Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Three New Manhattan Restaurant Loves

Tired of the same-old, same-old? These three innovative NYC restaurants will keep you coming back. Two are new, one isn't; all are fabulous. All three are downtown, one in NoHo, one in the East Village, and the other near the Flatiron District. Grab a taxi or an Uber and enjoy a wonderful meal thanks to three great chefs.

Gato – Bobby Flay has gone international again!  New York City has missed this super chef whose well-loved Latin restaurants Mesa Grill and Bolo have been absent for many years.  The original master of BBQ and Spanish cuisine, Bobby has created a menu of small plates as well as larger entrees, all designed for sharing. In a room as beautiful and inviting as they come, Flay’s cooking stands out against the Rockwell Group’s gorgeous design. With tile floors, suspended metal lighting, and warm woods, Gato’s central bar area and dining spaces are inviting. Even the bread brought out at the beginning is exceptional – be sure to try the olive bread. 

Bar Bites, Gato

A menu of bar “bites” is designed for ordering on a plank of threes – choose from bites like artichoke heart with sea urchin and quail egg, or chorizo crepinette with apricot mostarda and pickled Brussels sprouts, and the tangy piquillo filled with raw tuna, with a drizzle of saffron sauce. The appetizers are equally satisfying.  Many Spanish restaurants offer octopus dishes, but no one prepares it like Bobby Flay. The roasted octopus is crunchy and a tad sweet, covered with a tangerine vinaigrette and bacon sauce that is an absolute standout. Main courses like the red prawns beautifully presented with Meyer lemon and garlic are similarly delicious. 324 Lafayette Street, 212.334.6400.  
Octopus, Gato
Cosme – There’s a reason that Enrique Olvera has the number 20 restaurant in the world, Pujol from Mexico City. His Mexican cooking is way beyond that found in the more typical taco restaurants in other cities including New York. While New York City has strong contenders in the more upscale category, like Alex Stupak’s triad of Empellons (Cocina, Taqueria, and Parlor), Olvera’s menu mixes up tastes that elevate Mexican to a fine dining experience.  Most ingredients are sourced locally, although some arrive from their original homes, including octopus swimming in briny water from Spain.  Dishes are unusual from appetizers to dessert. For the adventurous, try the uni tostada with avocado, bone marrow salsa and cucumber; and the thinly sliced vinegary scallop aguachile appetizers, and the two-person duck carnitas with white onions and radishes as a main course.  Small plates are shareable as well, so plan so you have room the one-of-a-kind husk merengue with corn mousse and a chaser of the house’s special Mezcal.  The room is warm and sexy at the same time, a wonderful refuge from the cold outdoors. 35 East 21st St., 212.913.9659.

Degustation – Not a newcomer like Gato and Cosme, Degustation is the most elevated of Jack Lamb’s restaurant group.  With 16 seats set around a U-shaped counter and open kitchen, Degustation shows off Nicholas Licata’s mastery of precision preparation and Iberian, French and American cuisine.  While you can order off the a la carte menu, it’s the $80 tasting menu that really shows off Licata’s talents.  Let him decide what to share with you, whether it’s his scrumptious Hawaiian blue prawn paella, or the wild boar ribs with romesco. Or perhaps a serving of the irreverent Brussel sprouts dolled up with Funyuns and cashews.  A sophisticated wine list explained by knowledgeable servers matches well.  Cozy and small, Degustation will leave you feeling warm and satisfied.  239 East 5th St., 212.979.1012. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Teen Travel: Great Trips to LA, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Mississippi, Las Vegas

Once your kids move past the compliant pre-teen ages, it becomes more challenging to find ways to engage them without hearing that they’d prefer to “chill” with their friends, play Xbox, or spend endless hours on Facebook or texting on their phone. These teen-tried trips will hopefully motivate you to convince your teens that there’s a world out there with lots of interesting things, and that it’s really worthwhile to give up some personal time to be with your parents (ugh!), doing something that your parents (ugh! again) have suggested.

