San Sebastian, Spain: Of Charm and Food

As I mentioned in my earlier post, one of the goals of our trip to Spain was to visit the lands from which some of my Mom’s ancestors came to Cuba.  San Sebastian (or “Donostia” in the local language), in Spain’s Basque country, was perfectly situated to serve as our base to explore before heading out to Lourdes, France.  But San Sebastian itself was a destination!

Old Town, Casco Viejo, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

San Sebastian!

San Sebastian:  charm by the sea

I had always heard about the great cuisine coming out of San Sebastian so it became a key stop at the onset of our trip.  We would stay there two nights, with the day in between being our day to explore the towns and hamlets from which the ancestors came.  That gave us one full afternoon to explore the heart of San Sebastian – and two nights!

It seems it was peak vacation time in early September, which was a bit unexpected, so there were no good hotels close to the famous La Concha Beach or near the Old Town.  However, I was not disappointed with the hotel I found, not even a mile from the old town:  Hotel Astoria.  The hotel’s theme revolved around famous movie actors and directors and had a very modern design.  It was located on a quiet street and had both a full restaurant and a cafe in the lobby.  We did not try the restaurant but did enjoy the cafe for our breakfasts.

Luckily not only were we close to Old Town but it was not hard to find (underground) parking right by the Hotel Maria Cristina or across the river by the Kursaal Center.   Old Town (or Casco Viejo) is the second oldest neighborhood in the city and it is full of bars and eateries – clearly the teeming social center of this great city!

Kursaal, San Sebastian, Donostia, Spain, Basque, travel, exploring, photo

The Kursaal Center (has underground public parking)

When we first visited Old Town, we headed first to the waterfront to check out the beautiful waters of the Mar Cantábrico, or Bay of Biscay after a quick snack and trying a “carajillo,” coffee with liquor (rum, brandy or anything of the sort!).

San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, sea, blue, photo

Beautiful waters surround San Sebastian

San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, sea, blue, photo

Must be some good fish in those waters!

carajillo, coffee, cafe, San Sebastian, Donostia, Spain, Basque, travel, exploring, photo

Carajillo

La Concha, beach, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

La Concha Beach in the background

La Concha, beach, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

Bikes a great way to move around

We saw some neat churches (San Vicente, which was closed, and the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, which charged for entrance so we skipped it).  Lots of neat structures and charming narrow streets all around.

Old Town, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

Narrow street in Old Town

Old Town, Casco Viejo, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

Entering Old Town from the river

Old Town, Casco Viejo, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

Buildings in Old Town

Old Town, Casco Viejo, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

Lots of character in this balcony

Old Town, Casco Viejo, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

Streets of Old Town

Plaza Constitucion, La Concha, beach, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

At Plaza Constitucion

Old Town, Casco Viejo, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, photo

Neat sights – walking “aimlessly” is the best way to explore!

On to the food in San Sebastian: pintxos

Back in Old Town, we meandered through narrow streets.  Kalea (Calle) 31 de Agosto had many eateries offering the famous “pintxos” (like tapas).  We tried pintxos here and there as we kept exploring this part of town which is full of character.  We made it to the other side from which we had a glimpse of La Concha Beach and the rest of the same-named bay.

A distinguished gent (my uncle!) waiting to order while a distinguished lady (my sister) awaits

pintxos, tapas, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, travel, exploring, photo

Pintxos

A phenomenal meal in San Sebastian can be heavenly

And, as we meandered through the old town, we ran into the restaurant we had made reservations for for the following evening.  As I researched San Sebastian, one of my areas of focus was food.  I wanted to find one of the restaurants that make San Sebastian’s cuisine so well regarded.  After looking at a few places, I settled on Bodegón Alejandro.  Coincidentally, my uncle had done research and had read an article on the newspaper that also mentioned Bodegón Alejandro.  So, that was the place and, luckily, making reservations was super easy:  their website allowed for making them online!

Part of Bodegón Alejandro’s menu

croquetas, croquettes, Bodegon Alejandro, San Sebastian, Michelin, Donostia, food, foodie, travel, turismo, photo

Delicious croquetas were one of our starters

postre, dessert,chocolate, souffle, Bodegon Alejandro, San Sebastian, Michelin, Donostia, food, foodie, travel, turismo, photo

Dessert – phenomenal chocolate soufflé

postre, dessert,, Bodegon Alejandro, San Sebastian, Michelin, Donostia, food, foodie, travel, turismo, photo

Another dessert – torrija with ice cream

The charm of San Sebastian did not only reside in its waters or in the old town – it was a beautiful and livable town all around.  I would love to spend a few months residing there and enjoying this northern Basque city – and maybe with my wonderful travel companions!

San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Basque, Spain, España, travel, viaje, exploring, sea, blue, photo

Sister, Mom, and Uncle!


If you are planning a trip to Spain, pin this to your travel board!

San Sebastian, Spain, España, food, foodie, travel, Basque, Euskadi, pais vasco

6 Cool Things to Do in Fantastic Madrid

I have visited Madrid several times and, while it may not have the charm of Paris or Venice, it is a town meant to be lived, not visited.  And I don’t mean “lived” as in “live there” but a place “to live life.”  Sure, other cities are beautiful and glamorous but I find cities where life is lived to the fullest the best.  And such is Madrid.  Here are some cool things to do in the Spanish capital.

