A City of Toronto update with dinner at the Ritz Carlton and take-out from Miku

By Alexandra Cohen

I recently had the great pleasure of visiting Toronto, Canada’s largest and most bustling city, for a long weekend. For a sense of what might be new, I consulted Destination Toronto (www.destinationtoronto.com). 

In June, Toronto is opening up one of its most anticipated developments, the Waterworks Food Hall (499 Richmond St. W.), which celebrates the city’s dynamic culinary scene in a beautifully restored heritage building. The space spans 55,000 square feet and is located in the heart of the King West neighborhood. Visit to experience this European-style food hall, which hosts more than 20 different food stalls including sushi, ramen, various beverages, and more. 

A lover of cats and exhibitions? Check out Wild Cats at the Royal Ontario Museum from June 15 – October 20. This exhibit presents an array of mounted specimens, interactive displays, cultural objects, and multimedia. Visitors will also learn more about the conservation and protection of these amazing creatures. 

Another treat might be the newest summer concert venue: The Bowl at Sobey’s Stadium. This venue is situated at the York University campus. See their website for more information about upcoming shows (https://liveatthebowl.com/). For those who enjoy more of a Broadway flair, Mirvish Productions always has something up and running. The musical Wicked will run from June 5 – July 21, with Tina – The Tina Turner Musical set to run from June 18 – July 28. See their website for a full list of upcoming offers (https://www.mirvish.com/). 

Upcoming festivals include the Beaches International Jazz Festival from July 4 – 28, Salsa in Toronto from July 6 – 7, the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair from July 12 – 14, and the Toronto Caribbean Carnival from August 1 – 5. 

Dining Out

EPOCH BAR & KITCHEN TERRACE: 

The Ritz-Carlton name is synonymous with class and high quality; that is something that I have known for a long time now, having experienced some of their other properties. During my recent visit to Toronto, I had the great pleasure of dining at EPOCH Bar & Kitchen Terrace (https://epochtoronto.com/). Having opened in the last few years inside the Ritz-Carlton Toronto property, it offers a casual but elegant setting where one can enjoy a series of imaginative dishes and cocktails. 

While the venue’s indoor seating is lovely and appears quite comfortable, the location is perhaps best known for its large garden-style patio. The terrace features outdoor heaters (with the servers also being happy to offer you blankets on a cooler night), a lovely centerpiece bar, and a wood-fired stone oven which is used to make their signature pizzas. 

From a beverage standpoint, the menu was fantastically creative, with the cocktail list divided into various categories based on the general flavouring that you might prefer (“The Secret Garden”, “Lost in Paradise”, “Avant-Garde”, and “Intermission”). I opted for the delicious Pineapple Express from the “Lost in Paradise” list, which featured pineapple and vanilla-induced Tito’s Handmade Vodka, crème de cassis, pomegranate reduction, fresh lemon, pineapple juice, all served on the rocks. For those looking to explore the wine list, there are plenty of options as well, both by the glass and by the bottle.

Helming the kitchen is chef Jeff Crump, a Canadian slow-food pioneer. The menu is a culinary homage to his earth-to-table philosophy and his roots in the U.K. gastrobar scene. From the appetizer menu, my dining partner and I were able to sample delicious offerings including the French Kiss Oysters, the Japanese Hamachi Crudo, the Crab Stuffed Avocado, and a true highlight: the Crispy Coconut Shrimp. From the Mains, we shared the light and flavourful Miso Glazed Chilean Sea Bass, as well as the Rib Cap Steak, which was cooked to perfection and served with chimichurri. We were also able to sample one of the restaurant’s signature pizzas, cooked on the wood-fired stove oven outside: Mushroom Truffle. For dessert, we shared the Strawberry Rhubarb Upside Down Cake, which was the perfect way to end the night. 

While we did not stay at the hotel, it is certainly luxurious. It is close to the Rogers Centre, Scotiabank Arena, and many other downtown establishments. The hotel is undergoing refurbishment through to the end of August 2024, which will involve redefining the lobby, opening a new retail shop, transforming the Ritz Bar, and more. I certainly look forward to visiting EPOCH again. 

MIKU TORONTO: 

During my visit to Toronto, I was also able to sample some take-out from Miku Toronto, which is part of the Aburi Restaurants Canada group. Miku Toronto first opened its doors in 2015. It is situated in Toronto’s Harbourfront at the corner of Bay and Queen’s Quay. 

Takeout offerings include a variety of sashimi, nigiri, maki, and of course, aburi offerings, as well as a variety of desserts which can also be combined into a dessert platter for the complete tasting experience. We tasted a mix of sashimi and nigiri offerings, as well as their two specialty rolls: the Miku Roll (sockeye salmon, uni, crab, cucumber, rolled in tobiko, served with Miku sauce) and the Red Wave Roll (spicy prawn, avocado, red tuna, served with masatake sauce). The star of the meal, unsurprisingly, was both the Salmon Oshi Sushi and the Ebi Oshi Sushi. Everything was packaged nicely and tasted delicious. 

Aburi  Restaurants is the parent company of Miku VancouverMiku TorontoMinami Yaletown, WA-BAGEL, Minami Toronto, ABURI HANA, ABURI TORA, and Gyoza Bar.  They also have two grocery concepts (Aburi Market and Aburi To-Go ). For more information, visit   https://aburirestaurants.com/ 

Miku Toronto is located at  105-10 Bay Street in Toronto, You can call (647) 347-7347
or (416) 716-1501 (take-out only) for more information. 

Orlando remains the theme park capital of the world: Where to stay and play

By Alexandra Cohen

Orlando, Florida (www.visitOrlando.com) has long been known as the theme park capital of the world, making it an ideal visiting location for people of all ages, including both children and Disney Adults. While I had visited the city with great enthusiasm as a child, this was my first time returning in my adult years, and I am pleased to report that it has not at all lost its magic and wonder.

WHERE TO STAY: While Orlando has more than 490 unique properties to choose from, we chose to stay at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa, a beautiful hotel that first opened its doors in 2020. Looking for action and fun? The hotel includes not only a pool, but also an Activity Garden for families which features the Mount Chelonia rock-climbing wall, a nine-hole mini golf course, and an open lawn to play giant chess. There is also the sixth-floor Kids Conservatory, which offers access to various games and arts and crafts. When you are ready to explore the city, the hotel offers a free shuttle service to take guests to the Disney World theme parks, as well as to Disney Springs, which is located less than 10 minutes from the hotel. The shuttle service can be booked in advance, and if desired, will also pick you up from any of these destinations. 

The resort has 516 rooms, as well as 18 event/meeting rooms. It is only a 30-minute drive from the Orlando International Airport, and a 10 to 15-minute drive to the main Disney Parks. The property recently received a highly acclaimed Gold Badge from U.S. News & World Report, ranking as one of the Top 10 Best Hotels in Orlando. We stayed in a very comfortable room that overlooked the pools and featured two queen-sized beds, a fridge, both a shower and a bathtub, and an in-room safe. For those traveling in larger groups, consider booking a suite, including one of the Family Suites which has two bedrooms and sleeps up to nine people. 

While Orlando is best known for its amusement parks, the primary purpose of our trip was relaxation, hence our selection of this fantastic hotel. This JW Marriott property features two pools – a larger and more shallow family pool with sparkling fountains and zero-entry, as well as a neighboring, slightly smaller adult pool for those looking for peace, quiet, and a splash-free zone. The adult pool area is completed by a soothing hot tub. 

The service at these pools is truly outstanding. From the moment of your arrival, there is a clear sense of luxury as the poolside attendants happily set you up with towels at whichever pool you choose, opening your umbrella for you and moving it as necessary should you be looking for some shade. There was no shortage of lounge chairs available, no matter the time of day that we came by. Once you are settled in your seats, the staff will bring you your pitcher of water, which is refreshed as needed throughout the day, and they also occasionally come by offering samples of some of the pool restaurant’s menu items or offering to polish your sunglasses for you. We truly never wanted to leave!

For those looking to further elevate their comfort at the pool, one option is to reserve a personal cabana. During my time in the cabana, I was treated to a sectional couch with a fan, a 43-inch Satellite TV, a personal safe, a mini fridge, scented towels, a fruit platter, as well as a platter of sweet and salty snacks. Poolside cabanas must be booked for an entire day. See this link for more information: https://jwbonnetcreek.ipoolside.com/

Looking to step up the relaxation yet again? Look no further than Spa by JW, which is 10,000 square feet of luxury. I had the opportunity to try out the 50-minute Magnesium Oil Infused Massage, which was incredibly well done and also included the use of some sound bowls. While I had never incorporated sound bowls into a massage before, the effect was incredibly peaceful and added to the experience. In addition to massages, other options include a variety of facials, body treatments, as well as hair and makeup services. With the purchase of any service or treatment, guests also have access to the co-ed relaxation lounge, spa steam room, sauna, showers, and locker rooms. 

The minimum age for spa access is 18. Upon exiting, you have access to a boutique featuring a variety of high-quality products for all face and body needs. Spa by JW is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm.

Hungry? The hotel offers plenty of dining options for any mood and budget. On the hotel’s main floor, consider starting with their signature Sear + Sea steakhouse, which offers both a nice interior and a small patio overlooking the pool. We sampled some of the mouth-watering options on their menu, including some oysters and their creative take on a burrata salad to start, followed by a 16oz ribeye cooked to perfection and paired with a potato puree. For dessert: the chocolate dome, which tastes just as good as it sounds and is covered in a warm salted caramel sauce for extra measure. The restaurant also has a complete wine list and cocktail menu – we tasted the rosemary beret cocktail which certainly did not disappoint. 

For another dining option, consider the ninth-floor rooftop lounge, Illume, which features a menu of creative and hand-crafted cocktails, sushi, and Asian tapas. For dinner, we enjoyed two fantastic maki rolls, including one of the chef’s daily specials and the oki rule, which included snow crab, avocado, cucumber, salmon, tuna, yellowtail, spicy mayo, and fried shallots. We also tried the beef tenderloin bao buns paired with scallions, toasted peanuts, yuzu aioli, and cabbage slaw, which were incredibly satisfying. One of the highlights of Illume, however, is the cocktails, which are both tasty and served beautifully. We enjoyed the ILLUMination cocktail, which includes Casa Noble blanco tequila, passion fruit liqueur, agave nectar, and lime, as well as the Lychee Martini. Later in the evening, we were treated to a view of the Disney fireworks from our rooftop perch. 

Other dining options at the hotel include UnReserved, a European-inspired, food-hall-style restaurant with all-day dining, Palm Cove, the poolside grill, and the JW Market, which serves grab-and-go coffee, drinks, snacks, gelato, and all-day breakfast offerings. 

JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa is located at 14900 Chelonia Parkway. For more information, log on to www.jwmarriottorlandobonnetcreek.com

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS: When trying to select a theme park, the options are limitless. While I had visited several as a child, I did not doubt my return to Orlando that the Universal Parks were at the top of my list (www.UniversalOrlando.com). 

Outside of its separate water park, Universal features two distinct parks that one may wish to explore: Universal Studios, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Visit one, visit both separately, or visit both in the same day by purchasing a park-to-park pass. Amongst other attractions, Universal Studios features areas tributing various cities, including Hollywood, New York, and San Francisco, as well as Minion Land and Springfield, USA: Home of the Simpsons. Universal’s Islands of Adventure includes Marvel Superhero Island, Skull Island, Jurassic Park, Seuss Landing, and more. 

That being said, the highlight for me was, without a doubt, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Harry Potter universe is a must-visit for all fans of the books and movies and sprawls over both Universal Parks. Visit the famed Diagon Alley over at Universal Studios, where you can visit all of the shops so well-known from the series, including Gringotts Money Exchange, Ollivanders, and more. The main ride at this location is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. When you are done in Diagon Alley, make your way to Platform 9 and ¾ and take the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross Station to Hogsmeade, which is found over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. To make this trip, you will need to have purchased a Park-to-Park admission ticket, however, or will need to own an Annual/Seasonal Pass. 

Over at Hogsmeade, which is also superbly decorated to reflect scenes from the films, explore a few more shops, have a bite to eat at famous destinations such as Hog’s Head or Three Broomsticks, and try out a few more rides, including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which was my personal favourite of the day, as well as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Flight of the Hippogriff. Stroll by the stage to watch performances by the frog choir or from the Triwizard Spirit Rally – the performance schedule can be viewed on the Universal phone app. Another highlight of Hogsmeade is the beautifully constructed replica of Hogwarts Castle, which is the perfect photo opportunity. 

For an extra fee, guests can purchase the Express Pass, allowing them to skip the regular lines. Buy a regular Express Pass for as little as $79.99 to skip the regular lines one time per participating ride, or buy an Express Unlimited Pass for as little as $109.99 to skip the regular lines as often as desired. Note that most but not all rides at the park offer an express line. The list can be found on the Universal website. 

DINING OUT: While its world-famous theme parks are certainly the headlines, Orlando has increasingly been recognized for its culinary scene in recent years. The website WalletHub recently named Orlando the 2023 Best Foodie City in America. 

During my recent trip, I discovered the wonders of Disney Springs, which is a top-rated entertainment, dining, and retail district formerly known as Downtown Disney. Disney Springs is a completely outdoor district featuring 120 acres of boutiques, restaurants, and entertainment. Watch the Magic Kingdom or Epcot nightly fireworks from a patio, or take to the sky in the Disney Springs hot air balloon. Furthermore, families can enjoy the Disney Springs Kids Club every Saturday, a free experience featuring interactive entertainment for all ages located at The Landing. 

WINE BAR GEORGE: For my first visit to Disney Springs, I was pleased to sit out on the patio at Wine Bar George (https://winebargeorge.com/). With Wine Bar George being a predominantly tapas-style restaurant, I decided to embrace the experience and sampled some of their small plates, including an out-of-this-world artisanal cheese plate that featured four different types of cheese paired with almonds, honey, fig jam, and olives. Other delicious treats included their New Zealand Lamp Chops, which are served with black garlic purée, salted onions, and an herb vinaigrette, as well as the crispy mac & cheese bites with tomato nage and pecorino. 

