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Charming Brussels, Belgium, an "in" place to visit PDF Print E-mail
Written by Simone Zarmati Diament   
Monday, 08 December 2014 21:13


Brussels, the Capital of the European Union, is not only a busy metropolis with charming neighborhoods, world-class shopping and hotels, cultural life, museums, architecture, but a foodie heaven plentiful of gastronomic restaurants, fabulous beers, brasseries, regional cheeses and foods, street vendors, and chocolatiers.

 

Brussels, Belgium -- It is past 11 p.m. and nightlife is hopping everywhere: a buzz of different languages rises from the long line of tourists clustering in front of displays of chocolate truffles and prettily wrapped boxes of Leonidas Chocolatier, one of the late-night souvenir stores open in a narrow cobbled street lined with cafes and sidewalk restaurants, off the fabled Grande Place in the heart of Brussels. 

Close by, spellbound camera-flashing crowds gather around the Manneken Pis, the diminutive peeing statue that oddly came to symbolize Brussels, wondering which of his 710 outfits on display at the Brussels City Museum he will wear that day. He was naked. 

 Who would expect such sense of humor in the Capital of Belgium andthe Capital of the European Union?

This city of around 1 million inhabitants, at least 25% of which are employed in one or another related administrative position, is where the future of Europe is being debated. And yet... comic strips are everywhere: in the form of city sponsored urban graffiti or giant frescoes on house façades and covered arcades -- mall-like galleries that rival those of Milan or Genoa. 

And the temple of whimsy is the Museum of Comic Strip Art, a must-see building designed by architect Victor Horta in 1906, where Hergé’s Tintin and Captain Haddock are kings among a plethora of characters that have delighted kids since the birth of the comic strip. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the country that gave birth to surrealist painter Magritte, mystery writer Georges Simenon, creator of the famous inspecteur Maigret, to the irreverent graphic artist Felicien Rops contemporary of Baudelaire and to Jacques Brel, the poet, songwriter and singer


Hip young people, chic women in designer’s clothes, street performers with or without their dog, tourists and business people fill the streets. As the music and songs of Jacques Brel, telling of the melancholy dark gray skies of Flanders, and the boring Belgian bourgeois life, resonate in my head, I can only recognize the skies, overcast even in summer. Brussels has changed. 

 

The spectacle of the city eclipses the gray skies



It is not only a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis with charming neighborhoods, sophisticated shopping, a rich cultural life, museums, Gothic and beguiling Art Nouveau architecture, but an exciting foodie center plentiful of gastronomic restaurants, brasseries, cafés and bistros, with fabulous beers, regional cheeses and foods, street vendors, and chocolatiers. 

In the heart of Europe, Brussels has a bit of every capital I’ve been to in Europe, without the hyped prices. And best of all, the city is on a human scale with everything at a walking distance, even though you can depend on good public transportation. A 4-euro all-day pass can get you almost anywhere, either by subway, tram or bus. 

From the very centrally located hotel where I stayed, Le Meridien, right in front of the Central Train Station, I could walk anywhere as I discovered this city I remembered as stiff and dull. 

Stumbling upon the magnificent Grand Place or Grote Markt – today a UNESCO world Heritage - I was amazed. It completely overwhelmed me to stand in the middle of this grand space that writer Victor Hugo described as “Europe's most beautiful square” which hosts the annualOmmegang Pageant, a spectacular reenactment of Emperor Charles V's entry into the city in 1549. 

The jewel of the Grand’ Place, The Town Hall or l’Hotel de Ville, one of the most remarkable architectural works in Europe, is a witness to the vicissitudes of history. First built in 1421, this stunning building was destroyed by the French King Louis XIV in 1695, and then rebuilt at the start of the 18th century. 

The surrounding houses, homes to different guilds of craftsmen -- brewers, bakers, butchers, tailors and ironmongers among many others -- from as early as the 13th century have unique façades of dissimilar styles sporting coats or arms or trade, statues and latticework. Once the place to find all of Brussels' food markets, the Grand’ Place is now inhabited by 21st century businesses, lively cafes and restaurants sprawling onto the plaza. The surrounding streets, named after the foods for which they were famous, such as Rue Marché aux Herbes (Herb Market St.), or Rue Chair et Pain (Meat and Bread St.) are still home to many of the city's traditional style restaurants and cafés. 

I had the great fortune of watching a free opera performance of Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci in the Grand’ Place at dusk while sitting in a terrace café, sipping wine and eating cheeses. With the last aria, the Town Hall 300-foot-high spires magically lit up against the night, and I strolled to one of the side streets for another treat: a hot Belgian waffle sprinkled with sugar. 



History, Waffles, Mussels and Frites


In Brussels most everybody speaks English, aside from Flemish, German and French and most everybody is willing to talk about the country’s rich past, as if 16th Century Emperor Charles Vwho was actually born in Ghent and was said to speak "Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to his horse", or Emperor Maximilian and the Austro Hungarian Empire were around the corner. 



Another testimony of the complexity of Belgium’s history is the splendid St. Michel and St. Gudule Cathedral with its remarkable 16th century stained glass windows, and its stunning organ made from 4300 pipes. It is a synthesis of several styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque which reflect the various empires that parceled and ruled this small country until it became independent in the 19th century. 



