Category Archives: Travel

A Whirlwind of Noodles and More in Xi’an, China

The symbolic Bell Tower of Xi’an (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
The symbolic Bell Tower of Xi’an (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)

How much do I love biang-biang noodles? So much that beyond writing extensively about them here in the past, I found myself planning a trip to Tokyo and thinking, “I’ll be pretty close to Xi’an (home of the noodles), so I should go.” I learned that China now waives the visa requirement for stays up to 72 hours, which I figured would be the perfect amount of time to experience the food scene there. (Not surprisingly, turns out I would have appreciated more time.)

I’d have to maximize my brief time in Xi’an, so I ambitiously scheduled a 6:00pm food tour to follow my scheduled landing at 4:30pm, with the airport an hour from the city. I was the first off the plane and to passport control, but as I anticipated from my research, the visa waiver scenario (it’s a bit complicated) took about 20 minutes to reconcile.

Now on to airport transportation: I’d heard nightmares about hiring a taxi, with drivers taking foreigners for a ride at ridiculously high prices and dumping them on the highway (unverified reports) for lack of funds. Out of concern for my sanity and well-being, my hotel arranged for a private car to pick me up. Thank you, Hilton Xi’an, for both that and the media discount for my stay! (Hotel photos at the end of this post.)

With no more than a “ni hao,” the driver took me on a 10-minute walk to his car. Tracking progress on Google Maps (which I was able to use—along with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram—on my phone, but not my laptop) while fearing for my life upon suddenly remembering driving habits in China, I realized I’d get to the hotel just two minutes past the tour start time. I WeChat-ted my tour guide, got to the hotel, threw my bags in the room, and then greeted my guide as she got to the lobby.

Lost Plate Tours’ tuk-tuk
Lost Plate Tours’ tuk-tuk

Lost Plate Tours would provide a perfect introduction to a mysterious new city. I’m generally skeptical of food tours, but not knowing Xi’an and not knowing the language, this was a great way to spend the first night, getting slightly acclimated and getting fully stuffed with food I would not likely have found on my own. Lost Plate founders Ruixi Hu and Brian Bergey invited me as a guest on both the Evening Tour and the following day’s Morning Tour, and then generously spent a little extra time with me for a few extra bites.

Ruixi runs the tours, having moved recently from Chengdu to Xi’an. A true food lover, she ate her way around the city to pick out the best places to show off the regional cuisine. The tours are unique in that tuk-tuks are the transportation (they’ll pick you up at your hotel if within the city wall), racing through the back alleys to reach places where the locals eat. (The tuk-tuks are an exhilarating part of the experience, though perhaps not ideal for the faint-hearted or claustrophobic, as the space can be tight). I was impressed not only with how well-organized the tours are, but also the communication process leading up to and throughout the tours. Ruixi speaks English well, providing information about the food and food establishments, and answering other questions about Xi’an. And both she and Brian are incredibly friendly.

Taken from one of the stops during the Lost Plate evening tour
Taken from one of the stops during the Lost Plate evening tour

My Evening Tour made stops to visit a shao bing shop (one of my favorite bites of the night), a skewer-griller, a dumpling restaurant, a place for porridges, and an eatery serving bowls of spinach noodles—all before final festivities at a local brewery.

Tofu skin pulled out of fiery broth for shao bing
Tofu skin pulled out of fiery broth for shao bing
Your shao bing can be filled with a full choice of ingredients, like peanuts, potatoes, seaweed, and jellyfish, for a variety of flavors and textures. There’s even a whole boiled egg inside! (It’s amazing to see how they bake the bread on the inside roof of the furnace.)
Your shao bing can be filled with a full choice of ingredients, like peanuts, potatoes, seaweed, and jellyfish, for a variety of flavors and textures. There’s even a whole boiled egg inside! (It’s amazing to see how they bake the bread on the inside roof of the furnace.)
Grilling beef skewers on a fairly quiet street in the Muslim Quarter
Grilling beef skewers on a fairly quiet street in the Muslim Quarter
Finished beef skewers eaten with bread (the small pieces of beef are tastier than the large ones found in the tourist area)
Finished beef skewers eaten with bread (the small pieces of beef are tastier than the large ones found in the tourist area)
Xi’an-style soup dumplings (zheng jiao) filled with beef, spring onions, and onions
Xi’an-style soup dumplings (zheng jiao) filled with beef, spring onions, and onions
Spinach noodles topped with meat, chili, tomato-egg, cabbage, and sliced potatoes
Spinach noodles topped with meat, chili, tomato-egg, cabbage, and sliced potatoes
Garlic is often on the table, as they like to nibble it raw in Xi’an while eating noodles
Garlic is often on the table, as they like to nibble it raw in Xi’an while eating noodles

The next day’s Morning Tour was less formal than usual, as there was just one other guest—a colleague of Brian. We enjoyed a walk through the fascinating Xi Chang Market (also known as the Bird and Flower Market, held Thursdays and Sundays), where one can buy all kinds of food, along with birds, turtles, crickets and cricket “houses,” household products, possibly illegal teeth, “illegal” sexual products, and much more.

Market scene: fruit
Market scene: fruit
Meditating over watermelons?
Meditating over watermelons?
Men with their birds
Men with their birds
Listening intently, to purchase the right cricket
Listening intently, to purchase the right cricket
Or maybe you want a dog?
Or maybe you want a dog?
A colorful frog?
A colorful frog?
A turtle?
A turtle?
Ruixi helps tour guest Ellen with a duckling
Ruixi helps tour guest Ellen with a duckling
This (including taro) looks better than…
This (including taro) looks better than…
…this
…this
You can find just about anything at the market
You can find just about anything at the market

Breakfast-turned-lunch would be fried beef pancakes, spicy and numbing soup, sour soup dumplings and (finally) my beloved biang-biang noodles (though not the hot oil-seared version that I like best)—including a little “hands-on” lesson in making them. Ruixi, Brian, and I would then go on to try a couple of “hardcore” dishes (they have a nice write-up of these and others at the Lost Plate Tours website): goat blood with silk noodles, along with bang-bang meat.

Check out how they make the pancakes:

Fried beef pancake production
Fried beef pancake production
Finished product: fried beef pancake
Finished product: fried beef pancake
People line up (some with large “canteens” for to-go orders) to get ma la (numbing spicy) soup
People line up (some with large “canteens” for to-go orders) to get ma la (numbing spicy) soup
Ma la soup, after cilantro and chili oil added
Ma la soup, after cilantro and chili oil added
Ruixi, Brian, and Ellen breaking “flat bread” for bowls of ma la soup (yes, that’s the comfortable outdoor seating!)
Ruixi, Brian, and Ellen breaking “flat bread” for bowls of ma la soup (yes, that’s the comfortable outdoor seating!)
Older man with ma la soup walking past kids in the alley
Older man with ma la soup walking past kids in the alley
Making dumplings
Making dumplings
Sour soup dumplings
Sour soup dumplings
Making biang-biang noodles
Making biang-biang noodles
Cooking up the noodles
Cooking up the noodles
Slightly soupy version of biang-biang noodles
Slightly soupy version of biang-biang noodles
Goat blood with silk noodles soup (the noodles are apparently made from bean powder)
Goat blood with silk noodles soup (the noodles are apparently made from bean powder)
Basically all the parts of the animal are in this selection of “bang bang meat” (wood and tea leaf-smoked pork)
Basically all the parts of the animal are in this selection of “bang bang meat” (wood and tea leaf-smoked pork)
Plate of bang bang meat (tail, intestines, stomach, and more)
Plate of bang bang meat (tail, intestines, stomach, and more)

Absolutely stuffed, I’d have little time to recover before venturing out for the evening. On my own, I had to do what everyone does when visiting Xi’an: stroll the Muslim Quarter. It’s colorful and festive and full of amazing sights, smells, and sounds. Cooking fires flare, the scent of cumin pervades the air, cleavers meet meat on well-worn cutting boards, stuff on sticks make you ask “What is it?,” and young men (predominantly) perform acrobatic acts in stretching sugar and then pounding it into candy. And all that’s just your first minute into the market street.

