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My new favorite beach…

“This is my second favorite beach in the world,” proclaimed my friend Suzanne with a contented sigh. I didn’t ask her what her most favorite was. Mainly because I’d already decided that Spiaggia di Laurito was at the top of my list.

We found ourselves at this little paradise after a friend and Positano local asked me about our beach plans. When I said we planned to Fornillo, Positano’s small beach and my preferred spot, she scoffed. “No. You have to try Laurito.” Suzanne and I looked at each other, shrugged and agreed, why not? After convincing the shuttle boat to take us a half hour earlier than the next scheduled voyage, we were on our way for the 15 minute scenic trip to Laurito and Da Adolfo, the most favored beach side restaurant. We were greeted immediately from stepping off the boat and settled into sun lounges. (A happy fact: The daily rental for sun lounges is cheaper at Da Adolfo than Spiaggia Grande or Fornillo!)

Da Adolfo looks like a jammy little beach hut but in fact serves some of the best food in the area. Locals know that if they spend a day off at Da Adolfo they are in for a three-hour lunch extravagana. In addition to the obvious grilled whole fish, Salvatore serves up chef specials daily like eggplant parmigiana. Not what you would expect for a hot day in the sun, but surprisingly rich and satisfying.

On my second visit to Da Adolfo with my friend Antonio, I let him take the lead (as any wise woman would do) in ordering.  The result? Mozzarella on grilled lemon leaves, seafood salad, carpaccio, grilled whole fish – “The cheek is the tastiest part” – and white wine with sliced peaches. You can usually tell if I’ve had a particularly spectacular meal when there are nearly no photos to show for it – I was too busy wallowing in foodie bliss with morsels in each hand to be bothered taking pictures that would surely not do it justice.

With Laurito and Da Adolfo, you must have time for an all-day leisurely affair. The boats leave every half hour or so from Positano’s marina and there’s a hiatus between about 1 and 4pm for lunch. (Not a bad life for the boat skippers, I must say.) As the sun begins to disappear in this little cove, the last boats return to Positano around 6pm.

There is another restaurant/hotel on Laurito but no one seems to trouble themselves there – Da Adolfo steals the show. And rightly so.

Da Adolfo
Via Laurito, 40
Positano, Italy 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Il Ritrovo: grilled octopus

Una Buona Forchetta

At a dinner party in Positano, a friend’s four-year old daughter cleaned her plate of mozzarella and tomatoes, octopus salad and anchovies and asked her mother for more, twice, before the main course even came out. I was simultaneously impressed and charmed.  A girl of my own heart. I asked, “How do you say ‘good-eater’ in Italian?” “Una buona forchetta.” A good fork. Yes, I can certainly relate.

I often tell people that eating is my hobby. A far more poetic description is that for me, meals solidify memories. The most memorable meals of my life, I can tell you not only where I was, what I smelled and what I tasted, but who I met and how I felt.

So not surprising then that my life in travel revolves around food. :)  During my summer in Positano, I had the pleasure of adding to my restaurant recommendation list.

Il Ritrovo: After a beautiful hike on the Path of the Gods, we ended back in the main piazza at Montepertuso for a late lunch at Il Ritrovo. Chef Salvatore and his lovely brother Paolo made me feel right at home bringing me a glass of refreshing prosecco as I looked out to the ocean from our table on the terrace. I started with a beautiful grilled octopus recommended the chef and sampled a few of the sautéed local shrimp – to die for. Then Chef Salvatore surprised me with bruschetta and zucchini flowers (after saying they were my favourite) and for a main course sautéed mussels and clams. Fresh ingredients are the star here : On my most recent visit, Paolo convinced me to have a special pasta made with mushrooms he had gathered that day.  I don’t have a picture because I was too much immersed in bliss, savoring this creation to come up for air, but it was quite possibly the most delicious pasta I’ve ever had. I heard this sentiment echoed by a whole group at the table next to me. Il Ritrovo is about a 10 minute drive above Positano but like most restaurants in Montepertuso, it has a complimentary shuttle that will pick you up and drop you off if you make arrangements. It’s definitely worth getting out of Positano center for this gem.

