“What torments people have to go through when they leave the safety of their homes to become embroiled in mad adventures.” ― José Saramago, All the Names
2017 has been a difficult year personally, but amongst the ups, if you can make a concession in my summoning up that innocent monosyllabic word to describe what are essentially hedonistic indulgences, were, as usual, plenty of good food. Travels included few trips to Bombay, Chiang Mai, Barcelona, Bologna, Mexico City, Chicago, Amsterdam, San Francisco (after several years, wow!), Reykjavík and around Iceland (a first!), Denver, Zagreb, Goa, Budapest (another first!), and Stockholm.
In addition to the usual travels, I spent the last couple months of the year “living” in Europe, the last six weeks of which were in Bologna, Italy, learning Italian at a school in the center, enough to have unfortunately supplanted some of my Spanish vocabulary, which makes me realize that in addition to learning a new language, transcending language boundaries is probably learned too and may require some training, which is convenient enough, considering it could mean traveling back-and-forth between Italy and Spain.
As you will see, this has been a particularly good year for bread for me: I ate a lot of good bread from New York to Chicago to San Francisco, and from Budapest to Bologna to Stockholm.
Sai Ua (ไส้อั่ว), Warorot Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand (Jan)
I was first introduced to sai ua (ไส้อั่ว), colloquially sometimes called “Northern Thai sausage” or “Chiang Mai sausage”, at a local Northern Thai restaurant in Brooklyn. When we were in Chiang Mai last year for the first time, I was delighted to find myself surrounded by sai ua. We ate it pretty often, sometimes as snacks, other times as part of a meal. My favorite sai ua is at a vendor in Warorot Market in Chiang Mai (look for the lines where the locals line up and the old lady wearing shades is presiding over them), which I, of course, revisited during my visit this year in January.
The sai ua here is often warm, fatty, juicy and spiced a little less than others we had.
Warorot Market in Chiang Mai is at Chang Moi, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
Khao Soi (ข้าวซอย), at Khao Soi Khun Yai, Chiang Mai, Thailand (Jan)
I have had a lot of good khao sois in our lives, the delicious egg noodle soup that’s common in Northern Thailand. Khao Soi Khun Yai, located within a shed between two temple complexes bordering the northern edge of Chiang Mai’s old town, makes some of the most incredible versions of it. The curry sauce was fragrant, very flavorful and incredibly balanced. Most places serve a drumstick in the khao soi, but here the dark chicken meat was shredded into the soup. This is the kind of khao soi that dreams are made of. Its popularity amongst locals and tourists alike is very well deserved.
Khao Soi Khun Yai is tucked within a compound, between two alleys at Sri Poom 8 Alley, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Khao Lam (ข้าวหลาม), Warorot Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand (Jan)
We were introduced to the delicious khao lam (or kralan in Cambodia) at Warorot Market in Chiang Mai during our visit last year. White or black sticky rice, sugar and coconut cream are stuffed into bamboo tubes and then slowly cooked over coal, resulting in a sweet and sticky, sometimes custardy, treat. Before handing it over the vendor slices open the bamboo and pulls it back to reveal the rice. I revisited a favorite again this year.
Warorot Market is east of the city center between Whichayanon Road and Kuang Men Road with Chang Moi Road at the north end. Any songthaew will know it by name.
Chargrilled Aubergine with Beef Brisket and Aged Meat Jus, Restaurant ABaC, Barcelona, Spain (Feb)
In a degustation menu with a lot of hits, mostly from the sea, this petite portion from the land, a sumptuous brisket with aged jus, was incredible.
Fruition Chocolate Wild Bolivia 74% Dark (Jan, Feb)
Upstate chocolate maker Fruition’s chocolates regularly feature in my chocolate rotation. The “wild” in their 74% Wild Bolivia is a little misleading — it’s a strain of wild cacao that’s now grown by farmers on their own land, as helpfully explained here. Regardless, this is an extremely well-crafted bar.
You can find Fruition chocolates in specialty stores in New York City and craft chocolate-focused stores around the world. You can also buy them online.
