Erroll Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938)
HOW TO SPEND A
THOUSAND DOLLARS by
HOW TO SPEND A THOUSAND DOLLARS (Or Less)
by John Mariani
Okay. Taxes are done. Now you know just how badly off you are. And maybe you're just not up for the 72-day cruise around the world, the pilgrimage to every three-star restaurant in France, or a summer's rental of a palazzo in Tuscany. But there are always reasons to celebrate something--birthday, anniversary, getting through tax time with some money in your pocket--and if you're cutting way back on your expenditures for pleasure, there are ways--and a lot more than there were a year ago--to spend a thousand bucks and truly revel in all that you've enjoyed. This week, my colleagues Everett Potter, and Kyle McCarthy of our joint venture "The Art of Living," are writing separate articles on how to do just that--spend a grand in the pursuit of the Art of Living.
Here are my suggestions--for two people--for days you won't ever forget in various cities--airfare not included. By the way, as every professional in the industry will tell you, don't ever accept the first "rack" rate for a room. You need not be William Shatner to negotiate a deal (though Priceline.com is good at that), and while a rare chain like the Four Seasons insists they never discount, they now offer more and more amenities free of charge and upgrades are not that unusual to come by anywhere these days.
Psssst! Actually if you follow the advice below, you can can spend way below $1000.
NEW YORK: Checking the on-line sites like Expedia.com and others, I found that some of NYC's top hotels are unheard of bargains, especially on weekends, e.g., Millennium UN Plaza, $202; The London, with Gordon Ramsay's restaurant, $279; The New Yorker (on top of Madison Square Garden, if you're going to an event there), and the Kitano on Park Avenue ($188), which offers an excellent sushi lunch at $32. . . . In the morning go to the Museum of Modern Art (tix $20 for adults, free for children under 16), then dine next door at the wonderful restaurants at The Modern (below)--Bar Room (below), with appetizers $12-$16, main courses $17-$28, or the main Dining Room (one Michelin star) for a 3-course lunch at $48. My colleague Ryan Sutton of Bloomberg News currently lists a slew of great deals for dinner at some of NYC's top restaurants right now, incl.Matsugen, Eighty-One, Apiary, Artisanal, L'Absinthe, and others for under $40. . . . If you want to go to the theater, head for TKTS, in Times Square, which sells unsold tickets on the day of performance for all Broadway shows for 25-50% off the box office price ($3 service charge). . . . At evening's end, you could go to a score of jazz or music clubs around the city pretty cheaply, and Tues.-Thurs. you can sit at the bar at The Café Carlyle for $50 and listen to the best cabaret singers in the business, from Jane Monheit and Judy Collins to Ute Lemper and Barbara Cook.
LONDON: My very favorite boutique hotel, centrally located in London is 22 Jermyn Street (below), run by the incomparable Henry Togna. Right now, for a double room, the price is £220 (about $319), but, as the hotel's site notes, "Occasionally we have special offers and promotions. Please insert your dates in the Reservations Page and you will be offered the best prices available." . . . Once you've arrived, stroll Jermyn Street itself, where the city's finest haberdashers, incl. Pink, Harvey and Hudson, Jaeger, Chas. Tyrwhitt, and many others line the thoroughfare--every one always offering remarkable sales on men's and women's clothing. . . . To eat well, head up the street to the new and wonderful St. Alban off Piccadilly, a bright and very colorful 140-seat restaurant with art that includes work by Damien Hirst, and a modern menu by Chef Dale Osborne, formerly at The Wolseley, with starters run ₤6.50-₤19.50, main courses ₤8.75-₤29.50, and a winelist with scores of bottles under 35₤. For my up-to-date report on current London dining at very reasonable prices, click here. . . . The British Museum is free, though they request a donation; The National Gallery is free, as is the National Portrait Gallery. . . . As in NYC above, London theaters have a way of getting half-price tix to shows at the Society of London Theatre Ticket Kiosk on Leicester Square . . . . And pubs are always a good, inexpensive way to get into the swing of things.
