Guest Post from Jesse Hartman: The food we missed in Amsterdam

The travel posts return after a long hiatus. Back with my brother, Jesse Hartman taking a quick trip to  Amsterdam from Tel Aviv, his current home base. He really did the food game right so visit my post here and combine for a complete travel plan for the proper Dutch culinary and cultural experience.

A cut-rate round-trip flight on Turkey’s finest offering, Air Pegasus, served as the perfect backdrop for a quick trip to Amsterdam, and the craziness departing from Ben Gurion Airport complimented the journey nicely. Shortly after learning that my roommate Aaron and myself would not be on the same first leg from Tel Aviv (though we were reunited in Istanbul several hours later), a wildly irresponsible fry cook at Burger Ranch decided it would be a good idea to start a grease fire in Terminal 3, delaying Aaron’s flight to dangerously close to missing the final leg from Turkey. With that behind us, along with a decent döner we landed and sped off to our hotel in the heart of Amsterdam.

Arriving around 11:30pm would usually pose challenges, but a quick check in and we were off to our first coffeeshop and food encounters. A quick disclaimer: I’m not going to sit here and bore you good reader with perpetual pot talk, nor would foul up a very nice blog, so it happened, joints were smoked, let’s move on. Just a 10-minute walk from our rooms was Burger Bar, part of a small chain that stays open until 3am! I went for the Angus burger topped with cheddar, mushrooms and jalepano, and of course their house sauce, complimented very nicely with a side of fries, that would be the first of many consumed throughout the trip.

Our first full day began with a quest to find a golden-brown holy grail of street food: the stroopwafel. A stroopwafel is basically a honey and syrup sandwich with two freshly griddled waffle cones as the bread. We strode over to Lanskroon Bakery where Aaron housed a normal offering and I sampled the coffee caramel version. On the back of the near diabetic shock and a pleasant cappuccino, we head off to Vondelpark for lounging and enjoying the mid-spring sun. Around the corner is Peperwortel, a small deli-like storefront with prepared foods that the cashier kindly heated for us. We enjoyed quiche, lasagna and some chicken wings on the side of the café, deliciously refueling for our next trek and a trek it most certainly was. At the end of the half-hour wind through the canals and beautiful architecture, we arrive at Brouwerij ‘TJ, a local beer maker housed in an old windmill. We each imbibed a flight and I thought the Columbus Amber Ale was the pick of the 5 from an interesting brewery that offers only beers that are unfiltered and unpasteurized and several organic options as well. After the beer, it was on to Skek, a cozy student-run bar, for amazing bitterballen (fried mince-meat croquettes) and delightful live music. The final nightcap was a stumble to the hilariously named Manneken Pis from Flemish-style fries, where Aaron went with a more classic sauce choice and I opted to combining saté and curry sauce.

Our middle day got off to another fantastic culinary start as we walked to Winkel Café for the best apple pie in Amsterdam. I had been on my first trip, but it was no less tasty the second time. Heading to Winkel put us in the hip and slightly less mainstream Jordaan neighborhood, where we each spent a wise 5 euros to spend some time at the Tulip Museum. After a quick and humorous discussion with a museum employee, Aaron and I were convinced to take a decently lengthy 90 minute trip out to Keukenhof, one of Europe’s largest flower gardens. Of course, we had to get properly supplied and quickly found ‘t Kuyltji, for one of the better sandwiches I’ve had the good fortune of tasting. Along the way, FEBO catches my eye- a Dutch fast-food takeaway shop where for a two-euro coin you open the display case and chow down on a small kroket or hamburger. Once at the gardens, we dove into our sandwiches. Aaron sprung for the pastrami and cheese, and I decided on the prime rib: Salty, simple and delicious, as well as filling for coming in a smaller portion. Upon our return, it’s another trip to Manneken for an afternoon snack of fries before some down time back at the room.

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On a recommendation from other American friends from Netanya, we attempted to go to Café de Klos for ribs, but were rudely greeted at the door. Look, I understand 90-minute waits happen, but at least tell us where to stand or get a drink or take our name down… This setback turns into an excellent turnaround as we decided on Sampurna for rijstaffel, an Indonesian cuisine consisting of several small plates fired out at us in almost overwhelming fashion. Roasted meats, fresh vegetables and different styles of peanut sauces all merged perfectly together as we plucked them off the hot plate. The evening only went up as we went to Bourbon Street for live jazz, highlighted by a superb rendition of “Get Down on It”. Some late-night pool and foosball back at the hotel was in order before recharging for our final day.

