Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Waldorf=Astoria - Gotham’s Architectural Icon Shutters its Doors

Waldorf=Astoria - Mural of Life at Park Avenue entrance 

I’m bereft. As someone who pays homage to architecture, history, design, and culture -- I was devastated to learn the world-class hotel referred to as “America’s Palace” was closing its doors Wednesday. 
Is it karma that the Waldorf=Astoria gets assigned to the “ash heap” of history on Ash Wednesday?

It’s not the first time this storied gem has undergone a facelift -- after all, it’s no secret we all need a beauty makeover now and then… (read on for the hotel history).

But this time is different. Once this renovation is completed there will be no more “Meet you at the clock” because in its next incarnation, the Waldorf will be high-end condominiums -- private residences. Goodbye to all the swanky glamour of the public bars and restaurants -- and ballrooms, and hallways, and more.  

I have a kind of personal relationship to the Waldorf as well: I produced my first major press conference there, enjoyed the annual Women in Media awards shows - met the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and the PBS Newshour host Gwen Ilfill there. Where else but at legendary hotels like this one can regular folks like me meet such luminaries?

Hotels - especially grand ones - sport the sexiest, glamour-puss bars. There is something intriguing and just naughty enough (perhaps it’s knowing there’s all those beds upstairs!) that makes just sipping a cocktail or two in their dimly lit lounges palpably sensual - adding to the glamourous, transporting charm.

As with any cultural jewel, there are plenty of stories that contribute to the Waldorf’s legendary status.
And there are lots of food and drink chestnuts, as you might imagine, given all those bars and restaurants that are part of the Waldorf. My favorites are The Bull and Bear and Peacock Alley. (You know I adore any kind of peacock art…) Peacock Alley earned its moniker because all the hoi-polloi would come to the hotel and walk the corridor, and strut their stuff - like a peacock. The name stuck.

Here’s some more buzz -- about the hotel’s homegrown honey.

Bet you didn’t know there was a collection of beehives on the roof? Well there are.

In fact, The Waldorf is home to more than 36,000 honeybees .  Where will they move their residences to?
The Horticultural Society of New York has managed their landmark garden home -- with my hort friend, George Pisegna, Deputy Director & Chief of Horticulture of the Horticultural Society (and graduate of School of Professional Horticulture, The New York Botanical Garden) tending to the bees. He knows how to keep a pollinator happy!

Here’s a bit of foodie nostalgia: this palace hosted the first Pillsbury Bake-Off contest! “Over 150 women from all over the country gathered on December 12, 1949 in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel baking their best and most delectable recipes for a shot at the grand prize.”

The hotel even has a salad named for it...

I was told that Xavier Cugat and his Mambo orchestra played at the Waldorf in the Starlight Roof and that the Art-Deco ceiling opened up at night so that you could literally dance under the stars… ahhh… And there were plenty of stars who stayed - and lived at the Waldorf, including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Frank Sinatra - not to mention every president - until this one. There’s an underground security tunnel and private railway tunnel - that adds to the hotel’s intrigue.

The Waldorf offers a wonderful treasure-trove of historic menus at their (waldorfarchive.com)  Culinary historians, as well as home hosts and hostesses can learn a lot from these pearls: what food was popular, how was it served.  The menus are a delight.  My favorite is the "A Fete Fit for Librarian" - a wise-looking owl is a sweet graphic and the menu's footprint is a book mark size.  Creative!

The Waldorf Clock in the center of the lobby is made with nine feet of bronze - crowned by a little Statue of Liberty? What a dame. And what a classy meeting spot.

One Last Time 
It was time for a last visit. I couldn’t resist paying homage and respects to this glorious architectural gem -- and so scooted up on the subway yesterday just to bask in the heady design of this icon.

Her heart-clutching beauty is forever swoon-worthy.

I saw again the murals, the wood-lined elevators, the Art-Deco doors and heating grills,
crystal chandeliers, bas-relief sculptured moldings and walls, skylights, and rich carpets.
Minerals abound: there’s gold here, bronze there, and more.

And oh - that "Wheel of Life" mosaic on the Park Avenue entrance side. It’s made with 148,000 hand-cut marble tiles from all around the world; the work of French artist Louis Rigal, the mosaic depicts life from birth until death. So hoping it’ not the end for this architectural gem.

