The New York Capital of Albany represents a quick and easy getaway for Montrealers

By Alexandra Cohen

ALBANY- I have been to the city of Albany, New York (https://www.albany.org/) many times. In January 2020, I made my last visit there just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, which put a pause on travel. Returning again more recently, I was reminded of why I like the state capital so much. In particular, I was fortunate to have a great place to stay.

WHERE TO STAY: One of the bonuses of a visit to Albany is the ability to visit some American stores not available to us here in Canada. Therefore, it was convenient that the Residence Inn Albany Washington Avenue Extension was just adjacent to the Crossgates Mall. The Residence Inn is an extended-stay hotel that is also just minutes from the Albany International Airport, the Empire State Plaza, and more. It is also under 30 minutes by car from the Saratoga Racetrack and the Global Foundries.

Staying at the Residence Inn feels like being at home, while still enjoying some excellent hotel services. You can choose between studios, one-bedroom suites, and two-bedroom suites, with the suites providing enough space for a full kitchen and separate areas where one can relax, work, and sleep. My family and I enjoyed the two-bedroom and two-bathroom suite, which was incredibly spacious.

Hotel amenities include free WiFi, daily hot breakfast, coffee, and tea. There is also an indoor pool and hot tub, a fitness center, a small convenience shop, and a laundry room. The lobby is quite nice with a large amount of seating, including a nice outdoor space to relax when the weather is appropriate.

The hotel is completely accessible, with elevators, a self-operating lift, and a sloped entry into the swimming pool. Service animals are always welcome. Accessibility features available to guests upon request include adjustable height hand-held shower wands, alarm clock telephone ringers, bathtub grab rails, a bathtub seat, closed caption TV, flashing door knockers, hearing accessible rooms, and lowered electrical outlets and deadbolts. Some of the bathrooms also contain non-slip grab rails and roll-in showers.

The hotel is located at 124 Washington Avenue Extension. For more information, you can call 518-218-7240 or log onto the hotel website: http://www.marriott.com/albwa.

ATTRACTIONS: Albany truly is a great place to shop, with a wide array of stores for all to enjoy. While we stayed close to the Crossgates Mall, it was also a quick and easy drive to the nearby Colonie Center as well. The majority of entrances at both malls are ADA accessible with ample parking distributed throughout. Wheelchair rentals are also available.

Crossgates Mall (https://www.shopcrossgates.com/) has been labeled as the largest shopping, dining and entertainment destination in New York’s Capital Region. It offers over 10 different entertainment experiences, providing something for every age group. Younger children and families don’t have to shop – they can bowl their hearts out, play the newest video arcade games, see an IMAX movie, or go down some colourful indoor slides. Crossgates offers dining options to suit any taste, including 12 sit-down restaurants, 11 food court options, two fast-casual eateries, and 16 snack spots.

Colonie Center (https://shopatcoloniecenter.com/), a 1.3 million square-foot enclosed two-level, regional shopping center with over 100 specialty stores, is at the heart of New York’s Capital Region. The center is anchored by a three-level Macy’s, Boscov’s and Sears. Colonie Center features popular retailers such as The Gap, New York & Company, Bath and Body Works, Kay Jewelers, American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Sephora, and Barnes & Noble. The center boasts the only Cheesecake Factory Restaurant and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in the capital region and a state-of-the-art all-digital Regal Cinema with a newly renovated RPX theater. Additional sit-down eateries include Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Moe’s Southwest Grill, as well as the second-level food court. The center sits at the intersection of Wolf Road and Central Avenue, is just 5 minutes from the Albany International Airport, and is accessible from Interstates 87 and 90.

Albany lies at the foot of the Adirondacks and the Catskill Mountains and is at the tip of the historic Hudson Valley Region. Within a short ride are the neighboring towns of Cooperstown and Saratoga Springs. Albany is home to several museums, historic homes, and outdoor activities such as boating, skiing, biking, and snowshoeing. Sights to consider exploring include the Million Dollar Staircase, the “Egg” at the Empire State Plaza, and more. Albany is also less than three hours from New York and Boston, if you’re looking to add more stops to your trip.

Our return to beautiful Nice, France: The quintessential Mediterranean art of living

By Alexandra Cohen

Nice, France

NICE– The capital of the French Riviera, Nice is a perfect city for a relaxing getaway. This summer, I returned to Nice for the first time in eight years and was able to enjoy a fantastic few days by the Mediterranean. 

For those who have not yet visited, Nice is the fifth largest city in France, with 350,000 citizens and more than 1 million people living in the surrounding areas. Located between the Alps, Provence, Corsica, and Italy, the exceptional climate makes it a great year-round destination for travelers.

During my visit, I was able to enjoy time walking along La Promenade des Anglais, a street known throughout the world. This long avenue runs right along the Mediterranean coastline, spanning a distance of 7km, and is frequented by walkers, cyclists, and joggers alike. This area is renowned for its palm trees, its private and public beaches, and its array of hotels, including the legendary Negresco and the Palais de la Méditerranée. 

Nice, France

Just across the street from the sea lies Vieux Nice, the historic district of the city. In Vieux Nice, you will find a hub of activity, particularly at night, where you will find an array of small restaurants with terraces, markets, craft shops, and more. Nearby, you will also find Place Masséna, a historic square known for its black and white geometric paving, red ochre buildings, and 7 statues, which when evening comes, light up with warm and lively colours. 

When visiting, it is also working exploring La Promenade du Paillon, which was inaugurated in 2013. This 12-hectare green ribbon in the heart of nice is known for its 1,600 trees, 6,000 shrubs, and 50,000 perennials. Benches punctuate the walk to allow you to stop, relax, and enjoy the view. 

Where to Stay

Nice, France

During my trip, I stayed at the gorgeous Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée (https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/france/hyatt-regency-nice-palais-de-la-mediterranee/ncehr) in a spectacular king room with a full sea view.

This historic and luxurious 5-star hotel is located on the legendary Promenade de Anglais, directly across the street from the sea. There are 187 spacious guestrooms and suites, complimentary Wi-Fi, the option for mobile entry with your room key available through your smartphone, a beautiful indoor-outdoor pool, as well as a gym, sauna, and Turkish bath. The hotel restaurant, le 3e, includes a lovely terrace that overlooks the Mediterranean, as well as the outdoor pool, which includes a large and delicious breakfast buffet, which I was able to enjoy every morning. The hotel also features a business and conference center on-site. Dogs under 15kg are permitted on the premises for an additional fee. 

All rooms include a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, air conditioning, an in-room, laptop-sized safe, an alarm clock, bathrobes and slippers, a hair dryer, an iron and ironing board, an electric kettle, and a mini-bar.

Nice, France

During my stay, I was very impressed with the hotel’s customer service. Their concierge service is able to reserve seats for hotel guests at the nearby beach – they will give you a voucher and place the charge under your room. Response to requests for room service and other needs was always swift.    

In terms of accessibility, six rooms (including one suite) are adapted for the disabled with walk-in showers (equipped with a seat on the wall and a grab rail), a  sink accessible for those in wheelchairs, height equipment (bed, mini bar, safe box, toilet) for wheelchair access, as well as a wardrobe with a telescopic rod. 

Interestingly, a few years ago, the hotel had its own two-and-a-half-month-old Labrador puppy as part of the association “Les Chiens Guides d’Aveugles”. A hotel staff member spent two years training him as a future seeing-eye dog. He was present three weeks a month at the hotel and learned obedience and savoir-vivre, following which he was made available for adoption at no charge to a visually impaired person. 

You can e-mail nice.regency@hyatt.com prior to your trip with any questions. I was certainly impressed by their quick response time. The phone number is +33 4 93 27 12 34  

Dining out:

Nice, France

There are many fantastic dining options at your disposal in Nice. During my previous trip to Nice in 2014, I dined at Le Grand Balcon (www.legrandbalcon.net), located at 10 rue St. François de Paule near the opera house. Having had such a great experience last time, I was looking forward to returning, and it did not disappoint. Since my last visit, their terrace seems to have more than doubled in size, and all of their tables were full. While their menu offers numerous options, I personally enjoyed their sea bream ceviche with pomelo, the scallops with truffles and homemade mashed potatoes, and the parmesan cheese risotto. For dessert, I had a tasty, restyled lemon meringue pie. Undoubtedly, should you choose to visit, you will enjoy their creative and delicious cuisine. 

Le Grand Balcon is wheelchair accessible.

Nice, France

Another excellent restaurant worth visiting is Bocca Nissa (https://www.boccanissa.com/), a trendy restaurant and tapas bar located at 3 rue St. François de Paule. At first glance, the building resembles a beautiful Mediterranean townhouse. You will enter by walking down a hallway with walls lined entirely by greenery. Their rooftop terrace provides views of Vieux Nice and is also lined with plants and twinkle lights. Their menu contains a large array of tapas to share – I personally tried their tortilla dish, as well as their fried squid and sardines, sea bream ceviche, and beef ravioli. For dessert, their chocolate bombs were a real treat. For those less interested in tapas, their menu also boasts larger meals that one may choose to share, such as lamb chops and beef ribs. 

This property is also wheelchair accessible. 


Needless to say, I absolutely look forward to returning to this piece of paradise in France.

For more details log on to: https://www.explorenicecotedazur.com 

The Hilton Lac-Leamy is a great place to stay in Quebec’s Outaouais region

The Hilton Lac-Leamy in Gatineau, Quebec, just across the river from the Canadian capital of Ottawa, is a one-of-a-kind destination. Surrounded by waterways, woodlands and recreational trails, it offers the atmosphere of an urban resort in an enchanting environment. Among all the properties of the Hilton chain, this property is first in Canada and among the top 10 across the Americas. In fact, it is a five-star hotel with four diamonds since its opening in 2001.

We were very fortunate to spend the day there recently and what a treat that was.

Upon arrival in the hotel’s lobby, I was literally dazzled by the four blown glass chandeliers created by artist Dale Chihuly, as well as the six islands of red flowers spread out on the wall at the back of the reception. In addition, a coil composed of small glass works surrounds the column of the grand staircase leading to the upper floor of the hotel.

Connected to the Lac-Leamy Casino, the hotel features a fitness center, outdoor heated pool, indoor pool, spa and wellness center and a variety of dining options. Free WiFi is available.

Unquestionably, the outdoor pool is a big draw here. We were seated poolside on comfortable lounge chairs, with a large umbrella to guard us against the sun. The pool itself was perfectly heated as I floated about relaxingly, resting on the noodles they provide each guest. There are also two large hot tubs, something I have been craving since before the pandemic. The warm water was just the tonic I needed for some aching bones.

In the future, we hope to go back and enjoy some of the fine dining options.

On the lower level, you will find the Restaurant Arôme Seafood and Grill. With a magnificent view of Lac de la Carrière, the restaurant offers a memorable experience for all. A special feature of the menu is dry-aged meat, which appeals to epicureans and meat lovers. L’Arôme was the first restaurant in the Outaouais to offer this high-end meat. In the summer season, you can also enjoy the excellence of the kitchen on its large outdoor terrace by the water. Now that is on my “to-do” list for sure.

Banco Bistro is located at the casino, offering an a la carte menu, while the Bacchus Bar and Cigar Lounge are open Wednesday to Sunday from 4 pm to midnight.

There is also the TGV Snack Bar, the seasonal pool bar. Private dining is always available with 24-hour room service.  We took advantage of the latter poolside, enjoying chicken quesadillas, a pizza and some chips and drinks. There is a nice shady eating area at the pool.

You can get out of your regular routine at the luxurious Amerispa Spa, which is open every day from 10 am. There are 17 treatment rooms ready to receive you, with everything for relaxation and well-being: massages, facial and body treatments, manicures, pedicures and treatments for men.

I got to see the gorgeous stained glass work at the Conference Centre as I walked through the facility. It was designed by Jeff Scheckman of the Glass Studio in Montreal. Ten artists participated in this project.

And just some information about the first-class casino on site. I know so many Montrealers who travel regularly to this property to enjoy the hotel and take advantage of the convenience of merely walking from their room to the casino. You can check out the wide variety of games such as slot machines for every taste, table games like roulette, baccarat, blackjack and poker, and low-stakes multi-gaming stations.

There is also a 1,000-seat theatre, with high-end entertainment, and a 2,500-seat ballroom and conference hall. The 51,000 ft2 (4738 m2) Conference Centre can accommodate various events thanks to its 16 modular rooms and 1070-seat theatre. It is equipped with the necessary infrastructure and technology, including the latest audiovisual equipment and free Wi-Fi access.
The concept of the resort is the balanced contrast between urban entertainment and the tranquility of a park-like setting, giving guests the choice of what suits their mood best: cycling, cross-country skiing, first-class dining, or a show.

The Canadian Museum of History is five kilometers away and downtown Ottawa is a seven kilometers drive.

Accessibility is omnipresent at this hotel in the business centre, concierge desk restaurants, meeting rooms, on elevators and in guest rooms, which have mobility features with entry or passage doors that provide 32 inches of clear width. There are valet and handicapped parking services, a clear path to the entrance, ramps leading to the passageway to the casino and accessible routes to the fitness facilities and pools. Alarms are audible, braille on the elevators and for room numbers. Service support animals are welcome.

The Hilton Lac-Leamy is located at 3, Boulevard du Casino. For more information go to www.hiltonlacleamy.com or call 819-790-6444.

Mini-Golf and Ice Cream

While in the region why not enjoy some mini-golf at Dunn-D’s (11 Notch Road) in Chelsea? (www.dunnds.com). We really enjoyed the 18-hole course. While the place was busy on the day we visited, the wait from the people ahead of us was not too bad.

After the game, head for some of the best ice cream in the area at La Cigale (14 Scott Road) (https://www.lacigaleicecream.com/index.html). Here they serve delicious handcrafted ice cream, sorbet and more. There is a big sign with the flavors of the day. You line up to pay and then head to a window where your ice cream will be ready pretty quickly. Info: lacigalechelsea@gmail.com

Ain’t Too Proud on Broadway tells the story of The Temptations

Last spring I saw Motown the Musical in Montreal, the American dream story of the Motown founder’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more.  I loved every minute of it. So when I visited New York City recently, I was naturally drawn to Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations (https://www.ainttooproudmusical.com). It won a 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography and had 12 nominations.

The Temptations are an American vocal group that released a series of successful singles and albums with Motown during the 1960s and 70s.  Featuring five male vocalists and dancers, the group formed in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan under the name The Elgins and gave us such memorable hits as My Girl, Ain’t Too Proud to BegI Wish It Would Rain, Treat Her Like a Lady, Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)  and  For Once In My Life, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted and more. They earned three Grammy Awards.  

Otis Williams is the last living member of The Temptations. His book about the group is the basis for the Broadway show. Williams in fact continues to perform, using the Temptations name.

Ain’t Too Proud, currently playing at the Imperial Theatre on West 45th Street until at least US Thanksgiving Weekend 2020, is the electrifying new musical that follows The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With their signature dance moves and unmistakable harmonies, they rose to the top of the charts creating an amazing 42 Top 10 hits with 14 reaching number one. The rest is history — how they met, the groundbreaking heights they hit and how personal and political conflicts threatened to tear the group apart as the United States fell into civil unrest. This thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty and betrayal is a beautiful production.

Tony Award nominee Derrick Baskin portrays Otis Williams and is the glue to the show. He narrates the entire history of the Temptations from the opening number until the conclusion. Before walking into the theatre I simply knew the songs which made the Temptations so successful, but this is a true history lesson and it pulls no punches. There have been 24 members of the Temptations since this group was first established. Williams had to continually make the hard decisions and drop members who were not comporting themselves properly. At one point two of the singers who were let go returned for a reunion tour, but they could not turn over a new leaf. Williams himself was an absentee father and husband, focused exclusively on the business. I loved the show so much that the greatest hits of The Temptations are now loaded on my iPhone.

After breaking house records at both Berkeley Rep and The Kennedy Center, this musical is written by three‑time Obie Award winner Dominique Morisseau, directed by two‑time Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys), and featuring choreography by Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, On Your Feet).

Leading the current cast of Ain’t Too Proud as The Temptations is Tony Award nominee Derrick Baskin as Otis Williams, James Harkness as Paul Williams, Jawan M. Jackson as Melvin Franklin, Jelani Remy as Eddie Kendricks, and Tony Award nominee Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin. Ain’t Too Proud also features Saint Aubyn, Shawn Bowers, E. Clayton Cornelious, Taylor Symone Jackson, Jahi Kearse, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr., Joshua Morgan, Rashidra Scott, Nasia Thomas, Christian Thompson, Candice Marie Woods, Esther Antoine, Marcus Paul James, Correy West, Drew Wildman Foster, Curtis Wiley and Jamari Johnson Williams.

Tickets for Ain’t Too Proud are available by visiting www.Telecharge.com, by calling 800-447-7400, or by visiting the Imperial Theatre Box Office (249 West 45th Street). For groups of 10 or more, visit www.BroadwayInbound.com or call 866-302-0995. The show runs for two and a half hours.

Comedy and Dining Tips in New York City: Carolines, Tao, Black Tap, Fogo de Chão & O’Donoghue’s

For years I have walked by Carolines on Broadway (https://www.carolines.com), promising myself that I would one day check out this world-famous comedy club. Well, I finally did so, booking a dinner and show package on a Saturday evening.

 I arrived at 5:45 pm, checked in and was shown to a nice table in the club where veteran server Alfred took my order –some crispy fresh-cut zucchini chips to start and the main course of grilled salmon and roasted potatoes. I sat beside a nice couple from New Jersey. Christina shared her culinary insights with me and before the lights closed I was following this mom of four on Instagram (Christina.katers). The menu has a nice variety of choices; appetizers such as calamari, nachos, shrimp cocktail and onion rings a selection of salads and sandwiches, pasta, chicken and steaks. For dessert you can choose from strawberry shortcake, apple tart and chocolate cake, all served with ice cream. Of course, there is a full liquor and cocktail menu.

Carolines first opened as a small cabaret club in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood in 1982. Owner Caroline Hirsch, a lifelong comedy fan, soon began booking comedians. The comedy acts – which included now-legendary performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Billy Crystal, Rosie O’Donnell and Jay Leno – were a tremendous success. As the popularity of stand-up surged throughout the 1980s, so did the popularity of Carolines, which was becoming THE place to see live comedy in New York City.

Located in the heart of Times Square, Carolines on Broadway presents the very best live comedy entertainment seven nights a week. Just steps from many of Broadway’s most well-known theatres, Carolines on Broadway provides the same quality entertainment that is customary on New York’s legendary Great White Way. On the night I went the headliner was Sinbad. Born David Adkins, Sinbad launched his stand-up comedy career by appearing in 1983 on “Star Search,” where he beat out another then-unknown comedian named Dennis Miller before losing in the finals. In 1987, Sinbad landed a role in “A Different World,” a spinoff of “The Cosby Show,” and also had his own 1993-94 sitcom, “The Sinbad Show.” He has appeared in movies, including “Houseguest,” “First Kid” and “Jingle All the Way.” Sinbad also is known to display his music ability after his shows. He plays multiple instruments, primarily percussion, and has played with numerous artists and musicians under the name “Memphis Red.”

Today, Carolines on Broadway continues to hold center stage in Times Square as one of New York City’s most popular and enduring hotspots and as the city’s only genuine nightclub. The club is a New York institution and was one of the cornerstones in the revitalization of the vibrant and bustling Times Square district.  In addition to presenting such top headlining comedians, the 300-plus-seat club also features emerging talent, live podcasts, and improv and sketch comedy, as well as playing host to countless large-scale fund-raising events and high-profile benefits.

For the dinner and show package, food is a la carte.  You do receive priority seating in the showroom when you have dinner before the show in the supper lounge.  Just arrive at the time of your reservation and you will receive your tickets to the show.  If, however, you miss your dinner reservation before the show, they will not be able to hold the reserved seats for you in the showroom and you will be sat first come, first sat. 

Carolines on Broadway is a handicapped-accessible venue. Just contact the box office prior to the show at 212.757.4100 for instructions. They will lead you to a specific entrance with an elevator and staff will escort you to your seat. It is located at 1626 Broadway, between 49th and 50th Streets in Times Square.    

Dining Out

New York City is indeed the place to dine, with an endless array of choices to please your palate. Here are my latest recommendations.

TAO UPTOWN: We were elated to get a reservation at TAO Uptown (www.taogroup.com), an upscale Pan-Asian brand, located at 42 East 58th Street. There is also a TAO Downtown, as well as locations in Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles.  They will open at Mohegan Sun casino and entertainment resort in Connecticut this year.

A 16-foot Buddha, which floats above a reflecting pool filled with Japanese carp, presides over the scene at Tao. A favorite destination for celebrities and athletes, this heavenly dining experience specializes in authentic Hong Kong Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines. Tao has three levels of dining including the prized “Skybox,” which offers views of this former movie theatre unparalleled in New York. In addition to its 300 seats, Tao includes a sushi bar, lounge and two bars at which to enjoy the food and the show.   Be sure to make reservations.  

There is a wonderful ambiance here, with trendy music and a charismatic serving staff.  The menu here is truly designed for sharing. Our waiter Ryan made life so much easier for our party by recommending a series of courses “family style.” He was right on the mark with each.

We started off with some drinks:  a signature Tao-tini (Belvedere Mango Passion, Malibu Run, Cranberry and Fresh Lime), a glass of prosecco and a Bubbles and Berries (True Premium Vodka, Chandon Brut, St. Germain and Fresh Strawberries). We then moved to some appetizers: The Peking duck spring rolls with hoisin sauce, the spicy tuna tartare on crispy rice and the salmon sashimi followed by miso-glazed Chilean sea bass, grilled 12-ounce imperial wagyu ribeye (served with crispy fried onions and wow this was beyond amazing!) and lobster and kimchee fried rice.

Ryan promised us a surprise for dessert and he was not kidding. Out came a very large tray featuring a giant fortune cookie (with white and dark chocolate mousse), flourless mochi cake, sugar-dusted donuts, molten chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup. Let’s just say we completely ignored the calorie count.

TAO has a magnificent sushi menu. You can study the options via their menu.

Let me just state that merely stepping inside TAO is an experience. This now represents a “must stop” for us. Hopefully, next time out we can check out TAO Downtown.

For reservations call 212-888-2288 or do so via Open Table.

BLACK TAP: What fun it was for me to experience a Black Tap (www.blacktap.com) restaurant for the first time and no less their new flagship 35th Street location (known as Black Tap 35th). Inspired by the old-school luncheonettes we grew up in, Black Tap is touted as the new take on the classic burger joint. Upscale, but not fussed-up, their award-winning burgers have gotten a lot of attention in a short amount of time, milkshakes have always been on the menu, and craft beer is part of their DNA.

Black Tap 35th serves as a core location for global menu testing and features all-new design elements, a private dining room, and more. There are also US locales on 55th Street and Soho in the Big Apple as well as spots at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California and at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Internationally you can find them in Bahrain, Kuwait, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

I was impressed the moment I walked through the door. Tangible nods to Black Tap’s ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop and pop soundtrack can be found throughout the space, including an installation of 5,000 custom-designed cassette tapes and an oversized neon boombox. At the stand-alone Shake Bar—the first in New York—guests can get a glimpse into the magic of making one of Black Tap’s famous milkshake creations and be able to interact with shake makers.

New York-based graffiti artists and twin brothers How and Nosmwere tapped for Black Tap 35th’s signature street art murals. Known for their large-scale installations and unique, complicated compositions, How and Nosm left their mark on the restaurant with their signature style of red, black and white-based imagery with colorful pops of pink, yellow, and purple. The brothers drew inspiration from New York City life and the Black Tap brand itself for two custom pieces within the space.

Black Tap is always innovating and has kept the hits coming at Black Tap 35th. There are always new menu items hitting the tables here as Black Tap tests dishes for potential worldwide launches. All of the classics are here too, from the All-American Burger and the award-winning wagyu beef Greg Norman Burger to the fan-favorite Korean BBQ Wings and addicting Crispy Brussels Sprouts. And it wouldn’t be a meal at Black Tap without a CrazyShake. There’s something for every sweet tooth from the original Cotton Candy strawberry shake and the best-selling Cookie’s ‘N Cream Supreme shake, to the newly added Cinnamon Toast cereal-flavored Churro Choco Taco Shake topped with a Choco Taco ice cream treat and churros. Don’t forget the beverages. True to its name (a nod to craft beer bar tap handles), Black Tap 35th’s beer menu features New York regional specialties like The Bronx Brewery No Resolutions Imperial IPA and Greenport Harbor Beehave Summer Ale.  

