Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Night at The Aviary

It was day 3 of our 5-day Chicago girl's trip (the first two are here) and we spent the morning sleeping in, chilling in our pjs, eating delicious Girl and the Goat leftovers, and catching up. This is what I find so perfect about having an Airbnb instead of a hotel room.

We had passed a cute cafe called Cellar Door Provisions on our way to Fat Rice the other day and Jesse had told us they had delicious bread and butter, which we thought sounded like a nice afternoon snack and excuse to take a walk in the beautiful fall sun.

We had big plans that evening and we were all very excited. We had booked the kitchen table at The Aviary. We didn't fully know what to expect but as I have experienced Chef Achatz's cuisine before (owner/chef of Alinea) I knew we were in for a treat.

When we arrived there was a small queue outside. We checked in with the host and were shown inside the low lit and very elegant space. And then they walked us inside the kitchen to the only table, which faced the kitchen stations. We all were just about giddy! I'm giddy remembering it even now!
The kitchen table comes with a tasting menu, 8 cocktails (not including the amuse) each paired with a bite. EIGHT COCKTAILS!!!

We started with a small amuse of Apple Jack, falernum, sherry, and vermouth served neat. It was a perfect little sipper while we took in everything going on around us. And there was a lot going on! Our server then brought out our first snack called Salt & Vinegar.
That is a very normal height woman bringing us the largest pork rind I have ever seen! The cocktail, Espelette You Finish, featured ice cubes made with espelette pepper that melted slowly into the drink of Aperol, chartreuse, rosé, gin, and strawberry. Refreshing with a little spice at the end!

The Green Chile cocktail was served in a bottle, not my favorite presentation but a delicious beverage of clarified lime, tequila, chartreuse, and mezcal. It was served with this beautiful dish called simply Roasted Tomato.

The Hollow was served from this amazing clear vessel. The drink, an infused blend of honeybush, fennel, ginger, saffron, and whiskey, was very aromatic and lighter than I expected. It was served with a perfect deep fried bite of takoyaki.
Fourth-course, O'Doyle Rules. A bite of fried banana was served alongside the cocktail of clarified banana, curry, rum, and cognac. Yum.
Next, a closed chest arrived at our table and was opened to reveal three smoking drinks served neat. Infernal Imagery was smoke, Barolo, Maurin Quina, and rhum. A luscious king crab salad accompanied.
Frank Mackey was served next; Thai long pepper, mushroom, Zucca, and Magnolia rye on a beautiful rock. A bag of fried mushrooms with dips was served with it.
Second to last, the famous In the Rocks (fifth edition). This drink has seen a lot of press as it is fun, interactive, different, and delicious! Curacao, grenadine, dry vermouth and aged rum are suspended inside a frozen ice ball. They then give you a sling shot sort of device that you fit on the glass, stretch and release, which shatters the ice ball, releasing the cocktail.
Once broken, no two cocktails look the same as the ice cracks differently depending on how people sling shot it. The most beautiful dessert was served alongside- Raspberry.

Our final course arrived inside of a plastic bag filled with smoke. The Rum Manhattan made with fenugreek, cacao, and sherry, was cut out and served tableside with a second dessert of "Bar Nuts".
Our tasting menu ended with a little fried mignardises suspended on a strange contraption called Cheekie. This entire "event" was so much fun! Our reservation had been at 6pm and we were leaving 3 plus hours later.

You might think we would be a bit blasted by this point, but the drinks were fairly light and bites did a good job of soaking things up. I mean, we weren't stone cold sober mind you, but we held our own!
I highly recommend the kitchen table at Aviary, unless you don't drink of course!

All Chicago photos here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Weekend in San Diego

Since meeting my half brother 4 years ago,we have had the chance to travel together a few times. Nashville, Mexico City, Detroit (more on that later)... he's never turned down an opportunity to explore. We are definitely related.

I have never spent any real time in San Diego except for a colleague DECA trip when we walked over into Tijuana for underage drinking of shitty tequila. But I digress...

My brother went to college in San Diego. He also periodically hangs out there for a month or two at a time. So in June of last year, I invited myself to meet up with him for a weekend during one of his visits. I wrote about all of our super fun cocktailing for the World's Best Bars website; I'll let you read about that here if you are looking for cocktail suggestions. But I realize I never wrote about all the other fun stuff we did.

I booked in at the Kimpton Palomar which is located right between Little Italy and the Gaslamp district. A great location and the hotel is super cute. I didn't get to take advantage of the rooftop pool but it looked very nice!

After I dropped my bags we went out for a little walk around the waterfront; my brother and I both love to walk cities so this is kindof our thing. It was great to see the massive Naval ships and the parks that line the area.

After a good stroll around we got cleaned up and headed to drinks and dinner at Top Chef winner Richard Blias' restaurant Juniper & Ivy. And he was in the house! And everything was fantastic!

We rolled up to the modern speakeasy Nobel Experiment for nightcaps after. It took us a bit, but once we found it I absolutely loved this spot! (See WBB article for full notes).

