Adios, Los Angeles – Benvenuto, Napa Valley

Last night, we bid a fond farewell to Los Angeles by having dinner at El Comprade on Sunset Blvd. AAC CPA always complains that all he really wants when going out for Mexican food is to be able to order a beef taco and cheese enchilada. These days, there aren’t that many places where you can find these combinations on the menu.

El Comprade is like a throwback to the days when I was attending USC many years ago. It’s a neighborhood place and there’s nothing remotely fancy about it. You’ll come here for flaming Margaritas (I kid you not), huge bowls of Aztec butter (a/k/a guacamole), spicy salsa, those combinations I was just mentioning and, yes, even a Mariachi band. All at prices which feel very 1980s.

After watching the staggering loss of the Golden State Warriors to that inferior team in game 7 of the NBA finals, (which was on full view at the bar), we drowned our sorrows with those flaming Margaritas, guac with chips and salsa and just felt the vibe. Soon enough, the Mariachi band appeared to serenade the diners and our spirits began to lift. El Comprade is filthy with feel-good atmosphere. 

Then it was time to order: we did the beef taco/cheese enchilada one better by ordering El Padrino, which includes all of the above, plus a small sliced steak, a side of guacamole, with riced and refried beans on the side. A nice, light meal – all for $17.95!

It was completely satisfying and, after a couple of those Margaritas, we were very happy to Uber back to our hotel to do our final packing and wish LA a fond farewell.

Comprade Margarita
I wasn’t kidding – El Comprade’s flaming Margarita
Comprade Salsa
Guacamole, salsa and chips
Comprade Padrino
El Padrino – something light for your entree

CULINARY TIP: El Comprade – Los Angeles

We were up bright and early this morning and, after a quick bite of breakfast, motored off to the LAX for the quick flight up to SFO. Our driver, whose name we did not catch, was in a chatty mood and, having been in the biz for many years, regaled us with stories of the celebrities who sat in his backseat over the years, including (in no particular order), Thomas Keller, Bea Arthur, Anna Nicole Smith, Rue McClanahan, Ed Harris and Amy Madigan and others. Don’t ask: our lips are sealed!

My sister, Leslie , and her husband, Ron, picked us up at arrivals and we were off to the Napa Valley for 3 days. On the way to Yountville, we stopped for lunch at Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa proper. It was the perfect choice. Every morsel was a sensation. We shared a special of fried shaved zucchini which did not need any marinara sauce to make an impression. We had veal tonnato, Caesar salad and a delicious Margarita pizza. Did I mention that the focaccia tasted as if it had just come out of the oven? It was a great way to start our visit to the Valley.

Don G Kitchen
Bistro Don Giovanni kitchen
Don G Bar
Bistro Don Giovanni bar at lunch
Don G Patio
Bistro Don Giovanni patio
Don G Grounds
Bar Don Giovanni grounds

CULINARY TIP: Bistro Don Giovanni – Napa

Then it was off to Yountville, specifically to the Hotel Yountville, where we’ll be staying for the next three days.

To be continued . . . . . . . . 

 

Los Angeles – 3rd Full Day in Town

Greetings and salutations from a sweltering Los Angeles. As I write to you, it’s a sultry 92 degrees. AAC CPA and I are ensconced in a lovely poolside cabana at the luxurious L’Ermitage in the 90210 zip code. We just finished a delicious brunch at the hotel’s restaurant, Avec Nous, with our great friends, Amy and Julie, and it was great to to see them and catch up.

Avec Nous
Avec Nous at L’Ermitage

Last night we Ubered over to the Tower Bar in the Tower Arms Hotel up on the Strip. We’ve dined there many times over the years and have always been impressed by the swank factor. The place is gorgeous and very sophisticated, the bartenders and wait staff (all of whom do their jobs extremely well) could well have been sent over by Central Casting. And legendary maître d’ Dimiti Dimitrov has always run a tight ship.

Having said that – and while it was a mixed pleasure to return – I have to admit some surprise and disappointment at the lack of dress code in evidence last night. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one who believes that you have to dress in white tie and tails to go out on a Saturday night. But the preponderance of sloppy t-shirts worn by diners of the male persuasion was just a bit of a shock. Whenever we’ve dined at Tower Bar in the past, the attire was nothing less than casual chic – and this place has been the epitome of chic for as long as I can remember.

The cocktails and dinner were as delightful as ever and our waiter, Ronnie, was perfect: there whenever you needed him, but allowing us to have an intimate dinner a deux.

So, would I recommend that you try out the Tower Bar next time you’re in town? Truth be told, the food is very tasty but, at that price point, there are other places that are just as good. We had looked forward to the whole experience: an elegant, swellagent evening up on the Strip, and our balloon was a bit deflated, sad to say.