And then, there is the whisper of times past -- here there were memories made: a wedding, a gala, a rendezvous…

We will miss you Waldorf=Astoria. You made Gotham ever more elegant and glamorous…

Waldorf Construction History and Timeline
From the hotel’s website:
Millionaire William Waldorf Astor opened the 13-story Waldorf Hotel on the site of his mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street, designed by renowned architect Henry Hardenbergh.
Four years later, The Waldorf was joined by the 17-story Astoria Hotel, erected on an adjacent site by Waldorf's cousin, John Jacob Astor IV.
John Jacob Astor IV died tragically on the Titanic on April 15, 1912 and William Waldorf Astor died on 18 October 1919 in England, where he’d relocated to in 1893.

Closing of the first Waldorf=Astoria. While the original was the arguably the grandest hotel in the world, in the 1920's, with so many new technological advances, it was becoming dated. So the decision was made to sell the site to the developers of what would become the Empire State building and to tear down the hotel in 1929.
The second Waldorf-Astoria hotel opened in its current location on Park Avenue on October 1, 1931, as the tallest and largest hotel in the world. President Herbert Hoover, in a radio broadcast from The White House, saluted the new hotel, "The opening of the new Waldorf Astoria is an event in the advancement of hotels, even in New York City. It carries great tradition in national hospitality...marks the measure of nation's growth in power, in comfort and in artistry…

In 1931, when the decision to build a new Waldorf Astoria Hotel was made, the managers of the new hotel were most emphatic that the atmosphere, traditions, and prestige associated with the old Waldorf Astoria be preserved and transferred to a structure that incorporated the innovative design and technology of the Twentieth Century. Architects Leonard Schultze and Fullerton Weaver realized that the Art-Deco style popular in New York at the time was the perfect way to combine traditional elegance with modern functionalism.

The hotel was constructed on an entire city block extending from Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue (west and east) and 49th and 50th Streets (south and north).

Conrad Hilton contracted to acquire control of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on October 12, 1949.

Monroe had formerly resided in the Waldorf Astoria’s $1,000-per-week Suite in 1955,

In 1993 The Waldorf Astoria became an official New York City landmark, joining other major icons like The Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Rare & Exotic Orchids Dazzle at New York Botanical Garden's Annual Orchid Show - Homage to Thailand's Plant Culture

Gateway to a world of Orchids at The New York Botanical Garden - an homage to Thailand (see elephant topiaries)
At last - the moment every flower enthusiast waits all year for: The Orchid Show. The dazzling display of orchids at the 15th annual Orchid Show at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) does not disappoint; especially those who are crazy, passionate about these glamour pusses of the plant world.

This is where science and beauty meet head on in a full frontal assault. Wow.
Vanda Orchids!

This year’s Orchid Show (exhibit runs from February 18 through April 9th) pays homage to Thailand because of “the wealth of orchids, acclaimed tropical gardens, renowned breeding, and rich cultural history of this Southeast Asian nation… (and) home to to more than 1,200 native orchid species,” according to NYBG. Further you should know that “Thailand is a leading producer of cultivated orchids - in fact, it is the biggest exporter of tropical orchids in the world.”

Did you know that orchids are found on every continent save one? Orchids make up approximately 10 percent of all the plant species on earth; 25,000 species are known to scientists and more than 10 times that number of hybrid varieties.

No wonder we find orchids endlessly fascinating -- there’s just no end to their drama, shape, size, fragrance, and color.

And color is the frisson of this show.

I learned color is so important to the Thai culture - they LOVE color and utilize it extensively in their garden design, decorative arts -- in patterns and texture - with a kind of kaleidoscope display of diversity.

The show features a mix of native Thai orchids and hybrids: sourced from the Garden’s growers located in Florida and Hawaii, for example, in addition to what is grown at the Garden.

Marc Hachadourian, NYBG
And the respected authority for all things orchids at NYBG (and a kind of “Plant Whisperer” as he nurtures orchids seized illegally in the wild) is Marc Hachadourian, Manager of the Nolan Greenhouses for Living Collections .

I asked Marc about this year’s show upon arriving at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory's Palm of the World Gallery where elephant topiaries (elephants are the official national symbol of Thailand) and lush and luxuriant orchids captivate.

Marc explained that the Garden hadn’t produced a “geographic-themed” show in awhile -- then they got brainstorming and with Thailand acknowledged as the “epicenter” of tropical plants and horticulture, along with orchids - especially Dendrobiums and Vandas a key part of the Thai’s iconic culture along with Thailand’s connection to nature - made the decision a, ahem, natural one. “There is extreme diversity in the country’s orchids,” Marc said, underscoring how important plants are to a culture. Marc amplified the power of plants as contributors to a culture, saying “It’s no secret humans have had a long term love affair with orchids -- they are a supreme, global garden ‘flower.’”

