Category Archives: EAT/DRINK

The Maui Trick: Island-Style Adventure

From my vantage point on the flanks of the West Maui Mountains above the Ka’anapali beach resorts area, I am suddenly  convinced I can see spouting humpback whales and pirouetting spinner dolphins.

Of course, that’s impossible—I am many miles from the sea, and this kind of illusion is  pretty common in Maui. It’s what makes this place a reliable trickster of sorts.

Since I have been here before I recognize the deceit as quickly as it ensnares me. Fact is I am standing about 1,500 feet above the Pacific Ocean on steps leading to a wooden platform some 500 feet above a scrub- and tree-studded arroyo strapped into a seat harness—the kind you wear for rappelling or climbing. My eyes fix wearily on a galvanized aircraft cable stretched 400 feet across a deep gully in front of me.  I look over at my kid and my gut knits itself into a knot.

But then, out of the blue, my typically shy 12-year-old, who always seems more cautious than adventurous, surprises me by volunteering to go first on stage one of eight progressively longer cable runs that straddle the valleys of Mount Kahalawai; the last one a span of 1,100 feet.
Our guide, B.J., of Ka’anapali Skyline Eco-Adventure, delivers a rapid-fire spiel that includes a crack about his name followed with a funny but serious safety drill. His delivery is so wildly snarky and hilarious that it distracts me from my kid who’s now being clipped into the speed trolley that will carry him across the tops of several trees and a yawning abyss.
Before sending him off, B.J. quips: “Sam, I have some advice for you. Listen carefully: never date girls with tattoos, and, please, don’t ever get one yourself: “You wouldn’t put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari, would you?”

My son cracks up, and I break into a mile-wide smile as I watch my baby boy sail away.

For the time being, I have forgotten my worries and am reveling in the pure joy of the moment.

One by one the rest of the group launches as I wait my turn taking in the 360 degree views. Rolling clouds break across the horizon, and I see clearly why Maui is also known as the “Valley Isle.”

Two former shield volcanoes connected by an isthmus dominate the landscape, overlapping at their feet to form a large rambling valley.

The lush green, oft cloud-shrouded West Maui Mountains extend some 5,788 feet skyward, and extend like a paw from the rest of the island. Crowned by distinctly eroded peaks sliced with steep gullies, the mountains slope toward a rocky surf-slammed shoreline punctuated with sandy beaches ranging from long and curved to small and gem-like.

Haleakala, the younger and more massive volcano to the east, rises to more than 10,000 feet above sea level. Its’ bulbous upper flank is dotted with volcanic rock and scrub before makes its way gradually toward sporadically lush agricultural fields and long arching sandy beaches.

Together these distinctly different mountains encompass five major geographical areas: the cozy-clutch beaches of Napili and Kapalua Bays; the action-oriented Ka’anapali just north of Lahaina and its overdosed shopping; bustling Kihei; the more serene areas of Wailea-Makena; and, finally, at the island’s southern terminus, the wild and rugged Ahihi Kina’u Natural Area Reserve and La Perouse Bay.

Like beaches in Oregon, all Maui beaches are freely open to public access. While Maui is well known and coveted for these beaches and the adjacent ocean-based activities, it’s really the whole of the thing—the varied terrain, plant life, fish, fauna, geology, and climate variations—that attract adventure travelers and outdoors enthusiasts from across the globe.

Let the Adventure Begin
We started our trip in Kahalui, where most flights land, hitting Whole Foods to stock up on groceries. We booked vacation condos for our week-long visit and planned to cook most meals rather than dine out as a cost-cutting strategy. Each of the distinct accommodations we selected are ideally furnished and perfectly located for active travelers.

The first place we stayed, Napili Kai Resort, is located in a quiet coastal area in West Maui; the second, Ka’anapali Alii, in the Ka’anapali Beach area; and the third, Makena Surf, is at the far end of Wailea in the south. All are within 45 minutes of the airport in Kahului. We decided to divvy up our stay with different locales, so we could experience each of these distinct areas; and they all offer exceptional discounts for seven days stays.

Each of these condos feature sliding glass doors that seamlessly roll open to expansive ocean views and a quintessential island soundtrack: birds singing, surf surging and geckos chirping.They also have washing machines and dryers, along with gourmet kitchens stocked with every tool you need to prepare meals for two to eight people, and all but the first of them could have easily accommodated as many sleeping. You’ll find many other conveniences of home, from iPod docking stations and flat screen televisions to games and books, and beach toys, snorkels, fins, and beach chairs. For travelers looking for a true home away from home for a week or two, any of these would do superbly.

Both Napili Kai and Makena Surf, by virtue of their locations, provide quick access to crowd-free exploring—whether for a bike ride down roads with low traffic counts or beachfront snorkeling where plenty of coral, fish, and sea turtles are regularly on the viewing menu.

The wide arching beach at Napili Kai is fronted by a stunning oceanside, open-air restaurant, the Sea Horse. At night, tiki torches illuminate the sprawling property’s narrow pathways and palm trees, while the surf rolls in and purges out, creating a synchronized symphony of light and sound.

But Ka’anapali Alii also offers something special—an incredible state-of-the art fitness facility. This is no cramped hotel-style gym but one with premium cardio and circuit training equipment, free weights and a yoga studio, sweetened with palm-tree fringed views of the mountains. Occupying its own separate space in a separate building in the condo tower complex is an incredibly well-designed, beautifully appointed, soothing spa, Kaanapali Alii’s spa is headed by a highly skilled Mauian massage therapist with a deep holistic background and uncanny resemblance to the actress Sarah Jessica Parker. After a day of rigorous play, she magically worked my knotted muscles free and released the residual tension I had managed to drag across the ocean with me.

Afterward, I stumbled to the shower like a drunken sailor before heading back to the condo, where I melted onto the lanai lounge chair and didn’t budge for the rest of the evening.

