Saying Goodbye

You grow up thinking your parents are indestructible. My mom has always been the rock of the family. And Pops? Well he could handle anything that came our way. Looking back on my childhood, I suppose Dad wasn’t quite as handy as I thought. The tools in the garage may have always gotten used, but the cars often dripped some kind of fluid. We may have picked out our own Christmas tree from atop the mountain, but there was often a trip to the hospital and stitches involved. The patio and yard walls may have gotten built, but they often leaned a bit. And the roof may have gotten re-shingled in the middle of summer, but there were many bent nails along the way.

This isn’t some flowery tribute to a perfectly flawed man. I remember having family barbeques and guests gushing to me about how lucky I was to have such a sweet father with an amazing sense of humor; it made me gag. I barely remember him ever even speaking to me as a kid and he certainly wasn’t cracking jokes at breakfast. The only time he acknowledged my existence was when he was yelling about something I may or may not have done. He would come home from work and we’d do our best to disappear while he sat in his chair, reading his newspaper, and nodding off until dinner. The same nonsense would occur after dinner, unless one of us caused a commotion that interrupted his snoring. He and mom sacrificed so much for us kids that attention for each other just took a back seat.

After his retirement, I saw a different side of my father. The endearing, goofy guy that others knew all along finally showed himself to the family. His craftiness was spent on his children’s homes and his eyes glistened as he played with his grandchildren. He had a different pair of suspenders for every day of the week and he basked in our teasing of his ensemble. Time spent in his chair with the newspaper became interactive as he would shout out crossword clues that had him stumped. He still wasn’t perfect and often drove me nuts, but I got to know the man who gave me life and I enjoyed his company.

I am thankful for the “no-nonsense”, “get your hands dirty” character my father instilled in me. There were a lot of life lessons he taught me, both through conscious effort and his actions. Heck, you may have to hold the handle down, but I fixed that damn toilet myself! And the fire extinguisher was on standby as I replaced all the light fixtures in my house, but they look darn pretty! Despite being the baby of the family, I spent many years observing and mimicking independence and strength; my greatest asset and perhaps my biggest downfall.

My dad passed away this holiday season, quickly and relatively quietly. He wasn’t angry or miserable. His aging body was beginning to take hold and I think it was a good time for him to pass on to the next life. Some of my family and friends have expressed concern over my reaction, and some will likely be upset that I’ve turned to an online outlet. But dad was one of my first subscribers to this blog and, while I haven’t posted often, I suppose it’s been our way of keeping in touch. I know Pops was proud of his growing family; he never hesitated to express his pride in me. And perhaps that’s all I really needed from my father. I’m thankful I can say goodbye and remember him now with a fond smile and a glistening eye.

From the Shelf

I’ve wanted to get back into writing lately, but don’t want to just babble about food and that seems to be consuming a bit of my life at this point. Alternatively, I checked out the pre-blog archives and decided to put  a couple of them out here for inspiration.

Dear Diary –
So we’re having this discussion in class the other night about discrimination and a girl starts giving her point of view. Don’t get me wrong, I believe she had the best of intentions, but she says “… I just look at a homeless person or someone in a mental hospital and think ‘in a flash something could happen and that could be me’… I could be the one on the other side.” In just that moment I realized how ingrained prejudice is in our society. 
You see, even in a most sincere thought, a line is drawn… the good side and the bad side… the normal and the damaged… us and them. We fight for acceptance, we compete for success, we compare ourselves to one another, and yet somehow we all view ourselves on the better side… whether it’s because we’re more financially successful or we have higher morals than those that are, we’re always on the better side.
There’s a fine line between empathy for the situation and pity for the person. When asked what he’d do if he had the chance to get out of his wheelchair and walk away, Murderball star and quad-rugby olympic athlete, Mark Zupan, said he wouldn’t take it. That response seems so shocking at first, but why? The wheelchair is part of his life and he loves his life! We should all be so proud of who we are and what we’ve become without judging others for not achieving the same.
One year I was asked to go back to my high school and be a guest speaker on Broadcasting for career day and I laughed. I was unemployed in my field and anything but a role-model. Honestly, I love the experiences I’ve had in my life, but I wouldn’t wish it on some poor, unsuspecting teen. But why not speak to them about making choices and not being afraid to take chances to find your way? I don’t know if I made an impact, not that you could ever quantify such a thing, but I’m glad I didn’t run away simply because I didn’t “measure up” to whatever imaginary scale I’ve designed in my mind.
I’d like to challenge everyone (including myself) to change the mindset; we’re all individuals. I know it sounds so simple, but how often are we told to view everyone the same? “Don’t treat anyone differently”… screw that! There is no normal, there is no perfection, and we are all striving to find happiness; the happiness may actually be found in our own individuality. Let’s celebrate it within ourselves as well as others! 

