Philly’s International Vegan Nirvana

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

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

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

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

moroccan spiced carrots

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

beet salad

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

roasted brussels

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

coconut curry flora restaurant

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

tamales

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

beignets

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

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

Note: Bring cash or check and BYOB

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 the sixth course. The Sous Vide Machine created a light piece of fish that was put on a bed of spicy curry lentils. 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

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

Shake Shack Goes South

I had my first Shake Shack experience at the first and original location on a trip to New York, where a distinguishable line of people wrapped around Madison Square Park, waiting to try delicious burgers, hot dogs, frozen custards, made from fresh and organic ingredients, all from a humble hot dog cart. However, Shake Shack brings its own twist to the South. Instead of a little stand, Shake Shack Atlanta is located in the mixed-use Buckhead Atlanta center; which will be filled with designer shopping, upscale restaurants, and high-rise apartments once it opens. Even though the line here does wrap around the property, there is plenty of room to eat, once you step inside the establishment, which includes a downstairs dining room, and a rooftop patio where patrons can enjoy their food and drinks while watching the view of the Atlanta skyline.

oh my pecan pie shake shack
Oh My Pecan Pie Frozen Custards

I savored the Shake Shack classics – the ShackBurger (cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce), and the crinkle cut cheese fries. The fries were nice and crispy and had a perfect amount of salt. The ShackBurger was also superb, but meat lovers beware, the “single” is pretty light, so I recommend upping the protein to a “double.” I also had my fair share of the frozen custard blends, which were specific to the Atlanta menu, and included Pecan Pie Oh My (vanilla frozen custard blended with a slice of pecan pie from H&F Bread Co.), Campfire S’mores (chocolate frozen custard blended with marshmallow sauce, graham crackers, and dark chocolate chunks from Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Co.), and the Peachtree (a caramel-peach milkshake). The Campfire S’mores was my favorite and it was rich, thick, and creamy. I was surprised I wasn’t a big fan of the Peachtree, but the caramel peach combination sounded as odd as it tasted.

Shake Shack Cheese Fries
Shake Shack Cheese Fries

For anyone who has never been to Shake Shack, I do recommend giving it a try when in the Buckhead area, but beware of the hype. Although the food is great and customer service is excellent, waiting in a long line for burgers and fries can be irksome when there are plenty of other organic burger joints to choose from in Atlanta.

shack burger
Shack Burger

Shake Shack Buckhead Atlanta
3035 Peachtree Road NE, Suite A146
Atlanta, GA 30305
buckhead@shakeshack.com
(470) 809-9201

Que Viva Guatemala!

Last week, I experienced Guatemalan culture for the first time, through Go Eat Give’s Destination Guatemala. Before the event started at El Quetzal, a Guatemalan restaurant in Chamblee, GA, I got the chance to interact with a few people who had travelled to Guatemala, and were excited to take a nostalgic trip back to the country they had fallen in love with for a night, through Go Eat Give.  Before that day, I didn’t know much about Guatemala, besides what I had studied in school about the Guatemalan Civil War, and the media accounts of poverty, drug, and gang violence plastered on T.V. in recent weeks, covering the unaccompanied minors from Central America. I was eager to learn more about the land and culture.

amaka destination Guatemala

While guests were getting settled in, photos from Guatemala and traditional music played in the background. The photos showed the rich biodiversity in Guatemala, including its plush rainforests, mountainous highlands, and clear blue lakes including Lake Atitlán . We then feasted on a Guatemalan dinner buffet that included arroz y frijoles (rice and beans), ensalada (beets and palm salad), Pepian de Pollo, Jocon con Pollo, Vggie Chile Rellenos;  and for dessert Mole con Platanos Fritos (plantains in a mole sauce) and Rellenitos de Platanos (fried mashed plantains stuffed with sweetened black beans), which was washed down with horchata and tamarindo. Some of my favorites foods included jocón (chicken stewed in green tomato sauce), and pepián (chicken stewed in a pumpkin and sesame sauce).

Guatemalan food

The event featured two speakers: social entrepreneur Stephanie Jolluck and the Consulate General of Guatemala in Atlanta, Rosa Mérida de Mora.  Jolluck has adopted Guatemala as her second home and is the owner of Coleccion Luna, a co-op located in the Guatemalan highlands that creates beaded jewelry, hand woven textiles, bags, and belts. She has formed an equal partnership with Guatemalan women, and proceeds from the business benefit the community to alleviate poverty, preserve tradition, sustainability, and promote cultural diversity and understanding. The fabric of her textiles came in many bright colors, which are found in the rich landscape of Guatemala. The handicrafts were a big hit of the night, and many guests took home items from Collecion Luna.

