Tag Archives: scallops

Arles, Provence

Still trying to conquer jetlag and enjoy the offerings on day 2 of our cruise. We have signed up for a leisurely walking tour through the city of Arles in classic Provence.

IMG_3503Breakfast in the dining room proffers an American style hot breakfast of omelets, scramble, sausage and bacon as well as a European selection of meat, cheese and fruit. Our breakfast companions inform me that the the coffee is excellent but I am avoiding liquid before our planned excursion as we have been told that French public toilets are scarce and…”oh la la.” Yes, they actually say that here.

Soon we board a comfortable Mercedes-Benz coach bus and we are off to explore Arles and the Roman ruins in the city. The scenic countryside of Provence unfolds outside our windows. Ditches are clotted with wild yellow iris and scarlet poppies. Cherries are just pinking up in their orchards, thorny artichokes ripen in neat rows, and bridal spirea hedgerows arch to the ground with their heavy blossom bounty. We fly past horses grazing in the morning sun, ancient terracotta roofs, giant sycamores, elegant cypress, a colour all their own.

We pull in to Arles on the Rhone river, just outside the city ramparts. The ancient stone ramparts are softened by eons of time and have given themselves over to wildflowers. Our guide says the city would like to restore them but I think they are magnificent as is.

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We enter the city beyond the ramparts and begin our walking tour through Arles. Classic Provence. Cobbled streets in amazingly good shape and lovely, colourful, shuttered windows bedecked with window boxes and planters of all kinds greet us cheerily. The ship gives us quiet box radios to listen to our guide through. We are lucky to have a most excellent and informed guide. She allows us to walk and explore at our own pace and we are guided by her voice, always knowing down which narrow alley the tour will go and when to jump out of the way of the cars which travel down these narrow streets.

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Arles is waking up this Monday morning and the small shops and cafes that dot the charming streets sputter to life.. The sun warm on the light breeze makes the walk perfect.  As we move through Arles we come to the Colosseum built by the Romans in 90 AD. The structure, largely intact serves today as a stadium where bullfights are hosted. Go Bull! Sitting on the cold, ancient stone seats brings the ghosts of another time to the fore.

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From there we head into Vincent Van Gogh territory, the cafe where he painted “Cafe Terrace at Night”. The cafe has been unfortunately completely bastardized for les touriste, but ah….stuff happened here.

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We also were treated to the spot Van Gogh was inspired to paint “Starry Night on The Rhone” and the garden courtyard  of the Hotel Dieu, “Garten des hospitals in Arles”, where Van Gogh was hospitalized after getting loose and free with a knife near an ear.

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Our walking tour through the streets of Arles is everything you could want in a brief tour of Provence. Arles and Provence define “quaint”.

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We wind our way slowly back to the coach and are transported to Tarascon where the ship has moved in the meanwhile to meet us. We board and head to the dining room for a light lunch of squid pasta and shrimp po’boys. Not quite classic but a very nice sandwich.

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After a brief nap (still recovering from the time change), we head up to the lounge for a pre dinner drink and await the briefing about the events for the following day after which we retire for dinner at the civilized hour of 7 pm.

At dinner we meet up with companions from day one who are entertaining dinner mates. Our foursome elects to abide by the chef’s choices for the evening: Poached Scallops and Avocado, Chateaubriand and Chocolate Souffle.

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IMG_3166IMG_3168Dinner was beautifully presented and accompanied by a local wine. All in all, an excellent meal. Tomorrow we do hope to take advantage of a cafe in Avignon on our free time.

Chicken, Biscuits & A Plantation

Another scorcher. Our day is planned around the Magnolia Plantation, about which I am very excited. Award winning gardens, open since 1870.

Breakfast is at a Triple D joint, Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe. When we arrive, the lineup is out the door and remains that way through our stay. There is minimal seating inside so I grab the only available table outside. Rob lines up to order. It is about 30 minutes until we get food from this point.

When he comes back he brings two icy Diet Cheerwines, two plates with biscuit sandwiches of fried chicken an a fried egg, smothered in country gravy.

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He also brings a slice of heirloom tomato pie to share. The fried chicken sandwich is excellent, nice biscuit, crunchy chicken, perfect fried egg with a slightly runny yolk and delicious, peppery country gravy.

