Food & Libations

Who doesn’t love great food and fab drinks? With this page, I will offer some unique or unusual places that I feel are worthy of a visit.  Generally, they are not the most famous or most expensive but all are special. Enjoy.

Articles on this page:

  • 5 Dining Experiences to Write Home About.
  • Seafood Shacks Serving 5-Star Eats.
  • Best Instagrammable Bars.
  • 5 Best Waterfront Lunch Spots in NYC.
  • Quirky & Fun, These Spots Are Worth a Visit.
  • Fabulous Meals in Out of the Way Places.

5 Dining Experiences to Write Home About.

Beijing, China

For dinner, we took the advice of several friends (thanks!) and went to Da Dong for their fabulous Peking Duck. The menu is huge and a bit overwhelming, but we stuck with the famous duck and a variety of other dishes and enjoyed a feast.  The restaurant is modern, service attentive and instructive as we were taught how to put together and eat the duck, condiments and Chinese pancakes.  It was interesting to see the chefs cook the duck in huge fire ovens, and then carve them into small delicate pieces that are reconstructed on the serving platter.  Never knew duck skin put in a little sugar could be so good.

Santa Rosa, California/ Wine County

Second course: Red Wine Braised Duck.

The weather is perfect and we have decided to launch our food, wine and shopping journey with a tasting dinner at the St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in nearby Santa Rosa. And, OMG, what a wonderful way to begin.

Fourth course: NY Strip Loin.

We arrived just in the nick of time (they keep to tight schedules here), tired and hungry. The food and wine pairings were absolutely wonderful. We started the meal with Arctic Char à la Barigoule (with a celery root/Yukon Gold potato purée), paired with a Chardonnay.  Next was a Red Wine Braised Duck with coriander spätzle along with a really nice Pinot Noir, and a Smoked Beet Salad with goat cheese fondant and green garlic purée along with a different red.  Our main course was a Coffee & Cocoa Crusted NY Strip Loin with roasted cauliflower, smoked garlic, and crispy shallots set off with a terrific Cabernet Sauvignon.  For dessert, an incredible cheese selection (almost like a cheesecake) was served with a Mexican Chocolate Pot du Crème and a Port. The meal was perfectly portioned and exquisitely prepared and served.  It was heaven.

Details: You will need reservations for the dinner and wine pairing. $60 pp.  It is a bargain at $60 and less if you join (or are a member of) the Wine Club. Each seating has a maximum of 16 guests. There’s a great gift shop too.

New Delhi, India

After a busy day seeing the sights, we weren’t finished with Delhi yet.  We ended the day sharing both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian Chef’s Tasting Menus at India’s number one restaurant, Indian Accent. A real dining adventure by star chef Manish Mehrotra – we sampled 15 incredible dishes. Foodies take note, they have opened branches in London and New York. I wish the photos could impart just how amazing each dish tasted. Elegant and exceptional.

San Francisco

Through the years, we’ve eaten some fine meals here – from the iconic Tadich Grill to a Moroccan feast, breakfast at Sears Fine Food (best bacon ever) and Tyler Florence’s The Wayfair Tavern. There is a fabulous restaurant around every corner of this great city. And, there are too many Chinese restaurants to count. We had heard great things about R & G Lounge and their Chinese-style Dungeness Crab. We knew things looked promising when the other diners are predominantly local and Chinese. And, on the night we were there, the Japanese Consulate had arranged a private event (since the Prime Minister of Japan was in town). In fact, reception staff initially mistook us for part of the press corps traveling with the Prime Minister.  R & G did not disappoint. One surprise was that this place knows how to make a martini.

We tried one of the four signature Dungeness Crab offerings – our choice was the ginger and scallion seasoning. It was delicious, even if we did have to work a bit for our dinner. Making a mess was worth the effort. The spicy green beans are also terrific. Make a reservation, because it is a popular spot.

