“We were supposed to be going to the beach!”

It’s “I Have a Dream” weekend 2013 and LivingSocial has once again selected our destination!  After Paris and Amsterdam we had been longing for a warm weather getaway and doing some research on Turks & Caicos.  But it was the LivingSocial deal for the Ice Hotel in Quebec City that caught our eye.  So rather than lounging in the Caribbean sea, we found ourselves chilling in the hot tub in -24C!  Yikes!

But true to form IHAD2013 was an experience for the books (for my new followers, my friends and I take off each year for the Martin Luther King holiday for our “I Have a Dream” getaway – we visit a place where we haven’t been or long to go back to and jumpstart the new year with an adventure).  I’ll tell you more about the “Hotel de Glace” in my next post but, as usual, we landed and hit the ground running.

We made an impression immediately.  The four of us each stood before one of the four immigration officers at the airport who all asked us where we would be staying in Quebec.  When we told them the Ice Hotel, without exception they all responded, “That will be cold”.  You know you’re in trouble when even the locals raise their eyebrows.  The trouble continued as the taxi drivers stood perplexed wondering how to get all four of us and our suitcases into one small sedan.  It was never clear why the mini-van a few vehicles back was not available to us.  As we left the airport looking like a bunch of clowns, we learned that the Ice Hotel is actually located on the site of the old zoo.  So actually, we were staying in the zoo, which seemed appropriate.

After checking into the hotel and assessing the lay of the snow, we were glad that we had made a dinner reservation at a nice warm restaurant in Old Quebec!  Panache is located in the old port area and actually situated in an old riverside warehouse.  The restaurant décor is built around the structure rather than vice versa.  That means the old stone walls are proudly exposed and the tables are fit in around the lofty wooden beams and the staircase that leads to a second level of the restaurant.  Honestly, we would have been happy with just a nice fireplace and a full bodied red to warm our bellies.  What we got was one of the most exceptional dinners any of us had ever had (and yes, in case you’re wondering, I have been to Per Se).

Throughout the Quebecois province, the food is very local.  They are proud of their gaming and fishing history and put what they call a “quebecois” twist on all their dishes.  At Panache that meant pine needles with the Nova Scotia lobster and a blueberry glaze on the Saint Apollinaire duckling.  They are not looking to follow the latest trend, they celebrate their region’s traditions.

I’m sure when we sat down the waiter was expecting this table of four professional women to be high maintenance – sharing entrees, splitting the bill, etc.  What he got was cocktails before the meal, a bottle of red and a bottle of white since we had ordered practically one of everything on the menu and needed both for appropriate pairings, ice wine for dessert along with a brilliant negotiation to purchase four of the custom Panache wine glasses (which, by the way, are not for sale).  I think ultimately they really just took pity on us for the fact that we were soon to be heading back to the Ice Hotel to freeze our tooshes off all evening.  No one missed an opportunity to remind us that it was the coldest night of the year so far!

We finally pulled ourselves away from our warm, cozy table and the four of us, with our four wine glasses, headed back to the Hotel de Glace.

The adventure will continue in the next post!

Ohm Sweet Ohm

After one of the most culturally and intellectually curious trips I’ve ever taken (Joburg) followed by one of the most ridiculously fun (or funny) vacations ever (Scotland), I am ending the year with a soulful yoga retreat to Costa Rica.

I’ve thought about doing yoga trips many times.  I was meant to spend a long weekend in Byron Bay Australia (at The Byron at Byron) back when I first started TravelsfromMadAve.  Over the past three and a half years I’ve researched many yoga retreats, longingly,  but it wasn’t until my girlfriend of almost 30 years called me about the Soul Sparks retreat hosted by her local yoga studio in Costa Rica at Blue Spirit that I actually pulled the trigger.

Blue Spirit takes you to the Guanacaste Peninsula of Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast.  The miles of dirt roads and trees as thick as thieves is a constant reminder than you are in a rain forest.  But the views from Blue Spirit make you feel like you’re on an island, surrounded by ocean (which of course, being on a peninsula, you’re not).

Yoga twice a day and vegetarian food would not be many people’s idea of a relaxing vacation.  But don’t leap to judgment.  Blue Spirit is a beautiful, calming place.  Yes you are in Costa Rica, which is a second world country, but if you’re willing to let the area envelope you, you will find yourself able to embrace it.

