Palm Springs

Long before movie stars and midcentury design aficionados discovered this bit of scorched desert southeast of Los Angeles the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians made this their home for more than 500 years. To casual visitors, evidence of the first inhabitance of the area is not always obvious. The only encounter most will experience is walking by an obscure statue on Canyon Drive depicting two native women. But just a short trip to the foot of the mountains towering over downtown you will find yourself in another world, one of lush green palms, cool breezes, and bubbling brooks. This is where Palm Springs really began.

Think of Palm Springs today though and it is modern architecture and movie stars that first comes to mind. But why did this piece of remote sun-parched sand turn into a 1920s mecca for movie stars and their architects? Well, it’s really due to a quirk of geography, and the weather surely had something to do with it as well.

Back when actors were under the control of the Hollywood movie studios, their contracts always included the “two-hour” clause. This required them to show up on set within two hours notice no matter what. It just so happens that Palm Springs is as remote a place as you can get from Hollywood and still make it back in time to satisfy the studio bosses. So the stars made this their hideaway and hired a crop of young modernist architects anxious to experiment with their wealthy clients money.

For a time, Palm Springs languished. The stars abandoned their midcentury masterpieces and the place just gathered dust. But now the legacy of those early architects is hot and the sun is shining on Palm Springs again.

“Modernism Week” is when it all happens these days in Palm Springs. It’s a great event for lovers of midcentury design. But as with most popular spots, sometimes a more relaxed time can be had by visiting just a little off the peak. So we showed up just before the banners went up on Canyon Drive announcing the big event. We had the run of the place and here are some of the best things we found.

1 Ernest Coffee

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Don’t miss it. Ernest serves ever-popular Stumptown coffee as well as a variety of local patisserie delicacies. A great place to hit when your stomach is rumbling and you need a little get-up-and-go. www.ernestcoffee.com

2 Dish Creative Cuisine

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Jane Garcia-Colson is a former lawyer turned chef de cuisine. Hailing from New York, Jane’s fresh modern American menu focuses on seasonal and local ingredients. A real standout on North Palm Canyon Drive. www.dishcreativecuisine.com

3 Mr. Lyons Steakhouse

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Evocative of old Hollywood glamor, Mr. Lyons it is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Palm Springs. A staple in Palm Springs for over 70 years, it underwent a total makeover in 2015. Very Hollywood. Ironically it’s brand-new interiors feel more like the Palm Springs of old than they used to. With mirrored ceiling, black and white marble floors, brass fittings, leather and green velvet banquettes, a classic dining environment that harkens back to Palm Springs circa 1940.

The menu features an array of classic steak dishes. And the bar next door is a lovely place to meet with friends and enjoy one of Mr. Lyons signature cocktails. www.mrlyonsps.com

4 Bootlegger Tiki

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Coinciding with Palm Spring’s midcentury period of major growth was the 1959 addition of America’s 50th state, Hawaii. With this exotic addition to the other 49, came a national fascination with all things Polynesian. One of the more famous midcentury buildings built in Palm springs which perfectly represents this age was the Hawaiian Estates, a strange mashup of stark midcentury architecture and Polynesian Tiki-laden pastiche by the architects Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison.

This housing development was the pinnacle of “Tiki” culture writ large. But alongside this were a myriad of other Polynesian expressions, most commonly in the form of bars. I guess the cocktail is the perfect vessel in which to express the Polynesian ethos, at least in the way midcentury Palm Springs understood it.

So we were thrilled to come across Bootlegger Tiki, a dimly-lit little bar that is often referred to as the “Tikeasy”. It’s a favorite with the locals in the know. With a wonderfully kitschy and nostalgic interior, you definitely feel the Tiki influence of old Palm Springs.

Try one of their signature craft cocktails like the Pod Thai or Jaspers Jamaican. www.bootleggertiki.com

5 Moorten Botanical Gardens

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This one-acre private botanical garden was established in 1938 by Chester Moorten, a former silent movie star, and his wife Patrica. The couple spent many years collecting plant specimens from Baja to Mexico to Guatemala. Now it’s run by the Moorten’s son who still lives in the Mediterranean style house on the premises. The garden is open to the public.

Be sure to check out the exotic plants for sale. If your climate at home is suitable, What a great souvenir from your Palm Springs sojourn. www.moortenbotanicalgarden.com

6 The Palm Springs Air Museum

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This was one of the real standout finds from our visit. Situated right next to the city’s Airport, the museum is divided into three hangars. Two are themed, one focusing on the European theater, the other on the Pacific.