Moving on:

Before meeting up with Amy and Julie, we decided to go for a little morning constitutional before it got too hot. Heading west on Burton Way, we ran into a Farmer’s Market just a few blocks from the hotel and decided to walk through to see how they do it out here. We loved it.

In addition to the multitudes of vegetable and fruit stands, there were several bread stands, one stand that specialized in dog food, and a small coterie of goats and turtles in yet another area.

While strolling through, we were beckoned by a very welcoming presence at a stand dedicated solely to balsamic vinegar. The welcoming presence, it turns out, is Chris-Ann, and she gave us a taste of many varieties of her wares: it was mind-blowing. I think my favorite may have been the chocolate flavored balsamic vinegar (to drizzle over your strawberries for a sumptuous dessert). We chatted with Chris-Ann for a good while and really enjoyed both the conversation and the samples.

Chris-Ann
The Gourmet Blends stand, overseen by the friendly Chris-Ann

Had we lived here, we would have walked away with a few bottles. As luck would have it, you (and we) can order the stuff online. Check it out for yourselves.

CULINARY TIP: Gourmet Blends

I know that you know that we’re back, yet again, at our favorite LA hotel, L’Ermitage, and I believe I posted a picture the other day. But that pic was a cheat, not our room. So I thought you might be interested to see our actual digs:

Erm - 01
Our bedroom and sitting area
Erm - 05
Dressing area – how about all those mirrors?
Erm - 02
Bathroom – part one
Erm - 03
Bathroom – part two

Yeah, this place is really cool beans. You might consider giving it a try next time you’re in town.

TRAVEL TIP: L’Ermitage

And now, gentle readers, it’s time for me to cool down. Then we have to think about packing before heading out for our last dinner in town: El Comprade. 

Tomorrow: Yountville and the wine country!

And Then There’s Maude

So, we completed our first full day in town with a splendid dinner at one of the hottest restaurants in town – Curtis Stone’s Maude.

Maude Biz Card.jpg
Maude’s business card

The first thing you need to know about Maude is that – unless you plan extremely well in advance, and are extremely lucky, or are related to Chef – your chances of getting in are going to be very challenging. That’s because the footprint of the restaurant is relatively tiny with less than 10 tables, and the online reservation system only opens up about a month in advance and tends to sell out within hours. In our case, we threw ourselves upon the mercy of Christine (a member of the concierge team at L’Ermitage), and she did us proud. As we’re in town for only 4 days, not only did she get us our desired date but, also, our desired time of 8:00 PM. Thank you, Christine!!

Maude - AAC
AAC CPA arrives at Maude

Maude Dining Room
The action in the dining room on a Friday night

Maude serves a multi-course menu which is built around one “star” ingredient and changes monthly. Already this year, Chef has created menus around carrots, potatoes, pistachios, radishes, garlic and, for this month, it’s cherries. Menu prices have been between $125 – $150 per person and are paid in full (plus 18% gratuity) at the time of booking. Beer and wine are offered with dinner and, if you like, you can choose either a “classic” or “reserve” wine pairing at, respectively $115 and $150 per person. Because we are such cheap dates, AAC CPA and I elected to share the premium pairing. It actually worked out great on all counts.

Once you are seated and asked if there are any dietary issues of concern, then the fun begins. The menu is not presented to you until the end of the evening so as not to ruin the element of surprise. Even looking at the menu during the Uber ride back to the hotel, it does not do justice to the experience. The wait staff is excellent and very welcoming and your fellow diners are convivial. Everyone seems happy to be there and to be sharing the experience.

I would have liked to say that I can faithfully recollect everything we ate, but that would be a bald-faced lie. I did take a lot of pictures of the various courses, which I’m happy to share with you, but I don’t recall now all the preparations and ingredients, but I’ll do my best. Mega apologies to Chef and his team. At the very least, you can enjoy seeing the food and the presentation.

Maude Cherries & Fois Gras
Cherries and fois gras sitting on a light cracker

Maude Jicama
Jicama, lovage, elderflowers, cherries

Maude Omasum
Omasum (a/k/a tripe), porcini, anise, cherries 

(NOTE: So glad we didn’t know what we eating before we ate it – suffice it to say that each bite was a singular sensation.)

Maude Marcona Almond Soup
Marcona almond soup with cherries

Maude Sturgeon
Sturgeon, which was somehow smoky, in a cherry glaze

Maude Abalone
Abalone with beans, miso and basil and, of course, cherries 

Maude Squab
Squab with beets, nasturtium and poached cherries

Maude Parfait
Served with the squab, puff pastry atop something really good!!

Maude Clafoutis
Following the cheese course, clafoutis with cherries

Maude Petit Fours
Followed by petits four

Maude Scones
Still hungry? Cherry scones to take with us.

