Archives for category: Travels

So, I went to Turkey! A long time ago! And I didn’t blog about it! But now I am! Hurrah.

And so now it is a nostalgia blog.

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Things in Turkey that tasted really good:

Turkish breakfast! I want this in my life on the daily. So many bits and bots. Ok: tiny bowl of olives, some weird bologna-pink meat, a super-plain flat omelet, this soft a-little-less-salty-than-feta sheep’s cheese–always cut into triangles, maybe some normal-ish Swiss-ish cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes, a never-ending bread basket, honey, and jam. Covering all yer morning bases. My favorite little mish-mash: bread, white cheese, honey, pepper. GOOD GOD. Fueled for the day. Or the next 45 minutes, till we stop for a coffee and a pastry.

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Balik Ekmek, fish sammie. Literally “fish bread.” Best bought from dude on boat. The older the dude and the grungier the boat the better. Bonus points if he has toddler-sized plastic stools for you to sit on and a dog to eat your scraps. There are tons of boats rigged up with grills, making sandwiches out of crusty bread, questionable Bosporus fish (you know how hippies say to eat raw honey to get over allergies? I think I’m going to start eating trash fish from wherever I am to acclimate myself), raw onions, and tomatoes. Add lemon and salt to taste. Yeah! Kickass. Don’t think about it too much. (I think we also ate lamb intestines on the street. It looked really good–I swear, it did–and I was starving so I made us all sit down to dinner and we all pointed at the really yummy looking lamb bits. Got in a bit over our heads on the cool-tourist front there.)

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Grilled anchovies at our favorite underground-ish fish bar/restaurant. We went twice; the dude seemed elated to see us again, and it seemed we’d earned his approval as good eaters so he gave us all the insider intel. Fish “ravioli,” which were not ravioli at all, but deep-fried fish-cubes with spicy runny yogurt on top. Angler fish, which made mom feel barfy but I kind of liked. Fish cakes, smooshed around skewers and grilled as well as smooshed into balls and fried. Fish. They dig them some seafood there; all bridges are packed with dudes fishing, filling grimy old plastic buckets (no real buckets, all re-purposed yogurt tubs, water jugs, etc) with shiny squirmy fish.

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Famous Kanlica yogurt. Has a weird skin that you mix in, and can (should) be ordered with a giant (seriously, giant) scoop of powdered sugar on top. The powdered sugar gets half mixed in and half turns into sweet, dusty lumps. Dusty lumps sounds awful, but, yeah. Really good.

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Yogurt sauces in general. Whizzed with beets, topped with olive oil. Purslane stirred in, garlic whisked in. (Sometimes I really want to leave blogs un-spell-checked; that was “garlic wished in.”)

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Simits–street bagels. White bread, in a ring, covered in sesame seeds. Cost like… a quarter a pop. Staves off desperate hunger (aka tears, emancipation from parents, divorces, and world wars) like nobody’s business. Galled Gevrek in Izmir, the land of my dad’s youth. He remembered eating them as a kid and Googled them like mad and never could find them, because he was spelling it wrong. Ha ha. Pretty good; definitely not as good as a bagel though. Sorry Turkey.

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Tea. Called cay (chai) and served everywhere, all the time, always in little tulip glasses with a red-daubed saucer. Always exactly the same–if you do it differently you are exiled to Croatia. The tea is lovely, yes. And you sure can drink a lot more of it than coffee. And it really lends itself to hanging out more than an espresso does. But, lord, that first regular drip coffee back in the U S of A was fantastic. (Though if we had the same amount of 50-cent tea stops, I would live a significantly mellower life, hanging out on the corner with my tea-homies.)

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Pistachio everything. Chocolate bars (or chocolate sticks–really skinny chocolate bars) filled with ’em, pistachio baklava-ish things, lots of pistachio ice cream. (Which is my favorite, by the way, should anyone reading this want to buy me ice cream.) Only disappoint was a bodega ice cream cone, the ice cream in which was chemically altered so it would not ever melt, come hell or high water or a giant heat wave. Which really just took the fun out of it. And made my tongue feel weird.

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One night we went to a super cute sidewalky restaurant, only to discover that they had no alcohol. No Efes (the one and only beer of the entire nation–tasted like Rainier. Tasted like home) but we were starving as per usual so we stuck with it. I ordered semi-blindly and was rewarded with a giant bowl of the tiniest, most adorable American Girl Doll-sized dumplings (each had a two-milligram speck of meat inside) doused with yogurt and splashed with hot chili oil over the top. Hell yeah. Bowl o’ dumplings; I can roll with that.

