Mom & Tagliarini with Black Truffles
Da Marco, Houston
This may be hard to believe if you’ve eaten a meal with me in the last decade, but as a child, I was apparently a finicky eater. I never wanted to eat, in fact, that my mom cried often out of worry and took me to the doctor’s office*, as a lot of first-time mothers do.
Once in a while, though, I’d request a random snack. Potato croquettes. Choux cream puffs. Onigiri. She’d be so ecstatic that I even hinted at the possibility of eating something, that she’d drop everything and start mashing potatoes, whipping heavy cream, hand-rolling rice balls. It was all time consuming stuff (I was only three years old, it wasn’t on purpose) and when she was finally done, I had become completely uninterested. She diligently followed me around the playground trying to feed me the fruits of her labor, but I wasn’t having it. I ran off; the neighborhood kids ended up eating all of the food. She cried some more**.
When I was four, I developed a taste for galbi. We weren’t exactly well-off back then, and eating galbi at restaurants could be a strain financially. But she knew I would be eating. So we went to a lot of bbq restaurants. There, I’d happily chomp on my marinated short ribs, while my mom ordered a bowl of noodles for herself.
She is the reason why food is my love language.
* She was told repeatedly that I was more than “healthy”; she needn’t worry
** I don’t discount the possibility that she may be exaggerating to make me feel bad, as a lot of moms do. I fully intend on using the same method for my future children.
top: Farm’s egg with beet root and liquid herb’s salad, carpaccio of Basque stew and cheese
middle: Mille-feuille of smoked eel, foie gras, spring onions and green apples
bottom: Squid soup- creamy squid ink ravioli served with squid pasta and squid crouton
I realized that I never really posted food pictures from my trip to Spain a couple of years back. It was a marvelous week, filled with daily dosage of jamón ibérico, red wine, and late night strolls through architectural beauties.
One Saturday afternoon, we took the bus to a small coastal town of San Sebastian, and dined at the famed Martin Berasategui. It was one of those serious lunches, a bit hushed and formal, but with every course presented in front of us, we marveled at the complexity and skillful execution of each of the regional ingredients used at the restaurant.
Afterwards, we found an ice cream shop in the town square, sat on the bench with cones in our hands, and watched the charming beach town life pass us by for an hour.
A long, luxurious lunch, mingling with the locals, relaxing by the beach. It was a really good day.
A corn dog will forever hold a special place in my heart, despite the fact I’m not a fan of hotdog meat. I think it’s that delicate sweet-savory flavor combo, fried/crunchy batter, plus the nostalgic memories of carefree youth spent at the amusement parks.
So when a grown-up version of corn battered pig face, pickled okra and devilled egg shows up on the menu? I’m a giddy child inside all over again.
Barley Swine, Austin, TX
All birthday meals are fat free!
I’ve come a looooong way, since the days of 21 crown/kamikaze shots. I know I’m lucky to have everything I do (support system, 2012 elite status, crows feet from smiling often). What I don’t, I’m okay letting it be & letting it go (size 25 pants, chubby babies, cartier love bracelet). What matters is my ultimate three F’s- great family, friends and food.
Spaghetti Carbonara with egg yolk
Coppa Ristorante, Houston, TX
“Caprese” salad made from silken tofu, cherry tomatoes and shiso leaves.
My first dish out of the Momofuku cookbook. I still haven’t made up my mind whether I like David Chang or not, b/c he sounds SO douchey/cocky in some interviews. But when I think about the amazing 17-course meal I had at Ko, it’s hard not to give props to the man who put Korean food on a pedestal in America.
This salad, for example. Jean-Georges Vongerichten called it one of the best things David Chang made. It’s a simple salad, really, but I think Vongerichten is talking about the simplicity and the creativity behind this dish. Creamy tofu balanced with lightly blanched and peeled tomatoes, which have the texture of peeled grapes, give this dish a refreshing twist on the traditional Caprese salad. I didn’t even miss the cheese! Thinly sliced shiso leaves also add on a fragrant punch.
If it wasn’t so time consuming to peel those little suckers, I’d say it’s a perfect dish for hot Houston summers.
