Monday, July 29, 2013

The Grand Bohemian - Asheville, NC

Part of the Marriott group of hotels under the Autograph Collection (stand alone unique properties with a high level of service) – the Grand Bohemian in Asheville, NC is adjacent to the Biltmore Village and the hotel sits at the busy intersection to the entrance to the Biltmore Estate. However the Biltmore House is so far removed that there is not a chance of a view of the legendary house. 

The only option for parking is valet. There is some off street parking, but we opted to valet as did all the other posh cars that were sat in the drive way. The valets were friendly but not really interested in helping us unload the car and directing us into the hotel.

The interior of the Bohemian is a mixture of a Scottish castle, mounted animal heads, interesting art work, and busts of what looked like Roman Emperors. After looking around like a bemused Harry Potter upon entering Hogwarts for the first time I made my way to two large wooded desks which was the check-in station. The front desk person was polite, chatty and was able to make dinner reservations for later that evening in the Red Stag Grill. There was never an offer of help with the luggage nor was there any direction to the elevator – I had to ask.

The halls leading to the rooms are elegant at every turn. The room itself was beautiful and funky with drapes not walls closing off the bathroom to the rest of the space. Music was playing, but no lights were on to welcome me in. 

The first order of business was a relaxing drink in the bar. Good local beers were on tap including Highland Gaelic Ale. Service was nice yet I got the feeling the bartender didn’t want to leave his bar and venture out to the tables. I think he half expected us to walk up to the bar and order a la a pub in England. The bar staff also liked to congregate in one area and tell tales of their weekend adventures. Annoying to say the least.

Dinner later that evening in the Red Stag Grill was nice. Fantastic service, a nicely cooked steak and a lovely and inventive Caesar salad. However how nice it was - the meal certainly came at exorbitant hotel prices. I guess that is the price you pay to stay! 

Our dinner view - the fancy Biltmore McDonald's!

No one came by for turn down service during the evening.

When checking out of the hotel the next morning a different lady at the big large wooden desk reception area was more interested in trying to sell us on the hotel restaurant for breakfast than answering our questions regarding the nearest ATM.

One of the four valets standing around outside offered to get our car and some bottled water for the road. No one asked if help was needed with luggage once again.

The Autograph Collection prides itself on unique properties with character and the Marriott high standard of service. While I found the Grand Bohemian to be charming and unique there was hardly any level of outstanding service that really set this hotel apart. An altogether comfortable yet disappointing stay. What a shame for it should be top notch. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Favorite Things - Atlanta Food & Beverage

Well, it’s hard to believe but it has been nearly four years since I moved to Atlanta! And while I still haven’t completely bonded with this city, I will say Atlanta’s big draw is the food & beverage scene. There are still way too many typical restaurants with the ho hum boring choices of shrimp and grits and cedar plank roasted salmon. In fact I like to play the game of – can we find a place in the ATL that doesn’t offer those two choices on their menu. And I have to say – sadly I have found the shrimp and grits options and sushi houses and taquerias.

But! But – for as many disappointments there are also some gems worth driving through the insane 24/7 legendary ATL traffic to enjoy. Here’s a list of my favorite things in Atlanta – food and drink wise.

Cocktails at Cakes and Ale:

Any place that is named for a line of a Shakespearean play is definitely worth checking out in my opinion. Slide up to the bar and be prepared to enjoy a handcrafted masterpiece of a cocktail, good conversation with the bartender, and the show the barkeep performs while shaking and making.

Seafood at Lure:

Lure is the new kid in town. In fact my favorite restaurant in Atlanta (mostly for sentimental reasons) was torn down and replaced with Lure. Naturally I boycotted the new place. And as you may have guessed that was a stupid thing to do because Lure is fantastic! Fresh seafood (oysters have been excellent every time), fun cocktails and excellent service not to mention a nice posh nautical décor and a midtown location makes Lure the prefect pre-symphony stop.

Beer and Pimento Cheese at the Brick Store:  

Okay, okay. I know – pimento cheese in the south is cliché. So when I started this post I rambled on about how I get mad about the abundance of shrimp and grits and cedar plank salmon on offer in the ATL and then I go and list pimento cheese? Well, this is jalapeno pimento cheese. And paired with the awesome beer selection (my recommendation is the Wells Bombardier) and this tasty snack from the Brick Store is wonderful! I can taste it now…

Jewish Delights at the General Muir:

The absolute best Matzoh Ball soup I have ever had (it HAS been a while – but still). I did get a funny look when I ordered the Matzoh Ball soup with my salmon lox for breakfast but it did make me want to scream mazel tov! The General Muir is named for the ship that brought the owner’s mother and grandparents to the US, and I have been told it is the only proper Jewish deli/restaurant in Atlanta. The interior has a sleek French brasserie feel while keeping things kosher!  

