I’m back!! After a 3 1/2 year journey!

After a very long hiatus to give full attention to the building our family’s forever dream home, I am back to my writing, most importantly the writing of my travel blog.

But what a journey it has been. The home build was a year in the design process and another 2 1/2 years in the construction process. As much as the home build was a labor of love, it became a full time commitment in the final 18 months and I chose to put my writing on a temporary hold to give the build my full undivided attention.

In those 3 1/2 years I’m sure I logged enough road miles to earn AAA elite status – if there is such a thing! We chose to build on top of hill – but to accomplish our desire of building a one level home we had to excavate 25 feet deep from the highest point of the hill to the lowest point of the foundation. But after 6 plus months of digging, and exporting over 1200 truckloads of unusable material (325 of those were boulders alone), we had our flat lot. Now we can stay here until we are old and can race up and down the hallways with our walkers with no worries of stairs!

Luckily I somehow managed to fit in some very special trips during this busy time!

My last post was May of 2015. The following places are where I’ve been since then: Big Sky and Billings, Montana; Sedona (twice), Scottsdale and Wickenburg, Arizona; Napa Valley (twice), California; Vancouver, British Columbia; 4 different trips to Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York; Palm Springs, California; Sao Paulo, Angra dos Reis and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and a few other jaunts betwixt and between these amazing trips.

I will also reprise my monthly food blog. My need to fill my foodie desires never wavered during the home build project. Had to keep that strength up!

As much as I love to travel, there is no place like home and nothing like coming home. Especially when home allows me views that equal any I’ve ever experienced in my travels. Rugged red mountain ranges, hawks soaring through the open skies, lush green golf courses and orchards dotting the saguaro laden desert landscape, owls and coyotes making their presence known in the dark of night with their hoots and howls .

But…this is a travel blog, and there are many more amazing destinations on my bucket list to see and experience. So time to get back to my nomadic living and narrate!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Springtime Spreads – Phoenix, KC, Naples (FL), NYC, Martha’s Vineyard – part 2

Picking up where I left off, leads me to share our dining and drinking experiences from NYC and Martha’s Vineyard. ‘Our’ being whoever I can bring into the ‘foodie’ fold. It’s not hard to find takers.

As I curl up in my big comfy chair, laptop where else but in my lap, sipping a Manhattan created loosely from the Manhattan on Felidia’s of NYC cocktail menu – I resurrect the tastes of the delectable cuisines that have passed my palate in recent months. Okay, enough fluff talk – time to get down to the details:

NYC:

I lost count a long time ago, as to how many NYC restaurant reviews I have posted – but the one thing I have not lost count of is how many negative NYC restaurant reviews I have written – 0! And that is not because I have chosen not to write those reviews, it is because I have not experienced any sub-par dining experiences in NYC. That is remarkable seeing how many restaurants exist in this magnificent city – but it is that competition that keeps all of these restaurants on their shoe tips, trying to out-create each other, but yet knowing when to reign it in so their dishes remain edible enough to entice customers to return.

Tavern on 51, New York Palacelooking for a great place to end the busy day or grab a night cap? This is the place. In the New York Palace hotel, the ambience is inviting, the seating plush and comfy, the drink menu expansive, and the drinks mind-altering if you imbibe too much in these tasty beverages.

Tavern 51 at New York Palace. Check out the fun cocktail menu - lots of 'bourbon choices'.

Tavern 51 at New York Palace. Check out the fun cocktail menu – lots of ‘bourbon choices’.

Billy’s Bakery –  across the street from the newly opened Whitney Museum on the west side of lower Manhattan, this ‘bakery’ is a great place to grab a tasty and generous breakfast and a great cup of coffee while watching the lines grown while waiting for the museum to open.

Billy's Bakery serves up a great cup of coffee, as you sit and watch the action at the Whitney Museum across the street.

Billy’s Bakery serves up a great cup of coffee, as you sit and watch the action at the Whitney Museum across the street.

Via Carota – when you think of a fun dining experience in NYC, this is kind of place you think of. Interesting dishes served by waitstaff who ask you what kind of foods you like and creates a dining experience based on those tastes. Even with the place overflowing with people, they are willing to make any drink or any dish to fit your palate. A must return!

Roasted quail with garlic and rosemary served on a bed of mushroom and bean risotto.

Roasted quail with garlic and rosemary served on a bed of mushroom and bean risotto.

Ray’s Pizza – truth be told Famiglia’s has our favorite late night pizza, but in a pinch if one of these pizzeria’s can not be found, Ray’s can feed that 2 am hunger. The flavors and quality of toppings are good, the crust can be a bit dry and crunchy – hard to fold and eat proper NYC style.

Never short on ingredients - Ray's is a great late night pizza spot after a night of hitting the streets of NYC.

Never short on ingredients – Ray’s is a great late night pizza spot after a night of hitting the streets of NYC.

Extra Fancy – what a fun unique display of menu choices, in a neat boutique style setting, in Brooklyn. There is a large cool bar inside and an outdoor courtyard in the back dotted with trees. And the food trumps the setting – must tries are the oysters, deviled eggs and fried brussel sprouts.

Deviled eggs topped with trout roe is a tasty way to start off an evening of tasty seafood dishes at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn.

Deviled eggs topped with trout roe is a tasty way to start off an evening of tasty seafood dishes at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn.

Martha’s Vineyard:

A place that has held a place high on my bucket list, Martha’s Vineyard, met my main expectations of being a place rest and relaxation, but the restaurants did not disappoint. My next post will be about the activities available in all the quaint little towns dotting this amazing island, but for now I will focus on how we were able to keep our belly’s full and our thirst sated.