La Sponda: Smack in the center of Positano at the famed Le Sirenuse hotel, is Michellen-starred La Sponda. Admittedly I was always intimidated of both the hotel and the restaurant on my early visits to Positano but I really had no need to be. I first visited the Champagne and Oyster Bar a couple of years ago and was surprised at how even in the most elegant atmosphere the staff put me at ease.  It’s the same in the restaurant as the maitre d’ welcomed me warmly and showed me to my table where sommelier Cristian greeted me with a visit from the champagne trolley.  The champagne, Jack Legras, was a creamy delight that was the most beautiful champagne I’ve ever tasted. Normally I would choose the tasting menu with wine pairings but I actually felt that it was too much food for me on that particular night so I chose to order a la carte and let Cristian choose wines to match each course. I had a lovely tuna starter, then pasta with fresh fish (again convinced by my server), John Dory with saffron sauce for a main and then finally the lemon soufflé with lemon granita. Every course was presented beautifully by the attentive staff and everything was tasty and fresh.  My one criticism is that the soufflé was a bit too eggy in texture for my liking, but otherwise tasty. La Sponda prides itself on the romantic atmosphere – lit by 400 candles nightly according to their website – and on this particular night when rain kept the outside dining terrace closed, it created an intimate glow. Now I did have some special treatment, my visit arranged by the sommelier himself, but I can attest that everyone is made to feel special at La Sponda. The staff doesn’t take for granted that a restaurant of this calibre and reputation is an occasion destination and they endeavour to make everyone have the once-in-a-lifetime memories every night.

Casa Mele: Opened in June 2014, Casa Mele is Positano’s newest culinary offering. Just off of the main road up from the Sponda bus stop, you’ll first notice the chalkboard painted pig greeting you at the entrance. The interior is clean-lined and modern with a few vintage touches like the floral lampshades arranged into a chandelier. There’s no sea view or terrace here, but Chef Raffra does one better with his sleek open kitchen and huge window so you can watch all of the action. I went with three other diners on my visit so we were able to share and sample a range of dishes.  To start, we were treated to a little cheese with peppers and tomatoes. Then it was on to the seafood salad and fresh grilled vegetables.  A seafood risotto followed. For a main, I had a beautifully cooked seabass while my friends shared the seafood soup. You can’t usually go wrong with seafood on the Amalfi Coast as its freshness lends itself to simple preparations which allow the ingredients to shine. Chef Raffra elevates even the simplest ingredients with attention to flavor combinations and elegant preparations. For dessert, I chose my favourite delizia al limone, a local lemon cake which Chef Raffa serves in a kind of deconstructed version of light cake layered with lemon crème. I find that most restaurants in Positano, while skilled at savory selections, struggle with desserts – the exceptions being the tiramisu at Da Vincenzo and basically everything at Casa e Bottega.  But Chef Raffra excels in his inventive takes on regional classics. Bravo, indeed.

Il Ritrovo
Via Montepertuso, 77
84017 Positano, Italy
Phone: (+39) 089-812005

La Sponda
Via S. Sebastiano, 2
84017 Positano, Italy
Phone: (+39) 089-875066

Casa Mele
Via G. Marconi, 76
84017 Positano, Italy
Phone: (+39) 089-811364

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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“Wine is sunlight held together by water.”

Is it any wonder that an Italian said this? And not just any Italian, but Galileo Galilei. Because wine would make stargazing a lot more interesting, I expect. ;)

Having lived in Sonoma County, California, I’ve been on a few wine tastings. But a wine tour? I wasn’t exactly sure what a wine tour even entailed until meeting Positano native and professional sommelier Cristian Fusco. The idea is not simply fork over a few dollars to swirl, sniff, sip and spit, but to completely immerse yourself in the vintner’s world from cultivation through production to consumption.  And at Swirl the Glass, a tour culminates with a tasting experience including the art of complimenting wine with food.

