Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Back from Vacation? Order These Foods as Reminders of Your Trip

Although I can pretty much find anything I want in Manhattan, I love the idea of world cuisine being shipped directly to my door (as well as New York City goodies). From Manhattan dessert treats to the finest Alaskan seafood or Spanish wines and oils, you’ll enjoy global treats that will remind you of your holiday dining.

Here are some of my favorites:


If you salivate over tapas from Barcelona or olive oils that are some of the freshest in the world (my favorite is the very grassy Arbequina), you’ll want to know about DeliShop. This Spanish food shop features everything from the finest of Spanish cooking oils to essential pastas, sauces, spices and more.  Not only does Delishop deliver to your door after just a few online clicks, but it also has an extensive list of traditional recipes for make-it-yourself world cuisine. Some Spanish favorites include a classic paella entrée, típico cocktails and the ever-delicious tres leche cake. Although not limited to those found in Spanish meals, selections largely draw upon an Iberian-based diet of oil, seafood, starch and more oil.  DeliShop also offers cooking classes at its four Barcelona locations, a potential vacation activity for the foodies and cravers of a bit of onsite Spanish culture. Check out recipes, locations and food order options at www.delishop.es.

Cookie Panache           
For sweeter treats to indulge yourself or your friends & family, Cookie Panache is a solid go-to.  Its bestsellers include the likes of Dulce de Leche and Red Velvet Vanilla chewy cookies, as well as Brownie and Blondie bites. Perfect for special occasion planning, the website filters results based on the event theme. From birthday gifts, to thank you acknowledgements, to get-well-soon packages, a wide range of sweet snacks are available.  Located in Manhattan, this gourmet bakery will alleviate any “I Miss New York” pangs. Order at www.cookiepanache.com.           
There are no false promises when it comes to Wisconsin’s delivering as the Dairy State, especially when it comes to its selections of meat and cheeses. Figi’s has specialized in this combination of smokehouse favorites since 1944. The variety packs are a definite win if you’re looking for a mix of new and old tastes, combining the best of all flavors into an assortment of snack-sized cuts of Colby-Jack and Cheddar cheeses, Smokehouse Summer Sausages, and buttery Cashew and Mixed Nut Add-ins among others. Try the Salami- or Bacon-flavored cheese if you’re feeling daring.  Order at www.figis.com

Sick of the grocery store’s mediocre seafood section of same-old, sad hunks of fish?  Alaska wants to change all that.  From Halibut to King Crab, Snow Crab, Shrimp, Scallops, Smoked Salmon, Rockfish, Sablefish, Black Cod and more, you’ll love the choices Coal Point Seafood offers.  Fare is purchased directly from Alaskan fishermen and shipped to your door.  Coal Point even has a same-day-caught-blast-frozen policy!  You can choose from individual samplers to variety packs, and different ounce options are available.  Halibut is the Alaskan fish of choice, so that is always a good start if you’re not sure what to buy. Order at www.welovefish.com or call 1-800-325-3877 to order direct.  


Anyone who visits Manhattan knows that Zabar's is a must-visit, one-stop shop for all deli items.  Order main courses like roasted turkeys and sides such as honey roasted yams,  typical Zabars treats like rugelach, smoked salmon and bagels , or their famous coffee beans. You’ll spend lots of time online perusing their site at www.zabars.com,  or call 800-697-6301 for help in selecting the perfect menu.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Shop and Eat in the Hamptons for Two Good Causes – Saturday July 25

This is a weekend to skip the beach and go for some heavy-duty shopping and eating experiences on the South Fork of Long Island, New York.

From 1pm-6pm, Super Saturday in NY invites shoppers to indulge their inner Sex in the City with the garage sale of all garage sales. Donated clothing and home products from designers ranging from Sigerson Morrison and Magaschoni to Ralph Lauren, Diane van Furstenberg and Theory will be on sale under the tents at prices 30-50% below retail, with all proceeds going to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF). Now celebrating its 18th year, the event is hosted by Kelly Ripa and Donna Karan.

Kelly Ripa, host of Super SaturdayPhoto: Mike Coppolla, Getty Images

In addition to shopping, Super Saturday includes food and drink, a kids’ carnival, and tented events throughout the day such as dream interpretation, psychic readings, hair braiding, a Photobooth, and beauty treatments.

http://supersaturday.ocrf.org/supersaturdayny , Water Mill, New York; Nova’s Ark Project, 1-6pm (VIP entry at 12Noon).  Tickets will be on sale at the event.

Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, you can concentrate on some serious eating and drinking at the James Beard Foundation’s annual Chefs & Champagne ® tasting event. Forty-three chefs – many of them James Beard Award winners -- from restaurants in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Mississippi and Washington, DC will dish up their best under the beautiful tent at Wölffer Estate Vineyard. Beverages will be provided by Champagne Taittinger, Wölffer Estate Vineyard, and Stella Artois.  

