Archive | July, 2011

Restaurant Review: Antibes Bistro NYC

25 Jul

Popped into Antibes Bistro this past weekend on a tip from TimeOut as an alternative to some of the more highly trafficked brunch spots in the area. As someone who appreciates a good brunch and better yet, Sud de France cuisine, I was immediately intrigued by Antibes after reading the synopsis and checking out the menu online, and decided to give it a try.
On the Lower East Side, it’s located on Suffolk, minutes from the Delancy or 2nd Ave subway stops. On this particular visit, we arrived at the restaurant toward the tail end of brunch (service is till 4PM), so we’d missed the brunch rush—which was great–as it afforded us time to have a leisurely meal and a pleasurable chat with our waiter. We’d reserved a table though as it wasn’t busy we opted to sit at the bar which worked out just fine.
As one would imagine, the menu is heavily inspired by cuisine from southeastern France and is the brainchild of Executive Chef David Shemesh who’s purported to have studied under some of the very best of our time. We started with the classic, ‘Tartine and Confiture’ ($4), – a toasted French baguette with homemade jam and butter, a great way to kick off our meal. Then on advice of the very helpful and incredibly friendly bartender/waiter, Amir, we moved on to the ‘Antibes Eggs’ ($10): a potato pancake with smoked salmon, poached eggs and mixed greens, as our Mains. It was very delicious and perhaps one of the best I’ve had in the city. The portion’s a little on the smaller side (though I understand they’re toying with the idea of increasing it a little). You may need a starter (as we’d ordered–or an additional side) if you’re on the hungrier side. It is certainly a must try though. To cap things off, again, recommended by Amir, we gave the ‘sweet potato ice cream’ a try. It gets high marks for uniqueness, plus it was pretty tasty, too.
Overall we had a very pleasant time at Antibes Bistro and left thoroughly satisfied. We’ll certainly return to try some of the other menu items like, amongst others, the ‘Omelet du Antibes’ and ‘Brioche French Toast’ with fresh fruit and ginger syrup. Dinner is also on the agenda as well – Antibes hosts live jazz every Tuesday and Wednesday nights featuring local artists

112 Suffolk St
(between Delancey St & Rivington St)
New York, NY
www.antibesbistro.com

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Hotel Review: Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver, BC

19 Jul

In a city that boasts its fair share of Fairmonts (in fact
there are several within mere blocks of each other, including historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver – formerly ‘Hotel Vancouver’), Fairmont Pacific Rim is a relatively recent addition (just under 18 months old) to the line of luxury hotels and perhaps, arguably, one of the best hotels in the city. It is
conveniently located downtown, just off Coal Harbor and other attractions like Canada Place – housing the Convention Center, the Olympic Cauldron, Vancouver’s seawall stretch and not to be missed Stanley Park.

One thing you immediately notice upon arrival is the warm
welcome by the bellhop receivers at the front entrance–smartly dressed in all
black attire complete with fedoras and a welcoming smile—asking to help with
luggage while directing you to the front desk attendants. Off to your right as
you enter is a lobby lounge and bar towards the back and, to your right sits
the reception area and Concierge. On this particular stay check-in was pretty
quick and efficient and we were able to get up to our rooms in no time.

The hotel design aesthetic is the brainchild of Hong Kong born Canadian, James K.M Cheng (also responsible for the Shangri-La Vancouver and Tonronto) and is decidedly ultra-modern but functionally so. Rooms are well appointed and very spacious with either city or bay views and come equipped with all the standards, plus plush bedding, do-it-yourself coffee service by
way of pretty smart looking Nespresso makers, expansive bathrooms with rain
showers, TV in mirror, and luxurious bath products by Miller Harris.

Oru, the onsite restaurant is a Pan-Asian bistro helmed by Executive chef David Wong who cleverly incorporates east and west flavors in his specialties. I’m a sucker for a nice breakfast spread and Oru’s is pretty much as good as they come. You have
the choice to order a la carte or experience the buffet (which includes most things on the menu anyway). My recommendation: go for the buffet. It runs ‘roughly’ about the same amount, ~30 CAD (not terribly inexpensive, admittedly), as ordering a la carte, but with a better value in my opinion.  For a grab-and-go option or a more casual alternative, check out bustling daytime café and nighttime wine bar, Giovane café which is also onsite.

For a little R&R, the Fairmont Pacific Rim features a roof deck cabana lounge with a heated pool where you can take a plunge and order drinks pool-side till after dark, or for a more serene relaxing experience, try
one of the services at Willow Stream spa.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and highly recommend this property. And, who knows, you may just run into a celebrity or two.

Buka – Authentic Nigerian Fare in the Heart of Brooklyn

17 Jul

For good food I’m willing to go just about anywhere — well, just about. And I’m sure hardcore foodies (which not to be mistaken I’m not) will certainly agree. Thus when the opportunity presented itself to trek out to Brooklyn, to Buka, I immediately seized it.
Being of Nigerian heritage, I’d searched unsuccessfully for restaurants specializing in the regional fare, for years, and thankfully a good friend turned up with the discovery that turned out to be precisely what I’d been looking for.
Buka (which could stand for cafeteria in Yoruba) is a restaurant and bar that features mostly southern Nigerian grub in the area of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. I would say the menu is pretty comprehensive and features authentic specialties spanning a selection of starters, mains, and sides (which really could be ordered in variety to make a meal).
Some items on the menu may be recognizable (by comparison) to diners not terribly familiar with the cuisine such as, ‘Suya’, a kebab of sorts, grilled pieces of meat seasoned with Nigerian spices, to give it a distinctive flavor, ‘Dundun’, essentially, sweet potato fries, and ‘Dodo’, which would be known to lovers of Caribbean cuisine as platanos/fried plantains.
On this particular visit I had the ‘Moi Moi’, a kind of bean cake, if you will, reminiscent of Latin American tomales, except ‘moi moi’ is made with finely blended beans vs corn in the case of tomales. It is seasoned to a savory taste and has a variety of ingredients, including some cases, fish and boiled eggs, to give it some added flavor — simply delicious. My companion had the ‘Akara’ which is pretty much made from the same batter as moi moi but instead, it is fried (so sort of a savory fritter) and has no fish (which worked for her since she’s vegetarian).
Carrying on to Mains, again, given that my dinner companion is vegetarian, she opted for making a meal out of sides: ewa (beans.. stewed), Spinach (or ‘efo’ as known locally), chopped and seared, and, ‘Jellof rice’, a sort of curried rice using stewed tomato sauce. She remarked that she enjoyed them all.
I on the other hand had what’s designated on the menu as a type of ‘fufu’, for familiarity sake, I’d imagine, (though known locally as ‘Iyan’), which can be perhaps loosely compared to mashed potatoes–with a more condensed consistency. It’s made out of mashed ‘yams’ (though think along the lines of yucca rather than sweet potatoes) and is served with a variety of thick sauces (which Nigerians commonly refer to as soups). I went for the one prepared with crushed melon seeds (egusi), spinach and typically smoked/dried fish, etc. Plus, at Buka, you also have a choice of additions: goat, ‘Igbin’ (snails), chicken, tilapia, etc.
Portions run on the larger side (I guess once you leave Manhattan everything tends to be bigger), so bring your appetite. Price points are also pretty reasonable but note that Buka is cash only, so plan accordingly. Worry not though, should you happen to forget to make a withdrawal prior to heading out, an ATM conveniently sits at the entrance to the restaurant

72 Hours in Buenos Aires

8 Jul

Perhaps you’ve mused, while listening—or maybe you were waltzing—to Astor Piazzolla’s Spring in Buenos Aires, that it’d be nice to actually experience a spring in Buenos Aires. Or, maybe been hypnotized by the sensuality of one of Carlo Gardel’s tangos and, being fully seduced by it, imagined yourself in the arms of another, gyrating, swiftly stepping, to carefully choreographed rhythms and thought: oh what it must be like…to be there, taking it all in first hand, in the hometown of such infectious music..

Sitting in a charming restaurant, Milion (Parana 1048, tel: 4815 9925) in one of Buenos Aires’ popular Barrios, Recoleta, I’m stunned by the fact that I’ve finally made it here, Argentina, Buenos Aires to be precise; the fantasy’s now reality and it’s a little surreal. To be sure, it’s a pretty short trip –roughly 4 days- but what the hec, I’m here and I’m going to make the most of it.

You have to understand, the love affair from afar begun as pure fascination. Maybe it’s something about its uniqueness: the mesh of two worlds – old world Europe, seen in the magnificent structures that dot Buenos Aires’ grand boulevards and plazas, and the South American culture the pulsates through its inhabitants, Portenos, as people from BA are known (meaning people from the port—being a port city), or the openness of the people (Argentines are a pretty friendly and hospitable lot), whatever, I’d certainly been intrigued and now satisfying my curiosity.

Sure, it’s a long haul from my home base of NYC (roughly 10 hrs) but with Buenos Aires being a mere 1 hr ahead, there’s absolutely no jetlag to contend with, compared to flying east or west the same duration. And if you’re one who’s able to sleep on planes, taking the redeye from NYC to Buenos Aires is a breeze, relatively speaking, of course. American, AA.com, runs a direct route from JFK on their more comfortable flagship, the 777 Luxury Liner featuring 3 classes of service, First, recently refurbished Business–with sleeper seats–and Economy. Connections are also possible via Miami or Dallas and Atlanta on Delta, or Houston via Continental. I flew coach having been able to book Award seats (a mere 40K miles round trip — American does have one of the better mileage programs — no surprise there being pioneers of the scheme with the AAdvantage program). Meal service in coach is decent: departure dinner (though entrees run on the smaller side), and pre-arrival snack — usually a warm croissant, yogurt, orange juice and coffee or tea.

Arrival in Buenos Aires is at Ezeiza (EZE) and is approximately 50 mins outside the center, so plan accordingly. American tourists should be aware that the Argentinian government imposes what’s called a ‘reciprocal’ entrance fee of 140 USD upon arrival (payable in cash or credit card—Amex, MasterCard, Visa). The silver lining: the fee is good for 10 years. So if you plan on returning multiple times within that time period, you don’t have to fork out such amounts of cash each time you plan to enter the country.  A taxi into town (no subway or rail service linking the city and airport) will run you approx. 40 USD. VIP Car ( tel: 54-11 5480-4594, which can be booked right at the airport is a pretty decent alternative and costs a little less–around 35 USD (130 Pesos) as of this writing. As you may have surmised, this isn’t a luxury car service given the price point (as compared to a regular taxi) but it’s just as efficient and the big kicker is you can arrange a return with the same company for less at–around 98 Pesos (roughly 27USD).

Buenos Aires is divided into Barrios (neighborhoods), each with its own distinctive character. Palermo is by far the largest and is further divided into sub quarters, if you will, Palermo Soho (which has a sweltering nightlife scene and trendy eateries), Palermo Hollywood (dubbed as such, for its movie production scene), and the main Palermo to the south which is pretty lush and green due the various parks that can be found there like Parque 3 de Febrero  and Jardin Zoologico, for instance. And, just to the west is historic Recoleta, one of BA’s exclusive neighborhoods. Here you can find Cemetario de La Recoleta, resting place of famous Argentine, Eva Peron, museums like Museo Nacionales de Bellas Artes, and several embassies.

Other notable Barrios are a couple of some of the city’s oldest, San Telmo and La Boca. These two neighborhoods embody the very spirit of the Portenos, given their proximity to the port and not surprisingly, some of the first inhabited areas of the city. San Telmo is also pretty close to one of the city’s important landmarks, Plaza de Mayo. This historic square marks the spot where the Argentinean revolution began in the people’s quest for independence from the Spanish crown, May 25th 1810. Check out the European Beaux Arts style architecture that flanks its corners. There are also various government buildings and religious houses in the area. It is said that the popular style of song and dance native to Argentina, (but of course known and waltzed to the world over), the Tango was born in these very neighborhoods. And thus, do not be surprised if on a market day outing in San Telmo (typically weekends), you happen upon full on Tango performances to gathered crowds on the street. Same goes for areas in La Boca as well.

On the banks of the Rio de La Plata sits one of Buenos Aires’ exclusive neighborhoods, ritzy Puerto Madero. Constructed in the late 1800s, it was designed by British Architect, Sir John Hawkshaw and overseen by Argentine business man, Eduardo Medero. Today fancy restaurants and cafes flank the banks of the port and newly constructed modern high rises, mostly condos, are beginning to form the area’s skyline. While in Puerto Madero you cannot miss famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s structure, the pedestrian only bridge, Puente de la Mujer (or ‘Woman’s bridge—the English translation).

Lodging options are plentiful, so finding something decent and within ones price range shouldn’t be a hardship. In San Telmo, Juan Julio’s hip Axel Hotel (other locations in Berlin and Barcelona) is a good choice–though I’d highly caution that you watch your step in the bathroom if you happen to be in one of the city facing rooms as the floors tend to get slippery post lathering up. I’m afraid Axel may have focused a little too much on design here at the compromise of safety (to be sure, some of it is pretty striking and ingenious, especially the see-through indoor pool). A couple important valuable frills to note: Rooms come with Free wi-fi and daily breakfast buffet. The Hotel InterContinental close by on Moreno St (809 Moreno St, Tel: +54-11-4340 7100) is also a pretty decent choice especially for Priority Club Rewards members, and the Hilton in Puerto Madero is also a  safe bet as well for HHonors members, if you’re a points junky like yours truly.

Food is absolutely scrumptious and relatively inexpensive. No doubt this is meat country, so carnivores rejoice. The steaks here are indeed all the rage, so you’re in for a treat, if you happen to enjoy a nice carne. Alas, as a non-meat eater, I cannot attest to this; however, I thoroughly enjoyed other options on the menu. There are indeed a plethora of vege, seafood and fowl options. Million, mentioned earlier in this article, is a great choice for a nice relaxed meal with a decent wine list showcasing some of the regions finest.  If you aren’t quick ready for dinner, drop in for drinks and tapas at the bar. It’s usually frequented by locals and the wait-staff there are very friendly and eager to make you feel very welcome.  As an alternative, I’d also recommend Palermo Soho as a good area to seek out dining options as well. There are several decent restaurants in the neighborhood and you can sample BA’s nightlife post dinner as there are several trendy bars and clubs in the area.

Indeed, it certainly goes without saying that when in Argentina, you must experience the culture and soul of the country through one of the best gifts it’s given to the world, Tango. No doubt you’re bound to happen upon street artists swaying to its rhythms while out and about or while sipping a coffee in a café (historic Café Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo is known for this), or dinning out in one of the numerous superb restaurants; however do yourself a favor and make sure you catch the full spectacle (dinner included and the wine free flowing) at the popular Esquina Carlos Gardel. The price is about $110 and totally worth every penny. The dancers are simply sensational and every seat in the house gets a good view. Plus the food is pretty tasty and varied; there’s something on the menu for everyone. If you do one thing while here—make sure you catch this show.

Well, I went; I saw, and hopefully will return—at some point. If you’re at all curious, it’s a city that’s worth checking out. And, better yet, with more time see other areas in the surrounding regions-or nations-Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil are all within easy reach. Pack your bags, your Buenos Aires moment awaits.

*Article originally written by author September 2010*

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