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FP Travels: Best Places to Eat in Montréal

The city of Montréal always held a romantic intrigue in my mind — I mean, the language spoken in this part of Canada is French, how could I not be curious?  The time finally came where I found a great reason to make a visit to this city happen — a very good friend was getting married in Vermont.  Vermont is very close to Montréal, so it just made sense to stop there first and indulge in some exciting dining experiences! 

Bazar Café

Bazar Café in the Little Italy neighborhood of Montréal is the perfect place to grab breakfast or brunch post red-eye travel, or any travel! They serve exceptional almond milk lattes and a perfect assortment of savory and sweet plates such as various benedicts, omelets and of course, crepes.

The eggs benedict with lamb sausage was served beautifully with a side of thick cut fries and salad.  The sausage was spicy and paired well with the sturdy biscuit. The serving was huge - perfect to share if you wanted to save room for other feastings during the day.

Nutella Crepes - my very favorite kind - were served with a rainbow of fruit and were just the right amount of sweet.  I don’t often seek crepes when I’m home in Los Angeles - but being in French-Canadian Montreal, it seemed like the right thing to do. 

You will be delighted by the menu as well as the at-home vibe from the rows of book shelves stocked with the classics.

Bazar Café

278, Beaubien East

Montreal, Qc, H2S 1R6  

Terrasse Nelligan

The Nelligan is a beautiful boutique hotel located in the dangerously charming “old town” neighborhood.  Little shops, restaurants and cafes shelter the stony streets.  Though it is small, you can walk the whole thing in about 25 minutes — it was my favorite part of the city.  

Atop this hotel is a restaurant and bar, Terrasse (Terrace).  Most people would find comfort in the the menu which includes french fries, mango lobster rolls, steak, burgers, tartare (salmon & bison) and among other things — braised pork poutine with St-Guillaume cheese and scallions.  The poutine was a must-try, it’s another classic dish of Montréal!

Accompanied by a watermelon margarita, this poutine was devastatingly good. The warm, meaty fries and gobs of melted cheese went down without any hesitation.  The pork was perfectly tender and wrapped each fry with assurance.  I’m sure there are tons of amazing poutines found in holes on the streets of this city, but I was not disappointed with this hotel restaurant version. 

 Terrasse Nelligan

106 Saint-Paul St W, 

Montreal, QC H2Y 1Z3, Canada

Le Vin Pappillon

This restaurant came with a strong recommendation and I could see why.  It is incredibly inviting from the moment you peak through the door window.  The snuggly rectangular dining room lays across from the open air kitchen.  The bar is in the next room over and their is even a small outdoor patio in the back. Your server will explain that there are no printed menus, all items are hand written in chalk on the dining room wall. 

You can choose to order for yourself or just have your server surprise you.  Everything sounds so good that making a final decision is nearly impossible. I do recommend the most incredible piece of focaccia toast topped with housemade whipped ricotta cheese, anchovies, roasted zucchini and squash blossoms if they have it. This toast had the most incredible taste and texture - it was so good we also ordered some plain to spread butter on.

We also had uni served with a cold cream sauce. It was an beautiful presentation, the chef used the urchin shell as tiny bowls.  It was delicate and cool, a wonderful appetizer for the Summer months.

Also delivered were pickled leeks served like anchovies in a can.  I couldn’t get over how clever it was to serve a vegetable this way.  The leeks were sweet and tangy, definitely a root that doesn’t get enough play on most menus.  It was nice to see it make an appearance and they tasted delicious, dripping with fresh oil and vinegar. 

This wine bar will leave a special imprint on your visit, I promise!

Le vin Papillion

2519 Notre-Dame St W,

Montreal, QC H3J 1N4, Canada

Restaurant Candide

If you want a memorable and unique Montréal dining experience, I recommend booking a dinner at Candide, which got a glowing review last Summer in the New York Times. Chef John Winter Russell masters this hidden-from-the-street restaurant that was once a part of a church.  The menu is pre-fixe, but with two alternate options.  If you want to try everything, order everything.

The first course I sampled was a salad served with crispy fish skin and an anchovy dressing, a bit salty for my taste, but good.  Next, it was whelks with baby asparagus and yogurt.  I admit, I had no idea what a whelk was so I asked…they were sea snails! It was a first, but I’ll try anything!  They were easy to chew with an octopus like texture.  I preferred them dipped in some of the yogurt.

For the main course, scallops and chicken dumplings were had. The scallops were my favorite. There is something so incredible about eating a truly fresh and pan-seared scallop.  The natural flavors are at their peak and that subtle buttery sweetness enchants your tastebuds.  

Dessert leaned far to the chefs experimental side.  While the cheese stuffed squash blossom and strawberry tart were photo-worthy, they missed the mark for me in taste.  Had either of them had a hint of sweetness, I would have bought them as dessert, but both came across incredibly savory, especially the tart served with bitter almond ice cream — which was indeed bitter.

Though the desserts weren’t my favorite — the overall experience, dining on the outdoor porch, was lovely and I think it’s important to discuss a chefs execution of certain dishes whether you love them or not.

