London Recap

Greetings and Salutations. And sorry to be MIA over the past few days – it’s been a very busy time and all that.

The last time you’d heard from me, we had just attended a performance of Funny Girl, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which was a real treat. If you’re planning a trip to London in the spring (and beyond), you can get tickets to see the production, which is transferring to the Savoy Theatre in March. Ticket sales are quite brisk, I’ve been told.

CULTURE TIP: Purchase Tickets to Funny Girl

Otherwise, our trip to London last week was a raving success. We had a blast and, rather than talking about it too much, I thought I’d share some photos with you to give you the flavor of the trip – you’ll get the idea.

On our 1st full day in London, we took afternoon tea at The Georgian at Harrod’s. The place was all gussied up for the holidays, of course.

Day 2 - HarrodsWorld famous Harrods

Day 2 - Harrods GeorgianIt’s the Georgian for your afternoon tea.

Day 2 - Harrods Tea - AAC
AAC CPA anticipates his afternoon tea

Day 2 - Harrods Rose Tea
Rose Tea made with actual Roses!!

Day 2 - Harrods Tea Tray
And all of the tea goodies.

CUISINE TIP: Take Tea at Harrods

Our first show in London was Terence Ratigan’s 1948 comedy, Harlequinade, starring and co-directed (with Rob Ashford) by Kenneth Branagh, preceded by Ratigan’s 1968 one-woman monologue, All On Her Own, starring Zoë Wanamaker. This double-bill is part of an ambitious six production season that the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company is presenting at the Garrick Theatre and is currently playing in rep with A Winter’s Tale, again starring Branagh alongside Judi Dench. The season culminates next summer and fall with Branagh taking on the touchstone role of Archie Rice in John Osborne’s The Entertainer. Needless to say, I already have my tickets for that one!

Day 2 - Harlequinade - AAC
AAC CPA does Harlequinade at the Garrick

CULTURE TIP: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company

Following the performance, we had supper at one of our favorite London restaurants, the venerable J. Sheekey which serves, arguably, the best fish in town.

Day 2 - J Sheekey

Day 2 - J Sheekey Fish & Chips
AAC CPA had the fish and chips – enough for many

CUISINE TIP: J. Sheekey

Next day – typically cloudy but unusually mild for December – we were walking around our hood and snapped this pic of the Shard, where the Shangri-La is located:

Day 2 - Shard from a Distance

Following the Funny Girl matinee, we had dinner at another of our favorite London establishments, Hawksmoor, which is where you go for beef and great cocktails. There are several locations and we ate at the one just off Picadilly in Air Street:

Day 3 - Hawksmoor Exterior

Each Hawksmoor has its own distinct design and this one is Deco:

Day 3 - Hawksmoor Deco Detail
Fab Deco Chandelier

Day 3 - Hawksmoor AAC
AAC CPA anticipates his cocktail and dinner

The grub is really good here, too. In addition to amazing beef, this Hawksmoor has lots of fish on the menu. We shared the scallop appetizer:

Day 3 - Hawksmoor Scallops
Great presentation, right?

CUISINE TIP: Hawksmoor Air Street

We took an after dinner stroll and saw some fab sights on Picadilly:

Day 3 - Picadilly

Picadilly, itself

Day 3 - Burlington Arcade

Burlington Arcade

Day 3 - Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason all tarted up for the holidays

Next day, we woke up to a brilliantly sunny day. Look at the view from our room:

Day 4 - Shard Shadow over St. Paul's
Note the shadow of the Shard to the right of St. Paul’s

After breakfast at the hotel – by the way, a great deal when booking through the AmEx FHR program, because your breakfast is included – we checked out the lobby men’s room:

Day 4 - Bathroom with a View
A (Bath)Room with a View

Day 4 - Mens Room Amenity
The Shangri-La thinks of EVERYTHING!!

And, if you want a thrill, take note of how the hotel keeps its windows clean:

Day 4 - Window Cleaners
This photo was taken on the 35th floor, kids!

What trip to London would be complete without a visit to Covent Garden:

Day 4 - AAC - Covent Garden

That afternoon, we experienced our first Panto, a holiday tradition in which drag plays a prominent role and lots of audience participation is encouraged (and expected). Today’s Panto was Cinderella at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Day 4 - Panto - AAC
AAC CPA does Panto!

Day 4 - Panto Show Curtain
The Panto show curtain

Following the Panto, we rushed back to the hotel to change for the evening performance of Guys and Dolls at the Savoy Theatre where, last Spring, we had seen Imelda Staunton’s star turn as Madame Rose in Gypsy.

Day 4 - Savoy Guys and Dolls - 02
Doesn’t this photo remind you of a publicity still from the film?

Day 4 - Savoy AAC
AAC CPA studies the Hot Box Cuties

Day 4 - Savoy Show Curtain
Opening image of the set

Needless to say, the show was aces. It’s such a great musical, definitely one of the 10 best of all time. Even when the show ground to a halt in the last few minutes – technical difficulties, they said – the audience was totally enthralled by the show, roaring its approval at the end.

