Tacos in Tulum

We spent four days over Thanksgiving at Dreams Tulum Resort in Tulum, Mexico. The resort is actually in Tulum Municipality, which appears to be the Mexican version of a county. But for this post we are going to focus on a magical few hours when we visited Tulum Pueblo (the downtown) and had the best tacos of our lives.

Tulum Mexico ocean

It all started with a taxi ride. The taxi ferried us from the resort and down the main road into Tulum. We asked the driver to drop us off somewhere in the middle of town, nowhere in particular. The ride cost 290 pesos, about $15. When he let us out, he gave us a nice description of where things are.

Step 1: Wandering

We did our research and knew that Tulum is not as well-known as Cancun, but it is a burgeoning tourist destination. I will admit, though, it was less touristy than we imagined and more of an authentic Mexican small town. We took some time walking up and down, back and forth along the main street (Avenida Tulum) to get adjusted to the scenery. The stray dogs wandering around were a major hint that we’re not at the resort anymore.

Tulum Pueblo Avenida Tulum in Mexico

Step 2: Adjusting

After about ten minutes of zigzagging through town, we felt confident enough to go into a souvenir shop. Of course, they are very used to tourists as tourists are their reason for existence. We needed something tangible to remember the trip. Marnay picked out a beautiful white dreamcatcher with a wooden frame that we are going to hang on our wall. We chatted with the proprietor and learned that two Mayan families make the dreamcatchers. As we chatted, we could hear chickens squawking in the rear of the store that we think doubled as the family home.

Step 3: Gaining Confidence

During the “Adjusting” phase, we noticed a bar that didn’t look too touristy, so we headed back that way. The thing that really drew us in, though, was the four bar “swings” (instead of stools) that had their back to the sidewalk. The entire restaurant was open-air with a thatched roof, a familiar sight in Tulum. It was a calming experience, swinging in the swings, drinking some mezcal and Tecate and just taking it all in. Mezcal in Mexico!

Drinking Mezcal and Tecate at El Mariachi Loco in Tulum, Mexico

Drinking Mezcal and Tecate at El Mariachi Loco in Tulum, Mexico

Step 4: It’s Taco Time

We did our research and knew where to find the best tacos places in Tulum, so there was no wandering this time. Interestingly, most of the taquerias are only open after 5pm and stay open late at night. We headed straight for Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca and pulled up seats at the street side counter, perched right in front of the cooks. Tacos were 8 pesos – less than 50 cents each. Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca is known for al pastor tacos, and we did not hold back, getting three each.

Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca taqueria in Tulum, Mexico

We got to watch the magic happen right in front of us – one woman would grab masa and flatten it with a press, a second worked the flattop grill heating-up meats and melting cheese and a third person worked the trompo of al pastor. He was wielding a sword-like object and had a brick of pineapple above the meat. With a tortilla in his left hand and the knife in his right, he would slice off pineapple and meat and catch it with the tortilla.

Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca in Tulum, Mexico

The tacos themselves were so incredibly rich and juicy on their own, not dried out at all. To ratchet up the flavor, I headed to the “salsa bar” to get some salsa picante to top it off. The heat from the salsa brought out even more of the richness in the meat, plus some beneficial moisture.

Al Pastor tacos at Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca in Tulum, Mexico

The tacos al pastor from Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca were transformative, the best tacos we have ever eaten. But we weren’t ready to head back yet. We walked two storefronts down to Taqueria el Nero. Taqueria el Nero is known for lengua tacos – tongue. I will admit, the tongue on my tacos looked very “real”. That’s OK though, because they were still delicious, especially when topped with tomatillo salsa.

Taqueria el Nero in Tulum, Mexico

Al Pastor tacos at Taqueria el Nero in Tulum, Mexico

The picante salsa at el Nero was so hot that I was coughing! Admittedly, el Nero was not as memorable because we did not get to watch the tacos made right in front of us. That was the best part about Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca.

Stuffed to the gills with tacos, we jumped in a taxi and headed back to the resort. I do not think that we will ever top the taco experience at Los Antojitos la Chiapaneca – until our next trip to Mexico!

Marnay and Paul Meyer with family in Tulum, Mexico

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Happy Early Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! We made a quick getaway over Veterans’ Day weekend to visit my parents in North Carolina. They live along the southeastern coast, north of Myrtle Beach and south of Wilmington. Since we will be traveling over Thanksgiving this year, we decided to celebrate two weeks early.

Ingredients:
Other than the turkey, there was no clear theme to our meal, as is the case for most people’s Thanksgivings. We purchased many of the ingredients from a local farm stand and a local Italian butcher. The collards, peppers, gourds and country ham came from the farm stand. The turkey, charcuterie and bread came from the butcher.

Meyer family thanksgiving: charcuterie and bread

Wine and Prep:
Wine is one of the most important considerations for Thanksgiving, so we made sure to put some thought into it. We purchased the wine from a small beer and wine store in Wilmington, NC. Our first thought was something that would go well with turkey, and that was a 2015 Loire Valley Chenin Blanc (or Vouvray). I later learned that 2015 was a really good year for Vouvray! The medium to full-bodied white can easily stand up to the rich, buttery bird.

We also bought a 2015 dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley of Germany because it is so versatile it can go with anything, which is great since Thanksgiving is a buffet-style meal where you eat a little bit of everything. It also works well as an aperitif before a meal. Same thing can be said about the bottle of rosé that we bought, a 2016 rosé from the Willamette Valley. I picked this bottle in particular because I wanted to show people that not all rosés are that light pink color, some can be almost red due to extended skin contact. Finally, although we did not end up drinking it, we bought a bottle of red wine for those people who enjoy full-bodied reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignons. I wanted to change things up from the typical bottle of red, so I chose a 2016 Nero d’Avola from Sicily, another example of a full-bodied red.

Meyer family thanksgiving: 2015 Loire Valley Chenin Blanc, 2015 dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley of Germany, 2016 rosé from the Willamette Valley and 2016 Nero d’Avola from Sicily wine bottles

Our main contribution to the meal, other than selecting the wines, was roasted brussels sprouts with cranberries and brown butter. This recipe is a Marnay and Paul favorite that we have been cooking at holidays for years now. My Mom picked up the brussels sprouts on the stalk from a farm in New Jersey, so they were nice and fresh. We made a sauce from butter, cranberries (also from the New Jersey farm), maple syrup, ginger, orange zest and few other good things.

Meyer family thanksgiving: Paul cooking roasted brussels sprouts with cranberries and brown butter

Meal:
We kicked things off with a glass of the Riesling and it was bone dry, with only a slight amount of residual sugar. In my opinion, it’s the perfect wine for converting riesling skeptics into riesling fanatics (or at least non-haters). The turkey took a bit longer than expected, but that wasn’t an issue. We helped ourselves to the spread of charcuterie and drank some more wine. The Riesling went fast, which made me happy! Even my grandfather, who only drinks Chardonnays, asked for seconds of the riesling. I truly feel as though it is my mission in life to spread the gospel of riesling.

Meyer family thanksgiving: glass of 2015 dry Riesling from the Mosel Valley of Germany wine

The rosé was a little sweeter than I thought it would be, but it made an excellent aperitif. Interestingly enough, the riesling was the *least* sweet of the wines we drank (take that Riesling haters!)

Once the turkey was done, we poured ourselves some chenin blanc. As promised, it did go well with the turkey. It’s a high-acid wine with a good amount of residual sugar – lots of flavor. The wine’s high-acidity allowed it to stand up to not just the turkey but also the collard greens with hot pepper vinegar and the brussels sprouts. I would be interested in comparing this Loire Valley chenin blanc to a chenin blanc from South Africa, but let’s save that for another post.

Meyer family thanksgiving: turkey cooking in the oven

Time for dessert! We each had a slice of my Mom’s chocolate cream pie and her pumpkin pie, made with a real pumpkin from the farm stand. Our contribution was making bourbon whipped cream for topping the desserts – we did not go light on the bourbon!

It was fun to celebrate Thanksgiving early this year and we enjoyed picking out the selection of wines. When choosing wines for Thanksgiving, make sure that there is variety for those picky wine drinkers and focus on wines that are versatile and will go well with everything. You will also want to choose wines that work well as an aperitif, especially if you have to wait a bit for your meal. Looking forward to preparing for next year!

Meyer family thanksgiving: family meal table

Chicago recap

During the long Columbus Day weekend, we took a train trip to Chicago! It was another overnight Amtrak trip, this time on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.

Friday

Friday was a travel day. Our train left Union Station at 4:05pm with a scheduled arrival of 8:45am Saturday. The Capitol Limited starts in DC and then heads through Maryland, West Virginia, returns to western Maryland and then turns north through Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Finally, it takes a more direct route through northern Indiana before arriving in Chicago.

Paul sitting in the Capitol Limited train from Washington DC to Chicago

Our sleeping car was a little more modern than the Crescent, which we took to Greenville. The Capitol Limited is a double-decker train and our bedroom was on the top level, which made for some great views. We ate dinner in the dining car as we arrived in Martinsburg, WV. Even the food was better on the Capitol Limited. In particular, Marnay’s vegetarian pasta with soy chorizo was a hit.

Capitol Limited dining car

The Capitol Limited also has an observation car! It has huge floor to ceiling windows and seats which face outward. We watched the sunset there until we arrived in Cumberland, MD and then went back to our room. The last stop we saw before setting up our beds was Pittsburgh, at around 11:30pm. Time to call it a night! Unlike Greenville, we had the added bonus of getting a full night of sleep instead of waking up at 4:00am.

Saturday

Good Morning from Indiana! We woke up at 7:30am and pulled open the curtains to watch the farmland go by. It was so much fun to wake up on a train! We skipped the sit-down breakfast in the dining car and instead opted for the free coffee in the hallway of our sleeping car.

Capitol Limited Amtrak train stop in South Bend, IN

We arrived at Chicago Union Station around 9:15am and were ready to hit the ground running. We ran right to Firecakes Donuts, in fact! The donuts were delicious but not as good as Blue Star. It’s an unfair comparison but we had Blue Star so recently, we can’t help but make it.

donuts

We checked into our fantastic Airbnb, located just steps from the Logan Square L station. After resting and regrouping, we met our friend Rachel at Portillo’s, one of the most famous places for Chicago-style hot dogs. If you aren’t familiar with Chicago-style dogs, a true Chicago-dog has: all beef hot dog, yellow mustard, chopped raw onions, neon green relish, tomato slices, a dill pickle (spear), sport peppers and celery salt. In my opinion, the celery salt is what makes the hot dog so tasty.

hot dog

Our big plan for the afternoon was to take an architecture boat tour of the Chicago River, rightfully one of the most popular ways to see Chicago. One problem: it started to pour about 30 minutes before our boat was scheduled to leave! No worries, though, we found ponchos at Walgreens and were good to go! It was amazing to learn about the architecture and history of Chicago. The best views on the boat are from the top deck, but we took shelter from the rain on the indoor lower level for the first half of the 90-minute tour. During the second half the rain started to clear up and we made it to the top deck. We even saw a rainbow! There were so few people on the top deck that it was practically a private tour!

Chicago architecture boat tour skyline

For dinner, we had an Opentable gift card at the Publican, one of Chicago’s hottest restaurants. We enjoyed our time, but weren’t blown away. Best bite: the Iowa ham steak, smoked with hay and then flash fried.

Sunday

Sunday was biking and exploring day! We grabbed breakfast at Intelligentsia coffee and then walked through some tree-lined neighborhoods to pick up a Divvy bike, Chicago’s bikeshare system. The bikes are exactly the same as Capital bikeshare, so it didn’t take any getting used to.

Marnay biking on a Divvy bike in Chicago

We biked on the 606, a former elevated train line, now a biking and walking trail. It goes east-west from Logan Square to West Town. I would really classify it as more of a linear park than just a trail, as it was quite wide and there was lots of greenery and benches for hanging out.

The trail dropped us off under a freeway, so we walked through the Lincoln Park neighborhood and got lunch at Budlong Hot Chicken. I got “spicy” chicken and it was so hot I was tearing up! Marnay’s hot chicken tenders were also crazy hot! All and all, it was a delicious lunch and it gave us energy for the rest of the day.

Budlong Hot Chicken in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago

Post lunch, we made a beeline for North Avenue Beach and dipped our toes in Lake Michigan. The azure water was cold! It was like 80 degrees outside, though, so we didn’t mind. After drying off our feet, we walked along the Lakefront Trail and then biked back west into town, eventually taking the 74 bus back to our place.

Marnay and Paul on a pier in Lake Michigan in Chicago

Marnay found a place called Cruz Blanca, a Rick Bayliss creation that was a combination brewery and taqueria. It was a really cool concept: You order food at the counter, get your beer at the bar, seat yourself and they bring everything out to you. We got a particularly prime seat on the sidewalk patio. We shared an awesome Oaxacan-style taco plate with half chorizo, half carne asada, drank our beers and people-watched. I think this was one of our favorite memories of Chicago.

Cruz Blanca brewery and taqueria

We weren’t ready to call it a night, though. Instead, we headed back to Logan Square and to Lost Lake, a tiki bar. We love tiki bars!! Lost Lake had delicious tiki drinks and a very cool, laid back vibe. Despite being a well-known bar, it had the feeling of a neighborhood spot. Most important: Marnay’s drink came in a parrot glass!

Lost Lake tiki drinks in a parrot glass in Chicago

Lost Lake neon sign in Chicago

We had a nightcap of malort at Longman & Eagle. What is a malort? After Chicago-style dogs and deep dish pizza, it’s one of Chicago’s most famous culinary tradition. It’s an extremely bitter liquor made with wormwood. Ninety percent of all malort is consumed in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. We had never had it before and we felt that it was something we needed to try before leaving Chicago. It was BITTER, and I can’t say that it ever got less bitter or had a pleasant aftertaste. But it was a fun cultural experience!

Monday

Even though we were out late Sunday night, we woke up early so that we could appreciate our last few hours in Chicago. We got a small bite to eat at Intelligentsia and then took the L downtown.

One of the major tourist attractions that we had yet to do was Millennium Park and The Bean (aka Cloud Gate). It was very cool! Mainly, it was a nice day out and it was fun to get some walking in.

Millennium Park and The Bean (aka Cloud Gate) in Chicago

After walking for a while, we were hungry! Since we only had a few hours left in town, we decided to get another Chicago hot dog, this time from U.B. Dogs in the West Loop.

Besides the traditional Chicago-style dog described earlier, Chicago also has a traditional of Polish sausages, historically centered on Maxwell Street in what’s now University Village. I got a Polish sausage that was charred, placed on a poppy seed bun and topped with the traditional griddled onions, mustard and sport peppers. The flavor was just outrageous, easily one of my favorite bites of the trip.

U.B. Dogs Chicago-style hot dog and Polish sausage

After lunch, we took a stroll on the Riverwalk and then headed back to our Airbnb to relax for a bit before heading to the airport. What a trip!

Things we did and places we visited

Firecakes Donuts: 68 W. Hubbard Street Chicago, IL 60654

Portillo’s: 520 W. Taylor Street Chicago, IL 60607

Chicago Architecture Foundation Boat Tour

The Publican: 837 W. Fulton Market Chicago, IL 60607

Intelligentsia: Logan Square 2642 N. Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

The Budlong: 1008 W. Armitage Avenue Chicago, IL 60614

Cruz Blanca: 904 W. Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60607

Lost Lake: 3154 W. Diversey Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

Longman & Eagle: 2657 N. Kedzie Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

U.B. Dogs: 185 N. Franklin Street Chicago, IL 60606

Northwest Vacation Recap: Seattle

Welcome to our second post from our Northwest Adventure in Portland and Seattle. You can read our Portland recap here. We already posted a sneak-peak of our Seattle adventure with our review of JuneBaby, the fantastic Southern restaurant in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. It wasn’t just JuneBaby that excelled, however. We ate well and had fun our entire time in Seattle.

Thursday

Our favorite activity in Seattle was walking up the giant hills! We got started right away, since the bus from King Street station dropped us off at the bottom of the Fremont neighborhood. Our Airbnb was at the top of the hill, so we had to walk with all our suitcases on what felt like a vertical sidewalk. I do not think we will ever forget the hills of Seattle!

On Thursday night, we stayed in Fremont and went to Revel, from acclaimed Seattle chef Rachel Yang. We sat on the outdoor patio and enjoyed our dumplings and noodles, particularly the handmade noodles with Dungeness crab. So good! Afterwards, we had a nightcap at Barrel Thief, a local bar with a great whiskey selection.

Revel handmade noodles with Dungeness crab

Friday

I think now would be a good time to mention that our Airbnb hosts raise hens in their backyard! We could see their pen from our kitchen window. When we woke up on Friday, we spent some time just watching the hens and all their funny, herky-jerky movements.

Seattle Airbnb hens

Friday was ferry day! When we think about Seattle, I think the thing we will remember most is taking the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. The ferry ride was magical! The deep water and foggy skies felt very true to the Northwest. We started out standing near the front of the boat but it got really windy. We then made our way to the back and got some amazing views of Seattle as we drifted further and further away.

Marnay and Paul on the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island

The ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island

We did not spend too much time on Bainbridge Island but we did walk around the main street and explore the shops. The town was very quaint and had that maritime charm. Lunch was at Bruciato, a place on the main street that specializes in Neapolitan pizza. We would have been fine with just a solid lunch, but we were both extremely impressed with Bruciato. The plate of gorgeous local tomatoes with basil and a little bit of salt was excellent and our prosciutto cotto pizza hit the spot.

Bruciato prosciutto cotto pizza in Bainbridge Island

Friday night was when we had our dinner at JuneBaby. Afterwards, we walked around the Ravenna and Roosevelt neighborhoods for a while. Although we had plenty of Oregon wine during the trip, we hadn’t actually had any wine from Washington. We found a Whole Foods, picked up a bottle of Yakima Valley Riesling and some snacks and drank it back in the apartment!

Saturday

Our last full day of vacation. I made some coffee in the kitchen and took some time to watch the hens. They’re just so entertaining! We still hadn’t done any “touristy” activities in Seattle, so we got that out of the way by going to the Chihully Museum, home of the works from the famous glassmaking artist Dale Chihully.

Chihully Museum

Marnay and Paul at the Chihully Museum

The other ultimate touristy thing we did was go to Pike Place Market. We are really glad that we went, but the market was OVERWHELMING. We did get to witness the fish toss, at least. We walked up and down some more hills and then took the bus home for some much needed relaxation.

Pike Place Market famous fish toss

Prior to dinner, we walked around Fremont and finally got up close and personal with the famous Fremont Troll. It’s a sculpture of a troll located underneath the Fremont Bridge. This was just so quirky and unique.

Fremont Troll underneath the Fremont Bridge

For the last meal of our Northwest Adventure, we headed to Sitka and Spruce in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Tom Sietsema has been recommending Sitka and Spruce for years, so we were excited to go. Its focus is on Northwestern cuisine, and it did not disappoint. Our best bites: West Coast oysters and local Ling Cod in a tomato béarnaise sauce. Yum!

Sitka and Spruce West Coast oysters

Sitka and Spruce local Ling Cod in a tomato béarnaise sauce

We had an absolutely epic time in Portland and Seattle. I do not think we could have gone much longer, we just had so much fun and did so much! While we unfortunately had to leave Seattle on Sunday morning, we will always have our memories!

Northwest Vacation Recap: Portland

We have just returned from a Northwest Adventure in Portland and Seattle, our first trip to the West Coast since our honeymoon (in 2014!) where we traveled to San Francisco and Sonoma. We look forward to telling you about our favorite activities and of course our favorite restaurants! First up, Portland!

Saturday

We arrived in Portland late Saturday night, tired from our flight but definitely ready to do some exploring. We were staying at an Airbnb in the North Mississippi/Williams neighborhood, a hip neighborhood in Northeast Portland bustling with nightlife. One of my friends had told me about Alibi Tiki Bar, a 1940s tiki bar that is still in existence today. Our impression is that it felt very “Portland” – quirky and laid-back. Basically, the complete opposite of life in the Northeast. We were starving, so we ate a little bit of food – I would describe it as vaguely American Chinese food. This may sound odd, but the original tiki bars served an American version of Chinese food, considered exotic in the 1930s.

Alibi Tiki Bar neon sign

Sunday

Portland is known for being the premier biking city in America, due to having decades of bike-friendly policies. It should be no surprise, then, that we mainly got around the city by Biketown bike, their bikesharing system. The orange bikes were lighter than Capital Bikeshare, plus they had a basket which made running errands easy. You can also dock Biketown bikes at any public bike dock, which is incredible.

Marnay on a Biketown bike in Portland

We biked across the Broadway Bridge and arrived at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Ken’s is one of the best and most well-known bakeries in America. Of all things, we shared a locally made hot dog on an incredible baguette-like bun and some incredible macarons. A great way to start the morning in Portland.

Ken’s Artisan Bakery macarons

Portland has an aerial tram. It goes from a medical school and doctors offices to the corresponding hospital, on top of a hill. Still, it offered some incredible views of the Willamette River below and I’m glad we did it!

Portland aerial tram

 

Dinner that night was with one my old MARC train friend, Marcel, and his wife Martha. In June, Marcel moved to Portland from DC for work, so it was awesome to see them. We met at Tusk, a Middle-Eastern restaurant that Food & Wine Magazine recently named one of the best new restaurants in the country. All of the food was communal and it made a great way to catch up. All four of us agreed on a best bite: Melons, cucumbers, celtuce, pepper (hot!), cilantro and pepitas.

Tusk hummus with tehina, paprika and cumin

Tusk melons with cucumbers, celtuce, pepper, cilantro and pepita.

Marnay, Paul, Marcel and Martha at Tusk in Portland

It had been a long day, but we fit in some walking through the Laurelhurst neighborhood and a trip to Base Camp Brewing for a nightcap. A long but exciting day.

Monday

One requirement for Portland was that we needed to stay in an Airbnb that was walking distance to a Blue Star Donuts location and luckily we were two short blocks away from their Northeast Portland shop. We shared their signature Blueberry Bourbon Basil and their incredible Apple Fritter. So darn good!

Blue Star Donuts in Northeast Portland

Next, we headed to Portland’s Waterfront Trail, and biked along the Willamette River. We ended the ride by crossing the river over the Tilikum Crossing, the country’s first pedestrian and transit only bridge. It carries bikes, pedestrians, buses, light rail and streetcars. How amazing is that?!

Paul biking on the Tilikum Crossing bridge

That night, we had a nice bike ride through a few different neighborhoods en route to Han Oak, a Korean-inspired restaurant from chef Peter Cho. We were second in line, so we were able to sit at the chef’s counter right in front of the open kitchen. What a view! On Sunday and Monday nights, Han Oak has dumpling and noodle night. However, that night they had a guest chef cooking Indonesian Barbecue. Our best bite, and possibly the top bite in all of Portland, was the Indonesian Barbecue platter.

Han Oak dumplings

Han Oak Indonesian Barbecue

After dinner, we did some walking through nearby neighborhoods and then biked to Stormbreaker Brewing, just outside of our apartment. We stopped to pick up a growler so that we could enjoy it at home with the rest of our donuts. There wasn’t a TV, so we watched Portlandia on Netflix! Another fun night!

Blue Star Donuts, Stormbreaker Brewing growler and Portlandia on Netflix in our Airbnb in Portland

Tuesday

Tuesday was wine country day. But first, we had breakfast at Pop Bagel, a small bagel shop where all the bagels are pretzel bagels! It was a cool concept. The location, inside of an office building, made me jealous because my office building doesn’t have anything like this!

Pop Bagels

We took an Amtrak bus from Union Station to Salem, the capital of Oregon and our jumping off point for exploring the Willamette Valley. Once we arrived in Salem, we headed straight to Brooks Wine, Riesling specialists located in the Eola-Amity Hills subregion of the Willamette Valley. Before we left for Oregon, I read a wine column from a national columnist about wines to get for special occasions – one of the wines was from Brooks!

Brooks Wine vineyard

Brooks was incredible, the best winery we have ever been to. Since they specialize in white wines, we made sure to both get white wine tastings. Our favorites were the Sweet P Riesling (the one that was recommended in the column) and the Amycas, a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. We came away with a bottle of each.

After Brooks, we headed to Domaine Drouhin, in the Dundee Hills subregion. The Drouhin family is originally from Burgundy, home of the best Pinot Noir in the world. You can understand why we took home a bottle of their 2014 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir.

Paul and Marnay at Domaine Drouhin

We took the very retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem back to Portland. Although we were tired, we were hungry after a day of drinking wine! When we were back in Portland, we grabbed Biketown bikes and picked up takeout from Pok Pok Noi, part of the amazing Pok Pok family of restaurants. The boar collar and Vienamese wings were delicious!

retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem to Portland

Wednesday

Our last full day in Portland. We got an early start by heading to Blue Star Donuts for another apple fritter. The best fritters ever! We took Biketown bikes and ended up at the iconic Powell’s Books, a must visit in Portland.

Lunch was at Maurice, a really cool European-style café that is only open for lunch. They serve French-Danish food plus vermouth, wine and sherry and incredible desserts and pastries. I do not think that we have been anywhere in America like this, it was really unique.

Maurice cardamom kissed squid

Maurice scone and pepper cheesecake

After our midday meal, we got some hiking in at Washington Park, a huge urban park in a particularly hilly section of Portland. We explored the Hoyt Arboretum and the International Rose Garden. Conveniently, the MAX light rail has an underground stop in the heart of the park and there is a free shuttle bus that can take you to the different attractions.

Paul walking on a trail at Washington Park

Dinner that night was our favorite dinner in Portland. We started at Jaqueline, in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood, where we enjoyed $1 West Coast oysters along with a $2 Rainier tallboy and a $3 Topo Chico. So cheap! After our happy hour, we biked to Ken’s Artisan Pizza to grab some pizzas to go.

Jaqueline oyster happy hour

Back at home, we ate our two pizzas and drank the bottle of Brooks Sweet P Riesling. The Riesling had an aroma of petrol that reminded us of that bottle of Hermann J. Wiemer from Tail Up Goat. The two pizzas we ordered were: Handmade – hand-pulled fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, garlic, fennel seed and chile flake and the Brooklyn – tomato sauce, mozzarella, capicollo, pickled jalapeño and honey. The Handmade pizza stole the show. A simple yet perfect pizza.

Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Brooks Sweet P Riesling in our airbnb in Portland

Thursday

We were taking the Amtrak Cascades to Seattle, although our train did not leave until about 3:00PM. That meant that we had plenty of time to partake in one of Portland’s favorite activities: brunch! Sweedeedee, a little less than a mile from our apartment, is known for their pie selection, in addition to more traditional breakfast food. The catch is that you order all of your food at the counter, but you are served pie immediately. What a concept! We shared a slice of peach pie with cream, which was divine. By the time our real breakfast arrived, we were nearly too full to eat. Marnay’s bee pollen biscuit sandwich with ham was memorable, though.

Sweedeedee peach pie

After brunch, we took a meandering walk around the neighborhood and then one final Biketown ride before heading to Union Station. On to Seattle!

Click here to read all about our Seattle adventure!

JuneBaby

(Note: We spent some time in Portland and Seattle for our vacation this year. We will be posting more in the next few weeks, so this review is just a taste of things to come!)

I first heard about JuneBaby on chef Edward Lee’s Instagram page, when I saw that the renowned Southern chef visited and loved it. Very high praise for what at the time was a brand new restaurant. The chef, Eduardo Jordan, is certainly not new to the scene, having previously been named a Food & Wine Best New Chef for his first restaurant, Salare. He also not new to Southern food, having growing up in Florida. However, we only had two full nights in Seattle. Did we really want one night to be spent at a Southern restaurant, instead of somewhere serving local Northwestern cuisine?

If you find yourself in this situation, the answer should be “yes”, you will want to get yourself to JuneBaby.

JuneBaby by Eduardo Jordan in Seattle, Washington

In our opinion, cornbread is all about balance. Not too sweet, not too dry. We’ve eaten and made cornbread that’s all over the spectrum. The cornbread at JuneBaby is just about as perfectly balanced as you can get. Here, the cast-iron cornbread is made with heirloom cornmeal and then supplemented with sorghum molasses baked into the bread, giving it a subtle amount of sweetness

JuneBaby cornbread with sorghum molasses

Smoked carrots topped with nutty benne seeds are substantial and the accompanying collard greens give off some serious vinegary heat. Tahini, swiped along the bottom, is meant to cool things down. Wisely, though, there isn’t enough to rob the dish of its intense flavor.

JuneBaby moked carrots topped with nutty benne seeds

The entree I was looking forward to most, just from perusing the menu prior to trip, was “Mama Jordan’s” oxtails, served in consumme with a squash salad. The oxtails did not disappoint! The braised oxtail tasted like a more flavorful, more tender brisket. The squash salad at first seemed a bit out of place, but thinking back, it worked to cut all that meatiness.

JuneBaby has a rice program, one of the most important heritage crops of the South. Each night they feature rice from a different growing region and the night we were there was a rice from the Jacksonville area of Florida. It was unwashed and then cooked in a Dungeness crab stock with crab meat on top. The unwashed rice gave it a creamy, starchy taste similar to risotto. As a side note, we made sure to order Dungeness crab, that prized ingredient of the West Coast, any time we saw it on a menu.

JuneBaby Mama Jordan’s oxtails with featured rice from Jacksonville, Florida

To top things off, our bubbly, slightly awkward but always polite server kept the mood light and relaxed. The two well-made cocktails didn’t hurt, either. You may not think of Seattle when you think of authentic Southern food, but here’s hoping you do now.

Best Bite
Paul: oxtail
Marnay: cornbread

Address
JuneBaby: 2122 NE 65th Street, Seattle, WA 98115

Anchorage

As promised in our Ultimate Greenville recap, we are doing a full review of our meal at Anchorage. Anchorage is located on the western edge of town in the “Village of West Greenville”, an up and coming area. While there were empty storefronts nearby there also was a cool-looking coffee shop, a music venue and a small outdoor concert going on when we first arrived. When it comes to the meaning of the name Anchorage, think ships, not Alaska. I think it goes without saying that an Arctic-themed restaurant in western South Carolina would be strange.

Anchorage farm-themed mural

Much like crossing the Atlantic by ship seems tediously slow, our meal at Anchorage moved at a snail’s pace. And it’s not a cultural thing, either, us impatient northerners. There really did seem to be some confusion in the kitchen. We could tell, because we were sitting about five feet away from the small open kitchen. Still, we had not seen my family in months, so we did not mind the slow pace. Also, we were in a vacation-mode. Come what may, brother.

Both Marnay and I started out with well-made cocktails. Marnay went with the Bombeyonce, with gin, chartreuse, orange fennel shrub, floral bitters and lemon, a refreshing beginning. I went the tiki-route with The Village Swizzle: Angostura rum, Gosling Black Seal rum, falernum, lime and Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters.

Anchorage cocktails: Bombeyonce and The Village Swizzle

The five of us ordered nearly everything on the menu, although I will mostly focus on what Marnay and I ate. When eating at a restaurant with a such a large and diverse group, it can be difficult to come to a consensus when the menu is not divided into the “traditional” appetizer, entrée, dessert format. Luckily, our server sensed that we were having trouble and suggested that we order a few small plates to share as our first course. He waited until we completely finished eating and then came back for round two.

Anchorage pickled Royal Red Gulf shrimp

The pickled Royal Red Gulf shrimp was a standout from the first course, especially the contrast between the vinegary shrimp, the heat from thinly-sliced jalapeños and the cooling, partially caramelized grilled watermelon. The showstopper, though, was the perfectly browned Bahamian fish fritters, filled with clean-tasting and fresh conch, wreckfish and one other fish, the name I unfortunately do not remember. The fennel salad on the side brought a welcome lightness to the hot and crunchy fritters. We liked it so much that Marnay ordered it as her main course!

Anchorage Bahamian fish fritters

The best presentation of the evening was the cornmeal fried Virginia oysters. The fried oysters are served on the half shell, dressed with pickled green strawberries, fennel and dill and then placed on top of coarse salt, meant to resemble ice. Green strawberries are in ingredient that we are just starting to see on menus, and they are something that chefs can really be creative with.

Anchorage cornmeal fried Virginia oysters

Our server explained that most people order dishes to share, but he didn’t blink an eye or pressure us when we each got our own dish. I am fan of burrata, but it can be difficult to eat with bread when the bread comes on the side. Maybe “difficult” is not the right word, but it is at least one more step. Well, Anchorage solved the problem by serving their hand-pulled ramp burrata and salsa verde on top of housemade bread, topped with fried capers, dill and chili salt. All of the flavors were perfectly layered and went together like a dream. My family’s main courses, for the most part, were hit or miss. The Reedy River Baby Lettuces, grown on Reedy River Farms, a one-acre plot located less than a mile from downtown Greenville, were incredibly sweet and had a pleasantly leathery texture. On the other hand, the Bethel Trails Chicken Larb and the Baked Garganelli pasta with grilled squash were flat out misses.

Anchorage hand-pulled ramp burrata and salsa verde

Now, the whole meal had been a bit slow, starting with our drink orders, but it was when we ordered ice cream for dessert that things came to a grinding halt. As I mentioned earlier, we were sitting near the kitchen, so we were able to figure out that the delays were due to some confusion in the kitchen, not our server. Our server handled everything very well. Still, we had nowhere to be so we did not mind. It helped tremendously that our server had given us good service all night and that put us in a good mood.

Dining at Anchorage in Greenville, SC with our family

Despite the pace of the meal, Anchorage is restaurant we would return to. The food was good and the thing that we will remember the most was the superb service.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Bahamian Fish Fritters

Address
Anchorage: 586 Perry Avenue Greenville, SC 29611

Ultimate Greenville Weekend: Part 2

Note: We divided our Ultimate Greenville Weekend into two posts. Click here to read Part 1.

Saturday

Because we were so tired on Friday, we went to sleep early but also woke up early. We left the house and walked to Methodical Coffee, a third-wave coffee shop located in an office building downtown. We sat upstairs, listened to tunes on their record player and ate one of the best almond croissants we had ever had. Afterwards we checked out the farmers market on Main Street and purchased a drawing of the Swamp Rabbit Railroad, which is now the location of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. We talked to the artist for a while and she said that it took her 40 hours to draw, using only dots!

Methodical Coffee with an almond croissant in Greenville, SC

We had been carrying helmets around all morning so that we could try out Greenville’s bikeshare system, B-Cycle. Greenville has a good amount of bike lanes and a tremendous amount of bike shops, which reflects a healthy biking culture. We rode east from downtown, down a large hill on Washington Street and then into Cleveland Park, home of the Greenville zoo. We dropped off the bikes and walked around but then headed uphill back into town. It was time for lunch!

Paul biking with B-Cycle in Greenville, SC

We met my parents at their hotel and then drove to Swamp Rabbit Café. Unlike Friday morning, when we made a very brief stop there, now we had time to check the place out. The outdoor pizza oven was open so my Dad and grandfather shared a nice thin-crust pie. Marnay and I ate picnic-style, choosing from the selection of mostly local products in the market: La Quercia prosciutto (delicious but not local), housemade stecca, a focaccia-like bread, local salami, local mozzarella and local strawberries. It was truly a feast! The mozzarella, made just up the road in Travelers Rest, was the star of the show. That and the bread!

Swamp Rabbit Cafe picnic in Greenville, SC

My parents dropped us off at our Airbnb, but we were not ready to rest. We walked about two miles through some interesting areas to the Birds Fly South Ale Project, which when we looked at the map later was actually very close to Swamp Rabbit Café. The brewery had garage-style doors that looked out onto a grassy lawn and it was a great place to spend the afternoon hanging out, drinking some brews.

Our dinner reservation that night was Jianna, the much-anticipated new Italian restaurant from Chef Michael Kramer. The second-story views overlooking Falls Park could not be beat, but our server was not well trained and had no idea what he was doing. The food wasn’t bad, but what will remember the most was server, especially compared to the incredible service at Anchorage the night before.

Jianna

Post-dinner, we walked to Falls Park on the Reedy, the beautiful park that is the centerpiece of Greenville. The only other place that we’ve been to where it seems as though the town was built around the waterfall is Niagara Falls. The best way to view the waterfall is from the pedestrian-only suspension bridge.

Falls Park on the Reedy waterfall in Greenville, SC

Sunday

Sunday was unfortunately our last day in Greenville. It was only a partial day, as we had a 3:00pm flight home. We woke up early (6:30am) in order to make the most of our time. It was lightly raining, the first non-sunny day since we arrived, but we still set out on foot and headed towards Methodical Coffee. We enjoyed their coffee but unfortunately they did not get their delivery of pastries until after we left.

Marnay at Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, SC

After having a snack on the go, we spent more time walking through Falls Park. It’s clear that the city put a serious investment into the park, and boy did it pay off. You could say that the entire town is built around the park, much in the way towns are built around transit. We capped things off by sitting on a wooden swinging-bench and took in the sights for one last time. Until next time, Greenville! If you are interested in visiting Greenville, I strongly suggest taking the train at least one way. It is a unique experience and while it takes longer than flying, it is much more comfortable.

Places we visited
Amtrak Crescent

Swamp Rabbit Café 205 Cedar Lane Road Greenville, SC 29611

Swamp Rabbit Trail

OJ’s Diner 907 Pendleton Street Greenville, SC 29601

Anchorage 586 Perry Avenue Greenville, SC 29611

Methodical Coffee 101 N. Main Street Greenville, SC 29601

B-Cycle Greenville

Birds Fly South Ale Project 1320 Hampton Avenue Ext Greenville, SC 29601

Falls Park on the Reedy 601 S Main Street Greenville, SC 29601

Jianna 600 S Main Street Greenville, SC 29601

Ultimate Greenville Weekend: Part 1

Thursday

This Memorial Day Weekend, we took Amtrak’s Crescent from Washington, DC to Greenville, SC. That’s right, we took at 10 hour, overnight train to South Carolina! We stayed in a sleeper car, which included our own bedroom and own bathroom. When we boarded the train, we met our extremely helpful sleeping car attendant who showed us around our room, gave us bottles of water and then made a dinner reservation for us.

Paul boarding the Amtrak Crescent train at Union Station

The room was nicer and more spacious than we imagined. We had bunk beds, although they were folded up at this time. The bottom bunk folded into a couch and we also had a fold-out chair along the window. There was a sink next to the couch, which was a minor inconvenience but not a big deal.

Amtrak Crescent train sleeper car room

We boarded the train at 6:15pm and at 6:45pm, it was time for dinner in the adjacent dining car. The dining car is community seating, so the attendant matched us up at a four seat table with our new friends, Al and Sheila (names changed), a retired couple from southwest Virginia. Our tablemates were great and very interesting—they were on their way back from Seattle so we got to hear what it’s like to ride the rails cross-country. We talked a lot about beer, one of our areas of expertise, and I let Al know about the soon-to-open east coast location of Deschutes, which will be in Roanoke. Al is a stout fan so I told him about the Abyss, Deschutes famous Imperial Stout, and he made sure to write the name down for future reference.

The décor of the dining car reminded me of a classic Jersey diner, although believe it or not, the Amtrak menu had more interesting options than traditional Jersey diner food. Plus, all of our food was cooked in a real kitchen located in the dining car. None of it was like the café car food in Northeast Regional trains, which gets “cooked” in the microwave. I ordered the Amtrak signature steak cooked to medium, which came with a side of succotash. The steak was a tad overcooked but still tasted good and the succotash tasted fresh. The best bite of the meal, in my opinion, was Marnay’s seared shrimp, served jambalaya-style. Marnay’s meal had some serious kick to it.

Amtrak Crescent train dining car dinner

After dinner, we went back to our room to relax, listen to Spotify and watch the Virginia scenery fly by through our huge windows. When it was time for sleep, our sleeping car attendant made our beds and gave us bottles of water. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was arriving in Danville, VA around 11:30pm. We had a short night of sleep ahead of us, since we were going to arrive in Greenville at 5:00am on Friday.

Amtrak Crescent train sleeper car beds

Friday

We got off the train in Greenville very early Friday morning and made our way to downtown. Of course, it was before 6am so there was not much that we could do. We were able to at least get some coffee at a hotel Starbucks to keep us awake and energized because we had a full day of exploring ahead. Fortified by coffee, we took a local Greenlink bus to Swamp Rabbit Café.

Marnay and Paul at Greenville station with the Amtrak Crescent train

Swamp Rabbit Café is a local produce market plus has prepared sandwiches and coffee and is located along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a transformative rail trail that runs through the region. The Swamp Rabbit Trail has spurred a lot of development in the area, particularly in Greenville and the nearby community of Travelers Rest. The café is an extremely popular stop for bikers along the trail, as it also hosts a bike shop. We sat outside at the café’s outdoor tables and relaxed for a while, then put on sunscreen and went for a walk!

Swamp Rabbit Cafe in Greenville, SC

The Swamp Rabbit Trail follows the Reedy River, and it was pleasant to walk along the shaded trail and watch as the water goes by. There is something about moving water that is just so relaxing. From the café to downtown Greenville, it is a little under 3 miles.

walking

However, we were not headed back to our Airbnb, located in a residential neighbor just north of downtown. No, we were headed for OJ’s Diner, a classic Southern meat-and-three. A meat-and-three is usually a buffet-style restaurant where a person chooses a meat option, usually fried chicken, pork chops, ribs, etc. and then three sides. Everything is scratch made and very inexpensive. To be honest, we were a bit intimidated because it was our first time and we didn’t even know how to order.

OJ's Diner in Greenville, SC

As it turned out, the staff at OJ’s could not possibly have been any friendlier. Our sweet teas were never empty for more than 30 seconds, as a server kept making her rounds. At the cafeteria-style line, I ordered fried chicken with turnip greens, pinto beans and a biscuit. Marnay ordered fried croaker along with turnip greens, rice and gravy and cornbread. From now on, when we think about fried fish, this is what we will think about. OJ’s is a place we would HAPPILY go back to.

fish

After some much needed sleep at our Airbnb, we made our way to dinner at Anchorage in West Greenville with my parents and grandfather. (Read our full review for Anchorage here.) Anchorage is a modern American restaurant that serves whatever is available and in-season from local farms. The restaurant is helmed by Greg McPhee, a Husk-alum. The outside of the restaurant is one large farm-themed mural, full of fruits and vegetables, and it is really quite beautiful.

Anchorage large farm-themed mural in Greenville, SC

The menu is mainly made up of small plates, and I believe that we got every single one to share among the 5 of us. The best bite of the meal was the Bahamian Salted Fish Fritters, which we liked so much we go two orders!

Note: We divided our Ultimate Greenville Weekend into two posts. Click here to read Part 2.

Sauce Milan Food Tour

We just returned from an incredible vacation where we spent time in Iceland, Switzerland and Italy.  The highlight of the trip, though, was our food tour of Milan, Italy.   We learned about the food tours by reading Sauce Milan, a local food blog we found during our travel research.

Marnay and Paul in Milan, Italy

Our tour guide was Simone Muzza, a food writer for Zero magazine, which covers Milan and the surrounding region.  We met Simone at Pasticceria Panzera, a local café.  It is important to note that cafes in Italy are constantly changing throughout the day. They are like coffee shops in the morning, bars during lunch and the early evening and sometimes they offer dinner at night.  We ordered cappuccinos and pastries.  Since Italy is known for pistachios, I ordered a pistachio croissant (brioche in Italy) with pistachios from Sicily which was incredible!  We learned from Simone that you are supposed to dip your croissant in the cappuccino.  We also learned that no one in Italy drinks cappuccino after 11, which is why he had us meet him at 10:00.  The only people that drink cappuccino after 11 are tourists!

pistachio croissants at Pasticceria Panzera

Next up, we walked over to Eataly.  Marnay and I were both surprised that Simone would take us there since it is an international chain, after all.  Still, Simone explained to us that Milan does not have many supermarkets so Eataly is a way for residents to get fresh produce from local farms.  In turn, it is a way to support local farmers who are putting out great products.  He took us to the butcher area where we could take a look at which meats were local (a lot).  He also took us to the seafood section where we could take a look at the local fish…just kidding, there no local fish in Milan!  Milanese cuisine is full of meat and butter.  They didn’t even have olive oil until after World War II.  When we were walking around the wine section of Eataly looking at the wines of Lombardy and Piedmonte, Simone told us that “red wine is the only real wine.”  It was funny, but it was something that we paid attention to the rest of our time in Milan!

Walking through Eataly made us thirsty, so Simone took us along Corso Como for a midday aperitivo at Zaini.  Zaini is actually a chocolate shop, but a few years ago they decided to get in the cocktail game.  So, they hired one of the best barmen (another Italian term, thanks Simone) in Milan, Flavio Angiolille, to design a menu.  The highlight of our time at Zaini was the crustless open faced sandwiches, known as tramanzzini, that came with the drinks.  The toppings for the bread were: anchovies in olive oil, smoked salmon with cream cheese, tuna with red pepper flakes and gorgonzola with chocolate shavings.  My favorite was the anchovies, Marnay’s was the salmon.  They also gave us green olives, which were so fresh and flavorful.   It’s going to be hard to top them back home.  All of this food was included in the price of the drink!

cocktails at Zaini

We had eaten a lot, but we still had pizza and ice cream left on the tour!  Simone led us to a traditional Milanese pizzeria called Coccinella.  We were reviewing the huge pizza menu when Simone explained that he doesn’t like ordering buffalo mozzarella because there are a lot of cows in the Northern Italy but very few buffalo.  Since we normally gravitate towards buffalo mozzarella, it was an interesting perspective and something that we still think about.  We ordered a margherita with cow’s milk mozzarella and a Calabrese with spicy salami.  We also got a calzone, which in the traditional Milanese fashion comes only with tomato, mozzarella and prosciutto.  Simple but amazing.  Everything was also ridiculously inexpensive, something we greatly enjoyed about staying in Milan.

pizza at Coccinella

Last stop…gelato!  Artico Gelateria Tradizionale is one of the best gelaterias in Milan, according to Simone.  After trying it, we can see why.  The stars of the show were the salted pistachio and the milk chocolate.   Plus, all gelato orders came with a sugar wafer “biscuit”…perfect for scooping!

gelato at Artico Gelateria Tradizionale

The tour lasted over four overs and it involved lots of walking, which made it right up our alley.  We loved the places so much that we went back to almost all of them during the remainder of our time in Milan. In fact, we went to Pasticceria Panzera every morning to get cappuccinos and croissants!  And of course we got there before 11.

Simone was a great host and we recommend the Sauce Milan tour to anyone who goes to Milan. We hope to make it back there soon.