Friday, November 27, 2015

Relaxing at Solage Spa in Calistoga

We have always enjoyed dining at the fabulous Solbar Restaurant in Calistoga, especially when we spent time at the Indian Springs Resort. We have never stayed at the Solage Spa, but Inna wanted to try it so we booked the "Just the Two of Us" promotion for the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend.

We arrived on Friday afternoon and checked in. The drive from San Jose to Calistoga was fairly uneventful and we especially enjoyed the fall colors all around. Deciduous trees were turning yellow, red, and all colors in between. After checking in at Solbar's reception (and enjoying some chai tea), we changed and went for a short swim at Solage's mineral pool.

After enjoying a relaxing swim in the mineral pool, we split up. I went to the men's steam room and jacuzzi, while Inna went to the women's section. The mineral pool is restricted to adults 18 years and older, so Alex could not stay there more than 30 minutes.

However, we enjoyed our time in there and then came back to our room, to get ready for dinner at Solbar.

Since it was quite cold outside, we decided to eat inside. I ordered a soup, "Butternut Squash Veloute" to start my dining adventure, followed by "Slow Roasted Enigh Lamb Shoulder".

Both dishes were simply fabulous. The lamb shoulder was especially delicious! I cannot recall eating a better cooked lamb dish. This dish makes Solbar a Michelin 1 star!

Inna started out with a "salad", followed by "Seared Day Boat Diver Scallops".

Both dishes were really fantastic.

For dessert, we decided to share a few dishes. I ordered "Butterscotch Rum Pudding" to share with Inna and she ordered a "Chocolate Marquise".

The butterscotch pudding was divine. I wish I could eat it all over again.

Alex ordered some "Dulce de Leche" ice cream with chocolate syrup on the side.

After dinner, we went back home and played a few games. We played Words with Friends, and I won, with Alex coming in second, and Inna third.

Saturday, November 28

In the morning, I decided to go for an early work out in Solage's gym. The gym is not very big, but it had all top-of-the-line exercise equipment (except for rowing machines and stair masters). I decided to exercise for 30 minutes on the jogging track followed by 20 minutes on the stationary bike. I also did a few bench presses. As it was getting late for breakfast, I rushed back and we went back for our delicious breakfast in Solbar.

Inna ordered "Mt. Washington Eggs". They were delicious!

I ordered the famous "Lemon Ricotta Pancakes". They are my favorite pancakes and the reason I always come to Solbar for breakfast!

The pancakes were outstanding as expected! I really enjoyed them.

After our delicious breakfast, we had many appointments line up. Inna booked a couples massage followed by a mud treatment (which I have never tried before).

From 10:30am to 11:30am, we experienced a very nice couples massage. Inna and I shared a room, while the two massage therapists applied pressure to relieve stress. I felt fantastic afterwards!
After the massage ended, we had another hour before the next treatment began, so we went for a short swim in the nearby mineral pool. It was so nice and refreshing.

At 12:30 pm, we came back for our mud treatment. Basically, each of us was handed a bucket of volcanic mud flavored with perfume (that we selected). We were guided to a private room, where we applied the volcanic mud all over our bodies and waited 20 minutes for it to settle. The volcanic mud is supposed to detoxify one's skin. I felt great afterwards, but I can't say that I felt any different.

After the wonderful mud treatment, we were guided to a soacker tub, where we relaxed in warm water for 15-20 minutes. After the tub, we headed to another private room, where we took a long nap, while listening to relaxing music. We had a wonderful, relaxing time at the spa and would love to come again.

After the spa treatment, we headed back to our room to check on Alex, and then to lunch at Sam's Social Club, a new restaurant in the Indian Springs Resort.

Sam's Social Club has an interesting interior decor, reminiscing quaint olden days of California.

I ordered a "Mushroom Scramble", which was not bad.

Alex ordered a "Margherita Pizza", which he enjoyed a lot.

Inna ordered an "Egg in a Hole". She really liked liked it.

