Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

When the clock struck midnight on the 31st of December, the first decade of the 21st century ended.  The past ten years have passed so quickly and so many important events have taken place.  I began the noughties with my wedding in Napa, followed by several moves: first to Santiago, then Dubai, then Montreal and now Marbella.  My two children were also born in the last ten years and my blog was created in the last part of the decade.

Now, I’m facing the next year and am both eager and wary of what the future may bring. There is one thing I can be sure of though, and that’s the best gourmet experiences I had in 2009. So, 
Happy New Year and here’s to sharing more gourmet travels with you in 2010!

Best Bang for the BuckChocolateria San Gines, Madrid

This is a bang for the buck that’s satisfying for all the senses.  A short walk off a pedestrian street and in a tiny alley is where you’ll find Chocolateria San Gines.  Open 24 hours, they serve freshly-made churros and thick chocolate to dip them into all day long and into the night.  Great for a mid-morning pick-me-up or a late afternoon treat.  Aside from jamon Iberico, this is my other favorite Spanish snack.

Best BistroItineraires, Paris

This new and cozy bistro in Paris’ 5th arrondissement was a revelation.  A young chef, his wife out front greeting diners, fantastic prix-fixe menu, modern interiors and best of all, really good food.  This will stay on my Paris TO GO list for a long time.

Best BreakfastBreak of Dawn, Laguna Beach

No one does big breakfasts like the Americans do and this out of the way restaurant located in a nondescript strip mall in Laguna Beach is a perfect example.  Ex-Ritz Carlton chef who leaves the busy hotel kitchen to set up his own place and spend more time with his family.  The result is impressive – breakfast classics like corned beef hash, french toast and oatmeal are on the menu alongside an Asian-influenced spicy Hawaiian sausage with rice, eggs and pickled shredded papaya or a Mexican-influenced chorizo and scrambled eggs.  Mugs of fresh drip-coffee, free iced water, large tables filled with families makes it almost like a diner.

Best Hotel Buffet Breakfast – WoodsGeneva
Hotel buffet breakfasts are all starting to blur into one – assorted breads and pastries, yogurts, cold cuts, cereal and a small selection of cooked items (scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon) kept warm in chafing dishes.  Well, not at Woods in the Intercontinental hotel where breakfast was an aesthetic experience – a large wooden table piled high with baskets of assorted breads and pastries, artisanal jams and honeys then a cold section of marble-topped shelves where yogurts, fresh fruit, fresh juice in individual carafes and cold cuts were laid out and finally, a hot food section where a granite topped counter with built-in warmers kept the food in the serving dishes hot.

Best Chinese – Hakkasan, London
Another Alan Yau  and Christian Liagre partnership, this time with Michelin star as well for the creative Chinese haute cuisine.  I went there first in 2002 when they just opened and was already impressed with what they had created.  Seven years later, it’s still a pleasant shock to the senses – dark, sexy interiors and sexy, snappy servers just add to the atmosphere and honestly with food this good, I can tolerate the attitude.  Lunch is a bargain but the dinner bill can become astronomical with the colorful cocktails and first growth wines.  No photos are allowed so I wasn’t able to document my lunch there so you’ll just have to imagine it.

Best French – Joel Robuchon at the Mansion, Las Vegas
Elegant, check. Cozy, check.  Haute cuisine, check.  Hypertension-inducing prices, check.  Dinner with my sisters, priceless.  My sisters and I try to meet up at least once a year and when we do, we always go somewhere new for dinner and last year was Joel Robuchon’s fine dining jewel at the MGM hotel.  We decided to skip the degustation and go a la carte so we could all order different things and have a taste of each others’ plates.  The food was classic French haute cuisine with some modern twist but thankfully, none of those molecular/hyper-modern foams and dry ice creations that are a bit of a turn-off.  Was it delicious? Yes.  Was it worth it?  Yes, once every decade.  The experience was impressive but we’re still saving up for another anti-recession meal like that one.

Best Home-Cooked Meal – Mahnaz’s Persian Kebabs, Marbella

Mahnaz invited us over for a traditional Persian dinner of kebabs – both chicken and lamb – served with grilled peppers, tomatoes and buttery long-grain rice.  She also made fesenjan, the traditional lamb and pomegranate syrup stew.  Persian comfort food at its’ best.

Best Japanese
 – RAKU, Las Vegas

My sister and her husband had been raving about this tiny off-strip restaurant for ages so when we finally made it there in February, our expectations were high.  After lots of little plates – creative Robatayaki-based dishes,  super fresh sashimi,

Best New Gourmet DiscoveryFoie gras carpaccio, Paris
I have Tonger to thank for taking us to Comptoir de la Gastronomie, a deli/restaurant near Les Halles.  He insisted I order the foie gras carpaccio and I was glad I did.  The plateful of paper-thin slices of foie gras drizzled with honey, balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with sel de Guerande.  It made for a terrific cold lunch and it was such a pleasant surprise to try foie gras in a new way.

Best Tapas
 – La Moraga Iberica, Puerto Banus

I was never a fan of Dani Garcia’s, Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, Calima.  On the other hand, his tapas bar concept La Moraga in Malaga has always been a favorite.  This year, he opened a second tapas bar in the middle of Puerto Banus – La Moraga Iberica.  Modern interiors with a large bar where diners can sit and watch the action from the show kitchen.  His modern version on the classic Spanish tapa of boquerones (anchovies) served in an opened sardine tin with roasted peppers is fun and fantastic.   It’s been packed ever since they opened and because no reservations are taken, the wait can be unbearably long but worth it.  I’m looking forward to his new creation La Moraga Sweet just down the road which should solve the problem of where to go for a nice dessert around here.

Best Thai
 – Busaba, London
2009 was all about recessionista dining and this Alan Yau concept and Christian Liagre-designed Thai restaurant brought the best bang for the buck with its’ spicy flavors, generous portions, modern interiors, efficient service and most of all, reasonable prices.  Perfect for both yummy mummies and slummy mummies, businessmen and tourists, families and couples – the large communal tables and shared dishes make for convivial dining.

4 thoughts on “The Best of 2009

  1. Thanks E & E! Glad to know that you both had a great time in Vegas.


  2. E and E says:

    Thanks you so much for your exellents advices for las Vegas. We really enjoyed RAKU (no tourist in there!) and Mansion is unforgetable (now they purpose some Menus from 125 dll to …)!


  3. cedar chests says:

    Nice roundup of posts from the past year! I really enjoyed following your blog! Keep it up!


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