travel

Wanderlust and Wine in the Valley — Walla Walla, Washington

Rarely do small towns like Walla Walla, Wash., appear on the travel itinerary. And its a shame because some of America’s small towns, while appearing pedestrian to the uninitiated, are actually hot pockets of outdoor fitness, eco and fashion hipness, historical awareness and gastric innovation.

Walla Walla sits in a sunny valley surrounded by rolling hills covered with dark green vineyards, and behind those hills stands the sublime Blue Mountain range. It almost looks like Tuscany. And it is quickly becoming a food and wine lover’s dream destination.

What looks like smalltown USA from the outside looking in, with its plain-looking, 1920′s-era frontier style architecture, is actually populated by cultural creatives from all over the country, in part thanks to Whitman College, but also because of the region’s intense focus on winemaking and organic agriculture. And typically where there’s good wine, good food follows. 

Main Street USA, Walla Walla with the Marcus-Whitman Hotel in the background.

Main Street USA, Walla Walla with the Marcus-Whitman Hotel in the background.

In fact, Walla Walla was recently touted by Sunset Magazine for not only owning America’s Best Main Street, but also for being one of Our Favorite Small-Town Foodie Haven’s.

But it’s not all about food and wine. Walla Walla is located on the Oregon Trail near the Washington and Oregon border, where the Whitman Mission National Historic site attracts thousands of visitors each year. A trip through the mission provides a deep education into a tragic and controversial story that you and your kids won’t find in a textbook.

Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa  established the mission in1836, and by 1847 they were both dead; Marcus took a Tomahawk to the head, while Narcissa was shot trying to escape what has become known as the Whitman Massacre, an act that prompted the Cayuse War. A seven-day pass to the Whitman Mission site is just $3.00, and ‘kids’ under 16 get in free .

Wine Valley GC #5

Just a few miles West of the Whitman Mission is Walla Walla’s spectacular new Wine Valley Golf Club. Draped across Eastern Washington’s massive wind-swept dunes like a lonely emerald carpet, Wine Valley offers up traditional links golf in a beautiful setting. For a more detailed review of the course, and more photos click here.

Being surrounded by rivers and mountains, plus a warm, dry climate, Walla Walla is also ideal for outdoor adventure. To the west about 35 miles, the Snake River and Yakima River merge with the Columbia River near the Oregon border, and the massive convergance of water provides ample fishing and boating opportunities on the Columbia and its many tributaries.

And the Umatilla National Forest of the Blue Mountains, located to the east of Walla Walla, provide ample hiking, fishing, camping and cycling opportunities.

Walla Walla’s Wine Wanderer
Flying Trout Winery is owned and operated by 27-year old Ashley Trout who originally came to Walla Walla from the East Coast to study at Whitman College, but started working in the town’s wineries during her freshman year. She was hooked instantly on the winemaking process, and upon her graduation from Whitman had earned a better education working in the vineyards than she had studying liberal arts at the exclusive, private college.

During the summer after graduating, Trout was injured in a rock climbing accident and missed the crush (wine harvest) in Walla Walla, because of a three-month rehabilitation. The time off made her realize how much she missed working in the vineyards. When finally healthy, she moved to Argentina in time for its crush, and begain establishing relationships at every level of the Argentine winemaking business, just as she had done in Walla Walla. It helped that she was fluent in Spanish.

“I kept coming back year after year to work in the vineyards for the Argentine crush,” she says. “After a while they realized I wasn’t just slave labor and started teaching me their craft. I also met a lot of the university winemaking students and grad students at the discos, who are really the future of winemaking.”

Flying Trout Winery ashley trout Flying Trout Winery foyer

The climate in that area of Argentina is almost identical to the climate in the Columbia Valley. By establishing vines with similar grapes in two different hempispheres, Trout is unique, and calls her lust to make wine in both countries, a “fascinating bi-hemispherical terroir”.

