Is it allowable, to duplicate the wedding of friends for your own selfish purposes? Because I truly could not imagine a more perfect location or wedding than the one I just got back from in Tuscany. My friends Jen and Leigh commandeered the movie-set-perfect Borgo Casabianca for an entire long weekend. The villa is in a small town called Asciano, about 90 minutes from Florence.
It was all so very Stealing Beauty. I kept waiting for them to play Nina Simone.
Do you see what I mean? This was the wedding dinner, where chandeliers hung from the trees and flowers were in abundance.
Borgo Casabianca was so severely beautiful, it was eye-watering. (The more I travel, the less I need. Although I still like free wifi, which Casabianca has!) That bed was pretty damn comfortable, and what you can’t see is all the EXTRA PILLOWS they provided. And the chocolates.
I had this for lunch in Pienza. I have no idea where. It was a small place, with a triangular courtyard. This was amazing. So simple.
Later that afternoon, we went to Montepulciano and enjoyed a wine tasting at Contucci Cantine. I am an equal opportunity wine drinker, but I don’t think Montepulciano is my favorite. Also, there was too much talking and too little wine on this tour. (Sorry, American in me.) A very historical place though, if that’s your thing.
And then our friends Jen & Leigh got married, and it was beautiful. So amazingly beautiful. And then we packed our bags to leave, but not before heading to the Casabianca kitchens for this beautiful mess…
Pici, which is a thick hand-rolled spaghetti, with a meat sauce. So simple, so perfect, so good.
Back to London, a trip in two parts. And although it was gray and rainy and dreary for the entire Part I of my visit, it was still amazingly wonderful. To the few citizens of Chicago who read my fair blog, I hope that if we do not ever meet, I have at least one little small impact on your life: You pack your bags and go to London sometime. Eight hours on a plane is NOTHING. It is worth it. You should go. (But leave your sweatpants and pillow at home. Just a pet peeve of mine on airplanes. A bit precious, innit?)
Although I saved money on the Amsterdam leg of my trip, I SPENT money on this part of the trip. I splurged on The Haymarket Hotel, located right off Trafalgar Square. A while ago, I spent one night in the Covent Garden Hotel (also a Firmdale hotel) and LOVED it. So I was excited to try a second property. The Haymarket did not disappoint. The staff were all amazingly lovely and helpful and the facilities were gorgeous and I just wanted to roll around in the bed for ages and ages and ages. On my first night, the hotel staff left me stationary. And room spray. I wanted to write you all love letters from London, old school style.
The bathroom in my room at The Haymarket was as big as, if not bigger than, my hotel room during Return to London, Second Part. (Stay tuned.) Nice Miller Harris products too.
I dropped into MEATliquor for lunch one afternoon. I could barely see my burger and onion rings — thank goodness for the flashlight app on the iPhone – but everything was pretty darn good in a really messy sort of way. Although I still prefer my bun more toasted. Holds up to the meaty juices better, you know. This was also a tremendously good value of a lunch at just TWELVE POUNDS for a burger, onion rings, and Diet Coke. Do it.
But I’m skipping ahead. On Sunday afternoon, I met up with partners-in-crime, Ben & Antonia, for one of those perfect Sunday Lunches. Elliot’s Cafe in Borough Market. Great lighting. Great food. Great service. I got a little teary-eyed afterwards, really.
Look at the lamb! Pink! Perfect.
And I don’t know what they did to this asparagus, but I want MORE. Might be one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten this year.
I won’t torture you with the steak tartare starter or the lovely strawberry and elderflower jelly we had for dessert. And all of this PLUS MORE for just 25 QUID per person. That’s $38 USD. People like to tell me that the UK is more expensive than America (especially people who have not lived in both countries), but on food, I disagree. In London, you will get better quality food for less money. I am sure of it.
Cultural break. I went to the National Gallery. It was very stressful as there were many children having severe meltdowns. I had to leave. But I admired the mosaic tile floor in the entrance landings. Gorgeous.
