When you live in Calgary, chances are you know a rancher. If you’re lucky, you’ll be invited out for a ride. I’m fortunate enough to be friends with Rachel Herbert, who raises grass fed cattle just south of Nanton, AB, for her poetically named premium beef business, Trail’s End Beef. So when she invited me out to ride savvy Suzy, we had some farm chores to do. And since it was hunting season, Rachel sported a safety-chic orange vest…… and so did I. I also wore a pair of chaps I hadn’t used in a decade, but my style was more Michelin Man than Wild West, thanks to the need to stay warm.On this particular day, we had a mission. These calves were weaned the week before, so now it was time to move them to the farm for the winter, where Rachel and Ty can keep an eye on them.Rachel’s hubby and quintessential cowboy Tyler mapped out our moves…… while Suzy and Jet always seemed to know exactly where to be to get the job done.Being in the saddle for hours was easy in this custom-made cutting saddle by Vic Bennett.First we moved the calves out of their pen, over the hills. My job was to stay in the back and encourage stragglers to get moo-ving. Then it was time to take this show on the road! Rachel spent years on the hunter-jumper circuit, but being a cowgirl is in her DNA — she’s a fourth-generation Alberta rancher. Those cows better get moving before Jet decides to give their butts a love bite.The grass on the side of the road was looking mighty delicious to the calves, so I had my herding work cut out for me… but I managed to snap one more photo while we were on the move. Way up ahead, on Turbo the roan, Tyler was ready to stop any cars that came along. Mission accomplished! But Suzy lingered a little longer, just to let those cows know who is boss.Rachel works the chute, and without that safety vest we finally get an opportunity to see her flawless cowgirl style, complete with vintage scarf. And those fringed chinks! Those are shorter chaps, for y’all who are not up on cowboy lingo. I didn’t know either.It was a novelty to be on a horse with such a lustrous mane, compared to the ponies I usually ride. Besides the cattle we also caught sight of a moose, loping across the ridge. Not pictured here, but emblazoned in my memory forever.Ride ‘em cowgirls. Thanks so much for an amazing day, Rachel and Suzy!
Recently I was invited to the Canadian Rockies for a world premiere at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. It was too warm to break out my fur, but it’s never too toasty for a caliente selfie. In my own mind, anyhow.
The Banff Centre, where this modern frame to old glory (the mountain, not me!) stands, hosts many screenings of the film fest. Although I have to warn you, the restaurant immediately to the right of this shot, despite jaw-dropping views of the Rockies, served up the worst breakfast I’ve ever had. Cold eggs. Cold toast. It was so bad, it was beyond words. We just paid quietly. Because when the orange juice arrived at the table in a plastic bottle, I blamed myself. Apparently I had missed the cafeteria quotient in the description online for MacLab Bistro. But I digress! Want to hear about the film? And where we shacked up? First, the Banff Glam. Bio pic Drawing Home tells the unlikely-but-true love story between a Boston debutante (who was dating John D Rockefeller III, the most eligible bachelor in the world) and a young painter from Banff… aka Peter Whyte. Shot in the actual home of the Whytes (now a museum) and showcasing beautiful Rocky Mountain vistas, the film is a must-see for anyone planning to visit Banff National Park. Drawing Home is currently doing the film festival circuit, so we may have to wait a while before we can Netflix and chill with it.Meanwhile, major kudos to the main actors, seen at their post-screening Q&A on the right. They’re both locals, which just demands extra love for this film. Juan Riedinger grew up in Banff, and Julie Lynn Mortensen is from Calgary. Next, the Canadiana Hip. I invite you to peep behind Door Number 262, at Elk+Avenue, in the town center of Banff. On the corner of Banff Avenue and Elk Street, to be specific.You may remember the old International Hotel. Brewsters Travel Canada, the owners, have refurbished and rebranded the three-story hotel, raising the rooms to modern mountain level. The silver tree stump was an excellent home for Chinese Checkers, even if my camera didn’t like it. And yes, there may have been a birthday involved during this overnight getaway.In Room 262, literally on the corner of Elk and Banff Ave, the view of the mountains and the main drag coexist peacefully.Of course, the suite came complete with a bed. But the super-cool travel humidifier is our own. I highly recommend bringing one to Banff, where the air is crazy dry.
Elk + Avenue is just a few minutes’ walk from all the restaurants and shops in downtown Banff, and oozes Canadiana hip. Congrats on the new design! A perfect accompaniment for any trip involving Banff Glam.
When we booked a week in the West Village, with our flights scheduled to arrive on November 8th, I suspected we’d be in for an historic visit. But I don’t think anyone anticipated the seismic results of Election 2016. Even my usual See+Do is feeling the ripple effect. Still, I was lucky enough to experience many wonderful places. Please read on.
