A sip of a ginger-infused cocktail, a mouthful of deeply spiced Machaca whose flavors swell with each bite, a glance spurred by the scent of clove cigarettes – all smells, sounds, and tastes. Often that’s all we need to flashback to a place and time. Tasty food adventures are like that.
My life is gratefully marked with delicious and audacious bites and sips, but this year has been especially full. Most often eating well is more memorable because of the ambiance and the company – it’s an alchemy of sorts. Taste also becomes the marker of a location on an emotional level. A flood of sensations and memories may flash to mind from months ago. The following foods do that for me. I hope you enjoy the feast too.
Tasty food adventures in Switzerland
I took off for Switzerland in early spring after scoring a ridiculously low airfare through a Cyber Monday airline sale. The flight went from LAX to London and then onto Geneva. Over ten days I wandered alone, mostly via Swiss Rail Pass, and always looking to eat the local specialties.
One of the first stops was in Interlaken. I arrived as a light snow was falling and sloshed to my hotel. As the day darkened, the weather lifted and I ventured into the village ending up in a bright Swatch store full of colorful displays and a friendly staff. The manager recommended the Cafe Des Alpes for dinner as it was on my walk back to the hotel and reasonably priced. What made the meal spectacular was a rich combination of luxuries. My ‘Alpen Hut’ plate was a small but overflowing skillet with ‘jugged’ deer, spaetzle, the most delicious spiced cabbage, mushrooms and hazelnuts all topped with a petite, stewed pear. As I finished and the empty plate was whisked away, the waiter set a bottle of Pear Schnapps on my table with a shot glass and left. It didn’t take me long to indulge in an aperitif or two. Luckily the hotel was a short walk away!
I wouldn’t have thought that a memorable food adventure could be had by train but that’s what I encountered on the famous Glacier Express. I sat at a table in the first class car when dinner was served. The meal was delicious but not outstanding. What was astounding though was the waitress stopping by with Schnapps (again!) and filling a tray of glasses in the middle of the train with a flourish, without spilling a drop! Looking up a few moments later into the face of a reindeer had me thinking I was drunk but it was just the gift cart dressed to impress.
The Philippines – Kalui Garden and Haim Chicken
After diving for several days in the Sula Sea, my guy, Dave, and I explored Puerto Princesa with two nights in a modest inn off the main road to the airport. One day we stepped off the dusty street into an artistically decorated restaurant, the Kalui Garden.
Once instructed to leave our sandals by the door, we were led to seats next to the garden. Our first meal there was family style and plates of chili crabs, prawns and fish soon filled the little bamboo table. The fruit salads served in half coconut shells became our favorite lunch over the next few days.
One day we rode out of town for a short canoe ride into the Mangroves. Our guide pointed out tropical birds and lizards, then held up a bumpy stick and explained that monkeys like to eat the mangrove roots, especially when they find wood worms inside. The worms are also a local specialty for humans. You guessed it, I had to find them before leaving town. We checked several places before finding Haim Chicken where they dispatched a waiter to stand by to help us eat the long mollusks. Here’s a short video about the meal:
They were served raw and tasted something like oysters but when chewed the dark wood taste flavor escaped. It was a tasty food adventure I’d regret missing but they must be an acquired taste!
Tasty food adventures in Mexico
Living in San Diego makes venturing into Baja a relatively easy day trip. I’ve been going back and forth for years and always enjoy discovering new places to eat. There are so many in Tijuana – Mission 19, the bullfighter’s hangout near the Grand Hotel, Talle with their menu of ‘pizzas.’ A bit further south and east is the Valle de Guadalupe, a rich vineyard region with high and low dining options. I confess to visiting more wineries than restaurants, so my favorites don’t come out of exhaustive research. However, I will never forget lunch at Drew Deckman’s outdoor cafe, El Mojor.
El Mojor, Chef Drew Deckman’s Valle de Guadalupe destination
Originally from Georgia, Drew spent years in Europe and was awarded a Michelin star in Germany for his culinary prowess. Lucky for us that he’s settled in the Valle. El Mojor is lovely and unassuming with tables set along shaded patios. Drew cooks at a traditional outdoor grill. A few lucky diners grab one of the few seats at the grill to watch the maestro more closely. I will return to savor more of Deckman’s magic.
La Cocina de Dona Esthela
Down a dirt road at the base of a hill in the Valle there’s a famous ranch house. A pair of stone columns mark the entrance to La Cocina de Dona Esthela. I had the honor to join a small group venturing from San Diego to present her award from Foodie Hub for the Best Breakfast in the World! Inside the house is a large patio and a living room set with small tables. A few years ago Telenovella stars, filming at the nearby Lomita winery, brought their friends and spread the word online about Dona Esthela’s cooking. The rest of us venture in for her delicious Sonoran Machaca, grilled meats, fresh cheese, and beans. Meats are cooked long in her famous spices and served in large portions. Scooping up the mixes in warm, fresh tortillas with a dollop of saucy beans and a spoonful of salsa remains high in my foodie memory.
San Diego: Duckfoot Brewery
San Diego has an ever-rotating palette of tasty food adventures for diners and drinkers. I could rhapsodize about the beers (Current favorite: Duckfoot Choco Nut Lust, their Chocolate Hazelnut Porter which, as with all their beers, happens to be gluten free.)
