Article and photos by Elena del Valle
Josh Oakley, co-owner, The Smiling Bison restaurant and bar, holding the House Charcuterie and Cheese board
During a weekend visit to Sanford, Florida I had dinner with three colleagues at The Smiling Bison restaurant and bar (107 S Magnolia Avenue, Sanford Florida, 32771, +407 915-6086, www.smilingbison.com), a locavore venue. My dinner that night was tasty, well prepared and well presented. I loved that the restaurant staff made virtually all of the dishes from scratch using fresh (not frozen) ingredients, that 100 percent of the produce was domestic and mostly organic, and that meats were almost all free of added chemicals, according to Josh Oakley, co-owner.
He said by email later, “We make all pasta dough, sauces, cured and smoked meats/ sausages, etc. from scratch on premises. We source primarily from several local farms and their availability is the main force behind our weekly menu changes. All farms we source from use 100 percent organic practices, but getting and official organic certification is a tedious and expensive process which not all of them have gotten.”
Our Duck Lovers Pizza fresh from the open kitchen
When asked what percent of animal products in the restaurant are free of added antibiotics and added hormones he replied, “I’d say about 95. We do a chicken wing night once a month and the wings are pretty much the only commodity meat you’ll find on our menu.”
Our Duck Lovers Pizza Duck Lovers Pizza starter with duck ham, duck sausage, duck confit, jack cheese and a duck egg
I tasted the following dishes shared at our table: Smoked Fish Dip starter of trout roe, house made saltines and dill; and Duck Lovers Pizza starter with duck ham, duck sausage, duck confit, jack cheese and a duck egg; and House Charcuterie and Cheese with chicken liver mousse, summer sausage, kielbasa, garlic beef salami, pepperoni, grafton two year cheddar from Vermont, rogue Oregon blue cheese, house sourdough bread and pickles. For mains we had Spaghetti & Meatballs made with beef and pork meatballs (a favorite). Because our transport arrived before we had a chance to order our final course we missed dessert.
Our four stools at the Chef’s Table provided us front row seating over the cook’s work space, which faced the dining room. Despite it being the busiest night of the week Oakley made time to answer questions and describe dish preparation. Joel Serrer, our friendly server, likewise answered questions about the menu and beverages.
Spaghetti & Meatballs made with beef and pork meatballs
The 3,000 square foot restaurant, owned by Ron Thomas and Oakley, dated to 2013. The building was built in 1912. Originally it was the headquarters of The Sanford Herald newspaper it also served as home to a chapter of The International Order of Oddfellows prior to being converted into a restaurant space.
The name of the restaurant was a nod to the Oakley, who was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. A self taught cook who never attended culinary school he credits his early interest in food and cooking to his grandmothers.
The restaurant was centrally located in Historic Downtown Sanford, the food was well prepared from scratch using fresh and wholesome ingredients and the service was warm and attentive. My only beef? As the evening progressed and the restaurant filled up the noise level rose until I could barely hear the person in the stool next to mine. Should I find myself in Sanford again The Smiling Bison will be at the top of my list.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
A typical dreary day by Lake Titisee during our visit
We planned our week long trip to the Black Forest Highlands in Germany months in advance with the expectation that a spring itinerary would reward us with dry and sunny weather. Instead it our visit in June 2016 was far wetter, colder and foggier than we had anticipated. It rained on and off most of the day every day during our whole stay in the area, forcing us to revise our plans entirely. In lieu of trekking on mountain tops and cable cars we spent our days in our hotel room waiting for the rain to stop or remained indoors, dining, in museums, and churches for the duration of our visit.
The clock museum featured displays of clock history
Tools used to automate the creation of the gears and wheels were featured
We replaced nearly all our outdoor activities with indoor ones. The two lane mountain roads, slick from the rain and filled with impatient drivers, did nothing to improve the situation. In the end, we made the most of the situation, exploring as best as possible in moments of respite from the constant showers. We seldom encountered English speakers or materials in English, making it necessary for us to rely on our guide frequently to translate menus at restaurants and information sheets at attractions.
