Monday, February 13, 2017
Monday, February 13, 2017
One of Florence’s best-kept secrets is taking place right now. The annual Fiera Del Cioccolato will be lining Piazza Santa Maria Novella in the Renaissance city from February 10-19. Vendors offer amazing chocolate masterpieces that are unique to the region and allow you to stock up just in time for Valentine’s Day. Offerings range from handmade crepes, waffles, chocolates, cookies, and much more. Along with vendors, the chocolate festival offers cooking shows and parties that allow visitors to truly engage with their love of all things chocolate. The festival’s close proximity to some of Florence’s well-known sights such as the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio make this a perfect place to relax as you take in the best the city has to offer.
Guest Post by Mack Kingman
Thursday, February 02, 2017
It wasn’t so long ago that the signature dinner in Cape Town was a traditional braai, a barbecue featuring copious amounts of meat like boerewors sausages. If that didn’t satiate your carnivorous cravings, you could always stop at the local butcher for a bag of biltong, the popular South African snack of air-dried beef jerky. Then the Apartheid regime ended and the city started to embrace its diversity of cultures, especially when it came to expanding the palate at your nightly meal. The fusion of Dutch, French, Malaysian, Indian, and African cooking has melded to create an exciting new cuisine.
The latest batch of talented chefs take full advantage of Cape Town’s melting pot and its envied locale, straddling the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as the largest city on the southernmost point of the continent. Everywhere you look is water and thankfully the fresh bounty of the sea now appears on the menu alongside the many types of meat, all washed down with South Africa’s world-class pinotage and sauvignon blanc vintages. You don’t have to step far from your hotel room to find a restaurant that scintillates the taste buds. Fine dining is sprouting up in all parts of the city like the blooming of king proteas, the national flower, at the city’s Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. So pick a neighborhood, any neighborhood.
My entire story on the Cape Town dining scene can be found in the February/March 2017 issue of Virtuoso Traveler.
Friday, January 27, 2017
We didn’t skimp on Mexican fare during out time in Arizona. Our first guacamole was made with tender chunks of ribeye at the Mexican-Asian influenced SumoMaya in Scottsdale. The rock shrimp tempura roll and ahi tuna tostada were also big hits at our table. Elote Café in Sedona was our favorite meal of the trip. We arrived when the restaurant opened at 5 pm and already there was a line out the door. A sublime carne asada, topped with a square of blue cheese and served with black beans and rice, was washed down with a perfectly concocted margarita on the rocks. Adding to our bliss was a riveting sunset that enlightened the red rock canyons outside the window. Swanky Café Poca Cosa in Tucson served the finest chicken mole of the trip. We ended the trip at supposedly the oldest Mexican restaurant in America, El Charro Café, which originally opened in Tucson in 1922. We sampled their signature dish, the carne seca. Dried in the Sonoran Desert sun, angus beef is shredded and grilled with green chile, tomatoes, and onions. I’ll be thinking about that hot spicy flavor all winter long in Boston.
Thursday, January 05, 2017
Spending three days with my daughter in August before she left for her first semester of college is a gift I don’t take for granted. A lobster bake on a deserted Maine island after a day of sailing aboard a historic Maine windjammer is just the icing on the cake. Captain Barry of the Schooner Mary Day anchored near a quiet beach with no other boats in sight and proceeded to row us over to shore. The crew built a fire, and then placed two massive pots brimming over with lobsters, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, and a healthy top layer of seaweed. When ready, Captain Barry threw off the layer of seaweed and grabbed his tongs to place all the lobsters and fixins in a circular design. We each grabbed our lobster and found a spot on the beach to dine.
The lobster opened easily without the need for crackers, as large pieces of tender claw meat was soon dipped into the butter, washed down with a nice, dry sauvignon blanc. Sublime. After polishing off the tail and leaving a puddle of water on my shirt and bathing suit, I could start all over again. See, the best part of a lobster bake aboard a Maine windjammer is that you can eat as many lobsters as you want. Captain Barry tells me that his record is a college student who devoured 13 lobsters in one sitting. Content with my big 2-pounder, I was happy to make the first of several s’mores over the hot wood. Quite sated, four of us decided to swim back to the schooner instead of rowing. A wise decision. The water was clean, cool, refreshing. The dinner far more memorable than all those James Beard-award winning restaurants I dined at last year.
Friday, December 16, 2016
One foot into inside the Rose Salon of the Spicer Mansion and I was smitten. The fresco ceiling, inlaid wood floors, moldings, and original windows had all been lovingly restored to its 1853 origin. But it wasn’t until dinner that evening that I realized why this new 8-room inn perched on a hill overlooking Mystic had achieved Relais & Chateaux status. The meal started with canapés and cocktails in the Rose Salon, before moving past the small kitchen to the intimate dining room for our six-course feast. An East Beach Blonde Oyster spiced with cider and green chile whet my appetite for more to come. Next up was a beautifully presented Nantucket bay scallop ceviche with slices of radishes and sweet potato in a small colorful bowl. The third dish was a stunner, native cod doused in a porcini mushroom and lobster broth and topped with genuine truffles. Then came a tender Vermont quail under a bed of pistachios, pomegranate, and barley, perfectly paired with the Antica Terra “Ceras” pinot noir from Willamette Valley. Dessert was a cinnamon-spiced apple with a dab of maple cream, paired again brilliantly with the sherry-like Marco de Bartoli Superiore Oro from Sicily. Last but not least was a wooden jewel box filled with macarons and homemade goodies created by the staff.
