Article and photos by Elena del Valle
Blake Gowar at the Eagle's Nest hilltop
During a recent stay in Constantia, a wine producing suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, I went on a 4.5 hour Private Half Day Wine Tour recommended by the owners of the Glen Avon Lodge where I was staying. At 12 noon sharp, Blake Gowar, owner of The Constantia Wine Tour (11 Midhurst Way, Constantia, Cape Town, 7806, South Africa, +27 021 794 4873, +27 082 377 5233, www.theconstantiawinetour.co.za, Blake@theconstantiawinetour.co.za), picked me up at my hotel in his company branded sports utility vehicle.
One of the historic buildings of the Klein Constantia Estate
During the short drive to Klein Constantia (Klein Constantia Estate, PO Box 375, Constantia, 7848, South Africa, +27 021 794 5188, kleinconstantia.com, email@example.com), the first of three wineries on the tour, we had a chance to chat as I was the only guest on the tour the chilly winter day. Blake explained his was the first and only company dedicated exclusively to half and full day tours of Constantia wineries.
Janine Dodds, our friendly host at Klein Constantia
After passing through the security gate we entered the Klein Constantia Estate. Dating to 1685 the property was built among ancient trees on the upper foothills of the Constantiaberg Mountains. It had a view across the city to False Bay. Although it was in the midst of extensive renovations the tasting room was unaffected. Janine Dodds, a well informed and friendly representative, greeted us and recommended wines for me to taste. We were the only visitors at that moment. Thanks to the quiet off season ambiance I had her undivided attention during the wine tasting. The property was best known for its chardonnay and sauvignon blanc wines. It also had the best stocked gift shop I visited on the tour. There were branded cycling shirts and a variety of foodie and wine items on sale.
The vineyards at Klein Constantia
The garden seen through a glass of rose wine at the Eagle's Nest
A handful of people had arrived before us at the Eagle's Nest (Old Constantia Main Road, Constantia, 7848, South Africa, +27 21 794 4095, eaglesnestwines.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) where we received a warm welcome from Kaylee Morrick and Kathleen McNulty. There were still left plenty of table choices in the verdant garden. Following the staff's recommendation I picked a spot where I tasted a rose and couple of the white wines while Blake went to swap his sports utility vehicle for a four wheel drive. Thanks to a family friendship with one of the owners of the Eagle's Nest Blake had exclusive permission to use the property owner's Land Rover and drive up the winery's mountain for tours.
Although it was chilly I was drawn to the lush garden at the Eagle's Nest
The Eagle's Nest was in a secluded valley high up on the slopes of the historic Constantia mountain range, part of the Table Mountain area. One of the five small boutique wineries of Constantia it was home to some of the steepest gradient vineyards in the country, Blake explained. The winery was known for its dry rose, viognier and award winning shiraz. The weather worn vehicle climbed the single lane dirt road with the ease of a goat, if slightly less grace. We stopped along the way for some photos and a close up glimpse at flowers.
Flowers growing by the side of the road
By the time we reached the high point on the farm the wind had picked up and I was chilled despite my fleece and windbreaker. The panoramic views of the farm, followed by Constantia in the foreground and greater Cape Town beyond reached all the way to the ocean. The breathtaking scenery from the top made the detour worthwhile.
Bird's eye views of Cape Town from the hilltop at the Eagle's Nest
On our return to the Eagle's Nest tasting room, we sat indoors near the crackling flames of the fireplace. The glass walls afforded us a view of the garden during the second half of the wine tasting. I especially enjoyed their three lovely reds.
Our third winery was Silvermist
All that wine tasting had made me hungry. By the time we arrived at Silvermist (Constantia Nek, 7806 Cape Town, South Africa, +27 21 794 7601 silvermistmountainlodge.co.za, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com), on the forested slopes of Table Mountain and within the Table Mountain National Park, I was ready for a late lunch and a tasting of the farm produced white. The rustic 120 acre estate that borders the Constantia Wine Route was, I was told, the only organic vineyard in Constantia. It was best known for its sauvignon blanc. Candace Louw, one of the owners, welcomed us warmly when we arrived.
