Archive for June, 2006

Strolling & Eating in London

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Quaint Chelsea Street

Quaint Chelsea Street

Visiting London for the fourth time I was able to look beyond the main tourist attractions and begin to appreciate the neighborhoods. Yes, Westminster Abbey is so historic, and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace is so regal, but London is filled with gorgeous parks, beautiful architecture, great cultural activities, and some inspiring culinary highlights. London is large and very diverse, so I was pleased to experience a couple new things every day. It’s a city that has something for everyone – and each visit you are sure to find a few new hidden gems.

London can be very gray and damp, so if the sun comes out be sure to head outside. On Saturday there is a huge outdoor flea market on

Portobello Road

Portobello Road

Portobello Road in Notting Hill. It can get very crowded, but it can be a great excuse to head to this charming neighborhood. It is an area filled with great boutiques and up and coming restaurants. While visiting this area be sure to visit my favorite park, Kensington Gardens. The gardens surrounding Kensington Palace are really pretty.

Just south of Kensington Gardens are the areas of South Kensington, Knightsbridge, and a bit further down, Chelsea. I find this to be the most charming area of the city, and certainly this is where I would stay. Sloane Street, Kings Road, Brompton Road and Walton Street are lined with beautiful brownstones, and charming stores. You can walk through this area for hours, it is exquisitely maintained, and has a lively bohemian feel. This is a great area to have lunch, The Ivy and Bibendium are two popular restaurants that have been satisfying customers for over ten years. This last trip I ate at Daphne, an Italian restaurant with a beautiful backroom that has a fireplace and a massive skylight. The food was great, I had a mushroom risotto made with morels that was heavenly. After seeing three other tables order zucchini fries, we joined the crowd – really tasty.

South Kensington is also home to The Natural History Museum for those interested in dinosaurs. I didn’t want to spend time in the large museums, but went to see a special exhibit on Wildlife Photography. It was the most extraordinary collection of photos that I ever saw. Check out the website, wildlife photography, and perhaps you will want to enter one of your photographs in next years competition.

I also saw another special exhibit while in London, “Americans in Paris” at the National Gallery. It was so interesting to see works by Cassatt, Hassan, Homer,

National Gallery

National Gallery

and Whistler and see how they were influenced by the Impressionists in Paris. I am a real fan of Monet, and it was interesting to see aspects of his work in other artists paintings. These special exhibits can be so fascinating, but at the same time not overwhelming. And if you are not in the museum all day, then you will have time for my favorite pastime…eating. Near the National Gallery I ate at Rules, the oldest restaurant in London which was initially established in 1798. It serves British food with a focus on game. It was not a touristy pub, but one rather well frequented by local businessmen. I had a Barnaby chop (massive lamb chop) and a pint, and couldn’t have been happier on this dreary rainy day.

A British friend of mine suggested that I visit his favorite restaurant , Sweetings which is located near St Paul’s. It is only open for lunch, and they do not take

Sweetings

Sweetings

reservations, so be sure to get there by 12:15. Since St. Paul’s Cathedral may be my favorite site in the city, I thought I would visit there first. What a magnificent church, oddly it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap, it feels like a place of worship. It was designed by Christopher Wren, and it held the funerals of Wellington and Churchill as well as the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana. But what strikes me most about this church is that it takes an active role of working with other churches in the pursuit of world peace. After a great visit I was excited to head to Sweetings a few blocks away. Ok, my friend said it was unique, but I have never seen anything like it. The restaurant was at least 100 years old, and I am guessing the decor has not changed much over the years. It serves only fish, and most of the seats are at counters crammed into the different corners of the restaurant. This restaurant had a clubby feel, a pure business crowd from Fleet Street. As you enter there is a large table of ice filled with oysters, shrimp and salmon. Since the oysters were in season I had a mixed plate, then I had a fabulous dover sole. What a hoot, a real memory. If your over in this end of town, I would recommend crossing the
Millennium Bridge

Millennium Bridge

Thames over the Millennium Bridge and visiting the Tate Modern. A great little museum with a focus on modern art. I saw this sculpture by Rachael Whitehead called “Embankment”. It was a maze of 14,000 white cubes stacked several stories high. Many people raved about her cutting edge talent. I appreciate that art is a very subjective thing, but I didn’t get it… perhaps you will.

