Indecent + Irresistible

New York City. I didn’t discover the joys of this place until Theater Boy beguiled me with his dazzling array of art, theater, dance, music and cuisine. It worked.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to navigate choice bites of the Big Apple:

Go High: It doesn’t matter if it’s the the Empire State Building, Rainbow Room, or the High Line – get yourself a bird’s eye view.Surprise!  Examine the orderly grid of streets and wealth of building styles – many can’t be seen from the street.

Walk: Brooklyn Bridge offers glorious views of the city. Stroll the broad expanse of this engineering marvel – in 1883, it was the world’s longest suspension bridge.

Go Low: Don’t be afraid of the subway. It gets you where you need to go – fast. The people-watching is ­­­­a gas, the mosaics are lovely, and musicians are often astonishing.

Theater:  The stage is magic. It’s why we’re here. There’s nothing better than watching crazy-talented people making you laugh, cry, or both.

Broadway: This season’s thoughtful and provocative “Indecent” delivers music, dance, and electricity – a tight production with deeply affecting performances. Go.

Off-Off:  Or find something off the beaten track that’s epic and alive, like Bobby Cannavalle in “The Hairy Ape,” a swoon-worthy performance of very political O’Neill.

Big city, big opinions: Lean in.

Stay Up: Get yourself some nightlife in bars, restaurants or clubs. I’m not a night person, but this friendly city has always rewarded my efforts to stay awake.

Savor: Casa Mono is our go-to in Union Square. We huddle at a small table and order the delicate dish we have come all this way for – creamy scrambled eggs with sea urchin, walnuts, and ancient anchovy oil. Maybe it’s the word “ancient” that gets us.Sip: We share a Spanish red that’s too robust for the dish but abundantly satisfying. It’s not about what’s correct, it’s about what we like – we’re mad for the first bottle, so we order a second.

We go a little small-plate crazy with a gorgeous pork medallions followed by seared scallops. Mono’s Brussels sprouts are spot-on. Baccalá fritters arrive, stacked like Lincoln Logs in a puddle of too sweet orange aoli, but who cares? We blow through several bowls of olives, eat all the bread, and beg for more.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep: Very important.

Get Up Early. Grab the Staten Island Ferry, cruise Lady Liberty and Ellis Island while enjoying stellar views of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Disembark briefly on the island. Don’t miss museum portraits and botanical gardens. Return. Best of all, it’s free.

Get Lost: Wander one of the world’s most vital green spaces, Central Park. Visit Angel of the Waters – you’ll start to see angels everywhere.

Stroll: The East River Esplanade; admire Brooklyn and the Watchtower sign across the water. The Pier has expansive decks with seating for lounging and sunning. 

Highbrow: Check out the impressive public artwork throughout the city. Find your face.Lowbrow: Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of Big Apple kitch.Don’t Rush: Lose the agenda. Remember, “getting there is half the fun.” Pause as a random store window reveals a masterpiece.Snacktime: Chinatown’s Big Wong features roast ducks lacquered to mahogany and served lukewarm. Eggrolls are fresh, from carrots to cabbage, and a faint hint of jasmine. Go With It. A great find on Stanton Street.Retro: We savor shrimp cocktails and martinis at reverse-chic Donohue’s, as pale wedges of iceberg sail by awash in bleu cheese. Theater Boy is served a pork chop as big as his head. I get a drippy, messy cheeseburger. We share a dewy moment of mom’stalgia. Designing Women: I explore the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition of compact, ergonomic kitchens from the ’20s, a celebration of great women designers like Eileen Gray and Anni Albers. I am so proud, I return to for a second and a third look. Amazing.MoMA is the Mother Ship — Happy Mother’s Day!

New York City is friendly.  It’s a total gas.  Find your own way.  Be brave.  Enjoy! •

Posted in Art and Culture, East Coast Travel, Food and Wine, New York City, Off-the-beaten-track, Theater, Travel | 2 Comments

Home Away

As business travelers, we’re no longer tourists. Creating a small network of places where we can do business and feel at home is the ultimate. And anyone can do it.

Responsive. We begin at Villa San Michele, a charming hotel where repeat guests are valued. Savvy receptionist Chiara recently solved a complex problem with insight, grace, and nuanced Italian. My Italian is wide but shallow, so her help was invaluable.

