December 31, 2010
December 30, 2010
December 28, 2010
On Christmas Day we headed out to walk around London and visit several of historic sites. The street outside our hotel was almost empty - only a few cars and people going about their way. But, as soon as we walked onto a main street we joined the rest of the tourists that were out and about.
We began by walking towards St Paul's Cathedral via Oxford Road, Kingsway, and Fleet Street.
We arrived at the cathedral early in the afternoon. Inside was quiet and the sheer size of the building takes a different perspective. From the outside it definitely dominates the skyline of the neighborhood and places a part in the silhouette of the city overall. But, on the inside the massive size of the almost empty space was overwhelming.
After stopping to visit St Paul's Cathedral we walked out onto the Millennium Bridge to get a view up and down the river. This is a modern and marvelous food bridge that was constructed for London's New Year's Eve celebrations to mark the beginning of the 2000s.
Next we headed to the infamous Tower of London. Sitting upon the banks of the Thames this mid-evil castle is dwarfed by the larger and newer buildings that have been added to the landscape in the centuries since it was built. But it still stands sturdy with its many walls and towers.
From there we retraced our steps to Kingsway and then turned onto the Strand. We continued walking until we arrived at Trafalgar Square. The sun had set by this time. Lights illuminated the National Gallery building and Christmas lights twinkled around the square. At a distance we could see The light clock tower of Parliament - Big Ben.
From Trafalgar Square we turned back towards our hotel, our home while we are here in London. While traveling by foot in a city as large as London it is a rewarding experience. There are many hidden alleyways, unique buildings, and other interesting sights to see that are too small or insignificant to be featured on a tourist map but give the visitor a great perspective of the city.
December 27, 2010
We took the the tube to Whitechapel in search of Tayyab, a Pakistani restaurant recommended by the three London travel books I brought with me – as well as being highly rated on Yelp. When we came out of the station we were in a different part of London. Here there is no famous architecture or tree-lined streets. We walked by a street market that was being torn down for the night. The sidewalk was filled with tents, merchants, and shoppers. After about 5 minute walk we turned down a nondescript street and arrived at Tayyab.
We arrived in the early evening and inside the restaurant it was already getting busy. Diners were sitting at tables and waiters were bustling around delivering steaming plates of delicious smelling food.
After sitting down I opened our bottle of wine and we started to peruse the menu. (Tayyab does not serve alcohol, however diners are welcome to bring their own and serve themselves.) The food here is from the Punjab region. We ordered paneer tikka, a vegetarian kahari dish with eggplant, chick peas, and lentils, and tandoori roti to share. Jonathan also ordered mutton tikka, kahari chicken, and a meat samosa. (I learned from Wikipedia that Kahari is a circular cooking pot from India and Pakistan that is similar to a wok. These dishes were served in this type of cooking dish.)
Our food began arriving almost immediately. First we were served popadams. Then we got the samosa, tikka dishes, and roti. The kahari dishes were soon to follow. The food was amazing – without question the best Indian / Pakistani food I have had in any restaurant anywhere. The flavors were amazing and the level of spiciness was perfect. Jonathan and I both agreed our favorite dish was the kahari dish with eggplant, chickpeas, and lentils.
Then for dessert Jonathan went over to the pastry case and selected two sweets. The first was pink with cream and made from milk. It was sweet and had a coconut flavor. The second was made from ground lentils. It had a smooth texture and was similar to orange marzipan only much better with added flavors of spices.
So far this has been my favorite meal in London and I definitely want to return to Tayyab before we fly back home. I wish there was a restaurant like this in Washington DC – or anywhere in the US!
December 26, 2010
We landed in London just before dawn and made our way (bleary-eyed) through immigration, baggage claim, customs, and downstairs to the airport Tube station. Then we were finally heading to downtown London and our hotel! We arrived at our hotel tired and our hotel we were able to deposit our luggage and get some English breakfast.
