Food


The bike tour I mentioned in an earlier post is now over and I’m back at home.

The brief recap: the tour had us cycling from Venice (actually very near Venice in the smaller outer town of Mira) to Konstanz, Germany. We headed north through Italy to Austria and then on to Germany.

If you only read this far, let me just say it was a wonderful bike tour through northern Italy and into Austria and Germany punctuated by just about every emotion you might want from a bicycle tour. From the exhilaration of descending mountain passes on winding roads in wonderful weather, to quiet scenic roads, to struggling up mountain passes when the wind was against you and it was starting to rain, to full on down-pouring rain, to some white-knuckled rides in what seemed to me to be some highly trafficked roads. Oh, and those dark tunnels… So, just about perfect! Just the diversion desired.

I typically have high hopes that I’m gonna post something here every day of such a bike tour but that ends up just not very practical. For one I tend to spend a fair bit of time digging through photos and finding links to things when I post and there’s just not time for that. I could adopt a different strategy and just make posts very short and sweet but I use Facebook and Instagram for that sort of stuff. The other primary reason is I’m just preoccupied. When you’re not cycling you’re either prepping to cycle or just enjoying yourself after cycling or with other tour participants.

And then practically, the wifi often sucks at many hotels and uploading photos or otherwise using the internet is marginal at best.

So, I’m gonna try to just summarize and then follow up with some other posts. Let’s see if I can get at least that accomplished.

See the map to get a better idea of the route covered:

This comes from combined Garmin data over 10 days of riding. If my Garmin data is reasonably accurate, we covered 462 miles and approx 42,500 feet of elevation (amount climbed in aggregate). Those are the major aggregate stats. Some days were harder than others based on factors of the day – heat, rain, steep climbs.

As you can see from the following elevation profile over the 462 miles, we climbed slow but sure from the coast of Italy and into the Dolomites. Those spikes in the overall profile were mountain passes we did along the way. It may not look like much in this context. Those spikes were a lot of work. 🙂

Hightlights

Wine & Food

What would a visit to Italy be without some good wine?

Right from the start, and particularly toward the end of the first day of riding we began to see vineyards. That first day’s route took us from from Mira to San Pietro di Barbozza. The photo below was taken from the hotel stay at the end of the ride. Beautiful wine country and home of very good Prosecco (sparkling) wines from the Valdobbiadene region. (DOCG wine designation.)

The forecast on that 1st real day of riding was for rain. Ugh! And not just rain but ‘thunderstorms’. But we (or rather, many of us) managed to avoid the rain on that day. The route was pretty flat and 86K so we made hay while the sun shined and even with a stop for lunch in one of the small towns along the way we were in by 1:30pm. But not 20 minutes later, I looked out and saw that the rain had started. And then it just unloaded and came down in buckets. Some folks on the ride got drenched. Not only was there a lot of rain, but the wind picked up and it became a raging storm for at least an hour.

That kind of rain forecast pretty much stuck with us for the entire 2 weeks. It might rain overnight or early and then there would be dry (enough) weather to take off and ride for most of the day. But by afternoon, there would be rain again. If you timed things right, you could miss the big rains.

Late in the day of that 1st day of riding the rain subsided and we walked to a tasting of some excellent Prosecco wines (a Brut, a Very Dry and a Dry). Suffice to say they were all very good but I was more fond of the first two. The 3rd starting to be just a little too sweet for my taste.

As we walked to dinner that evening at Trattoria alla Cima it started to rain again and by the time we were seated at the restaurant it was a raging storm again. Dinner though was top notch and just a ton of food. There was a plate of starters and then a course of pasta with mushrooms, followed by a course of wonderfully done beef with potatoes, eggplant and zucchini. I was stuffed after all that (I had seconds on the pasta!) but of course had to try some of the Tiramisu for dessert. It’s a good thing we had ridden 86K.

There would be other wine and great food along the way and not surprisingly the cycling made for good appetites and the freedom to eat whatever we wanted along the way.

Scenic Mountains & Climbs

It didn’t take long in the tour for the terrain to become much hillier and mountainous. That made for spectacular scenery and some choice mountain passes.

