Best of Barcelona: Tapas, Wine & Cocktails

 

Barcelona is a bit of an enigma, a chic European city that somehow maintains the vibe of a laid back seaside town.  A mix of extraordinary architecture and culinary excellence, particularly when it comes to seafood. In between exploring soul-stirring masterpieces like the Sagrada Família and Casa Batlló by the city’s most revered son, Antoni Gaudí, take some time to immerse yourself in the culinary artistry that awaits seemingly around every corner … if you know where to look.  Below are some of my “can’t miss” highlights.  

Best Gourmet Market in Barcelona

My favorite place to start an exploration of any new city is the central market.  To me, there is no other way to quickly dig into the language, social customs and culture of a new place.  Barcelona counts perhaps the best market in the world, Mercado de La Boqueria, as one of its crown jewels.  You can spend hours meandering around the various stalls, sampling Spanish cheeses, olives and jamón, but be sure to allocate enough time to actually take a seat at one of the food stalls and settle into Spanish daily life.  Peaking at what the locals are ordering and following suit is almost always a fool-proof plan. One of the best stalls in the market is Pinotxo BarWhite Beans and Baby Squid at Pinotxo Bar in La Boqueria Barcelona SpainTheir house speciality is the chickpeas (which we missed twice, so arrive around opening time to have a fighting chance to try them), but everything is extraordinary.  Order a crisp glass of cava and pair it with a hearty dish of white beans and baby squid; wild mushrooms with Iberian pork sausage; or grilled shrimp with butter and garlic — or maybe all three like I did!  From there nestle in at nearby Ramblero for impossibly fresh and expertly prepared seafood. Order the “pescadito frito” — tiny little fish fried into ethereal briny bites (pictured above) — with a squeeze of fresh lemon.  You won’t believe it when you finish the whole basket. 

Great Tapas Bars in Barcelona

Of course, no review of Barcelona’s food scene would be complete without a mention of the city’s incredible tapas bars.  It would take a lifetime to give them all their fair due.  So let’s just agree to settle on two that won’t disappoint. Don’t let the descent into the basement fool you, a surprisingly convivial atmosphere awaits at the other end at Tapas 24.  Lots of beautiful Spanish wine available by the glass.  Bikini Tapa at Tapas 24 in Barcelona SpainPair a nice glass of Ribera del Duero with the “bikini,” a tiny little Spanish ham and cheese sandwich cut into triangles and hot-pressed to a golden crispness; mind-bending flavor in a seemingly humble bite.  The housemade cheesecake — baked to a bubbly brown and nothing like what you’ve had outside of Spain — is equally intoxicating. Baby Clams with White Wine Garlic and Herbs at Cal Pep in Barcelona SpainThen, head on over to Cal Pep.  Don’t be discouraged by the long line; grab a drink from the bar and start studying what those before you seem to be enjoying.  Order a plate of the teeny tiny clams with white wine and garlic and slurp your way to seafood nirvana. 

Best Cocktail Bar in Barcelona (and Maybe the World!) 

I don’t say this lightly: I had THE best cocktail of my life at Paradiso, crowned one of The World’s Best 50 Bars.  Pass through the tiny storefront pastrami shop and traverse through the freezer door (cynics note: yes, just do it).  A carved-wood tropical utopia awaits on the other side. Grab a seat at the bar, and let the cocktail spectacle unfold before your eyes.  If the “Aire de Jalisco” is still on the menu, consider yourself a lottery winner: premium silver tequila with coriander, fresh mustard and daikon sprouts, toasted corn syrup, lemon, ginger, red pepper, chili, cinnamon bitters and apple air.  West-central Mexico in a glass.  

Great Restaurant in Barcelona 

Not too far from Paradiso in the funky El Born neighborhood, you’ll find Llamber.  A sit-down restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere for those that need a break from the frenzy of the tapas bars.  We had a front-row view into the open kitchen and every single dish was an eye-catcher, evoking exclamations of “ooh, what’s that one?!” Smoked Sardines and Figs at Llamber in Barcelona SpainStandout dishes were smoked sardines with yogurt and caramelized figs; beet carpaccio with king prawns, raspberries and pistachios; and the seared beef entrecôte with mini potatoes in dill butter.  The young Italian bartender at Paradiso — who insisted we go to Llamber —declared this restaurant to be the producer of the best gnocchi outside Italy.  

Best Wine Bar in Barcelona

If you are a foodie like me (and I assume if you are reading this you are), there is nothing that sends a warm wave of euphoria through your body like stumbling upon a hidden gem like Bodega MaestrazgoScreen Shot 2020-02-23 at 5.21.43 PMAn unassuming little wine shop and bar in the heart of the El Born that’s been pouring curated glasses of wine since 1952.  Thousands of bottles line the walls and lead the way to the rustic wooden tables at the back. Nearby, the butcher expertly carves perfect slices of jamón Ibérico.  Candles flicker.  Service is friendly.  Everyone is smiling. This is the kind of place you can linger for hours, sampling an array of Spanish wines by the glass paired with generous platters of cured meats and cheese.  

Great Coffee Shop in Barcelona

Ironically, selecting Satan’s Coffee Corner for my list is probably the antithesis of the ethos of this establishment, which proudly displays a sign that snarkily proclaims “fuck Yelp and TripAdvisor” (among other things) near the front door.  Satan had me at hello. But if the coffee sucked, it would have been a distant memory. It doesn’t. Go.