After lunch, we decided to go for a bike ride in downtown Calistoga. It was a bit late and cold, so we did not bike very far.

We returned back to Solage, in time to rest and play a few board games, before heading for dinner at Bouchon Bistro, in nearby Yountville.

We have been coming to Bouchon, whenever we headed for Napa/Sonoma wine country. However, we were not as impressed on this visit (as in previous visits).

I ordered a "Salade de Cresson et d’Endivesau Roquefort, Pommes et Noix". While it looked quite presentable, it was nothing special.

Inna ordered a "Salade Maraîchère au Chèvre Chaud". It was also nothing special.

We did not order wine (because it's usually way overpriced in these restaurants).

I ordered lamb (to compare against the most delicious lamb in Solbar). Unfortunately, Bouchon's lamb was vastly inferior to Solbar. I don't think Bouchon deserves a Michelin 1 star anymore.

Inna ordered a "Pasta with Lobster" special entree. While it was delicious, she was not ecstatically happy about it.

Alex was not very hungry, so he just ate some French Fries.

I was looking forward to trying some delicious dessert, but I was again headed for disappointment.

While the cake looked inviting, it did not taste exceptional.

Alex ordered some ice cream, but he was unhappy with the small scoops.

We were not very happy with the dinner at Bouchon. I hope that Thomas Keller gets his act together, because I would rather eat at Solbar (which is vastly better).

Inna was also upset about one other aspect of Bouchon. After coming back from the rest room, she commented about the filthy state of the ladies restroom. A Michelin 1 star restaurant should be better than that.

Sunday, November 28

Morning greeted us with some frost, and we dressed warmly prior to heading for breakfast.

The steam from the heated swimming pool was rising.

We had another delicious breakfast in Solbar. This time, Inna and Alex both ordered the famous "Lemon Ricotta pancakes"! Everyone loved them!

After breakfast, we decided to enjoy a bit more of the mineral springs pool.

We enjoyed a swim in the pool, followed by some time in the steam room.

We had a very relaxing morning.

After breakfast, we decided to try out the local Foosball machine. Alex and I played three games and I lost 2 to 1.

As it was time for lunch, we decided to try the local New Orleans themed Evangeline restaurant.
I ordered the Chicken and Waffle combination. It was very good, but not as spicy as I expected (having lived in Houston, Texas near Louisiana).

Inna ordered the "Rosti" dish.

After lunch, we stopped by briefly at the V. Sattui Winery, where we usually buy our wine for the year (as it's not sold in stores). We purchased a case, with six bottles of Gamay Rouge and six bottles of Muscat - our favorite wines.

We had a great getaway to Calistoga and hope to be back some day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: "Riverdance" at San Jose Center for Performing Arts

For my birthday, Inna purchased two front row tickets to Riverdance, at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

I didn't know what to expect, as I have never seen it before and knew that Michael Flatley no longer danced in this show.

We had a great view of the performance from the front row and enjoyed the energy of the dancers. It was well performed and enjoyable. I especially liked the Flamenco Dancer and the drummer (who played with a lot of enthusiasm and energy).

According to Wikipedia:
Riverdance is a theatrical show consisting mainly of traditional Irish music and dance. Featuring Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, and with a score composed by Limerick native Bill Whelan, it originated as an interval performance act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. Shortly afterwards, husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty expanded it into a stage show, which opened in Dublin on 9 February 1995. Since then, the show has visited over 450 venues worldwide and been seen by over 25 million people, making it one of the most successful dance productions in the world.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Windsurfing Coyote Point

I usually don't windsurf in November, due to the cold weather and lack of wind.

However, yesterday, I saw a forecast for 25+ knot winds and I started to get tempted.
The air temperature was 59 F and I noticed that Pacific water temperature was also about the same (which is unusually warm).

I decided to give it a shot and drove to Coyote Point , which is my closest windsurfing destination (about 45-50 minutes). Since I have not windsurfed this year at all, I did not want to drive too far.

