Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Years ago, before Alex & Ani founder Carolyn Rafaelian bought Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton, its success at creating quality wine was mediocre at best.
I heard stories that the grapevines on the property were there just for show. The story goes that the land was contaminated, and they couldn’t use it for winemaking. So despite having this magnificent piece of property, just about all of their grape juice was imported from South America.
To me, that defeated the purpose of going to a local vineyard. You expect them to grow the grapes and then use those grapes to make their wine.
Fast forward years later, the property is now called Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards, and their website claims that they make their wines from the grapes they grow on their land. Is this truly the case? Or is this a bunch of BS? It’s hard to really know for sure.

The tasting room is full, especially on rainy days!

That issue aside, the vineyard seems to attract a lot of tourists, especially on rainy days when there isn’t a whole heck of a lot to do in Little Compton. Sampling a variety of wines, even if they’re not really that great, is better than sitting at home and watching television.
The property also has an outdoor stage for mellow concerts when the weather is cooperating. (They were denied a permit to have a larger concert venue established on their property, because of the traffic and noise it would create. The town of Little Compton has had a bug up its ass lately…just ask the folks trying to get the historic Stone House open again.)
And there is a café, which is open seven days a week through Columbus Day…and weekends through the winter months.
That’s good to know, because there isn’t a huge choice of places to dine nearby. There’s a luncheonette and pizza joint in Little Compton Commons, and there’s a grill and sandwich place at Tiverton Four Corners. But that’s about it.
The café at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards serves up a tasty menu of freshly prepared sandwiches, flatbreads, salads and more. At a recent lunch, my daughter and I enjoyed their steamed pork dumplings as a starter. My daughter chose the Sakonnet Club, a turkey and ham sandwich on sourdough. I went with the Grilled Tuscan, which featured Genoa salami, capicola and soppressata and mozzarella on sourdough, all freshly made and grilled to melt the cheese. The table next to us had a bachelorette party, and all the gals there had different flatbreads, which looked really delicious…something to keep in mind for our next visit. Our sandwiches came with a light salad and a bag of chips on the side.
I had a glass of mediocre Albariño with my lunch, but it served its purpose.
All in all, a really nice lunch, and other things on the menu that I am looking forward to trying in the future.
I didn’t taste more than one wine at the vineyard that day, so in all fairness, I need to make a return visit for that purpose. But for me, the best wines in the area are located down the road at Westport Rivers. Although they don’t have the beautiful room and property that Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard has, they more than make up for it in the quality of their wine.
Advertisements
I was cleaning out the pantry recently, and there, in a corner where I haven’t looked for years, was a green 5-liter jug with a plastic cap on it. It brought a smile to my face because although I haven’t seen it in many years, it reminded me of a wonderful trip my wife and I took to Italy when we were still dating.
Our first European trip together was to explore Rome, the Isle of Capri, and the Amalfi coast. We stayed at many wonderful hotels, including an old castle, and we made an effort to sample the local cuisine when possible.
At one of our stops, we walked through a small, quaint village and found a local eatery named Da Roketa (The Rocket.) As I recall, the food was homemade and fantastic, the bread to die for, and the homemade olive oil from the family’s own olive trees something you wanted to drown in.
Much to the surprise of the owners of the restaurant, we asked if we could buy their olive oil to take home to the states with us, and we somehow wound up with this massive 5-liter jug, which we carried with us throughout the rest of our trip.
Although this was after 9/11, the limitations about carrying on liquids had not yet been established, so I ducked taped the plastic cap securely, making sure there’d be no leaks, and I placed the jug in a small duffel bag, cushioned by clothing. I carried that bag right onto the plane!
But first I had to get through security…
Placing my duffel bag on the conveyor belt in Rome as we walked through the x-ray machines, one look at the security agent’s face and it was clear I was going to get pulled side.
The female agent asked me what was in the bag and I matter-of-factly told her: olive oil. She didn’t believe me, so I opened the bag for her and there was my beautiful 5-liter bottle, nestled in some “fragrant” dirty laundry. She looked at it, and her stern look morphed into a smile: “It looked like a bomb on the x-ray screen!”
I explained about the amazing food at Da Roketa, and how we were obsessed with the olive oil. She chuckled, shook her head, and let me zip it up and walk away with it.
The rest of our journey, even when we landed at customs in the United States, was uneventful.
I doubt that even now, even if I checked my luggage, I’d be allowed to bring in an un-hermetically sealed container of olive oil into the states the way I did that day.
We used that olive oil every opportunity we had, and yes, we did eventually finish it.

