Tag Archives: restaurant

Trabucchi – The Rustic Restaurants of Puglia

A trabucco soars above the waves near Peschici, Puglia

A trabucco along the coast of the Gargano Peninsula

From the winding, coastal road along the Adriatic Sea in Puglia, a giant spider-like structure appears ahead. As we approach, an enormous net rises from the water, carrying with it a mass of wriggling fish. It is a trabucco, one of the traditional fishing contraptions that pepper the coast of the Gargano Peninsula.

The Gargano Peninsula north of Vieste

The Puglia coast between Vieste and Peschici

Known as the spur on the heel of Italy’s boot, the Gargano Peninsula is a rocky promontory in northern Puglia, characterized by white limestone cliffs, crystal green seas, olive trees, medieval castles and picturesque white-washed villages. Unlike the rest of Puglia, here, steep mountains rise directly from the water, providing expansive views over the sea.

Throughout history, the region has attracted its share of conquerors including the Greeks, Normans and Frederick II of Prussia (who lived here for most of his reign). And let us not forget Hannibal, who fought the Romans at Cannae, a few miles from here.

Other foreign visitors (possibly the Phoenicians) are credited with introducing the trabucco to the region. The earliest references to these fishing devices date to the 1600s, although some sources say they existed already in the 15th century. Whatever their actual origins, along the 44-mile stretch of the Adriatic Sea, known as the Costa dei Trabucchi (the Coast of the Trabucchi) these intricate contraptions are a throw-back to ancient times.

The trabucchi consist of a wooden platform attached to the nearby rocks with wooden antennae-like arms that extend over the sea. The fishing net is attached. One or more giant capsans and pulley wheels, on a large, fixed pole, are used to drop the net into the water where the currents make it favorable for fishing. Also on the platform is a small weathered wooden hut that serves as a shelter for the fishermen.

A portrait of Mimi above the Trabucco that bears his name.

The Trabucco di Mimi restaurant

Watching the fishermen at work is fascinating. A lookout sits on top of one of the antennae, sometimes for hours, waiting for the shoals of fish to approach. He alerts his companions who drop the net (known as a Trabocchetto) before stamping on the platform. One fisherman explains to us that the noise stuns the fish long enough for the net to capture them and then bring them to the surface.

Unfortunately, this age-old tradition of the Adriatic Sea is now endangered. Apart from the fact that the waters here have been overfished, recent studies show that the Mediterranean Sea is warming up at 2-3 times the rate of the rest of the world’s oceans. The impact on the fishing industry is dire.

Most of the people we speak with tell us that they can no longer earn a living from fishing. Increasingly they are turning to an alternative – using the trabucchi as  rustic, open-air restaurants.

One of the most well known of these is the Trabucco di Mimi, (located on the hillside a few miles south of Peschici above the Bay of St. Nicola on the Gargano Peninsula). A winding, steep road leads down to a collection of wooden buildings, festooned with fishing nets, driftwood, and shells, presided over by the trabucco on which hangs an enormous portrait of Mimi, the patriarch of the Ottaviano family, who passed away a few years ago. His sons and grandsons (Mario, Carlo, Domenico, and Vincenzo) now continue the tradition.

Cable spool wooden tables line the terrace, flanked by wooden benches facing the sea. Bottles of white wine sit in ice buckets. Simple paper place mats line the table. A nearby enclosed area with tables and chairs offers shelter for cooler evenings.

A  chalkboard near the entrance lists the menu. It changes daily depending on either what has been caught in the net or what is available at the local market.

Menu at the Trabucco di Mimi

The daily menu

You order your food at the counter and find a seat overlooking the crashing waves. Come late in the afternoon to secure one of the best tables and watch the sun settle into the sea while you sip your aperitivo. Then tuck into your al fresco meal.

The preparation is traditional and simple, similar to what fishing families might make for themselves – Oysters from Manfredonia, prawns, mussels, spaghetti alle vongole (clams), and our favorite – tiny sardines, fried in extra virgin olive oil. You eat them whole, spritzed with some lemon juice.

This rustic dining experience in one of Puglia’s trabucchi is probably one of the most unique that you will find in your travels in Italy. Don’t miss it!

IF YOU GO

If you are driving down the Adriatic Coast, take the A14 (Bologna to Taranto) and exit at Poggio Imperiale. Continue on the SP144 towards Peschici until you cross the SS89. The Trabucco di Mimi is located on the SP 52 less than 1 km south of the center of Peschici.

