Thursday, October 13, 2005

Endless Summer


I'm BACK !!! Where did summer go ?

Well September is suddenly here, hurricane season is in full swing and I must get back into updating my blog. The loss of New Orleans has me greatly depressed. Hurricane Katrina did a number on my second favorite American city. (NY will always be number one!) As I prepare to write this blog ~ her sister Rita is swirling around the Gulf. This is a terrible thing happening to some of my favorite places. In addition to making my living in the restaurant business, I have a personal connections with the south. Prior to being a restaurateur I was a professional musician for fourteen years. During my music days my connection to New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama ran much deeper then a bowl of gumbo. The music was a major part of my life. In addition my Grand Dad was from Mobile Alabama and his influence give me a deep appreciation for jazz, the blues and the foods of the south. There is nothing quite like a glass of wine, some corn bread with my gumbo as I listen to some New Orleans jazz ~ it is something we all should experience once in life.

But enough about the present ~ lets go back to May ~

Yes it was a long hot summer here in the east. (NY / NJ) But then again I didn't spend very much time in the east. I traveled North in May, Northwest in June back North in July / August and South in September. It didn't matter where you were this summer ~ there was no escaping the heat!

Starting in May ~ my travels took me to one of my favorite places on earth,
Lake George, New York. I am one of the fortunate ones, having a boat at Bolton Landing on the upper western shore of the lake. This is a remarkable area for many reasons but the main reason is 'the lake'! This is Mother Nature at her best, it's crystal clear waters are a breathtaking vision stretching out over 32 miles, dotted with a pearl like sting of islands of various sizes all nestled into the majestic Adirondack mountain range.

My summer time escape is half way up the lake in the town of Bolton Landing. This is far away from the maddening crowds and the hustle and bustle of
Lake George Village. It is literally fifteen miles north along Lake Shore Drive and for me heaven right here on earth!

This is my home away from home. Bolton Landing is a quaint country town featuring many lovely shops and restaurants. A visit to Bolton is not complete if you miss the Indian Tepee Shop. This is the most famous novelty store in the Adirondack region. Along with offering authentic Minne Tonca Moccasins, a Christmas shop and other unusual gifts this store is the center of this historic town. Other places of interest along Lakeshore Drive are the
Blueberry Basket and Bolton Bay Traders, both noteworthy stops on your shopping tour.

Now on to the food!

My favorite place to eat in Bolton Landing is Cates Italian Garden. This is casual dining at its best. I love dining outdoors. Cates features a large awning covered sidewalk bistro that allows you to sip wine, enjoy some pizza or pasta and watch the world pass you by. In addition Cates features two dining rooms and a bar but I prefer the outside at least until mid October ~ then its fireside for me!

The owners Buddy (Chef) and his wife Cate bring together an extremely friendly and loyal team to serve you in this simple relaxing setting. The menu offers pizza, mussels or traditional Italian pasta dishes, Cates is a perfect spot for a couple or small group looking to enjoy a glass of wine and simple cuisine in the heart of this quaint little town. Quite simply, Cates is a fun, comfortable place to enjoy dinner and drinks. Be sure to check out Cates herb and tomato plants growing along the sidewalk. They are all a part of Buddy's recipe book. When visiting be sure to tell Cate (she is usually the hostess) or Buddy ~ Bob the restaurant guy from NJ sent you. For a real treat say hello to Cheryl, she too is found at the hostess desk. Cheryl is a friend who has a personality as big as the lake A woman of all trades, hostess, server, bartender, you name it she can do it. Her sidekick Jimmy is usually in the kitchen however in the colder months they let him out as he and Cheryl run the show. Cates is one of those can't miss local Italian restaurant we all long to find. For the record Cates is open most of the year ~ closing around March when it's just to damn cold and Bolton becomes a ghost town!

The crown jewel of Bolton Landing and Lake George is one of America's Grand Hotels ~
The Sagamore! Along with her majestic beauty and old world charm the Sagamore has several quality restaurants. With that said, when at Lake George I prefer a little less formal dinning so my favorite dining experience at the Sagamore is the Lobster Bake. The Sagamore's Lobster fest features 3 pound lobsters, a grand seafood buffet (I usually don't do buffets) along with some specialty items all for only $60 pp. Yes this information is a little late I know ~ but put it on your calendar for next season.

