Global Businesses Thrive in Minneapolis

“Supporting new small businesses, creating jobs and stabilizing communities.” Sounds like a tag line that every city in the US aspires to achieve. But thanks to the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in Minneapolis-St Paul, this has become a thriving reality.

I visited the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis during TBEX North American conference. At first glance, the 50,000 square foot indoor market seemed like a diverse food court selling Indian, Mexican, African and many other cuisines, scattered with a few global art and jewelry stores in between.

Then I discovered that this vacant Sears regional distribution center had been converted into an incubator for immigrant and small businesses. Located in a low-income community in South Minneapolis (over 32% of the population living below poverty line), the building is home to 40 independent small businesses selling food and gifts from all around the world. NDC provides these family-owned business loans, entrepreneur training, technical assistance, real estate incubators, and marketing materials so they can follow their passion, be self sustainable, and grow their businesses.

Visitors to Minneapolis come to the Midtown Global Market primarily to experience the culinary diversity. My tour starts with Turkish coffee at Mapps Tea & Coffee where owners Yildiz and Erdogan Akguc offer coffee and teas from East Africa, Turkey and other corners of the globe. Since I need a treat to go along with my coffee, I head over to Salty Tart Bakery to try one of their award-winning baked everyday from scratch coconut macaroons. Owner and chef Michelle Gayer-Nicholson has been nominated for the James Beard Award twice and been named “Best Pastry Chef” by the editors of Bon Appetite magazine.

Salty Tart Cafe

The corner where Holy Land Grocery, Butcher Shop & Deli stands breams with excited shoppers, as they pick up fresh olives, cheese and Middle Eastern breads. At the food counter, the Palestine owners serve falafel, shawarma, burgers, and rotisserie chicken.

At Safari Express, brothers Sade and Jamal Hashi sell many of the same classic East African dishes that have made his Eat Street location a smash hit, including their delectable sambusa, homemade chapatti bread wraps, and rich meat and vegetable stews.

For authentic Mexican tamales, head over to La Loma Tamales where owners, Enrique and Noelia Garcia, cook like they would back home in  Mexico. The family now has 6 locations around the Twin Cities area.

I had to check out what Hot Indian Foods was all about, specially after I saw that you can get a discount if you do a Bollywood dance move! The food truck and restaurant serve fusion Indian food, such as burritos, and tacos stuffed with Indian chana masala, chicken tikka or aloo gobi.

Hot Indian Foods

Even if you are already full, Manny’s Tortas is a must visit, not just for the Mexican sandwiches, but Manny (the chef/ owner) himself. He moved to MN to learn English, worked his way up in restaurants, and opened 2 locations serving authentic Mexico City style sandwiches that everyone loves. Try the Manny’s Special with Steak, Onion, Mushroom, Tomato, Jalapeño, grilled together then topped with Ham & Cheese.

Manny’s Tortas

Grand Italian Ice is a good place to end the tour, with homemade Italian ice and Swedish wish cookies. It is believed that you will have good luck if you can break the cookie into 3 pieces with a slight press with your finger.

Grand Italian Ice

If you want to take produce to-go, stop by at Grass Roots Gourmet, which sources meat, cheese, and condiments from producers within 100 mile radius. They offer grab and go lunches, and delicious shortbread cookies.

Midtown Global Market

Most of the restaurants have bar stools or few tables, but there is more seating in the center of the market. Diners can also enjoy free live performances on weekends at the market’s stage. One thing you will not miss at the Midtown Global Market is diversity of people, cultures, cuisines and music. It is a great place to learn about the world without having to leave the building!


Top 5 Meals of 2015

It has become an annual tradition. Each year, I write a blog about the 5 best meals I ate. This is very hard to do since my job involves eating and traveling “for a living.” This year, I traveled to 14 countries and 5 states in the US. Needless to say, I ate a lot of good food!

