World’s only ski-up Starbucks open for business at Squaw Valley

squaw valley diningTwo days ago, while visiting my brother and his family in Lake Tahoe, my nephew uttered the words I’d hoped never to hear. “Starbucks just opened a ski-up window at Squaw’s Gold Coast mid-mountain complex!” he snorted, before pondering aloud how it was possible to ski with a triple venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte while wearing gloves and holding poles.

Truly, I think the world has enough Starbucks in it, and if you can’t get through a day of skiing without a fix, you just might have a problem. Not everyone feels that way, however, as reported on Eater.com today. Says Squaw Valley president and CEO Andy Wirth, “Nowhere else in the world can skiers and riders enjoy a delicious Starbucks coffee without missing a beat on the slopes.” My nephew might disagree with the logistics of that statement, but never underestimate the power of a Frappuccino habit.

How to Break the Caffeine Addiction Cycle

Boulder’s favorite outdoorsy chefs describe their perfect day in “Sliced and Diced” guide

Boulder's best chefsBoulder, Colorado, is an anomaly when it comes to the complicated relationship between mountain towns and great food. Whether it’s a slice of pizza or a charcuterie plate; a well-crafted cocktail, or just a damn good cup of coffee, it’s generally hard to find quality ingredients and skilled artisans, chefs, and cooks to produce them in enticing high-altitude settings. Ski towns are a prime example: who wants to work on an epic powder day? Fortunately, Boulder is setting the bar on combining the two aesthetics, thanks to its “Sliced and Diced” guide.

As I mentioned in a post last week, Boulder takes its outdoor pursuits and sustainability seriously. The city boasts one of the highest concentrations of tri-athletes in the nation, and is famed for its hiking, climbing, biking, kayaking, backcountry sports, fly fishing, and mountaineering. It also has the highest number of yoga classes, physical therapists, massage specialists, and top bike fit specialists per capita than anywhere else in the world. This might explain why some people are a bit…irked by Boulder, and even I tend to feel self-conscious about my resting metabolic rate when I’m in town (and I used to live there).

Now, the city’s most talented chefs–some of them competitive/former athletes themselves–share their ideas of a perfect day in Boulder in the “Sliced and Diced” guide, which is available online, at area hotels, and the Boulder Visitors Center kiosk at 1301 Pearl Street (on the pedestrian mall).

Unsurprisingly, the guide’s focus is on Boulder’s edible and outdoor charms. It’s not unusual for ski town chefs to be avid outdoor enthusiasts, as I’ve discovered from living, working, and attending culinary school in the Rockies and Sierras. Until I moved to Boulder, however, I’d never met entire restaurant staffs comprised of pro-climbers, tri-athletes, competitive cyclists, and ultra-runners. How they find the time and energy for both are a mystery to me, but I admire the hell out of them.

Since my first visit to Boulder in 1995, the food scene has changed dramatically. In the last couple of years, sourcing from local or regional family farms and food artisans whenever possible (remember, this is Colorado, where there’s a short growing season) has become an integral part of the Boulder dining scene. Where five years ago only a few estaurants featured product from family farms, now there are dozens of eateries and shops featuring local, usually sustainable, product.Boulder chefs, outdoorsThere are excellent farmstead goat, sheep, and cow’s milk cheeses from the region. You’ll find farm dinners, grass-finished beef, dozens of coffee houses, and locally-roasted beans. The growing number of acclaimed craft breweries and distilleries makes for a white-hot beverage scene. If you care about excellent beer, wine, or well-crafted cocktails, don’t miss the Bitter Bar, Upstairs, Frasca, or Oak at Fourteenth (which will reopen soon, following a fire). If that doesn’t convince you that Boulder’s become a serious drinking town, it’s also home to five of Colorado’s ten Master Sommeliers (there are only 112 in the U.S.).

Some “Sliced and Diced” contributors include former Food & Wine Best New Chef/James Beard winner Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson of Frasca (which he co-owns with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey–himself a former pro-cyclist and active marathoner). The two recently opened an adorable Italian pastry, panini, and espresso bar, il caffe (don’t skip the housemade pastries, baked fresh throughout the day), and the excellent Pizzeria Locale.

There’s also chef/farmer Eric Skokan of the charming Black Cat Farm Table Bistro. When he’s not cooking, he’s riding his tractor so he can supply his restaurant and CSA-members with produce from Black Cat Farm. Boulder’s food scene, while still nascent, is most definitely blowing–and growing–up.

“Sliced and Diced” contributor/chef Hugo Matheson of The Kitchen helped launch Boulder’s communal dining and green restaurant design/business ethos trend when his seasonally-inflected restaurant opened in 2003. Now known as a community bistro, Matheson and his partners have spawned two spin-offs. There’s Upstairs, a community wine, beer, and cocktail lounge (the bar menu includes affordable small plates, and incredible Happy Hour deals), while Next Door, a community pub, opened in mid-June.
Boulder chefs, outdoors
The Boulder Farmers Market is, I believe, one of the finest in the nation. Saturdays, April through November, it’s where everyone–locals, students, tourists, tech entrepreneurs, chefs, climbers, cyclists, hippies–goes to shop and socialize–usually before heading off for a run, peddle, paddle, or hike.

