Just Back: Ireland

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Virtuoso hotels and resorts’ Gregg Nielsen recently traveled to Ireland to explore Dublin, Killarney, Kildare, and the countryside in between. What he loved the most about the Emerald Isle?  “The electricity of Dublin, the rolling green hills, majestic mountains, beautiful lakes, and of course, amazing hotels,� Nielsen says.

Memorable Irish experiences:

  • Explore the Guinness Storehouse, with several floors of Guinness artifacts, interactive exhibits, and a panoramic bar on the top floor overlooking the Dublin skyline.
  • A great way to learn about Jameson and meet new friends is to take the Whiskey Shakers cocktail class at the Jameson Distillery in Dublin. Learn how to make whiskey sours with egg whites, old fashioned cocktails with fresh orange peels and aromatic bitters, and hot whiskey with spices.
  • Don’t miss afternoon tea at The Merrion Hotel. I loved the delicious scones, pastries, and finger sandwiches, and especially the encyclopedic tea menu. And it wouldn’t be complete without a glass of Champagne. The pièces de résistance are the specialty pastries at the end, paired with an edible replica of one of the hotel’s artworks. It’s even better if you take The Merrion’s complimentary art history tour. You may just find the piece of art you ate.
Nielsen and friends enjoying tea at The Merrion Hotel.
  • Start one of your nights with a drink at The Shelbourne hotel’s refined and classic Horseshoe Bar. They specialize in delicious craft cocktails.
  • Local favorite: O’Donoghue’s Bar sits between The Shelbourne and The Merrion. People from all walks of life gather in this pub and you never know who you may meet. Strike up a conversation with a local, as I did.
  • The views are incredible at Killarney National Park. It’s the epitome of what most people envision when they think of Ireland – lush, green fields and snow-capped mountains rising above serene lakes. Try horseback riding here if you want to do something active; otherwise, you can hop on a horse-drawn carriage. It poured buckets when I visited (it’s Ireland, after all), but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Visit Ross Castle just outside the town of Killarney on the same day, and head into the town for a pint at The Shire, a Lord of the Rings-themed pub.

Cool souvenir:

Look for Newbridge silverware throughout Ireland – they’ve been making jewelry, flatware, and other home goods since 1934.

Great hotels:

The K Club is a sprawling 134-room property about 40 minutes from Dublin in the town of Kildare with beautiful grounds and two championship golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer – one of which hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup. Afternoon tea in the Chinese Drawing Room provided a front-row seat to watch the weather change from snow to sun over the course of two hours. They have an outdoor hot tub to enjoy before spa treatments, and great food, such as traditional Irish stew and prawns in garlic butter.

The K Club.

Occupying a row of Georgian townhouses in the heart of Dublin, the 142-room Merrion Hotel feels like you’re staying at someone’s home, and the staff is so warm and welcoming. The Cellar Bar downstairs has a typical Irish pub feel. There’s also a lovely courtyard, and you can sit in the new Garden Room restaurant and enjoy the fresh air.

For a livelier experience, stay at the 265-room Shelbourne, Dublin, directly across from Saint Stephens Green (Dublin’s version of NYC’s Central Park). The hotel’s two bars, including the Horseshoe Bar, are the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights. The Saddle Room restaurant is an exquisite dining experience with attentive staff and a knowledgeable sommelier. I ordered the chateaubriand for two with delicious parmesan fries on the side. The hotel is steeped in history, which the staff is happy to recount.

In Killarney, you’d be remiss not to spend a couple of days at the 74-room Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa. The spa’s Thermal Suite is especially memorable and features NASA-designed stone loungers that cradle your body and radiate heat. I fell asleep in one for two hours before getting a facial. Enjoying the sun setting over the mountains with a cocktail and live piano music – grab a high-top chair in the lounge right next to the piano.

Nielsen at Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa.

Photos courtesy of Gregg Nielsen. Top photo: Irish landscape, by Annie Fitzsimmons. 

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Virtuoso Traveler: April 2018

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Virtuoso Traveler: April/May 2018

Not all family vacations unfold like National Lampoon films, with breakdowns at Wally World or endless loops in a London roundabout (“Hey look, kids, there’s Big Ben, and there’s Parliament … again.�). Slapstick movie scenes and potential drawbacks aside (think Dad’s awkward dancing on cultural shore excursions or unsolicited child-rearing advice from Grandma), the family vacation lives on, and for good reason.

