Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bon Appetite (& Santé) Paris, Part Deux

Last year I enjoyed Paris in August so much that I decided to return again this year for a 3 day stay, after my short holiday in the south of France. Forest & I again played "who is open?" and came up with another fantastic lineup of restaurants and bars.

Drinking...

If you are looking for a view in Paris, and you'd prefer to have a glass of something nice to sip on while you're enjoying it, you can't do better than the two gems Forest found us.

The first is Ciel du Paris, on the top of the Tour Montparnasse. Dayne, Forest and I had gone years ago and after Forest heard they'd done a little remodel we decided to check it out again. The view is still spectacular, the drinks are still meh. So grab a glass of champagne and take in the sight of the Eiffel Tower which sparkles on the hour.
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The second view point is... drum roll please... the roof of the Holiday Inn in the St. Germain area. The bar, Le Quarante Trois, requires that you have a reservation for drinks. The drinks again are meh, but the almost 360 degree views are spectacular, I suggest them paired with a glass of rosé champagne.
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There are great drinks though, as Paris has grown so much with regard to craft cocktail bars. In year's past it's been more of a struggle to find a well made drink, now it's more of a struggle to get to all the great bars. Curio Parlor is by no means new, but I hadn't had a chance to check it out in the past so we dropped in for a quick nightcap one evening. From the same team behind the Experimental Cocktail Club, the bar has many similarities to their other endeavors. The thing that makes Curio unique is they are Europe's main Nikka Whisky bar, offering rare tastes from the brand's full portfolio.
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Swanky cocktails were also had at the posh Baudelair Bar inside the 5-star Burgundy Hotel, which sits in the center of the Places Madeleine, Vendome and Concorde. Sometimes it's nice to relax in the cool comfort of an air-conditioned hotel bar, decked out with supple couches and chairs, pretty artwork and fancy snacks. This was certainly one of those times.
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Eating...

Is there is anything better than a long, leisurely, ladies' lunch? I think not. Forest and I spent our first day back in Paris on the lovely terrace of Mini Palais at the Grand Palais. Right next to the Seine, just off Pont Alexandre III. This is a great stop if you are sightseeing in the area. We had fantastic service, drinks, wine and lunch, including these house cured sardinettes with a seaweed butter.
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There is seating on the terrace and also an interesting room inside for dinner. It's not expensive, considering the neighborhood and you can walk off lunch by doing a bit of shopping on the Champs-Élysées after.

In August, Le Comptoir, which is normally impossible to get a reservation at, doesn't take reservations. We showed up early and were told to stand in line under a red umbrella next to the street. Within 10 minutes we were seated outside on a sidewalk table and had a truly spectacular meal. This is going up with my experience at Agape Substance (which is just down the street) as one of my favorite recent dining experiences in Paris. The food is very French traditional but with a twist, for example my roasted marrow bone with caviar, petit peas, favas, puree and foam. Oh. My. God.
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Also Le Comptoir has the largest portion cheese plate I've ever seen in France. What was meant to serve just one could have been enough for four easily. Believe the hype about this place.

Lunch at Saturne was another great restaurant experience and another case where the hype matched the menu. We had the 3 course 37€ menu (they also offer a 5 and 7 course option) and started with some lovely jamon noir and bread. I was excited to try the veal tartare and it was delicious if a tiny bit bland. My fish with cockles, mussels, zucchini and these tiny halves of baby corn was both beautiful to look at and delicious to eat! Interesting desserts with odd flavored ice cream and strawberries finished off the meal.
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A last evening dinner at, still new kid on the block, Les Jalles had us batting a thousand. The elegant dining room was modern and traditional at the same time. Service was not perfect but they were trying to be. And the food was artistic as well as delicious. My lovely last meal included foie gras, boeuf au poivre, and these gorgeous potatoes fried in goose fat.
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Both...

Tacos in Paris? I know, I know but since I wanted to check out Candelaria (we'd gone twice last year but wasn't able to get in) and we'd had a leisurely lunch that ended late in the afternoon, it was the perfect stop for a light dinner.

This tiny hole-in-the-wall in the 3rd looks like it belongs in Southern California. White walls, a 5 seat communal table, a handful of counter seats and a large grill make up the entire space. Upon entering you need to walk to the very back wall to find an unmarked door which will lead you to the cocktail bar. Inside you'll find an equally tiny bar. The menu has a great selection of house specialties and if you ask for the Reserve Menu you'll be given a small phone book of creations from many of the world's best bartenders.
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You can get an order of guac and chips in the bar but if you want tacos you'll have to give up your seat and head back out front. You can, however, order a cocktail in the bar and they will bring it out to you in the restaurant.

