Restaurant Reviews 2

Filmmaker Dennis F. Stevens snapped this photo of Champagne Taittinger’s then owner, Claude Taittinger, during a catered lunch at Claude’s family home, Château Marguetterie, just outside Reims, France.   Pictured beside Claude is iconic food and wine critic, Robert Lawrence Balzer. 
Château Marguetterie, the Taittinger ceremonial family home, just outside Reims, France. 

Culinary & Travel Experiences of Dennis F. Stevens,

as published in his Weekly, Celebrity Email Newsletter


The following travel experiences and restaurant commentaries are in no particular chronological order.  





Part Two 


No.  7:        Four Nights on Paradise Island: 

New Providence Island is that part of the Bermuda Islands that contains Nassau, Paradise, together with several other popular islands.  A condominium at Paradise Island’s Marina Village was my destination as I caught the early morning Delta shuttle (Friday 18 Oct.) from Idaho Falls to Salt Lake City and from there the flight to JFK, Long Island, New York.  


At JFK I was picked up my former Playboy pictorial model, Nicole Kelley.  While working at Warner Bros. in Burbank, she moonlighted with me as a model.   As a part-time photographer, I had been with Playboy off and on since 1959.  Nicole had asked me to help celebrate her upcoming 44th birthday.  Currently, she is the executive secretary to the editor-In-chief for one of the world’s top publishing houses; which editor had turned over the keys to her Paradise Island condo.   


As a Playboy model, Nicole never made the centerfold although she came close a few times.  Nevertheless, she was one of the magazines highest paid models.   As an aside, Playboy has a new young model who also goes by the name Nicole Kelley.  Don’t be confused, they are no relation. 


Nicole has a 1790 square foot townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper West Side at 111th Street, a half block from Riverside Drive (next to the lovely Riverside Park Yacht Marina) just north of where “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) was mostly filmed.  From JFK she drove to the townhouse where we changed for dinner and enjoyed a bottle of properly chilled Veive Clicquot Rose French champagne from Nicole’s extensive wine cellar. 


Three weeks earlier, Nicole had made reservations at her favorite Manhattan Restaurant; Michelin Guide’s 3-star rated Le Bernardin, 155 West 51st Street (in the Equitable Building).  The reservation was for 8 p.m. and at that hour we had no trouble finding street parking, a half block from the restaurant. 


Chef Eric Ripert was on site and came to our table to personally greet Nicole.  Instead of ordering off the menu, we put ourselves in Ripert’s hands, challenging him to make us happy.   He did. 


And so did sommelier Aldo Sohm.  Whereas in the past we have enjoyed wines worth hundreds of dollars per bottle, this time we made a pact to spend the money on the food and go for wines priced under $40 - $50 per bottle.  Sommelier Sohm found just the right wines, one a California, oaky and buttery Chardonnay and the second bottle a similar white Burgundy. 


For Hors d’Oeuvres, I was served the assortment of lightly spiced oysters (six pieces, 3- fresh & 3-cooked) and Nicole enjoyed the charred octopus “a la plancha” with green olive and black garlic emulsion and sundried tomato sauce vinaigrette. 


I was served the salad of the day, with herbs and vegetables and a balsamic-shallot vinaigrette.  Nicole received the sautéed langoustine summer truffle and chanterelle, with aged balsamic vinaigrette. 


For the main course, Chef Ripert served three dishes for us to share. 


The first dish was Scottish salmon; candy-striped beets, pumpernickel croutons, and horseradish sauce.  The second was marinated Nantucket bay scallops.  And the third dish consisted of red wine braised melt in your mouth short ribs; winter vegetables, and wild mushrooms with a parsnip purée.    


For dessert, Chef Ripert let us divide two dishes.  One, a chestnut cream, Meyer lemon, rum-vanilla sorbet; and the other a warm pecan "tart", with red wine poached pear and bourbon caramel.


The meal and wine were to die for.  Thanks Chef Eric Ripert and sommelier Aldo Sohm for a fantastic epicurean delight. 


Saturday morning, after parking Nicole’s Mercedes in the long-term lot, we caught the three hour direct flight from JFK to Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS) in Nassau.   Marina Village, Paradise Island, is only a 30 to 45 minute drive from the airport depending on traffic.  We rented a red Ford Mustang GT 5.0 V-8, 6-speed manual with GPS, and headed across the first of the two bridges to Paradise Island and the Marina Village condominium; which I should point out is not a timeshare.      


The condominium overlooks the yacht harbor which handles multimillion dollar boats, yachts and schooners up to 125 feet.  The condos were built by Kerzner International and originally sold for approximately $749,000.  Shortly after the purchase by Nicole’s boss,  when it was announced that there would be no more condominiums or townhouses allowed to be built at Marina Village, the price doubled. 


Weather during our stay ranged from a daytime high of 87 degrees and 77 degrees at night, a little warm, especially at night, but due to the ubiquitous air-conditioning all was very pleasant.  On Wednesday, the day we left, severe thunderstorms hit the area; so our timing was perfect.  


Arriving at the condominium I saw why Nicole brought only her iPhone 5 (which I haven’t a clue how to use) and didn’t bring her Apple laptop.  There was already a functional computer in the 1825 square foot condo, hooked to the Internet via Wi-Fi.  I immediately logged on and retrieved and answered most of my email correspondence, which averages nearly one hundred per day.   While I was doing this, Nicole raided the wine cellar and came up with a delightful California Pinot Noir from the Fess Parker winery in Santa Barbara County, and two appropriate crystal glasses. 


The satellite television boxes (to the two 42 inch flat screen HD TVs, one in the master bedroom and one in the living room) were already hooked up and operational, although I don’t recall watching much TV during our stay. 


