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

What will you eat in Greenland? Part 2 – Seafood

In Part 1 of What will you eat in Greenland, I talked about common breakfast items you can expect to taste during your visit to Greenland. Moving on to seafood, one can find ingredients such as Greenland halibut, shrimp, cod, Arctic char, wolffish, mussels, sea urchins, redfish and much more on menu’s of restaurants and homes. Because the majority of Greenland is covered by permanent glaciers, the sea is the source for most food. Many residents hunt sea mammals and fish their own catch, which they share with their families. It is common for couples to go camping over the weekend, catch pounds of fish, bring it home, clean and process it. Then they begin the process of sun-drying, smoking, freezing and cooking, resulting in food that can last all through the winter. Along with the proteins, many homegrown herbs and vegetables in backyards or sunrooms, supplement the Greenlandic diet. Sheep sorrel, knot weed, mountain sorrel, lousewort, northern marsh yellowcress, common mouse ear, knotted pearlwort are commonly found here. Crowberries, blueberries, Labrador tea and thyme grow in the wild and anyone can go pick them from the shrubs.

With imports from Denmark, grocery stores are well stocked with pre packaged products, frozen foods, spices, sauces, etc. – everything you will find in a mainstream large grocery store in the US. However, the produce section can be limited and expensive. I didn’t find much of a different in Nuuk (the capital), but in Illulisat (north of Arctic), apples were $1 each and a head of lettuce costed $10.

Another thing to note is the internationalization of Greenlandic palate. Local ingredients are prepared using French, Thai and European styles of cooking, as seen below.

Greenlandic Seafood –

dried fish
Roseroot pickles, “gravad” salmon and dried whole Capelin at Ipiutaq Guest Farm
smoked fish
Smoked salmon on cheese and rye toast, cod skin chips, at private home in Qaqortoq
scallops
Lemon pickled scallops with angelica jelly, puffed rice, seaweed rice and seawater granita at Hotel Arctic
halibut burger
Halibut Disko burger at Hotel Arctic, Illulisat
fresh shrimp salad
Local peel & eat shrimp boiled in seawater
snow crab legs
Snow crab from Disko Island with angelica aioli
seal with bacon
Seal kebabs wrapped with bacon at Igassa Food Festival
fish platter
Fish platter at Qooqqut Nuan restaurant. Red curry with shrimp, cod with spinach, redfish with sweet and spicy hong kong style sauce, and redfish with mildly spicy red curry.
whale steak
Whale steak at private home in Qaqortoq

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

Vinings’ best kept secrets

Recently I discovered two new great finds in my neighborhood of Vinings in Atlanta. There is a little history in this area. In July 1864 the Union Army marched from Chattanooga to Atlanta moving into “Vining’s Station” and commandeering Pace’s property and tavern. By the 1930’s Vinings developed into a cool summer retreat from the heat of Atlanta for its affluent citizens with the ambience of a small village. Now, boutiques and restaurants adorn this charming square which has a clock tower and brick buildings. Continue reading “Vinings’ best kept secrets”

Dining in a fish tank


Aquarium restaurant describe themselves as an “underwater dining adventure.” While the restaurant itself is not technically underwater, it boasts an enormous aquarium.

Located at the newly re-opened Opry Mills Mall in Nashville, guests dine while seated around a 200,000-gallon tank, home to a wide variety of fish, sharks, stingrays and more. More than 100 species of colorful, tropical fish from the Caribbean Sea, Hawaii, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean – reside in the tank. Every table at the restaurant allows for an exceptional floor-to-ceiling view.

Walking through the host stand to the table is an experience itself. You go through a walkway with an arch of fishes and then around the aquarium tank. Both kids and adults seem to take several pauses admiring the colorful fishes that tend to swim in pairs and enjoy greeting the customers.