The Parkhotel Adler in Hinterzarten was a favorite for its luxury facilities and spa
From the airport we drove to the Parkhotel Adler in Hinterzarten. It was the most luxurious of the properties we visited that trip. I spent time at Hoffmann Beaute & Physiontherapie, its serene spa. Because of the cool temperatures and showers I was thankful for the property's underground hallways that connected its facilities and provided us indoor access to the hotel spa and restaurants in adjacent buildings.
The lake fronting Seecafé in Schluchsee
We had Black Forest cake, strudel cake and cappuccino by the lake
The first attraction we visited was the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum at Robert-Gerwig-Platz d-78120 Furtwangen, +49 7723-920 2800, deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de) northeast of Freiburg. It was a fun way to spend the morning and learn about the history of clock making in Germany.
We spent the weekend at the popular Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel
One afternoon, to satisfy our sweet tooth we stopped at the Seecafé (Im Wolfsgrund 26, 79859, Schluchsee, +49 76 56/98 88 97), where we indulged in hot beverages and huge slices of regional specialties such as Black Forest chocolate cake. Despite the chilly temperatures we enjoyed the Schluchsee lakeside setting and terrace seating until a steady flow of raindrops forced us to leave.
We were delighted with our first sunny hour from the patio at Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof
In the Lake Titisee area we stayed at two family owned properties. We spent the weekend at the popular, lake fronting Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel (see Our weekend stay at Black Forest lake front hotel with spa) with a spa in the highly touristy town of Titisee. When our rental apartment plans fell through the friendly owners and staff at the charming and lovingly built Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof squeezed us in at the last minute without hesitation. The hotel, the Drubba Monument Shopping stores on the pedestrian street in Titisee, and the Hofgut Sternen hotel and adjacent shops were the property of the enterprising Drubba Family. It was at one of their shops where we watched a demonstration about the making of the famous cuckoo clocks. At another we caught the end of a glassblowing demonstration. Their hillside property was a favorite for its Lake Titisee views and foodie orientation.
One of the hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler in Grafenhausen
In Grafenhausen, we liked the hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler (see Black Forest shop carried on with wood carved mask tradition). In Grafenhausen-Rothaus, we visited Hüsli or small house (79865 Grafenhausen-Rothaus, Am Hüsli 1 im Naturpark Südschwarzwald, + 49 77 48/212, www.hüsli-museum.de), a folk art museum dating back to 1912 when actress Helene Siegfried built a summer home from second-hand materials. We also toured the Rothaus (Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus AG, Rothaus 1, 79865 Grafenhausen-Rothaus, +49 7748/522-0, www.rothaus.de, firstname.lastname@example.org) brewery museum, a modern facility with self-guided tours, where we sampled locally produced beer and bought souvenirs at the small shop.
St. Blasien Cathedral, a lovingly maintained structure 36 meters wide and 62 meters high
The interior of St. Blasien Cathedral
The St. Blasien Cathedral cupola
We visited several churches while in the Black Forest Highlands. Salient among them for sheer size and the determination of its builders was St. Blasien Cathedral, a pretty and lovingly maintained structure 36 meters wide and 62 meters high. The early classical cupola is the largest of its kind north of the Alps.
Our final nights were at the Hotel Adler in Häusern
The sun made an appearance on our last afternoon in the Black Forest
Our final nights were at the Hotel Adler in Häusern, where we dined at the hotel's gourmet restaurant (see Dinner at Black Forest Highlands gourmet restaurant). We would recommend the Black Forest Highlands to friends who speak German or don't mind seeking translations, like moderate luxury in a heavily touristy area with authentic regional cuisine, enjoy mountainous landscapes and the outdoors, and are able to change plans in a hurry if the weather turns ugly.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Les Bouquinistes side entrance
In a touristy neighborhood chock full of dining options like the Latin Quarter in Paris, France Les Bouquinistes (53, quai des Grands Augustins, 75006, Paris, France, +33 1 43 25 45 94, www.lesbouquinistes.com, email@example.com) offered several features we liked. Before we arrived it already had the advantage that it was a short walk from our central accommodations. Having dined at Guy Savoy restaurants, including that one, in the past we were confident our experience would be positive. Stéphane Perraud, chef, and Cedric Jossot, restaurant manager, were in charge the day we had lunch at the eatery.