After considerable thought, these memorable meals made it to my top 5 picks of 2015:

Machneyuda Restaurant in Jerusalem – This concept restaurant is run by three genius chefs – Yosef “Pappy” Elad, Assaf Granite, and Uri Navon. They run the business like a party. The quirky website and non-descript menu that offer dishes like “Entrecôte Django Unchained Style,” and “Lamb with lot of tasty stuff,” with pairings like “yummy stuff, some sauce” offer some clues. The waiters are not just friendly, they are singing, dancing and even doing shots in the kitchen…at work! The food is served in unpretentious sharing plates and is absolutely to die for. Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding Machneyuda market.

The biggest surprise for me was the dessert. Our server cleared out our table (we were 5) and laid out aluminum foil to cover it. On it, was orchestrated a symphony of cake, chocolate sauce, caramel, candies, nougats, cookies, ice cream and whipped cream – spread around the entire table within matter of minutes. It looked very haphazard as it was happening, but then appeared to be a delicious pile of artful looking happiness. We dug in with our spoons feeling like kids, and started dancing to the Israeli pop tunes.

Catalina Rose Bay in Sydney – Located on the world-famous Sydney Harbour, this family run restaurant is known for serving the highest quality meat and poultry sourced from all over Australia. Sydney Seaplane Highlights Flight Fly/Dine experience, included lunch at Catalina overlooking the Rose Bay. We start by enjoying fresh oysters on the shell paired with an Australia white that is produced not too far from the bay. The warm Sydney sun refreshed us as we watched the Seaplanes go by. I had the Poached Western Australian Marron Tail (something I had not had before), and the small sushi plate with delicious fresh tuna, salmon, prawn, kingfish, tataki tuna and Catalina roll. Dessert was caramelized fig with bitter caramel mousse, brik pastry and sugared pistachio. It was a memorable dessert, though the others I took bites off were pretty good too.

best seafood in Sydney

Boulanger Patissier Le Fournil Notre Dame in Marseille, France – My husband and I got to this bakery in the South of France early Sunday morning when the aroma of fresh baked goodies were oozing out of this tiny neighborhood bakery. There were sleepy residents, some still wearing pajamas, lined up to get bread, croissants, pastries, macrons, and Tropezian cakes. We got a few assortments to share with our cappuccinos. Till this day, we still talk about how the croissants flaked into a thousand pieces and melted the moment it touched our tongues. It was so good, that we had to eat another. Though so simple, it was by far the best breakfast I had this year!
best croissants in France
Marea in New York City – My close friend know that I am a big snob when it comes to Italian food. I can just about dismiss majority of the Italian restaurants in the U.S., but when I find a good ones, my heart melts into clarified butter. This is what happened at Marea, 2 Michelin star restaurant located on Central Park South. My friend and I had to wait for a long time to a spot at the bar (reservations few days in advance are highly recommended), but it was great people watching too. Everything at this high end Italian eatery boasted freshness of ingredients, integrity of flavors, and perfection in cooking. Some of my favorites were the tender Noca Scotia lobster and burro found in Astice; al dante and earthy Funghi Risotto; flaky and dressed Branzino: as well as the fried doughnuts dipped in lemon ricotta and dark chocolate Bomboloni. The portions are not small and you may end up eating 10k calories, but now you can die and go to heaven on earth.
best Italian in New York
Yachiyo Ryokan at Himeshima Island in Japan – It’s hard to imagine that one of my top 5 meals was at a 1-lady run Bed and Breakfast in a sleepy island off the coast of Kunisaki. I stayed at this beautiful family run 8-room inn surrounded by gardens, where we were served a delicious seafood dinner with ingredients that were probably swimming just a few hours ago. I had eaten a lot of good sushi throughout my stay in countryside Japan, but this was an unbelievable spread. Every inch of the table was covered with a fresh piece of fish or vegetable that was delicately prepared and artful served. The Japanese chefs take great effort in presentation as you can see from this picture. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t have a website and the manager, Michuri-San, speaks limited English, so good luck finding it.
best sushi in Japan

Toco Hills opens its doors to Masti Indian Fusion

A little over two months ago, the Toco Hills Shopping Plaza in North Druid Hills opened its doors to an Indian restaurant with a twist. Meaning “fun” in Hindi, Masti draws a party when it comes to Indian street food. Kabob dogs, Butter Chicken Tacos and fish and chips are just a few of the unique mash-ups found on the menu.

