Salum, Dallas, 5/16/20 and 6/6/20

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Chef Abraham Salum opened Salum in 2005 which could seat 84 people pre-Covid 19.  It has re-opened after sustaining itself with take out orders.   I’d been there a number of times for both dinners and lunches and honestly don’t know why I never visited with Frankie.  But it was well worth going back to and the food and service are especially appreciated now.  The nice sized white cloth covered tables are well spaced and waitstaff wear masks and gloves.  The kitchen area is shielded with a curtain now as it also serves as a staging area for take out orders.  The guests are a varied crowd but most are attired with a dressy casual look.  Windows to the street are covered with a darkening shade and the light fixtures that hang from the ceiling are covered with a gauzy fabric.  It all yields a lower lighting level but not so that you can’t see your food.  Also the extra spacing of patrons eliminated one of my objections from the past, that being noise when the room was full.  Music plays faintly in the background.  The restaurant has a full bar and so offers a specialty cocktail menu as well as a nice sized wine list.  There is no tasting menu but the menu does change regularly, with the “Build your own Burger” always on the menu, both lunch and dinner.  Service was attentive and friendly and the chef who was in the kitchen greeted all his guests.  There is a dedicated parking lot in front. Continue reading

Desert Racer, Dallas, 5/31/20

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Nick Badovinus opened Desert Racer in 2019.   The Covid 19 outbreak temporarily closed the place and when it recently re-opened several major changes happened.  A concrete wall surrounds the small restaurant and large 8,000 sq. ft. patio.  Wall signs point to the original entrance but now the exit and entrance are through the same break in the wall, under the motorcycle.  Inside is a long bar and tables with garage door type windows that roll up to let the outside in.  The menu is currently called Vantina and based on a pop-up food truck, which is now parked in the patio but the food comes from the kitchen.  That means the menu is much smaller than when the place first opened but fits the setting. (The only dessert offered  was soft serve ice cream).   Currently they have just 4 “indoor” tables and two groupings of 2 seats at the bar were open.  The large patio had various means of shade and fans but some did receive full sun.  Lots of plants are inside and out and outside the polished wood tables are mostly on artificial grass.  Inside the same tables are on rugs on a concrete floor.  There is lots of parking in a dedicated lot and the patio is smoke free.  Servers were friendly, efficient and wore masks. Continue reading

Coque (update), Madrid, 3/7/20

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We visited Coque a little over 3 years ago and 2 years and 7 months ago they moved to a new location.  It still has a similar format to the older place in that you move to different locations in the building to eat and drink various offerings.  This 2 star Michelin restaurant serves everyone the same tasting menu.  It is a modern, stylish set up but it does not allow you to make personal connections with staff or other diners.  There are lots of bites on the menu but it is not a stuffing meal, despite that.  I also found the timing to be off with some rooms lingering too long while others were sped through.  They offer drink pairings for purchase and then some courses come with a beverage.  We selected our own wine which you do while in the large wine room.  They have a large list but not much help in selection.  It would have been nice to have the list while in the bar area where we spent a good amount of time with just one bite and  a cocktail.  In this new location they have changed the dining room chairs I objected to in the original place, which is a huge plus in my opinion.  One of the most memorable parts of the place is it’s amazing collection of plates and serving dishes. Continue reading

Las Reses, Madrid, 3/7/20

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Las Reses opened in 1964 and is set below street level.  It is spread over a couple rooms and bright with lots of red walls covered with decorations.  The floors are wood and no music is in the background.  The tables have adequate spacing and are set with white clothes which cover the floor length beige ones and large white napkins.  The staff were friendly but spoke limited English.   It is mostly a restaurant dedicated to beef steaks for which they have carts to come around to the table and show you the cuts of meat.  It is all a la carte and some of the cuts are sold by the kilo.  There were several larger parties there and it looked like they took their remainder of the meat back to reheat it after the initial serving.  Continue reading

