Saturday, January 27, 2018

Beast Feast Fowl At Cucina Urbana San Diego

Cucina Urbana on Bankers Hill is the flagship restaurant for the Urban Kitchen Group.  They started a series of dinners that are called Beast Feasts each Beast Feast features a protein Fowl, Pig, Fish, Beef.
The protein then is the the theme of each of the servings and will contain some featured part of the Beast.  Our evening was all about Fowl.  This adventure is as much fun for the chefs as it is the feasters.  Just think they work with a local purveyor to select any member of the fowl family to make each dish.  So for Fowl it could be duck, egg, grouse, chicken, goose, I think you are getting the picture.  You  will not be familiar with any of the dishes they prepare because they are challenged to be creative and start from scrat5ch on every plate.  Some things are stars and some things are not.  The dinner is only for 16 people and is very reasonable at $85 per person not including drinks.  Overall it is a good experience for a good value.
The meal is served family style except for the main entree. Be prepared there is plenty to eat but no doggie bags.  Also the family style service ensures that you will meet some pretty cool people that are foodies just like you.  We met Jack a retired San Diego Fireman and his wife Cathy, Bruce the Amtrak Coaster Conductor and Claudio a Play Producer.
Fowl Polpetta
The evening of Beast Feast was also the second night of Restaurant week so the restaurant was sold out and very active and lively.
Our Feast was held in it's own area near the wine shop.  One of the cool things about Urban Kitchen Group Restaurants is that they have wine shop where you can buy wine at retail and for $9 have it corked and served, so you can get some pretty good wine deals.
Salad With Duck Egg and Prosciutto
Our meal started with Fowl Polpetta stuffed with Foie Gras and served on a Celery Root Puree topped with a dried plum.  A Polpetta is a Meatball, in this case it was made with ground Fowl with a dollop of Foie Gras in the middle.  The meatball was moist most likely from the fat in the Foie Gras and the puree combined with the plum gave it a earth and sweet bite.  The dried Plum tasted like a sweet sun dried tomato, overall a pretty good way to start the meal.  It was accompanied with a salad that had hard boiled duck egg, duck prosciutto, sunflower and sesame seeds and hearty greens.  I am not a big fan of hard boiled eggs but I was told they were very tasty as was the salad sans the egg for me.
The main meal then came out which consisted of Fowl Ducken consisting of Squab, in

Bird and People Food;-)
a Silkie, in a Guinea Hen, in a Duck or a SquilkiGuineaDucken.  The dish was served with some terrific root vegetables including new potatoes, carrots and turnips and the Fowl had a great Chimichurri Sauce to bring it some moisture.  I really liked this dish enough to have seconds, mine was moist and the combination of these four birds really went well together.
Chef's Joe and Mark
Chard with Duck Feet
Along with the entree came a couple of sides.  Stuffed Guinea Hen Rotolo in Risotto Style Seed, Grain and Berry.  The thought here was that Fowl would eat seeds, berry and grains, overall the Risotto was great unfortunately the Guinea Hen Rotolo was very tough and dry.  The second Side was a little more adventurous Creamy baked Chard with Smoked Chicken Feet, Rosemary and Bread Crumbs.  Chicken Feet were never really on my list of things to try but  Fireman Jack urged me to give it a go and honestly they were disappointing.  I will just have to say that they added flavor to the rest of the dish.  I know it sounds that I was disappointed but honestly was not, keep in mind these dishes are experiments and the dish without the fowl was excellent.
Lemon Pie and Duck Meringue
At this point before dessert the Cucina Urbana Team came out to introduce each other and thank us for participating.  Executive Chef Joe Magnanelli, Executive Sous Chef Mark Schmitt and Marketing Manager Owen.  They explained the thought put into the dinner and introduced the purveyor of the evening @whatsupwithjack.
We wrapped up with a Lemon Pie and a Duck Meringue, I love tart tastes and this pie hit the spot.  It was a good way to cleanse the palate and wrap up the evening.  I would encourage all readers to go to this event if you are in San Diego.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Holiday Weekend in Santa Fe