 I  started off with the Queso & Chips appetizer –  zesty cheese served with warm tortilla chips and a house salad.  The Old Fashioned Prime Burger was my main choice, topped with crimini mushrooms, melted swiss cheese, caramelized onions and horseradish with some crispy fries.

I did my best to conserve some appetite for a crazy shake and opted for the Cake Shake. This is a cake batter milkshake with a vanilla frosted rim and rainbow sprinkles, topped with Funfetti cake, whipped cream and a cherry. My server wisely recommended that I gently move the cake portion to a plate, enjoying every morsel. For the shake, I used the spoon at the start before switching to the straw. It was worth all of the calories, especially knowing that I had an 11-block walk back to my hotel.

Black Tap is owned by husband-and-wife power couple Chris Barish and Julie Mulligan. Soon Black Tap will announce forthcoming openings in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. “It’s an exciting time for Black Tap as we open our 14th location and look to the future of the brand,” says Barish. “We have fans from around the world and look forward to bringing the Black Tap experience to even more burger lovers as we approach our fifth-year anniversary in 2020.”

Black Tap 35th is located at 45 West 35th Street and is open from 11 am to midnight daily.  You can call (646) 943-5135.

A BRAZILIAN DINING EXPERIENCE: Fogo de Chão (fogo-dee-shown) is a leading Brazilian steakhouse, or churrascaria, specializing in the centuries-old Southern Brazilian cooking technique of churrasco – the art of roasting high-quality cuts of meats over an open flame, all of which are carved tableside by Brazilian-trained gaucho chefs. There is Picanha (signature sirloin), Filet Mignon, Ribeye, Fraldinha (Brazilian sirloin) Cordeiro (lamb) and more. In addition to the main dishes, they boast a gourmet market table, authentic Brazilian side dishes, and an award-winning wine list.  

IMG 6822

Founded in Southern Brazil in 1979, there are currently 56 locations throughout Brazil, the United States, Mexico and the Middle East. I had a chance to experience this restaurant for the very first time at the beautiful West 53rd Street location in midtown Manhattan, just a short walk from Times Square and steps away from MoMA. Just before Christmas 2013, Fogo opened this 16,000-square-foot flagship location. The stunning architectural design includes a seventeen-foot bas-relief sculpture of Antonio Caringi’s, O Laçador, and a historical monument in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  The three-level facility features al fresco patio dining and a lounge area that is perfect for gathering with friends.  Unquestionably this was a totally new dining experience for me and I was beyond impressed. For first-timers like me, you will need a little guidance in terms of how to navigate the menu. Manager Ricardo Oliveira and his staff did precisely that. This is a “fun” place to dine for sure.

I opted in favor of the Full Churrasco Experience, which for $69.95 includes the trained chefs coming to your table. All you need to do is flip this small circular card to the green side and you will receive a visit, getting a chance to select the precise cut of meat you want. Everything was so fresh and delicious, I found it hard not to keep flipping my card over.   The beyond the impressive market table and feijoada bar is included, featuring seasonal salads, soups, fresh vegetables, imported charcuterie, hearts of palm, giant asparagus, fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh-cut and steamed broccoli, marinated artichoke bottoms, tabbouleh, smoked salmon, an assortment of fine cheeses and much more. You can also order this for $34.95 and it can indeed constitute a meal.

Their market table is a fabulous way to get your meal started. The server also brought a basket of cheesy bread to the table and a delicious jumbo shrimp cocktail appetizer in a bowl of ice. Each piece of meat seemed better than the last, cutting like butter. A server came by and offered me some mashed potatoes and vegetables. There was not a moment during this dinner when either a server, chef or manager did not stop by to see if I needed anything else.

As for my beverage, the guarana Antarctica is the national soda of Brazil and contains guarana berries found in the Amazon.  The dessert menu, fortunately, had a calorie count and I chose the Tres Leches Cake – a rich cake soaked in three types of milk and then topped with vanilla mousse and salted caramel de leite. I enjoyed this with a cup of decaf cappuccino.

Next time I dine here I will definitely try either the mango Chilean sea bass, pan-seared salmon and if dining with my family, the seafood tower.

In addition to the Full Churrasco Experience, Fogo offers its guests multiple ways to enjoy the experience at varying price points, including weekday lunch starting at $15, weekend Brazilian Brunch and a Bar Fogo menu that features smaller, sharable plates, Brazilian-inspired cocktails and happy hour.  

For more information about Fogo de Chão, the new culinary additions or to make dining reservations, visit http://www.fogo.com.  You can reach the West 53rd location at  212-969-9980.

A FINE IRISH PUB: Located just up the block from my hotel, The Algonquin, is O’Donoghue’s Restaurant and Pub (https://odpubnyc.com) at 156 West 44th Street. I have been walking by the place for several years now, intrigued by the lineups outside. Well, this place indeed exudes   Irish warmth. Manager Helen Moran is from Ireland and so was my charming server Sarah. With 24 beers on tap, 10 HD plasma flat screens and traditional Irish and American cuisine, O’Donoghue’s is the perfect place to unwind after work (happy hour specialty drinks), for sporting events (showing all major sports channels) and for private parties (party packages available). They are right in the middle of the Theatre District, so this is the perfect place to stop by for pre/post-theatre meals and drinks, or if you’re just shopping around town.

I had tickets for a 7:30 pm musical close by, so I arrived at 6 pm. The service was impeccable and I enjoyed my meal at a good pace, finishing with more than sufficient time to be sitting in my seat 10 minutes before the curtain went up.

There is a regular menu as well as those for kids, late-night, weekend brunch and another just for the bar. They also have daily specials.  I started off with some piping hot beef and barley soup, a delicious order of garlic cheesy bread, with marinara sauce, and a glass of prosecco wine.  For the main course, I was debating between their signature burger, one of the sandwiches and the special chicken and mashed potatoes.  I opted for the latter. The chicken was cut into neat thin slices, moist and extremely tasty. I made the right choice.   Did I have room for dessert? The homemade apple pie with vanilla ice cream sounded like the perfect way to conclude dinner. Along with a fresh cup of decaf coffee, I finished every morsel, leaving over just a bit of the ice cream.

There is a great atmosphere in this place. You can call (212) 997-2262.

Get set for the 2020 fall North American tour of Oklahoma

By Alexandra Cohen

The exceptional Tony Award-winning revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma may be closing its run on January 19, 2020, at Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre, but a tour will fittingly be opening starting in Oklahoma next fall, ultimately visiting other places in the United States and hopefully Canada.

The first collaboration between iconic Broadway duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Oklahoma! premiered for the first time on Broadway in 1943. The musical is credited with being the first of its kind, integrating its book, score, and choreography with the goal of advancing the plot.

This revival serves as the Broadway debut of visionary director Daniel Fish, who has created a vivid re-imaging of this country-set classic. While he left the original text and score intact, he has managed to explore the plot through a 21st-century lens, making an old story feel new and relevant again.

The cast of this darker Oklahoma! is led by Rebecca Naomi Jones as Laurey and 2019 Tony Award nominee Damon Daunno as Curly – both are in exceptional voice and have completely re-invented the roles. They are joined by 2019 Tony nominees Mary Testa (Aunt Eller) and Tony Award winner Ali Stroker (Ado Annie), as well as many other exceptionally talented company members.

The production has been hailed as Best of the Year and received a Critic’s Pick from the New York Times. Set in Oklahoma just after the turn of the century, the musical explores the complicated love story of Curly, an idealist of a cowboy, and Laurey, a stubborn farm girl, as they fall in love.

Those familiar with the original production will remember the 15-minute Dream Ballet sequence which once closed the show’s first act, a method of exploring Laurey’s romantic feelings and fears. In this revival, the sequence has been re-developed as an awe-inspiring modern dance sequence performed with dim lighting and frantic music. The room watched in hushed silence as dancer Gabrielle Hamilton made her way across the floor.

Making the production all the more unique is the set itself. Performed at Circle in the Square, a small and circular theatre, audience members are truly immersed in the experience. Some lucky audience members even had the opportunity to buy tickets providing them seats directly on stage, where they were teased and flirted with by the characters throughout the show. Red Crock-Pots sit on the tables on stage throughout act one, labeled “hot”. Why? Because they are cooking the chili, which is served with cornbread to all audience members during intermission.

LITTLE FANG PHOTO

In particular, the show has received quite a bit of buzz for the casting of Ali Stroker in the role of Ado Annie, the comedic foil to Laurey and Curly’s love story. Stroker, originally discovered on Ryan Murphy’s reality TV competition “The Glee Project,” made history in 2015 as the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on a Broadway stage. Once again, she made history last year as the first performer in a wheelchair to receive a Tony Award. During her acceptance speech, she dedicated the award to “every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena.” No doubt about it, she truly is an inspiration. In addition to Stroker, blind casting in this production includes people of color in roles that were traditionally given to white people. Stroker’s wheelchair is given its own set of choreography but is in no way integral to the character. In fact, Stroker performs 5 shows weekly, with her fantastic understudy, Sasha Hutchings, playing the role for the three other shows. Hutchings does not use a wheelchair during the performance.

The 31-year-old Stroker has been paralyzed since the age of two following a car crash. After her Tony win, she was asked by a reporter how to make Broadway and theatre more accessible.

“The theatres for the house, where all the audience comes in, that is all made accessible to patrons,” Stroker said. “But the backstages are not. So I would ask theatre owners and producers to really look into how they can begin to make the backstage accessible, so performers with disabilities can get around.”

What sort of challenges does she face each day in terms of performing? “I leave home an hour and 45 minutes before curtain,” she explained.  “The show has been so supportive of my needs, providing a car for me to get to and from the theater and helping me inside the theater. Because there are a lot of stairs at the theater’s main entrance, I go in through the office building next door, and then Circle in the Square put in a stairlift for me to get down to the dressing rooms and stage level. They also put in a ramp backstage so I can get around.”

I could not have been more impressed by Daniel Fish’s production of Oklahoma!. It is truly a brilliant feat worthy of celebration, and I felt grateful to have been in the presence of such talent and creativity.

Tickets are available at the box office (1633 Broadway at 50th), www.telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200. See the website for more information: oklahomabroadway.com. The show runs for two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission. Due to the mature content in this production, it is recommended for children ages 12 and up. This production contains fog, loud gunshot effects, moments of darkness, and violence.

Your Albany, New York checklist: The Staybridge Suites, Cheesecake Factory and Dave & Buster’s

My family and I have always considered Albany (http://www.albanyny.org/Visitors.aspx) a great place to stay for a few days, be it a getaway on its own or a place to stop en route to or upon return from New York City. We recently spent three nights in the state capital and having discovered an outstanding place to stay, our trip could not have been more enjoyable and relaxing.

WHERE TO STAY: When seeking a place to stay our search stopped at what appeared to be the top-ranked hotel in town: the Staybridge Suites Albany New York, Wolf Road Colonie Center.  Opened in 2014, this spot still looks spanking new and I would strongly recommend it. Not only is it exceptionally affordable, but it really does have all of the comforts of home.

My family and I have always considered Albany a great place to stay for a few days, be it a getaway on its own or a place to stop en route to or upon return from New York City. We recently spent three nights in the state capital and having discovered an outstanding place to stay, our trip could not have been more enjoyable and relaxing.

I sought out General Manager David Heckman to find out more about this extended-stay hotel, located near the crossroads of Interstate 87 and Interstate 90, at Exit 2 of I-87, the Adirondack Northway. It was built just at the rear of the Colonie Center Mall, which is extremely convenient. Heckman told me that some visitors come to stay there just to be close to Macy’s. In fact, with that in mind, the Staybridge Suites recently completed a special promotion whereby for $20 more on your booking guests received a $25 gift card to Macy’s, two free movie passes and a snack pack. Heckman plans to make this an annual October 1 to January 1 special. From January 1 to June 1, for $10 more you will receive two movie passes (valued at $27) and a snack pack.

Only 1.5 miles from Albany International Airport, four miles from Downtown Albany and indeed within walking distance to the Mall and popular Trader Joe’s, this location offers free parking and a complimentary shuttle service. The Mall is also home to two of my favorite restaurants: The Cheesecake Factory and PF Changs.

My family and I have always considered Albany a great place to stay for a few days, be it a getaway on its own or a place to stop en route to or upon return from New York City. We recently spent three nights in the state capital and having discovered an outstanding place to stay, our trip could not have been more enjoyable and relaxing.

This is an all-suite hotel, featuring 112 rooms over six floors. Each suite includes a full kitchen with all the supporting utensils to prepare food, complimentary high-speed internet, in-room safes, flat-screen televisions with a variety of programming options and daily housekeeping. There is a stove, microwave oven, toaster, full refrigerator, dishwasher, pots and pans, serving dishes, plates and glassware, silverware and a dining table. I appreciated the flexible workspace: a work desk with a lamp, a desk-level electrical outlet and a spare electrical outlet on the desk. We had a spacious suite, featuring a king bed and a very comfortable sitting chair in the main bedroom with a door that closes towards the pullout couch and kitchen. It could not have worked out better for our family. If I could find a place like this in every city I visit I would be very happy!

My family and I have always considered Albany a great place to stay for a few days, be it a getaway on its own or a place to stop en route to or upon return from New York City. We recently spent three nights in the state capital and having discovered an outstanding place to stay, our trip could not have been more enjoyable and relaxing.

The on-site business center is open 24/7. There is also a laundry room and a fitness facility with three treadmills, 2 two ellipticals and one stationary bike. All of the equipment is equipped with personal viewing screens.   Free weights, stretch equipment and floor mats are also included. I loved the indoor pool, open from 7 am to 10 pm and spent some time each day of my stay in the whirlpool.  There are handicapped lifts on-site. In the summer, the doors open up to a beautiful patio featuring picnic tables, barbeque grills and comfortable places to sit.

My family and I have always considered Albany a great place to stay for a few days, be it a getaway on its own or a place to stop en route to or upon return from New York City. We recently spent three nights in the state capital and having discovered an outstanding place to stay, our trip could not have been more enjoyable and relaxing.

I took advantage of the complimentary hot and cold breakfast every morning, including, a selection of both traditional breakfast foods, as well as a variety of fresh fruits, yogurts and healthy cereals. There are complimentary dinner receptions as well on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings (5 pm to 7:30 pm), including several choices of wines.

The hotel is located at 39 Wolf Road. You can call directly at   1-518-438-3300 or log on to https://www.ihg.com/staybridge/hotels/us/en/albany/albee/hoteldetail. There is now a special Canadian government rate, so if you qualify please ask about it.

CHEESECAKE FACTORY:  When the Cheesecake Factory is literally across the parking lot of your hotel, it is pretty tempting to dine there on more than one occasion. Such was precisely the case for us. The Albany location opened on August 29, 2006, at the Colonie Centre. This 10,800-square-foot locale seats 300 diners and you can always expect a lineup at the door. You will be handed a beeper and an estimated wait time.

My family and I have always considered Albany a great place to stay for a few days, be it a getaway on its own or a place to stop en route to or upon return from New York City. We recently spent three nights in the state capital and having discovered an outstanding place to stay, our trip could not have been more enjoyable and relaxing.

In Albany, General Manager David Albert runs a well-oiled machine. The service here is always impeccable and the food is superb.

The Cheesecake Factory (www.thecheesecakefactory.com) is known for its extensive menu, generous portions and legendary desserts. In fact, there are more than 250 menu selections and this includes more than 50 lower calories of “SkinnyLicious®” selections- all handmade, in-house with fresh ingredients – and more than 50 signature cheesecakes and desserts. Favorite choices include appetizers, pizza, seafood, steaks, chicken, burgers, pasta, specialty items, salads, sandwiches, omelets and desserts.

This is the closest Cheesecake Factory to Montreal and I know many people who stop here on purpose just to enjoy the experience.  Toronto has one too now and while we keep hearing rumours that Montreal might not be too far behind, I can get no confirmation of that.

We had lunch and supper at this spot on the same day. Frankly, I could eat here several times a week as the menu has so much variety. For the lunch stop, there was not a long wait for our table and we ate light, enjoying some breakfast items.  At supper, we started off with some quenching red raspberry cocktails. I ordered a small Caesar salad, which was more than enough for the two of us to share.

While the Southern Fried Chicken Sliders are listed as an “appetizer,” they more than serve as a hearty meal.  This is actually my absolute favorite on the entire menu. For only $11.50 you get four sliders with toppings and some vegetables. I love the mashed potatoes at Cheesecake, my preferred side. Then there are the  SkinnyLicious offerings, notably the turkey burgers which we can report are out of this world. There are multiple fish, pasta and beef options, meal-sized salads and a whole lot more. Give the menu a look online.

As for dessert, well this place is called The Cheesecake Factory. The windows display of pies kind of knocks your socks off when you enter the premises. After dinner, you can review the menu one more time, which includes a calorie count. We settled on the Italian Tiramisu Cheesecake split three ways and it was beyond decadent.

This Cheesecake Factory remains a real winner in our books and I highly recommend you stop by. You can call them directly at 518-453-2500. There is a large Barnes & Noble bookstore in the mall, a great pre or post-dining stop and movie theatres.

FUN AND GAMES: Besides some great shopping opportunities at Colonie and the Crossgates Mall,   Dave & Buster’s (www.daveandbusters.com) remains a must-stop for us. Recognized as America’s leading venue, combining dining and entertainment, the 33,000 square-foot restaurants and the game room opened on August 24, 2013, at the Crossgates Mall and it has served as a magnet for visitors ever since. My family has also enjoyed visiting the Toronto locale

My family and I have always considered Albany a great place to stay for a few days, be it a getaway on its own or a place to stop en route to or upon return from New York City. We recently spent three nights in the state capital and having discovered an outstanding place to stay, our trip could not have been more enjoyable and relaxing.

The company itself was founded in 1982 to provide a high-quality, high-energy venue where families and adults can “Eat Drink Play®” all in one location. Currently, Dave & Buster’s is the largest national chain offering a full casual dining menu and a wide selection of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages together with an extensive assortment of entertainment attractions, including skill- and sports-oriented games, video games, interactive simulators and other traditional games.

The restaurant, game and special event areas are open seven days a week Sunday to Thursday: 11 a.m. to midnight and Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

We did not dine there on this night, but it is good to know that there is a special eat-and-play option. When choosing selected items you can add $10 or $20 power cards to your order, which represents an immediate saving when you hit the games area.  

Guests can play to win tickets in the arcade for a variety of prizes, including iPods, Nintendo games, grills, sports items, stuffed animals and even an electric guitar. Traditional games like bowling, shuffleboard, skeet ball, air hockey and billiards are combined with others such as zombie snatcher, Dance Revolution and Big Bass Wheel. We favor Deal or No Deal, the basketball and football tosses and the different slot machine-like games which give you a bit of a Las Vegas feeling.  I was impressed with the gigantic Rock ‘Em Sock ‘EM robots. We spent over two hours there and enjoyed every second of it. The power card is rechargeable and keeps track of the number of points you have earned instead of the old format of printed tickets.

More than two dozen large-screen, high-definition televisions provide the perfect backdrop for everyone’s favorite college sporting events and professional games. The Albany location is also available for private parties, birthdays and corporate functions. Structured team-building activities, company challenges and the ultimate quest are popular programs to help build corporate camaraderie. We had a great time. The locale is fully wheelchair accessible. You can call them directly at 518-313-4500 or log on to https://www.daveandbusters.com/locations/albany.

ATTRACTIONS: While we appreciated being within close walking distance to the Colonie Center,  we took the easy 10-minute drive to the much larger Crossgates Mall. The vast majority of entrances are ADA accessible with ample parking distributed throughout the site. You can rent a wheelchair at the information desk near Macy’s entrance.

Albany has attracted visitors for 400 years with historic sites, fabulous attractions, family-friendly amenities, and entertaining events. World-class museums, unique galleries, stunning architecture, those enticing restaurants, and welcoming accommodations can indeed keep you busy for days. Enjoy everything from boating to skiing and biking to snowshoeing. Albany lies at the foot of the Adirondacks and the Catskill Mountains and is at the tip of the historic Hudson Valley Region. Within a short ride are neighboring Cooperstown and Saratoga Springs.

Be sure to check out the Million Dollar Staircase, the awe-inspiring “Egg” at the Empire State Plaza and many diverse examples of historic house sites and public spaces such as the Pruyn House and the first Shaker Meeting House. You can visit the magnificent Gothic structure, now the Administrative Center of the State University of New York, the Delaware and Hudson, and the Albany Evening Journal Buildings, located at the base of State Street.

There is an abundance of professional theatre, music, dance, sports, and a backyard full of recreational splendors. As the crossroads of the northeast, Albany is easily accessible by car, train, and plane and is located less than three hours from New York and Boston.

Las Vegas in the summer is heavenly

By Alexandra Cohen

When in search of a summer holiday destination this year, I could not think of a better choice than Las Vegas (https://www.visitlasvegas.com), where visitors are offered the perfect combination of relaxation and fun. I have visited Las Vegas before in the winter, but have never visited in the summer, I had not yet had the privilege of experiencing the amazing resort swimming pools that this spot has to offer.

Vegas truly is the epitome of an epic tourist destination, with more than 42 million visitors and nearly 24 thousand conventions annually. Las Vegas has everything that a vacationer could possibly ask for: concerts, shows, sports, shopping, dining, nightlife, golf courses, spas, adventure activities, luxury accommodations, and more. It is a place for an adult trip but also a place for the entire family to enjoy themselves.


WHERE TO STAY: For this trip, we spent our eight nights at the Park MGM (https://www.parkmgm.com/en.html), formerly known as the Monte Carlo Hotel.

A partnership between Sydell Group and MGM Resorts International, Park MGM was born from the collaborative vision of the New York-based lifestyle hotelier and one of the world’s preeminent destination resort developers.

The hotel complex comprises two new distinct experiences: Park MGM, and a Las Vegas version of the renowned NoMad, a standalone 293-room hotel encompassing the tower’s top four floors. 

Park MGM’s hotel design is inspired by nature, as seen both in the lobby and in the newly renovated casino. Although renovated, the casino still has some touches of the old Monte Carlo casino, including its beautiful chandeliers. 

With its excellent central location on the Vegas Strip, Park MGM offers guests direct access to what is quickly becoming the city’s premier entertainment district, featuring the T-Mobile Arena, The Park, and Park Theater, which most recently houses the Las Vegas residencies of both Lady Gaga and Janet Jackson. Merchandise for both concerts can be found on-site at the hotel. 

The Park MGM has 2,700 guestrooms and suites, intended to give off a residential feel. There are three distinctive guest suite types: Nighthawk, Nightingale, and Skylark. The Peacock Hospitality Suite features 700 square feet of social and entertainment space with an adjoining guest room.

We stayed in a beautiful King bedroom and could not have been happier with the accommodations. Immediately upon entering the room, we noticed the residential feel, complete with a lovely and comfortable window seat overlooking the swimming pool complex. The fresh bathroom offered a spacious walk-in shower. There are bedside outlets for phones and computers, blackout shades, a laptop-sized electronic in-room safe, a hair dryer, a television with cable and movie service, high-speed Wi-Fi, and both self-check-in and mobile check-out. We would gladly return to this hotel for another stay. 

Filled with natural light and punctuated by nature-inspired décor and art, Park MGM’s lobby is a nod to urban gardens and parks, including the adjacent Park neighborhood, bringing the outdoors inside. A dramatic arboreal sculpture by Brazilian woodworker Henrique Oliveira is the focal point of the lobby. The remarkable tree sculpture extends from above with its roots stretching across the ceiling. Throughout the lobby, guests are invited to explore intriguing works by the likes of David Hockney, Shahram Karimi and Shoja Azari, and many others.

Park MGM’s rooms evoke the essence of a private apartment with a mix of thoughtful touches, antique-inspired pieces, “found” objects and original artwork by artists and photographers from around the world commissioned for each room by France’s be-pôles studio.

Moneyline brings a new twist to the Las Vegas sports book with intertwining spaces that playfully transport guests to their favorite neighborhood hangouts. Among the duckpin bowling lanes and billiards games, Moneyline features a menu conceptualized by Hogsalt Hospitality with griddled cheeseburgers as well as self-service, weigh-and-pay food selections for guests wanting to personalize their game day feast.

