For the grand finale of our whirlwind stopover in London, we dined at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Opened in early 2011, the restaurant has already earned a Michelin star and is currently ranked 9th on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Stars and rankings are all good and fun, but what really drew me in to Dinner was its unique menu of historically inspired British dishes. Every plate served here has been thoroughly researched and can be traced back as far as the 14th century. Dinner is Heston Blumenthal’s love letter to Britain’s proud culinary past, one that continues to influence and inform this modern kitchen at every turn.
Upon being seated, each member of our party was presented with a neatly folded menu containing the night’s offerings. One side of the menu listed the starters, mains, and desserts, while the other contained the dishes’ “sources of origin” (i.e. the name of the cookbook in which the dish was found). The nerd in me loved how the menu read like an academic paper.
Food historians, as well as the British Library, assisted chefs Heston Blumenthal and Ashley Palmer-Watts with researching Dinner’s menus.
To further set the mood, the clasps holding the menus together contained anecdotes about British gastronomy. I particularly loved the one about the origin of afternoon tea. To think, the tradition began with a duchess and the “sinking feeling” she endured between lunch and dinner!
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I must admit that a part of me was relieved when I failed to get a reservation at Alinea initially. Not only would my bank account be more robust for it, but the awesome memories that I had of the restaurant from my first meal there would remain intact.
Less than 24 hours before boarding our flight to Chicago, I received a phone call from Alinea’s reservationist offering a table for two the following evening. It’s not every day that the opportunity to dine at one of the world’s best restaurants presents itself, so I took a deep breath and went for gold.
Just as soon as we arrived in the city, The Astronomer and I jammed it to our hotel, changed into prettier clothes, and headed off to Alinea. Upon walking through the restaurant’s fuschia-lit entrance, we were greeted by the hostess, who freed us from our winter coats and led us upstairs to our table.
Before I go on any further about the food and fun we had this evening, it must be said that the service at Alinea isn’t the warmest. Not every front-of-the-house team can strike the perfect balance between polished and inviting a la Eleven Madison Park, but Alinea’s all-male waitstaff left a lot to be desired. As these black suited gents presented each course, it felt like they had grown tired of and jaded by the theatrics Alinea is known for. As a result, our interactions were often awkward and sometimes humorless. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, on to the food and fun…
Even though the service left me wanting, the food mostly dazzled. This intriguing ice block was the first of three centerpieces to grace the table. I knew from previous experience that it would play a role in a future course, but in what capacity remained to be seen. I was hoping for an ice luge of some sort
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An irresistible invite from Bellagio brought The Astronomer and me to Las Vegas for a weekend of dynamite wining and dining. After arriving at the hotel, checking into our room, and dropping off our bags, we strolled over to Sirio Maccioni‘s famed Le Cirque for a late-night supper.
Le Cirque, which opened 38 years ago in New York City, made its Las Vegas debut at the Bellagio in 1998. The restaurant is the recipient of the AAA Five Diamond rating, as well as one Michelin star.
Set under a plush circus tent, Le Cirque’s elegant and lively dining room felt miles away from the din of slot machines. In a city where bigger is generally regarded as better, this intimate space felt like a real treat.
Whereas New York’s Le Cirque is set among skyscrapers, this location is perched lakeside, overlooking the hotel’s famous fountains. Every fifteen minutes, The Astronomer and I were entranced by the dancing water and shimmering lights. It felt quintessentially Vegas, and maybe a little cheesy, but we loved it anyway.
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My grandma once remarked (in Vietnamese, of course) that in New York City, money is spent as freely as water. From dining to shopping to transportation to entertainment, it’s dangerously easy to drop some serious change exploring and reveling in everything the city has to offer. While bargains may not be the norm in these here parts, there are still some great values to be had.
Take for instance lunch at Del Posto, Chef Mario Batali and restauranteur Joseph Bastianich‘s four-star Italian restaurant. Dinner here starts at $115, but a three-course lunch complete with amuses and mignardises can be had for just $29. Now, that’s a deal that even my penny pinching Bà Ngoại would approve.
The Astronomer and I lunched here the afternoon following our feast at Eleven Madison Park. We were seated at a table fit for four in the center of the dining room. The crowd of lunching ladies and powwowing business types spoke mostly in hushed tones, adding to the formal ambiance that I found too stuffy for this time of day.
After placing our orders, a server brought over a trio of amuse bouches. There were lobster and caviar finger sandwiches, a tomato soup with bread crumbs around the rim, and small bundles of sauerkraut wrapped in speck ham. All three bites were perfectly nice, but none were particularly wow inducing.
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