Had to, had to, had to, had to revisit Spuntino. LOVE Spuntino. You will too. But get there early like I did because it is VERY small and there are only 20 covers or so, mostly bar seating. So if you go and there’s a queue and you have to wait forever, you will hate Spuntino. But if you get there early and can get a seat, you will love it. I promise.
Spuntino Truffled Egg Toast, I think I love you. Fantastic. (Sorry, forgot to take a photo before diving in.)
And then, lucky lucky me. Pierre Herme in London was having a little launch event for their new line of breakfast products as well as their line of lemon products. Long-term readers will know I am a sucker for all things lemon. So I went and it was gorgeous. There was hazelnut praline spread — it took Mr. Herme three years to create this — and then there were lemon macarons and lemon chocolates and lemon pound cake and I rolled myself out of there, a bit addled by lemon in the best possible way. Mr. Herme, please come to Chicago.
Love London. Love it, love it, love it. I’ve missed it so much that I made sure I visited twice in one week. Stay tuned for Return to London, Second Part.
I went to Amsterdam the other weekend for a friend’s 40th birthday party. Lest you vastly overestimate my personal wealth, I flew for free on United using miles, so that was awesome. And then what was even more awesome was that I stayed at The Hotel Pulitzer in the Nine Streets part of town using my Starwood American Express points. (Lots of good shopping and restaurants in the Nine Streets area. My kind of area.)
The Pulitzer is a pretty good quality hotel, if a tiny bit dated. No complaints really. And even fewer complaints because I was staying for FREE. My only beef would be (of course) the lack of free wifi. You have to pay something like 20 euros a day for Internet access, which is highway robbery in this day and age. Pure profit for the hotel. Bugs me. But if I wanted a centrally located hotel with an onsite bar and restaurant and turn down service on request (always a sucker for turn down service), I would stay here again.
After I slept off my jetlag, I dropped into the tiny and modern Van Haarte on Hartenstraat in the Nine Streets for a quick snack before doing some shopping. I had some bitterballen–fried Dutch meatballs–and a glass of wine and moved on. I liked Van Haarte, but I think I was lucky to get a table. Call first. (Can I also note how much I’ve missed the price of a glass of wine in Europe? 125 ml of good quality for 4.50 euros. That’s less than $6.)
The next morning, I was boring. (I will not dare to portray that I lead an exciting life. Sometimes I just lie around all day, reading trashy magazines.) I had lunch at the hotel restaurant before meeting my friends for a canal ride. Normally, I run away (fast) when people suggest eating at any hotel’s restaurant. But I had mistakenly slept until noon and didn’t have much time before the boat ride. Restaurant Keizersgracht 238 at The Pulitzer was a pleasant surprise. The Aberdeen Angus Tournedos and the lovely onion rings really could not be faulted and the service doted on me completely without being creepy or annoying.
And then somewhere in Amsterdam, hours later and in the dark and cold and after drinking liters of champagne and dancing like crazy with obscenely fit and thin and beautiful French people and then being hand-fed more oysters than I can remember by this man, we lit what felt like dozens upon dozens of lanterns for our friend’s birthday and let them loose into the night sky. A beautiful ending to a beautiful weekend.
I was in Mexico City for work back in September and somehow never got around to writing about it. I ate really well in the DF and the service was some of the best I’ve encountered in any country during my travels. And to make a sweeping generalization — only because of all the people who warned me to “Be careful” when they heard I was heading south of the border — I did not get kidnapped. So that was awesome. Heck, I even tempted fate by WALKING from my hotel to dinner one night and nothing happened to me! Imagine that!
While in Mexico City, I stayed at the Hotel Nikko, which I really really liked. I’d recommend it. The gym was great, room service was great, and the service was great. (Except for the maid who tried to get into my room at 8 am on a Saturday morning, but the more I travel, the more meaningless I find “Do Not Disturb” signs to be. Someone in the New York Times commented on this recently, how in a lot of countries, Do Not Disturb seems to mean more like, “Yes, please do disturb me. While I am naked. And bring twelve of your co-workers and the vacuum with you.”) The wifi was only free in the bar area, forcing me to drink some very lovely Mexican Chardonnays and Verdejos, so that was a bit of a bummer. But otherwise, I survived.
