Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Newport, Rhode Island Getaway: Cooking amid Class, History and Seaside Elegance

The Breakers - Courtesy of Discover Newport

Newport, Rhode Island looms large in the lore of 19th-century society. It was where the wealthy vacationed, where they built their summer “cottages,” and where they entertained on a grand scale. The mansions lining Bellevue Avenue offer a taste of the Gilded Age, and they welcome you year-round to explore and imagine life as it was in what has been dubbed “America’s First Resort.”  

The Music Room at The Breakers - Credit: Meryl Pearlstein

For those of us who live more modestly, Newport holds much appeal beyond this fantasy life of the rich and famous of the 1880s. It’s also the playground of the sailing and yachting set and known for the America’s Cup. Newport is a walkable town with quaint New England shops, beautiful flowers, stunning buildings, and oodles and oodles of history. It also remains a beacon to what is possible: having a port that early on rivaled that of New York and Boston, and serving as a haven for religious freedom from as early as 1639. And if the fresh ocean air doesn’t capture you with its salty perfume, the friendliness of the locals certainly will. Newport will always be a place to visit again and again. https://www.discovernewport.org/
Bellevue Avenue - Credit: Meryl Pearlstein



I have returned to Newport many times, in different 
seasons and have had a wonderfully enriching getaway each visit. The regatta and racing season may not begin until June, but spring is equally delightful in this elegant seaside town. Walking past the historic and architecturally significant International Tennis Hall of Fame or stopping at the quirky Audrain Automobile Museum for more dreaming and drooling -- this all adds to the appeal of the city. 

Audrain Automobile Museum - Credit: Meryl Pearlstein
Audrain Automobile Museum - Credit: Meryl Pearlstein

Newport is the home of the oldest synagogue in the United States.The 1763 Touro Synagogue welcomes visitors on a guided tour where you learn about the beginnings of the Sephardic community in the United States and George Washington’s inspirational letter to the Jews of Newport. The letter, written in 1790, is read annually to the congregation and visitors. The synagogue sits on Newport’s Historic Hill with the neighboring Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House dating from 1730 and the 1835 Levi Gale House. 

Touro Synagogue - Credit: Meryl Pearlstein
Head back towards Bellevue Avenue for a look at the sprawling campus of Salve Regina College with its magnificent Gilded Age buildings and climb along the paths and rocks of the Cliff Walk for a privileged and intimate look at the back yards of the many mansions overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The Preservation Society of Newport will provide a list of the openings of the various cottages so you can also explore indoors, generally on a self-guided audio tour. The Breakers, Rosecliff, Château sur Mer, The Elms and Marble House are the only cottages currently open, but all will be allowing tours by the end of May. (Insider’s note: the gift shops at the cottages offer some amazing “period” souvenirs that you may decide to keep for yourselves.)  http://www.newportmansions.org/  

The Breakers - Credit: Meryl Pearlstein

Driving along historic Ocean Drive, one of the country’s most distinguished and beautiful residential roads, leads you to the premier destination for a Newport getaway, The Castle Hill Inn. Built in 1874 as a summer house, the landmark Victorian mansion delivers an experience that conjures up a stay among the society folks of the Gilded Age. With its sloping lawn and Adirondack chairs strategically placed for optimal bay breezes as well as views of neighboring Rose Island and Pell Bridge, Castle Hill Inn regally welcomes you for a classy, peaceful stay. The resort itself has many areas: the main inn rooms and their adjacent Harbor House and chalet accommodations; a main dining room, private dining area; two bars; a spa; a living room; and a line-up of individual beach cottages and houses where you walk across the sand to arrive at your own private house with fireplace and indoor and outdoor sitting areas. 

Castle Hill Inn -- both photos, credit: Meryl Pearlstein

For beach lovers, no matter the season, the Atlantic Ocean-facing cottages should be your choice of accommodation. The morning air and unblemished sand invite you to stroll along the shore while you search for sea glass that frequently washes up here. It’s a short drive up the hill to the main house where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the oceanview dining room, and where a reservation for Sunday’s jazz brunch is de rigueur. If you would prefer to stay in the main inn, the bi-level turret suite with its sweeping views of Narragansett Bay is pure Victorian bliss.