Herring, Herring Ice-cream, Puntarelle, Mandarin and Raw Pink Prawn, Marconi Ristorante, Bologna, Italy (Mar, Dec)
Ristorante Marconi is a short bus ride away outside Bologna, in Sasso Marconi. The restaurant has been around since 1983, but the children of the Mazzucchellis, Massimo as the maître d' and sister Aurora as chef, took it over in 2000 and transformed it into a modern restaurant with innovative cooking and an impressive wine list.
During a lunch tasting once, one of the first courses was a rather curious sounding dish: Herring, Herring Ice-cream, Puntarelle, Mandarin and Raw Pink Prawn. The puntarelle added a pleasant bitterness that contrasted well with the creaminess and strong flavors of the herring ice-cream. I ate the same dish again, this time in December, but it arrived senza puntarelle, which I’m not sure was a conscious choice or not, but I still quite liked the dish.
Marconi Ristorante is a short drive form Bologna at Via Porrettana, 291, 40037 Sasso Marconi BO, Italy
Clothbound Cheddar Risotto with Bacon, Scallions and Red Eye Gravy, The Backroom, Pittsfield, Vermont (Mar)
Located behind a country store, off route 100 in rural Vermont, is a little secret: The Backroom. The tiny space, run by chef Kevin Lasko and his wife Katie Stiles, serves a single-seating communal dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. Food is locally sourced, and the menu changes frequently.
After some make-your-own poke wraps for hors d'oeuvre during “cocktail hour”, our dinner started off with a first course of Vermont clothbound cheddar risotto that came with thick bits of locally-sourced bacon from Maple Wind Farm that they cure themselves and smoke on a Big Green Egg. The dish came together with a “red eye gravy” made using Vermont maple syrup (of course!) and locally-roasted coffee, Kevin’s fine dining background evident in the details. Rich, yes, but also very flavorful, we all zealously devoured it.
Whole Roasted Huitlacoche, Spicy Potato Sauce, with Smoked Trout, Quintonil, México City, México (Apr)
“France has its truffles, we have our huitlacoche.” That was basically how the dish was announced to me, pride evident in the server’s delivery. Huitlacoche (or corn smut) is the fungus that causes a disease (smut) on maize. I have eaten at Quintonil several times, but this time around, the quality and creativity in the dishes seemed far superior, and this dish of Huitlacoche was one of the highlights for me. Often used as a filling in Mexican cuisine, the dish highlighted the huitlacoche as the star, which was whole roasted, and plated with a rich potato purée spangled with trout roe.
Tacos, all over Mexico City, Mexico (Apr, Sep)
When I’m in México City, tacos inevitably feature for lunch, a snack, or dinner or, as is often the case, all three. My usual rotation includes campechano (a mix of meats, usually longaniza and chicharrón) and al pastor (of course). Thanks to my young lunch companion at a street food stall on Gauaymas near Plaza Morelia in Roma Norte that became my regular lunch spot during a visit in April, I learned about Taco Milanesa, a fried steak (bistek frito) taco which, in addition to the deliciousness of the steak, came with the added bonus of wondrous texture.
While the tacos on the streets of México City could keep my entertained (?), there is something to be said about the elevated tacos at the city’s modern restaurants, re-inventing and, often, re-interpreting, traditional food. I’m a big fan of the taco courses at Pujol, but this time I enjoyed a meal exclusively involving tacos at the omakase “taco bar” at the beautiful new Pujol, in addition to making a lovely new friend. One of my favorites was the wagyu taco, which I also enjoyed at the end of my meal as dessert.
Tlacoyo de Quelites con Requesón, all over Mexico City, Mexico (Apr, Sep)
I have eaten tlacoyos in the past, but thanks to an acquaintance who was passing by a street food stand I was eating at, upon his recommendation I tried a tlacoyo with quelites (a spinach-like leafy green) and requesón (a soft cheese not like ricotta).
Tlacoyos are easy to spot in Mexico City. Simply look for a large circular pan, presided over by (almost always) a woman (often, but not always, older).
Lunch at Bord’eau, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Apr)
I contemplated what it was about the lunch that kept reminding me of Bord’Eau. I think it’s the entire experience. Bord’Eau is fast turning into one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. Enough so that I could be convinced to fly to Amsterdam just to eat there.