My sons, Elias and Evan, now well past the teen years, have become world travelers with definite tastes and preferences. We’d like to think it’s in part because of all the travel they did when they were younger. Here are some of their favorite travel destinations in the USA. 

A Trip to CaliThat’s what my kids call going to California. For them, California is another country. Los Angeles is the country of the Lakers and the beach; San Francisco is cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge. Anything in between is just pretty and filled with expensive cars. But it's all Cali.
St. Regis, San Francisco

Two hotels of the Fairmont Hotel group make for great stays, the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica (close to LA) and the Fairmont San Francisco on Nob Hill. Both are great with kids, as well as with adults, and both have wonderful locations.  A bit easier on the legs is the beautiful St. Regis in San Francisco, sitting closer to the water. 

In Santa Monica, you’re right across from the beach and within a reasonable drive of pretty much everywhere you need to go in LA (although you’ll spend lots and lots of time in your car here – there’s no subway to help you out). While you might crave some of LA’s finer cuisine, the kids will love the kitschy In-N-Out Burger or Fatburger drive-ins. For a dose of fun history, include a visit to the La Brea Tar Pits (with interesting indoor and outdoor exhibits about the animals and fossils stuck in the tar here).
Santa Monica

Heading back to the beach, the Santa Monica Pier and its rides are favorites, as is watching people rollerblade and play basketball in Venice. If you can, take a ride up Pacific Coast Highway towards Malibu to see the sunset.

If your kids give you a lot of grief about the enormously steep hills in San Francisco, they’ll love the cable cars that climb and descend with people hanging off the sides. The city has put into service a number of cars from cities in the US and Europe, and you might find yourself staring at real ads in Italian instead of English. 

Be sure to go to the Presidio to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but also find someone who can show you
Lombard Street, San Francisco
how to drive underneath the bridge – my kids thought it was amazingly cool (so did I). And the kids’ hands-down favorite? Crooked Lombard Street, still one of the “wonders of the world,” according to the teen set. They also appreciated some of the architecture in the city, particularly the “Painted Ladies” houses with their creatively mixed palette of Victorian confection.

Elvis Watches over Tupelo
Mississippi: Going Down to the Crossroads
The Gulf CoastDo you have kids who love music (or movies)? A trip through the Mississippi Delta may be just the ticket. Even if they haven’t heard too much of Elvis Presley’s music or the blues, they’ll come to understand how both influenced the rock ‘n roll world on this trip. Tupelo is where Elvis -- a product of the blues --  was born. It’s hard not to get caught up in the infectiousness of Elvis here.      When you visit the Tupelo Hardware Company, where Elvis bought his first guitar, and you see Elvis pictures all over; when you eat a crispy, fried hamburger at Johnnie’s Drive In and sit on Elvis’s bench, again with photos of “The King” everywhere; when you go to Elvis’s birthplace and marvel that he grew up in a two-room house – that’s when you start to “get it”: this town is a shrine. If you’re lucky, you’ll see singing Elvis impersonators, too. Combined with a trip to Memphis to visit Graceland (be sure to sit in Elvis's booth at the Arcade Restaurant and take the fabulous musical Mojo tour with Backbeat Tours), or a path that traces the Mississippi Blues Trail with stops in Clarksdale and Greenwood (from the movie "The Help"), you can create a musical and film-oriented vacation that’s a rich cultural immersion.
Shack Up Inn
Rock and Blues Museum, Clarksdale
Abe's BBQ, Clarksdale
If your kids like the outdoors, Tupelo’s Natchez Trace Parkway is a wonderful place to hike, throw a football, and visit the nearby Buffalo Farm. There you’ll see the world’s only albino buffalo and other animals like zebras and lions. Plus you’ll be entertained by an authentic Native American guide who seems to be a veritable giraffe “whisperer.” For the car fan, the Tupelo Automobile Museum has a knockout collection of Dusenbergs, Corvettes, Packards, and a car originally purchased by Elvis himself. The collection is so big that the displays change frequently. For adventurous eaters, Mississippi has its intrigue: there are fried green tomatoes, fried peach pie, cheese grits, biscuits and gravy, and some of the best waffles we’ve ever tasted. And, of course, BBQ is a way of life.

