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Houseguest #2, John from MI, Comes to California

10/10/11 - Oakland, CA

We host our friend John on a beautiful Indian Summer weekend

Hot on the heels of Caroline's return from a family visit to Michigan, Scott's childhood friend John arrived from Detroit.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the high desert landscapes of New Mexico on his last visit to us, he was hoping for a second trip to Albuquerque.  Unfortunately for him, he missed his window of opportunity by mere months.  But luckily for us, he was happy to come to the Bay Area instead and was rewarded handsomely with three days of the best weather imaginable (following an arrival day of intermittent showers spent wandering the streets of San Francisco, solo, while Scott finished up his work week and Caroline went to the dentist).   Over beers and a baseball game at a bar on Thursday evening, it was decided that a little wine-tasting was in order.  Friday dawned clear, sunny and warm, showing no trace of Thursday's showers and gloom, and we drove off towards Napa Valley in the lingering new-car smell of our Honda Fit.  Once in the famous wine valley, we filled our day with tasting stops at three wineries, the highlight being our visit to Sterling Vineyards, where we went on a self-guided "tasting tour" after riding the (mandatory) ski-lift-style gondola up the steep hill to the property.  While none of the numerous wines we tasted knocked our socks off enough for a purchase, each vineyard we visited had its own cache and it was an enjoyable day filled with the fun and laughter of old friends catching up.  After completing our final tasting of the day (a sedate affair at B Cellars winery and memorable largely for the small tray of meats, cheeses and olives provided to compliment the tastes) we headed back towards Oakland, stopping on the way at the Culinary Institute's Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant for pre-dinner cocktails and a tasty shared appetizer as the afternoon turned cool and the sun began to lower in the sky.  Upon our arrival back in Rockridge, we concluded our evening with martinis (delicious!) in the dimly lit bar at A Cote as we waited (a long time) for our table to be ready for a light dinner.  The food was lackluster and the service even worse; in retrospect, we lamented, we should have quit while we were ahead and just ordered a pizza.

On Saturday, we continued our active weekend with a somewhat strenuous hike on sun-dappled trails through the sequoias of Joaquin Miller Regional Park, just a ten-minute drive from our house.  After the hike, we decided it just wouldn't be Saturday afternoon without a happy hour cocktail, and following a brief driving tour of the Oakland Hills (sadly, it was too foggy to get much a view of the City from our scenic view stop-off), we conveniently found ourselves on the sunny bay-view deck at the Claremont Resort for...what else, cocktails!  Back at home, we capped off another perfect day with a casual dinner of steamed black mussel in their broth, a crusty baguette and green salad, taking a break form the televised baseball action, to devour the tasty meal.

On Sunday, the day once again promised perfect weather and after a quick breakfast at home, Scott and John went off in search of a tennis court.  Caroline, after taking care of some things around the house, wandered down the street to check out the Rockridge Out and About street festival, taking place on College Avenue that afternoon.  Not typically a fan of the festival, street or otherwise, Caroline was impressed with the interesting and high-quality booths participating in the festival, as well as the enjoyable live music and intriguing gourmet food offerings.  After returning form their tennis match Scott and John joined Caroline at the festival, where we proceeded to eat our way down College Avenue, which was closed to traffic through the entire Rockridge business district.  First off, Scott and Caroline happily slurped a half-dozen fresh and delicious Miyagi oysters on the half-shell - a bargain at only $1 per oyster! - while John opted out on this one.  As we wandered down the street, we continued our tasting theme of the weekend, sharing a shrimp Louis sandwich, a whiskey fennel bratwurst and finally a hefty pork tamale drowned in a delicious, if not particularly authentic red sauce and served with tasty homemade corn tortilla chips.  In addition to all the food trucks and tents, there were numerous booths selling interesting and upscale clothing, jewelry and accessories, and many other local businesses promoting awareness and providing information regarding their products and services.  There was lots of tempting gourmet ice cream, gelato and kettle corn on offer as well as several locations selling beer and wine (the mark of a good festival, in Caroline's book), including one with living room furniture set up beneath a tent, where you could enjoy your wine while seated on a stylish sofa in the middle of the street!  But John's festival favorite was a wrestling demonstration put on in an elevated ring, complete with theatrical, costumed wrestlers.  We're still not sure what the deal was with that.

Although we (i.e. John) had big plans for another strenuous hike in the afternoon, everyone was a bit worn out from the activities of the day thus far and we spent the remainder of the warm afternoon lounging on the porch, sipping cool drinks and hanging out with the friendly neighbor cats, Olive, Seymour and Cato, who stopped by to say hello.

We ended our weekend on a high-note with dinner at the charmingly casual Chop Bar in Jack London Square, which we'd been wanting to try for a while now.  It turned out to be an excellent choice and the chopped salad (John), the oxtail poutine (Caroline) and the ribs (Scott) paired with a carafe of their cabernet on tap (we love the new wines on tap - keeping the prices down and the quality up - being offered at select establishments in California!) were thoroughly enjoyed by all.  The meal was complete with an apple crisp, bourbon pecan pie and 3 forks.

It was a wonderful weekend overflowing with artisan cocktails, fine wine, gourmet food, a little exercise thrown in for good measure and excellent company. Come back soon, John, we can't wait to do it all over again!

Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley


Riding the gondola at Sterling


Love harvest time!


Hiking deep in the sequoias at Joaquin Miller Regional Park


Enjoying the view towards San Francisco from the deck at the Claremont


Seymour and Cato stop by for a visit




John and Scott wander amongst the vines at the Clos du Val winery in Napa


Scott admires the soon-to-be harvested grapes


Castello di Amorosa, where you can simultaneously taste wine and tour a castle


We opted not to pay the pricey entry fee and just took photos outside


Scott and John board the gondola at Sterling Vineyards


Caroline and John pose with the million-dollar views at Sterling Vineyards


Scott checks out the harvest during our self-guided tour at Sterling


Enjoying pre-dinner martinis at A Cote in Rockridge


Post-hike cocktails-with-a-view at the Claremont


Seymour (b/w) is feeling frisky while Cato (grey) gets a bit feisty