Park MGM’s remodeled casino floor reflects the resort’s outdoor inspiration. In keeping with Sydell Group’s vision for maintaining key elements of the former space, the casino’s design contains subtle nods to its Monte Carlo roots, including the refined sparkling chandeliers, intricate crown molding and stained-glass ceiling, all of which have been refurbished to their original beauty.

With its unrivaled central location, Park MGM offers guests direct access to what is quickly becoming the city’s premier entertainment district, featuring T-Mobile Arena, The Park and Park Theater.

Park MGM gladly offers dog-friendly rooms as well, complete with doggie Butler services. 

POOL EXPERIENCE: The pools at Park MGM offer a highly relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of the Vegas Strip. There are three pools—the South, East, and North Pools—as well as 12 cabanas, lounge areas, multiple bars, and a spa. Poolside food and beverages can be delivered directly to your seat as you take in the sun.

A nice feature of all three pools is the Baja shelf seating with submerged wet decks, which allows visitors to sunbathe while still managing to stay cool. The East Pool is converted into a 21-plus experience on weekends. Those seeking an elevated experience can reserve cushioned chaises or daybeds by the pool.

Three bars offer refreshing poolside cocktails, with Vista Bar serving as the main pool bar, featuring a tropics-inspired beverage program and dedicated seating with a view overlooking the pool. Light bites include dishes ranging from a Watermelon & Arugula Salad to Fajita Chicken Nachos.

Twelve private cabanas serve up the VIP treatment with deluxe amenities, including a 55-inch LED television; a misting system for when the heat becomes too much to bear; a personal safe; and ample seating with plush cushions, lounges and umbrellas. Cabana guests can enjoy a variety of beverages, including large-format bottle service and fresh, summery food. The pool area is wheelchair accessible.

DINING OUT AT THE PARK MGM: The Park MGM boasts a wide selection of restaurants for any Las Vegas palette.

The dining highlight of Park MGM is without a doubt Eataly Las Vegas (https://www.eataly.com/us_en/stores/las-vegas), a 40,000-square-foot culinary destination found at Park MGM’s main entrance. Eataly is a vibrant space that transports you to the streets of Italy, featuring unique food counters, bars, and cafes, all helmed by Executive Chef Nicole Brisson.

A fascinating aspect of the Eataly experience is referred to as Cucina del Mercato, which translates to “Kitchen of the Market.” Meet, fish, cheese, as well as other delicacies, can be purchased as is and cooked at home, or can be cooked in front of your eyes at each individual restaurant. Six different fresh counters are available for visitors.

La Macelleria (Butcher & Kitchen) allows guests to choose any cut of sustainably sourced meat from the case and watch the chefs prepare it right before their eyes. Alternatively, they may bring it home to coo themselves. A small selection of Italian wines and beers are available to pair with each cut.

La Salumeria: Cheesemonger & Kitchen, guests can enjoy a selection of meat and cheese boards curated by Eataly’s cheesemongers, or create their own from a variety of options. La Pizzeria: Roman Handcrafted Pizza alla Pala, allows guests to pick up pizza alla pala, a Roman street. This type of pizza is stretched out on a wooden paddle and then topped with seasonal ingredients. La Pescheria: Fishmonger & Kitchen, features a seasonal selection of fish. The venue also provides guests with the option to select daily catches and watch chefs cook the specialty item just steps away in an open kitchen. La Pescheria carries a daily selection of seasonal oysters, as well as pesce crudo – Italian ceviche – served with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.

Italian Street Food is also a staple found at Eataly in the form of a countertop, which includes Il Fritto, La Rosticceria, and a Mozzarella Bar. All three serve up typical street food specialties from Italy. Il Fritto offers lightly fried bites, including arancini and fried seafood; La Rosticceria, serves rotisserie roast chickens, seasonal vegetables, and paninis; Mozzarella Bar speaks for itself. La Pasta Fresca: Market & Kitchen is a fresh pasta counter. Here guests can watch the pasta-makers knead, roll, and cut the pasta daily. Each pasta type is inspired by the traditions of a different Italian region and is paired with traditional sauces made from fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Eataly Las Vegas also features a robust bar program, including Italian cocktails and spirits as well as a selection of Italian wines in the US. One of these bars, Gran Caffè Milano, also features a replica of a famous bull mosaic from Milan on the ground. Casino-goers: this symbol is known to bring good luck to those who place one foot on the mosaic and spin counter-clockwise three times. Give it a try!

Guests also can enjoy two classic restaurants from Eataly in Las Vegas: Manzo and La Pizza e La Pasta. We visited La Pizza e La Pasta personally and enjoyed a delicious burrata cheese plate, followed by a traditional Napoletana-style pizza.

Finally, take-out options are possible from Pizza Alla Pala By the Slice and La Pasticceria (pastry shop). Enjoy a traditional Italian coffee from Caffé Lavazza or sample dessert options from Il Gelato, I Cannoli, Nutella Bar, or Il Cioccolato Venchi.

Before leaving, take a look at the Eataly Las Vegas marketplace and gift shop, where in addition to giftable items, visitors can also take home pasta, grains, sauces, and other items imported from Italy.  This experience is completely wheelchair accessible.

Other Eataly locations can be seen in New York City (Downtown and Flatiron), Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston, which locations in Toronto and Dallas opening soon.  

BRUNCH AT PRIMROSE: On our first day in Las Vegas, we had the pleasure of enjoying a delicious brunch at Primrose, found in the lobby of the Park MGM, with the option of outdoor seating with a view of the hotel’s pool complex. (https://www.mgmresorts.com/en/restaurants/park-mgm/primrose.html).

The talented culinary team uses fresh seafood and vegetables to highlight menu items. With a distinctively residential feel, the restaurant includes a series of cushioned seats, each with different patterns.

While Primrose offers dinner selections as well, as were quite impressed with their brunch offerings, including classics like three eggs any style but also featuring an eggs benedict topped with blue crab. Those interested in a boozy brunch can add on an all-you-can-drink option of mimosas ($29) or rosé ($35).

Primrose was undoubtedly the perfect way to begin our day before relaxing at the pool next door.  Access to and seating at standard tables are suited for wheelchairs.

DINNER AT BEST FRIEND: Los Angeles culinary legend Roy Choi debuted his Koreatown-inspired restaurant, Best Friend (https://parkmgm.mgmresorts.com/en/restaurants/best-friend.html), at the Park MGM. Having now experienced it myself, I can say that Best Friend is more than simply a tasty meal—it is a dining experience!

Entering Best Friend, you would not think it to be anything special. In fact, it appears more like a convenience store with a small bar at the back than a true restaurant. However, behind the vinyl red curtains near the cash lies the true restaurant, hidden from the prying eyes of those in the nearby hotel-casino.

The drink menu includes offerings of wine and sake, as well as both classic cocktails and 80s-inspired drinks, including the Fazzy Navel, which we very much enjoyed at the start of our meal. We also tasted what our waiter described as some of their most popular dishes, including the tasty Kogi shirt-rib tacos, their mixed tempura appetizer, and the garlic jidori chicken BBQ, all of which were delicious. The menu, however, is diverse enough to satisfy any culinary preferences.   

SAKE ROK: One of the restaurants we really wanted to try on this trip was Sake Rok (https://sakeroklv.com),  located at The Park complex directly across the street from Park MGM. Sake Rok combines Japan’s vibrant pop culture and fashion scene with over-the-top theatrics. A host calls out to people as they eat, joking around, encouraging them to down their sake bombs, and occasionally belting out a tune.

The menu boasts a variety of playful Japanese favorites: we started off with some edamame before trying an appetizer order of beef satay, the volcano sushi roll, and an order of the miso-glazed sea bass. For dessert, we tasted a unique dessert entitled “honey toast”. Other newer menu items include pork belly, shrimp risotto, and the ronin roll, which is a fried sushi roll.

Sake Rok now offers sushi rolling classes led by Executive Chef Sung Park, with packages starting at $150 per person or $250 per couple on Saturdays at 12 PM and 2 PM. Those enrolled in the class will be able to take home what they make For more information, or to see the full menu, visit the website at www.sakeroklv.com or call 702-706-3022.

SADELLE’S AT THE BELLAGIO: Inspired by the beautiful villages of Europe, the AAA Five Diamond Bellagio Resort & Casino overlooks a large lake, in which the iconic fountain shows take place daily and nightly at regular intervals.     

The Bellagio recently welcomed Sadelle’s (https://bellagio.mgmresorts.com/en/restaurants/sadelles.html), SoHo’s popular vintage-style restaurant, to the resort’s list of dining experiences. The location overlooks the Bellagio Conservatory, which features an ever-changing set of artistic displays.

 “We are taking everything great about Sadelle’s in New York and taking it to the next level in Las Vegas,” said Major Food Group Managing Partner Jeff Zalaznick. “The incredible space, overlooking the Bellagio Conservatory, along with an elevated menu focused on quintessential classics, allow us to create a one-of-a-kind culinary experience from early morning through late night”.

Throughout the day and night, impressive presentations of hand-rolled bagels, lox towers, chopped salads, sandwiches and other favorites can be ordered.

Mainstays from the original New York City location – such as the Spicy Fried Chicken with acacia honey and coleslaw – join new signature supper offerings created by the culinary team, including the Grilled Branzino with Meyer lemon and sesame spinach and a New York-style Ribeye with smothered onions. We very much enjoyed the tomato cream soup appetizer, as well as the tuna tartare, followed by the generously sized and flavorful garlic chicken.

The Sadelle’s dining space also includes an elevated bar and lounge, with spacious cocktail tables to accommodate guests seeking appetizers, bar snacks, or drinks.

The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to midnight. To make reservations for 10 or more, call Sadelle’s directly at (702) 693-8401.

TAO: Having previously experienced the restaurant TAO in New York City, we were thrilled to get a reservation at their 40,000-square-foot restaurant, located at the Venetian-Resort-Hotel Casino (www.taolasvegas.com). TAO opened in New York City in 2000 and has retained its status as a hot spot, attracting celebrities and sports figures alike. TAO Las Vegas, which debuted in 2005, is a multi-faceted and multi-story “Asian City”, which houses a restaurant, banquet facilities, a lounge, a nightclub and a seasonal beach.

An extensive collection of Buddha statues watch over every corner of TAO, including a unique reclining Buddha, and TAO’s signature 20-foot Buddha that “floats” peacefully above an infinity pool complete with Japanese koi fish.

Corporate Executive Chef Ralph Scamardella has developed a menu for the 400-seat restaurant, which incorporates culinary components from China, Japan and Thailand. During our visit, we tasted several appetizer offerings, including the spicy tuna tartare on crispy rice, the king crab California sushi roll, and the lobster and shrimp spring roll paired with spicy pineapple sauce. Next, we had one of their signature dishes (and our personal favorite!), the Chilean sea bass satay with wok-roasted asparagus and a miso glaze. TAO also offers an extensive menu of delicious specialty cocktails, including the TAO-tini, Lychee Martini, as well as sake flights specifically designed to complement TAO’s menu. For dessert, try their elaborate and large fortune cookie, which includes decadent milk chocolate and white chocolate mousse.

For those craving a high-energy, DJ-driven atmosphere, visit the 12,000 square-foot TAO Nightclub, which includes three full-service bars, two main rooms playing a variety of music genres, and state-of-the-art audio and lighting systems. For guests seeking ultra-VIP treatment, the nightclub offers eight private skyboxes. The nightclub also boasts a 40-foot outside terrace with awe-inspiring views of the famed Las Vegas Strip.

When the weather heats up, TAO Beach offers the hottest daytime experience in Las Vegas. Guests can secure a reservation to lounge poolside in one of twelve luxury cabanas that feature amenities such as air-conditioning, HD plasma screen televisions with gaming consoles, WiFi, and customized mini-bars.

Celebrity sightings are a constant at TAO and surprise performances are not uncommon. Notable names spotted at TAO over the years have included Madonna, Janet Jackson, Jay Z, Beyonce, Usher, Rihanna, Drake, and more.

TAO is located on the Grand Canal Shoppes level of Venetian at 3377 Las Vegas Boulevard South. It is fully wheelchair accessible. In addition, TAO conveniently offers guests an exclusive valet located directly in front of The Venetian. For more information or reservations, please call (702) 388-8588.

EXPLORING THE POOLS: During our trip, we took the time to explore some of the other MGM properties in Las Vegas by spending some time at their pools.

The Aria Resort and Casino (https://aria.mgmresorts.com/en.html) opened in December 2009. This is a stunning AAA Five Diamond resort on The Strip featuring spectacular amenities, high-end service, premium meeting and convention space, striking architecture and sustainable design. Combined with its unparalleled offerings including the first-of-its-kind public Fine Art Collection, The Aria sets the bar for a new generation of resort experiences. ARIA is located within CityCenter

As for their pool complex, it features the only ellipse-shaped pools in Las Vegas. For added privacy and amenities, guests can reserve one of a fleet of cabanas where Wi-Fi, shaded dining tables, and food and drink service are available. Visitors can also order poolside beverages and meals via the Breeze Café and Pool Bar, which features a wide menu of dishes and drinks. It was truly a beautiful and relaxing way to spend the day.

The other MGM pool that we had the pleasure of experiencing during our trip was the Mandalay Beach (https://mandalaybay.mgmresorts.com/en/amenities/beach.html), and we were truly blown away by what this property had to offer. The Mandalay Beach features an 11-acre tropical water environment, featuring more than 2,700 tons of sand, a signature 1.6-million-gallon wave pool, a lazy river, four swimming pools, a jogging track, as well as private gazeboes, cabanas and beach bungalows. The open-air Beach Bar & Grill serves up American cuisine, such as sandwiches, wraps, adult beverages, and other beach favorites. Over the summer, you can also take in a concert series held on its outdoor stages, which overlooks the wave pool. Past acts have included One Republic, REO Speedwagon, The Beach Boys, Sugarland, and more.

Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is set on 120 lush acres featuring the Beach, The Mandalay Bay Events Center, award-winning restaurants, exhilarating entertainment, unique shopping, Shark Reef Aquarium and the recently expanded 2-million-square-foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The resort offers three distinct hotel experiences: Mandalay Bay with 3,211 luxurious rooms and suites reflecting a modern tropical ambiance; Four Seasons Hotel, a AAA Five Diamond hotel offering 424 rooms and suites; and the luxury all-suite Delano Las Vegas.  

The Cher Show preps for tour and a recommendation to experience Feinstein’s/54 Below

By Alexandra Cohen

There are many reasons to travel to New York City, but one most unique to the city’s soul is the extensive list of amazing Broadway musicals found at the heart of Times Square. 

THE CHER SHOW:  Legendary recording artist Cher, born Cherilyn Sarkisian, launched her “Farewell Tour” in 2002 but has continued to perform to this very day.

Broadway’s The Cher Show, wrapping up its run on August 18, 2019  chronicles the evolution of Cher’s career from young elementary school outcast, to half of a comedy duo, to the diva she is known to be today. We saw it at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 West 52nd Street). It will be revived on tour starting in Rochester, NY on October 2020.

Cher’s story is one so complex and empowering that one woman alone cannot tell it—Cher is therefore portrayed by not one but three women who play her at different stages of her life. As the eldest, Star Cher, Stephanie J. Block (Falsettos, The Mystery of Edwin Drood), is an absolute standout. Block, a Broadway veteran, commands the stage with gravitas. It is easy to see why she finally won her first Tony Award for this role earlier this summer. Playing the youngest, Babe Cher, is Micaela Diamond, making an incredible Broadway debut at age 19. Diamond sings and dances her way through the score of Cher classics with ease, making it clear that she will soon become a staple on the Broadway stage. Rounding out the trio is Teal Wicks (Wicked, Finding Neverland), who holds her own as Lady Cher, who many of you grew to love as half of Sonny and Cher.

The trio of Chers do not simply alternate performances—they co-exist. They converse with one another, encouraging each other through their most difficult of moments. The lead actresses, in an interview with Jimmy Fallon, aptly described it as “Cherapy”.

The show also features fantastic performances by Jarrod Spector (Beautiful, Jersey Boys) as Sonny Bono,  Michael Berresse (Kiss Me, Kate; A Chorus Line) as Bob Mackie, Matthew Hydzik (West Side Story, Side Show) as Gregg Allman, and Emily Skinner (Prince of Broadway, Side Show) as  Cher’s mother. The show begins with one of Cher’s most well-known hits, “If I could turn back time,” and that is exactly what comes next: a flashback to her climb to the top. As you watch Cher’s life unfold before your eyes, you will find yourself understanding her in ways that you never have before.

One of the best features of The Cher Show is the costume design by Bob Mackie himself, who won his first Tony Award for this show. One song features a parade of men and women alike, showcasing some of Cher’s most famous red carpet ensembles. Suffice it to say that glitter is involved.

Although The Cher Show will soon close (catch it while you can!), it will carry on with the tour.    

Special needs: Low vision and hard of hearing seats are located to the right of the central row C and to the left of the right row B (Orchestra). Aisle transfer seats with movable arm rests for limited mobility guests are available in the right and left aisles of rows G, J, P, and S of the Orchestra floor, and F and H of the Mezzanine, with two additional seats available in the aisle of the center row T at the rear of the Mezzanine. Wheelchair accessible seating and companion seats are located in the entirety of the left of row V (Orchestra), and additional seats at the left of center and right row U. For any special access seating or other requirements, contact the venue prior to your visit to ensure your individual needs are met.

Tickets for The Cher Show are currently available at TheCherShowBroadway.com or Ticketmaster.com (877-250-2929). 
HADESTOWN: While in town, we also were fortunate enough to get tickets for Hadestown, Broadway’s newest hit musical which took home eight Tony Awards in June. Hadestown tells the epic ancient Greek myths of both Orpheus/Eurydice, the doomed young lovers, and Hades/Persephone, king and queen of the underworld. Narrated by the Greek God Hermes and featuring a New Orleans-like flavor, this musical is sure to leave you absolutely transfixed. “Life is a team sport, and so is walking out of hell” said Anais Mitchell, the show’s songwriter, when she won Best Score at this past year’s Tony Awards for her work on Hadestown. Info: https://www.hadestown.com

FEINSTEINS/54 BELOW: Die-hard Broadway fans have undoubtedly already heard of Feinstein’s/54 Below, Broadway’s premiere Supper Club (https://54below.com). At the peak of Times Square, this fantastic establishment offers performances by the best talent that Broadway has to offer, in a setting quite reminiscent of a speakeasy, where you can enjoy performances in a more relaxed environment, alongside food and drink offerings.

In June of 2012, the club opened under the name 54 Below. The space underwent a complete reinvention by multiple Tony Award-winning producers Tom Viertel, Marc Routh, Richard Frankel and Steve Baruch (Hairspray, The Producers), who brought together Broadway’s and New York’s most creative artists and designers as well as top food and hospitality professionals. On September 17, 2015, through a creative partnership with Michael Feinstein, 54 Below was renamed Feinstein’s/54 Below.

Feinstein’s/54 Below features up to three shows nightly as well as a late night lounge. Accommodating 134 people in the main dining room, with all tables no more than 24 feet from the stage, the facilities include the capability to broadcast and record audio and video. A quick YouTube search will allow you to witness some of their incredible past productions.

When I went to Feinstein’s/54 Below for the first time, I took in a performance entitled “All Together Now: Celebrating Broadway’s Best Group Numbers”. Music came from a variety of musicals, both old and new, including Company, Bye Bye Birdie, Heathers, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Performers included those known for their work in recent and current productions, including School of Rock, Kinky Boots, Aladdin, Pretty Woman, Frozen, Beetlejuice, Be More Chill, The Phantom of the  Opera, The Book of Mormon, Mean Girls and more.

Feinstein’s/54 Below is located at 254 W 54th St. For tickets and info call (646) 476-3551

Dining out in Manhattan: Il Mulino, Del Frisco’s, Ocean Prime, Patsy’s & Junior’s

Headed to New York City (https://www.nycgo.com) and the Manhattan area? Here are our latest tips on where to dine.

IL MULINO:   For our family vacations in Sunny Isles, Florida in years past one of our favorite dining establishments was Il Mulino New York at the Aqualina Resort. “I wonder what the New York City experience is like?” I always asked myself.  Well on this trip we finally found out and it did not disappoint us. Our destination was Il Mulino Prime in Gramercy  (https://www.ilmulino.com/prime/gramercy),  located at  43 E 20th Street.

This modern steakhouse and Italian restaurant features inspired cuisine and choice cuts by Executive Chef Michele Mazza. Located in the heart of Gramercy-Flatiron, Il Mulino Prime embraces the signature style and unparalleled service attributed to the success of Il Mulino New York. Savor prime dry-aged meats and inspired Italian cuisine at a modern Italian steakhouse. Sun-dappled by day and sophisticated by night, Il Mulino Prime is a versatile venue that is easily customized for any crowd or occasion.  The dining room can accommodate 50 guests.

We were greeted by the manager on duty Roland. He immediately introduced us to our very charismatic server named Stefano, who knows a great deal about Canada.

A nice plate of crackers, cheese, focaccia and cold cuts was brought to the table to get things started. Roland handed us the wine list and we decided to share a bottle of pino grigio. As appetizers, we had two orders of delicious tuna tartare with avocado and chips, some jumbo shrimp and an order of burrata and tomato and crab cakes with zesty garlic sauce. For the main course, the ladies remembered how much they enjoyed the risotto langostino from the Florida location and for them this was the only option. They were pleased with their choice. As for me, it was the veal chop Milanese, topped with a light arugula salad that got my attention. Stefano said it was a house favorite. It was thin and crispy the way I like it and cut like butter. I savored every morsel.

Next time we will consider some of the other much-talked-about dishes:  grilled octopus, calamari, prime filet mignon and Bucatini Amatriciana.

For dessert. Roland asked if he could surprise us and he did with a sensational plate that included cheesecake, chocolate cake and tiramisu. For a final nightcap, we each had a glass of limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur that had a very sweet taste to it.

Founded in Greenwich Village in 1981, Il Mulino New York originated as an intimate and esteemed eatery serving local foodies in the know. Today, it has grown to 17 locales which attract “A” list celebrities and dignitaries.

Il Mulino New York focuses on the authentic cuisine of Abruzzo and serves expertly crafted dishes with unparalleled service. For more than 38 years, its flagship Greenwich Village restaurant remains top-rated in New York’s dining scene. The premier hospitality group portfolio also has outposts via its different brands Downtown, Uptown, Tribeca, the Hamptons and Long Island in New York as well as Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Sunny Isles Beach, Atlantic City, Boca Raton, Nashville and Orlando.  

There is also an Il Mulino New York gourmet product line, which offers items such as sauces, pasta, infused olive oils, and more (ilmulino.com/shopnow ).   In Canada, they are available at the four Pusateri’s Fine Foods (www.pusateris.com) stores in Toronto.

Jerry Katzoff is the chairman of Il Mulino; his wife Lee serves as vice president and Brian Galligan is the president. They describe Il Mulino Prime as an Italian steakhouse that has been so popular that they are now opening one in Chicago and looking to expand that brand, which features some Il Mulino New York classics but with a bigger slant on steaks.

Reservations are recommended by calling 212 777 5314.

DEL FRISCO’S DOUBLE EAGLE STEAKHOUSE: One of the restaurants very high on our list for this trip was Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse (www.delfriscos.com). We had previously dined at this energetic, luxurious three-story restaurant, located at 1221 Avenue of the Americas, three years ago and we were anxious to return.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, with 16 locations across the United States, is an ultra-premium steakhouse providing a distinguished dining experience with personalized service in a breathtaking atmosphere, offering bold, delicious fare complimented by an expansive, award-winning wine list. Boasting a vast selection of USDA Prime wet and dry-aged steaks such as the 45 Day Dry-Aged Double Bone-In Prime Ribeye “Double Eagle Steak,” modern takes on fresh seafood, signature side dishes and mouth-watering desserts, the one-of-a-kind menu distinguishes Del Frisco’s as an American culinary institution. Each restaurant features an impressive wine list curated in-house by teams of the industry’s finest sommeliers and are perennial winners of the Wine Spectator “Best of Award of Excellence.”

