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Archive for the ‘Food & Wine’ Category

sometimes simple is best

In social circles, people often ask, “so, what is your favorite drink?” And perhaps I have too many. But if I needed to make a choice, a spirit to spend my days on the deserted island with, my choice, my Blue Agave friend. Si, Tequila.

Many might not be surprised, after all Mexico and me do hold a tight bond of friendship. But the reason might surprise. It’s the triple play. Tequila is perfectly suited for all times of the day. Suited for all three meals; breakfast, lunch and dinner.

No, I don’t imagine myself constantly drinking on the island, but if I was on the island, lost, I do imagine days when one might welcome a drink at any hour. A good one too. That’s Tequila.

the tequila sunrise

For breakfast: The Tequila Sunrise. This delicious cocktail is best with fresh squeezed OJ just the like the one shown in the photo. Served as my morning welcome drink at Rancho Pescadero, it created the perfect mood.  I requested it. Good choice.

the poolside frozen margarita

For Lunch: Although I prefer the Margarita on the rocks usually, with only fresh squeezed lime juice of course (I squeeze my own when necessary), when I am poolside sometimes the frozen refreshment is the proper call. Here, at Pueblo Bonito I am about to enjoy the afternoon.

the scene I imagine for tonight in DF. Photo: Aadam Lortz

For Dinner: And in the evening its straight sipping for Tequila. One of my favorites from my days in D.F. (Mexico City) was Herradura Repasado.  The night shown in this photo turned into quite the party as you might imagine. And I suspect on the eve of Independence Day in Mexico (El Grito) – this will be a common scene around all of Mexico.

stay adventurous, Craig

Day 11 of 20 day Mexico Bicentennial Tribute

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At times walking the streets of Playa del Carmen one can start to think they are vacationing in Italy. Yes, Italy. Surprised? Well, have you been to Playa lately? Italians top the list of foreign ownership and that translates into many Italian restaurants.

the taqueria was packed...

Pizza appears on nearly every block with pasta specials on nearly every menu across the countless cafes. Italian food is omnipresent. Travelers can not miss (or not taste) the large Italian influence.

But on my final night, I craved tacos. I asked the locals for recommendations and most everyone recommended one spot. So, I walked a few minutes from the tourist streets to find the top taqueria. I  arrived at El Fogon.

opening the menu made me smile..

When I think of tacos, El Califa in Mexico City, remains my first thought. The tacos hold a special place in my heart. I never traveled to DF and not made a stop. I never will. But I’ll admit, when I next return to Playa, a return to El Fogon is now a must.

A packed house with an open grill provides the smells, smoke, and sounds to start any man salavating a little. Simple plastic chairs and tables either draped with advertisements or simply plain white do not provide comfort long leisurely stays, but serious eating. Even the waiters and waitresses play a part. They expect you know your order before they hand you a menu and start delivering toppings (the salsas, picos de gallo, limes, etc..) before you receive your drink. The scene set. Tacos.

And I don’t care where you eat tacos in Mexico, it is a sin if you do not start with at least one ‘Taco del Pastor.’ A must. The gyro style pork on a small taco garnished with a slice of pineapple is a requirement. And at El Fogon – delicious.

Then I selected the ‘bistec y chorizo con queso’ for my order of tacos. I don’t always get cheese, but this time, it was needed.  I desired the extra comfort.

my order of tacos...

At first, I thought the order, roughly 4-5 tacos, might be too much. But instincts took over. And after a few nights of Italian, and on the eve of returning home to New York, I needed my taco fix. No problem. I ate every last morsel. Two frosty Pacifico cervezas aided my effort. All delicious.

But what of dessert?

Well, I still had a little room for one more item. And I did what any taco loving American might do. I ordered one more Taco del Pastor. A perfect beginning also made a perfect ending. The setting, the food, the experience. Tacos indeed. A must visit when you find yourself in Playa – and that, my friends (mis amigos) is a Fogon conclusion.

makes a perfect dessert too.

stay adventurous, Craig

Day 5 of 20 day Mexico Bicentennial Tribute

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Umqombothi. Say that three times. In fact even say it once. Not easy. But a lot easier to drink? Well maybe not, but it’s an adventure.

