Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pico Iyer and The Art of Stillness

One of the books I read while in Grand Cayman was The Art of Stillness:  Adventures in Going Nowhere, by my favorite travel writer, Pico Iyer.  This slim volume, one Iyer means for you to be able to read easily in a single short setting, is one of the new TED Books.  In it, Iyer turns from outward journeys to an inward trek and focuses on the value of finding stillness, of going nowhere at all.

If I've already made the book sound more than a bit crunchy, that's because it is--but it's also refreshingly practical and grounded.  Iyer offers several suggestions that any of us could easily follow, and he also suggests that companies would be wise to encourage their employees to take periodic breaks and instead find their own roads to stillness.

Eloquent and evocative, Iyer's prose makes the book a pleasure to read.  I have been thinking a great deal about it since I read it, and I am increasingly determined to make some changes in my own life to reintroduce the moments of stillness I once sought regularly.

On a dollars-per-minute basis, The Art of Stillness is far from a bargain, but it's still ten bucks (at least at Amazon) well spent.  I very much recommend it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Laptops, tablets, and a mystery box

All of these appear in the latest episode of Now with PT, which you can catch here.

Have we gone too far down the absurdism well with the final segment of this one?  You be the judge.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dinner at Blue by Eric Ripert

Back in my entry on my first day on Grand Cayman, I mentioned a wonderful dinner at Blue by Eric Ripert, Ripert's restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman.  I promised a more complete write-up of that meal, and I'm finally here to deliver on that promise.

The restaurant offers three dining options:  two tasting menus and an a la carte option in which you essentially create your own mini tasting menu.  Given only one visit to the place, which is what I thought I would be making when I ordered this meal, to me the only choice is the Eric Ripert tasting menu.

Click an image to see a larger version.

This menu offers the most courses, and it is also the only one that features Tuna-Foie Gras, Ripert's signature dish from Le Bernardin, his flagship New York City restaurant.

Before starting that menu, however, I opted for the caviar addition.  Over the last several years, I've learned that I very much like caviar--as long as it's very good caviar.  As you might expect from Ripert, the caviar his restaurants serve is quite delicious.  

The little mother-of-pearl implements were both pretty and just the right size for assembling blinis covered in caviar.

The caviar presentation was lovely, and all of the accompaniments were delightful.

The caviar remained the star of the show, but pairing it with the various options enhanced its flavor beautifully.

Before the menu officially began, as is the custom in so many high-end restaurants, the chefs sent some tasty nibbles to the table.

Each of these combined seafood with other delights, from fruit to a rich fritter.

This bit of mahi (I think) crudo was sweet and wonderful.

The menu proper began with the tuna-foie dish I mentioned earlier.

This composition is one of the great all-time dishes.  About as thick as a piece of cardboard, it consists of an incredibly thin slice of baguette with a spread of foie gras on it and a paper-thin layer of tuna above it all.  Oil, chives, and salt cover the whole thing.  However odd it may sound, its taste is astonishingly good, rich and flavorful and not in the slightest bit fishy.

Up next was the shrimp tartare, one of the better shrimp presentations I've ever tasted.

What followed it, though, was so good that I quickly forgot the shrimp.  The scallop dish, which managed to include turnips, something I rarely enjoy, and to make me like them, may be the best scallop I have ever tasted.

Rich and evocative of both the sea and, thanks to the maitake mushrooms, the woods, this course was so very good that I was on the edge of licking clean the shell on which it came.

The halibut, striped bass, and monkfish dishes were all exceptional presentations of fish, each one flavorful and progressively richer than the one before it.

The monkfish satisfyingly held down the spot where a meat would appear in a traditional tasting menu. 

Lest anyone go home hungry, the chefs prefaced dessert with, well, another dessert, this one a rich chocolate treat.

The final and official dessert, "Caramel," delivered a delightful combination of sweet, rich, and clean tastes.

Sorry about the poor shot.

I have to confess that the last dessert was not the last sweet they served.  Before they brought the check, they served a plate with three small mignardises, all of which were delicious.

After the check, they presented this lovely folded box

in which sat two perfect chocolate macaroons--which taste as good as they look.

Yes, at Blue, as at many great French restaurants, nothing says dessert like excess.

I've never had the chance to eat at Le Bernardin, though I hope one day to do so.  Until that day, a dinner at Blue by Eric Ripert is both as close to that experience as one can come without being in New York and an absolutely wonderful experience in its own right.  I'm already looking forward to the next time I can eat there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On the road again: Grand Cayman, day 7

Today began entirely too early, but that's only because I couldn't sleep until noon.  I am confident that rest and time will rid me of this nagging cough, but in the interim I seem to have a nearly endless appetite for rest. 

Once up, I enjoyed a late and simple breakfast on the balcony while I said goodbye to the ocean.  I will miss it.

Everything proceeded splendidly until I was leaving the American counter at the Grand Cayman airport and learned that I "had been chosen" for a random search.  Oh, boy.  I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but I've been to Grand Cayman four times, and I've had this delight twice.

The first search was of my body.  A very disinterested man patted me down but managed to pause as he cupped first my right armpit and then my right testicle.  He showed no such affection for the counterparts on the left side of my body, nor did he offer me a drink or his phone number.

The second search involved a young woman making a mess of my backpack, which is jammed to the gills with electronics and other stuff.  Predictably, it took me much longer to reassemble it than it did for her to look through it.

