Archive for July, 2012

Top 10 Picnic Spots

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
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It’s summertime, and with all the vacations, camps, games and other activities, we sometimes forget that this time of the year is supposed to be relaxing.  Even mealtime seems hurried as we try to fit one last thing into the longer summer days. So why not downshift and spend a little quality time with the family (and don’t forget to bring the dog) while taking in the beautiful scenery of the Monterey Peninsula? Food, family and fun are always a recipe for relaxation so here is our unofficial Top 10 (in random order) picnic spots on the Peninsula and a little beyond.

1. The nearest park or open-space or enchanted garden. Keep it simple and enjoy each other’s company, explore the Custom House Plaza and nearby Memory Garden/Pacific House or Old Whaling Station Garden.

2. Lovers Point Beach: What’s better than a lush park right next to a beach, with a view of Monterey Bay?

3. Dennis the Menace Park: Picnic tables and grills behind the park overlook Lake El Estero and a skate park. Perfect for kids of all ages (dogs not allowed in the park gates).

4. Marina State Beach: Miles of beach are perfect for flying kites and the occasional hang glider make for great entertainment; make sure to bring a windbreaker, as that’s why this is the best place for kite flying!

5. Colton Hall: Revel in the beauty downtown Monterey and sit among shady trees, beautiful architecture and a lush lawn.

6. Garland Ranch: Work up an appetite with a hike before sitting down to drink in the beauty of Carmel Valley.

7. 17-mile Drive: Beach, forest, golf or all of the above are offered along this famous stretch of road. The views aren’t half bad either!

8. Asilomar State Beach: Catch one of the area’s great sunset spots and white sand beaches, build a small bonfire, go tide-pooling and a walk amongst the dunes.

9. Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail: By bike, foot or surrey rental you can take-in the views and stop at any of the numerous benches and open spaces along the route for a meal.

10. Pfeiffer Beach State Park: This State Park offers it all and is a wonderful way to explore nature with your family and enjoy the majestic views and tranquility of Big Sur.

If you are looking for the perfect culinary compliment to this family fun, why not stop off at Peter B’s Brewpub or Jacks Restaurant at the Portola Hotel & Spa and pick up a delicious lunch for your group. With choices galore, your family and your taste buds will thank you!

Chef’s Summer Recipe

Monday, July 30th, 2012
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Summer food can mean many things for many people. For some, it’s a simple sandwich thrown into a backpack before rushing off to the beach. For others, it’s a taste-a-pallooza of barbecued meats and other seasonal traditional treats. And then there are those that enjoy something light and cool to beat the heat. The trick, however, for a great summer meal is combining all those tastes into one incredible dish that can be enjoyed by all.

Sounds daunting, but when the Portola Hotel & Spa’s Executive Chef Jason Giles has got your back, you are only a few simple steps away from wowing guests, friends and family alike. Luckily, the man behind the great tastes at Jacks Restaurant & Lounge and Peter B’s Brewpub is sharing some of his summertime secrets with all of us.

Take it away Chef!

This is a great summer salad that is easy to prepare and doesn’t heat up the kitchen.  I would serve this with a nice crusty sour French bread and sit out on the patio enjoying all that summer has to offer.

Begin by marinating the Flank steak.  Place the Flank steak in a container that can hold the meat and ½ cup of the balsamic vinaigrette (see recipe below).  Pour the vinaigrette over the steak, being sure to coat both sides and then let it marinate for about 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Combine all of the ingredients except the oil in a blender.  Mix until well blended.   Add two pinches of black pepper.  Slowly add oil until well blended. Taste and season with salt if needed.

When you are ready to eat…

Heat the grill on high and lightly oil the grilling surface.  To prepare the steak for grilling, lift out of the marinade and let most of the dressing drip off (otherwise the grill will flare up when you put the meat on). Then season with salt and black pepper.  Grill for 6-8 minutes per side or until desired doneness.  Remove from the grill and let the steak rest lightly covered with foil on a plate on the kitchen counter.

While the grill is still hot, lightly oil again.  To prepare the peaches, lightly season with the salt and black pepper and then grill for 3 minutes or until some nice charring happens.  Remove and let rest until service.

To assemble the salad….

Peel and dice the avocado, slice the peaches (each half in to 5 pieces), chop and rinse the red leaf lettuce.  Make sure the arugula and spinach are clean as well. In a large salad or serving bowl combine the three lettuces and toss with the remaining ½ cup balsamic vinaigrette.  Arrange the sliced peaches and avocado on the top of the lettuce and sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

For the meat I would recommend slicing it very thin as Flank tastes better that way. Then you can either put it over the salad in the bowl or serve it on the side and let your family and friends dish it up themselves.

Enjoy life, savor great food and embrace good company!


Chef Jason

Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix

Monday, July 23rd, 2012
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Photo Courtesy Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca ©

Although the Monterey Peninsula is home to some of the country’s most widely known auto events including the Concourse d’ Elegance and the American Le Mans, fans of the four wheels take a back seat to the supped-up cycles that descend on the Peninsula during the Red Bull U.S Grand Prix, July 27-29, 2012. Featuring the MotoGP World Championship and a Full Slate of American Motorcycle Association (AMA) races, this weekend is one of the sport’s most popular and draws huge crowds to watch and be watched.