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Kumru, the most best carb-iest beach meal there ever was. This little town Alacati (Where we actually were not? We got confused on the bus and went to another town which I do not know the name of. And M&D were just rolling with it, and wanted to head on home after a long beach day at the unknown town, but I nearly cried because I wanted to see the old stone houses in Alacati very badly and they felt bad so we went there in the end. And it WAS great, so I felt a little vindicated, but still a little bad about dragging my poor parents around in the sun. But we had wine and cake, so yeah. It all worked out.) Anyway, the kumru. Little pointy-ended baguette (with sesame seeds) with a thick slice of white cheese, ever so slightly melted, salami, sausage, and tomato. That is all. Wrapped in paper. Ideally served with a yogurt drink, extra-ideally on the shores of the Aegean sea.

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And finally, the strawberries and cherries from the tiny produce/cigarette vendors. Tiny soft strawberries, like ones from your yard (if you are the type of person who tends your yard and not me who had a lovely planter box for one week till I got bored and it all died), not like the big hard boring strawberries from the store. Handle-with-care and eat-now berries. Sweet moment with the truly ancient greengrocer as he very slowly picked out each strawberry to compile me the best half-kilo of of berries there ever was.

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Yum. Good stuff. Thanks Mom and Dad; the best travel companions on earth.

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I love Vancouver. When I first moved there, I did not. I thought that Canadians were weird and putting on fake accents to irritate me specifically and everything was ridiculously more expensive and my university campus was bigger then the town I grew up in and looked like Lenin picked the architect for half the buildings. Aka, I was really lonesome the second my dad left and I feared for a friendless semester in a just-foreign enough to be even more lonesome country. But things perked up pretty quickly. Good and plentiful Asian food, a somewhat ugly campus situated in maybe one of the most beautiful places on the continent, a constant pizza-eating TV-watching girl party in my giant packed-like-sardines house, a fun garden internship, tons of yoga and biking home from yoga at sunset in a bliss state, my favorite coffee shop in the whole wide world (and the best muffins in the whole wide world,) and a volunteer gig at the UBC garden with kids, where I met Nicole, yet another fantastic friend I’ve been lucky enough to snag along the way. This weekend I popped back up to BC for a weekend visit, and lucked out with the warmest loveliest sunniest weekend of all time. Nicole and I walked and walked and talked and talked and ate and ate and ate. Nicole took us to Via Tevere, a impossibly cute Neapolitan pizza place just off Commercial Drive, tucked into a neighborhoody little street– like it just so happened to have landed there. Nicole said I’d love it; she was so right. Cozy and tasty and good in so many ways. I keep getting so lucky with friends– I meet these fantastic people and we have the bright friendships that keep on keepin’ on even after we’re apart. And they become a big part of my fuzzy memory-imagination of the places I’ve lived, which is wonderful.

And this pizza, it too is now a part of my own dreamy version of Vancouver. All Neapolitan pizza is amazing. This was really amazing. For one, the place was toasty, which only seemed appropriate as there’s a 900 degree oven smack in the middle. Sweaty pizzaiolos throw together the pies and slide em in for 90 seconds a piece, the pizzas reemerging like phoenixes from the fires, ashy and amazing. We got: one with cheese, cherry tomatoes, and basil, a margherita plus broccoli rabe, and a fantastic one with spicy Italian meats. Yum. The crusts were maybe the best part, dipped in spicy oil… Yes. We ate the leftovers with much much joy later on.

The next day: brunch at Dunlevy Snackbar. Mother’s Day brunch traffic? Not an issue here. Too hip for regular moms. A rad little Chinatown storefront (Note: Vancouver’s Chinatown is not like Seattle’s “International District” where takeout boxes blow down the street like tumbleweed and the same Peking ducks have been hanging in the windows since 1995. Vancouver’s is bustling and lively and full of shocking dried things and pungent fish shops and old ladies haggling.)

And then Dunlevy Snackbar, full of true Van Hipsters. But in a good way. It still feels like a “find,” like you too are awesome for being there. The owner, Theo, is running around the place, making coffee, taking orders, and giving you the verbal menu. Three choices. Euro Brunch, arepas, or baked eggs. What a rad idea. Only one meal a day, only three things a day. Makes picking easy, makes prepping easy. Makes changing the menu really easy. Keeps things interesting. For us: one Euro brunch, one arepa. Do you loyal readers remember arepas? The dance party break snack of Florida, bought from a young couple frying up masa with one hand and feeding a baby with the other in a dorm kitchen. Arepas, griddled corn cakes topped with a slice of guava paste and a slice of white cheese and a big dose of pure joy. Dunlevy of course did it differently: topped the corn cake with chipotle black beans and potatoes and scrambled eggs, accompanied by a bright little carrot slaw. Yum.