PARIS: One can stroll the boulevards of Paris endlessly for free and that might be the most luxurious pastime imaginable for many. But you do have to eat and stay somewhere. By staying away from the Michelin star restaurants and palatial hotels, you can have a fabulous time in Paris without busting the budget, and everyone is offering bargains just to stay in business. Indeed, according to France’s Union of Hotel and Restaurant Owners, the number of cafés, hotels and restaurants that filed for bankruptcy in the first nine months of 2008 rose 25 percent from the comparable period in the previous year. The Left Bank still offers the best value, and, for many, the most charm. The Hôtel Grandes Ecoles near the church of St. Genevieve is absolutely darling, painted pink, with country furniture and wallpaper, and current rates of 113-138€ euros (about $145-$180), while the Hôtel St. Jacques, done in Empire style furnishings, was the setting for Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn's love affair in the film "Charade" (left). Its website offers a double room starting at 110€ euros, up to a deluxe at 189€ euros, with various promotions worth asking about. . . . Dining at the bistro level in Paris is always the way to go for wonderful food, and prices are still remarkably fair: For three of my favorites, old and new--Café Moderne, DeVez, and Chez Georges, where you will feast for two people, with wine, for under 75€ euros, click here. Also, be aware that the Michelin Guide lists dozens of bistros and restaurants called "Bib Gourmand" where you can eat for under 30€. . . Many of France's national treasures, their churches and museums, are free of charge, and there are often free musical concerts held within their storied walls. . . You can attend free student recitals at the Salle Cortot Tues. and Thurs. . . . You can attend the National Opera for between 15€ and 25€. . . .There are plenty of jazz clubs and they don't charge very much to get in or drink, like the Lionel Hampton Jazz Club and Bar le Houdon in Montmartre.
ROME: Tourism in Rome, as well as Venice has been down for the past two years, and they are feeling the pinch (though Florence is still jammed and very expensive), so there are plenty of values to be found in enchanting hotels and in the trattorias from Trastevere to the Spanish Steps. The River Palace, next to the Villa Borghese, is going for about $239 (breakfast included); The Hotel Columbus (right), once a 15th century cardinals' home, with frescoes by Pinturicchio, has an interior garden and striking architecture throughout, with rooms at $193. . . . Check out last week's Virtual Gourmet for two delightful restaurants in Rome that won't make much of a dent in your wallet.
The city is increasingly filling with wine bars--enotecas--where you can eat cheaply and drink well. Pastas at all but the most expensive ristoranti still run about $10-$12, and while seafood is expensive, meats are not, and wine is always a good deal, not least the house wines, which many Romans do indeed drink. . . .One hint for saving some money: never sit down at a table at a café and order espresso or cappuccino--it will cost you double, or more, what they charge if you just have it at the counter. . . . Of course, the monuments of Rome are almost always free, including the Pantheon, the Coliseum, and St. Peter's, and the Borghese Gardens are absolutely glorious in spring. . . . The most expensive shopping street in the city is the Via Condotti, lined with big name designers, but on the flanking streets of Via Borgogna, and Via Frattina, prices are much lower.
NEW ORLEANS: New Orleans is not and never has been a particularly expensive city, and its whole atmosphere and good vibes make it a wonderful place for a short hop. Hotel prices are very reasonable these days and all the restaurants are offering special deals. And frankly, it's not a city you're going to spend more than a couple of days in anyhow, for after a tour of the French Quarter and maybe the Aquarium here, you'll run out of things to do. And tourism, which is crucial to the economy, is down. So, book yourself into a very good hotel at unbelievable rates: The Marriott, in the French Quarter, has rooms for $89; the Ambassador in the Warehouse District, $59; The elegant Montenapoleone, $129; and the new W next to the Casino, $149; even the Ritz-Carlton runs $199, and the city's best hotel, the Windsor Court (left) is currently charging between $149 and $335, and the latter is for a Club Full Suite. . . . So, too, restaurants are offering big deals on their menus, from a $49 steak dinner at Morton's to 3-course jazz brunches at Commander's Palace for as little as $27. Or you can gorge at the oyster bars around town, fill up on a huge muffaletta sandwich at Central Grocery, and, for breakfast really pack it in at Mother's, so you won't want to eat until dinner.