Atlantic Fish and Chophouse – a recommendation from our concierge at the Charlotte Inn for great drinks and great food. Such a good recommendation we made return visits. Sits on the waterfront, with great seafood choices and refreshing and flavorful drink choices. A happening bar come the evening hours.

One of the most interesting and unique cocktail menus was found at Atlanta Fish and Chop House on Martha's Vineyard in Edgartown. Like this Manhattan served with a bacon garnish.

An interesting and unique cocktail menu at Atlanta Fish and Chop House on Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown. Manhattan served with a bacon garnish.

The Seafood Shanty – sit upstairs, on the deck if you can. We sat at the bar and had a blast watching the bartenders going 100 mph serving up drinks, beers, wine and food – professional waitstaff and who have fun at their jobs. The seafood is fresh and they have their own twist on certain faves like the lobster rolls.

Two things draw people to a restaurant - ambience and food. Come watch the bartenders do their thing, sit outside on the deck overlooking the bay, while taking down one of their amazing lobster rolls.

Two things draw people to a restaurant – ambience and food. Come watch the bartenders do their thing, sit outside on the deck overlooking the bay, while taking down one of their amazing lobster rolls.

The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn – a quiet indoor garden-like setting, the knowledgeable but patient professional waitstaff, serve up a dining experience that I’m guessing is not replicated any where on the island. And the chef serves up a menu that has us putting The Terrace on our must revisit list.

Fine dining at The Terrace at The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. These lamp chops were so tasty they didn't need the mint sauce.

Fine dining at The Terrace at The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. These lamp chops were so tasty they didn’t need the mint sauce.

Larsen’s Fish Market – now obviously when you are this close to the sea where lobsters abound – all you have to take notice of is there is not a restaurant, 1-star to 5-star, that does not include a lobster dish on it’s menu. But Larsen’s is where you go to stand in a long line to get a whole fresh lobster to eat at one of the few thrown together picnic tables or barrel and upturned crab traps. Doesn’t get much better than that!

A full lobster served up fresh at Larsen's Fish Market in Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard.

A full lobster served up fresh at Larsen’s Fish Market in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard.

Lambert’s Cove dining – another fine dining option in one of the many quaint little towns that dot Martha’s Vineyard. Lambert’s Cove is an Inn, that sits at the end of a very long and winding narrow road to a beautiful little working farm setting that many of the menu ingredients come from.

Halibut with a panko crust served on a bed of mash potatoes and a light creamy sauce at Lambert's Cove Inn, Lambert's Cove, MV.

Halibut with a panko crust served on a bed of mash potatoes and a light creamy sauce at Lambert’s Cove Inn, Lambert’s Cove, MV.

Waterside Market – while waiting for our ferry to arrive to take us back to the mainland we searched out a breakfast spot in one of the little quaint towns we had yet to visit on Martha’s Vineyard – Vineyard Haven. We walked the streets, and came upon a market, that sold high quality, beaucoup flavorful dishes that you ordered at the counter. A fun little find!

Tex Mex breakfast consisting of two sweet corn cakes on a bed of housemade pico and topped with black bean hummus, two eggs, avocado at the Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard.

Tex Mex breakfast consisting of two sweet corn cakes on a bed of housemade pico and topped with black bean hummus, two eggs, avocado at the Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard.

With so many of these restaurants being so busy, all the time it’s often hard to get a reservation short-notice – which can be tough when you don’t know your schedule. We have taken to sitting at the bar, that is first come first serve, and are learning to enjoy this dining experience even more – as you really get to watch the place in action – dining and a show all rolled into one fulfilling evening out.

Winter comfort foods transition to Springtime spreads – NY, AZ

It may still feel and look like winter in a lot of locations across the US and Canada, but the calendar says spring has officially sprung and it is time to look forward to the fresh ingredients that early spring gardens will supply all of our favorite eateries as soon as the gardeners can get in the ground and plant their favorite herbs and fruits and veggies.

While waiting for these farm to table fresh ingredients to begin arriving, I will finish enjoying the comfort foods of winter that are beginning the cross-over into spring flavors. March into April is like a hybrid season for foodies – mix and match the hearty pastas, the substantial squash, the full-bodied red blend wines with a lightly blanched Kale salad, savory seasoned baked lake trout, and a crisp fruity sauvignon blanc.

To start off this months food review – is a comfort food review from my daughter and guest blogger, Allison:

New York

For awhile, it has been trendy in the city (NYC) to add bacon to anything: cookies http://newyork.cbslocal.com/top-lists/nycs-4-best-bacon-desserts-2/, martinis http://newyork.cbslocal.com/top-lists/nycs-4-best-bacon-cocktails/, even a jar of artisanal salt http://www.baconery.com. But it was in New Jersey, and with a more traditional breakfast dish, that I became a bacon convert.

Anderson’s 1949 is a recent addition to Montclair’s robust food scene, an oddly playpen-shaped restaurant with oversized tables that are shared European-style by multiple parties. My formerly kosher friend ordered us two dishes to share: the cornbread-clad Chorizo Scramble ($10) http://www.andersons1949brooklyn.com/?page_id=217 and the Elvis Waffle ($10), a sturdy griddle-cake smothered with butter syrup and whipped peanut butter, piled high with bacon flakes, and—to stave off an Elvis heart attack—topped with thick slices of banana. The dish is an impeccable study in contrasts: salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy. We didn’t even bother trying to speak between peanut butter-gummy bites.

