Date Night // Gordon Ramsay, Trianon Palace

Gordon RamsayI was recently inspired to sit down and write a personal Top Ten list of my favorite restaurants in the world. I think I made it to number 6. It’s not that I haven’t had a lot of amazing places, but while creating the list, I realized that often, it was the company and the magic of the moment that made the place so memorable. So it was not always the restaurant, or the chef, but the meal that was so amazing. Sometimes these meals weren’t even in a restaurant; like the cold winter’s night in Montréal when a friend’s father got off a plane from Europe, made us a traditional Hungarian vegetable soup, cut into a perfectly ripe Reblochon cheese and opened up some amazing bottles of Burgundy AND Bordeaux that had been sitting in his cave in Belgium. That was over 20 years ago and I still remember the sweetness of those vegetables in the soup and the perfect harmony of the wine and cheese. It was the first time I’d had a concert on my palette. But not the last.

It happened again, just last week at the Gordon Ramsey restaurant at the Trianon Palace at Versailles. A much fancier, more formal address than a close friend’s dining room, the restaurant is palatial, yet has managed to strike a warm, welcoming note.

We started our evening with a drink in the bar. While enjoying our cocktails we were handed menus and invited to make our choice before even heading to our table. This is a French tradition I’ve only ever experienced once before, so it still surprises me. I was soon surprised again, by the arrival of our very fun, very elegant amuses buches… soft boiled eggs with foies gras and other delicacies blended in. One for the boy, a different one for the girl. It was a play on flavours and textures with a visual game of colors and shapes. The overture had begun and it was hitting the perfect notes!

We were escorted to our table and the real performance began. Chef Ramsay is all about ingredients. I don’t think I saw one bit of foam the entire evening. I saw perfect little girolle mushrooms, tear drop shaped fig halves and cucumber slices. All foods I could distinctly identify with my eyes and my taste buds. It was refreshingly real and delightful. We enjoyed a lobster raviolo and yellow tuna with cèpes. Mushrooms where in just about every dish as the chef took advantage of the season’s bounty. It was earthy and local and divine. And everything was served on simple, yet incredible gorgeous porcelain, which should not make a difference, but it did.

The sommelier had introduced himself in the bar, having already memorised our orders and prepared with a list of suggestions, that was flexible to both our palettes and our budget. His choice married perfectly, ringing true with every course.

For dessert we went a little over board, selecting their gourmand plate with 4 or 5 different desserts to share. I don’t regret the excess. It as worth every calorie. So good, that I even order a pot of verveine, knowing it would come with a small tray of extra goodies. I was not disappointed with the playful finale of housemade fraise tagadas (a candy that the French adore), nutella (ish) fillled chocolates and fruit jellies.

And now I have number 7 for theTop Ten best restaurants in my little world.






Feeling like Will and Kate…

Trianon Palace HotelWe drove up the pale gravel driveway in the pouring rain. I was apprehensive, to say the least. This trip was a birthday present for Mr French, who travels so much for work that I usually organize more local celebrations. Then, there had been a series of complications with our reservations, my bank card had gone MIA so the birthday boy was going to have to pay, and now, the rain.

A valet opened the car door and I headed to reception where my heart sank worried Mr French was going to feel like this was more business than pleasure when I saw the long line of other guests. The line went quickly and soon the receptionist was giving us a huge smile. A REALLY huge smile that had me feeling like we were on Candid Camera. She handed us the key card telling us we’d received an upgrade to a suite. With a view. I shrugged nonchalantly and made our way to the elevator, pushing number 6. It didn’t work. The second elevator didn’t go to the 6th floor and the staircase ended at the 5th floor. I looked for the hidden camera, feeling like a clown in a comedy of errors.

The manager had to explain how to get to our room. We climbed the stairs, opened the door and our jaws dropped. The mood changed from a SNL skit to a fairy tale in an instant and I started looking for pumpkins, mice or a glass slipper. We were at the Trianon Palace Hotel, so its not that strange that I felt like a princess, but this suite was truly royal with three rooms, a private balcony and a view of the Chateau de Versailles. Happy Birthday, my deserving prince!

