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Yearly Archives: 2016
Our Labor Day Weekend trip to Yosemite ended with a final night in San Francisco, before our flight back to Chicago. I was given a choice of 3 restaurants for our one main meal in San Francisco, and I selected Coi (pronounced kwah – not coy). This Michelin Two-Star Restaurant is located in the North Beach neighborhood. The seafood centric menu by newly named chef, Matthew Kirkley was exquisite. Chef Kirkley and a few other members of his team recently left Chicago for San Francisco and are doing amazing things at Coi.
I wrote a few days about about the geographical error in the wine list – a simple, yet glaringly obvious issue: Burgundy is in France, not Germany. We all make errors in our work, but something as basic as this really surprises me that it made through the review process. Perhaps someone went in and intentionally made a change when printing new menus. How long had this error been present? How important is an issue like this when the fine folks from Michelin come in to review the restaurant? That being said, if the worst part of the dinner was a wrong country listed on a wine list, I’d consider that to be a win.
This meal made the list of best dining experiences we’ve had this year. It wasn’t number one for the year, remember, we went to Lima and ate our way through some of the best places on the continent (more on that later). For me, the standout dish was the Dungeness Crab. Being an Oregonian, I have a special place in my heart, er, stomach, for Dungeness Crab. One of the reasons this course stood out was the juxtaposition of the presentation (which looked fine, but didn’t wow me) and the flavors / textures of the food itself. My expectations were dropped based on presentation, but my mouth was blown away by the execution.
From a wine perspective, I think the Burgundy served with the Maine Lobster was great. I am a major fan of, as I call them, dirty Pinot Noirs. I just love the Earthy flavors that come from some of the world’s best Pinots. Oregon and Burgundy are my favorite regions for this type of wine and the 2006 Serafin Père et Fils, ‘Les Millandes,’ Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru sure fit the bill.
What I also loved about Coi was the service. When we visited L20, in Chicago (where Chef Kirkley and at least one of Coi’s servers came from), the service was abysmal…at best. We loved, again, the juxtaposition of the highly-elevated fine dining experience, with the gentile and approachable staff. We quickly built a rapport with the service team and laughed quite a bit together. After the meal, we sat and chatted, getting additional restaurant recommendations for the following day, and enjoying our wine.
We don’t make it to San Francisco all that often, and Coi isn’t an every day option, but I would very much love to return and experience another menu from this stellar team – if the opportunity should arise, I would definitely considering returning for this same menu again. I’d have to make sure the same service team was working my table though – they really pulled program together.
Kudos Chef and Team.
After Cusco we headed to the main destination on our Peruvian adventure – Machu Picchu. After some quick research we found there was a Starwood Luxury Collection Property in the small city of Urubamba, Peru. The price when we initially booked was around $350/night, which was higher than I wanted to pay, but I figured I’d keep an eye on the prices and see how they changed over the couple of months until our actual arrival. We ended up booking through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts for $316/night. The nice part about the AmEx FHR deal was that the third night was free, we were given complimentary breakfast, internet and $100 spa credit. The breakfast and internet would have been complimentary for us anyway, because I’m a SPG Platinum member, but I was able to get the breakfast benefit from AmEx and get the bonus check-in points because of Platinum Status.
The hotel had a private train station that would take you up to Machu Picchu too – and the train station was just a 5 minute walk from the front lobby. It was a nice benefit, but even with the close proximity, we had to meet in the hotel lobby at 06h00 to make our way up to Machu Picchu. The hotel also had a travel desk where they would organize special trips and tours. We worked closely with the hotel’s travel desk long before our departure to ensure we’d have a proper guide, train tickets and the necessary permits/access to Machu Picchu. While I enjoy doing some trip planning on the fly, something like Machu Picchu really can’t be done that way. With a limited number of entrances each day, there was no way I was going to risk missing out visiting the main site of our trip.
We arrived at the hotel right around noon and were quickly greeted by staff. Our luggage was taken away and we were escorted to some very comfortable couches in the lobby. We were informed that our room was not ready yet, but if we wanted to explore the property a bit, or grab a bite to eat, our room should be ready by the time we finished. We finished the full check in process (payment confirmation, passport copies, itinerary confirmation, etc), but just weren’t given our room keys at this point.
We headed over and had lunch on the patio. It was beautiful, warm and shaded. We enjoyed a Pisco Sour and relaxed. We ordered sandwiches for lunch, which were quite underwhelming, but did the trick. We had decided to leave the hotel property for dinner that night to explore the sleepy little town of Urubamba, but planned on eating at the hotel the following night, after our Machu Picchu excursion. As soon we finished or lunch, the gentleman who had been helping us upon our arrival magically appeared with our room keys. He escorted us to the room, where we found our luggage had already been delivered.
