Tag Archive | "dining"

Letter from Paris: Kult, Casual Dining in Saint-Germain-des-Pres

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Kult, casual dining in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Photo copyright Alexander Lobrano

By Alexander Lobrano

Inspite of its dopey name, Kult, the stylish but easygoing restaurant in the just-opened hotel Le Saint, is a welcome new option for good casual dining in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Surprisingly, the restaurant offer in this storied Left Bank neighborhood, the most loved district of Paris for upmarket visitors to the city, is relatively meager. To wit, if you want a good French meal within a five-to-ten-minute walk of the Cafe Deux Magots or the Cafe de Flore, your best choices are pretty much Fish La Boissonnerie, Semilla, Le 21 and, a little bit further afield, the excellent Cafe Trama on the rue du Cherche Midi.

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alecAlexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: Papillon

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Photo copyright Pierre Monetta.

Christophe Saintagne in front of Papillon. Photo copyright Pierre Monetta.

 

By Alexander Lobrano

Papillon, chef Christophe Saintagne’s new bistro in the 17th Arrondissement, brings a bracing shot of hipster energy to a very bourgeois part of Paris. From its cobalt-blue facade to its friendly suspender-wearing waiters and market-driven Nordic inflected modern bistro menu, this relaxed, happy place with a decor of oak tables, parquet floors, and suspended lamps looks like a restaurant you could as easily find in Santa Monica or Sydney as western Paris. And that is a mostly good thing, since this Gaullist redoubt is long overdue for a good social, political and gastronomic shakeup.

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aleclobranohungryfe4e99_2Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Jackson Hole: Sleeping, Skiing and Dining

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Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Jackson, Wyoming

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Jackson, Wyoming

By Bill Triplett

Quite a few resorts I’ve skied out West are conscious of being chic in some way, usually by making sure to offer gourmet dining, luxury digs, or boutique shops. But even with its ski-in/ski-out Four Seasons hotel, which debuted in 2003, Jackson Hole feels like it’s still just trying on the upscale look.

You can see this mostly in the town square, a few miles away from the resort, where a frontier look and vibe are still evident, starting with the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, an updated relic from the 1890s. Its glittering Broadway-style lights, complete with a neon buckeroo riding his bronc, dominate the town square. Inside, saloon history and kitsch prevail – the bar stools are saddles,and Western memorabilia account for most of the decor. I loved it.

Antler archway in Jackson, Wyoming

Antler archway in Jackson, Wyoming

Archways made of antlers shed by elk mark the four corner entrances to the square, which is hemmed in by numerous shops, small galleries, and restaurants. Just off the square is the stately Wort Hotel, built in the 1940s and still fitting in with the Old West look of downtown. The Wort also has a great bar for sipping whiskey for anyone seeking a more muted setting than the Million Dollar scene.

I found good eats both in and around the square as well as at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort itself. I wasn’t sure I would, given that I don’t eat meat and this is the heart of beef country. But while steaks and chops are the star attractions on menus here, I also found a fair amount of vegetarian and seafood dishes available. And often prepared with attention to detail: When I ordered the salmon at Cafe Genevieve, the waiter asked, “What temperature do you like it cooked to?” I have no idea if the chef got that part right, but I do know this –it was delicious.

The view from Couloir, at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

The view from Couloir, at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Other restaurants I enjoyed, either around town or at the resort: Snake River Brewery, Bin 22, Il Villaggio Osteria (see my story on owner Gavin Fine), Couloir, and Aspen’s Market (where I was introduced to the pleasures of Wyoming Whiskey). The fare was the right mix of hardy and healthy, and could easily hold its own against the sophisticated culinary dishes and wine lists in Park City or Aspen.

I spent six nights in Jackson – three at the Snow King Hotel, and three at Spring Creek Ranch. Snow King is big, roomy, very ranch-like, and it’s been recently renovated. The staff is friendly, and during the shuttle ride to the mountain,the Snow King drivers often like to regale you with tales of indigenous wildlife they’ve either spotted, wrestled, or both at one time or another. Are they true? Does it matter? They’re very entertaining.

The restaurant at Snow King, Hayden’s Post, is also worth noting. Along with good meals, some pretty spectacular views are on tap near the enormous windows. If the Bison meatloaf doesn’t call to you, try the Fog River trout or the cast iron vegetable lasagna.

Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson, Wyoming

Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson, Wyoming

At Spring Creek Ranch, I was in one side of a duplex-type condo. The atmosphere inside alternated between rustic and dated, but the working stone fireplace was a real bonus, especially in the evenings. The Spring Creek complex sits high on a ridge in an aerie-like setting that looks down on the valley below. You’re not downtown, but it’s pretty cozy, and the view of the stars on a clear night are amazing.

I took a day off from skiing to check out the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which is about three miles from the town square. As you might expect, you’ll see extensive artwork of wildlife, including works by John Jay Audubon and Georgia O’Keeffe. You might not expect anything by Andy Warhol, but you’ll find it there, too. All told, the museum has about 5,000 artworks featuring animals from around the world. Well worth the visit.

In my first report from Jackson Hole (read it here), I briefly mentioned trying out some new gear at Jackson. The big find: DPS Wailer Pure3 Construction skis. I’ve tried a lot of different skis over the years, but none ever left a particularly distinct impression. Until I tried these. I confess, they weren’t much to look at – basically plain, bright yellowboards – but what DPS ignored in terms of dazzling cosmetics, they put into dazzling performance.

I normally ski 160/65s; because of the DPS construction, I was told to go longer, about 180. I was dubious, until I hit the mountain and felt these things almost turning themselves. Effortlessly. The responsiveness was startling. I felt a lot more confident and capable in crud and mashed potatoes than I ever have.They’re not cheap – about $1,300 without bindings – but they’ve got me thinking.

A set of Giro Blok goggles caught my attention, too. Comfortably snug with a super-widefield of vision, they sport a classic look (especially with the faux wood-grain rims) and good venting. I couldn’t fit them over my glasses – went back to my trusty Scott goggles for that – but with contact lenses on the Blok was a winner for me. Besides, they looked great with the spiffy classic blue MountainHardwear shell I got to try out.

I packed in a lot of plain old-fashioned fun during my stay.With any luck, Jackson won’t get too chic in the future.

Visit Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

William Triplett is the former DC bureau chief for Variety. Triplett has written about various destinations, from Scotland’s Inverness and Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon and the Beatles’ old haunts in Hamburg. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, The Baltimore Sun,and Capital Style.

William Triplett is the former DC bureau chief for Variety. Triplett has written about various destinations, from Scotland’s Inverness and Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon and the Beatles’ old haunts in Hamburg. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, The Baltimore Sun,and Capital Style.

 

Letter from Paris: La Rotonde

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La Rotonde. Photo credit Alexander Lobrano.

La Rotonde. Photo credit Alexander Lobrano.

By Alexander Lobrano

Like most Paris brasseries, La Rotonde was founded long before people started going to restaurants for revelations. No, in those days, people went to restaurants to eat, and they pretty much knew what the menu would look like even before they stepped through the door.

When it opened on the boulevard Montparnasse in 1911, the Left Bank neighborhood was just beginning to attract artists like Picasso and Chagall and it was a busy commercial thoroughfare leading to a one of the city’s main train station.

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alecAlexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: Alec Lobrano’s Ten Favorite Meals of 2015

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Rouget with green apple peashoot spelt at Le Crouzil in Brittany. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

Rouget with green apple peashoot spelt at Le Crouzil in Brittany. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

 

Celeste in London

Celeste in London. Photo by Alexander Lobrano.

By Alexander Lobrano

On the eve of a new year, please receive this post as an expression of my gratitude for the huge privilege of good health, lots of travel to slack my insatiable curiosity and discover so many wonderful new chefs, kitchens, and foods, and also the pleasure of writing for so many superb publications. Among ever so many good ones–and believe me, I count my blessings, these were my ten favorite meals in 2015.

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alecAlexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Letter from Paris: At Mensae, Belleville Goes Gastro

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Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

By Alexander Lobrano

When I asked chef Kevin d’Andréa why he and business partner and fellow chef Thibault Sombardier had chosen the Belleville district of Paris as the location for their excellent new bistro Mensae, he said, “The neighborhood is really happening right now.” And for better or worse, it is. In fact this old working-class neighborhood in northeastern Paris where Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier were born is changing so quickly it’s inducing emotional and sociological vertigo in many longtime residents, like the delightful and sublimely talented chef Raquel Carena of Le Baratin, for example (for more on Mme. Carena’s feelings on the subject, see here).

