Tag Archives: Champagne



relevé – in French it can mean elevated, sophisticated

Remember when I was excited to try out the new and only Champagne bar in Minneapolis? The Relevé Champagne Lounge is aptly named given the reputation this expensive, world-famous bubbly has.

Well, I think I set my expectations were too high.

I knew that Relevé was part of the Graves Hotel. But what I didn’t know was that it was now just the name of the bar inside Cosmos, the restaurant in the hotel.

We had been to Cosmos once, during Restaurant Week; and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Cosmos is already a swanky little place, so it’s only fitting to combine the two. But this space was nothing new-to-me. And it’s all about me, right? Kidding.

When we walked in, I was surprised that, from what I remembered, there didn’t seem to be any renovation to create this “new” Champagne lounge

It was Just. The Bar. Of The Restaurant.

If anything, some of the seating may have been rearranged and a makeshift extra bar added. Although it looked more like a display/cocktail waitress stand than anything inviting you to order a glass of bubbly.

So we just took a seat at the regular bar.

The Champagne menu was small; well at least by Pops’ standards. But there were more offerings than you’d usually find elsewhere in the Twin Cities, both by the glass and the bottle. So it’s got that.


Although he didn’t say so, I knew Rob dreaded going to this Champagne Bar. But he really had no choice since I was driving, buying and taking him to see Pentatonix perform live. {Seriously, one of the most incredible concerts ever! Even despite the fact that we among the oldest of fans. 😉

We both decided to go with a cocktail instead of the straight bubbly:


Rob kind of boycotted the whole Champagne experience by ordering a cocktail sans Champagne…

Nicollet Punch

Nicollet Punch – Captain Morgan 100, Fresh Orange, St-Germain, Pomegranate

Rob thought it was so good that he ordered a second one. I went with the Passion Forward. Only they were out of the passion fruit sorbet. I didn’t mind, the alternative was blood orange sorbet!

Passion Forward - Mionetto Prosecco, Passion Fruit Sorbet

Passion Forward – Mionetto Prosecco, Passion Fruit Blood Orange Sorbet

I loooooved this cocktail! I may make some on my own when I have friends over sometime. I liked how the fruity sorbet slowly fizzed and melted into the dry Prosecco. My sorbet didn’t melt completely, so I ordered a second glass of Prosecco to pour over the top. 😉 I know. I’m a genius.

They have a nice small bar menu with some upscale dishes as well as a few more approachable items. Rob, of course, ordered some sliders:


Prime Sirloin Sliders – preserved tomato, caramelized onion, garlic mayo & fries

Rob loved them. He also loved the fries so much that they have now made it on his Top 10 Fries in the Twin Cities list. {Which still needs to be updated, especially because there is a new burger that has recently bumped another out of the ranks!} What is it about Champagne Bars and Fries?

I had to go with the Walleye Sliders! They were raved about and it’s just the Midwestern thing to do, especially in a Minnesotan Champagne bar, right?


Walleye Sliders – spicy tartar sauce & fries

These weren’t what I was expecting! I had envisioned a fried piece of walleye on a bun. But they were more like patties, like you’d find a salmon burger or a tuna cake.


I had never had walleye like this before. They were very good and unique. I think it’s a great menu item for a hotel hosting out-of-town guests!

So overall, while pricey, we did like the food and the cocktails at the Relevé Champagne Lounge. I was just expecting more in terms of newness. Others may be impressed by the posh interior if dining there for the first time. And it might be quite different later in the evening if the place gets hopping.

Still, next time, we’d forego Relevé and instead go to the Bradstreet Crafthouse on the first floor of the hotel. It’s where we like to take out-of-town guests for a cocktail if we happen to be in downtown Minneapolis. Although, we never did mention that here.

Name a unique cocktail that you’ve enjoyed.


Champagne Bars


Happy Wine Wednesday!

Boy, do I have a lot to catch up on after our vacation to Saint Augustine, Florida, the oldest U.S. city. I’ve got so many things to share!