South entry to the main market street of the Muslim Quarter (note the pail full of skewers!)
South entry to the main market street of the Muslim Quarter (note the pail full of skewers!)

Stomach full, I sampled judiciously, my favorite bite being some spicy fried potatoes. I negotiated a half-portion from the vendor while a young woman watched to see my reaction. “Tasty?” I smiled my answer, offering her a sample, and in exchange she gave me some of her spicy tofu. A reminder that food brings cultures and people together.

Here’s a short video clip showing how to make the potatoes:

Spicy potatoes
Spicy potatoes
Meat and more on skewers
Meat and more on skewers
Making roujiamo, or what some call a Xi’an burger, filled with beef or lamb (no pork in the Muslim Quarter, though I’m frankly confused about mutton, lamb, and goat, as they often use “mutton” for goat)
Making roujiamo, or what some call a Xi’an burger, filled with beef or lamb (no pork in the Muslim Quarter, though I’m frankly confused about mutton, lamb, and goat, as they often use “mutton” for goat)
Tofu vendor
Tofu vendor
Lots of things on sticks (and are those “rotatoes”?)
Lots of things on sticks (and are those “rotatoes”?)
Sheep hooves
Sheep hooves
All kinds of interesting breads, many naan-like
All kinds of interesting breads, many naan-like
Rice cake (everything’s better on a skewer!) topped with sweetened dates
Rice cake (everything’s better on a skewer!) topped with sweetened dates
Ongoing clean-up in the streets
Ongoing clean-up in the streets

I thought about the co-mingling of cultures in Xi’an—China’s former capital and the eastern end of the Silk Road—as I strolled the side streets and back alleys of the Muslim Quarter. This is where I found the true charm of the district and the city as a whole. Away from the hustle and bustle, people walked a little slower and smiled a bit more upon eye contact. Until, of course, a bunch of bicycles, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, cars, and buses suddenly screamed by.

I eventually made my way back to the shadow of the Drum Tower, and to a place I’d eyed at the start of the evening: the biang-biang noodle shop. Here, at last, I could have a bowl of hot oil-seared noodles. But not before voyeuristically watching preparation of bowl-after-bowl, taking notes on the noodle-stretching and thwacking, as well as the rest of the process. Finally, I placed an order and voraciously attacked my noodles. A delicious way to end the day!

Now you can be a voyeur and check out the short clip of the noodle-making:

My bowl of hot oil-seared biang-biang noodles
My bowl of hot oil-seared biang-biang noodles
So many choices of noodles…if you understand
So many choices of noodles…if you understand
…and some completely mysterious menu items
…and some completely mysterious menu items

My final day would start early with an expedition to see the Terracotta Army (aka Terracotta Warriors and Horses). It’s the obligatory thing to do when visiting Xi’an, but I eschewed the many organized trips, instead enjoying the adventure of being the only non-Chinese person on the #5 (306) bus. Many students take this cheap (about $1) bus to a university stop, but I took it to the end (about an hour) to the museum site.

Spectacular, right?
Spectacular, right?
Interesting pit views
Interesting pit views

The story about the discovery of the terracotta army (farmers were drilling a well) and the sight itself are both impressive, though as others have commented, in some ways magazine photos are more spectacular than the live view. As I anticipated, while I tried to appreciate the museum, my mind wandered to what bowl of noodles I would eat next. (And given the $25 entry fee, would it have instead been more satisfying to sample about 10 bowls of noodles?)

With a commitment back in town, I didn’t stay long, but still managed to sample a couple of bowls of noodles near the museum entrance. Perhaps defying some Chinese custom about hot and cold, I alternated between spicy slurps of goat blood with silk noodle soup and cooling bites of liangpi.

Another bowl of goat blood with silk noodles soup
Another bowl of goat blood with silk noodles soup
Liangpi, which can be made with rice flour or wheat flour
Liangpi, which can be made with rice flour or wheat flour

Then it was back to the hotel. As part of my stay, the Hilton offered a tasting of dishes at its China Club restaurant, as well as a hands-on lesson in making biang-biang noodles. I’m not normally a fan of hotel restaurants, but in eating a lot of street food, this would provide a contrasting (and, yes, a more comfortable) experience. Besides, China Club is not a typical hotel restaurant, as it has an extensive menu meant to appeal not only to hotel guests, but to locals who want to eat upscale versions of the local fare.

After quick introductions to the restaurant’s chefs (via translation), I was told to suit up for my biang-biang noodle lesson. Things moved quickly in the kitchen, and some details were lost in translation, but it seems like the dough recipe I’ve been using at home is spot-on, with the rest of the cooking process and preparation pretty much the same. What I’m not sure about is the flour for the dough. All I could learn is that they use a high-gluten flour (as do I), but their dough is far more stretchy than mine. It’s easier to work with, and creates silkier noodles.

Yours truly, reporting for duty at the Hilton Xi’an kitchen
Yours truly, reporting for duty at the Hilton Xi’an kitchen

Retiring to the dining room, I ate two different bowls of biang-biang noodles, as well as a sampling of other dishes (including more liangpi)—all fantastic. Again stuffed, they invited me back that evening to sample their version of Xi’an’s famous yang rou pao mo (crumbled flatbread in mutton stew). But not before a final evening walk through the city, including a stop at a department store to buy the one souvenir of my stay in Xi’an: a dowel-like rolling pin that I learned is a key to making better biang-biang noodles.

Here’s how the Hilton Xi’an makes biang-biang noodles:

The bowl of biang-biang noodles I helped to make, with various toppings (meat, tomatoes, Chinese chives)
The bowl of biang-biang noodles I helped to make, with various toppings (meat, tomatoes, Chinese chives)
Stirring and then eating my noodles
Stirring and then eating my noodles
A bowl similar to the hot oil-seared biang-biang noodles I ate, though this one also has sea cucumber (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
A bowl similar to the hot oil-seared biang-biang noodles I ate, though this one also has sea cucumber (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Jin xian you ta, a traditional Xi’an snack of noodles and dipping sauce (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Jin xian you ta, a traditional Xi’an snack of noodles and dipping sauce (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Liangpi, pre-sauce pour
Liangpi, pre-sauce pour
Liangpi, ready to eat
Liangpi, ready to eat
Mai fan, made with finely cut garland chrysanthemum
Mai fan, made with finely cut garland chrysanthemum
Dining room at the China Club restaurant in the Hilton Xi’an (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Dining room at the China Club restaurant in the Hilton Xi’an (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Wall mural in the restaurant dining room (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Wall mural in the restaurant dining room (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Guest room (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Guest room (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Exterior of the hotel (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Exterior of the hotel (photo courtesy of Hilton Xi’an)
Inside the Hilton guest room, all the supplies one needs: noodles, wine, potato chips, and condoms
Inside the Hilton guest room, all the supplies one needs: noodles, wine, potato chips, and condoms
A pleasant street to stroll, close to the Hilton Xi’an
A pleasant street to stroll, close to the Hilton Xi’an
Gaming on the street
Gaming on the street

Semiahmoo Offers Surprisingly Delicious Food in Spitting Distance from Canada

The resort, situated on Semiahmoo Spit
The resort, situated on Semiahmoo Spit

I’ve always loved to stare at maps. As a kid, they took me in my mind to the greatest of places—many of which were dreamy “end of the road” locations. As an adult, I’ve turned some of those dreams into realities, traveling to Tofino (CN) to experience the storms, Tromsø (NO) to see the northern lights, and Dunedin (NZ) to check out the world’s only mainland albatross colony.