When I arrived at around 1:00pm, the wind was gusting to 30 knots and a few crazy souls were out there on their 4.2 sq. m sail and small boards. I rigged my old (ancient) Ezzy Wave 4.2 sail and got my old, but trusty Mistral Ecstacy (84 liter) out.

I recorded parts of the crazy session on my GoPro Hero in High-def:

When I launched. I was surprised by the extremely gusty wind. I was catapulted a few times, until I was able to finally get in the straps and scream across the bay.

After about 45 minutes of this intense windsurfing, I was totally beat. I must be really out of shape!
I had a great session and I am happy to have been able to sail in mid November.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Biking Saratoga Gap and Peters Creek

As weather was sunny and mild, I decided to try to mountain bike the Saratoga Gap and Peters Creek trail in Saratoga (starting at the Vista point parking lot at the intersection of Highway 9 and Skyline Boulevard).

Initially, I wanted to ride this trail with the South Bay Mountain Bike group on meetup but there was no space (8 people have already made reservations and I was placed on a waiting list). I decided to ride anyway, as I had the map and my iPhone 5S for GPS and tracking.

I arrived just before 10:00am (right at the time of the meetup), and was surprised that most of those 8 people did not show up. I decided to go along with the rest of the crew.

I was on my 20 year old Specialized Ground Control full suspension bike (which is about to be retired) for a new to me 2011 Specialized S-works FSR.

The trail started out with an easy climb to a single track with nice green cover. I recorded a GoPro video of my ride through on this nice Saratoga Gap trail.

The ride too about 2.5 hours and we stopped a few times to wait for everyone to catch up. I really liked this trail - it's not as tiresome as Quicksilver - but is more scenic with many different sections of single track and technical descents. I hope to ride it once again.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Specialized StumpJumper FSR

I have been riding my old 1997 Specialized Ground Control for the past 18 years on all sorts of trails. It cost me $1,399 back in 1997 when I lived in Sacramento and biked on nearby trails and near Lake Tahoe.

Recently, when it came time to doing maintenance, I took it to the nearby Summit Bicycles. The mechanics there told me that my bike was completely obsolete and that everything needed replacing. I would be better off getting a newer bike.

My old Specialized came with V-brakes - while today's mountain bikes all have hydraulic disc brakes. There were many modern suspension improvements also.

My long search for a replacement bike began. At first, I considered buying brand new - but the prices for bikes have appreciated dramatically. At the local shops, decent bikes with carbon frames were going for over $3k. I decided to look for a nice used bike on Craigslist.

After a lot of fruitless searches, I found a decent bike - a 2011 Specialized StumpJumper S-Works FSR Carbon Full Suspension in Pleasanton. It came loaded with all Shimano XTR and SRAM X0 components and looked to be in decent condition. After some price negotiation, I decided to buy it.
Frame: Full Carbon
Size: Med
Fork: Fox FutureShock w/ Brain
Rear Suspension: Fox FutureShock w/ Brain
Rear Derailleur: SRAM X0
Front Derailleur: Shimano XTR
Shifters: SRAM X0
Brakes: Shimano XTR (ICE Tech Rotors)
Cranks: Shimano XTR
Chain: Shimano XTR (replaced with Shimano XT)
Cassette: Shimano XTR (replaced with Shimano XT)
Headset: Cane Creek
Stemp: Thompson Elite X3
Handle Bar: Specialized Carbon
Seat Post: Rock Shox Reverb (Dropper Post)
Seat: WTB Pure V
Grips: Specialized Body Geometry (replaced)
Wheels: Roval Control E5
Tires: WTB Weirwolf 2.3
Once purchased, I took it to my local Los Gatos Bicycles bike shop for a thorough evaluation. The mechanics there found that the chain, cassette and two chainrings were worn out. I had everything replaced, but it cost me another $400.

I tried out the new-to-me Specialized FSR and like it a lot. The disc brakes are much more responsive and the dropper post is very useful in going downhill.