Greetings from Dubai – Day 1

I’m writing to you from the 12th floor of the fabulous Raffles Dubai. We checked in last night around 10:00 PM. More about that in a bit.

Thought I’d finish telling you about our Etihad experience yesterday. It was flawless – you actually wanted the flight to be LONGER!

As I signed off yesterday (during the flight and after my first meal service), I became filled with ennui (and extreme fatigue) – perhaps the combination of jet lag and alcoholic intake. One of the nicest features of The Apartment is that one side can be converted into a very comfortable bed. Even thought it was a relatively short flight, I thought that a brief nap could do me no harm. So I asked the purser to make up my bed.

ETIHAD Bed
My bed aboard the Etihad A380 – doesn’t it look delightful?

I climbed under the covers and it was so luxurious and extremely comfortable. I’ve had the good fortune to fly on numerous flights that feature “lie flat beds”, but none came remotely close to the comfort level this one had. I closed the doors to my suite, was out cold in 5 minutes and slept for about an hour. How lucky am I?

Upon awakening, I felt that it was time to eat again. Why, I can’t possibly tell you. But I’d been told that the Etihad Steak Sandwich was a must, so I ordered one straightaway. In order to mitigate the damage, I invited AAC, CPA to join me and share the meal.

2nd Meal Service
Table for 2 at 36,000 feet

AAC wants food
AAC, CPA needs feeding

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Etihad steak sandwich for 2 – AAC, CPA happy

The sandwich was accompanied by a truffled mayonnaise and warm garlic chips. And, of course, Eren (our food and beverage manager) paired the sandwich with a delicious Rioja. Somehow we devoured the sandwich in record time.

AAC, CPA wasn’t quite finished, however. He requested a plate of sweets to finish off the meal.

Dessert
Our totally unnecessary dessert – but delicious, nevertheless

By the time we finished stuffing ourselves, we were about 45 minutes from landing. Our flight crew – chef, food & beverage manager, purser and attendant – couldn’t have been nicer and we’ve never had better service in the air.

So thus say I: If you ever have the opportunity to fly Etihad in The Apartments, jump at it! We did it on AAdvantage miles – 110,000 each (BA from JFK – LHR; Etihad from LHR to AUH, tho’ after June 1st, nonstop Etihad award flights from JFK – AUH will be a bit more available due to the additional A380 daily flight for the same 110,000 miles). We would never pay for such a flight – the nonstop from JFK will currently set you back $15,881 PER PERSON!!!! – but the award is very achievable, provided that you can plan about 3 months ahead of your travel date, which is when the awards seem to appear.

TRAVEL TIP: Etihad Airways: Flying Reimagined

We had arranged with our hotel – Raffles Dubai – for a car to meet our flight and drive us to Dubai. We were lucky to be given “fast track” cards for border control, and we were sped through. Our luggage came up almost immediately and, before we knew it, we were met by a driver and hotel greeter and quickly en route to Dubai – about an 80 minute drive.

When we were about 5 minutes from the hotel, our greeter contacted them so that we’d be met upon arrival. As we got out of the car, Anita was waiting for us, whisked us through the lobby and took us immediately up to our suite to check us in.

We reserved one of the Landmark Suites, situated on the 12th floor of the pyramid-shaped hotel. It’s a sprawling space, with a huge living/dining area, wet bar, bedroom with separate dressing area, beautiful master bath with a jacuzzi and, finally, a powder room. Oh, and did I mention that we have 2 terraces?

An added benefit of being in the Landmark Suite is that you have access to the Raffles Lounge down on the 10th floor. It offers complimentary continental breakfast, afternoon tea and evening canapes and cocktails. It’s a nice extra.

Welcome to Raffles
Welcome sweets from the hotel

Living Room - Night
Our living and dining area with wet bar behind

Bedroom - Night
Our bedroom

It was well after midnight by the time we’d settled in, and we weren’t even really unpacking – we’re saving most of our things for the ship on Monday, and we’re just in Dubai for 2 full days. Finally, we passed out and got a relatively good night’s sleep.

We were up fairly bright and early this morning. We took our time waking up, as we’ve raced through 8 times zones since leaving New York on Wednesday night.