The Marina Village is the Beverly Hills equivalent of Rodeo Drive.  Its restaurants are among the world’s best.  No money is spared on atmosphere and the quality of meals.  Many, like Café Martinique, are small chains run by celebrity chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Nobu Matsuhisa. 


There is not enough space to fully describe the meals and wines we enjoyed in each of these outstanding culinary adventures; like any food and wine critic, I filled two 3X5 memo books with details; but not to fear, I will stick to only the highlights.    


But first, a little background. 


When Nicole told me that her boss had turned over her keys to the Marina Village condominium, I told her I was not all that sure I wanted to revisit Paradise Island since its developer, and my occasional friend, “Sol” Kerzner, had been forced out of the company he founded.   I suggested we spend the time in Manhattan; but she wouldn’t hear of it. 


Kerzner’s financial slide began after the loss of his son, Howard “Butch” Kerzner in a tragic helicopter crash in the Dominican Republic, seven years ago.  At too rapid a pace Sol subsequently overbuilt the Atlantis Resort; lost billons to Canada’s Brookfield, resulting in Brookfield taking ownership of three or more of Kerzner’s One & Only hotels; all of this after the new government of Bophuthatswana turned against him.  


Although, since “Butch’s” death, I saw him rarely (at the time he was busy building the Atlantis Resort in Dubai), I did script and help film his “Only in Atlantis” Paradise Island TV commercials.  This campaign was, of course, several years ago. 


Upon my recommendation, Sol brought in prolific producer & director Brett Ratner and director of photography Derius Khondji to film the highly successful “Only in Atlantis” TV spots.  I was the production manager, assistant director, and Khondji’s camera operator (when he himself wasn’t behind the lens).  Many of these shots were filmed from one of the resort’s own helicopters.  Marketing was by CAA Marketing, a division of the Creative Artists Agency. 


But the saturated TV campaign and enormous buy wasn’t enough to save the Paradise Island Empire in such a drastic worldwide market turndown.   It was simply a classic case of over expanding in a down market.   


Kerzner wasn’t the only resort / casino operator to suffer huge losses as a result of the economic turndown; Steve Wynn’s Macau and Vegas operations took similar losses, but Wynn wasn’t nearly as heavily leveraged as was Kerzner and thus has been able to survive.  Macau is now showing decent profits as is his Wynn Resorts Vegas operation.  


At the time I wrote and helped film the TV commercials there were five hotels that make up the Atlantis, Paradise Island complex; the iconic Royal Towers; the Cove; the Coral Towers; the Beach Towers; and the Reef hotel.   Now there are 14 hotels. 


Numerous movies have been shot on the premises, including the James Bond movie Casino Royale. 


Arriving in Marina Village, I was amazed at how the Island had grown since my last visit.  It was unbelievable.  Reminded me of when I first visited Southern California in 1953, with its orange orchards between towns, and driving the same roads a mere 10 years later.  If only Sol Kerzner could have hung on. 


Meeting the iconic Sol Kerzner: 


I first met Solomon “Sol” Kerzner at the ABC News division office in Johannesburg, in November of 1979.  I had been commissioned by Reuters to cover the final days of the Zimbabwe War of Independence.  Previously, a journalist for ABC News had been killed covering the war just as I was about to do.  ABC News was turning over their dead colleague’s equipment to me in exchange for sharing the coverage.  The equipment consisted of a $65,000 Betacam camera, and a Volkswagen bus with a 350 amp generator with type “C” uplink capabilities. 


ABC was to have exclusive rights to my video interviews and Reuters the exclusive rights to my written interviews. 


With the two of us hitting it off, Kerzner invited me to stay at any of his Sun Hotels, opened or closed, in either Bulawayo or Victoria Falls.  As it happened, the Sun hotel in Victoria Falls at the time was the world famous Victoria Falls Hotel, and it was shut down, boarded up, and painted a horrible pea green, which color had significance to the Mashona rebels.   


Power to the hotel had been cut off, but not the water.  However, without power to pump it from the wells, the water remained inaccessible.  But I had the Volkswagen bus, the 350-amp generator, up and downlink capabilities and plenty of gas in the form of five gallon cans filling the van and also secured to the top and sides.  I tapped the generator into the mains (behind one of the breaker boxes) and using the DC/AC converter managed to get limited power restored to the hotel, including the refrigerators and freezers; the stoves, which operated on large canisters of natural gas.  Soon were soon up and running.  


While I now had water gas and power, food was still hard to come by.  Although I packed a Beretta M9 pistol and 50 rounds of ammunition, and there was a game reserve just east of the hotel, shooting any of those animals, especially the succulent sable antelope could possibly have landed me in prison; despite my good intentions; (i.e.) to put some tasty streaks in the freezer.  Thanks to my cattle growing and hunter father, I had a working knowledge of how to bleed out and skin the animals; trimming as much meat as possible from the carcass in the manner and order taught me by my father and uncles.   Sadly, no sable antelopes were stored in the freezers. 


I was in the process of losing weight fast when a van from Livingston (the city just across the boarder) crossed the bridge over the Zambezi (downstream from the Falls) and showed up at the closed hotel.  The van unloaded fresh food, including steaks, eggs, pasta, adult beverages (including some great South African (Western Cape Province) wines), and all kinds of fruit and vegetables.  The food had been sent and paid for by Sol Kerzner.  Since they were up and running, I stored everything in the hotel’s coolers and freezers.  


You might think that having a world famous, luxury hotel all to yourself would be a kick.  You would be mistaken.  Yes, I had the luxury of merely moving to a different room instead of changing the sheets, and there were enough dishes that no thought was given to washing or cleaning up.  But being alone, even in that former Michelin three-star environment made me uneasy and longing for company.  And, after all, Michelin gave out its stars largely based upon service, of which I had zip. 