Other highlights: The House of Parliament, the Royal Palace and its park lined with linden trees, the museums and the Court of Justice next to which are the excavations of the underground Justice Hall and Palace of Charles V which turned up when a new parking lot was being built 




In the city center one surprise follows another as you turn from one street to the next corner. The glass-and-iron-roofed Galleries St. Hubert, an art nouveau shopping arcade built in 1847 with quaint boutiques, book stores, chic cafes and chocolate stores, leads to the exuberant Rue des Bouchers: jammed with people, teaming sidewalk display mounds of fresh seafood that restaurant serve along with regional fare like the traditional mussels and frites dipped in mayonnaise like the ones we had at Chez Leon washed down with Brussels’ famous handmade beers: Geuze, Kriek or Lambic. Stands sell hot waffles sprinkled with sugar or with a huge variety of toppings to satisfy the most insatiable American tastes. 



A walk to the beautiful Sablon Square leads to a square surrounded with houses from the 16th to the 19th century known for its antique dealers, decorative outlets and fine antique shops. Its many regional restaurants, wine bars, chic restaurants and cafés are local haunts where Belgians and visitors alike can feast on mussels and oyster from Zeeland, lobsters and shrimp from Ostende, skate in all its variations... and chocolate shops. 



A Chocolate Mecca



Belgium has one of the world's highest chocolate consumption rates, at an average of more than 15 pounds per person per year. With a yearly production of over 172,000 tons of chocolate, there are more than 2,000 chocolate stores, 200 of which are in Brussels. All of them are a magnet for tourists and locals alike. Connoisseurs consider Belgian chocolate the best in the world, thanks to the high percentage of cocoa, the ultra-fine grind of the cocoa beans and tiny amounts of added alcohol. 



It is not uncommon to see serious, life-changing decisions being made as people hesitate between artful displays of hand made bonbons, heavenly ganaches, lush truffles or pralines at the jewel-like boutique of Wittamer’s -- the Sablon Square chocolatier, official purveyor to the Belgian royal family, where the British chocolate designer Michael Lewis-Anderson gives free rein to his imagination with exquisite chocolate creations or eccentric chocolate for wear designs (Louis Vuitton shoes, hats...) made with a variety of chocolates; or at USA distributed Marcolini and Neuhaus – the inventor of the “praline,” a chocolate cover with a creamy nutty filling –, or Galler, who specializes in the dark chocolate. At an adjacent two-stories boutique and café we sampled chocolates then at tea-time had Wittamer’s pastries with coffee, and the best hot chocolate in town. 

Cutting edge food and tradition ... with a modern twist



The selection of Brussels as the capital of the European Union in 1993 marked the inclusion of international fare, trendy and cutting-edge food to traditional fare. You can still expect the heartywaterzooi of chicken stew, or have a first course of fat white asparagus from Maline in May and June with the delicious little grey shrimp from Ostende. But it takes restaurants like the Vert de Gris to combine both, drizzle them with truffle oil and make a stupendous dish. 



Belga Queen, a sleek brasserie with a stunning décor set in a former hotel and bank on rue Fossé aux Loups, is designed, conceived and owned by genial restaurateur Antoine Pinto: an oyster and martini bar offers a selection of over 600 local beers, and the menu at a chic dining area under a high, vaulted, stained-glass ceiling lists fabulous dishes prepared almost exclusively with Belgian ingredients. 



WHERE TO EAT


Vert de Gris, 63 Rue des Alexiens, 02.514.21.68, www.vertdegris.be
Belga Queen, 32 rue Fossé aux Loups, 02/217.21.87. www.belgaqueen.be
The ultimate brasserie, not to be missed.
Le Paon, 35 Grand-Place, 32 2 513 89 40
Le Pain et Le Vin (* Michelin Star), 812a Chaussee d'Alsemberg, 32-2-374-4962,www.painvin.be
Little Asia, Sint-Katelijnestraat 8 Place St. Catherine, 32 2/502.88.36 www.littleasia.be
Trendy Vietnamese restaurant, a great way to discover Place St. Catherine
Comme Chez Soi (*** Michelin Stars), 23 Place Rouppe, 32-2-218-0220,www.commechezsoi.be
Lola, 33 Place du Grand Sablon, 32-2-514-2460.
Oysters, Champagne and people-watching
Chez Leon, 18 Rue des Bouchers,. 32- 2-511 14 15 www.chezleon.be
Mussels and frites and other traditional dishes
Aux Armes de Bruxelles, 13 Rue des Bouchers, 32-2-511-55-98, www.armebrux.be Mussels and frites and other traditional dishes


WHERE TO STAY


Since Brussels is the center of Belgium and you can get anywhere in the country (The ancient cities of Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp – the capital of diamonds, Lieges, Namur- the capital of Wallonia, etc..) in just one hour by train, it makes sense to stay near the Central Station which is also near the History heart of Brussels: the Grande Place, and the Sablon. 
We stayed at the Le Meridien Brussels, right across from the Central Station with direct access by railway to the International Airport and to the TGV / Eurostar and Thalys terminal. Our room, one of 224 elegant rooms and suites, had all the amenities, including Internet access and the service was outstanding.
At most Brussels hotels, rates are deeply discounted on weekends and in the summer when 25% of the administrative staff of the European Union go back home. 