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With a pretty glaring hole in my food plans for a final breakfast, Aaron came through in the clutch by finding Omlegg, a small restaurant about 10 minutes walk away. After a quick wait, we ducked inside just before the drizzle outside turned into something more ominous. An omelet for Aaron and a croissant-egg sandwich for me and we were off to the Albert Cuypmarket, a large open-air farmers’ market brimming with food options and tchotchkes. I go in for a 3-euro open-faced smoked herring sandwich, which truly was one of my favorite foods of the whole trip and both of us couldn’t resist another crack at a stroopwafel. After a final burger at The Butcher, which honestly wasn’t spectacular- I thought Burger Bar was better, we head to the museums with a cold, gray day serving as the perfect motivation to do just that. We explored the Dutch arm of St. Petersburg’s famed Hermitage Museum and caught an exhibit on Spanish masters, including El Greco, Velasquez and De Goya. From there, it was on to the beautiful Jewish History Museum at the former site of the Great Synagogue and then to Amersterdam’s Museum of Modern Art which had bizarre monochromatic canvases side-by-side with more famous names such as Van Gogh and Mondrian.

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One final stop at Winkel and another perfectly convenient train ride and we arrived back at the airport to return home. It was a splendid trip; Amsterdam truly has a little bit for everyone. A few stones remain unturned; I’ve still yet to see the Van Gogh Museum or the Anne Frank House, and perhaps I can return again some time. Meanwhile I’ll have to settle for dreams of stroopwafel and street herring as I await my next traveling adventure.

A tale of two cities: Three Days in Berlin

Ra ra Berlin. This historically rich, techno infused town has a wide range of activities and outings to cater to every traveler, especially those operating within a budget. A couple of things that make Berlin such a bargain. First, transportation if free. Well…errrr…not free per say but payment is optional. There is no turnstile or tap in/out system so you can get away with using the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Street Cars, and buses for free. If you get caught there will be a fine so ride at your own risk. Food and housing is also more affordable in Berlin than in other parts of Germany because it is still developing and emerging from its soviet or half GDR shell.

To Eat: Berlin has a very diverse population which is very favorable for food finds. A must in Berlin is doner, essentially shawarma and a famed great place to check out is Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap. We stayed in Kreuzberg so a majority of our eats were in the Middle Eastern hood with a growing food scene. The first place we dined was Baraka. A fantastic Moroccan restaurant with great spiced dishes and tea. You can reserve seats in advance to get a table on the floor with cushions for the full experience. Another great place off of Goriltzer Park is  Bar Raval, This tapas joint brings surprisingly great Spanish cuisine to Berlin in unique dishes. Bar Raval is known for their extensive wine list and weekly paella nights. The vibe is very lively with a sleek ‘canteen-like’ feel. I’d recommend the shishito peppers and homemade flan. For authentic German food that is served on plates as big as your torso check out Tiergartenquelle. It is literally underneath a S-Bahn stop which makes the restaurant convenient although off the beaten bath. Try any dish they have with spaetzle, that’s their thing and make sure to get a giant liter of beer to accompany your meal.

For brunch and coffee I have three recommendations. First, Bateau Ivre is a kooky breakfast spot that sports vibrant art and a large array of mismatched lanterns. The cafe serves up classic European breakfast which consists of an array of meats, cheese, and fresh basket of bread. The meal is simple, hearty and a good start to the day. Next, Factory Girl! (exclamation included in the name) is located in a great part of the city called Friedrichshain. Here you’ll find lots of cafes and small boutiques. Factory Girl! is great for breakfast and lunch but most famous for their sweet treats. I got a deconstructed cream pie, which was basically fresh clotted cream with bits of dark chocolate bark all served over macerated berries. I’d also recommend the Sicilian sandwich. Finally, Neumond for a breakfast buffet that will make you believe in the concept of a buffet again. At first, you are going to think I am crazy for recommending Neumond because it is in a hotel but you have to trust me. For about ten euros you have an all you can eat breakfast where everything is homemade and they will make perfect farm fresh eggs to order. Plus the cappuccino is pretty good too. The brunch serves up fresh bread, spreads and great jam (so good that I even bought too small mason jars of it). Fresh salads and fruit are also on the laden banquet along with a great meat and cheese selection.

To Visit: Berlin is known for it’s checkered history and there are powerful reminders throughout the city. Two world wars have left the city with a host of interesting cultural sites and several should not be missed. To begin with The Wall business we found that the Black Box (History of the Cold War) mini museum next to Checkpoint Charlie had a great interactive history of the time during the divided city. One must also check out the East Side Gallery, while touristy it is a impressive strip of beautifully decorated murals on The Wall from artists all around the world. The backside of the “gallery” also has some amazing graffiti and a solid view of the River Spree.

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Mitte is aptly named and contains the heart of the government and Berlin’s cultural sites. The area is marked with the beautifully ornate Brandenburg Gate. We did a cheap hop-on hop -off bus tour that took us around Mitte and our favorite spots were the Vicotry Coulmn, which was actually moved by Hitler’s urban planners and boasts a mini musum that pays tribute to monuments around the world. You can also climb up to the top for a good view of the Tiergarten. The Holocaust Memorial and museum underneath is very moving and the memorial pulls you into a maze of grey that is chaotic and very moving.