Masti Flyer

By pairing international recipes together, Masti aims to bring familiarity into the mix and steer away any reasons why one might avoid eating Indian food. Its varied menu aspires to attract any and everyone from the most selective eater to food critics.

Masti’s décor is inviting, full of color and customer service goes above and beyond. Take note of the wall décor replicating designs you would see on traditional costumes worn by Indian women.

Masti offers A La Carte Specials, Daily Specials and a full menu for your choosing. To gather an idea of their endless options, the Go Eat Give team sampled items from the appetizers, main entrees and dessert menus. Complimentary rice chips were served as we tried a few traditional and fusion options.

rice chips

Mango Lassi

mango lassiSimilar to a smoothie, Lassi is a yogurt based drink blended with fruit (in this case mango), cream and water.

Deconstructed Aloo Tikki Chat

We dove right into Aloo Tikki Chat, a chickpea curry topped with paneer and lentil filled potato patties. This dish is usually enjoyed during teatime in India, the duration between lunch and dinner where heavy snacks such as chat, sandwiches and samosas are eaten. Aloo Tikki Chat was filled with a blast of flavor and holds a spice you can adjust to your liking. Definitely a must try!

Butter Chicken Tacos

butter chicken tacosMasti used a pancake made from rice batter typically seen in North India, to wrap rice and buttered chicken in the shape of a taco. The pancake was overbearing the buttered chicken and would have been more appreciated as separate items. Fun approach to the taco, but not highly favored at our table.

Amritsari Fish & Chips

fish and chipsHands down one of our favorite items on the menu. A popular street food found in North India, the Amritsari Fish & Chips is executed by frying tilapia in chickpea flour and difference spices. Masti did a fabulous job replicating a meal you could order from a food truck in India.

Kabob Dog & Paneer Dog

IMG_2981Masti’s twist on hot dogs offer options for vegetarians and meet lovers using either Paneer Bhurji, a cheese commonly used in Indian dishes or kabobs. Respectively, they are both placed in toasted hot dog bun topped with relished onions, bell peppers and Masti Sauce. Another unique approach to Indian-American fusion, but doesn’t really sell in flavor. Could be a favorite among children.


Faloodi Kulfi

Fall in love with this rose and vanilla combination topped with sweet noodles, basil seeds and rose syrup. Faloodi Kulfi is a popular Indian dessert and is your answer to scorching weather!

Galub Jamun

IMG_2998A sweet tooth satisfaction, Galub Jamun is a warm doughnut ball swimming in honey and rose infused syrup. Pair it was a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’re in for a treat.

If you’re curious to try one of Masti’s not-so-traditional combinations head over to Toco Hills with a friend and share a few options family-style. The large portions will be sure to fill you up even when sharing. Don’t forget to grab a spoon full of one or two options at the Paan table. You can choose from an array of these natural mouth fresheners ranging from betel leaves to dried papayas.



Masti Indian Restaurant
2945 North Druid Hills Rd, Suite C, Atlanta, GA 30329

Dinner with Alice in Wonderland

Fancy eating inside a fake train car, ordering off crucifix shaped menus, sitting in a prison cell, served by video game characters, ninjas or maids, or being surrounded by cats – all in the name of dining at a restaurant? Tokyo is perhaps the leading city in the world when it comes to the number of concept restaurants. Locals and visitors fancy themed ambiances, that are more of an amusement park, that also serves food and drinks. In fact, the quality of food at these kind of restaurants is average, but what you go for is the look and feel.

alice restaurants japan

I decided to give it a try and visited “Alice in a labyrinth” or simple “Alice” restaurant in Ginza district of Tokyo. Based on the storybook, Alice in Wonderland, this place is accurately themed when it comes to the decor, outfits, and food. Customers are granted access through a large door, which opens like a page of a book, and led down a rabbit hole corridor adorned with passages from the story. Young waitresses are dressed in blue and white frocks – all known as Alice, while the manager sometimes appears as a Cheshire cat.

alice teacup

Playing cards surround the ceiling and floors, lamps are made out of vintage hats, and we sit in a tea cup shaped booth. Alice comes to our table and greets us. She brings a menu the opens up like a pop-out puzzle book. Items point to themselves saying “Drink me, Eat me!” Yes, there is a potion – non alcoholic soda – you can drink to make yourself bigger or smaller (it’s a gimmick of course).

drink me potion

There is no Alice in Wonderland soundtrack, cartoon or movie running in the background; just an American pop channel. The restaurant suggests “Welcome to the tea party of Alice” but there aren’t any high-tea snacks on the menu. Food options include an assortment of international dishes like salads, pizza, pasta and ice cream.

