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Journeys When in

When in LA- Where to Eat in LA

The city that scintillates, the one that’s got me all aflutter with a desire to return in a hot minute only to continue to eat my way through it is L.A. While the city of lights typically brings paparazzi for celebrities, all I’m interested in is the exciting food cropping up all across town. Let me explain. Recent events took me to the city of Angels on successive trips. I began learning the puzzle that is LA traffic and figuring out the thoroughfares. What stood out to me on the trips this time: a pervasive multicultural diversity where Mexican might be the main descriptor of cuisine served but then roots down regionally in specifics. Each night, I passed signs for Little Bangladesh. Little Armenia. Good luck finding parking in Koreatown. So, on each trip, each meal felt like an important decision. Though the hours posted on the door of Baroo reflected they should have been open, a metal gate barring the way turned my smile upside down. Gjelina’s always on the list (though GTA is just fine with me. Sandwich to go, anyone?) And, my rule this time was to try to branch out and go where no fork of mine had gone before. Mostly. Baco is one of my favorite DTLA haunts. Grand Central Market didn’t happen this go-round and my eggslut breakfast sandwich dreams haven’t come true just yet. Someone once told me that Northern Californians are supposed to hate Southern California. So, I guess it’s a good thing that I’m a Texas transplant since Texas means “allies” or “friends.” Just don’t talk baseball. I bleed black and orange. So, here are my favorite spots–what are some of yours?  

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Trois Familia
– Silver Lake –

Instead of fusion food, recently, Evan Kleiman suggested that mash-up might be a better phrase and I couldn’t agree more. This restaurant from Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, and Ludo LeFebvre introduces a different take on Mexican, bringing French technique to the table. I’d heard about their lengthy wait time for breakfast and plotted a plan for a drive-by. Take a seat at one of the white wooden slat picnic tables and benches as Johnny Cash croons from a record player in the corner of the room. I like the chill vibe, so relaxed that you might forget this trio of chefs have been making a name for themselves as a collective unit at other spots like Trois Mec. I like the lack of pretension of this place and all the bright orange bottles of housemade hot sauce accenting the tables. Their Hash Brown Chilaquiles places an irresistibly crispy hashed brown in the middle of a moat of pureed salsa. Opt for the sliced avocado that sneaks underneath a fried egg–it tasted great and yet I guess I discovered that I’m a Chilaquile purist, as the word itself has a Pavlovian effect making me think of Tia’s method for making this memorable Mexican standard. Pair it with Horchata Cold Brew and you’re set. Next time, I’m jonesing to try the Beet Tartare Tostada with Cornichon, Lime and Avocado Crema. Next time.    

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Huckleberry
– Santa Monica –

Zoe Nathan wrote a winsome cookbook for this bakery which was my first foray into becoming a Huckleberry fan even before I visited. I mean, who doesn’t love a baker whose acknowledgements page is entitled, “Apologies” with a list of brief apologies that border on humorous and others that express deep gratitude to her team. I knew I wanted to try her food firsthand. So, a plan was hatched, the rental car dispatched to arrive at 7:58 on a Saturday morning. We dove into Brisket Hash with Arugula and Two Sunny Side Up Eggs (juicy with a pleasant peppery flourish), as well as Poached Eggs with Farmers’ Market Vegetables Tossed in Pesto. I will dream of that Cinnamon Bun Scone, though the Kouign Aman Tart with Roasted Banana impressed too.  And, truthfully, the Maple Bacon Scone enjoyed the next morning reminded me of one sweet morning and a good decision to drive down to Santa Monica early to beat the crowds. Also, their coffee tasted pretty exceptional and wasn’t in need of any of their housemade syrups, though the Iced Vanilla Latte with housemade syrup looked enticing.

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Rustic Canyon
– Santa Monica –

Truth. Ever since Chef Jeremy Fox joined Rustic Canyon and my feed started showing his truly beautiful food, I made a mental note to go. Here’s the thing, I missed Fox’s stint at Ubuntu, but admired from afar the way he elevated vegetables through thirdhand commentary. I love vegetables and have deep appreciation for chefs who think vegetables are superstar ingredients in their own right. So, this restaurant had high expectations as the second restaurant in LA on my must-go bucket list (I’m still saving myself for Lucques and the right occasion). I wasn’t disappointed. That meal will go down as one of my most memorable, one that can’t be beet. And, really, where to start– Beet Royale (Brooklyn Gin – Geranium Infused Beet Juice – Lemon – Prosecco).  Then, more beets cooked down into molasses drizzled on a plate with burrata and housemade focaccia.  Variations on a theme? More beets sauced in raspberries with quinoa, avocado, and pistachio (tangy, bright).  I think our forks might have scraped the plate not wanting any of the gribiche to go to waste after the asparagus, ramps, breadcrumbs, and egg bottarga had been finished. The flurry of vegetarian plates continued circulating as white yams, green garlic butter, celery, hazelnut duke, and aioli came out–my second favorite dish of the evening. Cacio e Pepe presented an interesting flavor interpretation to Ricotta Dumplings with Butterbeans and Sorrel. Black Magic Cake with Macadamias and Homemade Salt provided a sweet finish to a sweet evening. 

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The Gadarene Swine
– Studio City –

Vegan tasting menu? Yes, please. At the Gadarene Swine, you can always go a la carte, but put yourself in the hands of the kitchen and opt for one of the three nightly dinner menus. Start off with one of the Bangkok Dangerous cocktails, well named because this cocktail could be my kryptonite– the nigori sake gives this drink a creamy quality paired with pineapple juice, ginger, and turmeric. This restaurant would make an intimate spot for a date night–rustic interiors with twinkly candles and low lit ambience give it a cozy feel. Of the courses that came our way, the Blackened Cauliflower dish was a study of textures and bright flavors, and my favorite of the evening, only to be closely followed by Vegetables in a Box, a crispy rosti-style “box” made of potato filled with julienned carrots and zucchini that I don’t think I might have tried otherwise. This felt like the kind of place one might speak about in hushed tones. On the wall, a mirror reflected out into the dining room the simple phrase, “I do not exist.” that made me think it might bring a smile to my favorite philosopher’s face. 

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Wanderlust Cafe
– Hollywood –

After visiting Tertulia in New York and reading the Hero Food cookbook by Chef Seamus Mullen, it’s evident that Spanish cuisine is a big part of his cooking vernacular. Then again, his food philosophy pivots around food as medicine where each chapter of the cookbook centers on one of his hero food ingredients for dealing with RA. So, when he shared that he’d developed the menu at Wanderlust Cafe based on that ideology, I knew I wanted to try it out. Two things: take a seat in the patio. The cafe is located in a yoga studio and while you could sit inside, the patio is the place to be. They serve Moon Juice and won bonus points for handmade Cold Brew Chai and also offering Matcha and Pu Erh on the tea menu. The Shakshuka comes with herbed labneh and the Open Face Soft Scramble Eggs are almost too pretty to eat with market vegetables folded into the eggs, served on sourdough toast. If we had visited at lunch instead of breakfast I would have had difficulty deciding between the Kitchari or Kimchi Forbidden Fried Rice, even though I was eyeing the MALT (Royal Trumpet mushrooms – avocado – lettuce – tomato – sriracha aioli). In some ways, I think a sign of a good restaurant experience is not wanting to leave and I could have lingered on at Wanderlust much longer.

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Sqirl
– Silver Lake –

Several years ago, a friend who lives in Silver Lake introduced me to toast with jam, and a sorrel pesto rice bowl that made an imprint. So, when I learned they open early, I beelined to Sqirl for breakfast. Pastries and drinks get served before 8 a.m. but plan on stopping by after that time to try their ubiquitous toast and breakfast fare. This time, it came slathered with almond butter and pear preserves that dripped like honey, and avocado toast to make all others blush with envy (pickled carrots for the win). Delicata Squash Hash with Poached Eggs made a savory stand-out that might get overlooked for that rice bowl, which is still worthy in its own right. Two grades of Matcha make it on their menu so emerald green that its vegetal flavor doesn’t need any additions though a spot of almond milk mixed still lets the stout tea shine. If you’re planning to check a bag, procure one of their jars of namesake jam to smear on toast at home as you hatch a plan to return to Sqirl. 

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My Vegan Gold
– Silver Lake –

I’ve lately become entranced by strip malls in L.A. and the idea that though they may be overlooked, they often hold restaurant gems like My Vegan Gold. Prepare yourself for a formidable menu and servers who help navigate all the options. This is my kind of place–kombucha on the menu, kale salad as a side or main–and that Kale Salad–the dressing pops with flavor but doesn’t overwhelm the sturdy greens. I often eat kale salad at home and desperately want to make that dressing. Making a decision for a main almost stymied me–did I mention the menu possibly has 30 options front and back? I ordered a bowl of Golden Curry Noodles, in a broth so silky and comforting that I almost went back the next night just to order the dish again and rekindle that feeling and to experience that flavor. Next time, I’m planning to take a few more friends so we can eat our way through the menu more proficiently, and am still wanting to try their Shiitake Larb that’s off the menu and scrawled on another menu at the counter register.

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Baco Mercat
– DTLA –

Almost everything on the menu at this hot spot from Josef Centeno sounds crave worthy, but the baco is what brings me back. Imagine the best possible flatbread folded around a perfect assemblage of ingredients–El Pesco (crispy shrimp –  sriracha – chive dressing) combined texture and flavor playfully. The Carne Picada Coca brought together spiced beef, yam, pine nuts, and pomegranate molasses to great effect. And quite possibly what held our attention almost as much as the baco itself was the za’atar starter with eggplant, fava beans, labneh, feta and grilled flatbread–I’m pretty sure we didn’t leave a scrap or speck on that plate of dip and tried to be as ladylike as possible as we took turns dipping. They make their own sodas in-house in interesting flavors like ginger or hibiscus, but I’m partial to ordering one of their shrubs–this time I opted for Celery though Papaya Clove also looked enticing. If your sweet tooth has saved room, the paleta from nearby Gelateria Uli in amarena cherry yogurt then dipped in thick decadent dark chocolate is enough to tell Cherry Garcia to hit the road.

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Guelaguetza
– Koreatown –

It’s not often I start lunch with a shot of mezcal, but when in Oaxaca, which is to say in L.A., at Guelaguetza, you’re in good hands. Inside this restaurant with an Asian-style exterior is mole negro so good it might make you weep–there’s a reason their website is simply: ILoveMole.com. We noshed on tlayuda, a pizza made of masa, crunchy and thin, topped with cabbage, queso fresco, oaxaca cheese, thinly sliced beef called tasajo, dried meat known as cesina, and chorizo. The meal felt like an education into a region of Mexico I haven’t had as much experience with, as chapulines imported from Oaxaca came out as an early entrance to the meal, merely sautéed in olive oil with a toss in salt and pepper. The chips come served with a creamy salsa on top and queso. I would go back again just for the tamale de rajas and of course, to try one of the other moles on the menu. 

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Guisados
– Echo Park –

If someone offers you tacos served with carne guisado, just say yes. This style of cooking, better known as braising, cooks the meat low and slow so the results are fall apart tender. Imagine then, stumbling upon a taqueria that offers around seven kinds of taco fillings made in that method? Are you with me?! On the afternoon we visited, the line snaked out the door. You can order single tacos in the standard 4-inch tortilla size, but I would suggest going for the sampler plate of tiny tacos that offer two bite tacos in several flavors of the stewed veggies or braised meats. Yes to the Cochinita Pibil. Double yes to the Mole Poblano or the Tinga. Bonus points for the entire menu being glorious and also gluten-free. Pair them with an Armando Palmero (a brilliant combination of Jamaica — hibiscus agua fresca–and limonada) or a Negro Modelo and you’ll be set. Horchata cold brew is on the menu too, so if you need a shot of caffeine try that. 