And let us not forget the golfers! The Sagamore Hotel features a classic Donald Ross 18 hole championship golf course. If you golf ~ the Sagamore course is a must play! To really appreciate its beauty play this course in late September or October ~ the colors are soooo beautiful you will never worry about your score. I have a standing tee time for the first Sunday of October. Fore!

On the Sagamore's golf course property sitting quietly beneath the tall pines is another culinary treat, the Sagamore Club Grill. This is a true New York style steak house which featuring several specials. I prefer this over the formal dinning rooms of the hotel ~ but you can be confident that all of the culinary offerings at the Sagamore are first rate.

Another highlight along the lake is the
Algonquin Restaurant. If you can manage to visit this restaurant by boat its even better. The Algonquin features very simple American cuisine with the best items being specialty sandwiches, steaks, and burgers. The Algonquin is all about atmosphere. This is simply one of the most beautiful places to dine on Lake George. Boats of all shapes and sizes pull up to the long docks ~ creating a mini boat show every day and night. On Saturday night boats wait out on the lake for a spot. At times there are dozens of classic mahogany hull boats tied to the docks. The Algonquin also features outdoor dining ~ part under cover ~ part dock side all with a view of the lake. Add to this view the backdrop of Adirondack Mountains, splash in a golden sunset and sprinkle in a few stars ~ and you will have an evening to remember. This breath taking view is frequently replicated in many Adirondack painting which can be seen hanging on the walls at the Lakeshore Gallery.

Need a place to stay ?

I would be remiss to not point out two places that are at the extremes in lodging on Lake George. Less then a mile outside Bolton along Lakeshore Drive) you will find Candlelight Cottages. This is a perfect family place. Innkeepers Heidi and Mark host one of the most beautiful sites along Lake George. Candlelight features lakeside and mountain cabins, boat docks along with a beach and swim area for children. There is something here for everyone and every budget. A huge gas lit candle is on the front lawn to welcome you ~ you can't miss it! Make sure you tell Hide or Mark I sent you and be sure to call ahead ~ this is a very popular place! (518 644 3321)

Now for the other extreme,
The Boat House Bed and Breakfast! This is one of the most romantic bed and breakfast you will ever find. The Boat House overlooks Sagamore Island and the Sagamore Hotel along with the majestic views of "the lake". The Boat House is a multiple award winning property that is second to none. The historic building was constructed in 1917. At one time it was the summer residence to famous speed boat racer and gold cup recipient George Reis. The term, Boat House does not do this beautiful building justice. Some of the features you will find in the rooms and suites included antique furniture, classic accessories and a front balcony with a view to die for! This ultra romantic escape is not for the faint at heart. Rates can be several hundred dollars per night ~ but then youÂ’re worth it! This is really not a place for children. It will surely be an experience you will ever forget. Unfortunately I do not know the hosts, Patti and Joe but I do see them around town and they are very friendly people. I was lucky enough to visit The Boat House and see it for myself ~ it is the perfect romantic escape.

I hope someday you get to experience all of this natural beauty and family fun. The boating, fishing, water sports, fireworks, and shopping just add to the Lake George experience. It is a perfect place to go with the family or for that quiet getaway.

So get on the phone, call Heidi at Candlelight and make a reservation, then call Cate and get an outside table for dinner, rent a boat and enjoy Mother Nature at her very best!

Let me know how you like it!


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Island of Dreams...

Sometimes ~ Dreams Do Come True!

Although I am a frequent visitor to St. Thomas, navigating the "inner circle" of the hospitality industry can be somewhat harrowing. Especially when people know I'm in town for business and not pleasure.

In 2003 while consulting for
The Pointe Restaurant on St. Thomas, I heard about this "couple" Kirsty and Ryan. She was the magnetic personality and manager behind a pool side restaurant and he was a sous-chef for a new trendy restaurant known as Noche'.

My mission on this visit was to locate "new talent" for the Pointe Restaurant. Not such an easy task in the islands. Sifting through the culinary talent pool on such a small island is like navigating the reefs at the entrance to
Anegoda. Who's hot ~ who's not, who's available ~ who leaving the island, who has talent ~ who ~ who ~ who ~ can you trust with your business?