Restaurant Candide

551 Rue Saint-Martin

Montréal, QC H3J 2L6, Canada

Trou De Beigne

Montréal is not known for their gourmet doughnuts — but the trend that we have been experiencing here in the states seems to have made it’s way north.  This little donut shop specializes in incredibly decadent gourmet donut flavors such as Cherry Almond, Bourbon Lemonade, London Fog and Pineapple with Roasted Coconut. They have about 10 different flavors at a time, but they change seasonally.  You can order them as full or mini size, which is great for those who want a big variety but don’t need full size donuts! 

The best way to go is to order a half-dozen mini-donuts so you get a good variety of six flavors, as done by my amazing friend and travel companion, Samantha, whose idea it was to make sure we went to this place!

Trou de Beigne

156 Rue Saint-Zotique E

Montréal, QC H2S 1K8, Canada

Le Bremner

If you are looking to check off an “instagram” famous dish from your dining list in Montréal, you must get the dulce de leche pancakes served for dessert at Le Bremner.  I found them while searching the best foodie feeds and knew I had to have them.  They taste just as delicious as they look.  Thick fluffy buttermilk pancakes drenched in butter and caramel sauce — that’s all you need to know!  

The restaurant is a hot-spot in the old town district, so I do recommend you make a reservation.

La Bremner

361 St Paul St E

Montreal, QC H2Y 1H2, Canada

St. Viateur Bagel and Café

When doing my culinary research, I discovered that Montréal is known for incredible bagels.  Fantastic, I love bagels — but just which were the best bagels in the city?  Over and over again, St. Viateur Bagels came up.  Keep in mind there are several locations throughout various neighborhoods.  If you would like the full dining experience visit the St. Viateur Bagel Café in the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal district.

We all order our bagels a certain way — my order is a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese, lox and red onion.  It is the most perfect combination of flavors and textures! This was of course what I ordered at St. Viateur and I was well satisfied after devouring it.  These bagels were smaller than what we see in the states and though it wasn’t my favorite bagel I’d ever had, it was still very good and something that I feel is a must-do while in the city!

St. Viateur Bagel and Café

1127 Mont-Royal Ave E

Montreal, QC H2J 1X9, Canada

I hope you take this list with you when you plan your trip to Montréal!

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FP Travels: Best Places to Eat in Rome

No morning coffee ritual in the world compares to the way Italians do it.  Walk into any espresso bar or pasticceria and order at the counter, standing along the morning commuters.  The experience is enlightening, stabilizing and soulful. Almost every morning while in Rome, when my Friend GiGi (GiGi Eats Celebrities) and I were visiting, I walked down the street to Pasticceria Natalizi to get a pastry and cappuccino. The best cappuccino.  I like a frothy foam floating above my espresso, not condensed the way most cappuccino’s or lattes are served in the states. 

Rome’s culinary experiences expand far beyond cappuccinos and bombolini obviously.  Pretty much anywhere you eat in Rome is going to be better than most “great” restaurants you’re used to in the states.  This list is certainly not the end all be all of dining in Rome…these just happen to be the places I went to and thought were worthy of mention! 

Roscioli Ristorante Salumeria

My lunch at Roscioli goes down as one of the best dining experiences of my life.  After being recommended by several chefs I knew and Mario Battali in Food & Wine magazine, I was not leaving Rome without a meal here.  Down a narrow street mixed with shops and bakeries you will find Roscioli, which is a market/restaurant.  Dining tables are nestled along shelves of wine and glass cases of meats and cheese.  An ideal dining setting in my opinion!  Reservations are mandatory, this place is in high demand, FYI. 

roscioli

I knew pasta was happening then I let myself wander the menu for other delicacies.  Marinated Artichokes, Meatballs and Cacio e Pepe it was.  The artichokes were just right.  The meatballs were served artfully, three on the plate with expertly placed shaved cheese. They tasted like a recipe Caesar might have enjoyed — a little spicy, and very rich. 

The Cacio e Pepe is a must. This is a classic Roman dish of spaghetti noodles, cheese and pepper.  Very simple, very delicious.  These noodles were so fresh, I knew they had been made very recently and were never sitting dry in a bag.  

The way Roscioli will make you feel as a diner is inexplicable.  

Address: Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22, 00186 Roma, Italy

Phone: +39 06 687 5287

Gran Caffe Martini e Rossi

True it draws a tourist crowd, but if you’re famished before or after a tour of the Collesium, you might want to satiate yourself with a nice serving of Bruschetta and Pasta Carbonara at Caffe Martini.  The cafe sits directly across the street from the Collesium, so I recommend dining outside to take advantage of the view.  I’m a nerd, but I think it’s pretty cool to dine right next to a historical monument!

The brushchetta is made with the reddest tomatoes.  The quality of produce in Italy is undeniable.  You will find this nearly anywhere you dine.  I wished I could have taken home 10 pounds of tomatoes with me.  

The carbonara is served in a pristine white shallow dish sprinkled with colorful dried flower petals.  Seems a little out of the ordinary for a savory dish, but is quite lovely to look down on.  The first bite will drench you in glee.  The creaminess of the yolky, cheesy sauce feels luxurious on the tongue.  The diced and blended ropes of pancetta add a lovely burst of salt.  Yes, this is a heavy pasta, but so worth the extra weight.