And the Euro brunch. Ok, so my favorite part of Germany is frühstück. Breakfast. At the oddball little hotel we always stay at in Frankfurt (frequent flier miles get you to Frankfurt…) theres this glorious place called the fruhstuck raum. Fruhstuck fairies fill it every morning before dawn with baskets of fluffy white buns covered in seeds, platters of holey cheese, plates of smoky meats, soft boiled eggs, joghurts of all varieties, a tray of sausages, and all the teeny Nutella containers you could ever dream of stealing. You fill up a plate (or three, if you’re me. Hey, you don’t get a trip to the Fruhstuck Raum too often) and sit down and delight–delight–in the German version of breakfast.

Dunlevy’s take was pretty darn similar. A soft-boiled egg (which I am going to make a part of my life, if only for the ultra cute egg cups,) rye bread, a croissant, jam, cheese, ham, fruit, almonds, olives, and hummus. Inclusive of all the EU nations. Delicious. And we had a good chat with Theo after, and what makes you feel cooler than a chat with the owner. Dunlevy Snackbar, also now a part of my version of Vancouver. Then we spent the afternoon at the beach in Kitsilano, my old ‘hood, making bracelets and saying over and over how good the sun felt on our cold little northwestern bodies. After a delicious little front porch barbeque to round out the day, I headed back down to Seattle, dreaming of Vancouver the whole way back.

Easter 2012: many many calories, many many old friends, many many car sing-alongs. Three of my very favorite things. On Friday I headed down to Corvallis (after a bowl of gelato, to kick off the mini-vacation) to meet Logan (old friend #1) and Storey (old friend #2). On Saturday morning, Logan and I drove out to Gathering Together Farm, just ten or so miles from town, to meet Tayler (old friend #3) for brunch. A sign that I don’t remember any of except “fresh pastries” guides you down the little road to the farm; a sweet farmhouse amidst just enough fields, situated across the street from a fuzzy little llama herd.

The restaurant is in an old house, the main area shared with a mini-market, where produce from the farm and meats from the charcuterie guy associated with the farm and honey and jam and salsa are all for sale. The dining room spills out into a warm green house-y space, filled with big tree-slab tables topped with flowers and kitschy saltshakers.

Logie, Tayler, and I sat down at the sunniest table, but got right back up when the waitress told us the pastries were inside. Rhubarb gallette… croissants… chocolate croissants…doughnuts…lord. Swoon. Wound up with a doughnut (Me: “What kind do you want?” Log: “Well…the kind covered in sugar…obviously.”) They were potato doughnuts though, so healthy for sure. And a blueberry almond Danish. Danishes…usually not ym favorite. This Danish: just sweet and doughy enough center, ringed by a halo of crispy, burnt-sugar-y, cinnamon blessed pastry.

Okay, then brunch. Log got eggs benedict (with farm-y sausage subbed for ham) and Tayler and I got omlettes: she a yummy bacon one, me a yummy mushroom one. Lots of kale on everyone’s plate. Delight. Lots of chatting and catching up and having just one more tiny bite of Danish. Then Tayler and I went on to the Corvallis farmers market, the last winter market of the season before it moves back to its usual place by the river (dang it.) Lots of beautiful produce (the drawback of going to markets while traveling, want to buy vegetables…) like chard rabe, collard rabe, every rabe ever, and gigantic leeks. And lots of handicraft type things; soft scarves and verrry stylish barrettes made out of pine needles. And charming beeswax candles in all kinds of shapes (from om to asparagus) and …hazelnut brittle. Best ever. Also: crepes. We walked around the market enough times to earn ourselves a marionberry crepe, which we enjoyed in the sunshine, delightfully catching up and making plans to see each other so soon. Then Tayler headed back to Eugene and I headed up to Portland. Where Logie and I (and Hayden, old friend #4) ate at a McMinnamins then got a pound or two or three of Whole Foods fruit gummies for dessert. And played with the Redmonds’ impossibly sweet and cute new puppy, Soleh.

Then woke up to a sunny, warm Easter Sunday with the Redmond clan, aka old friends #5, 6, 7, and 8. Kicked off the morning by eating a couple seriously just-out-of-the-oven cinnamon rolls (…crack) and dyeing eggs (with natural dye- onion skin brown, red cabbage blue, and tumeric yellow…all with pretty little flowers and ferns pressed on them) then headed over to the neighbors’, where we kept on eating. German bread with a thick layer of blueberry jam, fruit kabobs (fruit made fun), and baked eggs filled with everything good (kale, mushrooms, creamy creamy cheese.) We had a whole brunch of our own waiting back home… but who can resist a big slice of braided bread or colorful fruit on a stick… Really. No one. So we walked for about fifteen minutes (fifteen very strenuous minutes) to work up some hunger for the real brunch. Joy:more cinnamon rolls, a big bowl of berries, ham, and caper-ed asparagus. Sweet sweet, salty salty. Yum. And then much lounging and chatting and belly rubbing, and eventually even sunshine napping. Then sort of happy-because-we-live-so-close and so-full-of-cinnamony-goodness goodbyes and off we were, back on the road for three hours of old family favorites sung fantastically well by two full happy girls.

