Bar Review: Vaca (Costa Mesa, CA)

Lynn and I have been wanting to eat at Vaca in Costa Mesa, CA, ever since we saw Amar Santana on Top Chef. We have been to his restaurant Broadway in Laguna Beach several times. The food is amazing and the bartenders are friendly and very knowledgeable. We love to sit at the bar to eat and enjoy talking with the bartenders and other restaurant goers we have met from all over the world while sitting at the bar (I have embarrassed our kids for years because I will chat up anybody that will listen).


We had tickets to see “Finding Neverland” at the Segerstrom Center and decided to have some of the Tapas at Vaca before the musical. Vaca is very conveniently located literally around the corner from Segerstrom, so it was easy to park for the musical and then walk over to the restaurant for dinner. Well we had a great time. Vaca has a nice long bar with a back bar with shelves and bottles 20 feet tall.


Writing these blogs is always an education for me and hopefully you, my readers, as well. To go along with Amar’s Spanish cuisine, he has also replicated Spain’s love of the ultimate Gin and Tonic. Their signature drink is the “The Vaca Tonic” made with Brooklyn Gin, Frozen Gimlet, Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic, and Basil Blossom. What they don’t include in the description is their amazing ice. The drink was served with a handmade, perfectly clear round ice cube. I watched them make it, what a work of art. It was a very refreshing drink and went well the Ensalada de Remolacha, a roasted beet salad with cana de cabra, and walnuts. We followed it with the Pulpo a La Gallega, a warm Spanish octopus, with fingerling potatoes, pimenton, and Spanish olive oil.


After those 2 dishes and finishing my gin, it was time for a bourbon drink and some pork. First I ordered the “That’s the Spirit” which is made with Baker’s Bourbon, Bittermans Hiver Amer, Clear Creek Cranberry Liquor, and Lemon. My drink was very refreshing.


Lynn had an excellent Spanish Tempranillo from the wine list. Both were a nice compliment to the pork and beef we ordered.   We tried the pork belly which was amazing. For our last dish we tried the La Bola, crispy potato balls with ground beef, aioli, and spicy tomato sauce. All were amazing and all so different.

We enjoyed the environment, company, food, and drinks. I would heartily recommend Vaca. We want to go back soon and enjoy some steak. Steak is not something you normally describe when talking about Spanish restaurants but Amar focuses on steak, tapas, ham, paella, and Spanish wine. If you plan to be in the area, make reservations. If you are not in the area, make a trip. Go to theatre, or shopping and end the day at Vaca.

A Touch of Glass

People enjoy whiskey at host of different ways. Some like it neat, some with a little ice, or mixed in a cocktail (check out my blog post on the different ways to drink whiskey).   No matter how you like it there is a glass for the method of choice. I am only going to explore a few of those glasses today.

The Glencairn whisky glass is a style of glass developed by Glencairn Crystal in Scotland for drinking whisky (in Scotland it is whisky without the “e”). The glass has a capacity of over 5 ounces but it was designed to hold 1.5-2 ounces of whisky or bourbon. The glass was designed to give you the maximum aroma from the spirit you are drinking. You will find these for sale at many of the distilleries with their logos engraved in the glass. They can also be found at most nicer liquor stores like Hi-Times, Bev-Mo, and Total Wine. Amazon even has a selection of them.

Glencarin 1

I enjoy tasting bourbon neat in Glencarin glasses. They aren’t really sized for any ice in them. What I like most about Glencairn glasses is how light and smooth the glass is. It really helps to get the full aroma of the whisky I’m tasting.

The next glass I want to discuss is the traditional style whiskey glass, an Old Fashioned tumbler. This is a glass you see in every bar. They come in a variety of sizes. The first one I have pictured I bought at Old Pogue Distillery. It is a standard smaller size old fashioned glass that they had their logo engraved on. You can find similar glasses (without the engraving) at a lot of home stores with a barware selection. The real advantage of this size and style over the Glencarin glass is you can add a small amount of ice, or whiskey stones to open up your whiskey. I will sometimes start a new bourbon neat and then add a very small ice cube to open it up and change the experience.