The Silvermist Sauvignon Blanc
The views of Table Mountain National Park at Silvermist
We ate in the Green Vine Eatery, one of two dining venues within Silvermist, where Blake ordered the special of the day, a tasty pizza, and I had a well prepared hamburger with potato wedges. While we waited for lunch we stepped out briefly to enjoy the beautiful views of the environs and Table Mountain. Dessert of chocolate muffins was to go.
The pizza special for lunch at the Green Vine Eatery
Candace Louw, one of the owners of Silvermist
As my tour guide and I parted company, I realized how much I had enjoyed the pleasant pace of the private half day tour, the wine tastings, lunch, and Blake's company. Although I had visited Constantia before, I had never been to any of the wineries on our tour that day. I appreciated having someone else drive all afternoon. It meant I could taste as many wines as I wanted without worrying about driving. And, I didn't have to find the wineries with my rental car's not always trustworthy GPS directions. Plus, it was fun to discover new estates. Blake's selection of the wineries was spot on in terms of the setting and the wines themselves. The unique opportunity to climb to the high point of the Eagle's Nest farm was an unexpected bonus.
Article and photos by Elena del Valle
One of my favorite spots to sit at breakfast at Montpelier Plantation and Beach
During my five night stay in the beautiful Caribbean island of Nevis, in the West Indies, I was impressed by the surprising number of good meals I enjoyed, especially for an island of that size. While there I had a chance to eat at eight venues. Whether in one of many informal eateries, at a fine dining restaurant, on a hill setting or beach side the quality of the meals and dexterous preparation was notable.
One of my dinner courses at Restaurant 750 at Montpelier Plantation and Beach
Seeking local or regional ingredients and fresh produce I often favored simply prepared fish in lieu of classic European dishes made from products that had previously been frozen. I particularly appreciated the availability of fresh caught fish and the chefs' ability to prepare it well. Almost without exception every fish dish I ordered was made to highlight its flavor and texture without overwhelming it with exotic (to the island) or excessive spices and garnishes.
An appetizing main course at Restaurant 750 at Montpelier Plantation and Beach
Stephane Caumont, French executive chef at Montpelier Plantation and Beach
My first meal on the island was at Restaurant 750 at the Montpelier Plantation and Beach (+1 869 469 3462, firstname.lastname@example.org), the lovely hillside hotel where I stayed. Camera shy owner and operator Muffin Hoffman was a behind the scenes presence at the restaurant headed by Stephane Caumont, a newly arrived French executive chef, which offered "a blend of French and Caribbean cuisine with emphasis on fresh, innovative food." I looked forward to the combination buffet and prepared to order breakfast every morning.
The Sea Breeze Beach Bar at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club
My fresh caught kingfish with a side salad and Nisbet Chips at Sea Breeze Beach Bar
The next day I had a delicious beach side lunch at Sea Breeze Beach Bar at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club (+869 469-9325, NisbetPlantation.com, email@example.com). The shaded setting two steps from the sand was comfortable thanks to cooling breezes. I tasted wonderfully prepared fresh caught kingfish served with a side salad and Nisbet Chips, made from thin slices of tania, sweet potato and breadfruit. I had a fresh fruit smoothie without sugar (at my request) and for dessert I tried the coconut panna cotta with fresh melon, strawberries, pineapple and starfruit. Glendina, our friendly server, was accommodating and had a ready smile. The toes in the sand beachfront dining service was available for snacks and lunch. The property, owned by David Dodwell, was managed by Alistair Forrest, general manager, who greeted us soon after we were seated.
For an appetizer I tried the pumpkin fritters with sweet and sour chili sauce at the Lime Beach Bar.
