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R2 Wine Luncheon Number 5

October 12, 2019

As always, the wine luncheon in LA was excellent. Great food, great company, and great wine. Our host Donnie did it again.

We dined at Lucques, and though we did not have a private room, we were well cared for and had plenty of room.

Donnie and I arrived in time for a cocktail before lunch got rolling.

House made Negroni at Lucques

Negroni components

The house made Negroni was, um, interesting. Infused vodka?! Overly sweet home made Campari. Sweet vermouth that was pretty sweet.

R2 menu

The food was excellent. Sadly, no pictures were snapped. The wine was plentiful as always.

The wine supply

Wine

Wine

As it turned out, a number of small French wineries were in the house looking for US distributors. After lunch, we joined them for a taste.

Vive la France

After an excellent Indian dinner, we decamped to Edison for a night cap. Good times.

Greenpoint

Business. What you gonna do. The Pullman is not the kind of hotel we would normally choose, but that’s where they stuck us. After a 15 hour flight, an early arrival is somewhat non-trivial in Sydney. No arrivals lounges at the airport, and no early checkin at this business class hotel. So where do you shower off the metal tube?

The hotel staff did offer up the (not really that private) shower on 23 where the pool and weight room are situated. So yes, we did it. Nothing like shaving in public by the pool! LOL.

The shower on 23 was not plastic at least

Fancy a shave?

At checkin, I asked how many room categories there were and figured out the (small) price difference between our assigned category (two) and category six. Switching to a suite was a no brainer. The suites at the Pullman are all numbered “15,” FWIW.

There was a delay checking in each time of about 20 minutes. The exec lounge on 21 has decent net and some snacks, though once again the furniture needs to be replaced.

Working in the lounge with espresso

Here is an amalgamation of 1215 and 1615, our first night suite and the one we had for the rest of our Pullman time. They were pretty much the same with dated (and very dirty) furnishings that need to be replaced.

Entrance way

Hyde park balcony

Those colors

Same view, different floor

The sitting room (1215)

The shower situation in the Pullman suites is complicated. The showers are all placed in a ’70s era hot tub replete with entry steps. At least the water pressure is good.

The extensive bathroom hot tub shower thing

Hmm

There was plenty of time for exercise due to time zone differential on this trip. Up at 4am? Yeah. I was surprised by the number of people who used the gym.

The weight room on 23

View from the exercise room

A day trip to the Blue Mountains with Brian included two hikes and an overnight stay at the Lilianfels. The hikes:

Hiking wentworth falls

Just around the corner from the Pullman is the Philosophy Cafe where not only do they have an excellent breakfast, they also have remarkably good coffee. For Sydney, that’s a thing. Sydney has great coffee all over. Make sure to take the time to find the best!

Sydney espreso

Philosophy Cafe breakfast

Also just around the corner is a great Italian restaurant called Beppi’s. Old school but very good food.

Vino Italiano at Beppi’s

Sydney is a great place to eat out. This trip included a visit to both Bistecca and Freds. Both were remarkably good. The bar at Fred’s (Charlie Parker’s) is also highly recommended.

Amer Picon at Charlie Parker’s (means a liberal)

Charlie Parker’s bar

Cocoa Banana

The Cocoa Banana from Charlie Parker’s (by Giacomo Franceschi)
house fermented banana wine (local yeast from the air)
bourbon (maker’s mark)
dark rum (havana 7)
montenegro amaro
cocoa butter

Fred’s open kitchen. Absolutely delicious food.

These fish. Just wow.

Recommended by Aaron Bedra

Bistecca grill (where the steaks are hand cut)

Speaking of bars. Make sure to include some time for: Lobo Plantation, a quick visit to the Marble bar (once anyway), the Baxter Inn, and Door Knock.

Zombie lighting at Lobo Plantation

Lobo Plantation tiki bar

The thing about the Marble bar is that it is trapped in a Hilton. The old stuff is beautiful, but whoever decided that plastic cups and formica tables were the way to go needs to be fired. Then again, the clientele was mostly tourists in tee shirts. Ordering fries seemed like the thing to do.

Marble bar

Your fries are ready

Baxter Inn is set up for whiskey drinkers, but the clientele?? Not so much. Go on an off day.

Baxter Inn Willet

The (locked) back room

Door Knock was a blast. Fun bartenders and very good drinks.

Mescal for a Paloma

Sawing the ice at Door Knock

Last Word at Door Knock

Dinner at Spice Temple was very good, though the atmosphere is a bit down market. Go for the food, not the ambiance.

Spice temple western style dumplings

We did some sailing in Sydney harbor.

Sydney transport of the fancy variety

An afternoon visit to the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art is recommended.