Drafty Kilt and grilled fish tacos at Six Feet Under:

With a view of historic Oakland Cemetery, a Monday Night Brewing Drafty Kilt (a local beer) in one hand and the grilled catfish fish tacos in the other hand with fried okra as a side – nothing else in the world matters. Not even that you ARE looking at a cemetery! And thinking you should go easy on the fried food…

Drinks by the river at Canoe:

Canoe is consistently rated as the number on restaurant for Atlanta. My dining experience there was very nice, but what really set it apart is how the restaurant backs up onto the Chattahoochee River. Enter through a strip mall and exit to the back for nature. It would be very easy to while away the night at the outdoor bar listening the gentle river swim on by.

Float away at the Float Away Café

I just adore this cute little restaurant in a renovated part of the Float Away building. With a cool aqua blue color tone and comfy seats you will eat and drink until you float away. The menu changes often and it is just a lovely dining experience. I always feel like I have stumbled upon a neat little place in Europe when I dine here. 


Max Lager’s:

The wood-fired food is consistently nice, but it is the handcrafted beer that keeps me coming back. My favorite is the Max Red Vienna-Style lager, and I always pair it with the Cilantro Salmon Caesar. Max Lager’s is my go to restaurant whenever I am near the midtown/downtown area. I always anticipate the nice atmosphere and a cold beer when I am headed that way.

No. 246:

Italian in style but with a focus on seasonality No. 246 is modern dining in an old space. Cool dark interiors with an open kitchen set the tone for lovely dining and scrumptious food. The bar here makes some rather fun cocktails, but the bartenders are not conversation focused like at Cakes and Ale.

Spectacular Soup at Souper Jenny’s:

 You never know what you will get at Souper Jenny’s and that is okay. It is always fresh and always good. Get there before 4 or it will be all gone. And you will be on your own during the month of August as the gang closes down shop and takes time off European style.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Statue of James Joyce in Dublin

This past Sunday - June 16th was Bloomsday in Ireland which is a celebration of the writer James Joyce and his epic novel Ulysses. The day receives its name from Leopold Bloom the main character of Joyce’s book in which all of the events take place in Dublin on June 16, 1904.  Joyce and his famous novel are so beloved by the people of Ireland that his devotes created the celebration to honor the writer with pub crawls, marathon readings of the book, bike rides through Dublin following the specific paths of characters, and re-enactments from the book complete with period costumes. The first Bloomsday celebration in Dublin was held in 1954 – the 50th anniversary of the events of the novel.

Here are a few facts regarding Joyce’s masterpiece:

  • The novel Ulysses Is about 265,000 words in length
  • The entire novel takes place in one day - June 16th 1904
  • Ulysses is a parallel to Homer’s poem Odyssey
  • Parts of Ulysses were written in the stream of consciousness style
  • The book is divided into 18 episodes
  • Joyce wrote the novel from 1914 to 1921
  • It was banned in several countries including the US for years over obscenity rulings 

I was in Dublin in 2004 for the 100th anniversary of Ulysses and visited the Dublin Library and their phenomenal exhibit on Joyce and the book. Though I had to abandon reading the novel for Spark Notes is was an amazing experience to see his original notes and how he plotted the book. Ulysses is truly an amazing piece of work, and I had a wonderful day in Dublin celebrating Bloomsday. Here are some of my pictures.

Celebrating in period costumes at the James Joyce Centre.

Biking around Dublin

A grand parade through Dublin - what an entrance! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Trooping of the Colour

This Saturday June 15th, 2013 is the annual Trooping of the Colour in London. I bet you are wondering what exactly this Trooping thing is.  Well, every year on a Saturday in June London celebrates the official birthday of the Sovereign. Although the actual birthday of Queen Elizabeth II is April 21st - a day in the summer has been set aside to celebrate the Monarch’s birthday in the hopes of better weather. Also known as the Queen’s Birthday Parade the Trooping is a fabulous passing of marching troops and military bands in all of their glory. This is a military ceremony dating back to the 18th century where the colours (flags) were carried (trooped) so that a particular division could be recognized.

The public can stand along the Mall to watch the procession of troops while the majority of marching and performances take place inside Horse Guards Parade in a grand stand area.

Click here for a lovely example of the Grenadiers Quick March on Horse Guards Parade during the Trooping of the Colour.

Interesting facts:

  • Since Edward VII the Sovereign has taken the salute in person
  • Queen Elizabeth II has attended every trooping except for 1955 when a rail strike cancelled the event
  • Queen Elizabeth II rode a mounted horse during the trooping until 1987 – she now goes by carriage
  • In 1981 on horseback the Queen’s horse was startled by someone firing a gun with blanks at her during the ceremony

The last time I was in London I happened to catch the Colonel’s Review – which is the dress rehearsal for the actual trooping ceremony. This happens one week before the actual Trooping of the Colour. I stood along the Mall as the participants marched down to Horse Guards Parade. Here are some of my pictures!

Happy Birthday Your Majesty!

Royal Alert! That's Prince Philip!