3 Fun Stops in Europe: Barcelona, The Languedoc and Amsterdam

Barcelona had been calling us back ever since we had a short visit there a couple of years ago.

Spanish hams grace this Barcelona shop.

Spanish hams grace this Barcelona shop.

The remarkable works of architect Antoni Gaudi are all over Barcelona.

The remarkable works of architect Antoni Gaudi are all over Barcelona.

Gaudi masterpieces in Barcelona.

Gaudi masterpieces in Barcelona are found in just about every neighborhood.

This time we rented an apartment through VRBO in the Grácia neighborhood and settled-in for 10 days of exploration. Grácia, by the way, is in a great central location, vibrant and away from most of the tourist hubbub. Our hosts, Joan and his wife Elisabeth could not have been more helpful, with lists of recommended restaurants and a local viewpoint of places to visit.

A typical square in Barcelona's Grácia neighborhood.

A typical square in Barcelona’s Grácia neighborhood.

One of Barcelona's finest.

One of Barcelona’s finest.

Friendly folks in Barcelona's Grácia neighborhood.

Friendly folks in Barcelona’s Grácia neighborhood.

Roll-up doors, not buildings seem to rule the graffiti artists.

Roll-up doors, not buildings, seem to rule the graffiti artists’ choice of canvases.

The narrow and vibrant streets of Barcelona's Gracia neighborhood.

The narrow and vibrant streets of Barcelona’s Gracia neighborhood.

Additionally, the Barcelona Tourism office in the Passatge de la Concepció is great source for maps and brochures and the staff is very cordial. There are other satellite tourism offices around the city and they have well-marked signage. Look into buying The Barcelona Card, which has multiple benefits like public transportation and many discounts. This is a new trend with many cities, as we will discuss later in the Amsterdam portion of the journey.

Public bicycles abound in Barcelona.

Public bicycles abound in Barcelona.

Public art is everywhere in Barcelona.

Public art is everywhere in Barcelona.

On our previous visit we found the Bus Turístic to be a great value. For the price of a 24-hour ticket, you can ride around, getting on and off all day and get a great feel for the layout of Barcelona and how you want to plan your daily outings. It is a genuine good deal and their map is a good one, too. Most stops are staffed and tickets can be purchased quickly. Barcelona’s clean, efficient subway and bus system are also excellent ways to get around after a good overview, and you can purchase multiple-ride tickets that save time at the fare machines. Note: Be sure to bring a credit card with a chip in it. The U.S. has been a slow adopter of these, but they are slowly being issued at last. Ask your credit card company for one if you don’t have one. It will make your transactions easier all over Europe.

One of a many inviting establishments in Barcelona.

One of a many inviting establishments in Barcelona.

So, you have your maps, your Metro tickets and a good sense of Barcelona’s layout. Let’s talk about some adventure options. Remember, most of these places have websites so do a little research on times, locations and transportation before you venture out. It will help. Also take some time to review some of Barcelona’s history and that of Catalunya. This will lead to a greater understanding of how the city’s shape evolved, fortifications giving way to neighborhoods and the politics and rivalries within Spain herself that live on today.

Huge, multi-storied flea market, rumored to be the largest in Europe.

Huge, multi-storied flea market, rumored to be the largest in Europe.

Catching up on the news in Barcelona's morning sun.

Catching up on the news in Barcelona’s morning sun.

Tapas everywhere!

Tapas everywhere!

Because some of Barcelona’s key sites can be close together, plan a day such that you are not ping-ponging from one side of town to the other. A good example is an early visit to the Picasso Museum on Carrer de Moncada, followed by a stroll down to the nearby 14th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar.  The Picasso Museum is remarkable for its breadth of coverage of the artist’s life. We were moved by his early work as a portrait artist, a trade of the time, before his better-known avant-garde work inspired by his move to Paris.

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar sits near the harbor area.

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar sits near the harbor area.

The Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar can best be enjoyed sitting quietly in a nave or a pew and contemplating the soaring stone arches and intricate sun-lit stained glass windows. 

So now that your morning has been filled with art and antiquity, what about lunch and a siesta?  While it might seem touristy, we’ve found the outdoor restaurants right around the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar to be perfectly decent and fairly priced. Of these we liked the Santa Maria del Mar Cafe. Great octopus!

It would be only fair, of course, to mention one of our favorite lunch spots, however, a bus/subway/taxi ride back to Grácia. And we mention taxi ride here because you’ve been walking and taking in alot.  Taxis in Barcelona are very reasonable, regulated and safe. Take the Metro or bus to the station Grácia and walk, or tell the taxi driver to take you to La Pubilla restaurant on the Plaça de La Libertat, next to the large market. We recommend making a reservation the day before, but we’ve stumbled in without one and were accommodated at the bar by the door. The food is fresh, indicative of the Catalan cuisine and the place is filled with happy locals having long lunches. In fact, one fellow diner asked us where we were from and wondered aloud how we knew about the restaurant (it was on our hosts’ recommended list). We dined there twice and each time the menu was different and each meal was superb. Plan on savoring your meal and having a lovely siesta.

One of the daily specials at La Pubilla in the Grácia neighborhood.

One of the daily specials at La Pubilla in the Grácia neighborhood.

More tasty treats at La Publilla in Barcelona's Grácia neighborhood.

More tasty treats at La Publilla in Barcelona’s Grácia neighborhood.

Pasta and very fresh mussels at La Publla

Pasta and very fresh mussels at La Publla

As you know, people in Spain eat their evening meal quite late compared to American schedules. We think that’s why they built the rooftop bar at the Casa Fuster, so we could ease into the contemplation of dinner with a pair of finely made dry martinis and a spectacular view of Barcelona. A gem of a hotel designed by Catalan architect Lluís Dominic i Montaner (more on him later), we promise that this splurge on a couple of cocktails will be a delight. Time your visit for “the magic hour” when the sun gets low and, while there doesn’t seem to be a dress code, one feels more comfortable in “going out to dinner” attire.  That “travel sport coat” and chic “black jacket” can work wonders.

Exterior of Casa Fuster Hotel in Barcelona.

Exterior of Casa Fuster Hotel in Barcelona.

Martinis at Casa Fuster's rooftop bar, with views over Barcelona.

Martinis at Casa Fuster’s rooftop bar, with views over Barcelona.

Not far from Casa Fuster is the Plaça de la Vila de Grácia with its elegant clock tower, still ringing after all these years. On Carrer de Sant Doménec, one block from the Plaça, is Cafe Godot, which we found to be dependable and very friendly, with a good wine list (the wines of Catalunya are delicious – look for the Priorat label on the bottle). We dined there on several evenings during our visit and can easily recommend it.

Clocktower in Plaça de Vila Grácia. Nearby is Cafe Godot.

Clocktower in Plaça de Vila Grácia. Nearby is Cafe Godot.