The Overrated Road to Hana
One of the first things people will urge you to do when you mention an impending visit to Maui is the quintessential excursion to Hana. It involves driving your rental car (don’t even think about biking this, really, don’t) to the other side of Maui. If you plan to do this solely as a travel activity, I’d think twice about whether the drive is worth the gas, time and nausea. For one thing, much of the road is a blur of green—yes, jungle green—but green nonetheless. You have to make determined pull-offs and sometimes five- to 10-minute or more drives to see the ocean or some waterfalls. If you enjoy mild nausea and cars careening past you around tight corners, however, go for it. It’s a beautiful drive. But think twice before trying to do this in a day. If you’re going to go, do make the effort to stay at least a night in Hana. Then it’s worth it.

Adventure Time

But really who wants to sit in a car all day when you’re on Maui. Nearly every month, there’s a race or event focused on outdoors pursuits. Plan ahead and book accordingly if you want to participate in any organized events. Things book up fast. In January, the Maui oceanfront is the site of several running events, including the island’s eponymous full and half marathon, as well as 5k, 10k and 15k fun runs and races. In February, there’s the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Half Marathon. In March, The Iao Valley to the Sea Half Marathon, 10k and 5K. April brings the Maui Stage Races, including criterium and time trials. Each September, several other well-known running events are rolled out, including the Hana Relay races, and the Maui Marathon and Half Marathon. In October, there’s the Maui Makani Classic, a major windsurfing competition.

Beyond organized events, the options for land and sea excursions are numerous. The key is to look for a top-notch adventure-devoted outfitter, not just someone who caters to tourists. If you’ll only visit for a week or less, your time is valuable; you’ll want an expert to guide you.

For paddling (sightseeing, snorkeling, photo safari or fishing adventures), the outfitter Maui Kayaks is unparalleled. Their experience and attention is comprehensive; they stage, provision and transport all necessary equipment, snorkel gear, refreshments, snacks and meals to your chosen adventure launch site. Experienced kayakers can do this independently with rented equipment and a safety briefing. But be advised that it cannot only be challenging, but often hazardous launching from much of Maui’s shoreline. If this is your first trip to the island, it’ll be more than worthwhile to seek out Maui Kayak’s expertise. Their in-depth knowledge of marine life (where the green sea turtles, spinner dolphins and humpbacks can be found), the geography, water conditions, and local culture is in total: priceless.

Self-confessed water rookies but “hardcore” adventurer travelers, Amanda and Jake Cooke from Phoenix, call Maui Kayaks “awesome at getting you up to speed, fast.” Both reported feeling happily “wiped out” after their 4-hour snorkeling excursion.

Michole Jensen, an experienced kayak fly angler, who blogs at, enjoyed several hours of successful catch and release fishing from one of Maui Kayaks’ Hobiecats, guided by one of their ace fishing guides.

Ziplining, however, was a new sport for me. Several companies offer this guided adventure on Maui. I studied online reviews, cost-versus-itinerary schedule and group size, as well as the weather forecast. I also considered accreditation (from dependable groups like the Better Business Bureau, American Trade Travel Association and Ecotourism Society), as well as input form the Maui Visitor’s Bureau, and, finally, went with Skyline Eco-Adventures after learning about their membership in 1% For The Planet,” a group of businesses committed to giving a percentage of their sales back to environmental preservation. They were everything I hoped for, including entertaining and informative, and did a great job with safety drills and providing mid-morning nourishment on our half-day adventure.

For a high sea adventure, I booked with Terlani Sailing Charters, a decision driven by copious amounts of research on Maui boats and crews. Since I was traveling with a child in tow, I considered their state-of-the-art catamarans a big plus. Comfort and safety are critical concerns that are often overlooked by tourists when booking tours. I am more interested in calculated risks, so I did my research. The 35- by 65-foot cats are capable of accommodating 100-plus passengers, but they max out their tours at 49 guests. Additionally, their cats are equipped with decent heads (restrooms), fresh water showers, and outdoor and indoor seating (including tables under a covered salon and bar). They conveniently launch from Ka’anapali’s Dig Me beach, just off the mile-long, palm-tree studded boardwalk that fronts a dozen or more resorts along this beautiful sandy oceanfront. Trilogy,  Maui’s oldest family owned and operated sailing company also offers state-of-the-art catamarans and tours, and is another top-rated tour transporter/provider. More recently, they started sailing right off Makena Beach, which is certainly the best option for anyone staying in the Wailea-Makena area who wants to go out to Molokini to snorkel.

The Terlani sailed about an hour north to a Honolua Bay before dropping anchor. We snorkeled for an hour in a pretty rough surf, and then submerged with SNUBA lines 20 feet or more to the calmer sea floor where the fish view was much better. Not only was there no surge to deal with underwater, but we also saw a sea turtle—described by my son as being as big as a VW Beetle—serving as a feeding station for a colorful array of fish.

Back on board the cat, and absolutely famished after spending several hours in the water (never underestimate how hungry you can get when playing in water), we dove into a fabulous BBQ and deli-style buffet. Then we sat back and relaxed on our return sail to Ka’anapali, escorted by a spirited pod of Spinner dolphins.

Play Eat Sleep Repeat
You know you’ve made the transition from your workaday life to real travel when you can relinquish  your routines, but just as we quickly settle into another set of them—starting the day early and then playing (insert nearly any fun activity here) until we can barely stand up and following that with nights doing nothing more than kicking back. When I travel, I also like to try to stay on Pacific Time, which means very early mornings and fairly early to bed. This is one of the best ways to easily transition back into reality after I’ve take trips involving a time warp into other time zones.

Typically, we would awake around 4:30 for coffee and protein smoothies before heading out by foot or rented bikes, and more rarely, the rented car. One day, we enjoyed 20 fast and furious cycling miles along the Piilani Highway, the central coast beltline road, with little traffic to impede us. Another day, we drove up to the Upper Waiakoa (aka “You’ll be Sorry”) Trail, a challenging ride that encompasses smooth to seriously steep terrain, with stretches through pine forest, tread-devouring lava rock, and dicey sand and scree.

We did not, however, do the quintessential sunrise downhill bike bomb off Haleakala, as it seemed too touristy, although many active travelers swear by the experience.
Instead, we trekked around the super rocky and choppy La Perouse Bay to the Hopaili Trail. The bay is next to the Ahihi Kinau Nature Reserve, an area that encompasses 2,000 acres of land (mostly lava flow) and submerged areas. Large pods of Spinner dolphins frequent the bay, using it as a resting area and nursery. Reserve managers surely considered this (and undetonated ordinances, and the fact that overuse has seriously impacted the reserve) in their decision to close the reserve through July 2012 to allow the fragile eco system to recover. (Update: parts of it have been re-opened, particularly if you go with a guide).