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Journeys When in

When in Chicago

Like a deejay with a favorite song in regular rotation, Chicago used to get played at least once a year in my life. I would exit the McCormick Center after working the NRA show (and lest you envision me donning a rifle, those initials stand for National Restaurant Association show) set out on the Metra for downtown reveling in the architecture and the creative culinary scene in those few evening hours set aside for a bit of exploration. As things go, I haven’t had the occasion in a while to set foot outside of O’Hare or Midway airports. Recently, during a family trip, we carved out 24 hours to claim as our own. If you find yourself in a similar situation or want to take this tasting menu approach to deep diving into a city quickly, you might find it not only a fun challenge but a memorable adventure. And so, with 24 hours in Chicago at your disposal, here’s your cheat sheet of where to go and what to eat.

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ERNEST HEMINGWAY HOUSE / WALK ALONG WATERFRONT
If you read “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain, then you know Ernest Hemingway’s early days with first wife Hadley Richardson began in Chicago. What you may not know is that his house happens to be near the waterfront at 1239 North Dearborn. Out for a leisurely stroll through the park toward downtown one morning we happened upon his house. I couldn’t believe it and had to glance at the sign in front of the house several times just to make sure it had read it correctly. Sure enough, in 1921, he and Hadley rented the top flat for four months after they first married. Standing outside the fenced in house, I wondered about this phase of his writing life, all of the utter potential that still lay before him largely untapped and how time spent in this flat as a newlywed all culminated to impact his writing.

GIORDANO’S
If you want a slice of Chicago deep dish pizza, the responses vary. Call me sentimental, but only one place satiates that urge. I first happened upon Giordano’s with a local friend and stumbled upon their spinach deep dish. The steel spatula cuts through the layers to move a slice onto your plate with the melted cheese reticent to tear itself away from the rest of the pie. The thick chunky tomato sauce, paired with the buttery crust, cheese and spinach is reminiscent of SF favorite, Little Star Pizza.

MICHIGAN AVENUE- WALKING BEYOND THE MIRACLE MILE
Walking in Chicago can take you to unexpected places. Most people are familiar with the “Miracle Mile,” that stretch of North Michigan Avenue that puts you on the path of posh boutiques and familiar brands of clothing stores. If you have it within you to stretch your legs for a while, let them take you well past that mile and down to South Michigan. This is one of my favorite jaunts in the city because of the breathtaking architecture, the lazy river that dissects downtown and the incredible public art. So much of downtown Chicago is meant to be experienced on foot and you can miss the small details when whizzing by in a car or cab. Millenium Park with its beloved stainless steel “Bean” sculpture delights people who walk up close and marvel at their reflection or the cityscape and sky reflected that make it look transparent in the right light. Just beyond it are two tall sculpture towers that broadcast filmed facial expressions along the stonework and water streaming down the surface. If you keep going you end up at the Art Institute and then even beyond that is another sculpture garden. Chicago makes art open to all, displaying natural alongside created beauty on this long walk.

ARGO TEA
Before you head over the bridge from North Michigan to the Art Institute, stop at Argo Tea. By this point, you might be parched and in need of refreshment. This local tea company has really ramped up their national distribution of iced tea in sleek reusable glass vessels, now available in specialty stores and convenience stores but there’s nothing like going into their teahouses with their vast selection of tea flavors and varieties of presentations. I’m partial to the Mate Latte, a blend of yerba mate, coconut and cocoa that when paired with a splash of milk and served over ice needs no sweetener and gives a lift of caffeine without making you jittery. They also serve bubble tea, hot tea, snacks and small meals. Rejuvenate in the summer with their iced tea sangria or a steaming cup of Charitea in the fall.  

ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
Dirty little secret: if you head to the Art Institute an hour before they close, they drastically reduce the entry fee. If you decide to visit the museum with that approach, have a game plan in place and figure out what exhibit matters most to you, otherwise you might not get to it. I always make a beeline to visit my favorite painting of theirs: “Meekness” by Eustache Le Sueur, a gilded pastoral depiction of this virtue. I also make my way to see “The Bedroom” a fairly frenetic painting by van Gogh. Something about repeat visits to paintings that have left impressions reveals something new about the painting and the viewer. If time allows, visit the Frank Lloyd Wright pieces. But the piece de resistance, the one that is not to be missed are the Chagall windows in the basement. As one of my favorite artists, these windows are an incredible homage to America with the motifs I’ve come to appreciate from Chagall. As you leave the museum, make a pit stop in their museum store for unique finds and think about fist bumping the copper lion statues guarding the museum out front as you exit.

BALENA
Choosing one restaurant to eat at for dinner in Chicago is like asking a mother of 8 which child is her favorite. It can’t be done, at least without devastating consequences for the other seven, right? Contenders for this spot included favorites like Frontera Grill for Mexican, Avec for rustic comfort food, Mercat a la Planxa for Spanish and others that came to mind. But, given that it had been far too long since the last visit to Chicago, we opted for something new with help and advice from local friends in the know. That Balena’s head chef was nominated for a James Beard award in 2013 stood out as did key selections on their menu. Then again, getting to venture down to Lincoln Park also had its perks. What I really appreciated about Balena (pronounced Balayna) is their rock solid hospitality as they had presented a printed gluten free menu for Beck to peruse upon being seated. In the end, we shared a cheese course to start and split a kale caesar salad. For my main course, the Orecchiete, Kale, Lemon, Bread Crumbs and Chili arrived well seasoned and al dente. I still crave the side dish of Sweet Onion Gratinato with white wine and grand padano, highlighting the naturally sweet quality of onions in a creamy sauce with burnished cheese atop. Balena treated us just right.

THE GREEN MILL
After dinner, head over to The Green Mill, which is conveniently right off of the EL at the Lawrence stop. We had made plans to spend time with a local friend, who suggested we meet up at this popular locale for Chicagoans ready for a bit of late night jazz. Arrive early as you might be hard pressed to snag one of the small tables after 9 p.m. We grooved along with the music and made friends as our table became communal. Before long, the dance floor filled with  regulars who then frequented a few other tables, peppering them with “hello’s.” This is the place to go for old Chicago swing.

HOT CHOCOLATE
Seeing as I am a fan of chocolate and all things dessert, I can’t recall why I never skipped across town to check it out for myself before because, let’s face it, this is the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of restaurants in Chicago. Mindy Segal’s playful dessert menu sidles up well with her no joke savory side. This particular day, a few of us swooped into a steaming pot of macaroni and cheese, creamy, gooey and a good side dish to share. I tried a bite of my friend’s burger because he audaciously claimed it is the best in town and I trust his tastebuds, and it was really quite amazing. I gobbled up half of the Philly-style chicken thigh cutlet sandwich with broccoli rabe pesto and taleggio on a garlic-toasted house made hoagie but didn’t leave room for dessert. How that’s possible is beyond me. But, I snuck in a sip of the signature dark hot chocolate and promptly joined the fray at the counter, wrestling over whether to purchase Mexican or Espresso Hot Chocolate, as if any choice existed for this Mexicana. 

EATALY
While the founders of Eataly would cringe if they heard this, now having visited both locations in New York and Chicago, I would call this the Ikea of the slow food world. First of all, the egress of Eataly pulls in would-be shoppers and diners into discovering items they didn’t know they needed. Since Eataly happened to be a short distance from my conference hotel, it proved the perfect place to steal away with a book for a quiet meal at the counter. If you dine at the counter in La Pasta, line cook Oscar will give suggestions about menu items. The Cacio e Pepe gave the requisite kick of black pepper and creamy Parmesan as I twirled the noodles around my fork. Another time, I sampled the Pappardelle con Funghi, a housemade egg pasta with shiitake mushrooms in a comforting tomato sauce. Yet another time, a small group of us wound our way to La Verdure, a vegetarian restaurant steps away from the ever-popular La Pasta / La Pizza. The notion of multiple restaurants inhabiting the open space makes for easy alternatives. At La Verdure, I ordered the Cavolo Nero salad composed of black Tuscan kale with grapefruit, pomegranate, Parmigiano Reggiano Frico that made a satisfying lunch. On yet another occasion, I opted for the Cannelloni, a decadent trio of housemade egg pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach, sauced in béchamel. If you happen to be in the neighborhood and want a little something sweet,  head to the Lavazza Café for a short shot of liquid dessert in the form of their Neve Sulla Lava, three layers of flavor and temperature. Thick Italian drinking chocolate makes up the base with espresso granita on top and freshly whipped cream. Yowza. 

LITTLE GOAT DINER
Situated on the corner of West Randolph, this diner does a good job of playing up its fun modern interpretations on comforting brunch fare that they call “cereal killers,” sandwiches and more. I knew I wanted to visit for breakfast. Little Goat offers a steal of a deal of $10 breakfasts in three combinations with one of them being gluten-free, if you dine between 7-9 a.m. My Simple Goat selection of eggs, hash browns and biscuit offered a lot of food for a small price. Did you miss that time window because of a late night yesterday? No worries. The menu at Little Goat is as creative as you would expect coming from Stephanie Izard. Perched up at the bar looking into the action-paced kitchen window, I watched as the “Fat Elvis” was delivered to the patron next to me, all crispy waffles with a dollop of peanut butter, banana slices, candied bacon and syrup. On my other side, the Spiced Apple Pancakes arrived as big as the plates on which they were served, garnished with oatmeal crumble and buttermilk butter. Next time, I want to try the Spanish Omelette, loaded with cheddar, pickled peppers, masa chips, tomato and sour cream. The portions here are hefty, so come with friends and share or brown bag it. Also, head over to Little Goat Bread to pick up a freshly baked Miche loaf made of wheat, spelt, rye meal and buckwheat to take home, or if you’re in a hurry and can’t wait to be seated at the Little Goat Diner, nab a housemade Onion Rye Bagel smeared with kimchi cream cheese.

CELLAR DOOR PROVISIONS
What is happening at this small neighborhood outpost in Logan Square is so exciting I couldn’t help but gush with co-founder Ethan about bread for at least five minutes. The restaurant name tipped me off as to what I could expect: whole grains and solid baking. Their canneles, still warm from the oven might depose macarons or cupcakes with the creamy, custardy middles and  crisp candied exteriors. I relished a hearty slice of Bordeaux spinach quiche with roasted onion so creamy and the crust so light that it made for a comforting winter breakfast. What intrigued me the most were the Levain loaves being turned out in the kitchen during our time there. The open kitchen allowed us to peek in from the communal table as Ethan turned the fermenting dough in the cambro where it rested on the shelf. CDP just opened in late February and resembles in the best possible ways the kind of rustic handmade qualities loved in San Francisco’s Bar Tartine. Had we gone for lunch instead, I would have hankered to try the tartine of kefir, charred onion, shaved radish and carrot or the beet salad with sprouted rye. They also have a black garlic sable cookie I will try next time.

GASLIGHT COFFEE
One thing most of humanity can agree on is that hipsters know where to find good coffee. I’m not sure if it’s the roasting that draws them in, or theme of a genteel hunting lodge, but Gaslight was definitely the place to be seen and sipping for good reason. The latte commanded creaminess with an assertive espresso foundation. Rishi loose teas, the laid-back vibe and counter seating added to the charm.

