Teri B.

Teri B.

Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

ELEVEN MADISON PARK: TRULY A WORLD-CLASS RESTAURANT

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When one considers dining at a world-class establishment, a number of thoughts come to mind:  1) How much is it?  2) Can I get a booking?  3) What if it’s not worth it?

Reservations open on the first day of the month preceding your desired date. For me, that meant a note to self:  Call EMP on 12.1.18 for a reservation on 1.8.19.  That worked; #2 was done.  As for #1, I’ll just say it’s pricey for sure. Full payment (including gratuity) is required at the time the booking is made.  There’s no additional tipping; more about that later.  So alcohol is what’s due at the end of the meal.  As for #3, “worth” is a subjective term.  Let’s just say any expectation was more than exceeded.  Their three Michelin Stars and top-of-the-list ranking on the World’s Best list are well deserved.

A week prior to our reservation, I received a lengthy email from my “person” who would greet us at the front desk.  She had a number of inquiries — are we celebrating anything; food allergies; anything else they should know.  This advance communication was really impressive.  I wrote a lengthy reply with details about our trip to NY.  I also requested the opportunity to meet the proprietors Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (who worked together at the original EMP and ultimately bought out founder Danny Meyer).  Could we see the kitchen was a big request.  Lastly, I stressed NO CILANTRO!  Laura and I had several exchanges so that when we finally met, a warmth had already been established followed by hugs.

The building that houses EMP is a registered historical landmark, originally built in 1906 in art deco style.  The restaurant seats about 80 (close to max for a Michelin restaurant) but is cavernous inside due to high ceilings and enormous windows looking out on Madison Park.   Tables are generously proportioned; the hubby and I sat side-by-side on a banquette to watch all the action.   Bar seating is also available with a different menu featuring fewer courses.

The wine list is vast — we learned there are 21,000 bottles on the premises with seven full-time sommeliers.  There is a wine room currently under construction for future dining opportunities.  Our young friend Watson looked barely old enough to be serving alcohol, let alone be an accomplished somm.  A Patrick Corbineau Cab Franc was selected  (we enjoyed a different varietal of his the previous night at Daniel).  Watson employed a spectacular decanting method (at our request) usually reserved for much older bottles and port in particular where there is concern the cork might be bad.  The neck of the bottle is removed, sealed with wax (no jagged edges!) and then given to guests in an acrylic case. Here’s a video of this unique and amazing process:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpOz1PCTpa4

We had a few course choices (fish, meat, primary dessert), but otherwise dishes were presented one after another in remarkable vessels obviously designed just so.  They were rich thus justifiably on the small side which was just fine as the course count was high by the end.  Photos and descriptions (clockwise from upper left) are neither in the order eaten nor complete as one can only cover so much …

Lobster; Fennel Salad; Black Truffle Souffle with Leek and Potato; Scallop
Veal with Bitter Greens and Pear; Striped Bass with Shitake Mushrooms; Roasted Pumpkin; Glazed Duck with Napa Cabbage/Pear

Of the numerous aspects that made this experience stand out, I’ll cite two.  Midway through the dinner, a lovely woman from “Guest Relations” approached our table and asked if we were ready to tour the kitchen.  We were escorted through an entrance leading to a vast space (guessing about 2,000 sf) of gleaming surfaces, smiling staff bustling about as we tried not to interfere.   A fun and brief quiz was given as to the main ingredient of three apple drinks made before us (allspice, coriander and one other).  We then chatted with Chef de Cuisine Brian Lockwood who seemed unphased engaging us while overseeing his massive staff.  After the visit we were escorted out a different door and back to our table.  It was extraordinary.

At the apple tasting station and Chef Lockwood keeping a watch over his shoulder. The pastry station can also be seen.

The second standout was this:  We left after 3.5 hours in order to have a nightcap with a dear friend in town, taking with us some parting gifts but not the menu.  I was contacted by EMP that night to inquire where we were staying (and for how long) so they could messenger the menu to our hotel before we departed.  A package was delivered the next morning and, as if that weren’t enough, along with the menus was the aforementioned small case containing the wine bottle top.  Inside the case, EMP returned the gratuity we left when we paid for our wine.  In other words, when they say your gratuity is included in your prepayment, they mean it.  Nothing additional is accepted.  Holy crap.  I even confirmed this with my buddy Laura to make sure this is standard procedure and not special treatment for us before writing this.