But for now… Let’s talk about Champagne Bars. Remember about a year and a half ago when we stopped in Chicago on our way to Ireland and Rob had the best fries of his life at Pops for Champagne? It was a Champagne bar he was reluctant to try, but conceded because it was my birthday.

Well, hallelujah!

Minneapolis finally has it’s first Champagne Bar! And you know how I love the bubbly.


Tonight, I’ve decided that we are going to attempt to sip and dine at the Relevé Champagne Lounge pre-Pentatonix concert. (The menu is small, but appropriate.) I have no idea how busy it will be and they are not currently taking reservations. But there are plenty of spots downtown to seek out if we can’t get a seat.

Have you ever been to a Champagne Bar or Lounge?

If so, what did you like best about it?


3 Things I Learned about Wine in Temecula


I’m no sommelier, but I’d to think that I know more about wine than the average American, though most of it was self-taught. One of the best ways to learn about wine is by reading and tasting… in the presence of Company! And you have to have a passion for it.

In Temecula, I was pretty impressed with the wine knowledge of the wine reps/bartenders/servers at each of the wineries. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that. Maybe because it’s been a while since I’ve been to wine country. Maybe it’s because I’ve been to nice restaurants where people pronounce Viognier and Pinot Gris incorrectly.

For the record, they are Vee-yoh-N’YAY and PEE-no GREE.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been to places in the Twin Cities where people who should have the knowledge just don’t. Not that it’s that important for them to know. Because how many guests do they get that really care?

In any case, in my experience, the knowledge in Temecula was on par with other well-known regions in California. They knew which grapes were Rhone varietals and which were Bordelais. AND they knew things I didn’t know.

And I liked it.

It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about wine. There is always something else to learn. It never gets old. It never gets boring. Wine trends change. Flavors and styles change. Your palate evolves.

Here are three things that I distinctly remember learning in Temecula:

1) Champagne

I’ve mentioned before that a sparkling wine is not truly Champagne and cannot be called such unless it is from the Champagne region of France. However, at Wilson Creek they make an Almond Champagne. I don’t know why I didn’t think twice about it. Maybe I thought the name was just gimmicky. But a gal tasting next to us asked how on Earth they could call their product Champagne.

“It’s because the law didn’t go into effect until 2007. Anything produced before that, already having that name was grandfathered in. In addition, if anyone truly wants to, they can call their sparkling wine ‘champagne’ as long as it has a lower-cased ‘c’,”

I had no idea.

It was that recent? I truly believed that they just couldn’t call it Champagne. Of course, a search on the Internets offers conflicting information on the origins and laws. It’s a bit more detailed and complicated.

Still, I have noticed that the higher end sparkling wines in the U.S. will just indicat that they use the méthode Champenoise. I believe that they want to show respect for the region, but also indicate that they use the same rigorous method.

methode champenoise

2) Estate Grown

At one winery, the wine rep touted about a particular wine, “This wine is 100% Estate Grown.” Knowing that the term “reserve” means nothing {except to that particular vineyard} and that wines in the U.S. can be labeled by varietal as long as it consists of of 75% of that labeled grape, I wasn’t really sure if Estate Grown meant anything. So I asked…

“Is Estate Grown a legal term?”

“Why yes,” he said without hesitation. “For a wine to be labeled Estate Grown, it must be made of at least 95% of grapes grown on that estate. However, this particular wine is made of 100% Estate Grown grapes.”

It’s common for wines to be produced from grapes all over a region or outside of one vineyard. So to have a wine grown from a particular vineyard block is a big deal. However, what constitutes any particular “estate” is still a puzzle to me.

3) American Oak vs. French Oak

Okay, I’ve read a gazillion pages of tasting notes with my ten years doing in-home Wine Tastings for The Traveling Vineyard. Most of these notes indicate how long the wine was aged in oak. However, I never really paid much attention to that because most of my guests didn’t care. But at South Coast Winery, when Gregg was helping us choose which wines to sample, he mentioned that one was particularly smooth because it was aged in French oak, NOT American oak.

“Do you know the difference?” he asked. I was actually sort of embarrassed. Why? Because for as long as I’ve been doing Wine Tastings, I felt like should know. But I also knew that if someone asked me, I didn’t have the explanation at the tip of my tongue.