*soapbox dismounted* (by the way, Suki gave me a 4.3 on that dismount, but I refuse to acknowledge her judgment of me)

Money Don’t Buy Ya Class

You know how sometimes you go off in an email and you have to just walk away to let the steam wear off before you actually hit send? I was in one of those quandaries last Thursday night with this blog post. After several days of cooling off, I still don’t really have any nice things to say. You’ve been forewarned.

Let me begin by stating that I am not a part of the club crowd. Even when I was going to clubs, I’d have to get trashed to withstand any of it. Enter the invite I received to the grand opening party of Narcisse Champagne & Tea Lounge, “toasting a new era in elegant dining and nightlife.” They broke the evening up into 3 stages: A VIP/Media Preview from 6-8 (to which I was invited), RSVP’d guests from 8-10, and open to the public starting at 10 for the nightlife. With a name like Narcisse, it didn’t sound like the place would be my speed, but I figured I’d go and at least check out the menu that we were supposed to be sampling during the event.

I arrive at 6 and find a table outside, with velvet ropes and all, manned by unbelievably scantily clad girls with hair teased and sprayed to the skies like they were ready to walk a runway. Rather than donning the latest fashions, however, they had text stamped on their expanses of skin, reading things like “Taste me, I’m delicious!” and lip prints everywhere like there had been an orgy in the dressing room. Now that screams sophistication. My name was checked off the list and I was directed to go down the red carpet to a girl with wristbands. Had it not been for a manager-type guy standing in the way, arguing with another employee, I might have been able to get by. He was not bothered by my presence and I was apparently perfectly capable of turning around and walking on the outside of the rope to get my wristband. Great first impression for a media audience.

As we went up the escalator and in the main entrance, I couldn’t help but notice another  red carpet, photo-op backdrop, several employees standing around talking and texting, and no photographer. Again, as we looked around for some direction, there was no acknowledgement that we were even there. Inside there were people milling about and champagne distributor reps stationed at various tables, ready to fill my non-existent glass. The bar was open, but they weren’t providing champagne glasses. Some detective work devised that we were supposed to grab one from the table at the entrance, not that any direction or assistance was provided whatsoever.

At this point you’re likely saying “but Chase, it was their grand opening and everyone has service kinks to work out on opening night.” Well I actually heard they’ve been open for about a month now and they personally invited the media to come at this time to evaluate the place. It’s not like I was showing up as some secret shopper to sabotage their service, they had my name on a list of people who would be writing about the experience, for goodness’ sake.

After obtaining my champagne glass (that a friend had to grab off the table out front while the employees still looked around like deer in headlights), I even had a problem gaining the attention of some of the distributor reps. A couple of the women were so busy talking to each other that they couldn’t be bothered to pour champagne, and often I had to ask what it was that was poured in my glass. Come on people, it’s your job to sell me on the damn product! The supposed sampling of the menu amounted to a bite of steak on a pile of garlic mashed potatoes with, as I believe the cocktail waitress described them, “some cute little mushroom things.” I wanted to say “Awww, bless your heart, honey, you’re sweet. Now go put some clothes on and run along back to school.” It tasted good, but a plastic fork and no knife made it difficult to eat for those with smaller mouths than mine. I was also lucky enough to score a plastic cup of greens with some sweet dressing and a slice or two of pear. When questioned about the dressing, the second cocktail waitress had to run back to the kitchen to retrieve the answer. It didn’t matter, since I couldn’t hear the response over the noise of the crowd. Sure was some elegant dining!

So that brings up another point, as the venue filled with hundreds of people (still supposedly the VIP/Media phase of the evening), it became ever-so-apparent that the place had high ceilings; it was loud and hot. There’s something seriously wrong about having sweat drip down my back in the middle of winter at a cocktail reception. To add to the crowd, there were ridiculous performers scattered about. As if a ballerina belonged at the bar, stretching her legs out and doing pirouettes? Then there was the indescribable chick in the photo who was just floating along the floor and creeping people out with random cotton ball antics.

We decided to get some air and head out to the balcony where we could hear each other speak. Unfortunately, they had the heat lamps turned on outside. When I asked one of the servers if they could turn off the one above us, I got an uneasy response of “I don’t know, I don’t think we can, but maybe you could move to the other end where there are smaller heat lamps.” So much for getting some air!