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For two incredible views of Berlin that have awesome audio guides that provide an incredible amount of information check out the Reichstag and Berliner Dome. Both contrast each other very well and provide quality sites. The Reichstag Dome is a modern glass globe that is an incredibly enormous indoor-outdoor space designed by the famed architect Norman Foster. the audio guide is timed as you work your way up the curved walkway of the dome and gives commentary on each point of interest in the 360 degree view. The Berliner Dome is a classic cathedral dome with a steep winding staircase and a narrow indoor and outdoor passageway. You get a great view of the church itself looking out to the spires and gargoyles as well as inside to the alter below. We went at night and managed to capture a great sunset over Berlin.

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Some final tour stops include a free show at the modern Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester. The Symphonie puts on free lunch time shows several days of the week which are a fun informal gathering of tourists, businessmen, and art patrons. Also, depending on when you visit Berlin it is absolutely necessary to hit up a traditional German Christmas market. Drink gluvine (mulled wine), eat tasty baked goods and be merry. We fit in three markets in our three days in Berlin.

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To Drink: There are a lot of places to get beer in Berlin, make sure to consult a local for their favorite beirgarten. For some alternative choices I’d recommend Roses Bar, Prinzipal Kreuzberg, and SO36. Roses Bar is tiny gay bar that was perfectly described by my flatmate as “the inside of tacky 70s furniture.” Why this odd description? Because the bar is literally vinyl, studs, and pink furry walls all put together. The place is also electric, not just with the friendly crowd but the literal electric hum of fluorescent lights and other colored bulbs that cover entire walls. Prinzipal is a burlesque bar that has high quality drinks (be warned they have high price tags attached as well). Stop in for one drink to feel fancy and see the speak-easy style decor, very 20’s and Baroque inspired. Finally we stumbled upon S036 accidentally when coming out of Roses. Turned out it was a dance hall that hosts a variety of different events each night. Once a month they have a Roler Disco, which was, you guessed it, the day we went. Grab Roller Skates and stumble to the bar, have a drink for courage then skate around the disco ball lit rink to German techno and old R&B because what could be better?

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To Party: While we were on too much of whirlwind trip to put in the time to enjoy Berlin’s famous club scene. I will pass down some words of wisdom from a fellow ex-pat who took up residence in Berlin for a year. According to Mathew Jones “if you wanna dance to some great techno music; Check out Sisyphos (if its open) it is the best club in the world in my opinion. If closed I would also recommend Greissmhule or Kater Blau. As with most clubs in Berlin, doors don’t open till after midnight Friday and are open till Sunday or Monday, but be ready to wait in a line.”

A River Runs Through It: 48 Hours in Amsterdam

The title should be several canals run through it but this was more catchy. Living close to mainland Europe has it perks, mainly quick, cheap flights to little European treasures. Amsterdam provides a great setting for a quick getaway as it is small and very easy to get around. Here’s an insider guide to my perfect trip to this Netherlands staple.

To Stay: There are some great hostels in Amsterdam that have been personally recommended to me although I stayed with friends. For excellent location check out the Hotel Van Gogh , right in the heart of the museum quarter. This budget hotel has a youth section that serves the function as a hostel and is simple and clean. For a more communal, party vibe check out the The Flying Pig. This funky hostel has a few locations and serves up some unique decor and a youth-centered vibe.

To Eat: In Amsterdam there are “coffee shops” and there are cafes. Don’t confuse the two or you’l end up eating an edible for breakfast and your day will take an odd turn. A great cafe to start the day is Coffee and Coconuts. CT is in the very trendy neighborhood of Die Pijp, right by the Heineken Factory. The cafe is in a converted cinema and has three spacious floors with low beige seating. The feeling is sophisticated beach resort and they hit the nail on the head with the nautical decor and wood touches. The food is spot on and very health conscious. Coconut are incorporated in many of the sweet dishes, I had an amazing coconut sponge cake with lime mascarpone icing. My friend had a packed acai bowl with palm berry puree,  raw buckini, blueberry, banana, & dried coconut. On the savory side, we enjoyed two Le Croissants, a grilled croissant with bacon, cheese and tomato, CT’s mustard and garden cress. The mustard was grainy and went well with the tangy tomatoes. The bacon was real American “stripey” bacon which is hard to find in Europe. The croissant was a touch over-grilled and turned out to be a bit smushed so maybe ask for light on the panini press. Our cappuccinos were perfection, make sure you indicate you want a double shot so they are not too weak. Another thing you must try in Amsterdam is Rijstaffel, which translates to “rice table”. Rijstaffel is a collection of small Indonesian dishes served tapas style. I’ve been told that this you’ll get more of a variety of Indonesian food in Amsterdam because when visiting Indonesia the cuisine is highly region-specific but Rijstaffel lets you try it all. We were recommended a great place by CT that we didn’t get a chance to try called Albina, a tiny restaurant that’s hard not to confuse with the kitchen supply store next door. Our host had a great quote about Dutch cuisine that went like this “The Dutch don’t do food very well but they do get desserts right.” What she means is that you MUST visit street vendors for authentic Dutch desserts usually consisting of fried dough, waffles and caramel. Another dish that the Dutch do get right are Dutch pancakes duh. Our favorite place was a tiny upstairs joint called Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. Make sure you check google maps for their very strange hours.

