Wines That (help you) Travel Well

Wine lovers usually have scouted out the best spots in their own backyard, but what about when they're on the road?

There are plenty of guides around, but we find the annual awards given by Wine Spectator magazine are as reliable as any. Each year, the editors of the magazine make awards in three categories -- Grand Award, Best of Award of Excellence, and Award of Excellence. The complete list of 3,606 restaurants is available in the Aug. 31 issue, but we've extracted a list of the best state by state and around the world.

Here are the winners of the 2005 Grand Awards. Note there are just 86 of them, and any state or country not listed has no Grand Award winners this time around.

Arizona - Anthony's in the Catalinas, in Tucson; Mary Elaine's at The Phoenician Resort, in Scottsdale.

California - Cafe Tiramisu, Restaurant Michael Mina, The Carnelian Room, Rubicon, Restaurant Gary Danko, in San Francisco; The Chef's Table, in Fresno; Club XIX, in Pebble Beach; Grasing's, Casanova, El Paseo, on Mill Valley; Marinus, in Carmel Valley; Restaurant 301 at The Hotel Carter, in Eureka; The Sardine Factory, in Monterey; Sierra Mar on Big Sur, in Carmel; Horseshoe Bar Grill, in Roseville; The Restaurant at Domaine Chandon, in Yountville; Zibbibo, in Palo Alto; Patino, in Los Angeles; Il Grano, in West Los Angeles; Osetra the Fishhouse, in San Diego; Cuistot, in Palm Desert; Valentino, in Santa Monica; The Winesellar & Brasserie, in San Diego; The Cellar, in Fullerton; Wine Cask, in Santa Barbara.

Colorado - The Keystone Ranch Restaurant, in Keystone; Ruth's Chris Steak House, in Denver; Zach's Cabin, in Avon; Flagstaff House, in Boulder.

District of Columbia - Galileo da Roberto Donna.

Florida - Bern's Steak House, in Tampa; L'Escalier at the Florentine Room, in Palm Beach.

Illinois - Charlie Trotter's, in Chicago; Carlos' Restaurant, in Highland Park.

Louisiana - Brennan's, Emeril's, in New Orleans.

Massachusetts - The Federalist, in Boston; Silks at Stonehedge Inn, in Tyngsboro; Topper's at The Wauwinet, in Nantucket.

Missouri - JJ's, in Kansas City.

Nevada - Aureole, Delmonico Steakhouse, Piero Selvaggio Valentino, Picasso, in Las Vegas.

New Mexico - Billy Crew's Dining Room, in Santa Teresa.

New York - Alain Ducasse at The Essex House, Cru, Daniel, Feledia Ristorante, Montrachet, Tribeca Grill, '21' Club, Veritas, in New York City; The American Hotel, in Sag Harbor; Crabtree's Kittle House Inn, in Chappaqua; Friends Lake Inn, in Chestertown; .

North Carolina - The Angus Barn, in Raleigh.

Vermont - The Inn at Sawmill Farm, in West Dover.

Virginia - The Inn at Little Washington, Washington.

Washington - Canlis, Seattle.


Canada - Sooke Harbour House, in Sooke; Opus Restaurant on Prince Arthur, in Toronto; Via Allegro Ristorante, in Etobicoke; Bistro a Champlain, in Marguertie du Lac Masson.

Anguilla - Malliouhana Restaurant, in Meads Bay.

Bahamas - Graycliff, in Nassau.

France - Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, La Tour d'Argent, Le Cinq, Michel Rostant, Taillevent, in Paris; Troisgros, in Roanne; Au Crocodile, in Strasbourg.

Germany - Restaurant Jorg Muller, in Sylt-Westerland.

Italy - Bottega del Vino, in Verona; Enoteca Pinchiorri, in Florence; Guido Ristorante, in Bra; Il Poeta a Contadino, in Alberobello; La Pergola, inn Rome.

Japan - Enoteca Pinchiorri, in Tokyo.

Macao - Robuchon a Galera.

Monaco - Le Louis XV - Alain Ducasse.

Singapore - Les Amis.

Spain - Atrio, in Caceras.

Switzerland - Landgasthof & Vinothek Farnsburg, in Ormalingen; Restaurant Riesbachli, in Zurich.


Provincetown, Cape Cod's Most Frantic Spot

William M. Dowd photos

PROVINCETOWN, MA -- The man in the bow held one oar out of the water, feathering the other to act as a rudder. His partner in the stern gamely kept pulling with both oars. Slowly, the chunky rowboat turned, its prow now aimed directly at the Provincetown II, the largest Cape Cod Bay scenic cruiser, which was moored to the foot of MacMillan Wharf.

