Part of the fun of a vacation is discovering the local cuisine and spirits. Whether your travels take you across the globe or to a neighboring state, you really don’t have a sense of place until you have opened yourself up to novel flavors. Here’s a list of must-try culinary experiences.
Dinner at Eight K is the ultimate après ski treat. See and be seen at this elegant restaurant at the Viceroy Snowmass (130 Wood Road, Snowmass Village, Colo., 970-923-8000, viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/snowmass), a luxury ski resort at the base of Snowmass Mountain. Whether you spent the day conquering the double black diamond runs or just trying to stay upright on the bunny slope, you’re sure to have a mountain-size appetite.
Executive Chef Will Nolan, a New Orleans native, marries Colorado mountain cuisine with sassy Creole flavors. When possible, he relies on nearby ranchers and farmers to deliver the crème de la crème of locally sourced and sustainable meat, poultry and produce.
For instance, the 22-ounce Heritage Tomahawk pork chop is sourced from American Berkshire hogs, an heirloom breed raised at the Mountain Primal Meat Co. just down the road. The Kobe beef of pork, it melts in your mouth. The tender meat is drizzled with Louisiana cane syrup glaze for an unexpectedly savory and sweet flavor combination.
Mount Pleasant, S.C.
The long list of IPAs, stouts and sours at Westbrook Brewing Co. (510 Ridge Road, Mount Pleasant, S.C., 843-654-9114, westbrookbrewing.com) can be a little overwhelming. Good thing the craft brewery has a tasting room where imbibers can sample beers with crazy names like Evil Twin Bringing a Gun to a Knife Fight.
The ever-popular Mexican Cake Imperial Stout has a story behind it. When brewery owners Edward and Morgan Westbrook married in 2011, they brewed a special beer to commemorate the occasion and distribute as favors to wedding guests. Cake, as in wedding cake, seemed an appropriate name.
A year later, they released it to the public to celebrate the first anniversary of the brewery. Barrel-aged with habanero peppers, cocoa nibs, cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans, the beer was a bigger brewing triumph than they ever dreamed possible. Word spread quickly about this well-balanced ebony stout with a silky mouth feel and a touch of heat. Throngs of beer enthusiasts have been known to camp out on Westbrook’s doorstep to make sure they get their share of the annual release.
Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Crab dip. Crab cakes. Crab-topped mahi mahi. If it’s a dish that can be made with crab, the beachfront Crab Trap Seafood and Oyster Bar (1450 Miracle Strip Parkway, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., 850-301-0959, crabtrapdestin.com/fort-walton-beach, with locations in Destin and Pensacola) has it. The Crab Trap Feast will get you a half pound of steamed Alaskan snow crab, local fried blue crab claws and a deviled crab.
The grouper bacon ranch sandwich satisfies the heartiest of appetites. A fresh-from-the-Gulf grouper filet is piled high with crispy apple wood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and ranch dressing and served on a Kaiser roll.
This is the kind of place that entices you to linger, so kick back with a Crab Trap Punch, a fruity, coconut-flavored rum concoction that screams, “I’m on vacation.”
Couples enjoying a romantic getaway in St. Martin sometimes find they are almost as in love with the cuisine of this half-Dutch, half-French Caribbean island as they are with each other. Dinner at Belmond La Samanna (800-957-6128, belmond.com/la-samanna-st-martin) a five-star luxury beach resort on the French side, is the pinnacle of romantic dining. La Cave, the resort’s wine cellar, is as intimate as a French kiss, and if you like, you and your sweetheart can have it all to yourself.
A typical French-inspired Caribbean menu starts with an amuse bouche, foie gras terrine, perhaps, and then gives way to a parade of progressively more awe-inspiring culinary wonders. Roasted Caribbean lobster sprinkled with crunchy fried leeks, delectable seared sea scallops and Provencal-style rack of lamb are so artfully presented, it may be hard to resist interrupting the romantic ambience by photographing every dish. A knowledgeable sommelier pairs each course with a wine as perfectly matched as the couple he’s serving.
Save room for the pièce de résistance, the chocolate sphere. Chocolate is said to be an aphrodisiac, after all. A generous pool of melted chocolate is poured over a baseball-sized chocolate orb, which melts the candy coating and reveals a sweet surprise inside – cocoa sorbet.
Amelia Island, Fla.
Salt is the last word in fine dining on Amelia Island. This award-winning oceanfront restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton (4750 Amelia Island Parkway, Amelia Island, Fla., 904-277-1100, ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/florida/amelia-island) debunks old ideas about hotel fare being mediocre and uninspired. Serving the best from the land and sea, every course is presented with such attention to detail, you can practically see the tweezers marks on the edible flowers that garnish your plate.
Here, salt is not sprinkled on food as an afterthought. No, there is actually a salt sommelier who creates infused salts, such as Mediterranean black garlic and citrus horseradish.
The signature dish is beef tenderloin served on a block of translucent pink Himalayan salt so beautiful it could almost be worn as jewelry.
Can’t decide what to order? Put Chef Richard Laughlin in charge. The Chef’s Adventure tasting menu is part greatest hits and part chef’s whim. Diners enjoy a 5-course meal for $149. Add $55 for wine pairing.
Bar Harbor, Maine
For seafood lovers, the best thing about the coastal resort town of Bar Harbor is eating lobster every day without having to take out a loan. Many think of lobster as a special-occasion delicacy, but in Maine, there was a time when the crustacean was considered to be fit only for prisoners.
The point is, Mainers knew lobster long before it got all la-di-da and started flouncing around with ostentatious garnishes. Sure, they love the shellfish now, but they don’t think a good seafood meal requires a lengthy wine list and a waiter that places your napkin in your lap.
