TravelsWithChilly – Miami & Key West Part I

We invite you to welcome Charles (Carlos) Grabitzky, a San Francisco native who has traveled as a hobby as far back as he can remember,  as one of our new guest bloggers who will be writing about travel and cuisine.


It was a year ago that I partnered with Dr. John Sconzo to work on creating culinary travel experiences around the globe.  Dr. Sconzo writes a well-followed blog called DocSconz, Musings on Food and Life ( which covers his food explorations and experiences at different locales, both domestically and internationally.  Our inaugural trip focused on Miami and Key West.  The purpose was to see Miami and Key West in the eyes of some of the best-known chefs working in the area.  We did this by spending time with each of them to get to know their favorite neighborhoods, foods, and visions for Southern Florida cuisine.  Six different chefs helped provide an incredible experience during our five nights in Miami and two nights in Key West.

Accommodations in Miami were at The Angler’s Hotel in South Beach.  The Angler’s Hotel is a Kimpton hotel in the art deco district close to the ocean.  It was a perfect spot to return to after busy days of touring and tasting Miami.  And it didn’t hurt that the beautiful ocean was just a couple of blocks away.

day1xxiiiA stroll down South Beach


DAY 1, Saturday, April 16, 2016

Since the group arrived throughout the day on Friday, we started the tour on Saturday morning at 10am with a journey to Little Havana.  It is hard to think of a better place to start a tour of Miami than Little Havana.  The Cuban presence is so strong across Miami and influences the food and culture profoundly.

The guest chefs for the day were chef and author Norman Van Aken and chef Jeremiah. Chef Norman Van Aken is a world-renowned chef.  He is considered the “Father of New World Cuisine” and is one of the only chefs to have won the James Beard Award, the Robert Mondavi Award, and the Food Arts Silver Spoon for lifetime achievement.  Chef Jeremiah, also known as Jeremiah Bullfrog, is a celebrity chef and food truck owner based in Miami.  He spent time working at El Bulli in Spain, as well as Noma and others.  Since 2009 he launched gastroPod Miami, the first gourmet street truck in Southern Florida.  It was so great to be with both of these chefs in Little Havana since they knew the history and the best spots to taste.

Chefs Norman Van Aken and Jeremiah Bullfrog


Our first stop was La Camaronera, an iconic Cuban fish market and restaurant.  Started in 1966 by the Garcia brothers, La Camaronera is known for its Cuban fish-fry and fresh seafood.  The platters started coming out with appetizers including oysters, calamari, and conch.  We next tried a couple of different fish sandwiches with snapper and shrimp.  Entrees of stone crab and yellow tail finished off this first taste of Little Havana.  It was only 11am so we could not fill ourselves up too quickly!

day1.2La Camaronera

day1.3The group meeting Chef Norman Van Aken and his wife Janet

day1.4Yellow Tail for Sale

day1.5Pan Con Minuta (Snapper Sandwich)

day1.6The group


The next stop was Calle Ocho, or the heart of Little Havana.  Here we started by watching the local domino players compete in Domino Park.  The place was packed with both men and women players.  No spitting allowed.  No bad language.  And no firearms…  Interesting rules.  Needing a pick-me-up, we headed down the street to get a cortadito, a classic Cuban coffee that includes some milk.  Served in small cups, it provided a much-needed jolt.  Needing more of a rush, our next stop was Azucar, a Cuban ice cream shop where we sampled a multitude of ice creams including the Abuela Maria, the Cafe Con Leche, the Mulatica (cinnamon oatmeal cookie), and many fruit flavors.  To balance out the coffee and the ice cream it was time for a cocktail!  This seemed to be the answer for balancing throughout the trip..  Next door to Azucar is the world-famous bar and lounge, Ball & Chain.  Since 1935, Ball & Chain has been providing food, drinks and live entertainment in the heart of Little Havana.  Here we listened to some live Cuban jazz and had some mojitos to cool down.

day1.7Domino Park


day1.9Ball & Chain

day1.10Ball & Chain

day1.11Group having mojitos at Ball & Chain


El Palacio De Los Jugos was our next and last stop on our Little Havana journey for today.  Founded in 1977, El Palacio is an open-air restaurant filled with Cuban food.  There are a variety of meats, seafood, fruits, juices and spices.  The Flagler location is the most famous with musicians playing in the background and entire families enjoying their meals under a large yellow and red awning.  Our group tried some lechon (pig), BBQ chicken, plantains and rice.  It was a great way to end our afternoon in Little Havana with our chef guides.

