Azamara Journey -SuiteCruising, like other forms of travel, has its advantages and disadvantages. The major advantage is, of course, that you must endure the onerous rigors of unpacking only once. Also – not a minor consideration – is the fact that you need not worry about the possible consequences of indulging in a bit too much vino over dinner, as the comfort of your stateroom is just a few steps away.

One of the major disadvantages, at least from my perspective as a food writer and gastronomic gadfly, is that – apart from a few shore excursions that may include an excellent lunch or other epicurean delights – you are limited to the culinary vicissitudes of your ship’s floating kitchen(s). And, given the length of some cruises, it is no exaggeration to assume that the quality of the cuisine may owe infinitely more to creative cryogenics than innovative cookery.

Azamara Journey - Discoveries Main Dining Room 2My introduction to Azamara’s cuisine came aboard their ship the Quest during a 2020 cruise along the east coast of South Africa… And my traveling companion and I both agreed that while the food was acceptable it was hardly transporting. During our most recent cruise(s) from Athens to Rome to Lisbon onboard the Journey, we did notice some improvements, especially in Discoveries, their main dining room (pictured), although there were still some significant downs as well as ups.

Azamara Dining - BarrataOur first night’s dinner, for example, was a particularly mixed bag. My dining partner’s Escargot was an excellent starter and her pork dish followed suit. My entrée, Sole with Romesco (a rich Spanish sauce of puréed charred tomatoes & roasted red peppers spruced up with raw garlic, vinegar and red pepper flakes), was also quite good. And our desserts, Crepes with Berries and Financiers (small French almond cakes flavored with beurre noisette), respectively, also hit the mark. On the other hand, my appetizer of Burrata with Spinach & Tomatoes (pictured), which looked so good on the plate, was a complete washout. The spinach leaves were the texture of cardboard carpaccio and, in the dish as a whole, anything even approximating flavor was conspicuous by its absence.

Crispy Chicken KaarageAs time when on, however, Discoveries’ kitchen appeared to hit its stride with a variety of diverse cuisines… The German-inspired Cabbage & Sausage Soup, for example, was excellent… A few days later I started out with a first-rate appetizer of Charred Green Asparagus & Egg Salad aided & abetted by spinach, pine nuts, parmesan shavings, and pink pepper. My dining partner had nothing but raves for her Filet of Hake gently caressed by a subtle Champagne-citrus beurre blanc. My own entrée took an unexpected – but decidedly delicious – turn with Crispy Chicken Kaarage companioned by fried noodles and Asian vegetables (pictured).

Rainbow TroutFrom my dining partner’s perspective, other memorable items included Grigliata Mista, an Italian seafood combo of shrimp, scallops, calamari and white fish filet served on a seabed of Portuguese baked potatoes… Rainbow Trout with grilled shrimp, mushrooms, new potatoes, green pea & broad bean purée (pictured)… Crab Ravioli… perfectly pink Lamb Chops… Lobster TailPotato/Leek SoupDuck TerrineFrench Lemon Tart… and, of course, Escargot.

Crepes Stuffed with Ratatouille Topped with VeggiesMy own favorites were somewhat more eclectic. I particularly liked a number of Discoveries’ Asian presentations. The Yakitori Chicken, for example, served with grilled green asparagus and Japanese fried rice, was quite good… ditto a starter of Chicken Goyza, which was similar to pot stickers, served with a first-rate ponzu sauce. The Mongolian Lamb Strips accompanied by a fragrant mound of jasmine rice were also quite excellent. I also very much enjoyed the Breaded Veal Schnitzel with German potato salad and lingonberry sauce. Quite good… but the portion size, which could easily have fed three, was actually somewhat off putting. Infinitely more appealing were the Crepes (pictured). Stuffed with ratatouille and topped with a variety of vegetables they were a treat for both eye and palate.

Other items of interest included Bonbonnière (bon bons) stuffed with ratatouille and Penne Pasta in Sour Cream Sauce. An appetizer well worth mentioning is the Strips of Veal Tenderloin in Tuna/Caper Sauce. This may strike you as an unlikely combo, but the slightly assertive sauce does wonders for the veal. An absolutely fabulous marriage of flavors and textures. The first time I sampled this dish was in a little wine bar in Munich; and tasting it once again brought back some very pleasant memories.

Prime C - Dover SoleIn addition to Discoveries, the Azamara Journey also has two specialty upscale eateries: Prime C, a steakhouse; and Aqualina, an Italian restaurant. And while things appear to be looking up in the main dining room, their specialty enclaves, at least during our most recent cruise, didn’t fare quite so well. My dining partner’s Dover Sole (pictured), though hardly top of the line, actually wasn’t too bad…

… My Filet Mignon, on the other hand – which should have cut like butter, as the saying goes – was as tough as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. And, despite my steak knife’s munificent machinations, simply refused to be cut (or sawed) into submission. So, back to the kitchen it went (something I never like to do, for a variety of reasons). It’s replacement, which demonstrated only marginal improvement, was no great shakes either. Needless to say, this was not the kitchen’s finest hour.

Aqualina - Lemon Liqueur MousseAqualina was something of a mixed bag. Our first visit was extremely satisfying, infinitely better than the experience on our first cruise, as I recall. The starter of Eggplant Lasagna stuffed with red bell pepper tapenade pillowed on a bed of Italian cous cous, for example, was quite good. An entrée of Spaghetti Bolognese was also up to the mark. In this case, however, it was dessert that stole the show. The Sorrento Lemon Liqueur Mousse (pictured) garnished with meringue and accompanied by lemon gelato was nothing short of spectacular. Alive with fresh flavors, it was the perfect conclusion to a perfect meal.

Aqualina - Vegetable Soup with LentilsOur second dinner, however, proved something of a disappointment. It started out well enough… We both enjoyed the Tuscan-style Vegetable Soup with lentils (pictured). And my dining partner had nothing but praise for her Rigatoni with bell pepper-tomato sauce with grilled asparagus, broccoli & pumpkin. My Eggplant Parmesan promised mozzarella quinoa pasta with rustic pomodoro sauce… However, it turned out to be the same rigatoni & sauce that had graced my partner’s dish. In addition, there were only three small pieces of eggplant and they were hard and woefully overcooked. Adding insult to injury, my dish was lukewarm when it hit the table.

Azamara Journey - Windows Cafe 4But let’s conclude on a few positive notes… Located aft on deck 9, Azamara Journey’s most consistent restaurant, in my opinion, is their casual Windows Café. And, as you will note from the photograph, it is well named, as an impressive wall of floor-to-ceiling windows offers diners a magnificent view of the open sea and/or shoreline.

But there is infinitely more to Windows than just the view. Open for early breakfast, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, their buffet-style dining is top-of-the-line and exceeded our expectations in every respect.

My traveling companion and I found the lunches here very pleasant, indeed. Of particular note are their salads – tuna, chicken, egg – all freshly made. Sandwiches also have a great deal to recommend them, as do the rotating hot entrées, which are themed to celebrate particular cuisines. Desserts, however, are truly exceptional, especially my personal fave, the extraordinary made-in-house gelati.

But breakfasts here are also quite good; and, on numerous occasions, we would stop in before setting out on our various shore excursions. The eggs, in whatever incarnation – scrambled, omelet, Benedict – are first-rate… ditto the blintzes, stuffed pastries, potatoes, bacon, and sausages.

Azamara Journey - Windows Cafe 2And, as an added incentive, Windows Café is adjacent to the Sunset Bar (pictured), a welcoming outdoor patio with both covered and open-air seating. After collecting your comestibles from Windows buffet, it’s the perfect spot for dining alfresco, enjoying an innovative cocktail over lunch or later in the day, or simply watching the world sail by.

One final word: A few days before the end of our cruise(s), our usual waiter in the main dining room, with whom we had become quite friendly, offered to have the chef, his good friend, prepare a special dinner just for us with the cuisine of our choosing. Since he was from India, we decided to go that route, which made him very happy – and us, as it turned out, as well, as the food was incredibly delicious.

Azamara Journey - PakorasWe started out with Pakoras (pictured), spiced fritters that originated from the Indian subcontinent, but are also sold by street vendors and served in restaurants in South Asia and the United Kingdom. Pakoras may consist of many different items, usually vegetables – particularly diced potatoes & onions, which we enjoyed here – coated in a batter of chick-pea & rice flours and deep fried. These were served with a spicy chutney made with green chilies, which provided just enough heat to invigorate rather than incinerate one’s sensitive palate.

Azamara Journey - Chicken Tikka MasalaOur main course was Chicken Tikka Masala (pictured). This is a dish consisting of roasted marinated chicken segments served in a rich, creamy orange-colored spiced curry sauce. This dish was popularized by chefs from India living in England and is now offered in restaurants around the world. It is also the most popular Indian dish served in America.

The Masala was companioned by basmati rice, naan bread (naan is a leavened, oven-baked or pan-fried flatbread that is found not only in India but also in the cuisines of Western & Central Asia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Caribbean), and papadum (wafers made from ground lentils) with mango chutney.