I asked Marc what his favorite orchid is - to which he initially responded with a kind of punt, saying “whichever is in bloom at the moment.” Spoken like a true plant diplomat… 
He then embraced the Dendrobiums, (“cane-like stems” and some sport those impossible, purple-patterned blooms) saying he is a big fan of the miniatures. Agreed. Good things come in small packages.

There is a suite of miniatures at the Orchid Show - and in the Garden’s permanent collection.

Christian Primeau, NYBG explains the curated Orchid Show to journalists at Press Preview

Christian Primeau, NYBG’s Manager of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory responsible for the tropical and subtropical plant collections, spoke about the design of this year’s show, detailing the cultural reference displays.

Thai Garden Culture 

Entering the main part of the Orchid Show always leaves me a little breathless. There is so much of a spectacular sensation. It’s warm. It’s colorful. It’s fragrant -- and all that oxygen. Ahhhh. (Restores the giddy, breathless lightheadiness!)  

First up in this other-worldly, exotic delight are the hanging gold and white fabric decorative Sky Lanterns positioned in the tree branches overhead -- in the “Thai tradition of sky lanterns (khom loi) “lit on celebratory occasions to symbolically carry away bad fortune and bring good luck,” notes NYBG.
Sky Lantern “kissing” appropriately-named, ‘Dancing Ladies’ Oncidium and its yellow-gold color complement. 

The exhibit signage noted the full story of the symbolic lanterns.

Two of Thailand’s traditional Spirit Houses are replicated here, as well. They are sweet “shrines.”

The show’s educational signage explains how many Thai houses, businesses, and more have at least “one spirit house - (phra phum) and in cities such as Bangkok - they are probably on rooftops. Like our gardens in urban areas.

I think we all need these spirit houses. Christian joked the spirits can’t fly; and pointed out the ladder… The Spirit Houses are decorated with protective dragon spirits.

In a mirror exhibit, the Garden also showcases the Daily Offering Spirit House - demonstrating how the Thai people’s offerings of flowers, fruit, incense -- and strawberry soda (really?!) keep the spirits in a good mood and ensure good fortune.

The fragrant orchids are represented by the Cattleya oncidium - or “corsage orchid” - that in earlier times brought on good moods for all the lucky ladies who’s prom dates showed up with an orchid - - and Oncidium Irish Mist ‘Big Hot Sun.’

I was intrigued with the small Mai Dat - a tribute to the tradition of clipping trees and shrubs into a variety of shapes - a kind of topiary that dates from the 13th century and not unlike a kind of bonsai except that mai dat is meant to be “abstract and fanciful.”

One is hopelessly and lovingly drawn to the center of the Conservatory where the crowning pinnacle of any NYBG show reigns. Here for the Orchid Show, there is a replica of a Sala or place of relaxation from the sun -- and life. It is an homage to famed contemporary landscape design architect: Mom Tri, a descendent of King Rama IV - evoking a traditional Buddhist Thai garden. 

The Sala featured a temple-like hardscape structure studded with boatloads of phalaenopsis orchids -- on a topiary elephant “saddle” and on moss balls, along with those glorious Vandas - with their epiphyte kind of necklaces hanging below. Those epiphyte roots help absorb moisture and catch falling detritus, explained Christian.  

The Sala should be viewed also for the plant compositions created by NYBG curators. Please notice the elegant slipper orchids: paphiopedilum, ‘Silver Dollar’ Maidenhair ferns, and gorgeous rocks, placed ever so stylishly.
Philodendrons and ferns and bromeliads et al are the backdrops and foils for the show dazzlers but should not be overlooked.

My hands-down favorite display is the diminutive pool of black water -- accessorized with orchid petals of varying shades of fuschia, red and white. Surrounding the mysterious and captivating pool are more slipper orchids and white Dendrobium ‘Mini Snowflake’ orchids, and delicate Maidenhair ferns.

I dare you to stop looking! 

But I also especially loved a color composition up front in the display. The curators worked the yellow, burgundy and greens to subtle triumph. Look for the Oncostele ‘Wildcat’ - glowing with afternoon sun - low ground cover - Spathoglottis yellow orchids, hibiscus, fuschia-colored leaves… Take it all in.

There is also another grouping of lanterns by the sala -- the bamboo lanterns in a group of nine: a lucky number in Thailand. 
The Thai word for nine is gao, “similar to ‘progress’ and for ‘rice’ a staple food.” Even the pot containers are clustered in lucky number compositions. 

