Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Easing into Chicago

Trip date: October 2015

October last year I met two of my girlfriends for a much over due trip to Chicago. The last time I had been in the city was 2009! The thing about traveling so much is I'm constantly reading about or discovering new places to go. That makes it hard to get back to the places I love with much regularity. Hence the once-a-month on average travel schedule. First world problems, yea I know.

Forest flew in from Paris and landed about the same time my flight got in from Seattle. The two of us hopped on the train from the airport and got off in Logan Square, where we met up with Kate who had flown in from Geneva, at our 3-bedroom Airbnb flat. We'd be living here for the next five days and were super excited to check out both a selection of new places as well as some of my favorite city to-dos. This was Kate's first time and Forest hadn't been since college or so.

After a quick trip to stock up on groceries, and a nap, we headed out that night to Billy Sunday for cocktails. This place is really unique, specializing in old and rare Fernets; they have 7 pages of them. I'm not into Fernet but loved reading through the bottle list while enjoying a couple of not-so-bitter cocktails.

We stayed in our 'hood that night, checking out the relatively new and well-written up Parachute for dinner. Although we felt the space was really cool, and we could not get enough of the potato bread served with sour cream butter, overall we felt our main dishes were just ok.

The next morning we met my friend Jesse for lunch at another popular Logan Square restaurant, Fat Rice. OMG! This place is awesome! Super fun, hipster vibe with outstanding food. We basically ordered the entire menu of modern Macau inspired dishes, we may have ordered the dumplings twice.

We took advantage of the gorgeous weather after lunch and walked part of The 606 from Logan Square to Wicker Park. This is a cool walkway made up of elevated unused rail tracks, very similar to the Promenade de Plantée in Paris and the Highline in NYC; both of which I love!

It was unusually warm, so when we spotted a little Costa Rican restaurant, we thought we'd sit for a glass of wine. Turns out they are a byob only (very common in Chicago) but pointed us across the street to a very cute wine shop. Chilled bottle in hand, we headed back over for some snacks.

We continued into Wicker Park's main area and for a bit of shopping. One of the first stops we made was the Walgreens store. Now I'm not usually one to blog about a drugstore, but the Walgreens in Wicker Park is in an old bank building and is really impressive. Besides the architecture, they have what they call their Fresh Market: sushi counter, juice bar, coffee bar, fresh sandwiches, etc. You should check it out when you're there! I'm not sure about the sushi though...

Another quick wine sit down and then we caught the train back to Logan Square.

That night we started with cocktails at the super cool Maude's Liquor. What a great place! The cocktails were lovely, it was busy but not douchey (Friday nights can be like that IMHO), and the interior was very antique French-ish. The restaurant was packed too, and I've heard it is quite good for dinner. But we had other plans...

We tabbed out and headed across the street to Girl and the Goat. I'd wanted to eat here for quite some time even though I had read and heard really mixed reviews. Chef/ owner Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef season four, had become a hometown hero of sorts, and that doesn't always play out well with the food.

When we checked in for our reservation we were told we were going to have to wait a bit. First red flag. We headed to the bar for a cocktail and the crowd seemed very "Yelp"-centric (ask me what I mean if you're not clued in to Wendy-speak). Second red flag. When we were seated and our waitress appeared, we mentioned it was our first time and we were having a hard time deciding on dishes as they all sounded great. She happily made suggestions — some we had to turn down as it would have just been too much for us— and asked us where we were from. Normally, Paris and Geneva would get the big attention but turns out she was from Seattle so we had a bit to chat about.

When our dishes arrived (not surprisingly most starring goat) we noticed there were a few extras (like this goat carpaccio!). Our waitress gushed that she just could not not have us try them and they were on the house! And when we were entirely too full to eat everything she boxed them up without asking and insisted they made the best breakfasts. Red flags be damned, Girl and the Goat was an excellent dinner experience!

And indeed, the next morning we realized she was right about those leftovers...

All photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
A Night at The Aviary
Culture and Cocktails in Chicago
Chicago Cocktail Crawl

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dinner in the Middle of the Baltic Sea

Trip date: July 2016

After spending a wonderful day exploring the island of Bornholm (more on that here), I drove 20 minutes to my dinner destination, Kadeau,. My driving directions had said to follow the road through the forest until it ended at the sea. God, I was so excited when I saw this stunning location!

The restaurant is only open from spring until fall. They call it a beach pavilion and the decor is the epitome of Scandinavian design; airy, modern, minimal, cozy. I checked in with the host and they gave me the option of sitting outside or in. Although is was gorgeous out, I knew it would get a little chilly so I asked to sit inside.

Kadeau has a set menu, you just choose between 8 or 5 courses, to which I chose 5. Having recently eaten at a handful of Copenhagen's best restaurants (more on that here) I knew 8 would be too many for me. You can also choose to have wine or juice pairings. Anyone who knows me knows I chose the wine pairings!

My dinner started with a glass of grower champagne served with 4 courses of "snacks" (so I guess technically it was a 9-course meal all told). And in true "Nordic cuisine" style, my first snack arrived on a moss covered rock. These were fried mustard leaves and also a dehydrated baby carrot, both went with the little dish of "dip".
Next was a beautiful serving of tomato juice aged from last year and fresh celery juice.

Then this delicious serving of mackerel which had been smoked over burnt hay (and served over it too!)

My last snack course was fried shrimp (from the Baltic sea) that you dipped in an emulsion and then in flowers. I wish my photo was better, but you can see how lovely this was!

They poured me a bright Albarino from the Rias Baixas region and put down a plate of warm bread. The bread was made of emmer and served with butter made from buttermilk and topped with burnt hay. I had to show a lot of self-restraint not to eat every piece of this, it was so good! Plus look at that cute butter spreader!

And after all of that it was time for my first course! It was called "green peas, woodruff, black current leaves, razor clam". What is was, was a super fresh garden soup containing both razor clams and cockles. The peas were barely cooked and gave the soup an amazing crunch. The wine pairing was spot-on.

Next up a Chablis was poured to go with " Hispi cabbage, oysters, parsley". This was an incredible "lasagne" of cabbage layered with oyster and gooseberry. I'm not really a big cabbage fan, but I could not get over how good this was!
I took a break at this point to finish my wine, walk around the grounds, and take in the view before the sun set. The restaurant has a small onsite garden, but there is a larger one at a different location where most of the produce comes from. There's also a path down to the beach where you can wander around. The location is just fantastic and the only sounds are of the sea and the murmurs of diners from the restaurant.

My 3rd course started with a Gravières in the glass, a lovely Chardonnay from southern France. Then "cauliflower, cheese, hay, wood ants, buttermilk whey". The chef explained to me that this single roasted floret of cauliflower had cheese melted on it. The cheese was made from the milk of cows which eat grass from part of the island where the wind blows in from the sea, making the grass salty. That, in turn makes the milk and the cheese salty. On the cheese were wood ants which had been roasted in hay. Yes, I said ants. All of this was on a buttermilk foam. It was very tasty, even the ants! But then again that wasn't my first time eating ants.

The somm poured me a glass of Occhipinti Frappato, which I was not familiar with. Turns out it is mainly known as a blending grape but the winemaker Arianna Occhipinti is known to be quite skilled at making it the main event. And it was a lovely, light red (similar to a Gamay) that went wonderfully with "pork, fermented garlic, preserves".
The chef came over with a hot saucepan of juice to spoon around my pork and the scent was amazing! He told me it was just melted butter and marrow. Holy hell was that good! And look how pretty the flowers and berries are on the pork!

I stepped outside again to catch the sunset, obstructed by part of the beach cliff. As the sun was setting a full moon was rising, it truly was a stunning evening.

Back inside a German riesling (by another woman winemaker, Katharina Wechser) was poured to accompany "caramelized buttermilk tart, noble fir, citrus herbs". Wow, this was such a perfect dessert for me, not sweet but rather savory and bright.