The New York location can accommodate more than 500 people at a time. The 18,000-square-foot restaurant boasts floor-to-ceiling windows with breathtaking views of Sixth Avenue, truly bringing midtown Manhattan to life for every diner as Radio City Music Hall’s lights shine brightly in the distance. Our table faced the Fox News building. As a new junkie, it was unique to see the latest headlines flash across the screen on the facility’s façade. The restaurant is often packed with the city’s broadcast, business and sports elite and is an ideal locale for visitors looking for a top-notch dining experience before or after a Broadway show.

Our server Stephanie was excellent, providing us with superb guidance for both the food and drink menus. Two members of our party started off with their signature VIP cocktail, Svedka Clementine Vodka infused with fresh Hawaiian pineapple.   I treated myself to a glass of prosecco.

For the appetizers, we shared the shellfish plateau: Chilled Alaskan King Crab Legs, Iced Jumbo Shrimp and Chilled Crab Claws. We added six delicious oysters to the order. This was a meal to itself. Next came a Caprese salad, a simple Italian salad made of sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and green basil, seasoned with salt and olive oil. It closely resembles the colours of the Italian flag: red, white and green. This was easily split in three.

Since Del Frisco’s is known for its fantastic steaks, that is what we wanted to sample. Stephanie recommended the bone in the filet and the bone in the prime rib eye. As sides, she suggested we try the Cauliflower and Brie au gratin and the sautéed wild mushrooms and pearl onions. She was right on the mark.  For our meal, the sommelier brought us a bottle of Chablis.

We left just enough room to enjoy their fabulous lemon cake split in three for dessert.

Del Frisco’s Steakhouse also recently unveiled new menu updates to appeal to guests’ modernized palates and now offers a refreshed take on the restaurant’s classic steakhouse fare. In addition to staples such as rare cuts of wet-aged steaks and fresh seafood, the menu now includes a variety of elevated classics including Wagyu Beef French Dip, Lobster Roll and Sautéed Chicken Picatta, along with eclectic appetizers and sides like Seared Rare Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Crab Fried Rice and Thick Cut Bacon Au Poivre. It has a wine list of over 1,200 selections.

Del Frisco’s offers specials tailored to holidays like Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Thanksgiving, as well as prix fixe menus to make things a little simpler for everyone. If you’re planning a bigger gathering for holiday celebrations, their private rooms can accommodate anything from a couple of tables to 75 or 100 people, with amenities like a separate bar, dedicated service, flat-screen TVs and other niceties. All it takes is a phone call to one of their coordinators, and they’ll be happy to set you up with whatever your holiday plans might entail.

Recently Del Frisco’s refreshed its bar offerings nationwide. Inspired by creative, culinary twists on their classic menu offerings and guest favorites, the new menu is now available at all U.S. locations and features carefully-curated and hand-crafted menu offerings, five of which are available at all restaurants and three of which are distinctly unique to each location. The localized dishes were masterfully created by each restaurant’s executive chef, bringing flavors of their communities to life with flair and sophistication.

The new bar menu features the following dishes, available at all locations: cheesesteak eggrolls with sweet chili and honey mustard sauces; dry-aged burger with white BBQ sauce, wild mushroom butter, arugula, Havarti, toasted brioche bun and hand-cut fries; salmon crudo comprised of ora king salmon with lime and miso; Alaskan king crab cocktail, served with stone mustard sauce; and corndog battered lobster tails with grilled corn remoulade and creole honey mustard

Examples of localized dishes include: shaved black truffle wagyu hot bog served with foie gras, apple balsamic chutney and pickled daikon slaw (New York City); tempura shrimp sushi cones, made with sticky rice, avocado, pea shoots and ponzu (Atlanta); portabella lump crab stack with avocado, pickled shallots and sweet soy aioli (Las Vegas); lamb lollipops accompanied by fennel arugula slaw and cucumber dill yogurt sauce (Orlando); and oyster po’ boy featuring Cajun mayo, Fresno peppers and hand-cut fries (Charlotte).

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse presents chef-driven cuisine that’s bold and delicious as well as an extensive award-winning wine list. Each restaurant, while consistently offering a personalized and memorable experience, features its own distinctive setting, décor and character.

You can call 212-575-5129 for reservations.

OCEAN PRIME: If you are looking for one of the best seafood and steak restaurants in New York, Ocean Prime at 123 West 52nd Street should be at the top of the list. Located in the heart of Manhattan, Ocean Prime (https://www.ocean-prime.com) sits amongst world-class museums, theatres and corporate headquarters. Centrally located, it offers an impressive menu of seafood and prime cuts of steak, signature cocktails, a Wine Spectator-honored wine list and truly genuine hospitality.

Spanning 7,400 square feet and a 2,500 square-foot mezzanine, Ocean Prime seats more than 275 guests and features private dining rooms to accommodate more intimate gatherings and celebrations. An expansive seasonal terrace seats 50 guests to enjoy al fresco dining. The bar and lounge area is a welcoming, relaxing space for guests to enjoy expertly created cocktails handcrafted by talented bar chefs, while a separate sushi bar showcases the freshest, most delicate and impeccably sourced fish, providing a total seafood experience.

This place only opened in 2015 and quickly gained a reputation for excellence.

A modern American restaurant and lounge, Ocean Prime falls under the umbrella of renowned restaurateur Cameron Mitchell. There are currently 16 locations from coast to coast, with the original, Mitchell’s Ocean Club, in their home base of Columbus, Ohio.

The restaurant specializes in incredible seafood and prime steaks. Their menu features classic dishes crafted with a modern sensibility and an appreciation for ingredients. With lighter fare, like their shellfish cobb salad and sushi, as well as more indulgent items like the smoking shellfish tower, juicy steaks and decadent desserts, there’s something for every occasion. 

This place’s passion is to offer exceptional service and truly genuine hospitality to each and every guest. 

Our server was Giscard and he guided us beautifully through the superb menu selections. We each started off with some glasses of wine and then indulged in a spectacular selection of Dutch Harbor King crab legs and six delicious oysters. In addition, we shared some sushi in the form of a lobster roll – poached lobster tail, kiwi, pickled serrano, masago and spicy mango. It had been a while since I enjoyed a bowl of lobster bisque and this piping-hot option truly hit the spot. The two ladies chose wisely with the sea scallops for their main course, accompanied by parmesan risotto, English peas and citrus vinaigrette. I was in a steak kind of mood and when Giscard described the bone in filet, dry-aged for 28 days, it sounded perfect. This was one fantastic cut of steak as others around the table concurred when sampling some pieces. I added some lobster mashed potatoes on the side, something I do not get to sample on each menu.  One of the managers, Evan Walcher, came by and tempted our palate with one of their signature desserts – the warm butter cake with fresh berries, vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce.  It was the perfect way to end a fabulous dinner.

A special pre-show theatre menu is available Tuesday through Saturday from 4 pm to 6 pm and all night Sunday. There are also gluten-free friendly menus for lunch and dinner.

For reservations call (212) 956-1404.

PATSY’S:  A few years ago I made my first visit to   Patsy`s Italian Restaurant (http://www.patsys.com) and boy was I impressed. On the occasion of their recent 75th anniversary, I was invited back to the iconic 235 West 56th Street location and I jumped at the opportunity.

Only a few short blocks from Times Square, this legendary Midtown Manhattan spot had been known for years as Frank Sinatra’s restaurant of choice and has become a favorite with countless stars including Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Ben Stiller, George and Amal Clooney, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few.

Founded in 1944 by Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo, Patsy’s has been in its current and only theater district location (in the building next to the original site) since 1954. Over the course of 75 years, Patsy’s Italian Restaurant has had only three chefs; the late Patsy himself, his son Joe Scognamillo, who has been at the establishment since the tender age of seven, and Joe’s son Sal Scognamillo, who has been manning the kitchen for the past 32 years.

Sal makes it a point to meet with all of the customers, so many of whom are regulars. “The fact that the owner, the family is still here, it means a lot to a lot of people,” he said. “That’s how Patsy always wanted it, and that’s how it’s always been. We treat people as if they were in our homes. Grandma and Grandpa said, ‘This is the food we cook at home, [just] a bigger kitchen, a bigger dining room. Just take care of the people.’”

The 75th anniversary has attracted a slew of celebrity guests. The cast of Jersey Shore was there just a few days before me.

Sal came to my table twice during the evening. I remembered his warmth vividly from my previous visit. He runs such a superb establishment. Sal is a proud owner. While his 87-year-old dad still comes in regularly, he is preparing for the next generation. His eldest son Joseph is working at the restaurant and showed me to my table. Sal and his wife, who gave up her law practice to join the team at Patsy’s, live on Long Island. Sal comes in almost every day, working a 10 am to 11 pm shift, and loves every minute of it. He spends the early hours in the kitchen and during the evening works the two floors and mixes with the customers. The restaurant can seat 180 people and with its lunch and pre-theatre specials, is busy all of the time.

Patsy’s attracts a varied clientele, including an extremely loyal following of regular patrons, Italian food aficionados, tourists, and celebrities. They enjoy the restaurant’s remarkable signature dishes, including succulent veal chops Siciliano, spicy lobster Fra Diavolo, tender chicken contadina, and savory calamari stuffed with seafood. Spectacular seafood such as striped bass marechiare, lobster oreganata, and shrimp scampi are always requested, as are meat favorites like sirloin steak pizzaiola with peppers and mushrooms, stuffed veal chop marsala, and chicken livers cacciatora.

I was dining alone this evening, as other members of the family enjoyed a show nearby. My server Adriano gave me time to review the appetizing menu. I started off with a glass of prosecco and an order of fried calamari, with some delicious marinara sauce on the side. I followed that up with a magnificent chopped salad. It was as good as I remembered from the last time. For the main course, there were so many options. I looked at the signature dishes and elected to go with the veal rollatine marsala, stuffed with parmigiana, anoreggiano and prosciutto. It was sautéed with onions, mushrooms, prosciutto and marsala. Adriano brought me some fried zucchini sticks on the side, shaped just like French fries. I was pretty full after this absolute treat of a meal so with time on my hands I took a 30-minute break until Vinny passed by with the dessert cart. The chocolate mousse cake was screaming my name out and I absolutely could not resist the temptation.  I finished every last decadent morsel, with some decaf to drink. Sal came by again to make sure I enjoyed my meal.

I was glad that I had a nine-block walk to meet up with my family, for I needed some exercise after this very special dining experience.

For more information call (212) 247-3491 or log on to www.patsys.com where you can view the entire menu. Sal wanted me to share with readers the fact this is “the only” Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in the world that his family runs. The temptation to the franchise might be there, but why mix it with perfection?

JUNIOR’S RESTAURANT: Hail a taxicab anywhere in New York City and tell the driver, “Take me to the best cheesecake in New York.” Odds are you will end up at one of the Junior’s Restaurant (www.juniorscheesecake.com) locations. There are two in New York City and one in Brooklyn, as well as another at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and a bakery outlet in New Jersey.

In June 2017 Junior’s opened its second Times Square location at 1626 Broadway and 49th Street just a few blocks away from its sister restaurant at 1515 Broadway. Known for its no-frills, diner-style comfort food, I got a much sought-after table at the newest Junior’s. There was a one-hour wait that evening.

Founded by Harry Rosen in 1950, Junior’s landmark restaurant is known as the home of New York’s best cheesecake. For decades, Brooklynites (and other New Yorkers) have come to eat, laugh, and kibitz (chat) over cheesecake. In the 1950s, an entire generation came of age at Juniors. Their cheesecake was as important as the Brooklyn Dodgers…the Fox Theatre. Coney Island…Brighton Beach. Today loyal customers still come –from all over and all walks of life: famous mayors, Presidents, Hall of Fame athletes, authors, singers, movie stars and more.  

With a full menu ranging from steaks to seafood and sandwiches to salads and cheesecake, there was a lot to choose from. I asked my server Gregory to guide me and he started me off with their trademark beverage:  the chocolate egg cream, which consists of milk, carbonated water, and flavored syrup. You can even follow the recipe on the glass they pour it into. Gregory then brought me a piping hot bowl of matzoh ball soup. Given the fact this was my first time there he wanted me to try an old favorite: the single potato pancake with apple sauce. This is one big latka, crispy and delicious. I knew I was going to have a sandwich and once again I turned to Gregory. There are four Reuben sandwiches and he insisted that the combo (corned beef and pastrami and grilled sauerkraut and swiss cheese on rye) was actually the best of its kind in all of Manhattan.  For the finale, I could not leave without dessert and I opted for the devil’s food cheesecake. It was half cheesecake and half of the most decadent chocolate I have ever tasted. This was a piece meant for at least two people so I forced myself to stop at a certain point. At the table next to me, a dad ordered a huge piece of cheesecake for his seven-year-old daughter. He took out a $50 bill and said that it was hers if she finished it. She tried and about halfway through grabbed the money and wisely did not consume the entire piece.

Junior’s story began long before Opening Day in 1950. In 1929, Harry Rosen opened a restaurant on the corner of Flatbush Ave Ext and DeKalb, a luncheonette called the Enduro. Over the years, he expands the restaurant to several storefronts occupying the entire corner. After weathering several changes in the economy, including Prohibition and the Great Depression, Harry expanded the Enduro to a full-service restaurant with a night-club atmosphere including a raised bandstand with live entertainment.

After World War II, the returning servicemen did not have time or interest in visiting nightclubs and fancy restaurants. Brooklynites were busy rebuilding–their lives, their families, the city and the country after the war.  The Enduro closed its doors in 1949.

Harry Rosen was determined to recreate a restaurant on that famous corner.  It was to be a new family-style place.  Saddled by debt with the failure of the Enduro, he scraped together every dime he had and built Junior’s Restaurant, named in honor of his two sons, Walter and Marvin.

When Junior’s opened on Election Day in 1950, it was a modern restaurant in every way–with new neon marquee sign similar to the one on the Paramount Theater across the street, wood countertops and naugahyde booths.  Junior’s had become a landmark from the start with bright orange awnings adorning the windows and the red, white and blue bunting that draped the restaurant on that famous Tuesday in November 1950.

Junior’s in the 1960s was a place where all colors of people in all styles of dress could gather without tension. Good food and good service became the great equalizer. Harry was a keen competitor and when it came to cheesecake he was determined to have the Best in Brooklyn. Baker Peterson and Harry perfected a cheesecake recipe by the 1960s that had become a very popular dessert. They conducted laboratory-like experiments until they hit upon the magic formula. The same recipe and techniques they still use today.

The heavenly pool at Caesars Palace Pool in Vegas and dining at Hell’s Kitchen and Il Mulino

By Alexandra Cohen

What would a visit to Las Vegas be like without spending some time at the famous Caesars Palace (https://www.caesars.com)? As famous as Las Vegas itself, this spot is perhaps the best-known casino resort in the world.

Caesars Palace spans 85-acres at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, just 10-minutes from the McCarran International Airport. Walking through the building allows you to experience some of the beautiful architectural designs, inspired by ancient Rome. On this trip, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a day at their pool, as well as a meal at Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen.

Spanning five acres and offering access to seven distinct swimming pools, the Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars offers guests a variety of engaging daytime experiences in a truly beautiful setting. At the heart of Caesar’s Palace, the pool complex is situated on three levels and is filled with Roman statues and fountains. Interested in a game of swim-up blackjack? Looking for a relaxing poolside massage? There truly is a pool for everyone.

During our visit, we spent time on incredibly comfortable daybeds at the Temple Pool. With umbrellas available for those who wish to stay in the shade, and plenty of sun for those who do not, the pool truly is a breath of fresh air. Daybed seats are located just steps from the pool, allowing for quick and frequent refuge from the heat of Vegas in the summer. The quality of poolside service at Caesar’s is incomparable—we enjoyed lunch by the pool, including cocktails, grilled cheese sandwiches, and fruit bowls.

Other pools available include Cove Beach, which has a Mediterranean vibe and high-energy music, the Neptune Pool, which includes DJs and large floaties, and The Apollo Pool, offering a more casual atmosphere and poolside games. Take your family to the Jupiter Pool, which has life-sized games, themed floaties, and weekend activities for children. Finally, visit the Fortuna Pool for the swim-up blackjack tables or the Bacchus Pool for a more VIP experience.

HELL’S KITCHEN: The world’s first Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant (www.GRHellsKitchenLV.com) is an experience like no other. Drawing inspiration from the global hit reality television show starring world-renowned Chef Gordon Ramsay, guests will feel like they really are on the studio set.

Located in front of Caesars Palace, the restaurant seats more than 300 guests. The Red and Blue kitchens, similar to the two teams featured on the TV show, serve up modern lunch and dinner menus, including Hell’s Kitchen signature dishes made with the highest quality ingredients.

Gordon Ramsay, known not only for his refined cuisine, but also his TV personality on several hit programs including “Hell’s Kitchen,” “MasterChef” and “Kitchen Nightmares,” has generated worldwide attention and entertained viewers on six continents. By reputation alone, I was certain that this would be an exceptional culinary experience, and I was certainly not mistaken.

Inspiration from the television show is seen throughout the restaurant—the giant signature fiery pitchfork located in front of the restaurant, the life-sized video of Chef Ramsay greeting guests upon arrival, and of course, the menu items themselves. The restaurant opened in January 2018.

Several of the most successful signature menu items and recipes featured on the television show can be experienced during lunch and dinner, including: Pan Seared Scallops, Lobster Risotto, Beef Wellington, Truffle Arancini, Brick Pressed Chicken and Crispy Skin Salmon. Special menu items direct from the show will be added as new episodes air. We also ordered the absolutely delicious rack of lamb and filet mignon. Not to be missed for dessert is the famous sticky toffee pudding—a true highlight.

A cocktail also worth mentioning is the gin-based “Notes from Gordon”, which comes with a scroll printed with a surprise note from Gordon Ramsay himself.

Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen marks Ramsay’s fifth Las Vegas restaurant and extends his successful partnership with Caesars Entertainment to seven eateries. Hell’s Kitchen airs in 41 countries around the globe.

IL MULINO: Our family’s first experience with Il Mulino New York was at their Florida location, found in the Aqualina Resort. We were therefore very much looking forward to visiting this dining establishment again at The Forum Shops at Caesars  (https://www.ilmulino.com/las-vegas)

The best word to describe the dining experience that accompanies every meal at Il Mulino New York is “elegance.” Everything from the ambiance and décor to the quality of the service provided fits within that one word.

Prior to receiving your menu, a cheese steward delivers some delicious Grana Padano to the table. Following this, you are also brought complimentary hors d’oeuvres and several offerings of Italian bread. While there is great pleasure in taking your time in such a restaurant, they also now offer Pre- and Post- Theatre menus, starting at $39 from 5 pm to 6:30 pm and 9:30 pm until closing on Sunday through Friday.

After enjoying some cheese, focaccia, and Italian bread, we began our meal with two delicious appetizers: a burrata and tomato salad, as well as breaded eggplant, stuffed with shrimp and lobster and topped off with cheese and a creamy pink vodka sauce. For our main course, we enjoyed the rack of lamb, as well as our personal favorite: Langostinos served on a bed of mushroom risotto. For dessert, we enjoyed their tiramisu, perhaps the best that we have ever had. The meal is completed with a small glass of limoncello.   

Founded in Greenwich Village in 1981, Il Mulino New York originated as an intimate and esteemed eatery. Today, it has grown to 17 locales, with outposts in New York (Downtown, Uptown, Tribeca, the Hamptons, and Long Island), Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Sunny Isles Beach, Atlantic City, and Boca Raton. They also offer Il Mulino Prime, a modern Italian steakhouse in the Soho and Gramercy neighborhoods in New York City. Trattoria Il Mulino offers casual, chic dining in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, found in Atlantic City, Nashville and Orlando.

Log on to www.caesarspalace.com

Broadway hit Be More Chill to close on August 11

By Alexandra Cohen

The Broadway hit Be More Chill has been the “little show that could’” since its premiere almost four years ago at New Jersey’s Two River Theater. It ran in 2015 for only one month and its only legacy was a cast album. This was ultimately the spark that ignited a flame, turning the show from a regional theatre production into a viral sensation.

The manner in which Be More Chill gained its popularity, years after its brief regional production, is utterly unprecedented. Prior to even opening on Broadway, the original cast album had been streamed over 250 million times, with the show being the second-most talked about musical on Tumblr, following only Hamilton.

Be More Chill, based on a 2004 novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini, tells the story of high school student Jeremy Heere, a self-proclaimed “loser” whose life is transformed when he spends his bar mitzvah money to buy a Squip, a pill that implants in his brain and teaches him how to be cool. Being popular, Jeremy learns, however, comes at a cost, which involves leaving behind his best friend and sacrificing his own moral code.

The show’s fan-favorite moment comes in the form of the song “Michael in the Bathroom,” performed with gusto by actor George Salazar, who fulfills the role of Jeremy’s aforementioned best friend. Michael in the Bathroom, the ultimate Broadway underdog song, should be relatable to anybody who has ever felt even a moment of social anxiety or abandonment in their lives—the song is so beloved that when I attended, only seconds after the intro music began to play, the audience began to scream with excitement. This was before the singing had even begun. As Salazar signed autographs following the show, nearly one 100 theatergoers could be heard belting out the entire song from beginning to end, much to his amazement.

Lead actor Will Roland, previously seen in the Broadway smash hit Dear Evan Hansen, delivered a fantastic performance, alongside the rest of the 10-person cast, who all provide highly energetic and nuanced performances of the traditional high school trope characters.

When Be More Chill opened on Broadway, The Wall Street Journal called it “one of the strongest new musicals of the past decade.” True to this review, Be More Chill is chock-full of both humor and heartfelt moments, featuring other earworm songs penned by Tony-nominated composer Joe Iconis, including “I Love Play Rehearsal”, “Two-Player Game”, and “More Than Survive.” The Original Broadway Cast Recording is available digitally on all streaming platforms.

Be More Chill closes its Broadway run at the Lyceum Theater on August 11, 2019, so hurry up and catch it while you still can!

For more information about the show log on to www.BeMoreChillMusical.com.

A new Homewood Suites by Hilton opens in Poughkeepsie, NY

When traveling to New York City, our family has become fond in recent years of stopping over in the Town of Poughkeepsie for the night in order to make the most of our first day in the Big Apple. It is just over 90 minutes from Manhattan.

Poughkeepsie, nestled in the majestic Hudson Valley, is home to 45,000 residents. The town is rich with culture and steeped in history and is the home of such prestigious institutions as Vassar and Marist Colleges as well as Dutchess Community College. Along with these institutes of higher learning, they also have Locust Grove, the former home of Samuel F.B. Morse (the founder of Morse Code).  The 180-acre estate of Samuel F. B. Morse includes an Italianate villa designed by Alexander Jackson Davis containing extensive collections of American and European decorative and fine arts. Three miles of carriage roads wind through landscaped grounds, romantic gardens and a shady grove.

The 22 parks in the area offer recreational activities such as hiking and walking trails in  Peach Hill Park. Fine dining is abundant, while art exhibits, festivals, fairs and farmer markets are bountiful.

Poughkeepsie is situated in Dutchess County (https://www.dutchesstourism.com).

Covering 800 square miles, there’s an abundance of natural scenic beauty, outdoor recreation, historic landmarks, restaurants, festivals and more. Activities range from strolls across the Walkway Over the Hudson, treks through the Appalachian Trail, and sips along the Dutchess Wine Trail. Tours of the FDR National Historic Site spins on the Dutchess County Fair Ferris Wheel, and tastes of the Culinary Institute of America restaurants are also highly popular as are cruises down the Hudson River, bushels of pick-your-own apples, and contemporary art from modern masters.

WHERE TO STAY:  There is a fantastic new hotel in Poughkeepsie that opened in May 2019, Homewood Suites by Hilton (Hwpoughkeepsie.homewoodsuitesbyhilton.com)  made that decision a lot easier. This is a beautiful property. The suite we had was very spacious and comfortable.

Conveniently located off Route 9 and I-84 at 900 Thomas Watson Drive, the hotel is within walking distance of IBM and is minutes away from the Culinary Institute of America, Vassar, Bard and Marist Colleges. The hotel also places guests close to Poughkeepsie Galleria Mall, rich historical sites and a variety of great restaurants, breweries and wineries.

The property is owned and managed by Briad Lodging Group, LLC, the hotel division of Livingston, New Jersey-based The Briad Group.

 “Situated in the heart of the Hudson River Valley, Homewood Suites by Hilton Poughkeepsie is the perfect location for our newest property,” said Hans Kleinganz, general manager. “Our spacious suites offer all of the comforts of home, and we look forward to welcoming guests and ensuring they enjoy their stay with us.”