I get a lot of travel and food magazines, and for whatever reason, when they talk about where to stay in Providence, The Dean Hotel seems to be everybody’s new favorite. When they talk about where to get a great cocktail, The Dean is listed again. (I did notice that the cocktails article info was submitted by someone who has a financial part in the operation of the hotel…a bit suspicious.)

But, nonetheless, I decided it was time for me to check it out for myself.

Those of us that have been in Rhode Island for some time might remember what was previously at The Dean’s address back in the day: the legendary Sportsman’s Inn, a roach-infested whorehouse, to put it plainly. As as one reviewer put it: “Don’t go there without antibiotics!”

So The Dean is a serious improvement! I was told that to keep its historical value, The Dean had to leave the tiny hotel rooms exactly the same size as they were before. The result is a very cozy room that is clean and modern…just really small…as is the bathroom. But it’s got everything you would need to spend the night here, no complaints.

My small but very clean room at The Dean.

 

The Dean has many of the amenities you’re looking for in a nice city hotel: valet parking, a coffee shop (Bolt Coffee) for your morning wake-up, a very good cocktail lounge (The Magdalenae Room), a restaurant (Faust) and Boombox, a karaoke bar. Okay…in all honesty, I was glad to hear that the German food of Faust is being replaced this fall with the truly creative food of one of Providence’s best: north. (www.foodbynorth.com) And as long as I don’t have to hear the karaoke bar when I’m trying to sleep, I can deal with that.

I had dinner elsewhere in town the night I stayed at The Dean. (Faust was already closed.) But I did stop by to have a cocktail–or three–at The Magdalenae Room. The choice of spirits is limited, but the essentials are there. A nice chat with the bartender who knew his drinks and knew his way around Providence. Even someone like me that has lived here for almost 30 years learned a few things! (Was it the best crafted cocktail in Providence? That honor still remains with The Eddy.)

All in all, my experience at The Dean was a good one. I don’t know if it deserves all the attention it’s been getting in those magazine articles I’ve read, however. But it’s clean, it’s not expensive, and when north opens up, it can very much be an ideal one-stop in Providence.

Every other year, the Master Gardeners of the University of Rhode Island host “Gardening with the Masters,” a tour which showcases over 2 dozen home gardens. Some big, some small, these gardens are the passion and obsession of 26 Master Gardeners in Rhode Island and nearby Connecticut.  This year, 14 gardens on the tour have never been on the tour before…including mine!

The Gardening with the Masters tour happens from 10AM to 4PM on June 24 and 25, rain or shine, so make plans to visit our area and get some great ideas and tips for your own home garden.

You’ve just got 2 weeks to buy your tickets online!

Your ticket to the event is a booklet that lists all the gardens on the tour, along with maps that help you get to each location. Tickets are $20 (good for both days) and can be purchased at: www.uri.edu/mastergardener up to June 15. They will be mailed out. Call 401-874-2900 for details.

I gave my garden the title of “Space, the Final Frontier,” because my particular garden challenges include managing an almost 2-acre yard backed by 6 acres of forest and protected wetlands. You’ll see stands of bamboo, fruit trees, native plants, a vegetable and herb garden, a greenhouse, and my wife’s art studio (http://farmcoast.com/blog/tag/bow-house-studio/) will be open to the public that weekend as well. We’re right down the road from historic Tiverton Four Corners, featuring shops, art galleries and restaurants.

URI Master Gardeners (and others who know their stuff) will be on site to answer questions about plants, composting, and good gardening practices.

Ask questions, bring your camera, bring a picnic lunch, take notes, but most importantly enjoy the beauty created in these gardens!

My garden and yard is accessible for the handicapped in most areas.

