What do you mean you don’t have filter coffee? A Guide to London Coffee Shops

I wish I had been diligent enough to do a proper coffee shop review of every cafe I visited in London but at this stage in the game that would be simply impossible. I am going to attempt to backtrack through all the coffee shops I have visited giving them quick scores and pointing out the ideal features of each. Coffee is truly blossoming in London so don’t be intimidated by the perceived ‘only tea’ culture.

As the title of this posts hints at, the one thing yet to develop is strong cups of black, filter coffee. Artisanal shops that will be explored in this post do have pour-over, chemex and V60 options but they are simply lacking good ready made coffee–paper filters, large batches, hot mugs you can wrap your hands around simply do not happen in most London shops which is a huge shame. Looking past this, visiting cafe is an awesome way to see London, each neighborhood can be characterized by they handful of coffee shops that reside in it. So I’ll break it down by region, trying to record every coffee shopI can recall. It’s going to look like a daunting list but life is better when drinking good coffee. The Southbank and East London have unfortunately been painfully neglected in my coffee pursuits but I will try to outsource some recommendations for these areas. The greatest London coffee blog for filling in the blank map spaces is Cups of London Coffee. They have an interactive map that has displays the massive density of London’s coffee shops allowing you to zoom and click cafes to display recorded times and information. It’s brilliant!

As a reminder coffee shop reviews go a little something like this: cafes are marked out of 5 on location, barista cuteness, coffee knowledge/expertise, ambiance, and food/pastry selection.

Convent Garden/Aldwych

  1. Lundenwic-4(Lundenwic is a newer shop on Aldwych that is teeny tiny. the place has two tables and a three-seat counter so not ideal for working or hanging out but if you do snag a table you are right in the middle of the action, merging with the queue of people and baristas bustling about from the mysterious kitchen downstairs. From this basement emerges a selection of toasties and salads for lunch. I have had hits and misses with lunch but highly recommend the cranberry sauce, chicken, and squash toastie if they have it. The sandwich tastes like Thanksgiving dinner between two slices of sourdough bread. Be wary of the amount of kale and fennel in the salads, it’s a lot of kale and fennel. The location is ideal if you are a uni student at LSE, which this writer might be. Unfortunately if you our not headed to lecture there is really no reason to be walking along Aldwych as it has no tourist appeal and is crowded with students and professionals. However, Lundenwic is near some theatres so if you are headed to a play and worried you will not stay awake either because it looks to be extremely dull or you are very tired, grab a strong flat white, and chat with the extremely handsome baristas before the show).
  2. Fernandez and Wells-Somerset House-4.5(There are two things keeping F&W from receiving a 5 much to my dismay. First, the coffee is just simply not that good. The espresso is often burnt and flavorless so it is best to get tea because they will top up your pot with hot water, give you honey and even steamed milk if you like. The service is certainly not lacking at Somerset House that is for certain. Second, while the Spanish-style savory options at F&W are divine, their pastry selection is weak and very expensive. Now that we have those critiques out of the way let’s move to the highlights. Somerset House, is one of my favorite places in all of London and you can see my full post here. The setting of the cafe is minimal and airy, the light wood furniture and large tables makes it a fantastic place to spread out and do work. Their music selection is consistently on point, playing an eclectic mix of soul and indie songs. Most of the the baristas are incredibly friendly and the table service for food is quite enjoyable, I highly recommend their soup specials, particularly the chicken tangine. The soups come in a huge steaming bowl with some crucial pieces of sourdough bread for soaking up the last bits).      13102718_10208147040907100_3434636631585142432_n
  3. The Black Penny-4.5(The Black Penny will always hold a special place in my heart for the lunch deal they used to have which included three salads and a protein for under 10 quid, although the lunch deal is no longer the food selection is still expansive and delicious. The coffee is top notch quality as well. The place is nicely situated off the dense crowded Convent Garden area closer to Holborn station. It’s ideal for a longer uni lunch or a break from the tourist scene. The inside is very rustic and warm Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling and the back has a large communal table and several squished two-tops.There are shelves adorned with books and magazines  situated over built in cubbies for single seating. The exposed brick wall adds to the Brooklyn chic vibe. The baristas and servers match the warm interior and are very friendly, and always more than happy to point out their favorites of the day).
  4. New Row Coffee-4(This tiny kiwi-owned coffee shop sits on New Row Street in Convent Garden. New Row rivals Lundenwic in it’s size as it only has two tables and two counter seats. The pastries are all homemade daily by Tom, the owner of the shop. The coffee quality is stellar and the small space is not over designed or sparse. There is a coffee grinder serving as an expensive flower pot. The teal dishes add a little quirk and brightness. I’d recommend getting a cappuccino and specifying without cocoa powder because it tends to overpower things. The tall lanky baristas are the essence of the London aesthetic so no need to worry about that. I recommend the Anzac cookies and almond croissants).img_4253
  5. Fleet River Bakery-3(Fleet River is not in a very idealic location sandwiched between Kingsway and Lincoln Fields Inn, in a non-descript part of Holborn. Again, for an LSE student it is pretty convenient. Known for their pastries, correction expensive pastries It’s best to run through either to get a goof cup of coffee or quick lunch. I have never been too impressed with their offerings but people swear by their toasties and salads so I’ll leave a little hope. The space is very drafty and unadorned, Fleet River is packed at lunch so try to grab a spot quick or check out their downstairs area. If you are in a hurry, Fleet River is also not the most expedient so be aware).
  6. Fleet Street Press
  7. Notes-Convent Garden

