Orlando – Who Knew?

Like many business travelers (especially those of us that do lots of trade shows and conferences), I end up in Orlando a lot!  I’ve always kind of thought of the area as a cultural wilderness (lots of chain restaurants and Disney-themed and other touristy shops) So last time I was there, I thought that I’d do something different and I headed into downtown Orlando. What a great surprise! I found several terrific one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops, I got a taste of the local nightlife and actually made my way back over one afternoon to the quaint neighborhood of  South Eola. This historic downtown neighborhood was a complete surprise to me with cobblestone streets (historical – not Disney-made), large shade trees dripping with Spanish Moss and bungalow homes. The best part of the neighborhood was Lake Eola Park where a fantastic Farmer’s Market was underway, with locals gathered to do yoga in the large lawn, and swans swimming in the lovely lake. The lake, which is encircled by a .9 mile walking path included,  some small gardens, a swan boat rental dock, and several sculptures.
You’d better believe that the next time I’m in Orlando for a conference or convention and I find myself with a little extra time, I’ll be heading downtown to visit Lake Eola Park.

Faves:Farmer’s Market at Lake Eola Park
Area – Lake Eola Park

Discover Atlanta – At the Airport?

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport is huge and most people consider it just a hub to get to their next destination. However, if you want to (or if you’re stranded and looking for something to do), you can actually walk the entire length of the concourse underground (where you typically catch the trains)- which I recently did. I found three delightful things in doing this: 1) It’s very quiet and can be relatively quick as there are moving sidewalks and very few people (quite a departure from the chaos going on just above your head in the main concourses) 2) Whether you use the moving sidewalks or not (as I generally don’t), you can actually get a little walking workout. Which is nice if you’ve been sitting in a meeting all day and are getting ready to board a plane and sit for several more hours. 3) There are some interesting and beautiful art and history installations between several of the concourses. Even if you don’t take the entire pedestrian walkway, consider walking between a couple of the concourses to see some of these exhibits. – Between the terminal and concourse A is a permanent collection of twenty contemporary stone sculptures from Zimbabwe. This collection debuted in 2001 and is one of the largest publicly owned and exhibited collections of its kind. – Between concourses B and C you can take a “Walk Through Atlanta History” According to the website this is a multi-media installation that provides a glimpse into the rich history of the City of Atlanta. Approaching from Concourse B your journey starts with a section devoted to the Native Peoples who lived here for thousands of years, progresses through six key time periods, and ends with Atlanta’s entry onto the global stage. These are just two examples of interesting exhibitions that you can find at the Hartsfield-Jackson airport – So, if you’re ever stranded or are not literally “running” to catch your flight, take a look at the website (offered free) ,type “art” or “Atlanta history” into the search box and go on a treasure hunt to find the permanent and rotating art exhbitt that this airport has to offer.

Havana in Chicago

Just returned from a biz trip in Chicago and found a new restaurant (Havana) that I think is perfect for the business traveler dining solo or a spot to take colleagues or customers that want something a little different than the many tourist spots in the magnificent mile area. Havana is a small restaurant on Clark (easy to walk to from many of the hotels in the area)that specializes in, what they call, Cuban and Pan-Latin inspired food and drinks, and I could tell that the place catered more to the local neighborhood and regular patrons than the tourists that were just steps away at the always crowded, 1-2 hour wait, Frontera Grill. The food was very good and the attentive and friendly waitress told me that they’re known for their great Mojitos (which I didn’t try but assume they’re probably good)But it was the atmosphere of the place that won me over. They offer some outdoor seating right on busy Clark Street, but I suggest sitting inside. The dark wooden bar, tables and booths are warm and inviting and the ceiling fans give the place a decidedly tropical feel. All the while, soft Cuban music plays in the background, never overpowering the conversation I was having dinner with my colleague (Admittedly, we were there quite early on a Saturday evening, so I assume it does get much louder once the live music that they promote on their website starts – which could also be fun) All in all, Havana is a restaurant that I’ll keep on my list for when I’m in the Windy City. I love finding these little “hidden” gems.

Menu: Reasonably priced Cuban and Pan-Latin inspired food and drinks Havana 412 N. Clark Street Chicago IL 60654 Phone 312-644-1900

Miami Beach: A Quiet Walk in a Busy City

Amid the chaos of club music pouring out of every door and the sun-baked tourists walking up and down the beach and in and out of the shops and restaurants on Lincoln Road is the Holocaust Memorial. Located not far off that bustling road, directly behind the convention center at 1933-1945 Meridian Avenue, this quiet oasis with sculptures, photographs and a reflecting pool, offers a destination that you can walk through and pause at to reflect on this poignant moment in history. According to the website, the four-story bronze arm tattooed with a number from Auschwitz rising from the earth and stretching toward the heavens, represents those who died in concentration camps thinking that no one would care or remember.  If you’re in town on business and find yourself with a few minutes between meetings or dinner, make your way to this quiet and beautiful memorial. It’s open 9 a.m. to sundown daily and there is no charge for admission.

Just Like Marrekech

I just recently visited NYC and found a fabulous little Moroccan restaurant called Zerza. It’s tucked away on Sixth Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues which is a street that I’d recalled in years past, had been mostly made up of Indian restaurants of which there are still quite a few. But Zerza caught my attention. With it’s enticing aromas (I love Moroccan food!) and cozy atmosphere I was transported back to Marrakech – a place that I’ve had the great fortune to visit – as soon as I walked through the door. With advice from the people at the table next to us (New Yorkers are the best!) I ordered the braised short rib with prunes and almonds and was not disappointed. The meat fell off the bone and the lovely sauce was to die for. I finished off dinner with some fig ice cream which was heavenly. One of the best things about this place, aside from the delicious food, is that the background music is truly in the background and there is not one TV in the place! If you’re ever near the East Village (or are willing to take a ride down there) I highly recommend Zerza – You won’t be disappointed.

