As the Editor in Chief of Dabble, I get to travel all around the world to taste-test food for upcoming Dabble destination features. It’s a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it…
1- Nashville: Locals claim Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack does hot chicken best, and I can’t disagree. A Nashville specialty, hot chicken is battered in buttermilk and cayenne pepper, and then pan-fried. Better have a beer nearby because when we say hot, we mean hot.
2- Barcelona: Cobalt blue water bottles cast a watery tinge onto crisp white tablecloths in the contemporary setting of Matamala. Asking the waiter for a recommendation yields what can only be described as fish donuts. Sounds weird, but the bite-sized cod balls are drizzled in honey and taste like heaven with the accompanying cold beer. A small, well-stocked grocery selection includes fun gift ideas such as the pa amb tomaquet (Catalan bread with tomato spread) kit.
3- Budapest: A must-visit gem of Hungarian home cooking is Cafe Kar. The restaurant is fairly small, not terribly picturesque, and the staff is not overly affectionate (have I wowed you yet?). However, the memorable home cooking makes these minor issues easily tolerated. Perfect goulash, sublime veal tenderloin and a Viennese style, thinly pounded Wiener schnitzel with parsley potatoes are just a few favourites.
4- Toronto: Is there any better way to wrap up a long day’s work than with refreshments on a twinkling patio? Caren’s Wine and Cheese Bar is unassuming and casual in contrast to its chi-chi Yorkville setting. It boasts a varied list of reasonably priced wines and cheeses, as well as a spicy baked macaroni and cheese that’s worth blowing the diet over.
5- Charleston: You can’t go all the way to Charleston without eating some good ol’ Southern cookin’. Maverick Southern Kitchens operates two fabulous restaurants on East Broad Street: Slightly North of Broad (SNOB) and High Cotton. Try the shrimp and grits at both locations. Tip: Don’t fill up on the wonderful corn bread they serve…or do. If you feel like learning how to make a Southern dish, visit Cooks right across the street and participate in a cooking class.
6- Puerto Rico: Lusty describes the setting and menu at Dragonfly, Puerto Rico’s first Latin-Asian restaurant. Red walls, beaded curtains and fringed lamps are right out of Shanghai Surprise, but the food is delish.
7- Santa Monica: Always on a roll, LA food trucks are famous for their variety of fare. Quell midday hunger with a visit to Pennsylvania and 26th streets where you’ll find at least a dozen trucks Monday-Friday. The setting is meh, but $5.00 buys a feast–fish tacos, kogi beef skewers, fish and chips, even a green salad truck.
8- Quebec City: Seeking a truly French meal? Then make your way to la rue St. Jean to Le Moine Echanson. This restaurant comes highly recommended from locals, who tend to be demanding gourmets. Every dish is paired with a wine recommendation. Be sure to make reservations if you want to enjoy this unique culinary experience. Try a savoury dish like the Gratin d’Escargots et Fromage Chevre; you’ll swear you are in France.
9- St. Pierre et Miquelon: Dreaming of a trip to France? Moi aussi. So I pack my bags and do what any croissant-loving world traveller does, I fly to Newfoundland. That’s right. St. Pierre is a small patch of French soil in the province of Newfoundlad. The Auberge Quatre Temps’ award-winning chef, Pascal Vigneau, chats with his guests before dishing out heavenly lobster and salmon (best accompanied with a chilled Muscade or Sylvaner) and the fluffiest lemon-lime cheesecake.
10- Prague: If your taste buds are overwhelmed by hearty Czech fare, stop for lunch at Cukrkavalimonada Caffe. The imposing name translates to ‘coffee sugar lemonade.’ Perfect for salads, omelettes, grilled chicken and tempting desserts like palacinky (Czech crepes).
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Travel by Design: Puerto Rico
After multiple visits to San Juan I’ve learned that getting in sync with the locals means slowing down, even embracing the predictable tardiness and laid back attitudes. Not always easy for this multi-tasking Northerner. In my experience, the only things that move quickly in Puerto Rico are conversations and cab drivers. I suggest you fasten your seat belt for both.
