Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver (including Vail and Breckenridge), Hawai'i, Hilton Head, Jackson Hole, Key West, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New London, New Orleans, Newport, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Fe/Taos, Washington, D.C.
Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain
BOSTON, MA: For excellent, inexpensive Italian,
your best bet is La Famiglia on the North End (HUGE portions of great
Italian; crusty bread and good gnocchi; you won't finish -- so take it home,
or you'll offend them!!! Pretend you're at Grandma's house...)
La Famiglia is on Salem, two blocks from the 93 Fwy. In the
same position, a block to the southeast (on Hanover) is Mike's
Pastry -- called "The President's Choice" (William Jefferson C.
made a campaign stop there and consumed some calories.....).
They have three kinds of tiramisu, and a host of delectable
dishes. Fanueil Hall has lots of great shops and some decent food.
The North End (where La F. is at) also has some good bars/pubs.
Microbreweries: Commonwealth Brewery on Portland St. near the
Garden has a great bitter; Jamaica Plain (a borough of Boston,
to the south of downtown) boasts the Samuel Adams Brewery --
tours are available. Also in JP, Doyles Cafe (on Washington
St.) sells limited editions of Sam Adams brews, like
Cranberry Lambic and Doppelweizen, as well as serving good
food. Boston Beer Works, on Brookline right across from
Fenway (take the Green line on the T to Kenmore station) has a
very good Hercules and Back Bay Ipa (the former a dark ale,
the latter a hoppy amber with very complex character....).
A good Italian "pseudochain" -- Cucina Papa Razzi, found in
Salem and in Bedford. A good selection, and great prices.
Some notes on Boston: The locals drive like Italians --
they'll fit as many cars abrest as possible, and the curves
(especially on their excuse-for-freeways and on-ramps) tend to
merge into one lane without warning. Forewarned is
forearmed... Also, the phone lines tend to be atrociously
poor; I always have trouble with my data modem while in Beantown.
Note on the Cape and the Islands: Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are colonial-era whaling towns a few miles south of Cape Cod. Ferries depart from New Bedford (1.5 hours to the Vineyard; 2+ to Nantucket) and Woods Hole (45 min to the Vineyard; 1.5 hours to Nantucket), with reservations required for vehicles. Taking your car will cost an extra $88 round trip, so consider taking a bike ($3 extra). Both islands are rather sleepy communities with some charming B&Bs and relaxing nature trails. Best bet is heading over for a quiet weekend and maybe a round of golf; not really suited for a day trip.
CHICAGO, IL: Try Gino's (off Michigan Ave) for the ORIGINAL deep dish pizza. Get there early!!! North of the Hard Rock is a decent Indian place with a good lunch buffet. Rush Street and Division have some wild bars.... Also, the harbor area (near the Swissotel downtown) at the Waterfront (Waterfront Pier?) boasts a mall area with some bars (e.g., Dick's Last Resort) and the best video game in the states -- a multi-interactive game called "BattleTech" featuring customized robots fighting each other in a computerized battlefield. Great fun....
DALLAS, TX: The San Francisco Steak House has some of the best prime rib (and an outstanding ribeye). The West End (by Dealey Plaza) has a number of nightclubs, live bands, wild crowds, and some good restaurants. It's true what you've heard about Texas chili (that is, "It ain't chili unless it's hotter 'an a two dollar pistol at a turkey shoot!") :-X
DENVER, CO: Lots of microbreweries -- Rock Bottom
Brewery (on the 16th St. Mall -- Denver's only "Brewstaurant") has
good beers, a bit on the hoppy side. Molly's Titanic Brown
Ale was my favorite... Good food menu, and you can buy "Growlers"
(1/2 gal. bottles of beer to go). Near Latimer Square is The
Little Russian Cafe -- authentic cuisine from the former
Soviet Union. Over 12 flavors of vodka -- the garlic vodka will
take your breath away -- and great dishes. The
Zharkoye was fantastic, the Schi soup very tasty. The parent
restaurant is in Boulder. It's tough to find a good breakfast
downtown (most diners don't open until 11), but Le Peep Cafe
was quite good (with a very extensive menu -- lots of good
carbo-loading dishes, with two pages of "Healthy Choices").
Notable at the Rock Bottom Brewery -- Buffalo fajitas! Rocky
Mountain Cafe, on 18th and Stout, has great venison dishes,
as well as outstanding chili (both red and white) and buffalo
meat loaf. They also have over a dozen brands of bourbon,
including a nine-yr-old, 127 proof variant of Jim Beam... |-)
To see: The zoo (mostly plains animals, birds), the civic center
and Capitol, the Mint (and Denver Art Museum). Notable notes:
Best shopping is along the 16th St. Mall -- a 17 block stretch
in the heart of downtown, stretching NW from the Capitol. The
15th step on the west side of the capitol is exactly 5,280
feet above sea level.... Other breweries: Champion Brewing
Co. (next to the Little Russian Cafe), Breckenridge Brewery,
and Wynkoop Brewing Co.
Notes on Vail: A truly European town, even the streetsigns make you feel like you're in a Swiss village rather than the Rockies. There are three villages nestled at the foot of the slopes, with Vail Village flanked by Lionshead to the west and Powder Day to the east. There is free bus service between all three areas. Garfinkle's at Lionshead has great food, good prices, and an entertaining "shot wheel" if you can't decide what to drink.