Sip and savor. After work, there’s always an excellent tagliatelle bolognese or pici cacio e pepe available at the hotel’s Antica Torre restaurant. We don’t dine-in every night, but have enjoyed meals often enough to crave whatever amazing fare the chef is creating.

Take a walk. It’s wonderful to exchange ideas in the moist air of a verdant hilltop town. Park your car and leave it. Remove your belongings and forget the autostrada. Stroll through the dreamy rustic scenery and take your time – you’re “home.”

Look down. Delight in natural and man-made details like this pale angel at the base of a stone wall — smooth winged serenity against gritty rock.

Look up. In Rome, we rarely miss the sunset drama of tiny starlings, i storni, swooping and diving in the evening sky. The aerial ballet is abundant and free at our Campo de Fiori home-away.Become familiar.  We’d love a third round, but Bar La Rocca is closing. “No problem,” says congenial Rosanna. “Stay, have another. When you’re done, put your wineglasses in the planter, I’ll find them tomorrow.”  We do and she does.
Relationships. Repeat-renting reduces the stress of finding the corkscrew, figuring out electrical and WiFi (Italian systems are fussy), locating the groceria, farmacia, or street market. You know there will be towels, and where they are.  Trust happens.

Appreciation.  Find a responsive landlord with a sense of humor. When I broke the toilet within five minutes at Ugo’s in Milan, he was there in immediately with superglue and a smile. When I blew all the fuses at Barrie’s, he talked me through it – at midnight.

Make it yours. Minimize inconvenience by becoming familiar, inside and out. Bond with something or someone new at each visit. Learn a new word or phrase. Delight in rituals — Sunday pastries, a walk along the lake, or a big, fresh lasagna with scamorza and basil.

Lean in. This plaque hangs on a wall in Menaggio, Como. As charming as it is, I prefer, “Wherever you go, there you are.” •

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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La Primavera: Part I

Wisteria Season

March 20 is the first day of Spring. It is also my birthday. We leave Maine’s four-foot snowdrifts knowing it’s full-on primavera in Italy. There’s nothing I like more than eating my birthday dinner on a plastic tray at 30,000 feet.

We have arrived. We exit the terminal and breathe spring air. Grass is a deep velvety green and the massive mowing of parks and medians has begun, the most fragrant of spring chores. Graceful clusters of wisteria, il glicine, adorn walls and terraces everywhere, from humble apartments to distinguished antiquities.

Off Season

We aim for the sweet spot between high and low season. In April we enjoy artichokes, asparagus, and spring lamb. In October there are chestnuts, wild boar, and porcini. There is plenty of daylight, and seasonal art, design and fashion exhibitions are less crowded.

Gritty Gastronomy

We shop for lunch in a quirky market where the merchandise is piled in colorful chaos – holiday panettone, Snoopy band-aids, tiny jars of pesto, and bright bunches of tulips. We score a sturdy hunk of pecorino cheese, a few bits of salumi, olives and fragrant tomatoes. Our resulting picnic is gritty and gorgeous, an essential rite of spring.

Home Away

I enjoy a haircut at the tiny village parrucchiere in Carmignano. My hairdresser Cinzia says, “My brother is in love with America,” expressing her complaint in English. I answer in Italian (this is what we do here), “Tutti pazzi in America,” everything’s crazy in America. I add that Trump is a “pagliaccio,” a clown. Cinzia laughs. “No, è vero, è pericoloso!” I say, which exhausts my vocabulary of alarming words. The row of grannies under the dryers nod and cluck like sympathetic Tuscan hens.

Take a Walk

We hike the sentiero del castagno, the chestnut path, to La Rocca, a semi-steep climb with bird’s eye views of Florence — no binoculars needed. A distinct aroma of weed drifts from a group of goth teens. Welcome to the modern world.

Tuscan Hills

The surrounding hills are trimmed and neat. Olive trees have been clipped of leggy growth like silver-green poodles. The higher you climb the more organized the landscape. From a plane, it’s a tight grid of straight lines and dots, a linear patchwork in green and umber. From here on La Rocca, it’s unmistakably Tuscan — organized, yet untamed.