As lovely as it was, we could not spend all day in our room(s). We had to get out and Versailles has an interesting antiques quartier that Mr French likes to explore. First, we stopped at Les Halles, Notre Dame indoor market to admire the lovely fall harvest along the way. It looked so tempting that Mr French almost wished we had access to a kitchen. Almost..

Trianon Palace poolThe rain was still coming down, so we clung to each other under our umbrella throughout the afternoon. It was terribly romantic until even the umbrella was saturated, our British rain coats soaked through and our shoes sopping wet. We returned to the hotel cold and damp, anxious to warm up in their gym. But then we got to the room and there were snacks waiting for us with house made marshmallows, and the mosaic tiled bathroom floor was heated and everything was so cozy, we just curled up to enjoy the moment; the sound of the rain beating the zinc roof above our heads, sheets of water rolling down the oeil de boeuf windows, the château in the background.

Its was delicious knowing that we were safe from the elements, and that we wouldn’t be needing our (very wet) coats until the next morning. Eventually we made our way down to the gym, then the pool where we planned to simply relax, but at nearly 20 meters long, this was almost a lap pool and we were off, burning calories in anticipation of the night’s dinner at the two star Gordon Ramsay restaurant (article coming Friday).

petiti Dej Trianon Palace hotelHours later,I headed out of our room dressed to the nines, a package of silk, leather and wool wrapped in pearls absolutely thrilled to leave behind my coat and handbag. I returned much later than night padding along the carpeted corridors, those 3″ heels comfortably in hand.

The night was a dream. The morning even more so, as we opened our eyes to blue skies, the offspring of Marie Antoinette’s livestock in the fields below, munching away on dew-dressed blades of grass. Sumptuous.

Petiti Dej Trianon Palace hotelAwake and ready to go, we ran around the Grand Canal (8km) as the sun drew mist from the trees, before heading back to our suite for a picture perfect breakfast in the sunshine on our private balcony over looking the chateau. We sat there for hours, “lizarding” in the autumn sunshine, thanking our fairy godmother (and the management of the Trianon Palace Hotel) for this truly regal get away.

Date Night // Arzak

ArzakEvery summer we head to Hossegor, a quaint town on the Atlantic coast, just a few minutes north of the Basque region. And every year, in what feels like a moment of insane decadence, we cross the border into Spain. For a meal. To a Californian the idea of going to another country for a meal, well, its mind boggling. But its only a 45 minute drive to San Sebastien, the Michelin star capital of the world.

This year, as a surprise for Mr French, I booked a table for two at Arzak, one of the best known restaurants in the city. I had a hunch we’d appreciate a romantic escape from a family holiday.

We spent the morning body boarding, then I threw on something casual for an afternoon savouring Spain. We visited the beach, did some shopping, and had a bracing jolt of caffeine before heading back to the car which I used as a dressing room. Trying to keep my knees from hitting the gear shift, my elbows flying in every direction, I guided Mr French with the iPhone gps while getting myself gussied up. Miraculously we got there without an incident.

“There” being a unassuming building that looked like it had been a road side inn for local truckers (later research reveals that is exactly what it had been). Walking through the doors we entered another world, both warm and modern. “Hello,” I chirped to the lovely lady at the bar, “we have reservations.” I gave our name. She couldn’t find us on the list. I gave our reservation number. She couldn’t find that, either. I handed her the confirmation email I’d printed out. “Oh, you’ve got the wrong day” she observed.

I was about to be sick, right there on the designer carpet. We’d been looking forward to this evening for weeks and the logistics with a group of ten in Hossegor had been nothing short of Herculean. Fortunately, at that very moment a manager appeared and pointed out that I had the right date, their agenda was simply on the wrong page. Disaster averted. Our name was there and all was right with the world.