BANG BANG PIE & BISCUITS
It’s no secret that I am obsessed with biscuits. And after trying what I deem to be “the best biscuit in the U.S.” I am ever on the hunt for it to find a viable contender. The biscuits at Bang Bang Pie are just such a biscuit. Since they bake them every hour, they take freshness to a whole new level because biscuits straight out of the oven, all flaky, hot, crumbly goodness. They serve them with fresh jam and fruity compound butter- two gold stars for Bang Bang. Maybe you crave salty over sweet, their Biscuit Muffin Strata brings together squash, nutmeg and pepitas for a savory breakfast or lunch. The sweet pies boggled my mind. I logged the selection of buttermilk custard pie in a vegetarian cornmeal shortbread crust as a must-try for my next visit.

KATHERINE ANNE CONFECTIONS
Before Katherine Anne and I had ever met, I knew we needed to be friends after trying one of her caramels. Given that I would opt for chocolate any day over caramel, hers swayed me to the chewy side. Our wedding favors came in small glassine bags of his and hers Katherine Anne caramels. I exulted to see her first storefront confiserie. Along with those ridiculously good chocolate and walnut caramels, the candy case held chocolate truffles in exotic flavors like Goat Cheese Walnut or Fat Elvis. I eyed the Stout S’more. Intriguing flavors of marshmallows included Vanilla Black Pepper. Located in Logan Square, stop here for a cup of hot chocolate with a Champagne and rose petal marshmallow.

THE WINCHESTER
Located on the corner of Winchester and Augusta, this Ukraine Village restaurant is tucked away and serene. Decked out in white tile and pale wooden tables, something about this restaurant feels both comfortable and modern. This holds true while perusing the menu. The shaved Brussels sprouts salad blends with shaved fennel, salty grana padano, dill and chive for an interesting salad that easily emptied. What is described as Winter Squash Curry consisted of spaghetti squash in a riff on Pad Thai, bringing together a bit of surprise in each bite, bright color, and differing textures. For a future breakfast, I’m keen to try the quinoa hash brown or the mixed grain porridge with apple, cheddar and almonds.

UNION SUSHI & BBQ
Think you can’t eat a delectable vegetarian meal at a sushi and barbecue bar? After exploring the extensive menu, my skepticism melted away. Cozy up to a table near the fire and pass the sake at this urban restaurant. Start dinner off with the Mushroom Salad with its savory umami notes pairing with peppery rocket leaves. Plumb the clever depths of their sushi offerings including the black rice rolls and order a Shiitake and tempura enoki roll with green onion, avocado and sesame along with their Devon roll, stuffed with sweet potato, chives, pickled radish and drizzled with curry mayo. Next time, I will be sure to try a slice of Yuzu Pie. (Update: Since returning to San Francisco, I have scoured for vegetarian sushi as good as Chicago & Portland. I’m still looking.)

NELLCOTE
Across the street from the Little Goat Diner, Nellcote is one part swanky decor and two parts eclectic menu. We dove into their assemblage of trumpet, oyster, royale and cremini wood-roasted mushrooms over warm silky polenta along with a kale salad with pecans to start off our meal. Did you know they mill their own flour in-house? Once I learned this detail from scavenging their menu online, a plate of pasta was foreseen and came in the guise of butternut squash agnolotti served in a brown butter sauce with quince, sage and Parmesan. A decadent choice for the evening, I skipped dessert but almost left with a bag of homemade dried pasta using their on-site milled flour. Be still my whole grain heart.

ADAGIO TEA
It grieved me to learn about the Adagio tea store on the day before leaving Chicago. Clearly, I don’t get out enough and founder Michael Cramer brews a fine cuppa. This oversight needs to be rectified next time but I peeked into the windows minutes after they had closed, marveling at the modern interior and all the selections of teapots.

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Next time, I’m keen to venture over to Spritzburger because the idea of burgers, brunch and bubbles sounds like far too much fun plus Gale Gand is one of the folks at the helm. Also, and trust me it’s from the lack of not having another stomach or self to go everywhere I’d like, I’m still jonesing to visit the Purple Pig, Longman & Eagle and revisit the Violet Hour or their new bar, Analogue which I hear has a ridiculously good chicken sandwich. Next time, Chicago. Until then, I remain fixed in my regret that I don’t live closer to Chicago and the creative food being plated in that fine city.

When you’re in Chicago, where do you like to eat and what do you like to do?

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24 Hours in Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa24 hours in Costa MesaCosta Mesa

Let’s talk about Orange County, the one which spawned such TV hits like “The O.C.” or “Real Wives of the O.C.” Given that we don’t have a television and happily qualify ourselves as Northern Californians, I’ve got a few reasons up my sleeve to want to head back to Costa Mesa again soon that do not involve made-for-television drama. Though maybe we will wait until it’s not flirting with temperatures in the low 90s. Santa Ana has a vibrant local handmade scene and Costa Mesa sports a spirit of independence that I can get behind. If we spent 24 hours in Costa Mesa, here’s an itinerary of what we could do after landing at the nearby John Wayne airport.

Bread Costa MesaBread Costa Mesa
BREAD ARTISAN BAKERY

Be still my wild yeast loving heart. The Campagna boule crafted at Bread Artisan Bakery can stop a person in their tracks by the sheer size of the bread round or the tight crumb and ever so slight sour flavor aspect. With a friendly personality, this family-owned wholesale business sells their bread to cafes and restaurants in Santa Ana. Check out their website to find locations that carry their bread. Kristen and her team are passionate whole grain enthusiasts and I happily snagged half a loaf to take back home to freeze which will mean we will have amazing bread within reach for quite some time.

creative outlet costa mesacreative outlet studio costa mesa

CREATIVE OUTLET STUDIOS
Call it bias, but I abide by the motto, “Do something creative everyday” and can get behind a business that gives an outlet for creativity. I met Susan and Lauren, the two owners of Creative Outlet Studios back when their business was an idea. Upcoming workshops include making a dish towel apron or indigo and shibori dyeing. This mother-daughter duo will unleash your creative side even if you have never considered yourself artistic. Make sure to visit their retail store for art supplies and handmade items for purchase. If you’re local to Costa Mesa, you can rent space in their studio too.

Library Store Los Angeles Library Store Los Angeles Library Store Los Angeles Library Store Los Angeles

LIBRARY STORE
Okay, this is kind of cheating because the actual store is located in Los Angeles proper, but they have a store on wheels- think of it as a library truck but infinitely cooler and without any shushing from resident librarians. What makes the library store truck worth seeking out is their cheeky paraphernalia of the literary kind. Here, you can procure a Romeo and Julienne wooden cutting board or an Edgar Allan Poe pen bag (I’m seeing Poe everywhere these days). I picked up some postcards “from the desk of Jane Austen.” As a prolific post card writer, I leapt at the opportunity to brighten a person’s day (and a postmaster’s) with pithy quotes from the lady Austen. (If you email me your mailing address, I just might send one of them out into the world to you!)

Seabirds Food Truck Seabirds Food Truck Seabirds Food Truck Seabirds Food Truck

SEABIRDS
Seabirds started out as a popular food truck serving creative vegan food and has recently set up shop in a storefront location in the LAB Anti-Mall (which is worth a visit in its own right). What makes them a cut above the rest (move over Native Foods) beyond their friendly customer service and clean, streamlined look is the food. The beer battered avocado tacos with Seabirds sauce and lime-kissed cabbage pulls in long lines. Keen on trying something even more fun and playful? Opt for their Jackfruit tacos with barbecue sauce, cabbage and pickled red onions. Their version of a kale caesar salad is more exciting than the John Stewart late night show with almonds and pepitas in a garlicky caesar dressing. You can’t go wrong with a Holy Heck Bowl made of brown rice, sauteed kale, and nut chorizo served with Seabirds sauce. You can also get it topped with homemade guacamole and coconut bacon (trust me you want to try this) which is smoky and crisp.

SoCo CollectionSoCo Collection

SOUTH COAST COLLECTION
In my family, if my cousin is the shopper, I’m the power shopper: decisive about what I like and what I don’t like (shopping). Here’s where South Coast Collection (SoCo for short) steps in. In an open floorplan, they feature a sampling of small shops including Birdie Juicery (go with the Green Basic- one of the cleanest and best green juice flavor profiles I have tried hands down) or Seventh Tea Bar  for loose tea and sweets. Let’s say you want to shop for unique clothing pieces or single piece of wood dining tables- they can meet those needs too and then some. Don’t forget to visit Surfas Restaurant Supply store and find kitchen contraptions you never knew you needed until now like the aqua cake stand or foodstuffs like olive oil.

habana costa mesa menuhabana costa mesahabana costa mesa

HABANA
Go for the food, stay for the outdoor dining ambience. Outfitted with candles that give an intimate evening glow, go early as Habana starts getting busy and keeps going that way until 2 a.m. It’s also located in the LAB Anti-Mall (are you sensing a trend here of where we might spend our time?) The cocktail menu offers interesting drinks like a Jalapeno Margarita or you can order a whole coconut if you’re feeling more tropical and less spicy. They boast a fried avocado appetizer that is just okay in comparison to the offering at Seabirds. Instead, save your appetite for the Ropa Vieja (translated “old clothes”) of shredded spiced beef, onions and peppers served with amazingly good white rice, black beans and maduros (fried plantains). My fork belongs to the Salmon a la Parilla that gets a nice char on the edges and is served with a creamy spicy sauce and fresh tomatoes alongside the trifecta of Cuban cuisine: beans, rice and plantains. This is comfort food like no other.

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24 Hours in Baltimore

 When you think about your favorite American town, does Baltimore come to mind? If you haven’t noticed I’m kind of sweet on Baltimore. I would submit Wit and Wisdom as a memorable meal, and stay tuned for a special write-up of my favorite restaurant in the U.S., perfect for when you have a bit more time, but right now let’s plan our 24 hours in Baltimore. I have  selected a hearty blend of food and poetry to make you also smitten with a city usually recorded for its football wins, crab cakes or crime.

Lebanese Taverna BaltimoreLebanese Taverna BaltimoreLebanese TavernaLebanese Taverna Baltimore

LEBANESE TAVERNA
Lebanese Taverna continues to give me a proper education in the art of Lebanese cuisine. Years ago when I visited the restaurant for the first time at a happy hour meet and greet, I discovered one of my food fixations: labneh. This is a restaurant where you hopefully have brought a few friends so you can order more dishes to sample. Their warm puffy just baked pita bread reminds me of the type of pita bread served on Mykonos in Greece rather than the sad plastic-wrapped version sold in mass market grocery stores. Their pita is perfect to pair with hommus from their extensive hommus section of the menu. As a hummus fan, their hommus is seasoned in all the right ways and if you order the spicy version, it comes with a pool of harissa in the middle. The Arnabeet salad, a roasted cauliflower, chickpea, yogurt and parsley salad really delights. If you’re craving something more traditional go for the refreshing Fatoosh salad of greens, tomatoes, mint leaves and crispy pita.Their Fatteh of eggplant served atop garlicky yogurt, chickpeas and fried pita chips also comes with jeweled pomegranate arils for a sweet, tangy burst, pine nuts and mint leaves. Expect long waits on the weekend  and evenings.

Edgar Allan Poe house  grave1

CHASING EDGAR ALLAN POE
Baltimore might be the one town in the United States to not only appreciate their resident poetic history but keep that history alive. As a test, I asked two strangers to cite for me where the Baltimore Ravens football team discovered its name. Without skipping a breath, they responded Edgar Allan Poe. I resolved to visit his gravesite even though some argue that his body should be moved to Philadelphia. The “Poe Toaster,” an anonymous Poe fan leaves a bottle of Cognac and three roses at his gravesite would definitely disagree. If you decide to make the trek out to Westminster Burial Ground, stay aware of your surroundings as it’s in a rough neighborhood.

