Top 5 Meals of 2015

It has become an annual tradition. Each year, I write a blog about the 5 best meals I ate. This is very hard to do since my job involves eating and traveling “for a living.” This year, I traveled to 14 countries and 5 states in the US. Needless to say, I ate a lot of good food!

After considerable thought, these memorable meals made it to my top 5 picks of 2015:

Machneyuda Restaurant in Jerusalem – This concept restaurant is run by three genius chefs – Yosef “Pappy” Elad, Assaf Granite, and Uri Navon. They run the business like a party. The quirky website and non-descript menu that offer dishes like “Entrecôte Django Unchained Style,” and “Lamb with lot of tasty stuff,” with pairings like “yummy stuff, some sauce” offer some clues. The waiters are not just friendly, they are singing, dancing and even doing shots in the kitchen…at work! The food is served in unpretentious sharing plates and is absolutely to die for. Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding Machneyuda market.

The biggest surprise for me was the dessert. Our server cleared out our table (we were 5) and laid out aluminum foil to cover it. On it, was orchestrated a symphony of cake, chocolate sauce, caramel, candies, nougats, cookies, ice cream and whipped cream – spread around the entire table within matter of minutes. It looked very haphazard as it was happening, but then appeared to be a delicious pile of artful looking happiness. We dug in with our spoons feeling like kids, and started dancing to the Israeli pop tunes.

Catalina Rose Bay in Sydney – Located on the world-famous Sydney Harbour, this family run restaurant is known for serving the highest quality meat and poultry sourced from all over Australia. Sydney Seaplane Highlights Flight Fly/Dine experience, included lunch at Catalina overlooking the Rose Bay. We start by enjoying fresh oysters on the shell paired with an Australia white that is produced not too far from the bay. The warm Sydney sun refreshed us as we watched the Seaplanes go by. I had the Poached Western Australian Marron Tail (something I had not had before), and the small sushi plate with delicious fresh tuna, salmon, prawn, kingfish, tataki tuna and Catalina roll. Dessert was caramelized fig with bitter caramel mousse, brik pastry and sugared pistachio. It was a memorable dessert, though the others I took bites off were pretty good too.

best seafood in Sydney

Boulanger Patissier Le Fournil Notre Dame in Marseille, France – My husband and I got to this bakery in the South of France early Sunday morning when the aroma of fresh baked goodies were oozing out of this tiny neighborhood bakery. There were sleepy residents, some still wearing pajamas, lined up to get bread, croissants, pastries, macrons, and Tropezian cakes. We got a few assortments to share with our cappuccinos. Till this day, we still talk about how the croissants flaked into a thousand pieces and melted the moment it touched our tongues. It was so good, that we had to eat another. Though so simple, it was by far the best breakfast I had this year!
best croissants in France
Marea in New York City – My close friend know that I am a big snob when it comes to Italian food. I can just about dismiss majority of the Italian restaurants in the U.S., but when I find a good ones, my heart melts into clarified butter. This is what happened at Marea, 2 Michelin star restaurant located on Central Park South. My friend and I had to wait for a long time to a spot at the bar (reservations few days in advance are highly recommended), but it was great people watching too. Everything at this high end Italian eatery boasted freshness of ingredients, integrity of flavors, and perfection in cooking. Some of my favorites were the tender Noca Scotia lobster and burro found in Astice; al dante and earthy Funghi Risotto; flaky and dressed Branzino: as well as the fried doughnuts dipped in lemon ricotta and dark chocolate Bomboloni. The portions are not small and you may end up eating 10k calories, but now you can die and go to heaven on earth.
best Italian in New York
Yachiyo Ryokan at Himeshima Island in Japan – It’s hard to imagine that one of my top 5 meals was at a 1-lady run Bed and Breakfast in a sleepy island off the coast of Kunisaki. I stayed at this beautiful family run 8-room inn surrounded by gardens, where we were served a delicious seafood dinner with ingredients that were probably swimming just a few hours ago. I had eaten a lot of good sushi throughout my stay in countryside Japan, but this was an unbelievable spread. Every inch of the table was covered with a fresh piece of fish or vegetable that was delicately prepared and artful served. The Japanese chefs take great effort in presentation as you can see from this picture. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t have a website and the manager, Michuri-San, speaks limited English, so good luck finding it.
best sushi in Japan

Top 5 Meals of 2014

Reminiscing the best restaurant meals of the year has become a tradition for me. In fact, readers request me to share my culinary highlights if they don’t hear from me by January, so here you are, with my top 5 meals of 2015….