I confess I’m superstitious; to learn how Thais have lucky and unlucky numbers and traditions, resonated with me!  

I plan to return during one of the Orchid Evenings -- for nothing else but to experience the magical glow of these lanterns surrounded by orchids. Yet there is also dance and music -- and cocktails!  A trifecta of plant-entertainment, especially during the winter.  What's better than being in a seductive greenhouse with all those hot-hot beauties when it's cold outside.  Romance is surely "in the air."

I’ve often referred to orchids as “jewelry” and you’ll understand why when you view the Orchid Show -- the displays are priceless and elegant and glamorous. It seems appropriate then that a key sponsor of the Orchid Show is Baccarat (Thank you, Baccarat.)

There is a plethora of spot-on programs developed for the Orchid Show. Especially The Orchid Evenings -- sigh -- I can’t wait to experience those Thai Lanterns glowing at night in the Conservatory…

Orchid Evenings

Saturdays: March 4, 11, 18, and 25; April 1 and 8

Fridays: March 31 (LGBT Night) and April 7

6:30–9:30 p.m. (entry times at 6:30, 7, and 7:30 p.m.)

Stroll through The Orchid Show: Thailand in the lush Conservatory, while music, dance, and unmatched beauty create one of New York City’s most unique and spectacular evening outings. On April 1 and 8, visitors can also upgrade their experience with the Young Garden Circle Lounge for skip-the-line access; free parking; a private open bar featuring beer, wine, and specialty cocktails; complimentary light bites; and a live DJ making for an unforgettable night. Advance tickets recommended. Cash bar available.

Film Screenings

Vanilla: The Sacred Orchid

Saturday, February 18 and Sunday, February 19; 1, 1:30, and 2 p.m.

In Ross Hall

Learn the intriguing life process—from flower to pantry—of a favorite flavor. This scenic film examines the full-year cycle of this spice from Veracruz, Mexico. The vanilla orchid is still cultivated by the same indigenous people who have been growing it for centuries. The film is directed by Curtis Craven and runs 26 minutes.


Saturday, February 25 and Sunday, February 26; 2 p.m.

In Ross Hall

In this popular 2002 feature film inspired by Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief, Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, a lovelorn L.A. screenwriter overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, self- loathing, and the screenwriting ambitions of his freeloading twin brother, Donald (also Cage). While struggling to adapt The Orchid Thief by Orlean (Meryl Streep), Kaufman’s life spins from pathetic to bizarre. The lives of Kaufman, Orlean, and John Laroche (Chris Cooper), the orchid poacher and subject of the book, become strangely intertwined as each one’s obsession collides with those of the others. (114 minutes, Rated R)

Dance Performances

Magical Thailand—A Journey with the Somapa Thai Dance Company

Saturdays and Sundays, March 4–April 9

Performances at 1 and 3 p.m.

In Ross Hall, or seasonally in Conservatory Plaza

The Somapa Thai Dance Company takes you on a journey to experience beautiful and magical Thailand. The Washington, D.C.-based dance company introduces audiences to Thai performing arts and culture with graceful classical and folk dances from various parts of Thailand.

The Orchid Show Tours

Tuesdays–Fridays; 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.

Meet at the Conservatory Entrance

Tour The Orchid Show with an expert guide. Get a brief introduction to the biology of orchids to learn what makes them so different from other flowers, and learn about some of the current research projects that our scientists are working on.

Roaming Guides

Saturdays and Sundays; 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

In the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

Garden guides highlight parts of the permanent collection and special exhibition to add insight to your experience of The Orchid Show. They will provide an in-depth look at rare and extraordinary orchid specimens on display.

Orchid Care Demonstrations

Saturdays and Sundays; 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.

In the Conservatory GreenSchool

Join NYBG experts as they discuss the basics of orchid care and how to choose and successfully grow these exotic plants.

Orchid Expert Q&A
Saturdays and Sundays; 1:30–4:30 p.m.

In NYBG Shop

Drop in and ask about orchid care tips. Get help selecting the proper orchid for your home.

