Founder’s Lodge in the Shamwari Game Reserve


A frequent question on the ‘net’ is which Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth is the best – and while I can’t vouch for any of the others, I can tell you that the Shamwari Reserve was amazing.

But I’m ahead of my tail – which is not an unusual position.

We start the day in the absolute lap of luxury that is the Conrad Pezula. For the first time in our trip – I’d rather not leave. In fact – I’m even thinking of buying real estate. It’s only the discomfort of the South African reality that keeps me from chatting up a real estate agent. I just can’t get my head around the constant locked access points, focus on security, and the fences. There is a very obvious lack of respect and even comfort between colours and classes that just makes my skin itch. But that’s the topic of another blog.

Today we must drive to Founder’s Lodge in the Shamwari Game Reserve, and we’ve done the GPS thing to find out how long it will take to drive to Port Elizabeth and counted backwards. We must leave by 9:00 to make it there in time for lunch and the afternoon game drive.

Breakfast turns out to be more of an adventure than I’d planned on. I wanted to eat on our balcony – sitting in the sun and enjoying the stunning view. To do that – I must make coffee. And there’s a single serve coffee machine in the room. Perfect. Until I try to figure out how it works.

I’m old, but not stupid – and the thing stumps me. It just won’t turn on. Yes, I checked that it was plugged in, and yes I checked that the plug was on. No action. So I call the front desk. They tell me there’s a switch on the machine, hidden in the back. I try that – nope. It isn’t going to turn on. And worse – out of the 4 coffee packets they have given me – I’ve used up two. One in the first attempt – a second in the next attempt.

They will send someone. Who within seconds is there – with another machine. He checks our machine, agrees that it is not turning on, and plugs in the newer machine. It turns on – (green light on the front), and we thank him.

Try 3. I put in the coffee thingy – put the mug under the spout, and push the green light. The machine gurgles and burps and starts producing coffee. And doesn’t Stop! I fill my mug, and I’m on the 2nd mug when I turn the machine off and give up. I’m calling the office – again.

Seconds later another young man appears at our door – who shows us that to stop the machine from producing coffee you must push the button on the front when the light turns red… It offers you options you see – the first time it turns red, that’s a single espresso. The 2nd time – espresso Double, and the third time – Americano!

Problem – in learning how to use the machine – I’ve used up all the little single serve coffee things they have given us. So another trip from the front desk to give us a few more pouches of coffee.

I’m sure there is someone at the Conrad Pezula who is giving up on making any money on our stay! We have definitely kept their staff occupied.

Breakfast done (whew) – we call the front desk (yet again) for luggage pickup, Victor hikes up to the office while I continue to drink my lovely coffee enjoying my fabulous view and try to work up the courage to actually leave. But I have no choice – the bellman with the golf cart arrives, takes our luggage out to the cart and offers me a drive up the hill. We absolutely must leave.

When I come back to South Africa – perhaps in another life time – this is the place I want to stay!

We drive down the Head, and head East along the N2. This is a ‘major’ road that winds along all the Garden Route – but in this section it is just one lane in each direction, with large shoulders they use to create space for cars to pass on the right. Remember – drive on the left! At the sides of the road at first are what I’d call middle class housing, but it quickly becomes either township or informal settlements with the corresponding piles of garbage. Question to self – why is everything so clean except the areas near the townships and informal settlements?

Eventually even that bit of housing disappears and we are driving thru fields of grain, some irrigated, some not. There are also herds of cows and sheep to see, and the occasional horse farm. It’s not the most exciting driving – although the view of Plettenberg Bay is stunning. These are some of the finest beaches in South Africa, but we are on a mission – we must get to Port Elizabeth.

The road is often actually 3 lanes – achieved not by widening the road, but by changing the location of the paint. So imagine two lanes with large shoulders. To get three lanes – you get rid of the shoulders on each side – and either make the no passing line on the far right of the 2nd lane (we have two lanes heading east), or to the far left of the 2nd lane (we have one very narrow lane heading east – they have two lanes heading west). It’s actually pretty neat, although my husband thinks they should make the passing lanes appear only on the uphill sections – he can’t pass the heavy trucks on the down hill portions, they gain too much speed.

Speaking of speed – the limit here is 120 km/hr. And no one goes 120, except us and the occasional truck. So we are pretty consistently the passed, not the passer.

After about 2 hours of this, we decide to enter into the GPS the actual address of our destination – and discover to our alarm that it isn’t in Port Elizabeth – it’s an hour NORTH! Oh, no. We’d calculated our trip based on getting to the reserve in time for lunch – and now we are definitely going to be an hour off.

Mad checking of paper work later – we realize that lunch doesn’t even start till 2:00 PM – and the game drive is at 3:30. We should just make it – but there’s no time to waddle. Not like we’ve been going slowly – but we try to pick up the pace a bit.

