Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Macarons, crêpes & more in Paris, France

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Macarons, Pierre Hermé

Arabesque (apricot and pistachio), passion fruit, and coffee macarons, Pierre Hermé

I vacationed in Europe for 10 days at the beginning of the month, and three of those days were spent in Paris at peak springtime bloom. Brilliantly colored flowers seemed to show up everywhere we looked, and I have to believe that made the food taste even better.

One of my Parisian goals was to sample some authentic French macarons, and Pierre Hermé was consistently recommended as the best. From the first bite, I knew these were unlike any I’d eaten previously. The delicate domed exterior gave way to a chewy interior, where rich fillings took on the purest form of passion fruit, coffee, and other flavors. These macarons were so good that we went back to Pierre Hermé twice more – once to a different location in Paris, and once to the London outpost (so that we could tote macaron boxes on our return flight that were only a day old).

Ham and cheese crêpe, Chalet du Grand Palais

Ham and cheese crêpe, Chalet du Grand Palais

Another Parisian mainstay is the crêpe, served street-side in a cone shape for maximum portability. This one was from a kiosk that we came across as we began our stroll down the Champs Elysées. The classic combination of ham and (lots of) cheese was definitely the right way to go – simple savory snack perfection.

For dinner, we took our Airbnb host’s recommendation for a typical French bistro and landed at Bonvivant. Their take on steak frites involved rare ribeye and compound herb butter flanked by salad and thick-cut fries. It was hearty, but still elegant enough to pair with a glass of dry rosé.

Steak frites, Bonvivant

Beef ribeye steak with meat jus, house-made fries, and herb butter (and a glass of rosé), Bonvivant

For breakfast, the croissants from aforementioned Pierre Hermé also somehow managed to outshine the rest of their pastry competition. Isaphan is the patisserie’s best-known flavor combination: rose, raspberry, and lychee, and the croissant version infused those flavors into the filling, glaze, and candied petals on top. It was so uniquely delicious that I was genuinely forlorn about taking the last bite.

Isaphan and chocolate-pistachio croissants, Pierre Hermé

Isaphan (rose, raspberry, and lychee) and chocolate-pistachio croissants, Pierre Hermé

Quiche lorraine, Maison Eric Kayser

Quiche lorraine, Maison Eric Kayser

Another morning, I tried a typical quiche lorraine from another bakery chain, Eric Kayser, and the texture was even creamier than I expected. There was also no shortage of bacon, which made it especially filling.

Coffee is a must in Paris as well, and we’d read about Le Peloton, an especially charming bike-themed café in the Marais neighborhood. The generously sized cortado was worthy of a break from exploration.

Cortado, Le Peloton Café

Cortado, Le Peloton Café

Because the spring weather was so pleasant, we picnicked at the Jardins du Luxembourg one afternoon with sandwiches from nearby bakery Gérard Mulot. My sandwich was simply dressed: lettuce, juicy tomato, sliced chicken, and tarragon mayonnaise, which all sunk into the pillowy seeded bread. The sandwich was perfectly balanced on its own, but rounding out my lunch with a pear and a small bottle of rosé certainly didn’t hurt. The macarons at Gérard Mulot had also been highly recommended, so we selected a colorful variety for dessert. My favorite of the bunch was the aromatic pineapple-ginger, whose vivid yellow color blended right into the flowers.

Chicken sandwich, Gérard Mulot

Chicken sandwich (with rosé and a pear), Gérard Mulot

Chocolate, grapefruit-rose, pineapple-ginger, and Amaryllis (raspberry buttercream and jam) macarons, Gérard Mulot

Amaryllis (raspberry buttercream and jam), pineapple-ginger, chocolate, and rose macarons, Gérard Mulot

On our last night in Paris, we timed our evening so that we could see the sparkling Eiffel Tower lights at nighttime. A lacey, piping hot crêpe stuffed with Nutella and bananas made the view that much more magical.

Nutella-banana crêpe, Le Kiosque des Fontaines

Nutella-banana crêpe, Le Kiosque des Fontaines

The details: Pierre Hermé at Publicis Drugstore, 133 Avenue des Champs Elysées, and at 72 Rue Bonaparte; Chalet du Grand Palais, 9 Avenue des Champs Elysées; Bonvivant, 7 Rue des Écoles; Maison Eric Kayser, 13 Boulevard Diderot; Le Peloton Café, 17 Rue du Pont Louis Philippe; Gérard Mulot, 76 Rue de Seine; Le Kiosque des Fontaines, Place de Varsovie; all Paris, France.

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Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Island flavors from a week in San Pedro, Belize

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Belize mural and frozen coconut mojito, The Truck Stop

Frozen coconut mojito in front of Belize mural at The Truck Stop

When your dad moves to an island permanently, you go visit.

That was what brought me to the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island. Because it was my first trip there, I tried to sample as much local cuisine and tropical beverages as I could in one week.

Sangria and snacks, Marbucks Coffee

Sangria and snacks at Thursday night Wine Down, Marbucks Coffee House

Thursdays are a particularly good evening for dining in San Pedro: Marbucks Coffee House hosts its Wine Down event, with live music, snacks, and wine or sangria (we opted for the latter), and Casa Picasso offers its chef’s tasting menu. I loved the atmosphere at both venues, and especially loved Casa Picasso’s citrusy tuna main course with avocado and sauteed local greens. We also added the Korean barbecue tostones with steak and housemade kimchi as an extra appetizer, and they were a hit.