James Beard Foundation's Chefs & Champagne, Wolffer Vineyard Estate

The menu already has me salivating. Dishes like Tyler Kinnett’s (Harvest, Cambridge) spicy Vermont pork with watermelon, peaches, labneh and basil pesto; Amanda Cohen’s (Dirt Candy, New York City) tomato tarts with smoked feta; and Noah Schwartz’s (Noah’s, Greenport) oysters with soy mignonette and micro-wasabi show why summer is the best season for eating.

Guests receive a goodie-filled swag bag and can also take part in an extravagant silent auction with the chance to win a vacation getaway, a delicious dining experience, crystal and china, and more. A preview of some of the auction items is online at https://www.biddingforgood.com/auction/auctionhome.action?vhost=jbfauction 

Proceeds from the auction and the dinner benefit the James Beard Foundation, whose mission is to celebrate, nurture and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/chefs-champagne-tickets-16944211593, Wölffer Estate Vineyard, Sagaponack, New York; 212-627-2308, 6-8pm (VIP reception 5pm-6pm, with after party from 8-10pm)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Gorgeous St. Paul de Vence

The French Rivera is dotted with villages perchés, clinging almost impossibly to the tops and sides of hills throughout the countryside. On a family excursion throughout the Côte d’Azur, it became a mantra to discover which of these often- fortified villages could outdo the next. Our favorite was clearly St. Paul (also known as St. Paul-de-Vence), a marvelously preserved and restored gem with cobblestoned climbs and virtually intact ramparts still protecting it from the warring factions of yore. Just 12 miles outside of Nice, the village towers over the rolling hills and rich valleys of the Vence countryside.

The sight of St. Paul has inspired artists throughout the years to sketch its precarious foothold in the sky, and my husband and sons responded in kind.  Just short of donning French berets to complete the tableau, they parked themselves on a curb outside the stone arched climb into the village to draw this 16th -century miracle. Armed with colored pencils, fine-point markers and sketch pads, my three budding artists sat in pictorial juxtaposition with an intense game of boules just around the bend from the famed Colombe d’Or.

Originally a gathering place and café for young and unknown painters in the 1920s, the Colombe d’Or now rates as one of the Riviera’s toniest restaurants.  While a seat at the walled, garden patio is a delight on one of the Riviera’s azure-blue, sunny days, it is considered a coup to experience the old auberge itself.  Only those staying at the inn or having confirmed dining reservations are allowed a look at the Colombe’s esteemed art collection, which rivals that of the nearby Fondation Maeght. In return for lodging and viands, Modigliani, Bonnard, Braques and other then-unknown artists contributed paintings which now adorn the walls of the auberge. Struggling artists were later followed by intellectuals of the literary world such as Camus and Prévert and later-day French film icons Yves Montand and Simone Signoret.

Turning the bend, past the multi-generation “bowling” competitions held daily across from the Café de la Place, one enters the medieval world of St. Paul, up a short climb and through a well-defined entry arch.

Ascending St. Paul’s narrow pedestrian-only main street, the Rue Grande, one can almost touch the 17th and 18th century homes on each side, many filled with elegant and creative art and handicrafts galleries. The artist tradition continues at every turn, leading to the town’s most spacious gathering spot, a square of sorts around an urn-shaped fountain. Popular as a tourist destination, St. Paul offers a variety of shopping choices and cozy restaurants, but few options for family dining. If traveling with children, put together a picnic instead with fresh bread, cheese and cold cuts from the local boulangerie and charcuterie outside the walled city.

Digressions up the stepped streets off the Rue Grande lead to such gems as the 12th century gothic church on the rue de la Castre, with a commanding position overlooking the village. France’s rich religious heritage is revealed in the church’s lavish interior décor and its celebration of the Jubilee, replete with colorful tapestries and flowers adjacent to traditional oil canvases and carvings. Among the church’s interesting art pieces is a painting of St. Catherine of Alexandria attributed to Tintoretto.

An escape from the crowds and a particular delight at sunset was a stroll along the parapet walk adjacent to the thick stone wall ramparts that encircle St. Paul.  Surrounded by the coat-of-arms brandishing homes lining the walk, one could easily time travel to a simpler world when views of the Alps, the sea, and the Esterel provided the inspiration for new artistic palettes and a fitting motivation for the location of the Fondation Maeght, further down the road.

Simultaneously an interior and exterior art museum, the Fondation Maeght feels like a college campus, set in a rich green forest with art works all around.  Designed by architect José Sert in 1964, the sprawling modern art museum ranks among France’s most significant, with notable works by Chagall, Miró, Calder, Braques and Bonnard. Rotating exhibits of the Fondation’s permanent collection of 20th century art are displayed with an awareness of color and presence. The use of cameras and video equipment is permitted for a small charge and is highly recommended to capture the excitement of the expansive outdoor sculpture garden as well as the airy rooms inside. Especially enchanting for the entire family is the Labyrinthe de Miró, a statue-filled maze of trees, water and gargoyles.