It’s why we’ve devoted our latest issue of Virtuoso Traveler to this enduring institution. From summer escapes in London, San Diego, and Maine to high adventures in Costa Rica, the Grand Canyon, and the Swiss Alps, here’s to family, in whatever form, and to exploring the world with the ones we love best.

Also inside: finding community while traveling solo, sustaining New Orleans’ cultural traditions, sweet treats for grown-up palettes, and where to find the best local flavor in Portland, Oregon.

-Joel Centano, Editor of Virtuoso Traveler

Virtuoso Traveler: April/May 2018

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Tokyo Runs on Ramen

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Nantsuttei’s Kyushu-style ramen with barbecued pork. Above: Shopping on Nakamise-dori Street.

By Michael Frank / Photography by Andréa Fazzari

There are more than 7,100 ramen shops in Tokyo. Many only have counters – no chairs or stools and little ambience. But in Japan, even the humblest meal revered. Overlooking the country’s modest bowls of soup would be a mistake.

While ramen joints are becoming more popular in the U.S., with some beloved Japanese chains opening outposts, there is nothing like your first bowl in Tokyo. “Everyone has their go-to spot that they swear by,� says Manhattan-based Virtuoso travel advisor Aaron Nir. “The only way to fully appreciate the almost spiritual allure of ramen for the Japanese is to stand in line and wait with anticipation at the latest, greatest, ‘secret’ ramen shop.�

In a way, the noodle soup is the essence of modern Japan – a relatively new cuisine, only becoming popular post-WWII – and it has undergone tremendous experimentation and creative reinvention in the last decade. That’s one reason young Japanese love ramen: It’s playful, approachable, and brimming with flavor. For travelers, it’s a great introduction to local life and reveals a side of Japan that’s ritualized, but without formalities. Here are five essential ramen-ya (ramen shops) in a variety of styles and locations around the city.

Cozied up to the bar at Kagari Ramen.

World’s Best $10 Meal: Kagari Ramen

Don’t sweat the menu (which is available in English) – just order the tori-paitan soba, with roasted chicken breast and a soft-boiled egg. This may be the richest, most delicious bowl of “chicken soup� you’ll ever encounter, with a dense broth, perfectly al dente noodles, and an egg so silken you’ll swear it’s actually some kind of custard. Pro tip: Arrive at 11 AM or after 3 PM to avoid lines. Ginza Station near the entrance to the Marunouchi subway line.

Kagari’s soup with chicken breast, bamboo shoots, and greens.

For Night Owls: Nantsuttei

Visit Nantsuttei in the Shinagawa district between 9 and 11 PM, when locals linger in the cozy space and socialize over bowls of ramen. If Shinagawa isn’t convenient, Nantsuttei has multiple locations around Tokyo. Its signature is southern Japanese Kyushu-style ramen with mayu oil made from lard and roasted garlic. The pork-based broth is cloudy rather than clear, but it’s not thick and comes with smoky, Chinese-style char siu (barbecued pork) that gives Texas pit masters a run for their money. Outside the Shinagawa Shinkansen station.

Shinagawa Station

Young Gun: Nanashi Ramen

Nanashi has a ten-store presence in and around Tokyo, but its slightly upscale location in Shibuya – a Tokyo neighborhood famed for nightlife, shopping, and youth culture – provides great people-watching in the evening. Read over the English-language menu until you spot baisen, redolent of roasted garlic and sesame oil, with traditional thinner, Hokkaido wheat noodles. This is a bowl that’s filling, but not over-the-top rich. Dogenzaka-dori Avenue, four blocks west of Shibuya Station, across the street from Uniqlo.

Nanashi Ramen in Shibuya.

TIP

“Ramen is considered fast food in Japan – albeit gourmet fast food. When your bowl arrives, it’s customary to take a few sips using the spoon before you dig in, to show deference to the chef, kind of like tasting fine wine for a sommelier before you drink it down.�

– Aaron Nir, Virtuoso travel advisor, New York City

Cult Following: Ramen Jiro

With 30-plus stores in the Tokyo area, Ramen Jiro has garnered generations of devoted aficionados since opening its original Mita shop in 1968. The chain uses bread flour for its noodles, which makes them chewy and extra filling – and also addictive, since their sturdy consistency holds up better as you slurp. The shoyu pork broth is to-the-last-drop delicious, with slabs of sliced pork that taste almost bacon-y. Bowls come topped with a healthy dose of chopped garlic, bean sprouts, and grated cabbage. The large portions are huge; select the smallest servings or risk being overwhelmed. The Shinjuku Kabukicho location is one block west of Seibu-Shinjuku Station.