Another choice, with an authentic Catalan menu is Envalira, in the Plaça del Sol, also in the Grácia neighborhood. Their Paella is delicious. Barcelona seems to us a well-planned city, especially considering its complicated history, and, like many European cities, open space and parks are given priorities.

This lovely building houses Envalira restaurant. Delicious Paella.

This lovely building houses Envalira restaurant. Delicious Paella.

Park Guell, designed by Antoni Gaudi is the famed architect’s idea of a whimsical place for people to stroll with clever winding paths and the expected Gaudi grace notes of color and tile.

The granddaddy of Barcelona parks is Parc de Collserola, which, at nearly 20,000 acres, sits like a mantle along the tops of the hills surrounding the city. Sometimes referred to as “the lungs of Barcelona” its abundant green forests support habitats for an enormous number of species of plants and animals. It is easily accessible by the Metro lines. Hikers will love this park.

For another day’s worth of sights and sites, try this plan. Start early at the Palau de la Música Catalana. This historic hall of music really speaks for the heart and soul of Barcelona. Designed by the aforementioned architect Montaner, the art nouveau theme pervades the entire building and the magnificent stained glass dome is breathtaking. Try to attend a performance in the main hall as its acoustics are praised by performers from all over the world. Guided tours provide some insight into how the Palau got built. Quite a story.

Palau de la Música de Catalana.

Palau de la Música de Catalana.

Palau de la Música de Catalana.

Palau de la Música de Catalana.

Palau de la Música de Catalana.

Organist rehearsing in the Palau de la Música de Catalana.

And, sticking with Montaner, next try to visit the Hospital de Sant Pau, recently opened to the public and another one of Barcelona’s World Heritage sites. It was built between 1901 and 1930 and wandering the gardens and among the modernist buildings is an experience.

Hospital de Sant Pau, by the architect Montaner.

Hospital de Sant Pau, by the architect Montaner.

Hospital de Sant Pau, a World Heritage site.

Hospital de Sant Pau, a World Heritage site.

From the front gates of the Hospital de Sant Pau you can look down the Avenida de Gaudi and see the towers of La Sagrada Famila, Antoni Gaudi’s famous unfinished church. Begun in the 1880’s, it “might” be completed, we’re told, by 2026. We’ll see, or maybe our grandchildren will. Nonetheless, even if you don’t want to brave the lines, be sure to at least walk completely around the church to appreciate the magnitude of it. Inside, of course, is amazing and the entrance lines do move right along and are well-managed by staff.

La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's famous church, still under construction in Barcelona.

La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s
famous church, still under construction in Barcelona.

La Sagrada Familia church.

La Sagrada Familia church.

Finally, we enjoyed the great, free, evening show of the Magic Mountain of Montjuïc, dating from 1929, which goes on nightly in the fountains in front of the National Museum of Art of Catalunya. It is a colorful, lovely show with music, light and water. 

So…adios, Barcelona and bonjour France!

On the sleek new TGV line from Barcelona to Beziers (which continues on to Paris)

On the sleek new TGV line from Barcelona to Beziers (which continues on to Paris)

Thanks to some superb work on the part of Rail Europe, we obtained reservations on the new TGV line from Barcelona over to Beziers, cutting the travel time in half, to about 2 hours. You can still take the “local” train which goes via a more coastal route but we wanted to experience the new line and Rail Europe’s reservations system is great, withour seats right where they said they would be.

Lezignan-Le-Cebe is a small village but beautifully situated in vineyards.

Lézignan-La-Cebe is a small village but beautifully situated in vineyards.

Vineyards near Lezignan-Le-Cebe in the Languedoc region of Southern France.

Vineyards near Lézignan-La-Cebe in the Languedoc region of Southern France.

Our friends Jean-Pierre and Meredith picked us up at Beziers, in the heart of the Languedoc wine region and hosted us for several days in their small village of Lézignan-La-Cebe. This is an area of southern France where you can go to a different market in a different town every day. Where you can go for 10 minutes on a Plane treelined road to a “certain” butcher or small farm and get just the right cut of pork or a chicken, knowing just how it was raised. And that wonderful woman in Pézanas, just up the road, who buys her fish right off the boat in Séte in the dark hours before dawn, and the croissants at the adjacent bakery and across the street at the coffee store where a complimentary cup is always offered. And, of course, the organic fava beans and other produce lovingly tendered for sale nearby in the town of Gignac. You get the picture.

Fresh strawberries in the village Gignac.

Fresh strawberries in the village Gignac.

Varieties of just about everything are found in the daily markets in the villages of the Languedoc.

Varieties of just about everything are found in the daily markets in the villages of the Languedoc.

On the way to market.

On the way to market.

Every time we go to southern France, we want to live there. Jean-Pierre, a native of Bordeaux, is an knowledgable, and suitably perfectionist, chef whose love of traditional French cooking is a great benefit to his friends. His epic cookbook, “Still Cooking After All These Years” occupies a very honored place in our kitchen and he’s even made it available to the world, for free, on a blog (link below)  of the same name . Going to market with him is an educational experience and fun. 

Shopping with Jean-Pierre is an adventure. Be sure to click the link to his cookbook at the bottom of this post. Great reading!

Shopping with Jean-Pierre is an adventure and an education. Be sure to click the link to his cookbook at the bottom of this post. Great reading and he generously shares his recipes and cooking philosophies with the world.

Our hosts took us to Séte, where commercial fishing vessels come and go from the blue Mediterranean and where the famous annual Water Jousting has been celebrated since the mid-1600’s. From there we moved along the vast beach to Agde, noting the huge oyster beds in the lagoon between the cities and the breeze off the Med making the day a delight. 

A relaxed pace in Sete, but the town really comes alive during the water jousting tournaments each summer.

A relaxed pace in Sete, but the town really comes alive during the water jousting tournaments each summer.

Beautiful, serene Sete, near Beziers in Southern France.

Beautiful, serene Sete, near Beziers in Southern France.

The wonderful long beach at Agde.

The wonderful long beach at Agde.

Wineries and wine cooperatives abound in the Languedoc. There are so many intricacies to French history and the economic relationships between the regions, departments and the central government that it makes a fascinating study. Just the origins of the wine cooperatives is worth looking into. When you are here, stop at some wineries and taste. The wine is good and the vintners are charismatic.

Here are some snapshots of things you might see in and around the small towns of the Languedoc:


Inside a lovely home in Lézignan-La-Cebe.

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Two towns in the region we especially liked were tiny Mouréze, with its unique rock formations and hardy hiking trails up to excellent viewpoints. This is a quiet village and very picturesque. We also enjoyed visiting nearby Salasc, a charming small town, minutes from Mouréze, that makes you dream of a life in the beautiful hills there. 