The true highlight of the restaurant, however, is, as its name implies, the wine. Wine Bar George is the only restaurant in North America to offer more than 200 wines, all available by the glass, by the bottle, or in some cases, even by the ounce. A series of wine flights are also available for those keen on multiple tastings. The restaurant servers are incredibly knowledgeable, and my dining partner and I were very well-guided when it came to making our selections. To ensure that such helpful guest interactions are always the standard, the Wine Bar George team conducts regular wine tastings and education sessions. Of course, there are also always Certified Sommeliers, an advanced Sommelier, and/or a Master Sommelier present in the restaurant to support both servers and guests in making the best possible choices. 

Wine Bar George is more than just a dining destination – it is a dining experience. For more information, follow the restaurant on social media @WineBarGeorge or visit https://winebargeorge.com/

MORIMOTO ASIA: Also at Disney Springs, the fantastic Morimoto Asia restaurant looms tall. Helmed by famous Japanese Master Chef Masaharu Morimoto, this pan-Asian, two-story destination is not to be missed. Chef Morimoto opened his first restaurant in Hiroshima in 1980 before eventually establishing himself in New York City, where he was eventually head chef at the well-known Japanese restaurant, Nobu. It was while he was at Nobu that he began his career on the Iron Chef television show, where he made his name in particular with his famed dish, “Buri-Bop”, his take on Bibimbap with yellowtail fish instead of meat. I had the pleasure of sampling this delicious dish during my visit – it was cooked table-side with fried rice, egg yolk, and Korean-style yellowtail served in a hot clay pot. Another fantastic dish was the Mongolian Filet, which is a 10oz Angus beef tenderloin served with wok sauteed scallion, bean sprout, mixed mushroom, and sweet Szechuan sauce. The menu truly includes something for everyone, with a series of small plates, dim sum, vegetable dishes, ramen, rice and noodles, and seafood. Another signature dish that I did not have the chance to taste is the Morimoto Peking Duck, which is a carved house-roasted whole duck meant to be shared between two. 

Sushi lovers are in for quite the experience at Morimoto Asia! While sushi and sashimi can be ordered a la carte, another option would be to order one of the several available combos, platters, and towers/pagodas, which allow for the chef’s selections to be brought to the table for a tasting experience. All fish is fresh and flown in daily from Japan, including the seasonal Japanese cherry blossom salmon (Sakura masu) that I had the pleasure of tasting. I also sampled the bluefin tuna (o-toro) and the golden eye snapper (kinmedai), as well as some fresh oysters served with dressings including a yuzu ceviche, cocktail sauce, and soy sauce. 

My meal was coupled with one of their highball cocktails – the restaurant’s Suntory custom highball machine dispenses super chilled, highly carbonated soda water, which is described in the menu to be 5x the carbonation of regular soda water and 1.5x that of champagne. My highball was called The Forgotten, with ingredients including haku Japanese vodka, strawberry rose, yuzu, and soda water. For dessert, I enjoyed the yuzu pie, the restaurant’s unique take on a key lime pie, which was coupled with white chocolate vanilla cream and a blueberry compote. Other dessert options include churro donuts, Japanese souffle cheesecake, gelato, and sorbet. 

While the taste of this excellent meal was the true highlight, the restaurant also features a nice ambiance. The building’s 36-foot-tall layout includes lounges, private dining spaces, a glass-encased kitchen with a view of the culinary action, an outdoor patio, and a second-level sushi bar and lounge with a separate entrance. The custom glass beaded chandeliers and glass mosaics, based on ancient Japanese prints, further add to the aesthetic. 

The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. Call 407-939-6686 or log on to https://www.morimotoasia.com/ for more information. 

 SOPHIA’S TRATTORIA: The Conrad Orlando, which is Orlando’s first Hilton luxury brand 5-star hotel, opened recently this past January, situated at the Evermore Orlando Resort. I had the privilege of experiencing this beautiful new property through the newly launched restaurant, Sophia’s Trattoria (https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/orlcici-conrad-orlando/dining/sophias-trattoria/).

Sophia’s Trattoria is found on the hotel’s first floor, with its patio directly facing the hotel’s picturesque lagoon and man-made beach. Both the restaurant’s aesthetic and menu are meant to celebrate the coastal-inspired Southern Italian cuisine, with dishes including wood-fired pizzas, handmade pasta, fish, and meat. 

For our meal, we started with the tasty baked fontina, dressed with garlic and thyme, and Bellini cocktails. We shared the whole branzino for our main course, which was served with sauce vierge, lemon confit, and fine herbs. For dessert, we enjoyed a truly decadent tiramisu. 

Dinner service here is from 5 pm until 10 pm. For more information, call (407) 387-2000 or log on to https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/orlcici-conrad-orlando/ 

OTHER ATTRACTIONS: While we did not have time to explore all that Orlando has to offer, here are a few other suggestions for your consideration. 

Within a short distance of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can find Disney’s Boardwalk. Inspired by Atlantic City, the boardwalk features free admission to stroll along a Coney Island-style boardwalk with complimentary evening entertainment including jugglers, comedians, and fire-eaters. It is connected to Disney’s ferry system via the adjacent Disney’s Boardwalk Villas. 

Whether or not you plan on buying tickets to any of the Universal theme parks, check out the action-packed Universal CityWalk, which features several themed restaurants, nightclubs, a movie theatre, shopping, and access to all of the Universal-themed merchandise. Parking is free after 6 pm. 

Love animals and nature? See more than 500 animals, including some rare and endangered species, and wander through 23 acres of lush, natural beauty at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. As well, Gatorland is one of Orlando’s longest-running attractions, featuring 110 acres with thousands of alligators and crocodiles, plus a flight aviary, petting zoo, nature walk, splash pad play area, Bobcat Bayou, and more.  

This spring, LEGOLAND Florida Resort will debut the LEGO Ferrari Build & Race, which offers guests the experience of viewing a life-sized LEGO Ferrari Car and then building and testing it in one of three obstacle-laden test tracks. Young drivers can also enjoy the LEGO DUPLO Build Zone to design their own custom creations with larger bricks. 

Everything you need to know is at www.visitorlando.com

A return visit to the New Your capital: Albany offers fun food, good shopping and historic sites

By Mike Cohen

The New York Capital in Albany.

ALBANY, NEW YORK – The last time I was in the United States for a getaway was just a few months before the pandemic shut down the world. We had gone for a change of scenery to the New York capital of Albany, where you can count on good shopping and fun restaurants.

Four years later, while I was on holiday from my day job for March Break, I figured that a few days in Albany (https://www.albany.org/)   would be a good idea and I was right. Between the two large malls,  meals at some of my favorite restaurants and a terrific hotel I did indeed come back feeling refreshed.

Albany is a 400-year-old city on the banks of the Hudson River. Discovered in 1609 by Henry Hudson, this city is the oldest continuously chartered city in the country — that means it’s older than New York City or Boston! Albany is a great city to explore because it’s full of so many engaging attractions and must-see sites! But Albany is also a city of storytellers, who want very much to welcome visitors and acquaint them with our fun and quirky history. Let us tell you about this quintessentially American city! 

From museums and historic sites in downtown Albany to scenic views and outdoor adventures in the Helderberg Hilltowns, Albany County boasts a variety of must-see attractions. Tour top landmarks, explore the rich landscape, or visit one of the world-class museums for a trip that is beyond conventional.

Albany lies at the foot of the Adirondacks and Catskill Mountains and is at the tip of the historic Hudson Valley Region

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. 

The master bedroom is in the one-bedroom queen suite.

WHERE TO STAY: On my previous trip here I noticed that a dual-brand Homewood Suites  & Tru by Hilton had just opened. Wow, one of my favorite hotel brands is literally in the parking lot of Crossgates Mall. I jotted that all down for future reference and we were most fortunate to get a beautiful one-bedroom suite on the Homewood side. A big shoutout to front office manager Bonnie Bevilacqua. We arrived late due to traffic and some other circumstances and she came to our room to set us up and resolve a few minor issues. Throughout the next three days, she worked the lobby, checking to see if any guests needed anything.

This 192-room extended stay facility was the first dual-branded Homewood Suites and Tru by Hilton in the USA when it debuted in 2018. It features two separate areas designed for each brand, unique public spaces designed to promote social connectivity, a 24-hour fitness center, an indoor pool, outdoor grills, sports courts and an airport shuttle. The hotel offers a meeting room and a business centre. The different lobby and dining spaces are extremely large and offer all of the comforts of home and more. There is 24-hour complimentary coffee and tea in the Tru by Hilton lobby.

Our room had a kitchen, stovetop, fridge, dishwasher,  microwave, coffee maker and all of the necessary dishes and cutlery. There were two televisions, two queen-sized beds in the master and a safe (always a must for us) as well as  a pull-out couch in the spacious large living room area

I was beyond impressed with the complimentary hot and cold morning breakfast, from the neat pancake machine to the array of bagels, English muffins, cereals, yogurts and hot and cold drinks. Next to the front desk, there is a small market to purchase refreshments and light bites.

The breakfast area at Homewood Suites Crossgates.

The hotel is conveniently located at the intersection of Interstates 87 and 90, offering guests access to numerous dining, retail and entertainment options within walking distance. It is a six-minute drive from Albany International Airport and a 30-minute drive from Saratoga Springs leisure attractions. In addition, the property is proximate to renowned universities and research centers such as the University of Albany, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Siena College, Union College, and SUNY Polytechnic College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

A view of the dual-brand hotel property.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit Homewood Suites By Hilton Albany Crossgates Mall or Tru by Hilton Albany Crossgates Mall or call +1 (518) 704-4040 or +1 (518) 704-4010.

Log on to www.albanycrossgatesmall.homewoodsuitesbyhilton.com

or www.albanycrossgatesmall.trubyhilton.com

GREAT SHOPPING:  Over the last few years the team at Crossgates has been sending me press releases about the property. Let me say that this mall has always been one of the draws for me when visiting Albany. The vast majority of entrances are ADA accessible with ample parking distributed throughout the site. You can rent wheelchairs.

Dave & Buster’s at Crossgates.

Crossgates (https://www.shopcrossgates.com/)  is the largest shopping, dining, and entertainment destination in New York’s Capital Region. The center is anchored by Macy’s, JC  Penney, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Primark and Best Buy, while offering more than 180 retail shops, including Apple.  Crossgates offers 10 entertainment venues and over 20 on-site eateries, such as Dave & Buster’s, Get Air, Billy Beez, Apex Entertainment, The Standard Restaurant & Lounge, Maggie McFly’s and Regal Cinemas with IMAX. You can also relax at their award-winning day spa, Spa Mirbeau.   Dave & Buster’s, with its fun food and endless array of games, is always a draw for people of all ages. I spent a good hour there until my power card ran out. You collect points for every game you experience. At the end, the power cards are tabulated at the gift shop and you can pick a prize. I also could not resist a visit to Antie Ann’s Pretzels, a big American chain that has been around since 1988. A homemade pretzel and an original pretzel dog certainly hit the spot.

Dave & Buster’s at Crossgates.

 See this nostalgic 1984 video of the Mall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Nm9WHBp3Lg 

“Crossgates has a lot going on, and we are so grateful for it,” said Marketing Director Jen Smith. “We have over 240 apartments and townhouses being built adjacent to our property, and we are in the final stages of the approval processes to build a Costco on the land, just west of the hotel. Last year we opened the international retailer Primark in the center and this year we will be welcoming the very sought-after REI, amongst many other tenants. Big things are  happening!” 

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. 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 five minutes from the Albany International Airport and major hotel chains and is accessible from Interstates 87 and 90.

We also came across a unique shoe store called Fleet Feet at 155 Wolf Road. It carries comfortable, high-quality performance footwear and gear for running and walking. When we arrived two young sales persons took care of us,  T.J. and Jessica. You are first asked to step onto their 3D Foot Scanning Technology. Their state-of-the-art fit I.D. scanner captures 12 precise data points to construct a 3D image of your foot. Measurements like foot length, width volume, and arch height help them select the best shoes for one’s unique feet.  Log on to www.fleetfeetalbany.com

The author at Red Lobster.

RED LOBSTER: As people who read my articles regularly are aware, I have been a big fan of the Red Lobster restaurant chain for many years. Unfortunately, it disappeared from the Quebec dining landscape in the late 1990s.  There are two locations in Ottawa, but when we visited Albany, New York we made a bee-line for the Red Lobster at 170 Wolf Road.

Red Lobster is the world’s largest and most-loved seafood restaurant company, focused on serving the highest quality, freshly prepared seafood that is traceable, sustainable, and responsibly sourced.

I was greeted by the manager on duty, Daniel Rogers. Upon learning that I was from Montreal, he began speaking French to me. He’s from Atlanta but picked up the language in school. In addition, he comes to Montreal often

It was nice to connect with  General Manager Crystal Franchi and   Beverage and Hospitality Manager Dean Stringfellow. This location can seat about 230 people in a very large dining room, separated by a bar in the middle. They also have a seasonal patio for about 20 people. The parking lot is quite large, a good thing since it tends to fill up before dinnertime. 

We ordered the Lobster Lover’s Dream and the Lobster Lover’s Duo with two sides and their trademark cheddar biscuits.  Both meals include  Roasted Caribbean rock and Maine lobster tails. The Dream is also paired with lobster-and-shrimp linguini. For sides, we chose the orzo rice and the creamy lobster mashed potatoes.  I could not resist a bowl of New England clam chowder,  piping hot. We were too full to take advantage of any dessert choices.

