Travel Eats: A summer getaway to Door County, Wisconsin

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Cherry tree at Seaquist Orchards
Door County’s claim to fame: cherries

We’d faced the fact that there would be no “normal” vacations in 2020, but after months of quarantine, we were desperate for a change of scenery. Door County emerged as our chosen weekend getaway destination for its reasonably close proximity, well-regarded food (especially its cherries!), and peaceful waterfront views to soothe the anxieties of this season. As a disclaimer, we ate exclusively outdoors at restaurants with distanced tables and mask policies.

Blackened Baileys Harbor Fish Company Lake Michigan whitefish, New Orleans-style with spicy Cajun compound butter, au gratin potatoes, and asparagus, Harbor Fish Market & Grille
Blackened Baileys Harbor Fish Company Lake Michigan whitefish, New Orleans-style with spicy Cajun compound butter, au gratin potatoes, and asparagus, Harbor Fish Market & Grille

We were first-timers to Door County, but quickly saw why the area is called the Cape Cod of the Midwest: each town along the peninsula had its own coastal personality, and there was plentiful fresh seafood. At Harbor Fish Market in Bailey’s Harbor, along the shore of Lake Michigan, flaky local whitefish came beautifully blackened with spicy layers of seasoning and compound butter.

The lobster roll at Boathouse on the Bay came highly recommended by friends whose Door County visit barely missed overlapping with ours. It was a solid recommendation, with sizable pieces of lobster that were lightly dressed enough to shine on their own. And the same buttery split-top bun was also used for the hulking Wisconsin bratwurst my husband ordered, to his delight. Our waterfront view added to the East Coast-style experience.

East Coast-style lobster roll on a split-top New England bun, Boathouse on the Bay
East Coast-style lobster roll on a split-top New England bun, Boathouse on the Bay
Lobster & andouille hush puppies with chipotle aioli, The Fireside
Lobster & andouille hush puppies with chipotle aioli (and a Spotted Cow beer), The Fireside

In Egg Harbor, we found unexpectedly creative Cajun-inspired cuisine at The Fireside. We started with hush puppies, richly studded with both andouille and lobster, then finished with a zingy aioli. My fried alligator tacos were topped with a flavorful Southwest-Asian fusion of corn relish, lemongrass, and chili sauce, and the side of grits was ultra-creamy from lots of goat cheese. And because it was our first meal after crossing into Wisconsin, I couldn’t help but pair it with the beloved Spotted Cow beer from New Glarus.

Alligator tacos with cajun fried gator, lemongrass slaw, chili sauce, roasted corn & black bean relish, and a side of goat cheese grits, The Fireside
Alligator tacos with cajun fried gator, lemongrass slaw, chili sauce, roasted corn & black bean relish, and a side of goat cheese grits, The Fireside
Door County cherry pancakes, egg, ham, Old Post Office
Door County cherry pancakes with an egg and hearthstone ham, Old Post Office Restaurant

I was excited for opportunities to sample the ubiquitous local cherries. At breakfast, that meant fluffy cherry pancakes at the charming Old Post Office Restaurant, aptly named for the building’s usage in the early 1900s. As a bonus, our outdoor table afforded a lovely view of the water in Ephraim, our favorite of the towns for its scenery.

Another morning, in Fish Creek, I started the day with perhaps the best vegetarian breakfast sandwich I’ve had. Between two slices of ciabatta were a whopping nine layers of roasted veggies, sauces, cheese, and a jammy egg – complex and delicious.

Veg Out sandwich with house-baked ciabatta, guacamole, feta cheese, tomatoes, roasted sweet potato, pickled onions, Blue Horse sandwich sauce, farm fresh egg, Wisconsin cheddar cheese, and roasted red peppers, Blue Horse Beach Cafe
Veg Out sandwich with house-baked ciabatta, guacamole, feta cheese, tomatoes, roasted sweet potato, pickled onions, Blue Horse sandwich sauce, farm fresh egg, Wisconsin cheddar cheese, and roasted red peppers, Blue Horse Beach Cafe

Another sandwich success was the tuna melt at Stone Harbor in Sturgeon Bay, our last stop of the weekend. The melty Wisconsin cheddar and generously toasted bread made it a fine example of the comfort food classic.

Tuna salad sandwich with Wisconsin cheddar cheese and grilled on wheat bread, Stone Harbor Restaurant
Tuna salad sandwich with Wisconsin cheddar cheese and grilled on wheat bread, Stone Harbor Restaurant
Shortcake crumble sundae with salty, sweet shortcake crumbles, vanilla frozen custard, Door County strawberry compote & fresh whipped cream, Not Licked Yet
Shortcake crumble sundae with salty, sweet shortcake crumbles, vanilla frozen custard, Door County strawberry compote & fresh whipped cream, Not Licked Yet

And like any good getaway destination, there were plenty of sweets. We savored our shortcake crumble sundae with local strawberry compote at Not Licked Yet, a frozen custard shop that’s been in Fish Creek for nearly 40 years. We’d also heard excellent things about the pies at Sweetie Pies and the goat’s milk gelato at Door County Creamery, so planned ahead to save our slices until we could pair the two together. It was absolutely worth the wait.

Three-berry pie, Sweetie Pies; salted caramel and roasted almond and fig gelato, Door County Creamery
To-go slice of three-berry pie, Sweetie Pies; salted caramel and roasted almond and fig gelato, Door County Creamery

The details: The Fireside Restaurant, 7755 Hwy. 42, Egg Harbor; Blue Horse Beach Cafe, 4113 Main St., Fish Creek; Not Licked Yet, 4054 Main St., Fish Creek; Sweetie Pies, 9016 Hwy. 42, Fish Creek; Harbor Fish Market & Grille, 8080 Hwy. 57, Baileys Harbor; Old Post Office Restaurant, 10040 Water St., Ephraim; Door County Creamery, 10653 N Bay Shore Dr., Sister Bay; Boathouse on the Bay, 10716 N Bay Shore Dr., Sister Bay; Stone Harbor Restaurant, 107 N First Ave., Sturgeon Bay (all Wisconsin).

