Category Archives: Travel

Ryokan Repast

As I type, I am sitting in my tatami mat room at a stunning Hokkaido ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. Recently reconstructed, this Noboribetsu ryokan is a creative blend of East and West built with comfort in mind. Beautiful baths, cozy couches, gorgeous green scenery, what’s not to love? But a ryokan stay would not be complete without an intricate kaiseki dinner. Last night’s food was rich, delicate, and oh so plentiful! It was so good that I forgot to document nearly half the meal. With that in mind, I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase a May meal from a ryokan in Nagano.

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The dauntingly long, yet promisingly delicious menu.

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Our appetizers.

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Next up, sashimi!

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And… one of my favorite spring dishes: mountain vegetable tempura.

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Your basic nimono, or simmered dish.

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Polished off with pickles and rice.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a true ryokan meal without a, shall we say unusual, fruity desert.

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Misuzu-kan

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Located in the mountains of Nagano, in a town called Ueda, Misuzu-kan is famous for its classic jam candies. On our way to Bessho-onsen for an overnight ryokan trip, we hopped off the shinkansen at Ueda and headed up the street to Misuzu-kan.

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Still situated in its original 1924 building, Misuzu-kan seems to have hardly changed since its inception.

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We step inside, only to be greeted by a little man pouring tiny cups of fresh apple juice, textured and tasty.

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I admire the space, the antiquated aesthetic, the stunning old light fixtures that Mom adores.

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Then, we approach the counter, where each product is laid out beautifully, scores of samples at our fingertips.

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I work my way from one end to the other. First, the nama-zeri, directly translated to fresh or raw jelly–the kind that is totally natural, with even its sugar content at a minimum.

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These samples were followed by a jar of special sugar jellies, along side a dish of red bean paste, or anko.

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But the real standouts were Misuzukan’s signature jams and fruit jellies. With a bowl of every flavor of jam on offer, as well as massive pile of individually wrapped jam candies it was tough to decide what to taste, let alone buy!

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In the end, we settled on apricot and plum jam, a large box of traditional jam jellies, and a container of sugar encrusted ones to boot!

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The wrapped up our purchases and we headed out to the onsen, large shopping bags in hand.

 

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Marea

Back in New York after a whirlwind three days up at Yale, Dad and I went out to dinner at Marea, a fancy seafood restaurant on Central Park South–one I’d been hearing about since my parents ate there 9 months ago. Let’s just say it lived up to my expectations.

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The atmosphere was buzzing with class.

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We started off with focaccia and a spot of white wine. Aerated and speckled with green olives, the bread had a light, crisp crust, and oh so much flavor.

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Dad and I both picked appetizers from the seasonal antipasti menu. My first official course was a tartaletta made with caramelized onions, marsala, cherry mostarda, and capers.

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Meanwhile, Dad indulged in fresh calamari.

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My next course was funghi risotto. A little more al dente than the typical risotto, the melding of mushroom and rice textures was exquisite.

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Dad’s pesto-bathed ricotta ravioli looked so delicious that it almost disappeared before I got the chance to document the dish. (Whoops!)

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And then, as though I wasn’t full enough, course three then wound its way to the table. Snapper for me, cuttlefish for Dad. Definitely the highlight of the meal thus far. But, then again, we have yet to arrive at the most anticipated plates of the evening.

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But before digging into the heavier stuff, we took a break our repast for some biscotti and chamomile tea.

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Alright, you’ve waited long enough: here they are.

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One Strati di Cioccolato, a sensational combination of dark chocolate and salted caramel flavors, and one Budino di Mandorla, a blissful blend of citrus and white chocolate.

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The check was accompanied by mini chocolate chou-crèmes. We left Marea full to the brim and elated, ready for many similar escapades in the future.

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The Land of Plenty: Zabar’s

Food-wise, America truly feels like the Land of Plenty, especially at a place like Zabar’s.

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Located in NYC, on the Upper West Side, Zabars is a foodie’s heaven.

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Floor to ceiling, the walls are stocked with fruits, vegetables, crackers, tea, olives, prepared salads, chocolate, cheese! How is a shopper supposed to choose?

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I’m indecisive to begin with, so faced with all this to choose from, I’ll admit it took me almost an hour just to buy breakfast food!

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Ultimately, I settled for the classic lox on jewish rye, with a couple of homemade rugelach on the side.

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With two types of fresh rugelach available, chocolate and cinnamon raison, I was inclined not to futz around. Chocolate was the obvious choice. Fortunately, my father threw a couple cinnamon ones into our order. Boy, was I surprised. With  these flakey, fruity little numbers in hand, the chocolate paled by comparison. Who knew?

