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Up Next: Asheville Wine & Food Festival August 20-22

ChefChallenge4-28

We continue our adventures in good taste exploring the country’s best wine and food festivals. One to add to the list is the Asheville Wine and Food Festival, set in the beautiful backdrop of the North Carolina Mountains. In its 7th year, this year’s festivities kick off with ELIXIR, a craft cocktail contest which reveals the area’s best mixologists. Local distilleries including Blue Ridge Distilling, Davis Valley Distillery, and TOPO Distillery will be present.

Asheville

On Friday evening, enter Candyland , with the festival’s SWEET event celebrating desserts, champagne, wine, spirits, and shopping. We’re most excited about Saturday’s Grand Tasting, a three-tier tastings taking place at the U.S. Cellular Center located in downtown Asheville. Local and international wineries, area breweries, regional distilleries, restaurants, artisan food producers, chefs, and more will all be present showcasing the best delectable eats and quenchy drinks. We can not wait!

Photo courtesy of the Hotel Indigo

Photo courtesy of the Hotel Indigo

Fantastic accommodations at the nearby Hotel Indigo put us right in the center of the action. I’m especially excited for this decadent weekend as a celebration of the big 4 0 -1 as I like to call it, i.e. turning 39. Hoping to cheers and celebrate with you there. For more information and for tickets, please visit Asheville Wine & Food.

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Bali Hi: An Island Resort in Paradise

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Grahame Southwick comes to our rescue.

Actually, I think he just wants to join our party on a secluded pocket-sized cay in the South Pacific.  Surrounded by a cobalt expanse so varied in blues it might have been painted by David Hockney, we relax atop blankets sipping bloody marys and nibbling Lilliputian quiches. Though the waves roar and a siege of black and white gulls cackle away, nature mutes its own noise, fusing the cacophony into a meditative silence. On a breakfast picnic, we’ve taken over this cloistered islet as if we were the Swiss Family Robinson shipwrecked in the possession of a master chef. In truth, its our hotel, Royal Davui, located on its own private island nearby (just a bit bigger than this one) that arranged our outing. They have supplied this breakfast repast of Babette proportions. We’ve spent the morning searching for shells, sunning and storytelling, and now its time to return to civilization—that is if you consider Royal Davui, an 8-acre island with 16 vales (villas) perfectly perched on volcanic cliffs , a new spa, pristine beaches, a tree house restaurant, and fairytale foliage, to be “civilization.” I call it heaven.

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Enter Grahame Southwick: adventurer, shark wrestler, sailor, tuna fishing entrepreneur, fifth-generation Fijian, and owner of  Royal Davui, located just 45 minutes from Nandi by helicopter. He docks his rotomodeled, fiberglass 14-foot Hobie Wave—one of two the hotel has on hand for guests to sail,–and points out that this sandy cay might disappear with the tide. We help pack up the crusts and detritus from our meal, and stand with Grahame on the sand. The sun illuminates his handsome, weather-worn face, while he tells us about the wrecked ship he salvaged from the sea, carried to Royal Davui, then resunk near the reef just to add extra romance to the already fish-flocked waters—a clear boon for divers.  Suddenly, as if summoned by a bell, his eyes widen. Grahame focuses on the vista—as if for the very first time. “Just look at that,” he says. He gestures to the horizon, which features a mesmerizing blanket of blues as far as the eye can see.–and absolutely nothing else.  We internalize his passion for this island nation, an archipelago of more than 300 islands, only 100 of them occupied. Fiji. Not Tahiti. Not Hawaii. This is a world apart. Though its time to sail back, we ponder the gravitas of this setting, and the strange loud quietude. Though in the middle of nowhere, we are everywhere. Here, on this Fijian motu, the world feels entirely enormous, but comfortingly intimate, too.