With a little more maneuvering, its crew managed to bring it alongside the cruiser, but it was a precarious spot. The usually calm waters of Provincetown Harbor were churned up by a steady stream of boats making their way to the processional lineup at the other side of the wharf.

"Hey, Father!'' called a woman who had been hanging on the rail of the larger vessel, peering down at the rowboat bobbing 20 feet below. "Maybe you better bless 'em early. I don't think they can make it around again.''

The Rev. John Raposo of St. Peter's Church in Provincetown obligingly shook the aspergillum, and a spray of holy water droplets from the wand went over the side and onto the rowboat and its occupants.

The scene was five years ago at what then was the 53rd annual Blessing of the Fleet. It had begun 15 minutes early, with that small interloper jumping the line. But, hey, it was Father John's first crack at the job, and everyone likes to put his own stamp on an event.

This year, Blessing No. 58 took place as the culmination of a three-day festival each June that marries the pervasive Portuguese heritage with tourist kitsch, both endemic to this fishing port.

Parties, concerts, exhibits, fishing derbies for adults and kids, and the arrival of dozens upon dozens of boats of all sorts ushers in the high season for P-town.

On this sweltering Sunday, as the Cape Cod Fiddlers held forth on a makeshift stage down the wharf, and a procession carried a statue of St. Peter the apostle known as The Fisherman to the end of the wharf, the crowds gathered to walk the gangplank onto the Provincetown II to get the best view of the procession of boats.

The blessing originated as a special event for the fishing fleet, but it has grown in scope each year. This time it included speedboats, fishing boats, sightseeing boats, pontoon boats, the new Midnight Gambler that offers thrillseekers gaming tables offshore, even an inflatable one-man craft that made the rowboat look like a cabin cruiser.

Festooned with pennants and flags, crewed by girls in bikinis and shirtless, buff young men in cutoff jeans or by grease-stained working sailors, the boats passed in a seemingly endless parade.

The priest in charge of the blessing kept spritzing water, the boaters kept waving and whooping in return, and the crowd that had trooped onto the Provincetown II crowded the rail so energetically that the cruiser noticeably listed to port.

Summer in P-town, the pace at full bore and not slowing down until mid-September. At the northern tip of the Outer Cape, this town renowned for its art galleries, cafes, nightclubs, clever landscaped alleys, colorful cottages and guests houses and family-friendly/gay-friendly attitude will continue to be packed with strollers, shoppers, sightseers and assorted other folks.

The seasonal shops along narrow, bustling Commercial Street that runs the length of town are vying with the year-round businesses for tourist dollars. In a leisurely stroll, you come across everything from a Hallmark store to a drag nightclub, from fine dining to a saltwater taffy shop, from modern home decor offerings to antique finds.

A few of the major draws on the P-town schedule beyond the plethora of clubs, bistros, drag reviews, art exhibits, sunbathing, kite flying, bicycling, fishing, swimming, dune tours, sailing and dining:

Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum: The view of P-town from the monument tower (shown above) provides only one highlight of this institution which tells visitors a lot about Cape Cod history.

Theaters: C.A.P.E. Inc., Meetinghouse Theater, Provincetown Theater Company. Details for shows and tickets: (508) 487-2400.

Concerts: "Sundays at Five,'' a weekly program at the Universalist Meeting House, 236 Commercial St., of concerts featuring the music of Gershwin, Shostakovich, Mozart, Dvorak, Celtic and Irish traditional works and more at $10 a ticket. Reservations: (508) 487-2400.

Whale-watching: Cruises set out several times daily from a variety of competing slips on Macmillan Wharf. Stroll down and check out who is offering the best prices of the day. Cape Cod Bay is a fantastic place for seeing a variety of whales that come to the calm waters to feed, and some sightseeing boats offer free rainchecks if no behemoths are spotted.


  • • Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum
  • • Provincetown Chamber of Commerce
  • • Fine Arts Work Center
  • • Provincetown Calendar of Events
  • 20050714

    Cameras, colleges and culture

    ROCHESTER, NY -- This is a city built on Lake Ontario, but more accurately it was built on photography -- the Eastman Kodak empire that pioneered many aspects of still and motion picture photography, including the mechanics, the film, the processing and the vision of the field.