My greatest wish remains that Red Lobster returns to Montreal one day. I’d eat there once a week for sure. There is no place like it here right now. Montrealers travel to Albany frequently, either for a long weekend like us or on the way to or from New York City, Washington, or Florida. So indeed this is a must-stop. And given the fact Daniel already speaks French, here we have an experienced Red Lobster official who could get the first franchise up and running.

The very first Red Lobster opened in Lakeland, Florida in 1968.  

This Red Lobster is located at 170 Wolf Road. It opens at 11 am each day. You can call 518-459-1040. To learn more about Red Lobster go to www.redlobster.com

CHEESECAKE FACTORY:  The  Cheesecake Factory also ranks as one of my must-stops in cities like Albany. Of course, Quebec does not have one of these franchises either. 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. 

In Albany, Senior General Manager David Albert runs a well-oiled machine.  He has been at the helm of this busy location for 18 years and has an uncanny memory for customers. I had not been there for four years, yet I did not have to reintroduce myself to him or his assistant GM Richard Harris.

The service here is always impeccable and the food is superb.

Cheesecake Factory manager Richard Harris.

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 calorie “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.

I know many people who stop here on purpose just to enjoy the experience.  Toronto has one too now yet  Montreal continues to be left out in the cold. Perhaps there is a fear that the language police here would insist it be called La Fabrique de Gâteau au fromage.

We began our meal by sharing a crab wonton meal as a starter, along with a cheese flatbread pizza. For the main courses, the SkinnyLicious offerings, notably the grilled turkey burgers which we can report are out of this world, always top our list. For us, the latter came with a side salad. In addition, our order included a filet mignon medium rare with rice and magnificent mashed potatoes with gravy on the side.

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 window 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. Favorites include the Godiva chocolate cheesecake, the Oreo Dream Extreme cheesecake, the ultimate red velvet cheesecake and the Reese’s peanut butter cheesecake. This is one dessert menu where I don’t even think about the calorie count.

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 the movie theatres.

Yes, Albany remains one of my favorite stops!

The Greater Palm Springs region: an oasis for culture, culinary delights and resorts

By Alexandra Cohen

Close your eyes. Imagine a place with palm tree-lined streets, beautiful summer weather in the spring and fall, resorts, golfing, hiking, shopping, and more. For many years, I had heard such wonderful things about The Greater Palm Springs (GPS) region, and when I finally had the opportunity to travel there myself, it lived up to the hype.

The Greater Palm Springs region encompasses nine cities – Palm Springs itself, as well as Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella (after which is named perhaps the world’s most famous music festival). During our visit, we stayed in Indian Wells, a 30-minute drive from the downtown core of Palm Springs and a 10 to 15-minute commute to several of the other neighboring cities with their attractions, including Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, and La Quinta. The city of Palm Springs offers a laid-back atmosphere with a walkable downtown area, which features a variety of shops, as well as restaurants which often have sprawling patios. Every Thursday, Palm Canyon Drive is closed to vehicular traffic as VillageFest, a street fair, takes over. At the time of our visit, the theme of the night was Halloween, and children and families walked the streets in costumes, trick-or-treating at each of the booths.

WHERE TO STAY: During my time in Palm Springs, I had the great pleasure of staying at The Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa (www.renesmeralda.com), a beautiful resort in Indian Wells, which is conveniently nestled between the Palm Desert and La Quinta regions, just at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Adjacent to the Indian Wells Golf Resort, The Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa is located off Highway 111 and is approximately a 30-minute drive to the airport and Downtown Palm Springs.

A few years ago, the resort underwent a multi-million-dollar re-design, which included the creation of new guestrooms and suites, the development of a beautiful new two-story lobby, an olive tree grove, and a new set of menus for their restaurants.

Let me tell you, a stay at this hotel truly does feel luxurious. Wherever you turn, you are treated to stunning views of the blue, typically cloudless sky, the desert mountains and the nearby palm trees. The hotel’s large pool area features two swimming pools, one with a fountain and the other with zero-entry and a sandy beach, as well as two hot tubs. There is plenty of seating, but for those hoping for a particularly special day, it is possible to reserve VIP chairs or cabana seating. My travel partner and I enjoyed a lovely day in a cabana, which comes with couches, a television, water, and a large fruit platter. We also ordered drinks and lunch from the tasty and diverse pool menu. The service was truly top-notch.

Are you a golfer? The hotel offers packages that include the option to golf at the neighboring Indian Wells Golf Resort, which is one of the few properties to have two courses ranked in the Top 25 “Best Municipal Courses in the United States” by Golfweek Magazine. Tee times may be reserved through the Golf Resort directly.

The Renaissance Esmeralda also features a fitness center with state-of-the-art facilities, tennis facilities, an entertainment zone with arcade games, virtual reality, and an escape room, a camp for children, and a fantastic spa. Spa Esmeralda, located on the lobby level, is a 13,000-square-foot spa featuring 11 indoor treatment rooms, eight treatment cabanas, one indoor suite for couples, steam rooms, relaxation lounges, and a garden courtyard with a jacuzzi. Available spa treatments include single and couples’ massages, body scrubs, and facials. I had the opportunity to experience the incredibly relaxing Esmeralda Signature Massage with the spa’s signature aromatherapy, as well as a foot scrub. I could not have felt more relaxed by the time I finished my treatment and made my way to the garden courtyard to lounge. Although I did not experience this myself, Spa Esmeralda also features Agim Salon, which is overseen by celebrity stylist Agim. Treatments include cuts, styling, consultations, and nail care.

Now, what about the hotel rooms themselves? The resort features spacious and beautifully appointed rooms and suites. This large hotel includes 560 rooms, 103 of which are suites, ranging from 420 to 2,879 square feet, all with balconies and stellar views. Each room features amenities including 300-thread count sheets (the bed is very comfortable!), double sinks with a marble vanity, good closet space, televisions, an in-room safe, Keurig coffeemakers, offerings of coffee and tea, and a fridge. High-speed internet also comes with each room.

HOTEL DINING: We started off our dining experiences in the Greater Palm Springs region at our hotel. First, at The Place Lobby Bar, which offers an extensive and creative cocktail menu, as well as many light bites. Both indoor and outdoor seating are available; we enjoyed sitting outside, which offered a nice view of the pool area and mountains. We started with the Indian Wells Rosé cocktail, which included hangar rose vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, St. Germaine, raspberries, rosé, and a pink rim. We shared the Caprese salad and the wagyu beef sliders, both of which were delicious, and also were able to select a sushi roll from the other lobby restaurant, Glo Sushi. The Place also offers a few dessert options, including raspberry cheesecake, a 6-layer chocolate cake, or a cookie skillet. A children’s menu is also available for those ages 12 and under.

The second restaurant that we tried at the Renaissance Esmeralda was Cava, which is on the terrace level with a patio adjacent to the swimming pools. Cava has different menus available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During our dinner, we enjoyed glasses of prosecco followed by a sampling of their Brussels sprouts appetizer, which was creatively combined with pistachio, orange glaze, and lemon zest. For the main course, we shared the ribeye steak, cooked to perfection, and a flavorful roasted half-chicken, which came with garlic mashed potatoes, baby squash, and a red pepper coulis. For dessert, we had a key lime pie, though we were also certainly tempted by the other options, which included chocolate croissant bread pudding, crème brûlée, and more.

DINING OUT: Outside of our dining experiences within the Renaissance Esmeralda, we also sought to venture beyond the front doors of our hotel and experience what some of the neighboring regions had to offer.

PACIFICA: Located at The Gardens on El Paseo, deemed to be the premier shopping and dining destination in the Southern California Desert region, I highly recommend visiting Pacifica Seafood Restaurant during your trip. Their fine dining menu focuses on their selection of fresh seafood, as well as their hand-crafted cocktails and award-winning wine list.

Their list of beverages is hand-delivered by your server on an iPad, which allows you to easily scroll through the extensive list of options. We ended up opting for The Garden and the Blueberry Lemon Drop, both of which were very tasty. To start the meal, we had some oysters on the half shell, paired with a light mignonette, and the ahi tuna tartare, which is paired with a sake-soy sesame marinade, avocado, mango, wasabi aioli, wasabi tobiko caviar, and chili oil. For our main course, we shared the pan-seared scallops, which come with carrots, celery root puree, seared leeks, and brown butter, and at the advice of our server, we also tried the pan-seared Chilean seabass, a menu highlight, which had a honey-soy glaze and was served on top of ginger sticky rice and bok choy with a green curry-coconut sauce. For dessert, we completed our meal with a raspberry-infused crème brûlée and some iced wine.

Although clearly, the name of the restaurant itself indicates a specialization in seafood, which we chose to take advantage of, meat lovers have plenty of options to choose from, including a grilled center-cut filet mignon, a bone-in ribeye steak paired with gnocchi, braised boneless beef short ribs, and even a surf & turf option pairing filet mignon with a lobster tail, for those wishing to try a little bit of both. Sunset dinners at Pacifica run from 3:30-5 p.m., at which time $27 will buy you two courses at substantially reduced prices.

Pacifica is located at The Gardens on El Paseo (73505 El Paseo in Palm Desert). Go to www.pacificaseafoodrestaurant.com or call 760-674-8666 for more information.

ARNOLD PALMER’S RESTAURANT: When you hear the word Arnold Palmer, food is not the first thing that comes to mind. Known as “The King,” this professional golfer won 92 national and international championships. He was also successful in the corporate world as chairman of the world-encompassing Arnold Palmer Group.

Arnold Palmer’s Restaurant opened in 2004. Though he sadly passed away in 2016, the restaurant remains a staple in the La Quinta area. For those interested in exploring Palmer’s career, visitors can explore a massive collection of memorabilia detailing his decades-long professional golf career in the “Palmer Room,” which includes trophies, photos, personal items, and more. Equally, however, for those who are just interested in a nice dinner with a fantastic ambiance, this place is for you.

While you can choose between indoor dining in multiple spaces, including the Master Dining Room or Arnie’s Lounge, we chose to dine on the live entertainment patio, which was truly one of the nicest restaurant patios we have had the pleasure of visiting. The patio included live entertainment and also had heaters, misters, and cozy fire pits available to ensure year-round comfort (though none of these were needed on the night of our visit).

The menu features some of Palmer’s favorites, including fresh seafood, aged beef, and a variety of comfort foods.  The daily specials are also frequently evolving, some of which we enjoyed during our visit. To start, we had a Hamachi appetizer, which was one of the specials and was incredibly light and fresh. We also enjoyed the Purple Haze cocktail, which contained aviation gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, Chambord, lemon and blackberry garnish, as well as the Pomegranate Tini, which featured ketel one, lychee liqueur, triple sec, grapefruit, lemon, and pomegranate syrup. For dinner, we shared the rack of lamb, another special that was paired with delicious spinach and ricotta dumplings, as well as the whole roasted branzino, which contained a scallop mousse stuffing and was paired with green beans, shallots, and almond brown butter sauce. Our selected side dish was the jalapeno potato au gratin – other side dish offerings at the restaurant include balsamic Brussels sprouts, sauteed mushrooms, truffle French fries, and more. We sampled some of the fantastic wine selections available at the restaurant alongside our meals, and for dessert, we shared a warm chocolate brownie and a chocolate martini.

This is a restaurant that would be on my list to visit again should I return to the Greater Palm Springs area.

The restaurant is single-level and ADA-compliant.  

Arnold Palmer’s Restaurant is located at 78164 Avenue 52 in La Quinta. It is open Monday to Saturday, beginning at 5 p.m. For more details, log on to www.arnoldpalmersrestaurant.com or call 760-771-GOLF (4653).

WHAT TO DO: When you aren’t relaxing at a hotel pool or playing a round of golf, there are plenty of other activities to consider during your visit to Palm Springs.

TRAMWAY: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (https://pstramway.com/) is the world’s largest rotating tram car. It travels over two and a half miles along the cliffs of Chino Canyon, carrying you from the Valley Station (elevation of 2,643 ft) to the Mountain Station (elevation of 8,516 ft). The tram car ride in itself offers incredible views of the nearby mountains and the sandy desert, but at the top, you get to explore the wilderness of the Mount San Jacinto State Park, which includes two restaurants, numerous observation desks, a natural history museum, two documentary theatres, a gift shop, and over 50 miles of hiking trails. All of the above are fully wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant, though it is worth noting that the Valley Station, from where the tram departs, is off the beaten path and has limited cell service – driving a rental car is generally preferable to relying upon taxi or rideshare options.

JOSHUA TREE: You may have heard of the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park, another exciting place to visit and less than a one-hour drive from Downtown Palm Springs. This is an amazing place to drive or hike through, where you can explore a fascinating variety of plants and animals. The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. While many people prefer to come during the daytime for the views, stargazing is also a popular activity there during the nighttime.

There is very limited cell phone reception in the park, and cell service should not be relied upon. Free public Wi-Fi can be accessed at some of the visitor centers. It is recommended that you download the official National Park Service app to access the free offline maps ahead of time. To fully experience the wonders of this park, it is advised to plan to spend several hours there.

FESTIVALS: The Greater Palm Springs area is home to a large variety of festivals. The Palm Springs International Film Festival starts the year in January with a star-studded gala event featuring nearly 180 screenings in theatres around the region. Arts festivals include the Southwest Arts Festival, Art Palm Springs, and the Indian Wells Art Festival. Perhaps most world-renowned, however, are the two music festivals that take over the Palm Springs area every April: Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, which welcomes more than 250,000 music fans annually in April, followed immediately by Stagecoach, the ultimate hub for the 85,000 country music fans who gather from across the world.

SHOPPING: While you can certainly peruse shops by walking through Downtown Palm Springs, as well as Old Town La Quinta, true shopping lovers may also wish to explore the Uptown Design District for one-of-a-kind boutiques, Palm Desert’s El Paseo for upscale, luxury retailers, or Desert Hills Premium Outlets for the best deals.

For more about Palm Springs please go to https://www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.