How to summarize?  One doesn’t start out dining like this.  If one is considering this experience, I suggest starting out a bit more modestly in the world of fine dining and working up to it.  It’s not for everyone for sure. For all of you who “eat to live,” this experience would surely be a waste.  But for others who can and want to appreciate the extraordinary detail that goes into an exceptional and memorable restaurant experience, I say go.  It’s that simple.  I will certainly forever remember my 65th birthday dinner.

Pumpkin Cake; Apple Brandy and insane Chocolate Pretzel, Apple Donut (my fave!); Chocolate with Chai and Gingerbread
The menu – custom printed with each course, fanfolded into a small tin – and some take-home granola.
Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

Big Trip/Big Apple/BIG Birthday

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I’m guessing that you’ve figured out the what and the where.  As for what constitutes as a BIG birthday, 65 is definitely one.  If you follow this blog, you know we went to Greece (click for previous posts) for the hubby’s recent milestone birthday.  As for mine, the destination was a no-brainer especially since I love cold weather, great restaurants and shopping, with some theater thrown in because it’s part of what one does in NYC.

We flew American to NY and were really impressed with their new 321T plane which is used for transcontinental routes.  Wow — great plane, modern features, tons of leg room in the exit row, outlets and individual screens at each seat.  We got upgraded for our return (15K miles and $70 each); it was fabulous!

Bottom left is exit row en route to NY; other pix are the new business class seats.

It was a “no holds barred” kind of trip (within reason, of course) because a 65th birthday happens just once.  And when one is fortunate enough to have so much, it’s time to both partake and reflect.  The latter comes in a bit.

Loews Regency Hotel on Park and 61st got the where-to-stay nod after much debate (with myself and the internet).  To me this is a very central location for our plans; we had a terrific previous stay; and, the rate didn’t necessitate a second mortgage.  I chose three shows, all purchased in advance:  The Band’s Visit, My Fair Lady and Network (Bryan Cranston!).  Might I add that none of the NY tickets (all Orchestra seats) cost as much as what we paid for Dear Evan Hansen in Los Angeles.  Go figure that one out.

Hotel greetings; Network curtain call; The Band’s Visit; Still lit up in NYC

There’s a few places and restaurants where I’ve always wanted to go but never have on innumerable trips to NYC.  One is Peter Luger Steakhouse.  So many people have so many opinions about the “best steak” place to go, but one doesn’t stay in business for 130+ years with lousy food.  This was on my to-do list so that we high-tailed it to Brooklyn straight away after a fabulous performance of My Fair Lady.  Norbert Leo Butz as Alfred P. Doolittle is worth the price of admission, if only to see him perform “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Steak, fries, lamb chops and a mountain of whipped cream

It’s also no surprise that where to dine for the actual birthday dinner was given a lot of thought.  Several months ago, I put a reminder in my calendar of the date when January reservations open up for Eleven Madison Park — notoriously difficult to book.  Three Michelin stars and consistently on the World’s Best list.  Parenthetically, if you click on that link, #15 is White Rabbit in Moscow.  Yikes.  We did not think it was so wonderful on our visit there in May.  So lists can certainly be in the eye of the beholder.

Nonetheless, EMP had availability for Jan 8 so with the hubby’s blessing, the booking was made (and pre-paid in full).  The experience was so extraordinary that I’m dedicating a separate post to it (to follow).  The night before was a return trip to Daniel — an absolute favorite and site of my perfect 60th.  The restaurant is consistently grand and Daniel Boulud was in the house.

Below is the custom menu delivered at the end of the night.  I’m always grateful for this so I don’t have to either take notes or try to remember what scrumptious dishes were served!  Inside the box is a small pastry to take with, just in case we needed another bite …

In the kitchen with Chef Boulud and with the wine director lower right.
Five years ago on my 60th.

We got to visit with family as well for Sunday brunch at Les Leopard des Artistes, close to Lincoln Center.  And we had a late night drink with a dear Houston friend who happened to be in NY.  Remarkably this is the second birthday in a row we’ve seen him (see post)!

