Sunday, February 18, 2007

Restaurants on a recent trip

We just got back from a week in Florida with a stop in the Bahamas. I should be blogging about restaurants in Albany, but I just haven't been motivated to say much.

We had some interesting moments in our trip. First, we went to the Palm Beach area of Florida to visit family. The most notable restaurant experience was on the beach in Lake Worth (the beach is on the ocean, not on the lake - I don't even know if there is a lake in Lake Worth). We ate lunch at Benny's On The Beach. Benny's is actually on the pier. And the particular cuisine of note was ... hot dogs. Yes, I'm reviewing a place for its hot dogs. I'll move to the other end of the spectrum later in this post.

So anyway, Benny's has really good hot dogs. Great flavor, a touch of spicy without being too spicy. The whole family liked them. This includes certain family members who never seem to like anything. So if you're ever in the Lake Worth area and you're hankering for a hot dog, Benny's is the place.

I had nice chat with a guy there who I'm guessing is Benny. He's from Quebec, and is familiar with the Albany area. In the 1970s he would come down here to play hockey against some locals, I think as a part of a team from up there.

Next up, I just have to mention a new reason for liking Panera. We have a Panera practically next door to our office, and we go there maybe once a week, but I don't think I've ever blogged about it. I like the soups. The sandwiches are okay, but not great. They also have a cheese pastry that's damn good - my current sin of choice. But that's not why I'm writing about Panera. We were staying with relatives down there, and these relatives do not have internet access. While I could check my e-mail via my cell phone, I felt a need to get some real access with my laptop during the week. So I went to Panera there for breakfast three times, because Panera has free wifi (that is, free wireless internet access). While there I enjoyed the spinach and bacon quiche, which was, well, yummy.

But the more interesting part of the trip was a side trip I took with my wife. We went to the Bahamas, staying at Hotel Riu on Paradise Island. Riu is next door to Atlantis, a huge resort that has a reputation for being absurdly expensive. Riu cost about half as much, so it was only very expensive. Our stay was "all-inclusive" meaning you get to eat and drink without paying any extra. It seemed that most of the guests spent quite a bit of time in the various hotel bars, or sitting by the pool getting drinks from the poolside bar. I now understand the concept of all-inclusive from the hotel's perspective. If you keep up the flow of alcohol to the guests, they won't notice that the food isn't very good.

We arrived and had our first meal there, lunch. It was a buffet. There was absolutely nothing special about it. A salad bar without many choices. Some cold cuts and not much choice there either. A few hot items that were not exciting. Hot dogs too, but not nearly as good as at Benny's. And there was fresh melon, which was mostly bland. In addition to these buffets, they have three special restaurants. There's a steakhouse, a "gourmet", and a Japanese restaurant. If you know me, you know I had to try that, so we ate at the Japanese place - Tengoku (I believe it's the word for Heaven). Tengoku was weak. In the past I have been critical of Japanese restaurants run by Chinese people. I must now say that the Chinese do it much better than Bahamians. The food was not rancid or anything, but the flavors were all wrong, and I don't have much positive to say about that meal.

Breakfast the next day was a little better. A buffet again, but they seemed to do this better than lunch. Breakfast also included smoked salmon, which is one of my favorite foods. Oddly they had cream cheese next to it, but no bagels. We also had lunch at the buffet, which was no better. But this time I didn't eat much because I was saving up for dinner - and this is where the story gets good.

We had made reservations for a restaurant named Dune. Dune is considered one of the best restaurants in the Bahamas, and I have to agree. For starters it's in a fantastic location - in the "One and Only Ocean Club" resort. They really ought to drop the One and Only from the name, because it seems unclassy, even though it is rather accurate. The Ocean Club resort was the setting for part of the latest James Bond film. It looked pretty nice in the film, but that did not do justice to how stunning this place really is. While Atlantis and Riu have towers of rooms, Ocean Club has no more than two floors. It is quiet. Everything about it is tasteful, pleasant, relaxing, etc. I lack the words to convey the truly blissful feeling we had as we walked around after dinner.

Which brings me back to Dune. The food was excellent. I went a non-traditional route and had four different appetizers with no entree, while my wife had soup and a steak. My dishes included a raw tuna dish, a raw salmon dish, a chili shrimp with noodles dish and a salad. The tuna and salmon dishes were perfect. Among the best I've had, though not quite on par with Megu in NYC. The salad, with asparagus and avocado, was also quite nice, though it might be hard to screw that up. The chili shrimp dish was only very good, with the noodles in the dish being a bit too much like instant ramen noodles. My wife's soup and steak were also delicious. For dessert we had the sampler plate. The cheesecake on that plate was one of the best I've ever had - made with creme fraiche. All of the items were good, and a couple others were outstanding as well.

So as we're sitting there enjoying a quiet dinner, a table of ten sits down next to us. One guy at the table looks familiar but I can't quite place him at first. The group was mostly okay, but a little noisy. The one who looked familiar was the loudest, and I finally realized it was a moderately famous retired NFL quarterback. I don't want to name him, but let's just say his name (perhaps a nickname) would fit well with his volume. The volume might have bothered us, but it was pretty cool to be eating next to someone of his fame, so that offset the loss of quiet.

As we were leaving, my wife told me to look to my left, and I noticed yet another retired NFL quarterback sitting at another table in the same room. This one, arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of football (even though he never won a Superbowl), was eating quietly, and possibly looking over at the loud one in a bit of dismay - but I only caught a glimpse.

Those are the restaurant highlights from our trip. So if you ever win Lotto and can afford the $1000+/night for the Ocean Club, I strongly recommend it. If we ever go back to Paradise Island, that is where we'll stay, though we might have to go into debt to pull it off.