Address: Piazza del Colosseo, 3, 00184 Roma, Italy

Phone: +39 06 700 4431

Pasticceria Natalizi

As mentioned earlier, I developed a quick attachment to this place.  It was about 2 blocks away from the hotel in a quiet but trendy neighborhood.  I strolled to it every morning to stand with the true Romans to get a cappuccino and pastry. It is inspiring how seriously the Italians take their espresso.  No one is in a rush, the ritual is respected.  You sip until you’re finished and pay when you’re done.  Makes sense doesn’t it?  

The pastry case had an array of Italian specialties.  My favorite, custard-filled, sugar glazed, bombolini (aka donuts). You melt into that first bite, sinking into the soft airy, buttery dough — it nearly takes your breath away! Then the creamy custard spills and you catch it with your tongue.  It’s an experience that will start your day at its very best.  I’m sure you could order anything from this case and it would be pretty amazing.  

Address: Via Po, 124-126, 00100 Roma, Italy

Phone: +39 06 854 6213

Pizzeria Serenella

The ultimate authentic fast food in Rome are the many pizzerias which usually consist of a narrow room with standing room only.  You order your slices and you go.  The assortment changes daily, but the flavor combos are incredible. 

Very hungry for a snack, I ordered a slice with prosciutto, pine nuts, garlic and roasted tomatoes.  Yes, it was cheese-less pizza and I had no complaints. The crust was similar to a focaccia and supported all of those fresh, delicious toppings perfectly.

Address: Via Salaria, 70, 00198 Roma, Italy

Phone: +39 06 6478 1660

Pasticceria Gruè

If you need to pick up a dessert, gelato, espresso or sandwich this adorable Pasticceria will take good care of you.  Their pastries and cakes are probably the most impressive to the eye.  They are colorful and glossy, like sculptures!  You could try to take one home on the plane, but probably best to devour it while you’re there!

Address: Viale Regina Margherita, 95, 00198 Roma, Italy

Phone: +39 06 841 2220

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FP Travels: Best Places to Eat in Loreto

If you are an honest-to-goodness traveler with a place in your heart for old charm and a habit for delicious food that doesn’t cost a fortune, then Loreto, also referred to as "magic town" may be worth visiting on your next adventure.  Located on the Eastern shore of Baja California Sur, Loreto has been a point of cultural intersection since the it’s founding in 1697.  It was the site of the first Mission in Baja and where the colonization of Baja California began. You will not see anything incredibly fussy in the town center, the buildings are modest - which is why they are so incredibly welcoming. There are restaurants the tourists frequent, but also special gems off the beaten path that are more than worth trying.  The dress-code is casual, but the food is luxurious and most impressively, more than affordable. An average dish will cost you no more than five American dollars.  In less than two hours from LAX, you can be enjoying the gentle hospitality and quality cuisine of Loreto.

Asadero Super Burro

Even before you walk through the doorway, which is always open during business hours, you will be greeted by the scent meats grilling.  The ladies behind the counter and grill know what they’re doing.  They’re making damn good burros, tacos and papas rellenos.  Here in the states, all things wrapped in big flour tortillas are called burritos, but in Mexico they are called burros.  A burrito in Mexico is actually very small, like the size of a taco tortilla.  When you order a burro here, believe me, it is super.  Most people can only eat half at a time they’re so huge!  

I tried the tacos and the papas rellenos, another specialty. My two-taco order included one steak and one chicken melted with fresh cheese. They were fantastic.  The steak was my favorite, but both meats had that slight smokiness you can only get from the grill, which really enhanced the flavors. The papas rellenos, potatoes stuffed with meat and cheese, were also quite good…and could have fed and entire family! 

Address: Blvd. Salvatierra, Obrera, Loreto, B.C.S., Mexico
Phone:+52 613 135 1243

Hotel Oasis

For the best chilaquiles and hot cakes, Hotel Oasis is a must.  It sits quietly at the very end of Loreto’s malécon.  Dine outside in the morning sun staring at the calm Sea of Cortez while you sip coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice.  If you had a care, it will disappear when you sit down and are greeted by one of the kind and comedic waitstaff. 

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The menu contains traditional breakfast items; omelettes, cereal, toast, but it’s the chilaquiles that will leave you stunned because they are so perfect.  The sauce floods the chips, but doesn’t drowned them. They are a little chewy but have a crisp edge. Swirled with egg yolk, cheese and refried beans on your fork, it’s what you’ve been searching for even though you didn’t know it

The hot cakes are also something special.  They are incredibly moist, buttery and fluffy.  Then there’s the way they soak up the syrup, which even though is served in a packet, is great! 

If you’re in the mood for something lighter, the fruit platter with yogurt and granola is also quite satisfying.  It is piled with fresh seasonal fruits, melons and pineapple.

Address: Calle Baja California S/N, Centro, 23880 Loreto, B.C.S., Mexico
Phone: +52 613 135 0211

La Fuente
On the other side of town is La Fuente, home of mind-blowing chile rellenos among other classics.  Indoor and outdoor seating is available.  I like to sit outside with a view of the street for people watching.  Most of the restaurants in town will bring a tray of salsas when you order for topping your own tacos, but La Fuente likes to do this themselves in the kitchen. Don’t expect your food to come out quickly, it takes time for your order to be prepared, but it’s very worthwhile. 