Café Santiago, Porto, 3/6/20

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Café Santiago was a new looking and bright place, but has been in business since 1959 .  Windows to the street were on one end of the long place that reached through to the next block where there was another entrance.  A wood floor and tile walls are the room that housed the ‘lower level’ with closely spaced veneer topped tables.  Photos are on the walls.  Up a few stairs was the kitchen and a bar along with more tables.  It had a large menu but they are known for their Francesinhas – sandwich original to Porto.  It is commonly made with ham, fresh sausage and roast meat and then covered with melted cheese and maybe an egg and served with french fries. The sandwich comes in many variations and that seemed to be what most came for.  There were a combination of obvious tourists as well as some regular locals, who were recognized by the staff.   Continue reading

Manteigueira – Fábrica De Pastéis De Nata, Porto, 3/6/20

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Manteigueira – Fábrica De Pastéis De Nata is another place where the Portuguese custard tarts are made on site so you can get them when they are still warm.  It is a bright and very new looking place with a coffee bar where they have lots of flavoring options.  Several large windows along the side wall as well as in the front give it a very open feel.  When you walk in, the large kitchen is on your left with pastel de nata in the counter and you can watch them being made.  They sell coffee or port to go with them. To go containers are available as well as boxes of coffee pods.  There are tables where you can sit and be waited on or you can stand at the counter and eat your tart.  We chose the counter and the fellow who waited on us said port was definitely the drink of choice to go with the tarts.  I’m not sure I agree.  While the port was just fine and went well, I think coffee is just as good an accompaniment.  These tarts had a wonderful buttery, crisp and flakey crust and the tart custard had a hint of cinnamon.  These were very good renditions but overall I found the place too sterile.  However, these were my second favorite tarts. Continue reading

Nata Lisboa, Porto, 3/6/20

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Nata Lisboa was the third of the places we found where you could get freshly made, warm Pastel Nata (Portuguese custard tart).  It was one of several restaurants with the same name.  This one had a small interior with only table seating and a good sized patio with tables out front.  While the tarts here could be had warm they were a small part of the large menu.  The staff was friendly but the ambiance was off to me – it felt too much like a chain restaurant.  Even though the tart was served warm there was no evidence of the tarts being made on site.  The tart’s crust did not taste as buttery as the others we tried but the custard had a good consistency.  These were my least favorite rendition and one I wouldn’t go back to. Continue reading

Fábrica Da Nata, Porto, 3/6/20

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Fábrica Da Nata is mostly a bakery where you can get fresh Pasteis De Nata or hot Portuguese custard tarts, coffee and other bakery items.  It has a few marble wall counters/tables where you can stand and eat and plenty of to-go containers.  The floor is tile and the walls have a tile scene opposite the counter where over which they post the menu and price options.  They also sold sandwiches and salads in a counter out front but this place is all about the custard tarts.  You enter by the person who is making the next batch of pies and then there is a long counter to order at.  They will place your order on a tray and the counter/tables had containers of sugar and cinnamon if you wanted to add it to anything.  But for me the pies were just the bill with a little cup of espresso.  If you’ve never had them they look a little burnt on the top but trust me there is no taste of burned things – it is the result of proper cooking and the flavor is excellent.  These tarts had a nice flakey buttery crust and a looser custard filling than others.  It was a perfect blend of goodness.  The filling was enough but not so it spurted out or didn’t fill the crust.  The coffee was nice and these were my favorite of all the tarts we sampled. Continue reading

O Paparico Restaurante, Porto, 3/5/20

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O Paparico can seat about 36 people in a couple rooms and has been open for 11 years.  The large white cloth covered tables have an ecru floor drape and are nicely spread apart and accompanied by small service tables.  After you knock on the door, the Butler lets you in and there is a small comfortable entry room with a bar counter and leather furniture for you to wait for your table.  Lights are lowered and the low wood ceiling works well with the stone walls and tile floor.  Soft music plays in the background and lots of candles and photos on the walls add to the cozy atmosphere.  Noise is not an issue for conversations.  The menu is presented in an envelope you must open to study the 3 tasting menu choices.  All are surprise menus so you chose between vegetarian, Portuguese or regional themes and they also offer optional wine pairings and a cheese course supplement.  All the menus change every couple weeks.  Originally they offered a la carte options but abandoned that choice several years ago. Pacing and portion control were both good and the staff spoke excellent English. Continue reading

