3 search results for "John Ash"

Local Advantage : Restaurant Week

Since being back in Northern California, Sonoma County and I have endured quite a bit of reconnecting. The amount of change that the county experienced in just under a decade made coming back feel like a move to a foreign land as opposed to a return to familiar territory. Whenever I move to a new place I start a courtship, get to know the surroundings, figure out what I like and don’t like. We date. Sometimes it’s an instant connection (Los Angeles) and sometimes it never takes (Orange County). Moving back up above the bay, the reunion was reminiscent of high school sweethearts, reconnected after years of individual growth. Being freshly twenty-one when I left, I missed out on many of the amenities that Sonoma County offers. The wine tasting, brewery visiting and accessibility to every cuisine you can imagine has made this reconnection extremely successful.
One of my favorite forms of courtship that I have experienced in Sonoma County is Restaurant Week. Endless restaurant options from all around the county makes becoming overwhelmed very easy. For a patron, Sonoma County Restaurant Week is a solid seven day block where participating locations create set menus that fall under 1 of 3 price categories depending on the level of fine dining. It is a great opportunity to explore new places that may normally be unattainable for your budget and revisit some of your favorites just to try the featured dishes. For the local businesses, Restaurant Week is an opportunity to attract new business and cater to a fresh audience. Each year we traditionally start our week out at John Ash & Co., a $39 per person menu option. This year was undoubtedly my favorite menu yet.

A convenient exit away from our home and undeniably one of the best restaurants in the entire county, John Ash & Co. at Vintners Inn is the epitome of “wine country dining”, with an outdoor patio surrounded by vineyards and a menu designed specifically for wine pairing. This year’s menu offered plates so meticulously created that decision making required a toast of champagne. Sadly, one of everything was not an option, so Ryan and I made our selections in an attempt to taste as much of the menu as possible. After our stuffed mushroom amuse bouche, Ryan selected the Green Garlic and Potato Soup with braised Dungeness crab legs for his first course, I, the Corvina Sea Bass Ceviche. The soup would have been delicious as a stand alone but the addition of the crab legs gave it just the right balance of meat and texture to break up its creaminess. My sea bass ceviche was incredible. With fresh mint and three times the citrus it was the perfect motivating precursor for springtime. For our second course we were unable to compromise on opposing selections and both ordered the Vande Rose Pork Tenderloin Roulade. The pork was perfectly prepared and came with my favorite side dish, whipped potatoes. The mustard reduction, topping the pork, was so good I would eat it as a soup. In traditional “wine country dining” fashion, we each selected what we felt would be complimentary reds. Babe went with Walt “La Brisa” Pinot Noir and I had Valdez “St. Peters Church Vineyard” Zinfandel, both paired well.The dessert course was a no brainer. Creme brûlée is by far one of my top three favorite desserts in the entire world so the Salted Caramel Creme Brûlée was an obvious pick. Ryan loves anything chocolate so Casey’s Chocolate Trio that featured chocolate in the form of ridge cake, gelato and dipped shortbread, was his immediate choice. We shared as much as we could bare. The milk chocolate gelato from Ryan’s plate was my favorite out of everything.


Curious of what a $29 menu entailed, the second featured location of our week was Jack & Tony’s Restaurant and Whisky Bar in downtown Santa Rosa. Just previously eating there for a company party, I was anxious to sit and relax in a setting that I remembered being a little more swanky and a little less formal. With feelings of a gentlemen’s lounge and offering the best beverage selections I have found locally, Jack & Tony’s proved to be a great source for meat and potatoes. The menu offered only my favorite foods on the planet. Ryan’s first course was the Mac and Cheese while I opted for the ‘BLT’ Salad with homemade ranch dressing. I was impressed that Ryan was willing to give up some bites of the super creamy Mac and Cheese. A great Mac and Cheese is always hard to share. My salad tasted just as good as it looked. You can never go wrong with bacon. The second course was an easy selection for us both. Grilled New York Strip with Scalloped Yukon Gold Potatoes hit all the right spots. Intentionally setting out that evening in hopes of scoring a great steak and potato, we nailed it with the assistance of Jack & Tony’s. Despite being served our first course before receiving our champagne and feeling slightly embarrassed to order my steak well done based on the clarification requested by the waitress, all possible room for ill will was shut out once dessert was served. Strawberries on Rum Cake with Chantilly Cream could be my new weak spot. I could barely handle the greatness of the rum cake mixed with the sweetness of the berries. Half of me couldn’t stop eating and the other half wanted to take all the time in the world to savor every bite.


