Ye Olde Pub Crawl

It’s no accident that several of the pubs here have “olde” in their names; the most recent among them was created in 1905. This crawl is a great way to while away an afternoon into the evening– particularly if the weather’s chilly and the pubs with fireplaces have them lit while you’re getting lit. Start off at the Holborn or Chancery Lane Tube stop. Try to do this crawl during the week if possible, as pubs in this part of London can have funny hours or be a bit dead on the weekends. NB: This is not a very long walk, so pace yourself with the pints or you will indeed be crawling.

Barrels in London Pub, Cittie of Yorke
Roll out the barrel at the Cittie of Yorke

Pub 1: The Cittie of Yorke, 22 High Holborn, WC1V 6BN
While the building that houses this pub was rebuilt in the 1920s, the Cittie of Yorke’s interior has been deemed historically signficant for its much older fittings, like the large triangular stove that helps warm the high-ceilinged main bar in the winter. Though the main floor is very spacious, the dark wood interior and huge barrels on the walls make it feel intimate.

Particularly cozy and good for conversation are the Victorian cubicles along the wall, once used by lawyers to consult with clients since the Cittie is situated in the heart of legal London. The lawyers and their clients always must have been thirsty, as a pub has apparently been situated on the location since 1430. The Cittie of Yorke is a Samuel Smith’s pub, so serves only its own brand of beers, wines, and liquors (all very good!) for more reasonable prices than a lot of the other pub groups.

Pub 2: Ye Olde Mitre, 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, EC1N 6SJ
This pub can be tricky to find, but that’s part of the fun. The easiest way to reach Ye Olde Mitre is by walking down a very small, doorway-sized alley just off Hatton Garden. Hatton Garden itself is worth a look; there are all sorts of wholesale jewellers on the street, buying and selling gold, diamonds, and other precious doo-dads.

Such finery would have been perfect for the Bishops of Ely, who used to have a palace where Ye Olde Mitre sits, hence the pub’s name and symbol– a bishop’s mitre. The pub was purportedly constructed for the servants of the Bishops of Ely in 1546 and, because the land was owned by the Bishops of Ely, the pub technically used to be a part of Cambridge. According to lore, Queen Elizabeth I danced around a cherry tree in front of the pub.

More recently and better documented by film, Ye Olde Mitre was featured in the movie, “Snatch.” A Fuller’s pub with a lot of great guest ales, the toasties at Ye Olde Mitre are also excellent, particularly when eaten by the fire in the snug bar at the front. There’s a friendly elderly bar man who will enthusiastically tell you much more about the pub’s cinematic appearances and history if it’s quiet and he happens to be working when you visit.

Pub 3: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street on Wine Office Court, EC4A 2B4
Another Sam Smith’s pub, Ye  Old Cheshire Cheese features a lovely, very dark snug bar upstairs with a sweet fireplace and a cavernous basement– literally caverns. The vaulted cellars may go back to the 13th century, when a monastery stood on the site.

A pub has been situated here since the 1600s and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has quite a few historic associations as a result, particularly literary ones. Dr. Johnson’s house is around the corner, prompting much speculation about the frequency of his custom. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was also frequented and well-documented by Charles Dickens, notably mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities.

Stained Glass in London Pub, The Bell Tavern
Find illumination at the Bell Tavern

Pub 4: The Bell Tavern, 95 Fleet Street, EC4Y 1DH
Though the interior of this pub feels more modern, particularly since it’s part of the Nicholson’s empire, The Bell is worth stopping by for a pint. The building was constructed by Sir Christopher Wren (whose most notable accomplishment among notable accomplishments is St. Paul’s Cathedral). One of Wren’s other commissions in the 1600s after the Great Fire of London was to rebuild the nearby St. Bride’s Church. Wren constructed the building that’s now home to the Bell to house stonemasons working on the reconstruction.

Pub 5: The Blackfriar, 174 Queen Victoria Street, EC4V 4EG
When considering both interior and exterior, the Blackfriar is the “newest” pub on this crawl, built back in 1905. The Blackfriar is also a Nicholson’s pub, but the interior here is impossible to modernize. The Blackfriar is one of the most gorgeous pubs in London– a lush, amazingly detailed demonstration of Art Nouveau by an architect and artist who were proponents of the Arts & Crafts movement.

Black Friar at the Blackfriar London pub
Follow in the footsteps of friars

Friars appear throughout the reliefs and mosiacs, as the pub sits where a friary once stood, hence its and the train station’s name, Blackfriar(s).  In the back sitting area, the walls are adorned with credos that are worth pondering– particularly now that you’ve likely had a few.

