Antic Wine, Lyon, France

I stumbled upon this place a few times, always finding the doors securely locked and the lights out. The French; they hate money. Or at least that’s what I had come to think over the course of a month spent locked out of every service or shop imagineable by the time the class I was teaching at the University let out around 6pm each day.

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Georges has a great sense of humor to match his sense of taste.

I finally got lucky one night while meandering around the old town: Georges dos Santos, the owner, happened to be inside, doors open, drinking wine with a friend. Georges was welcoming, engaging, and funny as hell. His pal, the owner of ultra-luxury brand Zilli, was also fun and friendly, poking fun at his own label. Amen. Georges and I had a nice chat, he got a sense of what I was into, and he started pulling wines from his shelves, including the tough-to-get Clos Signadore from Corsica. That bottle came with a nice story of what he had to do to get his hands on a few cases.

I’m sure that with enough time, Georges and I could find plenty to disagree on. Of the things we have discussed, we mostly see eye-to-eye: Washington wine (glad they like it), Empordá (the style keeps on changing), Portuguese table wine (great to explore), Virginia (no thanks). The list goes on. Thus far, Georges has turned me on to six different wines I would not have otherwise encountered. The results, for me, range from “incredible value” to “holy holy!!” The second time I visited Georges he actually remembered me from the prior year. Since I’m not particularly difficult, I’d say he has an eye for his clientele. All told, I highly suggest paying Georges a visit if you find yourself in Lyon.

Antic Wine, 18 Rue du Boeuf, 69005 Lyon, France

Cervejaria Romiro, Lisbon, Portugal

This is the kind of place that causes you to continue giving hyped spots a chance.  Each time you think you’ve had it with what the crowd tells you, there’s a Romiro.

Famous for its seafood, that is what you will eat.  The waiters come around with digitized menus in several languages on iPads.  Items are listed by kilo weight, but you don’t order that way.  You just tell them what you want and for how many humans, and they do the estimating for you.  And don’t worry, they actually estimate perfectly.  Unlike with American spots, which I’ve found tend to constantly over-estimate in an attempt to run up the bill, Europeans (at least Portuguese, Spanish, and French) tend to value your experience over that of the house.  I don’t recall being asked how I wanted things prepared, which is fine because the chef chose “perfectly” as the cooking method.

Will you wait in line to get in here?  Yes.  Even the footballer who thought he could game the system was shuffled back into line.  But that line will move quickly and there is a fine reward at the end of it, rather unlike most lines I’ve tolerated.  You will be pleased.

One final note:  apparently I did it wrong by failing to order a “prego” at the end of the meal.  Don’t fail me.  Make up for my error and get one of these tiny little beef sandwiches that are said to be exquisite.

Cervejaria Ramiro, Avenida Almirante Reis No. 1-H, 1150-007, Lisboa, Portugal

Mercado do Campo de Ourique, Lisbon, Portugal

I never would have found this place on my own.  Many thanks to a group of locals that invited my friends and I along to watch the Euro Cup final match, pitting Portugal against France.  And a hell of a time, it was!

This is along the lines of the many food markets you see around the world that mixes fresh items with stalls or bars that cook/prepare food.  Something like Barcelona’s Boqueria or New York’s Chelsea Market.  For the Euro Cup final, they set up several televisions, including a huge projection screen.  We sampled many of the wares – from slow roasted pork reminiscent of Cuban lechón, to sushi, burgers, and a gorgeous Portuguese charcuterie board – everything was on point.  The wine purveyor had a great selection from several regions of Portugal and nifty little vinyl bags he would fill with ice to keep things cool.

Needless to say that after Portugal triumphed, there was much dancing, singing, kissing, and the beer flowed and flowed . . . free of charge of course.  Having had a great experience here during a very hectic, overly-packed moment, I would highly suggest any gastronomy fan to pay it a visit.

Mercado do Campo de Ourique, Rua Coelho da Rocha 104, 1350-074, Lisbon, Portugal

Vinalium, Barcelona, Spain

Go here.  Wine shops are not all created equal, nor are they equally endowed with knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and patient owners that are happy to have an actual exchange about wine, rather than rush to sell you on whatever bottle they are getting margin on at the moment.  I knew I’d found a kindred spirit when we stumbled upon the subject of the prevailing wine rating system – Javi and I shared our mutual disdain for the commercial, silly 100-point system and how certain wine illuminati manage to warp the market with high-ranking reviews of often pedestrian offerings.

