A Miami Moment

I live in South Florida and only about an hour’s drive from Miami. But, somehow, I don’t get down there much. For some reason, the hassle with traffic to get there always seems to stop me. But, there are always great events going on and my friends convinced us to join them for this Art and Chocolate show last week that was taking place in the Wynwood Arts District.

We decided to stay overnight and make the most of our trip. I’m so glad we did. We found a terrific place to stay just 4 blocks from the venue for the show. Check in time was 3PM but we got there at 1PM. Since we were told we’d be charged an additional $39 if we wanted to check in early we left our luggage and went off to find a place to eat.

How fortunate that just across the street was Beaker and Gray, a place I had actually read about as one of the neighborhood’s best. It’s situated in an old factory and although there are outside tables, the Florida steaminess lured us in to the cool inside. The décor is basic and rustic with exposed brick walls, concrete floors and old wood beams on the 20170518_141012ceiling but it is still quite cozy.  Although they are known for amazing cocktails, it was a bit early in the day so I chose a refreshing glass of rose wine to start. The server explained the popularity of their “bowls” that can be interchanged with different proteins (octopus, skirt steak, chicken, shrimp.) I needed to eat light so chose the house salad with avocado, hearts of palm, queso fresco and the most delicious dressing (cilantro lime.) My husband and two friends each had a bowl, one with octopus that is prepared sous vide prior to grilling. Amazing. While we ate, the heavens opened up and we were happy to be inside after all.

We quickly made it back across the street to the hotel and while we hoped to spend some time at their rooftop pool, instead we sat in one of our suites and shared a couple of bottles of wine that we each had brought with us.

We had a couple of hours to relax before heading to the show and hoped that the relentless rain would stop. Thankfully, it did for the walk there. But, as we waited for the late opening of the gate, the rain began again and we had to yell to get in.20170518_200913 Once inside, we were surprised to find that there really wasn’t much happening. There was a long bar where you could buy drinks and then a hallway that led to one large room and one smaller room that had the artwork on the walls. As far as the chocolate, there were displays being set up as we walked around and a chocolate fondue fountain that wouldn’t be ready for another half hour.  It took us about 15 minutes to look at the paintings so once the rain had stopped (not too much longer), we left.  It wasn’t the type of show we expected but we figured we’d make the most out of being in the area.

Being hungry again and wanting a drink we came to Wynwood Kitchen and Bar. This is another one of the neighborhood’s gems. Our server explained the Latin influenced small plate theme and gave us some pointers for what to choose. My friend and I had their super tasty “Shot of Love” cocktail, a blend of Peruvian Pisco, Lychee, lime juice, mint and hibiscus and we ordered a whole bunch of different dishes to share. Each one was better than the one before. We had roasted beets with blue cheese, valencia orange and an incredible vinaigrette, grilled pork belly skewers with a brown sugar/soy glaze  and baby octopus skewers with lemon and garlic,  braised short ribs with a boniato mash, crispy pork with white cheddar chipotle grits and the pan seared fish with a corn salsa.  Hungry yet? This really was a fantastic restaurant and will be worth making a return trip.

The next day we had one final delicious meal sitting on the porch at Morgan’s where I had an incredible breakfast burrito filled with pork, cheddar cheese, rice, black beans, avocado, fried eggs and salsa. Good thing I shared this one with my husband or I don’t think I would have been able to move. Great fresh and natural ingredients are used here so I don’t feel that guilty. 20170519_110523

I have to admit that even though we made the trip for an art show that was quite a disappointment, we certainly made up for it with the great food and company. I now can’t wait to go back to Wynwood.

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

 

 

 

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A City You Never Heard Of- Ceuta, Spain

One of the ports on the itinerary for my 11 night Mediterranean cruise on Holland America Line’s Oosterdam was Ceuta, Spain. I have to admit that I never heard of this  city so I did spend a bit of time reading about it before we would arrive there. Located on the North Coast of Africa between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, this tiny 7 square mile peninsula was captured by the Portugese in 1415 and then given to Spain in 1668. It shares its Western border with Morocco and has been a  fortified strategic location since ancient times.

We arrived on a gorgeous and hot sunny day and the tiny  city sparkled. I met Antonia (Tony) from the local tourist board who told me she was chosen to help since she’s pretty much the only one that speaks English in her office. She was excited to take part in our filming and had some tasty spots planned out.

But first, we drove up the hillside to Monte Hacho, from where you could see views of Spain as well as Morocco. On a clearer day we could have seen the Straits of Gibraltar too.

