My Most Memorable Dining Experiences

Are you a foodie? Do you believe that fine dining is an art form? Are some of your most treasured memories of being in a certain place at a certain time with your favorite people having that special meal? Well, I would answer a resounding yes to all three questions, and here I share with you some of my most memorable dining experiences eating my way through cities abroad and my own backyard of Philadelphia.

The Best Italian Restaurants…Where You Least Expect Them:

  • Il Piccolino – Paris, France (8th arrondissment). Ah, Paris, it truly is a movable feast. But who knew, on our last night in the city (in September of 2015) the month before our wedding (we honeymooned before, because that’s how we roll), desperate for something other than the overload of French food we had been eating, and upon the recommendation from the concierge at our hotel (who secured a last minute reservation), we would stumble into the best Italian restaurant we ever experienced? There were probably about ten tables inside (all reserved) and a kitchen in full view (that looked like a kitchen in somebody’s house). From the little old man who provided colorful service, to the fresh veggies they walked across the street to the market to procure as you ordered them, to the hand-made sage ravioli with truffle oil drizzle, to the cutesy-translated deserts “in their honey shirts” – this was quite possibly the best dining experience of our lives.

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  • Zeppoli’s – Collingswood, New Jersey, USA. Less than a mile from our new house is this gem of “a hole in the wall” we indulged in just last week after a multitude of rave reviews from friends and coworkers. There’s maybe a dozen tables inside. Reservations must be made weeks in advance. Upon entering it’s all a bit gentrified-rustic-hipster-is-this-a-dump-or-is-this-chic and unassuming. But WOW! The food (which is Sicilian and far removed from the typical Italian fare you find In NJ-PA-NY) was out of this world and full of flavors my taste buds didn’t know existed. The service was both casual and spot-on where the highly competent wait staff tag-teams the tables and walks around as if they are serving family at their house – never missing a beat or a half-filled water-glass. The chef offers up complimentary after dinner drinks (while the place is otherwise BYOB).

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  • Trattoria Toto da Lucia – Amsterdam, Netherlands (near Vondel Park).  Was the food here really that good?  I don’t know.  It was my last night in the city (in October of 2013), this was right around the corner from my friend’s flat off the Overtoom. The atmosphere was comforting. The wine was flowing. The conversation was bountiful. The food was fresh and made from scratch. I think I had a risotto? It’s a place where I’ll never forget the feeling…of being happy where I was in life at that moment…wrapping up my first trip to Europe, sharing my experiences and my hopes for a travel-filled future with a good friend, and feeling like the world was now my oyster.

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Dickensian Louisiana

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“It was the best of times…it was the worst of times.”

New Orleans has always been a city of extremes, and our recent visit proved that in spades.  It’s a place of both high-class Southern charm and “9th Ring of Dante’s Hell” style debauchery.  For me, it was a second visit to the fabled city that has been both blessed and cursed, and for my wife it was her first time.  She was greeted on the first night with a Carnivale parade – who knew the season was so raucous even with Mardi Gras still weeks away?  We erroneously stayed on the main parade drag on St. Charles Ave at an otherwise nice hotel where Murphy’s Law ruled the roost.  The next evening, my wife was paid a visit by yee olde food poisoning courtesy of a French Quarter Jazz Club that was otherwise lovely (tip: drink, don’t eat, at a jazz club).  Meanwhile, I was suffering from a head cold that started a few days earlier during a work trip to Jacksonsville, Florida.

Buuuut…once we survived all that and spread our wings to more relaxed environs (the Garden District, City Park, a tour of some of the grand River Road plantations, and Algiers)…it couldn’t have been nicer. Continue reading

France, Je T’aime – Part Five: Versailles

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Our epic French adventure ended with an overnight stay in Versailles before flying back to the States.

