Cassis, France

Cassis, France
Cassis, France

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Catch, Miami, Florida


I am woefully behind on blog posts! While I've stuck pretty close to home since November, I do have a few gems to share from my travels until that point, one of which is Catch at the James Hotel in Miami. There is an amazing HIV adherence conference held in Miami every year, and I am fortunate enough to go soak up the sun, some knowledge, and good food. Before I get to Catch, I usually stay at the Eden Roc, and I LOVE it, much more so than the larger Fountain Bleu located next door. While the dining at the Eden Roc is nothing to write home about, it's manageable and beautiful, especially the outdoor spaces and the lobby bar. The one potential downfall is that it is a very healthy walk (30 minutes or so... maybe more if you are in heels, which you probably should be) or a quick-ish cab ride (with Miami traffic) to popular night spots. Also, this is quite terrible, but I did go to a great restaurant within walking distance to the Eden Roc two years ago. It was before I started this blog and I cannot for the life of me remember the name (the terrible part). It had a GORGEOUS outdoor garden (full of lights and lush plant life) and live entertainment on some evenings. The concierge at the Eden Roc should know what it is called -- a great option within walking distance. 

Catch is housed in the James Hotel, which is another one of Miami's historic spaces now run by a larger hotel group. It's definitely trendy, and boasts a great cocktail list, which you can enjoy in the lobby while waiting for your dinner companions. I recommend the Isis, which is a vodka base with notes of grapefruit, mint, and honey (without being cloyingly sweet).

The Catch menu is designed for sharing, though you can order an individual entree. I was with a large group (the service for our large, disorganized, and "spirited" group was impeccable by the way), so I got to try quite a few bites. The highlights were the whole roasted snapper that we enjoyed with lobster mashed potatoes with a truffle "smear", the mahi mahi fish tacos (though be sure to use all those limes that come on the side -- the citrus really jazzes up the flavor), and, well... the yucca tater tots. It sounds simple, I know, but a measly french fry won't do it for you after you've had these.

The things we didn't love were the sushi rolls (sad, I know) and the cookie bucket for dessert... great idea, but the contents were just meh.

Given the way the menu is designed, its great for groups of four or more. So, if you are battling another sub 30 degree day in the Northeast like me, it's probably time to start planning your trip to Miami.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Entertaining at Home

Every year I have the unique privilege of gathering my mentors and a series of world-renowned experts whose expertise spans HIV and the three "healths" (mental, women's, global) in one room to talk about my work over the past year and career development in general. While incredibly anxiety provoking, I do indeed recognize this meeting as the incredible opportunity that it is. This year, my mentor from South Africa made the journey to Boston to attend, and to thank her and my other mentors for all they do for me, my husband and I hosted a small dinner party at our home. (As much as I love to travel and eat in restaurants, sometimes a meal in someone's home is really nice when you are on the road.)

If you are at all like me, you probably plan very elaborate menus for your dinner parties that impress guests but leave you in the kitchen for most of the evening. I tried to plan a menu and a schedule that would actually allow me to be present this time, and it worked out beautifully. I also had to work with some dietary restrictions (one pregnant guest, one vegetarian, and one guest who will eat birds and fish but not mammals). Here is the menu for our "fall in New England" themed meal, complete with links to recipes and helpful tips. I'm also including the schedule I made for the day, as I think that also contributed to the success of the overall meal (and my overall well-being)!

Cheese course

Cloth-bound cheddar, from Cabot
Homboldt Fog goat cheese from Cypress Grove Chèvre
Verano, a raw sheep's milk cheese from Vermont Shepard

I wanted to offer cheeses that would be hard to find in South Africa, and ended up with a trifecta of cow, sheep, and goat. I grabbed the cheddar while in Portland a week or two before from the Cabot store. They have all things Cabot (including yogurt), and you can try everything before you buy. If you live anywhere near the South Shore of Boston, you MUST try the Bloomy Rind, which is where the goat and sheep's milk cheese came from. The Bloomy Rind is a slice of heaven owned by Mary and Robert, and it is a place where you can purchase cheese galore and all degrees of cheese accoutrement. Mary is only too happy to impart her knowledge and let you taste your way through her cheese case. Robert makes amazing salads, sandwiches, and cheese condiments (try the carrot hummus, the homemade fig jam, homemade olive tapenade, and the puttanesca). Robert's kale salad will turn anyone into a kale lover. I told Mary about the nature of the party and what I had for condiments (in this case quince paste and truffled honey, from DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia), and she selected the other two cheeses with me.