A ticket-vending-machine menu at Ramen Jiro.

Sea Change: Tsukiji Yajima

Tokyo’s densely packed fish market, Tsukiji, has many ramen-ya serving seafood-based soups. On the market’s edge, ten-seat Yajima offers wonderfully briny oyster (kaki), clam (hamaguri), and wonton options. The soups taste more Chinese, with thinner noodles and seafood broths that are lighter and less caloric than pork-soy concoctions, and most come topped with garlic scapes or leeks and other greens. Like many of Tsukiji’s food vendors, this one runs on a fishmonger’s schedule and is open from 4:30 AM to 1 PM. Southeast corner of Tsukiji Market.

Tsukiji Yajima’s flavor-packed oyster ramen.

Ramen 101: Need-to-know info for your first bowl in Tokyo.

Take your ticket: Almost all ramen-ya have a ticket vending machine at the entrance; this is where you order. The machines usually display photos of each dish, but if not, look to see what others are having, find an attendant, point to indicate what you want, and have the attendant push the right button. Pay in cash – they rarely accept cards – and hand the ticket to the waitperson or chef.

Chashu ramen – essentially, barbecued or braised pork served atop noodles in a soy-based broth – is a good standby at most ramen-ya. And don’t forget an order of gyoza (fried dumplings) to start things off.

Japanese diners slurp their ramen. This helps dissipate the heat of the broth clinging to the noodles and lets you eat quickly, before the noodles lose their texture. It’s a bit of an art to slurp neatly – many shops have disposable bibs (ask for a yodare kake).

Bring your best chopstick skills, as you likely won’t find a place that offers forks. (By the way, it’s considered poor form to stab your food.)

Supleks.jp ranks a massive directory of ramen-ya nationwide and plots them on Google Maps. It’s in Japanese, but Chrome and similar browsers can auto-translate entries.

 

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A Weekend in Amsterdam

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Many people associate Amsterdam with the infamous Red Light District and its unrivaled bike culture (the thousands of bikes are impressive), but it’s also charming, outrageously fun, and trendy in a wide range of scenes, whether that be culinary, fashion, or art. One visit will hook you for life.

I recently spent a short weekend in Amsterdam (an easy getaway from my home in Paris).

Friday: Shopping the 9 Streets & Michelin-Starred Dining

After arriving, head directly to one of the most desirable parts of the city, the 9 Streets, and check-in at The Pulitzer Amsterdam. Here, you are never too far from anything (especially if you rent a bike). Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast, a welcome cocktail, and a $100 food and beverage credit.

The neighborhood is one of Amsterdam’s chicest shopping and dining districts. Stop in The Otherist, a shop filled with framed curiosities of all kinds; Mendo, a bookshop focusing on fashion, design, architecture, and photography; or Love Stories, a fun Dutch lingerie brand. Grab a sandwich or salad at Pluk, one of the neighborhood’s healthy hot spots, or sit down for a three- or four-course Italian lunch at Bussia.

Spend the rest of your afternoon getting acquainted with the city by foot or bike and capture some idyllic shots of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century townhouses and romantic canals.

Make reservations ahead of time for dinner at Michelin-starred Vinkeles. The restaurant’s French menu with a contemporary twist is complemented by its setting: a sunken dining room surrounded by eighteenth-century ovens and garden views.

Saturday: Museums Galore & Gallery Hopping

Prepare yourself for a full day of art and culture. Walk or bike directly to Museumplein, a public space located in the Museumkwartier neighborhood that’s home to three major museums: Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Stedelijk Museum. Spend the morning and early afternoon exploring them, and when you start to get hungry, grab lunch at Momo, a trendy Japanese-Dutch restaurant, for delicious sashimi.

Tip: Purchase the I Amsterdam city card to avoid lines (especially at the Van Gogh Museum), and for free or discounted admission, but only if you plan on visiting multiple museums.

Gallery hop from Spiegelgracht to Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. Closer to the museum, the showrooms skew more classic (specializing in Chagall and other famous artists), and as you move into Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, the galleries become much more contemporary and alternative.

