REMEMBRANCES OF REPASTS PAST
By Martin B. Deutsch
July 16, 2009 -- During more than 50 years of traveling, the subject of the "best" things that I've ever experienced on the road is a constant companion.
The half-century in question begins with the inaugural flight of Cubana de Aviacion from New York to Havana on May 12, 1956. Over the course of the next few columns, I'll discuss many of my best flights, cruises, hotels and other travel-related escapades. But I'll start with a memorable slice of apple pie and devote this particular column to the best things I've ever eaten on the road. Consider this the remembrances of repasts past.
The best apple pie that I've ever eaten was in the early 1960s in Nenagh, County Tipperary, which lies about halfway between Shannon and Dublin, Ireland. I was a guest on the TWA inaugural flight to Shannon--You do remember TWA?--and, after landing, we were carried to the Irish capital by limo. We stopped for lunch in what I recall was a modest hotel, most likely the Hibernian Inn. For dessert, there was freshly baked apple pie with the Irish variation of Devon cream. It was a taste sensation. I had a second piece and was tempted for a third, but cooler heads prevailed.
The best restaurant meal I've ever had was about a decade ago at Restaurant Guy Savoy, the three-star Parisian salon. We were treated to a succession of seemingly endless courses, interrupted only by an array of succulent tidbits. We marched bravely through a series of appetizers to soups; fish, chicken and meat; salad and cheeses; and a variety of grand desserts and outstanding wines. The four-hour repast also included frequent, but quick, visits by the owner and host himself. Not inexpensive, of course, but I suggest each of us splurge on at least one three-star Michelin dining experience.
The best meal in a hotel dining room was at the Hotel Martinez in Cannes. After tasting the gourmet tasting menu at the two-star La Palme d'Or, I was convinced that the dining room should have had that extra star. (Michelin almost never goes beyond two stars for a hotel restaurant, however.) We had a dozen or more exquisitely prepared dishes. Each was brought to the table in individual copper or silver cookware and each portion was just right for two guests to enjoy, but not overdose. The appetizers, the breads, the wines and the desserts were equally deserving of high praise.
The best meal in a restaurant kitchen was at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island near Jacksonville, Florida. The hotel's restaurant, one of the most highly-rated in Florida when we visited a decade ago, invited us to dine in the kitchen. We could order whatever the various chefs were preparing and could also request dishes not on the menu that evening. We ended up trying small portions of various entrees and appetizers that the head chef and his colleagues suggested as they dropped by periodically to chat. We were also able to sample the recommended wines with each course, including a fine Sauternes with the copious desserts that crowded our tiny corner of the spacious kitchen. The "kitchen table" is indeed a festive and unusual way to spend an evening indulging one's culinary fantasies.
Without question, the best crème brule I've ever eaten was at Felix in the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. It was a more than generous portion garnished with fresh raspberries and it was better than any similar dish I've ever eaten in France. (By the way, the restaurant is named in honor of Felix Bieger, the longtime Peninsula executive and one of the most highly regarded hoteliers of the last half-century.
The best Indian meal I've ever experienced--and I've had quite a bit of exposure to this varied cuisine in India, England and New York--was at the Tamarind Restaurant in London. I enjoyed the most superbly seasoned lamb chops I've ever had, but every dish was exquisite and memorable. More than a decade ago, the meal for two ran US$127. Not inexpensive in its day, but well worth it.
The best rolls I've ever had anywhere were in Rome. They are shaped like roses and are called rosetta. They have nothing inside. It is just air, pure Roman air, inside a crisp, tasty shell. They are ubiquitous in Roman bread baskets. Served with fresh butter and a selection of preserves, it's like starting the day on a short trip to heaven. They are wonderful.
The Italians also have the best sandwiches--made with rustic, coarse, marvelous bread--called panini. You can get them at any coffeehouse in the larger cities and the smaller towns and at the rest stops on the Autostrada. No matter what you put inside--prosciutto, other meats, cheeses--a panini is an astounding treat. It's the quality of the ingredients that make a difference. And you only find them in Italy, despite imitators worldwide.
The best open-faced sandwiches I've ever had were the creative and tempting smørrebrød that are legion in the Scandinavian countries. Smørrebrød is like pasta in Italy. It is everywhere, assembled with dense, buttered sourdough rye bread topped with meats, fishes and salad in infinite varieties. The best I ever tasted was back in the 1960s at the restaurant of Copenhagen's Royal Hotel. These days, the property is officially known as the Radisson SAS Royal, but I can't speak to the current quality of their sandwiches.
The best French toast I've ever had was at the impressive Mandarin Oriental Hotel in San Francisco. The version I fondly remember was served in the hotel's Silks Restaurant. It was beautifully prepared with a crisp, golden crust and an apple component. As nice as the current Silks version of this popular breakfast dish may be--cornflake-crusted brioche spiced with vanilla and cinnamon--I much prefer the earlier preparation.
The best dim sum that I've ever tasted was in Hong Kong. Everyone has their favorite place in the former Crown Colony, of course, but I prefer Serenade in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, which is conveniently located next to the Star Ferry pier on the Kowloon side. It offers great views of Victoria Harbour and the prices are quite inexpensive, even by the standards of Hong Kong dim sum.
ABOUT MARTIN B. DEUTSCH Martin B. Deutsch created Frequent Flyer magazine in 1980 and was editor-in-chief and publisher for 15 years. He also wrote a column called "Up Front" for Frequent Flyer during those years. In a 50-year career, he created, published and edited dozens of other travel publications. Deutsch is based in New York.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Martin B. Deutsch in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Mr. Deutsch. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of Mr. Deutsch.
This column is Copyright © 2009 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.