My weekend: homemade cinnamon rolls, shooting off rockets, salmon, clams, risotto, Powells, chocolate chip cookies, foie gras. All these good things, all with beloved folk. Joy and sweetness and over-eating-ness. My M and D and I converged upon the Redmonds in Portland for the weekend, where we ate and laughed and ate some more. We love the Redmonds and they love us and we all love to eat and when we’re all together it’s pretty dang joyful. The first night we were there we had pasta with clams and about eight chocolate bars between the seven of us. The next day we “hiked” Mt. Tabor and did the requisite Powells Pilgrimage, where I got a bunch of food-lit books.

Then Pearl Bakery for sandwiches and cookies, before another beautiful dinner of asparagus risotto and salmon and roasted cauliflower. Kate knows how to do a dinner. Plus Craig and Dad’s “bad things I did with/to my brothers when I was little” stories and Dawson’s film ideas and Gabey’s cleverness. Good times around the Redmond table. Then Sunday. Began the day with a Reed campus walkabout, in preparation for the brunchy feast to come. Homemade cinnamon rolls, the dough made the night before to maximize both goodness and anticipation. Salmon scrambled eggs, the real reason you make salmon for dinner. And sweet spicy bacon. I ate three cinnamon rolls, I am proud/ashamed to say.

Then a walk to the park for the most thrilling hobby ever that I really am desperate to take up (and have lots of friends who excitedly take it up with me): model rockets. You go to the park, and you shoot off a rocket. And it flies a bazillion feet up into the sky and you frantically run around underneath to catch it. So thrilling! I want to have rocket launching picnics! Then after all that excitement died down, more excitement right away, with a dinner at Little Bird, the new restaurant by the Le Pigeon crew. the chef just crowned by the James Beard Foundation as Rising Star Chef, the beautiful bistro lived up to the expectations.

We started off with oysters… (“nietard” oysters? We couldn’t hear our shockingly hip waitress so well in the bustly restaurant… we made a lot of borderline jokes and laughed real, real hard.) Then we ate the most perfect little oysters ever, the sea-blessed goodness nestled into tiny little shells, just the right size. After the oysters, the charcuterie. Which involved: pickled fennel, something kind of spam-colored and textured, but incredibly un-spam like in all other ways. Deep-fried duck. Clearly awesome. Some other little tidbits that I can’t remember because included in this particular charcuterie plate was: foie gras brulee. Goodness on top of goodness. I… I don’t know what to say about it. Just think about it. Caramelized sugar crust (best thing ever) on top of creamy foie gras. Spread on toast-lets with a bright little daub of apricot jam. If foie gras ever gets banned nation-wide, I will have to move because I will die of sadness otherwise.

Moving on. (Gabriel has awesome hair.) After the charcuterie: crab and celery root remoulade, a tangy cilantro-tinged heap of crunchy celeriac and carrot with salty crab. Butter lettuce with more carrots and “saffron-infused garlic.” This was the one thing that was an eensy bit of a letdown. The menu said “carrot dressing” so I was imagining the roots made liquid, a light orange dressing for the best lettuce ever. Instead, carrots and lettuce, both still in their regular ol’ solid form. But still good (and now I have an idea for dressing and all the carrots I’ve been hoarding in the crisper.) Then on to the main courses. Get excited. Hanger steaks for Kate and Dad (with perky watercress perched in the plates), salty pork shoulder for Craig, the famous square Le Pigeon burgers (with killer fries and perhaps-maybe-housemade ketchup, the origin of which called for much taste-testing and speculation) for Dawson and Gabriel, lamb navarin with goat cheese gnocci for Mama (I need goat cheese gnocci in my life, stat), and beef tongue for moi.

Usually tongue is all chopped up beyond recognition, looking more like pulled pork than ex-taster. Not here. a generous hunk of tongue, with crispy roast broccoli and topped with teensy potato chips. I had a big pang of hanger steak order envy when they brought the plates, but that vanished instantaneously with my first bite. Tongue rocks. I’d love to learn to cook intimidating things like tongue and liver and sweetbreads…partly because I love them and partly because I’d feel so incredibly cool buying them at the butcher. After all this deliciousness, dessert. Of course. Coconut cake with passion fruit sorbet (I remembered having my first actual passion fruit in the Redmond’s Jakarta kitchen after years of having passion fruit flavored things and being shocked by the weird shell-like fruit, filled with seeds and slime), creme caramel with raspberry sorbet, and a butterschotch pot de creme, shockingly ordered at the last minute by non-dessert-Dad and shockingly my favorite one of the desserts. All beautiful and delicious, followed up with the good bitter ao a tiny cup of coffee in a beautiful little cup. And with the bill: tiny (teensy tiny) darling little oatmeal macarons.

