Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tres Hermanas: Holy mole!

All you Taco Bell lovers are about to hate me because I am a Mexican food snob. But it’s not my fault. I'm blaming it all on the great state of Texas.

Yup…when they say “don’t mess with Texas,” they don’t just mean the people; they mean everything and that includes the incredible Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine you can get there. I swear, before I had tasted the real stuff, I was happy with the bland Americanized versions you get at fast food places and non-authentic restaurants.


When I moved to California I was excited, because I know you can get some pretty good stuff here. So for the last few months, I’ve been scouring Sacramento in search of the best Mexican food – and finally, on Saturday I found it.

The name of the restaurant is Tres Hermanas (2416 K Street in Midtown) and their food is to die for.

So what did I get that was so mouth-watering good? The mole of course! Anybody can make a sizzling fajita platter, but getting a good mole is hard to come by. Believe me. I know. I’ve ordered it in many Sacramento Mexican restaurants and so far onlyTres Hermanas has me coming back for more.

It’s the perfect blend of warm spices, chocolate, peanuts, chicken and sesame. It’s spicy enough to make you feel it, but not enough to leave your nose running. Man…it’s so good. Just thinking of it now has me craving it.


But here’s the scoop: If you are looking for a trendy date place -- go to Zocalo because it’s pretty - and they make a good marguerita . If you are looking for great drinks, check out Azul’s. BUT…if you are looking for simply good Mexican food and don’t care about d├ęcor, being squished or the service, then come to Tres Hermanas.

Because let's face it, when it comes to good Mexican cuisine, who cares about all that stuff? For me, it’s all about the mole.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

All Aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train

Yes, it’s true. There really is a Napa Valley wine train. I should know. I rode it this weekend and it was pretty cool.

The antique train takes passengers on 36 mile round trip through the Napa valley. While it’s chugging along you get to feast on either a gourmet lunch or a dinner AND you get to tour a vineyard. See…I told you it was cool.

Just in case you need more convincing, the train has two engines, three kitchens on board and a collection of early 20th century rail cars that are pure Americana. It offers guests great regional food and fabulous, hard-to-find wines. Plus, for the three hour ride, the price isn’t that bad - just over $100 a person.

What makes this trip different from visiting Napa Valley in your car is that you are seeing the vineyards in an actual piece of history. Yeah, that's right. You aren't riding in some modern day train, but something that authentic from days gone by. The dining cars are circa 1915 to 1917 and the domed viewing cars are from 1952.

During the trip, you’ll pass by five towns: Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena, and numerous wineries. If you happen to go on the same tour I did, you'll see where Robin Williams had a home and where some of best wine in Napa is grown.


The Napa Valley Wine Train begins its journey at the McKinstry Street Station in Napa. The train then travels north to St. Helena, where the locomotive disconnects from the north facing side of the train and reconnects to the south facing side of the train in preparation for the return journey.

Depending on the day of the week, the Napa Valley Wine Train makes two stops. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, guests who have purchased the Domaine Chandon Tour will disembark at Yountville during the southbound leg of the trip. On weekdays (Monday through Friday), guests who have purchased the Grgich Hills Tour will disembark at Grgich Hills Winery on the northbound leg of the trip, and be picked up by the Wine Train as the train travels southbound.

I did the Grgich Hills Tour and loved it. The tour guide on our 1 hour private tour was hilarious and we tasted at least three different wines which were included in our train ticket price. We also got to keep our tasting glasses as souvenirs – which is always a nice touch.


The prices for the train ride and wine tour range from $119 to $184.00. The Grgich Hills tour is the cheapest one, but they also do seasonal tours.

They actually have a Moonlight Escape on July 25, 2010 coming up that looks really romantic. It’s on the date of the full moon during the time of year when thunder storms are most frequent. There is nothing better than looking at the moon with a good glass of wine.

But don’t wait too long to book if you’re interested. They only accept 24 couples for this particular trip.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Those who know me, know that I am a sunchaser. Just like that Jeep commercial, I will always take the winding road and follow it wherever it goes. However, I don’t own a jeep. I own a little Honda Fit fondly known by those who have ridden shotgun as the Roller Skate.