So here you have it:

American oak has a wide grain versus the tight grain of French Oak. The tight grain gives the wine a more subtle and refined taste. That’s a pretty generic descriptions in my own words. If you are looking for a longer explanation, click here.

But we could taste it in the wine.

Seriously. Even if it was the power of suggestion… Shit, this Cabernet was smooth. No wonder why so many high-end French wines are smooth, velvety and elegant. But they cost more, too. That’s because French Oak is more expensive. It’s also the reason why it’s not very common to see many everyday American wines fermented in French Oak. It’s costly to procure those French oak barrels.

And if you didn’t know this already, some of the most mass-produced wines take the short cut and just put oak chips in the wine to soak. Seriously. Who wants that?


What’s something surprising that you learned about wine lately?


10 Tips for Tasting in Temecula Wine Country


There’s a reason that you’ve probably heard of Napa and Sonoma, but haven’t heard of Temecula Wine Country. Some of the wines in Temecula are decidedly… meh. But there are some really great ones, too!

The trick is to find them.

Because of that, we decided to offer you some tips to make the most of your experience should you go to Temecula one day. And you should! Temecula is a worthy destination. In fact, we will probably return. One of the things that surprised me most {but now makes sense} is the almost desert-like Old Southwest feel. But that’s for a post later this week…


10 Tips for Tasting Wine in Temecula

(In no particular order.)

1) Get recommendations from the locals.

There are 40+ wineries in Temecula. We weren’t expecting that. In addition, my trips to Sonoma and Napa were all-expense-paid by The Traveling Vineyard. I was spoiled. I didn’t have to worry about transportation. I didn’t have to plan my meals. I didn’t have to choose wineries. We went to the little, boutique ones that supplied the wines for our tastings.

A friend gave me a list of her favorite wineries and ones we should skip. I was still overwhelmed. I just wished that there was a list somewhere of all of the wineries and vineyards in Temecula with a note next to each indicating what it is known for or makes it unique. Okay, so you can get historical and other info here, but the information doesn’t help me decide which vineyards I’d like best.

So when we were out to dinner our first night in Tememcula, we asked for recommendations. The truth is, you’ll get differing opinions. Which, at first, confused me even more.

“What kind of wines do you like?” asked the owner of a restaurant in Old Town.

“We tend to like big Cabs and Zins,” Rob told him.

This question, I learned, was key. He could recommend wineries that suited our tastes! At first, while I appreciated his suggestions, I wondered if he was just giving us names of those people who were his friends and telling us to steer clear of people he didn’t like. {Truth be told, he was spot on with his recommendations!}

In the end, we knew that we still couldn’t do all of the wineries recommended. So we narrowed them down by making sure to hit the ones that more than one person notes or the ones whose descriptions sounded good based on what we liked. Then we planned a route.


2) Plan a route: Start with the winery furthest from you and make your way back.

After you’ve determined which wineries to hit, make a plan. We were staying at the South Coast Winery. We planned our day so that if we couldn’t hit all of those we wanted to, we could finish up with the ones closest to our home base the next day. I originally planned two days for tasting, but was concerned that we’d get “wined out.”

Therefore, it’s important to do the tastings that you don’t want to miss the first day.

Most wineries are open 11am – 5pm. (A few open at 10am, and a few close at 4pm or 6pm.) Make sure you take that into consideration when planning your route, too.

You can find a map of Temecula wineries here.

3) For a more personal experience and/or better service, go during mid-week or during off-season.

We arrived in the late afternoon on a Monday and did the bulk of our tasting on a Tuesday. We’re also told that October tends to be a bit slower. Win-win for us! We had a lot of personal attention. Some of these tasting rooms were huge! I can’t imagine them completely full on the weekends. How would you even get to taste or learn anything?

When we tasted, there were usually five people or less in the tasting rooms when we were there. Rob hates crowds so I was thanking my lucky stars that things worked out this way.