day1.12El Palacio De Los Jugos

day1.13Fresh coconut water


In the evening we had reservations at Alter, chef Brad Kilgore’s fine-dining establishment in the Wynwood neighborhood.  Prior to heading to Wynwood, we ventured to The Broken Shaker at The Freehand Miami for cocktails.  The Broken Shaker is run by Elad Zvi who is becoming the cocktail guru in Miami.  We had a round of cocktails and it was time to head over to Wynwood for dinner at Alter.  Unfortunately, chef Brad Kilgore was under the weather this evening and was not at the restaurant, but we still had a great experience with their 7-course tasting menu.  Highlights were the egg course and the morels.  It was a full day of great tastings throughout Miami and we ended up closing down Alter as the last customers around 12:30am.  What a start to our culinary adventure!

day1.14       Cocktail at The Broken Shaker

day1.15Egg course at Alter

DAY 2, Sunday, April 17, 2016

Our Sunday morning started with a trip back to Little Havana to go to El Brazo Fuerte, a Cuban “pastelito” shop and bakery.  “Pastelitos” are baked puff-pastries filled with sweet or savory fillings.   We ordered an assortment for the group including fillings of guava, guava and cream cheese and coconut.  Also ordered were some croquetas of meat and potato filling.  Nothing washes Cuban pastries down better than a cortadito!



Along the Miami River are some great fish markets and seafood restaurants.  We stopped in both the Casablanca Fish Market and Garcia’s Seafood Market.  Everything was freshly caught and we decided to have lunch at Garcia’s, which happens to be the same Garcia family that owned La Camaronera from Saturday’s Little Havana lunch.  We were treated to an incredible meal at Garcia’s Seafood Grille.  They were so nice to us and sent us a selection of appetizers including a whole octopus, clams and roe.  The smiles on our faces were ear to ear and the taste of the seafood was phenomenal.  We also ordered some colossal stone crab claws and a grilled yellow tail snapper.  I love seafood and I was on Cloud 9!  I do have to say that this was some of the best seafood I have had in my entire life.

day1.17Colossal Stone Crab

day1.18Octopus, clams and roe

day1.19We just needed two!


The day could have easily ended there, but not on this culinary insiders tour.  It was time to head to the Vagabond Hotel, a boutique Biscayne Boulevard hotel located in the Upper East Side of Miami.  The Vagabond is actually set in a legendary former motel that dates to 1953.  Here we attended one of their weekend BBQ series that includes well-known chefs from Miami.  The chefs for this Sunday’s event were chef Phuket Thongsodchaveondee of Cake Thai and chef Alex Chang of the Vagabond Hotel.  They created a thai-inspired BBQ lunch that included fish, chicken and other nicely-spiced treats.  It was a great “party” atmosphere at Vagabond pool where guests sat out on lounges and a DJ was spinning the tunes.  That was lunch #2.

day2.1The Vagabond Motel

day2.2DJ spinning at the pool

day2.3The BBQ party was just starting at the bar

day2.4Chefs Alex Chang and Cake


Exercise is important on a trip like this so we went to Wynwood to check out the street art and walk around.  Wynwood is home to over 70 galleries, museums and collections.  It is also filled with incredible street art from artists around the globe.  It is one of the largest and most prominent creative communities in the US.  We spent about two hours walking around the district and the Wynwood Walls.  We also stopped for a coffee at Panther coffee in Wynwood that specializes in small-batch roasting.  It was packed on this Sunday afternoon.  Lots of iced coffees…

day2.5Artist Tati Suarez

day2.6So fun to explore all of the street art




day2.10Inside the Wynwood Walls


day2.12Panther Coffee


Dinner happened to be in Wynwood as well, so we ended up staying in the district.  This allowed some time to relax and digest for our next meal at gastroPod.  Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog went out of his way to prepare a special private dinner at his gourmet food truck location and property in the heart of Wynwood.  We were joined by some other friends of chef Jeremiah and food experts.  The dinner was a nice mix of cocktails and appetizers that we had while standing watching the kitchen perform inside the truck and this was followed by more entrees served to us at tables outside on the property.  Chef Jeremiah was such a wonderful host and it was great to spend both Saturday and Sunday with him.  The food was delicious and the setting perfect.  It was a great way to end another day of culinary tastings.



day2.15Cocktails and chatting before dining

day2.16Our dinner party

day2.17The DJ taking a break to eat

day2.18Doc Miami


This is the end of Part I.  Part II coming soon.