The third and final search involved my checked bag.  The woman conducting this one was quick and efficient, for which I was grateful.

The flights were uneventful, which is the best you can hope for.

My layover in the Miami airport was so long that I was able to catch up completely on work email, grab a late lunch/early dinner, and still have time to walk around.  I'm happy to report that my new Global Entry status proved its worth:  My passage through customs and immigration was smooth, fast, and generally a great pleasure, particularly in comparison to the usual process.

I'm now home, unpacking, and hoping to wind down and crash soon so that I can resume the usual work schedule tomorrow.

I very much hope I can attend the Cayman Cookout next year, but it will be quite some time before I will know if that is possible.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On the road again: Grand Cayman, day 6

On the days without Cayman Cookout morning events, I have been sleeping quite late and spending enormous amounts of time in bed.  Today followed that pattern.  As a result of this practice, I feel better than I've felt in some time, though my cough still annoyingly lingers and appears from time to time.

After a bit of reading, I headed to the beach for lunch and time in the ocean.  I'm on vacation, so I opted for the hot dog and side salad, which the very nice servers brought to my chair on the sand.

Click an image to see a larger version.

A perfectly toasted bun, tart cheddar cheese, and way too much bacon--which is to say, just the right amount of bacon--made this Niman Ranch hot dog a real treat.

The fact that I'm at a foodie event doesn't stop me from enjoying the noble tube steak.

The view from my chair--I was too late for the first row and so had to settle for the second--was lovely.

After lunch, I splashed in the water, sat at one of the floating tables, watched the fish and the other tourists, and generally had a grand time being in the beautiful ocean.  I followed that with a dip in the pool and then some reading and relaxing back in the room.

It's an "and" world when you're on vacation at the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman, so I used that realization to propel me to a second dinner at Blue by Eric Ripert, thus affording me the chance to try the tasting menu I've never gotten to.

I may do a separate entry on that meal later, but suffice for now to say that it was delicious.  Ultimately, though, I prefer the Eric Ripert tasting menu of my earlier Blue dinner to the Blue tasting menu of tonight's meal.

As so many folks around here are wont to say, another day in paradise.

Monday, January 19, 2015

On the road again: Grand Cayman, day 5

I finally rolled out of bed today after a very long and quite refreshing sleep.  Though my cough still occasionally appears, I have the sense that with enough nights like this one, I would heal completely.  I have only two more on the island, so I expect to return home with the cough still nagging me, but I am definitely gaining ground on it.

I read and ate lunch in a covered chair facing the ocean, a deliciously indulgent treat.  (As soon as you sit, servers find you and then deliver whatever you order.  For me, it was a burger with salad, both of which were yummy.)  Partway through lunch, a storm rolled over the island, sprinkling at first and then growing into a full-on pounding rain.  I decamped to my room, opened the sliding door so I could let in the ocean breeze and enjoy the storm, and read some more.  A nap followed that. 

Truly a sinfully selfish day.

The hotel includes an Italian restaurant, Andiamo, that makes perfectly decent Italian comfort food and that offers the perk of a nice gelato selection.  Eating there, staring at a canal and enjoying the evening breeze, was another treat.

I will be back at work and at full speed all too soon, but for now I am enjoying incredibly the luxury of doing very little. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

On the road again: Cayman Cookout, Grand Cayman, day 4

Today's first event was also the final one for many attendees:  the Bon Vivant Champagne Brunch.  Easily the most attended event of the weekend, it filled to overflowing the largest ballroom here.

Click an image to see a larger version.

The event combines a buffet brunch with a cooking competition.  Two teams of two local chefs compete for a set of prizes by producing in one hour a full plate of food for a panel of judges.  Three of the judges were the main celebrity chefs here:  Ripert, Andres, and Bourdain.  The fourth, whose name I did not get, is the head chef for the Ritz-Carlton chain.

The brunch works by having guests visit two long rows of food tables to sample the tasty treats from around 20 stations, each the work of a team of skilled chefs.  It's hard to capture the scale of the thing with my phone's camera, but this shot of just one of the two very long hallways of food tables should give you a sense of it. 

The food was uniformly quite good, better than what you'd typically eat, though rarely extraordinary.  The cooking competition is fun, but the key lesson of each year--the simpler dish wins--seems lost from year to year.

Next up was the penultimate event of the show, the Artisan Market.  A gathering of vendors in tents around a large pool, this one has gotten a bit worse each year.  Four or five chefs, mostly local, presented savory dishes, and one station offered two sweets, so you could make a meal of it if you were so inclined.  With little else non-alcoholic on offer, however, and with the gala finale dinner only a few hours away, I bought nothing and sampled only a single bite of one sweet.

The Cayman Cookout closes each year with an incredibly pricey but quite wonderful dinner in Blue, Eric Ripert's restaurant in the hotel.  With the name "Seven To Savor: An Evening with Eric Ripert & the Chefs of the Cayman Cookout," the meal sets itself a high bar, but each year that I've come here, it has cleared that bar easily.  Because I'm on holiday, and because I have no real plans for tomorrow, I'm going to save the photos and recap of that dinner for then.  Suffice for the moment to say that the dinner was spectacular and a lovely conclusion to the Cayman Cookout.

Tomorrow, I hope to manage to fit the report on this meal into my schedule of sleeping and splashing in the ocean and generally doing nothing.


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