My mandate was to interview the indigenous Shona (Mashonas), Ndebele (Matabele), and neighboring insurgents coming across the bridge from Zambia for the purpose of defeating the Ian Smith regime.  I also interviewed and spent considerable time with the Selous Scouts, the small group of South African mercenaries who fought on the side of Ian Smith and against Robert Mugabe.  Knowing what they could expect from the communist dictator, many members of the minority Ndebele tribes fought with the white, South African mercenaries, for which they later paid the price. 


After independence, Mugabe’s communist backed Mashonas attempted to wipe out the fiercely independent and anti-communist Matabele.  Thanks to the Selous Scouts, Mugabe was unsuccessful, although many lives were lost.  In hindsight, it goes without saying that both the Shona and Matabele tribes were far better off under the Ian Smith government than they are today under Robert Mugabe. 


But, now back to Paradise Island. 


The food on the island is simply amazing.  Whether you are looking for local Bahamian Cuisine or want to enjoy food from world renowned chefs, Atlantis and Paradise Island has something for you.  And, yes, Cuban cigars are available in many of the resort gift or sundries shops, including Cohiba, Montecristo, and Romeo et Juliet.   Sadly, it’s illegal to bring them home to the U.S., so don’t bother to stock up. 


But Dennis, besides eating fabulous food and smoking Cuban cigars, what did you and Nicole do all day?   Great question.   Answer:  We went scuba diving. 


The Bahamas offers some great spots to scuba dive close to shore or just a short boat ride away.  The Bahamas is used as a featured shooting site for movies and popular TV shows include many of the James Bond movies, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.”  Those staying on Paradise Island have a few dive operators to choose from including Stuart Cove, Bahamas Divers and Blue Adventures at the Atlantis Resort (operated by Stuart Cove).  All three of these operators have a top notch team and will take you on a memorable diving experience. 


On Monday, we chose Thunderball Reef:  Famed from the 1965 James Bond Movie “Thunderball.”  Thunderball reef is one of the more shallow dives at only 25 - 30 feet, but we were able to experience an abundance of marine life and coral.  A great spot for beginner divers or James Bond fanatics.  


On Tuesday, we dove on the Mahoney Wreck.  Right off the coast of Atlantis is the ship wreck of the Mahoney.  During a hurricane in 1929, the Mahoney sank and has been a fish sanctuary ever since.  Diving to a depth of 45 to 55 feet you are able to tour the remains of the ship and see abundant marine life including Nassau grouper, lion fish, yellow tail and more.  A 50 foot dive can require a controlled, slow ascent to the surface in order to prevent the bends; depending upon the amount of bottom time.   Nevertheless, it’s not a dive for amateurs, unless supervised by professionals.   


On Tuesday’s Mahoney dive, because of my age (74), they wanted their RN to check me out to make sure I had the stemma.  Nicole was prepared to sign a sworn affidavit stating that my stemma was just fine, but they told her that her version of stemma wasn’t exactly what the nurse had in mind.  Turned out blood pressure was 131 over 69; pulse rate was a little low at between the high forties and low fifties; blood sugar and pro-time were an ideal 105 and 2.5 respectively; so despite the atrial fibrillation and oxygen rate being on the low side, the RN cleared me for the dive.   It was a terrific experience. 


The bottom time for the Mahoney dive was 60- 70 minutes at a depth of 17 meters.  Unless you had dived within the past 12 hours, no decompression time would normally be needed.  However, as a practice exercise, the dive team ascended at the standard rate of 60 feet per minute following a rope marked with various depth flags, with a four minute stopover at the flag marking the 30 foot depth; all very professional, exciting, and a great learning experience.  


My previous diving experience consisted of dives to 100 feet at Lake Tahoe, out of South Shore, Nevada, in the early 1960s before diving certificates were required to refill your tanks.   Rather than get a diving certificate, thinking I was above it all, I gave up the sport.   However, I got one later. 


But upon arrival in Nassau, Saturday (early afternoon), we spent Saturday night and on Sunday getting our bearings and doing some serious gambling at the Atlantis Resort.  While Nicole shopped at the Marina Village (all purchased shipped to her Manhattan townhouse via FedEx), I played Baccarat and then Blackjack.  Unlike James Bond, I lost at Baccarat but made it back at Blackjack, ending up with approximately $550 net.   Nicole netted about $400 but didn’t spend as much time at the tables.  We were lucky as the minimum wager at the Baccarat table was $100 and Nicole, who’s an experienced Baccarat player (mostly in France), was down about $1,700 when she got on a winning streak and, when ahead knew enough to walk away.  I must point out that neither of us are serious gamblers.  I don’t gamble because I don’t like losing; not because it isn’t exciting.  


When apart, we stayed in contact though her iPhone.  Because there was no service for my own TracFone in the Bahamas, I had to use one of the many pay phones throughout the resorts, and call her.  Unlike the U.S. where such payphones are a past memory, because of cell phone coverage inconsistency, they still exist in the Bahamas.  In that respect, it’s like going back in time.  Therefore it all worked out.  


At night, we hit the lounges, featuring live entertainment and musical acts I had never heard of but which were very, very good.  We enjoyed an assortment of tropical drinks which were also very good.  The resorts on Paradise Island never close and there is entertainment somewhere 24 / 7.   Saturday and Sunday, playing in the main theater, was the “Let It Be,” tribute to the Beatles.  This is a new takeoff on “Rain,” the Beatles impersonation show that played on Broadway for nine months in 2010 and 2011. 


We caught the Sunday evening performance; which brought back a lot of memories; probably more for me than for the younger Nicole.   There were posters for upcoming shows featuring Sir Paul McCartney, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Fergie, and Sir Elton John; the latter of which I only saw perform live at the Hollywood Bowl in 1973; an evening I’ll never forget.  Witnessing the performance from the down front Capital Records box, enjoying the food and wine care-package prepared by Greenblatts Deli (on Sunset Blvd.); the evening was nothing short of magic. 