Yet I digress.  At Vinalium you will find a focused selection of wines from all regions of Spain, including some commercial favorites, all at friendly prices.  However, it’s in the sections devoted to regional offerings and smaller producers where you’ll find some exciting stuff.  From Cava to Penedés, Empordá to Montsant, Javi and Karen, his American partner and wife (whom I did not get to meet) have your number.  To top it off, they run a thriving online store that will deliver cheaply and quickly in Barcelona, as well as abroad.

So what are you waiting for – go!

Vinalium, Carrer de Casanova 33, 08011, Barcelona, Spain

Arcano Restaurant, Barcelona, Spain

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Blink and you might miss the entrance to Arcano

The Argies are coming, the Argies are coming!!  And here you thought Messi was the only Argentinian of note in Barcelona.  Not so!  The Argentinian community in Barcelona should be proud to have Arcano as one of its standard bearers.

Sometimes you just need a steak.  I was feeling a bit run down from some intense workouts and non-stop travel, walking (and walking, and walking), and just feeling the general travel malaise that pops up after you’ve been mostly talking to yourself for days.  So I decided to go for the Palermo cure:  a perfectly cooked bife, served as only Argentinians can.

Now, I don’t normally recount my full experience in this space.  Rather, I prefer to just talk a bit about a place and tell you whether, and why, to go.  But Arcano is an exception.  Tucked away on one of El Born’s tiny, unassuming side streets, Arcano was a gorgeously appointed revelation, making grand use of its namesake Arches.  I walked in, solo, on a busy Friday night and without a reservation.  I’ve found that in Barcelona, not having a reservation is often an issue.  Not so at Arcano.  The staff asked my indulgence in taking one of their fantastic house beers at the bar for a few moments (a US-style summer ale, no less), while they prepared my table.  All the while, respectful, cordial, and expert in their attention to detail, as Argentinians often are.Arcos steak

As I said before, it was time to indulge.  So I went for the solomillo finished with a Pedro Ximenez reduction, topped with mushrooms and accompanied by a mushroom “cupcake.”  It was as extravagant as it was delicious.  It should be no surprise that the steak was a perfect medium rare, but the ballet of sweet, salty, and umami flavors created by the reduction and the mushrooms was just amazing.  A truly decadent experience worth every Euro I paid for it.  For the service, the gorgeous cave-like setting, and truly exceptional food, I highly recommend you pay Arcano a visit the next time you’re in El Born.

Arcano Restaurant, Mercaders 10, La Ribera-Born, Barcelona 

Bar Celta Pulperia, Barcelona, Spain

This is one bustling spot for lunch, and for good reason:  the service is excellent, the staff cordial and fast-moving, the pulpo (grilled octopus) and navajas (grilled razor clams) excellent, the beer cold, and the salads taste as if they were cut and prepped just before you ordered.

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Yes, octopus is in the name, but this is the real reason why I stopped:  navajas!

A great little stop off popular with the locals, it has an expansive, mostly, but not exclusively, seafood-based list of tapas to choose from.  If you are in the neighborhood of the Arc de Triomf or Parc Zoológic, it’s worth checking out.

Bar Celta Pulperia, Carrer de la Princesa 50 08003 Barcelona

The Yard Milano, Milan, Italy

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Rm. 15 retains a few former guests

Family run boutique hotel the Yard is a nifty little treat right next to the happening Naviglio Canal area.  I’m a sucker for balanced design + function combos and the Yard gets it right.  The moment you enter the front door, which takes you through the immensely stylish lounge the Doping Club on your way to check-in, the amount of love spent on every detail is apparent.  We happened to have arrived the morning that the Olympic Commission barred the Russian athletes from the 2016 Olympics for, well, doping – the joke was not lost on us.

 

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No Russians in the Doping Club

Each room is uniquely decorated with a theme.  We stayed in the antique-themed suite (no. 15), which included a well-equipped private terrace overlooking the Doping Club.  The beds were comfortable, the bathroom (and hot water) well-equipped and in great working order (though I will admit here that I was disappointed to see toiletries from NYC’s C.O. Bigelow, only because I had hoped for some exotic Italian toiletries), and the décor entertaining, at the least.  Unfortunately, none of the fascist-era jack boots displayed as room decoration fit.  Yes, I tried.

The Doping Club is a plush lounge rivaling the nicest spots in Manhattan.  Although I never saw it very full (most likely due to only passing through during the post-dinner, pre-party shoulder period and after closing), I imagine it to be a popular venue with stylish locals.  The opulent throwback décor, cushy velvet couches, and fascinating artifacts throughout make for a great place to grab a cocktail, chat, and people watch.