Her efforts in South America also allow Flying Trout to issue two releases per year, from two different parts of the world, all of which gets sold-out within three weeks of being released. It pays to be a member of Flying Trout’s wine club.

Says Trout, “it’s nice (selling out early) because I can go back to being a winemaker instead of a saleswoman.”

Just a few of the many barrels full of wineWhat wasn’t sold out during our visit were the Fyling Trout wines aging in barrels in the wearhouse situated behind Flying Trout’s tasting room.

Drinking wine straight from the barrel should rank at the top of any list for ‘things to do’ in Walla Walla on a Friday afternoon, especially after a long bike ride. Even novice wine drinkers can learn to appreciate the subtle strawberry flavors still brewing in the 2008 Horse Heaven Hills Malbec, or the spicy, lingering flavor of apple that dominates the 2007 Rattlesnake Hills Malbec.  

To join Flying Trout’s wine club, where club members get first access to cases of the winery’s latest releases, click here. Membership is free. To set up a visit to the tasting rom, call Ashley at (509) 520-7701, or email her at talk@flyingtroutwines.com.

Where to Stay and What to Eat
The most distinguishing, and tallest building in Walla Walla is the Marcus-Whitman Hotel, located in the heart of downtown, just two blocks from Main Street. In 1999, local techonology enterpreneur Kyle Mussman (check out his sailing blog) bought the building, saving it from being destroyed and then pumping $33 million into the rennovation of the old Marcus-Whitman Hotel. In the process he revived the classic hotel to the point where it matches its glory days when the old Marcus-Whitman Hotel played host to guests like former President Dwight Eisenhower, after whom a suite is named on the seventh floor.

mw lobby - click to enlarge eisenhower 2 - click to enlarge eisenhower suite 2 - click to enlarge

Filled with oak paneling and marble floors, the lobby of the hotel is dark and cool, and a serence contrast to Walla Walla’s hot and sunny weather. What was once a hostel and designated for demolition is now a sophisticated space decorated in classic style, offering finely appointed and comfortable suites at reasonable rates, amazing customer service, and even an art collection on the third floor.

And then there’s the food.

Upon request, the head chef of Marcus Whitman’s The Marc restaurant, Hank “Bear” Ullman offer’s his dinner guests a chance to sit at the ultra-cool Chef’s Table. For $125 diners can eat at a table located in the kitchen, eating a custom-made five course meal that features locally grown and sourced produce and meats. The energy in The Marc’s kitchen is lively, with the chef’s working hard to please, and the off-the-menu food is off-the-charts good, making the experience worth the price tag.

The Marc's Chef's Table Guests Enjoy VIP Service. 'Bear' and his crew serving a recent party.

The Marc's Chef's Table Guests Enjoy VIP Service. 'Bear' and his crew serving a recent party.

The menu from our visit to the Chef’s Table included: a first course of Oregon dungeness crab salad complete with orange and coriander finish; followed by a plate of wild Pacific troll-caught salmon, served on heirloom tomatoes and mizuna and topped with a tomato-saffron vinaigrette. Next to the salmon was grilled Oregon quail, presented over an English pea puree.

All of this was served alongside Flying Trout Winery’s Torrontes.

Next came a palate cleansing salad of local greens and apples, dressed with meyer lemon and a meyer lemon vinagrette. According to Bear, “the acidic salad breaks up the rapid-fire protiens coming at you with something simple and crisp.”

The third course, served with a local Syrah, took the dinner to the next level: Rocky Mountain buffalo filet on pâtes aux champignons, which consisted of locally sourced Buffalo tenderloin, served on top of a bed of bacon and a fois gras-wild mushroom pate. To top it off, two fried quail eggs, served over easy, were slipped between the bacon and the filet.

Rocky Mountain Buffalo Filet on Pâtes aux Champignons

Rocky Mountain Buffalo Filet on Pâtes aux Champignons

By the fourth course some of Bear’s Chef’s Table guests started slowing down and getting full, but Bear kept the heat on, rewarding the heavier eaters by breaking out a melt-in-your-mouth Anderson Ranch free-range roasted rack of lamb, served with Bing cherry chutney. 