1. Restaurant Ulo at Hotel Arctic in Ilulissat, Greenland – Located 280 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, this may not be the obvious choice for one of the best meals in the world, but it actually was! Fresh seafood caught from Disko Bay each morning, combined with the finess of award winning Chef Jeppe Ejvind Nielsen, at one of the finest kitchens in the country, results in the perfect 11-course wine paired dinner. The view was unforgettable from the restaurant, and the scallops carpaccio, smoked halibut, fresh crab salad and reindeer mousse – flavors I cannot find anywhere else. Read 5 reasons to visit Ilulissat

hotel arctic greenland

2. Gu’s Bistro, Atlanta – I reviewed this family-owned Szechaun restaurant for my column Ethnic.City in Creative Loafing newspaper. Buford Highway is a famous street in Atlanta, known for Asian and Latino restaurants, and I have managed to make my rounds through them. Unlike other Szechaun restaurants I have tried, I found the food at Gu’s to not hold back on authentic flavors, at the same time not scaring off the novice spice eater. While my tastebuds crave for Gu’s dumplings, Chengdu cold noodles, and crispy fried fish, there is hardly a dish here I won’t eat again.

Gu's Bistro Atlanta

3. Coco Bistro, Turks and Caicos – While most of the food on this heavenly island was very good, the cuisine focused on fresh seafood and international styles of cooking. The 24 year old Coco Bistro is a popular spot among locals and tourists, serving some of the best seafood in the world. My favorites were melt in your mouth Tuna Tataki served on a fried wanton with shredded cabbage salad and spicy mayo; as well as Lobster and Avocado Rolls with spicy duck sauce. Make sure to get reservations in advance and ask to be seated outdoors, as the gardens are elegant and romantic. Read more about my reviews in TCI.

coco bistro TCI

4. Palazzo Donati, Italy – This was a special meal prepared by a group of nine men, who call themselves Accademia del Padlot, meaning the academy of “a giant ladle that is used to pour wine.” The volunteer group came over to the renovated 18th century palace where I was staying and cooked an elaborate meal from scratch. On the menu was Charcuterie, Bruschetta, Torta pascuela, Coradella (lamb’s liver), Goletta con salvia e aceto o vino bianco (pig’s jowl), Spezzatino di Cinghiale (wild boar stew), Tagliatelle pasta, Radicchio rosso in graticola, Patate Sotto il Fuoco, Crostata, and endless bottles of wines. It was not just the delicious homemade Italian food, but the fact that we were eating it by a fireplace in an Italian home located in a tiny village, along with these local people, that made it even more memorable. Read more about eating and drinking with the Padlots in Italy

academia de padlots, italy

5. Rivea at Hotel Byblos, St Tropez – Critically acclaimed Chef Alain Ducasse, French Riviera charm, seasonal ingredients and Mediterranean style tapas – whats not to love about this place? I started with a French Rose at this elegantly decorated restaurant and made my way through marinated white fish, sardine toast, eggplant dip, arugula pizzetta, ratatouille, blue lobster, and the most amazing Tropézienne on the planet. No visit to St Tropez is justified without eating at Rivea! Read more about Hotel ByblosBook Hotel Byblos.

hotel byblos st tropez

Read my Top 5 meals in 2012

Read my Top 5 meals in 2011

Hotel Byblos: Jewel of Saint-Tropez

Hotel Byblos, a 5 star sprawling paradise of unimaginable delights, is everything its reputation suggests. Located in Saint-Tropez, in the South of France, the resort has a Mediterranean sleepy sea-side village appeal and its terracotta and stucco like exterior painted in brilliant colors of salmon, mint green, and gold are perfectly striking. Make no mistake; there is nothing “sleepy” about Hotel Byblos as there are more than enough amenities to keep guests totally engaged.

It must be said though, that upon arriving at the hotel’s address, anticipation turns into a few seconds of bewilderment, as the entryway does not signal “world-renowned” hotel. Surprisingly, after descending a very impressive staircase, large glass doors lead into a modern estate, which honors its architectural past. Expansive windows, wide corridors, and well appointed sitting areas welcome guests to their Saint-Tropez home.

hotel byblos exterior

The hotel opens from mid April to the end of October. Peak months are between May and September when the entire beach town area is in full fashion. There are endless parties, nights that last until morning, and people waiting to get into their preferred venues. Like Saint-Tropez, at this time the entire vibe of Hotel Byblos is electric with energy.

hotel byblos balcony

As with this trip, some travelers may prefer to visit during shoulder months April or October when there are fewer crowds and shorter ques. The atmosphere of Hotel Byblos also becomes serene but still enjoyable. There are many amenities to compliment the most discriminating of patrons: an exquisite pool with a poolside bar and lounge, spa, fitness center, two restaurants, onsite coiffeur, boutique shops and more. The signature customer service of the hotel has no rival. It includes complimentary shuttle service to and from nearby beaches. Why, the gym was immediately made available to a guest who arrived ahead of the scheduled opening time.

room at hotel byblos

The magnificent pool around which the Hotel Byblos is centered adds to the coastal feeling of being on the French Riviera. It is maintained at a comfortable 28 degrees Celsius so patrons may enjoy it at their convenience. Surrounded by beautifully appointed gardens, the pool becomes a private oasis, and can be a nice alternative to going to the ocean waves.