The far side of the Thames is away from the heart of London, and walking along The Queens Walk can be an escape. It gives a break from the crowds, and a spectacular vantage point to see many of London’s best known attractions. A little further up the river towards Big Ben is perhaps the best place to see London on a sunny day. It’s The London Eye, a towering high ferris wheel that will allow you to see for miles.

As I have enjoyed walking through some of the outer neighborhoods, you can’t help but get a rush from some of the beautiful parks right in the center of the city. I remember being in London for New Year’s Day, and we strolled along The Mall and Constitution Hill which run adjacent to St. James’s Park and through The Green Park. These roads we closed to traffic, and the streets were like a carnival. There were people dressed up in all sorts of outfits riding many different types of bicycles. Nothing like circus entertainment to bring in the New Year. Near The Green Park is a great place to eat called The Wolseley. This restaurant is in a fabulous old building that used to be a car showroom. The restaurant was like a brasserie, and the food was excellent.

London has many quaint neighborhoods, but if you are looking for the ritziest then none compare to Mayfair. New Bond Street and the dozens of smaller streets are filled with some of the best clothing boutiques in the world. The brownstones in this area would certainly be acceptable to any Duke or Duchess. Although we may not be able to afford to live here, it is certainly fascinating to amble about. On Grosvenor Square, right near the American Embassy, is Gordon Ramsey’s newest restaurant Maze. I realize London is expensive, but if you are willing to treat yourself to one killer meal…go here. This chic, modern restaurant is slick but very welcoming. And although this may be a difficult reservation, go a little early for lunch or dinner and sit at the bar. Although you can get a traditional appetizer and entree, I would suggest several appetizers instead, each is an explosive taste that most of us can’t cook at home. I remember a tuna and swordfish carpaccio with a lime/ cucumber marinade served with a soya dressing and micro greens, wow what a wake up call. This dish was refreshing and added new meaning to raw fish. I also ate a wood roasted pumpkin risotto with mild mushrooms that was spectacular. This restaurant was outstanding.

Not all of us can eat at Maze every night, perhaps the food is too rich or the budget too limited. I think one way to break up your trip is to go to one of the better department stores like Harvey Nichols (Harrods & Selfridges are two others) and visit the food court. The selections of cheese, pate and wine will ensure a tasty meal without leaving your hotel room. These stores are like a gourmet supermarket filled with culinary delicacies. It’s interesting to see so many Indian spices and curries, but not surprising considering the history between the British and India. You will also find many British staples that will make great gifts. Seek out the teas, biscuits, chocolates, and jams. Also look at some of the unique packaging of risotto mixes, soups in clear plastic containers, and fabulous marinades. Stock up and have a feast.

Ok, maybe I get a little obsessed about the food as I travel, but a man has to eat. Seriously, London has made huge strides on the culinary map over the last twenty years, and we should be thankful for that. I had such a great time in London earlier this year, I found new neighborhoods that were charming, I got to see some special exhibits that were quite moving, and I was blessed by some sunshine which allowed me to stroll along the Thames. London is a great city with so much to offer, I can’t wait to go back again because I am sure there are many more gems to uncover.

WINE SHOPS: New York City

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

I have visited hundreds of wine shops over the years, and it is surprising how so many are fair at best. But maybe the point is that most wine shops don’t cater to my needs. Although New York City has hundreds of shops, I found it interesting that several new wine stores have opened in the last year with a unique twist. I thought that everyone could benefit from a discussion of New York wine stores in that it would highlight what wine shops can offer. We could than each reflect our own needs to determine what is important to us, and ask if our present wine store is fulfilling our needs.

Here are a few wine store features:

  • depth of wine selection
  • knowledgeable sales help
  • a sales person that understands your unique taste
  • price
  • location
  • proper care of their wine
  • wine tastings
  • free delivery

What is most important to you? I believe it is important to have a sales person that understands the type of wines that I like, it is also important that the sales persons have an excellent palate so that they understand the characteristics of the wine they are suggesting. It is also important to me that a wine store carries enough variety and offers some boutique (not necessarily expensive) wines since I love to try new wines. And lastly I am looking to pay a fair price.