The food at Aquarium restaurant is as magnificent as its ambiance. I started with a white sangria which is light for lunch and goes well with white meat. For appetizer, I selected the shrimp and crab dip served with warm bread. The dip was creamy and dense, made with crabmeat, salad shrimp, spicy roasted poblano peppers, chopped tomatoes and cheese. For main course, I had the broiled fisherman’s platter which I was told by the server “is fit for a queen.” Truly, it was a giant platter with everything imaginable! Lobster tail, grilled shrimp, stuffed shrimp, sea scallops, mahi mahi and stuffed crab, served with Aquarium rice and broccoli…oh my! 

Some might question consuming seafood in the presence of live fish, so there is a good section on chicken and meat entrees as well.

My server was exceptional and offered his suggestions throughout. He lost me at dessert though. Like everything else, the desserts were over sized portions of delicious irresistible creations. One of them looked like a brick of chocolate and could be handy if we were characters of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But I settled with a key lime pie with toasted meringue. Not so bad either.

Aquarium restaurants is a great dining experience for the entire family. Think of it as a trip to the aquarium and a fine meal, all rolled into one. They have four locations in Denver, Houston, Kemah and Nashville.

Aquarium Restaurant Nashville
516 Opry Mills Drive
Nashville, TN 37214
www.aquariumrestaurants.com

Fit for a Princess

Overlooking the St Lawrence River and Dufferin Terrace, in the heart of Quebec City, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is a landmark of elegance and history. The hotel was built in 1893 to promote luxury tourism and named after Louis de Buade, count of Frontenac.

Having dinner at one of the Chateau’s restaurant, La Cafe de la Terrasse was perhaps one of the best meals I will have in 2012. Chef Jean Soulard keeps up with the upscale European style ambiance by offering a menu that is fresh and inspiring.

Set in a 18th century casual setting, the restaurant offers a locally harvested seasonal and themed dinners. Friday evening is a seafood buffet and what a feast that was, fit for a Princess I would say. I am personally a huge fan of seafood and could be critical at time, but this one blew me away. Not only was the selection impressive, but every single dish was cooking to perfection. Never before I had tasted salmon so tender and delicate, it was packed with flavor yet melted in your mouth.

Here are some of the highlights from the dinner…

Row of assorted salads
Two kinds of Oysters on the shell
Melt in your mouth shrimp salad
Couscous pilaf in a glass
Coconut shrimp dedicated to the delegation from Louisiana visiting during the Carnival
Seafood terrain
Steamed whole salmon
As if the seafood wasn’t enough, you get a steamed whole lobster as your “side”
There were at least a dozen desserts, but this one caught my attention
Ginger cookies with chocolate
Cheesecake with maple pecan sauce (the best of them all!)

The property is beautiful to visit, dine or stay. The Chateau offers Valentine’s escape, elopement and winter family fun packages

Lucky fish

If you are a regular patron of sushi, keep your past notions and experiences aside when you come to dine at Uchiko. The restaurant describes itself as “contemporary Japanese dining” but I say it’s an entirely new cuisine waiting to be discovered.

2011 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Southwest, Tyson Cole has married the finest ingredients from around the global to create a mouth-watering taste retreat in the heart of Austin. When my friend, Dianna and I pulled some strings to get last minute reservations at this popular eatery, we were in for an experience of a lifetime!

While waiting at the bar, I noticed they had an extensive list of sake and a few good wines. However, I was disappointed there weren’t any cocktails. Perhaps it’s not suitable to have a cocktail in a traditional Japanese farmhouse (that description lost me). The ambiance appeared to be more of contemporary and hip, than a farmhouse. Dark wooden panels and subdued lighting made it perfect for a date night, even though we were two girlfriends enjoying a gastronomical night out.

Our wonderful waiter, a young gentleman from Croatia suggested we order 5-6 plates to share. Each dish was handcrafted and took a while to prepare, especially when they were so busy on the Saturday night we were there. The menu is divided into different sections and we decided to try something from each of them. There are also specials offered that change daily.