And that’s the thing about Boulder. It may take its fitness a little too seriously, but it’s hard to mind when the soul of the community is so intertwined with the pursuit of good things to eat and drink and enjoying the outdoors. Now, thanks to “Sliced and Diced,” you can, too.

Sydney’s Darlinghurst neighborhood: charm, croissants, and cocktails

Darlinghurst, SydneyIn a city chock-full of charming, Sydney’s Darlinghurst neighborhood is a tough contender. Not that it’s an easy choice. If it’s parks, quirky boutiques and specialty food shops, cafes, cheap ethnic or fine dining restaurants, bars, lattice-bedecked row houses, cliff-top beach paths, or Harbour views you want, there’s no shortage of neighborhoods that deliver.

Me, I’ll take Darlinghurst. This semi-residential Eastern neighborhood is wedged between the backpacker ghetto of King’s Cross, and the more sedate Potts Point and Surry Hills. What I love about Darlinghurst is that it’s possible to feel like a local if you make it your home base; something that’s not easy in tourist-thronged Sydney.

One of my favorite pastimes is looking at houses, and Darlinghurst has plenty of eye candy in the form of narrow, winding streets, sweet little row houses, and pockets of greenery. But the neighborhood is also a cornerstone for Sydney’s exploding “small bars” scene. Turn around, and whack! Another stylish spot to imbibe (and snack) has opened its doors.

Sydney also doesn’t want for coastal walking paths, and Darlinghurst is just a short stroll from the lovely Opera House to Royal Botanic Gardens Walk. Within minutes of checking in to my hotel, I was headed out for a run along the Harbour. It’s hard not to feel like the luckiest person alive when you have that kind of view for inspiration.

Sleeping
While Darlinghurst has a handful of accommodation options (depending upon budget, most visitors choose the janky hostels of King’s Cross, or opt for the diverse–and more costly–options in the nearby CBD).

%Gallery-124555%Darlinghurst, SydneyMy pick is the groovy Kirketon Hotel, a member of Australia’s boutique Eight Hotels collection. Located on a leafy portion of Darlinghurst Road, it’s just steps away from bustling Victoria Street. After a full remodel in ’08, the 40-room Kirketon is now a swank goth/art deco/mod-hybrid. I love it, mirrored hallways, dim lighting, chandeliers, smokey color scheme, black facade, and all. It’s slick, sexy without trying too hard, and the bright, well-designed rooms are kitted out with comfy beds and modern amenities.

Despite the trendy vibe, the Kirketon is peaceful and not at all pretentious, thanks in part to the genuinely friendly, helpful staff. Come night, however, this hotel is hopping because of its award-winning bar, Eau de Vie (more on that, below).

Eating
Darlinghurst has lots of dining options, but for me, it’s all about breakfast. Right across from the Kirketon is La Petit Creme, a funky French coffee house serving delicious crepes, pain chocolat and other breakfast treats, and bowls of cafe au lait.

Arguably one of Sydney’s most beloved breakfast spots (equally wonderful for lunch) is Bill’s, owned by acclaimed chef Bill Granger. Granger is one of a handful of Aussie chefs who helped put “Mod Oz” cuisine on the map. Expect bright, seasonal fare inflected with Mediterranean and Asian flavors. It’s a total travel article cliche, but the ricotta hotcakes with bananas and honeycomb butter, sweet corn fritters, or toasted grain cereal with vanilla-poachedDarlinghurst, Sydney fruit, yogurt, and honey really are the best way to start a day of sight-seeing.

My new breakfast (lunch/snack/drunken late-night munchies) obsession, however, is Infinity Sourdough Bakery, located around the corner from the Kirketon. I’m totally convinced that anything that emerges from the ovens at this adorable takeaway will be amazing. Four visits in a single day did nothing to disprove this theory (not counting other carbo-loading sessions). The almond croissants are life-changing, but the pizzettas, ham and cheese turnovers, bread, and other pastries are also excellent.

…and Drinking
Wherever you lay your head, be sure to stop by Eau de Vie, 2010’s Australian Bar Awards Bar of the Year. It’s a living room-like spot on the Kirketon’s ground floor, with a moody, Prohibition-era vibe (I’m of the “it can’t be a speakeasy if it legally sells cocktails” school of thought, because I’m a pain in the ass like that.)