All told, a low three showerheads for the Pullman. Great staff, but a property that really needs some investment to stay relevant. No more furniture from the ’70s!

Katoomba is a great place to visit if you are into hiking, spectacular views, and nature. On a previous day trip, we didn’t spend the night (coming in and out by train from Sydney is almost fast enough to make that work). This time, we opted to stay at Lilianfels which is an old school resort right near the three sisters.

Lilianfels resort has many buildings

Lilianfels was likely built back when royalty seemed to matter. NPS calls this kind of place an “old lady hotel.” Lets just say Lilianfels is most famous for its high tea in the afternoon. We missed that in favor of hiking.

See more about the Three Sisters hike and the Grand Stairway here.

When we arrived just after an early lunch at 8things (recommended), only one of the rooms was ready, so we ditched our stuff and headed off on the trail. Three hours and 6.3 miles later, we enjoyed a Negroni by the pool.

Lunch at 8things

Post hike Negroni

I was assigned room 223.

Lilianfels bedroom

No real view from 223

The bathroom was spacious and the shower was not plastic at all. Very solid.

A visit to the spa got us access to the hot tub, which after going up over 900 steps felt pretty great.

Lilianfels spa

Dinner at Miss Lilian teahouse was bad. Do not eat there.

Drinks at the bar downstairs in the main house were much needed.

On the way out of town, we stopped into Wentworth Falls for a hike there too. Absolutely worth it.

Hiking wentworth falls

All told, Katoomba overnight may be a bit of overkill. Lilianfels is a four showerhead kind of place. A bit too old school, and who lets such a bad restaurant persist?

Oslo is a beautiful city, but whatever you do, don’t try to drive in it. Even people who grew up here can’t do it. In particular, trying to get to the Hotel Christiania Teater from Lillehammer is, well, “interesting” in that Chinese curse kind of way.

As a creature of habit who has found a great property in Oslo, NPS is happy to stay at the Hotel Christiania Teater again. The only wrinkle is that someone else has booked 620 for Wednesday night. Scooped!

That meant we were relegated to room 510, which is a nice room with an inner courtyard facing “view.” 510 is very nice, but is not at all a 620!

510 is dominated by this comfortable bed

The suite sitting area is in the same room as the bed (which in our view makes it less of a suite and more of a room)

bathroom alcove

the shower is set apart by a huge heavy door

Sadly the plumbing seems to wake up early and make insane amounts of noise. An alarm clock of sorts.

The glass shower compartment, this shower is OK

One of the best parts of Hotel Christiania Teater is the bar downstairs which is top notch and always nice to visit.

Negroni with Norwegian gin

Excellent Indian food can be found at Jaipur.

Delicious

And of course a visit to Himkok is pretty much mandatory.

Experimental aquavit cocktail

Experimental Aquavit Cocktail
2cl aquavit
2cl tequila
4 cl beech water kefie
10 ml ambrato (bison grass)
10 ml Italicus
stir down. serve up.

After a one day delay, room 620 became available. An excellent, interesting, quirky space with a great shower.

The supermodels show off 630

bedroom is all bed

walk in shower with tub

One of two great alcoves with windows

All in all 620 has tons of room to hang out, exercise (which is important since the hotel has no gym of its own), blog, read, etc, in comfort.

Some time in Oslo, included a visit to Gøran’s cousin’s excellent art gallery PURenkel.

I added a painting to the art collection.

starfish

There was also Indian street food, beer, and espresso.

A talk.

Visiting Miles

Dinner at Hanami was very good. Excellent sushi and great service.

Just skip the bar at the thief. These people have forgotten what hospitality is.

Five showerheads for Hotel Christiania Teater, one of NPS’ favorite hotels on the planet.

Exciting times here in NPS-land where the youngest progeny is setting up an apartment for his last year of college. That required a visit to Beloit.

This trip we tried out the brand new Hotel Goodwin (walking distance to campus and much of the downtown in Beloit). Excellent service and a stellar property.

We were assigned room 3008, which is very nice. About the only fly in the ointment is highway noise early in the morning (this may only be a problem for people who live in the country…city folks are unlikely to even notice).

The shower

The bathroom is a nicely appointed marble palace with a huge walk in glass shower sporting multiple shower heads. Yes please. Interestingly, design-wise the shower is also exposed to the bedroom through one of its glass walls.

View from the bedroom

The room is also a very spacious design with plenty of room to hang out comfortably.

While in Beloit, a nice Japanese dinner can be found at Zen Sushi. A great burger can be had at Lucy’s. Reasonably good mexican is available in Janesville at El Jardin. Two great breakfast dives are Jerry’s Cafe and Mr B’s Coffee.

United also performed well on this trip, even providing car service between gates for a tight ORD connection. Awesome!