If you are coming from Vieste (south of Peschici), take the SS89, merging onto the SP 52 or directly from the SS89, taking the last exit on the right for the Bay of St. Nicola just before Peschici.

Buoys festoon the Trabucco di Mimi restaurant, Puglia

The Trabucco di Mimi

Reservations are required at the Trabucco di Mimi. Book on line. The restaurant is open from April to October, seven days a week. Lunch is served between 1215 and 1400; Dinner is from 1900 to 2100.

For additional images visit the Italy/Puglia gallery at Allegria Photos.

 

 

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Il Spirito Di Vino Restaurant, Rome

 

Side Entrance to the Spirito Di Vino restaurant

Sign over the Spirito Di Vino restaurant, Rome

With so many outstanding restaurants in Rome, it is sometimes hard to pick a favorite. The Spirito Di Vino restaurant (the name is a play on words that mean either“The Spirit Divine” or “The Spirit of the Wine) is one of Rome’s finest featuring an eclectic menu that changes daily depending on what is available in the market. It is the domain of Chef Eliana Catalani who, together with her husband, Romeo and her son Francesco, opened the restaurant in 1998.

The ancient building in Trastevere in which it is housed was Rome’s first synagogue until Pope Paul IV forced the Jews into a ghetto across the Tiber River. In the arcaded loggia above the side entrance of the restaurant, you can still see Hebrew letters carved in the marble pillar. The building has also been home to a convent, a shop, a private residence and, now, a restaurant.

However, its origins are even older than that as we learn when we arrive for dinner. As we walk into the restaurant, Romeo greets us and leads us up a small flight of steps to a table under multiple arches and terra-cotta walls. The white tablecloths, crystal glasses and silverware gleam under the soft lights. Romeo immediately pours us two glasses of Prosecco Millesimato Brut and pulls up a chair to chat. He highlights the most unique items on the menu and spends a bit of time describing the history of each. He comes back at regular intervals throughout our meal to see how we are doing.

Once we have made our selections, Francesco arrives with recommendations on the best wines for each dish. He invites us to visit the wine cellar and explains its extraordinary history.

THE WINE CELLAR

As you carefully pick your way down the steep brick steps to the dim, dank cellar, you travel in time to the first century level of Republican Rome. Every step down is equal to 75 years of time. The wine cellar is 160 years older than the Colosseum, its walls protected by the Ministry of Archeology. Even the wine bottles stored down here are not allowed to touch them.

Each step represents 75 years of history

A wine cellar older than the Colosseum

Several archeological treasures that are now on display at the Vatican or Capitoline Museums were discovered during excavations. One, the “Statue of the Athlete”, the so-called “Apoxyomenes”, has given its name to the small alley outside the restaurant’s side entrance, the Vicolo dell’Atleta. It is a Roman marble copy of an original Greek bronze by Lisippo (4th century BC). It depicts an athlete scraping olive oil from his body. The second is an original Greek bronze horse from the Classical era that was once part of the monumental equestrian sculpture commissioned by Alexander the Great to honor those who fell in the Battle of Granico.

We notice that the bottles are all wrapped in plastic wrap. Francesco explains that since the cellar has a constant temperature of 50-59 degrees F with 30% humidity, the plastic is required to keep the labels from peeling off. One employee is responsible for wrapping and unwrapping the bottles.

THE FOOD

Chef Eliana is the only person who prepares the food. Before becoming a gourmet chef, she spent 37 years as an internationally acclaimed virologist working with 1986 Nobel Laureate Rita Levi Montalcini. Chef Eliana gave this up to follow a dream and open her own restaurant. An early proponent of the Slow Food Movement, the raw materials she uses are purchased daily at the market and come from organic farmers and small producers located within a few miles of Rome.

Eliana sees her kitchen as an extension of her laboratory, bringing the same scientific rigor to her cooking as she did to her research. “I want every recipe to tell a story,” she says. “Instead of words, the aromas and tastes of each dish provide the narration.” Eliana believes that, through her cooking, she is conveying the multi-cultural influences of Rome.

Liver pate is served with lightly toasted bread and wild apple jelly

Liver Pate at Il Spirito Divino, Rome

We start our meal with the liver paté served with rounds of toast and a side of wild apple jelly. It is a reminder of the building’s Jewish heritage. Romeo describes some of the 18 different herbs and spices with which it is made. It is smooth and silky on the palate, the richness of the paté offset by the sweetness of the jelly. It is a flavor that is difficult to forget. No other chicken liver paté will ever taste the same.

