travel treats

This past year was scrumptious, spicy, piquant, a little saucy, and plenty delectable. Some of my favorite eats on the road:

_1198613Perfectly proper tea at Chocolate Maven in Santa Fe for a refined bachelorette party.

2013-01-27%252013.39.28What’s better than birthday cake? How about adorable, precious, and simply sweet tiny pies shared with birthday celebrants under the California sun, at I Like Pie in Claremont.

2013-04-17%252016.05.12The freshest fish taco, plucked from the Caribbean shores off the Virgin Islands with a bright seaweed salad and a cool Presidente.

2013-04-18%252011.30.38Island breakfast: fresh fruit smoothie, homemade yogurt with toasty oats and tropical fruits. Building a foundation for hours of snorkeling.

2013-04-18%252015.51.21My first johnnycake: kind of like a biscuit top (crumbly and soft) with melty cheese in the middle. Island-style grilled cheese that I can get behind.

2013-04-18%252015.52.23Crispy on the outside, hot and fluffy on the inside, this homemade conch fritter is like a subtly sweet hushpuppy. Served just steps from clear blue waters with sea turtles sunning themselves at Vie’s Snack Shack in St. John.

The fresh crab salad at the Olde Port Inn at Avila Beach is so fresh and succulent, you might forget to look through your glass table into the waters below.

IMG_20130525_133855_146Why bother getting fresh grilled tacos at a hot rod car show in Southern California if you don’t add the caramelized onions from the gigantic pan? Oh the aroma of smoky onions calls you closer…

_6170695Pennsylvania Dutch food can be simple, comforting, homey. It can also be brilliant like this apple and gouda grilled cheese with a smear of sweet apple butter.

_6170714But please don’t event think of leaving Lancaster without a slice (or 8) of the sticky molasses bottomed and crumbly struesel-like topped  shoofly pie.

_7060799Strawberries and cream from America’s oldest ice cream shop, Bassetts in Philadelphia. There’s a reason this classic ice cream flavor is favored by many: when it’s simply made with the best ingredients, you taste summer down to the last melted drop in the cone.

Pre-partying for BFF wedding duties with fantastic cocktails at the Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia: Tom Traubert’s Blues and Of Two Minds.

Tackling a wood-oven baked pizza with plump shrimp, sweet corn and avocado while devouring and arugula and strawberry salad with creamy burrata at Revolution Brewing in Chicago. Paired perfectly with the Coup d’Etat.

Parson’s Chicken and Fish is a summertime DO for the Negroni slushy best consumed while making friends at the outdoor picnic tables on a warm Chicago day. Nevermind that it’s not legitimately a Negroni without the Campari, but it is legitimately delicious.

The stuff sugar-dreams are made of: the ooiest gooiest cinnamoniest sticky bun at Little Goat in Chicago.

Can’t decide on breaky? Have eggs-in-a-hole French Toast with strawberries and fried chicken.

Or an Indian-Latin American-Californian hodge-podge like a paratha egg burrito with avocado and beans.

The best part of my entire meal, without a doubt, was that 10AM Vietnamese iced coffee spiked generously with single barrel bourbon: thank you for this revelation.


Mercat: the revenge of the windy city

I am so excited to have guest-blogged the final part of our Chicago trip at Twilight at Morningside, a gorgeous photography + food blog by my dear friend Liz. You don’t think all of this gut-busting gluttony in Chicago could be without consequence, do you? Our fearsome foursome met our match at a post-Girl & the Goat brunch at Jose Garces’ Mercat a la Planxa that was the very essence of overdoing it. Read all about our shenanigans over at Twilight and browse through Liz’s beautiful photos on food, travel, and design ‘back East.


this girl and girl and the goat

Our next foodventure in Chicago was a visit to Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat.  Selina had heard delightful things about this new restaurant and booked reservations months ahead of time, while I anticipated this meal with unabashed glee as I was a big fan of Izard’s ever since Top Chef.  A meal this epic required expert eaters, so our friend Adam, a guaranteed overachiever in this field, joined us three for the evening of overindulgence. We started at 5.30 (even with reservations months in advance!) and ended a mere 3+ hours later with satisfied stomachs and bulging beltlines.  Without a doubt, one of the best meals I have ever had, even though I couldn’t try everything.