One of the best parts of the experience is that, although we ate something like 10 courses (I forgot to include pix of the pasta and cheese courses), by the end of the almost 3-hour meal, we were comfortable and entirely satisfied. The progression and size of each course wasn’t excessive but was entirely sufficient. It’s my favorite kind of dining experience: you get to try a lot of things and not feel as if you have to be carried from the table.

So, if you’re planning to be in Los Angeles – or if you live here – check out Maude and try your luck at scoring a reservation. For most of us, you’ll be saving it for a special experience, but you’ll have a very memorable evening.

CULINARY TIP: Maude

Los Angeles – 1st Full Day in Town

Greetings, gentle readers, from the City of Angels. We arrived yesterday afternoon and, so far, are having a wonderful time.

Our trip in from the airport yesterday afternoon was uneventful, except that one can no longer travel on the freeway, as they have all turned into parking lots. But we know how to get around and where all the shortcuts are. Of course, so did our taxi driver, so all was well.

We’ve stayed at L’Ermitage annually, probably going back at least 10 – 12 years. It’s always a pleasure to return here, almost like our southern California home: perfect location, comfortable surroundings, great staff.

The hotel had a major renovation last year so, after we settled in, we went snooping around. Almost every element of the hotel has been rethought. The guest rooms have been totally redone from scratch and are both practical and gorgeous.

Here are a few pix of our room:

L'Ermitage Room
Our bedroom and sitting area

L'Ermitage Dressing Room
The dressing room and closet area
L'Ermitage Bathroom
The bathroom

Yes, we’re very comfortable here.

Downstairs, there’s a new restaurant, Avec Nous, where we take our breakfasts which, thanks to the AmEx FHR program, are included (or, at least, we get a $60 per day credit). Thanks, AmEx! Thanks, Veronica!!

Avec Nous
Avec Nous, L’Ermitage’s new restaurant

Avec Nous Bar
The fancy bar at Avec Nous

We’re also very fond of the rooftop pool and cabanas at the hotel. It’s usually pretty quiet and they’ve installed a bar adjacent to the pool so, should you become thirsty, you’ll find instant gratification. Also, there’s a food menu, should you feel peckish. 

L'Ermitage Rooftop Pool
L’Ermitage’s rooftop pool and cabanas at sunset – nice, right?

Anyhoo, after we finished our tour of the new and improved L’Ermitage, it was time to settle down for awhile, a/k/a passing out for an hour or so. It had been a long day and we were looking forward to our first dinner in LA.

Following a refreshing nap, we were ready to clean up and head out. Thanks to the amazing concierge team at the hotel, we were taken in the hotel town car to Sotto, over on West Pico. This place does some serious southern Italian food. It’s located in a so-so area and it’s underneath something else, so it’s not unlike eating in someone’s ground level apartment, only much better.

Sotto - AAC
AAC CPA arrives at Sotto

We were cordially welcomed and escorted to our table. Our waiter, Angela, took incredibly good care of us. Because I’d checked it out beforehand, we knew that we wanted to start with the Chickpea Panella, sort of mashed-up chickpeas and then deep-fried and topped with shavings of pecorino cheese. It was the perfect compliment to the icy cold Negronis we had requested.

Following, we had a 1st course of charred broccolini and spicy pork meatballs which was served over a salad of mixed greens and salata ricotta.

Charred Broccolini
Charred broccolini
Sotto - Pork Meatballs
Spicy pork meatballs

We then decided to share a primi, in this case a delicious paccheri (a tube pasta) in a sweet and spicy pork ragu with rapini and – get this – fennel pollen. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and the flavors were intense.

About this time, we started in on a glass of the most ruby red Montalpulciano, which was a perfect compliment to the pasta and the next course: the guanciale pizza, made with house-cured pork cheek and ricotta and cooked to perfection in Sotto’s wood-burning oven.

Sotto - Pizza
Guanciale Pizza

We had hoped to save room for some made-at-the-last-minute cannoli, but we just couldn’t – you know what I mean. So, our wonderful waiter, Angela, brought us a little box, which was filled with complimentary cannoli, for a late-night snack. How great is that?

Remember how I said that we opted not to rent a car for the first time ever in LA? Yes, friends, we decided to go all 21st century and just Uber our way around town. And it worked pretty darn well, although we almost got into the wrong Uber at the restaurant, which was waiting for someone else. It all worked out in the end however, and we returned to L’Ermitage and literally fell into bed. It had been one long day.

This morning, we were up at a reasonable hour, made ourselves presentable, went down to breakfast and, once again, hopped into the hotel town car, this time bound for LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) to see a special exhibition: Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium. For those of you too young to remember (and you know who you are), Mapplethorpe was an extremely talented and even more extremely controversial artist in the 1970’s and 80’s. Even after he died of AIDS in the late 1980’s, controversy raged around him. If you don’t believe me, just google Jesse Helms and Robert Mapplethorpe and see what pops up. It’s utterly fascinating.