In doing my research at places like
Secret Harbor, the Martini Bar, Epernay, and other watering holes frequented by the "hospitality crowd", the names Kirsty and Ryan kept coming to the surface. They seemed to be the darlings of St. Thomas. I even had customers at the Pointe tell me ~ you have to meet this couple! So my mission was set ~

Like a great undercover operative I set the wheels in motion, putting out the 'word' ~ I was interested in meeting with them. I had learned early on they only came as a team. My search took several days but suddenly I was given a phone number ~ "call this number and tell them I told you to call." Those instructions were conveyed to me in the shadows of the Martini bar by a restaurant manager from
Frenchtown. The messenger completed her directions by saying; don't tell anyone else about the meeting! I was excited ~ this was getting good ~ I can almost hear the theme of I SPY playing in the background.

After a few missed calls ~ I finally connected with Ryan and arranged for a quiet 'out of the way' lunch at
Randy's Bistro.

This is how it works ~ when someone is looking to leave a restaurant position, the moves play out like a chess match, you never want to expose your next move. If the management finds an employee is looking to leave ~ they will be fired on the spot. So this clandestine approach has some merit but in the islands it can be taken to the extreme.

As you would assume ~ we met in a quiet corner booth at Randy's for a midday lunch. Immediately after introductions I understood what all the fuss was about. Kirsty had a New Zealand accent and bubbling personality and Ryan with an all American smile completed this unique team. The 'vibe' they send out is amazing. They have the ability to pull you in and appear as one ~ one in tone, one in passion while complimenting each others talent. Perhaps they can be best described as, "the darlings of the Caribbean". If
American Idol had a culinary show ~ this couple would win hands down. They are a true couple ~ a team ~ drawing from each other to create something quite magical. Add to this chemistry Kirsty's people skill and restaurant talent and Ryan's creativity as a chef and you have a very powerful force.

Although they viewed my offer to work at the Pointe Restaurant with careful consideration and professionalism I realized they needed their own space. Both Kirsty and Ryan wanted to put 'their mark' on the island ~ and so everyone's search continued. But ~ I did get to make some great new friends.

Now it's time for the happy ending. As you may have read in this blog ~ The Pointe became
Oceana. As Oceana was being created by the famous chef, Patricia LaCorte, both Kirsty and Ryan were busy creating their dream.

Fast forward to 2004 ~ Megan's Point Resort comes alive as
INDIGO Restaurant sweeps the island like an October storm. Yes, Kirsty and Ryan's dream has come true. Located pool side with a view of the surrounding hills by day and a galaxy of stars by night Indigo becomes the hottest restaurant on St. Thomas. My two visits there in April confirmed that both Kirsty and Ryan deserve all the success that is coming their way. How hot is it? Pan the dining area (or should I say pool) ~ if you're in the know you'll see Chef Patricia LaCorte of Oceana enjoying dinner on her night off, Alain' Piroux , Food and Beverage Director of the Ritz Carlton, Jen manager of Secret Harbor Resort among a bevy of foodies from around the island. Although the ambiance is wonderful ~ the crowd is there for the food.

Indigo has a great bar with restaurant seating around the pool or in a covered pool side dining area. The menu is new ~ unfortunately it was not published before my departure however one evening Kirsty and Ryan gave me a sneak peek. It's all good ~ so order whatever moves you. Ryan's creativity is showcased not only on his menu but also the daily specials ~ they are truly special. One final thing, the service ~ it can be a bit slow ~ but who is in a hurry on vacation? The reason for the slow pace is somewhat justified, Ryan needs a bigger kitchen. A work in progress so I am told. With that said please know this service staff is fantastic and deserves your patience. They all have supported this fairly tale couple, leaving some impressive jobs to help their friends. So be patient and tip BIG ~ they deserve it!

Ok ~ enough rambling about my two friends at Indigo. Simply said ~ if you find yourself on St Thomas ~ make a reservation! Mention my name ~ Kirsty will smile ~ then make you wait at the bar ~ :)

Friday, May 06, 2005

View from OCEANA  Posted by Hello

Paradise Found ~ OCEANA

Imagine the cool ocean breeze wrapping around you as you gaze at the lights of a cruise ship fading into a golden sunset. Waves softly roll on shore just a few yards from your table, the scent of the sea fills the air. Melodic tones of a piano echo the smooth sounds of ~ As Time Goes By, Casablanca fans spin overhead. A waitress arrives with a smile and delivers two Ketel One martinis, up, with three olives, (olive stuffed with blue cheese) you smile, lift your glass in a toast ~

Welcome to paradise ~ welcome to

A brief history of this unique location tells you this is a very special place. Perched on the
Pointe at Villa Olga this colorful island building was the one time home to the Russian Consul on St. Thomas. Needless to say this building is steeped in island history. After the Russians moved on this extraordinary island structure was converted into a restaurant. Initially it was home to the world famous Chart House restaurant group. After many years of success the Chart House was unfortunately battered by hurricane Maryland. After assessing the damages Maryland had caused to the island in general the Chart House decided to permanently retreat back to the mainland.

