Siena: Golden Light

I am honing my far niente skills in the golden light of Siena. Home is a fifth-floor walk-up overlooking the bell tower and zebra-striped cathedral of Santa Maria della Scala.

Much of this quaint Tuscan town is della scala — marble steps, stone steps, brick steps. Warm hues of goldenrod, rose and saffron fight the advancing November chill.

Siena’s glorious medieval centro, Piazza del Campo, is a luminous space where the Palio horserace has run since 1633.Don’t miss Bar Palio’s ricciarelli almond cookies with cappuccino — the “grande” is so generous it’s served in a bowl. This fragrant combination starts my day, work or play.Shopping opportunities abound, pop into a cheese and wine shop to for regional specialties like pecorino di Pienza, truffles or salumi di cinghiale, yum.Siena Chocolate Shop 2Savor samples at Nino and Friends — pralines with hazelnut creme, espresso beans or lemon rind in dark chocolate. Try a slab of milk chocolate studded with pistachios, almonds or hazelnuts. Or just stand and stare at the chocolate waterfalls.

Teatro e Tesoro

Theater Boy joins me for a bit of Tuscan touring. He buys a silk necktie at Cravattificio di Siena for the occasion — and as Giusi predicted, it is orange. Lovely!

Siena’s Opa Si! pass allows visitors three days of access to the incredible cathedral complex, museum, bookshop and facciatone terrace.

Rooftop viewClimb 130 narrow spiral stairs for panoramic bird’s eye views. Ceiling Santa Maria della ScalaInside the cathedral — look up! Every direction holds a wow.Pavimento_di_siena,_allegoria_del_colle_della_sapienza_(pinturicchio)_02Look down! Gorgeous marble mosaic floors tell the story of Revelation.
Vaulted crypts, below, hold treasured reliquaries, holy remains like tongues, teeth and jawbones of saints and martyrs. Seriously. The whole complex is a wow.  Opera della Metropolitana di Siena is mind blowing.

La Cena

Theater Boy and I are knocked out in the best possible sense. A celebratory evening meal of grilled octopus, nicely blackened, with chick pea puree, followed by Pici Cacio Pepe and steak Fiorentina. Like Mimmo’s, it’s gigantissimo. With a velvety Tuscan red, perfect.

Pasta cacio pepe 2Our time here has been wondrous. Tomorrow I return to my woolly work in the Tuscan Hills, and Theater Boy (of course!) visits a few theaters while we wait for David to arrive.

Up next: Montecarlo, Montecatini, Padova and Venice!





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Boo! Halloween in Pistoia

In Pistoia’s historic Piazza del Duomo, it’s Halloween. Patron saints San Zeno and San Jacopo supervise as children whirl and shout. Their hysteria is charmingly muted and they’re modestly costumed, with small bags of cookies from local merchants. I notice the absence of a critical element — candy. Miles of Silly String, but no candy. Brava l’Italia!

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Florence: Fashion & Friendship

I arrive on a golden Tuscan morning, hire a car and check into centrally located Hotel Malaspina. The B&B’s cheerful staff, robust breakfasts, Wifi, rooftop terrace, cozy rooms and free valet parking (yes, I said free valet parking) make it great for solo travelers.

I launch myself into the lovely day with a stroll to nearby Piazza San Marco where cyclamen are still in bloom. Hang a right to Piazza del Duomo, already jammed with pedestrians eating gelato, racks of colorful leather bags and “See the WORLD!” tee shirts. 

I zip through the Florentine version of Eataly, inspect the fancy wares and scoff at the prices. I scan the racks at Sisters, Italy and buy a handy palm-sized notebook at Legami. The legendary Tuscan sun casts its amber glow on residents, tourists and the beloved Ponte Vecchio. The crowd moves like the gentle river Arno — civilized, calm and polite. 


Fashion choices pop and simmer in streets and shop windows. I feast on vivid color and signature Italian style, note fabrics and trending hues. Shades of orange, eggplant and cognac rule. The Florentine circus of brilliant color and fashion makes me both delirious and ravenous.


I spot a vine-covered bistro just off the beaten track, Il Sasso di Dante. It’s a perfect spot for travelers who enjoy their street-side dining from a comfortable remove. My first dish in this delicious country is potato-stuffed ravioli bathed in olive oil and mint pesto. Hours of rough road surrender to the magic of this tummy-friendly, restorative fare.

I order another glass of flinty Vermentino and lean in.