Focus is mainly on presentation. Characters like Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, and the White Rabbit make their way on the plates. Everything is made to look cute, but doesn’t taste like restaurant quality food.

alice restaurant tokyo


Even though the concept may seem attractive to kids, it is more popular among young girls. People in their 20’s may come for a date night or a girls night out.


Alice’s Fantasy Restaurants has branches in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, each with a different name, but similar theme. 8May_Alice_in_Wonderland_Cafe_Restaurant_1

Door County, WI: 5 Ways to Have A Cherry Good Time

With summer right around the corner, have you decided where you will go? If you are looking to beat the heat in a spot with plenty of outdoor activities, you should check out the under the radar spot, Door County, WI. Many in the surrounding areas refer to Door County as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Known for their cherry production, they seem to find their way into many a dish. Here are five spots to get in on all the cherry action in Door County.

1. Renard’s Cheese Shop

What’s a visit to Wisconsin without some cheese, right? Renard’s is a third generation family cheese shop. Led by Chris Renard, he is one of 60 master cheesemakers in the United States. Their signature cheese, a white cheddar cherry is a unique and delightful flavor. Did I mention cheese curds are highly addictive and abundant at almost every meal you’ll have in Door County?

renards cheese2. Cherry French Toast at The White Gull Inn

Ever heard of a little show called Good Morning America? They voted The Cherry French Toast at the Old Gulf Inn the best breakfast in America. Having tried it myself, their Cherry French Toast doesn’t disappoint. Made with fresh, Wisconsin cream cheese, you’ll want to have some bacon or sausage to balance out the sweetness. The beautiful space is also a real Inn, so you can stay here as well.

white gult inn french toast

3. Orchard County Winery

Orchard County Winery uses 3.5 million cherries annually. Who knew cherries could produce such fantastic wines? There is a current trend of rosé. If you like rosé wine, the wines produced at Orchard County Winery are a delicious alternative, as it isn’t as sweet as you might expect.

Trivia: They had German POWs work here when Orchard County was just farmland.

4. Seaquist Orchards

Suppliers of cherries to all the surrounding businesses, Seaquist Orchards are available to tour as well. How do they pluck all those cherries? Instead of hand picking, they use a machine that shakes the cherries off the trees using an upside down umbrellas like feature. There’s more. Seaquist Orchards has a bakery on site too. Besides dips, spreads, jams and jellies (there are plenty of samples everywhere), the cherry pies are something to behold. They produce 1200 pies per week with 3 lbs cherries in each pie!

upickcherries5. Island Orchard Ciders

Island Orchard Ciders, relatively new in comparison to the other restaurants and wineries in the area, opened in 2011. Cider is made from both apples and cherries. Cider is much more than a weak alternative to beer. It pairs well with seafood, pork and spicy Asian foods. The founders also recommend it for brunch. Hops used in the ciders are grown locally.

Tip: The proper way to drink cider is from a ceramic container.


Besides the abundance of lovely cherries, there’s more to Door County, WI that makes it a super summer getaway. There are many unspoiled vistas in Door County. If you are looking to beat the summer heat, Door County is a good choice as it is relatively cool in the summer and there are plenty of outdoor activities perfect for families or individuals.

Do you love to support local businesses? When is the last time you went anywhere in the US without seeing a chain store, restaurant or hotel? In Door County, you won’t find a single chain at all. Hotels and restaurants are independently owned by families that live in Door County.

Get ready to loosen your belt as you imbibe and indulge in all the cherry fun in Door County, Wisconsin!