The next day, we hit El Refugio for a late lunch. (Well, a normal lunch for my Mexcian colleagues. A late lunch for me.) After the previous day’s joyous taco fest El Lago de Los Cisnes, I was really looking forward to this. But I was sadly disappointed. The mole was sweaty and the whole place smelled like someone’s damp basement. Now that’s a MAJOR turnoff. Plus, we asked for the bill at the end of the meal, and even my colleagues couldn’t believe how long it took for it to arrive. Slow slow service — apparently even for Mexican standards — and only average food. The Verdict: Not recommended. Apparently, it’s in all the guidebooks, so watch out.
And then even though I had just finished eating a few hours earlier, I took myself to Pujol for dinner. People of the world, Pujol is exactly why you should NEVER sit in your hotel room alone on a business trip. This was one of the most beautiful meals of my entire life, from the service — THEY GAVE ME THE PASSWORD TO THEIR INTERNAL WIFI!!! — to the beer list (all Mexican and a HUGE list that made me want to come back just to drink beer) to the gorgeously gorgeous tasting menu. If you are in Mexico City in 2012 and assuming nothing changes in their kitchen, you MUST MUST go here. You can see all the photos over here on my Facebook fan page. Maybe become a fan while you’re at it. I’d like that.
So despite one miss during my short sojourn in Mexico City, I had two tremendous hits, and my hotel was lovely too. I can’t wait to go back and explore some more!
So I am an idiot. Do you know how far the Bahamas is from Florida??? Um, not far. Like really really close. Very close. So why we took an overnight cruise ship, I don’t know. In hindsight, we should have taken the high-speed ferry from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport. 2.5 hours. Instead of TWELVE.
We took the Bahamas Celebration from West Palm Beach to Freeport. It was fine. If you appreciate the finer things in life, I wouldn’t really recommend it. But if you’re on a budget and you like to gamble and stuff yourself silly and you don’t need to rest your head on a nice pillow at the end of the day, it will do. Warning: the elevators on board are SLOW.
While we were in the Bahamas, we stayed at the Grand Lucaya resort. It too was fine. Not great, just fine. People who don’t stay in hotels a lot would probably think this is just dandy. We weren’t there to hang out in our rooms though. We were there for some SUN and the BEACH and because my Aunt Ursula didn’t want to cook Christmas dinner.
The beach at the Grand Lucaya was pretty awesome. In hindsight, I should have spent more time in the water. The temperature was perfect and it was so clear and gorgeous.
We rented a boat one night and had the captain take us up and down the canals. There are a lot of canals. This was fun until it got dark and we were out on the ocean and the boat lost an engine and something went wrong with the steering and there were no running lights on the boat. Thank god for the Flashlight app on my iPhone.
Fun Fact! Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 were filmed in the Bahamas. Apparently Johnny Depp doesn’t drink much, but he does like to smoke up.
We at at Sabor at Pelican Bay twice while we were in Port Lucaya. I LOVED the conch fritters. I would recommend Sabor. Good food, friendly service. Nice view of the marina.
I made a video of the ocean one day. It sounds windier than it was. I forget how much I miss salt water and waves. During the afternoons, we would play dominoes and Rummi Cubes at the edge of the beach, with the waves crashing in the background. That was nice.
Between rounds of dominoes, we took a couple of spins around Port Lucaya each day. I would love to say I loved it, but it was full of a lot of touristy crap than made me fret about the fate of mankind.
One night, we had dinner at Luciano’s. It was expensive, and only okay. Another night, we had dinner at Agave. It was good–not great, but I can imagine if you don’t eat out much, you’d be happy here. Especially with a few happy hour mojitos under your belt. Yes.
The day we left, we had lunch at Banana Bay. And although I LOVED the atmosphere and the view big time, the food was just so very, very disappointing. It made me want to buy the place and bring the kitchen up to scratch.