Love to Little Bird, love to family, love to Redmonds, love to Portland!

Every morning I walk through Pike Place Market. I will never stop loving Pike Place Market, nor will I ever give up calling it Pike’s like a spacey tourist. I arrive on bus 31 at 3rd and Pine at 8:16, which leaves me 14 minutes to walk to 1201 Western Ave, Seattle Met HQ, 6 blocks away. I hustle past the closed shops on Pine and the just-waking homeless, racing down toward Puget Sound so I can go slowly through the barely roused market. I pass by the guy with the “Old Hippies Need Love Too” sign and exchange routine nods and clomp down that last little steep pitch past Sur La Table and Beechers, peeking into both. Some mornings I see the white-jacketed staff of Marche prepping in their big kitchen, quietly looking over long lists, clearly appreciating the rarity of silence in that space. Then I’m on down that little strip of shops on the left of the market; the Chinese steamed bun place, the tiny old couple already there rolling dough; the pastry shop whose windows are filled with croissants and baguettes, leaving only a tiny hole for the vendor’s face; the cinnamon-heavy bakery whose blueberry bran muffins I cannot resist. I continue South, muffin in hand, crossing paths with this dapper old man who is always, always there, nodding to his market friends, hands in the pockets of his khaki overcoat. Sometimes I pop into the market proper, the covered space that becomes packed pandemonium on a summer Sunday. The fish is coming in, their shiny bodies getting re-situated in new ice, their glassy eyes all lined up, their mouths gaping, showing their odd little fish teeth. The dried flower ladies arrive around the same time as me, announced by their rustling as they move box after box of dyed-purple thistles and silver spray-painted wheat in from vans. 8:25, I walk back up to 1st. Past the tacky T-shirt shops, past the Four Seasons, past Frans and their worth-three-dollar dark chocolate almonds, past SAM and the hammering man I remember thinking was Paul Bunyan. Turn right where University ends, trot down the Harbor Steps, look at myself in the vacant storefront windows on the corner, watch everyone else look at themselves in the window, lust after the candlesticks in Liave, pull open the very big front doors, click across the lobby, catch the elevator, wonder whats on the key-holder-only 7th floor, get off at the 4th, say “Good Morning” and try not to yawn, walk past the food critic’s office, feel full of job envy, and there I am, at my very own desk, with my mason jar of pistachios and tacked-up picture of me and my mom and dad.

P.S. I am a tiny bit proud: read my restaurant post on the Seattle Met food blog.

Why I love America: Mexican food.

My three favorite Spanish words: Carnitas, Lengua, Pastor.

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Why I love Canada: Asian food.

My three favorite Japanese words: Tobiko, Maguro, Maki.

Bari is perhaps my only friend who is every bit as food-obsessed as I am. First thing both of us did when we decided to meet in Montreal was start prowling food blogs, reviews, Urban Spoon, Zagat– scoping out out best meals in the city. We started off with a brunch at Le Cartet, heralded as one of the best brunches in the city, a big open space, half restaurant, half shi-shi gourmet market, right in Old Montreal. After an short little wait in line, we sat down and started the excruciating process of ordering. Thankfully, Bari is a sharer, so we get to do the double meal thing. Except… we usually order three meals and somehow fit it all in to our greedy foodie tummies. So we got “Brunch Sante:” yogurt with house made granola and blueberries, fruit, cheese, and thick crusty toast with a little smear of goat cheese, topped with bitter greens and a poached egg. I have no idea how, but that toast-goat-greens-egg combination was totally spectacular. More-than-the-sum-of-its-parts kind of deal.

Then: scrambled eggs with asparagus and cheddar and a side of smoked salmon. Then: French toast made with heaven-on-earth hazelnut bread and topped with what we believe to be extra-tart apple sauce and a big handful of blueberries. Our waiter was trying not to look horrified/impressed with our order. And even more so when he came to clear our plates, and found them totally empty. Later that night we had a massive meal (more on that later) but woke up on Sunday and headed out for another brunch, stomachs growling.

This time at Lawrence, a place we had considered, but was confirmed as a top brunch pick by our Montreal foodie water at dinner. Arriving to a chock-a-block restaurant, we prowled hungrily down the street in search of coffee and a little smackerel to wait our turn, and found ourselves as a deliciously funky café, where we held ourselves over with americanos and lattes and a big peach muffin.