Drinks at the Westin

The Westin is an extremely well-situated hotel in the best part of Madrid.  It has incredible architectural charm – and a great lobby lounge with separate areas to sit, depending on your mood.  My favorite spot was right under the colorful and bright cupola.  If you don’t get to stay at the hotel, at minimum, go and treat yourself to a glass of wine or a cocktail.

Cupola, Westin, Madrid, Spain, architecture, design, glass, stained, blue, travel

Awesome glasswork

Tapas and drinks at Plaza Santa Ana

Plaza Santa Ana is at the heart of Madrid. Sure the Plaza Mayor officially is “the” plaza in Madrid.  But, Plaza Santa Ana is small, manageable and a great spot to sit and watch life, while enjoying tapas and beer/wine.  And the great thing is that you can do it from the plaza itself – or from above at the trendy and cool bar at the roof terrace of the Reina Victoria Hotel.  There is a charge to go up but it applies to a drink – so as long as you have a drink, entrance is free.  And the views of the Plaza at night are awesome.

Reina Victoria, Madrid, Spain, Plaza Santa Ana, travel, bar, food, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Hotel Reina Victoria at sunset

Reina Victoria, Madrid, Spain, Plaza Santa Ana, travel, bar, food, photo, Samsung Galaxy

View from the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Reina Victoria (Teatro Español in the background)

Tapas crawl!

The Plaza Santa Ana is a wonderful place to hang out.  But Madrid is full of neighborhood plazas and other areas where you can find the most delicious spots to have a tapa and a caña (short beer).  Madrileños on a typical night out move from tapas bar to tapas bar prior to going somewhere for dinner.  A great spot for tapas is near the Calle Cervantes where the are several good establishments.  Taberna La Daniela, Cervecería Cervantes and Taberna de la Dolores are all different and great spots to eat, sip, walk, and repeat!  And my local friends actually referred me to these places so you know they are good!

Taberna de la Dolores, Madrid, Spain, España, tapas bar, food, foodie, Olympus, travel

Taberna de la Dolores

La Daniela, tapas bar, Madrid, Spain, España, food, foodie, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

About to go in!

La Daniela, tapas bar, Madrid, Spain, España, food, foodie, travel, photo, Olympus

The counter at La Daniela – always hang out at the counter!

 The Mercado San Miguel

I could not believe that I had never visited the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid until I learned that it had been closed for years to open finally again in 2009.  It is a feast for the eyes – and the palate.  The structure itself is about one hundred years old with a style reminiscent of Paris metro entrances.  But the main attraction is, of course, the food!  Stop there for a bite or a meal – and a glass of wine, ¡por supuesto!

Mercado San Miguel, Madrid, Spain, España, travel, food, foodie, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Mercado San Miguel

ham, jamón, Mercado San Miguel, Madrid, Spain, España, travel, food, foodie, photo, Samsung Galaxy

¡Jamón!

fruits, frutas, Mercado San Miguel, Madrid, Spain, España, travel, food, foodie, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Color and flavor!

Drinks with a view

Thanks to my local friend, I discovered the “Azotea,” or rooftop, at the Círculo de Bellas Artes building on the Calle de Alcalá.  It offers not only a bar but all sorts of comfy spaces to just lounge.  It must be spectacular at night but it is great at sunset or just during the day time to admire the views.

Azotea, Bellas Artes, rooftop bar, rooftop terrace, Madrid, Spain, nightlife, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Azotea terrace

Azotea, Correos, Palacio de Comunicaciones,Bellas Artes, rooftop bar, rooftop terrace, Madrid, Spain, nightlife, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The former main post office – now the Palacio de Comunicaciones

And just walking around

Walking about, aimlessly, sometimes yields the best experiences in a city.  Madrid is no different.  My friends showed me around districts I did not know with small plazas and great places to enjoy food and drinks.  This is the best way to get the vibe of a place.  You can stroll through parks like the famous El Retiro, grand avenues or tiny old streets.  cobblestone, street, Madrid, walk, walking, Spain, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy cobblestone, street, Madrid, walk, walking, Spain, travel, tourism, photo, Olympus

Also, Madrid is a great town to see monuments and buildings old and new so if you like architecture, walk, I say!

Puerta de Alcalá, Madrid, Spain, arch, architecture, tourism, travel, photo

Puerta de Alcalá near El Retiro

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain, architecture, travel, tourism, Olympus

Plaza Mayor

Cathedral, Madrid, Almudena, Spain, architecture, church, Catholic, facade, sky, Olympus

Cathedral of the Almudena

Palacio Real, Royal Palace, Madrid, Spain, architecture, travel, photo, tourism

The Royal Palace (Palacio Real) in Madrid, Spain

Congreso, Congress, Madrid, Spain, nighttime, lights, classic

Congress (Congreso de los Diputados)

modern architecture, Madrid, Spain, Olympus, photo modern architecture, Madrid, Spain, Olympus, photo

Walking unknowingly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we happened upon the presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors who crossed the Plaza Mayor (I assume coming from the royal palace) and dropped/picked up the dignitaries in colorful carriages.  So one never knows what one will find!

tradition, carriage, ambassador, Madrid, Spain, photo, Samsung Galaxy

One of the carriages

Hope you enjoy Madrid!  Have you been?  Any places you’d recommend??