The photo you see here is from very early on in my climb up Passo Falzarego from Cortina, Italy. We have only just begun the climb but the views are great! The town you see in the valley in the photo is Cortina. Click through the links for more insights on both of these.

We woke to fantastic weather the morning we rode up the Falzarego pass. Nice temps and little chance of rain. An excellent day to make the climb.

You’ll find alongside a couple photos of me during the climb as well as at the top.

In my experience you need to bring enough gear and layers to account for both heat and cold and possibly wet weather. You can see here I’m wearing a jacket. Near and at the top, it was chilly! A key reason I have a rack on the back of my bike is to stow the extra layers.

On the climb up we were really sweating but with the temp plus the humidity early in the ride I could see my breath as I huffed and puffed up the climb.

At the top I donned leg warmers and thicker gloves for the descent. Without the jacket and other gear you can get really cold on these long descents at high altitude. Your hands can easily go numb since you’re constantly gripping the brakes and your hands are cold anyway.

It’s always nice to find a little bar/cafe at the top of such climbs. In this case I went in and had a coffee and a bottle of water. The tour guides in both cases took these pictures of me. They were also very conveniently along the route for refill of water — though on this particular climb there were places that would have been easy to stop for that.

There were other days of big climbs that followed. Not least of which was a couple of days later when we did a loop ride out of Corvara. We did 4 mountain passes that day: Gardena, Sella, Pordoi and Campolongo. Regarding the links, I think I have the directions correct for which way we went up the passes.

I already posted some pics and notes from that day in a Facebook album so I won’t repeat here. Click thru the link for more of that day.

What turned out to be the most challenging climb of the tour for me – and the group, judging by the sentiments expressed after the ride – was the day we climbed the Hahntennjoch pass in Austria.

I’ve included here the result of the Garmin data from that day. We spent the morning riding a pleasant bike route along the Inn River. Generally the morning was a flat route though we did have some wind in our face that day and it was warming up fast. By the time we’d covered 40 miles and stopped for a bite of lunch, it was getting just plain hot. The lunch break in Imst was helpful though for the calories because even before you leave the town you begin to climb and it gets steep right away. And then you climb for about 9 miles. As you can see in the speed graph, my pace really slowed down! Click for a more detailed climb profile.

The climb was steep and toward the top it began to rain and the wind picked up more. As you can see in the temperature graph in the image the temp really dropped as I approached the top. The Garmin recorded 50s (F) but it sure seemed chillier than that. But … wind and some rain.

Finally at the top, the descent down to the small town of Elmen was fantastic. At one point as we came out of the switchbacks I stopped to take a photo. (My bike is facing the opposite way I’m descending. You can see the road up ahead down below my vantage in the pic.)

Tour Participants

Aside from myself and a guy from Hong Kong, all the tour participants were from Australia. The tour idea originated from AllTrails in Australia hence the group dynamics.

You often spend breakfast, lunch and dinner with folks on such a tour so it’s great when you find folks you can easily get along with for that much time.

I tended to spend the most time with the three guys in the photo here. We rode at a close enough pace to one another that typically at coffee stops and lunch stops we’d grab a table together. From left to right in the pic: Antony (who took the photo — it was bright out so I think he’s struggling to see he’s got this photo framed right), then me, Peter, and Jeff. The waitress was a surprise addition to the photo since we were all looking the other way and she seemed to get a kick out of it.

We often ended up at dinner at the same table too. Antony was a wine fan and so we often went in halves on a wine for dinner.

Here’s the whole group:

From the left (and more for my memory than for you the reader) : Bob (from Tasmania), Lisa (tour guide), Jeff, Richard (owner/operator of AllTrails), Antony, me, Jo (married to Richard), Di, Peter, Jan, Mary, Tana (married to Bob), Barry, Percy (from Hong Kong).

Only three of us (Antony, me and Percy) signed up for just the 1st half of the tour to Konstanz. Everyone else (plus a rider that only joined the 2nd half) continued on to ride all the way to Paris.