Here at home, Point Roberts has always intrigued me, as I’m tickled by the idea of driving through Canada to get back into the continental United States. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything special to do in Point Roberts. But my eyes opened last year when I learned about a destination-worthy resort on the nearby Semiahmoo Spit, which wraps around Drayton Harbor by Blaine and is in spitting distance of the Canadian border.

Allow me to introduce you to Semiahmoo Resort, Golf, & Spa.

A closer look at Semiahmoo Resort
A closer look at Semiahmoo Resort (photo by Jeff Caven)

I met the crew from Semiahmoo (start of a Seussian rhyme?) when they came to last year’s TomatoFare event at Cedarbrook Lodge—a sister property that’s part of the Coastal Hotel Group. Unknowns in a group of chefs I know and admire, culinary director Eric Truglas and chef de cuisine Martin Woods surprised and impressed me most with their creations, including a delicious tomato-based push-pop. “Come and check us out,” they admonished. Recently, I finally found time, and they were generous in hosting me for an overnight stay.

Semiahmoo is at the site of an Alaska Packers’ Association cannery that processed salmon for nearly 80 years. (One of the remaining structures houses the bakery.) In fact, one of the resort’s restaurants is the casual Packers Oyster Bar, but my dinner would be at the (also casual) Pierside Kitchen, where big windows afford views of the water. You can take in that view and more at my preferred seating area: the chef’s counter. While the main kitchen is tucked away, here you can watch the pizzetta-making, see the pastry chef in action, and partake in banter with the staff as they pick up plates to take to the dining room.

Semiahmoo filet Woods put together an impressive degustation menu that demonstrated Semiahmoo’s use of local products while showcasing versatility of cooking techniques and expertise in the kitchen. Chili-lemongrass spot prawns shined with Asian flavors, earthy ingredients added pizzazz to silky pappardelle pasta, and a duck breast dish wowed with a bold brodo. (See photos of the complete meal at the end of this article.)

Fortunately for a meal that big, the resort offers numerous ways to burn off calories. I’m struck by the rare availability of indoor tennis and racquetball courts, and there’s also an indoor running track that circles a large fitness room full of exercise equipment. For those who want to do their moving outdoors, you’ll find beach volleyball, hiking trails, and kayak rentals readily available. Me: I was content to relax in my comfortable room, watching the scene from my balcony before getting a good night of sleep ahead of breakfast the next morning, which held promise of a mysterious peanut butter and cheddar cheese omelet.

Chef’s Trio breakfast: mini peanut butter and cheddar omelet, mini eggs benedict, and mini French toast
Chef’s Trio breakfast: mini peanut butter and cheddar omelet, mini eggs benedict, and mini French toast

Semiahmoo has undergone recent renovations, with more work to follow. (With a goal of sustainability and good stewardship, it’s easy to miss touches like carpeting made from fishing nets.) If there’s one glitch, it’s technology. Seemingly “trapped” between Canada and the United States, cell phone coverage can be spotty. Worse, wifi didn’t work for me, despite varying advice from several staff members. Hopefully these issues will get resolved before too long.

After all, I’d look forward to a return to Semiahmoo in warmer weather. It’s then that I’d especially enjoy walking along the water by day and sitting at a fire pit (there’s s’more-making year-round) by night. Summer also means that the historic Plover ferry operates weekends, which means fun and easy rides between the spit and the town of Blaine. And given the quality of the food I’ve enjoyed from the chefs, I’ll bet the summer barbecues and clam bakes make the getaway to Semiahmoo well worth the drive from Seattle.

Citrus-cured salmon with pickled radish, cilantro emulsion, and sturgeon caviar
Citrus-cured salmon with pickled radish, cilantro emulsion, and sturgeon caviar
Chili-lemongrass spot prawns with cara cara orange, basil, and roe
Chili-lemongrass spot prawns with cara cara orange, basil, and roe
Pappardelle pasta with white truffle cream, grana padana, and shaved truffle
Pappardelle pasta with white truffle cream, grana padana, and shaved truffle
Intermezzo: blackberry sorbet
Intermezzo: blackberry sorbet
Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with yellowfoot chanterelles, pearl onion brulee, and soy-duck brodo
Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with yellowfoot chanterelles, pearl onion brulee, and soy-duck brodo
Double R Ranch filet with roasted local vegetables and bordelaise
Double R Ranch filet with roasted local vegetables and bordelaise
Passion fruit mousse with macadamia nut shortbread and rose-champagne sorbet
Passion fruit mousse with macadamia nut shortbread and rose-champagne sorbet
A look at the Pierside Kitchen
A look at the Pierside Kitchen (photo by Jeff Caven)
Guest room at Semiahmoo
Guest room at Semiahmoo

(Note: Non-food photos courtesy of Semiahmoo Resort, Golf, & Spa.)

A Suet Candle Shines as Part of Cleveland’s Culinary Scene

Cleveland skyline (photo courtesy of ThisisCleveland.com)
Cleveland skyline (photo courtesy of ThisisCleveland.com)

I liked Cleveland so much last time around, I recently returned to the city for another 24 hours of eating. After two flapjacks, two coffees, two 2-1/2 hour meals, and two doughy delights immediately after airport arrival, I continue to be impressed with Cleveland’s culinary scene. Here’s my meal report, complete with a food-themed art exhibit at a place that’s not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Dinner 1: Spice Kitchen + Bar

My first stop from the airport, en route to downtown, was Spice Kitchen + Bar in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. All restaurants should be doing farm-to-table cuisine; in the case of Spice, the goal is for 80% of the ingredients to come from sustainable farms within 100 miles of Cleveland. And, actually, some of the ingredients in your food and drinks come from Spice’s very own farmland. There’s an immediate good vibe to the place, from the friendly bar area upon entry to the romantic dining room adjoining it. The menu includes a daily special that’s truly seasonable and sustainable, though I went for a couple of dishes that are more mainstay delights: mushroom beignets and rabbit ravioli.

Spice Kitchen + Bar’s mushroom beignets (dusted with porcini powder) with honey goat cheese crème fraîche
Spice Kitchen + Bar’s mushroom beignets (dusted with porcini powder) with honey goat cheese crème fraîche
Spice’s arugula salad with 6-minute egg, lardons, torn croutons, and scallion vinaigrette
Spice’s arugula salad with 6-minute egg, lardons, torn croutons, and scallion vinaigrette
Spice’s rabbit ravioli with chanterelles, goat cheese, squash, pine nuts, shishito peppers, and herbs
Spice’s rabbit ravioli with chanterelles, goat cheese, squash, pine nuts, shishito peppers, and herbs
Inside Spice Kitchen + Bar
Inside Spice Kitchen + Bar

Breakfast: Jack Flaps

Across from Spice Kitchen + Bar is Happy Dog, tempting to try for its wild array of hot dogs. (It’s like the Voodoo Doughnut of hot dogs, with toppings that range from SpaghettiOs to Froot Loops to Chunky peanut butter.) I was too full after dinner for a frankfurter, but the next morning I made it to the Ohio City neighborhood to try sister restaurant Jack Flaps. Flying solo, it was tough to decide between the big-ticket dishes in both the sweet and savory menus, but ultimately I had to go for a namesake item—though I did sneak in a side dish to add a savory element. Jack Flaps offers a fun concept, for sure.