City planners regularly ignore or underestimate the impact that restaurants can have on the health and evolution of an urban neighborhood. The first example that always comes to my mind is Danny Meyer‘s Union Square Cafe in New York City, since it both anticipated and accelerated the gentrification of a rundown, crime-ridden part of Manhattan when it opened in 1985. Ironically enough, Le Chapeau Melon and Le Baratin may have both had the same seminal impact on Belleville, too. To judge from the comments some people leave about the neighborhood on TripAdvisor, Belleville still elicits a sort of ‘Lions-and-tiger-and-bears, oh no!’ reaction from the world’s well-heeled suburbanites, and the first but rarely only time these people ever set foot in the area is to eat at these restaurants. The same thing is going on in New York City’s Harlem today, too.

A couple at the bar at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

A couple at the bar at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Even with the soft French economy, the irrevocable mill of the real-estate speculation that leads to disruptive renovation continues to churn through what remains of those districts of Paris that once housed the city’s working classes, who are now gradually being expelled to the modern suburbs on the other side of the peripherique, the beltway that constitutes the rather constricting collar of the French capital. It’s the same everywhere, too: living in the city has become a privilege. And who can blame the young bobo couples who prefer good architecture, a strong sense of place and history, urban liveliness and diversity and great food to the murky blandness of most suburbs (I speak from experience, too, since I grew up in suburban Connecticut and told my mother as a nine-year-old that I hated living in a ‘melted city,’ which is how I perceived of our suburb, and would move to New York City, where my much envied cousins lived, as soon as I could; and I did).

Et donc à table, since the Latin word for table is mensa and the one that D’Andréa and Sombardier have created is very good indeed. Arriving, it presents an unexpectedly polished, almost television-studio perfect face to the world, with a service bar of recycled wood, ecru walls, suspension lamps, plank floors, a set of copper cookware on one wall and shelves filled with appetizing jars of preserved mushrooms, fruit and vegetables. So somehow it’s not surprising that the very experienced and media savvy D’Andréa and Sombardier were both finalists on the predictably noisy and not very convincingly gastronomic French television cooking show “Top Chef.”

Leeks at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Leeks at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Happily, however, the meal we had the other night was just about as many light years from a TV dinner as you could possibly get. This kitchen is very serious about its sourcing, always a good sign, with vegetables coming from the Bretonne produce princess Annie Bertin and Joël Thiébault, Armara for fish, Hugenin and Les Boucheries Nivernaises for meat, and Lyon’s La Mère Richard for cheeses (insofar as this last supplier is concerned, I detect that quality has been slipping since the business was bought by a company in Normandy). The menu is intelligently constructed with an appealing assortment of plates to share–frogs’ legs sautéed in garlic and parsley, charcuterie from Sibilia in Lyon, and Basque style squid, then five starters, five main courses, and three desserts.

On a rainy night when I arrived at the restaurant a bit shaken after having passed an impromptu shrine of wilting flowers and votive candles in a nearby doorway–one of the victims of the recent terrorist attack on Paris lived the building–the dining room was warm and soothing when I stepped inside, and the waiter was suavely charming when he brought us menus and aperitifs of white wine. More on him later, but we were both hungry and our starters were excellent. Bruno’s pastry-enclosed terrine de gibier(game) was unctuously rich and autumnal, with a bright garnish of sweet-and-sour pickled vegetables, and my leeks with a mimosa garnish (sieved hard-cooked egg) were gently marinated and delightfully accompanied with crispy croquettes of de-boned calf’s feet.

Paleron with puree at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Paleron with puree at Mensae. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Our main courses were excellent, too. My chicken was pleasantly crisped but still  succulent and came with an earthy mix of winter vegetables–parsnips, carrots, and chestnuts–in a creamy vin jaune seasoned sauce that would have been better if the wine had been just a little more assertive. Bruno ordered the grilled paleron, a cut of beef that comes from between the neck and shoulder blade and which is often braised to break down the muscle in the meat. Served rare, it was full of flavor and unexpectedly tender, although this perception was doubtless abetted by a pool of fluffy feather-weight white polenta.

