Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dante & Luigi's

Back in the late 1960's, you could walk into Dante & Luigi's in South Philly with a five dollar bill, dine on veal parm with wine, and leave with change. These days, the prices have gone up but so has the quality of the food. Mama isn't in the kitchen anymore. She's been replaced by a classically trained chef who puts the focus on the freshest, finest ingredients in season.

The new owners redecorated without sacrificing the restaurant's Old World charm and re-designed the menu without sacrificing the traditional Italian "gravy" based cuisine that brought in the big guns (literally). Desserts are made on the premises. The Ricotta Cheesecake is seductive. Portions are so large, you'll be asking for a doggie bag. Waiters are so personable, you'll be asking for their phone numbers. Complimentary Chianti at lunch.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Corbusier Church in Firminy, France

When Corbusier, the father of modern architecture, designed a church for Firminy outside of Saint-Etienne, an industrial town in the Rhone Alpes, you could've heard a concrete block fall. His ingenious design which fills the chapel with natural rays of light was not appreciated by the local clergy who cherished their medieval, gothic and renaissance cathedrals.

Today, however, Corbusier's church is part of a larger site that draws hundreds of architecture fans a year. The site includes two Corbusier residential towers, a cultural center, swimming pool and stadium. While you're in Saint Etienne - check out the collection of medieval weapons and vintage bicycles at the Museum of Industry & Design and have lunch al fresco at the Museum of Modern Art. The art is industrial and the museum's restaurant is on par with MOMA.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dining in Lyon

Le Mere Lyonnaise, a 100-year-old Lyon restaurant now in the capable hands of two-star Michelin chef Mathieu Viannay, won me over from the first course - succulent raw oysters in a basil jelly with caviar. The private dining rooms are the former bedrooms of the original owner and give the contemporary restaurant a Belle Epoch intimacy.

Dining here is theatre that will leave you shouting, "Encore! Encore!"

Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse

Paul Bocuse, the creator of Nouvelle Cuisine, put Lyon on the gastronomic map and Lyon returned the favor by adding the chef's name to its glass-enclosed gourmet market, containing 59 purveyors of the finest produce, cheeses, fish, meat, wines and desserts in all of France.

This is a great place to buy edible souvenirs, grab a picnic lunch or take a cooking class at Institute Paul Bocuse. Vendors offer free samples and are happy to discuss their products. Restaurants and seafood bars on the premises. (Wear loose-fitting clothes!)

Annecy, France

If you like romantic canals, swans, snow-capped mountains, crystal clear lakes, chalets and scrumptious cuisine, you'll fall in love with Annecy. This is where well-heeled Parisians ski in the winter and sail in the summer. You can smell the money in the pure, crisp mountain air.

While the Glitterati stay in 4-star resort hotels, mere mortals pitch their tents at campsites around the shimmering lake. Rent a bike, paraglide or visit one of the charming villages within a half hour drive. My favorite activity? The outdoor Antique Market on the last Saturday of the month along the canal.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Whose woods these are, I think I know

Covered wooden bridges, bubbling streams, waterfalls, bike trails, the clip clop of horses, dogs dancing on the ends of their leashes, ducks and geese gliding in the river, autumn leaves crunching underfoot. All good reasons to abandon your regular routine and head for Forbidden Drive, the 5-mile scenic trail that meanders through the Wissahickon Woods in the northwest section of Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. Enjoy brunch, lunch or dinner at the historic Valley Green Inn.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Truth About Press Trips

Yes, we travel writers get FREE trips, stay in luxury hotels, dine on gourmet fare and swim in champagne without ever seeing the tab. But we do all this with a group of strangers whose charming (or alarming) company we are in from morning to night. If the group is congenial, as were the 25 journalists with whom I toured Prague and Southern Moravia, it's party time. Although I have a hunch that the reason we got along so well was that none of us spoke the other's language and they kept us very well lubricated.

The day this photo was taken, we were drinking champagne on an antique trolley in Prague. Once we were totally sloshed, they then put us on a boat in the Charles River and gave us enough Czech beer to launch a thousand frat houses.