I’ll finish this section with one last photo of the usual suspects taken by Antony. Half the fun of these group bike tours is after all the hard work of cycling you clean up and spend time socializing with the other folks on the ride. Stories of the day. Politics. The locals or tourists walking by. You name it, we probably talked about it. This shot was taken in the old town and after arrival in Innsbruck on a particularly warm day. We had to stay hydrated of course …

I’m backdating this post so it’ll be a little odd that I’m referencing a New York Times article “Venice, Invaded by Tourists, Risks Becoming ‘Disneyland on the Sea’” that was published in early August 2017, and yet I thought it better to date the post when I actually visited.

The NY Times article was, however, pretty interesting for perhaps no other reason than it highlights just how much of a tourist haven that Venice has become. And even more so because they refer to it as Disneyland. This was exactly my thought after arriving in the city. It’s just so picture perfect.

And speaking of pictures, I took many photos during my short 3 day stay in Venice but I have only posted 3 of my favorites here.

The top photo was taken late in the day from the Rialto Bridge. There are only four bridges across the Grand Canal and as you might imagine given the tourists they are all pretty heavily traveled. No doubt I had to almost muscle my way to the edge of the bridge to take this photo.

Despite the overall negative tone of the NY Times article and how the city is overrun with tourists, I still found the city an enchanting place to hang out for a few days. I arrived jet lagged to hang out before beginning a bike tour that would leave from very near the heart of the city. And yes, I did find the city crowded with tourists but having been to the city only once before – and back in the early 90s – I would have to say it didn’t seem any worse or different. On that particular occasion I was most certainly a day tripper arriving on the train from Milan. The city was jammed with people as I recall and it was the same this time.

That said, it was not hard to wander away from the main places like the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco and find that crush of crowds was diminished.

Case in point … The photo I have here of the gondolier rowing up one of the many side canals that are everywhere throughout the city. Note how few people are along the streets next to the this canal. You could find similar throughout the city. Quiet spots with wonderful views and sights to see.

Side note: I don’t know whether these two in the photo are coworkers or brother and sister or what but given the romantic nature of the moment they don’t appear to be “together”. They are about as far apart as you can get in a gondola. Maybe they had an argument earlier in the day … who’s to know? But to me the city seems to really be ideally suited to a romantic getaway. (You can shop till you drop too of course but the authentic feel of the buildings and canals still seems to suggest the reason you go is ideally suited to couples.)

If it had not been for the bike tour I was joining, Venice would probably not have been high on my list of destinations. It’s beautiful of course and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit but I’ve been once long ago – and half the charm is the city hasn’t changed all that much in centuries – and if I were to go again I’d rather have someone join me.

This next photo was taken from one of the Vaporetto that ply the Grand Canal day and night. You do get a sense of the tourist crowd on the Vaporettos for sure. These are basically water buses that go up and down the canal and they are very handy but also packed. It was standing room only and given the temp was quite warm I was fine with that because I would find a place up near the front of the boat to catch the breeze.

I liked this photo in part because of the reflected light but also the brisk business of restaurants and the gondoliers along the Grand Canal.

Thought I’d finish up this post with a few notes about logistics for a visit to Venice. If nothing else, I may be able to refer back to this if I ever plan to go again.

Years ago I had arrived by train. This time though I flew into the local airport. The airport is actually a pretty good distance from the old island city. You have options to get into the city but the main ones are to either to take the bus (low cost), take a regular taxi (car, mid cost) or to take a water taxi (high cost). There may be others … I used this website and found it to be very helpful.

After having traveled over night I was not interested in waiting whatever amount of time it might take for the bus into the city so I opted to take a taxi to the main jump off point of the city, Piazzale Roma. The buses arrive at the same place. And so do the trains for that matter.

If you bus or taxi the way I did to Roma you still have to make it to your hotel destination. There are again options but I simply chose to hoof it. The advantage of taking a water taxi from the airport is you would typically not have to worry about the 2nd leg. The water taxi could very likely take you within steps of your hotel. But it’s also probably > 100 Euro for the one way trip.

