Barcelona’s Top 5 Restaurants

“Reset your body clock,” advises Dabble’s principal photographer, Simon Burn. “Locals never eat dinner before 10:00 pm, which leaves plenty of time to enjoy several meals each day.”

Nearly every restaurant in Barcelona suffers from mixed reviews when it comes to service. Frankly, how attentive the wait staff is depends largely on the day. Be patient and go with the flow if you want to have a good time.

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1. In the Barri Gòtic neighbourhood of Barcelona is the city’s oldest (and most delicious according to Simon) restaurant, Can Culleretes. For a set price, diners enjoy a three course meal plus wine in a rich, warm setting. Try the seafood which tastes fresh from the sea or the more hearty roasted duck with prunes.

2. Grab a spot at the bar if you can because the popular Cal Pep only has five tables. The Born neighbourhood haunt is packed with hungry locals who sometimes sneak in the back door. The cuttlefish and garbanzo beans can only be described as perfect.

3. Spanish for skylight, Tragaluz offers moonlight dining to those lucky enough to secure a table on the second floor. A passion for good food continually inspires the owner Rosa Esteva and her son Tomas to create fresh fare for a crowd that returns frequently.

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4. Placed in tandem (Fishop at the front and Beefshop at the back) are sister restaurants—though these relatives look nothing alike. Fish and sushi are served raw at tables with industrial seating, while the beef menu is served in cozy armchairs near a stone fireplace.

Dabble Savvy: On the last Monday of the month there’s a 35€ all you can eat menu that includes wine.

5. Food show fans drool at the mere mention of molecular gastronomy. Since elBulli is temporarily closed it’s high season for Comerç, 24. Dining in this fashion is a unique experience. The food items, served in seven courses, are complex creations. Sit near the kitchen and watch the culinary ballet as several chefs work together on each dish. Dinner for one with two glasses of wine came to 105€.

Barcelona’s Top 5 Gaudi Sites

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852–1926), is the Spanish architect heralded as the father of Catalan Modernism. His work is highly stylized, featuring organic shapes and few straight lines. Gaudí integrated crafts such as ceramics, stained glass and wrought iron work into his buildings, often using materials in an unusual manner.

His architectural legacy contains seven World Heritage Sites, including his unfinished masterpiece Sagrada Familia.

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1. Like everything Gaudí designed, Casa Batlló makes a lasting impression. Tour Casa Batlló with an audio guide and marvel at the twisted chimney stacks and dragon’s back undulations.

2. Often referred to as his unfinished symphony, Sagrada Família is one the most visited monuments in Spain. Though construction commenced in 1882, at the time of Gaudí’s death in 1926 less than a quarter of the project was complete.

3. Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera or “the Quarry” for its rock faced façade, looks like a set out of the Flintstones. Take a guided tour through the restored interiors featuring art nouveau furniture. Look for jazz concerts or other opportunities to visit La Pedrera at night. It’s a beautiful way to absorb the authentic beauty.

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ABOVE: Dubbed “the Quarry”, La Pedrera proved controversial to neighbours when it was built.

4. Park Güell is considered a garden complex but the brightly coloured, undulating architectural elements make it difficult to focus on horticulture. High above the city, make sure to bring sunscreen and linger in the unusual setting.

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ABOVE: Casa Batlló.

5. Casa Vicens was constructed with rough red brick, befitting the home’s owner, the proprietor of a brick and tile factory. One of Gaudi’s earlier works, it is remarkable for its Moorish influences and assymetrical plan.

Charleston’s Top 5 Travel Sites

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1. In the French Quarter don’t miss the oldest standing tavern (and brothel) in the South. The famous pirate Black Beard may have had an ale or two at the Pink House. Today, the West Indian coral stone walls (which withstood the great earthquake of1886 and Hurricane Hugo) house a small art gallery. Head across the cobblestone street to the Old Slave Mart Museum to hear an informative recorded history of the city’s slave auctions.