I live to chase adventure…which is why when my friend told me he was celebrating his birthday in Las Vegas and wondered if I could drive up, I instantly said “yes”.

Of course, that was before I checked MapQuest and learned it would be a 9.5 hour drive. But whatever. It’s Vegas, Baby! And I’m driving there!!

Yes, I admit that while I do love Sin City, I was more psyched about the drive. You see, driving through the Mojave Desert with the wind whipping through my hair for a Vegas weekend is one of the things on my bucket list.

So at 8 a.m. on Saturday, I tossed a couple of cans of Red Bull and about 6 bottles of water in the car and off I went. It was actually quite liberating packing all these liquids as when I normally fly to Vegas, I always have to go liquid free (I try to never check luggage. In fact, I can live out of a carry-on for a week – just ask my friends who went with me to Hawaii last year).

Anyways, if you ever decide to drive from Sacramento to Las Vegas, let me tell the trip over to Bakersfield is b-o-r-i-n-g. I mean dead boring. There was nothing to see, but I also had a sucky iTunes mix that wasn’t really happening either.

But once you pass Bakersfield, it gets kind of cool – because that’s when you hit the Mojave Desert...and it's gorgeous.  The mountains are spectacular and the little bush-like trees add enough variety to keep it interesting. 

I'll just give you a word of warning: If you hit Bakersfield and only have a little bit of gas left in the tank, fill up. I didn't and literally coasted down the mountain on fumes.

No really. It hardly took any gas to cut across the flat parts of California, but as soon as I started the drive up the mountains, the gas drained out of my tank like crazy. The warning light went on when I was about 20 miles up the mountain with another 30 to go until I reached the summit.

Yes, I panicked - just a bit.

I turned off the AC, opened the window, detoured off the highway in the direction of the nearest gas station --which was in the middle of nowhere and 45 degrees in the opposite direction. You know how they say you should sometimes take the road less travelled? Well, at that moment I was on THAT road -- and I was the only person on it.  There were no cars or people in any direction...and let me tell you that you can see pretty far in the desert.

With my car flashing it's warning at me, I prayed I would make it to the little town on the Indian reserve in time -- or at least close enough that I could walk in my flipflops. Thankfully, it was mostly downhill and I was able to take my foot off the accerator for the last 16 miles and roll into town.  Yes, I counted them.

After that, I filled up everytime I made a pit stop.

You know when you fly into Sin City you can see the lights in the distance? Well, when you drive during the day it's not like that. It sometimes feels like you will never get there because all you see for hours and hours is beige dirt, beige mountains and sprinklings of plants, which I hear if I did this trip in June would be beige too.

Don't get me wrong. It's still beautiful and I would do the trip again in a heartbeat. But it's kind of like being in the first Star Wars where the sand people live. At any moment, I expected an army of creatures to arise from their camouflage and add some life to the area. 

Of course, because I was going to Vegas, I imagined these creatures to be dressed as glitzy celebrity impersonators who would break out in some disco song -- but maybe that was iPod playing tricks on me. Nine hours in the car, with the windows open and the desert wind blowing at you can do that to a person.

Anyways, even with all that desert and open road, Sin City is hidden. Not until you are about an hour away can you see any sign of it.  But when you do...WOW!

After driving 9.5 hours, I quickly showered and washed the Mojave out of my hair and met up with my friends for a night on the strip. Less than 12 hours later, I was back on the road for the return trip.

Was it worth it? Heck, yes!!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Last shuttle launch -- sob

Regrets suck. You only get one chance at life so I really try not to have any, but today I had to admit that I really wished I would have done a little advance planning.

You see, today was the day of the final shuttle launch for Atlantis and I missed it. Seeing a rocket or shuttle launch was one of the things on my “to-do” list, but you never think you will run out of time to do it. But what bugs me is I even have a friend in NASA who could have helped me see the launch if I really wanted it.

Now I know you are say “What?” You’re nuts. Why weren’t you there?”

