Travel Inspiration By A Pro Trip Designer

Dining at Newport R.I.’s Vanderbilt Grace

Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews


Muse by Jonathan Cartwright
Vanderbilt Grace
Newport, R.I.

Despite the weather turning stormy in Newport last Saturday night, my evening was delightfully warm and cozy –-thanks to the generous staff and tasting menu at Vanderbilt Grace’s Muse restuarant. While the rain beat against the windows, I was happily ensconced in a plush corner banquet surrounded by starched white tablecloths, soft blue walls and flickering glass-shaded candlesticks. Needless to say, I was ideally situated for the weather.

Muse at Vanderbilt Grace

Muse at Vanderbilt Grace

Helmed by chef Jonathan Cartwright, a Grand Chef Relais and Chateaux, Muse is known for seasonal New England fare with an international (read: gourmand) flare. The restaurant has also just been awarded “Best lobster dish in New England” by Rhode Island Magazine for its superb butter-poached smoked Lobster. With such an accolade, I couldn’t resist and made that my first dish of the fairly-priced ($75), prix-fix menu.

The Blue Ribbon Special: The Smoked Lobster

The Blue Ribbon Special: The Smoked Lobster

I followed up the award-winner, which was quite good – though, I confess, lobster with mayo and a buttered roll is more my speed – with an intermezzo of white tomato soup with basil dumpling. Not only is the idea of an intermezzo fantastically indulgent, but the soup itself, was wonderfully light – the mark of a good intermezzo. With a bottle of Frog’s Leap Merlot, I opted for the Veal Medallions and Herb Crusted Cutlet of Spring Lamb with Pea Puree, Ratatouille Ravioli and Madeira Sauce for my main course. Other offerings such as pan-roasted halibut or pan-seared Guinea Hen Breast with Quebec Foie Gras were tough choices to overlook, but I’m a sucker for the lamb and madeira combo. Plus, my husband had ordered the Foie Gras for his starter and dutifully given me half (a spousal kindness, if ever there was one). The veal was perfectly cooked while the lamb was ideally spiced, as in lightly adorned with a smattering herbs that enhanced rather than overshadowed the meat’s natural jus. I closed the meal with their selection of fine ripened New England cheese, which was well-selected and came with warm olive toasts. Despite my order of cheese, my sweet tooth is forever primed. Fortunately, our lovely server brought over a decadent plate of truffles as we handled the bill, capping off an excellent meal with just the right caliber of sweetness.

The bar at The Muse

The bar at The Muse

Indeed the above review reads overwhelmingly positive, but it was truly a lovely experience (says the critic). I confess, I’m a sucker for a restaurant who has embraced modernity (well-lit, fresh decor, efficient service) yet maintained the traditions (full, hearty courses, polite staff) of olde-world fine dining. Given the Vanderbilt Grace’s 100-year old history and elegant, brick facade and traditional interiors, I find it an ideal place to dine when visiting Newport. It’s mixture of classic moldings and modern light fixtures make for an attractive melding of old and new and secure it as one of Newport’s top date spots – particularly if you can reserve the corner banquet.

Rooftop Terrace at Vanderbilt Grace in Newport

Rooftop Terrace at Vanderbilt Grace in Newport

Since Muse is located in the front of the mansion, facing the street, the restaurant’s views are unremarkable. However, start the date off with a cocktail up on their roof deck, preferably during sunset, and then the tucked-away atmosphere of the restaurant becomes a welcome compliment to the evening.

Posted in: Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews

Published by Meg, Monday, August 6, 2012 No Comments

La Trop

Europe, Food + Wine, Travel Tips


Saint Tropez, France

The most delectable thing. Ever.

The most delectable thing. Ever.

I just got back from a wonderful week visiting the seaside towns of France – from Normandy’s charming Deauville to the Cote du Basque’s family-friendly, surf-spot Saint Jean de Luz and the crown jewel port of Saint Tropez on the Cote d’Azure. Throughout the week I was greeted by misty sea breezes and cuisine that brutalized any modicum of self-restraint. I ate cheeses by the pound, croissants and foie gras daily and would be lying if I didn’t admit that I enjoyed every bite guilt free. Now, back home, I am chiding myself, but I’m certain regret from not having tasted it all would be worse.

I have lots to report back from the trip, from hotels to activities to yes, meals, but the first thing that I must post is this recipe given to me from chef Vincent Maillard of the Byblos Hotel in Saint Tropez. It is for his version of La Tropezienne, the town’s famous cream-filled cake. I have chosen this to be the first thing I share with you all simply because it is the best, most unbelievable thing I have ever tasted. Seriously.