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Museums, Museums, and more Museums: Amsterdam is oversaturated with museums and the thing about their museums is that they are NOT cheap. So you have to get strategic. All art tastes are different but I’m going to go ahead a lay out the path that worked best for me and I think ticked a lot of art and cultural boxes. First, the Anne Frank House cannot be missed. It is beautifully preserved a very moving tribute to the Jews persecuted during WWII. Without giving too much away I will say that flowing through the eerily preserved house is powerful and after the capture of Anne Frank and her family the museum architecture shifts to emulate a concentration camp in a very unique way. Ajacent to the Anne Frank House are two (shockingly) free museums that will make you smile after your sombre experience. The Cheese and Tulip Museum are definitely cheesy (har) but worth a trip to a. nosh on some cheese samples and b. learn about the Tulip trade in The Netherlands which is actually quite interesting. Next, the Rijksmuseum provided the biggest bang for your buck. The museum houses everything from Dutch masters such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch to various works by Van Gogh, as well as, contemporary works and baroque artifacts. The design of the museum also gives is an edge as it is very grand and ornate. The public garden in front tops it off and you can take a quick jaunt over to the “I Amsterdam” sign. I always need a reprieve from serious classic paintings and a perfect place to get your modern fix is Foam, a photography museum that is smartly curated and designed.

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To Drink: Once you are wiped out from walking in parks, touring museums, and canal biking (paddle boating on canals is a must) then you will need a drink (or two, or three). So beer is the name of the game in Amsterdam and theire are two great places to get it. One, Brouwerji ‘t IJ a craft brewery in a windmill, need I say more? Make sure to get there before 5 PM for flight tastings of their amazing selection of hoppy brews. Second, TAPROOM, they have over 25 beers on tap that are all craft brews from all over the world. They have some killer stouts and porters. The atmosphere gets funky in the late evening when the Justin Bieber comes on.

Sigh, one trip done. In Britain “Lateness is Rudeness” so I’ll try to be more one it for future postings. Look forward to Berlin, Norway and Turkey coming up.

Who gives a muck about an Oxford Comma?

Spontaneous adventures are almost always a good idea, especially if they are during a rainy reading week. Last Thursday’s trek consisted of a coach ride to lovely Oxford. There was something very refreshing about speeding away from London town and out into countryside. Getting to Oxford is so zippy and cheap via the (protip) Oxford Tube Bus. The bus runs every 15 minutes and costs 14 pounds roundtrip, that’s right folks throw those train timetables out the window and get yourself to Victoria Station for an adventure.

Half an hour into the ride it started to pour which made for a dreamy trip to the college town. I was glad I had by rain boots (see pun in post title) for lots and lots of walking. I am going to guess that my friend Peter and I lapped the little town about four times. It’s really easy to go to Oxford with no plans because a. there are maps with points of interest everywhere and b. every side winding street is interesting in and of itself.

Hopping off the train there was a flea and food market beckoning us forward. So after steamed pork bao, samosas literally folded together and fried in front of us, and bowl of mixed dumplings I could have gone back pleased, but culture I guess. As we wandered we walked around the grounds of the iconic Bodleian Library before heading to Christ Church where the leaves were enormous and, had it not been for rain, perfectly crunchy.

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Before heading into the church we got sidetracked by science and took a detour to The Museum of the History of Science. The name gives a good indication of the mishmash of items presented in no particular design with no particular sense of editing. However, the kitschy effect was actually enjoyable and it felt like walking through a good curio shop where you could admire everything with no salesman pressure. Back to Christ Church we paid our student (protip) entry fee and toured the cathedral and great hall. Seeing the inspiration for Hogwarts was definitely worth the charge.

More wanderings brought us to the Bridge of Sighs and the outside of the botanical gardens. Had it not been Fall and raining the gardens looked worthy of a visit. Our second church stop was University Church which boasted some vibrant stained glass and balcony views. Due to increasing rain we headed back to the bus depot with our final stop being a stroll/brisk walk around Trinity College which was incredibly green and had some extremely interesting architecture.

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Some takeaways from Oxford are first, don’t forget to dress for the weather, second, always look at your bus options, and third, when you get the chance to take a break from the urban scene–run after it.

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From Naples with Olive Oil

After romping around Brookland in my last blog post it was necessary to grab some nourishment before heading back downtown. After a 15 minute walk from The Basilica we found ourselves at Menomale Pizza Napoletana. The pizza joint boasts imported olive oil, tomatoes and cheese from Italy as well as a hand built 6000 pound oven that cooks the pizza at 900 degrees. While the restaurant sought an authentic experience it was not as “in your face” as other restaurants that try to press foreign flair and gusto on the customer. The ambiance was laid back and warm, which is probably how pizza is actually enjoyed in Naples. The covered outdoor seating provided a nice break from the sweltering July heat and the indoor seating was simple with bare wood floors and metal tables.

Before we can get to the pizza, we must first cover the drink list. Aside from their various iterations on fresh dough, Menomale also offers a first rate selection of beers that range from fresh new IPAs on tap to authentic German beers that are over a hundred years. The selection of imported beers was a great compliment to the story behind the pizza. To cool off I enjoyed a refreshing cider from Sonoma Cider. The Pitchfork is described perfectly on the Sonoma Website, which as a sidetone is an example of good web design. The really summed up why the hybrid pear and apple cider was crisp and delicious.

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To accompany my pizza I went with a traditional German beer. The beer from  Franziskaner was an enormous wheat beer that paired very well with the light pizza. the glass it was served in was as big as my entire torso, just look at it.

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Now, to the pizza. My friend and I decided to try the Brooklandissima. The veggie pizza had roasted zucchini, eggplant and peppers, as well as, artichokes, gorgonzola, fior di latte mozzarella, garlic, and basil. The crust had this beautiful buoyancy derived from the fluffy dough and the slight charcoal from the oven (see crust above). The pizza could have had more vegetables but the roasted produce paired great with the two cheeses. For our second dish we decided to try a panvozzo, a wood-fired sandwich made with pizza dough. I had never seen this item before and was intrigued by the calzone/snadwich hybrid. We opted for the Barchetta with smoked salmon, mozzarella , arugula, tomatoes, and  grated grana padano. The barchetta was definitely the star of the evening. The fluffy dough let the smoked salmon truly shine and the other ingredients were a fresh and vibrant compliment.

When you head to Brookland (because I know I have convinced you) definitely check out Menomale. It is so hard to find good pizza, specifically crust outside of New York but Menomale does a very fine job.

Long Weekend Escapades #2: Sayulita, Mexico

Yes, I have been on a blogging hiatus since summer got busy with work and travel. I’m jumping right back into the swing of things with a couple new posts on my past trip to Mexico. Ironically, the last long weekend special was in Taos, New Mexico, so I am unintentionally keeping with a certain theme.

Let’s jump right in! Sayulita is a vibrant beach town outside of Puerto Vallarta on the peaceful Pacific Ocean. The town is about an hour drive from the Puerto Vallarta airport and four hours from Guadalajara, which was our starting destination (we’ll get to that soon). I’m starting with Sayulita because it is the perfect spot for a long weekend getaway. We were there for five nights but you could easily squeeze everything into a three of four day weekend.

In terms of accommodations it is popular to rent a house on the beach but there are some hotel options. It is highly recommended to rent a house with beach access so you are on the more secluded beach outside of the main playa. The town of Sayulita is centered around a square with arms of streets extending out of it. The cobbled streets lack signage but the size of the town makes it easy to navigate.

The thing about the town is that it’s saturated with food options which is good and bad. It’s hard to try everything in a short trip so my family and I attempted to pick and choose based on a few criteria. We tried to avoid the restaurants that hassled customers on the street, vyeing for business against the other larger, sit down places. We looked for spots that had a lot of locals and were more akin to street food vendors. It always pays off to do as the locals do and we had some excellent meals that even drew us back for seconds. I have broken down the places by the specific dishes they had that truly shined. It’s not a complete guide but it has most of a Mexican food lovers staples.

Burritos: Burrito Revolution is very well known to tourists and locals alike as we got recommendations from other visitors to check the place out. The burritos are pretty massive and they do cut them in half so it is good to mix and match with your friends for a full array. We ordered chicken, steak, and marlin burritos that came packed with rice, beans, and veggies. The best of the three was the marlin which actually had an Asian twist from some pickled cabbage and the marinated fish preparation. The burrito almost had a kimchi-like flavor that floated it above the rest.

Churro: The churro truck produces magical piping hot churros. There is really nothing more that needs to be said. The churros are extruded into their hot oil bath in the back of a pickup truck then dusted in cinnamon sugar and served wrapped in brown paper. What could be better?

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Empanadas: Empanadas are a must for me, as they are one of my favorite Spanish foods. We were able to sample not one but two empanada places that were across the street from each other. First up was Lo de Charo known for its empanadas and fresh made pasta. Basically the small abuelita that ran the place was the dough master. Her empanadas were very traditional with a paler, slightly thick crust that still had some critical flakey bits. We enjoyed mushroom, spinach, and beef empanadas incased in the magical pastry. Another highlight of Lo de Charo was the chimichurri sauce served with the meal. The sauce was perfection and I couldn’t help lather on the parsley, garlic and oil mixture.

The second stop for the Spanish hot pockets is La Empanaderia. The empanadas here are golden brown and way more flakey, almost like croissants. The treats are a little less traditional in this manner but still pretty darn good. La Empanaderia also offers up some great flavor combinations that enhance the delicacies. We came bright and early to get the freshest ones two days in a row so we were able to sample quite a few. Our favorites were the Mushroom+peppers+cheese, ham+cheese+pineapple, and plantain. The mushroom had a great saltiness with an added kick from the hot peppers while the typical ham and cheese was elevated with the hint of sweet pineapple. Finally, I tend to stay away from cooked fruit but the sweet plantain empanada was so good and had a thicker dough to support the platain juices which I actually preferred. The cute spot lent itself to a great video that shows the whole process that you get to witness as a customer, check it out here.

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Fajitas: Taqueria El Ta Corriendo is a fajita stand run by a joyful women who mans the huge griddle with extreme skill. The stand offers some offal cuts including cow tongue and brain. Since they were out of these delicacies we went with classic ground beef and steak fajitas. The fajitas were served with some serious dipping sauces as well. I recommend the green hot sauce as a nice light spicy option that adds some acidity. Make sure you add the beans too, they were extremely good. My father ended up eating a few plain spoonfuls of them.

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Fish Tacos: Estrella de Mar Mariscos was our first meal in Sayulita and it is off the main streets on your way up to the houses outside the downtown. Mariscos offers up fish tacos grilled and Baja (breaded and fried) style. We opted for grilled and were not disappointed. While I don’t have an entire Fish Taco Faceoff for you I will give a quick breakdown that I hope Morgan would be okay with. The grilling yielded optimal freshness and the fish was so juicy with great flavor stemming from the slight blackening. There was no skimping on slaw but it did not overpower the tacos. The veggie mixture consisted of just lettuce and onions slightly seasoned. The sauces were served on the side and it seemed best to go with the traditional crema which with its slight spice added a great flavor to the tacos.

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Ice Cream/Popsicles/Horchata: Wa Kika is the hopping spot in town for cold treats. Their homemade popsicles of almost every variety are delectable. Flavors like hibiscus, pistachio, and mango with chiles create a magnificently colored display. The ice cream is also a delight and is served in very generous portions. Everything costs around $1 (the current exchange rate is about 15 Pesos to the dollar), which is incredible as far as gourmet ice cream goes. Gelato can go for as high as $6 for a small and popular popsicles are around $3 each in D.C. The popsicles at Wa Kika are so packed with flavor and taste so fresh. Don’t forget to sample their horchata, because everyone needs horchata.

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Steak Tacos: El Itacate takes its steak very seriously and does it very well. We had carne assada and steak milanse. Milanase is breaded steak and was totally delicious. The breading kept the meat super juicy while offers a nice flavor from the bread crumb mixture, very similar to steak cutlets with added grilled onions and peppers. El Itcate also serves enormous drinks that make it a popular late night destination. Note, don’t be fooled by the counter of the open air kitchen, a sweet waitress will come to take your order and offer up a board fully loaded with sauces and grilled whole onions. The onions were charred and fragrant, very good additions to the tacos and you could honestly eat them plain like a sweet apple if you were so inclined.

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Tacos al Pastor: Tacos Il Ivan has the gleaming, rotating, spit of meat with a pineapple placed, calling the name of any Tacos al Pasor lover. The spinning meat is shaved off much like q greek gyro but has a very different flavor profile. The lean meat is red in color from an epic slathering of sauce and is sliced off fresh for the taco orders. The tacos are dressed simply with lettuce but there is an entire  condiment to suit any foodies’ needs. My favorite additions were a squeeze of lime, fresh cucumbers and hot sauce. The place is definitely a local  hangout is constantly packed with eager eaters.

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Tostadas: For another awesome fish option check out the marlin tostados at Medusa. Medusa is off the main area, on the same street as Estrella de Mar Mariscos. The tostado special proved to be a simple and tasty afternoon snack. Four tostadas and a hibiscus tea costs 50 pesos, that’s about $3 for a meal that comfortably fed three people. The marlin tostadas surprised us with their citrus flavor and bright appearance. The fish was prepared ceviche style so all of of the freshness was locked in. The fish was topped with shaved carrots and lettuce that with a squeeze of lime gave the fish an orange flavor that was bold and flavorful. The marlin tostadas are definitely a dish you won’t see everywhere and should not be missed.

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True Grit

The city of Philadelphia has long been allusive to me as I have ranged up and down the east and west coast. Unlike my native connection to Chicago, I really had no reason to check out the inland City of Brotherly Love. Curled on the Delaware River, the city does not have appeal as a coastal destination, making it a unique outcrop of urban culture in a somewhat dull landscape. As I slowly make my way to and from Philly I’m picking up the lay of the land and a few key sights to see.

I call Philly True Grit because it’s definitely rough around the edges. Philly has not had the dramatic force of Chicago and New York City mayors who have aggressively polished their cities up. In Philadelphia, it seems like there is a layer of history and grime that has been better brushed away in some spots rather than others. What I’m getting at is a little friendly caution to Philly that it can’t rest on it’s liberty bell laurels any longer.

I am a Philly novice at this point and very much open to suggestions but here is what I have found so far that gives the city some cultural edge.

Coffee Shops: Elixr Coffee Roaster (see review here), and La Colombe (review on the way).

Museums and Cultural Sites: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are a must. They stand as a good example of when city grit is correctly buffed up into something sparkling. The Barnes Museum is also a must. Classics, upon classics, hung in the most eccentric way in a beautifully designed building.