The quirky Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale is a distinctive lodging experience for all and a glimpse into the life of a sharecropper. Or choose the family-friendly Quality Inn in Tupelo with its indoor swimming pool and convenient breakfast buffet. 

If the beach beckons, finish your trip with a stay at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi. Although the kids won't be able to enjoy the fast-moving night scene, they'll love the miles and miles of warm, white-sand oceanfront and its easy biking path.
Beach and Beau Rivage Resort, Biloxi
American History Brought to Life
Philadelphia is rich in both tradition and intriguing activities. Particularly inviting as kids learn more about the signing of the Declaration of Independence and other Patriotic events, Philadelphia’s
Independence Hall
Liberty Bell Center and Independence Mall offer a walking introduction to American history. When my kids got tired (or were lazy, as teens sometimes are), we hired a horse and carriage to take us around Philadelphia’s cobbled Center City before heading North to the city’s beautifully zoned museum area. Here the wonderful, enlightening Franklin Institute and its rocket, airplanes and other scientific paraphernalia provided hours of educational amusement for everyone.

Our favorite splurge hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, continues the city’s historical orientation with accommodations in the former Girard Trust Building on Broad Street.
Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia
If the kids are curious about university life, the Sheraton University City at the University of Pennsylvania is right on campus and convenient to some of the city’s iconic cheesesteak and hoagie shops.
More history waits in Boston, home of the Boston Tea Party and the Freedom Trail, a walking tour that links many of the important landmarks in revolutionary history. Add to that the Museum of Science and the Hayden Planetarium with its IMAX dome theater, and you have a city that entertains kids 365 days a year. During the warmer months, Boston’s offbeat Duck Tours (now copied in other cities) got everybody laughing as the World War II amphibious vehicle, sometimes painted to look like a Red Sox advertisement, cruises along the Charles River after meandering through the city’s narrow streets.
Massachusetts State House

Kids will love the goldfish in their room at Boston’s boutique Nine Zero, a Kimpton hotel, and the
Nine Zero
Nine Zero bedroom
fireplace at the XV Beacon. From both, it's a quick walk to the Massachusetts State House (great stairs and gold dome), Faneuil Hotel, and the Boston Commons, more kid favorites. If you have baseball fans in your family, book a room overlooking Fenway Park at the Commonwealth Hotel in Kenmore Square. On game days, you’ll swear that you can hear the crowds sing “Sweet Caroline” when Big Papi (David Ortiz) gets up to bat. The hotel is seconds away from stands hawking Fenway franks (a must with relish and mustard) and the Kenmore Square T-stop (the subway).
XV Beacon room
XV Beacon
Now That We’ve Outgrown Disney
Teens never seem to tire of Las Vegas, no matter how many times you visit. Las Vegas has a skyline that invites both kids and adults alike to play. With fountains that dance to music, indoor “skies” that change according to the weather, and a scaled-down replica of New York City with an outdoor roller coaster that dips among the buildings, Las Vegas is arguably a playground limited only by your imagination. For nighttime activity, Cirque du Soleil offers kid-priced tickets to Mystère and O, two shows that my kids absolutely adored.

Valley of Fire
In happy juxtaposition with Las Vegas’s man-made attractions lie the wonders of the desert, the product of billions of years of nature. Hiking through Red Rock Canyon or rock scrambling in the Valley of Fire provide a panorama of color to perfectly complement the colors of the city’s neon-infused architecture. Nearby Hoover Dam was also a mind-boggler for the kids and an easy day trip from the city.

