Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Croatia, I Can’t Quit You!

Next week, on July 1st, Croatia will join the EU, and while I wish Croatia the very best for the future, I also feel rather protective of a country I’ve come to love.

To paraphrase a quote from Brokeback Mountain : "I can't make it on a couple a visits once or twice a year. You're too much for me, Croatia, I wish I knew how to quit you.” 

This year, I’ve received more emails from readers looking for food and wine recommendations in Croatia than any other destination. Here are a few excerpts from people who wrote to me asking about BIBICh. {Click to enlarge images}

As I continue to write about wine, food, and wine tourism, and assist readers in pursuit of their own discovery of Croatia and other destinations; I dearly hope it's not spoiling my favorite places in the process. I hope it's helping places to carry on.

The first time I visited Croatia was in 2003, it was summer and the coastal villages of Istria were packed and bustling with sun seekers from neighboring European countries, especially Germany.

Ten years later, Croatia is now on the radar of most Americans, and in the last several years Croatia has been touted as the hot new "undiscovered" destination in magazines and featured on many travel guide top ten lists. I worry about Croatia and the possibility that it will be ruined by rapid growth to accommodate the surge in tourism.  I worry that I may be contributing to the problem.

Once emerging destinations become mature, the magazines lose interest and the crowds are off to another trendy hot spot, until the cycle comes back around and it's deemed the newly “rediscovered” destination. But Croatia is so much more than a spot on a list. Croatia is more than a trend. Croatia is in it for the long term.

Even though I worry about being part of the problem, I think blogging about little known wines and wine regions around the world is a service to wine lovers. Without the word of mouth you might never hear of some wines. And some under the radar wine regions need to be discovered solely so that they can continue to exist.

This past March I was in Croatia again. I came home longing for Teran. {Which as of July, won’t be called Teran-- see here for more about that}

I craved Posip with botocnie salad or some other morsel plucked fresh from the sea.

I dreamed of little hand-rolled fuzi pasta with a drizzle of fine Istrian olive oil.

No, I can’t quit Croatia. And you won’t be able to either after you read my new multi-part series on the wine and food of Istria coming up next on my blog.

In the meantime I offer you-- Top Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Trip to Croatia:

1. Download Apps Before You Go
In my opinion the best app for food and wine in Croatia is Taste of Croatia.

You can also follow Taste of Croatia on twitter here: @tasteofcroatia

The Tourist Board of Istria app is also useful:

2. Hire a Local Guide
Many people think a tour guide is going to be boring and akin to following someone holding up an umbrella saying walk this way and just spouting out lots of dates and names. But that is not the case when you work one on one with a local guide. The local tourist board can help you locate a qualified guide to suit your needs. 

For foodies and wine enthusiasts looking for a customized experience in Zagreb, Istria, and other parts of Croatia, I recommend Mladen Car of Funky Zagreb. Here is Mladen ’s Trip Advisor page.

3. Get Lost in the Hinterlands
Rent a car and wander around in the back country. Follow the food and wine trails of the hinterlands of Istria. You’ll discover wonderful places well off the coast-side tourist trail.

4. Book Winery Appointments in Advance
Some of the best wineries are very small operations and need to know well in advance if you will be visiting in order to welcome you for a wine tasting. Another good reason to work with a local guide is they can facilitate winery appointments that may be difficult to secure on your own.

5. Pack an extra bag for all your wine and cheese and olive oil purchases. It’s well worth the second bag fee for the bounty of flavors you’ll want to take home with you.

6. Tell’em Marcy sent you! –Well, that will only work in a very few places, but give it a try anyway.

Links to Forbes Travel Guide and my other posts on Croatia:

Spending Two Perfect Days in Zagreb
Best Places to Eat, Drink and Stay in Istria

Croatia Series:
Croatia Series Preview: Zivili!
Croatia Part 1: Bibich Dégustation
Croatia Part 2: The Splendors of Split
Croatia Part 3: Šibenik Caressed by the Sea
Croatia Part 4: Zadar, The Perfect Date
Croatia Part 5: Pilgrimage to Pag: Land of Paški Sir
Croatia Part 6: Istria--Truffles, Olive Oil, Prosciutto & Wine!
Croatia Part 7: A Taste of Zagreb

The Wines of Croatia: A Preview Tasting
Croatian Wines Making Waves
Country of Good Vines: Countdown to Wines of Croatia
I Can Almost Taste It! Croatian Wine is Near
Wines of Croatia Tasting: The Recap
Ajvar Smackdown
Croatia: Memories Lost and Found
Eli's Caffé in Zagreb--Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
Maraschino - Wrapped in Tradition

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spot Prawns at Blue Canoe in Steveston Village -- #NWRoadtrip Part 2

The many views at Blue Canoe in Steveston, B.C.