My Guide to Dining & Drinking in the West Village and beyond… while trying to put a happy face on political sadness.
On Election Night, the Empire State Building blazed red, white and blue. In the West Village, Highlands Gastropub was festooned with a giant American flag outside, and raucous Hillary supporters inside. At regular intervals they traded television pundits’ audio for entertaining anti-Trump rants. When they played Robert De Niro’s, the Dems were looking good. I had to raise my glass. Which, by the way, was filled with the perfect martini. Cucumber to muddle? Botanist gin? No problem. I love it when my drink requests are do-able. Calgary, I’m looking at you.Of course, we all know what happened next…… a dark day in America. When we stopped by Highlands again later in the week (because it’s that good), the bartender remembered my drink. And confided that he had closed the bar on November 8th to grown men crying.At Toby’s Estate Coffee Shop on Charles Street, the day after the popular vote did not elect the president, I thanked the barista for the heart atop of his perfectly brewed cappuccino. He said, “We all needed some extra love right now.” Yes.So I’m going back to what I usually do on Blue Besos: tell you about the things I love. Starting with this little coffee spot. Of all the java joints in the West Village, Toby’s was the place we kept coming back to. Get there before 10 am if you want a croissant, because they go fast.
If you’re in the mood for a full meal, however, Buvette is one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. Waffles with gorgonzola, bacon and syrup, anyone? The space is extremely tight and extremely charming. Half a dozen people did a server ballet behind the counter, without ever bumping into each other. This serious fellow in the beard would quietly call for service when the meals were ready, and waiters appeared to take cappuccino-machine-steamed eggs away. After this magnificent mocha, I forgot to take photos of the food. Je sues désolé.With all the walking we did, we worked up the need for sustenance again just a few hours later. Jeffrey’s Grocery was there, ready with rose and fresh oysters.We didn’t go to Dominique Bistro, which I regret. Because… look at it!However, we did try some of the most unusual soy and black garlic deviled eggs at Bar Sardine, on one of the best corners for people watching in the West Village. That is an unqualified statement, of course, but you do have a corner view from the bar. That will pass any fact check.This photo was taken at Rosemary’s (after the pre-dinner drink at Highlands) when I thought the waitress was joking when she said who was winning. Anyhow. We loved this place, even though their burrata dish has no tomatoes. Their rooftop garden provides the fresh seasonings that make everything incredibly delicious. We also stopped in to a place I’ve been many times. Balthazar is a fantastic respite in the middle of a Soho shopping spree, and their steak tartare never disappoints. The tower of frites was a constant theme, everywhere we dined. So were protests, like this one, outside of Jeffrey’s Grocery.And this one, on Fifth Avenue. With its unfortunate address next door to Trump Tower, there would be no shopping at Tiffany’s today. However, it did inspire us to duck into the Peninsula Hotel at 55th Street, to recalibrate our retail strategy. The rooftop terrace (not pictured) offers $23 drinks, mediocre service and excellent views of Trump Tower. As the day dialed into evening, we could see the protests continuing on Fifth, under the super moon, with outdoor heaters keeping us warm. Disappointed with the Plaza’s Rose Room attempt to make up for the banished Oak Bar, I definitely recommend stopping by the Peninsula’s Salon de Ning instead.Back downtown, we took a breather from politics, and tried to walk off a few calories on the raised railway track, converted into a walkable garden, that flows above Chelsea. Here’s my Highline Selfie. Because when they go low, we go high!
When third generation pro Joey Casey checks out the grass at Palm City Polo Club, he can’t help but smile in satisfaction. That’s because not only did he pour his life savings into buying the land and building this new club (it opened in 2014), he also gambled on a type of turf that no one else in the world is using: Latitude 36. When you look closely, it’s lichen-like, and springs back after every footfall.
“It doesn’t seem to tear up as much,” he tells me. But that’s just the green icing on the cake, which Joey promises will be even greener once he starts fertilizing again for the season.
“Grass is there to tee up the ball, but the most important part about a polo field is the footing,” says Joey. “When you stop and turn, it’s the footing that’s providing support, not the grass. That’s part of the reason I got this property. It’s perfect soil for a polo field. And it almost plays better wet than it does dry.”The 35-acre club is in Boynton Beach, just a few minutes south of Wellington. In addition to the 60 stalls, 14 paddocks, hitting cage, club house and fire pit, there’s a regulation-sized arena between the two full-sized fields. People play here every month of the year, although the main season is November through June. Amy Waters is a regular, and so devoted to her signature color that even the vet wrap on her stirrups is pink.