Instead, perhaps head over to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum and make pit stops at other Poe places. To add onto the Poe places to visit, there have been other offshoots celebrating city ties with the poet. Restaurants like the Annabel Lee Tavern that serves a dessert called Edgar Allan Pate as well as the Annabel Lee cocktail of Stoli, peach nectar, and fresh lime topped with Poema Cava or sip on a pint of The Raven lager… If you appreciate poetry trinkets, pick up a Poe bobblehead.

The Black Olive BaltimoreThe Black Olive BaltimoreThe Black Olive Baltimore

THE BLACK OLIVE
Many years ago, several friends and I stumbled upon The Black Olive, nestled over on South Bond Street adjacent to Shakespeare Street and it left an indelible mark. It might have been the fresh fish on ice that you can select and order with your server when they lead you to review the display like the Bronzini shipped from Greece and then fileted tableside, served with a simple sauce of lemon juice, olive oil and oregano and a side dish of griddled polenta olive oil and feta cakes. I could also point to the refreshingly green take on hummus that incorporates parsley or the enticing Melitzanasalata roasted eggplant dip. But really, what keeps The Black Olive on my Baltimore short list is their Village Pie which inspired my homemade version as well as their Baklava Ice Cream with bits of baklava mixed into the ice cream for textural intrigue.

The Horse - BaltimoreThe Horse - BaltimoreThe Horse That You Came In On- Baltimore

THE HORSE YOU CAME IN ON
As it so happens, after eating dinner at the Black Olive in Fell’s Point, you are only steps away from America’s oldest saloon, The Horse You Came In On Saloon, known by locals as The Horse. Established in 1775, the rugged interior takes you back in time, but what makes patrons come back for more is the fun atmosphere, flowing booze and live music from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Over the bar, a sign reads, “Dry your eyes and soldier on.” Good advice. What took me to The Horse was the tiny tidbit that this saloon was the final destination of Edgar Allan Poe before he was found dead. The Horse’s colorful history adds to its charm plus it’s on an interesting cobblestone street with quaint shops lining that stay open late.

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When in Portland 2013 (biscuit edition)

the food poet | Portland cityscape

I’m not sure what got into me, but on a recent trip (okay, trips) to Portland, I found myself knee deep in biscuits. While I would like to say I offset the indulgent and oh-so flaky crumbed days of biscuit-eating with vegan food to depose my butter and flour consumption ratio, I’m not certain I succeeded.

 

When in Portland eat a chicken biscuit at Tasty n AlderWhen in Portland eat a biscuit at Tasty n Alder

TASTY N ALDER

I’m not sure there is a reward for it, but I have visited all three food emporiums in the Tasty n Sons trinity. Perhaps there is a gold star sticker for frequenters. I tend to think if you’ve got 24 hours or even 48 hours and want to experience Portland through your fork, head to a Tasty N Tasty restaurant. This proved true even more recently when we ambled to Tasty n Sons at 3:30 in the afternoon and found tables of hipsters congregating and filling up the communal table, noshing off the happy hour menu. While the original Tasty n Sons still holds a special place in my gut for their warm, friendly service and put an egg on it swagger, there’s a good chance my first love has actually become Tasty n Alder. I blame the biscuit. More directly, I blame the server who suggested that the biscuit might be good to try. I don’t typically go for the whole fried chicken and egg on a biscuit with cheddar, but I heeded the server’s recommendation and she did not steer me wrong. Oh my goodness, the crumb on this biscuit. Thankfully, it is diminutive enough that any notion of wrongdoing is minimized as it’s not the behemoth-size served at Pine State (and I’d vouch is the better biscuit).

On another occasion, I opted for the patatas bravas, which I shared with some strangers also set up in the front window with some friendly Portlanders. That particular day I also ordered the off-the-menu special of mini biscuits in venison gravy which resembled a redeye gravy in all the right ways and also featured a smattering of diced bell peppers for flavor and a bit of texture. If you’re staying downtown, Tasty n Alder is the one to visit. Get there early and avoid a wait or if dining alone, make friends.

PDX Pine State Biscuits

PINE STATE BISCUITS

It should be disconcerting when people warn you in advance about a restaurant and you decide to go anyway. After the ridiculously good biscuit at Tasty n Alder, it set a chain of events into motion. I jumped on that biscuit train with the eagerness of a teenager just behind the wheel for the first time solo. Take note, there will be a line at Pine State Biscuits, even if you arrive early. Gabby had cautioned on the large portions here and it’s true. This meal will cover the requirements nicely. The line moved quickly and before long, the cashier stood in front of me taking down my order of The Reggie, a biscuit slathered in gravy and sandwiching cheese and fried chicken, and a cold-brewed Stumptown iced coffee. Slung together in seamless motion, the cooks worked so fast that watching them was its own form of entertainment. When the biscuit arrived, it was of epic proportions. This meal is almost a challenge and most definitely is aiming for the eater with swagger. Juicy fried chicken held up the melted cheddar cheese and bits of biscuit flaking off onto my fork. Since this was my second (shudder!) fried chicken biscuit sandwich in 48 hours though, I’m more amenable to the size and flavor of Tasty n Alder. If you happen to be keen to get your biscuits buttered, head to Pine State.

 

When in Portland eat at Toro Bravo

When in Portland eat at Toro BravoTORO BRAVO

Fabiola set about giving us her three ideas of where to eat while in Portland, and while selecting between Clyde Common and Toro Bravo was difficult, we made the right choice for the evening. Upon arriving at the overtly Spanish outpost of the Tasty n Sons empire in Portland with twilight settling on the city, Toro Bravo boasted dim lighting and ruddy surfaces. The effect is both intimate and mysterious, as if you are walking into an experience as much as a restaurant.

When in Portland eat pickled vegetables and olives at Toro BravoWhen in Portland eat tortilla espanola at Toro Bravo

The sheep’s cheese with rose petal harissa and mint sounded compelling on the menu but left a bit of a thud as the rose was indiscernible from the heat that blanketed our tongues. The marinated olives and pickled vegetables kept us reaching for more, and the radicchio salad with green olive toast and manchego vinaigrette satisfied our salad course. The tortilla espanola at Toro Bravo is pretty special and by special, I mean custard enfolding potatoes prepared perfectly. It was my stand-out dish. Toro Bravo also easily provided a vegan menu for a friend which didn’t consist of barely dressed salad or steamed vegetables. The meal at Toro Bravo stood out as a clever interpretation of Spanish tapas.

Ya Hala Portland

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YA HALA

You know how a restaurant can work its way into repeat visits every time you’re in town? Dreena had been vocally dreaming about their artichoke hearts dish during a trip in Portland, and we wanted to experience the flavors she lavished upon us, extolling their food. If you don’t have a car, Ya Hala can be a bit of a long ride in a cab, but the food at the other end of that pay stub is well worth the visit. Situated in a darkly lit back room, we were greeted in this Lebanese restaurant with more tantalizing options than just the braised artichokes stuffed with carrots, potatoes, squash and onions in a tomato onion sauce that brought us to the restaurant. I couldn’t resist their puffy housemade pita or the fire-roasted baba ghanouj as a starter and sipped on a date soda. Seeing labneh on the menu almost made me atwitter and I had to winnow down my choices from the Makloube, upside down rice and eggplant casserole or the Sheik Al Mehshi. I ended up going with the Sheik, a dish of baby eggplants sautéed and stuffed with vegetables and served with a tomato sauce and basmati rice. When the dishes arrived, we dove into them eagerly, but even the most enthusiastic appetite can’t finish the large portions they serve. For a bit of Middle Eastern flair in Portland, I was thrilled to discover Ya Hala.

Katie Bun | Baker & Spice | PortlandBaker & Spice Portland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAKER & SPICE

Tucked into a residence not close to downtown, but accessible by taxi, the bakery, Baker & Spice boasts treasures of the flaky and crusty variety. Fabi had mentioned the rigors of perfection by which they make their croissants each day and I jumped at learning of another bakery in Portland at the top of their game.  One thing you quickly notice upon entering Baker & Spice is how the open kitchen is directly behind the counter and extends far back. It distracted me from the rich bounty in the glass case as I tend to be a bit of a kitchen voyeur and appreciate watching others bake and cook. With so much stimuli, I ordered a box of goodies and retreated to enjoy them with friends. The Katie bun, a Danish covered in brown sugar, cinnamon and golden raisins turned out to be our favorite, a not-too-sweet and sticky bun perfect for pulling apart and sharing. The Maple twist Danish pastry with Vermont maple glaze also enticed. I didn’t try a hand pie or a slice of chocolate chip angel food cake that looked light enough to ascend from the pastry case. Of course, tarts, drop cookies, shortbread and bread puddings joined the rank in the glass case. All in all, this bakery exceeded expectations. If you visit, make sure to pick up a bag of Baker & Spice granola, which travels well as a food souvenir.

VEGAN

When in Portland eat at DepartureWhen in Portland eat at DepartureDEPARTURE

Hotel restaurants can certainly leave little in the way of intrigue, so when Kristina mentioned that I should check out the restaurant at the top of my hotel during a recent visit, I kind of balked at first. We rode the elevator to the top floor and stepped out into what felt like a narrow passage way to a space ship. Walking into Departure what struck me immediately was the host asking us if we needed a vegan or gluten-free menu. That touch of hospitality lets me know that people with food allergies or dietary preferences are not second class citizens but are welcome. This left a welcome impression as he whisked us into the dining room and we were quickly seated across from stunning views of the city bridges and river streaming through glass walls.

When in Portland eat vegan sushi at Departure

When in Portland eat brussels sprouts at DepartureWe split several vegan sushi rolls including the Grilled Shiitake Roll with scallion, avocado, butter lettuce and carrot sauce that equated to a flavorful bite. I smeared my sushi with the carrot sauce, not wanting to lose any of it. We also shared a Sweet Potato Tempura Roll with spinach, ginger and spicy miso where the sweet potato served as a bit of crunchy texture. Lastly, we ended up perfectly pairing the sushi rolls with their wok-fried Brussels sprouts tossed with chili, lime and mint.

When in Portland eat carrot salad at Departure

I must admit, the food here is good in a way that had me sheepishly admitting I was wrong… so wrong that the next night I went back to Departure by myself to relish the Grilled Shiitake Roll. I also tried their spicy carrot and avocado salad with pickled cucumber and sourdough croutons that the server mentioned is the staff favorite and on the list of food the staff can’t order because of that fact. He was so right and in some ways it was a quintessential Portland salad with its pickled veggies and fermented dough croutons. And, wouldn’t you know it, on my way out, I saw Kristina sitting at the bar finishing off a Grilled Shiitake roll. Clearly, something good needs to be savored twice sometimes.

Kure PDXKure PDX Portland Farmacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KURE JUICE BAR

Downtown, I had spied a juice bar called Kure Juice Bar. Inside, Kure is essentially a walk-up counter with a list of juices that can be concocted as you wait. In addition to their juice offerings, I appreciated small details of fare for breakfast like steel cut oats  or acai bowls. For lunch, I noticed they also carried millet burgers and kale salad. Their “bells and whistles” list of mix-ins for smoothies included esoteric offerings like veggie probiotics, maca root and bee pollen. Since our visit coincided with the droopy hours of afternoon that require a pick-me-up, I selected the “Portland Farmacy” juice, a combination of cucumber, celery, spinach, kale, parsley, romaine, lime, apple and cayenne. If you haven’t caught onto the burgeoning juice movement taking on the U.S. right now, let me just tell you this is a trend not founded in hype. Sucking down the juice, I was amazed again how revitalized this infusion of veggies and fruit made me. If you typically turn to caffeine to help you wake up, try a green juice. You might just find that its effects happen quickly and are more long-lasting. The Portland Farmacy blend was one of their more savory blends, and I ordered it with a boost of ginger because I like the zing. Other juices stood out like the Tiger’s Blood with carrot, extra ginger and beet, which I can easily imagine is sweet with a bit of that beloved ginger fire. Kure is closed on Sundays, so I didn’t get to try anything else, but imagine the Matcha Matcha Man is a popular choice when it gets chilly outside.