    Many of the Kodak dollars went into the community, creating a culture rich in colleges, museums and the arts. This web page will help you connect to many of the cultural sites of this gem of a city located on the shore of one of the five Great Lakes -- a fishing and boating mecca despite its reputation as a Snow Belt city.

    Like any older city, Rochester has its financial problems and some rundown neighborhoods to go with them. But, despite the loss of so much "company town" money that nourished it when Kodak was in its prime, it retains a significant cultural sphere.

    A few examples: The Eastman House (shown above), The Frederick Douglass Museum & Cultural Center, National Warplane Museum, New York Museum of Transportation, Rochester & Genessee Valley Museum, Rochester Museum & Science Center, and the Strong Museum.
    Greater Rochester Visitors' Association
    Eastman School of Music
    Lake Ontario Fishing Guide
    Rochester Museum & Science Center
    Strong Museum (for children)
    National Warplane Museum

    Cowboy food in the Big Apple

    The latest food craze in New York City is American. Wild West American.

    The newsest emporium of such fare is Maremma. If that sounds Italian, it is. Let us explain.

    The region called Maremma is an area of Tuscany where a lot of "spaghetti westerns" -- those Italian-made U.S. western movies that helped spring Clint Eastwood to stardom, for example -- were shot. The restaurant called Maremma, located at 228 West 10th St., is owned by chef Cesare Casella. It has a western theme despite the Italian influences.

    Movies and western dining seem to be going hand in hand here. Movie director Bob Giraldi, who has a longtime business relationship with restaurant owner/chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, is opening two new restaurants this summer. One is Diablo Royale at 189 West 10th St., near Maremma. It will have a modern Mexican menu and a Wild West saloon motif. He's staying mum on the theme of the second.
    • Emeril's Western recipes
    • Wild West theme party for kids
    • Western cookbooks
    • Ranch-style cooking with a twist
    • New York magazine's NYC dining guide
    • City Guide magazine's NYC dining guide


    Arizona: Land of Contrasts

    From Phoenix to phantoms, Arizona is a state that lives by contrasts.

    The sophistication of the capital city, as well as smaller communities such as Tucson and Scottsdale, hold the political and cultural segments of most of the state. However, its rich environmental and indigenous people have left a legacy for the modern world as well.

    The Phoenix area, located on the upper edge of the Sonoran Desert,  was settled about 1,700 years ago by the Hohokam people who built a sophisticated series of waterways to irrigate crops. They eventually disappeared, perhaps because of a sustained drought, although no one knows the precise reason.

    It took until the 1860s for the area to be reborn, with a farmer named Jack Swilling forming an irrigation company to construct canals to bring lifegiving water to the area. The name "Phoenix" -- after the mythical bird that is reborn from its own fineral pyre -- was selected to represent the strength of the newest settlement.

    In 1881, the city was incorporated. The beginning of the tourism boom and a steady rise in people moving here eventually led to Phoenix becoming the seventh largest city in the nation.

    The state also is home to several Indian reservations and numerous Indian communities. Some welcome tourists, others are quite private. Many of the Indian communities connect natural elements -- such as the towering sauguro cactus seen above -- to their tribal religious and cultural events.

    Hot air ballooning and gorgeous scenery are two of the biggest attractions in Monument Valley, and the splendors of the Grand Canyon create one of America's top tourist draws. And, a mixture of natural markings and glyphs carved into the rock surfaces by indigenous people long ago are a drawing card at the Painted Rock State Park.


    • Colleges and universities
    • State parks
    • Lodging connections
    • Business and finance
    • Jim Harvey's Arizona history column


    A Lemon Frock and a Cold Wadadli

    April L. Dowd photos

    ENGLISH HARBOUR, Antigua -- It had been a long time since she had been to Shirley Heights for a Sunday steel drum orchestra concert. Lavinia wanted to make a good impression on anyone who might notice her.

    Yes, the lemon yellow frock, she thought. And the matching yellow picture hat. They would be perfect.

    She missed Lionel. He hadn't been particularly fond of the steel drums -- "Bloody noisy cans," he'd called them in his grumpily good-natured way -- but he was kind enough to take her up to the old British fort every few weeks. He contented himself with the spectacular view of English Harbour far down below while she was busy enjoying the music and the visitors who flocked to Antigua in the early months each year to luxuriate in the brilliant sunshine when coverlets of snow were the order of the day back home in Britain and Australia and the United States.

