Friday, September 30, 2011

Newport Mansions, Robber Barons and the Best Clam Chowder in Town.

 The New England Diaries

Each day in New England brought a new adventure.   Robin and James had a treasure trove of surprises and wonders that they revealed to us like wizards conjuring up magic.   This day we would drive to Newport, Rhode Island and visit one of the mansions of the 'Gilded Age' and then, having feasted our eyes and minds on the excesses of that extraordinary period, we would lunch at 'The Black Pearl Restaurant'.  The legendary Black Pearl Restaurant, where clam chowder is an art form and where the feast would be gastronomic and most certainly excessive.

Our numbers at Seekonk had swelled with the arrival of cousins Michele and Barry from North Carolina.  The beautiful house opened up its arms and welcomed them.  We were a happy brood and James' cooking pots got bigger and busier.   But now we were off to Newport.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Overture And Bertus Basson

Perched high in the Helderberg Mountains on the Hidden Valley Wine Estate near Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, there is a special place.  To reach this place requires one to motor up a not too steep winding road  Suddenly, around one of the bends in the road, is the sight of a building of stone, glass and steel which appears to rise miraculously from a magnificent flurry of fynbos   This is the mountain home of Overture Restaurant and the lair of the man that inhabits it, Chef Bertus Basson.

Overture presides over the Stellenbosch valley, glancing this way and that and where, on a fine day, you can see forever.   Parking one's car is a simple matter, as the parking area has been levelled.  A short walk up a gentle, paved slope and one is at the entrance of the restaurant.   A spacious cool interior with high ceilings
and huge windows draws one in.   Immediately one is struck by the efficiency and courtesy of the staff.    How lovely to be greeted by a friendly welcoming smile and none of the cold hauteur of reception staff that has become the signature of so many restaurants and eateries. 
We were shown to our table outside under a pergola-covered extension of the restaurant.  The space is beautifully arranged so as to allow everyone access to the breathtaking view and a feeling of intimacy within one's own space.  The chairs are spacious and comfortably upholstered and the tables, beautifully dressed, with gold cloths sweeping the ground and sparkling white embossed linen covers.   Wooden rectangles serve as side plates, covered for the moment, with large embossed linen napkins.  Shining glasses standing to attention tease one with the promise of  the wines to come.