Beach Cottages at Castle Hill Inn - both photos credit: Meryl Pearlstein

Last spring, I participated in the resort’s cooking school, let by Executive Chef Lou Rossi and Executive Pasty Chef Matthew Petersen. In the Inn’s lawn kitchen which serves guests outdoors during the warmer months, we learned how to make exquisite bakery items. My favorite was twirling the dough around my finger to create a somewhat round bagel. Others were more adept than I, but that was part of the fun. I had never tried anything like that before, and I loved it. I also loved making savory quiches and fruity crepes along with croissants with their many layers and  pounds of butter. As we got more inventive, we made mini versions that replicated the larger croissants, just to see if we could.


Castle Hill Inn Spring Cooking School - all photos credit: Meryl Pearlstein
After a day of rolling, pounding, and filling doughy, carb-filled creations, it was important to celebrate our successes with a Champagne toast and some wondrous cocktails. Beverage Director Anthony Boi showed us a number of variations on the Bloody Mary, to perfectly complement our brunch menu. The Inn’s specialty, and a riff on a New England standby, uses tomato-flavored vodka and adds clam juice to add a bit of salt-air intrigue.


Castle Hill Inn

Castle Hill Inn is a shingle-style Relais & Châteaux situated on 40 acres just at the entrance of Narragansett Bay. The original 19th-century Agassiz Mansion has seven guest rooms and suites with stunning views. Outside of the main mansion, you’ll find 26 private, waterfront accommodations in the Harbor House, Chalet, Beach Houses and Beach Cottages. Activities at the inn vary by season, but there are always outdoor exploring, wellness and cooking weekends, spa treatments, champagne brunches, stargazing, bonfires, and beachcombing. The resort has hosted many famous guests over its long history, with perhaps the most celebrated being Grace Kelly who stayed while filming High Society in 1956. The resort’s secluded seaside cove bears her name. 590 Ocean Drive, Newport, RI 02840, 401-849-3800, or 888-466-1355.


Executive Chef Lou oversees the curved oceanview dining room and crafts a changing menu of farm (or sea) to table international and regional choices. The Inn’s Sunday jazz brunch is popular among locals as well as guests and should be booked well in advance. Don’t miss the decadent lobster hash topped with poached eggs as well as any of the baked goods from Pasty Chef Petersen. In addition to offering the perfected Bloody Mary, the bar features a selection of more than 800 wines, acclaimed by Wine Spectator with the “Best of Award of Excellence” for the past 10 years.

Castle Hill Inn brunch - all photos credit: Meryl Pearlstein

To end winter, treat yourself to a “Retreat to Romance” weekend, with the indulgence of a couple’s massage at the Spa and Farmaesthetics Fine Herbal Skincare products along with the healthfulness of farm-to-table dining. Stay for two nights and toast the vernal equinox with a bottle of Champagne in your room adorned with flowers. The Inn’s decadently refined Afternoon Tea adds to the romance and rejuvenation. 

The Retreat (spa) at Castle Hill Inn - credit: Meryl Pearlstein

Families aren’t forgotten either. Castle Hill’s popular Easter Weekend kicks off on Saturday morning April 15 with the annual Easter Egg Hunt on The Lawn and throughout the gardens. Proceeds from this event benefit the Child & Family of Newport County fund. Brunch on Easter Sunday celebrates the bounty of spring in the hotel’s oceanview dining room. For reservations, call 401-840-3800.

I highly recommend the springtime Castle Hill Cooking Class which reprises this year from May 5-7. Executive Chef Lou Rossi and Executive Pastry Chef Matthew Petersen will again lead guests through two days of culinary craftsmanship. Also part of this year’s Cooking Class, wine education sessions will be overseen by Beverage Director Anthony Boi. The theme may be different from last year’s brunch focus, but it’s sure to fill your head as well as your stomach with delicious treats. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and learn the secrets of great culinary cuisine. For reservations, call 888-466-1335. http://castlehillinn.com/about-castle-hill-inn-social-datebook.