Korean barbecue tostones, Casa Picasso

Korean barbecue tostones with skirt steak and kimchi, Casa Picasso

Greek gyro spring rolls, Casa Picasso

Greek gyro spring rolls with Mediterranean-marinated pork tenderloin and yogurt tzatziki sauce, Casa Picasso tasting menu

Chilled tomato and honeydew melon gazpacho with poached shrimp, Casa Picasso tasting menu

Chilled tomato and honeydew melon gazpacho with poached shrimp, Casa Picasso tasting menu

Citrus tuna, Casa Picasso

Citrus-marinated local tuna with sauteed callaloo, avocado, and citrus-parsley drizzle, Casa Picasso tasting menu

Ice cream sandwich, Casa Picasso

Ice cream sandwich of devil’s food cake cookie, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream, Casa Picasso tasting menu

My main focus at most restaurants was the seafood – San Pedro was originally founded as a fishing village, after all – and I came away impressed by the variety and freshness. At Tiki Maya, from the second story of a palapa over the ocean, I enjoyed lime-laced shrimp ceviche and a quesadilla packed with lobster and peppers.

Shrimp ceviche with chips, Tiki Maya

Shrimp ceviche with chips, Tiki Maya

Lobster quesadilla, Tiki Maya

Lobster quesadilla, Tiki Maya

After I arrived on the island via water taxi, my first meal was at Melt, known for their namesake sandwiches. My madras curry chicken version was hearty and melted to the perfect consistency. Another evening, we came upon Robin’s Kitchen, a small, one-person establishment like many of San Pedro’s eateries. Robin is known for jerk chicken, but my snapper was also expertly seasoned and grilled.

Madras curry chicken melt sandwich, Melt Cafe and Beach Bar

Madras curry chicken melt sandwich, Melt Cafe and Beach Bar

Snapper with rice and beans, Robin's Kitchen

Grilled red snapper with rice and beans, Robin’s Kitchen

At Waraguna, the specialty was Salvadorean pupusas, a griddled corn cake with fillings. I went for the mixed seafood version, which was stuffed with fish, shrimp, and lobster along with the melted cheese. I thought that was a generous portion of seafood until a lobster burrito hit our table. The tortilla was packed with lobster, with more lobster chunks around the outside and a full tail on top. Both were delicious.

Seafood pupusa, Waruguma

Seafood pupusa with shrimp, fish, and lobster, Waruguma

Lobster burrito, Waruguma

Lobster burrito, Waruguma

Belikin stout beer

Belikin stout, the beer of Belize, at Waruguma

Waruguma was also where I tried my first Belizean beer. Belikin is ubiquitous in all of Belize, and the stout variety isn’t so much a stout, but just a lager with higher alcohol. I can’t say I’d seek it out elsewhere, but it put me in the island spirit.

Other island staple was Elvi’s Kitchen, in operation for 40-plus years. I had to order more lobster, this time in a savory black bean sauce with bits of plantain and coconut rice, and also sampled conch in the form of hefty fritters dipped in spicy tartar sauce. My cocktail at Elvi’s, the Crazy Monkey, combined coconut and peanut in an unexpected but highly successful way.

Conch fritters and Crazy Monkey cocktail, Elvi's Kitchen

Conch fritters with habanero tartar sauce and Crazy Monkey cocktail with peanut, coconut cream, and rum, Elvi’s Kitchen

Lobster in black bean sauce, Elvi's Kitchen

Lobster in black bean sauce, coconut rice, and plantains, Elvi’s Kitchen

Blue Water Grill is another well-known restaurant in San Pedro. Two nights are sushi nights, and we took full advantage. All three rolls we tried were fresh and delicious, but the smoked mayo atop the tempura lobster roll really set that one apart. The calamari with togarashi spices and citrus-avocado coulis made a nice starter as well.

Spiced calamari, Blue Water Grill

Togarashi-spiced calamari with citrus-avocado coulis, pickled ginger, and cilantro, Blue Water Grill

Sushi rolls, Blue Water Grill

Jackpot roll (tempura lobster, avocado, cucumber, green onion, house-smoked mayo, eel sauce, sesame seeds), Yen Yen roll (spicy tuna, mango, cilantro, yellowtail, avocado, and jalapeno), and Spider roll (soft-shell crab, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado, sweet soy, and sesame), Blue Water Grill

Frozen dark & stormy cocktail, Blue Water Grill

Frozen dark & stormy cocktail, Blue Water Grill

Blue Water Grill also made an excellent frozen dark and stormy, one of my very favorite cocktails. Of course, tropical drinks were plentiful nearly everywhere we went. A mango mojito from the Aurora’s Grill truck served as a reward for finding Secret Beach after a long and bumpy golf cart ride. Rum punch was on every menu, but it had particular pizazz at Carlo & Ernie’s Runway Bar, where you can watch the Tropic Air planes come in as you sip your drink at the bar.

Mango mojito, Aurora's Grill at Secret Beach

Mango mojito, Aurora’s Grill at Secret Beach

Rum punch, Carlo & Ernie's Runway Bar

Rum punch, Carlo & Ernie’s Runway Bar

Banana-kiwi-lime smoothie, Izzy's Smoothies, Snacks & Juice Bar

Banana-kiwi-lime smoothie, Izzy’s Smoothies, Snacks & Juice Bar

We passed the Izzy’s Smoothies stand many times while in town, and of the smoothies I tried, this banana-kiwi-lime combination was the most flavorful and refreshing in the island heat.

I also appreciated tasting a few traditional Belizean breakfasts. They were usually anchored by scrambled eggs, either with tomatoes and peppers or more exotic mix-ins (I loved the shrimp and chorizo version at Estel’s), plus refried black beans. The local twist was the fry jacks, pockets of barely sweet fried dough served with butter and jam.