The tea and warm food reenergized me and soon we were back out on the streets walking through Soho. Jonathan had requested that we go shopping on our first day, so we headed to Jermyn Street. Our first goal was to find several clothing shops Jonathan. He quickly found several shops that he liked and was soon carrying several bags.
Around noon we stopped for lunch at Itsu on Piccadilly Road. From my previous trips to London I remembered Wagamama, but not this place. I was delighted to find the food at Itsu equally fresh, tasty, and not extraordinarily expensive! This is one of the things I love about London – good, inexpensive noodle shops.
After lunch we continued shopping heading to Fortnum & Mason. This department store is fantastic. The upper floors are filled with luxuries – leather goods, china, perfumes, and and clothing. The ground floor and lower level are filled with wonderful edible items – chocolates and confectioneries, tea and coffee, baked goods, biscuits, wine, and much, much more. The store is fabulously decorated, everything is beautifully packaged, and the staff is extremely attentive. I always enjoy visiting this store when I'm in London to just browse and then buy a small treat or two and maybe some gifts. On the day of our visit – Christmas Eve – the store was buzzing with holiday shoppers and foreign visitors. It was a fun and dizzying experience! And a good start to our visit to London.
December 24, 2010
December 23, 2010
London is a place where I never tire of wandering the streets with my camera. It is a city that I enjoy spending time in either with company or by myself - and never feel alone. I love visiting the quiet sanctuary of Neil’s Yard or the hectic bustle of high street. And then there is the splendid - and always camera ready - historic architecture. It is an amazing place!
London is home to some of the most recognizable structures in the world - the Westiminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the Tower Bridge, and now the London Eye. It is home to extravagant department stores and simple curry houses. It is home to tradition - from the Changing of the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace to the quiet ritual of afternoon tea. And it is an old city where you can be reminded of the lessons of history or enjoy the luxuries of the 21st century world.
At one point in my life I had the opportunity to travel to London and several other places in Europe on a regular basis. However, recently my opportunities to travel east across the Atlantic have been fewer and further between. In fact, it has been several years since I was last in this place I like to call my home away from home.
That will change tonight when my husband Jonathan are traveling to Europe for the holidays. Our itinerary has two destinations - London and Paris. I am excited not just to be returning to my favorite city, but to be bringing Jonathan with me. And to be continuing our journey from there to continental Europe and Paris.
London again! And at Christmastide! I am so excited to land at Heathrow Airport and take the Tube into the city. I am excited to wander the streets and show Jonathan the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of my favorite city.
And then Paris - the City of Lights. This a city of history and recognisable monuments and landmarks - Eiffel Tour, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs-Élysées. It is also a place for the senses and indulgence - wine, cheese, chocolate, and pastries. This is a place I know will enchant Jonathan.
I am looking forward to this whole trip, this whole experience. And I am looking forward to sharing this adventure with Jonathan.
December 21, 2010
I have been anticipating this meal for a long time. It was a much delayed - and long anticipated birthday celebration for Jonathan. You have to make a reservation exactly 30 days in advance. It takes several tries to get through to the reservation line. The time for suspense is not lacking... So, the evening finally arrives. Komi. We met my aunt there early in the evening. The restaurant has a warm atmosphere with candles and flowers decorating the dining room.
This restaurant is not a normal dining experience. There is no menu - they just cook for you. When you make the reservation they ask you dietary restrictions and preferences and then create a different menu each evening depending on their guests. The meal consists of a variety of meze, a pasta course, an entree, and then a flight of desserts. So, the only decision left for the customers is what to drink.
After selecting our wine the first meze arrived. Mine was a small steamed bun with yogurt and fried caper berries. It looked lovely and took out my iPhone to take a picture of my food. However, before I was able to capture an image one of the servers came over and told me I was not allowed to take pictures of the food. What? No pictures? In a world with Facebook, Twitpic, and Foodspotting they don’t allow diners to photograph their food. As a result the words in this blog post will be unaccompanied by photographs. A disappointment, but one that passed quickly after my first bite of steamed bun.
