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!

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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

 

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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

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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

 

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

La Catapa Madrid, Spain

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“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

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

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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

 

 

Porfirio’s – Miami Beach

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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!

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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

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Alaskan cod
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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