More Events

If you can tear yourself away from the calm and indulgent setting of Castle Hill Inn, Newport beckons with a lively dining scene.  From March 27-April 7, it’s Newport’s Spring Restaurant Week, a great time to sample local dining at great prices. More than 50 restaurants will be offering a three-course prix fixe lunch for $16 or a three-course prix fixe dinner for only $35. 

Scales and Shells - courtesy of Discover Newport

Two of my favorites are among those participating this year. The bi-level Midtown Oyster Bar is always hopping with its sailing crowd (even in the off-season) and live music at the bar. The crudos, ceviches and oysters from the raw bar are top-notch. Scales and Shells Restaurant and Raw Bar just down the street is another Newport favorite, an all-seafood experience in a comfortable setting. Be sure to order their New England clambake – there’s nothing like a grilled New England lobster, except perhaps a steamed or hot boiled one. The restaurant has an extensive oyster selection that changes daily and great artisanal beers. 

  
Scales and Shells - both photos credit: Meryl Pearlstein

Grab a yellow daffodil pin and join the locals and visitors who celebrate the end of winter and the birth of spring with The Newport Daffodil Days Festival from April 15-23. This 10-day event coincides with the emergence of half a million daffodils throughout the city. A calendar of events shows parades, bike tours to view daffodil fields, garden visits, and a back-in-time lawn party at the historic Bellevue House.

Newport Daffodil Days Festival - credit: Meryl Pearlstein

Friday, March 3, 2017

You Can Always Get What You Want at Exhibitionism: Rolling Stones Exhibit Closes March 12


Whether you’re a diehard Rolling Stones fan or are fascinated by the history of fashion, art and pop culture, you won’t want to miss the Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism. The interactive exhibit will play its final show in NYC on Sunday, March 12, before hitting the road for Chicago.

The exhibit spans 17,000 square feet of gallery space in the West Village’s Industria gallery, where visitors can journey through the lives of the band members and go behind the scenes to explore the band’s rise to fame. No stone is left unturned at Exhibitionism -- you’ll find handwritten lyrics, concert memorabilia, instruments and a recreated recording studio. The exhibit begins with a recreation of the disheveled London flat that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones shared when they first started out, and ends with an immersive 3D concert and backstage experience.

Along the way you’ll also get a glimpse of the influence that the Stones have had beyond the music scene since the 1960s. The Stones’ remarkable influence on pop culture can be seen in everything from fashion to famous artwork. Costumes and cover art are showcased alongside personal effects including diaries and letters written by the band members.



(All photos by Meryl Pearlstein)

Tickets to Exhibitionism are $25 and are for timed entry to the exhibit. Tickets are still available for both of the final two weekends. https://ticketek.stonesexhibitionism.com/shows/show.aspx?sh=ROLLINGS17 

Location: Industria, 775 Washington St (at W. 12th St.) in the Meatpacking District.

Hungry:
While you're there, consider these wonderful restaurants for a post-show bite: Untitled at the new Whitney Museum, Santina for amazing Italian cuisine, Bubby's for comfort food and great pastries, and The Standard Grill to ensure that you're part of the driving, fashion-oriented scene of the neighborhood.

Then walk it off with a nice stroll along the High Line -- enter at Gansevoort Street.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Theater is Not Just about Broadway as These Three Off-Broadway Shows Prove

You don’t have to be Jewish to love Not that Jewish. In fact you just need to appreciate life, its challenges, and its successes to enjoy Monica Piper’s autobiographical off-Broadway play that’s as funny as it is touching and moving.  If you’re not familiar with some of the vagaries of a Jewish upbringing, Ms. Piper will help you understand.  She even provides a glossary of some of the more common Yiddishisms that she uses throughout the show.  The daughter of a comedian, Monica knew that her true path to success would be to follow in her dad’s footsteps. After a quick turn as an English teacher – a profession that was more acceptable than doing stand-up comedy in the early 70s -- she knew that she needed to follow her heart.  And that meant changing the course of her life when it came to romance, childbearing, family situations, and, of course, her career.