On some occasions, we were the only ones in the tasting room. On others, even it was busy, we always got a spot at the bar and could ask questions about the wines. As much as I like to think I know about wine, I learned a thing or two!


A Sparkling Sangria from Wilson Creek

Also, some wineries only offer certain wines in their restaurant that are limited and not usually available for tasting. If they have some leftover from the weekend on a Monday or Tuesday, you may get to try them!

4) Plan to visit only four to six wineries a day. (NOT 8!)

This is why, with 40+ wineries and maybe only a day or two in Temecula, you need to pick wineries that suit your tastes!

We had planned to hit about six wineries that Tuesday and had a couple extra on our list in case we had more time.

We did eight.

This was TOO many.

I’d like to think that palate fatigue was the reason I had trouble differentiating or appreciating the wines at the end, but I will admit it probably had something to do with having too much to drink.

In the same respect, it goes without saying, you need to decide who is going to drive. {Unless you go on a tour where that is provided for you.} Rob was designated that day. {My turn was the following day!} So he tasted a lot less. {The next tip explains how.} And we actually parked and walked from our resort to the 8th winery because it was right next door.

5) Split your Tasting.

This was one of the best things we did. We knew that we couldn’t taste all day long and still have one of us drive, so we *hoped* it would be okay if they let us split a tasting. Besides most tastings were $15 for six tastes. That could really add up at the end of the day for the two of us! {Six wineries for two people would have meant about $180!}

We were so happy that at our first tasting that the wine rep asked us if we preferred to share a tasting or if we wanted our own. All of the other wineries followed suit and had no problem with it. It seemed common and even the norm! Whew! We also found that each taste was about four good sips, so it was perfect for us.

Tastings generally cost $10 – $15 and offer four to six tastes. At each winery, you receive a card with a space for your server to write down each of your tastes {so they know how many you have remaining} or you’ll receive tickets to redeem tastes, like this:


6) Not comfortable splitting? Find two-for-ones.

Okay, so I get that you might not what to split your tasting with someone who’s not your S.O. Or maybe you are going with a group of girlfriends and you just met Suzy yesterday. Or Jane tends to be a drinker, so you’re worried that you’ll only get half of a sip. To make it more affordable, see if you can find some two-for-one coupons/cards. That’s what this “Ladies-in-Hats” bachelorette party from Alaska did before they went off to enjoy the view.

I found a two-for-one coupon before our trip online and printed it off of the winery’s website. I was so proud until Rob pointed out that the expiration was June 30th. Oh. They really need to update that. I forgot about it until…

We stopped in at Danza del Sol. We were the only ones there! The wine rep asked us if we had a two-for-one deal. Rob said, “Uh, no. How would we get one of those?!” I think he was hoping he’d offer the two-for-one anyway.

But he said, “Well next time, just go to the Wine Grower’s Association website.” {You enter your email to have deals sent to you.} “Wait! I might have a couple of them for you.” He gave us two-for-one coupons to three other wineries! SCORE!

Another benefit of two-for-ones is that even if you are tasting with your S.O., there are often too many wines to choose from on the list. If each of you gets different wines, you each get try twice as many! Some wine reps liked to showcase the wines side-by-side. For example, a zinfandel from this year or that or with grapes from an entire vineyard vs. a block or a wine aged/fermented in French vs. American oak.

Because we were staying at the South Coast Winery {more on that next Wine Wednesday!} we received a “Passport” that included a BOGO Wine Tasting as well.

7) Talk with your server/wine rep/bartender.

We were lucky enough that it wasn’t too busy that we could really talk with and ask questions of the people pouring the wines. But even if you do come when it is busy, they are there to serve you. They may be busy pouring like crazy, but if you want to get the most of your experience, you need to determine which wines you really want to try either because a) It’s a wine you’ve never had before and it sounds interesting or b) you might want to buy it.

First, look at the menu. What looks good to you? In what do they seem to specialize?


This Callaway menu is one of the smaller ones of the bunch and was one of our least favorite wineries, but you get the point.

Then, tell them what you like, but be open-minded.

If you say, “I only drink Cabs,” then you aren’t going to be impressed every place you go. Cabs might not be their specialty.