Satan's Coffee Corner Barcelona Spain

Best Chocolate Shop / Bakery in Barcelona 

On an afternoon stroll intended to distract us from nonstop eating so we’d be ready for our next meal, a chance encounter with Chök The Chocolate Kitchen crushed those plans (at least temporarily).The smell of melting chocolate and toasting pastry is intoxicating.  An homage to the mighty cacao, the chocolate bars are some of the best I tasted in our multi-city tour of Spain.  Buy a stack of them for gifts; if you’re lucky you’ll have at least one to actually give away (they are pretty much irresistible on long-haul flights).  

Chök The Chocolate Kitchen Barcelona Spain

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Best Food in San Miguel de Allende: Two Day Itinerary

Magical and mysterious, San Miguel de Allende is nestled in Mexico’s central highlands, a 90-minute drive from Guanajuato International Airport (BJX).  Its twisting cobblestone streets somehow seem to always crawl uphill.  The flow of traffic is a polite dance between vehicles and pedestrians—there are no stop signs or lights marring the picture-perfect vistas.  While San Miguel de Allende has gained attention in recent years—the city was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008, and Travel + Leisure named it “The World’s Best City” in 2017—it seems to be preserving both its beauty and its identity as an epicenter of art, culture and cuisine.  Legend has it that the city sits atop a bed of healing crystal quartz, which casts a spell of enchantment over visitors.  Legends aside, there is an undeniable “vibe” in the air—perhaps supernatural, perhaps the altitude.

The comparison to New Orleans makes sense, with the locals’ reverence for and celebration of the dearly departed (particularly during the first week of November for the Festival La Calaca—the Skull Festival); the ornately carved wooden doors that obscure fantastic open-air courtyards around the city (there are said to be over 2,000 of them); and the serious food scene.  But San Miguel de Allende is an original, particularly when it comes to its food.  World class coffee, mezcal, tequila and farm-fresh Mexican fare—at shockingly affordable prices—make San Miguel de Allende a “must” on every traveling foodie’s list.

Below is a two day food itinerary that will take you around the Centro, easily done by foot, and give you a glimpse of this enigmatic destination.

Day 1

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Lavanda Cafe.  Lavanda, a charming little cafe tucked away on Dr. Ignacio Hernández Macías street, is serious about coffee.  Indeed, their coffee options take up twice the menu real estate as the food.  Don’t miss your chance to try one of the infamous lavender-infused coffee creations.  And while chilaquiles can be found on most menus around town, Lavanda has some of the best—crunchy tortilla chips atop black beans, smothered with salsa verde, cotija cheese and a perfectly cooked sunny-side up egg.

 Almuerzo (Lunch)

Dôce-18 Concept House, Taco Lab and Casa Dragones The Dôce-18 Concept House is a ritzy collection of eateries and boutiques, including a coffee bar, chocolatier, florist, library, art gallery and more—all under one roof.  Though most of the treasures found here are on the pricier side for San Miguel de Allende, head toward the back of the building and check out Taco Lab, started by California chefs Joe Hargrave and Donnie Masterson.  135 pesos will get you 3 tacos.  Don’t miss the charred octopus (pulpo) with avocado, fresh lime and cilantro on a hand-pressed corn tortilla.  The reasonably-priced lunch will allow you to splurge on a tasting at Casa Dragones (20 steps away), the small batch 100% blue agave sipping tequila with a cult following (it has landed on Oprah’s annual king-making list of “Favorite Things” for six consecutive years).  Taking home a bottle of the Joven will set you back about $180 USD; $100 less than retail in the States.

Cena (Dinner) 

La Mezcaleria.  Everything on the menu at La Mezcaleria is incredible.  Everything.  The restaurant was born out of owners Monica and Alexander’s passion for cooking and entertaining for their friends and family.  When you dine here, you are eating at their table.  The decor—from the handcrafted obsidian Oaxacan light fixtures to the art on the walls (painted by Alexander himself)—is reflective of the artifacts you will find in their home.  The short yet highly curated menu is filled with unique and inspired Mexican dishes.  The quality is impeccable.  The flavors are bold.  After landing from your 3-part flight of the house mezcal—served with fresh orange slices and chile salt—work your way through the menu.  You can’t go wrong.  Don’t miss the arugula salad with grilled pear and goat cheese; fresh tuna tartare with thinly sliced red onion, black and green olives and habanero chiles; grilled jumbo prawns with roasted cherry tomatoes and rosemary; coffee and dry herb crusted beef with grilled guava; the platter of grilled zucchini, pickled beets and roasted sweet potatoes; and the vanilla panna cotta and fresh berries drizzled with local honey.

Day 2

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Ki’bok Coffee.  What began in hip Tulum has made its way to San Miguel de Allende, thanks to owners James and Veronica. The beans are 100% Arabic, grown by a co-op of organic farmers in Veracruz.  The preparation is elite—the manager Joel honed his skills serving discriminating Italian customers in the original location.  The atmosphere is relaxed boho chic.  Don’t miss the double Americano with hand-mixed chocolate (a heavenly blend of cacao and fragrant spices like cinnamon); the poached egg in a ham cup served on a bed of vegetables and quinoa, topped with hollandaise; the halved avocado stuffed and baked with eggs and manchego cheese; and a selection of locally-made pastries.