The outskirts of Port Elizabeth appear – first informal settlements, then townships, then middle class housing and finally the city itself. It’s a huge port – I count over a dozen giant container ships at anchor in the bay – and I would imagine there are some actually in the port, but it’s not visible from the N2. Which has become a 4 lane highway at this point – and the roadway switches from concrete to asphalt. My husband says that the driving is easier on asphalt – I don’t know or care – I just want this road trip to end.

As we steam pass a gas station – I say – there’s a gas station – but my husband is focused – we are getting to the reserve on time.

Suddenly I see an Elephant on my left! Wow – it’s an Elephant!. We are driving past the Addo National Elephant Park – and the next stop will be the Shamwari Reserve. I’m getting excited.

Meanwhile the N2 is down to 1 lane in each direction again, and the side roads are not all paved. We’ve left Port Elizabeth (and what passes as civilization) far behind.

It is at this moment that my husband checks the gas gauge. We are at 1/4 tank – and we need to find a gas station. I keep my eyes peeled – but we are far from anything that even looks like a town. Hopefully there will be a gas station near the lodge.

The instructions say – take the unpaved road at Sidbery and follow the signs. We do as told, and find our selves facing a formidable wrought iron gate. Oh dear – what did we do wrong? We stop to try to figure things out when a guard appears to ask us – where are you heading? We tell him Founder’s Lodge – and he’s immediately reassuring. You are fine, you are right, this is the right place. You have arrived!

Whew.

It turns out that the Founder’s Lodge is inside the reserve, and we’ve arrived at a back door. The gate is there to keep the animals in – and given the number of Elephants, Rinos, Lions, etc that we will see – I totally get it.

Our welcome at the Lodge is lovely – Susie, the manager, greets us with cold towels and a drink of our choice, and quickly ushers us into lunch. We ask about gas – and are assured that they will get a spare tank with 10 gallons or so for us tomorrow. Meanwhile, they will park the car – we need to go into lunch.

There are only 6 rooms in the lodge, a total of 12 guests. We are divided into two groups, each with our own Ranger who will take care of our every need from dawn to bed time. One group are 3 couples who came together from the Cape Town area, our group is composed of two couples from Port Elizabeth, and us.

Our Ranger is Freddie – and he’s a charmer. He joins us at lunch to explain that the game drive will start at 3:30 – right outside the front door of the lodge, and we should dress warmly – we won’t be back till after sunset. He also asks what drinks we’d prefer for ‘Sundowners’ – I opt for water. I’m just not that big a party kinda gal!

Our quick tour of the Lodge is, as the welcome made us expect, impressive. Our room has a wall of glass facing out onto the private reserve of the Founder – independent of but adjacent to the Shamwari Reserve. Using the concept of an infinity pool, the garden appears to continue smoothly to the watering hole for the animals of the Reserve about 150 meters away. But actually there’s a wall with electric fencing separating us from the animals – at least the animals who would be daunted by a wall. Fortunately, there are no predators in our private reserve – so while the baboons and monkeys might be an issue – the larger vegetarians are happy to stay on their side of the fence.

Onto our quick tour of the Lodge (it’s lovely), and then onto our ‘Safari’ vehicles to start our first game drive.

These are very upscale vehicles indeed. Modified Toyota Land Cruisers – there three rows of two leather seats, so each person has an unimpeded view to the side and because the seats are raised one above the other, to the front as well. There is room for a driver and a spotter – but Freddie will be serving as both for us.

Turns out that all vehicles in the park are exactly the same design, color and style. That makes it very easy to spot any unauthorized vehicles – and Freddie starts our tour by telling us that the Shamwari Reserve has had no poaching incidents in the past 15 years. They have 24/7 anti-poaching teams – and they are armed and serious. You do not touch our animals. Kruger Park, on the other hand has had over 300 incidents this year – and while the numbers are down from 2016, any Rino poaching is bad. Folks involved with the animals are working hard to educate people on the absolute uselessness of killing Rino’s for their horns – they are made of exactly the same material as our fingernails – but folks seems to love to ignore the truth. It’s sad.

He also warns us to keep our hands inside the vehicle – the shape of the vehicle is known to the animals and they won’t bother us, but if you break the shape by sticking an arm out – you will alarm the animals. He also warns us to not make loud noises – or to call to the animals. They will in fact turn away if we do that – so we’ll get the opposite of what we’d like as far as pictures go.