I often said, “We tend to drink big reds at home. But what are your specialties? What are you known for? What do you have that might surprise us?” I know that from doing in-home wine tastings that sometimes what you think you will like is different than what you will that day! The dry Riesling at Miramonte was exceptional. I adored the dry sparkling wines and ports at both the South Coast Winery and Wilson Creek. The Petit Verdots and Mourvèdres at many of the wineries like Danza del Sol were some of the best.

The wine rep will steer you in the right direction if you give them the right information. Show your interest. Show your passion. If it’s slow enough, they may even give you extra tastes or special pours. 😉

We went to one winery where I swear a 22-year-old version of Justin Timberlake took us through every red on their menu. We only paid for five tastes there. But he was so excited that we liked reds and that he’d be talking with people who appreciated the same styles of wines that he did that he wanted us to experience them all. It was fantastic!

And don’t forget to tip! A couple of bucks is fine. We liked to tip mid-way through the tasting. If we really liked the wines and were hoping for specialty pours, we’d even throw in a fiver.

8) Plan a lunch in between & drink water deliberately.

We had a tentative lunch planned. We did pick up some groceries when we came into town the night before. So my  breakfast consisted of a small portion of the grapes and cheese with the bread in this picture:


Our intention was to stop and eat at one of the wineries that offered food. But it didn’t happen. By the time we were hungry, we weren’t too impressed with the winery that had a restaurant (Callaway), that we skipped it entirely. That wasn’t such a good idea.

Wineries do offer tap water. But it is usually in a location across the room. You need to make the effort to go there and get yourself a glass. Or keep a filled water bottle in your car and force yourself to drink X amount after each tasting.

9) Join a Wine Club or two!

To relive your Temecula Wine Country experience while you are back at home, join a wine club. How do you choose? There were a few wineries where we found a wine we really loved, but we weren’t so keen on the other ones we tasted. Then there were wineries were we liked all of the wines.

That is the club to join.

They usually offer many types of clubs, so you can do reds, whites, mixed, sweets or bubbly. There’s something for all tastes. We ended up joining the South Coast Reds Wine Club. The other club we considered was Danza del Sol. If you sign up on the spot, you can take your wines home with you and get your next shipment delivered. {Just be sure to pack your wines carefully in your checked luggage!} If you want to decide later, just make sure your wine reps info is on the order form, so that they get the credit. Most of the clubs are shipped quarterly, not monthly. So that helped us decide that the cost was worth it.

10) STOP… and smell the roses grapes!

Don’t rush. Enjoy the views, like those hat ladies did…

…and the art, too.

Or just take time to pet the vineyard dog!


So I know you want to know… Where did we go?

On that gorgeous Tuesday, we visited the following wineries in this exact order:

  • Leoness – great Zins, tried an excellent Cab Franc, beautiful view
  • Danza del Sol – great reds, loved nearly all of the wines we tried!
  • Wilson Creek – known for their Almond Champagne. We liked their dry bubblies and ports!
  • Miramonte – beautiful views!
  • Callaway – only because we had a 2-for-1
  • Lorimar – excellent reds, known for music on the weekends!
  • Wiens
  • Ponte

The next morning, we visited the winery at our resort at South Coast after breakfast.

Our favorites (in no particular order):

  • South Coast
  • Danza del Sol
  • Lorimar

Ones we would definitely SKIP or advise to skip next time:

  • Callaway
  • Wiens
  • Ponte

The only other one we were recommended, but didn’t do was Briar Rose. They require reservations for their tastings. I thought this meant that they were more formal and elite and perhaps more expensive. But it sounds like it means that they just have a smaller tasting room. We had intended to make reservations and go on day two, but we were all wined out.

Overall, we loved tasting in Temecula. Although there are several wine regions we want to visit, we do hope to return one day. We might fly into San Diego next time, though, just for a change!

Have you ever done wine tasting like this?

If so, list your favorite thing and your number one tip!