Automatic sliding glass doors led us to a contemporary dining room, full of diners and a bustling staff. The sommelier was hugging a client at the table next to us, the maître d’ warmly greeting a group of regulars from Madrid.

A glass of the local white for Mr French, the (most excellent) house cocktail for me. The amuse bouches soonstarted to arrive… unexpected blends of fruit and fish and an exciting play on textures served on unique dishes, like a crushed beer can. The party had begun!

The maitre d’ guided us patiently through the menu, informing us that all the main dishes were available in half portions so guests could try alot of different flavours without over doing it. I loved the idea.

Screen shot 2013-09-07 at 10.03.32 AMMoments later a waitress swooped by our table serving me a plate of ocean waves. I am not being poetic. My plate was a computer tablet with a video of ocean waves, the sound of them crashing against the shore flavouring my lobster dish.

This could sound incredibly tacky and over wrought, but it wasn’t. The chef, Elena Arzak Espina, is a true Basque; she works hard but loves to play. This is evident throughout the meal, and it took what was some very serious tasting and made it fun. Every now and again Elena would come out of the kitchen to greet guests and ensure a good time was had by all. She was kind to everyone, giving the same attention to her Spanish regulars as she gave to the neon-clad, name-dropping tourists who clearly knew nothing about food. She even spent several moments with the awkward French couple in the corner who never have any idea what to say to the chef (that would be us).

ArzakOf course, you don’t go to a restaurant like this for the scene. You go for the food and it was excellent. My taste buds are craving the crab starter as I write this and I almost asked for more of the pigeon and the lamb. The desserts were so delicious I regretted we’d agree to share only two of them.

A three star restaurant in Paris is theater. There is an entire performance that surrounds what is served and when and how. At Arzak its not theater, its a party, with the guests an important part of the mix. It was fun, and refreshing, and of course, delicious. As we left, Elena was there to say good bye, recommending other restaurants in the area and offering us a bottle of the house wine as a souvenir to enjoy in Paris. Let the party go on!

Mykonos, la suite

While the town was not necessarily our thing, we spent two absolute dream days at Mykonos, three if you count our Date Day.

The First Adventure was with Sunfos Alessia Yachting, aboard a two cabin boat with Alessia and her captain on a private excursion to sail to a deserted beach on an uninhabited island. It was the calmest day locals had seen in weeks with mild 43 mph winds. Which means we were doing an exhilirating 8-9 knots throughout the day.

After a brief conversation the crew realized that not only did Mr French love sailing but he is actually something of an experienced sailor, so they gave him the helm. 2 metre high waves crashing behind him. Thrilling!!!

We passed an island, rounded a corner and paradise was before our eyes. A lone beach just for us. We set anchor, dove in and swam to shore while Alessia nd the captain prepared our lunch. Greek salad, spaghetti and fresh melon. I’m not sure what it is, but throughout our travels in Greece, we came across nearly as many Italian restaurants as Greek ones. Mr French was thrilled for the change in diet and I’ll admit that the pasta was cooked to perfection, but, well, when in Greece….

After lunch we returned to the water for some snorkeling while the captain headed out spear fishing for his supper, spear. He was proud of the assortment of fish he caught and they were both thrilled with the seashell he brought up. We think its called a pinha… looks like a ginormous mussel painted amber and it is enjoyed raw for its sweet, nutty flavored meat, that they generously to share with us.

Heading home, the boat seemed to sit 45* to the sea, for a thrilling ride back to land.

During this adventure Alessia recommended a visit to Delos. Thus began Adventure Day Two, a tourist excursion to Europe’s largest archeological site. Had I’d planned this bit on my own, I’d have probably just purchased boat tickets and tried to see the island on our own. Instead, we asked our hotel to take care of it and they made sure we had a guided tour, which was fantastic, bringing the visit to life. It was amazing as we stood there imagining the 30,000 people who had lived there nearly 3000 years ago, or the 20,000 deaths that occurred when the city was invaded by Mithrades. Wine vessels that had been buried in the ashes of the attack lay against abandoned was. Greek columns stood in solitude under the baking sun while lions stood guard. Archeologists have identified the homes of local aristocracy and fish mongers, temples and wells. An Egyptian temple to Isis marks the way to the summit of what was once a holy mountain while below mosaics of masked men, tigers and dolphins decorate homes that have not provided shelter in centuries. Nature is slowly reclaiming her land from man and the result is astounding. So amazing, in fact, that after several hours of hiking under the brutal sun, we were sad to hear the arrival of our boat on the last departure of the day, wishing we could have stayed to explore more….