Shrimp and chorizo special eggs, Estel's Dine By the Sea

Shrimp and chorizo special eggs with fry jacks and beans, Estel’s Dine By the Sea

Belizean breakfast, Portofino Restaurant

Belizean breakfast with scrambled eggs, sausage, refried beans, and fry jacks, Portofino Restaurant

Sesame bagel and iced coconut latte, Brooklyn Brothers Bagel Company

Sesame bagel, half with sun-dried tomato-basil-olive cream cheese and half with guava-nutmeg cream cheese, and iced coconut latte, Brooklyn Brothers Bagel Company

On the other end of the breakfast spectrum, I visited Brooklyn Brothers, the only bagel shop in the country of Belize. While the bagels are fairly traditional New York-style, the cream cheeses have an island twist. I fell in love with the guava-nutmeg spread on my sesame bagel. The shop was conveniently located next to the island’s main coffee roaster, Caye Coffee.

Seafood risotto, O Restaurant

Seafood risotto, O Restaurant

Chocolate sea urchin, O Restaurant

Chocolate sea urchin dessert of Bailey’s-infused chocolate truffle wrapped with
shredded phyllo dough, O Restaurant

Another night, we dined at the restaurant closest to home at Las Terrazas Resort, O Restaurant. While I really enjoyed the seafood risotto, with saffron and lots of parmesan, I was even more wowed by the elaborate chocolate dessert that resembled a spiny sea urchin. Other impressive desserts included the lime cake at Wild Mango’s, a chilled icebox-style cake with layers of cookies, lime filling, guava sauce, and a little tequila.

Mexican Margarita Caye Lime cold cake, Wild Mango's

Mexican Margarita Caye Lime cold cake with lime filling, Maria biscuit layers, tequila, and guava sauce, Wild Mango’s

My favorite food and drink destination on the island, though, was The Truck Stop, an enclave of eclectic food stands made from shipping containers, plus a bar and lots of space for activities. Its During our Sunday visit, we participated in a corn hole tournament; on Wednesday, we watched a movie projected onto a screen over the water and enjoyed piña colada ice cream from the Cool Cone stand. The frozen coconut mojito, pictured at the top of the post in front of The Truck Stop’s beautiful mural, was another standout.

Pina colada and Oreo ice cream, The Truck Stop

Pina colada and Oreo ice creams, Cool Cone at The Truck Stop

Other noteworthy treats came from The Baker, where I savored a coconut tart, and the Belize Chocolate Company, where we tried four caramels: sea salt, ginger, chile, and, my favorite, banana. There will be plenty more to try on my next visit!

Coconut tart, The Baker

Coconut tart, The Baker

Sea salt, ginger, banana, and chile caramels, Belize Chocolate Company

Sea salt, ginger, banana, and chile caramels, Belize Chocolate Company

The details: The Truck Stop bar and Cool Cone, 1 mile North of the Bridge; Marbucks Coffee, Tropicana Drive; Casa Picasso, past Belikin distributor; Blue Water Grill, Barrier Reef Drive; Wild Mango’s, Barrier Reef Drive; O Restaurant at Las Terrazas, 3.5 miles North of the Bridge; Elvi’s Kitchen, Pescador Drive; Waruguma, Angel Coral Street; Robin’s Kitchen, Sea Grape Drive; Tiki Maya (old Palapa bar), 1.5 miles North of the Bridge; Melt Cafe and Beach Bar, Boca Del Rio Drive; Aurora’s Grill, Secret Beach; Carlo & Ernie’s Runway Bar, Coconut Drive; Portofino Restaurant, 6 miles North of the Bridge; Estel’s Dine By the Sea, Buccaneer Street; Izzy’s Smoothies, Snacks, & Juice Bar, corner of Pescador Drive and Caribeña Street; The Baker, Sea Grape Drive; Brooklyn Brothers Bagel Shop, next to Caye Coffee; Belize Chocolate Company, Barrier Reef Drive; all San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

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Dublin Dining, Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Euro-whirlwind in Dublin, Edinburgh & London

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

This year, I celebrated my birthday by heading back across the pond for six days. I started by reuniting with Dublin – both the people and the city – and also fit in quick stops in Edinburgh (for the first time) and London.

While in Dublin, I revisited some favorite spots from my time there: Avoca, the subject of a previous post about an equally colorful dish; Sister Sadie, where I was wowed by dinner, and Hatch & Sons, a cozy café that taught me about the blaa.

Halloumi salad, Avoca

Grilled Toonsbridge halloumi salad, butternut squash, cavolo nero, baba ghanoush & dukkah, Avoca

Cortado and scone, Hatch and Sons

Cortado and scone with butter and raspberry jam, Hatch & Sons

Beans and toast, Sister Sadie

Home-baked beans in tomato sauce with a soft fried egg, whipped feta, olive & lemon yogurt, fresh herbs, and toasted bread

I also tried a few new places: Catch 22 for smoked salmon, Whitefriar Grill for their renowned brunch, and the Tram Cafe for a mocha served out of a restored turn-of-the-century train car.

Smoked salmon with mushy peas, Catch 22

Castletownbere smoked salmon with Guinness bread and mushy peas, Catch 22

Exterior, Tram Cafe

Exterior, The Tram Café

Mocha, Tram Cafe

Mocha, The Tram Café

Interior, Tram Cafe

Interior, The Tram Café

Norwegian eggs, Whitefriar Grill

Norwegian eggs with potato rosti, smoked salmon, baby spinach, and hollandaise, Whitefriar Grill

Next, it was off to Edinburgh for the main dining event: a seven-course tasting at The Gardener’s Cottage that was seasonal, creative, and completely charming. I also tried haggis (not as crazy as people make it sound) and enjoyed a traditional Scottish breakfast.