Old Pogue Glass

The next glass is my favorite. A Rogaska mouth blown, hand cut and polished by an expert craftsman, crystal rocks glass. I like this glass because first of all its very pretty, and very heavy. It has the feel and look of quality. It will hold the large round ice cubes, or big square cubes. You can drink neat out of this glass but it has such a large opening you lose a lot of the nose. This type of glass is great for cocktails as it holds a lot of liquid. I use it to make our Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. These glasses are available at Bloomingdales for $60.00 a pair.

Old Fashioned

It would take volumes to discuss all the glasses designed to hold mixed drinks. As anyone who follows my blog knows, horse racing season and Mint Juleps are upon us. There are 2 main ways to drink a mint julep: the traditional silver julep Cup or the Libby glass mint julep tumbler. But I will go into more detail in April about Mint Juleps, specialty cocktails, and Kentucky in the spring.

Mint Julep

There are a ton of great options out there for enjoying your bourbon (or whiskey in general). You can find old fashioned glasses and other fun barware at just about any home store these days. You will find just as there are, “Different horses for different courses,” there are also “Different glasses for different bashes” (made that up – not sure I’ll use it again).

Bourbon Review: Parker’s Heritage 8 Year Old Malt Whiskey

I was in Dallas on business last week and visited Whiskey Cake, my favorite spot for a drink and bite to eat in the Frisco/Plano area. I decided to try something from Parker’s Heritage Collection.  Each year Heaven Hill Distillery releases a special whiskey in the name of their late Master Distiller Parker Beam.  I have never tried anything from the Parker Collection.  To honor the great Parker Beam I thought I would try one of their releases.  I selected the 8-year-old Malt Whiskey released in 2015.

Enjoying Parker’s Collection at Whiskey Cake


If you are not familiar with Malt whiskey it is made from a fermented mash just like bourbon. Unlike bourbon which is 51% corn or higher, Malt is made from a malted grain, and this one is barley, 65% barley and 35% corn.  Just like bourbon it must be aged in a new charred American Oak barrel.

This is one of the first American Malt’s I have experienced. It was really good. If you haven’t had experience with American Malt Whiskey’s you will be pleasantly surprised.  There are many similarities to bourbon.  It felt a little like drinking a scotch, then I thought, “no, it’s a little like a bourbon.”  It has notes of butterscotch and toffee, and you get the sweetness from the corn.  You can definitely taste the oak.  It has a mellow rich flavor and is a very smooth whiskey with a soft finish.

I was originally going to try the 8th Edition 13 year old “Wheat” whiskey but they had sold the last of it. I never would have picked it first but glad the wheat was sold out. I’ve never been a big fan of scotch or European malts, but I’m glad I tried this.  I’m looking forward to trying more Malt Whiskey in the future. It’s a unique experience.  If this becomes the benchmark for American malts we are in for some fun experiences.

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Parker’s Heritage Collection Editions (Photo from the Heaven Hill Distillery website)

Aged: 8 years
Proof: 108 proof
Color: Mahogany
Aroma: Oak, pine
Taste: Toffee, butterscotch
Price: $100 (When Released in late 2015; you can find resale bottles at nice liquor stores like Hi-Time Wine Cellars)

Restaurant Review: Hatch (Tustin, CA)

Our adventure started because Lynn and I wanted to see the Batman Lego movie. Lynn had just read the March/April Westways Magazine’s (AAA of California’s magazine) 14th Annual Cheap Eats Dining Review. There was a review of Hatch in Tustin’s Union Market at The District and the movie was showing there as well. Our date was set.

As the article said: “You can’t exactly stumble upon Hatch.” That is an understatement. You have to hunt real hard to find it. But the good news is once you find it you will be charmed by the retro, mid-century Tiki décor, Disneyland-inspired “Enchanted Tiki Room” wallpaper, and cool retro lights. It is small and quaint with only a handful of tables inside plus a bar that seats about 10. There is also outside dining perfect for most nights.


The menu is quite simple. Their specialty is sliders, but these are not your local sliders. These are gourmet, craft, creative sliders. You can order a combo on the menu of 2 sliders and a side for $14. The menu is creative as the sliders are broken into Moo, Oink, Flap, Swim, and Sprout. There are 3 different sliders in each category.