Travel Eats: Hawaiian honeymoon dining on Kauai and Oahu

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Well, a lot has changed since my last post. I got engaged, took a year off from blogging to plan a wedding, and am now happily married! This also means I’ve become Hillary Weller rather than Hillary Proctor, but the blog name will remain the same for now.

We just returned from 10 days in Hawaii for our honeymoon, so that seemed a fitting return to blogging. We split our time between two Hawaiian islands: Kauai and Oahu. On Kauai, we covered the majority of the island; for Oahu, we stayed primarily in the Waikiki Beach area of Honolulu. This was my first time setting foot anywhere in the state, so I was anxious to try the source of all the Hawaiian flavors I’d enjoyed from afar.

Macadamia nut pancakes with pineapple and coconut syrup, Eggs 'n Things
Macadamia nut pancakes with pineapple and coconut syrup, Eggs ‘n Things (Honolulu)

I’ll start with my favorite dish of the trip. It was one that came highly recommended at Eggs ‘n Things, a beloved Honolulu breakfast spot: macadamia nut pancakes. The nut-studded cakes were unbelievably fluffy underneath their griddled exterior, and the addition of fresh pineapple and the restaurant’s signature coconut syrup made them truly remarkable. I loved these pancakes so much that they merited a repeat visit: we went back for our last meal before heading to the airport to fly home. That time, I ordered a slight variation (banana in the pancakes and macadamia on top) and they were still just as stellar. I also happily took home a bottle of the coconut syrup.

We had a favorite breakfast spot in Kauai, too. A lovely bakery happened to be conveniently located across the road from where we were staying, so we tried a few of their pastry selections. Both the mango muffin and the roasted pineapple croissant-scone hybrid showcased the fruit flavors of the island.

Hawaiian roasted pineapple and chocolate chip croisscones, Passion Bakery Cafe, Kauai
Hawaiian roasted pineapple and chocolate chip croisscones (enjoyed on our oceanfront lanai), Passion Bakery Cafe (Kauai)
Guava muffin, Passion Bakery Cafe, Kauai
Mango muffin, Passion Bakery Cafe (Kauai)
Pakala bowl with açai, peanut butter, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, granola, almonds, and chocolate chips, Little Fish Coffee
Pakala bowl with açai, peanut butter, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, granola, almonds, and chocolate chips, Little Fish Coffee (Kauai)

Another morning dish I’d been anxious to try was the açai bowl, a surfer favorite that’s anchored by an açai berry frozen yogurt-style base, then layered with granola and fresh fruit. At Little Fish Coffee on Kauai, our bowl boasted peanut butter and chocolate chips in addition to the fruit and granola. It was the rich fuel we needed for the rest of the day’s adventures. In Waikiki, we sought out the bowl at Island Vintage Coffee. The açai and granola were delicious, but the sweet local banana and fragrant Hawaiian honey were what really shined.

Original açai bowl with strawberry, blueberry, local banana, Big Island organic honey, and organic granola, Island Vintage Coffee (Honolulu)
Original açai bowl with strawberry, blueberry, local banana, Big Island organic honey, and organic granola, Island Vintage Coffee (Honolulu)
Pink Island shave ice with strawberry, lychee mint, vanilla gelato, fresh strawberries, mochi, lychee popping boba, and condensed milk snow cap, Island Vintage Shave Ice (Honolulu)
Pink Island shave ice with strawberry, lychee mint, vanilla gelato, fresh strawberries, mochi, lychee popping boba, and condensed milk snow cap, Island Vintage Shave Ice (Honolulu)

While we’re on the sweet side of things, let’s talk shave (not shaved!) ice, a traditional frozen treat in Hawaii with all kinds of variations. We went back to Island Vintage for their Pink Island, whose ice mound had half strawberry syrup and half super-refreshing lychee mint syrup, plus mochi, lychee boba, fresh strawberry, and condensed milk to top it off. At Uncle’s on Kauai, they served shave snow, where the creaminess and fruit flavor was already incorporated into the ice before shaving. After adding a haupia (coconut) cream top, I couldn’t help but slurp up every bite.

Strawberry shave snow with haupia (coconut) cream cap, Uncle's Shave Ice (Kauai)
Strawberry shave snow with haupia (coconut) cream cap, Uncle’s Shave Ice (Kauai)
Dole whip swirled with vanilla, Hilo Hattie (Kauai)
Dole whip swirled with vanilla, Hilo Hattie (Kauai)

To be sure, Hawaii wasn’t short on frozen treats – from classic soft-serve pineapple Dole whip to ice cream served in an adorable “hang loose” cone to a sky-high Hula Pie enjoyed along the Waikiki beachfront at Duke’s, our collective sweet tooth remained sated.

Shaka-Boom cone with vanilla soft-serve, chocolate sauce, Oreo cookie dust, and sprinkles, Kokoro Cafe
Shaka-Boom cone with vanilla soft-serve, chocolate sauce, Oreo cookie dust, and sprinkles, Kokoro Cafe (Honolulu)
Kimo's Original Hula Pie with chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, toasted mac nuts, and whipped cream, Duke's Waikiki (Honolulu
Kimo’s Original Hula Pie with chocolate cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, hot fudge, toasted mac nuts, and whipped cream, Duke’s Waikiki (Honolulu)

We tried a lot of savory Hawaiian favorites as well. At Lava Lava Beach Club on Kauai, we had loco moco, traditionally a burger patty with egg, rice, and gravy, and in this case with a mountain of fried onions and a delicious patty blend of beef and sweet Portuguese sausage. That meal was extra memorable because we looked up from our beachfront table and spotted a whale in the distance! Later, we also tried a classic, no-fuss plate lunch with freshly-fried chicken katsu, sticky white rice, and macaroni salad.