Almuerzo (Lunch)

Don Taco Tequila.  If you walk too fast, you might just miss it.  And that would be a tragedy.  The dining room is stylish, yet understated.  The hand-shaken margaritas are frothy and fresh.  The house salsas (four of them) are addictive.  But don’t miss the restaurant’s eponymous taco: tequila flamed ribeye, caramelized onions, and garlic wrapped in cheese crust.  Thank me later.

Cena (Dinner) 

La Parada.  An authentic taste of Peru in San Miguel de Allende.  A variety of fruit and spice infused pisco sours? Check.  Assortment of interesting ceviches? Check.  But don’t miss the hidden gems on the menu, including the incredibly fresh salad of chopped tomatoes, peas, lima beans, sun dried tomatoes, sweet corn, queso fresco and a light drizzle of pesto; and the Que tal lomo, a masterfully prepared fillet of beef sautéed with onions and tomatoes, served with sweet corn jasmine rice and crispy smashed gold Peruvian potatoes.

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Places to Eat and Drink in New Orleans

New Orleans Collage 2

“Everyone in this good city enjoys the full right to pursue his own inclinations in all reasonable and, unreasonable ways.” ‒ The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, March 5, 1851

It seems criminal to narrow the places to eat, drink and make mischief in New Orleans into a neat little “best of” list, though that didn’t stop me from creating a 48-Hour Food Itinerary for New Orleans.  However, the more I meander around the city, the more I realize that the food ‒ like New Orleans itself ‒ is an undefinable mélange of grit, gumption, artistry, indulgence and questionable ideas.  I won’t try to package it all up for you in this post, as to do so would be a disservice.  Instead, I’m modeling this one after jazz music ‒ partly planned, partly spontaneous with enough room to improvise along the way.

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DrinkThe Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone (French Quarter).  A New Orleans classic with a nice mix of locals and visitors.  Don’t despair if you can’t snag one of the 25 seats at the brightly-colored revolving carousel bar.  There’s plenty of people watching, live music and drinks to keep things interesting for a couple hours or more.  While Vogue Living recommended the Sazerac (“Top 20 Bars in the World”), the Pimm’s Cup with fresh strawberry, cucumber and lemon got my attention.

Dick and Jennys New Orleans

Eat.  Dick & Jenny’s (Uptown).  Located in a 120-year old creole cottage house, the menu reflects the Southern Louisiana and Italian roots of its original owners.  The Niman Ranch braised pork cheeks with sautéed Southern greens, grit cake and white BBQ sauce hits all the right notes, followed by a heavenly bananas foster cream pie poppin’ with rich butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and rum.  The perfect spot to hit before a show at nearby Tipitina’s.

Spitfire Coffee New OrleansCaffeinateSpitfire Coffee (French Quarter).  Walk too fast and you’ll miss this tiny, yet mighty, specialty coffee shop on St. Peter.  The self-proclaimed “Second Best Coffee in NoLa” turns out top-notch espresso, cold brew and pour-overs to satisfy your penchant for crema and latte art.  The coffee is so good you won’t care about First Best.

Cafe Rose Nicaud New OrleansEat.  Cafe Rose Nicaud (Marigny).  The Southern Breakfast with delicately scrambled eggs, organic yellow corn rosemary cheese grits, savory alligator sausage and a fluffy country biscuit with strawberry jam had me returning two mornings in a row.  Good food takes time, so expect a bit of a wait. Relax, read the paper, chat with a local.  Breakfast is served until 2:00 p.m.

Paladar 511 New Orleans

EatPaladar 511 (Marigny).  While the old-style meccas of Creole cuisine still stand, and are definitely worth a visit, the newest generation of New Orleans restaurants that have opened post-Katrina are attracting serious food travelers anxious to try something different after getting their fill of crawfish etouffe and chargrilled oysters.  Enter Paladar 511, which focuses on California Italian favorites like wood-fired pizza and yellowfin crudo.  Highlights include crispy pan-seared snapper; grilled pork chop with mustard greens, turnips, horseradish and pork jus; and a velvety panna cotta with fresh and candied grapefruit.

Cheers to New Orleans, a city that lives, breathes and adapts to the moment while never forgetting its roots.

Planning a trip to New Orleans?  Check out the Best New Orleans Hotels.

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Four Winning Dishes in Las Vegas

Foie Gras Brûlée, Sage Las Vegas

Sin City. The innovator of $3.99 steak ‘n eggs and 99¢ shrimp cocktail available 24-hours a day.  Home of the ubiquitous all-you-can-eat buffet bursting with piles of crab legs, dim sum and spinning wheels of Italian gelato.  Despite the influx of superstar chefs like Puck, Keller, Savoy, Vongerichten, Robuchon, and Andrés — with Michelin stars in tow — some discerning diners feel like my friend who recently quipped that Sin City is where “good restaurants go to die.”

My expectations were pretty low: a lot of glitzy restaurants with hefty price tags and little substance. However, I am excited to report that I was proven wrong (it happens on occasion).  I hit the culinary jackpot with four of the best dishes I have eaten in as many years, with one of them ousting a longstanding incumbent on my “death row meal” menu.

So, peel off a few twenties from your bankroll and try these four “don’t miss” dishes for some of the best action on the Strip.

Estiatorio Milos  (born on 55th Street in NYC)  instantly transports you from the dizzying sensory overload of The Cosmopolitan to a seaside oasis in the Mediterranean.  Chef Costas Spiliadis has spent 30 years cultivating relationships with fisherman from Morocco to Tunisia and everywhere in between.  The result? Pristine seafood of the highest quality expertly dressed with signature Greek ingredients like hand-harvested sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, chickpeas from Santorini, and wild sea fennel.  Take a peak at the fresh fish, crustaceans and other seafood exquisitely displayed on ice in the in-house “fish market.”