The Hatch slider is their signature item. It’s an all-beef patty, fried onions, Hatch sauce, a Portuguese bun, and a slice of crispy grilled cheese hat. It was a fantastic burger, and I am still amazed by that thin sheet of grilled cheese. How did they do that?


I had a Hatch and a Buffalo Chicken slider. The buffalo chicken is buttermilk fried chicken, parmesan, Sriracha buffalo sauce, with carrots and celery. Both were so different and so flavorful.They also have sliders with Japanese style fried pork, duck, salmon, soft shell crab, oyster, and more. Lynn had the soft shell crab and said it was fantastic.


They consider themselves a Rum Bar and have the theme oriented glasses. They also have a full bar, wine and beer. I always order a bourbon drink (my name is not Rum or Tequila Bill, its Bourbon Bill). I ordered an Old Fashioned and it was perfect. An Old Fashioned is good with any food. But riven that rum is their specialty, I would suggest you try the house rum drinks. They also have a list of 26 creative and different craft beers.


I would highly recommend Hatch. We are looking for an excuse to go back very soon. There are also a number of interesting restaurants around Hatch.   Tustin’s Union Market has become a great little destination for dining!

Visiting The Homestead

We recently had one of those weekends you will always cherish and remember fondly. Our daughter and her husband suggested we go to The Homestead. If you are not familiar with The Homestead it is not because its new – they recently celebrated 250 years as America’s first and oldest resort.

The Resort

While there we took the history tour of the Homestead and learned a lot about how a resort in pretty much the middle of nowhere in Virginia came to be, and became a legend.

Quick overview… Captain Thomas Bullitt, Charles and Andrew Lewis were part of the militia and surveyors during the French and Indian War. They were told of the many healing qualities of the waters in the area. In 1764, at the end of the war, Captain Bullitt received a colonial land grand of 300 acres which contained seven natural mineral springs from Colonel George Washington. Captain Bullitt moved his militia and his family and their families to the area. Within 2 years the land was cleared and an 18 room wooden hotel was built. In 1766, The Homestead was opened and named in honor of the Homesteaders who built the resort and bathhouses. The hotel changed ownership several times until 1901 when a fire started in the pastry shop and burned the entire resort. The day after the fire the investors met and decided to rebuild immediately. Fast forward to today and it is now part of the Omni Hotels & Resorts.

Getting There
We flew into Richmond (RIC) and stayed the night with our daughter before heading to the Homestead. If you’re coming from out of the area, Charlottesville and Roanoke are the closest airports, but Richmond is the largest close airport and serviced by Southwest which I’m loyal to. You definitely have to rent a car, there really isn’t another way to get to the resort. It is a nice 3-hour drive from Richmond through horse farms and the Blue Ridge Mountains. On our way, we enjoyed a leisurely drive stopping in the Charlottesville area to get a sandwich for lunch at Greenwood Grocery, one of our son-in-law’s favorites. If making a day of your drive, you basically pass through Central Virginia wine country and stopping at a vineyard such as King Family Vineyards is highly recommended.

Once you get close to the hotel you’ll see the Tower and the resort coming into view. It is perfectly nestled into the hillside. You also drive past the golf courses and surrounding spa, casino, and cottage row on your way into the main entrance of the resort.

The Resort from the Spa

The Homestead offers tons of activities for visitors young and old. It is most well known for its golf courses. The legend Sam Snead helped in giving the Homestead that legacy. Born nearby, Snead began caddying at The Homestead when he was 7. He worked as an assistant pro at The Homestead at 19 and turned professional in 1934. There are 2 courses at the Resort. The Old Course has the oldest continuously used 1st Tee in the country. The Cascades Course is set against the Allegheny Mountains. Both offer excellent golf. There is also a miniature golf course for younger and non-golfers.

The spa is another popular attraction. My wife and daughter had facials at the spa. The facilities are about 5 years old and very nice. When they re-did the spa they added a great headed outdoor pool and hot tub just for spa-goers. And within the spa complex is a Hot Spring pool as well. Lynn and I spent the afternoon soaking in the mineral pool – I definitely recommend it. (Not to be confused with the original hot springs that are off-site. We didn’t make it to those.)