Le Meridien, 3 Carrefour de l'Europe, 32-2-548-4211,www.starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien.com has a fabulous location. Its restaurant serves an opulent breakfast and Sunday brunch. Twelve conference and banqueting rooms are available for business meetings and other occasions. Standard rooms start at 195 euros; weekend rates at 165 euros, with breakfast. 

Le Dixseptieme, 25 rue Madeleine, 32-2-502-1717, www.ledixseptieme.be in a 17th century building. Rooms start at 200 euros. 

Royal Windsor Hotel, 5 Rue Duquesnoy. (800) 203-3232 www.royalwindsorbrussels.com . Well-located in the Lower Town. Rooms start from 110 euros per night. 

Hotel St. Michel, 15 Grand Place. 011-32-2-511-0956. Some rooms have views of Grand Place and rates start at 77 euros ($97) per night.


WHAT TO DO


Pick up a Guide and Map of Brussels at any hotel concierge. There you will find suggested walking tours and circuits. Follow them but also get sidetracked.... 

The newly reopened The Atomium, 32-2-475-4777, www.atomium.be a monument built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair is a trip back to the future with structure like a molecule of iron. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Adults 9 euros ($11.50); under 12 free. 
Visitors can ride an elevator and escalator inside the Atomium to ascend to an observation deck, as well as move between the nine hollow balls of the atom -- one of which hosts overnight stays for schoolchildren, who sleep in metallic pods suspended from the ceiling. (The pods are booked a year in advance.) Impossibly steep escalators provide a disorienting ride past video screens showing the 1950s construction of the Atomium. 

The Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art (20 rue des Sables, 32-2-219-1980, www.cbbd.be ) is as famous for its Tintin exhibit as its Art Nouveau structure, created by the famous Belgian architect Victor Horta (1861-1947). Musee Horta, (25 rue Americaine, 32-2-543-0490, www.hortamuseum.be) Victor Horta’s house is also a museum. Belgium's pioneering Art Nouveau architect designed distinctively flamboyant building with wrought iron, warm wood and stained-glass skylight. 

The European Parliament (43 rue Wiertz, 32-2-284-3457, www.europarl.eu.int ) offers free weekday tours of its handsome glass headquarters. Tours start at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.). A 45-minute audio guide (free, and available in 19 languages) tries to explain what the parliament does during its annual 12-day sessions in Brussels. 

The Beguinage, Place du Beguinage, 32-2-217-87-42 

The Manneken Pis, Rue de l’Etuve 

Galeries Saint Hubert, Rue du Marché aux Herbes Covered arcade opened in 1847. There are exquisite shops selling lace, luxury leather goods, designer jewelry and chocolate. 

Flea Market Place du Jeu de Balle, down from the Palais de Justice in the Marolles district. Open daily, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., but Sundays are the biggest and best. 

Rue du Marché au Charbon, not far from the Manneken Pis, is the center of the city's gay life. www.gaymap.info/bruxelles

For More Information: Belgian Tourist Office, (212)758-8130, www.visitbelgium.com.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 08 December 2014 21:24
 
Chefs and scientists team up to make Japanese food even more delicious PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anna Fifield, The Washington Post   
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 22:29

  Read the full story in the Washington Post 

KYOTO, JAPAN — In a university laboratory in Kyoto, a city known for producing the most exquisite food in a country known for its exquisite food, a group of renowned chefs in white coats has been conducting experiments with one question in mind: Can science make their perfect dishes even more perfect?

Forget the “molecular gastronomy” that has become all the rage in Western capitals. Forget Ferran Adrià, the “deconstructivist” Spanish chef, with his “culinary foam” and spherical olives. And forget José Andrés with his liquid nitrogen strawberries.

Here, a group of nine chefs and three scientists is pushing the boundaries in the most minimalist, nuanced way, part of an effort to ensure that this ultimate “slow food” remains relevant in a fast-paced world. The chefs are tinkering with a way of cooking that has remained unchanged for centuries.

First, in the dedicated Japanese Cuisine Laboratory at Kyoto University’s school of agriculture, the chefs played around with the temperature at which they steamed abalone. Received wisdom says it should be steamed at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or the boiling point of water, for two hours.

“But we wondered, ‘How about we try lower temperatures?’ ” said Tohru Fushiki, professor of nutrition chemistry at Kyoto University and a leading researcher on oishisa, or tastiness. He is one of the chief proponents of washoku, the traditional Japanese cuisine that was recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural treasure last December.

So the chefs spent six months — yes, six months — steaming abalone, changing the temperature in tiny increments. “It turned out that even two degrees had a huge impact on its deliciousness,” Fushiki said in his university office. The perfect temperature to steam an abalone, they concluded, is between 140 and 148 degrees, depending on how it is used.

The second six-month period was devoted to coagulation. Not content with coagulating food, they experimented with coagulating air.

“How can we make the smell of air?” Fushiki recalled the chefs asking. “Let’s whisk and make bubbles, so that each bubble contains the air, and the smell spreads when the bubbles pop.”

Another experiment involved seeing how long shiokara, or pickled squid guts, could last. (Discovering the true expiration date was apparently not a pleasant experience.)