Jack Flaps’ candied jalapeno pancakes with white chocolate sauce and salted caramel coffee crumb (a little dry, perhaps because the pancakes are a little thick)
Jack Flaps’ candied jalapeno pancakes with white chocolate sauce and salted caramel coffee crumb (a little dry, perhaps because the pancakes are a little thick)
Jack Flaps’ root vegetable hash
Jack Flaps’ root vegetable hash

Coffee 1: Phoenix Coffee

With two big meals still to go, I knew the day called for coffee, and it was easy to make a stop at the nearby Phoenix Coffee in the Ohio City neighborhood. A Cleveland roaster for over 20 years, Phoenix actually has four locations in the city. I’m pleased to see pour-over technique prevalent in Cleveland (there’s even a place called “Pour Cleveland,”), especially as my Seattle neighborhood only has one place for pour-over, which I avoid due to its religious connections. Phoenix has a relaxed atmosphere which invites lingering, perhaps close to the record player where you’ll find vinyl spinning.

Coffee bar at Phoenix Coffee (where I enjoyed a Guatemala Antigua Los Volcanes, slightly citrusy and syrupy)
Coffee bar at Phoenix Coffee (where I enjoyed a Guatemala Antigua Los Volcanes, slightly citrusy and syrupy)
Turntable in the corner at Phoenix Coffee
Turntable in the corner at Phoenix Coffee

Coffee 2: Rising Star Coffee Roasters

Life Phoenix Coffee, Rising Star Coffee Roasters was recently cited in Travel + Leisure magazine in making Cleveland one of America’s top coffee cities. While there’s a new location in Little Italy, I went right from Phoenix to the original Rising Star right in Ohio City (or more specifically Hingetown) for my second cup of coffee of the day. Rising Star has a different feel, with more of an open, “true roastery” scene showing off big bags of beans, roasting apparatus on the floor, and a collection of coffee-making equipment at the counter. You can geek out with AeroPress and siphon preparations, but pour-over is what seems to be most popular here for coffee.

Making my pour-over at Rising Star Coffee Roasters
Making my pour-over at Rising Star Coffee Roasters
Finished product: my Guatemala Finca Aragon (also syrupy, and slightly sweet) at Rising Star
Finished product: my Guatemala Finca Aragon (also syrupy, and slightly sweet) at Rising Star

Lunch: Trentina

Last trip to Cleveland, I was so thoroughly impressed with my dinner at The Greenhouse Tavern that I proclaimed it one of the most memorable meals of 2013. I was therefore excited to try Jonathon Sawyer’s newest restaurant, Trentina, which is based on the food of the Trento region of northern Italy. I love that Trentina’s lunch menu offers a sense of the dinner experience. Oh, there are sandwiches, but you can also have a multi-course meal that runs from primos to pastas to entrees to desserts—and more. My lunch was an extended affair as Sawyer and Matt Danko served up a superb feast that will make Trentina one of the most memorable meals of 2014. In fact, recalling a few years back when The New York Times called the Willows Inn one of “10 restaurants worth a plane ride,” I’ll go on record here as saying that I believe Jonathon Sawyer is currently one of the top chefs worth a plane ride in the United States.

Foraged food (including mushrooms in a siphon) greets me at Trentina
Foraged food (including mushrooms in a siphon) greets me at Trentina
Assagio ("bites before you eat") plate at Trentina: carne salata (house-made), speck, Ludlow cheese from Blue Jacket Dairy, Charloe Cheese from Canal Junction, crusto di polenta with house butter and Ohio egg bottarga, pickled turnips, and pickled swiss chard stems
Assagio (“bites before you eat”) plate at Trentina: carne salata (house-made), speck, Ludlow cheese from Blue Jacket Dairy, Charloe Cheese from Canal Junction, crusto di polenta with house butter and Ohio egg bottarga, pickled turnips, and pickled swiss chard stems
An experiment ahead of Ferran Adrià’s visit: spit-roasted and seared maitake garnished with trentigrana, plus dashi made from house-cured fish sausage and dried foraged maitake mushrooms
An experiment ahead of Ferran Adrià’s visit: spit-roasted and seared maitake garnished with trentigrana, plus dashi made from house-cured fish sausage and dried foraged maitake mushrooms
Trentina’s “On the Rise Bakery’s bread plate” which comes with cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, whipped prosciutto bianco, and an edible beef suet candle
Trentina’s “On the Rise Bakery’s bread plate” which comes with cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, whipped prosciutto bianco, and an edible beef suet candle
Roasted carrot caponata with raisins, fennel seed, roasted red peppers, pine nuts, and vinegar
Roasted carrot caponata with raisins, fennel seed, roasted red peppers, pine nuts, and vinegar
Heirloom tomato and basil bucatini with tomato butter, Soave Classico, and parmesan
Heirloom tomato and basil bucatini with tomato butter, Soave Classico, and parmesan
Cavatappi & cheese: Trentino-style mac & cheese with roasted onion and new potato
Cavatappi & cheese: Trentino-style mac & cheese with roasted onion and new potato
Gnudi (made with ricotta piped into semolina) with pickled and seared artichoke hearts, maitakes, and mushroom catsup
Gnudi (made with ricotta piped into semolina) with pickled and seared artichoke hearts, maitakes, and mushroom catsup
Trentina’s “Beasts + Birds Roasted with Embers” here is Ohio CAB strip loin grilled over hay, with roasted celery root, braised celery stalk, and celery leaf
Trentina’s “Beasts + Birds Roasted with Embers” here is Ohio CAB strip loin grilled over hay, with roasted celery root, braised celery stalk, and celery leaf
Between a palate-cleansing elderflower and rosemary sorbet topped with yogurt and a spiced chocolate macaron was this panna cotta with brown butter solids accompanied by pickled and fresh pears, gooseberries, orange zest, and torn bread fried in olive oil
Between a palate-cleansing elderflower and rosemary sorbet topped with yogurt and a spiced chocolate macaron was this panna cotta with brown butter solids accompanied by pickled and fresh pears, gooseberries, orange zest, and torn bread fried in olive oil

Art break: MOCA Cleveland and the Ferran Adrià exhibit

One of the nice things about being at Trentina (aside from watching Case Western Reserve University guides walking backward while leading tours for prospective students and their parents) is that you’re just steps away from the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. The building itself is architecturally interesting, but any food lover should go now to see “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity.” This marks the first time that a major museum has focused on the visualization and drawing practices of Adrià, famed chef of the (recently closed) elBulli restaurant in Barcelona who’s been called “the king of molecular gastronomy.” The exhibit features sketches, diagrams, notes, and more that give insight into Adrià’s innovative thinking; I found myself transfixed by his thoughts about “tart creativity” involving puff pastry and “400 fruits from the Amazon that have never been used.”

Ferran Adrià, “Theory of Culinary Evolution,” 2013, crayon, paint stick and colored pencil, from a series of sixty drawings, each: 11 11/16 x 8 1/4 inches (courtesy of elBulli Foundation)
Ferran Adrià, “Theory of Culinary Evolution,” 2013, crayon, paint stick and colored pencil, from a series of sixty drawings, each: 11 11/16 x 8 1/4 inches (courtesy of elBulli Foundation)
Ferran Adrià, plating diagram, ca. 2003-2004, colored pen on graph paper (courtesy of elBulli Foundation)
Ferran Adrià, plating diagram, ca. 2003-2004, colored pen on graph paper (courtesy of elBulli Foundation)
Ferran Adrià installation (courtesy of MOCA Cleveland)
Ferran Adrià installation (courtesy of MOCA Cleveland)

Dinner 2: EDWINS

I’m a big fan of Seattle’s FareStart, and being an educator myself, I was thrilled to see a similar operation in Cleveland called EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute. Brandon Chrostowski founded EDWINS as a place where formerly incarcerated men and women develop culinary and hospitality skills so that they can find employment (and purpose), helping them reenter society without returning to a life of crime. The reward for their study and service: the promise of a high rate of placement into successful jobs in the field. The reward for diners at EDWINS restaurant: a delightful culinary experience featuring some classical French preparations (for example, see my pressed duck, done tableside…and then learn more about this fascinating dish) in a fine dining atmosphere that’s got a feeling of joy and notes of fun—such as the soulful sounds of the likes of Marvin Gaye playing in the spirited dining room.