A trip to Ottawa covers all of the bases for a good holiday from great museums to fabulous dining experiences

By Mike Cohen

As Canada’s capital, Ottawa is the perfect place to experience some of the country’s best attractions, celebrations and flavors in one welcoming city. With its unique blend of urban and rural beauty, year-round outdoor activities, and vibrant neighbourhoods, the Ottawa region is best explored over three days or more.

THE BROOKSTREET HOTEL

Since opening in 2003, the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata has gained notice as a luxury property noted for outstanding dining, incredible entertainment, luxurious accommodations,  inspired green initiatives and world-class golf and fitness facilities.

While in Ottawa we had a chance to visit the hotel,  enjoying a delicious lunch on the patio at Perspectives Restaurant. We spent some quality time at the lovely outdoor saltwater pool and I was in heaven in the jacuzzi. When rain cut our date of leisure in half, we were invited back a few days later to resume the pool experience.

For lunch, I had a nicely prepared club sandwich, grilled chicken breast, cheddar cheese, confit garlic aioli, vine-ripened tomato, bacon, Boston lettuce and Nat’s bakery sourdough. The other members of my party started off with some drinks and each ordered lamb barbacoa tacos- two corn tortillas, lamb shoulder slow-roasted in banana leaf, salsa borracha, pickled cucumber, green olives, fresh cilantro and lime.

Stepĥanie Lapensee and Danika Christie of the sales department and fitness centre manager Vy gave me a nice tour of the property, located in the heart of Canada’s largest technology hub. I got a chance to see some of the impressive guest rooms and reception halls.  

The Brookstreet has 276 rooms and suites spaced across 18 floors. Plans do call for the hotel to eventually build a second tower. There is now 30,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, featuring 25 meeting rooms, including three large ballrooms, an outdoor pavilion and the Newbridge Foyer which boasts floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

There are a number of draws here, starting with the  Marshes Golf course and a pond that converts to a skating rink in the winter months. An 18-hole mini golf course is very popular with families. It is no surprise that the NHL’s Ottawa Senators partnered up with the property. Brookstreet is recognized as the official hotel and resort of the  Senators and Canadian Tire Centre, which also includes the title sponsorship to the   Brookstreet Lounge (located at the ice level).  What this also means is if you happen to stay here during the hockey season, you never know which NHL player you might run into.

I was beyond impressed with the on-site Flex Fitness Club, which has 500 members from the community.  Recognized as the ultimate Ottawa gym and fitness studio, it is equipped with extensive fitness equipment, saltwater pools, hot tubs, fitness classes and personal trainers.  Flex Fitness Studio provides a wellness component for those who wish to stay active during their travels.  Members get the advantage of access to the indoor and outdoor pools. The Au Natural Spa looked mighty fine as well.

Located by the eighth green of The Marshes Golf Club,  the 30-foot seasonal outdoor saltwater pool offers a cabana, plenty of deck space and a 12-person hot tub! We were provided with robes and slippers, some comfortable lounge chairs and umbrellas to guard us from the sun.

As Ottawa’s leading public golf club, the Marshes combines the superior layout with the singular natural beauty of the Ottawa area.  The result is a space that holds the distinction of being home to PGA events, as well as a qualified wildlife sanctuary. It’s this inspired mingling of the stunning sprawl of the natural world with our meticulously manicured course that’s made The Marshes more than a premier Ottawa golf destination. This is also a popular venue for weddings, conferences and to share a delicious meal with friends and family. There are 18 and nine-hole courses, plus the Blackbird Falls mini-putt.

If there is one thing I learned from my visit, it’s that I must go back for there is so much more to discover.

The hotel is located at 525 Legett Drive. For more information log on to https://www.brookstreethotel.comhttps://www.marshesgolfclub.com, or call 1-888-826-2220.

AGRICULTURE AND FOOD MUSEUM

Located on a national heritage site, the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is the world’s only working farm in the heart of a capital city. During my frequent trips to Ottawa for family reasons these past two years, I have chosen different venues to visit. This one was perfect during the warmer season as a number of the animals are outside.

The museum offers visitors a unique opportunity to see diverse breeds of farm animals—important to past and present Canadian agriculture—and to learn about the food they eat. In addition to breeds common to Canadian agriculture, such as Holstein dairy cows and Angus beef cows, the museum also has Canadienne and Milking Shorthorn dairy cows and Tamworth pigs. Many other breeds of dairy and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, poultry, goats, rabbits and even honeybees round out the collection.

Museum programs and exhibitions are related to Canada’s agricultural heritage, food literacy, and the benefits and relationship of agricultural science and technology to Canadians’ everyday lives.

Public programming also includes school programs, summer day camps, interpretive tours, demonstrations, and joint undertakings with community groups and associations. On the day I visited, there were busloads of camps and the kids were having a great time.

Some of the exhibitions were eye-openers to even me. Canola! Seeds of Innovation marks the 50th anniversary of canola as a “made in Canada” crop. This is an immersive and interactive exhibition exploring the ingenuity of Canadian plant researchers, who took on the challenge of creating a healthy vegetable oil from rapeseed, a little-known plant that grew well on the Prairies. Following decades of collaboration and hard work, they succeeded in developing one of Canada’s most important crops: canola. Meanwhile, via documentation and videos, the Healthy Oceans for a Healthy Planet exhibit examines the challenges facing our oceans due to pollution, habitat destruction, and overfishing.  Covering over 70 percent of the Earth, oceans help regulate the climate and provide us with food, energy, and livelihoods. Meanwhile, the exhibition From Earth to Us explores how we transform natural resources to meet our needs and wants – and the resulting impact this has on the world around us. Visitors will delve into topics such as mining, materials, metallurgy, energy, climate change, and water resources. Discovery Park is an interactive, outdoor exhibition is accessible throughout spring, summer and fall. Agriculture is a dynamic industry, constantly transformed by human ingenuity and creativity. Stroll through Discovery Park and explore some fascinating agricultural innovations…you may be surprised by what you find!

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to drive a tractor? 

Farming For the Future, our newest exhibition, is waiting for your visit! You can climb aboard a life-sized tractor cab — or enter an immersive, accessible cabin at ground level — to digitally drive a tractor. See if you have what it takes to efficiently plant corn in a sustainable farming operation 

The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is open year-round, from, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. It is open on statutory holidays, except December 25. The museum offers free admission from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Reserve your tickets in advance. It is located at 901 Prince of Wales Drive. Info: https://ingeniumcanada.org/agriculture 

PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL

The Ottawa Titans began play in the Frontier League in 2022. They play out of the state-of-the-art Ottawa Stadium. This is minor-league professional baseball. The schedule begins in May and continues through early September. It is a wonderful outing for the entire family, even someone who might not even be a baseball fan. The franchise officials work so hard to offer a fun game day experience. I really enjoyed my night out there, especially coming from Montreal. Our professional baseball team the Expos left 19 years ago. Go to www.ottawatitans.com

DINING OUT

There are so many wonderful choices for dining out. From my most recent trip, here is my culinary report.

STARLING: The historic York on William (YOW) building, which encompasses Starling Restaurant & Bar and Apothecary Cocktail Lounge, represents a must visit The latter are part of a  multiple-dining concepts featuring a rooftop terrace and street-level patio and located in one of the oldest buildings in Ottawa, dating back to 1875. Early occupants included an undertaker, a baker, and a wholesaler, uses which reflects the diverse commercial activity of the ByWard Market in the 19th Century. 

Starling is Ottawa’s new concept which elevates any night out with hand-crafted cocktails and a refreshing, modern menu that draws inspiration from bold flavors and fresh ingredients. Here you step into an inviting and stylish atmosphere, built for creating an incredible experience.

The 12,000-square-foot building was purchased in 2020 for $5 million. Co-owner John Borsten’s business partners in this venture are Pat Charbonneau and Ian Darveshali. It is spread over four levels, with Apothecary, YOW and Starling each catering to different audiences under the same roof and able to serve 500 diners at a time.  The seasonal patios are big draws: one at street level can seat 50 while the rooftop has room for 60. Capacity for both can be increased for cocktail receptions.

We were delighted to get a coveted rooftop table with a panoramic view of the market and were especially fortunate to have head chef Paolo  DiBello visit us on a number of occasions that evening.  The menu here changes seasonally. We found the ambiance, service and food all impeccable and we can’t wait to return for another visit. We will have to try Apothecary and down the line.

Apothecary is described as “a nod to medicinal cures of which bitters, tonics and spirits all play a role. Here they believe in using real botanicals, house-made syrups and tinctures, to heal the body, mind and soul.”

Starling brings you contemporary dishes from timeless classics to personal recipes with a fondness for locality—designed to be loved by one or shared by many.   Their mixologists can serve up a broad range of tasty concoctions, either mixed, stirred or shaken and inspired by local ingredients and international techniques.

Starling is named after a highly social bird that likes to travel in large flocks. That is why you will see decorative bird cages in the restaurant. It was in fact  Sofia Santiso Borsten who created the Starling concept and oversaw the design.     Even the doors they inherited were restored and now serve as a privacy wall for a table near the bar. The same goes for the original lamps, which were repainted.  Of course, the wallpaper features colourful birds.  

We enjoyed a fabulous meal, starting off with some scarlet tanagers from the bar, three ounces of excellence: Dillon’s strawberry gin, brut, apple simple syrup, lemon and strawberries. I also tried the Anthony, a tasty drink minus alcohol containing orange juice, lime, ginger simple and chili peppers.

Following a thorough study of the menu, we began with 12 oysters. They were of good size and did not last long on the serving plate. We then shared some terrific burrata toast, olive oil fried true loaf sourdough, local heirloom tomatoes, fresh burrata and Aurelius fig balsamic.

For the main courses, we chose two absolute winners. The pan-seared six-ounce west coast sable fish was beyond extraordinary. It was served with mint, pea and fine herb risotto. This is a fish we have always enjoyed, yet it is so rare to find on an east coast restaurant menu. It was moist and literally melted in our mouths. The 14-ounce rib eye, medium rare, with loaded mashed potatoes on the side, was another excellent choice. Paolo cooked it to perfection and the Bordelaise Larry sauce was just right to add more flavor.

When it came for dessert we shared the ever-so-rich chocolate mousse, which included brown butter streusel, brunoise mango and strawberry.

Indeed this was a meal fit for a king and rooftop terrace we look forward to experiencing again and trying some of the other delicious-looking items we had to pass on.

Starling is located at 54 York Street in the Byward Market. Hours of operation are  4 pm to 11 pm Tuesday and Wednesday,  11 am to midnight Thursday and Friday and  9 am to midnight Saturday and Sunday. You can call  613.421.0820   or log on to  www.starlingottawa.ca.

MÉTROPOLITAIN BRASSERIE: Last summer I made my first visit to the Métropolitain Brasserie in Ottawa, conveniently located next to the Byward Market at 700 Sussex. That is just steps away from Parliament Hill, 

Home to Ottawa’s largest oyster bar, the restaurant is open seven days a week, serving lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends. When we planned our return summer trip to the Nation’s Capital, this was the first dining establishment on our list.  It was a beautiful evening to once again experience their spacious patio, which is completely covered by a tent-like structure and umbrellas. This way, in the case of rain, the spot usually remains open. The patio can accommodate 125 people while the capacity inside is 300.

The Brasserie presents a  Hill Hour every day from 4 pm to 7 pm for discounted oysters and shrimp, and every Thursday for Buck a Shuck. There is an award-winning wine list and this is considered a prime place for a large event or a romantic dinner for two, adding that certain Parisian flavor.

We started off the evening with some drinks and then took a good hard look at all of the options available among the appetizers.   The small size seafood tower was more than enough for three of us to share. It contained shrimp, oysters, mussels, snow crab, cod croquettes, scallop Crudo and ceviche. Wow, this was a meal unto itself and we savored every morsel. There is a larger platter for four available. 

The burrato toast for two was another treat for the three of us to share. It includes sunflower seed and beetroot pesto, avocado, fried sourdough, sprouts and chili oil.

There is a nice selection of main courses.   I remembered The Duck Confit from my last visit,  an item I do not see available at too many restaurants I frequent. It was superbly prepared, with crispy skin and served with warm potatoes, red cabbage citrus slaw, duck fat fingerling, orange curry sauce and basil.   As for the others, they opted for the fish of the day, some perfectly seared scallops and an order of lamb chops.

While we were quite full, it was pretty hard to resist the dessert menu. We agreed to share the flourless chocolate cake, with caramel sauce and raspberry preserves. It literally melted in my mouth. 

Other items on the menu include burgers bouillabaisse, steak,  spiced impossible meatballs, veal paillard, fish & chips, impossible Italian sausage spaghetti, roasted Arctic char, lobster ravioli, seared walleye, tagliatelle, halibut, mussels and frites,  poutine, baked oysters, albacore tuna tartare and beef tartare, calamari, charcuterie and cheese board, soups and salads, sandwiches and omelets.

This was the perfect evening, with great food, excellent service from our waiter Kelsey and an ambiance that you just can’t beat.

Weekend brunch is available from 10 am to 2 pm Saturdays, Sundays and select holidays.  

The restaurant is co-owned by John Borsten and Sarah Chown, with Mike Poliquin as chef de cuisine. Hours of operation are 11:30 am to 11 pm Monday to Wednesday, 11:30 am to midnight Thursday and Friday, 10 am to midnight Saturday and 10 am to 11 pm Sunday Take-out and delivery service is in place each day from 11:30 am to 9 pm. For more details log on to www.metropolitainbrasserie.com or call  613-562-1160.

LAVENDER GRILL AND LOUNGE: Lavender Grill and Lounge opened in the Byward Market in the summer of 2022, the vision of owner Reza Khakbaz

Lavender, of course, is a light shade of purple or violet. It applies particularly to the color of the flower of the same name. Khakbaz and his team have certainly taken advantage of the connection, from the décor to the coloring of some of the drinks like my blackberry smash tea mocktail, a combination of blackberry and Earl Grey tea,

There are 100 seats inside the restaurant and a nice terrace which can accommodate 20. That is where we sat. The menu contains a touch of Dubai and Iran,  two countries where Khakbaz has lived. But make no mistake, the items to choose from are all very familiar from steaks to pasta.

