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

Canada Day Picnic in New York City

Saturday, June 29 will be an unforgettable day in New York’s Central Park – with a free celebration of Canada’s best entertainment, sport and food. For the first time, Canada Day International, the organizers behind the hugely successful Canada Day London present Canada Day New York, a day-long festival with Canadian music legends Spirit of the West and Joel Plaskett joining award-winning electro-rock sensation LIGHTS on the main stage at Rumsey Playfield.

Continue reading “Canada Day Picnic in New York City”

Pasta heaven at Babbo

It had been a wish for a long time to eat at Babbo Ristorante Enoteca in New York City. I have read a lot about this Mario Batali’s famous establishment. All famous food writers and restaurant critics have raved about the place over the last decade. Therefore, it seems only natural that I needed to experience it first hand.

My friend and I decided to test our fate one Sunday afternoon when we called Babbo for a dinner reservation. “We are completely booked but have 6 tables for walk-ins” they said. We showed up at the restaurant at 6pm and got a table right away. This was going to be a good night!

After an appertif of the cherry belini, we struggled through the menu. I finally made it here after many attempts and now have to chose what to eat? As luck would have it yet again, there were tasting menus. All we had to decide was if we were going to have the 8-course pasta tasting or the traditional tasting menu. We decided to go with pasta.

The first course was Black Tagliatelle with Peas and Castelmagno.For short, it was squid ink tagliatelle pasta with a sauce of green pea soup and Parmesan cheese. OK, but not my favorite.

The second course was far more interesting and colorful. “Casunzei”with Poppy Seeds aka a silky thin beet ravioli with caramelized leeks in a light olive oil and butter sauce, with sprinkled of poppy seeds. Now, we are talking!

There was Garganelli with “Funghi Trifolati” for the third course. Earthy truffled mushrooms with delicate homemade pasta, sprinkled with goat cheese was a delight to the taste buds.

The third course consisted of “Agnolotti al Pomodo,” a dense beef ravioli with tomato sauce. You could taste the fresh sweetness of the tomatoes against the al dente pasta.

My least favorite was the Spaghettini with Spicy Budding Chives and Lobster. Perhaps by this time I was too full to enjoy anymore pasta or the dish didn’t do anything for me. It was a regular spaghetti marinara with a few pieces of overcooked lobster meat.

The first dessert course (or intermezzo) was a delightful sweet and savory creation that I had not had before. The “Tipo Romano Fritto con Uvette” was a  soft creamy ricotta ball that was deep fried to perfection and served with a hint of sweetness from roasted muscat grapes. If I go back to Babbo, I will definitely order this again.

Next came Chocolate “al Diavolo,” a rich chocolate mousse with red chili flakes. Three words to describe this dish – to die for! The mousse was light, airy and had just the right amount of chocolate that won’t overwhelm you. The chili brought out the flavors even more.

The last course was an Olive Oil Rosemary Cake with Olive Oil Gelato. It was a dense sponge cake against a lucious olive oil and rosemary gelato. I just ate the gelato part of it.

I told you it was going to be my lucky day! We were served another complimentary  dessert – a Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Orange Sauce and Hazelnut Gelato. This was Mario’s version of a chocolate souffle. My friend seemed to have loved this dessert the best of everything we tried. I found the chocolate to be quite heavy (as expected to be) but the gelato was excellent. The orange sauce was a nice addition.

8 courses, 3 hours, 4000 calories and $200 later, I was so full that I couldn’t move. The meal was not only satisfying, it was an experience for all of the senses. Thumbs up for Mario! It is not something I would recommend you eat everyday, but worth a special occasion. We decided we could use the 30 minutes walk from the restaurant (near Washington Square Park) to Times Square and burn off some of that heavenly pasta and dolci.

Celebrity dining in New York City

Visiting New York City has never been the same experience twice. This past December, I went for the filming of The Marriage Ref. While a full day was occupied at NBC studios, I had an agenda for the rest of my time there. As a die-hard foodie, I researched all the celebrity owned restaurants in the city and narrowed down to a few.

The first place I called, Rao’s did not even take my call! Their automated answering system said that they were fully booked and to call back in 2012. After being turned down by Rao’s, I decided to give Mario Batali and Bobby Flay a chance to feed me. Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill was very obliging in giving reservations only a day in advance.

My husband and I arrived at the (address) restaurant at 8pm and were seated only after 5 minutes. The place was bustling with locals and regulars. It had a nice vibrant atmosphere with an open hall, two-story ceilings, dim lights and the right level of noise. There were black and white blown up pictures of Hollywood actresses including, Bobby’s wife. Our check for two people was about $100.

The meal was one to remember. The tuna nachos made with sushi grade ahi-tune melted in my mouth. For my entrée I tried the cornmeal crusted chile relleno, a vegetarian dish. It was a whole chile filled with roasted eggplant and manchego cheese drizzled with a peppery balsamic vinegar sauce that made it look like artwork! The toasted coconut layer cake had the most perfect combination of moist cake, toasted coconut flakes and coconut cream.             

The following day I felt like I died and went to Italian heaven! Only I was at Eataly, a 50,000 Sq. Ft. Italian gourmet market by Mario Batali located at Fifth Avenue. This place had everything I ever wanted in life and I had no reason to leave. From made-to-order Paninis, Gelatos prepared with milk from local dairies, imported fine Italian wines, Illy coffee bar, to a wide selection of fresh produce (pasta, seafood, veggies, cheese, etc.) to take home.  There was even a wine bar and a sit down informal Italian restaurant where one could gather with friends after work to worship food. It was reasonably priced and so not uptight that you will forget you are in New York City. I didn’t make reservations, but sampled a number of items including the fungi Panini, cappuccino, cakes and gelato. Finally, my husband had to drag me out of there…


GO Airlink NYC