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 Byblos

hotel byblos st tropez

Read my Top 5 meals in 2012

Read my Top 5 meals in 2011

Tiger In The Dragon’s Den

On October 7th, 2014 two of decatur’s restaurants joined forces to create a “Tiger in the Dragon’s Den” themed dinner experience. The powerful action packed night as promised by the poster of Amitabh Bachan and Bruce Lee, featured chefs George Yu of Makan and  Daniel Peach of Chai Pani. Both restaurants are located in downtown Decatur, GA, within a mile from each other. Chai Pani is a James Beard acclaimed Indian street food restaurant that has already won the hearts of local diners. Makan is a newbie on the block, featuring street Asian.

Makan-Chai-Pani-Flyer-4x6

The dinner event was held at Makan’s 2 months old location. High industrial black painted ceilings, and contemporary furniture gave the open space a modern look. The funny Asian posters on the walls and Bollywood music in the background, added more to the funkiness of this place.

I sat at the chef’s table so I could closely watch Peach & Yu dual in the kitchen with their Ind-China fusion menu. I’m quite familiar with this regional fare (see my article on Creative Loafing Atlanta on Indo-Chinese), but Chef Peach came around and whispered to me in Hindi, “this will be different.”

Different it was! My expectations of Hakka noodles, chili chicken, and paneer manchurian were blasted with a new, but still daring, kind of fusion. Here is what the pre-set 5 course menu included:

1st Course – chicken chop suey, pancake wrappers, selection of sauces

chicken chopseuy

The presentation was beautiful and reminded me of Moo Shu Pork, a northern Cantonese dish that includes stir fried pork and veggies, wrapped inside a thin pancake and served over rice. This one was a spicier version that was made with chicken, veggies and an interesting trip of sauces ranging from pungent to sweet.

2nd Course – grilled baby corn skewers, peppers, celery, paneer

grilled baby corn skewers

The hors d’oeuvres style dish presented 2 skewers of perfectly grilled baby corns and other veggies. My favorite part was the fresh grilled paneer, but there was only 1 piece of it per skewer. This would be a great dish to serve at a cocktail party.

3rd Course – wok fried whole black bass, jujubes, chutney, crispy shallots

whole fried black bass

This was my favorite course of the meal. The fish was exceptionally cooked – crispy on the outside and delicate on the inside. It was well seasoned and the coconut chutney added one more dimension to the already flavorful dish. I would definitely order this off the menu!

4th Course – slow roasted leg of lamb, wheat noodles

leg of lamb noodles

The leg of lamb was very well cooked and tender, but the it lacked the action that was proposed on the advertisement. Wheat noodles were served in a bland soy based sauce. If this was fusion, it was lacking India’s spice kicks. This was my least favorite course.

5th Course – duo of desserts. warm black sesame soup with rice balls and gulab jamun.

gulab jamun and rice cake

You can never go wrong with a fresh gulab jamun straight out of hot oil. The small round Indian sweet was very satisfying, although I wanted to ask for a second piece. The second part of the dessert was a rice ball, typical Korean sweet. The rice ball itself was sticky and flavorless, as it should be, but the black sesame soup it sat in hit a distasteful punch that I probably don’t want to feel again.

As far as cocktail offerings, Apertif for Destruction was pleasant and smooth tending to the ups and downs of flavors felt through the courses. It was designed with aperol, tulsi, Prosecco, and orange bitters – a great combination for easy destruction. There were other gin and bourbon based cocktails that I did not try. One that caught my attention was Tuk Tuk You In – hot masala spiced chai, with cognac and honey.

The 5 course dinner was offered at $45 per person. Cocktails $8 each or full drink pairing for $20. This was a one time dinner event, but you can try Chai Pani and Makan Asian Restaurant any time of the week and observe their authentic flavors in their own dens.

