CHIC PLACES: WINE TASTING IN NAPA VALLEY

We arrived in wine country... mid Thursday for my friend’s wedding. We figured we would make a long weekend out of it given the drive and therefore ambitiously left Los Angeles at the crack of dawn (3am to be precise) in order to make our 12:30pm reservation at Bouchon before an afternoon of wine tasting. It was crazy but it worked and despite the lack of sleep we actually had enough energy to last late into the evening. On the drive in we met up with our driver for the day. Full disclosure, Dryver is my husband’s company, a nationwide professional service that drives your car (or rental car in our case) so you don’t have to. It’s essentially a replacement to a black car service that’s much less expensive and way more convenient. Obviously I’m a bit biased, but I've always had a wonderful experience and I would highly recommend it for any day of leisure, especially for a big day in Napa. 




Our first tasting was at Del Dotto, a winery which has three locations in the Napa Valley. The one we visited is known as the Del Dotto Estate, in St. Helena. All of the locations have wine caves but not all have an entrance quite like this! The wine cave was quite impressive, with chandeliers from Murano, Italy and beautiful tile paintings. I believe we sampled about 5-7 various red wines on our tour, in addition to the glass of rosé upon arrival and brut rosé I requested. Our guide was a bit smug but he did know a lot about wine and gave a thoughtful tour. My favorite part, however, were the lovely snacks at the end, which included cheese, charcuterie, chocolate and some yummy pizzas. I don’t exactly know a lot about wine but I do believe this should be a mandatory requirement for any and all tastings, or even just for all glasses served in a cafe, as the Italians do in the afternoon.





After Del Dotto we had a little extra time before our next reservation, so we tried our luck at Joseph Phelps, which unfortunately didn’t have any tasting options available but did let us spend some time exploring their beautiful property. It reminded me of a modern ski chalet with lots of high ceilings and beautiful wood finishes. But as stunning as the interior, the sprawling patio and vineyard view really sealed the deal for me. I could easily spend a full day here with or without wine!



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After our brief hangout at the serene Joseph Phelps winery, we headed to Mumm Napa, which I was excited about given my consistent love for their brut rosé, a staple in our household, as it's the only drink aside from vodka my husband will consume. We didn’t do a tour at Mumm but instead sat down and did a causal tasting. The patio was lively and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves as the sun was slowly setting over the beautiful vineyard. Our server was beyond amazing with such a great personality- just something to note. We ordered a tasting with about 4, maybe 5 glasses of various sparkling wines and strongly considered a cheese board order before opting to leave for pizza my husband was dead set on getting at the Oxbo Public Market




So many of these types of markets have started popping up everywhere, I've been to about three now, in Wisconsin, Santa Barbara, similar to Eataly but with various types of cuisine. They are essentially gourmet food courts to put it simply and I loved Arthur's choice at Live Fire Pizza where he ordered us a margherita pizza and bottle of brut rosé. It was delicious, but apparently, not enough, given my friend Emma and I decided we also needed a yummy cheese plate from Oxbo Cheese and Wine. We ordered The "eurotrip" cheese plate with additional charcuterie and loved it, especially the fig paste. Clearly I just can't ignore a seasonal twist! Before leaving we purchased one last bottle of wine to take home, before calling it a night. Our driver helped us get our stuff into the hotel and we settled in after our big start to the weekend!



-MGS

CHIC PLACES: BOUCHON BISTRO AND BAKERY, YOUNTVILLE

I was so excited... to check out the original Bouchon, as well as the perfectly positioned, and esteemed, Bouchon Bakery next door. I had been to locations in Las Vegas and Beverly Hills, but as for most popular restaurants that expand, trying the original place is always preferable. To clear any suspense, neither disappointed. We arrived just before or reservation at 12:30pm, by sheer luck given we had driven all the way up from Los Angeles that morning. But we were determined to arrive on time, as we had reservations for wine tasting that afternoon.



While the rest of the party scoured the extensive, college application-like wine list, as do most people in Napa Valley, I just couldn’t help but order the Autumn Spritz. Shall I even bother explaining why? Like a typical spritz the cocktail had Aperol of course, but instead of sparkling wine they used vodka and added St. Germian, cremant and a lemon instead of an orange. It was delicious and a great divergence from all the wine I knew we'd be consuming the rest of the day. 

Given we had quite an afternoon ahead of us I wasn't craving anything too heavy, but I also wanted something substantial before all the wine, so I ordered oysters and fries, which is basically a genius meal irregardless. Fortunately for me my equally cheese obsessed husband ordered onion soup before his madame croquet sandwich, allowing me to get my French fix without a full commitment. The bread was of course spectacular, as is all the bread and baked goods in Napa Valley given their common supplier, Bouchon Bakery!