 

 

Despite working in a pretty decent food town (Providence, Rhode Island), and despite being just an hour away from another decent food town (Boston, Massachusetts), when we want to go to a place where we park our car once and can easily walk to dozens of great eateries and bars, where each place is more creative than the next, and where genuine friendliness and enthusiasm for what they’re doing shows in every dish, the answer is Portland, Maine.

My wife and I visit Portland at least once a year and it’s amazing to see how many new restaurants have opened since our last visit. Every time we think we’ve crossed a few off our list, a half-dozen new ones show up! Last year, we hit 10 restaurants in 48 hours. This last visit, it was a mere 6 restaurants in 48 hours. I guess we’re getting older…!

solo2

Our weekend started on a Friday afternoon with a quick bite at Solo Italiano, near the water on Commercial Street. We really enjoyed a light-as-air Carpaccio di Tonno: thinly sliced yellow fin tuna with stracciatella cream, herb oil, and crispy onions. And after we were told that the chef at Solo won the World Pesto Championship, we had to have the Mandilli di Seta al Vero Pesto Genovese: house made silk handkerchief pasta in a traditional Genovese basil pesto…amazing! Solo has some great house cocktails to choose from, too. Definitely worth a return visit.

The bar at Solo.

The bar at Solo.

Our Friday evening dinner was at Hugo’s. Originally owned by chef Rob Evans, a three-time Food Network “Chopped” champion, Rob sold it a few years ago and now runs Duckfat, a small sandwich shop famous for its Belgian-style fries that are fried in duck fat. (Though it gets write-ups all the time, my experience at Duckfat was disappointing.)

hugosign

 

The folks that own the nationally acclaimed Eventide Oyster Bar now own Hugo’s (it’s next door) as well as The Honey Paw (next door on the other side.) For us, every visit to Portland must include this amazing restaurant trifecta on Middle Street, that, in fact, have connecting kitchens.

The connecting kitchens at Hugo's, Eventide, and the Honey Paw.

The connecting kitchens at Hugo’s, Eventide, and The Honey Paw.

 

Hugo’s is fine dining at its creative best. Though we hadn’t been there in over a year, Brian, a manager and our wine guru, immediately remembered us and greeted us with a hug, showing us to our seats and treating us to a glass of bubbly. He guided us through the wine list and offered us a bottles that were simply out of this world. Though we’ve done the tasting menu in the past, we decided to go a la carte when a beautiful fried whole black bass, with roasted mushrooms, cabbage and hoisin vinaigrette, was calling our name. After a few wonderful appetizers that included peekytoe crab, reblochon (a local cheese), and lamb tartare, we were ready for the black bass. Even our server, Patrick, was impressed with how well we devoured that fish right down to the bone.

Fried black bass at Hugo's.

Fried black bass at Hugo’s.

 

Polishing off that amazing black bass!

Polishing off that amazing black bass!

 

Paul, the bartender at Hugo's.

Paul, the bartender at Hugo’s.

 

Dinner at Hugo’s wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about bourbons with bartender, Paul, and he let me sample a couple of special bottles he had behind the bar. A great way to end a wonderful dining experience on our first night in Portland.

Bourbon tastings.

Bourbon tastings.

 

The next day, Saturday, our food adventures began with lunch. Don’t get me wrong: there are some great breakfast choices in Portland, like the Porthole (featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”) and Becky’s Diner. But when you’re in town to feast, you bypass the bacon and eggs.

Lunch was at Eventide, which shows up on every “best oyster bar” list, and the reason is simple: a nice selection of fresh oysters, a great bar, and creative side dishes that change all the time.

Oysters at Eventide.

 

The Eventide brown butter lobster roll is elevated to new heights when it’s placed on an Asian-style steamed bun. Blackboard specials change every week, and always include what’s right off the boat: from fried squid to pickled lox. If you’re less adventurous, you can’t go wrong with the buttermilk fried chicken bun, the house pastrami bun or their impressive fish sandwich.

Pickled lox (left) and the lobster bun (right.)

 

If you go to Eventide during peak hours, you can expect a wait. The place isn’t huge and it’s wildly popular. Give them your name, tuck yourself into a corner with a drink, and wait, knowing that it will all be worth it!

Real women in Maine shuck oysters!