    It had been more than a year since Lionel had passed on, but a return to England still was out of the question even at her advanced age. A life spent mostly in the British West Indies as the wife of a foreign service official didn't exactly make one want to move on, even if a spouse of nearly 50 years no longer was here to share the daily adventures.

    Lavinia had finally grown restless and felt the need of an outing to a familiar spot. Her driver parked the car at the foot of the path leading up to the ruins of the old stone observation post that had been the guardian of the British Navy's Caribbean fleet under the iconic 18th century naval hero Horatio Nelson.

    Lavinia paid her $4 US -- odd, she thought, how the Yankee dollar had become the common currency in the Caribbean -- to the polite young men in the wooden guard shack, receiving in exchange an entry ticket that also entitled her to one cocktail or a beer in the former fort building that now served as a pub. As if that would entice her.

    Lavinia skirted the building and made her way along the steep rock ledge where the plateau fell sharply away. She wanted to stake out a spot next to the covered pavilion where tourist children already were performing those little show-off dances children often do when music is played in public places. Meanwhile, their suburned parents were queing up at the various rudimentary barbecue stands that dotted the grounds.

    As the rhythm of the steel drums gathered momentum and the rays of the descending sun glanced off the mountains guarding English Harbour, Lavinia swayed almost imperceptibly to the beat while less inhibited visitors clapped hands and wiggled hips in time to the sensuous music. And, she thought of Lionel.

    Of course, all this is mostly supposition.

    The crowd was real and the details described are real, and the woman in the lemon yellow dress and hat was most assuredly very real the evening I stood on Shirley Heights, even though she seemed to have a mystical knack of never being in a clear line of sight for the camera.

    I could only imagine the details of her life, loathe as I was to intrude on her obvious pleasureable solitude in the midst of a crowd of jabbering Yanks, Aussies and Britions, most of them jarringly dressed in shorts or jeans and T-shirts and athletic shoes of every hue.

    Her ensemble was too calculated, too British in the way we have come to know over the years. But she was so perfect in so many ways, a sharp reminder that Antigua remains a British island in ways at once obvious and imperceptible despite being granted its independence in 1981.

    Begin with the place names -- English Harbour, Nelson's Dockyard National Park, Clarence House, Shirley Heights, Dow's Hill Interpretation Center, Fort Berkeley and the tiny communities of Gray's Farm, All Saints, Falmouth Harbor, Dickenson Bay and so forth all smack of English heritage. As does the national language -- "Broken English," explained Cleo, a smiling waitress at one dining spot when asked what Antigua's official language is.

    And pay attention to the most popular game on the island: cricket, the British game that became an Antiguan obsession. The official season lasts from January to July. Matches are played all over the island, but the best spot for visitors to watch is at the beautifully landscaped Antigua Recreation Ground near the V.C. Bird International Airport, named for the first post-independence prime minister.

    The only real city on this island is St. John's, capital of the tiny nation of 67,000 people officially known as Antigua and Barbuda. Together, they total 443 square miles, smaller than Singapore, Bahrain and Guam, larger than Bermuda, Monaco and Vatican City. It also is home to many expatriate Brits who found the warm breezes of the Leeward Islands preferable to the North Atlantic gales of their homeland.

    St. John's most striking edifice is the white, baroque-towered St. John's Cathedral, the current structure built in 1845 after being rebuilt following earthquakes in 1683 and in 1745.

    On neighboring Barbuda, which is mostly uninhabited but reachable by daily scheduled boat trips, the world's largest community of frigate birds lives in a wildlife sanctuary of some 5,000 of their kind (also known as man o' war birds for their habit of raiding other birds' catch). They share the island with 170 other bird species, making Barbuda a paradise for bird watchers, photographers and artists.

    Antigua (no matter what you hear elsewhere, it's pronounced ann/tee/gah) is an island of beaches and churches, of goats and uniforms.

    It boasts 365 beaches, one for each day of the year, many of them with satin-like sand. And, there is at least a rudimentary church serving every conceivable religion and sect: United Methodist, Roman Catholic, Moravian, Anglican, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Baptist, Wesleyan, Mennonite ...

    Thousands of goats roam freely through fields and along roads, turned loose by their owners each morning to graze and indoctrinated so well they can sort themselves out and find their way back to their respective homes at sundown. And flocks of school children, from those in elementary grades through the older kids at little Antigua State College, wear crisp school uniforms that smooth out their class and financial differences.