The Gardener's Cottage, tiny and tucked away

Walking up to The Gardener’s Cottage, tiny and tucked away

Amuse bouche, The Gardener's Cottage

Mussels with herb crumb and broad bean with mint, The Gardener’s Cottage

Trout, The Gardener's Cottage

Trout with cauliflower and sheep sorrel, The Gardener’s Cottage

Tortelloni, The Gardener's Cottage

Beef shin tortellini with butternut squash puree and chantarelles, The Gardener’s Cottage

Grouse, The Gardener's Cottage

Grouse with spelt, charred onions, parsley, capers, and walnuts, The Gardener’s Cottage

Sorbet and rosé, The Gardener's Cottage

Roman berry sorbet with mascarpone granola and meringue, with a glass of rosé, The Gardener’s Cottage

Chocolate dessert, The Gardener's Cottage

Dessert of blueberry, chocolate ice cream, soft biscuit, and popcorn, The Gardener’s Cottage

Veggie breakfast, Loudon's Cafe and Bakery

Loudons veggie breakfast with veggie sausages, sautéed spinach, egg, tattie scone, baked beans, mushroom, cherry tomatoes, and toasted homemade bread, Loudons Cafe & Bakery

Haggis tower, No. 1 High Street

Haggis, neeps and tatties tower (haggis with carrot and turnip), No. 1 High Street

Then, with tea and salted caramel fudge to tide me over for the journey, I took the train from Edinburgh to London to meet friends. We came upon a BBQ spot in Camden that night for dinner, and the next day spent multiple hours in the culinary mecca that is the Borough Market (recommended to me by many).

Braised ox cheek sandwich, Q Grill

Braised ox cheek on a brioche bun with chilli slaw, mustard mayo, and seasoned fries, Q Grill

Key lime pie jar, Q Grill

Key lime pie jar, Q Grill

Grilled cheese (with 4+ different cheeses), Borough Market

Grilled cheese (with 4+ different cheeses), Borough Market

Exotic meats, Borough Market

Exotic bites trio of crocodile, ostrich, and zebra, Borough Market

Fresh figs, Borough Market

Fresh (and massive) figs, Borough Market

Meringues, Borough Market

Giant meringue topped with macarons, Borough Market

The details: Avoca, 11–13 Suffolk St., Dublin 2, Ireland; Sister Sadie, 46 Harrington St., Dublin 8, Ireland; Hatch & Sons, Little Museum of Dublin, 15 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland; Catch 22, 28 South Anne Street, Dublin 2, Ireland; The Tram Cafe, Wolfe Tone Quay, Milltown Park, Dublin 1, Ireland; Whitefriar Grill, 16 Aungier Street, Dublin 2, Ireland; The Gardener’s Cottage, 294 Colinton Rd, Edinburgh, Scotland; Loudons Cafe & Bakery, 94b Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, Scotland; No. 1 High Street, 1 High St., Edinburgh, Scotland; Q Grill, 29-33 Chalk Farm Rd., London, England; Borough Market, 8 Southwark St., London, England.

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Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Brisket, Tex-Mex & more in Austin & San Antonio

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Brisket plate, Brown's Bar-B-Que

Brisket plate with mac & cheese and corn-on-the-cob, Brown’s Bar-B-Que truck

I recently spent the weekend in Texas with five girlfriends, splitting the trip between San Antonio and Austin. Because our time was so limited, we had to prioritize, and barbecue was at the top of the list. We landed on Brown’s Bar-B-Que, one of Austin’s many food trucks; without hesitation, I ordered sliced brisket. After the first bite or two, I was practically moaning over how good this brisket was – crackly crust on the outside, unfathomably tender on the inside, and just the right ratio of smoke to meat to fat. It didn’t need the sauce, but I drizzled a bit onto the open-faced sandwich I made with the white bread, and was happy I did. The mac-n-cheese and corn on the cob were no joke, either. Eating that caliber of meal in what was really just a bar parking lot felt quintessentially Austin.

Chalupa Cabra, Beto's

Chalupa Cabra, curry-stewed cabrito served over guava & cream cheese empanada roll, topped with cilantro lime cole slaw, cotija, and toasted coconut, at Beto’s

Tacos was also a dining priority, and that was where we focused our efforts upon arrival in San Antonio. Beto’s Alt-Mex came highly recommended by our Airbnb host, and this towering Chalupa Cabra was listed on the menu as “Guy’s Favorite” (Fieri, of course). It was an eclectic mini-feast of curried meat, toasted coconut, and lime cole slaw, all on top of a sweet guava-cream cheese pastry. On the other side of the spectrum, the best classic tacos we ate all trip were actually at the airport location of Rosario’s (one of several in San Antonio). They were lightly grilled with generous amounts of beans, chicken, and sliced avocado, plus a smoky salsa on the side that tied it all together.

Tacos nortenos, Rosario's

Tacos Norteños with flour tortillas, refried beans, Monterey Jack cheese, sliced avocado, and chicken, served with frijoles a la charra, Rosario’s

It isn’t vacation without brunch, and ours came in Texas-sized proportions in both cities. In San Antonio, it wasn’t enough for Cappy’s to top thick-cut, cornflake-crusted French toast with deliciously juicy Hill Country peaches, whipped cream, and powdered sugar. No, there were also scrambled eggs and bacon on the side for good measure. It was probably the best French toast I’ve had in recent memory.

Hill Country peach French toast, Cappy's

Hill Country peach French toast with scrambled eggs and bacon, Cappy’s

At Perla’s in Austin, seafood was the star in my breakfast bouillabaisse. The unabashedly spicy broth was stuffed with a staggering amount of clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and whitefish. A crispy poached egg made it “breakfast,” and I’m now convinced all bouillabaisse should come that way.

Breakfast bouillabaisse, Perla's

Breakfast bouillabaisse with crispy poached egg, saffron rouille, and grilled french bread, Perla’s

Centro-Americano, Houndstooth

Centro-Americano with espresso, rice milk, cinnamon & honey, red plum preserves, and a burnt lemon garnish, Houndstooth Coffee

Austin seems to take coffee as seriously as Portland or Seattle, and I drank a couple of especially creative versions. At Houndstooth, an Austin mini-chain, the twist on an iced Americano involved red plum preserves, cinnamon, honey, rice milk, and burnt lemon – a fascinatingly successful combination. My order at Cenote in East Austin was a little more traditional (iced chai with espresso) but the chai itself was creamier and more heavily spiced than most. I was also a little obsessed with the glittery marble table amidst the other mismatched furniture inside the shop.