I saw a lot of great people who I would love to have sat down and caught up with under different circumstances, but I just had to get out of there. At 7:50pm I had to fight my way past people to get out the door and saw the line of apparent RSVP’d guests growing downstairs. I stopped elsewhere to get some dinner on the way home and managed to tweet the sentiment that still resonates today: thank you, Narcisse, for bringing my own personal hell a little closer to home. This place embodies everything I cannot stand about our society that should have been left in Vegas, as described in their own words…

“This unique Champagne & Tea Lounge is suited to fulfill the desires and needs of the affluent self loved characters from all the surrounding areas of Scottsdale to metro Phoenix. The champagne bar will serve as an upscale destination with an air of sophistication and sensual style. The atmosphere inter mingles genres of stately old world opulence with a nuance of modern charm. Narcisse is a unique gathering place intended to stimulate the senses of taste sight and sound. Its progressive atmosphere will tease, excite and celebrate these senses continually throughout the experience.”


I have a confession to make… I’ve been impersonating a food blogger. I don’t know how it happened; I don’t cook well, I have no education in gastronomy, I simply like to eat and tweet. This has somehow afforded me the opportunity to attend various media events and grand opening celebrations and it is now time to fess up and tell you all about it!


Let’s start with an event at Deseo at the Westin Kierland resort. The location is down a beautiful staircase and we all started the evening in the cocktail bar with a muddling class, learning to make mojitos.I’m not much of a mojito fan, as the lime and mint can often overwhelm my gringo taste buds, but the staff here muddled the mint so gently and kept the simple syrup so simple (and less syrupy) that they were quite light and refreshing. They also made us some berry mojitos to throw a different twist on the classic. I could imagine sucking quite a few of these beverages down by the pool any time. They also treated us to some popcorn drizzled with truffle oil, a little-known foodie trick to keep things interesting. After the muddling class we were escorted to the counter in the dining room for a ceviche lesson with renowned chef Douglas Rodriguez. After watching the creation of three different ceviches and sampling all of them, I was quite impressed with the fact that each had an incredibly unique flavor. I do have to admit that I was disappointed in the lack of avocado, as I like the buttery contrast to all the acid, but the rainbow ceviche was amazingly fresh and delicious.

Our event at Deseo continued with a dual-entree of steak and sea bass with a couple of sides. The steak was good, but the fish was the star of the evening for me. I cannot begin to describe the perfect, buttery, crisp crust on this piece of fish and the tender belly that just melted in my mouth. The night was topped off with a tasty dulce de leche dessert. In all fairness, we were treated like absolute royalty and to experience even half of this would probably put a serious dent in anyone’s wallet. The Miami-style Latin cuisine is not something that often interests me, but I will visit Deseo again because of their unmistakable mastery of seafood.

The Herb Box

Let’s move on to the media grand opening event of The Herb Box location on the Scottsdale Waterfront. These local darlings have taken over the former Estate House and done a great job turning it into an exciting, welcoming, yet casual dining atmosphere. With an amazing cheese selection, unique wine list, and decadent red velvet macarons, we had a great introduction to the place. The owners are friendly people who are obviously passionate about utilizing fresh ingredients and bold flavors. What excites me most about The Herb Box is the market concept they’ve incorporated at the street level, where you can stop by and pick up a sandwich, salads, bags of their light and crispy plantain or sweet potato chips, some artisan cheese, and/or unbelievable baked goods. There are even some soon-to-be-stocked wine shelves at the market to provide everything you need for a romantic evening at home at a convenient pickup location. Fingers crossed for some Arizona wines to make the inventory!

Sunshine Moon Peking Pub

Moving on to perhaps the biggest surprise, Sunshine Moon Peking Pub. An odd name, for sure, but you have to respect a guy who names a restaurant based on a line out of his young daughter’s mouth. Again we were treated like royalty, with personal visits from the owners and chef and a never ending delivery of food and wine. But I was blown away by… wait for it… the perfectly medium-rare pub burger with a runny egg, caramelized onions, and kewpie mayonnaise all piled on top of a super-soft brioche bun. Yes, you heard correctly, someone has successfully combined a Chinese restaurant with a pub and mastered an awesome burger. The wings were also very well cooked with a well-balanced pineapple glaze over evenly crispy and meaty chicken. A solid Mongolian Beef dish started the entrees off right. In fact, we tried almost everything on the menu and it was all damn good. The Orange-Peel Chicken was a bit of a sodium bomb for me, but it was a favorite of others at the table, so I’d recommend trying it to decide for yourself. The Shrimp in Lobster Sauce was a special treat, with a sauce that might as well have been made from egg drop soup. Don’t be too thrown off by the menu reading black beans, as they only sprinkle a couple throughout the dish and I wasn’t really able to discern why.