EDWINS’ amuse bouche: oven-roasted salmon with horseradish crust and dill-cucumber sauce
EDWINS’ amuse bouche: oven-roasted salmon with horseradish crust and dill-cucumber sauce
EDWINS’ salad of endive, local field greens, roasted apples, shiitake mushrooms, almonds, and foie gras with apple cider vinaigrette
EDWINS’ salad of endive, local field greens, roasted apples, shiitake mushrooms, almonds, and foie gras with apple cider vinaigrette
Grilled seafood sausage with lobster, white fish, scallops, shrimp, and pine nuts with shallot beurre blanc
Grilled seafood sausage with lobster, white fish, scallops, shrimp, and pine nuts with shallot beurre blanc
Pressing of duck carcass to draw blood for…
Pressing of duck carcass to draw blood for…
…EDWINS’ pressed duck with blood sauce
…EDWINS’ pressed duck with blood sauce
Cheese course from the impressive cheese cart
Cheese course from the impressive cheese cart
Grand Marnier soufflé, accompanied by Grand Marnier
Grand Marnier soufflé, accompanied by Grand Marnier
Pressed duck preparation, tableside
Pressed duck preparation, tableside
Bananas Foster at EDWINS, tableside
Bananas Foster at EDWINS, tableside

Hotel: Aloft Cleveland Downtown

Thanks to Aloft Cleveland Downtown and Destination Cleveland for hosting and assisting with my stay. This was my first time in an Aloft property, and I enjoyed the contemporary feel of the guestroom. Aloft’s location is ideal for walking to downtown’s dining scene, as well as to the sports venues, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and shopping areas. It’s also well-situated for drives to other attractions both east and west. Clean, comfortable, and convenient!

Aloft Cleveland Downtown (© Aloft)
Aloft Cleveland Downtown (© Aloft)
Guestroom at Aloft Cleveland Downtown (© ThisisCleveland.com – Scott Meivogel)
Guestroom at Aloft Cleveland Downtown (© ThisisCleveland.com – Scott Meivogel)

Three Delicious Days in Denver

Denver skyline (Photo courtesy of Ron Ruscio and VISIT DENVER)
Denver skyline (Photo courtesy of Ron Ruscio and VISIT DENVER)

Sometimes, good things happen when you get out of the airport. I’d passed through the Denver airport dozens of times in recent years, but it had been ages since actually spending time in the Mile-High City.

With direct flights making Denver easy to reach from Seattle, I was overdue for a visit. Besides, there’s some sense of connection between the two cities, given the beer cultures, marijuana initiatives, and recent Super Bowl rivalry.

Aware of the gorgeous mountains and outdoor activities surrounding the city, I recently spent a few days in Denver having an urban experience. Among the things I found: a thriving art culture, beer-brewing everywhere, and a blossoming food scene. From quality charcuterie to surprisingly good Southern food to a rare Japanese dessert, here are highlights that help build an itinerary of three delicious days in Denver.

Day 1

There’s no better destination in downtown Denver than the newly renovated Union Station. This transportation hub will make any Seattleite jealous; our King Street Station enjoyed a recent whitewash, but Union Station is a true hangout and culinary showcase, replete with a number of restaurants and stores, a hotel, and a wonderful central sitting area.

Espresso shot with St. Angel triple cream cheese and elderberry syrup at Mercantile Dining & Provision
Espresso shot with St. Angel triple cream cheese and elderberry syrup at Mercantile Dining & Provision

Since you’re at Union Station, start your day with a stop at Mercantile Dining & Provision. This all-day eatery and provisions store features an open kitchen, bar area, and dining room. By day it’s casual breakfast and lunch, and at night “finer” dining—showcasing food from the chef’s nearby farm. Breakfast offers pastries made on site (the croissants are quite impressive, especially given the challenge of baking at high elevation), and you can sample coffee flights. Even better: the unique chance to try an espresso and cheese combination, with the crema taking on a cheese-like quality.

Pad Thai pig ears at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen
Pad Thai pig ears at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen

You might be tempted to stay in Union Station, but it’s time to stimulate the brain cells with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, now featuring the work of Mark Mothersbaugh—Devo’s co-founder and, yes, artist. From there, Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen is the perfect place for late lunch. Here you’ll get your first introduction to Denver’s love of beer through its sprawling menu of drafts, bottles, and cans. The food is good, too. For a porky experience, start with the amazing pad Thai pig ears, alive with Thai flavors, and then order a huge pork loin schnitzel, which comes with a side of four house-made mustards.

Sampling beer at Prost Brewing Company
Sampling beer at Prost Brewing Company

Step outside and shop Larimer Square, taking in the various galleries and stores. At this point you might want a nap, but eventually take a stroll across a series of pedestrian bridges to reach the Highland neighborhood for a pre-dinner beer at Prost Brewing Company to get a real feel for Denver’s beer culture. From here, you’re just a short walk to dinner at Colt & Gray. Start by indulging in the restaurant’s excellent charcuterie program, putting together a platter of your favorite patés, terrines, cured meats, and cheeses. You can make a meal from the charcuterie alone, but note that the menu moves on to include a variety of small and large plates, with snail risotto and whole-roasted trout both excellent choices. The restaurant is a comfortable place to linger over an additional drink or dessert.

Snail risotto at Colt & Gray
Snail risotto at Colt & Gray

Day 2

Especially if you’ve been “battered” by too much beer, make haste to El Taco de Mexico in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. A bigger-than-your-head burrito will help your hangover blues, but even better, if it’s the weekend, is a large bowl of menudo. Doctor up the bowl as you see fit with onion, cilantro, oregano, and lime, but be prepared for the powerful punch of strong chili flavor. What a great way to wake up in the morning. (The restaurant opens daily at 7am.)

Menudo at El Taco de Mexico
Menudo at El Taco de Mexico

Eyes again open to the world, take advantage of being in the Art District on Santa Fe by checking out the range of galleries, from modest to fancy. Here you’ll also find the Museo de las Americas. Next, go through the Golden Triangle Museum District and make your way to the Clyfford Still Museum. Still insisted that his work (and that of other artists) be shown on its own instead of mixed with other artists’ work, and Denver is lucky to have landed his collection. The building itself is fascinating, and the ever-changing exhibit of paintings will help you understand Still’s fascinating evolution as an abstract artist.

Parsnip cake with sweet potato cream cheese icing at Beast + Bottle
Parsnip cake with sweet potato cream cheese icing at Beast + Bottle

There’s more art to see, but first another meal break. Again, assuming it’s a weekend, take a walk (or drive) for brunch at Beast + Bottle. This quaint restaurant in the Uptown district is the first place where I’ve been offered an amuse bouche for brunch, a welcome/welcoming bite. Ask about “Andrea’s daily pastry,” sure to be a smart accompaniment to hot coffee. On the beverage front, there’s an intriguing selection of bloody Marys (the Come on Aileen, with green onion-habanero vodka, will deliver a kick), and delicious entrees are divided into “Wake Up” and “Afternoon Delight” sections.