The black and white decor was designed to evoke the printed page
Les Bouquinistes occupied a corner on quai des Grands Augustins on the south side of the Seine River between the Pont Saint-Michel and the Pont Neuf. The two bridges linked the Left Bank with the Ile de la Cite, an island best known for being the home of Notre Dame Cathedral. Large glass windows took maximum advantage of the restaurant's location facing north toward the busy street, the river and the island beyond it.
The central section of the restaurant featured a wine rack.
Our early arrival won us a choice of seats. We selected a table near the entrance, which afforded us partial views of the street. My lunch partner sat at a leather black bench and I selected an armless wood chair in front of a bare white round table with a round black place mat for each of us. The clean lines, understated décor, gray carpet and black ceiling helped draw our eyes outward beyond the oversize glass walls and windows toward the quai des Grands Augustins to the north and the much quieter rue des Grands Augustins to the east.
A simple yet classic starter
Our multi-course lunch began with a satisfying bite of foie gras atop a thin toast sprinkled with sea salt and touch of black pepper to stimulate our appetite. Our friendly English speaking server brought a wicker basket with crunchy epi bread (no butter or oil) and a bottle of the house sparkling water. Stainless steel cutlery, glassware and dinnerware were the only adornments to our table.
Legumes maraichers a l'oeuf parfait
Blanc de cabillaud, asperges et pommes de terres confites, jus aux algues
We each had two different first courses followed by identical mains and desserts, a good sample of the chef's cuisine. For my first course I had Legumes maraichers a l'oeuf parfait, a vegetable dish with a lightly cooked egg. My lunch mate had Nacre de merlan, vinaigreette d'huitre, petits pois et fromage frais, white fish served on a bed of peas with a cheese and oyster sauce. Blanc de cabillaud, asperges et pommes de terres confites, jus aux algues, beautifully prepared barely cooked codfish served with a wonderful light sauce that complemented the fish and thin crunchy green asparagus; and Homard en bouillon, potimarron et sarrasin torrefie, lobster with sarrazin seed (from Brittany) sauce, pumpkin and black tuile baked wafers colored with squid ink, followed. Noix de carre de veau rotie, oignons grilles, puree de pommes de terre, Veal with a brown sauce, delicate mushrooms, baby onions and mashed potatoes, hit the comfort food funny bone just right. Our server was kind enough to assist us with a selection of Bordeaux wines, including a 2011 Chateaux Dutruch, to match our meal.
Homard en bouillon, potimarron et sarrasin torrefie
Carre de veau rotie, oignons grilles, puree de pommes de terre
Staff members Alexandra Chabauty and Steve Fabre next to Stéphane Perraud, chef, and Cédric Jossot, restaurant manager
Dessert was a duo. One half was Cafe-chocolat lacte biskelia-cardamone blanche, a mix of coffee flavored bits, and the other was a Sable breton-menthe-coriandre, a “Gin and Tonic” mint coriander dish served with a cookie and a microwave sponge cake. By the time we left, the restaurant was at the peak of lunch hour and staff members were rushing to look after last minute arrivals. Our meal was satisfying, well served and in an attractive setting within a convenient location. We would return and recommend it to friends seeking a casual dining experience in the Latin Quarter within a stone's throw of the river.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
While at the Hotel Adler we had our only sunny afternoon in the Black Forest
During a trip to the Black Forest Highlands of southwestern Germany, we stayed at the Hotel Adler and had dinner at the hotel's Restaurant Adler (Hotel Adler, St. Fridolinstrasse 15, 79837 Häusern, Germany, +49 7672 4170, fax +49 7672 417150, www.adler-schwarzwald.de, firstname.lastname@example.org). We liked the well presented and colorful regional food with international influences and wine pairings prepared by Florian Zumkeller, the restaurant's chef, owner and manager.