While walking the grounds I had noticed an adorable firepit and at the end of my meal I was given the option of having my coffee and mignardises next to it. Yes, please!

If you have ever been to The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, this place feels very similar only without the onsite lodge. To me it was one of my favorite dining experiences, and I've had a few! Everything from the location to the ambiance to the absolutely exceptional service and of course the unique and delicious food made this a top-notch dinner.

I drove back to my hotel at 10:30pm and there was still a sliver of sun setting in the west, while the full moon shined bright in the east. This was the farthest north I've been during summer and I was loving the twilight.

I had a glass of wine on my patio and watched the moon reflect off the sea before going to bed, barely a sound to be heard. Ahhh.

All Bornholm photos here

Thursday, September 22, 2016

An American in Bornholm

Trip date: July 2016

Denmark has over 406 islands, that is quite a few I'd say! Only about 80 of them are inhabited. I chose to relax for a few days on one that's farthest away (unless you count Greenland); Bornholm. Home to just under 40k people, Bornholm sits in the middle of the Baltic Sea south of Sweden and north of Germany.

I left the apartment in Copenhagen (more on that here), walked to the metro and caught the direct train out to the airport. When I checked in for the flight the agent said, "I have never heard of an American going to Bornholm!" I was even more excited! It was a quick 40-minute flight on a tiny prop plane from CPH to the island; since we were flying pretty low I could see the bridge to Malmö, Sweden from my seat.

A friend had told me about the restaurant Kadeau located on the island. They have a new location in Copenhagen also but as I read about this tiny rock I was intrigued by Bornholm. It's known for sunny beaches, pretty forests, round churches, and smoked fish. And of course this Michelin starred restaurant. I couldn't resist.

Unfortunately when I landed at the tiny airport I realized that even though I had planned to make a car rental booking, I didn't actually do it. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal but seeing as there were only three rental desks, and one was closed, I knew this might be problematic. When I approached the first desk the agent looked surprised. When I said I wasn't sure if I had a booking or not, he assured me that I didn't as he had no more cars. The island is a popular summer holiday getaway for the Danes, and it's hard to get around on the bus if you have limited time. I got lucky at the next desk, as he had one car left! A stick shift; good thing that's what I drive at home!

Disaster averted, I made the quick drive to the town of Rønne and my hotel the Radisson Blu. My luck held out as I arrived around 10:30 am, well before the 3pm check in, and there was a room ready. The woman at the counter asked what I was in town for and seemed surprised when I answered I just wanted to explore for a few days.

All the rooms here have a view of the sea, and what a lovely view it was! This is EXACTLY what I wanted! Sunny skies, gorgeous views, feeling like I was in the middle of nowhere. Bliss.

It also was not lost on me that even at the Radisson Blu, the room was decorated with Danish design in mind.

I quickly changed, packed a day bag and headed out for lunch. My destination was Hallegaard, a butcher/deli 30 minutes away in the northeast corner of the island near Svaneke. I drove thru lush forests (Bornholm has more forest than all the rest of Denmark) and wheat fields, down tiny one-lane roads, and past numerous farms before finally arriving at the deli. It's not in a town, there aren't any signs, it's just there.

And it is a very popular place! There was a queue at both the deli counter and to order lunch. When I ordered a hotdog and a beer the cashier's eyes got wide and she asked where I was from. When I told her the United States she exclaimed "WOW! That is far!" Everyone in Denmark speaks English but my accent was obviously not heard much around here.
Next up, beach time. Dueodde is the place to go. There's plenty of free parking, a board walk out to the beach, and super fine white sand. This reminded me of Cape Cod a bit; sand dunes and beach grass. Bornholm's sand is so fine that it use to be used in glass timers; the island is also known for glass blowing.

A few hours later I packed up and headed to Nylars, a small town which has one of Bornholm's round churches. I got lucky and arrived just as a tour was wrapping up so within minutes I had the church to myself. I wandered the small cemetery on the grounds and then made my way inside.