I’m sorry if I sound so grouchy when I was in the BAHAMAS of all places. This was a family vacation, so I was a bit limited in terms of budget and options. So in that sense, this worked out just fine. And heck. At the end of the day, all I really wanted was this view anyhow!
I spent some time in Doha earlier this month. I’ll be honest. I didn’t see much. But then again, I wasn’t there to SEE things. I was there to work. But I did go to the gorgeous I.M. Pei Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. (I mean, it’s not really I.M. Pei’s museum. He “just” designed it.)
Inside the Museum of Islamic Arts.
One of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept in, at the Grand Hyatt Doha. Beware the blackout curtains though. Big time. I went to bed at 2:30 am local time my first night in and woke up at 2:30 pm. Whoops. This was a really lovely hotel and I’d stay here again if I am ever back in the area. Great gym and pool.
Garden outside my hotel room at the Grand Hyatt Doha. At first, I was mad at them for giving me a ground floor room. As a single woman traveling alone, I try to avoid setups like that. But really, once I opened the doors onto my patio, I was charmed.
These were amazingly well-done. Made the lounge look magical. Like diamonds falling from the sky and all that poetic stuff.
Room service at the Grand Hyatt also magical. Hummus, babaganoush, and stuffed grape leaves. Good times. No diamonds though.
I do love a man in dishdasha. There’s something so regal about it. But the dry cleaning bills! I can only imagine.
Where we ate…
Spice Market, W Hotel: A surprisingly tasty Thai meal at Spice Market in the W Hotel. Not cheap though! Beware. Good people watching as clientele is very international. Pricey. Alcohol served.
Liza at The Pearl: We tried to have dinner here but their electricity was on the fritz so we could only have cold starters. Liza is a Lebanese restaurant and as I’m learning more and more in my travels, you can really never go wrong with Lebanese. Somewhat pricey, but not as pricey as Spice Market. Alcohol served.
Mamig, Katara Cultural Village: This meal started off really strong, but gradually disintegrated due to poor service. The restaurant bills itself as Armenian/Lebanese. We loved the chopped salad that we started with. The mixed grill was also quite good, but we had more or less lost interest by the time it arrived. (i.e., very late.) I wish I could find the menu online, because we ordered this one dish that was a big hot meat and cheese pie and it was pretty damn delicious. Our server recommended it. That was about the only thing he did right. No alcohol served.
I didn’t get to see much of Doha. I was there for work, after all. But what I saw, I liked. It’s the richest country in the world right now. Yup. They own Harrods. They’re financing Hollywood movies like crazy. And they’re hosting the 2022 World Cup. So I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot from Qatar in the future. A lot.
Hello Northern Line. I’ve missed you. Yes. You. Even though you totally suck at rush hour. But when you’re empty and you make the sounds that you do, I do love you. You’re efficient. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re clean. (Except during rush hour, with all the newspapers flapping about.) You’re — strangely — comfortable, you with your blue velour cushioned seats. London Bridge to Angel, in no time then.
Yes. I was back. A flight to London in the $800 range? This is a good thing. Lots of points on my credit card, letting me stay three nights at the The Park Lane Hotel? Even better.
Too bad The Park Lane was such a dump, relatively speaking. The carpets had seen better days. Way way better better days. But at least the bed was comfortable. Oh, and they had one of those outlet panels that let’s you plug in an American plug. Even though you’re in the UK. Nice.
The lounge at the hotel was GORGEOUS. Utterly old-school gorgeous. Makes you want to drink champagne gorgeous. Too bad this didn’t translate to the dumpity-dump-dump dumps of rooms.
To make myself feel better, I took myself out to dinner. At Dinner. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. You know, this guy. I would like to thank — profusely and obviously so — the maitre’d at Dinner for squeezing in our table of six on a Friday night at 8 pm. And into a very prime table no less. I’m sad we never got a chance to meet. Or hug. Because truly, this was one of the loveliest of evenings…definitely hug-worthy. Even if @leeturnerconn – aka Feathers –was ready to pass out at the table. (Pregnant. Twins. We forgive her.) But that Meat Fruit (pictured)? Like silk. Edible edible silk. (Foie gras. Mandarin. You get it.) The maitre’d also popped for a round of biscuity champagne, a wonderful surprise that made an already festive evening even more so festive.
