Archives for category: Travels

I haven’t touched a camera in weeks. Whoops. So here’s a nice cameraphone post.

First off, ciao Florida. No more oranges and sunshine. Happy to be home, sad to go. Leaving contributed to non-posting… I was on the “use-all-the-weird-stuff-thats-been-siting-around-all-semester” diet. (aka pasta and frozen waffles… aka not the most thrilling blog material. Although we did have pumpkin pancakes with some of the pounds and gallons of pumpkin I’d apparently been hoarding since Thanksgiving season.) Then off to Seattle, where I did not go to Pike’s Place for the first time ever! I think that means my tourist status is wearing off. Much sushi and Trader Joes goodness and the traditional Asian lunches with Genia. First, Thai, in a cute little basement Thai spot off the Ave. Tofu pad thai and pork ramen. All good. We were in there for kind of a late-ish lunch, and after everyone but us left, the employees set up for their own family meal lunch…and my curiosity set in and I couldn’t resist asking all about the weird and amazingly tasty looking things they were devouring. Especially this fresh bright chopped salad… “That must be some lovely super authentic Thai spring salad,” I thought. “Oh, that’s Mexican!” they explained, and gave us each big flat tortillas topped with a sweet (and spicy, according to Genia) salsa of avocados and cabbage and mango and everything good. (And coconut water! Yum.)

Then Pho, on the Ave. Gigantic steaming bowls of rich broth chock-a-bloack full of noodles and topped with thinly sliced steak, cooked by the heat of the soup. A cool little joint with menus inside the tables, practically no decorations, and packed with people happily and completely ungracefully eating Pho. Plus…cream puffs.

Then wandering around Queen Anne with dear Logan and the boy she nannies, who happens to be the most adorable thing on earth, wistfully looking into cupcake shop windows but satisfying ourselves with bagels and lox. And many many samples of creamy herbed butter, swabbed onto bread like cheese at a cute little pasta shop.

Then home! Home to Idaho, to Moscow, for a big warm good meal at beloved ol’ Nectar. Honey and cheese (not surprisingly…turns out brie and honey are angelic together) then salads, then creamy spring pasta dotted with peas for Ma, clams for Pa, and meatballs and pizza for A. Then pizza with leftover meatball marinara on top… then bread with marinara… then practically an entire loaf of bread, dunked into the clam sauce. Then a very full walk home, to my own cozy house with my own cozy family!


Street food mecca! Empanadas…my favorite. Must figure out how to recreate. The crust remains a little doughy, by some magic bakers trick…or maybe because they sit on a hot plate all day until getting popped in the microwave before consumption. Either way, perfection. Available with all kinds of fillings, most commonly, as one empanada-hawker put it in English for me: chicken, vegetables, or meat. Go for meat. Chopped beef (not ground, usually) with onions, olives, and hard-boiled eggs. Mmmm. Also in the parade of street food: choripan (chorizo + pan…sausage n’ bread. I never had one, but Momma was a big fan), steak sammiches (of course), fresh OJ (which they had everywhere, for less than a glass of crap reconstituted OJ here…I drank A LOT of juice…), mega-sweet, mega-good fruit salads, popcorn, caramelized nuts (peanuts and/or almonds made on the spot, a hot copper pot swirled with sugar and vanilla and a splash of water to coat the nuts in crystal sweetness…you get drawn in by the burnt sugar smell and next thing you know you’re all hypnotized, handing over crumpled pesos for a little plastic bag of nuts…), cake (food stand, with stacks and stacks of decadently decorated cakes…tres leches, towering chocolate cakes, cakes coated in sliced strawberries…and hordes of people standing around the stand, shoving bites of cake into their happy mouths while they balance the enormous slice on a wobbly paper plate), and these awesome little grilled tortillas, still doughy inside, charred on the outside.

Mate, it’s for reals. It’s not just for the sweet oldies clinging onto the way it was, not at all. Everyone, all mate, all the time. (Supplemented by a hearty number of cafe cortados though, of course.) Mate cup/gourd, bombilla, thermos of hot water, pack of mate- necessary at all times. Packed into specially designed mate packs, or minimalist-style thermos tucked under the arm, mate in hand, or even jammed in the baby stroller cup holder. There are ultra-fancy gilded, hammered silver gourds, campy little painted ones, pretty little wooden ones, hip little silicone ones. Mate tradition seems strangely a  bit similar to the call to prayer–albeit sans-religion–a little break from the day’s work to reunite with your friends, maybe have a small snack, chat, sit on the curb, you know. Though we had the burnt-sugar mate at Casa Feliz, we never took part in the full on mate sipping deal. It felt a little…intrusive, tourist-posing-as-mega-cultural-traveler, Lonely Planet momenty to buy ourselves a mate set up and mimic all the cool Argentinians.

