Tag Archives: travel

One last weekend in the city

It’s funny how a move forces you to finally do all those things you always meant to do someday, but never really got around to. Like spending a full weekend in New York, just because.  We finally got around to doing just that last weekend, and it was great.  (Why didn’t we do it earlier??)

The thing about day trips in NYC is that you’re so tired and grumpy by the end of the day that you really don’t get to enjoy all the stuff you try to cram in before boarding the commuter train home.  Staying in the city gave us a bit more time to just wander and enjoy the snow, check out the funny sight of New Yorkers encountering “nature” (think sledding on any hill in sight and lots and lots of Hunter Boots), and actually spend almost an entire day wandering around the Met, because we could.

We stayed at Hotel 17 (which I recommend for a cheap place to stay on the Lower East Side, if you’re looking for one), and took the opportunity for a late night tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern on Friday.  We had a reservation at 10:30 pm originally (that’s all we could get), which got moved up to 9:30 because of the 20.9″ of snow that had just fallen.

Gramercy Tavern deserves all the praise it gets.  The staff are incredibly attentive, and know exactly what they’re doing. Watch them avoid collisions in a busy dining room on a Friday night, and you’ll see what I mean.  The place isn’t snooty, and you can show up in jeans if you want.  And the food is worth waiting for, if you happen to be in the neighborhood without a reservation and try and get a seat in the Tavern.

We did the Winter Tasting menu, which is ~5+ courses stretched over about 2 hours.  I ordered a glass of Malbec with mine, and James was happy to find a lemon bitter on the drinks menu, which ended up going really nicely with the first several courses on the menu.  Each course was very fresh, very different, and made excellent use of the few vegetables available to us here in the North East in the midst of winter.

The amuse bouche was simply slivers of fresh local veg speared on a toothpick with a lemony vinaigrette — maybe not the best amuse bouche I’ve ever had, but it really was the only dish I wasn’t that impressed with, and it was really just meant to cleanse your palate.  The first course was thinly sliced, really fresh scallops with pickled swiss chard stems and aji dulce peppers, which was fresh and light and almost tasted spring-like despite the season-appropriate selection of vegetables involved.  The second course was this amazing lobster soup with brussels sprouts and pancetta. They poured this absolutely delicious broth over the soup ingredients, and I only hope to recreate it someday at home.  My guess is it involved a bit of soy sauce, maybe veal broth, and balsamic, among other things, but I may be mistaken.  The third course was some of the nicest smoked trout I’ve ever had, with three types of onions that even James ate happily.  There was a sweet onion puree under the trout, with beet red pickled onion slices on top and something like a chopped onion marmelade to make the dish just a little prettier.  It struck me as a play on bagels and lox, which was appropriate for the place.

The next dish was almost an Asian fusion dish, though I’ve never seen Asian / rural Bavarian cuisine combined in such a way before. It was a rabbit (?) dish, with cabbage, golden fried spaetzle, and fresh black trumpet mushrooms.  The sauce was salty and savory and delicious, and it sort of made the dish, even if I did feel like I needed to drink a gallon of water afterwards.

The last main dish was a rack of veal and deckle, which they served with some stewed red cabbage and heirloom white beans of some sort.  While the veal was a bit sinewy, it was nicely cooked, and quite tasty, as was the deckle, which was a fatty bite of goodness that I wished I had saved for last.

But that is not all, of course, because Gramercy Tavern is awesome and tasting menus have a few extra treats by design, at least at most places.  We thought we had one course (dessert) left.  We were given a choice between a blood orange cheese cake and some sort of chocolate mousse dish, and had ordered one of each and some coffee.  What appeared was a deconstructed apple pie with sake-caramel sauce, fresh apples, and cinnamon cream.  THEN dessert came (and the blood orange cheesecake won in my book, but I LOVE blood orange anything, so that’s not surprising).  Then petit fours, and a final surprise: a cardamom coconut breakfast cake, all neatly packaged to go, for the next day.  At that point, we were stuffed, and happy to sit in a food-coma stupor for a bit, and then stroll around the city at half past midnight, realizing that EVERYONE was out on the street, slightly tipsy and ready for snowball fights and chats with random passersby.  This was when I started realizing why people actually enjoy living in the city, and I really hope Sydney will feel similar.