The image, above, is is the way my painterly friend and sometime traveling companion, artist Lindsay Hancock, sees Tuscany. She gets the way this place gets under your skin.

Get to Work

It’s time to scout new styles and replenish old favorites. Our pieces are at home against this backdrop – check out our Cashmere Wildflower shawl, whose poppies reflect the local landscape. No surprise – our wraps, ponchos and shawls are true Tuscan originals.

Ciao, Milano

Milan is always a gas. We admire its fine urban bones, fashion sense, and graphic punch. We fight for street-space with bicycles, Vespas, upscale baby strollers, and the elderly who move at their own stately pace.  The city chaos is bliss, and blessedly brief.

We emerge in the tiny hamlet of Chiaravalle where we check into the very arty Hotel Borgo Nuovo. Fashion-forward eyewear is cleverly displayed in glass vitrines. Design books cover every surface. We are the middle of nowhere, yet magically still in design-soaked Milan.

Contemporary

Rooms at the Borgo Nuovo are mod, comfortable and well-appointed. The staff is helpful in the cool, standoffish way that is so Milanese. We discover more wisteria over our expansive shared courtyard. We sit under the profusion of blooms, inhale, and check our messages. The hotel WiFi, pronounced “weefee,” is strong and best of all, gratis.

Out and About

Hotel Borgo Nuovo’s proximity to the Abbey of Santa Maria di Rovegnano is an unexpected bonus. We spend a sunny afternoon wandering the sprawling 12th century campus, admiring the astonishing Gothic tower, frescoes, and woodcarvings. It is no surprise that contemporary Cistercian monks still wear white and work very, very hard.

Sustenance

As always, art makes us hungry. We head to Ristorante L’Osterietta in San Donato Milanese for a lengthy seafood lunch. The catch-of-the-day seems alive, eyeing us from their glass case. We turn away and tuck into our spaghetti vongole and frutti di mare.

We admire Osterietta’s ornate collection of soccer-chic chairs. We savor a luscious berry tart – the Italians are un-sweet dolce masters. We sip an espresso.  Life is delizioso.

Arrivederci

We reluctantly leave Milan and head for lovely Como — our next working chapter and beloved home-away. We’ll soon be counting tiny lizards sunning on pale apricot walls, and inhaling the scent of graceful wisteria in our beloved lakeside retreat to the north.

In our next chapter, we will explore what makes a perfect “home away” for international business travelers like us — and it’s more than robust WiFi and a quiet room. •

Checking business messages in the sprawling shared courtyard at Hotel Borgo Nuovo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Surprise! Jersey City

Across the Hudson River from Manhattan sits Jersey City — hip and relaxed, taking the long view. This astonishing little city is proof of art’s power to renew and restore.

Cultural Revival

The first thing you see when you emerge from the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) train is The Jersey City Wave by Shepard Fairey, 150 ft. mural symbolizing the city’s economic and creative renaissance. “Public art enriches people’s lives,” says Fairey. Yes.Chefs, designers and entrepreneurs are upcycling, revitalizing, and re-imagining this ambitious little city. From what’s on the wall to what’s on your plate, Jersey City is enjoying a creative rebirth fueled by art, affordability and livability. My sparkling and savvy sister Seeky lives here — of course.

We head for the TapHaus, a waterfront gastro-pub with panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, a vast array of brews “on deck,” and world-class truffle fries. Why resist? We savor a flight of Delirium Tremes, La Fin du Monde, Brooklyn Lager, and Lagunita.  As the fragile early moon rises, we’re still sipping local, deep into Jersey Devil IPA.

We chuckle at the names. We savor the fries. Life’s good in Jersey City.

Melting Pot

Since its early days as an Ellis Island hub, this multicultural mecca boasts culinary influences from India, Italy, the Philippines, Cuba, Egypt, Mexico and more. New Jersey noodle queen, Ani Ramen, will soon be joining the colorful lineup. Our fave Hell’s Kitchen go-to, Two Boots Pizza, has an offbeat outpost here — don’t miss the Boss Hague pizza, named for Jersey City’s roaring-twenties mayor. Fresh herbs, briny clams, smoky ham, and provolone combine for a flavorful homage to the melting pot that is Jersey City.