Bord’Eau is located inside De L'Europe at Nieuwe Doelenstraat 2-14, 1012 CP Amsterdam, Netherlands
Carabinero, Short Rib, Roasted Bell Pepper, Ginger, Watermelon, X.O. Cream, Librije's Zusje, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Apr)
Chef Sidney Schutte, a former sous chef at Librije, runs Librije’s Zusje (“zusje” translates to “little sister”) in the beautiful Waldorf Astoria in the center of Amsterdam. Contrary to what it may seem like, the two restaurants aren’t quite related.
This was the first time I dined at Librije’s Zusje, and I was very impressed. One of the first dishes of an 8-course lunch tasting was this dish of raw carabinero prawns that draped short ribs that were pulled and deep fried, supported by X.O. cream, red peppers, watermelon, and a dusting of paprika. What an incredible dish, even if not quite the prettiest looking.
Librije’s Zusje is in the Waldorf Astoria at Herengracht 542-556, 1017 CG Amsterdam, Netherlands
Double ShackBurger, Shake Shack, New York (May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep)
Yep, Shake Shack. When I moved to New York I’d rarely visit Manhattan, but I’d end up near Madison Square Park for my doctor or therapist appointment, and inevitably find myself amused at the interminable line outside Shake Shack, then the only location I knew of. While I was ignoring this phenomenon, Shake Shack grew in popularity rather quickly, attaining what seemed like cult status, growing really fast, and eventually going public in 2014.
“Foolish people, waiting in line for a burger.” Post Etsy layoffs in May this year I was visiting a few former coworkers for drinks, which later turned into a visit to Shake Shack in Dumbo on Old Fulton street. I would not have guessed that this pleasant stroll on a summer evening was to be a transformative moment for me. That burger, with its buttered Martin’s potato roll and Shack sauce was a revelation! I made up for all the time I didn’t stand in those lines by eating Double ShackBurgers weekly for the months to follow. Once on my way to JFK I got out at Sunnyside in Queens to get a Double ShackBurger (JetBlue’s terminal at JFK does not have one!) These days I’m excited when I’m flying out of Terminal 4 in JFK (which, unfortunately, is rare), which does have a Shake Shack (and a line, although not as long these days).
My frequent travels around the world have given me a lot of appreciation for burgers in America. It’s typically the last thing I eat before flying out of the country and one of the first things I want when I return. So more people can partake in this worthy egalitarian burger, I have started investing in SHAK.
You can find Shake Shacks all over New York City, and indeed in a few countries around the world.
Shake Shack's DUMBO location is at 1 Old Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA
Sourdough Bread, Cellar Door Provisions, Chicago, Illinois (Jun)
On W Diversey Ave in Chicago’s Logan Square is Cellar Door Provisions , where awaits a little secret: some of the tastiest sourdough bread you can find in the city. For $3, you can get a plate of “bread and butter”, which is a glorious way to start any morning. The bread is always a sourdough that goes through up to 20 hours of fermentation and proofing, but baker Gabe introduces variations depending on what he’s feeling like. My daily bread had a mild nuttiness and toastiness to it. I had correctly guessed one of the ingredients to be rice, but I couldn’t have guessed it had sesame too.
Country Bread, Josey Baker Bread at The Mill, San Francisco, California (Jun, Jul)
Time had flown, the heart had been mended, and I was happily able to visit one of my favorite cities again, San Francisco, and spend time with old and new friends. Can you imagine the joy I felt going to my old spots, some of which hadn’t changed much, and discovering new places?
HEIRLOOM WHOLE WHEAT BREAD, PAIN BAKERY, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA (JUN, JUL)
One of my other joys visiting San Francisco was discovering Pain Bakery. I’m not sure if they have their own location, but I bought their breads from Foodhall in the Mission. The wheat is a mix of California-grown wheat and freshly stone-milled by Capay Mills in Rumsey, CA, and heirloom varietals (like Sonora, or Red Fife) that varies.