This hotel offers a combination of spacious studio and one-bedroom suites, featuring fully-equipped kitchens and separate living and sleeping areas. Guests are also provided all the essentials needed for a smart, reliable and convenient stay including complimentary hot breakfast seven days a week, evening social with complimentary beer and wine* served Monday to Thursday, complimentary shuttle service within a five-mile radius and complimentary advanced Wi-Fi.

The hotel makes it easy for travelers to unwind with an outdoor patio area, featuring multiple fire pits, an outdoor kitchen under a large pergola and a putting green. The property boasts a 750-square-foot fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment, including a Peloton bike, an indoor saline swimming pool and an outdoor sports court. The property also offers more than 1,000 square feet of flexible space that is ideal for meetings and social events.

Homewood Suites by Hilton Poughkeepsie is part of Hilton Honors, the award-winning guest-loyalty program for Hilton’s 14 distinct hotel brands. Hilton Honors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels save time and money and gain instant access to the benefits they care about most, such as an exclusive member discount and a flexible payment slider that allows members to choose nearly any combination of Points and money to book a stay. Members can also redeem their points for free nights, to gain access to unique events through the Hilton Honors auction platform, or to make purchases at Amazon.com with Amazon Shop with Points. For more information or to make reservations, visit Hwpoughkeepsie.homewoodsuitesbyhilton.com or call 845-462-0030.

Briad Lodging Group was formed in 1997 when Briad became a Marriott franchisee. Five years later, the company added Hilton to its portfolio. Since obtaining these franchise rights, Briad has developed more than $600 million in real estate, concentrating on focused-service and extended-stay hotels, including the Courtyard, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, TownePlace Suites, Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites brands. During the past decade, Briad has developed, operated and managed 34 properties and has built more than 3,800 hotel rooms in the tri-state area.

WHAT TO DO: With an assist from Wikipedia here are some details of what Poughkeepsie has to offer in terms of a number of notable institutions for arts and entertainment. The Bardavon 1869 Opera House, located on Market Street just below Main Street, is a theater that has an array of music, drama, dance and film events and is the home of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. The Mid-Hudson Civic Center, located down the street from the Bardavon 1869 Opera House, hosts concerts, professional wrestling, and trade shows and has an ice rink next door for hockey events. From July 1984 to August 5, 1986, the Civic Center was the location for filming WWF Championship Wrestling, the World Wrestling Federation’s nationally and internationally broadcast weekly television program of the time

The Chance, located at 6 Crannell Street in downtown Poughkeepsie, hosts live rock concerts with local as well as major artists. The collections of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 15,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. The Barrett Art Center at 55 Noxon Street offers exhibits, classes, lectures, and demonstrations focused on the visual arts. Twice yearly it presents nationally acclaimed shows, juried by curators of notable museums. It also operated Barrett Clay Works at 485 Main Street, with studio spaces for individual artists, and a street-level space devoted to instruction in various methods of “working clay” for children through seniors.

For shopping and movie theater entertainment, the Poughkeepsie Galleria is located in the town of Poughkeepsie. The mall, which opened in 1987, consists of two floors with 250 shops and restaurants to enjoy. The Regal Cinemas theater has 16 screens. Current anchor stores within the mall include Macy’s, J. C. Penney, Target, Best Buy, H&M, and Sears. The Galleria is owned and managed by The Pyramid Companies, a group that manages and owns other sister mall complexes.  We love dining at the Ruby Tuesday restaurant there, home to a great salad bar.

The Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum, located at 75 North Water Street, serves the city and region as an educational resource center, family destination, and tourist attraction. The Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center at 9 and 12 Vassar Street provides venues for both professional and amateur artists to showcase their talent in music, dance, and the visual arts. Bananas Comedy Club is a comedy club that presents comedians such as Jim Norton, Rich Vos, Patrice O’Neal, and Nick DiPaolo. Jimmy Fallon started his career performing at the club  Joseph Bertolozzi’s Bridge Music is a sound-art installation on the Mid-Hudson Bridge, allowing listeners to hear it played like a musical instrument. A recording of the results, the 2009 CD Bridge Music (on the Delos label DE1045), entered the Billboard Classical Crossover Music Chart at #18 and has been released globally. The Bridge Music Listening Stations (which play selections from the CD) are located on the pedestrian sidewalk of the Mid-Hudson Bridge, at each of the bridge’s towers. They are open from dawn to dusk from April 1 through October 31. Additionally, Park Radios on 95.3FM play the same music year-round, in Waryas Park, Poughkeepsie and Johnson-Iorio Park, Highland.

In 2011 Empire Cruise Lines began the operation of the first dinner and tour boat to call Poughkeepsie homeport in nearly two generations. The M/V Mystère is a 60-foot (18 m) double-decked tour boat that departs from Waryas Park, 29 North Water Street.

Sprout Creek Farm is an educational farm that rents out a cottage for weekend trips.

The iconic Algonquin Hotel in New York City

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

The Algonquin first opened its doors in 1902. Today, it is part of the Marriott chain’s Autograph Collection, an evolving ensemble of strikingly independent hotels. Each destination has been selected for its quality, bold originality, rich character, and uncommon details. The result is an array of properties that is nothing less than unique. The Algonquin Hotel was the first New York City property to become a part of the collection.   

For well more than 100 years, the Algonquin has been greeting and lodging the country’s most prominent writers and literary personalities, as well as the leading figures of the American stage. The hotel is best known, perhaps, for the members of the Round Table, a group of luminaries who had in common both the ability to fire blazing witticisms and to withstand being on the receiving end of them.

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

After World War I, Vanity Fair writers and Algonquin regulars Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood began lunching at the Algonquin. Though society columns referred to them as the Algonquin Round Table, they called themselves the Vicious Circle. “By force of character,” observed drama critic Brooks Atkinson, “they changed the nature of American comedy and established the tastes of a new period in the arts and theatre.”

This year marks the centennial of the Round Table and as a result special programming took place all summer long. We were there to take in some of the festivities

Comfortable accommodations

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

Each of the 181 rooms and 25 suites features a comfortable well-lit work desk, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi. We stayed in a very comfortable one bedroom Heywood Broun Suite, named for the noted American journalist, sportswriter and newspaper columnist in New York City who founded the American Newspaper Guild.

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

The layout was ideally suited for us. There is a nice sized entrance, with the master bedroom to the left featuring a nice-sized bathroom. The spacious living room has a pullout couch, a large desk which was perfect for me to write my stories and good drawer and cupboard space. You can get a fridge and a microwave, depending upon availability and on request.

When you enter the hotel, you come face to face with the casual Lobby Lounge, along with The Round Table Restaurant. Just to the left is the hotel’s trendy and aptly named Blue Bar.

The Algonquin Cat

As a cat lover, I was of course excited to see Hamlet VIII, the three year-old orange cat who calls The Algonquin his home. According to hotel executive assistant Alice De Almeida, he was originally a feral cat found in Long Island and brought to the Bide-a-wee shelter (the oldest shelter in the Big Apple), where the Algonquin then adopted him as their own. He came to the hotel in July 2017 after their former cat, Matilda III, retired. “He is so friendly and loveable that people who never liked cats love him.” Alice says proudly. “He has great purrsonality!”

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

Joanna Szepietowska is the recently appointed rooms operations manager at the hotel. She admitted to me that she was not much of a cat lover before coming to work here, but Hamlet has changed that in a big way. She is looking into adopting her own cat now.

Hamlet has his own Twitter and Instagram accounts, as well as an email account.  “I take care of all his needs, front and back, vet visits and more,” says Alice.

Alice  has three cats of her own at home and feeds several ferals in her area. She came to work at this hotel in 2005 and quickly became the natural guardian of the resident cats. “I have become a real Jewish mother to our cats,” she laughs.

Based on the timeline of a book written by the hotel’s first general manager, the hotel is now proud to say that the lineage of The Algonquin Cat dates back to the early 1920s. Two days after this first cat, Billy, passed, another stray cat wandered into the hotel and The Algonquin welcomed Rusty. The famous classical actor, John Barrymore, best known for playing Hamlet on stage, was a resident at the time in the early 1930s, and Rusty was renamed Hamlet in his honor. The lineage thus far now includes eight Hamlets and three Matildas. Each cat that has reigned at The Algonquin has been a rescue.

The hotel’s executive chef cooks Hamlet special meals on holidays. He receives fan mail and gifts constantly from around the world. He has recently been the subject of a painting that hangs above the Front Desk, by New York artist Marcus Pierno. Hamlet can often be found at the front desk, in one of his two tree houses or prancing through the lobby. He has been trained to never go outside and is wonderful with everyone who wants to pet him.

Cat Fashion Show

Every August The Algonquin hosts an annual Cat Fashion Show to raise money for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. The event  brings together the city’s most fashionable felines to strut their stuff in one-of-a-kind outfits that coincide with  different themes – the 2019 edition being “It’s a Small World.”   Hamlet VIII is naturally the star.

The spectacle begins with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and desserts; a silent auction featuring a variety of kitty-centric items; an on-site mobile adoption unit in front of the hotel that day and of course NYC cats hitting the catwalk in opulent threads designed by legendary pet fashion designer Ada Nieves. Human guests are encouraged to wear their most eccentric, feline-inspired outfit and share photos from the un-fur-gettable night on social media using the hashtag #AlgonquinCat.

A total of 100 percent of proceeds benefits the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a non-profit charity that works with more than 150 partner rescue groups and shelters to offer important programs and services that save the lives of NYC’s homeless animals. A raffle raises additional funds throughout the evening, with prizes including a variety of pet products curated by the event’s co-chair, pet lifestyle expert and author Sandy Robins.

Hamlet can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  He can also be reached via email: hamletalgonquincat@algonquinhotel.com.

The Algonquin Hotel is located at 59 W 44th Street, New York, New York 10036. www.algonquinhotel.com. For information call 212-840-6800.

Yes, “Believe it or not,” New York has downtown “Dream” pool

BEACH AT DREAM DOWNTOWN: Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

Channeling the glamour of the Côte d’Azur in the heart of New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, my family and I were most fortunate to be invited to spend the day there. We have been to New York in the summer a number of times in recent years and frankly always sought a day at a pool on a hot and steamy day. Well we hit the jackpot for our chosen date. Community and Social Media Manager Lauren Saxe gave me a tour of the gorgeous facility and then set my family up with some chairs in a perfectly shaded area. Tabitha, a lifeguard who was busy managing the steady stream of sunbathers, was kind enough to get us an umbrella.  There is a restaurant right next to the pool and servers will bring food and drinks right to your chair. The water was warm and exceptionally comfortable. Any of our troubles seemed a million miles away for that afternoon. There was complimentary Wi-Fi with a good signal as well.

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

Pool passes are available to the public Monday to Friday from 11 am to 8 pm. They cost $65 a day per person, and guests can purchase them on site from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Hotel guests can access the facility from 8 am to 8 pm daily.

There is another Dream Hotel in Midtown Manhattan as well as locations in Miami, Hollywood, Nashville, Thailand and many more to come. Dream Hotel Group is a hotel brand and management company with a rich, 30-year history of managing properties in some of the world’s most highly competitive hotel environments. Home to its Dream Hotels, Time Hotels, The Chatwal and Unscripted Hotels brands, Dream Hotel Group encompasses three business lines: proprietary brands, hotel management and dining & nightlife. 

This downtown location opened in June 2011 with a celebrity VIP party which included the likes of actor Leonardo Di Caprio on hand.

Dream Downtown Hotel is located at 355 West 16th Street near 9th Avenue. For more information call 646-625-4828, Info: www.dreamhotelgroup.com. Or email frontoffice@dreamdowntown.com

RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT: I have previously visited Ripley’s Believe It or Not! In Niagara Falls and London, England.  Despite walking by the place every time I was in the Big Apple, I never ventured inside what is recognized as a historic Times Square museum. This one-of-a-kind attraction welcomes visitors to immerse themselves in the unusual, the unexpected and the unbelievable. It features a collection of over 500 unusual artifacts from all over the world, as well as amazing interactive exhibits that are sure to make you say “WOW!”

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square (https://ripleysnewyork.com) showcases some of the most incredible exhibits found in New York City, many of them discovered and owned by Robert Ripley himself!  This family friendly attraction is the largest Ripley’s in North America!

Robert L. Ripley was a cartoonist, explorer, reporter, adventurer, and collector who traveled to 201 countries in 35 years seeking the odd, the unusual, and the unexplained. He led a life of adventure and excitement, and he will forever be remembered for coining the phrase “believe It or not.”

In his search for incredible stories to draw in his popular newspaper cartoons, he acquired hundreds of exotic artifacts from around the world. Collections of his newspaper cartoon drawings were released in book form. The success of his first book led to a live radio show, and then to a weekly television program. He shared his unique artifacts at World Fairs in exhibits called odditoriums, which were the precursor to the museums that bear his name and famous phrase. but none are more unique or more interesting than Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square!

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square is the largest Ripley’s attraction in the world. From shrunken heads, Megaldon jaws, a Tibeton skull, the world’s tallest man and a real meteor the amazement never ceases in this place.

All children must be accompanied by an adult. Most guests spend between an hour and a half to two hours exploring the strange and unique artifacts, exhibits and interactive experiences at Ripley’s Times Square. As with any attraction or museum, your personal tastes will determine how long it takes. If you plan to dive into every item and read each caption, you’ll be here a bit longer. If you plan to focus on featured galleries, you will find that two hours is sufficient. I found the visit both educational and entertaining,

Ripley’s personal treasures can be seen in Believe It or Not! attractions around the world. Each museum is unique in its collection of oddities and in their presentation. No Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum would be complete without the “old favorites” however – the incredible people whose stories Ripley gathered on his journeys around the globe. These strange people are brought back to life in detailed wax figures.

Ripley’s Times Square is handicapped accessible.

NATIONAL SEPTEMBER 11 MEMORIAL: Through commemoration, exhibitions and educational programs, The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a nonprofit in New York City, remembers and honors the 2,983 people killed in the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993, as well as those who risked their lives to save others and all who demonstrated extraordinary compassion in the aftermath of the attacks.  I visited Ground Zero on my most recent trip and it is absolutely chilling to stand in that very spot where terrorists committed a most unspeakable atrocity. Info: https://www.911memorial.org/national-september-11-memorial-museum

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

RUPERT JEE: For 22 years Rupert Jee was a regular on Late Night with David Letterman on CBS – all because  he operated a deli (The Hello Deli) right next to the Ed Sullivan Theatre. These days Rupert remains busy running his deli and meeting with his fans, so when you’re in New York, don’t forget to stop in for lunch at 213 West 53rd Street! He’ll even sell you a t-shirt or mug to remember him by.  I dropped in and got to meet Rupert in person. What a friendly guy. Naturally the Letterman appearances were great for business. Now that Dave has retired, Rupert still benefits from the recognition. Log on to https://www.hello-deli.com.

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

NEW YORK YANKEES:  I checked off a major item on my Bucket List with an afternoon in the Yankee Stadium press box as New York hosted the Toronto Blue Jays.

Only a year after they changed Baseball forever with the purchase of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees made another buy that would forever change the way the game was watched.  On February 6, 1921, the Yankees issued a press release to announce the purchase of 10 acres of property in the west Bronx.  Yankee Stadium was built from 1922 to 1923 for $2.4 million ($33.9 million in 2016 dollars).

The stadium went through many alterations and playing surface configurations over the years. The condition of the facility worsened in the 1960s and 1970s, prompting its closing for renovation from 1974 to 1975. In 2006, the Yankees began building a new $2.3 billion stadium. It opened in 2009.

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

Yankee Stadium is located at One East 161st Street in the Bronx. The No. 4 train (East Side) and the B and D trains (West Side) make stops at 161st Street/Yankee Stadium. A trip from Midtown Manhattan takes approximately 25 minutes. I would strongly recommend it.

Vdara Hotel & Spa and the Park MGM stand out in exciting Las Vegas

By Alexandra Cohen

LAS VEGAS – There is no question about it. The City of Las Vegas, Nevada (https://www.visitlasvegas.com/ca) has everything that a vacationer could possibly ask for: concerts, shows, sports, shopping, dining, nightlife, golf, spas, adventure, luxury accommodations, and much more.

Having just returned from our second trip in the last four years, I am already counting down the days until I can go back.

WHERE TO STAY: We stayed at the gorgeous Vdara Hotel & Spa, a luxury boutique property located at CityCenter.  

An all-suite hotel and spa designed for those who love the excitement of Vegas, but prefer to enjoy it in a smaller and more exclusive, non-gaming, smoke-free environment, Vdara is physically connected to the Bellagio and directly adjacent to the Aria Resort & Casino, offering access to all of the amenities and energy of CityCenter while also providing a nearby retreat from the hustle and bustle of the strip.

The Vdara made its big debut in December 2009. Internationally-inspired, the chic boutique resort offers a holistic spa, luxurious pool, intimate meeting space, and the sophisticated and convenient Vice Versa Patio & Lounge and Market Café Vdara, both located in their small and easy-to-navigate lobby.

Designed by RV Architecture, LLC, led by Rafael Vinoly, Vdara’s distinct crescent shape and unique patterned glass creates a striking design statement. Soaring 57 stories, Vdara has 1,495 suites ranging from 500 to 1,650 square feet.  It also boasts some outstanding amenities, including its spa. From early morning to late evening, Vdara Health & Beauty, its 16,000-square-foot, two-level wellness spa, salon and fitness complex, soothes and rejuvenate guests. David Glass, the internationally acclaimed innovator behind the Bellagio’s AAA Four Diamond restaurant Sensi,  serves as executive chef for all of Vdara’s food and beverage offerings.

Featuring 10,000 square feet of contemporary conference space, Vdara has become the premier choice in Las Vegas for customized executive meetings, corporate, social, and banquet functions for up to 400 guests.  The Pool & Lounge, a beautiful getaway that we had the chance to experience firsthand, also features 19 luxurious cabanas, including six spa cabanas.

While at the Vdara people have the opportunity to experience what is surely a first in many of their lives: snacks and coffee delivered to their rooms by two relay robots by the names of Fetch and Jett. These talented bots work alongside their human colleagues to transport an array of frequently forgotten and requested amenities including shaving and dental kits as well as tasty bites and drinks from Market Café. 

Designed and built by robot developer Savioke, Fetch and Jett are fully autonomous indoor delivery robots that use advanced technology to seamlessly navigate around people and objects. I watched them travel through the hotel lobby myself, and each time, those passing by stopped to take photos and marvel. The robots can prioritize multiple requests and wirelessly communicate with the hotel’s systems – even operating the elevators autonomously. Upon receiving a request, a hotel employee will load items into the robot’s compartment before inputting the guest’s room number and hitting the “GO” button. Its secure, tamper-proof lid prevent items from being removed until the robot reaches its destination.

Fetch and Jett will call a guest’s room when they arrive, and once the door opens, their lids will automatically unlock for guests to retrieve their snacks and travel kits. After removing their items, Fetch and Jett will ask the guest for feedback on their service before traveling back to their docking stations – typically taking less than five minutes to complete a delivery. A five-star review inspires a short happy dance from the robot.

As a hat-tip to the property’s dog-friendly policy, Fetch and Jett’s exterior resembles the coats of different canine breeds. The helpful (and housebroken) robots provide a fun and refined experience for guests at the hotel and spa.

“Guests enjoy the novelty of having their morning coffee and other items delivered by a robot, which frees up time for the rest of our staff to focus their energy on requests that require a higher level of service,” said Vdara General Manager Mary Giuliano. “We’re committed to creating special experiences for each guest, and I’m certain this will be a memorable one.”

In addition to the small snacks and drinks that can be delivered by Fetch and Jett, the hotel also delivers on a full in-suite dining experience should guests be interested, bringing not only food, but a full table setting for all. We enjoyed some breakfast in our room, including delicious eggs, an omelette, breakfast potatoes, and an assortment of tasty croissants and danishes.

Vdara is located within one of the largest sustainable developments in existence, bringing a new level of environmental consciousness to the world-famous Strip. In addition to Vdara, the U.S. Green Building Council has awarded LEED® Gold certification to ARIA Resort & Casino’s hotel tower as well as its convention space and theater. In 2010, Vdara Hotel & Spa and ARIA become the first Las Vegas hotels to achieve a 5 Keys designation by the Green Key Eco-Rating Program – the foremost “green” ranking, certification, and audit program in North America evaluating sustainable hotel operations. The 5 Keys designation is a certification level achieved by only approximately one percent of all hotels rated by Green Key.

We were pleased to see that our Corner Suite offered us a lovely view of some of the hotels on the Strip. Other similar suites offer picturesque views of the Bellagio Fountains and surrounding mountains. The in-suite tablet sits right beside the King-sized bed. From this tablet, you can order room service or snacks to be delivered by Fetch and Jett, and also book your next spa appointment.

The kitchenette features a two-burner stove and a full-sized refrigerator, while the living area offers a dining table fit for four. You can end the day by soaking in the spa-like tub sitting in the room’s expansive bathroom.  There are 42-inch, flat-screen, and high – definition televisions with media hubs for MP3 players, cameras, DVD players and game consoles as well as a work desk with a multi-line telephone in each of these suites. We also had access to large closets with plush robes and slippers, an ironing board and clothes steamer, and a washing machine.  The in-suite, laptop-sized electronic safes were also very convenient.

The hotel has a fully equipped 2,000-square-foot fitness center, with cardio, exercise machines, and free weights, as well as personal trainers available for private or group instruction. A smoothie bar offers a selection of smoothies, nutritious snacks, and juices.

The Vdara lobby is quite nice and spacious. Above the registration desk hangs the 30-foot-long horizontal Frank Stella painting, Damascus Gate Variation I,”which draws immediate attention with its vibrant shades of blue, red, orange and yellow. Due to Vdara’s boutique size, nearly all of its spectacular amenities are just steps from the main entrance. Guests have immediate access to its meeting and social event space; registration desk; concierge lobby; and its casual eatery and marketplace, Market Café Vdara. At the heart of the lobby experience, VICE VERSA Patio & Lounge radiates an aura of sophistication.

Within Vdara’s concierge lobby, Peter Wegner displays two soaring lunar- and solar-themed works of art on opposite walls entitled, “Day for Night, Night for Day.”Three stories above, an open wooden walkway offers a new vantage point of the artwork, as guests peer down into the lobby. On the second level of the hotel, guests can enjoy ESPA at Vdara, Salon Vdara, and Pool & Lounge Vdara.

Wheelchairs and scooters are available at all MGM Resort hotels for a fee. At the Vdara, in fact, manual wheelchairs are available for rent free of charge. To guarantee a wheelchair or scooter, contacting the Bell Desk ahead of time is recommended.

For more information and reservations, log on to www.vdara.com, call toll free at (866) 745-7767 or 702.590.2111. follow Vdara on Facebook and Twitter at Vdara  Las Vegas and VdaraLV.

BAVETTE AND THE PARK MGM: The former Monte Carlo Hotel officially shed its name recently for a new identity – The Park MGM (https://www.parkmgm.com/en.htm).   A partnership between Sydell Group and MGM Resorts International, Park MGM was born from the collaborative vision of the New York-based lifestyle hotelier and one of the world’s preeminent destination resort developers. The project comprises two new distinct experiences: Park MGM, and a Las Vegas version of the renowned NoMad, a standalone 292-room hotel encompassing the tower’s top four floors.

We got a nice look at this new hotel when we recently dined at Bavette’s Steakhouse (www.bavettessteakhouse.com). Like its beloved Chicago sibling, the new Bavette’s represents an outstanding dining experience. With the restaurant’s glowing chandeliers, red banquettes, and vintage art and murals, guests are transported to an intimate space as they eat.

Bavette’s offers fantastic takes on some time-honored steakhouse traditions, such as multi-tiered seafood towers, dry-aged bone-in ribeyes, and lamb chops. In addition to some of the classics, we also enjoyed a traditional filet mignon, a large baked crap cake, and side orders of wild mushrooms and buttery mashed potatoes, all beautifully served.

Desserts leaned toward decadent—we enjoyed the Chocolate Cream pie with an Oreo crust, as well as their classic Lemon-Meringue Pie.

In the back of Bavette’s, a hidden parlor bar awaits guests who want to begin their evening early, or let it run late, exploring the cornucopia of cocktails that they have to offer.