Sparkling Wine Cocktails for New Year’s Eve


Ahhh… The Bubbly. It makes every occasion more special. This Wine Wednesday, I’m offering up a few sparkling wine cocktails for the New Year! This will liven up your usual bubbly toast and offer some alternatives to those who don’t normally enjoy a dry bubbly.


Remember, all Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France to be called such. However, it can be expensive. In all of the cocktail recipes below, feel free to substitute any sparkling white wine, as long as it is dry. {We’ll have a more in-depth lesson Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine at a later date.}



  • 1 part crème de cassis
  • 5 parts Champagne

Pour crème de cassis in a glass, gently pour Champagne on top.

Optional: Add a twist of lemon zest for garnish.

Variation: Substitute raspberry Chambord for the cassis.



  • 1 part Guinness (or other stout), slightly chilled
  • 1 part Champagne

Pour the Stout into a half-pint glass or flute. Carefully add the Champagne on top. When you sip, the heavier stout will slip under the wine, so you’ll enjoy a taste of both!



Variation 1:

  • 1 oz Triple Sec
  • 4 oz Champagne
  • Splash of cranberry juice

Variation 2:

  • 1 oz cranberry juice (choose a brand with no sugar added)
  • 1 tbsp Grand Marnier
  • 4 oz Champagne

Add the cranberry juice and Triple Sec or Grand Marnier to a flute and top with Champagne.

Optional: Garnish with an orange slice or drop in a few frozen cranberries for fun.



  • Splash of peach juice or peaches in simple syrup
  • 4 oz Champagne

Add the peach juice or peaches in simple syrup to the flute. Top with Champagne.

Optional: Garnish with a fresh peach slice.



  • Frozen strawberries or raspberries
  • 4 oz Champagne

Fill the bottom of the flute with frozen strawberries or raspberries. Top with Champagne.

Optional: Coat the frozen strawberries with sugar first and let sit for a while. Garnish with a ripe, fresh strawberry.



  • 1 oz Ruby Red Port
  • 4 oz Champagne

Pour the port into a flute, then add the Champagne.



  • ½ oz gin
  • ¼ oz lemon juice
  • 4 oz Champagne

Shake the gin and lemon juice with cracked ice; strain into a flute and top with Champagne.

Optional Variations: Add an orange slice for garnish, vary the amounts of the ingredients, add a bit or powdered sugar or a splash of Cointreau.



  • 2 oz orange juice
  • Splash crème de cassis (sunshine) or 1 oz grenadine (sunset)
  • 2 oz Champagne

Add the orange juice and cassis or grenadine to a flute. Top with Champagne.

Optional: Plop in a Maraschino Cherry.


The two that I have not yet had are the Black Velvet and the Nelson’s Blood. I’m looking forward to trying them this New Year’s Eve!  Please give one or more of these a shot and come back to let me know your favorites.

What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?

Do you celebrate with any traditions?


Pops for Champagne – Chicago, IL


After a day wandering Chicago, I was still contemplating what we were going to do for my birthday dinner.

I was most intrigued by a restaurant called Naha. I had found it somehow by clicking around online. It had also popped up in my inbox by Serious Eats as a restaurant with one of the “Best Burgers in Chicago”. Although it was my birthday, I still wanted to make sure there was something on the menu Rob could have and enjoy. I also read that Naha’s Chef Carrie Nahabedian was a James Beard Award Winner.

But what was most important was that there were so many things on the menu that I wanted to try!

Still, I had not set up reservations anywhere. I know that’s not the best idea for dinner out at a nice restaurant in Chicago. When this happens at home, our plan is usually to go to a restaurant right when it opens and snag a seat at the bar.

However, after our nap and a few birthday phone calls {one being from my dad indicating that he was going to visit us one weekend/aka come for Rob’s birthday surprise party}, we didn’t get out the door until probably 6:30.

And I still wanted to stop at that place I found on our trek to the hotel: Pops for Champagne. {Fitting for Wine Wednesday, don’t you think?} So we headed off in that direction.

I don’t think Rob was too happy when we walked in the door and they asked him to take off his hat. It was packed and there would be a wait if we wanted a table. However, I spotted the last two open seats at the bar.