For our main course, we select the Magro di Maiale di Manzio or the Lean pork made in Manzio’s style. Manzio was a contemporary of Julius Caesar, known for his authorship of three volumes on gastronomy, as well as his horticultural skills. (The Spanish word for apple (manzana) has its origins in the apples that Manzio grew.)

Eliana has recreated this dish, slow-cooking chunks of pork shoulder with apples, onions, honey, vinegar, red wine, herbs, and spices. Instead of salt, she remains true to the original recipe by using a garum (or fermented fish sauce) similar to the Vietnamese nuoc mam. (In Caesar’s time salt was too expensive a commodity to use on food). Notwithstanding what you might expect, there is absolutely no fishy flavor to the meat, which is served with a side of applesauce. We accompany this with a glass of Terre Siciliane Molino a Vento Syrah recommended by Francesco.

To conclude our meal, we select the tiramisú and the Crema cotta, the Italian version of crème brulée but without the hard sugar-coating on top. They are both delicious and gone much too quickly.

Shoulder of pork with apples, wine and garum sauce

Il Magro di Maiale di Manzio, Spirito Divino

In addition to the outstanding food, what makes Il Spirito Di Vino so special is the attitude towards the guests. At no time do you feel as if you should hurry up and leave. Each table is booked for only one party per evening. In fact, Romeo and Francesco invite us to sit back and have another cup of espresso or a digestive spirit and chat some more. Perhaps the greatest treat of all is meeting Chef Eliana herself! With all the outstanding restaurants that you can find in Rome, Il Spirito Di Vino is our favorite.

IF YOU GO

Il Spirito Di Vino Restaurant is open Monday to Saturday 7 to 11 pm; closed on Sunday. It is located at Via dei Genovesi 31 in Trastevere, a block from the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere Tel 39-06-589-66-89; info@spiritodivino.com).

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Iceland’s Cuisine

The best lobster soup is at the Sea Baron

The Sea Baron, Reykjavik

Tantalizing your taste buds by discovering new cuisines is one of the thrills of traveling to different places. In the case of Iceland it boils down (no pun intended, naturally) to seafood, lamb and – hot dogs!

Given the harsh, dark, long winters of this geographically isolated island, the early explorers and settlers had to come up with innovative ways to stock up and preserve food during the summer months so that they would have something to eat during the rest of the year. Many of the culinary traditions established by the Vikings continue to this day.

The Sea Baron choice of fish skewers

Skewers of different fish, The Sea Baron

Our first port of call in Reykjavik is a nondescript, green rustic wooden building amidst the fishing trawlers in the harbor — The Sægreifinn, or Sea Baron.  Communal tables, surrounded by old barrel-style packing containers to sit on, fill the room where fishing nets hang lopsidedly from the ceilings. Black and white photos of ships and the former owner cover the pine walls while other memorabilia, donated by various ship captains, are scattered here and there. A second floor room accommodates large groups of diners.

The specialty here is lobster soup, described by many as “the best in the world.” You order it at the counter at the back of the room, next to the refrigerator where skewers of seafood wait to be selected by the customer before being taken to the back and grilled. The choice is impressive with about 10 varieties at any given time including shrimp, scallops, angler, catfish, Arctic char, cod, skate, halibut, salmon, lemon sole, plaice, blue ling, river trout and smoked eel.

They also have hákarl, cubes of putrefied shark (served only on Thursdays and the first Sunday of the month). If you happened to watch Anthony Bourdain’s segment on Icelandic cuisine, you will have heard him describe this as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he has ever tasted. And… there is Minke whale. But we draw the line at eating marine mammals.

The grilled skewer of fish is brought to the table, The Sea Baron

Our perfectly grilled shrimp skewers, The Sea Baron

Having paid, we collect our plastic cutlery and take our seats at the table next to a Russian couple and their young son. Within a few minutes the lobster soup arrives with a basket of steaming hot, crusty French bread and soft Icelandic butter.

The local Icelandic lobster is more of a langoustine than a lobster. It does not have the big claws of the crustaceans found in Maine. Seasoned with a number of spices including nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, the soup is creamy with tiny bits of celery, tomato and red pepper providing a dash of color to complement the generous chunks of white and pink lobster.

We follow this with a skewer of succulent, grilled shrimp that are sweet and juicy. It is one of the best meals we have while in Iceland.

