Friday, July 24, 2009

Hosting Jarka; Day Two: Walnut Creek; Frankie Valli at Wente

We planned the second day of Jarka's visit around our evening at the Wente Vineyards in Livermore. Frankie Valli, yes the real Frankie Valli, & The Four Seasons were performing as part of Wente's summer outdoor concert series.

Before heading to Livermore, I showed Jarka around Walnut Creek. We did a bit of shopping at Nordstrom

and at La Lavande, a lovely gift store which is only in Walnut Creek and which features unique gifts, and French soaps.

Wente does not allow any photography of its grounds on concert nights, so the best I could do were a few pictures of some grapevines on the property near the parking lot.

Concert goers can choose to dine in Wente's restaurant, which is open year 'round, at a special buffet that is set up for the concert, or, more casually, by purchasing sandwiches and salads at The Grill. The seating location and price of tickets relate to your dining choice. We opted for the buffet and were seated at round tables of 8. The buffet included salads, appetizers, vegetables, three entrées, desserts, coffee and tea. Wine, served at the table by a server, is optional. Our meal was excellent.

Before dinner, we visited the wine tasting room where Jarka tasted a flight of Wente's premium red wines.

The concert started at 8 p.m. and was wonderful. Frankie Valli looks amazing for his 75 years and his voice remains excellent. The current Four Seasons are a significantly younger group of four, who, while they never saw their original counterparts, totally capture the spirit.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


My third celebration of this week, another birthday celebration, was with Debbie...a day at Filoli, the Mansion and Gardens in Woodside, California, 30 miles south of San Francisco.

Filoli was the private residence, originally of William Bowers Bourn II and his wife, Agnes Moody Bourn (1917 – 1936). In 1937, the property was sold to Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth. In 1975, Mrs. Roth donated Filoli to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It is open daily to the public from mid-February through late October (Adult admission: $12; Student admission: $5). It was built between 1915 and 1917 and is the last and longest surviving of California estates built in the early 20th century.

The estate includes 16-acres of English Renaissance style gardens and the 36,000 square-foot Georgian residence, both of which can be explored by visitors on a self-guided tour. Other trails and orchards on the property can be visited by reservation, in the company of a docent. For those doing the self-guided tour, there are well-informed docents in the house and gardens (in gardens only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons).

We spent most of the day here, arriving at about 10:30 a.m. and leaving at 3:30 p.m.

Since it was a bit cool when we arrived, we decided to tour the house first and then, after lunch in their café, to tour the gardens when it was warmer outside. We had a perfect day.

These photos are highlights from our day.

The Entry:

We wandered from room to room within the house. Some of the furnishings belonged to the original owners and some have been donated.

Since Debbie and I are girls who just want to have fun, Debbie could not resist posing in the Silver storage room and I had to jump into the Wine Closet.

The Café offers tasty salads, sandwiches, and pastries. It has indoor and outdoor seating.

My Tuna Melt, served with a green salad and chips, was just the kind of lunch I wanted.

We sat on the outdoor patio. I was impressed with the floral design on the patio chairs...keeping with the spirit of the estate's magnificent gardens.

After lunch, we explored the gardens.

Our final stop was in the Garden Shop, a beautiful gift shop, and the Nursery, where many of the plants that are in the gardens are for sale.

A bit more information/trivia:

• The chief source of wealth of the Bourn family, the original owners, was the Empire Gold Mine in Grass Valley, California . Mr. Bourn also owned and was president of the Spring Valley Water Company whose holdings included Crystal Springs Lake which is on the southern end of the Filoli estate.

• The name "Filoli" comes from Mr. Bourn's credo: "Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life."

• The Roth family, the second and last owners, owned the Matson Navigation Company. Mrs. Roth's maiden name was Matson.


This has been a week of celebrations for me.

Monday, some of my Masters Swim Team buddies took me to lunch at Lark Creek Cafe in Walnut Creek.

If you look carefully, you will see the fresh wild salmon in my sandwich...outstanding meal!

Lark Creek very graciously serves a complimentary dessert to the birthday person. My friends debated between the warm chocolate cupcake and the berry crisp. The crisp won and was large enough for all five of us to share.

Then, Wednesday night, to celebrate the end of my term as President of Mt. Diablo Business Women, the premiere social and networking organization for business women in the San Francisco Bay Area, as far as I am concerned, my Board treated me to dinner at Maria Maria, the innovative Mexican restaurant in Walnut Creek.

Maria Maria is part of the restaurant group owned by the local Dudum family. Carlos Santana collaborated with the restaurant's chef and the Dudums to create the restaurant and its contemporary Mexican menu. His song "Maria Maria" is the inspiration of its name. My favorite dish here is the Chile Relleno. The Chiles are stuffed with vegetables and broiled, not fried. The traditional cheese filling is instead melted around the chiles and accompanied by a spicy tomato sauce. It's a colorful and delicious dish.

Today I enjoyed yet another birthday celebration at Filoli which I will describe in another post.