Soho

  1. TAP No. 193-5                                                                    12809736_10207890381890785_2470534023979204042_n
  2. Flat White-4
  3. Nordic Bakery-3.5
  4. Foxcroft and Ginger-3

Fitzroviia

  1. Kin-5
  2. Attendant-5                                                                                                                                                   13184660_10208941295280255_1076025989_oimg_4319 img_4321
  3. Kaffeine-4

7 Dials

  1. Monmouth Coffee
  2. Timberyard
  3. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Shoreditch

  1. Fix 126(Fraser’s Pic)
  2. Attendant
  3. Shoreditch Grind

Clerkenwell

  1. Workshop

Islington 

  1.   Vagabond No. 7 4.5(This coffee shop tucked away in Islington is a hidden gem in the London coffee scene. The narrow space is bigger than it appears with repurposed wooden spools as tables in the front area and  a cozy back room. Studying in the back room, you can work amongst the roaster, espresso machines and sacks filled with coffee–ideal for any person who literally runs on coffee. You are also working on a suspended wood table that has ample room to spread out your books, coffee, and food. On to the food, the almond croissant I had was the best almond croissant I have ever had in London, let me repeat—the best. That is saying something. The prepared sandwiches are also simple and hearty. There is also a kitchen tucked away that manages to pump out full English breakfast among other brunch fare served all day long. On my last trip to Vagabond, I discovered the secret side courtyard that is quaint and peaceful. Filled with mismatched iron furniture, the outdoor space is somehow sandwiched in a small, awkward corner between two buildings, Vagabond is an architecture marvel that seems to expand after you enter. The coffee shop also has a derelict appearance with crumbling walls and vacant fireplace stuffed with a combination of junk and books, it almost resembles the ruin bars of Budapest. A friendly staff serves high-quality coffee to match their impressive food fare and interesting space. I am only docking it for its location, north Liverpool Road is not quite a cultural hub but the hipsters are sure to come).

 

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.

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!

Brooklyn Baby Part 1

I’m going to borrow Lana Del Rey’s crown for just a moment after my three day quest around Brooklyn last weekend. After spending many winters, falls, and  Labor Day weekends in Manhattan my latest trip called for a change. Brooklyn turned out to be the most beautiful change possible with a more relaxed feel and less scene-y environment. I toured around a majority of this borough, beaming with excitement. Here is my Brooklyn Breakdown.

Brooklyn Heights

My base for the weekend lied in Brooklyn Heights, on Clark Street, steps away from the new waterfront promenade. My most excellent hostess, Maddy, has become quite the local after living in the city for only two months. Her coffee shop and subway knowledge was most impressive and she made the perfect guide. The promenade which I explored on my own is a very exciting addition to the neighborhood and was packed with people enjoying the riverside. The renovation of old piers into athletic fields, basketball courts, water parks adds a cool texture to the landscape and your normal recreational activities becomes literally elevated above the water. Brooklyn Heights is a bit blissful and is is so quiet and calm, it’s shocking. My tour de Brooklyn was marked with countless cups of coffee, too many to do a review for each but I’ll mention my caffeine stops in each area. For Brooklyn Heights, Vineapple is an elongated, elegant coffee shop that is dark and cool during the summer heat. Most coffee joints here seem to be serving Stumptown Roasters, so this can be assumed unless noted otherwise. Unfortunately, Stumptown a Portland-based company is not my favorite coffee and I think there are probably local roasters that are more suitable.

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Dumbo

Dumbo is teensy tiny and it is hard to to tell when Brooklyn Heights ends and Dumbo begins. The easiest indication is that D-U-M-B-O is an acronym for “down under the Manhattan Bridge,” which directly points to its size. Nicely nestled under the bridge Dumbo’s  narrow, cobbled streets and arching underpasses evoke an almost European feel. I was immensely disappointed with the popularized Brooklyn Roasting Company, whose enormous flagship location offered up a weak cold brew coffee and an even more mediocre peanut butter cookie. The antique and thrifted atmosphere felt very forced in the enormous Starbucks-like space. One evening, we chose to do prepared food roof dining, as the Clark Street Studio offered up a nice view of “the other”  (Manhattan). Stepping into Foragers, a quaint speciality store we walked out with a nice vegetable medley and Lentil soup.

Bushwick

Getting to Bushwick from Booklyn Heights does require a tedious trip into Manhattan, subway transfer, then move back into Brooklyn. In Bushwick I met up with a friend, Julian, an artist I have previously written about (here). I certainly could not have navigated this area without some pro supervision so I was very happy to meet up with Julian. We first stopped for a pair of good cappuccinos at Kave. This super interesting spot is tucked away behind a wooden gate, making it appear to be quite secretive. The courtyard behind the gate was smartly curated and felt very calm and cozy. Strolling on from Kave and the recycling plant there are rows of old factories, now transformed into studios, sound stages, and other creative spaces. However, the outside of these cracked buildings displays little indication of what lies inside. For brunch we headed to Cafe Ghia, a petite spot packed with diners. The highlight was the Ranchero Benedict, a twist on the clasic composed of poached eggs on corn griddle cakes with avocado and Huancaina sauce (yellow pepper and Feta). Bushwick is well-known as a sort of ‘artist’s colony’ with it’s most prominent group being The Bushwick Collective which is advertised an an outdoor street gallery. Julian explained it succinctly as a bunch of graffiti artists that decided to unionize. The work is now, ironically the opposite of street art with building faces as approved canvases, semi-regular turnaround, and often less gritty depictions. Some of muralists are extremely talented and others are less successful but still, the covered walls bring a lot of vibrancy to the streets.

Still to come… Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Park Slope

 

Penultimate Post: Days 6 through 8 in Israel with Jesse Hartman

Day 6-

The morning begins with another average hotel breakfast. We toured the Old City of Jerusalem some more, stopping at King David’s Tomb and the Western Wall again. Jerusalem is beautiful and our guide Elad is as awesome and informational as always. I branched out this time at lunchtime going for falafel instead of shawarma. It was fantastic and the vendors are always pretty impressed that I can order my desired fries, veggies and hummus to go inside the pita. The major program for the rest of the day was Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. The whole experience was incredibly moving, and we also had a group discussion afterwards that was pretty intense. The evening took a turn for the more upbeat as we went on the light rail towards our familiar bar area in Jerusalem. Tonight the US played Portugal in the World Cup. Everyone partook in a very loud and lyrically accurate rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The cold air forced everyone into one bar, which made for a very fun time drinking Goldstar and dancing. We grew a bit weary of the scene eventually and returned back to the hotel just in time to see Portugal dramatically snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat.