Also During The Orchid Show

Thousands of top-quality orchids, from exotic, hard-to-find specimens for connoisseurs to elegant yet easy-to-grow varieties for beginners, are available for purchase at NYBG Shop, along with orchid products and books. During The Orchid Show, visitors can enjoy a selection of dining options at the Hudson Garden Grill, NYBG’s full-service restaurant, which will have Thai-inspired offerings, and at the Pine Tree Cafe

It's cold outside -- get to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory for the 15th Annual NYBG Orchid Show 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Romantic Valentine's Getaway in Rhode Island for Food Lovers - Where to Dine & Stay

Oysters as Aphrodisiac? At Nicks on Broadway, Rhode Island, it's all about the love 

Consider this your official Culinary Cupid’s arrow or two - and a quiver-full of exciting and delicious food and drink destinations located in the Ocean State -- that’s Rhode Island for the landlubbers and others who are not yet smitten with the US’s second smallest state.

Why consider Rhode Island for a romantic Valentine’s weekend? There are dozens of reasons; I’ll give you more than a few:
  • It’s easier to get to than the Hamptons (no snaking traffic jams.) 
  • Newport and Providence, in particular, have long hosted some of the world’s wealthiest travelers and country estate owners -- think Vanderbilts, Astors, Belmonts, Henry James and Edith Wharton, -- and today’s “It Girl:” Taylor Swift. They know a thing or two about where to stay.
  • Good things come in small packages -- so despite being small in size - there is great diversity in things to do: from the ocean to restaurants to wineries to shopping to artisanal foods. 
  • It’s the home of the famous culinary school, Johnson & Wales so there is a food-centric pedigree that permeates and elevates the state’s approach to dining.
I recently had the great pleasure to tour and taste at a number of Rhode Island’s best and can wholeheartedly recommend an itinerary to keep the love in Valentine’s Day while you fall in love with the authentic charm and hospitality waiting for you there.

Don’t you agree that a big part of true love is that sense of discovery - always learning something new while a certain spell is cast? Visiting Newport and Providence - and seeing the state's delightful countryside is a lot like that fascination.

Make plans to stay at the grand Providence Biltmore either on the front end of your trip or as a finishing touch to end your stay -- it’s located convenient to Amtrak and the train station. Take the train -- it’s easy and fun and you feel transported from the moment you find your seat. View the scenery while sipping some wine and nibbling a snack. It’s the way to go.
View of Rhode Island scenery from Amtrak seat

You must stay at the luxurious Ocean House home away-from-home, but oh-so-much-better hotel - a replica of the 1937 showpiece. 

There’s complimentary transport to and from the station. You can reserve a Mercedes Benz from the nice folks there to drive to nearby attractions during your stay. But really -- you’ll want to nest at this romantic spot for lots of pampering -- voted best spa - and so many groovy bars and six elegant, casual, farm to table, (some of it grown on-premise) dining spots -- from seaside terraces to brasserie to a chefs’ table - all with incredible views and a private beach - so that you’ll feel like you’re in movie or novel straight out of well, an Edith Wharton drama. 


Perched on a bluff located in Watch Hill, the award-winning Ocean House also offers signature suites, abundant fireplaces to snuggle in front of (there’s always complimentary tea or hot chocolate or cider or some refreshments available), 

artful viewing of the world’s largest private collection of the Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline series (so whimsical!) 

Perhaps a cooking class at their in-house center for Wine and Culinary Arts will woo your lover.
There’s always the game room and sports (professional croquet, darling?) or squash or the indoor salt water lap pool. 
For those more inclined to the restful pursuits, there are plenty of cozy couches where you can read or pen those poems to share with your lover later over cocktails. 

The racy, Ferrari red leather stools and banquettes in the Bar/Library will be sure to rev your engines.

Ok, so you will at some point want to motor that Benz over to a few restaurants and explore a winery or two.

Not to be missed is The Midtown Oyster Bar. Come prepared for a true bivalve adventure! 

There were nine oysters on the menu the day I ate there; local treats that I savored for their distinctives taste, texture, salinity, and finish. Oysters are best eaten in the winter - crisp and cold - so indulge in the local Walrus and Carpenter oysters to name a few. Discover if all that talk about oysters and one’s libido are true… 

Brian Ashness, the Midtown’s Raw Bar chef, came up with a brilliant strategy for oyster newbies after seeing a kind of tutorial place mat in Chicago that inspired him - and here’s how it works. 

Your order comes with a large postcard-sized Oyster Tasting Guide - think of it as a kind of report card. 

It first explains what is meant by three oyster properties: Salinity, Body, and Finish. Below the guide is where you rate the oysters to determine “My Favorite Oysters.”  

What a delicious way to try out oysters. Chef Brian is a big man with a big love of his home’s panoply of seafood -- eager for you to love the local treats.

So slurp away! I love that full, crisp, herbal or smoky oyster. The Block Island oyster is spectacular - unexpectedly salty, very bright flavor; so too the Poppasquash oysters from nearby Bristol are spectacular.