To reach St. Paul, park your car very carefully in the car park down the road from the arch. Parking spaces are surprisingly narrow and the spiraling turns in the garage require skillful negotiation. Expect to be bombarded after exiting the garage by numerous shops all hawking household items with the ubiquitous yellow and blue colors of Provence. Purchase memory cards, instead, and bring back a photographic souvenir of the wonders of St. Paul.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Tony Awards are Sunday -- Catch them via Simulcast from Times Square's Viewing Party 4-11pm

Last week’s “Stars in the Alley”,  United Airlines’ and the Broadway League’s presentation of Broadway song and dance, left me thirsting for more.  It’s a great time to get your tickets to a Broadway drama or musical. With the Tony Awards  for outstanding theatrical achievement this Sunday, you’ll want to snag seats on your preferred dates before the shows book up. 

The Tony Awards turn into a free, social viewing party this Sunday in Times Square, rain or shine.  Head over to Times Square to see the award show live, on the big screen.  Although it might not be as glamorous as dressing in black tie to hob nob with the stars of the Great White Way or hosts Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming at Radio City Music Hall, it’s still a fun evening for theater lovers and more exciting than “sitting all alone in your room” watching TV.  You can bring a picnic with you, grab a folding chair or a seat on the risers behind TKTS, and cheer for your favorites. Viewing
will be on the Clear Channel Spectacolor screens at Duffy Square and the Broadway Plaza between 46th and 48th streets, in the heart of Times Square.  The program begins at 4pm, ending at 11pm. The simulcast of the CBS Tony Awards will be broadcast starting at 8pm.

Festivities will also include live performances from Broadway stars Justin Guarini and Deborah Cox, singing “I’ve Got Rhythm” and “On Broadway,’” Deborah Cox singing “Easy as Life” from Aida, and Jeanna de Waal singing “History of Wrong Guys” from Tony-award winner Kinky Boots.

Here are some of my favorites that are contenders for a variety of Tony Awards:

Something Rotten! – This musical’s a laughfest from start to finish, as the poets of the Renaissance put together what could be the most hilarious musical ever.  A lot of “insider” references to musicals make this the perfect show for theater junkies. I’d be shocked if the male lead and featured actors, Brian d’Arcy James and Christian Borle, don’t get some sort of acknowledgement.

The Audience – No one plays the Queen like Helen Mirren. She’s charming, grand, self-deprecating, and even funny.  Her meetings with her prime ministers are a primer in British history.

Hand to God – An evil puppet, creatively nasty dialogue, and an inventive plot make this one of the season’s top go-tos among non-musicals. Can they give a Tony to Tyrone (Steven Boyer)?

Fun Home – The cast is top-notch in the offbeat musical about family interactions. Although the show moved to Broadway from its downtown home, the Circle in the Square is still an intimate venue for the action.

An American in Paris – Go for the music, the dance, the beautiful sets and the lushness of the Broadway version of the beloved Gene Kelly movie. 

The full list of Tony nominees can be found at http://www.tonyawards.com/en_US/nominees/

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Taste of the Upper West Side - May 29 and 30

This is a weekend to eat, eat, and eat… for a good cause.  The New Taste of the Upper West Side is where you want to head to sample the best of the many chefs that have taken this part of the city by storm.  The food festival presents two days of culinary extravaganzas, all located under the tents on Columbus Avenue between 76th and 77th streets. The annual event, created by the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, donates all net proceeds to the local community for neighborhood improvement and beautification projects. Tickets are available at www.newtasteuws.com.  When purchasing two tickets to any one event, a special “twofer” discount applies.

It’s ‘Friday night live’ does Jimmy Fallon, culinary style, at the evening’s “Comfort Classics” competition.  Forty Upper West Side restaurants will present their most innovative “home-style” creations in an attempt to win the coveted title of “best comfort food dish.”  Adam Richman, host of NBC’s Food Fighters, emcees the event and will also be signing his new cookbook, Straight Up Tasty. If you book now, you’ll also get a chance to win a free copy of Richman’s book.  Among the 40 contenders for this evening’s event are Upper West Side neighborhood faves Bodrum (Ali Gurman), Elizabeth’s Neighborhood Table (Tomas Arenas), Good Enough to Eat (Michele Weber), Insomnia Cookies, Jacob’s Pickles (Jacob Hadjigoergis), Momofuku Milk Bar (Christina Tosi), and Virgil’s Real BBQ (Neal Corman).  In addition to the food tastings, creative cocktails, international wines and beer will flow along with the strains of music by the Silver Arrow Band.  7-10pm, $105 per person.

Saturday evening’s “Best of the West” is a glamorous night of fine food, wine, beer and spirts, all created by the neighborhood’s culinary geniuses.  The evening is hosted by Marc Murphy, chef and owner of Landmarc (Columbus Circle) and Ditch Plains (named after the famous beach at Montauk), and judge on Food Network’s Chopped, along with Anne Burrell, co-host of Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America. Musical accompaniment will be by Joe Battaglia and the 16-piece New York Big Band.  Two tiers of tickets are offered:  a VIP Reception which includes exclusive lounge access, a champagne and beer bar, gift bags, and signed cookbooks from Murphy and Burrell beginning at 6:30pm; or general admission at 7:30pm.  Tastings from 45 restaurants and food purveyors include such notables as Boulud Sud (Travis Swikard), Dovetail (John Fraser), Jean-Georges (Jean-Georges Vongerichten), Parm (Rich Torrisi), RedFarm (Joe Ng), Tavern on the Green (John Stevenson), Tessa (Cedric Tovar), and The Smith (Glenn Harris).  VIP reception: 6:30pm, continuing until 10pm, $225 per person. General admission: 7:30-10pm. $135 per person.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Weekend (or maybe a week) in Branson, Missouri

