It’s All Greek to Me!

by artfuldiner on January 21, 2023

in Uncategorized

Greek Wine Tasting ImageFor your quaffing pleasure: Wines tasted at our wine club gathering on Saturday, January 14, 2023…

 2020 Mylonas Retsina: Retsina, a wine made with the infusion of resin from the Aleppo pine tree, is Greece’s most famous and historic wine. Its flavor has often been likened to turpentine – even by locals who consume it on a regular basis. Most retsinas were poor, thin wines with resin used to mask their dullness and “off” character.

In recent years, however, Retsina has undergone a remarkable renaissance. A number of wine producers, including Stamatis Mylonas, have demonstrated that, when carefully made from conscientiously grown grapes, Retsina can be a delicious wine that will pair well with variety of cuisines.

Made from 100% Savatiano, one of Greece’s most widely planted grape varieties, at the time of fermentation only between 1 percent and 0.15 percent of resin is added to the wine. As a result, modern retsina exhibits only subtle touches of resin-like aromas and flavors, similar to rosemary and lime.

In the words of one reviewer, the 2020 Mylonas Retsina is “a crisp white wine that doesn’t act like Retsina. There are notes of white flower, mint, lemon, and pine. The pine resin is low here. It’s more crisp and mineral style of white. Fantastic on a hot summer day with fish.” $16.99 Total Wine.

 

2021 Dionysos Fileris: Located in the Greek wine region of Corinthos, in Peloponnesus southwest of Athens, the Dionysos Winery was founded in 1936 by Asimakis Koutsouros and Stelios Gikas. Today, the winery is still represented by members of the same two families and produces more than 11 million liters of wine annually.

The 2021 Dionysos Fileris is made from a native grape, which is a clone of Greece’s popular Moschofilero. In the glass, the wine is medium straw in color with green highlights. It is quite floral on the nose with perfume-like hints of jasmine, honeysuckle, grapefruit oil, and dandelion. Tart and ripe on the palate, this medium-bodied wine would pair well with fresh fruit and/or seafood. $16.49 Total Wine.

 

2021 Skouras Moscofilero: Domaine Skouras was established in 1986 by George Skouras following his winemaking studies in Dijon, France. He felt that he could bring modern winemaking techniques to his home region of Nemea, and quickly established himself as one of Greece’s top winemakers.

The Moscofilero is a traditional grape from the Nemea region, known for its floral and tropical aromas. Aromatically similar to a dry Viognier from France, it is medium-bodied, creamy & fruity on the palate, with lingering spices at the finish. A definite crowd-pleaser as an aperitif or paired with simply grilled fish.

Received 90 points (100-point scale) from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and wine critic James Suckling. $18.99 Total Wine.

 

2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko: Santorini WinesAmong the little-known grape varieties of Greece, Assyrtiko has been by far the most popular among Greek whites. Although originating on the Island of Santorini, it is now planted across mainland Greece (as well as in parts of Australia), becoming one of the most important native varietals. It produces mainly dry white wines, some of which are aged in oak. Assyrtiko is one of those rare white grape varieties that can grow in hot and dry climatic conditions while, at the same time, keep the high alcohol in perfect balance with its crisp acidity.

This is a wine that is made for people who are looking for unconventional, intense styles of whites that lean toward texture and density rather aromatics. Assyrtiko produced outside of Santorini maintains its crispness and minerality, but it also exhibits a higher level of fruit aromas and a less dense structure.

The 2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko is characterized by light yellow color and aromas dominated yellow fruits and lemon flowers. It is bone-dry with distinctive character, excellent structure, and crisp acidity. It is pleasant to drink young; and it makes a perfect accompaniment to pasta with pesto and various fish & shellfish dishes. However, this wine also ages well – from five to ten years, sometimes significantly longer – developing aromas and flavors of ripe fruits, honey, and intense minerality.

Be advised that this wine is not available Pennsylvania State Stores. The best price I have discovered online is $10.95 per bottle (plus shipping) from Shoppers Vineyard in Clifton, New Jersey.

 

2020 Boutari Kretikos Red: The Boutari family has been producing wines from Greek varietals since 1879. The family has become a pioneer of the Greek wine industry, now crafting wines from six different regions, utilizing grapes that are grown nowhere else in the world.

… And the 2020 Boutari Kretikos has helped to set the quality standard of Cretan wines worldwide. Kretikos, which means “originating in Crete,” is a carefully selected blend of 60% Kotsifali and 40% Mandilaria, both indigenous grapes. Kotsifali – Mandilaria blends are quite common in the red wines of Greece, but particularly so on Crete, the southernmost and largest of the Greek Islands. Such a beneficial blending brings together the aromatics, sugars, and corpulence of Kotsifali with the strong color, acidity, and tannins of Mandilaria.

It is not certain at what point in history Kotsifali and Mandilaria were first deliberately blended but the benefits are quite apparent… This nicely balanced wine features a brilliant ruby color, pleasant aromas of red fruits, velvety tannins, and a lingering finish. $14.99 (plus shipping) from b-21 Fine Wine & Spirits, Tarpon Springs, FL.

 

2019 Hermes Neméa Red: Located in the northeast corner of the Peloponnese peninsula, Neméa is arguably Greece’s most important red wine appellation. Neméa red wines can only be made from the Agiorgitiko grape, which is the most widely planted red wine grape in Greece and has been grown in this region since the 5th century BC. One of the more commercially important indigenous Greek varieties, it can exhibit a wide range of characteristics, from soft to very tannic, depending upon factors in the growing and winemaking processes.

Red wines from the Neméa appellation are crafted in many different styles, from light-bodied to lush and full-bodied, with flavors and aromas of red fruit, particularly dried cherries, and often exhibit a decidedly spicy character. Vines are located in three subzones, ranging from sea level to the mountains, with the best wines often coming from higher altitude vineyard sites.

The 2019 Hermes Neméa Red is bone dry with good body and a pleasant peppery warmth at the finish… This is a great wine for everyday quaffing, as it’s smooth on the palate, very versatile with a variety of foods… and the price is right. $14.99 Total Wine.

 

2019 Nasiakos Neméa Agiorgitiko: Athens - Hotel Grand Bretagne, Viw from Rooftop RestaurantThe vineyards of the Nasiakos families lie in the heart of the two largest and most important wine regions of Greece. One is in Mantinia in Arcadia; the other – the highest point on Neméa – in Corinth, Peloponnese. Leonidas Nasiakos is the viticulturalist, winemaker, and producer of the wines that bear his name. Under the Nasiakos label, 6,500 cases of wine are produced from the indigenous appellation varietals such as Moschofilero  and Agiorgitiko.

Nasiakos wines have been rated by publications such as Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits for over 15 years, with ratings from 87 to 93 points.

Of particular importance is Agiorgitiko, which, as noted above, can exhibit a wide range of characteristics, from soft to very tannic; and the 2019 Nasiakos Agiorgitiko is definitely of the latter persuasion. In the glass, mesmerizing aromas of vanilla, blackberry, and currant quickly capture one’s attention… carried over to invitingly ripe fruit flavors on the palate. This is a wine with a surprisingly light touch. It goes down as smooth as silk and is also marvelously food friendly. $7.99 PA State Stores

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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2022 Restaurant Redux

by artfuldiner on January 16, 2023

in Uncategorized

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of the thirteen (13) restaurants reviewed during the year 2022. The month appearing in parenthesis indicates the month the restaurant’s full review appeared on my blog. Please note that I have also included several restaurants from my recent travels, which are well worth visiting and may be of interest to those who enjoy an occasional gastronomically-inspired sojourn.

 

333 BELROSE BAR & GRILL (April), 333 Belrose Lane, Radnor, Pennsylvania, (610) 293-1000, http://www333belrose.com: Thirteen years have passed since I first reviewed this ever-popular eatery… but very little has changed in the interim. Chef/proprietor Carlo deMarco, a Villanova native, is still turning out top-notch contemporary American fare with international flair in a lively yet decidedly sophisticated setting.

333 Belrose - Simply Grilled SalmonThe Spicy Asian Brussels Sprouts embellished with peanuts, shishito peppers, and sweet chili sauce always make an excellent starter… ditto the superb Butternut Squash Bisque. Entrée-wise, the Java Pork Tenderloin with smashed yams, mango salsa, black bean sauce, and maple jus remains a house favorite. However, in my opinion, the Simply Grilled Salmon (pictured) steals the show. Presented with a fresh house salad, the seductive orange-ginger vinaigrette proved to be not only a marvelous dressing for the greenery but also a wonderful complement to the salmon itself, transforming a relatively straightforward dish into an utterly sublime presentation.

 

AGAVE MEXICAN CUISINE (September), 1620 Baltimore Pike (Route 1), Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, (484) 770-8345, www.agavebyo.comAgave - Quinoa SaladA scant moment after you’re seated, the tortilla chips and salsa hit the table… But be sure to team them up with the benchmark Guacamole, served in a traditional molcajete (the Mexican version of mortar and pestle). Other highly recommended starters include Queso Fundido – a type of party dish often compared to a cheese fondue – and an incomparable Quinoa Salad (pictured), a delightful amalgam of pumpkin seeds, avocado, raisins, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and Queso fresco splashed with an enticing lemon vinaigrette dressing.  Simply not to be missed. The tacos here – all served on homemade corn tortillas – are definitely a cut above. Choose your five favorites, which constitute the Taco Tasting Platter, and feel free to share.

Agave is still BYOB. However… the restaurant also offers a three-course special for $35.00 per person and will even throw in a complimentary bottle of white wine or pitcher of margaritas. So be sure to check it out.

 

CIRCA 1886 RESTAURANT (November), Wentworth Mansion, 49 Wentworth Street, Charleston, South Carolina, (843) 853-7828, www.circa1886.com/: Circa 1886 - Ex Chef Marc CollinsTucked away in the original carriage house of the Wentworth Mansion, Circa 1886, so notes their website, “evokes the romance and Old-World charm of historic downtown Charleston.” But the restaurant offers diners infinitely more than alluring ambience, as it is consistently ranked as one of the finest in the city, as Executive Chef Marc Collins (pictured) works with local farmers & fishermen to create an innovative seasonal menu that takes Lowcountry cuisine to new culinary heights.