Before looking at a few of the newer wine shops in NYC, here are 5 stores that have been around for awhile, each with quite a bit to offer.

Astor Wines & Spirits (399 Lafayette)
The largest wine store downtown, and even larger after their recent move. Large selection, almost supermarket like, fair prices, and lots of wine tastings and classes.
Columbus Circle Liquors (1780 Broadway)
This is my favorite shop, I have dealt with Phill for years. Not only does Phill taste almost every wine they sell, and have an excellent palate, but most importantly he understands my palate. They have a wide selection of wines, and offer many boutique wines from some of the better importers.
Garnet Wines & Liquors (929 Lexington Ave)
They have a broad selection of wines focusing on those that are most popular. High volume is their game, and in return they offer some of the most competitive prices in the city.
Morrell & Company ( One Rockefeller Plaza)
Another high end wine store that caters to the midtown business elite. Their unique selling point is their wine bar next door.
Sherry Lehmann Wines & Spirits (679 Madison Ave)
A high end wine shop with perhaps the best selection of French wines, which are offered at competitive prices. The store gets very busy, so even though the sales staff is knowledgeable it is hard to develop a relationship.

So what is new? Looking at some of the new stores that have recently opened we see a couple of unique features, although you need to determine if these features are important to you. A few of the newer stores are:

Crush Wine & Spirits (153 East 57th Street)
Crush opened about a year ago with the main idea to offer wines from smaller, lesser known producers. These boutique wines are organized by grape varietal rather than region, which can be confusing but also fun. Although they don’t carry many of the producers you are familiar with, their selection is broad, and their quality of suggestions seems to be above average. Note that boutique wines don’t necessarily mean expensive, they cover all price points.
Le Du’s Wines (600 Washington St)
Jean Luc Le Du was the sommelier at Daniel, a superior French restaurant in New York. Sommeliers can often introduce you to very interesting wines from smaller producers. This concept is the theme of this store, and the feedback I get is that they are doing it pretty well.
Moore Brothers (33 East 20th St )
Gregory Moore is another former sommelier, and he worked at Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia. Moore Brothers takes the idea of offering boutique wines to a new level. They only offer wines where they are the sole importer so that they can control the shipping process. They refrigerate both their trucks and their store to keep the wine at ideal temperatures. You won’t find a more enthusiastic salesman than Greg Moore, but the store inventory is very limited, and I don’t feel that wine is as fragile as they would have us believe.

No matter where you live, it is easy to see all wine shops are not created equal. I believe that having a good relationship is most important. Hopefully your wine shop is satisfying your needs, if not, please find a new one!

WINE OF THE MONTH: Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso di Montalcino ’04 ($20)

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Although I enjoy Italian wines all year long, I especially love them during the summer. This Rosso di Montalcino is filled with berries, is fresh and bright, and has an acidity typical of the wines from Tuscany. Montalcino is the area of Tuscany known for Brunello, one of Italy’s most revered wines. The Rosso from this area is made of the same Sangiovese Grosso grapes, but only aged in oak for one year compared to Brunello’s 3 years. Although Brunello may be more famous, I think the Rosso is a much better buy, and who wants an overly complex red wine during the summer anyway? Ciacci is a good producer, and this wine is just delicious. But don’t fret if you can’t find this producer, seek out another good Brunello producer and odds are that the Rosso will be great also.

Worth Seeking Out…

Monday, June 26th, 2006
  • English Peas and Snap Peas are in season and are spectacular. I love snap peas, I peel off the tough string that surrounds the pea, then I saute in butter for 1 1/2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
  • GUS Meyer Lemon Soda is a fabulous alternative to lemonade. It is not sweet like regular soda, and also has far less carbonation. The result is a very refreshing drink that is perfect for a hot summer day.
  • If there’s one toy in my kitchen that I love, it is an immersion blender. Mine is made by Braun, but I am not sure if that is important. These blenders are so easy to use, just stick it into the pot or glass. I like it for tomato sauce, a smoothee, and making a red pepper aioli. They are as easy to use as to clean.