Notes on Breckenridge: Not nearly as trendy as Vail (35 miles away), Breckenridge's shops tend toward the more mundane and homogenous. There are some excellent eateries, tho' -- the Breckenridge Texas-style BBQ on S. Main boasts the BEST pulled pork in the land, as well as great ribs and steaks accompanied by three kinds of BBQ sauce (no, that yellow squeeze tube on the table is not mustard). They also feature the best beer selection in town, with over a dozen microbrews on tap -- be sure to try the maple nut brown ale from Tommyknockers' Microbrewery. The Stage Door Cafe (also on S. Main) has the "cinnamonster" and decent (though sometimes mediocre) lattes. Downstairs at Eric's has great pizzas and burgers, while Daylight Donuts (at the extreme north end of downtown) has the best breakfasts -- expect to wait for a table, though. Ski Notes: Breckenridge is a huge resort nestled among four (!) peaks, with enough variety to keep any level of skier satisfied for a long time. Don't miss the chutes and bowls off Peak 7's T-Bar (double-black diamonds on the map, but great steeps with awesome powder). If Breckenridge starts to get rote, most multi-day passes are also accepted at Keystone (a great intermediate-level resort a 30 minute shuttle away -- also free -- that bans snowboarders) and Arapahoe Basin (about 40 minutes away). A-Basin, "The Legend" as locals call it, was one of the first Colorado resorts and is considered an extremely advanced area. On white-out days, stick to the "lower" resorts -- A-Basin's bowls above the timber line can make for rough going in blizzard conditions.
HAWAI'I: Please refer to Shane's Hawai'i Dining Guide.
HILTON HEAD, SC: Local delicacies are the "she-crab soup" and the key lime pie. Both are featured at Hudson's, located off Gum Tree (?) Rd. on the north end of the island. Hofbrauhaus restaurant (near the south end at the Pope Ave. Mall) presents authentic German specialties in a true Bavarian setting. Old Fort Pub (nestled among the live oaks and ruins of historic Fort Mitchell) has great seafood and steak specials, and some outstanding she-crab soup. The peppercorn steak was great!
JACKSON HOLE, WY: The Silver Dollar (downtown) boasts elk and caribou. Sweetwater (a favorite of the locals) has a great ambiance (small, with a wood-burning stove in the dining room) and is a bit pricey -- my roast lamb was a bit dry, but their beer selection is excellent (incl. Anchor Steam). Mama Inez has very good Mexican food (due to the fact that it's run by a guy from San Diego), with "Carnefitas" -- fajitas with meat, pork or chicken -- and the best margaritas in town, though La Crispa (in the basement of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (which boasts saddles for stools at the bar, as well as a dance floor, live music and a few pool tables) is considered the #1 Mex place by the locals. Bubba's BBQ has the best ribs in town, and is ALWAYS busy -- their breakfasts are filling, too (with bacon with the rind, and grits, and huge buttermilk biscuits). Teton Village has the Mangy Moose (best nightspot, as well as the best steak in town) and the Alpenhof (pricey); upstairs from the latter is Dieter's Bistro. Downtown, Moutain Mike's has good pizza; Anthony's Italian wafts the surrounding streets with smells of garlic. Snowmobiling in Yellowstone: Unguided is the ONLY way to go! Flagg Ranch will outfit you, teach you, then turn you loose for the day at $129 for a single rider and about 130 miles worth of gas (I pushed it and didn't fill up at Old Faithful! :-). Buy a guide book and read up on the area rather than follow a guide -- otherwise you're stuck with a group of 12 machines in single file...
KEY WEST, FL: Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffet's restaurant) can be pretty slow at times, but is neat to see. They had a decent jazz band in there when I stopped by at 10:30 on a Sunday night. The Cheeseburger in Paradise (served just like in the song -- "I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes, big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer -- oh, good God almighty, which way do I steer?" :-) was excellent, though the colada needed to be blended a bit more.... A & B Lobster House (near historic Mallory Square, site of CAPT Porter's Navy homeport from 170 years ago when Porter was commissioned to tend to some bothersome pirates) has (so I'm told) some of the best fish in town; they even feature dolphin (not Flipper, they say). Interesting sites on the island include Hemingway's home (where he wrote many of his better works) and Truman's "Little White House." Sloppy Joe's Bar (near Mallory Square, across from the Hog's Head Bar and Tavern) is home to the annual Papa look-a-like contest; great fun. Mallory Square features a shark-petting aquarium and lots of not-very-overpriced touristy shops. Check it out. Interesting notes on the Keys: Key West is closer to La Havana, Cuba (80 mi) than it is to Miami (160 mi). In 1982, the tourist trade in the Keys plummeted when Reagan's "War on Drugs" team placed a drug checkpoint at the top of U.S. 1 (the two-lane highway that runs through the Keys). The checkpoint resulted in 15 - 20 mile backups. The solution? Some local politicos, aided by some DJs, had Key West secede from the Union, declare war on the U.S., surrender, then plead for foreign aid. The checkpoint was removed, though Key West still considers itself the "Conch Republic," flying it's flag at the same level as the Stars and Stripes.
MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL, MN: At the recommendation of a Wisconsin native (close enough, eh?), the Loon Cafe in the downtown area is well worthwhile. A casual atmosphere, it is cut in the style of a sports bar with an outstanding menu and HOT chili. Good local beers, too. Leinenkugel is the draught of choice, brewed just across the border in Chippewa Falls, WI. It's available either in lager, red, or dark lager (special commemorative edition :-). A good, smooth beer, a bit light on the hops but with a good taste and decent body. Ask for a "Leinie" (pronounced "LINE-ee") at the bar. "Tequilaberry's" on the north side of town has a "Loft" where you can get all-you-can-eat prime rib; the "THE salad" is also worth the extra $2.95 -- they mix it up right at your table. Green Mill restaurants (four in the Twin Cities) have outstanding deep dish pizza, reminiscent of Zachary's in Oakland or Gino's in Chicago. For shopping, the Mall of the America's is a must -- the world's largest mall. Note that there is NO sales tax on clothes in MN (so the price you see is the price you pay!). The Mall has a number of good restaurants (incl. a California Cafe, a Tony Roma's, a Johnny Rockets, and a Rain Forest Cafe -- GREAT food at the latter, with a very unique ambiance), and an Oshman's Sporting Goods which has a basketball court, racquetball court, batting cage, and mini field hockey court (for "sampling" their wares before you buy them). In the middle of the Mall is Knott's Berry Farms' Camp Snoopy, with the only indoor roller coaster in the U.S., and LegoLand (featuring a number of gigantic Lego creations). Definitely worth a visit -- and only five minutes from the MSP airport via shuttle! For lodging, the Nicollet Island Inn is excellent. Nestled on Nicollet Island (in the Mississippi, between the downtown Minneapple and St. Paul), the Inn boasts a romantic Victorian motif; rooms are decorated in Queen Anne fashion, and breakfast at Nic's is absolutely stellar! (the Eggs Benedict are a must!) Also, it's right off of Hennepin Ave. and a short drive to the Theatre District in downtown.
NEW LONDON, CT:: Some of the best lobster deals you'll find in the states. The Lighthouse Inn (about five or six miles from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Coast Guard Academy) has a great lunch menu (and at a reasonable price, given the ambiance). Closer to the lab, there are a few places clustered at the last big intersection -- can't recall names, but well worth a look. Across the river, in Groton, there are some great Italian places (featuring fresh, handmade pastas), and Mystic is about 20 minutes away by car (featuring Mystic Pizza -- not quite the same as it was with Julia Roberts, but some good pizza nonetheless, for a thin crust -- and some neat shops).
NEW ORLEANS, LA: Like Amsterdam, but with GOOD food! Anything you could want is in, or within a couple blocks of, the French Quarter. For upscale, there is Brennan's (a la "Breakfast at..."), featuring eggs Hussard and bananas Foster, and Antoine's, where oysters Rockefeller were invented (no jeans; coat and tie after 5 p.m.). In the same class is the Court of Two Sisters -- the $33 fixed menu looks like a bargain. Stepping down slightly in poshness is Decatur House. Jack White's (right on Bourbon Street) features Alligator and Andouille Sausage Pie, plus an outstanding turtle soup, and some very good crawdads (for me to say that is something!). Crescent City Brewhouse near the giant DAX Brewery on the River (near Cafe du Monde) has some good beers -- ask about the specialty -- and decent (though pricey) food. Finally, scraping the bottom of elegance, is Mother's Restaurant, George H. W. Bush's alleged favorite. For breakfast, the grits and debris with a couple of biscuits will have your doctor prescribing high cholesterol medication. Lunch and dinner (they're synonymous at the home of the "Best Baked Ham") features local classics like gumbo and jambalaya, and the Monday staple of red beans and rice. For dessert (at any time of the day or night), beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde is the tradition. Cafe brulot is another local delicacy, a chicory-flavored coffee laced with orange peel, with a dose of brandy -- flambe'd, then served in special cups. Alas, the Mecca of Blues west of the Mississippi (Old Absinthe) has closed! Bryan Lee and the Jump Street Five, after 14 years of proving Muddy Waters was wrong when he said "Ain't no white man ever know the blues!" at OA, have move to the Tropical Isle (also on Bourbon, although not the most suitable for blues...). Reliable sources highly recommend catchin' Marva Wright at various venues, and checkin' out the Funky Butt on Thursday nights.
NEWPORT, RI: The best place to buy lobsters:
Aquidneck Lobster Company, right on the wharf (in historic Newport,
near the Chart House). You can pick your own from their extensive set of
salt water tanks; two- to three-pounders are the most expensive. The Inn
at Castle Hill has a charming bar, and mixes good martinis. For a pleasant
dining experience, try Christie's on the wharf -- the oldest restaurant on
Narragansett Bay, they feature excellent seafood selections in a yacht club
environment (however, avoid the swordfish -- three different occasions, and
it was VERY overdone each time). Be sure to try the Stuffies. For an even
better piece of fish, head a few more blocks south on Thames to Scales &
Shells, the locals' favorite. Serving nothing but seafood, S&S
is a very casual grill with superb food. The menu is a chalkboard on the
wall; no reservations or credit cards accepted; expect an hour+ wait during
peak time on a Saturday night -- but WELL WORTH IT! Unlike Christie's frequent
bastardization of swordfish, Scales & Shells' mesquite-grilled swordfish with
lobster-asparagus butter still makes my mouth water.... The marsala dishes
are equally superb. For a great deli, try The Market on the Boulevard
(corner of Memorial and Freebody, I believe). The Chateau-sur-Mer sandwich
(chicken salad with almond slivers on a croissant with honey dijon) and a
sampling of their succulent salads (including fresh oyster salads, as well
as several other exotic combinations) makes for a wonderful picnic!
When viewing the mansions on Bellevue Ave., don't miss The Breakers -- summer home of the Vanderbilts circa the turn of the century. Just next door, along the Cliff Walk, is Ochre Court, an equally impressive mansion with stunning mahogany carvings in the foyer. As the main administration building to my alma mater of Salve Regina University, it's free (as opposed to the $10 per person charge you'll get when visiting the Breakers). Of course, the latter is far better furnished, with local volunteers to provide the color commentary on each area of the house.