Another great dish at Sunshine Moon was the “Soft Egg, Soft Noodle.” This puppy was a bowl of perhaps the best noodles I’ve ever had, with incredibly flavorful beef, and the fried egg on top just threw it over the moon. Did I mention dessert? Classic rainbow sherbet and a dish of fried ice cream with cream cheese and strawberry sauce. A “kind of deconstructed strawberry cheesecake,” as described by the chef (who is quite yummy in his own right). The evening was one of those rare moments when you think to yourself “this is a good day… good day indeed.” The endless array of amazing dishes, the bottomless glasses of wine, the comfortable atmosphere, and most of all, the incredible company of friendly faces made for a truly memorable night. Is it traditional, authentic Chinese food? Probably not. Is it a gourmet stop on the Scottsdale culinary roadmap? Nah. Is it quality ingredients with good flavors, plentiful portions, and convenient takeout? Absolutely, and I’m a big fan.

Open Eyes

I took a quick road trip to my hometown this weekend. I drove right past the crowds and the news vans and the roadside memorials, choosing not to make this trip about the sensational tragedy that took place last week. Instead, I spent hours reconnecting with my best friend from kindergarten. She’s my “be fri” and I’m her “st ends”, as evidenced by the corny, broken-heart necklaces we both still have from grade school. We talked about work, life, love, and our lack of appreciation for what’s right in front of our faces in this never-ending quest for happiness.

As I departed I looked out at the beautiful desert, reminded of the days when we learned to make prickly pear jelly and dried fruit leather out on the porch. I drove past my elementary school where my first and only screenplay was acted out in front of the whole assembly by the cool, older sixth-graders. As I went by my junior high I wondered if the mural still hung in the library, and my mind wandered to those mornings when I got out of class to help paint it with my first major crush. I giggled again like a schoolgirl as I envisioned him painting his “autograph” on my cutoff jeans; I don’t think I ever washed those.

Why is it that so often it takes a terrible act to force us to take stock of our lives? I’m not claiming to be happy or to have found the meaning of life, I’ve been the textbook definition of alone since birth, I’m overweight, sick of the city, and unsatisfied with a typical 9-5 job. But today I’m surrounded by amazing people, I have experiences of which others only dream, and if I can just remember to see the beauty in each and every day, I might just make the world a better place.

On the drive back across the desert, I passed by an orchard I’ve seen a million times. I pulled over and truly saw it for the first…

Hodge-Podge Blog

I took some time away from the daily grind last week to indulge the groupie in me and reminisce about being in the music ‘scene.’ A musician that I admire had a post offering free admission into a show for volunteers to help out on the current tour. Assuming it was to sell merch, I replied expressing my interest. Little did I know, they were more desperate for a “runner” (this is where I impress y’all with the lingo).

You see, when on tour, bands can’t exactly use the tour bus to drive around town and get to radio interviews, back and forth from the hotel to the venue, and/or out to eat. Rather than spend ridiculous amounts of money on car services or taxis at every stop, they utilize their street team and social media fan base to acquire free transportation… pretty savvy! So there I was, detailing my car, coming up with the perfect playlist, borrowing a GPS (just in case they stumped me), and even baking zucchini bread for the roadies, all in preparation and excitement to be designated chauffeur for a day.

Of course, 360 days out of the year a convertible low-rider is ideal transportation in Phoenix; this turned out not to be one of those days. A horrendous hail storm had the band arriving late, forced me to recover from a slight hydroplane incident, created a nightmare of roof leaks at the club, and caused a simple 2-minute drive from the venue to the hotel to become a 20-minute adventure down random side streets.

I think I saw genuine panic in the singer/songwriter’s face, questioning whether he had found himself in a kidnapping scenario (which I actually contemplated after he got his shower and smelled sooooooo good and we locked eyes and… WHEW, back to reality). Once he got the map on his iPhone working, his nerves dissipated and we bonded with some great 1-on-1 time. The entire band and crew were very gracious and really down to earth; I have enormous respect for these musicians, who even listened patiently to my babble about the quality of wines being produced in Arizona. Honestly, the free admission and cd of the performance were an unnecessary bonus by the end of the night.

