Thursday, April 23, 2009

Around Madrid

Spain is such a hot, exiting country; no wonder its capital is such a magnificent city. Full of passion, great food and many recently-renewed superb museums, Madrid is a city everyone should visit.

One can start a great tour on the west side of the city’s historical center at Palacio Real ( ), which is huge, one of the largest (if not the biggest) royal residence in the world. For me it is equally impressive inside and out. Its exterior is stunning and inside the show continues with its three thousands rooms, rich collections of tapestry, porcelain and the world's only complete Stradivarius string quintet. If that weren’t enough the Palacio carries works from many artists such as Caravaggio, El Greco and Velasquez, among many others.

Continue strolling to Plaza Mayor and then to Puerta del Sol and you will be in the beating heart of the town. By keep going east, you will end up on Passeo del Prado, where, on and around, you will find some of the world’s greatest master pieces. On this end of Madrid’s historical center are housed: the famous Museo del Prado, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia ( ), and my personal darling, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza ( Besides this three “celebrity- museums” there are still some great venues, such as Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas ( and beautiful green areas as the city’s botanic garden and Parque del Buen Retiro which leads to the charming neighborhoods of Salamanca and Retiro.

Another great place to take a walk, have coffee or a cocktail and admire some mind blowing architecture is Gran Via, one of the Spanish Capital’s most famous avenues.
On the middle of Gran Via there is a classical-looking building that houses the hip and modern Hotel de Las Letras ( Get a room with a terrace and have a drink at the popular and busy bar. Just across the street one will find Chicote, a classic 1930’s art deco bar, with a very hype crowd. Great names such as Sinatra and Hemingway used to hang out there. Right behind Chicote, on the other side of the block (at Reina16) is established Bar Cock, where Luv and I and a couple of my cousins, B. and R., had the best cocktails and the best time. The funny note is that Cock had no door to the street, its entrance used to be by a secret underground path from Chicote. Why? Cock was a brothel! And, since the only way in was through Chicote’s kitchen no man would ever be caught entering this “forbidden spot”. The gentlemen would, naively, go out for drinks with fellows and, well, you know the rest…

Hope you enjoy the Capital of Spain! Boa Viagem!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Paris: Haute-cuisine 2

Eating in a good restaurant in Paris is so easy that makes picking a few quite a chore! Sometimes I’m in the mood for a cheerful brasserie, some for homey bistro food and many others for top haute cuisine: today’s case!

I’ve already written a post on Paris’ haute-cuisine but I’m aware I’ll still leave some amazing spots out of this second one.

Av des Champs-Elyseés is Paris’ most famous avenue, so, no wonder, many of the top restaurants are housed around it, on 8iéme arrondissement; an exclusive neighborhood surrounded by 16iéme and 1ière arrondissement, also very posh areas.
On the upper side of 8iéme one will find two amazing places: Pierre Gagnaire ( ) and Taillevent ( ).
Pierre Gagnaire’s venue is very chic, low key and trendy. His food is modern but his standards couldn’t be higher and stricter.

Only about a block away, in an ancient and beautiful townhouse, is established Tallevent. The restaurant offers a sophisticated deco, and, in my opinion, one of the best services and food in town. They also have an amazing wine list. I just love the place!

Still on the same arrondissement, right by Grand Palais and Petit Palais, are located Lasserre ( ) and Ledoyen ( ), respectively. Ledoyen is housed at a beautiful neo-classical construction on the gardens of carré Champs-Elyseés. It offers impeccable service, amazing food and a Napoleon-style deco, but the restaurant’s big and wide windows, with garden views, are really the ones that make the experience unique and romantic. When speaking of uniqueness and romance, Lasserre is the top-of-mind place! Luv and I, Mom and Dad and 2 other couples spent our last New Year’s Eve at this magical spot. I had been there before but it always amazes me! Besides the perfection of its food (try the macaroni aux truffes as appetizer) and service, the ambience is absolutely mind-blowing. As you enter the lovely house you’re conducted into a charming elevator that leads you to the sumptuous dining room covered with the prettiest white orchids. As if that weren’t enough, the room features a magnificent retractable roof that allows one to dine with the stars!!! So nice!