PHILADELPHIA, PA: The City of Brotherly Love, and cradle of American Independence, this is the cheesesteak capital of the known Universe! Best bets are always the carts on the streetcorners, where locals suffer through temperatures 30-degrees hotter than the humid outdoors to bring you a freshly-grilled cheesesteak sandwich (with onions and hot peppers is my favorite). "Da best!" Don't miss the opportunity to explore the Independence Concourse, with the Hall (where the Continental Congresses were held; it's stradled by the old Supreme Court and Congressional Hall) and the Bell (inside a gaudy glass-enclosed masoleum) and Ben Franklin's printshop all within easy walking distance. A short drive to the west will take you to Valley Forge, famous encampment of CINC Washington and training grounds of Baron von Steuben (the Prussian drillmaster recommended to Washington by Franklin to turn the "rag tag" American army into a premier fighting force) . Though no battles ever took place there (it was too heavily fortified, with defenses designed by master French architects), over 2,000 men died from exposure and disease during what was really a "typical Pennsylvania winter." One look at the encampments -- which housed 20,000 upon its closure six months after its founding -- and you'll understand.
SALT LAKE CITY, UT: Skiing capital of the free world! Though Brigham Young's legacy thrives in this snowy mecca (2/3s of the population outside of SLC is Mormon), the Mormon conservatism on alcohol is not so prevalent in town. "Private clubs" (i.e., bars and clubs with a membership fee) can freely dispense of fermented beverages, and many a good restaurant will have a decent wine list -- you just have to request one. Near the temple (in SLC; there are four others in the state), there are a number of trendy restaurants, including Baci Trattoria (which is a notch or two below Del Mar's Il Fornaio, but on par wiith Fio's). Baci's antipasto of carpaccio autentico is just wonderful, and the pasta primi selections are eclectic. Note on navigating: all cities use a grid system centered on either a temple (if there is one) or another site (e.g., Bountiful, which just gained a temple, centers their streets on the tabernacle). The address 335 East 2200 South means that they are between 3 and 4 blocks east, 22 blocks south of the origin. Piece o' cake.... :-)
SAN DIEGO, CA: Please refer to Shane's San Diego Dining Guide, which also includes information on Tijuana.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA: Please refer to Shane's San Francisco Dining Guide
SANTA FE/TAOS, NM: Mystical, enchanting Santa Fe, nestled in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, is the true capital of Southwestern cuisine. The genius behind this moniker is none other than Mark Miller, owner of the world-renowned Coyote Cafe. Just a couple of blocks from the central plaza and two blocks north of the state capitol, the Coyote Cafe is on Water St. near Galisteo. Mr. Miller sets the standard for Southwestern cuisine with his prix-fixe menu of uniquely balanced flavors that embody the high desert -- from griddled buttermilk corn cakes with Tecolote shrimp as an appetizer, to grilled sea bass with a mustard-asparagus sauce, your palate won't be disappointed! For a cocktail, try the Brazilian daiquiri -- an intoxicating blend of rums, sugars and pineapple that is unlike anything you've ever had. And for dessert, chocoholics must try the Rocky Road chocolate spoonbread. Bring your wallet, too -- the three-course prix-fixe menu is $39.50 per person. For the artistic, don't miss the Frank Howell gallery (near the northeast corner of the plaza), where you will be mystified by his subtly enchanting use of color and pose. An hour's drive to the north will take you to Taos, which boasts even more galleries and fine eateries (in addition to the Kit Carson Museum). Of note is Ogelvie's Bar & Grill, just a block from the central plaza. Featuring many traditional dishes, Ogelvie's has some of the best food in town -- and excellent sopapillas for dessert! In the market square are also a number of good restaurants, and the shacks on the slopes (at Taos Ski Valley) offer an excellent selection -- including some great chili and Buffalo burgers!
