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Pre-planned routes through Sonoma?

I own an online business and work 14 hours a day - my eyes have rolled back into my head reading all this incredible trip planning! I really need someone to map out six wonderful day trips with a home base of Windsor for December that I can upload into my iPad. I know very little about wines other than that I love to drink champagne, grapefruit basil martini's, and Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica - and I do know it's not from California. My husband drinks Pinot Noir.

I know this should be individually tailored but are there some pre mapped out routes for those of us who simply don't have the luxury of time for in depth planning? Last time we were in the area, we stayed at the Fairmont, went to a fabulous Olive Oil pressing place where I bought liters of Orange and Lemon Olive oil that were amazing, olives and next door the most delicious buttons of soft goat cheese I have ever tasted with a baguette and prosciutto. Same trip we bought a whole apple pie at a place called mom's perhaps, that we devoured with two plastic forks and ended up in Mendocino after popping out of a stand of redwoods. It was magical but we didn't know where to add in the wineries as it seemed sort of random and the couple we stopped at were not our taste.

Need someone to organize my trip... Actually need someone to organize my life! Lol. Guess I should start with a good map!

I posted to this thread in hopes of a link to a great site with some mapped out trips for those without time for planning. Thanks. I have enjoyed this discussion.

Gaylord National Harbor report - Maryland

In response to several inquiries regarding restaurants in the new National Harbor convention complex... we just returned home from our conference and I thought I would offer some help.

We stayed at the Westin National Harbor, it has only been open a few weeks, and as of the moment the restaurant is useless. It was convenient one morning to have breakfast before heading over to Gaylord, and it took way too long to be seated, our petite fourteen dollar omelets and 6 dollar cups of coffee were painfully slow in being prepared and served in the empty restaurant. One highlight was the lobby bar... nice view, comfortable, and good bartender.

Our conference was at Gaylord...and I was happy that I had thought to call ahead for reservations for most of the nights as we would have been out of luck for business dinners. All restaurants were overbooked and turning people away and there are NO alternatives as this area is under construction. Prices at Gaylord are sky high but if you are at a convention, you have NO choices.

Old Hickory Steakhouse at Gaylord... beautiful atmosphere, rich dark woods, spectacular water views, crisp service... high prices at $40+ per entree, but the steaks superb, perfectly cooked, and very juicy. I had a NY Strip that was fork tender. Wild Mushroom ragout also very flavorful. Naked steak on a large white plate. Nothing served with the meat. Tablemate ordered a Bone In Swordfish Chop that was at least one pound, perfectly grilled, and tender. Unusual but amazing cut of fish to say the least.

Moon Bay Seafood at Gaylord... indoor and 'outdoor' seating. I enjoyed a lobster roast dish served in a cast iron kettle that contained all shellfish. Dramatic presentation as the steam escapes when the kettle is served and the top removed. Good seafood all around the table at slightly more moderate prices. Desserts were poor... bla. Service exceptional.

One evening we took a water taxi to Alexandria... great suggestion that we would NOT have considered without your suggestions. Restaurant Eve did not have our reservation even though we had called in advance and were fully booked. We didnt want to eat at the bar, so we took their recommendation of Jackson 20 with Southern Bistro style cuisine. Excellent recommendation as the food was the best of our trip. We started out with Fried Green Tomatoes, topped with a spicy lump crab remoulade and pickled ramps. The Ribeye was excellent... tender, perfectly cooked, and juicy accompanying Smoked Gouda & applewood bacon potato gratin truly added to the dish and the horseradish cream put it over the top. Other notable dishes were the Rainbow trout with Crawfish Etoufee and the Grilled Sirloin with homecut fries and arugla salad was delicious as well.

My suggestions for those attending conventions at Gaylord is to make your restaurant reservations in advance for Gaylord dining, and definitely take the water taxi trip and enjoy Jackson 20 in Old Alexandria.

Thank you fellow board members for your suggestions as well!

Smoking in Rosey Baby

We also ate at Rosey Baby in Plantation recently. The live crawfish were amazing, and we managed to consume 10 pounds handily plus two pots of red beans and sausage that were exceptional. We were baffled by the smoking as well. It was during the day on a Saturday... but as it got a bit later and the bar filled up, it became intolerable.