Finally we got the call and rushed back down the block to take our spot at the bar. Not quite hungry enough for three big brunch-sized breakfasts, we ordered just two this time. English breakfast: one perfect sunny-side-up egg, thick toast, a roasted tomato (an idea which I plan to steal and have in my life on a regular basis), house made bacon, sausage, and black pudding. All so good, the rich fattiness of it all crying out for tartness, answered by the tomato. The black pudding…we did our best. But no, not beloved. And our second dish, a sausage and egg roll. Milk bun with a house made (of course) sausage patty, a bit of beautiful cheese, another perfect egg, tomato, and arugula. The McMuffin’s mega posh, very very distant cousin. Also very good.

We contemplated the French toast (topped with pears and cranberries in the Lawrence version) but our extraordinarily full bellies cried out for us to please, for the love of all that is holy, stop. So instead we waddled out and wandered the Plateau for a bit, went for a lovely tour up onto Mount Royal with our excellent local tour guide friends, then… went to the Atwater market for maybe just a tiny little snack. (Here’s Bari, global foodie companion.)

Sometimes, eating alone is sad. Sometimes, it’s not. When you’ve got three chefs and house-made charcuterie for company, not so much. I wondered where to go for my solo dinner in Montreal, debated a classic French meal at a famous bistro, a light vegetarian meal after the days of amazing indulgence (more on that later), but settled on Le Comptoir, only a 20 minute walk away and oh, just voted into the top 10 restaurants in Canada.

Crossed my fingers and called for a spot at the bar, got a harried yesofcourse, and trotted on down to Rue Saint Laurent. Took my spot at the bar, a ringside seat for the kitchen drama unfolding right there in front of me. Three chefs, one dishwasher, and an array of extraordinarily hip waitstaff diving and ducking and twirling around each other, plating perfect dish after perfect dish, carefully measuring out slices of sopressata, stacking bright tomatoes atop one another, calling out for service, whisking the food off to the awed spectators. I started with a glass of organic Greek red wine (number one reason I like Canada), chosen by my waiter and guide through the all-French menu scrawled up on the wall. Then a plate of charcuterie—a must, seeing as they make the stuff right downstairs.

Soppresata, fennel sausage, chorizo, pig’s head (Yes. And explained by my Francophone waiter, “This is of the pig’s whole head, cooked and chopped.” And yes, shockingly good.), and a little rectangle of terrine. With a healthy dab of house-made mustard, a couple perfect little pickles, and a big hunk of pickled fennel. Took me a while to work my way through all the pork, but I made it to the other side for my next blissful course: poelee de chanterelles, langue de porc braisee, mini raviolis a la puree de racine de persil. I could pick out “chanterelles” and “pork” and “ravioli” on my own, and I was pretty much sold. Then once I got the full translation and realized pork tongue was up for grabs, I was super sold. I love weird animal bits. If anything was to convince me of divinity in this world, it’d be foie gras. Sweetbreads make me want to sing, bone marrow makes me want to dance. I always, always go for the lengua from the sketchy taco trucks. Pig tongue at the 8th best restaurant in Canada? Yes please.

Another glass of wine, this one a French red, arrived along with my bowl of heaven, chosen and explained in great, kinda indecipherable detail by my very knowledgeable waiter. And then the braised tongue, incredibly tender and perfect alongside the earthy mushroom and rich sauce. (And I swear they were morels…or maybe it was all so good that I just went ahead an hallucinated an once more of goodness…) And perfect little raviolis, all in a sauce of the gods, topped with a very necessary cloud of greenery, just bitter enough to cut the richness of it all. I’m not a very slow eater, in fact, a little bit of a scarf-er, but I savored that dish for a very solid twenty minutes.

Added to the flavors of the plate and the perfectly-picked wine was the joy of watching the three cooks practice their craft; the pantry man careful and deliberate with his many many mixing bowls, the broiler-grill duo wielding hot pans, coloring plates with sauces, timing a million things in their minds. Such a delight to watch this goodness come into being, to watch people do something they’re really truly good at. And a tiny bit of melancholy envy, mostly of their focus and their clear satisfaction. I miss that little jolt of joy when you see a row of perfect dishes ready to enter into the world, made by your own hands. But I got over my little pang when I noticed that all the glorious chefs were sweating like mad, wiping their brows on dirty kitchen towels and sneaking sips of wine out of water glasses. Then I snapped back to reality and relished my position on the other side of the counter.

I hadn’t noticed the dessert menu drawn up on the wall behind me, and hadn’t planned on dessert, with my double pork, double wine meal. But they had panna cotta. Panna cotta, compote de pommes, a la feve tonka, puree de date, sable Breton aux pecans. Apples…dates…cookies…tonka? Not so sure. And it was explained to my little English-only brain, but it was loud and I was in a pre-panna cotta haze, so I just nodded. And maybe drooled. The panna cotta arrived in a little glass, just like Mom makes; just like how its supposed to be. Jelled cream topped with something fruity. Pure, bright bliss. I love panna cotta because it manages to be rich and refined. It’s straight cream, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s the girl you never knew was uber wealthy till you spied her beautiful shoes. It’s quietly decadent. It’s the best. “Was it what you were dreaming of?” my waiter asked. Yes, yes, yes. The pure creaminess cut with the warmth of the apple and date, the silkyness contrasted by the snappy sable. I lingered for a good while longer over my panna cotta and last little milliliters of wine, not wanting to leave the glow of the kitchen, of cooking, of good food, of people all delighting in creating and eating and drinking and savoring and sharing.