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

Photo courtesy of Royal Davui Island Resort

 

So, clinging to Grahame’s fast speeding sailboat (did I mention he’s a world class Hobie racer?), we rollick through the waves to the tranquility and romance of adults only Royal Davui. When we return, legions of staff (the guest to staff ration must be 3-to-1) greet us ebulliently, as if we’ve been gone a very long time—or as if they thought we’d never return. But, then, that’s what happens in Fiji. People welcome you—like family. When they say “bula (their catch-all word, like aloha, which translates to welcome), they mean it. Still, this amicable spirit feels more embracing on Royal Davui than anywhere else.  They don’t just welcome you at this have onf barefoot luxury—they adopt you.  So, like family we enjoy our stay. We retire to our villa’s private plunge pools, tropical drink in hand; we grab snorkeling equipment and take to the reef; and we cuddle up in the love shack—a hidden spot overlooking the Pacific with couples in mind. One day we visit a neighboring island village to attend church—and watch the local children’s choir croon. Some days we do nothing at all.

Just like you do when you visit family. (royaldavuifiji.com)

Fun Facts:

Drink Kava, the “relaxing” national beverage which looks like mud and tastes like dirty socks. Residents meet and greet you with it, and sip it all day.

The official language of Fiji is English—though Fijian is spoken. Literacy rate is almost 94 percent.

Fiji’s waters are home to over 1,500 species of sea life.

Fiji’s waters are home to over 1,500 species of sea life.

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The Perfect Summer Sipper – Apricot Sour Recipe from The INN

Photo Courtesy of the INN, Montgomergy Center, Vermont

Photo Courtesy of the INN, Montgomery Center, Vermont

School’s out, vacations have started, and the days and nights of sultry summer have begun. Here at VODA we think the best way to beat the heat is with a crisp, cool cocktail and this one from The INN located in Vermont fits the bill perfectly!

Combine:

1.5 oz dried apricot-infused brandy

1.5 oz whiskey

2 oz home-made sour mix

Orange slice

Maraschino cherry

Directions:

To infuse the brandy, simply soak a bottle of standard brandy overnight with dried apricots. The longer the soak the better; it won’t go bad.

For the sour mix, make a standard simple syrup and mix that 1:1 with lemon/lime juice and two egg whites in a mason jar.

Leave enough room in the jar to shake with air.

Garnish with orange slice and cherry.

There’s still time to book a summer getaway to the INN. Located in beautiful Montgomery Center, Vermont, this quaint inn has just 11 rooms. Its surroundings are picturesque and provide the perfect setting for relaxing and sipping on a summer cocktail. The INN is offering a “Three Nights for the Price of Two” package now. For more information visit, www.theinn.us

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La Nuit En Rosé Sails Into New York

Photo credit Guillaume Gaudet

Photo credit Guillaume Gaudet

It’s summer and it this is the sultry season for sipping rosé while enjoying some of the seasons most succulent summer foods. In this all Rosé and Rosé Champagne event, La Nuit En Rosé is sailing into New York’s Hudson River on the Hornblower Infinity Yacht on Thursday, June 25 – Saturday, June 27. This almost all-sold out event returns this year with even more to offer including VIP Rosé Wine Pairing Dinner, a VIP Lounge, more than 150 rosé wines, and live entertainment. There’s still space available to attend Saturday’s general admission cruise from 1 PM – 4 PM, so don’t miss out!

Stemmari Rose bottleshot

 

Rosés from Italy, France, and New York will be featured at the event and will include STEMMARI ROSÉ 2014 Sicily, Italy; Château Sainte Marguerite, Cuvée Symphonie Rosé 2014 Provence; Cru Classé Côtes de Provence, Domaine Montrose rosé 2014; Languedoc Roussillon, Pays d’Oc; Bridge Lane Rosé 2014 New York, North Fork of Long Island; Ca’ del Bosco Annamaria Clementi Rosé Italy, Lombardy, Franciacorta Riserva DOCG. All of these wines retail for under $25 with the exception of the last mentioned, which sells for $100.

Rosé wine sales are at an all time high in the U.S. with reason! These easy-sipping wines are the perfect pair to chilled summer foods including seafood, salads and sushi. They are elegant to the eye and on the lips and are always best served well chilled. La Nuit’s founder, Pierrick Bouquet created this event to celebrate what is called the “rosé lifestyle.” Food is provided at the event by exquisite restaurants including STK, Butter & Scotch, and my personal favorite Fig & Olive. Dress code is none other than “Pink Chic.” Don’t miss this one! For more information visit, http://nuitrose.com/events/2015/la-nuit-en-rose-new-york

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Weekend Getaway Where to Go Next – Atlanta

The fifth annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival gave us reason to find our way back to this hot city often referred to as Austin’s sister city. I’d describe it as a grown-up version of Austin – the older sister who exudes confidence and grace while still retaining their fun-loving, playful side. In the all too short weekend visit we packed a lot into a city that has loads to offer and we share our must-dos with you below.

