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The Best Thing I Ate All Day in Israel: Part 1

A few years ago, on a trip to Umbria, I started playing a little travel game in my mind. Each day I  kept track of all the things I ate. At the end of the night, I decided which bite reigned supreme. I had the opportunity to play last month when I visited Israel to attend my nephew’s induction ceremony into the Israeli army.Richard Flag and RileyThis was my 13th trip to Israel. Each time I visit, I marvel at how much there is to do and see in this tiny country. If you have never been, or it’s been a while since you last visited, you will be amazed by how modern and sophisticated the culinary scene has become. It’s not all hummus and falafel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.sabichfalafel at at miznonTo understand how the new Israeli cuisine evolved, you need to take a look in the rear-view mirror to examine the roots of the people of this nation.  One of the most multi-ethnic countries in the world, Chef Rozanne Gold said that “I can’t think of another group of people with a spoon in so many pots.” Immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, France, England, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Syria, to name a few, have all influenced Israeli cuisine. Add to that the proclivity of Israeli youth to travel the world once their mandatory military service is over, bringing back with them ingredient and techniques of a multitude of cuisines, and the result is a new Israeli cuisine that is boldly flavourful, unabashedly joyous and wildly innovative. 

The best bite of our third day was at OCD, in Tel Aviv. This restaurant is the brainchild of Chef Raz Rahav. At only 25 years old, he is creating some of the most exciting food in Tel Aviv in a stunning setting.Raz Rahav forbesI don’t think that industrial-barn falls under any design style I have ever heard of but it describes the interior perfectly.seatingAs the name suggests, Chef Rahav is obsessed with precision and complex artistic plating. But flavour does not take a back seat.plating duckThere are 2 seatings every night, each accommodating 18 guests around a u-shaped bar with an open kitchen in the center. Watching the chefs plate each course, you get the sense that this is more theatre than restaurant. There is no written menu. As each course is set before you, the chef gives a verbal explanation, either in English or Hebrew.

The day before our dinner, the restaurant emailed us to find out if we had any dietary restrictions. They will tailor the meal for you if there are certain things you do not eat, but, they ask you to come with an open mind. On their website they promise that there are no insects on the menu!

Often restaurants offering tasting menus can be a little formal and stuffy. Not OCD! You know that any meal that begins with a donut is going to be a fun night. Just a heads up here, we shot  with my daughter’s iPhone and the lighting was not the greatest for food photography. Luckily Elliott S over at trip advisor had many of the same courses and got way better shots than we did. I have tagged his photos appropriately. Thanks Elliott! I also used some of Chef Rahav’s  photos from his instagram account @razi_barvazi

We were greeted with a Sufganiya (hebrew for donut). A tiny little bite, about the size of a Timbit, filled with smoked labneh, sherry vinegar, and a rosemary and olive tapenade. A little flavour bomb. 001. SufganiyaWatching them plate the dishes was almost as much fun as eating the delicious results.plating Israeli dounutsThe first course was a Red Snapper Tartare. It was served with a Whipped Tomato Bavarois, Seaweed and a Poppy Seed Parker House Roll. What surprised us was that the tomato component was white—because it was made only from the water in which the tomato was simmered.  The tartare was fresh and delicate, but it was the Parker House Roll that stole my heart. Chef Rahav respects textural contrasts. The crunch of the wafer thin fried seaweed garnish and those poppy seeds made me very happy.002. Red Snapper TartareThe second course was a Trout Sashimi with Smoked Cucumbers, Melon, Sorrel Flowers and Nigella Seeds Crackers.03. Trout SashimiThe tartare was followed up with an amuse bouche of Fried Mochi with Shallot Cream, Pickled Shallots and Cured Sardines. Our server suggested we eat it in one bite. We obliged and were rewarded with a flavour explosion in the mouth.004. MochiThird course was Beef Tartare with Smoked Ratte Potato and Red Sorrel.

Our fourth course was Steamed European Seabass with Oats, Cashew and Pumpkin-Curry Crab Bisque. That crispy thing you see on top is an oat tuile! Chef Rahav is a master at contrasting textures. 006. Steamed European Seabass 2The fifth course was a love letter to the humble parsnip. The parsnips were roasted to coax out their natural sweetness. Salted pecans provided the crunch and a bone marrow maple jus added the perfect sweet-savory balance. instagram ParsnipsCourse number six was Duck Breast with Turnips, Brandy and Bone Marrow Crumble.duck-breast by elliott SThe careful attention to detail extended even to the bathrooms where the hand towels are lined up like little soldiers.towels in bathroomWhen dinner begins with a donut and ends with three desserts, it’s a good night in my world.