Of all the hotels that we’ve visited here, the kids’ two favorites are the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay. Both have great swimming pools and lazy rivers, and Mandalay Bay even has a beach and wave pool. Both also have a long variety of restaurants, and the endless walks through the casino to the guestrooms gave the kids some real glimpses into what grown-up life could be. Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas was a great place to savor French cuisine while watching the steady stream of people cruise the Strip. We also liked P.F. Chang’s China Bistro at Planet Hollywood when we wanted to get away from the hotel scene.
The Strip, Las Vegas

Monday, December 22, 2014

European Christmas Markets: Festivity and Tradition

In my last article, I told you about one fabulous Christmas market in the US. In this one, I’ll highlight some of the Christmas markets that impressed me most during my recent visit to Europe.

In Paris, the Christmas market along the Champs-Elysee on the Right Bank stretches almost the full length of the boulevard on each side. It’s a bit of a challenge to explore all of the side-by-side booths, but it’s definitely worth it. In addition to food vendors hawking beer tastings, oysters, hot wine, and sausages, you’ll find a bungee jump, a skating rink, and great arts and crafts as you walk towards the iconic Arc de Triomphe or the puzzling Ferris wheel, both strikingly lit at night.  

Looking for a place to stay that won’t break the bank? Leave the Right Bank and explore the lively Left Bank filled with its many restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. The cozy and charming Hotel le Senat at the corner of the Luxembourg Gardens is a great choice. Its breakfast room and lobby are intimate, and you can get a room with a balcony that overlooks the roofs of the city. Caring service by staff members, an uber-comfortable bed, and thoughtful touches like an honor bar and late-morning breakfast set-up in the lobby complete the experience. C’est vraiment magnifique. Another choice if you prefer a boutique, designer-ish feel is the Hotel Madison  on Boulevard Saint Germain des Pres. More expensive and with more attitude, the hotel offers a winning location across from the church, just steps from literary landmarks like Café Deux Magots and Café de Flor.

In Vienna, you have a choice of small to large Christmas markets around the city center and off the Ringstrasse. Across from Stephansplatz and near the Austrian National Library, you’ll find two charming markets, each filled with booths of beautiful snow globes (they originated in Austria) and other crafts, as well as Glühwein (spiced red wine), mini donuts, and other goodies. The best, however, is the market by the Rathaus (City Hall), which extends for rows and rows with booths and booths and booths of treats. Here you can try a palatschinke (a rolled up pancake) to go with your Glühwein (you pay a deposit and you can keep the ceramic mug), the perfect snack combo to enjoy as you stroll along with the crowds.

Where to stay? The best, in my opinion, is the Hotel Imperial on the Ringstrasse. In a great location to experience Vienna's sites, the hotel is five-star when it comes to service, accommodations (gorgeous, gorgeous rooms), and dining and beverage. You’ll pay for the privilege of staying here, but it’s worth every euro. And if you’re a music fan, you’ll love that the hotel sits right next to the Wiener Musikverein where the Vienna Philharmonic play. Also appealing is that the Haus der Musik, an interactive museum explaining music from classical to contemporary, is only a five-minute walk.
Budapest offers a chance to experience a lovely Christmas market indoors, out of the cold. At the five-star Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, the hotel's first-ever Christmas market lasts through December 30 and includes cheery red-and-white striped booths filled with the likes of local porcelain and crystal, Hungarian chimney cakes and more. Set in the lobby of the palace hotel, the market welcomes you at the door with a holiday drink cart that doles out hot mulled wine, apple cider, chocolate, coffee and tea. If you’re still hungry after your shopping, you can walk to the end of the hall and enjoy the hotel’s acclaimed afternoon tea, done with panache on china made expressly for the Gresham Palace. Or, plan ahead, and reserve at the elegant Gresham Restaurant which offers modern takes on Hungarian and international cuisine. 