FPO_ATL_305

Photo credit Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta

Stay

Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta

What better way to check into a property on a Friday afternoon then to start off with happy hour … in the Spa! Monday through Friday this midtown Mecca offers spa happy hour complete with two 25 minute treatments of choice and a glass of sparkling wine or sparkling cider for the teetotalers. It’s just the right prescription for kickstarting the weekend in a stress-free and fun state. Rooms are casually comfortable with all the luxuries of home (or what one could wish for at home). Bathrooms are adorned with ample-sized vanities and marble bath and showers with brass features. Service is, as always, top notch! www.fourseasons.com/atlanta/

Ritz-Carlton Atlanta

Get a taste of the downtown flavor at this ornate jewel box of a property situated in the heart of the city on Peachtree Street. We loved the look of the terrace dining at the Atlanta Grill. Flawless check-in with a welcome glass of Prosecco sets the tone. Views from top-floor rooms are like none other – we overlooked the ferris wheel and felt like we were part of the city skyline. The complimentary hotel car gets you where you need to be in comfort and style. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Atlanta/

Eat

Atlanta Grill at the Ritz-Carlton

This is the place to dine downtown. Pick a seat in the cozy, yet elegant dining room or choose a more casual perch on the terrace overlooking the city streets as you watch the action below. Chef Shaun Thomas under the direction of Executive Chef, Ramesh Kaduru, turned out bites so delectable we swooned even more over each course. Sommelier Brian White offers gracious hospitality as he guided us through the interesting wine list and offered his suggestions to complement the courses perfectly. We sipped a French rosé from Provence paired with Chef’s rabbit terrine and were delighted with the Vacqueras Blanc, Chateau de Montmirail, Rhone Valley white wine we enjoyed with grilled octopus. Brian steered us in the right direction with a Russian River Valley pinot noir that enhanced the “Fish n Grits” style grouper.

 

Photo credit Katie Lesnick

For dessert, he shared with us a very special, and small production, Patron Anejo Tequila, one of his own personal bottles. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Atlanta/Dining/AtlantaGrill/

Lure

Be sure to make reservations at cool and hip hotspot. I cozied up to the bar and ordered  a well-crafted margarita while waiting for a table. A well-rounded, seafood-centric menu tempted us to keep things simple as my dining companion and I shared several courses including Cobia Ceviche, Yellowfin Tuna Crudo, and Tuna Conserva salad. Service was friendly and efficient. Get there early if you wish to get a seat at the three-deep bar. www.lure-atlanta.com

The Café at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead

Be an uptown girl (or boy) for the evening at this upscale outpost for fine, yet comfortable dining. Enter through the lounge with live music wafting through the air as you find your seat in the main dining room. We couldn’t resist a sushi start as we eyed the sushi chef and fresh offerings passing through the lounge area on our way to the dining room. We started with the Ritz Roll – Spicy Tuna topped with Tuna and, of course, Caviar. Dinner was a rich Halibut paired with Lafite, Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux, France suggested by sommelier Linda Torres. My dining companions were content with a rich Bordeaux that complimented a classic burger and beet salad. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Buckhead/Dining/TheCafe/

Play

Piedmont Park

It’s all about the balance. Situated in midtown, Piedmont Park sits on 189 acres and plays host to a variety of events and is the perfect backdrop for a stroll or jog. We laced up our running shoes and sweated out some of the previous night’s toxins. In addition to the walking and jogging paths, the park has picnic areas, tennis, playgrounds, and the Lake Clara Meer dock. Don’t miss this little slice of heaven on your visit to Atlanta. www.piedmontpark.org

Photo courtesy of  High Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of High Museum of Art

High Museum of Art

Known as one of the leading museums in the Southeast, this stunner has more than 14,000 pieces of works in its collection. Not to be missed are the Gordon Parks photography exhibition, the Coca-Cola bottle exhibition, and the Los Trompos installation on the Piazza. www.high.org