Now, the chefs are focusing on the time it takes for your tongue to fully register the flavor of a food. Salt and sugar hit the palate straight away, Fushiki said, but it takes five or six seconds for each flavor in red pepper to be captured by your taste buds.

But the chefs decided they wanted to delay the amount of time it took to experience the full flavor of a mouthful. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we come up with a dish that lets you taste different flavors one after the other over a period of seconds?’ ” he said.

These changes count as revolutionary here, in the old imperial capital of Japan, renowned as the bastion of Japanese culture.

Washoku is a key part of that culture. A basic washoku meal consists of a bowl of soup, rice and three dishes. Washoku chefs think a lot about “umami,” a fifth primary taste usually translated as “savory.”

Culinary secrets are passed down through the generations. There are no recipe books. There is not even verbal instruction. Chefs of Japanese haute cuisine have traditionally learned the “mite nusumu” way — by looking and copying (literally: stealing) what their superiors are doing.

In his kitchen on a recent day, Motokazu Nakamura was preparing lunch courses that looked like they’d been made by Leonardo da Vinci.

Nakamura is the sixth-generation chef at his family’s 190-year-old eponymous restaurant, an “isshi soden” where a chef’s secrets can be passed down only to one son and heir.

The main pillars of the menu, regardless of the season, are white miso with Western-style mustard — which gives the soup a rich, pungent yet somehow delicate flavor — and tile fish, which has been used by generations of Nakamuras. The current chef often just brushes it with sake and grills it.

“We take an analog approach,” he said, looking more like a science professor than a chef, with his tie and white coat.

But he is branching out, participating in Fushiki’s lab. “Chefs cook and provide something for people to enjoy,” the 52-year-old chef said. “For that, we need to use our imagination. That would have been unheard of for our ancestors.”

The restaurant, which has three Michelin stars, preserves all the traditions expected by people who spend $230 each on dinner. It is housed in an old wooden Kyoto building, a series of private rooms with tatami mats, connected by hallways that run between outdoor zen gardens where water trickles with just the right amount of tinkle. The rooms smell of scented burning wood.

But Nakamura is beginning to tweak the recipes by studying the science behind them. “I knew how to cook it, but it was coming from my instinct. I didn’t know the science behind it,” he said as he arranged slivers of raw fish on a plate.

While the chefs were preparing lunch, Bunji Nakamura sat at a small table in a corner of the kitchen, long eyebrows creeping over his glasses as he watched his son intently.

“I already handed the leadership of the restaurant over to my son, so I don’t make any objections to what he wants to try,” the fifth Nakamura chef said, a simple lunch of rice and fish soup in front of him.

“If you have too many sailors, your boat goes up a mountain,” he added, using the Japanese version of “too many cooks spoil the broth.”

Still, he admits to being a little perplexed by the newfangled technology in front of him, like the electric grill.

“What’s important is that the food reflects your heart,” the elder Nakamura said. “Even if you measure the ingredients to the exact gram, your food won’t be good if you don’t have a mission to have people enjoy your food.”

The way Japanese chefs are using science to hone their craft is “totally fascinating,” said Greg de St. Maurice, a University of Pittsburgh PhD student who is writing his doctorate on the food of Kyoto.

“They’re using science very differently from the way it’s being used in the U.S. It’s something that is very new to Japanese cuisine,” he said. “Now chefs are realizing, especially in the old restaurants, that their methods are not well suited to contemporary cooking.”

It’s not clear yet whether their experiments in the lab have changed the food these chefs are serving in their restaurants. These things take time here (give it a few decades).

“But what has changed is their mind-set. They come to the lab so that they can play and experiment with food, and learn new things that they can apply in their restaurants,” St. Maurice said.

Still, Motokazu Nakamura agrees with his father that heart remains the most important factor: “The basic foundation of cooking is that I make this and people enjoy it."

_________________________________

Yuki Oda contributed to this report.

Anna Fifield is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 October 2014 22:34
 
The Gelato World Tour, Rimini, Italy, September 5 - 7, 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Simone Zarmati Diament   
Friday, 19 September 2014 00:00

 

 
Over three days in Piazza Fellini in Rimini, Italy, mounting tension, expectations and, needless to say, a few extra pounds swelled the crowds as 24 gelato artisans – the top three winners from the eight leg tour culminating in Rimini – made over 14,500 lbs of their best gelato and sold over 70,000 cups and cones to over 70,000 gelato lovers.
 
The commotion at the tents set for the show, the din of tongue clicking, sighs of contentment and interjections of appreciation over each flavor amped up until Sunday evening at the Grand Finale of the Gelato World Tour when the finalists deserted their post to present  his/her own single best flavor before an imposing assembly of judges gathered to rule which of the 24 would win the title of World´s Best Gelato.
 
After three days of sampling perfectly churned gelatos from 24 artisanal gelato makers from around the world – a amazing feat of talent and logistics considering the hot weather –  interspersed with cooking classes and visits to the historic town of Rimini – where Julius Caesar pronounced the fateful “ The die is cast” before crossing the Rubicon a few kilometers north west of Rimini –,  to the grand Rimini Fiera Convention Center – a sprawling green architectural palace –, and the Carpigiani Gelato University and Gelato Museum in Bologna,   we were ready to join the other judges at the Grand Final of the Gelato World Tour.
 