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The tomato pie is tomato heaven. Made with ripe tomato slices, cheddar cheese piled into a buttery, sourcream  crust and baked to perfection. The pie is accompanied by a gingerbread “crouton”. Curious but delicious. A fine breakfast indeed.

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Bellies full, we make our way out of town to Magnolia Plantation, land that has been in the Drayton family for 12 generations. The plantation is noted for its gardens, camellia collection, plantation home and restored slave quarters. After the civil war and the freeing of the Drayton labour force, the plantation continued to thrive by offering and charging for tours of the extensive gardens. There is also a petting zoo of rescued animals on site.

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I had very much looked forward to this tour. I have never seen a plantation before and this is one of the better ones apparently. However, this is labour day weekend and everyone and his dog decided to check out this historical treasure. This came as a huge surprise to the operators of the plantation. Like, “never before have they been busy on a holiday weekend” surprised.

After a lengthly walk from the auxiliary car parking, we encountered a lineup of Disneyesque proportions. In the scorching sun. We line up expecting to be moved through relatively quickly. Three of six ticket kiosks are open. A couple at one is there for 10 minutes. The line does not move. They averaged 3 minutes or more to accommodate each guest. After an hour in line, under a hot sun in 100 percent humidity, I am basically done by the time we reach the kiosk. We plan to just buy the all-inclusive tickets (or you pay general admission and add each and every tour you want to do) but are told this will take 5-6 hours, not doable on a day like this. We opt for the general admission and 4 of the available tours. “Lets get you signed up.”, the ticket master says! “We can’t get you started on any of the tours until 2:00.” It is currently 12:15. So we go over options. This is what is taking the line so long. They are doing this with each group. Two by two. Most disordered public attraction I have ever encountered. She kept apologizing for the long line. They did not expect this, despite having given out discount coupons for this busy holiday weekend. You’ve been doing this on some level since 1870.

Anyways, we severely curtail what we wanted to see. The heat and humidity are at unbearable levels, even for me who likes the heat. We manage to do a self guided walking tour for a little over an hour. We walked through the gardens which were actually well kept but not very interesting as little to nothing was in flower. We toured the beautiful, leafy conservatory, green with palms, ferns and an occasional potted orchid, with one or two statues. We headed over to the “Big House” where we viewed the grounds, back and front and checked out the crap…I mean, gift shop. We did not go inside the house because we could not get a tour at a reasonable time. It’s online however and quite interesting.

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We paid 2 bucks a pop for off brand bottled water, which they should have been distributing for free due to the line up we were forced to endure due to their incompetence and sat on the porch for some shade with 19-year-old Big House Cat, “Sylvester”.

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Soon after we headed back to our vehicle, which took us past the restored slave quarters. We again did not do the tour of the quarters as the schedule was ridiculous. The interiors are online and again are quite interesting.

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The Magnolia Plantation is a historical treasure and we are sure that had we visited at another time of year when they were more prepared, it was cooler and more of the gardens were in bloom, this would have been the highlight of our trip. As it was, it was a massive disappointment.

Afternoon siesta: required. I love Charleston but this was absolutely the wrong weekend to land here. The city is stinking hot, humid and crowded with tourists for the holiday weekend. I’d like to come back in April.

Tonight we will have our final meal in Charleston at The Fleet Landing. We have 7 pm reservations. When we leave there are people doing an hour and a half wait. This does not speak necessarily to the quality of the food but the fact that the city is so crowded.

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The Fleet Landing is a five minute walk from our hotel. We get there early and have a drink at the bar.

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It’s a good spot to watch food being purveyed around. A live menu. When we are seated we order another round and apps. I order the crab cake. I know, I said I was done with them but this one looked to be good. I was right. It was all lump crab meat, with a bit of mayo, fried with an ultra thin crust,  served on a salad of fresh corn and topped with fried onions that on this evening were a little limp (as is everything in this city at the moment). Good idea, though.

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Rob had the calamari “steak” which was finger sized strips of squid battered and perfectly, crisply fried. Served with two sauces, a sweet Thai and an aioli. Quite delish.