Strasbourg, France

Chez Yvonne served up everything an Alsatian meal should be. I was in Strasbourg for a second visit to their incredible Christmas Markets and it was perfect after a day of walking for miles. It was cozy, warm, and had absolutely divine food I felt like was prepared just for us. Staff at our hotel, Cour du Corbeau, recommended the venue when we requested a restaurant with local, rustic-style fare and were not disappointed. We started with an ample serving of exceptional foie gras served with delicious fresh bread and a nice local wine. Frankly, that was so good, we could’ve stopped there. But we continued sharing dishes so we could try more, including dessert, and loved everything. It’s located in the middle of the old town and was a lovely walk to and from our hotel just on the other side of the I’ill.


Seafood “Shacks” Serving 5-Star Eats.

Newport, Rhode Island

Some notable highlights for good Rhody food include a hidden delight, Belle’s Cafe, at the Newport Shipyard with really good lobster rolls and an interesting setting featuring many of the yachts and sailboats in the area. Relax and enjoy all the activity around you.

Flo’s Clam Shack (in Middletown), is a local favorite for fresh fried clams and fried everything else! Best fried clams I’ve ever had.  Bring your appetite.

 

Bodega Bay, Northern California

The Russian River flows into the Pacific on the Sonoma Coast and much of the coast is part of the Sonoma Coast State Beach.  Highway 101 runs along this dramatic, protected area.  We drove the stretch between Bodega Bay and Jenner. It was uncrowded and seemed so remote, with wild, uncorrupted beauty.  There was no cell service.

All this scenery and wine tasting made us hungry and we headed back towards Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds) and the Spud Point Crab Company.  You don’t come here for a luxury setting, comfortable chairs (picnic tables outside), bathrooms (across the street at the marina), or heat (it was cold and windy); what you will get is terrific crab, shrimp and clam chowder.  They have won awards for the best clam chowder on the Pacific coast and I can taste why, it was wonderful. Service was fast and friendly and we were soon on our way to San Francisco.

Key Largo, Florida

Alabama Jacks has the best conch fritters ever. We can’t even remember how long we’ve been coming to this great South Florida spot – at least 25 years, and it is always consistently fun. First, let me say, the food is great. The Conch Fritters are incredible, actually one large mound, not wimpy, little bite-size croquettes like most places. Other favs include the smoked fish pieces, fish spread, and peel & eat shrimp.
The setting? Well, it’s special too: all the way down deserted-looking Card Sound Road, right where Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties meet, on a permanently anchored barge, with a water view on the Gulf side.

It’s casual, very casual; a weekend-bikers destination that attracts boaters who dock, as well as a mix of locals, tourists, kids, Coast Guardsmen, red hat ladies, and every type of person you can imagine. From tattoos and designer shorts to sunburns and square-dancing costumes, nothing is out of place. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons they play host to a country music band, and patrons will be even more entertained by the friendly local clogging crowd.

Alabama Jacks is the way Florida used to be and has a vibe far too few get to experience these days. So, when you’re in Miami/South Beach for a visit, keep driving south and see what Florida is really about.

Pensacola, Florida

Pensacola is pleasant, walkable and friendly. We were visiting on a Monday and the historic tours weren’t operating, but on the plus side, Monday is 25 cent oyster night at Atlas Oyster House. So, that’s $3 for a dozen terrific, plump Louisiana Gulf oysters! I think we ate about three dozen.

 


Best Instagrammable Bars.

Philipsburg, Saint Martin

The highlight of our visit had to be stopping in at the Sunset Bar to watch the low-flying planes land over Maho Beach.  The local Princess Juliana International Airport has a very short runway and it starts just behind the beach.  We checked the arrival schedule earlier in the day since our goal was to see a jumbo jet, generally KLM

Flight schedule at the popular Sunset Bar on Maho Beach.

or Air France, land.  We knew the larger planes were arriving between 1:30 and 3, so we staked out a perfect spot along the beach-side edge of the bar, ordered some rum drinks and waited.  It was a blast in every sense of the word!  People on the beach

also get a charge from being blown away as the jets take off, not my idea of fun.  I was just happy not to be directly under the planes. Generally, only one jumbo jet arrives each afternoon, so be sure to check the landing schedule, which you can find conveniently posted at the bar. Get there early to get a good seat and some unobstructed photos.