Pasta course

Confession: the weekend prior to or party, I attempted to make home-made sweet potato gnocchi. They are sitting in our freezer. My first gnocchi making experience was not a total flop, but I need to work on my texture, so I didn't feel comfortable serving them. In comes Nella Pasta to the rescue. Nella Pasta is based in JP and they offer a variety (many of which are seasonal), hand crafted pastas and raviolis. In keeping with our theme of New England, I selected the butternut squash ravioli, which are constructed with sage and a hint of brown butter. I served them with sage brown butter sauce and lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Perfect, and no one minded that I didn't make them from scratch. Brown butter hardly needs a recipe, but I followed Mario Batali's advice all the same. The lemon juice cut the richness of all that butter nicely.

Main course

One of my guests graciously offered to bring a salad of mixed greens, dried fruits, and goat cheese. I served parmesan and sweet pea "risotto" and herbed salmon, both courtesy of Ina Garten. The beauty of the risotto is that is cooks in the oven. I was able to finish it on the stove while the salmon cooked, overcoming the problem of only having one oven. A few tips: you can keep the risotto warm on low heat on your stove while the salmon cooks / rests. I suggest taking the peas out of the freezer long enough for them to come to room temperature before adding them to the risotto, as they can bring the temperature down substantially. You can never add too much cheese, in my humble opinion, but keep a spoon nearby to taste for seasonings. I used low sodium chicken stock, and needed to add quite a bit of salt, despite all the cheese. Ina suggests using skinless salmon, and coating both sides of your fish. I used salmon with the skin to hold it all together, and had enough herbs to coat the top only. I might suggest having the salmon "rest" face down in the olive oil and lemon mixture before you cook it (the recipe suggests just pouring it over the top), and remember to baste the salmon with the juices as it cooks and again before serving. Also, Ina cooked the piece of fish whole. I made the mistake of slicing it after cooking, and it flaked apart in places. I suggest slicing your fish before cooking to make it look neater.


Fruit crisps are EASY, can be made ahead, and have huge wow factor. I made a cranberry-pear crisp (cranberries freeze beautifully, so pick up a bag or two while they are in season and pop them in the freezer) and served it with locally made vanilla ice cream from Nona's, another South Shore treat. Nona's is conveniently located a few doors down from Bloomy Rind, FYI.

We served dessert with some ice cider from Shelburne Vineyard. One of my best friends lives very nearby, and I grabbed this while we were visiting last spring. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to open it.

Lastly, here is my schedule for the day. Bonus time for you if you can get ready in under an hour and get someone else to take your pup to school!

Saturday Schedule

Tidy up house
Walk dog


Leave for agility class
Agility class
Drive to farmer’s market
Farmer’s market for ravioli
Bloomy Rind
Nona’s / salmon / drive home
Set up dining room
Set table
Get ready
Chop herbs for salmon
Prep risotto, get out salad serving ware
Prep pasta appetizer (chop sage, butter ready to go)
Put out cheese plate and put drinks on ice; music ready
5:00 – 6:00

Serve cheese etc.
Serve pasta appetizer (6:15) and put risotto in oven (5:45)
Put salmon in oven (6:45)
Serve dinner and put cobbler in oven

Serve dessert with ice cider


Monday, September 2, 2013

Paris, Summer 2013

While I'm not sure the Internet needs another blog post on Paris, I'm going to share with you a few of the culinary highlights from the trip I recently took with my husband.

Paris. What a spectacular city. This was my second time in France (not counting a 10 hour layover in Paris en route home from Barcelona last year), and I feel a connection to this country that I haven't experienced elsewhere. It's some combination of the food, the wine, the people, the language, and the beauty. I'm already fantasizing about my next trip.