On a recent trip to the Amalfi Coast, I joined Cristian on a tour to boutique winery Tenuta San Francesco in Tramonti. Just a 45 minute drive outside of Amalfi, we began our journey wandering through the vines themselves while Cristian discussed the benefits of pergola cultivation, the weather and seasons dictating the conditions of a great wine, and the requirements for DOCG and DOC wines in Italy. Cristian also discussed the lack of synthetic irrigation and the necessity of dry soil to produce a complex and flavorful wine. This concept harkened me back to one of my favorite quotes from the movie “Bottle Shock” (a fabulous film telling the story behind the famous 1976 Judgement in Paris):  “‘A comfortable grape, a well-watered well-fertilized grape grows into a lazy ingredient of lousy wine.’ ‘So through hardship comes enlightenment.'”

After meandering in the vines, we came inside the winery building for a look at the modest if only in size, not in technology, fermentation room before admiring the beautiful French and Austrian oak barrels in the cellar. Cristian’s explanations were not overly technical but instead explained the life cycle of a great wine, which only built my thirst to try some. :)

Cristian conducted the tasting over a superb homemade lunch cooked for us in the winery kitchen and served at a communal table with a huge open window overlooking the vines. We started with Tenuta San Francesco’s Spumante, or sparkling white wine, “Alta Costa”. The crisp white “Tramonti Bianco” accompanied our first course of panzanella (Italian bread salad with fresh tomatoes), fior di latte mozzarella and ricotta. Our pasta course was a local specialty, gnocchi alla Sorrentina, served with the lovely “4 Spine” or “four thorns” red. Finally, it was roasted chicken with Mediterranean vegetables served with the “E Iss” – “This is it” in Neapolitan dialect – red made from just one grape varietal found only in the Tramonti region. For dolce, a tiny tiramisu-like custard cake.

My favorite part of the Swirl the Glass experience was this delicious lunch, clearly made with love by the women of Tenuta San Francesco, accompanied by great wine and conversation with fellow travelers. That day, I shared the table with an Australian journalist living in Dubai, her mother who lived in Indonesia, a couple from Dublin, and another couple from Brisbane. Our afternoon was luxurious and unhurried and was conducive to our understanding and enjoyment of the wine.

Cristian’s gift is not only his passion and knowledge for wine, but the way he makes it accessible to even a wine novice like myself.  My friend Emily once said, when describing her knowledge of Italian wines, “I know about prosecco. And when I say I know about it, I mean I know I like to drink it.” Cristian whole-heartedly agrees with this sentiment. For him, Swirl the Glass experiences facilitate the most important factor to any wine tasting – knowing what you like and enjoying it. Salute to that!

Swirl the Glass
phone: (+39) 329.42.19.392
email: info@swirltheglass.com 
www.swirltheglass.com

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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#onemonthinItaly was just the beginning…

I’m convinced that in order to deserve spending now the vast majority of my summer in Italy, I must have rescued puppies from drowning in a previous life. I can’t just be lucky, right?

After a purely magical month of May in Positano (with a quick stop in Rome in the middle), I was back in Italy for most of July.  First, it was Franciacorta and Lago d’Iseo for my friend Giovanna’s wedding, back to Verona for the Opera Festival, then back to Positano. Because, again, the puppies.

The great thing about my summer in Italy is that it’s been a wonderful combination of new experiences and old favorites. So, dear reader, you’re in a for a treat: A series of posts about my favorite place on earth!

Starting with #onemonthinItaly in review – my month in Positano!