But here’s the walk home:

<a href=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/67/1559072/restaurant/Plateau-Mont-Royal/Le-Comptoir-Montreal”><img alt=”Le Comptoir on Urbanspoon” src=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/logo/1559072/minilogo.gif&#8221; style=”border:none;width:104px;height:15px” /></a>

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get an all-expenses-paid (unless you are a foodie with awesome foodie friends) trip to Ottawa, Canadia’s lovely capitol, to hang out with a bunch of other college students who are odd enough to be doing a study abroad in our upstairs neighbor country. I somehow finagled myself a nice little fellowship from the Killam/Fulbright people to come hang out in Vancouver and “foster international understanding” along with a bunch of other students shuffling across the border to Montreal and Los Angeles and all over the place, and this was our orientation. Sadly, as it once and for all confirms my ultimate nerdiness, going to an academic conference was shockingly fun. It’s actually is pretty fascinating to compare the States to Canada, and living in a place that’s so similar to home while being so different at the same time (it’s a whole ‘nother country, as it turns out) makes you notice the differences all the more. Like… the Queen is still in charge of this place, technically. And… they call their money “Loonies” and “Toonies.” Anyways, so here I am in Ottawa. Long-time readers might remember Jackie-Bari-Chelsie, the Canadian trio I met in Bali, where we kinda built a house and ate some very good and some very bad food. We sadly sadly sadly parted ways in Bali, hoping to see each other again somewhere, sometime in the great big world. And somehow, we have! We’ve all ran into each other, in New York, in Miami, all over. And luckily enough, Jackie lives right there in Ottawa and Bari only a train ride away! And the best part of all: these two lovely, much-missed girls are huge foodies. Though they fed us at the conference (surprisingly good food too, thanks Fulbright folk) I held off at most of the dinners because I had a much better dinner coming my way each night. Friday night was Whalesbone Oyster Bar, the most popular little seafood restaurant in Ottawa right this second.

Tucked into a long long skinny little space, the restaurant was jam packed with Ottawa-ites, chowing down on oysters. Seated right next to the open kitchen, our mouths kind of might have started watering right away. Then they brought us the best bread ever with (get this) brown butter. A big ol’ serving of nutty, caramely, brown butter. This may have rivaled the Campagnolo bread experience last week. This butter…. this butter. I can’t say anything else. If there is heaven, it is made out of brown butter. We finally narrowed down our order and got: chefs choice of 4 oysters, octopus, calamari, and sea bass. First the oysters, two simply raw and simply perfect, two poached in butter, nestled in a big hot pan of corn and prosciutto and… butter. Goodness.

Then the octopus, grilled with big hunks of melon and prosciutto. I’m a sucker for octopus (get it? ha. ha.) so I loved it. Cause I love everything. But good, and especially good with the sweet-salty melon-ham classic alongside. Then the calamari, old-school crispy with tart marinated zucchini and a crazy-good curry sauce. Mmm. And lastly the bass, with a big ol’ buttery braised leek, a pile of sweet corn, and a handful of salty chantrelles. My god, I love Ottawa. Eating really good food rocks. Eating really good food and talking about really good food while you’re eating the really good food? Aw yeah. So full and happy, we all made our way home, Bari anxious to get online and scope us out another restaurant.

The next day: Play, a rad little small-plates spot right next to Jackie’s apartment. After a painful deliberation process, we finally settled on the arctic char gravalax, bean and potato salad, zucchini gratin, rainbow trout, and meatball sub. Gravalax goodness, especially with the kickin’ little apple-ginger slaw and wasabi dressing. Purple potatoes and snappy beans plus bacon equals warmth and delight and yum. The zucchini tomato gratin, as simple as it was, might have been my favorite. I’m a major zucchini fan, and it was pretty perfect. (And served in a tiny little American Girl doll-sized cast iron pan…!!) The rainbow trout… I have a weird relationship with trout, post-trout-murdering. It was good, for being trout, but the caramelized carrots along with it were the stars. Meatball sub, mmm. Bread, eggplant, meatballs, barbecue chip bits. Then to top it all off: gelato. Ginger, raspberry, and oreo gelato. Delicious, heavenly, creamy gelato.