I had the pork chop to end all pork chops at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Soft like a blanket inside. In the best possible way.
The Tipsy Cake — a wonderful pineapple creation — nearly brought me to tears. Happy sad tears for everything I had left behind and everything yet to come. (Even though this was the end.) Slow-roasted pineapple. On a spit. Carmelized and only-God-knows-what-else-brioche with custard — custard which I am normally not a fan of, but which worked marvelously well here. I didn’t want to leave Dinner, and nothing could spoil anything, not even the couple at the table next to us, who stopped to (rudely and obviously) count the number of (perceived) Americans at our table. Sigh. We’ve been in the country a while now. We talk with our inside voices. Really. (And you two didn’t talk to each other one bit your ENTIRE meal. Sad!)
The Verdict: You should go to Dinner. If you don’t live in the UK, you should get on a plane and fly there. Just don’t cry. Like I did, in the terribly short taxi ride “home,” against the darkness of Green Park, wide awake with jetlag, wondering how I could make this all never end.
Chin up though! After a spin through Borough Market Saturday morning, where I had one of these…
and wept with happiness (that’s the chorizo & rocket sandwich from Brindisa), @tehbus suggested I come on over to Ferdies Food Lab that evening, which Simon himself had invited me to a week or two earlier. I took this all as a huge sign and headed over to Aldgate East to meet the gang for what would turn out to be a memorably bizarre evening. (You know…where there’s a man wearing a beret who talks about his black cape, and there’s someone else who manages to tell an entirely different story to everyone there about how they came to be there, and then there’s an in-depth discussion of the pros-and-cons of “adult” dating Web sites and before you know it, someone has drank all your wine so you’re drinking someone else’s and hope they don’t notice before it’s time to leave. And then you try to take a taxi home but the black cab driver kinda goes a lot crazy on you — only the second time that’s happened over hundreds of cab rides over more than seven years — to the point where you just pay him and get out in the middle of traffic at Oxford Street tube, even though you’re going to Green Park. )
Ferdies Food Lab is what I’d call a supper club. A large one. And a loud one. Either I’m deaf, or no one but @tehbus speaks loudly enough for me to understand.
The main of slow roast lamb was — and I hate both of these words — moist and succulent. Hard to turn away from this dish. I sorta wanted to take away the leftovers. But I had nowhere to put them. (Sob.)
The next morning, I went to Automat in Mayfair for the most disappointing of American breakfasts before heading down to Brockley for the most amazing of barbecues and the most beautiful of skies. And then the Big Green Egg came down from the skies and gifted us all with food and we were very happy.
I decided kinda last minute to go to Cancun for the weekend last weekend. I was miserably pale and — although I’m not a beach person — I really just wanted to be by the water. Being a Starwood member, I could have gone to the Westin for free with all my points, but I was sucked in by this idea of an all-inclusive resort and the #1 place on TripAdvisor. So I booked Le Blanc in CANCUN of all places. (Cancun being terribly touristy.) Sadly, there are only two places in the Caribbean you can get to via a direct commercial flight from Chicago in August — Cancun and Puerto Rico. (There are plenty of charter flights from Chicago, but I’ve heard too many horror stories.)
My initial 24 hours at Le Blanc were like a comedy of errors. Firstly, everyone on TripAdvisor talks about the Le Blanc Cadillac Escalade that picks you up at the airport. I just assumed this is what I had, but ended up in one of those terrible airport vans that drops people off at umpteen different hotels before you get to yours. For the record…I don’t do airport vans.