Italian and international Gelato masters, renowned experts   – the  technical judges votes counted for 45% –, food writers and journalists from top Italian and international print and broadcast media  – votes counted for 25%, solemnly tasted.  analyzed  and graded each entry.  Outside, the people's choice counted for 25% and the peers votes counted for 5%.
 
Judging gelato is fun but not easy. Every entry using the best-possible artisanal ingredients tasted great. Each bite packed a wallop of sensory stimulation, a celebration of the primary ingredient undisguised by additives or cloying, heavy ingredients that mask the original flavor.
 
And… First Prize went to   “Almond Affogato” made by Gelato Artisans John & Sam Crowl (Cow and the Moon, Sydney, Australia).  The flavor base was a vanilla bean gelato with roasted caramelized coffee almonds folded throughout with strong Kenyan coffee and swirled with salted caramel sauce.
2nd Place went to flavor “Grumpy Heart” made by Gelato Artisan Francesco Mastroianni (Il Cantagallo, Lamezia Terme, Italy) with pistachios from Sicily  and 3rd Place went  to “Hazelnut Heart” made by Gelato Artisan Alessandro Lancierini (Gelateria Fiore, Suzzara, Italy) with fresh Italian hazelnuts.
Miami's own Stefano Versace, who placed 2nd during the American Leg of the Gelato World Tour in Austin, Texas, won honorable mention in the People's Choice Award for the flavor The Scent of Sicily. A delicious reconstruction of the Sicilian cannoli with  fresh organic ricotta cheese, organic almonds, pistachio from Sicily, candied fruit, lightly flavored with a touch of organic blood orange and Sicilian lemon zest, all swirled with creamy caramel.
 
 

Last Updated on Saturday, 27 September 2014 00:26
 
Seven tips for Planning a Wine Vacation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Green   
Thursday, 14 August 2014 19:49

It's August, and for many of us, that means vacation time! For the wine lovers among us, its certainly convenient that many of the world's great wine producing regions are located close to prime vacation destinations. In San Francisco? It's a quick trip to Napa Valley and Sonoma. Love Champagne? Great! The region is only an hour and a half from Paris. Want to explore the hills of Tuscany? Rent a car, it's only 45 minutes from Florence. While it's great to savor a bottle of wine that transports you to a specific place, there's no substitute for visiting that place. So with that in mind, here are some tips on how to plan a memorable wine trip, whether it's a day in wine country or a week at that villa you rented in Tuscany.

1. Do your research
There is so much fantastic information on the web to help you plan a wine vacation. For starters, you can look at trade bureau websites for nearly any wine region in the world. These will help you familiarize yourself with the regions and wines in areas you will be traveling, and will also include a phone number and email to contact for more information. There are many companies that will offer their services - generally at a significant expense - to plan your wine itinerary for you. With all the resources available online, you'll most often be better off doing the research yourself. You'll probably derive more enjoyment from a customized experience based on what you've learned yourself, plus you'll save money that is likely better spent on bringing home a few extra bottles from the highlights of your trip!

2. Plan early
While you can easily just show up at a large Napa Valley winery like Robert Mondavi and hop on a tour, if you dig deeper you can find hidden wineries with smaller, more artisanal productions off the beaten path. Plan early and it can often be the owner or winemaker who actually gives you the tour. If you've ever been to Napa before, you know: it's fabulous, it's expensive, and it's touristy - it's like Disney World. So, while it can be worth the trip, next time, consider Sonoma, where more personal experiences await. Just look up my friend Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Vineyards - if you plan early you can arrange some very special experiences.

3. Don't forget to eat
Just because it's called "wine" country doesn't mean your need forego wonderful food! The duo of food and drink can go hand in hand on your vacation, just as they would at your favorite restaurant back home. Many wineries are home to fabulous farm to table restaurants, or at the very least they can give you recommendations for their favorite in-the-know haunts.

4. Don't drink and drive
This of course applies anytime alcohol is involved, but in particular, people tend to underestimate how sipping your way across wine country over a full day can sneak up on you. If you don't have a designated driver in your group, consider taking a chauffeur service from vineyard to vineyard.

5. Don't buy wine at a vineyard if it's available locally
While it might go against common sense, a wine at retail will generally cost less than buying it at the winery. There are times, though, when even large producers found in stores across the country will offer certain bottlings that can only be purchased at the winery. For example, at Rodney Strong Vineyards, this well-known producer of Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and more, crafts an awe-inspiring Malbec that can only be found at the vineyard. In those cases, for sure, take home a bottle or a case!

6. Choose a region whose wines you are already passionate about
While discovery is of course part of the excitement of a wine vacation, this does not mean you need to spend a week in a region whose wines are mostly unfamiliar to you. Even in the best known regions, places you think you know and have tried it all, there are sure to be hidden places and discoveries along the way that will deepen your appreciation for the region, and provide exciting experiences.

7. If you have a strong relationship with a wine shop, tell them about your trip
I've talked before about the importance of developing a good relationship with salesperson you trust at a wine shop you frequent. There are many reasons for this, and one of them is the help they can provide when you're planning a trip to a wine region. They most likely have relationships with a number of the wineries where you plan to travel and can both give you tips on where to visit, and hook you up with deals you wouldn't normally come across.

