We’re Bringing the Puerto Rican Food Party to Atlanta

The coast, the mountains, and the home: that is the landscape of authentic Puerto Rican cuisine painted by Atlanta-based renowned Chef, Hector Santiago. Known for his stint on Top Chef, Santiago has made a name for himself through his restaurants Pura Vida, and his most recent foray in the Atlanta food scene, El Super Pan.

INSPIRED BY THE WORLD – El Super Pan boasts traditional dishes from all around the Spanish Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic), some of which have very non-traditional fusion elements from other international cuisines, particularly flavors from East Asia. One would never see pork belly buns, fish sauce, or anchovies in Puerto Rican cuisine, but Santiago is a firm believer in the expansion of what we know about food. He is inspired to create by the fresh ingredients grown in whatever environment he happens to be cooking in.

El Super Pan's pork belly bun, a fusion of Spanish-Caribbean and Korean cuisine
El Super Pan’s pork belly bun, a fusion of Spanish-Caribbean and Korean cuisine

Santiago, along with other Atlanta-based Puerto Rican Chefs, Julio Delgado and Andre Gomez, will be planning a menu for Go Eat Give Destination Puerto Rico that provides a true glimpse into the everyday food in Puerto Rico; a real slice of life. But don’t get me wrong, there is nothing “run-of-the-mill” about everyday Puerto Rican food. It is full of layers of spices, textures, and strong flavors, because food and eating is such a big part of Puerto Rican culture. Santiago said that when he was a kid in Puerto Rico, cooking at a young age was extremely common, and all of his friends used to come to his house to cook together, laugh, play, and eat. 

Two staples of Puerto Rican cuisine that you will see as a base for just about every Puerto Rican dish are Sofrito and Adobo. Sofrito is a rich mixture of peppers, onions, tomatoes, salt and pepper that serves as a starting out place for much of Puerto Rican cuisine. Adobo is a complementary mixture of spices that one would be extremely remiss to leave out of their Puerto Rican dish: cumin, corriander, oregano, black pepper, garlic, etc. These spices and vegetable bases make cuisine so flavorful and bold, it’s easy to take for granted. Santiago recalled the first time that he tried oatmeal in the mainland United States, and he thought, “what is this?” “Puerto Ricans hate bland food,” he laughed “at home oatmeal has vanilla, orange zest, cinnamon, sugar, a little salt. It’s one of those big differences.”

YEAR-ROUND FOOD FESTIVALS – Santiago explained that there is an immense festival culture in Puerto Rico. There is always something going on and with that, comes the food. He joked, “If you’re not drinking Cerveza in Puerto Rico, you’re probably eating!” There is truly a festival for every occasion on Puerto Rico and for the harvest of every possible staple food you could think of. There are coffee festivals, banana festivals, taro festivals, corn festivals, tomato festivals, orange festivals and more than five different festivals dedicated to crab. Puerto Rico is also a growing home to very large, internationally recognized culinary festivals, like Saborea (savor) where over 70 chefs, brewers, mixologists, and baristas come together to celebrate the best the country has to offer.  I’m not sure there are many other places in the world where food is SO central and so celebrated–that’s how you know it’s going to be good. 

Bacalaitos--fritters of salted cod, a common beach snack
Bacalaitos–fritters of salted cod, a common beach snack

THE COAST – To start, the chefs will present a taste of the coast. Attendees will taste bacalitos, which are fritters of salted cod. Santiago says bacalaitos are a very traditional Puerto Rican dish, despite the fishes’ natural cold water habitat. They are a food tradition left over from Spanish influence, so they import the cod to keep the tradition alive. There will be a variety of empanadas and alcapurrias. Alcapurrias, unlike empanadas, are made with a batter of mashed root vegetables like plantains and taro, and are often stuffed with fish or crab. This is the food people think of and crave in the coastal regions of Puerto Rico: little, deliciously crunchy, fried seafood snacks that are easy to grab and go.

An example of mofongo, a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine
An example of mofongo, a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine

THE MOUNTAINS – For the main courses, Santiago, Gomez, and Delgado will prepare a taste of the mountains, a frequent weekend escape destination for many Puerto Rican families. One of the dishes include Mofongo. Although you will find similar cuisine throughout the Spanish Caribbean, mofongo is thought of as originally Puerto Rican. It features green plantains mashed, fried, and served with crispy pork chops spiced with, of course, adobo and garlic. Pork is a common and celebrated form of protein in Puerto Rico. So, we will also get to taste Lechon Asao, pork slow roasted until the skin is thin and crispy, which will be served with arroz con gandules (pigeon peas).