Don’t miss: the Housemade Tzatziki, a heavenly blend of creamy Greek yogurt, fresh cucumber and garlic topped with a drizzle of olive oil (you can eat it alone with a spoon, it’s that good!), and the masterfully prepared Grilled Octopus tossed with briny capers, fresh lemon juice, shaved red onion, olive oil and fine herbs.  On my return visit I will definitely try the signature paper-thin, crispy zucchini and eggplant with sheep’s cheese, which I enviously eyed on fellow diners’ tables.

Housemade Tatziki, Estiatorio Milos Las VegasGrilled Octopus, Estiatorio Milos Las Vegas

Just as Estiatorio Milos is a retreat from the raucous Cosmopolitan, the Aria is a sanctuary among other nearby Las Vegas mega resorts.  Even with 4,500+ rooms, the Aria delivers first class service and somehow captures a sense of elegance and refinement, tipping its hat to the Rat Pack-era of yesteryear that sadly seems to have been all but eradicated from the Strip. The hotel boasts an impressive stable of restaurants, including Sage, the magnum opus of James Beard Award-winning Chef Shawn McClain (also the chef/owner of another of my all-time favorites, the Green Zebra in Chicago).  Sage allows patrons to create their own 2 to 4-course prix fixe experience from a tailored selection of seasonal dishes. The whole meal, punctuated with small surprises along the way, was nearly flawless on every level, from presentation to creativity to flavor.

Don’t miss: the Foie Gras Brûlée (pictured above) — the current star of my “death row meal” and one of the best things I have ever eaten — a decadent, velvety, salty/sweet custard topped with a thin layer of crunchy caramel, fresh strawberry compote, and toasted cocoa nibs served with cloudlike buttery brioche, and the Maine Day Boat Scallops Maine Day Boat Scallops, Sage Las Vegaswith crispy braised oxtail, meaty trumpet mushrooms, and tender broccoli presented with a salted caramel reduction.  On my return visit I will be sure to try an after-dinner treat from the roving absinthe bar.

Taste of Adventure

48-Hour Food Itinerary for New Orleans

FullSizeRender“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.”                           ‒Tennessee Williams

(Updated April 28, 2017) New Awlins. The “Big Easy.” A round-the-clock street party where pretty much anything goes.  The seemingly endless list of culinary extravagances can be daunting, particularly for those with limited time.  So, Taste of Adventure has developed a 48-hour food-centric itinerary that promises to maximize your time in this vibrant city, and give you a taste of the French, Spanish, African, German, Italian, Irish and American-influenced Creole cuisine that makes NoLa so special.

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Day 1

New Orleans 2016© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Some people say you should save the best for last. Ignore them.  Head on over to Coop’s Place for a late lunch or early dinner.  You’ll probably have to wait in line outside for a half hour, maybe more —it’s worth it.  The space is no-frills, the waiters are snarky, and the food is true New Orleans-style home cooking. Don’t miss: a cold  Abita, marinated Louisiana crab claws, and blackened redfish expertly seasoned and seared in a hot cast iron skillet.

Cane + Table

Save room for desert and head next door to Cane & Table.  The space is elegant and the drink menu is a work of art with modern riffs on classic cocktails. Don’t miss: the Silver Tongue (a perfectly balanced blend of ginger, bourbon, Arrack—an exotic Indonesian spirit—and cream sherry), Mexican chocolate tart, and chia seed & coconut milk parfait.

From here you’re just a quick 6-minute walk to Frenchmen Street where you can take in world class live music.

Day 2

Orange Couch

Jumpstart your morning with a stop at the Orange Couch coffee shop in The Marigny, one of New Orleans’ up-and-coming neighborhoods with a distinct bohemian vibe. Don’t miss: the smooth-as-silk iced cold brew or hot cortado. Early morning is a great time to stroll around this funky, artsy neighborhood.

Old Coffee Pot

After a bit of exploring, head over to The Old Coffeepot Restaurant in the Quarter. Opened in 1894, this spot is beloved by locals (especially local chefs) for its excellent and affordable creole and Cajun cuisine. Don’t miss: possibly the best jambalaya in the city; a flavor-packed blend of chicken, Andouille sausage, tomatoes and rice.

Spice & Tea Exchange

After lunch, take a quick 5-minute walk over to The Spice & Tea Exchange on St. Louis Street. There you’ll find a vast offering of unique spices, salts, powders, and teas from around the world. Don’t miss: the bourbon black walnut sugar, pinot noir sea salt, and St. Augustine datil pepper.

Craving something sweet? Leah’s Pralines is just a block-and-a-half away.  Sample the pralines and the bacon pecan brittle. Don’t miss: the semi-sweet coconut and dark chocolate haystacks.

Oysters

For dinner, head to Jacques-Imo’s in the Riverbend/Carrollton area of Uptown New Orleans for one of the best meals in NoLa.  No matter what you order, you can’t go wrong.  Creative dishes like eggplant Jacques-Imo’s with oyster dressing and wild mushroom sauce, and shrimp and alligator sausage cheesecake put this place on the map. Don’t miss: hot coal-fired oysters with caramelized parmesan cheese, butter and lemon. Top off the night with live music next door at The Maple Leaf, one of the oldest and most important clubs in the city.

