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The Good Life
George Aquino is a hotelier by day, and according to his wife, a blogger for his third shift job. Tag along with George as he scouts the world of food haunts and destination finds.
There are currently only two Ritz-Carlton Reserves in the entire world, Phulay Bay in Thailand and Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico. Future locations include Los Cabos, Mexico; Muscat, Oman; Tamuda Bay, Morocco and West Caicos, Turks and Caicos. Dorado Beach introduces an exquisite five-star haven unrivaled in the Caribbean. Rates starting at $859 per night.
Puerto Rico boasts a number of first class resorts on the island; most of which are located in San Juan. Dorado Beach stands out because it adds an exclamation point to “rest and relaxation,” combining the azure waters of the Caribbean in the foreground with a lush tropical forest setting in the background. Every luxurious detail, from your garden showers to your private plunge pool, is elevated to newer heights.
Nestled among the life within the walls of the Medina is a hidden gem; an Italian restaurant called I Limoni. A courtyard with lemon trees, a scattering of tables and nook seating ideal for an after meal nap is the stage for a tranquil meal of some of the best Italian cuisine in North Africa. The Spaghetti au Poivron et Tomate is divine in its freshest form with al dente pasta and an aria playing in the background. After your meal, walk up to the rooftop terrace and admire a sea of white and pastel houses on the horizon.
In my role as a travel writer, food critic and blogger, I am often asked for my recommendations for the best places to eat in most popular destinations. There are amazing restaurants in most American cities, though I would say that New York City tops my list as the city with the most diverse offerings and a restaurant scene that never ceases to impress me with each visit. My wife Elena and I have visited the city several times this past year since our daughter, Margaux, attends NYU. My younger brother, Brian, and cousin, Sean, like Margaux, live in the city as well. Between the three of them and my past culinary exploits, we have compiled some of our favorite restaurants that we have visited this past year.
If you are looking for a place that will transport you to one of those neighborhood restaurants you discovered while strolling some of the intimate streets in Paris, then you don’t need to go further than Jean Claude on Sullivan St. in Soho. Everything about Jean Claude is French bistro– the intimate dining room, the empty wine bottles that line the walls, the accordion playing in the background, and definitely the menu. There is Roasted Quail with glazed apples, Foie Gras with a Sauterne sauce, Escargot smothered in parsley butter, steamed mussels with pomme frites and a hanger steak partnered with amazing dauphinoise potatoes.
A Good Reason To Visit – You are not going to find a more iconic hotel front porch in the America than The Grand Hotel’s 660 ft. long wooden porch on Mackinac Island. An oversized American flag swish with the lake breeze in front of the hotel’s white facade with majestic views of the Straights of Mackinac. The hotel’s manicured gardens and lobby areas opened as the summer playground for America’s railroad barons and the country’s elite in 1887. Mackinac Island itself boasts eight miles of shoreline, a rich history and a main street downtown free from motor vehicles - where horse drawn carriages and bicycles are the primary form of transportation. The Grand Hotel epitomizes the turn of the century elegance that is deeply embedded in the rich history of this American classic.
First Impressions – Getting picked up at the island’s main ferry dock by the hotel’s horse-drawn carriage is the utmost status symbol on the island. You arrive at the hotel’s front porch after about a fifteen-minute ride through downtown’s main street and back roads dressed with quaint turn-of-the century homes and inns.
Guest Rooms – The hotel boasts that no two guest rooms are alike (of the 385 rooms and suites). I have never been a fan of interior designer Carlton Varney’s flair for the bright and floral, however, his inspirations for The Grand Hotel work wonders as a timeless tribute to her rich history. All rooms are equipped with “modern” amenities such as Wi-Fi, air conditioning, cable television, safe and mini bar. The hotel has seven First Lady themed suits; from the Jackie Kennedy to the Laura Bush suite.
Buenos Aires’ food scene continues to evolve after each of my visits. Of the many eateries I visited this year, here are five that you must add to your BA itinerary.
Cocina Sunae: What started out as a one-table restaurant in her home in Buenos Aires is now the city’s best-kept secret, and perhaps, some of the hardest reservations to come by in the BA. Asian-American Chef Sunae was born in Korea and raised in the Philippines and New York City. She opens up her home every Thursday, Friday and Saturday to about 50 guests (2 seatings) and serves up some of the most amazing Asian-inspired dishes this side of the equator.
Colegiales: exact location to be confirmed with reservation
If I were to choose one must-experience place in each city that I visit, the city’s historic market would most likely be my choice destination. Markets have a way of luring me in—the smell of local coffee being roasted, the vivid colors of chili peppers on display, the rows of cured ham hung like Christmas lights, and the fruit vendor’s loud plea to sample his golden mangoes.
The great cities of the world all boast their iconic markets. These markets not only offer the widest selection of fruits, vegetables and meats, but also present its visitors with world-class comfort foods. There is London’s Burough Market where the best grilled Montgomery cheese sandwich can be found. In Mexico City’s La Merced, tostadas and quesadillas stuffed with stewed pork and Oaxaca cheese are the staples. In Madrid’s San Miguel Market, tapas of all sorts take the reign alongside glasses of steely Spanish wines.