And we head off. For our first drive, Freddie decides to head North – into the wilder, less traveled part of the Park. There are tracks carved thru the bush that keep the vehicles off the slow growing vegetation, yet allow access to almost all parts of the huge park. The rules for the drivers are simple – stay out of sight of other vehicles, but stay in contact by radio in case someone spots something exciting. And stay on the cleared tracks. There are parts of the park where you can drive off road, but generally that’s done either to go around a wash-out, to allow another vehicle to pass, or to get closer to a Cat. All other game is to be observed from the already tracked ‘trails’ in order to avoid disturbing them – or killing vegetation.

As we drive along, I’m impressed by the beauty of the place – despite knowing that there is a fence all around us – the place feels wild and free, and a lot greener than I remember either the parks in Kenya or Botswana. There are fairly large trees growing in the sections where the Bushman’s River winds thru the park, and the open ‘grass lands’ seem to go on forever. And game abounds. Zebras with colts, Springbok’s, Kudu, etc are everywhere to be seen. Freddie spots an Elephant across a valley from us, and heads in that direction. He’s a solitary Bull – and he is huge. Mildly chomping away at the tops of Acacia Trees, he ambles along, at times ahead of us, at times in back. He takes a quick right and heads up a steep hill – and Freddie tries to follow on the trail. Suddenly the Elephant is in front of us – right in the road. We can’t pass him, and he’s headed straight into the sun. Lousy photos – cool view! Finally Freddie takes a chance and at a widening in the trail, drives carefully behind the Elephant to put us ahead of him with the sun at our back. We take lots of very good photos – and then the radio bursts into life – they have spotted a Cheetah. So we leave our elephant to head in that direction.

The Cheetah is just sitting on the ground behind a bush – casually watching us watching him. So beautiful, and so peaceful. We also spotted a sleeping lion – there is little as boring of course. Well satisfied with our game drive, we stop at the top of a look out for a much needed ‘pee’ break and Sundowners. What an amazing landscape.

There are about 10 Lodges in the Shamwari Game reserve, most much larger than ours – and we have driven past several. I think ours is just perfect – but it’s nice to know there are options if we want to return.

I’m thinking that what really matters is the quality of your guide and his (her) ability to position the vehicle so that picture taking opportunities are the best. That often means knowing not only where the animals are – but to guess where they will be going – and keeping track of where the sun is since we can’t shoot into it. And since you are supposed to stay on the tracks – being on the right track at the right position at the right moment is an art!

Back at the Lodge, the vehicle circles around to the Boma – a raised area with a fire lit to welcome us home. The staff is lined up to greet us – and hand us warm drinks.

Sigh – I’ve gone to heaven and it’s in South Africa.

Signing off to ready myself for ”The Founder’s Dinner” – The Soup Lady

Eating Fancy – Rome – Part 3


If you are late coming to this blog – check out Eating Fancy – Rome – Parts 1 and 2. The following restaurants were my all time favorites – and without spoiling anything – well worth the price they charged.

Tied for top prize (I prefer one, my husband the other) are All’Oro and Open Colanna.

First All-Oro. We were recommended by the Sommalier at Open Colanna – and in later conversation, it turned out that he had worked there when they were in their smaller previous location. For the past 4 years – they have been located in the First Art Hotel – and the style and decor is strictly high-end Italian modern. Elegant, sophisticated, and supremely simple. Napkins were rolled into long tubes at the table, matching the vertical long tubes that held a single flower. Spot lights gave each table a feeling of privacy, although the space was actually completely open. There were about 12 tables in total, 7 of which were occupied. So like at Il Pagliaccio and at Open Colanna – the staff outnumbered the dinners. I kept wondering how they make money.

At All’Oro – the tasting menu was unique. Instead of a special menu – you got to choose your options off the regular menu – and I suspect they then split the standard fair into 2 dishes – one per person. In any case – the portions, even for a tasting menu, were tiny. That said – they were stunning.

My absolute favorites were the 2 ‘pasta’ offerings – both of which were inverted. Instead of putting the pasta in a sauce – they put the sauce in the pasta! You put the pasta in your mouth, and chewed. The flavors of the sauces, in perfect serving size, burst into your mouth. I have no idea how this was accomplished – but the result awesome. I absolutely loved the result – but the appearance and the flavors. Delicious and Surprising. Highly technical, but well conceived and beautifully executed.

For the main meal we opted for the suckling pig – 2 ways. Again, the portion size was tiny, but the flavors were intense. One portion was pork belly, intensely seasoned and cleverly sliced so that the fat was crisp and the meat/fat was juicy and tender. The other was a piece of pork that had been immersion cooked for over 14 hours. Wonderful.

Unlike many restaurants where the chefs either ignore the customers – or chat up only the ones that they know well – at All’Oro the chef came out several times to chat up several tables – including us! He explained that he and his wife have been running his own restaurant and got his star 5 years ago. 4 years ago, he was invited to move to this space in the Hotel – where he cooks not only from the fine dining room, but for the roof top terrace restaurant – open only when conditions permit. He even offered to take us up there – I’d have loved to see it. So All’Oro definitely rates high in my book – I don’t think I’ll soon forget either the pork dish – or those amazing ravioli’s!