Day 3

Boozy brunches are a New Orleans institution. And there’s no place for boring scrambled eggs.  Like most everything else, this city does brunch in style.  Located in the edgy, on-the-rise Bywater neighborhood is The Country Club — “a neighborhood secret for over 35 years.” Don’t miss: the Saturday drag queen brunch, shrimp and grits, and bottomless mimosas.

After lunch, take a leisurely afternoon stroll through the Bywater to your final stop, Bacchanal Wine.  Located where the Mississippi River meets the Industrial Canal, it takes some effort to get here, but the reward is worth it.  Step inside and find a curated selection of Old World-style wines, chesses and more.  Make your way to the outdoor courtyard where local bands play music seven days a week.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!  This is New Orleans living at its finest.

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Best Place for Drinks and Dinner in Glen Ellen

Glen Ellen Star 2015 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Towards the end of his life, American novelist Jack London — whose beloved works include “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang” — purchased a ranch in Glen Ellen, a tiny speck of a town in Sonoma County California. With less than 1,000 people and cloaked by shadowy oak trees, it’s the kind of place you’ll miss if you blink. No doubt the foremost quality that led Mr. London and a relative handful of others to call Glen Ellen home. Most of those who pass by likely give a quick nod to its small-town charm, snap a photo, daydream about what living there would be like, and in their next breath continue on down Highway 12. Like a first date: pleasant enough, but neither person making an effort to dig deeper.

Glen Ellen Star 2015 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Slow down. Pry the veneer. There is something mystical and curious here, maybe even a bit dark. Something that inspired ole Jack to devote the final years of his life to the development of his ranch, leading him to abandon his first love authoring cherished classics in favor of turning out dime store fiction to fund his obsession. Tragically, the crown jewel of the property, Wolf House, burned down shortly before it was finished. London died on the property a few years later at the age of 40, ashes scattered under a rock, whispers of alcoholism and suicide.

Iconic and delicately human. Picturesque and splendidly peculiar. That is Jack, and Glen Ellen. And, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, the Saloon at Jack London Lodge. Well, perhaps not iconic, but beloved despite its quirks. Or because of them. There’s a polished oak bar, comfy wingback chairs, and big screen TVs. Lively locals, snarky (in a good way) bartenders, cold Coors on tap, and high-quality local wine by the glass. Rough around the edges with a pure heart. Kind of like the sled dog in that famous book.

Glen Ellen Star 2015 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Along with the winemakers, vineyard workers, artists and anything-but-ordinary townsfolk, culinary mavericks have descended upon the 2-square-mile hamlet, which boasts at least seven notable restaurants at the time of this writing. Among them, Glen Ellen Star. Nevermind the pedigree of Chef Ari Weiswasser, which includes Daniel and The French Laundry. Really, forget it. This is down home awesomeness on a plate. Cast iron quick bread with za’atar oil. Bubbly-crusted fig pizza from the wood fire oven. Charred corn, cotija cheese, chipotle and lime — an homage to Mexican street food.  Crispy-skinned brick chicken with creamy corn, green chiles and dill. It’s always nice to see an accomplished chef run wild. Kind of like the sled dog in that famous book.

Taste of Adventure

Top 10 Beach Bars and Local Restaurants in the Caribbean

da Conch Shack, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

(Last Updated March 30, 2017) Warm turquoise water, gleaming white sand, umbrella drinks and the tropical beats of a steel drum band.  This is the typical scene that springs to mind when people think of the Caribbean; lazy days of sun and surf, straight out of central casting for the next Corona commercial.  However, those willing to venture outside the grounds of their resort or vacation rental will be rewarded with warm people and the delightful, unmistakable flavors of Caribbean cuisine.  Each of the inhabited islands in the chain that stretches from Miami to South America has its own vibe, and its own specialty when it comes to food and drink.  The Caribbean is blessed with unique spices, produce, spirits and, of course, fresh seafood.  In addition to Taste of Adventure’s recommendations below, food tours like Tru Bahamian Food Tours in the Bahamas are a great way to discover and support local eateries, specialty food stores and authentic, family-owned restaurants.  Discover the magic and soul of Caribbean food.

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Boots Cuisine, St. George's, Grenada

1. Boots Cuisine (St. George’s, Grenada).  Nestled in the hills above the hustle and bustle of St. George’s is the five-table gem run by the affable Boots and his wife, Ruby.  A nightly five-course prix fixe menu of Grenadian specialties like pumpkin soup, chicken curry, grilled mahi mahi with guava sauce, goat stew, and nutmeg ice cream are offered, along with some of the best homemade rum punch in the Caribbean.  Complimentary transportation to and from the restaurant make a visit a no-brainer, just be sure to book ahead.  Vibe: Home away from home.

Bugaloo's, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

2. Bugaloo’s (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos). Far away from the tourist center of Grace Bay is a pastel-hued beachside restaurant named after Berlie “Bugaloo” Williams, credited as the originator of the first “conch shack” establishment on Providenciales.  And the fare that his namesake restaurant is turning out does not disappoint.  Stop by for conch salad ‒ a perfect balance of salt, spice and zesty lime juice ‒ and the puffy conch fritters, chock full of meat and served with a spicy aioli.  Vibe: Local hangout.

da Conch Shack, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

3. Da Conch Shack & Rum Bar (Providenciales, Turks and Caicos).  One of Patricia Schultz’ “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” Da Conch Shack specializes in preparing the tropical marine mollusk (extracted from the large pink shells found in tourist shops) in a variety of tasty ways ‒ cracked, curried, fried and ceviche-style with peppers, onions and lime.  But the fresh grilled lobster might just be the dark horse of the menu.  Stop by early and enjoy sweeping ocean views and live music on Wednesday evenings.  Vibe: Laid back.

