Archive | November, 2011

Around the World Imbibing

18 Nov

It’s been about a month since my last international trip, and I am starting to feel antsy.  My suitcase, sitting lonely and empty under my bed, is calling out to be filled, and my passport just seems to be screaming “Use me! Stamp me! Love me!”  I’m going through withdrawals.

If I didn’t live in New York City, I’d really be in trouble, but luckily, I do, so I can handle this.  After all, if I can’t get on a plane and go somewhere, I can at least get into a taxi and wind up someplace pretty special.

One of my favorite things to do is to go to one of the city’s classic, iconic hotels, and pretend that I am an international traveler, visiting New York and experiencing it as I would if I were in Paris, London, or another equally spectacular city.

The other night, while the itch to get away was particularly strong, I decided to go to The Pierre, one of the city’s best hotels, that old NY gem located on Fifth Avenue just across from Central Park.  I had heard they just introduced “Live @ Two E” , a no-cover jazz music series every Tuesday evening between 6:30 and 9:30pm.   The classy, swanky jazz night takes places in the equally classy, swanky Two E lounge at the hotel, and the moment I walked in, I knew it was just what the doctor ordered.

The setting: warm woods, low lights, cozy banquettes, classic elegance.
The crowd: glamorous, sexy, stylish, sophisticated.
The music: cool, classy, and oh-so-jazzy, with a jazz guitar, a bass, and a couple of talented musicians.

This was enough to make my Tuesday evening something special, but I was even more pleasantly surprised (as was the wanderlustful side of me!) when I discovered their new drink menu, entitled “A Taste Around the World.”  Are you kidding me?  Vacation in a glass.

Cocktail choices include: The Canadian Maple (Mount Gay Rum, Real Maple Syrup, & Lime Juice), Rising Sun of Japan (Ultimat Vodka, Lychee Liqueur, Wasabi, Lemon Juice & Simple Syrup), Great Wall of China (Illegal Mezcal Joven, “Chinese Five Spice” Agave Nectar, Cointreau, Fresh Orange Juice & Fresh Lime Juice), African Safari (Hennessy VS, Fresh Tangerine Juice, Tamarind Paste, Citrus Syrup & Tio Pepe), Taj of India (Ultimat Vodka, Cilantro Leaves, Mint Leaves, “Chaat Masala”, Fresh Lime Juice, Simple Syrup & Pineapple Juice), the Persian (Juniper Berries soaked Belvedere Vodka, “Barberry Puree”, Agave Nectar, & Saffron Infused Sweet Vermouth), and my personal favorite, the Warsaw Mermaid of Poland (Zubrowka Vodka, “Longonberry” Preserves, Apple Juice, Lemon Juice & Simple Syrup).

After a few internationally-inspired cocktails, a few internationally-inspired appetizers (and a nice bonus: complimentary olives, parmesan cheese, and delicious potato chips), and a couple of hours of beautiful jazz, I felt relieved, relaxed, and refreshed–I had taken a mini trip around the world and a trip back in time.  You’ll know where to find me next Tuesday…



Madrid for a Day

3 Nov

Following my recent food frenzy in Sicily, and the longing I began to feel for another brush with deliciousness, particularly a foreign one, I got to thinking–one of the things I love best about traveling is eating. When I’m home, my meals are often simply sustenance; I eat a very boring salad at my desk for lunch, an incredibly dull frozen meal for dinner, and once or twice a week order in from one of several equally unexciting takeout places, when I just can’t stand the thought of another Lean Cuisine.

When traveling, tasting the food is like tasting the heart and soul of the destination. A crepe in Paris is not just a crepe; a waffle in Brussels is no ordinary waffle. The foods of a city are as much a part of that city as are its museums, its churches, its people.

