Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Poolside Cocktail Culture and Happy Hours in the Desert

Courtyard pool at POSH Palm Springs
On a recent morning flight to Palm Springs, I was chatting with the woman seated next to me. She was a former flight attendant who had retired to Palm Springs. It had been over 15 years since I last visited the desert, and she was happily giving me recommendations for restaurants and bars I should check out during my stay. More specifically, she was giving me the insiders’ scoop on the town’s happy hours: where to go, where to sit, what time, and what to order. For example, she told me if you sit at the bar at Lulu Bistro, you can order off the happy hour menu all day, any day of the week from 11:00 a.m. to close. She told me to order the Tower of Avocado and Ahi Tuna Tartar.

When the beverage cart wheeled by, she ordered a cranberry juice, produced an airline-size bottle of vodka from her purse, and made herself a morning cocktail. Ten minutes later, another flight attendant walked by and recognized the woman seated next to me. The two of them caught up a bit and then my retired friend asked the flight attendant for a cup of ice to go with her drink. The flight attendant returned with the cup of ice and also slipped my friend another airline-size bottle of alcohol. She twisted the cap off, poured the whole thing into her drink, and took a sip. “This isn’t vodka!” my friend exclaimed, taking a closer look at the empty bottle.

Tower of Avocado and Ahi Tuna Tartar at Lulu Bistro
It was gin, not vodka. “Oh, well,” she said, shrugging, and gulped it down.

When the flight landed that morning, the temperature was already inching toward 100. I drove straight to the airy Lulu Bistro, bellied up to the bar, and ordered an icy mojito and the Tower of Tuna. Served with fresh avocado, bean sprouts, seaweed salad, and pickled ginger with a sesame soy sauce, it was a cool introduction to Palm Springs’ around-the-clock cocktail culture.

But as it turned out, I didn’t need to seek out other happy hours. Nearly all of the boutique hotels in Palm Springs have happy hours of their own with complimentary before-dinner drinks served nightly by the pool. Bruce Abney from El Morocco Inn & Spa and Tony Gangloff from POSH Palm Springs both graciously shared recipes for making their signature martinis. They’re perfect poolside concoctions for a hot summer day.

El Morocco Inn & Spa

Courtyard pool at El Morocco Inn & Spa
El Morocco Inn & Spa in Desert Hot Springs serves their signature “Morocco-tinis” poolside at this enchanting, Moroccan-inspired oasis. Sheer fabrics billow in the desert breeze while faint strains of Moroccan music drifts overhead. The outdoor bar overlooks a flickering firepit and a warm, natural spring-fed pool surrounded by glowing lanterns, lounge chairs, Moroccan poufs and daybeds piled with pillows. The inn’s nightly happy hour begins with a traditional Moroccan hand-washing ceremony with rosewater and followed by rounds of the inn’s signature drink. The Morocco-tini mixes equal parts orange and cranberry juices with sake and a splash of “lemon seltzer” (a.k.a. Squirt), and is served on the rocks in a sugar-rimmed martini glass with an orange garnish. The complimentary drinks are served nightly between 5 and 6 p.m.

El Morocco Inn & Spa
66810 4th Street
Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240

POSH Palm Springs

POSH Martinis served poolside at POSH Palm Springs
An intimate desert retreat in the historic Movie Colony neighborhood of Palm Springs, POSH Palm Springs serves up outstanding service, complimentary hors d’oeuvres and its signature “POSH Martini.” Innkeeper Tony Gangloff blends ice, orange juice, a splash of banana liquor and equal parts vodka, tequila and coconut rum for a cool, summery drink that is perfect for sipping poolside. The tranquil courtyard pool at POSH Palm Springs is surrounded by lounge chairs, desert plants, and offers views of the San Jacinto Mountains. White arched colonnades on either side of the pool are lined with sheers that billow in the breeze. A hot tub is located at the far end. The complimentary happy hour is served each evening from 4 to 5 p.m.

