South Island bistro offered well prepared lunch, pretty vineyard setting

South Island bistro offered well prepared lunch, pretty vineyard setting

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

 

Cardrona Valley lamb neck, garlic yoghurt, pea, umami served with Amisfield Pinot Noir 2016

Grilled apricot souffle, lemon verbena

Because I spent most of my trip off the beaten track, on a private Aroha Intrepid tour, my main impression of New Zealand fine dining was derived from lunch at Amisfield Bistro & Cellar Door (10 Lake Hayes Road, RD 1, Queenstown 9371, +64 3 442 0556, amisfield.co.nz, bistro@amisfield.co.nz, cellardoor@amisfield.co.nz), a South Island bistro near Queenstown, where I spent one night. The vineyard side meal was well prepared and well presented, the setting pleasant and pretty. Should I be in the area and in search of a fine dining option I would return, and I would recommend the restaurant to friends and acquaintances traveling to the area.

Kingfish, Horseradish, Cucumber

My travel companion and I had lunch there on a breezy and sunny summer day. It was crowded. The restaurant could accommodate up to 100 guests at lunch and 40 at dinner. There were people indoors and outdoors. All the tables I could see from where we sat in the terrace, thankful for the shade of a large umbrella, were occupied. Our table faced a water feature on one side and a green lawn adjacent to the estate vineyards. Despite a mild chill in the air I saw more than one guest take advantage of the respite offered by stacks of sunhats on the edge of the water feature.

Guests took advantage of the respite offered by sunhats on the edge of the water feature.

This dish included edible “soil”

A shellfish delicacy

We both had the 5 Course Trust the Chef tasting menu with a partial wine pairing and a couple of extra bites sent from the kitchen: Zucchini flower Toasted corn; Amisfield Brut 2016, Amisfield breads; Tomato sandwich Amisfield Pinot Gris 2018; The paua pie, Amisfield Fume Blanc 2016; Kingfish, Horseradish, Cucumber, Amisfield Chenin Blanc 2018; Cardrona Valley lamb neck, garlic yoghurt, pea, umami, Amisfield Pinot Noir 2015; Grilled apricot souffle, lemon verbena. Several staff rotated at our table. Whenever a server brought a dish he or she listed the ingredients. Some staff were friendly although service was sluggish. Lunch was inventive, aesthetically oriented and satisfying.

The terrace where we sat for lunch was popular

A view of the restaurant built with 1,500 tons of Glenorchy schist and railway sleepers

The two story building was constructed with 1,500 tons of Glenorchy schist and railway sleepers salvaged from a deconstructed bridge in Southland. Headed by Vaughan Mabee, executive chef, the restaurant offered seasonal dishes made from one hundred percent New Zealand ingredients. All meat on offer was grass fed, according to a restaurant spokesperson who responded to questions by email. I liked that the restaurant had an organic produce supplier. The staff only bought sustainable species of fish. Everything was made from fresh, never frozen, ingredients, and the only wines on offer were produced by Amisfield, according to the spokesperson. In 2013, Amisfield began an organic conversion, using as little intervention as possible. The winemaker produced two wines of the natural expression: Amisfield Burn Pinot Gris, an orange wine, and Amisfield Pétillant Naturel.

Innovative multi-course lunch near Christchurch, New Zealand

Innovative multi-course lunch near Christchurch, New Zealand

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Dishes from our weekday surprise five-course menu

I heard about Roots, a locally focused restaurant with a twelve course tasting menu in the suburbs of Christchurch, New Zealand before I arrived there. I was curious about its surprise twelve course menu and wine pairing, but the only night I had available as my itinerary came to a close was the night before my predawn departure. I wasn’t willing to indulge in such an elaborate meal on the eve of a series of long flights to return to the United States. At the last minute I realized the restaurant opened for lunch on weekends, offering a surprise five-course menu. That was tempting.

It was especially opportune because I had just made plans to visit Akaroa, and Lyttelton, where Roots was located, was on my way back to Christchurch from Akaroa. Would it be possible to book a table on short notice in peak season? My tour guide thought it was worth a try. She called from the car as we made our way north toward Christchurch from Lake Pukaki, where we had spent the previous nights. When the woman who answered the phone requested that we visit the restaurant website to book a table my guide explained we were on the road. Finally the woman at Roots agreed to hold a table provided we call back to give her a credit card guarantee. But, it wasn’t until several hours later that we called her a second time. I figured by then the table was gone. It wasn’t.

The table across from ours in the sunlit dining room

Staff at work in the open kitchen

Tomato bull kelp granita, ice plant, wasabi, smoked capsicum

The following afternoon, after grossly miscalculating the driving time from Akaroa, we arrived 30 minutes late. Despite crossing huge patches of no cellphone service we called twice to say we were on our way. When we arrived I sighed with relief, glad to be out of the vehicle. We were fortunate to find an empty parking space near the restaurant entrance on the popular and quaint main street in Lyttelton. Given our delay I expected a grumpy reception. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Emma, the front of house manager, welcomed us without any fuss. And to our delight we had the entire restaurant to ourselves.

Hemp & NZ Spinach

Pork Belly Pan de Yuca

Venison blood, bok choy, plum, harakeke seeds

That set the relaxed and sunny tone for the rest of the day. As we sat down I admired the uncluttered space and pretty original artwork on the walls around us, made easier to appreciate thanks to the soft natural light that filtered into the dining room through large windows. There was no menu. Emma or another staff member described each dish when they placed it in front of us. After the rush on the winding road my stomach was unhappy. With some effort I convinced myself to limited wine consumption with the meal. Emma’s two New Zealand recommendations,  2018 Clos Marguerite sauvignon blanc from Malborough and 2014 Mountford Estate pinot noir, were spot on.

The front of the building housing Roots

Lunch consisted of the following (shared later by email): Hemp & NZ Spinach Pork Belly Pan de Yuca; Tomato bull kelp granita, ice plant, wasabi, smoked capsicum; Tuna kawa kawa, grain cracker, corn custard, cucumber, sorrel; Duck blackberries, confit garlic, black lime powder, broad bean miso; Venison blood, bok choy, plum, harakeke seeds; Cheese omg brie, Windsor blue, mahoe very old Edam, curio bay pecorino; Cleanser apricot, yoghurt, fresh mint; and Beetroot walnut, raspberry, thyme, goat cheese; and Marshmallow charcoal oil, wheat, white chocolate, wheat grass, Pineapple Sage. Despite repeated requests Roots representatives declined to respond to any questions.

I appreciated the warm service, understated ambiance, creative tone and visually appealing presentation of the dishes. I would recommend Roots to curious friends visiting Lyttelton who enjoy multi-course meals and inventive cuisine.

Why we liked understated restaurant near Champs Elysees

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The front door of Le Chiberta

Years ago what first drew our attention to Le Chiberta (3 rue Arsène Houssaye,75008 Paris, France, +33 1 53 53 42 00, http://www.lechiberta.com, chiberta@guysavoy.com) was that it was a Guy Savoy restaurant (see Le Chiberta, a restaurant find near the Champs Elysees). The well known chef had a world class reputation thanks to his eponymous Paris restaurant. Le Chiberta’s location a stone’s throw away from the famous Champs Elysees was another plus.

The walls were decorated with modern art by French artists.

While the original restaurant opened in 1932 the current fine dining restaurant, owned by Guy Savoy and Thierry Belin, dated to 2004. The 200 square meter restaurant with 15 employees could accommodate 80 people. Under the direction of Stéphane Laruelle, executive chef, and Belin in the role of restaurant manager and sommelier, the restaurant delivered gourmet dining minus the luxury amenities of the top rated fine dining restaurants and their accompanying exorbitant prices.

A light course to stimulate our appetite

Subtle neutral colors dominated the room, beginning with wall to wall charcoal carpeting. Track lights from the high ceiling provided ample light in the windowless room. Decorative features included wine and champagne bottles, oil paintings, white tablecloth covered dining tables, and Michel Wilmotte dinnerware. The single stall bathroom was spotless. The contemporary decoration was by Jean-Michel Wilmotte with paintings by French artists. According to a restaurant representative, the name Chiberta is Basque, and refers to a place next to Biarritz.

Duck foie gras with sweet spices

During our most recent visit in the fall of 2018 to the one Michelin star venue our neighbors, a mostly middle-aged crowd, appeared to be having a business lunch. There was a three course Lunch Menu for 49 euros and a seven course Degustation Menu (Tasting Menu) for 110 euros. We liked that the meat and fish served were of French origin and the vegetables were organic. All of the dishes served were made from fresh (not frozen) ingredients. The restaurant offered WiFi, valet and taxi services.

Artichoke soup with a slice of black truffle, a favorite

Lunch began with Emmental cheese puffs, moist inside and with sesame and poppy seeds on top, and vintage champagne. Seaweed butter and a choice of two types of bread (whole wheat and crunchy white) arrived soon after the bubbly and bites. The courses were: Marbled duck foie gras with red wine and sweet spices; Velouté of artichoke and black truffle; Turbot from Normandy coasts natural salsify, stuffed razor clam, shellfish juice; Duo of veal roasted rump and glazed breast, pumpkin, chestnut, autumn mushrooms; Brie de Meaux cheese, mascarpone walnut; Pre-dessert exotic and coconut; and Crispy praline chocolate almond biscuit, chocolate-praline sauce.

Turbot with razor clams

The meal was served with Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2009 Extra Brut; Maury Mas Amiel Vintage Réserve 2012; Macon-Lugny 2016 Joseph Drouhin; Chateau Castera 2010 from Medoc; and Jurancon Ballet d’Octobre 2016 Domaine Cauhapé. More than once during the meal we commented on the smooth pairing.

Roasted veal rump and breast

We liked the lentils in the Jerusalem artichoke, they added texture to the dish. The turbot was lovingly prepared with the clams subtly accentuating the fish. The veal, served with mushrooms and pumpkin, was outstanding. We had no need of the pepper mill and sea salt with which it arrived. The creamy brie with mascarpone and truffles was the perfect transition to our first sweet dish, a mildly tart exotic fruit blend of mango, passion fruit and meringue we much enjoyed. The dessert proper was crispy and light. Cheese cake and fig and financiers were served with coffee. There were also chocolates caramels and chocolate nougat.

The chocolate desert

As soon as we entered several staff members approached to welcome us, take our wet coats and guide us to a cozy table for two in the rear dining room. They spoke English with fluency, translating dish descriptions with ease and providing an English language menu. As the hour advanced the dining room filled up yet we never lacked anything or found ourselves in search of a server. Somehow they were always table side at the perfect moment, friendly without being intrusive.

Stéphane Laruelle, executive chef, in the kitchen at the conclusion of our meal

Our attentive server and Thierry Belin, co-owner and manager

From arrival to departure the staff looked after us with a warm and detail-oriented attitude. Our seven course tasting menu with wine pairing was well prepared, artfully presented and delicious. Given the location, good service and gourmet meal it was an excellent value in a city of many choices. We would return with pleasure, especially if we were staying in or near that neighborhood.

Central Florida restaurant focused on southern cuisine with modern twist

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

The Tennessee Truffle in Historic Downtown Sanford, Florida

Breakfast at The Tennessee Truffle (125 west 1st street, Sanford, Florida 32771, thetennesseetruffle.com, +1 407-942-3977) in Historic Downtown Sanford, Florida was fun and tasty. We were among the first patrons to arrive on a low season Saturday morning. It was quiet inside the 2,000 square foot restaurant established in 2016 by Nat Russell, owner and chef, as “a family restaurant using sustainable ingredients to make southern cuisine with a modern twist.”

Inside the 2,000 square foot restaurant

Art on the walls of The Tennessee Truffle

From the breakfast mains we had Biscuits & Gravy and French Toast. Both were well prepared and presented. They were worth ordering on a second visit should I return to Sanford and recommending to friends who like southern cuisine. The smoked maple syrup in the French Toast gave the dish a pleasant if unexpected savory flavor. From the sides menu we ordered Grits with sorghum and crushed pecans; and pan seared Duroc Bacon, a 12-day house-cured bacon, which was more like ham. While grits are not a favorite dish in general I enjoyed those. To wrap it all we shared an order of Popcorn Brulee made with three forms of popcorn, ice cream, powder and brulee.

Plants grew next to the window in elevated wood planters

Our server was patient, friendly and helpful. When she didn’t know the answer to a question she found out and returned with the information.

Biscuits & Gravy

Partway through our meal when the chef came out to bring a dish he graciously answered questions and posed for photos. “We are a restaurant using as much local produce and protein as possible,” Russell, said by email later when asked about sourcing for the restaurant. “I believe in using the best product. If that’s from Sanford great but I won’t compromise flavor or freshness just to be local. If it’s from the area all the better!”

Grits with sorghum and crushed pecans

He went on to explain that everything they use is organic, about 50 percent of produce is from Florida, about 80 percent of the fish served is local, and 100 percent of the beef and beer is from Florida. A Culinary Institute of America graduate Russell, Memphis born, is former executive chef of Winter Park’s Café de France in Florida.

Smoked maple syrup on our French Toast gave the dish a savory flavor

When asked about the name of the restaurant he said, “ In the Appalachian mountains the first thing to pop out of the ground in the spring is the ramp. They call this the Tennessee Truffle I love this story. So, I stole the name and the rest is history!”

Duroc Bacon, a 12-day house-cured bacon

I liked the chef’s light touch. The dishes I sampled had seasoning that allowed the ingredient’s natural taste to shine. I appreciated his flair for surprising and unexpected flavors and textures such as the smoked maple syrup in his French Toast, the crunchy pecans in the grits and the three textures of popcorn, (powder, creamy brulee and ice cream) in the Popcorn Brulee.

Nat Russell, owner and chef

The restaurant’s light filled dining room was inviting and relaxed, the chairs comfortable. I wondered if the chef had used any of the herbs growing in pots between our table and the street facing window in our breakfast. The pleasant setting, warm and efficient service and lovingly prepared dishes made me want to return.

Why I especially liked central Florida restaurant

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.

Highlights of our Black Forest Highlands visit

Highlights of our Black Forest Highlands visit

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

A typical dreary day during our visit

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

The clock museum featured displays of clock history

Tools used to automate the creation of the gears and wheels were featured

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

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.

Seecafé in Schluchsee

The lake fronting Seecafé in Schluchsee

Black forest cake, strudel cake and cappucinno

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.

Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel

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.

Our first sunny afternoon from the patio at Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof

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.

hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler

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, info@rothaus.de) 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

St. Blasien Cathedral, a lovingly maintained structure 36 meters wide and 62 meters high

The cupola in St. Blasien Cathedral

The interior of St. Blasien Cathedral

The cupola in 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.

Hotel Adler in Häusern

Our final nights were at the Hotel Adler in Häusern

Our last afternoon in the Black Forest got sunny

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.