LAS VEGAS: As everybody knows, you can lose your shirt and your soul in Vegas, but you don't have to spend all that much away from the gambling tables to do it. Given the dire downtown of tourism in this city with nothing else to bolster it, Vegas hotels and restaurants are offering every promotion they can come up with to entice you to stay and eat at their place rather than the next casino/hotel over. Midweek they are really dying, so that's when it's best to book. The posh Wynn Las Vegas has rooms for $199 (ask for an upgrade midweek), Caesar's Palace runs $120, and the troubled MGM starts at $80, with a Celebrity Spa Suite at $190! . . . In the past the cheap-o buffets in the casino served pretty awful food en masse, but now they all compete mightily to offer a wide variety--from pasta to sushi--in beautifully designed buffet spaces where the bargains are tremendous: At the Bellagio, lunch runs $19.95 and dinner $27.95 for the full gorge, and weekend Champagne brunch is $28.95. Luxor dinner is only $19.99. If you want a truly fine dinner, there is an early evening 3-course dinner at the posh Fleur de Lys (right) for $59. . . . What's free around Vegas? The glorious scenery outside of Las Vegas, not least the great Hoover Dam and the stunningly beautiful Red Rock country--both worth renting a car for $37 a day and taking off from the Strip.
NEW YORK CORNER
first Via Quadronno opened on Madison Avenue and 73rd
Street in NYC in 1999, named after a street in Milan whose Bar
Tabacchi became a pilgrimage spot for its panini
sandwiches, and now there
are VQ branches in Soho, the GM Building, Tribeca, Hong Kong, Tokyo,
the newest, in White Plains in Westchester County (about 40 minutes
from Manhattan). Each of the
units is a bit different in size and décor; the
Plains restaurant is L-shaped, with a sparkling pastry counter,
bar, and two seating areas with well-set, linen-draped tables
sturdy chairs, and richly textured banquette fabrics, enhanced with
Italian food posters and windows overlooking this thriving city's Main
Via Quadronno is open
only Thurs.-Sat. for lunch and dinner. Appetizers run $14-$22, full
portions of pasta $12-$24, main courses $20-$34.
ALSO WANT TO CALL SHEEP “CUDDLY SOCK PUPPETS”
The ever-inventive People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in an attempt to persuade children that fish are too cute to eat, has come up instead with the words “sea kittens” for fish.
ABOUT FAUX BRAINS?
know there are plenty of veg*ns who have no desire or taste for faux
animal products of any kind, but I'm not one of those veg*ns. I loved
eating these mock fish sticks and the creamy vegan tartar sauce too.But
when I get a hankering for faux fish sticks or faux shepherd's pie or
any number of other things that I don't normally get to eat? I know
just where to go."--Elisa Camahort, "Loving Hut," Silicon Veggie (Jan. 9. 2009).
To all public relations people: Owing to the amount of press releases regarding Mother's Day dinners, I regret that it is impossible to list any but very special events.
* On April
23 in Berkeley, CA, Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto has
announced “One Fermented Night,” by Spenger's Chef Devon
Boisen, 4 courses showcasing halibut
paired with California wines. $69.95 pp. Call
510-845-7771. Visit www.spengers.com. . . . Spenger's and McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood Restaurant
in San Francisco honor
National Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day on April 23, with free
lunch entrée and beverage for all children. Call 510-845-7771.
* On April
23 in Menlo Park, CA,
Marché will host
a 4-course dinner to feature 2006 Burgundy wines. Chef
Guillaume Bienaimé will showcase the exceptional wines chosen
by Sommelier John Sanders.