Dining options are made easy as the Byblos has two restaurants of high acclaim. Guests will surely want to begin the day with a scrumptious breakfast at the B, a Mediterranean inspired bistro with indoor and patio seating. The endless choices include: mini waffles, madeleine, chocolate croissants, artisan breads, and more; delectable jams, spreads, and cheese compliment the exhaustive list of fresh baked goods. A pâte à tartiner or “spread” made of chocolate and hazelnut is a hotel specialty. The B’s accommodation of casual and formal diners and the presence of alfresco seating contribute to “a top of the morning” flair.

Rivea at hotel byblos

The Rivea restaurant is among the enterprises of the critically acclaimed Chef Alain Ducasse. This place is busy all the time and for good reason. With a tapas style menu drawing on Provençal, Spanish and Italian influences, there is something for everyone. Starters such as the traditional charcuterie platter, pizzetta with rocket and Parmesan, and herb cannelloni are flavorful and light. Selections for main courses include meat, seafood and vegetarian options. The lamb chop and fillet with summer savory chickpeas and panisse is perfectly prepared. Delectable chickpea panisse fries, a play on French fries, are crisp and fluffy. A palate tantalizing dessert of candied and frosted lemon with limoncello sorbet is tart, refreshing and shocking with the flavor of citrus. The commitment to local, quality natural French and Italian resources is a staple in the success of Rivea. Take, for example, the Minuty Rosé 2013 that is lovingly served by the restaurant, its pale pink color and floral notes originate from the little-known Tibouren grape, grown at the Minuty Chateau located on the Saint-Tropez Peninsular.

fresh pastries at B

At what venue does everyone wait in the same entrance line regardless of status, economics, or fame? Of course, it is the internationally acclaimed nightclub, Les Caves du Roy, of the Hotel Byblos, in Saint-Tropez. Les Caves de Roy is one of the world’s most exclusive nightclubs and is a place to be seen for everyone from Hollywood stars, billionaire business tycoons and families on vacation who are lodging at the Byblos. During April to June and September to October, the venue is only open on the weekends.

Hotel Byblos is a destination for wealthy discriminating lodgers as well as those among us who occasionally splurge in life. Rent the Byblos’ private villa and live like French aristocracy. Hire the hotel’s luxury yacht for a day and cruise the Gulf of Saint-Tropez. Step into the award winning Marrakesh themed spa and be lulled away by the services. No matter the fantasy, this world-renowned luxury resort is perfect for the traveler who craves chic hospitality and unparalleled lavishness.

~ By Kaylah Burks, an athlete, who enjoys traveling the world while staying health conscious. Follow her on Instagram @jadenlie

Book your stay at Hotel Byblos on TripAdvisor

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Inside St Tropez – A Photo Blog

St Tropez is a small town located in the South of France, also known as the French Riviera. It was an unassuming fishing village until the beginning of the 20th century. After the world war II, it became an internationally known seaside resort, renowned principally because of the influx of French artists. Later, it became a resort for the European and American jet setters and a goal for tourists in search of a little Provençal authenticity and an occasional celebrity sighting.

St Tropez skyline

Although weather is temperate year round, peak season to visit St Tropez is summer when its warm and sunny, perfect for water activities. Here is a painting depicting the forecast for St Tropez.

best time to visit st tropez

The port in St Tropez can hold upto 800 yachts at a time. Advance reservations are required to pull into the harbor and spots closes to the boardwalk are generally more expensive. The yacht owners want to show off their beauties to everyone. It is simply the place to see and be seen!

port of st tropez

Once the yachts come to St Tropez, they spend couple of days docked. This is when the owners can enjoy the flavors of town – eating, drinking and shopping. There are lots of bars, cafes and restaurants that offer authentic French cuisine. Senequier is the oldest bar dating back to 1887, overlooking the harbor.

oldest restaurant in St Tropez

Sailors from all over the world brought pieces that can be seen in architectural elements throughout the city. From 890–972, Saint-Tropez and its surroundings became an Arabic-Muslim colony dominated by the nearby Saracen settlement of Fraxinet.