I started the next morning with brunch at Saltbox which is connected to the Kimpton. The food was just ok, but I'm a fan of the $5 mimosas!

My brother picked me up and we headed to San Diego Sailing Tours for a great harbor sail. The boat we were on had comfy beanbag chairs on the bow, which we grabbed. The tour included one glass of wine with additionally pours for $5. As our night would wrap with $5 daiquiris, that was the lucky number for the day!

Afterward, we headed to Ironside for a fantastic late lunch of stone crab claws, oysters, and low abv cocktails Really this place is beautiful and delicious. Go there.

Our evening started at Polite Provisions and ended at Rare Form, both must drink at spots IMHO (full notes in the article). In between, we had absolutely delicious tacos and mezcal at Cantina Mayahuel. It may not have been Mexico City, but it was a good runner up!

The next morning Mark treated me to brunch at the famed Del Coronado. Wow, this place is so beautiful and has so much history! Sunday brunch is held in the Crown Room, and it is massive! Tables and tables of carving stations, shellfish bars, traditional breakfast items from around the world, dessert bar, candy station, seemingly bottom-less mimosas. It is over-the-top!

After all that food we headed out to the beach for a long walk in the sunny, warm weather! Then we drove a short way and Mark showed me around The Cliffs. Really cool cliffs and caves, complete with crazy kids jumping into the surf!

One quick drink at Ocean Beach to check out the people watching and then it was time for my flight home. Great weekend in San Diego and an even better time with my brother! Thanks Mark!

All photos here.
World's Best Bars article here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Easing into Chicago

October last year I met two of my girlfriends for a much over due trip to Chicago. The last time I had been in the city was 2009! The thing about traveling so much is I'm constantly reading about or discovering new places to go. That makes it hard to get back to the places I love with much regularity. Hence the once-a-month on average travel schedule. First world problems, yea I know.

Forest flew in from Paris and landed about the same time my flight got in from Seattle. The two of us hopped on the train from the airport and got off in Logan Square, where we met up with Kate who had flown in from Geneva, at our 3-bedroom Airbnb flat. We'd be living here for the next five days and were super excited to check out both a selection of new places as well as some of my favorite city to-dos. This was Kate's first time and Forest hadn't been since college or so.

After a quick trip to stock up on groceries, and a nap, we headed out that night to Billy Sunday for cocktails. This place is really unique, specializing in old and rare Fernets; they have 7 pages of them. I'm not into Fernet but loved reading through the bottle list while enjoying a couple of not-so-bitter cocktails.

We stayed in our 'hood that night, checking out the relatively new and well-written up Parachute for dinner. Although we felt the space was really cool, and we could not get enough of the potato bread served with sour cream butter, overall we felt our main dishes were just ok.

The next morning we met my friend Jesse for lunch at another popular Logan Square restaurant, Fat Rice. OMG! This place is awesome! Super fun, hipster vibe with outstanding food. We basically ordered the entire menu of modern Macau inspired dishes, we may have ordered the dumplings twice.

We took advantage of the gorgeous weather after lunch and walked part of The 606 from Logan Square to Wicker Park. This is a cool walkway made up of elevated unused rail tracks, very similar to the Promenade de Plantée in Paris and the Highline in NYC; both of which I love!

It was unusually warm, so when we spotted a little Costa Rican restaurant, we thought we'd sit for a glass of wine. Turns out they are a byob only (very common in Chicago) but pointed us across the street to a very cute wine shop. Chilled bottle in hand, we headed back over for some snacks.

We continued into Wicker Park's main area and for a bit of shopping. One of the first stops we made was the Walgreens store. Now I'm not usually one to blog about a drugstore, but the Walgreens in Wicker Park is in an old bank building and is really impressive. Besides the architecture, they have what they call their Fresh Market: sushi counter, juice bar, coffee bar, fresh sandwiches, etc. You should check it out when you're there! I'm not sure about the sushi though...

Another quick wine sit down and then we caught the train back to Logan Square.

That night we started with cocktails at the super cool Maude's Liquor. What a great place! The cocktails were lovely, it was busy but not douchey (Friday nights can be like that IMHO), and the interior was very antique French-ish. The restaurant was packed too, and I've heard it is quite good for dinner. But we had other plans...

We tabbed out and headed across the street to Girl and the Goat. I'd wanted to eat here for quite some time even though I had read and heard really mixed reviews. Chef/ owner Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef season four, had become a hometown hero of sorts, and that doesn't always play out well with the food.

When we checked in for our reservation we were told we were going to have to wait a bit. First red flag. We headed to the bar for a cocktail and the crowd seemed very "Yelp"-centric (ask me what I mean if you're not clued in to Wendy-speak). Second red flag. When we were seated and our waitress appeared, we mentioned it was our first time and we were having a hard time deciding on dishes as they all sounded great. She happily made suggestions — some we had to turn down as it would have just been too much for us— and asked us where we were from. Normally, Paris and Geneva would get the big attention but turns out she was from Seattle so we had a bit to chat about.

