When chef Rodolfo Guzmán first opened his innovative restaurant, BORAGó, it was not a success. Santiago’s food critics and diners did not respect Guzmán’s exclusive use of Chilean ingredients — fine dining had to be foreign. BORAGó almost failed, in fact, but eventually Guzmán’s dedication to quality and seasonality paid off. Now 200-some farmers and foragers supply him with an exciting and unusual array of Chilean ingredients. For example, in one course, we tried a loco (Chilean sea snail) “sandwich;” and a briny, citrusy bite of piure, a local tunicate (marine invertebrate). Other memorable dishes included free-range Parral veal topped with scalded milk skin and tiny chaura fruit, and refreshing Atacaman rica-rica ice cream. Just as René Redzepi revolutionized Scandinavian cuisine, Guzmán shook up the Chilean culinary establishment and blazed a new trail.
Arriving at the Castello di Sinio, we were greeted warmly by a delightful woman who promptly poured flutes of Prosecco to sip as we checked in. This wasn’t just the usual proforma business of handing over a passport and a credit card, however. Instead, owner and manager Denise Pardini took the time to inquire about our plans in the surrounding Piedmont wine towns over the next few days, offered a list of preferred restaurants, and presented another of local attractions that even included especially scenic picnic spots. Later, we learned that Pardini is a trained chef from the San Francisco Bay Area who transitioned from a career in high-tech to hospitality after a coup de foudre led her to take on the daunting project of turning a derelict 12th-century fortress into a hotel. Her cooking in the hotel restaurant is just as good as her superb hotel-keeping, and her attention to detail, sincerity, accessibility and enthusiasm made the Castello di Sinio one of the most memorable places we’ve stayed in a very long while.
On my recent trip to Australia, many people told me that Perth's dining scene was worth investigating: "They want to give Melbourne and Sydney a run for their money." I found no better proof of this assertion than in the smart restaurant, Print Hall. Not only did we find the food creative and flavorful, but we greatly enjoyed our encounter with the sommelier (actually Director of Beverages) Jean-Charles Mahé. A personable fellow who hails from Brittany, he inspired us with his pairing suggestions (and he has a cellar of more than 22,000 bottles from which to choose). We also debated the relative merits of lobsters from Brittany and Maine. On that, we could not agree. But we concurred that a good Margaret River Chardonnay might be just the thing to go with them.
From the initial greeting as we boarded, to the service at meals, to the guided journeys we took by bicycle and kayak, the Mekong’s staff could not have been more pleasant or engaging. They evinced genuine interest in knowing us, and got our names down from the start. Throughout the ship, we were greeted with smiles and the lovely Cambodian gesture of raised palms pressed together. Whoever provides the training deserves enormous credit. On the day of our departure, the tears at farewell were real — from guests and staff alike.
While staying at The Berkeley River Lodge in the remote Kimberley region of Australia, we especially appreciated the company of on-staff guide, Bruce Maycock. Maycock, who has spent years in this rugged part of the continent, knows the surrounding natural world the way most of us know the top of our dresser. His intimate knowledge informed almost every moment of our forays. In addition, he proved terrific company, full of stories and insights that added exponentially to our appreciation of this unspoiled land.