From Anchovies in Dubrovnik to Donuts in Zagreb: An Exquisite Culinary Whirl Through Croatia

Panorama Restaurant & Bar, Dubrovnik

 

Carving out enchantment in Croatia isn’t difficult – but visits to this pearl of the Adriatic Sea should absolutely extend beyond the more obvious cities of Dubrovnik and Zagreb. Indeed, in this ethereal land known for its otherworldly sites – as vividly depicted in Game of Thrones – there’s so much more to see.

We took the Kompas Adriatic Cruise on M/S Stella Maris, the compact luxury ship that allows for unprecedented access to sights and delights of those lesser known gems. Beginning in Dubrovnik and sailing north towards its final port-of-call in Poreč, the ship’s gracious and knowledgeable staff complement unique personal touches like lively info sessions, surprise island detours, and Croatian language lessons.

 

M/S Stella Maris

 

We were admittedly on a gastronomic mission – and thankfully, there’s an ocean’s worth of culinary gems at every stop.

Croatian fare is something of a crossroads of diversity and regional specificity, perhaps most easily divided up by coastal and mainland/continental fare. The former utilizes a lot of fresh seafood (squid, shrimp, lobster, octopus) and plenty of their award-winning Croatian olive oil – which is enhanced by an ample dose of fresh herbs and spices (think oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, rosemary); you’ll also recognize quite a lot of Mediterranean influences and resemblances to Greek and Italian (Venetian) cuisines.

 

Hvar

 

The latter is heavily characterized by Slavic influences, as well as some Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish (due to proximity and historical rule). You’ll see meat, fresh-water fish and vegetable dishes fortified by headier ingredients such as sweet paprika, roasted garlic and black pepper; and moreover, instead of olive oil, it’s sunflower oil and/or animal fats, such as pork lard for cooking and frying.

Highlights in the overall include cheese made from fresh sheep or goat’s milk from the Island of Pag, spicy sausages (kulen) from Slavonia, Dalmatian prosciutto, truffles from Istria…we could go on.

Here were some of the highlights.

 

Dubrovnik

Take the cable car up Srđ Hill and soak up sweeping panoramic views of the Old City of Dubrovnik, the island of Lokrum, the bay of Lapad, and the Elaphite Islands. Perched atop the hill is Panorama Restaurant and Bar; and considering your location along the Dalmatian coast – here, you must exercise your gustatory duty to eat freshly caught seafood. We recommend the Dalmatian Trilogy, a swimmingly delicious trio of octopus, marinated shrimps, and anchovies – best enjoyed with a glass of summer à la Grgić Pošip (2015).

 

Panorama Restaurant & Bar

 

Mljet

Take a stroll through Mljet National Park – this cherished green island oasis is situated on the Dalmatian south. It is the oldest national park along the Adriatic sea and hosts a wealth of flora and fauna, along with two unique features: the Great Lake and Small Lake. The latter on which you can take a small boat over to the Isle of St. Mary, where the 12th century Benedictine monastery awaits. The building is a bit of an anomaly; due to it being redesigned numerous times, architectural styles collide: Renaissance meets Romanesque meets Baroque. For a break from the history lesson, wander down to Restaurant Melita. With views overlooking the lake, enjoy a romantic meal on the terrace with local cheeses, black risotto and our favorite, grilled mljet lobster.

Korčula

Millenia-old winemaking traditions are revered here. So a visit and chat with Mr. Branimir Cebalo in his Lumbarda vineyard at Grk Cebalo is very much in order. Located about two miles from the Old Town of Korčula, they offer tours of the grounds and wine tasting: we recommend his Grk white wine, which offers reserved intensity and is gorgeously layered. Then make your way back to the shoreline to Lešić Dimitri Palace Restaurant – or more simply, LD Terrace. It recently entered the Michelin Guide and their Dalmatian fare with contemporary flourishes ideally complements the patio-perfect views of the Adriatic Sea. We recommend the gambero rosso & rose galić dish, which features local sweet, raw prawns, and a lush bisque that’s finished with a drizzle of herb-infused oil.

 

Lešić Dimitri Palace Restaurant 

 

Hvar

You probably know it as the island where international celebs and folks with fancy yachts congregate; but beyond the ritzy-glitz, there’s authenticity and charm waiting to be discovered. Wander the streets of this seaside town and make your way over to the Španjola, a Spanish fortress built in the 15th and 16th centuries. As you stand on historic antiquity, take in sunny views of the quaint town, the Adriatic and nearby the Pakleni Islands. Then head to the local Hvar Market for a basket of the freshest, sweetest strawberries you’ve ever tasted in your life. Sometimes life’s simple pleasures are just as sublime.

Split

Part of the Dalmatia region, this bustling city is the second-largest in Croatia and spread over a central peninsula. Head below ground for a brief respite from the crowds, explore the palatial rooms beneath the surface of a Roman Emperor’s namesake Diocletian’s Palace, deemed a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Then, wander over to the chic and lively Bokeria Kitchen and Wine bar for stellar Croatian wines (we recommend a medium-bodied white Stina vugava, from Brač); pair with the smoked and charred octopus, made with sweet stewed chickpeas and tomatoes.

 

Bokeria Kitchen 

 

Primošten

Located in the northeast town of Sibenik, Krka National Park is accessible nature at its finest. It’s a natural karst phenomena and rich in endemic species, but allows for leisurely strolls due to the many wooden paths. There are 360°views of lush forestry, streams, and seven waterfalls to behold –  of which the most famous and stunningly beautiful is Skradinski buk. After a jaunty workout, grab a seat by the sheltered overwater patio at Konoba Toni. The mixed grill is a must and features locally caught orada (sea bass), brancin (sea bream), calamari, clams, and shrimp. Fresh, sweet and tender – all else that’s required is a drizzle of local Croatian olive oil, lemon and salt.

Zadar

Situated along the Dalmatian coast, the past and present greet one another with a cool connectedness. With over 3000 years of history, a wander through the Old City of Zadar and you’ll be face-to-face with Roman forum ruins. Then encounter the present/future with art installations by Nikola Bašić along the coastline, which feature his psychedelic solar-powered Greetings to the Sun and water-symphonic Sea Organ. Then, get an ample fill of people watching on the patio of Pet Bunara as you tuck into Croatian-Mediterranean fare such as stuffed calamari that’s filled to the gills with a mixture of barley, Dalmatian bacon, goat cheese, fish sauce, capers and chives. And remember to take a peek inside the restaurant itself; its digs are built upon the archaeological ruins of the Old City walls – which you can see through their glass floor.

 

Pet Bunara

 

Rovinj

It’s hard to resist the charms of this impossibly romantic town. Situated on the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula, Rovinj’s Old City is a basket weave of narrow winding cobbled streets, stone archways, flower-dotted window sills, and a central harbor lined with little batanas. Wander up to the foot of the Church of St. Euphemia for inspired views, baroque architecture and insights into its famed namesake martyr; then snake down around the back (with swimsuit in tow) to the Plaža Baluota and its swimming nook. Enjoy the crystal waters of the Adriatic Sea and views of neighboring Katarina and Banjol islands. Afterwards, head over to Gelateria Italia for baseball-sized scoops of gelato (two, if you please) – obvious winners are the pistachio and the Crema Siciliana (blood orange).