On our way out – no pix, please, we’re British! – we noticed, sitting directly behind us, Jim Carter (Carson on Downton Abbey, and a former Big Jule himself) and his celebrated wife, the aforementioned Imelda Staunton. I couldn’t help myself and, in a very un-British-like manner, told them how much we’d enjoyed their performances and thanked them. They looked a bit startled (I guess that my outburst just isn’t done) but thanked me very graciously.

After humiliating myself, we strolled over to The Ivy, which is our favorite London haunt. As I reported when we were there earlier this year, the place had a makeover last spring and looks terrific, but the service and congeniality of the place remain unchanged.

Day 4 - The Ivy Exterior
The one and only Ivy

Day 4 - The Ivy - AAC
AAC CPA anticipates his Americano whilst perusing the menu

CUISINE TIP: The Ivy

Next day – Christmas Eve – was another double-header, starting with Jim Broadbent starring as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at the Noël Coward Theatre. Dickens’ story was adapted by Patrick Barlow (whose 4-actor adaptation of The 39 Steps played for years and years both in London and in New York) and was designed by Tom Pye and directed by Phelim McDermott. We initially wanted to see the show for Jim Broadbent, a fave actor of ours’ since the 1999 Mike Leigh film,  Topsy Turvy, in which Broadbent played W.S. Gilbert. As it turned out, we found the production imaginative, enchanting and surprisingly moving. I guess that Dickens knew what his was doing.

Day 5 - A Christmas Carol - Exterior
Marquee at the Noël Coward Theatre

Day 5 - A Christmas Carol - AAC
AAC CPA does Dickens

Day 5 - A Christmas Carol Show Curtain
A Christmas Carol show curtain

And, by the way, can I just put in a word about the London theatre-going audience and, in particular, the kids? We saw two matinees in which the audience was literally filled with children (as young as 4 or 5, I’d say). They were amazing! Respectful, attentive, and really into the experience. Dare I say that I prefer them to most of the audiences to be found on Broadway these day? OK, come and get me for that last remark.

Another rush back to the hotel to change for our Christmas Eve festivities. And look what we found in our room upon our return:

Day 5 - Christmas Tree
Our very own tree. AAC CPA thought it might be edible. It wasn’t.

That evening, we had a brand-new London experience, and long overdue! We attended the last performance of Carols By Candlelight at the famed Royal Albert Hall. This concert is an annual event and completely fills the 5,200 seat venue. It was a real thrill for us to be there.

Day 5 - RAH - Moon
World famous Royal Albert Hall with a full moon overhead

Day 5 - RAH - AAC
AAC CPA checks out the program pre-concert

Day 5 - RAH - Concert
The Mozart Festival Orchestra and Chorus in performance

Day 5 - RAH - Doris Day
For all you film buffs, AAC CPA has a Doris Day moment

We had a great time at the concert, although there was too much audience participation for my taste. I didn’t realize that we were expected to sing traditional carols!! Standing, no less, and I’d already had a long day. (Bah, humbug, you say?) And added to all that, most of the carols were sung to different tunes than their American counterparts. Who knew??

CULTURE TIP: Royal Albert Hall

After the concert, we had another magical view of the full moon over London:

Day 5 - Moon Over London

Merry Christmas, everyone!! Friday – our last full day in London – and did you know that the entire city shuts down?? We had thought we might go to a movie, or ride around, or something. Uh-uh!! No dice (as they’re currently saying at the Savoy Theatre). Fortunately for us, we were staying in a beautiful hotel with gorgeous views, so we didn’t mind hanging around our digs and relaxing after seeing 6 shows in the previous 4 days.

As we subsequently found out, Uber was available for getting around – whew!! We had decided to have our farewell dinner at another of our favorite London hotels, the Corinthia, and Uber got us there and back. Not only that, but Uber turned out to be cheaper than taking a cab (if we could have gotten one)!

Day 6 - Corinthia ExteriorThe gorgeous Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall Place

We started our evening at the Corinthia’s Bassoon Bar, one of our favorite watering holes in London.

Day 6 - Corinthia Bassoon AAC
AAC CPA chooses his cocktail from the iPad menu

We moved from the Bassoon to the Northall for our dinner. It’s a beautiful room and the food was delicious.

Day 6 - Corinthia Northall
My starter: Beef Tartare and it was yummy!

Day 6 - Corinthia Lobby
AAC CPA strolls through the Corinthia lobby after dinner

Ubering our way back to the Shangri-La from the Corinthia and look at what we saw:

Day 6 - Uber View of London Eye

By the way, did I mention that we ate on the early side so that we could get back to the hotel in time for – wait for it – the series finale of Downton Abbey? Yes, gentle readers, we had already seen all of season 6, save for the final holiday episode. How lucky are we? No spoilers here. Just know that we’ve seen it all, and mum’s the word.

Day 6 - Downton Finale
Opening Downton Abbey credits – for the very last time

All good things must come to an end and, on Saturday morning, we got into a taxi and made our way to Heathrow, where our BA flight was waiting to return us back home (and to reality).