Add Madrid to your travel board!!

Madrid, Spain, España, royal palace, travel Madrid, Spain, España,  travel

Buenos Aires Re-Visited (Again)

When I sat down to write this post, my first thought was:  “What can I possibly write about Buenos Aires that has not been written before?”  Good question.

My visit there was triggered by its being the location of two children’s homes we were going to help via a trek to Patagonia with Trekking for Kids.  I was not disappointed in that being the location as my prior visits to Buenos Aires, even the overnight trip one, were always good:  good city, good vibe, good food, and good wine.

I decided to go two days ahead of the official start of the group trip so that I would have some time to tool around some.  Tooling around soon turned out to include a day trip to nearby Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, across the river from Buenos Aires.

So, I turned my attention to determining where to stay.  I had already paid a good bit to be able to trek in Patagonia after the time in Buenos Aires so I was looking for a good alternative to just paying a hotel room.  Two others from the trek decided to come early too so, immediately, I decided that an apartment rental was the best option.  Using FlipKey, I found a great 2 bedroom apartment in Palermo on a high floor and with some good views.  Mercifully, it had A/C as it was summer in Buenos Aires.  (FlipKey did a great job of showing me apartments based on my criteria which included not only location and price point but availability of A/C and wifi!)

apartment rental, Buenos Aires, FlipKey, travel, comfort, lodging, Olympus, photo

My room at the apartment: nice corner and a balcony!

The landlord was very friendly and flexible but was spot on on restaurant recommendations – bonus!  And when I looked out of the balcony, I recognized the small square by the building as one I had seen on HGTV’s House Hunters International a couple of years ago.

After the couple of days on our own, we moved to the hotel were the group was going to stay while we worked with the children’s homes outside of Buenos Aires in Moreno.  The hotel was located in Recoleta, another nice neighborhood in Buenos Aires.  The hotel was located across from the Recoleta cemetery where Evita is buried.  I lucked out with the room assignment and had a great view of the cemetery and could even see the ocean, er, the river.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta, cemetery, Argentina, photo, travel, South America, church, architecture, history, Evita, Olympus

The Recoleta Cemetery

Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

Typical scene at the Recoleta cemetery

church, Pilar, Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar right at the cemetery’s entrance

I had visited the cemetery in 1991 but still went back in to look for Evita.  Of course, there is a sign indicating where the famous’ tombs are but if you look for Evita under “P” for Perón, you will not find her.  You must look under Duarte, her maiden name.

Evita, Eva, Peron, Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

The family mausoleum where Evita’s remains rest

Eva looms large in the Argentine psyche – and on the side of buildings too…

Evita, Eva, Peron, Argentina, Buenos Aires, building, travel, photo, Olympus

That’s Evita up there

The other plus for the hotel -and another thing that loomed large for me- is that it was a few storefronts down from my favorite ice cream place in Argentina: Freddos, first discovered by me in 1991!

Freddo, ice cream, gelato, Buenos Aires, Argentina, foodie, food, foodporn

I could not even wait to snap a photo before taking a bite (or 3)

Oh, the food in Buenos Aires…

Maybe the city should be renamed “Buena Comida”, instead of “Buenos Aires”…  In my time in Buenos Aires, I probably gained weight.  The likely contributors certainly included my almost daily Freddo’s ice cream cup but it also included the incredible beef, pastries, desserts, and wines enjoyed at places like Cabaña Las Lilas (which serves some of the highest quality of beef I have ever had as well as an incredible appetizer plate), Campo Bravo (where we enjoyed a highly diverse plate of cow components…), El Trapiche (a locals place with not only great beef but amazing pasta), and even Biking Buenos Aires (a bike tour that provided delicious pastries during our break)!

food, foodie, Cabaña Las Lilas, Puerto Madero, foodporn, Buenos Aires, Argentina, delicious, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The appetizer plate at Cabaña Las Lilas was a home run!

beef, food, foodie, foodporn, Buenos Aires, Argentina, delicious, photo, Olympus, parrillada

The parrillada at Campo Bravo:  name that part

food, foodie, foodporn, Buenos Aires, Argentina, delicious, photo, Samsung Galaxy, pasta

Butternut squash stuffed pasta with an outstanding blue cheese sauce

pastry, churros, factura, food, foodie, foodporn, Buenos Aires, Argentina, delicious, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Pastries served as a snack during the bike ride

mate, Buenos Aires, Argentina, tea, photo, Biking Buenos Aires

Mate cups

dessert, postre, Cabaña Las Lilas, chocolate, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, Argentina, food, foodie, foodporn, Samsung Galaxy

Don’t forget dessert: this beauty courtesy of Cabaña Las Lilas

A place to stroll around – and bike around!

Buenos Aires is such a walkable city.  Trees and parks everywhere and, as I shared before, PLENTY-O monuments in this South American metropolis.  Walking down Ave. Libertador, which is bordered by a park between it and the river, is a good way to stretch the legs after an overnight flight – or after a massive lunch on beef and wine…  #justsayin

Libertador, Argentina, Buenos Aires, bike path, jogging trail, Olympus, photo, travel

Ave. Libertador is good for walking, jogging or riding!

