Stuzzikini – Marbella

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 If you’re looking for real Italian, this is it. You cannot get any better than the homemade cuisine served at this cozy eatery located in the heart of Marbella’s old town. Stuzzikini offers a  unique menu comprising of mainly Sardinian dishes with some interesting Piedmontese favorites like the raviolini del plin – a beef ragout ravioli served in  a delicate beef reduction  made with butter, sage and aged Parmesan. stuzz2

The bucatini carbonara here is the real deal, no cream, just fresh eggs and a generous touch of pork cheek bits that give it a slight saltiness and crunch – divine!   Appetizers like the Fregula Sarda – clams and mussels with minute pasta balls in a saffron garlic and white wine reduction or  another Piedmontese favorite -vitello tonnato – thin veal slices smothered in a tuna and mayo sauce were absolute pleasers.stuzz3

Aside from a great wine list, the desert options were varied and light.  Just like everything else on the menu, the final touches to our meal were all homemade:  from the rich yet  light tiramisu, the creamy ginger  panna cotta with citrus coulis to the tiny cream filled profiteroles  covered in melted chocolate. If you want to be in for a true Italian treat, Stuzzikini is it!stuzz6

Stuzzikini

C/ Alderete 5

Casco Antiguo

Marbella

Tel. 952 775 994

http://www.stuzzikini.com

Café Skansen – Oslo, Norway

skansen1After a long flight from Boston with nothing to eat – airlines  now charge for  awful food that I refuse to pay for- and  checking into my hotel, I went looking for a good place for lunch, I was famished!skansencarpaccio

I was fortunate enough to arrive in Oslo on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. There was a lovely breeze so I hoped to find a spot where I could sit outside. I wanted to avoid the  tourist places in the harbor so I went into town looking for somewhere locals ate . I wanted to eat what they eat.

So, after doing some research, I found Café Skansen, a lovely house with an amazing outdoor patio that was pefect for this breezy summer afternoon. The building reminded me of something I would find in Provence – just like Van Gogh’s Yellow House…smack in the middle of Oslo.skansefishsoup

Friendly waiters, ran around tending lively patrons who drank a lot more than they ate. I was hungry and wanted something hearty to go with a nice glass of chilled Hansa beer. The first thing that caught my eye was one of the appetizers: Carpaccio av hval or Whale carpaccio – “Whale?….Isn’t it in danger of extinction?” I thought. Indeed, but it seems that Norwegians have no qualms about eating it. Well, actually they only consume the Minke whale, a small 25 foot long baleen that is not considered  endangered.skansenhalibut

Regardless, my curiosity won over my conscience – I know, I still felt really guilty but I had to try   what everyone called a ” real Norwegian delicacy”- somewhat fatty but more meaty than fishy- delicious! I needed another Hansa to rinse my conscience and move onto the next dish. This time it was something more commonly accepted: Skalldyrsuppe or fish soup. A creamy chowder made with chunks of salmon, halibut, shrimp, clams and mussels. The fish had its skin on and   I knew that in spite of contaminants, salmon skin was rich in omega 3 oils but I wanted to know why they left it on. I was told it was just easier to handle and  wouldn’t fall apart in the soup. It didn’t matter, it was definitely hearty. 

I didn’t need anymore food but I had already ordered a main course: Kveite, halibut with potatoes au gratin over creamed asparagus. A small portion of flaky  halibut baked to perfection that paired wonderfully with the light and airy asparagus foam. Café Skansen proved to be a delightful start to my Scandinavian foodfrisking expedition! I was more than satisfied with my first Norwegian meal and, of course, my first Norwegian beer.skansenbeermussles

Café Skansen

Rådhusgata 32

0151 Oslo

Tel:24 20 1311

http://www.cafeskansen.no

Mignonette

mignonett4Mignonette, named after the famous oyster sauce, this raw bar and seafood eatery is full of creative surprises. A genuinely good place to eat fresh fish in Miami.

A cool combination of a diner and a European café, this charming, yet understated, restaurant caught my eye as I drove down quiet and mostly deserted 2nd avenue. I loved the sound of it – Mignonette, and I’m always in the mood for seafood so I stopped in to give it a try.

As I took a look at the menu, I wondered why would they offer croissants as an appetizer? Well, because they’re homemade and served warm with a chunky lobster butter and a scrumptious serving of mango jam for $ 8. These are real buttery and flaky croissants that melt in your mouth with nothing on them, imagine adding bits of lobster? Delicious! I could’ve had ten of them but I wanted to save room for some other interesting items on the menu. There was a long list of fish choices like red fish, grouper, snapper as well as shrimp, scallops, oysters and clams. They’re sandwich selection includes the traditional Louisiana Po Boy made with chicken, conch or shrimp, as well as other old time favorites like the lobster roll. A nice assortment of salads and veggies make for great sides .mignonoett5

Chowing down the croissant got me in the mood for more lobster, and nothing could satisfy my craving as much as their soup of the day – lobster bisque served with a garnish of Spain’s famous Pata Negra ham which added a light touch of saltiness to this silky bowl of seafood goodness.

I then ordered some fantastic crispy skin snapper served with sweet potato fries seasoned with ancho chile for $23, a rather large fillet crispy on the outside and tender and flaky on the inside. I also tried the fried clam Po’ Boy on a Portuguese roll that came with a nice portion of sautéed rainbow chard, a healthy and delicious side. The clams were juicy and tender, just like the ones I use to have back in Rhode Island. So glad to find another great place for seafood in Miami! You’d think we’d have plenty, but not really.

Mignonettemignonette6

210 NE 18th Street

Miami, FL

305 374-4635

Miami, FL 33132

http://www.mignonettemiami.com

Proof – Midtown-Miami

proofsalad

A tiny little spot tucked away behind the corner of 34th street and North Miami avenue would be hard to find if not for the colorful creature painted on the wall.  A tiny space, maybe, but huge as far as quality and service! What else matters?

This place was recommended by a friend who has a good eye for restaurants. So, following her advice, one sunday afternoon I dragged my husband, daughter and two dogs out of the house to sample Proof for a late lunch.

As soon as we walked into the lovely patio, we were greeted and so were our dogs.  As we sat down at a table, both Fiji and Sarah were served  a huge bowl of fresh water without even asking. Thoughtful to say the least.

Although the menu was small, which can sometimes be a good thing, it had some tempting items  like the shaved Brussels sprout salad with apple cider,  Gorgonzola, pecans and dried cranberries for $11. Deliciously crunchy, sweet, savory and mildly tangy with just the right amount of Gorgonzola that gives it a kick without overpowering the dish, something that often happens in the  US.  No need for that. In this case, less is more!

The grilled octopus was another winner, tender and generously served with celery root and a squid ink sauce that was perfectly seasoned for $15. proofpulpo

And although I am not a big fan of pizza, when it’s done right I cannot resist a bite. My daughter’s Margherita  for $12 was baked in a 900 degree wood burning oven. I could see on her face that she had no intention of sharing it with anyone, but I was hoping to get a taste of the edges she usually leaves on her plate. This time, this was not going to happen so I begged for a piece until she begrudgingly obliged. Both homemade sauce and mozzarella were divine, and the dough was uniquely soft and airy. It’s no wonder she ate it all. proofpizza

I can’t wait to come back to try their oxtail pizza, their chestnut agnolotti or their snickerdoodle cookie dough macaron sandwich made with toasted cinnamon ice-cream.  How more creative can you get? This place is certainly Proof that good food and great service are still  standing in Miami.

Proof  Pizza & Pasta

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3328 North Miami Avenue 

Miami, FL 33127

Tel (786) 536 9562

http://www.proofpizza.com

 

 

Southern Succulence – The Federal, Miami

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Buffalo Style Pig Wing

My first impression when I came for brunch was great. Everything about it: food, service and ambience. But when I came back for dinner, I was even more impressed. What makes a great restaurant? Ask the guys at the Federal!

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Jumbo Buttermilk Biscuit
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Heirloom Florida Tomato Salad

Nothing more inviting than good lighting and I don’t mean bright lighting.  It’s an essential element in the ambience of a restaurant and while you don’t want to be squinting to read the menu by a tiny candle light, you don’t want to feel like your dining in a dental office either. Lovely outdoor string lights and indoor soft table ones invite you to explore one of the most exciting menus in Miami.

This time, I had some friends visiting from Spain whom I did not want to disappoint.  I didn’t want them to badmouth American cuisine as Europeans usually do ” oh you guys eat mostly burgers and fries! Blah, blah, blah….I had to prove them wrong  which is exactly why I chose Southern.