Prices are cheap and the food is actually very good. My only gripe was that the tortillas could have been griddled a bit longer. Our favorites were the hongos tacos (mushroom and cheese) and the nopal
tostada. 
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All Paris photos, including more food porn, are here

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Paris, France

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Snorkling with Sharks!

We decided to do only one excursion while in Punta Cana, although there were many day trips to choose from, as we really just wanted to enjoy the beach and pools at the resort. We also chose an afternoon excursion because the last thing I want to do on vacation is get up early!
We met with the representative from Olympus Tours to book our snorkeling tour. We were picked up in the lobby of our resort and after two more pick ups we drove about 30 minutes to the Marinarium Resort. We headed out to the reef, which was a short but entertaining catamaran trip, and the crew divided beginning snorkelers from advanced. This was great as we ended up getting more time in the water and also got to venture off farther.
The reefs had a fair amount of brightly colored tropical fish darting around, mainly on the smaller size with a few parrot fish chomping loudly on the coral. There were lots of brain coral, which I don't always see, and tons of spiny urchins. As we swam about there were also lots of tiny jellyfish! I hate jellyfish and was a bit worried about getting stung but luckily no one did.

After about 30 minutes of exploring, our guide ushered us into the large ocean pens which house a half dozen or so nurse sharks. Nurse sharks are generally docile and they'd rather hide under coral reefs than chase after people. But even knowing this, and having dove with black tip reef sharks in the past, the sight of the sharks was a bit nerve wracking. Also nerve wracking was Dayne who immediately went chasing after them!

We swam through four different pens, each with nurse sharks, sting rays or a combination of the two. In the last one we got to hold a stingray. I'd done this way back in the day during a trip to Grand Cayman but it was still awesome. They are much heavier than they look and their skin is strange. And slippery. If you rest your forearms just under the water some will actually swim right up and take a swim break!

Back on board our catamaran, the staff passed out rum & cokes and beers while we sailed down the coast of Bavaro and Cabeza de Toro. When we reached what they call "Paradise", a warm and shallow area of the ocean, there were at least three other boats anchored, all their passengers in the water having a big "pool" party. It was awesome!
We all joined in, the staff of our boat strapped floaty rings to their drink trays and the floating bar was open. I really can't tell you how incredibly warm, clear, clean and awesome the water was. And there even was a crazy drunk, basically nude woman on one of the other boats, all too happy to be the entertainment for the afternoon!

On the way back we spotted tons of red starfish in just this one little area off the coast. The staff gave a lesson in making Coco Loco's and also dancing the Merenge. It was a very relaxing and fun way to spend the afternoon! And then it was back to the Majestic Elegance Resort...

Punta Cana photos here

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Paradise... Punta Cana

Generally our trips are a bit adventurous, cultural, active, or even illegal but every once in a while it's nice to just go someplace beautiful and chill out, and for me that is always on a beach. Since our Cape Cod beach vacation got rained out, I booked us an all-inclusive get-a-way to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for our 9th wedding anniversary.

Just like our Iceland long weekend, this was a total steal that I found through Travelzoo.com. The package consisted of round trip air from Miami, airport transfers and 5 nights in a junior suite in the all-inclusive (all food, all drinks) Majestic Elegance. Additionally we chose to upgrade to the "Elegance Club" in which we had exclusive pools, bars and a beach without children, our own butler, a couple of concierge lounges with computers, snacks and drinks, private check-in/check-out, etc. etc. All of this was $2100 total for the two of us (that included trip and hurricane insurance).

The resort was lovely with huge open atriums, perfectly kept gardens, exceptionally clean and warm pools and beaches. We went in knowing that the food was going to be mediocre (which is was) and that the booze selection would be scant (which it was) but the other amenities more than made up for those things and we had a fantastic time.

We loved the Bali beds, both on the beach and by the pools, the swim up bar, the sand that was like sugar, all the nice newlyweds and the funny little casino where Dayne more than doubled his money. I had a very good massage in the spa one afternoon. And of course the Brugal rum flowed like water.

The resort hosted a White Nights BBQ on the beach one night, where we had our first taste of the local shot called mamajuana, a sweet blend of rum, honey, herbs and bark. Another day a few of the staff came around to everyone in our private pool area with a bucket of the brew on ice and shot glasses to hand out. Ah the stress of vacation.

And for those who wanted, there were nightly "shows" ranging from karaoke to live jazz. We chose to end each evening with a nice martini in the big open lobby bar.
We didn't see any of the country really, and I know that there are certainly some interesting areas. But for us it was a wonderful, relaxing vacation and I'd absolutely go back to enjoy those beaches again, the best I've ever been on!
All photos from our Dominican Republic trip are here.