Mimmo at 44

A convivial group of men on my left are pounding the table, chanting, “Mimmo! Mimmo!” They offer me a friendly hit of grappa. I demur. The customary Bistecca Fiorentina arrives, and it is Flintstonian; Mimmo can barely see over the top. I love the local tradition of men dining together, and try not to imagine what the women are up to this afternoon. Let’s just say I hope they are enjoying a similarly joyous day.


I meet my Florentine pal, Giusi, for lunch at Mercato Centrale. This is Firenze’s oldest open market, a sprawling iron-and-glass maze packed with meats, cheeses, bright produce and flowers – fragrant and fascinating.We ascend to foodie heaven, where fresh pizza, pasta, vegan fare, beautiful fish, gelato and pastries confound and delight. The waitstaff is discreet and mysterious, bringing wine, mineral water and correct change. Magically, it all works.

Giusi and I reminisce. We laugh out loud, maybe even cry a little. Discuss trending styles and colors — shouting “Arancia!” in unison. Giusi is a forever friend with a great eye who manages to kick all traces of jet lag down the iron stairs. Brava, Giusi!

Art & Culture

I meet beloved American friend, Theater Boy, for a morning at the Uffizi Gallery. We love the Galleria — that much is always true. It is perhaps the best in the world.

We book a pricey private tour and prepare to immerse ourselves in the wonders of the Renaissance. Our tickets are billed as a ‘skip the line’ experience.

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi

Our guide is late. We are not greeted as promised by Viator personnel, in fact, we are not greeted at all. We find our guide by accident – hardly an auspicious beginning.

La Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

Lines are long, but painterly gems are stunning, exquisite, amazing — often breathtaking, from Filippo Lippi to Sandro Botticelli to Leonardo da Vinci. There are entire rooms dedicated to the genius of Caravaggio — red rooms, of course.

Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio

Crowds are increasingly daunting and the ambiance is frenzied. Babies cry, and so do we.  I begin to feel like Caravaggio’s Medusa in the classic Uffizi image below.

DO NOT BUY: ‘Small group’ or ‘skip the line’ tours by Viator unless you enjoy paying three times as much as the next guy, rushing through the collection and feeling savagely ripped off.

RECOMMENDED: 3-day pass online to Uffizi, Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and Opificio delle Pietre Dure (incredible stone inlay) for 18€ off-season/38€ high-season. Super!

Newly discovered work-within-a-work by Leonardo


Theater Boy and I resolve to remember only the amazing Uffizi treasures and cease our fretful chorus. We indulge in a relaxing lunch at Antica Fattore. We marvel at the raw artichoke salad, thinly sliced, in lemon and olive oil — tart, crunchy and restorative.

We continue to regain lost composure over white truffle tagliolini, shaved truffles over buttery pasta ribbons, a simple preparation that packs a velvety swoon. I ask for a bit of extra formaggio. Our straight-backed waiter says, “No, Madam,” and insists I cannot possibly want it. “Please,” he says, his eyes misting. I’m humbled and delighted.

Evening church bells ring, slightly muffled and sweet, the way baby Bruno cries when he is very tired. The sun sets red over the Piazza Independenza, a glowing bit of heaven. •

Coming soon: Pistoia, Montecatini, Montecarlo … and David!







Posted in Art and Culture, Food and Wine, International, Italian Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, Travel, Tuscany | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Eating Montreal

Montreal’s burgeoning food scene rivals any “best of” city, even my tasty little hometown of Portland, Maine. Glowing fruit and vegetables in mysterious heirloom varieties, divine buffalo mozzarella, robust cider vinegar, flinty wines, and oh, the duck! Pillowy gnocchi and sweet beignets created with love and magic are simply delicious. During Jazz Fest 2019, we indulge in our own epicurean exploration of this world-class city.

Jazz & Food

The diverse, multigenerational Jazz Festival crowds grow each day. As temperatures soar, regular time-outs at onsite cafés are a necessity. We settle at Café Nouveau Monde for some stellar people watching and refreshment. We take our time over chilled sangria, red and white. We savor goat cheese “Josephine” and a thin Alsatian tart.

I beg for their favorite sangria recipe. “Pas de problem,” says the friendly bartender.

White Sangria

  • Soupçon each light rum, dark rum and Triple Sec
  • Pineapple juice – 2 cups
  • White wine – 1 liter
  • Secret Montreal Ingredient: dash of Sprite! Seriously.
  • Add orange, lemon and lime slices. A few maraschino cherries.

Red Sangria

  • Soupçon each light rum, dark rum and Triple Sec
  • Orange juice – 2 cups
  • Red wine – 1 liter
  • Secret Montreal Ingredient: dash of Sprite! Seriously. 
  • Add orange, lemon and lime slices. A few maraschino cherries.