Ms. Piper’s story is truly hilarious. If you don’t find yourself laughing at her amazing repertoire of facial gestures, her facility with verbal tone and word choice, and her relationships with her relatives and paramours, then you’re probably not a human being. You don’t need to be Jewish to understand this play (although it wouldn’t hurt).  But whether you’re from Great Neck or Greenville, this play will tug at your heart strings and ask you the question, “Have I done the right thing?” The answer lies at the center of this play, a revelatory expression of Ms. Piper’s voyage alone as a single mother trying to make a career while tending to her family’s needs.

Not That Jewish plays at New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, seven times a week, including multiple performances on Shabbat. Its schedule will hopefully go on and on and on and on.


On the other hand, if you haven’t seen Hamilton, you may not appreciate the talent and brilliance of Spamilton, off-Broadway’s’ long-running parody of the Broadway blockbuster. Soon to land on the shore of another coast in the far-reaches of Chicago, concurrent with the arrival of the parent play that it spoofs, Spamilton will keep you laughing throughout its 70-minutes. I definitely wanted to be in the room where it happened and I wanted it to last longer than it did. In this case, the room isn’t the Richard Rodgers Theater on the Great White Way; it’s at the Triad, 158 West 72nd Street, a small cabaret-like setting on the Upper West Side. The two-drink minimum helps set the tone and gets you ready for the non-stop rap, the spot-on character parodies, and even the non-Hamilton but very-much Broadway references scattered throughout.

Did I love this play? Every bit as much as I loved Hamilton. I’ve had the great luck to have seen Hamilton more than once. This is another show that I hope to repeat as well.  Spamilton is brought to you by the genius team of Gerard Alessandrini, the force behind Forbidden Broadway. For anyone who has seen any of the annual renditions of this all-Broadway spoof, the expectation is high for a treatment of Hamilton. The characterizations and vocalizations have to be true to the characters, albeit with their own sense of exaggeration and creativity. The show is like watching a comedic troupe go musical. It’s sheer brilliance.

Spamilton has an open-ended run although tickets are difficult to score. But compared to the real Hamilton on Broadway, this one’s easy. If you haven’t seen the play, at least listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. You shouldn’t miss this brilliant piece of parody theater. http://www.triadnyc.com/buy-tickets

Sadly, one of the most interesting off-Broadway plays has a limited run that is coming to a close. I can only hope that Yours Unfaithfully, a racy piece about open marriage as provocative today as it was when it was written in 1933, will re-surface somewhere else in NYC.  The show, led by Max von Essen, known for his brilliant portrayal of Henri in ‘An American in Paris,” and handily foiled by his scheming wife Elisabeth Grey and his sometimes mistress Mikaela Inquierdo, is terrific.  Its division into three acts is a bit peculiar, with the first act lasting a mere thirty minutes. Yet the scene change mirrors the tone change, as the bawdy tale unfolds. Now ending its run at the Beckett Theatre at Theater Row, Unfaithfully Yours should be given another time to shine at another theater. We can only hope.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

BroadwayCon is Nirvana for Broadway Geeks - Opening Ceremony 2017

If you weren't able to travel to BroadwayCon in NYC, here's what you missed. The conference at the Jacob Javits Center attracted several thousand Broadway fans of all ages, from all parts of the world. Enjoy TheaterMania's condensed version of the 45-minute opening number.

(A plea to the Jacob Javits Center: Could you please add some real restaurants for those of us attending a three-day conference like this that goes long into the night?  Those pre-packaged, dried-out chicken wraps are really awful. Twizzlers for dinner just doesn't cut it.)




Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Broadway Calling Your Name? BroadwayCon 2017 Is Just the Ticket



If you watched the Golden Globes and applauded the many awards earned by La La Land, there’s a good chance you’re a theater junkie.  Mark yourself a ‘yes’ if you’ve ever wanted to do any of these:
  1. Stand at the stage door and get autographs from your favorite Broadway stars 
  2. Learn how to dance like a Broadway hoofer or belt like a Broadway diva
  3. Score the first tickets for upcoming Broadway shows
  4. Flaunt your knowledge of all things theatrical at a Broadway trivia contest
  5. Meet like-minded fans in social gatherings about your favorites Broadway  topics

Or, if you just really love Broadway and want to be immersed in all aspects of the Broadway experience for an entire weekend. 


The second year of BroadwayCon is coming up in less than three weeks. Plan a weekend in New York City around this dazzling fan convention and you’ll be the first to know everything about the 2017 Broadway season (and some good information about Broadway in general). 

With workshops about sound design, improv and casting, for starters; cosplay; photobooth sessions with Broadway stars; singalongs to Broadway standards; panels about all kinds of Broadway topics; and, of course, performances, BroadwayCon 2017 is a dream convention for lovers of the Great White Way. Check out this drool-worthy photo of the Hamilton cast on the Mainstage from last year.


The fan convention is scheduled from Friday, January 27 through Sunday January 29 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.  You can attend all three days or any one/two of the days during the weekend.  Starting at 9am on Friday, BroadwayCon winds up Sunday night at 7pm. Hotel accommodations are available at a special rate at the Marriott Marquis.  More information is available on the BroadwayCon2017 website at http://www.broadwaycon.com/.  Download the app so you can customize your schedule for each day.

All photos courtesy of BroadwayCon 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

Banish the Hangover with a Special New Year's Day Brunch at Little Frog

There’s a new culinary force on the Upper East Side and they’re hoping to make your New Year’s hangover a little sweeter. Little Frog, the new Parisian bistro, is debuting their New Year’s Day Hangover Frogger Platter on Sunday. The platter is a work of art: Rosti Eggs Benedict, boudin sausage, grilled steak, breakfast sausage, Vermont bacon, truffle egg en cocotte, jalapeño grilled cheese sandwich, papas bravas – yes, that’s all on one platter! And it’s only $20.17. Happy New Year!  Add beer for some 'hair of the dog', and the price rises to a whopping $26.17. I know I’ll be there!

If a more moderate hangover remedy is in order, Chef Xavier Monge offers you his Frogger Burger, a creation honed after a decade at Minetta Tavern which, in my opinion, still has one of the best burgers in the city with their dry-aged beef Black Label Burger.

Stayed out too late saying good riddance to 2016? Don’t worry if you’re not up early. Brunch will be served from 11:30-3:30pm. Bring the kids, too. There’s a special menu for them plus an à la carte menu for you so you can sample some of the other bistro fare.




Little Frog Bistro & Bar, 322 East 86th Street, 347-537-5786, www.littlefrognyc.com.  Photos by Paul Wagouicz.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Say Goodbye to 2016 at Good Riddance Day on December 28




I've only done the New Year's Eve "watch the ball drop" thing once in person, and I'll never be that crazy again (although I do love the fireworks celebration in Central Park and the Midnight Run which leaves from Rumsey Playfield). But, if you're determined to include Times Square in your New Year’s itinerary and you’re not just thinking about going to a Broadway show, Good Riddance Day and the Times Square Wishing Wall are two unique celebrations to consider.

On December 28, it will be out with the old, in with the new in Times Square as visitors shred their worst memories from 2016 by disposing of them in a giant shredder. After letting go of 2016 and the less-than-jolly news of this year, guests can record a wish for 2017 on a piece of paper that will be added to the confetti that accompanies the New Year's Eve Ball Drop. Think Wishfetti!

