The restaurant at the Crown Inn.
Superhip Brit designer Ilse Crawford is constantly innovating. Her latest obsession is reinventing the idea of the coaching inn, which offered travelers in the mid-17th century a place to eat and sleep. Last year I stayed at her first such property, the Olde Belle, outside of London in Hurley. And I just spent the weekend at her second, the Crown Inn, about 40 minutes outside London in Amersham. Crawford has modernized the bed-and-breakfast, combining a cozy place to spend the night with an enticing, comfortable restaurant that's perfect for having a cocktail or a superfresh, farm-to-table dinner. Imagine if New York City's Spotted Pig gastropub added rooms upstairs—that's basically the Crown. It features incredible design juxtaposing the modern (flat-screen TVs and funky white-fur throws for the rocking chairs) and the historic (Room 12 has a section of hand-painted wall dating back to the 1500s), with smart touches like Aesop body soaps and Welsh wool blankets. Rosie Sykes and chef Mark Bristow are in charge of the food and make a satisfying breakfast spread for guests that includes homemade breads and sesame-hazelnut granola, chocolate muffins, eggs and hash. The chalkboard dinner menu changes daily, and some regulars convinced me to try the hearty beef-and-ale pie with a pint of local hard cider. I'm hoping Crawford brings the concept to the U.S. next.
© Christopher Downs
St. Francis restaurant in Phoenix.
I recently came back from Phoenix, where everyone is buzzing about a new restaurant called St. Francis
. Chef-owner Aaron Chamberlin (who trained with Michel Richard, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Nancy Oakes) spent nearly three years searching for the perfect spot, finally buying and renovating a midcentury Harold Ekman building on Camelback Road. With the help of his dad and brother, he’s created a hip, industrial-style space with a two-story, window-faced garage door that opens the bar to the outside. There are homey touches, too; his grandmother's old silver spoons are embedded in the stone walls and chairs from San Francisco's old Rubicon restaurant space. There's also an enormous wood-burning stove. The affordable menu balances healthy dishes, like the sweet-and-spicy Forbidden Rice Bowl
, with decadent ones, like a French Onion Burger topped with an onion ring, smoked bacon, Gruyère and homemade French Dip. With Pizzeria Bianco
just a few blocks away, uptown Phoenix may be Arizona’s next cool food 'hood.
© Christopher Downs
Chef Aaron Chamberlin.
© Photo courtesy of Bon Appetit Management Co.
When I was heading to Chicago for a long weekend, I asked friends what was a must-see. Everyone mentioned the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago,
designed by star architect Renzo Piano, which opened in May. An added appeal for me: The museum recruited chef Tony Mantuano
fame to open the Italian-centric Terzo Piano
there. The name refers to its third-floor location, and it's worthwhile to walk up the sleek white bridge from Millennium Park for the fantastic view instead of entering by elevator inside the museum. The handmade pastas were lovely, especially the restaurant's version of spaghetti carbonara with Nueske's bacon, sheep's-milk cheese and a runny poached egg. Do save room for the cheese cart, with many of the dozen or so options from Midwest producers (my husband's favorite was an aged goat's-milk tomme from Indiana's Capriole
). The restaurant serves lunch every day and dinner Thursdays, when the museum is open late (and museum entrance is free from 5 to 8 p.m.).
I just returned from a long weekend in northwestern Vermont, where I spent as much—OK, more—time eating as I did leaf peeping. Here, the highlights from my trip:
Muddy Waters and Penny Cluse Cafe in Burlington are always packed with University of Vermont students and other locals. They come to Muddy Waters for superb coffee drinks made with beans from Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co. and Dean’s Beans in Massachusetts. Penny Cluse serves the ultimate Vermont breakfast: the Bellber, a two egg–two pancake combo with thick-cut bacon. Don’t forget their crunchy-buttery biscuits.
Pizza on Earth, a short drive south on Route 7 in Charlotte, serves delicate wood-fired pizzas that rival American Flatbread's. Owner Jay Vogler, former Roger Vergé apprentice and art installer at NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art, makes every pizza to order with local produce. His house-made English muffins are the best I’ve ever tasted.
Red Hen Baking Co. supplies the area with dark-crusted and chewy artisanal breads baked in Middlesex. Last year, they opened a retail counter where they sell their breads and other treats. I could not resist the flaky ham-and-Gruyère croissant made with local cheese and a superlight apricot coffee cake. On my way out, I hit up Nutty Steph’s Chocolate Shop next door for a bag of Magic Chunks, cinnamon-scented granola mixed with dark chocolate that Nutty Steph herself describes as “less-evil candy.”
Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield is where I stopped on the way home to buy goat’s-milk caramel—a superrich caramel made with organic sugar and goat’s milk.