The next day, if you can believe it, we managed to squeeze in one more: Benny’s Bistro, touted as Ottawa’s best brunch. You walk in through a beautiful, aromatic little French bakery and your stomach instantly starts growling. Another good thing about Jackie and Bari: they are share-ers. I hate eating just my own dish. I am plagued with the worst order envy on earth. Sharing means: not having to decide on one dish, not coveting thy neighbor, and being able to all gush about how good every single little thing is. And: it lets you get french toast annnnd salmon for breakfast. French bread, French restaurant, all signs pointed toward The Best French Toast Ever. True. Topped with a little cinnamony cream, peach compote, and tiny little blueberries. Alongside our other bfast: fingerling potato salad, arugula, salmon gravlax, sunnyside-up egg. Sweet joy, salty joy. Then we walked it off in the the Byway Market (Ottawa’s less nuthouse-y Pike Place) and kept right on talking about food.

There was one more food experience of note (yes, really.) Another perk of the smart-kids-go-to-Canada deal: cocktail party at the American ambassador’s (gigantic) house. We all dressed ourselves up and went out to the fancy diplomat ‘hood. Everyone filed in and shook Mr. Jacobson’s (that’s Mr. Ambassador to you) hand, and I think I might have gotten a tiny bit nervous and thus a tiny bit ultra perky and said something like “Potato state!”

(Of course I saved my invite, I’m treasuring it forever.) Aside from the interesting conversation and awesome house gawking, there were some stellar hors d’oeuveres. (I definitely just had to google that spelling….) A few other ultra-clever girls and I camped out all nonchalantly beside the kitchen doors, assuring our first pick of the snick snacks. One of the best: Jack Daniels shrimp. Sounds so weird, was so good. Spicy, sweet, roasty, creamy shrimp. Probably the Americans’ signature thang for all the cool Ambassador shin-digs I’m sure they have. “Invite the Americans, they always bring those awesome shrimp.” Also: salmon atop petite little purple potatoes, crab cakes perched on cucumber rounds with tiny basil leaf hats, surprising salt and pepper tofu, and perfect little steak cubes wedged between bright onion. The perks of nerdiness. Ottawa: A plus all-round.

I’ve been far too busy looking at Vancouver restaurant reviews and napping to blog, but here we go: I’ve always had a strange dislike of California. More of a distrust maybe, and definitely unfounded, but I’ve never loved the Golden State. Until now. My image of bug-eye sunglass wearing chicks driving convertibles with little dogs in their laps has been replaced by a sunny paradise full of sushi and hip shopping and wide-open beaches. (Mostly sushi.) We started off in San Diego for our dear friend’s wedding (Congrats Lauren Parker!) where we ate awesome Chinese food, delish leftover tapas (benefiting from Uncle Ross’ birthday), and a fair amount of wedding cake. Then on to Santa Monica, where less than an hour after travel partner Logan and I’s arrival, we were eating spicy tuna rolls and salty seaweed salad. The very next day we were being tourists on the pier, slamming sandwiches and awesome, neon orange sweet potato fries.

Then more sushi. Always sushi. Second round was at a tucked-away little spot that L’s aunt and uncle (sushi lovers too!) go to a lot. Sat at the bar like real pros and ate the. best. sushi. First: hand rolls stuffed with crab and spicy tuna and avocado. Dunked in soy sauce and sesame seeds, pure bliss. Then crispy rice squares topped with more spicy tuna and avocado wedges. Crispy, spicy, creamy. Lordy. Rolls started pouring over the bar; rolls filled with fatty tuna, salmon, tempura vegetables… everything good. Excellent sushi experience. A raw fish-less summer in McCall really worked up a craving, this really satisfied it.

Then… frozen yogurt. (We were on vacation, alright) The fun/dangerous self-serve-style frozen yogurt. They only have  gigantic bowls, and every time I go I think, “Wow, that’s a big bowl, I surely won’t fill that up.” A little smidge of pretty much every flavor later, I’ve got a full bowl. Pass by the topping bar, and I’ve got an overflowing bowl. They charge you by the ounce, so you get a numeric rating of your piglet-ness. “13 ounces of fro yo! No way could one girl ever finish that!” Wrong. Can do. Logan was impressed.

Log and I have always sort of known that we’re very different, but this trip confirmed it. We, despite having grown up practically as sisters, are opposite in near every way. Yin an yang style. Except when it comes to food. We share a deep love for sushi and fro yo, and most of all; lox bagels. Our first morning in Santa Monica we walked down the block to the market and got ourselves  bagel provisions and made some pretty decent lox bagels. On our last morning in Santa Monica, Log’s lovely aunt got us a bag of real-live chewy awesome bagels, whipped cream cheese, the beloved lox, and the necessary (I say) capers and red onions. Breakfast bliss. Sushi, sweet potato fries, frozen yogurt gluttony, and lox bagels; I love California.