Arroz con leche, a puerto rican rice pudding
Arroz con leche, a puerto rican rice pudding

THE CASA – For the final course, we’ll get to taste Puerto Rican desserts commonly served at home such as flan, arroz con dulce, rice pudding with cinnamon, coconut and raisins, and a Puerto Rican favorite: papaya con queso. As I was speaking with him, I could tell Santiago clearly favored the latter as he nodded and said, “It’s amazing.”

All of these thoughtfully planned out and expertly prepared dishes, combined with the live music and dancing always present at Puerto Rican food festivals, we are all going to feel as if we are actually there. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate this amazingly rich culture than through a fiesta of food, one of the things it holds most dear. So let’s eat!

GET YOUR TICKETS TO DESTINATION PUERTO RICO TODAY!
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Read more about Hector Santiago and El Super Pan

Read more abut Julio Delgado and JP Atlanta

Read more about Andres Gomez and Porch Light Latin Kitchen

Burritos for Go Eat Give

Support your favorite Atlanta non-profit by eating at your favorite, socially-responsible, burrito bowl spot! Come out on July 6 between 5 and 9 pm, and bring the event flyer, show it on your phone, or tell them you’re supporting Go Eat Give and 50 percent of proceeds will be donated to Go Eat Give.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is committed to sourcing the very best ingredients and preparing them by hand, because they understand the connection between how food is raised and prepared and how it tastes. With every burrito bowl they fill, they are working to cultivate a better world.

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!

 

Do You Picture Sydney as a Culinary Destination?

What comes to mind when you think of Australian cuisine? Steaks, meat pies, kangaroos and backyard barbies? Sure, Australians love grilled meats, but there’s a new trend emerging in the Australian dining scene that may surprise you.

According to The Australian, the local population is diverting their income from expensive housing to somewhat affordable dining. People are going out to eat more often, as popularity of celebrity chefs and cooking shows increase. From formal white tablecloth restaurants, to casual cafes, and hole-in-the-wall take-outs, Sydney offers a delicious range of choices to match any budget.

seafood1Sydney is home to many immigrants, which explains the heavy cultural influence on the local food scene. Chefs are well trained in international cuisines. Many have gone on to attain celebrity status. Within the city, you can find some of the best Japanese sushi, Chinese dim sum, homemade Italian pizza and pasta, French patisseries, Indian curry houses, and more. The food is as cosmopolitan as any big city in the world.

But Aussies are not just consumed with eating. The residents of Sydney are health conscious too. You can see people running, walking, biking, and playing sports throughout the day at neighborhood parks and beaches. They like to eat well, exercise, and look good. Recently, there’s been a strong emphasis on eating local and fresh. Most restaurants offer seasonal menus using ingredients sourced from New South Wales. Even the wines and beer are produced in the surrounding areas.

Sydney Fish MarketPhoto courtesy Sydney Fish Market

As prices of meat go up, seafood is becoming the preferred source of protein. Instead of importing fish, Australia has turned to farm raising barramundi, cod, trout, and Australian salmon. The Sydney Seafood School, established in 1989, is the largest market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest seafood market in terms of variety in the world. The curriculum includes classes in how to safely handle and prepare seafood. Over 12,000 students come through The Sydney Seafood School each year. Behind-the-scenes tours (held on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) offer a chance to witness seafood tradition on the auction floor and learn about the operations of fisheries.

From fisherman baskets to sushi, here are the top places to enjoy the best catch in Sydney:

seafood2Photo by Sucheta Rawal

• Freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters are sourced from the best growers on the New South Wales coast at Catalina Rose Bay
• Chilled in-the-shell succulent Moreton Bay Bug (slipper lobster) at Cafe Sydney in Circular Quay
• Crab Gazpacho with Bloody Mary vinaigrette and salmon caviar at The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room
• Cuttlefish cooked with garlic and chilies at The Fish Shop
• Cone Bay Barramundi with tamarind, coconut, and mint at Flying Fish
• Beer Battered Fish and Chips at North Bondi Fish
• Snapper Pie with Smoked Tomato and Mashed Potato at The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay
• Maine or Connecticut Style Lobster Rolls at Waterman’s Lobster Co.
• Blue Swimmer Crab Lasagna at Manta Restaurant
• Sizzling Garlic Prawns at Sydney Cove Oyster Bar

Sydney Fish MarketPhoto courtesy Sydney Fish Market

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

Ten Best Things I Ate in Israel

During my recent Food and Wine Tour to Israel, I got a crash course in the cuisine that has spanned a few thousand years. I spent most of my days wandering around local markets, meeting chefs, taking cooking classes, drinking at bars and wineries, and dining at all kinds of restaurants (some had no name, while other’s were run by award-winning chefs).