The Elvis Waffle at Anderson's 1949 eatery in Brooklyn

The Elvis Waffle at Anderson’s 1949 eatery in Montclair, New Jersey

My extra-crispy-bacon-loving mother had always wondered if there was perhaps some glitch in the genetic transfer, a mutation that predisposed me to sausage instead of fried pork fat. Now I can know that I just hadn’t yet met the right slab of bacon.

To continue on this comfort food eating experience, I return to last weeks blog on Glenmere Mansion, in Chester, NY where I indulged in some pretty hearty dishes. As my daughter made note of, I am a bit of a bacon-a-holic. If bacon is on the menu, it will find its way to my plate. “Bacon and eggs” may be the more recognized breakfast combo, but for me it was always pancakes and bacon. And one of my favorite cold weather flavors is pumpkin. So when perusing The Supper Club complimentary breakfast menu at the Glenmere Mansion my eyes immediately settled on “pumpkin pancakes smothered in an apple/cranberry/walnut compote served with a side of bacon” – it was a slam dunk decision.

Thick fluffy pumpkin pancakes smothered with spiced apple/cranberry/walnut compote served with a side of extra crispy bacon.

Thick fluffy pumpkin pancakes smothered with spiced apple/cranberry/walnut compote served with a side of extra crispy bacon.

The relaxed atmosphere at the Frog’s End Tavern at Glenmere Mansion with its cozy, limited seating, fireplace setting is a perfect complement to the many comfort dishes on the menu. One of my favorite comfort foods is gnocchi – and their homemade gnocchi with shrimp and a light creamy dill sauce hit the spot, on a cool evening with fresh snow covering the property. The next day for lunch, my daughter and I shared a warm pastrami sandwich with a side of home cut fries, and an order of deviled eggs topped with crispy pancetta.

Gnocchi and shrimp dish served at the Frogs End Tavern at the Glenmere Mansion

Gnocchi and shrimp dish served at the Frogs End Tavern at the Glenmere Mansion

A flavorful pastrami sandwich enjoyed at the Frog's End Tavern, Glenmere Mansion

A flavorful pastrami sandwich enjoyed at the Frog’s End Tavern, Glenmere Mansion

Back in NYC, we took in the quaint surroundings of Brooklyn’s Delaware and Hudson‘s prix fixe menu. The menu changes weekly, so it won’t help to share the specifics of what we ate, but come hungry. The sizes of the six appetizers and two first courses leaves you busy trying to figure out how to make room in your tummy for a choice of a main course and desserts – yes that would be plural.

Wild striped bass served on a bed of artichokes, roasted potatoes and onions.

Wild striped bass served on a bed of artichokes, roasted potatoes and onions.

Pork shank, so tender it fell off the bone and melted in your mouth.

Pork shank, so tender it fell off the bone and melted in your mouth.

Arizona

Back in Arizona, where we were pushing temps into the mid-80’s the day spring arrived, I put the comfort foods of winter to rest for another year and focused on a slightly lighter fare. Last month I wrote about my son and his girlfriends visit to Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn in Phoenix. This month found my husband and I making a long overdue visit to this magical oasis in the desert.

The experience starts with complimentary valet parking. Next we were shown to an outdoor fireside table. Even though the temp gauge on the car showed 84 when we arrived, the arid Arizona air makes it feel much colder. The attitude of the entire staff, from hostess to servers, is knowledgeable and professional but relaxed. It is hard to decide which is the bigger pull – the ambience of the outdoor setting or the quality and flavors of the diverse unique menu.

I started with a Himalayan Salt Seared Ahi Tuna, served on a 400 degree heated block of Himalayan salt. The dish was served with the tuna raw and I was instructed to move the tuna on the salt block to arrive at my desired level of doneness. My husband started with a Foie Gras Tamale – a liver pate’ served with a chocolate cherry tamale, fla-vor-ful. For an entree I went with the Colorado Lamb Rack with four substantial chops done to a perfect medium rare. My husband had the seared Duck Breast served with roasted veggies, duck confit and mesquite gnocchi.

Himalayan Salt Seared Ahi Tuna at Lon's

Himalayan Salt Seared Ahi Tuna at Lon’s

Foie Gras Tamale at Lon's

Foie Gras Tamale at Lon’s

Colorado Lamb Rack at Lon's

Colorado Lamb Rack at Lon’s

Duck breast with veggies, duck confit and gnocchi

Duck breast with veggies, duck confit and gnocchi

And if that wasn’t enough, we, okay I, decided after a bit of arm twisting by our server to try their signature dessert, “Lon’s Cowboy Candy Bar” – served with a complimentary Port. My husband passed on the dessert staying true to his New Year’s resolution of no treats, but had no problem indulging in the Port.

Lon's signature dish, Lon's Cowboy Candy bar - a milk chocolate and salted caramel ganache bar served with milk chocolate carmelito gelato

Lon’s signature dish, Lon’s Cowboy Candy bar – a milk chocolate and salted caramel ganache bar served with milk chocolate carmelito gelato

Complimentary shot of Port

Complimentary shot of Port

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to taking in a National Geographic photo documentary at the Mesa Arts Center, my friend who invited me to the event first took me to a great Indian restaurant in Tempe – The Dhaba, serving authentic Punjabi food. The one thing I love about Indian food is it is served family style which allows you to enjoy so many dishes in one sitting. It’s also helpful to eat with someone who likes the same dishes you do. We ordered, Butter Chicken, with saffron rice, so we could dip our onion kulcha (a type of naan bread) into its flavorful sauce. We paired that with a spicy jumbo shrimp and washed it all down with a thick creamy mango lassi.