We started with the Federal classics: a Jumbo Buttermilk Biscuit  glazed with apple honey  and sea salt for $6.00, the amazing Jar O’duck made with duck confit rillette( a variation of pâté), charred marshmallow fluff and candied sweet potato for $12.00. This one was a real treat served with  delicious homemade bread. The Buffalo Style Pig Wing for $7.00 was interesting: made of pork instead of chicken in a tangy sauce accompanied by a creamy blue cheese dressing…a little spicy for some but delicious nonetheless. That was just the beginning!

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Jar O’duc
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Country Corn Cake

We followed with the  Surf and Turf Jambalaya  for $22.00. According to the Paella connoisseurs at the table, it was outstanding! Chock full of gulf seafood, smoked chicken and Andouille sausage, this dish was an impressive southern treat for this group of Valencianos. For a light touch, we added the Heirloom Florida Tomato Salad for $12.00. A lovely bowl of garden goodness: avocado, shallots, hearts of palm, puff amaranth and Harpke family farm sprouts sprinkled with a good dose of queso fresco. Along came some Country Corn Cakes dotted with plenty of salmon caviar, herb crème fraiche and lemon zest for $14.00.

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Pannacotta Shortcake

To top off this southern feast, we had to have desert.  The Bourbon Bread Pudding made with Krispy cream doughnuts were pretty good. In spite of its rich ingredients,  it turned out to be quite light and the Panacotta Shortcake was a cloud of  fluffy deliciousness topped with fresh strawberries  and a good sprinkle of crunchy biscuit crumbs.

No complaints here, not one! I was sure my mission to impress my friends was successful as I heard my  friend Pilar say : “They’ve got to  open one of these in Madrid!”

The Federal

5132 Biscayne Blvd.

Miami, FL 33137 -Tel. 305 758 9559

http://www.thefederalmiami.com

 

Red Chile Linguine with Mussels and Saffron Crema Il Piatto – Santa Fe, New Mexico

SFpiatto1Ok, I know you’re probably wondering what on earth is she doing blogging about an Italian restaurant in a  town like Santa Fe. Well, you would be as surprised as I was when I found some interesting dishes at this charming eatery where  Italian and New SFpiatto5Mexican cuisine are married and rather happily!

This is not just any restaurant, it’s a farm to table one. Food comes from  organic farms to ensure the freshest and most wholesome experience, a  dining luxury at a very reasonable price…a true gem in the Santa Fe dining scene.

The atmosphere was perfect, low lighting and tables busy with happy patrons who filled the quaint dining room with lively chatter. Lovely waitress Zina was eager to recommend some very tempting choices but I must say that the star on the menu was the homemade red chile linguine with Prince Edward Island mussels in a light yet velvety saffron cream sauce for $13.79….unbelievable!  Spicy and creamy,  plump meaty musles and perfectly cooked spicy pasta…what else do you want? Of course, a nice bottle of Domaine Brunel Côte du Rhône 2011 for $35!

Also, on this creative menu was the grilled duck breast with mushrooms, marsala and creamy polenta for $27.79… pricey? Yes, maybe! But well worth it, it is duck after all.  Also delicious was the spicy homemade Keyser pork meatballs and spaghetti for $12.79. For desert, the Anjou pear over phyllo dough drizzled with caramel and fresh whipped cream was the perfect way to end our New Mexican-Italian meal! New Mexican Italian, what a concept!

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*You have the option of ordering appetizer or entree portions on some of the menu items.

 

SFpiatto6Il Piatto

95 W Marcy Street
Santa Fé, New Mexico
(505) 984 1091
http://www.ilpiattosantafe.com

Atchafalaya – New Orleans, Louisiana

 

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I’ve always been a  big fan of Anthony Bourdain, I just love the guy! So, of course, before I got to New Orleans, I did some research on some of his local favorites and found Atchafalaya.The name, long river in choctaw, sounded interesting and his comments were quite favorable. So, I left the French Quarter behind and took a ten minute cab drive to the charming Garden district neighborhood.atchafalayafish

In 2005, right after hurricane Katrina, owners Tony Tocco and Rachel Jaffe Tocco turned this historic locale into a chic neighborhood eatery refurbishing it inside with reclaimed materials left from the storm. It seemed like the perfect place to go for an authentic New Orleans meal, away from tourists and crowds.

On the corner of   beautiful tree-lined Louisiana avenue and Laurel street, stands this lovely wooden structure that, from the outside, looked more like a small cafe. Little did we know that inside, a charming and intimate space of dim lights and comfortable seating would welcome us into what would be one of the best dining experiences we ever had.

We were happy to see a menu full of great seafood choices like the amazing Maine diver seared scallops served with sweet corn, mushrooms and roasted cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of sherry caramel for $16.  For the main course, I ordered some of the local fish  know as Drum: two fillets of a tender and flaky white fish sautéed with smoked turnips, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, totsoi (Asian spinach), grapes and an orange basil gastrique (caramelized vinegar sauce) for $30.

The pecan smoked New York strip steak was quite interesting: perfectly grilled Louisiana grass fed beef, french fry “poutine” ( gravy) and a delectable foie gras-red wine sauce served with sautéed baby spinach  for $36. Dessert was a nice surprise: a trio  of homemade sorbets of strawberry, peach and  the delicious satsuma, a  mild  citric fruit native to the area that offered the perfect balance of sweet and sour for $8.

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Don’t ever be intimidated by a long name like Atchafalaya, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what hides behind it! Definitely the best food I had in New Orleans.

 

 

 

atchafalaya1Atchafalaya

92 Louisiana Avenue

New Orleans, LA 70115

505 891 9626

http://www.atchafalayarestaurant.com

Nola Restaurant – New Orleans, Louisiana

nola6I couldn’t leave New Orleans without trying one of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s popular restaurants so I  gave Nola a try for lunch. Located in the heart of the French district, this rustic eatery which is named as the acronym for the big easy,  offered an interesting menu of mostly creole  cuisine.  Brick walls, high ceilings and an ample open kitchen give it a lofty appeal straying  from some of  the rococo joints  in the area.

To start, I ordered the bacon cauliflower soup for $8 that although lovely in texture and flavor, could’ve used less salt. Along came some  delicious homemade brioche and some  jalapeño corn bread from Nola’s in-house bakery, giving the place a fine Portuguese touch of Lagasse’s  roots!  nola1

After walking around for days and seeing po’boys advertised in every corner, I made it a mission to try Lagasse’s. A French bread sandwich made with whatever is in offer. Here it was the braised pork cheek po’boy with Provolone cheese and a side of house cut  fries for $15. All served along  some creole mustard aioli and giardiniera ( pickled peppers). Although very tasty, I must say that the cheese was unnecessary. The cheeks are flavorful and  fatty enough, no need to add anything!

nola4One of my  creole favorites has always been the shrimp and grits so I had to give Emeril’s a try; sautéed gulf shrimp, grilled green onions, smoked cheddar grits, applewood  smoked bacon, cremini mushrooms in a red chili abita butter sauce for $19. Perfectly cooked shrimp over tender and  smooth ground corn in an absolutely delicious sauce that gave it a nice little  kick, heavenly! All in all, it was a really enjoyable experience to try a menu created by Emeril  Lagasse, a Portuguese -French-Canadian who’s become the quintessential New Orleanian!

 

Nola Restaurantnola5

534 Saint Louis Street

New Orleans, LA 70130

504 522 6652

http://www.emerilsrestaurants.com

 

* You can find the recipe for the shrimp and grits at www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/nolas-shrimp-and-smoked-cheddar-grits-recipe

Cindi’s New York Style Delicatessen – Dallas, Texas

cindieggsWhat do you get when you mix a little bit of New York with a little bit of Texas? You get Cindi’s New York Style Delicatessen! A sensational diner owned by renowned Vietnamese restauranteur Anh Vo who’s been serving hungry Dallasites for well over twenty years.cindibagel

We were off to a good start  when the lovely hostess asked us to wait for twenty minutes but really meant ten. As we were seated in a comfy booth, a friendly waitress handed us a huge menu that required a couple of minutes to go through. There’s no denying the Mexican influence in the local cuisine wherever you go in Texas and Dallas is no different. Even though there is some Yankee influence here with the grand assortment of bagels , huge pastrami sandwiches and the fine lox, the breakfast menu offers a nice selection of Tex-Mex.cindisteak

I chose the scrambled eggs with chorizo for $ 9.99. Three large eggs scrambled with the insides of what Mexicans call chorizo, a similar blend to its Spanish counterpart  but with a little more kick. As a side came a scrumptious, crunchy on the outside and moist in the inside, order of hashbrowns that I couldn’t finish, three warm corn tortillas, and some mild salsa. I also ordered a side of sour cream to tame the devilish spice in the sausage. It was just a little too early for so much heat!

