Symphonic Dining

natalie-s-1-2-2014-5-of-51.jpg.1140x481_default chi-logo-rectangle-31.jpg.480x760Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn was honored Saturday with Diners’ Choice Top 100 Best Restaurants in America Award. The OpenTable Top 100 Award is based on five million reviews of 19,000 restaurants, nationwide – wow.

The celebratory luncheon created by Chefs Long, Stevens and Sturdivant featured wine pairings by Natalie’s poised and delightful sommelier, Micah Wells. My first course was Katama oysters with smoked potato, chorizo, creme fraiche and sofritto. My second was a gorgeous local farm egg, artichokes, gnocchi, aged goat cheese and a few pine nuts. Dreamy and unctuous, this is sexy food.

Dessert was equally decadent and included a take-home box with delicate swooshy macarons – my absolute favorite confection – how did they know?

Tianna Baker opentable_logofrom OpenTable presented the prestigious award inscribed on a sauté pan, and noted that Natalie’s is the only restaurant in the “Top 100″ located here in Maine.

Relais and Chateaux

New status for a historic Camden property

I was lucky enough to be invited to Daniel restaurant in December when Relais & Chateaux status was bestowed on Camden Harbor Inn over a yummy, first-rate luncheon by Bouloud himself. “First becoming Relais & Chateaux, and now this prestigious award!” exulted owner Raymond Brunyanszki yesterday, “It is an honor to be included on this list with so many incredible restaurants around the country.”


Raymond and Oscar

And he’s not kidding – the other Top 100 recipients include The French Laundry in California, Le Bernardin, and Eleven Madison Park in NY, and the Girl and the Goat in Chicago – very distinguished company!

Raymond Brunyanszki and partner Oscar Verest, their chefs, managers, waitstaff and sommelier have made Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn a true culinary destination – both an amazing place to stay and a incomparable dining experience. Ms. Baker compared Natalie’s to a great orchestra, whose players have mastered their craft and work in harmony to create “a symphonic dining experience.”  Play on. •


Executive Chefs Chris Long and Shelby Stevens

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A Big Bite of Broadway

Rana_BologneseAh, New York. We’re meeting at Chelsea Market, a former biscuit factory with a hipster vibe. It’s now a food and shopping court, just this side of touristy. I head for Giovanni Rana pastificio for a spritz, the sparkly cocktail that blends Campari and prosecco with a hit of orange. A spritz tastes like Italian summer and is a perfect way to celebrate the end of this dreary winter.

My companion arrives, predictably hungry. We savor Rana’s hefty artisanal charcuterie board with its tiny surprise of fried gnocchi — and save room for the Bolognese.

3penny_pageatlantic theater companyThe new production of The Threepenny Opera at Atlantic Theater Company reinterprets the 1928 musical by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill – a darkly funny, gritty piece by gifted director and choreographer Martha Clarke. Following the exploits of charismatic cad, Macheath, is a gas, and surprise! makes us hungry.

After Midnight

images-4A few blocks away is Mario Batali’s Otto pizzeria. Otto’s fennel and bottarga pie arrives steaming, with fluffy shaved fennel, mullet roe and delicate cheeses. Beautiful. If you’d prefer to skip Mario’s train-ticket schtick to Lucca, Roma, and Napoli (it just makes me homesick), go after 11:00 p.m. Cute doesn’t work after midnight.

llewynTime Travel

We’re in the mood for sentiment with a touch of social relevance. We head to Quad Cinema, an old-fashioned art house for  Inside Llewyn Davis. It echoes the NY weather, snowy and bleak, but is a wonderfully evocative trip to the 1960s.

DSCN0880Park Avenue winesThe Rock

Stop and admire the skaters at Rockefeller Center and the deco frieze that says,  “Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” Man, I hope so. I meander some more and take in as much of Times Square as I can bear. Expecting a guest, I conclude my ramble at Park Avenue Wines with midtown’s savvy wine guys.