The room was large and well appointed. The bed was big and very comfortable. I hate when you book a king sized bed and when you show up it’s a queen or a full. We had a lovely patio looking out to the fountains.
No hotel stay goes off without a hitch of course. The day of our Machu Picchu visit, we had an early breakfast in the restaurant. Nothing fancy, just the standard buffet breakfast. Those of you who are regular readers, know I’m not really a breakfast guy (unless it is at a nice hotel in Asia — those breakfast spreads are amazing). I usually just grab some juice, water, a little fruit and a slice or two of meats/cheeses. Which is exactly what I did on the morning of our big day. I was a little bleary eyed – it was early, I was excited about Machu Picchu. I thought the sliced meats had an interesting sheen to them, but they tasted fine at the time.
Fast forward to the train ride to Machu Picchu – about 2 hours into the ride (which was bout 3 hours total), I started to have a sour stomach. Something wasn’t right. On the train, I just had a glass of water and I remember thinking that those glasses they were serving the bottled water from looked less than hygienic. Once we arrive at station serving Machu Picchu, I immediately visit the WC. Again, those of you who have traveled with me know, I’m not usually a casual train station bathroom user. I needed to visit. As the day wore on, I got sicker and sicker. I’ll explain a bit more when I get to the Machu Picchu post – I’ll stick to the hotel aspect of the illness in this report.
The train ride back from Machu Picchu was slow, with many stops. I had a fever, the chills, the sweats and an upset stomach. We finally returned to the hotel station, it was rainy and cool. I was miserable. I asked MS to go into town and get me some saltines and Gatorade. I wasn’t in a good place. I made it back to the hotel room and just couldn’t stand it. I was frozen, so I called down to get additional blankets, which were quickly delivered. I nibbled on my crackers and sipped water. MS proceeded to the dinner at the main hotel restaurant – which he absolutely loved.
The host, server and the restaurant manager were all concerned about my well being. It isn’t common that a two person reservation is occupied by a single. The manager put together some local mint tea that he said always cures his stomach in these situations. Admittedly, the tea was quite good. I didn’t sleep well. I was blazing hot, then frozen to the core. MS wasn’t ill at all – he didn’t eat the turkey or ham with a rainbow sheen for breakfast, like I did.
The next day, I was feeling much better, but was far from 100%. Our plans for our final day in Urubamba was to spend time at the pool, have a couple cocktails, get a massage and basically take a day for complete relaxation. I skipped breakfast that morning – obviously. By mid morning we made our way to the pool, which was my biggest complaint about the hotel – other than the awful food poisoning that could have utterly destroyed my visit to Machu Picchu.
The pool faced the mountains and didn’t have much direct sun light. It was also quite small, so there wasn’t much room to lounge. The pool is accessed through the spa and while there is a bar in the pool area, it was so poorly manned we had to search out people for any type of service whatsoever.
Our relaxation day continued with massages. We built our own massage package with little help from the spa desk. They struggled with the idea of mixing and matching various treatments — they wanted it to be more of a “take it or leave it” sort of spa menu. We held our ground and put together a nice scrub, wrap and massage package. My masseuse was great – in general. She was about 4 feet tall, but had strong hands – I do believe, if she wanted to, she could have broken my femur just as easy as I could break a toothpick. I asked her to go a little lighter since I was still recovering from the rainbow turkey breakfast from the morning before. My only complaint about he was that she didn’t quite have the room prepared, so she was banging oils, scrubs and other accessories around like she was in a one-woman-marching-band. Not the most serene experience, but she worked out knots I didn’t even know I had.
MS had basically the same experience, except his masseuse provided almost no pressure whatsoever. Feather touch is an understatement. He was very disappointed.
I hadn’t eaten any real food that day – just Gatorade and some crackers. I decided to join MS for dinner at the hotel restaurant. The manager greeted us was very interested in my health and asked if the tea did the trick, which I believe it definitely helped. For dinner, I decided to try some tuna carpaccio, which I split with MS, and some more of that mint tea.