The rest of the weekend was also a lot of fun.  We checked out Egypt and ancient Armor in the MET, and discovered Le Pain Quotidien, which had light, delicious tartines on some serious bread, tasted sandwiches at Porchetta (sort of not worth the hype, or the $10, but it wasn’t bad) and Belgian fries at Pomme Frites (which was good, but maybe a bit expensive at $7 a pop? Unless, of course, that’s your dinner, which very well may be the case at this place).

That, book browsing / shopping at Strand (amazing selection, but get there early if you, like me, can’t stand the pushy NY crowds), brunch at The Smith (potato waffles! Though the omelets looked better, and yes, you need a reservation), pear cider at the Union Square greenmarket, a stroll in Central Park, and a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and through the Brooklyn Bridge park were some of the other highlights of the weekend.

It was a fitting way to spend one last weekend in New York.  And as it turns out, our last weekend before embarking on a low-sodium, low-fat food experiment.  Yes, I’m going to have to get a little creative in the kitchen out of necessity.


Filed under New York City, restaurant review, travel

On a lighter note

I figured I’d share a few favorite things I’ve discovered since I last posted on something other than current events.  In no particular order, here they are:

  • If you are trying to decide between the 20 million charities that are currently asking for donations for Haiti right now, consider Partners In Health.  They have, thus far, been making the best use of funds donated for disaster relief in Haiti, have an established network in the country, and are a pretty fantastic organization all around.  If you want to know more, go check out their website, or read this book by Tracy Kidder, which is well written (as are all Tracy Kidder’s books, but that’s another story).  They are one of those organizations that actually has an effective, efficient, sensible plan for accomplishing their mission, which is one of the main things I look for when I’m choosing an organization to donate to, and they’ve been working in Haiti for decades.
  • The White Mountains are amazing, especially in winter.  We just made our second trip up there, and managed to summit Mt. Lafayette.  It was worth every bit of muscle pain.  I only wish we had summit pictures to show you; we’re still waiting on those from friends, as our camera did not like the cold one bit.  The photo above is from the Falling Waters trail in Franconia Notch, which I highly recommend, but only if you have the gear.  If you go up Brindle Path and down Falling Waters during winter, you can slide down the mountain most of the way!
  • Snow is actually pretty fantastic if you take full advantage of it.
  • Radish kimchi goes with EVERYTHING (er… maybe not chocolate, but that’s another experiment). If you haven’t tried it, go! Now! You don’t know what you’re missing.  I had a breakfast burrito with kimchi, New Zealand cheddar, and fried eggs this morning, and have been known to put kimchi on nachos after a late night at the lab…
  • If you’re stuck in a wine shop trying to decide between the cutesy lizard label and the adorable kangaroos, ask if they have a rioja.  Spanish wines are cheap for the quality, and I think they’re worth trying at least once.  Reservas are even better, if they are in your price range.  Barring that, try a Malbec.  These are Argentinian reds that are also generally pretty good for the price, though they aren’t quite as reliable as the riojas seem to be, in my experience.  Reservas are also a good bet for Malbecs.
  • Steep and Cheap is worth checking out if you’re interested in mountaineering gear.
  • The CSS upgrade on wordpress is worth it.  If you’ve noticed (aka still don’t read blogs in some sort of RSS feed), my site has gotten somewhat ugly since I got cheap on you and stopped paying the $15/year upgrade.  I may have to do something about that one of these night shifts.
  • Two tv shows I really should stop watching on netflix but cannot: Spooks / MI-5, which is a BBC series, and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Clearly I’m about the last person on earth to start watching the second show, but having watched some horrible cooking shows and the shows he’s featured on places I’ve actually lived, I really think he actually tries to treat each place he visits with respect.  That’s hard to find on television these days.