Produce in Argentina is muy fascinante. As far as I could tell, it comes from like, you know, farms. Farm-wooden crate-truck-bodega. And while big ol’ supermarkets are scanty, specific shops (carnecerias, fruterias, etc.) litter the city along with a mass of bodegas. But whereas an American bodega would have maybe a couple unripe bananas and some carrot sticks packaged with ranch, every bodega has a substansial little produce corner, run by someone entirely different than the shop a lot of the times. Buy your Quilmes and soap at the register, then cross the store to pick out some slightly dented duranzos and bunched arugula, a couple shining eggplants and a bag of oranges for juicing from the produce man hunched over a mini tv behind his wares, yelling at the Boca Juniors. Who knows if it was organic or sustainable or whatever–it’s accessible and plentiful, real vegetables and beautiful fruits available on every street corner! (And how badly did I want a battered old produce crate? Very, very, very badly. And the one place I documented they had plastic ones, of course)

And…tango. It’s delightful. And legit, everyone seems to know at least a little tango. We happened to be in Buenos Aires for “Noche en Vela” or Sleepless Night, a big big night of hundreds of art/music/cultural events all across the city. Cafes filled to the brim with people pressing their ears against stone walls in an attempt to hear the strains of a famous flamenco band, the giant obelisk in the center of town became a massive canvas for a flashy light show, and a whole busy street was blocked off, crowned with a stage for a tango band, the street itself full of swaying couples, some impressively talented, sweeping each other around amongst the gawkers, some just sweetly fumbling through the steps before taking a break for a small sip of mate.

 

Argentina = Beef. Cow-eating capital of the universe. BEEF people, beef. In a big way. More parillas than one could really begin to count, the smell of charcoal smoke and deliciously burning animal fat waft into the streets of Buenos Aire, drawing in hordes for great slabs of beef and platters of papas fritas. The bony asado, with ribs far larger than any American cut, the dinosaur bones laced with fatty meat and overlaid with a triangular strip of charcoaled beef. The run of the mill lomo de bife, as far as we can tell, a tenderloin, available at charismatic corner cafes, white table cloth restaurants, and shoved between two hunks of white bread from a choripan hawker on a busy street. Matambre, a flavorfully stringy skirt steak best dunked in oily criollo. And the ojo de bife, ribeye, which we never tried, too enamored with the garden-variety lomo.

Somehow the sweaty meat-meister comes across totally regal.

The parilla is a bit of a scene, what seem like whole sides of cows hoisted up over smoky charcoal flames, the beef master tending his meat, turning sides of ribs around and shuffling sizzling links of chorizo. You can’t help but get drawn in, ordering a pound or so of cow despite the fact that you just slammed six sugary media lunas. The meat always arrives alone, when you order steak, you get a. steak. No dressing, no side, no drizzling of god forsaken truffle oil. Delightfully, deliciously simple. Metal mixing bowls of fried potatoes or leafy salads are passed around, hot oily potatoes mingled with garlic the perfect side to beef the world ’round.

And maybe it was just my charcoal-smoke-hazed mind full of images of grass-grazing Pampas cows, but the beef is dang good.

And… there are many new photos! Including (but not limited to) clown portraits.

Pumpkin raviloi (which were pink) in Bolognese sauce, “salad” of rice, ground beef, onions, and boiled egg, and a another “salad” of rice, peas, and canned tuna. Argentine bar food at our ancient local bar, El Federal.

Street empanadas. Sweet gift of the gods. Literally every single cafe, street corner, even serious restaurant, has these babies.

Caramelized figs on a stick, shoved into  bag of hot kettle corn. I can work with that.

Chefs! Funny chefs.

Casa Felix is pretty aptly named… It’s Diego Felix’s house. Just about opposite of the mass of spilling-onto-the-sidewalk cafes and hamburger slinging food carts in Buenos Aires, Casa Felix is a closed-door pescatarian restaurant, serving one beautiful meal to twelve guests just three nights a week. Past busy Palermo, Casa Feliz is marked by a glowing door and the somewhat apprehensive diners gathering around it at 9:30, wondering if they’re at the right spot, only to be happily welcomed in by Diego himself, ushered through a lovely home decorated with bright flowers and soft light, through a working kitchen with a very full spice rack, back into a sweet garden patchworked with herbs and gravel.