~ Malika Bowling is the author of  Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta, Food Blogging 101 and founder of Atlanta Restaurant Blog. She has been a contributing writer to USA Today and Urbanspoon. Malika holds the title of President of the Association of Food Bloggers. Follow her on twitter @ATLEatsNTweets and on Instagram @malika_bowling.

New Brazilian Steakhouse in Atlanta

Last night, I got a sneak preview of the new Brazilian steakhouse Chama Gaucha which opens today in Atlanta.

Located in the upscale Bulkhead neighborhood, Chama Gaucha has a large sophisticated space. Drawing inspiration from the menu’s Brazilian flavor and style, the interior is simultaneously glamorous, intimate and bold. An organic palate of tans and browns, uniquely designed fabric panels and gold textured ceilings yield an upscale yet comfortable dining experience. Outside, a multilevel patio offers fire pits and casual seating invites guests to revel in the energy of Buckhead while amidst the relaxing white awnings and flowing draperies.

Reintroducing a bygone era of Brazilian cowboys, who ended days preparing dinner around a fire pit, Chama Gaucha embraces and elevates the fireside culture and rustic culinary traditions. With locations in Houston, San Antonio and Chicago, the Buckhead restaurant is the fourth to open and the first in the Southeast.


I took my friend Amanda along for the test. Amanda is a Brazil native. She is also a good cook and fair critic. It was impressive to see that most of the servers spoke fluent Portuguese and were knowledgable about what they were serving. We started off with traditional Brazilian cocktails, caprinhinas made with lime, sugar and Cacacha. They were up to the mark. Chama Gaucha’s bar also boasts a list of signature cocktails and martinis including the “green tea martini,” a blend of citrus vodka, Cointreau and chilled green tea, red and white “Chama sangria” crafted with seasonal fruit and “garden in Rio,” a blend of pineapple rum, cucumber and fresh lime juice.

A bowl of happiness arrived when my favorite Brazilian cheese bread “pão de queijo” was served at the table. The airy balls were fresh, warm and melting in my mouth. The cheese was not as sour as the one you would find in the state of Minas, but still good enough to pop in more than one rolls.

Next, we headed to the salad buffet. There were different kinds of pre-made and make your own salads, cheeses, salamis and vegetables. Since Brazil has a lot of diversity, dishes like potato salad, tabbouleh and Cesar salad are pretty common.Salad Bar

Once we were ready for our entrees, we had to flip over the card from No to Yes, and traditionally dressed Gauchos brought a variety of slow roasted meats to the table. There was costela, a richly marbled beef rib, frango e linguica, marinated chicken drumsticks and pork sausage. Amanda’s favorite was the grilled picanha, thinly sliced prime cut of sirloin, while I enjoyed the fact that there was a shrimp dish too. Traditional side including Brazilian mashed potatoes, fried bananas and fried polenta were served table-side family style to accompany the meat. We missed key Brazilian staples – feijoada (Brazilian black beans), rice and farofa (ground cassava).

Filet Mignon e Frango

Amanda has tried every Brazilian restaurant in Atlanta, and some of the best ones in the world. Her verdict was that the meat at Chama Gaucha was of excellent quality and she would definitely go back.                                                                                              

Chama Gaucha
3365 Piedmont Road, NE, Suite 1350
Atlanta, GA 30305

Philly’s International Vegan Nirvana

It was an unconventional find but I had to discover it for myself. When I heard of a new place in Philly taking the local food scene by storm, I was curious. Flora vegan restaurant is located in suburbs of Philadelphia, in the Jenkintown neighborhood. It’s not easy to get here if you are just visiting for the weekend and don’t have your own car. A cab ride from downtown is about 30 minutes and the train – walk – can would take an hour. Even so, dinner at Flora was the best meal I had in Philly.

The 16-seat enterprise was the vision of 4 friends who have known each other since high school, worked at family establishments, and decided to start a small neighborhood restaurant that caters to a niche clientele. None of them are trained culinary professionals but have learned basic techniques by working in the kitchen through school and college. They wanted something intimate, local, customizes and healthy. With limited seats the chefs able to present artfully created unique dishes to diners.