Paired with local, craft beer and you’re just this side of heaven because you’ll be seeing stars. (Too bad there’s not local wine available at the restaurant -- you know the saying, “If it grows together, it goes together.” The white wines - especially the dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer - we tasted later at the Nunes Farms’ Newport Vineyards would’ve been terrific.)

The only thing better is the Midtown Oyster Sauce that Chef Brian created. 
Their brand of “hot sauce” will be commercially available this spring, according to Chef. 
Until then, savor as much of this potion as possible! 

The proprietary sauce blend ingredients include brown sugar, serrano chiles, sriracha, and to cool it down: citrus. When Chef offered me a bottle to take home, I lit up, saying, “You don’t have to ask me twice!” Afraid he’d change his mind, we wrapped it up and I found a spot in my handbag. 
I’ve since used it at home - sharing the potion with guests, enjoying it’s wowsy taste on oysters, naturally, as well as plenty of other things. I also love that the graphics on the bottle were created by a fellow staffer at the restaurant. Lot’s of talent in the pool at Midtown. 

Every menu item sampled at this casual restaurant was top-tier. 
Here the clam chowder was exceptional - lots of sherry-cream, herb butter -- and bacon! Everything tastes better with bacon! Giving it a run for taste is the Lima Lobster Ceviche with aji amarillo chili, sweet potato, scallion corn, lime, cilantro and avocado that swirls to a bright taste punctuated with bold flavors that play well together. And for good taste and fun, you simply must try the local Stuffie - a stuffed quahog with chourico, sweet peppers, and breadcrumbs!  

You love this chef - and his brilliant creations! 

The Newport Vineyards was frankly, a surprise. While the vineyard is celebrating its 20th anniversary, I had no idea the extent of the wine-making available there. And that it’s good-tasting wine made me blush for not being aware of this regional gem. The Nunes preserved the land that had been in the brothers John and Paul’s family for generations. The geography provides a microclimate that is positioned to take advantage of the “warm waters of the Gulf Stream to the south and the moderating effects of Narragansett Bay. These conditions provide a long, cool growing season ideal for developing complex flavors in wine,” according the winery.  

The Vineyard boasts tasting rooms, tours, an extensive shopping area stocked with gifts and wine -- you can have customized labels made -- and a casual cafe for eating and take out (I’m told the locals frequent this spot as well as the Farm to Market Fridays), along with an event space, terrace with a view adjacent to the vines in the field, an event space, and a full restaurant upstairs. I loved the fireplace there and long, winding bar - a kind of rustic romantic perch.

Here we got lucky during our two flights of wine tasting: 

While we sipped the Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc and Landot Noir (a terrific cold-weather grape that tastes robust), Chef Andy Teixeira asked if we wanted to taste a few of his creations - noting he knew we were heading to dinner later. 

Chef Andy Teixeira, Newport Vineyards
Lardons, parsnip & wow!
I’m sooo glad we did. Wow. Chef Andy’s food is as remarkable as is his food philosophy. He’s been the chef in residence at the vineyards for a fairly short span of time; therefore his farm to table menu was in its infancy when I visited -- but boy -- his pedigree and samples signal he’s on the road to a culinary culture that is sure to win fans and foodies alike. His brand of “rustic cuisine is so creative! He says he loves all parts of the food chain -- 

Chef Andy's culinary tatoos! 
Chef served up platters of pan-roasted lardo and bacon pork bellies with parsnip, butternut apple carpaccio, golden raisins, and sour apple gel… and a beet semifreddo - kimchi with beet tops, pastrami short ribs with encrusted purple potato “cake.” See what I mean?

With reluctance, we peeled ourselves away from Chef Andy and the Newport Vineyards and headed to what was then the StoneAcre Pantry. 
This top-ranked storefront Newport dining spot was the darling of the farm to fork cohort, enamored with its focus on sustainable, seasonal ingredients. I was told my “culinary cutie,” Carla Hall was reported to have especially enjoyed her meal there while on a Chew TV feature taping

I was there right before Christmas/Winter Holidays -- it was not only a cozy, winter scene out of your dreams - but Santa Claus and his reindeers paraded up the street. I had to blink back - was it the delicious craft cocktail (Vanilla Old Fashioned made with irresistible Bourbon, Vanilla Bean and Orange Zest or their version of a Dark & Stormy with ginger syrup). Or the magic of Newport?