PDX oblation paper and pressPDX-oblation paper and press 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OBLATION PAPERS

Let’s talk about paper, shall we? It’s my experience that writers have a fixation on paper goods. Whether it’s finding a handmade journal or letterpress cards that look all business but speak with snark, if writers are collectors, I’m inclined to think that paper factors highly into their collections. I stumbled across Oblation with a friend (who’s a writer), Susan. She had a short list of must-visit PDX spots and Oblation factored high on her list. Within a minute of entering this quirky store, I understood why. Before long I had picked up a “You Look Like You Could Use Bovine Growth Hormone” card and a birthday card that celebrated on its cover, “Here’s a Mini Stratocaster for Your Birthday” with a tiny electric guitar sketched onto the front. The store boasts boxed sets of letterpress cards of the more vanilla variety, “Thank You!” and others in the cheeky realm like one emblazoned with a pitch from “the Department of Homestead Security.”

PDX-oblation paper and press 4

PDX-oblation paper and press 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the back of the shop, behind the resident parakeet, a man was making paper, dipping long molds into wide vats of grey water. I stood there, watching him work, trying to be inconspicuous and marveling at the effort involved in making what my pen cherishes. If you tend to be a card collector, be prepared to walk out of Oblation with a stack of sassy cards.

So, what are some of your can’t miss Portland restaurants or shops?

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Where to Eat in Austin 2013

Franklin-BBQ-AustinFranklin BBQ Austin

Franklin BBQ Austin

Franklin

Sometimes the hype surrounding a place is undeniable. I am not easily taken in by such terms as “best restaurant” or “most popular”- call it a confounding need to go against the crowd. The line snaking out of the front door of Franklin did not surprise me nor did the 45 minute wait, which could easily have been several hours long. Like others in line, I braced as the server came outside to announce out of stocks and then slackened my shoulders as she listed brisket among the current meats still available. Brisket, my barbecue touchstone, how I hankered for a hunk as the line crawled forward slowly. Once we arrived at the counter and the butcher hacked into the crusted meat, I was salivating with anticipation. And you know what, the brisket is as good as the critics say. No, it is better. I found myself acknowledging the obvious aloud as we left, “I don’t ever need to eat brisket again.” Nothing can compare with Franklin’s brisket. So settle in for the ride, especially if you’re thinking of going for lunch… ride the BBQ crest and go with it, especially if they run out. Crack open a Shiner Bock while you traverse the line and indulge your barbecue cravings at Franklin’s. Also, make sure to serve up some of the espresso BBQ sauce and original, though in truth, the meat is just simply good on its own.

Lick Ice Cream AustinLick Ice Cream Austin

Lick Ice Cream Austin

Lick

When a food friend casually mentioned Lick in passing, I made a mental note. I’m a bit of a sucker for “handcrafted,” “organic,” “small batch,” “local.” A visit to Lick was imminent. I found myself pulled in by their colorful, friendly logo and their tagline of “honest ice cream.” Making decisions at Lick proved to be difficult for this chocoholic with flavors such as Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil & Sea Salt or Too Hot Chocolate, chocolate ice cream with cayenne, cinnamon and chipotle peppers. Then again, the Texas au Lait with a bit of espresso steeped in and Mexican vanilla caught my eye. I settled on a combination of Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil & Sea Salt, paired with Savory Pecan & Bourbon, sucking on the candied pecans and catching the hints of cardamom and hit of bourbon. I’m pretty sure Lick is giving Amy’s a bit of healthy competition. Decadent and creamy with a homemade texture that tastes slow-churned, if I decide to indulge in ice cream when in Austin, I’m heading to Lick.

Casa de Luz AustinCasa de Luz Austin

Casa de Luz Austin

Casa de Luz

Looking for Casa de Luz will take you down a side street and plant you near a school. Walking into Casa de Luz transports you to Costa Rica or at least the type of environment this community has created. This plant-based restaurant operates on a donation basis and serves macrobiotic food. The menu changes everyday at this organic vegetarian café, which boasts a banner in the kitchen that says, “Nature is our menu planner.”  On the day I visited, lunch consisted of an organic mixed greens salad and creamy cilantro dressing. A large pot of vegetarian soup could be ladled into bowls and one of the cooks delivered a plate of whole grains, steamed vegetables and legumes to the table as I perused the tenets of “Macrobiotic” living. Pockets of people scattered through the dining hall and the outside deck. The spirit of Casa de Luz with its vegetable-driven menu and inclusive environment makes it a special place in Austin for those pursuing clean eating.

Gonzo Juice AustinGonzo Juice Austin

Gonzo Juice Austin

Gonzo Juice

You can’t really go to Austin without visiting a food truck. Like the bastion of food truck food, Portland, what defines the food truck culture in Austin is the permanence of these vehicles. One evening, I found myself in close proximity of a food park and made time to peruse the trucks’ offerings. The gigantic chicken head jutting off of the Gonzo Juice food truck pulled me in to further investigate their offerings. As it happened, I found myself only marginally hungry and particularly in the mood for something cold, frosty and able to contend with the sunshine beating down from above. Ordering the Honey Pie was a very good decision. I discovered this as I slurped the milkshake made with honey, almond butter, and almond milk vowing that next time I would try their Watermelonade because what could sound more thirst-quenching in a Texas summer?

 

Town Lake

After all that eating and drinking or let’s face it before, finding and thinking through a workout regimen when visiting a city is part of unlocking its charm. Renowned for the large flock of elite athletes who live and train in the city, Austin has something to offer people of all fitness levels like the walking path around the lake known as Town Lake. Different path lengths exist and provide space enough for runners, walkers, cyclists, families and dogs. One afternoon we took our time walking three miles around Town Lake and I discovered it is the social epicenter of Austin. From the lush scenery of the still water to the lost and found rock near the mouth of the bridge, that route around Town Lake let me get a glimpse of the locals’ “watering hole.”

 

Barre3

When thinking of working out, if you tend to veer toward classes or yoga and haven’t tried a barre class, you’re in for the kind of treat that will leave you sore the next day. I attended my first barre class at Barre3, a studio situated close to West Lake and with visions of a green juice at nearby Whole Foods afterwards. It’s all about priorities, right? The barre class worked on flexibility. We squatted; we lifted. We sank into plies and by the time we stretched into cool down, my body resembled human jello in the best possible way. Barre provides a great workout and the team at Barre3 led by Tara made a newbie like me feel welcome as much as someone more experienced.

 

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When in Dallas (Update) and When in Fort Worth…

Cities always evolve and with time, we get the chance to see how neighborhoods that once would never have beckoned for brunch become hot spots. In this When in Dallas post, we revisit East Dallas, Oak Cliff and take a short road trip to Fort Worth in search of good barbecue. 

EBar-Tex-Mex-Swirl-MargaritaEBar-Tex-Mex-QuesoEBar-Tex-Mex-Chile-con-carne

E Bar Tex-Mex
Word of mouth brought me to Uptown Dallas, over on North Haskell Street for the anticipated visit to E Bar Tex-Mex. Ernie, one of the proprietors is a friend and a seasoned restaurateur.  Knowing how much thought, work and preparation had gone into taking E Bar Tex-Mex from a dream to a reality, I had been eagerly waiting to experience E Bar for myself. Texans pride themselves on Tex-Mex and usually the battle for best in any Texan city could rival the Philadelphia debate on who makes the better cheesesteak- everyone has an opinion. On this particular visit with a food industry friend, we ordered the queso and found it clung to the chip well without being too thin or too thick and boasted the right amount of heat. With this, I sipped on a Swirl – margarita with sangria swirled in. I’m not much of a drinker, but would imagine it very easy to sip on this concoction all night long as the flavors complimented the food and conversation. My judgement on tex-mex always comes down to chili con carne enchiladas. Perhaps you have your own guilty pleasure and this tex-mex favorite is mine to indulge in once a year. What makes a good chili con carne you might ask? The chili sauce should be thick with enough spice to play off the melted cheese. Oh my goodness, these enchiladas had me asking for the recipe. No, seriously. I wanted to learn how to recreate it back in San Francisco. E-Bar uses sharp cheddar inside the enchiladas letting the cheese stand up to the chili con carne.

My friend ordered the Grilled Shrimp Tacos with applewood smoked bacon, corn and avocado pico de gallo and a remoulade sauce- kind of like a tex-mex version of shrimp remoulade all rolled into a corn tortilla. I appreciated that the standard fare of Mexican rice tinted red but flavorless actually tasted robust. My friend’s order of Shrimp Tacos was accompanied by Cilantro Lime Rice, a bold flavor combination that complemented her beans. The refried beans held a rich, somewhat sweet flavor note that I placed as bacon and learned later was applewood smoked bacon. Next time, I plan on trying their elote (spicy Mexican cream corn that is one of my mom’s childhood favorites) and their award-winning tacos like the Brisket with sautéed onions and poblano peppers that comes with their bean soup (borracho-style?). As they say, the devil is in the details and the food at E-Bar was as good as I could have desired it to be. Move over El Fenix, I have a new tex-mex haunt in Dallas.

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Bolsa Mercado
I am a sucker for specialty stores especially those with local goodies I could never find cross-country. If I lived in Oak Cliff or Dallas, I might find myself becoming a regular at Bolsa Mercado. Tucked inside along one wall, multiple glass cases hold freshly baked goods, salads and a host of deli sandwiches. Perhaps you’re partial to Bruschetta? They have a full bruschetta tasting of combinations like apple butter with manchego and pecan or speck with onion and walnut. I made a mental note to one day try their Beet Salad with oranges, radicchio, feta and pistachio brittle or the Twig and Branch Flatbread studded with roasted grapes on chevre and arugula. For all you kolache fans, of which I am one, they make their own in-house. Perhaps you find yourself among good company of those who use Duck Fat to great effect- their Duck Fat Biscuits and Gravy might entice you. Given that our visit happened on a morning trek to Oak Cliff, I snagged one of their Cranberry Pecan Muffins, still warm from the oven and happily broke off bite sized pieces. I don’t eat muffins all that often, but the streusel topping and the festive combination of Texas pecans and cranberries had me smiling from the inside out. A communal table separates the in-house deli from the market. The market itself is what made our visit so memorable. Shelves of locally sourced Dude, Sweet chocolate bars and their “Crack in a Box,” candied nuts and cacao nibs enrobed in a gigantic hunk of dark chocolate sat back to back with locally stocked gluten-free pancake mixes, specialty bitters and a glass wall of Shiner Bock and local beers. Portlanders and San Franciscans could make much of this local Bishop Arts district gem.

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Dallas Arboretum
The arboretum was quite the talk of Dallas last Fall. Visiting the Arboretum, balls and rods of colored glass stuck out from the well-coiffed shrubbery. Chihuly brightened the Dallas Arboretum with his cheerful approach to colored glass and it brought people out in droves. This exhibit which should have finished in early fall was extended with opportunities to visit it during daylight hours and after dusk. A ball of blue rods that radiate out from darkness to light captured my attention To me, it resembled Krypton, the home planet of Superman. Then again, in the Poetry Garden a fantastical chandelier of goldenrod, pale blues and greens danced on the cobblestones below its base as the sun played along the contours. Or perhaps, I was most taken with a large yellow tower made up of lemon yellow branches reaching out and down. How sumptuous were the colors! Every Fall, the Arboretum takes on a harvest theme with its Pumpkin Village where umpteen varieties of pumpkins and even a house outfitted in pumpkins is a marvel to child and adult, but already a fan of Msr. Chihuly, was completely taken with the playful approach to accenting nature’s beauty through color and light. Chihuly designed a few blue and purple dancing color sculptures for the Arboretum that played against their water cascade backdrops. We also learned he had contrived of a new medium to create aqua blocks settled in the nearby stream of the Arboretum. I think the docents were as equally transfixed as the visitors. While the Chihuly exhibit is no longer at the Arboretum, this property is worth a visit and often has special events; just make sure to arrive early to beat the crowds.

