I’ve gotten three speeding tickets in my life—one on the way to get my braces off (I mean, can you blame me?), one in a company car, and my most recently in a Prius. That’s right … I got a freaking speeding ticket in a Prius. Whoever thinks these babies don’t have any get up and go, is wrong.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to drive a Toyota Prius Prime Plus for 10 days, and it’s the second time I haven’t wanted to give the car back after a media loan. It was much more exciting than expected. (Yes, I had a little bias against the Prius before experiencing one myself.) The car had a luxe feel without sacrificing the looks. I mean … the non-hatchback version is so much nicer.
The plug-in hybrid vehicle had the usual trappings of the 90s hipster-before-we-knew-what-they-were favorite, especially the incredible fuel efficiency. Not only did I not have to fuel up the entire time it was in my possession, but I had a bit of fuel left when they collected it!
The interior was delightfully roomy, and the seats were comfortable (enough so to enjoy the short road trip I took it on) and cradled my body nicely. The standard 11.6″ media and navigation display was so big that I felt, at times, like I was driving a spaceship. However, it was incredibly nice to have such a large map to keep me on track and the display was very intuitive and user-friendly.
Beyond being a lovely car, it handled like a dream … if your dream is a seriously responsive, nimble car with some nice pickup. I felt in control every second driving it. As previously mentioned, the TPP wasn’t slow, though it took a bit of time to accelerate.
For the price tag, it seems a bit of steal for this luxe hybrid. So, if anyone wants to gift me one of these babies, I’m all in.
TOYOTA PRIUS PRIME PLUS Starting at $27,100 Seating capacity: 4 Range: 25 mi battery-only Horsepower: 121 hp
San Francisco is a land of plenty—and especially plenty of dining choices. While staying at the Kimpton Sir Francis Drake during my last visit, I ventured down to their lobby restaurant, Scala’s Bistro. I’ve found that Kimpton Hotels have excellent restaurants, and this was no exception.
The rustic Italian eatery masquerading as a French cafe-style bar gives diners the chance to take a trip away from the streets of San Francisco and off to the Mediterranean, if just for an hour. (Our meal lasted a good deal longer thanks to the many rounds of cocktails and one three rounds of pasta. We couldn’t have been more excited for each and every course to hit the table.
The food was all as fresh as it could be from the seafood pasta to the burrata. They offer traditional and inventive pasta options along with wood-fired pizzas and a ribeye that looked so good I nearly nicked it from the next table when it was delivered.
While I usually have an extra sidecar as dessert, we were convinced to order from their post menu. And we were damn glad we did. Their desserts are all handmade in-house by Chef Kimberly and her team. They offer a truffle assortment that’s not only decadent and delicious, but they’re also hand painted and are interesting flavors to represent the different neighborhoods of SF. Think the Castro (white chocolate Negroni), the Mission (pasilla and arbol chiles) or the Haight-Ashbury (““Honest officer, its smoked oregano!”). The chocolates were really a unique end to the meal.
I was also floored by the staff; every person was as helpful as they could have been. Service was prompt and everything hit the table quickly. And, seeing as the restaurant was at capacity, we were doubly impressed by the expedience of the dishes.
Big thanks to my buddies, @thesamgraves, @craftandcocktails, and Ashley’s lovely husband out in San Francisco for joining me for this meal! What a delight!
In San Francisco, you have no shortage of offerings—from ridiculously amazing seafood restaurants (thank you, California) to hiking spots and historic monuments … all of which will astound you—or at least the price tag will. That’s why it’s important to get as much from every aspect of your visit as you can. I chose, on my last trip, to stay at a historic hotel, the Kimpton Sir Francis Drake, so that my entire visit was meaningful … and had some nice perks.
The building, originally opened in 1928, is gorgeous with opulent high ceilings and gilded touches, and thanks to renovations that kept the original charm of the 1928 hotel, it integrity of the historic building was kept intact. During WWII, some rooms were even used to house military on the way to the front. The building also houses a historic venue. The venue offers a beautiful space for large events with a grand staircase as an accent.
The Union Square hotel offers more than history and a great location; since it’s a Kimpton hotel, you know it’ll be a luxe experience. (And I absolutely love Kimpton Hotels … like too much.) They kept the hotel’s original opulence and added to it with modern touches and furniture. They also kept the unique touch of their greeters dressed as beefeaters; they couldn’t be more courteous and make your arrival less stressful.