Of course, it’s often easier to give tips while on horseback. Before the game, I was lucky enough to have a hitting lesson with him in the cage. Mike broke down my swing down in amazing detail, and videoed me to show me that I wasn’t letting myself follow through for the whole stroke. Nor was my wrist straight when I made contact with the ball. Key basics I didn’t realize I wasn’t doing. We made progress…… although I’m not sure I managed to retain everything once I mounted up. At least I kept my elbows in during this ride-off. Six-year-old Coppertop, the mellow yet energetic pony I borrowed from Joey, was up for it.Despite my best efforts to bump Gwen Rizzo, Editor of Polo Players Edition, she never missed the ball. She’s a crack shot.It’s a casual atmosphere at Palm City Polo. Why have grandstands, when a tractor will do just as well? Although these folks will have to give up their seats at half time when the tractor will be used to drag the arena, smoothing out all that silty soft Florida sand.Joey’s out with an injury right now, but that doesn’t stop him from helping to capture the moment, including the shots of moi. Thanks Joey!Meanwhile, Mike’s dad is on air horn duty. Look at those palm trees bordering Field One! Wonder why this club looks as if it’s in the heart of a Costa Rican jungle? Turns out, it’s bordered by nurseries on either side. Who have promised not to cut down the mature palm trees lining Field One. Palm City Polo has three levels of play: Coaching League, 4-6 goal and 8-12 goal. They provide horses, grooms and offer boarding. Even better: the Palm City Polo gang are not strangers to the post-game asado.
During my stay in Wellington, I stopped by to see Tato Alvarez (right) and his son Santiago (left) at their rapidly expanding shop, Tato’s Mallets. There are several mallet makers who’ve been on the Wellington retail scene longer, but Tato’s is quickly becoming a favorite, thanks to their excellent customer service and gorgeous product.In 2001, Tato’s was basically a 750 square foot workshop. Now it’s 5000 square feet of polo equipment, leather goods and one of the industry’s largest varieties of equine bits. Look at that sweet blue iron.Tato’s Mallets is polo retail mecca. As anyone who plays this crazy sport knows, it’s rare to find a shop dedicated to our sport. Even a polo section in a store catering to horse owners is unusual. So I had to take a moment. And text a fellow club member that they needed to buy some camouflage girth straps (available here in colors ranging from pink to traditional green). The main thing, of course, is the mallets. Everywhere you look, they’re hanging from something, or leaning up against something else.Sensing my mallet fan-girl-ness, Santi offered to give me a tour of the workshop. Even as the slow season draws to a close, Tato’s has a backorder of 800 mallets, despite a staff of nine.Santi tells me that it’s a misconception that mallets are made from bamboo.
“It’s actually cane,” says Santi. “Polo mallets are made from Rattan. There are 900 different type of Rattan, but mallets are made from Manau.”
He ships them from Indonesia, and buys them extra long, so he can choose the best part of the stick and the necessary diameters.
The thicker part of the cane, at the root, is where the handle goes. With a little help from Tato’s skilled workmanship.Repairs are also a huge part of Tato’s business. The shop will splice new cane onto a broken mallet, matching diameter and flexibility, at 30% of the cost of a new mallet.Meanwhile, the heads are made from Tipa wood, found only in northern Argentina and parts of Brazil and Parguay. Santi was tight-lipped on his high profile customers, but he did confirm that Nic Roldan‘s mallets were in for repairs… with the mysterious middle initial E.
Meanwhile, as the store keeps upgrading, don’t expect a Mate bar too soon. Santi, Tato and the gang have waaaay too much work to do. Thanks for the tour, Santi! Have a good season!
Wellington, Florida, bills itself as the Winter Equestrian Capital of the World. If you don’t happen to know famous residents and riders like Jennifer Gates, Eve Jobs, or Jessica Springsteen personally, chances are you might spot them en route to a hunter jumper venue, like this smiling commuter (people are friendly here). She might also be headed to The Tackeria, a tack shop extraordinaire located a block from where this photo was snapped.Horseback is the preferred mode of travel here, where streets have names like Quarter Horse Trail and Paddock Drive, and there’s a community named Mallet Hill. To make it even more equine-friendly, buttons for the walk signal are offered at rider height. Wellington is a village of approximately 60,000 people, 13 miles from the beach. For the estimated extra 15,000 who come in for “the season,” starting in November, many camp out in gated mansions, in gated communities. However, don’t go confusing this decadent Greek Revival barn with a residence. It’s just a barn. With a five-car garage.