After the steamed bun I received a variety of different small dishes featuring vegetables.
- Fennel cooked three ways - one of which was an amazing sliced fennel that was cooked until the edges were caramelized but the center was still crispy.
- Beets and avocado served with candied orange peel.
- Crispy scallions served with a dressing made of fresh herbs.
- A perfect salad with radishes and greens.
My non-vegetarian dining companions were served a variety of seafood or vegetables small dishes. My favorite small plate was a unique version of spanakopita. Instead of the normal layers of filo and butter with spinach in between, this variation is formed into a round ball with a crispy outside and a warm spinach puree inside. Eating it is similar to biting into a chocolate truffle with a molten center. It tasted absolutely amazing.
After the vegetable and seafood dishes we were all had wonderful dates served warm, stuff with marscopone cheese, and served topped olive oil and fleur du sel. A perfect bite - and definitely a tie with the spanakopita for my favorite thing in the meal thus far.
Next was the pasta course. The non-vegetarians at the table had pasta with lamb ragu - but were a bit jealous of my dish. I had freshly made gnocchi with butter and shaved several large shavings of black truffle. It was wonderful - the gnocchi was creamy and the flavors were warm and woodsy.
Then it was finally time for the main entree. I received a chestnut flan served with winter vegetables. It was creamy and delicious with a mild nutty flavor. I had never imagined eating a savory flan, but it was lovely. And of course, again my dining companions had a different dish than I. They were served roasted goat with a variety of accompaniments. To go with our entrees we all received this fabulous fresh pita bread. Warm and buttery - it was another highlight of the meal.
Last, came desserts. We received three small dessert plates and then a salty and sweet lemon lollypop. My favorite were a wonderful caramel disk served on a spoon and a frozen variation of baklava.
The meal at Komi was like a languid adventure. It is an event more than a meal - a true dining experience. Too bad I don’t have any photos to share with you.
December 19, 2010
Upon arrival at the restaurant we were seated promptly. The interior of Posto has high ceilings and modern decor with the vibe of a hip NYC bistro. This restaurant has the buzz of a stylish dining establishment.
We started by ordering wine and perusing the menu. For food, I decided to get the fettucine and Jonathan ordered the polipetti (grilled baby octopus salad) and maiale (grilled pork chop). My fettucine was served in a cream sauce and had wonderful flavors of black truffles, porcini mushrooms, and cheese. Jonathan enjoyed his food as well, however voted on my (vegetarian) pasta as the best dish of the night. (That’s quite an endorsement coming from an individual who normally prefers meat - and specifically pork - dishes over all others.) The wine and bread that accompanied our meal were also superbly tasty.
And of course, no dinner date is complete without dessert... We ordered decaf espressos and decided to share the mascarpone mousse with coffee gelato and chocolate shot. The dessert was beautiful! The mascarpone mousse was light and was served with crisp chocolate wafers. Everything tasted amazing! It was a perfect end to a fabulous - and tasty - dinner date!
December 15, 2010
So, we did - for dinner on a rainy evening... Again we sat in the bar area - this time at the bar proper. From the very beginning our server was aloof and lackadaisical, but we had still high expectations for the food.
I ordered a garden salad and pappardelle with mushrooms. Jonathan ordered pork belly and beef bourguignon - and then truffle frites to share. For wine Jonathan selected a malbec and I ordered the bartender's suggestion - syrah from Idaho. Yes, Idaho.
My wine was actually pretty good - well, it exceeded my expectations for a wine from Idaho. However, Jonathan's wine was definitely not worth writing home about, to say the least.
But, on to the food. The fries were the first dish served. They were crispy and good, however the truffle flavor was barely existent. Next Jonathan's pork belly and my salad arrived. Now, the food is at Poste is definitely frou frou food. The salad was lovely - but so small & dainty. It was served with a small shot of celery root soup that was good (just very small). My pasta was also good - whole wheat papperdelli with fabulous mushrooms - and again the serving was small. While my food was good, now of it was great. (And the prices here are not cheap.) Jonathan enjoyed his pork belly and beef bourguignon, but felt that both portions were small considering the quality and price.
