Friday, August 19, 2011

Sometimes Sin Is A Good Thing

I am not a food critic and, generally, this blog is about architecture and travel. However, I decided this week to write a very personal story about three things near and dear to my heart - great food, great wine and my bride, my muse and my BFF - Karen Sue (aka Susie)! First, you must  know that I am married to an amazing cook and, over the years, I have feasted on the bounties prepared by my soul mate since I convinced her to travel through the travails and joys of life thirty eight years ago yesterday. We usually go somewhere for our anniversary, but, this year, we decided there is just too much going on, with our son getting married in May 2012, our daughter finishing her Masters in London and various family trips to the beach, engagement parties, possible trips across the pond and football season right around the corner (A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!). Bottom line is, well, the bottom line. So, in lieu of a quick trip to Seattle or New York to search for the next best bed for a discerning Nomad, we decided to stay close to home and celebrate our nuptials by eating out at one of my hometown's finer restaurants. You know - Puttin' on the Ritz  - Wine, my woman and song, even if only for an evening. After looking at the top eateries in Tallahassee, we decided on Cypress, a small, intimate, award winning restaurant in a rather nondescript, ivy covered building right on US 90/Tennessee Street near downtown. We both had eaten there years ago and remembered it being very, very good. Read on.

I am a bonafide foodie. I love to eat and, to put it bluntly, it shows! That's why, about ten months ago, I embarked on a new plan of eating and exercise that has reduced my carbon footprint by 82.4 pounds as of this morning!  When you are an expert at losing weight, which I am, you develop different mental attitudes about your behavior to deal with the temptations that lurk in every bowl of ice cream, piece of chocolate cake or pot roast. Since I have been on my new eating regimen, I have determined that all those delicious things that make one fat are really just a form of culinary sin and must be avoided at all cost or else I will forever by consigned to fat purgatory, unable to find my true handsome self ever again. I know a shrink (pardon the pun) would probably have a field day with that approach, but, so far it's working.

What, you may ask, does all this talk about diets and exercise have to do with fine dining? Isn't fine dining the antithesis of a lean and mean lifestyle? Well, of course if is. That's the point. Sometimes, you have to go off the reservation. Sometimes you have to listen to that little devil on your shoulder. Sometimes you just can't help it. Sometimes - Sin Is A Good Thing!!! Enough preaching - you get the point.

We arrived at a packed parking lot around six, dropped off the car with the valet and walked into a small, minimalist designed interior space with a snappily dressed greeter ready to usher us into the inner sanctum. After being seated, we studied the menu with the intensity of a couple of astronauts observing a moon rock. After several minutes of reading this artful road map to culinary ecstasy, I looked right at my sweet bride and said, without so much as a hint of guilt - God Forgive Me for What I Am About To Do. Today, it is back to five fruits and vegetables, lots of lettuce and low fat entrees, not to mention the five miles of biking. But last night I enjoyed every single morsel of sinful indulgence laid before me.

As I said, I am not a food critic. However, to paraphrase  - I may not know anything about art, but I know what I like. And few restaurants combine art and food quite like Cypress. From the simple, stained concrete floors to the minimalist interiors of unadorned brick and art adorned walls, Cypress presents a well designed, understated series of spaces perfect for intimate dining. Throw in some elegant lighting, simple white tablecloths on tables meant for sharing and you have the perfect setting for newlyweds to enjoy an elegant Pinot Noir and some of the best food this side of New Orleans.

Fine restaurants are like fine hotels. What separates a merely good restaurant from a truly exceptional one is service. Our server was not just professional and knowledgeable, but knew specific details about every item on the menu. And unlike many five star restaurants, there was not a hint of snobbery or condescension. In addition, other servers were quick to fill water glasses, bring more coffee and remove used dishes, without being asked, creating a seamless dining experience.

On to the food from which no twelve step program can save you. Architects love to say the devil is in the details. If you can read the next few lines without shedding a gastronomic tear, well, trust me, you will cry.

My SaladSeasonal Salad - Watermelon, Arugula, Asher Blue Cheese, Crispy Prosciutto, Candied Pecans, Champagne Vinaigrette
Susie's Salad - Local Tomato & Fried Okra Salad - Goat Cheese and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

My Entree - Florida Shrimp & Grits - Country Ham, Tomatoes, Carrots, Shiitakes,
Orange-Thyme-Bourbon Jus, Anson Mills Heirloom Grits
Susie's Entree - Pan Seared Gulf Flounder - Alligator Harbor Clam Chowder with Bacon, Corn, Leek & Potato

Wine - Willakenzie Pinot Noir 2008 - Light, organic Pinot from Willakenzie Estate Winery,
Yamhill, Oregon

And proof positive that we, indeed, had gone over to the other side:

Our dessert - Southern Pecan Pie Turnover - Crispy Phyllo

Topped off with organic coffee and hot tea.

Go ahead, dry your eyes, pick up the phone and call Cypress for your next clandestine meeting with your special one and the culinary gods. You will thank me later.

One last piece of evidence that Cypress deserves a top spot on the Nomad Architect's List of Well Designed Road Food. During the course of ordering, we mentioned to our server that it was our anniversary. As we were admiring the Southern Pecan Pie Turnover, we noticed that the presentation had an unexpected surprise. There, in elegant chocolate font, were the words "Happy Anniversary".  As we thanked her for this unexpected gesture, it made the enjoyment of one of the most tantalizing finishes to a great meal truly complete.

Travel Quote of The Week  - "Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as necessity" - Voltaire

Video Artist of The Week - Norah Jones - This chanteuse has been featured before with Bonnie Raitt in a previous post. This week, she gets her own spotlight. Next time you want to set the mood for great food, wine and conversation put Norah on the system. The daughter of Ravi Shankar brings a unique blend of jazz-pop vocals and some pretty cool keyboards to tickle your inner self.

From Somewhere Near Tally


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lumani - An eclectic oasis created by an architect and artist in the City of Popes - Magnifique!!

After three glorious days in The City of Light, we boarded the high speed Eurail/LGV train for Avignon in Central Provence. What a way to travel! Gliding on silent air through the idyllic French countryside at a cool cruising speed of 180 miles per hour, makes flying coach seem like the torture that we all know it to be.  I have often said that the Europeans can teach us Americans a thing or two about long distance travel. Their trains are clean, sleek, fast, extremely comfortable and, best of all, cheap! Now if they could only figure out a way to build an LGV from Paris to Atlanta. But I digress.

Known as the City of Popes, with seven Pontiffs having resided there, Avignon was the center of the Papacy from 1305 to 1378. That is important because it defines the essence of this urban center in the southeastern region of France known as Provence. Located in southeastern France on the Mediterranean, Provence is the Tuscany of France. It is full of rolling hills, vineyards and stunning coastlines as it stretches to the Cote d'Azur, knocking on the door of the famed playground of the rich, Monte Carlo. After studying the history, the language and reading A Year In Provence, the witty account of a transplanted Brit, we boarded the train in Paris with great anticipation. As we road our magic carpet toward Avignon, through the countryside and small hamlets spread over this beautiful and rugged land of ancient and modern conflict, it made me appreciate the solidarity of French culture, which is quickly disappearing due to a variety of demographic and societal changes. Memo to le francais - Vous tenir mode de vie en France (Keep your way of life in France).    

After arriving in Avignon, we picked up a rental car, planning to drive to Nice in the south, after our stay in Avignon, we promptly got lost. The good news was that we were able to "get the lay of the land" as we traversed the same spot via many U-turns and detours. One in particular will always be remembered by my BFF/wife as I headed down what I thought was a small road, that was actually a small sidewalk with very high curbs. As luck would have it , the car was just the right size (very small) to fit within the narrow curbs as if it were specifically designed for just that purpose. You know - like Space Mountain  at Disney!! With my aforementioned BFF laughing hysterically, I did eventually extricate the car from the sidewalk. After much map study and stopping for directions numerous times, we finally found the street that Lumani Guesthouse was located on. Actually, it was an alley with parking at a premium. After finally seeing a very small sign next to a large painted wooden gate, we parked, got our luggage and apprehensively rang the bell. Elisabeth, one of the owners, answered and ushered us into an art filled courtyard complete with casual tables and chairs, sculpture, flowers everywhere and a serene fountain. All just within the original walls of the ancient city.

This blog is all about finding places that are different - that challenge our perception of what we find interesting. One of the attributes of hotel design in Europe is the willingness to combine different design motifs from different eras. American hotel designers rarely exhibit the willingness to create spaces that merge design "styles" like the Europeans. The Lumani Guest House , designed and owned by Jean, an architect and Elisabeth, an artist, manages to insert highly detailed, minimalist designed rooms with an eclectic array of furnishings, into an eighteenth century manor house. Upon arriving in our room, Suite Escale, we knew this was a place for discriminating Nomads. Complete with colorful, modern furnishings, a killer bed, expansive sink and counter, toilet and bigalicious shower - all topped off with views across the courtyard and a large terrace with hammock, it embodied everything on The Nomad Architect's list of requirements for the perfect place to lay our dreamy heads.

Since we arrived fairly early, we decided to strike out on foot and scrounge up some local food and drink. After a short walk, we came upon a local grocer with local cheese, bread and wine. We headed back to Lumani, ensconced ourselves in the dreamy courtyard, protected from the famous, purifying Mistral (wind) of the region, and enjoyed our Provencal wine, cheese, bread and other munchies in this green oasis of flowers, art, sculpture and water. And all in the midst of
the hustle and bustle of a busy city outside. One of the great benefits of staying at a highly unique and personalized hotel like Lumani, is the chance to talk to the owners about their world. Since Elisabeth is an artist and Jean is an architect, we were able to talk about, not only there beautiful enclave of domestic tranquility, but the larger world of history, art and culture as well. Fortunately, there English was better than our French. As we wandered around Avignon seeing the Palais des Papes, the Grand Chapel and other ancient architecture, it was great to come back to such a well designed home away from home while in this fascinating historic city. It also must be mentioned that the breakfasts that were served in the Guesthouse were delicious and afforded us more opportunity to enjoy the company of the owners and other guests.

Staying at the Lumani proves The Nomad Architect adage - It does make a difference where you stay when you travel. Complete with beautifully designed spaces, inside and out, and gracious and interesting hosts, staying at Lumani, in this little corner of France, makes travel worthy of memories that will never be forgotten.

Travel Quote of the Week - "Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe”… Anatole France

Video Artist of the Week - The French have loved jazz since the 1920's. This week's artist is the renown Ambassador and trumpeter of that uniquely American art form ... Wynton Marsalis.

Rester Au Frais


Next Week - Bastide de Marie - Sleeping in a Vineyard.