Last – and definitely worth a visit – is Open Colanna. We ate 2 meals there – the first was lunch. at 16 Euro per person for all you can eat – it was probably the best bargain we enjoyed the entire time we were in Europe. There was a huge spread, each dish more delicious than the last. I loved the chicken in Turmeric Sauce – and they served tiny cups of tiramusu that explained why this dessert is featured on so many Italian restaurants. Needless to say – the place was packed. It a huge ‘open’ space – surrounded on 3 sides and the top with glass. The effect is a sun washed terrace – Italian modern design.

We loved lunch so much – the next day we walked back to get a reservation for dinner!

At dinner – the main dining area is closed, and the upper floor (hidden from view during the day) becomes the dinning room. There are only about 12 tables – and of these only 6 were occupied. With a wait staff of 4 – and an unknown number of kitchen staff – it was like having a personal dinner party.

The airy space – sun lit when we arrived, and gradually darkening as the sun set – was magical. You felt like you were floating among the buildings on every side. While not the over-the-top romantic feeling of Mirabelle – you still felt cared for and about. The wait staff had time to chat – to discuss the meal, to be sure your meal was memorable.

No – the chef did not make an appearance – I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there – but his sous-chefs did a wonderful job of following his directions.

As is expected, there was an amuse, a multi-course tasting menu, and this time there was a wine tasting menu as well. But it was free-form – the sommeiler opting for bottles he felt would compliment what we were going to be eating. The tasting menu featured much larger portions than the ones at All’Oro – which might be why my husband rated Open higher. They also served a variation on ravioli filled with sauce – this time the pasta were tiny hand-made Pyramids. Very neat. The main course was also suckling pig – a much larger portion of course. The meat was extremely tender, but in my opinion, not nearly as tasty as the version served at All’Oro. My only complaint – and this was a problem of my own making – on the menu at Open there was a souffle. This is one of my favorite desserts – and we asked that it be served. However, the dessert on the tasting menu was a chocolate fancy that according to the sommelier/Matre d’ was a prize winner. We allowed him to convince us to go with that option and while tasty – I missed having the souffle. Next time – I stand my ground. Souffle it will be!

So that’s the score. Open Colanna and All’Oro in first place, third place goes to Il Pagliaccio, and last and most forgettable (but a to die for view) – Mirabella.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Eating Fancy – Rome – Part 2


Part One of this blog talked about the Mirabele – 1 Michelin Star, high points for location and Romance – nice music too – and a not so hot score for the food.

Next up on my list was Il Pagliaccio. This was a 2 star restaurant – tiny, tiny, tiny and stuck in a back street of Rome so challenging to find that our taxi driver had to use her GPS. Surprisingly to me – the door was locked when we arrived. But clearly the host was keeping an eye out – before I could recover from my surprise, the door was opened. We confirmed that we had a reservation – and were ushered in. There were at most 8 tables. And I never saw one flip. So quite the difference from the packed and a bit frantic atmosphere of the Mirabelle.

Like the Mirabelle – we opted for the 10 course tasting menu. Unlike the Mirabelle – there was no matching wine tasting. The sommelier helped my husband select a white wine by the glass, and a red that he felt would go with most of the courses. We were quite disappointed by this – going with most isn’t really quite good enough at this price range.

Again there was a napkin service, this time it happened before we were served a delicious green pea soup amuse that was divine. The courses were interesting – but hard to remember because the main server’s english was so heavily accented, we couldn’t understand him. I was impressed by the continuous simultaneous service – a nice touch. My impression in thinking back on the meal was good – interesting – but not stunning. I love it when a chef makes a dish for me that astounds me – that didn’t happen here. No cause for complaint – just nothing so outstanding I’d try to tell you about it.

I felt that the kitchen here was superior to that of the Mirabelle – but the restaurant lost points for location and view. I’m not sorry we tried it – but I wouldn’t rush back.

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady

Eating Fancy – Rome – Part 1


Eating ‘Fancy’ in Rome

Unlike the intrepid traveller, my husband considers high-end dining to be an absolute necessity when we travel. So it should come as no surprise that when in Rome – we dined right.

Don’t have a least one Michelin star? You are not going to be on our list!

So the next 3 blogs will be reviews of 4 – count’m 4 – Michelin starred restaurants, Open Colanna, the Mirabelle, All’Oro, and Il Pagliaccio. They all offered tasting menus of 5 to 10 courses, and elaborate service. But there were clearly highlights – and while not low lights – at least not so great lights.