Positano is easy navigable by its two bus stops: Chiesa Nuova (at the top of town where the bus drops you off in front of Bar Internazionale) and Sponda (on the other side just up from Li Galli bar). In between there’s a one way road which winds through town, culminating at Piazza Mulini. I rented a gorgeous apartamentino in the Liparlati area of Positano, just a 10 minute hike up steep stairs from the center of town between Piazza Mulini and Sponda. I had a teensy Juliet balcony with French doors that opened on to blooming bourganvilla with a sea view and within chiming range of three churches. So you know, a shack really. ;)

I quickly got acquainted with my local market and vegetable shop. My friend Luigi drove me up to the fish market at the top of town, where Nicola and the crew expertly cleaned and filleted my fish for me, because I of course could not be trusted with such a feat of culinary expertise. But while I was self-sufficient as I could be, I soon found that working from home every day meant that social interaction over meals every day was essential. And so, a normal day looked like this:

  • 9am: Wake up, get ready, check some emails.
  • 10:30am: Walk down to Collina for a cappuccino and cornetto.
  • 11am: A quick little passegiata on the main beach.
  • 12pm: Back up to the apartment on the local bus to continue working.
  • 2pm: Lunch at home. My favorite: Clams sautéed with garlic and cherry tomatoes.
  • 4pm: A little rest at home or on the beach.
  • 5pm: More work until Italian dinner time.
  • 9pm: Back down to town for dinner, then drinks with friends.  If I had an earlier day and could finish around 7 or 8pm, I threw a little aperitivo in there for good measure.

I have a little collection of friends in Positano since I’ve visited once a year since 2007, but what a treat to meet i miei nuovi amici! There was always someone at the bar having an espresso or at La Brezza having a beer and I was always welcomed to join in. I thought I might get bored in this town of 4,000 people over the course of the month, but I settled in quite naturally to the slower pace of life complimented by the buzz of the social nature – what’s not to love about saying “Ciao!” to five or ten people on your walk to town?!

And because I wasn’t cramming my visit into four days and therefore only having time for my favorite restaurants – Le Tre Sorelle and Mediterraneo – I was able to try a whole host of new, both to me and in general, eateries. Tanina’s healthy fare and delectable sweets at Casa e Bottega was a multiple times per week occurrence.

More to come on the foodie adventures, but first, actual adventures! With all of this time in Positano, I knew I would make the compulsory trips to Sorrento, Amalfi and Ravello, but I also wanted to try some new things as well.

First it was off to Praiano, Positano’s sister town just a short 15 minute bus ride from Mulini. I rode the bus all the way to the top of town to take in the breathtaking views, then walked back down to the Chiesa San Gennaro with it’s majestic mosaic piazza overlooking the sea with Positano in the distance.  I visited on a Sunday so several of the shops and eateries were closed, and I didn’t make it down to One Fire Beach so I don’t feel that I experienced the best of Praiano, but that’s something to look forward to on the next trip! :)

My lovely friend Suzanne came to visit mid-month and as we sat over breakfast at Casa e Bottega, we got a recommendation to forgo Positano’s main beach and even the more low-key Fornillo, and head to Laurito.  This tiny beach is a 15 minute (free!) boat ride away from Positano’s boat dock – just look for the boat with the red fish sign for Da Adolfo, one of two restaurants on the beach.  You hop off unceremoniously from the boat and within seconds are ensconced in a sun lounge. Lunch is at the spectacularly tasty Da Adolfo which is nearly always packed.  It’s a bit comical really as tables are full at Da Adolfo and empty at the neighboring Le Sirene.  On my first visit, we stuck to chef Sergio’s special eggplant parmagiana which was creamy, cheesy and surprisingly satisfying for a hot day in the sun. When I went back with my friend Antonio, a Positano native now living in Milan, the spread was decidedly more of a celebration of local specialties: mozzarella on grilled lemon leaves, carpaccio, seafood salad, grilled local fish and white wine with peaches. With Laurito, boats start running at midday, stop between about 1:30 and 4 for lunch, then return to Positano between about 4 and 6pm.  Be careful on the weekends as this little oasis gets busy and you may be in for a let down if you don’t make a reservation for a sun chair or lunch.

Throughout my month in Positano I’d been asking around for a guide to take me to hike the Path of the Gods, renowned for the bird’s eye views of Positano. A friend offered to take me in lieu of an official guide the Monday of my last week, offering a much needed physical exertion after a few weeks of delicious food and gelato. We started from his home village of Montepertuso, about 10 minutes drive up from the top of Positano, hiked for over an hour toward Nocelle, then turned around and came back, where we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the incredible Il Ritrovo, just on Montepertuso’s main piazza.