We were leaving the next morning at the crack of dawn as we had a flight to Arequipa from Cusco, which was more than an hour away. When we were checking out, we realized that the AmEx deal of the third night free wasn’t accurately reflected on our folio. I inquired and after a few minutes was told that I didn’t qualify because we didn’t stay enough nights — wrong. Then I was told that AmEx just credits us later on for this. Now, I know this isn’t how FHR has worked before, but by this time we were getting nervous about making our flight, so we decided to leave and take it up with the AmEx Platinum folks upon our return home. I am still fighting that battle now — and it is 3.5 months after our return.
Looking back on this post, it may seem like we had an awful experience – food poisoning, inconsistent massages and arguably getting screwed on the room rate, but I don’t see it that way. I liked the hotel and in general I liked the service – I think the front desk folks who are working at 05h15 probably aren’t the most experienced. The property was beautiful, the proximity to Machu Picchu couldn’t be beat. While I doubt we will ever return to Machu Picchu, if we do, I would stay here again in a heartbeat.
Have you stayed at the Tambo del Inka? Did you get violently ill from their breakfast spread? Did you get screwed on your FHR reservation? Did the restaurant manager take a keen interest in your health and recovery? Where did you eat in the area? Do you have other hotel recommendations for this area?
Following our recent trip to Yosemite, we capped our vacation with a meal at Coi (pronounced kwa, not coy) in San Francisco. We opted for the tasting menu and decided to splurge and do the wine pairings as well. I was that guy who took photos of the meal, but I did so with my phone, without flash and as clandestinely as possible. I will share those photos and the full menu shortly.
After a bit of a debate on whether we would spring for the full wine pairings, we delved a bit deeper into the list. Their was a Burgundian wine that looked and sounded great. The menu read:
2006 Sérafin Père et Fils Les Millandes Premier Cru (Morey-Saint-Denis) Premier Cru, Bergundy, Germany.
I am not in the wine business. I am just a consumer. I love Pinot Noir and I think Burgundy and the Willamette Valley (Oregon) have the best in the world. I had never heard of Burgundy, Germany. Was it a misprint, or was there a small German region of which I was unaware? I was told by MS to leave it alone and not to ask about it. So I obliged…for a while. This wine was to be served with the seventh of of the 10 courses. We had some good laughs with the server and when he mentioned this was what was up next, I asked him about the menu and our interaction went something like this:
Server: Gentlemen, next up is the 2006 Sérafin.
Me: Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this wine. I am a huge fan of Burgundian wines. What should we be looking for as we taste.
(He then proceeded to talk about the grapes and the key influences of terroir, etc)
Me: So this is the wine from Burgundy, Germany?
Server: (Flabbergasted). Um, no sir. Burgundy is in France, not Germany. It is located southeast of Paris, but just a couple hundred miles from the German border.
Me: Oh, my mistake. I would have sworn the menu said it was a German wine.
Server: (Scoffs). Oh no, sir. It says Burgundy, France.
Me: Ok, my mistake. Well, you may want to take another look at the list.
Server: I am sure it is accurate. (Giggles nervously). If we did make a mistake, we will have it corrected immediately….and we will make this worth your while.
Me: Thank you.
Fast forward about four minutes and the server returns. He has a semi-shocked look on this face. He quietly apologized for both the menu error and for his doubting us. He said the menus were being reprinted and we would be given a proper menu before we leave. He would not let me have a copy of the menu with the error. He also mentioned that this wine list hadn’t changed in months and no one had said a word about it. He continued to thank us throughout the dinner, but the best part, was that he continued to joke with us. For example he mentioned the lobster (which was served with this Burgundy) was from “Maine – a beautiful Region in Northern Germany, not too far from Berlin.”
The menu had an error. He was horrified. He fixed it and we all had a good laugh about it. We had some delicious food at Coi and some amazing wine, but we also had a fantastic time chatting with the staff (some of which are recent Bay Area transplants from Chicago). I love places that can be serious, but also poke fun at themselves and have a good time. The world isn’t perfect, but this meal was one of the closest version I’ve gotten to culinary perfection in a very long time.
So, how did the server “make it worth our while”, you may be asking. He added a wine pairing for us with the first of the desserts and quite honestly, his ad hoc selection paired so much better than the pre-planned wine (which was still great).
We ended the evening with some long chats with the staff, getting recommendations for breakfast and lunch the following day, even some recommendations for Chicago. This would be a great place to visit more regularly – I just loved the team at this restaurant. Too bad we are in Chicago and they are in San Francisco. This restaurant is definitely a splurge meal and not a regular occurrence. If you have the opportunity to dine here, I would highly recommend it. It was such a great experience.