WASHINGTON, DC: In the heart of the Federal Triangle, nestled next to the Navy Memorial (across Pennsylvania Avenue from the National Archives) is an authentic Italian trattoria -- Bertolini's. Featuring contemporary Italian music, Pelegrino and Panna acqua minerale, and a delectable menu, this is northern Italian cuisine at its finest! If you're in the mood for red meat, hop on the Metro yellow line south to Crystal City; a ten minute walk through the Underground to Crystal Park-3 and an elevator to the 11th floor takes you to Ruth's Chris -- home of the BEST piece of steak imaginable! Out by Ballston (home of the Office of Naval Research), Rio Grande has decent Mexican food (esp. compared to what's in Hawaii). Memphis BBQ is interesting, Pizzeria Uno is better than one would expect from a chain, and Sichuan Wok (across Quincy from BCT-1) is GREAT! Appearances can indeed be deceiving.... For more banal cultural icons, The Hard Rock Cafe at 10th & E St. NW (near Ford's Theatre, close to the National Archives and the Navy Memorial) is the Embassy of Rock and Roll -- and loaded with underaged tourists looking for a bit of culture in the wrong place. However, the pig sandwich is nothing short of heavenly, and the two-level bar is always rocking. The Market Inn (2nd and E St. SW, near the Capitol South metro) has decent service (or so I'm told; I didn't notice :-), bland salads, mediocre bread, but the best piece of fish you're going to find inside the Beltway. Also, they have live jazz on some nights -- so if you're too tired to walk up to One Step Down (a jazz bar near 25th on Pennsylvania Ave. NW), this could be worth a visit. Lulu's (22nd and M St. NW, four blocks north of the Foggy Bottom metro -- NOTHING is near the Foggy Bottom stop, not even Foggy Bottom! :-) has the best BBQ and ribs in town, and a modest bar/dance floor next door. I had the jambalaya -- quite good (split it if you can...). Red Sage in downtown DC (the food is southwestern, but unlike anything you've likely had in the past) is worth a look.... The Brickskeller (1523 22nd St. NW, near Dupont Circle; 202-293-1855) is a family-owned pub known for its wide selection of beer (over 500) and South Dakota buffalo steaks and burgers. Service until 1 a.m. Irish pubs include: Dubliner (520 N. Capitol St., near Union Station metro), Ireland's 4 Provinces (3412 Connecticut Ave. NW, near Cleveland Park metro), Kelly's Irish Times (14th and F St. NW) and Black Rooster (1919 L St. NW). Also, the Bellevue Hotel (just north of the Capitol building) serves yards! About the closest to a "dining district" you'll find inside the Beltway is Georgetown. Several good Thai and Chinese places reside in this college section of town, but perhaps most notable is Paolo's Ristorante on Wisconsin. Plan to wait no less than 30 minutes if it's after 7 pm, but it's worth it. Aside from the usual pasta and pizza fare, they feature chicken and veal entrees true to their northern Italian roots -- and the wine list is superb (including an '86 Chianti Riserva for just over $20). 2 Quail comes highly recommended -- it's at 320 Massachusetts Ave., N.E. Phone is (202) 543-8030 -- check it out! Across the Potomac, Alexandria has a number of colonial-style restaurants (with hearty carbo-loading delights). Microbrew Notes: The Capitol City Brewery is right across the street from the Convention Center. They serve ales and lagers (plus an excellent kölsch and an even better alt), and have some great food for under $10. Outside D.C. is Dominion Brewing in Ashburn, Va. They brew for a lot of the local "brewpubs" including Bardo's and Strangeways in Arlington (on Wilson Blvd.). Dominion offers tours on Saturday at 12 and 3pm. After the tour you get to talk to the owner as he pours all the free samples you can consume. Great beers, always changing--well worth a visit.
BELGIUM: A dual country -- the west and south (Walloonie) has strong French influences, the north and east (Flanders) a very Flemish flavor (very close to Dutch). My first meal was in Braine L'Alleude, near the Waterloo monument (Le Butte du Lyon), at a bistro just across the street from le gare. Maybe it was the 20 hour plane trip, or the exhilaration of being in Europe for the first time, but the omlet fromage I had was the BEST I'd ever had -- or even imagined having. The eggs were noticably fresh, and the cheese was sheer heaven... Alas, I'll never have a decent meal again... Beer-wise, don't miss the lambics. Lambikbier is unlike anything you've ever had before. It's fruity or bitter, sweet or dry. The beer is brewed with a particular bacterium and aged. The most commercialized (not necessarily best) is Gueuze Belle-Vue, a pretty sweet and fruity lambic. Boon Gueuze and Caveau Gueuze are progressively more bitter; Framboise is (I believe) the best quality -- and about twice the price of the Gueuzes. Food is primarily hearty, filling fare (similar to Dutch cuisine). Any month with an "r" is mussels season -- if you can find them steamed in beer, go for it! Otherwise, KISS (keep it simple, stupid) and avoid the heavy creams. Best of all are waffles! The "Belgian waffles" we see in the States (malted, with fruit and whipped cream) are called Brussels waffles there -- skip these. The best ones are the Liege waffles (Luikeswafelen, in Flemish) -- they're made with chunks of raw sugar that carmelize when heated (mmmm!). You can find them packaged in many places, but the best is when you get them at the streetstands hot.
NOTES ON BEERS IN BELGIUM: CAMRA-Belgium produces an
excellent and cheap guide to beer cafes, including notes on
the ambience and character. It's available from the Cantillon museum in
Brussels and possibly bookstores. Some locations to remember:
FRANCE: Expect to pay 20 FFr. (about $4) for a cup of coffee
in Paris, and 16 FFr. for a 300ml coke. The French do love their
food, though -- nouvelle cuisine is generally light fare with many
vegetables in an aesthetic presentation. More traditional
cuisine is heavy into sauces. The bread, as elsewhere in Europe,
is magnifique! Keep it on the table near your water glass....
Be willing to pay a lot (or endure snotty glances from the
insufferable waiters); remember, tip is included -- but do give
the loose change to the waiter (with a "C'est pour vous.").
Unless, of course, they tried to shortchange you (an all-too-
common occurance with foreigners....). The red meat is served
VERY rare (a good vet could still save some of it! :-), but
very flavorful. Our dinners at a private residence in Orleans
were excellent -- usually a vegetable dish (cold, with an oil-
based dressing) to start, followed by a meat dish and a bean
dish, then cheese and bread, followed by dessert -- and lots
of wine and bread! Definitely a unique dining experience.
Paris is expensive -- face it. A cafe creme will cost upwards
of 16 FFr. (26 FFr. on the Champs-Elysees). Croissants and
pain au chocolat in the cafes will run you over 10 FFr.
apiece; water nearly 20 FFr. Our most "memorable" dining
experience was walking into a cafe near the Champs-Elysees,
having the garcon rattle of a bunch of unintelligible French,
and finding we had somehow ordered two croque-monsieurs
(grilled cheese sandwiches). Very good, but not at 25 FFr.
each. Add in our soupe a l'oignon gratinee (French onion
soup) and two small bottles of water, and the bill crested
$30..... The best bet is to find a supermarket or corner
store, stock up on water (1.5 litres of evian for about 80
cents!), frequent the patisseries and boulangeries (fresh
baguettes for 75 cents), and the crepe stands (cheese and ham
crepes, freshly made, for 20 FFr.; baguette hot dogs with
cheese for the same -- mmm!), during the day, and spend your
money on a cafe au lait on the Champs-Elysees and people
watch (the cheapest pastime in Paris).