I’ll describe the menu and dishes in a minute but please note that since I visited StoneAcre Pantry, the restaurant announced it was closing temporarily - after three years -- and re-opening La Vasca at its present location -- and plans to reopen Stoneacre Pantry in the summer in the Historic Washington Square area.

The restaurant’s web site says, “La Vasca is (a) Basque style wine bar (beer and wine) offering Pintxos, Tapas, hot and cold appetizers and a selection of entrees including Paella, whole roasted fish and beef. We will follow the same sourcing and sustainability practices we have focused on at Stoneacre.”

Congratulations to StoneAcre Pantry and its foodie fans.

The evening I dined there, the food was as spectacular as that outsize visit from Santa.

First off - the wine list is extraordinary, as is the local, craft beer. Fitting that their location was a former liquor store. The wine and beer list reads like a poem - an homage. I have kept the printed list -- there are five pages of wines to explore. It’s a kind of love letter from the owners -- I was able to meet and dine a bit with co-owner David Crowell. His partner is Christopher Bender - colleagues at Gotham’s Mas Farmhouse. The two grew up in Rhode Island: their roots are waterfront, working class, Crowell notes.

Their philosophy? Working people, hospitality… The restaurant is run as a kind of co-op with the staff -- the team is paramount, according to Crowell. He shared how they want to keep the charm, the vibe, and the hub of activity they provide.. He loves the “pitter-patter” of the place… agreed.

Their Bistro is open year-round; the bar looked into the kitchen.

I loved the Charred Pt. Judith Squid with Pickled Peppers, Fingerling Potatoes and Romesco, for the Appetizer; Local Fluke with Ginger, Lemongrass, Bok Choy and Radish for the entree -that was like a soup -- with the fish accented with cilantro --this dish is in the style of Le Bernardin

A side of roasted cauliflower with almonds ad gribichi - a mayonnaise sauce made with eggs and vinegar was wow.

If you do nothing else - go to the restaurant for the cheese selections. They offer three for $18 and 5 for $28 -- and the local cheeses from Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York is a well curated list that needs to be savored with more of their sublime wine list.

he Bourgogne Rouge 2014 Burgundy wine was terrific. Especially with the snails!

We enjoyed a beet and pineapple granita palate cleanser! Be still my heart…

The Elderflower Panna Cotta with Candied Kumquats for desert was over the top delicious: light, fragrant, creamy.

After a happy stay at the Providence Biltmore, the next day we dined at Nicks on Broadway

Without a doubt, Nicks and its superlative chef/owner, Derek Wagner is the consummate professional cook; blending comfort, hospitality, and an elevated, handcrafted menu that celebrates the seasons and the ingredients. And he does it for three meals a day! Incredible…

Not only was the menu and food outstanding - but his team produced a detailed menu for the visit, and Chef Derek took the time to talk and expand on his menu, his approach to culinary art, and his restaurant business (he’s been at it for more than 15 years; seven in the present location and plans to expand).

You cannot miss the opportunity for a meal here: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or brunch. Or all that! You cannot be dissapointed.

Here, I’ll take the time and space to share the press brunch menu Chef Derek and his staff meticulously prepared and presented - with all due modesty - and bravado. It’s a tour de force; deserving of a second show.

It’s long a truism in gastronomic spheres that the “eyes eat first” and Chef Derek and the team cued up every visual delight to be found within their precious, luxurious ingredients - so much so that the presentation served to further the integrity, taste, and beauty of the dishes.

Nicks on Broadway

Welcome Cocktail

Dolin Blanc Vermouth (my favorite for nightly martini), Louis de Grenelle sparkling rose, orange twist. The drink was pretty and bright.  


Local, seasonal fruit with house-baked granola, Aquidneck honey + Narragansett Creamery Yogurt. The locally-sourced yogurt was oh-so-heavenly light, as was the honey. The mint was a refreshing touch.


Schartner Farm carrot cake muffin with apple-carrot jam. This was a muscular muffin and the jam flavor combo was jazzy good! A nice counterbalance to the yogurt and fruit course.  


Narragansett Bay Oysters two ways: Chilled with pickled apple-shishito-pepper + mustard seed vinegar and Roasted with kale, horseradish, black pepper, parmesan + garlic butter. OK - you know that I adore oysters but these recipes served to gild the lily; the flavors were balanced yet plentiful, the taste was refreshing, bright, and rich.