If you’re not interested in the yoga and want a hamburger now and again, you can still have a great time here.  There are plenty of excursions to take you off the resort.  You can go zip lining, take surf lessons, enjoy a nature hike to a waterfall (complete with an organically prepared lunch by Sherry) or go kayaking.  It was actually difficult to decide whether we were here to do yoga or if we should partake in everything Nosara has to offer.  You also don’t have to eat every meal at the resort.  The tiny town of Guinones is nearby and has a couple of cute cafes and shops.  We ate Café de Paris (which is not French, but is delicious) where we sat poolside while eating delicious ceviche and sipping wine.  The waiter made us order in Spanish, which was hysterical because he spoke perfect English.  And, had the heat really gotten to us, we could have just take a dip in the pool!  It’s welcome to restaurant guests.  Instead of taking a swim, we walked down the street for the infamous ice cream at Robin’s Café.  The ice cream is incredibly rich and creamy and very yummy.  And there was no guilt because we walked about a mile and a half back to the hotel along the beach.

After four days of yoga twice a day.  We treated ourselves to dinner at La Luna.  The restaurant was recommended to me by a friend before I left but was met with ringing endorsements throughout from the locals.  Situated right on Playa Nocera La Luna offers a front row view to the most spectacular sunsets as well as exceptional food, both seafood as well as delicious pizza.  You will have to take a cab there (it is about a 15 minute drive from Cafe de Paris which will cost you approximately $30).  And beware, it is a cash only restaurant.  Thank God for our angel Mauricio.  We arrived at La Luna penniless and by the time we found out credit cards weren’t accepted and there was no ATM we were ready to start washing dishes.  The restaurant called our hotel, Mauricio came back and offered us $100 bill to stay and enjoy our dinner.  We paid him back on our way home.  Our reward?  One of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.


Making Chakalaca w/Chef David Higgs



Our first morning was spent at the Apartheid Museum.  I will share that in a later post.  But there truly could be no greater contrast that going from the Apartheid Museum to the Saxon Hotel (except perhaps going from lunch to the Irish Famine Memorial in NYC).

We met David Higgs, the Executive Chef at the Saxon Boutique Hotel in Johannesburg.  After spending most of his life in Cape Town he moved to Johannesburg.  Since joining the Saxon Hotel in May, he has worked to raise the quality of the restaurant offerings to the award winning level already enjoyed by the hotel for their service.  The Saxon receives top honors for its service and boasts such notable guests as Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and many others.

Chef Higgs greeted us at the door as if he were welcoming us into his own home.  In fact, The Saxon Hotel was originally designed as the private residence of Douw Steyn, the owner of the Saxon Hotel.  Much like the lord of the manor will, he proudly showed us around.  One of the many reasons the Saxon is popular for celebrities and politicians alike is the privacy.  They have recently built 3 private villas that can be accessed directly from the parking garage so guests can arrive and leave virtually unnoticed.  But trust me, if you are lucky enough to be able to score a villa, you won’t want to leave.  To reach the villas, you first walk down a habitrail like bridge which opens on to a beautiful boardwalk trail that leads you to the private villa.  It is so quiet and remote that you feel as if you’re in the middle of the bush somewhere.

Afterwards he invited us into his kitchen to prepare some traditional South African dishes.  There is no real clear definition of South African cuisine.  There is however, a common palette that favors both the very spicy and the very sweet.  Fittingly, we made a couple of entrée dishes and a few desserts.  I helped out with what he described as the South African version of bangers and mash (see, I knew there was a connection between South Africa and Scotland!) – chakalaca over pap with sausage.  Chakalaca is a spicy relish.  It’s made with onions, peppers, carrots, a tomato base and, oh yeah, A LOT of spice!  He served it over pap, a traditional South African dish that is basically corn mush, cooked to a polenta like consistency.  All served aside sausage.

We also made a traditional South African dessert, cake sisters.  It is fried dough twisted in a braided format and then dipped in more sweetness.  Forget the calories, just enjoy its deliciousness.

I asked Chef Higgs what he most wanted Americans to know about South African cuisine (he may or may not have missed the “cuisine” part) he answered, without hesitation, “that Johannesburg is safe”.  For him, this is one of the main challenges facing Joburg in gaining its place as a culinary hub.  With only about 15% of the city’s population with the means to eat out, tourism is essential to the growth of the restaurant industry.

For him, the excitement of Joburg is the cacophony of cultures.  Africa is home to 11 different cultures that come together, as I’ve said, to form a very similar taste palette, one he defines as a combination of spicy and sweet, everything is either very very spicy, or very very sweet.  And the convergence of those cultures is something he finds unique to Johannesburg. He left Capetown to, in his words, “experience Africa as it should be”.