Upon arrival at the hotel, a member of staff greeted me with a cool glass of coconut milk…a very nice touch. Only problem? He had two. And wanted to know where my husband was. Then, upon check-in, the woman at the desk couldn’t tell if I had paid or not. At one point, she handed me a receipt that said twice the amount that I owed. Umm…I think there’s been a mistake. So she had to undo everything and we basically agreed I would pay any balance when I left because she wasn’t sure if they had already charged my card or not. This shouldn’t happen at what’s supposed to be a five star resort.
Then, they take me to my room. There’s a letter waiting for me. Only problem? I’m not Mr. Amato or whoever the letter was for. My butler was perplexed. “You are not Mrs. Amato?” No, really I’m not.
I sit on the oddly short King Size bed and exhale. Trying to relax.
I order room service. Gazpacho and ceviche. A gentleman arrives with my tray. He wants to know where my husband is. My fiance? No friends with me? No one? Really?
Yes, I took myself on vacation. For 2.5 days.
The view from my room was of the lagoon and front pool. And the parking lot and major thoroughfare. At night, I drifted off to sleep to the sound of tourist buses traversing Cancun. When I wasn’t listening to the people on both sides of me knocking boots, that is. (And the wall. It’s the headboard knocking against the wall that drives me insane.)
And sadly for this here Web site, around 6 pm each evening, the complimentary wifi would drag to a complete stop as people returned to their iPads to download movies for the evening. (The resort has in-room DVD players, but didn’t seem to have the ability to rent movies directly from the television.) My dreams of catching up on writing umpteen blog posts? Foiled.
Did I mention this all cost me $575 a night? Sigh.
Things started looking up on Day 2. The pool on the Caribbean was truly lovely. And the service was much better than the pool out front, where I was ignored for an entire hour before finally giving up and going inside. (Note that Le Blanc was pretty empty…August in the Caribbean. So being ignored was pretty painful, considering they had only two other people to wait on out front besides for me.)
The spa helped the resort redeem itself. This is where Le Blanc truly shines. The sauna, steam room, and baths are very well-done. And the 80 minute massage I had was awesome. (And $150 of the $180 cost was included in the price of my stay. Le Blanc gives you resort credits to spend, depending on the length of your booking.)
The gym was also pretty fantastic. Although I think I was one of only three people who used it while I was there. I’m the only person I know who goes on vacation to have time for exercise, apparently.
The breakfast buffet was also good. No one could complain about the selection or availability of any of their favorite foods. That being said, the room service menu had an odd lack of Mexican items on it. To the point where on my second evening, I had to call down and ask them to bring me something — anything — Mexican because I couldn’t find anything on the menu. The chicken tacos they sent up were awesome. Perhaps one of the best things I’ve eaten all year.
I’m writing this as my stay at Le Blanc comes to a close. They haven’t replaced my towels during my stay, despite the fact I left them balled up in a wet knot on the floor on both Saturday and Sunday. And this morning, my butler told me he’d come find me at breakfast to confirm my ride back to the airport. He’s a nice man, but it was an hour and forty-five minutes later when he found me at the pool because I gave up waiting at breakfast after about 40 minutes. He wanted me to get out of the pool to sign my receipt. Call me truculent, but I told him he could find me later. I was too busy relaxing. Sigh.
Vacations shouldn’t be this hard.
The Verdict: Meh. I had a better time and was more well-cared for at the Four Seasons…in DAMASCUS. Yes, Syria.
I went to Vancouver for the Travel Bloggers’ Exchange Conference last month. It was okay. I stayed at L’Hermitage, which is the #1 hotel in Vancouver on TripAdvisor. I’m beginning to get the gist of TripAdvisor hotel reviews after a few ho-hum experiences…it’s all about location. I could not fault L’Hermitage for its location. But for its mattress quality? Yikes. And this is a new hotel.
The rooms at L’Hermitage are like studio apartments…all with a small kitchenette. I don’t like to eat breakfast out when I’m traveling — hello $35 at the breakfast buffet — so I really liked this aspect of L’Hermitage. Plus, the hotel was super close to a grocery store and a liquor store. I stocked up and treated myself not only to breakfast but to a little cocktail hour every afternoon. Good times.