Hiking trails and interesting rock formations around the village of Moureze

Hiking trails and interesting rock formations around the
village of Mouréze

And so to our land-rocket trip to Amsterdam. 

Again praising the work of Rail Europe, our TGV seats from Béziers to Paris were just as advertised and the train clean and comfortable. There are slower trains across Europe, but if you want to get to Paris from southern France in a little over 3 hours, outrunning, we noticed, several small aircraft, then the TGV is your rocket ride. TGV, as most of you know, stands for Train á Grande Vitesse and generally cruises around 200 mph between cities.

Zoom. Into Paris’ Gare de Lyon, taxi to Gare du Nord for our Thalys high-speed train to Amsterdam.  Fields of flowers race by in Flanders and we stop for a moment in Brussels, no time for chocolate, and off again for Amsterdam. We’ll return to Paris another time. We always do. 

Bicycles, canals, and flowers are signatures of Amsterdam.

Bicycles, canals, and flowers are signatures of Amsterdam.

Ah. The canals in Amsterdam. Couples, hand-in-hand, kissing as they cross on a canal bridge. An easy tradition to love. Holland is a charming country full of gracious, direct and humorous people. Most speak English, sometimes better than we do. We adore them.

We arranged our Amsterdam stay, as we did in Barcelona, through VRBO, and found ourselves in a one-floor-up apartment owned by our host André, in the newly fashionable Oud-West neighborhood, easily accessed by tram from Central Station.

Settling-in and taking a breather from our marathon train ride from southern France, we set forth the next day to obtain iAmsterdam cards from the Tourist Office across the street from Central Station. This office has all the brochures and maps you can imagine and the staff is multi-lingual, friendly and informed. The 72-hour iAmsterdam card really worked for us during our stay. It provides you with unlimited bus and tram travel and mostly free or meaningfully discounted entrance to most museums, and there are plenty of those. 

The Rijksmuseum and reflecting pool in Amsterdam.

The Rijksmuseum and reflecting pool in Amsterdam.

Our first museum was the Van Gogh Museum in the broad, clean Museumplein, also home to the newly-renovated Rijksmuseum (the National Museum of the Netherlands) and the Stedelijk Museum, which houses a large collection of modern art and design. Don’t miss “The Beanery” in the Stedelijk. In the Van Gogh Museum you will find other artists’ work on exhibit and an extensive collection by Van Gogh, of course. The Rijksmuseum houses a very good range of Dutch masters including Rembrandt’s famous “Nightwatch.” The scale of some of these paintings is tremendous, like many of those in The Louvre in Paris. Have a seat, wait until the crowds thin for a moment and regard the magnificent detail and expressions in these true works of art. Lunch in the Stedelijk’s great restaurant is recommended. We noticed locals having business lunches there as well as our fellow museum-goers.  Rembrandt House on Jodenbreestraat near Nieumarkt is also a great visit and free with the iAmsterdam card.

Bikes, bikes, bikes. Mind the bikes in Amsterdam.

Bikes, bikes, bikes. Mind the bikes in Amsterdam.

According to recent figures there are about 811,000 people in Amsterdam and 881,000 bicycles. In other words, “mind the bikes” should be on the tip of your minds when walking on the sidewalk. There are bike lanes separating pedestrian traffic from auto traffic. This means you cross a bike lane before you cross a street. Both directions. Bikes rule in Amsterdam and give it much of its character as do the canals. As in other cities, bikers texting and talking while riding in not uncommon. Mind the bikes!

Bikes rule in Amsterdam.

Bikes rule in Amsterdam.

The delightful Egyptian patroness with Moroccan oranges in our Amsterdam neighborhood.

The delightful Egyptian patroness with Moroccan oranges in our Amsterdam Oud-West neighborhood.

As always in Europe, cafes and restaurants can occupy much of one’s time. Amsterdam is no exception. The stoner “coffee shops” are still around and “head shops” can still be found, but not like in decades past. In fact, the Dutch government has recently discouraged that component of tourism. But cafes and restaurants not offering zee hemp are ubiquitous. We love Café de Jaren on Nieuwe Doelenstraat, with its unique location at a busy canal intersection. Grab a table outside and watch the parade of boats back and forth. The food is good and the staff is very friendly.

Canal side at Cafe de Jaren, Amsterdam.

Canal side at Cafe de Jaron, Amsterdam.

The small but worth-the-wait-make-reservations Foodism, on Nassaukade, is simply remarkable for what they can put out in a small kitchen. While it was the hot pick during our visit, it is not overrated. The Bosnian staff knows what they are doing and, for exceptional food with good portions, prices are reasonable, including their wine list. And two dependable and reasonable neighborhood restaurants, De Italiaan and Café Toussaint, adjacent to each other on Bosboom Toussaintstraat have our recommendation. Good locals’ hangouts and very friendly. 

A neighborhood corner bar in Amsterdam.

A neighborhood corner bar in Amsterdam.

The Anne Frank House is a pilgrimage for many. It is a touchstone for events in modern history which shape our world today. Anne Frank’s story, based on her Diary, is a story of hope and belief that goodness will prevail. For countless reasons, a visit to the house is time well-spent. Some improvements in accessibility have been made since our last visit many years ago but the house remains essentially as Anne Frank experienced it, with the nearby church bells she wrote about still audible in her family’s hiding place. Advance tickets are recommended. 

Canal boat living in Amsterdam has been the dream of many.

Canal boat living in Amsterdam has been the dream of many.

Your iAmsterdam card also gives you free boat tours on either the Blue Boat Company (departing near Museumplein) or the Holland International Canal Cruises (departing near Central Station). These tours, in boats with glass tops, give you a great sense of Amsterdam’s canals and how the Dutch figured out how to manage the sea and build a city. The boat skippers are an interesting bunch, too, dealing with amateur boaters in the canals as well as informing their passengers of sights passing by.

So that’s our report for this post….Bon Voyage!! !


Rail Europe

Barcelona Tourism

Palau de la Musica Catalna

Picasso Museum

Hotel Fuster

Jean Pierre Escudier’s Cookbook

Amsterdam Tourism

Apartment in Amsterdam

Cafe de Jaren – Amsterdam

Anne Frank House

Toronto Today – Art, Food, and Canadian Hospitality

The art starts at Toronto’s modern, light-filled Pearson International Airport with a delightful sculpture of a baggage cart loaded nearly to the ceiling greeting arriving passengers in baggage claim. It is a harbinger of that unique Canadian sense of humor and hospitality.

Baggage sculpture in claim area of Toronto International Airport

Baggage sculpture in claim area of Toronto International Airport

Welcome to today’s Toronto.

The central Toronto skyline is much-changed in the last 10 years. While the CN Tower still dominates, new dramatic skyscrapers have sprouted in the downtown core and condo towers are going up apace.  There is a bustling of construction including a renewed Union Station, new shops and galleries in the rehabbed Distillery and Warehouse Districts, street upgrading and more.