Traveling with bike gear – including a bike – I left almost all of it behind at the airport at “left luggage”. 7 Euro per bag for 24 hours. (2017 prices). Worth the cost. There’s absolutely no reason to take large luggage into the city of Venice. Travel as light as possible into the city. I took only a backpack and lived out of it for 3 days just fine.

One last note about traveling around once you arrive. The Vaporettos are so easy and so frequent you have to use them. Basically a bus on water, they allow for a multi day pass you can buy. Online notes like you find at http://europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/buying-vaporetto-tickets.htm are great and yet what it doesn’t tell you is you can also avoid any lines to buy a ticket and just do it all online using a mobile phone app. I got the app and bought via it and never had a problem. The only tricky bit was that few of the many Vaporetto stations actually have a QR Code reader so you just get on the boat and ignore it. For those (main) stations that have a reader you just skip the line and hold your phone showing the code under the reader and the gate opens like magic. All aboard!

We took time out over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to head out into the Texas Hill Country to enjoy some wine tasting at a couple of really great Texas wineries.

‘Wine Country’ in this part of the world often implies just one stretch of highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, TX. (About an hour+ west of Austin.) And indeed these two wineries were 10 minutes apart on that very stretch of road around Stonewall. That so many wineries have popped up in that area is no surprise. Fredericksburg is very popular and that stretch of road is highly trafficked. But in reality, while there are grapes growing in the area and on the estates, much if not most of the fruit in Texas wine comes from the ‘high plains’ – up near Lubbock. Soil and temp conditions are just better up there. But… nobody goes up there if they can avoid it so consequently the wine biz has set up shop in central TX. They do grow fruit in the hill country though and have for ages … but most of it used to be peaches. There are still peaches of course but now there’s a lot more vines and grapes.

This visit out that way was mainly to catch a [relative] newcomer to the area. Kuhlman Cellars has only been there a couple of years, and yet judging by the quality of the wine, you’d never know that. I was throughly impressed with the experience.

You need a reservation for a tasting at Kulhman and if same-day, you can call them. In this case though I made the reservation online the day before. That was handy. I got the “Signature Food and Wine Pairing”. It’s the way to go I think. It was a few bucks more but the food pairings were a nice addition and enhanced the experience.

The tasting was a sit-down event and just about right on time per the reservation. A sit-down tasting / pairing isn’t something I see often at hill country wineries but I really liked it. I snapped a shot of the food pairings which you can see here in this post.

We were ably guided through our tasting by Jeremy Wilson. Follow the link to his blog postings at the Kuhlman Cellars blog. By his description, his job is essentially anything that needs to get done. From planting in the vineyard to driving the forklift – but he really likes doing the tastings and explaining everything. He’s very knowledgable about the regional wines.

We were fortunate enough to also briefly meet and say hello to the winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne. She’s originally from France. Her mom was visiting from France and was there that afternoon for a tasting, which was kinda cute. Follow the link for a bio.

There were 5 wines tasted and I enjoyed each. The Sauvignon Blanc was a surprise and very nice. “Green apple, pear and gooseberry.. crisp acidity”. You’d never guess the fruit came from Ft Stockton way out in west TX.

The reds in general were lovely but the 2014 Barranca was a standout. Tasting notes: “violets, sweet baking spice, cedar cigar box and cherry, .., dark chocolate, creme fraiche and intense mineralogy”. (I’m always amazed at how wine writers come up with these descriptions.) Anyway, it was 31% Mourvedre, 30% Tempranillo, 24% Malbec and 15% Sangiovese .. and it was yummy. Pricey at $36/bottle but as things go this is pretty much a specialty item and nicely done at that so you’ll pay a little more.

The photo at the bottom of the post of the vines and grapes is, if my notes are correct, Marsanne. You can read all about this at the winery’s own blog post here.

With plenty of time left of the afternoon we decided to also take in Hilmy Cellars 10 min down the road. I had been there only once and was impressed with their wines. So, off we went.