That being said, last week, I was able to take a direct flight to Madrid, by way of West 52nd St. I went for lunch at the ’21’ Club, one of my favorite NY restaurants and one I love to go to to escape from it all, and was treated to an absolutely magnificent culinary experience. Instead of dining on ’21’s’ usual menu, I enjoyed three courses, with wine pairings, of inventive, contemporary Spanish cuisine prepared by the renowned chef Jorge González of the extraordinary Hotel Ritz in Madrid (another Orient-Express property. Yes, I’m a bit obsessed with them). Everything, from the red shrimp carpaccio with roe oil, to the sensational hake loin in a bread crust with green pepper nectar and Iberian ham vinaigrette, to the saffron scented chocolate duet, was simply outstanding, but even more enjoyable, for me, was how much of a taste of Madrid it gave me. I felt I was there, dining at the iconic, historic, remarkable Hotel Ritz, and it’s no wonder–they brought their kitchen staff over to prepare food for diners at ’21’ for almost a week. It wasn’t quite as good as being there at the hotel (I MUST get there), but it was darn close. They even sent me home with a homemade Spanish tortilla, helping to extend my culinary journey into dinnertime.

It was so much fun to pretend, for one afternoon, that I had left NYC and gone straight to Madrid’s best hotel, to experience the food that helps makes this property as special as it is. After all, Madrid is truly one of my favorite food cities, and Hotel Ritz Madrid is one of the reasons for that (the hotel actually transformed the city upon its opening in 1910, and has welcomed every type of celebrity, aristocrat, dignitary, and type of royalty since then). But since I couldn’t find time to go to Madrid last Tuesday, Madrid came to me, and for a moment I was right back there in that beautiful, colorful, absolutely delicious city.

Now if only the Ritz Madrid could bring the rest of their hotel right here to me.

Girl Meets Sicilian Food: A Love Story

1 Nov

In a recent post (See “In My Mind, I’m Already There”), I created a short wish list of hotels and destinations–places I wanted to visit in the near future. On that list were Grand Hotel Timeo and Villa Sant’Andrea in Taormina, Sicily, two Orient-Express properties whose websites alone made me weak in the knees.

Well, I did it. I managed to get myself to Sicily and stay at these two hotels, and all I can say is “wow.” Beautiful, gorgeous, and stunning are understatements. The settings were picture-perfect: drop-dead ocean views, rose-filled gardens, dramatically crashing waves, and the trail of smoke escaping from the peak of an active volcano.

Then there were the rooms: classically elegant, spacious, impeccably designed masterpieces, with private balconies on which I sat, drank cappuccino, and admired the view.

But, if I were forced to describe and relive only one thing, I think it would have to be the food. Indeed, the food of Sicily was enough to make me stay there forever, forgetting all about life in…wait, where do I live? Oh right, NY. New York makes good food. Sicily LIVES good food. Some meals were so good, I leaned back, sighed, touched my cheek, and thought “is this a tear of joy?”.

At Villa Sant’Andrea and Grand Hotel Timeo, the food was as beautiful as the setting, as delicious as the waiters serving it (sorry, but I do love Italian men), and perhaps the best hotel food I’ve ever experienced. It began and ended at the hotels. I’d feast for breakfast, make my way out into the city to feast some more, and then come back to home sweet home, where pasta alla “Norma”, insanely good cannoli’s, and bucket-loads of fresh mozzarella were waiting for me.

It was also a bit of a joke during the trip that I was a cannoli addict–I said if I went missing, my friends would no doubt find me on the bathroom floor, rings of powdered sugar around my mouth and nose, shaking and begging for one more hit of that sweet, sweet ricotta. I taste-tested several cannoli’s–one in the small town of Savoca, where a scene of “The Godfather” was filmed; one at a restaurant in Taormina; one at a bakery in Taormina; and four (yes, four) at Grand Hotel Timeo. The winner was no doubt Grand Hotel Timeo, but I’d be happy to do it all over again and see if the results change.

So, there you have it: I had a love affair with Sicilian food. Loaves and loaves of thick, crusty bread; pounds of fine, earthy olive oil; pasta like it was going out of style; cheese like it was my last chance to ever eat cheese; enough seafood to make marine biologists slightly worried; and enough pastries to put me into diabetic shock. It was a beautiful affair, one I am still feeling each and every day, long since leaving….particularly because I can’t close my jeans.