When she wants to unwind, Kathy Sidell, president and founder of The Metropolitan Restaurant Group, enjoys nothing more than unwinding on the Caribbean island of St. Barth’s. With five restaurants in New England — including her newest venture, Saltie Girl, which opened earlier this year in the Back Bay — Sidell, 59, doesn’t have a lot of down time. Nevertheless, the Newton native, who lives in Boston with her husband, Carl Goldberg (between them, they have five adult children, and Goldberg’s daughter recently made the couple first-time grandparents), loves to travel and fits it in when her schedule allows. We caught up with Sidell, who has been featured on numerous television shows — including “CBS This Morning” and various Food Network programs — and who, in 2012 debuted her first book, “When I Met Food: Living the American Restaurant Dream,” to talk about all things travel.
Favorite vacation spot? Vacation is very different than traveling. I have recently traveled to Tanzania in Africa, and with my sister to Hong Kong and Tokyo, which were all extraordinary for very different reasons: Hong Kong for the shopping and food; Tokyo for its contrasting culture — so very opposite to America and for the exceedingly focused nature in which they approach food; and Africa for its sheer beauty . . . and the exquisite show of nature in the landscape and in the animals. But a vacation spot is a place you return to again and again — a place you can unwind and let go. [There is] nothing better for me than spending time next to the sea — listening and watching the waves and how they undulate in a reassuring and calming way. The power in the ocean sound is, for me, healing and rejuvenating, but mostly, it is the chunk of time I get to spend with my husband away from work, and with my children (who live in Los Angeles). Recently, we have spent our holidays in St. Barth’s, a beautiful French island in the Caribbean where there is a storybook view around every turn. The beaches are extraordinary: pristine, blue-green, warm seawater lined with white sand the texture of sugar. The infamous beach bars that dot the island make lunching out super fun.
Favorite food or drink while vacationing? I love any kind of seafood — local is best — but I particularly like it in pasta. I had beautiful petite French mussels at a restaurant called La Guerite in St. Barth’s, which is on the waterfront — and now we serve them at Saltie Girl. Isola is the island’s hot spot with a delicious lobster pasta dish as well. For sure, rosé during the day because it is so light and easy to drink, but mostly I drink good, heavy-bodied red wine [like] cabernet sauvignon, Bordeaux, and super Tuscans.
Where would you like to travel to but haven’t? Ideally, I like to combine both a city that I have never been to with a week at the beach. Hence, traveling with a vacation piece. So, at the moment I am fantasizing about Bangkok and Bali. I hear Bangkok food and the night markets are incredible. I would like the raw and wild nature of the city and then to go someplace to chill out on a beautiful beach and read.
One item you can’t leave home without when traveling? My Leica camera. I need to obsessively document it all.
Aisle or window? Window. I love looking down at the world from 40,000 feet above — particularly at night. This is where I do some of my best thinking.
Favorite childhood travel memory? My mom loved to travel and she graciously passed that passion along. She took me to Europe at age 13, where I remember spending our days getting sun-drenched on the Lido Beach [in Italy] and our evenings eating exotic creatures from the sea tossed in tangles of pasta overlooking the Venice canals. Seeing St. Marco Square at night for the first time and snacking on those perfectly grilled ham and cheese sandwiches at the famous [Ernest] Hemingway hangout, Harry’s Bar, with my mom as a kid . . . indelible.
Guilty pleasure when traveling? Day drinking!
Best travel tip? Do lots of reading and research — and hook up with local people who give you the inside skinny as to where and how to spend your time.