Chai Pani Decatur
406 W Ponce De Leon Ave, Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 378-4030
Makan Atlanta
130 Clairemont Ave Suite 100, Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 996-6504

Dining Around the World in Downtown Reykjavik

As more people are traveling to Iceland, the restaurant scene is becoming innovative and multi cultural. Over the recent years, Icelanders and visitors, both have been demanding sophisticated cuisine that incorporates global flavors. Icelandic chefs are also realizing that they have an abundance of fresh ingredients such as Arctic Char, lobster, lamb, salmon, beets, parsnip and more, available to them. The new fusion menus are allowing chefs to be creative, adopting herbs and spices from other cuisines, to create a different genre of food.

FishCompany is an interesting concept restaurant located in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. The original building that house the restaurant use to be a parking lot, and when excavated, found to be the old harbor. It is now a beautifully restored modern cave looking restaurant. The cozy atmosphere is created with exposed brick walls, historic windowpanes borrowed from a church, rustic sheep blankets used as curtains. There is also an outdoor patio next to a pond where guests can dine under the sunny skies of Reykjavik.

What makes the FishCompany stand out is their concept of an adventure around the world through food. A world map made in copper hangs on the living room wall, giving a hint of what’s to come to your plate. The menu features Taste of Iceland and Taste of the World, two very unique sets of selections created using local Icelandic ingredients, yet inspired by global cuisines.

FishCompany Restaurant Iceland

The dishes on the menu are categorized by country – Spain, Fiji, Norway, Madagascar, etc. and the featured ingredient, such as Chorizo, Beef, Lobster, and Chocolate. The server tells me that the countries are not meant to suggest that they are original recipes from those places. The Icelandic chefs at Fiskfelagid’s kitchen draw inspiration by spices, sauces, landscapes and cultures to create edible art that take the diner on an adventure around the world.

Here is a sampling from what I tried…

From the Icelandic Menu

SORRELL – Breaded and deep-fried Cod cheeks and a couple of pan-fried scallops sat on top of cauliflower puree and mint jus. It all came together brilliants with slices of smoked Icelandic skyr (similar to strained yogurt) and a touch of smoked cod foam for a molecular gastronomic presentation. Visually, this dish reminded me of the diverse landscapes of Island – white glaciers, brown rocks and green moss.

deepfried COD CHEEKS & fried SCALLOPSLAMB – A colorful plate of neatly placed prime lamb cuts decorated with thinly sliced beetroot chips. The lamb was crispy on the outside, moist and delicate on the inside, unlike the gamy texture it can sometimes have. Peas, onions and rhubarb sauce formed the base.

panfried PRIME OF LAMB

WHITE CHOCOLATE – A house created dessert, which really doesn’t have a name to capture it all, but should definitely go viral. There is white chocolate cake pudding, burnt caramel cake, buttermilk sorbet, rye bread crumbs, and crushed dried raspberries. A delicious version of Icelandic bread pudding I would say.  

Icelandic milk pudding

From the International Menu, I tried a few staples that can’t be compared to their origins but were done very well.

JAPAN A large wooden plank of mixed sushi presented salmon, tuna and lobster rolls. The fish was as fresh as it can be and even the wasabi had a moderate kick. It was accompanied by sewed salad and thinly sliced ginger.

IRELAND At first glance, I thought it was an Irish stout dog, but in fact there was no meat on this plate. Carefully smoked and rolled Arctic Char fillet was made to represent the classic Irish dish. The Arctic Char tasted a lot like salmon, but buttery in texture. Of course, it was locally sourced as well.

Arctic Char

ITALY – Italian classic dessert, tiramisu was rather unconventional. Served in a mason jar, the proportion of mascarpone to ladyfinger was a little off balance. Nevertheless, it still tasted like a great dessert.

All of the dishes have an extensive wine and beer pairing to go along. Don’t be surprised to find selections from as far as Chile and South Africa to go along with your Sambal Lobster Curry.

As you leave the restaurant, take a pause to see hundreds of post it notes written by diners. This at the spot review process is cute and you can read some of the comments (mostly good) left by satisfied guests before you.

fishhouse

The chefs at FishCompany have recently released a cookbook “Around Fish Company” that is available at the restaurant. It has some of their favorite recipes along with photos of Icelandic scenery that inspired them to create those dishes.