He does it in beignet form too, but the cake is the real piece de resistance

He does it in beignet form too, but the cake is the real piece de resistance

I’m not a baker and so will unlikely ever attempt to recreate this masterpiece, but if you do, please let me know how it turns out. Otherwise, just pack your bags and go. It’s not as if one needs further enticement to visit the beautiful beachside village of Saint Tropez, but this cake truly is a remarkably compelling reason to book a flight. Two types of cream with a crumble top – need I say more?

Chef Vincent Maillard in front of three different versions of his masterpiece

Chef Vincent Maillard in front of three different versions of his masterpiece

**The recipe is in French but googletranslate should help take care of it. And let’s face it, those that will endeavor to do this, likely have followed French recipes before…Bon Chance!

200g de pâtissière et 200g de crème au beurre lisser les deux Puis les mélanger délicatement

Crème pâtissier :
1l lait ½ Faire chauffer lait et gousse de vanille avec un peu de sucre.
250g jaune d œufs Blanchir sucre et jaunes, ajouter la poudre a crème .puis cuire
100g poudre a crème l ensemble 3mn
2 gousses de vanille

Crème au beurre :
250g lait ½ Elle doit être réalisé en trois parties. Préparé d abord une
200g sucre crème anglaise a laquelle on ajoutera le beurre pommade
215g jaunes d œufs et pour finir la meringue
1 gousse de vanille
850g beurre
200g meringue italienne 125g blanc 250g sucre 100g d eaux
Mettre à cuire le sucre et l eau a 117°C/121°C puis le
Verser sur les blancs et laisser refroidir

1kg farine Mélanger tout les ingrédients puis attendre que la pate
30g levure se décolle de la cuve et ajouter le beurre
20g sel
500g beurre
600g oeufs
120g Sucre
30g ameliorant

250g beurre fondu Mélanger tous les ingrédients faire un pâton
400g sucre semoule puis le réserver au frigo, quand le tout et bien refroidi
600g farine émietter le tout

-1000g de purée de fraise Mélanger le tout a froid et mettre en Paco
-500g de fraises entières
-300g de sucre

300g framboise
65g sucre semoule
1 zeste de citron

Posted in: Europe, Food + Wine, Travel Tips

Published by Meg, Sunday, April 22, 2012 No Comments

DC’s Newest Diva

Food + Wine


February 2012

The Live Music Space

The Live Music Space

This December the ever-popular, not to mention, tremendously successful, Clydes Restaurant Group opened its latest ambitious venture in downtown DC, The Hamilton. Named after that famous American banker, the massive, 37,000-square foot gleaming space holds not just one but four bars, including one that serves excellent sushi, two large dining areas that serve food, get this – 24 hours a day and a live music venue space, known as Hamilton Live, that seats 300+.

Gleaming interiors of The Hamilton

Gleaming interiors of The Hamilton

Located on the corner of 14th and F, the behemoth bastion of all-night reverie has made quite a mark on the Penn Quarter scene, giving its neighbor (and sister property) Old Ebbitt Grill a run for its money. Whether its the live music that includes acts like Chubby Checker and local jazz greats, Mavis Staples, or the late-night gourmet munchies menu (petite filet mignon sandwiches – yum!) that gets you in the door, I can’t help but recommend it as a site worth beholding, especially for downtown DC.

Hamilton's Front Bar

Note the mahogany, mirror-backed bar and beveled ceiling look (typical Clydes style)

My visit was in late January and the two ground level bars, despite being just a month old and it being only 8:30pm on a Saturday night, were packed. The jazz act downstairs was practically sold out (standing room only) and the wait for a table was 25 minutes.  We enjoyed drinks and some light apps (pizza and sushi) by the bar downstairs as we bobeed and swayed to the music. The club downstairs is wonderfully atmospheric and reminds me of an old-school jazz club with way better seating, cleaner bathrooms and less smoke, albeit a bit less cozy.

However, Hamilton’s old roots as a building from the 20s allows for some hidden elements. Shh… there’s a sub level that houses its own bar and piano, oft frequented by the music acts post-show that is accessed only via the elevator from the club or a tucked away staircase. If the overwhelming dimensions of the place get to be to much for you, this malcovichian mid-level will restore any lagging intimacy.

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Posted in: Food + Wine

Published by Meg, Tuesday, February 21, 2012 No Comments

about meg

About Meg


Meg is the founder of luxury travel consulting company, Friend of a Friend Consulting. Her three books, Italian Hideaways, Caribbean Hideaways and England's Hideaways are published by Rizzoli. Passionate about travel, hotels and wine, she continues to write freelance travel pieces and is currently pursuing a Masters in Wine through the WSET.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and do not reflect separate business relationships with the subject. Whenever posts are supported financially, they are designated as such.