The CN (Canadian National Railroad) Tower casts a big shadow over central Toronto and offers wonderful views.

The CN (Canadian National Railroad) Tower casts a big shadow over central Toronto and offers wonderful views.

Places to see on a four-day visit might include a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) with its Henry Moore sculpture collection and dramatic remodel by world famous Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry. Recent exhibitions include Alex Colville’s engaging paintings and works by Michelangelo. Also In the AGO’s collection of over 80,000 works are European masterpieces and a very strong Canadian collection.

Art Gallery of Toronto with Henry Moore sculpture.

Art Gallery of Toronto with Henry Moore sculpture.

Part of architect Frank Gehry's masterful work in the Art Gallery of Toronto.

Part of architect Frank Gehry’s masterful work in the Art Gallery of Toronto.

Street art abounds in Toronto and many of the artworks are sanctioned by the city. On our visit we met street artist Aurora painting a large mural. She told us that taggers leave work by other artists alone as a sign of respect. Random public art on telephone polls and other places will surprise and delight. A great place to see this is on a stroll through the Kensington Market area, which is a delightful walk through bargain-filled Chinatown from the AGO.

Street Artist Aurora works on her piece in the thriving Kensington Market area of Toronto.

Street Artist Aurora works on her piece in the thriving Kensington Market area of Toronto.

Art galleries and unique shops in the West Queen West Art + Design district are plentiful and can easily absorb a full day. We found a walking tour led by Betty Ann Jordan to be practical and timesaving. We were able to learn about the history of the area and the support given these dedicated Districts by the city of Toronto. We were able to visit places like Artscape Young Place, a re-purposed public school building, now an art hub making studio and gallery spaces available to a wide range of individuals and groups. While open to the public, this venue might be off the beaten path and the walking tour made finding it easy.

Betty Ann Jordan leads great art walks in Toronto. Links to her site at the end of the post

Betty Ann Jordan leads great art walks in Toronto. Links to her site at the end of the post

Artscape Young Place, a former school, has been re-purposed as studio and gallery spaces.

Artscape Young Place, a former school, has been re-purposed as studio and gallery spaces.

We also visited chic boutiques like Gravity Pope (best shoes in Canada) and BYOB (unique bar and hospitality wares) and galleries like Angell Gallery, the Edward Day gallery and Craft Ontario, all emblematic of the West Queen West District.

BYOB, a great hospitality emporium in West Queen West Art+Design district.

BYOB, a great hospitality emporium in West Queen West Art+Design district.

Within a few blocks of each other downtown are the CN Tower, with spectacular views of the Toronto vicinity, the new Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, the Air Canada Center (Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors basketball team), the Toronto Railway Museum, the elegantly-sited Hockey Hall of Fame, the Toronto Convention Center and the TIFF Bell Lightbox (home of the Toronto International Film Festival). All of these attractions seem to have been designed in a worldclass fashion, befitting a historic center of finance, culture and commerce.

Home of the renowned Toronto International Film Festival with a ubiquitous Toronto trolley car.

Home of the renowned Toronto International Film Festival with a ubiquitous Toronto trolley car.

Two historical standouts that we enjoyed visiting were the St. Lawrence Market in Old Town Toronto and the site of Toronto’s St. Lawrence Hall (built in 1850). There are over 120 vendors selling everything from fish and meats to baked goods and kitchen supplies. There is also a wonderful exhibit room on the third floor which rotates historically relevant exhibitions during the year. Bruce Bell, Toronto historian, writer and speaker, conducts walking tours of the Old Town area for groups and individuals and does a great job rounding out the historical perspective of the Market and Old Town Toronto. Don’t miss the North Market, across the street, site of a Saturday Farmers Market dating back to 1803 and a bustling scene with southern Ontario farmers bringing their goods to town. Bruce showed us the site of Toronto’s original town well and the place where offenders were placed in blocks by the harsh authorities in the early days of the city.

Bruce Bell leads wonderful tours through the Old Town and historic St. Lawrence Market. Link to his site at the end of the post.

Bruce Bell leads wonderful tours through the Old Town and historic St. Lawrence Market. Link to his site at the end of the post.

Another highly-recommended stop is the newly-rehabbed Distillery District. Dominated by the huge Gooderham &Worts, Ltd. sign. This visionary re-purposing of Victorian industrial structures, a national historic site, is clearly a success with its preservation and the modernization. Starting as a grist mill in 1831 and through the storied distillery history until reopened in 2003 as the Distillery Historic District, this is a great place to spend a day and get a great meal. Which leads us to our next section: Food!

Because we only report on places we’ve experienced, let’s start with our first dinner in town at Luckee Restaurant, downtown at 328 Wellington St. West. Famed Chef Susur Lee calls it “Nouvelle Chinoise” and what it seems to us is a great new take on traditional Asian regional cooking incorporated into splendid menu items such as Long Xia Gow (lobster and asparagus dumplings), a jumbo shrimp plate with exquisite tastes and a blood orange and lemon curd tart for dessert. The menu is designed for sharing and the staff, like server Martin Bathke and manager Tiffany Knight, will guide you with informed suggestions. The decor is chic modern with an open kitchen. It is clearly a gathering place for urban-cool diners and families, too.

The chic interior of Luckee Restaurant attracts a cosmopolitan mix of patrons and feeds them very, very well.

The chic interior of Luckee Restaurant attracts a cosmopolitan mix of patrons and feeds them very, very well.

We took breakfast almost every morning at our hotel, Le Germain Maple Leaf Square, not just because it was included with the room, but because it is served, buffet style, in 2 large second floor great-rooms with big windows capturing alot of sky and the downtown buildings. There is abundant staff bringing you your favorite coffee drinks and juices and efficiently refilling the wide-range of breakfast offerings. This room was really well thought-out for the business and tourist clientele the hotel attracts and doubles as a business center 24/7 and accessed by room key-activated elevator. Located at 75 Bremner Blvd, just steps from Maple Leaf Center. Highly recommended.

Part of the dramatic lobby of the Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square .

Part of the dramatic lobby of the Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square .

We had a lunch at Drake One Fifty, close to Le Germain at 150 York Street, and the food was excellent with a great brussel sprouts dish, sautéed mushroom skillet, a delicious kale salad and a hefty, aged beef burger with hand-cut fries. A business lunch environment, judging by our fellow patrons, but not in the least stuffy.

The second dinner we had was a Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, a restaurant with an interesting Toronto history and located in the re-emerging and hip west end Liberty Warehouse District.  Noted cookbook author Chef Donna Dooher and her partner Kevin Gallagher bring decades of experience and innovation to their farm-to-table menu. We had a red wine poached pear salad with pomegranate vinaigrette with arugula frisee and blue cheese and an excellent mushroom skillet that included grape tomatoes and kale with a black garlic vinaigrette topped with grated Pecorino. O, should we mention the knockout, house-made Profiteroles? We tried the Eephus Oatmeal Stout from Toronto’s Left Field Brewing at Mildred’s and it was a star. Fun place and hugely popular on weekends for brunch.