Other AZ eateries to check out:

DJ’s Bagel Cafe: a great place to grab a filling bagel sandwich for breakfast or lunch. They sure don’t skimp on their fillings and the bagels are made fresh on site. Fountain Hills.

Postino Wine Cafe: four locations in the valley serving a great selection of wine and filling tapas.

Euro Pizza Cafe: an extensive menu. Great value. Front row seat to the famous Fountain Hills fountain.

Glenmere Mansion and Spa, Chester, NY

Five-star. Gold star. Four diamonds. A+. Glenmere Mansion and Spa, created in the style of an Italian Tuscan Villa, has earned any and every top-notch accolade given out via the hospitality industry. The mansion sits in the southwest corner of the Hudson Valley in New York. About a 90-minute drive from the Big Apple, this home was originally built by real estate mogul Robert Goelet as a family country retreat in 1911.

Glenmere Mansion and Spa, Chester, NY

Glenmere Mansion and Spa, Chester, NY

In 2006, present owners Alan Stenberg and Daniel DeSimone were out for a drive, took a fortuitous wrong turn and came upon the Glenmere mansion, at the time in great disrepair. After millions of dollars, a multitude of hours spent designing and remodeling the mansion, the partners (both business and life) opened the mansion in 2010. Glenmere became the first introduction in Relais & Chateaux‘s 60-year history to make their list of luxury properties in the hotel’s opening year.

Entrance to Glenmere Mansion, showcasing a Relais & Chateaux flag

Entrance to Glenmere Mansion, showcasing a Relais & Chateaux flag

Every year my daughter and I embark on a mother/daughter trip to visit a new and exciting destination. We usually go on Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend so we have an extra day to travel further, but this was her birthday weekend so we were looking for something extra special and close. Glenmere Mansion fit the bill.

The new owners were obviously set on creating an experience where interaction by the staff was part of that experience. Dan and Alan either spent a multitude of hours and/or a multitude of dollars training their staff – or they just have a knack to pick the perfect personality to compliment the level of hospitality they strived for. The professional service attitude each staff member exudes is with such genuineness I felt I was in a fairytale. It was an experience I’ve only dreamed of, and rarely experienced – and I’ve tried.

This service experience begins with a complimentary belini served to you on a silver platter in your room. A silver platter saw many appearances throughout our stay. We ordered a DVD, served on a silver platter. We ordered room service dessert, served on a silver platter. We ordered a shaving razor and tooth-brush, served on a silver platter.

Belini and other beverages served on a silver platter on arrival in our room

Belini and other beverages served on a silver platter on arrival in our room

The staff has an eerie ability to know who you are, who belongs to who, and what room you are in without you saying a word. Even though it was a bit off-season in terms of taking advantage of a lot of the hotels amenities, the hotel was fairly full. The eating areas are warm and intimate. A hostess meets you at the base of the grand stairway to show you to your table, making it a very personal dining experience from the word go.

The grand staircase, where the hostess meets you to take you to your dinner table

The grand staircase, where the hostess meets you to take you to your dinner table

The dining experience is on par with the hotel and the staff. The Supper Room serves up an exquisite prix fixe dinner, or so we hear. My daughter was recovering from food poisoning and the staff was gracious enough to accommodate our last-minute change in needs of eating off the more sedate menu at their other restaurant, the Frog’s End, then indulge in the delectable richness in the Supper Room.

Frog's End Tavern - a bar and restaurant at Glenmere Mansion

Frog’s End Tavern – a bar and restaurant at Glenmere Mansion

We splurged and stayed in one of the larger rooms, aptly named the Vanderbilt Suite – maybe a Vanderbilt actually stayed in the room as the original owners of the mansion were great hosts to an austere list of guests from the wealthy, to the celebrity entertainer or sports figure, to royalty. A fireplace in both the bedroom and the bathroom, brought a warmth to our room on this chilly weekend, snow piled up on the grounds from a recent snowstorm.

The Vanderbilt Suite at the Glenmere Mansion

The Vanderbilt Suite at the Glenmere Mansion

The next day brought us to the main reason for our trip to Glenmere Mansion – the Spa! But first we indulged with a complimentary gourmet breakfast chosen off of a full menu in the Supper Room. I had pumpkin pancakes topped with an apple cranberry walnut compote. Then we took a brisk walk around the grounds before embarking on our spa experience.

Walking the snowy grounds at Glenmere Mansion

Walking the snowy grounds at Glenmere Mansion

Met with the calming refreshing fragrance from an Indian citrus candle as we entered the spa, we were led to the ‘quiet room’ – an expansive room with a fireplace, a juice/tea bar and several chaise lounges and other sitting areas. Reading materials surround you – from every magazine you could imagine, to coffee table picture books, to reading books galore.

Relaxing in the 'quiet room' at the Spa at Glenmere

Relaxing in the ‘quiet room’ at the Spa at Glenmere

We arrived at the spa in our robes provided in our room, as was suggested, so no need to deal with a locker room and extra keys. Each spa room has their own bathroom – what a novel idea! And even a soaking tub or shower were provided in each room to create a very personal intimate experience. My daughter and I indulged in their ‘Couture’ 90-minute massage treatment, where an individually chosen fragrance of shea butter was used to moisturize our bodies. The remainder of the 4.5 oz jar of our chosen scent was sent home with us.