The Chile Rellenos come two on a plate with rice, beans and tortillas.  The chiles aren’t overly cooked and mushy, but still slightly firm around the melting cheese inside. The red sauce is smokey, sweet and a little spicy.  When your fork slices into it for a bite, you can see the bright green layer inside and it’s beautiful.

Also up for mention are the shrimp tacos.  As you wait patiently, you can hear the whisking of the batter from the kitchen before each order, that’s when you know you’re eating something special.  The shrimp are encased in a yellow, creamy, and slightly crisp shell of the fried batter, it’s a little sweet and is sensational topped with lime and salsa.

*Address and number unlisted 

Almejas Concho
For incredible clams, shrimp and fish ceviches and tacos, welcome to Almejas Concho.  This casual restaurant is a few blocks from the town center. The tables sit under a thatch roof and it’s usually quiet during the day.  After you place your order, like many of the eateries in town, a large salsa tray is delivered to your table.  At Almejas Concho, you also get naked tostada shells. 

I don’t order ceviche very often, but for me this was truly an order to remember.  The shrimp and fish were equally flavorful with lime, onion and cilantro.  The meat was so fresh too.  Each serving was clean and great tasting.  

The shrimp taco…I couldn’t get enough.  After topping it with fresh chopped cabbage, pico de gallo, and fresh squeezed lime juice from the tray it was one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.  I didn’t want the last bite to ever come.

Address: Francisco I. Madero, esquina con Atanasio Carrillo, Colonia Centro, 23880 Loreto, B.C.S., Mexico
hone: +52 613 135 1452

El Rey del Taco
El Rey is for tacos and tacos only.  This is a go-to for locals.  You will see workers on break, families and maybe one or two tourists.  It is incredibly authentic.  The menu changes but usually there are always two tacos: carne asada and fish.  The open kitchen lets you witness the entire process of the meat preparation. 

Sorry for more good news, but best carne asada I’ve ever tasted.  I watched as the red meat was grilled to brown, then diced up and loaded onto a tortilla.  Then it was my turn to do the dressing honors. A counter full of condiments rests against the back wall - cabbage, pico de gallo, salsa verde and lime were my choices.  My first bite was documented on film and engrained in my palate memory.  All of the flavors came together in that huge bite.  The meat wasn’t chewy, but tender and light seasonings could be detected but not specified which didn’t matter because of how pleasing the taste was.

Address: Calle 8 1, Renovación, 09209 Col México, CDMX, Mexico

Prueba lo Bueno

While anywhere in Mexico, you cannot ignore the lure of a paleteria.  Paletas are frozen ice cream or juice bars usually made by hand and very fresh ingredients.  They are similar to a popsicle.  Paleterias usually offer a large variety of bright colors and flavors for you to try.  Most of them also carry snacks and serve ice cream as well.  Prueba lo Bueno is a classic paleteria in the heart of Loreto.  I highly recommend stopping in for dessert and trying any of the delicious flavors.  My personal favorite is mint chocolate chip!

*Address and number unlisted

For traveler’s who love great food, Loreto is absolutely an easy and affordable adventure. The best months to visit are between November and March when the weather isn't too hot.  For more information please visist: Travel Baja California Sur.

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FP Travels: Why Foodies Should Cruise the Mediterranean Part I

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Tomatoes as red as my lipstick.  Octopus as tender as deep sleep.  Herbs as aromatic as the air moments after a downpour.  These are measly attempts at describing the vibrancy of the foods consumed on this culinary tour throughout Greece and Southern Italy. On and off Oceania's Riviera ship, incredible meals were devoured during a seven-day journey through one of the greatest food epicenters on earth - the Mediterranean. Traveling from Athens to Rome, making stops along the way, we experienced guided chef tours, multi-course dinners, and the soul of the land through scenic views and historical landmarks.  Many thanks to our incredible Oceania hosts, Franck Garanger: Fleet Corporate Chef/Culinary Development, Alban Gjoka: Senior Executive Chef and Kellie Evans: Culinary Education Program Instructor, for leading us through the expansive culinary landscape and for dining with us at each of the Riviera’s seven restaurants.  Losing my cruise ship virginity was nothing short of thrilling and to make it even more significant, I did it with my best friend, GiGi Dubois (GiGi Eats Celebrities).

We first dined in Athens the evening before our ocean departure.  It’s clear the city has felt the effects of the country's economic crisis - building after building is polluted with graffiti.  It's a little sad to see, but dinner at Varoulko Seaside offers some grace and heightens hopes.  This waterfront restaurant showcases the culinary soul that is still thriving in Ancient Greece.  Chef Lefteris Lazarou opened the restaurant in 1987.  "Lazarou was the first chef in Greece to cook a seafood menu at a fine dining restaurant and to introduce the public to less known and previously neglected types of fish." - USA Today

The restaurant merges into the harbor, creating a very intimate setting for diners and a pleasing guarantee that the coming meal will be incredibly fresh. Bread rolls were served warm.  They were perfect.  The quality of bread abroad always astounds me.  Next came a four-course dinner of sea-based dishes; Fish Soup with Vegetables and Rockfish Broth, Grilled Cuttlefish with Caramelized Lentils and Orange Sauce, Orzo Cooked with Prawns, Limnio Wine, Dried Hot Red Pepper Flakes and Parmesan Cheese and finally the Catch of the Day with Baby Grilled Vegetables.  The Cuttlefish and Orzo were my personal favorites. These dishes had a few simple and delicious ingredients, but the overall integrity to showcase the seafood itself was achieved.  