Back to the art scene, you can easily spend a whole afternoon at the Denver Art Museum. There are two buildings housing nine curatorial departments, including an extensive collection of Native American art. Currently on display is “Matisse and Friends,” a quaint exhibit of works from the National Gallery of Art that make you feel like you’re in a living room with the paintings (more of which come from friends than Matisse himself).

Terminal Bar, inside Union Station
Terminal Bar, inside Union Station

If timing’s right and it’s of interest, you can stay in the area to tour the U.S. Mint and the State Capitol. Or if you didn’t get enough of Union Station and beer, return for a pick from the incredible draft beer collection at Terminal Bar, in the historic ticket office. And then it’s off to another historic setting as you spend the evening at The Source in RiNo (River North Art District). This former 1880’s brick foundry is an artisan emporium. You might happen upon an art opening at the SVPER ORDINARY Gallery + Retail space. Here you’ll also find a coffee roaster, brewery, bakery, cheesemonger, florist, and more. There are also two restaurants, one of which is Acorn, where you’ll enjoy dinner. The eclectic menu features small plates that range from shawarma to shrimp & grits to matsutake mushrooms. Save room for the stunning, photo shoot-worthy presentation of oak-grilled half-chicken. Afterward, if you’re up for more, enjoy an after-dinner drink at The Source’s central bar.

Oak-grilled half-chicken with gruyere bread pudding, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and wild mushroom gravy-whipped potatoes at Acorn
Oak-grilled half-chicken with gruyere bread pudding, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and wild mushroom gravy-whipped potatoes at Acorn

Day 3

Since you’re staying at The Curtis (see below), it’s convenient to roll out of bed for breakfast at The Corner Office. Here you can have the usual egg and omelet dishes. Or, to indulge the whims of your inner child, order the Hong Kong French toast, which comes with honey-infused peanut butter and dulce de leche.

Hong Kong French toast at The Corner Office
Hong Kong French toast at The Corner Office

Today will be a big day for calories, so make a beeline to a B-cycle station. These bike sharing stations are conveniently located all around the city, with reasonable rates for rentals. Given the day’s eating agenda, you might want to do a day-long rental to burn calories between meals.

BBQ pork with collards, candied yams, and jalapeno cornbread at Tom's Home Cookin'
BBQ pork with collards, candied yams, and jalapeno cornbread at Tom’s Home Cookin’

Bicycle will be a good way to get to Tom’s Home Cookin’ in the Five Points neighborhood. Be ready to wait in line for this weekday-only lunch, be ready to pick from the menu board (also check the accompanying board of rules, such as no cell phones) to place your order, and then be ready with cash to pay for your bounty of food. Tom’s serves southern/soul food at its finest, from fried catfish to BBQ pork to macaroni and cheese. This is a “main plus 2 sides” affair, for the most part, and if you’re like most people, you’ll be biting into some fabulous fried chicken and walking out with enough leftovers for another meal.

Green tea baum cake (and matcha cream-filled mochi) at Glaze by Sasa
Green tea baum cake (and matcha cream-filled mochi) at Glaze by Sasa

While east of downtown, you can visit sights like the Denver Zoo and the Denver Botanic Gardens. But once you’ve made stomach space, make sure to get to Glaze by Sasa in Congress Park. Here you’ll find one of the only places in America to get fresh-made baum cake. Known as baumkuchen in Germany and extremely popular in Japan, this labor-intensive layer cake is made on a rotating spit in a special oven. The pastry chef carefully brushes a new layer of batter to the rotating cake once the previous layer has browned, typically building a baumkuchen of 15 to 20 layers. The green tea baum cake is especially worth the trip.

Left to right: (1) Grilled and chilled cucumber soup with rosemary oil, (2) toasted hashbrowns with PEI mussels, pickled pearl onions, and celery, and (3) corn dog with house-made mustard at Lower48 Kitchen
Left to right: (1) Grilled and chilled cucumber soup with rosemary oil, (2) toasted hashbrowns with PEI mussels, pickled pearl onions, and celery, and (3) corn dog with house-made mustard at Lower48 Kitchen

Dinner tonight is close to Coors Field, at Lower48 Kitchen. Sit at the counter and watch the chefs in action. Particularly pleasing is the chance to try a number of $2 and $4 bites that range from miniature corn dogs to onion chip “Funions” to savory beignets. The counter gives you a chance to scout the dishes as they go from the kitchen to the dining room or to your counter companions, who’ll gladly give their opinion. Work your way through some smartly plated small dishes like salads and tartares, and if you still have an appetite, large plates like roasted chicken and rib eye. Then enjoy your mile-high food coma as you walk, bike, or take other transportation back to your hotel.

Jimmy Buffett suite at The Curtis hotel (photo courtesy of The Curtis)
Jimmy Buffett suite at The Curtis hotel (photo courtesy of The Curtis)

Thanks to The Curtis hotel, in conjunction with VISIT DENVER, for hosting my stay in downtown Denver. The Curtis is one of the new boutique hotels that’s actually a Doubletree by Hilton. This means that a warm chocolate chip cookie always awaits your arrival at the front desk, but other aspects of the hotel are less familiar—though certainly fun. Each floor has its own personality, and there are a number of theme guest rooms available. I stayed in a comfortable sports-themed room (with a big badminton mural on one wall), but only because the intended Ghostbusters room wasn’t ready upon my early arrival. Other theme rooms include Kiss and Barbie, while for a food-related trip, I’d wonder if the Jimmy Buffet suite would have me constantly hankering for a “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

An Omnivore Feasts (Again) on Montreal

Omnivore Russian chef
Omnivore Sardine chef
Lawrence hot smoked beef liver and heart
Lawrence squid ink tagliatelle
Lawrence mackerel
Lawrence dessert
Joe Beef menu
Joe Beef horse tartare
Joe Beef salad
Joe Beef kidneys
Patrice Patissier tartine
Patrice Patissier green
Patrice Patissier kouign amann
Atwater Market
Atwater Market syrup
Smoke Meat Pete sandwich
Smoke Meat Pete sign
Le St-Martin sign street
Le St-Martin pool
Le St-Martin room

A peek at a Masterclass demo of the Omnivore Food Festival: Ivan Shishkin of Delicatessen in Moscow prepares pan-fried testes and uterus doughnuts.

Aaron Langille, recently of Cafe Sardine, leads a Masterclass demo.

Course 1 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Hot smoked beef liver and hearts with carrots, honey, and fresh cheese (by chef Marc Cohen).

Course 2 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Squid ink tagliatelle with zucchini, squid, lobster bisque, and sorrel (by chef Giorgio Ravelli).

Course 3 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Grilled mackerel with buckwheat pancake, charred turnips, and elderberry capers (by chef Giorgio Ravelli). I was skeptical about making “crepes” out of this, but the flavors were amazing, with lots of smokiness in the fish. One of the most interesting dishes I've had this year.

Course 4 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Suet, peach and crab apple pudding with creme fraiche ice cream.

The "iconic" blackboard menu at Joe Beef. Note the vintage Playboy magazine on the shelf, which contains lots of other curiosities.

Horse tartare with artichokes and pecorino at Joe Beef. Fabulous flavor!

Between massive meat courses, I asked my server at Joe Beef for something with vegetables. They gave me this nice half-salad...with ham, of course.

Big plate of veal kidneys with chanterelles, accompanied by fries, at Joe Beef.

Tomato tartine with herbed ricotta and radishes, plus roasted carrot salad with fennel and yellow prunes, at Patrice Patissier. Summer freshness.

I had a similar dessert when Patrice Demers was at Les 400 Coups, so I was pleased to have this as a "palate cleanser." It's called "Green," and is white chocolate yogurt with green apple, pistachios, olive oil, and cilantro. Great textures and flavors!

Patrice Patissier's kouign amann is crunchy with good caramelization. Café allongé with it hits the spot.

