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

5 Good Reasons to visit Ilulissat, Greenland

Ilulissat is a popular destination for those visiting Greenland, most of whom come from Nordic and Scandinavian countries. Direct flight on Iceland Air takes you from Revjivik, Iceland to Ilulissat, Greenland in a mere 3 hours. Once there, you hardly realize you have landed at a latitude of 69.2 degrees North, 280 kilometers above the Arctic circle. With about 5,000 residents, Ilulissat is the third largest city in Greenland, even though you won’t feel it by looking at the remote surroundings.

illulisat port

Here are 5 reasons you must visit this beautiful city…

1. Ilulissat Icefjord – A scenic backdrop to the entire township, the slow moving icebergs are a small reminder of what lies north of here – the world’s second largest glacier. At first glance, nothing is more captivating than watching these majestic white hills floating around in your backyard. Once you soak in its beauty from land, take an expedition on a sailboat or kayak. World of Greenland touring company offers spectacular sunset sails (with hot chocolate included) that are designed for those who want to admire the glaciers up close in comfort. Another option is to go kayaking in the ice fjord. The water is cold but still, while the memories are bound to freeze as long as you live.

sailing among glaciers

2. Hotel Arctic – Not just a place to rest for the night, this 4-star hotel offers uniquely designed igloos overlooking the Ilulissat Icefjord. Walk through the hotel’s hallway along a deck, observing the manager’s sled dogs, and make your way to your room/igloo. There is a comfortable double bed with 180 degrees view of the fjord, that lay only a few steps beyond. These dome shaped huts are designed with modern day amenities, including flat screen televisions and private bathrooms. Although the space is small, it fits 1-2 people and makes for a very secluded romantic getaway.

hotel arctic

If confined living is not your thing, rooms and suits at the hotel’s main building also have great views of the Icefjord. Hotel Arctic offers amenities such as wifi, bar, restaurant, lounge and conference rooms as well.

 3. Charming City – If there was a Portofino of Greenland, that would be Ilulissat. A small harbor packed with fishing and private boats marks the focal point of the city. Fishing is the main occupation of the residents, as Greenland is the largest supplier of halibut in the world. Cod, arctic char, shrimp, seal and whale also account for majority of the country’s exports.
The houses are brightly painted in different colors – red, yellow, black, blue – looking like containers of a ship from the outside. Exposed water pipes give sign that residents are dwelling inside. Every home includes a dog sled for winter and a boat for the summer.
ilulissat harbor
There is also a church painted black, a gymnasium, couple of grocery stores, and a few shops in the town. It is possible to walk the entire city in less than an hour, but photo opportunities are endless. The summer brings with it the midnight sun, almost 24 hours of daylight, so visitors can enjoy nonstop activities; but winter is the best time to go dog sledding.
4. History of the Inuit – Just on the city’s exterior, you will find Sermermiut, a 4000 year old Inuit settlement that was abounded in 1850. World of Greenland tours take visitors on a guided walk to the settlement and Ilulissat Icefjord World Heritage Site. Although the archeological site has very little remaining, it gives you a good idea of the circumstances under which different Inuit populations thrived. There is a replica of their summer home, where an entire family would sleep using lamps fueled by whale oil. The residents spent their days fishing and hunting by the glaciers, and moved inland during the winters.
Once you walk through the boardwalk, get to kællingekløften, where you can enjoy the magnificent view of the Icefiord, where there is nothing but white as far as your eyes can see. Makes you feel small and insignificant in its presence!

illulisat glacier walk

5. Dog Sledge with Huskies – The Greenland Husky is an ancient dog breed that is raised by residents throughout the country for hunting polar bear and seal, and sledding. Because of their stamina and warm coat, they can easily survive in the freezing arctic temperatures as working animals. Ilulissat is the biggest sledge district in Greenland and offers many great dog sledge experiences. An Inuit tradition, dating 2000 years back in time, this is still a viable means of transportation for many residents.
Walking around the  outskirts of city, you can see some 6,000 huskies kept in open fields. Packs of 8-16 dogs are maintained by each family, but the dogs live together in fenced areas. They often have a shed or wooden kennel for sleeping, but don’t seem to wind the cold winds. The dogs are fed fish heads and whatever protein is available.
Legislation prohibits Greenland Huskies from being moved south of the Arctic Circle and other dog breeds frombeing brought into the Arctic Circle, ensuring that Greenland huskies are the only dogs in the region. Do not approach the dogs as they are not raised to be pets. If you want to experience the local culture, take a dog sledding tour for 3 hours to 3 days with a professional company.