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Phoning It In From Delray Beach

Over the years, I have come to make peace with the six-month-long season known as winter. November, I can do: There's a more-gigantic-than-usual meal to look forward to, and Angel usually ends up on TV.

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December, I love: Christmas in New York is like nothing else, sparkly and glittery and replete with cozy pop-up ski chalets and boozy rooftop igloos.

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And some other seasonal diversions, too.

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January, February, and even March, I can manage; it's time to hunker down and get hygge, particuarly around VD.

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It might also be time to load up on comfort food, which is why I'm glad I have a Valentine who's legally bound to stick around.

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And then . . . there's April. April is the segue into summer. April is the start of day drinking on sidewalk patios and al fresco dining in ivy-covered gardens. In April, we fling open the doors of our summer cottage, ready for a succession of sunny weekends in the Hamptons. But just when you think it's time to swap out your boots for flip-flops and pour yourself a crisp glass of rosé, winter sometimes comes roaring back with a vengeance, and the only way to save your sanity is to relocate it to points south.

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We'd timed it perfectly: As an April snowstorm approached, we jumped on a plane for a four-night getaway that didn't involve weeks of planning or tons of camera equipment or lots of shoes.

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Well, two out of three, anyway.

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As we've done on prior trips, we booked an oceanview suite at the Delray Beach Marriott, a comfortable hotel that we like for its large pool, loungers on the beach, and easy walks to Delray's beachfront promenade and bustling downtown.

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Oh, and a giant-sized cornhole game played with throw pillows that -- coincidentally for once -- perfectly matched Angel's trunks.

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Having arrived too early to check in, we ordered up two grilled fish sammies on luau bread at the better-than-it-needs-to-be poolside restaurant for lunch, then got down to the serious business of lounging around at the pool.

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Freed from the tyranny of lugging around my heavy Nikon, we took a leisurely stroll around town before dinner.

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As usual, the weather in Delray was spectacular -- warm, sunny, and just humid enough to remind you that you're in Florida without requiring your hair to get its own zip code.

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That evening we had reservations at one of my favorite spots in Delray, Vic & Angelo's.

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Do you see that crazed look in my eyes? That's because I'm about to demolish a veal parm the size of a saucer sled.

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Vic & Angelo's is known for its stylish digs and see-and-be-seen crowd, but I don't care who sees me scarfing down that veal.

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Not quite ready to call it a night, we popped in to Sandbar for mojitos and some old-school hip-hop.

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Of course, it's just not "Rapper's Delight" if it's not accompanied by a laser light show.

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The next morning we awoke to a perfect blue sky, so we laced up our sneaks and took a brisk walk along the oceanfront promenade.

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We'd worked up an appetite, so we set off for bustling Pineapple Grove to get lunch.

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We were in search of a new spot we'd heard good things about, Banyan.

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It wasn't hard to find: Just look for the namesake tree.

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A chic indoor-outdoor space, Banyan is accented with crystal chandeliers, tufted red leather, lucite dining chairs, and a funky mirrored ceiling.

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The weather was perfect, so we decided to dine on the outdoor patio.

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I decided on a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and Banyan's "white salad," with endive, button mushrooms, hearts of palm, marinated artichoke hearts, shaved pecorino, and lemon vinaigrette, all topped with a small filet of grilled salmon.

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Angel also had white wine -- Chardonnay for him -- along with a Maryland crab melt topped with sliced tomato and Old Bay remoulade.

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After lunch, we returned to our regularly scheduled program.

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That evening we had dinner reservations at Deck 84 on the Intracoastal.

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We settled in at a waterside table and perused the cocktail and specials lists.

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We decided to share the house-smoked fish dip, but not our drinks: Angel did a Texas Two-Step with Tito's and muddled blueberries, while I went with a tiki-inspired Deck Punch with pineapple rum, dark rum, and not much else.

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For our entrees, we had the Baja fish tacos with cilantro-lime slaw and the Pad Thai with fresh grilled shrimp and tamarind.

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After dinner we decided to check out the happenings on Delray's main drag, Atlantic Avenue, before heading back to the hotel.

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I'd just had a cocktail made from 8oz. of rum and .0003oz. of juice, so when I saw this gigantic Buddha outside of Buddha Sky Bar, I knew I had to go in.

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The restaurant was full but the bar wasn't, so we took our time poring over the creative drink menu before deciding on a liquid dessert called the Samurai Shortcake with vanilla vodka, strawberry vodka, coconut milk, strawberries, and whipped cream for me, and the Dark Buddha Old Fashioned with chocolate bitters -- and a square of Hershey's chocolate! -- for Angel.

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The cocktails were so good that we each decided to try another, this time the Shaolin Purple Haze with grape vodka, chambord, blueberries, and blackberries for me, and the Key Lime in the Sky, a key lime martini with two kinds of vodka and some Coco Lopez, for the mister.

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We were on our way back to the hotel when a large crowd outside of Johnnie Brown's caught our eye.

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They'd come by car, boat, and bike to see a band called 56 Ace and, with the bar and restaurant completely packed, had spilled out onto the sidewalk.

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It didn't take us long to join the crowd.

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That's because 56 Ace was fantastic, playing a mix of classic rock, 90s rock, country rock, 90s rap, and oldies . . . often at the same time.

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Their method of mashups -- achieved not by stringing two or more songs together, but by singing two songs at the exact same time -- turned out to be wildly creative and alot of fun, because you don't realize how much, say, Green Day and Led Zeppelin or Nirvana and Aerosmith have in common until the singer on the right belts out the former, while the guy on the left cuts in with the latter at the same time, all to the same guitar riff.

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The next morning it was time to undo all the damage from the night before . . . with some pepperoni pizza.

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We love the Mellow Mushroom for its psychedlic vibe, friendly service, and fabulous pizza.

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After lunch it was time for some shopping at Delray's funky little boutiques.

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We also popped into the Seagate Hotel to check out their cool jellyfish aquarium.

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It was all fun and games until the skies clouded over and it began to thunder . . . and then the top of that palm tree by the gray car was struck by lightning and caught on fire.

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No, I didn't stick around to photograph it. Everyone knows that flaming palm trees are one of the ten plagues mentioned in the Bible, along with stink bugs and psoriasis.

Instead, rained out from shopping and the pool, we headed to the bar at the hotel for a Blackbird (bourbon, creme de cassis, and blackberries) and a key lime colada.

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The weather cleared up quickly, but once we'd snuggled in at the hotel, there was no getting me back out, so we stayed in and ordered room service.

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The next day was our last full day, so we headed back to Deck 84 for a waterside lunch.

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After a lazy poolside afternoon, it was time to clean up for our last dinner.

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We chose Rocco's Tacos for its convivial vibe, indoor-outdoor seating, and gorgeous Moravian star-lit decor.

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The Black Diamond margarita with Maestro Dobel Diamante and black cherry purée didn't hurt, either.

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Or the plentiful chips and salsa served on a baking sheet.

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We stayed up too late, and had one too many margaritas, for our early-morning flight the next day, but the view from my window seat made it all worth it.

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Shot with my iPhone, of course.
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Where to next? Roughing it in the bush in South Africa (sans ironing board!); pub-crawling around Dublin (with my Dad!); celebrating a birthday in Brooklyn (with my sissy!); and getting by (with some help from my friends!) in Anguilla. Subscribe here and you'll be notified when a new post goes up!

Posted by TraceyG 04:37 Archived in USA Tagged florida sandbar banyan mellow_mushroom delray_beach deck_84 buddha_sky_bar roccos_tacos johnnie_browns Comments (9)

Anna Maria Island, Part 2: Shackin' Up

The next day we decided to do a little shopping in AMI's northernmost neighborhood, Anna Maria village.

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Our favorite among the shops was the charmingly twee Shiny Fish.

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In addition to beach dresses, jewelry, candles, and housewares, the store features a sand-dollar painting area and a little ice cream stand.

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Even the fitting rooms were adorable.

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The owner's husband creates much of the shop's artwork, including these cuter-than-cute magnets.

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After spending the morning oohing and aahing over Shiny Fish's beachy wares, it was time for lunch, so we made the short drive down to the Lido Beach Resort and their oceanfront tiki bar.

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There, we ordered up two fish sammies with key lime aioli on luau bread, along with some peace and quiet.

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The rest of the afternoon was a tough one.

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That evening we had plans to meet up with our friend Sara, who'd recently moved to Sarasota after serving her time in New York City.

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We settled on Jack Dusty, the elegant waterfront bar at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, which turned out to be the perfect place to relax and get caught up.

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The cocktail list was sophisticated and creative.

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As the sun began to set, the palm trees twinkled with tiny lights while the sky turned a delicate pink.

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Soon it was time to make the short walk over to Social Eatery & Bar for some dinner.

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Social's unique indoor-outdoor setting was perfect for the warm evening.

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Even the water at Social was pretty. But those strawberry torpedoes were another story.

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But I hadn't picked Social for its trendy scene, or its expansive outdoor lounge, or its cozy fire pits, or its scary-shaped fruit. I picked it for The Volcano.

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That, my friends, is a gigantic meatball, surrounded by a mountain of paccheri pasta and filled with bubbly hot lava. (Fine, it was Bolognese sauce and mozzarella cheese, but don't ruin this for me.)

As if The Volcano weren't enough, Social's menu has an entire section called the "Meatballeria."

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The old saying is true: You can never be too rich, or have too many meatballs.

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Or too much mac & cheese.

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After dinner we took our drinks -- a blackberry julep, the grapefruit Old Fashioned, and one of the best cocktails I've ever had, the puckerlicious vanilla-bean lemonade martini -- to the outdoor bar, where we got comfy on one of the fireside sofas.

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In addition to great company that night, we'd also gotten a great tip from our waiter at Jack Dusty: Go to Tide Tables in Cortez, where we could find the best fish tacos he'd ever had.

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The forecast promised another day of perfect weather, and Tide Tables was just a short bike ride over the Cortez Bridge, so we gave it a go.

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One of the last working commercial fishing villages on Florida’s Gulf coast, Cortez is replete with quaint waterside seafood shacks, and although Tide Tables is the newest one on the scene, that waiter's advice turned out to be spot-on.

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With its cheery yellow exterior, crushed-shell parking lot, and open-air tiki bar offering a front-row seat to the bustle of activity on the dock, we were already smitten before we even saw the menu.

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And by the time we took one bite of those heavenly fish tacos, it was a full-blown love affair.

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But we shouldn't have been surprised, seeing as how it would be difficult to get fish any fresher.

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As the resident pelicans well know.

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We capped off our perfect lunch by sharing a slice of creamy key lime pie.

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And smuggling out some fish tacos in my purse.

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That evening we headed to SandBar to take in the sunset.

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It had been a long day of biking, so that night we stayed close to home for dinner, at Blue Marlin in Bradenton Beach.

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Housed in a 1920's cottage, Blue Marlin is done up in nautical blue-and-white, with maritime-inspired touches in every nook and cranny.

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The menu included stone crab-stuffed shrimp; lobster and shrimp scampi with leeks and sun-dried tomatoes over linguine in a garlic and white wine sauce; and a classic seafood boil with andouille sausage.

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After dinner we took the remainder of our wine outside to the Trap Yard, Blue Marlin's outdoor garden and live music venue.

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It had been such a nice evening that we weren't quire ready for it to end, so we wandered around a bit to admire the Bradenton Beach Christmas lights.

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We'd enjoyed five days of fun in the sun on Anna Maria, and we still had three more left. Surely that would be enough time to squeeze in another Volcano . . . wouldn't it?
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CLICK HERE for Part 3!
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Posted by TraceyG 11:45 Archived in USA Tagged sandbar ritz-carlton shiny_fish anna_maria lido_beach_resort jack_dusty social_eatery tide_tables mar_vista blue_marlin wicked_cantina Comments (6)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 1: My Cheatin' Heart

Do you remember when Tiger Woods was married to the gorgeous Nordic goddess Elin Nordegren? She was stunning in her perfection, all tawny skin and baby-blonde hair and centerfold-worthy beach body. She bore him two equally stunning children, and even feigned interest in a sport so boring the players hire caddies to walk around with them and keep them awake. And then Woods cheated on her with a troupe of tramps sporting too little clothing and too much silicone, and everyone was left scratching their heads. What on earth was he thinking???

That's the best analogy I can come up with to explain why, after first discovering the island paradise of Anguilla back in 1997, we didn't just quit while we were ahead. We didn't accept perfection when it landed in our laps and, instead, like a fool who trades in a Bentley for a Buick, we flitted off to other islands, sure that something even better must be just another flight or ferry ride away.

It wasn't.

What we found instead were islands with so-so food, spotty electricity, and plastic wine glasses. What they lacked in modern conveniences, they made up for in spiders.

Some of them didn't even have ironing boards, for God's sake.

Anguilla, I'm sorry I cheated on you. You are Armani couture in a sea of saggy sweatpants; Dame Helen Mirren in a crowd of Kardashians. You are a Ferryboat cheeseburger in a passel of pink slimes. You are my everything.

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Our long-awaited reunion began during the 10-minute flight from St. Maarten. We cleared the island's lush green hills, then spent a few jumpy minutes over open water before Anguilla came into view. Flat, scrubby, and brown in spots . . . it was as breathtakingly beautiful as we remembered.

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Anguilla is known for its luxury hotels, and on past visits we've stayed everywhere from the oceanfront suites at Cap Juluca and Frangipani to the villas at Arawak and Rendezvous Bay Hotel, with stops at Ferryboat and Carimar in between. On this visit, though, we decided to forego the hotel altogether and rent a villa.

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Our first indication that we were going to love Sweet Return was the road leading up to it: An old-school dirt path so rocky and rut-filled that it prompted Ronnie Bryan to ask if perhaps there was another way up to the house, since the car we'd rented from him had just been painted.

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There was, but that path was even worse. And so the car rattled, our heads bobbled as if on springs, and our luggage took a beating . . . but there was no wiping the silly grins off our faces as we bounced along through the underbrush.

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Perched high on Isaac's Hill, Sweet Return was bright and open, with a gentle breeze flowing through the numerous windows positioned to catch the cooling trade winds. The stylish main house consisted of a combined living and dining area overlooking the pool, bookended by two spacious master suites with enormous stone baths. (I am not even going to mention the fact that those bathrooms were bigger than our kitchen in NYC. Then again, I use my oven for shoe storage, so who am I to complain?)

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You noticed that ultra-luxurious household appliance on the right, yes? That's how we knew we were back where we belonged.

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In fact, that kind of attention to detail turned out to be our favorite thing about Sweet Return. Umbrellas conveniently lined up right next to the front door. Baskets filled with towels handily placed right next to the pool. Bins full of sunscreen, bug spray, and first aid items all neatly organized and labeled. (With typed labels. Swoon.) They even labeled the light switches. Light switches! Forget the pool and the view: You had me at the dimmer switch.

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How to top all of these thoughtful touches? With a kitchen map, that's how. Sure, it was nice not having to haul my own iron and ironing board to Anguilla, but knowing that someone took the time to make a map of the kitchen so I didn't have to open five different cabinets to find a water glass? That is the stuff OCDreams are made of.

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The house even had a small, detached studio apartment, which would provide the perfect escape if you happen to be traveling with the kind of people who do not appreciate a good kitchen map.

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Best of all, the property manager at Sweet Return, a lovely woman named Catherine, confessed to being a longtime reader of this blog, and as a welcome gift she went out of her way to track down a favorite wine that I'd previously written about.

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Oh, and a cheese platter so generously Tracey-sized that we knew the wine couldn't have been just a lucky guess.

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It had been a long morning of travel, and the beach was just a stone's throw away. The sparkling pool beckoned. We'd traveled in our swimsuits to avoid missing a single minute of sunshine. But that cheese plate wasn't going to eat itself, so we slid into chairs at the dining table and gobbled up half a pound of goat cheese instead.

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Soon we were thirsty, and it was no accident that the villa was just across the street from CuisinArt. Nothing beats makeup sex when you patch things up with a lost love, but makeup mojitos run a close second.

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The afternoon slipped into that golden hour when the beach has emptied but the sun still lingers, and we embraced it like a friend we hadn't seen in a long while.

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Okay, fine, we almost squeezed it to death. Like I said, it had been waayyy too long.

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We were scheduled to spend nine nights on the island, but had approximately 42 restaurants on our list. If we were to make any headway, we were obviously going to have to double up. And so that evening, we set off for SandBar . . . and Dolce Vita. You know, in the interest of economy.

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We arrived at SandBar just in time for sunset, settled in at a waterside table, and kicked things off with a round of SandBar's eponymous mango and rum concoctions.

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We knew we'd be indulging in the divine pastas at Dolce Vita, so we stuck to the protein offerings at SandBar, sharing an order of the chicken satay with peanut sauce, along with the spicy pork tenderloin with chili-tamarind sauce.

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Once the sun had set, we walked the short distance down the beach to Dolce Vita.

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Dolce Vita, however, is not the kind of place where you can just show up. Preparations must be made. First, menus must be studied, past meals analyzed, and stomach capacity evaluated. Proper attire must be carefully chosen; billowy dresses for women and elastic-waist pants for men are preferred (potato sacks may be substituted in cooler weather). On the big day, breakfast is skipped and lunch entrees are kept on the light side to avoid spoiling dinner. (Hence, only half a pound of that goat cheese back at the villa.) You may whet the appetite with, say, some chicken skewers or spicy pork tenderloin, but anything more and you run the risk of having to leave behind an errant gnocchi or bite of lasagna.

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And you know Abbi checks.

We settled in to our "usual" corner table near the sand and ordered up two glasses of wine and Dolce Vita's heavenly tuna tartare.

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Then it was on to the melty, light-as-air homemade lasagna for me, and the evening's pasta special -- Anguillian lobster and shimp in a fragrant, garlicky white wine, butter, and lemon sauce -- for Angel.

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Abbi was his usual charming self, and after a few glasses of wine it seemed like a good idea to pose for a silly photo, sticking our bellies out in homage to the incredible meal we'd just enjoyed.

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Well, at least Abbi stuck his out. Ours just look like that.

After dinner, we bumped along the road back to Sweet Return, a star-scattered sky lighting our way.

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The hour was late, and it had been a long day of travel, but we somehow found the energy for a quick dip in the secluded pool before bed.

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We'd been back on island less than 12 hours, and already we'd enjoyed frosty drinks, delicious tapas, and a log of goat cheese. We'd been welcomed like old friends at Sweet Return and Dolce Vita, and stuffed ourselves silly with lasagna and lobster. Now, as we sunk our travel-weary bodies into the water, we plotted the next day's adventures: Lunch at Ferryboat Inn, an afternoon swim at Rendezous Bay, and tacos and tequila at Picante.

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And then, at long last, we fell into bed, as visions of cheeseburgers danced in our heads.

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Click here to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 10:49 Archived in Anguilla Tagged sandbar anguilla cuisinart dolce_vita sweet_return_villa Comments (17)

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