Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring forward - to the Wine Society, Seinfeld and Santa Anita

I am usually busy, but not so much after 5 PM. That is what made “Spring Forward Week” so tough. It even took me an extra week to publish this blog. I am positive that some of you can relate.

Pecorino - Nice spot
 Saturday night, the time changed...

Monday, after a round of golf, I donned my tuxedo, snapped on my cuff links (no patent leathers, no suspenders) $199 purchase from Men’s Warehouse, and headed to Pecorino Restaurant on San Vicente. If you wear a tux at least once a year, it makes sense to buy one (rentals cost about $200 these days, much more than that peach colored number that I wore to my Senior Prom). All dressed up, I was lucky enough to be a guest at the 510th Meeting of the Wine & Food Society of Southern California – a spectacular evening of fine wine and gourmet cuisine. These gentlemen (including my host) are big time professionals and execs, but at this type of gathering, it is all about rating the food and wine. There are 15 restaurants in the Brentwood area serving Italian food – Pecorino is certainly among the best.

The menu and my ratings…some of the wine comments come from the Wine Society notes – very impressive.

The “reception” wine was 2007 Murgo Brut Metodo Classico. Very nice cross between a traditional Champagne and a gentle Prosecco. It was outstanding, this coming from a guy who is not a huge fan of sparkling wine. The wine was a hit, served with a Pizette with Tomato and Mozzarella (already enough reason to return to Pecorino).

A healthy dish of Beef Carpaccio with Wild Arugula and Cannellini Beans was well received (by me for sure) with a crisp 2010 Verdicchio di Colle Stefano – a perfect pairing.

Next course: a mind blowing Pappardelle Pasta with Maine Lobster in a cherry tomato sauce. No complaints here, but it was paired with a 2010 Riesling Langhe Herzu Germano-Ettore. Not a big Riesling fan, I might have preferred a light pinot or another crisp white, but you have to appreciate the creative side of the pairing.
Cool bottle - nice wine

Mediterranean Sole (melt in your mouth) was served with a 2010 Gavi di Gavi Villa Sparina – a light and elegant Italian white in a very cool bottle – perfect pairing.

I was not crazy about the Lamb Casserole with Pecorino Cheese and Artichokes, but the wine was my favorite of the evening – a 2006 Sondraia Poggio al Tesoro Bolgheri – from the Wine Society’s Cellar. From the Tuscan Coast, this 65% Cab, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc is worth looking for. I sought out another glass with dessert, "Millefoglie" – Almond Crusts and Strawberry Mousse.

By Friday, I was almost recovered, even after a Wednesday golf event and a couple glasses of 2007 Telosa Cabernet – a sultry red from San Luis Obispo, that is becoming a favorite.

As Jerry Seinfeld pointed out in his monologue on Friday night at the Pantages, getting tickets to the 7 PM Friday night show seemed like a great idea months ago, but what a challenge it is to get there on a Friday night. We pulled it off, even managed an early dinner with friends at Fabiolus Cafe on Sunset. Enjoyed a nice bottle of 2008 Peju Cabernet Franc - Perfect with Fabiolus delicious Italian Sausage Pomodoro Risotto. By the way, Fabiolus is remodeled and looking good. They give a nice discount and special service to Pantages Theater goers. Fabiolus is a perfect pre-theatre spot – great for lunch too.

A strange story about the Pantages. When Wicked was playing there a few years ago, I managed to score some serious VIP house seats. I picked them up at Will Call (with my wife and two kids) and when I showed them at the door, we were whisked away down a long, narrow, winding, steep staircase to a room below the Pantages. It was a small, carpeted room with a bathroom, card table, some chairs and an older 17-inch color TV. Apparently, it was a holding area for celebs attending a show and the man who took us there asked us if we needed anything. Ten minutes later he returned with two glasses of wine, two Cokes and four Junior Mints. We were told to come back at intermission and we did. Again, we were alone in the room and he came in to provide beverages and snacks. The private bathroom was quite a bonus! On a recent visit, I inquired about the VIP room and was informed by an usher that a patron fell down the steep stairs, putting an abrupt end to this bizarre VIP experience.