Course seven was the best bite of the day! Aerated Honey Parfait, (dusted with carrot powder)  Candied Walnuts, Goat Cheese and Raisins. The texture of the aerated parfait was like chiffon. It just dissolved in my mouth. It reminded us of carrot cake, but a very sophisticated one!honey-parfait by ElliottScarrot powderThe honey parfait was followed up with the most unusual palate cleanser I have ever eaten. It was a G&T Granita with Sour Cream, Pears, Parsnips and Pine Nuts. Not being a gin lover, it was the only dish I did not finish.g-t-granita by elliott sThe second dessert was called, Buckwheat Textures, which featured pickled cherries and salted caramel. Enough said!011. Buckwheat texturesOur final course of the night was a Sweet Pea Ice Cream Bar. A perfect end to a very special evening.012a. Sweet pea Ice cream Bar

 

Being Present in Newfoundland: Part 2

cindy and marla on rockA few days ago I posted about the first part of our trip to Newfoundland. The saga continues. We checked out of our St. John’s hotel at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am. When Siobhan, the sweet front desk clerk, heard we were headed to Fogo Island, she squealed. That’s home for her. Her parents are still living there, in the village of Tilting. We jokingly said we’d say hi for her.

We hopped onto the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) at Mile Zero. The world’s longest national highway, the TCH stretches across Canada from St. John’s Newfoundland on the East Coast, to Victoria B.C. on the West Coast, a whopping 7,821 km (4,860 miles) long. Mrs. Grizzly and I napped in the back seat while Mr. Grizzly expertly navigated my husband through a dense early morning fog. We were startled awake by this sound


followed quickly by this


as Mr Grizzly ripped into the bag of All-Dressed Potato Chips at 7:45 am. It was going to be a fun ride.

We arrived in Farewell Newfoundland about 11:00 am and patiently waited to take the ferry across to Fogo Island. As we were buying our tickets, they asked if anyone in our group qualified for the senior’s discount – age 60 here. My husband, who reached this magic age the day before, was thrilled to receive his first senior benefit!

I had done a little reading before coming to Fogo Island, but nothing really prepared me for my experience here. Although I had seen a few photos online, driving up the winding gravel lane, rounding the corner and finally seeing The Fogo Island Inn come into view was surreal.Fogo Island InnThis contemporary building, all angles and lines, was such a stark contrast to the raw rocky coastal setting. One end of the building is balanced on what on what looks like stilts, rising almost three storeys up into the air, supporting the inn’s dining room. I later learned that these stilts were modelled after pilotis, the wooden stilts that support the traditional stages set up by fishermen to lay out the salted and drying cod.

Fogo Island Inn is the brainchild of Zita Cobb. Ms. Cobb, one of seven children, was born and raised on Fogo in a home with no electricity or running water. Those amenities didn’t arrive on the island until 1972. She left Fogo at age 16 to study business at Carleton University in Ottawa. Within 20 years, she made a name and quite a fortune for herself in the high-tech industry (fibre optics at JDS Uniphase). In 2001 she exercised her stock options and cashed out with close to $70 million dollars. She took off to sail around the world, but the pull of Fogo Island was very strong and brought her back there in 2005. 

Cod fishing has been critical to the economy of Newfoundland for centuries. However, due to greed and overfishing, stocks of cod became depleted and in 1993 the Federal Government declared a moratorium on cod fishing. This caused a collapse of the fishing industry in the province and Fogo Island was especially hit hard.

Zita returned with the goal of giving back to her declining community. Initially she set up scholarships for the youth of Fogo Island, but during a town hall meeting one resident approached her and said that while she appreciated everything Zita was trying to do, scholarships would just encourage people leave rather than building a better place for them to stay. As Oprah would say, Zita had an “aha” moment.

Rethinking her strategy, together with her brother Anthony, Zita established the Shorefast Foundation with the mandate of revitalizing the island by preserving local culture and making it a geotourism destination. Zita calls this “entrepreneurial philanthropy”.

The foundation’s main initiative was the building of Fogo Island Inn, which opened for business in 2013. Inn employees receive 15% of gross revenues in addition to their salary. Any profits from the Inn are reinvested by the Foundation, via micro-finance loans to local small businesses.