Now to the restaurants:   There are more than 40 world class restaurants at the Atlantis Resort.  So Dennis, you ask, how many did you enjoy?  Here’s the list. 


Nicole had heard a lot about the Nobu Japanese restaurants (Aspen, Las Vegas, Austin, Athens, etc.) and wanted to try the one located in the Cove Resort & Casino, Atlantis, on Paradise Island.  So Saturday night we tried it out.  Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurant is framed by a glowing green archway located just off the casino floor.  The ambiance and intimate dining experience are simply not to be missed.  The hidden “jewel” of Nobu is, of course, the sake cellar.  


I had the rack of lamb with mint jelly, a salad, red Asparagus and Bahamian rolls.   Nicole ordered the Black Cod glazed in Miso which she said was off the charts great.  We shared 4 or five very fresh sushi rolls, all very good, although I’m not a sushi fan.  For dessert we enjoyed a chocolate ice cream filled with dough-nuts and almonds.  WOW!! 


Sunday we had brunch at Café Matisse in Nassau.   Tucked in a corner, just a block off bustling Bay Street, and specializing in fine Italian food and dining, Matisse was a delight.  With the signature Matisse prints on the wall, a marvelous menu, great personal service and beautiful atmosphere, what more can you ask for. 


After starting off with a Goombay Smash, a tasty and potent rum cocktail, we had the Caprese salad, made with sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, seasoned with salt and olive oil.  For the entree we settled on the grilled lobster in cream sauce and the filet in a green peppercorn sauce.  By the way, the wine list is extensive with some real values to be found. 


Located next to Nobu at the Cove, is another Celebrity chef chain restaurant that Nicole wanted to try; Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and that’s where we ate Sunday evening.  The restaurant was opened in 2009 and has been packed ever since.   You probably know Bobby Fray from his Food Channel show on Saturday mornings.  We had the conch for an appetizer that was served tempura style with a mango salsa.  For the main entrée I had the perfectly seasoned pan seared shrimp, the biggest I have ever seen.  Nicole had the BBQ duck that was absolutely sensational.  I had never eaten duck cooked this way and had to try it.   It was so-o tasty.  I understand that the Fat Duck, outside London, now serves this but at the two times I’ve eaten there it was not on the menu.    


Lunch on Monday was at the unique and beautiful open-air terraced Lagoon Bar & Grill, under an aquatic painted domed ceiling.  This was not gourmet dining but the food was good.  We each had a salad and sandwich.  I chose the turkey sandwich and was surprised at how fresh and moist the turkey tasted.  Waiters referred to the extensive wine list, but it was just too early; especially with an afternoon scuba dive scheduled. 


Dinner Monday evening was at Café Martinque, another small celebrity chef chain; in this case Jean-Georges Vongerichten (New York, New Orleans).  The thing I liked about this gourmet Thai-French restaurant was the atmosphere with a great view of the Bay.   Café Martinque is located in the Marina Village, within walking distance of the condo. 


The food was creative and tasty.  I had the clam chowder and lobster tail in the shell, with plantain; Nicole the risotto and Dover sole off the bone.  We both had the froi gras, which was crispy on the outside but buttery inside.  For dessert we had the Café Martinique.  It is a dessert coffee cooked tableside.  They coat the rim of the glass with lemon, then sugar, and crystallize it over an open flame.  They heat a mixture of brandy and amaretto on the open flame as well, catching the liquor on fire.  They then add the coffee; topping it with heavy cream and a sprinkle of brown sugar. 


After all that and catching a show at the Atlantis Hotel and Resort, we decided to try the late night snack at Olives; Todd English’s Mediterranean cuisine.  Todd also operates an Olives at the Bellagio, in Las Vegas; and in the Plaza, NYC; and, of course his flagship restaurant in Boston.   We both had the oysters washed down with a bottle of Champagne Stéphane Coquillette NV Cuvée Les Clés Blanc de Noirs Brut; one of the rare times we ordered a bottle of wine costing more than $50 dollars.   In each case, I let Nicole calculate the tip; 15 to 20 percent for the food and 10 percent for the wine and adult beverages.   Most restaurants add 15% to the tab just to start with.  If you want to add another 5%, that’s up to you.  But don’t add it to adult beverages or wine.   To tell you the truth, neither Nicole nor I added an extra tip.  


Stéphane Coquillette is a grower Champagne house located in the village of Chouilly in the Côtes des Blancs.  Made entirely from Grand Cru Pinot Noirs grapes grown in Äy, the Cuvée Les Clés is an outstanding value.  Note that Ay is a part of the Tours-sur-Marne champagne region, not far from Epernay, where the house of Laurent Perrier springs forth with its world-renowned champagnes.  Grapes are trucked in enclosed containers filed with nitrogen.  


Guests seated in Olives main dining room—every seat has a view of the kitchen—can watch the culinary team prepare made-to-order cuts of meat or a grilled fresh catch of the day from a rotisserie grill.  All quite eye-catching and interesting.  


Breakfast on Tuesday was at Dune, located at the One & Only Ocean Club resort.  Dune is also run by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and is French-Asian Cuisine; more Asian than fusion. 


There are two iconic breakfast specials on the menu, while they last; both unique, hamburger style sandwiches.  Each consists of generous potations of unsold items from the night before.  The first is roasted Peking duck and locally caught spiny lobster in a mild curry sauce, with tomatoes, lettuce and sweet onions. 

The second breakfast sandwich contains sliced beef sirloin with gingered mushrooms and soy Carmel emulsion with thinly sliced organic pork chop; also served with a curry sauce, tomatoes, lettuce and sweet onions.   The sandwiches are huge, served on fresh baked buns with an omelet, and either French fries, pancakes or a waffle.  Nicole and I ordered one of each sandwich, both which come cut down the middle, and which we shared.   She chose the waffle, I the pancakes.  The taste was to die for; and the omelet was also memorable.  