The bottom line, of course, is: Would I sail with Azamara again? The answer is an unequivocal Yes! Despite a few faux pas, the food has improved considerably over my previous experience. In fact, during our recent cruise(s) my traveling companion and I, along with several other passengers, were asked to participate in a test tasting of various meats that Azamara was considering for its ships’ kitchens. It is obvious to me that this cruise line is continually attempting to up its culinary standards; and that, in and of itself, is a testimony to the company’s ongoing dedication to its patrons.

Bon Voyage!

Be Safe & Stay Well



Cambria - Jill Russell, Winemaker 2When people think about California wines, they generally have Napa Valley in mind. However, there is another long-standing wine region that is home to remarkable winemaking. Though often overlooked as a top wine destination, Santa Barbara County is home to some of the most diverse soils and vineyards.

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 establish Santa Maria Valley as a world class wine producing region.

The now-deceased Jess Jackson and his wife, Barbara Banke, established Cambria in 1986 after purchasing what was originally known as the Tepusquet Vineyards. Today, the winery is owned and operated by Ms. Banke, with her daughters, Julia and Katie Jackson, serving as co-proprietors. The Kendall-Jackson property covers more than 1,400 acres and is located 17 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Maria, California. The cool sea air blankets the vines in a maritime fog, creating a unique climate that is ideally suited for the cultivation of chardonnay and pinot noir.

Under the watchful eye of winemaker Jill Russell (pictured), every wine produced on the Estate is sourced from a single vineyard and certified sustainable. But the two primary vineyards producing chardonnay and pinot noir, respectively, are named after the above-mentioned Julia and Katie Jackson. These vineyards are marked by both a depth of character and history of excellence – most recently when Wine & Spirits magazine named Cambria Winery one of the “Top 100 Wineries of 2020.”

Cambria - Katherine's Vineyard Chard 20192019 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay: The critical acclaim for this wine has been nothing short of spectacular. Wine critic Antonio Galloni of Vinous bestowed 94 points and called it “fabulous… This classic Santa Maria Chardonnay hits all the right notes.” Wine Enthusiast added 93 points, designated it an “Editors’ Choice,” and chimed in: “Winemaker Jill Russell does wonders with this widely available wine.” Wine Spectator and Wilfred Wong of contributed 91 and 90 points, respectively.

This lovely medium-bodied chard is plush, creamy, and easy to drink. And there’s just enough oak to gently caress rather than smother those fragile fruit flavors. Add a hint of spice, a nice touch of acidity, a lingering finish, and you have a real crowd-pleaser.

The price is a real crowd-pleaser as well. Retailing at $21.99, in Wayne, New Jersey, currently has it on sale for $16.99 (plus shipping). The really good news, however, is that this little beauty is also available via special order from Pennsylvania State Stores for only $14.99.

Cambria - Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir 20192019 Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir: I have always been an avid fan of pinot noir, and Cambria’s 2019 Julia’s Vineyard is particularly recommendable. This is an attractive, kind of easy-going wine that can handle a minimum of cellaring but is drinking well right now. It’s a bright translucent red colored pinot with interesting aromas of cranberry and pomegranate.

On the palate, it’s medium-bodied – but feels as light as a feather – beautifully textured, and smooth as silk. There are subtle spice notes here, and a kind of “earthiness” that complements the perfectly balanced tannins. Not as lush and plush as some pinots, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in elegance and finesse.

Wine critic Jeb Dunnuck refers to this wine as “value-priced”; noting, in fact, that “it tastes as if it cost 2-3 times the price.” And he’s right on target. The 2019 Julia’s Vineyard retails around the $25.99 mark., noted above, currently has it on sale for $19.99 (plus shipping). Once again, however, there is good news from the PA State Store front, as it is available via special order for a mere $16.99.


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Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse

200 Main Street, Town Center

King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

(610) 337-4810

Davio's - InteriorAlthough it hardly seems possible, a full four years have passed (March 2018) since I posted my initial review of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse. As you would expect, there have been a few minor adjustments here and there; but, for the most part, the restaurant seems to have changed not at all. The cavernous dining space remains something of an echo chamber; caught between a high ceiling, hardwood floors, and bustling bar scene, the decibel level, especially when the joint is jumping – which seems to be most of the time – is still downright daunting. Depending upon your table location, carrying on a civilized conversation without shouting may very well constitute a major challenge.

Davio's KOP - Veal TenderloinThe food is yet another constant. The general pandemonium notwithstanding, the cuisine continues to be 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. The majority chose variations on the carnivorous theme: 8-Ounce Center-Cut Filet Mignon, 8-Ounce 55 Day Prime Aged Strip Steak, etc. Though enjoyed during a previous visit, the incomparable Sautéed Veal Tenderloin (pictured), also deserves mention. It remains, without doubt, one of the best veal presentations it has been my pleasure to ingest this side of the Atlantic. The veal was extraordinarily tender, with oyster mushrooms, cipollini onions, and roasted fingerling potatoes putting in superb supporting performances… But, ultimately, it was a rich and savory Marsala wine sauce that succeeded in propelling this dish into orbit. Highly recommended.

Davio's KOP - Seared Atlantic SalmonOn this occasion, however, my dining partner and I decided to take the seafood route, both opting for the Atlantic Salmon (pictured). It arrived at table flesh side up on a seabed of sautéed baby spinach surrounded by a pool of warm eggplant caponata. The filet was attractively seared while its interior remained delightfully moist. This entrée had been ordered on one of my previous visits, and it remains a personal fave. As I noted in my initial review, Davio’s has managed to inject a healthy dose of pizzazz into an all-too-pedestrian piscatorial menu fixture.

Davio's - Chicken Livers 2Our group’s appetizer choices ranged from a shared Chopped Romaine Salad to San Marzano Tomato Soup with goat cheese chive crostini to Oysters Rockefeller. Once again, though, my dining partner and I took a different route, sharing a starter to which we have become thoroughly addicted: the Crispy Chicken Livers (pictured). A bath in the deep fryer leaves them irresistibly crispy yet with a moist & succulent interior. They are then tossed with roasted pine nuts in an enticing port wine balsamic glaze and crowned with deep fried spinach leaves. They may not look like much, but, trust me, they are an incredible feast for the palate.

That’s the good news… now for the bad. Dining at Davio’s – as I clearly noted in my first review – is a downright expensive proposition. Recently, however, it has graduated from “expensive” to “simply outrageous,” surpassing even Eddie V’s Prime Seafood as the king of high prices. This restaurant is definitely not for the faint of pocketbook. Cocktails are all in the $15.00 – $18.00 range; wines by the glass start at $12.00 and top out at $34.00 for a Verve Clicquot “Yellow Label.” “Select Wines by the Glass” begin at $29.00 and top out at $50.00. The regular wine list is definitely worth a read, but – depending upon your choices – could set you back some big bucks.

Salads are in the $14.00 – $19.00 range; pastas begin at $24.00 and top out at $49.00 for the Maine Lobster Risotto. Antipasti start out innocently enough with the San Marzano Tomato Soup garnished with Goat Cheese Chive Crostini, $12.00. From there, however, it’s onward and upward. That innocent-looking Crispy Calamari with cherry peppers and citrus aioli will set you back $20.00; the Tuna Tartare with avocado, Meyer lemon, harissa, and Davio’s herb pasta chips, $23.00; Grilled Octopus with purple potatoes, micro greens, and romesco, $19.00; Oysters Rockefeller, $25.00; and Oven Baked Lump Crab Cake, $29.00.

Davio's KOP - Crispy Chicken LiversAll of the above high finance, of course, tends to make those aforementioned Crispy Chicken Livers, $15.00, look like a comparative bargain. Well… yes and no. The photograph of the chicken livers above was taken during my most recent visit. Compare it to the photo of the same dish taken 4 years ago. Please note that the current rendition is less than half the size of the original… Not such a bargain after all.

Entrée-wise, the Veal Tenderloin and Atlantic Salmon pictured above go for $41.00 and $39.00, respectively.  An 8-Ounce Center-Cut Filet Mignon will set you back $57.00; a 10-ounce, $70.00. The real killers, however, are the “Daily Specials,” all of which were recited without benefit of prices. And when we specifically inquired as to their cost – and our server was immediately forthcoming in this regard – they turned out to be significantly more expensive than a goodly number of items on the printed menu. Our server’s description of the special Black Sea Bass, for example, sounded great; but it weighed in at a whopping $55.00; the special Scallops at a wallet-busting $70.00.

Davio's KOP - Dessert CartAnd desserts offer no monetary reprieves. All sweet denouements carry a heady $15.00 price tag – with the exception of the Warm Chocolate Cake with Stracciatella gelato and Amarena cherries, which is $16.00. Tack on coffee/espresso, perhaps a digestif, tax, and tip and you could very well have a fiscal tsunami in the making.

The big question is, of course: Does the quality of the food justify these hefty prices? That depends, to a great extent, upon your point of view… and the state of your wallet. However… this conversation is not about Jean-Georges, or Le Bernadin, or the French Laundry, or La Tour d’Argent, or some other legendary bastion of ethereal gastronomy. No, this is about Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in beautiful downtown King of Prussia, PA.

So, is it worth it????? Is it worth paying elevated fine dining prices to chow down on chain steakhouse fare – as good as it may or may not be – in an atmosphere saturated with near-lethal decibel levels? Is it…? Not to me… but it’s your call.

 Bon Appétit!

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Arneis 20202020 Almondo Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie: Roero is a small DOCG-qualified (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) viticultural area in the northeast corner of the province of Cuneo in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. Together with Monferatto and Langhe, this trio of vineyards form a UNESCO-ranked World Heritage Site. The designation’s name is steeped in local history, as “Roero” refers to a family of bankers who were very influential in the area during the Middle Ages.

There are approximately 2,861.48 acres of vineyards in Roero DOCG, producing 6.6 million bottles of wine per annum. Roero is known for its elegant Nebbiolo red wines, which, because of its sandy soil, are less tannic and more approachable (and significantly less expensive) than its neighboring Barolo.

The area’s real claim to fame, however, 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 varietal nearly became extinct after World War II, as it only remained in three vineyards. Even then, it was simply used to attract insects away from the more important Nebbiolo. However, when tastes began to drift away from fuller-bodied over-oaked chardonnays and the like, Arneis experienced a renaissance and has recently been rediscovered by a variety of white wine lovers, especially in the United States.

For generations, the Almondo family has carefully tended the vines of Arneis. 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… and wine writer Antonio Galloni of Vinous, who bestowed 91points (100-point scale) agrees: “The 2020 Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie is layered and creamy, yet retains terrific freshness throughout. Pear, ginger, white flowers and a hint of spice lend notable character to this inviting, compelling Arneis, Bricco delle Ciliegie is 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. Once the Michelin-starred restaurants of Rome and Paris have received their share, only a miniscule amount of wine is imported; and the entire United States allocation is gobbled up in one big hurry. Right now, according to Nicholas Wines, Red Bank, New Jersey, the count and the amount are down to 25 cases anywhere. Nicholas is currently offering this extraordinary vintage at $26. 50 per bottle (plus shipping). The perfect wine for relaxed summer quaffing.


Argiolas Costera 20182018 Argiolas Costera Cannonau di Sardegna: The wine region of the Italian island of Sardinia includes the vineyard area across the entire stretch of land, with approximately 98,842 acres cultivated. Sardinia is located off the west coast of Italy and is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily.

Cannonau is the most important grape variety of the island for red wine production. The resulting deeply-colored, full bodied wines are characterized by a balanced alcohol level and equally balanced acidity & tannins combined with beautiful fruit flavors and notes of peppery spice. It may be produced as a single varietal wine or blended with other varieties to add body and fruit without tannins.

Until recently, it was thought that Cannonau was just the Sardinian name for Grenache, which originated in the region of Aragon in northern Spain and was brought to Sardinia when the Aragonese conquered the island in the early 14th century. The Sardinians, of course, never quite believed this story; and their doubts piqued the interest of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania. They formed a partnership, which subsequently led to the excavation of archaeological sites in Borore, Sardinia, in 2002. There they discovered hundreds of preserved grape seeds dating back some 3,200 years. DNA testing at U of P laboratories conclusively proved that these grape seeds were, indeed, the remnants of Cannonau, were indigenous to Sardinia, and distinct from modern-day Grenache.

Argiolas is the foremost wine estate on the island of Sardinia, producing exceptional wines from native varietals.  Antonio Argiolas, who died in 2009 at the age of 102, inherited seven acres of vines from his father in 1938 and was the first on the island to convert to modern viticulture to pursue quality over quantity. His sons, Franco and Giuseppe, replanted the vineyards in the 1980s with the goal of reducing yields and focusing exclusively on Sardinian grapes. The Argiolas estate consists of 692 acres of vineyards, divided across a number of different estates to the north and east of the city of Cagliari. The winery currently produces 2.2 million bottles each year.

The estate’s flagship wine is the Turriga Rosso Isola dei Nuraghi. The highly-rated 2016 – 97 points from wine critic James Suckling; 93 points from Vinous – for example, is a blend of 85% Cannonau, 5% Carignano, 5% Bovale Sardo, and 5% Malvasia Nera and is aged for 18 to 24 months in new French oak barriques and an additional year in bottle. It’s a lovely, polished wine, dense and powerful. It will also put a $75.00 – $90.00 dent in your wallet, depending upon your place of purchase.

On the other hand, the 2018 Argiolas Costera Cannonau di Sardegna is an incredibly beautiful wine that is rich & intense, yet delightfully smooth and supple on the palate. My first sip elicited a totally unexpected “Wow!”… as did the price, a paltry $13.99 at your local PA State Store. Bargains like this do not come along every day. A fabulous wine. Get it while it’s hot!

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well



Nice - Journey from Hills AboveOne of the advantages of our back-to-back cruises was the fact that we remained on the same ship, in the very same stateroom, and did not have to go through the agonizing ritual of packing and unpacking.

Our second cruise (November 21-30, 2021) included 9-nights, which began in Rome and then made port in Nice, France; Barcelona, Valencia & Cartagena, Spain; Gibraltar, United Kingdom; and ended in Lisbon, Portugal.

There were a few more passengers on board for this cruise – 147 as opposed to the 109 on our first outing – but since the ship would accommodate up to 690 and there were still 408 members of the crew onboard ready to serve, the ratio was solidly in our favor and the service remained nothing short of impeccable. The only difference seemed to be that this was a slightly younger (and livelier) crowd than we had encountered on the first cruise.

Livorno, Italy: There were a number shore excursions open to us… but the thought of a leisurely jaunt through the picturesque Tuscan countryside, ending with a tour and tasting at a local winery, sounded like the perfect afternoon outing. The countryside was, indeed picturesque… ditto the winery, which, for reasons I will note later, shall remain nameless.

Tuscan Winery- VineyardWe had a look at the vineyard (pictured) and then strolled up a tree-lined drive to the winery proper. We spent a good deal of time in the cellar, listening to the estate’s sommelier discuss local wine-making and methods of production. From there, of course, it was upstairs to the wine tasting, obviously designed to be the highlight of the excursion; ultimately, however, a major disappointment.

Tuscan Winery - Wine TastingAnd the tip off was clearly the pile of comestibles placed before us (pictured). During a tasting, you always want a bit of food to purge the palate between sips of different kinds of wine. We were a table of six persons (three couples), so the plate of food pictured would have been more than adequate to supply us all with sufficient palate-cleansing pleasure… But this was the size of the plate placed before each of us… Clearly a case of gastronomic overkill. Perhaps the thinking was that if we had enough food to keep us occupied, we wouldn’t notice that the wines were eminently forgettable.

Nice, France: Our excursion took us on a driving exploration that captured all the marvelous grandeur that is the French Riviera. Following the Corniche roadways higher and higher into the mountains, each turn seemed to present yet another spectacular perspective of the cliff-lined coast and the ruggedly beautiful countryside. The photograph at the beginning of this article, for example – our ship docked in the port of Nice – was taken from the roadway above the city.

Eze, France, Above French Riviera 2The ultimate destination of our excursion was the beautiful hilltop medieval village of Èze, located between Monaco and Nice. Famous for its beauty, charm, impressive architecture, and spectacular view of the sea, the small village also has numerous shops, art galleries, hotels, and restaurants, attracting an annual invasion of tourists and honeymooners. So popular has it become that it is often referred to as the village-musée, “museum village,” as few locals actually reside there. Èze is one of sixteen villages grouped together by Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur tourist department as Route des Villages Perchés (Route of Perched Villages).

At the top of the hill above the village is the one attraction that simply cannot be missed: the Jardin Exotique d’ Èze, the Exotic Garden of Èze. Planted on the site of an ancient fortress 1,407 feet above sea level, the garden was developed during the Second World War by Andre Gianton, then mayor of Èze, with the assistance of Jean Gastaud, who also created the Exotic Garden of Monaco just a few kilometers away.

Eze, France - Exotic GardenIts position at the top of the steep village meant that soil and rocks used to create the garden and its terraces had to be carried manually, as well as the cacti and succulents. The plants ranged from young plants to mature specimens, including a crown of thorns weighing half a ton. Adding to the charm, there are a number of statues, female figures made of clay or bronze, by Jean-Phillipe Richard.

Above all, the garden offers an unforgettable view of the Côte d’Azur (pictured). It was this view that philosopher Friedrich Nietsche admired while creating his most important work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nice itself also has a number of points of interest. Among the most fascinating – at least to this writer – is the iconic Le Negresco hotel (pictured). Located on the Promenade des Anglais, the magnificent belle-époque building is instantly recognizable by its pink domed roof.

Nice Negresco 1Le Negresco, which celebrated its centennial in 2013, is comparable to a grand museum, with five centuries of French history represented in its art and furnishings. Portraits of kings and queens are displayed side-by-side with the works of contemporary artists such as Sosno, Dalí, Gruau, Moretti, and Nike de Saint Phalle. The hotel also boasts an impressive stained-glass dome designed by Gustave Eiffel, a double Michelin-starred restaurant, Chantecler, and a chandelier commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II.

… And for those who may be interested, Le Negresco was also mentioned in two James Bond novels. Bond stayed at the hotel in the John Gardner’s License Renewed and dined here in his Role of Honor. The hotel has also appeared in a number of movies. Perhaps the most well-known is the 1973 Anglo-French thriller The Day of the Jackal. Protagonist Edward Fox (the Jackal) drives along the picturesque Promenade des Anglais with a lingering shot of the prominent dome of Le Negresco in the background. Director Fred Zinnemann also treated filmgoers to a rare interior view when the Jackal walked into the palatial hotel to use the telephone.

Barcelona, Spain:  As I mentioned at the outset of this article, one of the advantages of having so few passengers on board is that the quality of service tends to be outstanding… But there are disadvantages as well. The major disadvantage, in my opinion, is that there may not be a sufficient number of people to fill certain shore excursions in which you may have an interest… If that is the case, those excursions will simply be canceled and you are out of luck. This happened to us several times during our two cruises. In Barcelona, for example, I was particularly interested in the Discover Picasso excursion, a guided tour to the locations that were significant to Picasso’s development and work, concluding with a visit to the Picasso Museum. No dice. Canceled for lack of signups.

Barcelona - Sagrada FamiliaThe excursion of interest to all, of course, was the tour to several of the architectural creations of Antonio Gaudi, culminating with a visit to his unfinished grand masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, Holy Family Cathedral (pictured).

An icon of the city of Barcelona, and among Spain’s most visited tourist sites, the basilica is famous for its wildly creative, unmistakably organic architecture and décor, both inside and out. The exterior is breathtaking, to say the least; the interior – filled with stained glass inset in a cavernous, colonnaded hall that rises dramatically upward – almost otherworldly. Gaudi envisioned the cathedral as a structure that would present the life of Christ over the course of 18 spires. When completed, it is expected to be the tallest cathedral in the world.

Construction of the Sagrada Familia began in 1882. Since that time, it has been interrupted only once, during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. When Gaudi died in 1926, not even a quarter of the cathedral had been built. The original plan to have the construction completed by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death was recently set aside, attributable to the effects of the pandemic on cathedral funding.

I vividly remember entering the Cologne Cathedral in Germany for the first time and being simply overwhelmed by, for want of the better phrase, a “sense of the Holy.” Even though there were quite a few people visiting that day, there was a subdued hush to conversations, as the building itself inspired respectful silence and worship. Interestingly enough, entering Sagrada Familia, the feeling was totally different. People – from groups of schoolchildren, to hordes of foreign tourists, to women walking toddlers & pushing strollers – were more matter-of-fact and less respectful of their surroundings; the general atmosphere infinitely more “touristic.”

Gaudi’s cathedral certainly inspires awe; but for me, personally, it does not inspire worship. Whether it was the hordes of tourists or the “otherworldliness” of the building itself – or both – I cannot be sure… I just know that the “sense of the Holy” seemed strangely conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps there can, indeed, be too much of a good thing.

Valencvia - ToniMontoliu FarmValencia, Spain: Our excursion here was a particularly enjoyable one. We journeyed out of the city to a traditional Valencian barraca (farmhouse). Our host, owner Toni Montoliu, took us on a tour of his farm, where we picked fresh vegetables and participated in the making of Paella, a rice dish that originated in Valencia and is one of the best-known dishes in Spanish cuisine.

Paella takes its name from the wide, shallow traditional pan used to cook the dish on an open fire. As a dish, it may have ancient roots; but, in its modern form, it is traced back to the mid-19th century in the rural area around the Albufera lagoon adjacent to the city of Valencia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

Valencia - Toni at WorkPaella Valenciana is the traditional paella of the Valencia region and believed to be the original recipe for this dish. Early on, paella made in Valencia was a lunchtime meal for farmers and farm laborers. Workers would gather what was available to them around the rice fields. In addition to round grain rice, this could also include tomatoes, onions, snails, and varieties of green beans. Rabbit or duck was a common addition, chicken less often (Toni noted that his usual version included rabbit & duck, but that he had substituted chicken, which he thought would be more appealing to his guests).

Paella is cooked in olive oil and chicken broth and seasoned with rosemary (sometimes whole branches). Traditionally its yellow color comes from saffron, but turmeric and calendula are sometimes substituted. (Pictured: Toni, the master at work)

Valencia - Farmhouse ExteriorBut even before Toni got down to the business of cooking, he took the time to escort us on a horse-drawn carriage ride through his farm to the house where he was born and grew up. Tucked away next to a dirt road at what seemed to be the epicenter of the fields, the house (pictured) was surprisingly tiny. While we checked out the quaint interior, Toni shared some stories (translated by our guide) about life on a typical Spanish farm, and the experiences of growing up in such a demanding environment.

Valencia - PaellaThe highlight of our excursion was, of course, when we finally had opportunity to sit down at table and sample Toni’s cuisine. Which, I might add, was infinitely more than expected. For not only did we dig into the Paella, but also a fabulous salad to start, sides of addictive garlic bread, potatoes, artichoke hearts, and freshly picked oranges for dessert. And, I should add, local wine – which was very good, by the way – flowed freely.

Valencia - My PlatePortions were more than generous, as you can see by the amount of food that had been piled on participants’ plates. And, across the board, everything we tasted was absolutely delicious. There is something immensely satisfying about dining at the source, literally harvesting your food and then, even in some small way, participating in its preparation.

Toni was the ultimate host; and our guide did a marvelous job of translating his words of hospitality and comments about the food and wine. A good time was had by all. After such an extravagant lunch, when we returned to the ship, a very light evening meal was very much in order.

Gibraltar, United Kingdom: Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory (one of the fourteen territories with a constitutional and historical link with the United Kingdom) located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. Encompassing an area of 2.6 square miles, it is bordered to the north by Spain.

Gibraltar - Rock ofOur excursion took us on a van ride through the city of Gibraltar and for a stroll through the beautiful Alameda Gardens. The highlight, however, was our cable car ride and visit to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar, the breathtaking 1,398 ft. high monolithic limestone promontory. The views from the top of the Rock are, indeed, spectacular: the city of Gibraltar to the west; the coastline of Africa to the south; the Spanish mainland to the north; and the waters of the Mediterranean to the east.

According to Greek mythology, the Rock of Gibraltar, known to the Romans as Mons Calpe, was thought to be one of the two traditional Pillars of Hercules, the other being either Monte Hacho or Jebel Musa on the African side of the strait. According to ancient myths, the two points marked the limit to the known world.

Most of the Rock’s upper area is covered by a nature reserve, which is home to approximately 300 Barbary macaques (monkeys). Originally from the Atlas Mountains and the Rif Mountains of Morocco, the Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population on the European continent.

The macaques are a major tourist attraction – and problem… They roam freely, especially in areas near the cable car and various observation terraces. Yes, they are cute and cuddly. But they are still wild animals… And we were cautioned early on – and on several occasions – to keep a tight grip on all our belongings, as these cunning little creatures steal with impunity.

Gibraltar - Mons Calpe Suite 2Following our tour of the Top of the Rock, before descending in the cable car, my traveling companion and I stopped for a relaxing libation in the Mons Calpe Suite. Located within the cable car top station, this attractive restaurant/bar offers visitors brunch, lunch, cocktails, and also serves groups afternoon tea.

The atmosphere here is pleasant, relaxing, surprisingly un-touristy; and the view, of course, is magnificent (pictured: Yes, I think that was our table 😊). My only regret, once again, is that we did not have opportunity to sample the food here. It ranges from items like Oxtail Lasagna & Galatian Beef Cheeseburger to Classic Fish & Chips, has garnered excellent reviews, and is quite reasonably priced. The restaurant also boasts an impressive list of innovative cocktails and varied selection of wines. After an exciting day of sightseeing, Mons Calpe Suite is a great place to unwind.

Lisbon, Portugal: The final excursion of our cruise was Lisbon by Tuk Tuk. A tuk tuk is open-air three-wheeled electric vehicle similar to a golf cart. A motorized relative of the rickshaw, the tuk tuk was invented in Thailand some fifty years and was given its name because the rough engine sound made by early models.

Lisbon - Panteao Nacional, National PantheonExtending over seven steep hills, Lisbon is a fascinating city… And a tuk tuk is a great way to take it in, especially on such a delightfully warm sunny day (Pictured: Cityscape of Lisbon with Dome of Panteao Nacional, National Pantheon, formerly the Church of Santa Engrácia).

Lisbon - View of St George's Castle & 25th of April BridgeWe made our way through a series narrow uphill streets and alleyways, finally arriving at the Igreja da Garça, the Church and Convent of our Lady of Grace, in Garça, one of the ancient sections of Lisbon. Here on the terrace, beneath the shade of parasol pines, tourists and locals alike gather together for drinks served from a kiosk, to listen to the soft sounds of a combo of time-warped musicians straight out of the 60s, and, above all, to take in the stunning view of Saint George’s Castle, the city below, and the 25 de Abril Bridge, 25th of April Bridge.

Saint George’s Castle can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Its oldest parts date from the 6th century when it was fortified by the Romans, Visigoths and, eventually the Moors. Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, captured it in 1147 with the help of northern European crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. It was later dedicated to Saint George, the patron saint of England, commemorating the Anglo-Portuguese pack dating from 1371. Most of the castle was destroyed over the years, especially in the Great Earthquake of 1755, but it still includes a long extension of walls and 18 towers that were restored in the early 20th century. The towers and ramparts provide breathtaking views of Lisbon, and the beautiful gardens are home to a variety of peacocks, geese, and ducks.

Lisbon - View of St. George's Castle & 25th of April Bridge 2The 25th of April Bridge (seen in the distance in both photographs) is a suspension bridge connecting the city of Lisbon to the municipality of Almada on the south bank of the Tagus River. It has a length of 7,470 ft., making it the 43rd longest suspension bridge in the world. From its inauguration on August 6, 1966, until 1974, it was named Ponte Salazar, Salazar Bridge, after Portuguese Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar, who ordered its construction. After the Carnation Revolution, which overthrew the remnants of Salazar’s regime, the bridge was renamed for April 25, the date of the revolution.

From the Garça district, we tuk-tuked back into the heart of Lisbon’s downtown, passing a variety of historic churches, theaters, upscale shops & boutiques, as well as the famous Rossio Square and picturesque Parque Eduardo VII.

Lisbon - Ferreira port store wine barBut this excursion wasn’t entirely about sightseeing… Thankfully, there were also two very rewarding pauses for “refreshment” along the way. Our first stop was the Ervideira Wineshop for a brief wine tasting. The shop’s interior was quite modern with racks and racks of various vintages adorning the walls. We were seated at a high-top table in a special room specifically designed for tasting.

Our host was very knowledgeable and introduced a number of Portuguese vintages of excellent quality. There was one particular white wine that I undoubtedly would have purchased, had I not been afraid of it bouncing out of our tuk tuk on the way back to the ship. Oh, well.

Lisbon - Fabrica da Nata 3Our second stop was the Fábrica da Nata, a café specializing in Pastéis de Nata, the famous Portuguese custard tarts, which were originally created by Catholic monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon sometime just prior to the 18th century.

When it comes to Pastéis de Nata, Fábrica da Nata, is, as one writer put it, very much the new kid in town, as the attractive, bustling café made its debut in the center of Lisbon in March 2016. But it certainly possesses a loyal following; and there are many who believe that its custard tarts are every bit the equal of the iconic Pastéis de Belém.

Lisbon - Portuguese Custard TartsThe tarts are crunchy and creamy but, thankfully, not too eggy – and downright addictive. There are a number of menus you may order… For example, you can enjoy your Pastel de Nata with a glass of port, if you so desire. But, as far as I’m concerned, coffee is the ideal companion (espresso, however, is even better). The combo is incomparably tasty. And, trust me, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to eat just one.

And the prices here are very attractive as well… 1,10 euros per tart. The espresso is 0,70 euros, American coffee, 0,80; tea, 2,00. Then, of course, there are a number of more substantial items that are well worth considering. Like the baguettes, for instance: Tuna, 3,95; Grilled Chicken, 4,10; Serra Cheese & Smoked Ham, 6,00.

Lisbon - Fabrica da Nata InteriorI should mention that fábrica is the Portuguese word for “factory.” That means that not only do you come here to enjoy eating Pastéis de Nata, but also to see how they are made. There is a small glass-enclosed workspace to the left as you enter where the entire creative process takes place, so you can begin salivating even before your sample your first bite. And be sure to check out the automatic railing on the ceiling, as this is how the crunchy pastry cups are transported to be filled with that deliciously silky nata (cream).

If you plan to visit Lisbon, Fábrica da Nata is definitely something of a must. And if you’d like a little preview to whet your appetite, be sure to check out

 Bon Appétit!

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Negroni - ImageA decade ago, according Bon Appétit magazine, ordering a Negroni was somewhat akin to “a secret handshake, a sign to bartenders that you knew what you liked, and how to order it.” In 2013, GQ magazine wrote that “a Negroni, like black coffee or Texas, is an acquired taste.”

Time warp ahead to 2019, coincidental with the 100th anniversary of its “invention,” and the Negroni has gone from best-kept-secret to “one of the most consumed cocktails in the world, and the most successful mixed drink ever to come out of Italy,” according to the New York Times. The Guardian, a British daily, named it “the” cocktail of 2021 and also invited readers to: “Head to the menswear department of Marks & Spencer and you can even pick up a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘Negroni’ above a cheery illustration of a tumbler full to the brim with cherry-red liquid.”

Interestingly enough, however, while the Negroni has become so wildly popular of late, it still seems to be very much a case of “hiding in plain sight,” as a great majority of people, or so it seems, have never heard of it… During our recent cruises, for example, my traveling companion and I would pause for a preprandial libation in the ship’s bar/lounge before heading into the main dining room for dinner. She would enjoy her usual Cosmo, while I, of course, would have a Negroni. On several occasions, we were joined by other couples. In one instance, the gentleman took one look at what I was drinking (pictured above) and inquired: “Is that a Manhattan?”

“No,” I said. “It’s a Negroni.”

“What’s a Negroni?” he asked, giving me a look like I’d just arrived from Mars.

A Negroni is composed of equal parts gin (I prefer Bombay Sapphire), sweet vermouth, and Campari (a scarlet-colored Italian bitter that reminds you of the worst-tasting cough medicine you were ever forced to endure as a child). The ingredients are poured into a rocks (old-fashioned) glass filled with ice, stirred, and garnished with a slice of orange or orange peel.

Campari 2Yes, I know… This does not sound like the recipe for an iconic cocktail. But, trust me. The gin provides the body, the sweet vermouth the smoothness, and the Campari the bitterness…. And it is the bitterness that makes this drink uniquely special. Though entirely too assertive to sip comfortably by itself, something extraordinary happens when Campari is mixed with the botanicals in gin and the herbs & spices present in sweet vermouth. The drink suddenly becomes incredibly complex, with each sip revealing some exciting new vista. It is truly astonishing how so many different flavors can blend so seamlessly. There is absolutely no question that the Negroni is an acquired taste; but, once acquired, you are hooked… And I am. It has become my favorite cocktail. And I am not alone. Perhaps the late Anthony Bourdain said it best:

“I think the Negroni is the perfect cocktail because it is three liquors that I don’t particularly like. I don’t like Campari and I don’t like sweet vermouth and I don’t particularly love gin. But you put them together with that little bit of orange rind in a perfect setting… It’s just: It sets you up for dinner, in a way it makes you hungry, sands the edges off the afternoon. In an after dinner, it’s settling. It is both aperitif and digestive. It’s a rare drink that can do that.”

Negroni, Count CamilloAnd it all began in 1919… Recently returned to his native Italy from America, Count Carmillo Negroni stops by the Caffé Casoni in Florence. He asks bartender Fosco Scarselli for an Americano (vermouth, Campari, and soda water). However, on this occasion, he’s looking for something with a bit more punch; so, he requests that the usual soda water be replaced with gin. The bartender obliges, and even switches the traditional lemon garnish to a slice of orange to signify that this is a completely different drink. And the Negroni is born…

… As origin stories go, of course, this kind of far-fetched glamor sounds just too good to be true. And there are at least several other origin theories circulating about. Far-fetched or not, and glamor notwithstanding, the story most scholars agree upon is the one noted above, tracing the drink back to 1919 Florence and the Caffé Casoni, where the drink was named for its creator, Count Camillo Negroni.

If you’re interested in knowing a bit more about the Negroni, I highly recommend Matt Hranek’s The Negroni: A Love Affair with a Classic Cocktail. This incredible little book, which I have thoroughly enjoyed and reread on several occasions, is an absolute goldmine of intriguing little tidbits about the king of cocktails. The author begins with Essential Components of constructing a Negroni – Bitters, Vermouth, Gin, Garnish, Ice – and moves on to the essential Equipment – Glassware & Barware – you will need. By far, the most intriguing chapter is Recipes. For while the basic Negroni consists of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, the original has spawned a host of variations on the theme.

Negroni - Author Matt HranekThe Author’s Negroni, for example, which goes heavier on the bitters and gin and lighter on the vermouth, calls for 1¼ ounces each of Campari & London dry gin and only 3/4 ounce of vermouth. And Mr. Hranek (pictured) cares more about the quality of the glass than he does the ice – his choice is always crystal, preferably something from his Baccarat collection. This sounds like a definite try for me, as I am much more attracted to the bitter aspect the drink rather than its sweetness.

Another interesting variation is the Il Professore, which originated with Antonio, the bartender at the Grand Hotel Vesuvio in Naples. He adds a splash of coffee liqueur to the classic version and also a few coffee beans as well as the usual orange slice as garnish.

The Boulevardier was invented in Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in the 1920s by the eponymous owner Harry MacElhone. This rendition sticks to the classic recipe with one exception: it substitutes bourbon for gin.

And James Bond fans should be sure to try the Special Agent Negroni. While the martini is always Bond’s drink of choice, in “Risico,” one of the short stories in Ian Fleming’s book For Your Eyes Only, 007 deviates from his usual preference and orders a Negroni. Bond’s version of the cocktail remains the same as the classic recipe, although he always specified Gordon’s gin.

Mr. Hranek’s penultimate chapter, The Snacks, takes a gander at his favorite nibbles that go particularly well with a Negroni. Among the usual suspects – potato chips, green olives, salted nuts, popcorn – he recommends all manner of crunchy, salty items such as firm, salty cheeses, Parma ham, charcuterie, and taralli (ring-shaped Italian breadsticks.

For those of us who enjoy traveling, the author’s final chapter, The Black Book, is more than worth the price of the book itself, as he notes some of his favorite places around the world to enjoy a Negroni. To whet your appetite, here are just a few: Harry’s New York Bar, Paris, France; Thalami, Patmos, Greece; Caffé Gilli, Florence, Italy; Hotel Vilòn, Rome, Italy; Dukes Bar, London, England; St. John Bread and Wine, London, England; I Sodi, New York City; Quince, San Francisco.

In addition to Matt Hranek’s excellent book, for more info about this fabulous cocktail, you also might want to check out Gary Regan’s The Negroni: Drinking to La Dolce Vita, with Recipes & Lore and David T. Smith & Keli Rivers’ Negroni: More Than 30 Classic and Modern Recipes for Italy’s Iconic Cocktail.


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Azamara Journey 1Following our delightful stay at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens (see: Experiencing Athens: Hotel Grande Bretagne; Experiencing Athens: The Acropolis and Beyond; Experiencing Athens: Food & Wine Excursion), on Saturday, November 6 (2021), my traveling companion and I transferred to the port of Piraeus, Greece; and, following Covid testing, embarked upon our scheduled cruises. The first portion of the cruise included 15-nights in the Greek Islands, Cyprus, and Italy, ending in Rome.

Azamara Journey - Discoveries Dining RoomThis cruise, and the one that immediately followed, were most unusual, and I seriously doubt that the circumstances surrounding them will ever be quite the same again. I say this because our ship, the Azamara Journey, has the capacity to accommodate 690 passengers. However, there were only 109 on board for our first cruise; 147 for the second. In contrast, there were 408 crew members aboard. I’m sure you get the picture… If you happened to drop a napkin, there would be at least four members of the crew ready to retrieve it for you. Well, not quite…But, in other words, we wanted for nothing. Azamara service, which we have always found to be excellent, was simply superlative (Photo: Waiting to be of service in Discoveries, the Journey’s main dining room. Please note masks.)

The low number of passengers, we assumed, was undoubtedly due to concern about Covid. My traveling companion and I were also quite concerned and, after much agonizing, finally decided to go… And we’re both glad that we did, as we never felt safer – either before or after – than we did when we were on the ship. We were tested for Covid both before (as noted above) and during our voyage. Our temperatures were checked each morning, and masks were required in all public areas of the ship. This was true of our various land excursions as well. I can’t speak for other cruise lines, but it was quite evident to us that passengers’ safety was Azamara’s utmost concern… So much for Covid…

 Rather than give you a day-by-day ad infinitum, ad nauseam running commentary of our experiences, which had been my original intention, I decided that, in the interests of brevity, I would just touch upon some of the highlights.

Santorini - CliffsSantorini, Greece: Our cruise got off to a somewhat rocky (literally) start. Our first island stop was to have been a morning arrival at Mykonos, one of the most popular of all the Greek isles. But the sea was too rough to put into port. So, much later in the day, we anchored at Santorini. The view from the deck of our ship – looking up at the 1,000-foot rugged cliffs that form the western flanks of the main island – was truly spectacular (pictured).

Santorini - Cable CarUnfortunately, due to our late arrival – and scheduled departure that evening – the possibilities of exploring the island were severely limited. So, we took the tender craft into the small port of Skala and then the cable car (pictured: our ship, the Azamara Journey, anchored in the bay at Santorini) to Fira (also spelled Thira or Thera), the island capital. The Frommer Guide is absolutely correct when it notes that “Fira surrendered its soul to tourism several decades ago.” Once you depart the cable car, you are confronted with nothing but a plethoric variety of second-rate restaurants and flood of tacky souvenir shops.

Santorini - View from FiraWhat makes this excursion worthwhile, however, is not only the breathtaking scene from the cable car, noted above, but also the staggering land/seascape that may be viewed from Fira. The cliffside setting and closeup of those picturesque white stone cubical houses with their striking blue domes overlooking the bay are, in themselves, worthy of a journey (pictured).

And Ammoudi Bay has its own unique story. The bay, some 6 miles long and as deep as 1,312 feet in places, is actually the flooded caldera (crater) of a volcano, whose eruptions caused the center of a once-large island to collapse.

 Patmos - St. John the Theologian MonasteryPatmos, Greece: According to Christian tradition, John the Apostle, brother of James and author of several books of the New Testament portion of the Bible, was exiled to the Isle of Patmos in 95 A.D., where he composed the Book of Revelation. Although biblical scholars are somewhat divided as to whether the John who lived on Patmos and John the Apostle were the same person, his presence – both historical and legendary – still looms large, as the tiny island is regarded as hallowed ground and a place of pilgrimage. A magnificent fortress-like Greek Orthodox monastery, the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian (pictured), was constructed by the monk Christodoulos in 1088 and has remained in continuous operation, surviving raids by Norman pirates in the 11th & 12th centuries and succession of occupiers, including the Germans during World War II.

The monastery is home to numerous treasures: a collection of jeweled chalices, crowns and crosses, ancient transcriptions by Aristotle, and artwork by El Greco. There are also 330 manuscripts housed in the library (267 on parchment), including 82 manuscripts of the New Testament.

 The monastery is well worth visiting… Just be aware, however, that the only access is via a steep, winding cobblestoned incline – a strenuous hike even for the physically fit – the last segment of which is lined with tacky souvenir shops all majoring in assorted religious trinkets and paraphernalia. The successive waves of occupiers are nothing compared to the hordes of tourists that annually descend upon this holy enclave.

Patmos - Cave of the ApocalypseFor two years during his exile, John the Apostle made his home in a small cave, now known as the Cave of the Apocalypse (pictured). It was here, it is believed, that he received a series of divine visions, which he then dictated to his disciple, Prochoros, who wrote the messages down utilizing a slope in the cave wall as his desk. According to Christian tradition, these words have come down to us as the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament of the Christian Bible.

The cave is now enclosed within a sanctuary, which, in turn, is encircled by chapels and a 17th-century monastic school. Once again, tourists and religious souvenirs abound.

Filerimos - View of Lalyssos Bay belowRhodes, Greece: Our excursion began with a panoramic drive, taking in views of the Acropolis of Rhodes and continuing past the ruins of the amphitheater, stadium, and the temple of Apollo. By the time we reached the excavations of Kamiros, one of the three large Doric cities that united to create the city-state of Rhodes, I was already suffering from the “another day, another ruin” syndrome.

Of far more interest was the sojourn to Mount Filerimos, a plateau 1,000 feet above sea level, overlooking the small town of Lalyssos and the Bay of Ixia and Trianda. From its summit, there is a spectacular view of the harbor below, and beyond, the deep blue waters of the Aegean as it stretches toward the coast of Asia Minor (pictured).

A winding road leads to a relatively wide plateau where the Monastery of Filerimos is located. This site is also of immense archeological importance, as it was here that the

Acropolis of the ancient town of Lalyssos once stood, with an important temple dedicated to Athena Polias (protector of the city).

Filerimos - Monastery Exterior 2The hill took its name from a monk who came from Jerusalem in the 13th century bearing an icon of the Virgin Mary that was supposedly painted by the Apostle Luke, author of the Gospel and the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The small church he constructed later became a basilica and then, in the 14th century, under the rule of the Knights of St. John, a monastery surrounded by cloisters, cells, and a number of chapels.

Filerimos - Monastery Interior - Icon of Virgin MaryThe icon remained in the monastery until 1523. When the island came into the possession of the Ottoman Turks, the icon was transported by the Knights to France and from there to Italy, and then Malta and Russia, where it stayed until the revolution of 1917. Since 2002, it has been kept in the Blue Chapel of the National Museum of Montenegro, while a copy now resides in the monastery (pictured).

The monastery was destroyed during the Turkish occupation; but it was reconstructed in the 1920s by the Italians, who kept it open with monks from the Capuchin Order (a religious order of Franciscan friars within the Catholic Church). When the monks returned to Italy during World War II, the monastery was closed. Today, it remains basically unchanged. A long stairway at the entrance leads up an avenue of cypress trees and bougainvillea to the cloister and the foundations of the temple. The early Christian Basilica and the small subterranean Byzantine church are open to visitors; and the serene setting has become a favorite for wedding ceremonies.

Rhodes - Acropolis of LindosWe were fortunate enough to have an excellent guide who was young (in his twenties), interesting, and well-informed.  And one of the facts he mentioned was of particular interest to movie buffs. A number of flicks were filmed on the isle of Rhodes, but none more famous than the 1961 adventure blockbuster The Guns of Navarone, which starred  Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn. The film unit was based on Rhodes from April to July 1960. In fact, Anthony Quinn was so taken with the island that he bought land there in an area that is still called Anthony Quinn Bay. Locations such as Rhodes Harbor, St. Nicholas Bay, Rhodes Medieval City, and the Acropolis of Lindos (pictured) figure prominently in the film.

Day at Sea:  A sea day gives passengers a chance to chill out and, since they don’t have to get up early for a shore excursion – catch up on their sleep as well… Or, in my case, catch up on my notes.

How Food Affects Wine 2But even on a sea day, there’s plenty going on (sometimes too much) to keep people occupied. At 2:00 p.m., for example, there was a Destination Enrichment lecture by Professor Martin Raish on “Art from Athens’ Golden Age.” We enjoyed several of his excellent lectures… However, on this particular afternoon, there was a conflict. At the very same time as the lecture, the ship’s sommeliers were offering a flavor pairing course entitled “How Food Affects Wine?” I’m sure you can guess which one we attended. 😊

Just to keep our hedonistic tendencies in the proper perspective, however, immediately following the wine seminar, we settled in at Aqualina, the ship’s Italian restaurant, to enjoy the pleasures of afternoon tea.

 Limassol, Cyprus: We hopped into a 4×4 and set off on a journey into the Cypriot countryside. Our driver/guide was named Zeus (no, I’m not kidding). Once you leave Limassol, the second largest urban area in Cyprus after Nicosia, the terrain becomes incredibly rugged – imagine the landscape of Mars – punctuated by rambling hills & valleys and quiet little villages.

Following a visit to Kouris, the largest man-made dam on Cyprus, it was a short drive to our next port of call, the tiny village of Lofou, which is named after the hilly landscape  that stretches around it like a huge amphitheater. The exact date of the founding of the village is somewhat up for grabs, but it is generally assumed that the first inhabitants settled in during the Arab raids of the 7th century. To escape the Arab attacks, they moved away from the shore, eventually settling in the hills of Lofou.

Lofou Village, Cyprus1Renowned for its labyrinth of cobblestone streets and beautiful houses constructed of local stone, Lofou is, indeed, a glorious step back in time. Zeus parked out 4×4 on the outskirts, and we descended on foot along a picturesque passageway (photo) into the heart of the village.

Lofou Village, Cyprus2 Arriving at the village’s main drag, if you’ll pardon the expression, the members of our group paused for refreshment at the take-out window of the Kamares Taverna. Some indulged in wine or beer. Since it was a bit early in the day for me, I tucked into a rejuvenating shot of double espresso to go with a complimentary pastry. Please note the small table to the right in the photograph… this is where several of us decided to give our weary feet a rest and soak up the unhurried simplicity of a bygone age.

Lofou Village, Cyprus3 - Kamares TavernaThe taverna interior, however, was even more of a time warp. I had wandered in to use the restroom and was so completely taken with its dimly lit atmospheric recesses – and the older gentleman napping at one of the tables – that I immediately began snapping photographs. As you can readily observe, the rough stone walls are a treasure trove of antiques and family heirlooms with assorted farm implements – remnants of a simpler agrarian age – hanging from the ceiling.

My one regret is that we did not have the opportunity to dine here. The restaurant has received excellent reviews and serves traditional and innovative Mediterranean and Cypriot dishes, as well as a wide variety of pastries. From what I gather, Pork in Red Wine and Simmered Lamb are among the house favorites.

Cyprus - Lambouri WineryThe final stop on our day’s excursion was the Lambouri Winery (pictured: ready for our tasting), considered by many – this writer included – to be the top producer of boutique wines in Cyprus. Located in Platres, a village famous for its winemaking tradition, the estate’s grapes are grown on the island’s finest – and one of Europe’s highest – wine regions, the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains.

The winery offers a wide variety of vintages, red, white & rosé, dry & sweet. Olympia, produced from the indigenous Lefkada grape, is a medium-sweet red wine; Crimson Sky, on the other hand, is a hefty dry red, an interesting combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. White wines include the medium-sweet Zena and delightfully dry Seaside Dream, both produced from the Xynisteri grape. Summer Blush is a very pleasant. dry rosé.

Lambouri’s claim to fame, however, is undoubtedly their Commandaria Legacy. Commandaria is an amber-colored dessert wine produced by local Cyprus grapes Mavro and Xynisteri. It represents an ancient wine style documented in Cyprus as far back as 800 BC by the Greek poet Hesiod. It also has the distinction of being the world’s second oldest named wine still in production, as the name Commandaria dates from the time of the crusades in the 12th century. Richard the Lionheart proclaimed it “The wine of Kings, and the King of Wines.”

A sweet, often fortified, wine made from very ripe sun-dried grapes, Lambouri Commandaria Legacy is aged in oak casks for at least nine years. Intense caramel in color, it is a full-bodied powerhouse on the palate with a long and distinctly raisin-y finish. Trust me, this wine will put hair on your chest.

Europa on Bull - CreteAgios Nikolaos, Crete, Greece: The first thing that caught my eye as our ship docked in Agios Nikolaos was an interesting sculpture at the water’s edge… I discovered that it is a sculpture of Europa riding on a bull. In Greek mythology, Europa is either the daughter of Phoenix or of Agenor, the king of Phoenicia. Her great beauty supposedly caught the eye of Zeus, who approached her in the form of a white bull and carried her away from Phoenicia to Crete. She bore Zeus three sons: Minos, ruler of Crete; Rhadamanthys, ruler of the Cyclades Islands; and, according to some legends, Sarpedon, ruler of Lycia. She later married Asterius, the king of Crete, who adopted her sons. She was worshipped under the name of Hellotis in Crete, where the festival Hellotia was held in her honor… An interesting start to our visit.

Spinalonga Island, GreeceOur shore excursion was to the small fishing village of Plaka. From there we hopped aboard a small wooden boat to the tiny island of Spinalonga. The island was first inhabited by Christians. Sometime later, Venetians constructed an impressive fortress. The island was eventually turned into a leper colony by the Greek state and remained so through the 18th and 19th centuries and even into the 20th century. The last leper left the island in 1957. This was a rather interesting excursion, but our guide was incredibly boring; we spent entirely too much time just standing around listening to her theological discourses.

Siracusa, Sicily, Italy: Up to this point, we had had nothing but sunshine. Upon our arrival in Sicily, however, it poured; undoubtedly Mother Nature getting even for all those sunny days. The rain was so heavy that all excursions for the day were canceled. It also happened to be my birthday. When we returned from breakfast, we found that the birthday elf had been at work and a big Happy Birthday! sign had been hung in our stateroom. I also received a card from Azamara signed by both the ship’s captain and the hotel director. As I said at the outset… superlative service!

Limoncello, Sorrento Naples, Italy: Our full day excursion (8 hours) began with a stop at a limoncello factory, where we witnessed how this magical – and exceedingly potent (typically 30% alcohol by volume) – lemon elixir is made and bottled. Samples were freely poured; and, even though it was quite early in the day (about 10:00 a.m.), my sample went down smooth and easy. I could not, of course, leave empty handed. I purchased a beautiful hand-painted bottle along with two matching hand-painted glasses, both of which, even after being emptied, will make a marvelous remembrance of our journey.

Amalfi from AboveThis was followed by a drive along the Amalfi coast, a 34-mile stretch of coastline along the southern edge of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula. The view – sheer cliffs and a rugged shoreline awash with beaches and picturesque pastel-colored fishing villages – is, indeed, spectacular. During the high season this route can be choked with traffic, but in the middle/end of November, thankfully, our bus had smooth sailing.

Amalfi itself, which dates back to early Roman rule, is a beautiful city that has managed to preserve its Medieval charm. A stroll along the narrow, shop-filled streets of the historic city lead to the stunning Amalfi Cathedral, a 9th-century Roman Catholic structure in the Piazza del Duomo that is dedicated to the Apostle Saint Andrew.

Amalfi CathedralPredominantly of Arab-Norman Romanesque architectural style, the cathedral has been remodeled several times, adding Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, and Baroque elements. The front façade was rebuilt in 1891 after the original one collapsed. It is constructed of striped marble and stone with open arches that have lace detailing not commonly found in Italian sacred architecture. Sixty-two wide & deep steps lead up to the bronze doors that were cast in Constantinople before 1066 by Simeon of Syria. The slightly off-center bell tower, constructed between the 12th & 13th centuries, includes four small towers that are adorned with arches and covered with majolica tiles.

Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy: End of the first cruise. We stayed on for the second half, as did a number of other passengers. Under normal circumstances, we would definitely have struck out on our own for a tour into Rome. However, because of Italian Government’s restrictions regarding Covid, we were unable to leave the ship on any excursion that was not specifically conducted by our cruise line. So near… yet so far. ☹

 Bon Appétit!

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Brandywine Prime - BarOn Thursday, April 28, 2022, 6:30 p.m., Brandywine Prime, 1617 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, will host a special dinner paired with a variety of bourbons (or wines).

First Course – USDA Prime Steak Tartare: Quail Egg, Pomme Frites… Duck Confit Arancini; Pairing – Alexardo Bourbon Whiskey Sour

Second Course – Bourbon Brown Butter Basted Scallop: Kentucky Sweet Corn Pudding, Maple Roasted Bacon; Pairing – Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV or Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel

Third Course – Brined Berkshire Pork Loin: Spiced Apple Glaze, Hasselback Parsnips, Cheddar Grits; Pairing – Van Winkle 12-yr., Lot B or Dumol Western Reach Chardonnay, 2019 Russian River

Fourth Course – Spiced-Rubbed USDA Ribeye Filet: Sweet Potato, Bourbon Maple Butter, Smokey Southern Baked Beans, Bourbon Au Poivre Sauce; Pairing – Ole Forester 1920 Prohibition Style or Herman Story Casual Encounters, 2018 Napa

Dessert Course – Maple Bacon Bourbon Cupcake: Pecan Wet Nuts

The price of the Bourbon (or Wine) Dinner is $175.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, send to MICHAEL@BRANDYWINEPRIMNE.COM or call (610) 388-8088.

 Bon Appétit!

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Gary's Wine - Hillsborough, NJ - InteriorIn addition to patronizing local retailers on a regular basis, most wine lovers subscribe to a number of online sources to keep them apprised of new releases, highly-rated vintages, sales, and other special offers. One of my favorite online resources is Gary’s Wine and Marketplace,, which features locations in Bernardsville, Closter, Madison, and Wayne, New Jersey, and Napa, California. I have always found their online service to be exceptionally prompt & reliable and their selections & sale pricing some of the best around.

I just recently received several of their emails offering three diverse red wines on sale, which I immediately ordered, have been extremely pleased with, and thought all you red wine lovers out there might enjoy as well.

2019 A.A. Badenhorst “The Curator” Red Wine (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.

A.A. Badenhorst - The CuratorFormer Rustenberg winemaker Adi Badenohorst 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 Badenhorst winery uses traditional winemaking methods. All fruit is whole bunch-pressed and fermented in old oak casks, concrete vats or open wooden vats, depending upon color and variety. The red wines then undergo long post-ferment macerations before aging in 4,000-liter casks.

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.

And, as Gary’s notes: “In the world of wine values – this is the Hope Diamond!” Normally priced at $11.99, it is now on sale for $8.99 a bottle. Get it while supplies last!

2016 M.O.B. “Lote 3” Tinto Dão (Portugal): The wine name combines the initials of three of Portugal’s top winemakers: Jorge Moreira, Francisco Olazabal, and Jorge Serôdio Borges. This trio has created some of the most exciting and authentically Portuguese wines on the market today. Their 2016 Lote 3 Tinto is a blend of three native grape varieties, Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, and Jaen, all grown in the high-altitude vineyards of Portugal’s Dão region, which is famous for producing excellent full-bodied red wines.

M.O.B. Lote 3 TintoThe wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged for twelve months in used French barriques. Garnering 90-points from the Wine Advocate, the M.O.B. is fruit-forward and marvelously fresh with just a hint of spice, which makes it an absolute pleasure to drink. If you are a fan of Côtes de Rhone and Spanish reds, this is definitely a wine that you will enjoy.

And you will enjoy the price as well… Normally retailing at $21.99, Gary’s is now offering it up at the lowest price in the country, $14.39.

2019 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 is now in the hands of the third generation. The organically farmed vineyards are planted only with indigenous varieties and vinified using a cru mentality; that is, everything is worked by hand in order to enhance the pure expression of grape & terroir.

Feudo Montoni Nero d'AvolaThe name of the vineyard is Lagnusa, which in Sicilian means “that which is lazy and produces small quantities.” 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 also sees another four months in barrel before bottling.

The result is a highly-rated wine – Wine Enthusiast, 91; Vinous, 92; Wine Advocate, 91; Wine & Spirits, 92, “Best Buy – that is silky smooth and seductive on the palate. If you have never tasted Nero d’Avola, this wine would make a wonderful introduction.

Normally priced at $24.99, Gary’s is now offering it on sale for $18.99. Highly recommended. A fabulous wine at an equally fabulous price point.


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333 Belrose Bar & Grill

333 Belrose Lane

Radnor, Pennsylvania

(610) 293-1000

333 Belrose - InteriorAlthough it hardly seems possible, thirteen years have passed since I penned my first review of 333 Belrose – April 2009 to be precise. Interestingly enough, not a great deal appears to have 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 - Java Pork TenderloinAnd, although Mr. deMarco’s seasonally changing menu continues to offer his patrons exciting new possibilities, there are still a number of old favorites that I remember from my first go round. The inordinately tender yet crispy Salt Pepper Calamari with beguiling pumpkinseed aioli, for example, still makes a fabulous starter, as does the Butter Lettuce Salad garnished with Danish blue cheese, candid walnuts, shaved apple, and finished with an outstanding Champagne vinaigrette. Entrée-wise, as I mentioned in my initial review, pork still plays a major role. The Java Pork Tenderloin (pictured) with smashed yams, mango salsa, black bean sauce, and maple jus remains a house favorite, with the Grilled Pork Chop accompanied by down-home andouille-spiked mac & cheese finishing a close second.

Our most recent visit, however, was somewhat different in scope, as my dining partner and I decided to take advantage of Main Line Today Restaurant Week. Which meant that though our menu choices were limited to three apps, three entrées, and two desserts, the price – $39.95 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity) for a three-course dinner – and the overall quality of the cuisine were more than sufficient compensation.

333 Belrose - Spicy Brussels SproutsTo start things off, I chose the Spicy Asian Brussels Sprouts (pictured) embellished with peanuts, shishito peppers (shishito peppers are small mild peppers from Japan with an average of one out of ten being on the hot side), and sweet chili sauce. Brussels sprouts are just one of those vegetables… you either love them or hate them, there seems to be no middle ground. I am most definitely of the former persuasion. And, to the kitchen’s credit, the sprouts were perfectly prepared… Not too crunchy; not too mushy. Just right. My only quibble is that the word “spicy” is really something of a misnomer, as there was infinitely more sweetness than spice at work here – indeed, describing the dish as “cloying,” at least from my palate’s perspective, would not be considered hyperbole.

333 Belrose -Butternut Squash BisqueMy dining partner’s Butternut Squash Bisque (pictured), on the other hand, was spot-on perfect, a simply superb rendering of this traditional favorite. The squash is beautifully seasoned with ginger and touch of curry, then combined with sautéed onion and submerged in copious amounts of apple cider. Once puréed, hot cream is added, followed by a bit of sour cream, cinnamon, and brown sugar. The flavor is rich, complex, and incredibly addictive. Definitely distinctive and not to be missed.

Entrée possibilities included the above-noted Java Pork Tenderloin, Chef’s Choice Chicken Entrée, and the Simply Grilled Salmon (pictured). On any other occasion, I have no doubt, one or both of us would have gone right for the pork… But on this particular evening, for some reason, we were both in the mood for salmon, which turned out to be an absolutely fabulous choice.

333 Belrose - Simply Grilled SalmonFor starters, the fish was a beautifully prepared – just as our server suggested and we specified – medium rare. But not only was it simply grilled, but also simply presented with a house salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, toasted sesame seeds, cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, crispy wontons, and utterly seductive orange-ginger vinaigrette. And that lovely orange-ginger concoction proved to be not only a marvelous dressing for the salad but also a wonderful complement to the salmon, transforming a relatively straightforward dish into something sublime.

333 Belrose - Bread PuddingDessert choices were especially limited and pretty basic – either Warm Bread Pudding (pictured) or Flourless Chocolate Cake. I freely admit to being something of a chocoholic, but flourless chocolate cake – at least for my palate – is just too much of a good thing. Just too much of too much. I opted instead for the bread pudding… as did my dining partner, who is not a particular fan of chocolate.

… And, once again, this proved to be a most fortuitous choice, as the bread pudding succeeded in surpassing all expectations. Rich, creamy, and calorically out-of-sight, it added a decidedly decadent note to a perfectly delightful evening at table… And, as I mentioned above, the price was right.

 Bon Appétit!

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