Fogo Island Inn is truly a love letter to the island. The Foundation hired award winning Norway architect Todd Saunders to design and oversee the building of the inn. Originally from  Gander Newfoundland, Todd had an innate understanding of Zita’s vision and worked tirelessly to bring  it to fruition.fogo island inn at nightLocal love continues on the inside as well. Island carpenters and artisans used native spruce, birch and fir trees to craft all the furnishings for the inn. The beautiful quilts on all the beds were handcrafted by the women on the island. Even the light fixtures in the dining room, designed to suggest white fishing nets, were crafted by local artists.dining room 2While there’s no denying the beauty of Fogo Island and the Inn, for me it was the people that made the place extraordinary. Fogo Island Inn has created a “community host” program with the intention of getting guests to spend some one-on-one time with locals. On our first afternoon, we were introduced to Fergus, who took us hiking. Formerly employed by the Canadian Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, hearing his perspective on the cod industry was enlightening. We were schooled on the local topography (mostly granite), native livestock, and learned a little about the history of the the local colourful “saltbox” houses. hike to Tilting 2sheep grazingcolourful houses 1The trail we hiked ended in the village of Tilting. Fergus led us to “Da Shed” for a drink. Strangely, for a population that has such strong Irish roots, there are no pubs in Tilting. The local custom is to invite friends and neighbours (and clearly complete strangers as well), into your shed (which houses mostly fishing gear and tools) for a drink and chat. Because of a lack of liquor licence you don’t buy your drink, but rather, “make a contribution.”

We visited Phil and Maureen Foley’s shed. Reminiscent of my first student apartment, the shed was brimming with overstuffed couches and chairs that had seen better days. The walls were plastered with posters. We started chatting with Phil and discovered that he is the dad of the hotel clerk we met that morning in St. John’s! Small world. We were introduced to Phil’s brother and sister-in-law (Gerry and Darlene) as well as several other locals. After about 15 minutes of small talk Phil asked us if we had a song to share. WHAT??? Apparently shed culture involves singsongs as well. Gerry whipped out his guitar and started in on a beautiful haunting Irish melody. Phil, and then his wife Maureen also entertained us with some traditional Celtic tunes.

My initial instinct was to whip out my camera and record the performances. But an inner voice told me to sit still, be present in the moment and savour it. Somehow we have started to believe that every moment of our lives needs to be documented, and in doing so, we miss the being part of the moment.

I will admit to coming home and Googling Maureen, to see if anyone else had recorded her, so I could share it with you guys, and sure enough, there she was. Click here to check her out.

Chef Murray MacDonald is at the helm in the Fogo Island kitchen. A fellow native Newfoundlander, he left the island at age 18 to attend culinary school in P.E.I. He then honed his skills, travelling and cooking in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, New Zealand, China, and Mexico. Just like Zita, he travelled around the world, only to find his way back home. And, just like Zita, he believes in honouring and preserving the traditions of the past.

At heart Chef Murray is a locavore with a strong survivalist spirit. “We are doing what our ancestors did a hundred years ago, using our ingenuity to forage, gather and cook. Back then they worked with what they had to survive…Our menu is focused on wild things from the North Atlantic and local seasonal produce.” He talks about the importance of having one foot in the past while looking to the future, in order to stay relevant. His kitchen motto is “Find new ways with old things.”

Foraging for ingredients is one of his favourite pastimes. While we were there we had a chance to taste pasta created with sea urchin, found on the rocks by the shore, just beyond the kitchen door. And, as a side note, can I just say how happy it made me to discover that his guilty pleasure food is bologna!sea urchinsHe gathers springy caribou moss by the shore and candies it to serve with yogurt and berries!granola and caribou mossEverything in the kitchen is made from scratch and the inn’s very talented pastry chef, Kara Lackie, has an incredibly light touch with biscuits and scones. They almost floated off the plate.Ed's Eggs benedict on BiscuitsFogo Island also happens to be one big berry patch. We discovered this as we were hiking and I kept stepping all over these red berries and squishing them. I later learned that they are called “partrige berries” and the island is literally covered in them. They found their way into scones as well as my morning fruit bowl.Partidge berriespartrige berry scones and latteisland berriesIt’s possible that some cod flavoured kook-aid was slipped into my morning latte, because the next thing I knew, I was agreeing to go on a Cod Fishing expedition. I typically avoid all forms of watercraft, due to a proclivity toward motion sickness.

The unflappable housekeeping supervisor, Rosemarie, outfitted us in bright orange rain slickers, mittens and hats. As we were leaving, she slipped a bottle of Non-Drowsy Gravol into my pocket. Nine of us set out on the M/V Ketanja with Captain Emberley for a three hour tour. We’re  all smiles as we board the boat. smiling as I get on the boatMarla and Ed 4Once we moved out into deeper waters Captain Emberley cut the motor and gave us all a chance to try our hand at cod jigging. Jigging basically involves the use of lures attached to a line which is “jigged” or moved up and down in a series of short movements. The jigging motion attracts the fish, which are hooked as they move close to the lure. The line is then hauled onboard and the fish removed. I passed on my turn to try my hand at jigging. Non drowsy Gravol did not work too well for me
A fine catchfor the love of codLuckily everyone caught their fish quite quickly and we were soon moving again towards our next destination, Little Fogo Island. Once a vibrant fishing village, the only full-time residents on this tiny archipelago are puffins and razorbills. shore of little fogo islandThe steep cliffs on the island meant that the fish stages (platforms for drying salted cod) had to be be built on posts. You can still see several of them dotted around the shore of the island.dock at little fogo islandLittle Fogo Island is home to summer cottages now. summer cottages on little fogoWe had a chance to visit Captain Emberley’s grandfather’s cottage, and check on the progress of the new cottage he is building for his family. summer cottage on little fogoThere is a charming church on the island, and once each summer a priest comes out to hold mass to honour all of Fogo island’s departed residents. little fogo island churchWe arrived back at Fogo Island Inn, a little nauseous, but happy to have checked cod fishing off my life’s “To Do” list.

On our last night at the Inn, we began chatting with our young waitress. When we asked her what changes she has noticed since the opening of the Inn, her answer surprised us. She said that of course the Island has begun to prosper financially, but what she noticed even more was a change within her.

No different than most kids living in a small town, she said she wanted nothing more than to leave the Island when she became an adult. She headed off to Halifax when she turned 18 but became quite homesick. She moved a little closer, to St. John’s and then when the Inn opened in 2013 she came home. All of the sudden she began to see Fogo Island through the eyes of all the guests coming to visit. They gushed about the raw beauty and unspoiled terrain. She had taken it for granted all her life, and seeing it through a different lens made her really appreciate what she had all along. I guess there’s no place like home after all!lobster traps 2

The Big 5 Before 10!

I am very blessed to have just returned from an amazing trip to Africa with a group of 18 friends. (Several of the photos in this post were taken by my very talented friends) We spent a few days in Capetown and then visited the wine region of Franschhoek. Then it was time for Safari! We visited 2 different game reserves. The first was in Botswana, in the Okavango Delta region. The second was in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa. Safari life has a rhythm all its own, unlike any other type of holiday.

Many African animals are most active during the crepuscular hours (from the Latin meaning Twilight, it refers to dusk and dawn). What this means is that your day begins with a 5:00 am wakeup call! We quickly jumped into our clothes and downed a cup of coffee before setting off on our first game drive of the day.

Our Land Rover was captained by Ranger Ross and his able sidekick, Tracker Johnson. The tracker sits high up in the jeep and is constantly scanning the landscape looking for animals. He also scans the ground, looking for footprints and other clues in the sand. It blew my mind that he could accurately identify the species as well as determine exactly how long ago the animal was there by identifying the freshness of the animal droppings. The animal’s footprint also tells you which direction he was headed in.Ross and Johnson examining tracks Land Rover 1The goal of most neophyte Safari goers is to check the “Big 5″ (elephant, lion, rhino, cape buffalo and leopard) off their must-see list. The term “Big 5″ originally referred to the difficulty in hunting and bagging these large animals, mostly due to their ferocity when cornered and shot at. More recently it has become a marketing term used by safari tour operators.

The rhythm of the Land Rover, bouncing up and down on the uneven terrain is a bit hypnotic and I must admit, during the early morning hours, I nodded off a few times. But I was jolted awake on our second morning when we almost ran over a herd of elephants crossing the road! There were over 40 elephants, all lined up, crossing the road. They stopped in the middle of the road and started putting on a show for us. They were really quite playful and it almost seemed as if they were performing for us.After about 20 minutes the alpha female shook her ears and trumpeted quite loudly, and the whole herd gently ambled off. 