If you are interested in learning about future Culinary Insiders Tours to cities around the globe, please sign up for our mailing list

“How to Stop Your iPhone from Remembering Everywhere You Go, All the Time”

Do you have that strange feeling that someone is following you?  Well here is a little iPhone tech tip for you on this beautiful spring day.  It could be that that feeling is the big apple that is following you around.


Playas de Zihuatanejo



























ocean       girl














Know Your Neighbor: CANADA!

We all know folks who don’t care to venture far from their backyard, however, Californians are so lucky to be surrounded by many great places, including our northern neighbor: Canada.  A name derived from Kanata meaning “settlement,” “village,” or “land,” a word Europeans settlers used to describe their first settlements.

When I lived on the East coast, I visited Canada twice and only to see Niagara Falls.  I had no desire to know Canada, except to witness the world famous roaring falls.  But since 2006, my travels took a turn when I began dating, and later marrying, a Canadian from Nova Scotia. Trips there increased quite a bit and for good reason, his family lives in Ottawa, so centimeter by centimeter (if you’re reading a map), or kilometer by kilometer (if you’re driving), I was introduced to the northern country, with Ottawa the capital, being our usual destination.  Ottawa and Toronto are beautiful old cities to behold and to tour. You truly feel that you’re somewhere in Europe! Stone buildings, formidable green parks and gentile folk are a welcome experience.


But when we moved West in 2010, Canadian trips took a detour from the usual, and Vancouver became a closer destination.  A plane can take you there in less than 3 hours from San Francisco and the flight is considered domestic, not international. Also, passing Canadian immigration is a breeze and immigration officials never fail to greet you with a “bon jour,” but if you respond “hello” they speak to you in English from then on.

Vancouver is beautiful. A cold city in the winter, rainy in the fall, yet it is the warmest city in all Canada, and one of the wettest (rain precipitation).  I found that Vancouver has a California feeling and it made me feel “at home.”  Like San Francisco, Vancouver is a seaport city where high rise buildings adorn the skylight, yet the tallest skyscraper, the Shangri-La, is only 62 floors; a mixture of a 5 star hotel, offices, and apartments.  Downtown is very busy just like New York City, with very little street parking and every street sign written in English and French.


You must take a city tour to get to know it, but minutes away you can go North, where the most popular tourist attraction exists at a 27 acre park: Capilano Suspension Bridge.  The bridge was built in 1889, and stretches 450 feet across and 230 feet above Capilano River.  It’s exhilarating to walk the swinging bridge, a truly great experience to check off your bucket list.  After that, head to Grouse Mountain, where you can dine high up looking at the grandest view of Vancouver you can imagine, or if you prefer, hike the mountain, or use the skyride or ziplines for more adventure.

Their money exchange currently is at 1.01 per 1.00 U.S. dollar, and as far as a typical Canadian meal, I found that none prevailed except for their Poutine (French fries with gravy) and Montreal’s smoked meat at the Schwartz’s, Delicatessen.  Otherwise, they eat what we eat here, so no worries.  Oh and yes, try their coffee from Tim Horton’s, their nation’s coffee house chain although Starbucks is everywhere too.


A road trip, eh? As a side note, last year we ventured to Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City. A connecting trip that was excellent with the latter city offering Canadian French and cuisine, so your rusty French can be useful when listening and reading menus, dare to speak it if you can.  We didn’t, afraid of being asked to repeat whatever the heck in French we were trying to say, so saying “merci,” “oui,” or “C’est la vie” will work just fine.

