Posted by: PPHR | March 26, 2009

Diary of a Press Fam: Seattle-Bound

Day One:  March 6, 2009

As we “jetted” into Seattle on the new JetBlue Airways flight ( from Long Beach to Seattle, we were pleased to see that the rainfall had taken a vacation, but indeed precipitation reared its wet head in the form of delicate snowflakes, cascading onto the tarmac before vanishing into little melted puddles.


Seattle is indeed known for its healthy rainfall, an attribute that provides stimulus for its “Emerald City” moniker.  But, on this particular March weekend, the lush city and its surroundings were blanketed instead by a beautiful new coat of snow.


Traveling with a group of professional travelers, we expedited our departure from the airport with our carry-on bags and high-tailed it to our home away from home, the stunning Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle .


Not 30 minutes after arrival at the hotel, we were back downstairs in the lobby, greeted by our charming Evergreen Escapes guide, Dan.  With his luxury van awaiting our group, Dan greeted each of us personally and offered up a choice of the most amazing hot chocolate or steaming green tea.  I opted for the tea since we were heading straight to lunch and I didn’t want to spoil my appetite.


Funny that, however, as soon as we got underway, Dan offered up what we thought were his home-made granola bars.  Yummy!  The sweet hint of cranberry left a nice note on my tongue.  (Side note: we later discovered that Dan purchased his bounty from Costco, well, homemade given that Costco is based in Seattle…) Dan also kept us comforted with warm green tea.

Onwards…our mission in this Evergreen adventure: to drink in the amazing varietals of Seattle’s neighboring wine wonderland, Woodinville and explore the bounty of local, artisanal culinary treasures.

Cheers ~


Our first stop: Brian Carter Cellars (with public tasting room)

            General Manager Mike Stevens greeted us and immediately sat us down to sip our way through the most amazing flight of wines.  Featuring a series of blends, Brian Carter applied his creative, signature style not only to his wines but to the varietal names and the labels as well. 

 Before we even sank our teeth into lunch, Mike had us savoring tastes of several exquisite white wines. The first was the 2006 Oriana, a white blend handcrafted from (45%) Viognier, (35%) Roussanne and (20%) Riesling.  Tasty, but we were eagerly awaiting the reds.  My personal favorite came next, the 2005 Tuttorosso…as delightful to drink as it is to say.  This “Super Tuscan Style” blend is apparently a salute to the maverick winemakers who broke with tradition to create a new category of Tuscan wines, crafted with (65%) Sangiovese, (23%) Cabernet Sauvignon and (12%) Syrah. 

            Next, we insisted on what would be one in a long line of meals.  After all, we couldn’t keep this pace if we were to imbibe in five tastings with five different wineries.  Dan graciously dished up the most amazing (indoor) picnic lunch supplied by the company’s organic and waste-free caterer…a Greek Salad, hummus and pita, grilled chicken, fresh fruit and home-baked cookies.  My companions and I dug in.


            With three more wines on the menu, we were introduced to Rita’s favorite, Byzance Perhaps, we called out, the preference for “Beyonce.”  That led to an entirely obscure conversation about whether her genes would be good to her in the future.  Anyway, this 2005 vintage is a blend of (57%) Grenache, (22%) Syrah and (21%) Mourvedre.  Rita wanted my unfinished portion.  The other two delightful wines we sampled were the magical 2006 Abracadabra (with whimsical rabbit-clad label) and 2004 Solesce (Bordeaux-style blend).

            We had to start making choices now, if we were to make it through four more wineries.  I started sipping and tossing.  Rita hung on to my glass of Beyonce’s Byzance, however. With Dan’s encouragement, we had to bid adieu so that we could stay on course.  I was perfectly happy and didn’t need any other options…I could have stayed here all day.


