Friday, April 2, 2010

Dining al Fresco

I love to eat outdoors and I'm not alone—in warm weather, people flock to restaurants that feature patio dining. In northern cities, the minute the temperature climbs above 60 degrees, tables and chairs appear on sidewalks outside coffee houses, bistros, and cafes. One great innovation in recent years has been the window panels that open entirely, creating an outdoor experience even when you're actually seated indoors. Restaurants have clearly discovered that even on congested city streets, offering an outdoor environment attracts customers.

Dining al fresco seems to make everything taste better. It feels casual and relaxed, yet festive. Perhaps because most of us spend so much time indoors, the opportunity to eat outside seems special. When I have lunch on my apartment terrace, I'm suddenly in the landscape instead of merely looking at it through my window. I breathe in the air more deeply. I linger over my meal. I become more reflective.

I love to take long walks and wind up at restaurants with outdoor seating. South Beach offers literally hundreds of options and I've tried quite a few. My current favorite is the Raleigh Hotel, right on the beach. I work up an appetite during a walk by the water, then find a shady spot near the pool. A nice salad and an Arnold Palmer (iced tea mixed with lemonade) hit the spot. The price of a meal also buys me a chance to people-watch and enjoy the delightful salt air.

During walking trips to France, Holland, and Italy, I've experienced some wonderful dining al fresco. In Provence, after a long hike, my group of walkers was treated to a heavenly meal at Auberge de la Loube, in the hillside village of Buoux. At a long table laden with wonderful Provencal fare, I simultaneously experienced the beauty of the French countryside and the inspiring flavors of rustic French cuisine. The rigorous hike had primed my appetite and made the meal all the more pleasurable.

Like most people, I love a picnic. I also like to stop for an ice cream and eat it while strolling along the sidewalk. Then there are summer barbecues, those quintessentially American feasts. I rarely eat beef these days, but it's hard to resist hot dogs and hamburgers hot off the grill.

All this talk of food has whetted my appetite. I hope to satisfy it soon with a delicious meal served al fresco.

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