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Lasarte – a culinary gem in Barcelona

Lasarte restaurant

Lasarte restaurant is centrally located on C/Mallorca, 259

Lasarte restaurant in Barcelona is one of three 2-Michelin Star establishments in the city. It is located in hotel Condes and is the brain-child of re-known Basque Chef Martín Berasategui.

Lasarte is a very intimate restaurant, it caters to a sophisticated crowd that enjoys good food as much as it does privacy, hence the size – only 30 seats. We decided to come here for lunch and  found the atmosphere extremely stiff – almost cold.

You can go for the tasting menu, several small dishes that take you on a gastronomic journey through the Basque region or, as we did, stick to à la carte.

It is not easy to recommend what to order in a Michelin star restaurant, everything is of course amazing. We opted for the fish dishes, tuna belly and roasted sole, and were very much impressed. The dessert menu is obviously another classic.

Restaurant Lasarte is one that you pencil into your calendar to celebrate a major occasion, like your uncle’s 90th birthday. It is not an everyday experience or a place to have a fun or relaxing time with friends. And maybe it shouldn’t be, it is a culinary event to wait for and when it arrives, to savor with pleasure.

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La Vigie Restaurant in Monte-Carlo – summer lazing in style

A peckish customer (without a yacht) outside La Vigie restaurant

Sure, it’s still a few months before summer kicks in but if you plan to visit La Vigie Restaurant in Monte-Carlo, you better start saving up some money now (this is no surprise, but everything in Monaco requires a few wads of cash).

Located in the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel complex, La Vigie offers exquisite Mediterranean inspired dishes in a tranquil setting. Chef Paolo Sari, an Italian who learned the trade in Italy, Switzerland and the US, specializes in seafood. We tried the buffet and grill during lunch-time and we can definitely vouch that this is one of the better places around. The meal is complemented by a grandiose view of the sea and an excellent selection of wine.

You reach La Vigie by taking a small path from the Monte-Carlo private beach, or, if you happen to arrive by yacht (damn, we are NOT jealous…okay a little bit maybe), the restaurant also has its own landing-dock where you can moor your boat. It’s a nice little amenity that is appreciated by the “floating villa owners”.

This small gem is only open two months a year (28 June – 25 August), so if you happen to be in the area on those dates, we can definitely recommend this elegant place for some great food and boat watching. La Vigie Restaurant will not let you down.

 

Les Bar des Bergues in Geneva – the place to be seen

Les Bar des Bergues terrace

The Four Seasons in Geneva is one of the best hotels in the city, so no wonder Les Bar des Bergues on the ground floor is where the local high society types and the world’s rich and famous mingle. If weather permits, La Terrace is where to lounge and contemplate life over an exquisite cocktail. It’s by far one of the most chic places in town.

When we visited Geneva in September, we came to Les Bar des Bergues on a couple of occasions and sat both inside and outside for a quick lunch. Now, this is Four Seasons, so no reason to write about excellent service and so on, that’s pretty much clear.

However, even though this is technically a bar, the food here is absolutely fantastic. They have a reasonably light menu with plenty of salads to chose from (though our favorite pick was the hamburger, not exactly what one would refer to as light fare but trust us, it was irresistible).

If you are on a tight travel budget than avoid Les Bar des Bergues like the plague, but if cash is not an issue, this is the place to mingle and nestle in with the crème de la crème of Geneva.

Hotel de Crillon – number one in Paris?

Hotel de Crillon, Paris

Hotel de Crillon, Paris

Hotel de Crillon, located next door to the U.S. Embassy and a stone’s throw away from Champs Elysées, is considered one of the best hotels in the city. Maybe even THE best? Well, the jury is still out, we would say it’s probably between Hotel de Crillon and Hotel George V.

Individual service is one of the main selling points of this hotel. When you arrive, you are seated while doing your check-in (keyword “seated”, you don’t stand in a queue at the reception desk). Makes you feel very comfortable after a long trip.

The standard rooms are smallish but nicely decorated in a baroque style. At your disposal there are several restaurants (the stylish restaurant Les Ambassadeurs and L’Obé, which is more relaxed) where you will encounter some of the best French cuisine. After your meal, you may want to enjoy a late digestive at the piano bar – it is renowned as a major meeting point in Paris among the powerful and famous.

The hotel was built in 1758 and has seen history in the making for over two centuries. During the past decade, it has changed owners several times and, according to the French media, the hotel was bought in 2010 by a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

Although it is in excellent shape, a few bits and pieces do look border-line shabby and when we asked the staff about it, we were told that the new owner plans to close it down in 2013 for a major refurbishment.

One can only imagine how Hotel de Crillon will look after it had been thoroughly polished through. Then it just might beat George V.

Enjoying a Belgian Beer at Newark Airport

I (Alex) ended up in early December flying from the US back to the desert from Newark Airport in New Jersey. After passing through all the formalities, I noticed a new addition to the traditional eateries one usually finds in all US airports: the Belgian Beer Café. Yep, that’s what it is called. And on top of everything, this happened to be their opening night. I couldn’t pass such an opportunity and decided to check the place out.

On initial inspection, I was completely flabbergasted since I have never seen a selection of Belgian beers like this one outside of Brussels before. They had it all: Ambers, Dupples, Trappist and Abbey beers, even (unheard off!) Fruit Lambics. A beer lovers paradise in an Airport? These guys must be joking? Well, apparently they weren’t.

The owner, Jeffrey Daunt (Senior Operations Director for HMS Host), explained that since Newark was an international airport they felt that there was a niche to fill by offering high-end Belgian beers. I wondered where they find such a variety of beers. “Not easy, we have to buy from five distributors to fill the bar, but we hope that our customers will enjoy a beer or two before they fly.” Sure as hell, I did, a few to be exact (they had some excellent food as well).

If you are ever in Newark Airport and love beer as much as the other guy, don’t miss the Belgian Beer Café (operates in several countries), you will be reminiscing about it – thousands of feet in the air.

Well, one can’t blame Alex for not being creative when taking photos. Here he is apparently lying down horizo…(hey, wait a minute, was this picture taken AFTER trying out all the beers?)

La fondue crèe la bonne humeur

Auberge de Savièse – classic fondue place in Geneva

The headline is actually an old slogan which means “fondue creates a good mood.” It sounded very promising so when we visited Geneva a couple of weeks ago we were of course curious to try this traditional Swiss dish.

A restaurant called Auberge de Savièse was highly recommended by the concierge at our hotel. It is located on 20 rue des Pâquis, and has a robust and friendly atmosphere with small tables, wooden paneling and (of course) a cuckoo clock on the wall.

The cheese fondue originates from the Swiss Alps and is a blend of hard and semi-hard cheeses (for example Emmenthaler and Gruyère), dry wine (we also tried one with Champagne which was excellent) and Kirsch. You get white bread, potatoes and pickled onions to dip into the pot of melted cheese.

So why not put yourself into a good mood and dip into a pot of steaming hot cheese fondue. (Just remember: no double-dipping.)

Cheese fondue

A Michelin Star is Born!

Executive Chef at Aquavit – Marcus Jernmark

In April 2012, the Sam and the dunes team visited Aquavit, a well-known Swedish restaurant in Manhattan. We even interviewed the Chef Marcus Jernmark and tried some of his delicious food. Marcus, a genial guy, talked about his career, the changes he was making at Aquavit after taking over as the Executive Chef. We were intrigued and promised to come back again. And what do you know? Just half a year later, Aquavit receives a Michelin star proving that Marcus has what it gets. We can definitely vouch for it – he is an absolute genius in the kitchen. Congratulations to Marcus and his team! 

Michelin star gourmet

Check out all Michelin Star restaurants in NY – Michelin Guide New York City 2013.
Also read the New York Times article mentioning Aquavit – Seven Retain Michelin’s 3 Stars.

Alain Ducasse’s classic Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo

The 2012 anniversary menu

Early on in his career, Alain Ducasse became chef at Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo where he developed restaurant Le Louis XV. Being awarded 3 Michelin stars, this gourmet restaurant is today considered one of the best in the world.

In 2012, Le Louis XV celebrates its 25th anniversary and the Sam and the dunes team decided to check out the nine course tasting menu specifically prepared for this occasion, accompanied by one glass of Dom Pérignon and FIVE different glasses of wine.

The chanterelle mushroom soup, the tender red mullet, the delicate lamb and  the chocolate soufflé made us understand the difference between a good chef and the Master. No wonder Alain Ducasse is the only one who managed to get 19 Michelin stars during his career (so far).

We’re not going to bore you with more details about how everything was perfect that evening. We only have one question: why bring out a huge trolley loaded with wonderful cheeses just to offer us tiny pieces from three of them? Apart from this minor detail the evening was impeccable.

Le Louis XV is probably a restaurant that you visit once or perhaps twice in a lifetime; to celebrate some out of this world event (winning the Monte Carlo Rally?), a diamond anniversary, or, to write a review (as we did). To sum it up, Le Louis XV is a culinary masterpiece and Alain Ducasse never seizes to amaze.

Sam in furs

Not quite dressed for success, in Grasse

Restaurant La Bastide Saint-Antoine is part of this beautiful 5-star boutique hotel (Relais and Chateaux group)

On our way to visit Grasse, a small picturesque village in the south of France, we asked our taxi driver if he could recommend us a good lunch place. He gave us a name of one of his favorite restaurants and insisted that we can’t bypass it. “The olive oil they use is locally produced and you’ll love the food!” he told us.

Since we were not even slightly dressed up, we assumed he had recommended us a charming family owned little restaurant somewhere in the countryside at dirt cheap prices. Boy, were we wrong.

The little hole-in-the-wall-cafe we had expected ended up being a world-renowned Michelin star restaurant – La Bastide Saint-Antoine – owned by chef Jacques Chibois. And to our horror we had arrived to this top-notch gourmet restaurant, located in the middle of nowhere, with one of the nicest terraces we have ever seen, overlooking a beautiful valley – wearing flip-flops and shorts!! Trust us, we were in stark contrast to everything this place is famous for – class, taste, sophistication.

La Bastide Saint-Antoine

We desperately waved to the taxi driver (we have to leave now, we are NOT dressed for this!!) but it was too late, the car had already disappeared around the corner.

However, to our continued surprise, we were allowed in (note to ourselves: don’t make that mistake again, next time they might ask us to leave) and shown to a delightful table. And surprises didn’t stop here. Being aficionados of good food, we know how much it costs to eat in such a restaurant. However, the lunch menu was at a fixed and very reasonable price.

The fois gras, the shrimps (as starters) were beyond words. The sea bass (as our main choice) could hardly be more recommended. Pencil in the view and we probably found one of the most romantic and idyllic hideaways in south of France.

The restaurant is part of a boutique 5-star hotel (Relais and Chateaux group) and a weekend here is something we would whole-heartedly recommend.

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