Here’s why…I was afraid of taking the risk. The risk I’m talking about is wasting money or a vacation day because the shuttle sometimes cancels due to rain. I know. Lame.


Anyway, this was a good lesson. While this is the last launch of Atlantis, there are two more shuttle launches scheduled and this time I'm going to put a plan in place.

Discovery is targeted for launch in September with spare parts and equipment. Endeavour is due to launch in November carrying a $2 billion, multinational particle detector known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

I will be there. Yes, I will.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The trouble with goat cheese

I don’t know about you, but I have a love/hate relationship with goat cheese. I swear…some days it’s the best thing to come out of a goat, and the next time I eat it, I’m spitting it out into my napkin.

Crazy? Totally.

This weekend was one of those times. On Friday I picked up a goat cheese and spinach pizza from Whole Foods in Arden. It was awful. After two bites, I gave up on eating it and scraped off all the cheese. Basically I ate soggy crust and called it a night.

But then on Sunday, I ordered this tomato/fennel soup with big chunks of goat cheese from Tuli Bistro in Midtown Sacramento and it was wonderful. So what’s up with that? Am I the only one out there with fickle goat cheese taste buds?

The one thing I do know is that I never know what I’m going to get when I order something with goat cheese so I always have a backup plan just in case it happens to suck -- such as picking it off or if I can’t pick it off, I have to make sure it’s followed with either a fabulous main course or a dessert to wash the yucky after taste out of my mouth.

The good news is that more often than not, the cheese works so I will continue to order it. It's kind of like living on the edge  –even if it’s just about goat cheese.

PS By the way, Yellowtail Jack is in season so if it's on the Tuli Bistro menu get it -- especially if you are a tuna lover. It's not as heavy as tuna and it melts in your mouth. Absolute perfection.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

70 Years of ice cream goodness at Gunther's

Looking for some good old fashion fun? I was last week, which was why I took a stroll down memory lane at Gunther’s Ice Cream Shop on Franklin Blvd in Sacramento. The shop has been a neighborhood icon for years and is celebrating its 70th anniversary on May 15 by offering a hotdog, a drink, chips and a scoop of ice cream for only $2.
Now that's a deal!

Of course, while I was there having a scoop of chocolate I had to chat up a couple of the people to find out their secret of success.

“Gunther’s was the place to go in the neighborhood,” said Eva, a long time customer. “I remember after ballet class we would come here. You would see all the girls lined up in their tutus.”

Now, that's adorable, but Eva wasn't the only one in her family to go to Gunther's. Her 93-year-old grandmother also was a frequent visitor and has been going there for years. Eva says it's the place everyone in the neighborhood seems to go.

Gunther’s Quality Ice Cream Company was established in April 1940 and was owned and operated by Herman “Pop” Gunther and his wife, Iva. It was originally located on 5th Avenue and Franklin Blvd, but after the war in 1949, they opened a larger store in 1949 at its present location, on the corner of 3rd Avenue and Franklin Blvd

Jugglin' Joe was the first thing I saw when pulling up to Gunther's. It's this giant animated sign located on top of the building.

I was just lining up the shot with my iPhone camera when a customer yelled to me.

“You’ve got to see it at night,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.”

I did come back later, but my as you know, the iPhone camera doesn't have a flash (so hoping they add it to the next version) so the photo sucked. But now I was intrigued with this sign and the fame behind it. I simply had to get the inside scoop from the owner...and another scoop of ice cream.

“It was ‘Pop’ Gunther who designed the animated Jugglin’ Joe sign,” said Marlena Klopp, who now runs the shop with her husband Rick. “You wouldn’t believe how many people drop by to take pictures of it.”

According to Marlena, the sign is one of the few neon animated signs left in the city. Just like the taste of their homemade products, it has become one of things customers expect when they come.

There's even a tale to go with the sign. They say if you see Jugglin' Joe not catch the ice cream scoop, then you get a free cone. That has never happened, but it's not the chance to get a free cone that keeps people coming back -- it's the family atmosphere and the ice cream.