In the morning, we had time to see some of the famous sites of Athens before heading to the port.  The Acropolis is the most obvious landmark, sitting high on the hill overlooking the city.  We did not have time for a full tour sadly, but we did visit the Acropolis Museum and got as close to the Acropolis as possible.  We also got to explore the temple of Zeus before our afternoon embarkment.

Once aboard The Riviera, our new home, something inside of me moved.  It wasn’t because of the ever-so-slight feel of the Mediterranean’s current beneath me, it was something that danced through my head, heart and gut warning that after this voyage I would never be the same.  It was something cosmic.  The reality knocked loudly in my face -- we would spend our days exploring new cities and our evenings enjoying incredible restaurants while gliding through solid aqua clouds.  How was I so lucky to be gifted this? I didn’t know, but whatever the reason, I was extremely grateful.

During our first night, just as the sun was epically setting, we dined at Toscana. I smiled at the beautiful Versace dish wear in front of me.  The meal began with the olive oil trolley — a cart filled with olive oils from various regions of Greece and Italy to be sampled with bread.  Don’t mind if I do!  The menu offered a variety of traditional dishes, Lasagna Bolagnese, Osso Buco, Risotto — but I went with the evening’s special for my main course, Gnocchi with Porcini Mushroom and Truffle. To get my juices flowing, I started with the Minestrone Soup and Beef Carpaccio.  Two simple offerings, but if done right, there are few things better. 

The Minestrone was the best I had ever had.  This age-old peasant soup had the richest broth complete with the flavors of the garden, carrots, onions and tomatoes.  It was laced with fresh pesto and also had cubes of soft boiled potato. It’s thin broth was hearty and infused my veins.

The Carpaccio, crowned with aged Parmigiano Reggiano, Arugula and Lemon-Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil, was as it should be, pink in color and soft as white sand as it hit my tongue, disintegrating into sweet, saltiness. 

The Gnocchi, was rich, as to be expected.  It nearly sent me over the deck’s edge just after the first bite.  Creamy and decadent, the truffles romanced me as they always do.

I must also point out that I had the best bottle of red wine I have ever had in my life at this dinner. Not another glass during the whole trip could knock it from the pedestal.  What really lit me up, was that it was from Argentina!  The 2013 bottle of Enamore Bodega Renacer was the smoothest tasting red wine I had ever experienced.  Everyone at the table was moaning about it, not just me.  It was an epic blend of Malbec, Merlot, Bonarda and Cabernet Franc produced in the Amarone style.  This means that the grapes are partially dry when they are vinified.  It was exquisite and paired perfectly with the creamy parmesan, truffle and earthy mushroom in my Gnocchi. 

I had to end with a classic Italian dessert, Tiramisu.  It’s not one of my favorite go-to desserts, but when I dine at an Italian restaurant, I always like to taste it.  It was served in a perfect circle of sweet Mascarpone Cream and layers of espresso soaked cake, sprinkled with fine dark cocoa. If only every day of my life ended on this lovely a note! 

MORE TO COME! 

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FP Travels: Taste Local Thursdays in Central Oregon

I couldn't have chosen a more perfect time to come home to Central Oregon for a visit. All month long, the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance (HDFFA) has been promoting local farmers and ingredients with the Local Food Challenge campaign and Taste Local Thursdays Restaurant Series. Every Thursday, through the rest of September and October, a different restaurant will host a Taste Local night. They will create a few specials incorporating ingredients from Central Oregon farmers. The point is to get the community excited about how fresh and delicious local food tastes!  I was able to snag a seat at Jackson's Corner East, in Bend for their turn at sourcing local ingredients for their evening menu. It was so fun to participate in this important awareness program and to taste some of Central Oregon's tastiest ingredients!

Jackson's Corner East not only had a great menu for Taste Local night, but also in general! The restaurant aims to source as many local ingredients as they can all year round, not just when it's asked of them.  I loved the open space and "market" feel.  It reminded me of one of my favorite LA destinations, Joan's on 3rd.  It's casual enough that you order at the counter, but the food is crafted with heart and style.  Maybe we can call it fancy fast-casual dining?  

My favorite dishes were the Local Heirloom Tomatoes with Stone Fruit, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil, Balsamic Vinaigrette, Jocobsen's Sea Salt and the House-made Meatballs in Marinara topped with Romano Cheese and Fresh Basil.  I also ordered the Havana Sandwich and the Local Radicchio Salad. Another one of the local specials, which sadly I was too full to try was a beautiful Pizza with Zucchini, Ricotta, Mozzarella, Garlic, Lemon, Thyme and Basil. I can imagine how delicious it must have been! 