Museum Hill
Inn on the Alameda Casita
One of the best times to go to Santa Fe is in December, the city lights up with Farolitos and every tree in the  Plaza Square are covered with multicolored lights welcoming the Holidays and Christmas.  Also in December unless it has snowed a lot in the mountains Santa Fe becomes quiet and you can fit right in with all the residents.  We reserved a Casita at the Inn on the Alameda a hotel we have been going to since the day it opened in the early 1980's.  We like the Inn because it is very cozy has traditional suites and the breakfast and the happy hour are terrific.
Christmas on the Plaza Square
This was going to be a three night stay and we had a lot of plans to eat, shop, tour and see friends.
We had dinners planned at friends for two nights and the first night we had reservations at Radish and Rye an American comfort food restaurant with some Santa Fe tastes.  The restaurant has options of great small plates or dinner entrees combined with some great Bourbon drinks featuring Buffalo Trace Bourbon.
Santa Fe is at 7000 feet so in the winter it is dry, cold and typically sunny.  This evening was the type of night that you bundle up with your warmest coat, your woolliest scarf and hat.  Radish and Rye is on Agua Fria a little southeast of the square but not more than a mile.  Like many restaurants in OpenTable for 5:45.  when we arrived there were already people waiting for tables and the restaurant was full of folks enjoying themselves.  We were taken to a very nice corner table with a great view of the room .  Many of the restaurants in Santa Fe are lighted with candles so you can see the motion of the flame flicker off the uneven plaster walls.
Santa Fe it is located in an old Adobe residence with lots of small rooms and fireplaces.  This restaurant is very popular so we grabbed the best reservation available with
Our server David had been working with Radish and Rye for a couple of years and was very knowledgeable about the menu and their signature Bourbon drinks.  You have a couple of choices for dinner at R & R, one is to go with a starter and an entree or do what we did and go with five small plates.
Bourbon Drinks
Corn Fritters with some heat
We both ordered one of the eight Bourbon drinks I chose the Russian Mule
because it had notes of spicy Ginger and Mint and JoAnn had the Seasonal Shrub Mash which provided tastes of holiday evergreens and fruits.
Our first dish was Sweet Corn Fritters with Jalapeno and Green Goddess Dip.  You cannot go to New Mexico and not enjoy what the original settlers ate, Corn and what better way to enjoy it but to have it in a fritter with a hot Jalapeno pepper with a great dipping sauce.   These fritter were light with a nice initial crunch and a Jalapeno chile bite. 

Corn Chowder with Bone Marrow
Many restaurants have a signature entree, Radish and Rye has a signature starter of Corn Chowder, Green Chile and Bone Marrow.  Now if you just added bone marrow to corn chowder you would get a messy brown concoction.  But if you put a roasted half bone with marrow still bubbling and the bone still smoking in a bowl of chowder you get a visually spectacular dish.  When it comes to the table you can still smell the smoke of the roasted bone as you scrape the marrow into the soup and stir.  This was a great taste experience it took a very light corn chowder and made it rich and hearty.
We wrapped up the evening with two dishes born in the Carolina's but adapted to New Mexico.   Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese and Smoked Ribs with a Carolina Chipotle Sauce and Pickles.  We do not get the option to eat Fried Green Tomatoes often and especially when it is combined with Pimento Cheese, just like we were in Charleston.  The Ribs were indeed moist with a Carolina vinegar based sauce with a little heat from the Chipotle pepper.  Both dishes were great bites and a perfect way to wrap up the meeting.
Charleston Taste Duo
The following day we went to the Railyard to go to the vintage market followed up with a stroll through the Site Santa Fe Art Exhibit.  We had been planning to go to the Site exhibit for the last two years but never made the time.  It is quite the experience with several interactive experiences and some very intriguing sculpture, photographic and paint exhibits.
SITE Santa Fe
We then spent some time on the square to find some additional Christmas gifts, listen to some seasonal music and grab a quick snack of Pumpkin Posole at the Plaza Cafe.  Soon it was time to enjoy the wine happy hour and listen to some music at our hotel.
Our last day we packed in a lot of things including meeting some friends on Museum Hill and going to the International Folk Art Museum and The Museum of  Indian Arts and Culture.  The folk art museum has the largest collection folk art some of which we own and the Indian arts and culture museum had the history of Indian footwear going back 10,000 years.  Many folks do not know that Santa Fe has more than six great museums that house many one of a kind object of art.
Dinner with Kat
La Casa Sena Soup
After the museum we had a very light lunch of soup at La Casa Sena.  La Casa Sena is a few steps from the square and was once the home of one of the many Governors of Santa Fe's 500 year modern history. La Casa Sena was empty so we had our pick of tables we both had soup, I had the Poblano and JoAnn had the Tomato Chipotle.  The only reason I brought up this snack was although my Poblano soup was great, the Tomato Chipotle was outstanding.

