Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
That is why I took such interest in this piece I was assigned on HotelChatter last week about a new addition to the famous Farmhouse Inn in Forestville. The restaurant there has a Michelin star, which is reason enough to visit (after a couple months of saving up, of course), but aside from that, the hotel has also just opened a new building called The Barn. Rates are a bit steep, starting at $525 per night, but you can get a flight rebate that should make up for the cost of your travel there, and the facilities sound (and look) gorgeous.
For more on the new place, take a look at my article here: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2009/8/26/145059/487/hotels/_Barn_Storming_Rebate_at_Sonoma_s_Farmhouse_Inn
Thursday, August 27, 2009
On the other side of the country, on the Riviera Maya south of Cancun, the Esencia Estate resort released a press release scoffing at "unsubstantiated" fears about swine flu that it says were perpetuated by the media...but the exclusive hotel is also offering a spectacular deal to counteract the symptoms of swine flu fear. Basically, it is offering guests a resort credit equal to the rate they pay for their hotel rooms to use each day (no rollover pesos!). That means guests get huge discounts on meals, spa treatments, horseback riding, and other activities. Maybe that will make up for the pain of paying such high prices for their rooms!
For more on the deal, check out my story on HotelChatter: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2009/8/25/131256/373/hotels/The_Upside_of_Swine_Flu_Splurge_Deals_at_Riviera_Maya_s_Esencia_Estate
My meal there this week was pretty delicious, with all kinds of interesting taste combinations for you to read about in my review. The only thing that was lacking was the tiny wine list, and some of the desserts were hit-or-miss. However, overall, I thought it was a very good meal, and I loved the idea that you pick a protein like steak or fish, and then get to choose whichever of the veggie sides you'd like. It's all about options.
For the specifics, take a look at the review on LA.com here: http://www.la.com/ci_13194868
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
For more on the menu and the hotel, check out the link at HotelChatter: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2009/8/26/13252/3552/hotels/There_s_a_Bit_of_a_Tomato_Obsession_Going_On_at_c_o_The_Maidstone
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
We met at the restaurant one evening last week, and were treated to a profusion of gourmet Indian dishes from the new chef there, who hails from a famous restaurant in New Delhi called Bukhara.
Though the restaurant is not new, it used to be much more of a lounge than a dining room. Now that the economy is tanking, though, the owners decided to revamp the image and try to make it into the Indian food destination in Los Angeles. For more on the restaurant, the food, and the experience, check out my review below.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Ah well, before I get too down on either tequila or Cabo, let me just say that this combination of the two in special tequila tastings at the beautiful Las Ventanas al Paraiso piqued even my interest. Now if I could just figure out an excuse to get down there...
Saturday, August 22, 2009
The Loisium is a design hotel that sticks out a little incongrously from its countryside surroundings outside the village of Langenlois, but it was a nice change of place from some of the more...rustic...inns I had been staying in for the previous few days. In addition to the hotel, there is an Aveda Spa, a gourmet restaurant serving local, seasonal foods, and a "World of Wine" museum and cellar where you can learn about winemaking and then taste the local vintages.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Check out the video I made of the room, along with the aforementioned shower here on HotelChatter: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2009/8/14/135744/820/hotels/Shower_Power_at_Le_Meridien_Vienna
Situated just about 45 minutes east of Vienna by car, the little town of Durnstein is a postcard-perfect village nestled into the steep, lush hillsides carved by the Danube. Conveniently for me, Durnstein also lies in the heart of what is perhaps Austria's most famous wine-producing region (though also one of its smallest), the Wachau. This is that recognizable region of vertiginously terraced vineyards that trace the course of that mighty, muddy river that bears no resemblance to Strauss's "Blue Danube." Chances are if you've had a Gruner Veltliner lately in the U.S., it has come from the Wachau...or from nearby in the Kremstal and Kamptal Valleys.
I digress, however. It was important to me to see the ruins of Durnstein because it occupies a distinct place in history--and a distinct place in my own historical interests. Part of being a history dork who is interested in the finer things in life has led me to study medieval troubadour culture. Now, I'm no expert, but I have done some reading on the subject, and it was this same romantic interest that led me to southwest France to hike part of the Cathar Trail earlier this year.
Back to Duernstein. The little town that now occupies the tiny bank of the river was not what drew me there. Don't get me wrong, the town is absolutely gorgeous...and clogged with tourists and cyclists in the summer months. There are lovely hotels, fantastic restaurants, and stunning views of the valley to be enjoyed from there. However, it is the lonely castle keep that seems to sprout from the rocks that occupied my interest.
You see, it was there over Christmas and New Year's of 1192-1193 that Richard the Lionheart was kept prisoner by Duke Leopold V of Austria. Richard had been captured outside the bustling new city of Vienna by Leopold's forces while he was trying to return to England after his failed Crusade. The whole episode was provoked in Acre when Richard had thrown Leopold's standard down from the battlements of that beseiged city. As Richard tried to secretly make his way home over land--he feared being captured by pirates or agents of his other great enemy, the French king Philippe Auguste, on a sea voyage--he was found out and captured. Not knowing what to do with his regal prisoner immediately, Leopold had him held at Durnstein, away from prying eyes, until the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV could figure out what to do with Richard. The two wanted to extract a heavy ransom for him.
Meanwhile, the English found out that Richard had been captured, but no one knew where he was being held. This is where the troubadour legend comes in. According to the classic tale, a troubadour of unrivaled talent from the north of France named Blondel de Nesle had accompanied Richard as his faithful servant to the Holy Land. During their fateful return voyage, Richard was captured, but Blondel managed to escape, and relayed the news to the English. No one knew how to find the king, though, until the Holy Roman Emperor was ready to open negotiations. Hoping to get the upper hand with a surprise initiative, the English sent spies all over the Continent to find out where their king was being held. All to no avail. Richard seemed to be lost.