Antiqvvm, Porto, 3/5/20

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Antiqvvm was located on the basement level of a large building that housed a museum on the floors above.  There was a terrace off the back that had amazing views of the water and city but weather was not with us that day however the table we had was next to floor to ceiling windows which felt about the same.  The white cloth covered tables were well spaced and music was in the background.  The room we sat in looked like it was an enclosed porch but now had carpets on the concrete floor however the stone details of the walls and windows were still intact.  A timber ceiling had been painted over and some the the seating was in a bench format.  They had been open for 5 years last October and received their one Michelin star in the first year they were open.  They offered 3 tastings, one of which was vegetarian and one was entirely seafood.  They also had an a la carte menu and a special lunch menu of 3 or 4 courses (for 3 you chose between fish or meat and with 4 you get both).  They had a number of wines by the glass and we ordered some of them to go with the lunch menu.  Service was efficient, super friendly and our server spoke great English. Continue reading

Restaurante Pedro Lemos, Porto, 3/4/20

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Pedro Lemos, located on a really narrow little street, opened in 2009.  The downstairs level had wine storage, the bathroom and a large dining table for big groups.  In 2015 they did a major renovation and made the upstairs a room with more widely spaced  tables and took out a bar area and fireplace to make this additional space between tables.  The nice sized tables were set with white clothes, napkins, purse stools and armless padded chairs.  There were windows to the outside on 2 walls and a beautiful old wood floor.  A decoration of swallows crossed the ceiling and on to the upper part of the dark walls.  Music was in the background and the lighting was lowered.  They offered two tasting menus of 8 or 10 courses and optional wine pairings.  We chose the 10 course tasting.  Portions were on the large side and pacing was good.  The staff were quite friendly and spoke great English.  It has one Michelin star. Continue reading

Cafeína, Porto, 3/4/20

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Cafeína was a medium sized place in the corner of a building and has been in business for 24 years.  Small, closely spaced tables were set with white clothes and napkins and padded chairs.  Music played in the background, the floor was concrete with a rug in the center of the room, windows to the outside were on several walls, steel beams were structural yet decorative parts of the dining room and a bar counter is at the entry with dining rooms on both sides.  Noise  was not a problem even when the room was full.  The place had a relaxed atmosphere with guests enjoying themselves and many appearing to be ‘regulars.’  The menu was a la carte but at lunch they did have a special offered that was 3 course with choices for each course.  Specials on wine were also available for lunch.  The lunch special menu was not translated but our server was happy to help with any terms we didn’t know.  Service was efficient, friendly and helpful.  The lunch menu really appealed and so we chose that option and some of their wines by the glass.   The pours by the glass were fairly generous. Continue reading

Irene’s, New Orleans, 2/22/20

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Irene’s opened in 1993 and gradually expanded to 3 rooms over time.  Owner Irene DiPietro from Noto, Sicily is still active with the place but now her son Nicholas Scalco does most of the cooking.  In 2018 it moved to a new, much larger location on Bienville because of a problem with the lease on the original location.  It had been a hard table to get because of its size but delicious food made you try.  Going now to this location was a different feel.  There are about 5 eating areas, depending if you call the large bar area one.  Music is in the background, mostly old rock and despite the small rooms the noise level can be loud.  The small tables are set with white clothes and napkins and the lighting is lowered.    Walls, some of which are red, have lots of decorative items.  Our room had red paint on the top and wood below, an open beam ceiling, a fireplace and tile floor.  The service was very friendly but it was a little slow in getting our meal started and then moved quite rapidly, bringing the main plates out before appetizers were finished.  It didn’t lend itself to a relaxed fine dining feel.  The menu had a special entree and appetizer as well as a changing soup.  All is a la carte. Continue reading

Brennan’s (update), New Orleans, 2/22/20

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We had lunch at Brennan’s in Dec. 2016 in their garden room but this time we were in one of the front dining rooms for brunch.   It feels more formal in this room where the walls are decorated with oyster plates and audubon prints.  The cloth covered tables are set fairly close and some of the seating is banquette style.  It is a huge place and located across from the police station in the French Quarter.  Service was friendly but not particularly efficient.  The menu  is a la carte but they do offer a 2 course special with 2 choices for each of the courses.  We chose that option with a couple side dishes for our meal.  For drinks they had a special drink of the day that was strawberries, sparkler and something as well as several wines by the glass and half bottles.  They also had some good prices on what they called “breakfast bubbles” and we chose a bottle of that to go with out meal.