Our last evening we had dinner at our friend Kats.  Kat loves to cook great food and serve even better wine.  Kat's house is cozy and she sets a fantastic table.  This night she served her Famous short Ribs, which deserve to be called famous because of their hearty flavor and how rich, moist and tender they are.  We had a great evening of conversation among friends.
We consider Santa Fe a second home, we always enjoy going there and enjoying our friends and taking in the culture of the old west.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Atelier Crenn Experience

The Poem is the Menu
Chef Crenn and her Sous Chef
What does Marriott Hotels have to do with Atelier Crenn?  I am a loyalist to Marriott and they have introduced Marriott Moments to offer awesome experiences in an auction for points.  The offer was a private event evening at Atelier Crenn with Chef Dominique Crenn and the AC staff.  Outside of fine food loyalists not many people are familiar with Atelier Crenn or it's Chef owner Dominique.  I read about Chef Crenn and have seen her on a few shows and knew she was considered a very special talent and that her restaurant was also very special.  Keep in mind that her restaurant is only 6 years old and she had already accomplished being the first female chef to win two Michelin Stars in North America, awarded the best Female Chef in the World by The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants and is currently featured in Vogue November 2018.  This was going to be a great evening and experience and we were all excited to be there.
Chef Crenn and Maxime

We were staying near Union Square, so we hopped into our Lyft ride to Fillmore Street in Cow Hollow.  We were dropped in the middle of the block and hunted down 3127.  It took a few minutes but we then found the door tucked in the building with a tiny Atelier Crenn sign.  The windows seemed to be covered in butcher paper and I initially assumed the space was under renovation, but I pulled open the door and was greeted to what was going to be one of the greatest evenings we have had experienced since starting Top Chef Trail 7 years ago.

Swordfish Jerky
Atelier Crenn seats less than 20 people in an intimate setting.  There is a false ceiling that is covered
with reeds to give you a feeling of an outdoor area letting in subdued light.  There are poems on the wall which set the tone of the evening representing the Chef's desire to marry the earth and the sea in her culinary experience.  The wall ornaments and light fixtures look like large birds nests built with twigs and branches.  We were greeted and handed a glass of Champagne to toast our arrival for a great night of dining.  Several Hor D'oeuvres including Swordfish Jerky were brought by to sample.  Swordfish lends itself to being great for Jerky with a high fat content that makes it moist and to retain great flavor. 
Smoked Trout Roe
We were soon invited back to the kitchen to meet Dominique and members of her staff to learn how she makes a signature dish.  Dominique was standing in the back of the small preparation area with a smile that lit up the entire area.  In the background her team of folks were working on the meal that they had been preparing for the last 12 hours.  She welcomed us and she and her General Manager Maxime Larquier started to talk us through what we were going to see made.  We have been to some great restaurants and I have a few foods I have always avoided, one is any fish's Roe, the dish being created had smoked Trout Roe as the star.  But this is a great chef and whatever she make must be awesome.  The team walked us through how the take toasted Pumpkin and Sunflower seeds and gently crush them, then take a mixture of Duck fat and Balsamic and pour it over the Trout Roe, the nuts are then poured over and then it is gently mixed.  To top it off there are some micro flowers that add a ton of color.  The moment of truth comes I pop it in my mouth and and the Duck Fat coats my tongue, then the vinegar bites.  I gently bite down
Busy creating
and the Fish Roe pops in my mouth as does the mixture of toasted nuts.  This is tasting great, what