Everything was great; the food, the atmosphere, my festive spritz. My only hang-up was that our table was ready almost 30 minutes late and not on the quaint little patio as I had requested. However, the service was good and it was certainly a nice experience I would recommend for a nice lunch in Yountville. 


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After lunch we didn't have time to pop into the bakery, so I made sure we went back on our way out of Napa at the end of the weekend. I suppose you could say our trip started and ended in the same delicious place. Since we had about a 45 minute drive to the airport and a re-eye to New York City, I didn't want to go too crazy on the sweets. However, the second I walked in I just couldn't help but indulge a bit with a vanilla almond milk latte and this spectacular 'better nutter', a delicious peanut butter cream cookie sandwich that I could barely finish because of how rich and decadent it was. However, it was well worth the several bites I managed and I still think about now. 



I can't exactly say the same for my husband, who managed to find not one but three treasures to take away; a well appointed chocolate eclair, a Bouchon oh oh (what a name right) and unfortunately I can't remember the third one. However, I am happy to report that for the first time he let go of unfinished desserts, not because they weren't fantastic, but rather due to how much rich and delicious food we had already consumed throughout the weekend. And it was the perfect treat before our next set of travel, and a definite recommendation for any trip to wine country! 



-MGN

CHIC PLACES: LA TROPEZIENNE FRENCH BAKERY

I came across this place on Instagram... as expected in the year 2019. Aside from looking like a perfect spot to settle in for a couple hours, the bakery itself has some delicious treats and outstanding coffee. The croissant was so big and buttery I ended up actually leaving some behind, not without a mountain of regret less than an hour later. 


I sat here for a good hour and a half, catching up on emails, sipping coffee and debating whether or not it was cool enough in West Hollywood that day to legitimize my thick sweater choice. I didn't get much more than ten minutes to read the featured spread about the new Downton Abbey movie in Town & Country, which I hope everyone reading this has already seen and loved as much as myself. How witty and clever the writing was, with so many heartwarming moments and all the glamorous details we were craving since the beloved show's final episode. 


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But before leaving to start my day, I also happened to have a random, but nice chat with the girl sitting next to me. I must say it's quite reassuring that in the year 2019, when almost everyone is attached to some type of screen for hours on hours each day, that I can still meet a person face to face and have a nice conversation. Is it baffling to think people still meet each other in real life? Particularly at quaint little coffee shops like this one?


So where exactly is this quaint little Parisian cafe, where one might sit and meet a perfectly normal stranger? La Tropezienne is located on La Brea Avenue in the La Brea neighborhood  near West Hollywood, but they also have a spot in downtown Los Angeles with a black and white checkered floor I'm eager to visit. 


In addition to my delicious croissant, I also snagged a pretty lemon tart for my sugar addicted husband, who was so grateful and was more than willing to trek back down to the garage to devour it, despite the fact it had been sitting in my trunk for a few hours. And I came home happy to have found yet another great option for a lazy afternoon or productive morning, depending on my mood that day. 


-MGN

FALLING FOR FALL: AN AUTUMN INSPIRED BIRTHDAY GIFT + CAKE


My sister's birthday is in October... but these goodies actually aren't for her! Sorry Becky, but I figured my October loving friend Leila would benefit a bit more from a pumpkin spice latte cake with seasonal rap lyrics and a basket full of fall festivities. So where in the world did I find a pumpkin spice latte cake you may ask? SusieCakes- arguably my favorite cake place in Los Angeles- where I religiously order the marble cake each year for my birthday. But when I went to place an order for Leila, I am so glad I checked the website first before calling, as I was struck by the most #basic cake flavor. And given my obsession with writing Drake lyrics on cakes, I figured this line from The Weekend's Starboy was perfectly appropriate given Leila and I's joint obsession of all things Autumn and hip hop. 



Her actual birthday present, like most of my good ideas, came to me while bored and not distracted by my phone, waiting in line at the grocery store. We could all use another basket for random stuff and so I did my best to make it as cozy as possible by adding a snuggle-worthy blanket, festive candle, cozy cookbook, the Hocus Pocus movie and more. The candle is from The Little Market and I encourage you to visit their online shop and browse all the amazing scent options they have, the champagne is obviously my favorite. They also monogram them in store, if you live in Los Angeles make sure to visit them at the Palisades Village. I love that all the proceeds go to independent female artisans across the world and everything they have is so cute! 


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The other things I added like creme brûlée coffee, pumpkin sauce, fall colored pasta, a coffee scrub and real pine cones to garnish are pretty easy to find at places like Tuesday morning, Target and HomeGoods. I also considered adding a seasonal fiction novel, a cute mug and mini pumpkins to garnish - all good additional options. I linked similar items from my basket but you can really use whatever you know your person will like! The last basket I made was summer themed for another friend who's birthday was at the end of May, so the idea isn't limited to October/November birthdays. 