Iced house-made chai with espresso, Cenote

Iced house-made chai with espresso, Cenote

The details: Brown’s Bar-B-Que, 1901 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin; Beto’s, 8142 Broadway, San Antonio; Perla’s, 1400 S. Congress Ave., Austin; Cappy’s, 5011 Broadway, San Antonio; Houndstooth Coffee, 401 Congress Ave., Austin; Cenote, 1010 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin; Rosario’s, San Antonio Airport (and other locations), San Antonio (all Texas).

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Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Three days in Berlin

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Goat cheese pizza, LuLa am Markt

Goat cheese pizza with red grapes and balsamic-honey sauce and ginger lemonade at LuLa am Markt

You might be expecting my post about Berlin to be all schnitzel and bratwurst, but it was actually a rather culinarily diverse trip. Things started off strong with a wood-fired pizza at LuLa in Friedenau (no relation to the beloved Lula Café in Chicago, but the vibe was in fact quite similar). The somewhat eclectic combination of goat cheese, red grapes, balsamic vinegar, and honey turned out to be a total hit, especially paired with mint-garnished ginger lemonade.

On the other side of the global spectrum, we dined at an Egyptian restaurant one evening, settling into plush floor-level couches and diving into colorful shared plates. My favorite dish was this tagine, a clay pot brimming with warm-spiced tomato sauce, potatoes, meatballs, and a soft-boiled egg.

Tagine "Marrakech", Baraka

Tagine “Marrakech” with meatballs, egg, and tomato sauce at Baraka

Macarons, Du Bonheur

Caramel, pistachio, and plum macarons at Du Bonheur

Berlin also had a few sweet surprises in store, most notably the best macarons I’ve had in years. The beautiful plum, pistachio, and caramel varieties all packed enormous flavor and really left me thinking I was in France instead of Germany. I also found Berlin’s coffee to be excellent across the board, all the way down to this cappuccino at a darling café right next to one of the S-Bahn stops.

Cappuccino at S-Café, next door to the S-Bahn train station

Cappuccino at S-Café, next door to the S-Bahn train station

Currywurst, Arkonaplatz

Currywurst from a stall at the Arkonaplatz flea market

Of course, I had to try a little bit of traditional fare, and currywurst seemed like the right place to start (the memory of one at Dublin’s Oktoberfest was still fresh in my mind). This sliced sausage doused with smoky ketchup and curry powder served as a nice hearty snack while I strolled around the Arkonaplatz flea market.

And there was beer, too; don’t worry. I was excited to go local at what seemed to be Berlin’s premier craft brewery, Eschenbräu. I sampled both the Dunkler Bock and the Pils (dark and light, respectively), and found them to be more complex and nuanced than I expected. I hope the craft beer scene continues to grow in that city!

Dunkler Bock, Eschenbräu

Dunkler Bock and Pils beers, both brewed at Eschenbräu

It was fun to try a traditional brunch buffet as well. Schwarze Pumpe’s version included a smattering of meats, cheeses, eggs, breads, and spreads, plus the ever-present yogurt, fruit, and muesli cereal. Small tastes of many things is exactly how I like to eat anyway, so it worked out well.

Brunch buffet, Schwarze Pumpe

Brunch buffet with bread, cheeses, eggs, muesli, yogurt & more at Schwarze Pumpe

The details: LuLa am Markt, Lauterstr. 14; Schwartze Pumpe, Choriner Str. 76; Trödelmarkt Arkonaplatz, Arkonaplatz; Du Bonheur, Brunnenstraße 39 ; Baraka, Lausitzer Platz 6; Hausbrauerei Eschenbräu, Triftstraße 67; S-Café, Bahnhofstraße 4c; all Berlin, Germany.

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Travel Eats

Travel Eats: A weekend in Galway

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Smoked salmon salad with baked beans at Ard Bia

Burren smoked salmon salad with organic quinoa, soft boiled market egg, and pistachio and sumac dressing, plus side of Turkish baked beans, at Ard Bia

I recently took the train to Galway for the weekend, excited to see what Ireland’s western coast was like. The standout meal for me was a late brunch at Ard Bia, housed in a cozy stone building just past the Spanish Arch. The salad combined loads of local smoked salmon, hearty quinoa, a soft-boiled egg (which kept it in the brunch zone), seeds, greens, and a nutty dressing into what was by far the best salad I’ve eaten this year. The locally sourced ingredients, eclectic flavor combinations, and laidback-yet-stylish vibe reminded me a lot of Lula Café in Chicago, which made me feel even more at home.

I kept with the same theme during dinner at Kirwan’s, a tucked-away seafood bar that had come highly recommended. The cold seafood platter packed major variety: smoked mackerel, head-on prawns, shrimp in Marie Rose sauce, and a salty oyster, all atop a thick blanket of smoked salmon. It was straightforward enough that I could truly appreciate the freshness and character of each component.

Cold seafood platter, Kirwan's

Seafood platter with smoked salmon, fresh prawn, smoked mackerel, rock oyster, and brandy-scented Marie Rose sauce at Kirwan’s

Cheese plate, Sheridans Cheesemongers

Plate of five cheeses, olives, crackers, and quince at Sheridans Cheesemongers

I was able to enjoy a sampler plate of five fine cheeses at Sheridans Cheesemongers, whose products I’d seen throughout Ireland. I also got into the holiday spirit at two locations of the Galway Christmas Market, one near the Spanish Arch and the other on Eyre Square. At one decked-out tent, I sipped my first mulled wine of the season; at the other, I went for a warm blend of Jägermeister, mulling spices, honey, and lemon. And of course, I tucked into a pint of Guinness, the only appropriate beverage for listening to some Irish trad music at Latin Quarter pub Tig Coili.