“I just dropped off one of my grandkids. I’m here for a little treat for me,” said Jackie, Gunther’s Ice Cream customer.

Jackie has been coming to Gunther’s for over 19 years. She doesn’t live in the Curtis Park area, but in another part of the city. She says her grandchildren live by Gunther’s and when visiting them, it gives her an excuse to drop in for a little something sweet.

“Sometimes they are with me, but today, it’s just treat time for me,” Jackie said.

You can’t blame her. The secret to Gunther’s good taste is high quality processing, combined with all natural ingredients and a rich cream.

For 70 years, they have been scooping up treats for the neighborhood and on Saturday May 15 they plan to celebrate in style by bringing back the 1940s. In addition to their $2 meal deal, they have a day of fun planned for people of all ages.

“There will be a barbershop quartet, swing dancers and a DJ playing 1940s songs,” said Marlena. “We’ll also have a juggler and face painting, temporary tattoos and balloons for the kids. They’ll be something for everyone.”

Gunther’s will also be paying tribute to all small businesses in the area – both new and old. They will be raffling off a Beach Comber bicycle and other prizes that were donated by local businesses in the area.

Gunther’s 70th Anniversary Celebration
Date: May 15, 2010
12 pm. To 4 p.m.
Check out my Gunther's slideshow on

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bike Lesson #1: Get padded shorts

I hurt….everywhere.

Ever since I signed up for the Eppies Great Race in Sacramento I’ve been running a couple of times of week to work up to the 6 miles I need to complete for the first tier of the race. I make this sound like it’s been forever, but really, I only signed up on April 14 so it’s been two weeks.

But running 6 miles isn’t why I hurt. It’s the biking that’s killing me. I swear, my butt will never be the same.

With the race being 10 weeks away, I thought I should plow ahead into Phase II of my training and buy a bike. The Great Race consists of a 6 mile run, 12 miles on bike and 6 miles by kayak, and if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I haven’t owned a bike since I was 10.

Even though it's been a couple decades, I was really hoping it would all come back naturally and I would ride like the wind. Yeah…well…not quite.

It’s not the bike’s fault. I actually did a lot of research beforehand and after talking to people, I ditched my first plan of buying something cheap from Craig’s list – not that Craig’s list is bad. I have actually sold lots of stuff on the online board. But I learned last year when I decided to buy golf clubs that size really does matter – especially after I bought ladies clubs and then had to pay to get them extended by a couple of inches. Yes, I’m apparently a giant.

If you haven’t gone bike shopping in a long time, they come in sizes and not just adult and kids. It turns out because of my height, I needed a 57” frame.

When I walked into City Bicycle Works, I had my heart set on a Trek road bike. Not only is this the brand Lance Armstrong uses (except he has the expensive model and I was looking at the lower end cheapy one), but the three people I interviewed about bikes all had that brand, too. It seemed as if it was the brand for winners.

So did I get that one? Nope. I got a Specialized road bike and here’s why: While I do agree the Trek was faster and I liked the way gears shifted better, the bike I got had breaks on the top part of the handle bars in addition to the traditional place and it felt a little more comfortable.

Of course, fast is probably better when it comes to racing, but let’s face it…I’m not going to win this race. My goal is to finish it somewhere in the middle. Plus, when it’s all over, I plan on taking my snazzy bike out to the coast and doing some distance cycling on the weekends – so comfort…and not speed will be important.

Besides, this bike was on sale so it was slightly cheaper than the Trek Bike. Bonus.

Now that I had the bike, I had to ride it. And ride it, I did. I went for 30 miles along the American River path and felt great for most of it. I admit, the last 5 miles on the way back were a little killer. My knees were starting to hurt (I still have to get the bike adjusted so this doesn’t happen) and I could no longer feel my butt. No really. It was completely numb.

Let me tell you a little secret that nobody told me -- Get bike shorts! Riding that long with regular shorts is not a good idea.

The feeling did come back and believe me I wish it didn’t. It hurts to walk, sit and move today.
There will be no more biking until I invest in the padded shorts.