Photos courtesy of Four Seasons Gresham Palace

And, of course you need a place to stash all of your purchases. This one is a simple choice: the elegant Four Seasons Gresham Palace. In addition to offering some of the most beautiful accommodations in Budapest, along with top-rated service and dining, the Four Seasons is located in the best location in the city, just across from the lovely Chain Bridge connecting Buda (and its castle district) and Pest (where the hotel is located). You’ll also be near the pedestrian walking area of shops and wine bars, which leads to the massive Central Market Hall and the waterfront. (Don't miss taking a night cruise on the Legenda to see the dramatic cityscape lit up along the Danube River.) From the hotel, it’s a short walk to the Jewish Quarter, the fascinating ruin bars, and Andrassy Avenue, the city’s monumental shopping boulevard. A short taxi ride away, the famous New York Café in the stunning Boscolo Budapest Hotel is a wonderful choice for a meal any time of the day, or for live piano music to accompany a pastry and coffee.

The Old Town in Prague is home to an elaborate Christmas market that attracts visitors from both sides of the Charles Bridge. In Old Town Square near the astronomical clock at City Hall and the ironic Hard Rock Café, you’ll see booth after enticing booth filled with Bohemian crystal, scarves and gloves, and other trinkets. Stop a moment and indulge in one of the Czech Republic’s traditional trzednik, a churro-like creation that will warm you against the wind coming off the river. It goes especially well with a cup of Glühwein. Or, grab a traditional pilsner to help you soak up the lively holiday spirit. The Christmas market here and the one in Wenceslas Square are both open through January 1, 2015. You can get detailed information and concert schedules from Czech Tourism, www.czechtourism.com

Photos courtesy of Czech Tourism

The Mandarin Oriental in the historic Mala Strana quarter (lesser town) of Prague is the perfect place to escape the crowds and regroup. The atmospheric setting of this five-star hotel, built in a former Dominican monastery, is quiet and pampering, with each room a different configuration. Food and drink are superb, as is the service. The Mandarin Spa, built in a former Renaissance chapel, defines luxury. From the hotel, you can stroll to the constantly repainted John Lennon peace wall which attracts hippies and rock ‘n rollers of all ages. Also nearby in Kampa Park is the eerie babies monument, a sort of aliens-meet-Jeff Koons sculpture installation set by the river. If this kind of art doesn’t strike your fancy, you can walk up historic Nerudova Street, with its creative house markers, to the Prague Castle and enjoy some of the city’s most amazing views. For a fabulous meal, take a five-minute walk from the Mandarin to the charming boutique Aria Hotel, where every floor is themed to a different type of music. Coda Restaurant, just off the lobby, offers two indulgent tasting menus: one a Czech version and the other a more eclectic selection of five-star cuisine from talented chef David Sasek.

Berlin, not surprisingly, is filled with Christmas markets, a serious tradition throughout Germany. Two, in particular, are worth noting. Close to the S-Bahn, the U-Bahn and the designer shopping area of Mitte, the smallish one that evolves from the Hackescher market is a great place to get your feet wet when it comes to navigating a Christmas market. It’s personal, manageable, and not overrun with people. Ready for more? You can walk to the larger Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt. Here, your first stop can be a food break where you’ll feast on currywurst, strudel, and Glühwein, all in a covered tent. You’ll also get a ceramic mug to take home (your deposit covers that). Since the market is set right in front of the Konzerthaus, there’s lively music on-stage to keep your mood festive while you walk among the booths. Enjoy the crystal, holiday clothing, and merriment as you dance your way to the tunes of a traditional band.   

You could stay at one of the city’s more lavish hotels like the Alden Kempinski or the Ritz-Carlton near the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, or revel in being in the East Berlin area of Mitte at the trendy, well-located Amano Hotel. On weekends, the hotel turns into one massive DJ party, with the buzzing bar often overflowing into the hotel’s lobby. It’s sort of a W hotel, Berlin style. Berlin’s well-connected mass transportation system is easy to access from the Amano, with stations ten minutes away at most. But you just might want to stay where you are, as Mitte is the city’s buzzing center for dining, restaurants, sleek cafes and unusual tributes like the Ramones and John F. Kennedy museums.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Markets in the US - First Stop, Bryant Park, New York City

Christmas markets are the rage throughout Europe, a tradition that brings people together to eat, drink gluhwein (hot spiced wine), and shop for local trinkets from now through the end of the year.  After returning from visiting these markets in five cities, I was eager to check out the ones in the United States.