The wine list was intriguing (but it was too early in the day) including a lot of California Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries; many of which I had not heard of.   . 


Because we were scuba diving Tuesday afternoon, we skipped lunch – which was probably a wise decision.  


But that evening, we managed to fit in a delightful dinner at the Seafire Steakhouse. 


We had reservations for 8 pm and were seated within 10 minutes of arriving and carried the adult beverages we had just ordered at the bar (Jack Daniels Manhattans) to our table.  Before ordering anything, I got hooked on the hot bread and butter and Nicole had to warn me to leave room for the main course.  We both ordered the shrimp cocktail to start and for the entrée I had the surf and turf (rack of BBQ beef ribs and lobster tail) with a Cesar salad; and Nicole a thick (1 ½ -inch cut of prime rib and a blue cheese salad.  We consumed this with a bottle of Hogue (Prosser Washington) and a few glasses of Jordan cabernet sauvignon. 


First, I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of steak houses but enjoy a good steak on occasion.  To my surprise, both our meals were simply GREAT!!  The rack of ribs was at least a foot long with lots of meat and cooked just right.  The lobster was also just the right size and temperature.   But the piece de resistance was the medium rare prime rib au jus (French for “with its own juice”), served with creamed spinach and horseradish and a loaded baked potato on the side.  Nicole already knew a trick taught me by producer-director Duke Goldstone.  Mix part of the horseradish with the creamed spinach. 


For breakfast Wednesday morning, we tried Mosaic at the Cove.  Without reservations, we went at 9:30 a.m. and although it was fairly full, we were seated immediately.  The food was fresh and hot.  


 It costs $32.00 per person for an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.  In this buffet, you'll find the usual variety of eggs, bacon, fruit, omelets, waffles, coffee, etc plus a few nice surprises including a carving station for ham and baron of beef.  At the egg / omelet station, we found extras like crab legs and some native Bahamian dishes like Stewed Fish – most freshly made.  


We each had two mimosas, made with a terrific blanc de blanc, high end French champagne and fresh squeezed oranges, at a most reasonable cost of only $42 (for all four).    

We enjoyed the fresh fruit, and the ambience was clean with waterfalls that made it enjoyable to sit.  Naturally, we ate enough to last for the rest of the day and evening. 


None of the celebrity chefs, except for Angelo Ella and perhaps one or two others were in Atlantis at the time of our dining experiences.   Sadly we didn’t dine at Chef Angelo’s Casa’ D Angelo’s located in the Coral Towers, Atlantis Resort & Casino.  To bad, because Nicole is on a first name bases with two chefs of the restaurants in which we did dine, and it would have been fun for me to have interviewed them. 


Photos.   Using Nicole’s iPhone 5s, I took some photos of my former Playboy model, now in her mid forties (still looking great, clothed or unclothed); which photos I will post among my Facebook albums; sometime in the near future, with Nicole’s permission, of course.  The album will be entitled:  Nicole at Atlantis: Oct. 2013.    


A quick point.   If you’re not used to it, dining service can seem slow in the Bahamas and especially the Caribbean.  That’s because of the culture.  Waiters don’t want to appear pushy or in your face and cooks aren’t used to performing at top speed, like they are in NYC or on the Food Channel.  In Manhattan, for instance, if you’re in a hurry for dinner (need to catch a show or something) you can usually get in and out in less than 40 - 45 minutes.  On Paradise Island, plan on up to an hour and-a-half.  So just go with it.  If dining alone, bring a good pocket book and order a large adult beverage.  


Another observation:   When you phone for reservations, many high profile restaurants will remind you that they require jacket and tie; as do the Baccarat rooms require a proper tuxedo (white or dark, depending upon the season) after 10 p.m.  But on this trip, never once did I see this code enforced.  


Caution.     Despite what the ads try to convey, Atlantis is not very child friendly.  It’s an adult milieu; despite it’s Water Park and high-speed water slides.   Food prices are high and restaurants confine the hours in which they will seat children.  Everything is centered on the casinos.  If you want to take your children on a vacation in which they will enjoy, stick to Disney World or Disney Land; possibly even Sea World and Six Flags over Texas.   If you disagree, email me.  I want to hear your experiences. 


Around 1:30 p.m., Nicole and I departed Lynden Pinding International (Nassau), she for JFK and me for Salt Lake City and the Delta shuttle to Idaho Falls; with a change of planes in Atlanta.    


My flight from Nassau to Atlanta was first class.  Sadly the Delta flight continuing to Salt Lake City was not.  Imagine my surprise when I ended up seated next to Chef Angelo Ella on the Nassau to Atlanta segment.  I had no idea who he was until several passengers came up and introduced themselves; telling him how much they loved their dining experience at Casa’ D Angelo; praising him on his Tuscany – Caribbean fusion style.  Needless to say, not missing a beat, I did get my interview which I might publish in a subsequent newsletter or sell to the L.A. Times, Magazine section.  


One thing told me during the interview that I will reveal is Angelo’s advice to young people who passionately want to someday operate their own restaurants.  He said to move to Las Vegas or Miami (possibly Los Angeles) and over a period of time take one or more jobs as a dishwasher under one or more celebrity chefs and learn the business.  Watch the chef perform and volunteer to go on his or her early morning treks to the farmers markets; helping carry the food; learning what to buy and what to avoid, and why. 


Las Vegas, Miami, and Los Angeles were mentioned only because these cities, unlike NYC or Paradise Island, have areas close to the restaurants in which one could live relatively inexpensively. 