We drove back into the old town and had a walk through the Central Market normally filled with stalls and stalls of interesting fish and seafood. But, it was Ramadan and since there are many Muslims in Ceuta,  many of the stalls were closed. However, there are the non Muslims who  still want their breakfast and we found the Café La Perla swamped with people devouring churros and tostadas. I tried a bit of the churro as well as tostada, a thin grilled bread topped with a tomato paste spread.

Before our next eating destination, Tony wanted me to see one of the symbols of the img_4586modern side of Ceuta at the Parque Maritimo del Mediterraneo. This is a place with gardens, palm trees, swimming pools and is an oasis for people to come to relax. I was so tempted to dive in to the incredibly inviting looking swimming pool but, oh well, no time and no bathing suit either.

From there, it was tapas time and Tony brought me to a  very modern and exciting gastro bar called El Albedrio. Here, the different tapas are laid out on display so you could easily point and choose. Tony and I shared a few specialties as well as a glass of local white wine. We walked down the street and to Taberna La Trastienda, a much more traditional establishment with an outside seating area along with the small bar inside. The place was packed and they made room at the bar for us to try one of their recommended fish specialties. As it was time to leave, the owner came by and I was able to thank him for his hospitality.

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As we drove back to the ship passing the many interesting buildings and monuments of the old town mixed with the beautiful beaches and parks of the more modern side of the city I couldn’t help but wonder why this is not more of a tourist destination.

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

Sailing into Spain and Almeria

I have been to the Andalucia region of Spain before but never to the historic city of Almeria. This is the next stop on the MS Oosterdam and where I have around 6 or so hours to find out why it’s becoming a popular holiday destination.

After disembarking the ship, I meet with my guide for the day, Virginia Maria Chocarro Cervino. (She tells me to call her Maria.) She first wants me to experience a typical breakfast in Almeria and so we head into town and the Central Market area for some churros and chocolate at Bar Barrea. If you don’t know what a churro is, it’s a fried doughy pastry type thing that here is served round and spiral shaped. The idea is to dip it into the hot chocolate and eat it. It’s decadent and delicious and I could only have a bite or two before surrendering to my crew to finish. We then made our way into the central market full of all kinds of interesting types of fish and seafood. You can pick out a fish and the market person will filet, debone, slice or whatever you want them to do for no extra cost.

One of the most important sites in Almeria is the Alcazaba fortress, built by the Caliph of Cordoba around 955 AD when the area was ruled by Muslims. Three walled areas make up the fortress. The first was for living quarters that is now gardens and pools. The 2nd was for the kings residence and the 3rd was added by the Christians when the Catholics occupied the area. It was worth the big climb up for the magnificent views of all the city and the port below.

Maria has now arranged for me to meet with Chef Jose Torrente of Restaurant Catedral where he has prepared an outdoor cooking demonstration. Located in the historic center at Catedral Square, it was quite something to be standing out on the pretty patio with the cathedral tower looming over us as he made his special cold tomato soup called Salmorejo. Different than gazpacho, this soup is made with tomatoes, red pepper, garlic, bread , olive oil, vinegar, salt and ham and chopped egg for garnish. It’s creamy and cooling on a hot July day. He then prepared one of his favorite tapas with a local St. Peter fish fried in a thin pasty and served with a garlicky white sauce and tomato jam. We all got to have some as well as a thirst quenching glass of white wine from the winery of Cristina Calvache.

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We continue on our eating journey with a walk through the narrow, twisty  streets  to La Mala Bar, a super busy, funky looking little place where Maria says the tapas are incredible. Owner Pablo Asensio is there to assure we get the best and we manage to squeeze ourselves into the bar and I get a nice cold beer, (aah),  while we wait for the dishes to come out. He keeps bringing dish after dish from seafood to meat and finally a  very special dish, a truffle omelette that is a larger plate than the normal tapas. This is raciones, a plate you share and actually pay for in Spain. Tapas are generally free and are small plates served along with your drink.

From here Maria wanted me to see the Moorish influence in Almeria so we went to Aljaima Restaurant for some traditional Moroccan/Spanish food. While we started out with just a plate of pastries and teas,  owner Mustafa Fazouli was kind enough to bring out their award winning couscous dish as well as some local red wine. What was meant to be a dessert stop turned into yet another feast. Lucky me (and crew!)