Starting with New York City, my favorite is the Winter Village at Bryant Park. It may not be as large as the one by Columbus Circle or the one at Union Square but it gets my vote for its variety of attractions.  When you’re tired of shopping, there are many eating outlets, a convenient restroom, and there’s an ice skating rink that’s FREE. (Take that, Rockefeller Center!). 

Another plus: pretty much every form of transportation is nearby, from myriad subway lines to the bus down Fifth Avenue, and easy access to the trains from Grand Central Terminal. Among my favorite shopping booths, there are the unusual ones like “Don’t Chew” for all forms of melt-in-your-mouth chocolates, things made out of coins, and Brazilian home décor. You’ll also outfit yourself to the nines with everything warm with flannel pajamas, scarves, gloves, and hats galore.  I also love the fact that Sabon has a branch here so I can do some quick shopping without having to find a storefront, and that you can stare up at the Christmas tree with a backdrop of the skyscrapers on Sixth Avenue. 

Food choices are pretty varied with Waffles and Dinges for those craving a sweet fix, or grilled cheese, arepas, and 'wichcraft sandwiches to keep you satisfied.  Although I didn’t find the alcoholic gluhwein that’s ubiquitous at European Christmas markets, there was a Bavarian stand with Sigmund’s Pretzels and another that sold a non-alcoholic version of hot wine and hot apple cider.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Shake It Up in Harlem with Some Free Jazz and Cheap Eats

Harlem is the spot for dining and jazz.  The Lenox Lounge may be changing, the Red Rooster and Ginny’s Supper Club are a bit sceney, and Minton’s is a pricy evening, but there’s another spot that conveys the real spirit of Harlem’s jazz tradition at a fraction of the cost.

American Legion Post 398, Harlem
American Legion Post 398 on 248 West 132nd Street was organized in 1922 by Colonel Charles Young with a mission to honor and serve veterans, their families and their community. With 200 hundred members today, it still actively attends to its mission of service. “The Post,” as it's known, is run by its members as perhaps the most authentic jazz/blues bar in Harlem, with live jazz on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday and a DJ on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday.

You'll “hear” your way to the brownstone with the music. Head downstairs, ignore the sign that says “Only Members and their Guests Allowed,” and enter this special place. There’s no cover charge, but you must sign the guest book.

Sunday night is the best night for live jazz. You might hear the amazing sounds of the Harlem Groove Band, including a tenor sax that will blow your mind and an electric guitarist who really smokes. Surprising guests may be top musicians from Europe or local singers, all great – and loud, of course.

It’s cash only, and the drinks are cheap and strong.  Airline mini bottles served neat, beer or mini wine bottles are the way to go. It’s also a soul food joint. $10 gets you a meal cooked up in the kitchen in the back. I recommend the “fish fry” if it’s available: a big piece of whiting plated with a couple of sides like greens and mac & cheese. There’s a feeling of community in these tight quarters. Old timers from the neighborhood and actual veterans mingle with “new friends” who have made the trek from Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan to hear the jam. Everyone’s there for the same reason, to have a good time, together.

Definitely meet Commander Eddie Randy Dupree, the host and spirit of the place; the veterans who keep the place humming; and Karen the bartender. You’re so close to the band that you’ll be able to chat them up as well.

48 West 132nd Street, between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Ave.) and Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Ave.), 212-283-9701. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Day Trip to the Bronx

The Bronx, named after Jonas Bronck who settled there in 1639, is often overlooked as a destination for a day trip. Yet, it’s a pretty quick subway ride, with, perhaps an Uber connection if your feet get tired. And you can fill a day or two, easily, eating and exploring your way through the borough: the Bronx Restaurant Week, known as “Savor the Bronx” runs through November 14, with 25 restaurants participating. Lunch is only $16.41 and dinner is an amazing $20.14. www.savorthebronx.com.