At a time when Paris is still a little raw and on edge, it was reassuring and mood-lifting to be in a busy, happy dining room that’s clearly a new neighbourhood favorite. It’s easy to see why, too, since everything about this place is so flawlessly thought through and professional, including the cooking, but on the other hand, it’s relaxed enough so that a young couple could come through the door around 10pm, ask if they were still serving, and be cheerfully seated at the service bar, where one of the dramatic taps dispenses Gallia, a legendary local brew that was made in Paris from 1890 to 1969, and then revived again in 2009.

Mensae's Compression de Pomme. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Mensae’s Compression de Pomme. Credit Alexander Lobrano.

Since portions here are generous, we split a compression de pomme, a sort of deconstructed apple tart, for dessert,  and finished up our pleasant bottle of Fleurie, before coffee. When the waiter brought the coffee, we chatted a little bit about the restaurant, and he mentioned he’d previously worked at chef André Chiang’s brilliant Restaurant André in Singapore for two years. That’s when I recognized him, since he’d served me when I ate there last January. And I guess this little coincidence says a lot about what Belleville’s becoming these days, too. One way or another, there have never been so many good restaurants in this neighborhood, and this mensa is definitely one of them.

Mensae, 23 rue Mélingue, 19th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-53-19-80-98. Metro: Pyrénées. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menu: 20 Euros, Dinner menu 36 Euros, average a la carte 35 Euros.www.mensae-restaurant.com 

 

aleclobranohungryfe4e99_2 2Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is a Contributing Editor at Saveur  and writes a weekly column on restaurants in French for the weekend magazine of Les Echos, France’s largest business newspaper. Lobrano is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 109 Best Restaurants (Random House), which was published in a second edition in 2014, and Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website,www.alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

 

Kansas City Here I Come

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Liberty Monument and WWI Museum

Liberty Monument and WWI Museum

By Marian Betancourt

Barbecue and jazz immediately come to mind when Kansas City, Missouri is mentioned, but there is much more to enjoy here in the heart of America, such as its sophisticated museums, a thriving arts culture and award-winning chefs and the city’s walkable neighborhoods are soon to be linked by a light rail system.

One of the most impressive museums anywhere and ranked one of 25 best in the U.S. is the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. The citizens of Kansas City erected the memorial immediately after the war to commemorate the millions of lives lost, and all five allied commanders attended its dedication.  The museum underneath the monument was expanded and revamped in 2006 to showcase the second largest collection of WWI artifacts in the world and to interpret that war’s effect on civilization.  During these centennial years of the Great War, this is a must-see along with a related art exhibition at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.

As you walk across the lobby’s glass floor, look down into a field of 9,000 red poppies, each representing 1,000 combatant deaths. An introductory film sets the stage for your visit with an overview of the many things that went into starting the war.  This was the first time machine guns, planes, and tanks were used in war, but most of the fighting was done by men confined for days or even weeks at a time in 35,000 miles of trenches.

 

WWI Museum film

WWI Museum film

 

Recreations of these muddy pits lined with sandbags, are especially moving. Give yourself a couple of hours to take it all in and stop at the museum store, a treasure trove of books and DVDs of the era including the BBC favorite, Downton Abbey.

For more insight into how the war changed the world forever, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art organized “World War I and the Rise of Modernism” in cooperation with the National World War I Museum.  It has been extended through October by popular demand. “Modernism was a philosophical, social, political, artistic and literary movement that impacted and was impacted by the war,” said curator Jan Schall, who organized the show in three sections: before, during, and after the war with 59 works of art.

Kandinsky

Kandinsky

Before the war, Wassily Kandinsky in his “Sketch for Composition II” expressed the spiritual transformation he envisioned for the modern world.  Later, the DaDa movement arose to mock the war and surrealism and cubism also came into being.  One of Monet’s famous water lilies is here, painted while the fighting was only 60 miles away. His friends urged him to leave Giverney, but he refused and afterward gave the entire suite of paintings to France in the name of peace.

Browse the rest of the museum for its exceptional collections, such as Carravagio’s breathtaking, St. John in the Wilderness.  In the new wing is an exquisite metal sculpture by Maya Linn, depicting the Missouri River, which the artist claimed as her favorite.  Outside in the Sculpture Park stroll through a new glass labyrinth by Robert Morris.