As if the day wasn’t complete enough, outside the restaurant was a 1966 (I think) convertible jaguar to take me back to the ship. I arrived at the dock in style.IMG_4483

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

 

 

 

Carrying on to Corsica

I was looking forward to the next stop on this cruise as we were headed to Corsica, a region of France I have never visited. Our ship would dock in Ajaccio on the west coast of the island. I had arranged to meet with Guide Olivier Chavaren from Coloratour who planned a day outside of this capital city and into the mountains for some authentic experiences.

We took a winding and curvy road about 30 minutes into the small village of Campo and stopped at the very pretty Chatelet de Campo, a recently restored and beautiful house converted into a bed & breakfast situated in the midst of the surrounding mountains.

I was greeted by the very hospitable owner, Elizabeth Herzet who after a tour around the B&B brought me into the kitchen where the table was full of local Corsican specialties including a freshly baked heart shaped cake that was made from chestnut flour, a very typical and characteristic ingredient here.

There also were all kinds of home made jams and local goat cheese that comes from nearby Corsican goats. While I hoped we would get to see the cheese making process in action, it turns out that the season was done so I would have to be satisfied with simply seeing the goats.

Little did I know that we would be hiking down a long hilly dirt path in the very hot sun to find ourselves in the midst of a field making strange noises to entice the goats to approach us.  It was a bit strange, but I have to admit the goats did make an appearance and were pretty friendly.

I had a bit of time to cool off in the mini van before our next stop at the bee farm of Francois Andreucci. Before getting my lesson in beekeeping and honey making, I was met by the charming and gracious Sylvain Martinez-Ciccolini, who is one of the only saffron 20160703_105426proIMG_4174ducers in Corsica. He explained how this delicate spice comes from a particular type of crocus flower that only blooms once a year and it’s a very fragile process to remove the dried stigma that is used. This explains why it is so costly.

With one more stop to go, we arrive at a small, rustic looking restaurant called Ferme Auberge U Taravu in the village of Zevaco that serves regional Corsican food. Olivier takes me downstairs where there is a shop selling all the local dried meats and sausages that are hanging up throughout the various basement rooms. It was quite a site and quite a smell too. We went back  to sit in  the dining room upstairs that was busy with locals having their lunches and we were served a fabulous plate of charcuterie, pate and some absolutely incredible cheeses.

It was a pretty and scenic drive back to the port in Ajaccio and our ship after a fun and informative day with Olivier. IMG_4184

Cheers and all the best,

Zita

onboard Holland America Line MS Oosterdam

 

 

 

Strolling Around St. Tropez

Most people know St. Tropez because of the actress Brigitte Bardot who, back in the 11950’s, starred in a film that made this small fishing village town in the South of France a popular and fashionable getaway for the “beautiful people.”  I was hoping that there would be more to see than just yachts and expensive shops so convinced my ship friend JJ, who when off ship lives in the South of France, to be my guide for the day.

We tendered on into the port where masses of people were milling about in and out of the waterside coffee shops. We, however, left that hectic area and meandered through pretty cobblestoned streets and lanes to what JJ explained was the more traditional and less touristy side of town by the old fishing piers in La Ponche.

Overlooking a small rocky beach filled with locals cooling off from the hot summer sun,  we sat down for a meal at La Pesquiere restaurant that JJ said had very good, down to earth Provencal food. We were serenaded by roving musicians while gorging on mussels and steak tartare, a St Tropez favorite it seems.

Proving that St Tropez maintains some of its old world customs we headed over to Place des Lices, the town’s central square. This tree-lined park surrounded by cafes is used for an open air market a couple of mornings a week, but the rest of the time it  is the spot for Boules (or Petanque as it’s called here.) Old time players come and spend their afternoons and nights competing and taking the game quite seriously too (as I got to witness.) No chance at all for me to have a go.23

There were two more places on JJ’s list that he told me he stops by on every visit to St Tropez. The first is an unassuming and unpretentious pub by the marina called Kelly’s Pub. I wouldn’t have anticipated going to an Irish Pub in the South of France but this turned out to be a fun and very friendly spot with probably the most inexpensive drinks you can get in St Tropez.

Then, our final stop is at Glacier Barbarac, a super busy ice cream store that serves an unbelievable number of different flavors of ice cream and frozen yogurts. We managed to nudge our way to the front and get ourselves some. Honestly, I can’t remember what I ordered but I know it was good since I devoured it rather quickly.

While JJ had to get back to the ship, I continued to stroll around a bit and even bought a few fun reasonably priced gifts before having to leave this quite charming and welcoming town.

I love the South of France!

Cheers,

Zita