If there’s one adventure that can’t be missed on Maui—and pretty much the raison d’etre for traveling to the island state in the first place—it’s the snorkeling (although if you’re a diver you could argue that). You can book a catamaran boat tour out to the crowded waters of Molokini Crater (where as many as 2,000 people at a time snorkel the small caldera-shaped atoll’s natural aquarium).

If you feel compelled to do this, consider booking with outfitters that use fast-moving boats (like Seafire and Blue Water Rafting, both out of Kihei Boat Harbor). They’ll get you to the best snorkel sites quickly before the crowds arrive. They can also change course on a dime should visibility or crowds becomes an issue, something the bigger boats can’t do.
The crater, many argue, offers the best scuba diving on Maui. Depths reach more than 100 feet, in some places 300. If you’re a diver with your heart set on diving, sign up with a dive boat operator out of the Kihei Boat Harbor. They make the trip in 15 minutes rather than the 45- to 60-minute sail out of Ma’alaea Harbor.

Next to Molokini, few snorkel or scuba spots possess the diversity of fish and marine life found at Nahuna Point, also known as Five Graves, Five Caves.

It’s possible to swim to Nahuna Point from Makena Surf or Makena Landing, which is partly why we chose a condo in this area. But keep in mind, it’s only a viable option when the water is calm. The other option is to a quarter mile walk from the Makena Landing Beach Park public access lot off Makena Road to a residential area on the right where you navigate around a tiny rather grim-looking private graveyard, which is nearly as creepy as the sketchy entry into the narrows of the small cove.
Uneven and slippery, there are a lot of large rocks in the shallows of the cove. As soon as we were in the water, we had to kick it into high gear as the surf surged quite hard, flushing us back in and out with it.

Once in the cove, we followed a sea turtle out along the coral-rich lava shelf. All around us we saw eel, octopus, and a variety reef fish like the indigo dart, butterfly, puffer and triggerfish, dragon wrasse, Moorish idols, and, more rarely, the frogfish.

The first of the five caves is just beneath this stretch of reef. At the end of the reef as it heads out to sea, turn right and head over the top of another reef before turning west southwest back into another small bay to the other four caves. Divers often see white tip sharks resting in these caves.

They’ve dubbed the third one the “bubble cave” because it contains an air chamber, and if you dive into it with only a snorkel, you can stand up and catch your breath inside. Visibility in this area varies wildly depending on conditions; if the surf is big, diving and snorkelling here can both be difficult endeavors. And by mid-morning big boats start arriving to drop off loads of tourist snorkelers, although only a few in-the-know, ever really venture in as far as the caves.

At the End of the Day
After a day of adventuring, we’d roll open the lanai doors and take in the unfettered view of the ocean and its companion soundtrack—the rhythmic crescendo of the surf crashing on the beach a few yards off.

On our final night in Maui, I watched with a touch of resignation as the night began to unfold, the sky subtly shifting from blue to orange to red to purple, and finally inky black.

And then there it was again, that Maui trick: As the moon rose steadily into view and began spilling its light, it looked very much like someone carrying a lantern across a vast infinity pool.
That final night, I drifted to sleep on a lounger on the lanai, dreaming of Sam sailing across the sea from the mainland to Maui on an endless zipline with me in fast pursuit.



Napili Kai Beach Resort Online at; by phone
1-800-367-5030, direct (808) 669-6271, by email This intimate 10-acre resort provides one of most authentic traditional Hawaiian ambiances I have encounter on Maui. Perched above a stunning crescent sand beach with no building higher than two stories, and surrounded by alternative manicured  and lush wild grounds, it is also one of the only beach resorts I’ve visited that stands behind the “value-plus” pitch.  You won’t pay separately for a long laundry list of typical extras like parking, kids activities, hula and lei making classes, nightly live music, fitness studio, putting greens, snorkel gear and kids eat free. So although the accommodations can look spendy to families, when you add these things in, you’ll save money here.

Swimming beach at Napili Kai

View out the Lanai at Napili Kai

Livingroom of Napili Kai condo

Napili Kai kitchen view

 Kaanapali Alii Oceanfront Residences: Online at kaanapalialii-px.rtrk.comby phone 866-627-7023. Definitely a luxury property, but with a family or group, you will definitely save money at this pampering property, especially if you take advantage of the incredible outdoors BBQ area or the fully stocked gourmet kitchens.

Kaanapali condo living area

Gourmet kitchen at Kaanapali Alii

Kaanapali Alii condo dining area

Makena Surf Condos: Online (including live chat) at; by phone 866-384-1366 and direct at 808-891-6200. Truly the ultimate escape, these Destination Resort condos make perfect sense for adventurous groups looking for a Five-Star basecamp.

View from livingroom hallway to the lanai

Makena Surf Resort Condos and Beach


•Ziplining. Ka’anapali Skyline Eco-Adventures—online at; by phone Ph. 808.878.8400; by

Cyling the northern coast of Maui

• Cycling. Rent Specialized road or mountain bikes at Island Biker Maui— online at; by phone at 808-877-7744; by email


Snorkeling Maui style

Sail/Snorkel/Snuba: Teralani Sailing Charters—online at; by phone at 808-661-7245.

• Snorkel: Seafire—online at; by phone 808-879-2201.
Scuba: Mike Severns Diving—online at; by phone 808-879-6596.

• Kayaking: Maui Kayaks—Online at; by phone 808-874-4000.




Whole Foods Market: 70 E Kaahumanu Ave # B Kahului. Despite the “whole paycheck” reputation, there are some bargains to be found here, particular the salad bar and hot prepared foods, and wine department.
Leilanis in Whalers Village (; 808-661-4495). Directly adjacent to the surf along the Ka’anapali beach front, this is the go-to place for fresh fish and seafood (like to die-for sesame encrusted fresh Hawaiian ahi with lilikoi balsamic glaze and wasabi cream), a terrific selection of island fresh salads and pupus (ahi with wasabi and pickled ginger), and oceanfront views that will turn you into a table squatter. Prices are no higher than fine dining on the mainland.
Hula Grill Kaanapali (; 808-667-6636), also on the beach at Ka’anapali, this very popular open-air dining spot has a laid back but always crowded vibe. The 3-course meal chef’s tasting menu is the way to go. This is also a great place to sip a beer and groove to live music.

