Disappointment at Napa Sonoma South

Saturday’s breakfast date had so much potential at Napa Sonoma South in Reno. If only … 20160521_092330[1]

  • Spacious dining area tastefully decorated
  • Cloth napkins wrapped the silverware.
  • Varied menu
  • High expectations based on reputation and experience at the flagship location

We entered the dark wood and brick store just after 9 a.m. A sign invited us to seat ourselves. Three parties occupied the dining room: A group of six (including two small children) and two couples.  We sat at a table near the brick wall.

And waited. After a while, I turned the stop watch function on my stop watch. Three more minutes passed.

An elderly couple with  a golden retriever came in and sat at a table near us. A server appeared — and offered them water and coffee.  Then noticed us and asked the busboy to offer us water/coffee. He brought coffee, but not water. The server was annoyed.

Menus arrived. We made our selections. The food arrived in a reasonable time frame.

Buttermilk pancakes by definition are bland. My companion said his were light, fluffy and unremarkable.

My Veggie Eggs Benedict looked great, with Hollandaise sauce draped nicely over the dish.

As I took my first bite, the phrase “if only” popped into my head. The Hollandaise sauce had a lovely flavor — but, sadly, was barely lukewarm. Perhaps the cold china plate cooled it off on the way from the kitchen. Perhaps the refrigerator-cold tomatoes and cold, crunchy onions that chilled the eggs and sauce. The avocado chunks were fresh and properly ripe.

Several other parties arrived for a late breakfast, and more wait staff appeared offering coffee refills every few minutes. No one asked if we needed or wanted anything. As I munched on fruit, a bus person reached across me to grab my empty plate.

The server quickly gave us our bill, didn’t thank us, didn’t invite us back.

Perhaps that’s a sign. So much potential. Such poor execution.

Have you eaten at Napa Sonoma South? Did you have a better experience? Tell me about it.

What’s Spring w/o Snow on the Daffodils?

By Holly O’Driscoll

Snow on Cherry Blossom

Spring snow! 

Spring has sprung in the Sierra. Cherry trees, flowering Plums bursting with color. Daffodils emerge from their long rest. Temperatures in the mid 60s. Lovely spring weather.

Which means this morning’s snowfall (12-inches and counting at
my house), was both
inevitable and welcome.  It’s March 28 Snowstill March!  Reno gets the
occasional snow storm in April, sometimes in May … and, every few years, a few flakes fly in June.

So, kuduos to those of us who still have snow tires on, who have both ski gear and bikes in the garage!


Favorite Spring Snow memories or photos? Please share!

A Buick? Really? What a Surprise …

Buick Lacrosse for blog

Alamo at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans was out of the mid-sized car we reserved, so the company bumped us up. The only cars available were “premium” models. They gave us a 2016 Buick LaCrosse.

I groaned to myself. My grandparents drove Buicks. They had two or three Buick Le Sabers that I remember. Each was nice – much nicer than my parents’ station wagons that hauled six kids around. Buicks of the 1970s and 1980s were not sleek or cool. My grandparents’ Buicks were always nice, even luxurious, with wide bench seats perfect for a kid under 10 to stretch out on to sleep during those seemingly endless drives from Maine to Mount Vernon, New York.

The 2016 Buick Le Crosse we just returned was different. Felt more like a Lexus inside: Heated leather seats, push-button start, back up camera, sun roof, hands free phone connection. It handled like a Lexus too: easy, tight radius turns, smooth ride, extremely quiet. Buick interior

The one Alamo assigned to us was pretty darn new – only 230 miles. We put more than 600 on over four days.  It accelerates nicely – 50 to 80 in a matter of seconds when passing a pokey car on a two-lane road in Mississippi. It brakes great too – as evidenced by the fact that I did NOT hit the nut case driver who pulled out in front of me in Alabama.

Things I didn’t like:

  • The low head clearance. I raised the seat up so I could over the dash, which put my head just a couple of inches from the roof. I got used to it, but it was a little tight. My 6-2 son lowered his seat.
  • The windows are small. The back-up camera helped, but since I don’t have one on my car at home, it took some getting used to.