And that’s all for now.  I have an experiment setup to supervise next week and a life to sort out, so we’ll see when I return…

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Filed under books, cabbage, firsts, holiday, travel, wine

Perth & Margaret River

Yes, I realize, I promised this post a week ago. I apologize. I’ve been entirely too wrapped up in *what to do with my life* (now that I don’t have a job lined up for next year for the first time in my adult life) to think about things like posts and food and, oh, the little things that I really should be paying more attention to.  Like gorgeous beaches, sun (when it happens!), berry picking, and the massive stack of vacation pictures I finally put up on my flickr page.  This first one is from Little Creatures, in Fremantle, which is one of the best places I can think of to have a beer by the sea and dream about living anywhere warmer than CT.  As long as you don’t want a stout, of course, but Australia isn’t really the place for stout anyway.

Perth itself looks like this:

It’s a small city, but it has the most amazing park right near the city center with preserved Bushland and all sorts of gorgeous places to while away the day.

Kings Park aside, Perth was just a good chance to catch up James’s family and go shopping for passionfruit tea and delicious jam donuts and all sorts of other good stuff at the Fremantle Markets and this greek spice market whose name I can’t recall at the moment.  This was good in its own right, but I wanted to see something new, so we ended up heading down to Margaret River for a few days.  We stayed near Yallingup, which is a tiny town a bit north of Margaret River, with cheap campsites and views like this:

It’s nice seeing the sun set over the water again.  There’s also a pretty awesome cave nearby:

It is one of a few sandstone caves in the region, and it was worth a trip, even if we did have trouble getting pretty pictures. We headed down toward Margaret River, as well, to check out the Karri forest (pictures do not capture how awesome this was):

They’re as tall as redwoods, almost, except they all seem to reach the same height, so you feel like you’re under this light, open canopy of green.  It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find fairies if you happened to be five years old and less cynical than I am.

In Margaret River, we stopped for lunch at the Margaret River Bakery, which was cheap and awesome.  I had a burger with the works,

which was something like AU$7 with the chips.  Beetroot, fried egg, and grilled onions were all involved in this masterpiece, and while I was skeptical at first, there is a reason burgers in Australia come with this particular combination.  The beetroot and onion were a sweet counterpart to the savory grilled beef and fried egg, and despite my misgivings, I ended up liking it.  James had a AU$4 pie, chips, and gravy special:

This was proper Aussie tucker, as James would say if he happened to be feeling homesick and in the midst of making pie.  Yes, gravy and chips are brilliant together, if slightly indulgent.

Now, Margaret River is probably not known for its bakery, however delicious our lunch happened to be.  It IS known for wineries and food producers, which happen to be all over the region, which you can go check out if you have a car and an adventurous stomach.  We didn’t do much wine tasting (I was driving — on the wrong side of the road! And James doesn’t drink.)  but we did check out some local cheese producers, a chocolate factory, and an olive oil producer or two.   Olio Bello was my favorite one, I think.  They had new olive oil they had just pressed that week, which was green, fresh, spicy, and tasty. We picked up a bottle to bring back with us, and had to restrain ourselves from buying more.  The liquid ban in airports is cumbersome.  We also checked out The Berry Farm, which makes jams, berry-infused ports and wines, and this incredible sparkling strawberry wine that I seriously would have bought if we could have brought it back.  We also stopped for a coffee on their grounds, since we ran into a guy that said they made “incredible cappucinos”  on our way into the tasting room.  He was right, though the setting might have helped the experience.

Most of the wineries have cafes and restaurants on their property, and this was no exception. I’d say go for lunch and a glass of strawberry wine and just hang out for a little while in the sun, if you have the chance.  If we hadn’t already been eating almost continuously all day, we might have done just that.

It was a different sort of vacation.  You have to understand that you will be driving everywhere, stopping for free food at random little farms and shops all over the place, and spending more money than you really planned on spending.  This wasn’t a bad thing at all, and we balanced it with plenty of beach walks, which I sorely miss here.  (The Long Island sound is just not the same!)  I think I need to look for a job somewhere warmer.

