Mission Bistro is an Epicurean delight in the Bitterroot Valley

A recent move to the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, just 25 minutes of south of Missoula, led me to the Mission Bistro in Stevensville. I’ve visited this little spot three times since New Year’s Eve and I just can’t get enough! Located at 101 Church Street – just a mile from Highway 93 just off of the Eastside Highway – you’ll find this brother and sister-run restaurant. Angie and Eric Loessberg, both from Stevensville, operate Mission Bistro. Eric is a professionally-trained chef and Angie has spent years honing her skills in front of the house operations. But, I must tell you about the food. Described as “Northwest cuisine with a touch a french inspiration…” there is something for every palate.

With each visit, I’ve tried something new on the menu. First, it was a New Year’s Eve special. My husband and I decided to celebrate the New Year with a bottle of Balletto Russian River Pinot Noir (2012) and an inspired cheese plate served with local honeycomb, toasted Marcona almonds, and toasted slices of Le Petit baguette. Our entrees, filet mignon and lobster (holiday specials, not on the regular menu), were cooked and seasoned perfectly. Though we had little room for dessert, we indulged in a slice of homemade key lime pie.

The second and third visits were for Sunday brunch, offered from 9 am to 3 pm. Mission Bistro’s brunch menu is both sweet and savory. In addition to what’s on the menu, they offer two quiches – one packed with seasonal veggies and cheese, the other with Kalispell-based Redneck sausage, bacon, and Lifeline Farm cheddar. Both excellent! Since we had ordered one of each quiche during our first brunch visit, my husband was eager to order off the menu. He tried the Stuffed Rosti Potato (pictured) and loved it – simple flavors, combined with great presentation.

Mission Bistro also offers an assortment of homemade muffins and pastries. We tasted the apple turnover, banana chocolate chip muffin, and huckleberry orange muffin over the course of our two visits. All delightfully satisfying.

Reservations are recommended, but not required (call 406-777-6945). There are three seating areas that fill up quickly, so I’d advise reservations unless you don’t mind waiting. Large parties can be accommodated.

Mission Bistro is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5 pm to 10 pm for dinner and Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm for brunch.

Please note that the restaurant is closed from January 26th – February 10th for a refresher after the holidays.

Stuffed Rosti Potato With Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella, Topped With Two Eggs, Served With A Side of Salsa

Stuffed Rosti Potato With Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella, Topped With Two Eggs, Served With A Side of Salsa

Sunday Quiche

Sunday Quiche

Napa Valley Treasures


Napa Valley is the perfect place to spend an Anniversary…it’s the perfect place to spend any leisurely day really. I had just a few days to spend in a place I’ve looked forward to visiting for years. I mapped out an itinerary of wine tastings, restaurant stops, spa services, and a bit of downtime to celebrate 25 years of marriage with my husband.

From Missoula, we flew into San Francisco, rented a car and drove about an hour to Napa. A luxurious room awaited us at The Meritage Resort & Spa. Now, our first approach into the resort wasn’t quite what we expected. As we turned into a Corporate Park, I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake. Not quite the vineyard setting I’d anticipated; however, my apprehensions were soon put to rest. The Meritage is a beautifully appointed property with spacious accommodations, attentive staff, and plenty to do on-site including Spa Terra, Trinitas Cellars for wine tasting, an adults-only pool and jacuzzi with bar service, outdoor fireplaces and seating, and an indoor bowling alley adjacent to their Crush Ultra Lounge.


Napa has no shortage of fabulous world-class restaurants and we visited several during our stay. The Boon Fly Cafe is a must-visit. Try their number one seller: Jalapeno Eggs Benedict, with just enough spice to keep things interesting without overpowering the light hollandaise bath. And, try a mini-pail of their homemade, warm mini-donuts while you’re waiting for breakfast; if you’re really feeling adventurous, ask for a Bacon Bloody Mary. You’re on vacation, right?