Accessible

With New York City rents reaching absurd heights, housing remains accessible here thanks in part to a marketing campaign called Across the River, enticing New Yorkers priced out of Park Slope. A 10-minute PATH commute puts Manhattan within easy reach.

Sip. Savor. Repeat.

Jersey City is gentrifying and urban sophistication is on the rise. From landmark Colgate Clock to the Powerhouse Arts District, tempting things are happening here. Dying for a master class in Deep Dark Chocolate?  Try Bucket & Bay, the self-proclaimed “small batch made from scratch” artisanal gelato maker offering tastings, classes, and pairings. For authentic old-school homemade ice-cream deliciousness, my nephew Cody prefers Torico. Jersey City has a decadent, dreamy treat for everyone.

663bba211e626510e592432f293a334a60d6c370Mamma Mia

Whether you’re a red-sauce-and-meatballs traditionalist or churrasco and curry fan, Jersey City has an upscale or down-home restaurant for you. Coffee shops and bakeries like ooh-la-la Chocopain Boulangerie thrive here, balancing the hipster vibe while supporting the local economy. Yum.

Location, Location

Enjoy a promenade through Van Vorst Park, a quiet urban oasis that reminds me of Washington Square Park. Surrounded by stately brownstones, I imagine sharing a park bench with Henry James — literary time-travel. Little Van Vorst is a gem, a historic oasis with meandering gardens, summer concerts, Yoga, Shakespeare in the Park, farmers’ market and film series.

Stop to admire the funkadelic City Hall, a Victorian classic. She’s still a grand dame to me.

Jersey City’s surprising amount of green space includes Liberty State Park, a thousand-acre oasis in the center of town. Skip the winding NYC queues and inhale the fresh air and local history on the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island ferries, nearby.

Blinded Me With Science

My nephew Cody is an awesome tour guide. He directs us to his favorite spot, the Liberty Science Center, super cool, with hands-on activities in several sprawling exhibition spaces. The live animal collection has over 100 species. There’s a giant aquarium with enormous creepy fish. Don’t miss the tornado wind machine and endless gift shop.

We  savor some very scientific Dippin’ Dots, something new to me. Cody explains that they’re tiny beads of cryogenically frozen ice cream — minus-320ºF, to be precise. We learn that this is NOT the ice cream that the astronauts eat; theirs is freeze-dried. Okay. From reclining cushy seats in the IMAX theater, we enjoy A Beautiful Planet — a vertiginous film about space travel that makes babies cry and grownups feel wobbly. But Cody and his kid-cohort are in the groove.

We will return to this surprising little city on the Hudson — count on it.  •



Posted in Art and Culture, East Coast Travel, New York City, Off-the-beaten-track, Travel | 2 Comments

Tuscan Wines Shine

Among my favorite Italian expressions is, “Anni e bicchieri di vino no si contano mai,” or “Years and glasses of wine should never be counted.” Here at Enoteca Athena in Brunswick, I am eager to begin a relaxed, uncounted evening of sipping and savoring the flavors of Tuscany’s Poggio Alloro winery and farm.

Enoteca Athena is bustling and convivial with a flurry of arrivals and warm greetings. I see my old friend, Paul Turina, the Italian wine dealer who arranged this evening. Living in Italy agrees with him.

The county-Italian enoteca is informal and relaxed. A wooden ladder hangs overhead draped in dried herbs and twinkly mason-jar lights. Sliding barn door and bright Italian pottery lend a rustic feel, and the wreath of chili peppers hints at the flavorful evening to come.

Sip and Savor

Sarah Fiorini is here representing Poggio Alloro, her family’s 250-acre winery, farm and agriturismo in San Gimignano. Tonight we will enjoy their lush organic wines, olive oil, and honey.

I visited Poggio Alloro several years ago and it is wonderful to see Sarah again. Her relaxed, friendly manner makes us all feel like family. Our first lesson is toasting — “Salute!” with Italian gusto and vigor, followed by “Buon appetito!”

We begin the evening with a generous pour of light, dry Toscana Bianco, whose flavor evokes citrus, honey, apricots, and Tuscan flowers.