My buddy from Jersey - Lots of tickets - no winner...should have bet #4
Saturday – we met friends from New Jersey at Santa Anita Racetrack. It was pouring rain, but they were impressed with the facility, comparing it to racetracks on the east coast, which often have little rougher edge to them. Of course, our finish line box looked pretty good. It was a fine day for me, because I bet in the following fashion on every race:

#4 - $5.00 across the board (Win, Place and Show).

A mid-odds horse, like 6 or 8 to 1 odds - $5.00 across the board (Win, Place and Show).

A long shot – like 20 to 1 odds - $3.00 across the board (Win, Place and Show).

Total Wager per race is $39.00. On five occasions that day, #4 finished in the money. No long shots, but I hit an 8 to 1 on the last race and ended up +$200 on the day ( a true rarity).

If you check the racing results on a daily basis, you will be amazed at how often #4 comes in as a winner. Although – keep in mind – it is gambling and your mileage may vary. As for my Jersey friends – let’s just say that they should have bet #4!

Send your comments, your feedback and your own wine picks to winefoodjava@gmail.com

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The Millennium Trilogy, Book 1 | Stieg LarssonWhat I am listening to right now on the crowded LA freeways - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  Intense drama that hits hard when you least expect it.  I am now anxious to see the movie.

If you drive a lot, or if reading just wears you out, you have to try Audible. I am thoroughly addicted to the Audible downloads program. Check out the amazing introductory offer from our friends at Audible.com that you can access from this page. I’m personally cranking through a book each week. I'm addicted!

High quality and great value coffee you should be drinking in your office every day: Our Micro-Roasted French Roast – a three ounce specialty coffee from Gourmet Coffee Service – Southern California’s office refreshment leader. http://www.gourmetcoffeeservice.com/

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Returning to the scene of the wine...Palm Desert and the timeshare debate

It was a weekend that was all about “returning to the scene."  Just hours ago, we had been pounding (OK – sipping) ultra smooth shots of Norwegian Vodka above the illuminated bar top of Pacifica Restaurant in Palm Desert. Now, early afternoon, we were enjoying a Sunday lunch on the terrace, basking in the flavor of a nice 2009 Cambria Chardonnay – great selection – less than $20 at Total Wine and Bevmo.
With Mark Twain on El Paseo

There is something about Palm Desert (in the general vicinity of Palm Springs) that keeps bringing us back. Although, it has changed dramatically over the years. About 23 years ago, my wife and I showed up at a pre-fabricated building on the site of the Marriott Desert Springs Villas in Palm Desert to pick up a cool $100 just for attending a time share presentation. We had no intention of buying a week, but three hours later, for just $13,000, we had purchased an annual week of vacation bliss for the balance of eternity, or until someone (our heirs for example) stops paying the association dues and or property tax.

The question we have asked ourselves repeatedly over the years and especially recently, after attending a seminar on the new Marriott Timeshare Point System: Was the timeshare purchase a good value? Answer: Yes, No, Maybe.

Yes: Especially if you have a young family. We spent about $37,000 on the timeshare (association dues are about $1000 a year) over the last 23 years for 23 weeks of vacation accommodations all over the country, including Hawaii – always in a beautiful 2 bedroom villa with a full kitchen at a luxury resort. All you need to do to appreciate the value is rent two hotel rooms outside of Santa Barbara for $250 per night each – you’ll feel the pain and see the value of timeshares. That extra hotel room for the kids is a killer.

Marriott Villa Patio view
No: If the kids are out of the picture, you don’t need a timeshare. You can rent a one bedroom villa for $250 a night in high season at most places. If you try to rent out your own timeshare, you lose money due to the resort’s cut. If you don’t use the vacation week, you are throwing money away. Above all, buy a timeshare at a place you will enjoy, not to trade it away for another venue.

Maybe: Here are the facts…Timeshares and Rolex Watches are both really cool – very enticing, but you can live very well without them. You don’t even need a watch today – use your cell phone instead. Same thing with timeshares. There are so many travel deals and travel sites out there today – if you are creative and persistent, you will find vacation value without having to pay that nasty $1000 association dues every January.


Villas are spacious
Two years ago, just for the heck of it, I put an ad on Craig’s List “I want to buy your timeshare.” I can’t even tell you how many e-mails I had from people who had purchased a time share from this obscure Club in Las Vegas – had never used it – but were begging me to take it off their hands so that they did not have to pay the association dues yet again. Why would you buy a timeshare in Vegas – the capital of cheap hotel rooms? Never drink when you are attending a timeshare presentation!