On another note, I was providing a wine tour through the vineyards at Page Springs Cellars last week and I almost stepped on this retro-gem of a critter. Don’t let my picture fool you (had nothing to show scale), he was about the length of my index finger! Extensive Google mastery has identified him as a male Eastern Hercules Beetle (a type of Rhinoceros beetle); the largest beetle in North America and usually only found east of Texas?! Coincidence that the band I had driven around the previous day had come from Texas? It’s the little things that intrigue me, but he was darn pretty & scary at the same time.


*Disclaimer* This blog post contains my venting. If you are sensitive to venting, please check back, as I hope to have a more positive blog posted by next week. Thank you for your understanding and support.

First up, there is a reason I am not an event planner. There is just too much coordination involved and I want nothing to do with it. That being said, I go to a lot of events and have no problem providing what I hope will be taken as constructive criticism to those that plan them. For instance, the Taste of Chandler festival was a bit doomed by the storm, but had the people working the entrance been a bit more on the ball, the wine being served not been god-awful, and the VIP bags actually been handed out, I would’ve had more positive things to say about the event. The highlights of the evening (aside from hanging with some great peeps) were the gourmet tacos served by none other than Rubio’s and the amazing tea-infused pork and lavender-basil lemonade from Urban Tea Loft.

Taste of Chandler behind us, let’s move on to the Arizona Taco Festival. There’s no doubt that the guys from EaterAZ have proven they are master marketers, what with their bizarre promo videos, bright pink branding, enrolling luchadores to wrestle, and adding Surfside IV to the main stage at the last-minute. They’ve apparently improved their event planning skills from the BBQ festival as well (don’t know – didn’t go), as other reviews of the taco festival were quite glowing in comparison. Still, I feel the need to get off my chest how much they managed to frustrate me at the entrance.  We had tickets and followed the signs, had our bags thoroughly checked and our licenses scrutinized like nobody’s business (would’ve saved a lot of time by just asking if I intended to drink), only to be turned away because we weren’t VIP. And I quote “the sign says VIP Only.” Really?!? Now, I’m not claiming to be an avid reader, but I’m seeing a few more words on that there sign.

So we hauled our asses back into the back of the general admission line (that was moving entirely too slow) and were given no direction when we finally entered, tickets still in hand. We wandered through the breezeway toward the tacos, only to be turned around again by someone stating “you have to go to one of the side tents to get a wristband.” You’d think one of the 5 people at the single-line entrance could’ve indicated such a thing! There were a ton of people in those obnoxious pink shirts that seemed to be doing absolutely nothing. Needless to say, I was ready to blow a gasket. Luckily we found our friends, who had cleverly staked out a random tent to keep me from turning into a lobster, and I put it aside for a couple of hours. Nothing has ever really excited me about tacos, but I did manage to sample Petite Maison’s French crepe-version and it was tasty.

People seemed to really be enjoying the food (and the margaritas). And I must admit I was seriously entertained by the little kids that strapped on masks and jumped into the wrestling ring… how can you not wince in laughter as a 6 year-old boy body slams his buddy? Had we waited any later to go to the festival, however, I would’ve been livid. That stellar marketing, coupled with inefficiency at the gate, caused the entrance line to grow as far as the eye could see. We tracked it all the way across the bridge at the Scottsdale Waterfront and out to Stetson, as evidenced by the photos.

And, for the random thought of the day…

I’m sorry, but if you have to look THROUGH the steering wheel to see in front of your car, you need to get off the damn road… period. And before you all jump to your stereotypical conclusions (like I did), this driver is not 90 years old. In fact, when I passed, it was a girl no more than 20, who would brake and rise up on her tippy-cheeks every time she wanted to change lanes (a cause for road rage by itself).

Taste of the Nation Arizona

There are a several facets of my life that stay relatively separate: my family, my work, my friendships, my business, etc. Each piece is very important to me and each helps me to grow, but I often (selfishly) keep them separate, so I always have an escape. Because of this, there are a lot of very important people in my life that never fully understand me. I share stories and they try to relate, but that’s usually where it ends.

There’s a common philosophy that food and wine bring people together. I’ll be the first to attest that a bottle of my favorite wine cracked open in my empty house is little to get excited about; it usually just tastes like… wine. But take that same bottle to a dinner party, or a picnic by the creek, or share it on a romantic night and it turns into something spectacular! Some of you are nodding your heads right now and recalling wonderful memories, but others will think I’m totally exaggerating and blow off the concept. It’s not that you haven’t had a great meal or tasted a great wine, it’s just that you haven’t consciously opened up your senses to work in harmony.