Most of the planes on display are kept flight-ready and the volunteers on hand to answer questions are real veterans so they likely have first-hand stories to share about the aircraft on display. You can climb into many of the planes making it a very hands-on experience. A surprisingly pleasant way to spend a few hours. www.palmspringsairmuseum.org

7 Scoot Palm Springs

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One of the frustrations of visiting Palm Springs is you constantly find yourself stuck in a car. For you Angelenos I am sure it is par for the course. But for those of us much more accustomed to legging it, it can lead to some considerable aggravation! So here’s a workaround, get out of your car and rent a scooter.

Proprietors John Allred and David Womack caught the Scooter bug while they still lived in Atlanta and upon moving to Palm Springs decided to assemble a small fleet and treat visitors to a wind-in-your-hair Palm Springs experience. Along with your scooter, John has prepared detailed maps complete with various routes you can explore. It really is the best way to see the city.

Pick up your scooter just outside of the Ace Hotel lobby. If you think you would like to give this a go it’s a good idea to get in touch with John in advance. Especially if you are a California resident. There are some odd regulations that apply depending on where you hail from. www.scootpalmsprings.com

8 Hedge

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On the periphery of Palm Springs is a district known as Cathedral City. Now this is not an area you would normally seek out but there is one destination there that’s a must-see for anyone interested in modern art and design. So for those of you like myself who are passionate about art, design and whatever falls in-between, make room in your schedule for a visit to Hedge.

The brainchild of Thomas Sharkey and Charles Pearson, Hedge originally started as a collection of furniture, art, and various objects and then, when just the right thing could not be found, Thomas and Charles started designing them. Their keen eye for curation is unique.

Between them, Thomas and Charles can sort most of your homes’ furniture, art and design needs. Thomas takes care of customers and focuses on the interiors while Charles’ specialty is garden design. An interesting side note, in a previous life Thomas was Shirley McClaine’s personal assistant so you know he comes by his relentlessly positive demeanor honestly. Seriously, from the moment we walked in Thomas made us totally feel at home. It was an absolute delight to spend some time with both him and Charles.

Charles let us peek into his office next door which is a treasure trove of works in progress and objects “not necessarily” for sale. And it is in this room that you get a sense for what a great eye and sense of design Thomas and Charles have. This space is the creative warehouse and you can feel the dynamism of various artworks and objects starting to be drawn together into collections or asserting their individuality. Their not-for-sale status makes these pieces all the more alluring. A quick warning, you are sure to fall in love with something at Hedge so be prepared to spend. www.hedgepalmsprings.com

9 The Fine Art of Design

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A project of long time friends Nicholas Delgado and Marielle Luisa Ortega, this vintage clothing boutique in Palm Desert is a rare find.

Palm Springs’ period of glamor coincided with Hollywood’s golden age so closets of the day filled up with the most spectacular formal and leisure wear. And a lot of those closets are still sitting there waiting for their long-forgotten contents to be revealed once more.

Nicholas tells me that many of their consignments are “first hand” as the women who purchased and wore the outfits, for whatever reason, now choose to part with them. Says Nicholas, “They know exactly when and where they bought each of the items. Our pink sofa is often occupied with people sharing stories of the items they bring in.”

A favorite with fashionista far and wide, this not-so-secret Palm Springs gem has quite a following. www.thefineartofdesign.com

10 The Amado

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A self-catered boutique hotel with five units and a great pool, it’s the perfect getaway for you, or you and all your friends!

There is a building typology that developed in Palm Springs from the ’50s onward consisting of a group of small apartments all oriented towards a central common pool area. One of the units is usually larger and real-estate sales literature of the time marketed these small multi-family complexes as a way to earning an income by living in the large unit and renting out the others as holiday accommodation.

By about the ‘70s many of these had become cheap rental apartments and had fallen into disrepair. The folks at the Amado recognized the modern potential of this great midcentury typology and picked up one, lovingly restoring it to its former glory. It is truly an authentic ’50s experience. You can live like they did when Palm Springs was in its infancy.

Since the Amado is sort of a cross between a house and a hotel, it is a great place to book for a week or more and work remotely. A working holiday of sorts to give you a fresh perspective on whatever projects you have going on. The perfect antidote to writers block or whatever other professions call a temporary loss of inspiration. It worked for us! www.theamado.com

Details



Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Eat Amsterdam

Wandering through the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam around lunch time, I can’t help dwelling on the Old Masters’ ample record of Dutch cuisine in their brilliant still life paintings. The compositions appear so rich in the bounty of the day, and often with prepared dishes that clearly reflect a high degree of culinary accomplishment, surely rivaling what was coming out of kitchens in the other capitals of Europe at the time.