Chef is the pretty one
have I missed for the last 40 years.  We then took a moment to savor the taste and sip the Sauvignon Blanc before we had an opportunity to chat with the chef.  She was very engaging welcoming conversation.  I told her I really enjoy cooking and she asked me my preferred method and I told her I like to slow cook.  A matter of fact I had just bought a Sous-vide machine and was learning to cook with it.  She asked me what I had prepared and how it had turned out and then said you know what I am going to send you the best book to learn and cook Sous-vide. (We will come back to this later).  Here is what I learned in the few minutes we had an opportunity to talk.  She really enjoys life, she draws her inspiration for cooking from her life experiences, she loves working with her team, she has a genuine warmth about her and she expects the best and gets the best.
The Poem and the first Bite
We were shown back to our tables so the dining experience could begin.  After a short welcome speech the first item was brought to the table with a wine pairing.  The Server brought us what looked like a centerpiece with 2 identical placards.  On those placards were several Poems or Haiku's.  The first line was "Hidden in fallen leaves are treasures of the earth and sea"  I was not familiar with Dominiques signature menus which consists of a series of poems that describe the bite in an abstract way.  Our table guest Calvin and Han immediately pointed out the poem and said look at the leaves.  Within each leave was a single liquid bead.  We gently picked ours up and yes the leaf tasted earthy and the bead tasted like the ocean.  This was the type of exciting night we were in for.  This was wine paired with a Elena Walch Pinot Blanco
The first  dish was Chef Crenn's take on a Kir Breton which is a French cocktail consisting of Creme de Cassis and dry Cider.  Her mother used to prepare the cocktail when she was growing up and this is one of the many homages to her parents.  Chef Crenn freezes cider into a sphere and dips it into a mixture of Cocoa Butter and White Chocolate to form a perfect casing to present this dish.  When you bite down on the sphere there is an explosion of sweet, tart, chocolate and apple in your mouth.
Kir Breton
The server came over to the table and placed a small bowl of liquid in front of us.  She described it as Fish and Chips, we were all stunned.  How can a liquid be Fish and Chips?  It is not easy but they pulled it off.  There was a small paper thin piece of fried potato beneath a liquid that tasted like a traditionally deep fried piece of cod with malt vinegar all done with liquid ingredients.  This was wonderful and was paired with an Eisele Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.
I have already told you I am not a big fan of Roe and one in particular I have always avoided was Urchin Roe (Uni).
The Uni was sitting on a crispy Koshihikari Rice cake and Barigoule Sauce.  There were toasted sesame seeds on the Uni.  The Roe is creamy and settled in the middle of the tongue.  The rice cake provided texture and crunch and the Barigoule sauce brought everything together.  This was an incredible mixture of texture and taste.  It was paired with Taiheikai Pacific Ocean Sake.
Why not keep me on my toes with Caviar, so far I was 2 for 2 in the roe love department so why not try this dish.  This was a do it yourself bite.  You had a pickled Daikon disc that acted as a cracker which you added Caviar and Koji (Fermented Bean Paste).  When you popped this in your mouth you had tart, fermented bite and the sweetness of the caviar which popped when you bit down.  This was paired with Domaine Leflaive Chardonnay.
Brioche and Wagyu Butter
We had a little bit of a break with the House Brioche and their Housemade Butter and Wagyu Butter. Both of these spreads were amazing with this bread.  The house made had hints of grassland taste with tiny flowers and micro greens.  The Wagyu butter was something more special.  It is rendered Wagyu
Fat whipped into a butter spread.  It is like a butter that tastes like Prime Rib.
Abalone is very difficult to get these days it is regulated so it is not very common.  Chef Crenn slow cooked the Abalone so it melted in your mouth, it was served with a Quail Yolk and a Smoky Creme.  I slowly enjoyed this with the wine pairing from Domaine de L'Arlot 'Les Suchets' Premier Cru.  I liked this dish because it made a large statement in a small serving.
Matsutake and Dungeness
Chefs have a gift of imagining tastes and how ingredients go together and then imagine what other accompanied tastes compliment.  They then work with their Sommelier (AC has at least 2) to create the perfect pairing.  Our next bite were tastes I would never think of and created a texturally different but complimentary dish.  Dungeness Crab is a favorite from the Pacific Northwest and Matsutake Mushrooms are a rare breed primarily found in Japan.  The mushroom was raw and had a foresty  taste while the fresh Dungeness Crab was moist and sweet sitting a crab broth with corn.  Not sure who thought of this but it was another great bite.
A-5 Wagyu