In any case, I was giving a talk in Paris and with the help of Delta Skymiles was able to bring my husband along for six glorious days in Paris. A friend of my husband's who lives in Paris said that she probably hasn't eaten at the same restaurant twice, and I believe her.

We had a few mediocre dinners, mostly when we didn't do our homework and just wandered into a restaurant off the street, usually out of desperate hunger fueled by all of the walking we did. Our most favorite meal was at Bistrot L'Estrapade, a tiny little restaurant serving traditional French fare located in the 5th. While I can't confirm, I suspect our waitress was the wife of the chef, who we occasionally saw peek his head out from the kitchen to gaze at her. We started our meal with a pear that had been poached in white wine and then baked with cream, roquefort cheese, and chorizo. The pear cut through the creaminess and the fat from the chorizo beautifully. We shamelessly sopped up the juices left behind with our bread. We also shared a salad of red apples, beets, and herbed goat cheese, dressed simply in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. My husband had duck that was cooked with melon, while I had a steak with onions, red, wine and potatoes. It was simply outstanding, traditional food.

We also enjoyed the food and the atmosphere at La Jacobine and Le Coupe-Chou, both of which are extremely romantic.The waitstaff at La Jacobine might be WAMs (see my post from Off Vine in LA), which made my lemon chicken tagine even more delightful. I can imagine cozying up here on a crisp fall evening and enjoying this again with a hearty glass of wine, after the French onion soup, of course. While the outdoor seating at Le Coupe-Chou is quaint, don't miss the opportunity to sit inside alongside the stone walls where lots of famous individuals have dined. We enjoyed the salmon carpaccio appetizer, and my pork with mustard sauce and potato gratin was also divine.

One evening we enjoyed a sunset picnic on the Seine, and picked up treats along the way to enjoy: wine, bread, cheese, grapes, hummus, and olives. We found the sweetest little Greek store called Le Piree, located at 47 Boulevard Saint Germain, where we got the hummus and the olives. The hummus was the best I have ever had -- thick and creamy (though they didn't overdo it on the tahini), parsley, pine nuts and coriander. Honestly, the cheese was pretty fantastic, but nothing could really compete with the hummus, and we ate the entire container. We didn't even stop when we ran out of bread.  The gentleman who owns the shop is lovely, and he will converse with you in French or Greek.

Berthillon is synonymous with ice cream in Paris. The flagship store is located on the Ile de Louis, but you can find their ice cream almost anywhere. The ice cream is prepared using only milk, sugar, cream, eggs, and natural flavorings, and it is fantastic. They also serve fruit sorbets, and you can order the ice cream to-go from the window to complement your city stroll, or rest your feet in the tea cafe with table service. We visited Berthillon a few times, and my favorite flavors were the nougat, white chocolate, chocolate chip, and good old fashioned vanilla. If you want gelato, Grom, the Italian based chain also has a home in Paris (and apparently in NYC). Also made from fresh, natural ingredients, I think my favorite offering was the salted caramel. In my very humble opinion, it would be fine to skip the gelato at Amorino -- this felt like the Dairy Queen or the Friendly's of the Paris ice cream/gelato scene (ok, it is still worlds nicer than DQ or Friendly's).

I like to bring foodstuffs home for friends and family when I'm on the road, and the obvious choice in Paris is macarons. You can't go wrong with Georges Larnociol, but I think the macarons at Gerard Mulot as just as good (if not better), and the packaging is much better for travel. Our macarons made it home with no damage at all. The flavor selection is just big enough, though most are classic (hazelnut, vanilla, coffee). Macarons do best in the refigerator, so buy them right before you go home if you don't have access to one. I don't care for the macarons at Laduree -- they look beautiful, but the texture seems off to me.