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I don’t know what these bowling balls did wrong to land them in jail

As if the staff were not friendly enough, the breakfast included in the room rate is simply outstanding.  You’ll be greeted with a sunny “buongiorno” the moment you enter, along with a cheery tail wag from the resident principessa puppy.  The standard continental breakfast includes fresh juices, fruit, yogurt, granola, a selection of pastries and prosciutto croissant sandwiches, and cheeses.  Everything is supremely fresh and delicious, and you’ll be offered exquisitely prepared cappuccino, with or without chocolate (don’t be daft, get the chocolate) and as much additional fruit as you can handle.  Really, a fantastic way to start the day.

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Principessa! Possibly the best thing about the breakfast

For its ambience, charming décor, attention to detail, quality appointments, and cheery service, I can’t imagine doing better than the Yard Milano.  I will be back.

The Yard Milano, Piazza XXIV Maggio 8, 20123 Milan, Italy   

Restaurante Santo António de Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

What was once an absolute steal, tucked away in one of the Alfama’s tough to locate corner terraces, must have made its way into a guide book or two.  I’m now no longer conflicted about listing it here.

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Keep going, you’re on the right path.

Although they recently raised their prices to be somewhat less shockingly inexpensive and shrank the number of menu offerings, it’s still great quality Portuguese food at friendly prices.  (Oddly, each time I’ve mentioned the menu changes to the staff, they denied it, saying “impossible!”)  Most of the staff here appear to speak some amount of English, though you don’t need much Portuguese to find dourada grelhada (grilled sea bream) on the menu.

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They just really like Dustin Hoffman.

The neighbors sharing the terrace add a good deal of charm to the outdoor ambiance – you will always be accompanied by at least one tiny dog, one Portuguese grandmother straight out of central casting, and a pet bird with a call so distinctive you think it’s fake at first. On the inside, the walls are covered with photographs of actors from their iconic roles, some even signed.  Dustin Hoffman in particular occupies a unique location of honor, getting his own dedicated lighting and wall just off the restrooms.

I’ve been here several times and to my knowledge there is no Fado show included.  Head to Santo António for a break from the ubiquitous singing and price gouging and a nice meal that still benefits from the unique feel of the Alfama.  Oh, and beware the fried potato skins that come with the couvert – you may end up battling your dining mates for them.

Restaurante Santo António de Alfama, Beco São Miguel 7, 1100-538 Lisbon, Portugal

Chez Henri, Geneva, Switzerland 

If you should find yourself in the Paquis neighborhood near the train station and despairing of the new hamburger rage, sick of pizzerias and kebab, duck into the rear of the Hamburger Foundation for a lovely surprise.  

I’ve had oysters in Europe before and had always despaired of their bland flavor and  puffy texture.  Nothing like the culinary roller coaster of love you can find in most oyster bars in the US, East or West coast.  In other words, I was skeptical.  Whether it was the warm friendly service staff, the other smiling patrons, or the soundtrack that followed Edith Piaf with Chet Baker (a match truly made in heaven), I conceded to my companion’s prodding and went for it.  

I was stunned to find the familiar delcious, creamy, brininess a la kumamoto.  Shucked with love and pride right before your eyes and delivered to you by those very same hands – a stellar and unexpected treat!  If you like oysters, it’s worth the treasure hunt to find Chez Henri.  
Chez Henri, Rue Philippe-Plantamour 37, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland


A Vida Portuguesa, Lisbon, Portugal

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International symbol of good taste:  Audrey

If you’re looking to better understand Portuguese culture through its food, cultural goods, and household products, while finding a unique and distinctively Portuguese gift for that special someone, this is the place for you.  This is perhaps the best of a series of shops trafficking in goods that harken back to older, arguably simpler times.  I call them saudade shops – in reference to the uniquely Portuguese word for a sense of longing for something lost – and there are many great ones.

I’ve never taken a person here that has walked out empty handed.  It just doesn’t happen.  I’ve picked up things for sisters, nieces, mom, friends, and girlfriends – not to mention more than a few things for myself.

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More smells than you can handle

You just can’t go wrong.  The collection of fancy scented soaps, lotions, and perfumes is as impressively expansive as it is unique.  The fact that the clientele is at least as Portuguese as it is foreign says much about the quality and authenticity of the stock.

A Vida Portuguesa, Rua Anchieta 11, 1200-023 Lisbon, Portugal