Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ravine Bistro- Perfect Niagara Dining

A Vineyard Bistro - with Vibe, Vino and Very Good Food

Any Friday night this summer, you might consider a visit to Ravine Winery - there will be fresh oysters from Rodney's, excellent Ravine Riesling and Chardonnay to wash them down with, and live music by the Waxbills, a local folk/rock group. Sit around the outdoor bar and barbecue, and enjoy a Niagara night in the vineyard.

The Bistro is also a special place for a vineyard lunch. The fare is traditional French bistro with a local accent. For starters, there's a very good pate de campagne served with picked mushrooms frisee and a chunky apple salsa, or the warm salad, with braised ham hock, frisee, caramelized mushrooms, and a maple Dijon vinaigrette.

Mains include an excellent version of the classic steak frites , Croque Madame, and moules served in several different versions.

Dessert the day I was there included a strawberry shortcake with vanilla chantilly, or an assortment of chocolate delights. The same menu is served for lunch and dinner.

The wine list is a wise one, with good selections decided on by the young and perspicacious sommelier, Alex Harber. He's smart enough to include the wines that Ravine does best - the Riesling, the chardonnays and the cab francs, and generous enough to include the best of his wine producing neighbours. So you will find Stratus' 2007 "Tollgate", an excellent value at $9 a glass, as well as the delicious Megalomaniac 2007 Statement Cabernet Sauvignion (($14.50 a glass).

Afterwards browse the little deli in the old summer kitchen for freshly baked breads, baked goods, sauces, and gourmet items.

Then you can linger in the tasting bar to try other wines that the vineyard produces.

The venue is attractive - with a clean 'Christopher Pratt' style minimalism that is both nice to look at and inviting.

I predict that Ravine is going to be a huge success story in the area. So drive out to St. Davids and experience it now, and bring your friends. They'll thank you for introducing them to Ravine.

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Dundas Valley School of Art Auction: Celebrate Art and Support A Great Art School

I took my first class at the DVSA in 1971, from the then director, Mario Polidori, and like countless other students, fell in love with him, and the school.
All these years later, I still take classes there and consider it a familiar and welcoming haven. You'd think, after all the classes I've taken that I'd be Monet by now, but no, I never have learned enough or practiced enough. Besides, the school has become one of my favourite places to be.

This weekend, the school will unveil its newly renovated self - and I think everyone, including past and present students will be thrilled with the results. The spaces are larger, the light has increased, and there will now be air conditioning! The reno has made the necesssary improvements without destroying the charm.

This weekend marks the 41st Art Auction, held annually to raise money for the school. Teachers, students and national and international artists contribute work to the aution.

There's a silent auction and a live auction, with the action starting at 7 pm Saturday, April 30th. Previews started on Thursday and run until 6 pm on Saturday.

Even if you don't scoop up an art bargain, the evening is a blast. It's always crowded, always noisy, and the auctioneer, Nello Romagnoli, is one of the wittiest men I have encountered. The live auction is exciting spectator sport.

Come out and enjoy a great night of art and conversation with like minded art lovers, and support one of the best little art schools in Canada.

When: April 30, 2011, 7 pm.
Where : Dundas Valley School of Art, 21 Ogilvie St., Dundas, 905.628.6357,
Cost: $25 advance, $30 at the door.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Likuliku Lagoon Resort is a Fijian Paradise

Paradise Found. Likuliku Lagoon, A Luxury Resort in the remote Mamanuca Islands of Fiji, Embraces you with Comfort.

It’s difficult to leave. The Fiji Islands themselves are impossibly beautiful, but Likuliku makes leaving this isolated South Sea Island a painful experience. The rest of the world seems almost hostile by comparison. No wonder that honeymooners come here in droves to spend the first few weeks of their lives together in sybaritic paradise. It may never be as good again. Sleeping in one of the over-water bures, the only ones in Fiji, is a little like being rocked to sleep by Neptune.

Likuliku has 45 bures all on the ocean. They are elegant and luxurious without being intimidating. And they have everything you might need for a private and revitalizing retreat.

While there’s no TV, there are dvd’s of romantic Fijian music. And somewhat counter intuitively, there’s wifi in all the bures. But Group Genereal Manager Steve Anstey recognizes that the kind of people who come here need their daily connectivity fix. Everything here is top quality.

Even the chefs, Aussies Brett and Chloe, are good to look at as well as being artists of the plate. Their dishes are fresh and locally inspired, with entrees like tuna and veal carpaccio and reef-caught fish, and desserts like rosewater brulee or passion fruit panne cotta.