-MGN

CHIC PLACES: THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER

Dreams are coming true here... I'll be honest, I am not the biggest theme park fan. I love a museum, a movie, a fashion exhibit, a late lunch...etc. I've been to Disneyland twice since living in Los Angeles and I am saving the next trip for my future children. But the second I heard about Universal Studios opening a Harry Potter themed park a few years back I was not far from booking a ticket to Florida, Orlando, not Miami. Fortunately, the Los Angeles park got it's own version not too long after and I immediately felt the immense pressure to live out my childhood fantasy. I have since been twice, most recently with my sister who of course felt the same strong calling to venture into the replica of Hogsmeade, the fictional town outside Harry's famed boarding school, Hogwarts. For all fans hoping for a Diagon Alley don't worry, the Los Angeles location still includes all the charming little shops your small English countryside town dreams inspire, just beware of the butterbeer, the sugar content alone is worse then the Cruciatus curse! Enjoy. 




My first thought upon entering this magical place was; it's small! Which there is no sugar coating around, I haven't been to the original in Florida, however, I have heard that it is bigger and has a bit more than it's Los Angeles counterpart. However, I will say that it was still a wonderful experience and most certainly worth doing, especially if you're not willing to commit to a vacation in Orlando. 




We arrived pretty early, despite the theme park's own advice to visit later in the day, as we just couldn't contain our own excitement. However, I think I will have learned by my third visit to go in the afternoon/early evening, as the lines will be shorter, the sun less blaring and the atmosphere a bit more like the Hogwarts we expect; particularly one with less strollers. 

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On our way into Hollywood, my sister and I had quite a long drive and so per her suggestion we listened to a perfectly befitting podcast called Binge Mode: Harry Potter which offers wonderfully thought out recaps and commentary on each and every Harry Potter book. My sister absolutely loves the podcast and apparently they also recap the wildly popular Game of Thrones show as well. It was fun listening to some of the thematic connections made by the hosts who clearly have done their research and are great fun to listen to. I'll be honest that one of the things I look forward to most about becoming a parent someday is re-reading the books to my future children. Right now, my only option is a sleepy French bulldog who's likely to be much more interested in chewing paper edges than the magical journey of a young British orphan, but I digress.





Like I said before, the attraction is setup to be Hogsmead, the small fictional town nearest to Hogwarts, which in the books and movies is typically frequented by the students in the wintertime while at school, hence the snow-capped buildings. Hogsmead still has the infamous wand shop from Diagon Alley and candy store, among others. You can certainly get any and all the different wizarding house paraphernalia you like and I am fairly certain an unsolicited sales person determined I belonged in Hufflepuff, based on limited and likely unfounded, anecdotal information I might add. 




However, I was most excited about the thoughtfulness behind Three Broomsticks's, the tavern-like eatery Harry and his friends would drink butterbeer at assuming the legal drinking age in the magical world (and Europe) ceases to exist. I think they did a fantastic job creating a very on brand menu, with turkey legs, fish & chips, Shepard's pie and also some reliably kid friendly snacks. I also really appreciated the Hog's Head bar, with a full bar menu; a perfect stop before waiting in a 45 minute line for the main attraction. 




And a main attraction it was. I loved it so much on my first visit, that I got everyone to ride it four times that day. I am extremely impressed with how well drawn to scale the castle was, appearing perfectly from every angle we could see it, let alone the fabulous interiors which housed real set designs from the films. On my first visit the lines weren't too long, particularly because we went later in the afternoon, however, my second visit was quite a long line and unfortunately without a refreshment from the Hog's Head bar. But once inside the castle, the decoration is truly spectacular, with all the elements that came to life in both my childhood imagination and on the big screen, the portrait of the singing lady being my favorite one of all. 




All the elements and digital effects leading up to the ride were great and the ride itself very entertaining, my only wish is that it lasted about 20 minutes longer! It was combination of traditional ride effects and big screens with very effective wind effects; I really felt like I was flying around Hogwarts and it was so fun. My only complaint is the big spider who spits in everyone's face which I found very distasteful. I really hope they invent a broomstick I can fly on before the end of my lifetime, especially for those of us living in Los Angeles traffic. 



The other attraction wasn't too special but fun for younger kids I suppose and had a nice little setup resembling Hagrid's home. After many rides we eventually collected a bunch of treats from the candy shop and made our way back into the real world. I must say, visiting this place was very fun but left me craving a long weekend experience in the English countryside, with Harry Potter themed activities and an open bar. If anyone in England reads this can you please create an opportunity for us all to go to Hogwarts, but without any tests or scary spiders please? 


-MGN