Hapa Laka loco moco with half beef, half Portuguese sausage, Lava Lava Beach Club
Hapa Laka loco moco with half beef, half Portuguese sausage, Lava Lava Beach Club (Kauai)
Chicken katsu plate lunch, Ai Ono Cafe at Lihue Airport
Chicken katsu plate lunch, Ai Ono Cafe at Lihue Airport (Kauai)

Our most theatrical dining experience by far was at the Smith Family Garden Luau on Kauai. Our evening began with a tram ride around the property, then we had time to explore the lush grounds on foot. Next, we witnessed the imu ceremony, in which a whole-roasted, leaf-wrapped Kalua pig is carefully removed from its earthen oven.

From there, it was time to enjoy a mai tai and the full buffet. This was my chance to try poi, a starchy Hawaiian staple that’s polarizing among visitors. Unfortunately, I had to agree with the naysayers: even when paired with the meat, the poi retained an unpleasant flavor, and its paste-like texture only made matters worse. But there were plenty of other dishes to enjoy, like the mahimahi, purple yams, lomi salmon, and of course the pig, whose smoke-kissed flavor was in a class of its own. Dinner was also accompanied by live Hawaiian music and a hula lesson.

Finally, we moved to the amphitheater for the stage show, featuring dances and rituals that represent many of Hawaii’s cultural influences (plus some impressive pyrotechnics). The whole experience was as seamless and well-choreographed as a Disney enterprise – it was undoubtedly a highlight of our trip.

Kalua roasted pig, poi, lomi salmon, sweet & sour mahimahi, macaroni salad, guava and pineapple breads, coconut rice pudding, mai tai, and more from the dinner buffet at Smith Family Garden Luau
Kalua roasted pig, poi, lomi salmon, sweet & sour mahimahi, macaroni salad, guava and pineapple breads, coconut rice pudding, mai tai, and more from the dinner buffet at Smith Family Garden Luau (Kauai)
Mixed ahi and salmon poké with spicy mayo, Shaka Poke (Honolulu)
Ahi-salmon mixed poke with avocado and spicy mayo (eaten on Waikiki Beach in view of Diamond Head), Shaka Poke (Honolulu)

Seafood was another top priority during our time in Hawaii. I had the chance to enjoy poke in two forms, one on each island. At Shaka Poke, a tucked-away gem in one of Waikiki’s shopping malls, hunks of salmon and ahi tuna came dressed in spicy mayo with seaweed and avocado. It was the ideal humble meal to eat on the beach, especially with a view of the resort skyline and Diamond Head at dusk. On Kauai, Sam’s Ocean View used tuna poke to adorn wonton chip nachos, alongside avocado, spicy aioli, and plenty of black sesame. It was the kind of snack you can’t stop eating.

The most eclectic fish I tried during the trip was moonfish at Mahina & Sun’s in Honolulu. The fish itself was dense and held up to the mixture of Mediterranean flavors in the rest of the dish – lots of fennel, olive, sumac, and lightly pickled cucumber, plus grilled flatbread to sop it all up.

Ahi poke nachos with chopped avocado, red bell pepper salsa, wasabi, and sriracha aioli over wonton chips, Sam's Ocean View
Ahi poke nachos with chopped avocado, red bell pepper salsa, wasabi, and sriracha aioli over wonton chips, Sam’s Ocean View (Kauai)
Opah (moonfish) with cucumber, fennel, suman, flatbread, and black olive tapenade, Mahina & Sun's (Honolulu)
Opah (moonfish) with cucumber, fennel, sumac, flatbread, and black olive tapenade, Mahina & Sun’s (Honolulu)
Curry udon with soft-boiled egg, Marukame Udon (Honolulu)
Curry udon with soft-boiled egg, Marukame Udon (Honolulu)

On our second night in Honolulu, we joined the throngs of people in line for Marukame Udon. The wait was very much worth it for tender, hand-pulled udon noodles in a rich curry broth. Between picking up your noodle bowl and getting to the cash register, you could select tempura items and other appetizers buffet-style, so I took that as an opportunity to try spam musubi (seared slice of spam over rice with a seaweed wrapper, like nigiri). It was easy to see why it’s such a popular Hawaiian snack.

Our last dinner of the trip was at Senia, Honolulu’s buzziest fine-dining restaurant. There was a lot to love on the menu; the ahi brioche and citrus-cured hamachi both celebrated Hawaiian flavors in a creative and beautiful way.

It was certainly a special introduction to Hawaii for me…but exploring the cuisine of the islands we didn’t visit seems like a very good excuse to return!

Ahi brioche, Senia (Honolulu)
Ahi brioche, Senia (Honolulu)
Citrus-cured hamachi with avocado, jalapeño, and wakame, Senia (Honolulu)
Citrus-cured hamachi with avocado, jalapeño, and wakame, Senia (Honolulu)

The details: Eggs ‘n Things, 339 Saratoga Rd., Honolulu; Passion Bakery Cafe, 4-356 Kuhio Hwy., Ste. 121, Kapa’a; Uncle’s Shave Ice, 4454 Nuhou St. #419, Lihue; Smith Family Garden Luau, 3-5971 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa’a; Lava Lava Beach Club, 420 Papaloa Rd., Kapa’a; Little Fish Coffee, 3900 Hanapepe Rd., Ste. D, Hanapepe; Sam’s Ocean View, 4-1546 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa’a; Hilo Hattie, 3-3252 Kuhio Hwy., Lihue; Ai Ono Cafe at Lihue Airport, 3901 Mokulele Loop, Lihue; Mahina & Sun’s, 412 Lewers St., Honolulu; Marukame Udon, 2310 Kūhiō Ave #124, Honolulu; Shaka Poke, 2250 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu; Duke’s Waikiki, 2335 Kalakaua Ave., Ste. 116, Honolulu; Island Vintage Coffee, 2301 Kalakaua Ave. #C215, Honolulu; Senia, 75 N. King St., Honolulu; Kokoro Cafe, 2233 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu; Island Vintage Shave Ice, 2201 Kalakaua Ave., Kiosk B-1, Honolulu (all Hawaii).