My sidekick had the perfectly grilled ribeye steak and fried eggs, a true protein packed Texan breakfast that seemed to satisfy. I justcindigerman wished I had come here with more appetite so I could try many other tempting items on the menu like one of their great sandwiches or lovely looking German chocolate cake. Oh and that lemon meringue pie! Next time I return to Dallas, I will starve myself for three or four days before I come back to Cindi’s to devour everything in sight.

Cindi’s New York Style Delicatessen

11111 North Central Expressway suite G

Dallas, TX 75243 214 739 0918

http://www.cindisnydeli.com

Dim Sum at Hakkasan, Miami Beach

hakvegThe last time I dined at Hakkasan was in 2009, the year it first opened at the ritzy Fountainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach. I remember the wonderful ambience and the courteous service, and yes the food was a delicious cornucopia of Cantonese cuisine.

This time, Dim Sum brought me in on a cool sunday afternoon. I couldn’t resist a tempting price fix menu of $28 that included a sample of three steamed dumplings, three pan fried dumplings, one entrée, a choice of  vegetables and a choice of *char sui cheung fun (bbq pork rice noodle roll), wild mushroom *cheung fung (rice noodle roll), spring onion egg fried rice, steamed jasmine rice or wonton noodle soup.

Pork *shui mai (dumpling), a snap pea and shrimp dumpling and a Chinese chive prawn dumpling were the steamed offerings.While the chive and prawn dumpling was tender and flavorful, the pork one was chewy and tasteless.  As a matter of fact, none of the meat dumplings were worth biting into, neither steamed nor pan fried, not even the deep fried  chicken puff.hakdumplings

For the main course you could choose from the BBQ platter, the smoked ribs and char sui (bbq pork) and the stir fried chicken.  We all had to choose the same entrée so we picked the stir fry which was absolutely delicious; tender morsels of breast meat with mushrooms, crispy snap peas,  and crunchy bits of Chinese yam.

hakchickenThe only problem with this dish was its size. It was  too small, more like an appetizer for three people. When asked if it was the right portion, the waitress replied ” that’s what the chef consider’s the right amount to be”. Ok, jut don’t call it an entrée!

The scallion fried rice was light and fluffy. The vegetable side was a lovely medley of perfectly cooked asparagus and thin strips of fried tofu in a sweet Szechuan sauce, the best dish on this Dim Sum menu. Aside from the steep prices and the somewhat snooty staff, Hakassan’s ambience and decor are worth peeking into. Just make sure you order from the regular menu and hope the entrées will really be what they claim to be!

 

hakbarHakkasan

4441 Collins Avenue

Miami Beach, FL 33149

(786)276 1388

http://www.hakkasan.com

 

Chestnut stuffing

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1 lb of chopped roasted chestnuts

2tbsp of butter

3 slices of bacon

2 cups chopped celery

2 chopped leeks

2 chopped apples

1/4 chopped parsley

4 cups of day old crusty Italian bread cut in 1/2 inch pieces

1 teaspoon of fresh thyme or 1/2 of dry thyme

salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups of cream

Place the bread in a 350° oven to dry for 15 minutes. Cook bacon until crispy and set aside. Add two tablespoons of butter to remaining fat to cook leeks with  the celery until soft, about 10 minutes. Add apples, chestnuts, parsley and thyme to  cook for an extra 5 minutes.  Toss in bread,  chopped bacon and cream. Add salt and pepper and mix well to make sure bread soaks in the cream.  Place on a shallow baking dish and bake for 30 minutes at 350°.

 

 

 

Josh’s Deli – Surfside, Miami, Florida

joshchickensaladcloseupDo not be fooled by the understated façade at Josh’s Deli. Take a step inside and you’ll find yourself in what looks like a really hip hidden garden: soft lighting, rustic wood tables, hanging vines and walls lined with photographs. It’s  like a bit of Brooklyn in Miami with all the great trimmings of a chic New York eatery offering a wholesome deli menu with an ingenious twist.

I have always been a fan of a good all American chicken salad sandwich. This  was even better than anything I had tried before: juicy shredded chicken mixed with plump raisins, smoked chopped onions and a touch of a delicate foie gras reduction —-what a touch! This delicious concoction was generously served on rustic rye bread with some mustard, fresh kale and a slice of tomato along a side of tangy coleslaw and a pickle, all for $10.95. Of course, there was some secret ingredient  in the light and creamy dressing that I couldn’t put my finger on but  I’ll be back for more until I figure it out!

My friend Tamara was equally delighted with the Tricky Ricky sandwich: turkey, prosciutto, duck and brie cheese on toasted rye for $13.95.  This delicious alternative to the classic Croque-Monsieur was made with a slightly spicy chipotle and truffle dressing – exquisite! 

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Along with the great food come great drinks like  the  refreshing veggie juice  made with kale, cucumber, beet and carrot for $6.95. For those more adventurous,  there’s  a Sake Bloody Mary and a Mimosa for $7.95 each.  Of course, there are more classic items on the menu like wine, beer,coffee and cappuccino and Josh’s also offers a more extensive menu for brunch on weekends.  Starting October 23rd, dinner will also be served and every thursday will be pizza night  featuring a variety of pies made Josh’s way.  I can’t wait to get a taste!joshhimself

 

 

 

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Josh’s Deli

9517 Harding Avenue

Surfside, FL 33149

(305) 397 8494

http://www.joshdeli.com

Azul – Mandarin Oriental – Miami, Florida

vichisoisseAfter an extensive renovation in 2013, Azul has re-emerged as a sophisticated and undeniably interesting restaurant that serves an innovative fusion of French and Asian cuisine. With Executive chef William R. Crandall at the helm, eating at Azul has become a truly exciting experience, leaving any of the old hype about pretentious hotel restaurants behind.

When I first visited Azul back in 2004, the only memory I took with me was that of a great cocktail and an astronomical bill. I honestly cannot remember what I ate, and I can assure you, I only had one drink. The meal just wasn’t anything to write home about.

This time the experience was rather different. Not just because I opted for the Miami Spice menu for $39, offered every year in August and September to promote local restaurants, but because what I ate was truly delicious and different. And I honestly wouldn’t mind paying more!

I often stay away from special menus because I don’t like to be told what to eat….got enough of that while growing up. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the great options on this particular one with beginners such as vichyssoise, steak tartare and tomato salad. A great variety of entrees like salmon, risotto or pork belly were very tempting and so were desserts like the passion fruit crème brûlée, the Meyer lemon sable and the chocolate pecan financier.

On this balmy September night, the vichyssoise was in order. This one, was made with beetroot dotted with bits of lobster meat, a creative touch that added a salty contrast to the sweet creamy chilled soup garnished with thin tangy green apple sticks.azulrisotto

For the main course, I opted for the celeriac and pink shrimp risotto made with tiny bits of diced celeriac that gave it a nice bite. Velvety and light, a perfect alternative to the sometimes heavy arborio rice! azuldessert

This time, I must say that dessert was welcome. I don’t usually order any but who could turn down a passion fruit creme brûlée garnished with white chocolate sorbet and fresh chunks of pineapple? An ever so light custard combined with just the right amount of creamy sorbet to take you to heaven for a moment. Maybe, that’s why it’s called Azul – blue – like the sky, because you could say that the food has been elevated to new heights. What can I say? I really enjoyed this meal and can’t wait to go back!

azulrestaurantAzul

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

500 Brickell Key Drive 33131

Tel: (305) 913-8358

 

Baluard – Praktik Bakery Hotel- Barcelona

pratikpastriesWhat a concept! A boutique hotel with its own bakery! What else do you need? Absosulety nothing. Every morning, the smell of freshly baked goods will entice you to have a delicious breakfast of warm bread and flaky pastries  that are an absolutely delightful sample of  Catalonian baked goodness.pratikbaker

You can choose from an endless variety of breads that go from wholewheat baguettes, spelt rolls to rustic loaves made with  black olives. As far as the pastries go, thin apple and berry tarts, cupcakes and the ever so delightful ensaimadas, a light and airy Danish of sorts will make your mouth water.  I had the ensaimada de cabello de ángel, light and fluffy dough filled with  threaded pumpkin jam,  exquisite!