We visited mid-week, so our wait was short. If you visit on the weekend, be prepared to wait outside a bit for a table. You’ll be glad you waited.

After breakfast, we worked our way up to Yountville for a quick stroll around the town’s abundant shopping district. Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega restaurant, bestowed with some impressive honors including Best Newcomer by Zagat, Top 10 by Forbes, Top 20 by Esquire, and Top 100 Bay Area by Michael Bauer, and his Napa Style shop are side-by-side in a fantastic setting.

We continued up Highway 29 to Rutherford, California (just 10 miles or so up the road) to visit Cakebread Cellars for a Reserve tasting that included four of its reserve level wines in one tasting. Our engaging guide, Summer, poured Chardonnay Reserve from Carneros; a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley; a Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville, Napa Valley and shared the origin of the name for the Dancing Bear Ranch at Howell Mountain.


Curious to locate a wine we’d sampled on a recent trip to Santa Fe, we wound our way deeper into Rutherford to visit Round Pond Estate, owned and managed by the MacDonnell family, for a Barrel Tour & Tasting. We were not disappointed. Round Pond’s long drive is framed by palm trees and grapevines – an impressive entry to an equally impressive property. With a unique mix of microclimates and soil composition near the Napa River, this land has proven to be an ideal valley for  Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Italian and Spanish olives. Our visit started with a sample of Round Pond’s crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a tour of the property, including a lush garden behind the winery, and the barrel room itself. Following our tour, we were led upstairs to a welcoming terrace for a tasting of Round Pond’s 2009 and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and some small bites including Chef Eric’s Garlic Confit-stuffed Castelvetrano Italian Olives. We later returned to Round Pond to pick up an additional bottle of Cabernet and were treated to an impromptu demonstration of the Chef’s technique for making his stuffed olives (and a secret or two for preparing tender, braised game and pork). Round Pond also harvests olives and produces a variety of olive oils, including herb and citrus-infused oils. If that weren’t enough, they’ve created four robust red wine vinegars and two citrus syrups – Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon. My salads may never be the same!


From there, we made our way back to Spa Terra at the Meritage Resort for an afternoon of relaxation with a couples Seduction Package, complete with champagne and chocolate. Is there a better way to spend an afternoon?

Refreshed and relaxed, we ventured back out for dinner at Restaurant Cuvee in Napa. It’s an unassuming building from the outside, but the inside is a mashup of comfort food and specialty cocktails, soft and kitschy lighting. We sat in the outside courtyard near a glowing fire pit and soaked up the day’s experiences. Cuvee left us completely satisfied after a meal of Slow Braised Short Ribs and Pan Roasted Diver Scallops. Our waiter delivered the “Sugar Menu” and we couldn’t pass up a taste of their Hazelnut Pot du Creme and Chocolate and Pinot – a molton cake with roasted strawberries and a pinot noir syrup.

On the third day of our visit, we had reservations for the Napa Valley Wine Train. It was Memorial Day weekend, and packed with visitors, but the entire experience was orchestrated without a hiccup from boarding to the lunch service to the dessert car and our disembarkment to a coach that would take us to Calistoga for a tour of Castello di Amorosa. The Wine Train is a bit pricey, but it is an experience like no other. There were patrons dressed up in 1940’s style, complete with gloves and hats, and everything in between. Each couple is seated with another and we enjoyed the conversation with our Denver-based tablemates, while taking in the scenery and working our way through lunch.


Once we arrived at the Castello di Amorosa, our group of 16 was escorted to a guide who led us through the castle with a delightful narrative of its history – it was purchased and built by Dario Sattui who also owns the V.Sattui Winery in St. Helena – and a tour of its long hallways, torture chamber, barrel room, and various tasting areas. Our tour was about an hour long followed by a 45 minute tasting of several current releases. We couldn’t help but order a few bottles to ship home – their wine is not currently distributed to restaurants or retailers; it’s available for purchase on premise or online.