Zagreb

From that final port of call of Poreč, opt to venture into Zagreb, the capital – the three-hour drive meanders through majestic mountains and evergreen farmlands. Upon arrival, make your way over to St. Mark’s Church, and don’t be surprised to be surrounded by numerous wedding parties and a sea of brides in white waiting their turn outside in the courtyard to tie the knot at this historic 13th century gem. To this day, it is picture-perfect, even though a portion of the building was constructed in 1880; it still features the medieval coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, and the emblem of Zagreb. Ironically, the Museum of Broken Relationships happens to be situated a few feet away from all the “happily-ever-after” related going-ons. If the name isn’t enough of a giveaway, it showcases stories of heartbreak from all over the world. If you consider that the love of food is the most reliable form of affection, seek it out a block over and dine at local favorite Konoba Didov San, for Croatian comfort food. The restaurant inside is a tiny, cozy nook of a spot but in warm weather, seek out patio pleasures with charming views of the neighborhood and the Magdalenić-Drašković-Jelačić Palace. Try the Snails à la Dida – plump puževi sit in a rich gravy that includes roasted garlic and onion, and it’s served with crunchy polenta that’s riddled with crispy lardons. But true love will be found in the form of their fried fluffy donuts, served with their exquisite homemade cheese – the perfectly delicious ending to a delectable tour of culinary Croatia.

 

St. Mark’s Church

 

 

 

D.C. Power Stay: The Storied Willard Intercontinental Gets a Swish Makeover

 

 

What do the Dalai Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln all have in common? Aside from the notably obvious fact that they were/are all unparalleled visionaries and history-changing leaders, they have all stayed at the legendary Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C. – a hotel which has left its own significant mark on history. More recently, it has been the choice of the likes of Tom Cruise and George Clooney.

Now, despite the perpetually contentious political environment we’re embroiled in (with our over-tweeting, 3D-gun-blueprint-endorsing president ever looming over Pennsylvania Avenue) we unequivocally believe that this is as good a time as ever to visit our nation’s capitol. And the Willard offers charm, charisma and the best opportunity for real historic immersion.

Actually located right in the heart of all the political machinations, the luxury hotel with its Beaux-Arts style atmosphere has also affectionately earned the title “Residence of Presidents” – as it has hosted nearly every American POTUS since Franklin Pierce in 1853. But its cultural proximity is also impressive, so near as it is to the Renwick Gallery, Ford’s Theatre, Spy Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

 

International Spy Museum

 

This year, there’s even more cause for celebration, as The Willard is throwing its own 200th birthday fête throughout 2018. In honor of its storied bicentennial, it was recently given a 6-month, $18 million dollar renovation. 335 guestrooms and suites, along with their respective corridors, have been refreshed by Parker-Torres Design – and we loved how the look is transitional, straddling the line between contemporary and classic…which was intentional. Miriam Torres, Principal at the design and interior architectural firm notes that “our most important objective was to respect the history of this Grand Dame hotel.”

And indeed, upgrades are aplenty, while it is apparent that they preserved the soul and integrity of the spaces. Classic guest rooms exhibit sophistication with peacock blue tones, gold, and ivory; meanwhile, the sprawling suites utilize warm creams, beiges and chocolate browns. Opulence comes by way of luxe drapery, textured wallpaper, crystal chandeliers and marble showers. Rooms are also amongst the largest in the city, with sizes ranging from a comfortable 375 sq.ft. to a palatial 3000 sq.ft.

 

 

Of the pied-à-terre styled guestrooms, our favorites would have to be the Oval and Jenny Lind suites. The former’s curvaceous sitting room is accented with regal red and offers sweeping views of Pennsylvania Avenue; the latter is a frequently requested room for brides-to-be (and was recently featured in the film The Greatest Showman); graced with robin’s egg blue tones, it’s decorated with more feminine flourishes, including a cushy canopy bed that’s situated under a domed cupola, and a serenity-inducing sunken jacuzzi.

If you’re able to tear yourself away from the plush rooms and their views of Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the US Capitol building, then wander down to the main lobby for teatime in Peacock Alley. Posh but unstuffy and with notably friendly service, it offers bespoke brews from J’enwey Tea Co.’s owner Lisa Marie. And of course, there’s the famous meltingly-tender scones that are best smeared with cloud-like clotted cream and zippy housemade lemon curd.

Or for a culinary détente with our great ally France, there’s the recently renovated Café du Parc. Decor hallmarks include orb lighting, French-brasserie style tables, and navy blue banquettes – while on the menu, crafted by Chef Guy Ododi, stand-out delicacies include gloriously gooey french onion soup, seared scallops, decadent beef bourguignon and lobster + lamb (a refined take on surf and turf, in our humble opinion). Cafe du Parc also features a popular outdoor patio, with ice cream and crepe cart.

 

 

The adjacent Occidental Grill is considered a DC dining institution, and its illustrious history dates back over 110 years – evidenced by walls that are lined with portraits of famous faces. The menu and food philosophy was conceived by chef Jake Addeo, who’s cooked alongside greats such as Fortunato Nicotra and Lidia Bastianich. Obvious staples include their popular Roseda Farm dry-aged NY Strip Steak; but it’s the intermingling of the flavors of Italia and America that defines the experience, with favorites such as the sinfully unctuous burrata and pan-seared ricotta gnocchi with white asparagus cream.

Finally, a stay at the Willard really should include a History Happy Hour visit to the Round Robin Bar. Held every month, it’s a hands-on mixology event lead by beloved barman Jim Hewes. We learned how the Mint Julep was introduced in the mid-1800s by statesman Henry Clay – and today it’s the Willard’s signature drink, successfully quenching the thirst of over 20,000 guests and visitors annually.

You can visit D.C., take in the culture, and forget our current troubles for a bit with a walk through the hotel’s historic on-site gallery and museum. Being face to face with wise and humble leaders who championed camaraderie and cooperation amongst one another for the good of the country actually gave us a bit of hope; and with any luck, the tides will turn and we’ll soon have a chance to return to those days of civility, respect, and honor – those qualities so perfectly embodied by the Willard.

 

 

From Adelaide to McLaren Vale: The Ultimate South Australia Eating & Drinking Guide

 

 

It’s appetites of audacious proportions in South Australia, as we discovered on a recent whirl through its epicurean highlights.

The state has long held a reputation for its wilderness wonders and adventurous inducements; and now this philosophy has trickled into gastronomic glories. In a mere 5-10 years, there’s been a surge of gourmands showcasing their delectable wares to locals and the world over. And why not? It has been long revered as a wine wonderland…so it only makes sense that all things culinary rise to the occasion of such fine sips.

Industry insiders such as Jonathan Milne of Barossa Taste Sensations explain that it has indeed progressed from rudimentary to ravishing. And the diversity of pleasures is endless: from the boutique cosmopolitan blessings of Adelaide city, to the neighboring and acclaimed wine regions of Barossa and Mclaren Vale, to the sandy, sun-soaked beaches of the Fleurieu Peninsula, there’s much to behold and digest.

Our recent gustatory mission played out thusly…

 

Adelaide

Adelaide Central Market

Since 1869, this beloved market has been a haven for chefs and locals seeking premium food and wine products. All locally sourced, there are about 90 artisan / mom & pop run shops under one roof. We urge you to begin your epicurean journey here and sign up for a Markets Highlight tour. Consider it an orientation of sorts – ideally guided by Mark Gleeson, founder of Adelaide Central Market Tours. In addition to tasting fine fare from local purveyors (such as smoked kangaroo and triple-crème cheese), you’ll get the full scope of the bounty that South Australia has to offer – and it’s a prime place to connect with locals, get a glimpse of everyday life, and ask for recommendations. If you’re keen to bring home tasty souvenirs, gift yourself (they ship internationally) one of their Williams and Taylor Hampers that is brimming with goodies (oils, spreads, crackers, chocolates, etc.) from the Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu Peninsula regions.