Festival stalwart Le Blumenthal Brasserie is also centrally located, and a fine place to take a break while in the heart of the festival. The menu is reliably creative, with fresh salads like our favorite, heirloom tomato with Québécois mozzarella. Best of all, the profits from this busy brasserie help finance the work of the Maison du Festival. The exchange rate reduces prices by about 25%, if that is the kind of cool comfort you crave.

Heirloom tomato 3

Like me, if your idea of summer refreshment skews toward gin and tonic, check out the Hendrick’s Gin Tent. Their version of the hallowed cocktail is sublime in its simplicity, featuring sliced fresh cucumber. It feels almost healthy — a boozy micro-salad.


Hendrick’s Gin & Tonic

1 parts Hendrick’s Gin
3 parts tonic water (***I like Fever Tree)
3 ribbons (or rounds) of cucumber

Combine ingredients in a highball glass filled with cubed ice
Lightly stir and serve
Garnish with thinly sliced cucumber


Our neighborhood destination for local color is Nyk’s. First night, we’re feeling shy, and politely order house fries with a modest dab of mayo and splash of vinegar, s’il vous plait. A delicious but tentative beginning. Feeling a little braver after a day or two, we decide to go native with classic Québécois poutine: fries, cheese curds and Nyk’s special foie-gras gravy. Sublimely decadent. We’re hooked, and return a few days later under cover of darkness. We revel in the local scene, the waitstaff doing shots behind the bar, a quintessential Montreal moment. Our Poutine infatuation rages throughout our stay, culminating in the ultimate combo: fries, cheese curds, and unctuous duck confit draped in Nyk’s special foie-gras gravy. Swoon-worthy fare, it’s just this side of food porn. 

Screen Shot 2019-07-18 at 10.27.04 AM

We’re finally tempted offsite to Joe Beef’s new Liverpool House in Little Burgundy, home of jazz great Oscar Peterson. We sip a flinty Ontario Stanner’s Riesling and order six oysters, les huitres. Surprise! We receive seven jewels: 3 from P.E.I., 2 from Quebec, and 2 from British Columbia, a briny provincial sextet plus one. The gorgeous black ruffled oysters from B.C. taste like the wild ocean itself, wow.

Next up, the Njudi Sando is a crazy combo on warm English muffin. Whose idea was it, anyway, that swordfish be cooked? It is sublime raw, dressed simply with herbs and olive oil. Add a generous layer of Njudi, spreadable spicy sausage with a hint of chili oil, and Le Sando becomes an unctuous, extraordinary bite. With Liverpool’s sangria, heavy on the blackberries, it’s another grand slam out of the park.Don’t miss Liverpool’s grilled Asparagus Diane in densely flavored morel mushroom sauce with a hint of Cognac, complex and rich. We’re blissed out; the sauce is the velvety brown of George Clooney’s eyes. Our server asks if we’d like bread for the juices. Oooh, yes. The dish is astonishingly deep, dark, veggie-centric and flavor-forward — fabulous. “How do they DO it?” we moan.We will return to Liverpool House. Joe Beef and company lives up to the the hype. Arrive early — doors open at 5:00 and it gets crowded. Their delicious success is well-deserved.

Un Po’ Di Piu!

Another epicurious treat is Un Po’ di Piu (“a little bit more”), a wonderful addition to Old Montreal’s waterfront dining scene. Un Po’ is the newly hatched sister of Olive & Gourmando, home of outstanding panini, and Foxy, creator of unforgettably delicious wood-fired trout.

We start with Campari Spritz, nibble delicious thick-skinned olives, and happily absorb the riverfront scene. The Asparagus with Burrata and local herbs is dreamy — light, soft, and delicious. The burrata plays beautifully with shallots, fresh herbs and splash of sunny yellow olive oil. Dense house-made focaccia is handy for bright and flavorful juices. Service is thoughtful, helpful and pleasantly chatty. Well done, Un Po’ di Piu!

Daily Bruschetta features tiny, Maine-style shrimp – the kind we no longer get in Maine. Alas, they’ve wisely migrated to cooler Canadian waters. The shrimp arrive piled high on slices of grilled sourdough, topped with tomato essence, olive oil and basil. Exquisite tastes! Our happy reunion with the small, succulent shrimp is well worth the trip.

Don’t miss Un Po’ di Piu.

Mile End Food Tour

Mile End is also an epicurean Montreal hub. We explore this thriving hive of musicians, creatives, chefs and entrepreneurs via the brilliant and revealing Mile End Food Tour. My dear foodie friend, Radio Girl, comes along — a perfect companion. We actually get a little giggly from the excitement of our first food tour together! Oh my, it is such fun.