Poste has the chic restaurant and bar appeal. It has the atmosphere to support being called a modern bistro or brasserie. However, the food quality and the service we received did not meet the expectations of such that type of an establishment. The overall experience was therefore a disappointment.
So, after dinner at Poste, hungry and wanting, we headed Vinoteca for some more substantial snacks. There were did not experience disappointment.
We ordered wine with cheeses, nuts, dried figs, and crackers. The wine was excellent and the food was simple and very good. This place (which I have blogged about previously) is a great neighborhood wine bar. The atmosphere is comfortable and unpretentious. And the food is honestly good. Eating cheese, crackers, and dried figs with my hands - this is my kind of food. And the wine was very good. For dessert we ordered chocolate truffles. Perfect and simple. This is what I like about Vinoteca. This is a solid neighborhood wine bar that you always want to return to...
December 12, 2010
December 10, 2010
We were seated at a table outside on the sidewalk. Decorated with leafy plants and shaded with bright orange umbrellas the sidewalk patio was a relaxing place to sit and enjoy our brunch.
The menu is creative and had several interesting options, but we both decided to try the popover. (Note to vegetarians, the restaurant was happy to make this dish without sausage for me.) Serving scrambled eggs and cheese stuffed in popover is an absolutely fabulous idea. The eggs and popover were fluffy and the cheddar cheese was creamy and added a great cheesy flavor. It was a lovely breakfast and a great way to end our trip to Miami!
December 8, 2010
December 5, 2010
December 2, 2010
We first arrived in the Design District the late afternoon on Friday. The streets were quiet, customers were browsing the shops and galleries, and there was an air of calm. We walked down streets past shops, cafes, courtyards with trees, and an outdoor room. Yes, that is correct an outdoor room. At the intersection of North Miami Avenue and 40th Street NE there is the corner of a room. Furnished with a couch and two lamps, decorated in pink, and exposed to the elements, the two walls and partial ceiling stand still in stark contrast to the busy traffic of the streets. So uniquely Miami.
We spent the afternoon traversing the streets of this neighborhood and discovered a red coffee table in a modern furniture shop, an intriguing eye glasses store, and some tempting restaurant menus.
We returned the following evening, Saturday. It was dark when we arrived and found that the neighborhood was a transformed place. The streets were alive with energy and excitement; the restaurants and bars were abuzz. Music filled the air and crowds of people drifted through open art galleries and congregated on the sidewalks. It was a hip, local scene.
We had a dinner reservation at Sra Martinez, a tapas restaurant located in an old post office building at the corner of 2nd Avenue NE and 40th Street NE. The restaurant has a large patio dining area that abuts the sidewalk. When we arrived several groups of people were sitting at these outdoor tables enjoying food and drinks in the mild Miami evening air. Inside the main part of the restaurant has high ceilings with a bar and open dining room. Towards the back of the restaurant there is a balcony with another bar and a few tables overlooking the main dining floor. The lights in the whole restaurant are dim and the atmosphere is vibrant and energetic.
Upon arrival we checked in with the hostess and were delighted to be seated at a table on the balcony. This spot - perched above the majority of the crowd - awarded us with a perfect view of the scene at the restaurant. And this is a place where fashion, food, and fun come together. It is a place were people come to socialize, be out in a hip energetic neighborhood, and eat some great food.
So, on to the subject of food... I ordered some cheeses, crispy artichokes, mushrooms, and wine. Jonathan got butifarra (a white bean and sausage stew), chorizo, and wine. Everything was just perfect. The cheese was very good and the artichokes were wonderfully crispy and served with a creamy lemon sauce. The mushrooms were cooked in truffle butter and were delivered to the table wrapped like a present in aluminum foil. Jonathan was completely enchanted with his carnivorous dishes. It was a great meal.