Little glasses of caipirinha arrived, the mojito’s complex cousin made with herbs from the tree above us. The rest of the guests trickled in and we milled around the dark garden admiring the plants, the garden, the house, the concept, the whole city. A tray of northern Argentinian cheese wrapped in chayote leaves (…from said garden) drenched in dark chamar syrup presented itself and was quickly cleared, the soft salty cheese in love with the fibrous leaves and sweet palm-sugary syrup. A return diner said his previous Casa Felix meal was one of the best in his lifetime…a certain good looking movie star who may have played Che Guevara arrived… (!!!) excitement built.

We chatted with Diego about his restaurant, which is the principal bit of a bigger project. He and his wife and sous chef do cooking tours in the States, bringing the closed-door dining concept with them, taking over people’s kitchens and producing wonderful meals with local ingredients. The local/organic trend is pretty different in Argentina, Diego and a couple other locals explained. While lots of small farmers are probably growing close to organic produce, its difficult to get certified, so produce may or may not be organic, it’s hard to say. Plus, perhaps there just isn’t quite the same market for the Whole Foods mentality here in the nation of sausage-sandwich lovers. Argentina seems to be somewhat unique in the fact that it’s really self-sustained, all the produce eaten here is grown here. The meat is raised here, the chairs made here, the pencils made here- everythings stamped with “Industria Argentina.” So in that sense the local food/goods mentalty is already somewhat established. But Casa Felix takes it way more local, using fresh pungent herbs from the backyard, making oil from the flowers of the tree down the street. The four days of the week they aren’t hosting dinner, they’re gardening, out meeting producers, introducing them to new seeds. Soon we moved inside, the eight of us seated around one big table. Soft brown bread (so unlike the hard white rolls native to Argentina) and white bean pate was set in front of us, but veterans warned us to save room. After a bit more chatting (and champagne) our first course arrived: chipas over green beans and arugula with salsa criollo. Hot crusty cheesy breads stuffed with salty fontina over sauteed green beans and bright green herbs, with a lighter interpretation of a common steak topping here; salsa criollo, diced onions and tomatoes in oil. The next course another play on an Argentine classic; an oyster mushroom and almond empanada over the season’s last tomatoes, a couple beets, and some light pea sprouts.

A world apart from the street empanada wrapped in paper and stuffed with hot beef, yet still prepared with the same crimpy edges, the same soft dough. Oyster mushrooms are heaven on their own, but with the texture of the almonds and the tang of the tomatoes…oh my. To calm us down from this food bliss, a little intermezza, tiny glasses of cold melon granita, lightly sweet and a welcome break from the complex meal. Then on to the main course! Calamari shepherd’s pie over beans and red pepper sauce, with a few slices of grilled zucchinis. Diego explained the mixed Peruvian and Argentine roots of the dish, and we all got a little quieter as we awed at how something could taste this good. An inbetween polenta and potato pie, topped with a smack of brulee-d sugar, holding inside a handful of perfectly prepared tentacles, over soft beans and just spicy-enough red pepper sauce.

Unexpected, this pairing of earthy shephard’s pie with sea-faring squid, and further yet with smoky red pepper sauce and charcoaled zucchinis. But perfect! Later on dessert arrived, plum and peach galettes with an oatmeal crust, over a spoonfull of sticky black currant sauce, topped with chocolate ice cream. The ice cream melted into the galette, every bite holding the sugary sweetness of the chocolate, the brightness of the late-season fruit, and the crunch of the oatmeal pastry. And finally, little cups of mate cocido- the mate burnt with sugar, creating a dark, sweet, caramelly drink just tasting ever so slightly of mate. By this time it was midnight, but we lingered for at least an hour longer, chatting with our new food-friends, a little bond created over this shared meal. The closed-door restaurant is a special thing, bringing the loveliness of a meal at home even further into the restaurant world than family-style restaurants have done. We all have the same plates, the same tastes, but different reactions to the food, different backgrounds and commentary on the parade of gorgeous courses. And Casa Felix is an extra-special thing, with their bountiful garden, their world tours, their combination of Argentine tradition and modern flavors, their cozy dining room and open kitchen. A lovely meal in a new favorite city.

