Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Global Cuisine: Berlin, Melbourne, Oslo and Zurich

Tapas in Toledo, Brats in Bremen, Pizza in Palermo......one would think, right?  Oddly enough, there are times along my travels that my taste buds less desire the cuisine of the city I'm in, but something totally different.  Familiarity often overrides my not so curious taste buds.  When in Tokyo I had Irish, in Berlin it was French Vietnamese, in Melbourne I found tapas, pizza in Oslo and most recently Mexican in Zurich.  Sometimes it happens.

Here are a few restaurant picks that I feel in love with, wished I could pack in my carry bag to take home, and in my opinion, just simply offered great food.  Given the opportunity to experience these amazing eateries, I hope you'd agree:

Berlin, Germany:
  • Monsieur Vuong -  I highly recommend this busy hot spot in the"Mitte" district in Berlin, not just for the cuisine, but also the ambiance.  This French Vietnamese restaurant is a true delight. The flavours of the food and drinks are outstanding.  My choice was the special of the day, a chicken dish with mango and coconut curry with shredded greens and toasted shallots on top, an iced green tea with lychee, mint and lime and the chicken salad starter with dumplings.  My palette was sooooo excited and drowning in flavours, that it was a virtual party in my mouth.  Yum!   I'll miss not being in a position to access this little spot, with a big vibe, regularly.  Until next time Berlin.  

Melbourne, Australia:
  • MoVida Tapas y Vino - This small joint was so packed that I couldn't be accommodated the first time I set foot in the door.  Now, being even more curious, lured by the decor, energy of the place and patrons willing to wait, I made a second attempt returning the following day.  I was lucky to be offered a spot at the bar where seating was on a first come, first serve basis, since the reservation list was again full.  It was a tapas restaurant unlike any I'd ever been to.  The food was brilliant, but not plentiful.  The servings were artful and small and the presentations photo worthy.  I recall a sliver of onion that was so flavourful and amazing that I still dream of it to this day.  The tapas selections I made were the spiced chicken escabache on a crisp crouton, the beetroot with buffalo milk curd and onion, marinated green olives with citrus, garlic and thyme and the salt cod in a pastry with egg.  Not your typical tapas selections, right?  In this case, change is good.  Don't bypass MoVida Next Door, the more casual sister restaurant adjacent to MoVida.   I had no time to take it in on this visit, which simply means, there will be another time. 

Oslo, Norway:
  • Eataly - I remember it being a brisk evening in Oslo, as I walked alone looking for somewhere interesting to eat, when I can across this busy and well established restaurant, Eataly.  Eataly is not your small Italian mom and pop restaurant, but instead offers locations worldwide.  After spending a bit of time with the menu I decided on the pizza with prosciutto and mushrooms, always a favorite.  To my expectation the thin crust pizza cooked in a wood burning oven was amazing and memorable to this day.  The ingredients were fresh and the setting friendly.  Though is was chilly outside, the patio was open and equipped with heat lamps, sheepskin chair bottoms and throw blankets in case you weren't deterred by the weather.  I washed my pizza down with a nice glass of Chianti and called it a night.  That evening is a moment not forgotten.  

Zurich, Switzerland:

  • Tres Amigos - This cozy Mexican restaurant was just what I needed.  The food was comforting and the margaritas sufficiently strong and yummy.  The decor is festive with burgundy and mustard walls.  Mexican tiles drape the stairs and appropriate Mexican style trinkets and souvenirs placed throughout help to create a warm and inviting space.  For starters there were  chips and assorted salsas, followed by a well spiced chicken fajita entre and chicken enchilada.  I must admit, having traveled the world, realizing how difficult good Mexican cuisine is to find, Tres Amigo held it's own.  To my surprise, I can honestly say that Tres Amigos was well worth the visit.  By the look of the fully packed restaurant, it was evident that I was not alone in thinking so.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Paris, France: A moment in Paris

It's Gina's first ever trip to Paris, and as our luck would have it, there's not one day to spare, no day off.   We rolled into town midday from Berlin, and drove straight to the venue to start work, setting up and preparing for the show the following night.  The anxiety and expectation were high for all to go well, for the celebrity attendees and 75,000 sold out stadium crowd to see Lady Gaga's Paris performance.   There was truly little, to no time, to see Paris this visit.  It seems such a shame for Gina to be here, in the "city of lights", and not see even one landmark monument.  That couldn't happen,......noooooo way!  So, after a full days work, tired and in need of a break, we instead, hit the town to see what we could with the time that we had.....