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Food: The Redding Terminal is a great food hall next to the convention center. The amount of stalls make choosing your meal quite difficult. Finally Federal Donuts are a must. They rival top donut shops such as Doughnut Plant and Doughnut Vault if I do say so myself. The donuts are made hot and fresh right before your eyes and fall into two categories: Hot Fresh and Fancy. The favors are have some variation and are very unique. The Hot Fresh selection includes Vanilla Spice, Strawberry Lavender, and Cinnamon Brown Sugar.  The Fancy include a mix of classics. It’s best to get a mix of the two and the the great thing is Federal always has some samples out. The freshness and subtle flavors push the donuts to the next level. The West Philly location has cute desk like chairs that make you feel even more like a giddy child when gleefully enjoying your treats.

As I said, this is just a start and I expect more in-depth reviews to follow. Readers: I am definitely seeking suggestions of where to go next.

Don’t you want to dine with me? Don’t you want to Donburi?

Donburi squeezed into Adams Morgan a little over a year ago and has been serving up mean Japanese street food ever since. This has created some competition with Sakuramen, my other favorite asian joint in the area but the menus are composed of different dishes.

Donburi, literally means “bowl” and all the ingredients are simmered together and served over rice. Donburi is different from ramen because it is not broth based. The braising liquid from the meat and vegetables creates more of a sticky, sweet sauce.

Donburi’s donburi sauce is made with soy sauce, dashi, caramelized onions and a half cooked egg. This gives it the sweet, salty, gooey consistency I mentioned earlier. This sauce is amazing and and packed with flavor. I have sampled several dishes including: Katsudon- pork loin and tenderloin, Unagidon- barbecued eel, Shitakedon-mushrooms, and Gyodon-beef brisket. The protein differs for each dish but they are generally served with scallions, sprouts. It’s had to pick a favorite but a good intro bowl is the shitakedon or Katsudon. The Unagidon is very unique and the protein adds a fishy and smoky flavor to the classic sauce.

There also one appetizer that is actually a refreshing end to a Donburi meal. The salmon sashimi is thick, fatty and delicious. It is reminiscent of more lively sushi without the sticky rice and the addition of fresh cucumbers and ginger.

Donburi offers take out and all counter seating that lets you see the live cooking action. The pans used to simmer the vegetables are particularly intriguing. Another awesome part about the tiny restaurant is the tremendously upbeat vibe and literal great beats that they play. Hip hop ranging from contemporary to the 90’s is almost playing with all the line cooks singing and rapping along.

Guest Post From Morgan Rana: Let the fish taco battles begin

This new segment was created by Morgan Rana. Rana is a surfer from New Jersey and he knows his fish taco game. He is currently traversing the country from East to West in search of taco perfection. I hope to continue this segment as he is currently exploring the DC area for future fish taco face-offs. Enjoy and let us know what you think. Isn’t Ranasan, the taco master cute?

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Fish Taco Faceoff:

Haggo’s Organic Taco vs. Panzone’s Pizzeria (Surf City)

Welcome to Fish Taco Faceoff: a bout between two contenders from throughout the nation who claim champion pescado perfection. In this faceoff, our contenders hail from opposite coasts: Haggo’s Organic Taco of Leucadia, California, and Panzone’s Pizzeria of Surf City, New Jersey.

In the placid beach town of Leucadia, CA you can find Haggo’s Organic Taco nestled on the corner of the 101 and Jason Street. Lined with sun-kissed seating and an aesthetic appreciative of Wes Anderson, this lunchtime taco shack serves up a killer menu and a killer vibe free of genetically modified organisms. But you’ve got to be quick. This shack only sets up shop from 11-4, so like a firing morning swell; you could find yourself spending the rest of your day wondering what you missed out on.

Facing the Atlantic Ocean we find Surf City, a borough on a barrier island along the New Jersey Coast known as Long Beach Island. When it comes to pizza, locals have been paying patronage to Panzone’s Pizzeria since 1980. This parlor provides classic New Jersey barstools and booths where you can find the latest local buzz from the forecast to firehouse parties. In the summer of 2014, Panzone’s shook up the Island’s taco scene when they introduced their seriously seasonal, seriously supreme fish tacos. So if you find yourself on Long Beach Island between May and September, scoop some up!

Round 1: The Fish

First and foremost to a prime pescado taco is the fish; its type, freshness, seasoning, and preparation. Haggo’s delivers the first blow with fresh, locally caught fish on the daily. Usually consisting of halibut, mahi-mahi, tilapia, or cod, their fish finds a nice balance of battering before being fried. Lacking in spunk, Haggo’s surrenders the rest of the round to Panzone’s, who serves up some killer cod. Naked and soaked in savory blackened seasoning, their cod charred to perfection on the grill, leaving them with smokiness and hints of cumin, lime, pepper, and garlic. Small and unassuming, Panzone’s blackened cod delivers a near-knockout punch. You couldn’t see it coming if you tried.

Round 2: The Tortilla

If you’re a fish taco traditionalist, Haggo’s is strong pick for you this round. Their double decked corn tortillas hold very true to the OG taquerias scattered along the California coastline. But that’s pretty much all Haggo’s has got going for them. Though house-made, the tortillas taste like cardboard, plain and simple. As for Panzone’s, there isn’t much liveliness from them in this round either. They throw the pescado on standard, white flour tortillas probably sourced from the local market. With no decisive taker to this round, we can leave it to post-faceoff banter to decide who really won. As for now, it’s a draw folks.