Angelo Ella doesn’t rule out taking costly Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts type courses, but merely offers this as an alternative approach for those with limited financial resources.   He suggested one would be surprised what a high tech SEIU union dishwasher, particularly in these cities, makes these days. 


He also told me the secret to good food is to make it from scratch with fresh ingredients and to season it properly, not too much; not too little; even when using sauces, something he says you cannot learn in culinary school but only through experience.  


I don’t anticipate eating anything for the next several days. 


No. 8:       Over the weekend, I had a great time with my two daughters, Melbi and Erin, and granddaughter Chloe, in Phoenix.  Chloe, nearing 8 years of age, just returned from three weeks traveling with her mother and stepfather through Greece, Italy and Paris, France.   She told me all about it in very articulate terms.  When imitating a classic short story I spelled out the word p-r-e-c-o-c-i-o-u-s to her mother Erin and my daughter Melbi.  I had to laugh when both, simultaneously, asked their iPhones for the meaning of precocious.  I guess it’s a sign of the times; an education system that stresses political correctness over reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic; and a technology none of us old fogies ever dreamed of, mere years ago. 


Melbi flew in from Burbank and I from Idaho Falls; arriving and departing less than an hour apart from one another, on different airlines.  I rented a brand new 7 passenger Chrysler Town and Country van (with less than 400 miles on it) and we proceeded to the Hilton Embassy Suites on Camelback Road. 


Friday night, looking in on the Omaha Steak House, located within the Hilton Embassy Suites, I noticed there were only about three couples enjoying dinner and another two at the bar.  Despite its reputation for excellent food featuring mostly great prime beef, Melbi and I decided to go down the street to Chili’s; a happening spot and which we don’t have anywhere near Rexburg.  The place was jammed.  We managed to get a great table where we each ordered a full rack of baby back ribs with all the trimmings, including corn on the cob, mashed potatoes with gravy and sweet potato fries. 


Melbi ordered her ribs Memphis style and I ordered the dry rub.  Both were sensational and we washed them down with Patron Silver Cadillac Margaritas.  Because of some meeting she had to attend, Erin couldn’t join is at Chili’s. 


Returning to the hotel, I retired early while Erin waited up for her sister to join her.  When Erin finally showed up, she was hungry so she and Melbi had dinner at the Omaha Steak House; charging everything to the room, as most kids are won’t to do.  The bill came to a mere $110. 


I was just amazed that Melbi was able to put away two meals, back-to-back, without it affecting her trim figure.  She explained that her appetite was the result of the physical activity involved in building swimming pools and remodeling houses; she easily burned it off.   As they described what they had ordered, in hind sight, I wish I had been a participant in that meal.  In order to get prime beef in Rexburg, you have to order it shipped in.  


Early Saturday evening we all rode in the new 7 passenger van to the Rockin’ R Ranch in Mesa.  Included were Chloe, Chloe’s mother Gayle, daughter Erin, Erin’s step father Marvin, together with Melbi and me.  Three separate electronic female voices, with different accents, were simultaneously giving directions as to where to turn and how to get there.     


The Rockin’ R, a working ranch with a long pioneer history, is very kid friendly and Chloe had the best time of all of us.  Prior to the dinner show, she panned for gold and twice fired off five rounds from a .44 colt single action peacemaker, even scoring slightly better than her mother.  One of the owners, Big Jim told, me they loaded their own ammo and that since they didn’t have to travel far the bullets contained a little less than half the normal grains of powder as the normal .44 bullet (70gr).  However, that didn’t seem to cut down on their loudness and kick of the shots.  Big Jim also mentioned when they first started the firing range, they used authentic, antique black powder Colts but quickly changed to white powder versions when it became apparent that after firing off a few rounds, nobody could see a thing because of the smoke.  


And, of course, Chloe took the ubiquitous pony ride and played with the mascot goat. 


Today, the Rockin’ R raises prize race horses with the main ranch located in northern Arizona.   In the summer there is one show per week, on Saturday evening.  From Labor Day thru Memorial Day, a Friday night show is added.   The western style shops are not facades, but functioning stores; which sort of reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans.  The ice cream Shoppe is a favorite. 


In the dinner theater, the food was “all you can eat,” and without going back for seconds, it was indeed more than I could possibly consume.  Hot BBQ beef and chicken with a baked potato, beans, hot biscuits (plenty of butter) and applesauce; all washed down with coffee and lemonade; no alcohol beverages are served at the Rockin’ R.   All of this is topped off with a huge ice cream and cake based dessert that Chloe claimed was the best she had ever eaten.  I was too stuffed to try it.  I knew if I did, I would need a nap.  


After everyone has initially gone through the line and been served, the crowd is encouraged to partake of any leftovers until they are gone.  Aside from those “pigs” (as Big Jim referred to them) who initially ordered the combination dinners, If you initially ordered the beef than this is your chance to also taste the succulent BBQ chicken and vise versa.  


Although far from gourmet food, between the BBQ beef and chicken, I found the chicken to be the best by far.  Not only was it tasty with its smoked barbeque flavor, but was juicy and melted in your mouth; that doesn’t mean the beef wasn’t just as tasty, because it certainly was.  The problem, if there was one, was getting a rare slice.  


Although we had up front VIP seating every seat is choice.  The show lasts approximately 90 minutes and is over about the time your rear-end starts to tell you that it’s time to get off the wooden benches and move around. 


And, something that will drive my leftist, anti-Christian friends crazy, a prayer is said prior to serving the chow.   But it is low key, short, (less than 25 seconds) and tasteful.  You’re not forced to bow your head, or say Amen.  They don’t ask you to repent – they just thank God for having nice people to eat with.  Religious or not, what can you find wrong with someone thanking you for being there and spending part of your life with them as a friend?  