The Foie Gras – bewitching the palate with such avant garde traveling companions as cassava pudding, pomegranate strawberry jam, lime basil oil, and smattering of hazelnuts – is a particularly noteworthy starter… Although, the Southern Grilled Cheese – pimento cheese mousse, grilled brioche, Surryano ham, paddlefish caviar, cured yolk powder – finishes a close second.

When it comes to entrées, matters piscatorial tend to take center stage. The Paprika Grouper, for example, was a captivating combo of flavors and textures… But the Rainbow Trout was even more thought-provoking. The filet was enveloped in an ethereal sunflower sumac crust and kissed by an enticing corn sauce, with wild rice porridge, arugula, and cranberry paint in strong supporting roles.

 

DANTE’S ITALIAN BISTRO & PASTRY (August), 550 Kimberton Road, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (484) 924-8072, https://www.facebook.com/DantesItalianBistroPhoenixville : Semi-sequestered behind Citadel Federal Credit Union in the Kimberton Shoppes, Dante’s is easily passed by without notice. The interior, which is rather utilitarian and brightly lit, isn’t exactly high on ambience; but it’s comfortable, the service is friendly & attentive and, as an added incentive, you may BYOB.

… And the food, as you may have surmised, is just as homey and down-to-earth as the atmosphere. Red sauce – which, I will warn you in advance, tends to be a touch on the sweet side – predominates the proceedings, and portion sizes are prodigious. You won’t go hungry here… You won’t go broke either, as prices are decidedly easy on the wallet.

Dante's Bistro - Arancini al FromaggioTo start things off, be sure to go for the Arancini al Fromaggio (pictured). A staple of Sicilian cuisine, Arancini are Italian rice balls that are stuffed with mozzarella (and, occasionally, other items such as green peas and ham), coated with bread crumbs, deep fried, and served with a marinara dipping sauce. If the kitchen has a claim to fame, it is undoubtedly their pastas. Stick with them and you can’t go wrong.

 

DAVIO’S NORTHERN ITALIAN STEAKHOUSE (July), 200 Main Street, Town Center, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 337-4810, https://davios.com/kop: Davio's KOP - Veal TenderloinDining at Davio’s is a good news/bad news proposition. First the good: The cuisine is first-rate on all counts. During my most recent visit, the six diners in our party (three couples) were completely satisfied with the gastronomic goings-on. Of special note was the incomparable Sautéed Veal Tenderloin (pictured). It remains, without doubt, one of the best veal presentations it has ever been my pleasure to ingest. And the same may be said for the outstanding Atlantic Salmon, which arrived at table on a seabed of sautéed spinach surrounded by a pool of warm eggplant caponata.

Now for the bad: Davio’s cavernous dining space remains something of an echo chamber. Caught between a high ceiling, hardwood floors, and bustling bar scene, the decibel level is downright daunting – as are the prices. Dining here has always been an expensive proposition. Recently, however, the menu has graduated from “expensive” to “simply outrageous,” surpassing even Eddie V’s Prime Seafood as king of high prices.

Does the quality of the cuisine justify the hefty tariffs…? That depends to a great extent upon your point of view… and the state of your wallet. Your call.

 

DOCKS SEAFOOD RESTAURANT & MARKET (October), 15 Evans Street, South Portland, Maine, (207) 899-4433, www.docksseafood.com: Docks, South Portland, Maine - InteriorVisited on our way to Bar Harbor, this super-casual restaurant/market combo features fresh, local & sustainable species of fish & shellfish, Maine craft beers, wine & cocktails, and local snacks & art. The setting is unpretentiously utilitarian, but the welcome is warm and the regional cuisine carefully & lovingly prepared.

Lobster, as you can well imagine, plays a significant role here. The Maine Lobster Dinner is a house favorite, or you can also go for the Lobster Roll, Lobster Nuggets, or the downright decadent Lobster Mac & Cheese.

If you happen to be traveling north to Maine, Docks Seafood Restaurant & Market would make a very pleasant stopover.

 

ELLA GREEK COOKING (March), Athens, Greece, +30-21-0331-5547, https://www.ellagreekcooking.gr/en/: Ella - Chef Nena IsmirnoglouAcclaimed chef Nena Ismyrnoglou (pictured), who spent several years at the famous Estiatorio Milos in New York City before returning to her homeland, is the power behind the stove. A committed connoisseur of Greek cuisine – but also one of the country’s most highly-regarded chefs – she infuses traditionally loved recipes with her own unique innovative flair.

The Assorted Spreads – which includes smoked white cod roe spread, feat cheese spread with spicy peppers, tzatziki, and hummus – makes an excellent starter… But even better is the Traditional Greek Salad, a combo of cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, onion, cucumber, olives, peppers, capers, and basil. And the accompanying vinaigrette is a true classic… Olive oil, red wine vinegar, splash of lemon juice, shot of Dijon mustard, minced garlic cloves, dried oregano, and pinch of salt & pepper all conspire together in this irresistibly flavorful tour de force.

Entrées include Giouvetsi Lamb, Grilled Sea Bream Filet, and an absolutely fabulous Salmon Burger.

A completely satisfying dining experience; and a fitting culmination to our brief – but thoroughly rewarding – stay in Athens. The atmosphere was casual, the prices moderate, the service first-rate, the food extraordinary, and the dining alfresco.

 

FATTOUSH MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE (June), 182 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (484) 568-4465, https://fattoushhealthydining.com: Fattoush is one of those little gems that seems to operate under the radar. The utilitarian surroundings belie the fresh, vibrant, made-from-scratch Mediterranean (Lebanese) cuisine that continues to surprise and delight. Add downright moderate prices and the fact that you may BYOB… and you have a recipe for a marvelously enjoyable evening at table.

Fattoush - MezzaTo start things off, nothing quite measures up to the incomparable Lebanese Mezza (pictured), a shared platter comprised of a host of traditional appetizers. Of particular note among the special entrées are the Shawarma, cuts of spiced & marinated lamb, chicken, turkey, beef & veal sliced wafer-thin from a vertical rotisserie. Generally, only two desserts are offered – traditional Homemade Baklava and a decadent Bread Pudding – and both are well worth the extra calories.

 

FIX BURGER BAR (October), 108 Grove Street, Worcester, Massachusetts, (774) 823-3327, www.thefixburgerbar.com: Housed in an old warehouse building, the Fix Burger Bar provides a modern setting for custom burgers companioned by craft beers, innovative cocktails, and a slew of spiked milkshakes.

We found the appetizers here quite intriguing: The Mac & Cheese with parmesan, cheddar & truffle breadcrumbs is a house favorite… ditto the Spicy & Sweet Snaps, roasted sugar snap peas with a spicy soy glaze, crushed cashews, and red pepper flakes. Our starter of choice, however, was the Fried Pickles, crispy crinkle cuts with a dynamite horseradish dipping sauce.  Just a hint of dill through the light breading with the sauce adding a nice bit of heat. A fabulous starter.

Fix Burger Bar - The Gatsby BurgerThe burgers here are nothing short of spectacular. Without doubt, the best I have tasted anywhere. They range from the Bigger Mac – an obvious takeoff on McDonald’s – through the Mushroom, Bacon Blue, Phenomenal, which includes a fried egg along with a load of other accompaniments, and culminates with the Gatsby (pictured), ½ lb. American Wagyu patty, Clothbound cheddar, slab bacon, grilled onion, ancho ketchup, brioche roll, the most expensive burger on the menu.

 

GB ROOF GARDEN RESTAURANT & BAR (March), Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, Greece, +30-21-0333-0000, https://www.gbroofgarden.gr/: Athens - Hotel Grand Bretagne, Viw from Rooftop RestaurantNo visit to Athens would be complete without a romantic evening at the GB Roof Garden Restaurant & Bar. Located on the 8th floor of the Hotel Grande Bretagne, this enchanting space offers unparalleled views of the City of Athens and the Acropolis with the Parthenon – a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena – majestically perched upon it.

Under the watchful eye of Michelin-starred Executive Chef Asterios Koustoudis and Chef de Cuisine Nikos Mavrokostas, the Roof Garden’s kitchen has been the recipient of Athinorama magazine’s Toques d’Or (Golden Chef’s Hat) award for three consecutive years.

Chef Koustoudis’ philosophy is deceptively straightforward. His New Mediterranean cuisine gives a subtle modern twist to premium quality fresh ingredients to allow their exquisitely clean attributes to shine through. Typical of this approach is his Grilled Fish of the Day, our selected entrée of the evening. Moist, meaty, and grilled to perfection, served on a pillow of steamed vegetables, and garnished with nothing but a touch of extra virgin olive oil and splash of lemon, the presentation was utterly sublime in its simplicity. Sweet endings, courtesy of famed award-winning Parisian Chef Pâtissier Arnaud Larher, continue the kitchen’s extraordinary work.

 

MAT BAR (November), Hverfisgata 26, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland, (354) 788-3900 https://www.matbar.is/: Mat Bar - InteriorReplete with spiffy retro black-and-white tile floors and diminutive cozy bar, this little bohemian pub is every local’s favorite eatery, serving up one of Reykjavik’s most creative menus… And that menu changes seasonally – seemingly in the blink of an eye – with favorite tapas-style dishes reappearing in new forms, depending upon the mood of the kitchen and dictates of the weather.

Mat Bar - Eggplant TempuraSmall plates included: Cod Crudo adorned with diced apples, crumbled rye bread, and garden cress and splashed a light vinaigrette; Broccoli rubbed in chili oil before cooking and seasoned with a subtle hint of sweetness, salted lemon, and mint; and Celeriac Cannelloni stuffed with cheese and topped with diced potatoes and green tomatoes. The one shared large plate – the high point of the evening – was the spectacular Eggplant Tempura splashed with puttanesca sauce and a sprinkling of fresh basil (pictured).

“Herein lies Mat Bar’s appeal,” notes the Reykjavik Grapevine. “Every dish is remarkable, in one way or another, with bold choices in presentation, flavor combinations, and unusual twists on well-known recipes.”

If you’re contemplating a trip to Iceland, be sure to pay a call at Mat Bar in Reykjavik. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.