Dubai by Day
Good morning, Dubai – the view from our suite

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Terrace #1 off the living room

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Terrace #2 off the bedroom

Eventually we made our way down to breakfast at Azur, which features an extensive buffet of Eastern and Western dishes. If you book this hotel through the AmEx FHR program, breakfast is included, as is a $100 food and beverage credit. Thanks, Veronica!

HOTEL TIP: Raffles Dubai

Did I mention that it’s really hot here? During the day, the temperature climbs to about 100 degrees and barely dips below 80 at night. Although the skies are clear, there seems to be a haze around everything – not sure why that is.

Because of the heat, we were a bit concerned about getting around while we’re here. The hotel – lovely as it is – is not convenient to anything, so one would have to walk quite a distance just to find public transportation. We checked with the hotel’s concierge and found out that taxis and/or Uber are both viable ways to get around. We opted for Uber.

We decided to make a trip over to one of Dubai’s most famous destinations: Dubai Mall. For all of you mall-goers who shop ’til you drop, you may have think you’ve been to the mall. But not in your wildest imagination have you ever been to something like the one in Dubai. There are something like 1,200 stores, restaurants, cafes, etc., located in this one place. I’m not that much of a shopper, but I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the place. Oh, and if you want to put on the blades, there’s a skating rink!

Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall – Something for Everyone

Aquarium
Or maybe you’d like to visit an aquarium?

Ice Rink - 02
Or take a spin on the ice when it’s 98 degrees outside?

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The Dubai Mall even has Garrett popcorn – a Chicago institution!

Shake Shack
Unlike in NYC, there’s no waiting here – step right in!

IHop
Or, perhaps, something very retro?

Diver Wall Sculpture - 02
Very cool art and so reminiscent of Rosa Mexicano in New York City

SIGHTSEEING TIP: THE DUBAI MALL

After about 90 minutes – when our eyes began to cross from all the different shops – we Uber’ed it back to the hotel. Oh, and entre nous, Uber is extremely affordable here and, so far, the drivers have all been great and very friendly.

Back at the hotel, we decided to sample the complimentary afternoon tea at the Raffles Lounge (which we needed like a hole in the head). But it was quite nice, as you will see below.

Afternoon Tea
AAC, CPA is happy again

After that, there was nothing else to do, except to laze on our terraces, which had just begun to move into the shade. While it was hot, it was also kind of dreamy just hanging around and taking in the sights. 

And then we passed out for an hour!

As I put the finishing touches on this entry, AAC, CPA is showering up in preparation for dinner at the beautiful Al Nafoorah Restaurant, located in the Emirates Tower. More about that later.

But here’s one last image for today – sunset in beautiful and exotic Dubai:

 

Sunset
“The sun sits low, (almost) as low as it’s going to go”
Wadaeaan al’an!

Christmas in Paris

Bon jour, mes amis! I hope that Santa was good to each and every one of you. I, myself, felt very blessed today. I woke up next to AAC, CPA and am in the beautiful city of Paris. As Ira once lyricized, who can ask for anything more?

When last I left you, we were about to prepare for our Christmas Eve festivities, starting with a cocktail downstairs at Le Bar Kléber, which was doing a brisk business when we arrived at about 7:00 PM. The barman was very talented and delivered our cocktails with great flourish and enthusiasm.

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The view from our barstools

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Christmas Eve Negronis, mais sur.

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

From Le Bar Kléber, we Uber’ed over to Bistro de L’Oulette, a charming restaurant on the Rue des Tournelles near the Place des Vosges. We’d eaten there a few years ago and have always wanted to return. It’s a tiny little place, probably no more than 12 tables, and has a very friendly and welcoming staff.

bistro-de-loulette

Once we were seated, the maitre ‘d approached with a plate of amuse bouche and offered us an aperitif, and we each opted for a glass of champagne. All were delicious.

As it was a holiday, the restaurant was featuring a 3-course pri-fixe for a very reasonable 52 EUR. The restaurant also has a delightful wine list at excellent prices and a wonderful variety of choices.

bistrot-table
Our table was decorated for the holiday.

Four our mains, AAC CPA had medallions of monkfish with a shrimp risotto, and I had medallions of lamp with a parsley crust, accompanied by crisp sauteed potatoes and mushrooms. Both were mouth-wateringly delicious.