Day 7-

The conclusion of our stay in Jerusalem also marks the culmination of our trifecta of our emotional days with a visit to Mt. Hertzl the military cemetery. Seeing our visiting soldiers so affected by the gravesites was powerful stuff. Next we’ll be having a long drive into the desert towards the Bedouin tent where we’ll be staying the night. We stopped at a beautiful overlook in the desert that overlooked Kfar Hanokdim where we will be staying. As Elad says it’s not really rough camping, but it’s not like Disney World. We all will stay under one big tent that has outlets and running water. Before eating we do our camel and donkey rides, which consisted of a stroll of a few hundred yards, but it was still a hilarious and neat experience. Dinner was actually pretty delicious with lamb meatballs and fresh couscous and hummus. We had a lovely free night smoking hookah and playing guitar around the campfire. A few of our friends and I also went into the main tent to watch the Brazil/Cameroon game. After the game we stayed up to watch the beautiful stars as Aviel played his guitar for us. It was a very magical experience that again resulted in a distinct lack of sleep.

Day 8-

We woke up pretty early in the morning to hike up Masada. Breakfast was fairly decent with the typical cold items like herring and salad. Masada was amazing. Beautiful ruins and an amazing view from the top of the peak are well worth spending time in the sun for. We descended down the Snake Path (~2000 feet of stairs) to the bus to take us to lunch and the Dead Sea. Lunch at the Ein Gedi spa was truly wretched, but paid for by our program. The Dead Sea itself was absolutely phenomenal. It was an experience that cannot be replicated. The water was like a bathtub and stung like crazy and the mud was wonderfully to cake on from head to toe. We were a bit rushed as we had to head off to the Taglit Mega Event. Mega is essentially a giant party for nearly 4,000 Taglit participants. There was a concert and Prime Minister Netanyahu came and spoke which was incredible. On the way, we stopped at another mall for dinner and Billy and I decided to try Israeli McDonalds. The portions were much bigger and the food seemed fresher, but it was a lot more expensive than its American counterpart. At night we stayed at the Blue Bay Hotel in Netanya, where we checked out some beach raves that were complete with Israeli trance music and populated by high school graduates. We eventually got booted; Mt. surely we stuck out like sore thumbs, and went off to bed.

Sports Edition: Three more Awesome Days in Israel, including Lacrosse Highlights

Day 3 Continued-

We ended up conducting an impromptu youth lacrosse clinic due to the tardiness of the Israeli National Teams. It was amazing to watch kids who had never been exposed to lacrosse in their life pick the game up so naturally. It was a surreal moment. We proceeded to start our game after watching our women whip the Israelis. The field was scruffy, and our team equally so, we took the loss but managed to make it a one-goal game after a bad half. Not bad for players that have never practiced together. Afterwards we returned for our final night at the Kibbutz where we once again enjoyed the pub, this team with many of the players staying the night.

Day 4-

In the morning we wake up early to head to the town of Ramlah. It is in the center of the country and extraordinarily hot. Our game at 10:30 in the morning, on an artificial turf field gave us the thrilling opportunity to play in 100+ degree weather. I’m running long stick midfield (LSM) exclusively, which is exhausting, yet I seem to be one of the few guys in fairly good shape. The game was perhaps one of the most physically challenging things I think I’ve ever done, but we prevailed in a thrilling 12-11 victory in overtime much to the thrill of three Ramlah locals. Guys on our team were super dehydrated and dropping like flies, so after a short welcoming ceremony for Jerusalem we had some free time before dinner to rest. For dinner we had a very nice Shabbat activity and the hotel buffet was pretty solid. Just your usually meats in sauces, boiled assorted starches and of course fresh salad and hummus. Later in the evening, after some rambling, we found a lively bar district. It was an excellent night that included sampling another local beer called Tuborg and an anise liqueur called Arak. The Tuborg is lighter than Goldstar and very refreshing while the Arak was basically the essence of licorice, I liked it a lot but it wasn’t for everyone. Our first night in Jerusalem was a success.

Day 5-

Yom Shabbat lived up to its name as we were permitted to sleep in until 11:15 Saturday morning. The group gathered once again and we walked over to a different hotel to attend a seminar-like lecture on the state of affairs in Israel. Simon, a British ex-pat and to my delight a Tottenham Hotspurs supporter, did a wonderful job explaining the history of Israel and the current situation domestically and with its neighbors.  Then, we had a long walk to Old Jerusalem to perform our Havdallah, end of Sabbath, ceremony. It was very nice and at long last we finally went to the Western Wall. Seeing, touching, smelling and hearing this hallowed ground at night was simply stunning. I was crying with joy and I’m certain I wasn’t alone. A delicious and cheap shawarma cheered me up even though Alon and I agreed it was a little on the dry side. We had a sober night to prepare for Yad Vashem tomorrow but ended up having a rowdy sing-a-long that attracted another neighboring Taglit group and eventually hotel security.

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Sibling Talk: Jesse Hartman’s 3-Day Recap

Day 1

The trek begins with a 5:00 AM wake-up in Denver. A not so quick skip to JFK and an even slower jump later we arrive in Tel Aviv. It should be mentioned that the food on El Al was fairly good. Chicken and rice for dinner was doused in a tasty sauce and the hummus provided on the side was actually quite delicious. After arriving and get orientation from Rachel the program director, we head north to Farod. Along the way we stopped at a gas station convenience store and I had the opportunity to sample some local Doritos. The flavor was “the worst kind” according to Elad our guide but I enjoyed the ‘Hot and Sour’ chips. Driving through the north of Israel is beautiful, very reminiscent of the American West, and the heat was just as stifling. When we arrived at the Kibbutz we were put into groups of 3 and I roomed with Max who I had met at JFK and Ben. Both real mensches. Dinner at the Kibbutz was rather disappointing pasta and meatballs but the fresh vegetables and hummus were lovely and refreshing. The night program was more icebreakers and talking about the trip. Afterwards, we enjoyed some duty free alcohol that was purchased and had some Goldstar at the pub. Goldstar is a macro-brew of Israel and it’s actually very nice, though the pub’s price of 28 NIS a beer was unfortunate. I’m still working on everyone’s names but so far, so good.

Day 2

The next morning we woke at 7 for breakfast and started the day. Israeli breakfast is really nice, with fresh vegetables, pickled herring and oddly enough chocolate pudding. We embarked up north the Tel Dan to go on a nature walk. Elad explained the importance of the stream there and that the ruins had evidence that King David had actually existed. After the history lesson we traveled to Mt. Bental, overlooking the borders of Syria and Lebanon. The story of the conflict with Syria was fascinating and thought provoking. Next we stopped for lunch. Some friends I’m becoming closer to (2 brothers, their cousin, and a former teammate) went to Café Café. It was pretty terrible. I had the ‘Fish Shwarma Wrap’ which was just bland whitefish and lettuce in a tortilla, and the small sample of the ‘Smoked Salmon wrap wasn’t good either. A corrective experience was needed and luckily we were off to a tour of a winery, which included a tasting. We sampled a Cabarnet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay and a desert wine. I thought all were pretty great, but the red was especially fantastic as was to be expected from the rich volcanic soil of the area. After the wine, we drove a bit more to kayak on the River Jordan. It was more of a lazy stream at this point, but fairly fun nonetheless. Dinner at the Kibbutz back in Farod was a very nice fried chicken, accurately described as “chicken parm without the redsauce”. Another night, another rambunctious evening drinking Goldstar and watching the World Cup.

 

Day 3

Tonight I will be playing in an exhibition lacrosse game with the rest of the group. All the members in this birthright group our NCAA athletes of varying abilities from Division 1 through 3. This, however,  didn’t stop us from touring our tucheses off. After a breakfast that saw more familiar faces and foods, we started off with a 2-hour downhill hike on the Nachal Amud trail. The views were beautiful and the hike gave us a chance to warm up our legs and of course learn more Israeli history. We then drove to the old city of Tzfat. At long last I got my hands on some very flavorful shwarma. It was fantastic. The laffa was fresh and hot, the sauces I added were perfectly spicy and of course the meat was well seasoned and freshly shaved. With full stomachs we toured Tzfat learning more about Kabbalah and Halacha, as we visited two historic synagogues. Upon our return to our last night at the Kibbutz in Farod, we rested and got ready for the game.

Long Weekend Escapade #1 Taos, New Mexico

To kick off summer and rev up the convertible I went on a girls’ long weekend trip to Taos, New Mexico.. We went from Thursday-Sunday but Sunday was an all driving day so anyone from anywhere could pack in this lovely 3-day weekend tour of the Southwest.This it the first of a segment I hope to continue with other mini adventures perfect for a work or school escape.

Stay: We stayed at the absolutely immaculate Palacio De Marquesa. This Bed and Breakfast was bought last year by Heritage Hotels and Resorts  and received a serious makeover. A B&B that probable once resembled the vast assortment of kitschy, tired inns and hotels in Taos is now a stunning white, modern palace. The rooms are refined while still keeping the best Southwestern touches such as adobe style fireplaces and carved columns. We stayed in The Romantic room which had two gorgeous studded leather white chairs and an amazing, firm king bed. With heated floors, state of the art giant shower, and operable skylights , the room was even better than what we imagined from the pictures.

IMG_2132The innkeeper Chad, was an absolute delight and was full of excellent dinner and activity suggestions. He showed off his new puppy and told us all about the details of the renovation. Breakfast in the morning was simple and delicious. There were a variety of choices and  fresh orange juice and coffee were excellent additions. I really can’t see myself returning to Taos and staying at any other place. I am anticipating when I can return and try out a different exceptional room and see the completed garden and fire pit.

Relax and Activate:I was surprised to find that there was a lot do in Taos and the surrounding area. Everyone will tell you to check out the main plaza and see all the dinky mercantile shops. Poking in and out of various stores yields some interesting finds and unique artifacts. Make sure to stroll through the square on Saturday when the Farmer’s Market is occurring and sample some yak cheese, choke cherries, and other local favorites. Relax at Ojo Caliente, which lies north of Taos. We stopped on our drive into town and checked out the mud and mineral pools before getting excellent and extremely rejuvenating hot stone massages. Skiing in the Winter and hiking in  Spring-Fall provide your dose of active adventures in Taos. We met up with some friends staying in santa Fe and hiked in Bandelier National Monument.  To avoid taking the nauseating shuttle to the park national visitor, enter after 3 PM in your own car. Driving your own car is much more convenient then waiting for said shuttle that departs every half hour from the White Tail Visitor Center to the Bandelier Visitor Center. The Main Loop Trail and Alcove House extension is a leisurely 2 miles and involves climbing cliffside ladders and a very nicely marked self-guided tour.

Galleries,: Off the main plaza we found two stand out galleries featuring contemporary artistes from Taos. First, David Anthony Fine Art or DAFA features some hidden portraits of The Beatles, that are iconic and intimate gems. The gallery also hosts rotating contemporary artists, which are a refreshing break from the repetitive landscape galleries, composing most of the tourist art culture. My second recommended gallery stop is more of a hybrid home/studio/gallery. The Howell Creative features, founder and artist in residence, Robert James Payne. The ex-football player has some very unique pieces of acrylic on different mediums. We were enthralled by a new black and white portrait using interesting shadows painted on a large piece of aluminum. Seeing Payne’s art grace the walls of his loft was a very clever way to display how works will hang in ones own home, a sense of character and place that a white, bright gallery wall cannot capture.

Museums: There are many tiny museums dotting Taos and it is hard to determine which small building deserves the exorbitant entrance fee. The Harwpod Museum of Art turned out to be an excellent and displayed a wide range or traditional and contemporary New Mexican artists from a large time span. Upon entering, we were also informed that if we filled out a survey at the end of our visit, admission was free!  I particularity loved the modern artist Larry Bell, who has a diverse body of work that includes modern pieces using refracting light, mirrors, and various other illuminating mediums. The museum features many galleries that are constantly being rotated and refreshed with new pieces and exhibitions.

Other Attractions: A pleasant walk from  Palacio De Marquesa.is The Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Now an inn the house of the famed art patron and salon hostess can be toured through and stayed in. The house features creative design and has a rich history.The grounds provide a pleasant stroll and innkeeper was very informative.

IMG_2150 IMG_2151 IMG_2152 IMG_2153 Another great site, unique to the area, are the Earthship Biotecture  communities. These intriguing homes are made from all recycled materials and are completely self-sustaining. These  “homes” are are a modern marvel and seeing is believing so trust a trip to the visitor center is definitely worth it. The Taos community also offers nightly rentals which I am curious to try on my next visit if I can tear myself away from easy B&B living.

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 Eats: (Detailed reviews of the following fine dinging restaurants to come). When staying in Taos The Love Apple is an essential fine dining stop. Joseph’s in Santa Fe might also be worth the drive down to Taos’ sister city.. For authentic Northern New Mexican fare check out the quaint and local favorite, Orlando’s.