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I had my breakfast with a cup of truly *”relaxing” café con leche and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. A delightful meal that would get me ready for another day of exploring enchanting Barcelona. A good night’s sleep and an even better breakfast, what else do I need? Oh, yes, my bike to burn off all those calories!bikex

 

Praktik Bakery Hotel

Carrer de Provença, 279

Tel: 34 934 88 00 61

Barcelona, Spain

http://www.hotelpraktikbakery.com

 

 

 

*quote from the awkward 2020 Olympic Ganes pitch given by Madrid’s mayor Ana Botella in 2013

Pintxos – Zeruko – San Sebastian, Spain

zerukomorcillaA Basque word for tapas, the pintxo is everywhere to be found in stunning San Sebastian.  I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Zeruko on calle Pesqueria in the old part of town. A rather hip spot that offers a generous variety of fresh samplings of some of the best in Basque cuisine.

Order a glass of wine or beer and delight yourself with exquisite bites of fresh fish, seafood and meat that are hard to resist. Slices of Spanish bread gingerly topped with different delicacies spread across the busy counter,waiting to be snatched by hungry patrons who have a hard time deciding what to choose first. A rather fun way to eat!

I couldn’t resist the pintxo de morcilla de arroz con huevo de codorniz, a slice of grilled rice filled blood pudding topped with a tiny fried quail egg, rich to say the least but absolutely delightful!zerukosardinas

The pintxo de sardina con gelatina agridulce de cítricos  was a tangy tasteful bite of fresh sardine topped with a dollop of citric sweet and sour gelatin. Quite an unusual  yet delicious combination!zerukomelon

A more traditional one was the pintxo de melón con jamón , melon with  Iberian ham topped with pine nuts ingeniously meant to resemble the fruit’s seeds. Overall, Zeruko is  a fabulous fusion of contemporary creativity and old fashioned favorites!

Bar ZerukoZeruko Pescadería 10 San Sebastián Tel: 943 423 451 http://www.barzeruko.com

Açorda de Marisco – Companhia das Culturas – Castro Marim, Algarve, Portugal

acordademariscoxShould you want to take a break from all the busy nightlife of the eastern Algarve coast,  than take a walk through the iron gate  at Companhia das Culturas, a secluded guest house with a charming outdoor restaurant surrounded by lush fig trees and an alluring country quiet.

Dinner here is made from scratch with fresh in season ingredients, every evening, by a rather creative young chef whose passion for food is evident in every bite. Jossara Martins, works diligently in her country kitchen surrounded by jars of homemade jams, vinegars and liquours she concocts with  fruit grown all over  the property. Tonight, as a pre-dinner cocktail, we’re having an apricot liquor she’s made without adding any extra alcohol so you can taste the intense flavor of the fruit in its wholesome state,   a light spirit with an almost smoothie consistency. Delightful!carapaufigx

As a starter, we had the carapau alimado sobre figo confitado com vinagre de albaricoque,  brined and boiled horse mackerel over fig confit drizzled with apricot vinegar is a  clever combination of sweet and sour that pairs fruit and fish ever so tastefully: the tender texture of the mackerel over the sweet and juicy  fig made for a genuinely light summer appetizer.  Next came the ceviche de cavala com algas e pimento de Padrón, mackerel ceviche and seaweed drizzled with apricot vinegar and sprinkled with sesame seeds, all garnished with a small green Padrón pepper,  known for being randomly hot. Fortunately for me, this one wasn’t.

cevichedecaballax

For the main course, we had the açorda de marisco:  seafood stew made with country bread. Originally, a poor man’s meal to which was added whatever one could find. In this case, being close to the ocean, seafood is the usual choice. Bread is mixed into a seafood broth and served with clams, shrimp and fresh coriander. This hearty dish paired with a chilled vinho verde is Portuguese comfort food at its best!

Dessert was an interesting surprise: quindim de alfarroba com sorbete de albaricoque e mel de membrilho., a  rather dense carob pudding that was  nicely complemented with a light homemade apricot ice-cream churned with evaporated milk, instead of cream,  and drizzled with quince syrup. A refreshing ending to a peaceful summer evening in the quiet Algarve countryside!

algarrobax

Companhia das Culturas

Rua do Monte Rosa

8950-270 Castro Marim

Tel: 281 957 062

Algarve

companhiadasculturas.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chargrilled chicken – Bica – Tavira, Algarve, Portugal

chickBica is located right on rua Almirante Candido Reis and although it doesn’t look like much from the outside, take a seat at one of its alley’s tables and you will be pleasantly surprised with the great service and wonderful local food, not to mention the ever so reasonable prices. This place is a true Tavira landmark that has been in business for over forty years and tables  fill up rather quickly . A menu consisting of mostly seafood, fish, chicken and meat is served fresh daily for 8 to 12 euros.

I ordered the chargrilled chicken for 8.50 euros and although it did take a while to make, I was served some delicious green olives as well as some  bread and butter to keep  the wait less painful.  In many restaurants in Portugal, it can be a while before you get your food  because it’s usually made to order from scratch, a habit that makes the whole experience a more gratifying one. Be patient, the Portuguese are!

A generous serving of  half  a chicken seasoned with lemon, garlic and little else, served with homemade french fries and a salad made with lettuce, tomato, onion, carrots and red cabbage. Even though the chicken was tender, moist and deliciously seasoned, I have to mention that what really got me was the wonderful service: diligent and easy going. When it came time to pay my bill, I was a  euro short  but told not to worry, no big deal!  Of course, I’ll be back!

 bica2Bica

Rua Almirante Candido Reis 22

8800-318 Tavira

Tel: 281 323 843

 

Casa Gasamáns – Ames, Santiago, Galicia

pimientos de padronAlthough somewhat hard to find, Casa Gasamáns is one hidden Galician treasure.  Only a 15 minute drive from Santiago,  this enchanting rural house  boasts a cozy restaurant nestled in the  lovely lush grounds of a gorgeous Galician getaway. A set menu of local specialties  is served daily along with a nice selection of local wines – Ribeiros and Alvarinhos.prawns gasamans

A generous portion of boiled prawns with “salsa rosa” (a mix of mayonnaise, ketchup and cognac) made for a nice starter. Along came a generous serving of pimientos de Padrón known for being randomly spicy: some are hot and some are not. Originally from America, this type of pepper was brought to Galicia by Franciscan monks in the XVI century. These I had, being from the beginning of the season, May through September, were rather mild yet delicious!

squidgasamansFor seconds, I had  grilled squid lightly seasoned with paprika and a side of boiled potatoes simply drizzled with olive oil. The simplicity of this dish is exactly what makes it so flavorful because you can actually taste the freshly caught squid  that is grilled ever so carefully to make it melt in you mouth tender. There’s nothing like fresh seafood from the north Atlantic  and that  is exactly what Galicia is all about! To finish my meal, I was offered a glass of a local spirit known as Orujo, a pomace brandy that is a surprisingly smooth digestif.

gasamansrestaurantCasa Gasamáns nº 16

15864 Ames
A Coruña , España

Tel: +34 981 881 504

http://www.aldagasamans.es

Alheiras – Adega Grande Ponto-Pinhão, Douro Valley, Portugal

alheiraBack in the XVI century, the Portuguese Jewish community, following tradition, did not eat sausage because it  was made with pork. During the inquisition, in the Trás os Montes region, one way of finding  the “conversos”, those who had converted to christianism but still practiced judaism,  was by noticing that they had no sausages hanging from their smoke houses.  So, in order to go unnoticed, they came up with their own sausage made with chicken , veal, duck, rabbit and pheasant – the Alheira.

The name derives from “alho” , garlic, which is one of the main  ingredients along with sweet paprika, breadcrumbs olive oil and salt. Milder in flavor and less pungent than chouriço or linguiça, the alheira has become a highly popular dish in Portuguese cuisine. Many varieties have derived from it so you will now  even find some made with pork.

Served half open on a bed of salad, garnished with orange wedges and mint is all you want to accompany a nice glass of red or white Douro wine. A homage to  Jewish culture, known for its innovative qualities, the alheira is the result of how a group of people made the best out a bad “sausage” situation creating thus one of  the greatest delicacies of northern Portugal.