My spiny lobster at the Lime Beach Bar (click to enlarge)
Dinner that evening was at another beach location although I didn't realize it until several days later. At the Lime Beach Bar (Pinneys Beach, + 869-662-9620, + 869-469 1147, firstname.lastname@example.org) I had pumpkin fritters with sweet and sour chili sauce for an appetizer. I also had a mixed salad with lettuce, feta cheese, watermelon slices and fried zucchini and eggplant pieces followed by a spiny lobster with rice and peas. Randy Jeffers, a local entrepreneur, owned the popular restaurant that served West Indian style cuisine.
My fresh fish lunch at the Oualie Beach Restaurant at Oualie Beach Resort
My fresh fish lunch at the Oualie Beach Restaurant Oualie Beach Resort (Oualie Bay, + 869-469-9735, www.oualiebeach.com, email@example.com) was outstanding. Although there was outdoor seating we chose an indoor table in the shade. The beach front restaurant was owned by John and Alastair Yearwood and managed by Faith Bertie. Our server was friendly and attentive.
The sweet Killer Bee signature drink at Sunshine's Beach Bar & Grill packed a punch (pun intended).
My fresh fish sandwich with fries and a side salad at Sunshine's Beach Bar & Grill
During lunch at Sunshine's Beach Bar & Grill (Pinneys Beach Bar & Grill, + 869-662-8817, + 869-469-5817, www.sunshinesbeachbar.com), another beach side restaurant (steps away from the Lime Beach Bar), we were greeted by a smiling Llewellyn "Sunshines" Caines, the owner. The bright interior was chock full of celebrity photos and international flags. West Indian and seafood dishes were on offer. I had another well prepared fresh fish in a sandwich while sitting in the shade steps from one of the island's best known beaches. I tasted The Killer Bee, a deceptively tasty rum punch drink well known on the island.
A shared appetizer medley of local specialties at Bananas Bistro (click to enlarge)
A pasta and seafood main course at Bananas Bistro (click to enlarge)
For local and international cuisine we went to Bananas Bistro (Hamilton Estate, + 869-469-1891, www.bananasbistro.com, firstname.lastname@example.org), a hilltop see and be seen dress up dining venue owned by Gillian Smith, a world traveler turned restauranteur. I liked the romantic rooftop views of the island at sunset and the varied rum offerings.
While awaiting my spa treatments at The Spa at Four Seasons Resort Nevis (P.O. Box 565, Pinney’s Beach, Charlestown, Nevis, + 869 469-1111, http://www.fourseasons.com/nevis/spa, SpaConcierge.NEV@fourseasons.com) I had a spa lunch consisting of a bento box with fresh fish and a smoothie. It was so good I would return just for lunch.
A tasty dinner under the stars at The Rocks at Golden Rock Inn
The beautiful dinning room at The Rocks at Golden Rock Inn
Dinner at The Rocks at Golden Rock Inn (Golden Rock, Gingerland, + 1 869 469 3346, www.goldenrocknevis.com, email@example.com), owned by Brice and Helen Marden and run by Peter Dunning, was a delight. We sat under the stars facing the hotel's striking water features and enjoyed another outstanding Nevisian meal refreshed by cooling Caribbean breezes. I had a veggie tart amouse bouche followed by beet and citrus salad, and perfectly prepared fresh red snapper with wilted spinach, sweet potato wedges and red pepper coulis for the main course. Key lime pie rounded out the meal. Jocelyn, our server, was friendly and extra helpful. The beautiful and romantic setting combined with the delicious dinner made it one of my favorite restaurants.
