Posts Tagged ‘dinner’

Exploring Maui, Hawaii: A Sunset Sail on the Alli’i Nui

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Sailing at sunset on Maui

On my recent girls trip to Maui, I decided to take a sunset cruise to check out the scenery by boat. After reading many reviews, I booked on the Royal Feast Dinner Sail aboard the Alii Nui.

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Bare feet aboard the Alii Nui

This two 1/2 hour adults-only cruise provided transportation to and from our hotel (the Andaz Maui at Wailea), and I liked that the luxury sailing catamaran was capacity controlled so that guests plenty of space. The $189.00 all-inclusive price included unlimited cocktails as well as dinner and transportation (gratuity is not included).

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Up go the sails on the Alii Nui

The dinner menu included appetizers such as local vegetable crudités, caprese skewers, cheese and crackers and wide array of selections for dinner. Prime rib, Kiawe smoked baby back ribs, sushi, and crab cakes were very popular. Everything I tried was good but food was not the main focus of this sunset cruise. The full bar with cocktails, beer and wine were also included. There was even a selection of Scotch and after dinner liquors.

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Magic hour aboard the Alii Nui

The crew of the Alii Nui made us feel taken care of before we even got to Maalaea Harbor. They were great about confirming pickup time at the hotel via text and our transportation arrived promptly. Guests were looped in on the plan for the evening, and the high staff to guest ratio was nice. Everyone was ready to have a good time before we took off our shoes once we boarded the 65′ sailing catamaran for this barefoot sunset dinner cruise.

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Pineapple over the Pacific

While the cruise was not a tour, the crew was available to answer questions and made sure everyone got enough cocktails and food. They even offered to take pictures of the guests, which was a nice touch. The music selection was nice and played at a non-intrusive volume.

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Blue hour aboard the Alii Nui

I must confess that boats are not my favorite mode of transportation. But sea sickness wasn’t an issue for anyone during this smooth sail.

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Sundowner aboard the Alii Nui

Alcohol brands were premium and cocktails did not seem especially strong, but everyone was having a great time. There were also plenty of non alcoholic beverages as well as coffee and tea. Guests seemed fond of the signature Slip 56 signature cocktail and the Alii Nui Mai Tais.

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Obligatory sailing selfie with Zan Aufderheide

The other guests were friendly and the boat offered enough space above and below deck for guests to spread out. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience of taking in the blue Pacific waters and the gorgeous sunset and West Maui views.

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Sailboats, sunset and windmills and moody clouds

The Alii Nui crew had service down to a science and the separate bathroom facilities for men and women were appreciated.

A little video of the Royal Feast Sunset Cruise on the Alii Nui

I started to think that Christopher Cross might be onto something with this sailing stuff!

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Happy customers aboard the Alii Nui

I was impressed with the value for money of the Royal Feast Dinner Cruise on the Ali’i Nui. The Alii Nui offers a wide variety of other charters including whale watching, snorkeling trips to Molokini and Turtle Point, and other speciality cruises. Our experience was so positive we hope to take one of their snorkeling trips on a future trip to Maui.

Alii Nui Sailing Charters
Toll Free (US only): 1- 800-542-3483 Ext. 1 Local: 1-808-875-0333
info@aliinuimaui.com

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Lummi Island in 21 Bites: Chef Blaine Wetzel’s Pacific Northwest Tasting Menu at the Willows Inn

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Smoked sockeye salmon

Chef Blaine Wetzel has put The Willows Inn on Lummi Island on the Pacific Northwest’s culinary map. Wetzel, a native of Washington state, has an impressive number of awards to his name considering he’s barely 30. He was named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 2012, and won the James Beard award for Best Rising Chef in 2014 and Best Chef Northwest in 2015.

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The lobby at the Willows Inn

Chef Wetzel’s tasting menu, Lummi Island in 21 Bites, is known for being almost entirely local. It’s also one of the toughest reservations to get in the Pacific Northwest. The Willows Inn seats only 26 and does one sitting per at 6:30 pm. The hotel is closed for a few months in the winter, so getting a reservation during the prime summer season can be challenging. I couldn’t make it happen last summer but got a reservation for June 2016.

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The  cottage at the Willows Inn

Known for it’s super locavore focus, almost everything on the menu is farmed, foraged or raised on or near tiny Lummi Island’s nine square miles.

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Charming details at the 100 year old Willows Inn

The Willows Inn even offers guests tours of the local farm where most of their produce is grown, making it an intriguing foodie destination in the San Juan Islands.

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Craftsman charm at the Willows Inn

Lummi Island is reached by a 10 minute ferry ride from Bremerton. With a population of less than 1,000 residents, little Lummi Island is punching way above it’s weight class in fine dining.

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Pacific Northwest charm at the bar

The evening started with cocktails around 5:30. I had the Pineapple Weed Fizz ($14), made with with pineapple weed gin, egg white and chamomile bitters, which was refreshing in the hot weather and inspired. I liked the lack of formality in the service. It was top notch, but relaxed.

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Mason jars on display in the bar

The meal started with small bites in the bar. First up was a crispy crepe with golden char roe. It was beautiful.

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Left: Flowers and candlelight right: cocktails with fresh garnishes

In honor of National Donut Day, intriguing smoked cod doughnuts were served next. The third course was a standout for me– Kale leaves with black truffles. Next were small bites of roasted sunflower root and green rhubarb.

Willows Inn smokehouse action video

At this point we left the bar and sat at our table, where we were served native oysters in a juice of watercress followed by lightly cured rockfish in a broth of bones.

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roasted sunflower root

The vivid hues of the turnip stems with caramelized razor clams were followed by a Lummi Island “tostada” made with wild herbs served on crispy mustard greens. It was colorful crunchy goodness.

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Kale leaves with black truffles

Stewed porcini mushrooms were served next and, for me, they were the standout course of the evening with their delicate texture and savory umami goodness.

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Scenes from a tasting menu

Dungeness crab served in a puree of pine nuts came next. This delicate yet satisfying dish was followed by a rare seasonal treat of local salmonberries served with petals of Nootka roses. Not overly sweet, the berries were very flavorful and bursting with color. It is a memorable dish.

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Stewed porcini mushroooms

Pacific Northwest staples of smoked sockeye salmon and a seared skirt of razor clam came next. I was starting to lose steam by the time the halibut and lovage arrived.

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Left: Turnip stems with caramelized razor clams Right: Native oysters in a juice of watercress

I found some more room for the wheat bread with pan drippings, but couldn’t muster the strength for the aged leg of venison, which was the last of the savory courses. Epic meals can be too much for me.

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2010 Golden Grape Semillon was part of the wine pairing

The toasted birch branches (served as a tea) were much appreciated with it’s earthy heat acting as a bit of digestive before the dessert courses.

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Seared skirt of razor clam

While I tend to favor savory over sweet, the desserts at the Willows Inn were exceptional and light. Grilled strawberries were served with fresh chamomile in a pleasing combination.

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Green rhubarb

Candied green pine came next, followed by pumpkin seed fudge which was shockingly light and flavorful. I almost asked for seconds.

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Crispy crepe and golden char roe

Wine pairings can be ordered with dinner for $90, or a juice pairing for $40.

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Native oysters in a juice of watercress

The wine pairing focused on the Pacific Northwest and skewed towards the whites, which was appropriate for the seafood-centric menu. I must confess I am not a white wine lover. While I normally adore wines from Oregon and Washington, I thought the wine pairing was the meal’s one misstep. It was also a bit surprising since the cocktails were so good.

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Left: smoked cod donuts Right: Dungeness crab in a puree of pine nuts

If you can’t get a reservation at the Willows Inn you can try checking out Blaine Wetzel’s cookbook, Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest.

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Lummi island “tostada” (wild herbs and crispy mustard 

The Willows Inn also serves breakfast and lunch.

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Left: salmonberries with nooka roses right: grilled strawberries and fresh chamomile

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toasted birch branches tea

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Pumpkin seed fudge

The Willows Inn

Menu $175
Wine pairing $90
Juice menu $ 40

Address: 2579 W Shore Drive
Lummi Island, WA 98262

Phone: (360) 758-2620
Toll Free: (888) 294-2620

Email: reservations@willows-inn.com

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Trattoria Sostanza: Where The Locals Eat in Florence, Italy

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The unassuming exterior of Trattoria Sostanza in Florence

One of the most memorable meals I had on my most recent trip to Florence was chicken. Chicken is hardly ever memorable, but the Butter Chicken at Trattoria Sostanza is exceptional. If you don’t believe me, just read Rob Lowe’s endorsement of it on the photo on the wall.

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Butter chicken sizzling in the kitchen at Trattoria Sostanza

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More butter, this time on the homemade tortellini

My friend, Charlie, discovered Tratttoria Sostanza asked he asked someone what they would pick for their last meal and was told, “I’d go to Trattoria Sostanza in Florence and get the veal chop.” So Charlie went to Trattoria Sostanza and ordered the veal chop and some other of the house specialties, including the homemade tortellini and the Butter Chicken (petti di pollo al burro).

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Trattoria Sostanza’s perfectly browned butter chicken at the table

“How do you tell someone that their pick for their last meal is wrong? The veal chop was delicious but, dude, the Butter Chicken is so much more memorable,” Charlie told me before taking me to dinner at the so-charmless-it’s-charming trattoria favored by locals.

The chicken arrived at the table still sizzling

I love a good hole in the wall and Trattoria Sostanza fits the bill, with walls plastered with white subway tiles and decorated with random photos (Neil Patrick Harris, Machu Picchu, Rob Lowe). Trattoria Sostanza isn’t about atmosphere, it’s all about the food. That’s why it’s packed. It’s totally Italian and slightly loud. And they have perhaps the best chicken in all of Italy, if not the world.

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Rob Lowe speaks the truth: Best Chicken in Italy

I have no idea what era Rob Lowe this headshot is from. West Wing, maybe? The guy is Hollywood’s Dorian Gray. This also makes me wonder if celebrities travel with a bunch of headshots on them?

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Random photo of Machu Picchu added to the charm of this restaurant

Foodies visiting Florence will adore Trattoria Sostanza’s authentic charm and delicious food. It’s not the place for you if you insist on a fabulous view. But if you go you absolutely must try the Butter Chicken… even if your preference is for the veal chop. Meals are served family style so it’s easy to try a few different things.

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The unassuming door of Trattoria Sostanza

Trattoria Sostanza

Via del Porcellana, 25/R

50123 Firenze, Italy

Tel: +39 055 212691

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Where to Eat in Wailea: Morimoto Maui

Hamachi tacos at Morimoto Maui

If you’re looking for a great restaurant in Wailea, I highly recommend checking out Morimoto Maui located at the Andaz Maui Resort. This Hawaiian outpost of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s eponymous restaurant is great for advanced foodies and sushi novices alike.

Left: Ishi Yaka Buri Bop Right: Ramen soup (Morimoto chicken soup)

Morimoto Maui’s menu had so many dishes that I wanted to try, that I ate at this restaurant four times during my recent trip. I also craved it as soon as I left.

Sushi and pickled ginger at Morimoto Maui

The menu focuses on a mix of Western and Japanese dishes, using the freshest local Hawaiian ingredients. The whole vibe is upscale yet casual, and the setting is modern, laid back and Aloha chic.

Patio at Morimoto Maui

The restaurant is has a small outdoor bar, a covered outdoor patio, sushi bar, and indoor seating options.

Tempura calamari salad served with quinoa and white miso dressing ($19)

Morimoto Maui is a great choice for foodies and beach bums alike– the vibe is mellow and you can totally cruise in for lunch in your cover-up and flip flops.

Ishi yaki buri bop: yellowtail on rice bowl prepared table side in a hot stone bowl ($30)

Open for both lunch and dinner, Morimoto Maui has innovative and classic dishes. I loved the hamachi tacos made with yellowtail, avocado, and creamy nuoc cham ($16) so much I ordered them every visit. Despite the hot and humid tropical environment, the ramen soup with chicken ($16) is also a standout and big enough to share. I noticed it on a lot of tables.

The yellowtail on rice after being prepared tableside

Sushi and sashimi is top notch. The Ishi Yaki Buri Bop ($39)– a rice bowl made with yellowtail cooked at your table in a hot stone bowl was inspired, delicious and satisfying. It’s also fun to order.

Sunset Yuzu Drop ($15) cocktail at Morimoto Maui

The restaurant has an inspired and witty cocktail list (Mai Chai or Sibiscus Hazerac, anyone?) as well as an extensive list of sakes and wines.

Morimoto Maui’s Aloha Chic Bar

The service is as impressive as the food. I’d suggest making a reservation if you’re planning on coming for dinner, particularly if you have a seating preference. Reservations can be booked through the restaurant or via Opentable.

Morimoto Maui

3550 Wailea Alanui Drive

Wailea, Hawaii 96753

808 573 1234

Hours:

Lunch: 11:30 AM – 2:00 PM, daily

Dinner: 5:30 PM – 9:30 PM

 

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Where to Eat in Lake Como, Italy: Crotto dei Platani

The Aperol Spritz: perfect for an Italian summer evening

Located in an old grotto situated on on the lake, Crotto dei Platani is a charming and romantic restaurant with great outdoor spaces as well as a natural grotto. It was a 20 minute drive from Cernobbio, where I was staying, but well worth the drive. It was one of the most memorable meals of the trip.

The exterior of Crotto dei Platani

In the summer, it’s all about dining on the restaurant’s panoramic veranda and garden. When I visited, it was raining, so we ate in the covered patio overlooking the lake.

The gorgeous view of the lake from Crotto dei Platani

The food was delicious. The menu focuses on fish caught in the lake, offering dishes like Mixed Lake Fish Hors d’oeuvres (€ 14) and White Fish Tartare with Black truffle (€ 18). We had the Assorted Salami with Vinegar Vegetables (€ 14) which was delicious and paired nicely with Italy’s summer cocktail of choice, the Aperol Spritz.

Pea soup with crispy black rice and citrus cream was € 13

Next I had the fresh Pea Soup, which was fresh, light and delicious and had a lovely texture with the black rice and citrus cream. It hit the spot on a rainy evening.

The Assorted Salami with Vinegar Vegatables was a winner

We moved on to a bottle of Tignanello Super Tuscan before our mains arrived. I went for the house made Pasta with Tomato Sauce, Buffalo Mozzarella and Eggplant (€ 13). It was served al dente and had the correct sauce-to-pasta ratio.

Left: The house made pasta Right: Beef with foie gras and red wine sauce

My husband loved the Beef with Foie Gras and Red Wine Sauce (€ 23). We usually skip dessert, we couldn’t pass up the Peach Semifreddo with raspberries and honey (€ 8). It was worth the splurge.

Our waiter turned our wine cork into a key ring souvenir

With excellent service, great atmosphere, and fantastic food, Crotto dei Platani is a great choice for a special occasion or romantic dinner. You can even arrange to arrive by water taxi.

The docks outside Crotto dei Platani lit up at night

Crotto dei Platani

Via Regina, 73
22010 Brienno (CO),
SS 340, km 16

T: (+39) 031 814038
E: info@crottodeiplatani.it

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