Douro ValleyAdega Grande Ponto

Ra Antonio Manuel Saraiva 21

Pinhão, Portugal

Tel: 254 732 43

Tripe – Tasca Rei dos Galos de Amarante Porto, Portugal

tripasYes, I know “tripe” sounds iffy. At least it did to me for many years. My mother was a big fan and every time we went out for tapas in Madrid, she’d order “callos a la madrileńa” which I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Why now you may ask? Well, I happen to be in Porto a  city known for this dish. It’s even become part of its people’s identity as locals are called “tripeiros” because in the old days, they generously shipped their meat out to Portuguese sailors who were sent to fight in Africa in the XV century under the command of Henry the Navigator.  Locals were left only with by products and  tripe but ingeniously came up with this great stew that I had to try. It was the moment to overcome all that dread that my mother made so much fun of .  I had to do it, there was no way that I could come to Porto and not  give tripe a chance.

I was lucky enough to be guided by Raquel and her friend Rui who kindly led me to a great “tasca”  on rua das Taipas in the Cordoeiro neighborhood, close to the Jewish quarter. Tasca do Rei dos  Galos de Amarante, a family run  joint that has been in business for over 47 years.  Husband Dom Rodrigo and wife Dona Maria Rosa have been serving locals the best in homemade Porto cuisine for almost five decades, becoming a gathering point for  university professors and  students who swamped the place in the early 80’s.

Bits of  honeycomb tripe, a cow’s stomach lining – yes, that’s what it is – mixed with linguiça ( smoked sausage) and blood pudding in a white bean stew. Added to this is the delicious “salpicão” a  sausage that is a  mix of  beef and pork loin made with wine, garlic and paprika which  adds a whole lot of flavor to this dish. Usually served with a side of white rice, “tripas á moda do Porto” is hearty and meant to keep you satisfied for a long time.   I have to admit, it took me a few minutes to try it but once I got through the chewy part, I actually enjoyed it. With the help of a nice glass of vinho verde, I mustered the courage to finish it up and I have to say it was delicious. Overcome your fears like I did, give tripe a try! At least in Porto.

Tasca do Rei dos Galos de Amarante

Rua das Taipas 121

galosPorto,  Portugal

Tel: 222 057 297

Codfish with basil hummus – La Azotea, Sevilla, Spain

basilhummuscodThe Barrio de Santa Cruz is perhaps the most enigmatic neighborhood in Sevilla. A gorgeous maze of winding streets that fills with tourists all day long and all year long. Bordering the world heritage Giralda, it is bound to fill with hungry visitors at any time of day. Exactly an area I would rather avoid unless there is good reason to visit one of its ever so busy restaurants.  In the case of the Azotea, there was. Highly recommended by Juanma, a good friend from Sevilla, I couldn’t say no and so  I headed there hoping to find something interesting  to eat.

I sat at one of its outdoor tables feeling like one more tourist; hungry and very distracted by all the beauty Sevilla has to offer. It was hot and a tall glass of tinto de verano was in order. I looked through the menu and found an eclectic selection of traditional food and some more unusual dishes like the Bacalao con hummus de albahaca, codfish with basil hummus for €8.00, a braised fillet of flaky cod covered with a light béchamel sprinkled with chopped almonds, all  served over homemade basil hummus.  I knew it had to be good if Juanma had recommended it and,  I have to admit, it was outstanding! 

azoteawaiterLa Azotea

Calle Mateos Gago  8

Sevilla,

Tel: 954 215 878

 

 

Swordfish in orange wine – Casa Paco, Sevilla.

sworfish1

Down south in Andalucia, you’ll often  notice an arab flair to the food you’ll eat. Adding nuts and fruit gives some dishes a flavorful touch that results in a lighter and sometimes citrusy  meal. Such is the case of a fantastic swordfish  I had in Sevilla where tapas are plentiful and cheap; much cheaper than  anywhere else in  Spain.

Pez espada (swordfish) has been a part of Spanish cuisine for centuries. A meaty and somewhat oily fish that is usually grilled  but  at Casa Paco in Sevilla it’s  sautéed  and then simmered in orange wine, a white wine that has been infused with orange rind.  Of course, the oranges used are the famous Seville ones known for their bitter taste which are commonly used to make marmalade and wine. To give their pez espada al vino de naranja  an even more Andalusian touch, they add chopped dates and pine nuts, thus  incorporating different textures  to create  a great combination of perfectly moist fish with some crunch and  a sweet and sour taste. All for only  €3.50!

Price range €4-€11

casapacoCasa Paco

Alameda de Hércules 23

Sevilla

Spain

Tel:34 954 900 148

 

Suquet de rape y almejas – Boca Grande, Barcelona

suquetxSuquet is a typical  stew that was originally made with leftovers from the local fish markets along Costa Brava.  Fishermen took home all the beaten up fish they couldn’t sell and came up with their own casserole. For a long time, Suquet a term that in catalá means juice, was considered a poor man’s meal but soon after, it  became a staple of Catalunya’s cuisine.  Nothing compares to it! It’s not a soupy dish like bouillabaisse or cataplana, but  more like a  Catalonian “tease”of a seafood delicacy that will leave you wanting more.

At Boca Grande, it’s one of its specialties and for good reason: they make some of the best in town! Although pricey  for €27,   it’s well worth it.  Among the varieties offered, I picked the suquet de rape y almejas – made with perfectly cooked morsels of meaty monkfish and tender clams served over a creamy mix of potato foam and seafood broth sprinkled with pine nuts. Light yet succulent, absolutely delicious! I could’ve easily ordered seconds but I had to contain myself. After all, I am in trendy Barcelona, not Disney World!

bocagrande3Boca Grande

Passatge da la Concepció 12

Barcelona, 08008

Phone: 93/467–5149

Website: http://www.bocagrande.cat

 

 

 

Baked cod with aliolí and quince meringue – Las Fernández – Barcelona, Spain

cod fernandezSmack in the middle of ciutat vella, Las Fernaández will surprise you with its delicious homemade fare. From the outside, it might look like a hole in the wall but wait until you walk through its funky red door. Red walls everywhere – they say this color stimulates your appetite so it might be a deliberate move to make patrons eat as much as they can. But truly, their food alone can make you do it without any help. A menu that is just as eclectic as its decor:  daily seafood stews, innovative salads such as the ensalada de espinacas con confit de pato, fresh spinach with duck confit  and apple  for €11.50 or the rollitos de lacón con aguacate  for €6.50,  broiled pork shoulder ham rolls stuffed with avocado in a creamy béchamel sauce, among many others. I chose the bacalao con alioli de membrillo al horno, codfish fillet covered in a light alioli and quince merengue au gratin for €12.00. The unorthodox combination of the tangy alioli sauce and the quince gives the fluffy meringue a unique sweet and sour taste that will have you coming back for more, even if you decide to blindfold yourself to avoid all that red.

 

fernadezfachadaLas Fernández

Carrer de les Carretes 11

Barcelona 08002

Tel: 934 43 20 43

 

 

 

 

Ensalada de Ventresca- Café Emma, Barcelona

ventrescaI took an early flight to Barcelona and  was starving by the time I arrived. As soon as I dropped off my stuff off at the hotel, I went anxiously searching for a good place to eat but I knew it wouldn’t be easy. In Spain, most people have lunch around  2 pm so  at noon, I knew  the options would be few and far between. Luckily, I spotted an older woman who looked liked a local and asked her where to go.  She kindly recommended a small brasserie called Cafe Emma down the street on Career de Pau Claris. So, I followed her suggestion and headed for what  happened to be a  very cute eatery named just like my daughter. It was bound to be good!

As I ordered a small caña ( glass of draft beer), I was served some toast and sardine mousse made with mustard and tarragon, slightly pungent yet smooth enough to pair well with the ice cold  beer. On the menu,  I chose one of my favorite salads – ensalada de ventresca which could easily be compared to a Niçoise but, in this Spanish version, the key element is the tuna belly or ventresca. This salad is served with black olives, onions,tomatoes, sliced boiled potatoes,  hard boiled egg and scallions. All dressed with a mild combination of white wine mustard, olive oil and tarragon. Trust me, once you try ventresca, you’ll never want any other kind of tuna. 