Participating farms included: Radical Roots FarmRainshadow Organics and Juniper Jungle Permaculture Farm.  Not only was it comforting to know that I was eating fresh and local ingredients, but it was also fun to see what the chef had come up with using these specific ingredients. Even though LA is where I live, Central Oregon will always be home to me.  There are so many farms here, including the one I grew up on and that's why it's so important that they get your support! I promise you will taste the difference!

Upcoming Taste Local Thursdays #tastelocalthursdays

  • 9/29 Primal Cuts Meat Market
  • 10/6 Broken Top Bottle Shop
  • 10/13 Bethlyn's Global Fusion
  • 10/20 Deschutes Brewery
  • 10/27 Rockin' Dave's Bistro & Backstage Lounge


Win!
Enter the local food photo contest and share the local food love! Take photos of Central Oregon inspired food and local fare during the month of September. Snap and share images of local food from vendors, restaurants, farmers markets, and gardens. Post photos with #HDFFA and #TasteCentralOregon to Facebook or Instagram. HDFFA will select a winner in each of the following categories: Best Restaurant Photo, Weirdest Looking Vegetable, Best Dish featuring local food.

*HDFFA is a 501(c)3 non-profit serving Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson Counties. Their mission is to support a community-based food system in Central Oregon to increase access to fresh healthy food, support sustainable farm land use, and foster relationships among farmers and consumers.

For more information on how you can support Central Oregon farms and ranches visit http://www.hdffa.org/

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FP Travels: Best of Big Sur and Carmel By The Sea

As much as I love living in LA, there are definitely times of the year where I need a serious break and change of scenery.  Thank God, that weekend arrived and now that I've returned, I feel renewed and inspired!  The California coast is truly exquisite whether you go north or south.  This time, it was north with three of my best friends. One night in Carmel-by-the-Sea and one night in San Francisco made for the perfect escape.

We hit the road at 7:30 am on Friday and found ourselves at the delightfully tacky Madonna Inn around early lunchtime.  Three of the four of us had never been, so duh, easy stop.  The "50 shades of pink" bathroom is not to be missed, nor is the BLT or corned beef hash with poached eggs and biscuits in the "Copper Cafe".  

This cafe is everything you would want in a roadside meal stop. As I just said, the BLT is a must-order, but you have to add avocado and order the sweet potato fries along with it.  They were not shy on the bacon and I am going to steal their method of placing the avo slices between the bacon and tomatoes, this placement made a big difference! Oh and the sourdough bread was perfectly toasted.  The corned beef hash was nice and meaty!  No skimping on the meat chunks here! Oh and it is a coffee shop, so you better fill your cup up with that drip!

Filled with bacon and hash, it was back to the car until our next stop, Nepenthe along Big Sur...

Nepenthe Restaurant is a magical stop along Big Sur, the beautiful stretch of coastline in central California. It is always worth a visit in my book!  It first opened in 1949! You can enjoy a meal at the restaurant, a snack at the cafe or find a unique piece of jewelry in the gift shop.  We didn't eat anything here, but we clearly enjoyed the view! 

*Warning, if you easily get car sick this stretch of the 101 freeway is VERY windy! Also we sympathize with you if you get stuck behind a car that drives VERY slowly and uses their turn signal at every. single. curve. Yes, that happened, it was lame. 

After a good leg stretch and viewing of the ocean, once again it was back in the car where we finished listening to the entire Hamilton soundtrack until we got to Carmel.  If you haven't bathed your soul in this musical, do it ASAP.

Carmel, aka Carmel-by-the-Sea, is probably the greatest town in America.  I have been visiting this quaint, charming, elegant town since I was a baby girl.  It is where my great-grandmother, Esma, had a home and where my dad attended boarding school as a rascally teen.  Anyway, I was super excited to be here for a night with three of my besties!

We stayed at the Carmel Mission Inn just outside of the town center, and cashed in on their impressive happy hour before heading to dinner.  All you have to do is buy one cocktail or wine/beer beverage and you get to help yourself to a buffet!  I was holding out for a big dinner, but my posse had no hesitation on the mussels and spaghetti.  Okay, I did have some cheese cubes.

For dinner we ended up at Mediterranean Restaurant.  It was a Mediterranean Restaurant!  I had a gyro salad, you know, trying to be a little healthy and get in some veggies.  The food was good, nothing out-of-this-world, but decent.  The manager was pretty badass.  He checked in on us all night and gave my friend Samantha a pretty generous wine-tasting round.  There are no pictures because it was very dark and the ones I did take look terrible.  

For breakfast we were pumped to try Cafe Carmel. We walked by it the night before and instantly decided, based on the ornate window display, that we would be back when the sun came up.  

We ordered an egg sandwich, breakfast burrito, the world's biggest almond croissant...and plenty of coffee. Everything was delicious!  I would definitely come back the next time I visit.

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FP Travels: Best of Taiwan

Taroko National Park

The valley of Taroko National Park is tranquil and majestic.  The air is warm and smells sweet, at least in mid-July. This is where you will find the Eternal Springs Shrinepeering out of a wall of green forest and Swallow Grotto descending to meet the Liwu River.  Both worthy of visiting.  This is also where you will find The Leader Hotel and Restaurant in Leader Village. This was one of my favorite stops. 