Crossing Place de la Concorde and continuing a bit further one ends up on Palais Royal, one of my favorite places in Paris. After being Cardinal Richelieu’s Theather, being burned down and rebuilt, this monument is, nowadays, house to several cafés, stores, such as: Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney, the vintage Didier Loudot and the newly-opened Corto Moltedo (amazing clutches and bags!!), and restaurants, as the famous Le Grand Véfour ( ) - very sophisticated, beautiful and charming. Try the ravioli de foie gras and the ox tail. And, please, leave some room for cheese, desert and all the little treats offered after it. Totally worth it!

Crossing the Seine from Rive Droite to Rive Gauche, on 6iéme arrondissement, is located one of Paris Left Bank’s finest restaurant: Restaurant Hélène Darroze. This warm and modern house is divided in three distinct, but equally nice areas: La Sale à Mange (the most sophisticated), Le Salon (the best tapas, and a bit more casual; try the truffles menu!!) and Le Boudoir (great bar with an impressive collection of Armagnacs).

Hope you have great dining experiences. Boa Viagem!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Arty Milano

I know the Italian masters of Renascence are usually related to the city of Florence but, since Leonardo Da Vinci, the greatest multi-talented genius of his time (probably of all times), lived almost two decades in Milan, the city has a great and very rich part of his work, as well as, many master pieces inspired by him.

Da Vinci went from Florence to work for the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, in 1482. He lived and left his marks on a still existing and very popular Milanese attraction: Catello Sforzesco ( ). It ended out to be a very rich and productive period of his life.

His most famous master piece, along with La Gioconda or Mona Lisa, is Ultima Cena (The Last Supper) which was painted directly on a wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a monastery located just a few block south from the castle. Tickets for visits can, and should, be bought on-line ( ). It is very important to book way in advance in order to get in!

Leonardo often used models for his paintings. My art history professor told me once a curious legend that says that Leonardo, working on The Last Supper, painted Jesus first and then all the apostles, leaving Judas as the last one. The funny part is, he chose a model on a party at the castle; he looked for the most gorgeous man on the room and asked him if he would be his model for Christ; the man accepted. Years later, after travelling around Italy, he were to finish the alfresco and, therefore, looked on the streets for the worst looking man to model for Judas. He found a homeless man on a sidewalk of Milan and offered him some money for the job. Once painting Judas, the model asked Leonardo if he didn’t remember him. It was the same man who had been a model for J.C. years before, that for some of those tricks played by life had lost all he had. So, any similarity between the two characters on the alfresco might be more then just a coincidence. Take a close look!

Milan also has a museum named after the master of Renascence: Museo Nazionale Leonardo Da Vinci ( ). It’s a science and technology museum with many studies, prototypes and models built by Da Vinci as an engineer (even though he didn’t have a degree he was very good at it).

Another perfect spot for art lovers is Pinacoteca Brera ( ). This gallery’s collection includes huge names such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Botticelli and many more. This year the Pinacoteca is completing two centuries since it first opened its doors for public visits. After seeing it all take a stroll on the Brera District. A very unique neighborhood that once was house to many artists and intellectuals. It holds cute antique stores and still has a bohemian vibe.

Heading north one will end up on Corso Como, a lovely pedestrian street where is established 10 Corso Como ( ), a café/store/ hotel/ gallery cool venue, actually, one of the most fashionable places in Milan. The place houses: 3 Rooms Corso Como, a great hotel with only 3 rooms, being one of a kind and designed by different famous architects (there is also a 3 Rooms hotel in Le Marais, Paris, with rooms designed by Azzedine Alaïa); 10 Corso Como store, a multi-brand, fabulous boutique with all the best and hippest labels of the world; a modern bookshop and art gallery; and, 10 Corso Como Café (and Garden Café) which is my favorite Sunday brunch hangout in town. When weather is mild, a table on its garden is the perfect entertainment. Great for people-watching!

For a crises consistent shopping, 10 Corso Como runs its Outlet just 5 minutes away on Via Tiazzoni. Enjoy!