A few blocks away from the Sea Baron, near the center of the city is The Fiskfelagid or Fish Company. The entire building (formerly a 19th century store (1884)) was moved to its present location under a small bridge about 30 years ago.

Plaice fish served at the Fish Company, Reykjavik

First course at the Fish company, Reykjavik

Dark, heavy wood floors and stone walls are offset with backlit window panels behind the bar that come from the former Hafnarfjorthur Free Lutheran Church. Reproductions of Icelandic money and vintage commemorative plates line the walls. On one side, a board of snapshots of patrons; on another, a whiteboard for people to write messages; just inside the entrance a rainbow of post-it notes written by diners.

The cuisine here will take you around the world. Each dish is described in both Icelandic and English so that you know the country of origin as well as the main ingredients.  We opt for the “Around Iceland” tasting menu, a four-course meal that highlights seafood and lamb.

As soon as we are seated a basket of warm bread is delivered to the table with three flavored butters – butter blended with Skier (similar to Lebanese laben), a mound of smoked apple wood infused butter and a spicy red butter. The bread is so good we quickly ask for a second basket.

Next, a gift from the chef appears – a jar with a bent spoon dangling on the outside. Inside, cured fish with a celery root purée, pickled onion and cucumber, sprinkled with a sweet oat crumble. The combination of fish and oat is novel but tasty.

The Fish Company Lamb and Roasted cauliflower

Icelandic lamb and roasted cauliflower

Caramelized carrots, fresh cumin cheese, sorrel purée, pickled pearl onions and hollandaise sauce accompany the pan-fried plaice, served as a first course. The flavor of the delicate fish is offset perfectly by the sorrel and pickled onions.

Slowly cooked fillet of cod and Icelandic scallops, accompanied by herb paste, dried and cured eggs and spicy bread follow.

The third course is the highlight of the meal– the most succulent, flavorful lamb we have ever tasted, with gravy and a side of fried cauliflower purée. The meat simply melts in your mouth.

By now we are regretting that second basket of bread as the chef approaches our table with bowls of yogurt mousse and rhubarb jam over caramelized oats and brown cheese. He proceeds to sprinkle “Snow”, aka a liquid nitrogen-based sauce over our plates. If the intention is to simulate the cold, frosty, Icelandic winters, it is a success, as was the entire meal.

You would expect that seafood or lamb would be Iceland’s national dish. They are not. That (unofficial) privilege rests with – the hot dog. However, this is a hot dog unlike any other you have tasted. You eat the mixture of Icelandic lamb, beef and pork with sweet brown mustard (known as pylsusinnep), fresh raw white onions, crispy fried onion and a remoulade sauce (a mixture of mayo, mustard, herbs and capers). You have to specify what you want on it when you order.

Liquid nitrogen "snow" on yogurt

Dessert at the Fish Company, Reykjavik

The hot dog is sold everywhere – stop to fill up the tank, have a hot dog; visit a new town, have a hot dog; walk down the street, have a hot dog. Some say the best hot dog in Reykjavik is found at the Bæjarins Bestu Pylsur (it means “the best hotdog in town”). We eat our favorite at the end of a long day of hiking around waterfalls, at the gas station where we stop to fill up. It comes served in a piece of wax paper in a cardboard box. Better get two while you are at it.

IF YOU GO

Sægreifinn (The Sea Baron); Geirsgata 8, Reykjavik; (www.saegreifinn.is;  Tel. 354-553-1500)

The Fish Company Vesturgata 2a, Grófartorg, Reykjavik (Tel. 354-522-5300; www.fiskfelagid.is) Open for lunch Monday-Saturday 1130-1430; Open for dinner every day from 1730.

Bæjarins Bestu Tryggvagata 10, 1Hafnarstraeti, Reykjavík;(Tel. 354-511-1566; http://www.bbp.is/); Open Sunday to Thursday 1000-1900; Friday to Saturday 1000-0430;

 

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Through the vineyards

All Aboard! Riding the Napa Wine Train

 

The Napa Wine Train chugs through the vineyards

The Napa Wine Train chugs through the vineyards

One of the iconic photographs from our daughter’s wedding is of the newly-weds standing near a railway track in the vineyards as an antique train slowly chugs by behind them. It is the Napa Wine Train, making its evening run from Napa to the quaint, little town of St. Helena. On board the 1915-1917 vintage cars diners enjoy a gourmet meal, moving slowly through the same vineyards where they might have been wine-tasting a few hours earlier.

