Art in Bloom: The Sequel

An exuberant spring festival at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts offers guided tours, workshops, and high tea. A little stodgy, a little corny, and very Boston, Art in Bloom inhabits a deeply old fashioned groove with garden clubs and floral designers from across New England creating arrangements inspired by MFA collections and exhibitions.

An arrangement of yellow sunflowers sits beside Dos Mujeres by Frida Kahlo. Salvadora and Herminia, two maids in her mother’s home, are portrayed without aprons or brooms. The dignified portrait gently reveals the artist’s commitment to the Mexican Communist party, which she joined in 1928.

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris features posters, prints and paintings by the towering 4’11” talent. Lautrec’s Café La Mie references “un miché à la mie,” slang for a customer who neglects to pay a prostitute. “Great stuff!” says my museum companion.

With brazen color, gritty subjects and brave brushstrokes, Lautrec introduces us to the habitués of Parisian cafés, cabarets and theaters. Inclusion of works by contemporaries Bonnard, Cassatt and Degas place him in the wildly creative context of his generation.

Hungry

Museum companion and I enjoy lunch in the New American Café, re-named Art in Bloom Café for the weekend. Lines are long. We share a few hard-won glasses of sturdy Chardonnay and a signature grilled smoked turkey-provolone. Arugula pesto lends just the perfect, bright hit of spring — smashing!Vegetable tart

MFA’s delectable garden tarts are fragrant with artichokes and goat cheese, a favorite springtime combination. Topped with frisée salad and wild sorrel, these vegetable tarts are a spring garden on a plate. Lautrec-inspired desserts include a sexy peach melba with raspberry sauce, sweet and vivid, with the promise of summer to come.

Blooms & Blossoms

As always, we visit the daughters of Edward Darley Boit — four sisters as fresh as spring. I’m not sure whether the grand floral tribute enhances or detracts from the magnificent John Singer Sargent painting, but the both are definitely in bloom!

Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

More Than Baked Beans

After our inspiring day of art and flowers, it is finally cocktail hour. We head for Brookline and Barcelona Wine Bar to reflect on the wonders we have seen and enjoyed.Barcelona’s rambling wine list has tastes from Spain, France and beyond. I savor a crisp Viognier in honor of my afternoon with Lautrec. Museum companion sips Nucerro temperanillo, a yummy Gran Reserva. Theater Boy, as always, enjoys a very dry martini.

The gang’s all here once legendary Menu Whisperer joins us. She suggests olives and crusty bread with deep green olive oil. The Whisperer slowly adds tapas — seared sea scallops, Brussels sprouts, and a bowl of lovely blistered shishito peppers. Fragrant briny mussels. Grilled vegetables. Charcuterie and cheeses on rustic boards — beautiful!

It’s grilled octopus for Theater Boy, and haddock a la plancha for our dear museum companion. Our final shared dish, jamón & manchego croquettes, are an unctuous  knockout — we could have stayed all night. But an 8:00 curtain beckons…

Night Life

We head to Huntington Theater for Paula Vogel’s Indecent, inspired by Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance. The 1907 drama caused a scandal when staged in 1923, and the entire company was charged with indecency. The modern interpretation is timely and magical, both a powerful indictment of censorship and a celebration of love. Catch it if you can.

After Hours

We stay at the venerable Revere Hotel, an urban sanctuary with balcony views of the Boston Common, Boston Harbor and State House. The bar is comfy and intimate, with six hockey fans in business suits lined up, yelling and fist pumping — it’s bro’ city. True to Boston’s independent spirit, the bar also features a mural of the American Revolution. 

Get Here

Soak up the ambiance of one of the country’s oldest and most interesting cities. This sophisticated metropolis will inspire and delight with art, culture and creative cuisine. Enjoy theater, music and a colorful immersion in local history — honoring rebels and innovators everywhere. •

 

 

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Boston: Art in Bloom, Part 1

Spring Green

As another endless winter slides into dreary mud season, I plan a Boston getaway in search of signs of spring. I begin my odyssey at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). First stop: Henri Matisse’s Geraniums. 

Neil Welliver has his own room at the MFA. I love the mossy green-blue of his forest.

A dazzling green portal opens to the dense collection of ceramics, textiles, toys and quirky devotional objects that inspired Frida Kahlo’s creative spirit. Frida is worth a walk-through … and then another, to see what you missed the first time.

Bauhaus Centennial at the MFA

Bauhaus was the nexus of modernism in the early 20th century. Celebrate its 100th anniversary at the MFA with “Radical Geometries” — prints, drawings, photographs and postcards designed by faculty and students for the first exhibition in 1923.

Das Bauhaus palette is generally red, yellow and blue — exuberant, nach Früling.

Image result for Bauhaus Boston MFA

Check the jazzy self-portrait by Josef Albers, all angles and attitude. S’marvelous.

I catch myself reflected in the shimmering green windows, looking vaguely underwater.

Recharge

Time for a late-afternoon espresso or two in the museum’s New American Café beneath Dale Chihuly’s vertiginous tower of lime-green glass.

Revive with brief visit to the daughters of Edward Darley Boit — four young girls fresh as spring, forever.

I linger, I dawdle. Full-on stupefaction sets in. I hail Uber by the iconic bronze Indian, and strike his pose — head back and arms outstretched to blue sky and fresh air.

