We never would have stayed in the Domux Home Ricasoli in Florence if my husband’s colleague hadn’t found it first. I argued that I wanted a full-service hotel, with a front desk and housekeeping, not an apartment. My husband wanted to stay in the Domux Home Ricasoli because of the reviews. Eventually I relented after reading what he had. Even so, the reviews didn’t prepare us for the luxury within. We had a real wow moment when we stepped inside. Despite my fears, our trip to Florence had begun in style.
Location: a block from the Galleria dell’Academia and down the street from the Duomo.
Most surprising: the luxurious dual bathroom with the tiled, jetted tub and rain shower head.
Room size: huge, with a living room, kitchenette with island, enormous bathroom, and king-size bed.
Disadvantage: Housekeeping every other day. Front desk is manned only during business hours.
Security: You are given a security code to be used on the front door keypad to gain entry.
The Kimpton Hotel Palomar Philadelphia has historically been one of my favorite hotels in downtown Center City. This time, however, we experienced a few glitches that took it down a notch in my estimation. Not that I wouldn’t return, because I would. It just won’t be my obvious first choice when I stay in the Rittenhouse Square area. Still, this luxury hotel in the heart of the city offers a comfortable haven from the bustle of the city.
I had wanted to try Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia for a long time, ever since a friend mentioned it. On a recent trip to the city to celebrate our wedding anniversary, my husband and I finally had our opportunity. For the average person, Vetri will be viewed as insanely expensive; however, for a foodie like me, it provides a whole evening of entertainment, with a price comparable to a ticket to a Broadway show.
We booked the first seating, at 6 pm. It took almost three full hours before we walked out, just in time to make room for the second seating. I loved the experience so much that I named Vetri Cucina as one of my top restaurants of 2019.
Recommended strategy: Let the chef choose for you unless some items turn you off.
Favorite dishes: Sweet onion crepe with truffle fondue; proscuitto cotto: almond tortellini with truffle sauce; fig caramelle with gorgonzola; porcelet chop; pistachio flan
Cuisine: Upscale Italian
Most surprising: The building once house the renowned Le Bec Fin.
Dress: Business casual to urban chic. No formal dress code.
Décor: Old World
Price: $165 per person, excluding alcohol and gratuity.
My review of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis highlights an excellent farm-to-table restaurant. Don’t be fooled by the casual atmosphere. This trendy establishment, located in the Warehouse District, offers innovative dishes for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Its companion bar, Marvel Bar, hides around back and, in true speakeasy style, can be found by only those in the know.
Recommended dishes:Duck breast, housemade cheese with smoked honey, popovers.
Most surprising:The “secret” Marvel bar and its back staircase into the restaurant
Dress: Business casual
Décor:Vintage warehouse combined with country
Price:$27-38 for entrées
While technically a separate establishment, any review of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis should include Marvel Bar as a prelude to dinner. If you go around back of the restaurant and down a few stairs to what looks like a delivery entrance, you’ll find it. Unmarked, of course. Open the heavy metal door and step inside. You’ll likely have to blink a little to adjust to the dark, beamed interior. If you’re lucky, you can score one of the booths, but you can also cozy up to the bar or set your drink on one of the barrel tables.
Specialty cocktails are unusual and delicious. Of course, you can always order traditional cocktails. If you have reservations in the restaurant above, your server will show you to the back staircase after you settle your tab. You are free to carry your drinks upstairs.
The Bachelor Farmer
As much as I love to begin dinner with a cocktail from Marvel Bar, I look forward to the real attraction, dinner at The Bachelor Farmer. We almost always start out with one of the toasts. The housemade cow’s milk cheese with smoked honey, warm apricot “mostada,” and pine nuts makes a great appetizer to share or to keep for yourself. We always order popovers as starters as well. During my last dinner there, my husband and I shared a foie gras appetizer that came with a radish and peashoot salad.
The vegetarians who dined with us ordered the wild rice, soft-boiled egg, shiitake mushroom, and hazelnuts entrée. I’m not an egg person, so I take their word for it that it tasted delicious. The walleye with pancetta and argula cream and the grilled lamb with wilted greens were both excellent. Because the menu changes seasonally, you can’t always expect to see what you ordered the time before. On my first visit, I ordered duck breast, and it was the best duck breast I’ve ever had. The second time, I didn’t see duck breast on the menu.
In a city with many great dining options, The Bachelor Farmer remains one of the best. Its emphasis on local ingredients and “Northern food” makes it an apt restaurant for visitors and residents alike. Make sure to check out Marvel Bar either before or after dinner.
I never thought of making a sous-vide ice cream base until recently, when I happened upon a mention of it in an article. It was a huge ah-ha moment. I mean, I’ve used sous-vide for years and never once thought of this application. The controlled environment of a water bath would ensure that the custard base cooked to the perfect temperature without curdling. I could mix it and walk away while my Anova sous-vide circulator did its thing. Perfect! But I didn’t want to use just any recipe. I’ve sampled excellent ice cream all over the world, and I wanted my homemade version to taste just as good.
Two days in historic Philadelphia works well for ambitious tourists like me. Because the historic district is compact enough to sightsee on foot, you can easily hop from one attraction to another. Of course, if you have three days, you’ll be able to see a bit more. And if you really want to see Philadelphia as a whole, including its world-class museums, then you’ll want to add at least another two days.
