Spa shop to the rescue

LV Train CaseI know it’s for my own good. But I still haven’t gotten used to the 3-1-1 TSA carry-on requirements.

A girl likes what she likes, and my various lotions and potions don’t all meet the one-baggie-fits-all requirement. So this morning when I was in the throes of my packing madness, I neglected to pack my face wash. It’s over the three ounce limit, you see. So it should have traveled in my checked luggage. But splitting up my necessaries into two batches is a pain in the derrière and I invariably forget something.

By now, you’d think the cosmetic companies would have figured out that selling travel-sized versions of their skin care lines makes good business sense. But they haven’t. So I, for one, am still revamping my packing strategy. The bottom line: my face wash didn’t make the trip to Colorado.

So, when I unpacked my Louis case at the fabulous Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, I discovered my faux pas and headed to the spa shop for reinforcements.

I love spa shops. I love seeing all the fabulous goodies that they have. It’s not your everyday stuff. Somehow spa managers find the really sweet things that you just don’t see at ordinary shops. Of course I found a replacement face wash—YonKa’s Gel Nettoyant—but I also picked up a few things to help me navigate the TSA maze more effectively next time I fly.

Pitotubes are the best way I’ve seen yet to be sure you have your personal favorites with you when you arrive—and that they haven’t leaked en route. Designed by a former flight attendant, these classy little dispensers are as well designed as they are beautiful. And they allow you to use your cosmetic counter faves rather than settle for drug store brand toiletries. The travel kit contains six tubes—two each of 1.7 oz, 1.0 oz, & .5 oz. sizes—and comes in a sparkly silver mesh zippered pouch. Kits include cute little labels to help you identify what’s what.

The aspens are still glorious here, their golden leaves shimmering in the gentle lakefront breeze. It’s no surprise then that my eyes were drawn to the display shelf that housed The GOLD Collection by Linden Leaves. This New Zealand body care line was included in the celeb goodie bag at this year’s Emmys. Gold has long been a symbol of decadence, luxury and sophistication. Ancient civilizations attributed healing properties to pure gold and often included gold in cosmetic preparations and medicinal remedies. This line combines the highest quality ingredients with pure 23K gold. My favorite: the Gold Shimmer Dust Brush. Deliciously decadent shimmer dust to brush over your body, face or hair to impart a subtly alluring glow.

And just when I thought I was ready to ring up, I spotted a must-have happy hour tonic. Virtual Buddha by Elixir Tonics is just what I needed to banish those TSA blues. This peach flavored concentrate mixes with still or sparkling water to promote peaceful, serene feelings. Om…

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Random act of chocolate

broadmoor_chocolate_small.jpgWhat better welcome than an unexpected piece of chocolate?

Today, when I checked in at the courtesy desk at the Colorado Springs airport, I thought I was just arranging ground transportation to The Broadmoor, a luxury resort where I’ll have the pleasure of spending a few blissfully sunny autumn days.

Imagine my delight when I received a sweet silver-wrapped square of chocolate along with my shuttle ticket. Five-star service, just five steps from the point where I claimed my bag.

Would that more hospitality desks greeted their guests with random acts of chocolate, making the world a sweeter place—one bite at a time.

Velvet rope restaurant

3120151.jpegNo sign. No street number. No doorman.

The only way to find the entrance is to look for the velvet rope flanking the unmarked doors discreetly adorned with double J handles. Even when you pass through the doors, you’ll have to part a velvet curtain in order to reveal the dining room. Inside, your host, Austrian-born chef Johannes Fruhwirt, will be there to welcome you to his private dining room.

Johannes’ eyes twinkle with excitement. He’s been expecting you. You and only a few other guests. You see, there are only 32 seats in his dining room. It doesn’t feel like a restaurant, really. It’s more like being in a private home. Until recently, even the phone number was unlisted.

It was a pleasure having Johannes create our dining experience. I love doing that wherever there’s a great chef in the kitchen. I wouldn’t tell a musician what to play when I go to a concert. I wouldn’t tell an artist what to paint. So why dictate my menu choices to a chef when I can instead put myself in his capable hands and allow him to perfectly orchestrate my evening?