My old pal Stephen Z. knows a thing or two about great meals. We meet at Kefi, a Greek restaurant with a rustic menu and great prices. The word “Kefi” expresses the bliss of a bacchanal, and ours includes Yiayia’s meatballs, tzatziki and soft pita, plus warm feta and a robust charred octopus with chick peas – definitely my favorite bite of the week. Kefi’s minerally Greek wines balance her rich Mediterranean flavors. Sample their potent array of ouzos – gia sou!

    imagesCRI_147112Between meals, we snack on galleries and museums, large and small. It’s a short walk to MoMA‘s glorious collection of old friends Henri Matisse, Picasso, Braque and more. 80916_A2_Chemex_CoffeemakerDon’t miss MoMA’s magnificent shop where my taste is revealed to be a mid-century modern cliché.

vintage-french-poster-artists-135Take the  subway to SoHo images-1and The Drawing Center – a great resource where I learn a lot about drawing and a thing or two about myself.

Don’t miss the Chisolm Gallery’s collection of vintage posters in Chelsea. Surprise! I love the wine, food and travel images.


Go straight to the top to Birreria for wood-fire roasted maitake mushrooms with pecorino and velvety green olive oil. Don’t be tempted by the fried shiitakes with sage which most resemble greasy baby cronuts. Enjoy the smoky maitakes, a few drinks and the view and call it a night. If you’re still hungry, head downstairs to Manzo for better choices and less racket. Or Pesce, where we’re obsessed with the sea urchin crostini. With a chilled glass of Vermentino – ecstasy.

Yo Adrian


Rocky, the new über-sincere musical at the Winter Garden Theater, echoes the iconic film. Little has changed: Rocky trains on sides of beef, gulps raw eggs, and Adrian still works at the pet shop. “I ain’t no bum,” Rocky says, “I’m no loser,” and we feel it.

images-1The show opens with the stirring trumpet fanfare familiar to boxing fans and Penn grads, “Gonna Fly Now,” and segues to a new anthem, “Ain’t Down Yet.”  The new songs aren’t quite as strong as they could be, but yo, the show has major muscle. Rocky’s lonely and punishing training – running along the Schuylkill and up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art – hits the stage with gritty, hi-tech black-and-white images of urban Philadelphia. The visual effects are stunning and by the end, we’re on our feet, yelling like the true boxing fans we are. This Rocky is electrifying. And yes – love wins. •

NY tableauPearsBeer casks at EatalyWisdom and KnowledgeNY breakfast II

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Eating The Polar Vortex

Opening_ceremony_CarnavalAlas. With a wastebasket full of canceled flights and snow piled higher than Marge Simpson’s hair, it’s clear I am not going to make it to this year’s winter Carnaval de QuébecI decide to stage my own damn carnaval and recreate some favorite Québécois treats. Jane and David Hartley four-wheel up the Hill to join us. Things are definitely looking up.


First things first. I prepare a steaming pot of Caribou, Quebec’s trademark mulled cocktail of red wine, maple syrup, orange slices, cinnamon sticks and whiskey. My interpretation substitutes an inspired hit of Jack Daniels, et voila!

It is hard to deny the pleasures of a hot toddy in the middle of a nor’easter.


iStock_000033421784SmallFortified, next is a classic French Tourtière, Canada’s traditional meat pie. Using equal parts ground pork and bison, plus nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and a cup of mashed potato, I pack the rich, dense filling into my “Canadian Living” recipe for buttery pie crust. Tourtière is rustic – do not attempt a maple leaf flourish unless you are Martha Stewart.


After our imaginary day of snowy tubing, ice slides, “extreme” sledding, cross-country skiing, skating, and snowshoeing along the Plains of Abraham with tubby festival escort, red-capped “Bonhomme,” we’re tuckered out and ready for a sweet reward.