Country music lovers have a destination to go to where the music and shows never quit.  With Branson’s 40 theaters and shows starting as early as 10am (and sometimes even earlier), your toughest choice will be where to begin.  Music fans who have already been to the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, or paid big bucks for Garth Brooks in Las Vegas, or who just want a more concentrated country music experience than what they might have at home, will rejoice in this Ozark Mountains oasis of music on the lake. 

A bit tricky to get to, depending on your gateway city, Branson, Missouri sits aside Table Rock Lake in the Ozark Region of Missouri.   Here you’ll see visitors of all ages, listening, eating and playing, taking advantage of Branson’s family-friendly ambiance and enjoying the great outdoors in addition to the fabulous entertainment inside.  (Yes, there’s fly fishing, zip lining, hiking, camping, too). Add to that a variety of theme museums, special events, and patriotic happenings, Branson is a concentrated dose of Americana.

Music, Music, Music – Theaters here have names like the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre, Dick Clark’s AB Theatre, and the Oak Ridge Boys Theatre. The names don’t actually describe the performers but they'll give you a hint as to the type of show to expect.  Some of the best include the Elvis impersonators like Joseph Hall (one of the stars of America’s Got Talent!), the 3 Redneck Tenors, or Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. Tribute shows exist for non-country artists as well like Neil Diamond, John Denver, Bon Jovi and the Bee Gees. There’s pretty much something for all ages, and the weekly list of shows can be overwhelming. Performers are often available to meet, and you might be in for a treat. I met the original Lennon Sisters of Lawrence Welk fame.

Titanic Museum – John Joslyn, the owner of this museum, is obsessed with the Titanic.  In fact, he spent more than 25 years diving and collecting as many artifacts as he could to create an experience showing what it was like to be on the Titanic’s maiden (and only) voyage.  Greeters in period costumes set the mood, as does the gigantic boat exterior, best seen from the road. It’s billed as the “world’s largest museum attraction.”  

Clockers Café on S. Commercial Street is about as old-fashioned as a coffee shop could be.  Booths, hamburgers, and sweet-as-sugar waitresses await, with prices so cheap that you’ll really think you’re back in the 1950s. Where else can you find a turkey burger on a pretzel bun with fries for $6.29? Add a soda? It’s $1.60. The restaurant opens at 6am so you can enjoy “The Clockers Breakfast” before your first show: two eggs, sausage or bacon, oatmeal or grits, toast or biscuit, with optional hash browns for $5.89. 417.335.2328

The Great American Steak & Chicken House – I can’t vouch for the quality of the food here, but the building is definitely worth a look and a photo.  2420 W. 76 Country Blvd. (no website)

Silver Dollar City -- Home to some of the most creative roller coasters in the country, a made-from-scratch lunch buffet, and superlative baked goods, Branson’s theme park is a magnet for families.  Live entertainment, sprawling grounds, and arcade games fill the park. Test your coaster mettle on rides like the twisting, wooden Outlaw Run and the super-looper WildFire, my absolute favorite.  Not for the faint of heart. 

Dick’s 5 and 10 – Did you lose your original Monopoly game? Or maybe a psychedelic puzzle from the 70s?  Or do you need some fabric, thread, and thimbles?  You’ll find pretty much everything you can think of here including a nostalgia-inducing selection of candy.  Outside, there’s one of those old-fangled rocking horses you can sit on (or get to move for just a few coins).

Flea Markets – Branson is lined with building after building filled with rooms and booths of everyone’s discarded “stuff.”  If you look hard enough, you might just find that one piece of china that would replace the one you broke when you were a child. Your family will thank you. Located up and down Hwy 76 starting from Branson Landing.

Shopping and Dining along the Lake – Along the Taneycomo lakefront in downtown Branson, Branson Landing offers a pedestrian stretch lined with stores and restaurants to fill your hours as well. There’s even an Irish pub if you need to escape the American country scene. Prices are quite reasonable, too.

Bass Pro Shops -- This super-sized fly fishing, hunting, and boating emporium will satisfy all your outdoorsy needs. It’s appropriately located on the lake against the cliffs.

Where to Stay?   

There’s really only one place you should consider, the Hilton Branson Convention Center, 417-336-5400.  Rebuilt after the tornado of 2012 cut a swatch down Main Street and shattered every pane of glass in the hotel, the Hilton Branson is quite beautiful, with several restaurants and bars including the high-profile Level 2 steakhouse. The Hilton is perfectly located away from the traffic surrounding the theaters and walkable to all shopping. 


Branson information can be found at www.explorebranson.com.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Be a Tennis Star or at Least a Tennis Fan at Munich Airport

Have you ever thought about playing tennis at an airport, either during a layover or as a specific destination? Through April 20, tennis buffs can test their skills in the MAC Forum at Munich Airport. In the lead-up to the 2015 BMW Open, players of all ages and skill levels are invited to compete in the unique setting between the two terminals.