Finally, on my very last full day, my friend Alberto picked me up for the drive to Praiano’s Praia marina, where he guided me on a private sea kayak tour to Laurito and back. It was my first time in a kayak, and after I got the hang of how to steer myself (and push myself off rocks when steering failed me, let’s be honest), we weaved through some spectacular little caves, waved to yachts and earned our 11am beer at Da Adolfo. The trip back to Praia was a bit rough due to wind and rolling seas, so poor Alberto had to tow me most of the way. I’m shocked really that he had the patience and energy to share a yummy lunch with me at Da Armandino (oh dear lord the lemon risotto with shrimp!) before driving me back to Positano.

The best thing about my new experiences in Positano is that I shared them with old and new friends! Thank you to Lorenzo, Luigi, Fanny, Suzanne, Antonio, Cristian and Alberto for making my month truly magical!

 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Casa e Bottega: Museli cups

First a detox and then some dolce at Casa e Bottega

Seeing as I’ve been at Casa e Bottega nearly every day since arriving in Positano, it’s about time I wrote the glowing review it’s due. :)

Just walking into this calming little oasis, you can already tell it’s going to be a refreshing change from much of the standard fare in town. Half design shop, half café, there are only a few tables but my favorite place to sit is at the bar to watch Tanina, Rosalia and the rest of the lovely ladies prepare the light and delicious dishes to order. Tanina prides herself on sourcing the best local and organic ingredients and as a result, all of the food is incredibly fresh and flavorful.

Start with a detox water with lemon and mint and the amazing “sole liquido” or “liquid sun” smoothie, a combination of spinach, green apple, kiwi and lemon. Next choose from one of the huge salads either on the menu or the special salad of the day. The Casa e Bottega salad with tuna and avocado is a winner. I added chicken to a special salad with apple, beetroot and strawberries.

For aperitivo, the selection of charcuterie and cheese is delicious and satisfying. The platter comes with bruschetta made the way only the Amalfi Coast can make it, with pomodorini or cherry tomatoes so sweet they taste like candy.

And after all the healthy goodness, you can feel a little less guilty indulging in Tania’s incredible desserts.  My favorite is the Delizia al Limone, a lemon cake traditional to this region, but Casa e Bottega’s version was more like a layered profiterole topped with lemon curd and cream. Light and luxurious at the same time.  The ingredients are the star here, so even the cakes have a bit less sugar than you’d get anywhere else.

If the food weren’t reason enough to make this a standby for your breakfast or lunch in Positano, the lovely ladies of Casa e Bottega will make you feel at home immediately.  Tanina is a well-known restaurateur in town, with her more formal dining option, Next2, set in the hill on the Fornillo side of town. Watching her at work is like watching a dance, and you can see how much pride she takes in her business and the customer experience.

Grazie per tutto (tutti i giorni), belle ragazze! :)

Casa e Bottega
Via Pasitea 100 
84017 Positano 
+39 089 875225

Open for breakfast and lunch. Closed Tuesdays. 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

 
indeed

“My brain is confused but my mouth is happy,” or a Taste Explosion at Rose’s Luxury

Call me crazy, but I’m not a fan of the lychee. This strange little fruit confusingly looks like a pearl onion but is usually positioned in a sickeningly sweet martini at an overpriced cocktail bar sipped by stick figured chicks. The kind of chicks who were more than happy to drink cosmopolitans when “Sex and the City” was on the air but now think they need something more exotic. Okay, maybe I’m projecting, but the point is, no likey lychees.

Until Rose’s Luxury (and Emily’s recommendation). This amazing James Beard-nominated eatery in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood is, in my mind anyway, reclaiming the lychee. Their signature lychee starter combines pork sausage, habanero, red onions, peanuts amongst lord knows what else into a deconstructed “salad.” It’s senseless, but once you heartily stir up this concoction into a gloopy, un-photogenic mess and gobble it up, it works.  The humble lychee, rescued from a mundane martini, is now the star of a flavor sensation.

And this is the theme with Rose’s Luxury: None of these things seem to go together, but it works it sings.

We started with oysters two ways. Up until this point, only Le Bernadin, renowned pinnacle of seafood, has been able to make me actually enjoy a raw oyster. Topped with a tangy tomato granita, the teensy Kusshi oyster was surprisingly delicious.  (Applause for you, chef Silverman). The chicken-fried oyster with tzatziki was next and a great crunchy, savory contrast to the Kusshi’s light freshness.

For a pasta course, we chose the ricotta-stuffed gnocchi which was probably the most “ordinary” dish of our evening.  And by ordinary I don’t mean boring whatsoever, only leaning on the simple Italian flavors with the fun twist of being stuffed more like a ravioli than the traditional potato dumpling.

Next up were the uni scrambled eggs. Sea urchin? Eggs? Yup, that brilliant earthy saltiness with a basic egg base just hits you with a little something special that makes you wonder, “What’s in this?”

You guys, foie gras french toast. I feel like those four words should be enough, but with the sweet undercurrent of the foie gras, it’s so surprise that this almost felt like dessert.  It was topped with ice cream for heaven’s sake, which also added the delightful hot/cold contrast to the already tounge-teasing sweet/salty combination. Heaven on a plate.

Rose’s Luxury is not just reclaiming the lychee, they’re also creating an efficient dessert experience by combining traditional sweet options with the cheese course. (And remember, Emily and I like us some cheese). All of the desserts we had featured cheese in the most extraordinary ways. First, sourdough donuts with apple cider and vanilla ice cream topped with cheddar. Then, poached bosc pear with smoked mascarpone. Finally, pineapple cornbread with jack cheese and bay leaf ice cream. It shouldn’t work. But it all does somehow. I can only imagine what kind of menu brainstorming and mad scientist-like testing must go on in Aaron Silverman’s kitchen after hours, culminating with managing to get me to eat and enjoy both raw oysters and lychees. Evil genius? Or just plain genius?

Rose’s doesn’t take reservations, but if you show up at opening time like we did, put your name in and amuse yourself with cocktails nearby for the likely hour plus wait, you’ll arrive hungry and ready for a special experience. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to sit at the kitchen counter to watch all of the action!

All of these dishes seem like they would fit in a pretentious, modern space filled with sharp edges and prickly staff, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The space is warm and inviting with exposed brick, fairy lights, communal tables and a feeling more like the indie vibe in Portland or Austin. If the food is the star, the staff is a close second. We were taken care of by the lovely Elizabeth from the moment we sat down, offered a top-up on our cava on the house, and treated to a couple of little tastes from the (very cute) chefs.

I’m not overstating that this was one of the best meals of my life. Not long after our evening at Rose’s I mentioned to Emily that I think I could fit in quite nicely if I moved to Washington, D.C. Coincidence?!?! ;)

Rose's Luxury
717 8th St SE
Washington, DC 20003
+1 (202) 580-8889     

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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“I have a thing for hot chefs,” or Washington, D.C. Culinary Adventures

“Hmm, I think I know him,” I thought to myself, spying a handsome gentleman sitting outside of Béarnaise as Emily and I walked up to claim our reservation. It only took a moment for me to realize that I didn’t recognize a long-lost friend but in fact Spike Mendelsohn, chef at Béarnaise, We the Pizza and Good Stuff Eatery and “Top Chef” alum. This was not my first moment with Chef Spike. On the 4th of July 2010, he complimented me on my choice of double-fisting a chocolate milk shake and a Sam Adams Summer Ale with my burger at Good Stuff. Basically, every time I’m in D.C., I see Spike.  I think hope he’s stalking me. ;)

So… I have a thing about hot chefs. Earlier in the week, I had a little moment with a gorgeous tattooed chef wearing a Big Lebowski t-shirt at Radiator Whiskey. I mean really, what’s better than a man who can cook?

But on to the food. :)  We started at Béarnaise with the special appetizer salt cod fritters which our waiter encouraged us into saying that there were only a few left. The flavor profile was great but one of my fritters was a little cold in the middle. I overlooked that though given that the rest of it was so tasty. For our mains, Emily and I split both the steak frites and the Vietnamese mussels. The mussels reminded me of the Thai version at Flex Mussels in New York City; whoever first thought to combine fresh Asian flavors like lemongrass and cilantro with those simple little bivalves is a genius. With the steak we had both a traditional béarnaise sauce and a spicy version which I still have dreams about. We also shared some delightful brussels sprouts.  All in all, I thought the food at Béarnaise was lovely and of course, it’s always nice to see handsome Chef Spike.  My only criticism is that the service was a bit uneven on our visit: Our appetizer arrived before we’d ordered anything else, and the plates were left until we had to ask for them to be taken away to make room for the mains.

Next in our culinary adventures in D.C. (and yet another hot chef) was Rose’s Luxury, another treasure in Capitol Hill. That was so incredible however, it warrants its own post, so stay tuned.

Béarnaise 
315 Pennsylvania Ave SE 
Washington, DC 20003
+1 (202) 450-4800

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

 

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Seattle Favorites: Old and New

I landed in Seattle from London and felt a strange, immediate sense of homesickness. While I grew up about a four-hour drive south of Seattle, I always feel quite comfortable in this part of the state, most likely because of the food and music scenes.  Seattle takes seafood seriously, which is one of the things I love best about visiting this unique city.

One of my standard stops is Matt’s in the Market on corner of First & Pike, the dining room view punctuated by the iconic Market sign. This is not a cheap table, mind you, but the focus on local, sustainable ingredients and the subtlety of the flavor combinations brings me gladly back each time. I started with an arugula salad with fresh Dungeness crab and a citrus vinaigrette – clean and simple. For the main course, I chose my favorite seared scallops. And for dessert, the salted caramel pot de crème with mini donuts. The starter and main were exceptional as always, but the dessert was a bit overpowering in sweetness, a bit uncharacteristic of Matt’s usual fare.

Later in the week, I visited Matt’s sister bar, Radiator Whiskey. You’ll know it by the raucous noise coming out of the space just a few steps from Matt’s door. Opened in 2013, Radiator takes pride in its whiskey and bourbon choices and cocktails. I started with a “Showgirl:” bourbon base with amaro and rhubarb bitters served in a Gatsby-style cocktail glass. This concoction would definitely appeal to an Old Fashioned lover with a unique, modern twist. Another standout was a special bourbon cocktail that day served with a sherbet-rimmed glass.

My Scottish friend back in London had one thing to say after her first visit to Radiator: Tots!  These are not the tater tots you remember from school lunch. Radiator elevates the standard fried potato bundles of goodness by serving them in a large cast iron pan covered in gravy and topped with a fried egg. It’s a great combination of comfort foods and absolutely delicious. Rounds of drinks? More like keep the tots coming. For a main course, we tried the pork shank which is so generous it could easily feed two to three people.  Needless to say, after a few rounds at Radiator we were feeling festive. Naturally this meant we turned the place into a bit of an impromptu karaoke bar, singing along with the 90s classics played over the speakers in the bar. (Yeah, sorry about that, guys! :) )

For breakfast and lunch, I discovered newbie deli Homegrown. Touting itself as a sustainable sandwich shop, I was impressed with the variety of local, organic choices. For breakfast, I had their egg and avocado substituted as a salad instead of a sandwich, accompanied by a cappuccino made with almond milk. A perfect healthy start to the day and no guilt for this Paleo princess!

Finally, after researching restaurants to partake in with a foodie friend of mine, I made a reservation for dinner at RockCreek Seafood & Spirits in Fremont. Another restaurant making seafood the star, the standouts were the Hawaiian Tombo tuna crudo and Dungeness crab chile relleno to start and black cod for a main. The menu changes daily based on the fresh, seasonal ingredients. Unfortunately I was gabbing too much to take photos so you’ll just have to take my word on it!

Matt's in the Market
94 Pike Street, Suite 32 (First & Pike) 
Seattle, WA 98101 
+1 (206) 467-7909

Homegrown South Lake Union
208 Westlake Ave N 
Seattle, WA 98109
+1 (206) 467-5391

Radiator Whiskey (First & Pike)
94 Pike Street, Suite 30
Seattle, WA 98101
+1 (206) 467-4268

RockCreek Seafood & Spirits
4300 Fremont Avenue N
Seattle, WA 98103
+1 (206) 557-5732

 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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Paris Tips & Tricks – March 2014

1. Make a reservation at Les Papilles. Seriously. Do it now. Okay, done? Read on.

2. Several parts of Paris are currently undergoing a bit of a facelift. Some of my favorite sites had portions closed, including the magnificent circular stained glass window at Sainte Chapelle. It was my first visit to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and part of the terrace was closed – inconveniently, the part that gives the best views of the Eiffel Tower. Both are still worth the visit though, just be aware.

3. Fat Tire Bike Tours continue to be one of the best ways to see the city and get oriented early. My first bike tour was back in 2007 on that inaugural trip to Europe. The night bike tour includes a little boat trip on the Seine and some wine. Rachael was our tour guide this time and she’s absolutely lovely!

4. A Paris picnic sounds idyllic right? Just be aware that most shops are closed on Sundays, except on the Ile St. Louis if you’re in a bind. Make like a Parisienne and choose some treats from your favorite fromagerie, boulangerie and cave, find a scenic spot or enjoy the chairs in the Tulleries or Luxembourg gardens and dig in! Or, if you need some help, consider taking a Paris Treats Food Tour and let Michelle guide you through a Parisian culinary adventure.

5. You want Laduree macarons? The big shop on the Champs Ellysees also has a several dining areas. I popped into the bar for a coffee and breakfast and ordered my boxes of macarons while I ate. They were delivered to me with my bill. No waiting in a huge queue. And while the food is not the cheapest, it was surprisingly tasty!

6. One of my favorite areas is the Latin Quarter and specifically Rue Mouffetard. Be sure to check out the nearby Le Pot O’Lait Creperie. Yum.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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Four courses, no choices, all delicious… Les Papilles, Paris

I first tried to eat at Les Papilles last May on a weekend trip to Paris. I walked in, saw all of the about 15 tables filled and one lone vacancy at the bar. “Can I sit for dinner?” I asked the host. He shook his head with a little smirk. “No, I’m sorry, we’re full.” After reading more and more reviews I realized that Les Papilles is not a place you can just walk in and expect a table: It is well-known for exceptional food in a decidedly casual atmosphere and you definitely need a reservation.

On my most recent trip to Paris in March 2014, I booked a week in advance for a prime 7:30pm spot. Even so, we were about 10 minutes late and our table was given away though the host reserved a spot for us at the bar with a glass of champagne as compensation. You get it yet? This place is popular. :)

And for good reason. There’s one set menu each day. Four courses. Whatever the chef feels like making. (Read: seasonal and fresh).  While this lack of choice may give some diners trepidation, I love eating this way – I’d rather the chef just bring me what he wants and be surprised.

The experience is yours for 35 Euros, a tremendous value for any meal in Paris but particularly impressive given the beautiful cuisine. If you’re a wine aficionado, you can choose a bottle from the wall to pair with your dinner and the staff will help you choose if you need a little inspiration.

On my visit, the menu started with a luscious Vicyssoise served in a pot tableside to pour yourself over crispy croutons, bacon and crème fraiche. The main course was a pork belly served with seasonal vegetables in a rich sauce accompanied by vibrant green pesto. A bit of soft bleu cheese followed before dessert of panna cotta with apple compote and caramel. Each dish is served family style for your party and the presentation evokes dining in a kindly French friend’s home rather than a restaurant in the heart of Paris.

The simplicity, quality and value of this unassuming restaurant near the Luxembourg Gardens was well worth the wait. You can rest assured though that it will be a staple spot each time I visit Paris from now on!

Les Papilles
30, Rue Gay-Lussac 
Paris
01 43 25 20 79

 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.