Last Sunday evening several of my worlds collided and I had the opportunity to share this concept with a dear friend (we’ll dub her AB). The event was Taste of the Nation at Sanctuary Resort, a gathering of 11 chefs to prepare menus from cities around the country, all in an effort to curb childhood hunger. The evening started with a cocktail contest, where AB and I sampled various concoctions to sufficiently warm things up. Terrific cheeses were also provided by MouCo and shrimp skewers from the Herb Box. Having the opportunity to introduce AB to several of my foodie friends in an active environment, where no one was forced to make awkward small talk, was great.

It was time to be seated for dinner. Now, I must confess we were skeptical about our table assignment, as Kansas City was the locale, we were told the main features were BBQ & bourbon (neither of which excite me), and Cafe ZuZu was in charge of the cooking (I hadn’t ever tasted any of their cuisine). Shame on me for doubting the powers that be (you know who you are), as each course was incredibly delectable. The first course was a barbeque-glazed lobster over corn grits with a buttery sauce to accentuate the decadence of the dish. And it was presented in a damn cool dish too (I want a set of those!). A crisp Pinot Gris helped to cut the richness of flavors and it all went down way too easily.

The second course included a spare rib with a bourbon barbeque sauce (my apologies for the half-eaten picture, I just couldn’t wait). The meat practically fell off the bone and the sauce was sweet with a little spice, but carefully avoided overpowering the rib. On the opposite side, pork belly… I’ve never met a pork belly I didn’t like. Even the slaw in the center was tasty (and I’ve always hated slaw). Not being a bourbon girl, I had a hard time with the fig cocktail, but I was getting pretty toasty by now anyway.

I think it was at this point that AB completely shocked me. She’s always a finicky eater, needing to know every little thing that’s on her plate while having multiple dipping sauces available at all times. I watched as she cleared her plate and said she was, without a doubt, going to be visiting Cafe ZuZu in the near future.

By course 3 we were completely spoiled. Potato fingerlings with petite green beans, microgreens, lardons, and a quail egg. That’s right, what’s a salad without bacon, eggs, and potatoes? This was a great pairing with the light Pinot Noir. I mentioned such and AB said “see, that I don’t know. The wine is good and the food is great, but I have no idea if they go together?” This is when the night was taken to a new level and more of my worlds collided. “It’s not as complicated as some make it out to be,” I said, “take a drink of water and then a sip of wine.” She complied followed by a nod. “Now take a bite of the bacon and a sip of the wine.” Her eyes grew wide and she said “wow, it just like amplified the flavor of the bacon!” My job here is done.

When you didn’t think it could get any more meat-alicious, course 4 was presented. Short ribs and “brownies” (aka burnt ends). What you probably can’t tell from the picture is that there are razz cherries and garlic cloves that have been soaked in some mystery wine sauce atop the burnt ends (let that sink in for a minute). I cannot begin to describe the amazing flavors, but if you hear that chef Sean Currid has disappeared, it’s likely because someone has kidnapped him to recreate this amazing recipe.

How can you bring a meal like that to a close? Well, you can’t. But you can try with an almond apple tart, salted caramel ice cream, and a dessert wine that might as well be bottled for syrup.

Was it a beautiful venue? Indeed. Decadent food? Without a doubt. Tasty drinks? Yes. Intriguing people-watching? Sure. All for a good cause? Absolutely. Would I have enjoyed it half as much without my dear friend? Not a chance. We lowered the top on the convertible, soaking up the cool night air and moonlight as we bonded about boys on the drive home… it was a good night… scratch that, it was a great night.

Thanks so much to everyone that helped organize the event! And to Sean Currid and his team from Cafe ZuZu and Hotel Valley Ho, you rocked the evening.

Austin Review

I’ve been told time and time again that Austin is my kind of town, but it took 35 years to get my ass out there. After a piece of cake flight, I met up with one of my girls and we grabbed a rental car. The drive from the airport to a friend’s apartment was amazing; rolling hills with bridges over serene water. I was awestruck by the contrast of the stone cliffs cut through the intensely green hills. Of course, the trip was not free from my insane clumsiness. We couldn’t get through the gate at the apartment complex because she’s got no home phone to buzz us through. A car came out and I tried to discreetly sneak through, but the damn thing closed too fast. I had to back up to the side to let another car in and was then instructed by my passenger to “gun it” to follow them through. Of course, gunning it would’ve been much more productive had I not still been in reverse. Barely avoiding jumping the curb and hitting a tree, we proceeded through the gate after the next car, unable to breathe through tears of laughter.