Finally - Please don’t give me that argument, “It forces me to take a vacation.” If you have to be forced to take a vacation, you are not going to live very long anyway – so no need to get a timeshare.


Take a boat ride to dinner at the JW Marriott Desert Springs
 Testing my own theory that travelling without the kids opens the door to awesome deals, we took off to Palm Desert – the scene of our original timeshare purchase – and rented a Marriott Desert Springs one bedroom villa on the golf course. Huge sunken tub, spacious patio on the golf course, full kitchen, flat screen TV, fireplace , maid service – for just $235 a night. The best part about Marriott Villas is that you can take a short walk to the palatial Marriott Desert Springs Hotel. If you haven’t seen the Marriott Desert Springs - it is a reason to visit Palm Desert. A little Vegas like without the glitter, the property features about 500 acres of resort centered around a staggering atrium lobby. There is actually a lake coming into the lobby, with boat rides available – kind of nice on a warm desert evening.

While we have taken the kids on many of the boat rides over the years – our focus on this trip was eating lobster tacos and sushi (you can order from multiple menus while hanging out in the lobby bar) and since it is only a short walk to the hotel from the villas – drinking a nice bottle of 2007 Martin Ray Cabernet. Hats off to Total Wine for finding this Santa Rosa gem. If you don’t stay at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort, hang out in the lobby for a drink and take in the very creative atrium set up. As our regular readers know, we are happy to pay corkage anywhere.

Sullivan's - NICE!
El Paseo is a street and a shopping district in the heart of Palm Desert. We made a reservation a Sullivan’s – a neighborhood feel, but with 20 locations - great steaks, generous martinis and ample sides, some of which were fairly creative and maybe, over the top. Try the three cheese mac with garlic butter crust and the steakhouse mushrooms – fantastic. Carried in a bottle of the Louis Martini 2007 Monte Rosso Cabernet – got a nice discount on it as a member of the Louis Martini Wine Club – now Gallo owned, but still a classic winery. Visiting Sullivan’s, I was reminded of the time I was having a cocktail in the middle of the bar of the Chicago Sullivan’s (5 years ago) – at least eight people were smoking stogies while diners devoured steaks in the bar – seemingly oblivious to the cloud of smoke. Obviously – those days are over and the air was certainly clear at Sullivan’s Palm Desert. Chicago now protects diners as well – although it took a little longer there.

After dinner, we decided to check out the aforementioned Pacifica – a restaurant located right next door to Sullivan’s – on the second level of El Paseo Gardens. Pacifica offers 140 premium vodkas - $6 for a huge shot, in addition to a nice menu. For Sunday lunch – we loved the Ceviche and the Mulligatawny – chicken, curry, wild rice soup. We stuck to the Cambria Chardonnay for lunch – remembering the impact of our late night vodka tasting.

Amazingly, three weeks ago, we almost bought another week of Marriott. This time, it was about $23,000. Fact is - they screwed up, starting the seminar on a Friday night with nothing but cookies and coffee in the room. No dinner. By 8 PM, we were hungry, cranky and unwilling to hang out for that critical third hour. We took our $100 and went home – realizing that if they had just fed us – maybe served us a little of the 2005 White Cottage Ranch Cabernet that we enjoyed on the patio of our villa - we would have probably bought that second week!

Send your comments, your feedback and your own wine picks to winefoodjava@gmail.com  We would love to hear from you. Like us on Facebook.

What I am listening to right now on the crowded LA freeways - Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. Uplifting at times, the story of Little Bee is a wild ride that will leave you riveted.

If you drive a lot, or if reading just wears you out, you have to try Audible. I am thoroughly addicted to the Audible downloads program. Check out the amazing introductory offer from our friends at Audible.com that you can access from this page. I’m personally cranking through a book each week. I'm addicted!

High quality and great value coffee you should be drinking in your office every day: Our Micro-Roasted Italian Roast – a three ounce specialty coffee from Gourmet Coffee Service – Southern California’s office refreshment leader. http://www.gourmetcoffeeservice.com/