A spa room at Glenmere Mansion

A spa room at Glenmere Mansion

After being given an extension to our check-out time, we returned to our room to change and to bid a sad farewell to our luxurious room. We were in no hurry to leave the mansion, so we enjoyed lunch back in the Frog’s End and then retired to the sitting room to read, and sip on a complimentary cup of tea and plate of dried cherry biscottis, until our car service arrived at 4 pm to take us back to the hub-bub of the city.

The sitting room at Glenmere Mansion

The sitting room at Glenmere Mansion

It is rare that I use my whole blog post to write about one specific destination, but in my estimation Glenmere Mansion so far surpassed my expectations it earned the honor of holding court to a full post.

Taking that one more step – check out a full set of Glenmere Mansion pics in the “Global Gallery” blog link.

Winter – a bountiful banquet of food and beverages – part 2: Phoenix Valley and NYC

Living in a popular destination spot like Phoenix, I receive a lot of requests from out-of-town guests as to where to eat when they come to the valley. My family and I have vacationed or lived in the valley for many years and during that time we have compiled a list of several restaurants that have filtered out to be some of our favorites.

Although ambience is a nice asset to any dining experience, it is generally the food that brings us back again and again. Our restaurant list varies from the family owned Los Dos Molinos – a trio of authentic Mexican restaurants known for spicy food and Kick-Ass margaritas; to the fine dining experiences at any one of the Mastro’s Steakhouses in the valley – both of which I have blogged about in the past.

If you’re looking for a romantic evening out, it does not get much better than Lon’s, at the Hermosa Inn, tucked back into a residential area in Paradise Valley, just east of the Biltmore area. A soft glow eminates from lights hung from the low overhanging branches of the many trees that pepper the front outside eating area. Or you can dine closer to the bee hive fireplace on cooler evenings.

Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn for a romantic dinner. (copyright Jill Richards)

The food is garden-to-table fine dining American cuisine – the garden being a one acre plot right outside the kitchen, inclusive of fruit trees to kick up both food and cocktails. With to share dishes such as ‘Truffle Mac’ or ‘Blistered Peppers;’ or main dishes such as ‘Dry-Aged Strip with Chimchurri sauce’ or the ‘Pork Chop served with polenta and poached baby apples’ – the whole dining experience is one not to be missed.

If Italian is what you’re craving, I’d recommend checking out Casa Mia. An understated, but newly renovated, small restaurant run by an Italian family, tucked in a mostly empty line of retail spaces just off of Shea on 136th Street. The fact this place is hard to get into without a little forethought, goes to its reputation as being a destination eatery that has earned it’s business through word of mouth. And those are happy mouths sated  by homemade pastas like the melt in your mouth pillows of gnocchi with basil and fresh tomato sauce, or any of their veal or fish dishes. And mama’s homemade bread to sop of all the delectable sauces.

A new Scottsdale favorite to check out is Soi 4 Bangkok eatery. An authentic Thai restaurant with fresh and flavorful dishes like the ‘Neur pad tua’ – stir-fried Angus steak cubes with snap peas and onion rings in mild roasted chili jam, washed down with unique cocktails like cilantro infused vodka with lime juice served in a salty spiced rimmed martini glass. Very friendly service in a sleek contemporary setting.

One of the delectable small plates at Soi 4 Thai restaurant in Scottsdale.

If you head into Fountain Hills, you can again hit the gammet of dining experiences. From your basic Mexican food at Que Bueno: I recommend their patron silver margarita on the rocks with salt that comes in a large thick glass that requires two hands to drink from served with their award-winning salsa and warm chips; to the newly opened Italian restaurant Arrivederci (there are more in the valley) that has a great view of the world-famous fountain; to one of our favorite restaurants in the valley, Alchemy at Copperwynd, offering up one of the finest views in all of Fountain Hills and the valley.

Alchemy restaurant at Copperwynd in Fountain Hills. One of the best views in the valley.

Alchemy has been through several changes over the years, but these days you are assured of a tantalizing menu, fresh and flavorful dishes served by professional waitstaff. For the ‘Crispy Brussel Sprouts’ the chef peels the leaves off of each sprout and lightly crisps them with flavors of Worcestershire gastrique, truffle oil and cojita. Absolutely to die for! The ‘Burrata Panzella’ salad with pumpernickel croutons, figs, butternut squash and roasted tomato vinaigrette bursts with flavor. The ‘Sea Scallops’ – served with a grilled mushroom puree, snap peas, brown butter breadcrumbs and hibiscus syrup are so flavorful they have a hard time keeping up to the evenings demand for them.

If you need a quick pick me up or a late night snack, Senor Taco is our family go to fast food joint. An expansive menu with some creative Mexican dishes to rival a much higher end restaurant. Known for their shrimp burritos, they also go bold with such feasts as the California burrito – filled with carne asada or pollo asado, french fries, sour cream, salsa fresca & cheese.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

A carne asada soft shell taco from Senor Taco, Fountain Hills.

My daughter, Allison, hit a few new hot spots in NYC:

Knowing the chef helps

Though I love consuming their artistry in every shape, size, and color, I’ve never managed to befriend any chefs. Luckily, I have two friends with sous-chefs for brothers. In the first two months of 2015, I ate for the first time at both of their restaurants: Txikito, in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, and Charlie Bird, in the western reaches of SoHo, also called the South Village.

Knowing the (sous) chef doesn’t mean you get a meal for free, but it does mean that every plate you order comes hand-in-hand with an even better one you didn’t; that everyone treats you with an extra dose of kindness; and that you’ll still pay less than the listed price.