 

We skip the usual cocktail sauce when at Eventide. Our favorite accoutrements are the pickled red onion ice (great for an oyster shooter!) and the chilera ice.

Before…and after.

 

After our leisurely lunch, it was time to walk off a few calories. Heading down Fore Street, we tucked into several art galleries and shops, slowly making our way across the center of town to the newly redesigned Portland Art Museum. By the time we stepped out of the museum, it was time for more food. Just a few blocks, and we arrived at Boda.

 

Labeling themselves as a “Very Thai” kitchen and bar, Boda delivers. Though we only had a few apps, like the apple and shrimp salad and a plate of authentic pad thai, it earned two thumbs up. A plate of fried quail…not so much.

The bar at Boda offers the standards (like my Chopin martini) and some interesting Asian herb-infused cocktails. Definitely worth a return visit, especially when Boda is open until 12:45AM, serving tasty skewers for the bar crowd.

A short stop at our hotel, and it was time for our Saturday dinner. We headed to what many claim is the best sushi restaurant in Portland: Miyake. We soon discovered that the label “best sushi restaurant in Portland” didn’t necessarily set the standard very high.

 

Though we found a beautiful bottle of sake on the menu that we’ve had before, the food was a disappointment. Having had a few great sushi experiences in my life, I wanted this place to be among them. But after trying 2 different 4-course menus that featured tastings of salmon, tuna, uni, duck, and even Miyake’s own farm-raised mangalitsa pork–a rare heritage breed–which, though fatty, was very dry…it’s safe to say that we won’t be returning to Portland, Maine for its sushi.

The sake, at least, was amazing.

In a town with many creative restaurants, this one didn’t cut it. Some locals told us that Miyake used to be better when they were in a smaller space. The move to a larger space meant a beautiful room, but the food suffered.

Our weekend ended with Sunday brunch. If we wanted a more typical Sunday brunch, we would’ve gone to Five Fifty-Five, where we’ve enjoyed dishes like lobster eggs Benedict in the past. But when we heard that The Honey Paw was now serving brunch, there was no question where we needed to go!

 

My kind of Sunday brunch: Asian fried ribs, pork and fried oyster pot stickers, a bowl of beef shank pho, and a breakfast sandwich with house made scrapple and egg on a kimchi croissant.

Beef shank pho.

 

The Honey Paw breakfast sandwich.

 

My wife took advantage of a full bar with creative cocktails. Unfortunately, I had a 3-hour drive home behind the wheel, so I had to refrain from the alcohol.

The bar at The Honey Paw.

While we dined at The Honey Paw, I ran next door to Eventide and ordered 2 of their buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches to go. Our 10-year-old daughter was not happy that we went to Portland without her this time, and we knew that bringing her favorite sandwiches home would help ease the blow.

 

We’ll be back to Portland this summer. Already counting the days. For other great places to dine in this town, use my search engine under “Portland.” And feel free to drop me a line with any questions about where to stay, eat, visit, etc…

Cheers!

 

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the dining experiences I’ve had at Persimmon’s former location in Bristol, RI. But it was clear that the place was too small. The opportunity to buy the former Rue de L’Espoire at 99 Hope Street on the east side of Providence came up, and James Beard nominee (for best chef Northeast) Champ Speidel and his wife, Lisa, went for it. It’s just what they (we) needed!

pers2

The space holds almost 3 times more people, and the vibe is upbeat and exciting. The dining experience rivals the best of New York City. But there’s no stuffiness here. This is fine dining they way it should be: small plates with incredible flavors, all while you enjoy the company of friends in a casual atmosphere. The suits are here…but no one feels out-of-place in a pair of jeans.

Oysters 3 ways.

Oysters 3 ways.