Second Course: DeLille Cellars (Tasting by appointment only)

            Named “Winery of the Year” by The New York Times (2000), this classic Francophile-style winery makes distinctly French-style wines from Washington State grapes.  Nestled on a grand estate, the family-owned cellar is the only winery in the world to land the “top 100” distinction by Robb Report, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.  Although not my (personal) favorite wines on this ambitious tour, the impressive line-up features a unique blend of handcrafted, old-world style reds and whites.  Sampling five of the signature wines, my personal favorite was the flagship DeLille Cellars 2006 Chaleur Estate blend of (65%) Cabernet Sauvignon, (24%) Merlot, (8%) Cabernet Franc and (2%) Petit Verdot, which we enjoyed while we toured the beautifully landscaped grounds.  Gladly, no food was served here!


Round Three: JM Cellars (with public tasting room)

            Although Brian Carter Cellars was indeed popular and the tasting room crowded, JM was spilling over at the rim.  The newly renovated tasting room was packed with diverse crowds and the vibe lively.  This was the only time we were actually pining for a taste of the grape as it didn’t come quick enough.

            However, owner and winemaker John Bigelow greeted our small group of ten and suggested we follow him into the barrel room. What was to be an intimate encounter and educational opportunity turned into a party. No matter, this unexpected development ended up provided entertainment to those of us that were losing track of the number of samples we’d tasted.

            John was charming and shared the history of his 10 year old winery.  We scooted out after a few barrel samples, tired of competing for his attention.


“Home” Plate: Northwest Totem Cellars (only accessible through Evergreen)

            After visiting three picturesque venues, we now arrive at what looks like someone’s private home.  Indeed spectacular and grand, this was the residence of Mike and Kate.  This type of environment happens to be my favorite, with an opportunity to share quiet time with the vintners, not competing for their attention with the larger groups of social drinkers (similar to the over-crowded JM Cellars).

            Each priced at $29.99, Mike’s varietals were truly special and all featured their own unique personality.  We started with Qo-ne blend of Cab Franc (80%), Cabernet (10%) and Syrah (10%) and wended our way through a series of blissfully and lovingly crafted reds.  Check out for the “inventory” of blissful wines!

            Kate prepared fresh pizza bread and appetizers…although not hungry, we feasted once again…to ward off the affects this amazing flight was having.  None of us could conceive of dumping any of these samples.

Grand Finale: Hollywood Hills Vineyards (retail tasting room)

            Completely satiated, we head into our last stop on the tour.  While none of us could conceive of partaking in more food, let alone another taste of wine, Dan led us into the retail tasting room of Hollywood Hills Vineyards.  Perhaps owner Ms. Snyder wasn’t briefed on the gastronomic journey we had “endured” thus far.  She immediately led us to a bounty of little culinary treasures from local artisans.  Delectable olives, amazing cracker bread, creamy goat’s milk gouda and a friend’s locally made smoked salmon.


Personally, I was done. I could not spare another taste bud for wine…so, instead, I grazed on the spread…but it was stiff competition! Although quite lovely, my tastebuds truly don’t recall any of the wines…at least not immediately.  The Snyders had a little trick up their sleeves.  And with that, we headed to their private home to see Steve (Snyder) at work in their garage operation.  Apparently, this is common practice in Woodinville with many “startups” working from home.

            The winemaker/owner led us into his garage for a barrel sample of his latest libation.  It was divine…I wanted to dive into the barrels that so neatly lined the entire surface of this three car garage.  Instead, we headed out into the snow to tour what we soon came to learn as the only winery in Woodinville that grew its own grapes on site.  Beautiful, but I was cold, tired and ready to be done! Indeed, two of our colleagues straddled nearby in the warm confines of our vehicle.

Dinner at Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar


(Since I’m a vegetarian at this primarily seafood dinner, I submit instead a review from one of our media guests…because he said it all so well…Cheers)

Mad Props to the Seastar in Seattle (by Devin Galaudet)

I never consider myself much of a “foodie,” someone who knows and understands the complexity of making delicious meals. Moreover, I don’t know how to write about food — within itself also an art form.