Round 3: Toppings

After the tortillas are sprawled and the fish placed atop them, it comes down to the toppings.. A winning fish taco can have toppings ranging from a minimal dollop of lime crema to an extravagant combination of salsa, slaw, pico de gallo, and crema. In this round, we see Panzone’s stick to the fundamentals of fish tacos: a ration of shredded cabbage, lime pico de gallo, and a dollop of lime crema – timelessly tasty. But going the distance is Haggo’s with a strong fight in its toppings. They find an interesting balance in their step with a hefty combination of organic cabbage slaw, cumin-lime crèma, mango salsa, and cilantro. This round could go either way. Haggo’s throws down a variety of sweet, savory, and spice to its toppings while Panzone’s holds to simple, strong fundamentals. It’s a tight one folks, but this round narrowly goes to Panzone’s

Verdict:

It was fine faceoff with strong efforts from both contenders, but it is clear that this bout is championed by Panzone’s Pizzeria of Surf City, New Jersey. Though Haggo’s Organic Taco has very strong attributes to its fish tacos along with a charming aesthetic, their strengths don’t stack up quite like Panzone’s. The pizzeria takes the fundamental fish taco and concentrates on perfecting what matters. The balance of perfectly charred cod complimented with simple slaw lime pico, and lime crema wraps up delightfully within a basic flour tortilla. Who knew a pizzeria could deliver such bomb fish tacos?

Moving North to South on the West Coast Update x1

Note: this post will be under construction on and off. There is quite a comprehensive list to capture in this California escapade. Check back for future updates.

Leucadia is a small surf town 45 minutes North of San Diego. Leucadia rests along the Pacific Coast Highway and is perfect for a five day surf trip or peaceful getaway. The town is almost an untouched relic of the past. The stores are locally owned and everyone walks or roams around on beach cruisers. The vibe is far removed from San Diego and LA, as it is slightly isolated from the two large cities. My five days there were devoted to exploring, relaxing and, of course, eating. Here are some of the places of notes. If you are in the larger Encinitas area, this strip of the PCH is definitely worth a stop whether you are driving through or pausing to relax. All the spots in this post are concentrated around a 10 mile North/South line along the Pacific Coast Highway. Having a car is necessary if you want to explore other areas and beaches.

Bakeries/Cafes:

 French Corner: The French Corner is a great cafe that serves parisian breakfast and lunch. We begun our stay at Leucadia here and it was a great start. They have baskets of traditional pastries made in house along with crepes and quiches. We started the day with an Almond Bearclaw that was flakey and light. The savory Caprese Quiche and Spinach Frittata were also very good. They both had a perfect darker brown crust on top that added so much flavor.

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Taste and Sea Cakery: This custom cake store and catering has a small storefront as well serving up very unique cakes, cookies and pastries. the shop also has a beautiful espresso machine that just needs the love and attention from a good barista. The owners were so friendly and had a sample of almost every offering, this made it both harder and easier to decide on what to order. The decor was very sea inspired and was extremely comfortable. A great spot to start the day or grab an afternoon snack.

Leucadia Donut Shoppe: The classic donut shop fits the surf vibe of the town perfectly. The old school donut counter has all the classic offerings. We sampled a Long John donut and a blueberry buttermilk. The buttermilk was a nice departure from a typical sugary donut and had a interesting biscuit like quality.

Boutiques: 

You don’t have to be scouting for a new surfboard to find success at the local shops in Leucadia. If you’re a surfer girlfriend like me there are two killer shops to browse for unique goods and wares.

Seaweed and Gravel: This store is rooted in vintage clothes and motorcycles so it’s a little rock and roll mixed with hippy sunshine. On the rock and roll side, check out all Seaweed and Gravel’s fine denim wear from Crawford Denim. The jeans and tops are 100% American made and are of superb quality. When you’re ready to get back to your natural roots check out the Juniper Ridge soaps and perfumes. Each batch of product’s plant oils are pure and  harvested by hand in Mojave Desert or Sierras. No batch is alike and this scents are potent. The aesthetic of the shop is just as unique as the products in it. Smiling pictures of the Partridge Family line the walls along with  brightly upholstered vintage furniture. The garden in the back is a little oasis and a good place to enjoy the free espresso that is offered upon entrance.

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Bing Surfboards: I know this says surfboards and yes Bing is a surfboard shaper by trade but their store is a little bit more. The Bing branded apparel is simple and well made but this goes without saying from a surfboard manufacturer. The real details are in the other store stock. Of which my particular favorite was a brand called Krochet Kids.  The non-profit knitwear is handmade in Uganda and Peru and the company works very hard to give back to those communities. The products sort of celebrate their homeland with rich, deep colors like saffron scarves and oxblood beanies. The chunky knits are warm and cozy so you will literally feel good buying them.

Fish Taco Central, Proper Restaurants, and more, coming up soon!