Khakbaz has lived in Dubai since 2001 and now commutes back and forth. He obtained permanent residency in Canada in 2017 and from that point on he set about seeking a good business opportunity. Ottawa and the trendy Byward Market appeared to be calling his name. In the past, he was a partner in a pizzeria and a coffee shop. This represents his first full foray into restaurants and he has hit the ground running.

“When I moved to Canada in 2014, I lived in Ottawa for nearly four years,” said Khakbaz.  “During that time, I found the ByWard Market area to be a popular destination where people spent time and money. Beyond its popularity, I also had a personal connection to Ottawa as it was the first point of entry for me and my family to Canada.”

How did Khakbaz come up with the Lavender theme and integrate it into so much of the menu and the restaurant design? “As a businessperson who has had the opportunity to travel worldwide and live in Dubai for many years, I noticed that lots of special restaurants gradually opened their branches there,” he responded. “Considering this, I believe the theme I have in mind can work for the area. Of course, we faced several challenges and various changes during the process. I would like to thank my manager Hano.   He has been a great asset, as he significantly helped us in finding the best theme and menu for Lavender.

Hano was there to give us a warm welcome when we arrived. When a chef brought out one of our items, I asked Hon for his name.  “At Lavender Grill, we really rely on teamwork,” he responded. “All of our food and menu are results of the teamwork with direct supervision of myself, using my culinary experience in fine dining restaurants. So  all dishes come from  the Lavender Kitchen Team.”

What are the most popular menu items with clients?  Hano lists  Lavender gnocchi, Lavender ravioli, rib eye steak, grilled salmon and salmon tartare. As for the drinks,   there are the  Lavender Gin and Tonic, Lavender Mocktail,  Sunset Boulevard, Lavender Royale and Kiwi Breeze

Business, says Hano, has been solid. “We are a fast-growing business,” he maintains. “It’s been six back-to-back months that we are breaking our sales records.”  

We began our meal by sharing two bowls of delicious and piping-hot carrot soup among the three of us.  That was followed by a bruschetta, which had a sturdy crust and was firm enough to hold the diced tomato and red onion toppings. We also split the salmon tartare, sushi-grade salmon with chopped shallots, chives, parsley, dill, capers, a  splash of chardonnay,  soya sauce, grainy mustard, tabasco, lemon and lime zest,

While I quenched my thirst with a mocktail (yep I am a safe driver), the two others enjoyed some Lavender royales, containing Saint Germain,  London Dry,  Crème de Violette and Prosecco.

For the main course, I went for the chicken parmesan, tenderized chicken breaded and fried, topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella. It was served with tomato pasta on the side. The portion was so plentiful that I brought back enough to eat for lunch the following day.

As for the others, they sampled the Lavender ravioli and the filet mignon.  The four cheese ravioli was tossed in creamy Lavender sauce and mushrooms, with onions and garlic and topped with Lavender crumbs. The eight-ounce filet mignon was served with a side of vegetables and a garden salad.  For dessert, we shared the chocolate explosion -chocolate cake, topped with chocolate sauce and blackberries.

Lavender Grill and Lounge is located at 47 Clarence Street.  Opening hours are 5 pm to midnight Wednesday to Friday and 11:30 am to midnight Saturday and Sunday.   For more information call 613-569-6605 or log on to www.lavendergrill.com

MARZITELLI’S MONTREAL CONNECTION:   When I first started visiting Ottawa on a semi-regular basis a few years ago, filing restaurant stories, a former colleague from The Suburban Newspaper Christopher Michaud reached out. The  West Island Pierrefonds native was now in the nation’s capital and operating a supper club called Marzitelli and named after his Italian mother.

On my most recent trip to Ottawa, I went to visit with Chris and take advantage of the ever-so-popular Marzitelli Sunday brunch. We sat on the beautiful rooftop terrace, overlooking hopping Elgin Street. Chris’s charming wife Fei helps manage the place and on this day his niece Caleigh was my server. Fei also handles the bar and provides great renditions of classic cocktails and specializes in custom house favourites. Ask about her Amaretto Sour or Fei’s Negroni!

The breakfast was top-notch. Chris recommended I try their Galette au Saumon Fumé: two sunny-side-up eggs, accompanied by a potato galette topped with Norwegian smoked salmon, wafer-thin red onion, sour cream & capers. On the side, you can have some crispy roasted potatoes or a garden salad, garnished with fruit. A Galette is a rustic French tart, but the Marzitelli version looks and tastes a lot more like a latke. “I worked at Chenoy’s on Boulevard St. Jean when I was a student at John Rennie High School,” Chris told me. “I made plenty of latkes in those days.”

I also ordered a clubhouse wrap to take back with me for lunch, marinated chicken breast, roasted peppers, onions, bacon and mozzarella. It was delicious, especially after putting it in the microwave oven for 30 seconds.

Chris left Montreal in 2013 to pursue his love for music and cooking, landing in Toronto. Initially, he built websites and came up with a concept for online orders and deliveries for restaurants, preceding Uber and the other apps. He did that for three years until he decided to open a bar on Yonge Street. When the venue started attracting lineups for its drinks, music and pasta, a neighbouring restaurant took notice and proposed a merger. That arrangement lasted two years before Chris was on the move again, this time to the popular Ontario summer vacation spot of Wasaga Beach where he set up some food kiosks. He returned to Toronto in 2018 and established his first Marzitelli. This was a small operation, but business evolved nicely until the COVID-19 pandemic turned everything into pieces. By the fall of 2020, Chris and his wife decided that another fresh start was necessary and this time it would be Ottawa.  His new version of Marzitelli materialized at some prime real estate at Elgin. The second-floor dining room and lounge can accommodate 220 people, plus 40 on the seasonal terrace. Facing east, it has the distinct advantage of an early morning sun and afternoon shade, for the perfect ambiance and maximum comfort.

Of course, Michaud had arrived in Ottawa with COVID protocols still in place. Patience was required, but with a lot of hard work, Marzitelli has already gained a good following here, featuring performances by some of the city’s best musicians. The dinner menu is noted for excellent pasta dishes, all made from scratch and from the Marzitelli family recipe book, as well as French classics, pizzas, burgers, steak, shrimp, whiskey maple braised salmon, fish tacos, a poke bowl and more.

Chris’s late dad was a musician and his mom was a cook.  On the stage sits Chris’s baby grand piano and it isn’t uncommon to see him come out of the kitchen after dinner service to enjoy a few cocktails with the guests while playing well-known hits. Often, guests are also entertained by one of his many musical friends invited as performers.  In fact, his house band is called the Men From Marz and performs about once a month. It includes Chris and NDG musician Dimo James Papadimitrios.  

​Marzitelli is located at 350 Elgin Street. Hours of operation are 4 pm to 10 pm Wednesday, 11 am to 10 pm Thursday, 11 am to 1 am Friday and Saturday and 10 am to 4 pm Sunday. For more information call 613-870-1377, e-mail; info@marzitelli.ca, or log on to www.marzitelli.ca.

AL’S DINER: My friend Jack has been telling me about Al’s Diner in Ottawa for some time now, a popular spot on Clyde Street that serves breakfast and a whole lot of other menu items all day long. Now that is my kind of place, so it was indeed time to explore.

The place opens at 6 am Monday to Saturday and 7 am on Sundays, remaining open for dinner Tuesday to Friday. Besides an array of breakfast items, the regular menu consists of items like pizza, wings, burgers, salads, fish and much more. They offer quick pick-up and delivery and you can order online at www.alsdiner.ca

There are 110 seats inside and 35 on the patio.   Owner Al Ayoub told me that before the pandemic, the place was averaging about $1,000 a week in orders via Uber, Skip and Door Dash. That quadrupled during the lockdown and has remained constant since.

Al’s parents ran a greasy spoon in this spot called Skyline Restaurant from 1970 to 1975 and then rented out until 1990. At that time Al stepped in, moving on from his profession in sales, gutting the place and rebranding it as Al’s with its present format. “During the pandemic, I repainted the place and made some cosmetic changes,” Al noted. “We also provide catering for sports teams, parties, office events and more.”

The place attracts a lot of regulars. “Those people are here five days a week,” Al said, motioning towards some clients. “We have a great following of regulars, young and old. Kids that were coming in with their parents, are now coming in with their own children, which is great to see.”

Al can also count on the support of his wife Anita, who works as a server and operates the place when he’s not on duty.

I was there for breakfast, of course, comfortably seated on the patio on a warm weekday summer morning.  A lot of restaurants stop this service towards lunch hour, but not Al’s. “You need to have a really good grill to provide breakfast all day,” Al explained. “I am glad I invested in one.”

 Looking at the menu, it was hard to make a choice, but I settled on three slices of golden-brown cinnamon raisin French toast, with sides of crispy home fries, bacon and rye toast with my standard cup of decaf coffee. I also ordered a chicken sandwich to take back with me for lunch. It was delicious.

There are a variety of Al’s breakfast specials. They all come with a choice of home fries, baked beans or tomato slices, as well as toast and coffee. From eggs and omelets to pancakes, waffles and smoked salmon bagels the choices are endless.  I look forward to coming back for lunch and dinner and sampling something among the fish n’ chips, smoked meat club, wraps, hot beef dip, burgers, pizza, chicken wings, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, shepherd’s pie or veggie spring rolls.

Al’s is located at 834 Clyde Avenue. Opening hours at 6 am to 3 pm Mondays, 6 am to 7:30 pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 6 am to 8 pm Thursdays and Fridays, 6 am to 3 pm Saturdays and 7 am to 3 pm Sundays. This is a licensed restaurant that serves alcohol. For more information call 613-761-74988 or log on to www.alsdiner.ca

A DAY AT THE BEACH 

Ottawa has several lovely beaches minutes from the city center.  Our favorite is at Britannia Bay, located on the Ottawa River. It is great for swimming, picnics or just watching the sailboats go by on a beautiful summer day. Key amenities include washrooms, change rooms and outdoor showers; free parking; a canteen; picnic tables and barbecue pits; and play structures and fields. Lifeguards are on duty daily between noon and 7 pm during the summer season. Volleyball net rentals are available for $14.50 per hour or $49.50 per day

VISIT OTTAWA PASS

A new option for visitors to Ottawa launched this summer: the Visit Ottawa Pass is available for adults and children as either a one-day or three-day pass, offering admission to the Canadian Museum of History; Canadian War Museum; Haunted Walk of Ottawa; National Gallery of Canada; the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum; Royal Canadian Mint; and Gray Line Ottawa in summer months (in winter months, Cobblestone Tours takes over). Passes are good for 24 (or 72) hours after their first use. Watch for full details at visitottawapass.ca 

PARLIAMENT HILL

The restoration of Centre Block on Parliament Hill, which started in 2019, continues. A trompe l’oeil has been installed on Centre Block and will expand as masonry work continues through 2023 and beyond, allowing visitors to get a sense of what the building looks like behind the tarps. In the meantime, free guided tours of an architecturally impressive “temporary” House of Commons in West Block and a “temporary” Senate chamber in the former train station next to the Rideau Canal are available year-round. visit.parl.ca

WALKING TOURS

Ottawa Walking Tours now offers a food/art/history tour called the Centretown Neighbourhood Experience. Tours depart from Minto Park on Elgin Street every Saturday afternoon at 2:30 pm until September 30, 2023. ottawawalkingtours.com/our-tours/the-centretown-neighbourhood-experience-food-art-history-tour

For more details on what to do and see in Ottawa log on to  www.ottawatourism.ca.

There are lots of summer activities to enjoy in the City of Toronto.

By Alexandra Cohen

It is almost impossible to be bored in Toronto. With its array of permanent and temporary attractions, live performances, major league sports, and the fantastic food scene, you will never run out of things to do. 

This summer, I spent a month in downtown Toronto, which was chock-full of entertainment, including a visit to an outdoor pool, some excellent dinners, a concert at Rogers Centre, a play at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, a trip to Toronto Island, and much more. 

THE RADISSON BLU:  While I did not stay at a hotel while visiting Toronto, I did have the chance to visit the Radisson Blu. With the weather being so warm during my stay, I looked into the options for swimming in the city and came across the Radisson Blu’s rooftop pool, which allows visitors to the city to purchase day passes.  

The Radisson Blu Toronto Downtown is conveniently located at 249 Queens Quay West, which is just steps away from the Toronto Harbour and around a five-minute drive from the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Pool Day Passes can be booked via OpenTable. They are $65 per person plus applicable taxes and fees, which include in/out privileges, towels, and service right at your seat. Arrival time is noon and it remains open until 10 pm. For hotel guests, of course, there are no fees associated with going to the pool. 

My day at the pool was incredibly relaxing. The water was warm, and I was treated to views of the harbour on one side, and a picturesque view of the CN Tower on the other side. The pool menu features a variety of cocktails and cold beer, as well as snacks and meals that you can enjoy poolside. Options include salads, flatbreads, charcuterie, burgers, bowls, and an array of desserts. I personally enjoyed the all-beef hotdog, which came with several fun accoutrements, and a peach bellini.  

The hotel has an elevator that leads to the pool and accessibility for wheelchairs for parking, the restaurant and the registration and concierge desks.

The Radisson Blu Downtown Toronto is part of the Silver Hotel Group (www.silverhotelgroup.com), a leading Canadian privately owned hotel investment, development, and management company, with properties in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.  

Log on to the following website for more information: https://www.radissonhotelsamericas.com/en-us/hotels/radisson-blu-toronto 

JABISTRO: Looking for some fresh, delicious sushi? JaBistro (https://www.jabistro.com) is a contemporary take on traditional Japanese fine dining, where the dishes are, in a sense, treated like works of art. JaBistro opened its doors in November 2012 in Toronto’s Entertainment District, welcoming guests into its warm and chic space. 