Where’s the fun in leaving the house for a meal if you can’t spend a little bit of time in the closet before hand? In the spirit of the great deals that Restaurant Week offers, I intentionally picked pieces from my humble collection that were darn-good great deals themselves. For our evening at John Ash & Co., I finally wore a pair of BCBG stilettos found on clearance at DSW (the happiest place on earth) for a mere $12.99. A savings so enormous I was practically being paid to purchase them. In a last minute grab out the door, upon discovery of the chill that was rolling in, I draped on my Anne Taylor leopard cape, found during a seasonal switch over clearance for $17.00. The subtle feeling of success after stumbling upon crazy-good sales is a serious addiction.


For Jack & Tony’s, I pulled literally the least expensive dress I have ever owned. During a brief stop for a picture frame at Marshall’s, I somehow ended up on a detour through the dress rack. Shopping in places like Marshall’s is often too intimidating for me to do on my own. The feeling of competition against thy neighbor and urgency to be the first to touch everything is a shopping style that I prefer to avoid. However, when you accidentally find a dress that makes you feel full blown “Twiggy”, that is on final sale for $5.99, the defensive shopping atmosphere quickly becomes worth every elbow jab and the next thing you know you’re standing on the side of the road with knee high boots and your current favorite handbag (Michael Kors, anniversary gift) complimenting your latest discount find.


Cheers, to next year’s Restaurant Week and all the irresistible bargains I am bound to discover before then.


A Day in LA

When I moved out of Los Angeles, I vowed to go back annually to not lose the connection I spent so many years creating, a vow commonly made when someone relocates. Fast forward to about a week ago and Ryan and I were headed south for only the second time in four and half years. We knew the trip was overdue. It had been two years since our last visit, but we had no idea how overwhelming the feeling of nostalgia awaiting us was going to be. After a 45-minute flight delay and a torturous 90 minute rental car pick-up, we left LAX, as fast as possible, and headed to Hollywood. Passing block after block of remodeled store fronts, the needed familiarity seemingly impossible, we eventually pulled into the parking lot of my former grocery store, Ralph’s, on Third. I was greeted by my old clerk who after all this time still remembered me and questioned where I had been. The two hours behind schedule gloom quickly lightened, I was finally back.

We checked into our permanent residence substitute, The Hollywood Roosevelt, as the early morning hours of Saturday were creeping upon us. Not a single cocktail-devouring attendant of the pool party outside our balcony slider seemed to care that midnight had passed or that our long day of work and travel was coming to an end. Guarantee, none of them cared that we had to be up in a short four hours to catch sunrise from Runyon Canyon. Enjoying a bottle of wine by the lights of the party (if you can’t beat them join them) we too became careless of what time it was or when we had to be up. The energy of the city had hit our veins and it suddenly felt like I had never left.


With the music finally dying off sometime after one, the anticipation of the impending morning hike took over. It made for a restless few hours of sleep. With both of us running on minimal fumes, mostly whatever nutrition our bodies soaked up from Zinfandel and granola bars, we dragged ourselves and all our camera gear up to the bench on Runyon Canyon that looks out over Sunset Blvd. Together, we stood above miles of city-scape, full of hundreds of thousands of sleeping Angelinos. Everything was grey. The few billboards that were big enough to be seen added pops of color like candy sprinkles. Dulling lights struggled to glow and everything had a misty film over it. After two hours it was obvious, the sun was not going to show up. lasunrise

Despite a failed sunrise shoot, we returned to our room optimistic and anxious for what the rest of the day could include. Showered, dressed and back in the car, earlier than we are ever awake on a Saturday, we headed east to Fred 62 in the ever so hip, Los Feliz. Fred 62 was one of my all time favorite regulars in my local diner rotation. The extensive pancake menu for breakfast, baked mac n cheese for dinner, Bossa Nova Waffle Sundae for midnight snack, all made the red light saturated drive well worth it. For the most part, the neighborhood block around North Vermont and Russell Ave. hasn’t changed. World’s worst rendition of Johnny Depp still adorns the building across the street. Hipster aroma still pours from the local boutiques and coffee shops. Fred’s has remained pretty much the same as well, with the exception of some menu revamping. Seated in a vintage car interior designed booth, we ordered, with the intent to share, the Breakfast Burrito with chorizo and insane ranchero sauce, the Bearded Mr. Frenchy, cornflake covered french toast to die for, a side of bacon crisped to perfection, and classic diner coffee capped off our well-balanced meal. My soul was happy. lafreds