Savor

Great art makes me hungry. A current favorite is Saltie Girl on the corner of Dartmouth and Newbury. Perch at the bar or comfy booth for Boston’s best seafood — raw, fried, smoked or grilled. Saltie Girl is found on several Best Of Boston lists, including mine.

Tinned fish is enjoying a delicious renaissance, from squid to sardines. Savor fresh sea urchin with quail egg and caviar, or smoked salmon, micro-greens and truffle honey —a perfect bite. Sip a Cape Codder with snow crab and avocado toast, a silky taste of spring.

Good Night’s Sleep

In the spirit of my getaway, I stay at the art-soaked Studio Allston Hotel. The former Days Inn on the Charles River is creatively up-cycled with individually painted rooms and public spaces by 20 local artists. Each room is unique, down to the number at the door.

Combine all this freewheeling artistry with plenty of parking, robust wifi and convenient location. The Studio is comfortable and affordable, with great beds.

I savor a late-night glass of Abariño at the in-house Latin-fusion bar, Casa Caña, and discover that their chocolate flan is the perfect midnight snack.

Art in Bloom

The Harvard Art Museums are reunited and in full bloom. Three museums and multiple sprawling collections were a beautiful but unwieldy problem. Enter architect Renzo Piano, who reimagined them into one soaring, light-filled space.

Signs of spring include John Singer Sargent’s Breakfast with shaggy pink blooms in gentle morning sunlight.

Vincent Van Gogh often painted himself with green eyes; sometimes blue or brown. I like to think his eyes were as green as the sea and soft as spring flowers.

Contrast:  Max Beckmann’s 1927 self-portrait with dark eyes and haughty expression. No seasonal warmth, here, just that beloved glower. Ah, Max.

Bauhaus Redux

Bauhaus and Harvard coincides nicely with the Bauhaus Centennial at the MFA. Harvard was a refuge for Bauhaus artists, a place to work and explore ideas after the war. Herbert Bayer’s undulating Verdure is a soft green surprise in a sea of primary color.

Harvard’s Bauhaus archive contains some 50,000 pieces. I most enjoy the everyday objects, like this tea set flaunting brassy curves. The glowing vessels connect to my deeply held belief in eating and drinking in style.

Josef Albers’ series, Homage to the Square, leads to a gallery of modern works by Sol LeWitt, Jasper Johns and Ed Ruscha. Feast on the work of cubist trio Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso and George Braque. Harvard’s who’s-who of modernism continues with Man Ray, Juan Miro, Willem de Kooning, Georgia O’Keeffe and Max Ernst. Find a bench to study Max Beckmann’s saturated triptych, The Actors. Admire all that is happening on and around the raucous stage.

Endings

Monet’s sweet painting of Red Mullets reminds me that, as always, art makes me hungry.

I conclude my Harvard immersion with a calming pause at the luminous stained glass window depicting the green and saintly life of Thomas Becket. Ah.

Sustenance

Another Boston’s Best awardee, Our Fathers deli and resto-bar, is near my Allston digs. I examine the impressive array of 130 gin varieties, three from Maine. Our Fathers hosts monthly Gin Classes and “Gindustry” Nights — these guys are serious.

Try a potato knish jazzed with turkey and bulgur. With a generous pour of Cold River gin, it’s an offbeat homage to fathers (and Jewish mothers!) everywhere. Add a tasting portion of pastrami, pink and charred, with nettle couscous.  This is Boston: Creative cuisine and distilled spirits with an edge.

Urbanism

The sun is sets pink as pastrami as I walk up Western Avenue in Zone 3, a Harvard initiative to revitalize Allston via creativity, color and commerce — yes, this is the future of urbanism.

Athens of America

I love Kava in the South End, with the craggy Greek fisherman presiding over the bright and airy taverna. My favorite server, Roger, knows the menu and wine list. He recommends flinty Assyrtiko Atlantis, fragrant and delicious.

Roger says, “no reservations, arrive early, and be hungry.”

I bliss out on chewy grilled octopus with olive oil and lemon. Dolmades, cabbage leaves stuffed with beef and rice, are as tender as grandma’s. Keftedes, lamb meatballs, are served in garlicky yogurt tzatziki  with cucumber and mint. The mussels in tomato and garlic with a touch of ouzo are Θαυμάσιος (marvelous).

Kava’s take on spanakopita combines locally sourced spinach, creamy feta and house-made phyllo — best I’ve had since Corfu. Swoon-worthy moussaka layers eggplant, potatoes, béchamel and beef in cinnamon-rich tomato. Try a humble pile of crunchy fried smelts, ultimate finger food.

Baklava? Just say yes..

After Hours

Evening brings Karin Coonrod’s Judith at MIT, a hybrid opera sung in Anglo-Saxon and modern English. Astonishingly accessible and contemporary, it retells the legend of Judith’s confrontation with tyrannical Holofernes — a modern heroine who says, “NO!”

Even later at Scullers Jazz Club, you’ll find blues, soul, and straight-up jazz with distinguished artists like Chris Botti, Jamie Cullum and Boston’s own Chick Corea. I recommend an icy martini and French fries for an affordable night with Boston’s best.