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AAC CPA’s monkfish

bistrot-lamb
My lamb

Oh, and did i mention that we split a split of Joseph Drouhin Aloxe-Corton 2013 which perfectly complimented our entrees. Every bite was a taste sensation.

bistrot-wine
A beautiful pairing for our entrees, AAC CPA hides behind the wine.

CUISINE TIP: Bistro de L’Oulette

Following dinner, it was back into the Uber and a quick return to the hotel. By that point, we were pretty tired. We struggled to stay up for awhile and finally gave up the ghost around midnight.

And then we blissfully slept for over 9 hours. It was heaven.

This morning, we went down to Le Lobby, for breakfast. It’s a beautiful room, with a beautiful staff, providing beautiful service.

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The entrance to Le Lobby

AAC CPA went for the 45 EUR continental breakfast which could, in fact, feed us both. I opted for eggs and then I poached some of his goodies.

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A very happy AAC CPA checking out his continental breakfast

While we were eating, we noticed that a guitarist and vocalist were setting up shop right next to our table. We were at first concerned, because we noticed the amplification that accompanied them. However, once they started to perform, it was totally delightful. Their repertoire was a combination of holiday music and American Songbook. It was a really nice touch to provide live entertainment for us.

peninsula-breakfast-floorshow
Live music 6 feet away from us!

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

After breakfast, we decided to take a little constitutional, as the weather is mild today. We decided to check out the competition’s holiday decorations at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel George V. We’ve stayed there on occasion and have always been wowed by the floral arrangements in their lobby. Here’s what we saw today:

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four-seasons-02

four-seasons-07-lobby

Meanwhile, out in their courtyard:

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Ice blue penguins!!!

LODGING TIP: Four Seasons Hotel George V

‘Tis the season to be jolly, indeed!

And now, it’s time to great ready, once again, to prepare for our 2nd evening out in this enchanted city. The bill of fare: dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the historic Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera, where we have tickets to see Iphigénie en Tauride.

More to follow!

 

 

 

Bonjour Paris!!

Greetings, Ladies and Germs – we made it!

As it’s now Christmas Eve and, as we got a lot of livin’ to do, I’m going to make this a brief entry with some photos of the past 24 hours, starting at JFK last evening before our magic carpet ride (courtesy of OpenSkies) to the City of Light:

When you’re flying overnight on either British Airways or OpenSkies, there’s an option available where you can eat on the ground before you board the plane, so that you can go right to sleep – good idea, huh?

pre-flight-supper
I wasn’t kidding!

pre-flight-supper-aac
And here’s AAC CPA, chowing down on his pre-flight supper

at-the-gate
At the gate, just a few minutes later

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A little preflight Rose Champagne

The flight offered dinner service, but AAC CPA and I opted to have our beds made up and – as the flight time was just a little over 6 hours – decided to get some shuteye. As it turned out there was a lot of bump and grind for a few hours but, thanks to my pharmaceuticals, I was blissfully unaware.

About an hour before landing, I had a little continental breakfast:

in-flight-breakfast
There’s turkey and Swiss cheese inside that croissant, folks!

Once on the ground, we picked up our luggage and Uber’ed into town. It was a pretty great deal and, perhaps, even less than the cost of a taxi.

We got to the spectacular Hotel Peninsula – a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe – in just about 20 minutes and our beautiful room was waiting for us – more about that in a later post. We dropped off our stuff and headed out for a little walk to shake off the jet lag.

aac-arch-de-triumph
AAC CPA enjoying the sights

Of course, AAC immediately felt peckish, so we headed over to one of our favorite establishments in Paris for the elegant quick bite: Ladurée.

laduree
Yummy, yummy, yummy

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A happy AAC CPA, who knows that lunch is about to be served

laduree-club
The absolu-delish Club Ladurée

After lunch, our very satisfied AAC CPA and I made our way back to the hotel. And along the way, we stumbled upon this amazing and always surprising sight:

eiffel-tour
Is that an amazing photograph or what?

And then, when we got back into our room, here’s what was waiting for each of us:

stockings
And, yeah, there were some goodies inside!