Travel Eats: a workweek in San Francisco

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Catalonian Fideus, Foreign Cinema
Catalonian Fideus with scallops, prawn, clams, local cod, tomato, saffron, spinach, English peas, and cumin sauce, Foreign Cinema

I’ve been staying extra busy the past few months (apologies, blog readers!) with a new role at work, and that role took me to our Bay Area offices for a week. While it was a pretty packed schedule, I still fit in some quality meals.

The night I arrived in San Francisco, I made a beeline for the Mission, a neighborhood that I knew from experience was great for dining. Foreign Cinema stood out for its sleek open-air dining space with string lights and a movie projected on the back wall. The food was also excellent – from a Catalonian noodle dish, brimming with four kinds of seafood and a buttery cumin sauce, to smoky, mole-slathered calamari with lime and tortilla chips.

Calamari, Foreign Cinema
Monterey calamari, Oaxacan mole rojo, chickpeas, lime, cilantro mayo, and corn tortilla chips, Foreign Cinema

Frittata, Dottie's True Blue Cafe
Avocado, tomato, jalapeño, corn, scallion, and feta frittata with cornbread and potatoes, Dottie’s True Blue Cafe

Dottie’s True Blue Cafe is a comfort food classic that had come highly recommended by friends, so I made sure to stop for brunch. I arrived just before it opened, and a line had already formed, as is typical, but the short wait was worth it. I went for the frittata special, a mammoth plate of eggs stuffed with some of my favorite ingredients (avocado, corn, feta), plus a side of crispy cornbread with pepper jelly. While I was far too full to try any of the bakery offerings during my visit, I managed to bring a small loaf of Dottie’s signature coffee cake back to Chicago (and was very glad I did).

Another landmark I finally tried this trip was Mission Chinese Food, chef Danny Bowien’s trail-blazing take on Chinese cuisine that opened in the Mission nearly ten years ago, and now has locations elsewhere. Of the dishes I tried, the Westlake lamb dumplings stood out for their balance of tangy sauce, crispy wonton wrapper, and lots of fresh dill.

Westlake lamb dumplings, Mission Chinese Food
Westlake lamb dumplings with tzatziki, ma la vinaigrette, and peanut, Mission Chinese Food

Burnin' Brock, Hogwash
Burnin’ Brock sausage sandwich with chicken habanero sausage, harissa aioli, fried avocado, pickled cabbage, fresh fennel, and apple, with Moonlight Death & Taxes black lager, Hogwash

One unexpected dining success came at Hogwash, a craft-beer-and-sausage spot in Union Square. While I first chose the Burnin’ Brock sausage sandwich almost solely for its fried avocado, the rest of the spicy, crunchy flavors came together exceptionally well for one of the most satisfying bites of the trip.

And I did still fit in a few sweet indulgences, starting with Tartine Manufactory, the recent restaurant offshoot of legendary Tartine Bakery. I went with a fairly simple sundae – strawberry and vanilla swirl soft-serve, colorful sprinkles, and candied almonds – but it was elevated just enough to feel special.

Sundae, Tartine Manufactory
Sundae with vanilla bean and strawberry sorbet swirl, candied almond, and sprinkles, Tartine Manufactory

Bi-Rite Coffee Toffee ice cream sandwich
Coffee Toffee ice cream sandwich with brown sugar cookies and Ritual coffee, Bi-Rite Market

Bi-Rite, another favorite from past trips, has both a market and an ice cream shop on the same block. Rather than waiting in the long ice cream line, I picked up an ice cream sandwich (and a few other edible souvenirs) from the market. After a ride home to thaw, the rich coffee ice cream melted into the crumbly brown sugar cookies to the point that it might as well have been fresh from the shop.

Speaking of coffee, there are a wealth of great roasters in San Francisco, but one of the stalwarts is Blue Bottle, so I felt very fortunate to have a shop within walking distance of my hotel. Their latte really is worth savoring.

Latte, Blue Bottle Coffee
Latte, Blue Bottle Coffee

The details: Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission St.; Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, 28 6th St.; Mission Chinese Food, 2234 Mission St.; Hogwash, 582 Sutter; Tartine Manufactory, 595 Alabama St.; Bi-Rite Market, 3639 18th St.; Blue Bottle Coffee, 66 Mint St.; all San Francisco, California.

Travel Eats: An autumn weekend in Nashville

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Whipped feta, Butcher & Bee
Whipped feta with fermented honey, cracked black pepper, and pita, Butcher & Bee

In the fall, I spent a long weekend in Nashville with a girlfriend. We were there to celebrate another friend’s wedding – which had incredible culinary offerings of its own, I might add – but also managed to sample a lot of other local offerings.

I have to begin with Butcher & Bee, where their brunch menu was possibly the most enticing and creative one I saw all year. I absolutely couldn’t get over the whipped feta appetizer, with a pool of fermented honey and a healthy dusting of black pepper. It was deceptively simple at first glance, but the feta spread was so outrageously good with the blistered pita bread that I’m sure I’ll be recalling it for years to come.

Delicata squash, Butcher & Bee
Delicata squash with farro, goat cheese, herbs, and sunny-side egg, Butcher & Bee

I was also impressed by the most beautiful presentation of delicata squash I’ve seen at any meal, much less brunch. From the lacy fried egg to nutty farro to juicy pomegranate seeds, it was a lovely, still-light dish. For balance, the breakfast sandwich biscuit put us back into richer territory. A fluffy biscuit was slathered with more whipped feta (!), plus egg and maple-sage sausage. It was a classic done very well.

B & B biscuit, Butcher & Bee
B & B biscuit with whipped feta, honey butter, maple-sage sausage, and soft scrambled egg, Butcher & Bee

Pimento cheese, Husk
Pimento cheese with pickled serrano peppers and benne wafers, Husk

And because I had loved Husk so much while visiting Charleston four years ago, I knew I had to check out the Nashville location. I first made sure we ordered the pimento cheese in some form, as chef Sean Brock is known for it. Here, it was hidden underneath a tunnel of seedy crackers, but still as good as I’d remembered.