There is no exaggeration in saying that I tasted over 200 dishes over the course of 7 days, yet I was only scratching the surface. Israeli cuisine cannot be defined in a sentence. Like it’s people, the food of Israel has roots everywhere in the world. Influences of Italy, France, Spain, Russia, Poland, Lebanon, Morocco, Iraq, Bulgaria and many more, can be found everywhere.

If you are planning to visit Israel, make room for a larger appetite because there’s a lot of good food to try. Here were my top 10 dishes from eating in Israel.

hot hummus israel

1. Hummus at Shlomon & Dorrone, Carmel Market. Ms. Moran of Delicious Israel took me on a walking/ tasting tour of the market. She told me that hummus is an integral part of the Israeli diet. Of course everyone has their own recipe and there is an ongoing competition of who makes the best hummus. Israel recently won over Lebanon for making the largest hummus bowl, at a whopping 11 tons!

The proper way to eat hummus though is as a meal, not as a side or a dip. It is always warm, with the chunkier part on the outside and creamier mashed garbanzo beans placed on the inner part of the dish. It can be topped with shakshuka, chick peas, cumin and parsley. You may see a brownish looking boiled egg in the middle, which has been cooked in black tea water. On the side, I am served raw onions (cut like scoops), long peppers, lemons and warm pita bread.

israel-food-falafal

2. Falafal – Like hummus, there are debates on who makes the best falafel. It is a simple recipe using ground chickpeas, parsley, and tahini, but the art is in balancing the texture vs flavor. A good falafel should be soft and flaky on the inside, and crisp on the outside. It shouldn’t be dull and allow for one ingredient to overpower another’s flavors.

israel-food-shawrma

3. Shawrma at Al-Shaweesh, Jerusalem. Oh the aroma of meat roasting on an open fire, as you walk past no-name cafes in the colorful Arab markets can be quite overwhelming. The best shawarma I had was at family-run cafeteria in the Old City of Jerusalem, called Al-Shaweesh. The meat was soft and peppery taste, and it was served with a variety of colorful side salads.

israel-food-maknuba

4. Maqluba at Eucalyptus restaurant, Jerusalem. A traditional Palestine and Jordanian dish, maqluba is one of those comfort foods, that when cooked right, goes straight from your mouth to your soul. The one I had at Eucalyptus had tender pieces of chicken, lots of root vegetables and turmeric rice. I helped the chef invert the pan in a maqluba turning over ceremony and enjoyed the delicious scrapes from the bottom!

Mahaneyehuda

5. Shakshuka at Mahaneyehuda Restaurant, Jerusalem. Similar to the Mexican breakfast dish huevos rancheros, shakshuka is a ragout of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoeschili peppers, and onions, often spiced with cumin. The version at Mahaneyehuda, a happening restaurant in the famous Mahane Yehuda Market, also had flavorful ground beef mixed in. I just couldn’t stop eating!

sabich

6. Sabich at Sabich Tchernichivoski, Tel Aviv. Sabich is an Israeli sandwich, consisting of pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hummustahiniIsraeli salad, boiled potatoes (in some versions), parsley, amba, and hard boiled eggs. It is a popular street food of Israel and it’s origins stem from the Iraqi Jews who ate it on Shabbat mornings. I tried it at few different places and found Sabich Tchernichivoski to be the most fresh and flavorful. I could eat this everyday!

israel-food-sambusa7. Sambusak at Wahad Falafel, Iraqi Market in Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem. These fried savory turnovers were stuffed with spicy chickpeas and potato curry, and served with amba. They reminded me of their Caribbean cousin, Doubles. The kiosk was very small, with only 2-3 tables. It served only sambusak and falafel in take-away paper bags.

israel-food6

8. Majadara at Pnina’s house, Maghar village. I took a private cooking class at the home of Pnin, a Druze woman, through GalilEat. Lentils and rice is pretty common combination all over the world, but this lentils and bulgur wheat recipe was so simple yet delicious. Brown lentils were lightly seasoned with baharat seasoning and made for a great vegetarian entree or side.