The fifth course was dessert, and a surprisingly tasty, and strategic selection – Rock Star energy drink sorbet with Bing cherries.

Bear’s knowledgeable crew helps Chef’s Table guests, and all diners at The Marc pair glasses, or bottles of wine for each course, so even wine-drinking amateurs have a chance to experience what a proper food and wine pairing tastes like.

“It all goes back to relationships, connections and taking care of people,” says Bear. “I’ve been here for nine years now and have built fantastic relationships with the organic community and winemakers. We get asparagus the same morning it’s cut, we trim our own micro greens as we need them, and I have a farmer that is willing to get up at 3:00 a.m. to go pick squash blossoms before the sun hits them, so to be successful with this kind of product, all you really have to do is not mess it up.”

Ullman and The Marc certainly don’t mess things up, in fact, the Marcus-Whitman’s restaurant is spot on, just like the hotel.

Other restaurants worth checking out in Walla Walla include: the Saffron Mediterranean Grill, Whitehouse-Crawford, the Creekside Grill, and for breakfast the farmer’s market located on 4th and Main Street, which takes place each Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. — 1:00 p.m. Not only are there good eats, for cheap, but typically a band and a friendly atmosphere that will make you forget your wine hangover.

farmer's market market band market berries

Getting Around
Walla Walla’s population is just over 30,000. It’s a small town. Don’t bother driving around. Instead, rent a bike from Allegro Cyclery. For $35 a day, Allegro will rent your bike of choice. 

allegro cyclery

Jump on a comfy commuter bike, which will perform nicely on Walla Walla’s flat streets, and then cruise the city’s old neighborhoods at supersonic speeds, or take the bike trails leading out of town towards the surrounding vineyards. Allegro provides a Walla Walla bike trail map for reference.

Live the wine and food life like a Euro by renting a bike at Allegro! After a few quick laps around Walla Walla, you’ll be glad you did.

Why Should You Visit Walla Walla?
The wine and food explosion currently happening in Walla Walla, and within the Tri-Cities area in general, is sure to attract more attention and tourist dollars to Walla Walla, which let’s be honest, was struggling to find its identity twenty years ago. Now, its all about living close to the area’s rich, wine and sweet onion producing soil; where the food that’s consumed is grown next-door and picked that day, and where the vintners produce wines from vines that actually perculate with the distinctive flavors of strawberry, spicy pepper,  grapefruit. basil, or plum.

The mountains and rivers that surround the city provide a plethora of outdoor adventure, and look inviting from a distance, a big contrast from the craggy Rocky and Cascade Mountain ranges. The golf in Walla Walla is championship-worthy, and the area is full of history lessons. 

The vibe on Main Street Walla Walla is hometown cool – the candy shop is located in the perfect spot, right between the vintner’s wine-tasting rooms — and the people in Walla Walla are super friendly, welcoming, and down to earth.

Teddy Roosevelt, explorer extrordinairre, once said Walla Walla left, “”the pleasantest impression upon my mind of any city I visited while in the Northwest.” 

When thinking about your next three-day weekend consider taking a trip to Walla Walla. But don’t go unless you can get a room at the magnificent Marcus-Whitman Hotel. 

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Paris’ Rue St. Germain and its Famous Sidewalk Cafe’s

les deux magots

As a fan of John Hemingway, Henry Miller, Oscar Wilde, Orson Wells and even Jim Morrison, I had always heard rumours of the Parisian sidewalk cafe’s where these famous writers had spent mornings, afternoons and evenings creating their masterpieces. Each resource I consulted before visiting Paris pointed to three famous sidewalk cafe’s on Rue St. Germain: Les deux Magots; Cafe de Flore and the Brasserie Lipp

From afar in the US, these cafe’s seemed like healing baths for the struggling writers of the world, and that to proceed to the next level one must sit where the master’s sat, eat the same baguets and cheese the master’s ate, and drink the same house wine they drank by the barrel.  