There were six of us, and we were there to celebrate. Johannes graciously permitted me to bring a couple of bottles of wine from our cellar—a ’97 Mauro Veglio Barolo Castelletto and a ‘98 Dolce—which we supplemented with a couple bottles from his excellent wine list. John, our host, found a bottle of ’03 Reynolds Family Winery Stag’s Leap District Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon on the list, which he insisted we try as a nod to my husband who had just helped him wrap up a big case. And I found a fabulous Austrian Riesling to start: an ’03 Brundlmayer Riesling “Stein”, which delighted Johannes and got the night off to a great start.

The Riesling was a knockout pairing with our first course, Belize Conch Ceviche with Pineapple Salsa. The conch was sweeter and more tender than the conch you generally find on South Florida menus, and richly colored. The wine carried us happily through the second course, Mangrove Snapper with Marscarpone-Crayfish Riesling Sauce, another winner.

The Cabernet proved a worthy match for our next course, Brandy Lacquered Duck Breast with Wild Rice and an Apricot Ginger Glaze. The Barolo, which we had our waiter open when we arrived, was beautiful with Johannes’ Lamb Rack with Autumn Veggies and Rosemary Barolo Sauce. I did call ahead and chat with Johannes about bringing an older Barolo, so I suspect he sauced the lamb accordingly. If not, it was a happy coincidence.

I had also asked Johannes if he was doing foie gras, and when he said yes, I immediately pulled a half bottle of Dolce, a late harvest Sauterne-style wine from Napa, to enjoy with the much anticipated fois gras. Johannes’ classically simple preparation of Fresh French Foie Gras seared with Onions and Sea Salt elicited several moans of pleasure from our party—all mine.

Dessert followed, and I did have a bite or two. But he had me at the fois gras. And what better ending to a completely fabulous meal than the last seductive sip of Dolce—liquid gold from Napa Valley.

Shake some action

fa07_193837_w.jpgChristmas is coming, the catalogs are arriving, and I’m already making my list for Santa.

Red Envelope has a fabulous artisanal salt sampler that I’ve been drooling over. A pinch of this and a smidge of that and your culinary creations are sure to sing. I’ve been on the prowl for sel gris—gray salt hand harvested on France’s Brittany coast—and this collection has it, along with 23 other salts from more than a dozen countries. Salt of this stature is tres cher, so having smaller jars to play around with is a definite advantage. Reorder your favorites from SaltWorks.

Here’s what’s shakin’:

Aguni, Premium Japanese Sea Salt: Extracted by filtering sea water through bamboo branches to produce this delicious mineral-dense salt.

Alaea – Hawaiian Sea Salt (coarse grain): Traditional Hawaiian Sea Salt. Hawaiian Red Clay adds nutrients and flavor.

Bamboo Korean Roasted Salt: Produced by roasting sea salt in clay-sealed bamboo stalks, allowing the salt to absorb minerals from these natural elements while being purified.

Bolivian Rose Salt (coarse grain): Harvested at the heart of the Andes Mountains, its natural rose color makes it one of the most beautiful salts available.

Cyprus – Mediterranean Flake Salt: A favorite among professional chefs, its unique pyramid-shaped crystals have a fresh ocean flavor and a satisfying crunch.

Cyprus – Cyprus Black Lava Flake Salt: Mediterranean Sea salt combined with activated charcoal, its dramatic color and delicate texture make this finishing salt ideal for tableside presentation.

Durango, Hickory Smoked Sea Salt: Flaked sea salt, smoked over genuine hickory wood, this salt adds an authentic smoked flavor to any dish.

Fleur de Sel de Guérande – French “Flower of Salt”: Accepted by many chefs as the best finishing salt in the world, its young salt crystals are skimmed from the surface of salt ponds in France.

Flor de Sal – Portuguese “Flower of Salt”: Premium hand-harvested sea salt from Portugal.

Flower of Bali – Tropical Sea Salt: Delicate sea salt crystals that form on the surface of tropical salt beds, this salt is hand harvested and only available in limited quantities.