Not giving up hope, Blondel set off on a desparate one-man mission to wander Europe searching for the king. This is an interesting part of the story since troubadours were practically the only members of society in that day and age with the carte blanche to travel the Continent and interact with all echelons of the social order. Blondel spent months wandering around singing in the great castles of Europe. He would stop outside and sing a particular song that only he and Richard, who was a famous amateur musician himself, knew.
Finally, when Blondel reached Durnstein, he hiked up the crag (you can see how far up it is in my video), took up a guarded position in the woods by the north tower, and sang the first verse of his song. After a moment, he heard the second verse being sung back to him. He had found his king! Though legend (and opera) has it that Blondel helped Richard escape that very night, the historical record shows that the English somehow managed to locate Richard and force the Holy Roman Emperor to negotiate for his release.
Though the historical facts contradict it, it is still such a beautiful tale of loyalty, friendship and art, that it has persisted for over 800 years now, and has inspired many others besides myself to make the hike up to the castle and have a look around.
Then when you're done, you can enjoy the fine wines of the regions from wineries like F.X. Pichler, Knoll, Geyerhof and Nikolaihof, or countless others at the tasting terrace overlooking the river at the Kloster Und in Krems. Sample the delicious food like the Waldviertel duck I enjoyed at the restaurants at Richard Lowenherz and Schloss Durnstein, or just wander around the town and find a friendly heurige (tavern) to patronize.
Whatever you choose to do, Durnstein's intriguing romantic past, and its breathtakingly beautiful ambiance in the present make it a phenomenal destination for a trip to Austria.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
All I really wanted that balmy evening, however, was to find a good meal. I was starving, though I was not in the mood for your typical, heavy Austrian fare thanks to a traveler’s stomach and the uncomfortable weather.
As luck would have it, I took a rather serpentine route from my hotel to the Haus der Musik that evening, and after passing the Franziskanerplatz in the heart of the Innere Stadt (or central old city), I happened upon a hip-looking restaurant called Artner. I made a mental note, and set off for the Haus der Musik.
After a couple hours learning all about Austria’s most famous composers, my stomach was grumbling in time to the Blue Danube Waltz, and I decided I’d finally earned my nice dinner, so back I went to Artner. The staff was slightly chilly, but I was dressed nicely, so they grudgingly gave me a table for one near the front windows. I took a look around at the white-on-white restaurant with neon purple lighting effects. It all looked rather impersonal in a too-cool way, so I hoped that the emphasis was not all on the décor while the food got short shrift. The bar area looked rather cozy, with a communal table, and a ledge lining the wall where people could congregate and drink, so that was reassuring.
I took a look at the menu and was glad to note that there were choices apart from your typical schnitzel and tafelspitz. I settled on the three-course prix-fixe menu, deciding it would be a good value for 38 euros.
When the waiter came back, I grilled him (so to speak) about the restaurant. Turns out Artner is the second restaurant by that name. The first is a more casual kind of heurigen a little farther out of the city center in the 4th district. The family also owns a winery, and I was able to take a look at their extensive production, as well as their collection of other wines, in the glass-walled cellars that line the stairway down to the subterranean bar and the restrooms. Max Aichinger, who it turns out is rather well known in Austria despite his youth, is the chef.
The menu I chose started with a creamy zucchini soup poured over chopped up squash with olive oil, and a “crispy” tomato chutney. I gobbled the whole thing up, while taking a little more time over the crisp, apricot-y Riesling they brought me to go with it.
For dessert, I got two icy treats: a gooseberry-cream cake, and a scoop of pistachio-thyme ice cream over fresh berries, all served on a slate slab.
The meal was exactly what I wanted to set the gastronomic tone of my trip: seasonal Austrian ingredients in new, interesting, international combinations.
The menu changes with the seasons according to what is available from the farmers’ markets and their meat suppliers, but hopefully some of the other dishes I spied on the menu this July will still be around for my next visit. A sampling of what caught my eye?
Goose liver and eel pâté with granny smith apple sorbet.
Smoked salmon with white truffle oil.
Gazpacho with ahi tuna and mint.
Egg yolk ravioli with nettles in a sauce of Madeira and summer truffles.Coriander trout steamed with leeks and celery in brown butter.
Charcoal-grilled beef with butter potato foam, sour cream and a pistou.
Not only was the restaurant a lucky find in terms of my own personal tastes, but it is also relatively new, so look for “hot tip” mentions of it in my upcoming articles about my trip. I would also highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great meal at a decent price while in Vienna.
AUSTRIA+43 1 503 503 4
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
After the tasting, I got the chance to talk to Michael, and we've stayed in touch. He gave me some incredible advice in choosing which wineries to visit on my recent trip to Austria and Germany, and we've been discussing biodynamic wines lately. I thought he'd be a great interview subject for LA.com's ongoing FACES series, in which I talk to a different food/dining luminary every month.
Surprise surprise, Michael was a great interviewee, and had some interesting answers to the questions I posed. He just turned 27, though, so this is only the start of what is sure to be an amazing career.
Monday, August 10, 2009
I was treated to a dinner there a few weeks ago, and wrote it up for LA.com. My picks? Definitely the Arrogant Bastard onion rings, and the chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches (can you tell what a horrible diet I have!?). For more, take a look at my review.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
The restaurant has a huge patio and balcony, as well as an inside dining room where people party it up, fueled by exotic specialty margaritas and fresh gourmet Mexican food. I really enjoyed my meal(s) there, and wrote it up for LA.com. You will also see a little review of it in my upcoming WeHo restaurants roundup for Frontiers.
For now, you can find my LA.com review here: http://www.la.com/dining/ci_12877592