Today when we think of French or Italian cuisine, there is an almost immediate understanding of what those broad national categories entail. But what about Dutch cuisine? We are in Amsterdam and clearly there is such a thing. But nothing immediately comes to mind. Why do I draw a blank on a whole nation’s cuisine?

One theory put forward by Dutch Food Critic Karin Engelbrecht is that as the colonial might of the Dutch declined and the population growth of the Golden Age tapered off, frugality took hold in Holland. Girls in “Huishoudschools” – a kind of domestic science school which was widely promoted – were encouraged to cook simple and economical dishes with few spices, which were costly: an odd turn of events since the Dutch were major traders of spice at the time. Thus the distinctive dishes that might have developed were presumably suppressed for generations.

But no longer. we have heard great things about the chefs of Amsterdam building on Holland’s culinary traditions, so we are excited to get out and educate ourselves on the current food happenings in Amsterdam.

1 Wilde Zwijne

Hopping on a streetcar towards the Oost district of Amsterdam, we are headed for the restaurant “Wilde Zwijne” or Wild Boar. Restaurant owner Julia Bachrach meets us at the door and introduces us to her partners, Faysel van Thiel, and Frenk van Dinther, who is in charge of the kitchen.

The dishes at Wilde Zwijne are all rooted in Dutch tradition, but each is remade with a new idea or special twist.

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To start with, Bitterballen. It’s such a classic local delicacy so ripe for reinterpretation. Frank serves his with duck and red cabbage making for a great dish with obvious Dutch origins. Or is it duck with bitterballen? Either way the combination tastes as good as it looks.

The menu changes daily with what Wilde Zwijne’s small local food purveyors can supply. As Frank says it, his suppliers are really in charge of his daily menu.

I appreciate that Wilde Zwijne knows when to just let the food speak for its self. Frank composes a plate of fabulous cheeses from an island in the north of Holland, called Texel. A selection of tough, full-bodied Gouda-like cheeses, the tastes of which harken back to the terrain and flora of Texel. I like the idea of using food to take a virtual trip.

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The decor at Wilde Zwijne reflects its attitude of letting the natural flavors of the ingredients come to the fore. Wood that is reclaimed and other salvaged materials highlight the character of materials rather than the highly finished version that we usually see. Quirky objects and taxidermy add to the story. It’s eclectic and industrial but altogether warm and comfortable

Julia says that before starting the restaurant she, Frank and Faysel spent a summer running a food cart together to see if they could all get along in close quarters. A wise move I think and the experiment seems to have resulted in an affirmative “yes”. There is a tangible team spirit that works, all the way down to the food on the plate.

Looking forward to our next visit to Wilde Zwijne and also to Julia, Frank and Faysel’s new venture, “Eetbar”, a Spanish inspired Bar/Restaurant next door.

2 My Little Patisserie

The De Pijp, is a popular neighborhood with working-class roots just outside the Amsterdam’s center. It is an area of popular street markets with a diverse multicultural population, which has become a popular destination for the young and creative to live and hang out.

We have come here to meet Aubrey Kriel, a French transplant who arrived in Amsterdam by way of Australia and New Zealand after a career in marketing. After giving up her desk job she enrolled at the Ecole de Boulangerie in Paris and apprenticed at several Patisseries in Paris and Amsterdam. Having opened the aptly named “My Little Patisserie” in early 2015, Aubrey now serves her treats to the inhabitants of De Pijp.

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Aubrey’s passion is cream-filled pastries and her Eclairs have a loyal following. She bakes on-site every day in small batches. Pastries fill the display cases throughout the day from a small glassed production area behind the counter.

Along with a coffee, freshly brewed by Aubrey’s chosen local roaster, Lot Sixty-One, take a break and have one of My Little Patisserie’s treats to keep yourself nourished while exploring the neighborhood.

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3 Rijsel

Heading back to the Oost area of Amsterdam, we meet Pieter Smits and chef Iwan Driessen, owners of the restaurant Rijsel. Rijsel is a Flemish slang term for the city of Lille, capital of the region of Flanders. And it is the classic cuisine of Flanders that is Rijsel’s specialty.

