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Greetings from…Chicago! Part II

Continuing back to the Windy City, we continue with a beverage to commence our concluding Part II from Chicago.

The Chicago River

The Chicago River

Cocktail of Chicago: The Office: Rum, Ginger, Bonito, Wasabi, Sesame, and Mint
Don’t make me choose between The Aviary and The Violet Hour, Chicago’s pre-eminent craft cocktail bars that are deservedly on every “ten best cocktail bars in the country” list. So, I chose a cocktail not really from either.
Looking at my list of cocktails from this trip, I can’t believe I managed to run a half marathon in Minneapolis during my brief stay in the Twin Cities book-ended by two half weeks in Chicago. What a champion! Or such is the life of a runner-food writer?IMG_1377
Chicago is a great cocktail town. The Aviary gets the headlines around the country for being the cocktail circus extravaganza of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (Alinea, Next). Charles Joly now runs the show nightly at The Aviary, named in May by the James Beard Awards as the country’s most outstanding bar program.

The "Tropic Thunder"'s porthole at The Aviary

The “Tropic Thunder”‘s porthole at The Aviary

Is it really? Well, it’s probably the most fascinating. And the drinks are both eye-opening and almost always excellent. But you’ll go to The Aviary as your neighborhood bar like you’d visit your local neighborhood bistro Alinea. It’s an experience. What an experience it is. (more…)


Greetings From…Chicago! Part I

Let’s all agree to begin: Chicago is no second city when it comes to eating and drinking. It’s first tier all the way. With all due respect, we’re talking Michael Jordan here, not Scottie Pippin. Is Chicago better than a San Francisco or a New York or a Tokyo dining scene? Yes? Maybe. No? Maybe. That’s not important.

The iconic skyline from U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox on the city's south side

The iconic skyline from U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox on the city’s south side

What is important is to acknowledge the sheer breadth of this city’s options. Heck, you could just spend a three day trip eating nowhere but Hot Doug’s, never repeat a dish, never get bored, and never do much other than stand in line, eat, sleep, and return. (more…)


Greetings From…Barcelona! Part I

With summer starting to wind down (no, winter isn’t quite around the corner yet), it’s time to start unpacking the suitcase and take stock of some of the exciting bites and lessons learned from dining journeys the past few weeks. Over the rest of August, we’ll look back on visits to Kauai, Madrid, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Lisbon, Porto, Milwaukee, and Phoenix. Unfortunately I’m still looking for that excuse to visit Singapore or Istanbul. Today, we’ll begin in one of the great treasures of Europe: Barcelona.

Parc Güell, a Gaudi masterpiece

Parc Güell, a Gaudi masterpiece

I first laid eyes on Barcelona in my dorm room as a freshman at a college in small town Ohio. Our sparkling Mediterranean was Lake Erie and instead of having the prominent green urban mountain Montjuic overlooking our city, I used to have to run inside and out of sand bunkers on the golf course to get some sort of elevation change.

It’s fair to say, when I saw Barcelona in the film “L’Auberge Espagnole,” I was ready to go there. Or anywhere for that matter since I transferred after the year. Not to Barcelona, though.

The images of Barcelona’s sun, fun, and peculiar architecture never left me. They only grew stronger after seeing Woody Allen’s underrated “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” I figured when I’d visit the next year as a student living in Paris, I’d fall in love with ease, or at least go on a date with Scarlett Johansson. Well, at least I fell in love with the city. I didn’t find Scarlett or Penelope Cruz.

Mini hamburgers at Lolita Taperia

Mini hamburgers at Lolita Taperia

In both films, they kept talking about Gaudi. Gaudi here, Gaudi there. Gaudi in reality. Gaudi in my dreams. I kept thinking to myself, what’s the deal with this Gaudi? Is Gaudi a person? A myth? A religion? (more…)


Greetings from…San Diego!

San Diego often plays the calmer supporting role to its flashy marquee headliner big brother Los Angeles an hour to the north. San Diego sprawls– but it doesn’t sprawl to the extent of the San Gabriel Valley. San Diego has professional sports– but the Padres and Chargers have never been the Dodgers and Lakers. San Diego has no shortage of freeways and rush hour traffic– but it’s nothing like the 10-101-110 connector at 5 pm (or any time of day, any day of the week really).

At the same time, being the quieter, “smaller” town (San Diego is the eighth most populated city in the nation  after all) allows San Diego and its surrounding communities, including La Jolla, Bonita, Escondido, and more to relax and forge their own distinct personalities. San Diego doesn’t have any James Beard finalist chefs and chances are if you haven’t been to San Diego, the only cornerstone of dining in the area you’ll know about is fish tacos. Well, yes they do love their fish tacos here. But, there is much, much more beyond fried mahi-mahi in flour tortillas.

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San Diego happens to have one of the most interesting, under the radar dining scenes in the country. No restaurant or chef grabs all the headlines. None of the restaurants require a reservation a month in advance. It’s not an arduous sport just to get into any restaurant. Like San Diego itself, dining out here provides amble unique niches, at a much more relaxed level than its bigger, louder metropolitan cohorts.