My favorite dish, though, turned out to be the crab rice. Amidst so many different textures, the buttery crab flavor still shone through in the best way.

Ol' Fuskie crab rice, Husk
Ol’ Fuskie crab rice, Husk

Duck confit, Husk
Duck confit with beets buried with ash, malabar spinach, and shiso, Husk

Another highlight was the duck confit and its ash-buried beets (it sounds strange, but worked). And for dessert, we had the most adorable popsicle, almost like a Creamsicle but with melon and a hint of crunch.

Cantaloupe popsicle, Husk
Cantaloupe popsicle with Brewster oat granola and wood sorrel, Husk

Meat-and-three with fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, and collard greens, Arnold's Country Kitchen
Meat-and-three with fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, and collard greens, Arnold’s Country Kitchen

Nashville is also known for the classic meat-and-three (a meat main course with three side dishes). For that, we went straight to Arnold’s, the top recommendation from a coworker who grew up in the area. We arrived right at opening, to avoid the long lunchtime lines, and weren’t disappointed by the extra-fresh-and-crispy fried chicken, creamy mac-n-cheese, and vinegary greens. And I couldn’t pass up a comforting slice of strawberry pie with a mile-high blanket of whipped cream on top.

Strawberry pie, Arnold's Country Kitchen
Strawberry pie, Arnold’s Country Kitchen

Cookie dough doughnut, , Five Daughters Bakery
“100-layer” cookie dough doughnut, Five Daughters Bakery

Since we were staying in East Nashville, it was convenient to explore the up-and-coming food scene there. We happened upon Five Daughters Bakery, and saw that their version of a cronut (croissant-donut hybrid) claimed to have 100 layers. I didn’t count them, but did conclude that putting a smear of cookie dough on top of any donut is a brilliant idea. In that same category of hybrid indulgences was the waffle grilled cheese at The Terminal Café (I’m hopeful that Chicago will catch up to this idea soon).

Waffle grilled cheese with avocado, The Terminal Cafe
Waffle grilled cheese with avocado, The Terminal Cafe

Looking Up, Talking Down cocktail, Pinewood Social
Looking Up, Talking Down cocktail with Chattanooga bourbon, lemon, amaro montenegro, apricot, ginger, and mint, Pinewood Social

I was excited to briefly check out Pinewood Social, an airy all-day venue with novelties such as bowling lines and a pool. While we didn’t stay for those activities, it was still worth it to sip this cocktail, a julep variation with added depth from amaro and ginger.

Iced bourbon vanilla latte, Barista Parlor
Iced bourbon vanilla latte, Barista Parlor

It was warm enough to still crave caffeine over ice, so I found two delicious versions: the iced bourbon vanilla latte at Barista Parlor, a gorgeous converted garage space; and the salted maple pecan cold brew at The Trailer Perk, an adorable mobile shop parked inside the Nashville Farmers Market.

Salted maple pecan cold brew, The Trailer Perk
Salted maple pecan cold brew, The Trailer Perk

Golden Milk latte, Ugly Mugs
Golden Milk latte with espresso, vanilla, turmeric, cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon, and steamed milk, Ugly Mugs

One last trend worth mentioning was turmeric – the golden-hued powder is becoming increasingly popular for its health benefits, so it kept popping up everywhere we went. I tried it in a latte with other warm spices at Ugly Mugs, then in a cooler at Café Roze; both were flavorful and somehow cleansing. I have to say, too, that having that vibrant cooler alongside (really good) avocado toast, all on top of a millennial pink table, felt like the most Instagram-worthy moment of 2017.

Avocado hummus toast and turmeric cooler, Café Roze
Avocado hummus toast with grilled bread, pepitas, and aleppo, and turmeric cooler, Café Roze

The details: Butcher & Bee, 902 Main St.; Husk Nashville, 37 Rutledge St.; The Terminal Cafe, 733 Porter Rd.; Five Daughters Bakery, 1900 Eastland Ave.; Pinewood Social, 33 Peabody St.; Barista Parlor, 519B Gallatin Ave.; Ugly Mugs, 1886 Eastland Ave.; The Trailer Perk at Nashville Farmers’ Market, 900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.; Arnold’s Country Kitchen, 605 8th Ave S.; Cafe Roze.

Travel Eats: Birthday dinner at Le Cirque, Las Vegas

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Signature chocolate ball with birthday candle
Signature chocolate ball with birthday candle

In the midst of a week of celebratory Las Vegas dining, I knew that I wanted dinner on my actual birthday to feel extra special. I’d always heard about Le Cirque’s legacy in New York over the decades, and it just felt right to go classic French for this milestone birthday.

I’m happy to report that from the moment we walked into the restaurant, our party was treated in a way that befit such a special occasion. The whimsical and strikingly colorful “circus tent” ceiling set an appropriately celebratory tone, and the window beside our table afforded a view of the famous Bellagio fountains, making the whole thing just a bit more magical.

Circus tent ceiling
Circus tent ceiling

Egg amuse-bouche with lemon mousse and carrot mousse
Egg amuse-bouche with lemon mousse and carrot mousse

The whimsy continued with the amuse-bouche: a hollowed-out egg was refilled with lemon mousse and a dollop of carrot mousse, both tinted and shaped to resemble the egg’s original contents. It was a delightful way to start the meal.

I ordered the escargots as my appetizer, and was pleased to see that Le Cirque’s version went far beyond the typical garlic butter bath. The bowl was filled with so many textures: tomato confit, crispy croutons, tender greens; and, of course, lots of snails and butter for a hearty and aromatic dish.

Escargots with burgundy snails in black garlic herb butter, croutons, tomato confit, and licorice ‘salad’
Escargots with burgundy snails in black garlic herb butter, croutons, tomato confit, and licorice ‘salad’

Foie gras poêlé with St. Germain flambeed foie gras, tapioca, and elderflower gastrique
Foie gras poêlé with St. Germain flambeed foie gras, tapioca, and elderflower gastrique

Thankfully, a dining companion ordered the foie gras starter instead, so I was more than happy to sample a few bites of one of my favorite foods. The crunchy texture of puffed rice and grains on top, together with the sweet floral sauce pooled underneath, made this version really stand out.