 

 

Parwana Afghan Restaurant

In Torrensville, a suburb of Adelaide and about 10 minutes west of the downtown core, is the Parwana Afghan Restaurant, a family-run affair that has turned tragedy into triumph. Zelmai and his wife Farida Ayubi fled from Afghanistan in 1987 in the midst of the chaos and suffering of the Cold War, and the latter proceeded to share her culinary prowess in her new home of Adelaide. Since 2009, locals and tourists flock to Parwana for convivial home cooked meals that are permeated with fond memories of her home country. Order the manty, dumpling pleasure pockets that are brimming with shredded carrots and sautéed sweet onions. They’re topped with a beef mince sauce and drizzled with garlic yogurt, and what results is a soft creaminess colliding with a toothsome chew. And then tuck into du pyaza, lamb pieces accented with a spice blend tossed with garlic and split peas. A mountainous pile sits on homemade naan; unctuous and gamey, and the succulent morsels are topped with tangy onions and fresh herbs.

Gondola Gondola

Opened in 2015, the space is named after the little rickshaw boats that float up and down the riverways of Thailand and Vietnam; and the ambiance straddles that of a casual dining space and boisterous hole-in-the-wall. Owner Tuoi Tran offers Southeast Asian fare with a particular focus on Thai and Vietnamese flavors. Start your meal off with a Blue Moon cocktail that utilizes house blueberry gin, coconut syrup, Sangiovese verjuice, and sparkling sake. Then try the house favorite banh xeo: a large egg pancake with crispy edges that is sandwiched with minced pork, prawns, sprouts, mint coriander and pickled veg. Here you willingly play with your food by using the lettuce leaves provided and haphazardly fashion everything into a freeform wrap. Be sure to have napkins in spades – it’s downright messy fun.

 

 

 

Prohibition Liquor Co Pty Ltd.

In 2013, two pals – Adam Carpenter and Wes Heddles – decided to team up and pursue their passion for gin. From avid enthusiasts, they’ve turn their pet project into a lucrative and thriving business. Gin is still in its infancy here and a boutique industry, with about 25 artisan distillers in all of South Australia; but all this young blood has generated much innovation and creativity – most especially at Prohibition Liquor Co Pty Ltd’s new Tasting Room on Gilbert Street. With guidance from gin ambassadors like Danny Stone, order a flight tasting of their finest, which features Prohibition Original, Bathtub Cut, and Shiraz Barrel Aged. Our favorite of the bunch? The Bathtub, which happens to have highest proof in all of the Southern Hemisphere. Bracing alcohol shock-value aside, the nose gets a thicket of vanilla perfume with an herbal undercurrent, the tongue is peppered with star anise, cassia bark, cardamon and a healthy stretch of cinnamon, ginger, and almond roundness.

Orana

This dégustation menu is a cultural anthropology into South Australia’s gastronomic history and heritage. Chef Jock Zonfrillo’s award-winning restaurant on a busy stretch of Rundle Street champions the country’s indigenous communities and respective ingredients. With 16+ years of research, he’s galvanized support and fostered a profound respect for these people, which is given reverence through his innovative dishes. And the 11 courses are a veritable ode to the land and sea. With a decidedly modernist presentation, each showcases a star ingredient that’s bolstered by rigorous techniques and ancestral providence. With a duration of three hours, it’s hard to choose a favorite – but the majestic scarlett prawn roti warrants a standing ovation. Theatrically presented, the prawns are touched briefly with radiant heat from coal fire –  and needing no other embellishment, the freshness of this crustacean and its sourcing from nearby Queensland speaks for itself. The supple and sweet flesh get sandwiched with squishy, crusty roti and dollops of fermented chili. The combinations collide and in your mouth, creating blissful moments of magic.

 

 

 

Barossa

Artisans of Barossa

Considering that the oldest Shiraz and Grenache vineyards in the world are found here, it’s obvious why Barossa is considered the heart of South Australia’s wine country…and one of the 18 primary wine regions in this state. But if you want to hit the ground running and not feel overwhelmed (there are 170 winemakers, and 500 different grape growers, after all), get the perfect primer and a guided tasting at Artisans of Barossa. If you have one hour to spare, we urge you to take the Barossa Enthusiast class; part of the Educational Series from their Wine School, it’s a crash course on the Barossa wine region. Under one roof, they feature a brotherhood of six different wineries that showcase the beauty, complexity, breadth and depth of terroir found in the Barossa Valley. From the experts, you’ll taste Shiraz, Grenache and Riesling from Hobbs of Barossa, John Duval, Massena Barossa Valley, Schwartz Wine Co., Sons of Eden, and Spinifex. What you’ll come to learn is that the minute variances in elevation or soil composition (there are 36 different types alone) drastically affect what you taste in each glass – and it’s just glorious to sample such diversity from one region.

The Farm Eatery and Experience Centre

This family affair started by kitchen personality Maggie Beer has amassed a uniquely delicious empire. First there’s the DIY gin school (the first of its kind in Barossa), the cooking classes, the little pheasant and duck farm (where she makes her famed pâté), the onsite vineyard, and then the invigorating fare at the newly opened namesake restaurant, just shy of 6 months old. Keeping it fresh, light and airy at The Farm Eatery, the concept is as free-flowing as their bohemian state of mind. The menu at the restaurant changes every day; but if you see Mount Crawford mushrooms on the menu, order post-haste. Sautéed in butter and garlic salt, the unabashedly umami-bolstered slices sit on a cushiony bed of rice polenta. The whole shebang is topped with crispy jerusalem artichoke crisps and a rainshower of aged parmesan. It’s a textural wonder, indeed.

 

 

St. Hugo

Founded in 1847 and situated along the meandering waters of Jacob’s Creek, it’s where sapphire skies kiss jade vineyards. Here you’ll find fanciful flights in numerous incarnations. There’s the Prestige Experience, where you’ll be whisked around on a private helicopter flight through wine country; it’s followed by an eight course luncheon with wines to perfectly pair with contemporary Australian fare such as Hugo Chardonnay with rabbit perfumed with hazelnuts, chook, mustard and capers. But if you don’t have all day to spare, opt for a Past, Present and Future tasting. You’ll delve into vintages not yet released (future) and taste your way towards current and past favorites, getting to savor an evolutionary unfolding through three Shiraz and three Cabernet Sauvignon selections. From tannins to acid and sugar levels, you’ll surprise and impress yourself as your palate is able to home in our these tasty touchpoints. Then wander outside and soak up the two hectare old bush vineyard with a glass from their Vetus Purum range – deemed the crème de la crème. Then revel in the Single Vineyard Barossa Valley Shiraz (2010). Hand-picked from 75 year old Rowland Flat vines, the wine is sophisticated and deeply complex with overtones of plum, spice and clove with heady chocolate backnotes. Texture is robust with refined tannins.

fermentAsian

The spice route leads here – Vietnamese Chef and owner Tuoi Do plays with flavor, spice, and everything nice in her modern Southeast Asian restaurant. A mainstay since 2010, it’s a celebration of all things local, but showcases Asiatic fare by way of her ethnic roots and inspiration. Fare is always fluid and contemporary; worlds and tastes converge in her luxuriously buttery Mayura Station wagyu dish that’s draped with coconut scented Massaman curry, layered with a medley of aromatics that include cinnamon, bay leaves, red chili pepper, garlic and ginger. And save room for dessert: black sticky rice is interwoven with sweet coconut, topped with globs of translucent coconut jelly and a quenelle of refreshing sorbet. Also remember to capitalize on their vast wine list (over 1400 selections from Australia and the world are featured), letting their seasoned sommeliers take the driver’s seat and pair each course with a local wine.