 

VOLVÉR (February), 300 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 670-2302, https://www.philadelphia.volver.com: Volver - InteriorVolvér, which was closed for an extended period due to Covid, has now reopened. So, should you be contemplating a visit to the Kimmel Center and seeking a suitable pre-event dining venue, this fine restaurant should once again, be at the very top of your list of possibilities.

It’s location alone – smack dab in the center itself – will save you an unbelievable amount of hassle… But there’s certainly more to dining here than just convenience. The à la carte menu is just right for some spirited mix ‘n match grazing; and the three-course pre-theater menu also has a good deal to recommend it.

For a second season, Latin American chef/owner Jose Garces is hosting emerging, minority chefs from around the Philadelphia region for six-week residencies. Therefore, the bill-of-fare is really two menus in one. Half devoted to Chef Garces’ signature dishes; the other half to those prepared by the visiting chef in residence.

Just one caveat… The service here, which was never the greatest, seems to have gotten even worse recently. Be prepared.

 

WINTER GARDEN CITY LOUNGE (March), Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, Greece, +30-21-0333-0000, https://www.gbroofgarden.gr/more-venues: GB Athens - Winter Garden LoungeLocated just around the corner from the hotel’s reception area, the Winter Garden City Lounge is an exquisite, beautifully appointed refuge where guests may partake of European breakfast, or a light lunch or dinner, accompanied by the soothing notes of live classical piano. The restaurant also serves afternoon tea, exclusively curated by its pastry & executive chefs, offering tea connoisseurs the finest selection of sweet and savory delicacies.

Our late lunch/early dinner began with an authentic (no lettuce) Greek salad embellished with copious squares of creamy feta cheese finished with a tangy oil & vinegar dressing. This was followed by delicious entrées of Sea Bream and Grilled Chicken, respectively. Both were excellent (and served on beautiful china), as was the personable but unobtrusive service.

Also deserving of a visit is the adjoining Alexander’s Bar, which was recently voted the “Best Hotel Bar in the World” by Forbes magazine. Definitely a great spot to linger over a splash of Ouzo, classic cocktail, or glass of traditional Greek wine.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Wine 3I tasted an interesting array of wines in 2022, from a variety of different countries. Of those, the 8 listed below – 4 white; 4 red – are particularly recommended.

Please note that prices quoted are approximate, depending upon where the wines are purchased; and, of course, all are subject to change. The prices in states other than Pennsylvania can vary significantly from retailer to retailer. So, it would certainly be to your advantage to spend some time surfing online for the best price point.

FAVORITE WHITE WINES OF 2022:

Arneis 20202020 Almondo Roero Arneis Bricco delle Cilliegie (Italy): Roero is a small viticultural area in the northeast corner of the province of Cuneo in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The area’s claim to fame is Arneis, a fragrant pear-perfumed white wine grape that is responsible for 77% of the vineyards’ plantings. Indigenous to Roero, Arneis has been cultivated here since the 1400s.

The Almondo family has carefully tended the vines of Arneis for generations. The old vines of the single vineyard, Bricco delle Ciliegie, are rooted in the sand that was once an old ocean bed. Building upon the legacy of his talented father, Giovanni, Domenico Almondo has taken this small family winery to such new heights that he is now considered one of the best winemakers in Italy.

I have tasted numerous vintages of Almondo Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie, but the 2020 is truly special. Wine writer Antonio Galloni of Vinous called it “one of the great whites of Italy.” The major problem with Almondo’s wines is that the quantities are just too small to satisfy the demand each year. As of this writing, the 2020 is available from several sources online, retailing in the $25.00 – $30.00 per bottle range.

 Santorini Assyrtiko 20182018 Boutari Assyrtiko Santorini (Greece): The Boutari family has been producing wines from Greek varietals since 1879. Since the very first vintage, the family has become a pioneer of Greek wines, now crafting wines from six different regions, utilizing grapes that are grown nowhere else in the world.

And nothing could be more indicative of Boutari’s winemaking prowess than the 2018 Assyrtiko Santorini, their benchmark treatment of Greece’s iconic white wine grape. Wine writer Jeb Dunnuck bestowed a whopping 96 points (100-point scale), noting: “It’s deep, rich, medium-bodied, and concentrated on the palate, with perfectly integrated acidity and a monster of a finish. It’s pure class.”

This wine will not be easy to find – but it’s definitely worth the effort. If the 2018 is unavailable, go for any other vintage you can lay your hands on. In the $30.00 – $50.00 range, depending upon the year.

 Cambria - Katherine's Vineyard Chard 20192019 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay (California): Family-owned and sustainably-farmed, the Cambria Estate Winery, is a remarkable property, with each wine bearing the Cambria name grown, produced, and bottled on the estate. With vineyards dating back to the early 1970s, Cambria Estate helped to establish California’s Santa Maria Valley as a world-class wine producing region.

The critical acclaim for the 2019 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay has been nothing short of spectacular. Wine critic Antonio Galloni of Vinous bestowed 94 points and called it “fabulous… This class Santa Maria Chardonnay hits all the right notes.” The 2019 is medium-bodied, plush, creamy, and easy to drink… And there’s just enough oak to gently caress rather than smother those fragile fruit flavors.

The price is a real crowd-pleaser as well, retailing in the $15.00 – $20.00 range. Available online from various sources and via special order from Pennsylvania State Stores.

 Essay Wines of South Africa - Riaan Moller, Winemaker2021 Essay Wines Chenin Blanc (South Africa): The term “Essay” is a play on words, as it refers to the popular abbreviation for South Africa (SA)… But the word also implies “assemblage,” or the blending of elements to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

The 2021 Essay Wines Chenin Blanc consists of 72% Chenin Blanc, with the addition of 17% Roussanne & 11% Viognier, giving the wine an impressive aromatic “lift” and touch of richness on the palate. According to the producer, 2021 was a warm and dry season that produced smaller berries with enhanced flavor concentration. Warmer day-time temperatures combined with cooler nights resulted in perfect fruit quality, demonstrated in both excellent flavor intensity and fresh acidity. The wine is perfect on its own for warm weather quaffing or as an aperitif; but it also pairs exceedingly well with a wide variety of foods, especially Asian entrées and salads. (Pictured: Riaan Möller, Winemaker)

And the price is quite a delight as well. 2021 Essay Wines Chenin Blanc retails around the $10.00 mark. Be sure to check online for the best price point.

 FAVORITE RED WINES OF 2022:

A.A. Badenhorst - The Curator2019 A.A. Badenhorst The Curator Red Blend (South Africa): A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines is a small wine producer in the Swartland, a large wine region about 40 miles north of Cape Town in the Western Cape. Former Rustenberg winemaker Adi Badenhorst and his cousin, Hein, bought the Kalmoesfontein Farm in 2008. The farm has 69 acres of mostly old bush vines, planted in the 1950s and 60s on granite soils. Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, and Grenache make up the majority of the vineyard, with other grape varieties brought in from other vineyards in the area.

The estate’s 2019 Curator is a blend of Shiraz, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre, and received a 92-point rating from Vinous, which called it “a fine red blend with good persistence and plenty of personality.” If you’re a red wine lover, trust me, you’ve just found your new “house” wine.

Available from various sources on line at about the $12.00 mark.

Touzot, Frederic2018 Domaine Touzot Bourgogne Pinot Noir (France): The Touzot family domaine is located in the northernmost part of France’s Mâcon region of Burgundy. Their 209+ acres of vineyards are planted with 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.

The Touzot Mâcon Villages is a benchmark of this appellation. The Bourgogne Rouge comes from a south-facing parcel of old vines. The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and given a twi-day cold maceration before fermentation begins. The wine is then aged in casks (10% new; the balance 1-5 years old) for twelve months. The wine is lightly filtered and not fined before bottling in early spring. The production is about five hundred cases. The wines exhibit the color, taste, and texture that are similar to the more expensive Pinot Noirs produced in the Côte d’Or.

The 2018 Domaine Touzot Bourgogne Pinot Noir is a rustic, concentrated Pinot Noir with significant fruit intensity. Pale ruby in color, medium-bodied, dry & tart, with subtle tannins and balanced acidity, the 2018 is mellow but powerful, with a decided hint of bitterness that is quite pleasing to the palate. The price is also rather pleasing as well… $19.99 at Pennsylvania State Stores. (Pictured: Frédéric Touzot)

Feudo Montoni Nero d'Avola2019 Feudo Montoni “Lagnusa” Nero d’Avola (Sicily): Feudo Montoni was first established in the 1400s. The Sireci family has run the property since the late 1800s and it is now in the hands of the third generation. The name of the vineyard is Lagnusa, which means “that which is lazy and produces small quantities” in Sicilian. Today, of course, we know that a vineyard that produces less quantity also creates higher quality. The 100% Nero d’Avola grapes are hand-harvested and fermented with indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks where they then mature for twenty months. The wine sees another four months in barrel before bottling.

The result is a highly-rated wine that is silky smooth and seductive on the palate. If you have never tasted Nero d’Avola, this wine would make a wonderful introduction. Offered from various sources online from $18.99 – $24.00, this is a fabulous wine at an equally fabulous price point.

 Nasiakos Agiorgitiko 2019 (2)2019 Nasiakos Agiorgitiko Red Wine (Greece): The vineyards of the Nasiakos families lie in the heart of the two largest and most important wine regions of Greece. Leonidas Nasiakos is the viticulturalist, winemaker, and producer of the wines that bear his name. Under the Nasiakos label, 6,500 cases of wine are produced from the indigenous appellation varietals such as Moschofilero and Agiorgitiko.

Of particular importance is Agiorgitiko, the most widely planted red wine grape in Greece. It is one of the most commercially important indigenous varieties; and it can exhibit a wide range of characteristics, from soft to very tannic, depending upon factors in the growing and winemaking processes.

The 2019 Nasiakos Agiorgitiko is most definitely of the latter persuasion… In the glass, mesmerizing aromas of vanilla, blackberry, and currant quickly capture your attention, carried over to invitingly ripe fruit flavors on the palate. This is a wine with a surprisingly light – almost ethereal – touch. It goes down smooth & easy and is also marvelously food friendly.

A lovely wine on all counts, it retails around $15.99.

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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London - The Ivy 2“A gastronomic punchline…” is how Esquire once referred to the Dark Ages of London’s dubious dining scene. Indeed… compared to Paris, Rome, and other European culinary destinations, London has never enjoyed a particularly lofty reputation.

Over the past decade, however, there has transpired an amazing restaurant Renaissance. And the current culinary possibilities, discovered during my most recent sojourn, appear to be as diverse as they are delicious (please note that the restaurants mentioned below are listed in the order in which they were visited).

Ivy, The - Interior 1The Ivy (1-5 West Street): Located directly across the street from St. Martin’s Theatre, The Ivy, a West End institution for over a century, enjoys the well-deserved reputation as a haunt for London thespians. Or, as the Guardian euphemistically described it, “The Ivy is like a safari park in which the rare and exotic creatures are nurtured.”

But this attractive bohemian-style eatery – replete with sumptuous flatiron bar, iconic wood paneling, and harlequin mullioned windows – is infinitely more than just a theatrical-celebrities hangout. The Ivy’s kitchen, as we soon discovered, is quite adept at turning out an impressive array of traditional British fare with decidedly innovative touches.

Ivy, The - Cheese SouffleEntrées ran the gamut… from roasted & grilled items such as Slow Cooked Rabbit Leg & Spring Lamb Cutlets to miso-marinated Black Cod and a rather pricey Dover Sole, either grilled or meunière. My dining partner and I zeroed in on two traditional items: Deep-Fried Haddock & Chips and Shepherd’s Pie, respectively. Both were excellent. We then concluded dinner by sharing a first-rate Apricot and Bakewell Tart. The absolute show-stopper, however, was our shared appetizer, the Twice-Baked Cheese Soufflé (pictured). Nothing short of extraordinary.

Cinnamon Club - Interior 2The Cinnamon Club (30-32 Great Smith Street): Sequestered in the former home of the old Westminster Library, just around the corner from Parliament and the Abbey, the Cinnamon Club isn’t all that easy to find (there is no exterior sign pinpointing the restaurant’s location). However, if you enjoy fine Indian cuisine, it is definitely worth the effort.

Enthusiastically endorsed by several friends who had previously dined here, it seemed the perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch following our visit to Westminster Abbey. As you may observe from the photograph, evidences of the previous occupant are very much in evidence – which only added to our enjoyment – but it was the outstanding quality and presentation of the cuisine that clearly placed this restaurant in a class by itself.

Cinnamon Club - Corn and Ginger SoupWe both decided upon the three-course menu priced at 35 pounds per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). My dining partner began with the Masala Corn Kebabs, Corn and Ginger Soup (pictured); I opted for the Chicken Seekh Tawa Masala (minced chicken in a spicy sauce) with Sheermal Bread (saffron-flavored traditional flatbread).

Cinnamon Club - Cauliflower and Cheese ParcelEntrées presented us with several intriguing possibilities… The Chettinadu-Style Duck Leg Curry with Pilau Rice (characterized by a variety of dark spices) sounded very interesting – especially to my dining partner who always enjoys this particular fowl – but was ultimately dismissed as a bit too over-the-top for lunch. We both were quite tempted by the Pan-Seared Pollock Fillet (similar to cod), Yellow Lentils with Coconut, Bitter Melon Chutney, but somehow just weren’t in the mood for fish. The Kadhai Vegetables (made in a kadai, Indian wok, this dish is a medley of onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and other assorted vegetables combined with spices and cream) certainly appealed to me, but… The bottom line: We both choose the Cauliflower & Berkswell Cheese Parcel (similar in flavor to Pecorino & Manchego), Tomato Fenugreek Sauce (pictured), which was absolutely delicious.

Cinnamon Club - Mango Meringue Tart Spiced Puffed Rice, Smoked Berry SorbetDesserts, which are generally not given a second thought in most Indian restaurants, were just as up to the mark as their predecessors. My dining partner’s Royal Malai Kulfi presented with caramelized quinoa and raspberry crisp, for example, was excellent. Malai Kulfi is basically considered Indian ice cream, although it is somewhat denser in texture, similar to that of frozen custard. But even better, in my opinion, was the extraordinarily delicious – and photogenic – Mango Meringue Tart with spiced puffed rice and smoked berry sorbet (pictured).

TurnipsTurnips (43, Borough Market): Tucked under the historic arches of London’s iconic Borough Market, Turnips is a greengrocer selling high quality fruit and vegetables from independent producers across Britain, Europe and beyond… But it is also an haute cuisine restaurant offering patrons seasonally-inspired creative modern dishes featuring world-class vegetables.

This intriguing partnership was born of the collaboration between Charlie Foster, the fourth generation behind the vegetable stall, and Tomas Lidakevicius, former executive chef at City Social. The venture began as a pop-up in the middle of the 2020 Covid lockdown and soon morphed into a permanent operation. The restaurant’s small-plate selection and tasting menu both showcase a beautifully presented cooking style that follows the micro-seasonality of the ingredients. Definitively high-end, but totally accessible, Chef Lidakevicius’s cuisine remains in perfect harmony with the charmingly casual ambience of the market stall.

Turnips - Croquette, Outdoor TomatoWhile sipping glasses of white wine and taking in the seemingly ceaseless flow of human flora & fauna, my dining partner and I were treated to such remarkable luncheon creations as Wild Mushroom Croquette with mozzarella, Sicilian & Provence Outdoor Tomato garnished with walnut & gorgonzola (pictured together), and Britany Cauliflower crowned with Australian Black Truffle. All three were as photogenic as they were deliriously delicious. Haute cuisine… smack dab in the middle of the bustling Borough Market… Who would’ve thunk it?!

Galvin La Chapelle - InteriorGalvin La Chapelle (35 Spital Square): Located in St. Boltolph’s Hall, a 19th century former school chapel just off London’s Bishopsgate Road, the setting is, indeed, awe-inspiring… Vaulted ceilings, massive pillars, and grand buttresses dominate the scene, all complemented by dark woods and leather furnishings. The menu, the work of chef brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin, artfully combines classic French cookery with exceptional British ingredients and has collected a Michelin star along the way.

That being said, however, the night of our visit, the entire experience was somewhat less than stellar.  Not that it was “bad” per se; but it was definitely not up to what I would consider Michelin-star standards… For starters, although the restaurant’s dress code was specifically stated as “smart casual,” men in shorts & sloppy tee shirts and women in skimpy sundresses were very much in evidence. As a result, my dining partner and I – though properly attired – felt conspicuously OVERdressed.

Then there was the matter of service. Once again, nothing seriously amiss, just the feeling that things were slightly out of sync… For example, even though we told our server that we were not in a hurry and wished to linger over cocktails, he still seemed in an inordinate hurry to take our dinner selections. I also ordered a bottle of wine, but specified that it should not be served until our main courses arrived. Well, we were still nursing our cocktails and enjoying appetizers when – you guessed it – up pops Speedy Gonzales with the wine. Whatever his daily intake of caffeine, he would do well to decrease it by half.

Galvin La Chapelle - Foie Gras TerrineBut on to the food, which, like the service, proved to be something of a mixed bag… My dining companion and I both started with the Foie Gras Terrine with black garlic, caramel vinegar, and fermented cherry (pictured). The accoutrements were certainly interesting, but the foie gras itself lacked that excitingly rich, buttery, and delicate depth of flavor that one has every right to expect from this particular dish. The version presented here was, unfortunately, surprisingly bland… and a not-so-subtle hint that form was destined to triumph over substance.

Galvin La Chapelle - Herdwick Lamb… My companion’s Herdwick Lamb (pictured), for instance. The Herdwick is a breed of domestic sheep that is native to the Lake District in northwest England and is known for its uniquely flavored lamb and mutton. Once again, while the presentation – which included Cantábrico anchovy (made from Spanish anchovies, sustainably fished during spring in the Bay of Biscay, prized for their quality, meaty fillets, and perfect balance of olive oil, salt and fish) and courgette (zucchini bush) flower stuffed with soft cheese – was picture perfect, flavor was conspicuous by its absence.

And while I have never been one to complain about small portions, as you will note from the photograph, to call the amount of lamb “miniscule” would, indeed, be an understatement (just in case you’re having trouble with identification, that’s it on the upper left).

Galvin La Chapelle - Barbecued MonkfishOn the other hand, my Barbecued Monkfish (pictured) appeared positively simplistic by comparison.  Proving, once again, that matters piscatorial are best served by those accompaniments that intrude the least. In this case, a garnish of baby gem lettuce & sea herbs… However, it was an ethereal clam velouté that provided the pièce de résistance. Velouté is French for “velvety”; and it proved to be the perfect complement to this delicious denizen of the deep.

Monkfish is commonly called the “poor man’s lobster,” as it possesses a texture that is similar to that of the popular crustacean. Which also means that, like lobster, it is often subject to overcooking – a common mistake in the professional as well as the home kitchen – yielding an unappealing texture that is tough, rubbery, and about as ingestible as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. Fortunately, that was not the case here, as the filet was prepared so beguilingly that it almost melted in my mouth. Kudos to the chef.

Galvin La Chapelle - Raspberry Manjari Chocolate DelicacyDesserts also received high marks. My Provence Peach Soufflé, for example, was as light as a feather on the palate and ingeniously spiked with Piment d’ Espelette (chilli peppers from the Basque region of France and Spain and named after the village of Espelette in France’s Nive Valley), Campari (an Italian bitter liqueur), and hint of orange. A unique combination of flavors, to say the least.

But even better, in my opinion, was my dining partner’s superlative Raspberry & Manjari Chocolate Delicacy (pictured). An incredible amalgam of Valrhona Manjari dark chocolate – made from rare cocoa beans from Madagascar – hazelnut praline, and honey, the result was both delightfully decadent and totally addictive. Rich, rich, RICH!

Dining at La Chapelle was certainly an interesting experience. However, Michelin star notwithstanding, given the character of the clientele, quality of both food & service, and the rather hefty prices – converting pounds to dollars, all entrées hovered at or exceeded the $50.00 mark – as my dining companion so aptly put it: “I don’t think I’d hurry back.”

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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London - Big Ben“London is inexhaustible,” as Frommer’s so quaintly puts it, “you could tour it for months and barely get to know it.”

Which means, of course, if you don’t make definitive sightseeing plans, you will find yourself suffering from that dreaded “overchoice” syndrome, a cognitive impairment in which people have great difficulty making a decision when faced with so many options.

Fortunately, my traveling companion and I are pretty much of the same mind… as we had most of our plans for London mapped out before setting foot in the United Kingdom.

Since we had visited the British Museum and the National Gallery on previous occasions, we crossed those off the list and turned our attention to other possibilities, the highlights of which are noted immediately below…

Westminster Abbey - Entrance

 

Westminster Abbey: If there is one church in London that is simply not to be missed, it is, without doubt, the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster… better known as Westminster Abbey.

The current building dates from the 1200s, but it was part of a monastery dating to at least 960. The church was originally part of a Catholic Benedictine abbey, which was dissolved in 1539. It then served as the cathedral of the Diocese of Westminster until 1550, then as a second cathedral of the Diocese of London until 1556. The abbey was restored to the Benedictines by Mary I in 1556, then in 1559 made a royal peculiar – a church responsible directly to the sovereign – by Elizabeth I.

Westerminster Abbey - NaveSince the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have occurred in Westminster Abbey (with three exceptions: Edward V, Edward VIII, and possibly Mary I). Sixteen royal weddings have been held at the here since 1100.

The abbey is the burial site of more than 3,300 people, all prominent in British history: 17 monarchs, eight prime ministers, poets laureate, actors, scientists, military leaders, and the Unknown Warrior. The royal tombs are near the high altar, where coronations and funerals are conducted.

Once again, I would tend to be in agreement with Frommer’s assessment: “Westminster is more like time’s attic, packed with artifacts, memorials, tombs, and virtuosic shrines – a confluence of God, art, and dense history… There are stories to be told in every square meter of this place – name another building where there is such a staggering continuity of a nation’s heritage.”

The South Transept, for example, is the Poet’s Corner, where plaques honor the country’s great writers: Shakespeare, Austen, Caroll, Wilde, and the Brontës. Those actually interred here include Robert Browning, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, John Gay, Rudyard Kipling, George Frideric Handel, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Laurence Olivier, Edmund Spenser, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Westerminster Abbey - DarwinBuried in the nave are playwright Ben Jonson, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and the latest addition, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

When visiting London, there is absolutely no question that Westminster Abbey is a must-see – just ask the 1.3 million annual visitors – so come early in the day, as the entry lines can be formidable.

 

Buckingham Palace ExteriorBuckingham Palace: Located in the City of Westminster, Buckingham Palace is the royal residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom. Originally known as Buckingham House, the building at the center of the palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 on a site that had been a private residence for over 150 years. It was acquired by King George III in 1761 for Queen Charlotte and then became known as the Queen’s House. During the 19th century, it was enlarged by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, who constructed wings around a central courtyard. Buckingham Palace became the London residence of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.

Buckingham Palace - Picture GalleryThe last major structural additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; these included the East Front, which contains the balcony on which the royal family traditionally appears to greet crowds. During the Second World War, a German bomb destroyed the palace chapel. The Queen’s Gallery was then built on the site and opened to the public in 1962 to exhibit works of art from the royal collection.

The palace contains 775 rooms; and the palace garden is the largest private garden in London. Public tours (which are conducted approximately two months of the year while the monarch is in Scotland), in my opinion, aren’t terribly exciting, as they will only guide you through the public and ceremonial rooms at the rear of the palace and nowhere near where the royal family actually resides.

The highlight of my recent tour of the palace was most assuredly the Picture Gallery noted immediately above. In honor of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the various works of art, which normally grace several of the royal residences, were brought together in one place – and the result was a truly inspiring exhibition.

Rubens, Peter Paul, Self-PortraitOne of the most interesting works, at least from this writer’s perspective, was the Self-Portrait by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). This painting has an interesting history, but I will spare the behind-the-scenes drama by simply saying that in 1621 Rubens sent a (now lost) painting, The Lion Hunt, to England, not realizing that it was intended for Charles, Prince of Wales (who would become King Charles I). It was returned after being recognized as a “studio work” (finished by Ruben’s assistants).  This Self-Portrait was subsequently sent as an apology two years later. Charles I clearly admired this painting and hung it alongside self-portraits of Van Dyck and Daniel Mytens in the breakfast chamber at Whitehall. This room was located next to the bedchamber and would likely have been seen by the King on a daily basis.

 

London - Borough MarketBorough Market: Following our visit to Buckingham Palace, we caught a cab to the famous Borough Market, a wholesale and retail market hall located in Southwark, London.

For a thousand years or more, a market has existed at the southern end of London Bridge, making this ever-bustling spectacle the perfect gathering point for food-loving locals and tourists alike. Overflowing with small shops, food stalls, and wholesale greengrocers catering to London’s elite restaurants, the Borough Market specializes in high-end fresh (and often local) products.  Here you find an amazing assortment of fruit & vegetable stalls, cheesemongers, butchers, fishmongers, and bakeries, as well as delis and gourmet stalls selling spices, nuts, preserves, and condiments.

London - Borough Market - Tea2YouThere are many reasons to visit the Borough Market; however, for my traveling companion, an aficionado of fine teas, the main drawing card was a visit to Tea2You, the best loose leaf tea seller in the United Kingdom. It was founded and is owned & operated by Ratan Mondal, a native of Kolkata, India, and a specialist purveyor of the finest Darjeeling varieties from the best tea gardens of the Indian sub-continent.

All the teas are ethically grown and sustainably sourced from gardens in Darjeeling and have been sampled and carefully selected and tasted by Mr. Modal, an expert and experienced tea taster. He works with a select number of small/medium tea farmers to promote sustainability and personally travels to the plantations in order to maintain traceability and ascertain authenticity. Avid tea drinkers, please take note. No visit to London would be complete without a visit to Tea2You.

London - Borough Market - Turnips 2A final note: When it comes to eating and drinking, there are numerous options in and around the market. Quite by accident I stumbled upon Turnips – which I subsequently learned had been a mainstay in the market for over thirty years – where we enjoyed an absolutely delicious lunch of small plates (a complete review will be posted in an article to follow).

 

Courtauld Gallery: Located just a few short blocks from our hotel, the Courtauld Gallery is an art museum in Somerset House (the former repository of vital statistics – births, deaths, marriages, etc. – for the United Kingdom). It is home to the collection of the Courtauld Institute of Art, a self-governing college of the University of London specializing in the study of art history. It is particularly known for its French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. The collection contains some 530 paintings and over 26,000 drawings and prints.

Manet, Bar at the Follies BergereThe Courtauld Institute was founded in 1932 through the philanthropic efforts of industrialist and art collector Samuel Courtauld, diplomat and collector Lord Lee of Fareham, and art historian Sir Robert Witt. The original collection was begun by Samuel Courtauld who, in the same year, presented an extensive collection of paintings. He also made further gifts later in the 1930s and a bequest in 1948.

The Courtauld’s permanent collection ranges from the Middle Ages to the 20th century and includes such masterpieces as Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (pictured), Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, and the most significant collection of works by Cézanne in the UK presented alongside paintings by such artists as Gauguin, Renoir, and Monet.

The Blavatnik Fine Rooms, spanning the entirety of the second floor, contain a series of new displays of works from the Renaissance to the 18th century. Highlights include Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Descent from the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens, The Trinity with Saints altarpiece by Sandro Botticelli, and Landscape with a flight into Egypt by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Courtauld GalleryIn 1978, the Courtauld received the Princes Gate Collection of Old Master paintings and drawings formed by Count Antoine Seilern, which rivals the Samuel Courtauld Collection in importance. It includes paintings by Bernardo Daddi, Robert Campin, Bruegel, Quentin Matsys, Van Dyck and Tiepolo… But the collection is strongest in the works of Peter Paul Rubens.

Rubens’s major paintings were often gargantuan in scope. However, such works would often begin as a modello, an oil sketch painted on a small panel, after which he would make preparatory drawings of individual figures within the composition. And an entire room on the museum’s second floor, Rubens at Work, is dedicated to these fascinatingly diminutive works of art.

Rubens, Peter Paul, Landscape by MoonlightRubens was considered the most influential artist of the Flemish Baroque tradition. His commissioned works were mostly historical paintings, which included religious and mythological subjects and hunt scenes. He also painted a variety of portraits, especially of friends, and self-portraits (as the one noted above).

In the final years of his life, however, Rubens purchased a country estate outside the Flemish city of Antwerp called Het Steen; and it was here that his interest turned to landscapes, for his own pleasure rather than on commission. And it is in the stunningly beautiful nocturnal solitude of his Landscape by Moonlight (pictured) that the artist’s powers of invention and originality in landscapes reached their peak. Rubens had initially included biblical figures in the foreground but painted them out to make this work a pure landscape. A grazing horse in the foreground is the only living creature to remain.

In the 18th century, Landscape by Moonlight belonged to Joshua Reynolds, first president of the Royal Academy, who used it as an example of his lectures on art. The painting also had a powerful influence upon British landscape painters such as John Constable.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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London - The SavoyFollowing a 12-day cruise from Reykjavik, Iceland, we disembarked at Greenwich, England, were transported to London, and checked into the Savoy Hotel.

Built by impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan opera productions, the Savoy made its debut on August 6, 1889. Carte hired César Ritz as manager and Auguste Escoffier as chef de cuisine; together they established an unprecedented standard of quality in hotel service, entertainment, and elegant dining.

London - Savoy LobbyGuests who have graced the Savoy’s grand, wood-paneled lobby with its iconic checkered floor include Queen Elizabeth, Claude Monet, George Gershwin, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Laurence Olivier, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, Enrico Caruso, Audrey Hepburn, Babe Ruth, and Bob Dylan, who filmed one of his music videos behind the hotel. Winston Churchill often took his cabinet to lunch at the hotel.

But the Savoy, which is now managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and is often called “London’s most famous hotel,” is still at the top of its game. This is Old World hospitality at its very best… And the magic begins the moment you enter the hotel’s famous driveway (pictured above) and are greeted by doormen in top hats and tailcoats.

The hotel’s Savoy Museum, offering old postcards, busts and other paraphernalia that document the hotel’s glamorous history in London, is something of a must… Ditto the boutique Savoy Tea Shop with its onsite chocolatier and such irresistible sweets as lavender éclairs and raspberry & wine macarons. And the hotel’s massive 2010 renovation also saw the addition of a gazebo under a glass dome where afternoon tea is served to the strains of the grand piano in the Thames Foyer.

London - Savoy, View from our RoomThe Savoy’s 200 luxury guest rooms and 67 suites are all individually designed and decorated in either Edwardian or Art Deco style; and many afford breathtaking views over the river Thames and of London’s most famous riverside landmarks (pictured: the view from our guest room).

 However, even if you’re not staying at the Savoy, there are two very good reasons for paying a call here. The first is the Savoy Grill, undoubtedly one of London’s most legendary restaurants, presided over by world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this iconic establishment offers a British and French-inspired menu complemented by an exceptional international wine list. Truly classic dishes include the famous Beef Wellington for two, as well as a mouth-watering assortment of grilled meats served from the wood-fired grill, including a prime selection of 42-day dry-aged Cumbrian beef.

Then, of course, there is the not-to-be-missed American Bar. Serving classics with a twist, new and vintage creations, and legendary bartender’s signature drinks, the American Bar remains at the forefront innovative mixology.

London - Savoy, American BarAs transatlantic travel became more popular in the late 19th and early 20th centures, many American bars opened throughout London. The term “American Bar” refers to a bar serving mixed or “American” style drinks, more commonly known as cocktails. The American Bar at the Savoy is the longest surviving of these bars, and one of the most iconic cocktail bars in the world. It has been named World’s Best Bar at Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards 2018 and World’s 50 Best Bars in 2017. Most recently, it was named one of the “The World’s 44 Best Hotel Bar’s” by the Forbes Travel Guide.

In addition to the cocktails mentioned above, the American Bar also offers its patrons an infinite variety of wines & Champagnes and spirits… as well as a number of excellent lunch selections, available between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. All with some uniquely British flourishes on all-American favorites. The Grilled Dry-Aged USDA Beef Burger, for example, is accompanied by Monterey Jack cheese, beef tomato, club sauce, and fries; The Vegan Reuben Sandwich is stuffed with avocado, sauerkraut, coriander, and chilli; and the Texas Fried Chicken Strips are spruced up with a zippy barbecue sauce, spring onions, and sesame seeds.

American Bar - Cheese BoardAfter an evening at the theater, my traveling companion and I stopped by the American for a late night snack that included such gastronomic possibilities as Oysters, Caviar, Coffee & Cupcake, and a New York Deli Platter. We settled on the Artisan Cheese Board (pictured), which proved to be an excellent choice.

Simpsons in the StrandOne Final Note: Simpsons-in-the-Strand is one of London’s oldest tradtional English restaurants. After a modest beginning in 1828 as a smoking room and coffee house, Simpson’s achieved dual fame around 1850 for its traditional English food, particularly roast meats, but also as the most important venue in Britain for chess in the 19th century. Chess ceased to be a feature after Simpson’s was purchased by the Savoy hotel group of companies at the end of the century. However, as a purveyor of traditional English food, Simpson’s has remained a celebrated dining venue into the 21st century. English author P.G. Wodehouse once referred to it as “a restful temple of food.” Since 2005 Simpson’s has been owned and managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.

Situated in the Strand, Simpson’s is part of the Savoy Buildings, which also contain one of the world’s most famous hotels, the Savoy. Having undergone a major restoration in 2017, Simpson’s featured a reimagined menu that succeeded in bringing its classic Brisish cuisine up-to-date. Temporaily closed since March 2020 because of Covid, to the best of my knowledge, it is the intention of the Savoy to announce a reopening date in 2023.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Nicholas - Holiday Walk Around Wine TastingThe holiday season is a particularly warm and wonderful time of the year when we gather together to celebrate and to dine with family and friends.

And since red wine seems to go so well with the warmth of this special season – especially lighter-bodied red wines such as pinot noir, which offer structure and vibrancy but are not so tannic as to overpower your holiday fare – noted below are three personal libationary recommendations (all three from Oregon, by the way) to bring good cheer to your holiday celebrations and, perhaps, a special present to the wine lover in your life.

Chad Pinot Noir 20192019 Chad Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: On the nose, black cherry seems to predominate, aided and abetted by just a sensual touch of spice. The palate, vibrant & complex, is pure pinot, with an abundance of berry fruit flavors and soft, silky tannins. The finish is smooth & elegant. An outstanding wine, at an equally outstanding price point. To my knowledge, this wine is not available through Pennsylvania State Stores. It is, however, readily available from a variety of sources online, priced as low as $19.99.

 King Estate Inscription Pinot Noir2021 King Estate Inscription Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: Several years ago, King Estate launched a new brand of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir called Inscription, which was created expressly to demonstrate Oregon’s unique place among the world’s wines. The result has been overwhelmingly favorable among wine critics and wine lovers alike. This is a wine that is round on the palate, laced with strawberry & raspberry fruit flavors complemented by just a subtle hint of oak. Currently on sale at Total Wine for $19.99.

Stoller Winery - Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 20182019 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir: This is a lovely wine… and one of my favorite pinots. It is a bright ruby color in the glass and sports an equally bright nose alive with aromas of red fruits. Soft and elegant on the palate, its tannins are silky smooth, leading to a long, light and ethereal finish. Online, this wine will run in the $25.00 – $30.00 range. However, the last time I checked, PA State Stores were running a clearance sale of about $9.00 per bottle. And don’t fret if you cannot procure the 2019, the 2020 & 2021 are equally recommendable.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

TAD

 

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Cruising Iceland – London: Highlights

by artfuldiner on November 30, 2022

in Uncategorized

Silversea Silver WhisperFollowing a day of sightseeing in Reykjavik, on Friday, July 15, 2022, we boarded Silversea’s Silver Whisper for a 12-day cruise that would take us around Iceland and through the Faroe, Shetland, and Orkney Islands. Following a stop in Edinburgh, Scotland, we would disembark at Greenwich, England; and, from there, be transported to London, one of the world’s most civilized and livable cities.

Patreksfordur, Iceland - Memorial for Fisherman Lost at SeaPatreksfordur, Iceland: A tiny village (population approximately 721) named after Patrick, bishop in the Hebrides, who was the spiritual guide of Őrlygur Hrappson, the original settler in the area. A majority of the inhabitants are engaged in some form of fishing. Those that are not tend to hold down several occupations… Like our guide, for example. He is both a teacher and an amateur magician; and, on this particular day, happened to be filling in for a friend as our guide. He was delightfully informative and possessed a great sense of humor.

Perhaps the most moving part of our tour was the Memorial for Fishermen Lost at Sea (pictured). Located adjacent to the harbor area and inscribed in several languages, it is well worth a visit and moments of quiet meditation.

Our excursion concluded with a visit to a local restaurant and a mouth-watering tasting of several different varieties of local fish.

Akureyri, Iceland - LaufasAkureyri, Iceland:  Known as Iceland’s “Capital of the North,” Akureyri may be located a scant 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, but it blossoms with a certain cosmopolitan feel, especially during the summer months (the time of our recent visit). On this particular day, however, the weather was not the best – it rained the entire day – and our guide simply didn’t have her act together. Our excursion, however, was rather interesting…

It began with a short bus ride to the Laufás Museum and Heritage Site, a renowned farm and church, the farm being an excellent example of a wealthy vicarage from earlier times. The Laufás Church was built in 1865 by Tryggvi Gunnarsson and Jóhann Bessason, and the furniture includes a pulpit constructed by Illugi Jónsson in 1698.

Akureyri, Iceland - Nonni's HouseFollowing a short visit, we journeyed to Nonnahús – Nonni’s House, the childhood home of writer and Jesuit priest Jón Sveinsson, “Nonni” (1857 – 1944). Sveinsson wrote 12 children’s books about his childhood in Iceland. And, although he wrote in German, his books have been translated into more than 40 languages, including Chinese and Esperanto.

Nonni’s House, which was constructed in 1850, is one of the oldest houses in Akureyri; and it has been preserved as an example of a typical 19th century Icelandic town home. Visitors to the cozy museum are also treated to the only known moving pictures of Nonni, taken in Valkenburg, Netherlands in 1942.

Adjacent to Nonni’s House is the Akureyri Museum, which houses a rather intriguing hodge-podge collection of music, musical instruments, and fashion oddities.

Husavik, Iceland - from the airHúsavik, Iceland:  Framed by the majestic Húsavikurfjail Mountain on the shores of Skjálfandi Bay on Iceland’s north coast, Húsavik is home to just over 2,300 inhabitants.

According to the Landnámabók (“Book of Settlement), Húsavik was the first location in Iceland to be settled by a Norseman. The Swedish Viking Garôar Svavarsson remained here for one winter in 870 A.D. When he departed the island in the spring of 870, he left behind a man named Náttfari and two slaves, a man and a woman, who established a farm here. The name Húsavik means “bay of houses,” and undoubtedly refers to Garôar’s homestead, which may have been the only house in Iceland at the time.

Husavik, Iceland - Whale WatchingIncome on the island is derived basically from tourism and fishing, as well as certain retail stores and small industries. With respect to tourism, however, Húsavik’s claim to fame is that it has become a center of whale watching in Iceland, due to the different species that frequently enter the bay. The day of our excursion, it was the humpbacks that took center stage, swimming remarkably close to our (rather small) boat and otherwise putting on an amazing diving exhibition for an enthusiastic crowd of novice seagoers.

Seydisfjordur, Iceland - Low Cloud CoverSeydisfjordur, Iceland: According to Frommer’s, this charming Icelandic village is nestled in an 11-mile fjord that is “lined with sheltering, snow-capped mountains and tumbling waterfalls.” Well… not quite. At least not the day of our visit. As you may clearly observe from the photograph, it was another one of those miserable rainy days… with all those charming “snow-capped mountains and tumbling waterfalls” totally obscured by a particularly pervasive low-cloud cover.

In fact, the weather was so downright miserable that all the morning excursions were cancelled. I had planned to take a dip in the Vök Nature Baths in the afternoon, but since the dismal rainy weather persisted, I decided to catch up on my notes instead. Unfortunately, the day was a complete washout.

Faroe Islands - Runavik GorgeRunavik, Faroe Islands: Sandwiched between Norway and Iceland, this tiny cluster of 18 islands is something of an anomaly, as it is conspicuous by its absent from most itineraries, and generally overlooked – or ignored – by the peripatetic public. And this is truly unfortunate, as the Faroe Islands are utterly fascinating, to say the least.

Runavik, on the southern tip of Eysturoy, the Faroe’s second-largest island, is the epitome of off-the-beaten-track travel. As we stepped off the ship, we were immediately engulfed by the staggering beauty of the unspoiled landscape.

Despite its small size and population (approximately 50,000), however, the Faroese aquaculture industry is recognized as the boutique producer specializing in top-quality Atlantic salmon in the world.

Faroe Islands - Runavik w Salmon Farms on LeftThe aquaculture industry in the Faroe Islands is committed to sustainability and sound stewardship of the environment. The industry worked closely with the Faroese Government to design and implement one of the most stringent aquaculture regulatory regimes governing veterinarian best practices in the world. The legislation ensures strict compliance with the highest level of fish welfare and environmental protection possible. This exclusive veterinary prevention program has been so effective that farmed salmon from the Faroe Islands are completely free of antibiotics. (Pictured: Runavik from the road above. Note the salmon farms in the upper left corner.)

The Faroese aquaculture industry has a long and proud history. And this heritage, combined with ideal natural conditions and a commitment to quality and sustainability, keeps Faroe Islands salmon, which is now exported to six continents, in extremely high demand. And farmed salmon is also a vital part of the Faroese economy, representing half of the country’s export while also providing valuable employment for rural communities.

Faroe Islands - BowlingDuring our drive back to the ship, our excellent guide planned a brief stop for coffee and cake at a small restaurant cum bowling establishment. One of the last places in the world you’d expect to find bowling lanes… Only six, but I just couldn’t resist taking a pic for all you bowlers back home!

Shetland Islands - Eshaness CoastLerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland, U.K.: Situated between the Scottish and Norwegian coasts, just south of the Arctic Circle, the Shetland Islands are an archipelago in Scotland, United Kingdom, composed of over one hundred islands, fifteen of which are inhabited.

Spanning an intriguing Neolithic history and 5,000 years of human heritage, these isolated islands are immense treasure troves of both history and the scenic wonders of windswept beaches, rolling landscapes, and rugged coastlines. Our excursion for the day, for example, transported us to the breath-takingly jagged cliffs of the wild & woolly Eshaness Coast (pictured).

Shetland Islands - Sheep GrazingThese islands are also home to the famous diminutive and wavy-fringed Shetland Ponies. Their presence here is a testimony to Viking history, as local horses bred with ponies brought ashore by Norse settlers created the crossbreed that is an icon of these islands today. They may be readily observed roaming freely on the rolling moors… But they are not nearly so plentiful as the sheep, which seem to be everywhere (approximately 150,000 compared to 25,000 inhabitants) – making many of the narrow roads nearly impassable – since there are no fences or other barriers to confine them.

Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland, U.K.: Scattered just off the northern tip of Scotland, the Orkney Islands may be physically close to the United Kingdom but, they feel a world away.

Orkney Islands - St. Magnus CathedralThe centerpiece of Kirkwall, the capital of this scenic archipelago, is the majestic St. Magnus Cathedral, which was founded by Earl Rognvald, nephew of St. Magnus, the Earl of Orkney, in the early 1100s. Construction of Britain’s northernmost cathedral began in 1137 and took 300 years to complete. When first built, the cathedral was part of the Archdiocese of Nidaros (Trondheim) in Norway.

Orkney Islands - St. Magnus Cathedral - PulpitOrkney became part of Scotland in 1468 and, a few years later, the cathedral was given to the people of Kirkwall by the Scots King, James III. After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the cathedral was used for Protestant worship. Today, the cathedral belongs to the people of Orkney and is looked after by the Orkney Islands Council. It has a Church of Scotland congregation; and, by arrangement, can be used by any Christian denomination.

Restoration works took place in the 1850s and again from 1913 – 1930 following a large bequest from Sheriff George Thomas, when the present floors, woodwork, stained glass windows and spire, were installed. The cathedral has been evocatively named as the Light in the North.

So much for the Sacred… now for the Profane (with apologies to Mircea Eliade, Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, professor at the University of Chicago, and author of The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion) and those infamous mists of the Scottish moors…

Orkney Islands - Highland Park DistilleryThe Highland Park Distillery, one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland, was founded by Magnus Eunson, a butcher and church officer by day and illicit distiller and whisky smuggler by night. In 1798 he was caught illegally distilling whisky on the site (There are numerous legends about the extent to which illicit distilling was occurring on Orkney, many of which involve accounts of the mayor of Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, being a major smuggler!).

The first license to distill whisky was granted to Highland Park in 1826, with Robert Borwick overseeing production.  The Borwick family-maintained control until 1895, when it was purchased by James Grant, the owner of Glenlivet Distillery. In 1937 the site was purchased by Highland Distillers who, in 1979, initiated a different marketing strategy. Instead of using the majority of their production for blending, they decided to market Highland Park as Single Malt, which increased sales enormously. The Highland Park visitor’s center opened in 1986. In 1999 the Erdington Group and William Grant & Sons acquired Highland Distillers and initiated a multi-million-dollar renovation of both the distillery and the visitor’s center.

Orkney Islands - Highland Park Distillery Visitors' CenterAs well as being one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, Highland Park also has the distinction of being the most northerly distillery in Scotland. And it produces an impressive range of official bottlings… 12-year-old, 18-year-old, 21-year-old, 25-year-old, 30-year-old and 40-year-old. The distillery also offers a series of special bottlings, which includes the “Valhalla” range, editions named after the Norse mythological gods, as well as an Orcadian Series, which is currently comprised of 1964, 1968, 1970, 1971, and 1976 bottlings. Highland Park is also used as a major component in the Famous Grouse whisky blend.

After a tour of the facilities, we finally got down to more important matters – like the tastings! We sampled two of the distillery’s bottlings, the 12-year-old and the 18-year-old. While the former was a bit on the sharp side, the 18-year-old was velvet on the palate and as smooth as silk going down.

Introduced to the Highland Park portfolio in 1997, the 18-year-old was named “Best Spirit in the World” in the Spirit Journal on two separate occasions. The intense balance of flavors is the result of the distillery’s five traditional keystones of production, honored for over 220 years: slow-burning, aromatic peat from Hobbister Moor; hand-turned floor maltings (which our group personally observed); sherry-seasoned European oak casks; cool maturation in a temperate island climate; and a decidedly unhurried process of harmonization.

If you are a devotee of fine Scotch whisky, you should definitely give Highland Park 18-year-old a try. According to my latest research, it is listed at $164.99 for the 750 ML bottle in Pennsylvania State Stores… Unfortunately, it is out of stock (What else is new???). It is readily available online for a variety of different price points (plus shipping).

Orkney Islands - Italian Chapel ExteriorThe final stop on our excursion was a visit to Orkney’s famous Italian Chapel. Apart from the nearby statue of St. George, the Chapel is the only relic of Camp 60, which, in the latter years of the Second World War, housed several hundred Italian prisoners. These men, captured during the North African campaign, were sent to Orkney to work on the Churchill Barriers, a massive series of concrete causeways that seal the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow (a natural harbor located off the coast of Scotland, United Kingdom).

At first, the camp consisted of thirteen generic huts; but the Italian prisoners made concrete paths and planted flowers, completely transforming their surroundings. To preside over the camp “square,” an artistic prisoner named Domenico Chiocchetti, made the figure of St. George, built up from a framework of barbed wire covered with cement.

Orkney Islands - Italian Chapel InteriorAt this point, the only thing the camp still lacked was a chapel, which was deeply felt by the prisoners, and the construction of which had been urged by the War Office Inspector of P.O.W. Camps. To whom the credit for the ambitious idea of building a chapel should ultimately be assigned remains something of a mystery. One point is certain, however… It developed as a natural outcome of the goodwill of the commandant, the pastoral concern of Father P. Gioacchino Giacobazzi, and the genius of the aforementioned Domenico Chiocchetti and his fellow prisoners. Who could possibly have foreseen that, under their hands, a building would be constructed that is still a thing of beauty and an inspiration to countless visitors.

After the war, the entire camp, apart from paths and hut foundations, disappeared; but the chapel (and St. George with his dragon) remained. And, over the course of time, it has become a place of pilgrimage for anyone visiting in Orkney.

Edingurgh, ScotlandEdinburgh, Scotland, U.K.:  Recognized as the capital of Scotland since the 15th century, Edinburgh is the seat of the Scottish government, the Scottish Parliament, and the highest courts in Scotland. In addition, the city has long been a center of education, particularly in the fields of medicine, Scottish law, literature, philosophy, the sciences, and engineering.

As Charlotte Bronte once wrote, Edinburgh is to London as poetry is to prose. One of the world’s stateliest cities and proudest capitals, it is built – like Rome – on seven hills, making it a magnificent backdrop for the ancient pageant of history. Despite its rich past, however, it is also a modern city of lively festivals, excellent museums, and galleries filled with beautiful works of art. Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town together are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has been managed by Edinburgh World Heritage since 1999.

Edinburgh, Scotland - View from CastleOur day’s excursion took us by bus through the New and beautiful Old City, ending with a visit to the Edinburgh Castle. Situated on a volcanic crag called the Castle Rock, this majestic stronghold, former residence of Scottish monarchs, stands 443 feet above sea level, overlooking the city of Edinburgh (Pictured: View from Castle Rock).

Castle Rock has been the site of human activity for at least 3,000 years. The first king of Scotland known to have made his residence here was Malcom III Canmore (reigned 1058-93). His wife, Queen Margaret, who died in the castle in 1093 and was later canonized as St. Margaret of Scotland, is commemorated in St. Margaret’s Chapel, which was built between 1130 and 1140 on the highest point of the rock and is the oldest surviving building on the castle grounds. The last monarch to stay overnight in Edinburgh Castle was Charles I in 1633.

Edinburgh, Scotland - CastleThe castle was repeatedly besieged during the 17th and early 18th centuries. It was captured twice, briefly, by Covenanters during the Bishops’ Wars of 1639 and 1640 and was seized by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army in 1650 during the English Civil Wars. Between 1757 and 1814, the castle housed prisoners of war taken by the British in the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars. Still in use by the British military are the New Barracks (1796-99). Elsewhere on the castle grounds, Scotland honors it military tradition in the Scottish National War Memorial (opened 1927) and the National War Museum (opened 1933). The castle is the traditional repository of the Honours of Scotland, the country’s crown jewels. A more ancient relic of Scottish royalty is the Stone of Scone (or Stone of Destiny), which arrived at the castle in 1996, exactly 700 years after it was removed to England. The stone is a block of sandstone upon which Scottish monarchs were traditionally crowned.

Edinburgh, Scotland - Castle EsplanadeJust outside the castle drawbridge is a large open area called the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade (pictured), where grandstand seating is installed annually for an international military music festival called the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and for other summer concerts.

The day of our excursion to Edinburgh, in addition to our rather small vessel, which accommodates a mere 382 passengers, there were two other larger ships (approximately 2,000 passengers each) anchored in the harbor. So, as you will note from the photograph, the esplanade was something of a mob scene.

 Greenwich, England, U.K.: Following two days at sea, we disembarked in Greenwich and were transported to London, where we spent four days taking in the sights, exploring the West End theater district, and ingesting the city’s extraordinarily diverse culinary culture (articles to follow).

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Mat Bar

Hverfisgata 26

101 Reykjavik, Iceland

(354) 788-3900

https://www.matbar.is

Mat Bar - InteriorThe Mat Bar is what we would call a “gastropub.” A combination of the words “pub” and “gastronomy,” the term was first coined in 1991 to emphasize the exceptional quality of cuisine served in what is usually referred to as a kind of local “happy-tappy.” In other words, a gastropub focuses not only on what you drink, but what you eat as well. As someone once said, “think of it as a restaurant in a pub.”

And Mat Bar fills that niche quite nicely. Replete with spiffy retro black-and-white tile floors and diminutive cozy bar, this little bohemian pub is every local’s favorite eatery, serving up one of Reykjavik’s most creative menus. Owner Guǒjón Hauksson has taken a best-produce-first approach, and it has held the restaurant in good stead. The menu changes seasonally – seemingly in the blink of an eye – with favorite dishes reappearing in new forms, depending upon the mood of the kitchen and dictates of the weather. And the tapas plates – both small and large – are all meant to be shared.

Mat Bar - Cod Crudo… And they arrive at table individually, as they are prepared. The night of our visit, the first small plate to put in an appearance was the Cod Crudo (Crudo, which means “raw,” is a dish that originated in Spain and Italy. It is raw fish – in this case, cod – that is splashed with olive oil or light vinaigrette and a variety of herbs). The presentation here added an intriguing combo of diced apples, crumbled rye bread, and garden cress.

Mat Bar - Broccoli Celeriac CannelloniNext up were the Broccoli and Celeriac Cannelloni (pictured together). The broccoli was seasoned with a subtle hint of sweetness, salted lemon and mint. It also sported a bit of heat, as the florets were rubbed in chili oil before cooking.

Celeriac, which is also called celery root, knob celery, and turnip-rooted celery is a variety that is cultivated for its edible stem and shoots. In this instance, it is sliced wafer-thin, formed into a cylindrical shape to resemble cannelloni, stuffed with cheese, and topped with diced potatoes and green tomatoes.

Mat Bar - Eggplant TempuraOur one shared large plate – the high point of the evening – was the absolutely spectacular Eggplant Tempura. For starters, the tempura batter was delicate, crispy, and utterly ethereal on the palate. The eggplant sections were just the right consistency – neither too firm nor too mushy – and impeccably seasoned… And the accompanying puttanesca sauce with a sprinkling of fresh basil was the pièce de résistance. “Herein lies Mat Bar’s appeal,” as the Reykjavik Grapevine so aptly put it. “Every dish is remarkable, in one way or another, with bold choices in presentation, flavor combinations, and unusual twists on well-known recipes. Everyone at the table tastes each course, making for animated conversation as you and your fellow diners untangle the complexities of each dish, and form opinions about your favorites.”

Desserts show no sign of a letdown, as our Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream spruced up with chocolate, cocoa nibs, and coffee was more than up to the mark… Ditto the intriguing choice of creative cocktails, as the restaurant’s careful attention to detail and seasonality begin with your first sip. My dining partner’s Paper Tiger, for instance, was a near-lethal-sounding concoction of bourbon, Aperol (Italian bitter), lemon and Armaro (bitter/sweet Italian herbal liqueur).

Mat Bar - Penicillin Paper TigerMy Penicillin, which is served on the rocks and was mentioned in detail in a previous article, incorporated Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch, honey, ginger, lemon, Angostura Bitters, and a splash of peated Scotch over the top. In his 2016 book A Proper Drink, cocktail historian Robert Simonson referred to the Penicillin as “the most well-traveled and renowned new cocktail of the 21st century.”

Be that as it may, neither my dining partner nor I had ever heard of the Penicillin – ditto the Paper Tiger – before spotting them on Matt Bar’s cocktail list (pictured above: Paper Tiger on left; Penicillin on right).

Mat Bar - ExteriorIn addition to a nice writeup in Frommer’s, Mat Bar was chosen as 2018 Best Vegetarian Meal, 2018 One of the Best Places for Cocktails, 2018 Best Place to Start the Night, 2018 Best Goddamn Restaurant, and 2019 Runner-Up Best Goddamn Restaurant by the Reykjavik Grapevine.

If you’re contemplating a trip to Iceland – and it is well worth a journey – be sure to pay a call at Mat Bar in Reykjavik. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Rolling Through Reykjavik

by artfuldiner on November 3, 2022

in Breaking News, Opinion, Special Events

Prior to embarking on our July, 2022, 12-day cruise from Iceland to London, my traveling companion and I arrived in Reykjavik a day early to get our bearings and take in the sights.

Reykjavik - Keflavik AirportIt was the middle of July, but, as expected, the weather was cold, damp & dreary with a light, misty rain. The landscape around Keflavik Airport was incredibly desolate (pictured above), made even more so by the inclement weather. There was not a tree in sight, the result, as our driver pointed out, of the various lava flows from the nearby still active volcano (which erupted once again two weeks after we had returned to the United States).

Reykjavik - Spiral Stairway in Hildton NordicaVia Silversea, our cruise line, we were booked into the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, just east of the downtown area. Originally opened in 1965, it became part of the Hilton chain in 2007 and completely renovated. The chrome-glass natural-wood interior is sleek and modern – a bit too modern for my tastes; and the postage stamp-sized bathroom wasn’t much of a turn-on either – but the place did grow on us. The bar/lounge, for example, was especially comfortable, boasting, among its other attributes, a beautiful spiral staircase that wound its way up to the hotel’s top floor.

Reykjavik - WaterfrontAs I mentioned above, when we arrived at the airport, the weather was a good deal less than hospitable. However, by the time we settled in at our hotel, the day had turned sunny and the temperature had warmed significantly. So much so, in fact, that we decided to take the on/off bus tour of Reykjavik… And since we only had the remainder of the day before embarking on our cruise, this seemed the most logical way to see the city. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow description, but several stops did stand out.

Located on the eastern point of Reykjavik’s harbor is the spectacular concert hall and conference center, Harpa, which opened to the public in 2011. Designed by the Danish firm of Henning Larsen Architects, in cooperation with renowned Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, the building consists of a steel framework clad with geometric shaped glass panels of different colors, which reflect both the sky and the ocean.

Reykjavik - HarpaEncompassing a variety of artistic venues, Harpa was developed in consultation with artistic advisor Vladimir Ashkenazy and international consultant Jasper Parrott. It is the country’s premier music and event center, hosting films, concerts, and various performances every night of the week. The beautiful space also includes several stores, two restaurants, and a long-distance bus stop.

Hallgrímskirkja (Church of Hallgrímur) is a Lutheran (Church of Iceland) parish church. At 244 ft tall, it is the largest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in the country. The church is named for the Reverend Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614 – 1674), Iceland’s foremost hymn writer and an ecclesiastical scholar and poet.

Reykjavik - Hallgrims ChurchThe distinctive exterior, with its prominent steeple, is often described as both primordial     and futuristic, as if the church were some kind of volcano or glacier that had been transformed into a rocket ship. A statue of Leif Eiriksson is aligned directly in front of the church, as if he’s about to lead it down the hill. The statue was a gift from the United States to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Iceland’s parliament.

Reykjavik -PerlanOne of Reykjavik’s most distinctive landmarks, Perlan (The “Pearl”) is a museum and rotating glass dome that stands on the top of Őskjuhliö Hill surrounded by forest. The site is built on top of six water tanks that store millions of liters of Reykjavik’s hot water.

Architect Ingimundur Sveinsson designed the building in 1991; and the project was originally curated by Daviö Oddsson during his term as mayor of Reykjavik. Perlan was originally home to a viewing platform, restaurant, and café; recently, however, it has also become an educational site, boasting numerous exhibitions and displays.

The Glacier Exhibition of Iceland, for example, opened in July 2017 and contains a 100-meter-long ice tunnel where visitors are offered a glance into the past, present, and future of Iceland’s glaciers. It is the only museum in the world with such a dramatic exhibition.

In addition to the exhibitions, Perlan is also known for its sightseeing opportunities, as the observation deck offers an impressive and panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.

The most recent addition to the facility, which opened in the summer of 2021 is a 230-meter-long (251 yards) zip line that allows those adventurous enough to glide from one of the water tanks to the ground below at 31 miles per hour… Not for the faint of heart.

 Bobby Fischer Center, IcelandOne final note… If you’re a chess fan, Iceland holds one additional treasure. In the village of Selfoss, just a short drive from Reykjavik, you will find the Bobby Fischer Center, a small non-profit biographical museum housing memorabilia of the 1972 World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer.

On display at the Center are photos, the scoresheets, and a replica of the chessboard used during the World Chess Championship of 1972 between Fischer and Russian Boris Spassky. The museum also includes interesting artifacts related to Fischer’s stay in Iceland from 2005 to 2008, including Fischer’s chair from Bókin, the antiquarian bookshop in Reykjavik.

Bobby Fischer’s grave site is located at Laugardaelir Cemetery, just a little over a mile from the Bobby Fischer Center.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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