Here I share a few additional photos from my most recent trip to Puerto Rico:
To read more on Puerto Rico and Beth’s trip, check out Travel by Design Puerto Rico, Issue 2 May/June 2011.
Staying healthy in San Juan takes some effort, especially when local delicacies are deliciously fried. Dabble’s guide and puertorriqueña Ana Dapena keeps her long limbs toned and her mind serene by living la vida activa.
Ashtanga vinyasa classes at It’s Yoga are a joyful experience thanks to the open air studio and lyrical chanting of instructor Valerie Santiago. A $17 drop-in fee nets a mat to use and a bottle of water.
Wheeling to work is somewhat dangerous with weekday traffic, but weekend excursions are a joy. Piñones has a six-mile trail through pine forest and past ocean views. For an extensive list of bike trails online, try Single Tracks.
“At low tide there’s more playing field,” jokes Ana, who explains why she wears a watch that tracks such things. Come to Ocean Park beach on any weekend and you’re sure to find a paddleball companion.
ABOVE: Ana Dapena and Adelisa Gonzalez enjoy a game of paddleball in Ocean Park.
The former national and professional volleyball player says the summer tournaments at Ocean Park and Condado beach attract a larger number of fans. New friends are always welcome.
The setting at Sushi Nagoya is unspectacular, but the sashimi and sushi are fresh and light.
At Pure and Natural expect a great veggie burger and island-slow service.
Satisfy a craving for green salad with a visit to the Sidewalk Café at La Concha Hotel.
Yawning before us is the opening to Cueva Clara, the largest of likely more than 1,000 caves within the Camuy River Cave Park. Archaeologic evidence suggests these natural limestone caverns may have been explored by the island’s first inhabitants, the Taíno Indians, but they remained undocumented until 1973. A fraction of the system is open to visitors who wait patiently to step onto a tram and journey down into the natural wonder.
Feeling like a time traveller who stepped into Jurassic Park, we descend by tram to air that is thicker and mustier than the stuff on top. Fortunately, there is penetrating daylight in most sections of the cave and no one feels claustrophobic. The tour lasts about one and a half hours and is led by a local guide for a fee of $15, which includes the supplementary audio guide.
Dabble Savvy: Most hotels offer packages to see main tourist sites.
If you’re travelling with children, a trip to Arecibo Lighthouse Park can extend the day’s adventures. The small theme park is well kept and its replicas of Columbus’s ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, remind you of all that history you learned back in school.
Extending a warm greeting, after a day’s work at the hospital, Dr. Carlos Gonzalez assures me he feels more like a ‘Carli’ than a ‘Dr. Gonzalez’ as he unlocks the door to his Old San Juan apartment. He offers chilled Medalla, the local brew, and talks passionately about his charming apartment, its tiled courtyard and the rare neighbourhood he calls home.
“When you live in Old San Juan, everyone comes to you,” says Carli. And why wouldn’t they? “It’s a magical place that’s brimming with history and, unlike any other city in Puerto Rico, you can walk everywhere in the Old Town. In fact, on weekends, I rarely use my car.”
When you live in Old San Juan, everyone comes to you.
Spanish colonial architecture, a pulsing Latin beat and 580 kilometers of unspoiled coast- line have Kimberley Seldon saying, ‘Que Rico‘ to La Isla del Encanto. After all, they don’t call it the Island of Enchantment for nothing.
Opening my eyes just the tiniest bit, I let the bright sunlight sink into my brain slowly. ‘Right,’ I say to myself with a wee grin, ‘I’m in Puerto Rico.’ And just like that, I skip out on the end of winter in Toronto. ‘Well played,’ I think to myself.
The seaside setting of Ritz-Carlton San Juan Casino and Spa is unparalleled.
Casual boutique hotel, Hosteria del Marrents simply appointed beachside rooms. Its onsite Uvva Restaurantis good enough to return to nightly.
A former convent from the 17th century, Hotel El Conventois ideally situated beside the Catedral de San Juan.
True luxury is what guests find at St Regis Bahia Beach Restort. Close to El Yunque National Forest, there’s an adjacent golf course as well.
St Germaine is the kind of casual cafe, where locals gather to linger over coffee and gossip. Come for lunch or brunch.