Cafe Emma

Carrer de Pau Claris, 142,

08009 Barcelona

Phone:932 15 12 16

Hours · 8:00 am – 12:30 am

http://www.cafe-emma.com

 

 

 

Alkalde – Madrid, Spain

chipironesFor over fifty years, Alkalde has been serving some of the best in Basque cuisine to local patrons in elegant  Salamanca neighborhood. Right on calle Jorge Juan, showcasing a  lovely  terrace of traditional linen covered tables and hip Ghost chairs, this eatery holds  a cool combination of classic and modern decor. A sort of keeping up with the times approach that is also reflected in the menu where the main stars are old favorites that have been slightly updated like the chipirones served over a bed of caramelized onions, gently braised baby squid  exquisitely tender and succulent, and of course excellent for bread dipping, something you’ll find yourself doing quite often in Spain.terrace

croquetasThe croquetas de jamón were plentiful delicious morsels of creamy béchamel and tiny bits of ham. And of course we had to order the revuelto de boletus,  scrambled eggs with local mushrooms that have a distinctive nutty punch.  Why would you order scrambled eggs at a restaurant like this? Well, don’t ask and just do it, it’s worth every bite.foie

For the main course, we chose the foie  a la brasa, light and fluffy liver mousse grilled  over quinoa and a touch of pumpkin sauce.  As far as the lamb dish – cordero prensado, I was very surprised when it was served.  lambterrine

Although it resembled a terrine, it was simply pressed  in that shape served with a dressing of gooseberries.As I carved my fork through it, moist and tender flakes of meat fell apart onto a light sauce dotted with tiny diced apples. Another great Spanish delicacy!

 

alkaldesignX

Alkalde

Calle  Jorge Juan 10

Madrid, Spain

Tel: 915763359

Website: http://www.alkalderestaurante.com

 

 

 

 

Mandolin Aegean Bistro – Miami’s Design District

doorOnce you pass all the fashionable shops through the ever so trendy Design District, you’ll find  one of the most rustic restaurants in Miami. A true Greek patio filled with feisty eaters who drink, eat and, unfortunately smoke…just like in Greece. If you can get pass that small inconvenience,which by the way is almost unnoticeable thanks to the electric fan system set up to keep patrons cool, you’ll fall in love with this place!

As soon as I walked through the blue wooden door, I new it was my kind of restaurant. Relaxing, fun, casual  and quaint with soft lantern lit tables, lovely grapevines and  blooming bouganvillias every where.  Right away,we got a table and were taken care of by a lovely waitress named Freddie. Even though there is a great selection of wines, including Greek, Italian, German, Spanish and Argentinian, on this warm june night we opted for a glass of  white sangria made with rosewater and  stone ipa beer, citrusy and refreshing for $10.salad2

For starters, I  ordered the Greek salad….the best one I’ve ever tasted! Chunks of locally grown tomatoes and cucumbers, julienned green peppers and red onion wit lovely olives, mild feta cheese, capers and  fresh oregano.  All dressed in a light red wine vinaigrette for $14

pulpomandolin

As my main course, I ordered the  grilled octopus for $18. Two large and tender servings marinated in red wine, olive oil, Turkish spices and oregano. Great choice! Along with it, I had to try the french fries dressed with  garlic yogurt with a sprinkle of hot paprika,  a fantastic  combination for $9! They should bottle the dressing!

fries

I also tried the grilled lamb chops for $32 . Four robust chops cooked medium rare, served  over fluffly orzo pilaflamb

Of course for a sweet ending to my meal, I reluctantly  chose the Baklava, I just didn’t want anything too sweet or too rich late at night. Surprisingly it was neither.  Fresh thin sheets of phyllo dough drizzled  with a light syrup sprinkled with pistachios, sweet and buttery but by no means cloying. An absolutely delicious ending to a great Greek meal!

 

baklava

Mandolin Aegean Bistro

 4312 2nd Avenue

 Miami, FL 33137

 305 7499140

 Open:

 Mon-Sat 12-11

 Sun 12-10

Swine – Coral Gables, Florida

brisket

Swine: the name says it all ! Once you pass through its door, you’ll feel like you’re somewhere in the deep south like Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia. Tall wooden shelves stacked with chopped lumber and  jars of pickled “everything”, a warm lit long communal table in the center surrounded by  individual ones upstairs and downstairs, somewhat reminiscent of an old southern beer hall.

lightspickled

An extensive menu of mostly swine in its various barbecued forms.  I picked the 1/2 lb  14-hour smoked brisket that was melt in your mouth delicious, served with South Carolina stoneground  grits for $28.  Side dishes such as mac and cheese, made with 5 different types of cheese, bacon and a crusty herb  top for $10, were still that: mac and cheese .Alternatives for those who don’t eat meat are just a few but well worth a try like the shrimp with grits.  When first served, the Florida pink were overcooked but  quickly replaced with a delicious fresh batch that made this dish a very comforting one, in spite of the Virginia ham bit overload.

shrimp&gritsStarters such as the fried green tomatoes and the kale salad were spot on.  Four slices of crunchy fried green tomatoes served with arugula and shavings of Manchego cheese for $13.   Seasoned with a cider vinaigrette, the kale salad came with apples and raisins and delicious, of course, cornbread croutons for $13.fried green tomatoes

The dessert was a refreshing bite called slice of heaven, a homemade pie made with rich raspberry sorbet and vanilla ice-cream dusted with chopped hazelnuts on a sweet crust for $9.

All in all, Swine is a great take on the very best in southern cuisine we desperately need down in Florida. Whenever foreigners criticize American food, I always respond: You haven’t tried southern!

pie

 

Swine

2415 Ponce de Leon Boulevard

Coral Gables, FL 331

786 360-6433

http://www.runpigrun.com

 

 

 

Tasquinha do Oliveira – Évora, Portugal

coentrosX

The Alentejo region is known for its beautiful scenery but more importantly for its wonderful food.  It’s no coincidence that many of its famous dishes have become mainstream across the country.  Robust flavors of land and sea combined in marvelous choices like the carne de porco a alentejana, an aromatic  braised pork dish served  with fresh clams,  and hearty soups like the   açorda alentejana made with bread, garlic and cilantro to name a few.

So when in Alentejo, one must eat like the Alentejans and that’s exactly what I did.  I searched for one of  the most authentic  restaurants I could find  and was lucky enough to get a table at  the Tasquinha do Oliveira, a highly regarded landmark in the town of Evora.

This tiny space on rua Candido Reis, not far from the castle walls, is run by husband and wife Manuel andwineX Carolina.  A family business holding only five  tables and an infinite number  of handcrafted ceramic plates that hang from its walls, turns this dimly lit “tasquinha” into a  quaint and cozy place to eat. Manuel, who was very friendly but also very to the point, suggested I try  the cação com molho de coentros, tender dogfish cooked in a delicious garlic and coriander sauce that compelled me to soak it all up with endless pieces of crusty Alentejan bread. Not a drop  was left!

arrozpatoxI also had to try some of the famous duck rice dish known as arroz de pato that, although  claimed to have originated elsewhere in Portugal,  is rumored to be outstanding in the Alentejo.  This one was an absolutely delicious baked version  with a crusty top garnished with slices of  Portuguese sausage known as chouriço. Crunchy on top, fluffy and meaty in the middle and incredibly flavorful all over!  To drink,  I had to try some local wine so I chose the Joaquim Madeira , a full bodied yet smooth red  with a hint of blackberries that paired nicely with my amazing Alentejan feast.

 IMG_1091Tasquinha do Oliveira

Rua Cándido dos Reis 45-A,

Évora, 7000-582

Alentejo

Phone: 266/744841

Azenhas Do Mar – Sintra, Portugal

clamsretouchedRight outside one of Portugal’s most enchanting towns – Sintra-  stands Azenhas Do Mar  on the rocky Atlantic coast. A big fish sign welcomes you into what feels almost like a boathouse hanging from a cliff. Wooden ceilings and enormous windows surround you with a breathtaking spectacle of   waves that  gently beat against the rocks.  This, combined with the  soothing nautical atmosphere of whitewashed wooden chairs and white linens, makes for  the perfect setting to relax and enjoy a good “seafarer’s ” meal.

azbreadA menu consisting of mostly fish and seafood, as well as a few meat choices, was no surprise but the attention to detail in the presentation and the service certainly was. As we sat down, the waiter kindly placed on our table a small platter with olives and local cheese, as well as  a basket of warm crusty bread. Soon after, we were poured some lovely chilled Alvarinho wine as we were offered to look at  the menu.

From a cornucopia of  fresh oysters, barnacles, octopus, shrimp, lobster and, of course, cod fish, I gave into my weakness for clams. These  famous  amêijoas á Bulhão Pato did not disappoint. The name is a tribute to a 19th century Portuguese poet named Raimundo António Bulhão Pato who was very much a gourmand.

azsignThese perfectly  cooked small  clams are served in a succulent broth made with white wine, garlic, fresh coriander and lemon. Some of the most flavorful ones I have ever tried and it’s  certainly no coincidence that this dish is considered one of the seven wonders of  Portuguese gastronomy. 