Wagyu beef has become a phenomenon.  It seems like everywhere has a Wagyu burger or steak.  But there are different Grades of Wagyu Beef the best being Grade A-5.  An ounce of A-5 cost more than a pound of Prime Rib Eye.  We were served A-5 with a Bearnaise Sauce and Umeboshi Sauce (Pickled Plum)  topped with Micro Greens  served on a square crystal plate.  This beef literally melts in your mouth and coats your tongue.  The sauces added another layer of fat that put this bite over the top.  Paired with Bovio 'Vigna Gattera" Nobbiolo this was a great wine to compete for the tongue.

Truffle Tart

The Pulque volcano
How about a tart that has Cow Milk Cheese, Quince and covered in Truffle Shavings and a few tiny white flowers to cleanse the palette.  It sounds as good as it tasted. This was paired with Heidrun Meadery Carrot Blossom Mead.  Mead? I thought only Vikings and Knights and Serfs drank Mead.  I can see why they did now.  Mead is a honey brew.  It would be easy and pleasurable to drink a lot of Mead on a lazy weekend.
Before dessert we had Masa Chip it was served in a Mayan inspired bowl.  The  chip had a crest of Chichen Itza emblazoned on it.  It was a great little palette cleanser with a fun taste, plating and theme.
Our first Dessert was a play on Mexican Cocktail, Pulque.  This was
Mignardise Peanut is the best
created with Agave, Coconut and Iced Pulque sitting atop a volcanic mountain as if it was erupting.  It was refreshing ad it looked beautiful.  It reminded me of a scene out of a Dr Seuss book it was creative and fun.  The wine served was a sweeter dessert wine from Weinguter Bischoflicher 'Kanzemer Altenberg'.
To end the evening a wooden Gourd container was brought out with 4 Mignardise and Chocolates my favorite was the Peanut, it tasted better than a peanut.  My other favorite the Chocolate Bark with nuts.

My new Sous Vide Cookbook
The best way to summarize the evening was that it was an experience that cannot be bought or replicated.  It is a rare occasion where you have the Best Chef, the Best Staff, the Best Sous Chefs, The Best Sommeliers all come together with the best Food in the Perfect Setting.  Chef Crenn is a free spirit, she was born to do this type of work, she and her staff work very hard to maintain the reputation to preserve the Michelin stars they have earned.  Every part of Chef Crenn's life experience contribute to her cooking and style.
Remember the conversation at the beginning of the article where
Chef Crenn said she would send me the Sous-vide book.  I received it yesterday and am trying my first dish of Short Ribs.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Day and Night at the Museums

Last month we took a weekend trip up the coast to California's most beautiful city San Francisco.  We flew up on SWA and checked into the Marriott Marquis.  It was an early morning so we took a couple of hours to begin our 2 day museum trek.  After a quick tour of Union Square we were off to SFMOMA the finest museum if you want to see iconic contemporary art.  Most of the art displayed at SFMOMA once belonged to the Fishers the founders of the Gap.  The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection is among the world’s greatest private collections of contemporary art. Founders of San Francisco–based Gap Inc., the couple began collecting prints to enliven the company’s offices in the mid-1970s, and they soon expanded their efforts to include paintings, sculpture, and drawings.  The collection includes works by Alexander Calder, Ellsworth Kelly,
William Kentridge, Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Donald Judd and Andy Warhol, among others.  We had originally seen the works before the SFMOMA had been remodeled 2 several years back.  We were also there to have dinner at the restaurant in residence In Situ.  In Situ is the brainchild of Corey Lee who has several award winning restaurants in San Francisco one being Benu.  Like a museum Corey Lee honors great chef's signature dishes and offers them on his menu.  He rotates the dishes like art exhibitions so you will never get tired of having some of the most creative meals ever devised and served.  The menu includes 11 items each of them curated from great chefs and paired with specific wines to bring out the best tastes.  On the back of the menu there is an homage to the meal and the chef and the year it was created.  These items come in small and medium sized plates so they are perfect for sharing.