Our table was in a cozy corner with padded bench seats
Florian Zumkeller, the restaurant's chef, owner and managerThe Black Forest fine dining venue had red tile flooring, cushioned wood bench seats, a low wood ceiling and regional décor, including a large crucifix across from our table. Salient features were tablecloths and silverware as well as glassware from Schott Zwiesel and tableware from Rosenthal. The restaurant was 250 square meters in size with a staff of 12 and capable of accommodating 80 guests. Nishan, our Sri Lankan English speaking server, was friendly and attentive.
The colorful mackerel sashimi
My asparagus dish
There were three types of bread on offer: onion, seeded, and baguette. Four types of butter: herb, red onion, salted and unsalted were presented on a black ceramic plate with a small fork and a spoon. The appetite teaser was a slightly sweet mackerel sashimi with an exotic flavor. To start the meal there was a veal sweetbreads appetizer with bitter salad and lemon vinaigrette (a favorite) served with 2015 Weinhaus Joachim Heger Grau Weissburgunder Cuvee. I selected an asparagus dish instead. Next there was Lobster with nectarine and pancetta served with 2014 Scherzinger Batzenberg Chardonnay Alte Reben Weingut Heinemann, Scherzinger.
The veal sweetbreads appetizer with bitter salad and lemon vinaigrette was a favorite
The main course was Two variations of United States beef with celery, mushroom and hazelnut
Two variations of United States beef with celery, mushroom and hazelnut, a medium rare tasty meat course, followed. We appreciated that the beef was antibiotic and hormone free. It was served with 2014 Cabernet Cuvee from Weinhaus Joachim Heger. For dessert there was Frozen tiramisu with peach and raspberry served with 2014 Durbacher Plauelrain, Traminer Auslese, Weingut Laible. After dessert there were chocolate praline balls served with Amaretto cream with almonds.
Nishan, our Sri Lankan English speaking server, was friendly and attentive
Chef Zumkeller did an apprenticeship with Alfred Klink at the Colombi Hotel in Freiburg, Germany. Before taking the reigns of the Restaurant Adler in 2011, he worked with chefs Philippe Chevrier at Domaine de Châteauvieux and Adolfo Blokbergen at L’Auberge du Raisin.
Lobster with nectarine and pancetta
Frozen tiramisu with peach and raspberry
He proudly explained, when we met him at the conclusion of our meal, that for 50 continuous years, since 1966, the restaurant had received a Michelin Star. Should we be in Hausern again, the restaurant's gourmet dinner with a touch of innovation and good service in a traditional Black Forest dining room would tempt us to return.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The front of Atelier Maitre Albert Restaurant avec Guy Savoy
Despite its reputation as a culinary capital Paris, France is one of those cities where picking a restaurant at random may result in a memorable find or a disaster, and the price difference might be negligible. The more touristy the area the greater the chances of disappointment, so as a general rule I make a point of not going to unfamiliar restaurants in zones popular among visitors, especially in the vicinity of tourist magnets such as the Latin Quarter, Le Marais, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, and Eiffel Tower, for example.
Our light bites as amouse bouche
One way to reduce the chances of a less than stellar expensive meal is to sample restaurants owned by or part of the portfolio of a well known chef. This has been particularly true when I have sampled the cuisine at one of the restaurants already. Such was the case of the Atelier Maître Albert
(1, rue Maître Albert, 75005 Paris, France, + 33 1 56 81 30 01, fax +33 1 53 10 83 23, www.ateliermaitrealbert.com, email@example.com), part of the Guy Savoy food constellation. Prior to going there I had dined at Guy Savoy's eponymous gourmet restaurant as well as Les Bouquinistes (see Latin Quarter restaurant nice neighborhood option) and Le Chiberta (see Le Chiberta, a restaurant find near the Champs Elysees), and had sampled the products of his new bakery outlet specializing in brioche. Most of those experiences had been rewarding so I was confident my meal at the Atelier Maitre Albert would also be worthwhile.
