Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lessons Learned

Our west coast road trip pretty much marked the end of my domestic travels for the year. By my count, in 2008 I’ve been through 25 states (and a Canadian province) with about 42 days on the road. Something like 6,000 road miles covered. A few basic take-aways stand out from all those miles through America.

Scale: Given that my perspective is often focused on international travel, all this wandering serves most of all to remind me of how much more there is to see of the US (to say nothing of Canada). The more I see, the more the list of what else I want to see keeps growing.

Diversity: The views from hotel windows in Lander, Wyoming and Providence, Rhode Island had about as little in common as the political views at the coffee counters in Portland, Maine and Aberdeen, South Dakota. And for all the in-your-face majesty of a Humboldt County redwood looming over you or the promising view of the Teatons in the windshield, the flat endless fields of Iowa streaking past have their own distinct appeal. Difference is certainly the central commonality from coast to coast. It can make it hard to catch your breath when the colleted images of a thousand miles play back through your mind’s eye.

Food revolution: There’s great stuff happening out there in America. From the orchards of the Fruit Loop around Hood River, Oregon, to the seafood beds off Cape Elizabeth, Maine - there’s wonderful product being pulled from the earth and sea. What’s being done with this bounty in kitchens across the country is exciting - and delicious as can be. I still can’t believe the pizza with local chanterelles in the sleepy town of Arcata, California (or how good it was as leftovers the next day for lunch in a park in Crescent City). And nothing tops the fresh cheese curds CA and I bought from the small fromagerie on the road between Quebec City & Montreal. Pleen and I are still in shock that a joint in southeast Portland, Oregon is serving up no-kidding Thai street food. There’s a pride of workmanship that’s evident in the good food being done outside the traditional bastions of high end cuisine. There’s a particular message that outstanding eats shouldn’t be confined to the Five Boroughs or available only to those at the $100+ per-plate end of the spectrum. And this message, I swear, comes through at the table. You taste it and you feel it. It feels as if we’ve rediscovered something.

Contradictions: Pleen always says that it’s the contradictions in people that really attract her. I feel the same way about places. The land of Olive Garden is the land of the Corn Exchange. The 200 mile run of the California coast devoid of any chain lodgings or restaurants starting in Gualala, ends in a neon-coated wash of Holiday Inns and McDonald’s at Fort Bragg. Cutting edge wind turbines are erected and managed by high plains good ol boys. Contradictions are like spice, they serve to highlight interesting flavors.

Favorites: There’s too much great stuff out there to pick useful favorites from such a wide set of experiences. Some things that pop to the top of my memories, however, are the following.

  • City: Quebec City (because it was so unexpected. CA and I felt we were making a discovery around every corner)
  • Meal: Apizza Scholls in Portland, OR (Dream pizza with my dream girl. Perfect.)
  • View: From the Citadel in Quebec City (Flawlessly beautiful and a military history geek’s dream for guys like CA and me.)
  • Event: The hike that JB took me on in the Teatons (Because it was humbling and exhilarating at the same time)
  • Route: The haunted forest that Pleen and I drove through to pass from to the California coast (Because it seemed like a mystical little portal that wisked us from one reality to another. The contrasts were stark and immediate and the route itself was otherworldly).
  • Attraction: The lunch time glass blowing seminars/workshop at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA (Because it was a chance for normal people to see hard corps artisans at work right in front of them)

Company: In the end, nothing is as essential as great company. In fact, these road trips have been as much an excuse to hang out with my favorite people as anything else. My key lesson learned here is that I am incredibly fortunate to have such people in my life. Good company makes any experience better - and the bad ones livable.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pictures from the West Coast are up!

Click on the link to access our pictures from our West Coast trip:

Venezia Recommendations

My old buddy JH recently contacted me asking for recommendations for an upcoming trip to Italy. I told him that I knew nothing about Italy, but passed his questions on to someone who did. I think the response from AL sounds so good that I’m putting it up - along with some location info for some of his recommendations - in case others find it useful.


It's been too long since we're been in Rome -- there are some wonderful restaurants, but they're gone from my memory. I don't know how long you're staying in Rome, but our advice would be to knock off the must-see sites, such as the Coliseum, as quickly as you can -- they are truly awe-inspiring, but you should try to leave time to enjoy Rome as a big city.

We were in Florence in April of 2007, when we stayed at the Bristol & Helvetia. It was a perfectly fine luxury hotel, but I think there were more interesting places to stay. We had a fabulous meal at Cibreo, but I can't remember the other restaurants. I think we had looked in Frommer's and Fodor's and consulted with the concierge. The restaurants we went to were highly recommended and were delicious.

You are lucky I don't have time to give you a detailed run down on Venice. We love the food and the hotels. There is some mediocre food, but all these restaurants are terrific (and expensive!)