We pulled up to the bar as Rob fixed his disheveled hair and perused the drink menu. While there are so many different Champagnes {oh gosh, I’m just giddy thinking about it!} on the list, I knew I couldn’t talk Rob into a bottle of bubbly before finding our dinner destination, so I suggested we order a couple of Champagne cocktails.

Sparkling Cocktail List

There were too many I wanted to try, but finally I settled. And do you think three weeks later I can remember what we tried? Must be a sign of old age.

Carrie’s Sparkling Cocktail – Start Wearing Purple, I think

Rob’s Sparkling Cocktail – Corcorvado, I think

When asked if we’d like to peruse their menu, I said, “Why not?” Knowing Rob just wanted to get the hell out of the a place he had just exclaimed was “Probably the most expensive place in Chicago,” I knew that looking at the menu was just to pass the time while enjoying our cocktails. {Wine was $12 – $17 per glass, cocktails $10 – $14.} I knew we’d be dining elsewhere.

But instead, he asked me if I was interested in trying a Snack.

“Hmm… What are you thinking?” I said.

{I knew he had something in mind.}

Two things under the Snack Menu caught his eye:

Frites Garlic-truffle-brown butter, jalapeño aioli, ketchup  – $6
Tempura Wisconsin Cheese Curds Harissa romesco, ranch – $6

I told him to go ahead and choose one. I know, I know, it was my birthday. I’m sure I’m that annoying girl who always says, “I don’t care. You pick.” Or at least it seems that way. Truth be told, if I *really* do care or have a preference, I will tell you! In those rare instances when I can make up my mind, I’m not too shy to let you know.

After much debate – okay, not really – Rob chose the fries.

One of the other reasons why we often sit at the bar for dinner is that we like to strike up a conversation with the bartender, if possible. However, after being served, the bartenders were too busy attending to the other people swigging Champagne patrons to linger and chat with us, which is completely understandable.

Then the fries arrived. And the heavens parted.

Frites of the Gods

They were beyond excellent, if that is possible.

Rob dubbed these the best fries he’s ever had. It was then that our bartender, I believe his name was Greg, came over and asked how they were.

Rob went on and on about the fries… that we were from Minnesota and that these were worth a plane ticket down to Chi-town. Greg started to tell us how the chef prepared the fries. They are all fresh cut and boiled before they are fried. He said that was the “secret” to them. For me, the fries stood well on their own, the truffle butter gave them great flavor. The fancy sauces on the side were just an afterthought, that maybe even cluttered the dish with too many flavors. I tried each one, but then left them alone.

Greg asked where we were planning on dining that night and when we mentioned that we didn’t have reservations, but were considering Naha. He said, “Oh, we know those guys there! We love that place. You’ll really enjoy it.”

When Greg gave us our bill, he came back and said, “Don’t leave just yet. Our manager knows the owner over there. He’s making a call to get you hooked up.”

Wait a minute…


In retrospect, I keep thinking of these things:

  • We didn’t ask for them to do that!
  • They didn’t know us from any guy off the street.
  • I don’t even think that Rob mentioned that it was my birthday.
  • He just knew that we wanted to go there and we only had one night in Chicago.

Wow. This blows Minnesota Nice out of the water!

Within minutes, the Manager of Pops for Champagne came over and introduced himself. He gave us his card and said how wonderful a place Naha was. In fact, he had just dined there the previous night and spent $200 on himself alone because he kept ordering dozens of oysters. {This might scare some people away, but I had a look at the menu and the prices seemed reasonable for a nice restaurant in a big city. I wasn’t planning on ordering dozens of oysters and expensive Champagne anyway.}

Then he said that he contacted Naha and the owner, Michael, was going to be expecting us. He talked with us a while and I just kept thinking… “Wow! We’re getting into a restaurant with a James Beard-Award-Winning Chef without reservations and the menu looks amazing.”  We no longer had to think about nor worry what we were going to do for dinner.

We walked out the door arm-in-arm with smiles on our faces to begin the four block walk over to Naha…

Come back tomorrow to hear about our dinner!