There is more art to see at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the many galleries in the city’s Crossroads Art District.

 

The New Dining Scene

Being far from any seacoast, you might not think of seafood in Kansas City, but one of the best restaurants in town, is Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar under the direction of Executive Chef Sheila Lucero.  Fresh seafood is a three hour flight from either coast, so Emersum oysters, exclusive to Jax, arrive daily from the Chesapeake Bay. Hot messy shrimp is a favorite with Old Bay seasoning, andouille sausage, and comeback sauce (spiced up mayo). The lump blue crab cake with grilled lemon tartar sauce is so light and pure you feel as though you are at the edge of the sea.

The Well

The Well

Just because there are four giant TV screens at The Well doesn’t mean it is an ordinary sports bar. Chef Eric Quisenberry runs a serious kitchen and posts his daily specials on a sandwich board outside. Always included are house-made soups and desserts such as the light as air strawberry short cake. His tender smoked brisket burger is subtly sauced and topped with very light fried onion rings. With vinegar dressed coleslaw on the side, this is a wonderful take on a classic. In good weather, you can also dine on the roof.

Affäre is an elegant modern German restaurant operated by Chef Martin Heuser, a 2014 James Beard nominee, who comes from Bonne where his family operated a restaurant. Try the lemon risotto and seared seafood with sea asparagus, or perhaps a cup of tomato bisque sprinkled with fresh violet petals.  Sauerbraten with pumpernickel raisin sauce, potato dumplings, and apple compote, is a favorite.

Spectators Gastro-Pub is on the mezzanine of the 730-room Sheraton Crown Center with its multi-level open lobby illuminated by a ball sculpture of long chains of sparkling light.

Chef Franck Marciniak is Paris born and trained. He came to the Midwest to help another chef open a French restaurant, and decided to stay. His flavorful dishes such as grilled herb marinated breast of chicken with a simple lemon parsley pan sauce served over roasted potatoes, peppers, and zucchini lets the pure flavor of each ingredient shine through. Beer and ice cream may not immediately come to mind as an ideal pairing until you taste the St. Louis style butter cake with Boulevard pale ale ice cream, chocolate sauce and Jameson caramel.

Butter cake at Spectators

Butter cake at Spectators

Cocktails such as The Flapper and Sidecar are a nod to the past at Pierpont’s in the newly restored 1914 Union Station, but the food is very much today such as duck two ways: seared breast, duck sausage, king trumpet mushrooms, whipped celery root and sherry glacé.  Union Station is the nation’s second largest railroad terminal after New York’s Grand Central. At its peak, 271 trains a day passed through here and Ernest Hemingway, cub reporter for the Kansas City Star, hung out looking for stories, while native son Walt Disney worked in one of the shops.

Lest we forget, there are at least 100 barbecue joints to choose from, such as Arthur Bryants, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, and Gates Bar-B-Q. Kansas City style barbecue is slow smoked over wood, usually hickory, for up to 18 hours. Every establishment has its own secret sauce, which is added after cooking, never during. Don’t leave town without trying those very succulent Kansas City morsels known as burnt ends (the burnt tip of brisket that captures more of the fat and flavor).

After dinner, visit some of the jazz clubs, such as Green Lady Lounge, in the historic district around 18th and Vine. During its heyday from the 1920s to 40s there were so many jazz clubs here that the city became known as the Paris of the Plains. The American Jazz Museum is here, too, featuring exhibitions and performances.

One trip to Kansas City won’t be enough because there is still the Pony Express Museum, the Arabia Steamboat Museum with its collection of sunken treasure from the Missouri River, and the National Archives, which has changing exhibitions of historic interest. And then a short detour down Truman Road will take you into nearby Independence to explore the Harry Truman National Library and Museum as well as his home. Stop in for a butterscotch sundae at Clinton’s soda fountain where he worked as a teenager. But that’s a whole nother trip.