So that’s finally Western Australia, more than a month after our return.  Maybe I’ll even get back to posting about our garden (which is growing like mad), that awesome strawberry rhubarb tart with the easiest crust ever that I made ages ago, or berry picking in CT. You’ll have to wait and see…


Filed under Australia, travel

Matteo’s on Brunswick Street

I didn’t plan on writing this one up, so here’s the sole picture, in all it’s cell phone-quality glory:

Thanks for sending it along, PG.  You’re looking at tempura-wrapped squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese from Matteo’s, in Melbourne’s North Fitzroy neighborhood, which I had as a starter (or entree, as they called the first course).  Yes, it tasted gorgeous, as deep-fried squash blossoms tend to do.  The watermelon and veg balanced the richness of the tempura batter quite nicely, which I would say the restaurant tended to do very well as a whole.

The food at Matteo’s is probably best described as Australian-Asian fusion.  It’s not cheap, but if you’re looking for a nice place to eat in North Fitzroy, it’s worth checking out.  There’s a tasting menu, an a la carte menu (which I ordered from), or, if you’re there for lunch, a two course + wine fixed price lunch deal for $35.

For the main course, I ended up having a decadent mushroom tart with a brioche crust, topped with a poached quail egg, spinach, cherry tomatoes, and a shitake mushroom sauce.  Now, I love mushrooms, so this dish may not be for everyone, but if mushrooms are your thing, you will love the creamy, mushroomy tart filling.  It paired really nicely with the Tasmanian Pinot J picked out for the main course.  Everyone else was pretty happy with their mains, minus those who got the duck.  The duck itself was good, but the Japanese omelet side was a bit on the greasy side, which may be why this particular option has since been taken off the menu.

So, to sum it up: I’d recommend this place if you’re looking to spend some money on a nice meal in Melbourne. The food was excellent and fine dining atmosphere wasn’t uncomfortably posh, which is always a good thing when you’re traveling with someone who refuses to admit he owns a single pair of long pants.

And with that, I’ve finished my report of Melbourne, mostly because we didn’t do much there this trip. We only had a couple of days, and we’ve both been there before, so there wasn’t anything too exciting to write about.  I will say you should check out the Melbourne Museum if you have a chance, because live spider exhibits are the most awesome thing you will ever find in a museum.  One of the first supercomputers is there, too, which I never get tired of checking out. I mean, seriously, memory made of vacuum tubes? How could that not be cool??

Yes, I am a total geek sometimes.

Next, I’ll post on Perth and Margaret River, though it may take me a little while … I’m at a summer school during the next couple of weeks and am learning lots, so the blog is sort of on the back burner for the moment.

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Filed under Australia, restaurant review, travel

Persimmons and stars

Ps Perssimon Pie

P's Perssimon Pie

I am incredibly lucky to have talented and amazing friends who not only put up with my silly, sleep-deprived self after a red-eye flight across the country and are game for stupidly expensive meals just because, but greet me with persimmon pie amazingness for my birthday.  This is why I should make it to LA more often than once in a decade. I only lived there for a year, plus visits, but there are reasons to go back — if only for friends and its close proximity to some of the most beautiful coast one can hope to encounter in this country.


Melisse - menu

But I’m getting nostalgic. We can’t have that, right? Especially not at this hour. (As if the timing really matters.)  I will say LA is worth visiting, if only for the food, strange characters, and odd attractions. P and I whiled away the time after I arrived making coffee and crepes (with nutella and strawberries!) and then headed off to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, because George said so. His description is pretty much spot on, so I’ll leave it at that, but add my recommendation to the list, because the room on superstition alone is worth the trip (and the $5 suggested donation).  After that, we were hungry, which was convenient, because Melisse was next on the agenda. We skipped father’s office (and their amazing burgers which you absolutely must have on your next trip to LA) to get ready for our 7:15 pm reservation.

Whats left of the amuse bouche of salmon tartare with tomato and cucumber puree.