Yes, there will be goat.  I loved the servers’ t-shirts that said “Don’t feed the goat, but beer is okay.”

Even at the early-bird special time of 5.30pm the restaurant was busy with folks pondering the menu at the beautiful wood bar.

Chef Izard expediting at the bustling open kitchen.

Our menu: marked, edited, and underlined. The server did a fantastic job of describing what would be a meal of small plates shared at the table, which dishes he could make pescatarian for me and which ones he didn’t recommend altering.  After all of our orders were in, he then choregraphed the meal to smoothly sail from light to heavy.  After encouraging our party of four to order eight or nine items, he didn’t bat an eye when we ordered eleven…and then two more dishes at the end…and the entire dessert menu.  Then he presented us the menu as a souvenir.

To start, a rustic and earthy fresh baked loaf of bread with house cultured butter and a ripe and creamy concoction known as beer cheese sauce.  Like fondue distilled to an intense essence, a fantastic way to start off the meal, and a great accompaniment to the complex and delicious cocktails prepared at the bar.

Wood fired Tomahawk oysters with bits of artichoke, green garlic and bacon.  As an oyster non-fan, I will humbly attest to their wonderful plump, briny flavor highlighted perfectly in this elegant dish.

Adam’s favorite was the lamb tartar, with an English pea tapenade and tuna aioli.  He found the unique twist on the traditional tartar refreshing.

My favorite was the chickpea fritters with romesco, hazelnut hummus, sesame, and goat feta.  The delicately fried fritters were light and crisp with a creamy center like fried tofu.  All of the flavors melded together wonderfully.

The wood fired razor clams were dressed with peanuts, chili,and sweet garlic which seemed at the time like an odd combination. Peanuts and clams? Sounds quite discordant.  In actuality, the Southeast Asian flavors worked really well and the sauce was delectable – the clams just ended up a bit over cooked and chewy.

The kabocha squash ravioli with mushroom raisin ragu, brussels leaves, and mushroom creme fraiche sounded like a vegetarian delight on paper. In reality this was thought to be the least successful dish for being surprisingly bland, and I for one am opposed to raisins in general (except Raisin Bran and oatmeal cookies).

The roasted halibut with brandade, grilled asparagus, green garlic, and blackberry was finished lickety split, however.  The fish was perfectly tender with a crisp sear, and the different textures were a revelation in palate pleasing flavor.

Our table decided to go with the goat belly confit for our goat dish, in this case accompanied by bourbon butter with lobster and crab,  and fennel.  B was a fan of this dish, with the gameyness of goat offset by intense flavor from its preparation as confit and paired luxuriously with the richness of lobster and butter.

Selina convinced the table to order the wood oven roasted pig face, blanketed by a sunnyside egg, cilantro, and potato stix.  After overcoming the initial disappointment/relief that it didn’t look like a cute piggy face staring back at us, the consensus was that it was actually pretty darn good. Although I do not condone eating faces, anything is enticing with an egg on top.

The dinosaur-sized pork shank with truffled apples and truffle tapenade was a savory meat-fest.  Although the presentation was awe-inducing, it didn’t end up on anyone’s favorite list, so we couldn’t end the meal there. Thus, we decided to order up two more dishes.

We were assured by our server that the cauliflower was a fan favorite, with pickled peppers, pine nuts, and mint.  It was simple and homey, yet surprising with the pickles – it tasted almost like a chutney to aloo gobi curry.

We ended on perhaps the lightest note, a refreshing palate cleanser of hiramasa crudo with aji chili and caperberries.  The fish was delicate, pleasant, and lightly dressed yet full of astounding flavor. I’m so glad we ended the dinner portion with this dish as its simplicity belied the balancing act of flavor that made it one of my favorites.

Onto dessert, parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.  A simple mason jar, with fluffy cream, cake, crumbs and fruit.