Eau de Vie specializes in seasonally-changing, contemporized classic cocktails that, if a bit precious and theatrical, are crafted with the utmost precision. If you’re interested, one of the friendly mixologists–all of whom possess encyclopedic knowledge–will tell you everything you might care to know about your drink. Said drinks don’t come cheap, although there are plenty in the $16USD range. The $32USD syrupy smooth Old Fashioned made for me by “Dr. Phil,” however, was without a doubt the best I will have in this lifetime. Why so spendy? Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 (as in years-old) rum, housemade bitters, a puck of ice compressed to order in a copper Tyson ice mold, and open flame were involved.
Darlinghurst, Sydney
In the small bar category, Darlinghurst boasts some of Sydney’s favorite newbies (all of the following serve bar snacky food/small plates). At The Passage, expect refreshing libations such as the Professor Plum (plums macerated in Queirolo plum pisco, shaken with lemon juice and Madagascan vanilla syrup), or a Coconut and Kaffir Lime Daquiri, served up with a garnish of pandan leaf.

Lotforty, a miniscule candlelit tapas bar, offers up jugs of sangria ($20AUD), as well as cocktails, and fried, grilled, and crispy treats such as “bbq” King Prawns with orange, fennel, and mint salad. At wine bar Love, Tilly Devine (named after an infamous neighborhood Madame of the 1930’s), the extensive list of international offerings is meticulously chosen and categorized. Sip with slow-roasted octopus with new potatoes and aioli, Macleay River rock oysters, or Burrawong duck liver pate with sweet and sour onions.

Technically, Sticky Bar is in Surry Hills (known for its eclectic shops and ethnic restaurants), just a short walk from the heart of Darlinghurst. Sticky is such a funky, sexy, odd little space I can’t help but include it. It’s a bitch to find (especially after a few drinks), as you need to enter through sister restaurant Table for 20, and climb a narrow flight of stairs to enter the bar. The decor is decrepit-Victorian-mansion-meets-Old-Hollywood: overstuffed vintage velvet chairs, leather ottomans, ornate chandeliers, exposed brick, and shadowy nooks and crannies. Order a glass of domestic wine or a wickedly strong cocktail from the blackboard menu, settle back, and watch the scene (the music’s loud).
Darlinghurst, Sydney
Shopping
Darlinghurst isn’t the best place if you’re a bargain hunter (try the vintage clothing stores in uni-district Glebe, instead). But if you have the cash (or are a bit of a masochist), you’ll find no shortage of on-trend boutiques featuring up-and-coming Aussie clothing designers, shoes, high-end vintage, luxe skincare products, book stores and whimsical home decor. Darlinghurst Road, Victoria Street, and Liverpool Street also have a fair number of shops. I like Blue Spinach, a “luxury consignment” store where you can score affordable treasures if you do some digging. Popular boutiques include Diederic the Cat, which offers American and Euro fashions, and Alfie’s friend Rolfe. This self-described “little Aladdin’s Cave of Australian designer labels” is heaven if you’re looking for quality sartorial souvenirs.

Getting There
Qantas flies non-stop to Sydney out of LAX and DFW, with extensive code share connections available from major cities throughout the country through the partnership with American Airlines. Tourism Australia’s website will provide you with all the information you need to plan a holiday.

Click here to watch one of Eau de Vie’s mixologists create a signature cocktail (don’t miss Dr. Phil’s “Whisky Blazer!”)

[Photo credits: cottage and Oxford St., Flickr user iambents]

Tokyo’s cat cafes newest trend

Tokyo cat cafesHasta la vista, Hello Kitty. Get lost, LOL cats. Tokyo’s hot new phenom are neko cafes (“neko” is Japanese for cat). At first appearance typical, cozy coffee houses, closer examination reveals live cats lounging on the furniture, in baskets, or on laps. Which, I guess, isn’t nearly as bizarre (or kinky) as Tokyo’s maid cafes. Actually, to a cat lover like me, it’s quite appealing.

CNN reports that about 100 neko cafés can now be found in Japan, with more popping up in South Korea and Taiwan. More than 50 of the cafes are in Tokyo proper, with almost 70 in the outlying suburbs. Neko no Mise, for example, is a popular neko cafe in the Machida suburb that just celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself, what kind of person chooses to hang out in a neko cafe? Banish the image of the stereotypical Crazy Cat Lady from your mind, because these places are a huge hit with young professionals–particularly couples (childless, perhaps?). Far from being frumpy, many neko cafe clientele are hipsters who like to take their dates out for an evening of coffee and cat-watching. Single patrons are welcome too, however, as evidenced by the proliferation of cat bloggers.

Apparently, the neko cafe craze is accountable for many a blog starring specific coffee house felines: some have their own mixi profiles, which, I’m sorry, is definitely halfway to crazytown. And I say this as one who has been frequently dubbed a CCL (yes, that is my cat wearing a sweater in the photo, and I was trying to cut my heating bill). But not everyone is on board with the concept of caffeine and kitties. A young woman named Yuko told CNN, “My sister wanted to go so badly, she took me to one. It was weird, I thought. People just hanging out there with the cats, but you’re not allowed to wake them up or pick them up, they were just watching the cats and smiling and stuff … it was a little scary.”