Txikito is an upscale Basque tapas restaurant, and the friend whose brother works there is Chilean. Translation: small plates, major flair. It’s been a month, and I can still easily conjure up the languid texture of the “txipiron encebollado” ($16)–a lavish pile of squid ribbons tossed with sweet onions and pine nuts. Plated in the shape of a flattened rose, the octopus carpaccio ($15) was at once rich and delicate, oil-soaked and airy. The kroketas of the day, filled with cheese and salty cod, tasted like warmth itself. But the crowned prince of the night was the Spanish version of French toast, stolen off the brunch menu of Txikito’s sister restaurant La Vara and served up as dessert. Pillowed dough, caramelized syrup, and a whiff of citrus. The evening was blustery, a Monday, but the restaurant was still filled with a happy murmur. Just slow enough though for our chef to bring out one of his dishes himself and pull out the empty chair at our table for a humble hello.

Txikito restaurant in NYC. (picture by gourmet.com)

In contrast, I saw Charlie Bird at prime time. Late on a Thursday night. The restaurant bills itself as a little bit hip hop, influenced by downtown culture and the history of street art and jazz (the name is a fusion of Charlie Parker and his nickname “Bird”). So I was surprised to find the space awash in light, subdued colors: cream tables, bourbon-hued bucket chairs, walls the color of book pages. To our left, lined up above a bank of mustard-colored booth seating, was the bit of pizzazz I’d been expecting: a framed series of hyper-realistic boombox photographs. The only fault critics seem to have found with Charlie Bird’s food is its saltiness. If it’s too salty for them, they can leave the eating to me. Burrata toast ($12), farro salad ($16), gnocchi rosa ($18), crispy smoked eggplant ($10), pappardelle with rabbit ($20), and the rice krispie-laced chocolate budino ($12)–we ate it all and somehow heaved ourselves out of our chairs after. I’ve also read they have an excellent barolo on the menu, but even with the chef hook-up, that was a little too fancy for our wallets.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.

Charlie Bird eatery in NYC.

 

Museums/Galleries: the artist behind the artwork

How often do you go to a museum to marvel at the works of art showcased and wonder about the artist behind the art work? As I travel the world, I find it revealing to check out the museum listings. It gives me a sense to the cultural awareness and interest of a place. The museum may or may not reveal the actual culture of a given area, but more that the city has a healthy curiosity to the multiple ways people look at life in the world around them.

A museum is defined as a place where important things are preserved. This place may be created for the specific display to share with the public like The Metropolitan Museum of Art or The Louvre. Or it might be a gallery in a private home. The medium can be anything from painting to sculpture to photos to artifacts. These pieces are the brainchild of an individual and their desire to create a tangible form of passion.

Passion is the catalyst of every artist I have had the pleasure of meeting, and others I have read about. Very seldom does an artist set out to create with the sole purpose to make money. Hence the starving artist mantra we so often hear. Even those who set out to make money from their artwork, create from a passion or deep interest in a process. An artist is born with an innate desire to craft something that speaks to them. It often isn’t until a friend or colleague see’s a piece of artwork, is wowed and convinces the artist they need to share their work with others.

Artists are often a school teacher or doctor by day and an artist by night. Or it’s their weekend anecdote to their hectic weekday life. Of course there are those artists who set out to be artists very young in life and are able to achieve a level of success early enough they can rely on the income from their artwork to live comfortably.

I believe there is an artist in all of us, and that is a major reason I am so drawn to museums or seeing artists in the throes of their passion. It is inspiring to see such commitment and desire and release of emotions into an object. And no piece of artwork has the same reaction to every person. I love watching people sit and ogle over a piece of artwork. If you ask them what they see it is often something that had not dawned on you as you looked at the same piece.

Evolution seems to be a constant for artists. One element of design leads to trying something new. Creating a new texture or color or light. Or even creating new tools to achieve a certain look or quality. I love looking at artists work tables to see everyday utensils turned into tools of the trade. Or going as far as designing and building equipment to allow the artist to take their craft to another level. I think it is all these elements why true artists are artists for life. It is generally not a passing fancy, even if you just “…dabble in it…” you usually dabble throughout your whole life.

Following are some artists I have had the pleasure of meeting and watch them create:

Seguin Poirier: born 1949; learned metal enamel artistry at age 17; designed the world’s largest kiln to bake his enamel on copper pieces. With exhibits in Rockfellar Center, NYC to collections at The Bank of Montreal, Montreal and a Royal Palace, Saudi Arabia, Monsieur Poirier has earned an international mark with his work.

http://www.seguinpoirier.com/?lang=en

https://nomadicnarrator.com/global-gallery/canada/seguin-poirier-gallery/

Seguin Poirier working on an original for our group

Seguin Poirier working on an original with ideas he got from the audience.

 

Seguin Poirier enamel original made especially for our group with our input

The Seguin Poirier finished enamel original from above.

Specially designed kiln, created by Seguin Poirier to fire oversized pieces. Only kiln like it in the world.

Kiln designed by Seguin Poirier so that he could expand his work to large format pieces.

Randy Strong: started off in photography, having worked with the likes of Ansel Adams, Strong moved on to glass blowing in the 1970’s where he has worked with Dale Chihuly. His work has been on display in The Corning Museum, in New York City and The Louvre, Paris. Strong still creates, designs and teaches this waning form of artwork.

http://www.rstrong.com/about-the-artist/

Randy Strong, world renowned glass blower, San Francisco

Randy Strong, world-renowned glass blower, San Francisco

Some of Randy Strong's masterpieces for sale at the demonstration.