Day 7 - BA Concorde Room - AAC
AAC CPA hanging out in the Concorde Room prior to boarding our flight

Day 7 - BA 177 - AAC
And settling in for the 8-hour flight home (with Mimosa)

Here’s our lunch menu:

Day 7 - BA 177 - Lunch Menu

I opted for the fillet of veal, which was pretty good:

Day 7 - BA 177 - Entree

And then, several hours later, it was time for afternoon tea, British-style:

Day 7 - BA 177 - Tea

Post-script: The flight landed a few minutes early but, due to some unexplained issue involving attaching the jetway to the plane, we were delayed for about 40 minutes!!

An imperfect end to a just-about-perfect trip.

Happy New Year, everyone!!

PS. Next week, we’re off to Buenos Aires and then, via Crystal Symphony, we’re sailing to Antarctica. More to follow!

Advertisements

From London: Funny Girl at the Chocolate Factory

Good evening, sports fans and greetings from an extremely windy London town.

We’ve just come from a matinee performance of the completely sold-out run of Funny Girl, starring Sheridan Smith, at the Menier Chocolate Factory. You may recall that I was able to obtain a pair of seats the day before the box office opened to the general public. Good thing I did, as the entire run sold out in something like two hours!

Funny Girl - 04

Before this production even started previews, a transfer to the Savoy Theatre on the West End was announced, and now tickets are available at least through the summer. (I was at the Savoy box office yesterday to pick up my tickets for tomorrow evening’s performance of Guys & Dolls and, apparently, tickets to Funny Girl are few and far between until next July!)

So, what did we think? Funny Girl hasn’t been seen onstage in London since Barbra Streisand brought the original production here in the mid-60’s. Since then, there’s been no first-class production either here or in the states. Part of the problem is that the iconic Streisand performance has been memorialized on film and it’s very difficult to compete with that. Also, the show had a very troubled gestation period and, only due to Jerry Robbins’ out-of-town doctoring – particularly working to get a performance out of Streisand – did the show succeed once it opened in New York. It is a flawed show with a great score. And it requires a star in the title role to make it work or even to contemplate a new production.

Funny Girl - 01
Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice

As it turns out, Sheridan Smith is that star. While no one will mistake her vocals for those of Streisand on stage or on film, one could say that, Smith is “the greatest star” in London at the moment. Diminutive in size, she is an oversized personality who brings her considerable skills to creating Fanny Brice. She is quirky, cute, gritty, and utterly believable, particularly in the early scenes of the play, when Fanny is on the ascent.

Funny Girl - 02
Don’t rain on her parade!

Our one reservation about this production was that it was being presented in a teeny-tiny theatre and Funny Girl is an exemplar of the big-scale Broadway musical. The original production boasted a huge cast, lavish sets and costumes and a full orchestra. None of that is possible in this incarnation. However, Michael Mayer’s production presents the material in a way that almost makes you forget that you’re seeing no more than 20 people on stage, accompanied by a 10-piece orchestra (with skillful new orchestrations) that makes the most from the least.

The show is very well cast. Fanny’s obsession with Nick Arnstein is no surprise, thanks to Darius Campbell’s performance. Towering over Fanny, he is both suave leading man and lost soul. And he gives the best vocal performance of the role of anyone I’ve seen or heard. In fact, a number that may have been cut from the original production (or was it written for and subsequently cut from the movie) – “Temporary Arrangement” – has been reinstated for Campbell. The supporting cast delivers the goods.

Funny Girl - 03
Darius Campbell and Sheridan Smith

It will be interesting to revisit the production when it lands at the Savoy to see if it is rethought on a much larger stage in a much larger theater. 

Finally, Funny Girl is a prime example of one of the last musicals of Broadway’s “golden age”. While not close to perfect, it boasts a great Jule Styne-Bob Merrill score and, in Sheridan Smith’s sensational performance, a case has been made for a new production of this almost lost musical.

 

 

Greetings from London – Part 1

Happy holidays, everyone! We made it safely to London. Left on a jet plane Sunday morning and a mere 8 hours later were checking into our digs at the Shangri-La at the Shard, just a stone’s throw away from London Bridge.

We love London, what can we say. As I type this missive to you, night is falling over the City – look at this dramatic view from our room atop the Shard as afternoon turns into night and you’ll see what I mean:

007

See what I mean?

Because I’m on a tight timeline – off to theatre and supper afterwards – here are a few images of our adventures so far:

001

Packed and leaving for the airport (too much luggage for only 6 days?)

002

Our BA 747 Chariot awaits to whisk us off to London

004

AAC CPA buckles up – fasten your seat belts!!

003

Our final approach into Heathrow

005

AAC CPA under the tree and ready to eat

006

The view from our room last night just before bedtime

I’ll have more to report as the days go by. Tomorrow we’ll be seeing Funny Girl at the Chocolate Factory – a very, very hot ticket. Your faithful correspondent will let you know what we thought. (As it that matters at all, it’s already announced a transfer to the West End and tickets are very, very scarce!)

In the meantime, tally-ho!