Dinner with Marlo

The invitation read, “upon arrival tell the doorman you are here to see Marlo”. That was it, no apartment #, no such and such residence, just Marlo. As it is dinner time we enter amidst a hub of delivery people, folks coming home from work or heading across the street to the park for a run. We make our way through to the doorman and simply say, “um, Marlo?”. He just smiles, nods and says, “Sure, take the elevator straight ahead,…to the top”.
When Travels from Mad Ave started, the idea was to share the unique and interesting experiences I have had as a veteran of the advertising business. Through this business, I live a life I never imagined.
In the beginning I certainly could never have imagined spending an evening= dining at Marlo Thomas’ apartment. We all met Marlo as “That Girl”, but I have always cherished her as the creator of “Free to Be You and Me”. The movie that played a large role in shaping my beliefs on tolerance.
We were graciously received by Marlo herself on arrival and shown around her gorgeous apartment overlooking Central Park. A wraparound porch provides almost 360 views of the city. While all of this was worth the price of admission, what was most inspiring was her openness and inspirational passion for helping all women achieve their dreams, no matter how small.
After dinner she said a few words but then wanted to hear from each one of us about what our real dreams were. She wanted to know, if we had the opportunity to push the reset button, what would we do now? It’s difficult to answer that question putting aside the context of your last 10, 20 or 30 years, but she made us dream.
Later on in the evening, I asked her, as an early leader of the woman’s movement back in the 60’s & 70’s, what struck her as most surprising sitting here in 2012. Her answer was how few women were in leadership positions. That is a theme I have been hearing from many of these women (ie. Charlotte Beers, the first female CEO of Ogilvy and author of, “I’d Rather be in Charge”). Work/life balance, can you really have it all, etc. has been at the center of our generation’s discussions around women’s empowerment and seems to be bubbling up again as a key issue.
I believe we need to reframe the discussion and redefine success. Since the women’s movement, women have been striving to achieve success in male terms. People like Marlo Thomas and Charlotte Beers are leaders., once again, in reframing the dialogue. I will continue explore this challenge here at TravelsfromMadAve, but be sure to follow Marlo at www.marlothomas.com and get a copy of Charlotte Beer’s, “I’d Rather be in Charge”.
And please feel free to comment!!

tous celebres ici!

Having just emerged from MOMA and taking in Monet’s water lilies, I suppose we were predisposed to find a restaurant called La Petite Maison.

My favorite french place in the city is a little place in Chelsea called Gascogne. I mostly like it because everyone working there is actually French. And most of the people sitting at the bar are French ex-pats come in for a taste of home.

While our waiter may have been Croatian and the art was decidedly American (come on, Michael Jackson’s shoes bedazzled with Swarovski crystals?) that didn’t take away from feeling like I was in France. Despite their indifference, the French like kitsch too. And that is thanks to owner Nicole Rubi who recently opened her latest location of La Petite Maison in the previous Aquavit space.

Despite the fact that we were the first to arrive for the early bird special (we had theatre tickets that night) we were welcomed in and given the right amount of attention. They weren’t hovering over their only customers but weren’t ignoring us either. They have a decent selection of wines by the glass (but curiously not French) at reasonable prices. While the restaurant has the initial feel of traditional French fine dining, that perception disappeared when they brought the bread to the table in a paper bag. I love a restaurant that can have fun with itself!

The appetizer menu (or entree, if we’re really in France) was a smorgasbord of opportunity. Literally, there are two options of an array of apps featuring items from the South of France and, more specifically, Nice. The a la carte menu presents a variety of salads, carpaccio’s, fried dishes and cheese. We decided on the bone marrow with toast, much to our delight. It was served with two condiments; fresh whole grain mustard and a tomato “salsa”. It was delicious with either, with both and on it’s own!

My favorite part of the menu was the selection of dishes for two. We shared a whole chicken. While the menu states that will take 45 minutes of preparation time, it seemed to be much quicker. Maybe that’s because we were enjoying our appetizers and wine so much! The chicken was brought to our table just lightly browned for our approval before carving it up. The potato puree was as creamy as it gets (even gives Joel Robuchon a run for his money) although I have to go back to try the Rosemary Fries.

We finished off the evening with our complimentary glass of limoncello. Nothing screams Mediterranean to me more than that. Do yourself a favor, step into La Petite Maison one evening, and even for just a few hours, take yourself away from New York.

Vital Stats:
13 W. 54th St (between Fifth and Sixth Aves.)