Singapore

Last one I had? Probably at the original Ruby Tuesday’s in K’Ville.

Time to Cool Off & Try a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel. Truth be told – I was so hot by the time we got into the Long Bar, I probably would’ve paid anything for a drink. We were lucky and got the only available table.  We, of course, went to have an authentic Singapore Sling. It was $22. I was so dehydrated I guzzled a Coke first. They serve an ample portion of Coke in a small carafe for a reasonable price. Peanuts in the shell are on the table; they are much smaller than our American peanuts. A full menu was available.

The Sling tasted pretty much like others I have had – although that type of fruity drink is way in my past.  First created here in 1915, the Sling is considered the national drink of Singapore. Still, it was fun to have one in the original spot and just in time. The hotel and bar were closing the next week for a major renovation. The Raffles Hotel, including the Long Bar, will reopen August 1, 2019.

 


5 Best Waterfront Lunch Spots in NYC.  

Brooklyn Smorgasburg

Only seven types of velvet cake available this day; I wanted to try their Praline Bourbon.

On Saturdays during the warmer months, NYC locals swarm the Smorgasburg held in the Williamsburg neighborhood by the East River State Park just off the ferry landing. Dubbed by the NY Times as “The Woodstock of Eating”, it features more than 100 gourmet booths offering every imaginable type of food. We sampled Texas-style moist beef brisket, Maine lobster rolls, hummus, red velvet cake, and a salted chocolate ice cream sandwich.  All delicious.

Details:  From Manhattan take the East River Ferry @ 34th St, to East River State Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Smorgasburg event has expanded throughout the boroughs on different days with different names.  Can’t vouch for the other locations, but you can find more food on Sundays in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 5 (near Manhattan’s NY City Hall); and Long Island City, Queens on Saturdays.  All open 11 AM – 6 PM. Since these events seem a bit transient, Google before you go.

The Frying Pan, Hudson River Park

This popular local spot started its life as a Lightship in 1929, keeping ships from running into the Frying Pan Shoals (thus its name) 30 miles off Cape Fear, NC. In 1965 she was abandoned in the Chesapeake Bay and apparently sank, spending three years underwater before being rescued.

Today, the Frying Pan is a floating historic lighthouse, permanently docked at Pier 66a in the Hudson River Park, West 26th Street, and 12th Ave. The food is average but I hear the evening bar scene is lively; plan to visit for the history and the incomparable setting.

Only open seasonally, table service is available in the summer months, starting around Memorial Day, 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM.  The best thing to do is follow them on Twitter and/or Instagram to make sure they are open and check the hours. Their Facebook page, Frying Pan-NYC, also has information, but, be forewarned, some of the info on their website is incorrect.

Boat Basin Café, Upper West Side

View from the Boat Basin Cafe.

Our daughter is still a Florida gal at heart and doesn’t miss a chance to be around water when possible.  She introduced us to the Boat Basin Café on the Hudson (Upper West Side at W 79th St), for a beautiful sunset, drinks and a casual dinner overlooking the marina and river. Don’t get caught walking along the river with an open drink, you will be fined (we weren’t caught).

 

The Water Club’s Crow’s Nest

We had a great late lunch-break at The Water Club’s Crow’s Nest on the East River at 30th. The main restaurant has a nice bar and indoor dining, and the Crow’s Nest offers roof-top drinks and lighter fare (classic NY hot dogs, lobster rolls, salads, etc). It’s all paired with a super view across the river and the 59th St Bridge to the north.  Word has it, it’s also a great spot for happy hour. BTW, our city friends tell us, it’s also great because they have parking.