Some of Randy Strong’s masterpieces including his famous flower where different colored petals are interchangeable.

Vicki O’Connornew to the world of public art display, O’Connor has been a passionate artist her whole life. But it was a bout with the often debilitating disease, Valley Fever, that Vicki gave a focus to her love of creating art on a level that finds her showcasing and selling her art with 500 other artisans (booth D-11) November 14th-16th at the Fountain Festival of Arts and Crafts (http://www.fountainhillschamber.com/festival-of-arts.asp), Fountain Hills, AZ. Her works have found their way into public locations, Starbucks, Fountain Hills, and private homes.

http://vickioart.com

See more of Vicki’s growing gallery of artwork: https://nomadicnarrator.com/category/favorite-authorsartists/vicki-oconnor/

Budding new artist Vicki O'Connor may not have exhibits and collections all over the world - yet, but her passion for the art creates is no less passionate than those have achieved widespread acclaim.

Budding new artist Vicki O’Connor may not have exhibits and collections all over the world – yet, but her passion for the art creates is no less passionate than those who  have achieved widespread acclaim.

The key to Vicki's works of art are her one-liner or one word messages. She says what we all think, or what we should all think more about.

The key to Vicki’s colorful works of art are her one-liner or one word messages. She says what we all think, or what we should all think more about.

Following are the listing of museums I have visited and artists I have learned about because of these visits:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York City; classic architecture; one of the expansive and diversified exhibits in the world; historical to modern. Check out the Cloisters in Harlem.

The Guggenheim Museum: New York City; modern architecture; exhibits displayed from the ceiling and/or along walls of this multi-tiered spiral walkway overlooking an open center; modern and contemporary art.

The Frick Museum: New York City; Frick residence turned into a museum; Renaissance to the late 19th century artwork.

The Neue Galerie: New York City; once a Vanderbilt residence; now a museum to early 20th century German and Austrian art and design.

Museum of Modern Art: New York City; modern architecture; the name says it all – generally showcases some the most thought proving exhibits in the city.

American Museum of Natural History: New York City; classic architecture; natural exhibits and scientific collections; great place to take the kids.

New Museum: New York City; modern architecture; new work by living artists; five plus floors of open floor plan that encircles the freight size lime green and mirrored elevator.

The Morgan Library and Museum: New York City; classic architecture and once private library of Pierpont Morgan, father to J. P. Morgan, Jr.; collection of rare printed manuscripts and works of art, Egyptian to Renaissance to Chinese art and artifacts.

Whitney Museum of American Art: New York City; modern architecture; 20th and 21st century American art – many living artists. Whitney is presently closed while they prepare to move into a new building in 2015.

Brooklyn Museum: Brooklyn, NYC; classic architecture; diverse collection and exhibits ranging from ancient Egypt to cutting edge modern.

Walker Art Center: Minneapolis; modern architecture; modern concept art pushing for creative expression of art, some with audience participation. Check out the outdoor Sculpture Garden.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Minneapolis; classic and modern architecture; one of the finest wide-ranging art collections in the country – from Matisse to Monet, from Africa to Asia, 40,000 year old artifacts to world-renowned pieces.

SmithsonianWashington D.C.; classic and modern architecture; inclusive of 19 museum and galleries – what doesn’t it include? Obviously a great place to take kids – of all ages.

Montreal Museum of Fine ArtsMontreal; classic and modern architecture; diverse forms of art from antiquity to today.

The Louvre: Paris; classic with a small touch of modern architecture; one of the world’s most renowned museums because of it’s history and collection of Masterpieces such as: the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and King Louis XIV.

Musee de l’Orangerie: Paris; classic architecture with simple oval interior galleries. Claude Monet designed this museum to showcase the huge panels of his Water Lilies collection.

Belvedere Museum: Vienna; classic architecture for this one-time palace that is a piece of artwork in itself; Austrian art dating from Middle Ages to present day, most notably Gustav Klimt.

Some of my favorite artists are: Claude Monet, Gustav Klimt, Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, Renoir, Dale Chihuly. I’ve always been drawn to the traditional painter whether from the Renaissance era or Impressionist era, but I am learning to appreciate some of the modern forms of art that really make you think and imagine. So turn off the TV and head to your local art museum or gallery and expand your horizons! And take time to get into the passionate mind of the artist!

Fall is for Feasting, part 2 – October: MN & NY

October found my daughter and I having a much quieter travel month than we did in September. But that doesn’t mean we went hungry. Allison found two more destination eateries in NYC, and then we trekked to the shores of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota to check out the local fare.

Fruits de mer – Two nights, two opposite ends of the city (NYC), by Allison Malecha

I never thought I would get my dad all the way to Crown Heights—the Caribbean-bred, newly bohemian-infested Brooklyn neighborhood that is thirty minutes by express subway from Manhattan. Besides being the home of Silver Rice, which I wrote about in last month’s post [https://nomadicnarrator.com/2014/09/26/fall-is-for-feasting-part-1-september/], Crown Heights borders the monumental Brooklyn Museum, and its main drag, Franklin Avenue, is bursting with culinary life.

Owned by New York City native Lev Gewirtzman, Mayfield is the neighborhood’s most prominent fine dining staple—the first place my friends who live in the area take their parents for dinner. In a city of two-tops, this restaurant also has a whole array of hefty picnic-style wood tables that seat six. After attending the opening of the Brooklyn Museum exhibit “Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond,” my dad and I walked the 15 minutes down Franklin Avenue and got right in without a reservation. Suffice to say, he was much more into the food than the art (his take: “I could make this in my garage”—I disagreed).