Regular readers might remember Aunt Judy (blue coat) who traveled to India with us. Her husband, son, daughter & son-in-law made up a lovely group!
We met up with Houstonian Fred Zeidman (left) and his NY friend Gary to close the bar in the wee hours.
First visit to Russ & Daughters Cafe, Lower East Side, for transparent salmon, amazing latkes, egg cream, rugulah and clever wallpaper
Bergdorf’s shoe department, where the hubby’s “dogs” are in repose as I scoured the sales racks (sadly, nothing for me)

As for the reflection part,  I am indeed blessed.  A loving and devoted husband, adult children launched and flourishing in their respective careers, a successful business with loyal clients, seeing the world, two close sisters and great friends.  It’s a lot.  I am so grateful that I trusted my instincts to make the choices in life that resulted in all of this.  No doubt, some luck was involved as well.  But I wake up every day happy in wonderful surroundings.  So life at 65 is pretty, pretty good.

 

International TravelThings I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. Travel

OUT WITH THE OLD; IN WITH THE NEW

2019-New-Year-Text

It’s that time to look back at where we’ve been in 2018 and look forward to what’s ahead in 2109.  Click on any of the bold type to view that post!

Where we went:

Texas Hill Country

Eastern Europe (Helsinki/Tallinn/Riga/Vilnius)

Moscow & Paris

Pacific Northwest (Bellingham, Lummi Island, Seattle)

Road Trip:  CA/NV/UT/CO/KS/MO/OK/TX/NM/AZ (in four days)

Greece (Athens/Mykonos/Santorini)

Las Vegas

Where we’re going:

New York City (BIG birthday)

Asia (Taiwan/Vietnam/Cambodia/Kuala Lumpur)

Wedding celebrations in Puerta Vallarta, Philly & Boston 

And I think more to come … 

 

Thank you for reading.  I wish everyone a healthy, happy and prosperous 2019!

Snippets from the Road

ABOUT THAT HOTEL RESERVATION …

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I freely admit to being obsessed with where I stay for big trips.  Here’s a tip for you who might think I’m wasting my time angsting over reservations:

For the upcoming birthday trip to NYC, I booked several hotels.  Now that the departure is two weeks away, I’m re-evaluating the bookings so I can see if things have changed and make a final decision.

I learned one hotel where I booked has recently been acquired by a brand I avoid so I’m certain to be oppressed by said brand’s marketing — a spoiler for me.   In the spirit of Christmas, I shan’t name names.  But message me for additional details if you care.   That one was canceled.   But another hotel is now 15% less than it was when I last looked (October) … and the room is better/larger.  Re-booked and staying there.

My snippet from the road:  If accommodations are important to you, invest the time getting exactly what you want for what you choose to spend.

But the hubby will tell you it’s more like 100% ..

U.S. TravelWining/Dining

WINTER BASEBALL MEETINGS … IN LAS VEGAS(!)

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Kevin Millar and Chris Rose live

Las Vegas is the destination for this fun annual event was a quick getaway for me (with the Hubby and son Sam) — little more than 48 hours there.  For lots of folks (myself included), that is the right amount of time in this crazy town. Cool temps were definitely a plus as the last time I was there, it was at least 110 degrees .. but, you know, “dry heat.”  Ugh.

This is an opportunity to mix it up with fellow baseball lovers, folks who work in the industry and likely some players.  We didn’t go into this “cold,” but rather at the urging of friends who are regular attendees and would help us navigate the landscape.  The home base is Mandalay Bay, but I opted for accommodations at the nearby Aria Resort.  I must say, the rooms are very  reasonable — Deluxe King for $160/night including taxes.  Yes, there’s probably better deals, but I was happy with the rate and the hotel is close to where we needed to be.

My kind of slot machine
View from the room

I even signed up for “MLife” which is the loyalty program/booking site for anything related to MGM Grand properties. There are 14 alone in Vegas (not to mention elsewhere in the US and Internationally).  Will I ever use it again?  Who knows.  But it certainly made it easier to have a site where I could look at all the restaurants and activities.  Of the former (places to eat), one could go brain dead making that decision.  Good lord, the choices are overwhelming.  Not wanting to spend a ton (saving that for next month’s big trip to the Big Apple for the BIG BIRTHDAY), I opted for Rivea at the nearby Delano.  “After Saint-Tropez and London, Rivea finally comes to the Las Vegas restaurant market, offering a renewed take on a French and Italian influenced cuisine from internationally celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse.” 