 

Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups. When a calf is born it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd. Each herd is made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. They are guided by the oldest and largest female of the herd. The babies are mothered by all the females of the herd.

 

Some masterful tracking by Johnson revealed two female lions, up on a ledge. Ross explained that lions are very social animals and travel in a group known as a pride. These lionesses were part of a pride of 17 lions, known around here as the “Mhangene” tribe. 2 female lionsWe soon spotted one of the male members of this tribe. Male Lion 3And not too far away, we discovered the rest of the pride, lazing around.sleepy lions After we left the lions, we came upon a “crash” of white rhinos, just leaving the watering hole. Ross explained to us the sad plight of rhinos in South Africa. Rhinos are being poached for their horns. The demand for rhino horn stems from the age-old myth that they can be used to cure cancer. One horn goes for over $25,000 on the black market. Rhino 1We checked # 4 , The Cape Buffalo, off our list just before 9:00 am. Johnson spotted a large herd of them off in the distance and our Land Rover became the Safari Ferrari as we flew up to catch up with them. They kind of reminded me of my Marlo Thomas Barbie doll I had when I was a little girl!Ed Cape Buffalo 1The final member of the Big 5, the leopard, is one of the most elusive animals to spot. One of the other Rangers from our group radioed Ross to let him know where the leopard had just been spotted. (bad pun, I know!!). We quickly drove to the location just in time to see the leopard. She was just chilling in the lower branch of the Ebony tree, her happy place.  Pat's leoplard in tree 1 Pat's Leopard in tree 3 Pat's leopard in tree 2 She climbed down, proceeded to walk towards our jeep and then crawled under the vehicle and came out the other side. We all stopped breathing for a minute! Then she just ambled off, with a quick glance back at us, as if to say, “You guys coming, or what?” Ed Leopard 1Ross explained that this female (her name was “Hlaba’ Nkunzi) had recently given birth and she was probably on her way to check on her cubs. Once female leopards give birth, they must protect their babies by hiding them away to provide safe shelter from predators for the first several months of their young lives. This female had actually hidden her cubs underneath the Lodge’s General Manager’s house.

Later that day, mom was spotted wandering through our camp, on her way to visit her babies. Two of my friends got pictures of her outside their rooms. Leopard at mar's poolLynnie's leopardIt was only later in the day that we realized what an incredible morning drive we had just experienced. We thought that spotting all those animals in one short drive was the norm. Our Ranger explained that many Safari goers never get to see the Rhino or the Leopard so we were extremely fortunate.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Adventure when I share with you one of our favourite Safari snacks!

 

 

 

 

The best thing I ate today in Puerto Vallarta

This week, while on a family vacation in Mexico, we took a food walking tour in Puerto Vallarta. We had signed up for “A Three Hour Tour.” Luckily this tour was on land and not on the high seas! We met our guide, Ricardo, at the entrance to the restaurant Mole Rosa. He promised us an adventure and lots of little tastes of the local food of the region. A little humour and a few short history lessons would be thrown in for extra flavour. Here are my favourite bites of the day.

Our first stop on the tour was Taco Robles, a birria taco stand. Birria is Spanish for slow braised meat. Large pieces of meat, originally made with iguana, but now, made with goat or beef, are smeared with a spicy adobo rub and steam-baked overnight. At Taco Robles, you have a choice of either goat or beef. Lined up three deep, this is arguably the most popular taco stand in Puerto Vallarta. Their tacos are a well known hangover remedy!Tacos Robles 2Ricardo had us pegged as less than adventurous eaters and ordered the beef ones for us. I was mildly insulted, but kept it to myself! The beef tacos were packed full of meltingly tender beef, topped with onions and cilantro.  The beef was muy flavourful, redolent of of chiles, bay and cinnamon. Robles serves their taco “dorado” style, basically meaning fried. They use two corn tortillas for each taco. The inner one is soft and pliable, to hold in all the juices, and the outer one is crispy from being fried in the birria fat. taco robles platterRicardo gave us a crash course in choosing the best taco stands. Obviously, the biggest problem associated with taco stands is hygiene, since they do not have running water. Here are his top 3 tips:
1. Make sure that that the person who handles the money and dirty dishes is NOT the same person who handles the food.
2. Check to see if the paper or plastic plates are reused or are covered with a fresh plastic bag for each new customer.
3. Generally the stands with the biggest lineups are usually a safe bet!