The weekend kicks off on Friday, June 27th with the opening of the Strider Cup Adventure and Kid’s Fun Zones. Biking, bounce houses, soccer and more are available for kids of all ages throughout the weekend and give a little reprieve to the full slate of AMA qualifying races and live music events scheduled throughout the day. Saturday brings more live entertainment, fan friendly activities and the second round of qualifying races.

In addition to festivities out at the track, Peter B’s Brewpub behind the Portola Hotel & Spa will be hosting their very own Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix Kick-Off Party!  The event will begin Thursday, July 26th at 4pm, featuring Happy Hour ALL night long! From a raffle, to Patron specials, an appearance by the Patron Promo Girls and Peter B’s very own Legend of Laguna Cask, this free event is the perfect activity for racing enthusiasts looking to start the weekend off right!

Sunday is 10 hours of superbike heaven with no less than four championship races including the RACE FIM E-Power & TTX, RACE AMA Pro Daytona Sportbike the RACE AMA Pro National Guard Superbike and the MotoGP World Championship.

While the official schedule of events can be found on the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca website, there are plenty of unofficial events all over the Peninsula. Most of the bars and restaurants welcome the fans with specials and promotions and the professional riders pop up all over town at charity and fundraising events. Cannery Row and Downtown Monterey serve as the de facto gathering spots for the fans and their bikes on display.

It’s a RPM filled weekend not to be missed and sure to quench the thirst of any Superbike or AMA fan.

California Rodeo Salinas

Friday, July 20th, 2012
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Photography Richard Field Levine ©

Since 1910, the California Rodeo held annually in Salinas, California has grown from a small Wild West Show with some bucking bronco riding to a full-fledged week-long celebration of the history of the Salinas Valley.  Complete with a full slate of officially sanctioned professional rodeo events, the event features concerts, carnival games and enough down-home cowboy fun to fill a 10 gallon hat!

The rodeo or “Big Week” as it was coined in 1911 kicks-off on Friday July 13th and runs through Sunday, July 22nd. On Friday the 13th, the carnival will open at 4pm with games for kids of all ages and on Saturday the 14th Kiddie Kapers and the annual Colmo del Rodeo Parade in Downtown Salinas rev up the fun even more.

Photography Richard Field Levine ©

The professional rodeo cowboys start their competition on Wednesday the 18th with the preliminary rounds of their specialty. The early rounds continue on Thursday and Friday evenings featuring the Tough Enough to Wear Pink event on the 19th and the Fight Hunger event on the 20th.

On Saturday and Sunday the action switches to the daytime with the semi-final and final rounds of competition. Saturday is Salute to the Military Day and the fun continues into the evening with the week’s biggest performance, when Country Music legend Alan Jackson and friends take the stage at 6:30pm.

Sunday is the Crown Royal Day of Champions featuring the finals of the professional events including: Bull Riding, Tie Down Roping, Bareback Riding, Team Roping, Saddle Bronc Riding and Steer Wrestling. Tickets are available at the box office or online at

So if you want to learn about the rich history of Salinas and take in some of the best live action around, go big at Big Week and the California Rodeo – Salinas!


Monterey Museum of Art

Monday, July 16th, 2012
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Photo by Craig Lovell, Eagle Visions Photography©

One of the best things about a visit to the Monterey Peninsula is the variety of things to do and see. Even if you pick just one type of experience, the choices within that experience are extraordinary. Take art for instance. The natural beauty of the area is without question, drawing (no pun intended) artists and photographers of all levels, from the world over. Perpetuating the legacy of the Monterey Peninsula Art Colony that began in the 19th Century, there are traditional galleries with art for purchase as well as artist’s studios where visitors can get a more intimate look at the creative process. There is even a growing modern art scene mixing youth and culture together in a powerful presence.

One of the best places to experience all types of art is the Monterey Museum of Art (MMA). Boasting two locations in Monterey, the MMA presents world-class traveling exhibitions of works by masters such as Rodin Matisse, and Ansel Adams, alongside exhibitions of works by exciting emerging artists of today. The MMA also celebrates local artists and photographers, and features special exhibitions of California art of the 19th and 20th Centuries from its rich permanent collection.

Just blocks from the Portola Hotel & Spa is the MMA La Mirada location, which showcases modern galleries and lush gardens on an historic estate that once hosted Hollywood celebrities.  Both locations have recently debuted new exhibits, with MMA La Mirada featuring, In Sharp Focus: The Legacy of Monterey Photography, including works by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and other members of Group f/64, now through September 30, 2012, while at MMA Pacific Street, Rodin: Light & Shadow, is an interactive, intimate experience of the world’s greatest sculpture set in the character of Rodin’s Parisian studio, which wraps up on October 21, 2012. Both locations also feature in-gallery activities for the kids.

The Monterey Museum of Art is also active in the community, hosting a number of events and educational classes designed to inspire the community and the next generation of local artists. So, for a break from the outdoor beauty of the Monterey Peninsula, take some time to immerse yourself in another type of local beauty, at the Monterey Museum of Art!