You have a choice: watch the excitement or be part of it. The BMW Open by FWU AG happens soon and some of the tournaments here will pit likely BMW Open participants against each other. In addition, there will be two courts, training camps for kids, open courts for anyone who wants to play (passengers and visitors alike).

Could you imagine this happening in the US?  There's a reason Munich Airport is considered five star. Join Munich Airport's passengers, visitors and staff and show your best backhand.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pippin and Cirque du Soleil-type Acrobatics Meet up at New York's City Center: April 16-26

If you loved the amazing acrobats and circus acts in Tony-award winner Pippin, you won’t want to miss Séquence 8, a stunning nouveau cirque performance by Les 7 Doigts de la Main from Montreal. Canada seems to be the homeland of death-defying, creative and gorgeous acrobatics. Think Cirque du Soleil but with hip hop, theater, skateboarding, dynamic music and the acrobatics and humor that we’ve come to love.

It’s exciting that this show is finally coming to New York, after playing to audiences in 15 countries since 2012.

Les 7 Doigts de la Main (The 7 Fingers) was founded in 2002 by seven Montreal-based artists. The company’s name is a twist on the French idiom “the five fingers of the hand,” used to describe distinct parts united tightly, moving in coordination towards one common goal. In addition to having performed their own shows for the past 12 years, the company developed circus choreography for the hit Broadway revival of Pippin. For the 2014 Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony, Les 7 Doigts de la Main staged a 600-person spectacle that was broadcast to approximately four million viewers.

New York City Center has again taken a premier stance in putting forth creative programs for the city, including the acclaimed Encores! musical theater series which mounts “forgotten” musicals with full orchestration, top Broadway stars, and minimal staging. City Center is also home to many distinguished companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, City Center’s Principal Dance Company, and Manhattan Theatre Club. Their newest offering, the Encores! Off-Center series features landmark Off Broadway musicals filtered through the lens of today’s most innovative artists. When you visit, be sure to look up at the ceiling – the restoration of a few years ago has made this theater an architectural landmark in its own right.

Séquence 8 will run for 12 performances, from April 16–26: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $25-$110. More information at www.NYCityCenter.org.

Where to eat after:  To continue the circus theme, try Circo, 120 West 55th Street, for solid Tuscan cuisine in a fun, circus-oriented setting.  It's just across the street from City Center.  Or Abboccato Italian Kitchen, another cozy Italian, also across the street at 136 West 55th Street.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2015 James Beard Awards Nominees Announced

Just announced, here is the list of 2015 James Beard House Restaurant and Chef Award Nominees: 

Winners will be announced on May 4, 2015 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Ticket information: http://www.jamesbeard.org/awards/resources#tickets.
Best New Restaurant
Bâtard, NYC
Central Provisions, Portland, ME
Cosme, NYC
Parachute, Chicago
Petit Trois, Los Angeles
The Progress, San Francisco
Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis
Outstanding Baker

Joanne Chang, Flour Bakery + Cafe, Boston
Mark Furstenberg, Bread Furst, Washington, D.C.
Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery, NYC
Belinda Leong and Michel Suas, B. Patisserie, San Francisco
William Werner, Craftsman and Wolves, San Francisco
Outstanding Bar Program
Arnaud's French 75 Bar, New Orleans
Bar Agricole, San Francisco
Maison Premiere, Brooklyn, NY
Trick Dog, San Francisco
The Violet Hour, Chicago
Outstanding Chef
Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern, NYC
Sean Brock, Husk, Charleston, SC
Suzanne Goin, Lucques, Los Angeles
Donald Link, Herbsaint, New Orleans
Marc Vetri, Vetri, Philadelphia
Outstanding Pastry Chef
Dana Cree, Blackbird, Chicago
Maura Kilpatrick, Oleana, Cambridge, MA
Dahlia Narvaez, Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles
Ghaya Oliveira, Daniel, NYC
Christina Tosi, Momofuku, NYC
Outstanding Restaurant
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY
Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham, AL
Momofuku Noodle Bar, NYC
Per Se, NYC
The Spotted Pig, NYC
Outstanding Restaurateur
JoAnn Clevenger, Upperline, New Orleans
Donnie Madia, One Off Hospitality Group, Chicago (Blackbird, Avec, The Publican, and others)   
Michael Mina, Mina Group, San Francisco (Michael Mina, RN74, Bourbon Steak, and others)
Cindy Pawlcyn, Napa, CA (Mustards Grill, Cindy's Back Street Kitchen, and Cindy's Waterfront at the Monterey Bay Aquarium)
Stephen Starr, Starr Restaurants, Philadelphia (The Dandelion, Talula's Garden, Serpico, and others)   
Outstanding Service
The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN
Marea, NYC
Quince, San Francisco
Restaurant August, New Orleans
Topolobampo, Chicago

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Macarons, Ravioli, Oysters and James Beard: Food Events You Should Know About

Did you miss Pancake Day? Margarita Day? Decaffeinated Coffee Day? Lately I’ve been bombarded with news of special food days. It reminds me of those made-up Hallmark holidays, the ones used to sell cards, like Grandparents’ Day, Remember Your Teacher Day, and such nonsense. Well, now it seems to be all about food. Here are a few that you might want to note.