NOTES ON PARIS SIGHTSEEING: Buy the "carte musee" -- 60 FFr. for one day, 90 for three, 120 for five (or $11, $16 and $22 respectively). This card will give you FREE access to nearly every site in Paris -- as many times as you like! What's more, you don't even have to stand in line -- cut right to the front and show the card. For transportation, simply buying a pack of ten metro cards for 39 FFr. is best for short stays; for longer stays, consider purchasing the 3-day metro card for 90 FFr. (Zone 1 only -- basically all of downtown Paris and most of the tourist attractions; Versailles is outside the zone, as are the airports). I found the pack of ten to be the best deal by far -- only about 75 cents per ride, and that'll get you to within a quarter mile of anywhere you'd want to be! PLACE TO STAY: The Arcade Bastille is an Ibis hotel (sort of a European Ramada), just a two block walk from the Breguet- Sabin metro stop on line 5 (and less than 1 km from the Place du Bastille in the 11th Arrondissement). Doubles rooms with private bath are 450 FFr. ($80) per night. The breakfast buffet, with croissants and (if you're early) pain au chocolat, in addition to cereals, fruit, juices and mediocre coffee, is only 37 FFr. ($7) per person -- less than you'd find in any of the cafes. However, if you want a REALLY good cafe creme or cafe au lait, and a fresher croissant, then you can do the cafe scene and absorb the city. Arcade Bastille is at 15 rue Breguet; tel. is 011-33-1-188.8.131.52 (fax: ...09.33) Major credit cards accepted.
GERMANY: Good luck finding something that isn't made with pig and potatoes... :-) For a short stay, the food is quite tolerable. However, if staying more than a few days, you may find yourself yearning for a fresh garden salad (the Germans serve their salads drowning in vinegar with a minimum of veggies) or even a chicken sandwich from McDonald's (a note on McD's in Deutschland -- they serve beer! :-). For breakfast, the Germans eat a substantial meal of cold cuts, bread, cheese and coffee. They usually include jam, as well as liverwurst. Lunch is the main meal of the day, featuring sausages and potatoes or spaetzel. Late night dining is usually sausages or cold cuts. Good spots: In Bonn, "Im Stiefel" (The Boot) in the old town has the best sauerbraten (a Rhineland specialty). The beer is fantastic, and leaves little or no hangover (I believe my touch of a headache after 2 litres, plus some jaegermeister, was more attributable to potassium deficiency than dehydration). The most popular Bonn brew is "Bitburger," ordered with a "Bit, bitte." :-) It's a bit cloudy, but has a complex hop character and a subtle, lingering aftertaste. Good, hearty food, with lots of starches is the norm. Breakfast features pastries like apfelstuck -- much like the appelflap in Holland. The "Chicago Pizza Pie Factory" across from Die Beethovenhaus in Bonn can give folks a glimpse of home, and they have Budweiser on tap (not to be confused with the scourge of American zymurgy, this is a Czech brew from the Bohemian town of Ceske Budejovice, Czechoslovakia (known to Germans as "Budweis"). Of course, this Bud (known as "Budvar" to locals) will run DM6,90, while Bitburger and other fine local brews are less than half that....). NOTE: since my most recent visit, the CPPF has gone out of business, replaced by "Tacos," a youngish dance bar featuring eleven brands of tequila. In Munich, the best dining is in the biergartens. Augustiner Keller, three blocks west of the Hauptbahnhof (Hbf.), has a pretzel (bretz'n) bar and table service of Ma(ss)s of bier. The brew is a bit sharp, with something of a gamy taste to it. A better brew is the Helles (pale) from Hofbrauhaus, near Marienplatz to the east of the Hbf. Hofbrauhaus is where Hitler invoked his fiery oratory when his National Socialist party outgrew their previous haunts, and is the center of activity during Oktoberfest (celebrating the wedding of Ludwig I, 2 Okt.?). Don't hold your Ma(ss) like you're told (with your hand around the cylinder of the glass, fingers through the handle and your thumb over it), because the locals will come and "Prost!" you, smashing their Ma(ss) against yours with your fingers in the middle.... Englishergarten, to the north of Hofbrauhaus, is a vast park with wide open spaces; there are four of Munich's finest biergartens in Englischer -- Chinisch Tuer (Chinese Tower) is probably the best, though the northernmost one (name escapes me) is worth the hike!