 

Brunch Cruise with Classic Harbor Line

There are plenty of ways you can navigate around amazing Manhattan island and there are options for every pocket-book. But you do get what you pay for, and today we had a really special experience.

The Classic Harbor Line uses old-world style yachts in the Roaring Twenties-style. For the brunch cruise, the maximum number of guests is 40, and everyone has a window seat.  Their brochure states they are “classically designed for contemporary experiences” and that is very well said. Our trip was on the Manhattan II, just one-year-old, but built to resemble a vintage yacht.

As we cruised up the East River and down the Hudson, we ate. Brunch was a delicious four-course affair, served buffet-style.  First with bagels, lox, pastries, and self-made waffles, followed by frittata and incredibly good pork sausage (which we are seriously trying to locate for purchase). Spiral-cut ham, potatoes, and salad were followed by a wonderful fruit assortment, puff pastries, small napoleons, and cannolis.  A glass of Champagne, Mimosa, or Bloody Mary was included along with soft drinks and coffee; a full bar was also available.

The crew was amazing.  They could not have been nicer or more helpful. The Captain’s commentary was interesting but not intrusive.  Many of the passengers also asked the knowledgeable crew for more information about what we were seeing.

It didn’t hurt that it turned out to be an incredibly beautiful day.  We ventured outside for some photo-ops and often pulled back the large sliding picture windows by our comfortable table to snap a good iPhone shot.

The entire 2.75-hour trip was quiet, relaxing, unhurried, interesting, and very scenic. A perfect adventure for all the ages in our group, from 30-something to 85.

Details: Classic Harbor Lines is the same company that offers architectural harbor tours narrated by the AIA NY and sailings on majestic schooners. Boats leave from Pier 62 at Chelsea Piers and Pier 5 at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Marina. Check out the options at: Sail-NYC.com or call 888.215.1739.  You may also be able to find a discount voucher if you search online.  BTW, the bathrooms onboard are comfortable and pristine.


Quirky & Fun, These Spots Are Worth a Visit.

Seattle

For dinner, we headed back to Post Alley, in the Pike Market area and had dinner at The Pink Door.  If you weren’t looking for it, you would have no idea that behind this innocuous, pinkish door is an eclectic spot with retro décor, whimsical flair, a charming outdoor dining patio with views of the Sound, and a different style of entertainment. With an Italian/American menu and tasty food, it’s a winner.

 

Berlin

We were only in Berlin minutes before we’d found a famous Chocolate Café. Fassbender & Rausch, Chocolatiers am Gendarmenmarkt is the largest Chocolaterie in the world. Their café is located on the second floor over the shop (featuring 300 different types of treats).  We arrived for lunch and decided to skip the chocolate-infused dishes and go directly to dessert, feasting on chocolate with delicious cherries (not like any grocery-store-in-a-jar cherries) and cherry ice cream, as well as dark chocolate fondue and fruit. Everything on the menu is made with chocolate. It was fun and a nice way to start our Berlin adventure. The shop downstairs has lots of yummy items to choose from, but sorry to say, no chocolate syrup for sale. I’d add this as a stop to any Berlin itinerary.

St. Paul du Vence, Provence, France

Le Café de la Place is a great place to stop and have a refreshment after wandering through the streets of the beautiful St. Paul du Vence village. As Bocce players we especially enjoyed watching the energetic Petanque players throwing their smaller balls around the no-boundaries, sandy playing surface. The cafe is very conveniently located at the entrance to the village, so it is a perfect meeting spot. I can’t speak for the meals in this location, just that it is a nice stop for a café or soda and snack while Petanque-watching.

 

New York City, Upper East Side

We heard about Il Vagabondo from several friends who used to live in the area. There are hundreds of Italian restaurants in NYC, but no others with a 1910 bocce court in the bar. We gave it a try with a group of 6 and had a really nice time. It was clean and cozy, with an open kitchen and a surprising wall of windows facing lots of greenery. Everyone enjoyed their meal from the menu featuring traditional Italian fare and our antipasto platter was delicious. We had an uber-attentive waiter and an atmosphere peaceful enough to actually hear one another speak (getting to be a rare treat these days).  After dinner, we tried our hand at bocce – which was bizarrely funny on the old, undulating cement court. Fun was had by all.

Update: Sadly, this spot has closed in 2019, after 50 years of business and the death of its owner. The family now has the property for sale, I hope the bocce court survives. 

Singapore

Finally got to scratch this one off my bucket list, with a visit to Singapore’s Cat Café. Popular in many cat-loving Asian countries, I have missed pop-up cafes in NYC and Miami.

This was fun.  Fifteen kitties of various stripes and colors – mostly asleep when I visited. Admission is $15 (for the cat’s upkeep) and all the residents are rescues.  You remove your shoes, Purell your hands, and can stay as long as you like.  One can of soda comes with your admission and the cafe has an assortment of other drinks, coffees, and snacks for sale. I visited mid-afternoon, which was not a prime time for kitty-play, but it was the only time I had.  Plus, I did not have much time to carve out of our busy travel schedule.

It would be nice to just hang out, read a book or do a little work.  Cats seemed quite comfortable to sleep on the tables, unconcerned with any human interference. The cats all wore cute colors or scarves, had plenty of play towers, lots of kitty-beds and seemed quite content. BTW, it was very warm inside, so it would be smart to dress accordingly.


Fabulous Meals in Out of the Way Places.

Geneva, Switzerland

Breaking from our usual frenetic pace we enjoyed Geneva as the locals do.  Under the tutelage of our good friends, Geneva residents Eva and Bob, we are seeing some sites, relaxing, chatting, and enjoying views of the tranquil lake. A highlight for us was visiting the nearby country village of Hermance and enjoying some of the fabulous local perch prepared the typical Swiss way (with a butter sauce), at La Croix Federale.  No trip to this part of the world would be complete without sampling this delicious local fish. Good company, blue skies, perfect temperature, the harmony of the migrating songbirds, and cold white wine combined to create a day of really special memories.

Rhode Island

My husband and I love oysters and make it a point of trying them wherever we travel. I don’t know how it took us so long to experience these delicious bi-valves in a state we both love.  The Narragansett Indians inhabited this area and called it Matunuck meaning “lookout”.  Maybe the name reflected a need for security, or maybe it was the view. But the real stars here are the oysters.

University of Rhode Island aquaculture grad Perry Raso farms the delicacies close by on Potter Pond. His pond-to-plate concept at Matunuck Oyster Bar is a winner and his restaurant is on our must-visit list whenever we are in Rhode Island. Three varieties: Matunuck, Rocky Road, and Wild Goose.  So sweet and tender. Rocky Roads are our favs.  Go Rhody. 

 

Singapore

Wanting to visit a typical Hawker Market while in Singapore I didn’t know where to begin. Singapore is famous for its Hawker Markets and one market stall even has a Michelin star. To prepare, I read a lot of articles and asked a lot of people, but in the end, we asked our young guide and trusted his advice. He took us to his favorite, the Tiong Bahru Market, away from the tourist fray. The array of food stalls was overwhelming and confusing so we entrusted him with $20 and the goal of just helping us sample some local favorites. Our only request was to watch the heat/spice level for our American stomachs to survive.

It was amazing.  We had rice, noodles, pork, chicken, eggplant, soup, and more – all delicious.  I tried hard to pronounce the names of all the dishes.  And, he returned $8. Incredible.  He told us the government is regulating these markets now and they do have sanitary ratings.  Stick to the “A”s. We failed every attempt to guess the ingredients of the various dishes we tried.                Of note, Chwee Kueh, made with radishes and Char Kway Teow noodle dish – delicious.