Sea House Restaurant at Napili Kai Beach Resort This gorgeous open-air restaurant and bar, located right above one of Maui’s prettiest oceanfront resort beaches, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. The Sea House’s casual yet elegant ambiance and quintessential Maui setting make dining at sunset from the special three-course menu one of the most romantic dining experienes on Maui. The daily dinner menu includes an outrageously fine  Seafood Chowder, housecrafted from supremely fresh local fish, clams, shrimp, vegetables, and is surely one of the island’s best versions of this filling soup. A baby spinach salad mixed with Gorgonzola, candied macadamia nuts and crisp Molokai sweet potato strings, and dressed with papaya seed dressing and finished with sliced fresh papaya is as delicious to eat as it is to look at. Best of all, the menu includes enough variety of seafood, meat, vegetarian and gluten-free options to keep everyone happy. And for those of who really do keep track of these things, the menu is certified to be ecologically responsible through sustainable fishing practices. Their membership in Seafood Watch means the chef and staff are committed to protecting the oceans. One other thing, the wine, beer and cocktails are no more expensive then you’ll find in most big city in the U.S., and include a small but nicely chosen selection of vintages, brews and creative libations. Enjoy Happy Hour on the terrace from 2pm until 5pm; Hawaiian entertainment is featured from 7pm until 9pm most nights.

Honokowai Farmers Market located at 3636 Lower Honoapi’ilani Road near Lahaina. This tiny natural food store is open daily, inside the building, while the farmer’s market is held outside in the parking lot on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This is a good place to pick up some homemade guacamole (or the fixings for it: avocados, basil, onions and cilantro), and fresh island fruit like papaya, pineapple, apple bananas, mango, guava and passion fruit (nicely, you won’t find imported fruit from China). They also have a wide range of baked goods and vegan foods. Good place to pick up lunch to go as well.


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The Subject is: Restaurants and a Monty Python Acid Trip

While I sort out the mess with my web hosting company that has been charging me to redirect my url to wordpress, and thus far continues to delay my more in depth postings, I wanted to offer something here to chew on. The subject is restaurants. When I was vetting the BEST lists for my book Best Places Northwest, 17th ed, two things really started to bug me: The CELEBRITY chef and horribly overdone restaurant websites.

No one should have to wait two minutes for a page to load no matter what it is being offered. So without getting into the touchy politics of the restaurant biz (see I am going to avoid giving you my two bits on celebrity chefs) and coming off as sounding negative, you’ll find a repost here of the Food Channel’s Trendwire commentary on restaurant websites, which they actually attribute back to Slate in order to get their own two bits in on the issue  (hey, isn’t this how news is made nowadays?).

There’s no doubt in my mind that restaurant websites are hugely relevant to travelers. Thankfully, you can log on and read more before investing your entire arm and a leg to the cause of dinner.  But that reminds me, I do have a complaint about this posting: In the closing note we get this: “going forward.” That has become such a hackneyed cliche, I am sure my former journalism professor, Jim Patton, would have nailed a big fat F on the otherwise enlightening piece.

Of course, I “look forward” to your comments upon my return from the island of Maui where I am headed tomorrow in search of the mainland visitors’ quintessential island attractions as well as the endurance athlete’s real Maui Wowie.


Why Do So Many Restaurant Websites Stink?

The chatter about restaurant websites heated up late this summer when Slate magazine slammed the hospitality industry for what it called “overdone” sites. The article by Farhad Manjoo had a subtitle that was none too subtle. It asked, “Why are restaurant websites so horrifically bad?

Why indeed? Well, the consensus seems to be that restaurant websites try to be too sexy, too over-the-top, when most site visitors mainly want to have a look at the menu, check on the hours, and figure out how to get to the place.

Slate’s Manjoo pokes fun at the website for Hubert Keller’s San Francisco restaurant, Fleur de Lys, which features a nearly full-screen animation of his autograph, along with snappy photos of the chef, and links to Keller’s other eateries and his PBS TV show. Then there’s the autoplaying music—ambient techno-smooth jazz—that kicks in. Eventually, after sitting through way too much “loading…,” you’re able to find the menu.

The article also cites other offending sites, including New York’s Buddakan (like an Inception trailer) and Houston’s Cavatore”> Cavatore, described as looking like it was created by designers on a Monty Python acid trip. Manjoo even pans the websites for such highly regarded establishments as Napa Valley’s Chez Panisse, and Chicago’s esteemed Alinea.

Far too many restaurants, especially the higher-end establishments, try to entertain the website visitor with flash graphics, music, and ego-driven chef biographies.

And far too often, the websites are simply inaccurate. Omnivore blogger Cliff Bostock writes about his visit to Atlanta’s Wisteria. When he arrived, the valet told Bostock he had three and a half minutes to get in the door before the place closed. The restaurant had failed to note on its website that the place would close at 9 p.m. that night, rather than at website-listed 10 p.m. In another blog, he asks, “Why do so many restaurants not include their (damn) hours of operation” in the first place? That’s annoying to say the least. He calls out two Atlanta-area restaurants that had absolutely no mention of the places’ hours.

Part of the blame probably goes to the web designers. They make more money when they create a website with a lot of bells and whistles. And, hey, it’s always a good bet to stroke a chef’s ego with a great head shot portrait that zooms or tumbles into view over a jazzy guitar solo. But most savvy web designers know that all that flash animation and autoplay music became passé, oh, about 1999.

(editor’s note: here’s a consensus on what most travelers and diners want from a restaurant web site)


Specials and happy hour info. Including social promotions such as Foursquare, Groupon and Twitter specials.

Address with a link to Google maps

Online reservation that actually works (instead of one where I make a reservation online, show up, and the hostess gives me a blank, confused stare when I tell her my name).