You can see another couple photos here from Hilmy. The first is one is of their 2015 Persephone. A blend of 2/3 Viognier and 1/3 Chenin Blanc. The white wines in general at Hilmy were excellent. My fav was their 2015 100% Viognier. A bit more floral than the other two white but with enough acid not to make it cloying.

The reds were equally enjoyable but the 100% Sangiovese was my fav and is it then any surprise that we got one of those with a plan to stop by Sorellina pizza on the way back to Austin for a couple of pies? Great combo! (Sorellina is just on the Austin side of the bridge over the Pedernales river and well worth the drive out west on hwy 71 if you wanna take the time.)

The guy in the photo at the bottom is Michael at Hilmy. Didn’t catch his last name. He’s only been in the area for 3 months. He moved from California. He was very knowledgable about the wines though and as you can see, he clearly enjoys what he’s doing.

Vines and Grapes at Kuhlman Cellars, Stonewall, Texas

One of the fun things about visiting France is happening across the markets – what we’d refer to as a farmer’s market – that you find in the little towns and cities. I stumbled on this one in Brive on a Tuesday morning before the bike tour group met and just a short walk from the hotel. I didn’t investigate but based on the weekday time and the location of the market (under a big shelter house) they may run it every day. In other little towns they block off and take over the streets of the town/city.

This one in Brive had plenty of interesting things to choose from. Vegetables, flowers, meats and cheeses of all kinds. If I’d been staying in a house as opposed to a hotel room and about to bike out of the city I would’ve gotten some things for later. But it’s still fun to look.

For bigger versions of the images, click through to open new windows.

I’ve been wanting to try out Launderette in Austin for some time. Nothing really stopping me other than taking time to actually plan because the place is routinely booked up. And I can now see why.

For a change I touched base with someone at Launderette much earlier than I typically would and arranged for a table for New Year’s Eve. Having never been there I suppose it might have been considered a gamble on whether it’d pan out but reviews have been good.

Suffice to say everything – including the service and new year party atmosphere – were fantastic.

Ok, on to my notes. I snagged the menu off the website and I’m glad they had it there so I didn’t have to type it in. Let’s get started…

First Course

Choice Of:Rabbit Terrine
Boston Mackerel Crudo
French Onion Soup
Frisée Salad

I can have a salad anytime – and I make a good salad – so that was out as 1st choice. And I’m sure the French Onion soup would have been great but we went for things we wouldn’t normally find: the rabbit and the mackerel crudo.

The rabbit terrine was sort of like a pâté. Not entirely spreadable but close. Excellent flavor and particularly with the Langhe Nebbiolo we chose to go along with the meal.

The mackerel was a much smaller portion and indeed raw but it packed a punch. It was very spicy but in a good way.

A great start!

Second Course

Choice Of:Razor Clam
Truffle Gnudi
Boneless Sardine
Roasted Kabocha

Here I went with the truffled Gnudi. Had no idea what Gnudi was but the waiter helped and I know I like truffles and how can you go wrong as anything billed as a little dumpling? Click the above link for more on what Gnudi is.

Third Course

Choice Of:Duck Breast
Short Rib
Squid Ink Cavatelli
Loup De Mer En Brodo

We opted for the duck breast and short rib. Both were absolutely fantastic. Might be the best short rib I’ve ever had.

Neither were large portions but they were just enough. When the time came though, we were ready for the:

Fourth Course

Choice Of:Disco Trifle
Champagne Baked Alaska
Million Dollar Chocolate
Etherealmisu

We opted for the baked Alaska and the million dollar chocolate. Wow! These were both great. I especially liked the touch to add the gold leaf to the million dollar chocolate.

Great way to bring in the new year and I’ll be headed back at the first opportunity. Photos here are a couple I took of neon sign out front and a shot of the restaurant from the parking lot. The place was literally a laundromat prior to its current state as a restaurant and I guess you can kinda tell that from the look. It’s had quite a transformation into a restaurant though.

Launderette, Austin, Texas

I had the pleasure once again of taking some time out late on a Sunday morning for the once a month ‘classes’ that are put on by Hudson’s on the Bend chef Jeff Blank and team. Always fun and as usual, the food was fantastic.