The mineral pool at the Spa

Other activities include fly fishing, shooting, zip lining, hiking, the outdoor family pool and lazy river when it’s warm out, the indoor pool, and of course the hot springs. Carter and I went to the shooting club to shoot trap. I was very impressed with the club, but not my shooting.

The indoor pool – isn’t it beautiful?

Another activity you can’t miss is afternoon tea. Well, they call is social hour now, but it’s essentially afternoon tea. The service has changed a bit since the last time my daughter and son-in-law were there. They set up a station to get your tea (hot or cold) and then waiters walk around with a treat – while we were there it was pumpkin bread one day and lemon bars the other.

The Great Hall

Another popular activity is just sitting in the Great Hall (essentially the lobby) by the fire reading, playing games, or hanging out. Lynn and Taylor spent a decent amount of time working on their needlepoint there Saturday afternoon.

A fire we posted up by for a couple hours Saturday afternoon

Tip: Pack your own alcohol! We brought a bottle of bourbon and a bottle of wine to enjoy throughout the weekend. It’s a great place to pour yourself some bourbon and wander down to the Great Hall to gather with people. We also brought some after dinner drinks to the outdoor fire pit to enjoy with our s’mores.

Dining at the Homestead excellent. We opted for the breakfast package to enjoy their popular breakfast buffet with its legendary homemade donuts. Breakfast takes place in the Main Dining Room – a grand, open room with a dance floor and piano. You can picture how it was used years ago for opulent dinners. We didn’t eat dinner there, but the breakfast was great.

The Main Dining Room (Photo from the Homestead website)

We were supposed to eat dinner our first night at Jefferson’s Restaurant, which is described as “a modern American grill serving regional influences.” Its menu looks pretty similar to a steak house menu with some regional additions like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits. Unfortunately the power went out right before our reservation on Friday, so after having cocktails in the bar area in the dark and ordering as many cold appetizers and salads from the menu as possible we called it a night. I guess we’ll have to go back!

The bar area at Jefferson’s Restaurant (Photo from the Homestead website)

We had lunch on Saturday at the Casino Restaurant which is near the pro-shop. Lunch was delicious. We shared the fried zucchini appetizer and a couple pizzas. Everything hit the spot.

The Casino

We ventured to the Waterwheel Restaurant at the Gristmill Inn a couple miles from the resort for dinner Saturday night. It is very quaint in an old gristmill with exposed wood beams and whitewashed walls. They have a fun little wine cellar in the basement of the mill where you can go down to pick out your wine. Everyone raved about their dishes, including the guests around us. It’s a fun atmosphere, excellent food, and great experience.

Waterwheel’s Wine Cellar

After dinner Saturday night we wandered back to the Homestead and got a s’more kit to roast s’mores outside around their large bonfire pit. While it was definitely cold out (we were there in February) the fire was roaring and it was a fun little after dinner activity.

Tip: Make reservations for dinner as soon as your book your trip. There aren’t a lot of dinner options in the area and because of both on-site and off-site restaurants they fill up quickly.

Another must-try is the Lobby Bar. When the Homestead did a small remodel 5 or so years ago, they added this bar literally right off the lobby (hence the name) with a small billiards room with pool tables behind it. The bar has portraits of the 22 sitting Presidents who have stayed at The Homestead. It’s a warm and inviting bar with a nice selection of liquor, beer, and wine, and a great atmosphere especially during a busy weekend. While there, I enjoyed an Old Fashioned and Lynn a Manhattan – our “go to’s”!

The Lobby Bar

There is also a new French restaurant in town called LesCochons d’Or that people recommended. We did not get a chance to eat there but plan to on our next trip to The Homestead. It has gotten excellent review and you can walk to it from the hotel.

Outside of LesCochons

Overall, I can’t say enough about the experience. When I have described it to people here on the West Coast they say it sounds like the setting for the movie “Dirty Dancing.” While a little less “campy,” it’s definitely similar. And years and years ago people would head to the Homestead for the entire summer much like Dirty Dancing.  Sitting in the Great Hall with all the overstuffed furniture and roaring fires is part of the wonderful experience. We really did feel like we had dropped back in time but with all the amenities of the 21st century.

If you get a chance go, you will come back refreshed with very fond memories.