I was anticipating our second stop, Cesar’s Coconut Stand, with great excitement. In business since 1984, Cesar lops the top of the coconut off with a razor sharp machete. A veritable Mexican Zorro! The clear liquid was then poured into cups for us to sample. Full of magnesium, potassium and electrolytes, the coconut water tasted so pure and fresh, a far cry from the stuff we buy in a can back home.cesar with machetteWhat he did next really surprised me. He scooped out the flesh of the coconut, cut it into strips and then stuffed the coconut into a plastic bag. He added a squirt of fresh lime juice, some brown sugar, a pinch of cayenne and tiny dash of salt. Then he shook the bag to distribute the seasoning evenly all over the coconut. The Mexican version of Shake ‘n Bake! We all sampled it and most of us discretely deposited the remains in the garbage can when Cesar wasn’t looking. I guess it must be an acquired taste. I prefer my coconut baked into a macaroon.cutting out flesh Fseasoned coconut flesh FOur next stop was at Tacos el Cuñado. According to Ricardo, they are the top carne asada taco stand in town. “Carne asada” is literally translated as grilled meat. It refers to thin marinated beef, usually skirt steak, that has been grilled. Tacos El Cunado 2Ricardo explained to us that while cuñado means brother-in-law, the reference is usually an insult. In guy code it is interpreted as a brother-in-law that is mostly hated by the husband and all his brothers for being an idiot. The exchange might go something like this:

Brother 1: “Oh man, my wife is making me take el cuñado with us to the hockey game”
Brother 2:  “Dude, that sucks big time. That guy is such a dick, I can’t stand him.”

This place has been in business since 1968. It is currently run by the original owner’s son, Jorge, and his brothers. I do not believe there are any brother-in-laws working there with them!! In addition to the skirt steak tacos, they also do pork tacos. Both are served on soft corn tortillas. Lined up on the counter are an assortment of salsas or topping your taco. They are arranged in order of heat, from “salsa for wusses” all the way up to “a fiery habanero” that would put hair on your chest. I tried the Vallarta style guacamole which was blended with a mildly spicy tomatillo salsa.

To put out the fire in our throats and bellies, Ricardo took us to for a glass of “tuba water.” Created by a sweet little old man by the name of Conception, tuba water is made from the sap of the coconut palm, lightly fermented and mixed with palm sugar, walnuts and diced apples. He serves it chilled and it was smooth and very refreshing. The only tree I have ever had the sap from is a maple tree, but palm sap is quite yummy too! I bet it would be great on macadamia coconut pancakes
Tuba 1Tuba 2Then we treked off to the charming family owned restaurant Mole Rosa.mole rosa signSpecializing in various moles, Chef Gunther treated to a sampling of chicken enchiladas covered in three varieties. This is one of the most beautiful plates of food I have ever been presented with. three molesThe “mole rojo” sauce on the left is made from a Guajillo and Ancho chiles, garlic and it is finished with a tiny bit of mexican chocolate. The “mole verde” in the center was my favourite bite of the day! Made from green tomatillos, ground coriander seed, Serrano and jalapeno peppers, and roasted pumpkin seeds, this was light and really fresh tasting. This mole is not simmered for hours with tons of spices. It’s characteristic fresh taste is derived from the addition of herbs at last minute of preparation. The “mole rosa” on the right is made with Serrano and jalapeno peppers, pine nuts, white chocolate, aniseed and roasted beets which create the most gorgeous shade of pink. It was quite earthy tasting with a hint of sweetness.

At Gaby’s Restaurant we all trooped upstairs for a bowl of Tortilla soup. Garnished with fried tortilla strips, avocado and cotija cheese (a hard crumbly Mexican cow’s milk cheese), we all licked our bowls clean.tortilla soupWe finished the meal off with a shot of tequilla. Apparently I have been shooting tequilla incorrectly all my life! The lick of salt, shot of tequilla followed by the wedge of lime is for gringos! Ricardo taught us the proper Mexican protocol. You begin with a shot of lime juice to cleanse the palate. Then you follow that with a shot of tequilla. The chaser is a shot of Sangrita. Sangrita, (literally “little blood” in Spanish) is a mixture of tomato juice, orange juice, lime juice, worcestershire sauce, tabasco sauce and salt and pepper. sangrita 2Sangrita was my daughter’s favourite taste of the day!