After 4 days on Santorini, it was time to head to Mykonos. There are flights, but we took the ferry. A friend had told the ride was long, which I didn’t really get because its only 2 1/2 hours. Among the longest 2 1/2 of my life. Even in the height of summer the Cyclades are windy, which creates a natural air conditioning and can be lovely. It is less lovely at sea, especially while on a speeding catamaran ferry. The crew spent much of the trip passing out barf bags, an American woman screamed in desperation, asking them to slow the boat down. I recommend flying.

We arrived at the Mykonos town port, very happy to be on terra firma, and thanking our driver profusely for the cold face towels he handed us as we jumped into the van. As is our style, we stayed off the beaten path, slightly out of town. It suits us and we were thrilled with Stephanos, the beach just below our hotel.

The beaches of Mykonos each have their own personality. There is the “wild” beach of Sostis and party beaches with names like Paradise and Super Paradise. Stephanos is a family beach that fills up with locals on the weekend and has three very good restaurants, each more simple, yet delicious than the next. It was a great base for our trip.

After a relaxing swim and a late lunch at the beach, we were ready to hit the town. I don’t do well with hoards of tourists, which is pretty ironic for someone living in the most visited city on earth, so I was rather apprehensive about Mykonos. In the end, its like every where, it only takes a right (or left) turn to get off the beaten path. Which is what we did, by sticking to side streets and keeping our hours slightly earlier than everyone else.

The town strikes me as a very charming, high-end shopping mall. There were jewelry stores selling gems the size of my fist, art galleries asking 5 figures for a piece, and basically anything a jetsetter would need in an emergency (Alaïa dresses, Louboutins, LV bags, Patek Phillip…). Not exactly my scene (except for the sandals. I was very tempted by the hand-made in Mykonos sandal shops, even if I did walk away empty footed).

I loved seeing the windmills and strolling the white washed alley ways with Mr French. I was thrilled that the chapels welcomed visitors, and their cameras, and we got excited each time we saw see traditional women chatting away in their kitchens, or a group of local men hanging out at the kebab joint by the bus stop. Even the large group of millionaires dining at the table behind one evening was authentic; they were Greek millionaires enjoying a night out with their age appropriate wives. While not really my style, the place quickly grew on me, and we even ended up taking advantage of their infamous nightclub scene, enjoying exotic cocktails with a sunset view before the maddening crowds flooded in.

We had two meals in town. An extraordinary traditional dinner at the quaint To Maereio taverna. The room was cool and dark, just like a Greek home and our dinner included zucchini fritters, a pork stew with feta and sautéed mushrooms. It was so good I didn’t have to look at my notes to remember what we ate. The second meal was at Interni, an über-chic, jetset address, in a gorgeous cactus-scaped courtyard that included a chapel and two bars with surprisingly reasonable prices and excellent cocktails for some really fun people watching. It may be your scene, it may not, but one thing is for sure, you’re not in Kansas, Dorothy. This could very well be the land of Oz.


Friday Date Day – Chez Kiki

Virtual every night in Greece was date night. We’d left the “kids”* at home for this very reason, we were enjoying some very well deserved Monsieur et Madame time. We were so looking forward to it that Mr French had taken me on a little shopping excursion to ERES before our departure. So there I was, hiking through brush and brumble, sweat drip drip dropping from the nape of my neck to the small of my back, streaming down to my exclusively silk clad bottom. Très chic, non? Its one of those moments when you see yourself in a ridiculous NYer cartoon of your life.