We missed the $1 fresh oyster happy hour but were happy to settle for the $13 fried cornmeal ones, served on a slick bed of smoked salmon and celery coleslaw and topped with big dollops of horseradish cream. We then had an unnecessary but 100% delicious Italian interlude of homemade ricotta gnocchi ($12) before moving on to the main courses: buttermilk fried quail ($20) for my dad and sautéed scallops for me. The quail, though striking the requisite balance between moist meat and crispy exterior, was shown up by its side of spoon bread: a ramekin full of hot, butter-sweet, perfectly browned goodness. My dish, a quartet of large sea scallops and a smattering of mini ones, was decidedly lighter fare, fortified by a sizable mound of corn-speckled risotto. The wine list here is also reasonable. We washed our dinner down with a $32 bottle of côtes du rhône. And after all that liquid, it’s worth a trip to the bathroom—the stall on the right is plastered with one of my favorite wallpapers, inspired by architectural blueprints.

Enjoying starters of fried oysters on a bed of coleslaw and smoked salmon, and   at Mayfield, in Brooklyn.

Enjoying starters of fried oysters on a bed of coleslaw and smoked salmon, and ricotta gnocchi at Mayfield, in Brooklyn.

Buttermilk fried squid with sides of spoon bread and sautéed spinach at Mayfield in Brooklyn.

Buttermilk fried squid with sides of spoon bread and sautéed spinach at Mayfield in Brooklyn.

Sauteed sea scallops perfectly browned and put to rest on a bed of corn infused risotto.

Sauteed sea scallops perfectly browned and put to rest on a bed of corn infused risotto.

The next night, my dad was kind enough to pony up for an even fancier affair—a full-on fish fête at Barchetta. Though the New York Times’ Pete Wells gave it only 1 star in September [LINK: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/dining/restaurant-review-barchetta-in-chelsea.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Aw%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A8%22%7D], I was intrigued enough to book a table at the six-month-old brainchild of chef and restaurateur Dave Pasternack (known for Esca, in Hells Kitchen). The light-wood tables, soft lighting, and cream walls lined with a row of understated abstract paintings were a welcoming sight at the end of a grey day.

Cocktails to start: a traditional Manhattan for dad (fitting, for the location), while I tried on a “fiaschetta” for size (carpano antica, Campari, elderflower, and Woodford reserve). It fit quite well. Our first bites were many and varied—a six-part crudo tasting ($28), consisting of fresh wedges of fish, from tuna to Spanish mackerel, sitting in pockets of beautifully flavored oil. We were either lucky enough to hit the restaurant on a non “off night,” or my hunger for high-quality fish was too large for me to care. The server recommended that my dad fillet his porgy ($17) himself, but we both settled for having the hard work done for us. My de-boned black sea bass ($17) arrived glistening and flaky. The slightly dry side of acorn squash and lemon tart dessert were an ideal offset to the many bites of rich, meaty fish.

A crudo of varied fresh fish soaking in flavored oils at Barchetta in Chelsea.

A crudo of varied fresh fish soaking in flavored oils at Barchetta in Chelsea.

Freshly de-boned blackened sea bass with a side of acorn squash at Barchetta in Chelsea.

Freshly de-boned black sea bass with a side of acorn squash at Barchetta in Chelsea.

These were just two nights in a whole week of feasting while my dad was in town. I probably should have fasted for a week afterwards – but I didn’t.

Next:

Mid-October my daughter and I took a road trip to the North Shore, with my Dad and his wife. This large peninsula of Minnesota lines the shores of Lake Superior and many of the states 10,000 lakes dot the inland landscape.

We made a pit stop along the scenic North Shore drive at the appropriately named Scenic Cafe’. Talk about using fresh local ingredients; each dish at Scenic screams flavor by infusing unique food combinations like the special starter of the day – figs and walnuts bathed in a maple syrup molasses surrounding a tower of blue cheese served with crudités.

The specialty starter dish of the day used local Minnesota ingredients to create this abundantly flavorful dish.

The specialty starter dish of the day used local Minnesota ingredients to create this abundantly flavorful dish.

Further up the avenue we settled in the area of Tofte and Lutsen for a weekend of reading, walking, spa-ing and of course -eating!

The first night we headed to Lutsen for locally caught walleye and harvested wild rice, which make up the key ingredients to one of Lutsen Lodge‘s traditional menus choices at the Dining Room. The starter of Minnesota Wild Rice soup and finale’ of Swedish Cream round out this flavorful dinner selection.

Potato crusted walleye served with wild rice pilaf – a tradition along with a starter of Minnesota Wild Rice soup, served at Lutsen Lodge Dining Room.

If breakfast fare is more to your liking than head back down the road to Waves of Superior Cafe at Surfside on Lake Superior, spa and townhomes. Acclaimed Chef Judy Barsness, (my Dad’s wife’s sister-in-law) showcases her signature culinary style ‘Minnisine’ using locally caught, grown and handcrafted ingredients to make delectable Minnesota contemporary cuisine. The Sunday brunch is an absolute must after indulging in a relaxing spa treatment.

Chef Judy Barsness presents a Sunday brunch buffet to satisfy even the most discerning palate.

Chef Judy Barsness presents a Sunday brunch buffet to satisfy even the most discerning palate.

Next month I’ll showcase cuisine from our neighbor to the north – Canada. Butter tarts, perogies, poutine….. And of course Thanksgiving – American style!