Prior to sliding to the half-way milestone of the meal, Chef Derek, himself a graduate of nearby Johnson & Wales, told us how he participates in creating greater awareness of the state’s small, family farms (think apples, cranberries, maple syrup), local fishermen (it’s the Ocean State!), artisanal makers, building sustainable community, and embracing the region’s edible bounty. At the same time, he works on the Board of the the Chefs’ Collaborative and together with associations and convention bureaus promotes travel and tourism in Rhode Island, his home state. I remarked it must be the food that keeps him so calm in spite of all the work. With obvious pride, he pointed out how Nicks’ customers exemplify the vibrant energy that draws tourists, foodies, and eventually, residents to locate here. There was that palatable, frisson when a nexus of sophistication, art, and culture naturally, organically combust and grow.


Soup of Cauliflower, leek + olive oil, with creme fraiche. The soup was creamy, smooth - with just a hint of leek.   


Lemon roasted Point Judith Scup with autumn vegetables, soft poached egg + herb hollandaise. The brussels sprouts, broccoli, mustard greens - all sourced from local farms - was an orchestral tribute to the other, fresh ingredients and the egg yolk was a silky, rich sauce made all the more mmmm with the touch of herbs. I love that Chef utilizes the scup, aka porgy -- which heretofore was considered not worthy of a white linen restaurant. But he - and other creative chefs in this brigade - pursue ingredients that are overlooked and then delight us with their versatility and taste. Rather than an obstacle they view the pursuit as a creative challenge. The scup has a lobster-like texture that integrated with the vegetables; a perfect foil for the savory dish.   


Wishing Stone Farm pumpkin sorbet with sea salt + bubbles. This iced treat was utterly refreshing and delicious. It was so nice to see a palate cleanser -- after they became nearly ubiquitous some years back - and because they were nothing more than sugary sherbet made them intermezzo-non-grata. If this is what we can expect in the next iteration of this classic, then even food recipes deserve a second-act in America.  


Rhode Island mushroom, Baffoni Farm Chicken + chicken sausage risotto with pecorino, pea greens + sunny quail eggs. Brilliant and beautiful. The quail eggs were a happy, tasty ingredient. The mushrooms added a salty taste and the cheesy risotto along with the “smooshed” chicken was just so much good comfort food...  


Walnut + buttermilk crumble with rosemary ice cream + cranberry-lemon sauce

Cocoa chiffon cake with butterscotch ice cream, dark chocolate ganache, caramel sea salt. This confection was nuanced with all my favorite sweet flavors. It was crazy, eyes-closed, transcendentally good…


Le Pere Jules Pommeau de Normandie
I was in a true “food coma” by the end of this incredible culinary presentation and experience.


That I was able to interview Chef Derek at the same time was the “icing on the cake.” Thank you, Chef.  
The incredibly talented culinary artist: Chef Derek Wagner, Nicks on Broadway 

Chef Derek and his team are impeccable. His food story is inspiring and visionary. You can’t help but root for this kind of chef. Nicks on Broadway is an exciting, authentic food experience to be savored -- again and again.

We took a little break to check out the local markets in Providence’s Little Italy section. I loved Antonelli Poultry - the decades-old store where one can purchase fresh, live fowl -- from pigeon to quail to duck to yes, Rhode Island Red chickens.  

Incredibly, it was then off to lunch at Cafe Nuovo. One would be forgiven for thinking the location at the Gondola Landing is not unlike being in Venice. I was told the spot is the place to be for the Providence’s light festival -- with bonfires fireworks and music and art. Sounds dreamy. The restaurant is a traditional, white linen dining spot with a classic menu and wine list. The dishes appeared influenced by Italian and French recipes. Forbidden Rice tickled my curiosity and it didn't’ disappoint -- it was elegant black and tasted full-bodied. The pizza anglaise with bechamel and apples was tasty; the sweet potato soup with cranberry chutney was especially good and a nice surprise, as was the sambuca cream. I loved the crispy sage leaves Cafe Nuovo served - and as a matter of fact, I’ve recreated this side dish at home. This is a restaurant you’d want to take a business associate to. It is contemporary and dependable - you know what you’re getting.

Like a Cinderella foodie, I was then whisked away on the train, back to to Gotham.

I can honestly report that the Rhode Island hospitality venues, including the restaurants, possess a dedication to their craft; the culinary prowess is carefully considered and valued. Go for a romantic, food-fueled weekend. And you too will be humming, “More, please.” Thank you chefs and entrepreneurs for sharing your talent and energy.

I must confess that my husband and I honeymooned in Newport; we used to return every year for a long weekend visit but i hadn’t been back for some time. I’m happy to report that the sense of magic for the place continues to cast its spell... Make your own dreams come true in Rhode Island.