Some of the best restaurants are members only. Luckily Mason Phelps, powerhouse behind the equine-focused Phelps Media, and CEO-slash-CFO Chip McKenney, graciously invited me to experience the butteriest of chardonnays at The Golf House. Although Wellington has multiple golf courses, everyone who’s anyone knows which club the House is in. If you’re not from here, it’s a tad confusing. But a seasoned seasoner knows that the Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club doesn’t actually offer polo any more, although that doesn’t stop it from being a coveted residential address.
Word on the well-heeled street is there are 57 private polo pitches in Wellington, far outnumbering actual polo clubs. Even though it’s not yet officially open (the high goal season is January through April) I ducked into the world-renowned International Polo Club. One of the few clubs in North America with grandstands, it also boasts artfully disguised water guns for the sprinkler system.
If you want to, you can play polo every single month of the year in Wellington. Few do, but many play a whopping ten months, including Chip McKenney, founder of the Gay Polo League. He’s so dedicated to the cause, he’s devoted his license plates to it. And he’s tipped me off to a few places where I can jump in for some chukkers, even if I’m not a member.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of other attractions in Wellington for the equine enthusiast, including…… the National Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and traditions of the sport.
Stay tuned for insider polo tips and interviews… Blue Besos is hot on the heels of Wellington equine style all week!
The glorious, awe-inspiring Canadian Rockies! This is the view from the top of the gondola at Lake Louise Ski Resort, which is still open — until May 8th. To my right, you can see the lake which this part of Banff (Canada’s first national park) was named for. The lake, and Deer Lodge, our digs for the weekend, are both only five minutes from the bottom of the hill.The famous turquoise glacier-fed water is already starting to appear through the rink that I played hockey on in February. The paths around the lake are in good conditions for a hike…… but after a day of snowboarding, apres-ski at Deer Lodge, just down the road, is more tempting.First up, into the rooftop hot tub, for a gorgeous view of the sunset over the Rockies. You can just make out the Beehive, a roundish mountain next to Lake Agnes teahouse, a beautiful hike to do in the summer. Meanwhile, this truly is a hot tub time machine, because afterward you’ll find yourself inside Deer Lodge, which is like going back to 1925, the year it opened.Tilt back your glass at the bar and you’ll see this guy, which makes perfect sense, because you’re in the Caribou Lounge. Just because you’re in a UNESCO World Heritage Site doesn’t mean you can’t get a decent drink.After a day of snowboarding it only made sense to apres with a charcuterie platter. It’s something of a specialty at Deer Lodge, because parent company Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts raises its own elk, bison and beef.Now that your tummy is primed for food, mosey by the bighorn to the Mount Fairview Dining Room.The Grilled Alberta Beef with parmesan frites is delectable.If you have room for desert, I highly recommend moving to the Great Room and having it in front of the fire. There is no room service at the hotel, but you’re welcome to bring your own drinks or nibbles up to your room. Ours had an incredible view — check it out.What a wonderful weekend! See you next year, Deer Lodge!
As unbelievable as it may seem with summer-strength sunshine blazing in Calgary, there’s plenty of snow in Lake Louise. The mountains are still open for top-to-bottom runs. Deer Lodge, just a five-minute drive from the ski hill, is the perfect location for a last hurrah spring skiing weekend getaway.Staying at Deer Lodge is like traveling back in time, to the era when this fabulous woman went boating on Lake Louise (just a few minutes up the road from the hotel). You’ll find photos like these all over the rustic hotel, which opened in 1925, after welcoming guests for two years as a teahouse.If you stay here, know going in that the operating word here is rustic, and that the main aspect of the lodge’s charm. This is not a five-star hotel. There’s no room service, and no elevators. After climbing three flights to the top floor of the Tower, we found the Crosby Room, full of delightful nooks, nary a television in sight. It’s named for Gertrude Crosby, the original founder of the lodge who opened it to bust the exclusive the Chateau had on the area.The bed, with its super-thick down duvet, was tucked into its own alcove…… with this glorious view of the Victoria Glacier. Which definitely made up for the Scald Warning sign in the bathroom. With the charm of original hand hewn logs comes original plumbing. Although, fyi, I didn’t find it dangerous. I kept the temperature warm instead of hot, and experienced a few cold shots instead of scalding.The charm carries through to the bar, the restaurant, the games room and the library, where ivories are available for guests to tickle. I found one television, downstairs with the pool and foosball tables….. but who wants to watch TV in the Canadian Rockies, when there are a stack of books and games for fireside entertainment?Up next, did I pay attention to this sign on Lake Louise? How did I possibly entertain myself without easy access to television? How was the snowboarding this late in the year? And what about apres ski at Deer Lodge? Hint on that last one: so good that I will probably break my food porn rule. Again.