Book a table at De Luwte, a well-known restaurant for creative, seasonal menus in the Jordaan neighborhood. After, take a taxi or enjoy a 25-minute walk to the old side of Amsterdam where you will find the cocktail bar, Hiding in Plain Sight. Sip on one of their award-winning craft cocktails in a speakeasy, intimate ambiance. Be sure to try their house specialty, “The Walking Dead�, which is set on fire at your table. Reservations are recommended.

Sunday: Anne Frank & Stroopwafels

To dig deeper into Amsterdam’s World War II history, book in advance online for the informative and emotional tour through Anne Frank Huis, where 12-year-old Anne Frank and her family hid during the Holocaust until they were discovered and shipped to concentration camps.

An alternative: soak up the city’s history on a down-to-earth canal ride. Garden enthusiasts should visit Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world and home to a variety of greenhouses, as well as a delightful outdoor garden.

Advisor Tip:

“In the hip Oud-West neighborhood, international indoor food market, Foodhallen, makes for a fun lunch. Also, make sure to try a fresh stroopwafel from Albert Cuyp Market or van Wonderen Stroopwafel.� – Cara Sharratt, Paris-based Virtuoso travel advisor

All photos by Evan Upchurch. 

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Just Back: A Surprise Birthday on Nihi Sumba Island

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Recently, my brother, nephew, and I returned home to Indonesia to reunite with my parents and sister for a special trip – a surprise for my mom’s 70th birthday. Although I grew up in Java, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been to many of the Indonesian archipelago’s islands (there are more than 13,000 of them). The island of Sumba wasn’t even on my travel radar until our editorial team featured Nihi Sumba Island (formerly Nihiwatu) in Virtuoso Life a few years ago. I’d wanted to check out Nihi’s thatched huts and gorgeous, secluded white-sand beach ever since. I had no idea how affected I’d be by our time there.

When I arrived with my family, I discovered a resort that truly showcases gracious style, as well as community involvement and respect for nature. I was blown away by the resort owners’ and staff’s deep commitment to helping locals through The Sumba Foundation.

I learned about the foundation from Nihi Sumba’s staff: The driver who picked us up at the airport talked about how the resort has changed life for the Sumbanese people, who live in some of the most impoverished conditions in the world. The foundation aims to alleviate poverty and eradicate malaria by providing locals with access to clean water, education, and health care.

When our butler captain, Miss Anggri, took us to the resort’s NihiOka spa facility, we stopped en route at a local village where we met a group of kids – all recipients of the foundation’s education initiatives – who stole my heart with their smiles. We bought local crafts from the villagers – another chance to help support the local economy. Later at the spa, my masseuse praised Nihi for not only providing her with a job but also for teaching English to her and 500 other staff members.

I left paradise with the biggest sense of gratitude – thankful for time with my family, as well as for what the resort and its guests have given back to the locals in this unforgettable place.

Photos and text by Melanie Fowler, art director, Virtuoso. 

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Where to Eat in Jackson Now

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Picnic’s sticky bun and (above) bold look.

Microbrews and megaburritos have long dominated the food scenes of many mountain towns. But the proliferation of cocktail programs, boutique bakeries, and international cuisine in Jackson Hole is as thrilling as its Teton Range scenery.

By Elaine Glusac

The owners of perpetually jammed Persephone Bakery have branched out with Picnic, an equally popular café and bakery that presents an alternate choice for morning and midday meals. Among its breakfast offerings is avocado on inch-thick multigrain toast, and for lunch, there’s a succulent Cuban sandwich with locally raised pork and spicy peppers. 1110 Maple Way.

Comfort-food king: Old Yellowstone Garage’s lasagna.

At the base of the ski resort, Old Yellowstone Garage is the reincarnation of a former Jackson classic that closed in 2007, when its owners moved away. Long-time chef Paulie O’Connor has returned to serve grilled shishito peppers with crème fraîche, bone-in steaks, and fresh house-made pastas – including his lauded lasagna – in a sleek space with a sophisticated après-ski bar. 3275 West Village Drive.

Oysters and uni at King Sushi.

Reservations are a must at tiny King Sushi, tucked into a log cabin downtown. Sashimi enhanced by balsamic reductions, yuzu, and ponzu best captures the menu’s experimental exuberance. 75 South King Street.

Glorietta’s dining room and (below) Greenhorn cocktail.

The open hearth that greets diners at Glorietta underscores the Italian restaurant’s warm welcome. The cocktail list comes from NYC’s acclaimed Death & Co., but everything else showcases the bold in-house talents creating dishes such as white anchovy bruschetta and whole confit rabbit. 242 Glenwood Street.

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