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R2 Wine Luncheon Take 4

February 16, 2019

The fourth LA wine luncheon run was excellent and fun as always. This time the highlight of the day was an absolutely top notch menu put together by Bistro 45. (FWIW, Bistrot 45 already held the top dining position for these wine lunch things and knocked themselves right out of first place into first and second place.)

Your gracious host donnie sporting a svelte new look

All hands on deck

The fun end of the table

The menu features all organic ingredients

Carpaccio

Ravioli

Duck and polenta

Did we mention the polenta?

Of course, there was lots of wine, good conversation, and laughter.

The whites

The reds

Note to self that wine tasting is much better without the last vestiges of a chest cold.

After lunch we headed into greater downtown Pasadena for a cocktail or two. The bar at Smitty’s Grill is remarkably good. Excellent standard cocktails and a bartender who is even experimenting with milk punch.

smitty’s grill bar

milk punch

NPS has been coming to the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica for many years (starting before there was even an NPS identity). Over the years, many parts of the hotel have undergone updating and renovation, with special attention paid to the common areas. The rooms have all been spruced up as well, but unfortunately the bathrooms were not included in the renovation plan.

Santa Monica is pretty not bad

This trip out allowed for only one night in Santa Monica, so NPS decided to check out a room category one notch down from the ocean view suites. Turns out, it’s a big notch. The king suite room 709 has a spacious design with some very strange quirks. It also has a tiny little bathroom.

Room layout is very similar to the ocean view suites, with a view of the back alley instead on the ocean.

709 sitting area

What stands in as a desk

French doors to the bedroom

But what in the heck is this here for??

709 forlorn chair

That space where the poor lonely chair sits would be better off as part of an expanded bathroom. Here, you’ll see what we mean.

Tiny little bathroom

Though the stuff in the bathroom is spotless and new, the shower over the tub thing has got to go (not to mention the obesity bar). Zero points for the shower.

Dare you to use whatever liquid is in these containers

During our brief stay in Santa Monica, we had lunch at Lazy Daisy, dinner at Lares, and breakfast at Cora’s. All three places are top notch.

We’re demoting the Georgian to three showerheads. Hopefully they will see to some bathroom redesign to go along with all of the other great stuff that they have done.

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.

Apparently, someone from the three city tour we’re part of has been reading our supposedly secret blog entries (LOL), because when we checked in at the Pullman Melbourne Albert Park this afternoon, we were assigned a very nice room indeed. So thanks, secret blog reading lurkers! We know you’re out there.

Once again for the record, the Pullman Melbourne Albert Park is not the kind of place NPS usually frequents. This is a high level business hotel. You can always spot this category of hotel by the international air crews frequenting the lobby and the packs of Chinese tourists that wash through in waves.

View from the executive floor

At checkin, we were assigned room 9604. There is only one suite at this hotel (next door, it turns out), but there are a number of executive class rooms with a sitting area on the executive level of the hotel. Some of those rooms overlook the Albert Park lake (across the parking area and a highway). 9604 is one of those with a view.

The room itself is well appointed and spacious with room to exist.

Since it is December, it is summer here and the xmas stuff scattered to and fro all over the place is disconcerting if not outright alarming. When you wander around town in the summer heat there are many people in short xmas skirts and bad xmas t-shirts (no sweaters to be seen).

Speaking of which, when it is 99 degrees outside, the HVAC system here just can’t keep up. My in room AC ran continuously and never hit the target temperature. Time to upgrade the HVAC on this property to prepare for global warming.

The Pullman Melbourne lobby play along with xmas

Juxtaposition

Our bathroom is spacious but a bit spartan. Some of that space could have been put to use to house a better shower.

Spartan

But the shower is not plastic.

We were recognized by name on checkin (tipping us off that the fairies had become involved). There was even a welcome amenity set up for someone else in the room.

Amenity for mr dunbar

We’ll happily spoof mr dunbar as long as we get to stay in this room for the next few nights.

NPS is gratified to learn that not only do all systems break, some of them even learn!