Resplendent Rijsttafel

The biggest surprise for me in Amsterdam was the food.

I’ve already told you about the fondue (Cafe Bern), and our local meal with Daan & Yasmijn. On Saturday night we chose to partake in the local specialty, Rijsttafel (Indonesian rice table). With it’s history rooted in the Dutch colonization of Indonesia, rijsttafel was created as a way to showcase abundance and the rich diversity of the Indonesian culture. Today, it is like tapas on steroids.

We chose Sama Sebo which is located right by the Rijksmuseum. After Daan had shared that it was his mother’s favorite Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam, we felt comfortable that we had chosen well. A feeling that was most certainly confirmed a few hours later with our tummies full and I, with a marriage proposal and invitation to move to Bali.

The restaurant itself was rather small and given the sharing nature of the food the dining room was teeming with large tables full of celebratory gatherings. Our table of five was one of the smallest groups there that evening. While there were a few decisions to be made once sat down, like what kind of wine will you drink, still or sparkling water, other than that, the food just starts coming. Once we had our drinks, the serving tables started arriving. There were several small carts brought to our tableside, some with heating dishes on them. Then the food started coming. And boy does it just keep coming. Our table was full, the serving carts were full, there were plates on top of plates. True to it’s purpose, the vast array of flavors on the rijsttafel were out of this world. There were spicy meat dishes, some curries, peanut sauce and a little sweetness to the chicken dish. There were multiple types of rice, every kind of meat and vegetables served every way imaginable. Each dish tasted better than the last but each in it’s own unique and surprising way.

Unlike my experience traveling in Greece, traveling as five women in Amsterdam brings you a lot of friendly attention. The experience at Sama Sebo was not an exception. The atmosphere was lively and celebratory. The wait staff had a mixture of respect and irreverence. While they enjoyed sharing their cuisine with us obvious amateurs, I do think they found amusement in our picking through some of the more unusual dishes. There are many rijsttafels in Amsterdam. We were told this is one of the best, but I’m sure any one of them would bring it’s own unique experience and I’m sure excellent food.

I have not yet found a rifsttafel in NYC that sounds like it would even remotely match our experience in Amsterdam. I’ll keep looking, but in the meantime, if you find yourself in Amsterdam, don’t miss out!

The 3-Martini Lunch – Best of

With the popularity of Mad Men idolizing the glamour of the advertising industry in the 1960’s, the concept of the three martini lunch is making a resurgence.

Back in the simpler days of advertising, most of the work was done by noon and you were off to lunch, rarely to return.  The industry has sobered up since then, but there is a quiet movement afoot to bring back some of the old glory.  While still frowned upon by many, the trick is to find the hidden gems where you can casually enjoy the spoils in relative anonymity.

I recognize the mere act of writing these down could make them obsolete. I do so hoping that those who do will, and those who don’t will stay away.

Here are the best places that an ad exec (or anyone) can steal away to enjoy a martini, or wine; to see and not be seen.


Gallagher’s Steak House (@ the bar)


228 W. 52nd St (b/w 8th & Broadway)

Most people won’t get past the raw meat lining the entryway to Gallagher’s.  If you’ve managed to, leaving at least half of your would be detractors behind, take a seat at the bar.  Jack will gladly pour you the best dirty martini around, but don’t dismiss the highly acceptable wine list.  Order the sliced steak sandwich with the onion soup.


The Palm West


250 W. 50th St (b/w 8th & Broadway)

Head straight for the bar, the dining room will be filled with many of your business associates, the bar is neatly tucked away to the left of the hostess.  Forgo the martini for the classic charmer manhattan, or opt for one of the many excellent wines by the glass.  Get the steakburger sliders with a side of the best creamed spinach anywhere.


Lucy’s Cantina Royal – upstairs roof deck


1 Penn Plaza (corner of 34th St. and 8th Ave.)

With a number of agencies and media companies nearby, you will run into some folks you know.  But anyone sitting up top will be there for the same reason you are, a nice cold frozen margarita.  Leaving the chaos of the street below, a couple hours on Lucy’s roof deck feels like a mini vacation.


4. The Algonquin – Blue Bar


59 West 49th St. (b/w 5th & 6th Aves)

The Algonquin was one of the originals but has been forgotten in the new century (a recent renovation is changing that so get here soon).  Here you will find the most inventive menu to accompany your martini.  The Dorothy Parker mini burgers harken back to the Algonquin’s heyday, but the asian chicken lollipops or the lobster mac and cheese are every bit 21st century.