Fiskfélagið (FishCompany Restaurant) – Vesturgötu 2a, Grófartorg – 101 Reykjavík – 552-5300 – info@fiskfelagid.is http://www.fiskfelagid.is

Celebrating the good things in life at Destination Trinidad and Tobago

On Saturday July 19, Go Eat Give hosted its monthly Destination Dinner at Tassa Roti in Alpharetta, showcasing the culture and cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago. This event is a part of Go Eat Give’s monthly programming that aims to promote cross cultural understanding between different communities in the Atlanta area.

The menu for the evening consisted of 18 authentic Trinidadian dishes prepared by Caribbean restaurant Tassa. Trinidad native Radhika (Ria) Edoo, a fourth generation restauranteur Tassa opened the first location in 2006. For appetizers, we tried traditional jerk chicken wings, pholourie (fried batter) served with mango chutney, and doubles (a sandwich made of two pieces of flat bread and stuffed with chick peas) with tamarind sauce.

trinidad doubles

Fourteen dishes were laid out buffet style for main course, allowing those in attendance to eat to their heart’s content. These included coconut fish, spicy coconut jerk pasta, a brown stew made with boneless pork, jerk chicken, Bodi (a bean favored in Trinidad), jerk chicken (Trinidad style, not Jamaican), fried plantains, lentils, Chow Mein, oil down ( a stew made from breadfruit, salted meat, coconut milk, and spices), and Roti (shredded flatbread). In addition, two curry dishes were served – curry potatoes and chickpeas as well as boneless chicken curry, showcasing the large Indian influence found in Trinidad culture. The country’s most popular dish, callaloo (creamed spinach) was also served, as well as, rice and peas to go with the many stew and curry dishes. For dessert, we enjoyed a moist pineapple cake, paired with complimentary Champagne.

goeatgive destination Trinidad

As party goers arrived at the event, they were greeted by the sounds of steel pan player Sheldon Webster. The steel pan is a drum made out of 50 gallon oil drums that is popular throughout the Caribbean, although nowhere more so than in its native country of Trinidad.

trinidad steel drums

The music of Trinidad was further showcased by DJ Mackie, who took attendees on a journey through the history of Trinidadian music. Some of the Trinidadian music played consisted of traditional calypso and soca music, both of which are native to Trinidad. Once they were finished eating, event attendees danced to the lively music, creating an atmosphere of festivity that is typical of life in Trinidad.

Guests enjoyed the comedic commentary of Nigel Fabien, a stand up comedian who performs here in Atlanta, as well as in his native Trinidad. Fabien entertained the guests with a series of jokes, showcasing the lively humor of Trinidad’s people.

Nigel Fabien

Keynote speaker and former president of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Georgia, Allan Notingham gave an informative speech on the history of Trinidadian cuisine. He spoke of the many cultural influences that make up Trinidadian cuisine, such as Indian, Asian, and African, and asserted that Trinidad culture is proof that different races can come together in peace. He also emphasized the importance of Roti, which is cooked on an iron flat plate, and doubles, which he called the fast food of Trinidad. According to Notingham, these are the two most important dishes in Trinidadian cuisine.

To further showcase Trinidad culture, costume designer Charles Baker displayed his designs used for the Carnival celebration. Carnival is a street festival that takes place every year immediately before Lent, and typically consists of a parade, elaborate costumes, and lots of music. Baker’s designs were grand, covered with glitter and feathers in all different colors. He stated that these costumes are an art form, a way for the person wearing them to express themselves and free their spirit, an assessment that I agree with when looking at the elaborate, multicolored designs.

trinidad carnival costumes

Destination Trinidad was by far the liveliest and most fun Go Eat Give event that I have ever attended. There was dancing, comedy, and amazing food. The native Trinidadians at the event were all humorous, upbeat, and good-natured. All of this combined to create an impression of a culture, that to me seems focused on celebrating the good things in life. That is definitely a country I would love to visit, and I imagine everyone at the event left feeling the same.

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.