POSH Palm Springs

530 E. Mel Ave
Palm Springs, CA 92262

Friday, June 10, 2016

Elegantly-Restored Tallman Hotel Evokes a Romantic, Bygone Era of California's Old West

Blue Wing Saloon across the courtyard from the Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake

Tallman Hotel

Walking the wide, wrap-around porch of the elegantly-restored Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake is like stepping back in time. Hushed strains of early jazz filters through the lobby. A French wood bead chandelier hangs from the high ceilings. Dozens of framed field-guide etchings and subtle hand-painted murals evoke the surrounding countryside’s flora and fauna. The refinished fir floors and period-perfect architectural details provide the backdrop for a sophisticated blend of antiques, fabrics, and eclectic treasures, including a Tramp Art table trimmed in pine cone scales.

The same exacting period details and refined décor are carried through the guest rooms upstairs. The room I stayed in features 12-foot ceilings, a king-size bed with Eastlake style furnishings, an art-deco chair, hand-painted lamp shades, and a gold scroll chandelier. An unlikely mélange of custom-designed wallpaper and fabrics in a varying patterns (floral, plaid, stripes) and colors (pale blue, chartreuse, ochre, faded reds) merge together seamlessly to evoke a bygone era while appealing to modern sensibilities. The armoire hides a small refrigerator, coffee maker, and a wide screen television with DVD player. The in-suite bath features mosaic hex tile floors, a claw foot tub that is large enough to lie down in, pedestal sinks, and a subway-tiled walk-in shower with vintage fixtures and spray nozzles so intricate they come with a set of instructions. A glass-panel door opens to the second-floor veranda with antique wicker seating and ceiling fans spinning lazily overhead. The veranda overlooks a shady courtyard strung with lights and amusing pieces of art hidden among the trees.

Tallman Hotel lobby
The 17-room hotel includes four veranda rooms on the second floor of the main building, four suites in outlying buildings, and nine garden rooms in cottages built along the back of the property. The four lower garden rooms feature private patios with deep, Japanese Ofuro soaking tubs and outdoor showers. A tranquil swimming pool and arbor-covered patio is tucked beside the cottages. The property exudes the grace and luxury of a turn-of-the-century hotel run by a family with impeccable taste.

One of the Veranda Rooms at the Tallman Hotel
* * *

The Tallman Hotel was originally built in the 1870s by one of Lake County’s first non-native settlers, Rufus Tallman. The Western-style hotel, along with its adjacent livery stable and saloon, was popular among many well-heeled travelers who journeyed by stagecoach from Sacramento and San Francisco to soak in Lake County’s natural mineral spring waters. When his original hotel burned to the ground in 1895, Rufus--with characteristic pioneer pluck--rebuilt the hotel. Following his death in 1904 and later, his wife Mary in 1912, their daughter Winnie Riffe and her husband Hank inherited the stately hotel. They changed the name to Riffe’s Hotel and continued running the hotel for many decades. Two additional owners succeeded the Riffes, but eventually, the hotel fell into disrepair. It had stood vacant for 40 years before current owners Bernie and Lynne Butcher purchased the property in 2003.

Bath of one the Veranda Rooms
With a vision of restoring the hotel to its original grandeur and re-creating other buildings lost to the ravages of time, the Butchers teamed with the San Francisco design firm of Candra Scott & Anderson. They moved the hotel with its original redwood framing back from the street and salvaged many architectural details, including the fir floors, staircases, and banisters. They introduced period moldings, tile floors, and claw foot tubs in keeping with the age and style of the hotel. They built new structures drawing upon architectural styles of different eras to give the impression that the hotel’s buildings and grounds evolved over time.

Across the courtyard from the hotel, they re-imagined and reconstructed the Blue Wing Saloon, a popular watering hole from the 1880s that was torn down during prohibition. The rebuilt restaurant and bar has a nostalgic Old West vibe, featuring an antique, wooden back bar salvaged from a 19th-Century pub in Pennsylvania. The wooden dining tables and expansive bar were built on-site by local craftsmen from a 100-year-old walnut tree harvested from the property. Old-growth redwood wainscoting found hidden beneath layers of paint and wallpaper during the hotel’s renovation was repurposed for use in the saloon. The saloon re-opened in 2005, followed by the hotel in June of 2006.