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Sylvain, New Orleans, 2/21/20

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Sylvain is named after the first opera done in New Orleans which was a raucous comedy and they wanted to emulate that in their atmosphere.  Located just off Jackson Square it is  in a late 1700’s carriage house in the French Quarter.  It has one long dining room that ends in windows to the street out front and some patio seating in the back.  Inside there is a long bar where guests can eat and/or drink.  Small bare wood tables are set with a variety of chairs and the distressed concrete walls are decorated with art.  The lighting is lowered, there is music in the background and the floor is very old wood.  They specialize in southern style food and lots of cocktails.  It was a lively crowd but service was a bit slow.  We started with Sazeracs which were well made but took a while to get to the table.  In fact they didn’t get to the table before we started to order including wine and almost cancelled their order because the timing was off for the meal but they did arrive and everything moved forward at a leisurely pace. Continue reading

Doris Metropolitan, New Orleans, 2/20/20

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Doris Metropolitan has two other locations, Houston and Costa Rica, besides this location in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  The climate controlled meat aging room can be seen from the street through some windows.  It also is adjacent to the reception area that is on the end of the room which has the kitchen on the other end.  In between is a curved bar that is as much about eating as drinking.  At the front of the kitchen is a counter with cuts of meat for sale by the pound.  Lights are on but not overly so and music plays in the background.  The fairly large polished wood  tables are closely spaced and set with striped cloth napkins and a large paper napkin.  The server said the paper napkin was so your flatware would never have to be on the bare table.  Some of the tables use bench seating and others are set with armless chairs.  Wine bottles and art cover the walls, the floor is concrete, there is exposed ductwork all of which does not provide much sound dampening.  Service was friendly and helpful in making choices.  A starter menu included a choice of caviar and champagne.  The regular menu has a number of starters but for main dishes there were lamb and fish options but otherwise everything was cuts of beef.  They do offer A-5 Japanese Wagyu as well as there regular steak options aged either 21 or 31 days.  They also had some nightly specials. Continue reading

Taberna Malvasía, Granada, 1/25/20

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Taberna Malvasía is a small place with a “L” shaped bar counter and a couple of small high top tables and wall counters.   Opening in September 2016, it is a very stylish place with sound board on the ceiling mounted in various shapes, a distressed wood floor, some stone walls and one wall featuring bottles of wine.  Beer is on tap but this seemed to cater much more to wine drinkers.  The kitchen was tiny but turned out some really fine food.  We enjoyed several free tapas with our glasses of wine but also bought a couple plates that sounded too good to pass up and I’m really glad we did.  Everything was really well done and the atmosphere is relaxing and sophisticated.  The owner, Miguel Vázquez,  was at the bar and spoke great English.  He was super friendly and glad to talk about the qualities of the different wines he had by the glass. Continue reading

Rosario Varela, Granada, 1/25/20

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Rosario Varela was a large tapa bar.  There were some outdoor tables as well as a ton of spaces inside to enjoy drink and food.  There were a few seats at the long bar but lots of little alcoves and assorted tables to accommodate people.  The walls were covered with decorations of interest and the staff was pretty friendly.  We got there when they first opened and so weren’t too busy yet, but our destination around the corner wasn’t open yet.  We didn’t stay long but it was a comfortable place to enjoy a glass and a snack.  It seemed to cater mostly to a younger  crowd and it was packed when we walked back by later.  With our glass of wine they served a little chicken salad sandwich on a soft roll with some lettuce as a garnish.  It was tasty and well seasoned. Continue reading