The menu was posted outside
Located at the beginning of a narrow street in the Left Bank across the Seine River from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral the restaurant was a pleasant surprise because while I had walked the neighborhood countless times I had no idea the restaurant was on that street, a 10 minute walk from my central accommodations. Except for the famed chef's name on the exterior wall, the modern facade revealed little of the restaurant's ambiance or its high quality comfort food.
Our seats were next to a large fireplace
As soon as we entered a young man with hip bleached blond hair welcomed us warmly. Moments later, after handing over our rain gear, we were seated in armless chairs next to the unlit fireplace in the restaurant's ground floor dining room. From our seats we had a generous view of the entire dining area and across to the open kitchen and its grills. There was also window side dining near the entrance with views of the street.
Paintings from the old Guy Savoy restaurant hung at Atelier Marie Albert
It took a few moments for our eyes to adjust from the bright midday exterior sunlight to the low ambient light indoors. The first decorative features we noticed were the familiar colorful clown themed paintings hanging on the back wall. Previous to that day we had last seen them at the Guy Savoy main restaurant. Since the restaurant had moved nearby and been redecorated the paintings had been transferred to their new home. Other salient decorative features were sleet gray marble tile, exposed beams, stone walls and track lights. It was pleasantly serene without being too quiet.
Artichoke soup and brioche from the Guy Savoy bakery
With our friendly English speaking waiter's help we made our selections from the menu including a glass of wine to match our choices. We both had the Velouté de l'Atelier "en verseurse," a light artichoke soup brought to the table in a pitcher and served with brioche. It reminded me of a similar soup I had tasted at the chef's gourmet restaurant. For mains, my lunch partner had the Volaille fermiére du Maine (a quarter chicken portion) for one, a free range spit-roasted fowl dish with a side of mashed potatoes. He ordered a light white from the Pays d'Oc on our server's advice.
Special ribs still on the bone
At my request the chef served the pork ribs deboned and sliced
I had Travers de porc "marinés," marinated pork ribs and a side of Gratin d'épinards champignons (mushroom and spinach gratin). The gratin was a favorite. Both mains were moist and tender with a broth like flavorful sauce. At my request, the kitchen staff had removed the bone from my ribs so they were ready to eat when they were served, although the server was kind enough to show us the ribs before they were deboned. I had a red from Bordeaux. For dessert, I had the Choco pralin-feuilleté, anglais-chicoré, two slabs of dark chocolate and crispy praline with a small dark chocolate ice cream ball.
The chicken was served with a broth like sauce
The chocolate dessertOverall, our comfort food style lunch experience was outstanding. Kudos to Guy Savoy and his collaborators Emmanuel Monsailler, chef, and Laurent Jacquet, manager and their staff. From the soup and salami amouse bouche to the dessert we enjoyed all our courses. The dishes were perfectly prepared and worth repeating. The service was attentive, helpful and friendly. As a bonus, the restaurant was in a central location and convenient to visitors and residents within and near the Latin Quarter. What more could we ask from a neighborhood restaurant?
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Our view of the Eiffel Tower as we cruised by on the Seine River
Often friends and acquaintances, knowing my fondness for Paris, France ask for dining recommendations. It is a question I never take lightly, especially for first time visitors. One of my top recommendations is Le Jules Verne in the middle of the world famous Eiffel Tower because of the romantic setting, gourmet offerings and spectacular views of the city. It is the type of setting that memories that last decades are made of and the perfect place for special occasions.
The boarding area of the yacht Don Juan II
On my most recent visit, I discovered another completely different yet equally romantic, elegant, and memorable venue, the Yachts de Paris Don Juan II (Port Henri IV, 75004 Paris, France, +33 1 44 54 14 71, http://donjuan2.yachtsdeparis.fr/ , firstname.lastname@example.org ), a 50 meter long by 7 meter wide yacht. Aboard the vessel, which could seat 38 guests (far fewer than the famous iconic tower), five staff served an appetizing set menu made from fresh ingredients while the boat cruised 26 kilometers along the Seine River past the Eiffel Tower and back to its departure dock, a stone’s throw away from the Ile Saint Louis in the heart of the city. There were only 12 of us that night, which made the experience ever more intimate and special.