Marché will also offer the menu April 24 & 25 as
Chef's Tasting Menu. $195 pp. Call 650-324-9092.
* In Carmel, CA, Thomas Perez, wine
director at Aubergine,
announces a wine dinner series by chef Christophe Grosjean. For full
info call 831-622-5907. Overnight accommodations available at a
special seasonal rate. April 23: Emmanuel Kemiji of Miura Vineyards;
May 7: Robbie Meyer of Sage Vineyards and L’Angevin Wines; May 15:
Chris Weidemann of Pelerin Wines; et
* On April
27 in NYC, Convivio holds a Louis/Dressner
6-course wine dinner at $85 pp. with cuisine by Chef Michael White‚
with winemakers as Alessandra Bera of Bera Winery, Arianna Occhipinti
of Occhipinti Winery, Francesca Padovani of Campi di Fonterenza Winery,
Cristiano Guttarolo of Guttarolo Winery and Mauro Vergano, a noted
Chinati producer. Call 212-599-5045.
* On April
27 the Westchester Italian Cultural
Center in Tuckahoe, NY,
will continue its Signature Wine Dinner: Sapori D'Italia as a 5-course
dinner by Zuppa Restaurant and Lounge
in Yonkers, hosted by restaurateur Robert Leggio/\\, owner of Zuppa
Restaurant and Lounge. Members $95; Non-Members $110. Call
* On April
27 in Beverly Hills, CA,
Club Culinaire of French Cuisine will hold its "Springtime in Bordeaux"
5-course dinner at JAAN
restaurant in Raffles L’Ermitage Beverly Hills paired with
specially-selected wines from the region. $105 Club
Culinaire Members / $115 Non-Members. Call
310-385-5302. Visit www.clubculinaire.org.
* On May 1 in Oakland, CA, Five Star Night, the 21st annual fundraiser for Alameda County Meals on Wheels, will take place at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, with a champagne and fine wine reception, silent and live auctions, gala dinner by 15 of the Bay Area chefs, and dancing with Salsamania. $250 pp. Call 510-577-3580 or visit www.feedingseniors.org.
* On May 2 in Westport, MA, Westport Winery will hold a 20th
Anniversary Founder’s Day Dinner, at the Long Acre House Wine
& Food Education Center, hosted by founders Bob & Carol
Russell. For menu and info call 508-636-3423.
* On May 3 in Chicago, Susan and Drew Goss of West Town Tavern hostthe 13th Annual Girl Food Dinner to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository with a 5-course dinner with paired wines at $150 pp. Chefs incl. Nadia Tilkian - Maijean Restaurant; Jill Barron - mana food bar; Karen Armijo - The Gary Comer Youth Center; Jessica Oloroso - Black Dog Gelato. Call 312-666-6175. Visit www.westtowntavern.com.
On May 5 in NYC, Toloache Bistro Mexicano & Tequila
Bar celebrates Cinco de Mayo with live Mariachis from 7pm-11pm.
Julian Medinaoffers family-style dishes ($22-$39). Call
* On May 6 Morello Bistro in Greenwich, CT, will hold a wine dinner with Ornellaia and Masseto wineries, with guest Wine Maker Axel Heinz. $395 pp. Visit www.morellobistro.com.
* London's Le Pont de la Tour celebrates its 18th anniversary with an £18 lunch of 3 courses from their à la carte menu. Visit www.lepontdelatour.co.uk.
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." To go to his blog click on the logo below: THIS WEEK: IS THIS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND IN MAINE?; THE BEST DEAL ON THE HIGH SEAS THIS SUMMER?; SAILING ON A MAINE WINDJAMMER; FLY FISHING MAINE -- AND BEYOND -- WITH L.L. BEAN
Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). THIS WEEK:
Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!",
is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with
children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle
McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family
travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide
its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and
practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy,
safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children
who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of
adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.