Food Travel


Work travel strikes again but at least this time I ended up in one of my favorite cities – San Francisco! Here are notes from the travel scratchpad. I took photos when appropriate; client dinners don’t always lend themselves to foodie habits. If you’re planning a trip there yourself, check out our past reviews in San Francisco.

Boulevard
Landing in San Francisco late in the evening, I was flying solo for dinner.  I wandered from my hotel but was not lost. Boulevard was calling my name and I knew I could find a warm seat at the bar. The brasserie feel of the restaurant put me at ease immediately, as did the fact that it was so crowded at 9pm on a Tuesday night. I scraped my chair up to the bar and immediately landed on my dinner for the evening: pan-roasted California squab with homemade gnocchi, white truffles from Oregon, and roasted brussel sprouts. I was in heaven. The squab was rich and moist – slightly crispy on the outside but still the deep red I was hoping to see in the center. The soft, plump pillows of gnocchi melted on my tongue and the slight tang of the sprouts brought my palate back down to Earth. The by-the-glass wine list was a little pricey but a well-made bourbon cocktail soothed me into the rest of the evening. Their Michelin star is well-deserved.

Boulevard on Urbanspoon

Barbacco Eno Trattoria

courtesy of A Food Lover's Life

Ask someone to come up with trademarks of the Bay Area and you’re likely to get similar answers: great food and technology. (It’s no shock that OpenTable is based there.) Barbacco has found the perfect way to blend both: the drink menu is on an iPad. Brilliant. But the restaurant is more than a tricked out lunch joint. The food was spot on: brussel sprouts lightly fried in duck fat might just spur a religious experience while the farro risotto melds a lesser known grain with a round, full-bodied flavor and the risotto texture I expect. Well done all around.
Barbacco on Urbanspoon

A Top Chef restaurant, another Michelin starred spot, late night burritos, and the top of my Next Time! Wishlist after the jump.

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It is just about summer time in South America. A wine tour in sunny Argentina sounds just fine to me.

Santa, are you reading this?

Argentina’s Napa Valley – NYTimes.com.

When it comes to food trucks, DC is quickly earning a place as one of the most diverse and delicious cities across the country.  We’ve got Maine lobster rolls, Cuban sandwiches, Canadian poutine and Korean BBQ tacos – even food from the Fojol brothers’ native “Merlindia!”  On any given weekday a lunch crush could be gathering just outside your office for a taste one of these or a dozen other concepts.

But not yesterday and today.  With the first annual Curbside Cookoff, Washington’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs brought them all together in the parking lot at 11th and H Streets, NW for a snacking summit of epic proportions.  Voters selected their twenty favorite vendors from those who sell in the DC metropolitan area, and they all received invitations to set up at the site of the old convention center for two days of food and fun.

Yesterday’s crowds were a testament to just how popular these food trucks have become – an estimated 8500 guests waited in lines that sometimes exceeded an hour just to taste some of the favorites.

We stopped by for a quick look around in the early afternoon, and some of the vendors had already sold out for the day.  They’ve promised to reload and come back ready for twice as many people today.

Planning to be one of them?  Check out our guide to the Curbside Cookoff – complete with photos – after the jump. (more…)

There’s something fitting about this particular Travel Tuesday going up on a Wednesday morning.  A few weeks back, I told you about my trip to New Orleans and my highly scientific study of the Crescent City’s signature sandwiches, the po’ boy and the muffuletta.  Three of each over the course of the trip…not too shabby.

But that pales in comparison to the dedication with which I threw myself into my third and final quest: a search for the best Sazerac in the city that created the cocktail.  To say I’m fond of a well-made Sazerac is a bit of an understatement.  Over the course of my trip I tried no fewer than five different versions of the classic rye-and-absinthe drink.  I even paid a visit to the Museum of the American Cocktail (an impressive collection within the larger Southern Food and Beverage Museum).