After a quick turnaround mostly for charging devices, we headed into town. St Kilda is south of the city proper and is a suburban beach town. Like many beach towns, it’s a bit scrappy. People say “fuck” a lot in normal conversation (even in fancy restaurants), and there are more crazy ass bums here than you find in the city. It reminds NPS of the seedier parts of San Diego.

A late lunch of sushi at Ichi Ni was very good indeed.

Sushi for lunch

A walk along the beach was in order, and then an amble through town for some espresso.

Espresso at Leroy is worth seeking out. The walk from the Pullman into town is just over a mile. An easy walk, but not one you want to do multiple times per day. That’s why they make uber.

Leroy for breakfast and the best coffee in town

Albert Park with Melbourne in the background

A very good but overpriced dinner at Cafe di Stasio included an incredibly delicious Omelette D’aragosta. This dish is so good it warrants mention in guidebooks and they are right on all counts. Get it. The wine list is also very good. It’s the clientele that needs some finishing school.

After a half day in St Kilda, we’re ready to give our last talk and get into Melbourne. More soon.

Cocktails at Black Pearl are highly recommended. Make a reservation for the Attic space. Our bartenders were exceptionally knowledgeable and the drinks were great. Much fun was had. And, they made us a liberal.

Drinks at 1806 are a completely different scene on a Friday. Loud music and lots of energy. Not very civilized, but very good cocktails.

Skip the circular tram nonsense. It is overhyped and a waste of time. Just do some walking in the center of town instead. But make sure to leave time for the incredible National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). It is worth the visit.

The special Escher exhibit was worth fighting the crowds to see, especially with Sam. See lots of Escher on apothecaryshed.

Finagle your way into the dumpling place, hutong, if you can. Really worth calling and conning your way in.

The Gin Palace is an exceptional bar, so good in fact that we visited twice—briefly before seeing a play and more properly afterwards.

Adelaide Negroni (all products from Australia)

Such ice. Wow.

Astroman is an uplifting play with some great laughs and some real feels

Four showerheads for the Pullman Albert Park and a wish for a sultry hot xmas.

Our first taste of Rydges South Bank Brisbane left a bad taste in the mouth. But a meeting with the GM in the morning cleared things up.

While we were off having breakfast, our room was switched to a very nice suite (room 1028).

There is plenty of room in 1028. And two balconies to boot.

Wrap around balconies

Room to exist

Working desk

A separate bedroom

The bathroom is big enough for two, and has a big tub.

Much better shower. Ahhh!

The shower is very nice

Breakfast at the Gunshop Cafe is delicious. Great espresso and juice.

Gunshop cafe Sunday brunch

After which, an excursion to Stradbroke Island (called “straddie”). Ferry ride on a bus, picnic lunch, beer, hiking, gelato, swimming in the ocean. A great day.

Point Lookout

The seas were high, and we got wet, which was a blast!

See more pictures from the Stradbroke trip.

Dinner at Julius Pizzeria was authentically Italian. Great pizza and great people.

Julius Pizzeria

There is a budding cocktail scene in Brisbane. Thanks to Rachel at Wickham we were looped in. We can confirm that Saville Row is top notch. (Look for the orange door.)

Likewise Electric Avenue is a great place for a cocktail. Jess created a drink for us.

Jess at Electric Avenue

Rye Surprise
45ml Bulliet Rye
20ml dry vermouth
15ml lemon
20ml kiwi puree
40ml pineapple
8 dashes peychauds
shake. double strain. serve up in a coupette. garnish with dehydrated pineapple.

Rye Surprise

Apparently a Brisbane cocktail called the clockwork orange was a contest winner…which contest we don’t recall. It falls squarely in the tiki category.

Clockwork Orange
20ml aperol
20ml cherry heering
20ml passionfruit syrup
30ml gin (monkey 47)
25ml lemon
2 dashes orange bitters
shake. strain. serve over crushed ice in a tall collins glass.

Bars we were unable to visit but heard tell are good include: Legends Speakeasy (find the passcode on the net) and Tomcat (behind Bill Murray).

Skip the Pancake Manor. Though it is built in an old church the food is awful and the espresso is worse. Greasy spoons should be greasy but not just bad.