The Hideaway (Chez Andy), St. Jean, St. Barth

4. The Hideaway, Chez Andy (St. Jean, Saint Barthélemy).  Although the parking lot location isn’t the most spectacular on the tiny French island, this local joint run by English ex-pat Andy, and his business partner Hafida,  turns out seriously awesome wood-fired pizzas. Everything from classic Margherita to more exotic creations like the “Indienne” with curried chicken, mushrooms and onions.  And even the most cynical diner won’t mind the “Sweet Caroline” sing-along after a shot, or three, of the complimentary (and dangerously drinkable) housemade vanilla rum. Vibe: Lively dinner party.

Just Grillin', Barbados

5. Just Grillin’ (St. James, St. Thomas and Christ Church, Barbados).  Don’t be fooled by the casual look of this trio of eateries on Barbados (two brick and mortar and one food trailer); the grilled seafood, beef and chicken rivals that of many of the posh (and uber expensive) restaurants on the island.  All the spice blends, sauces and dressings are made in-house.  The char-grilled swordfish, a Bajan specialty, is out of this world.  Vibe: Packed.

Maya's To Go, St. Jean, St. Barth

6. Maya’s To Go (St. Jean, Saint Barthélemy). Top quality local ingredients are combined in unexpected and creative ways at this little shop in the nondescript Les Galeries du Commerce near the airport in St. Jean. The menu changes daily, but expect expertly prepared French dishes with an island flair like wahoo ceviche, peppered shrimp, mango salad, and fluffy pastries rivaling the best boulangeries in Paris. MTG is a great place to pick up extras to round out your beach barbeque, or to stop for a quick (and relatively affordable) lunch on St. Barth. Vibe: Seaside deli.

Papa Zouk, St. John's, Antigua

7. Papa Zouk Fish ‘n Rum (St. John’s, Antigua). Tucked away on an unremarkable street, this tiny little shack is the kind of place foodies dream of: a quirky, local joint with superb homemade food and the personable, passionate staff to match.  Impeccably fresh fish ‒ grilled, fried or sautéed ‒ is their forte. The whole fried snapped is transcendental. Don’t forget to sample the spicy, garlicky house sauce in the glass bottle on every table. The bar is stocked with enough varieties of rare rum to make a pirate envious.  Although destroyed by a fire in mid-December 2014, the owners re-built and re-opened in February 2015. Papa Zouk will undoubtedly return better than ever. Vibe: Roadside shack.

Scotchies, Jamaica

8. Scotchies (Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, Jamaica).  Popular with visitors and locals alike, Scotchies turns out what many believe is the best jerk in Jamaica.  Pork, chicken and fish is slathered in a secret recipe of chiles, cinnamon, garlic, nutmeg and more, and roasted in open-air barbecue pits over flaming pimento wood.  Traditional side dishes include breadfruit, roasted yams, rice and peas, and festival (fried corn fritters).  Your order is bundled up in foil for takeaway or eating in under the thatched roof.  Grab a seat at the bar, order a crisp Red Stripe, and make friends with the unique cast of characters that filter through every day.   Vibe: Heart and soul.

Smiling Harry's, Freetown, Antigua

9. Smiling Harry’s Thirst Quencher (Freetown, Antigua). The trek to Smiling Harry’s is half the adventure.  Set inside a national park, just steps away from breathtaking Half Moon Bay ‒ which feels deserted (in a good way) much of the time ‒ Smiling Harry’s is a welcome respite from the Antiguan sun.  Although the beloved Harry passed away in August 2014 and will be sorely missed by those who spent countless hours listening to his amazing stories, drinking bottomless rum and cokes, and enjoying his infectious smile, his family re-opened the place in December 2014. Harry’s char-grilled hamburgers and house made ginger beer were second-to-none.   Vibe: Beach shack.

Soggy Dollar Bar, Jost Van Dyke, B.V.I.

10. Soggy Dollar Bar (Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands).  Set on one of the most idyllic beaches in the Caribbean on the tiny island of Jost Van Dyke, the Soggy Dollar Bar is the “originator and perfector” of the iconic Painkiller cocktail.  A blend of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice and orange juice, topped with fresh grated Grenadian nutmeg, this Caribbean cocktail has had boaters from around the world jumping overboard and swimming ashore to White Bay since the 1970s.  Those who overindulge can grab one of the palm-shaded hammocks that dot the property.  Nearby Foxy’s, and Bomba’s Surfside Shack’s infamous “Full Moon Party” on neighboring Tortola, are also worth checking out.  Vibe: Bohemian.

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Best Cooking Class in Mexico City

Mole Poblano

One of the most rewarding ways to discover the food, culture and traditions of any place you are visiting is to spend a few hours with a local cook perusing the markets, and if you are lucky, having them teach you to prepare some authentic dishes.  The mark of a truly exceptional experience of this kind is when you depart feeling that you have spent a day with long lost family.  This is the feeling you are sure to have when leaving Casa Jacaranda, the stunning home of Beto Estúa and Jorge Fitz in the quaint Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City.  Although Beto and Jorge are quick to reject being labeled “chefs,” they are undeniably extremely talented cooks.

