Tunisia, A Study in Blue and White
By Yvonne Mason


“We are the Switzerland of the Arab world.” Tunisians said many times as we touring last spring. The Tunisian people are gentle, smart, peaceful, good looking and very proud of their beautiful clean country. Almost as clean as Singapore. And, for the same reason, the people in each country like it clean. Most buildings are white with medium blue doors, window frames, balconies and decorative motifs, especially in Tunis and Sidi bou Said.. Blue sky, blue sea, the coast is a dream.

The Bardo Museum, located in the old Palace of the Bey in Tunis, is famous for its most excellent collection of Roman mosaics. The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Malibu, California has been working in collaboration with the Bardo to preserve the stunning mosaics.


The northeastern area of Tunisia was dominated by Punic, Roman and Christian periods. Carthage, with the amazing Antonine Spas, amphitheater, theatre, Punic Port and Roman villas was originally a Phoenician capital from about 800 B.C. Carthage was sacked by Rome in 146 B.C., then colonized again in 105 B.C. by Augustus.


Carthage location is splendid and one of the most beautiful Roman ruins around the Mediterranean.

Sidi Bou Said, is a delightful Moorish village perched high above cliffs over the Gulf of Tunis. The buildings doors are particularly ornate and blue with stars, moons, minarets and crescents. Sidi Bou Said has been a favorite of the avant-garde since the 1920’s. Andre Gide, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Klee were all fond of Sidi Bou Said. Bright flowers drape the buildings and we found Sidi Bou Said to be the best shopping.


Sidi Oqba, The Great Mosque ( one of Islam’s four holy sites, started in 670 A.D.) located in Kairouan, is one of the most beautiful and oldest monuments in the Moslem world. We continued west to the desert.

The desert is vast, heat ripples over the sand, the sky is as turquoise as the gem, we are on the edge of the Sahara. Signs point to Frontiere Algierienne and Libya.

Nomadic tribes, berber tents, herds of camels and blue, blue sky carry one away to an otherworldly place.

At Metiaoui we board the Red Lizard train, a narrow gauge railway opened in 1899 by the Bey of Tunis. The carriages are early 20th century fitted with red leather seats. The train runs the nine mile Gorges of Selja a dramatic mountain oasis and otherwise inaccessible gorges. Close to the railway is the stunning Tamerza Palace Hotel for fine dining or staying.


Past more oasis and further into the desert we arrived at Tozeur. The mythical town of Tozeur is like a dream with the poetic Belvedere palms, the old Medina and the superb Dar Chraiet Museum of art, architecture and culture.

Chott El Jerid salt lake is truly one of the most surrealistic sights we have seen. Nearer to the Algerian border (surreal in itself), the lake shimmers with iridescent shades that change from one side of the road running through the lake to the other side. One side pink, the other green, one side rust the other blue or silver. The magical changing colors are the work of the sun shinning on salt crystals.

Douz is the gateway to the Sahara, the end of the road, four wheel drive is needed to go south from here. Taureg (blue men, because of their blue garments), tents and herds of camels with a few clumps of grass and a few Libyan gas stations (Libya has lots of gas and delivers it in cans and barrels to these stations in the middle of the desert). At the hotel hundreds of sparrows fly with the wind out of the oleander bushes.

The star of the Tunisian South, it is said is Matmata. Although the underground Troglodyte dwellings were used by Steven Spielberg in Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Matmata looked like a set in the desert to us.


Farther east and a ferry ride away is the charming island of Djerba. Many lovely beaches circle Djerba, but access may be limited by tourist hotels. Guelleia is the islands village of potters and economic center and Houmt Souk is famous for artisans cloth, blankets, silver and filagree gold jewelry. We treated ourselves to the Radisson SAS Resort, probably the most beautiful hotel we’ve seen and we have stayed at five and six star hotels all over the world, El Jem is the site of the third largest coliseum in the Roman world. The third century gem is better preserved than the coliseum in Rome.

The food is some of the best in the world. Couscous with meat, chicken, squab, and veggies; lamb; beef; fresh seafood; game, vegetables such as eggplant, salads, olives; fruits including figs, dates, oranges; and the most amazing pastries and desserts.

The wines are quite good.

Tunisia is a beautiful country, especially along the coast. The people are kind, friendly and the dollar is worth something in Tunisia.

El Rey Sol Restaurant, Ensenada Celebrated It’s 60th Anniversary
By Yvonne & Richard Mason

"Please, use extreme caution if traveling to Baja, due to recent events"

The perfect blue fluffy cloud sky afternoon at the Casa de los Siete Patios on a bluff overlooking the Pacific and the Ensenada Bay was the setting for El Rey Sol Restaurants 60th Anniversary. Strolling musicians and the added beauty of the hundreds of guests in mandatory white was absolutely elegant.

The party began with canapés El Rey Sol; Rose Cabernet Primavera 2006; and sparkling Champrule Brut wines by L.A. Cetto. El Rey Sol Restaurant has served the best food in Ensenada for 60 years and served the evenings savory cuisine in five courses paired with special reserve L.A.Cetto wines

The dinner was Salmon Timbal with a variety of creamed cheeses and a soft foam of vodka, served with Chardonny, Cetto private reserve 2005; bouillabaise El Rey Sol, a traditional soup made from sea fruits was accompanied with crab ravioli and scallops; sorbet of tequila Alteno Reposado served in a glass flower flute was the intermezzo; filet al Nebiol with a variety of fresh mushrooms and pears bathed in soft red wine sauce was complemented by L.A. Cetto Nebiolo; and the dessert was a selection of Belles Artes cakes and merengue El Rey Sol with fresh fruits accented with Bellinis, sparking wine with peach juice. After the party chilaquiles and pozole were served.

The internationally renowned Classic Orchestra of Mexico, was accompanied by the voices of tenor Jose Medina and soprano Marisol Fuentes.

A silent auction with works of international artists (Chagall, Picasso, Matisse, Klee), was held to generate a scholarship fund for culinary students in the new gastronomic school at the Autonomous University of Baja California, Ensenada campus.

Jean-Loup Bitterlin architect and owner of El Rey Sol Restaurant generously presented the beautiful event in honor of his mother Dona Pepita.

We will never forget the magnificent evening

El Rey Sol Restaurant is located at Av. Blancarte #130, Ensenada, B. C., Mexico, 01152 (646) 178.1405

Tijuana, Baja Med, Fine Dining and Wining

La Differencia
Tijuana welcomes you to some of the finest dining and wining this side of Europe. Baja Med cuisine is being served in a plethora of restaurants just south of the border and for a fraction of the price that lesser quality restaurants in Alta California charge. Recently, we took a culinary tour of Tijuana and were very impressed with not only the food, but the beautiful presentation and European style service. The following are some of our favorites.

La Diferencia is the epitomy of colonial Mexico. We were transported back 200 years as soon as we entered the cool arched reception era Candles dripped around a reverent saint standing by the entrance to the romantic dining room. The dining rooms atrium ceiling changes mood from daytime sky blue dimming to a night time glow.

Chef/owner Juan Carlos Rodriguez specializes in traditional gourmet Mexican cuisine:

Epozote herbed black beans served with freshly made salsa and crispy chips; chicarrones (crispy pork rinds) softened and paired with blue corn tortillas; a refreshing salad of mixed greens, mango, avocado, red onion and jicama in a honey dressing is followed by chicken breast with cheese and chipotle sauce; enchiladaa de camaron (shrimp); tender beef in chili with mashed potatoes; and pastel de crepas con chocolate blanco (white chocolate cheesecake) .. crocodile or crickets are sometimes available. Mariachis stroll the room.

La Diferencia was voted the Best Mexican Cuisine in Baja California

La Diferencia is located at Blvd. Sanchez Taboada # 1061 1, Zona Rio, (664) 634-3346

La Querencia Baja Med Cocina’s chef/owner Miguel Angel Guerrero Yagues stopped practicing law to open this very cool restaurant and cook the bounty of his hunting and other special treats. No one knows how to prepare game like a hunter. The restaurant is an island of industrial space graced with the stuffed heads of wild game, the kitchen is open and excited conversations bounce off the galvanized metal surfaces. A large blackboard is slid to your table to announce the delightfully eccentric menu: duck tacos; grilled sardines; fresh fish; and of course fresh game; tortillas are hand patteed and charred to a tasty crisp. A rack of four salsas, one habanero was the hottest I’ve tasted and I like salsa picante.

We continue to be amazed at the depth of the carte, as we are introduced to a top candidate for the mayor of this exciting city. It is clear that this is a power lunch spot and in its way it reflects the new dynamic nature of a city full of possibilities.

La Querencia is located at Escuadron 201 #3110, Local 1 y 2, Col.Aviacion, (664)972-99 35 y 40

Casa Plascencia could be in Madrid, it looks so like restaurants we have enjoyed in Spain. And, the menu is Spanish: magnificent paellas are the masterpiece of chef/owner Juan Jose Plascencia, Caesar salad is made at table in a ten minute cerimony (this Tijuana tradition is almost a lost art ), a large variety of tapas, roasted and grilled meats include lamb, beef checks, tongue, pigs feet and sweetbreads

It’s difficult to believe anywhere without pizza, but that was the case in Tijuana before 1969, when Placencia opened the first pizza parlor Guiseppis. There are now 11 branches, but only three remain in the family.

Saverios Mediterraneo and Romesco Baja Med Bistro (Bonita, California), have been added to the Placencia’s fine restaurants.

Casa Plascencia is located at Carlos Robison # 25, Fracc.Aviacion, (011-52-664) 686-3604

Rincon San Roman Cuisine D’Auteur’s chef Martin San Roman, a graduate of Academe Culinaire de France, cooks a fusion of French and Mexican cuisines. San Roman is internationally known for his rich combining of the ingredients from land, ocean and the air. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Real del Mar, this is an ideal place for lunch.

Pate de pato is a lovely duck pate on toast; a lettuce salad with cilantro dressing is refreshing; cream of tomato soup with slivers of red pepper, zucchini, and fried onion is savory. Chicken Milanesa is breaded with panko and fried crisp, placed over fettucine with basil leaf, proscuito, tomato sauce and finished with grated parmesan. Dessert is a tres leche flan with strawberries and mille-feuille.

Rincon San Roman is located at Real del Mar, (664)- 631-2241

L.A. Cetto a fine winery, since is situated in the Valley of Guadalupe. It is also the largest winery in Mexico. I love their wines, they are in the European, especially Italian style. The founder Don Angelo Cetto (recognizing the Valley of Guadalupe to be an outstanding vine growing region), founded the winery in 1928. L. A. Cetto has a bottling facility and tasting room in the Cava Boutique in Tijuana. The wines include: Terra; Merlot; Nebbiolo; Concordia; Cabernet Sauvignon; Viognier and Vino Blanco Espumoso Champrule Brut, a wonderful sparkling wine. Olive oil, bacalaok, peanut treats, chocolate and other goodies are also available.

L. A. Cetto Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, from USA 001152 (664) 685-3031

If all that is not enough to tempt your taste buds try Venus Chocolates. So good they will make Godiva cry. These truffles are some of the best made anywhere: filled with amaretto; Bailey’s; caramel and nuts; cereza negra; chocolate amargo; cognac; Drambuie; Drambuie Blanco; Durazno; Frangelico; Grand Marnier, Kahlua; Kahlua Blanco; Licor 43; Malibu; menta; mint with chocolate and milk; nuez; nuez blanca; Oreo; pina colada; plantano con nuez; tequilla, tequilla almendrado; tequilla con cajeta and tequilla con fresa,

Centro Cultural Tijuana was inaugurated in 1982 with the goal to fortify national national identity in the north border of Mexico and to encourage cultural tourism coming from the United States of America to all the country by promoting Mexican history and the traditions from the border states of the republic. The center does a great job of promoting the bi-national region of Tijuana-San Diego. All the arts and culture are represented from photography exhibits, to visual art, to dance, to music, to history to an IMAX theatre and other mediums.

Centro Cultural Tijuana is located at Paseo de los Heroes 9350, Zona Urbana Rio, Tijuana, (664) 678 96 00

For more information contact Juan Saldana, Marketing Manager Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau (011 52 664) 684 0537

Grand Hotel Tijuana is right in the middle of the Zona Rio, easy walking to many of these fine restaurants. Breakfast is included with room tariff and can be taken in the tall white room with extensive buffet or in the elegant dining room with a mural of Paris, the owner and his wife in the foreground and superb continental service. The rooms are very comfortable and the views are spectacular. One night as I looked out of my window on the 15th floor I saw a silver new moon, cars before golden arches, perhaps a minaret, white, gold and green lights. It could be anywhere exciting.

It’s Tijuana.

Grand Hotel Tijuana is located at Blvd. Agua Caliente 4500 Col. Aviacion, (664) 681 70 00

Melissa’s Great Book of Produce

Melissa’s Great Book of Produce, Everything You Need to Know About Fresh Fruits & Vegetables, March 2006, Author Cathy Thomas; Co-creators: Sharon Hernandez, Corporate Chef Ida Rodriguez, “Produce Expert” Robert Schueller, and Melissa herself; Photographer Nick Koon, Publisher John Wiley & Sons, $29.95.

This is a book I’ve not only always wanted, but a book I’ve needed. I love fruits and vegetables, they are so alive with flavor and they make me feel great. If I see exotic or new varieties of fruits or vegetables, I immediately pick them up to see what I can do with them. Sometimes with success and sometimes not. So, to have Melissa’s Great Book of Produce demystifying 500 varieties of fruits and vegetables is a blessing.

The down to earth language used in the book tells how each item looks and shows in beautiful color photos, how the item tastes and everything else. How to cut it up, how to store it and easy ways to serve it. Complete information about when each item is available, both globally and domestically. It’s both a reference book and a cookbook in one volume.

Mango Salsa :

Melissa’s Great Book of Produce is available at 1-800-588-0151 or visit www.melissas.com

South Coast Plaza
"South Coast, Who Says You Can’t Have It All!"

We open the drapes of our room in the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel to view the bright night city lights, and the swimming pool at The Spa at South Coast Plaza, and finally snuggle into the comfiest bed this side of heaven. What a weekend, what a dream.

South Coast Plaza

We meet in the waterfall enhanced hotel lobby for hosted bar and innovative hors d’oeuvres with a tour of the hotel. Then we are whisked off to the Orange County Performing Arts Center's charming production of "Cats". Broadway's history winner of seven Tony Awards features 20 Andrew Lloyd Webber's songs.

After a divine sleep, one wakes up to quite an appetite. Leatherby's Café Rouge at the Orange County Performing Arts Center is the site for a gourmet buffet breakfast.

Leatherby's Café Rouge, in the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 615 Town Center Drive. Costa Mesa, 714-428-0814

It is time for a little exercise. The Spa at South Coast Plaza is truly out of the ordinary. Facials, massages, body treatments, rescue bath therapy, green tea bath, Ayturvedic treatments, customized treatments, fitness, private training, classes and my every day activity - a marvelous swimming pool.

www.THESPAANDFITNESSCLUB.COM, 695 Town Center Dr,. Costa Mesa, 714-850-0050

Charlie Palmer's restaurant at Bloomingdale's, a new vintage wine shop, offers boutique library and hard to find wine selections at reasonable retail prices.

South Coast Plaza

3333 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, 714-352-2626

"La Posada Magica the Magic Journey" by Octavio Solis and music by Marcos Loya, is a yearly production for the past 15 years of the South Coast Repertory.

The South Coast Repertory, in it’s 45th season, is a professional resident theatre founded in 1964 by David Emmes and Martin Benson, who continue to serve as artistic directors.

South Coast Plaza

Pinot Provence is one of my favorite restaurants. We enjoy an amazing dinner, prepared by executive chef LuLu De Rolen, of an amuse bouche of mushroom, tomato canary melon, fresh Burrata with basil viniagrette. First course is parmesan and mascarpone risotto, wild mushrooms, truffle oil; second course pan roasted California sea bass, artichoke bangoule, ratatouille, tomatoes Provencal; entrée braised boneless short ribs, Cantelalet pomme aigot’ and dessert golden appke tartan, caramel, vanilla bean ice cream.

www.patinagroup.com 714-444-5900

The Orange County Performing Arts Center and the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall offer magnificent performances all year round. Just a few are: Flamenco each fall, Broadway series, curtain call series, jazz club, cabaret series, concert series, family series, dance, ballet and opera.

South Coast Plaza

Coming up:

Academy of Ancient Music plays March 20,2009.The Rat Pack, Live at the Sands will play April 14-19, 2009. There is an amazingly diverse array of theatre in the Orange County Arts Center. 714-556-2121

The South Coast Plaza is always an exciting place to spend a weekend away, park the car, forget it and enjoy one of the largest shopping malls in the U.S. Included are a major symphony hall, a great theatre with ballet or Broadway, two repertory theatres, one of the five best repertory theatres in the U.S., a performance space, and several many star restaurants. And, all within walking distance.

Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel is located at 686 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA

Santa Clara Wine Country

wine country man in shop

The Little Known Glories of the Santa Clara Valley

The Gilroy Garlic Festival is one of the all time fun events, but its not the only affair of note in the Santa Clara Valley.

The area has been a fruit basket for a century and a half.

The oldest wineries in California and most of the garlic grown in the U.S. come from Santa Clara Valley. Located about 10 miles south of San Jose, Santa Clara County is still quite rural. Many unusual and interesting places find themselves in this valley.

wine country flowers

Native Americans named Santa Clara Valley "the Valley of the Heart's Delight." French and Italian immigrants who settled here during the Gold Rush recognized the rich soils and Mediterranean climate as the perfect place to grow their varietals.

Pedrizzetti Winery has aged and bottled premium wines in Morgan Hill for over 90 years. Their La Fenice (the phoenix) presents a rare premium Barbera. The collection also includes: Merlot, Petite Syrah, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and sparkling wine.

wine country flowers

It was here at Pedrizzetti Winery I learned that Santa Clara Valley was one of the biggest growers of mushrooms. Mushrooms stuffed with seafood, cheese, and sausage, served at the winery, were delightful with the wines.

1645 San Pedro Ave., Morgan Hill (408)-779-7389

Dinner was at the lovely Piedmontese inspired stone complex of the welcoming Emilio Gugliellmo Winery. Family owned and operated since 1925, they offer a full selection of award winning premium varietal, sparkling and dessert wines. The pasta, salad and Tira Mi Su were the delicious accompaniments to the wines.

wine country bath

1480 E. Main St., Morgan Hill, (408)-779-2145

Andy’s Orchard a treat for kids of all ages, is a product of a long family history of fruit growing in the Santa Clara Valley. Operated by Andy Mariani, it is situated on a 30 acre farm only 15 minutes south of metropolitan San Jose. Andy’s Orchard not only grows the most flavorful fruit, Andy loves to see the expression on kids faces when they taste his extraordinary produce, Andy also sells dried fruit, nuts, candy, jams & preserves and food gifts.

1615 Half Road, Morgan Hill, (408)-782-7600

wine country store

Clos La Chance Winery produces the Estate series, the Santa Cruz Mountain series and my favorite the Hummingbird Series: Glittering Emerald Throated Chardonnay, Pink Throated Brilliant Rose, Violet Crowned Merlot, Black Chinned Syrah, Buff Bellied Zinfandel and Ruby Throated Cabernet Sauvignon. Why hummingbirds? Because the vintners discovered hummingbirds frightened away other damaging birds.

1 Hummingbird Lane, San Martin (408)-686-1050

Sycamore Creek Winery is a small family owned and operated winery producing a limited amount of unique handcrafted wines. The old vine cabernet and chardonnay vines are grown on the estate and are dry farmed to produce intense flavors and aromas.

12775 Uvas Rd., Morgan Hill, (408)-779-4738

wine country tree

Gilroy Gardens is a most fascinating event. California’s only horticultural theme park is also an amusement park, with over 40 gardens. including a butterfly exhibit inside the giant Monarch Garden, honey bee exhibit, musical market show, learning shed, Claudia's Garden, Rainbow Garden, Camellia Garden, Holly Garden, South County Backroads Garden and the extraordinary Circus Trees. The world’s strangest trees were originally grown and created by Axel Erlandson, son of a Swedish immigrant. Inspired by observing a natural graft between two sycamore trees, Erlandson began to shape trees using intricate techniques. His techniques resulted in woven wonders made from living wood. The branches were carefully bent rather than cut and became complex and compound designs. They must be seen to be believed.

3050 Hecker Pass Hwy., Gilroy (408)-840-7135

Goldsmith Seeds technical team has 252 years of growing and technical expertise. The result is the most beautiful display of plants to be grown from seeds, the plants are most likely available at your local nursery.

Gilroy, (800)-549-0158

wine yard

Fortino Winery has a long history of premium, affordable wine dating back to the early 1800’s in Calabria, Italy, where the Fortino family originated. In 1970 Ernest Fortino founded the winery in Gilroy and the winery is now run by fourth generation Fortinos. The winery facility encompasses more than 80 arces with a wine cellar that accommodates over 1000,000 gallons of cooperage.

4525 Hecker Pass Hwy., Gilroy (408)-842-3305

Solis’ Winery winemaking goes back to the turn of the century combined with modern technology to produce award winning wines. The selection includes: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chadonnay, syrah, sangiovese, barbera, Johannisberg reisling, muscat canelli and zinfandel.

3920 Hecker Pass Hwy., (408)-847-6306

Santa Clara Valley is definitely worth at least a two day visit and its only a 4 ½ hour drive from L.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival takes place the last full weekend of July, this year July 25, 26, 27. Make that a full four days of fun.

front bar dining
banquet ceiling dining

The Madison, Great For Any Holiday

The Madison, Long Beach, is synonymous with elegance, from the Italian Renaissance palace like ceiling, to the crystal chandeliers, it’s the most beautiful restaurant in southern California.

Ask to sit in one of the huge brocaded fan shaped booths set against the wall, you’ll feel like royalty. Unfurl your napkin and enjoy.

Chef Rey Tovar prepared a lovely dinner typical of The Madison: Lobster & prawn handmade three inch raviolis, with a lobster bisque; Baby arugula & duck confit salad tossed in a lemon vinaigrette with strawberries, goat cheese, garnished with candied walnuts;

The entrée Lamb Wellington was served with herb roasted Yukon Gold fingerling potatoes with turned vegetables and a mint lamb reduction sauce;

Madison chocolate cake is an incredible flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and Crème Anglaise.

The Madison has a full menu of delights.

The Madison is located at: 102 Pine Avenue, Long Beach, 562-628-8866

Mayor and Juan Carlos Rodríguez of Chamber of Restaurants

3,287 kilograms and
measuring 60 meters long

Guiness record Caesar salad in Tijuana


On October 20, 2007, Tijuana broke the Guinness record for the biggest Caesar salad weighing 3,287 kilograms and measuring 60 meters long by one wide.

Chef Jeff Young at Alexander Valley Vineyard, Sonoma County, California

Alexander Valley is ablaze with fall color like Monet‘s palate. Pinks, oranges, reds, yellows, greens, chartreuses, the valley is splendid with a background of dramatic cloud billowing skies. I think I am in a painting.


Perhaps the setting inspires the artistry of Culinary Director and Chef Jeff Young of Alexander Valley Vineyards as much as the amazing estate garden set high up on the eastern slope of the valley. Alexander Valley is rainy in the winter and has a dry growing season with cool nights, perfect for growing grapes and produce. Chef Jeff and Director of Hospitality Toni Echols plan luscious and exciting menus and events year round to be presented at the Alexander Valley Vineyards.

Talking with Chef Jeff about his visions of food is always enlightening. “I try to use produce from the estate garden and create around that.” said Chef Jeff.

The abundance of the produce is remarkable, and even if there were not enough, all of Sonoma County is a garden spot. Events might be a luncheon in the garden, an evening wine tasting with hors d’oeuvres on the winery porch, a warm dinner in the historic adobe, or evening events in the mysterious, but inviting cave. Chef Young’s cooking is seasonal. The abundance of green beans and figs inspired this recent menu and recipe. All the wines are Alexander Valley Vineyards wines.

Chilled Corn Soup With Lobster Avocado Soup * 2005 Estate Chardonnay ***

* 2005 New Gewurz Pepper Grilled Filet Mignon Steaks with Cognac Sauce

Alexander Valley Vineyards Box 175, Healdsburg, Ca 95448 800-888-7209

Last update Mon March 18, 2013 10:41 PM