 

boureka9. Bourekas at Syrian Bakery, Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. There was a little shop in the corner that looked like a tin shed that was about to fall. No name plate, address, menu or showcase. You had to step inside the bakery and point out to what you wanted (unless you spoke Hebrew). This family run operation has been around for 100-years but only the locals know about it. They undoubtedly make the best boureka, a phyllo pastry made with margarin and flour, and stuffed with either sour cheese or mashed potatoes. You can tell what’s inside by the shape of it.

Uri Buri Akko

10. Seafood at Uri Buri Restaurant in Akko – Located on the Mediterranean, 12 miles from the Lebanese border, Uri Buri Fish Restaurant is a fisherman/ chef restaurant that serves the catch of the day like you have never tasted before. As part of the chef’s tasting meal, I tried tuna, salmon, shrimp, octopus, calamari, roe, anchovies, scallops, and much more. Every single dish was cooked very gently with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and lemon juice, keeping intact the integral flavorful of the seafood. This is by far the best seafood I ate in Israel!

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.

asante1

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.

sancocho

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).

salad

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.

Top 5 Meals of 2014

Reminiscing the best restaurant meals of the year has become a tradition for me. In fact, readers request me to share my culinary highlights if they don’t hear from me by January, so here you are, with my top 5 meals of 2015….

1. Restaurant Ulo at Hotel Arctic in Ilulissat, Greenland – Located 280 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, this may not be the obvious choice for one of the best meals in the world, but it actually was! Fresh seafood caught from Disko Bay each morning, combined with the finess of award winning Chef Jeppe Ejvind Nielsen, at one of the finest kitchens in the country, results in the perfect 11-course wine paired dinner. The view was unforgettable from the restaurant, and the scallops carpaccio, smoked halibut, fresh crab salad and reindeer mousse – flavors I cannot find anywhere else. Read 5 reasons to visit Ilulissat

hotel arctic greenland

2. Gu’s Bistro, Atlanta – I reviewed this family-owned Szechaun restaurant for my column Ethnic.City in Creative Loafing newspaper. Buford Highway is a famous street in Atlanta, known for Asian and Latino restaurants, and I have managed to make my rounds through them. Unlike other Szechaun restaurants I have tried, I found the food at Gu’s to not hold back on authentic flavors, at the same time not scaring off the novice spice eater. While my tastebuds crave for Gu’s dumplings, Chengdu cold noodles, and crispy fried fish, there is hardly a dish here I won’t eat again.

Gu's Bistro Atlanta

3. Coco Bistro, Turks and Caicos – While most of the food on this heavenly island was very good, the cuisine focused on fresh seafood and international styles of cooking. The 24 year old Coco Bistro is a popular spot among locals and tourists, serving some of the best seafood in the world. My favorites were melt in your mouth Tuna Tataki served on a fried wanton with shredded cabbage salad and spicy mayo; as well as Lobster and Avocado Rolls with spicy duck sauce. Make sure to get reservations in advance and ask to be seated outdoors, as the gardens are elegant and romantic. Read more about my reviews in TCI.

coco bistro TCI

4. Palazzo Donati, Italy – This was a special meal prepared by a group of nine men, who call themselves Accademia del Padlot, meaning the academy of “a giant ladle that is used to pour wine.” The volunteer group came over to the renovated 18th century palace where I was staying and cooked an elaborate meal from scratch. On the menu was Charcuterie, Bruschetta, Torta pascuela, Coradella (lamb’s liver), Goletta con salvia e aceto o vino bianco (pig’s jowl), Spezzatino di Cinghiale (wild boar stew), Tagliatelle pasta, Radicchio rosso in graticola, Patate Sotto il Fuoco, Crostata, and endless bottles of wines. It was not just the delicious homemade Italian food, but the fact that we were eating it by a fireplace in an Italian home located in a tiny village, along with these local people, that made it even more memorable. Read more about eating and drinking with the Padlots in Italy

academia de padlots, italy

5. Rivea at Hotel Byblos, St Tropez – Critically acclaimed Chef Alain Ducasse, French Riviera charm, seasonal ingredients and Mediterranean style tapas – whats not to love about this place? I started with a French Rose at this elegantly decorated restaurant and made my way through marinated white fish, sardine toast, eggplant dip, arugula pizzetta, ratatouille, blue lobster, and the most amazing Tropézienne on the planet. No visit to St Tropez is justified without eating at Rivea! Read more about Hotel ByblosBook Hotel Byblos.

hotel byblos st tropez

Read my Top 5 meals in 2012

Read my Top 5 meals in 2011