I dont know if we will go back.

As far as removal of post mentioning smoking in regards to this restaurant... this is a valid concern in a state where smoking is not allowed in restaurants. If we didnt like the draperies or the name of the establishment... one would understand post removal.

Jun 21, 2008
susanmaria in Florida

Staying in National Harbor area - crabhouses nearby?

We will be at a convention in a couple of weeks at the Westin (not sure it is even open yet)... and only have a small amount of free time, so we wont be able to venture very far.

I find very little in reference to the area immediately around Gaylord National and the Westin on these message boards... but I am hoping that some of you fine local folks know of a serious crabhouse that isnt too far from these hotels since this is a new area.

I would hate to think that the closest I will get to having some outrageous Maryland style hardshells is on my patio when I make them with our Florida blueclaws.

Also... I discovered a Fosters Clambake located at National Harbor... has anyone eaten there?

Any advice as to where to eat... other than at Gaylord hotel will be appreciated. Had to make reservations at Gaylord 'just in case' as my experience is that the hotel restaurants are oversold... but would really prefer nearby local seafood. We run gamut from paper on tables all the way to white tablecloth... we have four nights to eat well after being on our feet all day at convention.

Found a thread from last month... that answered much of my request... and nothing nearby Gaylord or Westin... BUT how about Crabhouse in Old Town Alexandria?

Thanks in advance!


Nuevo Vallarta, Grand Mayan - food report

I never dreamed that I would need help with food recommendations as we lived in Cancun in the early 1980's wayyyyy before it turned into a Miami Spring Break bad dream... and I know my way around Mexican food.

I did a few searches before the trip but assumed that because I had a broken leg and was hobbling on crutches we would just stay on resort grounds. For the first time ever we planned to stay put.

After a couple of days I finally caved and paid the twenty dollars for a half hour of internet but spent it trying to find another resort to move to... in the meantime we found Ocho 8 and it kept us happy until our week was over and we could move to Punta Mita.

Grand Mayan was such a magnificent resort... and our condo was superb... but we are all about the food! Nothing like a cold Modelo and a bowl of freshly prepared ceviche with some totopos right out of the fryer... a shot of Buffalo hot sauce... good eats!

I am happy that those of you who know the area posted a few additional local eateries as I am sure there are many who love to eat who will be very unhappy at the these mega resorts.

May 28, 2008
susanmaria in Mexico

Trip report - Kensington, London - Tasty!

Thanks to all those who have traveled, tasted, and present their opinions in this forum... it truly made our trip a treat. Your hints and trip reports were much appreciated!

There were nine ladies in our group of very mixed experiences and levels of chowhound. We stayed at Copthorne Tara, clean comfortable, and an excellent location for evening walking and dining.

We walked to the Whole Foods on Kensington High Street... an experience in itself and nothing like our local Whole Foods. The Cheese Room is something to behold! I procured some perfectly ripe Brie, Stilton, a wedge of fig cake with almonds, and a bag of some sort of rustic crisps... and a bottle of wine for a welcome nosh in the room with my friends... and large bottles of spring water for the trip. We were fortunate to have a fridge.

Before leaving for our trip I made reservations for two tables of five and four at Zaika (Indian)using their online service but upon our arrival asked if they could accomodate us at one table, and they were happy to do so. Atmosphere was beautiful, calming, serene. Wine list reasonable. Amuse bouche was an earthy mushroom soup with garam masala note - that was extremely delicious. The small porcelain cup had a lid... a bit of very flavorful and spicy green condiment smeared in the center and a crisp fried morsel of chicken placed in the green dab.

We shared two superb Indian cheese platters, with various forms of tandoori and sauteed paneer, goat cheese, and a fruit chutney with cashews. Around the table we ordererd and tasted, Coconut Lamb, Coconut Prawns, Tandoori Prawns (voted best at the table), Roasted Duck with Lentils, and Mushroom Platter that consisted of three different dishes one creamed, one almost a flan, and the other a spicy saute. Goat Cheese stuffed nan, and a spicy sauteed eggplant to accompany the dinner. Everything we tasted was incredible, and we were all too full for dessert.