I love the random synchronicity quality of twitter-- Earlier in the day I’d seen a series of tweets from Lindsay Anderson about her early morning adventure fishing for spot prawns in a secret location. Little did I know we would be eating those very prawns that same evening at Blue Canoe in Steveston Village.

{You can read Lindsay's account of the spot prawn voyage with Chef Danilo Ibarra on board to assist in the catch here.}

While Steveston Village is only 15 minutes away by car from downtown Richmond, it’s a world away in terms of culture. Originally established in the 1800’s, Steveston, located at the mouth of the Fraser River and the Pacific, became one of the largest fishing and cannery facilities in the British Commonwealth. Today the area is still the place to find the best catch of the day, but shopping, dining, and whale-watching are the economic mainstays in the waterfront village.

In my last post I wrote about our dining experience in Richmond at Vivacity. And while our host was very friendly and cordial, we were indeed the strangers in a strange land that evening. But the minute we walked into Blue Canoe, it was like stepping into a family reunion-- welcoming, relaxed, and fun.

Set on a pier above the Fraser River, Blue Canoe offers great views from the dockside tables and they even provide blankets draped over the chairs in case you get a chill.  We didn't need the blankets, the glass panels on the deck kept the wind at bay, but it was a nice touch. 

As I mentioned at the top of the post, the spot prawns were on our minds and our host and server Bonnie suggested we start out with them. It was... dare I say it...a spot on suggestion.

Spot Prawns all start out life as males and then become Liberace...well not really, but they sure have the star quality one might associate with Liberace. In the prawn world they reign supreme and are only available during a short six week season. They looked to me like mini lobsters and they had a very sweet and rich flavor that was enhanced by a mixed melon slaw and grilled lemon.

Sable fish with orange-ginger-miso glaze

For entrees we each tried one of the fresh fish offerings of the day--Halibut, Trout and Sablefish. I chose the Sablefish, which is also known as black cod.  It was so perfectly cooked the flesh flaked right off like petals from a rose, and its rich flavor, was as Barbra Streisand might say..."like buttha”. The ginger-orange-miso glaze was an ideal support and accent to the dish. I was tempted to run off with my plate and hide so I did not have to share with my table mates. But their dishes were equally delectable. Honestly, I didn’t even take notes about their plates as I was so entranced by my own, but Mattie covers it well here.

I loved the wine Bonnie recommend, a Pentage Pinot Gris from the Okanagan Valley. It had a delicate peach fuzz hue with lychee and citrus flavors, and great minerality that paired well with the entrees we ordered. The wine seemed expensive, but apparently the taxes on alcohol are very high in Canada.  

For dessert, Chef Ibarra drew upon his Nicaraguan heritage and presented a tres leches cake that had all my favotite elements--chocolate, coconut, whipped cream, and caramel--with a plump gooseberry on top. I have no picture to show because my fork won out over my camera in a contest of willpower. 

Bonnie, Chef Ibarra and Kristen aka #PowerStrip
I felt very at home with everyone at Blue Canoe and I started to brainstorm ideas. Yes friends, while most people have a few drinks and relax, I get all markety in my head and conjure up new business ventures. Ask anyone who has traveled with me, and they will testify-- as the hour draws late, or if I am lulled into in a place of contentment from fabulous food and wine-- I start riffing marketing ideas like a monkey on crack.

Chef Ibarra was great fun and a good sport for agreeing to pose in our signature road trip glasses. He was so laid back and charming, I was thinking he would make a terrific TV personality and should have his own cooking show. Blue Canoe could dock a nice tricked out house boat next to the restaurant where guests could hang out and kick back as he prepared a fresh catch of the day for the cameras and audience at home. I think the show should be called Houseboat Chef!  Remember, you heard it here first.

The NWRoadtrip Travel posse with Chef Ibarra in the center
Have no idea who these people are. 
The beauty of visiting Richmond or Vancouver, B.C is the East meets West aspect. If you are hankering for the flavors of the far east you can find it in Richmond. When you desire some excellent seafood in a casual setting, head west to Steveston Village. And remember, if you do go to Blue Canoe, keep an eye peeled for a houseboat docked nearby. Tell Danilo I say hello.