Five showerheads for Hotel Goodwin. Recommended. Oh, and the bar has Fernet.

What a difference a year makes. Last year the Grande Colonial seemed a bit tired and long in the tooth. It has had a facelift.

View from 102

Though the architecture of the building has not changed, the room layout is much cleaner and more spacious. Even the long skinny bathroom (which remains long and skinny) is better.

Looking in the long skinny bathroom. Hey, the shower is not plastic!

This trend to delete bath tubs and replace them with modern shower spaces is a great trend. Much better use of space, and much more reasonable approach to morning cleanliness.

The best part of this design is that the controls are situated logically. No reason to get wet while you turn on the shower.

The rest of the room has been opened up, repainted, and re-imagined. Nice work.

102 bed

Seating area 102

Look how comfortable

Sadly, the parking lot has not been deleted. The ocean is over there somewhere.

Dinner at Catania was very good for a restaurant group property. Modern italian with a negroni to boot. Recommended.

Sadly, the bar at Nine Ten (which is a very good restaurant in the hotel) is still sub-par. Gotta hire some hipsters who know what they are doing. The current bar suits the old, monied, and boring demographic of the hotel. Nuff said.

George’s at the Cove, a La Jolla establishment of many years still deserving its reputation, still has the best cocktail program in town.

Joree Weatherly was a top notch barman who served us this cocktail. It has a name, but Joree did not write it down on the recipe I asked for. Lets just call it Trentino Tincture. Actually, it turns out to be named Shiso Piney
1.5 Amaro Junipero gin
.5 Pasubio amaro (from Trentino where I spent a year in 1993)
1 lemon
.75 shiso syrup
2 dashes of pine tincture
top with soda. serve on rocks in a collins glass.

When we returned the next night with a cast of hundreds, Joree made use these great cocktails:
Mezcal Manhattan
1.5 Mezcal
.75 montenegro
.75 Averna
2 dashes mexican spiced bitters
Stir down, serve on a large cube

Negroni Amarillo
1.5 Mezcal
1 pamplemousse
1 suze
2 dashes sage tincture
Stir down, serve up with sage leaf

United upgraded us on the way out. Lets hope that works for the way back too. Global services rock on! Um, nope. No upgrade, and we’re here to tell you, economy sucks!

NPS is impressed. Nice work updating the property! Four showerheads for the Grande Colonial.

After a weekend of staying with friends (paul, jim and chloe), we spent one night at the Kabuki before heading out of town early in the morning.

1602 is as nice a room as ever. We have been here before.

1602 bedroom in the upper corner

There was just enough time to dash down a craft cocktail before dinner.

The Daffodil-Narcissus
1 oz Sipsmith gin
1 oz Bols Genever
1 oz honey/water 1:1
.5 oz lillet blanc
.5 oz lime juice
spoon of greek yogurt
egg white
dry shake. shake on ice. serve in a collins with a big cube and dill garnish.

Dinner at Mourad was very good indeed. Expensive as all get out, but great food and an excellent quirky wine list.

And we now have a new driver in SF.

Four showerheads for the Kabuki and thanks for putting us up in our favorite room.

Last time we stayed at “chez fu” in Ann Arbor it was May. And it was 2016. This time it is 16 degrees and 2019 in March. Brrr.

This trip is a quick hit to catch up, give a talk, and experience some winter. Nevertheless, we did fit in a few cocktails (and some fernet) at Nightcap. This visit, all of the drinks were too sweet. We’ll blame the nephew for that.

And yes, that is a piece of carbonized (charcoal’ed?) marshmallow on that cocoa-like thing we failed to finish. At least the fernet was good (??) and there was real Williamn Larue Weller 2016 in the house.

Dinner at Tomkun BBQ was delicious and chock full of meat.

Zingerman’s deli</a for lunch is an Ann Arbor must.

No hard labor on the outdoor bread oven was required of this visit, probably because our brick was confiscated by TSA.

Located in the heart of Brussels, very close indeed to the Grand Place, the Amigo Hotel is nicely tucked into an old school building. This is a formidable hotel where the demographic is not the hip and young but rather the old and moneyed.

The staff at the front desk is old school too, a bit stuffy and with varying levels of obsequiousness that don’t quite ring true. This is not your California front desk staff of happy kids. OK then.

Overnight, the staff swap led to some people who knew how to relax a notch, and that was nice.

The lobby is beige and marble. Come to think of it, there is lots of beige here in this room as well. I think the olds like beige.

We were upgraded from an expensive junior suite to an even more expensive classic suite. They did email and attempt to upsell the bigger suite, and we just responded that a complementary upgrade would be great. That seems to have worked. So thanks for the free upgrade!

We were assigned suite 237. This looks like the example room from this suite category. Plenty of room to hang out, a great bathroom, etc. “Pretty not bad” as my friend Sammy would say.