Where I ate…
Japadog. Vancouver likes hot dogs. Especially Japanese hot dogs. Being a sucker for all things katsu, in a very small storefront on Robson Street, I went with the Tonkatsu. The Tonkatsu isn’t a real hot dog but rather fried pork with katsu sauce. For me, it was a bit on the sickly sweet side. And you know how I feel about untoasted buns. Lots of people like it here so I’d give it another shot, but my initial experience had me thinking…meh.
Given my disappointing “dinner” on Day 1, I was ready to make up for it Day 2. After consulting with the VERY helpful and VERY awesome concierge at L’Hermitage, we decided on Coast. (Also helped by the wonderful WhyGoCanada on Twitter.) It was a very perfect place for a late lunch, as they have a lovely bar that overlooks all the shellfish. You might recall my shrimp cocktail video from Coast and my delight with the dry ice treatment.
I couldn’t stop eating oysters while I was in Vancouver. I was very happy with the chef’s assortment at Coast. VERY happy.
I would go back to Coast if I were in Vancouver again. I liked the modern vibe, I liked the flirty service, and I liked the seafood…A LOT. (My goal in Vancouver was to stuff myself with as much seafood in a short amount of time as possible.)
At some point — I forget exactly when — I went to Herons Restaurant at The Fairmont and had lunch. It was only okay. The first problem was that the waitress took my order but only told me 5 to 7 minutes later than on weekend afternoons, they don’t offer the special of the day. I found this hard to understand. I changed my order and ended up with what I can only call diet food. Porcini-crusted salmon with organic vegetables. Meh. Nice. Healthy. But meh. I ordered a side of fries, which I really shouldn’t have done.
Herons is a nice place because it has a great view of the cruise ships (note the beautiful natural light), but it definitely had that hotel restaurant vibe. And I wasn’t too keen on my food. (Although I did like their very Canadian wine list.) Maybe I just ordered wrong.
That evening, I headed over to Blue Water Kitchen in Yaletown, another combined recommendation from my concierge at L’Hermitage and WhyGoCanada. I popped in super early and took a seat at the sushi bar in the back. I helped myself to more — surprise — oysters, along with the seafood ceviche. I unfortunately missed one very important word in the grapefruit, cucumber, lime, red onion, cilantro list of ingredients: GRAPEFRUIT.
I hate grapefruit. There are many foods that I don’t like, but I’ll still eat them — like mushrooms. But I really can’t eat grapefruit. At all. The grapefruit just about ruined a perfectly nice ceviche for me. Grapefruit bitterness is very pervasive. Very.
I also had the oddest lemon tart I’ve ever had at Blue Water…does this look like lemon tart to you??
I had to reread the menu. Ingredients? Frozen wild flower honey meringue, burnt orange sauce, caramelized almonds, pistachio and hazelnuts. Again, not paying attention. (Really though…how they can call this a lemon tart, I don’t know.)
Even with all this, I kinda liked Blue Water and would go back. But I would pay attention next time when ordering. Hah!
My last stop in Vacouver — I think — was the very sweet Zero One sushi. Super small, and not at all fancy. It’s exactly what I was in the mood for. HOLE IN THE WALL.
You place your order at the counter and the sushi chef is your waiter. I got one of the day’s specials — just a couple of small rolls — and used the miso soup to relieve myself of my TBEX hangover from the night before. Sushi Zero is not fancy nor is it gourmet. It’s inexpensive and honest, and sometimes that’s all I need.
So definitely some hits and misses in Vancouver, and I obviously had a seafood bias. If that’s not an excuse to go back and eat more, I don’t know what is!
When I bought my condo in Chicago last August, I tried explaining to my developer how much I HATE BEIGE. So many hotel rooms…seas of beige. I banned all beige from the construction site that was my soon-to-be home. I learned the hard way that stores don’t seem to stock white tile anymore…unless you want to pay a gazillion dollars for Egyptian or Italian marble. The contractors thought me and my beige ban were nutso, especially when I had 3200 lbs (yes) of white marble tile that I found on the Internet delivered by freight. Seriously.