Tarte au Sucre

I tasted my first sugar pie at the legendary foie gras palace, Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, and have never forgotten. The unctuous tart combines brown sugar and maple syrup with eggs, toasted walnuts, butter and vanilla, and baked in a delicate crust until silky and achingly sweet – just this side of de trop. Topped with whipped cream, exquis! Best eaten in the company of good friends with some of Jane’s fresh citrus and berries. • 

“Recipes” – top right of page under EpicuriousTravelers header.


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Devouring New York: Let It Snow

Snowy NYC IIIt’s a blizzard. Thousands of flights have been cancelled. We land in high winds and blowing snow as passengers applaud with relief. The white-knuckle cab ride from JFK into Manhattan is two hours of slushy gladiatorial combat.

Raymond & Oscar

Raymond Brunyanzski  and Oscar Verest

I arrive on the Upper East Side rattled and undone. I snuffle past Alexander McQueen and realize I am woefully underdressed for luncheon at Chef Boulud’s eponymous restaurant, DANIEL, where I’m invited to celebrate the Relais & Chateaux status of Maine’s Camden Harbour Inn & Natalie’s Restaurant. Innkeepers Oscar Verest and Raymond Brunyanzski are tall and handsome, glowing like two beautiful Maine lighthouses.

Daniel Boulud and friend at R&C awards©margolispineoExquisite

We’re served puffy cheese gougeres and chilled Champagne. We compose ourselves on cocoa-colored sofas surrounded by seasonal blooms. Sweet bites of lobster and tiny fontina tarts with black truffle are savory and fabulous. Chicken liver mousse with porcini and more truffle is silky, decadent — tastier than my Bubbe’s but just as nurturing. Despite the cosmopolitan crowd, I quickly forget both the weather and my wardrobe.

All smiles, Chef Boulud accepts a special “welcome” award from friends and colleagues. Relais & Chateaux‘s Philippe Gombert graciously shares his secret weapon for gustatory excess, papaya enzyme. I vastly prefer his father’s recommendation — chilled Champagne.

Later, I breathlessly describe the scene to my companion who says if I use the word “exquisite” one more time he will throw himself off the Chrysler Building. Fair enough.

Cheri.wideaEvening in Paris

Martha Clarke’s Chéri is a new musical inspired by Colette’s story of a love affair between an older woman and much younger man. This sensual fusion of theater, music and dance features the American Ballet Theatre’s brilliant duo of Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri. Sexy stuff in gorgeous light designed by Portland, Maine’s own ridiculously talented Christopher Akerlind.

Photo Greg Constanzo >

Crudo EscaBastianich

Trattoria Esca‘s salmon crudo in tangerine oil is followed by “Fatty Toro” – unctuous, delicious and unforgettable. House-made chestnut pappardelle pasta blends traditional Tuscan flavor with a kiss of sage. Whole branzino (sea bass) is prepared with white truffle, sea salt and Mediterranean skill. A sensuous feast should always follow a tragic love story, yes?

Vermeer_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665)Frick & Franklin

Between meals we graze the Frick Collection, whose current exhibition includes Vermeer’s beloved Girl with a Pearl Earring. We’re deeply moved by brooding Rembrandts and Adriaen Coorte’s Still Life with Five Apricots. I guess you could say art makes us hungry.

salzmann_06Franklin Bowles gallery in the West Village has mounted an extensive exhibition of Gottfried Salzmann’s work. At 70, his bird’s-eye cityscapes are gritty and vertiginous. How grateful I am for his fascination with skyscrapers, oh my.


Polpo at Babbo IIWe hit Babbo around midnight. With the possible exception of the music, Babbo never disappoints. Our favorite dish of polpo (octopus) is served grilled, blackened to tender submission. Delicate pumpkin-filled lune (moons) are sweet and silky. Calamari á la Sicilian Lifeguard is spicy hot with sweet meat and tentacles in a tangle of caper berries, olives and tomato — as robust and tasty as a Sicilian lifeguard.


