Category Archives: Restaurants

A Simple Feast at Il Granaro del Monte

Il Granaro

Il Granaro del Monte
Hotel Grotta Azzurra
Via Alfieri 7
06046 Norcia (PG)
39-0743-816-513
info@bianconi.com
www.bianconi.com

We feasted at our hotel’s restaurant, Il Granaro del Monte, considered a national culinary monument.  I was in agreement from the very first savory bite.  What makes their cooking so extraordinary?  Ordinary, wholesome ingredients prepared with a love and respect for the land that produces them – Norcia!  The Black Truffle is king and is an essential part of the cuisine of Umbria.  Truffles are best consumed shortly after being extracted from the ground, as their particularly strong scent and taste fade quickly.   At the Granaro, the chef does not allow this to happen and he prepares the truffles in countless ways.  For me, they are absolutely divine simply perched on a mound of handmade tagliatelle.   But a meal would not be complete without sampling Norcia’s lamb and cured pork specialties, the lentils of Castelluccio (presented here in a velvety soup), the spelt, the cheeses…

Picture the sheep as they graze in the flower-filled meadow of Castelluccio, the cheeses made from the sheep’s milk, the honey of a thousand wildflowers.  These are the elements that are used to recreate traditional dishes following ageless recipes, held dear by the Bianconi family and presented daily to their guests.

 

copyright – Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

 

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The Pierre – a New York icon

 

2018 The Pierre for webThe Pierre
2 East 61st Street
New York, New York 10065-8402
1-212-838-8000
http://www.thepierreny.com

As I sit here in the lobby of The Pierre looking over the New York Times edition of February 9, 2018, I try to imagine what it was like when the headlines of this same paper on February 2, 1929 announced the plans for the new hotel to be built on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 61st Street, replacing an existing mansion. The $15-million project was a joint venture to create an exclusive hotel, reflecting simplicity yet the ultimate refinement within a club-like environment. It opened on October 1, 1930 and became the toast of New York society, until the Depression hit and years of financial struggles ensued. But the Pierre is a survivor. In 1959, The Pierre became a cooperative of permanent resident owners, while the remaining guest rooms, restaurant and bars remained open to a devoted international clientele. A series of reincarnations in the form of restorations, renovations and innovative social venues have made The Pierre what it is today – an historic icon of New York residential and hotel luxury. The Pierre has 140 rooms and 49 suites. Eleven Grand Suites have apartment-like quarters and private terraces.

We could opt to have afternoon tea at the Two E Bar & Lounge, an Art Deco room that was originally the Gentlemen’s Library but instead we choose to “lounge” in our room and enjoy its panoramic view of New York’s skyline and a tree-top view of Central Park. It is with pure pleasure and much anticipation that we dress up and wander through the Rotunda on our way to Perrine’s Restaurant. We linger to admire the 1967 murals by Edward Melcarth, painted in a palette of soft pastels, reminiscent of the frescoed rooms of European palaces. Opposite the Rotunda is the Grand Ballroom restored in 2006. It remains one of New York’s most sought-after settings for gala events and weddings.

The restaurant, on the other hand, is unpretentious, quiet, inviting. Sait, our waiter, orchestrates our dinner like an experienced conductor, leading us through a symphony of dishes created by Indian-born executive chef, Ashfer Biju. The cuisine is French-inspired and is superb. Appetizers, such as tuna tartare, steak tartare, a winter citrus salad and crab imperial flatbread are worthy of an imperial table. Sait knows just the wine to accompany these delectable treats. To continue on our culinary passage, we have lamb chops with polenta and roasted root vegetables, with a sampling of winter mushrooms and sweet corn and kohlrabi gratin. Finally, the ultimate in sweet indulgences leads us to the decision that we must now stroll through Central Park in the cold crisp air of early evening. We head to Wollman Rink, where skaters have glided across the ice since it opened in 1949 – a most enjoyable ending to our first day in New York. Tomorrow, our walk will take us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

copyright ginda simpson – http://www.rooms_withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Riverside Relaxation in Vang Vieng, Laos

2017c Riverside Boutique HotelRiverside Boutique Resort
Ban Viengkeo
P.O. Box 360
Vang Vieng, Vientiane Province
Lao PDR
+856 (0)23 511 726
http://www.riversidevangvieng.com
info@riversidevangvieng.com

After the long drive from Luang Prabang, it is a treat to sit back on our balcony and watch the Nam Song River flow past the magnificent limestone karsts for which Vang Vieng is known. Better yet, on this hot afternoon, is a dip in their pool, where one can chill out with a glass of ice-cold Beer Lao. Riverside Boutique Hotel does not simply offer luxury in Vang Vieng, it offers guests the chance to learn about the diversity of the Lao culture through its studied décor which showcases the various ethnic influences of the country. There are hints everywhere of this rich diversity – in the design of the rooms, the artwork selected, the textiles used. Their boutique gallery and gift shop gives guests a chance to admire and purchase some of the finest examples of the artisan crafts of the Lao people. Be sure to visit the shop and ask the desk for their brochures that explain the rich traditions of the various Lao tribes.

