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A HOTELIER WALKS INTO A RESTAURANT...
By Michael Matthews
November 15, 2012 -- One of the most frequent questions your humble hotel guy gets is "What is your favorite restaurant?"
That is one damn tough question to answer, especially since I am not, by nature or nurture, a restaurant critic. So, instead of picking just one, let me tell you about a few boites that my wife Suzanne and I discovered this year. It is a subjective by-product of this year's globe-trotting travel, of course, but I guarantee that each place on this list offers a good meal at a reasonable price in a fun atmosphere.
TUCSON: THE DISH BISTRO
We start with Tucson because that is where I live. Suzanne and I have a favorite, tucked away at the back of a great wine store called The RumRunner. It's called The Dish Bistro and has a maximum of 20 seats, including eight spots at the bar. Cooking by a New Zealander, food that is world class and wine by a most knowledgeable sommelier. Three days a week, Dish Bistro offers Mussels Marnier served with crusty bread and a glass of wine for just $12.50. Giant artichoke hearts, slowly cooked in olive oil, are to-die-for delicious. The rack of lamb is so good that you are not embarrassed to chew on the bones. To wrap it up, there's a wonderful cheese course with selections from I know not where and names I know not how to pronounce.
LONDON: GREENS RESTAURANT & OYSTER BAR
We had an amazing Thai lunch accompanied by a superb Chablis at The Langham hotel, but Greens Restaurant & Oyster Bar was our highlight in London. We arrived for a late lunch with no reservation and were asked if we minded a banquette at the rear of the room. It only took a couple of moments to start talking with our neighbors in the adjoining banquette. I devoured fantastically fresh and fragrant Whitstable oysters and we both had a simple grilled Dover sole with new potatoes. When we reached the Stilton cheese course, our neighbors had to leave. They shook our hands, bussed Suzanne and the gentleman said: "My name is Albert Finney. I'm an actor." (I had recognized him from the start, but Suzanne hadn't.) "Great meeting you, Albert," I casually replied. "My name is Matthews and I write for JoeSentMe." Suzanne nearly had a convulsion.
BARCELONA: BAR MUT
Ah, tapas, but where? Our choice, Bar Mut, initially seemed unattainable. "No chance of a reservation for three days," explained the concierge at the excellent Hotel Arts. "Try again," said I, slipping a 10-euro note into his palm. "They can do four people at eight, but it will be a table on the street outside," came the reply. "Fine," I replied--because it wasn't raining then.
Joining us on this adventure were two New York friends whose dining regimen--no dairy, no meat--can be challenging. And our arrival caused us to think twice. Bar Mut is tiny with two tables inside and two outside, where it was now raining. But two umbrellas appeared and we were escorted round the corner to a nearby apartment building and up some stone stairs to a large door. I think speakeasy--you know, "knock twice and ask for Isabel." It was not one of those places, but it could have been: red flocked wallpaper, sofas, a low-key jazz band and a very pretty wait staff. What followed was an outpouring of delicious tapas that never seemed to end. And not a one required our friends to violate their dietary rules. An amazing success, but don't ask me what we ate or drank. I have no idea, except to say that it was all terrific. Just go to Bar Mut the next time you are in Barcelona.
ROME: CUL DE SAC
I wouldn't normally take my wife to a place called Cul de Sac, but Joe sent me. We were somewhat put off by the big crowd outside and the stickers on the door from every possible restaurant review organization saying how highly rated it is. We waited 20 minutes in a drizzle before we were admitted to the miniscule place. Cul de Sac may be the world's narrowest dining room with the smallest kitchen. The tables are rickety and chairs bang together every few seconds. And it's all made more chaotic by the thousands of wine bottles tucked away in every spare corner. Joe sent us to "try the pate." So we did. Rabbit, venison, hare, duck and so on. It's all served with the best bread that I've ever tasted--and that includes Paris. Two bottles of wine later, we exited into a gorgeous afternoon, merrily sloshed and stuffed.
MALTA: WATERPOLO CLUB BISTRO
Malta isn't somewhere you're likely to visit. We went because it was where my parents met and the Maltese prime minister had graciously arranged a visit to Valetta Palace, my grandfather's home from 1931 to 1936. Then an old friend from Hong Kong took us to Waterpolo Club Bistro. It once was a water polo club, but now it's a restaurant sitting at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. We had a fish, of course. The whole fish, grilled and served with its head and tail just as it was caught that afternoon. Please don't ask me its name. All I can tell you is that it was the freshest seafood I have ever tasted. Add a few bottles of wine under the stars with waves lapping at the shore and you're talking traveler heaven. If you ever get to Malta, try it. There won't be a tourist in sight.
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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.
This column is Copyright © 2012 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.