We can’t get enough sea urchin crostini at Il Pesce at Eataly. Our server recognizes us from last year and maybe the year before. Uh-oh. We attempt to diversify, savoring the mussel, clam and pumpkin Brodetto – it’s good. So is the crudo, it’s excellent, as is the wine, Vespa from Joe Bastianich. But we’re obsessed with the sea urchin, obsessively returning three times, maybe four. Mario, please send the recipe so we can enjoy the holidays.

picasso-stein1Soul Music

The Mother Of Us All at the Manhattan School of Music tells the story of Susan B. Anthony’s struggle for suffrage in the pithy poetic voice of Gertrude Stein. This is authentic American history delivered via extraordinary native opera — beautifully staged, stirring and accessible.

bechdelfunhome189detailAnother remarkable journey is the new musical at the Public Theater, Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s tragicomic memoir of growing up and coming out. “I’m changing my major to Joan!” will crack you up and break your heart.

2.30 at Chelsea MarketSame Time Next Year

We conclude with a ramble through the twinkling Chelsea Market for Christmas cards and a bowl of Giovanni Rana‘s tagliatelle Bolognese, sturdy and delicious. Our waiter is delectable, too, with hipster glasses and a thick swoosh of chestnut hair, delzioso.

Our final pit-stop is Macaron Parlour on St. Marks Place for a bag of Christmas cheer (read: buttercream and ganache). Savory flavors include s’mores, red velvet, and candied bacon with maple cream. Bite into an Earl Grey chocolate-filled macaron for a Smurfalicious blue surprise — I love New York. •


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Drinking Dublin


Bus_Sign_Little_Museum_DublinTake The Bus

Ah, Dublin. We arrive before breakfast and head to midtown by express bus. After a brief dash along the raw and blustery River Liffey, we arrive at the central Spire, a towering 400 ft. silvery needle. Toddling around with duffle bags gets old, fast, and we stop to recharge at Crema coffeeshop on Middle Abbey Street. Fully caffeinated, we wander to Trinity College, beautiful, and watch a bit of the Dublin marathon.

DSCN0293_2Check In

Dublin’s three-day “Rambler” bus pass is the ultimate bargain at 15 euro. We grab a classic double-decker to Upper Drumcondra and the ABC Guest House. The ABC feels like home with 16 tidy rooms and private baths. Pink roses on the marble mantel recall grandma, but the ABC is clean and modern. It isn’t soundproof, however — light sleepers may hear a stray cough or giggle. But Mary’s full-on Irish breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, tomato and beans can power the sleepiest guest through a busy day of toasting and touring.

DSCN0238Find A Pub

We hit one of Dublin’s oldest pubs, O’Neill’s, for a pint and sandwich. Feeling squiffy, it’s a pale egg sandwich for me. Hubby has the “Special,” a grilled monster of ham, sausage, cheese and peppers, washed down with a pint of Smithwick’s  smooth red ale. We pass on the tour of the massive Guinness DSCN0355_2brewery, Dublin’s hoppy Disneyland. Instead, we stop at The Ivy on Upper Drumcondra where savory beef pie comes with (you guessed it) a free pint of Guinness. We also enjoy the neighborhood Cat and Cage pub, where the internet password is “Dubliners.” We pop into the historically political Parnell Heritage pub for their traditional Irish stew made with Wicklow lamb and of course, Guinness. I cut the lovely fattiness with a guilty sauvignon blanc. Hubby gets a Galway Hooker, and everybody’s happy.

13_gray001-thumbSee Art

We make our way to the Irish Museum of Modern Art for an engaging retrospective of Irish modernist architect and designer, Eileen Gray. Her extraordinary furniture and Bauhaus-y architectural designs combine for a quirky and astonishing morning. Gray lived until the ripe old age of 98 as Ireland’s premiere designing woman.

brendan-walsh-homepageGet History

The Little Museum of Dublin houses vivid stories of this remarkable city told through thousands of historic objects and photographs. Lively exhibitions tell compelling and occasionally baffling tales from bicycles to beehive hairdos. 48 hours may not allow time for the museum’s special literary tour, which I was so sad to miss — a brilliant reason to return.