When our dishes arrived (not surprisingly most starring goat) we noticed there were a few extras (like this goat carpaccio!). Our waitress gushed that she just could not not have us try them and they were on the house! And when we were entirely too full to eat everything she boxed them up without asking and insisted they made the best breakfasts. Red flags be damned, Girl and the Goat was an excellent dinner experience!

And indeed, the next morning we realized she was right about those leftovers...

More Chicago tales to come. All photos here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dinner in the Middle of the Baltic Sea

After spending a wonderful day exploring the island of Bornholm (more on that here), I drove 20 minutes to my dinner destination, Kadeau,. My driving directions had said to follow the road through the forest until it ended at the sea. God, I was so excited when I saw this stunning location!

The restaurant is only open from spring until fall. They call it a beach pavilion and the decor is the epitome of Scandinavian design; airy, modern, minimal, cozy. I checked in with the host and they gave me the option of sitting outside or in. Although is was gorgeous out, I knew it would get a little chilly so I asked to sit inside.

Kadeau has a set menu, you just choose between 8 or 5 courses, to which I chose 5. Having recently eaten at a handful of Copenhagen's best restaurants (more on that later) I knew 8 would be too many for me. You can also choose to have wine or juice pairings. Anyone who knows me knows I chose the wine pairings!

My dinner started with a glass of grower champagne served with 4 courses of "snacks" (so I guess technically it was a 9-course meal all told). And in true "Nordic cuisine" style, my first snack arrived on a moss covered rock. These were fried mustard leaves and also a dehydrated baby carrot, both went with the little dish of "dip".
Next was a beautiful serving of tomato juice aged from last year and fresh celery juice.

Then this delicious serving of mackerel which had been smoked over burnt hay (and served over it too!)

My last snack course was fried shrimp (from the Baltic sea) that you dipped in an emulsion and then in flowers. I wish my photo was better, but you can see how lovely this was!

They poured me a bright Albarino from the Rias Baixas region and put down a plate of warm bread. The bread was made of emmer and served with butter made from buttermilk and topped with burnt hay. I had to show a lot of self-restraint not to eat every piece of this, it was so good! Plus look at that cute butter spreader!

And after all of that it was time for my first course! It was called "green peas, woodruff, black current leaves, razor clam". What is was, was a super fresh garden soup containing both razor clams and cockles. The peas were barely cooked and gave the soup an amazing crunch. The wine pairing was spot-on.

Next up a Chablis was poured to go with " Hispi cabbage, oysters, parsley". This was an incredible "lasagne" of cabbage layered with oyster and gooseberry. I'm not really a big cabbage fan, but I could not get over how good this was!
I took a break at this point to finish my wine, walk around the grounds, and take in the view before the sun set. The restaurant has a small onsite garden, but there is a larger one at a different location where most of the produce comes from. There's also a path down to the beach where you can wander around. The location is just fantastic and the only sounds are of the sea and the murmurs of diners from the restaurant.

My 3rd course started with a Gravières in the glass, a lovely Chardonnay from southern France. Then "cauliflower, cheese, hay, wood ants, buttermilk whey". The chef explained to me that this single roasted floret of cauliflower had cheese melted on it. The cheese was made from the milk of cows which eat grass from part of the island where the wind blows in from the sea, making the grass salty. That, in turn makes the milk and the cheese salty. On the cheese were wood ants which had been roasted in hay. Yes, I said ants. All of this was on a buttermilk foam. It was very tasty, even the ants! But then again that wasn't my first time eating ants.

The somm poured me a glass of Occhipinti Frappato, which I was not familiar with. Turns out it is mainly known as a blending grape but the winemaker Arianna Occhipinti is known to be quite skilled at making it the main event. And it was a lovely, light red (similar to a Gamay) that went wonderfully with "pork, fermented garlic, preserves".
The chef came over with a hot saucepan of juice to spoon around my pork and the scent was amazing! He told me it was just melted butter and marrow. Holy hell was that good! And look how pretty the flowers and berries are on the pork!

I stepped outside again to catch the sunset, obstructed by part of the beach cliff. As the sun was setting a full moon was rising, it truly was a stunning evening.

Back inside a German riesling (by another woman winemaker, Katharina Wechser) was poured to accompany "caramelized buttermilk tart, noble fir, citrus herbs". Wow, this was such a perfect dessert for me, not sweet but rather savory and bright.

While walking the grounds I had noticed an adorable firepit and at the end of my meal I was given the option of having my coffee and mignardises next to it. Yes, please!

If you have ever been to The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, this place feels very similar only without the onsite lodge. To me it was one of my favorite dining experiences, and I've had a few! Everything from the location to the ambiance to the absolutely exceptional service and of course the unique and delicious food made this a top-notch dinner.

I drove back to my hotel at 10:30pm and there was still a sliver of sun setting in the west, while the full moon shined bright in the east. This was the farthest north I've been during summer and I was loving the twilight.

I had a glass of wine on my patio and watched the moon reflect off the sea before going to bed, barely a sound to be heard. Ahhh.

All Bornholm photos here
Bornholm posts here