Mercado Medellin

Your morning with Beto and Jorge begins with a brief stop at a local tortilleria, where the warm scent of toasted corn fills the air and the tortillas are made using the same ancient process as the Aztecs.  Then it’s off to nearby Mercado Medellin, a local market with over 500 stalls featuring specialties from all over Mexico and Latin America.  Armed with an arsenal of “abuela-approved” recipes (Beto and Jorge will go over the menu, and suggest creative substitutions for any dietary constraints), your hosts will guide you through the market, stopping at the best vendors for various items like Oaxaca cheese, dried chiles and smoked habanero salsa, and collecting the freshest ingredients for the afternoon feast.

Casa Jacaranda

After a short walk through the tree-lined streets of Colonia Roma, you arrive at Casa Jacaranda, named for the towering Jacaranda tree that delights with beautiful purple blooms in the spring.  Beto and Jorge have lovingly restored the early 19th Century home, which is sparkling clean and adorned with funky art and perfectly-curated furniture.  The centerpiece is the custom cooking area they built for their guests, which lends to a feeling of being at a fun cooking party at your friend’s house.  The day’s menu is scrolled on a giant chalkboard on the wall, and Beto and Jorge expertly guide you through preparing each dish, encouraging you to get your hands dirty and sharing tricks and secrets they swore to their grandmothers they’d never tell.  Staples like guacamole, Smoky Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa, and coconut flan with caramel, are accompanied by more complex dishes like mole poblano, enchiladas with salsa verde, sweet corn tamales, and squash blossom and mushroom stuffed molotes.

Casa Jacaranda The impressive Mexican spread is then transported to the rooftop garden, and invited guests can join the lunchtime festivities.  An aperitif of artisanal mezcal gets your taste buds jumping, followed by a complimentary selection of wine or perhaps a bespoke tequila sunrise made with fresh-squeezed orange juice and housemade grenadine.  The exquisite food slowly disappears as stories are swapped, laughs are shared, the afternoon sun slowly fades away, and sobremesa  that magical time spent around the table with friends after an extraordinary meal; a word that has no precise English translation  sets in.

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5 Best Mexico City Street Foods

tacos al pastor

Mexico City. A sprawling metropolis in the high plateaus of south-central Mexico, built upon an ancient lake and bursting with world-class museums, architecture, shopping, entertainment and cuisine. Mexican food and culture is inextricably intertwined, and traditional methods transform native ingredients like corn, chile peppers, beans, avocados, tomatoes, guavas, cactus, cacao and vanilla into flavor-packed creations. And there is no easier access point to sample the variety of dishes Mexico City has to offer than its ubiquitous street food vendors. The choices are seemingly endless, but below are five must-try Mexico City street foods.

tacos al pastor 1. Tacos Primarily mid-morning or late night snacks, tacos are the quintessential Mexican street food. Fresh masa is pressed into thin tortilla rounds and toasted for rich corn flavor. Fillings run the gamut, from myrid cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, to roasted poblano chiles and onions, to diced potato and chorizo. Spicy salsas and chopped veggies like cilantro, onions and radishes add freshness. Be on the lookout for the famous tacos al pastor — easy to spot by the towering stack of chile and pineapple-marinated pork cooked near an open flame on a rotating vertical spit — as well as slow-roasted lamb barbacoa tacos.

tlacoyo2. Tlacoyos You can’t miss the group of ladies huddled around a giant flattop grill flipping oval-shaped, indigo masa cakes stuffed with requesón cheese and beans. Once nice and toasty, the tlacoyos are typically topped with fresh salsa, nopales, sour cream, chopped onion, grated cheese and cilantro. Tlacoyos are best enjoyed hot off the grill.

esquites3. Esquites The smoky aroma of roasted corn lures passersby. The browned kernals are cut from the cob and tossed with pungent epazote, zesty lime juice, spicy chile powder, cool mayonnaise and salty Cotija cheese, and served in cups for easy portability. The perfect blend of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.

jicama with chile and lime

4. Prepared Fruit Mexico is blessed with a bounty of exotic fruit year-round. Fruit stands are found throughout the city, and vendors will dice up a sampling of the season’s best, like guava, papaya, passion fruit, soursop, mango and pineapple. For a refreshing snack, try crunchy jicama sticks tossed in fresh lime juice and sprinkled with chile salt.

aguas frescas

5. Aguas Frescas No street food meal is complete without aguas frescas (“fresh waters”), colorful beverages made with a variety of fruits, flowers and seeds. Most vendors will let you sample their offerings before making your final selection. Popular choices include agua de flor de Jamaica (hibiscus flower), limón con chia (lime with chia seeds), guanabana (soursop), tamarind and horchata, a creamy blend of rice milk, cinnamon and vanilla.

¡Buen provecho!

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Top 10 Things to do in Ubud, Bali

 

Ubud, Bali 2014© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Magical Ubud.  The cultural center of Bali, rich with artists, non-conformists, health enthusiasts, yogis, spiritual seekers, wanderers, eccentrics, mystics, gurus and everything in between. There’s no denying that since Elizabeth Gilbert penned “that book” (as the locals refer to her bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love), the streets have become a bit more chaotic. But don’t let the increased attention dissuade you from visiting.  The bewitching power of Ubud is very much alive.  Those “in the know” will set aside as much time as possible to slow down and take in everything this captivating destination has to offer (check out the Top Three Cooking Experiences in Ubud).  And, as the ever-expanding expat community suggests, you might end up staying much longer than you ever intended. Will you find love in Ubud like Ms. Gilbert? Perhaps not in the form of Javier Bardem, but you are certain to find love all around you in the warmth of the Balinese people and in the palpable spiritual energy.  Culinary explorers will be spellbound by the abundance of fresh produce and exotic spices.  From spicy chili sambal to rich coffee, fresh tropical juices, and spice-laden spa treatments, Ubud offers sensory experiences not to be missed.