Hours of operation, parking and contact info

The writer follows that up with an amusing graphic depicting “What I get instead” featuring an image of people laughing while eating, along with callouts complaining that the menu is only downloadable as a 90 megabyte PDF file…that you can’t copy and paste anything because it’s in flash…that the site includes a letter from the founder that no one wants to read…etc.

Attempting to answer its own question as to why so many restaurant websites “suck,” Slate’s Manjoo writes, “Restaurant sites are the product of restaurant culture. These nightmarish websites were spawned by restaurateurs who mistakenly believe they can control the online world the same way they lord over a restaurant.”

The writer does, finally, acknowledge a few of the better restaurant websites, saluting the steakhouse chain Morton’s for its mobile site that uses your GPS location to get you information on the restaurant closest to you, and Jimmy , a rooftop bar at the James Hotel in New York’s Soho area. After viewing this clean, minimalist site featuring great photography, I’ve decided to put Jimmy at the top of my list of places to visit on my next trip to Gotham.

Going forward, the simple answer for restaurateurs seems to be…keep it simple. Make your site user-friendly. Make sure all the pertinent information is there, and please go easy on the fancy stuff. As it is with your culinary creations, sometimes less is more.

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Brews N’ Views at Salty’s on the Columbia

Who: Salty’s on the Columbia

What:  BREWS N’ VIEWS party. Sip and savor while soaking in the sights of the mighty Columbia River. Enjoy beer samples from 10+ local breweries, including Alameda, Widmer, HUB, and Bridgeport. Chat with the breweries about the process, passion and perfection of a good brew. Feast on appetizers that pair perfectly with beer. Bleu cheese gougères, salmon cakes, beer cheese fondue, sausage stuffed cherry tomatoes, salmon with apricot reduction, beer marshmallows, and more. Tickets are $29.00 per person (must be 21 and older to attend), reservations highly recommended.

When:  Thursday, Oct 27, 2011, from 6pm-9pm.

Where: Salty’s on the Columbia River, Portland, Oregon

Notes: This is a reception-style event, seating is limited. Call 503.288.4444 for reservations.


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Adventures in Beerlandia: British Pubs, Oktoberfest and Northwest Beer Festivals

I first met my English friends Bo and Helen Barcan on a ship sailing from Bergen, Norway to New Castle upon Tyne, Scotland. Cyclists, themselves, they knew what it was like to go more than a few days without a bath, and promptly and graciously offered up the shower in their compartment since the only water available in my compartment, in peasant class, was potentially ocean spray, and we’d have to encounter some pretty wild weather and rough seas for that to happen.

Further sealing our newfound friendship was their eagerness to prove to me that British food is a lot more than fish and chips (they too were vegetarians). When we parted ways at the ferry dock, I had their phone number and address securely penned in my address book, along with a standing invite to dinner if I ever made it to Bristol, in the south of England.

A month later, after cycling across Scotland along Hadrian’s Wall, ferrying across the Irish Sea, cycling around the perimeter of Ireland, sailing back across the Irish Sea, and, finally, cycling across Wales, I rolled up to the steps below the front door of their Westbury Park brownstone walk-up.

And thus began my British culinary and beer tour, which eventually launched me into the beer garden at Munich’s Oktoberfest.

In Scotland and Ireland, I temporarily became a piscatarian—a fish eating vegetarian—simply because I could not find enough nutritious veggie fuel to power my daily mileage of 60 to 75 miles. Fish and chip shops were everywhere, and I couldn’t resist the convenience of running in for a quick “take away” package of folded newspaper filled with greasy deep-fried cod and thin crispy potatoes.

I eagerly headed to Bo and Helen’s with hopes of putting an end to this artery-clogging habit.

In the days that followed, I was introduced to authentic Indian cuisine (for the first time in my so-called sheltered culinary life; it’s now my favorite ethnic food), home-prepared gourmet vegetarian meals and traditional English pub grub with some not so healthy vegetarian twists.

Chip Butty anyone? These little sandwiches consist of white bread, buttered and filled with piping hot chips and tomato sauce. In Ireland, I had already eaten way too much colcannon—boiled or steamed cabbage (or kale) mixed with mashed potatoes and cream. But that didn’t stop me from diving into a pile of the English version at a small pub in the English countryside. The Brits call it Bubble and Squeak (although,come to think of it, in Ireland, I had also heard people referring to this same dish as colcannon). In any case, if you’re not familiar with this British delicacy, it’s primarily sautéed cabbage or leftover vegetables, mixed with creamy mashed potatoes. The only way I could continue to eat this stuff nearly daily was to keep cycling (it’s amazing what you’ll eat when you’re famished).

The other thing I discovered in English pubs, something that is now widely commonplace in the U.S. (OK, this is aging me, but they weren’t widely used here at the time) were beer bar mats: the little card coasters advertising a brewery or brand. As a bike traveler, I found them to be ideal souvenirs due to their light weight, and, in fact, they soon became only the second thing I’ve ever collected in my life—apart from foreign postage stamps I horded as a kid. Over the years, I amassed a pile of both stamps and coasters from around the globe.

In the pubs, I also learned a thing or two about beer; enough to actually spark an interest that has stuck with me even today. In any case, I was gobsmacked to learn that beer, what the English call bitter, is served in pints at just under room temperature (ale, on the other hand, is beer made with hops and barley and is served at room temperature). The term for what we call beer in the U.S. is actually what Brits call lager. The beverage they actually call “beer” is dark ale served a bit below room temperature, not cold.

Got that?

I love the British lexicon, especially words like gobsmack (awesome, awed) blinkered (narrow-minded), bladdered (drunk), bugger (get off, shit, jerk, cheap), bollocks (no good), cheesed off (pissed off), shag (mutual sex), gormless (clueless) and “Bobs your uncle” (an expression I take to mean something like: “that’s it!”).  These were productive days, indeed, for a writer with a life-long fascination with words borne out of my father’s insistence that I use a dictionary to look up the words I was always asking about in the days of my youth, much like I continue to do these days with an internet browser.

After all the beer and food, it was time to push off for the Portsmouth-Cherbourg ferry and take a 14-day detour in France, before finally arriving in Munich, just in time for the mother of all beer drinking events, Oktoberfest.  An important part of Bavarian culture, more than 6 million people attend this massive beer fest every year—although only a small percentage are actually Bavarian; the rest mostly come from the U.S. and other western countries.