I am grateful for my supportive friends and colleagues.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hosting Jarka; Day One

Jarka from Toronto, is visiting for a few days.

She arrived at SFO at mid day and first on our agenda was lunch. Since the Giants were out of town, I decided to take her to Town's End, near AT&T Park, for lunch. When the Giants are away, the restaurant is relatively uncrowded and there is plenty of available nearby street parking.

Some of you readers will recall that I took Amy here in April after picking her up at's a good choice as the food is tasty, fresh, and there is a wide variety to choose from.

We shared a homemade turkey sandwich and a green salad...just the right thing.

Then we did a driving tour around San Francisco. I followed the Bay waterfront past the Ferry Building, Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, and, finally ended up in another of my favorites, Crissy Field.

We parked near the Warming Hut and walked to Fort Point, which besides being a defense point for American many a year ago, is one of the San Francisco landmarks that appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." This is where Kim Novack falls/is pushed into the water.

Where we were has a unique view of the Golden Gate Bridge...we were practically under it, and looking back to the East, of the downtown San Francisco skyline.

In case you are wondering, we were not touring on a motorcycle. We got to talking to a guy who was doing just that and after we took photos of him, he reciprocated and we thought it cool to include his bike!

We drove back toward the Bay Bridge through Chinatown, and North Beach, and even took the time to drive down Lombard Street. Jarka took photos, but, as driver, I decided it was not a good idea for me to do the same...when I get her photos, I will share.

Finally, we got home to my homemade pork enchiladas and a spinach and strawberry salad.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dinner at Oola

I met Harriet last night after work for dinner at Oola.

Although Oola has been open since 2004, this was my first visit here. It is a bit off the beaten path, in San Francisco on Folsom Street, between Fourth and Fifth. But, just as diners know about Lulu down the block, Oola is a popular place, both for casual dining and for cocktails at the bar. Now that I know about Oola, I will keep it in mind for a place to eat when at the Moscone Center for meeting (just a block away) and will recommend it to people staying at the Intercontinental (also a block away).

My reason for choosing to dine on a Monday night was that the menu on Oola's web site mentions a Monday special of Lobster Pot Pie. Since I love lobster, I was disappointed to learn, once there, that the menu that is on the web site is out of date. Mondays are now "Soufflé Mondays," with a special soufflé being featured each Monday.

Despite the lobster disappointment, we enjoyed a very tasty, well-prepared dinner.

We started with the Roasted Beets and Watermelon Salad, which was perfect on this warm evening...very refreshing and flavorful.

Harriet's main course was the Hamburger, served on a brioche bun with tomatoes, watercress and grilled onions. She added Truffle Cheese for even more flavor. Her burger came with French Fries which were so good, I "stole" several.

My main course was one of Oola's "signature" dishes, the Foie Gras and Chicken Ravioli.

The ravioli are handmade and filled with chicken and served in a truffle broth. The truffle broth was so delicious, I sopped up ever drop with either bread or more of Harriet's French Fries. Oola offers the ravioli in a small serving of 5 or large serving of 10 ($15 or $26). Knowing that we had ordered the soufflé for dessert, I opted for the small serving. It was perfect.

And then there was the Soufflé. Last night it was a Dulce de Leche Soufflé served with cinnamon ice cream sauce, caramelized bananas and two little cookie sandwiches filled with caramel. It was perfect for sharing and made to our order.

The food and drinks at Oola are outstanding. The menu is small, but has something for just about all tastes and appetites. Service is attentive and friendly. Executive Chef and co-owner Ola Fendert brings to Oola her previous experience at such prestigious restaurants as Chez Papa Bistrot, Scala's Bistro, and Alain Rondelli.

The ambiance is a bit disappointing. The dining room is very dark, almost too dark to read a menu. Seating is in booths and along a banquette on the wall. Harriet perfers to sit in a straight chair and fortunately, we were able to sit at one of thefew tables by the banquette where there was a chair on one side.

Would I return to Oola? Yes and no. Probably not for a special detour or destination but if someone wanted to meet there, I'd be there in a flash. And, I will certainly recommend Oola to people who are in that neighborhood; it's not that far from the ball park either. And, after business hours, it is easy to find street parking nearby.

And, one added observation: I absolutely love the quote at the top of the menu: "There is nothing like good food, good wine and a bad girl."

Bad girl signing off...

Monday, July 13, 2009


Our second day in Las Vegas started with breakfast at the Buffet at the Bellagio. While neither of us is a big breakfast eater, we have discovered that even if we just have juice, fresh fruit, milk, bowl of cereal, and coffee or tea, the buffet price of $14.95 per person is less than what it would cost in the hotel to eat in one of its coffee shops and cafés. We have tried buffets at other nearby hotels and always find the one at the Bellagio to be the best. Of course, we always are tempted by the other offerings. Jim usually added smoked salmon and other smoked fish to his plate. And I enjoyed the muffins, cheese, steamed Asian vegetables, made to order omelets, and, best of all, Breakfast Pizzas!