Pike Place post number 3! Slowly morphing this here blog into a blog solely about tacos and markets. Not such a bad thing, I’d say. Anyway, Pike Place. It’s a nice place. It is chock-a-freaking-block full of turistas, but I still love it. I wondered if it’s indeed 100% gawkers, taking photos of Washington apples and buying smoked salmon and novelty umbrellas, but Daddy-o said he used to actually shop at the market (like, you know, for food) when he was a Seattlite. I know if I’d lived nearby I’d be Pike Place-ing it like mad. Even if only for the witty banter and overpriced sugared cashews…

I sort of can’t remember what this is of exactly, but I know it’s somewhere in Pike Place (…because I only took pictures there…didn’t do such a good job documenting this trip.)

Produce! Wahoo!

Brisk (aka mean) Queen of sugary nuts. (But they were darn good. Except the “Banana Walnuts,” ew, totally gross. Cinnamony, coated in big chunks of sugar hazelnuts though? Yes plz.)

Miami again, Michael’s Genuine again. Had to. Boat Show = everything in Miami is booked, booked, booked. But apparently I’ve been living very righteously, and my “why not” last-minute call to Michael’s at 11:30 resulted in a 12 o’clock brunch rez for Bari (remember Bari, from Bali? we have a history of manual labor and fine dining together) and I. Feeling excited and hungry, we ordered: the famous homemade pop-tarts, lemon ricotta pancakes, reuben omelet, tortilla espanola, and chargrilled octopus (the classic brunch dish…)

The rundown: the pop-tarts, one strawberry and one guava n’ cheese (nod to Miami aka. Latin America) were good, if you were a sugar-hound six year-old. So sweet neither of us could finish ours. Not bad, just too sweet for the likes of us savory folk. Lemon ricotta pancakes, delightfully light (and not too sweet) topped with tarty blueberry sauce. Reuben omelet, so good. Egg wrapped around house-made pastrami and tangy thousand island sauce, a dark purple forest of sour cabbage on the side. Tortilla, my favorite. Contender for Mom’s tortilla, and that’s saying something.

Served room temp, as it should be, chock-a-block full of salty potatoes and not a whole lot else. Topped with tomato onion confit; killer. And the beloved octopus from dinner of course made a reappearance. Slightly different in brunch form, the chewy charcoaly octopus took its place amongst spicy stewed peppers, giant beans, and salty olives–finishing the meal on a perfect note. Anne hearts Michael’s Genuine.

Sometime I feel like I should just change the blog to “Anna Taco,” seeing as a solid half of my posts are about tacos. Can’t help it. Big taco love. They’re just different enough to keep you interested, every shady taco van taking a slightly different variation on the al pastor, some with two corn tortillas cuddling the meat, some with one. Some with mounds of cilantro, some with just a grassy little sprinkling. Some with fiery red sauce chunky with chilies, some with cool, smooth avocado made liquid.

(I love her pink shirt, visor, lips, nails. She had a pink rose painted on her arm too.)

I’m usually a taco purist, sticking to tortillas n’ meat, sticking to what I know, but yesterday I branched out at Maria’s, a non-van taco shop in the Red Barn flea market. 2 tacos (al pastor, barbacoa) …and one sope! Tacos really good, duh, and sope, pretty good! A little scary to vary from tradition, but a rewarding change. Fried little masa bowl filled with carnitas, lettuce, tomatoes, cream, queso. Topped with a messy amount of the avocado sauce, resulting in the use of thirty-five plus napkins, and at the very least that many sighs of delight.

Anne finds taco bliss, again.

Philly cheese steak (surprisingly delicious, coming from a taco spot and all, for Alexandria, sope y tacos for A)

Wedged between a cabaret club and a tango bar, Le Pigeon is loud, their own light indie music blend supplemented by the competing base beats as well as the sounds emitting from the open kitchen at the center of the small space. Waitresses with tall hair and red lips, their forearms tattooed, marking them as Portlanders, weave between the three long tables, delivering foie gras in multiple forms. Decorated with funky found bits like porcelain owls and old chalkboards, Le Pigeon appears to be a casual neighborhood restaurant, the wood tables left uncovered and the bread plates a mismatched assortment of old saucers. But a look at the menu hints otherwise, and the food itself tells an entirely different story.