And now, dear friends, it’s time for me to get changed and head downstairs to Le Bar Kléber for a lovely cocktail before we head out for our Christmas Eve dinner.

I’ll be back soon to report on our Paris adventures. In the meantime – whether you’ve been naughty or nice – I wish you a very Joyeux Noël de Paris!

Let’s Spend the Holidays in Paris!

“New York has neon, Berlin has bars,
But ah! Paree!”

Follies, 1971

fifi-dorsay
Fifi D’Orsay extols the virtues of Paris in Follies

Greetings from a frigid (27° but feels like 18°) but brilliantly sunny afternoon in New York City, where the weather of late has been totally schizoid. We had weather in the teens a few days ago and, yesterday, it was pushing 60°. It makes a person lose faith in weather prognosticators!

But, we don’t despair – we pack. On Friday, we’ll be winging our way to the City of Light, a/k/a/ Paris, for a week of holiday cheer. You may recall, from a former post, that we were originally planning to be in Hong Kong for the holidays. But then there was that hip replacement and cancellation of a trip to Amsterdam. Because we didn’t want to forfeit the Amsterdam airfare (on British Airways), we had to come up with an alternative plan. Et donc – Paris!

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The Champs Elysee all gussied up for the holidays – December, 2014

BA has a subsidiary airline – Open Skies – and that’s how we’ll make our way to and from Paris. We’ve flown them on a couple of other occasions and, if you plan ahead, you can obtain a competitive fare (not now, of course, at the last minute). They have a good business class cabin (referred to, by them, as “Biz Bed”), which gives you a seat that fully reclines so you can get some shuteye on the flight over. Open Skies has a fleet of mostly 757s, and the cabin interiors are acceptable, but could use a redo. However, it’s a way to snag a good fare and fly nonstop to Orly.

Another thing to note is that, since these are evening flights, meal service onboard is minimal, as passengers mostly want to get some sleep. For those passengers in Biz Bed, there is a full meal service on the ground at JFK called “Sleeper Service”, which is available in the Terraces Lounge.

 

open-skies-02
Our Open Skies chariot awaits

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The “Biz Bed” Cabin

And as an added treat, Open Skies currently has a promotion that entitles us to a complimentary Uber to and from JFK, so we’ll start our trip off on the right foot.

TRAVEL TIP: Open Skies

So what, you ask, will we be up to in Paris? For starters, we somehow scored the deal of the century at the Peninsula Paris. It’s a new property, under 2 years old, and it’s sensational. Located on Avenue Kleber within 5 minutes of the Arch de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees, it a very convenient base of operations. When we booked last August, the hotel had a promotion wherein you paid for 2 nights and the 3rd night was complimentary; as we’re staying 6 nights, we ended up with 2 free nights. The rates were so low, in fact, that I booked directly rather than reserve through the AmEx FHR program (which features all kinds of giveaways and benefits), as it was still less expensive to book through the hotel.

peninsula-hotel-01a-holiday-exterior
Side entrance to the Peninsula

peninsula-hotel-03-lobby
The spectacular lobby at the Peninsula

TRAVEL TIP: Peninsula Paris

By now, you’re perfectly aware that I’m intrepid when it comes to planning, so I know you’ll believe me when I say that we have all of our evening meals planned. Whenever we go to Paris, we typically have one blowout, super, over-the-top Michelin meal. This year, we’ll return to one of our favorite restaurants anywhere, Le Grand Vefour, a jewel box of a restaurant, originally opened in 1794 and located in the arcades of the Palais-Royal. We usually don’t return to restaurants in Paris, except on rare occasions where we might go back for a 2nd visit. However, our dinner at Le Grand Vefour next week will mark the 4th time we’ve dined there. It’s that special. One of the charming details of the dining room is that the banquettes are named for notable Frenchmen and women: among them, Victor Hugo, Jean Cocteau, George Sand, Emile Zola, Joséphine de Beauharnais and, at the adjacent banquette, General Bonaparte. The banquette we always request is named for the noted French author, Colette (né Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette).