Zerza Moroccan/Mediterranean Restaurant 320 East Sixth Street New York, NY 10003 212-529-8250

My Faves: Braised Short Rib and the cozy atmosphere

What’s a Tin Fish?

In San Diego, right across the street from the convention center, there’s a great little outdoor cafe called the Tin Fish. It’s on a little tree-covered boulevard practically in the middle of the street just as you head into the Gaslamp District. You can smell the fish frying all day and I promise you, if you ever have one of their fish tacos, you’ll be spoiled for life. The place is always busy and it takes a while to get through the line to order your food – so don’t go if you’re in a hurry. But it’s served fresh and hot and well worth the wait if you do! It’s a great spot to sit outside in the beautiful San Diego weather and enjoy great food (They do also have some tables indoors)
There are also locations in other CA cities, WA, FL and IN – Try it, I know you’ll like it!

Menu
Seafood (fried or grilled options), burgers, chicken, soups

My Faves: Fried fish tacos and fish and chips
Note: This restaurant sits right in the shadow of PetCo Park, so if there’s a Padres game it will be especially busy.

The Tin Fish
170 6th Avenue
San Diego, CA

Table by the Window

I just had dinner at a delightful restaurant in Montreal. It’s located on the cobble stone street of Rue St Paul, just on the edge of Old (Vieux) Montreal which is a great area to wander and poke into antique shops, boutiques and other novelty shops (Although things close fairly early – many by 6:00pm – It’s still fun to window-shop.)

The cozy bistro, Les Pyrenees, specializes in cuisine from that part of the world (North of Spain and South of France.) I had cod, perfectly seasoned and pan-seared over a bed of wheat risotto with sun-dried tomatoes while my two colleagues enjoyed a fish stew loaded with mussels, squid, shrimp and vegetables,and a pasta with red sauce and chorizo. All were delicious and portions were large. There were some good choices of wine by the glass and deserts looked tempting – although we were too full from the great dinner to partake.
A short walk back to our convention center hotel made it a perfect evening.

Oh and by the way, while I happened to be out with colleagues on this occassion, I did see a woman tucked into one of the comfy corner tables dining alone and thought, “I would definitely feel comfortable eating here alone,” and I probably will if I ever make it back to Montreal and don’t have the company of clients or colleagues.

Menu: Bistro Fare from the Pyrenees
My Faves: The cod, zuchinni cake and the ambience
Special note: Although not as crowded as the bistro right next door, don’t let that fool you. Pyrenees is worth a stop.

Les Pyrenees Restaurant
320 Rue St-Paul Ouest (Quartier des Arts)
Vieux Montreal, Quebec H2Y 2A3
514-842-5566

A Taste of the Middle East

Who would have thought that I would have some of the best Baba Ghannouge ever at a restaurant on a little side street in Baltimore?!
Lebanese Taverna is a small east coast chain and although I’ve never been to any of the others, this one in Baltimore’s East Harbor neighborhood has fast become one of my favorite spots to eat when here for work. I sat at the bar where they had full-service and although the bartender was busy (it was a Saturday night) he was attentive and gave me his (good) opinions on some of the dishes.
For something a little different than the hundreds of touristy seafood restaurants in the inner harbor area – I recommend a little middle-east respite.

Menu:
Yummy middle east dishes
Moderate pricing
Full service in/at the bar
My faves: The Baba Ghannouge and the friendly and helpful service

Lebanese Taverna
719 S. President Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 (410) 244-5533
Located on the corner of S. President and Lancaster Streets in the newly developed Harbor East!

Chain Gang in Vegas

I just got back from several days in Las Vegas for a conference and I thought I’d post a couple of restaurants that are located right on the strip that offer the comfort of familiarity. Let’s face it, just because you’re in a place that has fabulous, one-of-a-kind restaurants, sometimes you just want to stick with something you know … And for me one night, the perfect meal was an order of lettuce wraps and a glass of wine sitting at the bar at PF Chang’s  :>)

PF Chang’s at The Miracle Mile Shops
Planet Hollywood at The Forum Shops at Caesars
Outback Steakhouse at The Casino Royal
Maggiano’s Little Italy at The Fashion Place Mall

As Easy As ABC

The ABC Carpet and Home Store near Union Square in downtown Manhattan is one of my favorite places to hang out if I have a little bit of time. From the outside, the store looks unremarkable, but once through the door you feel like Dorothy stepping out into Oz. Bright-colored oriental rugs and crystal chandeliers of various sizes and heights hang from the tall, six story ceilings making it a feast for the eyes. The open construction, and separate shop stalls give the whole space the feel of an upscale, indoor bazaar. Each shop is filled to the brim with eclectic and beautiful housewares, textiles, jewelry,  rugs and more, from all around the world.

One-of-a-kind shops like ABC Carpet and Home are just one of the many things that I love about New York City. At any given moment you can step through any seemingly ordinary door and feel like you’ve spent a few minutes “somewhere over the rainbow”.

The ABC Home and Carpet Store
881 and 888 Broadway
Hours: Mon-Sat: 10-7, Sun: 11-6:30
ABC Store