Good points:

  • The car felt solid.
  • It cruised smoothly and quietly along the highway. Much quieter than my 2004 Toyota Sienna XLE Limited!
  • Trunk space was decent, though the wheel wells cut into this pace.

Biggest surprises:

  • It was fun to drive.
  • It had a great turn radius! We were shocked … the old Buicks were boats.
  • In the parking lot I had a hard time finding it … because it looked so much sleeker than “a Buick” … I actually said the line from the TV commercial: That’s a Buick? It doesn’t look like a Buick. (and yes we all laughed!!)

Bottom line: Would I buy one? Probably not. I live in snow country. My next car will have four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Would I rent one again on purpose: Yes!  Would I encourage others to test drive/consider buying one: yes.  The price is around $40,000.

Have you driven a  car you love?  Would you buy a Buick?

Expect the Best in Boston

The view from our room at the Hyatt Boston Harbor Hotel

Just returned from an East Coast adventure that included a great visit to Boston … my old college stomping grounds. I haven’t stayed in Boston since graduating from BU with a BS in Communications.  This time, spouse and daughter came along.

The inspiration for the trip was an family wedding that drew relatives from the US, Ireland and Australia.  Boston out-did itself in friendliness, weather and fun … We stayed at the Hyatt Harbor Hotel — and awoke to spectacular views.

We took the water taxi from our hotel right to the Intercontinental where the Irish cousins were staying. Our “taxi driver” owned the boat — and used to work for a tech company in Carson City, proving once again just what a small world this is!

Take a water taxi right from the Hyatt Boston Harbor to any waterfront location!

We walked all over — from the Intercontinental to the Boston Commons, through Back Bay, through the Public Gardens, to Copley Square in the morning … Giving the Irish cousins a taste of central Boston. We happened to walk right by the “Cheers” bar … a show immensely popular overseas ….


Back Bay brims with history– brick sidewalks, wisteria vines, townhouses with historic names etched into them … and churches everywhere.

In the afternoon we toured Quincy Market, which seems like the ultimate tourist trap, then on to Haymarket where fresh fruits and veggies vie with seafood vendors to capture attention.   Then it was on to the North End where the scent of Italian food made us hungry and the age of the buildings reminded us that we were walking the same streets as the Colonists. We saw the Old North Church, the statue of Paul Revere and the masts of the Constitution across the river in Charlestown.

Harvard was on the Irish cousins’  “must see” list so we hiked over to the Boston Gardens to catch the “T”.  Here we met yet another friendly Bostonian. The officer at the Boston Garden’s T station helped us get a Charlie Card — which saved us $$ on fares.  He didn’t have to do this — so a big Thank You to the MBTA for encouraging its staff to help visitors!

When I lived in Boston I didn’t hang out in Cambridge, so, touring “the Yard” was novel for me as well … (Thanks GoogleMaps!) We made the obligatory trip to the Harvard Coop (pronounced “coop” not co-op) so they could buy (some very expensive) trinkets … bought a $4 cupcake as a birthday surprise for my spouse at Sweet … then it was time for tea … before taking the “T” back to South Station.

We rounded out the adventure with dinner and drinks at Mr. Dooley’s Irish Pub … which naturally had Guinness and Harp on tap.

A terrific day — we logged nearly 12 miles according to my FitBit —  had a lovely time with wonderful relatives we see too rarely and met the friendliest, nicest people.

I recommend a visit to Boston especially in the spring!





The Facts Behind the Hotels.com Rant

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????OK … I recently posted about an absolutely horrible experience with Hotels.com. Here’s the back story.

In booking an upcoming trip, I searched various websites for accommodations. I made tentative reservations via Hotels.com, carefully clicking on the “pay at checkout” option.   BUT I missed a pre-checked box at the bottom of the page. My card was charged instantly … which, I missed since I had never seen such a thing.