For my entrée, I stayed classic with roast chicken, mushrooms, potatoes, and asparagus. Everything was expertly executed – especially the near-silky chicken – and the foie gras sauce gave it another touch of luxury.

Le poulet rôti with roasted organic chicken, asparagus, hedgehog mushrooms, roasted baby potatoes, and foie gras sauce
Le poulet rôti with roasted organic chicken, asparagus, hedgehog mushrooms, roasted baby potatoes, and foie gras sauce

Chocolate ball with praline mousse, white chocolate ice cream, hazelnut caramel crunch, chocolate sauce
Chocolate ball with praline mousse, white chocolate ice cream, hazelnut caramel crunch, chocolate sauce

When it came time for dessert, I was given an option: either the chocolate ball that the rest of the table had ordered, or an off-menu soufflé. I couldn’t pass up the quintessential demonstration of culinary technique that is the soufflé, so I chose that. However, due to a mix-up in the kitchen, I ended up with both desserts! For the chocolate ball, melted chocolate was heated to a precise temperature and poured over the ice cream-filled ball, causing it to gradually crack in a way was completely mesmerizing. The hot-and-cold contrast with a bit of praline crunch was absolute chocolate paradise.

Then, the sky-high chocolate soufflé arrived, and again I was transfixed by the skill of the pastry chefs. There are so many things that can go wrong with a soufflé, and even the best ones can still fall quickly, so tasting its airy, chocolate-y magic bite after bite left a lasting impression.

Chocolate soufflé
Chocolate soufflé

We were each sent on our way with a red leather box that had a housemade truffle tucked inside each of its two drawers. Weeks later, one glance at the box and my mind is right back to re-living this extraordinary meal.

Take-home truffles
Take-home truffles

The details: Le Cirque at Bellagio, 3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas.

Travel Eats: Eating & drinking on the Las Vegas Strip

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Interior flowers, Buffet at Wynn
Interior flowers, The Buffet at Wynn

To celebrate my 30th birthday, I gathered some of my closest girlfriends and made my first-ever trip to Las Vegas. I took advantage of my full week there by sampling cuisine from several of the world-class resorts and elsewhere on the Strip, plus a few stops downtown.

I knew I couldn’t go to Vegas without experiencing a buffet, and chose the Wynn for both food quality and overall aesthetics. As you can see above, it was a jaw-dropping floral wonderland. Amidst the overwhelming selection (mini-baskets of fish and chips! Tuna poké and dumplings! Mini-skillets of shrimp and grits! So many hand-carved meats!), my favorite station was the made-to-order latkes, which were served either reuben-style (corned beef and sauerkraut) or with smoked salmon, capers, lemon, and chive sour cream (my selection; it was exceptional). And on top of all that, there’s a full room dedicated to dessert, complete with a spinning gelato wheel. It was a true midday feast.

Made-to-order smoked salmon latke station, The Buffet at Wynn
Made-to-order smoked salmon latke station, The Buffet at Wynn

ork belly bun with hoisin, scallion, and cucumber, Momofuku
Pork belly bun with hoisin, scallion, and cucumber, Momofuku

Momofuku was high on my to-do list, since I’ve still never been to the original New York location. It made the most sense to visit during Social Hour, a resort-wide happy hour at the Cosmopolitan. I had to try the pork bun, the now-iconic dish that laid the foundation for Chef David Chang’s culinary empire. From soft bun to rich pork to simple sauce and garnish, it definitely lived up to its reputation. I was also wowed by the chilled noodles that were coated in a spicy sauce and piled with a satisfying combination of basil, sausage, and candied cashew.

Chilled spicy noodles with Sichuan sausage, Thai basil, and candied cashew, Momofuku
Chilled spicy noodles with Sichuan sausage, Thai basil, and candied cashew, Momofuku

Quesadilla chicharron with housemade chicharron, queso menonita, and salsa cinco chiles, China Poblano
Quesadilla chicharron with housemade chicharron, queso menonita, and salsa cinco chiles, China Poblano

Another Social Hour standout was China Poblano, Chef José Andrés’ colorful fusion of Mexican and Chinese flavors. I went with one dish from each cuisine, and while I enjoyed the messy, red-sauced pork bun, tucking a crunchy chicharron into a melty quesadilla was the truly genius move.

Rou Jia Mo street sandwich with red-braised pork belly, cilantro, and scallion, China Poblano
Rou Jia Mo street sandwich with red-braised pork belly, cilantro, and scallion, China Poblano

Roasted bone marrow with rioja-braised shallot marmalade, Beauty & Essex
Roasted bone marrow with rioja-braised shallot marmalade, Beauty & Essex

And because I apparently couldn’t get enough of the Cosmopolitan’s restaurant selection, I also dined at Beauty & Essex, whose dining room is hidden behind a pawn shop facade with jewelry and fancy guitars. The bone marrow was flawless, with wine-braised shallot marmalade to smear onto strips of toast along with the marrow itself. The tuna poké wonton tacos were bright and refreshing (not to mention adorably served).

Tuna poke wonton tacos with chiffonade cilantro, radish, and wasabi kewpie, Beauty & Essex
Tuna poke wonton tacos with chiffonade cilantro, radish, and wasabi kewpie, Beauty & Essex

My first meal of the trip was at Mesa Grill, Chef Bobby Flay’s high-end Mexican restaurant at Caesar’s Palace. The pork tenderloin was some of the best pork I’ve ever had, a perfect medium with sweet and spicy sauces, and the pecan-buttered tamale on the side was an excellent take on sweet potato. I couldn’t help but think that the blue and yellow corn muffin in the bread basket looked familiar – and then realized it was from when I dined at the original New York location way back in 2008.