 

DAY TRIP: Fort Worth 

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Cooper’s Bar-B-Que
On a lark, we drove out to Fort Worth from Dallas one day.  It’s not all that long of a drive and I am pretty sure my appreciation of roadtrips comes from the wide open roads of Texas. We set out to find a good bar-be-que restaurant close to cowtown. In my searches looking for legitimate barbeque, Cooper’s Bar-B-Que was recommended with stellar credentials. First of all, when you walk in, you are greeted by the pitmaster who cranes open the pit, revealing the different kinds of meats available. I am a pretty stalwart fan of brisket and watched hungrily as he shaved off the meat. My compatriot selected a stack of ribs and we set off to decide which side dishes should be included into our meals. The macaroni and cheese and cole slaw are nothing to really praise, but then again, people don’t go eat barbeque at Cooper’s for the sides. Where the side dishes came up short, the beans excelled. We discovered them after paying for our meal, right over by the barbeque sauce and condiments area. They were well spiced, think jalapenos and bits of pork with herbs, and so full of flavor that they almost had us forgetting the bar-be-que. It might be bad to admit, but as we found ourselves easily full from lunch, we wrapped up half our meats… and included a to-go container of the beans! The barbeque sauce was kept warm in a large pot out in a massive mess hall that I could imagine being filled up during the weekends. Cooper’s bar-be-que does the name well. They even sell frozen briskets and other refrigerated cuts of meat for the at home entertainer to cook for quite a feast.  So, if you’re in the mood for meat, Cooper’s has you covered.

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Fort Worth Stockyards
While you’re in Fort Worth, and perhaps after you finish your barbeque feast at Cooper’s, walk over to old Fort Worth to the Fort Worth Stockyards where you get a real sense of how the nickname, cowtown, came to be. This was actually the final stop of longhorn cattle heading where drovers would come to rest and gather more supplies. You’ll find there is much for the tourist on this street, so buyer beware. We happened in on a spice shop where a flurry of different spice combinations are prepared in-house and they also sell a number of loose teas. I marveled at the selection of dried pepper powders and conspired to pick some up, but ended up leaving with some specialty rice. I personally like the rustic feel of the NE 23rd Street as it feels like a showdown could happen at any moment or maybe even a hay bale might blow across the path.  I figure if you’re planning to drive over to Fort Worth, you don’t want to miss this stop as it gives a very distinct history of the place.

Also…
While in Fort Worth and perhaps in lieu of walking through the Stockyards, should you venture to Fort Worth in the evening, consider checking out Billy Bob’s to see if any concerts appeal to you or if you like to kick up your boots while dancing the two step. Bonus, it’s right across the road from Cooper’s.

 

 

 

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Journeys When in

When in Portland

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Few places have been so deeply ingrained into the urban subconscious through visual media like Portland, Oregon. The idea of creating an entire television show on the premise of characters you might find in a city as quirky as Portland has ensured its success and ambassadorship.

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My first visit to Portland found me quickly enamored of the cyclists commandeering the streets or seeing a woman wearing fairy wings and waiting for public transportation. Somehow that sense of wackiness just fit and endeared me to a city that felt familiar from the Portlandia spoofs.

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We attempted the food truck scene over at Pioneer Square and found a grilled cheese sandwich on gluten-free bread that took too long to serve up and Indian food that while economic in price just sufficed but didn’t tantalize. So, rather than bore you with those criticisms, I’ve saved my recommendations for places that sizzle.

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It might be safe to admit up front that most of the food adventures below included my good friend Char, the baker. We visited a number of bakeries, making our way on foot whether running or walking there and back. I like to believe this helped make up for the incredible calorie surplus. Regardless, as one who revels in discovering cities on foot, Portland welcomes walkers and cyclists alike.

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WHEELS

Dollar Rent-A-Car

When you visit Portland, it might just be worthwhile to rent a car for a day to visit nearby Milwaukie and if you find yourself in such a predicament, dial up Dollar Rent-a-Car on the outskirts of the Pearl district. If you’re as lucky as I am you might encounter Stephen, the singer with a bent for karaoke. Helping you at the front desk, perhaps you’ll meet Kevin, the consummate foodie with an opinion about any restaurant you can sling his way. And not to be forgotten, maybe the person handing you the rental keys and cleverly marking up a map with suggested areas to visit will be Tom, the tour guide. I rented a car for one day and set off on adventures that involve highways and winding roads outside of downtown. It was a wise decision that led to delicious discoveries.

 

EATS

PDX- Bobs-Red-MillBob’s Red Mill

For Portland visitors, a trip to Bob’s Red Mill, in nearby Milwaukie, is a must. The iconic red mill store is flanked by a working water wheel and inside you’ll find row after row full of bagged grains, flours, mixes and hot cereals. The mill store also features a café where the food is made daily and sandwiches are served on just baked breads. If you trek a mile away from the mill store, you can catch a daily tour of the mill itself, an interesting way to see and hear how the grains are stone-ground and what makes them different from processed grains. If you’re lucky you might get to hear Bob play the piano and sing a tune. I am a personal fan of Bob Moore and Bob’s Red Mill, not only for their emphasis on pure ingredients, high quality standards (including a dedicated gluten-free processing facility and testing) as well as the integrity of Bob himself, who on his 82nd birthday gave the company to his employees. If you were to open my pantry, you’d find jars of grains lined up offering the health benefits of whole grains with the variety of flavors found in amaranth, millet, oats, organic cornmeal, and quinoa.

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Crave Bakeshop

This gluten-free bakeshop is a neighborhood gem in Lake Oswego. Kira, the baker behind Crave Bakeshop competed on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” and won with her gluten-free cupcake. Two times. I had met Kira and Jamie of Crave at a gluten-free show earlier this year where they treated us to their gluten-free  dairy-free beer brownies and warm generosity, so I looked forward to seeing where all that baking happens.

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On this particular occasion, and goaded on by the tantalizing cinnamon blast greeting us when we stepped inside, we tried the Cinnamon Rolls and found them finger-licking good and laced with a generous helping of cinnamon and swirled with warm icing. Delicious.

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We also happened to walk out with a Maple Bar and one of their scones. While we noted that the Maple Bar would be a perfect fall treat, the spice that stood out was cloves. We nibbled at the scone but found our fingers continuing to search and pull off hunks of cinnamon roll on the drive back.PDX-Crave-Bakeshop-Maple-Bars

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Boke

When you live in San Francisco, you get a smorgasbord of opportunities to locate and eat bao, steamed buns. I’m going to submit though that Boke has gone where no bao has gone before. I had the pleasure of sampling their Fried Chicken Bao with pickles and their Grilled Zucchini Bao with aioli. Both were equally delectable and stood out in a room full of local restaurant samples at a food blogger conference I attended earlier this summer. Upon reviewing their menu, interesting reasons to make a visit to Boke include their Ramen Bowls with housemade noodles and toppings like Caramelized Fennel Dashi. If you’re gluten-free, they have yam noodles you can substitute which sound intriguing. They continue a fusion of Southern and East Asian foods with sides of pickled cucumbers or shiitakes, then leading into a dessert menu that features housemade twinkies. Be still, your Hostess loving heart, I suppose. Go for the Bao. Stay for the Coconut Kaffir Lemongrass Tapioca.

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Tasty & Sons

Recommended by local friends, we met up at Tasty & Sons for lunch during our visit. The benefit of eating with a larger party allowed us to try a variety of dishes.

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This included the Cast Iron Frittata with confit green beans, feta, caramelized onions and tomato salad that everyone agreed was a winsome combination of fresh and cooked ingredients.

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We moved onto the Shakshuka, a spicy red pepper and tomato stew with baked eggs. A few folks in our party noshed on the Burmese Red Pork Stew, commenting on it between bites with sounds and forks scraping the plate empty. Our server had accurately predicted this as one of their hot menu items.

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Apparently, the magazine, “Put an Egg on It” could have been inspired by all the eggy menu options that kept our mouths busy and stomachs more than satisfied as we even added an egg onto the paprika spiced Patatas Bravas.

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PDX- Tasty-and-Sons-Coffee-Soda-mixedI sipped a Coffee Soda, which I’m considering recreating here at some point – I found this imported beverage effervescent, creamy and a delight.PDX-Pok-Pok-SignPok Pok

What clinched my appreciation for this revered restaurant specializing in Thai street food involved reading the drink menu. There, listed among fanciful cocktails, “Drinking Vinegars stood out.

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Oh my goodness. The question then became which flavor would be the one to give a go. I settled on the Tamarind Drinking Vinegar and am recreating it for Black Friday Feast by making up a Tamarind Shrub to stir into sparkling water. (Note: it ended up being more of a tamarind agua fresca.)

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We also tried the Khao Soi, a personal favorite of mine at local San Francisco eatery, B Star. At Pok Pok, the mild curry sauce and chicken was served over yellow noodles with house pickled greens, but I found myself longing for the Kau Soi of B Star while eating at Pok Pok.

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We also tried the Yam Samun Phrai, a Northern Thai salad of carrots, parsnips, cashews, white turmeric, betel leaf, lime leaf, lemongrass, fried shallots, Thai chilies and a coconut milk dressing.

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As I left Pok Pok, thoughts lingered of the Papaya Pok Pok Salad, their namesake dish that consisted of string beans, green papaya, tomatoes, Thai chile, tamarind, lemon juice, palm sugar, garlic, fish sauce and peanuts. What gave it an indelible impression was the interplay between sour and sweet. We heard that the chicken wings are a can’t miss item on the menu, and thus a good reason to return to Pok Pok when travels take us back to Portland.

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Salt & Straw

As an ice cream connoisseur, it doesn’t escape my notice when an ice cream is praised as the best in the city. Imagine our surprise when we happened upon Salt & Straw while strolling down Division Street after dinner at Pok Pok. A happy coincidence, I think not. This humble stand serves up memorable scoops indeed and the line to show for it. I tried their famed Sea Salt with Burnt Caramel Ribbons and while that would be kryptonite for the caramel fan, settled upon a cup of their Sweet Corn ice cream that tasted fresh and like summer in a scoop.

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Ken’s Artisan Breads

A San Francisco friend told me that Ken’s pastries could give local San Francisco bakery darling, Tartine, a run for its money. A statement of this magnitude needed to be verified and so, one morning, we wound our way over to the quaint neighborhood in which Ken’s Artisan Breads is located. As a sidenote, it makes for a lovely walk from downtown.

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We picked up one of the Oregon Croissants, studded with Oregon blackberries, hazelnut cream and pearl sugar. That, with two lattes made for a decadent way to start off our day. The croissant did not disappoint and the combination of blackberries with hazelnuts contributed a melt-in-your-mouth tang of berries to the rich, creamy nuttiness. We spied a number of beautiful loaves of bread and a pastry case loaded with other decadent offerings. Note that the line at Ken’s grows long quickly and even as the first ones in the shop, as we left, the line was already out the door. Be advised, go early. If you try the bread and pastries and find yourself swooning, you can also pick up the new baking cookbook, out this fall by Ken Forkish, called “Flour Water Salt Yeast.”