I sought the Sazerac in the classics – the bars that claimed it as their own as well as the ones that have likely been serving it since its earliest days.  I tried a few in bars with no obvious connection to the drink besides a commitment to well-crafted cocktails.  I even checked out a Bourbon Street bar’s offering for the sake of comparison.

And what did I find?  Generally speaking, there’s a reason a bar (or a bartender) becomes a classic.  Whether through skill, art or sheer force of repetition, they deliver if you know what you’re looking for.  But beware of any place that claims too close an association with something…you’re apt to find the spirit of the thing lost to the marketing and hype that surrounds it.

After the jump, the making of a Sazerac and a run-down on the contenders for my new personal favorite. (more…)

When traveling for work, food can often be an afterthought.  You can’t control where and when you’re going, and chances are your meals will be dictated by the schedule of the conference or activity that brought you there in the first place.  So you make your peace with a couple of grab-and-go meals and you hope for a decent dinner or two along the way.

Unless, of course, you’re headed to a foodlovers’ Mecca like New Orleans.  Whether you crave high-end cuisine or down-and-dirty dining, New Orleans has you covered (and then some).  As the great philosopher Axl Rose once said, “If you’ve got the money, honey, we’ve got your disease.”  With this much great food all around, you find a way to eat well while you’re in town.

I wanted to make the most of my meals, so I decided to focus on three New Orleans specialties: the po’ boy, the muffuletta and the Sazerac cocktail.  The first two are ubiquitous sandwiches that can be found in varying forms throughout the Crescent City.  The latter is the cocktail by which I judge most bartenders – and it was first concocted in New Orleans.

But I couldn’t settle for just one version of these delicacies…the debate over who does them best is fiercely partisan and it just wouldn’t do to sample a po’ boy from Mother’s without also trying the one at Domilise.  Sure, the Central Grocery muffuletta is the original, but what’s with all the fuss over Verdi Marte’s hot version?  And whose Sazerac would be my new gold standard?

I would have to try a few of each, in the name of science, of course.  The things I do for this blog…

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It’s Tuesday, but Eyjafjallajokull is making travel to and from Europe exceedingly difficult.  News of stranded travelers, massive ash clouds and the British Royal Navy on the move are everywhere.

So rather than talking about our own travel, we’re deferring to one of our favorite food writers: David Lebovitz.  He’s the guy who turned us on to homemade Roquefort and honey ice cream, and Elizabeth just flew through his “The Sweet Life in Paris.”

This morning he did a huge favor to those who are stranded in the City of Lights: a list of “10 Things to Do if You’re Stuck in Paris.”

Check out his list and try not to drool.  And if you’re a European visitor stuck in Washington, check out our list of 10 Things NOT to Do in DC.

Here’s hoping we get stuck in Paris soon so we can put Lebovitz’s list to good use…

Image courtesy Muppet Wiki

When you think of Swedish cuisine, the first words that come to mind are most likely “Bork, bork, bork!”  Once you get past the image of the Muppets’ Swedish Chef, you’ve got little meatballs, herring, and cafeteria food from IKEA.  At least that was pretty much the extent of things for us until we first heard about Marcus Samuelsson.

Image courtesy of Bravo TV

Samuelsson was adopted by a Swedish couple from his home in Ethiopia, and his adopted grandmother instilled in him a love of cooking.  His story really gets good after he came to America and made a name for himself as the chef (and now co-owner) of Aquavit.  He’s won multiple James Beard Foundation awards, published several popular cookbooks, cooked at the White House and guest judged on Top Chef (he’s about to compete in the second season of Top Chef Masters).

The combination of the chef’s mystique and the fact that we knew next to nothing about Swedish cuisine was too much to resist.  When it came time to plan a trip to New York for Mike’s parents’ anniversary, we suggested dinner at Aquavit.  Fortunately, everyone else was as intrigued as we were, so they agreed.

Aquavit offers two different meal experiences.  In the Dining Room, guests select either a chef’s tasting menu ($105 per person) or a select-your-own-courses prix fixe menu ($78 per person).  The Bistro, on the other hand, allows diners to choose from an impressive menu of Scandinavian classics with some modern American dishes thrown in.  With appetizers in the $10-$13 range and entrees running from $14 to $29, the Bistro’s menu makes for a more economical way to sample Aquavit’s fare – and the one we opted for.

What the heck is a smorgasbord?  Find out after the jump. (more…)

One of the best parts about travel – especially travel that involves drinking and dining well – is coming back and sharing what you found with friends.  Stories of amazing meals and beautiful sights, photos that capture it all in vivid color…it’s like reliving the trip.  But the real joy comes in sharing the goodies you bring back with you.

After a recent trip to Belgium, our friends Itty Bitty Betty and the Bacon Terrorist offered us plenty of all three.  We asked I.B.B. to share with you, too.

Sorry…we finished all the beer.

-Elizabeth and Mike

While we all reap the benefits of D.C.’s growing love affair with Belgian beer, actually visiting Belgium last year gave me new appreciation for my favorite decadent, boozy brews. I am lucky that my boyfriend, the Bacon Terrorist, and I share a fascination with triples, doubles, lambics, and all of their delectable contemporaries. After talking about going to Belgium for years to enjoy them in their natural habitat, I was thrilled when we finally booked the trip.

Arriving in Brussels, our mission was simple: seek and imbibe every beer we had never seen in the States, and if we knocked back a few old favorites along the way, even better. This was actually harder than it sounds. While we think of Belgium as a brewtopia, where every bar contains magical brews you’ve never heard of before, most bars carry a similar selection of drafts (e.g. Leffe, Stella Artois, and Maes Pils – think Belgian Heineken). Still, we didn’t have to go too far off the beaten path to find unique bars with local brews that don’t frequently journey over the Atlantic.

For “must-visit” bars in Brussels, we recommend Toone, a bar and puppet theater in one. Unlike other bars in the area, Toone is not nearly as touristy. They have a modest selection of beers, including Oud Beersel Oude Kriek, an earthy cherry lambic with all the essence of cherry, but without the added sugar of more popular DeTroch and Lindemans brands. Beware though, for those used to these brands, or the Huyghe Floris beers, the Oude Kriek will be acidic and sharp in comparison. While you can get Oude Kriek in the D.C. area (Brickskeller and Rustico carry it), my better half just couldn’t help himself after Toone’s proprietor gushed about how it contained “Four kilograms of ze cherries…per gallon!”

Another bar worth grabbing a drink (or four) in is Delirium Café, which offers a full draft selection of the entire Huyghe catalogue, and a rowdy dive-bar atmosphere.  The Cantillon brewery is another fun stop in the neighborhood, complete with self-guided tour and a tasty pour of lambics at the end.

Other standout beers were Ciney Brown, Mort Subite (“the sudden death”), and Grottenbier, a modern version of a Belgian “Grotto” or “cave” beer. [picture of ciney brown and mort subit in glasses] We also procured a few bottles of the infamous Westvleteren, a beer so famous it requires no label, and a favorite of beer snobs worldwide. We brought a bottle of all three styles (Blonde, 8, and 12) home to share with good friends, including some of our favorite drinking buddies, Mike and Elizabeth. We didn’t think Westvleteren fully lived up to the hype (for some, Westvleteren is akin to the holy grail), but they were definitely delicious.

While Brussels is a necessary stop on any beer lover’s journey, a day trip to Bruges was our favorite part of the trip (only an hour by train, and $48 round trip—a steal considering Bruges is one of the most breathtaking places we’ve ever seen). The Brugse Zot brewery was one of the more memorable stops on our tour de beer. Sure, it’s a standard tourist stop, but sometimes you should follow the wisdom of the crowds. This small operation is the only active brewery in Bruges, and you can view the entire city from its rooftop. After a tour around the facilities, you are rewarded with a hearty pour of the Brugse Zot Blonde, and a seat in the romantic garden outside the brewery. The temperature the day we visited was 92° F, so the refreshing coriander and orange finish of this beer was a welcome treat.