QAGOMA is an excellent museum. The modern art collection is far superior to the science museum’s stuff. Just stick with the art. Have a beer in the courtyard.

The botanical gardens are also worth a visit.

Four showerheads and a tip of the hat to Rydges. Thanks for fixing things. Now for some sleep!

Somehow in this case the word “Rydges” connotes cheap condoms from a gas station vending machine. We’re traveling with a group, and that means little control over situations that NPS usually has a strict handle on. No worries, we were assigned the second best room category on the Rydges South Bank property with a balcony overlooking the river. Room 1116 is a bit cramped, but not bad.

Except for the part where it is connected by a very thin door to the suite next door where an asshole is hosting an all night party. The party involved yelling, loud conversation, noisy sex, door slamming, and more! At least the party wound down for a bit about 1:15am when we called management and they had a chat with the noisy people. But then at 5am it all started again with speaker phone conversations and more loud asshole.

Basically, I guess we’ve decided that the wrong class of people frequents this hotel. That makes Rydges more of a “Walmart-shopper style salesperson on a bender with some hookers” hotel. Or maybe it is only the ridiculous Christmas revelry sweeping the city.

Whatever. We fixed things the next morning after no sleep. Rydges can and does do better!

Brisbane, on the other hand is a great place to visit.

We went to Koala-land (Lone Pine Koala sanctuary) after we ditched our bags at the hotel. Well worth a visit. Just don’t plan to eat any food there. Really. Captive audience means super bad food, even by zoo standards.

Kangaroo

We did the obligatory koala picture.

Koala picture from Lone Pine

About which…

And then it was back to the hotel to shower before cocktail hour (crammed into a tiny bathroom).

Not much room, but the shower is glass

Two people can’t use this sink at one time (unless one is on the john)

River view and a cute balcony

We had fantastic Negroni’s made with Four Pillars gin at Wickham with Rachel. Also gathered data for later cocktail shenanigans. (Skip eleven rooftop bar unless you like fake glitz and dated DJ music.)

Dinner at Caravanserai was very good indeed. Authentic Turkish in a funky noisy boisterous atmosphere. Nice. Just don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine to drink on your way in.

Caravanserai

Then ride the wheel for a dash of too much AC before bed.

The Wheel

Two showerheads and a fervent hope that the asshole next door gets a cosmic comeuppance for Rydges phase one. Things got better!

Right, so we flew from New Zealand which was pretty much of a paradise to a big city in Australia on purpose. That’s how it goes sometimes! Fortunately, Sydney turns out to be a great place for a look around.

We must say that the so-called “partnership” between United Airlines and Air New Zealand is utterly useless. No star alliance perqs here. Just middle seats in economy. Not impressed at all with the Air New Zealand experience. Global services my ass.

Anyway, we arrived and cabbed basically across town to the Sydney Hilton.

Any loyal reader of NPS knows that these kinds of big, industrial hotel chains are not our cup of tea. But we’re here on business and the hotel choice is out of our control. The Hilton is a nice property and it is centrally locaded, so that’s all good.

On arrival, our room category (which I believe turned out to be the “crappy” category) was not available, so we went and got some ramen. The front desk staff was helpful and friendly about the delay. Thanks SooYeon.

Ramen at Yasaka Ramen was authentic and delicious, but super heavy. Be forewarned.

Ramen in Sydney

When we returned about an hour later (after coffee at Doppio which we highly recommend), our room was ready. We were assigned hamster cage 2203.

Lets just be cheerful about the whole thing and call it “cramped.” We have so much stuff in tow on our 25 day trip, that there was not even room to stash our luggage.

No room for walking in 2203

This is as far away from the bed as the camera can get. LOL.

The bathroom is likewise very tiny.

But the shower was at least glass!

If you are a hamster or some other kind of tiny rodent, this is the room category for you. Sure it’s free. Yup.

Two showerheads for the “crappy” room category at the Sydney Hilton. Just don’t.

Fortunately, after a walk around the botanical gardens, we ambled right back into the lobby and switched ourselves up to a Relaxation Suite. Apparently there are 16 such rooms available on this property. For more, see part two!