Taste sensations in Hawaii, Argentina, and Tennessee.
There has been more than one occasion where we've realized whole albums of our vacation photos consist only of the meals, snacks, and drinks we consumed on the road.
Even then, photos don't always do the memory justice. Sometimes a food or beverage experience is so singular, so delicious, so mind-altering, that one flavor profile is forever linked to one place. We'll find ourselves telling and retelling those food tales to any appreciative, hungry audience willing to listen.
The food: Mastic ice cream. The mastic has a subtle, pine-like flavor and gives the ice cream a chewy, stretchy texture that's exceedingly cream.
The memory: Every night after our dinner somewhere by the sea, on the ride up to the top of the island where we were staying with friends, we stopped for ice cream at Daidadi. The flavors constantly changed, but the mastic, which tasted piney, like the island smelled, was my favorite. The rose water was pretty terrific, too. If you go, eat your ice cream by the water. It's only a block away.
The scoop on Melissa: Watch her easy breezy recipe videos at nyt.com.
The food: Fried chicken perched on a slice of bread to soak up the juices. Topped with pickles to cut the fat.
The memory: My husband, our 8-year-old twins, and I made a roadtrip from NYC to Nashville. We spent the afternoon at the Country Music Hall of Fame (don't miss Elvis's gold-trimmed Cadillac) and were on our way to the Grand Ole Opry. Hattie B's only makes fried chicken and sides — this isn't a place to customize. The chicken had perfectly crackled skin, the greens were smokey and bright, and the iced tea was as sweet and soothing as any I'd ever had. There were no superfluous details, everything felt considered and necessary. In the north, we tend to think of Southern food as bountiful and a little over the top, but not — I now see — when it's done right.
Inspiration for dinner tonight: Find Amanda's kitchen tips, excellent genuis tricks, and recipes from a community of cooks at Food52.com.
The memory: I grew up in Hawaii and go back all the time, and visiting the bar at the old-school hotel Halekulani is my must-do when I land. We make mai tais at Clover Club, but there is nothing that tastes better than sitting at the open-air bar and watching the hula dancers at sunset while sipping on a mai tai. Going there and drinking a negroni (my go-to) does not feel the same. You have to sit there and have a mai tai (or maybe two) to bring the whole experience together.
The next round’s on her: Reiner just opened Leyenda, a new Brooklyn bar featuring South of the Border beverages and spirits. Her new book, The Craft Cocktail Party, is available at amazon.com.
The place:La Cueva in Bariloche, Argentina, literally lost in the middle of nowhere in the South Andean region.
The meal: It's almost impossible to describe. Wrapped in fur blankets in a cozy dark cave in great company heightened every sense. There was one dish on the menu and that's all they needed: fondue Savoyarde served with merlot from Mendoza.
The memory:We found a small path with tiki torches pointing up a mountain. As we walked, a man appeared on a snowmobile and told us to climb on. After an amazing ten-minute ride in the darkness of the mountain, we spotted a light and heard an odd noise and saw steam appear from the darkness. It was a sensational cave serving fondue. The only source of light came from an old locomotive steam compressor.
Say it in French: Jordi leads NYC's curated market and dining destination Le District, where guests explore dishes, wines, and packaged goods that exemplify the culinary heritage of France.
The place: A restaurant in Venice, Italy, called Il Ridotto. I visit every time I’m in Venice (about five times a year).
The meal: Ravioli filled with scampi and wild herbs from Sant'Erasmo and asparagus.
The memory: For me, it featured a perfect taste, combining food from the sea and land. Gianni, the chef, has a perfect knowledge of Italian food. It is always a moment of pure joy.
The man: Comfort and sophistication meet at Arnal's La Chassagnette, in Arles, France. His family recipes from the South of France can be had at the NYC bakery and cafe Maman.
The food: Oysters. Briny, slimy, and perfect in all of their larger-than-life glory. Mother to the pearl, aphrodisiac to all.
The memory: This place changed my life when I first visited at the age of 22. I've never seen so much seafood fabricated and effortlessly presented with confidence and certainty. It changed the way I serve raw seafood. It molded me. I eat there every time I'm in San Francisco. Go early to beat the lines and order a bottle of Anchor Steam to sip on while you wait.
See him in action: Try the raw bar at Talbot's new restaurant, Pig + Poet at Whitehall, a boutique hotel in Camden, Maine.
The place: Lima and Cuzco, Peru.