Photo credit Andrew Thomas Lee

Photo credit Andrew Thomas Lee

Empire State South

Also in midtown is the a gem of an adult playground with indoor/outdoor areas. Inside candlelight tables set the mood for intimate dining with friends while the lively bar provides a perch for those looking for a more energetic vibe. The outdoor space is dressed with patio tables and chairs, adirondaks, and a bocce ball court runs straight through the middle of it all. Cocktail service is not provided outdoors – the only flaw at this dynamic dining and drinking spot. Drinks are prepared with care, the bites are to die for, and the wine list is well thought out. Add this to the list on your next visit to Atlanta! www.empirestatesouth.com

Photo credit Nicole Carbon

Photo credit Nicole Carbon

Intermezzo

Linger and lounge at Intermezzo – one of the best people watching spots in all of midtown. It sits on the corner of Peachtree Street. Pretend you’re in Paris as you find a seat on their outdoor terrace lined with marble-topped cafe tables adorned with a petite vase of flowers. We took refuge from the rain and sipped on a sparkling rosé cava, it is was divine. www.cafeintermezzo.com

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

Photo credit Nicole Carbon

Photo credit Nicole Carbon

It’s not too early to start making your plans for next year’s festivities taking place June 2-5, 2016. In its fifth year, the festival stunned with world-renown chefs from the Southeast. We sipped and nibbled our way through the South. In addition to the tasting tents, don’t miss the seminars. These are led by top industry professionals in a fun, yet educational setting. We attended Eric Crane’s and Andrew McNamara’s “Acid is Your Friend” seminar and learned all about what “quenchy” wines are and why you should be drinking them now. Crane is an advanced sommelier and Director of Training and Business Development for Empire Distributors and McNamara is a Master Sommelier and Director of Fine Wine for Premier Beverage Company. We learned that, “alcohol is a social lubricant,” and high acid wines do not cause dry mouth often associated with high tannic wines. With high acid wines, “conversation flows,” so these are the perfect dinner party wines. Examples of high acid wines that we tasted included Veuve Cliquot Rosé, Pewsey Vale Riesling, and Luc Belaire Rosé. Yum and quenchy! There’s so much more to this dynamic city that we didn’t yet experience and are happy to have reason to go back for more! www.atlfoodandwinefestival.com

 

 

 

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Shoeless Swank: Even Brides Go Barefoot at Parrot Cay

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Photo Credit Parrot Cay

It might be just a dream. Or, at least a gauzy memory inspired by a chick flick.

I have one foot out of the diaphanous mosquito netting that wraps my Balinese style bed, before I recognize that this is reality. I awaken at a villa that overlooks the azure Caribbean Sea on a beach with bridal-bouquet white sand. That swirl of white crescent and bit of blue out my window couldn’t be more apropos. That’s because I’ve come here to attend a wedding—and the scene set by the landscape is nature’s altar. At Como’s Parrot Cay, a private island retreat in the Turks & Caicos’s my childhood friend will tie the knot. It was her brilliant idea to buy out all 1,000 intimate acres of this tony resort, to make the entire isle her own for this fete of a lifetime. Though this will be her day, my stay at this gorgeous resort to celebrate her big moment, seems more like her wedding gift to me.

A half hour’s boat ride from Providenciales, Turks & Caicos’ biggest island and home to its airport, Parrot Cay occupies its own remote island–just one of this nation’s forty-odd cays and islets. Set amid the worlds’ third largest coral reef, far flung enough from other resorts and islands to feel like Robison Crusoe’s home, the serene resort beckons as a haven. It’s the place for celebrities to hide out (though visit and you’re like to glimpse one), for honeymooners hankering to focus on one another, and for families who understand the concept that sometimes doing nothing at all is really doing everything.

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

With 75-rooms and suites—some that dot the very edge of the beach–, a colonial style main house, and a handful of two-and-three-bedroom villas and larger estate houses, which scatter down the shoreline like tide-deposited seashells, Parrot Cay makes the perfect place for a destination wedding of any size. Since an island buy out can service approximately 200 people, weddings held here tend to be small—even at their largest. But, couples do bring groups of more diminutive proportions as well, holding ceremonies on the beach, on the verandahs of sea-facing villas, and in the spa. Some brides and grooms come alone, choosing to borrow staff to serve as their witnesses—and letting the hotel wedding planners organize every romantic detail.