Hotels.com also adds a tiny, and misleading disclaimer at the very bottom of the page (the THIRD screen down) that says cancel before you get there (three days in advance) or risk paying a penalty.  OK. Seemed reasonable. My trip is still two months away. Even further down the page a complexly-worded note that says any change is subject to a penalty fee.

What? I’ve booked through Hotels.com for years. Never had this problem before. My plans changed. I needed to change the reservation. So I called.

The recording says to make changes online. Do Not Do This. I did, and was charged $200.  WHAT? The Hotels.com rep basically said tough luck. The supervisor definitely said so sad, too bad, we’re keeping your money, you have no option. Further they said it was all the fault of the hotel I booked with. That it was the hotel’s policy to charge $200 for any change to a reservation.

I called the hotel. They said they had never heard of this. They were incredulous. I called Hotels.com again.  Same answer from the “supervisor”. I protested, asked for a corporate number.  They refused. I called the corporate offices of the hotel in question. They said they didn’t have such a policy.

I called my credit card company for help. The dispute resolution person called hotels.com (which evidently is a division of Expedia.com) … she talked to the rep. I talked to the rep. They said tough luck … and hung up on us.

I called the actual hotel again, got the name of the manager, who offered to help in any way he could … and called Hotels.com once again.

Getting the picture? Frustration? Disbelief?  I again spoke with the rep … who this time said they could see all the notes from previous calls — including from the credit card company. I gave her the name of the manager and the assistant manager at the hotel in question.   Finally, this person appears to have reversed the charges.

How many calls? How many hours? I’ve lost count.  I am waiting for my credit card company to confirm that all charges have indeed been reversed.  Does it matter that not ONE Hotels.com person I spoke with was a native English speaker. Were they in India? Just poorly paid immigrants?  Bottom line: Hotels.com has horrible customer service.

So … Let the Buyer Beware … use Hotels.com  (and probably Expedia.com) at your own financial risk.


A New Twist on Healthy Eating

Love to eat out? Hate the over-sized portions and the high calories? Me too … but in Reno, there’s a movement afoot to offer better choices without sacrificing flavor 

Twisted Fork Pear Salad

Honey roasted pears, crispy apples, blue cheese crumbles, mixed greens, honey white balsamic vinaigrette give great flavor to this salad. For a complete meal top with chicken, steak, prawns or fresh tuna.

or ambiance.  Here’s one I recently reviewed for an ebook commissioned by Renown Health’s Best Medicine Blog:

At The Twisted Fork in South Reno, Manager Joe Clements and Chef Sergio Romero deliberately developed a menu that’s hard to classify. Complex flavors add depth and interest to each menu choice at this modern American restaurant and wine bar.

“We didn’t want to be pigeon holed into one type of food. We wanted more creativity and to constantly evolve – and to really be a little ‘twisted’ with our food,” Clements said.

The restaurant generated buzz from the day they opened in January 2012 next to RC Willey off Steamboat Parkway. The menu includes elegantly plated entrees aimed at patrons with every dietary preference – vegan, vegetarian or carnivore.

Open for lunch and dinner, Chef Romero uses the freshest ingredients he can get – organic and local grown when possible. Produce is delivered daily and the fish is never frozen.

Clements describes the restaurant’s style as California with a heavy Latin influence. “While we have some Italian dishes, our goal is to entice people with our really creative menu,” he said. “We make healthy food that’s outside the box. It’s creative with a lot of big flavors.”

This is the third venture together for Cements and Romeo. The pair worked together at The Grille in southwest Reno for several years. They left to transform Woody’s Grille and Spirits in Sparks.

“Sparks didn’t have an upscale sports bar, with upscale food. We changed that,” Clements said.

Instead of traditional fried “bar food,” Romero created a unique menu filled with made-from-scratch fresh fare that rivals – or beats – many local restaurants.

“At Woody’s we knew our audience – there wasn’t an upscale sports bar like it in the area,” Clements said.

That success inspired investors to want to try something totally different.  Clements and Romero teamed again to create The Twisted Fork. Both are still involved in Woody’s, though they spend more time at the new restaurant.