My wife and I sat at the chef’s table (a front-row view of the workings of the kitchen) and enjoyed small plate after small plate of incredible bites: from deviled quail eggs with sturgeon caviar to crispy chicken skin. Oysters 3 ways: fried, raw, and chips were mind-blowing. Pasta carbonara with earthy black truffles was the carbonara I’ve always dreamed about. Tempura rock shrimp weren’t heavily battered, but lightly crisp with a highly addictive sauce. Boneless stuffed chicken wings, deconstructed, re-constructed and filled with Asian flavors, was an unexpected hit out of the park.

fullsizerender-7

Watching chef Champ at work was a real treat. It was great to talk to him, his wife, Lisa, and their enthusiastic staff. We learned a lot.
I’ve always told my friends that Persimmon in Bristol was Rhode Island’s best restaurant. Now, in its new Providence location on Hope Street, just a stone’s throw from Brown University, it has truly arrived. http://www.persimmonbristol.com

It takes a few weeks for this limoncello recipe to be ready, so I usually start up a batch around Thanksgiving to have it ready for Christmas. But even if you start now, you’ll be able to enjoy it around the holidays!

Many years ago, my wife and I visited the Amalfi coast, and we spent several nights on the beautiful island of Capri. On our last night, we dined at the legendary Grand Hotel Quisisana, and our incredible meal ended with a glass of the most delicious limoncello I had ever had.

I asked the waiter if it was possible to get the recipe of the limoncello, and he made a big deal about the recipe being a “secret.” Though disappointed, I understood, and I left Capri thinking that I would never taste that limoncello again.

Two weeks later, now back at home, I was reading the latest issue of Conde Nast Traveler, and there in black and white, was the Quisisana limoncello recipe! WTF?

After making many batches of this limoncello, I started experimenting with other citrus, and the most successful by far was with grapefruit. Now I make a batch of each every year. Note: the recipe calls for 100-proof vodka. Most vodka is 80-proof, so you’ll need to go to a liquor store with a better selection to find it.

Sampling vintage limoncello and grapefruit-cello, aged 2 years or more

Sampling vintage limoncello and grapefruit-cello, aged 2 years or more

Four ingredients, easy to make. The toughest part is waiting for it to mellow a bit.

 

4 lbs. lemons, zest only
2 750-ml bottles 100 proof vodka (I prefer Absolut)
5 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups filtered water

Peel the zest off all the lemons, making sure you don’t get any of the white pith that could make the limoncello bitter. Place all the zest in the bottom of a glass jar with a lid that can hold all the vodka.

Pour the vodka on top of the lemon zest pieces, seal the container, and keep at room temperature for a week, swirling the jar around gently once a day.

On the sixth day, combine the sugar and water in a pot over medium-high heat, and stir until all the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from the heat, cover, and let it thoroughly cool to room temperature (overnight is best.)

On day seven, strain the lemon zest, pouring the infused vodka into a clean glass jar. Discard the lemon zest.

Pour the sugar/water mixture into the vodka and mix well.

At this point, you can pour the finished product into individual bottles, but let it mellow for about a month before drinking.

I keep my limoncello refrigerated.

At a recent summer garden dinner for 12 of our friends, I wanted to serve my corn and tomato salsa that I featured here a few weeks ago.

We “smuggled” a few treats from a recent visit to Santorini Greece: capers, caper leaves and sun-dried tomatoes. Adding them to fresh corn and tomatoes gave it that salty bite that. I usually use feta cheese in this recipe, but we served a cheese plate as an appetizer, so I left the feta out. Turns out we like it even better this way…

1 dozen fresh ears of corn, lightly sautéed in olive oil
2 dozen (or more) tiny tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon caper leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (in addition to what you saute the corn with)

Slice the kernels of corn off the ears with a sharp knife. Saute them in a little olive oil, just to remove the raw taste. Don’t over cook them!

Combine the corn with all the other ingredients and place in a bowl in the fridge.

Just before serving, let it come back to cool, not cold, and check for seasoning. The capers and caper leaves are salty, so I’m careful not to over-salt.

You may know my friends as Ativan and Ambien.

The fact is, despite all the places I’ve been to in the world, it’s a struggle for me to travel. I’m not a control freak, but I am a bad passenger. I always choose to be the one behind the wheel on family trips. I sit in the front of the bus so I can monitor the driver. I instinctively choose the bar car when I take the Acela into New York City. And I’m a lousy flyer. Sure, I know that statistics say flying is the safest form of travel. I’ve purchased a variety of CD’s and DVD’s to help me get over it. But there’s something about the fear of being in the air–and not in control–that I can’t shake.