Let’s start with our final dinner in Rome – at the Mirabelle. The Mirabelle is on the 7th floor of a 5 star hotel in Rome – with footman, greeters, marble floors, elaborate decor, and attitude to match. Our taxi dropped us at the door, and we were greeted 3 times before we even made it to the restaurant. The restaurant itself earns its highest points for decor, location, and romance. It’s open to the air (but can be closed in by floor to ceiling glass panels). To say the view was spectacular would actually be an understatement. The sun was setting as we arrived and were seated, not in the first row of seats, but pressed up against a glass window. Our view was good, but not amazing. To be amazing, you had to get a table on the ‘terrace’ – and when we reserved, they were all taken.

True to its Michelin Star status – there was a napkin service (they use clippers to place the napkin on your lap, and elaborate ‘greeting’ dish of tiny amuses – mini cookies, tiny salty breads, and a delicious fried ball filled with risotto. This last was my favorite. The bread service was in two parts. Bread sticks and a seasoned mini croissants at one time, followed by a selection of various small rolls after the first course. I loved the croissants and ate both mine and my husbands. The rest of the bread was ultimately forgettable.

We choose the tasting menu of 7 courses – and my husband opted for the high-end wine tasting option that matched. Of the courses – none was knock you socks off special. I did like them – just don’t remember them. During dinner, there was live piano music – low-key American songs, sung for the romance of them. I kept thinking that a dance floor option would have been welcome – it would have been nice to have swayed to the music.

Dinner was followed by 3 desserts – a pre-desert of fennel ice cream (which I loved), and a ‘desert’ of Strawberry soup, also served with ice-cream. After that – they served a platter of friandise – always my favorite part of the meal.

Summary – high points for Romance, Location, View. Not so hot for the food. But they were incredibly busy. All the tables were full – and many flipped twice. So say what I will – they are clearly doing something right.
But on to higher points!

Venice – City of Delight


I love Venice

I knew I’d like Venice – I mean it’s all about boats and water and art – what’s not to like. But I didn’t plan to love it.

And I loved it.

Finding a place to stay was quite the challenge. My husband had heard of the Gritti Palace – but $1500 a night off-season – is a tad over any price range I’d feel comfy sleeping in. So internet searching happened – and I discovered ‘The Bert’. The Bert is a Bed and Breakfast on a yacht that is moored in a Yacht club on an island near the main island of Venice. And for me – it was the perfect place.

Breakfast on the stern deck, coffee and tea in the afternoon in the main cabin, and upstairs a bar and relaxing area for drinks in the evening.

We arrived late the first night – in the rain. Not fun, and not the best start. We had followed directions – taking one of the transport boats from the airport to the island dock. What we had not quite understood was that we had to leave the main dock before the shuttle boat for the Yacht could pick us up. And with our multiple pieces of luggage (re-enacting is not for the carry on only traveler) this was a challenge. But once the folks from The Bert had understood our challenges – they were quick to help.

We squared away our cabin – with private en-suite bathroom – tiny but efficient. It even had a bidet – although taking a shower meant getting the entire bathroom wet. Stephano – the captain and host extraordinaire offered to cook us dinner – for 30 euros each. We gladly accepted the offer – and I think had one of the most price effective meals of our stay in Italy. Our 30 Euros included unlimited wine (white and red), bread, an amuse, a pasta course, a main course, and dessert. Yummy – private – and served on the stern deck to the lapping of waves and the sound of crickets. Color me happy.

The Bert also provided an ample breakfast – including fresh eggs – cooked to your specifications. That plus unlimited cappuccino – I’m happy.

After breakfast, we either caught the Bert Shuttle to the island dock – or walked 10 minutes. From the dock to Venice was a short boat ride – we spent more time waiting for the boat than actually travelling. Once you figured out when the boats came (you can set you watch by them) – it was easy to time your travel. We quickly become very efficient at getting to and from the heart of Venice.

Venice. Oh yes – Venice. I had pre-planned our first 2 days to be sure that I got to see the ‘highlights’ – St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge Palace. Then we had 2 days to wander on our own – most of which I spent visiting museums, and Victor spent on the internet.

Best museum adventure ever? I wandered into the First Public Library in Venice – and a lovely young female artist explained the drawings – she had written the story of the library – giving the ‘player’s’ – key among them Napoleon – Animal faces. Wonderfully complete, and extremely creative.

In the evenings, we ate. My favorite meal – Quadri. It’s been on St. Mark’s Square for over 100 years – and it rates 2 Michelin starts. Location is perfect, Service is amazing. Souffle was delicious. And as a parting gift – they gave us the menu to remember the meal. Nice touch. After dinner, we wandered the square, then took the boat home.

Sigh – Venice – perfect – absolutely perfect.

2 Star Michelin Restaurants – Seriously – are they worth the price?


Hard to say actually. We only ate at two 2-star restaurants this trip – the fabulous Atelier in Munich has only 1 star.