HOLLAND: The vice mayor of Utrecht, during our IEEE reception, told me that the Dutch really don't have their own food -- they borrow everyone else's. Hence, expect to see a lot of southern Asian, Italian, and (yes) American style restaurants. On our first night, though, we did have a buffet at a very classy restaurant on the canal, Tantes Bistro -- featuring numerous seafood appetizers and a shrimp cocktail that even *I* enjoyed, plus a dinner of sauerkraut and sausages, with some devlishly tantalizing desserts. The Dutch love their chocolate (I found hazelnut M&Ms!), and have wonderful pastries called Appelflap for breakfast. Also quite good (if you can find them) are the ontbijtkoek (pronounced ontBAIYTkook), a light bread made with honey. It'll accompany the normal Dutch breakfast of cold cuts and cheese quite well. Dutch beef is range-fed (vice corn fed, as in the States), so it is stringy and a bit tougher, though flavorful. In Amsterdam, the Heineken signs are almost everywhere (where there were once dozens of breweries, now there are only Heineken and Amstel -- two corporate giants). I have a photo of the Quellestrasse near the Centraal station, looking down the street at the shops and cafes, and there are no less than six red-and-black Heineken signs hanging from the buildings. It's not to be confused with the slop they export to the U.S. -- it's great stuff, and most restaurants carry the lager and the bock on tap. If you want to find a brewery, you'll have to dig a little (I didn't come across one) -- but the quality of the beer there is so much higher than in the U.S. that your palate will be satiated... The split pea soup (erwtensoep) and cheese sandwiches (tosti met kaas) are excellent, as well as extemely affordable, and the beer has a smoothness and freshness unlike anything in the states -- even the microbreweries. Best meal value we found was at "Gaarkeuken -- Keuken van 1870" on Spuistraat about two blocks from the northern end of the street. They serve outstanding erwtensoep for only 3 fl. (5,50 if you get the large bowl), and it will come with sausages. The other dishes are tons of food for well under $10 (even for the house special baked trout). For Indonesian, "rijstafel," or "rice table," is the big dish. It's a large bowl of steamed rice, accompanied by several selections of Indonesian dishes (from vegetables steamed in coconut milk to spicy chicken sate' with peanut sauce). Quite good, but expensive -- nearly $20 per person. The jenever (the drink of Holland, an aged distillation of juniper berries, I believe) is best "oude" (old), but can be very "flavorful" young ("jonge"). Our favorite, though, was the erwtensoep -- split pea soup that is VERY hearty! For an encore, the pannekoeken diverse (various pancakes) is a meal in itself, too -- the Dutch prefer their pancakes (which are cooked large, covering an entire plate with just one) cooked with strips of bacon in them, and eaten with molasses - mmm! For a reasonably-priced place to stay in Amsterdam: Hotel Sint Nicolaas, Spuistraat 1a, 1012 SP (phone:011-31-20-626-1384). It's a 5-min. walk from Centraal; doubles cost ~$80; single $65 (incl. private bath and full Dutch breakfast) -- a family-run hotel that is very clean. A brewpub in Amsterdam to investigate: Amsterdams Brouwhuis Maximiliaan Specialiteiten- brouwerij; Address: (just behind the red-light district) Kloveniersburgwal 6-8, 1012 CT Amsterdam; tel.: 020-6242778
ITALY: Where to begin? Venezia is magical,
and blissfully devoid of cars and buses. Assisi is mystical, and the towns
of Toscana (Siena, Arezzo, and San Gimignano -- whose towers
stretch to the heavens) are charming and comfortable. Venezia
had the best pizza -- 25cm flaky, light crusts with a touch of
freshly-made roma tomato sauce and wonderful cheeses, and
mushrooms (funghi) sauteed in olive oil with basil and oregano,
topped off with slices of prosciutto. The red wine is great -
stick to house wines. And, of course, the Italians KNOW how
to make a cappucino! (unlike the Dutch, who haven't a clue as
to what good coffee even looks like!). Don't forget about the
gelato -- walk-up stands are abundant in most cities, and the
flavor is superb. Some of the more upscale shops have
tiramisu-flavored gelato, though nothing beats the real thing!
(In Venezia, the best place for tiramisu that we found is on
the west side of the Rialto Bridge, past the mercato and about
three blocks to the southwest). Pasta, of course, is
excellent in just about any place. The gnocchi is heavenly,
too, and most restaurants make their own pasta fresh. Assisi
(as well as most of the Umbrian highlands) features mostly
wholesome, hearty cuisine like beef and game. The best meal
of our recent trip was at the Buca di San Francesco, just a
couple of blocks from the Hotel Umbra. Their specialty is
filetto al rubesco, a filet-cut steak cooked in hearty rubesco
wine -- absolutely mouthwatering! Also, their lasagna funghi
is spectacular for a first course (following an appetizer of
prosciutto e melone). Despite the many flaws of Firenze, the
local shops do a great spaghetti carretiera -- a somewhat
spicy twist on the "sugo finto" tomato sauce.
ROME: About two blocks south/southwest of Piazza Navona (with its Fountain of the Four Rivers), is my favorite restaurant in all of Italy: Fiammetta, a Tudor-style building with a wonderful ambience and a fireplace hearth near the center of the restaurant. Great food, great wine, great time. The owners are Isa and Natalino.
NAPOLI: A restaurant was highly recommended by locals: Trattoria dell'Oca, an intimate family restaurant near the Neopolitan harbor and five-star hotels (Via Santa Teresa dei Chiaia, behind and to the left of the Hotel Royal). Their calamari is done in a unique fashion, and all food is of excellent quality. However, when ordering the house wine, check the vintage of any red wine you order -- our house red (just after 1997's harvest) was indeed a 1997! The owners speak little english, so be bold when ordering.
NOTE ON DINING IN ITALY: Many restaurants and trattoria charge a cover in addition to the bill -- sometimes only 2,000 lira, sometimes as high as 6,000 lira (about $4). Check it on the menu posted near the entrance, as well as the service charge added on (a 6,000 lira per person cover plus 12.5% service is cause enough to look elsewhere!). Also, many cafes will charge a higher rate for your cappucino or dessert if you sit at a table (a tavulo, they'll ask -- sometimes very persuasively); to save time and money, stick to "a banco" (at the bar), and stand while you sip your capp....