The chocolate covered almonds dressed up as olives from La Cure Gourmand also make a lovely gift (and you get to take them home in a cheerful yellow gift bag). I love french olive oil, and while Provence is certainly the best place to shop for French oil, O&Co. offers a very small collection of French oils in tins that can travel safely.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Birmingham, Alabama -- Part II

Ollie Irene

Work once again brought me to Birmingham, and my extremely gracious colleagues brought me on another culinary tour of the Birmingham area. Our first stop was Ollie Irene, a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best New Restaurant Award in 2012. Ollie Irene is located in a shopping center in the little borough of Mountain Brook (so yes, at first I was skeptical). The menu is filled with comfort foods that make use of traditional Southern ingredients that are all locally sourced.  The cocktails are classic, but the use of pure, fresh ingredients elevates them to new stature. I am a sucker for herb based cocktails, and the Basil Gimlet did not disappoint.

We started with one of the daily specials – huge rounds of friend green tomatoes lightly coated in cornmeal stacked with layers of thick, homemade guacamole in between.  THIS is the way to eat friend green tomatoes.

I had the catfish for my entrée, which was also lightly coated in cornmeal. The dusting of cornmeal on the fish and the fried green tomatoes was perfectly light and not at all greasy. Truly a culinary marvel. The catfish was served with a sauté of corn, Cajun ham, lemon butter and scallions. The fish was cooked perfectly and it was simply a remarkable dish.

We ended the meal with another special, a galette of local stone fruits with vanilla ice cream. Warm, sweet, tangy, and creamy all at once.

The service was phenomenal. My colleagues frequent Ollie Irene pretty regularly, and were greeted like family. For a pretty nominal fee, you can buy a beer for each member of the staff. Trust me, they deserve it.

Saw’s Juke Joint

Determined not to leave Birmingham again without good barbeque, we hit up Saw’s Juke Joint for dinner. We started with some friend okra and fried green tomatoes (when in Rome and whatnot).  Both were tasty with the addition of some salt and pepper, though certainly less sophisticated that the FGTs at Ollie Irene. They were served with a house sauce that was reminiscent of Russian dressing. Being the mayonnaise hater that I am, I can confidently say ketchup was satisfying alternative. The star of my dining experience was the pork and greens dish – a heaping pile of melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork over a bed of cheddar cheese grits, turnip greens (you just know they were cooked in bacon fat), and a few fat, crispy onion rings for good measure, drizzed with tangy barbecue sauce.  Saw’s has a nice local craft beer selection and the servers are happy to walk you through the list and help you find a good fit. The one thing that left me feeling uneasy was the fact that EVERYTHING was served on Styrofoam and with plastic utensils. Yuck. I don’t want that stuff leeching into my food, not to mention the waste. My hope for Saw’s would be to green it up a little bit– this would be better for the food and the planet.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

5 South Main, Cohasset, Massachusetts


I am finally home for more than a few days at a time, and was grateful to enjoy a lovely breakfast with my husband on a sunny and warm Saturday morning at 5 South Main in Cohasset. (I am just back from Miami and am working on a post!)

5 South Main is located in the lovely Cohasset Village and serves breakfast and light lunch. (For those of you who don't live on the South Shore, if you ever have reason to go to a function at the Red Lion Inn, 5 South Main is just around the corner.) The dining room is cozy, particularly if you can get one of the coveted window seats, and there are a couple of tables outside for al fresco dining when the weather permits.

There are tons of homemade treats available daily, including muffins, cupcakes, and daily soup specials -- you can follow 5 South Main on Facebook for menu updates. Since our task was breakfast, however, we went right for the French toast. I opted for the original, while my husband went for the sampler -- one slice of the original and one slice of cinnamon roll version. The "original" consists of thickly sliced, locally baked cinnamon swirl bread that is grilled to golden perfection and topped with melted butter, cinnamon, and sugar. (I know that's a lot of superlatives, but this French toast is deserving of all of them, and then some.) It is simply some of the best French toast I've had in my life. The cinnamon roll version has all of these elements plus a few smears of icing for good measure. Tell me how that could be wrong. My only complaint is that 5 South Main does not offer real maple syrup, but the corn syrup based, fake kind. Our waitress (who was lovely and very attentive) assured us it would be ok to bring our own, so you better believe I'll be throwing that in my purse for next time (this may call for a maple syrup flask like device).