2015 Wrap-Up, Part II – Cuisine

At this time of year, everyone seems to be publishing “best-of” lists. As I’ve only been blogging for barely 3 months, I thought I’d challenge myself to post 3 of these lists: one each for travel, culture, and cuisine.

Today is dedicated to cuisine and, I’m pleased to share with you 10 dining experiences that we really enjoyed in 2015.

In alphabetical order:

Ad Hoc – Yountville, CA

In my last post, I told you about the wonderful Hotel Yountville, located in the heart of the Napa Valley. Remember how I mentioned that many of Yountville’s finest restaurants are located within a stone’s throw of the hotel?

Well, Ad Hoc is literally a 5-minute walk from our digs. The mastermind behind the restaurant is Thomas Keller. Yes, THAT Thomas Keller (French Laundry and Bouchon are also within walking distance, as is his amazing public garden just across the street.)

Ad Hoc - 01

Keller’s concept for Ad Hoc is simply this:

“We wanted a comfortable place for our community and families to dine. Five days a week we offer a four-course menu that changes daily, accompanied by a small, accessible wine list and our twist on classic cocktails.”

How great is that? When we dined there last June, their Monday night menu featured their traditional fried chicken. Not only was it succulently delicious, the portion was huge, so we were able to take the remainder back to the hotel for that midnight snack.

Ac Hoc Stone Fruit Salad

1st course: stone fruit salad

Ad Hoc Fried Chicken

2nd course – fried chicken w/sides

Plan ahead if you want to go – it’s a small place.

And there’s great value, too: this 4-course menu is currently running at $52 per person. There’s also an additional dish that’s available for a supplemental charge.

CUISINE TIP: Ad Hoc

Angelini Osteria – Los Angeles, CA

Opened in 2001, Angelini Osteria continues to turn out delicious and authentic Italian food night after night. Chef Gino Angelini hails from the town of Rimini in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna and he’s brought his homeland with him.

Angelini Osteria - 01

We try to get there every couple of visits to Los Angeles. We like the casual atmosphere and the serious food. When you go, I recommend sharing several things. We usually start with some kind of salad, split a pasta (their agnolotti di osso buco is sensational), and then either a piece of fish (the Mediterranean branzino melts in your mouth and can easily be shared by 2) or some other entrée.

3 Course dinner for 2 with wine, tax and tip will run you about $220.

CUISINE TIP: Angelini Osteria

Cantine Le Veinte – Miami, FL

Cantine - 02

Just before boarding Crystal Serenity last May, we spent 2 nights in Miami. I was looking for something new and fun for dinner one evening and landed on Cantine Le Veinte. Opened in August 2014, at a reputed cost of $14 million (!!!), it is a happening scene with delicious food and extremely tasty drinks. We were there on a Saturday night and the 225-seat restaurant was packed. Oh, and there’s a mariachi band, which will stop by your table to play a tune or 2. Service is very friendly and the food is seriously good. Cantina Le Veinte is a place for celebrations, not necessarily for that quiet intimate dinner. It’s a good-time place and we had a ball.

Cantina - 01

Cantina - Floorshow

Apps, entrees and Margaritas for 2, including tax and tip, will run you about $150.

CUISINE TIP: Cantine Le Veinte

Casa Enrique – Long Island City, NY

Casa Enrique - 01

Opened in March 2012 by executive chef Cosme Aguilar, Casa Enrique has been a big hit ever since. Although Aguilar’s experience had been almost exclusively devoted to French cuisine, his brother Luis persuaded him to open their own food palace where they could feature their family’s traditional recipes. The results have been sensational.

Casa Enrique - 04 - sweet-bell-pepper-margarita

It’s a sweet bell pepper Margarita!!!

Awarded one Michelin star in 2015 (the only Mexican restaurant in New York to be so honored), it just made the list again for 2016. It’s that good.

Casa Enrique - 02 - Soft Tacos de Tinga

Tacos de Tinga!

Having said that, Casa Enrique is an unassuming neighborhood place that just happens to serve incredible food. For many of us, it’s a destination stop (no disrespect intended, but I’m not even sure where Long Island City IS!), but well worth the carfare. The Yiddish word “hamish” perfectly describes Casa Enrique – cozy, relaxed, warm and unpretentious.

Apps, shared plates and yummy drinks for 2, including tax and tip, will run you about $120.

CUISINE TIP: Casa Enrique

Caviar Kaspia – Paris, France

“Buddie, beware.
“Buddie, better take care.
“Since the day I was weaned,
“I’m a caviar fiend.
“So Buddie, beware.”
Cole Porter

OK, sports fans, get ready to have your socks knocked off. I heard about this joint from my great friend, fellow foodie and nonpareil bridge partner, Gillian, about a year ago. She’d just been there and was raving about it (but in a good way).

Caviar - Exterior

AAC CPA lunches at Caviar Kaspia

Located just across from La Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement, the ground level is a caviar take out place (also foie gras and other delicacies). Ascend the staircase to the 2nd floor and – voila! – you’re in a charming and cozy 2-room restaurant.

