Pujol – Mexico City

“ So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being” – Franz Kafka-

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Intimacy is what this restaurant is all about.

This place is very romantic and exclusive; it is as if everyone is destined to be there that night, similar to a perfect setting for a movie. The place has mirrors all over the edge that meets the wall and the ceiling, thus you can see and be seen (and allows the person that is seated looking at the wall to be able to appreciate the scenery).

Enrique Olvera interprets fine dining in his own and unique way. He focuses in balancing traditional Mexican food, (which everybody should try), with more elaborate gourmet dishes and ingredients, granted that you wouldn’t try something like this menu elsewhere.

A pleasant beginning for the evening is a mezcal drink, a spicy & fruity cocktail that will open your appetite for the six courses you are about to degust.

One of the most popular Mexican appetizers are presented to you in small portions, so you can get acquainted with what Mexicans usually eat on the street, such as huaraches and tacos.

I have to make a special mention to my favorite – “Baby corn with chicatana ant mayonnaise”. One could never imagine that you could get a deli mayonnaise up from an ant, (too small…) but this is a delicate and unique flying ant, one that is only five days a year in Mexico, thus its rareness makes it so perfect to infuse the smoked baby corn, which is delivered in a gourd. (I thought it was a pumpkin at first glance).  Upon opening the lid, the smoke inside seeped out giving you a quick, albeit delicious smell of the perfectly balanced flavors.

The masterpiece of this place is the mole –mole madre, mole nuevo-, referring to an “old” mole that’s been kept for 1306 days to age, and a “new” mole that is freshly made. It is presented in two circles; mole madre on the outside, and new mole in the middle (like a bull’s eye). It is as an elder meeting a newborn. The tortillas with hoja santa, were so soft that they melted in my mouth; oh what a match!

Usually, they won’t give you silverware for this course; you have to soak the tortilla into both moles so as to mix them, just like a true Mexican would do (you won’t regret it). This dish seems so simple but yet is a complex throwback to the Mexican culture ancestors, and the combination of these moles is Enrique’s perfect creation.

For a sweet ending you will have a small portion of Mexican traditional desserts, such as tamales, churros, and even a flan. All of them are amazing; portions are tiny so you can eat all of them without guilt.

Unwind with the wine menu, which presents plenty of great options from different countries. If you are into deep, bold reds, I suggest one goes the Mexican path and try either Icaro or Ojos negros, if not, one can always pair this food with a glass of tequila or mescal – the place has a vast collection from all regions.

In summary, the service is flawless; they really put an effort in explaining everything to their guests, and also have the best attitude.

No wonder The World’s 50 Best Restaurants rates Pujol number 20th worldwide and it’s number 1 in México city.

 

Alinea – Chicago

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”   -Albert Einstein-

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This place is all about magic and surprises. One gets a mysterious feeling as when one is about to enter into a magic show or an unpredictable event.

The experience begins when one is trying to book online; it has to be done with at least two-three months of anticipation, and the seats are sold-out within 5-10 minutes, just like for a U2 concert.

The enchantment begins upon arrival to the restaurant (which is located in a pretty neighborhood, a small house-like entrance). One does not receive a menu, and is only asked whether one has any allergies. In essence, you are in the hands of the chef, ready for a hodge-podge of flavors, textures and aromas.

As one waits for the courses to start coming, the waiter hands out an alphabet soup which lets you know bits and pieces of the menu, but only if one is able to solve it; you only know what you ate at the end of the meal as they give you an envelope with the names of the actual dishes.

Given the rareness of this place, one can only expect an unusual type of dishware – a bowl made of pure ice (from which one needs to eat quickly before it melts), a coconut shell, a tree trunk base, a green apple diffuser. Among others, these different and amazing bases will blow your mind.

One of my favorite dishes was the: “Thai coconut, pompano, shellfish and kuzu”. It actually tasted like the perfect mix of Bali’s freshness and Tokyo’s gourmet touch.