The elegant landscape in complemented by a boisterous measure of classic big band jazz and vintage blues tunes in the main dining room.

Bavette’s is open 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 p.m. – midnight Friday and Saturday; and 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations can be made by calling 702.730.6700.

Before or after dinner at Bavette’s, explore the stylish Juniper Cocktail Lounge next door, a truly unique drinking experience that I very much enjoyed. The mixology destination challenges the status quo of mainstay drinks while staying true to the foundation of what makes a great cocktail. Whimsical elements like fortune-telling Gin & Tonics come to life through house-made juices and syrups, a premium selection of spirits, and an intense dedication to the craft.

“Juniper Cocktail Lounge brings a different perspective to the Las Vegas lounge with a more progressive cocktail program than people have experienced from such a venue,” said Craig Schoettler, MGM Resorts executive director of beverage and corporate mixologist. .

Set to become a key component of Las Vegas nightlife, Juniper Cocktail Lounge offers its distinct vision of bottle service for guests with an extensive selection of gins, whiskeys, tequilas and rums from around the globe. No sacrifices are made for the large-scale service as patrons have access to some of the world’s finest liquors at their private tables.

We enjoyed their most famous cocktail, entitled “A little birdie”, in which the sipsmith gin, strawberry, dolin dry vermouth, and fresh lemon are interestingly served in a glass shaped like a bird. We also enjoyed “Carnival”—a glass is brought to the table filled to the brim with cotton candy, at which point Tanqueray 10 gin, fresh lime, and St-Germain is poured over the cotton candy, causing it to melt in as part of the drink. The menu options were endless, each one appearing to be better than the one before it.

Juniper Cocktail Lounge is open Sunday – Thursday from 5 p.m. – 12 a.m. and Friday – Saturday from 5 p.m. – 2 a.m. For more information, call 702-730-7777 or visit Juniper Cocktail Lounge online. Explore the nightly happenings and more by following Juniper Cocktail Lounge on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @JuniperCocktail.

Filled with natural light and punctuated by nature-inspired décor and art, Park MGM’s lobby is a nod to urban gardens and parks, bringing the outdoors inside. A dramatic arboreal sculpture by Brazilian woodworker Henrique Oliveira is the focal point of the lobby.

Park MGM’s rooms evoke the essence of a private apartment, with a mix of thoughtful touches, antique-inspired pieces, and original artwork by artists and photographers from around the world, commissioned for each room by France’s be-pôles studio.

Channeling the sundrenched South of France, the hotel’s vibrant outdoor escape features three pools, an oversized heated spa, 12 cabanas, lounge areas, and multiple bars serving up delicious bites and beverages.

Park MGM’s remodeled casino floor reflects the resort’s outdoor inspiration. In keeping with Sydell Group’s vision for maintaining key elements of the former space, the casino’s design contains subtle nods to its Monte Carlo roots, including the refined sparkling chandeliers.

With its excellent central location, Park MGM offers guests direct access to what is quickly becoming the city’s premier entertainment district, featuring T-Mobile Arena, The Park, and Park Theater, which is now home to Lady Gaga’s Las Vegas residency.

Las Vegas Dining Tips: Catch, Spago and the Caesars Palace Buffet

By Alexandra Cohen

LAS VEGAS- When in Las Vegas (https://www.visitlasvegas.com/ca), there are no shortage of fantastic restaurants to choose from. Here are a few suggestions from my most recent  trip.

CATCH THIS GREAT  MEAL:  Last fall, the Aria Resort & Casino (https://www.aria.com/en.html) welcomed Catch (https://catchrestaurants.com),the go-to dining destination for celebrities from Los Angeles to New York City. Known for attracting A-listers from around the world, this restaurant, with its Asian influence, debuted on The Strip, bringing with it a something-for-everyone dining experience.

Just arriving at Catch is a true experience. The entryway is a truly picturesque 80-foot-long tunnel, filled with brightly colored flowers organized into beautiful patterns. It feels like stepping into a secret garden, or even a hidden world.

On the menu, you will find a host of seafood sharables. Guests can dive in with an assortment of bright appetizers. The Catch Ceviche infuses the bold flavors of mango and blood orange ponzu with Alaskan King Crab, Maine Lobster, shrimp, and scallops. We enjoyed the decadent Truffle Sashimi allows guests to indulge in both tuna and hamachi paired with chili ponzu, caviar, and rich black truffle purée.

In addition to their Vegas-specific sushi rolls, Catch also offers its famed signatures. The vegan Veggie King Roll is made with king oyster mushrooms, cashew and spicy miso. For a unique and delicious flavor profile, guests can opt for the Hellfire Roll, which uses spicy tuna in two ways with Asian pear and balsamic.

We also enjoyed other shared starters, including the crispy shrimp, the rice cakes, and an order of their mushroom spaghetti, which was truly delicious. For our main course: roasted branzino, a restaurant highlight, alongside a side of spaghetti squash. Prefer meat? Catch offers options like the 25-Day Dry-Aged Tomahawk: 36-ounces of all natural, grass-fed beef with caramelized onion wagyu butter.

Their over-the-top desserts celebrate indulgence, featuring treats like the Hit Me” Chocolate Cake that encourages guests to smash the liquid “Klondike” bar perched atop a brownie, devil’s food cake, and roasted white chocolate ice cream.

New York based restauranteurs Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum have spent two decades building Catch Hospitality Group into one of the country’s most successful restaurant and nightlife management companies. Dubbed by Forbes Magazine as the “New Kings of New York Hospitality,” Remm and Birnbaum pioneered dynamic hospitality experiences using food, service, and vibe to create seamless transitions between dining, nightlife, and entertainment.

“After successfully tackling the East and West Coast markets we feel that Las Vegas is the next most logical place for the CATCH brand to call home,” Birnbaum told Food & Wine. “As with all CATCH outposts, we will stay true to the identity of the brand in both design and core menu, while working to develop location-specific additions that speak to the interests in the local market and its anticipated clientele. For CATCH Las Vegas that will mean some elevated moments that kick our experiential menu up a notch, without being too over the top that we stray from who we are as a concept.”

See this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLv0BXnJGTs

Catch is located within the main lobby of the Aria Resort & Casino. It is open for dinner Monday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. The lounge is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 p.m. – 3 a.m. To make reservations, call the Aria Concierge at (702) 590-5757 or visit OpenTable.

LUNCH AT SPAGO: We had a delicious lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s legendary flagship restaurant Spago (https://wolfgangpuck.com/dining/spago-lv), located at the Bellagio (https://www.bellagio.com/en/hotel.html). Puck’s revolutionary restaurant debuted in this location last summer with an entirely new look and menu and the exceptional level of service for which the restaurant is best known.

The restaurant is beautifully situated in front of the Bellagio Fountains for a fantastic view while you eat. Spago’s re-imagined menu features Puck’s signature California fare paired with modern technique and inspiration from his chef’s weekly trips to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. At lunch and dinner, the market-driven menus feature handmade pastas, wood-oven pizzas, fresh seafood, all-natural meats and prime steaks, alongside handcrafted cocktails and a robust wine list.

From popular Spago dishes to new dishes offered only at Bellagio, guests have a wealth of options to choose from for lunch or dinner.

The chefbrings his own signature to the Las Vegas steak dinner, allowing guests to indulge in prime meats, such as Wagyu and Japanese Ribeye carved tableside. In addition to trying one of their delicious cuts of American wagyu, complete with white truffles, we also indulged in their smoked salmon pizza with caviar, a true highlight on their menu. We enjoyed a fresh strawberry cocktail as we sat on the patio enjoying the fountains, along with a dessert that I can only describe as outstanding: their Spiked Lemon. Words cannot do this desert any justice, but you need only take to the internet to see it for yourself, as our waiter described as their menu’s “Most Hash tagged Item” due to its astonishing appearance, complete with flakes of gold.

Similar to the menu, the wine list will be seasonally inspired, starting the summer months with a strong selection of Rosé wines. In addition, the list features nearly one dozen wines from Wolfgang Puck’s private label, a collection of food-friendly wines that celebrate the spirit of food and life for which the chef is known.

Spago commissioned Las Vegas artist Katie Lewis to create a series of 20 topographical map images inspired by the Nevada desert landscape. One wall of the restaurant is dedicated to “Hugging a Black Hole, Hoping One Day to Forget,” a piece crafted by Jacob Hashimoto, known for his three-dimensional wall hangings inspired by his Japanese heritage. The most coveted seats are positioned on the circular and covered outdoor patio, giving guests unobstructed front-row views to the magnificent fountains.

Gelila Puck said, “The fountains were everything for us. We used the water as a key element in the design of the restaurant, bringing the beautiful feature to the forefront of the dining experience from the moment our guests enter the restaurant. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows highlight the grandeur of the space while distinct dining spaces meld classic architecture with modern art, all creating an atmosphere as memorable as the food.”

As for the main dining room, this space boasts beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows imparting picturesque views of the Bellagio’s famed lake from any seat in the house. Spago also offers two private fountain-view dining rooms, each seating up to 20 guests. The private rooms feature translucent glass panels with elegant white sheers that act as filters, allowing guests to enjoy their privacy while being able to fully take in their surroundings.

Spago is located in Via Bellagio and is open for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. – 2:45 p.m. Dinner is from 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m Sunday – Thursday and 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Friday & Saturday. The bar menu is available from 2:45 p.m. until close. To make reservations, call the Bellagio Concierge at (702) 693-7111 or visit OpenTable.

CAESARS PALACE BUFFET: What would a visit to Las Vegas be like without spending some time at the famous Caesars Palace? As famous as Las Vegas itself, this spot is perhaps the best-known casino resort in the world. What began as a grand casino honoring the indulgent luxuries of ancient Rome has somehow evolved into something even more spectacular. 

Caesars Palace spans 85-acres at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, just 10-minutes from McCarran International Airport. During our trip, we experienced a fantastic dinner at their Bacchanal Buffet—voted the Best Buffet in Las Vegas by USA Today two years in a row. I was unsurprised to hear that they were given this title when I realized that their buffet presents nine distinct restaurants, all in one location!

The modern setting of the buffet is inspired by the elements of glass, wood and steel. With nearly 500 dishes to choose from, every guest is sure to satisfy their cravings, whether they are in the mood for prime rib, chilled king crab legs, or freshly made sushi. A team of seven specialized chefs oversee the preparation of the majority of the food in front of the guests, creating an interactive environment.

The cuisines offered include:

  • Mexican – featuring freshly made enchiladas, tortillas and more
  • Italian – Pastas, baked lasagna, antipasto display
  • Chinese – Made-to-order assorted soups, wok-fried dishes, and dim sum
  • Japanese – Fresh sushi, sashimi, cooked fish
  • American – BBQ house-smoked meats from a wood-burning smoker and wood-burning grill; numerous carving stations including prime rib, brisket, rotisserie chicken and more
  • Seafood – Fresh East and West Coast oysters, king crab, snow crab, stone crab, mussels and prawns
  • Pizza – Varieties of pizzas served fresh from a wood-burning oven
  • Deli – Soups, cheeses, seven charcuterie selections including house specialties and individual, prepared, and make-your-own salads
  • Dessert – Chocolate, vanilla and pistachio soufflés baked-to-order, selection of gelato, sorbets

The Weekday Brunch is $39.99 (Mon-Fri 7:30 am – 3 pm.); The Weekend Brunch is $54.99 (Sat-Sun 8am – 3pm); Weekday Dinner is  $54.99  (Mon-Thur 3p m – 10 pm); and Weekend Dinner is $64.99 (Fri-Sun 3pm – 10pm). For an additional $15 per person, add the All You Can Drink option and receive unlimited Draft Beer, House Wine, Mimosas, or Champagne. 

There is also line pass option available for $20 per person during select hours of operation. See the manager for details.

Info: (702) 731-7928. For large party reservations and private dining, call group dining at Caesar Palace at (702) 731-7778 or toll-free at (866) 733-5827. Log on to www.caesarspalace.com.

When in Vegas experience Jabbawockeez, Michael Jackson ONE, Gallery of Fine Art and an Escape Room

By Alexandra Cohen

LAS VEGAS- There is lost to do in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada (https://www.visitlasvegas.com/ca). We had less than a week on the ground, so here are some suggestions.

JABBAWOCKEEZ: We were thrilled to see Jabbawockeez (https://www.jbwkz.com) for the first time after their energizing 70-minute show. The Jabbawockeez first caught the nation’s eye when they competed on “America’s Got Talent” in 2006, before ultimately winning the grand prize on the first season of the MTV reality show “America’s Best Dance Crew”, produced by Randy Jackson.

Their live show at the recently renovated Jabbawockeez Theater at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (www.mgmgrand.com) on the Vegas Strip is absolutely fantastic!

Their show, JREAMZ, takes audiences on a journey of mesmerizing sights and sounds, entertaining audiences with a dynamic mix of choreography, music, videos, characterization, and special effects. The imaginative production finds a way to seamlessly combine dance, drama, and a surprisingly effective amount of comedy.

Featuring the signature white masks and intricate dance moves that have positioned the group as the world’s most influential dance crew, Jabbawockeez is cutting-edge entertainment at its best. JREAMZ has been voted the “Best Family Show” and “Best All Ages Show” in Las Vegas for three consecutive years.

Donning expressionless white masks and white gloves, Jabbawockeez somehow manage to achieve the perfect balance between blending together as a unified group when necessary and also giving each member a unique character to play. They do not simply use the stage, but navigate through the audience, integrating us into their show and in fact taking selecting several volunteers to take part in their comedic routines. 

Over the years, they have appeared on numerous television shows, including “Dancing With The Stars”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, “Regis & Kelly”, “The TODAY Show”, “E! News”, and “America’s Next Top Model”.

The dance crew was formed in 2003 by Kevin “KB” Brewer, Phil “Swagger Boy” Tayag and Joe “Punkee” Larot. Just a year later, the group had grown to include Jeff “Phi” Nguyen and Rynan “Kid Rainen” Paguio, who still perform in the group. In 2013, the dance troupe also added Tony “Transformer” Tran. Over the life span of Jabbawockeez, there have been as many as eleven artistic creators to funnel energy into their synchronized dance routines. The show is designed to be appropriate for all ages—those four years or older must purchase a ticket; three and under can be admitted as a lap seat.

Jabbawockeez perform Thursday through Monday at both 7PM and 9:30PM. Tickets are priced at $49.99, $72.99 and $82.99 (not including applicable service charges and taxes). A Golden Circle ticket, with the best seats, a complimentary cocktail, and an exclusive Jabbawockeez merchandise item, is available for $110 (not including applicable service charges and taxes). A VIP Package including a post-show meet and greet, photo opportunity with three cast members from the show, and a Jabbawockeez Swag Bag, is available as an add-on to any ticket category for $55. Tickets are available for purchase at any MGM Resorts box office, by phone at (702) 531-3826 or (866) 740-7711 and online at mgmgrand.com or ticketmaster.com. For more information, visit jbwkz.com or connect on Twitter @Jabbawockeez and on Facebook.

The MGM Hotel and Casino is very wheelchair accessible, with lots of elevators and ramps available throughout.

MICHAEL JACKSON ONE:  When in Vegas, experiencing at least one Cirque de Soleil production is a must. As proud Montrealers, we did just that and chose the Cirque’s incredible Michael Jackson ONE  (http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/michael-jackson-one/show/about.aspx), an awe-inspiring show that fuses acrobatics, dance, story-telling, and visuals, taking the audience on an immersive journey through the music and spirit of Michael Jackson. Shows take place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino from Fridays to Tuesdays at both 7 pm and 9:30 pm, while Wednesdays and Thursdays are dark days.  Driven by the late King of Pop’s powerful, multi-layered music – heard like never before in a riveting, state-of-the-art surround-sound environment – ONE takes the audience through a series of seamless visual and musical tableaux.

The talented cast of 63 dancers and performers quickly reel you in, taking over the stage and at times even the audience with their infectious energy and brilliant tricks. You will repeatedly find yourself gasping in disbelief at the magic taking place on stage.

This show captures the essence, soul and inspiration of the King of Pop, celebrating a legacy that continues to transcend generations. You will surely be captivated by the aerial acrobatics and special effects during this unforgettable performance, while trying not to sing along to Jackson’s most popular songs, from “Smooth Criminal” to “Thriller” (a particular highlight).

ONE somehow manages to get better with every routine. Each time you think that there cannot possibly another trick left to perform, someone will fly through the sky or trampoline upside down and once again, you will find yourself amazed.

While the hits in Michael Jackson ONE have been rearranged to suit the show, they remain very close to the album versions and are treated in a highly cinematic fashion. Kevin Antunes, who was also the Musical Designer on Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour, took the multi-track master recordings and manages to make audience members feel the music is surrounding them, a beautiful musical assault coming from all directions. In fact, each of the theatre’s 1,804 seats has three speakers, leaving the room with a total of 5,412 seat speakers!

In Michael Jackson ONE, the video content is also an integral part of the storyline, featuring key aspects of Jackson’s career, including some images from his younger days as a member of Jackson 5. The theatre is equipped with 26 projectors, which display video content on the stage and around the proscenium. Not only that, but there are also 11 TV monitors and a 40 feet-wide, 30 feet-high LED wall.

This show, in its technical and energized glory, truly is not something that you want to miss.

For ticket information call 877.632.7400 or 800-745-3000.  Go to www.cirquedusoleil.com/mjone or www.mandalaybay.com. Visit the Michael Jackson ONE box office, the Mandalay Bay Events Center box office, or any of the MGM Resorts International box offices.

Cirque du Soleil strives to make it as easy as possible to purchase accessible seating tickets for venues across the country. Availability and the type of accessible seating will vary based on each venue’s policies and/or the type of event taking place.

SKYFALL LOUNGE:  After Michael Jackson ONE, you can walk just a few steps over to the Skyfall Lounge (https://www.delanolasvegas.com/en/nightlife/skyfall-lounge.html) at the Delano, which is located within the same Mandalay Bay facility. Why does Skyfall stand out amidst the large number of bars located along the Strip? Skyfall is known for its panoramic overlook of the city, its dramatic interiors, and its creative plates and artisan cocktails. There is no cover, nor are reservations required.  The 180-degree views make it possible for guests to sip a glass of champagne while watching the desert sunset, or to party as DJs spin upbeat music in the vibrant space from 10PM until closing.

Every evening (7:30-8:30PM), those who stay at the hotel are treated to a special champagne toast at Skyfall Lounge. A Delano Las Vegas room key must be presented to receive the complimentary amenity. Hours are Monday to Thursday and Sundays from 5 pm to midnight, and 5 pm to 1 am on Fridays and Saturdays. Info:  877-632-5400

GALLERY OF FINE ART: The beautiful Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (BGFA  is committed to presenting intimate exhibitions featuring works by some of the world’s most compelling artists.

Since opening in 1998, the gallery has presented exhibitions of artworks and objects drawn from internationally acclaimed museums and private collections. I was excited to learn that through April 28th, 2019, the BGFA is presenting two installations by renowned artist Yayoi Yusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity and Narcissus Garden. An immersive experience for visitors, Yayoi Kusama offers a unique wonderland of lights and reflections where guests become part of the artworks and can experience Kusama’s exploration of infinite space. 

Narcissus Garden has been re-installed and commissioned in various settings since its creation more than 50 years ago. This iteration is comprised of 750 stainless steel silver globes that create an infinite lake that distorts images of reality reflected on the surface of the 12-inch orbs.

I was particularly looking forward to experiencing the second exhibition— Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity is a room of infinite, shimmering lights. These mirror rooms have taken over the internet, with people posting artistic photos of them experiencing exhibits of this nature across the world. In this exhibit,  guests step into an enclosed room to become immersed, as an array of lights ignite a mirage mirrored on every surface, representing the eternal cycle of life over the span of 45 seconds. The space represents Kusama’s lifelong obsession with the dissolution of the self into the infinite. Note that this installation may trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy, and this experience should be bypassed by people with sensitivities to flashing lights or dark, enclosed spaces.

ESCAPE ROOM:  Last year in Montreal, I experienced my first-ever escape room. Having really enjoyed the experience, I looked forward to trying one in Las Vegas, so we visited Trapped: A Real Life Room Escape Adventure. This location was launched in 2015 and is centrally located at 4760 Polaris Avenue, a quick drive from the Strip.

For those who have never experienced an escape game of this nature, it involves a group of people being placed in a room where they must use all elements present to solve a series of puzzles, find clues, and complete the objective within a set time limit. It is a great bonding activity, as it requires a lot of teamwork in order to succeed. The recommended minimum age to participate is 12 years old. All rooms cost $35 per person for regularly scheduled times.

There are currently two rooms, with a third one on its way, at this location. We chose The Lair of the Puzzle master. What is the scenario? You are your teammates are federal agents tracking an international criminal known as “The Puzzle master”. You have found his hidden lair and are moving in to take him down, but you have to also avoid falling into his many traps. This game is good for anywhere from three to eight participants.

The game is very well constructed—my favorite escape room experience thus far. It thoroughly challenged us, but as three individuals, we were able to escape in the nick of time.

“We as a company have been open since 2015,” said manager Renton Wilson. “We began with one location in Upland, California in 2015 and have since expanded to include a location in San Dimas, California, as well as Las Vegas. We opened in Las Vegas in July of 2018 and our mission is, and always has been, to provide a high quality and fun experience for our customers”

Check out this clever video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvH4xQitunU , log on to

www.trappedescaperoomvegas.com   or call  702-907-8078.

Discount Car and Truck Rentals stand out in Quebec

When  deciding to rent a car while in Vancouver recently we did so patriotically and went with the Canadian-owned Discount Car and Truck Rentals,  grabbing a shuttle picking up our vehicle in nearby Richmond.

Well before planning this trip I did my research and it was my fascination with the services offered by Discount Car and Truck Rentals in Quebec (www.discountquebec.com) that helped make my decision even easier.

Operates Independently

The first thing I learned is how Discount Car and Truck Rentals in Quebec operates independently from the national brand. In a classic example of a franchise system, the operators in Quebec own and operate the franchise for the entire province of Quebec. Discount Car and Truck Rentals in Quebec carries cars of all types, and for every use, from small economical cars for the budget conscious renter, up to spacious and luxurious options for those special occasions.

A leader in the province of Quebec the company started out in 1985 serving the local market and quickly expanded to serving the automobile insurance replacement segment. Whenever a Quebec driver had an accident or had their car stolen, Discount was there to help the transition to a car repair or replacement.  Quickly gaining the trust of insurance brokers and insurance companies, they were able to offer a replacement rental quickly and efficiently to victims of unfortunate circumstances. From there Discount expanded its clientele to include business renters and opened the way for the eventual introduction of a commercial truck division with their acquisition of Monkland Car and Truck rentals on Decarie more than 20 years ago.

Strong Network in Quebec

 Whether it’s for a holiday or a business trip, they boast an extraordinary network of over 160 locations across Quebec, which guarantees its users a wide range of vehicles to meet every need.  Think about it- wherever you live across Quebec, chances are you are within a five to 10 minute drive from one of their stores.

Popular with people who participate in Quebec’s famous “Moving Day” every July 1st, Discount is there to offer trucks and equipment to facilitate the move. The company in fact carries the largest variety of trucks over any of its competitors in the province, by far. In addition, it now leads the way in the rental of electric and Hybrid vehicles.

I met with Steven Lazaroff, current Director or Retail Sales for Discount in Quebec. A member of the management team since 1991 he was   involved in the early stages of growth for the company. He worked in the front line customer service teams,  and went on to  sales representation in different markets like the local insurance replacement market, dealing with insurance adjusters, insurance brokers, automobile dealerships as well as locally owned body shops. After the acquisition of Monkland his career shifted to developing the truck market and local commercial business were attracted to the dedicated sales teams that he led…

Self-Serve Kiosk

New for Discount Quebec is a self-serve kiosk at Plateau Mont Royal. If you have already reserved a vehicle, when you come to pick it up, the self-serve kiosk will speed up the rental process during busy periods, such as weekends. Just follow the instructions on the kiosk screen, and you’ll be good to go in a few quick and easy steps. Once you’re finished, a customer service agent will greet you at the counter to show you the inspection photos and hand over the keys to the vehicle.  