Have you come across a menu with an error like this? Would you have said something? I’m not a wine expert and I’m sure I’ve come across, but didn’t notice, many other errors on wine lists (incorrect vintages, block blends that don’t make sense, etc), but this error just jumped out at us. How would you have handled it?
We just spent Labor Day weekend at Yosemite National Park. It was my first time ever spending any extended amount of time in the park system. One thing I found interesting was how at least half of the interactions we had the staffers actively suggested we call/write/tweet, etc. the Park Service letting them know what was working and what didn’t, what we loved and what we hated. That being said, this is my response to those comments:
My first weekend ever spent in a National Park was eye opening. The Park System itself is an amazing gift that our forefathers left for us. My mother in-law’s family would frequently visit the parks. It was their annual vacation and they loved every minute of it. The accessibility (both in terms of location and expense) of the parks shaped not only her life but as she got married she made sure frequent trips to the National Parks were a key part of her new family’s time together.
The Parks are still an accessible national treasure. They are struggling under their success. Traffic was pretty intense two of the nights we stayed in the Park. There were too many cars, which dramatically impacted the beauty and the serenity. There is a shuttle bus service in and around the Park, but the buses run every 20-30 minutes. My gut is most people visiting the Park don’t take public transit regularly so for them it is just easier to drive everywhere in the Park. Why wait 20 minutes on each end of your journey? I believe limiting private vehicles and increasing public transport options would make the whole experience more enjoyable. No one wants to wait in traffic, wait to find parking or wait for a bus so tightening up the transit options will let people start enjoying their experiences quicker and more consistently.
Both my mother- and father in-law have commented on how awful the food is and has been at various Parks. We ate dinner each night in the more formal establishment at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. The menu was relatively small (maybe 8-10 entrees), most of which sounded great. The food itself was pretty good. It definitely wasn’t restaurant quality which would survive outside the Park, especially at that price point. The other dining options, where you could grab a sandwich or a snack looked awful. We didn’t get anything from these shops because the lines were so outrageously long and slow moving. Upping the food game would add such value to the Parks. Even just upping the grab and go options would do wonders for the park. I’m thinking of the great lunch places in Chicago that could thrive in the Park. Think Pret a Manger with pre-made sandwiches, sides and snacks. Decent quality and a reasonable price. I am sure there are hundreds of other options that would work too.
In addition to the amazing beauty of the Park another great asset is the people who work at the Park. They are some of the most energetic and passionate people I’ve come across. They all seem to truly love what they are doing, where they are doing it and who they get to interact with. They would tell you about the Park, the hikes, the history, the menu and the love and excitement in the voice was clear. These people provide the backbone to the whole organization. The employees at the park do need just a bit of coaching when it comes to service, for example: 1) The bussers should ask if you are done with your meal or drink before they remove it from the table 2) The backup concierge employees should know the basics of the park – like where shuttles pick up 3) Don’t complain about your boss over the loud speaker of the bus you are driving. Again, everyone we dealt with were providing good service but it would take just a little work to go from good to great. The opportunity is there. They have an amazing foundation of current employees who truly love what they do.
I’ve always said there are three levels of service. These levels are exemplified by how they respond to a guest saying “Thank You.” They can say “Yup,” “You’re Welcome” or “My Pleasure.” The Yosemite team was about 50% “You’re Welcome” 49.99% “Yup” and a single solitary person who said “My Pleasure.” When she said “My Pleasure,” she said it from the bottom of her heart, you could see it in her eyes too. She wasn’t just going through the motions. She is a gem and a keeper.
There is so much right with the National Park System and the Parks individually. It is our duty, not only as Americans, but as human beings, to protect these spaces and the creatures who live in them. True conservatism is protecting these spaces for our future use and enjoyment.
We spent Labor Day weekend in Yosemite National Park. Our visit coincided with the 150th anniversary of the National Park Service. I’m a numbers guys, so I like the compile some stats on our trips.
Flights: 2 (ORD-SFO-ORD)
Airlines: 1 (United)
Miles Flown: 3,690
Rental Cars: 1 (Audi A4 from Silvercar)
Miles Driven: 505
Distance Hiked: 65.21KM (40.52 Miles)
Total Modes of Transport: 5 (Subway, Plane, Rental Car, Shuttle Bus, Uber)
Days Away: 5
Hotels: 3 (Four Points Pleasanton, Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Park Central San Francisco)
Restaurants: 4 (Great Harvest Bread Company, Majestic Yosemite Hotel Restaurant, Carl’s Junior, Coi)
Total Pictures Taken: 242 (Plus Mike’s photos)