The first was the Essigbratlein in Nuremberg, the 2nd was the Fischers Fritz in Berlin. Both are seriously expensive, very elegant, service intensive restaurants – both are clearly intended to offer ‘blow-you-away’ food at prices that will dent your pocketbook.

First – the Essigbratlein. Nuremberg is not Berlin, and one wouldn’t expect either Berlin prices, nor Berlin quality – and you’d be exactly right. The meal at the Essigbratlein – a tiny 10 table hole-in-the-wall located within spitting distance of the Nuremberg Castle – was good – heavy on veggies (unusual in restaurants of this type) – and generous with the wine. But the courses blur together in my memory – delicious why we enjoyed them, but except for the Brussel sprouts with mandarin – not worth blogging about. The one exception were the Brussel sprouts. Not a vegetable I would quickly assume I would enjoy – and in this case – I’d be very wrong. This was a stunning dish. Light, flavorful, full of texture – completely delicious.

And I must compliment the restaurant on the wine service. Traditionally – I don’t order the wine pairing – it’s a lot of money for a lot of alcohol I simply can’t drink. But at the Essigbratlein they went ahead and poured me a sipping portion of each wine served at the table. I could taste, enjoy – and they didn’t charge us. Cool.

Second – the Fischers Fritz. This is a much larger restaurant – more servers, more tables, more space. And located as it is in the Regency Hotel in Berlin, I’m going to guess a much much larger kitchen. The result is as should be expected – a superior experience. Highlights included the Sea Bass in Sel (an entire fish cooked in a flour/salt pastry shell so that the juices are sealed in), and the Cheese Course.

20131025-233806.jpg

20131025-233813.jpg

I adore a cheese trolley – and their trolley was outstanding. On the other hand – they did not accompany the cheese with as many treats as did the Atelier in Munich – so I can only give them a B+ for that course. I also loved the first appetizer – a tartare of sea bass with avocado and quickly fried mini-octopus.

20131025-233758.jpg

Wonderful texture, delightful favors, plus it looked great. Unfortunately – the desert was a disaster – I think the Fishers Fritz needs a pastry chef – bad! The ‘franchise’ on the other hand were delightful tiny bites of chocolate truffles, jellies, and treats. They were as good as the desert was bad.

I must admit that while the Fischers Fritz was the better of the two, the Atelier in Munich trumped them both. Oh well – you never know if you never try!

Atelier – the Ultimate Dinner – Ignoring the price of course!


There’s a 2 Michelin Star Restaurant in Munich – the Dallmayr. It’s extremely small – extremely famous – and naturally – it’s very hard to get reservations. For some reason we’d thought we could sneak in at the last minute. Nope. But the very sweet Matre d’ asked if he could find another option for us – and suggested the Atelier. He even called and got us reservations.

So that’s how we ended up there – personal reference!

You’d never find it on Tripadvisor – 2 year ago someone reviewed it – in German, and gave it a 98 out of 100 – but blew it on the overall rating. Instead of a 5 – he gave it 2 – thinking Michelin stars. So the restaurant is ranked about 50th in Munich – instead of the first or second place it deserves. How do I know – after I ate there I emailed him to ask why the 2 stars!

Anyway – The restaurant is located in a tiny space (10 tables max – although all were large – at least double sized normal tables, with generous aisles and plenty of room for the serving staff). The tiny space is located in one of Munich’s don’t ask the price – you can’t afford it – upscale hotels. There were 2 other restaurants (at least) in the same hotel – the Garden which shared chefs and maitre d’ with the Atelier, although not the menu or wait staff, and rather surprisingly – a Trader Vic’s on a lower level. I haven’t seen a Trader Vic’s in at least 30 years. I didn’t get to see inside this one either!

But the layout was such that once in the Atelier – you didn’t hear or see or know anything about the other restaurants – it was a private space, set up to impress, comfort, and clearly feed you.

Huge round stone platters marked each place, and the salt and butter service was pink sea salt, unsalted local butter, and a house made spread.

20131014-214428.jpg

I felt very under-dressed in my blue jeans and bright blue ski sweater, but the extremely well-trained staff didn’t bat an eyelid. If I came recommended by the maitre d’ at Dallmayr – I was ok!

There are only 2 main options – a tasting menu of 5 courses, or a tasting menu of 7 courses. But our talented, knowledgeable, and very pretty head waitress assured us that the kitchen was extremely flexible – we could pick and choose as we wished.

So my husband ordered the 7 course menu with wine pairings, I opted for the 5 course meal. In my opinion – I was the clear winner on this deal. My menu included unlimited selections from the cheese cart featuring raw milk cheeses from Maitre Affineur Waltmann.