New Mexican spice-rubbed pork tenderloin with bourbon-ancho chile sauce and sweet potato tamale with crushed pecan butter, Mesa Grill
New Mexican spice-rubbed pork tenderloin with bourbon-ancho chile sauce and sweet potato tamale with crushed pecan butter, Mesa Grill

The Royale with Cheese burger, with robiola cheese, caramelized onions, grilled treviso, and parmesan-mascarpone cream, B&B Burger & Beer
The Royale with Cheese burger, with robiola cheese, caramelized onions, grilled treviso, and parmesan-mascarpone cream, B&B Burger & Beer

At the Venetian, we loved the canal-side view from the patio at B&B Burger & Beer (the B’s are for Mario Batali and Joe Bastanich). The burger itself was rich and extra cheesy, with nice bitter contrast from grilled treviso (a variety of radicchio).

Todd English’s Olives at the Bellagio was well-suited for a late dinner after our daytrip to the Grand Canyon’s west rim (unimaginably vast and beautiful, by the way). Both the fig-prosciutto and smoked salmon flatbreads had a ton of flavor, and also kept well as leftovers the next day.

Smoked salmon and fig & prosciutto flatbreads, Todd English’s Olives
Smoked salmon and fig & prosciutto flatbreads, Todd English’s Olives

Pub chopped salad with grilled chicken, salami, shrimp, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, white cheddar, pretzel crisp, and apple cider vinaigrette, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill
Pub chopped salad with grilled chicken, salami, shrimp, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, white cheddar, pretzel crisp, and apple cider vinaigrette, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill

Gordon Ramsay is another celebrity chef with a solid presence in Vegas, so decided to fit his pub into the agenda. The pub chopped salad was a pleasant surprise, especially considering its long list of potentially disparate ingredients (shrimp, pretzel crisp, chickpeas, salami, white cheddar, and more).

For the opposite of a salad, we made an obligatory trip to In-N-Out, the West Coast burger chain with a cult following. The not-so-secret animal-style fries with cheese, grilled onions, and burger spread did indeed hit the spot.

Animal-style fries, In-N-Out
Animal-style fries, In-N-Out

Crack Pie soft serve with sprinkles, Milk Bar
Crack Pie soft serve with sprinkles, Milk Bar

On the sweeter side, I made sure to stop at Milk Bar, which is affiliated with and right next to Momofuku. Their signature Crack Pie (gooey butter cake with oat crust) was available in soft-serve form, and it did manage to capture the same level of decadence.

I also sampled the gelato at Jean Philippe Patisserie, a Bellagio shop that’s best known for boasting what they claim to be the world’s largest chocolate fountain. A few of the floor-to-ceiling glass shelves and flowing chocolate are shown in the background below.

Cappuccino gelato, Jean Philippe Patisserie
Cappuccino gelato, Jean Philippe Patisserie

Whip It cocktail with Dole whip, Island Time Floats Tiki Bar
Whip It cocktail with Dole whip, Island Time Floats Tiki Bar

And of course, you can’t spend a week in 100-plus degree desert temperatures without a few frozen drinks. I knew that Island Time was a rare purveyor of famed Dole Whip (pineapple soft serve), so I stopped by one sweltering evening for their citrusy Whip It cocktail. Though I’ve never seen anything melt so fast, it was just right for the heat.

With its multiple locations along the Strip, Fat Tuesday is the main supplier of the comically large frozen drinks that many people tote from place to place. I ordered a blend of the bellini and pina colada flavors of frozen daiquiri – both tasty and not as saccharine as you’d expect – and split it among personalized cups made as souvenirs for my friends.

Frozen bellini and pina colada daiquiri, Fat Tuesday
Frozen bellini and pina colada daiquiri, Fat Tuesday

Veal parmigiana, Battista’s Hole in the Wall
Veal parmigiana, Battista’s Hole in the Wall

One night, we went old-school Italian at Battista’s Hole in the Wall, a place that’s been around since 1970. It kept coming up in my dining research, possibly because meals are such a bargain. The generously portioned entrees all include soup or salad, garlic bread, cappuccino (which was closer to hot chocolate), and unlimited carafes of house wine. My veal parmesan was the red-sauce classic I was hoping for, and fit right into the endearingly kitschy atmosphere.

I also made sure to visit the downtown area to experience a bit of Old Vegas, and was delighted to find a hidden craft brewery gem among the glitter and grit of Fremont Street. The coffee kolsch was especially good, and reminded me a lot of a Portland brew that I’ve wanted to re-discover ever since.

Morning Joe coffee kolsch, Banger Brewing
Morning Joe coffee kolsch, Banger Brewing

Al pastor taco and carne flautas, Pinches Tacos
Al pastor taco and carne flautas, Pinches Tacos

While downtown, I explored the Downtown Container Park, continuing the trend of converting old shipping containers into shops and eateries. I’d heard that Pinches Tacos was the place to go, and both the tacos and flautas delivered. I also really enjoyed my coconut cold brew at The Black Cup Coffee Co. stand – it gave me the boost I needed to continue my delicious adventures.

Coconut cold brew, The Black Cup Coffee Co.
Coconut cold brew, The Black Cup Coffee Co.

The details: The Buffet at Wynn, 3131 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; Todd English’s Olives and Jean Philippe Patisserie at Bellagio, 3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; Mesa Grill and Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Palace, 3570 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; Beauty & Essex, China Poblano, Milk Bar, and Momofuku at Cosmopolitan, 3708 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; B&B Burger & Beer at Venetian, 3355 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; Fat Tuesday at Grand Canal Shoppes, 3377 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; Island Time Floats Tiki Bar at Grand Bazaar Shops, 3631 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; In-N-Out Burger at Linq, 3535 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; The Black Cup Coffee Co. and Pinches Tacos at Downtown Container Park, 707 Fremont St.; Banger Brewing, 450 Fremont St.; Battista’s Hole in the Wall, 4041 Linq Ln.; all Las Vegas, Nevada.