The ingredient: Huacatay or black mint. It's a tall marigold plant that grows in Peru, Ecuador, and some parts of Bolivia and Chile.
The memory: When I visited South America to explore the Peruvian cocina, I discovered the unique herb, which I had never tasted. In Peru, they call it by the Quechua term wakatay. The flavor is minty with notes of licorice. It's served in many dishes, but I first tried it in an ancient-style tamale. Because of the high altitude in the Andes, the fragrance and aromatics were incredibly strong to my taste buds and nostrils.
The inspiration: He'll be using the herb on his menu at Eloisa in a dish of crisp, sauteed golden sweetbreads.
The place: Waipi’o Valley, The Big Island, Hawaii.
The memory: Our time deep in the Hawaiian jungle on the shore of the mighty Pacific was one of mystery, beauty, connection, wonder, and a deep understanding of what is right and what really matters. Days like these don’t come around often for those of us who are embedded deep in our work, passion, and the daily grind. But ultimately it is why we do what we do and why we sometimes need time to take a step back, travel, and really reflect on our process. In reality, it is the essence of travel and discovery. My path is often forged with cuisine as my guiding compass, and I am truly grateful that the arrow was firmly pointing to the island of Hawaii, the Maunu Lani, and mostly the people and revelations that I found deep in the Waipi’o Valley. Aloha!
The prize: Bruce Bromberg is co-owner of the now-iconic Blue Ribbon Restaurants in New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and London.
The meal: Bullit de peix et arroz a banda. A traditional Ibiza-style fish stew with rice cooked using fresh fish stock.
The memory: The fish was prepared in a stock and brought to the middle of the table. The chef told us not to eat too, too much because he wanted to prepare another dish. After we had eaten most of the fish, he took the bones and juices back to the kitchen, where he added rice and small pieces of squid. It was the best rice dish I've ever tasted. Combined with the wine and scenery, it was a truly amazing meal. Michelin-star quality without the fussiness of a fancy restaurant.
The meal: Dried octopus roe and an artisanal beer.
The memory: What made it so darn special is that it really felt like an authentic tavern, where the chef is the owner and is cooking everything with a small team. He brought the octopus roe over but didn’t say what it was and wanted us to guess. It was sliced thin, almost like sashimi, but it was dried and had the appearance of dark red tuna. I bit into it and was sent directly to the ocean, but with umami flavors and a little bit of funkiness from the fermentation process while the roe cured and dried. I have never eaten anything like it before, so this was a unique time and place. Washing it down with my favorite beer, Indian Pale Ale, made it all that much better.
The chef and his tavern: inspired by Portuguese cervejarias, or breweries, Mendes has just opened Lupulo, a sister restaurant to his Michelin-starred Portuguese restaurant, Aldea. If you want to try his recipes, pick up his cookbook, My Portugal.
The place: Al Mercà in Venice, Italy.
The meal: Proscuitto/robiola sandwich and Aperol spritz.
The memory: The meal that comes to mind without even thinking is Al Mercà in Venice. Awesome little take-out wine bar with Aperol spritz and little sandwiches right outside the fish market. It’s hopping at 11 a.m. on a normal weekday — and it's all locals. Such an awesome sense of community. You grab your sandwich (proscuitto/robiola on a soft roll) and your spritz and grab a seat on a bench or stand right outside. It sets the tone for an awesome start to the day and the notion of simplicity that defines Italian food.
Up next on the menu: Missy will be serving her Italian food at Lilia in Williamsburg very soon.
The memory: Last October, I went on a pizza pilgrimage to Naples, and it did not disappoint. I ate four pizzas in four consecutive meals. The highlight was unquestionably da Michele. It felt like a holy culinary experience and perfectly expressed the city's devotion to pizza and their culinary heritage. Walking into the restaurant through the crowds waiting outside, I was immediately struck by the quiet, like entering a church from a noisy square. Diners and staff all behaving with reverence for the place and its history. The pizza itself was unlike anything I had eaten or expected: The dough is impossibly thin and supple, like pizza made of pappardelle. At the center it's unclear if you are eating pizza or pasta — truly ethereal, as if they have some sacred/otherworldly recipe. Hopefully the photo captures the holiness of the experience — the austere interior, the priest watching over his flock, his altar boys dutifully going about their tasks, the Virgin Mary watching from above.
The inspiration made real: Bobo is inspired by meals with friends, Rosemary's by his mother's Tuscan home, and Claudette by happy dinners in Provence.