    If you're into strenuous vacation activities, Antigua offers plenty of swimming, boating, diving and fishing. If you're staying at one of the lush private resorts that provide pools, tennis courts, casinos and other activity venues for their guests, so much the better.

    Organized events are a major draw, too, no matter where you're lodging. The annual Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta in late April, for example, is a showcase for large, classic wooden sailing ships that dominated the Caribbean in times past, tacking on the prevailing trade winds as they journeyed along the routes of commerce from island to island.

    That is followed in late April and early May by the annual Antigua Sailing Week that draws regal sailing ships and sleek-hulled sloops from throughout the world for shows and races.

    In late July and early August, the revels of Antigua Carnival take over, and the usually laid-back pace of life gets turned up in the form of parties, festivals and concerts.

    Historic sites are foolers, usually modest -- which means not turned into commercial gimmicks. Betty's Hope, for example, is a fully restored sugar mill that lets visitors know what life was like at Sir Christopher Codrington's sugar plantation that was the island's first back in the 1600s. At one time the island was punctuated by close to 200 cane-processing windmills. Today there still are nearly 100, most now used as houses, shops and restaurants.

    The food, even in the little hamlets and villages that dot the rolling hills and deep valleys of this coral island, tends toward the pan-Caribbean sort … lots of seafood and chicken, a few goat dishes, plenty of stews and casseroles that appeal to British appetities. However, it's not impossible to find some elements of ancient vegetarian food that survived from the time of the island's Arawak settlements in the early A.D. years. The argicultural-minded Arawaks had succeeded the Siboney ("stone people") of the B.C. years, and in turn were succeeded by the aggressive Caribs whose influence is evident throughout the Caribbean.

    In lieu of an indigenous liquor (Puerto Rico has its rum, Sant Maarten its guavaberry liquor, etc.), the Antigua Brewery Ltd. turns out a fine beer called Wadadli, evocative of Heineken's best.

    If the pace seems a bit much, stick around for the National Warri Festival each October and November. It celebrates a board game brought here along with the men and women imported from West Africa to work on the Caribbean sugar plantations of the 19th century. Think watching a backgammon tournament.

    With a cold Wadadli in hand.


    • Island Hopping Guide
    • Welcome to Antigua & Barbuda
    • Antigua News & Weather
    • Antigua Sun newspaper
    • Antigua Observer newspaper

    English Harbour viewed from Shirley Heights

    Gulf Coast Florida: More Than Rodents and Rockets

    William M. Dowd photo

    TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- See DisneyWorld, Epcot and environs if you plan to visit Florida. After all, if you believe the advertising hype they're the only things to see in Florida.

    OK, they advertise the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area, too. But for now, let's look across the state at the Gulf Coast -- that stretch of sun-kissed land that lies along the west coast of the Florida peninsula. This is Florida, beyond Disney World and Cape Canaveral -- beyond rodents and rockets.

    Once you get below the Panhandle -- the  location of the state capital of Tallahassee -- you hit a string of charming waterfront communities such as Tarpon Springs (a center for sponge fishing and Greek culture), Clearwater (and its beachfront shops and restaurants on Clearwater Beach),  St. Petersburg, Ft. Myers and Naples.

    The Tampa Bay area is the largest Gulf Coast metropolis. The cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa, the latter slightly inland, flank the bay. It's a boom area that offers business and residences ranging from the cosmopolitan to the casual. Florid Old Florida architecture abounds, but there are more modern looks as well, such as The Pier off St. Petersburg, a multi-storied inverted pyramid that house shops, nightspots and an aquarium. It's connected to the mainland by its own causeway (seen above).

    Colleges and universities abound, along with a raft of museum such as the fabulous Salvador Dali Museum in St. Pete and a 'living museum" such as Ybor City, the onetime cigar-making town that now is a rejuvenated tourist attraction in Tampa itself. Make a point of visiting there for the nightlife, as well as the docent-guided tours and the Cuban sandwiches that take crusty bread and cold cuts to a new level.

    Pro sports are big in the area, from the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers to hockey to baseball, as well as water sports, fishing, beachcombing, swimming and boating.

    An hour's drive south is Sarasota, winter home to circus stars and minor league baseball, with a refurbished downtown that is worth spending time traversing on foot.

    Another hour south you hit the Ft. Myers area, gateway to Sanibel and Captiva islands and such scenic wonders as the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.

    In Ft. Myers itself, one of the major attractions is Thomas Edison's winter home, complete with laboratory, home and museum right on the main McGregor Boulevard thoroughfare. And make a point of having dinner at one of the restaurants along the Caloosahatchie River where sunsets are breathtaking.