Walla Volo is a colorful, multicultural Mile End mural and the largest in Canada.

Our tour is led by engaging guide, Sebastian, who speaks English, French, German and even a bit of Italian. He is both fun to listen to and nice to look at. We happily ping from falafel to chocolate, bagels to gnocchi, and on to charcuterie and baked goods. We visit the Godfather of Gattuso and sample his beautiful salsa della nonna. We peer into the window of Wilensky’s, creator and purveyor of an identical grilled bologna sandwich on white bread, with pickle, since 1938. Seriously.

We explore back alleys, quirky shops and Mile End stalwarts like St. Viateur Bagel. We absorb local lore and color while savoring some neighborhood classics. My favorite bite is a succulent pork rillette at Boucherie St. Lawrence — excellent. Our odyssey concludes with a bit of mango gelato at Kem CoBa. Radio Girl and I agree, mango is just the thing.

Get There

Montreal has a festival every five minutes all year long. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself. Montreal is known for vibrant nightlife, all-season festivals, cinq-a-sept happy hours, multi-cultural conviviality and joie de vivre. More than a mini-taste of France, this grown-up, world-class metropolis is more than worth a visit in any season. •


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Take A Bow

Ali Tawfiq photo

It’s a long and winding road to Montreal. Hours of rural Maine, New Hampshire and a tiny slice of Vermont zip by before we cross into the rolling hills of Canada. We pause at leafy Café Ailleurs for our annual bonjour beer and first attempt at clumsy French.

Just under two hours later, it’s bright lights, big city. We check into the Hotel Faubourg, and run to Theatre Maisonneuve for a double bill of accordionist Richard Galliano and double-bassist Ron Carter, in a tribute to late, great composer/pianist Michel LeGrand.

The extraordinary duet is emotional and delicious, a nuanced dialogue between jazz titans. Galliano’s take on Route 66 transports me to the banks of the Seine. Ron Carter plays a sweet, jazzed version of You Are My Sunshine with humor, charm and grace. A magical first night and a beautiful surprise!

The great George Benson

Kudos and Congratulations

Known for its diverse programming and convivial vibe, the Montreal Jazz Fest was founded in 1980 by co-directors André Ménard and Alain Simard. Their mad mix of jazz, blues, folk, soul, reggae, rock, hip-hop and more welcomed artists from around the globe to perform in what is now the largest jazz festival in the world — brilliant!

André Ménard (left) and Alain Simard in June 1986 © Len Sidaway / Montreal Gazette

Extraordinary Moments

Distinguished co-founder and visionary André Menard has retired, it’s true. But I am pleased to report that he remains omnipresent at the fest. He introduces Melody Gardot, recipient of the 2019 Ella Fitzgerald award. She is “honored and grateful,” and describes her musical journey through laughter and tears. Menard clearly loves her; their warmth and friendship is palpable. “This is an extraordinary moment,” he says. Yes, it is.

This year, the B.B. King award recognizes veteran bluesman Buddy Guy whose 60-year career includes mentoring greats like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton, who calls him, “The greatest living guitarist.” Previous awardees include George Thorogood, Charlie Musselwhite, Taj Mahal, James Cotton, and B.B. King himself in 2014.


The phenomenal Buddy Guy

Slow Start

We find a shady “comfort zone” under a tree while the food trucks begin their day. Some offer “bouchees gratuities” (free tastes) as they ready for the rush. Each day starts slowly, stretching steadily into afternoon, and coming alive each evening, fully jazzed.

Street acts and musicians perform during the day in open spaces between food vendors and beer tents. Nearby, a street band tunes up, rehearsing the opening bars of Night In Tunisia a billion times. Those few bars are now pleasantly lodged in my head.

Music in the streets par Victor Diaz Lamich

Sun hats and sunglasses are de rigueur as temps climb into the 90ºs. There are many opportunities to be dunked, bubbled, misted or spritzed — la chaleur does not win.

Heineken is a major festival sponsor with a leafy stage of their own at the corner of rue Jeanne-Mance and René-Lévesque. Beautiful breezes float from the river starting around 6:00 p.m., ‘smarvelous. Note to Heineken: More chairs, please.


This year I score tickets to the ultimate trifecta of female talent: Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux the next evening, and Melody Gardot the third — a miraculous triple play.

Norah Jones is still wildly beautiful and her voice as lovely as ever. But the crowd is obsessed with her 2002 album, Come Away With Me, and seems indifferent to her new work. A few songs fall flat. Norah struggles, but prevails — she’s got this.Madeleine Peyroux is a total gas, connecting with the crowd in French and English. She is funny, genuine and tuneful. Classy. Her band is spot-on, outstanding. New favorite song of 2019? Honey Party … I can’t wait to sing it to Baby Carmine.