Fum̩e de Sel РChardonnay Oak Smoked Salt: Premium sea salt that has been slowly smoked with oak wine barrels used for Chardonnay production. Prized for its gentle smoke flavor with a hint of wine.

Hiwa Kai – Hawaiian Black Lava Salt: Solar-evaporated Pacific sea salt, combined with activated charcoal to provide added health benefits. Stunning black color and silky texture.

Himalayan Pink Salt – Fine Grain: Pure, hand-mined ancient sea salt found deep inside the pristine Himalayan Mountains. Crystals range in color from sheer white to varying shades of pink to deep reds, reflecting 84 trace elements and iron.

Kala Namak – Indian Black Salt – Fine Grain: An essential ingredient in authentic East Indian cuisine, this salt has a distinctive aroma and flavor of egg yolks. making it unforgettable.

Murray River – Australian Pink Flake Salt: Prized for its gorgeous apricot color and delicate flaky texture. Melts quickly and evenly—a perfect finishing salt.

Peruvian Pink – Mountain Spring Salt: Sourced from a natural spring 10,000 feet high in the Peruvian mountains where the warm spring water seeps into terraced salt ponds. Hand-harvested for over 2,000 years, its strongly-flavored light pink crystals have a high moisture content.

Pure Ocean, Kosher Flake Sea Salt: Unique, pyramid-shaped crystals with stair-step sides give this salt a superb ability to adhere to food—and make it a fabulous choice for garnishing libations served in a salt-rimmed glass.

Salish – Alder Smoked Salt (fine grain): Naturally smoked over Northwest Red Alderwood, giving food a genuine smokehouse taste on or off the BBQ.

Sel Gris de Guérande (fine grain): Hand harvested from the prestigious salt ponds of Guérande, France, this healthy replacement for ordinary table salt is stone ground to make it easier to dispense from a shaker.

Sel Gris de Guérande (coarse grain): An unrefined whole mineral sea salt, hand harvested from the prestigious salt ponds of Guérande, France.

Sel de Mer, Mediterranean Sea Salt (coarse grain): Solar-evaporated Mediterranean Sea Salt, its naturally white, dry crystals are ideal for use in a salt grinder or as a roasting salt.

Trapani, Sicilian Sea Salt: Hand harvested from the salt pans along the famous salt road that runs up the west coast of Sicily from Trapani to Marsala. Delicate crystals, full of flavor.

Velvet, Grey Sea Salt: Stone ground to a fine powder, this hand-harvested French sea salt has a buttery mouth feel, making it a terrific choice for topping savory noshes.

Yakima, Applewood Smoked Sea Salt: Smoked over Yakima Valley applewood, this salt adds delicious natural smoked flavor to foods.

Tastes like money

istock_000001670780xsmall.jpgI adore tasting menus, or degustation menus, as French chefs call them.

From the amuses-bouche to the petits fours, there’s nothing that comes close to sitting back and letting chefs send out whatever they please. Some of my fondest culinary memories revolve around tasting menus: Thomas Keller’s at The French Laundry, Charlie Trotter’s at his namesake Chicago townhouse, and long, long ago Andre Soltner’s at Letuce. We’re talking food so divine it makes me moan with delight.

So when Forbes published their World’s Most Expensive Tasting Menus recently I was all ears. Here’s who made the A-list. Prices per person.

L’Arpege, Paris ($466) Chef Alain Passard – number of courses varies

Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee, Paris ($437) – five courses

Guy Savoy, Paris ($402) – nine courses

Masa, NYC ($400) – 25-course Omakase menu

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris ($373) – nine courses

Joel Robuchon At The Mansion, MGM Grand, Las Vegas ($360) – 16 courses

Louis XV, Alain Ducasse, Monaco ($307) – six courses

La Pergola, Rome ($267) Chef Heinz Beck – nine courses

Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa, Rangali Island ($250) – 23 courses

Eigensinn Farm, Singhampton, Canada ($250) Chef Michael Stadtlander – eight courses

Per Se, NYC ($250) Chef Thomas Keller – nine courses