  • Hotel Cipriani: Travel Leisure says this is one of 10 best hotel restaurants in the world. A beautiful and peaceful site!
  • Gritti Palace: In addition to being one of the very best restaurants in Venice, there is no view in the world comparable to that of sitting on the Restaurant deck overlooking the Grand Canal.
  • La Cusine at the Europa-Regina Hotel: a very fine restaurant, also with a great deck on the Grand Canal, and good views from inside the restaurant as well. The fish is superb. The menu seems a little more local than some of the others.
  • Harry's Bar: the food is very good (usually!), and the scene is the liveliest in Venice. Be sure to specify that you want to sit on the first floor.
  • Antico Martini: A restaurant for well over 100 years (maybe 200 !) - the food is wonderful and the service delightful.
  • Graspa De Ua: A little hard to find, by the Rialto Bridge. The most Venetian of all these restaurants, it was recently bought and refurbished by Lucio Zanon, a very likeable and ingratiating young man whom we know from Harry's Bar in Venice and Harry Cipriani's in New York. Wonderful fish!
  • Harry's Dolce: a wonderful lunch spot. Great club sandwich and pasta and risotto.
  • Locanda Cipriani on Torcello: a wonderful garden restaurant on the island of Torcello, site of ancient church ruins. This is a twenty minute (water) taxi ride from San Marco, but easily reachable by the wonderful Vaperetto (water buses). A good day-trip is to visit the glass ovens in Murano and the lace-making in Burano, with lunch in between at Torcello. All three are on the same Vaperetto line, and breaking up the travel-time helps. When you arrive at Torcello, check the departure times for the Vaperetto.
  • Fiaschetteria.Toscana: a lovely, small garden restaurant near the Rialto. It's been in the same family for years, and the food and service are terrific.
  • do Forni: an old favorite -- high quality food and service. We haven't been there for several years.
  • The Terrace at the Danielli Hotel - wonderful service and incredible view. The food is elegant, if not quite as good as the Gritti.

There are some terrific expensive hotels, but also some lovely hotels at more moderate prices. We used to stay at the Gritti, which has wonderful suites (but some of the rooms are not impressive), but for the last few years we have stayed at the Europa-Regina. It's not quite as elegant as the Gritti, but they have a few rooms and a few suites with walk out balconies, so you can sit and watch the activity on the Grand Canal. We know of no other hotels with such an amenity.

We don't like the Danielli as much. The Cipriani is on a small island in the lagoon -- about a five minute boat ride from the main island of Venice. We have had some wonderful stays there, but recent articles suggest it has become a little dreary. Last time in Venice, however, the Cipriani had the best fried scampi in Venice.

If you are tempted by the Lido, the Hotel Excelsior is terrific.

All of these are Starwood Hotels except the Cipriani. It's easy to find them on the web. Many of the restaurants have web sites as well.

The guidebooks will tell you the must-see sites, and they are all knock-outs. But everyone also advices to make time just to wander around the city, window shopping, popping into churches, having a coffee in a little square.


AL’s list certainly goes in my “someday” pile!!

Hotel Bristol & Helvetia
Via dei Pescioni, 2
50123 Firenze (FI), Italy

Cibreo Srl
Via Andrea Del Verrocchio, 5/R
50122 Firenze (FI), Italy

Hotel Cipriani & Palazzo Vendramin
Giudecca, 10
30133 Venezia (VE), Italy

Hotel Gritti Palace
Campo Santa Maria del Giglio
30124 Venezia (VE), Italy

Locanda La Cusina
The Westin Europa & Regina Hotel
San Marco 2159
30124 Venezia (VE), Italy

Bar Harry's Bar
S. Marco, 1323
30124 Venezia (VE), Italy

Ristorante Antico Martini
Sestiere San Marco, 2007
30124 Venezia (Veneto), Italy

Hotel Graspo de Ua
San Marco 5094
30124 Venezia (VE), Italy

Harry's Dolce
Giudecca 773
Fondamenta San Biagio

Locanda Cipriani
Piazza S. Fosca, 29
30012 Torcello Venezia (VE), Italy

Ristorante Fiaschetteria Toscana SAS
Cannaregio, 5719
30131 Venezia (VE), Italy

Ristorante Do Forni
S. Marco, 457
30124 Venezia (VE), Italy

La Terrazza
Hotel Danieli
Castello 4196
30122 Venezia (VE), Italy

The Westin Excelsior Resort, Venice Lido
Lungomare Marconi, 41
Venice Lido
30126 Venezia (VE), Italy

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Quick Note on Angeethi

We had a quite a meal tonight at Angeethi out in Herndon. To a certain extent, it was pretty standard – albeit good – Indian. But the veggie dishes were quite strong. And of particular note were dishes incorporating the – apparently homemade – paneer.

This Indian cheese is often a mild element of structure more than flavor. But at Angeethi the panneer’s flavor and texture are center stage. Whoever they've got chained to the paneer station in the kitchen really knows his stuff.

The Paneer Pakora - paneer stuffed with a spice mixture and then fried in chickpea batter – offered luxurious fresh taste within a decadent fried exterior. But the star of the evening was the Paneer Tikka – spiced and dressed planks of paneer barbecued in the tandoor. This was a tandoori chicken for vegetarians; complete with the red color on the smoky flavored exterior, grill marks, and succulent inner flesh. Well worth the drive on its own.

We’re defiantly looking forward to another visit to Angeethi to check out more of the menu.

645 Elden Street
Herndon, VA 20170