Fish_and_chips_DUBLINFish and Chips

We end near Christchurch at Dublin’s oldest chip shop, Leo Burdock’s, for cod and chips with a generous sprinkle of malt vinegar and salt. It stays hot the short distance to St. Stephen’s Park wrapped in several layers of newspaper. How romantic! It’s enough for two – tasty and cheap at under 10 euro. Pigeons circle politely until you’re done.

jamesjoyceWriterly City

This bus-able, walkable city of colorful doorways, quaint pubs, theaters and bookshops is steeped in literary history. Dublin is a writerly epicenter – think W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney. Literature is in Dublin’s very fabric, “in its conversation and cobblestones.” Few cities offer this kind of literary heritage — with the joy of language at its core.

Rambler passAfter 48 hours,  we grab the #61 bus to the airport and are overjoyed not have to walk our bags any farther than the curb. •

lmod_slider_wwy-630x290Parnell PubIsaacs HostelBuckley's ButcherFlowers_Dublin

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Eating New York: Love In Bloom

Dim Sum signimagesEarly fall in the Big Apple includes the wedding celebration of dear friends Jon and Darryl. The happy couple graciously hosts our gaggle at Taboon in Hell’s Kitchen. I savor their signature stuffed bread with feta and oregano, delicious. The grooms are handsome and happy and love is in the air.

Jon & Darryl SundayIn an attempt to walk it off, we begin a city gallop that includes a cappella in Washington Square Park, a browse through Left Bank Books, and a stroll through the Village, bohemian birthplace of the beat poets. We linger over a haunting exhibition of paintings by Vebjorn Sand, shimmering images of World War II.

The White Rose by Vebjorn Sand

We pause in the West Village to recharge at our newest fusion favorite, RedFarm, where Chinese cuisine is reinterpreted with respect and dazzling creativity by chef Joe Ng.

Soup dumplings at Red Farm

We share a quartet of his unctuous soup dumplings and crunchy pastrami egg rolls. Yes, pastrami egg rolls – this is New York City, people. A couple of House Mules later (ginger cocktails with lime), we’re refreshed and ready for what’s next.

Pastrami eggrolls at Red Farm nycNote: Soup dumpling technique involves a bit of nibbling and then a velvety smoosh of very warm broth. Wait a minute or two, they’re HOT. Gnaw a wee hole in the skin, slurp out the broth. Then chew the holy mash-up of meat and dumpling. Mm. Or if you’re brave, pop the whole thing in your mouth and the dumpling will explode, wildly silky and warm. Yum.

Amazing. Please don’t miss RedFarm.

NoMad towerAfter a screaming bike-rickshaw ride that brings both panic and sticker shock, we meet with the grooms again at the Library Bar in NoMad Hotel. Beautiful – a great spot to calm down and catch up over martinis, up with a twist.

We close the place down – a great night. Heading home to Maine in the morning, we agree it’s always appropriate to celebrate big love with great food. •Left Bank Books II

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Top of the Crop: Harvest on the Harbor

tugs and sunset Chef vs. Chef: Natalie’s Top Chefs Compete for Maine Lobster Chef of the Year

Oh boy. Two “top chefs” from the same awesome kitchen, Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn, will compete for Maine Lobster Chef of the Year at Harvest on the Harbor here in Portland, Maine. I want a front row seat on Thursday, October 24, as Executive Chef Jon Gaboric and Line Chef Chris Long face off against each other for the coveted title.