The hilly trip along the coast was worth every minute, not just for the sights, but for the chance to taste this fantastic dish.                        azocean

 

azenhasdomarRestaurante Piscina Azenhas do Mar
Azenhas do Mar 2705-104
Colares – Sintra

P (+351) 219 280 739
azenhas-do-mar@sapo.pt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oliver’s twist…..on Italian!

honeycombcanelloniXxJamie Oliver’s Italian. So you take a trip to Oxford and wander for a few hours around the beautiful grounds of its prestigious University.  Downtown, you’ll find George street chock full of restaurants and of course Jamie Oliver’s is one of them. No choices need to be made, it’s a given that this guy’s food is bound to be good so off we went to Jamie’s Italian.

High ceilings and rustic brick walls surround a maze of “farmhouse” looking wooden tables that are, of course, packed to the max! We waited a  bit for one to open and soon enough we were granted access to the upstairs area. Right away,  we were seated by a  friendly tie-wearing waitress who explained Oliver’s concept of focusing mainly on fresh locally grown food.

arancinixThe menu was rather large featuring Italian classics but also a lot of interesting sides  served in Oliver’s famous fashion: bold and inventive.  For instance, as an appetizer we ordered the  crispy arancini: risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella and sweet red chillies served over  arrabbiata sauce and Parmesan for £4.95.  Crispy on the outside and bursting with  spicy flavor inside.  For the main course, we had the  honeycomb canelloni 3 ways: aubergine & sundried tomato, pumpkin and ricotta with spinach.  Creamy fillings inside several upright pasta tubes nestled in the shape of a honeycomb with cheesy edges  over  a rich béchamel and tomato sauce for £10.95.

polentachipsxAs a side, I had to try the famous polenta chips with rosemary salt and Parmesan.  Large chunks of polenta crunchy on the outside yet very tender inside, absolutely delightful £3.45.  On the other hand,   the baked chestnut and mushrooms on “music” bread for £5.25, made with smoked mozzarella, was a little disappointing simply because the chestnuts were nowhere to be tasted. The penne carbonara was a nice surprise looking as  good as it tasted. Served with crispy pancetta and wilted leeks with a lemon cream Parmesan sauce, zesty and silky for £10.75.

The wine list consisted mostly of Italian reds and whites, as well as a few Spumantis.  The house wine –Jamie’s Italian wines– are  made with grapes from Sicily and are delivered in eco-friendly Tetra Paks that are decanted at the time of serving. The  Bianco offers a hint of peach, the Rosso a touch of plum and cherry  and the Rossato traces of raspberry and strawberry.  All nicely priced between £4.90 a glass and £17.95 for a bottle.

Another trademark at Oliver’s restaurants are his creative cocktails like the expresso martini, a mix of vodka, Kahlua and expresso for £7.25 or the Rossini made with prosecco and red berry purée for £6.60.  For dessert, the homemade yogurt ice-cream, made with seasonal fruit, was light and refreshing for  £4.90.  The autumn rippled Pavlova  served with cream , limoncello soaked fruit and hazelnut praline for £4.95 was way more creative and, of course, a nice  end to our  delicious” Oliver Twisted” meal.

macaronix

 

Jamie’s Italian Oxford

24-26 George Street

Oxford

OX1 2AE

Tel 01865 83 83 83

Hours of operation

Mon-Sat

12 noon to 11pm

Sunday

12 noon to 10:30 pm

 

 

 

Toscana – Lisbon, Portugal

toscana codThe ultimate Portuguese Grill

Right outside the city center, in the district of Alcantara hides a small eatery with some of the most traditional fare in town. Toscana, a quaint and small space, crowded with tables in every nook possible, serves an assortment of eighteen types of fresh fish and  various cuts of meat. You can pick the fish you want to eat and they’ll grill it right in front of you.

A big hit among those who worship anything char-grilled, Toscana has been whetting local’s appetites for over thirty years. It was originally owned by brothers Emídio and Carlos Pereira who ran the restaurant for over thirty years until  they sold it  to present owner Vitor Franco, who  also  has ensured that both tradition and standards remain, making it a favorite among many famous musicians, actors and  politicians.

No matter who’s been in charge, it has continuously been a labor of dedication that is clearly reflected in its wonderful food, impeccable service and inviting ambience. As you walk in, a warm welcome from the friendly and attentive staff will make you feel at ease. The menu is rather simple and most dishes are served with  the usual side of salad, rice or french fries. But make no mistake, for the main offerings are anything but ordinary.

I picked the bacalhau á Toscana which was in order for cod is the most popular fish choice in Portugal and my absolute favorite. A nice portion of chargrilled cod and small potatoes drizzled with garlic and warm olive oil, a unique experience for those who can appreciate the mild flavor of this fish and its divine simplicity. Other great choices  were sole, swordfish and bass. As for the meats, there were various  sausages and several cuts of beef and pork like the  secreto de porco preto,  made with acorn-fed Iberian pig,  famous for its tenderness and rich flavor. Another great hit were the lulas á mordomo, tender squid grilled to perfection served with potatoes.  Again, another simple but delicious dish.

lulastoscanoAs far as wines go, Toscana’s house one is served in jugs, both red and white, from two barrels placed on the wall. Portugal, a country of great vines, never fails to please no matter how simple the restaurant and  this one couldn’t be any different. House wine, whenever ordered is usually pretty good and  Toscana’s was outstanding!

toscanoToscana

Rua do Sacramento a Alcantara
1350-280, Lisboa
Telefone: 213 968 633
Reservations are not accepted
E-mail: geral@toscanacasadepasto.com
http://www.facebook.com/toscana.casadepasto

Jamie Oliver’s Recipease – London, England

recipease3Lots of things to do in England’s capital city but if you ever need a break from the usual sightseeing, palace trekking or pub hopping and would like a great meal in a  fun and relaxing place, I suggest you stop and think Jamie Oliver, a brilliant young chef who has taken the world by storm with his innovative approach to cooking healthy meals.

Recipease is an absolutely delightful eatery right  in the heart of London’s Notting Hill neighborhood.  From the outside, it may look like a shop that sells  a fine assortment of kitchen gadgets and gourmet food, but in the center stands a large table where cooking classes are given all day long. Oliver’s fans wear long aprons while they work diligently on their dish taking in all the techniques that are taught in a casual and entertaining way. Lessons offered to adults and children cover different cuisines that include Vietnamese, Indian, Thai, Mexican and Italian. Fees range between £15.00 and £50.00 per lesson. 

recipeaseUpstairs, you’ll find another cooking station surrounded by comfy seating and dining tables where you can  try some of the great items on the menu like the oven roasted lamb wrap for £8.95: a soft tortilla covered with tender shredded lamb, homemade hummus, chilli, garlic, mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, pomegranate seeds & fresh mint, all in a creamy mint& yogurt dressing. Meaty and crunchy, simply divine! 

Other choices include the £6.95 mini burger on the children’s menu that was anything but mini, moist and delicious.  A favorite was the three hour roasted pork belly sandwich for £6.95,  both juicy and crispy served with apple sauce and lettuce on a ciabatta roll. A nice wine list displayed a good assortment of mostly Italian reds and whites, between £3.95 and £11.99 a glass. Also, cocktails served over ice in jam jars included a £6.50 daring pisco sour made with pineapple juice and the signature Recipease gin drink made with elderflower, lemon and mint for £7.00

recipease2 Price Range: £4.00 to £12.00

RECIPEASE

92-94 Notting Hill Gate W11 3QB

Opening hours Mon – Sat   8am – 9pm

Sunday   9am – 9pm

See more at: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipease

Kazumi Modern Japanese – Key Biscayne, Florida

kaz5When you are not in the mood for something heavy, where do you go for something light and really  fresh? A Japanese restaurant perhaps? Yes, a really good one like Kazumi in Key Biscayne.