What began as a wedding celebration for the Bavarian crown prince Ludwig 1  to Princess Therese of Saxony on October 12, 1810, has morphed into the world’s largest “peoples’ fair.” Tradition prescribes that it runs during the 16 days up to and including the first Sunday in October.

Shortly after arriving in Munich, I visited the local visitor’s bureau, which quickly pointed out to me that with it being Oktoberfest season, and my having arrived without a hostel or hotel reservations, I only had one option remaining: Camping Thalkirken.

What a zoo. Imagine a pastoral, plebeian Burning Man camp flying the Teutonic flag rather than the freak flag.

Located in the Isar River Valley about a 15-minute bike ride from the city center, the 11-acre site holds 300 tents, 150 motorhomes and 100 dormobiles (campervans), and hundreds of partying campers during Oktoberfest, a place where the hardiest revellers sleep only a few wee hours before sunrise.

Camping Thalkirken is truly a crazy mini-city with every thing you need on site, including cooking facilities, a restaurant, and even a lounge (with televisions and table games). Less than 7-minutes from the tent sites, you’ll find a heated swimming pool and the Isar-Canal, frequently filled with an army of overly-intoxicated tubers. With tents spaced just a few feet apart, the only time the campground was even minutely quiet enough to catch some z’s was between 2am and 5am.

Just before sunrise, the entire campground would begin to fill with the hiss of igniting camp stoves, and the clatter of cooking and coffee pots as the revellers arose to make their way to Theresienwiese, located near Munich’s city center, to ensure their place at the front of the gate to, of course, be first in line for the beer tents.

Who the hell wants to drink beer at 8am? Apparently, from what I witnessed, a lot of Oktoberfestians.

So I don’t know what I was thinking, but I figured if the only way I was going to escape the lines and get into a beer tent without my own reservation, I too would have to head out at the crack of dawn. Also, seeing as it was the end of September and with daylight hours rather limited, I was bound and determined to stuff as much into one day as I could. (Note to self: that’s usually a mistake).

In the afternoon, I left my bike locked up at Oktoberfest and headed to Dachau by train.

Yep, that’s right: Dachua Concentration Camp, after a morning of beer sampling…yeah, real bright.

Dachau was a significant interment camp for a number of reasons. First used to imprison any German national who, for political, ideological, or racial reasons, was viewed as an adversary of the National Socialists, the SS later imprisoned Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals at the camp. In addition to serving as a model for all later concentration camps, it also was used as a training camp for the SS. For 12 years, more than 200,000 people from across Europe were taken to Dachau and its subsidiary camps; 41.500 of them were slaughtered or summarily shot.

The modern day memorial site includes the former prisoners’ camp, the intake area, baths, and the crematorium. On April 29 1945, American troops liberated the survivors. My father was one of those troops, which is why I had long felt obliged and compelled to visit.

Next to the baths and the execution furnaces, the most difficult part of visiting this wretched memorial comes toward the end of the tour at the International memorial: A sculpture designed by Nandor Glid, a Yugoslavian artist who spent time in a forced labor camp during the war, strikes at the heart. The sculpture, a mash up of fence posts, barbed wire and a human skeleton, commemorates the many who in desperation committed suicide by jumping into the barbed wire fence that surrounded the camp. As you reach the end of the memorial, you come to a stout wall built with 36 stone blocks. Just in front of it sits a large square urn with the ashes of unknown concentration camp prisoners. The block wall holds the ironclad words: “Never Again,” written in Yiddish using Hebrew letters, and in French, English, German and Russian.

As I exited the camp that day, I felt like I had just experience the worst-best day of my life. It was the worst because it just killed me to think I lived in a world where something like this could happen. It was the best simply because I couldn’t think of an experience in my life that had ever moved me so deeply.

I headed back on the train to Munich with a mash up—like that sculpture—of emotions, feeling hollow and disheartened, depressed and empty; yet grateful and hopeful.

Back at Oktoberfest, I was no longer in the mood to deal with crowds or interested in beer sampling. Before I unlocked my bike and began the trek back to Camping Thalkirken, I grabbed a Radler—a half sprite and half beer beverage just inside the gate, and reflected on my day and just exactly what I had taken in.

As crazy and juxtaposed as these two experiences—Oktoberfest and Dachau—were, when considered side by side, I realized that this is exactly what I love about travel.

It’s not the same as a vacation where you mostly expect everything to be safe, easy and fun. Traveling is more about living in the present with all its inconsistency, risks and unknowns. In fact, the only constant when you’re living in the moment is change, which you must give yourself over to. To travel sanely, you have to stay open and present.

In retrospect, I think my rather rash uneducated decision to take on both of these uniquely German experiences on the same day was actually quite perfect. It definitely gave me an interesting perspective on Oktoberfest, which is another kind of human insanity in its on right, on its own scale.

Beyond the crowds—recent estimates put tbe number of annual visitors at 6.5 million—the volume of beer that flows inside the beer tents is staggering: some 7.1 million liters are consumed during the 16-day festival.

Another fascinating thing about Oktoberfest is that all the beer originates from breweries within Munich city limits. The goal is to get inside one of these breweries’ 14 beer tents and get your stein filled with one of six local beer brands.

The Armbrustschützenzelt (the “Crossbowman’s Tent,” named after a competition that’s been a part of Oktoberfest since 1895) is one of the bigger tents, with around 7,500 seats. Inside they serve beer that American beer aficionados are sure to recognize, Paulaner, a brewery established in the early 17th century in Munich, and named after Saint Francis of Paola, the founder of the Order of Minims.

The Löwenbräu-Festhalle—look for the tent/building featuring towers with lions sipping from beer steins on top—serves the also familiar Löwenbräu.

Bavarians and others who enjoy traditional (and authentic) Bavarian folk music head to the Augustiner tent, which pours the eponymous beer that some say is the best in Munich. Augustiner’s Oktoberfest and Edelstoff are the only beers at the festival that are still served from traditional wooden barrels.