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Beautiful, hot angel biscuits and butter appear. Mmmmm…

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Mains arrive. Seafood fettuccine for me, with three plump scallops, good shrimp, mussels, and crawfish tails in a nice cream sauce. The generous coins of andouille sausage were really good and super spicy with a heat that kept on coming. They do not offer shaved parm but there are a few thin slivers melted on top. Unnecessary really.

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Rob’s main was a fried seafood plate with shrimp, scallops with some Charleston red rice and some creamy coleslaw. First off, the sides were killer. The red rice was smoky and seasoned with just a little zing. The cole slaw was creamy with a bite. The fried shrimp and scallops were a little greasy, which is a first in our experience of the South. Usually, items are fried perfectly. Not so, here. The shrimp were better, but the scallops were not winners. Even so, there was a lot of food, so a lot got left on the plate anyway, but there was not a single grain of that red rice left.

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Goodbye Charleston. Tomorrow we head to Wilmington North Carolina on our way to Washington, DC.

 

Road Trip – Savannah!

We have two full days in Savannah. First things first. Get the lay of the land. Best way to accomplish this is a “hop on-hop off” bus tour. We sign up with Old Savannah Tours. 16 stops and it leaves from the front of our hotel. The tour is informative with actors hopping on occasionally to bring the Old City alive.

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Our only complaint was that it was hard to take pictures. The trolley driver never slowed for photo ops. Even the train on last summer’s “road trip” slowed for pics. It was also hot and not the best light. We will go back early morning or evening for more pictures. On the plus side several of our touring companions were of the canine persuasion. This is Bailey.

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Our “hop on-hop off” pass enabled us to debus at The City Market. Very little in the way of breakfast places were open at 10:30. We found just one place, Pie Society, open. A happy accident indeed.

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They serve tea and savory pasties as well as sweet pies. We both ordered egg and sausage pasties hot out of the oven. Wrapped in a buttery, flaky pastry were two hard boiled eggs and a sausage.

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We split a smaller sausage and apple roll that seemed intriguing. This roll was also nice and flaky with a sausage interior spiced with sage and large pieces of apple. Inexpensive, excellent fare.

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After completing the 90 minute tour and experiencing some of Old Savannah, a city designed around 24 town squares/parks, we climb aboard Moby and head to Tybee Island for lunch and a view of the Atlantic ocean. A short drive through the porous coastline brings us into the island and to the famous lighthouse.

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We explore a little more, through kitschy seaside neighbourhoods reminiscent of the Florida Keys and then head to the ocean beach for a look-see.

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…and then head over to The Crab Shack for lunch.

The Crab Shack on Tybee Island, is a string of “hurricane-chic” huts strung together. Completely homemade. Completely fun.

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When we first arrive we are attracted to The Cat Shack, a home made cat house for the semi-feral cat population. The staff ask that you not feed any wild or domestic animals. Signs assure patrons that the kitties are well fed and spayed and neutered. Meet Oreo and Smokey.

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On the patio overlooking an inlet, the sun is hot, there is a gentle breeze and the beer is cold. Misters and fans keep us cool.

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We order Blue Moons and Yeungling and wait for our massive House Specialty Sampler Platter of local crab, shrimp, mussels, crawfish, sausages, potatoes, corn on the cob and Alaskan king crab, done in the Crab Shack’s own spicy boil.

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I do not want Alaskan king crab in an area that has its own fresh seafood, but I must admit it was good. The corn on the other hand was mushy. This is a common complaint of ours at “boils” or BBQ joints. They cook it ahead of time and leave it in a pot of hot water all day. Corn cooks fast so make it fresh or don’t bother. The meal was good, messy fun and perfect with the sunshine, the view and the company. On the whole, the local seafood is delicious and the beer goes down well.

Time for a little siesta back at the hotel before rooftop cocktails, a stroll along the Savannah River front and dinner at Rocks on the River. Rocks, located in our hotel, The Bohemian, is right on the Savannah River where the river is fairly narrow affording amazing views of huge ocean freighters loaded with colourful cargo containers drifting by so close you think you could touch them.