 

 

Yalumba

Located in Angeston, one of the four major towns of Barossa, Yalumba looks fantastic for its age at 169 years young. It is indeed the oldest family owned winery in Australia, with its fifth generation currently reigning over the company. Take in the landscaped gardens and clock tower (dating back to 1908) before diving in to their Yalumba Unlocked experience. Of the highlights, one is the visit to the cooperage – it is in fact the only winery to have one in all of the Southern Hemisphere. Here you’ll see deft tradesmen masterfully bend natural elements to their will – transforming wood and metal into barrels for aging wine. The private museum cellar houses prized historical wines from Australia and beyond, with an aim to celebrate provenance and the best of the best. And if you want a taste, they host an annual and highly sought-after Barossa Vintage Festival, where you can enjoy centuries old wines (about 20-30). In the meantime, toast to the the present and quench your thirst with a flight tasting, while learning about the geography of Barossa (main areas comprise Eden Valley and Barossa Valley), soil composition and much more through your tasting journey of six wines expressing the terroir of the area. From Riesling and Viognier to Grenache, our favorite is undoubtedly the Yalumba Steeple Vineyard Shiraz (2014). This award-winning wine sources grapes solely from Steeple Vineyard. It’s a structured red with balanced acid and tannins; red berries and black spices on the nose, vibrant red fruit on the tongue with sage undertones.

Seppeltsfield Wines

It’s not everyday you get to taste something that’s 100 years old; but that’s exactly what this winery offers. With 420 acres of ancient vineyard, it’s classified as a historic village and winery; Seppeltsfield opened in 1851, and their legacy is founded upon fortified wines. In fact, their bragging rights are having the longest unbroken lineage of tawny ports in the world (from 1878 to the present) due to visionary and founder Oscar Benno Pedro Seppelt – all of which are available for purchase. But the time-trippy tour you must opt for is their is Centenary Tour where you can taste their premium fortified wines, culminating with sips of their 100 year old Para Vintage Tawny from 1918, direct from the barrel. Offering a thick, voluptuous consistency that straddles a runny honey and treacle, this port is deep, dark, rich and aromatic – like aged balsamic vinegar. The tongue is tantalized by heady Christmas spices (nutmeg, mace, cloves, cinnamon), sticky chocolate pudding, and a leathery musk.
The sprawling property also houses artisans (knife forgers, artists, jewelers,etc) at their Jam Factory. But make time for Vasse Virgin Barossa, for handmade skin and body care, which extends into a line of artisan foods and live oils, the latter from their personal 250 olive groves in Barossa. Carve out time and take an informative olive oil class, which guides you through a spectrum of tasting characteristics and how to enjoy it like a fine wine.

 

 

Hentley Farm

Hentley Farm is set upon undulating hills on the banks of Greenock Creek in Seppeltsfield. Opened in 2012, the boutique single estate vineyard hosts a prized namesake restaurant, converted from its original state as a horse stable. We tried the lunchtime Du Jour tasting menu, which is envisioned by Chef Lachlan Colwill. With savant like aptitude, he and his culinary brigade transform local, sustainable produce and combine unlikely ingredients and textures you wouldn’t otherwise expect to work together. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but the bluefin tuna captivated our hearts and stomachs. Caught from nearby Port Lincoln, the buttery rose-hued flesh is seared gently and topped with crushed sunflower seeds; it’s nestled beside intoxicatingly heady chicken liver (yes, it works). The proteins are draped with a sheet of iceberg lettuce and topped with curls of shaved salted egg yolk. They gild the lily even further with golden drizzles of perfumed brown butter over the dish. It’s paired with a gorgeous glass of Hentley Farm 2016 Stray Mongrel, which is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz, and Zinfandel from Barossa Valley. A thicket of pear skin and raspberries on the nose, red fruits on the palate dominate with grippy tannins – sans any drying effect. In a word, our tasting notes were written as…“WOW.”

Bar Louise

Barossa is often called the Napa Valley of South Australia – so it’s not surprising that the region is a tapestry of fine dining establishments. But sometimes, you just want to tuck into a massive, juicy-sloppy burger with reckless abandon. Thankfully, Bar Louise and its new Chef Daniel Murphy can satisfy that desire. The casual sister to their award-winning Appellation restaurant, Bar Louise is where you can carve out a spot on the patio, watch the sunset with a local brew and munch on juicy double-decker Coorong angus beef cooked medium-rare; it’s topped with a gooey melty cheese blend, pickles, beetroot spread and horseradish mayo. And who knew the most divine doughnuts in the world would be found in South Australia? But yes, you might hear angels singing as you sink your teeth into vanilla spiced doughnuts slathered with thick jersey cream and house made blackberry jam. The oblong doughnut-discs are the ideal ratio between hefty / weighty and light / airy fluffy clouds. The sandy sugar exterior further adds crunch to the velvety plush interior.

 

 

McLaren Vale

d’Arenberg Cube Restaurant

With 80% of all premium Australian wine coming from South Australia, d’Arenberg Winery in the McLaren Vale region is no exception – founded on the art of excellence and challenging conventions of what a winery can be. It is a living puzzle of tastes and wickedly fun. Family owned and purchased in 1912, its regal history is counterbalanced with quirkiness and whimsy. With over 60 wines to its name and use of 25 different grape varietals from McLaren Vale’s diverse terroir, Chester Osborn – fourth generation family winemaker – has upped the proverbial ante with the recent opening of the experimental restaurant d’Arenberg Cube in Dec 2017.
Inside this towering four-story Rubik’s Cube, your senses are inundated and assaulted with sights and sounds via Osborn’s personal vino-art collection (either crafted by him or commissioned from local talents). As you fumble towards ecstasy and sensory overload, by the time you ascend to the top floor, your sense of taste, smell, sight, touch and sound have been ideally primed and heightened for their tutored tastings. Then descend one flight of stairs for their extravagant-eclectic tasting menu, The Pickwickian Brobdingnagian (note: Jonathan Swift reference) luncheon, which spans 3-4 hours, with 11 courses and acclaimed wines to pair. With Chef Brendan Wessels at the helm, techniques are finessed and refine, the presentation is bold, sophisticated and avant-garde; but above all else, it’s gracious great fun – in fact, it really feels like you’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole, à la Alice in Wonderland, and are experiencing all things wild and wacky.
Favorites include the Barramundi Bush Coal with vegemite aïoli, that’s paired with their effervescent Lucky Lizard (Chardonnay), Adelaide Hills, 2016; and Scallop Silk with sea grapes, sudachi, and kosho, paired with The Money Spider (McLaren Vale, 2017) made with Roussanne grapes. The citrus/creaminess from the scallop plays off well with the wine’s tropical notes of honeydew melon, white flowers, and ginger. It pleases the palate with its lingering fresh finish and vibrant acidity.

 

 

 

 

 

Epicurean Cabo: The Many Culinary Indulgences of the New Grand Velas Los Cabos

 

It’s true – “all inclusive” is becoming a thing.

The AAA Five Diamond Grand Velas Los Cabos is the fifth property to be introduced by Eduardo Vela Ruiz, owner, founder and president of Velas Resorts. Opened at the end of 2016, the property and its 304 suites are situated at the southern tip of the dramatic Baja Peninsula where the Sea of Cortez greets the North Pacific ocean, and where guests can soak up sprawling waterfront views and azure-kissed skies. In addition to natural worldly wonders, the cookie-cutter approach of inclusive resorts is eschewed in favor of their commitment to showcasing and collaborating with local artisans, to spotlight the indigenous art, fashion, cuisine and culture/heritage.

 

 

The resort is peppered with homegrown talents: for instance, the curvaceous, crescent moon design, including its dramatic, open-air zebra-striped corridor, was conceptualized and designed by Ricardo Elias, principal of Elias and Elias Architects, based in Guadalajara; there are also featured contemporary pieces from notable sculptors Alejandro Colunga, Sergio Bustamante, and Matthias Pliessnig; Mexican painters Amador Montes, Rosendo Pinacho, Francisco Huazo and their respective works can also be admired in the lobby.

To be sure, threads of culture and heritage are woven throughout the property. Another such example is the award-winning, 35,000 sq. ft. Se Spa, with unique treatments incorporating local ingredients such as blue agave, and zen-inducing Self-Discovery Workshops. Experience education on how Mandalas are an expressive symbol that honors spiritualism and ritual; or the meditative process of using local tropical bougainvillea flowers to create designs in water.

And for a bit of twinkle-time, there is also the Stargazing Experience – the area is considered by NASA as one of the top places to view the vast midnight-colored sky – for which NAI (National Association for Interpretation) representatives and local astronomy experts provide insights and knowledge about the stars, planets and constellations – rounded out by bonfire marshmallow roasts and a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne.

 

 

But it’s the culinary program which truly astonishes. Executive Chef Vincent Wallez asserts that “gourmet restaurant offerings at Grand Velas Los Cabos can compete with the finest free standing restaurants in world capitals in terms of quality of cuisine, presentation, service and décor.” And indeed, how many all-inclusives actually include a two-star Michelin chef? Here, Sidney Schutte’s avant-garde tasting menu at Cocina de Autor is not, it bears repeating, an expensive add-on – but all part of the experience.

Though Wallez asserts that there is room for extravagance and fun, offering a bit of the wild and wacky to complement the substance: “We offer that ‘wow’ factor – for instance with our $25K taco (the world’s most expensive, pictured above), an insect basket eating challenge, and tutored top-shelf flight tastings over at our Mezcal & Tequila bar, with our head mixologist Nestor Daniel Can Jones”.

At each of the five fine-dining restaurants, the respective chefs actually hail from the country whose cuisine they represent. And creative freedom affords them opportunities to devise and execute menu concepts that speak to their beloved food memories, personality and backgrounds.

 

 

For instance, Frida first lures you in with its lush decor, designed by Ezequiel Farca + Cristina Grappin (based in Mexico City). Exuding the glamour of the late 1940s, it flaunts artistic motifs that pay homage to the legendary artist and her work, as well as granite flooring, emerald tiles and touches of brass. Chef Roberto Rafael Sierra De La Cruz draws inspiration from his Mexican homeland, and presented in a contemporary manner: for instance, sublime black Aztec rabbit ribs over rice puréed with criollo ajo macho garlic, in a mole poblano bowl.

Over at PiafLarissa Garcia of Cassal Diseño Designs envisioned a space inspired by the legendary chanteuse herself. Harkening to mid-century France, the dining room is rich in plush velvets, Damasco marble and green onyx, with lofty ceilings opening up the space. You’ll be forgiven if you forget you’re in Mexico, while you indulge in Loire Valley chef Aurélien Legeay’s “pithiviers” of pigeon with porcini duxelle, heart of foie gras and Périgueux sauce. Mais oui, it’s creamy, decadent, and rich.

 

 

While it’s worth visiting Velas 10 for dry-aged steak and local seafood, Lucca for inspired Italian, Azul for Mexican staples and international fare and Cabrilla for ceviches and tostadas, the unofficial headliner of the bunch is Cocina de Autor. You’re first greeted with warm, autumnal tones (courtesy of Ernesto Vela of Ernesto Vela Arquitectos), with colors contrasting those of the surrounding oceanside, and evoking a sense of drama and performance.

And what a dinner and show it is – from smoked cocktails to white gloved service. The ever-changing tasting menu is influenced by Sidney Schuttle’s Dutch heritage and his travels abroad throughout Asia. The pièce de résistance here is the roasted langoustine – a bowl brimming with froth and monochrome white, with delicate sheets of wonton and cabbage draped over morsels of shellfish that are fortified with yuzu zeal. Seriously.

 

 

But the Grand Velas also affords guests opportunities to connect with artisans and tastemakers in Mexico, through experiences like their Wine Lovers Getaway Package – which puts you on a private jet to the bodega in Ensenada where Velas Resorts buys its Mexican wines.

Wallez elaborates, “Vintner Pedro Poncelis Jr. escorts guests on a Valle de Guadalupe wine adventure, visiting Monte Xanic, Viñas de Garza, and Casa de Piedra for private tastings – before heading to the Poncelis vineyard to make their own wine.” (Bonus perk: You get to take home a case.)

So, yes, this is the new generation of all-inclusive. And when they insist that you never have to actually leave the property, in this case, they can seriously back it up.

 

Peruvian Rising Star Chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz on Sustainable Philosophy + Supporting Local Communities

 

Peruvian pleasures are at an all time high. The culinary scene, especially, is dazzling the world – and the person everyone is currently buzzing about is chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz.

For The World’s 50 Best Restaurants – Latin America edition, two Peru based establishments took the top spots for 2017: 1st place being awarded to Maido (inventive Nikkei cuisine by chef Mitsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura) and 2nd going to Veliz’s Central Restaurante, which he runs with his wife Pía León. And as determined champions of cultivating indigenous Peruvian ingredients, their newest spot, Mil, opened at the end of February 2018 to much anticipatory foodie excitement. The research lab and restaurant is nestled in the mountainous heart of the Andes and is next to Moray, an Inca archaeological site, northwest of Cusco. At 3,500 meters (11,500 ft) above sea level, he explores and showcases the bounty from high-altitude ecosystems.

 

 

But perhaps the reason we adore him most? Despite mentorship under savants of sumptuousness such as Gastón Acurio (considered one of the godfathers of modern Peruvian gastronomy) and earning his chef training in the exalted Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and London, the man is simply so darned humble and likable. Even with the press branding him a “rising star” among the “new wave of Peruvian chefs,” Virgilio remains focused on his craft, honoring Pachamama (Mother Nature) by understanding and respecting the unique microclimates of his country, and working alongside community members to foster camaraderie within the industry.

We caught up with him for a profound discussion on his food philosophy and his community-minded culinary initiatives.

 

Please explain the food philosophy and concept at Mil.

The concept of Mil is about having an experience in high altitude Andean ecosystems, about connecting to the Andes and regions near Moray. We have a huge culture and a different vision of food, so we do eight “moments” which describe different regions in the Andes, always with local production and local ingredients that we sow ourselves.

What about the atmosphere of the restaurant? How does it complement or enhance what you’re offering to diners on the plate?

The space is magic, because we have a beautiful landscape by Moray, which are Inca ruins interpreted as once being a thriving agricultural hub. For us, it is a real and direct connection to a natural source.

How you are helping with sustainability and eco-friendly initiatives?

We work with an organization called SINBA (a no-waste company) which allows us to recycle organic waste for animal feeding and fertilizers. Also, we recycle the oil used in the kitchen and paper sheets we use in printed menus; and lastly, we decided to use linens to dry hands instead of paper towels for guest toilets.

 

 

This extends to the local community?

Although fundamental, the concept of Mil is not only sustainable in terms of food, we try to broaden the understanding in social and cultural contexts as well. Sustainability means that we have a good relationship with our neighbors: the people from Kacllaraccay and Mullak’as-Misminay. These are two rural communities that surround Mil and Moray in the district of Maras, Cusco. From the outset, our bond was forged from mutually beneficial opportunities, not just for ourselves. Any decision we make is in hopes of affecting the surroundings and community in a positive way – it means exercising responsibility for geography, history, and anthropology. As well, the aforementioned communities are given work opportunities with Mil. Veteran field farmers benefit from 50% of the harvest profits. In turn, we have also received donations of 55 varieties of native potatoes, ocas, mashwas, five ecotypes of quinoa, two different fava beans and tarwi (local legume), amaranth, and fruit like sauco, capulí and aguaymanto plants; it is hoped that through our research efforts, we will help these farmers grow better quality and nutrient-dense ingredients. Superior produce means that at the market, they can command better prices. For this component of the project, we have Celfia Obregón, the director of CITE-Papa , as a vital collaborator.

Please name some local suppliers you collaborate with.

We work with Cevercería del Valle (owned and operated by Juan Mayorga), that produces beers with local ingredients; Destilería Andina (owners are Haresh Bohjwani and Joaquín Randall) that produces distillates with ingredients that are being researched by Mater Iniciativa (a biological and cultural research center behind our restaurants); Flavor Lab Cacao (by Ivan Murrugarra) that is specialized in cacao genetic typification and Peruvian native species diversification. These are a few examples of local suppliers we work with who are committed in helping us make Mil an epicenter for culinary experiences.

 

Moray archaeological site

 

How does your food showcase Peruvian fare on an international stage? And related to this: how do you define or explain what Peruvian food is to visitors – especially those that are unfamiliar and are curious?

On an international stage, we have a strong new vision of what is Peru; and in the process, we are trying to relate to food in a profound way, as our ancestors did and experienced before us. We are trying to achieve that level of consciousness. Although we are still young, I feel we’re taking a mature approach. The world is changing – and Peru along with it, so we’re constantly getting inspired and innovating.

Are there any misconceptions or myths about Peruvian cuisine that you want to dispel?

Peruvian food is complex and diverse: it could be Amazonian food, Andean food, seafood, regional to global – we have many culinary touchpoints due to our cultural influences (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Arab, etc.). To me, the link that binds everything together is our rich biodiversity and the variety of ingredients we can work with and source from in our own backyard.

Where do you dine on your day(s) off from work?

I love to go to Isolina for Peruvian tavern food; I recommend La Mar restaurant if you want to eat incredibly fresh seafood; I also like Fiesta restaurant for traditional Peruvian cuisine.

 

 

In light of your title, Best Chef in Latin America, do you feel there are any pressures or expectations to live up to? How to you alleviate any anxieties related to this?

I don’t think about being “the best chef”. There is no pressure for me because it is not my focus – but rather it’s about leading, cooking, testing, tasting, exploring and maintaining my curiosity. I spend my time thinking about food, enjoying it, and sharing it with people.

What does the future hold for you? Where do you see your culinary initiatives in five years time?

Central will be relocated to the Barranco neighborhood. Also, my wife, Pia León, is planning on opening her restaurant named Kjolle. And lastly, we will continue to work on developing Mil with the interpretative research centre and restaurant components.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BlackBook ‘Rooms With a View’: The New Hilton Lake Como

 

You’re forgiven if hearing the words “Lake Como” always has you thinking of George Clooney, Richard Branson and Oprah – the trifecta of celeb power players that call this lovely enclave of Northern Italy a sometime home. But if that’s lackluster news to you, then what will most assuredly get your pulse jumping is taking in the sights at this impossibly romantic destination in person.

We did just that recently at the glorious new Hilton Lake Como, opened in late 2017. Situated in a residential area between central Como and the Swiss border, it’s also just steps away from the glimmering waters of its famous lake. Aesthetically something like an Italian-villa-meets-contemporary-art-gallery (there’s an aura of NYC’s MoMA here), the hotel was once a silk printery dating to the 1950s, which shuttered in 1982. Today, it is reimagined and reincarnated with jolts of electric modernity and freshness – a welcome contrast to the old-world charms of many of its more traditional neighbors.

 

 

As the largest hotel in the district, the Hilton is spread out into two sections: in front (the original part of the building), there are 20 duplex suites with the bedroom on the second floor, and a glass roof offering views of the lake; 150 guest rooms are located in the back (the built-on addition) and overlook the open garden courtyard below. Suites are illuminated with natural light that streams in from large windows, and feature parquet flooring, marble countertops, sleek wood furniture and stylish glass lighting fixtures.

Another thing that strikes you about the property is the spaciousness; compared with smaller vintage boutique hotels, Hilton Lake Como affords you the opportunity to linger and lounge. We loved how the main living room-esque space is not only the connection point between the old and new buildings, but is also a buzzy social hive for mingling, meetings and drinks.

Or if you prefer a private snug, there’s the Taffeta bar adjacent to the check-in area. It’s Viva Italia in the daytime – we highly recommend the Perfect Afternoon Aperitif tea service, which includes a featured Italian aperitif or a Tea-Cocktail, along with a generous spread of local meats, cheeses, Italian bread, jams and honey. Or return for a post-dinner nightcap digestif of Italian Grappe Nonino – preferably the Grappa Riserva 8 Anni.

 

 

A wander up to the rooftop takes you to the Terrazza 241 restaurant and bar. Its wraparound views are a dreamscape mix of the city of Como, the lake and the majestic Swiss Alps. After soaking up the sun on the patio and getting laps in at the infinity pool, begin with a show-stopping, signature Smoked Negroni, that is unveiled to you via a glass cloche – wisps of scented grey clouds fill the room and add to the drama and showiness of the heady sip.

Then alleviate hunger pangs with their sociable, Italian contemporary fare in the dining room. Gastronomic features include hot stone cooking of fine meats (fassona and veal tenderloin, Tuscany pork, lamb chops, sirloin of deer), or catches of the day from the sea (Carabineros shrimps, turbot fillet, scallops and giant scampi). Another crowd-pleaser is the succulent sliced Wagyu beef, cooked with hot butter and caramelized topinambour.

For something a little more formal, nay gourmand, the hotel’s signature restaurant Satin serves cuisines inspired by the property’s surroundings – Southern Swiss, Northern Italy and the Valtellina region, paired with selections from their fine Italian wine library – and followed by a visit to their cheese room, for local wedges that run the gamut from sweet and soft to funky and gooey.

 

 

It’s unlikely that you’ll be addled with any stresses during your trip, but should you wish to work out those nine-to-five kinks, book an appointment with the hotel’s plush Eforea Spa. Along with featuring specialty lines such as Elemis and BIOTEC technology, a favorite treatment would have to be the Eforea Escape Package: in addition bells and whistles add-ons like afternoon tea, champagne, strawberries, and a gift pack, it features a luxe wrap infused with Frangipani oil, and is followed up by a personalized massage that alleviates muscle pain, stress and provides relaxation and balance. It ends with an exotic moisture facial that will leave you positively glowing.

So, you are forewarned about a visit to the Hilton Lake Como: during your stay, you’ll be made to feel like quite the A-list celeb yourself – if you can handle that.

 

A suite at the Hilton Lake Como

 

 

Dessert in the Desert: An Insider Guide to the Taos, New Mexico Food Scene

The Love Apple

 

It may be a landlocked state but New Mexico knows no bounds; as the Land of Enchantment, it’s a mystical place of contrasts – from snowcapped mountains for “skiing” and “snowshoeing” to vast deserts for hot air balloon rides, it beckons you to explore its limits. And when you travel north of New Mexico’s capital of Santa Fe, you’ve genuinely found the soul of the state.

Even with a population of less than 5,800, it has drawn many an adventurer, entrepreneur, and restless soul. In fact, there is an unspoken allure to Taos, because these wilds inspire you to carve out your space and shape your destiny. Its respective contrasts are found in its ancient history – most notably, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Taos Pueblo – which is the oldest continually inhabited community in the United States. When the Spanish explorers arrived in 1540, they knew it was a special place. Even today, it remains a shrouded paradise for those in the know.

You can experience its worldly melange of peoples and cultures through the dishes of Taos, where your senses can be ignited by local wines, flavorful ingredients, and enticing aromas that are uniquely characteristic. On menus, green chili peppers are a staple, so too is chorizo – but not the Spanish variety, the New Mexican rendition is typically a ruddy colored, fatty mince, with a slight tang of vinegar and saturated with heady spices like ancho and aleppo.

 

 

As well, the idea of “farm to table” was something locals practiced long before the term was even coined; and it’s easy to understand why: using nearby ingredients is a source of pride for chefs who enjoy connecting with their community in the dishes they serve. In fact, Taos is rife with open pastures – in the 1800s, it was known as the breadbasket of the Southwest.

With higher elevations and cooler temperatures, growing items such as grains was a breeze compared with big cities like Albuquerque. Also, the ingenuity of acequias by the aboriginals and Spanish provided a vital source: the irrigation network aided in the fertility of rolling pastures and the crops growing on the land. Although it fell away due to industry changes, local culinary trailblazers below are reviving this once bountiful area by supporting local farmers and growers.

 

Michael’s Kitchen Restaurant & Bakery

Ideally situated on Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, the main street in town, it isn’t unusual to see a lineup snake out the door of this restaurant. Fortunately, for ravenous souls, the line moves swiftly and people are seated quickly. Failing that, hitch a bar seat with the locals and soak up prime views of the kitchen in action. Michael’s Kitchen has always been popular, ever since it opened its doors in 1974; a few of the original staff members happily remain.
Current owners Derek Apodaca and his wife Gina purchased the restaurant in 2005 and the locals rave that it is “better than ever.” They serve lunch and dinner as well, but the crowds always clamor for the breakfast and brunch items. Apparently there’s no better way to begin the day than with mammoth sized portions such as local favorite The Manhandler – which features patty sausage, cheese, diced green chile and a fried egg on their homemade roll from the bakery.
But the item you cannot leave without trying is the bearclaw-sized apple fritter. While the specifics are kept top secret, we are told that it is a scratch made, yeast-leavened dough. It is given an oomph of flavour with a dash of cinnamon and local orchard grown apples. It’s deep fried and glazed while still hot. They sell out within minutes so the key is to ask the staff when they’re just about to be put out on the display counter. Then you can sink your teeth into puffy, lightly sweetened dough with delectable apple chunks in every bite.

 

 

ACEQ 

​When you’re in town, locals will undoubtedly ask you where you’ve eaten; and if you say ACEQ, you will get knowing nods of approval. The name of the restaurant honors the culture and traditional farming practices of the Arroyo Seco area, a small community within Taos. The word stems from the Spanish/Arabic “acequia,” the communal irrigation ditch that channeled the water for crops and livestock from the river.
In the truest sense of the word, this restaurant is the pride and joy of owner and sommelier Michael Wagener. Not only are the ingredients locally sourced, but so too are table settings and light fixtures; in fact, plates are crafted by Logan Wannamaker Pottery just across the road, lighting is by Scott Carlson Pottery, and tables were made by Wagener’s father using wood from his grandfather’s 120 year old farm.
Chef Johnny Treasaigh offers daily dish features and contemporary twists on New Mexican flavors, for instance conventional beef is swapped out for braised bison in their homemade soft shelled masa tacos in Chimayo red chili sauce. Since rotation is the norm, the only mainstay on the menu (because it’s that popular with diners) is a dish that honors Wagener’s roots: cheese curds from his home state of Wisconsin. Of course, there’s a twist – the gooey, crisp nuggets get dipped in beer-batter and make a visit to the deep fryer; it features creamy garlic aioli and spiced ketchup dipping sauces. The dish is a simple pleasure but as Wagener insists, “Spice and cheese are a beautiful thing.”

Doc Martin’s

Considered a historic landmark of Taos, Doc Martin’s restaurant once was a home which belonged to Dr. Thomas Paul Martin (Doc), who came to Taos as the county’s first physician. The historic Taos Inn dates back to the 1800s and was made up of several adobe houses and surrounded a small plaza; in the centre was a community well where people congregated and socialized, today it is all a part of the hotel property. As well, additions include a fountain surrounded by vertical vigas, which rise two-and-a-half stories to a stained glass cupola.
​As for the converted restaurant space, it was once the doctor’s office and delivery room. But when Doc passed, his wife turned it into The Hotel Martin in 1936 – a place for social gathering and dining. The subsequent owners renamed it The Taos Inn.​ Today, the it remains a social hub that promotes the arts and live music, in addition to great food.
​Dubbed as New American cuisine with dashes of southwestern flavors, the must-order is the famed Doc’s Chile Relleno. Created by Chef Matthew Gould, an Anaheim chile gets stuffed with monterey jack cheese, herbs and cilantro. The pepper gets dunked in blue corn beer batter and then rolled in corn chips; the entire thing is deep fried. For presentation, it is placed in a shallow pool of salsa fresca, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, fresh nacho chips, and a side of goat cream-cheese. This dish combines two things cheese lovers adore: fondue and runny nacho sauce. It is a glorious contrast of gooey cheese with a crisp, crunchy exterior.

 

 

The Love Apple

In what was once the Placitas Chapel Catholic church, built in the 1800s and in operation for 100 years, is now the home of The Love Apple. One cannot help but chuckle a little at the irony; in this space, one used to ask for forgiveness for one’s sins, but today people devour indulgent meals with reckless abandon. Observations aside, the former church dwelling makes for intimate dining.
This is bolstered by the aromas and flavors of Chef Andrea Meyer’s new American cuisine with regional touches of New Mexico. Meyer and Jennifer Hart, the owner, present their food philosophy on a platter: dishes are an homage to slow-cooked food that feature local, simple organic cooking with the influences of Taos – including cheeses, and hormone-free-grass-fed meat from the area.
Since everything is seasonally driven and with such ease of access to agriculture, the menu changes frequently to showcase regional diversity; but popular mainstays include buttermilk yellow and wheat-free blue cornbread muffins (sourced from the Pueblo), and grilled ruby trout wrapped in corn husks topped with chipotle crème and served with quinoa fritter and cilantro lime relish.
But if you’re lucky enough to see Quail en Nogada on the menu, commit a bit of gluttony and order two servings of it. Sourced from Broken Arrow, the plump little birds are stuffed with green chili, feta cheese and quinoa. It’s almost like a play on your traditional thanksgiving meal, except this one is rife with New Mexican flair. The tender flesh is ideal for mopping up the creamy nogada (walnut crème fraîche) sauce; the dish is garnished with cilantro and pomegranate seeds for vibrancy in appearance and a touch of herbal sweetness on the palate.

