Thursday, September 24, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 19 - FRANCE

There are no gyms in Paris. Everybody walks everywhere. Even the little toddlers in their trendy skinny-jeans and shiny patent leather boots, keep in stride with their parents - who by-the-way look like they just came down from a runway. During the three days we spent in Paris, we walked 33 miles which helped us justify the croissants, crepes, and baguette sandwiches we enjoyed every single day for breakfast and lunch. Dinners on the other hand were another kind of joy. The first part of the feast that is the subject of this post took place at the oldest restaurant in existence in Paris. Le Procope has been serving Parisiennes as well as culinary adventurers like us since 1686! Of course, Rick had our reservations made from weeks ahead and we were seated by one of the windows that looked out to the cobblestone street hoping some time traveling horse carriage to go by any moment.

First we awed through the wine menu. I picked the Côtes De Bourg Château Haut Lamouroux from Bordeaux. Rick landed on a similar shade of red Côte du Rhône Parallèle 45 to match the oldest recipe served since 1686 he was about to order.

It felt like a guilty pleasure to a order a bottle of local sparkling water Badoit making regular water seem so banal.

It was time for me to try one of the most famous French dishes. I did not hesitate a single moment while ordering Escargot as my appetizer and surely I was not disappointed.

Rick's French Onion Soup was 'the best' we ever tasted. You must accept the fact that the french onion soups you had outside of France are nowhere near this soup nirvana.

Of course all of this was accompanied with fresh rolls of French bread ready to be dipped in the soup and the garlicy-butter remains of the escargot.

Simple as it may seem in this picture, my skirt steak with red wine and bone marrow reduction sauce had complex subtleties that took me to a flavor journey from which I did not wish to return. 

Rick's Tête - calf's head casserole - was a historic recipe from 1686 that was served right out of a historic looking pot turning our mouth water fountains on to full blast.

Having landed in Paris just hours before, I was overcome with emotion sitting across from the one wonderful person in my life in the most romantic city in the world eating possibly the best food in the universe. I closed my eyes for a moment and touched the old flaking paint on the windowsill to make sure all of this was not a dream.

We took our first long walk to our hotel after dinner and made a stop at a crêpe shop to have our dessert. At Creperie Saint Germain I had my first Café Crème which became my beverage of choice for the rest of our trip so much so that I gave up diet coke forever.

Oh yes and the crepes with a conglomeration of fruits and nuts and cream and berry paste and sorbet and chocolate sauce were out of this world.

I was glad our hotel was just steps away around the corner from the crepe shop. I knew the first few hours we've just spent in Paris were the sign for how wonderful the rest of our time there would be. 

What I thought to be a cliché all my life has been vanquished during this trip: You must go to Paris with someone you are truly in love with to experience the true magic of this beautiful city.  I did :)

Bon appétit!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 18 - TURKEY

It is like walking into your great-grand-mother's home. That is how I felt walking into Beyti Restaurant in Istanbul. Tastefully decorated in the old Ottoman Turkish style, this restaurant often hosts prestigious guests like Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Jack Chirac, Leonard Bernstein, Johnny Halliday, Danny Kaye as well as Turkish Presidents and high ranking government officials. 

Thanks to my dear brother, we were seated in one of the larger guest dining rooms - there are eleven. Even though they have a delectable menu to order from, we opted for the 'surprise' tasting menu. This meant a couple of opening dishes of mezes followed by a stream of grilled meats with traditional sides which does not stop until you tell them to!

The first plate was a sampling of Stuffed Grape Leaves, İmam Bayıldı (Fainted Imam - a cold stuffed eggplant), Su Böreği (Filo dough with cheese filling), Beğendi (mashed eggplant with cream and kasseri cheese).

Home made pickles were so delicious we had to order more.

And of course a freshly made salad with olive oil and lemon juice, without which a Turkish table would not be complete.