The menu at Rijsel is compact and changes often, except Rijsel’s very popular Rotisserie chicken, which is often on the menu, due to popular demand. We suggest a glass of Cremant before digging into your Rotisserie chicken meal. And the rest of the wine list is well curated and a great value, so expect to choose from some good options.

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A Dutch journalist coined the phrase “Nouveau Ruig” or New Rough to describe the new crop of restaurants, opened by men with beards in plaid shirts in shadowy alleys at the edge of towns where space is cheap. The typical character of these places is industrial and cozy with no frills.

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In most regards Rijsel fits the “Nouveau Ruig” characterization to a T. Housed in a former domestic science school, the space has co-opted the school’s ‘60s-era kitchen and dining room with minimal changes. Even the furniture and various pieces of old equipment scattered about are reminders of the room’s earlier educational use.

A cozy place with great food, a perfect place for a leisurely dinner with good friends.

4 Holtkamp

A staple on the Amsterdam food scene since the 1960s, this small wood-paneled patisserie shop is legendary. Speak to anyone that spent any length of time living in Amsterdam and they will regale you with fond memories of Holtkamp cakes for birthday and holiday celebrations. So as the Amsterdamers do … we hop on our bikes and make the short ride to Vijzelgracht 15.

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The line is already out the door and cake pickups for weekend celebrations are in full swing. We join the line, jostling for space as we gradually move closer to the counter to order. Our appetite increases by the minute while we peek through the window at all the yummy items on offer.

It is early, so when we order croquettes we get some funny looks. Croquettes are more an afternoon treat so I am afraid we have just outed ourselves as tourists. Seeing the confusion in our eyes, the busy lady at the counter suggest we try one of each of the varieties available – I think she’s trying to head off any time-wasting indecision on our part. Soon our salesperson reappears with cheese, veal and shrimp croquettes carefully wrapped to go.

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Back on our bikes, we find a nice picturesque spot overlooking the canals to enjoy our warm little treats. The only disappointment, we didn’t order enough! Next time we will know better and order some cake, too.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

Amsterdam is a great city for English speakers; everybody speaks it, websites are mostly bilingual, you will feel right at home.

Wilde Zwijnen: Reservations are recommended. You can email for reservations directly or call +31 20 463 3043. Credit cards are accepted with 2% surcharge. American Express is not accepted.

My little Patisserie: Just drop in. Audrey is there most of the time and she is a delight to talk to.

Rijsel: Reservations are recommended and can only be made by phone Monday through Friday after 2pm local time. Tel. +31 20 463 2142

Holtkamp: Saturday mornings are very busy so for a more leisurely experience browsing the cakes try visiting on a weekday.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Eat the Catskills

There are two ways you can go if you want to escape New York City. The most popular one follows a route east along the coast and ends up in an area general known as the Hamptons. Geographically the Hamptons is a relatively small area and with its popularity ever growing the ratio of visitors per square mile at the busiest time can reach epic proportions. If your reason for removing yourself from the city is peace, quiet and introspection, this might not be the right direction for you.

The other option is to head north up the Hudson Valley and then veer left into an area known as the Catskills. If you are inclined more towards mountains, the country and wide open spaces, head north my friend because here you can clear your head, fill your lungs with fresh air and your belly with the fresh picked bounty of some of New York State’s best small farms. Taking advantage of the rich and ready produce of the area’s local farms and a steady stream of road-tripping New Yorkers, a new generation of chefs and entrepreneurs has taken up residence in the area’s tiny towns.

Rumors of happenings in the Catskills were reaching us with such regularity that we could no longer resist the urge to take our own road trip and taste for ourselves. So here we go on our next installment of Eat a City. This month—the Catskills.

1 Table on Ten, Bloomville

For our first stop we are visiting Table on Ten and its proprietor, chef and innkeeper, Inez Valk.

After buying a lot near the small town of Bloomville a few years back and building herself a weekend cabin, Inez was looking for a way to live and work full-time in the Catskills.

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Inez grew up in Holland and upon moving to New York became interested in cooking. She set about finding a way to build a business around her interests. After working for a time with Emily and Melissa Eisen of the famous Brooklyn pie company, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, she was inspired to try her hand at starting her own food and hospitality business.

For some time, while coming and going to her cabin near Bloomville she would pass a tired old boarding house where Highway 10 runs through town. It finally occurred to her that this might be a great location for her enterprise, and she investigated further. It was for sale! So Inez snapped it up and Table on Ten was born.