What distinguishes Flora from other vegan restaurants is originality and flavors. Unlike other places that substitute tofu and gluten to make imitation meats, Flora retains ingredients in their original form. The dishes are inspired from all around the world, and adapted to vegan personalities. They also try to source food from local areas, including their own gardens. In fact, many of the people who come here are not necessarily vegans, but hooked on Flora’s promise to deliver a healthy, nutritious and fresh meal in a romantic restaurant setting.

Menu changes with the season and offers 3 or 4 course options. We start off with couple of salads that are pleasing visually and to taste. Sliced carrots delicately spiced with Moroccan seasoning, puree of chickpeas and garnish of homemade pickled radishes and parsley leaves come together in a symphony of flavors. As expected, the dish is light, healthy and delicious!

moroccan spiced carrots

Thinly sliced roasted beet with grapefruits drizzled with a crunchy pistachio vinaigrette are a clear evidence that cheese is not always essential to a well rounded salad. This plate is too pretty to eat, but we managed to clean off every morsel.

beet salad

One of my favorite dishes was the roasted brussel sprouts with a tangy onion marmalade, and wafer thin crackers made out of rolled out and fried sushi rice. The brussels are cooked to perfection – soft with a crisp bite. It takes a creative genius to bring together such varied combinations!

roasted brussels

A vegetarian Thai coconut curry with peppers, eggplant, okra, potatoes, rice and peanuts, is fragrant with herbs and spices, as it should be when freshly prepared. It is the perfect comfort dish on a chilly March evening in Philly.

coconut curry flora restaurant

We continue this culinary journey around the world with a twist on Mexican tamales. This one is stuffed with mashed lentils and served with a salsa verde sauce. The chipotle kicks in at every bite making this the spiciest dish on the menu.


For dessert we head to New Orleans. I can never refuse fresh warm beignets with melted chocolate. I peek into the tiny kitchen to see if they are actually being made to order and yes, powdered sugar is drizzled on top as they make their way to my table. As soon as I finish the treat, I want to order another one.


It was a refreshing change to eat food that tastes fresh, original and true to its flavors. Add to that stunning presentations and we have the perfect vegan restaurant.

Flora Restaurant 307 Old York Road, Jenkintown, (215) 779-7945

Note: Bring cash or check and BYOB

Restaurants Doing Good in Philly

Having already given the city their brilliant talents, several of Philadelphia’s restaurateurs and food purveyors also give back for the greater good of the community. And while Jose Garces and Marc Vetri have both established foundations that make an impact, Philadelphia diners have a chance to show their generosity as well. At Rosa’s Pizza, for example, patrons can pay an extra dollar for a slice of pizza for someone less fortunate. This pay-it-forward approach even caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who recently featured the shop on her show.

Here’s the scoop on those in the Philly food scene paying it forward:

Education & Health Initiatives:

  • Di Bruno Brothers, the specialty food retailer and importer, celebrated its 75th birthday by raising $75,000 to build the Neighborhood Kitchen at St. James School in North Philadelphia. The facility provides nutritional support to the school’s students—that means on-site lunches and meal deliveries for under-resourced families. The Neighborhood Kitchen also develops programs to engage students in the cooking and serving process, offering them hands-on opportunities to learn about the culinary arts and nutrition.
  • Focusing on specific needs of immigrants, Garces Foundation runs programs addressing health, language and cultural skills and nutrition. Each quarter, the foundation hosts Community Health Day, giving uninsured patients free dental care, physicals and medical screenings. Classes in English for the Restaurant and Everyday Living help narrow the language and cultural gap for restaurant workers. And each summer, the foundation hosts Luna Farm Field Trips to the Garces family farm, where children grow fruits and vegetables, cook their own healthy lunch from their harvest and engage in fun forms of exercise. The group also supports after-school and summer tutoring programs for children at Southwark School in South Philadelphia.
  • Children at a dozen local schools eat well thanks to Marc Vetri’s Eatiquette initiative. Funded by the Vetri Foundation, the program provides students with balanced, from-scratch meals loaded with fruits and vegetables. Serving lunches family-style, the interactive program enlists the students as peer servers and in doing so encourages respectful conversation, teamwork, patience and sharing, as well as basic table service skills, an awareness of how healthy food makes them feel and other niceties of dining. org
  • Not content to rest on the success of his popular restaurant Tequila’s and Siembra Azul, the hand-crafted tequila he spent years developing to perfection, David Suro Piñera established the Siembra Azul Foundation. Since 2007, the foundation has supported the efforts of several local and international groups dedicated to providing health care services and educational support such as English language classes, computers and school supplies, among other projects.