courtesy Julie Larsen Maher WCS
Not Just for Kids: The Bronx Zoo has something for everyone no matter the season. “Boo at the Zoo” was a big hit last month but you can watch the penguin feedings any time of the year or duck into the World of Reptiles to escape the cold and marvel at the gigantic pythons and the tiny dart frogs. And there’s much more. Upcoming events include an ice carving week in late December, with professional carvers creating sculptures of wildlife from the Amazon Rainforest. Also, the holiday carolers, a tradition at the zoo, will be returning. Other faves are JungleWorld, an Asian-themed warm-climate space where otters, gibbons and 800 other animals roam; Tiger Mountain and Madagascar! General admission tickets are $16, with reduced rates for children. Open daily from 10am-4:30pm. 2300 Southern Boulevard, 718-220-5100; http://bronxzoo.com 

Stop and Smell the Chrysanthemums: No trip to the Bronx is complete without a visit to The New York Botanical Gardens. Year-round exhibits and programs encompass more than 50 landscapes and gardens within the 250-acre space. With more than a million plants, the diverse collection draws large crowds for the upcoming Holiday Train Show and the Orchid Show in February. Fall walks in the forests and gardens are particularly invigorating. Tuesday through Sunday, 10am–6pm. Check the website for ticket pricing. Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Road, 718-817-8700; http://nybg.org/

Eat, Eat, Eat: Restaurants up and down the Bronx  offer their fare at great prices all year long, not just during “Savor the Bronx.” A surprise to both NYC residents and visitors alike, City Island is a 1½- mile strip of land that offers a variety of seafood restaurants in a boat-friendly residential area. If you close your eyes, you just might think you’ve arrived in a New England fishing village. Well, almost. Try Sammy’s Fish Box Lobster House, a fixture since 1966, with a menu as large as the portions. 41 City Island Avenue, City Island 718-885-0920; https://sammysfishbox.com/ 

Mario's Arthur Avenue

Arthur Avenue is the real Italian neighborhood of New York City, a thriving hub of Italian food and culture. Distinctive from Manhattan’s Little Italy where Albanians and Chinese have largely taken over the formerly Italian residences and restaurants, this area is populated by generations of Italians with deep roots to the mother land. Arthur Avenue is considered more “authentic” throughout and the place where Italian restaurateurs and local families shop. Check out the many food stores and the indoor retail market building with vendors selling breads, pasta, gelato, sauces and fresh meats from Italy. Restaurants like Mario's are family-friendly and serve copious portions Many, like the ever-popular Dominick’s, have no menus – just ask for your favorite dish or let the server surprise you with the evening’s specialty. A definite go-to is Mike’s Deli where you can stock up on items to prepare at home or put together a meal to eat on the spot with cured meats, sweets, olive oil, bread and other Italian specialties. 2334 and 2344 Arthur Avenue, http://arthuravenue.com/.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall in The Berkshires: Elegant, Serene and Colorful

Garden Gables Inn, credit: Meryl Pearlstein

Garden Gables Inn, credit: Meryl Pearlstein
I just returned from a quick trip to the Berkshires, to Lenox, Massachusetts with a stay at the peaceful Garden Gables Inn, dating from 1780. Classic New England and a great base for soaking in the colors of October’s finest foliage, the inn reminded me of my many summers and falls in this beautiful corner of Massachusetts and made me fall in love with bed and breakfasts all over again.

I welcome back guest blogger Judy Nayer who has just spent a month in the same area, making her home in the nearby town of Hillsdale.
The Inn at Green River
If you're looking for the perfect place to stay while exploring the upper Hudson Valley and the Berkshires, I suggest you visit The Inn at Green River in Hillsdale.  Just a 2 ½ hour drive from New York City and located in a scenic, pastoral setting 25 minutes from either Hudson or Great Barrington, the inn is one of only three Select Registry inns in the Hudson Valley.