There's a lot that can go into planning a wine vacation, but now more than ever, with the resources available online and more wineries catering to the visiting public, it's possible to put together a trip that can be a deeply enriching experience, and one to remember.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 14 August 2014 20:08
 
This summer – Hotels offer great deals on Staycation in Miami PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hannah Simpson/Miami Herald   
Friday, 04 July 2014 17:39
Several hotels throughout South Florida are targeting residents with day packages for all tastes.
Read more in The Miami Herald   
Photo:  MARSHA HALPER/MIAMI HERALD STAFF
A couple enjoys the ‘AM’ rooftop pool at the Mayfair Hotel & Spa in Coconut Grove on June 20.

 
  
 
Summer is known as staycation time for locals who want a quick weekend getaway at bargain prices.

These days, South Florida hotels are offering an even quicker option: daylong packages for those who don’t want to spend a night away from home. Call it the day-cation.

“We found that a lot of people don’t have the time to travel so much anymore,” said Lucy Martin, general manager of the Shore Club in Miami Beach. “They still like to enjoy all the facilities of the hotel. A day at the pool or a day at the beach, they don’t have to do much planning. It’s really making full use, it’s just not staying overnight.”

The Collins Avenue hotel has offered several spa-and-pool packages in past years through deal websites such as Groupon and now has its own $99 promotion running through Aug. 30 that includes a massage or facial, scalp massage, custom eye mask, fruit smoothie and pool pass.
That offer, dubbed the “Spring Fling,” is new this year. Martin refers to the customer who goes for such deals as “the one-day traveler” and said most are local.

“People preferred to do lots of smaller visits rather than plan a whole two-week vacation,” she said.

Other local hotels have found the same to be true. Summer daycation packages are being offered at several Miami Beach resorts as well as off-ocean locations — including Mayfair Hotel & Spa in Coconut Grove and Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six in Fort Lauderdale.

Options range from budget-friendly ($25 for use of the fitness center, pool, towels and WiFi at the Savoy Hotel in South Beach) to splurge territory: $175 for a spa treatment, lunch and run of gym, beach and pool at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.
Josh Herman, the Miami Beach hotel’s director of marketing and public relations, said “A Day at Fontainebleau” started around Valentine’s Day, after the spa director fielded multiple requests from clients who wanted access to the pool as well as the spa treatment areas.
Herman said the promotion was slow to catch on but that interest has grown significantly. The hotel sold a couple hundred packages last month and plans to continue the deal at least through summer and possibly into the fall.
Hotels target locals with great deals
 
 Courtney Lasch, 35, of Miami Beach, is a prime example of that local audience. The private tutor gets daily deal emails from multiple sources, including Groupon, Gilt City Miami and Travelzoo. One recent deal, a $35 beach day for two at the Hilton Bentley (champagne, valet parking and beach chairs, towels and umbrella included), caught her eye. “Immediately I was just like, OK, not only does it look fun, it’s almost like a little staycation,” she said. “It’s a vacation in a day.”
She and a friend spent a “fabulous” weekday earlier this month on the sand in Miami Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood, stopping for some happy hour mojitos after a day in the sun.

“This was so inexpensive for two people,” she said. “The reason why this caught my attention was it was so affordable. … Everything was included. I was being pampered like I was at a spa without the spa price.”

The hotel’s general manager, John Lacle, said the hotel decided to offer the deal as a way to launch a marketing campaign for locals to join the Hilton Bentley’s beach club. “It’s an opportunity to widen the scope of the hotel’s capabilities to the local market,” he said.

Travelzoo’s website showed that as of midweek, more than 600 people had purchased the deal. Lacle said he has been pleased with the results.
“From a pricing point of view, we’re looking to create more value for the local clientele because we feel it’s the local clientele that will come back time after time,” he said.
Pamper them with Span treatments

That’s the kind of loyalty the Mondrian South Beach is trying to foster with its $99 massage and pool day package, as well as a general policy that allows locals to use the pool area — if it’s not too crowded with guests — as long as they spend at least $50 on food and drinks.

“Miamians, to us, are huge,” said general manager Steven Hiblum. “Whether you stay here or not, we want you here.”'

At Coconut Grove’s Mayfair Hotel & Spa, which has a $149 massage-facial combo plus rooftop pool access, daycations are a way to drive locals to the Jurlique Spa and keep business brisk during summer, when occupancy is a bit lower.

“In the summertime, we obviously focus on the hotel, but the big focus is on driving the local business,” said general manager Axel Gasser.
Miami hotel consultant Scott Brush said the packages can make good business sense for hotels because the guests-for-a-day add a revenue boost without requiring additional capital investment from the properties.

“They’d like to get them to stay over for a night, but this allows them to get people who aren’t going to stay over for the night,” he said. “The incremental dollar is very nice because the incremental cost is minor. The stuff they are giving away is very, very, very low cost.”

 

 
 
May 21-24, Crémant, Cru & Déjà Vu - the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience PDF Print E-mail
Written by Simone Zarmati Diament   
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 23:45

May 21-24, Crémant, Cru & Déjà Vu -  the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience with hot seminars, food and fun in grand style. The 2014 Seminar Series will make you discover the hottest trends in wine and food with seminar such as "I Get a Kick from Crémant;"   "Tour d'Grand Cru," a tasting with Bernard Retornaz, President of Louis Latour; and "Déjà Vu in the Vieux Carré;"  focusing on the French Quarter revitalization, renovation and revision of the city's great eateries.