The upper two levels of the church were used as a fort when the town felt under attack. There was a narrow staircase leading up with a sign reading "enter at your own risk"; it did seem a little risky up there!

I headed back to my hotel and had a little happy hour wine out in the sun with my gorgeous view of the sea and relaxed before dinner (more on that here!)

It was a month past summer solstice but that night I was still watching the sunlight disappear at 10:30, so cool!

The next morning I had breakfast at the hotel. In true Scandinavian style, it was a big spread with cold cuts, cheeses, breads, eggs, smoked fish, waffles, yogurts, etc. I was able to grab a table outside which was perfect.

I finished my coffee on my patio and then took another walk around the grounds and down to the dock. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day!

After I packed and checked out I drove across the island again, this time on a slightly different route to the town of Svaneke. I was driving thru the windy part of the island which was evident by all the windmills. Some were modern but many were older styles, meant for grinding not just producing energy. I drove thru corn and wheat fields, many with ocean views. And as I drove, I passed numerous roadside honor stands outside the farms. There were selections of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and even crafts. Each stand had a till of sorts where you put in your money, many had plastic bags for you to transport your purchases. I think I've only run across these in Hawaii before, I find them charming!

I pulled over to check out one of the old windmills and a woman who I hadn't spotted before came up and asked if I needed help. When I replied that I just wanted to see the windmill she told me it was hers, her great great grandfather had built it in the late 1800s. She seemed very amused that I would stop to take a photo of it. I felt a bit embarrassed that I hadn't realized it was in her front yard!

Once I got to Svanke I parked my car and wandered around; this harbor town is very small and very cute. There was a market going on in the main square and there were lots of little shops open: blown glass, jewelry, clothing, etc. I passed numerous houses, most rented as summer cottages I learned, where friends and families were enjoying lunch in the gardens. Seriously this place has my heart.

It was time for lunch and I made my way to the best-known smokehouse on the island; Røgeriet. There are huge piles of split wood in the front yard as well as numerous picnic tables. Inside the massive restaurant are more tables, resembling a beer hall. The back wall is lined with oven doors, inside whole fish are smoked to perfection.

I queued up and decided on a smoked mackerel fillet, a side of creamy potato salad, and a local beer. I was probably the only person who didn't order an airplane size bottle of Gammel Dansk, a Danish bitter that people drink pretty much any time of day. For those who ordered the whole fish there were posted instructions on how to go about it. I watched the expert locals dissect their whole fish, getting every flake of fish off the bone and skin like surgeons.

I asked two women at one of the outdoor tables if I could share. Within minutes of me sitting down came to the usual question, "where are you from?" This time after I answered one of the women told me that she was born on the island, had left as an adult to live on the mainland but had just returned recently now in her 60s because she missed it so much. I could understand.

I walked back through town, spotting an outpost of the Hallegaard deli near the harbor. I also found a glassblowing studio and watched them work for a bit. Licorice is a Scandinavian obsession and salt is the most popular flavor; I'm also a convert. There is an outpost of the local licorice "celebrity" maker in town: Lakrids by Johan Bülow. I went in and tasted some incredible flavors. I had seen their shop in CPH airport and I now knew what I would be buying before my flight home.

The sun was still shining so I decided to head back to beach at Dueodde for a bit.

After an hour or so the clouds started rolling in and it was time to start making my way to the airport. On my drive I spotted another farm, this one with goats and a café. I stopped for a glass of wine and watched the goats roam with the scent of the ocean in the distance.

Right before the airport I passed another roadside honor stand and swung in to take a look. As I was grabbing a picture an old man came out carrying a bouquet of onions to add to the offerings. I asked him if he spoke English and when he replied yes, I asked him if he had regular customers that came daily or so, to which he said "of course!", and then he asked me where I was from...

I parked my car and checked in at the airport; an hour before my flight and it was practically deserted. I walked out onto the tarmac, boarded my plane, and as we took off over the Baltic Sea I promised I'd be back.