Here’s the thing:

If, like Cole and me, you’re a caviar fiend, this is your place. When Gillian was there last year, she found the deal of the century at lunch: at that time, for €49 you got the “Raspoutine Set”: a 2-course meal, starting with Traditional Norwegian Smoked Salmon, accompanied by the thinnest, dreamiest blini and drawn butter, followed a baked potato filled with 20 grams of Imperial Beari Caviar. Can you say “decadent”?

Caviar - Potato

Did you lick your lips and say “decadent” yet?

If you happen not to eat those delicious eggs, there are other menu options, as AAC CPA discovered both times we were there.

Caviar - AAC

AAC CPA contemplates his Crab Napoleon – no caviar for him!

I regret to say that the Raspoutine Set is now up to €76, so it’s not quite the bargain that it was last year, but I recommend it anyway – you deserve a splurge now and then, right?

Our lunch there in May with one Raspoutine Set and a 2-course a la carte lunch for AAC CPA, with a glass of wine each, service included, ran about $160.

CUISINE TIP: Caviar Kaspia

La Grenouille – New York, NY

La Grenouille is NOT a dinosaur, but it is the last of its kind. People of a certain age – and certainly the Ladies Who Lunched – will remember (fondly or not) the late, great, haute restaurants of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s: Lutece, La Côte Basque, Pavillon, and La Grenouille. In their heyday, these were THE places to dine, to see and be seen, in New York. As with everything, fashion changes and these legendary restaurants began to fade from view, one by one.

La_Granouille-3.jpg

But La Grenouille prevails – in style, as well as in cuisine. You enter the place and you immediately feel special. Notice the floral arrangements. I can’t even imagine what the flower budget is for this joint. Inside, it could be 1965; certainly some of the waiters could have worked there back then (well, maybe not, but it sounded good, so I wrote it). In this rarified atmosphere, you’re going to eat really, really well.

La Grenouille - 01

Is this place gorgeous or what?

But it’s not just about the food – it’s about going back in time and having an amazing culinary experience with attentive but not overbearing service.

Dining at La Grenouille requires deep pockets, but it’s worth it for a very special occasion. There are those who think that its time has come and gone. I say hell, no. Go and find out for yourself.

3-course Pre-fixe menu runs $118 per person (some supplements may apply). Last time we were there with our great friends A&K to celebrate our anniversary, our share of the tab ran about $470, including ample wine, tax and tip – not for the feint of heart, financially speaking.

CUISINE TIP: La Grenouille

Pap ‘Acorda – Lisbon, Portugal

Our Crystal Serenity crossing earlier this year ended with an overnight visit to Lisbon. As we were leaving first thing the following morning, we opted to go ashore and have dinner in town. We returned to Pap ‘Acorda, a restaurant at which we had first dined in 2001. We’d had a great time back then and wanted to see if lightning could strike twice.

Pap - 00

Pap ‘Acorda is a traditional Portuguese restaurant, serving local dishes – lots of fish, stews, grilled meats. The place was exactly as we remembered it. Apparently, it’s been there for about 30 years, so it must be doing something right. Although we arrived at about 8:00 PM on a Saturday night, the throngs were not yet there. We had a wonderful waiter, who explained the menu and made recommendations, including an excellent bottle of local white wine. The service was unrushed and friendly and we had a very leisurely dinner, even as the place was filling up. We must have done something right, as the waiter brought us a fabulous and complimentary chocolate mousse for dessert.

Pap - 01

Book ahead to insure that you’ll get a table.

Dinner for 2 with apps, entrees and a bottle of wine ran about $155, service included.

No website; address: Rua da Atalaia 57, Bairro Alto, 1200, Lisbon 1200-037, Portugal; phone: 1-346 4811

State Bird Provisions – San Francisco, CA

How about some dim sum, American style? That’s the concept at this wacky, far-out place in the Fillmore. (I say this with total respect and admiration.) Created by Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza, formerly of the well-loved Rubicon which closed in 2008, State Bird is one of the toughest tables in town. You’d better plan 60 days in advance if you want a reservation, or take your chances as a walk-in (in which case, you give your cell # to the maître ‘d and you’ll get a call when a table is available – not my preferred way to dine).

SBP - 01

Be very careful when you’re handed a menu: your inclination will be to order a few things before you see the trays circulating the room – these are, most likely, the dishes you’re going to want to try. What’s on the trays changes daily or, even, during the course of the evening, so exercise restraint.

STB - 03 - Stuart Brioza

Co-Owner Stuart Brioza working his magic

STB - Garlic Fried Bread w Burrata

Garlic-fried bread with burrata

State Bird continues to evolve even now. It is a really fun way to spend an evening – the vibe is hip, lively and the grub is so, so good.

Dinner for 2 with about 10 plates and a carafe of house wine ran about $155, tax and tip included.

CUISINE TIP: State Bird Provisions

Tuome – New York, NY

I have to thank my physical therapist Dan – who worked who worked me over but good last summer – for introducing me to Tuome. You see, Dan – like me – is a foodie and, in between my screams of pain (yes, he’s really good at what he does, and my shoulder thanks him to this day), we chatted almost exclusively about great food and where to get it.