March 20 – A sweet one for sure, it’s Macaron Day. Note that the spelling is the French version, so that you won’t be expecting any of those Passover gems. This is the day that a slew of French bakeries and restaurants in the city give away free macarons a la Parisienne.  Places to check out in NYC for your freebie include Macaron Parlour, Sugar and Plumm, Epicerie Boulud and, of course, Francois Payard who modeled this event on Paris’s Jour du Macaron which falls on the first day of spring.  The full NYC list is here and tell them you’re there for Macaron Day.  This event happily has a charity component to it, as a portion of the day’s proceeds are donated to City Harvest.

Also celebrating the first day of spring (but I honestly don’t get the connection), is Ravioli Day. Various Italian restaurants around the country are sprucing up their ravioli offerings, highlighting the new and different among the tried and true red-sauce versions. For example, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Manhattan has whipped up a lemon ricotta ravioli that sounds more like dessert to me than pasta, along with a prosciutto ravioli that’s served as part of a special tasting menu just for the day. If you happen to be in Los Angeles, STK LA is offering half off its famous lobster ravioli if you order an entrée as well.

March 22 – Another charity event is the Seventh Annual Sunday Supper Event at Chelsea Market in Manhattan.  Hosted by Jamestown and the James Beard Foundation, this is a benefit to raise money for not-for-profit organizations including the James Beard Foundation focusing on culinary education, Wellness in the School, and other charitable initiatives of the Jamestown Foundation. The seated dinner is a multi-course event, prepared by 20 well-known chefs and served family-style to 300 people in the middle of the market’s block-long concourse. Cocktails begin at 5pm, with dinner at 6:15. 

March 31 – The end of the month means it’s National Oyster on the Half Shell Day. Oh no! Did I miss Cooked Oyster Day? Regardless, restaurants like STK LA are upgrading you from a half-dozen of these pearls to a full dozen, gratis. That’s not bad at all.  And if you speak the magic words, “STK Loves Oysters,” you’ll get a side of Chef Robert Liberato’s “one night only mignonette.”  It's also a good excuse to check out New York's the Grand Central Oyster Bar

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Happy Birthday Bach! Free Classical Music Concerts around the World in Subways and Public Spaces on March 21

Here's a way to dive into the world of classical music -- free! Celebrate the birthday of one of the most famous composers with the Bach in the Subways program on March 21. This wonderful gift to straphangers was created by cellist Dale Henderson to celebrate German composer Johann Sebastian Bach on his birthday and is presented free in subways and public spaces around the world. So, get out on March 21 and enjoy some beautiful music from the world’s great master.

Dale, himself, will be playing in New York City at Columbus Circle (59th Street subway station) from 12am (when the program kicks off) until 1am.

A sample of other performances include:

Adrienne Adiesheh (violin) - Bach Marathan -10am
Union Station, Location C by Vignes Street, Los Angeles

Birthday Party for J.S. Bach with the Dante Trio (trumpet, saxophone, piano) – 10am-1pm
Domplatz 10, Munster, Germany

Joao Ramos Marta (flute) – 10am-8pm
Avenida 24 de Julho 5, Lisbon, Portugal

For the full schedule with 1000s of performers in dozens in countries, visit http://bachinthesubways.com .

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cuba in New York City: Dance Festival at City Center, February 18 - March 7

I am obsessed with Cuba. I've visited twice in the past two years, and each time has opened my eyes to a completely different slice of the country. The high-energy music and dance scene, the magnificent (and crumbling) architecture, the smiling people, and those fabulous 50s cars have given me images that I can't forget. I was thrilled when I heard that Ballet Rakatan was finally bringing their amazing dance troupe to the US. Just like the easing of travel restrictions from the US to Cuba, there appears to be an easing of cultural exchanges with the US. as well. This troupe, which has been touring throughout the world (but not the US.) is finally coming to New York City. I can't think of a better way to get prepped for another visit to Havana Vieja.

Havana Rakatan, the hot, sexy Cuban dance show from acclaimed Havana-based Ballet Rakatan will be making its U.S. debut at City Center, 135 West 55th Street, in Manhattan, February 18 – 22. And you don't need to sign up for a people-to-people program to see it.

Havana Rakatan is the first presentation of City Center’s A Bailar: Dance at the Center Latin dance festival which runs from February 18 – March 7. The Festival continues with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s m¡longa,a dance presentation focused on the sultry world of Buenos Aires tango. The final performance is Voces, Suite Flamenca,a new work from flamenco superstar Sara Baras.

Back to Cuba for the moment. I really encourage you to get your tickets before they’re sold out.