Will restaurants ever be the major feature of San Diego? Probably not. That honor always belongs to the city’s beer scene and the San Diego Zoo, two of the most important, if not the premier of their respective genres in the U.S.. A visit to one of the 50 plus (I counted 52 breweries in San Diego County, but sources differ…) and some quality time with the Zoo’s pandas and giraffes will prove that point. Shamu, the celebrity killer whale at Sea World in Mission Bay, just north of Downtown, might even be this city’s most famous resident (in the Hollywood golden years, many stars such as Gregory Peck called La Jolla home). Now, whether or not Shamu and the pandas prefer Stone IPA or Ballast Point Sculpin IPA is another story.

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Greetings from…Copenhagen!

Copenhagen, Denmark, what an intriguing and important city in the world’s gastronomic landscape. The city itself is truly unique. There are dashes of Scandinavia intertwined with the quirkiness of Portland, Oregon, the flatness of the Midwest, the individual pride and creativity of San Francisco, and momentary flashes of New York and Tokyo subways at rush hour when you see a Copenhagen bike lane around 5 pm.

This is a city built on two islands (Zealand and Amager), within a stone’s throw of Sweden to the point that Malmö is essentially a branch of Copenhagen (or vice versa depending who you ask), yet Copenhagen certainly does not have the strict, orderly manner or the sparkling, Monte Carlo-esque cleanliness of that country to the north. Copenhagen resides on two islands with more man made islands to go with that. Copenhagen is a city where 55% of its residents commute by bike. On one street in Copenhagen’s Norrebro neighborhood reside not just one of the city’s best restaurants, wine bars, bakeries, and coffee bars– they are all among the world’s best in their genres. And they are all within two blocks on the Jaegersborggade.

Kødbyens Fiskebar

Copenhagen has two islands and it also has two main canals, along with various other tiny canals. It’s Venice without the classic elegant architecture. It’s Amsterdam without the orderly city planning. It’s hard not to get lost in Copenhagen. Those two canals are excellent landmarks– the larger canal separates the center of the city from Christianshavn (the man made island where Noma and the stunning opera house can be found), while the other side of the city features a set of smaller canals that serves as the unofficial morning jogging route for locals.

Of course, Copenhagen is home of the Little Mermaid (she wouldn’t want to swim in these canal waters…), who is indeed petite compared to Venus di Milo, for sculptural comparison. It is home to arguably the world’s greatest amusement park, Tivoli Gardens, where “amusement” has not yet been lost on corporate greed. Copenhagen boasts several excellent museums, especially the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek next to Tivoli with its terrific French impressionist collection.

Copenhagen is one of the world’s leaders in environmentally friendly products and ideas, with its imposing bike lanes being the most obvious evidence of that. One feels the same in Copenhagen when bike-less as you might in Los Angeles without a car.

All of this and Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital only has a population of just under two million people. It may be an important European capital, but Copenhagen is not a striking power à la Paris, Vienna, Rome, et al. (more…)


Greetings from…Stockholm!

Today we’ll start a new feature covering some of the world’s great food cities called, “Greetings from…!” The concept follows one of my favorite pastimes, the lost art of postcards written by hand in actual handwriting with real pens and sent my non electronic, old fashioned mail. No, we’re not in Stockholm at the moment, that was over a month ago, but with so many lessons learned and memories from recent meals in our extensive travels, it would be impossible to fully cover every restaurant with the attention to detail that a full review gives.

Without further ado, greetings from Stockholm, Sweden!

A European capital city that may not quite be on the same prestigious level as its counterparts in Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam, Stockholm is far, far more than the stereotypes of beautiful blondes who never smile and that every meal is a smorgasbord. In fact, only two restaurants I’m aware of, with the Grand Hotel’s Veranda Restaurant being the most prominent of the pair, even serve full on, blow out, sixty plus piece smorgasbords in the city. A smorgasbord is essentially a glorified buffet, three meals in one. If you’re so inclined for a buffet, then there is no shortage of them for breakfast at any hotel.

It would be a shame anyways in this beautiful city to sacrifice the chance to sample its eclectic and exciting restaurant scene by just pigging out at the smorgasbord buffet.

As a capital, Stockholm may not have a museum the level of the Louvre or the Prado nor a standout monument like the Colosseum, and it does not have the sheer quantity of high caliber restaurants and markets that those cities possess. Stockholm does have eight Michelin stars spread over six restaurants (two with two stars, four with one star), a bonafide national celebrity chef (Mathias Dahlgren), the most expensive restaurant in Scandinavia (Frantzén-Lindeberg, yes far pricier than a meal at Noma or any equivalent even in Oslo), and Sweden even has its own food guide that is far superior and reliable to the Michelin guide. The White Guide easily trumps that Michelin Red Guide and is essential for any visit to the country.

Bread “plate” at Rolf’s Kok

Speaking of essential, of the many necessary activities in Stockholm (going on a boat ride, walking around the Parliament and Palace, seeing the Opera House, visiting the open air amusement park, Skansen), there is no more necessary thing to do than to try real, quality herring and real, quality Swedish meatballs. The two are the symbols of eating in Sweden and are given unfair reputations because most people imagine canned herring and Ikea’s cuisine as the real deal. The meatballs at Tranan and the herring plate at Lisa Elmqvist will change any opinion of these two dishes that are actually stalwarts. (more…)