Travel Eats: Tapas, vermouth & more in Barcelona, Spain

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Liquid olives and house vermouth, Bodega 1900
Liquid olives and house vermouth, Bodega 1900

Barcelona has been on my food destination wishlist for quite some time now, so it seemed worthy of a three-day visit – can’t argue with an emphasis on seafood, snacking, and sangria, after all. Spain has also been at the forefront of molecular gastronomy, and while legendary chef Ferran Adrià no longer operates the famed El Bulli, his brother Albert still operates multiple restaurants. His more casual venture is Bodega 1900, where we scored a reservation our first day in Barcelona.

Bodega 1900 is a modern nod to the old-school vermuteria, so naturally the first thing we ordered was house vermouth. I don’t know that I’d ever had vermouth on its own before that day, but after two glasses I was completely enamored with how drinkable it was, and how well it paired with all the tapas dishes. We opted for the chef’s tasting, and the first dish that arrived was an Adrià classic: liquid olives, which capture the essence of olives using a technique called reverse spherification (here’s a video). Deceptive and delicious.

Russian salad with tuna belly, Bodega 1900
Russian salad with tuna belly, Bodega 1900

The Russian salad was essentially tuna belly thrown into potato salad (with just the right amount of mayonnaise), and was probably the most comforting dish of the meal. Next, slices of (very) smoked mackerel were lined up like sashimi, simply dressed with salt and olive oil. It was just the kind of no-frills seafood snack I had envisioned.

Smoked mackerel, Bodega 1900
Smoked mackerel, Bodega 1900

Skate wing in adobo, Bodega 1900
Skate wing in adobo, Bodega 1900

I always love seeing skate wing on a menu, and these were coated in an adobo-seasoned batter, then lightly fried. They were almost like skate fritters, the outer crust playing well with the dense fish inside. Perhaps the most indulgent dish of the meal was cured, paper-thin beef tenderloin that melted in your mouth to a peppery finish. It was one of the purest forms of beef I’ve ever had.

La Rubia Gallega beef tenderloin cured in salt and spices, Bodega 1900
“La rubia gallega” beef tenderloin cured in salt and spices, Bodega 1900

Even the vegetable dishes held more than met the eye. The tomato salad was especially surprising: what looked like under-ripe heirloom tomatoes tossed in salt and olive oil turned out to be balanced and texturally fantastic. The green peas and mushrooms were served in a savory, piping hot broth that I easily could have slurped down as soup. They both made a nice transition into the rest of the tapas dishes.

Fresh
Fresh “Raff” tomato salad, Bodega 1900

Green peas with mushrooms, Bodega 1900
Green peas with mushrooms, Bodega 1900

Wandering around large food markets is a highlight for me in any major city (see also Florence and London), so I knew a visit to the gigantic La Boqueria would help fight first-day jetlag. While it’s debatable whether complete sensory overload is better or worse while jetlagged, we managed to sample several items. My favorites were the cone of smoky, marbled jamon iberico and a pineapple-coconut juice blend from one of the (shockingly ubiquitous) juice stands.

Pineapple-coconut juice and cone of jamon iberico, La Boqueria market
Pineapple-coconut juice and cone of jamon iberico, La Boqueria market

Beetroot pancakes with smoked salmon, spinach, pickled onion, and creme fraiche, UGOT Bruncherie
Beetroot pancakes with smoked salmon, spinach, pickled onion, and creme fraiche, UGOT Bruncherie

Brunch isn’t necessarily a traditional Spanish concept, but it does fit well with the relaxed lifestyle. I went with the day’s entree special at Ugot Bruncherie, and it combined several of my favorite flavors: smoked salmon, spinach, creme fraiche, and pancakes, which were pink-dyed and faintly savory from beetroot. Between that and the frothy, cocoa-dusted cappuccino, I was quite content. We decided to take dessert to go, so we could enjoy it a little later in a nearby park, and that may have been one of the best decisions all trip. The buttery alfajor cookie held a layer of dulce de leche and a swirly crown of gooey, super-sweet, coconut-dusted meringue. It was messy, but so worth it.

Cappuccino, UGOT Bruncherie
Cappuccino, Ugot Bruncherie

Dulce de leche alfajor with coconut meringue
Dulce de leche alfajor with coconut meringue, UGOT Bruncherie

And of course, you can’t visit Barcelona without snacking on churros. I didn’t end up trying the traditional chocolate-dipped variety, but the Nutella-filled version across the street from the (staggeringly beautiful) Sagrada Familia was weighty and decadent enough for me. And while I didn’t previously associate Spain with pastries, I was impressed by the variety available. My favorite was a flaky croissant filled with white chocolate from a bakery near Barceloneta Beach.

Nutella churro, Xurreria Sagrada Família
Nutella churro, Xurreria Sagrada Família

Mixed berry tartlet and white chocolate croissant, Baluard Barceloneta
Mixed berry tartlet and white chocolate croissant, Baluard Barceloneta

For our last night in Barcelona, we booked a tapas tour through Airbnb. Our guide, Marwa, led us to four different places and weaved lots of history into her explanation of the food and drink we were sampling. We tasted classic tomato toast at one cozy tavern, then made our own at our last stop, a 16th-century bodega where we also tried five different cheeses and five different meats (including a rare, high-quality jamon iberico). It was an excellent overview to wrap up the trip.

Tomato toast, Tasca El Corral
Tomato toast, Tasca El Corral

Variety of Spanish cheeses, fig jam, and quince, Bodega La Tinaja
Variety of Spanish cheeses, fig jam, and quince, Bodega La Tinaja

The details: Bodega 1900, Calle Tamarit 91; El Mercat de la Boqueria, Rambla, Mercat de la Boqueria 91; UGOT Bruncherie,
Viladomat 138; Xurreria Sagrada Família, Plaça Sagrada Família 26; Baluard Barceloneta, Carrer del Baluard 38; Tasca El Corral, Carrer de la Mercè 17; Bodega La Tinaja, Esparteria 9; all Barcelona, Spain.

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.

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.

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.