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Creative Common

Boston’s rich history, creative cuisine and cultural delights combine for an uplifting, art-soaked getaway. Take in a bit of experimental theater, opera or jazz. Hit a bookstore or two. Stroll the Boston Common, Zone 3, Harvard or MIT campus. Add great seafood, Jewish deli and flinty Greek wines. Catch a sweet spring breeze. This city’s sophisticated and welcoming vibe is hard to beat!

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Dedication

This one is for beloved artist and iconoclast, Veecha, who I will miss in every museum and gallery until the end of time. Our discussion of whether Gaston Lachaise loved or hated women lasted through the MFA, five galleries and lunch. Rest well, dear friend. •

 

 

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Born To Run

My pal theater boy somehow scores tickets to Bruce Springsteen on Broadway. Magic, sleight of hand and surprise are just a few of his many gifts. We arrive rumpled and in need of a recharge. It is not quite noon.

Glory Days

We head to il Pesce for grilled octopus, blackened sardines, and crusty bread with a lush pool of olive oil. With the help of a dry rosé, we bask in the wonder of our remarkable good fortune.

Inspired planning results in an epic zigzag throughout the city via subway, ferry, tram, taxi and on foot. So much to do, so little time — tramps like us, baby we were born to run.

Human Touch

First up is Pontormo’s Visitation, on-loan to The Morgan Library from Carmignano, Italy. The intense gaze between Mary and Elizabeth is so alive here, more vibrant than in the dimly lit San Michele chapel. With perfect illumination, its colors glow — and so do we.

Drawing in Tintoretto’s Venice is a who’s-who of drawings by Pontormo, Tintoretto, Titian and Veronese … and a few astonishing sketches by a surprisingly young El Greco.

Okay, Halloween is over, but you will love Frankenstein at 200. “It’s Alive!” and at the Morgan Library through January.

Out In The Street

A sunny stroll through Washington Square Park leads to local legend, Pigeon Guy, who is feeding and tough-talking his devoted feathered friends. Clearly, they love him back.

Oh my, it’s Rasheed and the Jazz Collective. Kids, dogs and pigeons stop for Rasheed’s trumpet, a jazzy warmup for Springsteen on a bustling afternoon in Greenwich Village.

Dancing In The Dark

The city that never sleeps always eats, especially in the theater district. We climb the soaring staircase at Blue Fin for an arty plate of of octopus, and a side of Tiger shrimp. With an icy Martini, the ocean fare calms but does not diminish our pre-show excitement.

Born in the USA

And then there’s Bruce. From his opening song, Growin’ Up, it’s pure storytelling. Thunder Road describes leaving his hometown of Freehold for Asbury Park, New Jersey. “The ocean breezes of the shore were calling to me. I lay back and watched the tree branches rush above me, and the stars scrolling in the night sky.” Beautiful.

The Wish paints an affectionate, unsentimental portrait of his mother, and not an eye is dry. He strays into politics and manages to give Trump a thumping without ever mentioning his name. Patti Scialfa joins him for a love-song or two. The mesmerizing performance continues for 2 1/2 hours, without intermission. Deeply personal and profound, The Boss delivers a masterpiece.

Blinded By The Light

Good morning!  Still deep in our rock ‘n’ roll reverie, humming The Promised Land, we board the ferry to Governor’s Island for a blustery wake-up walk.

After marching by sprawling parade grounds, brick barracks, planting fields and several snarky hand-painted playground signs, we’re wide awake — and famished.

Ahoy, theater boy. Let’s eat.

Hungry Heart

We recharge at Murray’s Cheese with the Appleton grilled cheese, unctuous layers of smoked Gouda, Gruyère and apple butter. Try a classic NY bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese; maybe whitefish and tomato. Q: Is it breakfast or is it lunch? Who cares.

Out in the Street

It’s always a brand new day at the NY Public Library. The Anna Atkins Refracted exhibition features my west-coast friend Meghann Riepenhoff ‘s large-scale cyanotypes.

Riepenhoff describes her pieces as a “collaboration with the elements” — drizzle, downpour, bits of seaweed and sunlight. Well done, Meghann, the work is stunning!

The River

Louis Kahn’s Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island is a dignified oasis celebrating freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Once called “Welfare Island” with Gothic smallpox hospital, mental asylum and prison, this inspiring green space now offers scenic river walks and majestic city views.

We return to the mainland via blowy and bouncy tram over the East River. Leave your fear of heights behind, or take the ferry — I wish I had.

E Street Shuffle

Our epic zigzag continues to Noodle Pudding in Brooklyn where Tony Migliaccio serves simple fare like Coniglio Ischitana (rabbit) and pasta from his home in the Bay of Naples. This sign-free, cash-only best-kept-secret is hiding in plain sight at 38 Henry Street 11201.

Darkness on the Edge of Town

We conclude our odyssey at Quad Cinema in the Village with an award-winning documentary on Buster Keaton, a warm rush of movie-love honoring a film legend.

We sip an old-fashioned nightcap at nearby Walker Hotel, another of the city’s best-kept secrets. The Society Lounge is twinkly and elegant, with posh ambiance of a bygone era.

You Never Can Tell

After this epic bite of Broadway and the Big Apple, I’ll rest up for the next adventure. Where to?  You never can tell.

 

 

 

 

 

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Portland Maine’s Rising Tide

Bon Appetit Magazine recently named our little town of Portland, Maine, “Restaurant City of the Year 2018.” Suddenly, we’re a world-class destination for all things yummy and wondrous – a somewhat frenzied big deal.

Here is my humble townie perspective:

Breakfast

From the sublime to the ridiculous, Portland has it all. Enjoy an early morning jolt at Speckled Axe, where they’ll serve your pour-over with Fruity Pebbles milk. Bam-Bam.Here in Restaurant City, Washington Avenue is rapidly becoming Restaurant Row. I grab my epicurious pal, Theater Boy, and head for distinguished newcomer Forage and their already legendary wood-fired Montreal bagels. My salt bagel with caper-dill cream cheese is a savory, chewy masterpiece. Theater Boy’s everything bagel with silky cream cheese is abundantly seeded and scrumptious.We head for Munjoy Hill newcomer, Belleville pattisserie, to celebrate friendship and good fortune with an almond croissant – if we arrive early enough to snag one. The flaky, buttery beauties get glowing raves from Bon Appetit and devoted local fans like us. Say hi to Ten Ten Pié, a sweet little spot that straddles breakfast and all-day with creamy fruit tarts, Wiener-brød, twice-baked Matcha almond pastries, and savory hand-pies filled with butternut squash, cranberry and chèvre. Don’t miss their breakfast of champions, Khachapuri egg and cheese tart with Zaatar. Grab takeout hand-pies of kale, feta, and caramelized leeks to serve as warm hors d’oeuvres and you will wow your guests.

Lunch

After several breakfasts, we contemplate lunch. West End newcomer Lazzari’s beehive-shaped pizza oven reminds us of an Italian forno, hot enough to sear and sizzle, yet cool to the touch. Lazzari’s wood-fired Panyol oven flaunts her voluptuous copper curves.Try the white clam pizza brightened with squeeze of lemon; we love the Naples-thin crust. Lazzari’s masterstroke is dense meatballs served with house-made ricotta. Sip Chianti while Thomas tends bar and you’ll meet some of the jazziest folks in town.Wash Ave newcomer Bob’s Clam Hut is a small bright space with modern mojo. The Hut offers clams two ways: “Bob’s” and “Lillian’s.” We devour baskets of both, but long for a bit more briny tang. Ocean breezes, crashing waves or maybe just a pinch of sea salt.

Libations

Maine Craft Distilling on Wash Ave has an expansive bar stocked with herbaceous botanical spirits. The Shop, Raw Bar & Shellfish Market in front features a gorgeous bounty of Maine oysters. Booze and bivalves are always a winning combination.

A hit of sangria with fresh salsa and chips can be perfect light recharge. Theater Boy and I hone our sipping and dipping skills at Terlingua on Wash Ave, whose house-smoked barbecue arrives daily at 5:00 p.m. and is sold out by 10:00. Townies arrive early.Portland’s 16 craft breweries include Wash Ave favorite, Oxbow Brewing. Cleverly tucked into Oxbow’s beer garden, DuckfatFriteShack serves Belgian frites, yes, cooked in duckfat. Seven dipping sauces include smoked mayo and Thai Chili. We devour their robust smoked-brisket chili with Vermont cheddar, duckfat frites and cilantro. Duckfat fare pairs perfectly with Oxbow’s bright and hoppy Farmhouse brews – proximity works.

Dinner

Upscale Wash Ave standout is Bon Appetit’s top-ten fave, Drifters Wife. Simplicity and creativity reign in this astonishing farm-to-table restaurant that locals remember as the skinny wine shop next door. Drifter’s Wife has definitely found its groove and gravitas.I’m mildly astonished that there are no “Happy Hour” wines here. Owners Peter and Orenda Hale are eager to explain how this makes abundant sense with natural, organic wines. I appreciate the unstudied, cool vibe here. It feels hip and earnest, like the Hales.I sip a glass of crisp La Boutanche and chat with a bearded hipster at the bar. The former Nissen bakery space is relaxed and surprisingly elegant. Lucky me, I’m dining with local oenophile Chris Ziagos, who settles on a progression of white, rosé and red Knauss wines cleverly paired with choices from the petite, accessible and charming menu.

We dawdle over a bright corn and watermelon salad. We share a second salad of cucumber and feta, pistachios and mint. We marvel at Drifter’s thick sourdough with Maine seaweed butter. We split a juicy pork loin topped with slaw and two tiny silver fishies. We vanquish the menu’s seasonal bounty and alas, leave no room for dessert. Next time! Do not miss these talented upstarts and their exquisitely fresh ideas.

Homie Go-Tos

Munjoy Hill is convenient to recent and not-so-recent epicurean marvels. Our neighborhood go-to is Lolita, a rustic and convivial bistro where I am happily addicted to torchio pasta. Guy’s charcuterie plates are loaded with authentic Mediterranean flair. The wine list is smart and worldly. Don’t miss Tapas Monday – I’ll see you there.

Theater Boy and I share an unabashed enthusiasm for Lolita’s Negroni, made with local Hardshore Gin, distilled and bottled on (you guessed it) Wash Ave.

Wash Ave also boasts Izakaya Minato, where JFC/Japanese Fried Chicken rules. Shichimi Tuna with creamy ponzu is unctuous heaven. Don’t miss the hot wriggling bacon (I swear) atop the cabbage pancake. Savor Minato’s Green Tea Negroni and bliss out.

Late Night

Feeling tired, crabby and in need of an messy recharge, we head for the picnic tables at Salvage BBQ. Old friends Corey and Kristen meet us while visiting from Brooklyn NY. We devour several trays of ribs, mac ‘n’ cheese and pickles. Suck down a billion beers.

Corey is a cartoonist. Kristen designs cool socks. They love dogs and and are endlessly hip. They explain why smoked meat is a thing. We beg them to return to Portland, pretty please. They say they’ll consider it. Our Secret Weapon: The current issue of Bon Appetit!

Rising Tide

The August issue of Bon Appetit has created monster queues in our little corner of paradise. Restaurant chefs and staff are stressed. Parking is impossible — and it was always pretty bad. Ordinary townie pleasures suddenly feel slightly out of reach.

Me, I’m optimistically hoping for that rising tide that lifts all boats. Come see what all the fuss is about here in Portland, Maine. We’re a lot more than lobsters and lighthouses.

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Montreal: Off the Beaten Track

Oh Canada

It is July 1, Canada Day, and we’re basking in the grace and civility of this world-class city despite the surprising heatwave — it’s 95 degrees and climbing.

We walk the riverbank in Montreal’s Old Port stalking a cool river breeze and a whiff of the multifarious food trucks just getting started in the shimmering heat. Way too hot for poutine, we amble to patisserie Christian Faure for his legendary, mind-blowing croissants. Hubby wants to enroll in Faure’s pastry school. He is is quite serious.

As he earnestly contemplates becoming a baker, I fantasize about relocating. I look at Montreal the way a roosting bird eyes a vacant nest. This city has me at bonjour.

Biggest and Best

Jethro Tull

We’re here for five blissed-out days and nights of the the 11-day Montreal Jazz Festival whose all-star lineup includes Ry Cooder, Ani DiFranco, George Thorogood, Jethro Tull, and hundreds more with 500 concerts on 13 venues and seven outdoor stages.

Soaring and Swinging

We join the sell-out crowd for jazz trumpeter Chris Botti whose take on When I Fall In Love is all heartache and longing. With a sound is as big as British Columbia and as luminous as the northern lights, he is flawless. The ovation soars three balconies. Have a listen to his version of Hallelujah, honoring Montreal’s own Leonard Cohen – exquisite.

Chris Botti

We’re lucky enough to score tickets for world-class Montreal pianist Francois Bourassa and his amazing quartet – André Leroux, Guy Boisvert and Greg Ritchie. They energize old favorites and perform pieces from Bourassa’s current album, “Number 9.” Word on the street: c’est magnifique!

Francois Bourassa Quartet

Boz Scaggs returns to the festival with his legendary hits. Smooth and soulful he croons, “Lowdown” precisely as it was recorded in 1976, not a note out of place. He then delivers a clone of “Jojo.” Hey, wait a minute. I love you, Boz, but this feels like karaoke.

Outdoors and Free

Multiple outdoor venues feature concerts all afternoon and evening, and morning music for kids.  We shimmy to the Royale Pickles klezmer-funk at Le Casino. We groove to Justin Saladino‘s deep blues at Scene Hyundai. We stroll to Scene TD for Elise LeGrow‘s sexy, soulful version of “Rescue Me” – she just gets better and better.

Elise LeGrow

After Dark

Standouts include Scene TD and Spanish Harlem Orchestra‘s Nuyorican salsa. At Place Heineken we groove to folk-bluegrass of the Wood Shredders. Dwane Dixon rocks Scene Hyundai with an impassioned homage to Gregg Allman with Whipping Post. Check out his trademark drumwork with the neck of his guitar and left foot – intrepid.

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra

Late Night

Take advantage of the late-night scene along Rue St. Catherine where bars and bistros are packed with fashion-forward hipsters. If this is your demographic and you drink like a pirate, the gritty St. Catherine scene is a must.

Sleep

Dormez bien at the Hotel Faubourg, a comfortable, centrally located hotel just steps from the Place des Arts and minutes from Old Montreal. Faubourg features family-friendly suites with minimally equipped kitchens. The generous free breakfast makes up for it. Arrive early unless you relish family-friendly chaos with your toast and maple butter.

La Chaleur

As temperatures soar, festival-goers of all ages chill in fountains, flooded pedestrian areas, and surprisingly effective mist machines. La chaleur wins a battle or two, but it does not win the war.

Gin Is In

We’re delighted to discover Hendrik’s Gin is a festival sponsor. Reveling in the herbaceous, restorative qualities of an outstanding botanical spirit helps us power through the heat. With thinly sliced English cucumber, the festival gin and tonic is truly a rescue remedy.

We elevate our gin preoccupation to a formal tasting. Cirka and Bishop & Bagg gins are herbaceous and clean. Local St-Laurent, crafted with seaweed from the St. Lawrence, is distilled in small batches. Le Midway introduces us to a game-changer from the Gaspé: Radoune, crafted with wild mushrooms and local juniper dried in sea salt. Mad-earthy.My advice: If you want to taste the juniper, go native, with just a hint of tonic. Watering possibilities include yummy Fentimans crafted with lemongrass and quinine bark.