To feel better about our carb fest, we also shared a bowl of fruit -- a generous serving of seasonal melons, grapes and berries. I've said before that I usually skip coffee when out to breakfast as I find many restaurants don't pay it much attention, but the coffee at 5 South Main is pretty good, and no one complains if you ask for milk instead of cream.

If you're more of a pancake or a savory breakfast person (read: pancakes with chocolate chips, pecans, and caramel drizzle or crab cake eggs Benedict ), I'm sure you won't be disappointed. If you live in the area, a stop at nearby Holly Hill Farm for some weekly provisions or a hike is a nice way to wrap up the morning.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Myers + Chang, Boston, Massachusetts


I love Joanne Chang's story (Harvard educated business-women extraordinaire turned restauranteur), and have long been a fan of Flour (especially the carrot cake, sticky buns, curried tuna sandwiches, brioche au chocolat... you get the idea), so was eager to finally try Myers + Chang.

Myers + Chang looks like a modern and trendy diner, complete with counter seating where you can watch the chefs at work. The bar has its own menu, and there is surely something for everyone, as it contains selections of wine, sake, beer, specialty cocktails, and several house-made sodas. I tried the Mint Lime Rickey and it was a grown-up, gently effervescent version of the treat I used to get at Brigham's as a kid.

Myers + Chang has a great option for Monday and Tuesday diners known as the "Cheap Date Night," a collection of prix fixe menus designed to generously feed two people for $40. We tried "The Healthy Date", supplemented with the fish tacos (because we simply could not resist). The pan-roasted, soy glazed salmon stole the show -- it was cooked to perfection (flaking perfectly with the slightest touch of my fork) and served on a bed of brown rice (at our request) with crispy shallots, slices of ginger, and a sauce that was to die for. The fish tacos were also outstanding, and were filled with delicately fried bits of hake, kimchee salsa, and cilantro. With a side of baby bok choy and mustard green and edamame dumplings, this really was a healthy meal. Note that I didn't say low calorie -- it definitely wasn't that -- but this menu sure crammed in a ton of superfoods. Bok choy! Ginger! Mustard greens! Salmon!

Sadly we didn't save room for dessert (I know. Joanne Chang is involved and we didn't save room for dessert. Rookie move.). Let me just say there is ginger-lemon mouse. And Flour's carrot cake.

Lastly, the service was simply impeccable. Both the hostess and our server were warm, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. I've been trying to increase traffic to this blog so have been making an effort to Tweet a bit. (After all, what fun is it to write like this without interacting with others?) The Myers + Chang folks were kind enough to respond to my Tweet, which was an extra nice way to end the evening (really struggling not to use a smiley-face emoticon here).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Avo, Birmingham, Alabama


Birmingham surprised me. I mean, really surprised me. I didn't do my homework before the trip, and didn't know what to expect with respect to food. Admittedly, I've spent only a little bit of time in the South. This time includes my first year of college (completed in rural South Carolina), during which time I could basically afford the dining hall, Waffle House, and maybe the buffet at Shoney's.

Avo is located in the lovely borough of Mountain Brook, and sits above Dram Whiskey Bar, her sister restaurant. While I just passed through Dram, it looks like a great spot: full of trendy, whiskey sipping 30-somethings. I did peek at the menu, and the offerings include southern comfort foods like bacon mac and cheese (complete with bacon from Kentucky) and lots of yummy sounding burgers. The menu even boasts a separate section, just for sauces.

Avo features California inspired cuisine made with local products, and the decor is cool and tranquil. I enjoyed the Pan-Roasted Gulf Day-Boat fish feature, which happened to be Red Snapper. The fish was served over a chickpea puree, cherry tomatoes, and garnished with fried capers (delicious). The menu offers a few different sized plates, including traditional appetizers, "mids" and mains, with a few side options so you can create the perfect meal. Both Dram and Avo offer gorgeous outdoor seating options.

In case you didn't know (and again, I sure didn't), Birmingham had five chefs named as semifinalists for various James Beard Awards in 2012, including Frank Stitt's of Highlands Bar and Grill, who was a semifinalist again in 2013 (for outstanding restaurant). Sounds like I need to plan a second visit.