Located mere blocks away from the popular Nathan Phillips Square, the modern and sleek restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating. During our visit, my travel partner and I sat on their lovely outdoor patio, which had a nice aesthetic and a dedicated bar. We started with the Yuzu Sunrise and Sakura Cocktail drinks and then went ahead to share several dishes off the menu. The nigiri platter offered us a taste of the chef’s top recommended fish of the day, with each piece tasting better than the one before. Other highlights included the salmon oshizushi, the Jabistroll (the one true maki on the menu), and the Gindara, which is grilled black cod with saikyo miso. Indeed, the restaurant is probably best known for its aburi sushi, with a multitude of different options on the menu, including ebi (shrimp), saba (cured mackerel), hotate (scallop), and wagyu (beef). While we went with an à la carte option for our meal, guests can also choose from various prix fixe options, both at lunchtime and at dinnertime. 

JaBistro is part of the Kinka Family, which was founded in 2009 and features a diverse portfolio of restaurants and cafés across Canada and in Japan. You can learn more at www.kinkafamily.com.

From the perspective of handicap accessibility, please note that the rooftop patio is only accessible via stairs. The restaurant entrance is wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or mobility devices. There are standardized washrooms, minus accessibility features like grab bars or accessible sinks.

JaBistro is located at 222 RICHMOND ST. W., You can call 647.748.0222 or log on to https://www.jabistro.com/ for more information. Hours of operation are 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5 pm to 10 pm Tuesday to Friday and 5 pm to 10 pm Saturday to Monday.

CIBO WINE BAR: There are three Cibo Wine Bar locations in Toronto: 522 King Street West, 2472 Yonge Street and 133 Yorkville Avenue.  We were lucky enough to enjoy a delicious meal on the patio on King Street. 

This Italian restaurant and wine bar, created by the Liberty Entertainment Group (www.libertygroup.com), offers traditional Italian fare in a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. The menu offers guests a true taste of Italian cuisine, featuring both traditional classics and modern staples. Like the food, the space itself is warm and inviting with stone and glass walls, rustic wood finishes, exposed brick, and butcher block tabletop.

Everything here is prepared under the watchful eye of executive chef Laura Petracca, who has been passionate about cooking since an early age.  She began by making meatballs and gnocchi with her mother, fettuccine with her nonna, and honing her skills in the kitchen with the foods of her Italian heritage, including an “unforgettable” risotto, which I can confirm was, in my opinion, the highlight of the menu. She worked in multiple kitchens throughout her teens and at the age of 22, she graduated from the Culinary Arts Program at Humber College in Toronto.

During our visit, we were treated to small portions of all of the menu highlights. We started off with the grilled whole calamari, the Mediterranean clams + muscles, which is prepared in a parma broth with crispy shallots and chives, and the funghi dish, which was a delicious combination of grilled portobello, oyster, and cremini mushrooms served with extra-virgin olive oil and truffled balsamic vinegar. For our prime course, we tasted two decadent risottos (the sundried tomato and almost pesto risotto, as well as the porcini mushroom risotto topped with truffle oil. We also got to taste the incredible gnocchi topped with rosé sauce. For our second course, we shared the grilled striploin with lobster compound butter. Other options for this course, which also sounded fantastic, include the pollo parmigiana and the branzino. For dessert, we shared a very authentic-tasting tiramisu.  

Cibo King has an accessibility ramp and an accessible restroom, therefore making the patio and main floor accessible.

WHAT’S ON IN TO: There are plenty of other things to do in Toronto!  Here is a selection of upcoming attractions that was provided by Destination Toronto (https://www.destinationtoronto.com).

Astor Lounge Botanical Afternoon Tea Pop-up

Till Aug 27

The St. Regis (https://www.marriott.com/en-gb/hotels/hotel-information/restaurant/details-1/yyzxr-the-st-regis-toronto/) Botanical Delight Afternoon Tea is available for $95 per person and takes place in Astor Lounge, located lobby-level, from Thursday through Sunday. Whitely Neill gin-tasting flights may be added on for $42. Space is limited and reservations must be booked in advance directly via OpenTable.

Second City Improv Brunch

Till Nov 26

The Second City | 1 York St

https://www.secondcity.com/shows/toronto/the-second-citys-improv-brunch-2/?tickets=01&date=2023-02-05#schedule

Bottoms up at The Second City Mainstage! Join The Second City for some hair-of-the-dog comedy during this totally improvised experience from the city’s finest. We’re serving up all-you-can-stomach laughter! Food and mimosas are available to order separately.

AGO – Feels Like Home

Ongoing until May 2024

https://ago.ca/exhibitions/feels-home
Featuring works produced by the creative agency Sunday School, Feels Like Home invites audiences to consider contemporary conversations around the notion of home. Together with artists from across Africa and the diaspora, Sunday School strives to share diverse stories and perspectives that reflect their collaborative ethos.  

AGO – Cassatt – McNicoll: Impressionists Between Worlds

Ongoing until  Sept 4

https://ago.ca/exhibitions/cassatt-mcnicoll-impressionists-between-worlds
This groundbreaking exhibition brings together for the first time the work of two extraordinary women Impressionist painters, Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926) and Helen McNicoll (Canadian, 1879-1915).  Renowned for their depictions of modern womanhood, their work had a profound impact on the development and proliferation of Impressionism in North America.

In Bloom: Flowers and Footwear

Ongoing until Oct 6, 2024

https://batashoemuseum.ca/in-bloom/
One of fashion’s most timeless inspirations, representations of flowers have appeared throughout the centuries to symbolize an assortment of expressions. From spring cherry blossoms as an awakening of new life and new beginnings to the fall-blooming chrysanthemum which symbolizes joy and happiness, floral motifs have been incorporated into textiles and footwear across the globe.

SIX

Sept 23 to Dec. 17  

https://www.mirvish.com/shows/six
From Tudor Queens to Pop Icons, the SIX wives of Henry VIII take the microphone to remix five hundred years of historical heartbreak into a Euphoric Celebration of 21st-century girl power! This new original musical is the global sensation that everyone is losing their head over!

SIX won 23 awards in the 2021/2022 Broadway season, including the Tony Award for Best Original Score (Music and Lyrics) and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.

The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains in Toronto

Now Underway

Exhibition Place

https://pinkfloydexhibition.com/
On the heels of the 50th Anniversary of Pink Floyd’s iconic album, “The Dark Side of the Moon,” Toronto music fans and culture buffs alike will get a backstage pass to the story of Pink Floyd through an audio-visual sensorial journey unlike any other.

Smorgasburg

Ongoing until Sept 9 (Saturdays only)

https://www.smorgasburgtoronto.com/
Smorgasburg Toronto is back for its second season with more vendors, a bigger

bar, and more dates to accommodate the huge crowds of 10,000+ who attended the market’s

eight 2022 dates. Now a partnership with Collective Concerts, Toronto’s largest independent

concert promoter and local event producer, this summer Smorgasburg Toronto will showcase

more than 60 food vendors—some for six-week runs, some for all 12 dates—on the scenic harbourfront over 12 Saturdays.

TIFF

Sept 7 to 17 

https://www.tiff.net/
The Toronto International Film Festival will be back in September for its 48th edition. Enjoy 11 days of international and Canadian cinema, special events and celebrity moments. September 2023.

Just outside the Ontario capital of Toronto, you will find a fun place to visit in Oshawa

How many times have I driven to Toronto over the last few decades, passing by the city of Oshawa on the way and merely taking a glance from Highway 401?

I knew that Oshawa, located in the Durham Region, was the home of a General Motors plant and the Generals junior hockey team.  Well, I recently had to make return trips to and from Toronto to drop off and pick up family members. Doing these drives back to back was not an option. I needed a place to recharge my batteries. I also wanted to stay somewhere close to the 401. Oshawa was calling my name.

A SUPERB MARRIOTT:  Where to stay?  I zeroed in on a Marriott International property, which had just opened a few years ago. It is a combined 115-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel and 98-suite TownePlace Suites by Marriott hotel at 1011 Bloor Street East, owned and managed by Sunray Group of Hotels. The property shares a fitness center, an indoor swimming pool and meeting spaces with over 12,000 square feet of versatile event space. I was impressed with what I learned about Sunray, which has some 50 hotels under its umbrella, including four in Montreal.

The dual-brand property I stayed at is situated just north of Highway 401 and is connected to the Oshawa Harmony Event Centre. It offers convenient access to the Oshawa Centre, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Tribute Communities Centre and the Canadian Automotive Museum.

I got to meet with General Manager Ilhan Kodalak and Operations Manager Heather Richardson. Kodalak recently assumed the helm after running a Homewood Suites in Ottawa for five years. “I had my job interview via Zoom,” he told me, “so when I arrived and first saw this property, I was so impressed; it was like a resort.”

Kodalak is not wrong. If I closed my eyes and landed in the lobby, I’d be hard-pressed to challenge the GM’s statement. From the large parking lot, impressive façade and gorgeous interior you will guarantee a five-star experience.

I was elated with my accommodations, a full suite with all the comforts of home.

“Attracting both business and leisure travelers, the Oshawa area is an ideal location for these hotels,” said Janis Milham, Senior Vice President, of Classic Select Brands for Marriott International. “Each brand offers distinct amenities and services that tailor to all visitors.”

The Courtyard by Marriott Oshawa guest room offers hybrid zones for working, sleeping, relaxing and getting ready. The new room design is intuitive and thoughtful, offering flexible yet comfortable spaces that enable technology. Upon arrival, guests can store bags on the “Luggage Drop” and plug personal devices into the “Tech Drop” ledge for seamless technology integration. I had two televisions which provided access to streaming services and YouTube. That is something I really appreciated having in the background as I worked away on my laptop.

The Courtyard also offers a Refreshing Business lobby environment, where guests can enjoy an open and bright area outside of their rooms. Along with media pods, complimentary Wi-Fi and a variety of seating zones, the redefined space is ideal for everything from pop-up meetings to social gatherings. The lobby also features the newly designed Bistro, the epicenter of the lobby, which fosters social connections and collaboration with more flexible and informal seating options. As an ideal casual dining destination, the   Bistro offers guests a wide variety of fresh local classic menu items with a contemporary twist. In the evening, the Bistro Bar also features an array of cocktails, beer and wine for guests to enjoy at the end of the day. The entire menu was carefully designed to offer a variety of flavorful, fresh items to satisfy every palate from morning to night.

The TownePlace Suites by Marriott Oshawa is ideal for travelers who need accommodations for longer stays, offering studio and one-bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens that have stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, and separate living/working and sleeping areas in some suites. Guests can work and relax on their terms in modern suites that feature a fun, yet sophisticated sofa and task chair, a large flat-screen television as well as luxurious new bedding. Most rooms also feature the Home Office Suite, complete with The Container Store’s Elfa closet system, designed to provide guests with plenty of storage and flexible space to spread out and make it their own.

I would go a step further. Once you get into Toronto, hotels can get very expensive. This is a terrific spot to stay with the family, less than an hour from downtown Toronto. The kids will love the pool. In the spring, summer and fall you can buy your own meat, seafood and vegetables and use one of two large barbeques. They also have a nice outdoor courtyard where you can sit down at a table to eat or just relax.

On both mornings I took advantage of the excellent buffet breakfast, from waffles, eggs and bacon to bagels, toast, muffins, Danish, juices and of course coffee.

The hotel has accessible on-site parking, elevators and a self-operating lift or a sloped entry into the hotel swimming pool. Service animals are welcome. There is valet parking for vehicles outfitted for drivers in wheelchairs and van Accessible on-site parking. For more information about the physical features of their accessible rooms, common areas or special services relating to a specific disability you can call 1 905-215-1093

You can  log on to www.marriott.com/yoocy and www.marriott.com/yoots 

DINING OUT:  I had a gift card for The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, so what better place to use than at the location on the grounds of Oshawa Centre?  Using Open Table, I booked a table on their outdoor patio and enjoyed a fabulous meal. The Keg serves the finest cuts of succulent steak, aged for tenderness and grilled to perfection. Prime rib is a Keg specialty, slow roasted, hand carved and perfectly seasoned with special Keg spices.  That was my choice, with some lobster bisque as an appetizer. The restaurant also serves delicious seafood, memorable appetizers, crisp salads and decadent desserts.  For dessert, I saved room for the lemon meringue tarte.

WHAT TO DO: Oshawa www.oshawatourism.com is a mere 55-minute drive from downtown Toronto and noted for being the epicenter of an automotive empire, a Hollywood film production hub and a place of history, culture, music and food.  

This is indeed a popular spot for filming. A new Amazon Prime series called Cross began shooting here recently. It stars Aldis Hodge as author James Patterson’s detective Alex Cross.

Parkwood National Historic Site, the family home of General Motors Canada founder Colonel Sam McLaughlin, is featured in a myriad of movies. Nearby Pickering is where the Amazon Prime series, Jack Reacher was filmed. Other notable film and TV series shot on location in the region have to include Netflix’s ‘Luckiest Girl Alive and The Umbrella Academy; the Amazon series ‘The Boys; Hallmark’s The Way Home; both Coroner and Anne With An E on CBC; and, the award-winning Schitt’s Creek. 

Parkwood National Historic Site (https://www.parkwoodestate.com/)   is a museum, event space, gift shop and community hub within the city of Oshawa.

Oshawa Centre (www.oshawacentre.com) is the main shopping centre in town.  Open in 1956, it has grown into a 1,219,962 square foot super-regional shopping centre serving as Durham’s fashion, service, and entertainment hub. With a growing retail mix now up to 260 stores, Oshawa Centre is a one-stop-shopping experience where you can find both affordable and trendy fashion options.  I must say how impressed I was with this facility, which involved a lot of walking. It’s pretty large and I found some great buys. For your convenience, there are a total of 60 reserved accessible parking stalls located near every entrance to Oshawa Centre. Vehicles parked in these spots must have a valid disabled parking permit clearly displayed.  You can also take advantage of their complimentary wheelchairs and walkers. These are available at Guest Services on a first-come, first-serve basis. You need a government-issued piece of ID and must deposit either one piece of photo identification or one piece of non-photo identification.  