One thing I had not contemplated to do is in Buenos Aires is to ride bicycles.  I mean, ride a bicycle in a large metropolis in Latin America?  Nuts, right??  Well, let me tell you, it was so much fun and, actually, safe!  I did not realize it but Buenos Aires has built bike lanes in some parts of town which meant that about 80% of the bike tour I did with Biking Buenos Aires was on bike lanes.  For about 13 of us, we had the main guide who shared a lot of great information about the sights, and two additional guides who supported the group, handled crossing intersections, and were just great guys.

I had never visited La Boca (more on it later) and got to re-visit the Plaza de Mayo and ride around the Casa Rosada.  We rode around Puerto Madero were we had a snack.  And then we hung out at the bike tour office to eat delicious empanadas that we had bought.  Enjoy these final pictures of what we saw during my bike tour and don’t forget to eat and explore to your hearts’ content in incredible Buenos Aires!

Cabildo, cathedral, Buenos Aires, Plaza de Mayo, Argentina, history, architecture, bike tour, travel, photo, Olympus

The Buenos Aires Cathedral in the back and the old Cabildo on the left

Puerto Madero, Argentina, Buenos Aires, puente de la mujer, Calatrava, Olympus, travel, bridge, architecture

The Women’s Bridge by Calatrava in Puerto Madero

 

Michigan Wine Country: Unexpected and Beautiful

I was looking forward to visiting Traverse City, Michigan and exploring the neighboring areas but little did I know my timing was going to be SO good.  You see, that weekend, the Leelanau Peninsula Spring Sip & Wine was taking place (check here for other events!).  Over 20 wineries participated and the ticket included a small appetizer and several tastings of wine at each participating winery.  Heaven!Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting

I did have to mind how many places I visited as I only had one afternoon and I would not want to rush just to score more wineries!   (<- crazy talk)  Plus, it was my first time in the area so I wanted to also admire the scenery.

Upon entering Leelanau Peninsula, our first stop was the Ciccone Vineyards.

Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting, Ciccone, Madonna

If the last name sounds familiar, it is Madonna‘s last name:  it is her Dad’s winery.  I don’t know the full story but I know at some point (and maybe still) they are not close.  The “savor” part at this winery was the homemade chili by the owner.  It was delicious and perfect given the rainy weather at that point in the day.  We enjoyed chatting with the staff!

Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting, Ciccone, Madonna

The grounds of the Ciccone vineyards

My partner-in-crime, er, fellow traveler and I moved on to Blustone Vineyards which stole a piece of my heart…  Why?  They were serving CUBAN PERNIL (pork)!!!!  As a 100% Cuban-blooded human being and cook of Cuban pork myself I was impressed with the quality of the pork.  The pork was from Georgina‘s in Traverse City (I looked at their menu online and I immediately started salivating!!  Next time in TC, I will HAVE to visit!).  Kudos!

Michigan, winery, vineyard, Traverse City,  Blustone winery, Leelanau Peninsula, wine tasting, wine tasting room

Plus, the wine at Blustone was the most impressive of the whole lot I sampled on this visit.  I also did love the space:  modern, spacious, and well lit with natural light.  It got quite packed after we arrived but there still was plenty of space to hang around.  Good job, Blustone!

Michigan, winery, vineyard, Traverse City,  Blustone winery, Leelanau Peninsula, wine tasting, wine tasting room

Random driving led us to encounter 45 North winery.  “What’s with the name?,” you may say?  Well, it is near the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole!

45 Parallel, Michigan, road sign, halfway

The place was festive on the inside and out as you can see!  We enjoyed being served our tastings there and watching the “hat scene”.  Good job, 45 North!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau

The tasting area and the bottle tree that greets visitors – pretty cool!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau, food, white wine

What greeted us upon entering the testing room!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau, hat, clever

One of the cleverest hats I saw!

It was time to keep on trucking along and we decided to go to Old Mission Peninsula to try a winery that was recommended, Brys Estate.  I enjoyed their reds – and the view of the east bay.  Though there was a great outdoor seating area with Adirondack chairs, because of the slightly weather, we did not partake of the outdoor.  But that was fine because we enjoy chatting with our server and some of the other visitors.

Brys, Estate, winery, vineyard, Old Mission, peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan

Brys, Estate, winery, vineyard, Old Mission, peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan

A view of the east bay

So, after this Saturday spent driving around these and other Michigan wineries, I can safely say it is a GREAT way to explore the beauty of Michigan – and enjoying delicious food and wines!  I do hope to return as there were many wineries I did not get to check out.  I love having a reason to go back to places I like!

Photo of the Week: Dreamy Delights in Paris

Well, a photo of the week post is typically a one-photo deal but how could I choose between these two beauties???  Yes, I am swayed towards anything chocolate but this one tore me apart.  So, without further ado, two scenes from Dalloyau in Paris.

chocolate, pastry, Paris, France, food, foodie, delicious, travel

I just want to bury my face in these!

fruit tart, pastry, Paris, France, food, foodie, delicious, travel

For a chocoholic to say these look AWESOME is a big thing…

 

2013: A Year in Food and Beverages

I traveled a good bit this year for both business and pleasure.  As with most travel, eating out plays and essential part of the experience, as do the places at which I stay.  This year offered me some memorable experiences in both areas.  Here I take a quick look back at the food and beverages of 2013!