Discount Car and Truck Rentals can help you plan your move when you use their online reservations feature to rent a moving truck. You’ll be able to reserve a van or a cube truck ahead of time so you’ll be ready on the big day. There are a wide variety of trucks to choose from, making it easy to find the right vehicle for your household goods. Even your favourite couch will fit comfortably on board! The trucks are equipped with a gentle-slope loading ramp or a hydraulic tailgate. What’s more, these customer-friendly rental solutions allow you to rent a truck for a one-way trip which can be handy when your kids need to move for University in the fall.

 With the Discount Self-Service option, you can rent a truck by the hour. It’s an economical solution for last-minute jobs. Using nothing but your smartphone, you can reserve a van or rent a 12-foot truck, hop in the driver’s seat, and be on your way without even having to check in at one of the 160 branches!

The trucks in the fleet are practically brand new, and your rental is sure to be comfortable as our vehicles are designed for both city driving and long distances.

Trudeau Airport

At Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Dorval, dial 1-888-335-5683 upon arrival at the terminal in order to signal your presence. Make your way to door 9 on the departure area of the airport for the Discount shuttle will pass by.    The location is minutes away at 405 Avenue Michel Jasmin Info:  (514) 631-1436

Weekend Rental

Planning a weekend escape from the daily routine? Rent a car at a bargain price from Discount Car and Truck Rentals and enjoy the perfect long weekend.  Wherever you roam, leave your car at home so you don’t have to worry about wear and tear on your vehicle. That’s just one of the many benefits of a rental car!

For your family trip, maybe you’ll rent a jeep for a safari at Parc Omega or a minivan for a visit to Ste-Anne Canyon, head to the beaches in Gaspésie or along the U.S. east coast, take in an exhibition at Montreal’s Old Port, marvel at Château Frontenac in Quebec City, picnic in the Quebec countryside, or check out one of the province’s many summer festivals. With Discount you can choose from a selection of utility vehicles and minivans for up to seven passengers.

In the middle of a major renovation project, trying to figure out how to haul all of your materials home from the nearest big box store?  

You can choose between renting a small 12-foot cube truck or a cargo van. For bigger loads and larger items like lumber over 10 feet in length, Discount Car and Truck Rentals will be happy to suggest the right truck for all your needs. Whether you’re renting a car in Montreal, a truck in Quebec City, or even a specialized vehicle (refrigerated, bucket, trailer, dump, or flatbed truck), they have what you need! If construction and renovation are more than just a hobby and are part of your daily work, learn more about our corporate rates:

For young children, Discount can provide child safety seats. 

For more information log on to www.discountquebec.com.

Vancouver is one of Canada’s most beautiful cities to visit

VANCOUVER- I recently returned from my first trip to Vancouver (https://vancouver.ca) in five years. Surrounded by water on three sides and nestled alongside the Coast Mountain Range, Vancouver is home to spectacular natural scenery and a bustling metropolitan core, boasting one of the mildest climates in Canada. The Greater Vancouver region is home to more than two million people in 21 municipalities, making it the third largest metropolitan area in Canada.

For families like mine which love the beach, Vancouver has plenty to offer in that area. Whether you’re looking for a stretch of sand to spread out and relax with a good book, an outdoor court to spike a volleyball, or a catwalk to strut your stuff, Vancouver’s got it. Kitsilano Beach Park, located practically downtown, features one of the largest swimming pools I have ever seen and we spent a fantastic day there. Bar none this is my favorite Canadian city to visit and given the fact we had just over a week there, my “to do” list has a lot of options to explore next time and that will certainly come much sooner than later.

WHERE TO STAY: There are more than 24,000 rooms in Greater Vancouver and more than 13,000 in the downtown core.

For this trip we based ourselves at the Landis Hotel & Suites (https://www.landissuitesvancouver.com) located downtown at 1200 Hornby Street.  This is part of Mayfair Properties, which also owns the neighbouring Courtyard Marriott.

Here you have easy access to the city’s buzzing business district, pedestrian-only shopping entertainment districts, gorgeous green spaces and spots like Stanley Park, the Vancouver Art Gallery, historic Gastown, hip Yaletown and more.

 The hotel offers deluxe, executive and penthouse suites. They are in the midst of renovations, replacing carpeting with hardwood floors and outfitting the rooms with new furniture. Our executive suite featured a master bedroom with a luxurious king bed and a second bedroom with a comfortable Queen bed. Both had cozy duvets and triple sheeting, black-out drapes, closet space with mirrored glass doors and a radio alarm clock. The kitchen offers ample cooking and storage space, and includes a full-size fridge with a freezer, a stove, an oven, a dishwasher, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. You can enjoy your meals or snacks in the dining area located on an enclosed balcony with city views. The glass-top table seats four.  As well, you can sleep extra guests on the pull-out sofa sleeper in the nice-sized living room, which also features a 37 inch flat screen HDTV. Guests can relax after a busy day in the deep soaker tub in the full bathroom, which also features a shower and double sinks with a granite countertop. This is one of few hotels in Vancouver to feature all-suite accommodations and an indoor pool to play around in.

Flooded with natural light, the spacious fitness centre will inspire you to stick to your work-out goals away from home. The hotel gym features several treadmills, Elliptical machines and stationary bikes, a rowing machine and variety of free weights. Enjoy cool, filtered water and a 37 inch HDTV flat screen while you’re working out. General Manager Khalid Ali is very hands on, often working at the front desk to connect directly with guests.

The aquatic centre features a heated indoor pool with a spacious Jacuzzi so you can relax at the end of a busy day in Vancouver. The pool is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. There is no lifeguard on duty – all guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

You can also hop on a complimentary shuttle bus for easy transit anywhere in the downtown core. Just make your shuttle arrangements in person at the front desk.

For more information about the hotel call toll-free: 1-877-291-6111, email res@landissuitesvancouver.com  or log on to www.landissuitesvancouver.com.

PRO BASEBALL:   If you are a baseball fan, then the months of June, July and August represent an opportunity for you to see some good old fashioned minor league ball. The Vancouver Canadians (www.canadiansbaseball.com) play out of the prettiest little ballpark in North America – 67 year old Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium. There are 6,413 seats here, every one of them dandy. The Canadians are the short season rookie “A” ball affiliate of the major league Toronto Blue Jays.

There are a number of wheelchair reserved parking spaces at the ballpark and these are located in the parking lot off of Ontario Street along the east end of Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium.

Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium recognizes the needs of guests with disabilities, and provides a wheelchair access viewing platform for fans with accessibility needs and their guests located down the third base line of the ballpark. Wheelchair access is provided through the third base gate located at the Southeast corner of Nat Bailey Stadium.

There are a few Montreal connections associated with this team. Former Expo legend Tim Raines makes regular visits as a minor league instructor for the Blue Jays.  Team president and partner Andy Dunn was the Expos vice-president of Florida operations from 2001 to 2005. He then moved on with the franchise to Washington for two years before joining the Canadians. Prior to joining the Expos, he was a vice-president with the Florida Marlins

Regarding the success of the Canadians in Vancouver, Dunn says affordability is extremely important, especially in a city facing a housing affordability crisis.  You want to keep it fresh. You want to keep people entertained whether you come to one game, five games or 38 games,” Dunn said. “You can afford to come to multiple times over the course of the season … you can bring your wife and your children out to the ballpark and it’s not going to cost you your mortgage.”

Assistant General Manager Allan Bailey has been with the team in a number of roles since 2007. From 2001 to 2006 he studied European and Military History, with a Minor in International Relations cat McGill University. During that time he was also a member of the McGill Baseball team.

Do not assume you can just drive to the stadium the day of a game and buy tickets. Games are often sold out in advance. This was my third time seeing a game there and I can see why. There are probably few better places to be on a nice summer evening, whether you like sports or not, than this stadium. This spot is made for family outings. Along the first base line is a sectioned lined with picnic tables and umbrellas, featuring a nice buffet meal. Corporations purchase blocks of tickets and bring their staff and clients out. Another such section exists behind left field. Just below the third base line is a kid’s zone with bouncy slides and games. My brother-in-law joined me with his four year old son who was at his first professional baseball game. He lasted a few innings, thoroughly enjoying his hot dog, ice cream and the kid’s zone.  “I had fun,” he said.

Log on to www.canadiansbaseball.com for more details.

WHAT TO DO:  The Sea to Sky Gondola (https://www.seatoskygondola.com) is located on Highway 99 just south of Squamish, a scenic 45 minute drive (depending upon traffic) from downtown Vancouver. A 10 minute gondola ride will take you up to a truly magical place with some of the most spectacular views you will ever see and activities for all interests and ages. We really enjoyed the experience, especially the memorable photographs we took where the backdrop was spectacular.

As you rise from the water’s edge on the valley floor, the view opens up before you: the bright blue water of Howe Sound, dotted with green islands and backed by the steep mountains of the Coast Range; the majestic Stawamus Chief; and a bird’s eye view of the town of Squamish with the rugged, snow-capped mountains to the north.

The gondolas were custom-made by Austrian manufacturer, Doppelmayr, and have comfortable padded seats and floor to ceiling glass windows for maximum views. The ride up and down is a thrilling adventure for all ages and provides new views of Shannon Falls and the famous Squamish Chief climbing area.

You will arrive at the Summit Lodge where the experience continues. A popular spot for spectacular photos is the 100 metre Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge.

If you would like to explore more, there are many walking and hiking trails for all ages and abilities, whether you want a backcountry adventure or a stroller/wheelchair friendly interpretive walk. These experiences are fully accessible to all. For those looking for a bit more adventure, the Via Ferrata (Italian for the “iron-way”) is a great option.

The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge is approximately 100 metres long and has a backdrop that falls away thousands of feet below, giving you a greater feeling of exposure and height over land. The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge offers amazing 360 degree views of the area, both up to the high alpine of the mountains above and down to the fjord below.

The Summit Lodge Viewing Deck is the first of the three viewing platforms that you encounter. Located footsteps from the gondola’s unloading station, this magnificent 5,000 sq/ft deck offers breathtaking views of Howe Sound, the coastal mountain range, and the famous Co-Pilot and Sky Pilot mountain peaks. The viewing deck is attached to the Summit Lodge, which has a fully licensed restaurant and bar. The Summit Lodge Viewing Deck is the perfect place to enjoy a meal and a refreshing beverage while taking in the views. In the summer months, a number of events are hosted on the deck including live music, yoga, wine pairing dinners and more.

The bridge is open year-round and is one of the many adventures that is available to you with your day ticket or season pass.

After the adventuring, you can enjoy a meal with a view at the Summit Lodge. Take in the vistas on the Summit Lodge deck and watch the sunset.

There are events happening year-round at the Sea to Sky Gondola. There are not many other places where you can listen to live music, taste fine wines, or practice yoga with such a spectacular setting. Make sure you check our website for our Schedule of Events to see what is happening when you are planning to visit.

Accessibility-From Basecamp to Summit, the Sea to Sky Gondola makes it easy for people to connect with the great outdoors. All of the Basecamp and Summit Lodge facilities are wheelchair and stroller accessible. The gondola cabins are designed to accommodate both wheelchairs and strollers and are capable of slowing or stopping for ease of access. The patio and viewing deck at the Summit are wheelchair accessible (snow conditions permitting) and can be accessed on the left hand side of the building.

For visitors with babies and young children the Panorama Trail and Spirit Trail are stroller accessible. The following amenities are available to make the Sea to Sky Gondola as accessible as possible:  wheelchair accessible parking spaces directly adjacent to the Basecamp facilities; Accessibility window for ticket purchases at Basecamp; wheelchair accessible gender neutral washrooms available at the base and in the Summit Lodge (ask retail at Summit for directions); wheelchair accessible tables are available at the Basecamp Cafe and in the Summit Lodge; and  Baby changing tables at the base and at the summit.

Adult day tickets are $41.95 when purchased online and $43.95 at the ticket window. Check out ticket pricing and buy tickets online at https://www.seatoskygondola.com, Coming from Vancouver? The Squamish Connector (24 seats) offers roundtrip shuttle service from three downtown Vancouver locations to the Sea to Sky Gondola. Guests can enjoy three hours at the Sea to Sky Gondola before returning to downtown Vancouver by 4 p.m. Learn more: https://www.seatoskygondola.com/visit/shuttle.

PLAYLAND: If you like amusement parks, Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition (www.pne.ca) on East Hastings Street is the place to go.  The 15 acre Playland Amusement Park is a popular attraction. Open from late April through the end of September it has hosted millions of thrill seekers of all ages since it opened in 1910.  The Park was named “Happy Land” in 1926 and remained on the original site until 1958, when it was moved to its present spot and re-opened under the name Playland. Previously owned by a number of parent companies, Playland became a division of the PNE family in July, 1993.

Playland’s marquee attraction, the beloved 1958 Wooden Roller Coaster, remains the most popular ride on the site and one of the most highly regarded wooden coasters in the world. Designed by the legendary ride construction team, Carl Phare and Walker LeRoy, the Playland Wooden Coaster rides over half a million people annually. The flume, though, ranks as a favorite as well. Unfortunately on the day we visited, it was not operational.

 Other popular rides include wave swinger, west coast wheel, breakdance, the scrambler, the corkscrew, rock climbing, the hellevator, bumper cars, the pirate ship and music express. Tamer rides include the merry-go-round, cool cruzers, the super slide, raiders, helicopters, tea cups and honeybee express. There are the traditional carnival games, an arcade and plenty of food options.  This place is a lot fun and I would highly recommend you spend the day there. It was a memorable experience for my sister-in-law as this was her four year old’s very first visit to an amusement park. He felt so adult behind the wheel of his own car (cool cruzers), driving a motorcycle (choppers) and climbing aboard the kids’ rollercoaster (Kettle Creek Mine Coaster). I thought he was quite daring to go on the wave swinger.

DINING OUT: There are some superb restaurants in Vancouver. Here are some in particular I strongly recommend.

Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House

First let me tell you about Joe Fortes Seafood & and Chop House (www.joefortes.ca) on downtown Thurlow Street. It has become our “go to” place while in Vancouver. On this night we were a party of five adults and a four year old.

The hostess seated on the gorgeous roof garden.  Our server Jennifer, who also works as a manager on some nights, gave us a thorough look at the menu and the day’s many specials.

One of Joe Fortes many unique qualities is the immediate sense of character and personality that guests recognize the moment they step inside. The large, bright room feels instantly powerful yet inviting, and it’s no coincidence that these qualities were also embodied by the legendary figure that the restaurant takes its name from:  Seraphim “Joe Forte.  In 1885, this burly seaman landed upon Vancouver’s shores and settled into a cabin in English Bay. There, Joe quickly became one of Vancouver’s most popular citizens, serving Vancouverites in a variety of ways first as a bartender and later as Vancouver’s first official lifeguard. Today, he is remembered by a monument near the site of his home, and his popularity lives on inside the welcoming walls of Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House.

With a commitment to freshness, the Joe Forte’s kitchen receives daily local deliveries, ensuring that you’re guaranteed to find the freshest ingredients on your plate every day.

The restaurant is owned by noted Jewish restaurateur David Aisenstat. Born and bred into the restaurant industry, he first learned his chops from his father Hy Aisenstat, founder of the famous Hy’s Steakhouse chain. His ability to recognize and retain talented people, and his passion for art and design, combine for what have been consecutively successful ventures in the industry. He has since continued on to become a legendary restaurateur in his own right, as the owner of The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, Hy’s Steakhouse Cocktail Bar, Gotham Steakhouse, The Shore Club, Ki, and of course Joe Fortes.

The main dining room is anchored by a soaring horseshoe oyster bar. This Grand Room boasts large, cozy booths, perfect for hosting a high-powered lunch or dinner meetings, as well as intimate dinner dates.   From the mezzanine, diners enjoy a bird’s eye view of the action and live musical entertainment below.

The mahogany-walled wine room offers guests a unique and discreet setting in which to enjoy an intimate lunch, or a private corporate celebration.   The more casual side of Joe’s is experienced in the bistro and bar area where locals and out-of-towners alike mingle, soak up the live music and keep their eyes open for visiting celebrities.

For a breath of fresh air, guests like us request to step up to Vancouver’s most desirable roof garden and into an urban oasis featuring a living green wall, cozy outdoor fireplace and bustling horseshoe bar.

Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House has been specializing in classic, American cuisine since 1985. It is a tribute to Executive Chef Wayne Sych and his dedicated kitchen staff of 70 people that Joe’s has maintained its unparalleled popularity with both locals and tourists alike for more than 20 years – an astonishing feat in the restaurant business. But even a cursory glance at the menus reveals why Joe’s stays at the top of our customers’ minds and, quite literally, at the tip of their tongues.

The Joe Fortes kitchen prepares each dish with a focus on natural flavours and features the finest ingredients collected from Pacific Northwest farmers, fishermen and food artisans. Serving more than 50 kinds of fresh fish, including their legendary Seafood Tower on Ice, premium oysters and succulent chops, their signature dishes have become a favourite of locals, celebrities and tourists alike.

From our previous two visits, the Seafood Tower on Ice was on our “must eat” list and it did not disappoint us. The five adults in our party shared two towers, almost a meal on its own, featuring chilled Atlantic lobster, local oysters, marinated clams and mussels, scallop ceviche, albacore tuna crudo and chilled jumbo prawns. We also added a crispy crab cake and some scallops.

Since we have been to Joe Forte’s before, we had some valuable experience as to how to navigate the impressive menu. Three members of the group decided to have the best of both worlds – splitting the petit mignon and the most delicious cuts like butter piece of fish we’ve ever experienced – miso marinated sable fish with sides of sesame quinoa, mushrooms, edamame, kale and sweet soy and  café de Paris butter gratin, potato pavé, and market vegetables. I opted for the Sirloin Steak (7 oz.), with buttermilk mashed potatoes and jasmin rice. Given the large serving I already enjoyed from the Tower, this was the perfect size of meat. The other member of our group chose the Scallop dinner from the special menu of the day.  As for our little four year old nephew, he feasted on some macaroni and cheese.  There were drinks as well for some of us, bellinis, a vodka martini and a glass of wine.

While pretty much full, the dessert menu was too appetizing to ignore so we agreed to share a piece of chocolate sin cake with ganache, brandy and chocolate brittle and half orders of  traditional tiramisu with mascarpone cream, lady fingers, espresso, kahlua and baileys and  the Tahitian vanilla Crème Brûlée, with house-made biscotti and whipped cream. Needless to say we all left with smiles on our faces.

For individuals with mobility issues Joe Forte’s has ground level seating as well as a single stall restroom on the main floor. There is also valet parking for a fee.

Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House is located at 777 Thurlow Street. For reservations call 604.669.1940. It is open seven days a week from 11 am to 11 pm.

The Sandbar

I also recommend you check out the four extraordinary restaurants that makeup the Sequoia Company of restaurants at   Vancouverdine.com.   We opted in favor of the Sandbar (https://www.vancouverdine.com/sandbar) on Granville Island at 1535 Johnston Street. Scott Garrett is the general manager. For seven years he ran the Walt Disney Resorts in Florida’s food and beverage programs as the restaurant guest services manager, receiving AAA’s coveted Four Diamond Award for service excellence during his tenure.   More recently he headed operations at Joe Fortes. We were delighted to meet one of the managers, Nouria Gagne. She and our server Grant did a fabulous job making sure we made the best of our evening, starting with a picturesque terrace table on the top floor overlooking the water.

There is live music here seven nights a week and quite a marvelous ambiance. The 300 seat restaurant was packed the night we chose to dine there. Guests can enjoy the bustle of the market, the non-stop energy of False Creek and the shores of Vancouver’s West End. Walk up the wood post staircase, the only item that was salvaged from the historic Mulvaney’s Restaurant site, and elevate your view of the city waterfront. The busy animated open kitchen gives the guest that “Granville Island Market feeling” plus an up-close look at the chefs as they prepare their seafood creations.

The Sandbar serves up the freshest seafood in a warm, sophisticated atmosphere. Suspended above the bar in the Teredo Lounge is Kivi, a 24-foot salmon troller hand built by Allan Farrell, one of the West Coast’s finest craftsman of wooden boats. Fresh oyster bar, tapas, dinner and dancing, this is considered to be Vancouver’s most popular spot to see and be seen.

We were a group of five adults and one four year old, who was thrilled with the kid’s menu/coloring page. He happily enjoyed his pizza while using his crayons to the max, creating some masterpieces of his own. The adults, meantime, started off with some French martinis, a margarita and a glass of white wine before sharing a magnificent Sandbar Tower – eight jumbo prawns, 12 oysters, ahi tuna poke, salmon sashimi, king crab and lobster. I ordered a delicious cup of clam chowder while the table also shared a trio of superb sushi rolls: California (Dungeness crab, avocado, cucumber, tobiko and mayonnaise) and Tuna Goma-ae (albacore tuna, Chef Hoshi’s special sesame sauce and green onion) and special scallop (diced scallop, tobiko, mayonnaise).

For the main course, a few of us gravitated towards the clipboard. I wanted something authentically B.C. and found it in the Wild Sockeye Salmon with mango papaya salsa, citrus butter and sauce. On the side I had some rice and roasted potatoes. It was a good choice. Two others chose the Sable fish (black cod) with a miso ginger glaze while another opted for the Ahi tuna, seared rare with soy mustard, wasabi, cucumber and salsa. The crab & shrimp Louie was the final item selected by a member of our party – fresh Dungeness crab, hand-peeled shrimp, egg, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers and creamy Old Bay dressing. Their steaks are said to be very good as well, something we will have to consider on our next visit. For dessert we managed to share two decadent choices: the lemon torte and some to die for chocolate cake, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Our little nephew, his pizza completely digested, was more than happy to take part in this final tasting of the evening.

The restaurant is fully handicapped accessible, including an elevator to bring patrons in wheelchairs up to the second and third floors. Recent renovations took place in the main dining room. The bar used to be where the block of booths are on the east side of the restaurant. They moved the bar to the far back west wall in order to provide more dining space with window views. The sushi bar was also moved from the first level entrance up into the lounge area adjacent the bar while the piano was relocated to this new lounge area.

Open seven days a week until 11 pm, you can find all of the information you need on their website or by calling 604.669.9030.

Bridges

Bridges (www.bridgesrestaurant.com) was always one of my favorite spots when I used to frequent Vancouver for business a number of years ago. This restaurant has been a landmark on Vancouver’s waterfront for over 27 years.

Located next to the public market on historic Granville Island, Bridges serves the freshest seafood Vancouver has to offer. Set near the Arts Club Theatre and Maritime Market, Bridges offers magnificent views of Vancouver’s waterfront, mountains and city center. Bridges Dining Room, Bar, Bistro and outdoor dining are the quintessential summer experience in Vancouver. Served by public moorage, Aquabus and False Creek Ferries, Bridges is easily reached by the water and has hundreds of free parking stalls for automobile access. It is open daily, from 11 a.m.

One of my oldest friends, Clifford Margolese, moved to Vancouver 35 years ago. When I asked if we could meet for lunch, he immediately suggested Bridges. It was my first time back in 10 years and the place has not lost any of its charms. On this beautiful day we say out on the patio, looking out at the waterfront.

Bridges opened in 1980 on the western tip of Granville Island, a redevelopment project orchestrated by the federal government’s Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Bridges operates a second floor dining room with 150 seats inside and a 40 seat terrace.  On the main floor is a 120 seat bistro and a 100 seat bar with its own terrace.  During the summer months they operate Vancouver’s largest patio, with a license for 300 seats on the waterfront. What do we recommend? Well for one thing you will probably need to go back more than once.

Clifford and I shared some deliciously fresh oysters with pickled ginger mignonette and calamari, with house made tzatziki, with crispy fried onions and jalapenos. For my main meal I remembered how good the grilled chicken club burger was, featuring free-range chicken breast and crispy bacon served with fries. You can switch the latter for another side if you wish.

Clifford, always the healthy eater, chose the mixed green salad, featuring market fresh vegetables, organic greens, and honey lemon vinaigrette. He added a salmon filet as well.

I was able to coax my friend into sharing some desserts – the decadent chocolate cake and the equally fantastic lemon layer cake. It was worth the cheat for both of us and a great suggestion from our server Charlie.

Bridges is located at 1696 Duranleau Street. For more email info@bridgesrestaurant.com or call 604-687-4400.

The patio and first floor are fully handicapped accessible.

Gotham

We got to experience Gotham Steakhouse and Bar (https://gothamsteakhouse.com) at 615 Seymour Street for the first time.   The menu is simple and classic steakhouse, with only the finest ingredients making the cut. Hand-crafted cocktails and extensive wine list make decisions just a little harder, but satisfaction guaranteed.