The Sofitel Stephansdom is not beige. Anything but. It’s oddly disconcerting. Particularly on a sunny day. And particularly if you’ve had a little too much red wine. Red wine + Sofitel Stephansdom white room = accident waiting to happen. (I believe they also have gray rooms and black rooms. Request those if you plan on drinking red wine.)
I wanted to, but I didn’t. No time, no time. What with my spa treatment and everything. (The bad part? When she told me that my dehydrated skin was beyond repair and would only get worse. !!! If I’m paying you 100 euros, you tell me you’re a miracle worker. That’s all I care about.)
I didn’t want to touch anything. Really.
The only burst of color–a set of Hermes bath products. They look lovely, but they left me smelling oddly muskily masculine for the next 24 hours until I reached the other side. Not recommended.
The Verdict: Lovely. Free wifi. Free non-alcoholic minibar. A bed and fluffy duvet you don’t want to leave. But beware the Hermes if you’re female.
Americans who go abroad often have a problem with European hotel rooms. They are too small, they say, Read TripAdvisor or anything similar and you will find gazillions of my countrymen (sorry — countrypeople) lambasting the size of European hotel rooms.
So let’s just get it out of the way now. My room at The Dean Street Townhouse was small. Pretty small.
But it was also absolutely gorgeous. GORGEOUS.
I want to hire the person who makes the bed to come to my house and iron all my sheets and make my bed every day, so tight and snugly was it done up and so soundly did I sleep here.
When I lived in London, everyone that was up on London and restaurants and drinking establishments knew about The Dean Street Townhouse. Part of Soho House (and Shoreditch House), it was quite hard to ignore. But what people knew about was the restaurant. Not the hotel. Sascha over at LibertyLondonGirl posted a video review of the hotel quite some time ago, and I remember being charmed by all this small boutique property had to offer. So when it came time to book my birthday stay in London over Royal Wedding Weekend, it was the first place I looked…after I figured out that every other hotel I’d want to stay in was going for more than $600 USD per night. (The Dean Street Townhouse was still not cheap in American terms…£250 or $410 a night. Ouch. Hurts me to think about it in dollars. But in pounds, £250 sounds so much better.)
For a small hotel, Dean Street was jam-packed with amenities. I’ve yet to stay in any other hotel that offers Sky+ to their guests. (That’s Tivo, to my American readers.) There was free-wifi throughout the hotel — even next door in the neighboring restaurant — and even better, there was this…
See all those bottles there? Those are Cowshed products. Four different types of body wash to choose from, along with a lovely shampoo and conditioner. FULL SIZE. The conditioner was so good that I bought a bottle before I left. Really…amazing. (I have ridiculously thick hair with a wave that only responds to professionals. — I’m on the 4th week of a very intense Keratin treatment at the moment. — Cowshed’s conditioner tamed it more than any other conditioner I’ve ever tried. Truly.)
Ah and see this…these are all the goodies that maybe you forgot to bring along with you. Like I had forgotten facial cleanser. So I used Cowshed’s. I don’t normally use toner, but as long as I was using the cleanser, I also used the toner and let me tell you…I am now a believer. My skin has never — honestly — felt younger. I don’t understand why the best of hotels don’t provide this sort of amenity basket. The upside from someone like me buying the £18 bottle of conditioner certainly pays for all the products in here. Including the prophylactics. Yes. There were even prophylactics in the basket.
The rest of the room — what admittedly there was of it — was similarly delightfully and thoughtfully put together. Every day, they filled up my tea and biscuit tins. And in the drawers of that cupboard there was not only a Babyliss hair dryer, but also a HAIR STRAIGHTENER. I have never stayed in a hotel before that offers hair straighteners. That’s awesome.
The only downside to my three-night stay here? The floor covering was something rattan-like. I accidentally left a sweater on the floor one night and was picking hay off myself for the next 48 hours.
The Verdict: STAY. NOW. OBEY.
The Damage: Significant. But it was my birthday. So there is that.