It was late and we didn’t want to leave the island so we hopped onto the golf cart and went for a spin. Luckily, we stumbled upon a small  restaurant at the Galleria mall  that looked modern and sophisticated. Hoping the food would be along the same lines, we delved into a very interesting menu of both Japanese and Peruvian specialties:  sushi, ceviche, tiraditos and some small grilled plates of mostly beef, chicken and vegetables.  Some of the main dishes are grilled ribeye with truffle and ponzu sauce, pork belly and miso cod aside from their daily specials.kazasparagus

We ordered the delicate homemade vegetable gyoza served over a mildly sweet carrot puree. Rich in flavor, these small mushroom filled  dumplings are pan fried after they’re steamed, making them somewhat crunchy on the outside and tender and juicy inside for $8; no dipping sauce needed! The perfectly grilled asparagus was a  small order yet cooked to perfection, you rarely find asparagus cooked this well.

kazroll2The Buddah roll  was the best of its kind that I’ve ever tasted. Fresh salmon, cream cheese, avocado and tempura flakes wrapped  in soybean paper with a touch of spicy mayo that gave it a very light kick for $16.  The vegetable roll was equally fresh, loaded with shredded carrots, asparagus and cucumber for $15. Delighful!  Finally, a first class Asian restaurant on the Key. As the Japanese would say: Umami!

 

 

kazdumpKazumi Modern Japanese

260 Crandon Blvd Ste 16

Key Biscayne, FL 33149

(305) 361-2675

http://www.kazumirestaurant.com

 

Ian Burnett – The Highland Chocolatier Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland.

I’ve stayed away from chocolate for years  terrified it would disrupt my sleep no matter how early  I ate it in the day. One small bite would be enough to keep me up all night so anytime someone suggested we stop for some chocolate, I’d cringe.  This time while driving  through  Aberfeldy in Perthshire, I came across a charming little shop that was absolutely irresistable … a chocolate lover’s dream destination …  a velvet truffle that is a silky smooth  bite of heaven; a passion fruit mango truffle a true taste of the tropics, an exotic lemongrass  velvet praline and a spicy raspberry pepper truffle … sleeping is for the birds!

chocolate

Misako – Niagara on the Lake -Ontario

There’s never a bad moment for Japanese, especially good Japanese. Subdued wood paneling wraps the elegant space where soft music is played, giving this dining hall  a very zen  feel.  A  friendly server and a rather genuine menu of sushi and specialties like the seafood bowl served in a stone hot bowl with vegetables and a quail egg. The panfried vegetable Gyoza was delicate and flavorful and the main course servings were bountiful . Each melt in your mouth miso glazed black cod entrée was served with tempura of shrimp and vegetavles, white rice, salad, pickled ginger and porkbelly.  The black sesame ice-cream was nutty with the perfect degree of sweetness as was the green tea moshi that came with it. Delicate and delicious Japanese.

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Miso cod

 

Misako4
Hot pot
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Pork belly
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Black sesame ice-cream.

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Misako

60 Picton Street

Niagara-on-theLake, Ontario LOS 1J0

http://www.masakisushi.ca

El 19 Granollers, Barcelona

el19enhanced

As simple as that, just the house number. No fancy names or big signs here. Just another understated bar  in Catalunya but don’t be fooled by its simple outdoor esplanade, it may look like any other neighborhood bar in Spain, but its menu is a really  nice box full of suprises.

Starting with the cruixent with foie gras and apple sauce, silky duck foie wrapped in crunchy phyllo served with baked apples, apple sauce and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The croquetas were a hearty homemade bite of delicious bechamel and roast beef and the tender apple tart with vanilla ice cream was a real treat. Who would’ve known El 19 had such an exquisite menu. Luckily, now we do!

Carrer Granollers 19

Plaça Perpinya 19

8402 Granollers

Barcelona

Tel. 0930178783

Facebook: El19

@El19Granollers

 

 

 

Tortilla Española – Florido

florido2There’s nothing like walking into a modest neighborhood bar to be then pleasantly surprised by superb homemade cooking. That’s exactly what happened when I stumbled upon Florido bar in Marbella, Spain.

Most Spanish bars tapas are great but the ones I found here , no doubt, were some of the best I’ve ever had. When in Spain, I can’t go without my daily “ración de tortilla”. No matter the town, I have to have a small portion of egg, potato and onion omelet. But not all tortillas are created equal and making  the right  “tortilla” is a fine art.

The key  is to  balance the ratio of eggs to the potatoes and onions, and, of course, to season it well. Often times, tortillas are served on the starchy  side because too much potato has been added resulting in a dry omelet, and when made with too much egg, it can become a runny mess. So when you taste one made just right, tender and juicy, it’s like tasting heaven on a plate. Florido’s tortilla is a true masterpiece!

florido5Also on the menu are  tapas of Spanish meatballs and veal cheeks with fried potatoes, among many other great selections, that can be nicely finished off with Florido’s other homemade wonder: the flan, a creamy and light caramel custard topped with freshly whipped cream.florido4

So next time you walk by a simple neighborhood bar in Spain, stop in. You might just find a culinary treasure trove hiding inside.florido6

 

Florido

Calle Serenata 17

Marbella, Spain

 

La Catapa Madrid, Spain

CATAPA4
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” Benjamin Franklin

Tapas are what you want when in Madrid. No need to book a  table at a fancy restaurant -there are plenty of great ones – but really, tapas are satisfying enough and often times much more fun. It’s all about sharing small portions of whatever the bar serves and most offer great dishes that pair really well with a cold “caña” (small glass of draft beer) or a nice “chato de vino”, a small glass of wine.CATAPA3

On a warm tueday night last august, half of Madrid had gone on vacation. Many restaurants and bars were  closed . Fortunately, in the barrio de Ibiza,  near the Retiro park and Salamanca, a few were still open like  La Catapa on an otherwise boring weeknight. Packed with patrons, as if no one had to work the next day, this small eatery was bustling with people while a petite waitress ran around tables ensuring everyone was well served, the chef also comes out to check on his happy crowd. Another fun spot for tapas and drinks in Madrid.CATAPA1

We ordered the tortilla de bacalao…a freshly made omelet oozing with sauteed salted cod, onions and green peppers served with plenty of country bread…a lovely combination that proved absolutely  satisfying.  We also had a nice salad of burrata drizzled with a basil vinagrette that was nicely chopped up for tapa convenience – when sharing you want to have bite size pieces on your plate for easy serving. 

I thank God for places like this one that make a tuesday night a little more special, breaking away from the sleepy routine of a hot summer weeknight in Madrid. 

La CatapaCATAPA5

Calle Menorca 14

Madrid 28009

Tel. 686143823

91574615

tabernalacatapa@yahoo.es

Porfirio’s – Miami Beach

porfx
Seabass al Pastor

I love Mexican food and  was very excited to hear about a very popular restaurant in Mexico city that had just opened  in South Beach. So, I gathered a group of friends and dashed over to explore what all the fuss was about!

porf2
Shrimp Guajillo

Outside, a lovely lit sign that reads Porfirio’s Mexican Non Cliché caught me by surprise. Hmmm…what are they trying to say? That they don’t serve tacos or tamales?  No Tex-Mex here?

Intrigued, I walked into this modern eatery not knowing quite what to find.  It looked a lot more like a hip Asian restaurant than your typical colorful  south of the border joint.  Wide spaces surrounded by beaufiful wood paneled walls keeping up with the trendy feel so common in South Beach.

Our server, a young friendly Basque named Enrique, poured the perfect Gin Tonic that was mixed right in front of me, something unusual in the US.  No, I did not have any tequila but I did try the Pierde Almas Mezcal, made from the Maguey plant, that has a slightly smokey  and sweeter taste.

Yet, as  I looked through the menu, I could barely recognize any of the dishes as Mexican: Burger?  Black Alaskan cod in squid ink? Where are the tortas, the sopes, the enchiladas shown on the original menu??

Fortunately, I found some pretty good guacamole with chips as well as some deliciously grilled octopus tacos  and  a very Mexican appetizer called  esquites made with corn, cheese, lemon, Piquin chile and a little too much mayo for my  taste

porf5
Alaskan cod
porf8
Baked bananas

The best dish of all was  the tender and moist sea bass  al Pastor( marinated with anatto and chargrilled).  As far as the cod in squid ink for $39, very dry! And the ink sauce was so salty it was almost impossible to eat as opposed to the huge shrimp Guajillo  which was rather bland.

Fortunately,  desert was actually very nice. The baked  bananas served with vanilla ice cream were quite the treat in a foster kind of way.  The strawberries with meringue were light and tasty also. Whether non cliché or not, all in all, Porfirio’s was somewhat of a disappointment.  Instead of trying to be like most of the other stuffy and overpriced Miami Beach restaurants, perhaps it should offer more of the authentic fare  it serves back home. After all, everyone knows that   Mexican  cuisine is one of the best in the world! 

Porfirio’s

850 Commerce Street

Miami Beach, FL 33139

786 216 7675

http://www.porfirios.com.mx