San Francisco’s first millionaire, Samuel Brannan, first built the tracks in 1860. He wanted to transport his guests to his hot spring resort in Calistoga, bypassing the bandits who lay in wait for those traveling by horse and carriage.  Southern Pacific bought the railroad in 1885 and played a critical role in the economic and agricultural development of the valley. But when automobiles became more prevalent in the 1930s, the railroad fell into disuse and was destined for destruction.

The Napa Wine Train

A group of concerned citizens saved the railroad and, eventually, Vincent De Domenico, founder of Rice-a-Roni (remember the jingle — “Rice a Roni, the San Francisco Treat”?), bought it. His vision was for a gourmet restaurant on a train. The dream became a reality in 1989, and it is still a family business.

We arrive at the station in downtown Napa at 1730 to check-in for dinner. The waiting room is reminiscent of an old-fashioned train station with comfortable sofas, a small bar and two gift shops where you can purchase bottles of boutique Napa wine that you might not have seen elsewhere.

At 1800 the boarding starts, passing over a wooden pedestrian bridge festooned with lovers’ padlocks, etched with the names of riders. If you don’t have one, you can buy a lock in the gift shop and then borrow a tool to engrave your names on it while you wait to board the train.

We have booked late and can only find space in the Petit Gourmet dining car. The carriage is decorated with Honduran mahogany paneling, brass accents and thick scalloped drapes. Nearby is the kitchen car where your meal is prepared while you watch through a glass partition. Chefs are busy at work flambeing steak, mixing salad or caramelizing sugar on creme brulee. Chef Kelly MacDonald uses only fresh, local produce and each meal is prepared on board after it has been ordered.

Before we can even settle in our chairs, the maitre d’ informs us that there has been a cancellation in the 1952 restored Vista Dome car and invites us to walk upstairs to the second level where the setting sun illuminates the crystal through large windows. As the train pulls out of Napa on its 36-mile round trip journey to St. Helena, we dine on pan-seared scallops topped with American Caviar; local quail on Serrano ham toast; and a green and red apple endive salad. An intermezzo of pineapple sorbet cleanses the palate for the main course, roasted beef tenderloin on zucchini white truffle grits or grilled salmon on bamboo rice.

Vista Dome Car, Napa Wine Train

Vista Dome Car, Napa Wine Train

Copious glasses of wine wash down the entire meal.

Outside our window rows and rows of grape vines march up the hillsides and across the valley floor as we pass through five towns in the Napa Valley — Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena. At the Grgich Winery, the train stops briefly to let on passengers who have opted to include a tour in their dining package. They will have their dinner as the train begins its return voyage.

In St. Helena the train stops at the old railroad station. The locomotive is uncoupled from the north end of the train and reverses on a neighboring track to be coupled at the south end for the journey back to Napa.  This is our opportunity to explore the train from end to end. There are nine rail cars and two engines. In addition to the dining cars, there are lounge cars (appropriately named Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet) where you can have dessert and coffee. There is also a bar car stocked with over 40 different boutique wines from the Napa Valley where, guided by a wine expert, you can continue your wine tasting, if you haven’t had enough during the day.

As the train sets off again, cheese cake made with goat’s cheese and a vanilla creme brulee with blueberries accompany our coffee and tea, while the sun tinges the hills and clouds in an orange glow, finally dropping behind the hills and plunging the valley into darkness. The final portion of the journey takes place in candlelight. Outside the window there is nothing to see except the occasional twinkling light in the distance. It feels as if we are all alone! Very romantic! And a fitting end to our time in Napa!

Quail on toast, Napa Wine Train

Quail on toast, Napa Wine Train

IF YOU GO

The Napa Valley Wine Train is located at 1275 McKinstry Street, Napa, CA (tel 1800-417-4124; www.winetrain.com; you can also reserve online at reservations@winetrain.com. In addition to daily lunch and dinner, special events take place on the train including Vintner Lunches where a famous winemaker is invited on board to discuss his work, moonlight escapes — nighttime rides on the rails– and murder mystery trips where you can dress the part or get involved with solving the murder together with world-famous detectives like Nancy Drew or one of the Hardy boys! Check the Wine Train website for details.