After my 1/2 day tour via Acacia Africa that took me to visit the District Six Museum and a local township outside of Cape Town, our last stop, not like any other last stop – a pint. Here our tour guide showed us a local brew house. We walked to a small wooden shack in the middle of the township where people gather to enjoy a locally brewed beer.

a fire warms and the large tin awaits....

Over a fire made from the scrap wood we sat on benches and gathered around to socialize. Our delicacy, an enormous tin filled with Umqombothi. Made from maize (corn), maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water the thick, creamy and gritty consistency contained a distinct aroma.  And even with the low alcohol content (usually less than 3%) it can hardly be classified as a light beer.

i also learned it is  often used in ceremonies.  Respect is expected when taking a sip. Of course, I paid some. A few times naturally.

I kneel down to pay respect and enjoy a sip among new friends...

And although New York is a city that has (nearly) everything, I realize I might not be able to find this brew. So this Friday my drink might be different, but I still plan to toast to you South Africa. Cheers.

Stay adventurous, Craig

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A visit to Cape Town or South Africa that matter is not complete without a trip to the country’s wineries. On the Blue Train you pass straight through the heart of the countryside dedicated to producing some of the best wines I ever tasted. But you need to get up close and visit the towns. You need to walk the quaint streets, take in the incredible views, enjoy the delicious foods, and of course taste the wine.

And although I spent most of my time touring, Stellenbosh visiting Mooiplaas and Amani. (article coming). I also enjoyed the views and from Dieu Donne Vineyards (translates – a gift from God) in Franschhoek. And the tasting with this view was just that. A gift.

the views from Dieu Donne were truly God's Gift...

Not to mention, I was also very fond the peace and quiet I found spending 5 RND to visit the Huguenots memorial in town. Sometimes it is important to get away from the herd and just reflect.

peace and quiet at the memorial....

stay adventurous, Craig

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Oysters. For some, the ultimate delicacy, for others just another mollusk.

And whether you believe it’s a myth or a fact that about its aphrodisiac powers upon digestion, I think we all can agree, the fresher the better.  And nothing is fresher than pulled directly from ocean after you place that order. That is exactly what I found in Mazatlán.

With a city name that originates from the indigenous Nahuatl language, Mazatlán,  actually translates to “place of deer.” Yet today with access to some of the most abundant fishing, savory shrimps, and as I discovered fresh oysters, its nickname ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ seems way more appropriate.

And one afternoon on my travels in port, the quest was simple. Seafood.

buckets of fresh shrimp for sale

Every restaurant offers shrimps every which way. Buckets from the day’s catch fill the markets at prices of just over $1 per pound. And for lunch we ate many. Prepared all different ways; grilled, fried, with spices, with sauces to even raw. All delicious.

But after our shrimp fest, a fellow travel writer yearned for oysters. He loved shrimp, but his passion, his ultimate, was the raw oyster.  And that became our next mission. Our driver and personal tour guide for the afternoon made a recommendation for (a considered) an off the beaten path stop. Definitely not on the tourist trail, yet the stop was right in the heart of the city.

the view up the coast in Mazatlan

Just as the Malecón ends and right before the Zona Dorada (the golden zone), one of the three neighborhoods of Mazatlan, a turn off  takes you to the beach. Whether still dirt or just a dusty road I can’t recall, but the distance was short. And a few gentleman sat at the end on the steps to the beach just watching the pacific waves in the heat of the afternoon.

After the typical greetings, we placed our order. Oysters. A dozen to share. Two gentleman went off to see with a rubber tube to find (fish for) our Oysters.  Not at a restaurant, we realized we also need some cervezas.  Handing over enough pesos for an ochito, (an 8 pack, beers come in 8 not 6) another gentleman ran to the corner store. His tip – to share in the beer.