Restaurants of this caliber offer additional surprise courses – delivered to the table and described as ‘gifts’ from the kitchen. At the Atelier – there were at least 4 or 5 such gifts – and the first one had 2 separate bites – both served on the same plate, I loved the mixture of crunch and soft in both the fish puree and mini ravioli. That distinctive combination of soft and crunch was a theme that niftily was repeated in most of the other offerings.

My 5 courses went from a lovely Duck breast dish with a side dim-sum of duck confit to a delightful fish slice delicately placed in a chinese lettuce and false flax oil puree. (Don’t ask me what that means – I’m just quoting from the copy of the menu they gave us when we left). What made the fish special was that they had quick fried the skin (crunchy) and properly cooked the fish (still soft and flaky – and delightfully seasoned. Yum.

20131014-214822.jpg

I didn’t much care for one of my courses – but Victor was glad to help me out. My lemon and we think lime and/or mint sorbet cleanser was delightful too.

The cheese course was as perfect as it could be.

20131014-214848.jpg

The offerings ranged from cow to sheep to goat, from mild to strong to stronger. I opted for 6 different cheeses, and they were properly sliced and placed in order of complexity of flavor on a plate.

20131014-214903.jpg

In addition there were 6 homemade jams – I asked to try all 6. And they had very lightly toasted and still soft nut bread.

20131014-214919.jpg

One of the cheese I’d picked was called Trappe Echourgnac – according to the staff – it made with a walnut liquor that we thought was exceptional. When we asked for the name – they not only provided that – they gave us a second, larger, piece to enjoy. Such an elegant way of dealing with a guest.

Desert – ah desert. Not just one, or two, but 3 deserts were presented. The first was a pre-desert, my main desert was a carmel butterscotch wonder with again that signature contrast of crunch and soft. In this case – the soft was home-made ice cream. After that they served a mini-desert of home-made truffle and marshmallow – followed by a box of truffles and nougat – pick however many as you want – when they presented the bill.

20131014-214932.jpg

Sigh

Meanwhile – Vic was enjoying his 7 courses – again each better than the last. His cheese course was particularly special – a goat cheese that had been bruleed on top. I didn’t taste it – but he loved it. They called it Clacbitou – and described it simply as cheese with eggplant and sesame. It was anything but simple.

His favorite main course was the Fillet of veal and calf’s tongue with brown mushroom and Savoy cabbage. Again much more flavor and style than the description or picture could possibly could convey.

20131014-214833.jpg

Bottom line – at the Atelier you definitely get what you pay for – and if you can afford it – then it’s definitely worth the money and time! It took almost 4 hours to eat dinner – and yet we never waited for a course. There are just so many courses to enjoy, discuss, and share.

One note – Victor ordered the wine pairing – and for each course they OPENED a bottle for him, and left it available for him to enjoy as much or as little as he wanted. The same happened at the other tables – no sharing of wine. What do they do with the half-finished bottles we wondered, but didn’t ask. My guess – they become wine by the glass for the Garden restaurant next door. But if other restaurants of this type have done that in the past – I didn’t notice it. Sure made me feel special! Wine was good too.

Le Papillon in San Jose – Expensive, Great Service, B rated food!



We wanted something a bit old-school – and in theory Le Papillion should have been perfect. Like so many other restaurants in San Jose – it’s location is not the best – there’s nothing within walking distance but a furniture store and a 7-11. But the older home that has been renovated into this charming restaurant is glorious inside. The dinning ‘room’ is all muted gold, brown, and white – with cali lilys on each table and a huge floral arrangement taking up the center area of one of the rooms.

There’s a bar area that doubles as a semi-private dining room, and an outdoor area that I imagine must be for people needing a smoke, and wanting a location that’s more elegant than the driveway.

Waiters wearing tuxes, including our pleasant young waitress who was proudly 7 months pregant, made the elegant atmosphere even more refined. And I must say I totally appreciated the no cell phone policy – which didn’t distract from picture taking given the ‘special night’ atmosphere. The clever use of a single lit candle to take a dessert offering from elegant to Congradulations was totally in tune with the atmosphere.

I just wish the food had been of similar quality.

My duck entre was tough – I badly needed a sharper knife, and there was none on offer. My quail appetizer featured a farro base – too much farro, not enough Quail. The result was like having oatmeal served with a marsalla reduction. Weird. But most truly disappointing were the desserts. The ‘souffle’ was mostly egg white, although given the number we saw served, not a problem for most diners. I guess people just have forgotten what a real souffle should be. My berry Coulis looked lovely, and the berries were lovely – but the commerically produced pastry cup was stale tasting. At this price range – not acceptable.

On the other hand – my husband thought his beef tenderloin was quite good.