Boa Viagem!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Milano: Duomo and Teatro

Still in Lombardy, even though Milan is a fashion paradise there is a lot more to it then shopping. Piazza Duomo, where Milan’s Cathedral and, obviously, its famous Duomo, are located, is the center of the city. The Cathedral is huge, almost intimidating and hypnotically beautiful on its in and outside. Milan grew axially around this amazing, gothic and recently retoured church, (which makes it pretty hard to drive there). Around the Dome Square there are also two places one must visit: the traditional Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the beautiful Teatro alla Scalla.

The ancient Galleria is an architecture icon. Its high and stylish glass arcades are capable of making anyone smile. On its interior there are some luxury fashion labels such as Prada and Vuitton; cafés such as the fashionable Gucci Café, on Gucci store, and Zuca, an interesting venue for cocktail lovers, since Campari was invented there; and one of, if not THE most exclusive hotel in Milan: Town House Galleria ( ). Located inside of the historical gallery this hotel offers a butler for each room among many unique services. Just out of curiosity, at the center of the gallery there is a huge mosaic on the floor. For the superstitious ones, the legend tells that you can bring yourself good luck by rubbing your feet on the genitals of the bull in the floor figure. Poor animal….

Two other great places to stay nearby are: STRAF ( ), an arty hotel with a hip and busy bar worth having a cocktail, even if you’re not a guest; and Hotel The Grey ( ), a beautiful, luxury design hotel, less then a block away from Piazza Duomo, and therefore, from the Galleria.

If you’re in Piazza Duomo, by entering and crossing Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II you will end up on Piazza della Scalla and will be face to face with the magnificent theater building. Teatro alla Scalla ( ) is so charming… The small palace was built in the 18th century and still hosts many great events and has its own little museum. After a concert, have dinner at Trussardi all Scalla ( ) a wonderful restaurant housed on top of Trussardi store right in front of the theater (you can also find Café Trussardi right behind the store, perfect for lunch or coffee). It is a beautiful, modern and trendy Italian hangout. Seat by a window and have a great view of the theater building. The food is very good and I think it was where I tested one of the most different deserts of my live. It was actually Luv the one who ordered it, since he’s a cigar lover: a chocolate cigar. Seems simple? At first it does. The buzz, however is, its filling is cooked along with real Cuban tobacco! More precisely, the luxurious Partagas D4! The smoke released from the cooking of the tobacco impregnates the hazelnut cream. The filled chocolate straw is served with sauce and ice cream which makes the different textures, temperatures and flavors, among with the slightly smoky retro taste of the tobacco, one of the most indescribable sensations that could happened inside one’s mouth!!! Just try it!!

Around two blocks behind La Scalla is established my favorite hotel in Milan: Bulgari Hotel ( ). It is perfectly located between the fashionable Quadrilatero d’Oro and the classic Galleria. In spite of being right on the center of the city buzz it is located on a hidden, little, dead end street. It is surrounded with green, giving the idea of a peaceful oasis in the middle of agitated Milan. By the way, a coffee or a cocktail on those gardens is mandatory, even for those not staying there!

Since the days are already taken care of, lets close it with some great dinners.
My favorite restaurants in Milan are Sadler ( ) and Cracco ( Both are trendy and inventive with amazing food, impeccable service and the perfect ambience. Other great places are Joia ( ), considered one of the best “cordon vert” cuisines (only with a few fish dishes), and, Il Luogo de Aimo e Nadia ( ) a family-run business a bit far from the city’s center but with very good food.

Well, have a great time! Boa Viagem!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Milano: Quadrilatero d'Oro

Italy is one of my favorite countries. No wonder Luv and I chose it for our honeymoon. Actually Mom and Dad took a big vacation in Italy a little before Luv proposed to me, and they kept on saying: “That’s where you should spend your honeymoon”. So we embraced the idea. We had both visited Italy before knowing each other but this amazing country gained a whole different meaning in our lives after our honeymoon. One of Luv’s grandmothers was Italian and, according to him, she was a wonderful person and an especially good cook, so the food has a special childhood-memories taste to him. As for me, I just love it because it tastes perfectly great.

There are so many great Italian cities to write about, their architectures, their food and their culture are quite different from one another but they’re equally good as well as their people.