This beautifully restored 1830 property combines the upscale elegance of a small country inn with the warmth and hospitality of the best of the bed & breakfasts. Each of the seven guestrooms is lovely and true to the website photos, and the breakfasts served in the sunroom and dining room are memorable. Among my favorites was the poached pear with goat cheese followed by very thin pear pancakes made from local artisanal flour. Also topping my list was the roasted plum with Greek yogurt and a local honey drizzle which preceded mini frittatas with tomato and spinach and a slice of polenta. Homemade scones, locally made jams and fresh fruit accompany each meal, leaving guests smiling and ready to begin their day. 

The mastermind of all of this is owner/innkeeper Deborah Bowen whose talent and commitment to excellence began 25 years ago when she opened her doors to guests after renovating and expanding this Hudson Valley gem. Deborah is passionate about her guests, and it shows.  From the moment you walk through the door she makes you feel as if you are at home. She helps you plan your days with suggestions for local outings and dinners (and maps how to get there), and always has a batch of homemade ginger molasses cookies and tea in the afternoons, perfect for relaxing in the living room, library, or outside in a hammock.  We all crave authenticity in our lives, and here it is evident in myriad details: watercolors painted by Deb’s grandfather, sterling silver napkin holders that were Deb’s grandmother’s, lampshades handcrafted by Deb, a book collection well curated over time—just to name a few. There is nothing staged here. Even after 25 years, Deb’s labor of love is as obvious and passionate as ever and generously shared.
The Inn at Green River
The setting is so lovely you may be tempted not to leave the inn at all, but there’s a lot to see and do. True to its name, Hillsdale is an area of rolling hills, with beautiful vistas at every turn, and Columbia County is blessed with more farmland than any other Hudson Valley county. The excellent farm-to-table restaurants have located here to take advantage of the relationships between chef and farmer in the state. Visit the farms, wineries, and bakeries throughout the region, and check out the local calendar for festivals and farmers’ markets. In this area, growing food while preserving the land is a passion. In Ghent, the Hawthorne Valley Farm is a biodynamic farm that spans 400 acres and includes a farm store and restaurant, and the Hudson-Chatham Winery is known for its award-winning wines. I really enjoyed the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, where you can see farmers make fresh cheese and yogurt. 
Olana, courtesy: Wikipedia
Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the many opportunities for hiking, biking, swimming, and skiing in the area, including the trail system at Taconic State Park. Take the mile-long hike to see a dramatic waterfall at Bash Bish Falls, and in the winter, enjoy cross-country and downhill skiing at the Catamount Ski Area. This area is also rich in cultural and historic attractions. Plan a visit around Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony, and don’t miss the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Hancock Shaker Village, and the Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox. A little further, in Williamstown, is the renowned and recently renovated Clark Museum. And not to be missed is Olana, just outside of Hudson, the home of Hudson River Valley school painter Frederick Church. A guided tour will take you through a mansion that looks like a Persian palace, and outside around the grounds you will see some the area’s most spectacular scenery with breathtaking views of the Catskill Mountains.

When you are hungry after all this touring there are a great many options. Closest to the Inn at Green River, and my favorite choice for dinner, is the Old Mill Inn, with delicious fare and terrific hospitality. Sit at a table in the bar section and you will feel like a local within minutes, or enjoy the elegant dining room. I loved the organic salmon with crispy horseradish crust, parsnip puree, and beet coulis on one occasion, and returned to splurge for a classic filet mignon on another. If possible, save room for one of the decadent desserts. Nearby, I had an excellent dinner at John Andrews: A Farmhouse Restaurant, which emphasizes local seasonal ingredients. For lunch, right in Hillsdale is the Crossroads Food Shop, with baked goods and grilled sandwiches. The town of Great Barrington has many dining options. My favorite was Bizen, an organic Japanese restaurant that competes very well with the best in New York. When you visit the city of Hudson, go to Baba Louie’s Organic Sourdough Pizza Company for lunch (also in Great Barrington), and don’t miss Mexico Radio for the best fish tacos this side of the border. Among a plethora of restaurants here, I recommend the Italian Ca ‘Mea and the French bistro Café Le Perche, and there are dozens more to try. Plan your time so you can explore the numerous galleries, antiques, and boutique shops of this city—it has been undergoing a major revival in the last few years.