Havana Rakatan is a dazzling mix of salsa, mambo, jazz, bolero, son, cha cha cha and rumba, accompanied by the eight-piece Cuban son band Turquino, which will perform live onstage. The show presents a dazzling slice of Havana culture that charts the evolution of Cuban music and dance over the country’s 500-year history, from the West African rhythms brought by slaves beginning in the mid-16th century, to the jazz, mambo and bolero of the 1940s, the rumba and cha cha of the 1970s, and the salsa and son of modern-day Havana.

As I heard in both Havana and Trinidad last week, it’s son that brings it all to an exciting finish, combining elements of Spanish guitar and song with African rhythms and percussion. This is the heart of modern Cuban music and dance. Ballet Rakatan is one of Cuba's most successful cultural exports. The company was founded by dancer-turned-choreographer Nilda Guerra in 2001 and has since toured throughout the world. Most of the dancers are graduates of the renowned Escuela Nacional de Arte de la Habana, one of Havana’s premier dance schools that offers contemporary dance training mixed with Cuban dance and Latin styles.

The performance schedule is:

Havana Rakatan, February 18-22: Wednesday, February 18 and Thursday, February 19 at 7:30 pm; Friday, February 20 at 8 pm; Saturday, February 21 at 2 and 8 pm; and Sunday, February 22 at 2 and 7 pm

m¡longa, February 26 – March 22: Thursday, February 26, Friday, February 27 and Saturday, February 28 at 8 pm; and Sunday, March 1, at 2 pm

Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, March 4-7: Wednesday, March 4 and Thursday, March 5 at 7:30 pm; Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7 at 8 pm

For tickets, www.nycitycenter.org

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Valentine's Day Packages for Procrastinators

Valentine’s Day procrastinators can still book some pretty cool "50 Shades of Grey"-themed, foodie aphrodisiac, and over-the-top indulgences for their sweeties.

Taking advantage of the long-awaited movie premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey on February 13 and Valentine’s Day on February 14, the new B Ocean Resort in Fort Lauderdale, FL is offering an indulgent Valentine’s Day package themed after the best-selling novel. Couples booking the “Fifty Shades of B Package” will receive items that appear in the 50 Shades story line including a grey silk tie, a bottle of Pouilly Fume wine, a decadent cheese and fruit platter, and a sensual love kit. In true Christian Grey fashion, couples looking notch things up can B Adventurous with the addition of a helicopter ride above the serene beaches of Fort Lauderdale. Throughout their stay couples can enjoy Mexican cuisine at B Ocean’s onsite restaurant, Dos Caminos, or make a splash at the legendary Wreck Bar and sip on signature cocktails. The package is available through March 1, starting at $339 per night with a 2-night minimum.

Are you one of the first to have seen 50 Shades of Grey? Then you might spark to this package that has a laser focus on timing as well. Hotel Monaco Philadelphia is offering a scandalous 70% off sale for a limited number of rooms from February 11-April 16 with a “Thrifty Shades of Grey” 72-hour sale. The sale ends at midnight on February 13. If you're late to the party and miss out on the deep discount, rooms will still be available at a 30% discount.

Also in celebration of Valentine's Day and the 50 Shades of Grey movie premiere, The Heathman Restaurant & Bar in Portland, OR has concocted a romantic night out on the town. Guests are invited to imbibe with the 50 Shades of Gin cocktail (handcuffs included), enjoy dinner for two (complete with menu items from the book and grey-tied servers), and top the night off with tickets to the film at a nearby theater.

A getaway to the nation’s capital is appealing at the Mandarin Oriental, Washington, DC. For the entire year, the hotel is offering the "Monumental Romance" package just in case couples procrastinate (beyond Saturday) or just can't get away in February. Starting at $455, you’ll get luxurious accommodations, chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne, breakfast for two in bed (or at the Muze restaurant, if you prefer), and a $100 credit at the spa. For further indulgence (and valid for the month of February), The Spa offers the Valentine Couples Retreat in a private suite with an 80-minute Oriental Essence Massage, Moroccan Oil Scalp Massage and chocolate-covered strawberries with champagne for an extra charge.

The Mandarin Oriental in Miami is long on romance as well. Couples looking to experience a luxurious Valentine's Day are invited to book the "Be My Valentine" package with accommodations in a deluxe room, full American breakfast at La Mar with mimosas, and a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries upon arrival. Rates start at $739 for a one-night stay.

The Hotel Monaco in Portland’s "At Your Service" Valentine's Day Package reaches new levels. How’s this for an array of services? In the evening, your champagne butler will offer a sampling of local Oregon sparkling wines along with professional tasting notes; your oyster and caviar butler bring an arrangement of indulgent canapés to pair with your champagne, while your bath butler prepares for your late evening by selecting luxurious bath accoutrements for a perfectly drawn bath to set the mood. Next, it’s the pampering and grooming butler who makes you up and blows out your hair, and gives your better half a shave, neck trim and shoe shine. And, of course, there’s a destination butler, your own personal driver to take you anywhere your heart's desire for dinner (they’ll help plan that, too). The next day, the espresso butler will be on call to bring up your favorite pick-me-up beverage to finish all this. There’s breakfast for two and late checkout (of course).