Inappropriate wardrobe choices aside, dining on a schooner at sunset, in a remote harbour with the sapphire blue water lapping at your feet, its hard to imagine more romantic.

Before leaving Santorini Mr French had a little chat with Joy, the owner of Dimitri’s, asking for some restaurant recommendations in Mykonos. Chez Kiki’s she said without hesitation. Arriving at the Grace Hotel Mykonos our first order of business was to find Kiki. We went to the receptionist and asked her to make reservations for that evening.

“Ah,” said the receptionist, “I see you’re serious about good food.”

I nodded emphatically, my silly grin probably making me look a bit slow.

“Well, they don’t take reservations, and they only serve lunch, and you’ll need a car to get there. Its on a wild beach on the north side of the island. A bit difficult to find, you know, they don’t have a sign, you just have to follow your nose.”

The place was sounding more and more attractive. The next day, while I was up stairs at the pool, Mr French ran into a car rental guy in the lobby and immediately arranged to have a car brought to us Tuesday morning. Tuesday, everything worked like a dream, or like we were on a perfect holiday in Greece, and by 10am we were off, planning to visit the island a bit before hunting down our lunch.

The island’s main town reminded my of a Nevada ghost town. There was an itinerant artisan with reeds tied to his, advertising his availability for restring rattan chairs. The square was deserted, except for 4 local men sitting in a café slurping back Greek coffee. Sausages dried in a cage outside the butcher shop. A lone priest guarded the monastery, his indigo robes flapping on the laundry line behind him as he chatted away to some Israeli tourists.

“Israel! I was in Israel. Beautiful country!”

“Uh, yes, you went to Jerusalem?” assumed the Israeli.

“Pfft.” he waved the comment aside, “Eiliat (an Israeli resort town). I went to Eilat. The fish, they were amazing!!!”
We headed back to the car where I nearly knocked myself unconscious with the car trunk. Classic me. Then off to the “wild” beach the receptionist had mentioned. On Mykonos, a wild beach is a beach with out parasols, lounge chairs, a bar or Europop blasting out over the loudspeakers. We pulled up and were astounded with the Caribbean blue waters. Walking down the trail I spotted a preoccupied looking man sitting on a stoop. Kiki! We found him before the bbq had even started burning for the day. I was thrilled.

We hit the sand and Mr French spent the next 20 minutes putting together a shade producing lean-to for me before heading out to sea for a glorious swim. I loved the swim, but as soon as the clock struck one I was anxious to head up to the restaurant, but feeling I should just be savouring the moment. I lasted 1/2 an hour before Mr French burst out laughing at my angst and got up to shake out his towel.

The area in front of Kiki’s is just a patch of dirt with a wall to one side, a church to the other and a aqua marine sea below. There were already people waiting for a table, sitting patiently in a row of chairs. I ordered Mr Fremch take a seat and stood at the door waiting for Kiki to acknowledge our presence.

As the large man lumbered to the door a Greek woman cut in front of me, trying to secure a place before the rest of us. I’ve lived in Paris long enough to make it clear I had been there first. Kiki would have none of it telling me to get in line behind the man in the chair (my very own Mr French) and letting Mme the Greek know she’d be after me.

So what was all the fuss and was it really worth the trek? Chez Kiki is on a large stone paved terrace that hangs above the sea. The branches of a tree create shade for the entire space and there are two windows, each framing a still life of the Greek kitchen beyond. One of the six boys who are constantly buzzing by, serving the 40 or so places, stops by the table asking what you’d like to drink and advising you to go into the kitchen to order your salad.

It is cool and dark in the kitchen, a traditional looking Greek woman stands behind a large refrigerated counter with about a dozen salads, each more original (and delicious) than the next. We negotiate which four we’ll try and she asks about the grill. I’d seen shiny large eggplants being brought to the grill and insisted we try one, while Mr French opted for octopus.