Puri Sunia Resort, Ubud, Bali

Puri Sunia Resort is an ideal base from which to explore Ubud. Located in a tranquil village about ten minutes outside the hubbub of the city, Puri Sunia is a special slice of Balinese paradise. Nestled among the rice paddies and towering coconut trees, this stylish boutique property offers superb service, beautifully manicured grounds and spacious guest rooms. Start the day with a classic yoga session in the open air pavilion perched among the tree tops, followed by a complimentary breakfast. The chef goes all out with a 3-course offering. Don’t miss the dadar gulung – thin, crepe-like pancakes scented with tropical pandan leaf and filled with sweet grated coconut – and the nasi goreng (fried rice) topped with a delicate ribbon of egg and served with spicy chili sambal and savory prawn crackers. A courtesy shuttle runs to Ubud on the hour, but the more adventurous can grab a seat on the back of a zippy motorbike for a few rupiah. Spend a day (or three) at the exquisite spa, which offers indulgent multi-hour treatments that incorporate local Indonesian herbs and spices. Take advantage of fun activities like morning trekking through the rice fields and nearby Abangan Village; a market tour and cooking class with the hotel chef; and daily afternoon high tea. Personal touches like homemade gingerbread cookies at Christmas make Puri Sunia one of those rare finds that leaves you misty-eyed when the staff hugs you goodbye.

Seniman Coffee Studio, Ubud, Bali

Coffee shops are ubiquitous in Ubud, but for an exceptional java experience head over to Seniman Coffee Studio, tucked away on Jalan Sriwedari just off the main road. Seniman specializes in high-quality house-roasted coffee, prepped by knowledgeable baristas using funky devices like Taiwanese siphons. But the brilliant coffee is only part of the fun. Take a seat at the communal table in one of the comfy “bar rockers” (an ingenious design that outfits a standard plastic chair with a reclaimed teak wood base, transforming it into a gently swaying seat) and strike up a conversation with a fellow journeyer – never in short supply in Ubud.

AlthoughPineapple & Guava Jam, Kou Cuisine, Ubud, Bali Monkey Forrest Road and Jalan Dewi Sita have a fair share of shops peddling standard tourist tchotchkes, there are some unique locally-owned boutiques worth checking out. Yogis, hippies and bohemians will love the beautifully crafted gold and silver jewelry in designs inspired by nature and ancient symbols at Yin Jewelry for the Soul. Kou Cuisine specializes in handmade soaps, jams and sea salt. The soaps, made from a base of pure coconut oil, are infused with flowers and herbs like sweet orange, frangipani and vanilla bean. The 20g squares are wrapped like fancy candies and make great gifts. Toko Paras is a treasure trove of enticing bath and body potions in gorgeous glass vessels. Try the Organic Lulur body scrub – a fragrant blend of frangipani flowers, sandalwood, pandan leaves and turmeric – and the Organic Chocolate body scrub – a confection-like mix of honey, coconut cream, chocolate and cinnamon. Stop into Juice Ja Cafe for a fresh pressed juice (pineapple, turmeric and ginger is a favorite) and browse the section of local products like raw cashews and cacao beans, and cold pressed coconut oil infused with vanilla bean pods.

Karsa Kafe, Ubud, Bali 2014© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Feeling refreshed, grab your walking shoes and head West (away from Ubud Palace on Jalan Raya Ubud) for a 15-minute walk to the Ibah hotel where you can access the Campuhan Ridge. This walk offers stunning views from atop the ridge, which is flanked by two sacred rivers, and winds around peaceful villages, organic farms and tiny art galleries. If you buy a painting or a piece of art here, you will likely make a friend for life. Continue to the top of the ridge to Karsa Kafe, a family-run outdoor eatery with sweeping rice field views that is the definition of “off-the-beaten” path. This is the kind of place adventuresome travelers dream of. Snag a seat under one of the stilted overwater pavilions and enjoy a freshly opened young coconut and Balinese dishes like nasi campur and charcoal roasted sate.

Karsa Spa, Ubud, Bali 2014© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

After lunch, indulge in a luxurious spa service at nearby Karsa Spa, one of the best spa experiences in Ubud. The gifted therapists are highly professional, and the outdoor treatment rooms are spectacular. Try the “Spicy Balinese Boreh,” which includes a massage with fragrant Ayurvedic oils; a piquant body scrub of cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander; a hydrating mask of fresh tamarind and Borneo honey; and a warm spice bath. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself booking your next appointment before you leave.

Bali Buda, Ubud, Bali While there is no shortage of healthy dinner options in Ubud, Bali Buda is credited with spearheading the organic food movement in Bali. A member of Slow Food International, and supporter of sustainability and Fair Trade practices, Bali Buda serves uber-healthy farm-fresh fare in a treehouse-like hideout. A gado-gado salad of steamed organic veggies and spicy peanut sauce, fresh lemon ginger soda, and homemade coconut ice cream is the ideal end to a day exploring Ubud. Om shanti shanti shanti.

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