Breakfast had put us in the mood for a drive, which we did through the enormous homes of Los Feliz, highly recommend. Approaching standard brunch time, we redirected ourselves southwest, into the heart of the area I formerly called home. Technically Hancock Park adjacent, my old abode sits one block off of La Brea Ave., a very main street that slices through Los Angeles from Inglewood to Hollywood. A dozen or so blocks south of Sunset Blvd., or behind the prop guy on 1st, depending on how familiar you are with the area, I lived amongst popular local retailers such as American Rag and Undefeated, both of which are still there. Many of the areas design showrooms, that once lined the street for miles, have been replaced by well known chain giants like Orchard Home Supply, puzzling in an area with minimal yard space. Stopping to admire a new art installment and embracing the heat long enough to layer ourselves in sunscreen, we walked a quick block and hopped back in our trusty Hyundai. The tour was on the move. lacompton lalabrealahead

I can’t go to LA and not go to The Grove. There is no story here. Just one of the best shopping locations in the world and where I have spent hours upon hours of my spare time for no other reason than to get some exercise around the outdoor fashion mall and farmer’s market. I have many a pair of shoes from their Nordstrom. We spent so little time getting our “Grove fix” in that the parking garage was free. Next. latour

The heat was practically unbearable for long amounts of time. It made our photo walking excursion difficult and draining. Babe had the brilliant idea of taking a drive over to Beverly Hills to indulge in our favorite guilty pleasure; follow around a tacky Starline tour bus to sight-see the most dominant and most historical manors of old and not so old Hollywood. During the days of long distance, when Ryan would visit me, we would spend hours driving around the narrow streets above Sunset, trying to catch glimpses of the million dollar views, peaking through the rooftops. With AC on full blast, we cruised by one-of-a-kind, custom-built mansions, previously resided in by entertainment legends like Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin and Michael Jackson. Abnormally mellow for a Saturday, there was barely anyone on the roads and other than the occasional gardener leaf-blowing a driveway, it was silent. We took it all in, some of it more than once, circled past the same gates a time or two. Just as we decided to head back to the hotel for an early afternoon coffee and midday recharge, we spotted bright yellow signs inviting anyone who happened by to an estate sale just a few streets over. Intrigued, we followed. Our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the inside of one of Beverly Hills historic estates had finally presented itself.

The structure itself had a strong Spanish influence, red tiled floors and terra cotta lined entry, held a beautiful originality to the property. However, the choppy floor plan with hodge-podge finishes and outdated hardware was overall underwhelming. A few authentic, one-of-a-kind features warmed my heart and made me feel compassion for possibly the most undesirable location on the block. First, the open-mouthed lion fireplace with carved stone maned mantel would probably be on a new home owners tear down list but oddly, it was my favorite feature. You can’t find that anywhere else. Second, the intimate swimming pool with bright, cobalt blue tile won me over with it’s access to both the living and master bedrooms. Third, the split-level master bedroom itself with multiple closets pocketed off of the sunken bed space and built in niches reminded me of the Walsh’s house on 90210, if it was sort of scrambled and then flipped upside down. The mannequin on the bed was confusing but we went with it. When in Rome. I somewhat regret not purchasing something just for the sake of a souvenir of the experience, but the only item I fell in love with was a $2,600, 1970s coffee table made of a lamented solid wood slab with lucite base. It will forever be my furniture unicorn. laestate

Exhausted and in desperate need of caffeine, we took a timeout back at our hotel room. The wall had come, we hit it hard and the make it or break it moment was upon us. Either do all we could to stay alert or put our heads on our pillows and ignore the world. Despite the day party with DJ, cool shade, bbq chips and ice-blended, gourmet, espresso beverages, we knew if we put too much effort into rest and relaxation we would be counting sheep in seconds and we had a sunset to catch. To kill time we toured our way around the hotel lobby, ran into Randy Jackson, repeatedly, and held an impromptu photoshoot to experiment with inside lighting, just totally normal time-killer stuff. laroomshoot2laroomshoot3laroomshoot1

By afternoon it felt like we were beginning day three. I had forgotten what it was like to be on the go for 12 hours after less than 4 hours of “sleep” and by whatever form of luck you believe in, my second wind had found me. Rejuvenated, we decided to shoot sunset in Venice Beach, the first area of Los Angeles I ever learned and one of the few places on earth that I have a soft spot for. lavenice1

I worked once in Venice, I had a horrible job and worked for a horrible man. My employment was short lived. During my brief stint, I gained an immense amount of education you can’t get anywhere else, a type of education that teaches you nothing found in textbooks. Knowledge only made possible by experience. I learned compassion for people in situations far worse than my own. I learned how to navigate on streets that made no sense. I grew immune to Venice Beach-specific distractions, like a man on stilts dressed as a tree, rollerblading old-man Perry, playing his electric guitar, patriotic speedo guy, mixtape pushers, spray paint artist and skateboarders, everywhere. The anything-goes atmosphere puts vanity-take in the backseat. You can just be whoever you are there, nothing is weird and everyone is a stranger.