Our final stop on the tour was to Orgullo Azteca Candy Store, a veritable Mexican Willy Wonka Factory! The shop was started by two partners who wanted to teach future generations all about the joys of traditional Mexican candies. They started small, with a tiny cart, then moved into a store across the street and now have four stores in Puerto Vallarta. candy store 1candy store 2We got to sample many local treats but my favourite were the candied pecans. candied nutsVallarta Tours was the perfect way to get to know the people and taste the local flavours of Puerto Vallarta. If you are visiting the region and have a spare afternoon, Ricardo would love to show you his town.

 

The Best Thing I Ate All Day in Brooklyn.

In mid-September we took a trip to New York City with our good friends the Grizzlies. Grizzly is not their real name. This is just my pet nickname for them as they share many of the same personality traits as grizzly bears. As you may know, grizzly bears hibernate for the winter.  In preparation for hibernation, they must eat heavily for several weeks prior to the hibernation period, as they will be living off the stored fat for several months.  Apparently this was the weekend Mr. Grizzly intended to pack on his necessary pounds. (And he took us along as hostages!)  I chronicled the first part of our trip in my last post.  Following is Part 2 of our adventure.

Saturday morning dawned sunny and warm! With only half a day left in our New York Adventure, we had a momentous decision ahead of us. Mr Grizzly had originally booked our farewell lunch at Jean Georges. We ate lunch there a few years ago the last time we visited NYC with the Grizzlies. Their lunch special, 2 courses for $38, is renowned among foodies in the know.  While you may not consider a $38 lunch cheap, it is a fantastic bargain for a Michelin starred restaurant.

I can not remember exactly what I ate the last time we dined there, but I do recall that it was quite a hushed and serious place. What I do recall, with unfailing certainty, is the Bon Bon Trolley, that they wheeled over at the end of our lunch. All through lunch, I had been watching the waiter manning the trolley.  As he approached each table he opened a huge glass jar filled with handmade pale pink marshmallows, almost the exact shade as Essie’s Ballet Slipper nail polish, and lifted one out with tongs.  Then he proceeded to cut each one in half with very elegant silver scissors.  I inquired whether marshmallow cutting was a position you had to be promoted to.  He responded that it was an entry level job. I seriously considered applying!

This time, we made the decision to cancel our lunch at Jean Georges, and feast at Smorgasburg instead. Please know that this was not a decision we took lightly. Smorgasburg, located in the hot and happening town of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is an open air food market, featuring over 100 vendors. The New York Times has dubbed it, “The Woodstock of Eating.” We figured that Mr. Grizzly could be quite efficient at Smorgasburg, in packing on his necessary pounds for his upcoming winter of hibernation!

Smorgasburg, just a short 30 minute subway ride from mid-town Manhattan, is located in an empty waterfront lot on the East River, between North 6th and 7th Streets. It boasts a picturesque view of the Manhattan skyline. However, we were not here for the views. We were here to feast! We arrived shortly after 11:00 am, and most of the vendors were still setting up.

We were quite strategic in our eating plan. We decided to walk the grounds first to get the lay of the land, see what the offerings were, before we bought anything. You must come with an empty stomach, loose pants and, while some vendors take credit cards,  a pocket full of cash is a good idea. It is also ideal to come with a group of four or more. That way, you can order lots of different items, and just have a taste of each.

We came, we ate, we conquered! Here are some of the yummy bites we sampled!

1. S’more BakerysmoresWhile the “Salted Sailor” (vanilla bean marshmallow and a salted caramel ganache sandwiched between clover honey graham wafers) was calling my name, I got sidetracked by the “All in One Cookie.” Salted Oats, chocolate chunks and vanilla bean marshmallow all packaged together in a tidy cookie. It made an amazing first course! It had the ideal cookie texture; caramelized and crispy edges with a softer, chewy center. They packed a flavourful punch of salty and sweet!smore cookie2. Danny Macaroons Danny MacaroonsWith all they hype that macarons get, macaroons seem like the forgotten sister.  Danny Cohen has not forgotten about them. He gives them all the love and attention they deserve. I am coco-nuts about the Salted Caramel and the Raspberry Jalapeno Jam flavours!

3. Pain D’Avignonpain davignonAfter all that sugar from the cookies, we needed something savory. We sampled the Mini Picholine Olive Rolls. Salty from the olives, aromatic from a bit of fresh rosemary, these mini rolls sported a beautiful open crumb. They were chewy and the crust had just the right amount of crunch.picholine roll

4. Chedbredchedbred signWithout question, the honey sea salt chedbred was the best thing I ate all day in Brooklyn!honey sea salt chedbredA quote from their web site says it all! “A deceptively simple, bordering on majestic cornbread that thrives off of a subtle sweetness from honey.  Topped with brown butter crumble and sprinkled with sea salt, it strikes a perfect balance through contrast.” 

