In this issue: Las Vegas, Melbourne, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and South Africa…
Spanish Fare with San Fran Flair
Laïola. A beacon for young, hip locals, Laïola masterfully serves Spanish-inspired cuisine with California flair, proving that it is possible to offer superlative food while remaining affordable and unpretentious. Small plates rule the menu with flavorful standouts of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with house-made chorizo, and the olive oil-poached albacore salad crumbled over frisée and French beans. The L-shaped restaurant with a tall copper ceiling is sleek and inviting, and the long bar provides ample space to sit and taste the many Spanish wines. There’s a no-reservation policy, so arrive early to snag a table. 2031 Chestnut St., The Marina. 415/346-5641. www.laiola.com. No reservations. AE, D, MC, V. No Lunch. Median entrée price: $30.
A Mexican Cantina in Manhattan
Toloache. Make a quick detour off heavily trafficked Broadway into this pleasantly bustling Mexican cantina. The bi-level eatery — one of the best dining options around Times Square — has a festive, celebratory vibe, with several seating options (bar, balcony, main dining room, and ceviche bar), oversized bronze chandeliers, and gold and terra-cotta tones throughout. Foodies flock here for the Mexico City-style tacos with Negro Modelo-braised brisket, quesadillas studded with black truffle and huitlacoche (a corn mushroom), and the extensive tequila selection — upwards of 100 brands. Adventurous palates will be drawn to tacos with chile-studded dried grasshoppers, lobes of seared foie gras, and caramelized veal sweetbreads. 251 W. 50th St., Midtown West. 212/581-1818. AE, MC, V. Median entrée price: $24.
In Melbourne, Eat Locally
100 Mile Café. “Think Globally, Eat Locally” is the motto of this spacious restaurant. 100 Mile Café sources 99% of its ingredients from within a 100-mile radius, and uses only sustainable, free-range or organic meats. Groovy tunes play in the background as smiling, apron-clad servers present a fusion of Japanese and Australian fare. If you try the succulent roast duck breast and confit leg in a cauliflower, saffron, and hazelnut puree, or the vegetarian sukiyaki in a candy-sweet broth, you might want to stay local. From November through March, request balcony seating for a spectacular view of the State Library. Level 3, Melbourne Central, 211 La Trobe St., City Center. 03/9654-0808. AE, DC, MC, V. No lunch Sat. Closed Sun. Median entrée price: AUD 35 (approximately $32).
In Miami, A Mediterranean Must-Have
La Marea. The most succulent appetizer on the menu — a black truffle ravioli, with Taleggio cheese and a poached organic egg — eaten against the backdrop of acclaimed designer Kelly Wearstler’s romantic, elegant, sand-colored interior is reason enough to visit the on-site dining room at the Tides Hotel. The room, illuminated by candlelight, feels at once intimate and formal. But a local foodie crowd is willing to brave tourist-clogged Ocean Drive for this low-key scene and delectable cuisine. Ask to sit in a velvet throne-like chair by the window for ultimate privacy, and consider stand-out entrées such as the whole Dover Sole. 1220 Ocean Drive, South Beach. Miami Beach. 305/604-5070. AE, MC, VC, DC, D. Median entrée price: $30.
Sin City’s Private Getaway
The Signature at MGM Grand. The three towers that comprise this spacious and well-appointed luxury resort adjacent to the MGM Grand are perhaps most notable for what they lack: a casino. Instead, developers have stockpiled modern junior, one- and two-bedroom suites with amenities such as whirlpool spa tubs, HD flat-screen TVs, two-line telephones, and open-air balconies. The well-trained staff manages the 24-hour concierge desk, 24-hour in-room dining, and pre-arrival services such as dinner or show reservations. Business travelers will appreciate the huge desks and free Ethernet access. With a secluded, gated entrance, The Signature also offers something even more unique in Sin City — privacy. Pro: relatively inexpensive room rates. Con: inconvenient off-strip entrance; a trek to nearest casino (at MGM Grand).145 E. Harmon Ave., MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. Las Vegas, NV 89109. 877/612-2121 (ph.). 702/891-1275 (fax). www.signaturemgmgrand.com/. 576 suites. In-room: safe, kitchen, refrigerator, DVD, Ethernet, Wi-Fi. In-hotel: 2 restaurants, room service, bar, golf course, tennis courts, pool, gym, spa, laundry service, concierge, airport shuttle, parking, no-smoking. AE, MC, V. Rooms start at $199.
South Africa’s Secluded Game Reserve
Samara Private Game Reserve. Nestled among 70,000 acres of achingly beautiful wilderness, Samara Private Game Reserve is located in a hidden valley deep in the Karoo Mountains of South Africa’s Eastern Cape. From the moment you reach this lovingly restored, 19th-century green-roofed farmhouse, set among purple mountains, 800-year-old trees and rolling plains where cheetahs, rhinos, and giraffes roam, you’ll forget another more stressful world even existed. The understated yet elegant colonial farmhouse and three lovely cottages await you after a day of game watching, hiking, or picnicking in the desert. Super-attentive (but unobtrusive) staff and imaginative five-star cuisine add to the elegance of this exclusive resort. Pros: unique beauty; exclusivity. Con: lack of accessibility.Aapies Kloof, Petersburg Rd, Graaff Rienet, The Eastern Cape 6280. PO Box 649, Graaf Rienet 6280. 49/891-0880 (ph). 49/892-4339 (fax). www.samara.co.za. 6 rooms. In-room: safe, refrigerator, no TV. In-hotel: restaurant, room service, bar, pool, no elevator, laundry service, public Internet, satellite TV. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at Rand 3,060 per person (approximately $465).
Contributors: Robert Brenner, Suzy Buckley, Erica Duecy, Tarja Settles, Kate Turkington, Matt Villano
Photo credits: (1) courtesy Laïola, photography by Alissa Everett; (2) courtesy 100 Mile Café; (3) courtesy Samara Private Game Reserve.