A trip to Sao Paulo this year landed me the opportunity to pilgrimage to the famed Mercadão (big market), as the local Paulistas call their central market. The Mercado Municipal de Sao Paulo stands as the bastion of the rich food culture of Brazil. The Mercadão is an imposing neo-Baroque architectural specimen of concrete and stained glass. It’s like Les Invalides and the Chartres cathedral all in the same breath.
My travel life is not always filled with overflowing glasses of champagne and slabs of foie gras on toast points. I am also up for fantastic meals that cost a mere sip of the Krug Grande Cuvee at the swanky Mandarin Oriental in Paris. Let’s not forget the $900 “bargain” of a hotel tab and the matching tips for every hotel employee who calls me by name.
For this issue of The Good Life column, I have gathered my list of Top 10 Places to Eat (and drink) around the globe for under $10. From the most divine ginger Brussels sprouts in Miami to most memorable place to have a glass of rum at six in the morning, these ten places are worthy of a side trip even from your most enchanting penthouse hotel suite.
PORK BELLY – Butch’s Dry Dock (Holland)
I overdosed on pork belly last year, but Chef Brian Woods of downtown Holland’s Butch’s Dry Dock reminded me that the pork belly’s resurgence as a mainstream food star is no fad. His version—chipotle glazed Kurobuta pork belly with Michigan cherry risotto and warm apples—is divine with a capital “D.”
AUTHENTIC TACO – Taqueria San Jose (Grand Rapids)
I don't take anointing a restaurant with "the best" title of anything lightheartedly. Sure, West Michigan is not Chicago when it comes to a myriad of good selections for authentic Italian food, but, we do have a few options. It took me several trips to the restaurant's website to finally convince myself that this place could be worth the twenty minute drive from downtown Grand Rapids. First of all, its location is not exactly a hot spot for good eateries in the area. In fact, N. Alpine is not even remotely close on my foodie radar screen.
Right across from the "landmark" Oasis hot tub resort on the barren stretch between Five Mile and Six Mile Road on Alpine Avenue, lies the restaurant that serves up the best Italian food in the area. Hands down. The place is Amore Trattoria Italiana. Forget the fact that my kids were appalled when we drove up to to this restaurant that looks like it had it share of former identities including a pub and a former Brann's Steakhouse. Amore, from an architecture and interior design standpoint is between a charming dive joint and nice family restaurant. The chef/owners have done everything they can within their budget to bring life into the place, from the colorful paintings for sale in the dining room to kitschy Italian memorabilia on the walls. The dark bar/lounge with mostly high tops occupy the southern half of the restaurant while the dining room with banquettes and four-top tables on the built-in dance floor reside on the northern half. But get past all the physical aspects of Amore and get down to the real reason for visiting - the FOOD!
We visited Amore twice in the last month to make sure that our first dining experience wasn't a mere fluke. In fact, this was just the beginning of our love affair with Amore's food. Both times, the food was simply the best tasting Italian food we'd experienced in the city (the former Tuscan Express on 28th St. and Cascade used to hold this distinction for me). From the mussels with a sauce worthy of bread double-dipping, to the decadent home-made pastas to the pizza crust that tastes exactly like it was right off the ovens in Rome to the friendly servers, and even more hospitable hosts, Chef Jenna and her husband, Maurizio Arcidiacono.
Check-In: CityFlatsHotel, Grand Rapids
The Scenario: My wife and I invited a Dutch friend(from Netherlands) who works in the Caribbean to the cozy CitySen Lounge at the hotel to start off our weekend this past Friday night. My good friend Jimmy happened to be dining with another friend, Chip, so we joined them. I contacted my friend Sin, who was dining in six.one.six at the JW, to join us. Sin brought two people with him. Another friend, Bonzi, happened to call Jimmy from The BOB, so he joined us with his girlfriend Shelly and their entourage of four friends. We were later joined by friends Nick and Ashley after they called Chip. Forget the fact that between our group, we had other friends sitting in the bar, in booths and friends who happened to just walk-by the lounge. What was meant to be a chill-night at a new establishment, turned out to be quite the get-together of friends and new acquaintances.
The Vibe: CFGR evokes a more personal charm than its sister property in Holland. The designer did a wonderful job of creating an inviting space out of a small footprint. CFGR reminds me a lot of the boutique hotels you may discover in Zurich, Amsterdam and Berlin. The lounge itself, with its illuminated bar, exposed brick walls, booth seatings and outdoor terrace, is stylized to reflect a hotel in a younger urban center. The staff in the lounge were friendly and accommodating and were gracious enough to offer our party a room tour. The rooms are smartly appointed with glass showers, flat screens, cork floors and bathroom fixtures worth photographing (as you can see below). CFGR is a very cool place and MHL highly recommends staying here.