The restaurant serves aboriginal meals prepared with only local ingredients.  Here I was served my first “rice coffin”.  That’s what I called it anyway.  It was rice that had been steamed in a long bamboo tube.  I love sticky rice, so this was an absolute delight.  I was also served savory grilled pork, sweet potato, fried wild boar skin (first time for everything) and a delicious sweet tomato salsa.  The food was so fresh, it didn’t need any condiments.  The natural flavors of these whole foods were prepared with care making them taste plenty satisfying.

Along our drive to the next tribal meal for dinner, we were suddenly stopped in the middle of the road along the Eastern coast.  Foreign chants snuck up through the windows of our bus.  It became apparent we weren’t going anywhere soon as hundreds of young locals danced in massive circles down the road making their way to the nearby village.  Their voices powerfully drifted above their vibrantly colored head dresses and costumed mid-sections, creating a sound cloud over the nearby land and sea.  A wave of emotion came over me. It was a beautiful expression of community that I don’t see in the car-flooded streets of Los Angeles.  That film will play in my mind for ever.  To see so many people my age and younger united in a tradition that must be old as time was priceless.  That moment will always be my Taiwan.

For dinner we continued with the day’s tradition of enjoying tribal meals.  Rain lightly drummed the open-air dining room roof of “Old Tribe Good Food,” the translated name of the this Taitung Tribe’s restaurant, while we feasted on roasted chicken, bamboo salad, fried rice, sautéed spinach, spicy lamb, grilled fish and the most unique dish of all, pineapple fried shrimp with mayonnaise and rainbow sprinkles.  Rainbow. Sprinkles.  They made me think about the costumes I had just seen parading on the concrete.  The shrimp was sweet and crispy, it didn’t need the sprinkles for flavor, but sure, they added some serious pizzazz!  Our round wooden table made it easy to pass plates and share, not just the food, but the looks of comfort and joy that only honest food and rainbow sprinkles can bring.  

I slept well that night, pleased with another day of new memories and first-time tastes.
 

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FP Travels: Best of Taipei

Though the body of Taiwan is petite, it’s heart is huge.  The country is roughly the size of Delaware and Maryland combined and still home to 16 recognized indigenous tribes - each with their own specific culinary story to tell.  With additional influences from Chinese immigrants, it makes for an extremely unique country in terms of food.  I was mostly looking forward to a dinner of Peking Duck, hoping it wouldn't wait too long to find me.

With fellow food media personalities, my friend GiGi Dubois (GiGi Eats Celebrities), Lynn Chen (The Actor’s Diet), her husband Abe Forman-Greenwald (Buzzfeed), Ronnie Chen (Taiwanese Media) and her husband George, I experienced lush green landscapes, accommodating people, sky high views and meals that I will never forget.  Many thanks to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, our five day culinary tour of Taiwan left me surprised, appreciative and mostly full.  

Taipei

Suddenly an older, silver-haired, nicely suited man entered the exhibition dining room where Hualien artist, Wu Yi-sheng, lent his hand carved jade utensils to 40 of Taiwan’s most well-known chefs for the display of 40 equally unique dishes.  This man was Prime Minister Mao Chi-kuo.  His presence before me at the Taiwan Culinary Exhibition in Taipei’s World Trade Center, told me everything I needed to know about this country’s relationship with food. He circled the giant illuminated table with digital bulbs blinking at him, calmly admiring each culinary creation and addressing each chef personally. I knew nothing about him or his politics, but instantly saw that his respect for his culture, his people, and the variations of his home-land cuisine was huge. Day #1 of my fascinating culinary journey through Taiwan had a significant highlight and it wasn’t even noon

Taipei sits at the head of the table.  It's Taiwan's largest city and also home to the landmark dining phenomenon, Din Tai Fung.  I'm aware you don’t have to leave Los Angeles or the U.S. even, to taste their famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings), but they just taste better in their home country.  

At our table were plenty of xiao long bao: pork, pork & crab, and the most spectacular -- pork & truffle.  There was also the cucumber salad, shao mai (steamed dumplings) stuffed individually some with fish, vegetable, shrimp and pork.  There was also vegetarian fried rice, sautéed spinach with garlic, hot and sour soup and the red bean rice cake with flecks of rainbow sprinkles for dessert.  It looked much sweeter than it tasted.  

If you visit Din Tai Fung, in Taipei or any other worldwide location, the only things you need to order are the traditional pork xiao long bao, the pork and truffle xiao long boa and the cucumber salad.  I say the simpler the better.  All of these things are incredibly delicious and will fill you up to completeness.  If you still have room I would try a red bean bun for dessert.  (Sugar addicts beware, Taiwan is not a culture of refined sugary sweets.  Eventually you will appreciate the mild sweetness of the traditional pineapple cake or red bean steamed buns.) Before or after dining specifically at the Taipei 101 location, as our troupe did, be sure to ride the world's fastest elevatorto the top for incredible views of the city (ground to 89th floor in 37 seconds).

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FP Travels: Best Places to Eat in Washington D.C.