Besides the beer, many also come to Oktoberfest to partake of the wide variety of traditional foods offered: hendl (chicken), ochsen (ox), steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), schweinebraten (roast pork), würstl (sausages), brezn (pretzels), knödel (potato or bread dumplings), reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), kasspatzn (cheese noodles), sauerkraut and blaukraut (fermented green and red cabbage), and always a few Bavarian dairy and meat delicacies including obatzda (a spiced cheese-butter spread) and weisswurst (a white sausage).

If there was one thing I owe to my Oktoberfest experience it is that it opened me up to the possibility of visiting an American beer festival. Had I not been to the largest in the world, I don’t think I would have been very interested in a beer gathering. I’m fairly discerning when it comes to partaking of a public party, but now I feel very lucky: two of my two favorite beer fests happen to be very close to home.

And the thing I’ve noticed is that most of the beer drinkers at these events aren’t there to tie one on. Some come to collect a beer mat or two to help remind them later which brew they loved best, in the same way serious wine tasters make notes when they find a new wine they enjoy. But most come simply to try something new and meet like-minded people.

In England, you toast Cheers! In Ireland, it’s Slainte! In German, Prost! And here in American, just about anything goes, including “Nice to meet you!”

Celebration of Beer Weekend at Skamania Lodge in Stephenson, Washington

10/08/2011 to 10/09/2011

Now in its third year, and well on its way to becoming a perennial favorite for Northwest beer lovers, Skamania Lodge’s Celebration of Beer fest offers a terrific opportunity to taste a perfectly sized selection of great Northwest beers from top craft brewers like Amnesia, Full Sail, Fish (awesome organic beer), Lompoc, Salmon Creek, Prodigal Son, Laht Neppur, Snipes Mountain, and Yakima Craft breweries, as well as one of my all time favorite ales: Walking Man.

Unlike wine, tasting and dumping isn’t the usual modus operandi. Use your tickets carefully. Try a small ounce or two, and when you find something that really turns you on, go ahead and use more tickets to get a full pour.

To really enjoy the full scope of this event, eat while you taste and book a room in advance so you don’t have to drive; Skamania Lodge offers an awesome packages that includes lodging, tickets for food and beer, two keepsake beer mugs, and the beer-centric Kegs and Eggs Buffet on Sunday. Tickets to the beer tasting are sold at the door: $20 for 20 tickets and a mug or $40 for 50 tickets and 2 mugs

On Saturday, from noon to-1pm, attend Beer School, led by Full Sail Brewery’s head brewer Jamie Emmerson, and learn what the elements are that makes beer taste so good.

From 1pm to 5pm, savor, sample and, vote for your favorite brew. After 3pm, brewers roll out their seasonal or unreleased beers for tasting.  From 5pm to 9pm enjoy an Oktoberfest Buffet in the Cascade Dining Room, featuring a special menu of beer themed foods prepared from beers from the tasting an with. $34.95 per person.

On Sunday, October 9, from 9am to 2pm., enjoy Skamania’s famous Sunday Brunch featuring all the traditional favorites, as well as a sampling of foods from across the Pacific Northwest. $28.95. Contact Information

Oregon Brewers Festival

July 26-29, 2012

If you love micro-brewed or craft beer, this is your festival. Always held the last full weekend in July, 2012 Marks the 25th anniversary of this iconic brewfest. The top craft beer festival in the U.S., it’s also one of the nation’s longest running. Some 80,000-beer lovers converge of this 4-day event, sampling 20 styles of award-winning craft beer poured by 80 craft breweries from across the country. The “Buzz Tent” offers another 50-plus rare and specialty beers. In addition to beer tasting, there is a line up of live music, as well as beer-related vendors, beer memorabilia displays, beer home-brewing demonstrations, and an assortment of food available.

Taps are opened at noon and shut-off at 9pm on Saturday; Sunday until 7 pm. Admission to the festival grounds is free, but if you want to taste beer, buy a souvenir mug for the current festival year ($6). Beer is purchased with wooden tokens, priced at a buck apiece. Patrons pay four tokens for a full mug of beer, or one token for a taste. Free handcrafted root beer is served in the Crater Lake Root Beer Garden for minors and designated drivers.

By the way, stay super safe and take the bus, a taxi or MAX Light Rail (located just one block west of the festival on SW Oak Street). The festival also offers free, on-site bicycle parking Contact Information



Pinot in France: Pinot in the City

 As much as I’m loath to admit this (it just sounds so unsophisticated) I was 25 years old before I ever tasted a Pinot noir.

As I was drawing up my general plans for an epic 10,000- kilometer bike tour abroad, a friend passed along the phone number and address (OK, this is way before cell phones and email) of her American cousin who lived outside Beaune in an area of France known as the Burgundy region, or the Côte-d’Or. This area happens to be Pinot noir’s homeland.

Alain and Kathleen and their five children lived in the tiny village of Bourguignon, in an ancient pig barn they had refurbished. An organic garden, some fruit trees and an endless horizon of vineyards surrounded the place. Their rustic stone and post beam home had seven bedrooms, four baths and a chapel smack dab in the middle of it (Alain is a minister of the New Church). After traveling by bike down from Dijon that day, two months into my travels, I experienced my Pinot baptism.

Before lunch (or was it dinner?), Alain invited me to crawl under the front steps with him—and I mean duck and scoot in a crouched position through dirt and cobwebs—to select some bottles from his wine cellar. Upon entering the subterranean cavity of this cavernous building, I gasped. I had never seen so many wine bottles—very dusty wine bottles—in one space in my life.

Soon we were sitting down for a meal that commenced at 1:30pm with an aperitif of Kir—white wine with cassis—and did not wrap up until nearly 5pm. Kathleen had prepared a traditional French meal with a veggie twist (I was thrilled to discover they were vegetarians like me after months of staring down meat at meals offered by new friends we had met along the way). This included: l’entrée (a garden salad and a plate of grilled but cold green beans) served with a glass of Pinot; followed by le plat principal (a main course that I later learned was a French version of ratatouille) served with a home-baked bread and a glass of Pinot. We then moved on to the le fromage (a plate filled with small bite size wedges of camembert, Roquefort and brie) served with a glass of Pinot. Le dessert (an apple tart) and finally, a digestive, Armagnac, put the exclamation point on this fabulous meal.  Alain explained that we had been drinking vin de garde—Pinot that would likely improve with further aging. But it could have just as well been vin de pays, table Pinot, because at that point I was clearly bombed, totally unaccustomed as I was to drinking that much wine in one sitting.