Along this ride, you will feel as if the waitresses were your confidants (perhaps the booze has something to do with it). They are there to guide you along and share your amusement.

Chef Grant Achatz stretches his imagination and lets you have some meals in ways you’ve never tried them before. A great example of this is the lobster. Instead of giving you the regular piece of lobster, he offers lobster paper (you read it right). Such paper turns into exquisite lobster meat when you pour it in hot soup. Uniqueness is the term that stands for this chef.

As you may have noticed, I have a sweet tooth, thus I really appreciate an original and tasty dessert, and Alinea certainly would not let me down. I tasted the outstanding banana/apple balloon… yes, an edible balloon!!! You have to aspire all the helium that’s inside, and then eat the chewy part.

Beside the uniqueness of the flavor and the originality of the dessert, it’s impossible not to laugh when your partner sounds like a chipmunk talking. Such a blast!

I highly recommend the wine pairing. There are three categories for it, depending on your budget, but all three are amazing and they really put a lot of effort to find the perfect match for all of your courses.

Whether you want to experience something outside the box, impress yourself, or try something new, you have to come to Alinea. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Vandal- NYC

There’s no sincerer love, than the love of food”. –George Bernard Shaw-

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The name of this place speaks for itself, albeit not in a negative way. Expect the unexpected…

Located on Bowery Street in NYC, this restaurant-bar is frequented by plenty of fashion and trendsetters; you will find the hosting area packed of either models or famous people wearing the latest Gucci outfits.

Upon entering Vandal, there’s a convenient flower studio for those wanting to buy some flowers for their significant others, thus making the perfect entrance for the evening. At the reception you will find an enormous pink bunny sculpture, which everyone shares in IG; it’s really funny!

This place is huge considering it is in Manhattan. It is divided in a bar, three dinner salons, and a lounge upstairs, each of them decorated in a different way yet always respecting the concept of the place: “street meets art”.

At the bar, you’ll find yourself in this amazing old/ classic style lounge, with walls all covered in graffiti art, and above them the classic yellow light that goes along with the mood.

One can ask for a nice drink while waiting for a table to be ready. I asked for the “rio de frose”; it may seem a girly drink, but believe me, it’s not light at all. My husband had a “lost and found” and was delicious.

Once seated, the menu is adapted to the the place’s conceptualization, and stay’s in the street standard food, you will come across the likes of a –New York Hot Pretzel Steak tartare- an amazing pretzel used as base for a French style tartare, or the Yellow Tail Sashimi, a nicely presented dish, among others.

You can’t cut back on the desserts, as the options are amazing. We ordered the almond pops- small dark chocolate popsicles filled with almond and amarena cherries, and the vandal’s smore, a vandalized American classic.

Overall, the food is ok. You have to go to this place once to check out its architecture and decoration, but don’t expect to have an amazing dinner. I do give credit for their authentic cuisine and adventurous food presentation, but not the best flavors or ingredients.

It’s a perfect place to hang out with your friends or couple, just make sure to have an early reservation as it is usually overbooked.

Lupa- NYC

“Everything you see I owe to pasta.” -Sophia Loren, Actress

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In the middle of Greenwich Village …. Like if you where lost in a Victor Hugo’s tale, there is this small place that when you arrive it seems like the entrance to a cozy house, the first time we where here was in winter, so it was all cover up, but in summer it seems another place: the terrace and the light you get when you are on the open side is amazing!

This restaurant is divided in two sections; they are so diverse that they seem like different places. At the front you can see an amazing Italian style bar, all colorful walls and lamps, also a delicious prosciutto leg, ready to be cut in slices, and the back that’s a little more like the secret cabin, closed space, candles and a yellow light aura.

That winter we got to seat in the back, it was so tiny that it seems like you where sharing your meal with the ones next to you, but the good side of this is that it turns romantic and intimate.

The second time we where here, was in summer, and we got a table in the terrace, it seemed so different than the first time; more live, bright and open; but no matter the season, mostly you will find locals here, you can tell by the relationship with the waiters and the customers, for us that’s an accurate hint that the place and their food is famous, hence amazing.

We order the prosciutto with mozzarella, for starter, and it was just perfect, a prosciutto that the Italians would be proud of, just the red meat almost lean … PERFETTO! It was deli, and paired it with some Aperol Spritz, a perfect combination.

They have a pretty nice wine menu, with a wide selection of Italian wines, although the sommelier is always eager to help and he recommended us a few top Italian wines. As a second curse, we order Ricotta Gnocchi and Bavette Cacio e Pepe, the pasta was fresh, homemade, and delicious. And something super cool is that they have available “Il piatto del giorno”(the specialty of the day) so you could try something new that’s not on the menu everyday.

It’s the perfect scenario if you want to go in a romantic date and impress your significant other, or in a sunny day to have a lovely lunch, outside the craziness of the city. And one thing you are going to LOVE if you are not into the Italian food terms, is that on the menu there is a glossary, I find that super useful and original.

 

Dish you cannot miss: Lupa’s Tartufo 

Piazza Duomo – Regione di Alba (Alba- Italy)

“One cannot think, love, sleep well if one has not dined well” – Viriginia Woolf-

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Alba is a small town surrounded by these famous out-of-life wine regions of Barolo and Barbaresco. There must be something flowing through the earth or wind that makes this place so unique.

It has a very distinctive feeling of an old European town that is disconnected from the rest of Europe yet it stands above them.

Getting to the restaurant is an experience in itself. Right next to the Piazza, in a small alley you ring a bell and someone asks for a reservation – very Stanley Kubrick-like “Fidelio” password to enter the place.

Once inside, the setting is that of a neighbor’s cozy living room. Exotic paintings on the wall (a deer and a stove) that end in a few windows with a view of the Piazza.

The menu has some ingredients that you have never heard before (think of…) that lead the customer into the unknown.

Piemonte is so proud of its wine that they have their standalone menu. The rest are classified as “rest of the world”(including the Italian Veneto region which should be a country in itself)

Given that my husband and me are avid Cacio e Pepe fanatics, we could not go for any of the tasting menus as none of them included this traditional Roman dish.

In a very Italian way, we first ordered an apperitivo.

The appetizers where just like a Kandinsky painting, perfect colors, textures, and the flavor was…. Just as “Composition VIII”.

The initial ones were kind of futuristic given the way they look – perfect presentation with unusual plates and bases, like rocks and mirrors.  Homemade pasta, wafer peanut, foie gras and gingerino, chard sponge with tuna sauce – perfect for accelerating the expectation of the actual dish you order.

I asked for the “Sea Bream Carpaccio, Lime, Juniper” which can be defined as a flower symphony, a perfect balance between a fresh and flowery flavor; the presentation was exquisite.

At first I thought that the flowers where mainly decorative, but as I tried each one of them with the balanced fish, I knew that they were made for each other, just like Alice in Wonderland.

The Agnoloti del Plin with meat sauce was smooth in the mouth like a glass of a fine champagne; the flavors where so well balanced that pasta and strong meat reunited themselves at a perfect point.

After all these delicious plates, for the grand finalle, the chef presents you his royal sweet flush with truffles, a smooth Madagascar vanilla milk, and a pair of delicious chocolate popsicles. All of these are just a preview of your actual dessert.

I asked for a Hazelnut Monviso, a creamy pastry that just melted in my mouth. My husband ordered the surrealistic Miró Panna Cotta; I describe it like that because it was colorfully disrupted but tasted just like the Italian grandmother classic dessert.

I recommend strongly the Wine Pairing, so you can perfectly feel the combination of Piemonte’s wines and Enrico Crippa’s original and playful mind.

 

Dish you cannot miss: Rabbit kidneys, bernaise sauce.