La Prima

Our first course is whipped salt cod or baccalà with olive oil and capers. Maine shrimp are similarly puréed with olive oil and flavored with red saffron threads — unctuous and light. Rustic bread from Standard Baking is perfect for tasting the spreads and sampling the farm’s extra-virgin olive oil. In fact, the whole evening is steeped in in Poggio Alloro’s extra virgin olive oil—which almost steals the show.

Vernaccia

Our second wine is a pink-tinged Vernaccia from the Italian vernaculo, or indigenous. This beautiful wine hints at golden apple, almonds and vanilla. An arugula salad with fennel, prosciutto, walnuts and topped with crispy bits of (believe it or not) chicken skin, is a smash with the delicate, minerally wine—definitely a great pairing.

Rosso di Toscano

Our third taste is ruby-colored Rosso di Toscano, an everyday wine that, according to Sarah, improves the heart and circulation. I can feel my heart beating more efficiently already.  People have been drinking this unpretentious red since 1276, “when Dante wrote the La Divina Commedia,” Sarah says. “Wow, you know?”  She winks at us.

If there is a groove, we’re now all in it.

Chef O’Brien

Our third course is my idea of a perfect light supper, una cena leggera, very thin cannelloni pasta stuffed with meat and spicy fennel flavor in a delicate tomato sauce, topped with almost weightless bechamel. Chef O’Brien really knows his way around pasta.

It’s a tough act serving 40 people seated family-style in a small room, and Enoteca Athena is doing the best they can. Since it’s easily the coldest night of the year, some of the courses cool down a bit too quickly, but the staff valiantly runs food and wine from kitchen to guests. Kudos to chef and staff for facing down the icy end of a tough Maine winter. Well done.

 

Convivio!

The final course is served my favorite Poggio Alloro wine, Convivio. I have loved this wine since I visited the winery all those years ago. The garnet colored red has flavors of cherry, raspberry and hints of cinnamon. The crowd discusses the wine’s “nose,” and somebody yells out, “Tobacco!” Right again. The wine is robust, warm and velvety on this frigid Maine evening.  I have seconds — maybe thirds. But nobody’s counting.

Grilling outdoors in sub-zero weather is daunting, and brave Chef O’Brien is bundled up like Nanook. The last meat course is a challenge. Guests murmur, “At least it will be rare.” It is.  The beef arrives piled high and on-the-bone, served on heavy white platters — Flintstonian and dramatic.

Siamo alla Frutta

Italians express the end of the evening as, “siamo alla frutta,” at the fruit. Traditional vin santo and cantucci arrive, another wow for Poggio Alloro. Made from almost-dry grapes, the amber holy wine is aged six years. With hints of caramel, nuts and honey, vin santo is served with not-so-sweet cantucci biscotti for dipping in the sweet wine. Perfect.

I am starting to feel abbiocco — the lovely drowsiness that follows a satisfying meal. Thank you Poggio Alloro, Paul Turina, Enoteca Athena and Chef O’Brien — sono pieno come un uovo — I am full as an egg.

Posted in East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Food and Wine, Italian Travel, Maine, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Off-the-beaten-track | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rockland: Tidal Treasure

rockland-breakwater-iiiAh, Rockland — gritty tidal treasure on Penobscot Bay with the soul of a working waterfront and salty hipster vibe. This small seafaring gem proves that art has the power to inspire and restore, with a vibrant museum and gallery scene, award-winning restaurants, upscale shops — and enough lobster and lighthouse kitch for the tourist crowd.

Hospitality with a Heart

We’re here for the 2017 Pies on Parade tour, and we’re hungry. Each year local inns, businesses, and cafes mobilize for a tasting and strolling tour to raise funds for the local food pantry. This year’s sale of 650 tickets will ensure funding goals are met — and beyond.

The diversity of pies is impressive, with sweet and savory bites including Montreal-style pork Tourtiere; wood-fired pizza rustica; seafood-chowder pie; classic Maine whoopies; espresso chocolate mousse pie; and a drunken pumpkin bourbon tart. Of course there are traditional berry and fruit pies, and savory lobster and/or crab quiche. Delicious.

lpark_website-eventArt Walk

Part of the magic is Rockland’s art scene, abundant and accessible on the three-hour stroll. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art features artists like Loretta Park, above, a graduate of our own Bowdoin College. CMCA’s soaring new space makes me so proud.