Restaurante La Farala, Granada, 1/24/20

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interior

Restaurante La Farala is on the second story of a building that has a Flamenco club on the first floor.   They have been open one and a half years.  Music is in the background and the lighting has a yellow tint to it.  The polished bare wood tables are set with a gray or black stone placemats and a contrasting white or black napkin. Bench seats are along the walls for some of the closely set tables and others are free standing with just chairs.  Several large square columns divide the room and one wall had some heavily draped windows overlooking the street.  The floor is a nice wood plank and the ceiling had some recessed portions.  The show downstairs was over so there was no noise from there but seating is available when the shows are on and in that case there is another way to enter the restaurant.  The menu offers a la carte items and 3 tastings of different sizes.  Optional wine pairings are available.  We ordered the middle size menu and our own wine.  The waiter said the longer menu would take over 3 hours and you should be really hungry with it. Continue reading

Bar Los Diamantes, Granada, 1/24/20

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This Bar Los Diamantes was just as busy as the other we visited but had a different vibe.  The people were packed around the bar and at the shelves across from there.  Near the entrance were a couple high top tables and the people at the bar would just pass the drinks and food over to the guests that were further than the arm at the bar could reach.  It was a symphony of service from the bartenders who kept the small beer glasses floating in an ice water bath and pulled them from there to fill your beer from the tap.  They were filling and passing as fast as they could move.  It was lively and friendly and really fun.  Also the tapas were all really good.  This place like the other Diamantes, specializes in seafood and it was all remarkably fresh and perfectly cooked.   Continue reading

Bodegas Castañeda, Granada, 1/24/20

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Bodegas Castañeda is an old school tapa bar that serves mostly Manzanilla sherry or Spanish vermouth.  Upon arrival you immediately notice the large barrels stacked behind the bar that have taps to partake of their fortified wines.  We sampled from one of casks and it came served on ice.  The  long place is dominated by a matching wood bar set with stools.  There are a couple small tables next to the windows and lots of standing room at the bar and around the room.  The other end of the bar features a number of hanging hams.  It was a less frantic atmosphere with people drinking, eating and visiting with one another.   With our glass came a free tapa of Spanish rice and meat  mixed with vegetables.  It was topped with a slice of light but crusty bread.  The well cooked risotto style rice dish was nicely seasoned and studded with small bits of meat and well cooked vegetables melded into the mix.  It was a  fun stop. Continue reading

la Fábula, Granada, 1/23/20

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La Fábula was in the Hotel Villa Oniria and has had the same chef for 10 years.  The 10 large tables were widely spaced and draped with white clothes and set with napkins embroidered with the restaurant name.  There were lots of banquet seats opposite the well stuffed armless chairs.  Carpet and sound panels in the ceiling assured that conversations would be private and noise level would remain low, even with music in the background.  Cute decorations were on each table instead of the standard flower or candle.  Lighting was lowered but it was not dark.  Staff were super friendly, spoke great English and could easily talk about each dish.  The menu offered a la carte options as well as a tasting menu that had an optional addition of 4 more courses.  Wine pairings were available for both sizes of tasting.   We chose the smaller tasting and ordered our own wines.  The meal had good pacing and portion control. Continue reading

La Botillería Granada, Granada, 1/23/20

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La Botilleria was a larger place with a long counter, tables and tables outside.  They obviously serve lots of wine as there were corks everywhere – in tables, in old register – but they also served beer and mixed drinks.  It was a much more laid back atmosphere with out the bustle.  We only had one drink here and with it got a chicken on cous cous dish.  It was covered with a lovely curry sauce.  The chicken was not dry and the fish filled with flavor.  A good experience and nice atmosphere.  With the chicken they also brought a dish of olives.