Fully anticipating a raging hangover the next morning, I weaved and bobbed my way through the table clearing and dish washing before staggering out to my tent near the garden. By 7pm, I was dead to the world. A bomb could have dropped and I wouldn’t have heard it.

Early the next morning, I awoke to birds chirping and Alain yelling out the door that the crepes were getting cold, and urging me to hurry: We had a full day of wine tasting ahead of us, he said, in celebration of my 26th birthday that day.

As I scrubbed my eyes awake, I was stunned to discover I had no hangover or headache.

That day, we visited a winery outside Beaune, where Alain introduced me as a journalist to the propriétaire de cave (the winery owner), who disappeared for about 10 minutes before reappearing with what he declared to be “une bouteille de vin très special,” a very special bottle of wine”—a Pinot with a 100-year vintage. Was he being straight with us? Who knows, but never before or after have I ever tasted such a perfect glass of wine (an unfortunately that one glass of wine has spoiled me for life, and remains the standard by which I judge all wines).

The winery owner effusively explained his enthusiastic offering this way: Business was way down—the usual onslaught of American oneophiles visiting his établissement vinicole had thus far that year never materialized. And, besides, he said, he really liked Americans, and he hoped if he shared his best with us, we’d go back home and tell all our friends to buy French wine and come visit France.

Just the day before, Jonathan, my cycling partner and boyfriend, had remarked as we were pedaling down from Dijon that the French were far friendlier than he had anticipated. I had noticed it too, but not just France. The welcome mat was, well, overwhelmingly positive everywhere we had recently thus far traveled: Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. Was it because we were cyclists or because there were very few Americans traveling abroad at the time?

No doubt, it was a crazy scary time. February that year saw the assassination of Olof Palme, Sweden’s Prime Minister, in the streets of usually peaceful Stockholm. Just before we set off on our journey, a bomb exploded on a TWA jet over Greece, blowing a hole in the aircraft and driving four passengers out into the ethers of finality. Then Chernobyl melted down (leading to warnings from Danish and Norwegian friends not to eat berries or dairy products while we traveled). Around the same time in West Berlin, Libyan agents bombed a nightclub, killing three innocent people. Also escalating the fear level of American travelers: the MS Achille Lauro had been hijacked the year before. Palestinian Liberation Front hijackers killed a disabled Jewish-American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, and then threw his body overboard. Travel agents attributed the scads of cancellations they got for travel the following summer primarily to this incident.

For two cyclists traveling on the cheap, the glimmer of light in all of this fear, however, was that transatlantic flights were practically empty (which allowed me to stretch out over four empty seats to sleep). I suspect it wasn’t just the new smoking ban that when into effect that year, either, because we found the backroads of Europe equally deserted. After hearing for years about how American travelers we’re considered “ugly,” we literally got the red carpet treatment nearly every where we traveled in Europe (Italy being the one exception, but that’s another story).

In addition to sharing his prized stash of Pinot noir, the winery owner was eager to share his technical insights. He spent the better part of the morning educating us in his eloquent albeit truncated English about the difficulty of cultivating and transforming the black wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera into wine. We learned that the Pinot grape is very intolerant of harsh growing conditions: wind, heat, cold or draught—these all lead to epic failures in the vineyard. He also advised us that there were more to these grapes than still red wine. They were also used in the production of sparkling wines, rosé still wines and vin gris white wines.

After finishing our rotund glassfuls of the priceless Pinot, we headed off to visit more wineries, where Alain, who grew up in the area, seem to know everyone on a first-named basis. We sampled wines at Corton, Pommard, Bourgogne Chanson, Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot and Musigny. After a full day of wine tasting, I was feeling a lot like someone who had been sucked out an airplane window and was now floating in the ethers.

Back home at Chateau Nicolier, Kathleen had prepared a birthday cake. I started to nod off at the table as soon as I’d blown out the candles. Jonathan helped me make a swift albeit wobbly retreat to the tent. I fell asleep with more than a hint of regret, anticipating awakening the next day to the mother of all hangovers.

Surprisingly, in the morning I felt perfectly fine, again (although I am sure my liver was quaking from the sugar and alcohol overload). I rejoiced in my official indoctrination into the Church of Pinot noir.

If you have yet had a chance to sample the full range of this grape, you don’t need to go to France. Get thee to Pinot in the City in Portland, Oregon.

The Mother of All Urban Wine Events: Pinot in the City

Portlanders and Portland visitors will soon have an amazing opportunity to sample the next best thing next to really fine French Pinot. Taste Pinots from the Willamette Valley right here in the city. In what certainly promises to be an annual event (like Portland’s famous beer festival), more than 100 of Willamette Valley’s top wineries will soon converge on a downtown city block. Think about this: You don’t have to drive to the Willamette Valley to get your Pinot fix or taste. Besides tasting fabulous wines, you get to also nibble on quintessential Oregon bites.

Besides wine tasting, this is a terrific opportunity to meet the people who have helped put Oregon Pinot noir on the wine map. Winemakers and owners will showcase new and current releases of the Valley’s iconic Pinot noir along with a variety of other wines.

Participating restaurants include 1910 Main: An American Bistro, Community Plate, Crooked House Bistro, Dundee Bistro, JORY (at the Allison Inn & Spa), La Rambla, Red Hills Provincial Dining and Subterra. Local food purveyors include Briar Rose Creamery, Oregon Hazelnuts, Oregon Olive Mill, Oregon Truffle Oil, Red Fox Bakery, Republic of Jam, and Willamette Valley Confectionery

Tickets for Pinot in the City

Saturday & Sunday, September 10-11, 2011


Location: NW 9th and Marshall in the heart of the Pearl

One day ticket:  $60

Two day ticket:  $90

At the Door:  $70

All tickets include event wine glass, tasting booklet, touring map, unlimited pours from all wineries as well as samplings from local food purveyors.

Ticket holders must be 21 years or older. ID will be checked at entrance.

Register for Pinot in the City in Portland, OR on Eventbrite:

Photo: The chapel at Chateau Nicolier

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