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After a stroll by the shops along the river front and a cocktail at Rocks on the roof, we head down for dinner. Staff is friendly and efficient as it has been throughout our stay. We are seated and order. Chicken and waffle app to share and she-crab bisque for me. The bisque is reputed to be the best in the city. It tastes delicately of crab with a mild alcohol bite. I have to say my shrimp cognac bisque kicks this bisque’s ass. More booze for a larger sting and a good reduced seafood stock are the key for a deeper flavour.

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The chicken and waffles is decent but no where near the gold standard that is Roscoe’s in LA. This is an app and it has been tarted up with boursin and arugula (Snoop Dog dies a little). A sweet strawberry-black pepper coulis adds a nice foil to the fried chicken. All in all a fine app.

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Mains arrive, seared scallops and succotash for me and a hopefully righteous burger for Rob. The scallops are perfect and the succotash is excellent. Lima beans, corn, peas and smoky, salty bacon.

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Rob’s burger was indeed righteous – Great bun, great toppings and most importantly, good beefy flavour.

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Washed down with a bottle of Perrier-Jouet, a fine evening indeed.

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RT6: Boston

We are spending a relaxing day in Boston. No Driving. Doing a little shopping and lunching on Newbury Street. The day is hot with very little breeze. The skies open up in the afternoon and send us indoors. No worries. Plenty to do inside in Boston. Even a pre-dinner nap may be in order.

Newbury Street is quaint with charming four story brownstones housing shops, services, restaurants and apartments. Perfect for strolling and taking pictures. It is also a very pooch-friendly area, with many businesses putting out water and biscuit treats for their furry customers. This always makes me happy, especially when I am missing my kitties.

We skipped breakfast today preferring to sleep in. After spending a pleasant couple of hours on Newbury we stop at the CafeTeria for lunch. We get seated outside at a shady cafe table where we are entertained by sparrows being cute for crumbs. Our server drops by with menus and water. Sangria seems to be a good option on this hot day. We order a large mason jar which is great for two. I order tomato soup (I always have ordered tomato soup if it is on the menu since I was a little kid) and the scallops, and Rob orders gazpacho and a meatloaf sandwich.

The sangria is served up in in icy glasses with a wedge of lemon and lime. It is refreshing but is more fruit pulp than wine. My tomato soup is delicious with Vermont cheddar cheese and two croutons sitting in a velvety smooth,  quality soup with a good kick of heat. It left my lips tingling. More croutons would have been nice.

Rob’s gazpacho was excellent as well. Fresh with cucumber and rich with tomato flavour and some pepper tang, a little added depth from herbs, but virtually no heat. The cold soup was topped with avocado which was a nice change from sour cream.

The perfectly pan-seared scallops, were lightly seasoned and served sitting on a bed of sweet corn puree and topped an arugula, corn and cherry tomato salad. A very enjoyable dish.

Rob’s meatloaf sandwich was accompanied by excellent, crisp, hot, garlic and herb Parmesan fries. I could not stop stealing them, for myself and for the sparrows. They enjoyed them too. The sandwich was a simple creation of meat loaf, roasted cherry tomatoes, bacon and Swiss, pressed flat like a Cubano and served with a thousand Island-style dressing on the side. It was meaty, smoky-rich with bacon and sweet with the roasted tomato.

Since it is raining cats and dogs and elephants out we decide that dinner is best to be had where being outside is not necessary. The Copley Square complex houses a well-regarded seafood restaurant, Turner Fisheries. We have 6:30 reservations. It is not terribly busy when we arrive. Despite being a tad upscale people are clad in shorts and the like. We are a bit over dressed at smart casual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After being seated, tuxedoed wait staff deliver warm scrumptious bread — raisin-nut, rustic white and crisp flat bread.

We both order the surf and turf medium-rare with a bib lettuce salad to share, The salad comes already split onto to two plates. This is very thoughtful. The salad consists of a nice wedge of blue, two crisp pieces of bacon, a healthy slice of ripe tomato and bib lettuce with thin sliced red onion, and a whisper of dressing. A nice starter salad.

Dinner consists of MEDIUM steak, a barely-there Bearnaise and half a lobster with drawn butter. Honestly, the excellent bread offering is by far the most outstanding part of this dinner. Rob has a theory that no one does surf AND turf well — the highlight is one of the two, rarely both.

There was nothing outrageously wrong with the remainder but there was nothing to write home about, either, except good wine and good conversation (the moon shot, the Monkees, hostess cupcakes, sharks and getting a dog) that was really not wholly provided by the restaurant.

