“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.


“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.

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

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.


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.

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.

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 
01 43 25 20 79


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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Close to Home: Columbia Road Flower Market

Oh but I do love a London market. 🙂 GoodTravelerKarma readers know that Borough Market is one of my favorite places in the city, and I tend to make it a required stop when I’m meeting visitors or I have tourists in town (Spoiler Alert: Mum is going to experience it next week).

So when my colleague told me about Columbia Road Flower Market, a lively outdoor market held on Sundays, I had to add it to my list of spots to try.  On an uncharacteristically sunny and mild February Sunday in London, I headed up to Columbia Road via Shoreditch High Street .  The road itself is a bit tucked away in between some housing blocks about 10 minutes walk from Brick Lane. You can’t miss that you’re in east London with all of the artistic graffiti identifying this eclectic bit of the city.

On market day, Columbia Road is easy to find – just follow the crowds and watch those who have already purchased head the other direction with bundles of beautiful flowers. It surprised me that the road itself in only a couple of short blocks long – I expected more I suppose, given the scope of markets like Borough and Spitalfields.

There’s not much else to do but simply join the crush of visitors, slowly working your way past the booths of fresh flowers. The basic deal is three bunches for £10, where I picked up some ranunculus (white and pink) and vibrant yellow mimosa. The market does bleed into the sidewalks, making it a tight squeeze to get into any of the little shops. There are a wide range of antique shops and several cute little eateries and coffee stops – one of which is literally just a one-person counter with a queue out into the street.

After I perused the options a couple of times, I settled on an afternoon snack at Cakehole, a little café tucked in the back of an antique store called Vintage Heaven. I chose my favorite Victoria Sponge and a cappuccino, charmingly served at communal tables on mismatched china.

After my snack, and purchasing the flowers, I had a final stop at a little wine bar on the corner of Columbia Road and Ravenscroft Street. I’m not entirely sure what the metal sign with a wine bottle turned into a pig has to do with the name, Brawn, but I liked it. It was quite quiet in this little bar, a nice change from the bustle outside.  A little glass of wine to bolster me up and it was off to meet a friend in Shoreditch. It was a charming (if not crowded) little Sunday.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Close to Home: Duck & Waffle

Duck & Waffle opened in summer 2012 and continues to be one of London’s hottest tables.  It’s on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, just enough within the City to draw the bankers’ fat wallets but also charmingly within a quick walk of some of my favorite bars in Shoreditch. The view is incredible of course, and you can even look down on Sushi Samba’s terrace complete with Japanese maple trees. It’s a pretty swank place, really.

Which is why, no, I wouldn’t say that the eponymous special of the house at Duck & Waffle has any relation to the American soul food chicken and waffles. People love to make this comparison, I’ve found, but we’re not talking fried chicken here. You don’t go to Duck & Waffle to order anything else than this delicious combination of confit duck over a fluffy-inside waffle and topped with a fried egg. Then there’s the delectable maple syrup which my friend Emily proclaimed was good enough to drink. Apparently you’re supposed to share the duck and waffle, according to the menu.  Do yourself a favor, just order your own.

We did decide to share a raw scallop starter served dressed on a pink Himalayan sea salt brick, kind of like a deconstructed ceviche.  The idea is that you grab the little finger of scallop with your hands and swirl it on the brick with the dressing creating, a bit of a culinary slip and slide. The result? Melt in your mouth, flavorful and a touch of salty goodness.

And for dessert, we had the “torrejas,” piping hot slices of apple served in a little cast iron skillet like a deconstructed apple crumble, served with cinnamon ice cream. Yup, just all good.

I’ve yet to try the brunch, but the buzz is that you can order Duck & Waffle’s answer to the great cronut craze of 2013, all with the delightful speakeasy quality that it’s not actually listed on the menu.

It’s a pretty special place, you definitely need a reservation, but the atmosphere is decidedly un-stuffy. Pretty much my favorite restaurant in London.

Duck & Waffle
Heron Tower
110 Bishopgate
London EC2N 4AY
+44 203 640 7310

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Close to Home: Cheese Crawl

When my friend Emily comes to visit London, cheese is usually a big part of the plan, particularly after we first visited La Fromagerie back in 2012.

This time, the weekend turned into a bit of a cheese crawl – much more unique than a pub crawl, after all.

First up was Borough Market where we sampled some “Drunk Cheeses” – cheese cured in wine. Our favorite was the cheese cured in prosecco – appropriate since we love the drink as well. Plus, this just screamed for a pairing with some bubbly. 🙂

Next up was another stop at La Fromagerie where our taste buds tingled in anticipation of the incredible burrata with truffle cream.  Unfortunately they appear to have removed this item from the menu, but we were incredibly happy with a cheese board, quiche and a cauliflower gratin. To finish, I had to order the cheesecake, and I was not disappointed. This is easily the best cheesecake I’ve ever had with a creamy topping and smothered in fresh berries. (Drooling now just writing about it). No stop at La Fromagerie would be complete without a stop in their little market and cheese cave where we got our truffle fix with some beautiful truffle brie.

Finally, I surprised Emily with a stop at Obika in South Kensington.  This mozzarella bar is of Roman origin and we first experienced it in its hometown on that fateful first European trip together back in 2007. The best part of the location in Rome is the apertivo.  You pay for a drink and a selection of snacks are yours for the taking on the house.  Sadly the London locations don’t seem to have embraced the apertivo concept, but the selection of mozzarella makes up for it. It was here that we got our burrata fix.

After a curd-tacular weekend, Emily said, “I think I’m cheesed out.” Mission accomplished.

La Fromagerie
2-6 Moxon Street
Marylebone London W1U 4EW
020 7935 0341

Obikà Mozzarella Bar
96 Draycott Avenue
SW3 3AD - London
0207 581 5208

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

32nd Birthday in Verona, or “How many Italians can we get to sing to you?”

or, “How many liquids can we drink in one day?”

Midnight. February 1, 2014. All of a sudden, the lights dimmed, and a chorus of “Tanti Auguri” started, led by Paolo, our exuberant bartender at Osteria del Bugiardo. With rousing operatic style, Paolo received cheers from the whole bar as I blew out the candle in my little birthday biscuit. (Many thanks to Alan for orchestrating this whole little surprise.) A group of handsome Italian men, celebrating their friend’s birthday, invited us to join their group and we proceeded to down a few more glasses of bubbly before shutting down the bar. Not a bad way to start my birthday. 🙂

The next morning, Alan and I decided to see the main tourist sights in Verona before our dinner reservation. First it was off to Juliet’s House, where we showed the lady herself a little affection all in the name of good luck in love. 😉

After another wander through town and some coffee and juice at Caffe e Parole, it was off to the Arena, Verona’s Roman amphitheater.  We climbed to the top to take in the views of the city and out to the mountains (pretty impressive on a broken toe, I may add). The walkways beneath the stadium steps were spectacular as well and made for a good photo shoot.  Alan and I agreed we would love to come back in the summer when the Arena hosts Verona’s Opera Festival. What a fantastic place to hear some classical music!

Then it was on to the Castelvecchio. While we found the compulsory museum a bit dry, we loved roaming the ramparts. We were two of only about four people on the walkways on that cold February day.  After a scenic stint on the Castelvecchio Bridge, it was off to warm up and forage for some snacks and drinks. We walked back along the river and ended up in the Terrazza al Ponte, a bar and café we spied previously from the Ponte Pietra because of its cute terrace (so not just a clever name). The mist and the rollicking river made the terrace a delight, but it was too cold to stay out for long, so we warmed up inside with some wine and a caprese salad snack.  It was here that we met another group of lovely Italian men (after we noticed them taking tequila shots at 3pm) who bought us a drink and proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday” a couple more times. Our little break turned into over four hours of antics, and we had to tear ourselves away for dinner at Enoteca Cangrande.

I initially wanted to do the bespoke tasting  I read about, but the regular menu looked so good we decided just to order off that. The kindly staff presented us with a gnochetti dish on the house, then it was ravioli with truffles for me and we split beef braised in red wine with polenta.  Enoteca Cangrande gave us a luxurious experience with plenty of time for energized people to chat during courses which nearly turned into nap time for us.  Here’s the thing: You really do need a siesta when eating and drinking your way through Italy. It exists for a reason. Instead of resting, we were making new friends over several glasses of prosecco, which means we hit the wall at dinner.We couldn’t even make it to dessert! (A fact which I’m still a bit sad about, really.)

After a blissful sleep at the fabulous Hotel Milano, only Caffe e Parole and Osteria del Bugiardo were on the agenda before our evening flight. Back at the wine bar, we walked in to a warm welcome like we were old friends. We settled into our regular place at the bar, had a few more glasses of Vigliacco, some charcuterie and bruschetta and sampled the beef meatballs with polenta just to fuel us for the flight.

I realize as I write this that food and wine (and antics) feature more than the Verona sights, but isn’t that what a good birthday weekend is all about?  How it’s taken me 32 years to have a birthday in Italy when I am, if nothing else, an Italophile at heart, I will never know. I think this may need to become an annual tradition.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

In fair Verona where we lay our scene…

In Mr. Massart’s 9th grade English class, we had to memorize the prologue to “Romeo and Juliet.” Turns out, 18 years later after a couple of glasses of wine, I can still recite about half of it. Then again, maybe I was just inspired by Verona. 🙂

My fellow London-based American world traveler and friend Alan and I took a painfully early flight from London to squeeze the most out of our weekend. We arrived in Verona, wandered through the huge Piazza Bra, the most open piazza I’ve seen outside of Rome, and not long after went to forage for pizza.  Juliet could wait.

Our search took us to Pizzeria Du de Cope in a small galleria off of the main shopping street Via Mazzini. After munching on delicious brick oven pizza with that superb crispy-outside, chewy inside dough and a couple of glasses of Valpolicella, we were off to orient ourselves with this little town.

The great thing about visiting Italy in the winter is that the other tourists are scarce. As we wandered the Via Mazzini to the main Piazza Erbe, we were partaking in passeggiata with all of the locals, which, for me, an elementary Italian student, is a feast for the ears.  We rambled to the river and then over to find a coffee shop and a gelateria. Sadly, gelato is not a big seller in January so the recommended Gelateria Ponte Pietra was closed, but we did find the warm and comfortable Caffe e Parole. This quickly became my favorite spot in Verona with exquisite creamy cappuccinos, fresh spun vegetable juice concoctions and pastries to die for. My favorite were the little “frittelle” doughnuts filled with cream.

Buzzing a bit on good Italian espresso, we continued to wander the town, getting our bearings and planning our tourist adventures for the next day. We wanted a little apertivo before heading to concierge recommended restaurant for dinner and as we wandered the Corso Porta Borsari, we found a great wine bar, Osteria del Bugiardo. It was a bit quiet around 4pm on a Friday, so we sidled up to the bar, ordered some 2.50 Euro glasses of Valpolicella classic and soaked up the scene. This is clearly a local favorite, but being in a tourist area, the staff is welcoming, English-speaking and friendly.  The osteria got increasingly busy as we sat there while the town got off of work and got ready to party. While we sipped the house red, everyone around us was drinking a sparkling rose. It was obvious that we needed to try this, and after one glass of the lovely Vigliacco we were hooked. We dragged ourselves away to dinner, but knew we would be coming back later.

And return we did. The clientele was notably younger and clearly starting the weekend right. We squeezed into a tiny corner near a group of attractive Italian guys celebrating a birthday. They were drinking the bubbly first but then changed to a beautifully decanted red. And this is why I love Italians. A birthday party in London or New York would likely involve a teetering tray of Jager Bombs. In Verona? A bottle of fine vintage.

The shots came later. But more on that shortly. 🙂

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.