LACMA
Banners proclaiming the Mapplethorpe exhibit at LACMA
LACMA - AAC
AAC CPA goes to LACMA and checks out the street lamp exhibit

The Mapplethorpe exhibition is at LACMA through July 31st, and we’d highly recommend it. PS. It’s not for the young ones.

CULTURE TIP: Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium

By coincidence, HBO has been broadcasting a documentary about Mapplethorpe, entitled “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures”, which I encourage you to check out. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s extremely rewarding.

CULTURE TIP: Maplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

After all that culture, we were ready for some lowdown activities, so we got ourselves over to The Grove, most particularly so that we could drop into See’s Candies, which is an obsession of ours’. If you’re never sampled See’s, you’re really missing out. It’s like an old-fashioned candy shoppe, and the first thing that happens when you walk in is that they give you a free sample which, as they say, gets the juices flowing. We walked out with over 2 pounds of the stuff.

Although See’s is based throughout California, it’s also available online. If you’re a chocoholic, please check it out, but don’t say I didn’t warn you: this stuff is ADDICTIVE!

FUN TIP: See’s Candies

Then it was time to Uber back to the hotel, change into casual attire, and hit the roof deck pool and cabana. There was an available cabana in the shade, so we snuggled in, ordered a turkey panini, and now we’re just lazing about as I write this blog entry to you.

AAC - Cabana
AAC CPA devours the New York Times from his rooftop cabana

Tonight we’re having a very special culinary experience at Maude. I’ll close for now, but report back to you very soon all about it – it’s going to be the cherries, I’m sure.

 

 

 

California, Here I Come!

Yes, fellow travelers, it’s time to hit the road again. After a 2½ hour delay on the ground, AAC CPA and I are midway between the right and left coasts, winging our way via American Airlines to sunny Los Angeles.

There was no real explanation about why we were so delayed at JFK this morning. There was, apparently, a huge buildup of planes that were unable to take off. Yes, it was raining, just a bit, but is that any excuse? Geez, Louise.

AAC
AAC CPA settles into AA #1 bound for Los Angeles

So, we finally took off, libations were served (Bloody Mary’s, Tito’s on the side, please) which, for some inexplicable reason, were accompanied by biscotti. Where are my warm nuts??

Then there was a bruschetta omelet, accompanied by sausage, fresh melon and a biscuit. I was hungry, and it was tasty (enough).

Now I want to tell you about our itinerary for the next 11 days. We’ll be in Los Angeles – a much maligned town, if you ask me – for the next 4 days. Then we’re flying up to San Francisco and motoring to the wine country – Yountville (in the Napa valley), to be precise. After a few days in that paradise, we’re spending a long weekend in San Francisco. We’ve made this trip many times – it’s our annual west coast swing – and we couldn’t enjoy it more.

So what will we do for fun? There will certainly be a lot of eating; in fact, our dance card is filled every night with some very interesting dining establishments. I’ll tell you about them as we go along, but I’ll give you a little preview of our dinner tomorrow night:

We’re going to a place called Maude (“and then there’s Maude!”), which is this very hot restaurant in Beverly Hills. Helmed by chef Curtis Stone (“Top Chef” and “Around the World in 80 Plates”), the restaurant features a set multi-course menu that changes monthly. Each menu features one “star” ingredient: for June, it’s cherries. From what I’ve heard, we’re going to have a pretty fine experience.

Curtis Stone
Curtis Stone

DINING TIP: Maude

There will also be some culture on this trip. For instance, tomorrow morning, we’re going to LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) to see one of two Mapplethorpe exhibitions which are currently on view in the Los Angeles area. (The other is at the Getty.) As Mapplethorpe’s art was somewhat divided into two camps – as I imagine the exhibitions will likewise be – it’ll be interesting to find out which one we’re going to get. Stay tuned.

Mapplethorpe-01
Mapplethorpe by Mapplethorpe

CULTURE TIP: Mapplethorpe at LACMA

We’ll be staying at our favorite local hotel, L’Ermitage, located on Burton Way in Beverly Hills – just a few short blocks from Rodeo Drive, in fact. When we were last there – almost exactly a year ago – the place was in the midst of a major renovation, which was completed some months ago. At that time, we were shown a model of the new guest rooms, and the hotel has stepped up its game in providing a luxe experience for its lodgers.

L'Ermitage

TRAVEL TIP: L’Ermitage

We’ve also made a pretty dramatic decision regarding our LA sojourn: for the 1st time ever, we’re not renting a car but, rather “Ubering” our way around town. We’ve had friends who say it’s the only way to go. Between car rental fees, valet parking and hotel parking charges, this has got to be a good deal, right?

So that’s our little trip in a nutshell. Now it’s time to watch a flick, so I’ll stop here. I’ll be back soon with reports on our travels. Keep an eye on this space and have a lovely day.

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.