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It has become a real meeting place for locals and New York transplants spending their weekends away from the city. In the morning, while enjoying our coffee, a procession of local farmers was coming through, dropping off their fresh produce and lingering for a quick coffee and a chat. We were quickly drawn into the conversation, hearing about the season, the weather and what was coming out of the ground this week. There are not too many places where you can so easily be drawn into local society.

Friday and Saturday nights Inez serves classic brick oven pizza, with her own sourdough base and locally famous four-hour marinara sauce. Luckily we timed our visit on Friday just right. In the afternoon everybody was busily preparing for the night’s meal. It was a hive of activity. The layout of the space is not too far removed from what you might think of as a house so that, combined with Inez’s team’s obvious dedication to getting every detail just right, it has the feel of a family preparing for a party, rather than a restaurant.

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Looking around, Table on Ten is a simple place: a quirky old building brought back to life, made modern where it needs to be, but for the most part left alone. So why does it feel so special? Talking to Inez it all makes sense. Her warm, calm, confident temperament steers Table on Ten like a ship and everybody, from staff to out-of-town visitors to locals, wants to get on board.

2 Lucky Dog Farm Cafe, Hamden

A bit north of Bloomville is the town of Hamden, where we are going next to check local eatery and general store, Lucky Dog Cafe.

Holley Giles and her husband Richard purchased a 160 acre farm and moved to Hamden in 2000. While Richard has his hands full with the farm, Holley runs the cafe, store and the nearby Hamden Inn where legend holds that Teddy Roosevelt once stayed. She also has a hand in the production of several local cheeses. I guess the real question is what does Holley NOT do?

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Lucky Dog Cafe serves Holley’s homemade pies, fresh sandwiches and salads. In the front of the cafe is an authentic circa 1800 general store, stocked with vintage dish towels, candies and fresh produce from the Giles’ farm and other food producers in the area.

After lunch at the Lucky Dog, visit the cheese counter and pick up some of the local Ouleout cheese from Vulto Creamery. It’s an upstate New York version of Tallegio. Very good.

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3 Brushland Eating House, Bovina

A short drive south over rolling hills and farm land and we arrive in Bovina to visit with Chef Sohail Zandi and Sara Elbert of Brushland Eating house.

After toiling in the high stakes New York food scene for many years Sohail and Sara were ready for a big change. “Big” meaning goodbye Big Apple. Says Sara, “Our friends were all shaking their heads, they thought we were both nuts”. Undeterred by their friends’ short-sighted derision, they pulled up stakes and moved to the picturesque farm town of Bovina.

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A nice two-story building on Bovina’s only thoroughfare was available. And conveniently, the previous tenant also served food, so at least they did not have to start their renovation from scratch. With Sara’s impeccable eye for interiors, Brushland’s unique character started to take shape.

The floor-to-ceiling cabinets are painted glossy black and populated with an eclectic mix of local, vintage objects. A long, shared banquet table runs the length of the room and the use of old Thonet style chairs gives the room a real 1920 Eating House feel. The creaking screen door really adds to its authenticity. Brushland is old and new, comforting and challenging, the perfect setting for Sohail’s new take on local cuisine.

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The night’s menu, handwritten on a chalkboard, is simple and direct – the kind of dishes I look for in New York but rarely find. Great ingredients, no fuss, and each dish with an interesting flavor twist.

Selfishly I wish Sohail and Sara had not left the city so I could experience Sohail’s exceptional talent for food more often. His pork schnitzel, paying homage to the area’s German heritage, with homemade breadcrumbs, was delish. A salad with fresh zucchini and radishes in a yoghurt sauce was a perfect accompaniment.

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The wine list is compact with a great selection from France and Italy, all at a reasonable price. On a funny note, Bovina is a dry town so Brushland is only able to serve wine by virtue of its three rental rooms upstairs. So drink up! If you get into trouble you can spend the night.

Fortunately we have a designated driver in our party so although we would have liked to stay longer, there is more Catskills to eat and we have to move on. Next stop, Phoenicia.

4 Phoenicia Diner, Phoenicia

Making our way from the farmlands of Delaware County we now follow New York Route 28 back into the forests of the Catskills.

The Phoenicia Diner has been a fixture on Route 28 for ages although for most of that time it has not been known for its excellent food. That was until in 2012, when longtime Catskills visitor Mike Cioffi purchased the Diner and breathed new life into the place. Fortunately he kept the “bones” of the place intact and focused all attention on the food.

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Gone is the tired old greasy menu, and in its place they now serve traditional diner favorites with the best locally sourced ingredients available. They even make their own Corned Beef! That’s a real throwback to when diners made real home-cooked food: way before my time.