At 250 Main Hotel, referred to by locals as “the new hotel,” there are drawings, paintings and prints on every floor, plus sweeping sea views and a roof deck— wow.

250 Main Hotel

250 Main Hotel

Dowling Walsh Gallery is always a gas, with Maine favorites Bo Bartlett, Greta Van Campen, and my old friend, Neil Welliver. Check out Eric Hopkins‘ iconic works at his downtown studio and gallery on Tillson Avenue (Note: by appointment these days).

Two Islands with Waves, 2012 by Eric Hopkins. Photo by William Thuss

Two Islands with Waves, 2012 by Eric Hopkins. Photo by William Thuss

The Farnsworth Art Museum has enough groove and gravitas to please any proud Mainer or fan “from away.” The Farnsworth complex includes the Wyeth Center, dedicated to three generations of Maine Wyeths — N.C., Andrew and Jamie — housed in an appropriately austere 19th-century church, filled with light.

andrew-wyeth-carol-on-the-beach-1950-watercolor-on-paper-

Andrew Wyeth, Carol on the Beach, 1950 – watercolor on paper

Out and About

Rockland’s brick downtown has an endearing assortment of shops. Stalwarts include the upscale Black Parrot, and Archipelago, the store of the Island Institute. I pop into Fiore for my fix of cranberry-pear white balsamic vinegar, and then on to The Wine Seller whose clever sign reads, “If it tastes good, it is.” I agree. Newbies include Main Street Market with locally sourced foods (and waffle pie bites!), and Periscope, a high-end modern furniture emporium. It just keeps getting better.fiore-ii

Where to Stay

We love the Old Granite Inn, a perfect location for exploring downtown and the working waterfront. The inn blends family antiques, mid-century modern furnishings and lots of contemporary style. Granite’s upscale, uncluttered guest rooms have great views of Rockland Harbor and refreshingly small flat-screen TVs. “The only thing better would be no TV!” said one smiling guest. So there.

The aroma of fresh brewed coffee summons guests for a fresh and locally sourced breakfast. We savor puffy lobster quiche and homemade waffles with berries and real maple syrup. The environmentally certified inn grows greener with every visit. I think owners Ed & Joan Hantz are remarkably savvy preservationists and conservationists.

Sip and Savor 

SunsetThe fact that we’ve been tasting all day does not deter us from our mission to sip, savor and explore this little tidal treasure. After our three-hour tasting and walking tour, we compare notes under a pink sunset. We agree that our favorite bite of the day was the duck confit, sour cherry and goat cheese “pie” at Fog Café. We return to Fog in the evening, settling into a comfy banquette in the glow of a quirky glass cephalopod.

We continue our duck-theme with French fries generously dusted in duck cracklin’, served with bold, smoky tomato aoli. We go local with crispy midcoast haddock bites—a wan pairing with the duck fries, oh well. The Fog’s “real” Caesar salad with wild-caught anchovies was robust and fresh, a lusty palate cleanser. My husband tips his hat to Rockland’s gritty history with a Narragansett or two — no artisanal brew, thanks! — which magically take on a romantic glow.

Rock City

suppress-gritty-brick-wall

Rockland maintains a gritty authenticity despite its effortless hipster vibe, wealth of contemporary and iconic American art, and an ever-changing music and restaurant scene.  The richness of its craggy coastal ambiance draws us back to Maine’s midcoast often, in all seasons. I can’t wait to return to the North Atlantic Blues Fest this summer.

For a day trip or romantic weekend, Rock City rules. • strand-2017

IF YOU GO: Rockland Events

Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.

Posted in Art and Culture, Blues Festival, East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Festivals, Food and Wine, Lobster, Magic, Maine, Maine Travel, Montreal, New England Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Royal Pop-Up at Tempo Dulu

15400356_1281721841885575_473972061319488583_nchef-sLucky me – I’m invited to an eight-course Royal Thai dinner designed and prepared by Chef Goy Siwaporn, left, who hides a prodigious talent in her tiny frame. Best of all, the sparkling eight-course dinner is held at The Danforth Inn’s deeply romantic restaurant, Tempo Dulu. I put on my princess shoes and summon Uber.