Click here  for a full line-up of seminars and to buy tickets

 
Register to be the first to taste the new menu from Two Michelin starred Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain PDF Print E-mail
Written by PRESS RELEASE   
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 14:23

Two Michelin starred restaurant Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Northern Spain, will celebrate the launch of the new 2014 season by running a competition that will give six winners and their guests the opportunity to be the very first to try the new menu. The all-inclusive lunch takes place on the 8th of April 2014, the day before the official opening date of the restaurant.

Mugaritz, from celebrated chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, will reopen its doors after devoting four months to the development of its new menu. During this time, the team has worked behind closed doors, elaborating on their previous research and developing new techniques with the aim of achieving new sensations and flavours.

Considered one of the most innovative chefs of our times, chef Andoni Luis Aduriz works closely with scientists, anthropologists, musicians, artists and many other experts in various fields, their collaborations summing up to an incredible creative process. The result is an astonishing experience translated into 50 dishes.

Registration for the prize drawing opens on Thursday 27th March 2014 at 10:00am on the Mugaritz website (www.mugaritz.com) under the “You Open The Doors of Mugaritz” section. Participants will have until the 31st of March to complete the entry form. At 9:00am on Tuesday the 1st of April, the fortunate winners will be contacted by the restaurant. The new Mugaritz menu, drinks and service charge are all included, but guests will need to cover their own travel and accommodation expenses.

 
Fiesta de la vendimia – Harvest Fest − in Mendoza, Argentina – March 2 - 11, 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Simone Zarmati Diament   
Monday, 10 February 2014 20:39

 

The Fiesta de la Vendimia – Harvest Fest  – March 2 - 11 ,  the largest festival of its kind in Latin America, marks the end of harvest in Mendoza.  It is a colorful and picturesque celebration of wine and food in a city that can undoubtedly claim the title of Latin America’s  Capital of Wines.

 

mendoza gauchos

Weeklong  you can see women in folkloric  “criolla” garb with long tresses and long, 19th Century peasant dresses roaming  the cobbled streets of the town’s center,  and splendid gauchos proudly strolling, their “facon” or knife tucked  into their wide coin-studded belts and their colorful scarves knotted under their chin.  Freshly baked empanadas and tasty “asados” are the fare of choice as wine generously flows everywhere to the sound of folk-songs, tango and guitar playing.

The festival is kicked off by the traditional blessing of the fruit, and is followed on the following weekend by numerous parades .

It is a sight to see hundreds of gauchos in full regalia stomping down the main street and Beauty Queens waving from the crest of floats decorated with insignia from each wine appellation. The Festival ‘s grand finale is a major show in a large amphitheatre.  When I attended a few years ago, the then president of Argentina was in the midst of the audience, applauding  the group of over 1,000 performers bowing on the 13,000 square-feet stage.

 

(Click to watch a video on http://www.welcomeargentina.com/fiesta-vendimia/)

 

The Vendimia is a good pretext to discover the city of Mendoza  with  its restaurants and picturesque cobbled streets,  and of course the vineyards and wineries of the many appellations that produce the wines we love to drink,  including those of Luján de Cuyo, Maipú, Valle de Uco or San Rafael , which are spread along the foot of the Andes at different altitudes.  It is a kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark ride in a desert  moon-like scenery that   makes for an unforgettable experience, at the end of which you get to drink amazing wines accompanied by delicious local ingredients and cuisine.

For additional information log on to http://www.welcomeargentina.com/fiesta-vendimia/

Last Updated on Monday, 10 February 2014 20:58
 
Carole Kotkin, Ocean Reef's cooking school director, Key Largo, where Chefs Eat, Play, and Cook PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tim Cotroneo   
Tuesday, 04 February 2014 00:04

As  manager of The Ocean Reef Club Cooking School in Key Largo, Carole Kotkin − who is also co-host  of the Radio show Food and Wine Talk WSFG,  a syndicated food columnist for The Miami Herald, a travel contributor for South Florida Gourmet,  among other publications   – gets to invite the best of Who’s Who in today’s gastronomic firmament.

Not only does she get to invite celebrity chefs to teach cooking classes at the prestigious school, but she also invites winemakers, mixologists and renowned producers and manufacturers from around the country and around the world to show and tell about their specialties.

Travel Dreams Magazines just published a profile and a story on this grand lady of Haute Cuisine.

Click here  to read the story Chefs Eat, Play, and Cook, in Key Largo by Tim Cotroneo of www.traveldreamsmagazine.com

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Monday, 10 February 2014 20:33
 
Peru: a land of wonders - Part III. HaVen to Malabar PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lee Klein   
Friday, 27 December 2013 00:00
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A TASTE OF PERU: Part Three

HaVen to Malabar

                                                                                                                                  

 
 
Last Updated on Saturday, 28 December 2013 01:17
 
Peru: a land of wonders - Part II. Cusco & Macchu Picchu PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lee Klein   
Monday, 16 December 2013 00:00
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A TASTE OF PERU: Part Two

Cusco & Machu Picchu

                                                                                                                                  

 
Pizza maker in Cusco 
Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 16:35
 
Peru: a land of wonders - Part I PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lee Klein   
Thursday, 05 December 2013 00:00
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Pre-Columbian treasures and fare meld with audacious neo-Andean cuisine

Part One: Lima & Gastón Acurio  (Photo: Alpaca weaver)

 
 
Last Updated on Monday, 16 December 2013 17:51
 
Heston Blumenthal to launch restaurant at Terminal 2, Heathrow Airport, London PDF Print E-mail
Written by press release   
Monday, 18 November 2013 20:21

Heathrow has announced that the multi-award winning chef Heston Blumenthal will launch a new restaurant at Terminal 2, The Queen’s Terminal in June 2014. The restaurant will be built over 443 square meters and will be located immediately after security when passengers enter Terminal 2’s departure lounge.