Tuome - 01

Very early on, Dan told me that I had to go – “yes, make a reservation right now!” – to Tuome in the East Village. Chef Thomas Chen, formerly of Eleven Madison Park and Commerce, set out on his own in August 2014. It’s easy to think that Tuome is the new trendy place in the Village where all the cool people go, but it’s much more than that. The inventiveness and ingenuity of the menu sets it apart. There are very few choices here: 4 small plates, 4 big plates, and 4 sides. There’s also a dessert du jour. But, as Maggie Smith’s character in Gosford Park was fond of saying: “Yummy, yummy, yummy!!”

Tuome Cocktails

Pretty cocktails

If you like deviled eggs – and who doesn’t like deviled eggs?? – you must try them here – they’re not only deviled, they’re crispy, too.

Tuome Deviled Eggs

Crispy deviled eggs

The main attraction here is the Pig Out for 2. Think Beijing Duck, but it’s from the pig instead. And gorgeous on the plate. It’s also $52, the most expensive plate on the menu – and totally worth it.

Tuome PigOut

The Pig-Out for 2 – do I have to share?

I would go back to Tuome anytime and think you should try it, at least once.

Dinner for 2 including 1 cocktail and 1 glass of wine each, two apps, the Pig Out, and a shared dessert ran about $160, tax and tip included.

CUISINE TIP: Tuome

Via Corata – New York, NY

This newish Greenwich Village eatery is the brainchild of Rita Sodi (of the fabled and fabulous I Sodi) and Jody Williams (of the acclaimed Buvette). If, when you enter Via Corata, you face away from the street, you would think you’re at a gastroteca somewhere in Tuscany. It feels that authentic. The all-day menu features small dishes to share, lots of charcuterie and cheeses, an entire vegetable section, pastas, fish and meat. The wine list is varied and very Italianate. And their barman makes a delicious Negroni, one of my benchmarks for assessing an Italian restaurant.

Via Carota - 01

The food is delicious and beautiful on the plate; the service is friendly and gracious.

Via Carota - 02

Via Carota ArtichokesLook at those artichokes!

The only downside is that Via Carota doesn’t take reservations. If you’re willing to dine early or late, it shouldn’t be a problem for you.

Dinner for 2, with cocktails, a carafe of wine, apps, a shared pasta and entrée ran about $160, tax and tip included.

Oh – and this just in: the New York Times’ food critic Pete Wells just named Via Carota to his top-10 list (it’s #6, actually) for the year. Bravo!

CUISINE TIP: Via Carota

So that’s my top of the top for cuisine in 2015. Next up: my favorite cultural events of the year.

2015 Wrap-Up, Part I – Travel

 

At this time of year, everyone seems to be publishing “best-of” lists. As I’ve been blogging for barely 3 months, I thought I’d challenge myself to post 3 of these lists: one each for travel, cuisine, and culture.

Today is for travel and I’ve narrowed the scope of this post to four places I’ve slept during the past year that I would recommend to you.

In alphabetical order:

L’Ermitage – Beverly Hills, CA

L'Ermitage - 01Entrance to L’Ermitage

We’ve been staying at this property for years. Back in the day – the early 80’s, to be precise – L’Ermitage was one of the very first “all-suite” hotels. I remember staying there in June 1982 and being wowed by the concept – all that space for lil’ ol’ me. The property was completely renovated and upgraded about 15 years ago to maintain its edge.

L'Ermitage - 02L’Ermitage Pool and Cabañas at Dusk

We were last there this past June and the hotel was in the midst of a major makeover. Because of our longstanding relationship with the hotel, we were given a sneak preview of the new rooms, and they’re extremely beautiful and up to the minute in terms of amenities and technology.

Another big plus is that L’Ermitage has a great location, just a few minutes walk (wait: who walks in Los Angeles??) to Rodeo drive and other Beverly Hills landmarks.

I’d also like to put in a word for the service at the hotel – couldn’t be better. You’ll be very well taken care of at L’Ermitage.

L'Ermitage Cabana LunchA bite of lunch in a poolside cabaña

TRAVEL TIP: L’Ermitage

Glenmere – Chester, NY

Glenmere - 01
A Tuscan mansion in upstate New York?

We discovered this fabulous property just after it opened in 2010. A 75-minute drive from Manhattan, it is the former Tuscan-style mansion built in 1911 by Robert Wilson Goelet on his enormous estate in Sugar Loaf, a hamlet in Chester. The original architects, Carrere & Hastings, also designed the New York Public Library and the Guggenheim Museum.

The estate was sold during World War II and converted into a resort hotel. By the 1960s, however, it had fallen into disrepair.

In 2007, the property was purchased by Alan Stenberg and Daniel DeSimone and over the next several years – and at an estimated cost of $30 million – was transformed into a magnificent luxury 19-room hotel and restaurant. A spa – perhaps unlike any you’ve seen before – was added a couple of years ago.

Glenmere - 02 - Spa

The Spa at Glenmere – Do I believe my eyes?

We returned to Glenmere for a couple of nights last August. If anything, they’ve upped their game. Butler service and a complimentary breakfast are now included. The grounds are magnificent, as is the property itself. If you want to splurge for a special occasion, Glenmere is the place to do it.

Glenmere - AAC arrives

AAC CPA arrives at Glenmere

Glenmere - View

Check out the view from our room

Glenmere - Terrace

AAC CPA relaxes on the terrace on a Wednesday afternoon

TRAVEL TIP: Glenmere Mansion

Peninsula Hotel – Paris, France

Peninsula EntranceEntrance to the Peninsula

We were in Paris last May following our crossing from Miami to Lisbon aboard Crystal Serenity. The Peninsula opened about a year ago and, as with all grand Parisian hotels, it is a masterpiece of design and execution. Located steps away from the Arc de Triomphe, it is an ideal location for a visit to the City of Light.

The rooms are beautifully designed and feature up-to-the-minute technology, including iPads on either side of the bed to control virtually everything in the room (except for AAC CPA, of course). This can result, of course, in dueling remote controls when watching television. (Should anyone have time to watch TV in Paris?)

Peninsula - iPad

Dueling iPads

The bathrooms defy description and I mean that in the best way possible.

Peninsula - 02

Do you believe me now?

There are several dining venues in the hotel, including the elegant rooftop restaurant, L’Oiseau Blanc, which has wonderful food and awesome views of the Eiffel Tower. It is adjacent to a very deco bar, which serves extremely tasty cocktails. In good weather, the bar opens onto a terrace where you can appreciate the territory.

Peninsula - AAC - 01

The outside terrace at the Peninsula

Peninsula - AAC - Cocktails

AAC CPA and I enjoy evening cocktails at L’Oiseau Blanc

TRAVEL TIP: Peninsula Hotel

Hotel Yountville – Yountville, CA

Yountville - AAC - 01

AAC CPA arrives at the Hotel Yountville

Any oenophile worth his or her salt will travel to California to enjoy the wine country. These days, there are so many wine regions out there but, for many, the Napa Valley is the place to go. We’ve stayed in the wine country on several occasions but, last summer, spent a few days in Yountville at the Yountville Hotel and I highly recommend it to you.

Yountville - Balcony

Our private balcony

Besides being a lovely place to stay, it is located on the main drag and within walking distance of all the great Yountville restaurants. (French Laundry, anyone?) And Yountville is an extremely convenient place to stay as you’re within a 30-minute radius of many of the great wineries in the Valley.

Yountville - AAC CoffeeAAC CPA relaxing after breakfast

Oh, and for those of you who like to get in a morning run before debauching yourselves at the myriad of wineries in the vicinity, here’s the view from one of my jogs:

Yountville - Jog

I actually jogged here!

Before checking out of the Hotel Yountville, we had already booked the hotel for a return visit next summer. That’s how much we enjoyed it.

TRAVEL TIP: Hotel Yountville

Next up: 2015 Best of Cuisine!

 

Countdown to London

“As a foreigner in London, I like that there are so many other foreigners.”
David Sedaris

How lucky are AAC CPA and I?

For the 3rd time this year, we’re on our way to London. This trip came about thanks to a blog entry by The Points Guy a few months ago giving us the skivvy that fares were being slashed to Europe over the holidays. If you happened to be an AARP member (reminder: you don’t need to be 50 to join AARP, just sayin’) and, for instance, went through the AARP website to a dedicated British Airways link, you automatically got a $400 per person discount. Added to that, we cashed in some Avios miles to save even more money.

How could we not go?

TRAVEL TIP: The Points Guy

In the event, we’re leaving early Sunday morning, will arrive early evening local time, Heathrow Express our way into central London and be at the Shangri-La at the Shard in time for a late supper with our friends A & K, who will have arrived the day before. As I said, how lucky are we?

We also got lucky with a special promotion through the AmEx FHR program. Although we’d already booked a return visit to the Shangri-La, it turns out that, thanks to AmEx, you can pay for 2 nights and get the 3rd for free. Our awesome AmEx travel agent, Veronica, was happy to rebook the reservation so that we could take advantage of this offer. The only fly in the ointment is that we’re planning to be in London for 6 nights, and the hotel refused to let us use the promotion twice on this visit. Other hotels do it all the time but not the Shangri-La. Good thing it’s a really nice hotel or we’d be very miffed. (Well, maybe we are, just a wee bit.)

Shangri-LaTime for a return visit to the Shangri-La

TRAVEL TIP: AmEx FHR Program

TRAVEL TIP: Once you’ve booked your hotel reservation(s), go back every so often either to the hotel’s website or the AmEx FHR website and check for better deals. I’d say that there’s an excellent chance that you’ll find a lower rate or, even, a promotion like the one we’re taking advantage of next week. If you have the forbearance (and the time, of course), you may end up saving significantly on your hotel bill.