Our final stop that evening was dinner at the 2013 Michelin Guide-recommended Celadon in Napa, located in the Historic Napa Mill. I tried the Prickly Pear Margarita, which probably wasn’t an obvious pairing with macadamia nut crusted goat cheese, port-poached figs, apples and crostini, but no matter – it was all good!  Our dinner was exceptional and the service equally so. It was the perfect ending to an amazing visit to Napa and the perfect opportunity to begin planning our return.

12 Hours in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is the perfect place to spend a romantic day and explore the hidden gems in the hills as well as the downtown and coastal areas.

Book an all-day winery tour with Wine Edventures. They offer several tours, but the Grapes ‘N’ Hops Tour is a great way to see (and sample) three wineries plus a stop at a local brewery. For $105 + gratuity (per person), our tour included:

Brander Vineyard

  • Tastings at three wineries (over 15 different wines for the day) – our tour included the Koehler Winery, Buttonwood Farm Winery, and The Brander Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley of California
  • Tasting and tour at the Figueroa Mountain Brewery in nearby Solvang, California
  • Fresh, made-to-order picnic lunch (choice of freshly made sandwich or wrap, side salad, kettle chips, homemade cookie and bottled water)
  • 19 oz. souvenir logo wine tasting glass for each of us
  • Knowledgeable, friendly tour guide
  • Door-to-door service from local Santa Barbara or Solvang hotels (Ventura pick-ups also available upon request) in a comfortable Sprinter van

Figueroa Mountain Brewery

Following our tour, we made our way to downtown Santa Barbara for a stroll through the shopping district before a spectacular dinner at Bouchon.

The restaurant was filled to capacity, but not overwhelmingly noisy. Dinner service was impeccable, servers attentive and engaging. Bouchon’s entire menu is sourced with local ingredients whenever possible. I was smitten with the maple-glazed California duck breast and confit of thigh served with a succotash of sweet corn, fava beans, applewood-smoked bacon, Windrose Farms butternut squash, and a port-thyme demiglace.

Bouchon’s wine list includes some of the finest locally-produced Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Our sommelier was happy to provide recommendations for our dinner selections.

If you have more than a day to spend, Santa Barbara has many special offers available: free museum admissions, package deals, two-for-one wine tastings, tour offers, and many more complimentary perks – these are just some of the offers that will help you experience The American Riviera® first-hand. Be sure to check here for details.

Lovin’ Las Vegas

Vegas nudges me, almost daily, to return to it. Maybe it’s the fact that I am hopelessly on my way to succumbing to at least four of the seven deadly sins – all within the first hour of arriving. Lust. Greed. Gluttony. Sloth. Check. Check. Check, and check. It’s a chance to leave behind 60 hour work-weeks and routine obligations to re-energize, eat a little too much, sleep in a little bit too late, and laugh a little more than usual.

Las Vegas evokes the fountain of youth in all of us. What is it exactly? It’s fun. And, it’s the unapologetic pursuit of instant gratification. Las Vegas days and nights elevate each and every one of us to celebrity status in our own life story, if only for an evening, or a weekend.

It’s been nearly eight months since I last donned my stilettos to navigate the highly polished marble floors of The Palazzo, Las Vegas. This all-suite hotel boasts more than 3,000 spacious suites, with high-end accommodations ranging from a Luxury Suite at an unprecedented 720 square feet to the 8,000-square-foot Chairman suite with private terraces and plunge pools. I stayed in a comfortable, well-appointed Luxury Suite. The Palazzo offers at least nine different packages to suit just about any occasion. The hard part is choosing one.