Stephanie Jolluck

Rosa Mérida de Mora spoke of the work of the consulate within the Guatemalan community in Atlanta and the southeastern region. She described the strong work ethic of the Guatemalan people whom are largely agrarian. Many Guatemalans in the southeast have continued this tradition in the States, harvesting the crops that we consume everyday. Although many Guatemalans work hard in the United States so they have a chance to provide a better life for their families here and in Guatemala, they face hardships. Over 60% of Guatemalans in the United States are undocumented which causes them to live in shadows of American society, as they risk being deported if they get caught driving without a license. Although Guatemalans have contributed so richly to American society, it is heartbreaking that they are treated so poorly due to many anti-immigration sentiments in Georgia. I hope this event encourages people to keep an eye on the news about the effects of anti-immigration legislation.

Rosa Maria

After the speeches, guests put their dance moves to the test. A traditional Guatemalan dancer showcased cultural Mayan dances, and many guests jumped in, not afraid of learning a new dance in front of complete strangers.  The highlight of my night was definitely watching everyone dance along to the beautiful Mayan music.

Mayan music

Destination Guatemala was a great event because many people who had been native Guatemalans and tourist of Guatemalans came out and spoke about the land and culture they loved so much. Witnessing the passion and love that others shared for the country encouraged me to begin a way to plan my own trip to Guatemala. In the meantime, I look forward to learning Thai culture at Go Eat Give Destination Thailand next month.

~ By Go Eat Give intern, Amaka Ifeadike. Amaka is a recent graduate from Emory University. She loves to travel, teaches Spanish, and most recently lived in Buenos Aires. 

Qooqqut with unforgettable dining

What crosses your mind when your tour is called “Qooqqut with unforgettable dining?” Certainly not orange overalls, open air high speed boats, and battling trade winds in search of a lone restaurant located 50 kilometers away from civilization! Apparently, this is what I had signed up for during my recent visit to Nuuk, Greenland.

We met at the harbor of this world’s northernmost capital city, and noticed parked sail boats, water taxis, even a small cruise ship at the dock. But my guide pointed to our ride for the evening – a 7 passenger open raft with a motor attached to the back. Given the windy cool Arctic temperatures we were about to be faced with, overalls were mandatory, to be worn on top of the layers of sweaters and parkas I was already laden with. John, our Danish tour guide, warned me that it will be cold “like riding on a motorcycle at zero degree Celsius for two hours.” That’s why I look like a baby Polar Bear in this picture!

overalls for boat trip

We started off slow as we left the city and sped soon enough reaching 50km/ hour in the little boat. At first, I enjoyed the scenery – we had a beautiful view of Nuuk’s colorful homes, the statues of Hans Egede, and backdrop of a few new buildings against rocky hills. We whiz passed emerald blue floating glaciers, and within 10 minutes had reached very secluded areas. There was nothing but open waters, mountains and ice as far as I could see. After that, it was cold, wet, windy and bumpy for a VERY long time. John, our guide, explained to the passengers that this is how the Vikings traveled to dinner and the areas we were traveling through were Viking territories. I’m not sure what kind of restaurants the Vikings favored.

blue ice glacier

The second phase of our experience was fishing for entree. We stopped near a mountain where the water was deep enough to fish for cod and redfish. Line hooks were pulled down and everyone caught something. The catch was just pulled into the boat and stored for the chef who was going to cook us dinner that night.

catching redfish in Greenland

Another 20 minutes ride to the island of Qooqqut. It was a very scenic small village surrounded by hills, some green shrubs and lush backgrounds. The water was calm here and reminded me of Scottish Highland or South New Zealand.

Qooqqut arrival

The lone Qooqqut Nuan restaurant is run by husband (Greenlandic chef) and Thai wife. They also have a restaurant in Nuuk (at the harbor) and use to work at another one on the island that burned down.

Qooqqut Nuan restaurant.

The restaurant serves upscale Thai food using local ingredients. Wine/ beer was reasonably charged $10 per drink, and dinner was included in our tour. I ordered the Fish Dinner which had a huge platter with many interesting creations – red curry with shrimp, cod with spinach, redfish with sweet and spicy hong kong style sauce, and redfish with mildly spicy red curry. It came with a big bowl of salad (rare in this part of the world) and steamed rice. I also tasted Penang reindeer, a Greenlandic Thai fusion, with gamy chewy sliced pieces of meat that were probably hunted on the island, cooked with sliced onions, red and green bell peppers. The flavor were divine and unfathomable how someone could run such an upscale kitchen in the middle of nowhere. For dessert, I opted for European style crepe pancakes with ice cream and fresh fruit (watermelon and orange).

Greenlandic shrimp with salad

fish platter

Penang reindeer

During the delicious dinner, John informed us that in case we can’t make it back, there were hostel rooms behind the restaurants that were pretty nice to spend the night at. He also kept some sleeping bags on the boat, just in case we ended up on another uninhabited island. His tours generally ended around 10pm, but with the midnight sun this was not a problem. Now that it was end of August, and it was already past 10, and getting dark, but we still had an hour to go.