** DISCLOSURE: See here for previous sponsorship verbiage on this trip, but I’d like to add to the disclosure that while our meal at Blue Canoe was sponsored by Richmond Tourism, the camaraderie and rapport we established with Chef Danilo Ibarra, and our server Bonnie, was completely spontaneous and generated entirely on our own. **

Blue Canoe
3866 Bayview Street #140

Follow Chef Danilo Ibarra on Twitter

Monday, June 17, 2013

Finding Foodie Heaven in Richmond, B.C -- Part 1 #NWRoadtrip

The #NWRoadTrip Posse --RAAWWRR!

Here is the first installment on my road trip to WBC13 in Penticton that I embarked on with fellow travel writers and wine bloggers, Kristen Kearns and Mattie Bamman shown above.

Upon arrival we answered a few questions from the border patrol about the nature of our trip:
“What brings you to Canada?”
"We're wine bloggers!"
"What's that?"
"Um, you know we write, on blogs."
"That's a job?"
"Well actually, we are also travel journalists on assignment. Our first stop is in Richmond."
"Okay, that’s good. Welcome to Canada. Drive on.”
( And no, we were not wearing our #NWroadtrip glasses at the time, we are not complete fools.)


My first impression of Richmond was it appeared very clean and compact and everyone drove a BMW or Mercedes. I really did not know what to expect aside from the fact it’s one of the largest Chinatowns in North America and it’s population is 65% Asian. But, I'm a big fan of Lindsay Anderson and her blog, 365 Days of Dining, about the Richmond food scene so I knew there were culinary delights in Richmond to be discovered. Ironically we arrived just two days before her amazing year of blogging came to a close.

We checked into the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel which is well located in the Golden Village city center. Great parks and public transport are all within a few minutes walking distance, so it’s a good place to base your visit and explore by foot.

Our concierge at the Sheraton was helpful with directions, but we still got lost walking to Vivacity Restaurant, and ended up in an alley between an auto parts store, a martial arts studio and the back entrance of a big crazy discount store, called Big Crazy Discount Store of course.

But getting lost is part of the charm of discovering any new area. Incidentally, I must say I felt 100% safe walking around, perhaps there are some dodgy areas of Richmond, but I never came across them.

When we found Viviacity, tucked into one of the countless strip malls of the area, I was relieved to see the Richmond 365 sticker on the door that designated the restaurant as one Lindsay had given high marks. Frankly, I don’t eat Chinese food very often. Pretty much never. I was slightly worried as I am highly sensitive to MSG. So, yes, I wanted to have an authentic dining experience, but not at the cost of an authentic migraine. We ordered the King Crab as it was in season and came highly recommend. Prior to our order being placed, the Crab was brought out to meet us. It was enourmous.

Right before our host carted Mr. King Crab away I eked out--“Um, No MSG? Okay?” and he looked a bit surprised and then replied "Okay, we prepare without.” I later found out they don't generally use MSG anyway, so that may be why he looked surprised by my request.

I felt kind of bad about seeing the crab alive and thinking it was begging us not to eat it, but you know, once it arrived and I tasted it’s tender flesh, I forgot all about it staring at me.

The crab was prepared three ways. Steamed, with garlic and scallions. The scent was heavenly.

Curried, with rice served in the crab shell that appeared to be the size of a football helmet.

And deep fried, with salt and pepper and thinly sliced jalapeno.

All crab photos courtesy of Mattie Bamman

I loved the salt and pepper style. It was crisp and crunchy on the outside, with succulent hunks of rich and flaky-white meat on the inside. It was so perfectly flash fried without a trace of oil or grease whatsoever and delicately seasoned. The fried slices of garlic snapped like tiny potato chips. I rated it Two Yums Up.

I noticed that everyone else in the restaurant had boxes stacked on their table and it was obvious that part of the dining experience was the sizable take home portion of the meal. Our host’s face dropped when we declined to have him wrap up the remains and then we realized we had refrigerators back in our rooms, so we asked to take it with us it and it made him so happy. Plus, I figured, if we got lost walking back, at least we would have food.

That said, we were about the only people on foot in the area, but it allowed us to discover places like this--Super Bored -- which despite our expressions, we were not bored to be there in the least.

