Recently in Dining & Travel category

Zahav

Zahav restaurant hummus

I didn’t believe them when they told me, but when I was in Washington, D.C. a few months back, when having dinner with my friends Carol and Joe, they swore that if I stopped at Zahav in Philadelphia on the way back, that I’d have a life-changing experience. While I wish that at least several times a day I’d have a life-changing experience (sometimes I wish for them several times an hour…), I was a little skeptical. Both of them are pretty knowledgable about good food, but I’ve been steered wrong on many occasion. And getting off of a train, taking a taxi, and having dinner before hoofing back to the train station later on in the evening, then dealing with getting back safe and sound while navigating late-night Manhattan, wasn’t exactly an enticing idea. Especially for a bowl of hummus.

Zahav restaurant fried haloumi

While on that trip to Washington, D.C., my friend Judy and I went to a Middle Eastern restaurant that everyone had said great things about. Even people I trust. Note: I later found out the place was known for wild dips in quality, so the ones who recommended it are off the hook. (However if any of them are reading this, I’m setting up a PayPal site where you can pitch in to reimburse me for dinner.)

Zahav restaurant  salatim

That place was mobbed, which is usually a good sign. But nothing we’d had during our dinner knocked our socks off, or excited us. Even the hummus was ho-hum, and hummus isn’t all that hard to get right. You just need to taste it and add some lemon, salt, perhaps more tahini, and maybe some garlic, until you get the taste where it belongs. For heaven’s sake, it’s not like a cake where you have to start all over again. Get it right, or don’t serve it. And we left disappointed.

So when I was heading to Charlottesville to give a talk recently, Joe, Carol and I made plans to meet in Philadelphia, because I had been thinking about that hummus they had said would change my life. And while there are a number of things I’d like to change, but can’t, eating good hummus is one of them that I can. So let’s do it, I said.

Zahav restaurant hummus

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Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville Virginia fried chicken

I have to admit, it’s been a bit difficult to blog while I’ve been on the road. Much of it is that I have a little MacBook Air computer that I got specifically for travel, whose lightness has saved my back, but the tiny screen makes it hard to write on since I can only see a few sentences/thoughts at a time. In addition to that, pictures get reduced to a much smaller size so I’ve been peering at my screen, hunched over to see the photos that are about the size of a post-it note. No wonder the eye doctor I saw a few weeks ago dialed up my prescription big-time. I fear that the time is rapidly approaching that I’ll resemble Mr. Magoo.

Charlottesville Virginia-22

I’ve been so busy that I arrived home from my trip to Charlottesville to a Final Disconnection Notice from the electric and gas company since I’ve been remiss in paying them, I guess. So if I disappear completely, at least you’ll know why.

University of Virginia

So, naturally, when I was invited by the Department of French at the University of Virginia to come and speak, I didn’t hesitate for a minute to say yes. Because free time is overrated, isn’t it? (Please say yes….)

University of Virginia

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Ovenly

Ovenly Bakery Brooklyn New York City-7

Sometimes when I’m doing events, such as meet-ups and booksignings, people will kindly bring treats for me to eat. It’s always nice when people think of me, and my sweet tooth, when I’m on the road. However there’s nothing worse than trying to carry on a back-and-forth with someone who is chewing on food when you’re not doing the same. It just doesn’t work. My least favorite moment when I’m dining out is when I just put a forkful of food in my mouth and the waiter comes by at the exact moment when I’ve slid the food into my mouth to ask me what I thought of the meal.

Additionally, no one looks good when they’re shoveling food in their mouth, even Bradley Cooper and Angelina Jolie. (Which I’m just guessing, since I haven’t had the chance to dine with either of them — yet.) So when I’m at a public event, I politely set whatever it is aside, continue chatting with people, and revisit it when I have a moment to myself. Wine, however, I’m pretty good at balancing during a conversation.

Ovenly Bakery Brooklyn New York City-3

However my save-it-for-later technique was tested the last time I was in Brooklyn when doing a signing at The Brooklyn Kitchen. Someone came up to me and handed me a big cardboard bakery box full of individually wrapped treats. Almost immediately I tore off the seal and lifted the lid, happy to see almost a dozen different cookies, bars, and brownies, neatly arranged inside.

Ovenly Bakery Brooklyn New York City-9

In spite of guests holding camera phones at the ready, and people lined up to chat, I couldn’t help myself and dove right in, dialing in on the darkest package of the bunch – ripping off the wrapper and tearing off a corner of the salty dark brownie, not worrying about black crumbs on my teeth. (Apologies if you were there and I kept you waiting, but I’m kind of powerless against chocolate.) And in spite of any worries of photos going viral of me shoving food in my craw that resembled an eating contest at a county fair, I was happy to take a break to savor an excellent brownie. Which I think just about anyone can relate to.