What's left of the amuse bouche of salmon tartare with tomato and cucumber puree. (Thanks for taking pictures, P)

We walked into the restaurant, only to run into the chef in his toque (seriously). A brief chat and the uncomfortable realization that we were actually in a place with stools designed specifically to hold purses (seriously?) was all we had time for before deciding on a wine (1/2 bottle of St. Lucia Pinot, which was delicious), and the tasting menu, which was the plan all along.  The best way to do a tasting menu is to go with a friend with an adventurous palate who is willing to share. We each chose different dishes, and had half of each, so we could do two tasting menus in one. Our starters were some sort of toast with jamon iberico (which we ordered because we had just found out it was $83/lb at a local Italian market) and something pesto-like, and the warm foie gras on toast with apricot sorbet and berry sauce?  Something like that, anyway … I don’t have a copy of the menu they gave us.

Foie gras starter

Foie gras starter

The jamon iberico wasn’t bad, though I wouldn’t pay a ton for it, because I guess I’m not enough of a pig snob to discern the difference between that and some decent prociutto. The foie gras, though, was amazing. It was perfectly cooked, and went beautifully with the sweet accompaniments. If you’ve never had it, imagine biting into something that has that rich, meaty taste, but with a warm and airy texture. The outside was slightly crisp, which perfectly complimented the moist, light interior. (Hah — foie gras is not light, even if it tastes like it is). Anyway, it was good — in fact, it was probably my favorite dish of the meal, aside from dessert, which I’ll get to later.

Loup de mer

Loup de mer

For the fish course, we ordered a Loup de mer dish on special with either sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes, an amazing broth, and something underneath which I can’t quite remember, as well as the abalone dish with leeks and arbequina olive oil jus. The most memorable part of either meal was the crispy skin on the loup de mer, which was perfect (and attainable at home, if you peel off the skin of the fish and fry both sides in a bit of oil), and the broth that came with it (though I was frustrated by the impossibly shallow bowl, which made the spoon they gave us completely useless). The abalone was ok … I mean, it was good flavorwise, but definitely chewier than I imagined. The green paste that accompanied it, which tasted of avocadoes and creamy goodness, was my favorite part.



For the main meal, P ordered the rabbit (Slow Cooked Rabbit, Boudin Blanc, Harrisa Spiced Carrots, Zucchini Flower Pesto) from the main menu, and I ordered partridge from the game menu they were just introducing, which came with seasonal vegetables and a deconstructed stuffing (bread cubes, toasted, and other stuff, but my memory fails beyond the bread). Both dishes were decent, though neither was really my favorite of the meal. The partridge was overly salty — mostly due to the gravy they poured over the dish at the start — but the chanterelles underneath the meat redeemed the dish, because they were perfectly cooked, and exactly as chanterelles should be.  The rabbit was amazingly intricate, and nicely flavored, but I don’t think any of it really stood out in my mind as something worth talking about, though I remember enjoying the harissa.



Dessert was next, and you all know I have a sweet tooth. P ordered sticky toffee pudding (Sticky Toffee Pudding, Mocha Malt Ice Cream, Red Berry-Hibiscus Consomme), in hopes that it would be something like the best sticky toffee pudding she ever had, and I ordered a wild berry gratin (Wild Red Berries “Gratin,” Mousse De Lait, Melisse Infused  Red Berry Sorbet), because it looked good. It WAS good — it was warm and creamy and sweet / tart all at the same time, and it’s something I’m going to have to recreate. The toffee pudding? Well, it was ok. Not the best. And the date they included as a flavor counterpoint wasn’t a good choice, in my opinion — it was cloyingly sweet, and mirrored the pudding in the wrong way. But then again, I was probably eating it wrong. Or something.

Gifts from the pastry chef

Gifts from the pastry chef

The meal ended with little biscuits, some white nectarines, sugar, and creme fraiche from the pastry chef. It was cute, but the fruit was a little under-ripe. I sort of wondered why the server was specifically stating they weren’t responsible for the fruit when he intro’d the dish, and definitely found out why. But I’m getting nitpicky, really, when overall, the meal was good. Not having eaten at any Michelin-starred places before, I can’t really tell you if Melisse earned its two stars, but I had good company, and got to try some stuff I really would never try otherwise, so all in all, it was worth it.

Now that I’ve written a small novel, I think I’ll save our road trip for next time.


Filed under restaurant review, stories, travel