Flowers and fruits at Atwater Market.

Tempting to buy maple syrup at Atwater Market.

Smoked meat platter at Smoke Meat Pete. And a cherry soda. Good meat (too many years have passed to compare it to Schwartz's), but the fries did not live up to the "best in Montreal" billing (sweet, but slightly soggy).

They're quick to tell you that it's the best smoked meat in Montreal.

Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville on De Maisonneuve Boulevard. (Photo courtesy of Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville.)

The pool at Le St-Martin. (Photo courtesy of Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville.)

Being back in the room at Le St-Martin felt so comfortable when in a food coma. (Photo courtesy of Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville.)

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A brief “call of duty” made me pass through Montreal ever so briefly last week, allowing me to get another quick bite of this delicious city. My stay occurred during the Montreal stop of the Omnivore Food Festival world tour. Lucky me, as the tour makes limited stops, this year going so far to Paris, Moscow, and Shanghai before coming to the eastern side of North America.

Spanning several days, the festival centers around a weekend “Masterclass” of food demos. Back-to-back demos take place for two days in the round in a planetarium-like setting at the Society for Arts and Technology. There’s lots of camera coverage, with duplicated images cast high above the audience in circular fashion against a backdrop that seems to simulate outer space. The demos are quite quick, emceed to generate interesting banter about the chef, his or her background and restaurant, and details about the preparation of a dish or two. It’s a fun format, though the darkness of the room (and desire for “coolness”) compromises on the quality of the projection, which means missing out on the sensual color and texture of the food masterfully prepared in the Masterclass.

In between the two days of demos is the big Omnivore party, in which attendees can sample the food stylings of the invited chefs and socialize late into Saturday night. Those who want a slightly more mellow experience can select from one of many dinners which pair a local chef with a guest chef from afar. In contrast to, say, Feast Portland—in which there is one seating with meals coursed out and the chefs providing explanation of each dish—Omnivore dinners offer staggered seating throughout the evening, as if you’re a regular diner at the restaurant, but with a special, set menu for the night.

I ate at an Omnivore dinner at Lawrence (where I enjoyed a meal last year), which kept it quite casual, offering more than one item for each course to give diners choices. Host chef Marc Cohen did the first courses, guest chef Giorgio Ravelli (of Upstairs @ Ten Bells, in London) offered up two pasta choices as second courses, and then each chef had something in the offing for the third course—which was followed by dessert. Tough decision-making, but no bad choices.

While in Montreal, the omnivore in me had a couple of open meal slots, so I jumped on an opportunity to finally go to Joe Beef, in the Little Burgundy neighborhood. Joe Beef’s “English gastropub” feel offers interesting contrast to Au Pied du Cochon, which feels more classical and Quebecois. Both serve up big plates of hearty food. As a solo diner, I felt well taken care of at a Joe Beef bar seat, secured with a phone call after a flight delay made me ditch my previous plan to show up pre-opening in hope of a coveted seat. The chalkboard menu is in French—awkward to see from my particular seat—but my server walked me through it in English, and then my neighbor at the bar filled in with details based on his completed meal, as well as other dishes he’d seen from his vantage point.

It was back to Little Burgundy the next day for a “brunch” (actually lunch) experience. Having enjoyed a meal at Les 400 Coups last year, I was eager to see what pastry chef Patrice Demers was up to in his newly open Patrice Patissier. The atmosphere is casual and the service friendly. In the aftermath of my previous night’s meat-fest (and knowing sweets were to follow, as I surveyed the showcase that greets you upon entry to the restaurant), I chose two vegetable-based items that seized on the seasonality of local produce, and then continued with a signature dessert plus a pastry to go with coffee.

One reason the food is so fabulous in Little Burgundy: The Atwater Market marks its border. Bursting with beautiful produce and flowers, this active market is open daily and is also home to butchers and a fishmonger. There are other vendors selling such things as cheese and wine—perfect if you want to put together a picnic to take a short stroll down the street at Lachine Canal. Or, you can enjoy food prepared onsite. I actually spotted Demers eating at Satay Brothers; he was one of many who raved about their food.

After an evening commitment out of town, I returned to Montreal close to midnight, and during approach remembered why Autoroute 20 isn’t called a highway: It turns into a street with traffic lights in Vaudreuil-Dorion and L’Ile-Perrot. Seeing a sign for L’Ile-Perrot, I remembered that this is the location of the highly touted Smoke Meat Pete. Tired and with no data (GPS down!), my motivation for finding it was low, but then stopped at one of the traffic lights, I spotted the restaurant in a building to the south side of the road. I cut through a parking lot and came in for a late night meal, with live music a bonus.

With meals ending around midnight each day, I was happy to call Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville home for several nights. This luxury boutique hotel is conveniently situated downtown, an easy walk to many sights and attractions, and just a block from a Metro subway station. Hotel rooms are contemporary and yet quite comfortable, and Bistro L’Aromate on the ground floor is a fine place for breakfast if you’re not out exploring some of the city’s great bakeries, as I’ve done in the past. There’s also an onsite fitness lounge and pool if you feel inspired to burn calories in contrast to simply consuming them.

A Little Luxury Overnight in Vancouver, BC

Gastown steam clock
Timbertrain Coffee prep
Timbertrain Coffee coffees
Chambar amuse bouche
Chambar foie
Chambar tuna duo
Chambar mussels
Chambar beer
Chambar tajine
Chambar dessert
Chambar Tintin
Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver view
Sheraton Fountain Square
Sheraton North Tower Corner Room
Musette misto and lemon bread
Musette interior
Horse-Drawn Tour
Urban Tea Merchant Summer Westcoast Tea Service
Urban Tea Merchant brunch tea service
Urban Tea Merchant brunch tea service top plate
Urban Tea Merchant white tea
Urban Tea Merchant ice cream
Douglas Coupland teens
Douglas Coupland exhibit
Tojo's counter
Tojo's beer
Tojo's sashimi
Tojo's tempura
Tojo's sable gift
Tojo's sable
Tojo's crab
Tojo's engawa
Tojo's crepe rolls
Tojo's sushi
Tojo's cucumber rolls
Tojo's persimmon mousse
Tojo's creme brulee
Tojo's Tojo

The famous Gastown steam clock, in action

Preparing Kalita pour-overs at Timbertrain Coffee Roasters

Pour-over and cold brew coffees at Timbertrain

Chambar amuse bouche: sauteed tomato gazpacho with creme fraiche and sunflower seeds

Chambar's foie de canard “villa lorraine”: spiced foie gras terrine, port reduction, kriek granita, and truffled brioche French toast (smooth and rich)

Chambar's duo de thon: fried & ceviche albacore tuna, charred corn salsa, black aji, and coconut creme fraiche

Chambar's moule frites congolaise: mussels, tomato coconut cream, smoked chili & lime, and cilantro

Gavroche amber ale to go with the tajine (even better was the Grimbergen dark ale paired with the foie)

Chambar's tajine d’aziz à l’agneau: braised lamb shank with honey, figs, cinnamon & cilantro, served with cous cous, zalouk, harissa, and raita (fabulous flavors)

Chambar's Mama Rizk: bruleed orange blossom custard, crisp kataifi pastry, mint tea sorbet, fresh orange, honey gelee, and pistachio (gorgeous!)