We also tried the ‘gourmet’ cheese course. With all the wonderful artisan California cheese producers around – how could they just give us commercial cheese of relatively common quality. At least one surprise would have been appreciated.

So – beautiful restaurant, very energetic service, so-so food at a fairly high price. I give them a B – and that’s generous.

Oh well.

Le Papillon on Urbanspoon

20130922-130246.jpg

8 Easy Steps to Eating Smart when Eating out!



This is one of my all time favorite topics. I leave and breathe eating out – and I watch my weight like a hawk. I went with Weight Watchers in Feb 2002 – lost 30 pounds by June 2002 – and have kept it off for over 11 years now. Clearly – I’m pretty pound of that accomplishment. I weigh what I weighed in High School. Rocking Grannie!

BUT – there’s a price to pay in staying slim and eating out more nights than I eat in – and I call it the menu game. And like all games, there are rules.

Step 1: Before sitting down – Choose your price point and be sure that the restaurant offers options that will work. For example – if you are thinking of spending about $20 per person – the average price for the entries on the menu should be $10 to $15. The wine, the dessert, the tip and taxes will bounce a $10 entry up to $20 in a blink of the eye.

Step 2: Choose your cuisine – A study by the folks at Tufts School of Nutrition has determined that there are ‘better’ cuisines and ‘worse’ cuisines from an average calorie point of view. Not surprisingly, Vietnamese and Japanese have the lowest average calories when their most popular dishes were analyzed, while Italian, American and Chinese have the highest average calorie counts. (Check out the exact numbers in the study published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Susan Roberts, Director of the HNRCA Energy Metabolism Laboratory. Susan Roberts also is the author of “The “i” Diet” (www.myidiet.com))

Step 3: Try not to arrive famished. This is so hard to avoid, and so critical to keeping control over how much you eat. The other day I ended up devouring almost 1/2 of a delicious milk shake because I was just too hungry when I walked in to remember to ask for water.

Step 4: Always ask for water first – and always drink it before ordering. Then you can focus on what you are ordering, and not ‘shop hungry’.

Step 5: Plan ahead – and either order a small portion – or try to put 1/2 away before you start eating. Restaurants, particularly smaller ones at lower price points, serve way too much food. In fact, those crazy folks at the Tufts Nutrition School cited above studied calorie counts and determined that average meals in 33 randomly selected smaller restaurants in the Boston area ended up weighing in at an astounding 1,327 calories per meal – that’s about twice a normal meal, and more calories than I normal consume in a day. More distressing – fully 73% of the meals they analyzed in their study contained more than 1/2 the daily recommended calories per day for an adult. No wonder we get fat eating out. So plan on take out – every time you eat out. In fact 12 of the 157 meals analyzed actually contained more than 2000 calories – the calories recommended for an entire day

Step 5: Be a fussy eater! Ask for all sauces and all salad dressings to be served ‘on the side’. That way you can control how much of the most fattening things get in your stomach!

Step 6: Don’t order what you really shouldn’t eat. If you don’t order the french fries – you won’t be tempted. Don’t ruin fish (something you should try to eat at least twice a week) by getting it fried, and if you order steak – order the small portion.

Step 7: Put your fork down between bites. This works for any meal – home cooked, or eaten out. Study after study has shown that it takes time for your tummy to register ‘full’, and it’s easy to eat so fast that you go past that point. In fact – this is why I love tasting menus. The time delay between the courses gives my body time to decide how hungry I still am.

Step 8: Carry food with you – and eat it when you get hungry! I always have a small resealable container of almonds with me. They are the perfect snack – not terribly high in calories, take effort to eat (if it goes down fast – it didn’t count is false!)

Well there you have it – 8 easy steps to eating Smart when eating Out.

Rundles in Stratford – Overpriced – but oh so elegant


Used to be that getting a reservation at Rundles was impossible. You needed reservations months ahead, and even then it would be a challenge. But the food was amazing – so the planning ahead was worth it. And if you asked, and it wasn’t rented, they would give you a tour of the house next door.

Well things have changed over the years – and not to the better unfortunately. Prices are up, food quality is down, service is lacking – and no house tour was available. Guess it figures – getting reservations was decidedly easy.

We arrived promptly at 5:00 – with a theatre at 8:00 – we needed to eat and go. But in 2.5 hours – you should be able to get us in and out. And that went well. We did leave on time, we just didn’t leave impressed.

The menu is now prix-fixe – and at $95 per person, a bit of a gasp if you aren’t planning to eat a lot. We opted for 3 different appetizers, three main courses, and 3 desserts. The meal was so forgettable – I can’t even remember what I had. My sister had duck – presentation was lovely, taste was good – but for the price – well, a tad over kill.

I hate to say this – but Rundles – I think you’ve seen the last of us.

Rundles Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Rundles Restaurant on Foodio54