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

For this wedding extravaganza, I’ve brought my family. And, why not? There’s plenty to amuse kids here. Besides sandcastle building, the resort offers a bevy of complimentary beach toys and activities, from Stand-Up-Paddleboards to sailboats to bikes, and staff can organize scavenger hunts around the island, and outings to kid-pleasing places like Iguana Island, where giant lizards roam en masse like the dinosaurs of yore. Wedding guests, groomsmen and maids can likewise entertain themselves. Besides an infinity pool, ringed by linen-capped day beds, Parrot Cay offers daily Pilates and yoga, and customizes itineraries to include sunset cruises, snorkeling expeditions, diving outings, and deep sea fishing adventures. The Shambhala Spa, renowned for its principles of Ayurvedic wellness, offers a number of treatments ideal for wedding parties and guests with a penchant for unraveling the knots. The bride and I both choose the Javanese Royal Lular Bath—a Balinese wedding tradition, which involves being scrubbed with ginger, turmeric and sandalwood, before being slathered with yoghurt.

For the few days before the wedding, I set up housekeeping at one of the three-bedroom villas, rumored to be owned by Keith Richards. Of course, he’s not in residence, and I’m not doing much housekeeping, as the villas come with their own handy butlers. Ours is called Robert, and he’s been trained at one of London’s most prestigious academies of butlerdom. One thing he apparently learned in London is mindreading. Just at the moment I feel a pang of hunger and hear the sounds of my children astir, Robert arrives cheerfully balancing a large tray holding strong coffee, eggs benedict and house-made granola with apples and nuts. As I sit beside our villa’s personal pool, nibbling my breakfast, and looking out at the sea, I thank my old friend, the bride-to-be for planning a wedding in a destination that’s also fun for me.

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

Photo Credit Parrot Cay

After some pre-wedding day activities, and plenty of lounging in the sun, I receive a message from the bride, which she sends to everyone. “Don’t you dare wear shoes today,” she says. Though I’ve packed some heels I bought just for this event, I understand. After time spent at this barefoot chic retreat, I comprehend that its elegance is stripped down to nature’s essence, that to hobble through the sand in four-inch heels, would be to disrupt the cadence of a wedding in paradise. So, with my gossamer formal wear, I don flip-flops, and so do my kids. We arrive to the main beach to see it simply transformed. There’s a sheer white carpet leading to an arch bedecked with artful assemblages of white blossoms. The air smells of frangipani. Though a violin softly is played, the waves whispering as they meet the sand create soul-stirring background music. White lounge chairs in a row beckon. Some columns, wrapped in filmy material contrast with the ocean beyond. And, the bride and groom, highlighted by the sapphire expanse, appear as flowers themselves. A short but beautiful ritual ensues. It ends when the local celebrant says, “By the laws of these islands and the laws of your hearts, I declare you husband and wife.”

And then, the party begins.

For information on a legal marriage in the Turks & Caicos, see the marriage certification page at: http://www.turksandcaicostourism.com/license-requirements.html. Keep in mind that one option is a symbolic wedding ceremony, which is ideal, too, for vow renewals.

Parrot Cay:  Consider the Kurnia Package, which organizes the wedding ceremony for up to ten guests, US $3,500; For more information on wedding packages offered by Parrot Cay, go to their website: http://www.comohotels.com/parrotcay/events-and-facilities/weddings-and-celebrations/ceremonies-and-packages

Seeking out the most romantic locales to tie the knot in the world, wedding expert and travel writer Becca Hensley has attended weddings in a plethora of far flung destinations. She always packs more than one pair of shoes.

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What We’re Crushing on Now – Atlanta Food & Wine Festival May 28-31

Photo courtesy of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

Photo courtesy of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

In its 5th year the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival will once again take midtown Atlanta by storm – in a good way – Thursday, May 28 – Sunday, May 31. Elizabeth Feichter and Dominique Love are the dynamic duo responsible for the growing success of this four-day, exquisite and delicious event. Chefs, sommeliers, and those, in the wine and food know, from all over the South will come together to present seminars, Champagne Brunch, exclusive dinners, and a collaborative experience of the Tasting Tent event. Here guests can sample and sip their way through the South while chatting it up with fellow foodies, wine and distillery peeps, and top-tier chefs.