January blues:  go away, I say

The year opened up with a traditional get together among a group of friends to celebrate the new year and good friendships.  It is our way of extending the holidays into drab January with the cold weather and nothing exciting immediately in the horizon (like, say, spring).  The highlight of the evening is an exchange of gifts but the food and wine usually shows our good taste in the finer things – at least for this little party.  My favorite items are usually the sweets/desserts, as you can tell…

sweets, dessert, chocolate, food, party, photo, Olympussweets, desserts, chocolate, macaroon, macaron, food, foodie, photo, Olympus

Mt. Kilimanjaro

However, I mis-type a little as I did have something exciting coming up early in the year:  my climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro in February.  Yes, the mountain is not going to be the paragon of fine dining and beverages.  On the latter, our beverages on the mountain consisted mainly of water, hot chocolate, and the morning cup of coffee.  Now AFTER coming down the mountain, that is a VERY different picture!  That first cold beer as we exited Kilimanjaro and that first glass of cold South African wine that evening were glorious!  But while we were not enjoying gourmet dishes up on the mountain, we ate well.  The food may have been basic outside of the context of the hike but, during the hike, these lunches and dinners were royals-worthy.  My favorite had to be when we were surprised with grilled cheese sandwiches!  Comfort food indeed!

grilled cheese, Kilimanjaro, food, climbing, hiking, Olympus

Washington, D.C.

After two years of working with a client in Washington, D.C., it was time to end my frequent travels to the U.S. capital (which I knew was going to be hard for me).  I would have to say goodbye to my favorite bar:  Le Bar at the Sofitel Hotel (near the White House), where I discovered the enjoyment of specialty cocktails.  I know the reason God doesn’t make me President of the U.S.A.:  I would be going to Le Bar for some evening relaxation a little too often!

cocktails, drinks, Sofitel, DC, beverage, travel, barcocktails, drinks, Sofitel, DC, beverage, travel, bar

Jordan

Leaving D.C. was hard to do but helping with that was my trip to colorful Jordan in April where the delicious food seemed ENDLESS!  Whether in Amman, Mardaba, the Dead Sea, or the Wadi Rum, I do not know how I didn’t gain any weight in that trip.  Or did I…

food, Jordan, Middle East, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel food, Jordan, Middle East, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel food, Jordan, Middle East, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

And in terms of beverage, though I had been to the Middle East before, I gained a new appreciation for drinking tea (hot tea).  It may seem that what helps in warm weather is iced tea but, actually, a hot beverage is better for you – and I got to understand why!  So good.

tea, Jordan, Middle East, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Miami

Going to Tampa or Miami is always something I look forward to because I know I will eat some the most delicious food around:  Cuban food.  I may be biased (OK, I AM biased) but it is just such an enjoyable feast for the palate to eat any of the number of traditional Cuban dishes.  And many places around places to do so.  Versailles and La Carreta are good traditional places (I enjoy the latter more) but I “discovered” El Palacio de los Jugos which is more of a take-out place than sit-down place (though there are some tables to go sit after you get your food).

pierna, pernil, Cuban food, porl, Palacio de los Jugos, Miami, travel, photo, foodporn, Olympus Cuban food, porl, Palacio de los Jugos, Miami, travel, photo, foodporn, Olympus Cuban food, porl, Palacio de los Jugos, Miami, travel, photo, foodporn, Olympus empanadas, croquetas, Cuban food, porl, Palacio de los Jugos, Miami, travel, photo, foodporn, Olympus garbanzos, chick peas, Cuban food, porl, Palacio de los Jugos, Miami, travel, photo, foodporn, Olympus tostones, mariquitas, plaintains, platanutres,Cuban food, porl, Palacio de los Jugos, Miami, travel, photo, foodporn, Olympus

Manila

My flash trip to Asia took me to Manila where I enjoyed great hospitality, exploring its history and good food.  I really enjoyed M Café in Makati, where traditional food was served with some really neat twists.  Thanks to my local friends for picking this place – loved it.

Manila, Makati, food, tropical cuisine, photo, travel, Olympus, Philippines Manila, Makati, food, tropical cuisine, photo, travel, Olympus, Philippines Manila, Makati, food, tropical cuisine, photo, travel, Olympus, Philippines

Atlanta

While this is a travel blog, others travel to my hometown so I think it is fair to talk about food in Atlanta.  We ARE an eating out city and there are plenty of options from ethnic to mainstream to “nouveau” (whatever the proper term is for places like Local Three, 1 Kept, etc.).  Lots of incredible new ideas in these nouveau-type restaurants.

Local Three, fruit tart, dessert, Atlanta, chocolate mousee, Local Three, Atlamta, food, caramel,foodporn, travel chicken, waffle, Local Three, food, Atlanta, foodporn

Oh, and I also enjoyed a great chocolate tasting from Chocolate South at Perrine’s Wine Shop.  They were innovative and tasty little creations!

chocolate, bombom, foodie, food, Atlanta, gourmet,Samsung

Minneapolis

Before the year ended, I squeezed in a long weekend trip to Minneapolis, a city I had never visited before.  I enjoyed exploring culture in this great city – and some great meals!  One was at Wilde Roast Café, on the east shore of the Mississippi River – the crabcake was THE best crabcake I have ever had by a bit.  The turkey meatloaf was really good and certainly made me feel much less guilty about ordering it and what was to come after the entrée:  the flourless chocolate cake.  It TRULY changed my mind about flourless cakes which never really knock it out of the park for me.  That one sure did!

crabcake, Minneapolis, Wilde Roast Cafe, food, foodporn, photo, Canon EOS Rebelturkey meatloaf, Minneapolis, Wilde Roast Cafe, food, foodporn, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I also enjoyed brunch at Café Maude where the only bad thing was that my stomach could only handle one of their dishes!  I had the hardest time deciding on ONE plate – I chose the country hash which had chicken confit, red peppers, onion, potatoes and a tomato marmalade.  I did not go wrong (but the Eggs Benedict were very tempting too).

