In this age of budget vacation packages, the tourism industry has largely succumbed to lowest common denominator programming particularly distressing for the traveling gourmand who likes to eat well without being accompanied by the crush of rabble escaping for two weeks from the secretary pool in Des Moines or Dayton.
However, there are plenty of locales where eating is the prime draw: Paris, Budapest, Tokyo, Guadalajara, the list goes on.
New Orleans, long a mecca for the discriminating palate, comes to mind. Currently, its in the throes of a gold rush called Emeril Lagasse. It seems only yesterday you could visit his flagship restaurant in a shabby warehouse district and expect a first-rate supper unequaled anywhere in the city. No more. TV has made him a star. It has also taken him out of the kitchens where he belongs. Visit NOLA, his French Quarter bistro-cum-shrine, and be prepared to have your ears overwhelmed while your mouth is underwhelmed. It goes to prove that while the chefs away, the stiffs will pay, if the hype is right.
Fail to plan, plan to fail. Thats my motto for gourmet travel.
For every NOLA, there is a Bayonne or Dauphine tucked away just around the corner, serving cuisine that is not only superior in flavor but also in taste, if you catch my drift.
But you must suss them out before arrival, lest they be closed for vacation or booked solid or kaput.
But that is not always the case, and there is something to be said for improvisation.
I once got lost in the maze of winding cobblestone streets of Ouro Preto, Brazil, and stumbled upon a quaint Italian restaurant owned, as it turned out, by the towns resident cinephiles. The dinner, as well as the conversation, was first class.
On the same trip, I met an apprentice sommelier on a bus from Belo Horizonte to Rio de Janeiro. We gabbed about wine for hours. Just as we were disembarking he invited me to a complimentary feed at the restaurant at which he was studying, a swish eatery specializing in new French cuisine. Some guys have the luck, I know.
The important thing to remember when dining your way through a vacation is pace. One only has so much money, yet so many plates to sample. A smart lunch and a frugal dinner is the ideal strategy for both heath and monetary reasons, but is, in many respects, a Faustian bargain.
In the Caribbean and Latin America, most high-end restaurants do not open for lunch, forcing you to gorge yourself at Roguish Nevilles Coconut Grove or hold off until supper.
In Europe and North America, youll face a lunch menu with fewer items but less of a stitch-up in prices. The choice is yours and your credit cards. Timothy Dugdale
Hungry hockey fan alert: Toarminas Pizza is now featuring Gordie Howe Number 9 pizzas, to honor the former hockey star. They come in a box printed with an image of his jersey. No word yet on whether theyll be available in the 18-store chains famous 24-inch size, but check their Web site for more info. ... Friendship House has opened Hamtramck Harvest, a new emergency food distribution program for metro Detroit residents, at 2931 Carpenter Ave. in Hamtramck. Call 313-365-5561 to find out how you can volunteer or make financial donations.