Field Trip

San Antonio Winery: Pleasantly Surprising in Every Way

I was not expecting much from San Antonio Winery.  There are a number of billboards for this winery along the 5, suggesting a large advertising budget but not necessarily good wine.  As a connoisseur of boutiquey wineries that may or may not be open more than once a month, I equate big names in wine with a lack of quality or ridiculous prices.

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Yet San Antonio Winery left me pleasantly surprised.  We enjoyed everything we tasted there.  I imagine not everyone would.  Their wines are definitely on the sweet side, and if you are looking for a rich, bold, deep red, this is not the place for it.  But since I like light, sweet wines, I was in Heaven.

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The Maddalena Pinot Grigio and Riesling were both tasty and sweet, perhaps a little too sweet, but still good.  Stella Rosa Peach was a beautifully light, peachy Moscato, totally worth $9.  The chocolate Port was trying a little too hard, but their regular Port had a nice mellow flavor and again was very reasonably priced.

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We enjoyed all of their wines, but once the Stella Rosa Imperiale Bracchetto touched my tongue, I could no longer care about anything else.

Magicale Bracchetto was the first wine I ever loved.  I first drank it at the Golden Vine Winery in Disney’s California Adventure, and it truly was a magical experience for me.  Alas, twenty-one-year-olds cannot afford to buy $42 bottles of wine with any kind of frequency, so while I thought of it often, I have only had the opportunity to taste it on a handful of occasions.

I have looked for a substitute, but while I have found other tasty sparkling reds, nothing quite measured up to Magicale Bracchetto’s perfection.  Then I saw the Imperiale Bracchetto on San Antonio’s tasting list and realized Bracchetto was a varietal.  With such a “magicale” name, it had not occurred to me that the name had given me a tool to search with all along, but as soon as I saw the name, I knew I had to try it.  And it was like coming back to that first taste five years ago at Disneyland.

Like I said, I have tried similar wines, but this taste was the same.  At first I thought maybe I wasn’t remembering it fully, but now I think they could easily be the same exact wine.  It was that close.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was perfect.  With trepidation, I looked at the price.  I still don’t know whether to be happy at how much less it is or sad that I paid $42 for something that could be gotten for $17, but regardless I snatched up three bottles then and there and wish I could have gotten more.

All in all, I had a very satisfying random stop at San Antonio Winery.  I will certainly plan on going again next time I make that drive.  In the meantime, I will be scouring World Market for more Stella Rosa Bracchetto.

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Categories: Field Trip, Southern California, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Chicago Irish Pubs

In continuing with our Chicago feature, today we will discuss the awesomeness that is Chicago Irish pubs.

Irish pubs in the Bay Area suck.  Really.  There are exceptions, but on the whole, the Irish pubs here are just…not.  Not Irish.  Not pubs.  Not nothing like that.

Thus Irish pubs were one of the things I was excited to explore when I spent a year in Chicago.  The first job (and in this context, job means “slave labor” or possibly “major rip off”) I had upon arriving at the Windy City was blogging about Irish pubs, and boy were they better than the ones in SF.

Having spent time in Ireland and having learned how to drink in the U.K., I have an appreciation for authenticity that escapes most Americans.  At the same time, having lived in England briefly, I have an equally strong appreciation for non-British food and the knowledge that while Irish food is better than English, there are advantages to throwing some American in there too.

With that in mind, these pubs stood out amongst their many brethren as the best, whether for food, drink, atmosphere, or the whole package.

Unforgettable Atmosphere

Wilde is more of a restaurant than a pub, but it has two bars and an abundant selection of drinks, so close enough.  Centered around Oscar Wilde, the Irishman responsible for The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Grey, Wilde is set up like an upper class library, covered with massive bookshelves, stained glass windows, and cozy alcoves perfect for reading.  The drink selection is vast, and the food is fabulous if not cheap, providing a full selection of Irish fare along with American options.  Being able to sip some cider in an armchair surrounded by books is a truly unparalleled experience.

Bet You've Never Seen an Irish Pub with a Stained Glass Dome

Bet You’ve Never Seen an Irish Pub with a Stained Glass Dome

Most Irish

Celtic Crossings is everything an Irish pub should be.  Built and manned by Irish immigrants, this is the most authentic Irish pub I have encountered anywhere outside Ireland.  Even on an average day, the pub was largely peopled by Irishmen.  As per Irish tradition, they do not serve food but sport a large selection of Irish beers and whiskeys from their large wooden bar that was actually imported from Ireland.  They introduced us to the  tradition of adding a dash of 7-Up to your Smithwick’s, and Daniel has been ordering it that way ever since to the constant consternation of bartenders.  I dream of spending St. Patrick’s Day here; it’s probably the closest I will ever get to spending it in Ireland.