Cue Jim Morrison. (wink wink) lavenice3lavenice2laveniceart2lavenice4

Noodle Note: Two years back, as we walked the alleys of Venice, we stumbled upon a mural on the side of a house that struck me emotionally. Randomly, we stumbled upon the same mural this year. It was good to see her again. lamural

We hit the boardwalk hours before sunset and strolled amongst the herds of tourists. Nothing changes in Venice very much, its part of the attraction for me. It’s one of the few places I can rely on for consistency. Physically, there is no room to grow there and the anti-corporate outlook keeps local resturarunts and businesses, heavily supported by tourism, up and running. People have been walking the same sidewalks, telling the same stories, for decades.

Once we had reassured ourselves that the boardwalk was as we left it, we walked over to the graffiti walls and skate park, one of the beaches most notorious sections. We watched as a pack of obvious resident star performers, practiced tricks for the masses gathered around. Some skaters where far better than others. None of them seemed afraid to fall and after some minor accidents and a ton of successful runs, we had shot hundreds of photos. Some of which would turn out to be my favorites from the entire day. laveniceartlaskater1IMG_6793_Fotor-2IMG_6865_Fotor

Ryan’s collection, in my opinion, along with everything he did during this trip, was his strongest yet. I am envious of his ability to constantly grow with every outing. Street photography requires a personal confidence to put yourself and your subject in a vulnerable moment based on no previous encounters and still have your lighting and focus on point, all in a split second. It’s a challenge and he surpasses my expectations every time. lababe1lababe2

Between the skatepark and sunset we quickly stepped away from the madness of the boardwalk, onto the far less chaotic Speedway, with the intention of snapping some of the traditional murals that adorn almost every surface. Within moments we were reaping the benefits of our spontaneity. Down one of the many pedestrian allies, was a healthy-sized block party, complete with Tom Petty knock off band. People began welcoming us in as if we had graduated high school together and hadn’t seen in each other in ten years. We were offered free beer and loud music. Begrudgingly, with sunset as our primary focus, we were unable to stay long but absorbed enough to feel the love from what could have been a building full of new friends. lavenicearty

A dozen or more trips to Venice together and we had never photographed the iconic, southern California, lifeguard-towered, sunset. There was a great chance of dusk making up for dawn. Standing in the middle of the dirtiest sand in all of California, we silently photographed the sun vanish into the sea. The colors, the people-dotted horizon, feeling like the sky was privately ours despite being surrounded by hundreds. Venice Beach, be still my heart. lasunsetus11836840_10204738876139194_6207460129082541462_nIMG_6939

Our tanks were teetering on empty. It was time for a nightcap and real sleep. Making it back to the hotel a little after nine we wandered down to the lobby, unable to rest on an empty stomach. 25 Degrees, the hotels 24-hour burger joint, seemed like the easiest and simplest solution. Easy it was, the relaxed atmosphere was perfect and opting to sit at the bar made the order to serve time minimal. Simple, on the other hand, is not an adjective I would feel comfortable using. The sultry decor, primarily red, everywhere, with its long mirror-tiled bar, diamond-tufted leather booths and glass chandeliers, completely complimented the meticulously planned burger menu. With grown up toppings like, fried egg, prosciutto and gruyere, there was no need to keep things simple. It was all over the top and “over the top” done very well. I ordered a Number One which included caramelized onion, bacon, arugula, gorgonzola and thousand island dressing. Ryan built his own with multiple cheeses, bacon and avocado. We shared an order of their onion rings, which were good, just good, and had an evening cocktail to chase it all down. I tried the Dark & Stormy, basically a mule with rum. I wasn’t crazy about it but it was hard to tell if I was just too tired or if it just wasn’t the right drink for me. Fortunately, the burgers were so good and the experience was so exactly what we needed, the other stuff didn’t matter. lafoodie2lafoodie

Sunday came fast but we left very well rested. The dark cloud of separation was hovering, leaving wasn’t easy. Los Angeles is a huge part of our lives. Spending the bulk of my 20s there, I went through immense personal growth there. Significant chapters of my life were created in my little spot behind the prop guy on 1st. It’s where Ryan and I built the foundation of our relationship. It’s where we fell in love. I don’t know if we will ever call it home again. I have learned in life to never rule anything out. I do know that it’s always there for us to go back to. Parts will forever change but the feeling will always be the same.