Bubbly – A Beverage or a Characteristic?


How about a little bit of both?

This post has been in the works! It’s all about the…


Here are some definitions of the word that I found:

1. Full of or producing bubbles: a bubbly drink; a bubbly soap. – uh really?
2. Resembling bubbles: big, bubbly clouds. – even more obvious!
3. Full of high spirits; effervescent: bright, bubbly children. – true dat!
4. Champagne – I will get to this in a minute…
5. lively; animated; excited a bubbly personality – Now that’s what I was looking for!
6. full of, producing, or characterized by bubbles – uh… duh… but I guess they need to do this…
7. lively; effervescent; enthusiastic: the bubbly spirit of those early movie musicals – that about sums it up!
There’s something about a little bit of bubbly… One little glass of sparkling wine can:
  • make you feel special
  • make you stand a little taller
  • make a gal feel a little sexier
  • make any occasion more special

There’s something about those light, airy bubbles that lifts our spirits and makes us feel more alive. While Champagne is sadly offered at only the most special of events, consider this: If you offer a little bubbly on any occasion, you will elevate it to that next level. The event or celebration will become more festive, more distinguished, more memorable. But never stuffy. How can you do anything but smile with a flute of that nectar of the gods (or winemakers) in your hand?

Personally, I do love me some bubbly; however, my husband is not a fan, so we never have it at home. If I’m going to indulge in it, it has to be with girlfriends other friends {sorry, Jared!}.  Or it has to be at a place that serves it by the glass. Luckily I’ve been finding more places that do that and have recently enjoyed it here and here. It’s also great in cocktails such as I’ve found here and here and here.

On the day of my first 5k, I had scheduled a Wine Tasting to attend conduct that evening. Oh how I love my job! I told Rob that upon my return, I’d be ready to open a bottle of wine. {Naturally. I mean, I had been laying off of it the days leading up to the race. It was time to celebrate!}

He said, “Okay. So what would you like?”

“Some bubbly to celebrate!” I exclaimed.

“But we don’t have any.”

“We do! We do! There is a bottle in the fridge… I just haven’t find anyone to drink it with me!”

Little did I know that when I returned that evening, this would be waiting for me:

Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne

What a surprise!

The funny thing is, he had it planned all along! He knew that he wanted to do something special the night of my first 5k… and that I’d been begging him to enjoy some Champagne with me. So instead of popping the bottle of bubbly in the fridge, he went out and got REAL Champagne {it must be from the Champagne region of France and adhere to rigorous standards to be considered such}, rather than just some “bubbly”.

Too bad I only got a picture of the empty bottle above. I was just too excited and swept off my feet to even think of taking a picture of the candles, music and bottle of Champagne chillin’ in a bucket for me when I got home. I don’t know if a picture would convey the mood anyway. I was smiling from ear-to-ear. After the initial surprise, we put the scene on pause to go out and get a quick bite to eat while the Champagne finished chilling. 🙂

When we got back, Rob opened the bottle. The bubbles were effervescent, climbed the glass quickly and were smaller and more numerous than I could remember that I’d had in a long time. And get this…


“This is the best Champagne I’ve ever had!” he exclaimed.

Maybe he was just swayed by the ambiance… the lack of sports in the background, the cell phones silented and the computers unplugged. Mood can change everything. Champagne has a part in that! Or maybe… he just has expensive taste…

Do you see what I mean? A little bubbly can make any occasion more special. While I prefer the drier stuff, checkout the Fissata, a sweet effervescent Italian bubbly that pleases nearly everyone. It’s sweet, but not cloyingly so because the bubbles cleanse the palate with each sip. This wine will only be available through June 15th, as it’s too delicate to ship in summer heat:

Fissata Rosa Condole Mosto Parzialmente Fermentato da Uve Rosso, Italy

From the Italian, “to be fixated upon something”, our Fissata is a wine that conveys the feeling when you discover something new and want to share your passion for it with everyone you know. It’s fizzy, fruity, and fantastic — perfect on its own or with a decadent dessert.

What do you like best about Sparkling Wine?