I also ate Davey’s breads with camembert, sometimes with olive oil, but most of all I enjoyed it with Straus Creamery’s 85% butterfat butter.
Flame Grilled Chicken, Pūrbird, Brooklyn, New York (Aug)
Pūrbird opened its doors in 2011 in Park Slope in Brooklyn. I’d often ride past it while heading to Prospect Heights. Not long ago Pūrbird opened a location just around the corner from my Carroll Gardens apartment. The space looked rather clinical to me, and I’d rarely see people inside, and I stopped remembering it even existed. Months went by. One warm summer evening in August, not wanting to be amongst people and lacking the desire to go anywhere further than a few feet, I stepped outside my apartment, standing at the corner of Henry and Sackett, contemplating where to acquire my dinner from, and lo, Pūrbird just materialized in my frame. This was an opportunity to “try something new”, I thought to myself, and marched forth. I ordered a half grilled chicken with a creamy mustard sauce. I sat by the window, awkwardly looking out at the people seated on the bench outside. My chicken was ready. The skin shattered as I my blunt knife easily sliced through the breast meat. Then a piece of thigh. Disbelief. Simply seasoned, with a dusting of oregano, this was a gloriously flavorful chicken!
I have been alternating my nightly summer taco dinners at El Tenampa with grilled chicken at Pūrbird.
Heirloom Tomato Salad, Home in Brooklyn (Aug)
This is one of those light summer lunches where it was all about the ingredients: heirloom tomatoes and opal basil from my local greenmarket, Arctic sea salt from Norður, wonderful Portuguese EVOO from Herdade do Esporão, and ricotta from Salvatore Bklyn which, while very expensive at around $10 for 8 ounces, is truly some of the tastiest ricotta I have tasted.
Avocado Toast with Heirloom Tomatoes, Home in Brooklyn (Sep)
It was Alice's idea. It had never occurred to me to top avocado toast with tomatoes. Peak summer, ripe and juicy Jersey tomatoes draped mashed avocado over crusty sourdough, drizzled with good Portuguese extra virgin olive oil and finished with flaky Icelandic sea salt. Yum!
Olive Oil Cake at Cicatriz, Mexico City (Sep)
In the intervening days between the earthquake in Mexico City until I was told my apartment in Roma was safe for habitation, I stayed with my friend Iñaki, not too far, in Juarez. Cicatriz is a regular on my visits, and now it was even closer than my apartment, so I’d visit for a coffee break in the evenings. While I was drinking espresso one evening, the scent of baked goods wafting out of the kitchen, my nostalgia for my love for olive oil cakes from the past came rushing through and I couldn’t imagine anything more appropriate than that to pair it with. Ah, so delightful! When it was time to leave Mexico City, I kept thinking that when I’d make landfall in New York I’d go to Abraço. (Alas I never did.)
Mole Madre Mole Nuevo, Pujol, Mexico City (Sep)
While I had eaten a taco version of the mole madre mole nuevo in April, it’s this version, in the full tasting menu, that I really like. The fresh mole surrounded by more complex, aged mole, 1389 days on this afternoon.
Pump Street Bakery Finca Tres Marias 80% (Oct)
My thoughtful brother, Vinod, brought this for me from London. I was immediately struck by the distinctive flavor of this chocolate. Especially sweet for an 80%, ever so lightly smokey and fruity.
Cod, Egg Yolk, Broccoli, Mustard Seeds, Mák Bistro, Budapest, Hungary (Nov)
Our first thoughts, based on our exhaustive analyses of the menu and interiors, were that this meal could go either way. Our first bites indicated that it was likely to be the latter, even if the service started off brusque. Over the course of the next few hours, the food continued to be incredible, and the service got much better, so much so that Imre, the sommelier who helped us pair our wines, was excited when we would visit again.
What made Mák Bistro so wonderful was not just the food, but it’s the well-thought out wine pairing along with the meal. In this dish, a perfectly poached piece of cod was topped with egg yolk (probably sous-vide) and mustard seeds, alongside shaved broccoli. This paired beautifully with a Mérész Sándor Project Sauvignon Blanc 2016. During another tasting, a variation on this dish replaced the poached cod with a perfectly cooked scallop.
