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I consider myself to be a pretty responsible human, therefore, when a good friend suggested St. Barths in January at the exact moment I should be in Dallas debuting the spring collection, I declined. Clearly, I hadn’t heard her offer to share her room in St. Barths in the freezing new year? Oh yeah, Dallas would have to do without me as a too good to pass up adventure was in the offing.

GETTING THERE

I worked the ENK Accessorie Circuit show ‘outside’ for three days in temperatures in the high teens, causing a chill in my bones that wouldn’t leave even upon arriving in Atlanta for another show, where again temperatures were unseasonably frigid. I started to think I had acute bronchitis or walking pneumonia as I couldn’t get warm for days, and wondered if hopping a flight to the Caribbean was the right thing to do. Well of course it was, as I needed the Vitamin D and the sun to warm my bones and brown my skin, and the warm salt water to heal me, right? When we arrived in St. Maarten, I looked up at the monitors and saw numerous flights scheduled for St. Barths. The only problem was we weren’t on one of them. Why were we taking the ferry? Because my friends don’t take prop planes. We missed the first ferry and ended up waiting two hours for the last boat. Finally, we were headed to paradise on a thirty minute ferry that quickly felt like thirty hours, with workers passing the aisles with paper towels and clear baggies. Within 10 minutes, the hacking and vomiting all around me was enough to have me put my ear buds in and blast ‘Waves’ so loud as to not hear any of my sick fellow passengers. We survived but all agree it ranked up there as one of the all-time worst experiences. In short, take the plane.

STAY

All was quickly forgotten, however, upon arriving in paradise. The Eden Rock is a storied boutique hotel in St. Jean, sandwiched between the runway at Gustavia Airport and the raves at Nikki Beach. Its location only adds to its charm as you swim in turquoise waters and watch the planes fly so close you can see the passengers smile from their window seats. Another plus is the short walk to town where you can shop for pearls and caftans, and to the restaurants Nikki Beach and Kiki-e Mo.

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Le Sereno on the Grand Cul de Sac is a quieter getaway but still offers some local dining options just a short walk away on the beach. A pool located just steps from the sandy beach also gets my vote. Further down the beach, I happened upon Les Ondines, a lesser-known and simpler resort with large efficiencies and couldn’t-be-closer-to-the-water rooms.

EAT

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that St. Barths is ‘tres cher’ (that’s French for crazy expensive.) The restaurants are no exception with a burger costing as much as $36 Euro. I like a gourmet meal in a beautiful setting as much as the next girl, but I also like a more casual and authentic local flavor. We tried Bonito, with great views of the harbor, blue and white batik print cushions and simple wicker hanging lamps, delicious fare, and a giant chess board, and all agreed it was a winner. Cheap it was not. A dinner at L’Esprit left us wanting more food options and better service, although the garden setting is lovely. Try Tamarin for a knock out garden setting and menu. Le Ti is a must, a serious fun night out in an intimate clubby atmosphere where the burlesque, rhinestones and Indian feather headdresses entertain. We tried the black truffle pasta at the buttoned up Le Toiny and marveled at how black the night was looking out from the terrace. Far and away, our decided favorite for dinner was Eddy’s. A favorite among the locals (our Budget rental car guy gave us the tip), nestled in a secret garden behind a fence in Gustavia with a South Pacific vibe, we agreed we could have eaten there every night.

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For lunch we got hooked on walking into St. Jean and getting the most simple and delicious (and well-priced) salads at Kiki-e Mo. Hard to beat fresh avocado salad with red onion, kale and cranberry, local beet, mango, and caprese. Do Brazil was another sunny spot in the sand at Shell Beach with gazpacho and satay. Or reserve a table ‘in’ the water at O’Corail on the Grand Cul de Sac beach. For a sweet afternoon treat go to Barts Gourmet in Gustavia and get one (or two) of the mini tarte tropezienne.

DO

If you must shop (and you can afford it!), I loved Lili Belle in St. Jean and Clic in Gustavia where I bought my daughter a very detailed large format coloring book of all the treasures St. Barths has to offer. The hotel gift shop at Eden Roc is a winner too with Ancient Greek sandals, local espadrilles, caftans and jewels galore.

Absolutely rent a car and explore the beaches. My favorite afternoon was a drive to Flamands Beach where I hiked a short goat path to the beach at Columbie. I saw an iguana the size of a monkey jump from a tree, too many lazy turtles to count, goats (of course), and pelicans dive bombing for their lunch. And oh yeah, I caught a glimpse of the super yacht Venus too (it is St. Barths, after all).

If nude sun bathing is your thing, try the end of the beach at Gouverneur and feel free to go topless on any beach. Saline is yet another gorgeous beach surprise.

Thank you to my sweet friend for bringing me to my senses and taking me to paradise. I am so lucky to have such generous (and sane) friends with whom to share life’s adventures.

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I’ve written about HK before (here and here), but each time I go I manage to discover something new. Sorry, but I won’t stay anywhere other than the Upper House, so you will have to be satisfied knowing that it still is simply the best hotel experience ever. This time I arrived after a 16 hour flight feeling a bit queasy and maybe a bit blue (feeling far away from my daughter). When I arrived at the hotel they told me they heard I was not feeling well (my driver had called ahead) and even though my upgraded room wasn’t ready yet, they wanted to get me into a room immediately so I could rest. Rather than the extra large room I usually take overlooking the Harbour, they temporarily housed me in a large room overlooking the velvet green mountains of the peak. I felt so cozy and happy that I recovered rapidly and decided not to change rooms. Arriving at the Upper House is like arriving home to a family that has missed you. Hand written notes and gifts wrapped in ribbon from the staff are a special touch. Bliss!

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It’s hard not to return to favorite restaurants but Hong Kong always has something new and delicious to try so I make sure to include the best recommendations. On my first night I didn’t want to travel far from the hotel as I was easing my way back into life at ground level, so I tried The Continental in Admiralty. Loved the atmosphere and my perfect sirloin. My favorite meal was a toss up between Chom Chom and Chachawan. I loved the relaxed local street vibe of both and had seriously delicious and inventive food at both. The owner at Chom Chom recommended several dishes that were all perfect, including Vietnamese fried chicken and  grilled corn. At Chachawan, I watched the 26 year old chef prepare their specialty Som Dtum Goong right in front of me. It is a papaya salad dish with tomatoes, chili, prawns or pork and it was five alarm spicy and crazy good.

Hard to believe I have never walked the ‘women’s market’ or the ‘goldfish market’ before. Expect copies of handbags from Chanel, Mulberry and Issey Miyake, as well as hundreds of iPhone cases (including a copy of the Moschino Golden Arches red and gold case), miniature wind up toys, silk dresses, backpacks, hair barrettes, and games like Mahjong. I loved walking the goldfish market and was maybe a little freaked out to see a giant box of very loud crickets as food for some of the fish. I would tell you which fish but my Chinese is limited (AKA nonexistent) and I would show you photos of some of the most unusual fish and sea creatures I’ve ever seen but alas no pics allowed. You will have to go and see for yourself.

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No trip to Hong Kong is complete for me without a trip on the Star Ferry. I love the wood benches and old school vibe as much as the breeze on my face. It’s a relaxed way to visit the other side or see the Harbour lights at night. The Hong Kong Observation Wheel, a giant ferris wheel with individual enclosed gondolas, seems to have just opened offering sweeping views of Central and Kowloon, but I missed it. And I’m afraid of heights, so someone will have to report back on their experience in the comments.

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Stephanie-Johnson,-El-ideas

I had no idea what I was signing up for last week when I was texting with friend Jessie Freschl (of Covet Closet and Fresch Style) and told her I was en route to Chicago.  She pinged back that I should go to her brother’s restaurant and immediately got to emailing him.  Before I boarded the Chicago bound flight (for one night I may add), I was confirmed for the 7 p.m. seating and had completed the required pre-payment for the meal (a first for me).

I uber-ed over to the warehouse space in a largely abandoned industrial-looking dead end and the driver asked if I was sure I had the right address.  He insisted he wait for me while I sussed it out.  And here the adventure began as I entered the building to find an interior door with a sign reading ‘Get the EL in here!’  This was going to be fun.

Katelynn, who had helped me with my reservation and had inquired about dietary restrictions, welcomed me by name and sat me by the window in a table set for one.  There were only five other tables, a full house, and everyone else was already seated and enjoying a libation of their own bringing. BYOB and I hadn’t brought anything.  This was definitely the type of fourteen course meal (yep it’s true!) that would be best enjoyed with the perfect wine pairing, but alas it wasn’t to be as I’d forgotten this important note.  Chef Phil and team felt awful and offered me anything they might have hanging about including an open bottle of red that my server had in his car.  Hugely accommodating and it wasn’t even their fault.  I would enjoy these edible creations without interference from alcoholic beverages.

Stephanie-Johnson,-dishes,-

Chef Phil introduced himself to the room and explained that he wanted to turn the idea of fine dining ‘on its head’ and that he encouraged the diners to come to the open kitchen at any time and observe, inquire, chat with the team as well as introduce ourselves to fellow diners.  He announced our first dish, uni (sea urchin) with black lava sea salt, shiitake, coconut pudding with wild trout roe, and said they hadn’t been remiss in not providing silverware:  he expected us to eat with our fingers and ‘lick the plate.’  Did I say this was going to be fun?  Fun and crazy delicious.  Not known to be shy, and when given the opportunity to actually lick a plate clean (in a restaurant no less), of course I dutifully obliged and loved every minute.  Successive dishes included ajo blanco, described as the precursor to gazpacho, with cuttlefish, garlic and green almond, and cherry radish with basil, shattered olives and white chocolate.  Other stand outs were the ‘French fries & frosty’ whose preparation had the kitchen engulfed in white ‘smoke’ and Chef Phil came around with a ladle and cauldron and finished off our dish with the smoky ‘ice cream.’  Not a wallflower, I visited with other tables between courses and the consensus among us was assuredly that this was the most creative food any of us had ever eaten.  When I spoke to Chef Phil and confessed that this experience had really shown that I know absolutely zilch about food and commended him for the pure tastes that came across in his food, he offered that he didn’t like to use foods or flavors that would mask any of the other ingredients in the dish.  Mission accomplished.  Michelin didn’t award EL ideas with a star for nothing.

Stephanie-Johnson,-friend,-

 

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