Once united, we headed downtown to figure out what all the bat fuss was about. For the Austin neophytes, apparently the Congress bridge is home to 1.5 million bats who take off at night in search of food. As it’s the largest urban bat colony, there is even a “bat hotline” to call for parking information and expected takeoff time. We planted ourselves on a couple blankets in the grass and watched as bats filed out from under the bridge in large clouds. As you can see from the picture, it’s difficult to snap pictures of the bats themselves, but it’s quite a tourist attraction and was a nice introduction to the lively vibe of the city.

Having survived bat-mania, we headed down South Congress for a late dinner and a little nightlife. Toiling over the decision about where to eat, we landed inside the South Congress Cafe, a trendy spot with a 15 minute wait at like 9:30pm. Despite the posh atmosphere, the vibe was quite comfortable and welcoming.

Thanks to a ringing endorsement from our waitress, we started with the most tender calamari I have ever had in my life (and trust me, I’ve eaten a LOT of squid). When the entrées came out we were in such a pleasant mood that we just couldn’t resist some food or foul/fowl antics with the Goat Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Quail dish. Don’t let the immaturity fool you, the flavor was incredible with a balsamic blackberry sage “gastrique”. I ordered the Beef Milanesa that quickly became the hit of the evening. The waitress was kind enough to bring an extra dish of the crawfish cream gravy that I proceeded to drown my beef, garlic mashed potatoes, and even the remaining bread from the basket in… it was outstanding. Unfortunately, the crab enchiladas appeared to be a bit of a let-down in comparison to the indulgence of the other dishes, but we left quite happy with our decision to dine at South Congress Cafe in a land of culinary treats.

The amount of people out on the streets in the middle of the night was overwhelming; there’s no denying the energy of this city. The crowd is incredibly diverse and yet comfortable, with everyone embracing the idea of keeping Austin weird. We slept with the windows open to a beautiful cool breeze and I awoke to the sun rising over the lush landscape… then proceeded to flip over and sleep another couple of hours. We debated about breakfast and took a tweeps suggestion of Torchy’s for breakfast tacos. Sure enough, they were fresh and tasty and went well with the creamy guac and chips we got on the side. The “Little Nookies” weren’t so much the deep-fried chocolate chip cookies described, as they came out chewy cornflake-coated cookie dough balls. Horrible texture, but you can’t win ’em all.

We headed back to South Congress to see what the daylight had to offer us beside blistering heat. We lucked out with little humidity, but after a few funky galleries and some ridiculous spending on jewelry at the artisan tents, we were toast. Austin has a great street-food culture and refreshment was calling. I snapped a picture of these awesome condos I was checking out while chillin’ with my “tiger’s blood” sno-cone (the top floor supposedly houses an indoor hot tub).

After driving to check out the sites and taking much-needed showers, we headed out to Fino for dinner.  The Za’atar Potato Chips with Preserved Lemon Yogurt was an exciting combination and the Pork Pinchito Skewers were tender and tasty at happy hour prices. The Fried Anchovie Olives left a bit to be desired, but seeing as how they were on the house, we were hardly swayed to run. I have to admit I was also thrown by my sangria that was pink and seemed packed with green apple slices, but my entrée was a tasty treat with a light and flaky Loch Duart Salmon over roasted corn and local tomatoes. The Texas Grass-fed Steak was huge, but surprisingly tough against the melt-in-your-mouth Yukon Gold Potato & Manchego Gratin. And finally, the Roasted Dewberry Hills Farm Chicken was unbelievably tender and juicy, with the smoked paprika glaze forming a beautiful crust. Having some time to kill before the big show, we went to Téo for some gelato (highly recommend the caramel flavor) and relaxing conversation on the patio.

It was now time to head to the infamous Antone’s to check out the Austin music scene. The opening “band” (I put that in quotes because I’m not convinced they were unified in any sense) was a horrible rendition of a high school band warm-up session. Saxophone and trumpet blaring with a weak beat on a drum set and scratching on electric guitar strings does not a band make. It was painful for all involved and, had I not known the main act was incredible live, I would’ve walked out with a sour taste for the local talent. However, I had faith that the sounds would get better and was proven correct with the second act called The Soldier Thread, a solidly talented group of youngin’s. While not exactly lyrically complex, the vocals were haunting and the addition of the viola and xylophone took it up a notch to download-worthy.