SPIT: Eric Crane of Empire Distributors says he won’t stop till he’s a Master Sommelier POUR, SABER AND SWIRL: (clockwise from left) Five Atlantans dedicate their lives to becoming Master Sommeliers  There are 211 Master Sommeliers in the world. Eric Crane, Matt Bradford, Marie Ballard, Justin Amick, and Joon Lim are vying for spots on that exclusive list.

Eric Crane of Empire Distributors Photo courtesy of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

VODA Magazine had a chance to catch up with Atlanta local, Eric Crane, advanced sommelier and Director of Training and Business Development for Empire Distributors. Crane will be presenting two seminars within the wine industry. He shares what he’s most excited about, how the festival has grown, and professional tips on how to make the most of your Atlanta Food & Wine Festival experience. Hint it involves always having a “party pal.”

In the Festival’s 5th year Crane enthusiastically says, “They’ve made it this far, there’s more synergy. It puts a nice spotlight on Atlanta and the Festival allows you to eat and drink your way through the South.” Another one of the Festival’s highlights are the Tasting Tents. Crane’s recommendation is the fried chicken section. He says, “There’s nothing better on the planet but that, usually.” He refers to festival Sunday as “Lazy, Southern Sunday.” “By that time everyone’s had too much fun during Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.” There’s a Champagne Brunch on Sunday that I’m personally looking forward to. For me bubbles are always welcomed. To get the most out of your festival experience, Crane advices to stay hydrated and pace yourself. Lastly he adds, “Always have a drinking partner, a party pal. There’s less errors.” Eric will be co-presenting on Friday, May 29 from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM American Oak in All Its Glory seminar. Then on Saturday, May 30 from 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM is the Acid is Your Friend seminar. For more information and for tickets visit, www.atlfoodandwinefestival.com

 

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A Trip to the Happiest and Coolest Seaside Town – Beaufort, NC

Beaufort, NC Waterfront

Beaufort, NC Waterfront

When a coastal town gets rated number one “Happiest Seaside Town in America” by Coastal Living Magazine and “America’s Coolest Small Town” by the readers of Budget Travel Magazine, you go. And when your friend calls you up to attend a wine and food festival in that same town, without hesitation, you go now! I quickly packed an overnight bag and headed east for approximately three and half hours to the Southern Outer Banks, also referred to as the Crystal Coast.

I arrived on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but it didn’t halt the charm of this coastal town. It sits on an inlet with oak tree-lined streets and quaint, yet stately homes with huge porches occupied by friends and families gathered for a weekend getaway. I was there for a total of 24 hours and while I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, a friend of mine described it to me as, “A college town for older, wealthy people.” Although, there is not a college there and the people aren’t retirement-age old, but more like baby boomers and their children – most of them counting Beaufort as a second home.

Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

The waterfront boasts breathtaking views that go on for miles. Sailboats dot it like sprinkles on an ice cream cone. If you aren’t one of the lucky few to own a home there – or have friends that do – there are options for accommodations like endearing bed and breakfasts and an Inn along the waterfront, which is where I chose to stay, the Inlet Inn. My room was adequate for the short time I was there.

Best in Show Beaufort Food & Wine Festival

Best in Show Beaufort Wine & Food Festival

Once freshened up, I drove a short, two miles to the Boathouse where the festivities of the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival were taking place under a huge white tent. My dear friend, an advanced sommelier and director of training and development with Empire Distributors, pointed me in the right direction to start off with some bubbles and then over to his brands for a taste of some divine reds.  I was pleased to find a sparkling I had not had before the Etoile Brut from Domaine Chandon, yes please! It is toasty and delicious! The best in show went to a line in the Kendall-Jackson family not found in your typical grocery chains like other Kendall-Jackson wines. It was the 2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County and one word can describe this beauty, quenchy! It was juicy, soft, and elegant.

Local Chocolates from Raleigh

As I perused the tasting tables for some bites, I spotted Cary’s own Le Farm Bakery and discovered the most delicious, artisan chocolates from Raleigh. The name is Escazu and I fell in love with the Single Origin Guapiles variety from Costa Rica. The Goat’s Milk Single Origin Carenero from Venezuela came in as a close second. The goat’s milk offered this subtle tang while lending a creamy mouth feel.