Overall, the trip reminded us that while Blue Moon tastes better than Bud, at the end of the day it really can’t compare to a freshly poured glass of Sterkens White, or a Cantillon Gueuze straight from the brewer’s hands.

Every relationship has celebrated milestones. Like getting brunch together after dancing it up at 80s night, few things cement the “this is getting serious” step like the first trip away together. Most couples choose a sunny, romantic destination. Mike and I? We went to Hungary. In October. Okay so maybe Budapest isn’t everyone’s first idea of a romantic city but whatever. Mike and I are goofy like that.  

Photo courtesy of Love Apples

Our visit wasn’t driven by culinary travel, but we ended up having some of our favorite food-related experiences during the trip. Who would have guessed a tiny eastern European country could deliver a six-foot tall Michael Jackson statue made out of white chocolate? Or a wine destination with what might be the best Wine Goggled name on the planet?  

Gerbaud –  Thanks in part to its downriver Danube proximity to Vienna, Budapest has a striking coffee and pastry culture often celebrated in soaring salons fit for Marie Antoinette. Open since 1858, Gerbaud is the grande dame of Budapest salons. The light-filled salon was painstakingly restored in 1997 to look regally ancient. Gleaming floors lead our eyes up to a brillaint counterop filled with sugary delights. Taking a seat in the salon, we sat back as brisk waitresses flitted between tiny cafe tables with trays of pastel colored goodies and strong coffee. It was the perfect way to fight off jet lagg and ease into our vacation. 

Szabo Marzipan Museum – A little way down the Danube from Budapest is a village known as Szentendre. This little village might be in guide books recommending a scenic getaway into an artists village, a chance to stroll through a small Hungarian community and take in tiny shops and ancient churches. All of these things are true but they don’t shout the town’s biggest feature from the rooftops: The Szabo Marzipan Museum. Could it be true? An entire museum with all of its displays intricately carved from almond paste? So true and so bizarre. Especially considering the chosen topics – countless classic Disney characters vied for attention next to Hungarian landmarks. But the creme de la marzipan had to be the borderline creepy Michael Jackson. Standing at life-size attention and captured during the King of Pop’s miltary-esque costume phase ,the piece is just strange. Deliciously strange.

The Valley of Beautiful Women and the Most Hilariously Formal Restaurant I’ve Ever Visted after the jump. (more…)

One of the questions in our Blogger Beat interview asked about the most bizarre things we’ve ever eaten.  Elizabeth’s answer came without a second thought: cuy.  For this week’s Travel Tuesday, we’re revisiting our trip to Peru, where Elizabeth made her peace with guinea pigs as entrees instead of pets.

The allure of Machu Picchu is a combination of its beauty and its relative isolation.  Of course, that means there really isn’t all that much besides the formerly lost civilization to plan a vacation around.  When Elizabeth learned about GlobeAware, an American voluntourism operation with a program in Peru, we knew we had found a solution that we could feel good about.  We’d spend a week in Peru, volunteering at an albergue in Cusco and visiting Machu Picchu while we were there.

We arrived in Cusco to a meal of quinoa-crusted fried chicken and a steaming mug of mate de coca. This tea, steeped from the leaves of the coca plant, is a natural remedy for the altitude sickness that invariably strikes new arrivals.  At an elevation of almost 11,000 feet, Cusco takes some getting used to.  Something as simple as walking up a flight of stairs can leave you winded (if you’re lucky).  The tea somehow soothes the nausea and headaches that come with the change in altitude.  It’s pretty much the polar opposite of cocaine, despite coming from the same plant.

Throughout the week, we enjoyed simple, homemade meals prepared for us by the full-time staff on site.  We got to experience local produce including a rainbow of potatoes and the strange granadilla. We found ourselves chanting along with a street vendor who passed through the neighborhood every day announcing his fresh produce: “Piña!  Papaya!” We even tried chicha frutillada, a drink made from fermented corn and strawberries that packs a sweet, boozy punch.

More about the maize and a few restaurant meals (including the cuy) after the jump. (more…)

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