All Bornholm photos here.
Other posts from this trip:
Danish Days
Hygge Time!
Last Days in Copenhagen 
Dinner in the Middle of the Baltic Sea
Best Restaurant in the World?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Rocky Mountain Cocktails

Trip date: February 2015

There's nothing better in my opinion than being able to add a little play onto a work trip. Way back in February of last year just such an opportunity arose when I signed a new client, who is located in Denver, to my company.  Almost unbelievable to me, I had never been to Denver although I had wanted to visit the city for years.

I flew in on a Thursday night and was pleasantly surprised when Alaska Air upgraded me to First Class. The 2-hour flight was short and sweet and when we landed I got my first taste of real winter. Snow plows criss crossed the tarmac, pushing piles of snow out of planes way. I hadn't seen snow since January of 2014 when I was in Finland! My client had arranged a car to pick me up at the airport for the 30-minute drive downtown, where I checked into a lovely room in the Kimpton Hotel Monaco. This is the perfect location for checking out the city.

My Friday consisted of a series of work meetings but the owner also took me to lunch at ChaLon which has an interesting concept of Asian & French combinations. For instance our soup dumplings were filled with French onion soup!

That evening, with my business responsibilities fulfilled, I took myself out on a good ole' cocktail crawl. I started at the best-known speakeasy in town, Williams & Graham. Arriving right when they opened, there were already people in front of me trying for one of the small number of coveted seats inside. Luckily this party had about 8 total and that just wasn't going to work here. I let them know I was a party of one and within moments the host pushed open a bookcase and I was led inside the very dark and intimate cocktail den.

The bartenders here were awesome, giving me some suggestions for my crawl and more importantly mixing me some amazing cocktails. The space is exactly what you want a speakeasy to be. There are only 15 seats at the bar, a handful of small booths, some stand up bar space and a funny little area I call the Muppet seats. When it was time for me to leave I was shown the clandestine exit out the back. Fun!

There's a reason they were voted #50 on The World’s 50 Best Bar Awards in 2014 and Best American Cocktail Bar in 2015 by Tales of the Cocktail. If you go, I'd suggest arriving right at 5pm and keep your party small. They also take some reservations.

I had my uber take me over to the newly renovated Union Square Station next. This place is gorgeous! Once a train station, it now houses an event space as well as a big, bustling restaurant on the main floor, and the cocktail bar The Cooper Lounge upstairs.

When I approached the hostess stand there was quite a queue. But when I mentioned I was a party of one I was immediately led upstairs and seated right at the bar. Drinks were served in gorgeous glassware on little trays, with bar snacks, and the view looking down on the main floor of the station offered great people watching. Not sure if they take reservations but if they do that is probably the way to go on a Friday night at least.

Although the temperature was in single digits I opted to walk to my next stop, The Squeaky Bean. It was time for some food and I opted for a burger to go along with my cocktail. The place was packed, it's an obvious local favorite!

Back out on the street I walked to Green Russell. Although it is underground, it is hardly a speakeasy style bar, and it was packed with rowdy weekend customers. Loud music and a not very good drink encouraged me to wrap up my night on the town. It was a brisk walk back to the Kimpton!

The next morning I had brunch reservations at Linger along with what seemed like the rest of Denver. Even with my reservations I had to wait so I started in the bar; the restaurant has a fantastic selection of brunch cocktails. I moved to my table and enjoyed some spicy breakfast tacos. This is a great spot!

A couple who I had been chatting with the night before at Cooper Lounge told me about a cool exhibit at the Denver Museum called 1968. Since that is my birth year I was really interested so I grabbed an uber and headed over. And it was amazing! Every month of 1968 had historical events, some big and some not so big, and each was documented wonderfully.

Another 30-minute car service out to the airport and my whirlwind trip to Denver was over. And I have not seen snow since! But I think that will be changing this winter!

Weekend in Boise

Trip date: July 2023 My friend Aaron has been to almost every state in the US, he's only missing a few and Idaho was one. So last July, ...

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