Avocado Mousse with Shrimp, Greens and Mustard Vinaigrette
Pan-seared Mahi Mahi Fillet, roasted Pineapple and Cilantro Sauce
Richard Lupinacci, co-owner and manager The Hermitage Plantation
Chef Janice Ryan, The Hermitage Restaurant at The Hermitage Plantation
My final meal on the island was at The Hermitage Restaurant at The Hermitage Plantation (Hermitage,+ 869 469 3477, www.Hermitagenevis.com, Contactus@Hermitagenevis.com), an island estate rebuilt from ruins and owned by Maureen and Richard Lupinacci. I had the pleasure of meeting and dining with Richard Lupinacci, the property's affable manager. The restaurant specialty was Caribbean gourmet, prepared by Chef Janice Ryan.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The restaurant in the Youngtown Inn
We arrived hungry at the Youngtown Inn and Restaurant in Lincolnville, Maine, after a day of driving and tourist activities with little time for lunch. Instead of driving the six miles from our nearby inn we opted for a taxi. Fortunately, it was early when we asked if the restaurant was near enough to walk. A smiling front desk staff person indicated it would be better to drive or rely on a transport service as it was several miles away down dark roads. Advance planning was necessary as it required 25 minutes before a taxi made its way to Linconlville Beach, where we were staying, from its base of operations in Rockport. It was the only taxi service available, the staff woman explained.
The lobster bisque
As the taxi van negotiated the dark residential roads and our tiredness sunk in we were glad of our decision. As we entered the restaurant, located within a classic 1810 farmhouse turned into a cozy four room inn, a distracted middle aged woman welcomed us, led us to our table and handed us menus. We explained that we needed a taxi and she offered to call the service when our dessert arrived. As the evening wore on her timing estimate proved to be spot on. Moments later, another personable woman arrived to announce the daily specials and bring us water. Although it was a weekend evening we were among few guests at the restaurant because of a nearby special event.
Our beet salad (click to enlarge)
The arugula salad was garnished with a flower (click to enlarge)
While the set menu was well priced, the chef's beef and lamb specialties were on only offer in the a la carte menu so we chose that one. There were two types of bread, whole wheat and sour dough. For starters we ordered Lobster Bisque with Sherry made with fresh lobster chunks, one beet salad and one arugula salad. For mains we had Pan Seared Black Angus Filet Mignon, Caramelized Onions, Roquefort and Roast Rack of Imported Lamb with Herbs de Provence (a favorite) both of which were well prepared. They were served with green beans, carrots and potatoes. Relying on our server's advice we ordered a 2010 Billerond Saint Emilion to accompany our dinner. It was a good match for the meal, stout enough for the red meats yet well rounded and with a smooth finish.
The lamb was moist and tasty (click to enlarge)
The filet mignon with the pepper sauce removed
Although the menu description of my filet mignon said nothing about pepper nor did the server mention it when I placed my order, the meat was sitting atop and covered in a thick black pepper sauce. After I raised the issue, the server took it back to the kitchen where they removed the sauce. She brought it back quickly and it was still hot, but the pepper flavor had penetrated the meat, making it difficult to enjoy my dish or taste the Roquefort cheese.
The creme brulee
The chocolate truffle cake
For dessert we had Tahitian bean Creme Brulee and Chocolate Truffle Cake. While the thin slice of cake didn't look especially appetizing it had a rich chocolate flavor. Dinner was pleasant. The Youngtown Inn and Restaurant, 581 Youngtown Road, Lincolnville, Maine 04849, +1 207-763-4290, firstname.lastname@example.org
Article and photos by Josette King
The restaurant was located on the first floor of the Clifton Inn
During my recent visit to Charlottesville, Virginia I had the pleasure to dine at the Clifton Inn Restaurant. My reservation, made ahead by a local friend, indicated that it was for the Chef’s Counter. I didn’t realize the extent of my good fortune until I was escorted through the dining room, straight to the kitchen. As the daughter of a French chef, I have appreciated since childhood that it is a singular privilege to be invited into the inner sanctum. And that night, I was the chosen one.