The Crab d’Or Restaurant provides a relaxed setting in which to sample a tasting menu of Lao cuisine, a great introduction to the most popular dishes of the country or an opportunity to sample them again. The cook is happy to adjust the “heat” of the chilies so beloved by the local people. The restaurant features a wrap-around terrace overlooking the river and the garden, where In the evening, lighted lanterns and fairy lights provide a touch of magic. At breakfast, this same dining room offers sustenance, a rich buffet of both Asian and Continental selections sure to please guests, no matter what their tastes or dietary restrictions might be.

Vang Vieng awaits, luring visitors from the comforts of Riverside Boutique Hotel. There are trips down the river in traditional river craft, tubing and kayaking for the adventurous, villages and rice fields, temples and shops that tempt. Go ahead, explore, or simply rest in the natural beauty that surrounds you.

2017c Riverside Boutique Hotel view

View of the Nam Song River – original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

Satri House – the Enchantress of Luang Prabang

2017c Satri House Secret Retreat

Satri House  –  original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Satri House Secret Retreat
057-Photisarath Road
Luang Prabang – Lao PDR
+856 71 253 491 2
http://www.satrihouse.com
info@satrihouse.com

Built in French colonial-style, yet deeply influenced by Lao culture, Satri House’s main villa dates back to 1904 when it was the residence of Prince Soupha-Nouvong, known as the “Red Prince” who was later to become Lao PDR’s first president in 1975. Expanded over the years, it was eventually converted into a “secret retreat” hotel featuring 28 guestrooms and 3 suites.

Satri House is an unabashed enchantress; she leads me from garden path to lily ponds, to a still channel of water where Lao sculptures and palm fronds are reflected in its surface, pleasing my eye not once but twice. Pathways through these lush gardens and quiet corridors invite us to the secret retreat that will be our accommodation for the next few days. Our room makes me feel like I have been invited by the Prince himself to luxuriate in his private home. Furnished in rich wood and dressed in delicate silk and linens, our room has a queen-sized bed draped in mosquito netting that while practical, lends a romantic air. Lao in all its beauty is everywhere, but the temptress does not stop here. A shuttered doorway opens to our private garden, a short walk takes us to the pool or the spa, and finally there is the restaurant with a wrap-around terrace that offers an intimate view of the garden from above.

The first evening we enjoy a set menu of Lao dishes, a perfect introduction to the country’s cuisine. Mme. Lamphoune salad is a green papaya – green mango salad with chicken and shrimp in a lime dressing; the Som Ho pomelo salad made with shrimp and vegetables is equally as tasty. For our main course we have Gaeng Phet Bhet Myung, a red curry duck with pineapple and become acquainted with Khabab Paa, grilled Mekong river fish wrapped in banana leaf, one of Lao’s most popular dishes. And for our sweet tooth, we get to sample another Lao specialty – local dark-sticky rice with fresh mango.

Three nights are simply not enough at this hotel. If our enchantress is benevolent, perhaps we will be lured back to her secret retreat again someday.

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

The best of two worlds at Savoy Hotel Yangon

2017c Savoy Hotel

Savoy Hotel Yangon    –    original watercolor by Ginda Simpson

Savoy Hotel Yangon
129, Dhammazedi Road
Yangon, Myanmar
+95 1 526-289
http://www.savoy-myanmar.com
reservations@savoy-myanmar.com

Nearly everything pales to the experience of visiting Shwedagon, Yangon’s most cherished Buddhist Pagoda that glitters in the sunlight and dazzles one’s very soul. So afterwards, we slowly make our way back to our hotel, where we lounge poolside in a garden-like setting. I have ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Aythaya Vineyards, Myanmar’s nascent wine industry on the slopes of the Taunggyi Mountains in the Shan State. Its crisp, fruity bouquet suits my idle mood. I close my eyes and breathe in the stillness, punctuated only by a splash in the pool and the caw of crows as they swoop among the tall trees perhaps declaring their territorial rights. Who can blame them? There is the hum of traffic – not far from where I sit, but seemingly worlds away.

Hotel Savoy is a colonial-style hotel that easily transports its guests to a by-gone era, when life was unhurried. It is an intimate hotel with 24 light-filled, spacious rooms and six suites, tastefully decorated in Myanmar style, with teak furnishings, fine linens and weavings, with here and there beautifully arranged antiques, paintings and wood-carvings that reflect the culture.

Later in the evening, we dine at Kipling’s Restaurant known for its Green Pan Asian Cuisine as developed by Florian Eberhardt, chef extraordinaire who brings with him worlds of experience. The cuisine is light, using the freshest organic ingredients to be found in the Shan State while going moderate in its use of sugar, salt, butter and cream. The lightness of the dishes allows diners to experience the full, distinct flavors of the herbs and spices that make the food so satisfying and memorable. We start with Shwe Taung Khauk Swe, Golden Mountain noodles with chicken in a creamy coconut soup, bursting with flavor. We sample the Burmese lamb curry and vegetables, savoring the aroma of cumin, turmeric and shallots that steam up from its terracotta pot. The steamed bass is an offering fit for a temple – bathed in spinach with lotus seeds, lemongrass, ginger and Yamasa soy. We could be no place else but in Asia, and there is no place else we would rather be at this moment!