Want to go over-the-top, but a little further South? Hard Rock Hotel San Diego's extravagant "We Found Love" package, wants to make sure you have everything necessary for a passionate night any time in February. The package includes luxurious suite accommodations, romantic turndown service with champagne and chocolates, a love song playlist expertly curated by the hotel’s VIBE Manager, and a $40 in-room breakfast bed credit. For those who really want to make a statement about their love for each other, the hotel offers a "PDA Add-On," where, for $1500, a personal Valentine's message will light up the side of the hotel using hi-tech projection software.

Foodies have a package all their own as well. Fisher Island Club Hotel & Resort, the private vacation destination in Miami Beach, presents the “Romancing the Palate” package, where couples can explore their love affair with food through the guidance of culinary genius Stephane Caporal, Fisher Island Club Hotel & Resort’s executive chef. The chef has created a program that will take guests on a romantic gastronomic journey filled with foodie experiences and personal attention. Offered until April 30, you’ll get a three-night-stay in the hotel’s romantic Vanderbilt North Cottage, Vintage Dom Perignon Champagne and caviar service for two upon arrival, a private cooking class for two with Executive Chef Stephane Caporal, an intimate dinner for two at Garwood Lounge, a personal chauffer during your entire stay, a personal butler at your service during entire stay to handle all wishes, monogrammed robes, European breakfast in bed, daily, and a couples massage at Spa Internazionale.

For another foodie idea, Vietnam’s secluded Six Senses Ninh Van Bay has come up with a playful concept with His and Her menus for Valentine’s Dinner at The Bay. For those couples that love to share by tasting one another’s dishes, this is a feast that offers the best of both worlds. The five-course menus include oyster shooters, tuna tartar, seared scallop, seared sea bass and glazed beef fillet in tamarind sauce. Deserts are even more sinful with hazelnut dacquoise and vanilla mousse. A wine pairing is also offered for the ultimate dining experience.

Feeling a bit more spiritual? Mii amo Spa in Sedona, AZ is the perfect destination to relax and unwind with their “Week of Love.” Beginning today, couples can deepen their spiritual connection with the enlightening three-day, “Conscious Love Retreat.” Hosted by Master Intuitive, Cathleen Miller, couples are invited to discover the eternal rewards of honest communication and how these skills can be used to create a life filled with self-awareness, gratitude and love. You’ll also explore the Power of Touch with a special expert-led workshop to discover the different physical and mental benefits of the human touch. Included in couples’ personalized all-inclusive Journey™ packages, couples can unwind with two daily spa treatments. For an intimate spa experience, Mii amo offers a Shared Treatment menu, where couples can relax with soothing treatments including the Dosha Balancing Wrap, Sedona Clay Wrap or the Anasazi Ubtan. Three-night, all-inclusive rates begin at $2,520 per person based on double occupancy and includes three daily meals at Mii amo Café and two daily spa treatments per person.

At the Hotel Palomar Chicago, the "Yoga For Lover"s package lets you declare your union (that’s what yoga means, after all) with two yoga sessions at the hotel led by local yoga studio, Zen Yoga Garage.  You'll first practice Zen's Partner Yoga and Thai Yoga Massage, followed by wine hour (naturally!), before you set out for the rest of the evening. Wake up the next day with Zen's Morning Recovery Yoga and Silent Partner Mediation, and mimosas, before check out. Available on Valentine’s Day weekend, this package is offered starting at $344 per night.

Diamonds are always a girl’s best friend and Cape May knows that. In fact, Cape May, NJ is also known for their own special diamonds, found locally on Sunset Beach. The Virginia Hotel offers a distinctive "Valentine’s Day" package, Victorian-style. You’ll get deluxe accommodations along with a Cape May welcome with a silver tray adorned with chilled Champagne, chocolate truffles and a pair of Cape May diamond earrings, delivered to your room. To make sure you’re not hungry, the package includes a $110 voucher for dinner for two in the Ebbitt Room plus continental breakfast for two. Free parking and late checkout are part of the package as well. Rates start at $345 per night.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Yoga, Ski and Culinary Weekend in Vermont: March 12-15

How rare is it when you find that one program that combines your passions all in one glorious weekend? Amy Leydon, yoga teacher extraordinare from Boston, has put together a ski, yoga, and culinary weekend March 12-15 at Good Commons in Plymouth, Vermont. For those of you who know me, I'm a committed yogini, who loves to travel and eat, and has spent quite a lot of time in Vermont, working with hotels, enjoying family retreats, and visiting my son at the University of Vermont.  Does this package have my name on it or what?  Although I'm not a skiier, the retreat is close to Killington and Okemo where cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and other winter activities (like shopping in Woodstock!) and spas (again, Woodstock!) are offered.

Amy schedules a number of retreats over the course of the year, with the next one a warm-weather locale, Martha's Vineyard in June.  I haven't met Amy yet, but her acclaim as "Best Yoga Teacher in Boston" by Boston Magazine tells me that the six classes I'll experience this weekend will all be fabulous.  And I hear that she plays great music, too. I wonder if there's a piano in the house.

For more information, http://amyleydonyoga.com/yoga-ski-and-culinary-weekend-2015/