Of course, every great meal ends with dessert. We shared excellent churros served with chocolate dipping sauce. The churros were so good - warm and chewy with with cinnamon and sugar. The rich and silky chocolate sauce was served cool - making it a perfect companion for the warm churros.
Our dinner at Sra Martinez was fabulous. The service was great - and the food was delicious. Dining here reminded me that I miss the wonderful Spanish tapas restaurants we used to frequent when we lived in San Francisco. Washington DC has a few tapas restaurants that are good, but not outstanding. Sra Martinez - like Alegrias and Zarzuela in San Francisco - is an outstanding place to go for tapas.
I am glad we veered off the standard tourist path and discovered the Design District. This neighborhood is definitely Miami cool.
November 25, 2010
After travel and sightseeing, we headed inland to the Little Havana neighborhood and our dinner destination – Versaille Restaurant. A Miami landmark, this restaurant is located on 8th Street or Calle Ocho. When I worked out of Miami International Airport I would often stop at the airport outpost of this institution, Cafe Versaille, for coffee or a snack between flights and had never had the opportunity to go to the main restaurant.
When we arrived at the restaurant around 6:00pm the parking lot was already filling up. Inside the host led us to a table right away and we were soon deciding what to order. Jonathan selected a platter of different Cuban specialties and I chose a plantain omelette.
Versaille is a classic restaurant. The waiters wear uniforms and there are etched mirrors on the walls. The atmosphere is warm and there is a sense that you have been transport to an earlier time period.
Before the meal arrived the waiter brought toasted white bread with butter. It does not sound particularly exciting, but it that was not the case. The toast was warm, crispy, and buttery – tasty and comforting. Our dinner arrived shortly. My omelette was very good and filled with sweet plantains. Jonathan also enjoyed his meal. (One note though – the entree portions were huge so neither of us were able our food!) We ended our meal with a decaf Café Cubano.
Dining at Versaille Restaurant is comfortable and fun. And since US citizens are still restricted from to travel to Cuba, it is the next best thing!
November 24, 2010
November 21, 2010
November 19, 2010
Over 10 years later I was in Miami again - this time with my husband Jonathan. This time the purpose of our trip was to compete in the Miami Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival with the DC Dragon Boat Club and to spend a few days in the sunshine. A perfect escape from the encroaching winter weather in Washington, DC.
We landed at Miami International Airport before 10AM in the morning. The sun was up and the temperature was a balmly 75F (24C). After dropping our bags at the hotel we headed out to explore. While I had spent many days walking around Miami Beach and South Beach, this was Jonathan’s first trip to Florida. We walked around South Beach past the art deco hotels and the umbrellas of sidewalk restaurants, ventured out to the sandy beach where people were baking themselves in the sun, and finally spent some time relaxing at a small cafe.
To me, South Beach has always been - and still is - a surreal place. And a great place to sit at a cafe and watch the crowd go by. This is a vacation place and people come to have a good time. There are all extremes of society and behavior here - all you have to do is find a comfortable seat in an out of the way corner and watch the world go by...
November 16, 2010
Downstairs in my hotel, the Intercontinental, was a small wine bar called Eno. I decided to go there for a glass of wine and some dessert. I sat down at a table and ordered a glass of wine and some chocolates. Eno has a simple menu serving three of my favorite foods – cheese, wine, and chocolates. The wine was excellent and the artisan chocolates were perfect. And they were a wonderful treat to help me forget about my luggage woes!
And on the subject of chocolate, before leaving Chicago I was able to visit the Vosges boutique on Michigan Avenue. I have always loved these creative chocolates in their pretty packaging. I purchased several new bars that I have not had the opportunity to try previously, including black salt caramel, Blood orange caramel, marzipan, gingerbread toffee, and organic Dominican dark chocolate. Since returning home I have tested the salt caramel and dark chocolate bars and both are fantastic. I look forward to opening – and eating – the others over the next few weeks!