Its a pity that we weren’t able to enjoy the jaw-dropping natural beauty, the secluded surroundings of the lone restaurant, instead headed right back into the dark waters. An afternoon hiking around Qooqqut, soaking in its fresh air and relaxing with its views, would have been a good addition to the itinerary.

The ride back was not as bumpy, but felt much colder because of the darkness and slight rain. The memory of a fabulous dinner was rapidly overtaken by my head and neck pain and a frosty nose. I will certainly be booking in with a Hawkeye chiro from Arlington Heights, IL upon returning home. It was 11pm when we returned to the harbor. The city looked dead. John called us a cab to take us back to Hansina’s Guest House.

I would definitely take this tour again, but during the day, in a covered boat, and spend some more time on the island.

Touring Greenland offers Qooqqut with unforgettable dining tour for DKK 895 ($179) per person, which includes 2 hours of sailing, some time for fishing, and a two-course dinner. Drinks are not included. Warning: if you have prior neck or back injury, you may not want to take the bumpy ride.

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

La Tagliatella Provides an Italian Option for Vegetarians

I recently attended a blogger dinner hosted by the Association of Food Bloggers in Druid Hills, GA. La Tagliatella is an Italian chain restaurant based out of Europe with locations in many different parts of the world, including Spain, France, Germany, China, and the United States. The Emory Point location has been around for couple of years, and features a nice outdoor area that provides a great atmosphere for cool summer evenings. The restaurant boasts that it’s food is an authentic representation of Italian cuisine, although I’m not sure if I agree with that assessment.

First, the restaurant served its version of a Caprese salad as a Buffalo, Mozzarella and Tomato Carpaccio, which consisted of grated fresh tomatoes dressed with black olive pate, and topped with buffalo mozzarella and anchovies. The main difference between a traditional Caprese salad and this dish is that the tomatoes were served grated instead of sliced, to the point that it was almost like eating fresh salsa. It sounds weird, but I actually loved it. I don’t normally enjoy eating tomatoes, but the way they combined with the buffalo mozzarella, made this a delightfully fresh dish, perfect for summertime.

caprese salad

Next was Tagliatella pizza, which consisted of tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fried eggplant slices, drizzled with honey and balsamic glaze, and topped with freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The crust was rolled out very thin, into an almost cracker-like consistency, which I’ve been told is typical of authentic Napolitano pizza. This was by far one of the most unique pizzas I’ve ever had, mostly due to the honey, which added a sweet component to an otherwise savory dish. While it wasn’t necessarily a bad combination, it wasn’t something I would normally expect on a pizza. Overall I enjoyed this particular dish, but I don’t think it’s something I would order, unless my sweet tooth was having a serious craving.

tagliatella pizza

The main course consisted of three different pasta dishes. The Cuore Pasta in Pesto Rosso Panna, was stuffed with butternut squash, served in a light cream sauce with Sole di Puglia tomatoes, pine nuts, and Grana Padano cheese. The light cream sauce combined well with the butternut squash, was light and flavorful, and didn’t leave me feeling like I needed to run 10 miles after eating it. This was my favorite dish of the night by far.

Cuore Pasta in Pesto Rosso Panna

The second pasta dish, Tortellone pasta in Quattro Formaggi, consisted of round, green pasta stuffed with mozzarella, tomato, and basil, served in a cream sauce of Grana Padano, gorgonzola, gruyere, and emmental cheeses. The amount of cheeses in this alone was more than enough to get me excited. However, I found that the combination wasn’t as stellar as I had hoped. Triangle di gorgonzola pasta in pesto was the downer of the night. This pasta was triangle shaped, stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and pear, and served in an olive oil based sauce made of basil, pine nuts, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Maybe it was the pesto paired with the gorgonzola, or the fact that the pasta was undercooked, that left a bad taste in my mouth. Whatever it was, it definitely didn’t work and I would suggest skipping this dish.

pesto gorgonzola

A Bocconcino custard and cheesecake drizzled with salted caramel, with a wafer on the side was served for dessert. A shot of Limoncello di Capri paired well as an after dinner drink. This dessert proved to be the perfect ending to a refreshing meal. The bulk of the dish consisted of a light and airy lemon-flavored custard, with a slight cheesecake consistency. I couldn’t stop eating it. Normally after any sort of Italian meal, I’m so stuffed that the prospect of eating anything else is unappealing, but this dessert was light enough that I had no problems eating more than my fair share.

Bocconcino

About halfway through the evening, someone commented that the meal seemed to be heading down a strictly vegetarian route. To be honest, I hadn’t realized that all of our courses were vegetarian until someone mentioned it, which surprised me considering how much I love meat. I typically run from the word “vegetarian,” due to the picture of a vegetable garden, and the meals I used to make for my late rabbit, Snowball. However, I’m glad this meal turned out to be vegetarian, as it gave me a different view on what a vegetarian meal constitutes. For vegetarians, I think this restaurant offers some great options that would also please meat lovers like me.

~ 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.