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Stumptown Coffee

The popularity around this local Portland coffee roaster is pretty well known. And after trying one of their lattes or a cup of their house blend, I found myself easily joining the throng of appreciators. We wound our way on a morning run to the Chinatown Stumptown Coffee location and lingered over our coffee as the sounds of old country jangled from the record player in the back of the store.

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What makes the beans so intriguing might just be the nose. After smelling the house blend beans, I had an urge to bottle it or seal it into a slow-burning candle. There exists a happiness in the confluence of flavor and aroma to rival any other favorite smells or tastes. In my search to find the beans after returning from Portland and inspired by the flavor profile of the beans to make this Stumptown Coffee Chocolate Bark, I found all of the beans I had brought back from Portland consumed before my bark intentions could be realized. Until recently, the only way someone outside of Portland, say in San Francisco, could purchase the beans was from local co-op Rainbow Grocery, though Bi-Rite Grocery has gotten in on the act.

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MORE EATS…

I’m planning to write up a separate excursion to Kim Boyce’s Bakeshop, as we got quite the sneak peek and I’m pretty sure tried and relished everything on display that day. In summary, I appreciated the local, seasonal emphasis at the restaurants we visited and the rather experimental, yet down home experience of the food. Restaurants to visit next time are many, including a sandwich run to Kenny & Zuke’s and I certainly want to dive deeper into the craft beer and interesting mixology happening in Portland.

 

READS

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Powell Books

It’s an odd thing when non-Portlanders describe their devotion for Powell’s Books. Perhaps it’s the cavernous rooms stuffed floor to ceiling with books. After doing a quick walk-through, I determined to focus on two sections of the store, not surprisingly, food and poetry. Both sections opened me up to books I hadn’t seen before. Since I travel book-heavy, I limited myself to a single purchase- a slim volume by poet Bhisham Bherwani and felt the visit a success. Powell’s exists as a cultural meeting point for locals and the literary lovers who consider bookstores second homes and touchpoints in unfamiliar cities and is worth setting aside a few hours to get lost in the stacks.

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Journeys When in

When in Boston- America’s Test Kitchen Visit

When in Boston- America's Test Kitchen

An America’s Test Kitchen visit is kind of a big deal. When you get invited to attend a tour “next time you’re in Boston”, you find a reason to get to Boston. I’m sort of kidding, but really, I’m completely serious. At an impromptu food blogger meet-up a few months back during social media week, I had the chance to meet Steph, the friendly community wrangler for the Test Kitchen. We commiserated over community building and a shared background in journalism. You can imagine my response to the invitation offered as we said our goodbyes that evening months ago in Urban Tavern.

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I began looking at flights. Granted, I already knew I would be heading East for the MFA Reunion and to lead the Mixed Media Poetry Workshop, but now diverted my flight to arrive in Boston. Rested from a red eye and putting in a few hours of writing at the Whole Foods on River Street, I wound my rental car through Cambridge to nearby Brookline and hunted for the address, parking and an unmarked door.

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Inside, Steph waited with my tour date and fellow aesthete Nikki. We began an enlightening tour at this place important to the American culinary experience and I found my appreciation for the work America’s Test Kitchen does, grow. We started in the research room where approximately 4,296 cookbooks lined the shelves. The sight could easily floor even the consummate cookbook collector. The long table positioned as the focal spot of the room plays a pivotal role. Here, the recipes are taste tested and critiqued. For a recipe perfecting war room, I must admit, it sure looked cozy.

The time required for brainstorming, researching recipes already in existence and an exploration phase cook-off of five recipe variations can take up to seven months before publication. Seven months! After that initial exploration comes refinement with seemingly infinite tests to perfect the recipe that then airs or is printed.

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Steph talked as we walked through the cookbook gallery. We meandered into a room where a photographer evaluated a perfectly styled plate of food recently shot using a gigantic scrim through which to filter the direct sunlight. He, the stylist and one of the chefs all stood there considering how the image looked on screen as we tried to play the role of shadow to their culinary caucus of discussion. From there, we wandered into the well organized and impeccably stocked textile closet and regarded shelves of wooden surfaces as we left and ventured deeper into the belly of the beast.

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Lest you think the placemats and napkins above comprise the entirety of their tabletop prop closet, have no fear, a plate prop closet also exists and doubles as the control room for the director during TV show filming. Note the brilliant idea of using plastic wrap and paper towels to properly store prop plates- the clear material allows easy visibility while the paper towels and sticky wrap maximize safe storage.

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We found it hard to be a fly on the wall in the inner sanctum of the Test Kitchen as chefs buzzed by hurriedly to the big kitchen or the side kitchen, from the supply closet or pulling cookware from the wall flanking all of the above. We took in the wall of ovens, located in the side kitchen. Glistening in their metallic chrome, we considered the cooking projects at work in the ovens revved up to go.

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Amid all the activity, it paid to walk into the kitchen. A chef walked up with a rack loaded with fresh palmiers. She offered us the glazed and flaky pastry, still warm, that gave with the slightest tug on the outer curve breaking into a bite of buttery satisfaction. I began craving a cafe au lait in which to dunk this treat.

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With palmier in hand, deeper we dove into the big kitchen, the one that if you looked closely enough, you might find the range top where Chris Kimball films “America’s Test Kitchen. That room was rife with commotion. Chefs at a multitude of range tops and stations worked on their projects du jour. It was hard to take it all in, so instead one vignette at a time was all we could muster: the burger flipped on one station, as a chef  at another counter consulted her Mac, perched next to her cooking station. While we didn’t see Kimball in this bevy of busyness, it served as an impressive demonstration of working diligently toward achieving the perfect recipe.

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So it only was appropriate that on the way into the big kitchen we passed the “Wall of Awesome.” Here, select tweets or abstracts posted online of America’s Test Kitchen prepared recipes were pinned up to give chefs an opportunity for feedback on their recipes that had undergone their 12-step recipe development.

And just like that, we came to the end of our tour, entranced with how the Test Kitchen truly lives up to its name. Special thanks to Steph for her hospitality and keen detailed tour and also to kindred spirit Nikki for accompanying me and making the drive up.

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Journeys When in

When in SFO- Terminal 2 Restaurants

When in SFO- Terminal 2 Restaurants

We’ve considered SFO Terminal 3 restaurant options for United flyers. Folks taking American Airlines or Virgin America are in for a welcoming treat that is SFO T2.

Walking into Terminal 2, you might first note that the frenetic energy expected in airports is missing. The tall ceilings evoke something you might find in a cathedral. Sweeping works of art dangle from above like the huge frozen bird of prey skeleton flanking the lobby near the escalator close to ticketing. Even the experience for those waiting the arrival of a loved one flying into SFO is comfortable as they recline in swivel high-back leather chairs.

SFO Terminal 2

This is no typical airline terminal and even with my fond affection for the United Terminal 3, this is a place where I could definitely linger.

Let’s explore the amenities that make T2 the swanky terminal from which to fly and those alluring SFO terminal 2 restaurants.

EATS

lark creek grill SFO terminal 2

Lark Creek Grill

If you’re nursing a long layover, consider settling in at Lark Creek Grill , an airport offshoot of the popular Larkspur and Walnut Creek outfits of Bay Area Chef Bradley Ogden. Starters include Crispy Fried Monterey Calamari and a Fuji Apple and Romaine Salad with bleu cheese. Under sandwiches, they offer a Grilled Pacific Snapper sandwich jostled up next to their Marin Sun Farms Grass Fed Chuck Burger. If you’ve got more of an appetite, check out the Barbecue Chicken Tamale Pancake or the Spaghetti with Slow Cooked Meat Ragu. Their Black and Tan Sundae with nut praline, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, caramel and brandied cherries could certainly take the edge off of a long wait making it almost sweet. Expect the prices to be steep as Lark Creek Grill aims to bring fine dining to the airport.

Napa Valley Farm SFO Terminal 2

Napa Farms Market

This well curated market might be the best find in the airport as it is stocked with local favorites. You can purchase a baguette of Acme bread and a round of Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam or Redwood Hills Farm Goat Cheese within throwing distance from each other. Thirsty? You’ll find wine bottles for the oenophiles and personal hot bevvie favorites Equator Coffee and Mighty Leaf teas. Curious about cupcakes – they carry Kara’s Cupcakes (along with her gluten free option). Head over to the chocolate counter for your choice of local chocolatiers Tcho, Poco Dolce (Aztec Chile, please) and others. Perhaps you don’t want to nosh on foods that might be so decadent. They also carry Lydia’s Kale Chips and a hearty selection of GT’s Kombucha (I snagged a Cranberry). If you’ve got more than a nibble some appetite, Tyler Florence Fresh or the Pizza Kitchen boast some tantalizing options.

the plant SFO terminal 2

The Plant

This organic eatery definitely caters to the healthy, clean eating set.  In addition to the requisite organic salads and sandwiches, I particularly like their options of fresh raw juices, notably the Green Basic consisting of kale, parsley, celery, apple and lemon. If you’re there around breakfast time, they have a breakfast burrito, made in a whole wheat tortilla. For lunch or dinner, consider the Mango Lime Chicken sandwich with avocado aioli or other intriguing options like the Quinoa Bowl (vegan and gluten free) or the Udon Noodles in lemongrass broth. And for you coffee drinkers, this is your one stop shop at SFO for a cup of locally roasted Blue Bottle coffee.

pinkberry SFO terminal 2

Pinkberry

I have a sad and oh-so minor obsession with the Berry that is Pink. A friend recently wrote about taking a long walk for a gourmet donut (that I may or may not have joined him to acquire- I take the fifth) and to that I would respond with this note to self: if traveling from LAX, make sure to book via Southwest due to proximity of Pinkberry. You can imagine my giddy response when San Francisco announced their own fro-yo haven in T2. This also means that it might be the highlight of all highlights for that midday or late day airport reprieve. The menu board suggested their summer pairing of Strawberry with Balsamic Glaze which while I’m sure is tasty cannot rival my go-to standard of their slightly tart and sweet Original flavor with fresh Raspberries or an indulgent cup of their sweet and salty Peanut Butter with Dark Chocolate Crispy Pearls. Goodness. Did I mention I dragged a friend 20 New York blocks one winter while at AWP just so she could experience Pinkberry? Well, that’s only a half-truth. It was 23 blocks and I was jonesing for a swirl. Needless to say, this bastion of cultured fro-yo and cultural phenomenon gets a solid A+ in my airport alimentary repertoire.

Other Options

I would be remiss to not mention these other options for dining in Terminal 2, so take note. T2 is small enough that a myriad of shops (Kiehls, Compass Books and an art shop) are within close proximity and easy walking distance.

  • Cat Cora- small plates (grilled avocado cobb salad!), cocktails and such
  • Wakaba- noodles, sushi & bento boxes
  • Andalé- Mexican / Tex-Mex
  • Burger Joint – Niman Ranch burgers and the usual burger sides
  • Peet’s Coffee- rev up
  • Vino Volo- for that in-terminal wine-tasting

 

MOVE

yoga room SFO terminal 2

Yoga Room

It’s safe to say that a yoga room in the airport should be standard issue. I’ve been thrilled to see the airport spas popping up around the country and can only imagine this addition to rival what I think could be a popular feature of sleep chairs with masks and headphones to draw in white noise. Until that happens, a Yoga Room will gladly suffice as the next best airport innovation. After all, you’ve been sitting cooped up like a chicken in the middle seat of an East Coast to West Coast voyage or even made the valiant effort of waking up in the wee hours of the morning to make the trek for the a.m. flight from who knows where in the Bay Area. You deserve a downward dog. And maybe a few sun salutations to open up your chest and shoulders. You might find the Yoga Room a respite in a day of hurrying about or as the antidote to long trips.