I asked the locals at the festival which dining spots are not to be missed and twice Aqua came up. I spotted their tasting table and while the samples were not gluten-free, they looked exquisite as did their menu. I loved what chef had printed on the top of the menu that was on display, “Dining out should be both memorable, but fun.” Chef Jayson Foster puts his twist on classics and knowing they source their wine from the region’s top distributors, I knew a visit here would not disappoint.

Caprese Salad with Microbasil at Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

Caprese Salad with Microbasil at Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

The gracious and lovely manager, Kim, welcomed me in with open arms even though I came at an hour when they were getting ready to close. I promised not to linger and ordered cold menu items to try to be respectful to the kitchen team. I decided on chef’s version of a caprese salad and the seared tuna. The caprese salad was modernized with bits of fresh cantaloupe and microbasil, instead of traditional basil leaves, and the flavor it lent danced on the tongue. Equally as delicious was the seared tuna to which chef added thinly sliced bits of green apple. I was in heaven. To add to this delight, and from the recommendation of the knowledgeable and friendly bartender, I paired these two courses with a cherry bomb in a glass, otherwise known as the 2012 Cherry Pie Stanley Ranch Pinot Noir from Ranch Carneros, Ca. At $25 a glass it was worth every exquisite sip.

Tuna with Granny Smith Apples at Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

Tuna with Granny Smith Apples at Aqua Restaurant Beaufort, NC

My time in Beaufort, NC concluded with a rainy, yet enjoyable walk around the charming town and along the waterfront to take in the sea air and observe the locals and tourists out for a their Sunday morning exercise and pre-brunch gatherings. I can’t wait to get back to this cool Crystal Coast gem and get another dose of happiness.

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Best in Show 2015 Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance Shines

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In its third year, the Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance is well on the heels of the more established Pebble Beach and Amelia Island classic and luxury car shows. Taking place on the greens of famous Pinehurst #2 golf course best known as the premiere course for the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Opens that take place there every few years, 2014 being the most recent. Without a cloud in the sky, and the weather a flawless 75 degrees and sunny, the setting, day, and scenery could not have been more perfect on this second day of May when the main event took place.

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Doors opened at 9 a.m. and a lucky few were able to hear Pinehurst Concours President, Jay Howard, speak about this year’s show, what makes it stand out from the other tony shows, and new exciting things taking place this year. The feature that stood out most is Pinehurst’s near perfect location. Located about an hour south of the Raleigh/Durham area this pristine locale boosts the beautiful greens of Pinehurst number two, has nearly no traffic, and is equipped with ample parking. Folks, we may have found utopia and the word is spreading. This year ticket sales were up by an astounding 4,000 more than last year.

The show features 280 cars and the fairway offers abundant room to properly display these works of beauty. Rows of cars situated into 13 classes line the greens. New this year was bringing in a national act to the evening’s events. Three Dog Knight performed to a baby boomer-centric crowd. A highlight for me was admiring Rita Hayworth’s 1953 plum-hued Series 62 Coupe by Ghia Cadillac. It was stunning! My eyes gravitated towards the fabulous Jaguars dating from the 50s and beyond and the BMWs. I have an affliction for the 800 series popular in the 1990s.

Photo courtesy of the Pinehurs

Photo courtesy of the Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance

This year’s best in show was the 1919 Pierce Arrow Model 66 A-4 Tourer whose owner is Robert Jepson, Jr. from Savannah, Georgia. The evening closed out early to the sounds of the band and all went home just a little more enriched as the Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance graced our beautiful locale.

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Level Two – Football inspired menu for the 2015 NFL Draft

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The NFL Draft begins tomorrow in Chicago.  The last time the city hosted the NFL Draft was way back in 1963.  It’s a huge deal for football fanatics in the Chicagoland area.  The Draft itself will take place at the Auditorium Theater but for the legions of football fans who want to be a part of it, Grant Park is converting to “Draft Town” hosting a series of events starting Today, Wednesday 29th until the conclusion of the draft on May 2nd.

Draft Weekend promises to bring thousands to the city over the next few days and across the city restaurants and hotels are getting into the spirit.

Level Two the restaurant/lounge located on the second floor of the Hyatt Magnificent Mile is rolling out a special menu for the event that centers around beer and game-day snacks with an NFL theme and an gourmet twist. Read more…

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