However, I like food, a lot! I love eating, and believe that food can be one of the great joys in life. Even though I lack the skills to appropriately describe culinary experiences, there are times when mad props are in order after I find a meal that is truly remarkable. The following is one of those times when I am certain about the food and just how good it was.chef-howie-fire

So with an educated palette or not, last night I ate dinner at the newly opened Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar in Seattle. It was mind-blowingly good. The Chef, John Howie, and staff created a near flawless presentation and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the eight courses that were part of my “taster’s menu.” Still a few shout outs to some of my favorites are in order, and all are highly recommended.

Sushi lovers may want to try the Washington Roll. It’s a California Roll with Granny Smith apple offering a new twist on an old favorite. I know what you’re thinking. No, it’s really good.

Sizzling Dungeness Crab Cakes with Thai Sweet-n-Sour Beurre Blanc Sauce are incredible. Even if you don’t try the Seastar, do try the Dungeness Crab — it is sort of a Seattle specialty.

And finally the Passion Fruit Panna Cotta was so rich and creamy, I thought I would pass out. Fortunately, I didn’t. Still, I don’t think I could have gone wrong ordering anything on the dessert menu with delicious White Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie and Dark Chocolate Truffles.

Seastar is conveniently located next door to the Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle (also highly recommended), which is in the South Lake Union district just a few short blocks from Downtown Seattle just off Westlake Avenue. There is also a second Seastar (the original) in Bellevue. I will be writing more about the fabulous Pan Pacific Hotel in the coming days.

For reservations at Seastar Restaurant:
For more on the Pan Pacific:

And, here’s the complete tasting menu, in case you’re interested in replicating our amazing evening:

–       Diver Scallop Ceviche with Mango-Kiwi Relish

–       Hawaiian Ahi Poke with Ogo, Sesame, Chilies, Daikon and Crispy Taro Chips

–       Sizzling Dungeness Crab Cakes with Thai Sweet-n-Sour Beurre Blanc Sauce 

–       Seastar Raw Bar Chef Sivaman Udomdej’s Sushi Sampler (Pete’s Magic Dragon Roll, Super Dave Roll and Washington Roll)

–       Dungeness Crab & Sweet Corn Bisque with Port-Madeira Reduction

–       Grilled radicchio, Belgian Endive, Heart of Romaine, Maytag Blue Cheese, Shrimp, Smoked Hazelnuts, Baby Tomato and Crisp Pear  

–       Cedar Plank Roasted Pacific NW Red Knig Salmon with Smoked Broccoli and Citrus Rice 

–       Passionfruit Panna Cotta, White Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie, Dark Chocolate Truffle

Sweet Dreams…

Day Two:  March 7, 2009

            How you may ask does one replicate a day and night like yesterday?!  Wow! Well, I could never even dream of an encore performance, but Sunday morning, we find ourselves loading up in the limo and headed for the five star version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

            After a tasty breakfast in bed, and a lingering shower in the decadent marble clad bathroom in my room at the Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle, we gathered once again to “follow the crumbs” to our Theo Chocolate Factory tour.  Check ‘em out at


            It started out with an early arrival on our part.  I guess we were a little eager! Anyway, we arrived when the staff was still getting the retail/welcome center set up.  No worries, we browsed around and started munching around on the samples.  The first I tried was bitter, sending my face into a cacophony of twitches and puckers.  This was the pure form cacao…I suggest you try something a little more subtle to get your taste buds in the morning mood for a chocolate feeding frenzy.

            Now, I’m going to once again defer to one of my colleagues, because for Carilyn, this whole experience was her nirvana…

From the moment you set foot in the Theo Chocolate Factory, you know that you are in for a treat. And today was no exception. Our group was given a private tour by CEO Joe Whinney, no less. Joe’s passion for chocolate and its origins defies Willy Wonka and his knowledge of the cocoa bean and what he can do with that bean is like no other chocolate you have tasted.  Theo produces organic and Fair Trade chocolates using the purest ingredients, which is evident from your first bite. And, bite we did as we were waiting in the outer area before descending in to the factory. Little nibbles of each bar are offered to guests to give visitors a sense of dark chocolate, milk chocolate and some of the flavored bars such as Chai Tea and Coconut Curry. Can you imagine?