Looking for a libation in Vancouver? Skip the booze cruise and take a tour of Chinatown, which is fast becoming a cocktail mecca. Opening just last month, Juniper Kitchen & Bar is where you’ll find bartender Martin Corriveau mixing up small-batch gin martinis and other excellent elixirs.
Oh, this pic is making me pine for a Juniper! The restaurant’s signature cocktail, made with Aviation gin, Juniper berries and Fentimans tonic, is scrumptious. But you also can’t go wrong with the Garden Gin Smash, seen here with the green garnish, the Rad-Ish (local to BC Ampersand gin, radish, dehydrated lemon, pink peppercorn, Lemon tonic) or the Mr. Bava on the bottom (Mr. Bava Bourbon, S.O.V. Amaretto, Cocchi Americano, Aromatic bitters, Ricard).Juniper’s Scotsman ice machine is its secret weapon. Thought to be the only one in BC, the pebble-sized ice cubes melt more slowly, and distribute liquid more evenly in a cocktail. But that’s just one size and shape in the bartending team’s ice arsenal. They pride themselves on their 18 different types of cubes.Important to note: Kitchen isn’t in Juniper Kitchen & Bar’s name for decoration. As seen here in the Wood Platter with pickled local apples, rabbit terrine from the Fraser Valley and local Pepper Jack Jill (a feminized Monterey Jack) the restaurant features Cascadian-inspired fare. I consider myself an Intermediate Foodie, but I hadn’t heard of Cascadian Cuisine. According to the World Food Travel Association, it’s “a bio-region that includes northwestern California, Oregon, Washington, southwestern British Columbia, Idaho and western Montana.” Apparently Vancouver wasn’t digging the ol’ Northwest Cuisine designation, because YVR is in the southwest part of the province.On this particular evening in Vancouver, we made a few more stops on the tour, but when it was time to reduce the blood alcohol level, we came right back to Juniper for dinner. If you go, start with the beets and burrata. Sublime!
Forget what you thought about waffles. Chambar is taking this traditional standby and turning it on its delectable, Belgian edge. If you go to the Vancouver restaurant for brunch, you must try them — even if it’s only for an appetizer. Do NOT try to share them. They are small, and it will cause resentment.Wait! Wine and waffles? Not saying I wouldn’t do it, but in the interest of full disclosure, I was already a fan of Chambar. In fact, I recently celebrated my birthday downstairs at the table in front of this amazing king of the jungle, created especially for the restaurants’ owners by Seattle-based artist Justin Kane Elder, during a party (which just makes it even more fabulous). So when I realized Chambar also does brunch, I had to return during the early dining time zone.Which, thank goodness, does not preclude booze. Chambar’s local tomato twist on the Caesar is ineffable. Why? Not content to simply mix it with fresh, organic tomatoes, Chambar’s general manager Edwyn Kumar confided that the restaurant roasts them especially for the drink. Delish.As faithful Blue Besos readers know, I am anti food porn, when it comes to this blog, even though I regularly peruse it on others. But personal rules are made to be broken. Anyone with New Year’s resolutions feel me?
But I digress from the real quandary at hand: more waffles, or something else from the menu? If you manage to restrict yourself to just one waffle, which I do not recommend, you’ll have room for an entree. Be forewarned: you do not come to Chambar for traditional bacon and eggs. I got my meat on with the Fricasee, which revolved around braised short ribs and a side of maple glazed bacon, which is actually yummy thick pork belly.If you’re feeling more Benedictish, try the Gaufre Au Saumon, where (bonus!) the eggs come on more of those amazing waffles.Chambar provided so many details for my aesthetic obsession to delight in, thanks to co-owner Karri Schuermans, who did the interior design and is the driving force behind Chambar strategic ops. The Americano, served in this beautiful cup. The wood on the table, echoed by wood details on the walls. Even the restrooms were resplendent. Althugh I can only speak for the women’s.I didn’t take a picture of our exact eating coordinates, but it was a lovely corner table by the window. Green tufted leather seats. See the red round booth back there on the left, then the window next to it? And you can’t really make out the table beneath it? Yeah! Ask for that one.I finished the meal dreaming up more ways to eat the waffles. Shown in the top photo, I tried two toppings. The fig orange marmalade was lovely, but I was blown away by the bacon caramel. Chambar doesn’t do whip, but I’d like to try the yoghurt. And dark chocolate. Or milk chocolate lavender. Of course now I’m wondering how amazing white chocolate pistachio rosewater might taste… Guess I’ll be planning a return brunch.What’s that you say, Edwyn… another round before we leave? Don’t mind if I do. See you again soon, Chambar!