“In London they don’t like you if you’re still alive.”
Harvey Fierstein

Before we pulled the trigger on the airfare deal, I checked to see if we could score tickets to, arguably, the biggest theatre deal in London this fall: the revival of Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory. At the time, I went to the theatre’s website to check on availability and found that tickets didn’t go on sale to the general public until the following day. Call it my cultural sixth sense, but I decided that I had to get tickets right then so, for a modest donation to the Chocolate Factory, I was able to select prime seats (well, in a 188-seat theatre, I guess that ALL seats are prime), for a little more than tuppence. Having taken care of that task, we went ahead and booked the air tickets. Thank you, AARP; thank you, British Airways; thank you, Avios miles. (And thank you, Chocolate Factory!)

And, wouldn’t you know, when general public seating opened the following day, the entire engagement sold out within 2 hours!! The Chocolate Factory had never seen anything like it. Ever!!

So even if you can’t obtain tickets at the Chocolate Factory to see the show, don’t despair – before it even started previews, a transfer to the West End was announced! And, if you’ve never been to the Chocolate Factory, you really should pay a call. It’s a great space and some amazing productions have started there.

Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Menier Chocolate Factory

CULTURE TIP: Funny Girl at the Savoy

“London is too full of fogs and serious people. Whether the fogs produce the serious people, or whether the serious people produce the fogs, I don’t know.”
Oscar Wilde

As usual with our visits to London – I believe that this will be our 14th time there – we tend to book up heavily on the cultural side of things. This visit is no exception: 3 shows on the West End, the aforementioned FG at the Chocolate Factory, our first ever Panto (Cinderella at the Hammersmith), and another venue new to us: a Candlelight Christmas Eve Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. (AAC CPA has promised not to scream at the climactic part of the concert a la Doris Day in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.)

Doris Day
Doris Day or AAC CPA? You be the judge.

Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall

“London is a roost for every bird.”
Benjamin Disraeli

In between all the culture, there’s the eating. We’ve booked some fun meals at some of our old haunts, and I’ll be reporting on them as merrily we roll along. We’ve also been invited to join A & K for a holiday dinner with A’s family, as they reside in Merry Olde. We’re very flattered to be part of their family for that special evening.

The other fun thing is that, on Christmas Night in London, the very final episode of Downton Abbey will be telecast and we’ll be there to see it. (Don’t tell anyone, but we’ve already seen the final season and it’s GOOD! Shhhhhhhh!) We’re a bit sorry to see the series go, but it seems to be ending on a high note.

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
What would Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham say?

I’ll try to post a couple of entries while we’re across the pond to let you know how it’s going.

In the meantime, I hope that all of you are enjoying a happy and healthy holiday season.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Let’s All Go Safari!!

“If there were one more thing I could do, it would be to go on safari once again”
Karen Blixen

PIC #1

I’m posting today to share an amazing travel opportunity for anyone who has ever dreamed of going on safari in the most luxurious way imaginable.

Before I tell you about it, I suppose I should also state for the record – as I’ve seen on other blogs – that there is no incentive for me to give you this information. (“Give” is the operative word, as I will not personally benefit in any way should you decide to indulge yourself in this trip of a lifetime. Consider it my holiday “gift” to you.)

Now that we have that piece of non-business out of the way, you may recall that, in an earlier post, I told you all about my awesome travel agents who book all of my cruises. I’ve developed an excellent relationship with the same agents, Nada and Monika, for over 10 years now, and they have delivered flawless service each and every time.

The company is Tully Luxury Travel, founded in 1987 by its extraordinary CEO Mary Jean Tully. To give you an example about how successful the company is, Mary Jean likes to say that: “The very first employee I hired 27 years ago is still with us today. I believe this speaks volumes about the kind of company we are.”

AAC CPA and I had the pleasure of having dinner with Mary Jean some years ago and, not only is she a delightful person and wonderful company but, as importantly, totally enthusiastic about all things travel.

Another thing about Mary Jean is that she is an avid conservationist and passionate about the protection of wildlife in Africa, where poaching poses an urgent threat to elephants, rhinos, and big cats. “Pay it forward” is her favorite expression.

PIC #2
“If I have ever seen magic, it has been in Africa.”
John Hemingway, African Journeys

All of which brings me to some exciting news: On August 1, 2016, you can join Mary Jean as she hosts a “Journey to Africa”, with visits to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. This adventure will be limited to just 12 guests, and you will have the exclusive use of each reserve during your stay and will fly privately between each camp.

Every element of this trip has been carefully and thoughtfully planned for your enjoyment, and you will be living a very luxurious 14 days during your time in Africa. Mary Jean has been to Africa on many occasions and she has forged some great relationships there, through which you will benefit.

PIC #3
“The Eye never forgets what the heart has seen.”
African Proverb

Have a glance at the trip’s brochure to get an idea of what is in store for you:

Mary Jean’s Journey To Africa

Should you decide that you want more information or have any questions, I encourage you to get in touch with my pal, Nada:

Contact Nada

She will be happy to speak with you and to answer all of your questions pertaining to this or any other trip in which you might be interested. As you may already know, Tully Luxury Travel books more cruises on Crystal Cruises vessels than any other company so, if you’re contemplating that kind of trip, you will also have gone to the right place.

TRAVEL TIP: Tully Luxury Travel

If we hadn’t already planned all of our 2016 travel, we would be taking a very serious look at this fantasy trip.

Enjoy!!