237 couch and desk room

The desk has a bluetooth speaker (bonus points)

The extra touches make all of the difference. Like a bluetooth speaker that you can pair a streaming phone with, and water by the bedside that is free (as it should be), and hangers that are real and solid.

Bedroom (mostly bed)

Through the French doors

Of course you should always get water (sparkling)

The room overlooks a classic Brussels street and into a set of offices.

Example view

The hall has lots of closet space, but it is not very well designed.

Closets could use some modernization

The bathroom is palatial. And there is a separate glass shower. “One of the better showers ever,” says ms NPS. Lots of marble.

Bathtub, toilet and bidet

Chair in the bathroom

Sink

Glass shower cube

The art is very nice and Tin Tin oriented.

An amenity with a personal note arrived while we were orienting. Belgian chocolates. Of course.

Amenity.

The bar downstairs is very good, with professional and knowledgeable bartenders who make a mean Negroni with Napue gin (from Helsinki).

A proper Negroni (up)

Napue gin from Helsinki

Local Belgian gins

Look who else has been here

Dinner at Comme Chez Soi was, like the hotel, on the old school side. Excellent food, especially if you like cream, butter, butter, and some caviar. Very heavy but outstanding. Plan to be full for two days.

Some Pomerol

Sauce! There is a cod under there somewhere.

Incredible tartine

Chocolates, because Belgium

With extra dipping sauce (lol)

The walk home helped to make up for the butter and the butter and the sauce and the cream. Kinda.

When in Brussels

Breakfast included a Belgian waffle (this was a mandatory item before we would be allowed to leave the country).

Bottom line: the Amigo is a five showerhead location, but is a bit old school for NPS. So four showerheads and an appointment to update the decor a notch for the Amigo. I imagine we will be back.

OK, well, the first one of 2019, but the second one ever.

The Great Belgian Rum Tasting of 2016 was a smashing success. So we decided to do it again some three-ish years later.

What that requires is a flight to Brussels, and a drive out to Lichtervelde.

You may recall that Lichtervelde is home to the world famous Eenie Meenie the goat. Eenie Meenie is getting on in years, and we were glad to see her again while she is still alive.

Eenie Meenie in the house

Things are much swankier than ever at chez Madou, where the bar is well stocked, Liberals are available at all times, and the kids are on track to shake up a mean cocktail.

Makings of a Liberal, including superior bourbon from Virginia

Start em early. Just don’t shake a martini.

Here’s how things proceeded on the rum front.

The lineup of seven rums

Cubay Ronera Central

Cubay Ronera Central: CUBA

Oak. Bitter. Alcohol nose. Under signed. 5 year. Proof 86. SCORE: 6

Havana Club Barrel Proof

Havana Club Barrel Proof: CUBA

Nice nose (no esters). Butter with a twist. Hot. Post sugar not too much. Proof 90. SCORE: 7

Pampero Aniversario

Pampero Aniversario: Venezuela

Venezuela. Post sugar. Balanced. Island style. Proof 80. SCORE: 6

Ron Millonario

Ron Millonario: Peru

Peru. Ester on the nose. Central America style. Brown sugar with ester twist. (Madou like it.) . Proof 80. SCORE: 5

Ron Barceló Imperial Blend

Ron Barceló Imperial Blend: Dominican Republic

Wins for ridiculous bottle. . Over sugared. Over oaked. Proof 86. SCORE: 5

Clément Single Cask

Clément Single Cask: Martinique

Rhum agricole. Great nose. Bitter. Mature Oak. Proof 93.6. SCORE 8

Clément Cuveée Spéciale XO

Clément Cuveée Spéciale XO: Martinique

Too hot. Under oaked. GAH. Proof ?. SCORE 4

Notes were kept.

Verdict is in.

The final order.

The final order:
1. Clément Single Cask
2. Havana Club Barrel Proof
3. Cubay Ronera Central
4. Pampero Aniversario
5. Ron Barceló Imperial Blend
6. Ron Millonario
7. Clément Cuvée Spéciale XO
8. Dettol

Special guest rum

As has become a tradition, a special guest rum was added to the mix just for fun. This year, dreft was replaced with the lemony goodness of Dettol

Special guest rum (slot 8)

Your host and the final order (plus or minus one)

Of course no visit to the new bar Madou would be complete without some tiki.

Yes, that is what you think it is (in Belgium)

Zombie for the tiki win

And no evening would be complete without a Liberal.

WRT showers and places to stay, above the bar is a complete guest suite featuring wood beams, skylights, a sitting area and glass showers. Sorry, no pictures.

Fix showerheads (plus one) for Madou’s new digs. Can’t wait to be back.

Thanks Madou.