Versailles is everything you dream and fear it could be (it’s as crowded with tourists as the Louvre), but the grounds are so expansive, if you take the right turns you’ll find yourself in quiet gardens and pathways.  Even lovelier than the grand chateau was Marie Antoinette’s Petite Trianon and Estate – a country oasis still full of grape vines and livestock living an idyllic existence away from the hustle and bustle of the main palace.  It actually makes you feel a bit sorry for the famously beheaded queen – as its rustic design and graceful grasps at tranquility render it clear that poor Marie was in way over her head and simply wanted to escape the madness of the royal court.  It makes for a beautiful walk (the hidden grotto is especially hidden) that was a perfect way to end our epic tour.

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France, Je T’aime – Part Four: Colmar et Strasbourg

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After five days in Paris, we needed an escape from the big city and wanted to experience more of France.  After a comfy, three-hour train ride from the Paris Gare de L’est we found ourselves in the heart of Alsace at Colmar.  Here we made our home base for three days, the middle day of which included a quick jaunt (just a 30 minute train ride from Colmar) to Strasbourg.  Both “cities” boast amazingly quirky rustic architecture, great country-style food, and fantastic wine influenced as much by France as Germany (the region has been a historically hotly contested border territory between the two nations – and when you indulge in it, it’s easy to see it’s worth fighting for).  There is also a more laid-back vibe in Colmar and Strasbourg while still offering up plenty of art and history.

Without further adieu – here are some photographs from Colmar et Strasbourg.

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France, Je T’aime – Part One: Paris – Rues et Jardins

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A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life. – Thomas Jefferson

Paris is a moveable feast – Ernest Hemingway

I don’t believe I could’ve picked a more perfect period in my life to experience Paris for the first time after having experienced other European capitals (the infinitely more laid-back Amsterdam and Dublin) to ease me into the overwhelming moveable feast that is Paris.  It helped that my fiancée had been to Paris twice before, as while together we came to it with the wide-eyes of outsiders (it’s easy to see why so many ex-pats holed up in Paris for a spell have written some of the kindest words about the city of lights), her tourist knowledge kept us from going mad while wandering the streets and the metro.  Paris is best experienced by walking, and this first post in an epic five piece series capturing our French adventure through pictures will focus on the maddeningly beautiful, confusing streets and the resplendent parks and gardens of Paris the burst with life, secrets and the profound.

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Of Art, History, Cannolis, the Wicked Cold, Green Monstahs and Ringing in the New Year in Boston

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Happy New Year from The Spin!

We rang in 2015 braving the wicked cold of Boston.  Oddly, though I’ve had numerous personal and professional connections to Boston for the past 15 years and for most of my life it’s been a mere six-hour drive away, this was my first trip to the New England metropolis – better late than never!  For me, it felt like a quaintly quieter piece of NYC spiced with a Dublin-esque sensibility and is chock full of all of my favorite things: history, art, pubs and baseball.  And it’s super easy to get around by foot or on the T.

We stayed in the Back Bay but ventured all over during our four-day stint.  We hit up some pubs around Faneuil Hall; toured Fenway Park; ate at Tasty Burger; visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; took in the Goya exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts;  did Italian and cannolis (the best cannolis ever, mind you, from Mike’s Pastry on Hanover Street) in the North End; strolled through the historic Boston Granary burial grounds, along Beacon Hill and Boston Common; stretched out to Brookline; and had drinks at The Pru’s famous Top of the Hub.

And, of course, here come the photos: Continue reading

My Favorite Eats in My Favorite Haunts

I took a half-hearted stab at a local dining guide years ago, and at some point many of the restaurants listed below received a shout out in one way or another from The Spin or on my Twitter…but I decided it would be fun to traverse the eastern part of North America and crown a best restaurant in each favorite stomping ground.  Our journey begins way down yonder in my former homeland of Nor’ Cackalacky.  We’ll revisit some of my local favorites in Philly and the Jersey Burbs.  We’ll travel far north through New York (and slighty west) all the way up into the land of expense accounts and Canucks.  Prepare your taste buds, your credit cards, your hybrid vehicles (only if you have a designated driver) and/or your frequent flier miles….here is The Spin on My Favorite Eats in My Favorite Haunts.

