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Great Restaurants

September 27, 2017
Some of our favorite add-ons to our non-profit fundraising auction travel packages are related to food. Donors love it when their trips include some of the day-to-day costs factored in (it’s why “all inclusive” packages often do so well), so having meals as a part of the package can be a strong selling point.

What transforms included meals from a nice addition to a full-on attraction, however, is the caliber of the restaurants with which we work. Our travel packages include gift certificates to some of the world’s best restaurants, the types of places with chefs that donors are willing to bid high to visit.

Some of our favorites from the catalog include:

Commander’s Palace: The restaurant that gave Emeril Lagasse an early gig is a New Orleans institution, with its Creole menu and extensive wine list, still attracts diners from around the world, more than 120 years after its opening. It’s a member of the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame and has won several awards from the James Beard Foundation over the decades.

The Biltmore Dining Room: Much of the menu at the Dining Room comes from Asheville’s Biltmore estate; greens, beef, lamb and various berries often come from the grounds. The rest of the menu is sourced as close to Asheville as possible, making it one of the freshest farm-to-table experiences available.

Katz's Deli:
A part of the deli trio at the center of our “Nosh Your Way Through Three New York Delis!”, Katz’s can trace its lineage in New York’s Lower East Side back to 1888. Ownership has changed over time, but the pastrami sandwich, Katz’s signature item, has remained. (Your donors should make sure to add a side of matzo ball soup to round out the order.)

Gordon Ramsay's Savoy Grill: Get past the bluster of the chef most famous for dressing down aspiring cooks on television, and you find that Gordon Ramsey is incredibly skilled. His Savoy Grill in London has received a Michelin Star, one of the highest accolades a restaurant can receive. For a show to go with your meal, book the Kitchen Table Experience, which includes a menu conceived on that day and a view of, as the eatery’s site proclaims, “the kitchen theatrics and action.”

Esquina Bar and Restaurant: Called Medano Beach’s “best new restaurant” by Fodor’s, this Cabo San Lucas stunner makes full use of its seaside location to offer scallops, shrimp, and a catch of the day. The subtle Mediterranean touches on the menu (chicken kebabs, hummus, etc.) and the lunchtime takes on pizza make it an eatery for everyone in your donor’s party.

The Colors of Fall

September 20, 2017
When the fall arrives, it brings with it any number of changes. Kids go back to school. Football Sundays become mini-holidays for the sports addict. And t-shirts give way to light jackets and sweaters in closets everywhere. But for the traveler, fall often means one change more important than any other: The changing colors of the trees everywhere that the temperature is moving.

If you’ve got donors who are looking to get away with one of our non-profit fundraising auction travel packages, this is one of the best times of year for them to hit the road. And if they want to maximize the visual benefits of the season, these destinations should be under serious consideration.

Boothbay Harbor – The fall colors are so inspiring in Maine that Boothbay Harbor hosts its own celebration. The Fall Foliage Festival is in its 50th year in 2017, celebrating the season with crafts, contests and even steam-powered train rides. It’s northern latitude also means that the ideal window for seeing the leaves change is a little later than it is for most other locales; a visit here in mid-October can cap a full season of gorgeous color.

Telluride – This mountain hideaway is a stunner year-round, but it’s the fall when the area’s aspen trees start to turn. Grove after grove of the thin trees start to go yellow and orange, and so many of the area’s hiking routes become an explosion of color. The city’s tourism board even has their own name for it: Gold Season. See the color from Telluride’s gondola, lakeside at Woods Lake or on the back of a mountain bike on one of the area’s trails.

– The desert of Arizona may not spring right to mind when considering fall foliage, but this oasis explodes with color in the autumn. The road between Sedona and Flagstaff has been called “the closest thing Arizona has to a New England display of fall foliage” by the Arizona Republic, and with a later-than-average window for the changing leaves (sometimes extending all the way to early November), it’s a great choice for those who might be tired of the expected fall getaways.

Montreal – Americans aren’t the only ones obsessed with all things fall, of course. Whether it’s parks within the city itself or quick jaunts into the surrounding county, Montreal makes its case as a tremendous fall autumn destination thanks to the neighboring Laurentian mountains and various ski resorts. And with the change happening usually around the end of September, the temperature is still warm enough for light jackets, rather than parkas.

Compliments to the Chef

September 13, 2017
We’ve mentioned before – a few times – our love of traveling for the sake of the palate. Getting gumbo in New Orleans, going on a deli tour of New York, taking a cooking class in an Italian villa: Travel and food makes for a perfect pairing.

Many of our destinations are closely associated with a certain cuisine, be it Creole in New Orleans or all the different variations of pasta on offer in Italy. But some of these locales are also linked to famous chefs, some who stick to one specialty and others who offer variations on foods from around the world.

If you’d like to offer your donors a chance to visit the home restaurant of one of their favorite chefs with one of our non-profit fundraising auction travel packages, we’ve got plenty of options.

Emeril Lagasse: BAM! The chef, television star and spokesperson is worldwide, of course, but New Orleans is certainly his spiritual home. He gained much of his fame heading up the kitchen at Commander’s Palace, a Crescent City institution (and, we’d note, a dining option on our “Discover New Orleans’ Celebrated Downtown” package), and now has four restaurants in New Orleans.

Roy Choi: Not all great chefs work in white tablecloth joints. Choi is the first star of the food truck era in Los Angeles; his Kogi trucks combine Korean and Mexican cuisine into an addictive mix, one that helped launch Choi to stardom. Now, his menus and ideas can be found at six different restaurants in the L.A. area.

Jose Andres: The Spanish-American small-plate chef owns restaurants across the country, but it is Washington, D.C. where he may shine the brightest; his minibar by Jose Andres seats just six diners at a time, only operates on a prix fixe basis and is a Michelin star winner. He’s also earned plaudits for bringing high-end food to moderate budgets at outlets like Jaleo and China Chilcano.

Alain Ducasse:
To be known as one of the great chefs of Paris is to be called an all-star of all-stars; any sort of recognition in one of the fine dining capitals of the world is special. For Ducasse, that recognition comes from a staggering 15 restaurants in France alone, including El Jules Verne, located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower.

Seemingly Everyone Else: Don’t look now, but Las Vegas might have the highest concentration of restaurants from famous chefs in the world. Want to be yelled at by Gordon Ramsay? You’ve got five choices. How about Giada De Laurentiis’ first-ever restaurant? And Lagasse, Andres and Ducasse each have options here, too, meaning that “gluttony” is moving right up the sin rankings in Sin City.

Eat Dessert First

September 06, 2017
Ernestine Ulmer was a writer without much of a resume. She doesn’t have her own Wikipedia page, and nothing she wrote is available at Amazon. It’s hard to even find out when she worked; some on the Internet credit her as a 19th century writer, while others say she was born in 1925.  But she wrote one line that has survived through the years, one saying that has long outlasted anything else on her resume: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

There may be no better time to indulge a sweet tooth than while on vacation. And, like cuisines or certain cocktails or wines, where you are may decide with what you finish your meal.

At Mitch-Stuart, we love sending your donors to cities with great food, via our non-profit fundraising auction travel packages. While many foodies travel to celebrate their favorite meal, dessert can also be a compelling reason to hit the road.

Some of our favorite desserts, and their home cities:

The line outside of Café du Monde in New Orleans rarely abates, and it’s with good reason. The coffee’s fine, the menu is pretty good, but the main event here is the beignet, a French-style doughnut sprinkled with powdered sugar. Paired with a cup of java, the beignet is the city’s unofficial breakfast, and while others bake them, du Monde’s is still considered the gold standard.

The lineage of cheesecake can be traced all the way back to 14th century England. But the New York version is worth celebrating as its own creation; with a slightly-browned and smooth top, it is distinctive enough to be in its own category. Finding the best in the city is as tough as picking a best pizza slice; Junior’s in Brooklyn may be the most famous, but there are plenty of contenders for top prize.

Any great French meal – and there are lots of great French meals, of course – isn’t complete until the after-dinner macaron. While they’ve taken off in America as well, Paris still leads the league; there’s even a version sold in France’s McCafe’s (the coffee shop version of McDonald’s). Find a Laduree bakery, which is said to sell 15,000 macarons per day, for a quintessential French experience.

Invented in Italy in the 1960s, tiramisu is as omnipresent on menus at Italian restaurants as is pasta. With its coffee flavor and sweet finish, the custard pairs perfectly with a post-meal espresso or amaro as a way of lingering at a dinner table that’s lively with conversation.  Pompi in Rome can often feature lines out the door for the dessert.

Travel to Key West at the right time of year, and you can take part in a whole celebration dedicated to a particular dessert. The Key Lime Festival gives thanks for the local specialty, Key lime pie, with a pie hop (a bar crawl, but with pie), an eating contest and a “pie drop,” where people try to figure out how to drop one of the sweet, tart pies from the top of the Key West lighthouse and have it land without breaking apart.