Just stop by Duffy Square (47th Street and 7th Avenue, Manhattan) between 11am and 8pm to post your wish on the wall. You can also contribute online to the Virtual Wishing Wall. All online wishes will be turned into confetti as well.  Use the hashtag #confettiwish if you’re writing your wishes on Twitter or Instagram.

Feel free to toast early with a nice glass of Blanc de Blanc or a hot apple cider (spiked with rum)!




Saturday, December 24, 2016

5 Current Broadway Shows Offering Something for Everyone

After the December frenzy winds down, you might actually be able to fit some shows into your schedule.  Here are two don’t-miss shows for you, two for the family, and one that everyone can enjoy. Theater tickets also make great stocking stuffers!



Dear Evan Hansen – Treating a serious subject with an innovative set, production and score, Dear Evan Hansen is important viewing for adults and teenagers. From the brilliant director of Rent, Grey Gardens and Next to Normal, Michael Greif, the play, score and subject matter might seem familiar, but the production is anything but. Starring Ben Platt, a serious contender for a Tony Award, this musical deals with feelings of not mattering, of not fitting in, and other angst, particularly relevant today. How do you feel about promulgating lies and deception? This musical tugs at every emotion. www.dearevanhansen.com.  Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street. Tickets: www.telecharge.com or 212.239.6200.
(Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)


Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 – Based loosely on a portion of Tolstoy’s masterpiece War and Peace, the Great Comet is a revelation on Broadway. Sit on the stage, next to a runway where characters and musicians frequently travel, or in a perch in the mezzanine, and you’ll be privy to an experience akin to being in a Russian salon. The music is part-Russian, part-club, part-folk, part a-lot-of-styles, and it’s magnificent as is the talent. Breakout star Denée Benton is brilliant as Natasha, the countess engaged to Andrey (Nicholas Belton)  but seduced by Anatole (Lucas Steele). Josh Groban’s acting debut is as amazing as his tenor (or baritone), with a presence that is magnified with each statement and each song. The other leads are every bit as wonderful and you’ll find yourself wishing they could all sing even more, despite the fact that the musical is virtually an opera with minimal spoken dialogue. Prepare yourself for a boisterous and wondrous ride, special effects included. www.greatcometbroadway.com. Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street. Tickets: www.telecharge.com or 212.239.6200.
(Photo credit: Chad Batka)

Wicked – One of the longest-running musicals on Broadway, Wicked has a charm that appeals to all ages, to anyone who has ever loved The Wizard of Oz. Glinda, the lovely and bubbly “Good Witch,” is a perfect foil to green-skinned Elphaba, her schoolmate and the eventual Wicked Witch of the West.  Bring the kids, come early, don an authentic Wicked costume, and have your photo taken in the Photo Booth. This pre-quel to the Oz story will be around for a long time.  http://wickedthemusical.com. Gershwin Theatre, 222 West 51st Street. Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com or 877.250.2929.
(Photo Credit: Joan Marcus



Cats – Now in its second life on Broadway, this smaller-set Cats is a great musical to introduce your family to Broadway. Try to sit in the orchestra, where the Jellicle Cats routinely slither down the aisle, making eye contact and feline gestures as they move. The play, based on the poems of T. S. Eliot with music by legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber, doesn’t have much a story. It’s pretty much a succession of profiles about each of the cats. But the music, dance, and energy of the show make for a fun afternoon or evening. And Mamie Parris’s version of “Memory,” the song that helped win Betty Buckley a Tony in 1983, will make your own hairs stand on end. www.catsbroadway.com.  Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street. Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com or 877.250.2929.
(Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy)




Cirque du Soleil Paramour – Part Cirque du Soleil, part musical, completely theatrical, Paramour is a creative take on the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Watch for the breathtaking aerial pas de deux that flies over the audience in this first Cirque du Soleil musical spectacle, specially created for Broadway.  Actors and singers mix seamlessly with Cirque du Soleil performers in 15 different circus acts. www.paramouronbroadway.com Lyric Theatre, 213 West 42nd Street. Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com or 877.250.2929.
(Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)



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