Every now and then, I love to back my bags, empty my stomach, clean my palate and explore different cities!  I think it’s very important to experience meals far from home and to see what's trending food-wise in different locations. I recently went to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.  Confession: Washington D.C. would not have been my destination for the food scene alone, I had another motive for going...a guy.  Although I went for a guy,  I decided I would eat some good food while I was at it.  Luckily for me, he loved food too and was excited to take me on a culinary tour of the city he called home for eight years, before moving back to his homeland, Greece.  (I'm The Food Pervert, of course I have international romances!)

DAY 1
D.C. was much tastier than I remember it being when I was 13 hopping on and off a tour bus.  Our first night, the air was so warm we were able to eat outside.  He took me to Zaytinya, José Andres’ take on Mediterranean cuisine.  Being Greek, this was one of his favorite D.C. restaurants. Let's refer to my guide as "Adonis."  (Adonis, if you’re reading this, thanks again.)  I trusted him to do the ordering, we usually agreed on menu items anyway.  

  • Keftedes Kapama: Beef and lamb meatballs, feta cheese, rustic tomato sauce, cinnamon, allspice
  • Kolokithokeftedes: Zucchini and cheese patties, caper-yogurt sauce
  • And something else delicious that was a special that I didn't write down, but it was wrapped in phyllo dough and had lamb inside! 

Later that night, we ended up at his friend’s bar, Bar-Code, where he insisted I try the best grilled calamari in D.C.  I wish I hadn't been so full from dinner, I would have eaten more of it!  It was prepared perfectly with olive oil, scallions, and lemon.   

DAY 2
The next morning, it was bagel time!  We went to Dupont Circle to Adonis’ favorite bagel place Bethesda Bagels.  I was overwhelmed by the too-many ways I could order my bagel and just stood in front of the wide glass case for about 10 minutes, pondering every possible way I could enjoy my bagel.  This was my one shot!  I also became distracted by the largest doughnuts I had ever seen in my life.  

Did I want an egg and cheese bagel sandwich?  A classic bagel and cream cheese?  A whole wheat bagel? A sesame bagel? I went with the pervy-est choice I could make.  Cream cheese and lox on an everything bagel!  IT WAS SO DIVINE!  Tomatoes, red onion, savory, soft, melty salmon and a thick smear of cream cheese.  No capers, which was fine, not a caper fan. Flecks of garlic, salt, poppy seed, and sesame seed dotted my tongue before disappearing into the fold of lox, cheese and dough.  Sorry west coast, bagels just aren’t your thing and they never will be.  

For lunch we went to Taylor Gourmet, an adorable sandwich shop with hand-crafted soda!  Again, I made the best choice possible and ordered The Reading Terminal: Pepper Crusted Roast Beef (roasted in house), Horseradish Cream, Caramelized Onions, Sweet Provolone and Hot Beef Au Jus tucked neatly inside a gluten free wrap!  For a fast-food style sandwich shop, I was impressed with the quality of the ingredients!  Adonis was jealous of my red-meaty perfection…I think he got something with turkey.  

Oyamel was the restaurant I chose for dinner. It was the one D.C. restaurant that I researched and really wanted to go to.  As a fan of José Andrés, I didn’t want to miss this experience.  Even though we went to Zaytinya the night before, I still wanted more José! We had an 8pm reservation.  This was the most lovely evening I can remember having in far too long.  I wore one of my favorite dresses and my favorite black heels.  We were at our best.  The restaurant had extremely detailed decor, the walls were splattered in bright colors; orange, pink, red and yellow. I loved the animal statues protruding from the walls and hanging from the ceiling. The glass doorway was painted with monarch butterflies...which I walked into, not noticing the glass. Something about Oyamel spoke to my heart.  I felt at home. 

We ordered margaritas and sipped them as our guacamole was whipped together tableside. In that moment I had no worries, no fears, no doubt. I was in the moment, a gift I rarely give myself. We ordered the following incredible dishes. The ceviche was my favorite.  It was spot on, the fish was fresh and the salsa has just the right amount of lime and spice.

  • Ceviche de Peje-Sol: Hawaiian sunfish with avocado marinated in a salsa Mexicana of tomato, sweet onion, cilantro and lime juice 
  • Machuco y Calabaza Relleno de Frijol con Salsa Negra: Plantain and butternut squash fritters stuffed with black beans and served with a chipotle chile and piloncillo sugar sauce
  • Pollo con Mole Poblano: Half of a grilled young chicken with epazote herb rice and a mole poblano sauce of almonds, chiles and a touch of chocolate
  • Carnitas estilo Michoacan salsa de Tomatillo: Confit of baby pig with green tomatillo sauce, pork rinds, onions and cilantro 
  • Chilorio de Res: Shredded beef braised in a rich and tangy sauce of pasilla and guajillo chiles, topped with white onions 

Mid-way through our spicy feast, I took a quiet beat after swallowing a bite and said out loud how happy I was, how perfect this night was.  This was my favorite thing to do in the whole wide world; experience great food at a great restaurant in great company.  That to me is as grand as heaven could ever be.  Adonis joked and said, "We should pretend it's your birthday since I can't be with you on your real birthday." We calmly reached for each other's hand and shared a silent smile. When every plate had been destroyed it was time to go.  I knew what I wanted next and it wasn’t on the menu.
 

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