    One more hour and you're in Naples, second fastest growing metro area in the nation (Las vegas is No. 1). Upscale housing, dining, hotels and shops are the norm there.

    Beyond this, you're in 'gator country. You can head easterly toward Daytona, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, or even further south to the Keys. But, literally millions of people don't feel the need to keep going. They make the meandering Gulf Coast of Florida their home or destination.


    • Tampa Bay Area Start Page
    • Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau
    • Tampa Cam (updated every 5 mins.)
    • Florida Info
    • Gulf Coast fishing guide
    • Tarpon Springs
    • Clearwater/Clearwater Beach
    • Sarasota
    • Fort Myers/Cape Coral
    • Sanibel & Captiva islands


    Times Are Tough In Bunker Hill

    BUNKER HILL, W. VA -- Here along the western edge of the Shenandoah Valley, a lengthy drought and an infestation of that insect horde known as the 17- year locusts have conspired to cut into the pocketbook.

    The backyard garden patches that usually help sustain many families living on the edge of a shaky economy and help bring in a few extra dollars from makeshift roadside produce stands have been alternately baked and defoliated. So the resilient folks of the West Virginia panhandle have turned to other ways of making money.

    The resurgence in domestic tourism that began when foreign terrorists knocked down the Twin Towers in New York has helped. Along U.S. Route 11 -- a road that runs from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico and was part of Main Street U.S.A. before the interstate highway system was born -- the signs of transient dollars abound.

    Heading northeast up through Front Royal, Middletown and Winchester, Va., then across the state line to this hamlet and neighboring Darksey, Leetown and Inwood, the signs of ingenuity are everywhere -- stands peddling fireworks just before you cross from Virginia, where they're legal, into West Virginia, where they're not; craft shops; RV shops; fast-food stands; Civil War souvenir stands -- and the everpresent yard sales.

    To someone from the Northeast interested in "antiques" and odd, old pieces of furnishings, those yard sales look like the promised land. Back home, it long ago became impossible to find a bargain, what with everyone jacking prices up unmercifully to take advantage of the New York City types who haunt the upstate Albany/Saratoga area and New England and think the inflated prices charged for such quaint country items are a steal.

    Pulling the car off the road behind a pickup truck so the New York license plate didn't tip off the amateur vendors, we stopped at one likely looking sale. A grouping of wooden furniture and a stack of dishes had caught our collective eye.

    One piece in particular triggered a flood of memories. It was a smoking stand, the sort many of us had in our homes 30 years or more ago -- a boxy stand on four slim legs, with brass-plated ashtray, pipe- and match-holders on top, and a drawer that opened to provide space for pipe tobacco and other smoking equipment.

    Pieces that remain in good condition are hard to find. We had seen some in our home area -- the kind cranked out at one time in the Bennington, Vt., area, and throughout New York's Hudson Valley where I live, but they were overpriced at $40 or so. This one looked like a bargain.

    "I sure hate to part with it," the woman said. "It belonged to my granddaddy, and he used it right up to the day he died in our house. But times are tough, and we just had to sell our house and move into a trailer behind my uncle's place, so a lot of our stuff has gotta go."

    We expressed appropriate sympathy, then asked how much for the stand.

    "Well, it's hard to put a price on something like that. It's been around my whole life. Probably made down here in the Valley. Most of the good ones were. But I guess I could let it go for $35."

    Tempting, but not good enough.

    "Well, it is gettin' late, and maybe nobody else'll come by today that wants it. How about $25?"
    Still tempting, but still not good enough. How about $15?

    "You're tough, but we need the money, so ... well, OK. But take good care of it. It was my granddaddy's."

    Three 5's and a smoking stand changed hands.

    We looked at the stack of dishes that would have rounded out a collection of mismatched but unusual pieces we had for casual use at home. The prices were low and the hard-to-find dishes were selling fast. This would be a one-time-only chance.

    The problem: the trunk of the car was so packed with vacation-travel paraphernalia that space was at a premium. It was the stand or the dishes. My computer-like logic analyzed the problem: a Shenandoah Valley smoking stand was worth $75 to $100 compared to the $40 value of one made up north near home. I'd paid $15. The smoking stand won the last spot in the trunk.