Marian Betancourt has written about travel and food for Associated Press, American Heritage, Travel & Leisure, Irish America, and many others. She is the author of several books, and has co-authored two regional cookbooks based on her travels. She is a contributing editor for Promenade magazine and lives inNew York City. Visit www.marianbetancourt.com

Marian Betancourt has written about travel and food for Associated Press, American Heritage, Travel & Leisure, Irish America, and many others. She is the author of several books, and has co-authored two regional cookbooks based on her travels. She is a contributing editor for Promenade magazine and lives inNew York City. Visit www.marianbetancourt.com

 

Table8: How Business Travelers Can Get Into Better Restaurants

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Ozumo in San Francisco

Ozumo in San Francisco

By Larry Olmsted

Unlike people on vacation, business travelers often book trips last minute or on short notice. But the nation’s best restaurants can sell out weeks, if not months, in advance, especially on peak nights like Fridays. It’s an inherent conflict even top luxury hotel concierges often cannot solve, and the result is usually compromise or disappointment.

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Award-winning travel journalist Larry Olmsted is a Contributing Editor to US Airways Magazine and Cigar Aficionado Magazine and “The Great Life” columnist for Forbes.com.

Award-winning travel journalist Larry Olmsted is a Contributing Editor to US Airways Magazine and Cigar Aficionado Magazine and “The Great Life” columnist for Forbes.com.

Le Colonial San Francisco: Elegant Dining in Bygone Vietnam

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The lush patio at Le Colonial PHOTO Monique Burns

The lush patio at Le Colonial PHOTO Monique Burns

By Monique Burns

There’s a little corner of Old Vietnam in the center of San Francisco, just steps from Union Square.  It’s called Le Colonial, and it will transport you to the idealized romance of the 1920s when Vietnam was a French colony, and the ravages of war lay far in the future.  You’ll get a sense that you’re not in Kansas anymore from the moment you turn off Taylor Street into Cosmo Place, a hushed alley amid the downtown hubbub.  The entrance to the restaurant’s white two-story standalone building is flanked by antique wrought-iron lamps, and topped by a romantic glass-and-iron door canopy bearing the name “Le Colonial” in graceful pale-blue neon script.

Enter the building, whose slightly faded foyer seems peopled with ghosts, ascend the broad staircase, and you find yourself facing a lush patio. The long narrow expanse has white walls draped with purple bougainvillea and other tropical foliage, rattan chairs and tables, mosaic floors, and pale-green fluted columns that rise to a glass-and-ironwork ceiling.  A pair of carved wooden doors opens into the main dining room, with rattan tables topped with white tablecloths, brown tin ceilings, shuttered windows and ceiling fans.  Adorning the old-fashioned cream-colored woodwork are antique wall sconces, mirrors, and vintage black-and-white photographs of Vietnamese laborers and Frenchmen in light summer suits.

The main dining room at Le Colonial

The main dining room at Le Colonial

San Francisco’s Le Colonial is part of a small, lovingly tended family of Vietnamese restaurants that includes Le Colonial New York and Le Colonial Chicago.  All three were developed by Jean Denoyer, the longtime restaurateur who has been called “King of the Bistro,” and whose well-known restaurants include New York City’s Orsay, Brasserie Ruhlmann and La Goulue. Though the San Francisco restaurant opened in 1998, a little over 15 years ago, it is, in many ways, eternally young.  Part of that youthful air comes from the feeling you get of being caught in a time capsule, an illusion produced by the late designer Greg Jordan who, in 2005, was named one of Architectural Digest’s 30 “Deans of Design.”  The other is Chef Terence Khuu, who uses fresh local ingredients to produce classic, but updated, Vietnamese dishes. If you’re not sure what Vietnamese food is, the best way to experience it is to book a table at Le Colonial.

In Vietnam’s elegant French-Colonial days, on-the-rocks concoctions, along with “umbrella drinks,” were probably quite popular, if only to provide a respite from the tropical heat.  At Le Colonial, cocktails are taken seriously, too.  An upstairs bar and lounge, with cushioned green-and-brown rattan couches and chairs, small polished wood tables and faded Oriental rugs, is open every evening at five for cocktails, beer and wine, tea and appetizers.  Downstairs, in the restaurant, diners can choose from more than a dozen specialty cocktails, including the Bees Knees, with tea-infused No. 209 gin, saffron gin from Dijon, France, honey, lemon and egg white, and the Captain’s Mai Tai with Trader Vic’s silver and gold rums, almond liqueur, blood orange and mango puree.  Threesomes should consider ordering Trader Vic’s classic Scorpion Bowl.