That’s chef Jeff Blank on the left. He supervises and comments along the way as his team makes all the food.

I quote ‘classes’ above only because it’s really more of a cooking demonstration. The team of chefs make everything right in front of you and tell you what they’re doing all along the way. Along the way the staff keeps you lubricated with wine as you enjoy the show. Lake Travis forms the backdrop when it’s outdoors like the day I was there.

The menu of the day varies and on this particular day it was in my opinion: awesome for the season.

We started things off with “Wild Game Chili“. This was probably some of the best tasting chili I can remember. Of course, when you see what they put in there you can see why:

  • venison
  • wild boar
  • onion
  • garlic
  • bacon
  • freshly made veal stock
  • ancho chilis
  • poblano chilis
  • + other seasonings and goodness

You can see a photo below of the big pot they made it in. It smelled as good as it tasted.

Next up after the chili came “New Orleans BBQ ‘big ass’ Shrimp“. They referred to them as ‘big ass’ shrimp because they special order them for their size. The term also reminds me of George Carlin’s quote about “jumbo shrimp”:

The term Jumbo Shrimp has always amazed me. What is a Jumbo Shrimp? I mean, it’s like Military Intelligence – the words don’t go together, man.

This dish had LOTS of butter along with garlic, and a tasty collection of spices: bay leaves, rosemary (freshly cut from the yard), oregano, basil, paprika, black pepper, cayenne.

We’re not done yet, then there was also “Espresso Rubbed Venison Backstrap with lump crab in Chipotle Bock Beer Blanc Butter“. This one was was done up in a stovetop smoker that you can also see to the right on the stove in the pic here. Smokey flavors were excellent.

And for dessert? “Brownie Bread Pudding“. Wow, this one was decadent. Chocolate chips melted down with butter, sugar, vanilla bean paste, eggs, flour. They first make up a batch of brownies with the main ingredients and then they go crazy and break it all up in a pan and add 2 quarts of heavy cream and a dozen eggs. Mix ‘er all up and bake. Holy smokes. A little of this goes a long ways.

After the demonstration everyone goes to the restaurant not too far from the demonstration at Jeff Blank’s home and the restaurant staff serves all of these great dishes up.

Don’t worry about the calories on a day like this. Just go and enjoy it.

I hadn’t been out to the Salt Lick in a long time. But, it’s the kind of place that doesn’t change that much over the years. With it being the Thanksgiving Day weekend it wasn’t like I was in need of a lot more food. I’ve been more than well fed in recent days. But with some out-of-towners saying they really wanted to go to the Salt Lick it seemed like a good day to go check it out again.

With weather wet and in the 40’s I would have figured there wasn’t a lot of folks that were interested in getting out and driving down to the Driftwood area to have a big meal of BBQ. But then of course I’d be wrong. Now as crowds go, they can be a lot larger at the Salt Lick. You can wait for hours. But arriving mid afternoon on a holiday weekend Sunday, we got in right away.

I got the baby back ribs but had the luxury of sampling some of the brisket as well as the sausage. The ribs and the brisket were very enjoyable. Wasn’t as much of a fan of the sausage. BBQ aficionados from here in central Texas can sometimes pooh-pooh the Salt Lick. It’s touristy and this or that and doesn’t measure up to some other vaunted BBQ place somewhere in TX. But they’re popular and have been for ages for a reason. It tastes good. And the service is good especially considering the throng of people they deal with routinely.

These days, they also have a wine tasting place right on the other side of the dining room where you can find Texas wines that just happen to go quite well with a plate of BBQ. We opted for a bottle of Fall Creek Tempranillo sourced from the Salt Lick vineyard. Can’t get more local than that, and it worked well with the barbecue.

Sides were potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, jalapeños, pickles, onions and mounds of bread. I passed on the onions and bread but tried the rest. All fine if not exactly piping hot. I’m not as much of a fan of the sauces but that’s just personal taste.

All in all, can’t beat a trip out to the start of the hill country and some tasty BBQ. A nice finish to the Thanksgiving Day weekend.

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