Just strap on a bib and head to an inexpensive lobster pound — what Mainers call casual eateries that keep live lobsters in a tank and cook them fresh.
Stewman’s Lobster Pound (35 West St., Bar Harbor, Maine, 207-288-0346, stewmanslobsterpound.com) is a favorite with both locals and tourists. At this outdoor restaurant that overlooks Frenchman Bay, diners generally fall into two camps: those who relish dissecting a whole fire engine-red lobster that’s been kettle-steamed in sea water and those who eschew all that messy cracking for that New England classic, the lobster roll.
There’s nothing that tastes more like a Maine summer than fresh lobster that’s been mixed with just a smidgen of mayo and stuffed into a buttery, toasted roll. Add a side of sweet potato fries and cole slaw, and you have a hearty lunch that won’t break the bank.
Penang is widely touted as having some of the best food in the Southeast – Southeast Asia, that is. The Malaysian state is known for inexpensive street food sold at “hawker” stalls, vendors specializing in everything from fish head curry to clay pot frog porridge (CF Hawker Centre - 10300, 48-58, Gat Lebuh Armenian, Georgetown, 10300 George Town, Penang, Malaysia).
The tropical island’s distinctive fare is largely due to the unique cultural amalgam of native Malay, Indians and Chinese. Each ethnic group has contributed its culinary best, in some cases, fine tuning the recipes of other ethnicities to suit their own palate, resulting in novel, complex flavors.
Here’s a short list of dishes to get you started:
Chicken satay. The chicken is marinated in an aromatic blend of coriander, cumin, galangal, ginger and, of course, turmeric, which gives the meat its signature yellow color. The spices provide lots of flavor, but no heat — worth mentioning since many Malaysian dishes are super fiery. After being speared onto skewers, the chicken is grilled and served with a tangy peanut dipping sauce.
Asam laksa. Try it if you dare. This popular, tongue-scorching soup consists of thick noodles swimming in fish broth laced with chilies and sour tamarind (asam is Malay for sour). A heaping spoonful of pungent shrimp paste comes on the side for those who want to turn up the volume on the already fishy flavor. A garnish of pineapple and mint extinguishes a bit of the heat.
Nasi kandar is a Penang staple, an Indian-Muslim meal that dates back to the British colonial era. The rice dish (nasi is Malay for rice) is generally accompanied by a tantalizing curry made with fish, beef, lamb or chicken.
Wash it all down with freshly made sugar cane juice. Your beverage may be served in a plastic bag with a straw instead of a cup.
Sonoma Vineyard Adventures (sonomavineyardadventures.com) takes oenophiles beyond the tasting room and right to the source of that nectar in their glass. Free, self-guided walking tours of seven award-winning wineries not only allows visitors to soak up the bucolic ambience of the vineyards, but also serves as an introduction to the sustainable wine growing practices the region is so proud of.
Each vineyard has its own unique charms and small surprises. After getting acquainted with the varietals at Paradise Ridge Winery in the Russian Valley, wine lovers find themselves in a picturesque outdoor art garden. At Matanzas Creek Winery, the windswept fields of fragrant lavender are almost as enchanting as the velvety Merlot.
Grocery shopping can feel like a chore, but at Montreal’s Marche Atwater (138 Atwater Ave., Montreal, Quebec, www.marchespublics-mtl.com/en/marches/atwater-market), it feels like a privilege. This sprawling indoor/outdoor farmer’s market on the Lachine Canal is reminiscent of a bygone era when shoppers visited the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to stock up on essentials. Like a modern supermarket, everything is under one roof, but this collection of stalls and specialty shops offers variety and quality you won’t find at an ordinary grocery store. Plus, Marche Atwater is way more fun.
Signs are in French, but many shopkeepers speak English and are happy to assist.
Shoppers stroll from store to store, holding a loaf of crispy French baguette in one hand and a colorful bouquet from the florist in the other. They buy pates and terrines, gleaming produce, duck sausages and pastries that are as light as a cloud.
La Fromagerie is a cheese lover’s paradise. Hundreds of artisanal cheeses from Europe and Quebec are laid out in a tempting display. Ask nicely, and you will get a sample.
Boulangerie Première Moisson sells everything from bread to jam, but customers celebrating a special occasion go straight for the eye-catching cakes, towering sculptural masterpieces of chocolate and fruit.
Outdoor stalls operate from March to October. Indoor stores are open year-round.
Whether they take it neat, on the rocks or in a Manhattan, bourbon aficionados know there’s nowhere like the Old Seelbach Bar in Louisville to wet their whistle. Tucked away inside the opulent Hilton Seelbach Hotel (Old Seelbach Hotel, 500 S. Fourth St., Louisville, Ky., 800-333-3399, seelbachhilton.com), a historical landmark, the bar stocks about 150 bourbons. Most of the world’s bourbon is distilled in nearby Bardstown, so it’s little wonder this swanky drinking establishment is supplied with practically every imaginable label.
Those looking for something special, say a rare single-barrel or small-batch bourbon, are likely to find it in abundance. Think sipping Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23-year-old bourbon is about as likely as discovering a unicorn in your back yard? This rare limited edition is notoriously hard to come by, but you can drink it all night at the Old Seelbach. Bring your credit card. It’s $275 for a single pour.
If your pockets aren’t that deep, try the Seelbach cocktail. This fizzy drink was created accidentally in 1917 when a flustered bartender poured Champagne into an Old Fashioned, but customers loved it. During Prohibition, the recipe was lost, but it was rediscovered in 1995. It’s as popular today as it was a century ago.