Met with the options of duck meatballs, sweetbreads, crab sausage, and foie gras in just the first half of the menu, it’s clear that Le Pigeon is more than just a hip neighborhood spot flinging out bowls of pasta. Unable to resist the slightly politically incorrect delicacy, we ordered the foie gras and the duck meatballs. The foie was beyond perfection, the strange piece of meat atop a tiny crumpet, crowned with orange mushroom marmalade. Done exactly right, the foie had the slightest crust that held up as the rest of the bite dissipated into fatty bliss, countered by the tangy marmalade. The duck meatballs were also good, though felt inevitably lackluster next to the foie despite their wreath of sliced black truffles.

After a completely one-sided discussion of how good the foie was, and a debate as to whether or not to just go ahead and get another, our entrees thankfully arrived, resolving the issue. The two men at the table got hanger steaks; described by the waitress as the cut that the butcher traditionally saved for himself. Hanging from the end of the ribs near the kidney, it gleans some of the rich flavor of the kidney, making it a more complex piece of meat than most. Marinated in soy and fish sauce, the steak had the surprising quality of sushi or carpaccio, the rare meat in the center delightfully flavored and delicately textured within the char of the outside.

Two of us got the lamb, prepared two ways on each plate; two chops cooked sous vide and a cube of lamb shoulder terrine. Cooked in a sealed package in temperature-controlled water, the sous vide method allows the chef to get meat to an exact temperature all the way through. Usually chefs sear sous vide prepared meat to give it the same look and variation of cookedness of traditionally prepared meat, but the men of Le Pigeon left them char-less, something I loved, relishing the intact flavor of the meat, and my mother hated, missing the diversity in texture. The terrine was excellent, less overwhelmingly rich than my previous terrine experiences, and paired with a mint pesto and tiny heirloom carrots in a delicate yogurt sauce. The last dish was a pan-seared snapper sitting atop a butternut puree, pleasing although perhaps less exciting than the other dishes.

The first part of dessert was a cheese plate: a soft simple goat cheese, a bit of Ossau Iraty, a sheep cheese, and a wedge of Bethmale, a delectable sheep and goat combination cheese, alongside persimmon ginger chutney and sesame crackers, devoured with delightful fingers. The second part was a goat’s milk panna cotta (If panna cotta is ever on a menu, I have to get it. Clearly.) aside a pomegranate granita and bee pollen shortbread, topped with a few glittering pomegranate seeds. The panna cotta was just the lightest bit goaty, tangy enough to make it interesting but still simple and milky, as panna cotta should be, perfect with the icy granita and crunchy cookies.

Le Pigeon is a special place. The chefs clearly love food, love their food, making its preparation the centerpiece of the intimate space. The atmosphere is at once cozy and enlivening, as the food is simultaneously un-intimidating and impressive.

(Written for Independent Study Project at NCF, p.s.)

Markets are inarguably my favorite places on earth. They always revive my love for humanity. The best pictures I’ve ever taken have been at markets. My most dear possessions are from markets. I cannot resist a market, nor can I resist buying things at markets. Which left me walking around Seattle in the rain with a pound of cherries, two pears, a navel orange, and an irrationally large bag of cinnamon. I like talking to people, to strangers really, and what better way to start chatting than to take a slice of the offered pear, professed to be the best in the land, or ask to take a picture of the harried men setting out shrimp cocktails for the mobs?

I chatted with a fishmonger, he leaning over his cold glass case, me reaching up on my tiptoes to show him my camera. He had the same Nikomat in high school, lugged around the same seven pound camera as my grandpa, my dad, and I. He asked if I developed my own film, and when  admitted that I preferred color, he nodded in agreement and handed me a bite of crab, winking and returning his attention to the masses of tourists clamoring for a bite of fish. Twenty meters down the market, a properly bearded young produce-selling hipster held a pear and a knife, ready to dole out a sample.

Two slices of pear later, I was being fed a chunk of heirloom navel orange and half a fig, commiserating about the annoying, pushy, photo-snapping tourists (one of which  I of course was, but somehow pretended not to be.) A momentary friendship later, I had a bag of oranges and pears and a few pictures. Twenty more meters later, I was drawn in by the plastic lizard menacingly devouring brussel sprouts in the display. Two minutes later, I was trying olive oils and buying cherries. I love markets. I get to buy things and banter with strangers and take pictures, for the price of a couple pieces of perfect fruit.