April 21, 2010

Taken for Granted

Inspired by the travel frustrations he witnessed this past week, BBC writer Alain de Botton wrote a column titled A world without planes. In this short article he mused about a world in which airplanes were a thing of the past. In this world, everything moved at camel pace. A world in which traveling was a transformational experience.

After reading these words, I started thinking about the two different sides of this story. First, how we take so many modern conveniences – like air travel – for granted. And then, how the speed of our lives has changed the travel experience.

It is interesting how in today's world we assume we have the ability to move about the globe at any time. It is important to remember that air travel is a luxury – and one that many individuals around the world today will never be able to experience. Therefore it is good that natural disasters (such as this recent earthquake) or political events (such as the political protests that shutdown the Bangkok airport in 2008) occur to remind us we do not always need to be on the move.

The pace of modern travel has changed the travel experience. Yes, we are able to visit more destinations over our lifetimes and experience the many cultures and contrasts the world has to offer, but has something been lost along the way? Before air travel, the journey was a large part of the travel experience. Now, we can board an airplane at our home airport after dinner and be on another continent by morning. The experience of that journey for most is a less than comfortable night's sleep crammed into an economy seat and for others it is enough time to read a book from cover to cover. But, the oceans or land that pass below us – for the most part – goes unnoticed.

That said, I am thankful to have the luxury of air travel and the ability to visit to many different places around the globe. Perhaps I miss some of the sights and experiences of a slower journey, but there are two many destinations unexplored for me to opt for slower conveyance.

April 13, 2010

Farmers in the Capitol

Founding Farmers and its sister restaurant, Farmers & Fishers, are both certified green restaurants that focuses on serving food from sustainable sources in Washington DC. The former is located downtown near the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the other restaurant is located in Georgetown. In the past month or so I have had the opportunity to dine at both restaurants – visiting Founding Farmers for brunch and Farmers & Fishers for dinner.

I have had the occasion to enjoy brunch at Founding Farmers twice! The first time was on a beautiful spring afternoon. We had relatives visiting and after talking them on a walking tour of the National Mall we stopped at Founding Farmers for a late Sunday brunch. When we arrived the restaurant was quite crowded – always a good sign. I was instantly charmed the creative fluffy cloud and ceramic bird lamps hanging from the ceiling.

But, the food soon became a more important distraction. We ordered several starters to share – skillet corn bread, fried green tomatoes, and bacon lollypops. The corn bread was great! It had an ample amount of fresh corn kernels mixed into the dough and was served warm from the oven with whipped butter and honey. I also enjoyed the tomatoes and my dining companions were very fond of the bacon lollis. I also had eggs benedict, which was good, but I enjoyed the egg dish on my second visit better.

So, moving on to my next trip to Founding Farmers. On our way to view the cherry blossoms, Jonathan and I stopped here for brunch. Again there was a large crowd, but we were able to sit promptly in the bar area. (During brunch hours the menu and service at the bar is identical to the dining room and seating is first come, first serve. So, if you see a seat – grab it as we did.) On this visit I ordered a vegetable scramble and hot chocolate. Both were excellent and Jonathan enjoyed his ham and eggs.

Now, Farmers & Fishers. While Founding Farmers focuses on hearty farm-inspired cuisine, the food at this restaurant leans slightly more towards creative or new American cuisine. The d├ęcor in Farmers & Fishers is far from the whimsical clouds and birds of their downtown restaurant. Instead it is rather dull and ordinary. I can see the farm theme – but it is not inspired or interesting in any way. That said, the location – at the Georgetown Waterfront – makes up for this shortcoming. And the food and wine were very good. The menu at this Farmers & Fishers has a few more options than at the downtown restaurant. I selected a garden salad and a goat cheese, leek, and wild mushroom pizza. My salad was fresh and delightful and my pizza was very flavorful. Jonathan ordered calamari and the crackling pork shank and thoroughly enjoyed his food. Another thing of note here – the wine list is interesting and reasonably priced.

I enjoyed visiting Founding Farmers and Farmers & Fishers – and applaud their efforts to support family farms and serve food from sustainable sources to city diners.

April 6, 2010

Leisure and Amusement in Manhattan

During my recent visit to New York City I stayed on the Upper West Side. I spent some time walking around that neighborhood in the mornings as I headed out and then again in the evenings as I walked back to go to bed. It is a side of New York average tourists are less likely to see. It is not Park Avenue with its fancy shops and ornate apartment buildings. It is not the Village with its eclectic mix of culture, art, hipsters, and academia. It is not high pressure business stakes of Wall Street or constant hum of the cranes that have perched on Ground Zero since the cleanup and rebuilding began following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is where ordinary people live. There are city housing communities, apartment buildings, and condominiums. There are corner stores and coffee shops, pizza shops and pharmacies. And there are parks where people sit and read the paper.

But, I also visited other parts of the city on this trip. I walked along Broadway, read a book on the High Line, and had tea with friends at Chelsea Market. I went to Century 21 and shopped in SOHO. I walked and walked and enjoyed the sunshine. And I ate some fantastic food and bought fabulous things to bring home.

While I visited many different places during this visit, there are three cafes that I want to share with you. The first two are new discoveries – and the last one is a long time favorite of mine.

La Bergamote Patisserie
is a small bakery on 9th Avenue in Chelsea. Inside over a one third of the shop is filled with a long counter filled with wonderful French pastries and other delightful edibles. After reading about this bakery on Yelp, I decided a visit was essential. So, one morning I took the subway downtown to have breakfast La Beramote. I ordered some hot chocolate and a croissant and sat at a table along the wall of the cafe. The hot chocolate was very good – mild, creamy, and not too sweet – and my croissant was flaky and excellent! A very cute bakery.

Friday evening after shopping in SOHO my friend and I walked towards Greenwich Village in search of a place for dinner. With the beautiful weather the streets – and cafes – were packed with residents and tourists enjoying the beginning of spring. We ended up in Piadina, a small and cozy Italian ristorante on West 10th Street. Tucked behind a rustic and charming painted sign, the entrance to this restaurant leads you down slightly below street level to a simple brick-walled dining room. There is a very comforting ambiance to this place and the staff is very friendly and accommodating. The menus are presented on wooden clipboards. I ordered rigatoni with eggplant and ricotta cheese with wine. The food was perfect – uncomplicated and delicious!

The last place I want to share with you is back in SOHO. My first visit to MarieBelle – a chocolate shop and cafe on Broome Street – was several years ago, but I am still charmed by this adorable boutique every time I visit. The interior is reminiscent of a romantic Parisian cafe with mirrored walls, chandeliers, and a calming atmosphere. But, the real attraction here is the chocolate. The front half of the store is the chocolate shop where you can purchase fabulous chocolates, confectionaries, and teas. And the back room houses the cafe serving amazing delicacies and beverages (including dark, milk, white, and spicy hot chocolates). I always enjoy visiting MarieBelle whenever I am nearby.

So, I concluded my trip snacking on a bagel as I waited for Bolt Bus to bring me back to Washington. I had a lovely time visiting New York, but I was also happy to be back home with Jonathan!