Photo credit: Mattie Bamman

It was super weird in parts of Richmond, yes, but I guarantee you, if you visit, you will not be Super Bored. Quite the contrary. It’s like landing on another planet. A planet where all the good stuff to eat is hidden in plain-sight. So wander about, poke around, follow your nose, do NOT judge a restaurant by it’s location, and you will have a great time in this curiously delicious place called Richmond, B.C.

My recommendation to foodies visiting Richmond is consult the Richmond 365 Blog website to determine what style of food you are seeking and follow Lindsay’s suggestions.

Note: You can find Matties perspective on the same meal here.

NEXT UP: Spot Prawns at Blue Canoe with Chef Ibarra in Steveston Village, Richmond,B.C.

Richmond 365 Days of Dining

Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel
7551 Wsestminster Highway
Richmond, B.C.

8351 Alexandra Road
Richmond, B.C.

DISCLOSURE: I sought assistance from Richmond Tourism with some details of the trip described above including lodging and two meals at dining establishments that I specifically requested. I rode in a car owned by Kristen Kearns and paid for one tank of gas with my own money because that’s what you do on a road trip-- you share expenses with your travel companions. I drove approximately one-third of the way from Richmond, B.C. to Oliver, B.C. and was glad to do so because frankly, Mattie Bamman drives way the hell too fast, and like most men would rather drive in circles forever than ask for directions. {Just kidding Mattie, ya know I love you.} All opinions, reviews, and remarks--favorable or otherwise, are my own and the content above has not been vetted or approved by any tourism entity or other person that might in some way benefit from my account of the events. Okay? Okay!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

#WBC13 Penticton --The Best Wine Bloggers Conference Ever?

It was the best of times, it was the worst–…well no, it really was the best of times. The 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, B.C, far exceeded my expectations and I already had a good idea on what was coming, since I previewed the area last year with fellow writers Lesley Trites and Kathleen Rake.

(L to R) Me, Kathleen Rake and Lesley Trites

Here’s why I think WBC13 was the best WBC I’ve attended:

1. The Setting

It’s just hard to beat a location that is so stunning and to have the conference hotel right on the lake made it even better. Plus the organizers capitalized on the location by staging many of the events outdoors, such as the Thursday night reception at See Ya Later Ranch and the Saturday morning Breakfast in The Park across the street sponsored by the Downtown Penticton Association.

2. The Size
I know the organizers want to get as many people as possible to attend, but the relatively small turn out (compared to Portland) made it easy to talk to the producers and exhibitors and to connect with fellow attendees without a crush of humanity in every room. In my opinion the Portland conference was way too crowded and hectic. The decibel level in the Portland ballrooms and tasting sessions was just out of control. I find it difficult to taste wine with so much noise around me, not to mention trying to exchange a few words with the producers. It may have felt a little empty in Penticton, with lots of open seats at the tables –but I liked that and I was able to connect with many more people this year.

3. The Food
Hands down WBC13 had the BEST FOOD EVER for any conference I’ve attended. Even the tasting/table crackers were great, provided by a new company called GONE CRACKERS.

I had a bit of fun with their logo cards here.

4. Opening Reception

When you combine a stellar outdoor location--See Ya Later Ranch, with superb food by Joy Road Catering, and a convivial walk–around tasting atmosphere complete with music, classic cars and performance by the First Nation Indigenous Peoples (well, it was just one guy drumming) --You get the kind of event that is not only memorable, but hard to compete with going forward.

As I mentioned above, WBC13 Pentiction/Okanagan had the best food ever and it all started at the opening reception. People were talking about this dish --the poached salmon and beet dish with sorrel aoli and arugula-- {shown below} all weekend, it was truly sublime. 

Fresh radishes dipped in feta cheese with a crushed hazlenut and spice “dirt"
EVERYTHING at the event was delicious. And the tables were spaced out around the property so you did not have to fight your way to the front. Aside from the first tasting station where the busses left off, everything was very accessible.  

5. Breakfast in the Park
I loved that we got to actually experience the town of Penticton and not just the interior of the hotel. Getting us outside on Saturday morning was genius. Once again the food was incredible and provided by local chefs, bakers and restaurants.

There was an amazing Farmers Market that was also going on at the same time and we had time to wander about and enjoy it as well.