All Kimpton Hotels come with great amenities and perks—free local wine in the lobby at 5-6pm daily, a great restaurant attached, and IGH Rewards (formerly Karma Rewards) offer free WiFi and dining credits. (Sign up … it’s free!) Kimpton Hotels also ensure their rooms are comfortable, and they have some of the most comfortable beds you’ll find during your travels.
There’s plenty of to while you’re at the SFD; visit Scala for a delicious rustic Italian meal, grab a drink at Bar Drake, or venture up to the Starlight Room for live music, cocktails, and a great 21st-floor view. Bar Drake is their over-the-top lobby bar with plenty of seating and a well thought-out cocktail menu. You’ll find plenty of fellow guests and locals at the bar after hours.
Looking for some slightly off-beat entertainment while you’re there? Join the SFD in the Starlight Room on Sundays for their famed Drag Brunch. At $77 a seat (includes tax + tip), you get great entertainment and a wonderful meal.
When visiting the Bay Area, remember the Sir Francis Drake for a unique lodging experience. Just don’t forget to spend your free dining credit and enjoy your free booze in the lobby!
Amenities: pet-friendly, robes,yoga mats in every room, on-site restaurant and two bars, private dining, large event venue, meeting spaces, concierge, laundry service, daily newspapers, fitness center, free bicycle rentals,
If there’s one thing Austinites love, it’s originality. (Ok, originality and music … and tacos … and Willie Nelson.) When famed Belgian brewer Pierre Celis opened the doors toCelis Brewery in 1992, it was Austin’s very first craft brewery, an establishment at the forefront of what’s now a thriving industry ’round these parts.
The brewery gained national and international notoriety with its Celis White, a Belgian witbier that Pierre Celis championed in his hometown of Hoegaarden, Belgium. The beer’s popularity led to the rapid growth of the brewery, which was subsequently sold to the Miller Brewing Company. In 2001, the brewery closed its doors. (Sad face.)
On Tuesday, July 11th—exactly 25 years to the day of the original brewery’s grand opening—droves of eager beer lovers gathered to welcome back one of Austin’s originals with a celebration featuring live music, brewery tours, and a special Celis-infused menu by Frank. The sweltering summer day was a perfect backdrop for the formal introduction of Celis’ first three Texas brews:
Celis White: first brewed by Pierre Celis in 1965, the signature witbier is made with the original Celis recipe including Cascade, Saaz and Willamette hops, coriander and orange peel, as well as the proprietary yeast strain from Belgium. Its slightly tart fruit flavors are balanced with light maltiness and wheat, and the citrus and spice finish delivers a refreshing taste that pairs perfectly with a summer afternoon in Texas.
Celis Pale Bock: this Belgian Pale Bock is brewed with caramel malts and Saaz, Willamette and Cascade hops, giving it a deep copper color and a creamy Belgian-white head. The Pale Bock has dry berry with caramel-malt and citrus aromas, and delicious flavors of subdued berry, malt, a touch of citrus, hints of herbs and spices, and a touch of bitterness at the finish.
Celis Citrus Grandis IPA: Celis Brewery’s first new recipe is an East Coast style IPA made with the finest Azacca and Citra hops. This zesty Caribbean-inspired brew mixes juicy citrus and tropical fruit aromatics in its hazy golden depths. The IPA pours hazy pale orange with frothy, paper-white head. The effortlessly drinkable beer has bold flavors of grapefruit, orange rind and melons followed by light peach, passionfruit and pineapple notes. It finishes with lingering piney, hop bitterness that begs for a second sip.
You can look forward to more releases in fall 2017, including Celis Grand Cru!
Christine Celis, Pierre’s daughter and partner in the original brewery, has rebuilt the legendary establishment, which features some of the original equipment from Belgium and a taproom with its majestic centerpiece, the original Celis Brewery’s massive hand-beaten copper kettle from the early 1900s which has been converted into a beautiful bar. The 22,000-square-foot brewery in northwest Austin has the capacity to brew more than 50,000 barrels per year, with a technologically advanced 50 HL BrauKon brew system modified specifically to use old Belgian brewing techniques.