One of the Lower Garden Room's Ofuro soaking tubs
The restoration of the hotel and the saloon has led to something of a revival of Upper Lake. A new archway welcomes visitors to the entrance of town. The historic downtown is lined with new sidewalks and graceful new street lamps. New shops have also opened their doors.

Cottages housing the Upper and Lower Garden Rooms
Lake County Wine Studio opened in 2007 and showcases wines from over 40 wineries in the burgeoning Lake County wine region. After checking into the hotel, I walked through downtown and then popped into the wine shop, where they offer complimentary tastings for guests of the hotel.

Wine tasting at Lake County Wine Studio
Bordered by Napa and Sonoma to the south and Mendocino to the west, Lake County is a lesser-known wine region, but it wasn’t always that way. Winemaking in Lake County stretches back to the Gold Rush era and flourished with large-scale wineries and thousands of acres of vineyards through the early 20th Century. Prohibition, however, brought Lake County wine production to a halt. Winemakers turned to growing walnuts and pears, which remain the region’s top agricultural products. But winemaking in Lake County is now enjoying a resurgence thanks to a new generation of winemakers who are drawn by the region’s unique terroir. The volcanic soils and higher elevations produce grapes with thicker skins and more intensely concentrated fruit. The hot summer days followed by cool nighttime temperatures add to the quality and variety of grapes that thrive in Lake County. The region’s rural beauty and chance encounters with wildlife add to the experience for wine enthusiasts seeking less-traveled wine tasting routes.

Garden courtyard between the hotel and the saloon
Courtyard fountain at the Tallman Hotel
As the wine shop owner Susan Fieler was pouring tastings for me, two long-time Lake County residents, Gary Lewis and Mary O’Meara, walked through the doors and pulled up stools next to mine. The couple are regulars of the wine shop and they bantered freely with Susan. The couple owns a local walnut farm and nursery, Suchan Farms, which has been in Mary’s family for 60 years. Suchan Farms is well-known locally for their quality walnuts, including a rich red walnut variety which is often used for holiday baking. While chatting at the bar, Mary told me her father stayed at the Tallman Hotel in 1943 when it was known as Riffe’s Hotel. She found his signature written with a quill and ink in one of the hotel’s old guest registries and discovered he had paid just $3.50 a night.

Porch detail at the Tallman Hotel
The last of the wine tastings that evening was a local 2013 Vigilance Cabernet Sauvignon; it was a fantastic wine. I bought a bottle and then walked back across the street to the Blue Wing Saloon for dinner. It was a warm evening and the restaurant was crowded inside, so I sat in the garden courtyard beneath the shade of the sycamore trees, which were strung with lights. It’s an enchanting space with Adirondack chairs, metal sculptures, other objets d’art, and a gurgling fountain made from a galvanized metal tub. The menu features upscale pub fare that changes with the seasons and incorporates locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. The saloon also offers a wide selection of local Lake County wines and artisanal beers. Sunday through Tuesday, the saloon hosts live music starting with a range of acts playing for Sunday brunch, jazz on Sunday evenings, blues on Mondays, and a special $20 three-course dinner with live music on Tuesdays.
Swimming pool at the Tallman Hotel

I feasted on filet mignon with a black pepper sauce served with a blue cheese bread pudding and broccolini garnished with red bell pepper, olives, and feta. It was delicious. I was trying to avoid dessert, but the waitress talked me into their butterscotch pudding with a caramel sauce and whipped cream. “If you can’t finish it,” said the waitress, “You can always take it back to your room, stick it in the fridge, and have it for breakfast.” I did exactly that.

