On Thursday, May 8th, we piled into our rented minivan and drove the 1.5 hours up to the Santa Ynez Valley to go wine tasting.
The first winery we went to was Sunstone. This winery features organic wines and is fairly small and cozy. Their Eros wine was particularly good - it is a blend of merlot, cabernet, and... something. Sunstone had a beautiful picnic area, where we sat for a good long time enjoying the sunshine and great food. Thanks to Trader Joe's for the food, and to the Bride & Groom Cookbook which provided Maria with the recipe for the Orzo Salad with Lemon, Feta, and Pine Nuts. Mmm mmm good.
(Outside of Sunstone)
(Sunstone Cellar - the pourer offered to give us a tour)
(The picnic area)
(My glass of Sunterra (Sunstone's "cheaper" line of wines) Syrah, and the Orzo Salad)
The next winery we went to was just down the road from Sunstone - Kalyra. We had no prior knowledge of this winery at all, it just looked cool from the road. We're very selective like that. It turned out that this winery was the place that Sandra Oh's character worked in the movie Sideways. The wines were alright, but not as good as the wines at Sunstone. The pourer was very friendly and personable.
(the view from the front of the Kalyra tasting area)
(These sort of count as food - the little cracker things to "cleanse your palate" or whatever)
Gainey was our next stop, because they had a 3pm tour. Once we got there, we learned that there was a private party doing the tour that day so we were SOL. Too bad. Gainey seemed slightly overwhelmed by the size of our party (8) and the pourer seemed distracted the whole time. His idea of explaining the wine was "this is the syrah" which was a very comprehensive explanation. Gainey was a little bigger and seemed a little more corporate than the other two places we had been. The wines were good, but the experience was just so-so.
(the pours were the smallest here of the 4 places we went)
(One bonus of going wine tasting in this area versus Napa is that you get to keep all of the tasting glasses)
To round out the day, we made one final stop at Curtis Winery. This was a very pleasant experience. The pourers were both very nice and knowledgeable. I really liked their grounds and the artwork they had on the walls. By that time, I really couldn't remember much about the wines themselves, but Maria has been there a few times so if she keeps going back, they must be decent.
For dinner that night, we stopped at State Street in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, we did not do any research beforehand, so we ended up going to State and A, which was okay, but not great. They were very accommodating for us, and lit up some patio warmer thingies because it was getting a wee bit chilly outside. I had the nachos, which hit the spot. I didn't hear too many rave reviews about the food. It's pretty typical bar/grill fare.
The next day we stopped at In-N-Out Burger before driving to Hollywood. I wish I had captured on digital memory card the looks on my friends' faces as they waited in line. I had told them ahead of time that there were special ways to order things at In-N-Out, plus it was really busy at the time so I think they were a bit overwhelmed and confused. I got a cheeseburger, animal style, and it was tasty. I had a double-double animal style last time I was in San Diego which I remember as being better, but it's possible that I am romanticizing the memory. One great thing about In-N-Out is that they are relatively cheap. I got the burger, fries, and a drink for $4.25 which seems pretty good to me.
Our next couple meals were cooked at Maria's house, but after lounging by the pool on Saturday, a few of us headed out to the Valencia Town Center to see if Pinkberry was worth the hype. I enjoyed it, but I'd have to say that I wouldn't seek it out. I got mine with strawberries and I thought that was the perfect accompaniment to the taste of the "yogurt" or whatever it is.
Our last meal was at Le Chene, a place about 25 minutes away from Valencia that Maria had been to before. I had the Filet Roquefort, which was quite tasty, but there was an excess of sauce. I heard great reviews of the salmon. I liked how every meal came with a salad that was pretty tasty and some warm bread. My only complaint is that each meal comes with 2 veggies, one whole and one pureed. I'd rather have one veggie and one starch of some kind.
(They give each table one chalkboard menu - kind of quaint, and also kind of annoying with 8 people sharing one menu)
My first and last dining experience were both at Wolfgang Puck Express. I had it at MSP before leaving, and at LAX during our 7 hour delay. I suppose that my real last dining experience was the Whopper that some dude bought with one of our 2 meal vouchers during the 3 hour wait on the plane while the pilot was accused of being drunk and they had to call in new flight attendants, but whatever. I won't count that one.
Anyway, in the battle of the Wolfgang Puck Expresses, I'd have to say that the LAX one is FAR superior to MSP. The MSP pepperoni pizza was much greasier. I noticed that LAX had a real wood burning oven so that could be why. If you happen to be stuck in LAX (and chances are good that you will) then the Wolfgang Express is highly recommended.
Update on 5/17 - I almost forgot one of the dining highlights of the trip - the IHOP down the street from LAX. It was a magical experience. I got the pancake combo, and it actually did hit the spot. Some others had some questionable items (such as brownish poached eggs) but my meal was pretty good.