. Let me digress for a second. I’ve been to Vegas numerous number of times before – but always on business. What it means is that I never really explored the town – but at least I had some ideas about food and ways to get around. Let’s go back to our day now. Based on my prior knowledge, I decided that buffet at MGM Grand would suit the breakfast bill quite well – and it did. At about $22 per person, the selection and quality was unbeatable. And all the deserts – yeah, I needed a lot of will power…

Breakfast is done, and let the explorations begin.

First decision you have to make is how to move around the town. While the distances are not huge, you have to take into account the weather – 100F is 100F – despite the fact that it is dry (!!!) heat, it is still a heat, so you need to make your selection wisely. Basically, your choices are: on foot, taxi, monorail and tram, which has very limited connectivity (of course you are right – there are private cars and limos of all shapes and sizes – but considering our uneventful/non-winning casino experience, this was really not an option). There might be buses too, but that is something which requires way too much knowledge in my opinion, so this option was out. If I would look back on our Day 1, here are few notes which might be useful for you. Taxi is probably the fastest way of transportation, and it is reasonably inexpensive outside of peak hours (6-9 PM) – about $10 – $15 will get you between any of the casinos on the strip. This is not true during peak hours, as you will wait quite long in line, and it will cost you more due to the wait on all the traffic lights. And this is especially not true if there is a big convention in town (CES, for instance) or if you need to move around on Friday or Saturday night (the wait in line will be killing).

Here is a view of the strip for you, not very busy as you can see:

And here is another view – casino New York New York:

If you are going to explore on foot – make sure your shoes are super-comfortable, you have plenty of water and you are in a good physical shape – your walking will include not only the street walking, but also walking to the different attractions inside the casinos, where the distances can be quite overwhelming.

Monorail is probably the most misleading type of transportation in Vegas. Before your eyebrows hit the ceiling, let me explain. When you look on the huge street sign “Monorail Entrance”, you think you are actually going to walk in and within a minute or two you will find the train? Nooooo. You are simply entering the casino. A huge one in most of the cases. And then inside the casinos, I think the way signs are done is to make you wonder around for as long as possible – they don’t want you to get from point A to point B unfrustrated. You get inside, and you see a directional sign for Monorail. You follow that sign until you get to the next one, most likely with the change of direction. And then… yep, you see no signs for Monorail anymore. It’s there, but now you are on your own. Figure it out. Or else… So remember that monorail is not just monorail – it also includes lots (and lots) of walking. Otherwise it is very reasonably priced ($5 single ride, $12 is unlimited day pass, and three days unlimited pass is $28) – if you don’t mind lots of walking and good amount of frustration, it is great.

And tram? Actually I think tram is the best – it is free, the train is actually located within less than a minute walk from the entrance and it is easy to find. But – there are few short tram routes, connecting casinos which are located near by in any case, and it has limited hours of operation (stops at 10:30 pm) – still, it can be very convenient.

Considering amount of explanations I gave you here, you can figure out that our first day included all of the above mentioned “getting around” methods. First we walked from Mandalay Bay to MGM Grand. Then we took Monorail from MGM Grand to Bally’s, as our destination was The Venetian near by – a famed casino with gondola ride inside.

Now, this gondola ride is listed in the “attractions” section of any of the Las Vegas guides – so let me share with you a few thoughts about attractions. We can split Las Vegas attractions into two groups – free and paid for. Pretty much every casino has a free attraction. A number of casinos have also attractions you can pay for. No matter what attraction you want to visit, my advise to you is simple – RTFM! Not familiar with the term? Use google, it will help you. What I mean is that even if attraction is free, it doesn’t mean that it is open when you want to visit it. We wanted to see Sirens of TI at Treasure Island – walked all the way from Venetian to Treasure Island only to find out that Sirens of TI operates only after 7 PM.

At this point I became smarter and checked the guide regarding Volcano at Mirage (that was our next planned stop) – yep, also open only in the evening, so at least we managed to avoid some additional frustration.

Now, when it comes to the paid attractions, such as Gondola ride at The Venetian – you will have to make your own decision. After looking at the gondola ride on the artificial channel under a painted sky with kind of artificial singers, we decided that $64 is too much for the pleasure and decided to skip it – of course there were plenty of people happily getting their share of artificial Venice.

Here are couple of flowers for you. Why? Because I love taking pictures of the flowers, and I promised to inundate you with pictures:

And a close-up:

To describe events in more chronological order, it was walk around The Venetian, skipping the gondola ride, walking to the Treasure Island, walking around and finally finding Sirens of TI, RTFM moment, canceling walk to Mirage and finally the understanding that we are sufficiently tired at that point, and we have to get back to our hotel.

“Here”, I said, “see, we already entering the monorail!”.

To be continued…