Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tahiti Trip May 2011 - Four Seasons Bora Bora

Continuing my series of previously unpublished posts from our Tahiti trip in 2011, this time Bora Bora!  (Note: in 2014 we returned to this resort, and a few things had changed, but my observations are still pretty much the way things are there today...)

Welcome back to 2011:

After 4 beautiful days at Vahine Island, we were sad to say goodbye, but were excited to move on to the Four Seasons for 5 nights!

It's only a 10 minute flight to Bora Bora from Taha'a. The Four Seasons has a real red carpet welcome (as you'd expect). We were greeted by a very friendly employee who oversaw our luggage and took us to a beautiful yacht. White leather seats and polished wood paneling. The boat ride lasted around 30 minutes, we were given cold bottled water and towels, and completely processed our check-in, right there on the white leather. Convenient!
view from bungalow deck

Our Four Seasons home was one of the most beautiful overwater bungalow we have ever seen, and definitely the biggest. Picture a separate living area with armchairs and a couch, a curiously segmented bathroom spanning the depth of the bungalow, and a bedroom with what Carrie swears was the most comfortable bed ever! The best part of the bungalow, though, was the deck. Stretching from one end of the bungalow to the other, it had enough room for two seating areas (one centered around a dining table, and the other a pair of lounge chairs), and an incredible view of the mountain). Three sets of sliding glass doors, including one set above the giant bathtub. It felt like you were taking a bath in the great outdoors, which, well, you kind of WERE. It was heaven!

tropical drink sampler at the Sunset Bar
In keeping with the accommodations, the rest of the Four Seasons is huge. We stayed in the 200s, an arm of bungalow docks which was closer to the restaurants and other guest areas. If you stay in the 300s or 400s, the walk is pretty long to the main areas (but this being the Four Seasons, there's a small army of golf carts at the ready to ferry your soft tourist butt around!). We ate at all three of the resort's restaurants, the gourmet one for dinner one night, the Sunset Bar for sushi one night (plus drinks at sunset, natch), and the main restaurant, for breakfast and lunch. We also ate room service breakfast and lunch a couple of times. None of the meals at the resort, sadly, were that memorable, considering the real estate given over to food! The best meal was probably the gourmet restaurant, where everything was good, but so expensive you really had to start thinking about value. I know, it's the Four Seasons. Whaddayagonnado.

We also had three dinners off the island, Bloody Mary's (probably our favorite restaurant on Bora Bora), Villa Mahana (very good food in a tranquil Italian-ish courtyard, though dazzlingly expensive), and Lagoon restaurant at the St. Regis (also very good, but also overpriced, we thought).
"menu" at Bloody Mary's

At Bloody Mary's we started with a tuna sashimi and a pair of excellent egg rolls, then for entrees, I selected an albacore in a mesquite sauce and mahi mahi with a glaze, and Steve got a simply grilled parrot fish. All of this was delicious, but the albacore with mesquite sauce was something special. Maybe it's the mesquite, but the meaty flavor just explodes in your mouth. Very unusual for Tahitian fare, which tends to be so much more restrained and French! We ended it with a warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. The meal, as well as the funky decor, the "menu" (the smorgasbord of raw fish that you point at to order when you walk in), and the ability to feel the sand between your toes while eating, made this one of the most memorable meals of the trip.

Our second favorite on Bora Bora was Villa Mahana. The restaurant is simply lovely. We sat in a beautiful courtyard of what looked like a candlelit Italian villa. We did the epicurean prix-fixe menu, which consisted of a shrimp salad with caviar (just ok), foie gras that had an amazing flavor, but which was a little undercooked, a lobster risotto which was amazingly creamy, and a huge filet with parmesan gnocchi (which was also good, but by then I was so full I couldn't really enjoy it). We ended our meal with one of the best desserts on the trip, another warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. With our meal we enjoyed our only Italian wine of the trip, a Villa Borghetti 2005 Amarone, which was excellent, especially with the last two courses. The two epicurean tasting meals were 250 euro, so with wine and bottled water it was around 350 euro, or a little over $500 US. While this is not the most expensive meal we've ever had, its up there, and usually when we spend that much for dinner, we love the meal itself a lot more. But I've been dying to try this place for forever, so I'm glad I was able to come here and have the experience. If I went to Bora Bora again (which I don't know if I will, it's a little too touristy for me), we'd go back to Villa Mahana and order off the a la carte menu.
table with a view!

We only did one daytime excursion off the island, a private motu picnic/ snorkeling excursion with Keishi Tours, led by a Tahitian skipper/chef named Pierrot. Pierrot picked us up in his beautiful outrigger. We circled about half way around the island and stopped at a spot out at the edge of the lagoon near the breaking waves of the reef. Our old friends, the black-tipped reef sharks, showed almost immediately, even before Pierrot began tossing them their lunch (of raw mahi-mahi)! Pierrot petted them for a while, and then we got in the water with them and the biggest stingrays I have ever seen. The rays came up to us right away (they are always so affectionate, like cats!) along with dozens of bright yellow butterfly fish. Next stop, the coral garden near the Sofitel. The water was very choppy, the winds were high out there, so although the snorkeling was good, it's just not as fun when you're getting tossed around and disoriented in the water! After we got back in, Pierrot took us to a deserted motu with the absolute calmest water we had seen on the trip so far, and with a monumental view of the mountain. We went for a walk along the empty beach, and when we got back to the boat, Pierrot had set up a table with white tablecloth and chairs in the water. Complete with flowers, an ice bucket with champagne, and a large green umbrella providing us just the perfect amount of shade. After we sat down, the great feast began! First course was a salad of lettuce, tomatoes and ham, and the best poisson cru of the entire trip, made right there by Pierrot. While we ate that, Pierrot put the finishing touches on our second course of grilled lobster tail, shrimp kabob and baked potato, all glazed with his delicious homemade bbq sauce. A third course of steak and mahi-mahi followed shortly thereafter, and we finished with fresh pineapple and watermelon slices. A lunch fit for a king, in the water on the beach! Near the end of the meal, Pierrot provided us with some musical entertainment, singing a few Tahitian songs while playing the ukelele. We finished the entire bottle of champagne, then Pierrot talked my husband into a Hinano (when you're asked three times and your host cracks one open, you join him). It was the most perfect day of our trip, and probably the best food! It was expensive, but to us, so worth it.

On our last full day in Bora Bora, we did a couples massage and coconut bath in the Kahaia Suite, which was beautiful and relaxing, and then joined a group of others at the internal lagoon for a tour with the resort's own marine biologist. I would definitely recommend showing up for this complimentary tour. The marine biologist, Oliver, speaks perfect English, and the tour is very informative and entertaining. We'd swum in the lagoon, but never knew there was a squid in there, for example. It helps to have a tour guide!

All in all, we liked our time on Bora Bora, and I'm glad we finally made time to go there. The colors of the lagoon are amazing, and the mountain is beautiful. But, having seen two resorts, the St. Regis and Four Seasons, the resorts do not feel Polynesian at all, and I felt like I could be in Hawaii (if not Los Angeles!). However, the Four Seasons' service was on par with the best of the places we have stayed. For example, we got back from breakfast on our last day, and I noticed that my bathing suit top that I had put on the deck railing to dry had blown away. I called the front desk to ask if anyone found it in the lagoon. They said they would check and get back to me. We went to the front desk about half an hour later to get a copy of our bill before check out, and I asked again about the suit, figuring it was a lost cause. The receptionist said she would call someone and check. Well, we were walking on the dock back to our bungalow and two Four Seasons employees on jet skis came riding up to us from below, and I saw one of them had my swimsuit top! He gestured to meet him on our deck, so we raced inside our bungalow and ran down to the lower deck so he could hand me back my top. He said they found it pretty far from the resort, floating away. Coincidence, sure, but a personal jet ski lost-and-found delivery service? Priceless….

Tahiti Trip May 2011 - Vahine Island

You know how, well... life intervenes and interests change and blogs were made to be abandoned?  Yeah, that happened here.  But here's the funny part!  I found some old friends hidden in the closet!  Old reviews from Tahiti I never posted..... all the waaaaaay back in 2011!  Since it's a shame to waste the work, here's what I wrote about Vahine Island back then!  (Note: in 2013 we went back to Vahine Island and some things had of course changed, but that'll have to wait for another post!  Hopefully less than three years from now!!)

Meanwhile, welcome back to 2011:

We just returned from 15 nights in French Polynesia! This was my 5th time visiting this country, and my husband's 4th! (Yeah, we like it there.) We visited 3 islands, and stayed at 4 different resorts (three of which we hadn't been to before). We came back tan (well, I did anyway, my husband avoided it), happy and very relaxed, and are already planning our return for two years from now!

Our first stop was a small resort of only 9 bungalows off the island of Taha'a called Vahine Island Resort. We stayed for 4 nights in an overwater bungalow which showcased a beautiful view of Bora Bora in the distance. The bungalow was nicely appointed, with a king sized bed, glass coffee table with hinges to open to the water, and a huge deck with two sets of chairs (one set under the roof and one out in the sun), and a ladder so you could join the fish...
ours was the one on the left

Besides the bungalows for the guests, there was a restaurant bungalow where we ate breakfast and dinner (with lunch on the palm-lined beach outside), and a two-walled clubhouse bungalow where you could sit on couches and enjoy a drink from the bar.

The rest of the island was beautiful. Lush grass that looked like a golf course, studded with palm trees. The ocean side of the island, all coral and volcanic rock, was similar to the "lunar landscape" we saw at Raimiti in Fakarava. This was were the best coral was. Snorkeling was amazing. A 5 foot black tip reef shark was a thrilling highlight, probably twenty feet away from us. We had been in the water with them before, but only on guided tours, so this was both exciting and a little nerve-wracking. We know that that species is widely considered non-threatening to humans, but.. they're sharks, after all! We snorkeled every day, and it turned out that this was probably the best snorkeling of the entire trip.

love this yogurt!
Vahine Island had a mandatory meal plan that included a bountiful breakfast and a three course dinner. Breakfast consisted of a big basket of breads and croissants, several homemade jams, fruit, eggs any style, and best of all, the most amazing homemade vanilla yogurt! Near the end of breakfast each day, the server would come over to take our dinner order from a scrolled printed menu tied up with raffia. Most dinners included a chef's amuse-bouche, a salad option, a meat or fish option and a dessert. Our favorites were an excellent mahi mahi prepared with vanilla sauce and a coconut cake with a pot of melted chocolate. Bruno, the chef-owner, does a great job with the meals.

Lunch, not included in the meal plan, sports a diverse menu. We usually stuck with one of several preparations of local fish, a very good poisson cru (a Tahitian staple of ahi tuna cooked in lime juice with coconut milk), or a burger and fries. Our favorite meal, though, was definitely off the menu. Another guest asked us to join his table with his family of four, including two young children. It seems he had just that morning caught 3 barracuda, and needed some help eating it all! The chef did a terrific job with the fish, serving them whole with a soy glaze and sauteed shallots. It was one of the best and most memorable meals of the trip. Not every day you get fresh barracuda... and for free...

We didn't do many excursions on Vahine, but we did enjoy an island tour of Taha'a, visiting a vanilla plantation and a pearl farm, and another more adventurous afternoon taking a small motor boat to a nearby motu to snorkel. It was not so pleasant, sadly, since the boat was a little harder to operate with than we'd thought it would be. Tough to keep it from stalling, and tougher to keep the blades from scraping the coral below. It was like floating through a maze whose walls you can't really see... Also, I put our little compact camera in its underwater case wrong, and... well, water got in and killed it. Oh well, it was definitely an adventure!

Since there were never more than 12 or 14 people on the island at at time, one of the nice things about such a small resort, we ended up talking to most of the other guests at one point or another. One of the other couples lives about 10 miles from us back in LA, and in talking to them we found out we had a lot in common, not least of which was our next resort, the Four Seasons in Bora Bora! We had dinner with them one night at Vahine Island, then they followed us over to the Four Seasons a few days later.

Back after a Long Break! Quick Boston Trip.

After a long hiatus, I wanted to get back into posting about travel, restaurants and other fun things. I thought I would start with my recent trip to Boston. I was there mostly for a work conference, but was able to try out three impressive restaurants. First was Deuxave, a new-ish restaurant not far from Fenway Park, at the corner of Mass Ave and Commonwealth Ave. The room is swanky and beautiful, but still warm and inviting, and the service was perfect. I have to say, for a restaurant that nice, I thought the wine list was pretty well priced. We stuck to French wines, a Sancerre and then a Burgundy from Cote de Nuits. The stand out dishes were the seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras (being from California where this delicious item is banned, I order it as much as possible when I travel), and the Fall Harvest Trio of Pork.

The next restaurant that we tried on this trip was Petit Robert Bistro in Kenmore Square. The restaurant is cozy and narrow, but very welcoming. The menu was quite varied but we stuck to classic bistro dishes, and were so glad we did. The french onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and tarte tatin were all excellent examples of what these favorites should be. I was very impressed with the deep luscious sauces, incredible flavor, and excellent technique that was evident in every dish. The wine list, as well as the menu prices for the food, was so reasonable. This place would be my weekly date night place if I lived in the neighborhood, no question.

The last place we tried of note was a brand new restaurant called Bastille Kitchen in the Fort Point neighborhood. It was an easy walk for me from my hotel near the Children's Museum to get to this very cute neighborhood. The restaurant was on a quiet side street, just past a small bridge that you walk under where the underside of the bridge is lit up with thousands of tiny blue lights (see picture below). What a nice surprise while walking to dinner! The restaurant is meant to look like a old brick warehouse, and the effect is quite good. We had drinks in the bar to start, and the cocktails are interesting. I think my drink was called St. Germaine and it was excellent.
Since I was there with 10 people, we had a private room with a set menu. The host of the dinner asked me to pick the wine, which I was happy to do. We did a few bottles of Sancerre to start, a Burgundy from Pommard, and then a magnum of an incredible Chateauneuf du Pape that was recommended to me by our very friendly and efficient server. The menu had two options for a starter (beet salad or lobster bisque; I got the bisque which was very tasty), three options for an entree (salmon, chicken or beef short rib wellington; I got the wellington, which was incredible, especially the sauce) and two options for dessert (apple tarte tatin or chocolate mousse tart; I got the apple, but was so stuffed I only had a few very delicious bites). The host also had them bring us several servings of their ghnocci a la parisienne along with our soup or salad, which was the star of the night. Seriously, this dish was so amazingly good, I couldn't stop eating it (hence my inability to eat very much of my dessert later)! It is a close call, but I have to say Bastille Kitchen was the best meal of the trip. If I only have one night in Boston in the future, this is where I would go. Especially so I can try more things from the regular menu!

One final note, but not about food. We haven't stayed very many places in Boston over the 5 or 6 times we have been there in the last 10 years or so, mostly because we absolutely love the Boston Harbor Hotel. Yes, it is pretty pricy, but the level of service, the beautiful rooms and comfort level of all of the public spaces as well as the guests rooms, make us return again and again. We tried another hotel just down the street from the Boston Harbor hotel this time because I was there for a work conference and the hotel we stayed at had a conference rate. I figured since I wasn't paying, I couldn't justify the additional cost of going to the Boston Harbor again. That was a mistake. From the moment we arrived at the other hotel, we regretted not going with our favorite place. Next time, I would just book the Boston Harbor and pay the difference!