Tintin, spotted in the Chambar bathroom

View of the hotel (photo courtesy of Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver)

The hotel's Fountain Square (photo courtesy of Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver)

North Tower corner room (photo courtesy of Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver)

Americano misto and "To Die For Lemon Loaf" at Musette Caffe

Biking scene inside Musette

Getting ready for a Horse-Drawn Tour

Summer Westcoast Tea Service for two at Urban Tea Merchant includes miso-maple glazed sable fish, "Dignitary's Tea" smoked chicken in sesame cone, smoked salmon ribbon with wasabi creme & ponzu gel, "Tokyo-Singapore Tea" seared tuna tataki, tea macarons, chevron strawberries, and matcha financiers (caviar spoons additional)

Urban Tea Merchant's Brunch Tea Service includes the smoked salmon and chicken cone plus "Indian Night" curry egg tea sandwich, mini poached egg benedict with baby shrimp, scrambled egg (with Northern Divine Caviar, creme fraiche, and chives), fresh baked scone with devon crème & tea-infused jelly, and a top plate of other sweets

Top plate of the Urban Tea Merchant Brunch Tea Service includes “Tokyo-Singapore Tea” lemon-mango tart, chocolate-dipped strawberry, “Pink Flamingo Tea” panna cotta, and “French Earl Grey Tea” petit four opera cake

White tea served from a $500 glass teapot at Urban Tea Merchant

Bonus sampling of Urban Tea Merchant's ice creams: chocolate earl grey and matcha

"Pop heads" as part of the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery

More of the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Counter seating is fun at Tojo's

Echigo Koshihikari beer at Tojo's pairs well with the food

Sashimi starter with Tojo's signature sauce (citrusy miso with some jalapeno, soy sauce, and sesame)

Tojo's tempura: squash blossom stuffed with white fish paste and chopped scallops, okra, and sweet tomato, plus soba noodles as pine needles (all delicate and delicious)

Sable fish smoked with pine and cedar at Tojo's

Sable fish unwrapped, with asparagus, gobo, matsutake, and mango (mango!)

Dungeness crab salad with miso mustard dressing, along with zucchini, daikon, and cucumbers sunonomo-style (wakame and somen below)

Perhaps my favorite dish of the night at Tojo's: sauteed scallop wrapped in shiso wrapped in fatty fluke fin (engawa) over shiitakes, circled by sauteed geoduck and soy sauce butter (amazing!)

Also a favorite: spot prawns, Dungeness crab, salmon, and scallop in an egg crepe roll, topped with herring roe

Some sushi: two types of tuna toro, smoked salmon, and sardine

Refreshing cucumber roll with ume (brilliant flavor!), kampyo, takuan, asparagus, and gobo

Tojo's first dessert: persimmon mousse

Tojo's second dessert: green tea creme brulee

Tojo in action

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Tojo's Tojo  thumbnail

There’s luxury in having a cosmopolitan city like Vancouver so close to Seattle. And luxury to be had there even for a fast overnight trip—in contrast to the multi-day, Chinese food feeding frenzies I normally enjoy and recommend north of the border. Here’s a sample itinerary that will fill you with culture, outdoor adventure, superb dining (both Asian and European), and unique experiences with tea, coffee, and beer.

Leave Seattle about lunchtime and if you don’t experience a back-up at the border, you can be in Vancouver by mid-afternoon. Your goal is to get to Gastown, where you’ll get a caffeine boost at Timbertrain Coffee Roasters. No dark, bitter roasts here. Instead, partake in a Kalita pour-over, or if your mood (and the weather) strikes you, enjoy a tap-pulled cold brew. The parallel to beer is striking, as the nitro tap system gives your coffee—served in a chilled pilsner glass—a little layer of foam.

With newfound alertness and energy, walk to the Vancouver Lookout to take in a 360-degree view of the city and its surroundings. There are guided tours available if you want in-depth information. I appreciate the “self-deprecating” diagram that compares the Lookout to the world’s tallest towers, perhaps serving as a distraction to finding out the actual height of the tower, which is apparently disputed. Regardless, it’s a really good view, warranting a same-day return before closing to see the city under the stars.

Stroll the streets of Gastown to see the shops and galleries and to appreciate the architecture, then make your way to Chambar. I ate dinner there the next-to-last night in the old location. The new Chambar (I got a sneak peek) is adjacent to the previous space and is full of fantastic features, including an expanded kitchen and elegant bathrooms, plus a fabulous terrace for private dining. Meanwhile, the Belgian-influenced menu remains the same. There are actually more beer than food options, and your server will be happy to make pairing recommendations. The classic moules frites are hard to resist, but be sure to explore the rest of the menu—or order a tasting menu experience that gives you a variety of smaller portions and the chance for more sampling.

After dinner and any additional sightseeing or sipping in Gastown, eventually make your way to your hotel: the Wall Centre Sheraton Vancouver. There are actually three buildings on this city block of property, though one is residential. A top floor room in the North Tower yields you another great view of the city and beyond. The beds are comfortable and the location is convenient, with a fitness room, 50-foot lap pool, and spa available if you have time for such amenities.

The hotel puts you in close proximity to morning coffee in an amusing place: Musette Caffe. The name refers to the bag that bicyclists use to carry food—basically, a racer’s feed bag. You’ll see some on display, as Musette is a coffee house that especially caters to the biking crowd. A television broadcasts live or recorded biking events, and the space is like a little museum packed with biking paraphernalia belonging to the famous and not-so-famous from around the world. There’s also gear for sale. The coffee comes from 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, and there’s a nice array of pastries to accompany it, along with sandwiches and a few other food items.

If you’ve brought your bike or are motivated to rent one down on Denman in the West End, buy an energy bar at Musette and make your way to Stanley Park for an exhilarating, scenic ride along the Seawall. If that’s not for you, Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours provide an easy introduction to part of the park. The tour covers just the east side (the west is more wild), and the narration is full of interesting information about the park’s history, activities, flora and fauna, and more.

Soon it’s back to downtown for tea at Urban Tea Merchant. Relax in the tea salon and choose from one of the many signature afternoon tea services (available all day). The menus combine savory and sweet offerings, with the on-site chef inspired by the challenge to use and infuse tea into all the items. Perhaps your bigger challenge will be choosing the tea itself. There’s an extensive menu of teas from around the world (about 250 loose-leaf varieties, soon to expand to more) grouped by country and category like black, green, white & yellow, oolong, rooibos, and blends. Your server will allow you to sniff some cannisters of tea, though this might only complicate your decision-making. Whatever you choose will be exquisite, as the TWG teas are high quality. Take your time to enjoy your tea service, and before leaving, browse the store if you want to replicate the experience (at least the tea-drinking) at home.

After tea, I highly recommend a visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery. I’m endlessly entranced by the thought-provoking exhibits that come to this gallery, and currently there’s an eclectic exhibit of works by Douglas Coupland entitled “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything.” It examines issues like cultural identity, the impact of technology, and much more. (Sadly, the exhibit ends September 1.) Budget enough time at the gallery, as there’s more worth seeing, but while downtown you might want to take time for shopping, with much of the action just west on Robson.

You’ll want to be hungry for your final meal of the day: dinner on the way out of town at Tojo’s Restaurant. Hidekazu Tojo opened his namesake restaurant in Vancouver just over 25 years ago, relocating to his current location in 2007. You can order a la carte, but if you come just for sushi, I’d suggest that you’re missing out. Tojo’s kaiseki-style omakase meal will surprise even the most experienced diners with its creativity and quality course after course. Put yourself in the hands of Tojo, and be prepared for the freshest of products, ingenious use of flavor combinations, and interesting presentations. Throw attentive service into the mix (even at the sushi bar, where you’ll notice the calm and confidence of the entire kitchen), and you’ve got the ingredients for a memorable dining experience. The “lighter fare” will enable you to stay alert for the drive home, though you might just want to linger over your meal and Japanese beer (or sake), tempted to stay in Vancouver for another night. That would be a luxury indeed.

See the slideshow above for photographs of all the meals and more.