Just the Right Amount of Irish

Just the Right Amount of Irish

The Best of Both Worlds

Even though there are more Irish and more exciting pubs in Chicago than Bridget McNeill’s, I cannot have a best Irish pubs list without it.  Admittedly, I have a strong personal attachment to the place, but my love grew from the pubby atmosphere.  The most important aspect of an Irish pub to me is not the food nor the drink but the friendly, cozy atmosphere that accompanies sharing a pint with some friends after a hard day’s work.  With its comfy arm chairs, small tables, and a sound level at which you can actually have an intelligible conversation, this pub exudes the atmosphere that really makes Irish pubs for me.  But in place of an Irish menu, Bridget McNeill’s sports the best that America has to offer from fantastic thin-crust pizza to scrumptious burgers to baked mac and cheese.  The food is superb and varied and helps this pub truly encompass the best of Irish and American pubs.

Great for Food, Friends, and Trivia!

Great for Food, Friends, and Trivia!

The Best of the Best

However, much as I love Bridget McNeill’s, the pub that truly mixes Irish and American traditions flawlessly is Fado.  The atmosphere exudes Irishness in a tactful manner without being overly overt.  The pub centers around a massive, ovular wooden bar fading into dark, wooden tables and rustic decor on the ground level.  Floor number two is topped with a boat.  Yes, an actual boat.  Just hanging from the ceiling.  Tell me that’s not awesome.  The drink menu is not only wide but also diverse, from a large range of Irish beers and whiskey (and Strongbow!  It may not be Irish, but it is awesome and such a U.K. staple that it still lends to the pub’s authenticity) to more international fare like white sangria and mojitos.  And the food, oh the food!  It is so, so good.  Traditional Irish dishes abound, but their flavoring has been updated to perfection.  Never have I tasted better corned beef and potatoes.  Even the cabbage was good!  And you have to try the boxty.  Shaped like an Irish pancake, the boxty is basically a fried potato tortilla that does not need filling to be delicious.  Fado has everything an Irish pub could offer but the variety and ingenuity of Americans intent on perfecting the pub experience.

Something for Everyone

Something for Everyone

No matter your tastes, as long as you like Irish pubs, these four are bound to please.  Should you wish to read more about them, visit my Chicago Irish Pubs Examiner page.

Categories: Field Trip, Food | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Molly’s Cupcakes = The Best of All Cupcakes!

As you know, I spend a lot of time eating cupcakes.  Upon visiting a new city, I first seek out the best cupcakeries around so that I can find the city’s best cupcake.

I am going to Chicago this weekend for a family event, so I thought I would share with you some of the city’s finest attributes.

We start with the best cupcake I have ever had.

My first taste of Molly’s Cupcakes was a tiny bit of buttercream frosting that had rubbed off on the side of the box, just a small smidgen if you will, hardly even a taste for normal frosting.  But the second that baby taste hit my tongue, my mouth exploded with flavor.  I could actually taste the butter and the cream, separate entities yet inextricably entwined to create the greatest flavor of frosting I have ever had.

Next to that explosive taste experience, the otherwise delectable cake seemed like a little bit of a letdown…until I realized it was filled with berry jelly.  The mixture of incredible buttercream, moist but strong cake worthy of holding sweet filling, and fresh berries on top, adding a tang to the sweetness, made for the best cupcake I have ever eaten.

Until I had some of their other cupcakes.

The Mixed Berry cupcake is still quite possibly my favorite, but now it is in competition with their Butterscotch Caramel, and the Peach Cobbler is up there too.

There are several cupcakes that are high on my list of all-time favorites.  The Berry Berry at Spot Dessert Bar in New York was exceptionally moist and perhaps the best chocolate cupcake I have ever had.  I still can’t get enough of the Lemon Pistachio cupcake at Love at First Bite.  And once there was another shop in Chicago called Cupcakes that had a fabulous Salted Caramel that still moves me even though they have gone out of business.

However, none of them measures up to any of the cupcakes I have had at Molly’s.

So next time you’re in Chicago, go visit Molly’s Cupcakes, or I will hound you until you do.

The Best of Molly’s Cupcakes: The Filled Kind
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Categories: Dessert, Field Trip, Food | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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