Our plan for Day Two was to visit the Wynn Hotel. The Wynn is newer than the Bellagio and we've never seen it. Wandering through hotels is one of our favorite Las Vegas past times. Since the Wynn is about a mile away and the weather is hot, we decided to use public transit. Trying to keep our costs down on this visit, we thought that using public transit when we did not wish to walk, including to a show at the Venetian, would save us money over taking taxis that get expensive because there is a lot of wait time in the traffic on the Strip that rapidly runs up the meter.

Public transit on the Strip is pretty limited. Before our arrival, I had decided that the Monorail that runs from the MGM to the Convention Center, with stops in between, would be our best bet. On our first day there, after dinner at Mon Ami Gabi in Paris, we decided to check out the Paris/Bally's Monorail station; its entrance is right on the Strip. So, in we walked, and after walking and riding escalators for quite awhile, we found ourselves in Bally's lobby. We kept walking and walking and walking...through Bally's shopping section and further and then we finally stopped and turned back, noting that we had to have walked further trying to find the Monorail station entrance than we would have walked if we stayed on the sidewalk and just walked directly from our hotel to the Wynn. From later talking with locals about the Monorail, we learned that it is something of a joke because of its inconvenient stations and its limited coverage.

The best bet for public transit is the bus system and The Deuce, a double decker bus, runs frequently along the Strip and is always packed...but well air conditioned. At $3 a ride, or $7 for all day, The Deuce is a deal.

So, on Day Two, we caught the Deuce in front of Planet Hollywood across the street and were at the Wynn in minutes.

Despite the Wynn's "ritzy" appearance and its own in-house Ferrari dealer by the main entrance, we loved the inside of the Wynn. Steve Wynn, who has built many of the Las Vegas hotels, including the Bellagio, has outdone himself with the Wynn's cheerful interior which includes fanicful floral ceilings and carpets, colorful parasols, and a lake with waterfalls. Many of the Wynn's restaurants overlook the lake; several have outdoor lakeside seating.

The Wynn's sister hotel, the Encore next door, is connected inside. The Wynn and the Encore share an onsite golf course, among their amenities. Just as Bellagio has its Chihuly glass ceiling and Botanical Garden, the Wynn also has an expansive floral display off its lobby.

Our friend Mort told me about Bartolotta, a seafood restaurant in the Wynn that features fresh seafood which is flown in daily from the Mediterranean. The menu is tempting; here's a view of the restaurant, which is one of many at the Wynn.

We exited the Wynn from their shopping "street" and wound up just a walkway away from the Palazzo, the Venetian's newest hotel, adjacent to the Venetian. Since the Strip is not easy to cross (there are overcrossing periodically), we decided to wander through the Palazzo and Venetian.

We had just arrived in St. Mark's Square in the Venetian right when one of their free shows was about to start. So, we found a good vantage spot and enjoyed the 15 or so minute show.

This led to further wanderings and eventuallly to walking all the way back to the Bellagio.

We crossed the Strip in front of the Venetian and wandered through the Mirage. By now, we were hungry for lunch but did not want a huge meal. We spotted the Carnegie Deli and went in and shared an enormous Corned Beef Sandwich. We were conservative in our ordering, but those around us were certainly not.

The couple at the next table had ordered a BLT/Chicken Salad Combination and a Corned Beef/Turkey Combination sandwiches. They were kind enough to allow me to take pictures of their lunches.

Next stop was the Forum Shops at Caesar's. Entering on the street level nearest to the Mirage, I spotted a Taryn Rose shoe store.

Taryn Rose shoes are special comfortable shoes designed by Taryn Rose, who originally started her career as an orthopaedist. When she discovered that supportive women's shoes were mostly ugly and fashionable women's shoes did not give her the kind of foot support she needed for work days on her feet, she started designing women's shoes that have both style and built-in orthotics for support. Taryn Rose shoes are expensive, so I only splurge on them every few years. This day in Las Vegas was splurge day and I came out with a pair of gold metallic sandals.

Finally, we got back to the Bellagio in time to get dressed for an early dinner before seeing Blue Man Group, back at the Venetian. This time, since I didn't want to walk or bus in my dress shoes, we did take a taxi.

Our dinner at Canaletto, an Italian restaurant overlooking St. Mark's Square on one side and the Grand Canal and Gondolas on the other, was lovely.

We shared their interesting version of a Caesar Salad.

I had the Sea Bass.

And, Jim chose the Shrimp, Crab and Artichoke Risotto, Risotto Erasmo.

We looked longingly at the gelato at their gelato shop but, with a 7 p.m. curtain time for our show, we did not have time to indulge...and we were pretty full from our dinner.

And the Blue Man Group show was unbelievable. I had no idea what to expect; it has been on Jim's to-see list for a long time. I was surprised and was fun, funny, creative, and ever-surprising.

After the show, the entire cast...Blue Men and their backups...were in the lobby where they graciouslly posed for photos with audience members and "signed" tickets and programs with a blue fingerprint or kiss.

Another lovely day in Las Vegas.