The restaurant is sophisticated and elegant, but the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed. You never know who may turn up on any given day. Gotham counts well-known performers, actors, sports icons and local legends all among its regular guests. It features soaring ceilings, sumptuous leather and velvet upholstery and, private dining rooms.

Dinner at Gotham is an occasion to remember. The à la carte menu features classic steakhouse favourites, perfectly prepared and presented in an atmosphere of luxurious comfort. The beef is Prime Grade Alberta, 28-day aged, and simply seasoned to bring out maximum flavour. The fish and seafood is delicate and fresh, and the delicious and decadent side dishes are perfect accompaniments to complete a memorable dinner

There are two levels, with an elevator providing handicapped access to the second floor and to the basement where you will find the washrooms and some private rooms used for groups and special occasions. A seasonal urban garden patio is popular as well. All of the servers wear white tops. Our waiter Ryan has been with Gotham for 14 years.

Our party of six included one four year old who loved his choice from the kids menu –a grilled cheese sandwich and mashed potatoes. After starting out with some drinks, we went directly to our main courses: a 32 ounce bone-in rib steak, served sliced, and nicely shared by two people; a perfectly prepared filet; the Blackened Ahi Tuna; and  the fish of the day, which happened to be halibut with risotto and vegetables included. We all shared some sides of mashed potatoes,  creamed spinach and fresh steamed broccoli. We will hopefully try items like the Seafood Tower, the jumbo lobster tail and the fresh oysters on our next visit. To cap the night off, we also shared the decadent Belgian Chocolate Bourbon Cake. It was an absolutely superb meal in a great ambiance. Gift cards are available in different denominations and a very nice option if you would like to surprise a family member or business associate with something they would truly appreciate.

 The house DJ is on duty for social hour, from 3 pm to 6:45 pm, Wednesday to Friday. And when the summer sun shines, he takes his mix of contemporary sounds to the patio for chilling al fresco. Tuesday through Saturdays they feature some of Vancouver’s most talented musicians in the sensuous lounge from 7 pm to 11pm.  This is perfect for cocktails before dinner or a luxurious after dinner drink.

Executive Chef Jean Claude is from France. He honed his skills over winters in the Alps and summers in St. Tropez. Arriving in Montreal in 1992, he spent six years at Le Soubise, then moved to Vancouver, furthering his experience at several well-known local restaurants, including as Chef-Owner of Cyrano. Since 2005, with grace, skill and good humour, he has led the Gotham kitchen.

GETTING AROUND: Vancouver’s road system and traffic are easier to handle than those of many other cities, but there are no freeways within the city, so traffic tends to move more slowly than cities with high-speed road systems. Unless you plan to travel outside of the downtown core, where most people get around by public transit, on foot or by taxi, you will not need a car. For travel outside the downtown area, options include public transit, car rentals, tour buses, taxis, or even limousines if you want to go in style!

Public transit can get you to many points of interest across the region relatively quickly and inexpensively by conventional buses, mini-bus “Community Shuttles,” rapid “B-Line” services, a rail system called “SkyTrain” and even passenger ferries that offer a scenic trip across the inner harbour from downtown Vancouver to the North Shore. A commuter rail service, the West Coast Express, connects downtown Vancouver and Mission in the Fraser Valley each weekday morning and afternoon.

All of these transit services, plus the region’s major roads, are part of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, known as TransLink. TransLink’s fare system allows transit passengers to purchase a ticket for the number of zones they wish to cross and then easily transfer from one transit mode to another within those zones for up to 90 minutes on the same ticket. Books of transit tickets, called FareSavers, are available at retail outlets at a discount and can be validated for use at any time. Day passes provide unlimited travel for one day.

Whistler, B.C. remains a superb year-round place to visit

WHISTLER, BC- My family and I recently made our second visit to Whistler, BC (www.tourismwhistler.com), less than a two hour drive from Vancouver and one of the host cities for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Located in the Coast Mountain Range of British Columbia, Whistler consistently offers the most reliable snow conditions, receiving an average annual snowfall of 11.9 metres (39.1 feet) based on the past 10 years. Due to Whistler’s coastal proximity, temperatures are moderate through the winter season, rarely dipping below -10°C (12°F) in the valley and -15°C (5°F) in the alpine during the coldest part of the year. Expect -5°C (22°F) average daily alpine temperatures during most of the winter months. Summer in Whistler brings temperatures ranging from highs of 21°C / 70°F to 27°C / 80°F with August being the warmest month.

There are many things to do in the Village, the heart of Whistler. You can stay in a centrally located hotel, walk the Village Stroll, indulge yourself at one of many places to eat and browse the unique shops.  The Village is located at the base of the lifts, making access to Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains convenient for skiing, snowboarding and sightseeing.  Whistler Village is big enough to have all the amenities expected of a world-class resort, yet small enough for you to feel its unique mountain culture and distinctive hospitality

The year-round population of Whistler Resort is almost 10,000 permanent residents. As the host Mountain resort for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Whistler improved accessibility throughout the Village, parks and accommodation.

Ski season in Whistler typically begins around the third weekend in November, coinciding with American Thanksgiving. From there, both mountains are open daily for winter operations until late April. Blackcomb Mountain stays open for spring skiing and snowboarding until mid-May. Summer glacier skiing and riding on Blackcomb Mountain starts the third week of June. In summer Whistler Mountain Bike Park opens as a haven for riders of all levels and the Village Gondola, Peak 2 Peak Gondola and Peak Chair are open for sightseeing.  

Many people don’t realize Whistler has a huge range of free services and activities. Year-round you will find some amazing freebies in and around the Village, such as the free shuttle bus throughout the Village, free internet access and Storytime at the Library, free weekly local papers with all your entertainment listing, and numerous free art displays.

Eight years have passed since Whistler hosted the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, but the spirit is alive.  In the winter you can strap on the skinny skis in the Callaghan Valley at the Whistler Olympic Park, home to all Nordic events in 2010. Whistler Olympic Park also offers biathlon, snowshoeing, tobogganing for those after a unique adventure in an incredible setting. Slide down Whistler Mountain’s Dave Murray Downhill and emulate the athletes who competed there eight years ago in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-combined and super G races. Speed things up at the Whistler Sliding Centre home to bobsleigh, skeleton and luge competitions during the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games. Set out on the world’s fastest ice track and try the exhilarating sport of bobsled or skeleton. Visit the Whistler Museum to learn Whistler’s story of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games at the Hosting the World exhibit. Check out the gear of 13 of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes from the Sea-to-Sky corridor, grasp the glory of the torch, try on a ski bib or sport the volunteer “smurf” uniform.

PEAK 2  PEAK: There is no better experience than the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. You first take the Whistler Express Gondola from the Village, which takes 25 minutes. You’ll arrive at the Roundhouse, a lodge where you can have lunch or a snack, and take in the spectacular view of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. We took advantage of that opportunity. The view as I enjoyed my Miso soup was nothing short than spectacular.

Our next move would have been to hop on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for a thrilling 11-minute ride over to Blackcomb Mountain.  Unfortunately for us, there was some maintenance work the day we visited and the Peak to Peak was closed.  

Besides the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which still holds the Guinness World Record for longest and highest lift, The Peak Cloudraker Suspension Skybridge is the latest attraction and it was part of our 360 package. It is 130 metres long and goes from Whistler Peak to the West Ridge, which crosses the Whistler Bowl. Upon completion it will have a viewing platform on the West Ridge side. This literally saved the day for us.  From the Roundhouse Lodge we walked the Peak Express Traverse to the Peak Express Chair for a thrilling open air ride to the suspension bridge at the Top of the World Summit. Even on a warm summer day be sure to bring a sweatshirt or a light jacket as it can get cool up there. The view from up here is exceptional and you will want to take a lot of photos.  I look forward to coming back when the lookout is completed. Yes the bridge does sway a bit, but we all felt very secure. We even saw someone navigating it in a wheelchair.

It takes approximately 10 to 20 minutes to hike the Peak Express Traverse from the Roundhouse down to the base of the Peak Chair. Blogger Megan Wilson lists two options for your return, and they both require some hiking. You can either take one of the alpine hiking trails for additional views, or download via the Peak Chair. If you choose to download the Peak Chair, it is important to note you will still have to walk back up the Peak Express Traverse from the base of the Peak Chair to the Roundhouse to get home.

At 0.6 km it is not a great distance, but it is uphill all the way with an elevation gain of 63 m. Depending on the fitness levels and age of people in your group, this may be challenging after a day of adventuring. Make sure to take water and snacks, leave plenty of time and energy to walk back, and take lots of breaks on your way out.

We also saw many people biking their way down the mountain.

The Peak 2 Peak is wheelchair accessible in the summer while a sled is used in the winter to transport those in need to the Blackcomb Lodge.

WHERE TO STAY:  Following a wonderful stay at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco in the summer of 2017, we were so pleased to spend some time at The Hilton Whistler (www.hiltonwhistler.com). Our family thoroughly enjoyed a day at the outdoor pool area, which has plenty of very comfortable lounge chairs and umbrella coverage. The water was the perfect temperature and the pool itself a nice size. There are two Jacuzzis, one outside the other in the fitness center. You can also soothe your sore muscles in the sauna. The pool area is completely handicapped accessible, with a level walkway from the elevators and lobby to the deck.

We were provided with a menu of items we could conveniently order right from our chairs. Three of us opted for the club house, featuring seven grain bread, perfectly grilled chicken, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, smoked cheddar, guacamole and mayonnaise with side salads and an order of crispy chicken tenders and yam fries. They also have a nice selection of drinks. We asked our server to recommend something sweet and she brought us some cool glasses of spiked strawberry lemonade. If you are at this Hilton on a Sunday, do be sure to take advantage of the popular Bubbles, Beats and Brunch.

The hotel is ideally located in the heart of Whistler Village, host mountain resort of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympics Games. Named the Luxury Resort & Spa of the Year for British Columbia in 2016 and2017 by Luxury Travel Guide, the hotel is steps away from the chairlifts of the legendary Whistler & Blackcomb Mountains, and offers an array of world-class restaurants, stylish boutiques and buzzing nightlife at its doorstep.

Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa’s spacious and newly renovated guest rooms are designed with mountain style elegance and incorporate many natural elements into its design, including indigenous art from the Sea-to-Sky corridor. Many of the rooms offer jetted soaker tubs and fully equipped kitchens with full-size fridges, microwaves, and stove tops.

There are 24-hour fitness and business centres here. The Hilton Fitness Centre by Precor features the finest cardiovascular equipment with personal viewing screens, elliptical cross-trainers, a stationary bike, free-weight station, and stretching area.  

 Rejuvenate your senses at Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa, and soothe away tension whilst treating mind, body and soul to essential nourishment. Tempt your palette with savoury Pacific Northwest Cuisine at Cinnamon Bear Grille, the hotel’s signature restaurant. For a livelier atmosphere, enjoy a cool cocktail at the hottest après ski bar in Whistler, Cinnamon Bear Bar.

All of the spacious and richly appointed guestrooms feature the Hilton Serenity® bed with elegantly striped 250 thread count sheets and luxurious down comforters and pillows; all layered on top of a mattress set custom designed for added support and comfort.

Additional amenities for a comfortable Whistler getaway include lavish Peter Thomas Roth bath and body products, specialty Brew Selector by Cuisinart coffee maker, alarm clock radio, and 37” flat screen television. Wireless internet and local calls are included in each guestroom. Kitchens include a microwave, cook-top (no oven), refrigerator, dishwasher, and are fully equipped with cutlery, crockery, cookware, as well as a toaster and a kettle.

Sales and Marketing Director Allison Brown was kind enough to give me a tour of the property, noting that when it debuted in 1982 it was the first large hotel to open in Whistler. As she walked me through the beautiful 287 room facility, its age did not show. One good reason for that is the recent renovation of all rooms and hallways. Next on the agenda will be a revamp of the large reception area. The rooms I saw were lovely. The chalet style Premier Studio, for instance, boasts 600 plus square feet and is ideal for families or those desiring more room. This self-contained studio features a well equipped kitchen, breakfast bar, wood burning fireplace, sitting area and balcony. The oversized bathroom includes a deep soaker tub, some equipped with air jets. Many of these studios can be connected to a Hilton Room with two double beds for additional space and comfort.  The spacious and luxuriously appointed two bedroom Alpine Suite features a wood burning fireplace, well equipped kitchen, in-suite laundry, balcony, and even a steam room or sauna to relax those tired muscles after a day of adventure. The stylish living room has a double sized sofa bed, and three 37 inch flat screen televisions, featuring HD programming complete the suite. The master bedroom includes a king sized bed while the second bedroom contains a queen. Alpine Two Bedroom Suites can connect to a Signature Spa Room to create a three bedroom suite.

The Hilton Whistler is a popular spot for weddings and honeymoons.  With special touches like chilled sparkling wine upon arrival, a fireplace in your room, a soothing massage, sumptuous breakfast in bed, guest parking and late check-out, this is bound to be a trip to remember.   Weddings in Whistler are said to be stunningly beautiful, no matter what the season. Whether you’re exchanging vows among the alpine wildflowers or “skiing” down the aisle, ceremonies can be held inside or in the outdoor courtyard (depending on the weather).  Just email sales@hiltonwhistler.com for more.

Call Reservations at 1-800-515-4050 to inquire about the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa Romance Package.

VALLEA LUMINA: Moment Factory (www.momentfactory.com) was established in Montreal in 2001 as a multimedia entertainment studio specializing in the conception and production of immersive environments, combining video, lighting, architecture, sound and special effects to create remarkable visitor experiences.

Going from 15 to 250 employees and opening new offices around the world, Moment Factory has been pushing the boundaries of excellence in multimedia and emerging art forms to create some of the most imaginative public experiences the world has ever seen.

 Vallea Lumina in Whistler, BC, represents the latest in their signature series of immersive multimedia night walks. The project was developed in collaboration with The Adventure Group in Whistler to add a unique evening experience to their diverse line-up of outdoor entertainment activities.

Vallea Lumina takes visitors on a mythic journey through the forests on Cougar and Rainbow mountains, where video projections, lighting, sound, and special effects add a layer of mystery and enchantment to the mountain’s natural beauty. Along an accessible 1.4 km pathway, visitors follow clues left by two hikers toward a secret valley filled with wonders.

This was a remarkable experience for our family as we literally got to explore new frontiers of storytelling. Visitors are transported through time to a forest rangers’ basecamp steeped in nostalgia, where they set out on a mission to find a legendary hidden valley. Hints tucked into song lyrics and posters, cryptic radio signals and ephemeral messages in stardust and campfire sparks lead them toward an unforgettable supernatural spectacle.

We very much enjoyed the experience and watched some of the projections, which play on a loop, several times. They were so realistic.  

It is recommended you bring with you closed-toe shoes, comfortable clothing and insect repellant. The experience will run daily until October 2018. It begins at sundown and takes place every 20 minutes (exact times vary depending on time of year). The illuminated trail takes approximately 60 minutes to complete, and a complimentary shuttle service is provided from Whistler Village at the Gondola Transit Exchange, and outside Blackcomb Day Lodge in the Upper Village. Show-goers cannot drive to Vallea Lumina, you must take the shuttle from a designated pick-up spot. Tickets cost $29 for adults (16 plus), $24 for youth (six to 15 years) and children five years and under receive free admission. For more information or to book, visit tagwhistler.com/lumina.

Moment Factory already launched its first two night walks in Asia, Rainforest Lumina in Singapore and Island Lumina in Japan earlier this year.  “After our success debuting the Lumina experience abroad, it felt great to cross back over the Pacific to bring the series to Canada’s West Coast for the first time,” a Moment Factory statement says.

Moment Factory now has eight international night walks. Each one uses a seamless blend of creative lighting, sound design, interactive elements, and projection mapping to shape a narrative environment that’s tailor-made to enhance the natural beauty of its site.

This new storytelling format was pioneered in 2014 with the creation of Foresta Lumina in Coaticook, Quebec  

Closer to home  Moment Factory and Tremblant—have been pairing their savoir-faire for the past two years  by creating an immersive, interactive and illuminated night walk that begins with a ride on the Flying Mile lift. From its midway station, the adventure darts into the wilderness, and concludes back in the pedestrian village. It is called Tonga Lumina (www.tongolumina.com) and it runs through Thanksgiving Day Weekend.

THE ULTIMATE ESCAPE ROOM: Escape Whistler (http://escapewhistler.com) was a lot of fun. There are four escape rooms to try: Pirate ship, Pinball Machine, Buried Cabin or Rabbit Hole. Each room is very different in terms of game, difficulty and style! If you are an escape room veteran, you could be confident to try any of the rooms straight off the bat.

The Pinball Machine was our choice. Here is the concept. One night, you and your friends decide to sneak into the old, run down 1980‘s video game arcade across town. While poking around and exploring the arcade, you notice a vintage video Pinball Machine in the back corner and happen to stumble across a notebook with various cheat codes for old video games. Suddenly, something happens, and you and your friends become transported inside the Pinball Machine. Now you must play the game to Escape the machine and make it home within 45 minutes. This was no easy task. We liked the fact one group or family can book a room for themselves. You are asked to come 15 minutes early to sign your waivers. Upon entering the room you will be given a timer and a walkie talkie. The latter can be used to call the central desk for some clues. We came close, but did not manage to escape in time.

The games are suitable for all ages and this is fantastic team building or family outing activity for everyone to enjoy.

There are two wheelchair accessible rooms to choose from – The Buried Cabin and The Pinball Machine.

The cost is $30 plus GST per player. Children four and under are free. There are two to six players allowed per room. Kids 12 and under must be accompanied by a parent or guardian (19 years or older).

They are open seven days a week. Info: 604-962-1117. 

DINING:  There are wonderful culinary spots to choose from in Whistler.

Brewhouse

We were very excited to return to the Brewhouse Restaurant (http://www.markjamesgroup.com/brewhouse.html). This is one of the busiest spots in the Whistler Village all year round. With a separate restaurant, bar and mezzanine, the Whistler Brewhouse is capable of accommodating groups large and small. The pub has a cozy two-sided fireplace and lots of TVs, making it the perfect place to watch the game when you’re tired from playing all day. The restaurant is warm and family friendly with a great kids’ menu and a huge patio for Whistler’s long, hot summers. The cuisine is an inspired and appetizing mix of barbeque and rotisserie classics, with exceptional pizza and pasta options. These flavours are complemented by their range of handcrafted ales and lagers, brewed onsite. There are even four kinds of poutine.

I started off with a huge bowl of Matzo Ball Soup – rich chicken broth, matzo ball, spit roasted chicken, celery, carrots and onions. Our party of  five adults shared some starters, the fish taco, Szechuan chicken lettuce wraps and the tempura tuna maki roll and decided upon a few different main courses: the wild mushroom and Johnny Mac (spicy capicola and mushrooms) brick oven pizzas and the three beef sliders (pulled beef, pretzel bun and horseradish cream). The food and atmosphere was great. We particularly liked the cute model train which made its way through the restaurant on miniature tracks above us.

This is part of the Mark James Group Brewery Restaurant, with others in Vancouver (Yaletown and The Distillery Bar + Kitchen), Richmond (Flying Beaver) and Surrey (Big Ridge). James is a member of the Jewish community and has been supportive of a number of charitable events. This includes the annual Sports Celebrity Dinner.  

Mongolie Grill

One of our favorite and more unique spots we recalled from our last visit to Whistler was the Mongolie Grill (www.mongoliegrill.com).  This is the ultimate “fun” dining experience with fresh and tasty ingredients grilled to perfection in front of your eyes! Independently owned and operated since 1996, the Mongolie Grill has developed into a world famous dining experience. Management prides itself on serving only the freshest selection of vegetables, meats, seafood and sauces to ensure the tastiest of experiences. Mongolie Grill allows you to get creative and cater to your own taste-buds by choosing your own stir-fry combination! Select your favourite ingredients and flavour with your chosen sauce combinations. We recommend you take a small bowl. It will be more than sufficient. Your meal will be weighed by the chefs then theatrically grilled to perfection. You will also get some complimentary Jasmin or Brown Rice that will be waiting at your table when you return from the grill! We also ordered a litre of the Mongolini Blended –strawberry, peach and vodka, topped with sangria. They offer a walk-in service only for all guests and groups. Reserved seating is not available. This restaurant has about 150 seats. Inquire about their Mongolie bucks, a nice gift for someone who might be headed to the area. For customers in wheelchairs or with mobility issues, there is an elevator. Info: 604-938-9416

Hy’s Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar

 The last time I dined at Hy’s Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar (www.hyssteakhouse.com) was a number of years ago at the iconic Parliament Hill location in Ottawa, which has since closed. The present-day spots are in Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Whistler.

When Hy Aisenstat opened the first Hy’s Steakhouse in Calgary in 1955, his boundless energy and ambition meant that he would always have his eyes on growing to new cities and locations.

We were fortunate to get a reservation at Hy’s in Whistler, where Michael Kyle serves as general manager. This is a beautiful restaurant located just near the entrance to the village. Dimly lit, the dining room can seat about 175 people. There is also a seasonal terrace.

Dining at Hy’s is above all an authentic experience. Every ingredient is chosen to highlight the top quality of perfectly grilled steaks and the freshest fish and seafood. A wide range of classic and modern appetizers and accompaniments make choosing difficult, but satisfaction guaranteed.

Hy’s menu has evolved over the years, but its timeless steakhouse essence remains. These are the finest beef and seafood entrées, the most beloved appetizers and decadent sides, all prepared with classic technique and modern interpretation.

From specially selected Prime Grade beef, aged a minimum of 28 days and grilled to order, your steak is accompanied by a choice of baked potato, hand-cut French fries or mashed potatoes.

Hy’s serves Prime Grade steaks, the top one percent of beef in the market. From Filet Mignon to New York, and bone–in rib to Porterhouse, each steak served at Hy’s becomes the perfectly prepared centerpiece for the unforgettable Hy’s experience.

With a hungry four year old in our party, we ordered some delicious bread cheese toast to fill his empty tummy. The adults liked it as well. For appetizers we shared the Ahi Tuna and a nice Caesar salad while our little man requested and received a bowl of kids macaroni and cheese. Three of the adults toasted the evening with some French martinis while another had a glass of red wine with his meal.

For the main courses, two of us selected the eight ounce filet mignon, it was perfectly grilled and cut like butter.  The 20 ounce bone in rib was more than enough for two others to share while the remaining order consisted of prawns and scallops. While we were all quite full, the six of us happily split a piece of chocolate bourbon cake.

Share the gift of exceptional taste. Hy’s gift cards are available in any denomination from $25 and may be redeemed at any of our five locations across Canada. Gift cards may be ordered online or in person.

For reservations call 604-905-5555.

Harajuku Izakaya

If you are looking for the best sushi in Whistler, consider Harajuku Izakaya (https://www.harajuku.ca), 205-4000 Whistler Way. It opened in 2011 and is located in the Royal Bank Building in Whistler Village. “Izakayas” are informal Japanese gastropubs popular throughout Japan known for quick, tapas-style food. Harajuku’s interior is inspired by a Japanese village in the early 1900s. The cozy nooks and large booths make it suitable for locals and visitors alike. 

We were extremely delighted with the selection so much so that we returned for a second time on the same trip. At home in Montreal we eat sushi frequently. Harajuku has a very original menu. Here is what we recommend. The Tuna Avocado Yukke includes diced Albacore tuna sashimi, avocado, marinated in sweet sesame soy sauce; the popcorn calamari is made with seaweed salted battered calamari; the Brie Cheese is breaded and deep-fried and served with mango sauce;  and the black cod is a fantastic miso marinated grilled black cod, with sautéed corn and bell pepper.  We continued with three  kinds of assorted sashimi (Albacore tuna, Sockeye salmon and Yellowtail). Next came  Avocado Oshi Sushi (Avocado, shiso herb, ginger, teriyaki mayo, seared);Salmon Avocado Poke (Atlantic salmon and avocado marinated with sweet sesame soy sauce and wasabi mayo); crispy tuna roll (Albacore tuna, avocado, green onion, tempura bits and spicy mayo) and Rock n’ roll ( tempura yam, avocado, cucumber, carrot, beats, shitake, soba and kabayaki sauce). Reservations are recommended. Call 604- 962-7222.