PLACES TO STAY: ASSISI: Hotel Umbra, a 16th-century town house located in the tranquil part of the city, just off the traffic-free Piazza del Comune. Our room featured a huge bedroom and marble bath; others have small living rooms and terraces. Our rate in mid-March was 125,000 lira (under $80 - great for a ***-rated hotel!); the full breakfast buffet was an additional $9 per person. Their phone number is 011-39-75-812-240; major credit cards accepted.
FIRENZE: Globus is close to the train station and the San Lorenzo market, where there are plenty of inexpensive restaurants. 21 rooms, 3 w/ bath - our double with no bath and no breakfast was only 60,000 lira ($38) for the night. Tel.: +39-55-211-062 (no credit cards).
GAETA: Villa Irlanda, a beautiful resort on the Tyrrhenian coast at the southern city limits. About a 90 minute drive from Naples and points south (e.g., Pompei, Sorrento and Isla di Capri) and two hours from Roma, Gaeta makes an ideal "base" from which to explore the Eternal City and its southern environs. Villa Irlanda is at Lungomare Cabato, 6 -- 04024 Gaeta. Phone: +39-771-712-581/-582/-583 (fax: -172). With breakfast included, and one of the most spectacular pools in all of Europe, rates can be as low as lit. 110,000 per night ($65). VENEZIA: Albergo Locanda Silva is a quaint, quiet hotel very close to the Piazza San Marco, near Campo Santa Maria Formosa. It's at Fondamenta del Remedio 4423, phone is +39-41-522-7643, and the owner speaks English. 25 rooms, 5 with bath (a double with private bath and breakfast was 85,000 lira - about $50 - per night). No credit cards.
LUXEMBOURG: Very similar to the French side of Belgium; great soups and bread, decent beer. I had lunch at a small cafe near le gare in Luxembourg City; the split pea soup was very tasty, though the service was a touch snide.... They use the Luxembourg Franc (LFr.), but will also accept the Belgian Franc (though the converse is false, despite the 1:1 exchange).
SPAIN: In Barcelona, the menu del dia is the best deal -- even at somewhat posh sit-down restaurants. Not as refined as their northern neighbors, expect some simple, wholesome food (like roast halves of chicken, not skinned). For the best lunch deal, go to a local market and get some cheese, cured meat (sliced to order), bread, fruit and agua (sin gas) -- a picnic for two can run as low as 300 pta. (about $2.50). A farmers market ("La Boqueria") is open every day off La Rambla, near the Liceu metro station, featuring excellent choices of just about any food you'd want (including some daring looking seafood -- if it swims, you'll see it at La Boqueria!). To stay: Hostal Levante, two blocks off La Ramble near the Liceu metro stop and La Boqueria. $38 (4000 pta.) per night will get you a room with a private bath and balcony.
SOUTH KOREA: One of the Four Dragons of industrial might in the Pacific Rim, Koreans say "America is the past, Japan is the present, Korea is the future." A remarkably scenic country, with lush green valleys and sweeping vistas, Korea is a uniquely fascinating nation. A proud people evolved from a strong Confucian ethic, Christians now outnumber Buddhists -- though the latter have a lock on the most mystical and scenic sites. South Korea can also seem like a country under the constant spectre of aggression -- anti-aircraft batteries and loaded submachineguns are prevalent. In fact, every major city except Pusan was occupied by the Communists in the War. Today, Seoul is the political center of the nation, while some argue that Kyong-ju (the ancient capital of the Shilla Dynasty, which ruled the peninsula in the centuries before Temunjin became the Genghis Khan) is the cultural heart of Korea. Taegu is the Milan of Korea -- where women dress in the height of fashion, and banking centers reach the clouds. Everywhere, though, Koreans are a proud, defiant people. When bartering, care must be taken to not offend or appear superior -- always smile. If a taxi driver (hardly the scourge they're made out to be -- it's the bus drivers that you have to watch out for!) offers a flat fare, be sure to negotiate or have him meter it; cabs (at least the gray ones with blue lights; black cabs with yellow lights are luxury cabs that cost twice as much) are very inexpensive. A fare from Kimp'o Airport to central Seoul is only about $15. For dining, Koreans feature predominantly vegetarian fare: pipeempap is a rice dish with assorted vegetables, and ramyun is the staple of any Korean diet. If you're in the mood for beef, be sure to try the pulgoki -- marinated steak with garlic, onions and scallions. Kimchi is frequently offered on the side, along with pickled radishes, peppery cucumbers and seaweed. Yakimandu is an appetizer much like Chinese potstickers, but crisper. Two beers are made domestically: OB (for Oriental Brewery Co.) and Crown/Hite. Both are light, with a mild hoppy character and a bit of a terse aftertaste. True adventurers can try soju, the Korean version of flavored vodka. Well worth a visit: the bath houses in many major hotels and yogwan (Korean budget motels), visited in the Roman style. If in the Kyong-ju area, Pulgaksa Buddhist temple is a must-see, as is the Sokkuram Grotto at the top of the mountain (where one of the finest masterpieces of Buddhist art is available for viewing and contemplation). Notes for servicepersons on TAD/TDY: Upon arrival at Kimp'o or Kimhae, be sure to get a USFK Form 223EK from the Inbound SOFA customs team to waive the W9,000 ($11.00) departure tax. If in P'ohang, the only bank that will offer cash advances on Mastercard or Visa is the Korea Exchange Bank (1/2 block from 5Jct. near the P'ohang train station) on the second floor. For the best baths in that industrial port city, visit the Cygnus Hotel's basement....