Dense, delectable Chilean sea bass and sweet-potato noodles in stuffed banana leaves with black-bean coconut sauce PHOTO Monique Burns

Dense, delectable Chilean sea bass and sweet-potato noodles in stuffed banana leaves with black-bean coconut sauce PHOTO Monique Burns

The menu at Le Colonial is quite large and includes daily specials.  But your cheerful server will politely search out the secrets of your culinary soul and make appropriate recommendations.  Starters include several traditional chicken, beef and tofu-based broths with basil, chili and lime, as well as various spring rolls, with Asian ingredients like rice noodles, shiitake mushrooms, wood-ear mushrooms and taro, and West Coast ingredients like Dungeness crab and jicama.  There are refreshing salads, too, like the fusion-style Goi Ga with shaved Brussels sprouts, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), cucumber noodles, carrots, crispy shallots, and shredded free-range Mary’s Chicken from nearby Sonoma County.  Otherwise, try Banh Hap So Diep, (potstickers, or dumplings, with minced sea bass, scallops and shrimp), Cha Cua (crispy coconut-crusted mini Dungeness crab cakes) or Suon Nuong (baby-back pork ribs braised in five-spice powder with hoisin barbecue sauce).

Entrees feature a wide variety of seafood, including prawns, salmon, sturgeon, Chilean sea bass and lobster.  Meats include chicken, duck, pork, beef and lamb. There also are vegetable and tofu dishes.  When I ate at Le Colonial there were three specialties on the menu, including Tom Hum Sot Bo Toi, a wok-fried whole lobster with garlic noodles, and Bo Luc Lac, wok-seared filet mignon on a bed of salad with crispy shoestring fries.  I ordered the heavenly Ca Hap La Chuoi, a dark, dense combination of sea bass, with tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, sweet-potato noodles and black-bean coconut sauce, stuffed into a banana leaf.

Traditional Vietnamese baked cassava cake at Le Colonial PHOTO Monique Burns

Traditional Vietnamese baked cassava cake at Le Colonial PHOTO Monique Burns

I might have ordered a light dessert like classic French crème brûlée, or a dish of gelato, perhaps macapuno, made from the jelly-like flesh of certain coconuts.  But my server wisely steered me to the traditional Vietnamese baked cassava cake with coconut sauce.  Sweet and dense, it was perfect after my spicy dark sea bass entrée.  Forgoing brandy or dessert wine, I settled on a nice hot cup of tea from the restaurant’s long list, including Celebration with China tea leaves infused with chocolate liquor; White Lotus with zesty notes of ginger and lemon, and sweet, spicy Bleu Peacock with notes of citrus.  There also are several types of coffees.

I nursed my cup of tea just as long as I could, relaxing in the peaceful elegance of Colonial Vietnam, my eyes flitting across the soothing decor and my mind wandering back to the remarkable tastes and aromas of dinner. Frankly, I hated to leave that friendly little corner of Vietnam which, in just a couple of hours, I’d come to love.  So, this Northeasterner vowed to return the next time I came to the West Coast, and to visit Le Colonial’s sister restaurants in New York and Chicago as soon as I got the chance.

What higher recommendation could there be?    

 

IF YOU GO

Le Colonial. 20 Cosmo Pl., San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-931-3600. www.lecolonialsf.com

The restaurant and lounge are open daily for dinner.  Reduced-rate parking for 2-3 hours is available at Cable Car Parking Services on Cosmo Place with validation from the restaurant.

 

Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents.  A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia.  After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.

Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.

 

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana: Peru Beside the Bay

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The spacious seaside patio at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Eric Laignel

The spacious seaside patio at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Eric Laignel

By Monique Burns

If you thought you couldn’t find a good Peruvian restaurant in our hemisphere, book a ticket to San Francisco and a table at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana.  The restaurant is at Pier 1 ½, at the south end of The Embarcadero, beyond the seaside attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. With a big high-ceilinged dining room, a lounge, and a large patio facing San Francisco Bay, you’ll feel as if you’ve dropped into the hacienda of a wealthy Peruvian acquaintance.  Even in laid-back San Francisco, this is one of the city’s most relaxing restaurants, whether you’re escaping lunchtime crowds at Fisherman’s Wharf or seeking a romantic bayside dinner.