    Days later, back home in Upstate New York, I was cleaning up the stand and reveling in my good fortune. Missing out on the dishes was a disappointment, but a genuine Shenandoah Valley smoking stand was great consolation. Just one more bit of grime to rub off the bottom ... What was this? A sticker that read: "A Cushman Furniture product, N. Bennington, Vt." -- a 20-minute drive from my house.

    Estimated value: $15-$25 dollars.

    Maybe the woman did spot the New York license plate after all.

    • Yard Sale Queen
    • Yard Saling
    • 15 tips for a successful yard sale


    Vacation Planning Offices, By State

    Dial 1-800 before any phone number unless otherwise an area code precedes it.


    (907) 465-2010







    District of Columbia
    (202) 789-7000

    (904) 487-1462




















    New Hampshire

    New Jersey

    New Mexico

    New York

    North Carolina

    North Dakota





    Rhode Island

    South Carolina

    South Dakota







    West Virginia




    Tales From the Travel Agents

    Travel agents get some very strange requests. Here is a compilation of them that is making the Internet rounds lately.

    We can't personally vouch for their authenticity, but the agents who contributed them do. Read and smile, or weep:

    • I had someone ask for an aisle seat so her hair wouldn't get messed up from being near the window.

    • A client called in inquiring about a package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked, "Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii?"

    • I got a call from a woman who said she wanted to go to Capetown. I started to explain the length of the flight and the passport information when she interrupted me with, "I'm not trying to make you look stupid, but Capetown is in Massachusetts." Without trying to make her look like the stupid one, I calmly explained, "Cape Cod is in Massachusetts. Capetown is in South Africa." Her response: Click.

    • A man called, furious about a Florida package we did. I asked what was wrong with the vacation in Orlando. He said he was expecting an ocean-view room. I tried to explain that is not possible because Orlando is in the middle of the state. He replied, "Don't lie to me. I looked on the map and Florida is a very thin state."

    • I got a call from a man who asked, "Is it possible to see England from Canada?" I said, "No." He said, "But, they look so close on the map."

    • A nice lady just called. She needed to know how it was possible that her flight from Detroit left at 8:20a.m. and got into Chicago at 8:33 a.m. I tried to explain that Michigan was an hour ahead of Illinois, but she could not understand the concept of time zones. Finally, I told her the plane went very fast. She bought that.

    • A woman called and asked, "Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know whose luggage belongs to who?" I said, "No, why do you ask?" She replied, "Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said FAT, and I'm overweight. Is there any connection?" After putting her on hold for a minute while I looked into it (I actually was laughing) I came back and explained that the city code for Fresno, CA, is FAT, and that the airline was just putting a destination tag on her luggage.

    • I just got off the phone with a man who asked, "How do I know which plane to get on?" I asked him what exactly he meant, which he replied, "I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these darn planes have numbers on them."

    • A businessman called and had a question about the documents he needed to fly to China. After a lengthy discussion about passports, I reminded him he needed a visa. "Oh, no I don't. I've been to China many times and never had to have one of those." I double-checked and sure enough, his stay required a visa. When I told him this he said, "Look, I've been to China four times and every time they have accepted my American Express."

    Do you have any offbeat travel tales to share? Feel free to e-mail them to Taste for Travel.


    Erlowest brings back Adirondack splendor

    LAKE GEORGE, NY -- The topography around Lake George masks as much as it reveals.

    Once past the fetching garishness of Lake George Village heading toward Bolton Landing on Route 9N -- the winding, tree-lined road locally known as Lake Shore Drive, you'll find a hodgepodge of log cabin guest colonies, Adirondack-style lodges and private homes existing cheek-by-jowl.

    They are the obvious. But down the hills that slope to the exquisite lake are several former mansions converted over the years to guest lodging. As a group they once were referred to as Millionaire's Row, the dominant structures on the shores of Lake George.

    Take the Queen Anne-style stone structure built in 1898 for Brooklyn lawyer Edward Morse Shepard as a lakeside vacation retreat. Once patrons navigate down a steep, winding drive, the formerly hidden three-story edifice looms into view.

    This is the Inn at Erlowest.

    It has gone by various names bestowed by various owners -- Erlowest, Leffingwell Palace, Sunset Castle and back to Erlowest when it came under the ownership of David and Cheryl Kenny last summer.

    There are many gems here, from rolling lawns to a lakeview veranda to a library-style bar and four dining rooms.

    Those rooms are studies in elegance -- coffered ceilings, rich draperies, small avian sculptures on the casement window sills and sparkling Spiegelau glassware on the tables.

    But it is what goes on in the kitchen under chef Matthew Secich that makes Erlowest a wonder.