You know when you visit a really good restaurant it feels like a really fancy and complicating dish must be eaten in order to correctly judge its caliber? Not true. Sometimes the most basic dish served at every other joint across town is the real measuring stick that truly lets the chef’s skills shine through.
Case in point : Lotus of Siam. Pad See Ew is as basic as Thai food gets, and normally I would never order it bc it always ends up being a disappointing mess of soggy goop. However, at this famed Vegas joint, your tastebuds will reawaken to how good a simple noodle dish can be. Perfectly chewy, lightly covered in finger-licking sauce, with crispy veggies and plenty of eggs.
A classic done right. That’s good food.
I often get emails from friends asking for restaurant recommendations. I suppose not everyone has the time nor the desire (pfft!) to read restaurant news from all over the globe. So over the years, I’ve sort of kept a growing list of restaurants in cities I’ve visited and have forwarded it on to the next traveler.
Obviously, most places cater to my palate (which is the best palate, anyway…) and preference, but it’s nice to see someone else enjoy a great meal based on my recommendation. I honestly believe one of the worst offenses an American tourist commits is eating bad food abroad. Hopefully some of these City Guides will steer you towards a memorable, maybe even an unforgettable meal :)
Cerveceria Catalonia on the calle Mallorca- a must visit tapas bar and my favorite. crowded, but worth the wait. Great variety of fresh tapas, nothing sits for a long time because it is constantly being sold and remade. Affordable house wine that is delicious. Locals frequent it more than tourists.
Restaurant Sant Joan - the best Catalan home cooking at reasonable prices. It’s like a small neighborhood diner, serving locals good food like they used to eat at home. Everything is homemade (including their ice creams) and it was one of my most favorite meals. The menus are on the wall in only spanish or catalan but servers speak a bit of English. I’d just suggest getting whatever looks good from neighboring tables, because the chances are you’ll love it too. Located on Paseo San Joan at the corner of Aragon. Open for lunch only Monday to Saturday.
El Vaso de Oro - right near the Barceloneta metro station - a long, narrow bar full of Catalans eating excellent tapas. Great house-made beer, food and lively environment, which makes for a fun night out.
Paco Meralgo is a bit more tourist-friendly, but still has great tapas at reasonable prices. They have this killer spicy meatball dish, and an amazing steak dish that comes in a bowl. Razor clams are a fine pick here as well.
Dos Palillos was a GOOP recommendation, the skinny white lady who likes to eat. As with most of Gwyn’s recs, it is definitely on the pricier side, but Spanish-Japanese fusion was a nice change from the fried tapas we were having all week. Dishes were clean, inventive and tasty, if a bit small. Surprisingly good sake list.
Can Ravell is a restaurant inside a grocery store (and you KNOW how much I love grocery stores in foreign countries) that serves higher-end dishes not typically found in Cerveceria. Think foie, pig’s trotter, pigeon. But don’t let this deter you, they have a list of regular items as well, all expertly prepared and fresh as can be. You have to pay a price for it, though, as most dishes hover right around €20.
La Granja on C/Banys Nous 4 is a milk parlor, reminiscent of old world European cafes. You walk a couple doors down to the Xurreria and buy a bag of freshly fried churros. Take it to La Ganja and order one of their thick, rich xocolata picant, sprinkled with chili for additional kick. Dip, eat, dip, eat, repeat till you run out of either. I bet you can’t help but make an extra trip for a fresh bag of airy, puffy churros.
Mercat de La Boqueria is a huge market where you can find a variety of country’s famed jamón. Walk around and sample as much you can take, then pop over to one of many stalls inside the market to eat an iberico jamón sandwich on a crusty baguette. Man, your life will never be the same. Charcuterie enlightenment, so to say. You can also find the rare jamón de bellota, made from the famous acorn-fed black-footed (pata negra) Spanish pigs. Now, this is the most important part. Buy a half-pound vacuum-packed package (good food is expensive, now is not the time to discuss quantity), carefully hand carry it back to the States, and call me for a tasting. I’d like to think without this post, you wouldn’t have known anything about jamón and would’ve continued to eat Hormel’s HAM sandwiches instead :)