5. Milk Truckmilk truckWe stopped dead in our tracks when we came upon Milk Truck.  Grilled Cheese, Milk Shakes and a Mac and Cheese Bar. How could we resist? We opted for the classic Mac and Cheese: Three cheese bechamel sauce topped with housemade rosemary bread crumbs, with a mix-in of double smoked bacon. I was surprised that they used farfalle (bowties), as the pasta shape. I am a traditionalist and prefer my mac and cheese with elbow macaroni. mac and cheeseI have since heard lots of buzz about their grilled cheese sandwiches. Should have had one of those instead!

6. Lonestar Empire 

lonestarslicing brisketMr Grizzly started chatting to the lady in the blue bandanna over at Lonestar Empire about their “Slow Smoked Texas Style Brisket Sandwich.” She explained that they use Angus Beef Brisket and season it liberally with just salt and pepper. Then they smoke it low and slow- a good 15 hours over Texas mesquite wood. The low and slow method gives the fat in the meat time to render out, making the beef unbelievably moist and tender. She was unequivocal in her recomendation of ordering the brisket “moist” rather than “lean’. Since we were all about calorie loading, we opted for the moist. Hand carved to order, succulent brisket was piled onto  a soft potato roll and topped with a vinegar laced tangy tomato based BBQ sauce.  This sandwich was killer good!lonestar sign

fatty brisket on potato roll

7. Pit Beef NYC 

The brisket sandwich at Lonestar had us craving more meat, so we ordered the “Marz Attack” at Pit Beef. This sandwich was built with pit pulled pork, a fried egg, and topped with chipotle cheddar and BBQ sauce. Sadly, it sounded better than it tasted. The pork was a bit dry , especially when compared to the moist brisket over at Lonestar.sandwich with fried egg

8. Ramen Burger 

When we first arrived at Smorgasburg, we couldn’t help noticing a huge lineup at one tent: Ramen Burger. It was barely 11 am, they weren’t even cooking yet, and already the lineup was at least 50 people long. What was the deal here we wondered? Could these ramen burgers be the new “cronut”?

line up for ramen burgerWe decided not to join the line and sample some other things first. However, about an hour later, Mr. Grizzly’s curiosity got the best of him. He wandered over to the head of the line and started chatting with some of the folks. He got quite an education in the Ramen Burger.

Created by Keizo Shimamoto, this is no ordinary burger. The all beef patty is sandwiched between two discs of ramen noodles, which have been cooked crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Topped with green onions, a secret Shoyu sauce and arugula, the burger has a sweet and a salty taste. Although I didn’t actually taste the Ramen Burger, Mr Grizzly did charm his way into a few bites from some lovely women at the head of the line who had been waiting since 8:00 am! He reported to us that he didn’t understand what all the hype was about.

Mr grizzly's new friends

serious eats ramen-burgerShockingly there was no lineup at the Quinoa Falafel tent!quinoa falafel

9. BFC (Buttermilk Fried Chicken)fried chicken and wafflesMrs. Grizzly wandered off on her own and came back with buttermilk fried chicken and cheddar waffles. The coating was so  thick, we could not cut it with our plastic fork and knife. The only way to eat this delicious chicken is to pick it up and eat it with your hands! A shatteringly crispy coating gave way to tender moist flavourful chicken meat. The waffles were good, but really, it’s all about the chicken! Don’t forget to add a squeeze of their black maple sauce (maple syrup with a balsamic vinegar reduction).

10. Krumville Bakery

It was the bundt cake at the Krumville tent that got my attention. I had never seen a bundt pan in that shape before. Apparently it is called the Heritage Bundt pan. I must get one of these! It looks like a giant pinwheel. We started chatting with the folks at Krumville and we soon discovered that everything under their tent is Gluten Free! We ended up buying the zucchini goat cheese bacon tartlette. Yummy!!

Krumville signpinwheel bundt pan

 

GF tartWe thought we had hit our limit, but apparently we were wrong. There was still a tiny little corner of my stomach that had room for fries at Home Frites, and Mrs. Grizzly had room for S’more Pie!home frite

smore pieFeeling happy and quite full, we waddled our way out of the fair grounds. A perfect day in Brooklyn!