Mulled wine in a festive tent at the Galway Christmas Market

Mulled wine in a festive tent at the Galway Christmas Market

Guinness at Tig Coili

Pint of Guinness while listening to live trad music at Tig Coili

Because I was staying in Salthill, a coastal area just outside Galway City, I kept to that area for breakfast. One morning, that meant walking down the Salthill Promenade for the Fisherman’s mini version of an Irish fry-up breakfast, which included especially good black pudding and sunny views of Galway Bay. Another morning, I grabbed takeaway pastries from Gourmet Tart Co, who especially excelled at chocolate croissants and fruit-almond tarts.

Mini fry breakfast, The Fisherman

Mini fry (full Irish breakfast) in the sunshine at Fisherman along the Salthill Promenade

Pastries at Gourmet Tart Co.

Chocolate croissants and other assorted pastries at Gourmet Tart Co. in Salthill

The details: Gourmet Tart Co., Salthill Upper; Galway Christmas Market, Spanish Arch; Ard Bia at Nimmos, Spanish Arch, Long Walk; Tig Cóilí, Mainguard Street; Sheridans Cheesemongers, Church Yard Street; The Seafood Bar @ Kirwan’s, Kirwan’s Lane; Fisherman, Salthill; all Galway, Ireland.

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Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Exploring Florence, Tuscany & Venice

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Crostini with mozzarella, tomato, and olive tapenade, Il Santini

Crostini with mozzarella, tomato, and olive tapenade at Il Santini

After a weekend in Rome, it was off to Florence for a few days. My Airbnb host graciously offered a few restaurant recommendations, and I took her up on most of them. At the top of her list was Il Santo Bevitore, not too far from the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrano (“Artisan Quarter,” an area that was more local than touristy). I first popped into the cozy wine bar next door, not immediately realizing that it was actually Il Santo’s sister restaurant, Il Santini. I lingered over a glass of wine and a couple of snacks, including a lovely crostini with fresh tomatoes, pulled mozzarella, salty olive tapenade, and chiffonade of basil.

I took a long walk around the area before returning to the same corner for dinner at buzzing Il Santo’s bar. During the meal, I was able to sample all the flavors of autumn in Italy: a rustic pumpkin soup with coffee oil followed by chestnut tagliatelle with oxtail ragu. I enjoyed the creativity of both dishes, but it was the simple dessert of strawberries and mascarpone cream that stuck with me the most.

Chestnut tagliatelle, Il Santo Bevitore

Chestnut tagliatelle with oxtail and traditional dolceforte sauce at Il Santo Bevitore

Strawberries with mascarpone cream for dessert, Il Santo Bevitore

Strawberries with mascarpone cream for dessert at Il Santo Bevitore

My host had also recommended Perseus, calling it “the king of Florentine steak.” While I couldn’t order the famously enormous steak, suitable for 2–4 people, I did try a smaller portion of sliced steak with a sweet balsamic vinegar reduction, and it was still very good. Perseus was also where I sated an avocado craving that had been slowly building during the trip. The avocado and shrimp worked well together as a salad, even though it didn’t feel especially Italian.

Avocado with shrimp, Perseus

Avocado and shrimp appetizer at Perseus

And of course there was gelato. Venchi is a well-known brand in Florence, and its dark chocolate gelato was certainly the most intense, rich variety I had all trip. This time, I was glad I stuck with a classic. However, I leaned a little more adventurous at Carapina, where I rewarded myself for climbing to the top of the Duomo at Santa Maria Del Fiore. The concord grape and strawberry had an unexpected seedy crunch, and the persimmon also had a thicker texture to match its unique flavor. My favorite was the creamy mint, a flavor I wish I’d noticed at more gelaterias.

Dark chocolate and dulce de leche gelato, Venchi

Dark chocolate and dulce de leche gelato at Venchi

Gelato, Carapina

Persimmon, mint, and concord-grape strawberry gelato at Carapina

Another main food and drink destination was the Mercato Centrale, a longstanding two-floor market. On the lower floor were the traditional vendors, slinging everything from pecorino to tripe to crunchy biscotti, the latter sold in an especially fantastic pistachio white chocolate variety. One afternoon, I bought a panino from the market and brought it back to my Airbnb to enjoy in the adorable backyard garden. The panino was named the Caprese VIP, because it contained truffle sauce in addition to the normal caprese ingredients. The pungent sauce really did transform the sandwich (and made me glad to be in Italy during truffle season).

An array of biscotti from Cantucci at Mercato Centrale

An array of biscotti from Cantucci at Mercato Centrale

Caprese VIP panino, Mercato Centrale

Caprese VIP panino with mozzarella, tomato, and truffle sauce from Clara at Mercato Centrale, enjoyed in the garden at my AirBnb

On the upper floor of the Mercato Centrale was a newly renovated gourmet food hall with at least a dozen chef-branded stations – plus an Eataly pop-up shop and a cooking demonstration area. After surveying my options, I decided on the pizzeria, where I could see bubbling pies cooked to order in a stone oven. The pizza Napoli had punchy anchovies and capers in addition to the cheese and sauce, and the dough had just enough salt and char, so I can officially say it was the best pizza I had in Italy. I was intrigued by the contrast between the Mercato Centrale’s two floors, though, and wonder how the vendors downstairs perceive and interact with this new area that’s clearly designed to appeal to foodies from all over the world. Isn’t Italy food-focused by default? The whole setup of the upper floor is beautifully executed, but wouldn’t the original vendors be a more authentic culinary experience? A bit of a digression, but worth thinking about.