La Mallorca is a not-too-fancy local haunt for sweet buns and hot coffee.
Lusty describes the setting and menu at Dragonfly, Puerto Rico’s first Latin- Asian restaurant. Red walls, beaded curtains and fringed lamps are right out of Shanghai Surprise, but the food is memorable.
Tuna kebobs with cucumber slaw are a perfect match to chilled sangria at Torro del Salao Enjoy both in the lantern-lit courtyard patio.
In perfect harmony with the vibrant white and candy-hued interior, the menu at Marmalade is full of flavour. The white bean soup is muy popular.
Enjoy a rare and blissfully quiet dining experience at 311 Trois Once Cent. As the name suggests, the menu is French.
Foodies will rush to reserve a table at Fern, whose chef is world- renowned Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Order the pechuga relleno de queso blanca y guayaba, aka chicken stuffed with guava and cheese at Dulce Fruta Bistro y Cafe and thank us later. Yum.
Stories above Plaza de las Delicias (Ponce’s main square) is the modern interior of Archipielago. The food is a fusion of Creole and continental. The halibut with coconut rice and vegetable curry is exceptional.
Cueva Clara, the largest of the Camuy River Park caves, has visitors arriving early to see the spectacular site. Step onto the tram and journey down to the natural wonder.
If you’re travelling with children, a trip to Arecibo Lighthouse Park can extend the day’s adventures. The small theme park is well kept and its replicas of Columbus’ ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, remind you of all that history you learned back in school.Head to Puerto Rico’s Riviera, Luquillo Beach. This public beach is a crowd pleaser with dozens of the picturesque kiosks nearby so popular in Puerto Rico.
Adventurers will want to explore Puerto Rico’s other islands, Vieques and Culebra. Situated off the eastern shores, head to Fajardo and catch the ferry to either island.
A must see, the phosphorescence or bioluminescence generated by microscopic organisms (dinoflagellates) causes the water in La Parguera to glow with an eerie blue light whenever the surface is disturbed, an effect that is particularly powerful on moonless nights.The month of February is peak season for Humpback whale watching off the coast of Rincon.
If you’re looking for Panama hats, hand-made cigars or folk art, then El Galpon is the place. Dabble Savvy: Above the Calle del Criston shop is an apartment to rent.
Handmade tote bags line the walls at Eco Eco.Owner, Angie Ortiz Rivera is on site and eager to serve.
The owners are rightfully proud of the original, contemporary Caribbean art on display at Galeria Exodo.
Board games are popular in Puerto Rico. At Kamel International Bazaar we found a chess set with nearly naked Ta ed no Indians squared off against the fully armed Spanish army. Not much of a match.
As it turns out, racking up rewards points is a breeze in Old San Juan. Flight, hotel and rental car garner double points, and I still earned a point for every dollar spent on shopping. In total, I earned 8,000 points on my trip to Puerto Rico simply by using my American Express Gold Rewards Card.
My passion for travel is well documented, and certainly part of the reason I launched Dabble. Following our successful launch, the folks at American Express Canada approached me to test drive their new travel rewards card, The American Express Gold Rewards Card. Since it offers double points on purchases I make regularly, the grocer, drug store, gas station, and on all travel spending I was keen to see what it could do. Even more enticing for a frequent traveller like me, the points transfer 1:1 with Aeroplan, don’t expire and have no restrictions or blackout dates.
To get me started, American Express offered me 50,000 Membership Rewards points, in addition to the 15,000 bonus points I received (enough for a roundtrip flight to Paris, London or Rome) when I signed up for the card. Let’s just say, I had some fun earning points over 3 days in Puerto Rico.
MORNING Wake to the gentle sound of rolling waves and remember, ‘Yes, I really am on vacation.’ Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it’s even better when someone sings to you. So, visit Mares at the Ritz-Carlton when Jeremy Baptiste is working the omelette station. Jeremy moved from Boston two years ago and says he hasn’t stopped singing since. On Sundays, there’s also an unlimited Mimosa bar.
AFTERNOON Fortified with a proper breakfast, find a spot pool, or beach-side. Pack a juicy paperback and a big bottle of sunscreen.