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Eating Around Queens

Dining in Flushing Queens New York City-8

One of the things about discovering new places to eat in an unknown city is that you spend a lot of time getting around, figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, then to Point C, and so forth. Sometimes people are kind enough to suggest places that sound good. But when you look at the map, they’re an hour or more away. While the New York subway does go everywhere, when you’re used to living in a compact city like Paris, where if you miss a métro, there’s a very good chance that there’ll be another one in the next three minutes, I’ve been slowly getting up to speed understanding the NY subway system, including the complex weekend closure schedule.

I had a list of restaurants that I wanted to go to, many in Queens, a borough which is known for being one of the best places to experience the multicultural cuisines that all come together in the melting pot of America. While other countries and cities do have good, or great, foods from other countries, according to NewYork.com, there are immigrants from over 100 countries and more than 138 languages are spoken within the 109 square miles of this one borough. And they all gotta eat – and so do I.

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Mile End Deli

Mile End Deli Brooklyn-6

One of the few English words that my French other-half has mastered is “pastrami.” Which in his defense, is just fine because most Americans that speak little, if any French, can easily say baguette, croissant, tarte au citron, and macaron before they head to France. Seems like both cultures knows where their priorities lie!

Mile End Deli

So when I hear “Daveed, je veux du pastrami,” I look into those sweet little brown eyes, misting over a bit, I realize that I have to get him some. And some for myself, too — although I am a corned beef guy. But it’s hard to explain “corn” and “beef” (in French, bœuf maïsé doesn’t quite sound as appetizing), so I just go with le flow.

There are few really good delis left in New York. In Manhattan, Pastrami Queen does a good job, I haven’t been to Carnegie Deli since I was a kid but hear it’s still going, Sarge’s just reopened, and Second Avenue Deli reopened elsewhere a few years ago, neither of which I’ve revisited since. (But plan to.) And Brooklyn has Mill Basin Kosher Delicatessen, Jay & Lloyd’s Kosher Deli, and David’s Brisket House, which I think I need to visit, if only because of the name.

Mile End Deli

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Chez Dumonet

Chez Dumonet French bistro in Paris

One of my downfalls is that I do not have a photographic memory. Sometimes I go out to eat and the next day, I have less of a recollection of what I ate (and drank) than some of my esteemed colleagues who write about restaurants so eloquently do. (My memory is gradually been replaced by the camera on my phone.) In this case, as soon as I got home, I wrote up some notes from the meal and quotes from the chef, which some rather concerted efforts to find on my computer failed to turn up.

Chez Dumonet

That said, all the meals that I’ve had at Chez Dumonet, a spot-on classic Parisian bistro, have been memorable – regardless of the evolving ways that I have of preserving them. The memories last long after that feeling of being absolutely stuffed have diminished — the next few days after a meal here are invariably “salad days.”

Chez Dumonet

Fortunately, not much changes at Chez Dumonet, which is sometimes still affectionately called Joséphine. For those who want a place that is carrying on the traditions of the Parisian bistro, you can’t do better than Chez Dumonet. The only concessions they’ve made to modern times (and waistlines) are offering half-portions of certain dishes, which are massive enough to make you wish le doggy bag was more popular in Paris. (I, personally, do not mind rewarmed bœuf bourguignon the next day for lunch.)

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Rödel Sardines

Rodel sardines-8

I know. It’s hard to get people excited about tinned sardines. I’ve eaten them casually for most of my life and never gave them all that much thought. But with sustainability issues and delicious spreads that you can make with the flavorful fish – and the fact that they make an almost instant lunch – I’ve found myself making sure that I always have a stock of them in my pantry.

Rödel sardines

In France, there are several very good brands of sardines that are available, from the Connétable brand (found in supermarkets), to fancier brands – and tins – like Conserverie la belle-iloise, who recently opened a shop in Paris. But the best — le top du top of French sardines, are from Rödel & Fils Frères, who claims to be the first sardine conserverie in France.

Rödel sardines

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Dessance

Dessence restaurant in Paris

Like Espai Sucre in Barcelona, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to eat at Dessance, in Paris. It’s not that I don’t love dessert (which is a good thing because I think it’s a little late to change careers…), but because the idea of an all-dessert menu – or as Dessance calls it, a meal featuring cuisine du sucré – just didn’t appeal to me.

When I went to Espai Sucre years back, I made sure to stop at a local tapas bar beforehand and fill up on savory foods to prepare/steel myself for the multi-course sweet extravaganza. But instead, I found myself dining on food that skirted the line between sweet and savory, featuring lots of herbs, grains, (there may even been some meat), and vegetables. Nothing was overly sweet, even the desserts. It was a completely satisfying meal and experience, and I was glad I overcame my reluctance to eat there.

Desssance in Paris follows the same pattern and concept: A set menu with multiple courses, the savory courses borrowing a bit from the pastry pantry, with the chef skillfully guiding diners all the way though the meal, culminating in full-on desserts.

Dessance restaurant in Paris

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