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Entrance, Mad Hatter Restaurant

Sanibel’s Mad Hatter Restaurant

Mad Hatter Restaurant, Sanibel, Florida

Mad Hatter Restaurant, Sanibel, Florida

“We are all mad here,” says the Mad Hatter, trapped at a never-ending tea party in Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The same message greets you as you enter the Restaurant of the same name on Sanibel Island, off Florida’s Gulf Coast. A meal here is simply “Madtastic!” Of all the places we have eaten on this lovely island, there are none that compare with the excellence of this tiny, former bungalow on the beach (there are only 20 tables inside) which has been home to the restaurant for almost 30 years. It is a whimsical place, festooned with Alice in Wonderland memorabilia. Quotations from the Mad Hatter on the chalk board strip that decorates the top of the walls compete with the bank of windows overlooking the sunset in the Gulf of Mexico. but there is nothing whimsical about the food or service here. It is simply first class!

The Mad Hatter Restaurant, Sanibel, Florida

The Mad Hatter Restaurant, Sanibel, Florida

The present owners, Michelle and Kurt Jarvis, moved here in 2007 from the Hudson Valley, New York, where they had two restaurants and a catering business. Michelle manages the front and Kurt is the chef, conjuring up magic with only the highest quality seasonal ingredients that he prepares from scratch to create his new American cuisine. A good restaurant, however, is more than the food and wine. It is the total dining experience which Michelle and Kurt consistently deliver.

From the moment you walk in, it is the small details that strike you. As you are seated at your table, your hostess hands you a white or a black napkin, depending on the color of clothing you are wearing. When your water glass is filled or refilled, the server first tells you what he is going to go, picks up your glass from the table, fills it and then carefully wipes it on a napkin draped across his arm to avoid any drops of condensation falling into your food, before replacing it on the table. A basket of hot focaccia bread appears, accompanied by a small dish, shaped like a yin/yang sign. One half is filled with soft butter, the other with an olive tapenade. The service is attentive but not intrusive, with frequent checks to ensure that everything is in order. The staff are very professional and knowledgeable about the dishes, suggesting wine pairings to accompany the food. With selections form over 100 wineries worldwide, there is ample choice.

A pair of lobster tails

A pair of lobster tails

We return frequently during our stay at Sanibel, working our way through the menu with gusto. At the start of every meal, a small amuse-bouche is sent out from the chef — a pair of tiny crab claws kissed with a whisper of truffle oil in the vinaigrette that emphasizes the sweetness of the meat. It is just enough to whet your appetite! While all our meals are superb, there are a few dishes that stand out. Amongst the appetizers, our all-time favorite is the Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Pan-seared with rosemary and nestled on honey Asian pears, it is perfectly caramelized on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth smooth on the inside. This is one dish that must be eaten very slowly, savoring each bite. It is as good as any we have tasted in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France.

For the main course, the choice is difficult. The Black grouper, pan-seared with lemon and served over asparagus risotto is light and flavorful, the risotto luxuriously creamy but cooked to perfection with each grain of rice holding its shape. The rack of lamb, cooked to order, is seared and encased with a walnut and cherry pesto crust, embraced with mint and port wine demi-glace and embedded on mouth-watering roasted potatoes. Bill, an Englishman weaned on lamb, comments that it is one of the most succulent, juicy pieces of lamb that he has tasted.  If you are not a fan of meat, try the lobster dinner — perfectly grilled twin tails served with mashed potatoes. It isn’t just the butter that melts in your mouth.

Mango Sorbet

Mango Sorbet

After all that, if you still have room for dessert, try Kurt’s Cheesecake, served with creme anglaise, fresh whipped cream and berries, accented with a web of glossy strands of spun sugar. If that seems too rich, go for the sorbet! Ours was mango, topped with a sprig of mint. No matter what dishes you choose, you will not be disappointed. Simply put, there is no bad choice on the menu at the Mad Hatter.

Before, during or after dinner, depending on the time of our reservation, we marvel at the spectacle of the sun slowly sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. Some patrons, many of whom reserve their table based on the time of the sunset, take their wine for a stroll on the beach to watch nature’s spectacle whilst waiting for their table.

The Mad Hatter Restaurant is one of Sanibel’s treasures. If this is madness, we are utterly “committed.”

PHOTOGRAPHY TIP
We ask for a table by the window to see the sunset but also to use the natural light for photographs, although the reflections are a bit of a challenge. We use a napkin, held up behind the dish to eliminate some reflections as well as background distractions. We use an iPhone5 to photograph the food inside the restaurant so as not to disturb other diners.