So there you have an exploration of SFO Terminal 3 restaurants and SFO Terminal 2 restaurants. Unless I hear differently from you in the comments I don’t intend to cover Terminal 1 as I consider it to be in need of an eatery uplift. Quite simply in Terminal 1 you’ll find Klein’s Deli (sandwiches), Max’s (sandwiches & soups), Willow Creek Grill (pizza, burgers and such), Go Bistro (Asian “fusion”), Legends of San Francisco (bar) and a Peet’s. Buyer beware and pack your own.

Choose your flight wisely and you’ll find your wait at SFO to be a delicious affair.

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Journeys When in

When in SFO- Terminal 3 Restaurants

When in SFO- Terminal 3 Restaurants

In my former life, I traveled a good bit. George Clooney’s character in the movie “In the Air” made me chuckle out of a knowing familiarity. Weaving his way through security, Clooney’s finesse resembled a steel ball shot through the shaft of a pinball machine. He coursed his way down the line, depositing toiletries, laptop and shoes with the deft skill of practice. While earning 1K travel is not on my bucket list, I have learned a few tips or two. Today, I’d like to share one with you: book travel by food.

While it may sound ridiculous on the outset, people book flights daily by schedule or cost. Perhaps the layover time factors in too. That layover city and its requisite mealtime it hits hold an opportunity for nourishment. Why spend your layover in an airport with shoddy food offerings after you’ve passed up the boxed food options in the refreshment cart or the shiny periwinkle bags of peanuts? I could easily number off reasons for choosing MSP over DEN through the simple fact of organic salad at French Meadow, though sadly, last time I checked, the decadent hemp brownies are no longer served in their F and G terminal cafes.

La Vie en Route started as I found myself living my life en route. Some things have changed like swapping the Super Shuttle for the easy and cheaper commute of BART, while others remain unchanged like traveling out of SFO. And while I often now make my lunch or breakfast in advance, tucked in my bag, some days I’m not quite as prepped in advance and pull from my travel food toolkit for SFO.

As luck would have it, I’m typing from one of those charming grey cubicles that’s mid-stream of traffic at SFO. It is a haven in the great football field expanse for those that need to plug in. Let’s explore SFO Terminal 3 restaurants, shall we?

TERMINAL 3

If you’re flying through the United terminal, lucky you. It’s not swanky T2 (we’ll get to that terminal in a future exploration) and thankfully not T1 (let’s hope they address more food options for this veritable airport food desert in the future). In T3, your food choices let you decide from dim sum to pizza, from sourdough bread sandwiches to Mediterranean, quite an airport array of cuisine.

READ

BOOKS INC
Do you like to have a few specimens of reading materials with you on the plane? If you rifled through what you packed and have a West Coast to East Coast flight, you might want to venture over to Books Inc to either pick up another magazine or choose from their pretty impressive in-airport selection. If your flight is going to take you deep into the bowels of Terminal 3, which means you’re flying out of gates 76 – 90, make sure to visit this one-stop shop for reading materials. You’ll find it conveniently located near the front of the terminal right after you head through security.

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EAT

BREAKFAST
Yankee Pier

You get to the airport early because you want to avoid any last minute delays or snafus. You want someplace where you can relax before you take-off with your substantial appetite. Step into Yankee Pier where a floor length window separates you from the hustle and bustle of fellow travelers before you have to join the throng. The breakfast menu features vegetarian options like the Garden Fresh Vegetable Omelette with Yankee potatoes and toast or the Flat Iron Steak with Eggs for the carnivore. The service is friendly and fast without making you feel rushed.

San Francisco Soup Company

You’re running late. Instead of heading for a scone or muffin, make a pit stop at San Francisco Soup for a to-go bowl of steel cut oats. Top it with raisins, chopped nuts and honey from their condiment area before your flight calls your name over the loudspeaker. The cost will not break your carefully planned travel budget either.

Andalé

You’ve got one long flight ahead of you. Andalé serves up a mean Breakfast Burrito. It lives up to the lore of all things burrito though and is about a pound worth of food rolled into a flour tortilla. If you opt for the burrito, perhaps bring a travel companion to share it with you or make it brunch.

Other Options

  • Gordon Biersch (breakfast sandwiches of the croissant and egg variety)
  • Max’s the Greek (breakfast sandwiches or bagels)
  • Guava and Java (egg, cheese and sun-dried grilled panini sandwich)
  • Boudin (apparently the breakfast sandwich is a bit of a spectacle)

San-Francisco-Soup-Company-SFO-Terminal 3-Restaurants

LUNCH & DINNER
San Francisco Soup Company

Soup for supper. San Francisco Soup Company offers two sizes for the moderately hungry and the substantially hungry. Pair a side salad with balsamic vinaigrette and a small soup for an airport home run. This local San Francisco chain features favorites, including Southwest Corn Chowder, Turkey Chili or Chicken Tortilla. If you have food allergies, all of their soups also list special designations.

Firewood Cafe 

If you’re jonesing for a pizza, look no further. While you can also find pizza at Willow Creek Grill up the terminal, closer to the security area, Firewood Cafe is a better choice. Their crusts are slightly blistered from their brick ovens and their selection of flavors includes a Mushroom variety with several kinds of ‘shrooms. They also have the requisite pasta and side salads available for consumption too.

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Other Options

  • Peet’s (for the coffee itch & pre-packed sandwiches)
  • Max’s the Greek (Mediterranean fare)
  • Andalé (Mexican / Tex-Mex)
  • Boudin & Yankee Pier (Clam Chowder anyone?)
  • Anchor Brewing Company & Gordon Biersch (for a frothy glass of beer & pub food)
  • The Buena Vista Cafe (Irish coffee to warm you?)
  • Emporio Rulli (coffee run & Italian sandwiches)
  • Fung Lum (noodles & dim sun)
  • Lori’s Diner (burgers & fries)
  • Just Desserts (go for the Ultra Chocolate)
  • Sankaku & Tomokazu (sushi & teriyaki)

 

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Journeys When in

When in Mendocino, California

mendocino california coast pacific oceanmendocino california coast pacific ocean

When you live in San Francisco, you live for long weekends. We find particular joy in gallivanting around the state, letting the car whip around those scissor sharp turns that weave around mountains and alongside the coast. Mendocino, for the uninitiated, is one of the best places to escape from the urban environs for the lush beauty that is the Northern California coast.  If you’re planning a trip to Mendocino, take a coat and good walking shoes as there are many places to explore on foot. If traveling between late December to May, and you’re lucky, you might meet a friendly Mendo resident,

When in Mendocino, California

at the ridiculously beautiful Mendocino Headlands, who points out the whales passing by. Downtown Mendocino is charming and highly walkable. If you’re making your travel arrangements, keep this in mind. A more expensive bed and breakfast or hotel stay downtown is worth it unless part of your Mendocino experience is to get off the beaten path. Mendocino has a certain isolated quality to it that’s happy to be set apart. We learned on the radio about the town scandal of the missing whale statue only to later walk by the posh MacCallum House and find the whale statue had mysteriously returned after “needing to swim.” I appreciate the focus Mendos’ put on organic foods and natural meat options on menus. One restaurant offered single serve packets of agave along with refined sugar and raw sugar. While I don’t usually reach for agave, I loved this detail.

thanksgiving coffee mendocino californiathanksgiving coffee mendocino california

Thanksgiving Coffee Company

We stumbled upon Thanksgiving Coffee Company as they were closing for the day. I made a mental note to drop back in the next day and was tickled to find that their fair trade coffee is set off by pastries that have many allergen-friendly options. They have a breakfast and lunch menu as well as a glass case full of organic pastries. The staff are genial and the room full of tables felt inviting.  I settled on a cup of drip coffee to draw my impressions to the main item they touted. Deep and dark, rich and nutty, I kind of wanted to kick myself for not buying a pound of beans. If we’d had more time in town, I could have become a temporary “regular”.

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Mendo Burgers

It’s always a good sign when you see “foraged hedgehogs” and “chanterelles” on a hand-scrawled sign outside of a restaurant.  The lovely purveyors of Mendo Burgers, Jeff and Barbara run a tight ship. Walking up the path leading to Mendo Burgers, you get a sense that you’re discovering something special. It’s a little off the main path and as such has been around for 25 years.  We ordered our burgers and watched Jeff slap the natural ground beef patties onto the giant griddle, listening to them sizzle. Barbara selected the potatoes and hand cut them using the French Fry crank and fried them up for us. I snacked on sauteed chanterelles and enjoyed a taste of Mendo life.

Mendocino Cafe

Mendo Cafe Thai BurritoMendo Cafe Vietnamese salad

Mendocino Cafe

One evening we were walking around downtown in a night that was quickly falling. Hungry and looking for an open restaurant, we happened upon the Mendocino Cafe. The cheery lights and inventive menu quickly pulled us inside. We split the Vietnamese salad and the Thai Burrito. The salad was a refreshing mix of cabbage, and carrots seasoned with cilantro, basil, and mint. They served it over a rice noodles and strips of grilled free range chicken. We found it to be filling without being heavy. The Thai Burrito played a good counterpoint to the salad. Rich peanut sauce mingled with veggies, free range chicken and rice. Their sweet and spicy Thai chili sauce tasted great sprinkled on top. The evening was made sweeter with a local guitar player who serenaded the restaurant. Jammed into the tight space next to the restroom, he rocked out on his guitar as if he was alone in his living room or on a stage. We could have stayed for hours listening to him play! We finished off the meal sharing a Cranberry Apple cobbler served with freshly whipped cream and truth be told, we ordered dessert and hot tea so we could stay and listen a little while longer to the guitarist jam. Mendocino Cafe made a lasting impression.

navarro vineyard mendocinonavarro vineyard pinot noir grape juice

Navarro Vineyards

I have been secretly hankering for a trip to Mendocino for two simple reasons: a quiet place to retreat and write and a strong desire to visit Navarro in person. I’m slightly addicted navarro vineyard mendocinoto “highbrow grape juice.” Local restaurant B Star features the Navarro Gewurtztraminer grape juice on the menu. It is served chilled and boasts the sweet nuanced flavor you’d expect in wine. This is not your kid’s grape juice! Located in Navarro, a short distance from Mendocino, it’s a very easy side trip for the wine-tasting  crowd with several wineries on either side. We tried the Pinot Noir grape juice and found it slightly astringent with less of a sweet flavor profile than the Gerwurztraminer, which I’d be happy to call “dessert juice.” Lastly, we tried the Verjus, crafted from tart green grapes. Verjus is often touted an ingredient to use for cooking or salads, but we think it makes a great accompaniment to sparkling water (and our guests at New Year’s Eve happily guzzled up the Verjus before the wine.) Several bottles in hand, our visit to Navarro was worth the anticipation.

paysanne cookies boonville

Paysanne

My hands were cold. Beck stayed in the spacious Zina Hyde Cunningham tasting room sampling the different wines being poured and I went out scouting for a cup of hot tea. Downtown Boonville is darling with storefront after storefront sidled up next to each other for maybe a mile at best. A few doors down from the winery, I made my way into Paysanne and knew I’d found a good place. I noticed on their beverage menu that they served Thanksgiving Coffee and various hot teas, along with housemade chai, which changed and made up my mind.

paysanne boonville

As I waited for the chai milk to be frothed, I took in the  glass case of ice creams made with Straus cream and the candy cabinet set atop one of the counters. I didn’t leave without one of their chocolate caramels, wrapped in a slip of wax paper. This popular afternoon spot receded as the caramel melted and melded with the flavors of chai in my mouth. Paysanne is a tiny and fantastic place to stop if you’re on your way to Mendocino and itching for a cup of coffee or perhaps a cone. Boonville is about 45 minutes away. Plan to stop and walk downtown Boonville on the way up to Mendocino or on the way back to the Bay Area.