I’ll just start with Milan. I know many people who aren’t crazy about Milan, just can’t figure out why, I love the place. I always get so exited when I get to the Quadrlatero della Moda or Quadrilatero d'Oro (or even Disney World of fashion) for the first time in a trip. I love its restaurants, its people and the city’s vibe. One will find almost every worth-knowing store in the block formed by Via della Spiga, Via Monte Napoleone, Via Sant’Andrea and Via Alessandro Manzoni and a few others in its surroundings. Giorgio Armani, for example, has his flagship store (he now opened one on 5th Ave and 56th St as well) and headquarters in a whole block on a corner of Via Manzoni ( ). On that megastore one can find all of Armani’s brands, including Chocolate (Armani/Dolci) and Home (Armani/Casa), Armani Café, which is a great place to give shopping a break, have a quick lunch, snack or simply coffee or a cocktail. The building also houses a great club, Armani Privé and a branch of the world known, hip Japanese restaurant, Nobu ( ), where Luv and I ran in to Falvio Briatore last time we went there. As if that wasn’t enough this year a beautiful Armani Hotel ( ) will be also sharing the famous corner.
Just like Armani, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana ( ) have their share of the Quadrilatero. There they have three stores: women’s, accessories and men’s. The first two located n Via della Spiga and the Third on Corso Venezia, where is also house the D&G Martini Bar, great place for a cocktail and a quick snack. The two also own a cool restaurant: Gold ( ). As the name says the venue is all golden. Beautiful place for dinner and it has nice bar.

Another great place for lunch, with perfect Milanese food, in this high-density-good-shopping-per-sqm area is Paper Moon ( ). It’s a must go! The pappardelle and the pizzas are magnificent and they have great desserts too. It’s a fine place for dinner as well.

If you’re looking for “Bed & Breakfast” near by I love The Four Seasons Milano ( ) for the “Bed” part. It is literally on the center of the Quadirlatero on Via Gésu. As for the “Breakfast” part, Luv and I, rarely have breakfast, especially at the hotel, we find a stop for coffee in some cute spot much more fun. For that, I would recommend Cova ( ) at Montenapoleone, probably Milan’s oldest patisserie, founded on 1817 by one of Napoleon’s soldiers. It used to be at Piazza della Scalla and in the 50s it moved to Via Montenapolone.

If you’re still tiered from all your shopping take an after-lunch stroll on the close by Giardini Pubblici (just follow Via Manzoni, cross Piazza Cavour and you’ll be there) and its cutes museums, recharge your batteries and get back to work!

Boa Viagem!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dinning: NYC

Once I read somewhere that by living in Manhattan and eating out every single day you could spend at least three years without repeating a restaurant! I find that so fascinating and so frustrating at the same time. It’s so wonderful having so many options and, on the other hand, it feels like one can’t ever keep up with the City’s gastronomic expansion. One more thing to love about New York! I get quite anxious and doubly hungry: for the food, of course, and for all the great new places to know. It makes it really hard to write, since it’s difficult to know where to begin. I’ll just start with our last trip.

On our last escape to NYC Luv and I went to some great places. For dinner some of the restaurants we visited were: Eleven Madison Park, Commerce, Corton, Del Posto, Waverly Inn, Daniel and Gilt.

Eleven Madison Park ( ) is a beautiful place on the Flatiron District with an amazingly high ceiling, classy ambience and impeccable service. We sat at a great table by the window overlooking the Madison Square Park. The cuisine is French-American. The suckling pig and the Malted Milkshake are my recommendations.

Commerce ( ) is a cozy, loud and cheerful restaurant on a hidden corner of the West Village with a great cocktail list. It’s housed on a renewed historical NYC space, formerly Grange Hall which used to be a cute neighborhood spot often packed with martini-drinkers. The service is friendly and the spaghetti carbonara comes with a semi-raw egg yolk on top. Delicious! They also serve great homey entrées (I still haven’t figured out why that’s how Americans call the main dishes) to be shared, as well as great apple pie for 2.

Only a few blocks away from Commerce you’ll find the hidden Waverly Inn (16 Bank St, at Waverly Pl). It’s an exclusive, semi-private place where you might need to talk to a friend or two to manage to get yourself a table. Try stopping by a couple of days before and you might be able to make a reservation since there are no public phones or website. The spot is very romantic, quite dark with a fireplace and a welcoming garden on the back of its main room. Very beautiful people, sexy ambience and great cocktails! Depending on the day of the week you’re there try the mac n` cheese with truffles, a dish where comfort meets sophistication: just like the Inn!

