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A Killer Bill in Nice

La Petite Maison – not so scary after all

Visiting Nice for the first time we, of course, had absolutely no clue where to go for dinner. Checking at the hotel where we were staying seemed to be the best bet we could come up with and after hearing our preferences, the concierge replied:

-There is one place I would recommend to you and it’s called La Petite Maison. It’s the trendiest place in town, the food is amazing and on top of that – it is Elton Johns and many other celebrities favorite eatery.

-Great, we replied. Can you please book a table for two?

-But there is one thing you should know before you make up your mind, she said.

The woman looked at us and the tone of her voice suddenly changed. She leaned forward and whispered:

-I must warn you, the place is sort of famous for its rude service. I mean VERY rude service.

She eyed us up and down as if she was doubting we would think her recommendation sounded as such a great idea after all.

Trying to look as cool as possible we replied in one voice:

-Book us there. 9 PM. Sharp.

Later in the evening, while strolling down the street towards the restaurant, we suddenly started to question our decision. Why, in our right mind, were we voluntarily going to a place where the service is famous for its rudeness? (Read Tripadvisor and you will see that this is no joke). But there was no more time to think about our decision now. We had arrived. On wobbly and shaky legs we entered the restaurant with the same feeling most seven year old’s have during their first day at school. Pure fear.

To our surprise (and disappointment) nothing particularly scary happened during the dinner. Instead, the service was quite the opposite – very friendly. But it was still hard to stay completely relaxed, and when it was time to pay the bill, we suddenly noticed that our waiter by mistake actually had charged us for four (!!) lobster pastas (instead of two). However, after hearing the concierge’s earlier warnings about the place, that was something we never dared to question…

For reservations, please call: +33 4 92 98 77 89 (and BTW…Good Luck!)

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Five outrageously expensive things to do in Monte Carlo

If you ever decide to visit Monte Carlo in Monaco, come well prepared. And we are not talking about passport, toothbrush and other obvious items. You have to be prepared money-wise. And we mean seriously well-heeled. Here is one example: breakfast at a cafe, including coffee, juice (sure, it was fresh) and croissant (not so fresh) for two persons can easily leave you 70 dollars shorter. If this doesn’t scare the h*ll out of you, go ahead and read how you can have an absolutely fabulous time in Monte Carlo.

1. Have a leisurely breakfast (until you see the bill) at Cafe de Paris. This is a trademark place for people-watching outside the casino. It is supposedly a venue where the rich and famous discuss the latest fashion trends and decide when and where to go for dinner but we call it tourist a trap.

The beach

2. Have a swim and enjoy the sunny weather at the Monte Carlo Beach. However, nothing is for free (at least not in Monte Carlo) and as the title suggests, we remind you to keep plenty of cash handy if you want refreshments, watermelon, wine and other goodies served to you. The entrance fee to the beach is 120 Euros. After a few laps in the sea, we suggest you venture off to the nearby restaurant La Vigie for a nice and relaxing buffet lunch while enjoying the view of the sea and the surrounding mountains from the terrace.

A real catch

3. In the afternoon, visit the Monaco Oceanographic Museum, which, by the way, for 30 years was directed by explorer Jacques Cousteau. Enjoy the aquarium with some incredible species and take photos of the sharks (remember flash is not allowed). Sounds like only for kids? Then you should have seen us running around with big smiles on our faces (as if we just finished second grade).

4. Continue enjoying “Joix de vivre” (if you still have money left on your account) and have dinner  at Louis XV – Alain Ducasse restaurant inside Hotel de Paris. A 3 star Michelin establishment that will make the most high maintenance celebrity speechless. A true delight (of course)!

5. Cap off the night by visiting the classic Monte Carlo Casino for some one-armed bandit antics, black jack or roulette. It is one of the best known casinos in the world, however, be warned. Don’t go here to try winning back all the money you spent on the beach, cafes and restaurants during the day. Decide your limit beforehand or just walk around and suck in the atmosphere. It may not look as romantic as you might have imagined (at least we didn’t see any James Bond or George Clooney look-a-likes dressed in tuxedos). The place is instead packed with tourists and the lights are on full blast. Not exactly cozy, but on the other hand, since when do high-rollers ask for cozy?

Bottom line, if you feel like partying with the rich and famous, in exchange for some serious money, don’t miss Monte Carlo – the place to see and be seen!

Where to lodge in Monte Carlo? Read our review: Hotel de Paris. 

Enjoying Bouillabaisse in Marseille

Restaurant L’Annexe

Arriving hungry and tired in Marseille, the world capital of Bouillabaisse, it was never really up for discussion what to eat. We just had to try this traditional Provencal fish stew dating back to 600 BC, when the Greeks founded the city. Near the old port, next to a small fountain, we found a cool looking restaurant called L’ Annexe, which served this classic meal. But don’t worry if you cannot find this particular place, almost every eatery in Marseille has Bouillabaisse, a fish soup popular for centuries with the local fishermen and made out of class B fish (every chef insists on having the “right” recipe but you won’t find salmon or tuna in a traditional Bouillabaisse). To make it more filling, it is spiced up with potatoes, tomatoes, onions and garlic.

THE Bouillabaisse

In addition, you get a plate of croutons with saffron and garlic mayonnaise. Over the years Bouillabaisse became internationally fashionable offered in many of the fanciest restaurants in the world. However, eating the traditional one, in the old port in Marseille, is an experience hard to beat.

Looks yummy, doesn’t it?

Mr. K’s dazzling world of Chinese food

Alex went to Mr. K’s, and all we got was this this lousy photo.

There are over 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. and, according to Chinese Restaurant News, Mr. K’s in Manhattan is #4 in the entire country and #1 in New York City. That is an achievement hard to beat and when you visit Mr. K’s you understand why. Run by Johnny Kao and his family for over 30 years, Mr. K’s never stops to amaze with its exquisite cuisine, excellent wine list and truly outstanding service. There are numerous choices on the menu but in our view you have to try the dumplings (they offer several options, all are great). The shrimp dishes are mouthwatering good and Mr. K’s is also famous for its Peking Duck. Let’s put it this way – whatever you try, you will not be disappointed. Just remember: this restaurant is definitely not a five-dollar-all-you-can-eat-buffet. It’s an extremely stylish place to enjoy and savor the tastes from the Shanghai, Peking, Hunan, and Szechuan regions.

Mr. K’s
570 Lexington Ave, New York
Tel.: (212) 583-1668

Puttin’ on the Ritz

If you are dressed up like a million dollar trouper and have a few hours to spare, one of the best brunches offered in Washington, D.C. is at the Fyve Restaurant Lounge in the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. The place is not big but highly luxurious. The staff make sure everything is top notch and the buffet selection is beyond one’s imagination. You can go for salmon, shrimps, the likes, or have a more traditional breakfast. There is also a main course included in the price (if you can still eat after helping yourself a couple of times at the buffet).

As would seem obvious in such a fancy place but never checked by us before (banging our heads on the wall), champagne is unlimited so if no serious tasks  planned for later, the waiter will make sure that your glass is amply full throughout the meal. Fyve is famous for dining the power elites of D.C. and you definitely will feel like one. So, if-you’re-blue-and-you-don’t-know-where-to-go-to-why-don’t-you-go-where-fashion-sits…

Aquavit – Nordic tastes with a twist

Aquavit’s Executive Chef Marcus Jernmark (Photo: Evan Sung)

New York Times two-star rated restaurant Aquavit is run by Swedish Executive Chef Marcus Jernmark from Gothenburg. He has recently been ranked 2012 Top 5 rising chefs in the U.S. and samandthedunes managed to meet him for an exclusive interview.

“I started working at Aquavit as an Executive Sous Chef in 2009 after my job as Executive Chef at the Swedish Consulate in New York.  There I got the chance to cook for celebrities, royalty, politicians and over 25 Nobel Prize winners and it was a great experience,” says Jernmark. In April, 2010, after only six months at Aquavit, he got the opportunity to take over the role as Executive Chef after Marcus Samuelsson’s departure.

To stand out among the many restaurants in Manhattan, Jernmark explains that Aquavit is not a traditional mid-town New York restaurant. “For example, we change the menu every day and I like to be spontaneous in the kitchen, play with new ingredients and see what happens,” he says.  One of the Jernmark’s signature dishes is “forgotten beets.” “Yes, I once forgot some beets in the kitchen and the next day I experimented and the dish tasted even better,” says Jernmark.

(Photo: Evan Sung)

You will of course find many traditional Nordic fares on the menu like pickled herring, gravlax but also beef, seafood and some exotic desserts (how about Artic Birds Nest or Raspberry Cylinder). “Previously we only had a four course prix fixe menu but now we moved to a la carte which makes it more approachable,” Jernmark explains.

Among the guests there are many celebrities, including First Lady Obama. “We try to be discreet so that everybody can enjoy a private moment in Aquavit,” says Jernmark.

After the interview samandthedunes tried the New Jersey Asparagus, Gravlax 37C, Charred Icelandic Cod and Seafood “Norden 2012” and we just loved the unique, modern and clean tastes. The presentation was superb. We were even offered their fine selection of Aquavit shots with unique flavors of cucumber and figs. If you are looking for a first class evening in Manhattan and enjoy seasonal Scandinavian cuisine with an experimental touch in a classy setting, Aquavit is the place you should visit. Chef Jernmark shows why he has been ranked 2012 Top 5 rising chefs in the U.S. and will make your dinner an unforgettable experience.

More news about Aquavit: A Michelin Star is Born!

(Photo: Evan Sung)

Aquavit interior (Photo: Evan Sung)

Asiate – on top of the world

Photo: Asiate

Located in the ultra-chic and ultra-expensive New York Hotel Mandarin Oriental, Asiate offers gourmet cuisine and arguably one of the best views, being situated on the 35th floor overlooking Central Park. Designed by Tony Chi who has dazzled with his contemporary and cool designs of hotels and restaurants worldwide, Asiate is grand without being overbearing; fun-looking without being kitschy. Don’t forget to check out their impressive wine wall with over 1,000 bottles to pick from.

The food is fabulous and can be best described as fusion with Asian influences. Try their Prix Fixe three-course menu with a nice selection of starters and main courses. If you are into shellfish, we would highly recommend the prawns as a starter and poached lobster as a main, you won’t be sorry – they are cooked to perfection and served with subtle sauces. To make a long story short, we loved Asiate, the food and the view will make us come over again. We hope that by then Asiate would be given a Michelin Star, we find it hard to understand why it yet doesn’t have one.

Photo: Asiate

SushiMex – sashimi meets fajitas

The idea of having delicate sushi with a burrito never crossed our minds (bet it didn’t cross your mind either?) That is why we were a bit reluctant when we for the first time visited restaurant SushiMex in Maspalomas (Gran Canaria). The menu (one of the longest we have seen) mixes traditional Mexican dishes with different sushi and sashimi. They are all good and if you are for some hardcore barbeque ribs or for some raw salmon you have come to the right place. But what is really amazing is the several fusion plates they offer (mostly based on maki rolls). Dishes such as Diablo and Fire Dragon are basically seafood filled maki spiced up Mexican style and served with some hot sauces. Not something that you would consider typical but once you try them you will be hooked. We have been going to SushiMex regularly for the past year and are still not tired of their cuisine. It is one of the more pricey establishments in this area and the view is not much different from the other nearby restaurants filled with tourists. However, SushiMex is a few steps ahead; the food here really stands out. For a nice lunch or dinner, we highly recommend SushiMex, a foodie’s delight in Maspalomas!

oHotel Bristol in Vienna – best of the best!

Hotel Bristol, Vienna. Photo: Fabrizio Scarpa

A Luxury Collection Hotel in Vienna, Bristol has opened its doors to heads of state, composers, rock stars and, of course, since it is located across the street from the Vienna Opera, to plenty of opera celebrities. This historical landmark dazzles with its opulence, grandeur and charm. The staircase looks like it came from a palace and the luxurious lobby is a wonderful place to have a tete-à-tete (sorry, l’accent circonflexe missing) or to savor a drink before going to the Opera (as many do).

The rooms are not very large but spacious enough and offer all the amenities one would expect from a 5 star hotel.

Restaurant Korso is well known in the city as a gourmet’s delight and don’t miss the bar downstairs which is one of the most elegant in Vienna. Over a glass of some gorgeous Austrian wine try their smoked salmon; it will probably be one of your better meals.

The staff at the hotel are of the old school type: proper, efficient, and non-intrusive. If craving for that ticket to the Opera, the concierge is the one to talk to, they can do amazing things.

The location of Bristol is about as good as it gets, steps away from many historical sites that Vienna is famous for and close to some awesome shopping, be it for luxury goods or the usual tourist trinkets.

There are very few hotels in the world that are as good as Hotel Bristol so don’t miss your chance to try it out. Many A-list types would vouch that you can’t find it much better.

1516 Brewing Company – the best meeting place in Vienna

Photo: 1516 Brewing Company

Alex discovered this place more than a decade ago. No wonder, knowing his love for beer. 1516 Brewing Company is an Irish pub/microbrewery/restaurant that is very difficult to beat. It is popular with locals and expats, and it is easy to understand why. 1516 serves excellent food (gourmet style at pub prices), offers their own beer, a fine selection of wines and the service is impeccable. The place is full 24/7 and on special occasions you get to listen to some groovy tunes live. On a lazy Saturday afternoon during the summer months you can sit outside, puffing on a Havana and sipping whatever you fancy: we doubt that they will not have it. Be it an exotic beer (how about a Russian Stout), a Spanish Rioja or a shot of vodka with some cool chaser. The Vienna diplomatic community loves the place, international personalities can be seen rubbing shoulders, and, to make a long story short, everybody seems to have a great time. This is definitely the in-place in Vienna, especially for those who enjoy long evenings in good company over a few beers. Alex no longer lives in Austria but whenever a member of the samandthedunes team passes through, this is the one place we never miss to stop by. Bottom line, if you are in Vienna, you must visit the 1516 Brewing Company. We promise – you will not be disappointed!

Photo: 1516 Brewing Company

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