Cheers LA, we’ll see you soon. laus2

Falling Back

Doesn’t feel right jumping into November with all it’s autumn glory without at least acknowledging October, which is historically one of my favorite months. The weather usually shifts right about now, despite our California sunshine refusing to take a break this season, and leaves start their journey from lush green to lifeless brown. Best of all, boots and scarves are back in season. This October reined in no less important than it’s predecessors as it hosted one of Ryan’s greatest accomplishments. October 2014 will forever be known as the month that Ryan passed his Business Research and Statistics MBA course, sans tutor. I make a point to note that the accomplishment was completed solo because at one point we actually hired a tutor who backed out of the job after just one study session due to it’s level of difficulty. The best part of October was the light at the end of the tunnel for both Ryan’s sanity and our normality. We have a shred of our life back. Yay!
I think my love for the fall to winter transition is partially credited to the holiday line up that takes us right into the birth of a new year. Halloween, as a child, was a yearly highlight. My mother always handmade my costume and whatever my request was she delivered. (Editor ‘s Note: No matter what anyone says, the year that I was Christine at the Masquerade Ball from Phantom of the Opera and everyone thought I was a fancy owl had nothing to do with my mother’s capability to deliver. As a 6th grader I should have selected a costume more relatable to my peers. I have always had an underlying shadow of weirdness which I would later recognize as “being cultured”.) 

In the midst of surviving statistics, we managed to squeeze in some of our traditional October obligations. Sister Steph’s birthday getaway to the coast house, this year with an appropriate masquerade theme, the family trip to Punky’s Pumpkin Patch for the niece to hand select the perfect pumpkin and trick-or-treating with the most fashionable little witch I have ever seen rounded out or festivities this year.



On our only free weekend, we slipped in a quick trip to Chico to visit Grandma. The adjustment of having her so far away, in a town that still feels unknown, is taking just as much time as I expected. However, anytime spent is worth the drive. This trip included a photo walk around downtown, discovering a group of people standing on crates with pumpkins on their heads and a Giants World Series game 4 win. Chico is growing on me.

A personal pick for “best moment of the month”, other than the Giants winning yet another World Series, would easily be our evening spent at J Vineyards & Winery for the Fall Chef Cooking Series. As we dined in the Bubble Room, we took in a live cooking lesson from Erik Johnson, J’s Executive Chef, while he prepared, poached, braised and, at times, even sipped with us. Being two of a couple dozen guests, the relaxed and intimate atmosphere allowed for open q&a during the demonstration, a ton of cooking tips taught and swapped and, naturally, a ton of food and drink. From the moment we arrived we were handed a glass that we were sworn would never go empty, it didn’t, and bite sized appetizers to keep us happy until dinner, they did. Dinner, in contrast to the normal pairings we are used to, was served in generous portions. The menu included turkey leg confit salad with poached egg, paired with a 2012 STRATA Chardonnay, slow roasted lamb rack with mashed seasonal root vegetables, pairs with a 2012 Freestone Hill Pinot Noir, followed with chocolate cremeux for dessert, paired with a 2008 Vintage Brut. We left full and extremely grateful for our ride home.

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In a classic totally me moment, I ended the evening unexpectedly picking up a pair of gorgeous gold drop earrings. Leave it to us to be members of a winery that sells jewelry just as well as they sell sparkling wine. I’ll shop anywhere. I was already stoked to be able to finally wear my Altuzarra lace up booties, compliments of his recent partnership with Target, and my zipper lipped clutch from Aldo, found online on major clearance of course. The earrings were simply icing on the houndstooth.



November is already a week and a half deep and retailers have already begun their Christmas displays. I can’t keep up with how fast October passed and I am not ready to already wonder where November has gone. Someone once told me that once you pass the age of twenty-five time will begin to feel like it is going by faster and faster every day. They were right. This month we celebrate our five year of togetherness mark and prepare for the busiest time of the year, even more of a reminder of time ripping away. On top of everything on our holiday to do list, I will be desperately trying to drain every second and milk every moment. I don’t want to miss a memory.