The show itself is a trip back in time.  Melbi and I had seen it 27 years earlier when Melbi was Chloe’s age.   She enjoyed it then and she enjoyed it now.  My daughter, Erin had never before heard the songs sung by Big Jim, Sweet Mary and a national champion fiddler calling himself Danny Boy whose playing rivals the speed of light.  All three are backed by a world class drummer and upright bass player; all extremely entertaining.  


Tunes included:  Tumbling Tumbleweed; Back in the Saddle Again; Don’t Fence Me in; Home on the Range; Whoopie Ti-Yi-Yo; Red River Valley; Ghost Riders in the Sky; the William Tell Overture (accompanied by images from the Lone Ranger TV show on giant HD TV screens flanking the stage); and many other iconic western tunes; mostly played and sung to a loud, electronic, rock beat.  


On stage, between comedy banter, Big Jim explained the difference between country music (as sung by Willy Nelson and Patsy Cline); country-western (as sung by Tex Ritter) and the western music made famous by the likes of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.  


After the show, there was a shootout on one of the western, streets next to the blacksmith shop and shooting galley.  The tightly scripted scenario, which lasts from 10 to 12 minutes, features fast draws and very loud gunfire between the good guys and bad guys (the parts played by the band members).  Chloe thought this was the best part of the whole evening; rating it even better than the dessert. 


After the dinner show, Melbi and I had a chance to talk to Sweet Mary and asked if they were the same group who performed when we saw the show, 27 years earlier.  Except for the base player and drummer, they were.  Back then the base player was also a champion fast draw expert who drew and fired his gun several times during the show; and was he ever fast.  Sweet Mary said that there was a good chance he would be returning to the show in the near future.  


That evening, Saturday, Erin also had very expensive tickets for the Drake concert at the US Airways Center.  After the Rockin’ R backstreet shootout the trick was getting her to the concert on time; which we managed to do.  Imagine going back-to-back from western to rapper music; boggles the mind.   Twenty-seven years from now, I hope my granddaughter Chloe will retain the same fond memories of her visit as my daughter Melbi. 


No. 9:      Wednesday, I borrowed a laptop from a friend (who taught me how to logon to Wi-Fi) and made the one and a-half hour drive to Pocatello where I checked into the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel at the Ft. Hall Indian (casino) Reservation for a two night stay; lucky to get a great room for under $100 per night without a reservation.  The hotel is named for the Indian tribe of which Targhee was once their Chief.  


Food at the Camas Sports Grill generally leaves a little to be desired.  Joseph, the young man who checked me in, suggested the best thing on the menu was the prime-rib but that if I wanted a rare cut I had better dine before 8 p.m.  Naturally I followed his advice and ordered the boneless thick cut.  Although it wasn’t really a prime cut of beef, with a little horseradish and the creamed spinach, it wasn’t all that bad.  I got lucky with the Caesar Salad, made at the table.  The ingredients were fresh and crispy.  After an absence of adult beverages on the reservation, beer and wine are now served at the Hotel.  Unfortunately, the wine list needs a complete overhaul.  Dinner is cheap at from $8 - $12.  Because service is slow as molasses, Joseph recommended the buffet for breakfast; a wise decision. 


The purpose of my getaway was to work undisturbed on the dialogue of my latest screenplay.  Thursday (Thanksgiving) I drove to the nearby Golden Corral for the all you can eat, buffet turkey dinner; served only from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., thus giving the highly skilled staff the night off.  


The Golden Corral buffet included the traditional turkey, baked ham, stuffing, cranberries, corn on the cob, baked stuffed and/or mashed potatoes with gravy, a salad bar, a pumpkin based casserole that was tasty together with vegetables, freshly baked biscuits, muffins, rolls and Italian style garlic bread sticks (with packets of jams and butter); all topped off with pie a la mode; including pumpkin, mince, cherry, Dutch apple and rhubarb.  I got there about 11:30 a.m. and the turkey was hot and juicy, cut thick.  Skipping the ham, I enjoying both the white and dark turkey meat.   For $12.95 plus coffee and gratuity, what more could one ask?  


There’s a free shuttle to the casino, but it’s within walking distance or you can just drive your car the 90 yards.  


On the drive back to Rexburg I reflected that the only thing I missed by eating alone was the stimulating conversation with friends and/or relatives, including the couples and their children.  Good food is not necessary an even swap for being with family and loved ones.   


No.  10:       Dennis:       Have you ever thought about starting your own restaurant?   If you were to do so, what kind of food would you serve?     --- Carol Mendelsohn 


Carol:       The kind of restaurant I would want to co-own or manage would take upward of $200,000 just to get up and running.  That’s too rich for me.  


If I were to start one, however, I would call it the Fat Duck BBQ and it would be fashioned after my favorite restaurant in the world, The Fat Duck, located in Bray, West Berkshire, a suburb of London.  The limited menu would consist of smoked BBQ duck, ribs (pork & beef) and chicken; together with a bar food menu consisting of smoker-cooked baron-of-beef, brisket, or corned beef sandwiches au jus on either an onion or Kaiser roll; served with a side of my own coleslaw recipe.   Some items on the menu would be made available for takeout, delivery, and catering.  


A note about the BBQ ribs:  In my ribs, the flavor of the BBQ sauce would be cooked and smoked into the meat so as not to be finger lickin’ good.  In other words, licking the sauce off your fingers after every bite would not be necessary.  The taste is not poured onto, but cooked into, the meat.   In the ideal BBQ rib the meat would melt off the bone without a transfer of the sauce to your fingers. 


I would also have some signature fruit and vegetable dishes for the veggie friends.   My version of Caesar Cardini’s iconic salad, made tableside, would be a meal of its own.  For non veggies, it would come with the left over duck, chicken or rib meat from the night before, cut into small pieces. 