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery (https://rmg.on.ca/)  believes that art cultivates connected and caring communities. As an artist-centered and community-oriented public art gallery in Durham Region, it brings people from diverse backgrounds together to engage with art that inspires new perspectives, generates meaningful conversations, and creates a sense of belonging. The RMG is wheelchair-accessible and manual wheelchairs are available. ASL and sign language interpretation are available upon request as are large print, tactile tours and audio descriptions  

The Canadian Automotive Museum (https://www.canadianautomotivemuseum.com/)  is home to the world’s most significant collection of Canadian automobiles. Located in a former 1920s car dealership in historic downtown Oshawa, the museum is a family-friendly, year-round destination. The main floor is wheelchair accessible, but unfortunately, the second level can currently only be accessed by stairs.  It is free admission to those unable to access the second floor.  Check out their website for a full schedule of walking tours, exhibits, guest talks and children’s events

Oshawa Museum (http://www.oshawamuseum.org/) is the city’s only local history museum located in beautiful Lakeview Park. There are year-round tours of three restored homes with diverse exhibits.  

The Ontario Regiment Museum (https://www.ontrmuseum.ca/tankmuseum/)  houses the largest collection of operational historic military vehicles in Canada. The museum specializes in delivering immersive historical experiences. During events, visitors can see a selection of the museum’s vehicles start their engines and roll onto the tank arena. The museum’s largest annual event, Aquino Tank Weekend, is one of the largest military events in Canada, with a series of live battle re-enactments, exhibitors, and special guests offering the ultimate military historical experience.

For the kids, Treetop Eco-Adventure Park (https://treetopeco-adventurepark.com/)  is an aerial treetop trekking and zipline park in North Oshawa. There are courses available for all ages. A Jr. Children’s course has aerial elements and ziplines for youngsters from ages 3 to 6 years old. They also have 2 different Children’s courses and 5 Youth & Adult courses depending on a height reach requirement. All the courses are self-guided with guides on the ground or courses to provide assistance where needed. The Big Zip is a zipline that is 734′ in length and can reach speeds up to 35km. Reservations are required. With direct assistance, it may be possible for some physically disabled people to complete some aspects of some of the courses.   Advance notice and a brief interview would be required to determine if it would work out.  

Santa’s Cottage (www.santascottage.ca)  offers personalized, seasonal appointment-only, one-on-one visits with Santa for you and your family. Included with appointments is access to The Outdoor Gallery, filled with incredible photo ops to capture your perfect holiday photo.

Put your RC to the test on the Xtreme RC & Raceways l (www.xtremerc.ca) large indoor track, browse the extensive selection of parts and supplies in the store, or speak with friendly and knowledgeable staff.  It is open seven days a week. Rentals and birthday party packages are also available.

NEB’s Fun World (www.nebsfundworld.com)  is a family-owned entertainment centre located at the north end of Oshawa. It offers a wide range of attractions including, bowling, go-karts, arcade, playground, VR and lots more. 

By merging innovative video game concepts with state-of-the-art equipment, Battle City (www.battlecity.ca) redefines laser tag. Objective-based missions require players to be strategic as they fight their way toward victory.  

New York City: The magical city that never sleeps

By Alexandra Cohen

New York City has always ranked amongst my favourite places in the world to visit. It seems to buzz with an energy that is difficult to describe without feeling it for yourself. Of course, I was thrilled when the opportunity presented itself for my friend and me to head over there for a long weekend. We certainly made the most of every minute that we had! 

During our visit, we stayed at Arlo Midtown, a two-year-old hotel property located right between Times Square and the Hudson Yards, on 38th Street and 9th Avenue. If the hotel name sounds familiar to you, perhaps that is because Arlo Hotels is an independent, four-star lifestyle hotel brand, with two other locations in New York City, two in Miami, and the newest property that has just opened in Chicago. Featuring 489 guest rooms and suites, Arlo Midtown also features a modern-looking lobby bathed in greenery, with a coffee shop and plenty of comfortable, cushioned seating. 

While the hotel has six different room types available for all travelers, my friend and I stayed in a King room on the 20th floor, which featured an incredibly comfortable bed, a view of nearby skyscrapers, and calming colour palettes of white, grey, and light blue. One of the room’s highlights was a comfortable window bench, which you will find in most of the hotel’s rooms. Rooms are also equipped with bedside wireless charging stations, Bluetooth radios, 55” LED TVs, and complimentary WiFi. The bathroom includes a glass-enclosed shower and softly backlit bathroom mirrors. 

Another hotel highlight is the rooftop, where you can soak up some beautiful panoramic views of the city, including the Empire State Building, from 26 stories as you socialize with friends, mingle with colleagues, or celebrate with family over craft beers, fine wines, creative cocktails, and light bites. 

The hotel’s business features include a variety of flexible meeting and event spaces, with seven venues offering a total of 7,334 square feet of meeting space spanning three floors. The hotel’s leisure facilities include a state-of-the-art fitness facility, outfitted with traditional weights and cardio equipment, in addition to Peloton bikes, an Interactive Fitness Mirror, a yoga studio, and more. 

An Urban Fee of $25 (plus tax) is added per night throughout your stay and covers the following perks: property-wide internet access, local and long-distance calls within the United States, complimentary Citi Bike day passes, the on-site gym, and two bottles of water when you check-in. The hotel also allows pets! Up to two dogs or cats are allowed per room, provided that they are under 75 pounds, for a fee of $20 (plus tax) per night. All animals must be registered with the front desk upon arrival. 

 Under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), Arlo Hotels is a hotel brand that provides accessible features for all properties and guests, from entrances and common areas to guest rooms, bathrooms, and communication tools. The independent hotel brand also strives to make its website and technology accessible to all, with the goal of providing guests with a successful and enjoyable experience, even if they are using assistive technologies like screen readers, magnifiers, voice recognition software, or video captions. From stepless entry into the hotel to wheelchair-accessible rooms, and meeting and lounge spaces, the hotel has taken everything into consideration. In public spaces, visual alarms and Braille signage alert and guide guests, and assistive listening devices are available upon request. Wheelchair and ADA-accessible rooms range from cozy doubles to airy terrace rooms and spacious suites, perfect for different traveling goals. Arlo Midtown’s state-of-the-art gym is also wheelchair accessible. For more information, visit www.arlohotels.com/arlo-midtown or call  212.343.7000 

PLENTY TO DO:  There is so much to do in the city. This includes Broadway shows, museums, tourist attractions like Ellis Island, the 9-11 Memorial, parks, shopping, fine dining, people-watching at Times Square, sports events and much more.

DINING OUT: A globally acclaimed burger joint, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, owned by husband and wife duo Chris Barish and Julie Mulligan, continues to expand within the United States, bringing their award-winning burgers and world-famous CrazyShake® milkshakes to fans in more than 21 locations globally. 

Black Tap, at first glance, is a classic burger joint with a downtown New York vibe. The menu offers something for everyone, from signature burgers like the All-American to chicken sandwiches, salads, wings, and various snacks. Black Tap’s burgers have won awards across the world, and they are now five-time winners at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash competition for the wagyu beef burger called The Greg Norman, the Italian-American inspired Mulberry Street Burger, and most recently for The Wagyu Steakhouse Burger. Black Tap’s famous CrazyShake® milkshakes, known for being highly Instagrammable, have reached worldwide acclaim with their whimsical and over-the-top flavors such as The CakeShake® and the Cookies ‘N Cream Supreme. Since opening its first 15-seat location in New York’s Soho neighborhood, Black Tap has expanded to the West Coast with locations in Las Vegas and Anaheim at the Downtown Disney District® at Disneyland Resort, and internationally to Dubai, Geneva, Zurich, Verbier, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain.

We had a great time visiting Black Tap (www.blacktap.com) for the first time at the 35th Street location (known as Black Tap 35th). The space is inspired by 80s and 90s music, 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. 

New York-based graffiti artists and twin brothers How and Nosm designed 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 imagery. 

Wanting to experience some of the restaurant’s award-winning burgers, my friend and I elected to try The Greg Norman, which is topped off with house buttermilk-dill, blue cheese, and arugula, and The Wagyu Steakhouse Burger, which includes pepper jack cheese, bacon, crispy onions, A1 sauce, and roasted garlic mayo. Both burgers were delicious, but the true highlight of the meal was the accompanying milkshakes. Restaurant-goers at nearby tables whose food had not arrived genuinely stopped to gawk when our server brought us our CakeShake and Strawberry Shortcake CrazyShakes.  The size of an entire meal all on its own, my CakeShake included a cake batter milkshake with a vanilla-frosted rim, rainbow sprinkles, and whipped cream, all of which was topped off with an entire piece of Funfetti cake. 

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 for more information, or take a look at their social media for mouth-watering pictures. 

There is a wheelchair access ramp to the left of the front door that goes into the hotel next door, where there is a side entrance leading into the restaurant. They have a few different seating places for handicap accessibility, as well as an ADA bar seating area. The ADA-accessible bathroom is located in the back of the restaurant.

Fort Lauderdale: a sunny year-round destination with plenty to do for all age groups

By Alexandra Cohen

With the weather having been so freezing lately here in Canada, I was thrilled to make my escape for a winter getaway in the sunny state of Florida. For the first time, I had the opportunity to visit Fort Lauderdale, which was a real treat (https://www.visitlauderdale.com).

Fort Lauderdale is the largest municipality in Broward County, which encompasses 1,197 square miles, with 24 miles of Atlantic Ocean beach. It has a resident population of over 1.95 million people.
While previously known as a quiet beach community, Fort Lauderdale has been known as a hot spot for Spring Breakers ever since the December 1960 film “Where the Boys Are,” which was shot on location in the Fort Lauderdale area. Outside of Spring Break, however, Fort Lauderdale is now known worldwide as a year-round destination with plenty to do for all age groups.

Fort Lauderdale has been nicknamed the Venice of America due to its 300 miles of inland waterways. There are plenty of ways to explore the Intracoastal, which is lined with impressive mansions and yachts – check it out on a paddleboard, water taxi, or even on a Las Olas Gondola.

The area is also known for its sea turtle nesting season, which takes place from March through October of every year. It is not unusual when going for a walk along the beach to encounter a nest – they will be well-marked due to a robust sea turtle conservation program in Broward County. We came across several signs raising awareness about sea turtles during our trip. These babies need lots of help and care, as sadly only approximately one in 1,000 survive.

If you are seeking out a free and sustainable method to get around town, look no further than the Micro Mover, which is a fantastic ride-share service available to those wishing to explore areas such as downtown, Las Olas, and the beach. Download the “Ride Circuit” app to book your ride.

For some family fun in the sun, you may wish to try out the local mini-golf experience. Pixar Putt is an 18-hole pop-up experience that will be open until March 26th. The experience features iconic characters from many of Pixar’s most beloved films, including Toy Story, Inside Out, Finding Nemo, Coco, and more. It is open 7 days a week and includes after-dark sessions for those 18+.

If shopping is something that you hope to do in Florida, look no further than Sawgrass Mills, the world’s largest single-story discount mall. Further discount shopping can be accomplished at the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop, which is the largest indoor/outdoor flea market down South. For a more traditional shopping experience, The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale is a more upscale shopping mall with stores including Macy’s, Michael Kors, and much more.

COMING SOON: The Florida Panthers organization is revitalizing the War Memorial Auditorium and is constructing a new state-of-the-art practice and community ice facility in Fort Lauderdale. This is slated for a 2023 debut, though the exact opening date has yet to be announced. Upon its completion, the new 144,000 sq. foot sports and entertainment venue will house South Florida’s first-of-its-kind ballroom-style concert and performance venue, capable of accommodating up to 3,800 people for intimate live music and events. The redesigned theater will carefully preserve the iconic War Memorial Auditorium’s classic art-deco character, while new enhancements and technical upgrades will modernize the space to accommodate global tour productions and larger-scale events. The addition of a state-of-the-art practice facility will feature two regulation-sized indoor ice rinks, including a dedicated public rink that will host a robust variety of youth and adult hockey programs, public skating, and figure skating for those of all ages.  

INCLUSIVITY: “Visit Lauderdale”, the official Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for Greater Fort Lauderdale in South Florida, recently unveiled its new brand campaign “Everyone Under the Sun.” The vibrant campaign reflects Greater Fort Lauderdale’s welcoming and inclusive community. People from more than 170 countries speaking 147 languages call Greater Fort Lauderdale home. The brand campaign features plenty of surprising twists to not only highlight how different Greater Fort Lauderdale is from other destinations but to also invite “everyone under the sun” to enjoy its one-of-a-kind offerings. The new campaign showcases accessible beaches, thrilling outdoor adventures, immersive nature encounters, shopping, in-pool meetings, dock and dining opportunities, pampering, romance, and memory-making experiences.

WHERE TO STAY: There are close to 600 lodging establishments, with more than 37,000 hotel rooms in the area, ranging from luxurious high-rises to smaller boutique hotels and motels. The diverse mix of Greater Fort Lauderdale accommodations encompasses oceanfront and inland properties, specialized spa resorts, as well as meeting and convention facilities.

During my trip, I chose to stay at the B Ocean Resort (https://www.boceanresort.com/), which many people may remember as the former Sheraton Yankee Clipper.

The B Brand caters to the following aspirations through its signature elements and programming: B Nourished® as it relates to the mind, body and soul; B Adventurous by exploring the world and self-potential; and B Compassionate by actively caring for the community and the environment
Along with a fresh, contemporary design and a desirable beachfront location, B Ocean Resort offers a unique experience allowing both travelers and staycationers to fully immerse themselves in the destination from the second they step foot through the door. The resort is conveniently located in the heart of the city, around 15 minutes from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Port Everglades, downtown Las Olas Boulevard and along the famed coastal highway A1A.