Breakfast at the Tallman Hotel
Back in my room, I sat on the veranda, listening to the trickling fountain in the courtyard below. A chorus of crickets joined in as the evening grew darker. It would have been an idyllic spot to get lost in a book, but I had been traveling for business and needed to catch up on a pile of emails and work. Free WiFi and a handy electrical outlet next to the wicker chair just outside my room allowed me to plug in to recharge my laptop, download my emails, and get to work… all while enjoying the crickets and the crisp night air.

The hotel may look much as it did in the 1890s, but it spares no modern convenience or amenities. In fact, its historic façade also belies the hotel’s state-of-the-art geothermal and solar energy systems. Hidden below ground, a GeoExchange system heats and cools the property and generates hot water for the guest rooms and Ofuro soaking tubs. Hidden from sight on the south-facing roof of the restaurant, solar panels generate electricity to complement and augment the GeoExchange system during peak usage times. And while the livery stable may have served visitors to the Tallman Hotel over a century ago, the hotel now offers electric vehicle charging stations for a new generation of guests.

A continental breakfast is typically served buffet style in the dining room downstairs, and guests can choose dine in the dining room or to take a tray to their room or any of the outdoor seating areas.  At slower times--like the night I stayed--the innkeepers can deliver breakfast to the room.  In the morning, the innkeeper knocked at my door with wooden tray set with linen napkins and fine china carrying hot tea, juice, a granola parfait, and the hotel's signature item: warm, freshly-baked scones topped with a sprinkling of raw sugar. I carried the tray out to the veranda to enjoy breakfast outdoors in the shade. The highlight was most definitely the scones… plus the butterscotch pudding I had saved from the night before.

Tallman Hotel

9550 Main Street
Upper Lake, CA 95485

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Easy-to-Make Scones from the Tallman Hotel

The Tallman Hotel serves freshly-baked scones each morning as a part of their complimentary continental breakfast
Any talent I have for cooking flies out the window the moment baking bread is involved. While I can pull off any number of complicated dishes and sauces, if you give me a recipe requiring yeast, and it’s guaranteed to be a flop. As my husband and stepson can attest, I’m been trying to make my great grandmother’s pillowy-soft dinner rolls for years, and they turn out like hockey pucks every time.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl
As such, I had shied away from bread baking in all of its forms until this morning, when I tried to re-create the delicious scones made by the Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake. The recipe looked simple enough, and mercifully, it contained no yeast.

I mixed the ingredients, a little wary of the amount of salt required. Then I kneaded the dough a few times, flatted it out, and cut it into the wedges for the scones. I brushed the scones with a beaten egg and then sprinkled the tops with raw sugar.
Add the heavy cream to the dry ingredients

Looking at the flat wedges on the baking sheet, I was prepared for another flop. But when I pulled the scones out of the oven 15 minutes later, I was in awe. They had risen and were surprisingly light--nothing at all like the hockey pucks I typically pull out of the oven. I broke one apart and popped a piece in my mouth. The balance between the salt, sugar, and cream was perfect.

Mix the ingredients using your hands to form a ball
I pulled some strawberry jam out of the refrigerator and stood at the counter with a knife, devouring the warm scone topped with a bit jam. It was divine.

My husband and stepson are going to be impressed.

Tallman Hotel Scones

Courtesy of the Tallman Hotel

Makes 10-12 Scones
Reshape the dough ball into a disk on a floured surface

3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 Tbs. baking powder
2 Tbs. salt
2 ½ cups heavy cream
1 egg
Splash of milk

Preheat oven to 350°.

Blend together first four ingredients.

Cut the disk into 10 or 12 wedges
Add heavy cream to dry ingredients. Use your hands to mix the ingredients and gather then into a ball.

Place the dough ball on a lightly floured surface and knead dough a few times.

Re-shape dough into a disk about 10 inches in diameter and half an inch thick.

Cut into the disk into 10 or 12 wedges and transfer to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

Brush the tops with egg and sprinkle with raw sugar
Beat an egg with milk and brush the mixture over the top of the scones. Lightly sprinkle the tops of the scones with raw sugar, if desired.

Bake scones for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly before removing from pan.

Tallman Hotel
9550 Main Street
Upper Lake, CA 95485