Let’s see, where did I leave off….
Our next two days in California took us up the coast through Santa Barbara, to the small Danish town of Solvang, where we indulged in a very “Under the Tuscan Sun”-esque experience. By this point I thought I’d be used to the constant surprises of the California landscape, but once again the town’s facade swept me away.
Solvang itself looked like a town you would find nestled in the Alps, not just 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara. The town was decidedly branded as a mini-Copenhagen, complete with wood-framed rustic architecture and Danish-themed signs everywhere.
But the main draw of Solvang is the vineyards. Solvang is part of a small wine region in Southern California that was the stage for the movie Sideways, which helped catapult the area to popularity among tourists and locals alike. JD, who had visited before, suggested we hire a driver to take us from vineyard to vineyard, but after scoping out a map of the area, one idea particularly caught our eyes – Bike Rentals!
For just $20 each, we secured four bikes (individual bikes, not the four-seaters pictured above) for the rest of the afternoon. We set off down a footpath that led to the main road all the vineyards are located on, and after just ten minutes of biking, we had left our Danish town behind and had arrived in what looked like the south of France! Rolling golden hills, fields of cows and bales of hay, grazing horses beyond wooden fences…
And of course, vineyards!
Our first stop was Buttonwood Vineyard, which was by far our favorite stop of the day. We wound up hanging out here for over an hour, sipping our way through a seven-glass tasting, chatting with the sommelier, Brian, and eventually buying a couple of bottles to stash in our bike packs. The grounds of Buttonwood were beautiful – as a family owned and operated farm, the grounds had more than just grape vines – there were various fruit trees and a stunning garden full of benches and paths to meander.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from the beauty of Buttonwood, but we had a few more vineyards planned, and were also starting to feel our stomachs rumble. We headed to Rideau Vineyard next, another gorgeous property where the tastings were held in an old mansion with warmly lit, antique-filled rooms. As we settled in for our next tasting, we spotted the mansion’s actual kitchen, where a very enticing sign was hung:
As we were increasingly starving, we ordered two tapas plates and moseyed out to the backyard where we set up camp with our wine and had a leisurely lunch of cheeses, cured meats, nuts, airy breads and dried fruit. It was the perfect meal to accompany our tasting.
The rest of the day was spent biking up and down Alamo Pintado Road, as we headed to Blackjack Ranch Vineyards and Winery where the movie Sideways was filmed, and back down to Buttonwood to say hi to Brian one more time!
We finally made it back to Solvang as the sun was setting, and spent the last minutes of the afternoon camped out on our hotel’s pool deck, enjoying a bottle of Blackjack’s “21” Chardonnay and taking in the summer sun.
The whole town of Solvang seems to fall asleep when the sun goes down, but we were determined to make the most of our evening, so we headed over to a popular Italian restaurant in town called Cecco, just a short walk from our hotel around nine pm. We’d heard great word of mouth about Cecco in just the few hours we’d spent in Solvang so far, and we’re psyched to try it out.
Of course, we brought our own bottles of wine from our vineyard adventures, and our waitress happily decorked one as we were seated at our table. Thus began a quite excellent feast of Italian food that impressed even us spoiled New Yorkers!
We started things off with the “Polpette,” boar meatballs with rich tomato sauce, wilted kale and oregano. These meatballs were each huge, and so delicious – they were tender, mouthwatering sponges for the tomato sauce that made the whole restaurant smell like my grandma’s house. We soaked up every last drop of that sauce with extra bread.
For our main courses, I opted for the ravioli, which were mushroom ravioli in a buttery, sage-filled mushroom cream sauce. Considering I rarely eat ravioli and usually save it for special occasions, this dish totally exceeded my expectations. The ravioli themselves were very good, filled with a light mix of mushrooms and ricotta, but the sauce is what really took this dish over the edge. It was a buttery, savory infusion of sage, rosemary, and mushrooms that I probably would have drunk with a straw, given the option. As it were, I didn’t leave a speck on the plate.
I even sopped up some of the sauce with this delicious pizza that Cara ordered – the Cinghiale pizza with wild boar sausage, tomato, smoked mozzarella and kale. It was fantastic, both straight up, dipped in mushroom-sage sauce, and eaten cold on the car ride the next day.
As for the rest of the group, we had one Shrimp alla Puttanesca, and Braised Beef Cheeks on a bed of Polenta. Both diners were very happy with their entrees.
For dessert (how can you say no?!), we went with tiramisu, one of Cara’s favorites and a dish that is increasingly growing on me. I find that tiramisu can often be… just off. Either it tastes like it’s been soaked in rum, or its way too soggy, or the flavors clash. But Cecco hit this out of the park – their tiramisu was dense and moist, but not too wet, with the perfect balance of coffee and liquor flavors. The drizzle of chocolate sauce and scattering of raspberries was a great touch… well, I should know, since I ate nearly all of them!
After dinner, we were all in a sleep food-fueled mood, and since all of Solvang was already asleep, we headed back to our hotel where we channel surfed and dozed off well before midnight. What can I say, when you’re in wine country, staying away past 11 pm just isn’t in the cards!
Our food adventures in Solvang ended Sunday morning with a marvelous surprise. We awoke to discover that JD was missing, but quickly noticed him outside through the window. He was walking toward the hotel carrying a tray of four coffees atop a nondescript cardboard box. But we all knew what that meant.
Discovered on a previous trip to Solvang, JD had brought us back a breakfast specialty from the Solvang Restaurant in town: Aebleskivers! These pancake balls are a Danish delicacy, made by pouring batter into a special heated griddle with round molds. As the batter cooks, it is slowly turned in the mold to form the signature ball shape. I’d never had anything like this, but I’d describe it as the delicious love-child of Italian zeppolis, Belgian waffles, and regular old pancakes. In case you couldn’t tell, that means they were ridiculously yummy and addicting. They are served topped with powdered sugar with a sweet, fresh raspberry jam for dipping, smothering, dunking, etc. Hands down, one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had!
It was with bellies full of Aebleskivers and heavy hearts that we bid Solvang goodbye! But don’t worry, there are still a few more food adventures to come for the last day of our dreamy California vacation…