Cafe Maude, Loring Park, Minneapolis, food, foodie, travel, Olympus

So, that wraps up my year in food though I will be having some great food still in the days left in 2013!   Happy food and new year to all!

Fried Chicken Worth the Pot-hole in Atlanta

I love finding new places to eat in my hometown, Atlanta, because I can be a creature of habit when it comes to restaurants.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  If you like it, why go elsewhere?  Well, because it is good to expand horizons and you never know what you will find!  So it was easy for me to accept a friend’s invite to try a new place in town:  Buttermilk Kitchen, up on Roswell Rd. but inside the Perimeter (as we call I-285 around here).

Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, Roswell Road, Buttermilk Kitchen

In an unassuming building (with a pothole right where I parked,…), the good news is all the assuming will be done on your plate!

arugula, salad, Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, Roswell Road, Buttermilk Kitchen

We went for their once-a-month dinner service (they are only open for breakfast and lunch otherwise; I am told I need to try their breakfast on a weekend day).  Their once-a-month dinner service is a fixed menu centered around fried chicken.

My friend is a regular so she knew to sit at the “bar” area (in quotes because they do not have a liquor license since not normally open for dinner; you CAN bring your own beverage of choice though!).  At the bar area, it was easier to interact with the staff and the owner.

The menu started with a fall salad based on arugula with farro, raisins, black rice, and butternut squash with a champagne vinaigrette.  They use produce from the area so the salad was fresh and the combination of flavors really nice.  It was a good way to start our dinner.  The salad actually went well with the Cabernet Sauvignon we were drinking from Conn Creek in Napa Valley.

arugula, salad, Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, farro, black rice, Buttermilk Kitchen

The next plate serve was the cheese plate:  herb-goat cheese spread on a homemade emmental cracker topped with a delicious onion jam.  I could have eaten a dozen of these, left to my devices but the main course was soon following AND I knew what dessert we were going to be served…Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, goat cheese, onion jam,Buttermilk Kitchen

Then the star of the night made its appearance:  the fried chicken!  A breast and wing battered and fried to perfection.  Moist, well-cooked – how do they do that??  I have never had a perfectly cooked piece of fried chicken like this.  It was paired with a sweet potato puree with quinoa crumbles and with braised mustard greens with apples.  The idea of pairing apple with the mustard greens was brilliant.  I never thought I’d say mustard greens could wow me but they sure did!

Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, fried chicken, mustard green, sweet potatoes, Buttermilk Kitchen

But the evening was not over.  Oh no, it was not.  We were about to be shown a masterpiece of pound cake-dom:  a caramel pound cake served next to vanilla gelato with pie crumb around and an apple chip topping it – oh, and those pomegranate seeds added a great mix to the flavor and texture combination.  I am glad they only serve one piece because I don’t care how full I was, I would have done a round two in heartbeat and pounds (sic) be damned!

Atlanta, foodie, food, restaurant, caramel pound cake, vanilla gelato,, Buttermilk Kitchen

Suffice it to say, between the food and great staff and chef, I am going back in November for dinner service -pothole or not-, wondering how Buttermilk Kitchen will top these dishes!!

 

Manila Relaxation

I love to travel and explore new places.  I enjoy it a lot.  But I also like to relax and do not much of anything worth writing about.  Yes, I have been known to cram a lot into a trip when I set my mind to it (like my Croatia/Bosnia & Herzegovina/Montenegro chaser to my week in Rome a year ago).  But the diversity of experiences is what draws me to travel and that does not just mean different geographies and cultures – that also means pace.  While I am not much of a beach bum (a couple of hours and I am itching to do SOMETHING), I appreciate what people find in just laying about and letting the world go on.

In my short visit to Manila I was intending to see all I could about the city in 3 days.  However, there was something liberating in knowing that I could not experience all that the city is in three days so that gave me the opportunity to take the pressure off myself to do all I could (and especially after day one when I realized this is a place I would want to come back to).  But what really sealed the deal was my hotel.  It says something when a hotel makes you want to stay in and, I imagine, many hotels aim for that.  The Marriott Manila had that effect on me.  Amazingly, I was not jet lagged and needing to rest.  (Jet lag actually did not affect me with sleepiness or confused time zones, something confusing in and of itself.)  I. Just. Wanted. To. Be. There.

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, chocolate, sculpture, carving, art, interesting, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

They love chocolate carvings/sculptures at the hotel – here one of the current President

The spaces

The room was spacious and comfortable (without being a suite).  All the offerings/amenities of the room worked without a hitch (yes, EVEN the wi-fi).  There was actually great lighting in the room (read #4 in my top 5 hotel pet peeves).  The shower/tub combination was quite unique as was the division between it and the main room – clever.