Pizza Napoli from Pizzeria Sud on the upper floor of Mercato Centrale

Beer and pizza Napoli with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, capers, dried oregano, and Spanish anchovies from Pizzeria Sud on the upper floor of Mercato Centrale

I wanted to see Tuscany, too, so I took a half-day tour to Siena that included tastings at two wineries. The first, Lornano, is known for its chianti classico, and I discovered that I happen to really like chianti classico. It was a privilege to tour the property and learn about the winemaking process in such a famous region. After a couple of touristy hours in the city of Siena, our final stop was Tenuta Torciano, which was both a winery and a wine school. We were educated on the proper way to hold the glass (by the base), smell, and taste as we tried more wines and paired them with a full dinner. Our host and sommelier poured white truffle extra virgin olive oil (again, it was truffle season) onto each slice of lasagna, a move that seemed lavish and excessive at first, but actually turned out to be perfect usage of that oil. At dessert, I learned about the tradition of dipping biscotti into vin sante (sweet wine) – a brilliant and authentically Italian combination.

Chianti classico tasting at Fattoria Lornano

Chianti classico tasting at Fattoria Lornano

Lasagna with truffle-infused extra virgin olive oil at Tenuta Torciano

Lasagna drizzled with truffle-infused extra virgin olive oil during wine tasting dinner at Tenuta Torciano

My last stop was Venice, where I had less than a full day to explore (and I’ll admit that I was mostly gawking at how the streets really were made of water). Caffe Florian claims to be the longest continuously operating coffee shop in the world at 290 years old, so it seemed worth a visit. While I don’t think that distinction merits the exorbitant prices they charged, I still loved sitting along the edge of bustling Piazza San Marco and listening to live classical music. The coffee I chose was a blend of espresso, chocolate, cream, and a few kinds of liqueur that lent pleasant licorice-y notes to the drink. The colorful trio of seafood toasts were a nice savory complement, especially the tuna. Next time, I’ll have to explore Venice a little longer!

Coffee and trio of toasts, Caffe Florian

Trio of Venetian toasts (tuna, salmon, and salt cod) and Caffé Anniversario Florian (to celebrate 290 years), with espresso, Aurum liqueur, Anisette Varnelli, chocolate, and cream

The details: Il Santo Bevitore and Il Santino, Via di Santo Spirito, 64/66 and 60, Florence; Venchi, Via dei Calzaiuoli, 65, Florence; Carapina, Via Lambertesca, 18, Florence; Clara, Cantucci, and Pizzeria Sud, all in Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento, Florence; Fattoria Lornano, Loc. Lornano, 11, Monteriggioni, Siena; Tenuta Torciano, Via Crocetta, 18, Ulignano, Siena; Perseus, Viale Don Minzoni, 10, Florence; Caffe Florian, Piazza San Marco, 57, Venice.

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Travel Eats

Travel Eats: A weekend in Rome

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Eggplant parmesan, Sofia

Eggplant parmesan, Sofia

Rome was the first stop on my recent vacation to Italy. I could hardly believe I was finally tasting Italian cuisine straight from the source! My most memorable Roman meal was at Sofia, a cozy café near the Trevi Fountain. Friends had recommended it as serving the very best eggplant parmesan, and they were absolutely right. I’m not sure whether it was the texture of the eggplant, or the gooey layers of mozzarella, or the bright tomato sauce, but if I could only pick one dish from Rome to eat again, that would be it. I was also wowed by my pasta dish: strozzapreti noodles cooked to perfect al dente, with umami-rich parmesan and pecorino cheeses underneath crispy slivers of bacon. This was another sauce that I could have eaten all by itself.

Strozzapreti with tomatoes, parmesan, pecorino, and bacon, Sofia

Strozzapreti with tomatoes, parmesan, pecorino, and bacon, Sofia

At this point, I might as well skip straight to the gelato, which certainly lived up to its lofty reputation. Giolitti is probably Rome’s most famous gelateria; it’s been in business for more than 100 years, and the lines are usually out the door. There, I went with a couple classic flavors (chocolate and pistachio), plus one that intrigued me (risa, or rice pudding), and also opted for the customary mound of panna (whipped cream) on top. The gelato was dense and incredibly smooth; you could definitely taste the rice and cinnamon in the risa variety. The whipped cream wasn’t overly sweet, so it mostly added a cloud of extra creaminess. My other favorite Roman gelato was from Gelateria del Teatro. It was an adorable shop, tucked along a bustling square, and it also boasted the most creative flavors of the trip. I went for fig-cheese-walnut, raspberry-sage, and pear-caramel, all three of which were delightful and unique.

Gelato con panna, Giolitti

Chocolate, pistachio, and risa (rice pudding) gelato plus panna (cream) from Giolitti

Gelato, Gelateria Del Teatro

Gelato in pear-caramel, raspberry-sage, and fig-cheese-walnut from Gelateria Del Teatro

Another standout meal was at a traditional trattoria in the Trastevere neighborhood, La Tavernaccia, which I’d read about for its lasagna in particular. The lasagna was cooked in a wood-fired oven, so the cheese was toasted and bubbly all around the edges, yet extra melty in the middle. This was also where I got to have ultra-fresh appetizers of tomato bruschetta and buffalo mozzarella, the kind of simple Italian flavors that really needed no further accompaniment.

Wood-fired lasagna, La Tavernaccia

Wood-fired lasagna, La Tavernaccia

Tomato bruschetta and mozzarella di bufala, La Tavernaccia

Tomato bruschetta and mozzarella di bufala, La Tavernaccia

There were a few beverage highlights, too. At the top of Castle Sant’Angelo was an outdoor café with great views of the city, and I wanted to try some traditional amaro liqueur along with my espresso. The server recommended Averna, and it turned out to be a light, licorice-y pairing. For wine, I appreciated the custom of plentiful house wine at nearly every restaurant. Ordering a half-liter or liter carafe of an Italian red that was both tasty and reasonably priced made the wine decision much easier.