Taos Mesa Brewing

In what was formerly an old gas station and art gallery is now the Taos Mesa Brewing tap room and restaurant. Open for almost a year now, the brews were introduced to the world a mere four years ago by a quartet of friends – Dan Irion, Gary Feurman, Peter Kolshorn, and Jayson Wylie – but today they have 24 types of suds with 9-12 varieties always on tap. This is the second location to the original “Mothership”, a quonset hut located a couple miles from the nearby Río Grande Gorge, which acts not only as a brewery but concert hall and party venue at 5,000 square feet.
The successes of the original birthed the Taos Mesa Brewery – allowing for the same microbrewery experience – albeit in slightly more laid back digs. Its main draw is that it is a community hub, and with an industrial look overlaid with Taos style plaster, there’s a contemporary appeal to the space. As Kolshorn describes it, “…it’s like going into the big city without being too overly polished.’’
It is ideal to order a flight of beer to taste the range of flavours. Start with an IPA such as Three Peaks – a tribute beer to the spirit of folks who carved out a life in the hardscrabble and mesa mud. With generous additions of Amarillo and Citra hops, ​enjoy notes of pine and citrus in this beer​​, then work your way into dark porters such as their Black Widow: roast and chocolate malts along with three additional varieties of crystal malt are used – what results is a sweet, cocoa flavor with a hearty, smooth finish.
Although the restaurant is described as “beer-forward,” foods compliment all the suds and flavor profiles are polished. Chef Noah Pettes says that their clean, refreshing IPAs work especially well with spicy foods; case in point, the wood fired confit chicken wings with chili peppers and scallions.
But the drool factor would have to go to the delectable Queso Fonduta, featuring a green chili cheese fondue which uses local cheeses from Bountiful Cow. A molten skillet bubbles and percolates with a blend of cheddar, fontina and mexi-melt. It is served with spiced cheddar cheese pizza crisps hot from their wood fired oven.

 

BlackBook Rooms With a View: Hilton Toronto Signature Suites

The Kensington Suite

 

Views of the 6ix (Toronto, if you weren’t plugged into that particular sobriquet) are grand enough that in films it actually passes for NYC. So the chance to take it all in from the dizzy heights of the Hilton Toronto was not insignificant.

We actually managed to get the scoop on the hotel’s spectacular new project, their unambiguously named Signature Suites, which sprawls across the entire 32nd floor. Beginning in April 2018, guests can book these newly minted suites, of which there are seven; they are undoubtedly the new show ponies of the property. And from the urban oasis locale (a stone throw’s away from Toronto City Hall, Toronto Harbourfront & Lake Ontario, The Canadian Opera Company and The CN Tower), the rooms, perched on the top floor, offer picture-perfect panoramic views of the city.

 

The Rosedale Suite

 

Envisioned by Canadian designer Sarah Richardson, the luxe rooms are meant to exude a homey, residential sentiment, and are vivid with a painter’s palette of blue hues, whose spectrum of shades is found in each room – it’s a kind of unifying thread that weaves its way through all the spaces. Moreover, each suite is named after a neighborhood of Toronto, from the fancy and affluent goings on of Forest Hill to the Mother Nature pleasures of High Park.

Furnishings echo elements from each of these nooks, and the comfort level is amplified with flair-filled contemporary pieces that play with texture and prints (tartan bedroom benches and zebra curtains, for instance). The fun continues with dramatic pendant lighting, maple wood cabinetry, and marble flooring, all of which have been custom-crafted and sourced locally to showcase Torontonian talents. We love how each element is striking on its own; and yet in the same light, can coalesce with its surroundings to support the overall eclectic vision. The diverse nature of the design mirrors that of Toronto’s fabled multiculturalism.

 

The Summerhill Suite 

 

The only “wild child” is the Summerhill Suite: whose floral and citrine touches throughout are set against a dynamic, CN Tower backdrop. For Richardson, it was an opportunity to spread (a bit more of) her creative wings.

Should you be able to tear yourself away from your suite, downstairs is Tundra, the hotel’s award-winning restaurant. Executive Chef Kevin Prendergast and Executive Sous Chef Aaron Chen offer Canadiana on a plate: feature favorites include the Alberta bison burger with onion marmalade, double smoked bacon with Prince Edward Island aged cheddar, and tundra spiced aioli; Miso and Cola Braised Beef Short Ribs with Asian slaw and Ontario sour cherries; and, naturally, Tundra Poutine with sweet potato fries, pan gravy, braised beef, and Quebec cheese curds.

 

 

We couldn’t resist the Seasonal Tasting and National Ballet of Canada menus (the former is not advertised anywhere and executed by request only). The plating of the former ventures into the avant-garde, but is really more of an outlet for the chef to “play” with his food – with us being their happy and willing guinea-pig participants. The last hallmarks of winter fare includes succulent seared-scallops with braised mussels and lemongrass sauce; and black cod with squash quenelle, miso, black garlic, and hen of the woods mushrooms.

The latter menu is inspired by whatever current ballet performance is showing in the adjacent Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts. Thus, the Sleeping Beauty menu features a delectable coq au vin, as well as roasted squash risotto with spiced almonds. And thankfully – since we’re not the ones doing grand jetes and pirouettes, we happily indulged in the tundra tiramisu verrine and bourbon panna cotta for dessert.

And then fell into slumber with the city lights twinkling below…

 

The Foresthill Suite 

 

High Culture: The St. Regis SF’s Remède Spa Offers New CBD Cannabis Treatments

 

The Remède Spa at San Francisco’s St. Regis hotel may at first appear to be your usual, albeit beautiful retreat – but it is now offering a bit of “high” culture to adventurous guests.

Now certainly, the hotel keeps well its many traditions – champagne sabering, personal butler service, classic bloody mary cocktails…polo – and decidedly old-world charms. But it’s anything but stuffy, as we can decisively attest.

To wit! Remède’s new CBD Oil Pain Relief Massage. You’ll find it at the bottom of the menu booklet, with no additional details aside from the title; and it’s offered in-person as an upgrade to any massage service/treatment.

Typically the more “famous” compound in cannabis is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and is the most active ingredient in marijuana. However, Remède is making good use of that other component known as CBD; it is used medicinally and is the least processed part of the cannabis plant. While THC is psychoactive and mind-altering, the effects of CBD produce significant changes in the body too, along with offering medical benefits – which are impressively far ranging. Application of it offers relief from stiffness and chronic pain, fights cancer, reduces the desire for smoking, suppresses anxiety and inflammations (including those associated with acne).

 

 

This certainly sounds like a miracle cure-all, and further studies are being conducted to offer more conclusive results. But in the meantime, if it happens to bring us to another type of “high” – or state of euphoria – we’re all in.

Of course, should you and your special someone be seeking something a little less zeitgeisty, the spa has 9,000 square feet of treatment space, an indoor saltwater lap pool, cedar saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools. And signature massages draw inspiration from and pay tribute to the property’s Bay Area location – for instance the 7×7 Hot Oil Massage, which refers to the 49 total square miles of San Francisco, as well as the Fog on the Bay Stone Massage, which brings the elements of SF Bay into the spa room, with sea salt & shea butter exfoliation, and steamy hot stone massage.