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Bagels are good, but jewish rye is something else. Soft, with a crust that’s just chewy enough, slightly sour, with caraway seeds all over the place, this bread is to die for.

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Delicious when freshly sliced, this bread is just as tasty the next day: toasted and topped with nova lox and goat cheese, my favorite alternative to the classic cream cheese. There is no better breakfast.

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Soho Sunday

The globetrotter that I am this spring, I now find myself in New York!

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On this sunny spring Sunday, Dad and I headed down to Soho for brunch.

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While exploring, we encountered this endearing little bulldog. Considering the purpose of my visit, this was definitely a good omen. Boola boola!

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The architecture was charming, but after a bit of wandering around, it was time to put food in.

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Dad had made a reservation for Sunday brunch at a happening little spot called Hundred Acres. People watching in New York is fabulous. We were sandwiched between a pair of very hungry New Yorkers – the quantity of food they managed to consume was utterly incredible – and and a trio of men sporting babies on their chests.

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For the food itself, Dad and I started by splitting something ricotta fritters with apple cider syrup. A very unusual and creative combination of sweet and savory flavors, they were to die for.

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For the main event, I had soft scrambled eggs with gruyere and mushrooms, accompanied by homemade cornbread and crunchy fresh greens. The melding of flavors and textures made for a very satisfying eating experience.

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Having tanked up on brunch, Dad and headed back outside to enjoy the sun, shop, and eventually hike our jet-lagged selves back uptown.

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Along the west side of the island, stretching from the Meatpacking District up to 30th Street, runs a swath of park called the High Line. The old elevated train tracks down here have been revamped and are now a NYC destination.

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The wooden deck chairs that line the High Line are elegant and relatively comfortable, in my opinion. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, they seem like the place to be.

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If you know where to look, there’s a great view of the iconic empire state building.

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It always feels like spring when the flowers come out. Daffodils are everywhere! (And they just happen to be my favorites!)

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Araxi

Meal. Of. The. Week.
Or Month.
Or Year? Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but this dinner was utterly sublime.

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A few years ago, Araxi was good. Now it’s great. Exceptional. Extraordinary. And, dare I say it, even better than last night’s Rimrock Café.

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The housemade bread was served with olive oil and butter, a really rich (but magnificent!) combo.

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Eve, Mom, and I strategized our meal with the utmost care: two shared small plates, and two large.

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Butternut squash soup with a touch of curry oil – just enough to taste, but not overwhelm.

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Our second appetizer was a beet salad with fresh mozzarella and candied pecans.

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Main dish no. 1: Arctic Char on roasted rapini, fingerling potatoes, dijon maple dressing, and potato foam.

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And… no. 2: Parmesan Polenta with butternut squash, roasted seasonal vegetables, tapenade, and romesco sauce.

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Finally, the four of us couldn’t resist the restaurant’s signature truffle fries, and truffley they were.

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Brace yourselves. It’s time for dessert. There were a few appealing options on the menu but none quite lived up to the sound of ‘Valrhona Chocolate Fondant: warm chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream.’

Tangent: the consensus is that we really should have had two sticky toffee puddings last night rather than one of those and a chocolate cake – disappointing. As a result, Mom ventured forth a brave suggestion: two of the chocolate fondant. It was definitely the right decision.

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This cake. Mom even went as far as saying it may be one the best chocolate desserts she’s ever tasted. Eve wants it piped into her veins via IV.

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As though we hadn’t had enough to eat, our server brought a few little treats to round off the meal. The shortcake and chocolate cookie were good, but the financiers were easily the highlight. Moist and mildly sweet, they were delightful.

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Before leaving, we just had to take a look at the Araxi cookbook. What if it had the instructions for the butternut squash soup? Or better yet, that molten chocolate cake recipe?

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Well, it did. So, naturally, a copy came home with us, autographed to my sister and I by the chef and all!

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To Abby and Eve – Always eat well and hug a farmer.

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Rimrock Café

A couple trips to Whistler ago, we hit gold. We discovered the Rimrock Café. A casually sophisticated spot, this restaurant serves creative cuisine with distinctive and divine flavor combinations.

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The fluffy bread slices… that I somehow refrained from eating.

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My appetizer: sautéed wild mushroom salad with freshly made shoestring potatoes.

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Expecting sizable portions, Eve, Mom, and I split this delicious doozy of a main: salmon with goat cheese (who’da thunk it?), arctic char with porcini rub and wild mushrooms, and seared ahi tuna with wasabi butter, all served with fresh seasonal vegetables.

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The fish was hard to beat… but not impossible.