Now available on tap at more than 100 bars and restaurants in central Texas, availability will expand to Dallas Fort Worth in July, and San Antonio and Hill Country in August. Celis beers will be available in bottles in retail locations in August 2017.
Swing by the brewery now for some refreshing drinks at their stunning new bar. I know I’ll be returning very soon!
Celis Brewery, founded by Christine Celis in Austin, Texas, brews Belgian-style ales and other beers, including the original witbier that Pierre Celis brewed in Hoegaarden, Belgium. The brewery is an extension of the Celis family legacy and builds on the award-winning craft beer heritage for which the family is known.
Let’s press pause for just a second on all the talk about great cocktails, new pubs in town, and all the other great things that revolve around … well, libations, and talk about cars.
I drive a 2003 Pontiac Vibe. The sister of the Toyota Matrix produced by a company that’s not even around anymore. It’s maroon with gray plastic trim and rear bumper. It does have a sunroof, which is hardly ever opened except in tilt mode when parked, and only to vent the horrific Dallas summer heat. Super-sexy right? Yeah … not so much.
So when you receive an email that says, “Do you want to drive a brand new Toyota for a week?” Sign.Me.Up. Such a cool opportunity, and one I had never driven one before. Little did I know, they weren’t assigning me a specific car, Toyota allowed me to pick between 6(!) of their models.
This is the 2017 Toyota 86. I have never been much for orange, but I love this color Toyota calls “Hot Lava”. I’ll get in much more detail, but it comes standard with 17-inch twisted spoke alloy wheels and front fender-mounted vortex generators. With its mean looking LED headlights and sleek, compact design, this is one sexy car.
Toyota also invited us to attend a BBQ meal and grilling lesson with chef Matt Pittman of TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters” and the owner of Meat Church. We started the day by picking out our own cuts of meat, too. (And I thought it couldn’t get much better.)
We started at Rudolph’s Market in Deep Ellum where we learned about different cuts of meat and were given the choice between a 6 week aged ribeye or a filet. I chose the ribeye but had a twinge of regret when this guy started cutting the filets. The meat was so tender, it actually appeared to split open before the knife even touched it.
Once the meat was wrapped we all got in our Toyotas and headed down to Waxahachie. That is where Matt Pittman lives and runs his company, Meat Church, where he makes and fulfills orders for his amazing seasonings and teaches classes. His outdoor kitchen is as big as the house that I moved out of about a year ago. It has 3 Green Eggs, a giant smoker, and what seemed like eight other kinds of grills. He also has more Yeti products than I have ever seen in one place outside of a sporting goods store. Above it all … is a Big Ass Fan. (Thank God.)
Matt showed and allowed us to taste the difference between 3 different methods of cooking a steak on our own: traditional (just throwing it on the grill), sous vide, and the reverse sear method. I have to say, I had reservations about eating a steak which most of the process of cooking involved water (sous vide), but out of the three, it was my favorite (by an extremely close margin).
Much of the class was spent describing the Reverse Sear Method. I won’t go into all the details here because you can find the entire process in detail on his website.
The quick and dirty process:
1. Kosher Salt to tenderize, sit, rinse.
2.Let the meat rest.
3. Place in oven at 275º (~40 minutes for medium rare).
4. Let the meat rest.
5. Sear it on really hot open flame (grill) if you want it sexy (his words), or his preferred method, a cast iron skillet for 1 minute on either side.
The key items that Matt claims make a huge difference when grilling:
1. USDA Choice meat. He says if you can’t afford a place like Rudolph’s, Costco is where he gets most of his meat.
2. A digital thermometer. Matt said he spent $90 on the one he uses, but the price is worth it so you don’t overcooking your steak.
3. If using a grill for indirect heat or to sear, use lump charcoal (wood). The briquets we have use ? Yeah, they’re crap.
The amazing cuts of meat were seared to perfection. When it was time to eat, we were treated to an appetizer of smoked tuna dip, and the perfectly cooked steak was accompanied by grilled asparagus.
Now. Back to the car.
**Disclaimer** What follows is the ramblings of a 34-year-old man that has only driven a couple of (moderately) fun/fast cars in his life.