hunger burgerPay-It-Forward Restaurants:

  • Hunger Burger, a new addition to Reading Terminal Market, gets in on the giving with its “buy one, feed one” initiative. For every burger sold, the restaurant’s owners—husband-and-wife team George and Kim Mickel—donate a portion of their proceeds to feed a child in need. Various groups will benefit from this good will, including Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry program.
  • Rosa’s Pizza is an unassuming pizza spot that has made a big difference in the lives of those with limited to no financial resources. Customers can purchase a $1 slice of pizza for themselves and pay another $1 to underwrite the cost of a slice for someone in need. Customers making a donation write a message on a blank Post-It Note, which is then stuck to the shop’s wall. Each day, about 30-40 people cash in a note for a slice. When Ellen DeGeneres heard about owner Mason Wartman’s program, she featured him on her show and surprised him with a $10,000 check.

  • Leave it to Federal Donuts to find a way to turn chicken backs from his fried-chicken-and-donuts menu into serious change to help some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable citizens. Partnering with the Broad Street Ministry, which provides free meals and services to people in need, a group including CookNSolo (Steve Cook and James Beard Award winner Michael Solomonov) launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to open the Rooster Soup Co., a philanthropic restaurant that will sell soups made from Federal Donuts’ unused chicken backs with the net profits supporting Broad Street Ministry. The campaign raised $179,000, and the search for a restaurant location is now underway.

No Tips Allowed:

  • Tipping the staff at Girard Brasserie and Bruncherie in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood is discouraged, but the staff isn’t complaining. That’s because chef/owner Brian Oliveira and Cristian Mora pay them $13 an hour, an unheard of sum for servers, as well as paid time off, paid sick days and health benefits.

 ~ Courtesy of VISIT PHILADELPHIA®, formerly known as Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation.

Afro Caribbean Flavors in Downtown Atlanta

Last week I dined at downtown Atlanta’s new Asante Restaurant and Lounge, who’s owner is celebrity chef Marvin Woods. Woods claims to fame include Emmy-award nominated television host of Home Plate, a best-selling cookbook author of Home Plate Cooking and The New Low Country, and lead chef for First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, among others.

The theme of the restaurant is “Coastal Soul.” This means applying ingredients, herbs, spices, sauces, cooking methods, devices, and techniques that hail from the coastal soul areas such as Kenya, New Orleans, Colombia, the Caribbean Islands, Europe, and South America.

Ambiance of Asante is simple and elegant. It looks like an upscale restaurant with white tablecloth and attentive service, clean white walls dotted with hand painted art bursting soulful colors.

Mixologist James Brim takes us on a cocktail journey around the world, describing his personally created concessions – Asante Sour with rye, amaro, honey, ginger and merlot drizzle; VertaMae with rice infused vodka, St Germain, wild rice syrup and sparking rose; Derby Marrom with novo fogo aged cachaca, grapefruit and brown sugar soda. Each liquor represents a different national or culture.


The wine list is carefully constructed with wineries that match the theme of the restaurant. Handcrafted wines from a California based family winery Esterlina Vineyards and several selections from Oregan’s Mouton Noir winery are seen on the menu.

nigerian king prawnsWe start with one of the Coastal Specialties – Piri Piri Nigerian King Prawns, a dish that chef Marvin tasted in South Africa. He wasn’t able to import the King Prawns (which by the way were 9-10 inches long), but found a way to source them through Nigeria. Two pieces of King Prawns were cooked to perfection, with a sweet and tangy sauce. I also devoured the thinly sliced and lightly salted sweet potato chips. If there is only one dish you eat at Asante, this had to be it!

cripsy okra

The server informed me that the Asante Spiced Crispy Okra Matinees Verde took 3 days to prepare as the chefs seasoned and dehydrated the okra till it got dry and crispy. I had to find out what this was about. I love the hearty crunchy texture of a regularly cooked okra, but these reminded me more of okra chips – one you would get in a bag – at the veggie chips sections.