Espresso and Averna, cafe at Castle San Angelo

Pairing of espresso and Averna amaro liqueur, La Fraschetta di Castel Sant’Angelo

Mushroom pizza and house wine, Bella Napoli

Mushroom pizza and house wine, Bella Napoli

I also had to experience a little Italian coffee culture: standing at the counter to order your cappuccino or Americano, and then staying there to drink it immediately. On my last morning in Rome, I walked just down the street from where I was staying and enjoyed a quick cappuccino and sugar-studded apricot pastry before it was time to catch the train.

Cappuccino and apricot pastry, La Pasticceria Siciliana

Cappuccino and apricot pastry, La Pasticceria Siciliana

The details: Sofia, Via di Capo le Case, 51; Giolitti, Via Uffici del Vicario, 40; Gelateria Del Teatro, Via dei Coronari, 65; La Tavernaccia, Via Giovanni di Castel Bolognese, 63; La Pasticceria Siciliana, Via Cipro, 79; La Fraschetta di Castel Sant’Angelo, Via del Banco di Santo Spirito, 20; Bella Napoli, Via Simone de Saint Bon, 57; all Rome, Italy.

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Travel Eats

Travel Eats: A weekend in London

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Duck and Waffle foie gras creme brulee

Foie gras crème brûlée, with pork crackling brioche and glass of rosé, Duck and Waffle

Before I go into any further detail about my weekend in London, I must explain this first photo. Duck & Waffle is a 40th-floor restaurant with panoramic views of London; it’s also open 24 hours a day. When I called to make a reservation, I was told that 12:45 was available. As in, 12:45 a.m., a reservation time that has never occurred to me as a possibility. But we took it, and were later whisked up 40 floors in a glass elevator for our late-night meal. A second revelation was soon to follow: this 24-hour menu listed foie gras crème brûlée as an actual dish you could order. My mind could barely conceive of this decadent combination, but there was no way I could pass it up. It had the texture and caramelized sugar shell of a crème brûlée, but the meatiness of foie. As strange as that sounds, it worked really well, and the brioche on the side even made it feel more like a appetizer. My glass of dry French rosé was much needed to cut through the richness. And of course, the lovely nighttime city views heightened the whole experience.

Rainbow of meringues, Meringue Girls at Broadway Market

Rainbow of meringues, Meringue Girls at Broadway Market

Chorizo scotch egg and Vietnamese iced coffee

Chorizo scotch egg from Finest Fayre and Vietnamese iced coffee from Cà Phê VN, both at Broadway Market

On Saturday morning, we strolled through the Broadway Market and were able to sample several offerings from local vendors. I was greeted almost immediately by the most gorgeous, colorful display of meringues I had ever seen. I tried the watermelon variety, complete with decorative black sesame seeds, and the flavor was spot-on as well. Next, an array of scotch eggs appealed to my savory breakfast cravings. I opted for chorizo, which was just a little spicy and anchored by a perfectly soft-boiled egg. I got my caffeine fix from an excellent version of Vietnamese iced coffee, whose stall also had a nice seating area. I saw a display of Persian stuffed dates, and couldn’t help but try one – the orange mascarpone, burnt almond, and pistachio were such an unexpected treat together. I was also pleasantly surprised by our donut selection: I knew I’d appreciate the banana cream and the sea salt caramel, but the mild tang of the chocolate sourdough base made it much more interesting.

Persian dates, Zardosht

Persian dates with orange blossom mascarpone, burnt almond, and pistachio, Zardosht at Broadway Market

Salted caramel donut with banana cream

Sea salt caramel and banana cream donut, Crosstown Donuts at Broadway Market

Sunday brunch was also quite special. Dishoom has a few locations in London, and serves cuisine inspired by the Irani cafés of Bombay, India. I was enticed by the dry-cured, cold-smoked bacon in the bacon and egg naan roll, and it was the perfect fusion of breakfast flavors: the classic bacon and egg alongside chili jam and cream cheese, all wrapped up in puffy naan bread. The side of masala beans were richly spiced and almost smoky. To drink, I had a bottomless cup of Dishoom’s incredible blend of house chai.

Bacon & egg naan roll with masala beans

Bacon & egg naan roll with masala beans and bottomless house chai, Dishroom

I snagged some enormous figs at the fruit market on Brick Lane, also charmed by the adjacent sign that called pomegranates “pommys.” And I couldn’t leave London without a classic, fruit-filled Pimm’s cup. The version at Marksman Public House was just the refresher I needed after braving the crowds at the famous Columbia Road Flower Market.

Figs and "pommys" at Brick Lane Fruit Market

Figs and “pommys” at Brick Lane Fruit Market

Pimm's cup

Pimm’s cup, Marksman Public House

The details: Crosstown Donuts, Broadway Market Schoolyard at London Fields Primary School; Meringue Girls, Cà Phê VN Saigon Street Cafe, Finest Fayre, and Zardosht, all at Broadway Market; Duck and Waffle, 110 Bishopsgate; Dishoom (Shoreditch), 7 Boundary Street; Brick Lane Fruit Market, Sclater Street; Marksman Public House, 254 Hackney Road; all London, England

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Travel Eats

Big news: I’m living in Dublin, Ireland!

Pint of Guinness, The Chop House, Dublin

My first official pint of Guinness at my birthday dinner in Dublin

For the next six months, I’ll be working from Dublin, Ireland – which means I’ll be eating and drinking in a whole new city, country, and continent! I plan to chronicle as many of my dining adventures as possible, both in Dublin and throughout Europe.

I arrived in Dublin yesterday, on my birthday, and enjoyed my very first Irish pint of Guinness at dinner. The rumors are true: Guinness does taste better here! And I’ll share more about my meal in the next post.

This does mean that the blog will be more Euro-centric than Chicago-centric for a while, but I hope you’ll enjoy going on this journey with me.

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