Paccheri pasta with short rib ragu (amazing)
Loin of Venison

The restaurant is on the top floor of the hotel with gorgeous views of the city.  The menu is a bit small, but the food is delicious and the wine list is excellent.  We were quite happy with the meal, after which we headed to see the action at Mandalay Bay.  The good news with consuming lots of food in Vegas is getting anywhere requires a tremendous amount of walking, so there’s little guilt involved.  Just walking the ground floor of most properties is a trek, not to mention getting to the parking garage for a cab or ride share vehicle.   There wasn’t too much happening but Sam did see Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez and Dodger president Stan Kasten was dining nearby.  Hmmm, what trades were being discussed?  The rumor mill was on full throttle.

Swarovski Christmas tree on display at the Crystal Shoppes — 55 feet tall

We strolled the event during the day but couldn’t talk our way into the massive exhibition hall.  After learning the only other way was shelling out $150 per person to get credentials, we passed.  Without a doubt, the high point of the trip was a wonderful dinner at Carbone, chosen by Sam.  This classic Italian eatery out of Greenwich Village still does a table-side Caesar salad, which few places bother to do. 

Just stop right there ..
Veal parm divided four ways
Carpaccio with mushrooms and capers
Spicy rigatoni a la vodka and gemelli with spicy sausauge
Fork poised over the Nutella tiramisu

Our friend found out a large group would be taking one of the private rooms, and we happened to be seated right in their path.  Wearing one of my Dodger t-shirts under a blazer turned out to be a good idea as my bona fides were established when I stopped first Joe Torre followed by Orel Hershiser for brief chats and photo ops.  In fact, Orel commented: “I can’t believe this woman just flashed me!” He was talking about the t-shirt, of course.  Getting his attention by calling him Bulldog — his well-known nickname — certainly helped.  Both gentleman were very accommodating before moving on.  

With MLB exec and former Dodger manager Joe Torre
With Hall of Famer (now announcer) Orel Hershiser – aka “Bulldog”

Alas, Vegas is just not for me.  Too big, too flashy, too everything … and certainly the last location in the U.S. that allows smoking indoors!  I do see the attraction for many travelers who seek more of everything, especially a good bang for their buck — not unlike going on a cruise ship with 3000+ people.  To each his own, but I’ll stick with a bit of “less is more.” 

 

The colors of Italy — and really delicious cake

 

 

Snippets from the RoadThings You Should Know

UNEXPECTED (EMERGENCY) TRAVEL

Judy car

Those of us in the wonderful state of California mostly have it pretty good.  Our weather is enviable (I would prefer more cold), we have virtually every activity — beaches, mountains, desert, culture, sports — at our fingertips.  But it’s well known we have had our share of disasters — most recently epic fires in both the northern and southern parts of the state.

Residents watch as the Woolsey Fire burns in the West Hills area of the San Fernando Valley Friday night. (photo by Andy Holzman)

That brings me to a thought:  What if you had to travel VERY QUICKLY as though your life depended on it?  Would you be ready to go at a moment’s notice?  A longtime friend/business colleague told me that she and her husband thought they were ready to go with the essentials packed:  medication, water, computers and back-up devices, snacks, pets and their necessities, clothing, etc., so they were feeling pretty confident.  When the evacuation order came, two issues occurred:

  1. Neither of their cars had more than 1/4 tank of gas; and 2) they didn’t know where they should go.

Fortunately everything worked out in the end for them even though it meant spending a night in their cars (along with three cats) at a safe destination.

So what’s the takeaway?  Have a go-list ready so you don’t have to think about it if this happens to you.  If you keep cash in the house (and everyone should, particularly smaller bills), grab that along with jewelry and portable valuables.  Have a list of prescriptions you need plus a one-week supply ready to go.  Make sure all your photos are backed up! Prints can be reproduced but don’t forget those priceless photo albums.  Extra cords you’ll need. Don’t let your cars get too low.  Finally, move faster than you think is necessary.  My friend was stunned at how quickly the winds shifted and their situation became urgent.

Finally, below is an excellent list provided by FEMA.  Find your own version and use it.  I would even suggest modifying a list of must-haves when you’re traveling.  Your carry-on becomes your go-bag with things you absolutely need.  Most importantly, be safe out there!