My search for writing inspiration on the Left Bank bordered on romantic and cheesy, but since my wife Jenny witnessed me reading Down and Out in Paris and London, listened as I recited Hills Like White Elephants to her, accompanied me to a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest, and shared my love for the Doors, she still thought of my quest as romantic. So when we ‘accidentally’ ended up on Rue St. Germain one afternoon after spending the morning walking the entire Champs Elysees, to and from our hotel in the Left Bank, it was not only perfect timing to beat our thirst and hunger, but also ‘cute’ in her eyes.

Rue St. Germain is like any busy boulevard in New York City, packed with people and cars and action. The energy on the sidewalk is electric, especially in the afternoon, as random bands play at street corners, beautiful people shop, smart cars honk, cyclists dart in and out of traffic, and foodies populate the sidewalk cafes.

Brasserie LippOur fist stop was the Brasserie Lipp, reportedly Hemingway’s favorite. The Lipp is less sidewalk cafe and more restaurant, so we sat inside, by the window. Our waiter looked just like Hemingway did before he died; a good-looking, but old and rude gentleman who insisted we try the steak tar-tar.

We politely declined, had a beer to quench our thirsts and watched as our American neighbors mowed some raw hamburger covered with raw egg, remarking how, “delicate” it was. Feeling uninspired and wondering what my idol ever saw in the place, we left and skipped across the busy boulevard to Cafe de Flore.

Cafe de FloreNow this was a traditional sidewalk cafe! And apparently the favorite hangout of Morrison, whose grave we had visited the day prior. The problem was, there were no tables open on the sidewalk. Again, we were forced to sit inside as we sipped Memosa’s. It was like being barred from the VIP section, and as with the Brasserie Lipp, I felt nothing special in terms of writing inspiration. So we left.

As we approached Les Deux Magots we laughed at the name, but kept an open mind that perhaps the hangout of Wilde, the freakshow that he was, would drive some sort of inspiration. A dark-haired waiter approached as we entered the foyer, smiled and made a table for us on the sidewalk. Literally, he grabbed a new table from his back pocket (?!), along with some settings, pushed some other tables of people out of the way, and made room for us. We felt so special!

Soon we were squelching our hunger with a cheese plates, a couple of Croquet Madam’s, some Saumon fume de Norvege et toasts (salmon and cream cheese on toast), and the house white wine. It was bliss. A jazz band played across the street while we drank freely, and ate, and discussed American inhibitions for the next four hours.street band

We fell in love with the Parisian way of life that afternoon, with their love for everything food, wine, art, women and conversation. 

I could finally understand why my heroes had chosen these cafes and this street to conduct their business. The creative inspiration sits before your eyes in the food, the wine and the people that surround you; all the texture of our lives intertwined like a braid on a busy Parisian street. All it took to open my eyes was an afternoon lounging at Les deux Margots.

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Golf Course Review: Chambers Bay

cape fear

Chambers Bay
6320 Grandview Dr.
University Place, WA 98467
Navy Tees: 7,109 yards/Rating 74.4/Slope 130

Chambers Bay blew me away. Just a few days removed from playing the Robert Trent Jones II designed, Scottish links-style golf course on a sunny and windless 70-degree day, I can’t get the experience out of my head. Nor do I want to.  The feelings I have towards Chambers Bay rival my wandering lust for places like Crystal Downs, Wolf Creek, Austin Country Club, Oak Tree Country Club’s Men’s Course and Torey Pines.

Prior to visiting Chambers Bay, I fully understood the hype. This relatively new course had been designated by Golf Magazine, and a handful of other publications as 2007′s Best New Golf Course. Matt Ginella, Golf Digest’s senior travel editor (and one of my favorite golf/travel writers), recently included Chambers Bay in a list of his Top 10 Public Courses. Even more impressive, the couse will serve as the host of the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2015 U.S. Open championships.