5. Quality Meats


57 West 58th St. (b/w 5th & 6th Aves)

You will be drawn to Quality Meats during wine week, but table 56 in the corner, upstairs, in the back is perfect year round.  Twenty six exceptional wines are offered by the glass.  Excellent steaks but you could make a meal of the sides; corn creme brulee, buttered edamame and parmesan waffle fries will fill you up and soak up that wine you drank!


6. The Morgan Library

th emorgan.org/visit/dining.asp

225 Madison Ave. (@36th St.)

This is anonymous martini drinking nirvana.  You will find yourself eating in the original Morgan family dining room.  Lunching amongst mainly tourists and members, order the “three martini lunch”.  Three two-ounce martinis, olive, twist and onion.  The menu changes seasonally and i

Mile High Martinis

My latest travels took me to a conference in Denver. I was attending BMGI’s Global Summit focusing on change and innovative strategies to deal with change. Our one night had us choose: martini bar or “best wine list in Denver.” Tough one, for sure, but with a trip to Napa Valley looming for me, I decided a cool martini bar in Denver might be more intriguing.

I was right.

From the street, The Corner Office & Martini Bar appeared as expected, a typical after work pub. An unassuming entryway leads you into a cool, backlit bar, stretching to the ceiling, stacked (seemingly mile) high with any martini ingredient you could possibly imagine.

The extensive drink menu offered unique twists to each item. The martini menu was both clever and culturally relevant with drinks inspired by the latest trends.  I had an Arnold Palmer, a favorite mixture of iced tea and lemonade in the hot summers of the south and popularized by Arizona teas.  But mine was spiked with sweet tea infused vodka added to the lemonade. A few colleagues chose the Hawaii 5-0 – named for the newly remade hit on CBS . This was a concoction of vanilla vodka, triple sec, lime and pineapple juice. Others opted to join the Mile High Club, vodka with an olive and a pack of peanuts. There was lots more. Cocktails such as the Dirty Shirley (cherry vodka and lime juice) and the SpeedRacer (orange vodka and Red Bull).

All of this was fun and entertaining, and seemingly well suited to wrapping up a day of talks on innovation.  But all this fun came to a screeching halt when we ordered the classic Hendricks Martini.  The waitress returned to inform us that the martini bar was, well, out of gin. Rather like a Dunkin’ Donuts being out of doughnuts.

We returned to the comfort of our Four Seasons hotel bar.

Sailing in Malmo, Sweden

Well, it was really drinking wine in Malmo, Sweden.  We were at the Vastra Hamnen (or West Harbor).  This has been the most beautiful place I have found in Scandinavia so far, but in all fairness, I have much more to explore!  After a short train ride from Copenhagen, we found ourselves in the beautiful little town of Malmo (ok, it’s about the same size as Buffalo, so apologies to all my peeps in the Buff).  The awesome boy at the tourist info desk put us on the bus (it’s always great to take the bus in a foreign city) to Vastra Hamnen to enjoy the view of Denmark.  I must say, so far, that is the best way to see Denmark!  The day was gorgeous, the wine was yummy and who can’t be content sitting by the water?  The ship was the code to the wait staff that were seated and ready to drink!


The Big Boy Glass

Life in Milford, PA – we are definitely not in Kansas anymore.  But that’s not always a bad thing.  Here we are at the Apple Valley bar.  On the right is “ol’ 97” – Terry’s personal mug – proud member of the Apple Valley pewter mug club!  We like to visit the mug 2 – 3 times a week, but after a couple of beers, my oh so sophisticated husband moves on to wine.  But not the puny wine glass (seen being poured in the back ground) but Terry gets the Big Boy glass of Pinot Grigio.  And for all my New York City friends, know there is not a drink on that bar that costs more than $4!

There are 101 mugs hanging in the bar.  CBS John is #1 (ironic, right?).  Terry and brother John are #97 & 98.  There is a waiting list, so all you who think you can swoop into town and buy a mug, hold it right there.  But once your number comes up, for $20 you can drink out of your mug all year long (with $1 off each beer!).  Anytime you drop into the Apple Valley (formerly known as the Alley Oops bar) you will find any number of folks sipping joyfully (or drunkenly) out of their icy cold mugs – some look like they’ve been drinking there for the past 30 years, continuously, others are local businessmen, still others are young teachers, waiters, bartenders – very few women, i must say.

But you gotta love the astute bartending staff who quickly realized that Terry needs not only his own beer mug, but his very own Big Boy glass.