Parasztkenyér, Artizán Bakery, Budapest, Hungary (Nov)
Tori and I bought bread from Artizán Bakery often. We tried their whole-wheat sourdough (teljes kiorlesu), einkorn and white flour sourdough (aiakoros) and at some point I tried their Parasztkenyér.
Parasztkenyér is peasant bread in Hungarian. This sourdough is made using a mix of white flour, rye flour, whole wheat and wheat germ. It’s a little dense (the whole loaf weighs in at 2 kilos) but still airy, has a beautiful dark crust, a little chewy, and extremely flavorful.
Lamb Rump, Edamame Bean, Fennel, German Chamomile, Innio, Budapest, Hungary (Nov)
Innio is a Scandinavian-inspired restaurant with a short but interesting wine list (mostly non-Hungarian) located on rather unfortunate touristy stretch of Budapest. I ate here a couple of times, and both of my meals were wonderful.
For dinner one night, the highlight of the meal was beautifully cooked lamb rump, accompanied by creamed edamame that were draped in fennel and chamomile. The dish was paired with a biodynamic Austrian orange wine, Maria & Sepp Muster’s “The Gräfin”, a funky wine that paired incredibly with the lamb.
Bread with Stracciatella and Olive Oil, Home in Bologna, Italy (Nov, Dec)
One of my pleasures during my month in Bologna was to snack on good sourdough topped with Stracciatella, drizzled with olive oil. Sometimes I’d alternate this with Squacquerone di Romagna, but I much prefer the richer Stracciatella.
You can find Stracciatella di Bufala (and also Squacquerone di Romagna DOP) very easily at stores in Bologna. You don’t need to look for specialty shops.
Crema di Nocciole, Home in Bologna, Italy (Nov, Dec)
I had never quite understood the obsession with chocolate and hazelnuts because my only exposure to it had been Nutella. It wasn’t until my friend Peter introduced me to Marco Colzani’s Crema di Nocciole e Cacao (simply called gianduja in Italy) that I understood the potential that the ingredients of Nutella held but Nutella had successfully failed to extract.
I spent a month and a half in Bologna and I think I may have found the gold standard for Crema di Nocciole: Azienda Agricola Papa dei Boschi, run by Josè Noè, is primarily a hazelnut grower that also makes gianduja. While Marco Colzani’s gianduja is excellent, I prefer this because it has a higher amount of hazelnuts (55%, vs. 45%) which I find more agreeable to my palate.
Unlike a lot of commercial manufacturers, both Marco Colzani and Papa dei Boschi’s gianduja have only four ingredients: hazelnuts (Piedmontese, of course), chocolate, sugar and vanilla.
Even in Italy you’ll have to look to find good quality gianduja. The two places in Bologna where I know you can find Papa dei Boschi’s gianduja include Forno Brisa and Medulla Vini.
In New York you can find Marco Colzani’s Crema di Nocciole e Cacao at Archestratus in Greenpoint, albeit for a lot more than it costs here in Italy.
Coscia di Pollo Cotto a Legna, Pollo Mino, Mercato delle Erbe, Bologna, Italy (Dec)
Before I knew of it I used to often lunch on overpriced food in the Quadrilatero, but once I discovered it, after my Italian class on Via Altabella, I’d walk over to Mercato delle Erbe where, I think, I may have discovered a well-kept Bologna secret: Pollo Mino is primarily a wood-fired chicken place, but you can also buy sausages, ribs and roasts and accompaniments that won’t quite qualify as vegetables. Maybe it’s not a secret, and people just aren’t into chicken all that much. I usually get a chicken leg (the breast can often be dry) with a dollop of melted fat drizzled on top, the skin wonderfully crisped, the meat beautifully aromatic – for Euro 3.5.
Pollo Mino doesn’t have a seating area so I’d normally eat this at one of the high tables at Vineria alle Erbe which is closed during lunch, quietly savoring my lunch and secretly pleased with my little secret.
Pollo Mino is in the Mercato delle Erbe in the main market area closer to the Via Belvedere entrance at Via Ugo Bassi, 25, 40121 Bologna BO