First stop,  L'Arc de Triumphe.....  We got lucky, it was walking distance from our hotel.

We quickly nabbed some photo opts and strolled over to the famous Avenue des Champs Elysees.....

We passed the windows of Cartier and Louis Vuitton where we got a few more photos....  Without delay we walked briskly in the direction of La Tour Eiffel.  You can't be in Paris and not visit the Eiffel Tower.  After zigzagging through the streets of Paris to find it, we turned a corner and in plain sight,  there it was, La Tour Eiffel.   Gina was struck by it's size and magnificence.  It was stunning!  And as if just for us, shortly after we arrived, the hourly twinkling light show displayed brightly over the Tower as if lighting a Christmas tree.  It was midnight magic.

We walked to the base of the Tower were there was a crepe stand and souvenir shop.  Making the most of our brief French experience, we bought french berets and sweet and savory crepes and found a quiet  spot along the nearby bridge to eat, all the while overlooking the Seine River.  We reveled in the moment.  It was the movie moment you usually dream of, sans the romantic lover, but instead, this time,......we really were in Paris!

Paris, Je t'aime et bonne nuit!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Koln, Germany: Another Trip Around the Sun

Since it's still my birthday month, I am surely entitled to recap on MY very special day and the good time that I had in Koln (Cologne), Germany.

Being another year older and another year wiser, I woke happy and a bit hung over.  The celebrating had started hours earlier.   Thanks wardrobe team and Absolute Grapevine!!!

After reaching Koln and exiting the bus curbside, I asked myself, "how could I be so lucky?"  It happened to be a day off for me in Germany, and practically within reach was the stunning sight of Koln's landmark gothic cathedral.  Lucky me!  It was a dreamlike moment.  Our hotel, Le Dom, was literally, a stones throw away from the church.  Facing west, I had a front row view of the square and the evening sunset.  This is what I woke to every morning and said goodnight to each night.  It felt special,...and who doesn't want to feel special on her birthday.

Today's plan is to be pampered AND serviced,...and I say,....."Why not!"  I freshened up and pulled myself together, before heading out with the girls to Sukon day spa for Thai massage treatments.  It is within walking distance from the hotel.  I can't think of a more perfect way to start the day.  We got the works, head-to-toe body and foot massages.  After a couple of hours of professional prodding and kneading and twisting and tweaking, we left there feeling relaxed and better than when we arrived.  I'd highly recommend Sukon.  The spa was clean, aromatic and tranquil.  Secretly, I think it's becoming my birthday ritual to treat myself, or be treated, to a day of R&R.  I don't think there's a better gift than the gift of peace of mind, body and soul.

Following the spa we walked back to the hotel and met up with friends at the hotel bar,... where else.  

We got a jump start on drinks before strolling through Old Town to find a meal.  We settled on the Argentinian Steakhouse, Poncho's.  The place was packed.  Always a good sign.....  We waited briefly to be accommodated, managing to fill the time at the beer bar next door until our table was called.  Once seated we dined on lots of fine cuts of beef, potatoes, Malbec wine and sangria.  The restaurant was energetic and our waiter lively.  I thought that it was the perfect setting for our celebratory evening.

We stuffed our bellies and drank well before making our way back to Le Dom.  It had been a wonderful evening, and I am thankful for wonderful friends.  I might add that my day ended as beautifully as it began.  Literally, moments after entering my room to receive the spectacular nighttime view of the cathedral just steps away, the church bells sounded to the stroke of midnight.  It was that Cinderella movie moment without all the fuss.  There was no glass slipper, no pumpkin, and there was no prince.....   It was just me and MY church bells.  Yep.  For me, the sound of church bells ringing is special because they're synonymous with Europe.  I rarely, if ever hear church bells in America.  The sound evokes warm thoughts and good memories, and for that, I couldn't ask for a better ending to an already perfect day.  Goodnight Koln!!!  Sweet dreams and farewell.....