The Red Door
The Waste-Not Pop-Up dinner at The Red Door restaurant was one of my year’s most notable and tasty events. Read my full review of it here. Joining a group of passionate, sustainably-minded diners was special in itself. Having Chef Miguel Valdez present a menu full of stem-to-root, nose-to-tail ingredients was a treat. I’m a fan of whatever he cooks and that night, eating to support the Food System Alliance was doubly delicious.
Campfire in Carlsbad
I’m not one for making a big deal out of my birthday. This year I picked a well-known restaurant in San Diego for a dinner with family and a few friends. It will remain nameless for the over-priced, hasty presentations and tiny portions. However, the evening before I experienced the new venue, Campfire in Carlsbad with a girlfriend and that is an experience I won’t forget. Launched recently by John Resnick, who’s behind many of downtown San Diego’s trendiest eateries, the large space has indoor and patio dining alongside a small campfire, of course for smores, and a full-sized teepee for the little ones. The dishes, each presented with care, overflow with smoky goodness from the oak flame grill overseen by chef Andrew Bachelier, of Addison and Cucina Enoteca fame. The cocktails nod to tradition, while anything but ordinary. My favorite dish was the grilled Kabocha Squash with its spiced yogurt sauce and mustard seed relish. Splendid. This is one tasty food adventure I look forward to repeating.
Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles
Clifton’s Cafeteria reopened last year in Los Angeles Downtown district and it’s one of the most delightful, tasty food adventures I’ve had. It will be hard to top, especially now that the new speakeasy-style, Tiki-inspired, Paradise Lounge has opened. Get there early as they lift the rope to the upstairs entry to score a seat at the bamboo tables and just soak up that ambiance! There are historical and creative touches throughout, including an Italian Vaporetta speedboat jutting out from the bar. The cafeteria menu features new and retro dishes. All are simply prepared and very tasty.
Lena Brava – Chicago
It was a lark to make our way to the opening of Rick Bayless’ newest restaurant, Lena Brava, in Chicago. The restaurant pays homage to the culinary arts and sustainable seafood of Mexico. Experiencing Rick’s family and team’s take on fresh ingredients, wood grilling, and mescal cocktails is an experience worth visiting Chicago for. Bayless is committed to quality on every level and is admirably training young chefs to manage and run his venues. That’s evidence of wise expertise and grand heart. Go.
Tasty food from a saddlebag
Texas. Never thought I’d visit but all my preconceptions evaporated over the week I spent driving through the small towns and the vast spaces of the western region. The people were so generous and kind, and the natural beauty knocked me out, mainly because we drove through after the late summer rains when wildflowers pop and fresh green blankets expanses. The trip was heavy on experience and my favorite was a saddle-ride through the mesas and canyons of the Lajitas Resort lands. My sister and I rode for hours with our guide, Kelly, mosying through the range north of the Rio Grande. Lunch was a surprise as we stopped in a box canyon to rest the horses. A welcome spread of roasted chicken and corn salad, rolls and cookies appeared from Kelly’s saddle bags.
An Abalone Feast and Walnut Roll Indulgence
I just can’t omit two other tasty food adventures, although these came out of my home kitchen. We dug two, fat, wild Abalone out of the freezer for Christmas dinner. Dave caught them free-diving in the frigid waters north of Mendocino. Preparing them is a big job – digging the flesh out of the shell, slicing off the foot muscle, cutting the meat into oval steaks and pounding them into tender slices. Cooking is the easy part and if done carefully, in two minutes you have lightly encrusted buttery Abalone steaks.
We finished with Potica for dessert, my mother’s traditional walnut roll, that I’ve finally mastered. After years of killing yeast in every loaf or pastry, I managed this year’s well enough. The dough rose, the filling of walnuts, dates, cinnamon, orange zest and honey was spread. My son helped me roll it up carefully and lift the bulky roll into the pan. The sweet treat has been enjoyed by many, sent across the country, and a few slices are preserved in the freezer for the next family gathering. It’s a much-loved and tasty food adventure from the Slovenian Women’s Union Cookbook that my mother brought west with her from Minnesota in the 1940’s. The pages are loose but I treasure it as a connection to that generation and the old country, my relative’s home in Croatia.
Quite a year!
All these tasty food adventures have definitely impacted my waistline but that’s a temporary setback I don’t regret. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tasty food adventures.
Where to find these tasty food adventures
- Drew Deckman’s, El Mojor in Valle Guadalupe, Mexico – “Honor the ingredient”
- La Cucina de Dona Esthela, Valle Guadalupe, Mexico – Sonoran recipes, fresh ingredients and the world’s best breakfast award from Foodie Hub.
- Cuatros Cuatro in Ensenada, on the coast of Baja – Bar and Cabanas
- Duckfoot Brewery, San Diego – The Choco Lust Porter and a gaggle of drafts for every palate.
- Campfire in Carlsbad – A delight for the whole family with sophisticated campfire kitsch. Check out Carruth Cellars next door and grab a bottle to go with dinner. There’s no corkage fee at Campfire.
- The Red Door in San Diego with Chef Miguel Valdez
- Rick Bayless’ Chicago, Lena Brava, homage to Mexico’s traditional flavors and sustainable seafood
- Saddle and Paddle with Lajitas Stables and then stay in the luxurious Lajitas Resort in West Texas.
- Free diving for Abalone – Enter the chilly waters north of Mendocino to pry wild Abalone from the reefs.
- The Kalui Garden Restaurant in Puerto Princesa, the Philippines.
- Haim Chicken serves fresh Wood Worms and many fish or vegetable dishes in Puerto Princesa, the Philippines.
- My post about tasty times in Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
Happy to share with these linkups full of fine travel tales!