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Le Grand Vefour in the arcades at the Palais Royale

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The jewel-box dining room at Le Grand Vefour

CUISINE TIP: Le Grand Vefour 

Other highlights of our week in Paris:

We’ll be going to the famed Palais Garnier on Christmas night to see a performance of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, preceded by dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the opera house. If you’ve never been to the Palais Garnier, it’s a must – think Phantom of the Opera on steroids.

palais-garnier-01-exterior
The spectacular Palais Garnier

palais-garnier-03-auditorium
Inside the auditorium with the famed Chagall chandelier

palais-garnier-04b-grand-stairway
The grand stairway to the stalls

palais-garnier-07-grand-foyer
The ultra-Rococo grand foyer

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A scene from Iphigénie en Tauride

CULTURE TIP: Palais Garnier

EG: Restaurant
L’Opera, which is adjacent to Palais Garnier

CUISINE TIP: L’Opera

And, while we’re on the topic of shows, the famed Théâtre du Châtelet has, over the past 10 years, presented over 25 Broadway musicals on its stage. Several years ago, we saw an excellent production of Sweeney Todd and, two years ago, we saw the out-of-town tryout of An American in Paris on Christmas Eve, which opened on Broadway a few months later. This year, the Châtelet is presenting a new production of that old chestnut, 42nd Street – not our favorite show, but a fun way to spend an evening. After all, the show contains these immortal words: “Musical comedy – the most glorious words in the English language!” And the Châtelet always delivers: full (sometimes oversized) orchestra, large casts and it never stints on the glitz and glamour.

Théâtre du Châtelet
Théâtre du Châtelet

chatelet-04-interior
The gorgeous auditorium at the Théâtre du Châtelet 

Forty Second Street - UK Productions
42nd Street at the Théâtre du Châtelet 

CULTURE TIP: Théâtre du Châtelet

Although it’s going to be our 13th or 14th visit to Paris (can’t get enough), we still do a bit of sightseeing on occasion and maybe revisit some favorite places. Because we are Philistines when it comes to art (sad, but true), we decided to avail ourselves of this outfit called Paris Muse, which specializes in private tours in and around Paris. So we’ve booked two excursions: the first will be a 2½ hour Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre and the second will be a 90 minute tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. We’ve been to both places in the past, but not as an immersive experience. I’ll report back to you and let you know how it goes.

louvre-01-exterior
No caption necessary

CULTURE TIP: The Louvre

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Notre Dame Cathedral

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The Cathedral

CULTURE TIP: Notre Dame Cathedral

We also discovered that one of our favorite museums – the Jeu de Paume, located at Place Concorde and on the edge of the Tuilleries – is currently featuring an exhibit entitled Unrest, which is described as “a transdisciplinary exhibition on the theme of collective emotions, political events insofar as they imply crowd movements in conflict: there is talk of social disorders, political agitation, insurrections, revolts, revolutions, vacancies, riots, upheavals of all kinds”.

Seems like an appropriate time for this exhibit, right?

musee-jeu-de-paume-01
Musée Jeu de Paume

CULTURE TIP: Jeu de Paume

Otherwise, weather permitting, we hope to walk the streets of Paris until we drop. It’s a city made for strolling and we intend to show off AAC CPA’s new and improved hip as we make our way through the Marais or the Champs Elysee or the Place Madeleine, especially as we’ll be having a lovely lunch at Caviar Kaspia one afternoon.

So that, in a nutshell, will be our Parisian holiday adventure. I’ll fill in more details as they happen.

Restez à l’écoute et de joyeuses fêtes à tous!

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Dining in Brooklyn, Opera in a Loft; and an Uber PostScript

Greetings and salutations, all. I’m looking out of my office window at a beautifully bright and sunny afternoon here in the city that never sleeps. True, it’s on the cool side, but 50 degrees in December is almost like a heat wave for us.

Just to show you how lovely my city can be this time of year, here’s a photo I took at Columbus Circle late Thursday afternoon. Pretty gorgeous, huh?

Columbus Circle

I thought I’d share with you our excursion last night to a place called Brooklyn. Do you know it? As we say on the Upper West Side of Manhattan: “It’s over there, somewhere” as we gesture vaguely in some unknown direction. Actually, Brooklyn is an amazing place where all kinds of interesting things are going on: restaurants, shops, clubs, culture. It’s all there for the taking.