Sushi anyone? Ki Restaurant offers a broad menu that includes a large sushi selection and other fare, as you’ll see. What’s more, you’ll find a Sake Sommelier in the person of Michael Tremblay (certified by the Sake Education Council in Tokyo) who can guide you through a tasty tutorial on Sake basics. We tried the unagi (eel) nigiri, roasted cauliflower with sesame and shiso gremolata, seared fresh scallops with shiitake, oyster and honey mushrooms with shiso furakaki and miso-kasu sauce plus the excellent strip loin with ginger sauce. Shiso, by the way, is a Japanese green. Think basil meets anise. This was all served by Eric Cash and colleagues who guided us through the choices with tempting descriptions from the menu. Ki is located in central downtown at 181 Bay St. and is a vibrant after-work cocktails scene.

The very modern and popular Ki Restaurant even has a Sake Sommelier.

The very modern and popular Ki Restaurant even has a Sake Sommelier.

Cluny Bistro and Boulangerie. Home of the tempting Absinth Fountain.

Cluny Bistro and Boulangerie. Home of the tempting Absinthe Fountain.

Our last dinner in Toronto was in the aforementioned Distillery District at Cluny Bistro and Boulangerie at 35 Tank House Lane. No cars are allowed in this lovely walking area so reaching Cluny is a delightful stroll over cobblestones amidst historic, rehabbed industrial buildings. And a trip well worth it (and only minutes from downtown by cab – we liked Diamond Cab). Chef Paul Benallick oversees the kitchen and dining area beyond the stylish bar and retail boulangerie. The space is cleverly broken-up into unique seating areas which allows for banquettes and tables. There is an intimate oyster bar as well where a group could have some serious fun. We started with delicious martinis recommended by ace server Crysta Boytchuk. Our drinks were accompanied by a clever amuse of Kingfish ceviche and followed by a crisp dinosaur kale and queen kale salad, one of the best French Onion soups we’ve had and a remarkable gnocchi with escargot dish that we would fly back to Toronto for.  We moved on to the Drunken Tuna (seared ahi, red pepper pesto, pureed potatoes and a sherry vinaigrette) and the steak frites plate with a 6 oz. filet mignon served with lemon and garlic aoli.

The Absinthe Fountain at Cluny Bistro.

The Absinthe Fountain at Cluny Bistro.

But wait, there’s more: The Absinthe Fountain. Here’s how it works. You see it across the room at another table; a large glass samovar filled with ice water and you want it at your table. In our case it appeared by the hands of gracious floor manager Andrew Thisby. You are served a glass of clear Absinthe with your choice of a house made sugar cube. The ice water from the samovar is dripped through the sugar cube into the Absinthe. A great way to end a meal.

Adieu beautiful, exciting Toronto. We’ll be back. There is so much more to see.

When you go:

Tourism Toronto

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

Art Walking Tours with Betty Ann Jordan

Bruce Bell’s Walking Tours of Old Town and St. Lawrence Market 

The Distillery District

Luckee Restaurant

Drake One Fifty Restaurant

Mildred’s Temple Kitchen

Ki Restaurant

Cluny Bistro and Boulangerie

Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square

Richmond, B.C., Asian Food Lover’s Paradise


The Richmond Night Market runs May thru September

With so many readers traveling through Vancouver B.C. we like to inspire side trips and special places that we think our readership would like.  Richmond, B.C., is one those special gems we want to share with you.

Minutes from the Vancouver, B.C. airport, Richmond is an Asian food lover’s dream.

With a setting along the famous Fraser River, Richmond has about 400 Asian restaurants for its 200,000 residents, or, one for every 500 people, and the quality bar is very high, even in the mall food courts.


The bar is set very high for Asian food in Richmond, B.C., and that includes mall food courts.


Great store, with products not easily found in the U.S., abound in Richmond, B.C.
Yes, you can stock up on Malteesers, too!

With a nearly 70 percent Asian population, almost half of which are from China, a visitor can count on some scrumptious and varied fare.  Add to this amazing variety of restaurants the renowned Richmond Night Market with its 80 food stalls, and you’ve landed yourselves in the middle of a foodie heaven!


Many Richmond, B.C. restaurants put their fare right on the window.

We checked into the Radisson Hotel, just a short walk from the Aberdeen light rail station.  There are plenty of well-known hotel brands in Richmond, but the Radisson is particularly handy to the airport and light rail.  What this also means is that you can get to downtown Vancouver without getting into a car by walking the short distance to the light rail.


The Radisson at Richmond, B.C. is steps from the light rail station that will take you to downtown Vancouver.

A foodie friend and I found ourselves dining a deux on the first night of a 3-night stay and headed for the Shanghai River Restaurant after walking the borders of the main restaurant district.  Note: Walking, very good idea.  Much food. Fortunately Richmond is flat and great for burning off a big meal on foot or bicycle.


The Parker Place BBQ store.

The first thing we noticed at the Shanghai River Restaurant was that its gorgeous dining room was full of happy Asian families and tables full of intriguing looking plates of food.

Courteously greeted and seated, we tried the soup dumplings which were absolutely delicious, followed by vegetables wrapped in bean curd, pork with preserved vegetables and Black Cod.  That’s about all two people could handle, but it was exquisite and, reminded us that the best way to eat Asian food out is with a larger group so you can sample more menu items.

Soup Dumplings at the Shanghai River Restaurant

Soup Dumplings at the Shanghai River Restaurant

The large group issue was handled the next morning when the gracious hosts of Tourism Richmond gathered a table full of us for Dim Sum at Fisherman’s Terrace Restaurant in the sprawling Aberdeen Center, another short walk from the Radisson.


O, boy!  And out came the prawn dumplings, 3 mushroom soup, pork buns, barbecued pork pastry. tapioca cake, turnip cake, deep fried prawns, egg custard and steamed mini-sponge cake, to name a few items.  A hearty Richmond, B.C. breakfast!


Dim Sum Breakfast at the Fisherman’s Terrace Restaurant.


More of that Dim Sum at the Fisherman’s Terrace.


The OMG Egg Custard at the Fisherman’s Terrace Restaurant.


Yes, all of this!

Not only does Richmond have remarkable gastronomic attractions (more on those in a moment) but a short bus, bike or taxi ride will get you to Steveston Village, an engaging working seaport steeped in regional history. Plan to visit the beautifully restored historic Gulf of Georgia Cannery, built in 1894, at the Steveston Harbor. The Cannery reflects the multicultural heritage of the area and the guided tour will convince you of the rough and tumble life of the Gulf of Georgia fishing and canning industry.