LATE AFTERNOON Seriously, do you really want to move now? If you must, a walk on the beach and a swim in the ocean are restorative.
EVENING Dinner at Jose Enrique is guaranteed to be memorable, once you find it. Your cab driver can help.
MORNING If you’re enjoying the food (and I bet you are) an early morning yoga class at It’s Yoga may be in order. Following class (let’s face it, you worked hard) cross the road to Kasalta and order a cordatito, espresso with a sheen of steamed milk. Then, good luck choosing just one of the tempting pastries on display.
Include a visit to El Morro (seen here) with its 18-foot-thick walls rising some 140 feet above the sea. Open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
San Juan’s sister protector, Castillo de San Cristobal covers 27 acres. As a strategic defense it’s something of a masterpiece, built around five self-sufficient, independent units connected by moat and tunnel. Open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
EVENING Having enjoyed the shopping, history and setting of Old San Juan for the day, you’ll want to stay for dinner. In the mood for romance? Try 311 Trois Cent Onze.
MORNING Whether you are renting a car or participating in an organized tour, you’ll want to set out early to explore El Yunque National Rainforest. Hike the trails and take a dip in the crystal clear waterfalls. Perhaps these are the fabled Fuente de Juventud (Fountain of Youth)?
AFTERNOON It’s a short drive to rest and relaxation at Luquillo Beach. Parking is tricky, but be patient and you’ll find a spot. If you’re hungry, there are 50 roadside kiosks at the ready with deep fried (and fried again in some cases) snacks. For lighter fare try Ceviche Hut #38 or Martes #26 for puertorriquenos meat tacos. It’s worth saying the kiosks at Pinones are more picturesque, so if you’re staying in San Juan it may be worthwhile to head in that direction.
EVENING For a casual beachside dining experience, you can’t beat the setting or the food at Uvva Restaurant. For an urban, NYC bistro vibe, try BLT Steak. They serve fresh pop- overs at the start of the meal and provide patrons with a copy of the recipe. The house red, Gnarly Head cabernet, at $8.00 per glass is great value.
With few exceptions, the dining scene in Puerto Rico is unpretentious, so come as you are. Expect excellent food in a casual setting and a welcoming wait staff to wish you, ‘buen provecho’.
Everyone eats at Kasalta—politicians, school kids, housewives and secretaries. The glass countered bakery serves tempting pastries and a divine Cubanito (mini ham and Swiss).
Panadería España Repostería
Another reliable local hangout with a similar atmsophere to Kasalta. Consider the cheese and wine selection if you’re planning a picnic.
Dabble Savvy: Save on restaurant meals by ordering water like the locals do: “I’ll have the Carraiso Springs.” A joke that references the city’s main source of tap water.
It’s not fancy, but the burrittos and tacos are delicioso at La B de Burro in Ocean Park. In addition, ginger and tamarind are the finest companions to tequila imaginable, so ask about 2 for 1 margarita specials.
Bebo dishes up well-priced local fare to its dedicated clientele. Try arroz mamposteado (rice and beans) or empanada de pollo (chicken empanada) and ripe plantains.
Under the Trees
Sit on the outdoor patio, order a mimosa and a fabulous brunch experience is assured.
Once you find the well-hidden restaurant, José Enrique is a fine dining experience that is unparalleled. Start with the cheese plate and order the red snapper as a main. You won’t have room for dessert, but the three chocolate dish is to die for.
I celebrated a recent (delicious) birthday at Uvva Restaurant in Hosteria del Mar. Almond crusted lamb chops in mint chimichuri sauce are every bit as tasty as they look (see photo page 124). As we sat on the beach the next day, the owner noticed our group and sent over a round of drinks—matching our order from the night before. Now, that’s service.
Chef Robert Trevino (of Iron Chef fame) masterminds the Budatai fusion menu, serving elegant sushi and divine seared ahi.
Chef Wilo Bennet’s Varita in Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza revitalizes local delicacies such as roasted pig. Start with the lettuce wraps and save room for mini coconut tembleque (coconut flan).
When pastry chef Raquel Holcman launched Sweet Sentations, her fanciful concoctions became instant classics.