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Bar Los Diamantes II, Granada, 1/23/20

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There are several locations of the Los Diamantes tapas bar, but they all specialize in seafood and have different atmospheres.  This one was a little larger and brightly lit. As with most of the tapa bars in Granada, the place serves you food with each round of drinks.  It had different age groups but most all were drinking beer.  They had the small glasses lined up on the counter filled with ice water.  When you order a beer they pour that ice water in another glass and run the beer into the chilled glass.  The beers come in 2 sizes but you’re best to order small ones because you get the same food whether you have a large or small pour.  This place didn’t have a lot of decorations it mostly was decorated with tons of people at the long counter.  There were a few high top tables in the large part of the room and people gathered about them.  Along the narrow hall to the bathroom were a few wall shelves and people were there too.  The crowd came and went constantly but the pace was always busy and fast. Continue reading

Taberna La Tana, Granada, 1/23/20

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Taberna La Tana is a small wine centered tapa bar.  It serves beer but is obviously about the wine when one wall is covered in bottles.  There were a few seats at the counter and some seats to go with little wall ledges. It was packed and seemed to draw an older crowd.  The staff were friendly and willing to talk about the wines by the glass that they served.  Besides the wine there were lots of things hanging on the walls.  A small service area was behind the bar and the kitchen was off to the side.  As with most tapa bars in Granada, they had a menu but people just wait to see what they get with each round of drinks. Continue reading

damasqueros Restaurante, Granada, Spain, 1/22/20

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Damasqueros has been open about 12 years and serves only a tasting menu.  They do offer wine pairings with 2 levels of choice.  We bought our own bottles of wine but I did see the pours for other tables and they looked fairly slight.  The 10 small tables in the room are draped with a shorter brown cloths over a longer ecru one with beige embossed napkins.  The light leather benches that are set along one wall are interesting in that they are individual for each table instead of being one long bench.  The wood walls go with the partial wood ceiling  and one wall that has wood cubes to store wine.  One wall is glass with a door to the street however that is not how you enter or exit.  The entrance brings you first into a long light bar.  A variety of music played in the background.  Pacing was good and portion control was on the generous side.  Service was friendly and helpful with fairly good English.   Continue reading

Taverna Santa Chiara, Naples, Italy, 12/21/19

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Taverna Santa Chiara is in small rooms on 2 floors. It is set off a pedestrian walkway.  We sat on the bottom floor which had about 5 bare wood tables set with paper placemats and napkins.  Music was in the background and the place had lots of decorations.  The kitchen was right off the dining room but separated by a glass partition.  The menu was translated on itself and a couple of nightly specials were presented by the server.  They sold a house wine that was available in various quantities.  Chef was in the kitchen and came out to talk with friends but did not visit with all guests.   Continue reading

Taverna dell’ Arte, Naples, Italy, 12/20/19

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outside

Taverna dell’ Arte was a small place that opened in 1990.  The small tables were closely positioned and covered in beige cloths on top of black ones and set with beige napkins.  Outside there was a porch area with lots of candles.  Inside the lighting was lowered and music was in the background.  There are several rooms divided by half walls and some full partitions.  There was lots of dark wood and various decorations were on top of things and hung on walls.   The windows were covered.  The staff was friendly and spoke fairly good English, as I heard several tables speaking English.   There was a large menu in both English and Italian and everything was a la carte.  There were a lot of drink options.  The chef came out and visited with some but not all of the tables.  Overall this place was okay, not great. Continue reading

Gran Caffe Gambrinus, Naples, Italy, 12/20/19

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Gran Caffe Gambrinus is a huge ornate place that is mostly a coffee and pastry restaurant.  They do serve heavier food but most people seemed to be enjoying a pastry, coffee and the surroundings.  The place has been around for 150 years and was restored in 1890 when they brought in many of the paintings and statues. It has been visited by many celebrities over the years, like Ernest Hemingway, Sigmund Freud, Angela Merkel, and Luciano Pavarotti.  They are ready for lots of tourists as the menu is in about 6 languages.  The tables are small but there were a lot of them and a good sized bakery at one entrance where you could come and get pastries to go.  We tried coffee and a Sfogliatella riccia which is a shell shaped Neapolitian classic pastry that has tons of layers of buttery pastry.  It was fabulous but looking around the place was just as good.  It is eye candy. Continue reading