Gulf of Georgia Cannery, Steveston, B.C.


Take the guided tour of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. The history of Steveston, B.C. is fascinating.

As you walk along the wharf on your walking tour of Steveston, check out the fresh fish being sold right off the docked fishing boats.  On the wharf numerous restaurants specialize in fresh seafood dishes and the friendly locals are welcoming. (It’s Canada!).


Fresh fish for sale along the Steveston, B.C. fishing docks.


And don’t forget the crabs!

Heading back to central Richmond, just about 2 miles away, perhaps it might be time for your afternoon Pineapple Bun at the intimate Lido Restaurant and Bakery.  This place is so popular that sometimes you have to order and pay for your Pineapple Buns in advance and the hostess will tell you to come back in 10 minutes when the next batch is due out of the oven.  The buns are a real treat, with a nice pot of tea.  There is no pineapple in them, but the tops resemble pineapples, hence the name.


Pineapple Buns at the Lido Bakery in Richmond, B.C.

While we are helping you burn off all this wonderful food, it is time to guide you over to the spectacular Richmond Olympic Oval, just west of central Richmond.  Built for the 2010 Winter Olympics and the speed skating events, it has been transformed into a public fitness center, in true Canadian fashion.  It is chock-a-block full of exercise machines, basketball courts, a climbing wall, badminton and, watch out, the best ping pong players you’ve ever seen up close!  You can get a day pass to use the facilities and it is big enough to not feel crowded.  The refreshing groups of young people engaged in athletics was wonderful to see.  This really is a “worth your time” attraction like Steveston.


You’ll see some rocket ping pong at the Richmond Olympic Oval.


The climbing wall at the Richmond Olympic Oval, now open to the public daily.


Exercise bikes open for public use at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

While on the subject of athletics, if you have ever been curious about Dragon Boating,the Richmond Rowing and Paddling Centre at the nearby University of British Columbia Boathouse offers visitors the opportunity to get out on the Fraser River, under the supervision of veteran coaches and trainers.  See sidebar for contact information.

All of these attractions can be reached comfortably by bicycle and there are several bike rental outfits in the Richmond/Steveston area to serve you. A good cycling map is available listing additional resources.

Returning to our foodie world, along Alexandra Road, (aka “Food Street”), are a couple of notable restaurants to try (among many).  The first is Jang Mo Jib Korean Restaurant.  The name means “grandmother’s house” and serves very traditional Korean cuisine and the excellent claypot cooking.


Pork neck soup at Jang Mo Jib Restaurant in Richmond, B.C.

We tried Pork Neck Soup, the delicious short ribs and Korean traditional sausage (Soon Dae Jub See).  The kim chee was varied and delicious as well.


East meets Northwest at Richmond, B.C.

Our moveable feast then lurched a block away to the Claypot Hot Pot and BBQ restaurant to have some fun with this great Cantonese-style cooking.


Claypot Hot Pot BBQ in Richmond, B.C.

In the middle of the large tables are gas burners divided into sections so that different broths can be used to cook the varied food items, which on our visit included soup bases of Szechuan Spicy, Parsley and Preserved Egg, Satay and Peppered Pork Stomach.  Into these sauces we cooked: Short ribs, pork belly, sliced lamb shoulder, and meatballs of fresh prawn and minced dace (fish).   We also deep fried some fish skin and spicy pork ear.   For our vegetarian palate we also cooked tofu, gluten, garland chrysanthemum and lotus root.  The tastes were amazing and this style of cooking is especially fun when you have a table full of people.


Famous Chef James, with his wonderful food and sparkling personality at the Richmond Night Market.


Lovingly cooked octopus at the Richmond Night Market.




Insanely delicious fried potatoes at the Richmond Night Market.

Lastly, if you are traveling to Richmond, B.C. between May and September, you are in for a special treat if you visit the Richmond Night Market, open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.   During our visit, there were 80-plus food stalls, ranging from Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese and varieties in-between.  Bring your appetite and be prepared for some real fun.  It teems with people from all over the region as well as tourists and the management monitors food prep and keeps the grounds very clean. The Richmond Night Market is accessible via the light rail (Bridgeport Station) and sits close to the Fraser River, so bring a light jacket or sweater to keep the night chill at bay. Be prepared for lots of food and fun.


The wonderful, colorful and meditative Kuan Yin Buddhist Temple in Richmond, B.C.


Some of the extraordinary art at the Kuan Yin Buddhist Temple, Richmond, B.C.

From now on, spending at least 2 days in and around Richmond, B.C. is going to be part of our trips to Vancouver.  Discovering the convenience of the light rail system and recognizing that Richmond is a full-on Asian food celebration were two highlights of our visit.  One thing that stands out is how most people of Asian descent appreciate a wide range of cooking styles from around Asia.  This translates into a large community support base in Richmond and it is enjoyable to see.  Food brings the world together.  Perhaps that accounts for the happy families we saw in Richmond.  Don’t miss it!

Some helpful links for you:

Tourism Richmond: http://www.tourismrichmond.com

Richmond Night Market: http://www.richmondnightmarket.com

Richmond Olympic Oval: http://richmondoval.ca

Steveston Village: http://www.steveston.bc.ca

Gulf of Georgia Cannery: http://gulfofgeorgiacannery.com/

Mazatlán – Pearl of the Pacific

Sunsets like these are frequent in Mazatlán


Mazatlán – La Perla Del Pacifico

Cliff Divers at Olas Altas Beach, Mazatlán

They had me with the Mime. When you deplane from a packed flight onto a hot tarmac in Mazatlán and all you really want is a cold, local-brewed Pacifico on the way into the terminal (super-clean with gleaming floors and nice art) at least there is the charming Mime to welcome you. He’s really good. He just needs a case of cold ones to hand out to arriving passengers. We are, afterall, about 20 miles south of the Tropic of Cancer.

So began a return to Mazatlán after a 10-year hiatus. What I found was the charm and friendliness of the Mazatlécas alive and well.

Fun at the Fish Market in Mazatlán











New hotels and yacht harbors have been  built as well as a world-class Mazatlán International Center, smartly located near The Golden Zone. This beautiful facility is a testimony to Mazatlán’s serious pursuit of the convention business.

The brand-new Mazatlán International Center

Mazatlán translates as “place of deer” and the Totorames tribe had the place to themselves until they disappeared many years before Spaniards first showed up in 1531. You can see some artifacts in the Museo Arqueológico in Centro Historico.

It was many years until the city emerged from a fishing village. Gold and silver shipments transited Mazatlan’s port from the mines in the mountains during the 1700’s, attracting pirates to the area. In the latter part of the 19th century, the city grew significantly, upgraded its port and buildings and, in the first few decades after the 1910 Revolution, Mazatlán became a modest tourist destination, with several hotels establishing themselves in the old town near Olas Atlas Beach, enjoying popularity with vacationing movie stars.