During the entire UK trip I found the prices reasonable and the service superb. I was tired of everyone telling me about the horrible exchange rate for the dollar against the pound before I even left home. I found the prices in Kensington at one Michelin star restarants to be the about the same as dinner in Fort Lauderdale, or Boca Raton, Florida.

Another night we dined at 11 Abingdon Road, also in Kensington just a few blocks from our hotel. We strolled to Abingdon Road to look at the menu and decide between the two one Michelin star and Chowhound recommended spots that are a stones throw apart, and Whits being closed on Monday made our decision an easy one. 11 Abingdon was happy to take a few minutes to prepare a table for 9 for us.

Again, the wine list was reasonable, and we found a couple of bottles of a tasty Reisling very affordable. Everyone's appetizers and meals were both delicious and beautifully presented. My grilled quail served with a crisp risotto cake and mushroom ragout were perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious. Around the table Sea Bass, Steak Frites, Papperdelle with smoked salmon... however, the highlight of the dinner was the amazing Sambuca Creme Brulee! It was one of the best creme brulees I have ever tasted.

Our group splintered for our third night in Kensington, and so there were only two of us dining at Whits at 21 Abingdon Road. We ordered bottle of Sparkling somethingorother and shared a Crab Brulee - instead of a crust of sugar, the martini glass of crab was crusted with chilled crab roe blended with crab fat. It was served with house smoked salmon and crostini. We were tired from our day of sightseeing... and the Sparkling somethingorother disappeared quickly. I chose the Duck Confit, while my friend had Mediterranean Sea Bass. The Duck was the winning dish... the dark meat melted into the sauce and the tangy braised red cabbage, while the grilled breast was fanned over a highly seasoned polenta. It was delicious. We later voted it the best dish of the trip. When the server asked my friend if she was finished in order to remove her plate, she gave up her uneaten Sea Bass, and moved my dish in front of her so she could finish it. We laughed.

We also ate at small town local pubs during our trip... and I quickly learned that the Plowmans lunch or sausage of the day were good bets, along with a half pint. I love beer and the various brews of the UK were a treat.

Taste treat of our UK trip.. Aspall Suffolk Cider... wow, delicious. However, it does sneak up on you. Several of the pubs had it on draught.

Other treats were the raspberry macaroons at Laduree at Harrods and some homemade shortbread cookies I purchased on the way to Leeds Castle... perfection. I know it is simple to make but this was heavenly.

Again, thanks... and I hope some of you will in turn dine at these gems we enjoyed while on our trip to Kensington. Now off to Paris!

May 27, 2008
susanmaria in U.K./Ireland

Kensington High Street [London] group of 9

Leaving for airport in 30 minutes... we are a group of nine, with completely different likes and dislikes. I love top chefs and the top tables in a beautiful city like London, BUT my traveling companions are NOT foodies.

Any good quality 20E per entree restaurants I can count on near Copthorne Tara near High Street for our group. How about a quick short list.

I reserved two smaller tables at Zaika on our first night but am second guessing myself. All everyone in our group talks about is Fish and Chips.

Help! I am doomed to mediocre food on this trip unless someone can help me and do it fast... lol.

Apr 26, 2008
susanmaria in U.K./Ireland

No tables at Jules Verne, alternative lunch?

We waited too long to nab a lunch reservation for Jules Verne and some of our group are very disappointed. They viewed this as a 'once in a lifetime' experience. True, but I would imagine there are other incredible restaurants that would make a group of nine ladies feel just as special.

Can anyone give me a suggestion for a 'plan B', where the experience would be nearly as wonderful?

Apr 12, 2008
susanmaria in France

Tables for 9 a problem in Paris?

We have a small group of 9 traveling to Paris. I am assuming that we should not even attempt larger tables, instead asking for two smaller tables. Even at home I do not like the difference in quality of service with larger tables.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to best handle making restaurant reservations with 9 adults. I am the self appointed leader and can use some help. We are staying in the 12e and have just four nights.

