santefe.jpg A trip to Santa Fe is at once exhilarating and embarrassing.  You say to yourself, “how can I be so corny and fall in love with the food, the shopping, the art, and the physical beauty all over again?”. And yet, you do, embracing it all as you roll your eyes at your own enthusiasm.  The food, of course, is of superior class with an emphasis on how we want to eat today: local and seasonal.  And each Santa Fe friend has their own passionate reason why their favorite restaurant has the best green chili.  But there is more to the palette of Santa Fe food than traditional Northern New Mexico cuisine, as good as that is.  Here are a half dozen of my personal favorites.  One of the great things about them all is their unique points of view on feeding you. Unique, like Santa Fe itself. 

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budapest.jpgMy Hungarian grandma made the best apple strudel I've ever had. Here in Hungary it's apple season and apple strudel is showing up on many of the restaurant menus. Yesterday, on the Pest side of the Danube, I came upon the Strudel House. I ordered the sweet cottage cheese-filled strudel, mainly because it was served with a rosehip sauce, which I wanted to taste.

During my two days in the countryside, I saw rose bushes heavy with hips. This restaurant served sauce they had made with freshly harvested rosehips. The sauce had the fragrance of fermented grapes, and I think the little cottage I stayed in that was nestled in the middle of a vineyard in the countryside had bed linens sprayed with the fragrance of rosehips.

Well, the strudel had flakey layers surrounding the cottage cheese filling, the rosehip sauce was a delicious complement and one perfect scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream put the dessert over the top. It was a late-night treat. It wasn't as good as the one my grandma used to make, though.

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Glowing the color peachblow, I’ve just returned from subsidizing Sonoma’s Wine Country  and have this to say of their grapes: “Fussy, yet serene, bossy yet submissive, a hint of herbaceous seepweed, a scent of doleful dégringolade”.  At least that’s the kind of verbal dexterity I wished I had displayed during  tastings at Lynmar, Martinelli, Siduri, and Kosta Browne wineries (don’t try to find the last one – it has no address and may not even exist). 

Instead I mainly stuck to:  “That’s a great chardonnay or – wow! – that’s a really good pinot noir (if you are looking for cabernet go crash your car in Napa).   I knew that Sonoma was a fun palace for wine but what caught me unawares was the high level of food to be found.

After my girlfriend Betsy and I deplaned at Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, we depacked at Kenwood Inn and Spa for a four night stay (think Twin Peaks meets Fawlty Towers) and headed straight away for delunch at “the girl & the fig” in Sonoma – a perfect bistro beginning to the trip (don’t miss the salt cod croquettes with white bean purée, caramelized onions, meyer lemon-herb salad). Stuffed roasted quail at Café LeHaye (also in Sonoma) would be a must have at another meal and you should be detained and questioned if you don’t order the charcuterie plate at Mosaic in Forestville. 

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The Markets of Rio

brazil1.jpgI am not what you would call a creature of habit, but every Sunday morning in Rio, I open my eyes and think Pastels! I throw on my board shorts, slip into my flip-flops and head straight to the local street market. I merge into the flow of Cariocas making their way to the feira. I can see the flower stalls a block away towering tropical blooms of heliconia, birds of paradise, and jungle roses. My flower vendor is Andres, and we have worked out a deal whereby for fifty reals a week, I can take pretty much whatever I can carry. At this price, I keep my apt flowered to within an inch of its life. Some days it looks like a bridal suite in Waikiki. I spend half an hour considering the possible combination of blooms, blowing on blossoms, and for good measure I hand pick a bagful of golden rose petals for scattering. Then set them aside and set out for Food!

I work my way around the perimeter of the market. The air is fragrant with the aroma of passion fruit and mangos. They have a dozen different types of bananas stacked shoulder high, and a dizzying array of rare exotic fruits from the Amazon jungle that are too fragile to make it out of the country, with names like pitanga, jabuticaba, and bacuri. Somebody hauls a giant stingray out of the ice and it lands at my feet. A fishwife is busy filleting fresh anchovies in front of a stack of coconuts as tall as me. The tourists are clutching their purses, the babies are crying, and the dogs are picking at the scraps.

Finally I reach my destination.

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2 ponte vecchio.jpgThe first time I ate at Coco Lezzone in Florence, it was at the invitation of film producer Dino De Laurentiis, who knows a thing or two about Italian cooking:

(1) He created the gourmet Italian DDL Foodshow Emporiums in New York and Beverly Hills about 20 years ahead of their time,

(2) His lovely granddaughter Giada, with many of her family’s recipes and great charm and skill, has become a best-selling cookbook author and very popular Food Network chef, and,

(3) He is Italian and always has been.  

We were in Florence because that’s where Hannibal was being filmed, and Dino asked my wife Elizabeth and me and some others working on the film to join him at Coco Lezzone for dinner.

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