Hotel Empress Zoe

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul Turkey
The Hagia Sofia, Near the Hotel Empress Zoe

The word’s out about Zoe. A few weeks ago, a friend and I just tried to book into the Hotel Empress Zoe— one of my favorite hotels anywhere on the planet– and it was already sold out for September. Last time I visited, I made a reservation only a week before I arrived.

Because the scarcity is a sign of the hotel’s excellence and an indicator of Istanbul’s growing popularity as a destination,  it just means you have to plan ahead. Further ahead than you may like at certain times of year, but the Hotel Empress Zoe is definitely worth it: wonderfully friendly and helpful staff, a great central location, and unique touches that always remind you that you’re in enchanting Istanbul. 

Situated in the Sultanhamet, staying at the Empress Zoe puts you within walking distance of the iconic and astounding Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Topkapi Palace, among several other essential Istanbul sites. You’ll be well-fuelled for sightseeing with the excellent coffee and delicious breakfast buffet, which you can eat in the hotel’s lovely garden.

Before or after seeing the sights, you can recline on a a comfortable daybed that’s covered in Turkish textiles. (Many of the hotel’s rooms and suites have daybeds and other unique extras, like marble hamam style bathrooms.) The daybed in my room was perfect for reading the works of Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize-winning author who weaves so much of Istanbul and Turkey into his transformative writing.

Sometimes, you’re sad when a great gem of a hotel gets popular. But other times, you think, well, they deserve the success. The folks who own and run the Hotel Empress Zoe definitely deserve every success. So if you’re fixing to go to Turkey, plan ahead so that you can stay at one of the most welcoming and unique places I’ve ever stayed in my travels.

The Hotel Empress Zoe’s Web Site: http://www.emzoe.com/
More About Orhan Pamuk: http://www.orhanpamuk.net/

The Girl & the Fig

Salad with Carrot Vinaigrette, Girl & the Fig
Lettuce Love This Salad

Sonoma makes it easy to forget where you are, and that’s not just some side effect from all the wine drinking. The vineyards, the sunshine, and the verdant country lanes conspire to make you believe you’re in Tuscany or some bewitching corner of France. After a lovely long lunch featuring Sonoma County’s best ingredients prepared with a bistro flair, The Girl & the Fig restaurant just off Sonoma’s central plaza will definitely make you think you’re living la vie en rose.

The restaurant’s sun-drenched patio is a great place to dine for a few hours, although my husband and I often prefer the bar; you can learn a lot from the masters who mix there. The Girl & the Fig has an array of French apéritifs, from Ricard to the more exotic Figoun (an unusual, tasty fig liqueur that makes for an interesting take on a kir royale when mixed with champagne).

Having grown up under the Midwestern Tyranny of Iceberg before agribusinesses started doing crazy things to ship decent lettuce hither and yon, I was once not a fan of salad. Living in California and eating at the Girl & the Fig profoundly changed my view, however.  You can do no better than the produce grown in or near Sonoma County, which the Girl & the Fig proudly features.

That’s why the restaurant’s “salad of the season” is always worth a try. My favorite was one I once had in summer: a few different varieties of mixed greens+ shards of zesty radishes + matchsticks of sweet carrots + freshly made garlicky croutons + housemade carrot vinaigrette = heaven. (My picture above doesn’t do that salad justice, but I love the colors.)

If you happen to visit the restaurant when radishes abound, be sure to give them a try. You’ve never tasted how good a radish can truly be until you’ve had one of the heirloom radishes at The Girl & the Fig. With a little bit of cool butter and a dash of grey salt for dipping, fresh radishes make a refreshing, yummy appetizer. 

Though it seems remiss to zero in on veggies at a restaurant that has excellent mussels, scrumptious duck confit, a to-die-for gourmet cheeseburger, and some of the world’s best crème brûlée, it’s the care for Sonoma’s simpler bounties that always makes me curious to come back and explore how the menu has changed with the seasons. And it’s always so good, I have even been prompted to dream of Sonoma when in France.

The Girl & the Fig – 110 West Spain Street, Sonoma
An online taste:  http://www.thegirlandthefig.com/

Do You Corfu?

Fortress, Corfu Town
Stunning Views in Corfu Town

Before we begin, we would like to wish Prince Philip (aka the Queen of England’s hubby), a very happy birthday. Prince Philip was born on Corfu on the date of this entry’s publication a whopping 4 score and a decade ago. If you believe the newspapers, Prince Philip would probably welcome my greeting by saying something inappropriate to me, but you get to do what you want when you’re 90 and were once, according to lore, smuggled from your island home in a fruit basket as a wee tot.