Near the Art Zone in El Centro

The heartbeat of this enchanting city is strong and the First Friday Art Walk (from November to May) is a great way to experience a bit of the Centro Historico, discover a great meal at one of the sidewalk cafes around the Plaza Machado (1837) and perhaps attend a concert at the multi-tiered Teatro Angela Peralta (1870). We attended a splendid performance there of Mozart’s “Requiem” the on the eve of El Día Del Muerte.

The Mazatlán Symphony Orchestra




Two dining standouts around Plaza Machado: La Bohemia and Pedro y Lola’s.

La Bohemia Restaurant on Plaza Machado

Plaza Machado, Mazatlán



























While on the subject of dining, close to venerable Olas Atlas Beach is a delightful courtyard restaurant, La Bahia, overseen by hostess Maria Lourdes, aka “Malu.” A few dishes we sampled were Pulpo a la Diabla (octopus) and a great rendition of Aquachiles con Camarones.

Lourdes at La Bahia Restaurant, near Olas Altas

Pulpo a la Diabla at La Bahia

























Not only a fun and sun tourist destination, Mazatlán is a huge shrimping port and the state of Sinaloa, in which Mazatlán resides, is Mexico’s top agricultural producer. A trip to the French Colonial-style Pino Suarez Mercado (1899) in Centro Historico speaks to this with butchers at work on fresh meats and fish mongers selling the day’s fresh catch.

Butchers at work in the Mercado

A smile and some beautiful fresh fish at the Mercado

Food stands fill with locals and the feel of a community gathering place is tangible.

This is one of my favorite destinations in Mazatlán and over the years it has become a more comfortable place to wander around.

Fish stand in the Mercado




Born in Spain, Julio Berdegé was a man of vision and personal achievement in Mazatlán’s modern history. Arriving in Mazatlán as a young man, he built Mexico’s largest commercial shrimp fleet and created the first master-planned resort community in Mexico, known as the El Cid Resort and Country Club. As a marine biologist and conservationist, he also had a prominent voice in matters of Mexico’s fisheries management. The El Cid development, now in command of his son Carlos, is dominant in the Zona Dorado of hotels and restaurants which takes off north of the Olas Altas Beach area. One of the newest properties is the El Cid Marina Hotel, which sits along the channel for the marina, has two beautiful pools, a splendid, attentive staff and a unique, private ocean beach accessed by a short water taxi ride. Party fishing boats come in and out of the harbor and the curious can catch a glimpse of what kind of luck prevailed on the day’s fishing adventures. It is my favorite of the El Cid properties. http://marinaelcidmazatlan.com

The El Cid Marina, Mazatlán









Many cities in Latin America have what is known as “The Malecon,” a broad promenade along the beach. Mazatlán’s Malecon is one of the longest in Latin America, stretching miles along Olas Altas and newly widened with new monuments. In Mazatlán they love their monuments.

The Siren Monument along Mazatlán's Malecon, the longest in Latin America

There are monuments to Pacifico Beer (the dramatic copper top of a beer cooking vat), the Fisherman’s  Monument, The Siren Monument, The Continuity of Life Monument (fabulous sculpture of leaping dolphins), famed musician Jose Angel Espinoza Aragon aka “Ferrusquilla” , a delightful, whimsical monument to the Pulmonia, the ubiquitous open-air alternative to taxi-cabs and many more. All the monuments serve to enhance a long amble along Mazatlán’s beautifully upgraded beachfront Malecon.

Monument to famed musician Jose Angel Espinoza Aragon aka "Ferrusquilla"

For a little more immersion into Mexico, Pronatours http://www.pronatours.com.mx can help.

One destination that a day-trip will cover is the nearby country town of Quelite (25 miles northeast). Most of Quelite’s residents are engaged in ranching or agriculture and town has a feel of “real Mexico.” It is in Quelite that Dr .Marcos Osuna built El Meson d’ Los Laureanos, a terrific restaurant in a venerable history-rich building. An excellent host, Dr. Osuna’s kitchen serves recipes handed-down through generations and prepared with a “home cooking” touch that reflects the cuisine of southern Sinaloa.


As you walk around Quelite, you can visit a wonderful bakery with a huge stone oven and delicious treats for sale, Our Lady of Guadalupe church and a monument to an ancient Aztec game of “The Ulama,” still played by locals.

Monument to the ancient game of "The Ulama" in Quelite.

Stone oven in Quelite bakery




There are additional tour options available, including a hugely fun cooking and dancing experience called Salsa y Salsa http://www.salsaandsalsa.com, rated the no. 1 tour for Mazatlan on http://tripadvisor.com. Hotel concierges work hard in Mazatlán to connect vistors with a fun experience and are there to make sure you want to come back.

Some quick study of online sites and a little Spanish brush-up can enhance your trip.

Many Mazatlécas speak excellent English, of course, but attempts at conversing in the local language is always bridge-builder. ¡Vámos a Mazatlán!



Additional Mazatlán and Quelite images at:  http://www.dimarcoimages.com/mazatlan

A local in Quelite, about 40 km from Mazatlán




Caesar Salad

Of course we have to credit Chef and Restaurateur Caesar Cardini for this one.  Chef Cardini opened his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico in the 1920’s when Tijuana was a hot destination for the Hollywood movie and art crowd.  He was originally a restaurant owner in California and this was an expansion of his business to avoid Prohibition and to capitalize on a popular destination.  Later, he produced a line of dressings that can still be found on supermarket shelves.  This recipe was given to me by an old friend named Quito and I’ve used it for years.  Many Caesar Salad makers have their own personal takes on the salad and here is what I do:

First, you have to make really good croutons!  Your guests will love you for them.  You can even tease them with a small bowl of them with cocktails.

Here are the ingredients to make croutons from a full-size baguette:

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons salted butter

3 garlic cloves, minced or through press

1 tablespoon dried basil flakes

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Taking a nice long baguette, such as the one shown here, sliced into four sections for

easier handling.  Note:  Always keep your eyes on the work when slicing and make sure

you develop a style to keep your fingers away from the blade.

Baguette Slicing for Caesar Salad Croutons

Slice length-wise in half

Slice the baguette sections in half, lengthwise, then make longitudinal cuts, minimum 2 cuts.  Most croutons are best savored if they are medium-sized, about 3/8″ cubes or so.

Then make the final crouton cuts at 90 degrees to the longitudinal cuts for get your individual croutons.

Longitudinal Slices



Final Crouton Cuts

Put all your croutons in a mixing bowl.

All your croutons in one bowl

In a sauce pan, over low heat, melt the butter in the olive oil, add the garlic and basil flakes, stirring until combined nicely.

Combined Oil, Garlic, Butter and Dried Basil Flakes

Then pour mixture over croutons a little at a time, tossing crazily so that everyone gets their fair share, until entire mixture has been added.  Continue to toss crazily.