My expectations were high, but then I had heard stories from friends that the golf course was still maturing and needed more time, that the greens were shaggy, slow and hard. Even Kemper Sports, which manages the 250+ acre property, admitted to me last week in an email that they were struggling with course conditions after a hard winter. So, needless to say, those expectations were tempered a bit before my arrival and for the purposes of this review.

Hardly necessary. The golf course was in immaculate condition.

The minute I stepped on the practice putting green, which features a large Rolex clock, a transformation took place, and suddenly I was in Scotland. Tacoma no longer existed. All around me were massive sand dunes covered with native grasses and emerald faiways winding through said dunes, all bordered by the deep blue waters of the Puget Sound. There was even a train track, located in between the course and the Sound, invoking visions of St. Andrews and the famous Road Hole.

Chambers Bay's signature par-3, the 139-yard 15th, better known as Lone Fir

Chambers Bay's signature par-3, the 139-yard 15th, better known as Lone Fir

Accepting the challenge of Chambers Bay meant stepping back to what were the tips that day, and playing the course at a listed 7,109-yards. Prior to teeing off, the starter briefed me on the course conditions, provided a few ‘local knowledge tips’ and said the course would play more like 7,400-yards, considering its sea-level location and the heavy Pacific Northwest air.

Needless to say, I forsaw a struggle coming, especially on the 1st hole, a beautiful par-4 listed at 491-yards that stretches towards the Sound. Thanks to the starter’s tip, I only had 220-yards left to the hole on the 1st following what seemed like a solid drive.

After having played a nice hybrid approach to about 40-feet and three-putting for bogey,  and then following a similar pattern on the 2nd, I got into a groove. From the tee, I began belting the driver, and on the greens adjusted to the speed and grain. And after a birdie on the 465-yard, par-4 5th the course began to reveal its nature — holes that look crazy difficult from the tee box are amazingly playable. For example, on the 5th I drove the ball 330-yards from the elevated ‘Free Fall’ tee, hit a 9-iron approach to the uphill green and used the amazing contours that surround Chambers Bay’s greens to cozy the ball up to the flagstick.

The front nine at Chambers Bay allows players to finish with a flourish on the 8th and 9th holes after getting abused by the demonic, uphill, 482-yard 7th. The 8th is a narrow, but short 557-yard par-5, and the 9th is a 202-yard par-3 that features an elevated tee standing at least 100-feet above the green below. When the pin is located front-left, good shots tend to funnel towards the flagstick, which should make this hole a prime viewing spot during the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open.

Chambers Bay’s back nine is much like the front in that there are holes (#’s 11, 14 and 16) that test the limits of your golfing skill, but others, like the 12th, 15th and 18th that reward good play with birdie opportunities. As with the finishing hole on the front nine, the 541-yard, par-5 18th should prove a dramatic viewing spot for the birdie-hungry galleries attending the USGA’s upcoming  championships.

Finishing Touch: the amazing 18th hole at Chambers Bay

Finishing Touch: the amazing 18th hole at Chambers Bay

Chambers Bay advertises itself as ‘pure links golf’, and more than lives up to its billing. And it exceeds the hype created by Golf Magazine, Golf Digest and others. It is a golfing experience that allows players to play the game as the Scottish intended, and one that will stick in their minds for years to come.

Coming up with a list of ‘Signature Holes’ from Chambers Bay is like trying to name your favorite flavor of ice cream. It ain’t easy.

Signature Holes:

#5 tee#5 Free Fall — standing atop the elevated 5th tee complex players witness amazing views of the golf course layed out in front of the Puget Sound. Though this hole is listed as a 465-yard par-4, it plays shorter than advertised and offers real birdie opportunities.