IF YOU GO
The Mad Hatter is located at 646 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel Island, Florida (Tel 239-472-0033; www.madhatterrestaurant.com. It is open Tuesday to Sunday form 1700 to 2130. Closed for vacation from the end of August to the beginning of October. Reservations strongly recommended.

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Dining room at Fraunces Tavern

A Walk Through History, Fraunces Tavern, New York

Fraunces Tavern, New York City

Fraunces Tavern, New York City

Hidden amongst the glass towers and skyscrapers of New York City are vestiges of the city that once was — tiny brick houses and cobblestones streets peeking out from behind modernity in Lower Manhattan. Amongst these is one of the oldest buildings in New York City, Fraunces Tavern, near the harbor, which witnessed important events in America’s  earliest history. Today, the reconstructed building houses a tavern and restaurant as well as a museum where George Washington once addressed his men.

Mural complete with crack, Fraunces Tavern

Mural complete with crack, Fraunces Tavern

Once upon a time, the house at 54 Pearl Street was linked to some of America’s oldest families whose names grace streets, parks and areas of modern New York City. The land originally belonged to Stephanus Van Cortland who gave it to his son-in-law, Etienne Stephen DeLancey in 1700. DeLancey built a house on it for his wife, Anne, in 1719, importing the yellow bricks from Holland. When Delancey passed away in 1762, the house was sold to Samuel Fraunces, who converted it into the Queen’s Head Tavern.

Seemingly the Tavern was a raucous place frequented by both American freedom fighters and British naval officers, and tales abound of encounters between the two. One story relates how in 1765, the Americans forced an apology at the tavern from an English sea captain who had tried to bring tea into New York harbor. The story relates how the Americans then disguised themselves as Native Americans and dumped the ship’s tea cargo into the harbor, a feat replicated subsequently in Boston Harbor that made the history books.

The Bar, Fraunces Tavern

The Bar, Fraunces Tavern

The building sustained its share of damage, both from fires and from a cannonball that damaged the building in 1775, when the HMS Asia fired a 32 gun broadside at the city in retaliation for an attack by Americans ,who had briefly captured the cannons at Battery Park.

Fraunces Tavern, today, is a popular meeting place for Wall Streeters who congregate at the Dingle Whiskey Bar or Porterhouse, its long shiny bar adorned with draft beer “taps,” its walls lined with bottles of whiskey of every description. The restaurant, with its Colonial-replica tables and chairs, wide plank floors and fireplace in the Talmadge Room, is a unique place to enjoy a weekend brunch. Amongst the restaurant rooms is the Bissell Room with a mural depicting the New York harbor area of 1717. A long crack runs through the middle of the mural, vestiges of a bomb explosion in the building in January 1975, allegedly set by the FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist group.

Upstairs is the Fraunces Tavern Museum where you can see the recreation of the Victory Banquet  organized in the Long Room on December 4, 1783 for General George Washington to bid farewell to his Continental Army officers. Other rooms house paintings and memorabilia of the period. A display of flags outlines the evolution of the American flag through the ages.

Evolution of the American flag, Fraunces Tavern Museum

Evolution of the American flag, Fraunces Tavern Museum

If you are visiting Lower Manhattan, a visit to Fraunces Tavern and Museum will take you on a walk through history and will provide a glimpse into the world of New York City as it was over 250 years ago.

IF YOU GO
Fraunces Tavern and Restaurant is located at 54 Pearl Street on the corner of Broad Street in Lower Manhattan. (www.frauncestavern.com; tel 212-425-1776). The restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and brunch. The Museum is housed on the second floor of the restaurant. It is open 7 days a week for 1200 to 1700 If you have a meal at the restaurant, you are given free admission for two to the museum (www.frauncestavernmuseum.org; tel 212-425-1778). To get to  Fraunces Tavern take the No. 4/5 subway to Bowling Green or the No. 1 subway to South Ferry and walk a few blocks.

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A cup of Tea

A Piece of England in the Big Apple — Tea and Sympathy

Pouring a cup of Tea at Tea and Sympathy, New York

Pouring a cup of Tea at Tea and Sympathy, New York

If you are an Anglophile, a home-sick expat or simply a fan of afternoon tea, there is only one place for you in New York City — Tea and Sympathy, a quaint little tea shop that looks as if it has been plucked from an ancient village in England and dropped down in the middle of Greenwich Village, New York.