Adding Mixture to Croutons

Tossing Croutons Crazily Yet Democratically

Prepare a cookie sheet  (I line mine with aluminum foil) and transfer the anointed croutons from the bowl to the cookie sheet making sure they are not lumped together too much, enabling uniform baking.

Croutons Ready for Oven

Now they can go into that 325 degree F. oven.  They will need at least 20 minutes but check on them periodically in case the oven is not temperature-accurate…and, ovens, you know who you are.

While the croutons are happily cooking away and the house starts to smell REAL good, I usually make the salad dressing.   I’ll tell you how to do that in a minute but first I’ll jump ahead to bringing the croutons out of the oven, and how they should look.

They should start looking golden brown.  Reach in and grab one and taste it when it cools off.  It should be crunchy.  It they are golden brown and crunchy, they are done.  Take ’em out.  I store the extra croutons in a plastic bag inside a plastic food container.

Golden Brown and Crunchy Croutons

Now lettuce make the dressing!  Note:  THIS RECIPE IS FOR A LARGE AMOUNT OF DRESSING, intended for a large group or for several Caesar Salads over a week period or so.  I will discuss storage after we make the dressing…

To start with, let’s list the dressing ingredients:

1-1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil

1 can of anchovy filets or 1-1.75 ounce tube of anchovy paste

3 cloves garlic, finely minced or through a press

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1-1/2 tablespoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 tablespoons finely grated, aged Reggiano parmesan cheese

No egg in this recipe.

First, in a nice-sized mixing bowl, combine the anchovy and the garlic in 1/4 cup of the extra virgin olive oil until you get a nice even mixture.  I tend to use a fork for this combining operation.  It should sort of look for like this.  Not pretty but nicely combined.

Combining The Anchovy, Garlic with 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Next, add the Dijon, Worcestershire sauce, white vinegar, black pepper and lemon juice and combine with the anchovy, garlic and oil mixture already in the bowl. I start using a whisk here as I find it works better.  After very thoroughly mixing these ingredients together, start slowly whisking in the cup of extra virgin olive oil and whisk away until all the oil is added, then start to whisk in the finely grated Reggiano parmesan and whisk more, really working to combine that cheese into a nice marriage with the rest of the family.  It should look like this:

Caesar At The Finish

Now, here we are with large quantity of dressing.  What do we do?  I use an array of jars from preserves, artichoke hearts, etc., etc.  Jars about 8-12 ounces in capacity. They should be glass and have a good sealing, screw-on cap.  If you are bringing a Caesar to your friends’ for dinner, these little jars are great (and you still can have some for yourself at home).

Carefully pour (funnels work here) the dressing into one or more of these storage jars and stir/whisk the dressing while you are pouring (you can do this) so that the ingredients of the dressing go into the jar proportionately.  In other words, when you go back to the jars, you don’t want it to be all oil and/or all anchovy.  Store these jars in the refrigerator.  I usually feel safe about the dressing jars, when properly refrigerated, for at least 8 days.  Take a jar of dressing out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving and be sure to stir all the ingredients in the jar uniformly before putting on the salad.

Nice!  We’re about ready to put it all together for your guests.

Wash and spin (get a spinner if you don’t have one yet) fresh, crisp Romaine lettuce leaves until dry.   I figure one head for every two people. If the salad is the main course, one head per person is what I use.  Remember the croutons will add bulk to the salad.

Break Romaine leaves into a large salad bowl. I try use a bowl that prevents salad and croutons from flying out while I toss.  Add croutons to your personal feeling about croutons per square inch, but remember that you can always add croutons to the salad.

Now, making sure that your dressing is stirred to make it uniform, start with about 1/4 cup  of dressing over the lettuce and croutons and toss thoroughly.  You’ll be surprised by the coverage with your tossing.  You can always add more, or even have a little mini-pitcher at the table in case a guest needs more.  No drinking directly from the pitcher, however.

So we’re tossing, we’re tossing and, finally, add some coarsely shaved Reggiano parmesan over the top and, right, toss some more, just enough to get that cheese married (there’s that word again) to the salad and TA DA!  Bon appetite!

Caesar Is Served

Special thanks to Chef Cardini, Quito and to La Muse, Lucinda, for the photography.

Also special thanks to the kitchen of Bino and Marty.




Aloha from Maui – The First Post

Landing at Kahului Airport

Aloha!  I thought I might inaugurate this blog with a few words and pictures from The Valley Isle.  Maui continues to be a wonderful “easy” destination for people because you can really style your own vacation here.  You can choose from a diverse menu that might include being a “beach potato,” driving to Hana for a night or two of jungle bliss, exploring Up Country Maui, sunrise on the Haleakala volcano, a seasonal whale watch and tasting some wonderful food.  Permit me a few suggestions.

You might have noticed the current banner photograph.  This is a shot I took last night of the seared ahi appetizer at Colleen’s restaurant in the Cannery Building, in Haiku. http://www.colleensinhaiku.com  Colleen Nicolas has been on Maui for many years and has a knack for creating recipes and finding the right people to prepare and serve to her customers.  Colleen’s is one of my favorite places because it is a local haunt and off the beaten path a bit.  They are open for breakfast (great omelets), lunch and dinner.  Another favorite is the Mahi-Mahi Fish and Chips and the Kula Greens Salad with Roasted Local Beets.

If you are going to Haiku, you might consider making a loop from Paia to Haiku, then up to Makawao and back down Baldwin Avenue to your starting point in Paia. You could take a day doing it, and the sights and shops are lovely.  Start with an early morning walk on Baldwin Beach, just west of Paia on the Hana Highway.  Early mornings are best because the trades can pick up by mid-morning.  Parking is easy and the beach walk is sweet.

Baldwin Beach, Maui

After your Baldwin Beach march, drive into Paia and park.  You might grab a bit at Cafe Des Amis (great crepes) or the Mambo Cafe, close to each other on Baldwin Avenue.

Another great place is the Paia Fish House, right on the corner of Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue (the only stoplight in Paia).  These folks know how to do it and the family-style dining, bring-your-order-to-the-table casual atmosphere is conducive to conversations, sometimes very international.  The fish is always fresh.

Cafe Des Amis, Paia, Maui

Another fun local place in Paia is the long-standing and very high-granola Mana Foods http://www.manafoodsmaui.com/ where some great local organic greens can be purchased in a store seemingly filled with the hippest most blissed-out patrons I’ve ever seen.  Groovy, man.  Seriously, a lovely store with a great selection of healthy products.

And, by the way, if over-nighting, or longer, in Paia is an option, let me recommend the oceanfront Paia Inn, beautifully upgraded and staffed by the sweetest staff this side of, well, paradise. http://www.paiainn.com/

Next up, a Caesar Salad receipe, then, later, some more on Maui.  A hui hou!