I was momentarily perplexed by the long row of copper pans, much too perfectly shined to have seen recent service, lined against a coral accent wall, and the gilded mirror at the far end of the room, strategically placed to reflect the crystal chandelier that hung over the pale polished concrete counter. But then I hoisted myself onto a comfortable bar chair, and across the countertop, had a panoramic view of the kitchen.
The Chef’s Counter provided a front row view of the action in the kitchen
It was equipped with the latest in high end professional equipment and had a traffic pattern designed for maximum efficiency. It clearly meant business. As did Tucker Yoder, the executive chef, and his capable team.
Everyone was calm, focused on the task of the moment, every gesture precise as they created one remarkable dish after another. And yet they were sufficiently relaxed to engage in conversation with me about anything from the unusual pairings of textures and flavors on my plate or the culinary journey that had led them to the Clifton to the ethos of the farm to table movement.
Chef Yoder, sous chef Jared Adams and pastry chef Kristen Johnson focused on their creations
It was a creative group of professionals who, under the guidance of Chef Yoder, delighted in pushing the boundaries of classic cuisine, and experimenting with ingredients and techniques to bring gastronomy into the 21 century, except when timeless tradition still delivered the best results. They churned their own butter, made sourdough bread from a three year old starter and kept a kitchen garden (right outside the kitchen door).
At the Chef’s Counter, guests had the option to choose from the restaurant’s menu or the tasting menu. I opted for the latter and what followed was two hours of bite size delights and discoveries.
Ham and pea salad with chervil
“What is this?” I had to ask of the crisp leaf shaped wafer under the creamy dollop of pureed apple and fennel of my amuse bouche. Jared Adams, sous chef, who was working nearest to me at the moment, volunteered that it was dehydrated ramp, a sort of local wild leek. And by the way, they foraged it.
Several dishes later came the field greens salad, fresh from the garden; so fresh there was a spoonful of garden dirt on the plate. That time Kristen Johnson, pastry chef, answered, “just black cocoa powder, butter and sugar, lightly baked then finely crumbled.”
Sticky pudding with date puree, candied pecans and caramel ice cream
We have come a long way since garlic croutons. If pressed to identify a favorite dish, a hard decision, I probably would have singled out the succulent grit encrusted oysters with their garnish of sautéed wild mushroom, served over pureed apples with brown butter. But that’s because I hadn’t yet factored in dessert. I had challenged Kristen to surprise me with “her most Virginian dessert.” That turned out to be a divine sticky pudding with date puree, candied pecans and caramel ice cream. Even after so many dishes (I had lost count long before the end of the meal), I cleaned my plate. At Chef Yoder’s Counter, excess was a wonderful thing.
Article and photos by Josette King
The Old Mill Room restaurant was located in the historic part of the property
The Old Mill Room is a restaurant with a distinguished past and a cuisine grounded in the present. Located in the historical core of the Boar’s Head in Charlottesville, Virginia, it was built from a valued piece of local history, the repurposed timber from an abandoned 1834 gristmill famous for having survived the Civil War and gone on to operate a whole six decades after it. Moved piece by pieced from is original site on the banks of the Hardware River, it was integrated in the construction of an inn’s main building in the early 1960’s.
The shaded central lawn of The Boar's Head evoked of a town common of old
The décor of the restaurant had been designed to showcase those striking architectural details while creating a refined environment that evoked timeless southern grace. It was an ideal setting for the elegant classic cuisine with a Virginia flair and international contemporary touches dished out by Bill Justus, executive chef, and his team.
At the Old Mill Room the building was not the only custodian of a proud history. When Chef Justus joined the Boar’s Head as executive chef in 2010, he took over a restaurant with the singular distinction of being the longest holder of a AAA Four Diamonds designation in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The historic Old Mill Room was built from the timber of an abandoned 1834 gristmill
Justus maintained the award winning culinary excellence while bringing to the menu the lighter dishes, farm to table freshness of local ingredients and imaginative flavor and texture pairings I appreciated. At the time of my visit, the Old Mill Room had been awarded once again its Four Diamonds, for the 27 consecutive time.