The Maryland Style Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes were exactly just that. All fresh crab and no breadcrumbs – simply melted in my mouth. It was served with a light salad dressed with White Wine Nage.


There were too many enticing options to choose from entrees, and I settled on the Caribbean Seafood Sancocho. The waiter warned me that this would not be identical to the Dominican style seafood stew, but one inspired by global influences. While the broth was dense, it was the buttery fresh monk fish, shrimp, clams and mussels that brought its flavors to the surface. Homemade coco bread was a nice add-on so I could use my fingers and dip into the sauce.

flourless chocolate cake

The Dark Chocolate Flourless Cake was presented beautifully and definitely had a distinct dark chocolate bitterness to it. I preferred the comfort of the Warm Bread Pudding with juicy fried Maduros and the sweetness of caramel sauce.

I ended the culinary journey with a glass of port and made a mental list of things from the menu I wanted to try the next time. Until then “ASANTE” [ah SAWN tay] meaning “Thankfulness,” or “Gratitude” in Swahili.

Dinner at the Beach House

The Beach House is a boutique resort located at famous Grace Bay on Providencials in Turks and Caicos islands. The luxurious property offers elegantly designed 21 rooms and suites, overlooking the white sand dunes and turquoise blue waters. The accommodation is ideal for someone looking for an almost-private beach house style living, with top class service and great location. There is also a swimming pool, spa, gym, complimentary watersports equipment and bicycles, and fine dining available at the resort.

beach house turks and caicos

Even if you don’t stay at The Beach House, make sure to book yourself a 7-course tasting dinner at Kitchen 218. Ambient lighting and artful furniture decorated by the pool, create a Mediterranean feel around this elegant restaurant. Chilean born and world traveled, Chef Cristian Rebolledo of Kitchen 218, creates a globally inspired menu that you cannot find anywhere else on the island. He surprises the diners with creative cooking techniques and rare ingredients.

chef Cristian Rebolledo

On September 29, 2014, I start this culinary dinner adventure with Chef Christian with a refreshing Tomato Gazpacho. For my second course, I am presented a too-beautiful-to-eat plate of beets salad. Edible flowers and micro greens create the look of an edible garden, drizzled with raindrops of pesto. (Too bad my nice camera fell in the water while kayaking earlier that day).


Next comes the Corvina Tiradito, thin slices of fish fillet swimming in black milk are a drastic contrast to the colorful salad I just had, but the onion cream and lemon air add a bit of curiosity to the dish. The flavors are nontraditional to the average diner, but they work.

Sea Bass with spicy lentils and liquid gels

My favorite was the Duck Sensation with crumbled blue cheese and truffle honey, served over mushroom ragout and micro greens. The theme of “food art” was well played out throughout the dinner, as I enjoyed looking at the dishes as much as eating them.

One can’t go wrong with a good pumpkin soup, especially when it is made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients. The soup was garnished with pesto and chili sauce. It was not too rich and very flavorful.

A Sous Vide Sea Bass was served as sixth course. Light piece of fish on a bed of spicy curry lentils was a sophisticated dish on its own. With some French velouté sauce and mango gel, the journey got more exciting. I am not a big fan of Beef Tenderloin, but when properly cooked (meat is medium rare), and paired with mushrooms and shaved black truffles, there is no reason to leave a morsel on this plate.

Chef Cristian Rebolledo charmed me with more of his French culinary skills presenting the perfectly created Macaroons in three flavors – lemon, chocolate and vanilla!

french macrons

After a meal this luscious, I just wanted to take a long walk on the white sand beach, under the moonlight, allowing all my senses to soak in the experience.

Click here to see Kitchen 218’s recipes and cooking tips.