Fortunately, you do not need to get to and from Corfu in such dire modes of transport. While the rusty little ferry that brings you to Corfu from Igoumenitsa is certainly not confidence-inspiring, the ferries aren’t near as cramped as a fruit basket would be. Of course, with all the budget airlines now, you can also fly to Corfu very  easily and avoid the rust bucket ferries, but getting to an iconic Greek isle by boat– even rusty ones with engines that make ominous grinding sounds– is all part of the adventure.

Though many flock to Corfu for relaxing villa holidays on the island’s somewhat less populated shores, staying in cosmopolitan Corfu Town for a few days provides a nice mix of seaside relaxation with the pleasant bustle of an island town. (It’s a particularly good idea to stay in Corfu Town if you visit during the off-season; the rest of the island can get a little too mellow when it’s not the height of tourist time.) 

As befitting a place on UNESCO’s world heritage list, Corfu’s old town has an interesting mix of architecture that comes from being a point of interest for the numerous empires that perpetually harrassed it (the Venetians, the Turks, and the British, to name a few).  To look back even further into the island’s more mythical past, the Archeological Museum of Corfu offers an impressive collection of artifacts from around the island, and is worth the hour or two it takes to visit. (I particularly liked a very nice reconstructed temple frieze of Medusa, the original femme fatale.) NB: Keep in mind that many Greek establishments regularly keep slightly irregular hours; with the troubles in Greece at present, staffing at even large museums has been a problem. As the museum’s not too far from the town center, it  might be a good idea to visit and see when opening times are. (No matter what’s going on, a lot of museums all over Greece seem to shut after 2ish or 3ish).

For a nice, easy walk from the town center, head out to Villa Mon Repos. The Villa is Prince Philip’s birthplace and is encircled by lovely parkland open to the public. Level footpaths take you around a good assortment of moss-covered ruins that are nestled in a pleasantly shady forest. And the shade is prized; even in the winter months, Corfu can be very hot.

Corfu Town Harbor
Lovely Harbor, Corfu Town

Back in town after our rambles in nature and along the Ionian sea, my husband and I really enjoyed staying at the Hotel Cavalieri. The hotel has a great location right in the town center, next to a slew of cafes and bars that stay open well into dawn. The hotel’s roof bar offers stunning views, making the roof deck popular with locals when it’s open in season. Our neat, clean room also had a lovely view of the sea.  

In addition to lovely vistas, Corfu Town also offers a more meat-tastic highlight– the perfect gyro. In an admittedly obsessive quest to taste the best gyro in Greece, my husband and I found one of the strongest contenders in Corfu Town. We ate the gyro of our dreams (enrobed in some kind of delicious, tangy brown sauce) at the “O Ninoe” taverna at least once a day. The other homestyle Greek food served there was also compelling and drew a fairly large local following, but our hearts were stuck on the gyro.

Of course, there’s lots of seafood to choose from in Corfu as well, which can be enjoyed at numerous seaside restaurants. However, our taste for calamari quickly tapered off after seeing numerous locals catching octopi on our walks. Was it the severed chicken foot used as bait? Was it the sick wet thwacking sound as the fisherman brained the octopus on seaside rocks? One never knows with such sudden culinary aversions. Suffice it to say that this spectacle focused our minds even more on the meaty delights of O Ninoe and all the pleasures that can be found away from the seaside in Corfu’s lovely, well-preserved old town.

Coordinates —

Golden Boy Pizza

Golden Boy Pizza, North Beach, SF
Follow the Finger

Having grown up in Chicagoland, I’m a bit of a fiend for deep dish. On tasting this savory goodness, a visiting English friend found Chicago deep dish to be more like a “heavy, Italian-flavored fondue in a cornmeal crust.”  Mmm. What’s not to love about a garlicky tomato and cheese fondue in a pie?

As a deep dish purist, I can attest to it being nearly impossible to find a good deep dish outside of Chicago. (My dad swears it’s some alchemy involving the lake water and perfect crusts.) That was, of course, until I followed the neon finger to Golden Boy, a wonderful divey pizza joint in San Francisco’s North Beach.

While not technically a true deep dish in the Chicago sense of the term, Golden Boy’s thick crust is golden on the outside and chewy on the inside, with a pleasantly tangy tomato sauce and my approved sauce to cheese ratio. (Full disclosure: I prefer a saucier slice than a cheesy one.) The crust holds up well to a variety of toppings: the pepperoni slice is a personal favorite, but I’ve never been unhappy with the sausage, veggie, or even the seafood slice at Golden Boy.

The square slices are only a few bucks. Whole rectangles aren’t that pricey either. And there’s a fine selection of craft beers on tap to accompany your multiple slices. (You will definitely have more than one. Save room!)

Follow the finger to Golden Boy, 542 Green Street (just off Jasper in North Beach)

Check the Boy out online at: http://www.goldenboypizza.com/