Arabic door in St Tropez

St Tropez has a high saturation of designer boutiques, mostly from France and Italy. Concept stores by Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana and others boast a mansion showroom with swimming pool and gardens for their shoppers to stroll around.

chanel concept store St Tropez

St Tropez is also famous for its Provençal style homes with pink-orange colors, narrow cobblestone streets and surrounded by beautiful dark blue waters. Locals spend the day enjoying fresh seafood and rose wine with ice cubes at neighboring Pampelonne Beach.

st tropes streets and beaches

Notable Alternative to Hotels in Nice

When considering lodging along the French Riviera one might think of high priced fancy hotels that only the rich and famous can afford. What if there were lodging facilities with more space than the average European hotel room: offering a nice bed, complimentary WiFi, free parking, and free breakfast in a more intimate yet traditional setting?  Does having an authentic French experience by staying in a Niçoise home and catching a glimpse of the life of the locals peak your interests?

If this sounds like the experience of your dreams, then strongly consider staying at a bed and breakfast in Nice.  Unlike the hotels that line Promenade des Anglais, the major street along the coast of Nice, these properties are found in residential areas.  Most of the bed and breakfasts in this region are not located in the city but in the countryside, and many are older homes.

Just 2.5 kilometers outside Nice’s city center exists a secluded and charming estate surrounded by an abundance of aromatic flowers. Le Castel Enchanté, run by Alberto and his family, is an authentic French B&B. It sits high atop a hill at the end of a lengthy, narrow winding private road. The road is just narrow enough to fit one car, a true French experience.

Castel Enchante driveway

 

Entering the doorway of Le Castel Enchanté, has the feeling of being welcomed into a private home where your visit is excitedly anticipated. Alberto exclaims, “Bonjour madam,” with a big smile.  There is no formal check-in, just a quaint verification of identity and on to tour the estate. The building of Le Castel Enchanté has an old-time feel with modern day amenities as it was built in the 1850’s but restored over time.  The establishment was originally built as a hotel and named “Castel Enchanté” meaning enchanted castle.  In the 1960’s the hotel, which had its own restaurant, was downsized and later transformed into a smaller bed and breakfast by 1980.  The historical facility has been under the current owner Alberto’s care for just over a year and is thriving.  Its rustic feel and homely appeal delight visitors from all over the world.

Alberto at castel enchante Nice

Alberto carries the bags and escorts guests to their assigned accommodation, then gives a quick walk through of the chamber.  Each of the five rooms at Le Castel Enchanté has its own personality and name.  The room, Nemuphar is a soft salmon color with large windows facilitating great views and natural light. The wood furniture is of a rich hue and appears to be antique. Floor to ceiling french doors open into a second smaller room that has a single bed, full length mirror and ample space.  The suite is charming and easily accommodates a family of three.

Castel Enchante Room Nice

The suite has all the basic amenities a person would require. The floor of the bathroom is tiled in an ultramarine blue color.  The oversized bath towels are plush with high thread count and work well with the overall scheme. Shelving in the bathroom creates ample space to place toiletries, and the temperature of the shower water does not disappoint. Sufficient seating, wardrobe, coffee maker, iron, a mini fridge, and free WiFi bring together the essential necessities ensuring relaxation and comfort.  Before leaving, Alberto explains all about breakfast.

The remainder of the establishment is comprised of Alberto’s personal living space and common guest areas.  Breakfast is served in a semi-formal dining room in front of a fireplace reminiscent of home and a coziness that ignites emotions of being a member of the family.  During the colder months breakfast is served indoors but guests can enjoy cool Mediterranean breezes and views of Nice from the gardens while dining alfresco in the summertime.

Castel Enchante Terrace

Additional outdoor spaces on the property include patios and a swimming pool.  Loungers, benches, and chairs are abundant and allow the stunning nature and city views to be relished while relaxing. Many of the herbs and fruits that grow on the grounds make their way to the morning marmalades and juices. Fragrant flowers, towering trees, and creeping vines fashion an illusion that the bed and breakfast is no longer in a residential community but completely cut off and secluded, creating a sanctuary for your retreat.

Residential Area Nice, France

Le Castel Enchanté is a bed and breakfast for seekers of an authentic French experience in Nice, France.  Alberto’s attention to customer service and comfort during a stay at the Castel will be a delightful diversion from the sea of hotels in the touristy city center of Nice.

When visiting Le Castel Enchanté a car is strongly recommended.  February to March is a very quiet period.  In April there is a Lemon festival.  May rings in the Grand Prix race and international tennis matches in Monaco with many people staying in Nice.

~ By Kaylah Burks, an athlete, who enjoys traveling the world while staying health conscious.  Follow her on Instagram @jadenlie

Book your stay at Le Castel Enchante now with TripAdvisor

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