Men off to sea to fetch some Oysters...

The men returned from the sea and our feast began. I began to think about the story of the investment banker and the fisherman. A lesson I learned early in my Wall Street career.  I’ll sum it up.

A banker goes on vacation to Mexico and meets a fisherman. After seeing his plentiful catch, he explains to the fisherman that he has great opportunity. If  he works very hard, builds a business, then goes public (IPO) he can make a lot of money. He can become rich.

“Really, why?” replies the fisherman.

“Well, then you can retire, spend time with your family, and go fishing everyday.”

The fisherman smiled and said, “but that is what I do now.”

Something to ponder. Perhaps the pearl of wisdom found inside the oysters, perhaps a needed reminder for me.

Oysters served

I always said I’d retire by 35. And as I tasted a few Oysters, sipped a cerveza, I realized I did. Sure I was working, but I definitely retired. I was no longer chasing “society’s success,’ but created my own view of it.  A view I really enjoyed that afternoon.

Stay adventurous, Craig

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I’ll admit I consider myself both adventurous and educated when it comes to cuisine. An expert? Maybe, maybe not? But more importantly – I enjoy a good meal. Yes, I crave culinary creations of all kinds. Heck, at times, it almost seems as needed as the air I breathe.

And through my travels I discovered amazing eats, adventurous meals and absolutely delicious dishes. Certainly we all have our favorites and now after discussing my Shanghai surprise, I decided to share more. To write about places when a meal makes the trip.

Craig's Restaurant

Next Stop. Florida Keys.

I’ll admit it; I first became intrigued when I learned Craig’s Restaurant claims to have a famous fish sandwich.  There is something about a name. But when billboards advertise it as “world famous,” that may not always a good sign.

Right off the Overseas Highway ( RT 1), heading south (or actually West) to Key West at MM 90.5 you’ll find Craig’s Restaurant. And when you enter, the simple interior doesn’t impress. It neither shows much character nor charm. All you do notice is the countless award certificates dating back to the 1980s that fill the wall. All awards  for the fish sandwich?

Ok, let’s try one. I order the famous.

And wow.

The combination of grilled whole-wheat toast, fresh caught and fried Mahi Mahi, pickles, tomato, and melted American cheese creates the masterpiece. Simple – yes. Delicious – YES. And also seemingly easily replicated, it remains one of the best the Keys offers. And I tried many.

about to enjoy the famous....

Overall, the restaurant may seem pricey (I think it was $10.95 for the famous) since it lacks a waterfront setting, a water view, and that desired “keyz'” atmosphere, but it delivers delicious.

Every trip down to the Florida Keys, I make it a point to stop, and my order is simple. The famous – with Mahi. Try one. You’ll agree.

Stay Adventurous, Craig

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outside the shanghai museum....

Shanghai surprises.

When you walk the city you know you are not in Kansas. My friend compares it to another planet. He says it’s Mars. It’s not, but it sure is different. Very different.

Different architecture, different customs, different language.  But perhaps the biggest difference for me came when I sat down for dinner.  The cuisine.

Now, I consider myself an adventurous eater, but true chinese cuisine challenges most westerners. It certainly challenged me. No, it’s not the simple takeout menu I grew up with or the one I use to order delivery in New York City this week.  Nope. No egg rolls. No chicken with brocolli. No fortune cookies.

...are the shrimp drunk yet? hmmm.....delicious

And although I started off with a struggle, the shanghai surprise – drunken shrimp delicacy (click to read Shanghai Metro story – and scroll down) turned the tide. I even gave my TwoCents about it in the Shanghai Metro. Yes, published in print.

So, after that meal or rather dining experience, I found myself with a tad more bravado. Yes, braver and certainly a more adventurous eater.

In China, I tried many more dishes on that trip, yet there remains so much to learn, so much to sample. So if you know of a special dish (from China or anywhere), please leave a comment. Tell of your experience or even make a recommendation.

Of course, I am continuing to expand my horizons with more Shanghai style surprises.

Stay adventurous, Craig

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