#7 Humpback — in stark contrast to #5, this 482-yard par-4 offers little hope for birdie. A menacing dog-leg right, the 7th requires a forced carry from the tee and an extreme-uphill approach shot, which in my case required a 3-wood. The humpbacks this hole was named after sit just 60-yards from the green and have the potential to knock down low angled approach shots. 

#15 Lone Fir — this 139-yard par-3, with incredible views of the Puget Sound behind it, also houses the golf course’s only tree, a lonely Fir that stands tall. The well-protected green requires careful club selection, but also a respite after the brutal Cape Fear (#14).

#18 Tahoma — Standing on the 18th teebox, golfers are exposed to dramatic views of the Sound and the golf course, but also historic, industrial remnants of the gravel mine that once dominated this landscape. In terms of playbility, the 541-yard par-5 offers an excellent birdie chance and a memorable finish to a dynamic golf course.

Value: At $149 during the week and $169 on weekends, Chambers Bay is a steal. Pierce County residents receive a whopping $60 discount.

Walkability: Chambers Bay is a walking-only golf course. Rent a caddy, or bring your push cart because motorized carts are forbidden, minus a doctor’s note. Truth be told, the golf was so exciting the walk seemed a breeze.

#1 tee - click to enlarge #5 tee - click to enlarge #7 green -click to enlarge

#9 green -click to enlarge #10 green - click to enlarge 11 sign - click to enlarge

#12, The Narrows - click to enlarge #16 tee - click to enlarge 18th green - click to enlarge

rolex clock nice view historical remnants

–end

Review: Corsair’s Bar and Restaurant, Jost Van Dyke

view-from-corsairs-bar

Corsair’s Bar and Restaurant
18.43° N and 64.71° W
Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands

Just a few yards down the beach from the famous Foxy’s Bar on Jost Van Dyke island, sits little-known Corsair’s Restaurant and Bar. Unmistakable because of its pink exterior, Corsairs serves up an eclectic menu featuring the exotic, local catch of the day for the adventurous eater, and Italian dishes and pizzas that look, smell and taste like the chef lifted some recipes from his grandmother in Sicily.

Bellisimo!!

Corsair’s proprietor, Vinny, is a tough-looking biker, ex-pat from Evergreen, Colo., who spends half of his year in the Rocky Mountains running a Harley Davidson store, and the other half here, in Great Harbor, running this beachside bar and restaurant. Part of our crew was also from Colorado, so we made a natural connection with Vinny and talked at length about the mountains while throwing back painkillers.  

 corsairs-bar1 vinnys-wall-21 vinnys-wall2

Our host informed us that a table had been reserved for our crew for dinner. At the time – it was like 4:00 in the afternoon — we had laughed at the thought, but by dinnertime Corsair’s was packed.

Reggae music thumped from the speakers and the cooks danced in the visible kitchen, as more and more tourists arrived for dinner, all of them armed with reservations. Our table was situated near the front of the lively restaurant with a prime view of Great Harbor.

It took awhile to get our food, but the drinks were stiff and kept us busy, and once our food did arrive, my Neapolitan, wood-fired pizza exceeded expectations. Considering the limited ingredients available in the islands, Vinny’s pie was astonishing really, simply because it rivaled some of the ‘good’ pizza I had eaten in the US.

Soon, it was time to head back to our sailboat in White Harbor. Captain Brian, being the smart captain, had skipped our hike from White Bay that afternoon, and had instead skippered our dingy around the peninsula to Great Harbor and parked it on the beach.

sailboat-in-white-bay

While the other tourists waited for the island’s only taxi to drive back and forth over the steep and scary road to White Bay, our crew instead jumped in the dingy, fired up the motor and slipped our way around the bend towards our sailboat in calm waters, and under a late sunset.

The next time you decide to visit Jost Van Dyke, plan to spend an extra day in Great Harbor. After a morning of snorkeling and diving, or hiking, Foxy’s Bar is the perfect remedy for lunch and an afternoon party, while Corsair’s Bar and Restaurant caps off the day with a fantastic dinner.

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