Everything was perfect; the view, the crowd, and especially the food, slow grilled over glowing embers, the eggplant dressed in a finely chopped parsley salad before being brought to our table. Dessert? We opted for swim in the pristine waters below, kissing and splashing in the lapping waves.

* I think we need a new word in the English language to describe the modern phenomenon of adult children who have left the nest but still require regular maintenance.

Still on Santorini

My yoga studio

After a day of hiking up and down and down and up, our calves were achy. So sore that we were both walking like primates, our knees, hips and ankles all bent to 45°. Its not an attractive look. Yoga seemed a great way try and ease the pain, so I spread out the mat  in the churchyard of the little chapel that was in front of our room, and got busy sun saluting the Aegean seas at dawn, feeling very thankful to those Greek gods for having created such a unique place.

A chapel at the edge of the world

Being in all that pain from walking inspired more hiking. Crazy, but true. We’d loved the previous day’s walk so much, we decided to hike the down the cliff that was outside our front door to visit an isolated chapel that dangles there, just above the sea.

We then had a 40 minutes hike to Fira, the island’s capital and the departure point of our afternoon sailing trip. Before getting all the way to town I needed lunch. Mr French kept trying to encourage me on, but Madame was hungry. It was either feed her, or risk loosing his head. An elderly Greek lady, wearing all black and worrying away at her prayer beads saw me looking at a menu. “This place is good,” she noded, “very good.” Looking up, I realized it was a windmill. The design-y, trend-y interior didn’t inspire much confidence, but But Kiria (Greek for Madame) knew her stuff and the food was excellent.

Fira, like Oia, is on a cliff, with the habour below, and like Oia, donkeys are an option for getting down. But Mr French hadn’t changed his mind from the previous evening. It was not an option. There is also a cable car, but we were feeling adventurous. So we headed down, slipping on donkey crap, gagging from the stench and dodging the beasts as they charged us, under the blistering sun.

A stunning vessel, with a great crew, welcomed us below. We were soon aboard the Thalassa, a replice of a 19th century schooner that we shared with about 50 other tourists from across globe. It wasn’t a big group given the size of the boat and there was shade for everyone. First stop an active volcano and a one hour hike to feel the heat of its the rocks, smell its sulfur and learn its history. At this point my legs were, as the French say, gone (je n’ai plus de jambe).

Next stop a small bay with warm water springs and iron ore that stains your swimsuit red. We jumped from the ship directly into the sea. It was delicious after the heat of the day and exactly what the doctor ordered for my missing legs. We were soon back on board headed for Thirassia for another swim on the crystal clear waters. If I ever come back to Santorini, I’ll be visiting this island. NOTE TO SELF; If I ever return, spend a day here to photographing the local color and try a local tarverna.

A simple dinner was served, then as the sky turned to a golden amber, a sailor took out his saxophone and serenaded us into the sunset…



On the third day she rested…

Not that I’m comparing myself to the Great Creator, but s/he created the world in 6 days before taking a break, where as on holiday in Santorini, Greece last week, I only made it to three before needing a holiday from our holidays.

When I told a friend our destination she gave me a rather dry look, adding, “You know, you can’t wear heels.” The map of the nearest big city had a “No Heels” logo on its legend.  What wasn’t explained, and what I didn’t ask, is why. I had no idea that everything, absolutely everywhere in Santorini involves a steep slope. We didn’t stop going up and down. To give you an idea of just how extreme things can be; from the breakfast deck to our room, there were 80 stairs. The same 80 for the pool and at least double that to leave the hotel. After two days of steps and long (yet glorious) hikes, I needed a day off! So, Mr French and I set ourselves up with faux-jitos to spend the morning by the infinity pool, above the sapphire tinted Aegean Sea, while I wrote this post;

Our first day we were eager to hike the 2.5 hours from our hotel in the village of Imerovigli to Oia (pronouced Ee-a). It was a long, glorious walk, the sea to our right and our left, blue domed chapels spotting the way. There were rustic, open air cafés where locals gathered to chat and escape the heat of the day, there were remote hotels and a satisfying series of photo ops. Drying wild flowers perfumed the air.