Originally built in 1956 as the Yankee Clipper, named after its ship-like structure, the hotel quickly became a popular place to visit for American favorites such as Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, and many more. As one of the few beachfront hotels in the city along the Atlantic Ocean, the B Ocean Resort has incorporated some historic elements and has blended them to create a more modern, sleek, and stylish feel.

The B Ocean Resort offers 481 spacious guest rooms and suites, ranging in size from 300 sq. ft. to a lavish 1,700 sq. ft. – all of which are inspired by the property’s serene oceanfront location. Guests can choose from room categories including the Chic Room, the Captivating Room, the Stunning Room, the B Enhanced Junior Suite, the Posh Suite, or the Master Suite. Along with the B Hotels & Resorts® signature Blissful Bed®, each room has sleek custom furnishings, a 55″ HD LED interactive flat-screen television, bath amenities, a coffee maker, an in-room safe and a mini fridge, as well as electrical power hubs equipped with convenient USB, USB-C, and international outlet plug-ins. We were very pleased with our accommodations.

Beyond the guestrooms, the B Ocean Resort features a spacious lobby and several meeting spaces. Guests may choose to relax at either of the hotel’s two outdoor swimming pools, one of which is a fairly large infinity pool conveniently located right on the beach. The private beach offers every guest two free beach loungers and towels per room, with the option to also rent umbrellas when the weather permits. Beach-side service is provided, with food and drinks from the beachside restaurant The Salty Siren being delivered right to your seat.

The hotel also includes a 24-hour state-of-the-art B Active® Fitness Center, two B Indulged® Spa Suites, and over 14,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space that has expanded onto the second floor. The second-floor Point Room offers floor-to-ceiling windows with an attached spacious outdoor beachfront terrace – it is an ideal venue for high-end corporate and social events.  B Ocean’s private beach, pool decks, and first-level ballroom are also available for large group events, meetings, or weddings.

The hotel has five restaurants on site. The Salty Siren, as mentioned, is the hotel’s poolside restaurant. Otherwise, the hotel offers seafood and Mediterranean cuisine at the Naked Crab, drinks and brunch with mermaid shows and burlesque shows at the Wreck Bar, more drinks and cocktails at the Florida Bar in the lobby, and the grab-and-go Clipper Express, which includes offerings such as bagels, croissants, muffins, juice, coffee, and chips. Come by in the evening for grab-and-go sushi as well!

A little bit more about the shows:

Mermaid Aqua Burlesque Show: Perfect for those seeking a unique, next-level nightlife experience, the adults-only Aqua Burlesque show produced by MeduSirena promises to be an unforgettable night. The show starts every Friday night at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.), as well as every Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) and 11 p.m. (doors open at 10 p.m.)

Aquamen Underwater Boylesque Show: The only underwater male burlesque show in the United States, the adults-only Aqua Boylesque show produced by MeduSirena is also part of the Wreck Bar’s line-up. This show starts every other Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.)

Mermaid Elle & Friends: For an exciting mermaid encounter that the whole family can enjoy, the all-new, interactive Coral Reef Mermaid show follows the story of South Florida mermaids who need to find their magical gadgets in order to return back home. The show aims to both entertain and educate as it demonstrates how pollutants harm the ocean’s delicate ecosystems and explains how recycling aids in the continued protection of coral reefs. This exciting adventure starts every Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m. and includes lunch (doors open at 11 a.m.). During my stay, I overheard a little girl exiting the show with her mother, enthusiastically proclaiming “the mermaid was real!”

Mermaids & Mimosas Sunday Brunch: During B Ocean Resort’s signature Sunday brunch, guests can enjoy a delicious meal with bottomless mimosas, while watching mermaids swim in the background. This takes place every Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Yoga, Mermaids and Mimosas: Every Sunday morning, B Ocean Resort offers a relaxing and restorative one-hour yoga class by the Atlantic Ocean. After the class, yogis are invited to join the Mermaids & Mimosas Sunday Brunch at the Wreck Bar. The class takes place every Sunday from 10 a.m. – 11: a.m.

Splash Into The Past: which takes place every Wednesday at Wreck Bar, is the newest show. Presented by Tropical Sirens Entertainment and directed by Leydis Castillo, the live, interactive show takes visitors on a voyage back in time through the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s. Travelers can experience an unforgettable night of trivia, games, singalongs and dancing alongside the magnificent mermaid. Costumes are welcomed and encouraged, with prizes given to the most creatively dressed guest of the night each week. Doors open at 6 p.m. for drinks and/or dinner, and the show starts at 8 p.m.  Admission is $45 per adult (guests must be 18+) with a $35 credit toward food and beverages purchased during the show. Advanced reservations are required for all mermaid shows. For more information or to reserve tickets, visit https://www.boceanresort.com/mermaids-at-the-wreck-bar/.

See our interview with Leydis in costume: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3qR6Jx-khw

In terms of accessibility, the hotel has ramps at the pool, as well as connecting the pool to the beach. There is also a ramp available to connect the hotel’s different towers. Both pools feature ADA Pool lifts. The resort offers valet parking at the main entrance to the lobby. There are guest rooms available that feature roll-in showers or accessible bathtubs.

The CEO and founder of B Hotels & Resorts are Ayelet Weinstein, who started working in multi-family and condo conversions in 1996. In 2004, she became interested in a local building that she assumed to be an apartment building. After pursuing the building and learning it was, in fact, a hotel, she discovered a passion for the hospitality industry and has remained involved ever since.

“I was immediately intrigued,” Weinstein told Lodging Magazine. “I was fascinated by the hospitality business model and the industry’s depth and complexity. During the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, InSite Group, where I was a senior vice president, started to look more into hotels and basically switched its focus from multi-family to hospitality.”

“B Hotels creates an environment that encourages living life to its fullest potential. It’s in our blood,” Weinstein described. “Life in general is a collection of experiences. Travel and work play major roles in that experience, and we were able to bring these components together.”

The B Hotel and Resort is located at 1140 Seabreeze Blvd. For more details go to www.boceanresort.com or call 1-954-524-5551. B Hotels also has locations in the Florida Keys and in the Disney Springs area in Lake Buena Vista. Visit http://www.bhotelsandresorts.com.

BOUCHER BROTHERS ON THE BEACH: We were thrilled to discover that The B Hotel & Resort partners with the award-winning Boucher Brothers Management (www.boucherbrothers.com) in order to pamper guests while at the beach.  I have had the pleasure of experiencing their fantastic work before during previous stays at hotels in the Hollywood and St. Petersburg areas.

Boucher Brothers is a Hospitality Management Company that specializes in a variety of outlets including pool, beach, food and beverage, water sports and team-building activities.  They are a forward-thinking and proficient hospitality company expanding across North America. The company currently owns a portfolio of over 100 hotels and condominium properties, 45 blocks of public beach throughout Florida’s east and west coasts, 50 blocks of public beach in Virginia Beach, and four beaches around Lake Michigan in Chicago. They also do corporate team building and team events.

The Boucher Brothers know that when you come to the beach, you want to relax and feel pampered – their courteous and friendly staff does just that. The Boucher Brothers team provided excellent service during my stay. Upon your arrival at the beach, they will set you up with your free beach chairs, as well as an umbrella if you wish. Further, you have the option to rent the more luxurious sun loungers, with comfortable cushioning and unobstructed views of the ocean. Servers from the hotel restaurant, The Salty Siren, come right to your seat to take your order, further enhancing your relaxation.

In terms of beach sports, the Boucher Brothers have collaborated with BouYah Watersports. If you wish, you can arrange for jet skis, kayaks, banana boat rides, or paddle boards. The closest BouYah Watersports location to the B Ocean is at the Marriott Harbor Beach, which is a six-minute walk from the hotel. Guests can reserve their adventure directly online at https://bouyahwatersports.com/marriott-harbor-beach/

In terms of special needs, the Boucher Brothers have teamed up with the City of Miami Beach in offering immobile guests an easy transition to the beach. The Miami Beach Ocean Rescue team is considered the best in the United States. With them, they are able to partner up and offer beach-friendly wheelchairs, which are equipped with large wide wheels that can roll across the sand at ease without sinking. “We take the Americans with disabilities act very seriously and that’s why we have joined forces with the city to help everyone enjoy their experience at the beach,” the company states. If you are in that area, make sure to call ahead and reserve your beach wheelchair since quantities are limited. The number is (305) 673-7714 and you can pick it up at the Beach Patrol Headquarters located at 1001 Ocean Drive.

DINING OUT: There are more than 4,000 wining and dining establishments and 132 nightclubs in Broward County. The culinary scene is filled with rising star chefs, exciting restaurants, breweries and pubs, coffee houses and scenic dock-and-dine eateries, along with many great hotel restaurants.

I experienced a few places during my stay.

The Naked Crab Seafood Kitchen + Cocktail Bar

Let’s start off with the Naked Crab Seafood Kitchen + Cocktail Bar, which was conveniently located right in our hotel lobby at the B Ocean Hotel and Resort. It was the most convenient place to dine after checking in right at dinnertime. The Naked Crab embodies authentic, local dining on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Executive Chef David Morales conceptualizes slightly different menus every season and blends together fresh ingredients and spices in order to create contemporary Mediterranean dishes influenced by the flavors of Europe, and North and South America. The menu is sourced locally using fresh seafood and produce from local farms.

To sample some items on the menu, I tried the crab cake as an appetizer, as well as the scallop risotto and the particularly tasty branzino. This was capped off with some tiramisu for dessert, which was also delicious.
 
Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a weekend seafood brunch, locals and guests can relish in a seafood tower to share with the table or take advantage of the dry-aged prime steak. For breakfast, guests can enjoy a full menu of traditional staples and specialties, including lump crab benedict and crab avocado toast.

Matchbox Restaurant

We also experienced Matchbox Restaurant (www.matchboxrestaurants.com), part of an American chain that first opened in 2003. Matchbox currently has 15 locations, including Washington, Maryland, Virginia, and of course Florida. Matchbox is part of Thompson Hospitality, one of the largest retail food service management companies in the USA.

The Matchbox in Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale, opened in early 2022. It is located in a particularly trendy area that features dining and entertaining on the New River, with lovely water views.
Since its debut, Matchbox has become known for brick oven pizzas, mini burgers, fresh salads, and chef-inspired entrées, like Miso salmon and chimichurri steak frites. Diners can enjoy elevated American bistro fare crafted from high-quality ingredients. I particularly enjoyed their delicious cocktails, including the strawberry rose margarita and the peach lemon drop, as well as the spinach and artichoke dip, the aforementioned Miso salmon (a menu highlight!), as well as the chicken pesto pizza.
Warren Thompson, President and Chairman of Thompson Hospitality, started the company in 1992. It is built on values gained from 30 years of client, customer and community relationships. Veterans in the hospitality industry, the company currently owns and operates over three dozen restaurants. Other company-owned restaurants in the area include Big Buns and Willie T’s Seafood Shack.

The restaurant offers several handicap-accessible tables and a lowered bar area, as well as compliant restrooms. In order to enter, as you come out of the parking area, the sidewalk/courtyard has a ramp.
Matchbox is located at 221 SW 1St Avenue. You can call 954-751-5959 for a reservation. Visit https://www.matchboxrestaurants.com/.

The Lobster Bar and Sea Grill

When seeking out places to eat in Florida, one would be amiss to forget about the fantastic local seafood scene. I had the privilege of enjoying a meal at the Lobster Bar Sea Grille while in Fort Lauderdale (https://lobsterbarseagrille.com). The restaurant, located at 454 East Los Olas, offers an extensive selection of seafood, including, as mentioned in its name, a large array of lobster dishes.

The dining room features soft white herringbone subway-tiled walls and arched ceilings. Warm custom lighting creates an intimate and inviting ambiance. Clusters of sofas are located near the bar for cocktails before or after dinner, making it the perfect place to meet friends or business associates. Adjacent to the lounge is a fully covered outdoor patio with cushioned furniture, ideal for cocktails and light dining. Walls can be brought down in this outdoor space as well on a windy day to preserve client comfort.

During my meal, I had the opportunity to taste some oysters, the restaurant’s famed lobster morsels (lightly fried lobster with Greek honey-mustard aioli), Dover sole served with brown butter and a side dish of quinoa mixed with kale, the decadent Whole Lobster & Black Winter Truffle risotto dish, as well as some profiteroles to end the meal on a sweet note. Everything was delicious!

General Manager George Mollas notes how the restaurant presents freshly caught, both locally and internationally, whole fish. “Our seafood is as fresh as fresh can be; 48 hours from the water to the table,” he said. “The atmosphere of the Lobster Bar Sea Grille is a very swanky, upscale and sexy environment”

Mollas says that his team’s goal “is to exceed our guests’ expectations. We go the limit for our guests. Whatever they need we can deliver. As guests leave the restaurant, they let me know how much they enjoy the food we prepare for them and the wonderful atmosphere. In particular, they love our attention to detail.”

The restaurant is fully code-compliant with regard to handicapped accessibility.

It seats about 175 indoors and 50 outdoors and also features two private rooms (one seating up to 60 and one seating up to 80).

The Lobster Bar Sea Grille is part of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, which also owns eight other restaurant brands. You can purchase the Ultimate Dining Gift Card, which never expires and can be reloaded.

For reservations call (954) 772-2675. The restaurant is open for lunch on weekdays and dinner seven nights a week.

On the famous Fort Lauderdale boulevard that leads to the beach, you will find the Friendship Café, which is situated right next to the Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center. Part of The Friendship Circle, a local non-profit here in Montreal, the kosher Mediterranean restaurant and coffee bar serves lunch and dinner options, from falafel hummus plates and salads to kebab pita sandwiches and vegetarian shawarma. They offer training and employment opportunities to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

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.