Colorful cebiche at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Colorful cebiche at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Serving 240 guests in several dining areas, La Mar Cebicheria has a superb kitchen capable of flawlessly preparing large numbers of dishes from its extensive menu, and charming but business-like waiters who will see that you get your meal without delay.  Start with a cocktail, preferably made with pisco, the colorless grape-based liquor that’s the Peruvian national drink.  Traditional pisco cocktails include the pisco sour, made with lime, simple syrup and bitters, and topped with egg-white froth, and chilcano de pisco, made with ginger beer, lime juice and Angostura bitters.  A local favorite, pisco punch, with pineapple and lemon juice, was invented by San Francisco bartender Duncan Nicol in the 1850s.  You’ll also find updates of old standards like daiquiris, gimlets and margaritas, along with the increasingly popular Moscow Mule, made with vodka, lime juice and ginger beer.  Peruvian beers—Cusqueña or Cristal pale lager—are on the menu along with sangria, and red, white and sparkling wines.  My suave and impeccable server, Scott, suggested I pair my cebiche appetizer and fish-skewer main course with cocktails—a tart but creamy pisco sour, followed by a Bay Flower, ever so sweet with raspberries, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, vodka and, of course, pisco.

Cebiche—the Peruvian national dish and the restaurant’s namesake appetizer—is made from the freshest fish from the Pacific marinated to melt-in-your-mouth tenderness with leche de tigre, a citrusy marinade.  My Cebiche clásico was served with red onion, diced sweet potatoes, crunchy yellow corn kernels, habanero peppers, and choclo, large white Peruvian corn kernels.  You’ll find six other cebiches on the menu—including the intriguing Cebiche nikei, made with tuna, red onion, Japanese cucumber, daikon, avocado, and nori seaweed—and several more daily cebiche specials.   It’s no exaggeration to say that the cebiche here is every bit as good and, in some ways, more creative, than what I sampled in Peru.  It would almost be heresy not to try the excellent cebiche at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana.

If you’d rather have a hot appetizer, try one of the potato-based causas like causa limeña, Dungeness crab with avocado puree, quail egg, cherry tomatoes, ají amarillo chili-pepper sauce, creamy huancaina sauce and basil-cilantro oil atop a small dollop of whipped potatoes.  Another good bet: homemade empanadas, crisp-fried half-moons filled with beef, chicken or crimini mushrooms, and served with spicy dipping sauce.

A fish skewer entree at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

A fish skewer entree at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Several different cebiches, or cebiche with empanadas, would make a delicious and filling lunch.  For an even more substantial main course, order one of the anticuchos. Traditional grilled skewers inspired by Peru’s street food, they include chicken, steak, yellowtail, octopus, and a mixed skewer of beef, chicken and yellowtail, served with spicy sauces.  Or have the more rarefied salmón ayacuchano, grilled salmon atop Okinawa purple potato and quinoa salad with watermelon relish and avocado salsa.  Also a good choice: lomo saltado, a traditional Peruvian stir-fry with beef tenderloin topped with a fried egg, served with fried potatoes and rice.  Vegetarians will enjoy quinoa chaufa, wok-fried quinoa with fresh vegetables, as well as imaginative salads using typical Peruvian ingredients like avocado, hearts of palm and quinoa.

Picarones, traditional pumpkin and sweet-potato donuts, at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Picarones, traditional pumpkin and sweet-potato donuts, at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana PHOTO Monique Burns

Whatever you order at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, it will arrive at your table well-prepared and artfully arranged, usually topped with a colorful fresh flower.

 

IF YOU GO

 

La Mar Cebicheria.  Pier 1 ½, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111; 415-397-8880; www.lamarsf.com

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana is open daily for lunch and dinner. Menus are similar for all meals.  Happy Hour is daily, 3-6 p.m.  Valet parking is available at Hornblower on Pier 3. You also can take the F train to a nearby stop or a BART train to The Embarcadero station. If arriving by sea, you can tie up your boat for three hours on the boat deck behind La Mar.  To come via boat taxi, contact Tideline Water Taxi at www.tidelinewatertaxi.com or 415-339-0196.

Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents.  A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia.  After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.

Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.