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

A Tuscan Lunch by an Ancient Monastery

Antico Ristorante La Certosa

 

Antico Ristorante La Certosa
Via Cassia, 1
50124 Impruneta, (Florence)
39-055-204-8876
info@lacertosa.it
www.lacertosa.it

 

 

When a restaurant occupies what was once the Monks’ Old Pharmacy of the 12th century Antico Ristorante La Certosa - Sala ChiostroCertosa Monastery, it has every reason to attach the venerable attribute “Antico” to its name.  Opened a little over a decade ago, La Certosa, offers traditional Tuscan cuisine and awesome views of the hilltop monastery. Each of the several dining rooms is uniquely decorated with newly frescoed walls that take their inspiration from Tuscany’s artistic past.  We lunched in the Sala Chiostro, an intimate space that wrapped us in the warm colors of the Tuscan countryside – sunflower yellow, golden wheat and wine red, easily putting us in the mood for the wonderful food and wine that soon came to our table.

When we asked our waiter to help us select from their many offerings, he simply shrugged and said, “You are in Toscana, what else? It’s obvious.  Beef!”  His recommendation was obviously the right choice.  If we were to eat nothing else but the main course, tagliata alla fiorentina, the most tender slices of beef, seasoned simply with salt, rosemary and capers, accompanied by roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables, we would have left completely satisfied.  But naturally, we savored assorted antipasti of salumi and crostini, and a sampling of two different pastas, accompanied by an excellent DOCG Chianti from Villa La Palagina vineyards.  La Certosa cuisine has no secrets – it is simply Tuscany country cooking at its best – fresh ingredients, in the hands of master chefs, simply prepared.  And Ecco Fatto! You have a most satisfying meal.

To add to the enjoyment of a dinnertime meal, La Certosa offers entertainment in the evening – traditional folkloric music or arias from Italy’s beloved operas.  On occasion, La Certosa looks to its past and offers a special dinner with a monastery theme, recreating an ancient refectory atmosphere where the waiters dress as monks.  In addition to the several indoor dining rooms, an outdoor patio becomes an enchanting setting for dining alfresco in the warmer months, whether for a romantic dinner for two or a festive dinner for a large group.

 

copyright – Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com

 

Titigliano Estate – platters and platters

Titignano (33)Titignano Agricola
Loc. Titignano
05018 – Orvieto TR
39-0763-308000
http://www.titignano.it
info@titignano.it

Not even a forecast of heavy rains could keep us away from our appointment with adventure – lunch in a fortified stone structure dating back to the 1100’s. The original castle overlooking the Tiber River is now in ruins but Titignano, its supporting fortress, remains. Built of stone from the Travertine quarries, it was transformed into a palace and small village in the 16th century, and in 1830 it was purchased by Prince Don Tommaso di Filippo Corsini of Florence. It is still owned by the Corsini Family heirs.  Together with the Tenuta di Salviano, the Titignano Estate comprises 2000 hectares, situated between Todi and Orvieto overlooking the Corbara Lake.

Titignano (31)_modificato-1

Titignano (6) It is indeed a dreary November day and a very wet one, keeping us from fully exploring the estate. But inside, the castle both warms and charms us. The main hall of the castle with its original stone hearth is now the restaurant. We have brought large appetites with us and it is a good thing, a sneak preview of this hall reveals tables laden with countless platters.

In short order, those same platters are brought to our smaller dining room, where families and friends have gathered for Sunday lunch, to be consumed with great gusto. Our enjoyment of the meal unfolds in equal measure to theirs. But can we possibly keep up? The wait staff delivers endless antipasti in a practiced choreography around our tables, delivering focaccia and pizzette, crostini and cheese brioches. There is a tris of pastas: risotto with apples, baked lasagne, and pappardelle with Wild Boar sauce. The food reflects a road map of Umbria, its fields and forests, its valleys, farms, and orchards. The cooking reflects the simplicity and wholeness of the traditional dishes that the grandmothers of Umbria have made for centuries. The beef stew and porcini mushrooms are accompanied by green beans, and the platter of mixed grilled meats is followed by a simple tossed green salad. True “farm to table” cooking – we saw the sheep grazing in pastureland on our approach to the castle.

Titignano (3)

Fortified by glasses of local Salviano wines, we eat like warriors, refusing to surrender. We reach dessert, a light tiramisù and biscotti with vin santo. Wouldn’t it be nice to surrender to one of their cozy guest rooms that now rent out to travelers?

Titignano (36)

copyright Ginda Simpson – http://www.rooms-withaview.comhttp://www.gindasimpson.com