The Twisted Fork is building a different clientele in South Reno – diners who seek unique, fresh flavors and appreciate out-of-the-box thinking about food.

“We’re building a new audience,” Clements said.

The Twisted Fork’s menu changes regularly – and even the most popular dishes may get tweaked, updated or replaced. The Pear Salad recipe below is a staple, yet the garnishes have evolved over time. The dish originally was topped with a variety of mixed nuts.

Out of deference to people with allergies to peanuts, it now comes with candied walnuts.

Their target audience cares about food – and The Twisted Fork caters to those seeking healthy, innovative food and excellent service. Most dishes can be customized to accommodate dietary or preferences.

Lunch items include small plates, sandwiches, salads, burgers and entrees priced from $7-$17 (most are in the $9-$10 range). Dinner entrees include chicken, fish and steak choices that range from $16-$34.

“Reno has evolved – it used to be known for steak and potatoes. Now we have cauliflower puree – we’re outside the box,” he said.


Have you eaten at Twisted Fork?  What did you think? It’s on the pricey side, did you think it was a good value?



Hometown vs. City Mardi Gras Parades — You Choose!

I attended my first two Mardi Gras parades over the weekend – and what a contrast!

Friday, the tiny town of Fairhope, Alabama hosted its Maids of Jubilee night celebration with members of all female “secret societies” populating the floats and throwing beads – think Junior League

Night parade draws families to Fairhope, Alabama

Night parade draws families to Fairhope, Alabama

social groups that up and coming/socially connected women join. A similar parade featured on Feb. 23 focused on “men’s” secret societies/fraternities. Boy Scouts carried flags at the head of the parade, high-school marching bands from Fairhope and nearby Daphne marched, as did an adult jazz group from nearby Mobile.

Float riders wore sparkly outfits and masks – and attended a private ball after the event. Spectators included families and tourists – plus formally dressed men and women associated with the “societies” but not on the floats. Visualize men in tuxedos, women in gowns, furs and high heels.

To be sure, people roamed the streets with red Solo cups, filled with their libation of choice.  Yet it was a very suburban, middle-class, family event.

Saturday afternoon, nearby Pensacola, Floridas Mardi Gras parade couldn’t have been more different — Longer, louder, raucous, more commercial and aimed at a totally different audience.Pensacola float

Non-masked, bead-tossing  “krewes” tossed beats from dozens of floats sponsored by businesses, casinos, radio stations, civic organizations and social groups snaked through the downtown where thousands cheered. The diverse crowd lined the route three or four deep – lots of singles, college students, as well as families with infants – though I didn’t see many children.  Bars sold beer, wine and hard drinks from sidewalk stands – all helping the crowd to whoop it up and release inhibitions. 

Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels, the Navy’s elite flight team. Pensacola Naval Air Station is the primary training base for all NavyMarine andCoast Guard aviators and Naval Flight Officers — plus hosts a slew of other specialty training units. 

At the parade, the very young, enlisted Marine Corps personnel from the nearby Pensacola Naval Air Station stood out.  Freshly shaven, wearing their uniforms, likely fresh from boot camp … they watched and enjoyed being off base – but could not partake in wearing beads or drinking. They looked happy to watch.

The parade was fun, but more indicative of the city-style celebrations in Mobile and New Orleans … where drinking and flash body parts (men and women) are part of the atmosphere.

Fun Facts:

  • Mardi Gras did not start in New Orleans, or even in Louisiana.  Alabama claims the first event was held in Mobile in 1866.
  • Parades and events start in early February – The Mobile area boasts about 50. Almost all parades in Alabama are followed by a fancy-dress ball.
  • Generally people and/or groups riding the floats must buy their own beads and trinkets to toss at spectators.
  • Beyond beads:  Other prizes tossed in these parades stuffed animals, plastic memento cups, glow sticks and doubloons.
  • Beads Hurt!  Keeping both hands raised wards off painful hits from the hard plastic chains.

How many Madi Gras parades have you attended? Share a story (good or bad)!