November 14, 2010
November 11, 2010
November 10, 2010
Those of you who know me – or read this blog regularly – know about my obsession with chocolate. I love chocolate. I drink hot chocolate every morning and rarely drink coffee. In my opinion Starbucks hot chocolate is too sweet. So, I do not stop at their shops very often – and when I do I just order some tea or a bottle of water.
One of my favorite chocolate companies in the United States is TCHO from San Francisco. So, I was excited learn that TCHO is now producing the Starbucks house brand chocolate bars and wasted no time procuring some. The new Starbucks house brand bars come in dark and milk chocolate – and of course, I had to try one of each. Both bars were delicious! Definitely TCHO quality and intense chocolate flavor. Now I have a reason to stop at that ubiquitous shop on the corner...
Starbucks, thank you for choosing TCHO to make your chocolate bars!
November 6, 2010
After talking to the individual at the United Airlines Baggage Service Center, picking up my rental car and driving downtown I finally arrive in my hotel room. I was tired, sad, and a bit frazzled.
I take a minute to collect myself, then meet up with the coworkers I am traveling with and run across the street to Nordstroms and Sephora for a little emergency shopping. I have just enough time to get what I need before the stores close! Then it's finally time to relax and get dinner.
We decided to try the Purple Pig, a small wine bar and restaurant on Michigan Avenue. Inside there are several small tables around the edges of the room, communal tables in the center, a bar at the back corner. The restaurant is buzzing with activity and has a vibrant atmosphere. The hostess informs us we will have a 30-40 minute wait, however, I was pleasantly surprised when she called us in about 20 minutes.
Now, on to the meal. We shared a very nice bottle of Burgundy and I ordered a salad and a cheese plate. My dinner companions had scallops, procchutto and steak. The cheeses on my plate were all excellent and served with a delicious grape and fig chutney. Everyone else enjoyed their food and the dining experience as well! The Purple Pig is a great place to have dinner – or just a nice glass of wine – in Chicago.
November 2, 2010
Something Sweet is the perfect name for a bakery. It is located near the intersection of Wisconson Avenue and Macomb Street across the street from one of my favorite DC area pizzerias. Recently my aunt and I were having lunch at 2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria and decided to visit Something Sweet. I was delighted to see whoopie pies in the bakery case! (And, of course, I just had to purchase one to try.)
Later that afternoon I made tea for my aunt and I and we shared our whoopie pie. It was a very good! The cake was perfect – rich chocolate and not very sweet – with sweet frosting. (And it was a perfect size to share.)
The whoopie pie was a fabulous treat – reminiscent of bakery trips with my dad when I was child!
October 31, 2010
October 29, 2010
Earlier this month we traveled to Portland to attend a family wedding on a mountainside in Maine. When we arrived it was raining. The mist shrouded the landscape as we drove inland. The buildings of the city quickly faded to make way for small towns, forests, and lakes. We arrived at our destination – a small ski lodge about an hour outside of the city. After settling in we spent the evening enjoying pizza and a lot of laughs with relatives.
The next morning was bright and crisp – a perfect day for a fall wedding. In the morning Jonathan and I climbed the grassy expanse of the ski slope at Shawnee Peak. From the top of the slope the view was definitely worth the effort required to hike up! A vast green expanse of trees spread for miles accented with dark blue lakes and small patches of red or yellow autumn leaves. I was sad to see that so many of the leaves were still lush green and had not yet caught the autumn fire. Perhaps this year is a late fall in New England...
After a lovely wedding and a fun weekend with family we headed back to Portland. Before taking to the skies we visited the Old Port area of downtown. We had lunch, spent some time shopping, and then went to Mornings in Paris Old World Cafe. Like its name, this small café on exchange street was quaint and charming. We enjoyed lattes, hot chocolate, and chai teas with a rich chocolate truffle cake. The cake was served on a cute china plate with an image of Tour de Eiffel and was decadent. I liked the hot chocolate because it was not overly sweet. A great way to relax before flying back home!