We tried yokai berri from the cold tastings. It was the perfect blend of melt-in-your-mouth Atlantic salmon with crisp dinosaur kale, sweet Asian pear and yuzu sauce. We  devoured as we watched our neighbors playing with their order of the hot rock (sear it your­self wagyu beef served on a sizzling Japanese river rock.) An attention grabber for sure!

The tempura nasu were perfectly battered and fried circles of Japanese eggplant served with a sweet chili sauce. I could eat an entire bowl of these and still be wanting more! From their cooked menu, we had the suzuki yaki, pan fried scrumptious pieces of grilled Mediter­ranean sea bass in a bed of cherry tomatoes and tarragon. It came close to a seafood dish you would find at an American seafood restaurant. Note to self – don’t order cooked fish at a sushi place. 

The sushi rolls were perhaps the most disappointing section of the menu. We didn’t quote enjoy our selections of p-38 (Japanese yellow­tail, avocado, yuzu kosho, grilled negi, cilantro) or the crunchy tuna.  Our charming waiter brought us complimentary pieces of madai, a good luck charm traditionally served at festivals and special occasions in Japan.

Needless to say, every single item we had was number one in terms of quality, creativity and freshness. Uchiko swears by sourcing only sustainable and responsibly fished ingredients, which clearly reflects in the taste. Each piece of fish is given individual attention, making sure it is sliced and served to reflect the most optimal texture and flavor. You are a lucky fish to be served here…

What made my evening was the fried milk dessert. It was a piece of art that I hated to destroy but couldn’t resist it’s rapture in my mouth. Deep fried frozen custard was served with iced milk sherbet and thin layers of toasted chocolate. Dianna watched me as I finished the last crumbs. Yummm!!!

Leela’s Lobster Malai

I spent New Year’s Eve 2011 at the Leela Palace Kempinski hotel in Bangalore. It was a magnificent palace converted into a 5-star hotel, rated as one of the best in India. The architecture and gardens of the property are worth considering a tourist destination itself!

Even their restaurant is rated the best in town. The hotel advertised a special party to celebrate the occassion. At a steep entry fee of $100/ person, you would get access to an open bar, a mile long multi-cuisine buffet, entertainment and dance floor. Since I could not afford to stay there, I decided to splurge for New Year’s Eve at least. The place was adorned in a carnival theme, with colorful drapes and masks of every origin. There were two rooms with buffet tables that would put a King’s banquet to shame. Needless to say, it was worth every penny!

Here is a recipe from the web site that I tasted in the buffet. I love lobster and am always looking for ways to incorporate it into ethnic cuisines. Hope you like it too!

Lobster Malai –  Serves 4

Ingredients   Qty.
Large Fresh Lobster : 04 No (600-800 Gm. Each)
Fresh Onion Paste : 250 Gm.
Ginger Julienne : 20 Gm.
Green Chilli Finely Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coriander Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coconut Milk (Ist Extract) : 200 Ml.
Fresh Coconut Milk (2nd Extract) : 250 Ml.
Bay Leaf : 02 No
Cinnamon Powder : 02 Gm.
Spice Clove Powder : 02 Gm.
Coconut Oil : 110 Ml.
Turmeric Powder : a pinch
Salt : To taste
Ginger : 75 Gm.
Cumin Power : 08 Gm.

Preparation

  • Blanch the whole lobster in hot salted water. Take out the meat from the tail and cut length wise slices.
  • Heat oil in a kadai, put chopped green chilli and ginger julienne. Fry for sometime. Add fresh chopped coriander and fry well.
  • Add ginger, cumin powder and sauté well.
  • Add onion paste and sauté till the raw smell goes out.
  • Now add second extract of coconut milk and bring to a boil.
  • Put salt and turmeric powder and reduce the sauce to half.
  • Add cinnamon, clove powder and bay leaf.
  • Add first remove of coconut milk and lobster meat slices and simmer for sometime.
  • Garnish with ginger juliennes and fresh coriander sprig., serve hot with Malabar Parottas or Appam

 I appeared in the local newspaper the next day for being at the Faces and Masks party. You can see my picture on the DNA India web site.