So, I had heard about this ambitious young opera company: LoftOpera. The company presents their productions in unusual spaces in Brooklyn. Believe me, this is NOT your parents’ opera company. Even though they choose operas from the standard repertoire, the productions are cutting-edge, exciting, unusual and cast with up and coming singers. When was the last time you saw La Boheme in which all of the singers were age-appropriate?

And speaking of age, the average age of the Metropolitan Opera audience is about 57+ (according to a sampling of 15,750 audience members taken in 2005). That makes AAC CPA and I relative youngsters when we go to the Met. Just looking around the audience at LoftOpera last night, call us Gramps, as the place was filled with people in their 20s and 30s. In fact, we viewed only a handful of audience members who were our age or older. Yikes!

Loft Opera

Check out the hip, young crowd at LoftOpera

Of course, the $30 ticket charge may have had something to do with the demographics of the audience. I’d argue, however, that it had more to do with the vibe and the experience. Entering the performance space, located at 501 Union Street (I have no idea where in Brooklyn that really is – over there somewhere??), the first thing you see is a long bar, from which beer and wine are being served. The atmosphere is party-like, as if everyone is there to partake in some kind cool experience. The performance space is a long rectangular room, the length of which has 5 or 6 rows of seats. At one end is the 12-piece orchestra, tuning up. It’s very social, it’s very hip, it’s fun.

AAC goes to LoftOpera

AAC CPA goes LoftOpera!

The work being presented was Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, which dates from 1946. It’s a very serious work with a gorgeous Britten score and deals with what might have triggered the beginning of the fall of the Roman Empire, tho’ that is never a stated theme.

Lucretia_LoftOpera
Production still from The Rape of Lucretia at LoftOpera

The production was simply staged, but very dramatically enacted for full and immediate impact. The cast, with which I was totally unfamiliar, was excellent, each and every one. The audience sat rapt throughout and, at the end, was very generous with its applause. All in all, it was a very groovy night and very exciting to discover this new company. Although specific repertoire hasn’t yet been announced, LoftOpera will be presenting 4 productions next year. If you’re in the area, I encourage you to check them out. These are professionally presented productions in intimate surroundings and adventurous locations, and at a fraction of the cost you’d spend at any other opera company.

CULTURE TIP: LoftOpera

And check out the New York Times review for your edification:

New York Times Review

Because AAC CPA and I needed to be well fortified prior to the show, I sought out a place to grab a bite. Enter al di la Trattoria, on 5th Street in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn. I’d heard that they served seriously good Italian food. Again, my phobia about getting lost in the boroughs has held me back. Bad boy!! We had a delightful dinner last night.

al di la

We weren’t able to sample their extensive wine list (no sleeping at the opera, damnit!), but we were delighted with what we chose to eat. We shared an Autumn Market Salad, beautifully shaved vegetables (except for the cauliflower, ewwww), and dressed in the lightest of dressings. Yummy. Followed by a special, pappardelle and duck ragu. OMG, it was so tasty.

al di la food
Talk about whetting your appetite!!!!

For mains, we went our own way: hanger steak with arugula for me (how healthy!) and the most tender pork chop I’ve ever tasted for AAC CPA. Our contorni was Crispy Squashed Beets with horseradish crème and chives. I’m telling you, it was a taste sensation, and totally worth the trip to Brooklyn.

CUISINE TIP: al di la Trattoria – Brooklyn

Speaking of trips to Brooklyn, perhaps that’s why God invented Uber?

Speaking of which: Remember when I talked about Uber last week and how it got us flawlessly around Fort Lauderdale? Well, we Uber-ed our way home after the opera last night and, not only did they pick us up within like 2 minutes, the trip back home was faster and cheaper than taking a taxi. And much more fun, ‘cause you generally travel in a nice car and the drivers are always friendly and chatty (but in a good way).

So, here’s the deal: if any of you are curious but have never tried Uber, use my code:

jeffreys567

and you’ll get $15 off your first Uber ride. (Full disclosure: apparently, I’ll get some kind of credit as well. That’s what I call a “win-win”.)

Travel Tip: Uber Sign-Up

That’s all for now, folks. Have a lovely weekend!!