Apr 12, 2008
susanmaria in France

Nuevo Vallarta, Grand Mayan - food report

I am writing a bit of info on this location and resort due to the difficulty I found in locating info online in preparation for my own trip.

Grand Mayan is a magnificent and truly beautiful resort. It is not an all inclusive, but due to its location you are very limited as to outside dining choices as downtown PV is a $30-$45 round trip taxi ride. If you want Mexican charm, stay in Vallarta. Dont expect to travel to PV every day as it is not a brief jaunt.

The food at the Grand Mayan is ridiculous. A bountiful but standard breakfast buffet is $25 per person and the entire restaurant is buzzing with salespeople warming up their customers for a timeshare presentation. It was very annoying.

All restaurants at the resort seem to be moving towards removing all vestiges of Mexican cooking from menu, and what does remain is bland and not worth eating even before taking into consideration the high prices. One small beach bar still offers ceviche and seafood cocktails. At any price it was not worth eating... however at $20 a lunch plate it was pathetic. Even the wait staff understood the food situation. I don't expect to sit down at a beautiful open air restaurant in Mexico and have an insipid plate of plain unseasoned bruschetta placed on the table. Please bring me some fiery salsa and crisp homestyle chips!

Featured gourmet restaurant is Italian, but so called risotto was not edible, fish was overcooked, sauteed calamari was too chewy to begin to eat. Our table for two with just one shared appetizer two entrees, and one shared dessert was $150. We dont mind paying for excellent food but this was mediocre at best.

After three days of this, we were miserable. We chose this resort as I was recovering from a fractured leg and I knew in advance I would not be able to withstand sightseeing in cobblestoned Puerto Vallarta and the pace of our usual style of vacationing. I never imagined that a Mexican resort would have trouble preparing good quality Mexican food, but it appears that management has caved to demands of timeshare crowd clamoring for mild plain food. It was amusing that one night FOUR different dishes at the Italian grill restaurant had the same 'squid black ink sauce' on them. I am certain that they sold very very few of those dishes that evening.

We were fortunate to meet a Canadian traveler who took us to a local joint called 8 Tostadas Mariscos. It was just a few minute walk from our resort and we ate nearly all our remaining lunches and suppers there! This little restaurant is wonderful.

Tostadas de Ceviche, ummmm... a small crisp corn shell piled with chopped fresh mahi ceviche and covered with sliced avocado and a squeeze of lime. Tosdadas de Marlin made with smoked ceviche was delicious as well.

8 Tostadas is known for its octopus or pulpo but we didnt know this until our third meal when we spied a painted octopus sign with the red slash and circle over it... they were OUT that day! When they do have it... make sure you try one of the combination cocktails that includes the tender pulpo... it is fantastic. The special sauced Ceviche Hector is spicy, citrusy, flavorful, and the half portion offered on the menu is more seafood than one can comfortably eat when paired with a basket of crisp totopos or chips. Scallops or callo are also found locally and are delicious when 'cooked' with lime in the ceviches and seafood cocktails. Cold Mexican beer ($2), delicious fresh fish with lime, crisp tostadas... one doesnt care about the lack of a view. It doesnt get much better. I have attached a photo of our afternoon lunch of a half order of Ceviche Hector and a chico/small Cocteles de Mariscos, and order of guacamole.

The restaurant doesnt offer the ceviches at dinner... but changes to freshly grilled fish and seafood. The seafood soup, Sopa de Mariscos is a very large bowl just filled with seafood... shrimp scallops octopus conch and a large blue crab... the broth was infused with all the seafood goodness. It was the best Sopa de Mariscos I have had on any trip to Mexico in fact.

We were thankful to find this gem at the Nuevo Vallarta marina. I recommend to anyone staying at any of the beautiful but food challenged NV resorts to check this one out.

We left the Grand Mayan and extended our vacation for a few days at the Four Seasons in Punta Mita, which was beyond our expectations and an entirely different trip report... an incredible resort with spectacular food and service. It turned out to be a great vacation after all!

Dec 15, 2007
susanmaria in Mexico