Check out these links for your next Vancouver trip: Vancouver: Capilano Suspension Bridge: Grouse Mountain:

“New Wineries, New Traditions”

“New Wineries, New Traditions” by Becky Tyner Sandoval

The holidays are a time for traditions.  Some are old, some are new, and it all depends on what is happening in our lives.  The wineries we work with are family owned; yet many of them are fairly new.  Here are three Latino family owned wineries and how they have incorporated new traditions with old ones to embrace their wine careers.



Gerardo Espinoza, vintner and winemaker for Vinedos Aurora in Lodi, and his family began experimenting with wine about 10 years ago.  As a hobby they would make wine from their vineyards every year.  That first Christmas, ten or so years ago, after their first harvest, they could hardly contain their excitement about their winemaking project. They were so excited that they took barrel samples and served them with their Christmas dinner and made projections about what the wine would be like in the future.  This has been their tradition ever since then.  However, this past year was a bit different, now that Gerardo makes wine professionally, he also brought along the finished project to share with his wine loving family.




Jess Castillo of Castillo’s Hill Shire winery in Morgan Hill has always stayed true to his Mexican roots.  During Christmas he makes tamales.  Yes, HE makes them, his wife Rhoni Jo decided that while she certainly could lend a helping hand, the tamale making was up to him.  Now that they own their own winery they’ve decided to share this tradition with their wine club members.  Every year they make homemade tamales and serve them to their wine club members at their home.  Guests not only get to eat delicious food, but they also get to enjoy music from Jess’ wife and their two kids, Nate and Vivienne.





While you are diving down Westside Road in Healdsburg you might notice a big gift.  The gift is the theme behind Gracianna.  The Amador family got in the wine making business when they caught their 15-year-old son, Trini IV, making wine.   This led to Trini IV working for several well-known wineries in Sonoma Country to more recently, his parents investing in his dream to create their family winery, Gracianna.  Mexican on Trini III’s dad’s side, Gracianna is the name of his Basque grandmother who led an adventurous life during WWI and taught them many lessons about love, family and gratitude.  The gift, that is their logo, is a reminder to everyone to remember what they are grateful for and to remember those things are the biggest and greatest gifts we could ever receive at Christmas time.


This Christmas, as you celebrate your holiday traditions, old and new, remember that those traditions along with respect are what make us successful Latinos.  The wines we feature are from real Latino families that have succeeded in this industry and in this wonderful opportunistic country.

From Bricks to Brix

The Story of Cesar Toxqui by Becky Tyner Sandoval

Life takes many surprising twists and turns.  Sometimes you start out on a life’s path, then tragedy hits, and not only does it take you off the path, but sometimes it can make you feel like giving up.  Cesar’s story is a story of life’s twists and turns and how a spirit that never gives up can lead to your dreams, even if you didn’t know you had them.


Cesar was born in a pueblo outside of Mexico City.  He is the fifth of nine children.  When he was just 11 years old he began a business with his brother making bricks.  They would take bricks to Mexico City every week.   Even at this very young age they were finding success.  Their lives and the lives of their family had a very bright future.   But sadly, life had a tragic turn when his brother and business partner became very sick.  The entire financial burden for his large family rested on Ceasar’s shoulders.



When Cesar was 15 his uncle, who lived in Ukiah, California, offered to let him come to the USA to live and work.  Cesar took the offer and moved to Ukiah, expecting that work would come easily. However, it did not come easily for a 15 year old boy.  After sometime, with no work, Cesar was ready to return to Mexico with a heavy weight on his shoulders of failing his family.  That’s when he met the son of Jesse Tidwell, who then owned Parson’s Creek Winery.  They needed help with the winery.  Not only did they hire Cesar, but they invited him to live with them as well.


One thing we have learned, here at Vino Latino, is that it is virtually impossible to work in the wine industry and not eventually fall in love with wine, and Cesar was no exception.  He went to Sonoma State to become an engineer, but Jesse Tidwell asked why he didn’t become a winemaker.  After finishing nearly all the required math for engineering, Cesar decided that he should indeed pursue winemaking.


One of his early jobs was as The Cellar Master at Brutocao Cellars, which is also a custom crush facility.  Watching all those small independent vintners develop their own wine labels inspired Cesar to start his own label.  This was the catalyst to him leaving Brutocao Cellars and eventually starting Cesar Toxqui Cellars.