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This sticky toffee pudding is one of the few desserts that is as good as (or in this case better than) chocolate. Its mapley caramel character blew away the chocolate-hazelnut competition: not an everyday occurrence.

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Dad: “Guys, you can’t lick the plate!”

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Cows Ice Cream

Whenever my family finds itself at Whistler, we make a point of going to Cows. Cows is a small Canadian ice cream company that makes insanely good frozen treats, as well as tremendously funny bovine paraphernalia.

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They even make their own waffle cones right in store.

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Inside the shop, everything in sight is cow-themed, including the menu.

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It was a tough decision, but I finally decided on Moo Henry. Chocolate and oozing toffee, plus chunks of fudge and a few peanuts? Mmm!

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My mother opted for Wowie Cowie and Chocolate Monster… in one of those freshly cooked ice cream vessels.

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Remember how I mentioned bovine merch? How could I resist? Although ‘Gangnam Cow’ and ‘Moomoolemon’ were tempting, ultimately ‘keep calm and graze on’ was the winner.

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A Jaunt in Vancouver

The globetrotter that I am this spring, I’m spending spring break in Canada. Although the purpose of this transpacific trip was to ski at Whistler, my sister and I took a day off to explore Vancouver with Mom, and pick up Dad from the airport!

The first leg of the excursion was the scenic Sea-to-Sky highway, taking us from mountain to metropolis.

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Once in Vancouver, we headed straight for Granville Island, the site of an extensive daily public market.

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In order to get there, we had to take a very cute little ferry across the creek.

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Mom & Eve head down the dock.

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A rather aesthetically pleasing bridge & a charming sign.

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The market was set up inside the refurbished industrial shed.

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There were all kinds of berries (not local, unfortunately)…

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… and cute carrots …

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… and the most incredible maple syrup glazed salmon bites!

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I know they don’t look that enticing from the exterior of the glass case. In fact, we almost didn’t purchase any! On a bit of a whim, deciding to be adventurous, we bought the minimum amount – 50 g, 3 pieces. Thank goodness we were hungry, because a single bite was more than enough to convince us we had to have more. The salmon salesman hardly seemed surprised when we returned minutes later, requesting a large container of his produce.

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Of course, no food-buying expedition would be complete without a few morsels of cheese – preferably local, or at least Canadian. So far, I’ve only sampled the BC brie and the Quebecois curds. As delicious as they were, I have high hopes for the Okanagan goat.

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Don’t these look insane? This market was full of delicious looking cookies, cakes, and pastries. Unfortunately, it’s Passover. Meaning that cinnamon sensations and all other baked beauties are chametz, and thus trayf. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to resist.

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Photogenic salads and tapas for dinner!

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Then there was the matter of dessert.

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All in all, we had the making of a very good dinner.

But first, there was lunch to see to. And a hungry Dad, just off a 9-hour flight from Tokyo.

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We passed this unexpected piece of street art on our way down to Fisherman’s Wharf, the site of the seafood place we’d picked out for lunch.

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A little surprised to find a fish & chips shack instead of a bonafide restaurant, we were hardly phased. After all, the chef shops at the Granville Market!

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This family’s staple beverage: seltzer.

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In this situation, I didn’t really have a choice. It was fish & chips & a teeny bit of flour or no fresh cod or salmon at all! There was no question, really.

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I definitely made the right choice. It was fresh and flavorful and not to be missed!

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Sweet Arabic Eats

One of the most exciting aspects of travel is the food, and especially the sweets. Naturally, upon arriving in Dubai, I had to investigate.

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Wandering around in the older part of town, we came across Strange General Trading. It sounded like the perfect place to pinpoint some local treats.

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Sesame halva, or as it is called in the UAE, helwa. The store owners gave us samples of this chewy candy. Unlike the tahini-based confections I was used to, this helwa was flour-based and kind of gelatinous. It was good, but I have to admit, I’m still a die-hard tahini loyalist!

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Much of the Dubai I saw felt sort of overly grandiose and ersatz. But not ‘Strange General Trading.’ It was us and the locals.

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Strange General Trading had quite the saffron selection, one sachet of which had to come home with me.

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Later in the trip, during our desert excursion, I sampled a sweet that seemed to be a sort of dough puff coated in sugary syrup. I don’t know what they’re called but they certainly were delicious!

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Dried dates are good, but everything is better when covered in chocolate.

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After the concert, hungry musicians flocked to tables of baklava and other nutty confections.

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Of course, I couldn’t go home empty handed. So, I carefully stowed a box of tahini halva (4 different kinds!) from Strange General Trading in the middle of my lime green suitcase.

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Half of it disappeared the night I returned. It was a hit – the best halva I’ve ever tasted!

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