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- The World's Best Restaurant Serves Infusions:2009-11-03 19:04:32
Spain's El Bulli restaurant has been nothing short of Mecca for food writers and a huge posse of trendistas intent on sampling a new cuisine that involves infusions of pure flavor essences.The food fusion movement has been called the inevitable merging of fine dining and science.
Now, the internationally respected Restaurant Magazine, an industry publication read by anyone who counts, has named the Fat Duck, in Bray, England as the "Best Restaurant in the World". This is probably the single greatest honor a restaurant can ever earn.
Bray, a rather typical English village not far from London, is presided over by the new star in the restaurant galaxy, Heston Blumenthal.
The Fat Duck is merging chemistry and cooking, with alarmingly satisfactory results. Who would have, for instance, imagined snail porridge, Or a puree made of Douglas fir and Mango?
Blumenthal works with flavor and creative fragrance companies. He maintains glass cylinders of stored flavors in his own personal laboratory.
This new wave of cooking has a name. In fact it has several. Bluementhal has been called a molecular gastronomist..Some call the new approach to food Culinology.
In New York, famed Chef David Burke has been profiled in Lexus Magazine. He has been experimenting in his lab to create flavor sprays and serves unexpected treats such as salmon lollipops in his hot restaurant, David Burke and Donatella. Burke expects that we will soon see an earthquake-size tilt in the way that cocktails are served in restaurants. Individual flavor sprays and infusions will create millions of flavor options and drinkers will have the opportunity to create their own.
Then there's Chicago's Grant Achatz. His new restaurant, Alinea in Lincoln Park, has quickly become the city's hottest ticket. Foodies from all over the country are flying to Chicago to sample his Dungenmess crab served on a puree of coconut, cashew, and parsnip flavorings. Even sponge cake comes infused with a wonderful vanilla bean flavor as it rests on a bed of sour cherries.
From Spain - to England - New York - to Chicago, the world's top restaurants have one thing in common. They are creating an entire new world order of flavor pairings and infusions. And, I believe, what they are creating in their flavor labs, will influence every future generation of fine dining addicts.
This is not a trend. It is a revolution, making possible tastes, smells, and textures, that were previously unavailable to the dining public.
- The Next Big Thing is Small and Floats:2009-10-24 18:55:47
Look for 2006 to be the year River Boats in Europe and Asia come into their own. Cruising the Danube, the Rhine, the Soane, or the Yangtze with just a few hundred fellow Americans is perceived as a safe, cost effective, and almost intimate way to experience important parts of the world. You can see China, albeit in a somewhat sanitized way, experience "The Path of the Czars" or simply glide through Burgundy and Provence on a one-week idyll. Most shore excursions are included, there are air programs from the States, and pre and post hotel programs. Costs average $250-$300 per day.
River Cruising has been around for a while. But judging by early booking trends, this is definitely the next big thing. For the best experiences shared with a predominantly European cast of characters, we recommend Peter Deillman Cruises. The best of the "mostly American" lines is Viking River.
- The Benefits of Dual Elite Status:2009-11-04 19:05:38
When it comes to airline miles not all flyers or airline programs are created equal. Although the travel ads will never tell you this, frequent flyers can manipulate the system to secure the upgrades that seem so elusive for the rest of us.
One of the best techniques is to use two different Elite Status Mileage cards - say one on American and one on United. You can try to get an electronic upgrade, the kind that can be purchased for $40.00 currently. Then, 72 hours prior to your flight, your upgrade status will be confirmed in First or Business.
The secret is to use two cards and to make two reservations on two different carriers. If they both clear you can pay a change fee and still use it later on. But by using two cards you have increased your upgrade opportunities by 100%.
- Sampling London's Best Two Restaurants:2009-11-01 19:03:08
Of the several Gordon Ramsay's, the best of the lot, GR at Royal Hospital Road, is currently London's finest. Getting in takes a top-notch concierge or serious pre-planning.
The other top toque in town is Shane Osborn of Pied A Terre on Charlotte Street.
Both of these restaurants produce innovative "New French" cuisine, meaning an almost complete absence of flour-based sauces. Both also offer a luncheon service that does not require that one sell the flat in Mayfair.
Before visiting London do yourself a favor and book a lunch at both.
- Retirement At Sea; "The Didn't We Once Have Fun" Ships2009-10-20 16:51:25
Yesterday – a slow news day until two academics got us thinking ……….to whit, two profs in the Geriatric Medicine field at Chicago’s prestigious Northwestern University.
Doctors Robert Golub and Lee Lindquist wrote an article in the Journal of The American Geriatrics Journal that suggests that a modern cruise ship is well equipped to fill the role of a floating assisted living facility.
Their article was accompanied by some cost estimating that essentially boils down to a monthly cost of cruise ship care in the $3000 per month range. That compares quite favorably with current assisted living costs.
The idea is designed to appeal to Baby Boomers who dread the thought of being institutionalized. For the same approximate price, the doctors theorize, a family could tell a loved one that "instead of placing you in a home or a nursing facility, we are going to place you on a cruise ship in the Caribbean."
Crews would have to be trained in eldercare, helping guests get around the ship, assisting them in the morning as they get dressed etc. But on-board medical care is not a problem, accessibility to major hospitals in Florida is not a problem, and the non-medical benefits are not insignificant.
"Mr. Wilson we want you to feel better tomorrow so you can go ashore in Aruba" would seem to be better motivation than that currently offered to our seniors in most medical settings on land.
Some have ridiculed the concept. I won't. Sure it's out there and I don't see Carnival or NCL jumping on this anytime soon. And yes, we might have to get rid of the rock climbing walls. But think about the possibility that housekeeping, meal service, staff to patient ratios, and the availability of 24/7 medical care are all potentially better and more affordable aboard ship then they currently are on land.
Perhaps, some day, we can take our slightly worn voyagers, diamonds, and princesses, and find a far better use for them in their old age as we improve the golden years of some of our slightly worn but still regal citizens.
- Perhaps the Perfect Hospitality Industry Gig :2009-10-26 18:57:42
The Ritz-Carlton in South Beach, the currently oh so hot enclave in Miami, employs a tanning butler. This fellow's brief is to walk the pool area in search of those who may need assistance applying sunscreen to those areas of the body that may be difficult to reach. He carries a small selection of oils because some of us are butter people and some of us aren't.
Given the super-sizing of America, one wonders if this will eventually lead to a charge for this service based on square footage. But that is not yet a problem in South Beach.
- London's Pigiest Restaurant:2009-10-29 19:00:25
That would be Fergus Henderson's place, St. John, located in what was once a smokehouse in the not yet absolutely completely fashionable Smithfield Market neighborhood. The place has been creating meals out of portions of the pig that even the Chinese discard.
But lo and behold, when Restaurant Magazine, an important European restaurant industry publication, published its list of the 50 best restaurants in the world - there it was, way up there in 16th place. Not only that, it has also been named most improved restaurant on the list.
So if you're London-bound you may want to try it. But first prepare yourself for a menu that highlights both roasted bone marrow and squirrel with offal on toast. I don't know about this. I always eat my squirrel with offal on pita bread.
- Just Back from the Tombs:2009-10-30 19:01:09
The Egyptian tombs, that is, in New York's wondrous Metropolitan Museum where the Conde Nast folks hosted their annual Reader's Choice Awards. Cocktails were offered in the huge room holding The Temple of Dendur circa 15 BC.
Hotel exeus, cruise line execs, and representatives of worldwide destinations were in the running for awards that are worth their weight in marketing gold.
Some of the awards were easy to handicap. San Francisco, everyone's favorite US city, although one must be careful not to trip over the poets sleeping like so many jack-o-lanterns along the street. Jet Blue won best US airline - but that's a lot like saying "he has the nicest house in Calcutta".
Singapore was voted world's best international carrier. Business majors note that it is far easier to design the world's best airline without the disruptions caused by a two-party system.
- Hurricane Vacationing 101:2009-11-02 19:03:48
What we have here is a failure to communicate. When exactly is hurricane season in the Caribbean?
The unreported story is that we are now considering the entire month of November as hurricane season. In the past, before Pat Robertson decided to change the world's weather patterns, cruisers were told to avoid the last two weeks of August through the end of October. The lucrative Thanksgiving cruise week was always thought to be safely on the other side of the season. Now that has changed. As we've run out of names to call these things, we've also run out of ways to contain the season. The fact is that hurricane season now extends from the 15th or so of August through the first of December.
Cruisers looking for alternative fall sailings should consider Tahiti or the Mexican Riviera
- Facts For A Change2009-10-21 18:51:26
I was strolling the back aisle of a small bookshop in the Notting Hill section of London the other day, thinking how very unlike Hugh Grant I am, when a new title by BBC producer Jessica Williams (Disinformation Company Ltd.) caught my eye.
"50 Facts That Should Change the World" is a book that could well change the way that you view the world. I hope you will consider reading it.
Let me offer a few of the facts that I think make exploration of this planet by American travelers a moral imperative. We can save "Wallyland" for later in our lives when we're too tired to walk Patagonia.
- More than 70% of the world’s population has never heard a dial tone
- Every cow in the European Union is subsidized by $2.50 per day – that’s more than what 75% of the population of Africa has to live on each day.
- Brazil has more Avon ladies than members of its armed forces.
- The average Londoner is caught on camera up to 300 times per day.
It is not all homogenized out there – it is not all the same. We need to see it, to feel it; we need to know why the average woman in Japan lives to be 84 while the average woman in Botswana lives to be 33.
There are fascinating explanations and documentation of each of the "facts." We learn that more people on earth can identify the golden arches than the Christian cross, that there are 27 million slaves in the world at this moment. But the most telling "facts" are those that include our own country. These are some things about the US that help form our image abroad.
- 81% of the world’s executions take place in three countries – China, Iran, and the USA.
- America spends about $10 billion per year on foreign aid – about the same amount we spend on pornography.
- Nearly half of Americans believe that aliens from outer space have landed on earth.
Over the years, we often miss the point about so-called Anti-Americanism, particularly the Euro-trendy brand. In fact, many young people abroad dislike us for two primary reasons – the fact that we still execute folks and the fact that we refuse to be signatories to some of the more important environmental treaties such as the Kyoto Accord. These are issues that may come up in conversation on the streets of Madrid or Copenhagen.
Of course there's always the time-tested alternative. Announce you're a Canadian – there’s no really good response to that – except perhaps a yawn.
- Explaining the French: Lesson #3,7542009-10-23 18:52:58
The first thing to know about the French is that the drinking age is 16 and is never, ever enforced. In fact, French mothers have been known to mix a bit of wine with baby's formula to begin the path to maturity.
It appears to work because the only drunks I've ever seen in Paris were over-the-edge hooligans from countries where pints outsell happy meals.
The French thing was actually explained best by a French sociologist. It turns out that French "yoooot" are raised to believe that people who smile are simple-minded people or, as the French say ‘imbeciles”. French kids on the soccer field who smile a lot are teased for the habit.
So here we come, all smiles, grinning from ear-to-ear, wearing our sweats and our John Deere caps, and they think we're imbeciles. It is not rudeness. It is just culture. They have one – we don’t.
The French don’t react well to questions. They think that people ought to do their homework before visiting a country. You will notice that most of the French tourists you see in Vegas, for example, know how to say “is that for an hour or all night” in English.
While the French do not handle questions well, they do love to solve problems. Asking them to help you solve a problem appeals to the not far under the surface French ego. So it’s best to begin each conversation by stating first that you "have a problem." Watch how quickly the French come to your aid. You will soon forget about the rudeness myth, unless of course you smile while speaking.
- Does Anyone Still Want Dollars?2009-10-22 18:52:24
The anecdotal evidence is in – and Europe has officially been labeled a “rip-off”. Cruises and escorted tours to Europe are booming while independent travelers are returning from France and Italy with tales of $300+ lunches and plans to re-mortgage the house.
The European-bound traveler needs to consider paying in dollars up front. The romantic notion of negotiating hotel rates in the lobby of some quaint left bank family-run three-star on the fly is but a dream.
Strategizing your vacation in Europe almost demands a US dollar-based cruise or escorted tour program. At 1.31 to the Dollar, the value of the Euro added to an ever-growing list of 18% VAT eligible items, such as lodging and meals, means that current prices in Italy are running about one-third higher then they were thirty-six months ago. And no one in Europe wants our dollars.
But for those of you who are open to new travel truths” it might be worthwhile to consider some parts of the world where the dollar is actually getting stronger.
Start with Mexico. Top resorts in the Cabo San Lucas area now include the top-ranked resort on the continent – The One and Only Palmilla. Do the off season, take advantage of package pricing, and pay in dollars up front to receive a $1000 a night experience at a $400 a night price. Also look into the new 5-star resorts that are nestled at the end of dirt roads in the Puerto Morales section, just 25 minutes from Cancun airport.
The non-French Caribbean has generally held its own and the currency of Jamaica has lost 20% of its value against the dollar so now, "Man – it really is better in Jamaica."
Inflation in South America and the price of fuel have combined to form an exciting mélange of contradictions – but the continent is still a good deal. But the real values are in Central America where Guatemala, Panama, and El Salvador offer high rewards to gringos with dollars.
There have been some contradictory press reports regarding the value of a safari vacation in Africa. The bad news comes out of South Africa where, among his other achievements, Nelson Mandela has been able to watch his currency surge ahead of the dollar increasing custom vacation costs by 20-25%. But East Africa, particularly Kenya and Tanzania, have generally maintained price stability.
In Asia, American travelers won’t find any currency surprises unless they are visiting Jalap, where the yen is up almost 10% against the dollar. But China and Malaysia are more or less pegged to the dollar. Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia are all high on the value chart with 5-star hotels pricing out at a 3-star rate in New York or London.
One of the under-reported stories is the gentle rise of the Australian dollar and the New Zealand kiwi. Each is up about 25% in the past 24 months meaning that your dollar will now buy 75 cents worth of Foster’s – and that won’t really satisfy your thirst.
- Cruise Reservations Cascade on Mondays:2009-10-27 18:58:58
An important, but little-known fact, is that nearly 80% of all cruise reservations are made on Monday.
They are made in that tenuous period between the Today Show and Monday Night football. Mom and Dad have discussed things over the weekend, played on the internet, perhaps, if they are intellectuals, even scanned the Sunday papers. And now they are ready to book.
But Monday is also the day when most of the cruise pricing increases hit the computer screens in corporate headquarters. Cruise lines now employ pricing technology that can be set to adjust upwards on Monday based on utilization factors.
We recommend that all cruise reservations be made Wednesday through Friday. If you must book on Monday, have your agent call in prior to 10:00 am
- Check Into this Four Seasons and Never Check Out:2009-11-05 19:09:07
Among the exciting new ships en route to us in the coming 24 months, none has generated the initial buzz of The Four Seasons, a 42,000 Gross-ton beauty under construction in Finland. We are hearing that the 100 or so apartments that range in size from 1300 to over 3,000 sq. ft. are selling out prior to the company's launch of an official sales piece.
The apartments wil be sold or leased on a t one-month per year basis lasting fifty years. Prices started pre-launch at $400,000 - an incredible value when one works the math. The ship will literally follow the four seasons and it will feature the hotel chain's list of of high-toned amenities If you want to see a preview of the deck plans and apartments, go to www.oceanresidences.com.
- Announcing the Mall of Kabul Tour:2009-10-28 18:59:26
A new 9-story hotel and shopping center complex has opened in Kabul, Afghanistan. The 90-store mall is the first fully air-conditioned building in the nation and features Afghanistan's first ever escalators.
Security outside is tight. Half a division or so troops are protecting the shoppers, most of whom have never seen a mall before. As relatively unsafe as things appear to be outside, the real danger is inside where burkas have been catching in the escalator mechanisms causing a good deal of anguish and fear .Moving stairways to lady's fine fragrances is a new concept in these parts.
The Mall's developers have announced that they are planning on opening a second mall in the western part of the country in Herat. It's tentative name is The Twin Towers.
If you own an Einstein bagel franchise, you may want to be aware that not all of the 90 retail spaces are currently rented.
- A Quick Look at Prepaid Travel Cards:2009-10-25 18:56:14
The Traveler's Cheque card from Amex and the Visa Travel Money cards seem like a good idea. You pay for the cards in advance and then simply use them at ATM's throughout Europe until you've used up your money.
But be careful. There are activation fees and "reload" fees. You are, in essence being charged to use your own money. Worse, many ATM's, a great many, won;t accept the cards. Some users are reporting that they have to visit an actual American Office.
The Visa version is available through the American Automobile Association. They charge less than Amex but the you may find yourself dealing with Visa's partner in this venture - Travelex, a Europe-based currency trading firm.
These cards place limits on what you can withdraw. You will also likely pay a foreign "conversion charge."
At this point, we are only recommending the card for students on a tight allowance and even there we have concerns that the card may not be useable in an emergency. This is an idea whose time is yet to come.
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