Corton ( ) was a wonderful surprise! This TriBeCa, French-accented venue seems very basic and simple at first but it serves some mind-blowing dishes. Their staff is perfect, the wine list is quite fairly priced and the sommelier did a great job with wine paring for us. The black truffle pasta with Gouda cheese and the Lobster are impeccable plates. But what will burned in my "gustative memory" forever is the Caramel Brioche dessert. I will never forget its test and texture. I was so lucky since, in fact, I initially ordered the Honeycrisp apple – I’m on an apple, cinnamon and honey dessert phase – and when our very kind waiter told me they were out of it I went for the Caramel Brioche. Best ever!!!!!

As for Del Posto ( ), it is another one of Mario Batali`s masterpieces. The venue is impressive in basically everyway. The place is big and imposing with a gorgeous mezzanine and busy bar – with perfectly made cocktails - but still friendly. Great service, extensive wine list plus Batali-quality food. I always find tasting menus a great option, since one gets to taste all of the house’s signatures dishes and a few more. If you find it too much try the TRIS, which is basically three tastes of pastas to be shared by the hole table, no matter how many you are. The Garganelli is amazing. As for dessert try the chocolate and ricotta Tortino: very, very good!!!!

Well, Daniel ( ) will always be a classic with perfect haute-cuisine and service. Decoration is now different, a bit more modern, since it has gone through a recent renovation. Daniel is one of NYC’s top restaurant. It must be visited at least once. As I said before I always find testing menus, if possible with wine pairing, a wonderful option, especially in a top quality venue as this one.

Finally Gilt ( ), I absolutely loved it! One of my best experiences in the City! It offers top quality food and service but much hipper and exquisite ambiance then most locations with its level. High ceiling, wooden walls and a sleek, funky bar create a sexy and hip environment. It is located at The New York Palace Hotel, one of the most beautiful and luxury in town, on Madison Ave & 50th St, a Must Go! It opened its door last years and already won 2 Michelin stars. The miso consommé, the waygu beef and the crème brûlée are to die for.

Enjoy dinner out in the City and Boa viagem!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brunch and the City

Still in NYC, one of the great pleasures of my vacations is always Sunday’s brunch. It’s so family-like and, at the same time, great for people-watching. You get to eat the most delicious things and still have a cocktail, if you feel like. I just love it!!!!

Usually when Luv and I are in NYC the Sunday’s brunches are with some of his family which is always very special since we spend so much time apart. I have a sweet tooth so I often order pancakes or French toast and share with S., Luv’s little niece.

I always find Pastis ( ) and Balthazar ( ) classics for brunch. The food is always amazing – great steak tartare and burger – some classic French dishes and both are always quite busy. Balthazar is well known for its bakery, so try some of their bread. As for Pastis, if you still can handle dessert after all, order their île flotant, light and sweet. You might consider booking a table a few days before or you may have to wait a few minutes. As a matter of fact, I usually like to book all my restaurants in NYC in advance, which for most venues can be done by using a reservation site called Open Table ( ).

This time we went to Morandi ( ) for one of our brunches. It was fantastic! Morandi is an Italian restaurant also owned by Keith McNally (from Balthazar and Pastis). I’ve been there before for dinner, which, by the way, is very good too, and now went back for brunch. I loved it. It has become a morning hot spot with great food and beautiful people, such as Cameron Diaz, whom I set side by side with by the way. I highly recommend the bruschetta with ricotta, nuts and honey and the focacciaocciho di bue” which would be a thin pizza dough with a sunny side up egg, pecorino cheese and pancetta, unbelievable!! All three serve breakfast and lunch everyday and brunch on weekends.

If you’re going for real substance and comfort food, Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien ( ), on midtown, is a must. The PB&C Waffle ‘Wich and Crunchy French Toast are insane. They serve breakfast and lunch everyday.

In case you are looking for something more sophisticated, romantic and/or with a beautiful view I would say: head to Brooklyn and try The River Café ( ) right under the Brooklyn Bridge and with the most sweeping view of the city.

Once again: have fun and Boa Viagem!