The noise this week may have been about the latest Zagat and Michelin guides, but one of my new favorite NYC dining sources is by F&W's own former travel editor Salma Abdelnour. Salma kindly downloaded her brain into a new website launched this week, salmaland.com, where she offers a carefully curated selection of 60 of her favorite spots, organized by neighborhood. A sample (about Nolita favorite Café Gitane): "Order a café crème and the baked eggs with basil ... and be reminded why you’re alive, why you’re in this crazy town and why it’s all worth it." Salma will be adding other cities (SF, LA and London all coming soon). She's also looking for other fun ways to make the sight searchable (best last-minute dinner reservation, best spots to celebrate a birthday); readers are invited to contact her with suggestions through the site.
On a recent trip to Boston, I stayed at the adorable Beacon Hill Hotel, tucked away down Charles Street. Its 12 rooms are right above its street-level restaurant, the Bistro, which is run by Barbara Lynch alum Jason Bond. In addition to the excellent complimentary breakfast, which included vanilla pancakes and a thick French toast topped with spiced crème fraîche, chef Bond makes some of the best ice cream in town. My friend Katherine and I tasted our way through flavors like Ligurian Olive Oil and Banana Rum, but the flavor that had us coming back at midnight for a second scoop was the Chocolate Almond–Smoked Sea Salt, with a pudding-like texture and crunchy bits of cocoa nibs and toasted slivered almonds. Bond shared his secret: Valrhona Guanaha chocolate and Norwegian smoked sea salt. Thank goodness ice cream wasn't on the breakfast menu.
I just returned from a quick trip to L.A. where I had two fantastic brunches.
Gjelina in Venice makes killer scones (moist and covered in a layer of crisp sugar), pizzas (try the one with grilled radicchio, fontina, bacon and tomato confit), BLTs (on thick slices of grilled bread with a fried egg on top) and butterscotch pot de crème (with salted caramel and crème fraîche).
Tavern in Brentwood is not just a fantastic brunch spot but it's also good for lunch, dinner, cocktails and takeout, too. Try the sticky bun Suzanne-style (topped with two slices of crisp Neiman Ranch bacon!), chorizo and eggs, wild mushroom frittata, lemon-ricotta pancakes and the turkey burger. Be sure to pick up some pastries to go from the larder on your way out.
Some inspiring F&W brunch recipes:
White Bean Huevos Rancheros
French Toast Stuffed with Ricotta and Strawberry Jam
Scrambled Eggs with Herbed Croutons
Smoked Trout Spread with Capers
BLT Fried Egg-and-Cheese Sandwich
Spicy Honey-Glazed Bacon
Sherried Mushrooms with Fried Eggs on Toast
Lemony Cornmeal-Cherry Scones
Australia chef Neil Perry has had a busy year—not only did he open the spectacular Rockpool Bar & Grill, but in a subterranean space just below, he launched Spice Temple, where he serves his take on Chinese food. It’s a sexy spot, with dim lighting, a sultry red glow and portraits of gorgeous Asian women on the walls and menus. It seems out of place in sunny, laid-back Sydney, but the restaurant was packed for a Tuesday lunch a few weeks ago. (When I ran into Neil Perry later, I wasn’t surprised to hear that he’s thinking of opening another location in Los Angeles.) Dishes to try: Cool silken tofu with funky preserved eggs that are given a lively kick with a chile-inflected soy-ginger dressing. The hot-and-numbing chicken, which is poached and served cold, hits some of the same flavor notes, with the added element of lip-tingling Sichuan peppercorns.
At the new Sepia, chef Martin Benn, formerly of the venerable Tetsuya, is turning out some seriously ingenious dishes. Barbecued eel with licorice-flavored powder was such a clever combination that I wondered why I've never used anisey flavors in barbecue sauces before. Earthy buckwheat risotto became luxurious when topped with mustard butter, sweet spanner crab meat and a shellfish foam. A delicious meatless version of surf and turf.
In London, Ilse Crawford’s incredible design firm, Studioilse
, is hosting a series of "Kitchen Table Talks"
at Leila’s Shop
restaurant, starting tonight and running through October. Crawford has gathered a Who’s Who of design, food and eco-mindedness to discuss the link between growing food and building community. The lineup includes Randolph Hodgson, founder of Neal’s Yard Dairy
; Dennis Paphitis, founder of cult beauty brand Aesop
; and Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal
. Click here
for dates and details.
At the London Design Festival
, which runs through this weekend, prolific Brit designer Ilse Crawford
debuted her new furniture collection, cheekily named Seating for Eating
. The solid chestnut settles (long, high-backed benches), stools and benches, made by De La Espada
, were inspired by vernacular English furniture. The collection will be will be at the restaurant, Leila’s Shop
, (for viewing and seating) through November 1.