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, room, hotel, lodging, luxury, interior design, photo, Olympus, travel, innovation. comfort

Look at the white half-wall in the background…

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, room, hotel, lodging, luxury, interior design, photo, Olympus, travel, innovation, comfort

… and all of a sudden it opens up to “connect” the room to the shower!

The Executive Lounge, unlike most U.S. Marriotts, was huge.  At non-peak times, it is easy to find a spot and feel like you are on your own, which is nice if you have work to do.

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, room, hotel, lodging, luxury, interior design, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, lounge, comfort

The lounge

The lounge faces the golf course which gives it a great view…

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, room, hotel, lodging, view, interior design, photo, Olympus, travel, lounge, comfort

View of the city from the lounge (unfortunately, on a rainy day)

The lobby is a series of spaces designed to flow well and pull you in.  The main seating area seamlessly integrates into the bar.  You just want to hang there.  And do people watching…

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, beautiful, decoration, furnishings, , Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Lobby space

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, beautiful, decoration, furnishings, , Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Lobby space

… or have a drink.

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, bar, light fixture, lamp, art, interesting, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

The bar area faces the edge of the golf course. I like the light fixtures

Finally, facing the golf course, there are nice outdoor areas for those times when you get cold indoors (the A/C really is PUMPING!) or want to jump in the pool.

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, outdoor area, relaxation, comfort, hotel, lodging, travel, Olympus

Outdoor seating area right by the bar

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, outdoor area, relaxation, comfort, hotel, lodging, travel, Olympus, pool

Though a rainy day, a nice pool area

The food

On my first full night in Manila, after having done a walking city tour in the rain, I decided to eat in at the hotel.  Since I had a slight sore throat, I asked for some chicken noodle soup.  Boy, was that a chicken noodle soup!  It was beautifully served and was delicious: with noodles, greens, diced up chicken, and carrots.  I don’t think I have used the phrase “beautifully served” before but the solid ingredients were nicely set up in the main oblong bowl with the broth actually brought in a separate teapot-like container.  I especially appreciated it because I wanted to shower before eating and the way they served it allowed me to not have to eat it as soon as it was brought to my room.

The next day, I had the choice of taking breakfast in the Executive Lounge, a hangout spot for a regular like me (the one in Santiago’s Marriott, I called my living room when I stayed there most of 2010!), or go to the Marriott Café.  I opted for the latter to see what food they would offer in the buffet.  It did not disappoint as it clearly had many local specialties some of which I tried and some that I did not want at breakfast (e.g., anchovies).

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, delicious, food, cuisine, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Kakiage (like tempura, in the back) and chicken tonkatsu (on the front) – delicious

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, delicious, food, cuisine, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

On the fishier side of breakfast…

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, delicious, food, cuisine, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Some good-looking sushi

Location

The Marriott Manila sits very close to the Manila airport in an area called Resorts World.  I am not 100% clear on the plans for the area but there are other hotels, shopping center, etc. and a lot of development going on in the area; it looks like a small town is actually sprouting.  While one half of the hotel looks over the domestic part of the airport, the other half overlooks a very nice and lush golf course with the Manila skyline in the distance.  I am not sure how it is during regular weekday hours but my ride to the business center of Makati was pretty easy and fast on mid-day Saturday.

I have to admit that before I came, I assumed that given its location (near the airport and not far from the Makati business district), the Marriott would mainly appeal to business travelers.  Once I stepped in it, I saw how off my assumption was.  Lots of leisure travelers AND many locals coming for events at the hotel.

Service – leaving the best for last (but proverbial “not least”!)

I mentioned earlier my slight sore throat.  I stopped at the front desk and asked when I came in from sightseeing to find out where I could get some lozenges or something to alleviate my discomfort.  The informed me that connected to the hotel, right after the entrance to the mall was a medical clinic.  I thought to myself how convenient that was.  Not only convenient but freeWith a doctorOn a Saturday evening.  Yes, indeed.  Imagine that ANYWHERE in the U.S.!  They really are prepared to take care of guests!  The doctor just recommended something to gargle which the hotel concierge went to get for me.  It really says something about a hotel when they can handle not only the “normal” stay but when something like this arises.

Which leads me to my top takeaway from this stay… The amazing staff at the hotel.  They are well prepared to make you comfortable and assist you.  They smile and it actually feels genuine.  No wonder I just wanted to stay in, right?!

I have stayed at many Marriotts in my work life and logged many “career stay nights”.  As I have mentioned elsewhere, one of the things Marriotts do best is give the business traveler a consistent experience so that you feel you are somewhere familiar.  But the Manila Marriott simply blew me away.  Few hotels have made me feel so welcome, comfortable, and cared for.  You can bet that if – no, when – I return to Manila, I will be making a stop here!

Thanks to the Manila Marriott for hosting part of my stay.  Opinions are my own as always.

A Foodie Tour in the Testaccio Neighborhood in Rome

In Rome, once again, we enjoyed Italian cuisine (carbonara, mi amore!), wine, gelato, architecture, history, and watching people (tourists and locals alike).  It seems like those are reason ENOUGH to go to Roma!  Nothing like Rome to appreciate cultural diversity and food delights!