 

RT6 – To Boston

Woke up to, sigh, yet another sunny, warm day. We walk to breakfast at The Porthole on the wharf, taking in the sea air, which truth be told, is a little fishy scented. The wharf of which I speak is the same one where we ate last night. There are nice stores and tourist boutiques in the area but the wharf itself is beautiful in it’s fight to survive nature and all she throws at the structures that dare. Thankfully the wharf has not been Disneyfied.  It is dilapidated and could use a coat of paint but that would raise prices and take away the charm. This morning there are a few puddles in the uneven cobbles and merchants going about early business.

The Porthole is distressed to say the least on the outside, but inside it is warm and inviting though not busy this Tuesday morning. A long copper topped bar runs the length of a large kitchen, fronted with empty stools. A few patrons are enjoying breakfast on the large patio. We decide to sit inside by the open window and enjoy the ambiance inside. Featured on the walls are folk art paintings and some antique signage, a piano and very old jukebox fill corners.

OJ is not fresh squeezed but it is amazing what a lot of ice does to improve it. No coffee today. Trying to forget yesterday’s coffee. Menus arrive and the choice is easy. I often get bored with the classic breakfast offerings, but when I see an egg and braised pork belly sandwich with kimchi, I am having it. Read no further. Rob orders the same and we split a side of cheese grits.

Our sandwiches come with potatoes that at first look disappointing, as we use potatoes as a measure by which to judge a breakfast joint. Don’t be deceived by looks though. The potatoes looked like those distressing deep fried cubes of ruined spuds but they are just fresh and hard pan fried in a lot of fat. They are excellent. Our Porthole Special Breakfast, a well made omlette of egg with scallions folded onto buttered toasty bread with American cheese all melty and gooey, with braised porkbelly, the fat cut with spicy kimchi, topped with more buttered toast is divine.

The grits are well made and peppery and have enough cheese to make them creamy but not taste of cheese, but they don’t rate belly space when faced with a sandwich of that magnificence.

Back on the road again we have to backtrack a bit and find ourselves back in New Hampshire. What a difference between Maine and the Live Free or Die State. When you have low taxes and no sales tax there is not a lot of civic pride in evidence. Sorry, New Hampshire but your charms are lost on me to date.

Today we are traveling to Boston via Essex and Salem. We sail into Essex, MA along Route 1. We are stopping at the renown Woodman’s for lunch. It is unassuming, well… for a large seafood shack in Massachusetts bedecked in flags.

You line up and order from a chalkboard menu, go to a separate line and get drinks, in this case, a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Beer, and find a seat to wait for your number to come up.

Our meal arrives in a box top and take out containers. Absolutely decadent, over stuffed lobster rolls on eggy, griddled buns served with potato chips, and the most perfect, sweet, lightly battered and fried sea scallops and clam cake. One look at the picture of the lobster roll and you will die just a bit because you are not here. I have never had scallops that fresh and perfectly made.

The clam cake well…it is what it is. A savory “donut” with chopped clam in the batter with barely discernible clam flavour. This is a regional specialty that I would pass on when you could have THIS lobster roll. Just sayin’.

Oh yeah…the Sam Adams was a great wheat beer with only a nice hint of cherry. Rob and I came up with some weird flavour profiles to describe it but while accurate, they didn’t sound that appetizing and we both enjoyed the beer, so we gave up. And so, after an epic seafood orgy of Caligulan proportions, we decide to visit a little 17th-century graveyard which features the graves of several Revolutionary War veterans.

Onward to Salem, Ma where we visited the water front which is in preparations for a large Maritime Festival beginning tomorrow. We explore the tourist traps a bit. Salem is very halloweeny this time of year and has extended its brand to include magic, wizards, faeries and pirates. Tsk, tsk.

We continue on to Boston where we will spend three days. The entire drive today has been a pretty saunter through quaint New England, past clapboard and shingled homes, saltboxes and Victorians, past deep blue hydrangeas, flamingo- pink summer phlox, black-eyed Susans, cleome, Rose of Sharon and gaily-coloured window boxes, past neat pickets, rustic rail and solid stone fences. And flags.