We arrived at pristine, sparkling white Oia ready for some hydration, some shade and a bite of lunch. The first fairly decent looking place we came to was Thalami, which claimed to serve local specialties. I was skeptical; with its prime tourist location, wind-kissed terasse and seductive shade, it seemed too perfect to be true, but I needed a break from the relentless sun and was too hungry to start looking for something “better”. What a stroke of luck that was! Everything was seasoned with local herbs making for exciting flavors in all the dishes we tried; tomato fritters (was that a bit of tarragon they put in the batter?), fava bean puree, Santorini salad with caper leaves and grilled octopus.

We were soon back on the street, exploring Oia, a charming town with lots of hotels, plenty of souvenir shops, a school, an active church and more scenery than you can shake a donkey stick at. They also have the most magical bookshop I have ever wandered across. Atlantis Books was founded by a group of young people who used to work at Shakespeare & Company here in Paris, so they are definitely kindred spirits! Volunteers come from across the globe to work in this little piece of heaven, surrounded by books, amazing friends, and the shining sea (you’ll hear more about this shop soon…)

A tote bag full of booklets later, we left Atlantis and returned to Oia. That donkey stick that was shaking at the scenery? It was for all the donkeys that were lined up to take people down the cliff to Ammoudi harbour. Mr French has a moral objection to using these beasts of burden for tourist traffic, so we walked down. 45 minutes, with even more stunning views under the afternoon sun. Mr French had heard there was a beach down here and after 18 hours on an island, the man was itching to swim. A brief hike on what was no longer a trail and we’d arrived. It was more a small outcropping of rocks than a beach, but the water was perfect and it was the ideal place for a well deserved, refreshing swim, well off the beaten path.

This is a working fisherman’s bay, with a small collection of restaurants that grill the catch of the day, inviting clients to select their own fish before cooking them to perfect. Mr French was getting hungry, so he asked for a table at the first fish place we came across. We later found out that this fish place, Dimitiris is one of the most famous in all of Santorini, but in the moment, we didn’t realize how lucky we were that they had had a cancellation and that we were enjoying a table with a sunset view.

When our waitress invited us into the kitchen to select our catch, I asked Mr French to select a fish for the two of us. The man does not like being told what to do and rarely follows directions, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I started to smell the aroma of grilled lobster wafting our way.  Caviar… Foie gras…. not my thing, but a good lobster makes me go weak at the knees and this one must have been touched by the Greek gods, because it was divine.

Walking by our table a woman exclaimed, “Someone’s not shy…” A few minutes later another walked past exclaiming, “OMG!!!” And finally a third, “Wow! You’re SO lucky!”

“Lady,” I thought, “you’ve got no idea…”

Atlantis Books

Dimitris – Ammoudi, tel. 22860 71606

Chicago with Dad…

Here are some of my Chicago notes for my Moleskin…. because this was about moving a college student, our trip included a lot of practical stuff that you will want to skip… stuff like renting a car and driving out to Bolling-something-or-other to purchase a bed at the local IKEA. Or spending a day at the nearest Target. Not the downtown Target with gorgeously ornate, iron-work doors that are probably on all the architectural tours the city is famous for, but the one nearest the University of Chicago, in the southern part of the city where people get shot. And killed. I’d say skip that part.

If you do rent a car, which is not a horrible idea for a day or two, because there is a lot to see beyond downtown, and if you decide to visit, say, a certain university campus in South Chicago, take Lakefront Boulevard. I know that it is marked as a highway, and that may be intimidating, especially to someone with jetlag, who has not driven for months and who thinks taking Martin Luther King Drive to the campus looks much less daunting. This is a BAD idea. Things may go your way. You may not notice that your shiny bright rental car sticks out like a diamond in a coal mine, but after 5 days of taking this alternative route, I read in the papers that someone was car jacked, shot and killed. Again, I’d skip that part.