Sip, Savor and Explore: Onsite

Bars and bistros provide respite from heat and blistering sun. Between musical magic, we sip, savor and explore Montreal’s world-class gustatory offerings, onsite and off, while enjoying a restorative hit of AC.

Onsite stalwart Cafe Nouveau Monde creates pizza with crème fraîche, caramelized onions, bacon and arugula. Beef carpaccio with mayonnaise (beware the Montreal obsession with mayo) and parmesan is cool and wonderful, as is Québecois mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic – savory, simple late-night fare.We meet friends at Blumenthal, a classic brasserie at the high end of onsite dining. Yummy kale César avec lardons et crevettes Nordiques sounds ooh-la-la in French, but hey, kale salad with bacon and fried shrimp is damn good in any language. Say “Oui!” to marinated olives and spiced nuts, admire the wine list, and never skip dessert.

Brasserie T!’s wall of windows is an excellent vantage point for people-and-festival watching. Sea snails are delicious under a generous cap of melted cheese. Chef Sterling’s duck rillette is fresh, delicious, locally sourced. His liver paté is earthy and rich. Montreal bistros still serve a little pot of butter with sliced baguette. I hope they never stop.

Sip, Savor and Explore: Street Fare

Even if you never leave the Place des Arts, you will not go hungry – there are plenty of informal onsite options for the discriminating omnivore. Here we meet fellow Mainers at Charlie’s Shack selling divine fried fish baskets and lobster rolls.

Bienvenue et merci to Charlie for bringing the lobster-love to Montreal!

Don’t miss the spectacularly messy and delicious tacos at Maria Bonita. Keep your onsite food-truck options open with Porc du Québec; Neos Souvlakeri; Smoking BBQ; Mikado; Mandy’s Salads; Queues de Castor; Jura Espace Café; Terrasse Fromage; and Da Lillo. Plus lovely mango flowers on a stick, ice cream, and hotdogs for kids of all ages.

Onsite Bar Scene

Montrealers are enthusiastic and unapologetic drinkers. You will quickly find yourself in the groove. Don’t miss the “cinq à sept” happy hour tradition.

Sip and savor the distinguished wine selection from Bar Univins. At Porto Cabral, discover a range of ports, summer cocktails with port, and a surprising port sangria.

Club Jazz Casino de Montreal is a relaxed venue with endless music and sipping options. Catch a cool breeze at Belon Oyster and savor a few chilled, briny bivalves. Bonne bouffe et bonne ambiance!

Or relax at informal, late-afternoon concerts at Place Heineken. Enjoy a cold beer and a snack from an adjacent bistro or food truck. We spend a lot of time in this convivial spot.

Offsite: La Nouvelle

This year’s offsite dining revelation is FoodLab Culinaire, Montreal’s creative newcomer on Rue St. Laurent. Look for its tall, glass facade with pulsing multicolor LED lights.We join locals and students on the breezy roof deck. Foodlab’s menu is creative and accessible. This is no laboratory – it’s simple farm-to-table food, beautifully prepared.

Foodlab’s signature Elder [gin] Fizz is our favorite. Artfully composed of local St-Laurent gin, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon and rosemary, it’s a fizzy, aromatic masterpiece.

Offsite: Trendy Food Tourism

This year we indulge in Spade & Palacio‘s Beyond the Market tour, starting at Los Planes Salvadoran restaurant in the Plateau. We dive into chef Gladys’ famous papusas topped with cortido, fermented cabbage slaw. The dish is beautiful, savory and unexpected.An excursion to the nearby bounty of Jean Talon Market is a must. Seasonal berries, delicious gelato, and a green market stroll. One can’t do Montreal without Jean Talon. It’s worth playing hooky from the festival for all of this gorgeous, dewy bounty.

Spade & Palacio guide, Tom, conducts an ash-coated cheese tasting at Tomme du Maréchal, passes a a charcuterie tray in a back alley, conducts a gelato licking and spice-sniffing challenge. His OTBT market tour is gritty and fun, spontaneous and delicious.

Porchetta

We end our the tour with a beer at Harricana; iced coffee at Dispatch on Rue Zotique; and picnic in Parc Little Italie from newcomer Dinette Triple Crown – a trendy and tasty end to a sunny summer afternoon – a great, offbeat tour – highly recommended.

Essayé et Vrai

Every trip to Montreal includes a last stop at venerable Schwartz’s for a meat-centric Bacchanal of smoked meat, mustard Hebraique, rye bread and a pickles: The Ultimate.

In closing…

Walk through the up-and-coming Mile Ex neighborhood to uncover Montreal’s hidden gardens and alleyways. Here, residents create lovely green spaces, financed by the City of Montreal. The remarkable results are a verdant surprise, inspired and inspiring.

Montreal is urbanism at its thoughtful and creative best.

Check out the public pianos throughout the city.  At Place Heineken, a hipster in a flowered shirt rocks John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” with a spontaneous and passionate performance. He receives an equally spontaneous ovation.

The venez jouer pianos underscore the city’s public commitment to musical expression.  It is somebody’s actual job to cover the pianos at night.