Cesar’s winemaking style is staying as close to nature as possible, from using as many organically grown grapes as possible to using wild yeast for fermentation.  His respect for the terroir and nature’s expertise in making good grapes shows in his wine.  His wines are full bodied, approachable, fruit forward, food friendly, and really just very very good.  He has a label he named Immigrant to celebrate his American dream and the American dream of others.

Cesar makes chardonnay, viogner, zinfandel, a solara style blend, and pinot.  Pinot is his favorite because it’s not only a challenge to grow, but a challenge to make as well.


You can visit Cesar at his tasting room in Hopland which is in Mendocino County.  He’s personally at the tasting room every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

“Egyptian spell on Silicon Valley” by Elena Martina

An Egyptian Museum in Silicon Valley? That is exactly how I responded; surprised, when someone told me that there is an Egyptian museum in Silicon Valley.  He recommended it as, “A wonderful place to visit.” So one sunny weekend, I took his advice, grabbed my camera, and headed there to find out what it was all about.  Free parking was available at the back of the museum and after a short walk to the main entrance I came face to face with its architecture, greenery, and gardens.  A low entry fee of $9.00 allowed me to get in, where I was told that I could take pictures, but without a flash.

I was so intrigued that I put thoughts in my mind about this visit and expected something grand, and got it.  The front interior was dark, giving the impression of mysterious elegance, but it was well illuminated in display areas.  Slowly but surely, I started looking at all their art and historical descriptions at different floor levels.  Amazed at the variety of items displayed, some I could actually touch and watch at a very close range without anyone telling me to back off.  I also learned that the museum was established in 1928 and it was architecturally inspired by the Temple of Amon at Karnak and houses the largest exhibition and collection (over 4,000 items) of Egyptian artifacts in Western U.S.

The museum’s actual name is The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. “Rosicrucian” is an international organization specializing in the ancient mystic, devoting their studies to mystical, philosophical, and religious doctrines concerned with their application to our modern life.

As I was taking several photographs I kept looking back at my pictures to make sure they were good.  I knew then that I would be writing a piece about it, and glad it has come to be months later.  The museum is very interesting! And yes, there are a couple of Mummies in visible cases you can lean on for further inspection.  A ten minute video showed how ancient Egyptians embalmers rolled up their dead in wraps, after taking out fluids and internal organs.  A modern medical machine is now able of seeing through these corpses without unwrapping their ancient cloths.

By reading the museum posts, I learned that Egyptology is the study of ancient Egyptian history, language, religion, and art, and that Egyptians loved their cats and considered them protectors of their homes.  Most cats were called Ta-Mieuw, or “The Meower,” and were very spoiled. Some even wore jewelry and got embalmed just like humans.  A household cat was mummified and given a burial after death.


I also read there were dozens of Egyptian dynasties, but the first two from 3000-2800 B.C.E., showed typical characteristics of Ancient Egyptian culture; language, architecture, art styles, construction, administrative organization, calendar, weights, measures, and royal activities; were important enough to leave a legacy and where the Step Pyramid construction technique started.  In my many observations, I came across a black flat stone, and after reading what the post said, it turned out to be a copy of The Rosetta Stone.  I thought that Rosetta was a language learning tool, but how wrong I was. It used to be an ancient village in Egypt where the stone was discovered, by accident, in 1798 by one of Napoleon Bonaparte soldiers.  This stone was “key” for early researchers to decipher ancient Egyptian writings!

Once I had visited all the museum levels and left the main building, I was happy to have found such treasure in Silicon Valley.  What greeted me afterwards were outdoor gardens that included an Egyptian game floor that looked like checkers, but wasn’t.  I then leisurely meandered around, zigzagging the green areas and gods and goddess statues seemed to greet my every turn.  As the museum does not have a cafeteria, I would recommend visitors to bring a picnic basket and sit at the Peace Garden for lunch, while listening to a waterfall nearby.

And I leave you with an Egyptian proverb that says, “Stretch your legs as far as your blanket extends” which means: “Don’t live beyond your means.”

Want to know more? Check out their very educational website at: Address: 1660 Park Ave., San Jose CA. Hours: Wed – Fri: 9:00am to 5:00pm, Sat – Sun: 10:00am – 6:00pm, Mon – Tue: Closed. The Museum is also closed on: New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas day.