The Palazzo Luxury Suite

The Palazzo also offers a variety of cuisines from a collection of award-winning chefs such as Carnevino by Mario Batali, CUT by Wolfgang Puck and Table 10 by Emeril Lagasse. Carnevino is an award-winning steakhouse created by chef Mario Batali and winemaker Joe Bastianich – the third restaurant launched in Las Vegas by the partners. It lives up to its name by offering mouth-watering, house-aged beef rubbed with a satisfying combination of sea salt, black pepper, and fresh rosemary and a robust international wine list, featuring hundreds of exciting wines (including Super Tuscans, Amarone, and a great selection of Barbaresco). Carnevino also offers a Special Beef Tasting Menu that will tempt any palate.

From the time I arrived until the time I departed – four days, I left The Palazzo and The Venetian properties exactly once, to see a show at another property. It’s a city within a city, and leaves you wanting for nothing. Shopping, gaming, dining, relaxing – it’s all here.

The Palazzo Las Vegas

The current lineup of fall and winter entertainment is stellar – the Faith Hill and Tim McGraw ‘Soul2Soul’ engagement from December to April in the Venetian Theatre; the Rock of Ages show (tickets are on sale now for December performances); and, comedians David Spade, Tim Allen, and Rita Rudner all have limited engagement shows coming up.

The Palazzo’s other unique offerings include the dining and nightlife hotspot, LAVO; the luxurious (and world’s largest) Canyon Ranch SpaClub®; the ultimate sports bar, sportsbook and restaurant on the Strip, Lagasse’s Stadium; and Prestige at The Palazzo – designed to offer the sophisticated traveler an elevated level of services and amenities including private champagne check in, packing and unpacking services, exclusive bath and pillow menus, complimentary cocktail reception and more. What’s not to love?

Oh, and the shopping… The Shoppes at The Palazzo® feature more than 60 luxury boutiques, including 20 stores and couture brands making their Las Vegas debuts at The Palazzo including Chloé, Tory Burch, Christian Louboutin, Diane von Furstenberg, and Van Cleef & Arpels. There truly is something for everyone. Just walking into the Salvatore Ferragamo boutique makes me feel a bit more glamorous.

For additional information, visit The Palazzo website at palazzolasvegas.com, follow on Twitter @palazzolasvegas and interact on Facebook at facebook.com/palazzolasvegas.

I’m off to plan my next visit!

Jay’s Bistro and Jazz Lounge – A Culinary Treasure in Fort Collins

Exotic Mixed Grill

Exotic Mixed Grill

A recent birthday begged for a weekend adventure.  That adventure began in Fort Collins, Colorado – at Jay’s Bistro and Jazz Lounge – with my mother and four fellow travel writing women from around the country.  We quickly settled in to toast the occasion with Jay’s “Sex in the City” Cosmopolitans and a round of appetizers including a decadent Macaroni & Cheese with Maine Lobster, Salmon Cheesecake, and delicate Bison Carpaccio.  The flowers, music, and artwork throughout the dining room evoke a chic and sophisticated sensibility without feeling pretentious.

It only gets better!  Dinner is comprised of a tantalizing exotic mixed grill of New Zealand Red Deer Loin served with a Blackberry Chocolate Demi Sauce, Colorado Ostrich Filet atop Pomegranate Black Pepper Sauce and a Colorado Lamb Rib Chop dusted with Moroccan Garam Masala on Red Wine Jus with a Potato Croquette.  The beginning of my weekend adventure had surpassed my expectations.  Before we can even whisper “dessert,” a platter of chocolate-filled raviolis swimming in a pool of chocolate ganache is delivered to our table.

Chocolate Raviolis with Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Raviolis with Chocolate Ganache

Chef Jay Witlen and his wife, Jacki, started Jay’s Bistro and Jazz Lounge in 1980 and have perfected the art of fine cuisine and an award-winning wine list – not to mention their famous martinis! – to create a true dining experience.

For more information, contact owners Jay and Jacki Witlen at (970) 482-1876. Jay’s Bistro and Jazz Lounge is located in historic, old town Fort Collins at 135 West Oak Street. www.jaysbistro.net