But…I don’t want to stay home.

image

Enter my friend: lorazepam. Whenever I have a big trip planned, part of the pre-flight preparation is serious medication. But lorazepam itself doesn’t do the trick, of course. I’m a big guy, and if anyone thinks that a silly little pill is going to knock me down, they’re in for a surprise.

My standard medication routine goes like this: half a lorazepam the day of the flight to ease anxiety. I take a full pill once I’ve found my seat on the plane and I know it’s going to take off. This doesn’t knock me out. It simply eliminates “white knuckle” syndrome. And then I start drinking. By the time I’ve had a few, I’m feeling no pain as dinner rolls around. I have my meal, wash it down with another drink, and then, when I check with my wife to make sure that she and my daughter will be OK without me, I take a zolpidem. I’ve been told that this self-medication would knock a horse flat on its ass. It usually keeps me down for about 5 hours, just in time to have breakfast before landing the next morning on my trans-Atlantic flight.

Ironically, I prefer longer flights because with shorter flights, I just have to tough it out without the meds. (OK,  maybe I’ll sneak I half a pill in there.)

My wife and I have a deal: she takes care of our daughter on the plane, and then it’s my job to do so on land. And that system has worked well for us. It’s also allowed me to have incredible experiences I would not have had any other way:  riding an elephant in Thailand, exploring the souk in Marrakesh, landing with a helicopter on a mountaintop glacier in New Zealand (that took a record of three lorazepam’s, and I was still able to video the whole thing!), seeing beautiful sunsets in Santorini,  flying in a hot air balloon over the vineyards north of Barcelona, swimming with dolphins in Moorea…and more.

If course, I don’t recommend this combination of drugs to anyone. You need to talk to your own doctor. But I’m all set…because my doctor hates flying, too.

 

We’re in Santorini, Greece! Besides being one of the most magnificent places on earth, it’s where we first feasted on a beautiful lobster and pasta dish that we only dreamed about when we got home…until I got up the nads to give it a try. It’s one of those dishes that takes time to prepare…time consuming but so spectacular.

Where we first had our pasta with lobster sauce in Santorini.

Where we first had our pasta with lobster sauce in Santorini.

Love the signs!

Love the signs!

It’s absolutely important to make a good stock: the base for all the other flavors to follow.

Cooked lobster LTL

 

For the stock…
2 1-1/2 lb. lobsters, slightly under-cooked
12 cups water
1/2 onion, chopped into quarters
3 celery stalks, chopped into quarters
1 carrot, chopped into quarters

 

Under-cook (steam or boil, whatever your favorite method) the lobsters, less than the usual 8 minutes. Remove the lobster meat from the shells and set aside.

Place the cleaned lobster shells, claws, tails, legs and bodies in a large pot. (You don’t want any of the internal organs or tommaley.) Crush the shells so they fit in the pot. Add the water, onion, celery and carrot. Set the heat on high. Cook until it is reduced by half.

Strain the stock, discarding the lobster shells and veggies. Bring the stock back to the heat and reduce it until all you have left is 1 cup of intense stock.

 

Pasta with lobster sauce

For the lobster sauce…
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
pinch of Italian red pepper flakes
teaspoon parsley
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup lobster stock
1/4 cup San Marzano tomato sauce (see below)
splash of white wine (I use Alice White Chardonnay)
salt and pepper

 

Final ingredients…
reserved lobster meat
1/2 lb. cooked pasta

 

Add some olive oil to a large pan and saute the onions until translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook for 10 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and parsley.

Add 1/4 cup of the lobster stock and let it cook, reducing by half. Add the other 1/4 cup of lobster stock and the tomato sauce. Let it cook for a couple of minutes and add the white wine. Cook for a few minutes more.

Cook the pasta and drain it even before it reaches the al dente stage. Place the pasta in the pan with the sauce, heating and coating thoroughly. Add the reserved lobster pieces and warm them through, tossing in the sauce. Serve immediately.

For the San Marzano tomato sauce: I take a can of San Marzano tomatoes and place it in a food processor or Vita-Mix and blend. Pour into a pan and reduce over medium heat by half, until sauce has thickened.