The restaurant was then taken over by a local entrepreneur and converted into the
Pointe Restaurant at Villa Olga. Featuring traditional American Cuisine the Pointe was well known for a bountiful Salad Bar and the ever famous Mud Pie dessert.

In 2003 I was fortunate to hired as a consultant for the Pointe Restaurant. After a great deal of analysis it became obvious this site needed new energy. The ownership agreed ~ and to a trumpets blare ~ enter,
Chef, Patricia LaCorte.

When a chef relocates it is always big news ~ when it happens on a small Caribbean islands it is a major headline. Patricia is one of the most famous and successful chefs in the Caribbean. Chef, LaCorte has called this paradise home for many, many years. Utilizing her local knowledge and expertise as one of the premiere chefs on the islands ~ in late 2004 Patricia created Oceana.

Chef LaCorte’s concept incorporated a beautiful island wine bar, gourmet tasting table, martini menu and award winning international cuisine and placed it all on the shores of Paradise found ~ Oceana on the waters edge at Villa Olga.

I’ll have another Ketel One martini please ~ as I look over Patricia’s award winning
menu. Ahhh the Brie, one of my favorites ~ now which of the specials do I have a taste for?

The tolling of a bell distracts me as a huge freighter glides passed our table heading out to sea ~ a full moon lights her way. Should I have the tasting or share appetizer ~ decisions ~ decisions ~ decisions ….

Just another night in

If you visit Patricia please tell her I said hello. It will be a dining experience you will not soon forget.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Caribbean Culinary Adventure Aka: Eating your way through paradise !

I recently returned from another trip to the Caribbean, namely St. Thomas, St. John, and Anegada. (US and British Virgin Islands) How many of you have ever heard of Anegada? This island may just be the “true paradise” but that’s another conversation.

Being a frequent flyer to the islands I am very familiar with many of the out of the way places the Caribbean has to offer. Places like the caves on
Norman Island, Tortola, The Baths on Virgin Gorda, Yost Van Dyke and the party locations such as world famous Foxy’s, William Thornton Floating Bar (and deck diving), Skinny Legs and the Soggy Dollar. This is a world ~ out of this world. The most important thing to remember when visiting the US Virgin and British Virgin Islands is be adventurous. Although I have logged over twenty years of trips for both business and pleasure to USVI and BVI, I’m still amazed at the completely new adventures I find each time I visit. .

I must confess ~ I have a distinct advantage when heading to islands; my cousin has been a resident of St. Thomas for man years. Her husband is a resident and successful business man on St. Thomas for 35 years and he owns a beautiful
Bertram boat that gets us just about everywhere. As you can surmise, I’m not your typical tourist. Over the past several years when visiting the islands for business or pleasure I have been very fortunate to create some wonderful friendships. Like me, many of these friends are in the hotel and restaurant business. As I attempt to recount some island experiences let me suggest you take down the names ~ these are people you will want to visit. And when you do, feel free to use my name ~ it may increase the wait for a table ~ but then again it may not! J I’m not really sure how many will admit to knowing me ~ after all I am a restaurant critic from the main land.

To keep my sanity (yeah right) I will start this Caribbean adventure with a list of places you should visit while on the prowl in St. Thomas. I assure you, they’re all worth a visit. Keep in mind these places run the gamut from breath taking romantic dinner experiences to novelty drinks and party songs at
‘The Love Shack’ which happens to be located in a parking lot! There is something for everyone on St. Thomas. My intention here is to help my friends who own or work in these special places ~ and to help you navigate your way around the tables of paradise. Oh yeah ~ please don’t forget to tip the bartenders and waiters.

Here is a list of some of the places you should experience while on St. Thomas. In order to keep the length of this writing reasonable, I will review each of these locations along with many of there secrets under a separate posting.

Who knows ~ maybe you have already visited some of these sites? In that case I would love your comments.

My short list of favorites haunts includes,
Oceana Restaurant & Wine Bar, Secret Harbor and the Blue Moon Cafe, The Ritz Carlton, Herve’ Restaurant, Indigo, and Romano’s. Yes, there are many more ~ but there is a lot of island go cover ~ so let us look at these first. Bon Appetite ~

Monday, April 25, 2005

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