2. Wake early and enjoy a leisurely stroll along Waterfront Park. You’ll get a great view of the Cooper River from the pier and see the Cooper Bridge which joins Charleston with neighbouring suburb Mount Pleasant. After a long walk, stroll across Vendue Street and reward yourself with a gelato at Paolo’s.

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3. No trip to the South is complete without a trip to a plantation. Historic Middleton Place has lavish gardens which take at least an hour to explore. There is also a reproduction home on the property and a popular lowcountry restaurant. America’s only tea plantation, The Charleston Tea Plantation is humble but may be worth a visit if you’re interested. Tours take guests through the tea fields and into the factory. The gift shop has gifts to bring home.

4. Once you’ve had enough history, take a break and spend a day at the beach. Lay out in the sun at Tides Folly Beach in the West Ashley area, only a 20 minute ride from the historic district.

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5. Once you are sold on visiting Charleston, you’ll need to book a place to stay. There are several options: you can stay in a luxury hotel like the Charleston Place Hotel or the Francis Marion Hotel. For a true historic district experience, stay a few nights in a cha

Charleston’s Top 5 Antique Shops

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1. South of the Fashion District on King, the Lower King Street Design District has more than its fair share of Antique shops. Biggs and Powell, Alexandra and John Pope Antiques (ABOVE) are just some of the best high end antique stores in the area. Be prepared: these shops don’t have affordable little knickknacks or flea market type finds; you’ll be spending big bucks when you shop here.

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2. Elizabeth Stuart Design is where Charleston’s most design savvy shop. Explore Muffie Faith’s elegantly eclectic boutique, curated with an incredible array of furniture, jewelry, and home décor selections including treasures from Charleston’s very own Sally Benedict, Kate Davis and Harper Poe.

3. Hop in a car or arrange for a taxi (cabs are difficult to find, ask your hotel for assistance) and head to Charleston’s West Ashley area where the city’s designers shop. Antiques of South Windermere and 17 South Antiques are perfect for an off-the-beaten-path antique hunt.

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4. Located in the Lower King Street Design District, South of Market offers rustic and sophisticated French furnishings. The ever evolving shop is overflowing with antiques, re-purposed objects and home décor finds that make it one of the south’s leading sources for interior design. Stop in, it’s lovely.

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5. If you like religious iconography, architectural salvage or one-of-a-kind treasures, visit Parham & Co. It’s one of the only antique shops located in the Fashion District, but it’s well worth the walk. Say hello to the family’s bichon frisé.

 

Charleston’s Top 5 Travel Experiences

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“There is no better way to learn about interior design than to travel to a city with an extensive history,” says Victoria Drainville.

Eager to explore, Victoria is on a mission to find Charleston’s most unique experiences and learn more about architecture and design. She quickly discovers this small, walkable city is loaded with charming southerners and historic places.

1. The best way to experience Charleston’s rich history is by touring historic homes. Tours typically cost US$10 and are worth every penny to the history buff or home enthusiast. The Edmondston-Alston House overlooks Charleston Harbour and its tour includes the history of this illustrious Charleston family. Visit the Calhoun Mansion and you’ll feel you’re visiting an eccentric aunt whose collections are too numerous to count. The Nathaniel Russell House has a stunning three-storey freestanding staircase and trompe l’oeil crown moulding that is sure to impress.

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2. Typical to Charleston are the Single Houses, an architectural style where the main entrance appears to be on the side of the house but leads to a porch. Experience these homes firsthand through the Fall Tours of Home and Garden led by the Preservation Society.

3. There are many ways to get around Charleston, but taking a taxi isn’t one of them. Since you’re on the move anyway, why not combine commuting with a history lesson? Horse and Carriage tours, Rickshaws or even Guided Walking Tours are pleasant options.

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4. There are two great shopping areas in Charleston: King Street for Fashion and Design and City Market for souvenirs. You’ll find inexpensive crafts, sweet treats, art, jewelry and sweet grass baskets made by local artisans.

5. Theatre fans will love the offerings at the Footlight Players. Affordable and popular productions run year-round. If reading is your hobby, visit the Heirloom Book Company, a bookshop dedicated to the literature of food.