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Raleigh, North CarolinaBabylon (309 N. Dawson St.) – I have no idea why a restaurant serving Moroccan food is called Babylon.  Would Casablanca have been somehow un-PC or Marrakesh too obvious?  But weird geographical naming faux-pas aside, this uber-trendy mecca of Raleigh’s liberal elite located fashionably downtown serves up organic, locally raised Moroccan and Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine that rivals any of your bigger city Northeast rivals.  The ambiance is casual urban chic, the service impeccable, and the food fresh, hip and flavorful.  Really, Raleigh, whodathunk?  You go, with your emerging multicultural self!

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Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaAmada (217 Chestnut Street) – Old City. Chef Jose Garcas. Spanish Tapas.  Drinks named after Almodovar films. And a dish so epically simple and flavorful called Madre y Hijo (which consists of a fried egg atop a perfect slice of chicken breast atop a bed of roasted fingerling potatoes and all drizzled in truffle oil) that I would request if I were to ever find myself on death row waiting for a last meal.  This is a Philly Restaurant Week staple and one of the most popular (and hard to get into) restaurants in the city even after all of these years.  What more is there to say? (Reservations required!) Continue reading

In Search of the World’s Greatest Fried Chicken

Paula Deen! Paula Deen! Get me some fried bird - stat!

We always discuss films and books and television.  There’s the occasional politicking.  Oh, and let’s not forget drinking – as in drinking games for watching political theater or your favorite cult film/TV show.  So why the heck not put The Spin on one of my all-time favorite things? 

FRIED CHICKEN. 

I’ve been in love with it ever since that day when I was about ten years-old and I tasted the home-cooked fried chicken of Mrs. Cottingham in Willingboro, NJ. 

On reruns of Seinfeld I’m often reminded by Newman that “Kenny Rogers makes a pretty mean bird,” but roasting is for suckers.  My heart and cholesterol belong to fowl of the fried persuasion.

I covet it like Daniel Plainview covets oil. 

So ladies and gentlemen…if I say I’m a fried chicken man you will agree.

And I am a man on a mission – in search of the world’s greatest fried chicken.

A few years ago, I thought I may have found it.  Continue reading

The Incendiary Game

I spent the weekend visiting friends in NYC.

On Saturday night, I suggested we see Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. They shot me down – I get it, not everyone wants to look at 30,000 year-old cave paintings – and then they suggested In a Better World. Darn – I’ve seen it already, and it’s not worth a repeat.

Wait!  They say, what about this movie Incendies?

Okay…I remember seeing the preview for that.  Looks dramatic as hell.  It’s gotten some great reviews.  It was nominated for an Oscar.  Let’s give it a shot.

There’s drama in hell.

Hot holy hell – what a trial it was to sit through this film.

– POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD –  Continue reading

Of Canals, Lambertville and Nomad Pizza

There’s really no better way to spend a day off from work midweek than taking a long drive.  It’s especially nice on a beautiful pre-Fall day, and if it’s the first day your car has been out of the shop after an overnight stay for repairs, it’s even better.  I’ve long extolled the wonders of Bucks County, Pennsylvania with all of its wineries and covered bridges, but the towns running parallel to Bucks along the Delaware River on the New Jersey side offer their own rustic charms and often get overlooked.  Quaint historic towns running along the Delaware Raritan Canal in Hunterdon County and stretching across gorgeous wooded back roads into Mercer County (home of Princeton University) are more an extension of the small-town meets gentrified rural setting of Bucks County than they are a connecting strip to the New York-influenced North Jersey and Philly-influenced South Jersey megalopilises.

Last week I ventured up that way, stopping off at Washington’s Crossing State Park on the Jersey side before spending a few hours strolling through Lambertville. Continue reading