We started our meal with the Wasabi Lobster, created by Berlin Chef Tim Raue in 2013.  What a perfect start the piece of Lobster was tempura battered and fried and sat on a Mango Jelly with a Thai Vinaigrette and on the side a small Wasabi Flavored Marshmallow shaped like a star.  These meals are immersion art, the lobster moist and explodes with flavors and a hint of Wasabi and the sweetness of Mango.  We followed it up with a Glazed Chicken Thigh created by Kyoto Chef Hiroshi Sasaki of Gion
Wasabi Lobster
Glazed Chicken Thigh
Sasaki which is the most difficult restaurant to get into in Japan.  Although the dish sounds like it could be heavy it is very delicate glazed in Teriyaki Sauce and sitting on a Butter Lettuce leaf topped with a Onsen Egg.  Sweet with the teriyaki sauce and rich with the yolk of the egg this was a great small bite.  What a wonderful dish this next one was The Forest created by
French Chef Mauro Colagreco owner of Mirazur, clearly this was the most delicious dish of the night Mirazur is considered one of the top restaurants in the world and this dish is one of the reasons why.  
The Forest is exactly what you would suspect earthy mushrooms, green ferns, evergreen scents on a bed of Risotto.  This was hearty and filling, I am writing this 45 days after we were there and i can still remember how good it was,  Our last dish was from Chef Roy Choi, celebrity chef from LA and his restaurant LA Son.  This dish Kalbi Jjim represents everything Roy Choi stands for great simple comfort food cooked to perfection and a great way to finish a meal.  Literally it is a fantastic Short Rib Stew.  In Situ is a great restaurant is a city of amazing restaurants.  The service here is superb, the atmosphere is chic modern and very subdued.  It is a restaurant that you can come in relax and enjoy great food and service.  If you wish to experience some of the most creative dishes
Kalbi Jjim
designed by the best chefs in the world this is the place to go.

I have this poster
The following day we had a date with the DeYoung Museum to take in the Summer of Love music and art visual experience.  I was 11 years old when the summer of love happened, San Francisco was a place where all the creative young people came to get a better understanding of their creative capability.  The exhibit took me back to that time when rock and roll expressed the way they saw the world.  Part of the exhibit was dedicated to the Art and Fashion of the time and we were there to uncover creative new ideas for Dixon Rand.  This was a great exhibit I will tell my story with pictures.  

Overall this was the best vacation of the year.  Just proves that there are a lot of great places to visit that are very close to where you live.

The Grand Cayman Islands to Celebrate

President's Club 2017 Grand Cayman
I have visited and lived in the Caribbean and have always enjoyed the island life with white sand beaches, warm ocean, great sea life and spectacular sunsets.  I had never been to Grand Cayman Island so I was excited to learn more and experience it.  With every vacation it is all about the location and we had reservations at the best hotel with the best location The Ritz Carlton.  
Getting to Grand Cayman is easier than you would think, they have a fantastic airport and serve many of the major cities in the US so it is just a quick one stop.  This trip was to celebrate exceptional work for all the folks that had made great sales contributions for the company we work for E2open.  E2open happens to be the leading Supply Chain Software Solution for many of the leading companies in the world.
Sunset in Paradise
We got to Grand Cayman and we were greeted near the tarmac by our host who got us through customs in less than 3 minutes and into our Limo for the ride to the Ritz Carlton.  On our way there our driver provided us some local hints and gave us a little history of the island.  At the hotel we were greeted with an island cocktail and escorted us to our room.  The Ritz Carlton is the best resort on the island, as you would suspect of a 5 star hotel the services were terrific. The first thing I wanted to do was get my suit on and head to the beach to grab an island cocktail. soak in a little sun and drift in the ocean.  After sucking down some of their famous Daiquiris I swam out to one of the floats and just layed there to take in the sun.  This was much better than I hoped and this is only Day One.  We kicked off our Presidents Club Award trip with a celebration, cocktail evening followed by a great dinner.  We gathered with our colleagues and our spouses and spent a little time to get to make new acquaintances.