Amenities are all Pure Fiji, a premium line of products make in the islands. The spa is small but carefully designed, pretty and tranquil. There are water sports galore, sunset cruises and a full gym.

And there’s Hector.
He’s the rare Crested Fijian Iguana found on the island. He’s one of a highly endangered species, and he seems to know he’s important. He’ll pose, with attitude, for photographs, and there are many guests who track his exploits on face book. He’s probably the most famous iguana in the South Pacific.

Too nice to leave. It isn’t made easier when Sala, General Manager, and a trio of handsome Fijians come to the end of the jetty to sing to you and say goodbye.
Check out Likuliku Lagoon Resort here and head for paradise.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fijian Resort has a Love Affair with Families, - and it's Mutual!

Malolo grabs a mother's heart the second that the boat ties up to the jetty.

To greet you, there is music, strong male voices singing a sweet song of welcome. There are smiles, and a handsome warrior in traditional gear.

But it is the moment when baby is handed up into warm maternal arms, and greeted with a low murmurred lulaby. That's the moment when every mother knows this is going to be a good holiday. And that makes Father happy too.
Malolo is a family centric upscale resort in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji. This gorgeous string of pristine islands has been the backdrop for tropical island escape movies like Blue Lagoon and Castaway, but these green and lush islands with their white beaches are no movie set. They are the real thing.

Malolo consists of individual bures, decorated in fresh contemporary comfort.

The beachside restaurant serves lovely food, with lots of child friendly dishes, including a large selection of pizzas.

The more formal restaurant has two levels, one for families and the upper level for couples.
Programs for children include native crafts, eco-trips to turtle sanctuaries and tons of fun. Babysitting is easily arranged, and Mom and Dad can enjoy a romantic dinner while baby is rocked and seranaded in a hammock nearby.

There's a pool for adults, and one for children, a children's activity centre, water sports, and an adult's only entertainment room with television and internet access. But otherwise, no television, no telephone, no internet, no video games. This is a time for family to completely relax and enjoy a natural and laid-back getaway.

The feel is casual yet elegant, and it is a place that could easily become a family habit.
Check it out here.
Best time to visit? Any time between April and November, but best months are May and October.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam

Cruising in ‘a New York State of Mind’ on the Nieuw Amsterdam

On board the brand new Nieuw Amsterdam, there are New York touches everywhere - the Manhattan skyline reproduced in the chandeliers, on wall murals, even in the main dining salon, The Manhattan Room.
But the atmosphere is definitely not Big Apple - the servers are polite, the passengers are smiling and the temperature is hovering in the high seventies.
As the shiny new ship sails out of Fort Lauderdale, silhouetted against the sunset, I’m happy to be settling in to a seat at a table in this Manhattan right now. I have just watched footage of the other New York digging out from more snow.
I’ll take my New York with a bit of heat, thanks.

Half Moon Cay, The Bahamas

First stop is a relaxing sojourn on the little island that is leased by the cruise ship company. While it is decidedly commercial, the beach is a long white smile. The water is warm and blue, and there’s barbeque. No complaints here.
There’s a new bar that just opened on the island - the Captain Morgan’s On the Rocks Island Bar. It’s shaped like a pirate ship, complete with a Jolly Roger flag flying from the top deck. You can get a nice view of the beach as well as listen to live Caribbean music while you watch the gifted bartenders shake up brilliant combinations of rum, fruit and other potables.

Pinnacle Dining Room

Like many cruise ships, the Nieuw Amsterdam has a prestige dining room for which there is an extra charge -$29 pp in this case. Well worth the investment in my opinion. The room is beautiful, with lots of glass and crystal chandeliers, Bulgari china and a better level of cuisine, in the sense that there are more expensive dishes available. Things like a bone-in rib eye, or lobster mac and cheese are regularly on the menu, there are hand made chocolate truffles with the dessert course and the service is more personal somehow.

The Tamarind Restaurant

The Asian inspired restaurant on board is my favourite so far - elegantly relaxed but very pretty. The servers are all slim as pencils, the plates are gorgeously arranged and the food is light and flavourful. Seafood Pho was a bowl of a delicious broth and generous amounts of scallops, shrimp and lobster. Potstickers came neatly stacked on a rectangular plate, and the Asian hot pot was an explosion of layered flavours, with vegetables and seafood. Dessert was a trio of small scoops of sorbet, one Passion fruit basil, one lychee green tea and one wasabi flavour. Satisfying and delicious without being too rich.