Executive Chef Bill Justus
From the amuse bouche of chilled watermelon with goat cheese mousse to the perfectly caramelized creme brulee, my meal was a shining example of the creativity that went on in the kitchen. My appetizer skillfully balanced the sweet tenderness of exquisitely seared scallops with a light crust of smoky ancho chili pepper and bitter cocoa. As for the sunburst trout filets of my main course, they were dusted with blue cornmeal and served with a colorful accompaniment of tiny black Peruvian potatoes and Atlantic lobster succotash, and a discrete dash of Pernod in the light lobster sauce. It was interesting and delicious.
Pan seared halibut with steamed clams in a light saffron sauce
It stands to reason that my local friends regard the Old Mill Room as one of the greater Charlottesville area de rigueur places to celebrate special occasions. I will plan to return myself, the next time my travels take me back to Central Virginia.
The place setting at Le Balzac
Our arrival at Le Balzac, a few strides away from the famed Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris, France, was easy. A handful of steps led to the rarefied ambiance of one of the city’s best known gourmet addresses. Although the restaurant has its own entrance it is shares space and restrooms with a luxury hotel. Inside, we were greeted by a polite staff person who made sure we were in the reservations list. After handing our coats to someone, we followed a staff person, past the bar and through the dining room, to our table.
The crunchy cheese and paprika bites, vegetable lengths with balls wrapped in lettuce
The contemporary dining room, decorated in muted shades of brown with recessed ceiling lights, was divided into two sections, the main dining area and a secondary room a step or two above the larger space. Our small table occupied the corner nearest the steps, affording us a view of the entire dining room and bar. Crisp tablecloths and napkins, elegant dinnerware and glassware set the stage for a special meal.
The amuse bouche of gel cubes, tomato, squid ink and tuna
Initially the staff were efficient and polite, bringing us drinks, a copy of the menu, water and bread (chestnut, milk or baguette choices). Crunchy cheese and paprika bites, vegetable lengths with balls wrapped in lettuce were followed by gel cubes, tomato and squid ink and tuna morsels. The Alsatian bread was to our liking.
The foie gras and accompaniments
Our first course, Foie gras d’oie eau de bortsch en gelee, pate de coing au marc de Gewurztraminer Salade Felicia. Creme glacee tamarillo/Beaujolais nouveau/chou rouge, tranche de rutabaga grille, puntarella (goose foie gras with tomato and beetroot, borsch, beetroot foam and puree and citrus butter) served with a floral wine from Austria was outstanding. After that, the experience and the meal declined in a remarkable manner.
The souffle of haddock
Souffle haddock/Saint-Jacques chou blanc croquant fondue d’endive et radicchio. Noix tailees aux chataignes, puree de brocoli au raifort was the second course. The souffle of haddock was more of a mousse than a souffle and the flavor was disappointing. The Grosse poularde de Bresse rotie entiere le supreme est enrobe du jus de cuisson lie de tamrain, oignons grelots, vuleta, topinambours. Le gras de cuisse croustillant, gratin de poire, celeri-rave et crozets au Blue de Termignon, a large hen roasted whole with pear gratin and blue cheese from Termignon was oily and bland despite an excess of cheese.
Hen roasted with pear gratin and blue cheese.
For some reason the service level dropped steeply after the appetizer. Our bread plate remained empty for a long time as did our wine and water glasses despite our calling the server to our table. Rather than refilling our wine glasses or asking if we wished to try something else, he called the wine steward who had been chatting with our nearest neighbor for the better part of thirty minutes in such a loud voice that we could hear his part of their conversation. A few minutes later, the man disentangled himself and took the two steps to reach our table. By then, we no longer wanted any wine.
Dessert did nothing to improve the situation. It was the first time I ever remember leaving a top rated restaurant hungry and so unhappy with the service.