Most iconic sight: The Liberty Bell
Sight that requires the most planning: Independence Hall
Best Museum: The National Constitution Center
Newest Addition to the District: The Museum of the American Revolution
Best historic district restaurants for foodies: Buddakan and Amada
My review of Buddakan in Philadelphia, an Asian-inspired restaurant in the historic district, can be summed up in a single word: Yes! From the outside, Buddakan doesn’t appear to be anything special; however, as you step inside, you realize that it’s no ordinary Chinese restaurant. The dimly lit interior throbs with club music. The wooden tables are set with white plates, folded napkins, and lacquered chopsticks. And a giant golden Buddha overlooks it all. Not surprisingly, since the restaurant is part of the Starr group, the cuisine caters to foodies looking for unique takes on traditional dishes.
For World Oyster kitchen, I recreated a Watermelon Greek Salad recipe I discovered on my Norwegian Cruise Lines trip to Alaska. At the time, I was so hungry that I scarfed down the salad before I thought of photographing it. I’ve had to rely on memory and a little experimentation.
This week finds World Oyster at the Easton Public Market. Opened in 2015, the market is one of the newer attractions in this small eastern Pennsylvania city. It joins Lafayette College, the Crayola Experience, and the National Canal Museum as a local attraction.
Best Lunch: Mister Lee’s Noodles
Second-Best Lunch: Taylor Taco Shop
Decadent Treat to Go: Macarons from Chocodiem
Most surprising: The quality of the dining options
Most disappointing: The small size limits the number of stalls.
Parking: There’s a small parking lot at the back of the market, but it fills quickly. The best bet is to find street parking nearby.
Within easy driving distance from Bethlehem, Allentown, and New Jersey, the Easton Public Market is a fun way to spend an hour or so. Locals will grab a quick lunch or buy a few things for dinner that night. While the offerings are hardly expansive, the market does offer some gourmet options as well as more traditional fare.
Mister Lee’s Noodles
Chef Lee Chizmar is famous in the Lehigh Valley for his excellent farm-to-table French restaurant Bolete. A 2015 James Beard-nominee, Chizmar knows how to coax maximum flavor out of the simplest ingredients. The opening of Mister Lee’s Noodles in the Easton Public Market caused a lot of excitement. Despite knowing all that, I never would have guessed that ramen noodles could taste as rich and as flavorful as they do from this counter. Most hot bowls are topped with a “60-minute egg” — I assume sous-vide — but you can order your dish without one, as I did. Cold bowls tend to include hard boiled eggs.
World Oyster at the Easton Public Market rates Mister Lee’s Noodles as the best food by a slim margin.
Recommended: Hot & Spicy Ramen, cold Korean BBQ Beef noodles, whatever the daily special is.
Taylor Taco Shop
I love spicy food, one reason why I love the Hot and Spicy Ramen at Mister Lee’s, but that’s not the only spicy option at the Easton Public Market. Taylor Taco Shop offers customized tacos, burritos, and bowls. Although it’s modeled after Chipotle, the fillings are much more distinctive and delicious. You can customize or order one of their combinations. When I last visited, the options included two vegetarian (The Taza with falafel and the Fried Sweet Potato) and one meat (Roast Duck.) You can also dictate exactly what you want. Bowls with seared mahi-mahi and pork carnitas were excellent.
For those with a sweet tooth, World Oyster at the Easton Public Market must note Chocodiem. The glass cases display a fabulous array of Belgian chocolates and macarons, and everything tastes as good as it looks. Since I’m partial to French macarons, I can’t leave the market without a box of these. Yes, they are expensive, but oh-so-worth-it!
Chocodiem has two other locations, one in Clinton, NJ, and the other in the Bourse in Philadelphia.
Olive With a Twist
Olive With a Twist offers a selection of cheeses, olives oils, vinegars, and other gourmet items. The cheese selection is more limited than I’d like and offers nothing beyond what I can get at Wegman’s. Regardless, it makes a good stop if you are already in the Public Market.
Dundore and Heister
Although I haven’t shopped at Dundore and Heister myself, people rave about the meats sold here. It offers local, pasture-raised, and organic meats.
This small grocery store brims with produce and gourmet items such as local honey. The Highmark Farmstand‘s produce is pricey, but the display of it looks inviting enough to convince you to “strive for five” — or maybe six or seven. Pick up a jar of butterscotch peanut butter for a treat!
I’ve have never seen The Kitchen’s space used. As I understand it, you can watch cooking demonstrations, take classes, or attend a food-related education workshop. All I know is that I’d love to cook behind those glass windows.
Other Shops of Note
Silvershell Counter + Kitchen is another Lee Chizmar/Erin Shea venture. On my last visit, it had just opened and looked a little . . . not quite open. They offer freshly shucked oysters, fried clams, and lobster rolls as well as foods-to-go.
Full of Crepe (my favorite Easton Public Market name!) is a popular stop. You can get made-to-order sweet or savory crepes, plus salads.
Scratch uses a brick pizza oven, and it serves its own beer. I was annoyed when I tried to get pizza there during its supposedly open hours and found a “be back soon” sign. Not good on a Saturday. It did open about 30 minutes later, a little after noon.
Although I wish the Easton Public Market were larger, I still found the stop interesting enough to repeat. The dining options offer something for everyone, from traditionalist to gourmet.