Jerk Chicken Scramble
We started Day Two with an Island Breakfast at the hotels oceanfront restaurant Seven.  I had the the Jerk Chicken Hash with Scrambled eggs, yum.  This is a Jerk Chicken Scramble only difference is that this Jerk Chicken has a serious kick which was unexpectedly pleasurable.  After a few hours of relaxing in the sun we all gathered for a buffet lunch which had all these terrific salads, soups and sandwiches.  From there we all got on buses and made our way over to the Marina to get on a 50 foot party yacht and our trip to Stingray Bar and Stingray City.
The boat was stocked with food and drink and we made our way out to Stingray City where we were able to do some snorkeling and get acquainted with the local Stingrays.  Stingray City is inside a barrier reef so it is a protected area where the water is warm and the seas are calm.  Upon arrival we got a safety course and then all jumped in the bay and basked in the sun and enjoyed the bright colors of the reef. Shawn found a Lobster hiding in a coral head which he said it was 2 feet long.  Well we all had to go down and see that, for the life of me it took me 20 minutes until I finally saw it's antennae.  Not sure it was that big but it was a cool thing to look at.

Stingray Encounter
 Meanwhile the crew was luring out the Stingrays with squid.  Now these guys were down at 10 feet so you needed to be able to dive down and hold your breath to get up close and personal.  One of the crew was a free diver and would spend over 2 minutes laying on the bottom and playing with the Stingrays while blowing these very cool bubbles.
David looks scared
We then motored over to Stingray Sandbar, on the way there we were able to try some caribbean water sports, the first volunteer was Dan Murphy from Connecticut  who tried what I consider water torture.  You were towed by a pair of blades that you controlled with each hand.  If you hold them straight you glided along the water, if you tilted your wrists down you would start diving under the water and if you tilted one up and one down you would do 360's.  So you put on your goggles and you become like James Bond the time he was towed through a reef behind a yacht at high speeds. After Dan took his try I jumped in and had a try, it was a little easier than I thought as long as you relaxed, it was easy to maneuver.  The dive down was fun but you have to remember to come up and when you do the the 360 sometimes you get stuck but with perseverance you find a way.  Dan had a try at tow surfing and Enric got towed on an innertube and bounced erratically at 30 mph, I am surprised he did not fly off.

Stingray City
What a Great Day
All in all it was great fun in our short sea journey to Stingray Sandbar.  In the distance we saw boats gathered, as we got closer we noticed that people were standing in the waste deep ocean even though we were more than a mile off shore.  All around these people in the water were these large moving objects, people were shrieking and laughing as these objects would approach them.  These were Stingrays, some as big as four feet across, some black, some grey.  I was a little nervous of these guys because I have had mishaps with these guys, twice stung in the foot.  These Stingrays are different, they are not little, they are tame and they sense that you are there to feed them so they are aggressive.  Some folks were a little more tentative than others.  AJ's Husband Joe was not fearful at all he seemed to be a trained and experienced Stingray Whisperer.  They would scoot up his held out arms and just lay there and flap their wings while he gently held them.  I tried to emulate Joe but although I had some luck I was not as skilled as he was.  Overall this was a very memorable time for everyone.  Koushik had brought his son there and he initially was not comfortable with the stingrays but after a few minutes it seemed that he would stay and join the Stingray family.  Total fun day!  But it was time to go back to the hotel and relax from the sun and fun.
Beet Napoleon
Awesome Local Seafood