I'm sure you all had some form of Döner (gyros), but I bet you did not know the size of the cut pieces is an indication of how skilled the chef is. The pieces we got as our first dish was larger than the size of my palm and tastier than anything I ever tasted before. The side dish was İç Pilav (a rice pilaf with nuts, currants and vegetable pieces).

Beyti Guler - the owner of the restaurant paid a short visit to our table however he graciously excused himself not wanting our food to get cold. Köfte (mini burgers), İncik (lamb shank), Pirzola (lamb chops), and Beyti's specialty rolled beef were served one after another with creamy sides of mashed potatoes, beğendi, and spinach.

My mother gave up after the lamb chops followed by my father after Beyti's specialty. Honestly we were all pretty full at that point but my brother challenged Rick for another round. That is when we got the soft and juicy Antrekot (entrecôte) with grilled tomatoes and peppers.

There are two things that follow a Turkish dinner without any exceptions. First is dessert! After some consideration we decided to share two different kinds. Kaymaklı Ekmek Kadayıfı is a syrupy dessert made with bread topped with very thick cream and pistachio crumbles.

The other dessert was Tavuk Göğsü which is milk pudding with shredded chicken breast at the bottom. As strange as this dessert may sound, you do not actually taste chicken but the intense flavors of the pudding. This one is one of my dad's favorites so I had to intervene quickly to take a picture before he made it disappear!

The second thing to conclude a dinner is of course the Turkish Coffee. This tiny cup of coffee not only acts as a digestif but helps sustain and extend the after-meal conversations for it is good etiquette to take tiny sips and not chug it down as you would with other kinds of coffee. We all ordered Orta Kahve meaning coffee with some sugar.

I was hoping to have enough time to have my mother to read our coffee grounds to tell us what is in our future but we had to leave quickly to make it to our next destination where my brother had another surprise waiting for us. 

Afiyet Olsun!

Friday, September 4, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 17 - ITALY

After a whirlwind birthday weekend and a super busy work-week, I finally found time to blog, hours before we leave for our overseas trip.

Italy - the land of bold romances and even bolder tastes passed through out table at Villa Roma this week and might I say "left its mark!"

Villa Roma is another favorite restaurant for us where they serve Italian and Argentinian food with a side of live music. This place always feels like everyone at other tables are your extended family members. Older couples take the floor to show some flirty dance moves to educate the youngen in sensuality. Such a lovely place... If you are wondering why the food from two countries oceans apart live under the same roof, the answer is WWI. During WWI many Italians migrated to Argentina and of course brought their cuisine with them.

Bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar were the opening act as expected and soon after a glass of Chianti and a glass of Moscato joined in and stayed for the rest of the night.

It makes me feel like I actually can speak Italian just saying the names of the appetizers we got: Carpaccio di Manzo and chef's specialty of the week Insalata di Barbabietola.

From the Italian part of the menu, I picked Vitello Cimabue. Who can say no to the veal scaloppini topped with eggplant, tomato sauce, fontina cheese and a touch of white wine...

Rick's pick was the Risotto al Fruto di Mare - a family reunion of mussels, clams, shrimp and calamari in a sea of rice decorated with white wine, garlic sauce.

If you hear the words "Italian" and "dessert" in the same sentence, it is highly likely you will also hear Tiramisu next. We ordered one to share and I was glad they did not stick a candle in it and sing the birthday song when they served it.

As the closing act for our dinner, we chose to drink Cappuccinos. Though we hesitated at first knowing that Italians drink cappuccino for breakfast, we justified our order by saying "it is morning now in Italy". I chose the regular kind while Rick ordered Cappuccino Roma - the not so virgin one ;)

This was a dreamy dinner and a perfect ending to the day of my birth that started with a hot-air-balloon ride that left me floating still with great joy. I am one lucky gal, in every sense of the word.

Buon appetito!

And see you in two weeks when we come back with more culinary adventures to share with you...