Photos: Liz Caron  / Video: Diane Hudson

15337448_1281721855218907_877399195016595719_nThe evening begins with dazzling cocktail reception under the auspices of master-mixologist Trevin Hutchins. We enjoy delicate but potent lychee cocktails, blushing pink and infused with with rhubarb. The inn’s welcome-signature of bubbly Prosecco is also served. Finger food is refined, with trays of sweet melon, salty dried fish flakes and mint. Rich and savory egg-nests with root vegetables are followed by cucumber cups of briny tuna tartare and Thai herbs. Small bites and big flavors rule at Tempo Dulu.15355841_1281721885218904_4096466205741590600_nWe’re seated, family-style, in three dining rooms. The staff is attentive and smiling as each guest is greeted with warm towels and an evening menu. Amuse bouche arrive in contemporary glassware, beautiful, setting the mood. Details are dazzling and as always, the service is almost clairvoyant — magic.

Host and husband of the chef, Florian Gypser

Host and husband of chef, Florian Gypser

The Danforth has been updated and modernized, its elegant rooms jazzed with modern furnishings and contemporary art, much of it with an Asian theme. The atmosphere is intimate and upscale with sophisticated lighting. Oversized chandeliers cast a warm glow. The green dome in the lounge is alive, made of moss that is occasionally misted. Always expect the unexpected at The Danforth.10570396_10156271075830062_3696025961673648359_nOur culinary journey continues with garlic chicken served in a lettuce cup, fresh and lively, topped with green pepper and lemon. A delicate spring roll holds curried pork and tomatoes, piquant and spicy. Salmon and seasonal vegetables with Thai garlic sauce gradually intensify the progression of flavors, which the sommelier tames with a crisp grenache blanc. Perfect.15390957_1281723225218770_174430860957127419_nFull disclosure: I love Tempo Dulu. Here, my imagination is allowed free range. The restaurant’s legendary Indonesian rijsttafel, a medley of dishes from the islands, sends each diner on a world tour enhanced by exotic fragrances and flavors. A reverence for history plus international flair and sophisticated design combine for wonderful ambiance.tugu-tempo-duluService at Tempo Dulu is reliably impeccable and attentive. Cutlery is changed with every course, and napkins are replaced when the diner, or even just his gaze, leaves the table. Service is formal but relaxed, somehow – I don’t know how they do it.An amuse of lettuce with Thai herbs and palm syrup awakens our palates with herbaceous sweetness. Small pieces of steamed flounder in Chinese ginger sauce, a bit disappointing in texture but not in flavor, are served with a Hillinger Secco that balances the dish nicely. The dining rooms hush as we’re served Thai coconut chicken mushroom soup, Tom Kar Gai — unctuous and velvety. I would keep eating it all night; it’s my favorite dish of the evening. Accompanied by surprising wine, Prisoner Blindfold, the combination reminds me that what’s in your glass at Tempo Dulu is often as impressive as what’s on the plate. Next up is another knockout — grilled Maine lobster in Thai seafood sauce, a feast for the senses. Chardonnay Copain Tous Ensembles is crisp and perfect with robust, sweet lobster. A last course of Thai Burmese ginger and fragrant jasmine rice, Gaeng Hang Lae, is smoky and savory, served on a green banana leaf — a perfect last bite. Sadly, I can only manage a few bites of my gorgeous dessert, smoked coconut milk with tapioca and sweet mango. I content myself to sip and savor Gaudet Loupiac, a sweet and warming conclusion to a wine-soaked and soul-satisfying evening.15356481_1281723238552102_3868110953406089196_n

Postscript: Not Quite Done…

9c3acff446af5da8b64524a2032644e2A few days later, my friend Diane and I head back to Tempo Dulu to check a few details. Read: we’re heading back to the bar. If you want a stunning cocktail experience in Portland, Maine, this is it. We belly up and order two Jakarta cocktails, an creative infusion of genius, bourbon and smoke, with boozy alchemy supplied by a gifted mixologist — don’t miss it!  •

jakarta-smoke-better

Tempo Dulu  | 163 Danforth St., Portland, Maine  http://www.tempodulu.restaurant

Posted in East Coast Travel, Food and Wine, Holiday Travel, Lobster, Magic, Maine, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, The Other Portland, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment