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The holiday season is a time of culinary extravagance for most. Also a time of reflection, and that is just what I want to do: reflect on the best restaurants in my travels this year. Keep these gems in mind as you plot your course for 2013.


Red Fish Grill, New Orleans

When you visit The Big Easy, the thought of great Louisiana seafood quickly comes to mind. The great excitement of Bourbon Street also beckons. The famous Red Fish Grill combines both. Owner Ralph Brennan pioneered the revitalization of this 19th century building and must be happy with the end result. What was once a dark unpleasant area is now a bright energetic entrance to the French Quarter.

We dined on the barbecue oysters and the hickory smoked redfish. Wow. One of the best meals I have ever had. Chef Austin Kirzner had developed a seafood cuisine with a distinctly New Orleans flavor. The festive, hip décor seems to give the place more energy or maybe it’s the Bourbon Street location close to Canal Street. In other words, this place is right in the middle of the action. Bourbon Street hops every night of the year, but around big sporting events it can really get crazy. Go to RedFishGrill.com for complete information.


Fleur de Lys, Las Vegas

Mandalay Bay has many restaurants, but Fleur de Lys stands out from the crowd. Chef Hubert Keller has recreated his famous San Francisco restaurant with an exciting ambience similar to a French winery. Among his many accolades is the coveted Michelin Star award. This is fine dining at its highest level. We started with the Tomato Flambee and Tuna Tacos. The Peking Duck Breast and Red Fish entrees were outstanding, as was the attentive server. Visit HubertKeller.com next time you plan a trip to Las Vegas or San Francisco. Just looking at the website brings back memories of these mouthwatering dishes.

Fleur de Lys Las Vegas is located inside the luxurious Mandalay Bay Casino home to the upscale the Four Seasons Hotel and THE Hotel. If you are a true connoisseur of great food, this stop is a must. They are open for both lunch and dinner.


The Atlantic Room Kiawah Island

The Ocean Course Clubhouse at Kiawah Island is one of the great settings in golf. A good 7 miles in from the gate by the time you make it here, it is just nature and golf. This summer’s PGA Championship gave viewers a good look at the surroundings at this Pete Dye masterpiece. The peaceful views of the Atlantic from the clubhouse make you want to linger a bit.

The Atlantic Room is the signature restaurant here and the food is outstanding. Diners gaze out across the 18th fairway over the windswept dunes, to the sometimes turbulent sea not far away. No matter the weather, this is a relaxing spot to dine.

The Salmon entrée that I choose was expertly prepared. Chef Jonathan Banta also has the right fit for every pallet with his Taste of the Seasons menu. Those who just want a drink or something light can take in the Ryder Cup Bar located not more than a sand wedge from the ocean. Allow for some extra time at the Ocean Course Clubhouse. You might even want to take a stroll on the beach.


Adobe Grill, La Quinta

The Plaza at the La Quinta Resort & Spa has a Central or South American feel to its surroundings. Flowers and waterscapes line this multilevel Spanish-tiled outdoor area where guests and locals come for drinks and live music almost every night of the year. The Adobe Grill sits on a veranda, where guests can take in all this activity with mountain silhouettes framing the picture. The brilliant sun gives way to an evening filled with stars.

This great setting is perfected by great food and service. My favorite is the salmon tostada, but everything on this menu is good.

Of course, they have a wide variety of Tequila drinks to choose from, should you so desire. To get the most out of this experience, get to The Plaza about an hour before sunset if possible.