Melody Gardot is magic. She charms 3,000 crowd at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier with moving and soulful arrangements, singing in French, backed by her amazing band. Gardot somehow turns the enormous hall into a Parisian café, with an intimate, vulnerable performance. This remarkable artist deserves all the accolades that flutter to her.

Straight Up

Almost every opening band is reliably fantastic. Ms. Peyroux is preceded by Israel’s Yaron Herman and band. “Straight-up jazz,” sniffs my pal, Radio Girl. “Not my bag.” I am happy to report that it is my bag, and Yaron delivers a great session.

IMG_9013 (1)

Yaron Herman

I spend a wondrous evening with Roberto Fonseca and Erik Truffaz, a hybrid jazz mash-up of Cuba and France. Fonseca began with Buena Vista Social Club at age 15; French trumpet superstar, Erik Truffaz, joins him for twice the magic — amazing!

©2019_Benoit Rousseau_fijm_Roberto Fonseca_A7_00906

Roberto Fonseca

Outdoors and Free

On outdoor stage Scene TD, opening night band The Brooks is hopping. Dedicated to serious funk and soul, this Montreal octet puts on a spectacular show. Best of all, it’s free! The Brooks light up the stage, and are no longer Montreal’s best kept secret.

Guy Belanger rides the free outdoor Scene Hyundai stage this year, sharing with wildly talented R&B artist Kim Richardson and the very jazzy France D’Amour. It is a total gas watching the glorious harmonica king do his thing with two such fine and talented ladies.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Crowd favorite and definitely worth a listen is jazz trumpeter, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, part of the Jazz Beat Doubletree series. Also part of the series is Steve Gadd, check his paradiddle groove here. Dreamy drummer boy performed with James Taylor July 4, unforgettable.

Gadd (1)

Festival 2019 expands its footprint to the eclectic Verdun neighborhood. The dynamism of historic Verdun, plus the enthusiasm of businesses and residents, ensure the roaring success of this expansive initiative. I’ll see you at the corner of Wellington and Galt!

Wa par Victor Diaz Lamich

Cha Wa performs at Verdun at Scene Loto-Quebec © Victor Diaz Lamich

Peace and Love

As Guy Belanger pounds out See The Light, I’m suddenly aware of the atmosphere of kindness, light and conviviality at this extraordinary festival. Even the police seem relaxed and charming. No wonder everyone agrees this is the best, friendliest and safest music festival in the world. I’ll be back in 2020, and hope to see you there!

Loving the festival par Victor Diaz Lamich - photographe (190 of 218)Next: Montreal Food Scene 2019

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Goodnight You Moonlight Ladies

James Taylor, dreamy 1970s pop/folk icon, returned to Tanglewood last night with his all-star band (including my jazz-crush, Steve Gadd) for a wondrous July 4 of song and sentiment. Taylor is a fixture here in the Berkshires, and this performance marks the 27th since his first anxious and adorable appearance in 1974.

Love Forever and Ever

Highlights from the lush, leafy green of Tanglewood include Sweet Baby James, Your Smiling Face, deeply moving Carolina On My Mind, and his “4th of July” ballad with its enduring message of love:

Would you care to come down for fireworks time,
we could each just reach, we step out of line.
And the smell of the smoke and the lay of the land
and the feeling of finding one’s heart in one’s hand
and the tiny tin voice of the radio band singing ‘love must stand,’
love forever and ever must stand.

Wow, tears and more tears — surprise! I didn’t know I was such a fan. Hazy, humid memories cause a flood, doubtless the sixty-something equivalent of teenybopper screams. That silvery lullaby voice crooning melancholy, moving songs — it’s a magical evening.

And let’s face it, the guy is still a stone fox.

Taylor knows his audience and graces us with Angels of Fenway before we attempt to repay his tremendous gift with several thunderous ovations. As we drift back to our cars glowing inside and out, we’re showered by spectacular fireworks over Stockbridge Bowl.

A Bit of History

In 1934, a group of music-loving “summer people” arranged for members of the New York Philharmonic perform a few outdoor concerts here in the Berkshires. Soon after, Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra agreed to to perform, and gave their first concert at Tanglewood in August of 1936. And the rest is history.

On the Tanglewood’s lawn listening to the Boston Symphony Orchestra circa 1960.

Berkshire Bliss

Proceeds from tonight’s concert were donated by the Taylor family to Tanglewood, home of the brand new Tanglewood Learning Institute — check out their wonderful programs. James Taylor is a total mensch. •






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Portland, Maine: Where To Stay?

My beloved and discerning friend Robyn is coming to Portland in September. Please recommend a downtown hotel, she asks. With an in-house restaurant. Closer to our place in the East End. And oh — can we make sure Nils won’t bump his head on the ceiling? Last year’s third-floor West Ender wasn’t exactly the proper scale for a man of 6’3,” sorry, Nils! 

Port Harbor Hotel

Serious research begins at the Portland Harbor Hotel, a snazzy boutique hotel with crisp nautical decor and an upscale welcoming vibe. Thoughtful contemporary touches include multiple charging stations and lighted makeup mirrors. Down to the last convivial detail, this hotel nails it. 

After a great night’s sleep, guests wake in the heart of the Old Port within walking distance of shops, restaurants, galleries and working waterfront. Our little utopia of red brick, cobblestone streets and salty breezes has enough charm and soul for locals and visitors.

Maine-native executive chef Gil Plaster sources local fish, meats, artisanal cheeses, breads, farm-fresh eggs and dewy produce for the hotel’s BlueFin North Atlantic Seafood restaurant. Take a seat in the leafy garden courtyard for townie favorites like Fisherman Ravioli filled with herbed ricotta, catch-of-the-day seafood and salty Pecorino. Add a glass of Sancerre for a lovely pairing.

Port Harbor Fishermans Ravioli 4

Lobster ‘Scargot is simplicity itself, local lobster in garlic butter and herbs, escargot-style, rich and delicate — Maine lobster made easy.  Or enjoy Bluefin Tuna Crudo, served over crunchy greens with ponzu vinaigrette and roasted peanut crumble. Not a seafood fan? Savor the pistachio-crusted rack of lamb with a plummy glass of Zinfandel. With herbed fingerling potatoes, roasted root veggies, fennel and fig molasses, it’s robust, complex, rich and delicious. Full disclosure: we gnaw the bones.

Wind down with Maine blueberry ice cream or a rich affogato — vanilla gelato “drowned” in a shot of hot espresso, poured through a graphic chocolate swoosh. Nice!

Port Harbor breakfast

Don’t miss the house-made granola.

• Next up:

East Meets Westin

At a historic landmark in mid-town

Isn’t it romantic? The venerable Eastland Hotel, now the Westin Harborview, was the site of our first date. Handsome hubby and I head to the Top of the East resto-bar to reacquaint ourselves with panoramic views of Portland and Casco Bay. Wow!Even in a light rain, Top of the East still offers the best bird’s-eye view of Portland. We sip a specialty cocktail, Rosy Cheeks, of vodka, Lillet, lemon, rhubarb, rose water and a sprinkling of rose petals. We admire the art museum and Portland’s lovely brick architecture. Beyond historic slate rooftops, there’s dreamy Casco Bay in the distance.

We savor oysters on the half shell with delicious rhubarb gelée and strawberry mignonette — a perfect pairing with our slightly naughty Rosy Cheeks cocktails. We lazily discuss what has changed in this misty bird’s eye view over 30 years — not much.

We linger over Salmon Crudo in fennel gazpacho topped with tarragon sorbet. The scallops are briny and sweet; the sorbet is unctuous. With a French Quarter cocktail of gin, absinthe, bitters and Prosecco, it’s a wonderfully decadent pairing.Courtship continues with duck pastrami on petite rye crostini with red cabbage slaw and whole grain mustard. This is glam gourmet game-day fare — heavy on the romance, pretty-in-pink and dressed to kill. Major artistry in one blushing bite; kudos to the chef.

Flirtation concludes with two forks and lemon pistachio cake with key lime “dots,” Italian meringue twirls and pistachio sprinkles. This delectable modern art for two is paired with a mysterious Emerald City cocktail of rum, green tea matcha and mint. Magic!

As we transition from fascination to fling, there is only one thing left to do — get a room.

Harborview’s palette of beige and chestnut oozes masculine charm. Onsite spa Artné soothes and pampers with treatments for women, men and couples. With a dramatic renovation in process, I suspect contemporary flourishes will be arriving soon. Until then, views of Portland’s skyline and trademark red brick are wondrous, spectacular.

Vive la romance!

• Next up:

The Regency Rules

In the heart of the Old Port is another historic gem, The Portland Regency Hotel. The venerable Regency occupies the historic Maine Armory, built in 1895. The neo-classical brick and stone exterior is carefully preserved. Original design elements like turrets and multi-faceteted windows add charm and character to interior spaces.

Invited by the National Trust of Historic Preservation to become a distinguished member of Historic Hotels of America in 1990, The Regency is also designated an Environmental Leader — major kudos to the Regency from Planet Earth!

Ornamental fireplaces, tin ceilings and antique turrets add special ambiance

Classic comfort meets old world charm in rooms and suites with comfy beds and marble bathrooms. Each morning, coffee and newspapers are delivered right to your door — nice touch.  Regency also has a fitness center and spa, with good news for townies: you don’t have to be a hotel guest to join the fitness center or book a massage.

Spacious rooftop deck offers bird’s eye views of downtown Portland and Casco Bay

One of Portland’s best kept secrets is the Garden Café, a shady green oasis in the heart of the city. Across from the hotel entrance, it’s a quiet, grassy paradise of bistro tables and umbrellas, surrounded by lush green and flowers. Lights twinkle in the trees. In the heart of the Old Port and blocks from the working waterfront, this café feels miles away.

Red wine poured into glass at picnic, with copyspace

Starters and small plates include Maine crab cakes with black bean-corn salsa, and  creamy lobster stew with abundant lobster and hint of sherry. Local meets eclectic in a  lobster, mango and avocado salad, a surprisingly “cool”combination of tastes and textures — ultimate summer-grazing, and so refreshing.

Chef Allen’s seared scallop with bacon, pineapple and jalapeno-pineapple reduction is a delectable star on the summer tasting menu. Savor the salty, sweet and briny scallops under the trees in this urban sanctuary — it will be a highlight of your summer.

Seared Scallop Regency

For hearty appetites, don’t miss the Piedmont Burger with farm fresh egg, both locally sourced on the inn’s 100-acre farm in Cumberland. Not only delicious, this burger brings rewards like low fat and cholesterol. My body thanked me after eating this robust and tasty dish. And do leave room for dessert — the Maine blueberry crisp had me at hello.

I vow to return to the Garden Café throughout the season to enjoy one of Portland’s loveliest and best-kept summer secrets.

Chef Allen Cook and intrepid Hotel Explorer

Mission Accomplished!

I know Robyn and Nils will be delighted with any of the three downtown doyennes I have explored. Each offers a combination of seaside views, creative cuisine, local sourcing, thoughtful service, central location, contemporary touches — and most importantly, a great night’s sleep — for a memorable and restorative getaway. Whether you want to step back in time or step into romance, these hotels have charm, rich history and serenity to spare. You’ll find a place to relax and recharge for an overnight, a long weekend, or my favorite — a townie staycation.  •













Posted in East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Food and Wine, Lobster, Maine, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Portland Maine, Staycation, Travel | 3 Comments

Fab at 40: Montréal Jazz Fest

Spectacular summer birthday celebration June 27 – July 6, 2019  

As the 40th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (FIJM) approaches, our festive neighbors to the north are getting ready to party — and what an astounding array of talent! From the pre-opening concert with festival favorite Richard Galliano paying tribute to the late, great Michel Legrand, to the last midnight hip-hop jam session, I’ll be hanging on every note.

Norah Jones

Artists, audiences and epicurious music fans agree that Montréal Jazz is the biggest and best music festival in North America — a hybrid greatest-hits album without a B-side. Jazz, blues, rock, world music, folk, be-bop, reggae, klezmer, pop, edgy newcomers and major luminaries will soon be lighting up city streets and stages.

Drop the Needle Anywhere

Starpower includes Norah Jones; Melody Gardot; George Benson; Alan Parsons; Peter Frampton‘s farewell tour; Buddy Guy; and good ol’ Snarky Puppy. Jazz royalty John Pizzarelli will be celebrating Nat King Cole’s centennial and extraordinary musical legacy. Living legends collide with brilliant new talent, nd create musical alchemy. No matter your age or taste, it doesn’t get any better.  (Program!)

Taking It To The Streets

The 2019 festival marks the return of music to the streets, with events and performances throughout the historic downtown and waterfront. The nexus, as always, is Quartier des Spectacles, where large indoor, outdoor, free!, and family-friendly shows take place. In the spirit of inclusivity and connection, the 40th anniversary will introduce festival “hubs” in urban neighborhoods. This year, Verdun is the place — I can’t wait to explorethis new “hub.”

Buddy Guy

Urban Welcome

“The Festival de Jazz de Montréal has been a vital economic force for the past 39 years. After contributing to the development of the Quartier des Spectacles, this innovative, inspiring and inclusive Festival is bringing even more life to downtown Montréal and the many neighbourhoods where it unfolds.” — Mayor Valérie Plante


With its cobblestone streets, old-world architecture and rich French heritage, jazz fans will discover the “saveur” of Montréal at bakeries, cheese and paté shops, open markets, food tours, and more. This stylish city has plenty of brasseries and bistros, from classics like St. Viateur Bagel; Schwartz’s legendary deli; and the pioneer of foie gras, Au Pied de Cochon. City chefs continually racing to the forefront of nouvelle cuisine, so make plans accordingly — reservations highly recommended.

I can’t wait to taste all that Montréal has to offer, from Joe Beef’s trendy Liverpool House in Little Burgundy; to enjoying the Mile End Food Tour; and on to my eternal favorite, L’Express, tucked in a grey stone row house on rue Saint-Denis. Look for #3927, c’est classique!


Boozy and Beautiful

Montréal is unapologetically boozy. Leap into the groove with festival sponsor Hendricks Gin. Savor their signature G&T with cucumber ribbons. Have another.

Check out the preposterous Hendrick’s “Corgan,” a unique musical instrument with whole cucumber keys. Distinctive sound, and a new genre —  Jazz Végétal.

Make the scene at the city’s world-class bars and brewpubs — each year brings great new pubs and microbreweries. We like Brutopia, rustic St. Houblon, and Nyk’s on the festival site. Montreal keeps beer simple: red, blonde or brown — yes!

The Beat Goes On

As always, making choices is the greatest challenge. The extraordinary 2019 lineup includes Omara Portuondo; Madeleine Peyroux; Bebel Gilberto; Ravi Coltrane Quartet; Dianne Reeves; Josh Redman; Alexandra Streliski; Bahamas; and the great Leslie Odom Jr. Knockouts keep coming like Brad Mehldau — can’t wait!; Chucho Valdés; Jazz Batá; Stacey Kent Symphonique; Rodrigo y Gabriela; and Pink Martini.  (Artists!)



Les Rythmes Series is totally boss and includes the Strumbellas; Steel Pulse; Morcheeba; Lou Doillon; Mr Eazi with Blinky Bill; Courtney Barnett; First Aid Kit; J.S. Ondara; Jesse MacCormack; Hometown Honey, Nikki Yanofsky; Voïvod; Lee Fields & The Expressions; Jacob Collier; Jeremy Dutcher; Connan Mockasin; Alex Henry Foster; Yungblud; and my own inappropriate crush, Bobby Bazini.   (Schedule!)

Steve Gadd


Don’t miss top-flight clubby performances from “Jazz Beat” each evening at Monument-National, featuring my favorite drummer Steve Gadd and his band; the great Patricia Barber; a soulful Kurt Elling with Danilo Perez — and many more. A range of musical color and refined jazz harmonies define this “monumental” evening series — accessible to all. (Tout Le Monde!)

Yaron Herman


Misses Satchmo — This irresistible swing sextet captures the sublime, the grotesque, the existential pang, the acerbic criticism and wild futurism of the great Boris Vian.

Yaron Herman — Franco-Israeli jazz pianist whose influences Keith Jarrett, Brad Melhau, Björk, Sting and classical composers Scriabin and Ravel forms a trio with partners Sam Minaie on double bass and Ziv Ravitz on drums. Do not miss!

Susie Arioli — Our grand dame of jazz returns with originals and standards from the Great American Songbook and a performance true to herself: cheerful, colourful and jazzy!

Black Pumas — Step back into soul music of the ’70s – that’s what this Texas sextet is all about. Led by Eric Burton and sterling guitar of Adrian Quesada. Don’t miss this.

Newen Afrobeat — Almost 20 musicians strong, this Chilean group echoes the rallying cry of Nigerian legend Fela Kuti: “Music is a weapon!” in dynamic and dance-worthy performances, wow.

Linda May Han Oh Quintet — Han-Oh is Malaysian-born composer-musician living in New York, currently the bassist in the Pat Metheny quartet – wow. Check out her album, Walk Against Wind.

Clay and Friends — Joyous troubadours led by composer, singer and instrumentalist Mike Clay bring the unforgettable celebratory sound of Verdun, in the funk, soul and hip-hop groove.


This 40th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal will be held from June 27 to July 6, 2019. I hope to see you there. A bientot. •

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

imagesFarewell to festival co-founder and artistic director, André Ménard. It has been a gas getting to know you, and hearing your “take” each spring. Congratulations and au revoir to someone whose guts and gravitas I have long admired.

Posted in Canada, East Coast Travel, Festivals, Food and Wine, Jazz Festival, Music, Quebec | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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.


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. •



Posted in Art and Culture, East Coast Travel, Food and Wine | 1 Comment

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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


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. •



Posted in Art and Culture, East Coast Travel, Food and Wine, Lobster, New England Travel, Theater, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments