51 Buckingham Gate – 5 Star Gem in London

On my recent trip to London, I was going to be working an arduous trade show, the Farnborough Air Show, and wanted a place to come back to each night that would really be relaxing and stress-free.  I hunted carefully, and found this gem of a hotel, 51 Buckingham Gate, and had a wonderful experience there.  It is tucked away on a quiet street about 3 blocks southeast of Buckingham Palace.  Very near the St. James Underground Station, and cabs are a hail away.

The private courtyard area with fountain is charming, and we would have sat and enjoyed it more, but for the rain during our visit.  There are 3 restaurants on site, and the Michelin-starred Quilon gave us dazzling food on our first night in town.

Upon arrival, we were escorted to a reception desk, and seated.  No lines, no counters!  Treated like honored guests.  After the easy registration, my colleague and I were each escorted by butlers to our upgraded suites.

What a suite!  Full kitchen, living area, bedroom, and luxurious bathroom. Openable windows to get fresh air.

We had personal notes from the manager, and an array of welcome goodies that included fresh eggs, milk, bread, butter, cereal, fruit, cookies, tea, coffee, chocolates, and more – from Whole Foods.  I was able to make myself a hearty breakfast for 4 days with this welcome package.  Probably saved me $100 in room service!  And, they washed and put away my dishes each day too.

The room was meticulously clean, and furnished with comfortable furniture, luxury linens and towels and every convenience.  Need a converter plug? They whisk one up to you.  Window stuck open at midnight?  Someone is there in an instant with a screwdriver to fix it.  The concierge was helpful and efficient.  The staff met and exceeded every expectation.  Evening turn-down service provided a comfy welcoming bed, fresh towels, and chocolates.  The library serves complimentary drinks and snacks every evening, and a cozy breakfast each morning.  Room service is quick, complete and accurate.

If I went to London more often, I might hesitate to recommend this place, but only because I’d want to keep it to myself!  But I do recommend it.  It was half the price of the Marriott Marble Arch, (which I’ve stayed in), and twice as nice.  5-star luxury all the way! Thanks to the entire staff.  I will be back!


Miraval Resort … is calling to me

One of my goals this year is to go to Miraval, a resort near Tucson that features wellness and integrated health programs modeled after Dr. Andrew Weil.  The pictures look incredible, the food looks delicious and healthy, and the “attitude” conveyed by their promo materials is wonderful.  The focus is on a balanced life, healthy activities, anti-inflammatory eating.  Oprah has talked about this place several times!

You sit down with an advisor when you arrive to plan out activities that could include all kinds of spa treatments (like Qi Grounding!), hikes, yoga, massage, lectures, cooking lessons, meditation, art projects, almost anything that would give you peace, joy and rejuvenation.

When I go, I’ll provide a full report.

Sunset’s Best Hotels in the West

I really love Sunset Magazine.  I find out great things about places I already thought I knew, even around the corner, and read about the way I wish I lived (you know what I mean?) in the West.  They always have great info on travel, dining, and how to make your home and garden better.

This month’s issue has their list of the 25 Best Hotels in the West.  I opened this article hoping that I’d stayed at at least several of them, and was dismayed to find I’ve only been to ONE – The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla.  It was fascinating reading about these unusual properties, some in urban settings, some in resorts.

The hotel I really want to try?  Post Ranch Inn, in Big Sur!

Sunnyside – Tahoe City

When I go to Lake Tahoe, I almost always take a car ride around the lake, and when I do, I stop at Sunnyside Mountain Grill, in Tahoe City on the West Shore.

This antique lodge has 23 rooms, overlooking the lake, and a great dining room and outdoor grill.  I was very surprised to find that it is part of a chain called TS Restaurants, which owns Duke’s in Hawaii and Huntington Beach (love their Lava Flow and Mai Tai), and Kimo’s in Lahaina.

You may wait for a table any time of day (we arrived at 3:30 pm and waited 15-20 min), but the view is incredible.  The drinks and food are above average for a grill, service is usually pretty good.

We had fish & chips, a steak salad and the wonderful Hula Pie, which was created at Kimo’s (and I’ve eaten it there too!).

This isn’t mud pie; it is Macadamia nut ice cream in a cookie crumb crust, with really dense fudge, more macadmia nuts, and whipped cream.  Yum. I didn’t take an “after”picture, but you could get a really good picture of the plate, if you get my drift.

Did I mention that there was a great view!?

Ad Hoc – Yountville

Many of my foodie friends know that I was heartbroken at not being able to get a reservation at The French Laundry in Yountville on our recent vacation. One of the two 3-star Michelin restaurants in the Western US, this famous restaurant has a 9-course tasting menu where no (major) ingredient is repeated. The wine list is 100+ pages. NONETHELESS, you must call 60 days in advance at exactly 10 am to get in, and not knowing this, I waited until noon on June 5, to get a reservation on August 5. When I called, they said all the lunch and dinner bookings had gone by 10:30 am. By the way, dinner there is $270 per person, not including wine (but does include tip)!!

BUT, there are 4 Thomas Keller eateries in Yountville, so we “settled” for Ad Hoc. I had bought the Ad Hoc cookbook pre-publication, and it is one of the most emotionally moving cookbooks I’d ever seen. Love in every dish.