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Charleston’s Top 5 Restaurants

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Scott and Crystal Winks know exactly what to order and where to order it from thanks to their expertise as the pens and palates behind Charleston Food Blog.

Happy to tag along, Scott and Crystal sent us to the city’s best restaurants and led us to the must order dishes on every menu. (It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.)

1. We’re told people travel from all over the country to taste FIG’s Tomato Tarte. Order several of chef Mike Lata’s dishes to share because you’ll want to try it all. The seasonal menu changes daily so visit more than once if you can.

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2. The name Closed for Business is sure to scare off or confuse many visitors, but the locals know better. This small drinkery has twice as many beers on tap as they do tables. The drink and food menus are both full of surprises. Try the duck pot pie, chicken salad or the pork slap sandwich—a perfectly fried pork cutlet, house-smoked ham, swiss cheese, green tomato chutney, with a house sauce that’s served on challah (egg bread). Need we say more?

3. Hidden on the first floor of the French Quarter Inn at the corner of Market and Church Streets is the delicious Tristan. Chef Nate Whiting runs the kitchen in this sleek, modern yet simple restaurant. Expect to be visually stunned by the beauty of the décor and the equally gorgeous food.

4. Pealz is the best spot in town to eat raw oysters. It is very small so head over there at 4:00 pm when they open to avoid the big crowds. If you can’t get enough of fresh seafood, go to Hanks and share the Grand Seafood Castle.

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5. Dying to try Southern food? Head to 82 Queen Street. Sit in the courtyard and order the she-crab soup and the barbecue shrimp and grits. If you want something that tastes like grandma spent the entire day in the kitchen, try Virginia’s on King. They turn out authentic cuisine using the freshest local ingredients and recipes that are 100 years old.

Charleston’s Top 5 Food Experiences

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ABOVE: Patrick and wife Fanny Panella warmly greet guests in the ambrosial wine bar at Bin 152.

1. If you’re looking for a great French experience in Charleston, you’ll find it at 39 Rue de Jean. Or, pair a light meal of cheese and meat with a perfect wine from Bin 152. Diners love the décor, and fortunately everything is for sale.

2. A trip to the Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square on Saturdays is sure to satisfy any craving. Come hungry and try Street Hero’s banh mi sandwiches or tacos, Charleston Crepe Company’s savoury or sweet pancakes and Roots Ice Cream’s small batch flavours like cucumber-mint, beet or caramelized fig.

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ABOVE: A chicken satay pizza with peanut sauce and cilantro? Yes. Jeff Johnson from Zahh Pizza makes it in the wood fired oven of his food truck.

3. Food trucks are gaining in popularity around Charleston which now boasts a total of eight diners on wheels. HELLO My Name is BBQ is at the Food Truck Rodeo on Saturdays (have a beer braised BBQ Pork sandwich, yum). Try a Chicken Satay Pizza with peanut sauce from Zahh Pizza. Jeff makes the dough from scratch and cooks the pizza in 90 seconds. Follow them on Facebook to find where they are headed next.

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ABOVE: Quite possibly the best dish in Charleston is the John’s Island Tomato Tarte Tatin created by FIG’s Executive Chef, Mike Lata.

4. You can’t go all the way to Charleston without eating some good ol’ Southern food. Maverick Southern Kitchens operates two fabulous restaurants on East Broad Street: Slightly North of Broad (SNOB) and High Cotton. Try the shrimp and grits at both locations. Tip: Don’t fill up on the wonderful corn bread they serve…or do. If you feel like learning how to make a Southern dish, visit Cooks right across the street and participate in a cooking class.

5. Whether you are just looking for a quick meal or a tasty coffee, visit Caviar and Bananas. First, the name is fun to say and second, it’s a beautiful gourmet store and café.

Quebec City’s Top 5 Design Spots

One of Québec City’s best features is its walkability. “That is,” says Victoria Drainville, “if you have the right boots for the job.” Little else is required to enjoy this truly great Canadian design destination.

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1. Start the day with a stroll in the Quartier Petit-Champlain. Lined with charming stores and quaint restaurants, the area has a European feel thanks to some of the most beautiful stone buildings in the country. If you love to cook, don’t miss a visit to Pot en Ciel. Many of the shop’s kitchen items are imported from France.

2. In the Old City, make your way to Un Fauteuil Pour Deux. Furnishings from all over the world reflect owner Nancy Ricard’s passion for travel. Victoria’s fallen for some pillow shams (left).

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3. If you agree with the idea that a room is never complete without at least one antique, then you’ll love Québec City. The Antique District on la rue St-Paul is Victoria’s go-to spot and a must visit shop is La Nouvelle-France Antiquités for Québec folk art. Owner Yves Duval is happy to share the history of any of his pieces.

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4. Mà Mobilier Actuel, located in the new and upcoming Saint-Roch District, sells contemporary furniture that reflects the look and style of the Orient. Their exclusive collection is predominantly made of tropical woods that originate from controlled forests.

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5. After a satisfying day of shopping in the Old City and Saint-Roch District, it may be time to splurge on a cab ride back to the upper city. If you still have energy, make your way to Zone Maison and enjoy trendy home décor at reasonable prices. With fabulous gadgets and accessories for humans and our four-legged friends, you’re bound to find an inspired holiday gift.

Quebec City’s Top 5 Food Experiences

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Driving into Québec City, one feels suddenly transported to a quaint Paris neighbourhood, only with a shorter flight and way more snow. The cobblestone streets and whimsical shops are embellished with the most beautiful Christmas décor, helping our travellers to get into the spirit with ease.

1. Start the day on la rue St. Jean wandering in and out of shops, at whim. Driven by a desire to sample the city’s best pastries, Dee heads into Paillard Le Café-Boulangerie. Turns out Bill Cosby found his way there first but, thankfully, the award winning pastry Chef Sebastien Bonnefils has plenty of his melt-in-the-mouth croissants to go around.

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2. Great food experiences don’t always involve eating. A pampered visit to Payot Institute at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac for a maple sugar hand massage is a no-calorie treat. If you’re getting a pedicure, they’ll let you use their iPad, but don’t check email. Instead, it’s a great chance to catch up on your Dabble reading.

3. Next, find a seat at the bar and prepare for a cocktail experience at the St. Laurent Bar & Lounge on the main floor of Le Château Frontenac. The bar boasts amazing views of the St. Lawrence River and a roaring fire to warm the body and spirit. Try the signature ice wine martini, made from local wine.

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4. Seeking a truly French meal? Then make your way to la rue St. Jean to Le Moine Échanson. This restaurant comes highly recommended from locals, who tend to be demanding gourmets. Every dish is paired with a wine recommendation. Be sure to make reservations if you want to enjoy this unique culinary experience.

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5. For a night out on the town, grab your sexiest pumps and head to Savini Resto-Bar / Vinothèque on Grande Allée. Share a pizza with friends and dance the night away.

Quebec City’s Top 5 Travel Experiences

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“Clothed in a fluffy blanket of snow, it’s easy to surrender to Québec’s wintry charms,” muses our Dabble Dare contributor Kathy Buckworth, “but having my photo taken in a towel….now that takes courage.”

1. First on the agenda is a trip to theaptly named Sibéria Station Spa, located 20 minutes outside the city in a wooded sanctuary. The “Nordic Spa” experience involves sliding into an outdoor hot pool, before plunging into the cold water version. Kathy’s pretty sure she knows which pool she’ll like most before she even tries them.

2. Next on the agenda is Le Marché du Vieux Port. The local Farmers Market sells fromage non affine a pâte ferme (aka unpasteurized cheese), an item dear to Kathy’s poutine-loving daughter. If you are nouveau to poutine, it is actually French for “mess”, but the combination of fries, cheese and gravy… c’est magnifique.

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3. Join the Bonhomme de Neige (official Snowman mascot) for the 58th Québec Winter Carnival, January 27 – February 12, 2012. The largest winter festival in the world features diverse cultural activities such as sleigh rides, skating, dogsledding, canoe racing, snow rafting and ziplining.

4. Directly behind the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is the imposing statue of Québec City’s founder, Samuel de Champlain. His figure marks the boundary of Upper Town, characterized by the grand buildings and gardens of the Legislature. The best way to see this part of the city is with a somewhat ubiquitous horse and carriage ride. The ripe horsey smells and scratchy wool blankets to keep you warm are part of the complete experience.

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5. After exploring Upper Town, a toonie (two dollar coin) is all it costs to ride the Funicular back down to Lower Town, where the scene is a magical, snow-filled holiday post card setting of shops, restaurants, cafés, and the occasional sugar shack.

Seattle’s Top 5 Food Experiences

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“You could say we’re a little obsessed with our food,” says food contributor Fiona Van Alstyne.

1. Seattle is known for its gourmet food trucks like Skillet and Marination Mobile. But my favourite street food is always in the same place—a little pink surf shack on the way to Shilshole Beach in Ballard called Paseo. Stop in for their addictive Cuban/Caribbean food like the legendary Pork Sandwich, recognised by Esquire and Food+Wine magazine.

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2. At Sitka and Spruce you’ll find real Northwest food whipped up in a huge open kitchen. Shop, sip and sample local food and wine at the Melrose Market while you wait for your table.

3. The Book Bindery’s chef Shaun McCrain is a graduate of Thomas Keller’s PerSe—and it shows. Ask for a table by the window and watch the boats on the Fremont Canal. Stop at the winery and micro-distillery next door for pre-dinner tasting.

4. At Poppy, chef Jerry Traunfeld creates seasonally-inspired thalis (tasting trays) including herbs grown in the restaurant’s urban garden. Don’t miss the dessert thalis—a little taste of everything on the dessert menu.

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5. Tired after a long day of sightseeing? Order the four-course chef’s tasting menu at Staple and Fancy Mercantile in Ballard and let renowned Seattle chef, Ethan Stowell, make your dinner decisions for you in his casual yet romantic modern Italian restaurant.

Seattle’s Top 5 Design Spots

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“Seattle’s design scene is as eclectic as its residents,” says our design expert Sophie Vander.

The simplicity of high tech style travels easily from the workplace to home, but because Seattleites are intrinsically environmentalists, they feel compelled to mix vintage or antique with the sleek and new to create a style all their own.

1. First stop, Capitol Hill neighbourhood. Area 51 contains a mix of new and vintage that screams Seattle style. Leah Steen from Revival Home & Garden is the expert when it comes to pops of colour. If you’re a true greenie, NuBe Green’s philosophy of sustainable materials will float your boat. Tucked away upstairs in Melrose Market, Butter Home touts interesting rustic pieces with a built-in fun factor.

2. The knowledgeable staff at Velocity Art and Design is super cool and friendly, which makes shopping here way too easy. Walk away with pendant lamps by Artecnica, a Chilewich spun vinyl table runner and, hey, throw in Blu Dot’s Nick dining table as well. They do ship, so go crazy.

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3. Take a quick cab ride south to artsy and industrial-chic Georgetown. Take in the substantial inventory at Susan Wheeler Home, but grab your prize while you can as items go quickly. Next door, the pieces at Kirk Albert Vintage Furnishings are as enigmatic as Kirk himself. His business partner, Steve, is there to talk you through the history of the industrial relics sourced from around the globe. Stop by Pacific Galleries antique mall on your way back into Seattle.

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4. Not your average ceramics store, Far 4 features porcelain hand grenades by designer Charles Krafft, while Trevor Jackson’s skull teapots will cause a stir at tea parties. Scale down the shock factor but retain the wow with Far 4’s own line of porcelain vegetables accented with gold.

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5. We love how Great Jones Home creates vignettes within the store so that you can visualize a whole space and find inspiration within it. By utilizing classic pieces and patterns, with a touch of glamour and gilt, you can’t go wrong really.