Chef Chris Long resize IIChef Long will prepare his butter-poached Maine lobster, left, with grilled lobster mushrooms, corn and artichoke ragout, and tarragon butter. Chef Gaboric will prepare butter-poached lobster with a corn and miso puree, shaved radish salad, geoduck dressing, crispy quinoa and yuzu foam. Wow vs. Wow.


L to R: Chefs Jon Gaboric, Shanna Horner O’Hea, Brandon Blethen, and Chris Long

Chef Shanna Horner O’Hea from Academe in Kennebunk and Chef Brandon Blethen of Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery will also compete in this delicious clash of culinary titans.

Camden harbour InnAward-winning Natalie’s has long emphasized sustainable Maine seafood and farm-fresh ingredients. The extensive wine list features over 200 wines – some will knock your socks off. I recently discovered delicious and velvety “Obsidian” and have been enjoying it ever since.

Spin and Dazzle

Prepare to be wowed. The sixth annual Harvest will feature remarkable culinary creations from Maine’s top chefs and producers while celebrating locally grown and responsibly harvested Maine products. Savor an amazing array of food and wine tastings, how-to sessions while meeting world-class chefs, artisans and purveyors.

wine pouring_1Sip & Savor

Free-range your way through Samplings at the Marketplace, always a gas, and enjoy tastings of Maine’s favorite foods while sampling our favorite wines, spirits and micro-brews. Enjoy an intimate tasting-with-a-view in the aptly named Oceanview Room with a blending seminar featuring Bordeaux grapes. Savor the state’s finest craft beers with self-proclaimed Beer Geeks at this year’s Beer Tasting Experience. Special event Brews & Blues BBQ brings a killer combination of grill, pit and blues.

cheeseFree Range Fab

If you’re as interested in Maine’s burgeoning Farm to Table scene as I am, don’t miss Top of the Crop: Maine’s Best Farm to Table Restaurant. This year the four competing restaurants will prepare their favorite meat dishes, starter-size, using organic, grass-fed, farm-raised and free-range products.

cook 10_0Taste the World

I’m really looking forward to International Maine: Taste the World, a brand new event for 2013 that appeals to my wanderlust and regional pride. Taste the World showcases the diversity of cuisine offered here in Maine, with the area’s best chefs preparing an array of ethnic tastes — Maine-style.

cook 1Sustainable Matters

The festival’s Green details are also noteworthy. Plates used in Lobster Chef and Top of the Crop events are recyclable. I use my festival wineglasses from 2012 at home; this year they’ve added beer glasses, too, instead of plastic cups. Wine and water bottles are recycled, of course. South Portland Soup Kitchen gets leftover food, and the festival is looking into a Garbage to Garden program for food waste. Harvest on the Harbor also contributes to scholarships that support the next generation of aspiring chefs and tourism professionals.

cook 11October 23-27, 2013

So join me overlooking Casco Bay in Portland, Maine, for a fall food festival like no other. Taste the finest our fabled legendary rocky coast has to offer as you sip, savor and explore the distinctive flavors of Maine. It all takes place at 14 Ocean Gateway Pier in Portland, Maine, October 23-27 – I’ll see you there! •

• Grand Tasting on the Harbor – Wednesday, October 23, 6:00pm – 8:30pm
• Maine Lobster Chef of the Year Competition – Thursday, October 24, 12:00pm – 2:30pm
• International Maine: Taste the World – Thursday, October 24, 6:00pm – 8:30pm
• Top of the Crop: Maine’s Best Farm to Table Chef – Friday, October 25, 12:00pm – 2:30pm
• One (1) Down East Insider Experience – Friday, October 25: Choice of Wine Tasting Experience (5:00 – 6:30pm) or Beer Tasting Experience (5:30pm – 7:00pm)
• Brews & Blues BBQ – Friday, October 25, 7:00pm – 10:00pm
One (1) session of Samplings at the Marketplace – Saturday, October 26: Choice of Session I (Afternoon, 12:00pm – 2:30pm) or Session II (Evening, 4:00pm – 6:30pm)


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