A row of British shops on Greenwich Ave, New York

A row of British shops on Greenwich Ave, New York

Ten tables, adorned with floral oilcloth tablecloths, are squeezed together in the one room shop, seating no more than 24 at any one time. Rows of eclectic tea pots decorated with clocks, castles or even Henry VIII line the shelves behind the trompe l’oil bookshelf counter. Good old fashioned delicate porcelain tea cups and saucers wait to be conveyed to the tables. Mouth-watering frosted cakes and cupcakes sit primly under glass bells, tempting you to have a slice. The tea and dessert specials of the day are scrawled on a small chalkboard.

British memorabilia cover the walls– pictures of the Queen and Princess Diana; a poster of cockney rhyming slang, porcelain bulldogs. At Christmas the green garlands festoon the tin ceiling with garlands, tiny lights and ornaments, creating a festive and welcoming atmosphere.

Outside the door are two wooden benches to accommodate those customers who are waiting for friends. As the rules on the door clearly outline, you will only be seated when your entire party is present, no reservations and NO exceptions, irrespective of the weather. On weekends, the line can be long, as people patiently wait their turn, but you can always call before you go to get an idea of how long the wait might be.

Scones with clotted cream and jam at Tea and Sympathy, New York

Scones with clotted cream and jam at Tea and Sympathy, New York

Presiding over the tea shop, opened 20 years ago today, is Nicky Perry, a Londoner with a sharp Cockney wit and a hand of steel, capable of throwing a customer out if the person cops an attitude or is rude to her “girls.” (The rules posted on the door are very clear about the need to be nice to the staff!!!)

In addition to the tea shop, Nicky and her husband, Sean, own the adjacent Carry On Tea and Sympathy Shop with its red Telephone booth entrance. Inside you will find all manner of English products from Bovril to Weetabix, Christmas crackers and mince pies, as well as Union Jack tea cozies and T-shirts. You can even pick up a quarter pound of Sherbet lemons, the candy made famous in the Harry Potter books. A London cab, parked outside the restaurant, adds to the feeling that you have been transported across the sea to Merry Olde England.

To add to the feeling, next door is a fish and chips shop, A Salt and Battery, where you can eat-in on the white counter or take your cod and haddock home wrapped in a page of newspaper.

To truly experience Tea and Sympathy, you have to go often and at different hours of the day. Breakfast is only served on Saturdays and Sundays but there is nowhere else in New York to savor an authentic Full Monty Breakfast complete with creamy scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, plump sausages, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans and thick slices of toast to be slathered with butter and jam. It is guaranteed to leave you in a lovely stupor all day.

Rows of teapots wait for be filled, Tea and Sympathy, New York

Rows of teapots wait for be filled, Tea and Sympathy, New York

Feel like having lunch or dinner? Try the traditional Sunday special of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding or pub food like bangers and mash, crusty chicken and leek pie or shepherd’s pie accompanied by a heap of steaming yellow mashed potatoes and green peas — comfort food at its best.

But the piece de resistance is the afternoon tea — not the fancy, pretentious event that the pundits say is fashionable again but the down-to-earth tea you would have in your grandmother’s sitting room, had she been English. Choose from one of the two dozen flavors of tea. This is the real thing, every variety housed in its own container. There are no plastic sachets of tea dust in sight. The tea is put directly into a pot and covered with boiling water before being served.

As you wait for your tea to steep, a three-tiered stand arrives. On the bottom plate are mountains of delicate finger sandwiches with the crust cut off the bread. Cucumber and cream cheese…smoked salmon …. egg salad … watercress…tuna salad. They almost make a full meal by themselves. On the second plate you will find slices of moist ginger cake, tangy lemon cake, raspberry-filled Victorian sponge cakes and cupcakes. Delicate scones that practically fall apart with every bite and small pots of clotted cream and strawberry jam complete the meal. Pour yourself a cup and dig in. It is the perfect way to spend a snowy Saturday afternoon with a close friend or two.

The trompe d'oeil bookshelf in Tea and Sympathy, New York

The trompe d’oeil bookshelf in Tea and Sympathy, New York

In a town where so many restaurants fail within their first six months, Nicky and Sean have created this cozy haven where the food is unfailingly good and where you can escape to a magical place of time gone by.

If you are in New York City today, stop in and raise your cup to 20 years of success and wish for 20 more to come. Congratulations to Nicky and Sean!

IF YOU GO
Tea and Sympathy is at 108 Greenwich Ave between Jane and Horatio Streets in New York (www.teaandsympathynewyork.com; Tel 212-807-8329).

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Diana Russler