Now for the good stuff. The University Campus. It is gorgeous, has a cathedral (that is not really a cathedral, but looks like one), two museums, the most gorgeous modern library I have ever seen, a house you can visit that was built by Frank Lloyd Wright and a print-perfumed, labyrinthine independent book store I would have liked to pack into my suitcase and bring home with me. And if you get hungry, some of the best bbq in the Midwest can be found at Ribs ‘n’ Bibs on Dorchester and 53rd. I’ve been told that this is where a certain President Obama heads when he is home for the holidays.

This visit fell on Father’s Day, so my Dad hopped on a plane and came to join us, claiming, “I haven’t spent Father’s Day with my daughter in over a decade.” Ouch! Its one of the downsides to moving abroad, geography can force you to disappoint those you love. Since he’d come so far, and this meant so much to him, we took Dad/Grandpa to that sunless, parallel Swedish universe known as IKEA for the day. Aren’t we adorable? It actually was a lovely day, because of the company, but E and I felt honor bound to make up for it the next day. Only the next day was IKEA delivery day, so poor grandpa was stuck with us, waiting in a flat that had been lived in by 5 college boys for the last three years. He was so charmed that he insisted on cleaning the bathroom (did I mention 5 boys, 3 years?).

At the grocery store that afternoon, there was a mix-up at the checkout counter and I ended up a few customers between E and my Dad. As I stood, there E waved me over, saying, “Come on, Grandpa took care of it.” The lady in line behind me, exclaimed, “Woah you’re lucky to have a Dad like that!” Lady, I thought, you’ve got no idea. Simply no idea.

We made it up to good ol’ Dad by taking him to the Chicago Art Institute. It was fam-tabulous! We got to see American Gothic, and spent way to long taking pictures of ourselves looking like the two yankees in Grant Wood’s masterpiece. We paid homage to Vincent Van Gogh’s yellow bedroom, the third version of a painting that is also in Amsterdam and Paris. And we had a delicious lunch with a stunning view at Terzo Piano, the museum’s restaurant.

As lovely as the museum was, Dad loves somethings more than he loves art. Dad loves deli food. He probably knows every decent deli between SF and NYC, so he was chomping at the bagel to try Eleven City Diner. It was excellent, and not just because our table was overflowing with all the American food I can’t get in Paris, Grandpa was thrilled with his lox, and we were all thrilled to be together discovering the everyone’s kind of town…

Restaurants – Ribs ‘n’ Bibs, Terzo Piano, Eleven City Diner

Must Sees – University of Chicago campus, Target on State St (seriously!), Chicago Art Institute


I am back from what may very well be the most under-rated city in the United States and I am already looking forward to our next trip. What makes Chicago so great? Like Paris, it is a gorgeous city. We were ooh-ing and aah-ing at the turn of nearly every corner. There is the lake, the river and the stunning architecture with streets wide enough to actually appreciate what is going on up above.

There is science, history and industry and even more profoundly, industry that has played a major role in the making of America. There are two major university attracting some of the brightest minds in the country and important monuments, like the desk where Jake and Elwood made their deposit in the Blues Brothers. There is an amazing art scene, with major works by names like Calder, Picasso and Kapoor literally crowding the sidewalks.

We were walking along one day and saw a colorful monumental sculpture nestled near an office building entrance. “That looks like an Agam.” my Dad pondered. And it was. Just standing there nonchalantly on the street. There there is the Crowd Fountain in Millennium park. A work of art that provides an interactive place for water play.

Millennium Park also hosts outdoor concerts and a movie night. We had the opportunity to see the film Chicago under the stars, in the city of Chicago, projected at the Pritzker Pavillion, designed by Frank Gerhy. WOW.

If you’re less cultural and more sporty, there is kayaking in the river (the little dots in the water in the photo to the right of this column. I swear, they’re there) and several beaches for swimming in the lake. The lake front is also a great place for your morning run. It is not just Frank Sinatra’s Kind of Town, but a city with something for everyone.

Go Blackhawks.

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