We don’t leave the Plateau without paying our respects to our two favorite murals – heroes Jackie Robinson and Leonard Cohen. These are among hundreds of murals commissioned throughout the city.

The impressive, publicly funded Mural Project demonstrates Montreal’s deep and passionate commitment to the arts – indigenous, local, national and international.

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Top: Jackie Robinson behind Schwartz’s; and Leonard Cohen behind Moishe’s

One last bit of Cansplaining…

I applaud our Canadian neighbors for their multiculturalism and dedication to social justice. I respect them for their attention to climate change, and revere their abiding commitment to the arts. I admire their gift for festivals and celebration. Kudos to the esteemed guardian of Canada’s progressive destiny, Justin Trudeau, who personifies the triumph of integrity over cynicism in these challenging times.

trudeaucur

Au revoir to my favorite North American city.  Thank you for another wondrous adventure. Civility is not dead – it is alive and well in Canada. •

 

 

Posted in Art and Culture, East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Festivals, Food and Wine, International, Jazz Festival, Montreal, Music, Off-the-beaten-track, Travel | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Saveur et Savoir: Montreal Jazz 2018

Our stylish neighbors to the north give a spectacular party every year, and we are all invited. The last weekend in June and first week of July always brings us to the Montreal Jazz Festival. We love skipping the promiscuous display of red, white and blue at home and are ecstatic to be going rogue.

Queen's best friend

Get Festive

In the upscale province of Justin Trudeau, musical surprises abound. With over 500 concerts over 10 days, the festival is a world of jazz, blues, rock, reggae, world music, and electronica. On June 28, Seal, the man with the velvet voice, will start the festival on a soulful note. And yes, that’s George Thorogood and the Destroyers headlining July 1 with a roaring Rock Party that promises to be a festive smash.

Peace and Love

Imagine thousands of peaceful music fans in the heart of downtown Montreal on the Place des Festivals, closed to traffic. From intimate venues to enormous open-air events, the festival brings an unforgettable array of musical joie de vivre!

Along with finally learning the words to O Canada, I look forward to the following artists among the astonishing performers for 2018:

Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and the Flecktones; Betty Bonifassi with Ex Machina in a theatrical odyssey inspired by African-American slave songs from the ’30s; trumpet virtuoso Chris Botti; Dee Dee Bridgewater, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and Tony-winning actress; François Bourassa, amazing jazz pianist from Quebec; Geoffroy, compelling new Montreal talent; straight-up jazz from the UK’s GoGo Penguin trio; Herbie Hancock, pianist, bandleader and composer who played with the Miles Davis Quintet—jazz royalty; the versatile Holly Cole whose repertoire includes jazz, show tunes, rock, and country; the amazing Leslie Odom Jr., fresh from his Tony Award winning performance in Hamilton, who will likely bring the house down. Have you heard his take on Autumn Leaves? Germany’s Max Richter whose haunting minimalist jazz compositions keep me awake at night; one of music’s premier talents, Ry Cooder, who began in the blues and just keeps moving forward; and Snarky Puppy, a Brooklyn-based fusion jam band combining jazz, rock and funk. And this just in: Ani Di Franco on July 4th!

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Free For All

There are also hundreds of free concerts. In 2017, personal highlights included Montreal’s own Betty Bonifassi singing the blues with guts and grace. Pokey LaFarge, riled up and better than ever, with Riot In The Streets and Something In The Water. And around midnight, Guy Belanger’s harmonica wails across the Place des Festivals, drawing me through the sea of people like a magnet — so accessible, and so free.

Sleep 

We dormez bien in the heart of Montreal at the Trylon Apartments on Rue Sainte-Famille. Our studio apartment on the 22nd floor has sweeping views of the city, and is a cozy place to call home after a day of world-class music and bright sun. We sit on the deck and count the stars. If it’s a particularly late night, we watch the sun come up over North America’s most stylish and convivial city.

Sustenance

Townie breakfast favorites include quirky La Crepe 2 Go on rue Bleury, a small space with big flavors. Our nearby boulangerie on Sherbrooke has beautiful breads, bagels, and croissants. Try a baguette, sliced — a Montreal courtesy.

Festival Fare

If you don’t want to stray from the Place des Festivals, there are a range of epicurean choices, high and low. We always enjoy Nyk’s, a charming and informal city classic with garage-style windows open to the street. We share a few messy skewers à la crevette with local brews — small or large, red or blonde. No serious decisions, here.

An upscale new addition to the Place des Festivals is city stalwart, Blumenthal. With plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, confident and creative cooking, plus crazy-good poutine and tartare de saumon, we do not have to be coaxed.

Lac Brome duck salad with fresh farm egg is locally sourced, unctuous and beautiful. We continue with pieuvre grillée, grilled octopus, with lentils and curry butter. Gorgeous! Each dish, down to the smallest garden pea, knocks our socks off.

We prolong the magic with a bright passion-fruit tart — two forks, please. The Lady Liberty torch of browned meringue adds irresistible 4th of July irony. The brasserie menu is French, accessible and delicieux — highly recommended. Reserve a table at Blumenthal and arrive hungry.

Art for Art’s Sake

We always amble down Sherbrooke to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The sprawling space, designed by Montreal’s own Moshe Safdie, is expansive and filled with light. This is Safdie at his most suave — another soaring space designed by one of the world’s most inspired and inspiring architects.