Well, long story short, we had a great meal at Ad Hoc. They serve a set menu ($52) which changes every night, so you take a chance that you might not love what they are serving, but we loved it! They have a beautiful herb and vegetable garden out back, and obviously they use what’s fresh there. They use different style serving dishes, so your first course and that at the next table could be plated very differently, which makes it more interesting to spy on what your neighbors are eating!

What we ate: the 8/5/11 menu (we did the wine pairing too, $39 additional) was as follows:

Salad of Baby Iceberg Wedge, with egg, olives, bacon lardons, sunflower seeds, crimini mushrooms and an herb cream dressing. Served with Lahere Freres Champagne. We wanted more bacon, but all the flavors went so well together, and the Champagne was a perfect fit.

Veal Costalletta Chop, with wilted arugula, yellow wax beans, tomato-sage relish, and la ratte potatoes with gremolata. Served with Hirsch Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir. Loved the incredibly fresh tasting tomatoes (undoubtedly from the backyard garden) as a relish on this very tasty and tender veal.

Sweet Grass Dairy’s Green Hill Cheese, with puff pastry squares and honey. Served with Moscato D’Asti Saracco. The cheese was delicate, which went well with the delicate pastry. My wife loves Moscato more than I do (I find it too sweet), but this was good.

White Peach & Plum Crisp, with oat streusel and vanilla ice cream. Served with a Chardonnay / Welshreisling blend by Kracher – Austria Anslese Cuvee. I’m a snob about crisps, because I make a good one, but this was PERFECT. Nice tart absolutely wonderful fruit (not too much sugar – which I prefer), and a sweet crisp top. The perfect end to a great meal. Wine paired perfectly.

The experience was very satisfying and homey too. We’re glad we went, and it makes me want to plow through the Ad Hoc cookbook – especially the Fried Chicken, which they serve twice a month – I’ve posted the recipe for this already. This actually seems a doable task. Not like trying Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking!

Bonus: For the fun of it, you can subscribe to an e-mailing of the daily menu. It is an inspiration to all foodies!

Purely Consumed First Anniversary!

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I originally started this blog in June, 2010 to record all the wonderful food experiences we had on our European trip.  I now have steady readership of about 500 people a month, and post restaurant reviews, recipes, and items about locavore and quality eating!  And a drink here and there.

Thanks to all of you for your support.  To celebrate one year of food blogging, I’ve inserted a slide show of some of the food we ate in Europe last year.  We had an extraordinary 7 gourmet tasting menus in London, Paris and Amsterdam, plus other really good meals.  To read those original restaurant entries, go back to the archives and look at June, 2010.

Nine-Ten La Jolla – Put Yourself at the “Mercy of the Chef”

The week between Christmas and New Year’s we were in La Jolla, and had an incredible dinner at Nine-Ten in downtown La Jolla.  The “Mercy of the Chef” dinner is 5 courses that are each a surprise.  When two people order this, each gets a different course, so you have 10 different items for dinner!  We ordered one wine pairing (to share) and they gave us half-glasses of different wines, so we tasted 10 wines too!  It was all great.  We would rate it a “10” – we found no flaws!

We started with a drink at the bar they call a “Fraggle on the Rocks”.  Grey Goose Citron, St. Germaine liqueur, Kiwi, Passion Fruit and Lemon.  Yum and powerful.

First courses: Oops – forgot the Amuse Bouche – Cucumber and crab with ponzu sauce and watermelon relish.  Then the real first courses: Tuna Tartare with carrot, radish, chervil, chives, and green goddess dressing, plus House Cured smoked salmon with potato salad, celery, apples, and salmon roe.  Wines were Proseco Clara C Florio and Bouvet Sparkling Rose (Loire Valley).

Second Course: Local Swordfish, with fennel, fingerling potatoes, olives, romesco sauce, served with Hess Suskol Vineyard Late Harvest Chardonnay (Napa – fabulous!), and Scottish Loch Duart Salmon, with celery root, apples, maitake mushrooms, parsnip puree, pomegranate and pepper froth, served with Talbot Logan Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands).


Third Course:  Grilled Prime “Cap” Ribeye Steak, arugula and sunchoke salad, leek bread pudding (incredible), red wine emulsion, served with Epiphany Gypsy Red Blend AND Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly (a house specialty of the Jamaican chef), with baby carrots, Swiss chard, plantains, black-eyed peas , spicy jellies and sweet potato puree (eye-roll good), served with Curtis Central Coast Mourvedre (best wine of the night, IMHO).

Fourth Course: Cheeses: Manchego (Spain) and Beemster Goats Milk (Netherlands) with Royal Tokaji (Hungary) and Taylor Flatgate Port.

Fifth Course: Spiced Crumb Cake with caramelized bacon, quince, and butternut ice cream, served with Banfi Rosa Regale Sparkling Red Wine; and Chocolate Cream (72% chocolate) with banana gelato, butterscotch and ginger mousse, served with Chateau Graves Sauternes.

What an incredible meal.  I think a bargain, at $70 each, plus $30 for one wine tasting that got us 10 half glasses of wine!

We met a nice couple from Redondo Beach, who make a special trip to the Grande Colonial Hotel (which houses the restaurant) and stay overnight just to eat in this restaurant.  We would come back to La Jolla (oh, we would anyway) just for a dinner here too.  Our server Danielle, was terrific.  She’s been there 6 years, loves her work, and it shows!