All I have to say is this car is bad-ass. I read the specs before I got it, but compared to the cars that I have driven in the past, this 2.0L, 205hp Boxer 16V engine with 156lb.-ft of torque made me grip the 86’s leather-trimmed steering wheel a little tighter. This thing is FAST. For you gearheads out there, the exterior is “expertly crafted to help produce wind-cheating drag coefficient of .29 Cd.” (That just means that it’s literally built for speed.)
To complement the speed and acceleration, the 86 has Front MacPherson® Strut and Real Double Wishbone Suspension, which, honestly, I had to get used to being accustomed to my loosey goosey Vibe steering. When you open it up on the freeway, you can actually feel the way the car’s exterior design actually pushes it down to grip the road and give it better aerodynamics. This is a dangerous proposition for someone to drives fast in crappy cars. (Yes. I am ashamed to say that actually is a radar detector in my windshield. C’mon guys, have you ever driven Hwy 114 in Irving?)
Moving on. The guy I took delivery from asked me if I knew how to drive a standard. “Of course!” I said. Seemed like it was a bit late to ask that question. Little did I know, the only standard that I had ever driven (albeit for 10 years) was a 5 speed, loose, crappy transmission. This short throw 6-Speed Close-Ratio transmission was INSANE. (Don’t tell anyone, but when trying to back out of my driveway, it took me 5 minutes of putting it in first gear before I finally had to pull out the owner’s manual. Turns out there is a pull-up mechanism on the shifter that puts it in reverse.)
As for the interior…
When you first sit in the car, the racing-style seats give your hips a comfortable hug. I’m a big guy (more on that in a minute), so many of the sport-style seats are too narrow for my shoulders. Not these. I could drive this thing cross country and still be comfortable.
Combine that with the Granlux (suede-like) material accents, extensive Bluetooth features (because, safety), 8-speaker Pioneer audio system, AUX and USB input ports, and 6 standard airbags to protect you, this car is (almost) as fun to ride in as it is to drive.
My friend Wes wanted to go for a ride in this impeccable machine. His statement perfectly describes the controls in the Toyota 86: “I love how simple it is. Even the touch screen display is simple to use.” As a UX designer, I was impressed. I hadn’t thought much about it because I was just using it, not trying to find all the controls.”
Oh, and the trunk is spacious enough to fit two large suitcases and a backpack, in addition to the “back seat” space. Let’s be real, to ride in the back seat would require the front passengers to be 3′ tall … the backseat passengers, too. (So use it for storage unless it’s absolutely necessary to take additional riders.) But, for real, four seat belts mean lower insurance rates, y’all.
Two things I feel I have to mention:
The Toyota 86 has a 4.9″ ground clearance and a total height of 50.6″ (4.22′). I am pushing 6’3″, but amazingly, getting into this beauty was no problem. The space inside was surprisingly roomy, even for me. However, when getting out of it in a parking lot, especially at work where most garage spots are compact car only, I felt like I needed an assist. By the end of the week, I had a system.
Again, this is a sports car. A sports car that has no overdrive. This means in 6th gear it does not operate at a lower RPM. When you push on the gas, there is no delay … it goes. That said, it is premium unleaded only and gets 21 city/28 highway.
All that said, neither of these would prevent me from purchasing this vehicle were I able. These are negligible to how much I absolutely loved driving it. The morning the car was scheduled for pickup, I got up early, (which I never do). I took it out for one last drive, grabbed some breakfast tacos, and received the call that it was time … they were about 2 minutes out from my house. I won’t admit to tears, but a hard sniff may have happened.
Now that I have tasted the sweetness of the Toyota 86, I kinda want to die when I get in my Pontiac. It is what I can only imagine it would be like to drive a school bus with donut tires meant for a compact car.
Toyota 86 2 door sports car
2.0 liter, 4-cylinder 205 horsepower Boxer 16V engine Short-throw 6-speed close-ratio manual transmission
Front-mid engine, Rear-wheel drive 136mph top speed 0-60 in 6.4 seconds
Disclosure: We were provided use of Toyota 86 free of charge. Opinions all my own.
I’ve always been a fan of Kimpton Hotels. To start, they just smell so damn good, and don’t get me started on the kitschy, Jonathan Adler lamp-filled decor. Kimpton hotels have a distinct feel, and the Hotel Monaco Denver is no exception.
In the heart of Downtown Denver, the Kimpton Hotel Monaco is a respite from the hustle of the city. (Or at least what was hustle before weed became legal.) The staff at the hotel made me feel welcome and important, and I cannot think of a better customer service experience I’ve had in recent years. To round out the stellar customer service experience, the doormen are extremely courteous and nearly make your day anytime you enter or leave the hotel. (I may have forgotten something in my room and, after remembering, intentionally walked outside before turning around so they’d chat to me briefly.)
Possibly the best part of my last stay at the Hotel Monaco was the discovery of their daily happy hour in the lobby. (Oh, did I mention that it’s a FREE happy hour?) They offer snacks along with featured wine for a couple hours each afternoon to spoil guests. The second best part was learning that they have hotel bicycles that guests can borrow … also for free.
The hotel’s decidedly western-inspired yet contemporary decor feels comfortable yet haute thanks to little touches and rich textures. Then the real comfort is realized when you first sink into their soft-as-they-could-be beds and fluffy pillows. The beds are comfortable enough that you may even forget to close the curtains, only to be woken up by the light streaming in, then refusing to get out of bed to close the curtains because you’re too cocooned-in to move.
If you can make it out of bed, this Hotel Monaco’s on-site restaurant, Panzano, is sure to please. From thoughtfully crafted cocktails to some of the best Italian-inspired food I’ve had in a while, it’s a great stop for lunch or dinner. (Just make sure to arrive in stretchy pants.)
As Kimpton hotels go, the entire experience was delightful from the aforementioned comfy bed to the plush, animal print robes. I’ve decided that it’s my new jumping off point for all Colorado ski trips going forward … and maybe a random night or two when Denver sounds like a nice getaway.
FACT: The hotel bar is coming back. Some of the most iconic and groundbreaking bartenders that not only participated in the craft cocktail movement but started it, were found in hotel bars, and we are glad to say that the trend is swinging back around. My fellow Dallasites have seen this exemplified in Midnight Rambler, Knife, and Dragonfly, but on my last visit to Denver I was delighted to visit EDGE Bar at the Four Seasons and found that it had some of the bartenders upping the cocktail game behind the bar … in a hotel.
While cocktail menus are fantastic, I’ve always enjoyed having conversations with bartenders and having them make me something off the menu. (When it’s not busy, of course. Don’t be that jerk that takes up five minutes on a busy Saturday night.) I was delighted when both of the resulting cocktails were extraordinary.
Their program is innovative thanks to options like a monthly barrel-aged cocktail feature, the use of unique liqueurs and spirits, and knowledgable bar staff. With leadership from their brand new bar manager, James Menkal, we’re sure to see more unique and innovative options from EDGE Bar. Menkal was named one of Eater’s Best Bartenders in Denver last year and one of Zagat Denver’s 30 under 30 in 2014, so we can expect some exciting things from him.
Beyond a fantastic cocktails program, EDGE offers plenty of local beers along with more than 50 wines by the glass. The bar itself is spacious and is a perfect spot for anything from a drink to shake off the work day or to shake it out before heading out. There is plenty of lounge and bar seating and the bar is complete with televisions … if that’s your thing.
After a couple drinks, we were escorted to the dining room for dinner. We started with the Beets and Goat Cheese and they were absolutely on point–a bit earthy and balanced with the light tang of the goat cheese. The highlight of the menu was, without a doubt, the steaks. EDGE smokes their meats with pecan wood and is one of the only places in Colorado using pecan wood. The result was a deliciously smoked meat with a deep flavor that left us wanting more.
To complete the meal, we ordered the Roasted Cauliflower and the Lobster Mac & Cheese. The Roasted Cauliflower was incredible and the entire table agree that we’d all order again; the texture was perfect and the light curry dusting added the perfect zing. The Lobster Mac & Cheese was surprisingly delicate and the cheese was very light.
While we were too full after our meal to have dessert, we were treated to a milk chocolate lollipop in the shape of a cow with a couple drops of white chocolate. It was an incredibly simple but perfect end to a delectable meal.
Overall, the EDGE Bar and Restaurant offered a perfect night without a single misstep. I’ll be back on my next trip to Denver without a doubt to see what Menkal had done with the bar and to have another cut of their pecan-smoked steak.