Remember the name of the chef, Jennifer Backman, because she’s on her way to winning many accolades. Indeed, I would have to say this was my favorite meal of the year and that includes stops at Shaya in New Orleans, the best new restaurant in America according to the James Beard Awards, and Pot Luck Club in Cape Town, often mentioned as the top restaurant on the African continent. Chef Jen's signed menu is now pinned to the wall of my office, next to another memorable dinner, “Paris 1906” at Grant Achatz’s Next in Chicago. The best part of the meal is that we could simply walk upstairs to our room. Want to impress your loved one this Holiday Season? Make the splurge and book a room and dinner at the Spicer Mansion.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
In 2012, Boston, a city that prides itself on its fresh seafood, was rocked to its ocean-loving core when a two-part expose published by the Boston Globe revealed that a significant number of fish were mislabeled at area restaurants, grocery stores, and fish markets. Diners were served cheap Vietnamese catfish instead of the succulent and more expensive grouper, haddock instead of cod, tilapia in place of pricey red snapper. Indeed, 24 of the 26 red snapper samples tested were some other species of fish. The two reporters went on a fish collecting spree, sending samples of their findings to a laboratory in Canada for DNA testing. The outcome? A whopping 48 percent of the seafood was mislabeled. In his latest book, Real Food Fake Food, writer Larry Olmsted goes so much further, telling us that most kobe beef sold at restaurants is indeed wagyu; extra virgin olive oil is rarely that, usually cut with soybean and peanut oil; grated parmesan is almost always fake; and that grass-fed beef was probably drugged and raised in a crowded feedlot. It’s no surprise this book has already made many “notable books of the year” lists. For anyone who wants to start off 2017 on the right foot, grab a copy and then buy that olive oil from a trusted supplier Olmsted recommends, like Oliviers & Co. One taste of their olive oil and you’ll never go back to the fake stuff again.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
The Cranberry Harvest Celebration at Makepeace Farms in Wareham, an hour south of Boston near the Sagamore Bridge to Cape Cod, might be over, but it’s still a great time to visit the bogs of Massachusetts during harvest time. We brought a journalist from Cape Town to the region last Thursday and were mesmerized by the men working waist-deep in the flooded cranberries colored a brilliant red. A.D. Makepeace Company is the world’s largest cranberry grower, a founding member of the Ocean Spray co-op, and the largest private property owner in Massachusetts. Cranberries have been cultivated in this part of the world for approximately 200 years. The temperate climate is perfect for growing cranberries with warm days in summer and cold nights in autumn. We watched as workers culled and then vacuumed up the cranberries into a truck that heads to a nearby Ocean Spray processing plant to make cranberry juice, cranberry sauce, and craisins. The harvest continues until mid-November and A.D. Makepeace is offering one last guided tour of its bog this Saturday, October 29th, at 9 am. Afterwards, stop by Tihonet Village for sandwiches and salads, chocolate-covered cranberries, and treats from their bakery like tasty cranberry macaroons. I grabbed a pint of fresh cranberries after a worker told me how to make homemade cranberry liqueur with equal amounts of cranberries, sugar, and vodka. I’ll tell you how it turns out.
Monday, October 24, 2016
Start with Cajun specialties like the one-pot wonder, jambalaya, brought to New Orleans by the French of Nova Scotia over 250 years ago. Add the rich sauces and fresh herbs of Creole cooking that blended together from the city’s Spanish, West African, and French roots. Take full advantage of the bounty of shrimp, crawfish, oysters, and redfish found in the surrounding gulf and bayou, and, voila, you have all the necessary ingredients to create North America’s favorite culinary destination. The city that brought you Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, and John Besh is now home to a new generation of acclaimed chefs, including Israeli Alon Shaya, whose restaurant, Shaya, was recently named the Best New Restaurant in America according to the James Beard Foundation. They bring a new twist to the old classics, even when it comes to cocktails.
To find my favorite dishes in town, please see my latest Local Flavor column in this month’s Virtuoso Traveler Magazine.
Friday, October 07, 2016
Off the beaten track, Somewhere in Time might feel like somewhere in the middle of nowhere. But once you arrive and see the slew of people lined up for breakfast, you realize this is a local institution. Grab a mug of coffee and get ready to dig into the large selection of omelets, pancakes, and French toast. Then head nearby to B.F. Clyde’s. Open in 1881, B. F. Clyde’s is home to the oldest steam powered cider mill in America and what a contraption it is. Walk around the machinery, amazed that it still runs. Then hit the store to try the sweet cider, pumpkin bread, apple pies, and maple syrup. A perfect fall outing.
I'm off to Chicago next week, back Monday, October 17th. Enjoy Columbus Day Weekend and keep active!
Friday, July 01, 2016
First started in 1750, Halifax’s farmers’ market is the oldest continuously running market in North America. Over its history, it bounced between many locales from church basements to breweries. That all changed in November 2010, when local purveyors finally got a permanent home right on the harbor. The 56,000-square-foot multilevel building is open year-round; its hours change depending on the season. The best time to visit is during breakfast on a Saturday. Grab an egg or bacon sandwich (only 5 bucks) and a hot cinnamon bun at Wrap So D and eat at one of the tables in or outside. Then go shopping for souvenirs like jewelry made from sea glass, folk art, or the handcrafted cutting boards. I always stop at the Rudi’s hot sauce booth for his Sweet Cherry Bomb, good with chips, and the spicy Candy Reaper Burn, perfect on a veggie and tofu stir-fry.
Happy Canada Day! It’s been a wonderful week revisiting Halifax and Cape Breton. I want to thank Pam Wamback at Tourism Nova Scotia for her help designing a fantastic itinerary. To my American friends, enjoy the 4th of July! See you back here on the 5th.