My one wish for the night was that I had gone with my usual concert attire and donned my docs. Unfortunately, I dressed up and my toes were numb before the main act even took the stage. As I watched Bob Schneider chat up the VIP crowd in the comfort of his “hometown,” I could barely resist the urge to strangle him for making me stand around in heels, waiting for him to take the stage; I was literally standing on pins and needles and any excitement was draining fast. It was well after 11pm when the band kicked in and I have to admit they seemed to have a different air about them from the Phoenix performances I’ve witnessed. I think it was a little bit of laziness mixed with some fun funkiness. I obviously wouldn’t have seen Bob perform numerous times if I didn’t think he put on an amazing live show and this was no exception, between the one-handed keyboarding and the harmonica strapped to his chin, I have never known anyone to hold such diverse talent. He sings everything from rap to bluegrass to romantic ballads, but what took the cake was when he picked up a trumpet and (after drenching him in valve-oil), kept up with the incredible Ollie Steck. You’ve officially impressed me once again, Bob.

After crawling back to the apartment and soaking my feet in a bathtub of cold water, we slept in until some ungodly hour. The Triumph Cafe provided a solid breakfast with a patio perfect for lounging, surrounded by big trees and active birds. I was sad to leave this place where I felt so at ease and yet so energized and even sadder to say goodbye to good friends. I was almost convinced to stay an extra couple days, I had the time off and Bob was playing an even more intimate show the following night. My friends took opposing sides like the angel and devil on each shoulder, but I decided to depart with a longing in my heart (and some money left in my wallet and diet plan in the works).

Until next time, Austin…

Secret Decoder Ring

I’m not going to pretend to be a master of Twitter; it intrigues me and I have done my best to flail around the crazy Twitterverse for the past year or so. While there are millions of tweets that are pointless and some just plain crazies, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have met a damn fun crowd of great people!

Last night I knew I was in for trouble. For some reason there was a plethora of gatherings occurring in the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas and I had the urge to attend all of them. It started with a simple #cheesedate at Petit Fromage, where the lovely Lara threw away all concept of rehab for her broken wing to sling us some damn tasty artisan cheeses from around the world. She even provided an impromptu lesson on her vast collection of cheese knives and the secret of salami handling.
Her shop is located within Delicious Dishes on 7th St & Missouri, where I was surprised to find the prices on Arizona Stronghold wines are several bucks cheaper than most retail outlets (you’re welcome for that handy nugget!).

After the #cheesedate, several of us headed to SunUp Brewery on Camelback to meet up with Joel. He’s had to deal with the ChowBella-dubbed “shit show” of a #CrazyAmy saga all week and sometimes you just want to provide the unspoken support of having a brewski at the tramp & loser table with a bunch of vagabonds.

After the brewery I made a stop at home and almost got sucked into the abyss of my couch. I think I lost an hour or two of time, but my love of Stephanie, from @skinnyjeans fame, got my ass out to O’Donoghue’s in north Scottsdale just in time to find all the tweeps were closing their tabs. Some quick socializing with Tim from Weekly Wine Journal and Eric from Shwaag and a gander at the band, Easton Ashe, got me motivated to hit late night at Petite Maison in old town.

As if a late night #staffmeal with melt-in-your-mouth foie gras mac & cheese and a Citrus-vodka Ginger Rosemary Rickey red cup special isn’t enough to get me out to Petite Maison, it was the ever-so-charming @GritsNYC’s birthday celebration! If you haven’t yet met Stacey, she is the most genuine person on the face of the planet, and her husband @sir_eccles has got some bollocks. The event would not have been complete without some hair-singeing: shots of bootleg limoncello and Tony of Desert Smoke BBQ gracing the birthday girl with an unreleased bottle of ghost chili sauce that she proudly displayed from her cleavage.

As the night wrapped up I came home to find texts, tweets, and Facebook mentions to remind me that overcoming my social-hermit tendencies is always worth the effort. And if you’re curious about the powers of social media and looking to find that secret decoder ring to understand more of this post, do yourself a favor and contact Diya Marketing… I guarantee, she wears the ring with grace.

Thanks to all these friends and tweeps for including me in on the fun:

@DiyaMarketing, @PetitFromageAZ, @GritsNYC, @SkinnyJeans, @SherilynMclain, @DragonflyTweet, @AndrewKfromAZ, @sir_eccles, @AZHotDish, @wklywinejournal, @CWGalli, @DesertSmokeBBQ, @FoodTrampEF, @ciaoMari, @lafinguy, @1Tap, @azlobo, @fluxus73, @PetiteMaisonAZ (and non-tweeters Nathan & Lisa and anyone else I may have missed!)

Stay tuned, as the #PumaProwl will be hitting the road in September for an all-day wine tour with Arizona Grape Escapes!! I cannot begin to imagine how entertaining that journey is going to be…