Check out the kids dancing below--

6. Friday Excursions
You actually got a heads up on the type of excursion each bus was heading to although not the exact location as some clamor for. I went on the Wine and Farms bus and it was terrific. {more on that later} The idea that we all meet at the end of the excursion for one big reception was great in concept – but in reality our bus was so late getting there that most everyone was leaving when we arrived and clean glasses were in short supply. I never got one.

But it was still fun and a bit bizarre when these folks wandered in—

I thought they were the winemakers from Dirty Laundry dressed up as a joke, but they turned out to just be a couple staying at the resort. NOTE: If you get the chance, ask Sandra Oldfield of Tin Horn Creek to give her impression of how stunned they looked when they walked in to the party. It’s priceless.

7. After-Party Scene
I’ll tell you right off-- if you are a fan of multiple after parties and non-stop drinking till dawn type of revelry, you may have been disappointed with the party scene in Penticton. It was rather low-key, but Goldilocks here thought it was jusssst right. The J Vineyards and Jordan Party was the best in my opinion, but I think it is every year. They always think of everything right down to providing phone chargers and docking stations scattered about the room. The party ebbed and flowed with people, but it was never so crazy that you could not actually talk to someone. {Although the hotel security did come knocking a few times.}

8. Key Note by Jim Conaway
His delivery could have used a bit of polish, {he is a writer not a public speaker after all} but what he had to say was right on and sparked much discussion throughout the weekend. I really appreciated his point of view and how he made himself accessible to the attendees. He attended the parties too and if you shared any secrets with him don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the next exposé he writes about the deep dark under belly of blogger conferences. (just kidding, Jim) I hope.

9. The Wine
I’ll talk about the specific B.C. wines more in a later post. But I really like that the speed tastings focused on just B.C. wines-- it made for a more focused showcase of the regional wines. Also on hand pouring were the Wines of Greece, Wines of Ontatiro, Wines of Uruguay. Loved the introduction to the wines of Uruguay and I got to taste many wines that were new to me.

10. The People
From all the organizers, the wine associations, tourism associations, and of course the wine makers, --Penticton proved that good old fashion hospitality is alive and well and ingrained in the people of the region.

So kids—I said it here last year in my post on Penticton…that if you miss out on #WBC13 in Penticton—you’re an idiot! And I think I was right.

I’m sure they will put on a great event, in Santa Barbara next year for WBC14, but, I can tell you now, with out a doubt, WBC13 set the bar high. Way high.

PS: In fairness there were a few things not so great this year:
1. The wine glasses in the hotel were not optimal for tasting.
2. Friday Excursions made for a very,very long day on top of a full day agenda.

Next up:  Posts on the Wine,  Excursions,  and the 5 most Hilarious Moments at #WBC13

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Spin the Globe – Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going

Oh wine world, you are such a temptress. So many places to see, wines to taste, people to meet and so little time to do it all. Not to mention trying to stay on top of bloging it all. I am in the midst of a three back-to-back trips. First stop was Mendocino for Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Fest for three fabulous days.

I was home for a day before I flew off to Quebec and the Eastern Townships for Printemps Rose Festival and now just a two days later, I am leaving in just a few hours for Portland where I will meet up with Mattie Bamman of @ravenoustravelr and we will embark on our roadtrip to WBC13  in Penticton, B.C.

We will drive through Seattle and up to Vancouver/Richmond area for two nights where we will be the guests of Tourism Richmond and then on to Oliver, where we will stay at Tinhorn Creek for one night where the Cab Franc is one of my all-time favorites, then we’ll head back up to Penticton and visit Upper Bench Winery and Creamery before we check in to Penticton Lakeside resort for WBC. Follow our hashtag #NWRoadtrip for all the hijinks.

Despite what Richard Jennings wrote here-- I am looking forward to exploring the Vancouver region and will form my own opinion. But my hat is off to him for writing true to his experience and not pulling any punches—although I did take him to task for it in the comments, because who can resist that kind of blog bait? Not me apparently.

At WBC I’ll be part of a panel Friday, June 7th with Michael Wangbickler from Through the Bunghole, Jeannette Montgomery from The Third Glass and Okanagan Writing--on Creating Compelling Content and what exactly it is. But it’s really open to interpretation, so join us if you can, and lend your opinion on the topic.

I hope to catch up soon with all the posts I want to share with you on the wonderful wine regions I have been so fortunate to visit-- including more posts on my darling Croatia and the #RakijaRoad, Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy, Quebec/Eastern Townships, and the Anderson Valley in Mendocino.

See you at WBC, or here on the blog soon.



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