At this summer’s compelling exhibition, Mnemosyne, the present meets the past through art — old and new — a smart choice for our seemingly rudderless era.  Put on your free headset and go with the flow as Mnemosyne creates a dialogue between the antique and the avant garde through diverse artists, like …

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (above); Salvador Dalí; Sigmund Holbein; Claude Monet; Pieter van Roestraten; Jacques Sablet the Younger; Jean-Joseph Taillasson … and more.

The exhibition extends a colorful invitation to build bridges between contemporary art and art of the past. Curator Geneviève Goyer-Ouimette says, “It provides viewers of all ages a place of gathering, discussion, reflection and bursts of laughter!” Don’t miss it.

Street Food

As always, art makes us hungry. We cruise rue Crescent, one of Montreal’s great dining districts, for a meal at L’Academie which we remember from its early heyday as an informal BYO culinary school. We share a plate of moules frites in creamy leek and wine sauce. Yummy. Best of all, it’s still BYO. Bring your Musée de Beaux Arts ticket for 15% off!

Griffintown

Don’t miss our favorite Montreal neighborhood, Griffintown. Historically a working-class stronghold, this rapidly gentrifying hunk of Montreal still feels accessible, within reach.

We sun ourselves in sling chairs along the Lachine Canal as local families chatter in French. We doze, dreaming of Canadian citizenship. Look out, Justin Trudeau.

We visit Atwater Market for fresh veggies, local duck terrine, smoked meat, stinky cheese, ice wine, and local flowers. Atwater is bright, convivial and fresh as morning.

The convivial Burgundy Lion Pub has cold Sarah Cole cider and Burgundy Lion ale. Try the signature cod cakes with lemon aoli. Sit outside or in — the Lion rocks a pub lunch.

Finding Leonard

Last but not least, we pay our respects to Montreal’s favorite son, Leonard Cohen — beloved songwriter, world-weary poet and reluctant performer. We have our city map and Cohen’s biography to help us find the ultimate tribute to the late great one. We ask around. Locals insist that we look behind Moishes in the Plateau, Cohen’s old hangout.

Voila! This craggy and moving portrait towers over the grubby parking lot. There are dumpsters and graffiti, too, but I don’t think Leonard would mind.

Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

Don’t miss the 39th edition of the Festival International de Jazz Montreal. Pay your respects to Leonard while enjoying a world-class array of magical jazz in all its forms. You will find the hospitality of our partying neighbors to the north unparalleled.

A bientot!

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Como Cool

We’re in the heart of downtown Como on via Dante, across from the imposing peaks that characterize the lake. We watch the changing light from our expansive, columned deck.Our apartment is a comfy version of Italian modern — upscale, sleek and bright. This is good in case we’re stuck inside for a couple of rainy weeks. Like right now.

Villa Dante is part of an ancient urban cluster of buildings in hues of salmon, apricot and saffron. The colors are warm but evening damp drapes the hills in a foggy stole of clouds.

We make sprawling, messy dinners followed by grappa, oranges and TV. I adore chef Alessandro Borghese, insouciant host of Cuochi d’Italia and 4 Ristoranti. Yum.We’re a block or two from the Duomo and close to the indoor public market, a bustling 1930s masterpiece of stucco and glass brick. I like the brutalist lettering, MERCATO.It is early spring, la primavera. Hopeful pansies and primrose bloom in the market, but it isn’t very warm despite their colorful efforts.I sit across from the Metropole Suisse in Piazza Cavour while hubby gets his yayas out striding around the lake. It is finally sunny, and we are almost done ruining our health with big meals, too much coffee, animal fat in all its forms and Vogue vacation smokes.

I write this hunched over a coffee next to an outdoor heater in full-on sun, an artificial arrangement that imitates the brilliance of summer — almost.

The Duomo is of course the major attraction — all roads lead to the cathedral. Since we’re here for several weeks, we admire her gorgeous proportions from several vantage points.

Look up: The Duomo is as imposing as ever.

From the side: Her curves are robust and massive as Anna Magnani.

Straight on: Lovely Mary is flanked by Como’s patron saints. I don’t see my favorites, Saint Liberata or Saint Faustina, but I know they’re here somewhere.

Best of all: The view from Loft Bar on the top floor of Coin department store. Sip champagne, admire the towers and terra cotta rooftops, and enjoy a bird’s eye view.

Como’s most famous citizen besides George Clooney was Alessandro Volta, electricity pioneer, whose Tempio museum and Scientia statues are ancient breaths of fresh air.

Modern pioneers work here, too. We admire the art of Fabrizio Musa and stalk him a little. His black & white “Novocomum,” above, is a striking graphic illusion.

Sightseeing makes me hungry. Two thumbs up for the Siciliano pizza from Locanda Barbarossa. Try the Diavolo with salad on top — red, white and green as the Italian flag!

And always save room for dessert — it’s not too sweet and it’s never too much.

For a last look, we drive the stunning 30 minutes to our customary retreat in Argegno. We bask in blue lakeside beauty until the weary sun slinks behind the hills.  It’s over.

Arrivederci, ciao, a presto!

 

 

 

Posted in Food and Wine, Italian Travel, Lake Como, Off-the-beaten-track | Tagged , , | 1 Comment