Tarpon Springs, Florida

Quaint, historic Tarpon Springs, Florida; sponge capital of the Gulf coast.

Just north of Tampa Bay, you will find the gulf-coast community of Tarpon Springs.  Well-known in central Florida as a colorful Greek community, the area was made famous by Greek sponge divers who arrived in 1905. Today, picturesque Dodecanese Street along the harbor-front plays host to tourists with shops full of sponges and shells as well as a high density of authentic Greek restaurants.  Visitors can take a dolphin boat tour or a trip out in the Gulf to learn how early divers harvested the valuable sponges.

We chose Dimitri’s on the Water for a great Greek lunch, making the selection due to the waterfront location.  We sat outside and watched tourists board the sponge tour boat while chatting with the tour “diver” suited-up in the old-fashioned dry suit and heavy boots that would anchor him to the seabed.  He was leaving the next day for a two-week commercial fishing trip, still a thriving industry in this area.

No visit would be complete without a stop at one of the local bakeries (we stopped at Hella’s), for some traditional baklava or nontraditional baklava cheesecake – all delicious.

Nantucket

While staying at The White Elephant hotel, we skipped the afternoon port & cheese and got ready to head to dinner at a sister property by way of a 50-minute water taxi ride to Topper’s by Water at The Wauwinet.  It’s an open boat that holds about 28, and you travel all the way to the head of the harbor enjoying the scenery (with beautiful waterfront mansions).  Cheerful staff is on board to serve wine and cocktails along the way.  I imagine many days would be either too hot, cold, windy or foggy, but we were lucky, it was a perfect day.

Dinner was a gourmet affair, three-course tasting menu; very continental, some foam, interesting combinations, very rich; my husband survived, and I got to try duck egg for the first time.  I must report, the egg was good, very large and rich; it was part of my appetizer and pretty much would have been enough for dinner. My biggest takeaway: I now bake regularly with duck eggs.  BTW, the night-time return trip to our hotel was thankfully by van.

Antwerp, Belgium

We spent the morning on a walking tour of Antwerp and were ready for refreshments. We asked about the best place to sit down and eat a waffle and headed off to find the café, Désiré de Lille. I don’t even like waffles but wanted to give an authentic Belgian waffle a try, and I’m sure glad I did.  They were so light – delicious; with a little ice cream, whipped cream, powdered sugar, and wonderful sauce.  Now that I write these ingredients – what’s not to like.  We also tried another local specialty, shrimp croquettes, but those tasted pretty ordinary to me (like the croquetas we have everywhere in Miami) and were expensive. Stick with waffles.

Bruges, Belgium

They are famous here for their mussels and frites (moules-frites) and the Belgians lay claim to inventing frites (do NOT call them French fries here).  We got away from the main square packed with tourists and found a great little spot, ‘t Fonteintje. I had their “maison” sauce with ginger, cream, coriander, and tomato; it was heavenly.  The café was on Simon Stevinplein facing a small plaza and had indoor and outdoor seating. They serve the mussels by weight, one kilo, and there must’ve been 100 since they were fairly small; far more than I could finish. Another culinary point I’d like to make is that they eat their frites with mayonnaise here, which I have always preferred and been teased about.  I feel vindicated and very continental.

 


 

 

  1. This is one of my favorite places in Miami…and longtime residents would recommend you add it to your “must visit ” list though they might also like to keep it an “insiders” secret. For tourists – after the seemingly requisite visit to South Beach and hectic nightclubs – this spot offers a quiet chance to explore another aspect of South Florida glamor. It is an ideal spot to enjoy and experience the natural beauty of certain things that are unique to South Florida. It offers a romantic journey for couples, an opportunity for families to introduce issues of nature, ecology, and the simple pleasure of seeing a beautiful flower or the incredible life path of a plant -(the visit will also give an advantage in science school studies), and a wealth of photo possibilities for scrapbooking and visual mementos of a special occasion for anyone who spends an hour -it’s likely you will want to stay longer.

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