That night we had a team dinner outside at Seven.  We all sat outside and enjoyed the weather and the great company.  Many of us recounted the day with the Stingrays. The dinner for the evening was a choice of some great starters and an entree Turf or Surf.  I believe the choices of the evening were the Beet Salad and The Triple fin Entree. The Beet Salad tasted better than it looked which was a pretty tall task.  The Beets were made up like a colorful Napoleon and accompanied by pomegranate, toasted pecans and orange slices the dressing was a vinaigrette so it provided the tart bite that complemented the sweetness of the beets.  Overall an eye pleasing and palate pleasing salad. the Triple Tail entree was grilled and served with colorful island veggies and a bearnaise sauce.  The fish was a flaky white fish that was delicate and moist.  Overall the meal was fantastic and everyone had a great time getting to know each other over drinks and great food.
Enric Cousteau ;-)
The next day was a free day to do whatever you wanted.  I started the day with a scuba dive with Enric.  We boarded our boat with 4 others and proceeded to our first dive of 75 feet.  Dives over 30 feet are not my favorite but I was excited to be able to dive without a wetsuit and enjoy the warm clear caribbean seas.  The first dive lasted 45 minutes and down there we saw a Giant Sea Turtle and a large Eagle Ray, the second dive was at 40 feet and we spent most of the time looking at smaller very colorful fish.  It was a good time for all.
Cayman Fest
Making Friends
When we got back we grabbed our spouses and friends and headed down to the beach to enjoy the sun, have some beach drinks and hang out playing in the water.  All during the afternoon we had heard this loud caribbean rhythms, we were told it was Cayman Fest which is their Mardi Gras Carnival.  As it made its way close we went down and lined the streets to enjoy watching the locals dance in the street to DJ's and live music.  There were floats totally dedicated to passing our Rum Drinks so by the time the parade hit us everyone looked like they were having a great time.  I even saw a hotel guest say goodbye to their date and jump up on the float to dance with all the other folks.

Local Seafood with Green Curry
Island Bouillabaisse
That night JoAnn and I decided to change it up and go to dinner nextdoor at the Westin's Beach House Restaurant.  It was good to try something new and this restaurant had a great menu.  We both started our with the Seafood Chowder which had Crab and Mussels in a creamy seafood and corn chowder.  This was a hearty soup with a beautiful seafood base with chunks of crab and gently poached mussels.
For the entree I had the Bouillabaisse with Langoustine, Scallops, Snapper, Mussels and Clams in a light tomato based broth.  I decided to to an Anthony Bourdain by sucking out the head of the Langoustine, it was actually very tasty.  JoAnn had the Snapper with Green Curry which was combined with colorful veggies and edible flowers.  I tried her fish and it was delicious and moist.  The food and the cocktails were delicious.

Koushik's Family
Sushi Making Class
The following day was our wrap up day.  Celia our trip coordinator had organized a hands on Sushi Making class.  This was a great break from all the beach and sea activities.   We all met upstairs in the Ritz Carlton Cooking School and were given a 30 minute course on the history of Sushi, the nuances and quality of each of the ingredients including the rice, the fish, the seaweed wrapping and even Wasabi root.  Chef Bong then took us through how to make a sushi roll and for those of us that wanted to participate we were able to make our own to eat. We all had several pieces of Sushi to eat and shared some other goodies and then went to a Japanese lunch catered by the Ritz Carlton's Sushi restaurant Taikun.

Sharon Cha

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the sun and the beach.  I had discovered a great place to snorkel off the Governor's mansion which was 200 yards down the beach.  I went there four time and found 100's of different fish of all sizes and color it was like I was at the aquarium, very memorable.
Farewell Party
Shawn's Thank You Speech

Our final night was a beach dinner at sunset, Shawn brought the team together to thank us for having a great year and we all celebrated with good food and drinks.
I have several takeaways from this trip, it was great to meet others that you work and really get to know them personally.  It was also great to celebrate our accomplishment.  Grand Cayman is a magical place and I bet that many of us will return for a relaxing vacation.  I am also proud to work for a company that makes an investment in its
employees and rewards them for their hardwork and success.