My favorite dessert, the rhubarb n’ lemon: a trifle of shortcake, buttermilk pannacotta, lemon gelato, and salted graham cracker.  I could eat these sitting in a rocking chair out on the porch on a hot day, all day.

Next up, the blood orange sorbet with the ingenious parnsip pot de creme, under a pistachio cake with cornmeal crust.  We had a parsnip flan at Crush in Seattle, who knew it could lend itself to a complex, yet ultimately successful dessert? The other desserts similarly played around with a distinctly vegetal or savory component to counter the sweet.

For example, the bittersweet chocolate cake was topped with shiitake gelato and toffee creme fraiche.  Selina thought this to be the best chocolate cake ever, deeply intense in chocolate flavor yet fragile and airy in texture.  The shiitake gelato, with its earthy foresty tones actually worked quite well to balance what could have been a cloyingly sweet dessert.

Lastly, the pork fat donuts with sesame semifreddo and sambal pineapple.  I asked my table-mates if the donuts were sweet or bacony. Their reply – “oh. my. gahhhhhh….the donuts are sweet and soooo good, and also porky.” Porky. Kind of like a sweet maple fritter fried up in leftover bacon fat. Salty, animal-y, but not quite savory. Porky – there’s really no other way to describe them. Or us, by the end of the meal.


i should (and have) xoco

My recent food-drenched visit to see Selina in Chicago starts with a stop at San Francisco Airport’s newly renovated stylish, airy, light-filled and green Terminal 2. With gourmet fare from Tyler Florence at Napa Farms Market and Lark Creek Grill, you can pre-game your squished coach-seat red-eye journey with upgraded cuisine.  We headed to Cat Cora’s lounge, which serves small plates and that all-important pre-flight cocktail. B tried the slider trio, each burger made with lamb, pork (sloppy-joe style) or Wagyu beef, and served with sweet potato fries.  It’s certainly one way to eat all of the animals at the same time.  He thought the beef was the most juicy and delicious, the lamb too dry, and the pork just as messy to eat as it would appear to be.

I had the sourdough grilled cheese and tomato soup with microgreens – although it sounds quite boring the soup was rich and flavorful with a hearty texture.  And you can’t really go wrong with grilled cheese, and in this case the smoky flavor infused into the crispy sourdough added a great complexity.

Our first night we met up with Selina at one of Chicago’s most well known and beloved restaurants, Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill.  First up, at the dramatic and Mexican folk-art filled bar – a signature margarita, of course! I first had a margarita from Bayless’ recipe handcrafted by a former supervisor who swore by them.  I admit that although he wasn’t always the easiest person to work with, those margaritas endeared him to me thoroughly.

Certainly in California we are lucky that authentic and delicious Mexican food is rather ubiquitous, especially in southern California where B grew up spoiled with this indulgence.  Even so, it was with great interest and curiosity that we made our way through the regional Mexican menu, but in the moody lighting not everything photographed so well.  Some highlights: flaky, crispy mushroom empanadas

Gooey melty queso fundido with carnitas:

Selina had the duck breast with Brussels sprouts – this particular vegetable being a recurring theme in much of our meals in Chicago.  We couldn’t figure out the source of the Brussels sprout epidemic afflicting the area’s chefs but thankfully they are tasty.

The following morning, we walked next door to Bayless’ Xoco, a casual Mexican sandwich/street food cafe to continue the feast.  Now, I may have picked our hotel to be within walking distance of Xoco so that we could eat here every morning if we wanted – so what, don’t judge me.  Although dinner at Frontera was good, I really had my hopes up for breakfast when greeted by these colorful beauties:

You can get food to go or have it brought to the communal table or window-watching breakfast bar.  Limonadas in hand, we had pre-breakfast breakfast – B with a perfectly golden ham and cheese empanada:

and I with a glittering airy churro and decadent freshly ground Mexican chocolate:

We each had an open-faced breakfast torta with a spicy tomato sauce, black bean spread, and a poached egg. It was a bit tough to cut, but was reminiscent of my prior dinner post in a delicious and satisfying way.

Over the next few days, much more eating was done (with great distress to our ever-stretching stomachs) so this post is to be continued…