The concept and the menu will showcase Heston's love for nostalgia and celebrate his pride of all things British with dishes very much inspired by his “In Search of Perfection” TV series.   "This is an incredible project,” Heston explains. "There are so many different elements to consider when people are travelling.  We want to deliver a broad spectrum of easy to enjoy, familiar dishes from fish and chips to pizza.  When we made the ‘In Search of Perfection’ series we spent hours researching the temperature of a pizza oven or the crunch of batter; it’s this inspiration that is behind the menu at Heathrow – with some truly British eccentricity thrown in for good measure."

With an average of 55,000 daily passengers, and a total of 67 outlets including shops, bars and restaurants,  “the brand new, £2.5bn terminal will not only showcase the best of the UK’s art and engineering talent, but also one of its greatest culinary minds.  This new restaurant will introduce a unique and original dimension to the airport eating experience at Heathrow,” says Muriel Zingraff-Shariff, Heathrow’s retail director.

 

 
Grand Lucayan Resort, upping the paradise in Grand Bahamas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Carole Kotkin   
Friday, 15 November 2013 00:00
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Grand Lucayan Resort, upping the paradise in Grand Bahamas  

Charming Grand Bahama Island continues to be a coveted tropical getaway for those looking for an action packed vacation or for others who just want to soak in the rays and relax.

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 November 2013 22:01
 
Margaret River Gourmet Escape - 22-24 November, Southern Australia PDF Print E-mail
Written by Simone Zarmati Diament   
Thursday, 14 November 2013 21:34
 
To leave his imprint on the international culinary map, renowned Scottish-Australian chef and restaurateur Jock Zonfrillo, who recently opened  two restaurants - Street-Adl and Orana In Adelaide, South Australia , will open a pop up restaurant “The Forager” at the prestigious Margaret River Gourmet Escape.  www.gourmetescape.com.au from November 22-24
 
Chef Jock’s cuisine focuses on Australia's native ingredients and indigenous culture . At Street-ADL, the tastes and flavors of Australia are celebrated with dishes  like Pulled Sangas (sandwiches with hot smoked kangaroo shoulder), BBQ KI Marron (Kangaroo Island marron quickly blanched and then BBQ’d with Australian mountain pepper) and Pork Ribs (marinated, slow cooked, glazed and fried in quandong and bush tomato). The use of native ingredients spreads from the dishes into the cocktail menu where classics are influenced using  the flavours of quandong jam, native mint and lemon aspen, amongst others.
 
The upstairs 25-seat  Orana, meaning “welcome” in some Aboriginal language, offers  two tasting menus with dishes like Fire Charred Coorong Mullet, Flax Lilly & Sweet Apple Berries or Fresh Mudcrab, Sandpaper Fig & Wild Pea  that showcase Jock Zonfrillo’s philosophy and love of country.
 
From November 22 through 24 Margaret River Gourmet Escape will showcase an unparalleled line up of over 25 international, Australian and local food & wine celebrities including Heston Blumenthal, Rick Stein, Alex Atala, Sat Bains, Neil Perry, Adriano Zumbo and more in over 15 unique events set in stunning locations across the Margaret River Wine region.

 
 
 
According to famed Fat Duck Check Heston Blumenthal “The Gourmet Escape is going to be quite unlike any other, you will be able to mix with wine makers, cheese makers, chefs, producers; all kinds of people who are passionate about food and cooking.”
 
Create your own gourmet experience at any one of the amazing events on offer throughout the Margaret River region between the 22-24 November. Explore the heart of the festival, the Gourmet Village,  at the beautiful Leeuwin Estate or take part in one of the many Satellite Events, such as indulgent long lunches, exclusive world class dinners and the specially designed pop up beach BBQ restaurant. In addition, there are many more Fringe Events put on offer over the weekend to explore throughout the region by local restaurants and wineries.
To further explore Margaret River Gourmet Escape: http://www.gourmetescape.com.au/whats-on/
 
Capri Wine Hotel, a slice of paradise in Capri PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kathy Ferguson Sinnes   
Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:00
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              No visit to Italy’s Amalfi Coast is complete without a stop in the famous Isola di Capri.          
 A mere 50-minute fast-ferry ride from the craziness of Naples, the spectacular island of Capri,
 long known for its glitz, glamour and breathtaking views,is halfway to heaven.
 And the beautiful Capri Wine Hotel where I stayed turned out to be paradise.
 
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 October 2013 22:32
 
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Mireille Guiliano: Meet Paris Oyster - A love Affair with The Perfect Food

   

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