    Secich is an eclectic Ohioan whose background includes time as a college lacrosse player and a U.S. Army cavalry scout as well as a student and a chef at various stops in the United States, France and England. Don't try to pigeonhole his style. He works on whim and the availability of local food supplies.

    "In the kitchen,'' he says, "we use no recipes. I draw a picture and we create a new dish.''

    There are several ways of seeing those creations: two separate seven-course tasting menus ($79 per person) and an a la carte list, all of which change daily, or a special session in The Chef's Table Room adjacent to the kitchen where Secich gives vent to his creative flow through 8 to 12 courses ($129 per person).

    Constant Companion and I had selected the vegetable tasting menu (the a la carte menu and the grand tasting include meat and fish items), with a $55 wine pairing option.

    Erlowest's 264-label wine list contains a wide selection that runs the gamut in price and vintage from a 1961 Chateau Margaux ($2,770) to a 2002 Houchart Cotes de Provence ($20). Between those extremes are nearly 100 labels priced below $100.

    Even though tastings allow for only small amounts of wine, in this case the add-on is worth the experience. Chef Secich and his staff have done an exemplary job in marrying their produce with excellent vintages.

    After an amuse bouche of julienned Gorgonzola and apple and diced shallot, we were on to the seven tiny tastings, each exquisitely arranged on different shaped platters and serving pieces, each with a taste of its own wine.

    A velvety chilled pea soup was dotted with a small scoop of chocolate mint ice cream -- not the ice cream store flavoring, but the chocolate mint herb -- and paired with a cleansing, nonvintage Gaston-Chiquet brut champagne. Vegetables a la Provencal avoided the cliche tomato-garlic=oregano combination, thanks to the inclusion of licorice-like fennel and a taste of a sweet 2003 Domaine Pastou Sancerre from France's Loire Valley. Our third course was an elegant arrangement of miniscule wild strawberries and reed-slender wild asparagus shoots with a balsamic drizzle, abetted by a crisp 2003 Olivier Leflaive St. Aubin 1er Cru white Burgundy.

    The second portion of the meal was heartier, with rich, full-bodied wines that would go just as well with meat dishes. A quartet of fingerling potatoes was roasted in salt, split and stuffed with Reblochon -- a French cheese made from whole, unpasteurized milk -- then dabbed with wilted spinach. It was paired with a 2000 La Braccesca Montepulciano, carrying red fruit and licorice notes. Then came a trio of savory mushroom mixes that obviated any need for meat, the tender chanterelles, trumpet royals and mousserons paired with an inky-red Mas de Gourgonnier Reserve Les Baux de Provence, powerful with black cherry notes.

    A cleansing finish came from two elements: a salad of spring baby lettuces with Blue Ledge chevre and a vaguely, but pleasingly, astringent 2001 Domaine Jean-Luc Dubois Clos Margot white Burgundy; then, a strawberry soup dotted with a touch of fiddlehead fern ice cream and joined by a 2003 La Spinetta Moscato d'Asti, a low-alcohol little bubbly that completed the beverage circle.

    Secich is a clever kitchen artist with a young staff who may not know it, but they are getting the training of a lifetime.
    • Lake George views
    • Lake George information
    • Lake George Opera
    • Lake George Village
    • Lake George Winter Carnival
    • Lake George fishing
    • Americade motorcycle event
    • Adirondack Chamber of Commerce


    An Air of Humor In Plane Sight

    Those faceless folks who keep commercial and military planes aloft are more than just guys with tools. They also have a sense of humor that shows up in their service logs.

    Here is a sampling that is making the rounds on the Internet these days. "p" stands for the problem logged by the pilot. "S" stands for the service tech's response,

    P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
    S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

    P: Test flight OK, except autoland very rough.
    S: Autoland not installed on this aircraft.

    P: Something loose in cockpit.
    S: Something tightened in cockpit.

    P: Dead bugs on windshield.
    S: Live bugs on back-order.

    P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 fpm descent.
    S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

    P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
    S: Evidence removed.

    P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
    S: DME volume set to more believable level.

    P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
    S: That's what they're there for.

    P: IFF inoperative.
    S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

    P: Suspected crack in windshield.
    S: Suspect you're right.

    P: Number 3 engine missing.
    S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

    P: Aircraft handles funny.
    S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

    P: Target radar hums.
    S: Reprogrammed target radar with words.

    P: Mouse in cockpit.
    S: Cat installed.

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