            Once in the factory, we soon learned that this is no ordinary chocolate factory where mass amounts of chocolate are simply produced. Love is in the air. For the bean and the people who are growing it and bringing it to your table. Green energy is used to source the factory and sustainable packaging is used. These people are walking the talk.

After seeing the entire process of how chocolates are taken from pod to factory, then turned into beautiful little truffles or bars, packaged and shipped, we also learned how the flavors are developed in a secret lab complete with white-coated folks (not of the oompa loompa variety). Our group was treated to some savory delicacies, blended with chocolate, such as smoked salmon mouse on cracker bread drizzled with chocolate and salami with chocolate as well as a flavorful cheese on a bed of chocolate. Imagine how our taste buds were awakened by these delightful flavors.

Upon our departure, Joe handed out goodie bags over-flowing with chocolate bars and boxes of goodies that would last a chocolate lover a lifetime. Hazelnut Crunch, Bread & Chocolate Dark Chocolate bar, Jane Goodall Milk Chocolate bars and much more. It was a dream come true. Toot sweet ~

Well, after the sugar load, we were all on our own.  We each had the Go Seattle Card in hand and were left to explore the city on our own.  The first place to go, before you even get to Seattle, is to the Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle blog at or  Start planning your itinerary in advance because there is soooooo so much to do!

One of the best values in Seattle is the Go Seattle Card…it’s your pre-paid ticket to Seattle’s best museums, tours, and attractions, an all-access pass to all of these attractions. In addition to the savings of up to 45%, holders of the card also get exclusive extras others miss out on and you can even skip the line at some of the most popular attractions.

So make a day of it…visit the science fiction museum, Seattle Center, International Fountain and Space Needle, all of which I embarked upon before headed to my most anticipated attraction, the Jimi Hendri- inspired Experience Music Project.  After working up an appetite, finally, we walked off some of the calories by heading across town to Pike Place Market, where we strolled through this world-class market and watched the comical interaction of the famous fish mongers.  Finally, I had to find the iconic Rachel the pig, which I assumed was a living being…not so, but still worth the photo album.

            Although not fully hungry, we headed down to the neighboring Whole Foods and selected a selection of fresh fruits, artisan bread and local cheese, along with a Woodinville bottle of wine to enjoy in our elegant room.  We just needed to get our feet up and relax in the comfort of our neglected hotel room.

            After our indoor picnic, I hopped into the bath and together we enjoyed  a romantic movie while I soaked in the tub and he lounging in our plush bed.  The amazing bathroom connects to the bedroom with a pass through shoji-like screen.


Even sweeter dreams…

Day Three:  March 8, 2009

     Besides another totally fulfilling breakfast in bed, we had nothing on our agenda except a trip to the hotel’s highly touted Vida Spa before jetting home in the afternoon.  Nirvana!!!!!  I had a whole menu of options to choose from.  Check out and tell me what you would have selected. 

            My choice?  I opted for the (90 minute) Ayurvedic Massage…I need the first 60 minutes to completely relax and the last 30 minutes to relish, totally relish in my state of being.  With the soft, warm Ayurvedic oil cascading over my skin and the hands of a skilled therapist manipulating my tired body, I fell so far into my complete and total rehabilitation that the minutes passed by in what seemed like a quick swig of Brian Carter wine.  Cheers ~



  1. EverGreen Escapes does a stellar job! From start to finish their adventures are the finest – Dan is truly a master at what he does and you will never want to experience Woodinville Wine Country any other way.

  2. I was a great visit all around. The Dinner at the Seastar was spectacular, my room at the Pan Pacific had great views, in walking distance to everything I wanted to see in Seattle, was warm and cozy with delicious room service. What more could I ask for?

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