Before our departure we sat on at a comfortable spot on deck to enjoy views of Notre Dame while sipping a bubbly aperitif
Below deck the bar was stocked with several types of champagne
Despite our early arrival we received a warm welcome by the English speaking staff. We were immediately invited to board. Black rattan furniture with red cushions was spread around the open space atop the Don Juan II. Below deck pretty tables were set and awaiting our arrival. The elegant tableware was designed by Safran and the furnishings were by Pierre Frey. The single stall head was spotless. After a quick tour one of the staff invited us to have an aperitif topside while we waited for the rest of the passengers to arrive.
Another Yacht de Paris vessel passed just as we pulled out onto the river
Moments later, we were sipping chilled champagne and munching on mixed nuts (pistachios, cashews, pecans, walnuts and Brazil nuts) and enjoying views of Notre Dame Cathedral, the Institute du Monde Arab, and the Left Bank as the rest of the guests began to arrive. Francois, an attentive staff member, offered me a synthetic fiber red blanket to ward against the night chill. He brought us bite size morsels of salmon with beetroot, tomato and radish. Greg, the cruise photographer, introduced himself and with our permission took some photos. When it was departure time our server invited us below deck. We headed to our window side table for dinner.
The aft view of the river
From the Port Henri IV we motored past the Ile Saint Louis and Ile de la Cite islands passing many historic buildings such as the Conciergerie, Musee du Louvre, Grand Palais, small Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower (at the top of the hour to see the twinkling lights), the Musee d’Orsay and finally Notre Dame Cathedral. The Don Juan II glided gently along the river most of the way, so that but for the passing scenery and the occasional wake from a fast moving boat we might have forgotten we were on the water.
We had an outstanding view thanks to the yacht’s large windows
The bread cart was one of several luxury features of the dinner service.
Our five course set menu dinner began with a pre-starter of Crab, white radish pickles, chips and crisps. There were two types of butter, salted and seaweed flavored. A server came by our table to offer us bread from a cart: country, fruit and nut, Italian bread sticks, brioche. Whenever our bread plate was empty she would return to refresh it with our selections. Lobster with fresh greens and creamy nage was next. The main course was Suckling Lamb, roasted and cooked with bay leaf, organic asparagus from the Landes with juice and Parmesano di Reggiano cheese. A Saint-Nectaire cheese course followed. For dessert we had Flower of flowers, lime and strawberry cremeux and juice of an infused hibiscus. Chocolate bites, presented in individual boxes for us to keep, completed the repast. Our meal was paired with a 2012 Louis Jadot chardonnay from Burgundy. We appreciated the souvenir printout of our menus. It included a map of our path along the Seine.
The art like pre-starter featured bites of crab
The suckling lamb
The photographer took our photos with iconic buildings in the background such as Notre Dame while we were docked and later the Eiffel Tower when we went topside to enjoy the light show during the cruise. At the conclusion of the cruise the photos were available for purchase. Our two favorite photos became a lovely keepsake that enhances our wonderful memories of the evening.
Among the sightseeing highlights were the Pont de Grenelle replica of the Stature of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower
The restaurant, opened March 2003 and managed by François Giroud, was one of eight small vessels owned by Yachts de Paris. The meals were created by Guy Krenzer, executive chef, who was recipient of the recognition Double Meilleur Ouvrier de France and creative director of well known Lenôtre culinary enterprise. The wine and food pairings were selected by Olivier Poussier, recipient of the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde 2000 award.
The colorful dessert of Flower of flowers, lime and strawberry cremeux and juice of an infused hibiscus
A cart of sweets to wrap up the meal
In addition to the well presented gourmet dinner we enjoyed and the exacting service, there were a myriad luxury touches, such as the blankets, cloth napkins with our amouse bouche, the orchid on our table, artistic dinnerware like the sea urchin shaped appetizer plates, quality nut snacks, perfectly timed courses to allow us to profit from the best views, and friendly and professional staff who kept us informed during the brief journey, that made the evening special. I would gladly take another cruise aboard the Don Juan II and recommend it to friends living or visiting Paris to celebrate a special occasion or just because.