When I travel with friends, I don’t just travel with anyone.  I travel with folks who love wine, food, exploring, and chilling – like me.  One of my friend’s is a personal chef and she and her husband are big foodies (and so will be their baby one day!).  Before the trip, they looked for opportunities to sample food beyond lunch/dinner.  They found an awesome food tour in the Testaccio area of Rome, an area I had not explored or had even heard of before.  The tour is organized by Eating Italy Food Tours, founded by a native from Philly.  Domenico, also from Philly, was our tour guide that day and he was definitely the right guy to show us around!  (Check them out at http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com/ .)

We arrived to the Testaccio area after passing a pyramid by a cemetery.  Rome’s city walls seem to have been built around it.  I had no idea there was a pyramid in Rome!  It is called the Pyramid of Cestius as it was built as a tomb for a guy with that name.  What was incredible to me is that it was built 10-20 yrs BEFORE Christ.  It is incredible!

A pyramid in Rome, Italy

The food tour took us to the cemetery on the side of the pyramid which used to be where foreigners were interred in Rome in the not so distant past.  It is referred to as the Protestants’ or the Englishmen’s cemetery.  One of its most famous “eternal residents” is the poet Keats who died very young (I did learn something, see??).  You must be wondering when am I getting to the food.  So am I.  So let me get back on track.

Rome Testaccio food tour

The route and targets of the tour

We started at the old local market which is marked for demolition in the very near future as they have built a brand new place for these folks.  Sounded wonderful until our tour guide told us the vendors’ rent will be doubled which will likely put a few of them out of business.  Yes, the old market wasn’t a beacon of perfection but it definitely had charm!  Among the things we sampled was real mozzarella di bufala made by a lady named Lina – now I know how real mozzarella di bufala is supposed to taste like!!  Here are some of the sights at the market:

Food market at the Testaccio

This fish guy has been there for decades and his son and grandson now work with him.

Food market at the Testaccio

Whose legs are those? It’s rude to put your feet out the window!

Cheese, eggs and wine at the food market at the Testaccio

All sorts of goodness! (Where’s the chocolate??)

Horse meat at the food market at the Testaccio

Carne Equina – an interesting stand…

After the local market, we meandered towards Volpetti which, as soon as I saw the sign, I recognized from an Anthony Bourdain episode I had recently watched!  Volpetti is this piece of heaven on Via Marmorata, near the Pyramid.  All sorts of cheeses, balsamic vinergars, cured and dried meats like prosciutto, etc.  We got to sample (as we did everywhere in this tour) and my favorite was the San Daniele prosciutto (vs. Parma prosciutto – which was still good!).  The San Daniele had a certain tinge of sweetness that I enjoyed.  Needless to say, we loaded up on some goodies for that evening’s dinner (we decided there were too many good things not to devote one dinner in the apartment to them!).  Prosciutto is worth reading about and sampling – here is a quick overview of this delicious piece of ham:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosciutto.  An another that covers the difference between pancetta (bacon) and prosciutto (ham):  http://italianalmanac.org/06may/ham.htm

Prosciutto at Volpetti in Rome

Goodness at Volpetti

Right after Volpetti and further down Marmorata, we stopped at Barberini’s were the pastries all were calling my name, winking at me.  Not being a cultural chauvinist, I understood they were tempting me.  Of course I accepted the morsels we were given to sample including tiramisu in a tiny cup made of chocolate (modeled here by my friend Chris):

Food market at the Testaccio

A nice array of pastries at Barberini

On our way to further destinations in the tour, we passed a hill called Monte Testaccio.  If you don’t know any better, you walk right past it.  It has vegetation and was behind a fence when we hit upon it.  However, our tour guide stopped to tell us about it.  Folks, it is not a real hill that mother nature (or Mother Nature, lest lightning strike me) created.  In the old days, and I mean, the OLD days, people used amphoras to store and carry things.  However, when they were used for olive oil, the amphoras were not really re-usable for long.  So, they would break them up and pile them on what became a hill over time.  Vegetation grew and the hill – someone discovered – would offer in its innards a great place to store wine at the perfect temperature!  So in old days (not OLD days), small caves were built for this purpose.  It no longer seems to be used for this but remains a great witness to how the old Romans did things.  The area has become trendy with nightclubs while still hosting traditional trades like butchers.

After a little meandering, we next came to 00100 Pizza where we were in for a real treat:  suppli – a cheesy fried rice ball that was a foodie’s dream.

Suppli from our food tour at the Testaccio

Suppli

As our mouths continued to water, we made it to the place, Da Bucatino, where we would have a traditional Italian lunch centered around bucatini, a thick and hollow spaghetti-like pasta (not common here in the States) in amatriciana sauce (my favorite red sauce).  I did my best to clean the plate though all the sampling along the way was competing for space in my stomach!

Finally, after the day of sampling great cheeses, meats, pasta, and the like we ended up at a neighborhood gelato place called Giolitti. It has been there since the early 20th century.  A place where the gelato and the panna are all homemade – true artisans!  What a difference a homemade makes.

So, a little more off the beaten path than the Rome that most tourists see (including me in my first 2 trips there), yet a stone’s throw away from all those places, the Testaccio area offers not only great food but a different scene with history and charm to along with it.  Don’t miss it next time in Rome!

Other things I enjoyed in Rome:

What other lesser known areas of Rome have you seen and would you recommend them to others?

(Photos taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)

%d bloggers like this: