Category Archives: Travel

Chicago

I had so many food recommendations for Chicago, I could have eaten non-stop for several months. Unfortunately, my visit was only two days and therefore merely served to whet my appetite. This was my first visit to Chicago and so, of course, I had to start with some of the basics: deep dish pizza and a Chicago style hot dog.

We took two food tours. The first run by Chicago Food Planet, was a tour of the Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods and we visited six shops and restaurants, sampling food at each stop as well as walking around the neighborhoods learning about the history and architecture.

We started the tour at George’s hot dogs, a neighborhood and Chicago favorite for over 60 years, learning about the history and characteristics of a Chicago style hot dog. The second stop, and one of my favorites was at Hot Chocolate for cold hot chocolate (aka chocolate milk) with a house-made marshmallow. The owner Mindy Segal has received many accolades and has been nominated for the James Beard award for outstanding pastry chef four times. It was quite easily the best chocolate milk I have had.

We visited a pizzeria/ brew-pub called Piece (cleverly named, well crafted beers), The Goddess and Grocer deli (lots of local products – and Jeni’s) and Sultan’s Market (average falafel). The last stop on the tour was probably the coolest (pun intended) – I cream.

I Cream is a science-fiction-esque ice cream shop where your ice cream is made almost instantaneously before your eyes using a cloud of liquid nitrogen. It takes longer for you to choose from the array of options (base, flavors, mix-ins) than it does for the ice cream to freeze. There are well over 100,000 possible flavor combinations (this is where a guide comes in useful). I had seen i cream on Chefs vs the City on the Food Network, but it was fun to see it in person. My favorite flavor surprised me: cream soda and white chocolate with nutella, a flavor officially known as ‘that guy from Florida’.

Day two was another tour, this time downtown with the focus on learning about the history of Chicago pizza and run by  Slice of Chicago Pizza Tours. Our guide Mark, was a wealth of knowledge on all things pizza, but particularly about the colorful history of Chicago deep dish. We started, appropriately, at Pizzeria Uno.

We tasted two different deep dish pizzas, explored the neighborhood and then finished the tour at Giordano’s where we sampled a stuffed crust pizza. This last pizza, oozing with cheese turned out to be my favorite of the three.

We stayed in Oak Park, at a lovely Bed and Breakfast, right around the corner from the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio. It meant that we didn’t have to worry about parking downtown, could ride the green or blue lines in and out of downtown and also got to explore the neighborhood, which is full of historic houses. We ended up eating dinner in Oak Park both evenings, the first at a modern sushi bar called Sen and the second at a Mexican restaurant called the New Rebozo.

New Rebozo was an experience. Chef Paco greets every table and explains the days specials, with plenty of  the ‘OMGs’ for which he is notorious as well as descriptions of each dish as the perfect combination of ‘sweet, salty, crunchy, spicy’. Above is the colorful and excellent tortilla soup, which I washed down with a paloma cocktail (gold agave tequilla, lime juice and squirt). Move over Margarita! Chef Paco makes 14 different moles from scratch and each week offers a choice of 6. The fiesta mole is 6 enchiladas, each with a different mole sauce. It was a fantastic dish and each mole was my favorite, until I tasted the next one.

The trip, brief as it was, gave me a taste of Chicago and made me impatient to return. But, it also gave me a renewed appreciation of Columbus and the diversity that we pack in to our relatively small city. There may not be thousands of hot dog and pizza vendors, but we have some really good ones. We have all sort of ethnic eats – if you know where to look, and while our ice cream may not be made in an instant, it’s definitely hard to beat.

Lots of photos on flickr.

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Filed under ice cream, restaurants, Travel

Ohio River Valley Winery Tour

Wine isn’t the first agricultural product that comes to mind when you think of Ohio, so you would probably be surprised by how many wineries there are in the state, and the quality of many of the wines that are produced. June is Ohio wine month and it is a great time to explore or re-explore Ohio Wines. Restaurants such as Deepwood, Barcelona, G Michael’s and The Refectory will be featuring Ohio wines from June until November and some will be offering special menus and wine dinners.

Having been a fan of Kinkead Ridge wines since I first tasted their River Village Cellars Syrah at the 2008 Flying J Dinner, I wanted to see their vineyard and meet the producers. With the assistance of Andrew Hall, Ohio wine expert and author of the blog Oinos Nervosa I have been trying to organize a Slow Food wine tour of the Ohio River Valley (provisionally September 11th). Yesterday was a scouting trip to visit the wineries, drive the route and check out a proposed dinner venue.

Our first stop was at Valley Vineyards in Morrow Ohio which was first planted in 1969. Three generations of the Schuchter family operate the business, one of the largest vineyards in Ohio. With 30 varieties of grapes on approximately 100 acres, Valley Vineyards offer a wide variety of wines including ice wines and a vintage port.  With a large tasting room and two dining rooms Valley Vineyards cater well for visitors and hold special events and  cookouts during the summer. As we visited in the morning, with a long day ahead of us, we only tasted a couple of the wines.

Our lunch stop (and the proposed dinner venue for our tour) was at the Wildflower Cafe in Mason. A converted house, this small restaurant is run by chef Todd Hudson and focuses on local, organic and sustainable food. Many restaurants claim an interest in sustainability but Todd’s menu and sourcing make his commitment clear. This was one of two menu boards:

It was hard to choose but based on the claim that it might be the best in the world I couldn’t resist the burger. Wildflower Cafe get their grass fed beef from Webb Valley Farm 25 miles away. It was a very good burger: a juicy, well flavored patty, perhaps a little dense, in a soft pretzel roll with smoked bacon, herb mayo, cheese, greens, tomato and onion. The bacon was particularly good and the use of pretzel roll was inspired.

After lunch we headed south to Ripley Ohio. Ripley used to be an important tobacco center and is still home to the tobacco museum and festival. The collapse of the tobacco market caused some farmers to diversify into wine. Our first stop was the Meranda-Nixon winery, historically a tobacco farm and now a successful winery. As we arrived, we could see wine maker Seth Meranda out on the tractor in the vineyard.

His wife, Tina, was running the tasting room and cheerfully offered tastes quite a few of their wines. Like all of the wine makers we met yesterday she was friendly, happy to answer questions and to talk about their wines. All of the wine makers we met were very down to earth making Ohio winery tours comfortable to visitors with all levels of wine knowledge.

Meranda-Nixon are known for their Traminettes and their popular reds generally sell out. A newer experiment for them is Norton, an Ark of Taste product, more common in Missouri, and the oldest cultivated American grape. It won’t be ready until 2011 but we had a sneak preview. I particularly liked the Catawba, a blush light sweet wine from a grape that was traditionally grown in the Ohio River Valley. I think its going to make a fantastic summer spritzer.

From Meranda-Nixon it was a short drive to Kinkead Ridge. The actual vineyard is just outside of town, but the winery, only open to the public a couple of weekends a year,  is on a quiet residential street in Ripley. Kinkead Ridge does not have a tasting room and we were warmly greeted in their production room surrounded by tanks and barrels, with the smell of fermenting grapes that you only get in a cellar.

Kinkead Ridge is run by Ron Barrett and Nancy Bentley and you can follow Nancy on twitter @wineladyohio or read their blog. Ron was a wine maker in Oregon for many years but was looking for a new challenge and determined that the SW of Ohio had potential to produce world class vinifera. They first planted vines in the Ripley area in 1999 and had their first vintage in 2001.

Kinkead Ridge released two 2009 white wines this weekend, a blended River Valley Cellars white and a Viognier Roussanne. Their harvest of white grapes last year was very small and only produced 168 cases in total. If you want to try one of them you’ll have to act quickly. I thought the Viognier Roussanne was a lovely dry white, lightly fruity and floral.

Our final winery visit of the day was to La Vigna, a vineyard with a picturesque view set high up in the valley (first picture in the post). There was a live band and a large tent set up for people to relax and enjoy a glass or two of wine.

As at Kinkead Ridge, tasting was in the production facility and we were able to compare two different vintages of their red and white proprietary wines as well as see where the wines are made. The La Vigna white is 100% Petit Manseng and the 2008 oak aged vintage was much sweeter than the steel tank 2009. Of the reds I preferred the younger 2008 cabernet blend to the more heavily oaked 2007 vintage.

From La Vigna we had a beautiful drive along the river towards Cincinnati. We had a fantastic dinner at Local 127 that deserves its own post.

More photos from our trip can be found on flickr.

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Filed under Drinks, Ohio, slow food, special events, Travel

Raclette

One of the most fun meals I had while I was at home in England was a raclette dinner with my god-daughter and her family. I have had lots of fondue dinners, but this was a new experience for me. Raclette is both the name of a Swiss cheese and a table-top grill where you can melt the cheese. The kids were pros and enjoyed showing me what to do.

The raclette grill comes with individual wedge shaped pans called coupelles and you take a slice of raclette cheese (or a similar easy-to-melt cheese) and place it in your coupelle under the grill. There is also a hot-plate above the grill and you can cook on there. We experimented with sliced potatoes, ham and bacon.

Raclette is commonly served with hot boiled potatoes, gherkins and vegetables. You can cook things in the coupelle with the cheese, or just melt your cheese and pour it on top of your food. The raclette set also comes with small wooden spatulas to help get scrape the cheese out of the coupelle.

The kids loved the process of choosing and creating, we ate, laughed and told stories. Potatoes and cheese are a classic combination but the DIY element of the meal added a fun dimension.

You can buy a raclette grill for around $100. Amazon has an extensive selection.

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Filed under bacon, dinners with friends, Travel

Marmite Mother Lode

Apologies for the lack of new posts. I have been in England for the last couple of weeks and in between all trains, friends, reunions and babies there wasn’t time to sit down at a computer for anything more than keeping my email under control. Of course, I fit in a trip to Wagamama, branched out with lunch at Leon, drank so much tea that my teeth were noticeably stained and ate copious quantities of toast and hot cross buns. I also drank pear cider and apple soft brew and ate far too many crisps.

My mother had been stocking up on marmite products in anticipation of my visit. In addition to the breadsticks, crisps, rice cakes and cereal bars, there were also some marmite cashews which didn’t make the picture and a jar of the new special edition extra strong marmite XO. The cereal bars were the only marmite brand food that I hadn’t tasted before and I tentatively tried one of them this morning. Initially the savoriness is a little unnerving because we are so conditioned to cereal bars being overly sweet.  The marmite flavor is distinctive but not overpowering. I liked them and would buy them again.

I have a couple of other posts I want to write about my trip but in the mean time, here’s my paparazzi picture of the Queen outside Tescos.

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Filed under British foods, Travel

Cleveland Weekend

A trip to the Fabulous Food Show was the perfect excuse to spend the rest of the weekend exploring Cleveland. Our last visit following in the steps of Anthony Bourdain was a lot of fun, but only scratched the surface so I was excited to see and taste more. We were lucky with both trips: sunny weather, good friends and lots of great food. Cleveland is a wonderful destination for food lovers with lots of Slow Food friendly restaurants, a wealth of ethnic eateries and interesting neighborhoods to explore while you work up an appetite for another meal.

Cleveland is also a good destination for cocktail lovers. The Velvet Tango Room lived up to every superlative I had heard lavished on it, and was so enticing that we could not resist a second visit. The VTR serves classic cocktails in an appropriate setting and the menu, which you can’t help poring over, is a lesson in cocktail history. Not a flirtini in sight. The fact that they make their own grenadine, bitters, vermouth and ginger beer is one of the reasons that the cocktails cost $15 a pop (or $10 during happy hour). Many of the cocktails are made with egg whites and the amount of shaking involved also commands a premium. You should see the bartenders biceps! It wasn’t just the cocktails that were at hit. I would gladly go back just for the cheese fondue. I wish there was an equivalent to the VTR in Columbus, but for the sake of my bank account its probably good that there is not.

Highlight number two was the bakery On the Rise, which can be found in Cleveland Heights. You can see how sunny it was – hard to believe it was November.

On the Rise has a wide variety of breads and pastries and there was much to tempt us. I chose an almond croissant and it was definitely the best I have had since my trip to France in June. I am sure the pain au chocolat would have been equally good, but you have to get there early to score those.

Croissants weren’t the only baked goods of the day. We stopped at Presti’s bakery in Little Italy for an afternoon snack. I had a buttery buccalati with chocolate, almond and candied peel filling. I also bought some of their homemade panettone to bring home. I was assured that it would keep until Christmas but I have no illusion that it will last that long.

I mentioned Slow Food friendly restaurants and Cleveland seems to have more than its fair share including The Greenhouse Tavern, Luckys, Fire Food & Drink and the Flying Fig.  The Greenhouse Tavern is actively involved in their local Slow Food convivium and will be hosting a special dinner in honor of Terra Madre Day on December 10th. We had a wonderful meal there which included steamed clams with foie gras and a contender for the best chicken wings ever: Crispy chicken wings with roasted jalapeño, scallions and garlic, first confited and then deep fried. Many of the foods including the fantastic frites were cooked in a combination of duck fat and suet – a victory for flavor over calorie concerns. A four course chefs tasting menu is $37 which is extremely good value for the quality of ingredients, execution and portion sizes.

The Greenhouse Tavern also won a place in my heart with their food lovers loo. The restroom came equipped with shelves of food magazines and cookbooks. I’m not sure how wise it is to encourage people to spend any longer than strictly necessary in there but I admired the choice of reading matter.

I don’t think a trip to Cleveland would be complete with out picking up some treats at the West Side Market. This time we headed to Dohar Meats for some of their homemade sausage and bacon. Leaving it in the car is not advisable unless you want to dream about being stuck inside a sausage but it is very tasty.

It seemed that we saw and ate a lot – but I am still left feeling that Cleveland has a lot more to offer. Luckys and Lolita are high on my Cleveland wish list and I want to try Fire: Food and Wine for dinner (I just had a salad on this trip). I also purchased a copy of Cleveland Ethnic Eats which I look forward to using. You can probably tell that I am already plotting trip number 3. More photos on Flickr

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Filed under Drinks, markets, Ohio, slow food, Travel