Although I love good, fresh fish, shrimp and oyster dishes, I would avoid fish and shellfish based dishes because of the cost of getting truly fresh product on a daily basis; the labor intensity in cleaning them, and the liability of accidently serving a shrimp dish to someone allergic to shellfish.   I’ll let Red Lobster take that market. 


As an aside, my idea of fresh is fishing Henry’s Lake (near West Yellowstone) as a child, with my cousins, uncles Orrin and Johnny, and Grandpa Earl J. Lee; reeling in a big Rainbow trout and having it go directly from the hook to the adjacent campsite frying pan.  Grandpa Earl supervised the fishing; Orrin the cleaning (he filleted and salted the catch) and Johnny and I did the cooking.   Those fish not eaten were immediately thrown into half full sacks of dry ice.  With all the cousins, we didn’t worry about catching more than our limit.   We all had licenses and just kept reeling them in.  


The trout was served with hot sheepherder biscuits, baked the night before and drowned in home made butter, honey, and raspberry jam.   Uncle Johnny, of course, brought along the makings for his famous, fluffy pancakes in the event the trout were not biting.  Later in the day, tiring of the trout, some of us persuaded him to present us with a different culinary delight; served with real, hard to get and expensive Vermont maple syrup. 


Most people cook duck like chicken; cut up, briefly soaked in a sweet l’orange sauce and flour-based batter, and fried; and that’s why most people don’t appreciate duck.  Although broasting in a pressure cooker is much better, it’s still not the same.  Note:  when broasting under pressure, use 3 cups of canola oil and cook on medium high.  Carefully pierce the skin ahead of time to drain the bird’s fat during cooking, and be sure the pressure sensitive valve is not clogged and is working properly.  Also, when using the pressure cooker, soak the duck in the l’orange sauce and batter overnight.  After cooking, the batter should be cut away prior to serving.  


Duck is not anything like chicken.  Its bones are bigger; it doesn't cook like chicken and it doesn't taste like chicken.  Duck is entirely dark meat, even the breasts.  And duck has a thick layer of greasy fat that you certainly don't want to eat; thus the restaurant name The Fat Duck.  Ideally, cooked duck has little or no fat left in it and the skin is thin and crispy.  The secret is in the slow roasting and the best place to do that is on the grill or the smoker.  My restaurant would have a number of smokers out back.   


There are several strategies for getting rid of the fat.  The traditional method is steaming the duck over boiling water for about 20 to 30 minutes, but this cooks the duck and blocks the absorption of smoke flavor when you cook it. 


The method I learned from proprietor- chef Heston Blumenthal is to pierce the skin of the duck at regular intervals, about every one inch over the entire surface of the duck, but be careful.  You want to cut through the skin and fat but you don't want to cut into the meat.  This can best be done by very gently pushing into the skin with a knife.  The fat is easier to cut than the meat so once you are through the skin push carefully until you feel resistance.  These vents will allow the fat to drain from the duck.  


Now you want to slow roast your duck.  You can do this in two ways, with a grill or with a smoker.  The traditional way of cooking duck was always over a live fire, particularly on a rotisserie.  This lets the fat drain away and burn off in the fire. 


Whether you are using a gas grill or a charcoal grill you want to have a drip pan that will catch the greasy fat as it drips off. If you are using a rotisserie then this is a pretty standard set up.  If you are not using a rotisserie then you want to set up a drip pan that will keep the duck from touching the drippings. 


On a grill you want to get a roasting temperature around 325 degrees F. and hold it there for about 2 to 3 hours.  Yes, you will cook duck more than you would chicken.  Remember, I said they were different.  This longer time will allow that fat to melt away.  Of course you are grilling indirectly since you are using a drip pan.  Never put a fire under a drip pan.  That just makes bad smoke. There are a couple of things to look out for so you will know when your duck is done.  First of all the internal temperature needs to hit 165 degrees F.  You probably won't have to worry too much about this, but you should check anyway.  Next you want to make sure that the skin is thin and crisp.  The fat of a duck sticks to the skin so you know it is gone when the skin is nice and crispy.  And lastly, the duck should have a nice brown, even color over the surface.  


As for smoking, you will want to rig up your duck just like you would on the grill without a rotisserie.  You want a drip pan, but don’t want the duck sitting in the pan and you want the duck standing up so that the fat can drain more easily.  Now you want to smoke your duck at about 225 to 250 degrees F.  This is a good temperature for poultry.  You will want to smoke for about 4 to 6 hours, depending on the temperature you are holding.  For the smoke you want to go for a good fruit wood like apple or cherry or perhaps hickory.  Oak might be a little mild and mesquite will probably be too strong; although I like the mesquite because the duck has plenty of flavor and can take a lot of smoke without being overpowered.     


For the BBQ chicken and most meats I would purchase used railroad ties (.75 - $1.50 a piece for a container full) and stack those to be immediately used next to the smokers.  Wooden ties, when purchased in large volume, can be obtained for little more than the cost of shipping, when shipped in railroad containers.   You’ll, of course, need a storage area for the ties not to be immediately used.         


Now while you will be able to get that fat out of the duck on the smoker you might not get the crispy skin you want.  This is because the temperature might not be high enough to achieve it.  You can transfer the smoked duck to a grill for a few minutes.  You can also put the duck in your oven for about 15 minutes at 500 degrees.  This will get it crispy.  


The BBQ main course dishes, of course, would be served with a limited number of truly gourmet side dishes intended to compliment the main dish, including several potato based sides, all properly cooked, seasoned and presented.  


In my imaginary restaurant, the l’orange duck glazed with sweet orange sauce (prepared ahead of time) would be my signature dish.  Email me if you want my special French recipe for the sauce.    


My beer and wine bar, together with the bar menu and delivery service would be available from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.   The restaurant itself would accept guests from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 5:00 or 5:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. ; adjusting, of course, for the season.  Seated guests would, of course, be waited upon after the said hours.