The Phoenicia Diner is super popular with locals and travelers alike. I have driven by at all hours day and night and there is always a full parking lot. We visited mid-week just as the summer season was waning and the place was still buzzing.

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I asked the waitress for a recommendation and she suggested that the Skillets were a particular favorite. I can see why.

The placemats are conveniently printed with all the local highlights so you can plan what to do next as you enjoy your meal gazing across Route 28 at the majestic Mount Temper. Arriving or leaving the Catskills, the Phoenicia Diner is the place to stop for some great grub.

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5 Brunette Wine Bar, Kingston

Our final stop is well on the way back to the city. We have driven as far east as we can, all the way to the banks of the Hudson River. Here we meet Tracy and Jamie Kennard in their recently opened wine bar, Brunette.

Working in graphic design and the fashion industry in Manhattan for many years, Tracy and Jamie picked Kingston as a good place to get away from the city. Now, looking for a new challenge, they have taken over a former barbershop in the gradually gentrifying Rondout district in Kingston and remade it as the neighborhood’s only wine bar.

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The remade space is all Parisian bistro—if that bistro was in New York. Vintage lamps, pastel wallpaper and white marble surfaces give the space a feminine air, offset by the rough plumbing-derived shelving system that grounds the space firmly in this traditionally gritty Kingston neighborhood. There’s a nice touch in the bathroom: an eclectic collection of photographs of cool Brunettes. Tracy and Jamie have a great eye for detail.

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Brunette’s wine selection is unique. Many of their offerings are unavailable anywhere else in the area, so you can be sure of some tasty surprises to challenge the palette. Tracy’s homemade cakes and delightful savory sandwiches are a perfect companion to Brunette’s wine list.

Going to or coming home from the Catskills, Brunette is a great stop along the way.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

Table on Ten: For opening hours and to make a reservation for Friday and Saturday Pizza nights, go to; www.tableonten.com Table on Ten has three guest rooms for rent available from Thursday to Sunday. The Cafe is open 8am to 3pm for breakfast, cakes and Table on 10’s own coffee roast blend, created locally at Irving Farm.

Brushland Eating House: For opening hours and reservations, go to; www.brushlandeatinghouse.com. To stay the night in one of Brushland’s guest rooms, book here.

Lucky Dog cafe: For opening hours and more, go to www.luckydogorganic.com. To stay at the Hamden Inn across the road from Lucky Dog Cafe, you can book a room here.

Phoenicia Diner: For opening hours and directions, go to; www.phoeniciadiner.com

Brunette: For hours and todays wine selection, go to; www.brunettewinebar.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Farm to Table at De Kas

On a recent visit to Amsterdam, high on my list of places to visit was the restaurant De Kas. I have followed the career of De Kas chef and food pioneer Gerd Jan Hageman, one of the driving forces behind farm-to-table cooking and sustainable produce management, and was excited to taste the fruits of his efforts. I made arrangements to meet some of the team members at De Kas, and on our first morning in Amsterdam we set out to Frankendaal Park in the East of Amsterdam to have a look.

Gerd Jan started out at Vermeer, a well-known restaurant in Amsterdam, eventually winning them a Michelin star. While Gerd Jan excelled in his approach to cuisine, the stressful environment typical of a high-powered Michelin-starred kitchen was not his favorite working environment. Without any good examples to follow and no idea of how to achieve the environment conducive to his food alchemy, Gerd Jan took a sabbatical to see if he could figure out a better way.

Gerd Jan Hageman’s Farm to Table Experiment at De Kas is Still Going Strong

Jumping forward a few years, Gerd Jan was at a friend’s farm one summer day and they happened to be cooking on an open fire in the garden. Taking vegetables right from the garden and onto the fire sparked an idea for Gerd Jan of how the connection between farm and table in a restaurant setting could be dramatically altered. Why not integrate these two types of business to create better products and a more efficient flow of activity between the two?

With this general concept in mind things gradually began to fall into place. As luck would have it, the old municipal greenhouses in Frankendaal Park that had lain unused for years were made available for development. With the help of the municipality, family, friends, and famed Dutch architect Piet Boon, the greenhouse complex was brought back from the brink of destruction and put towards a new purpose. This would be the site of Gerd Jan’s experiment, a greenhouse in the city where food could be grown, prepared and served.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

It’s almost inevitable that this idea would have taken root in Holland in that greenhouses are quite a big deal here. Holland is where the world’s biggest greenhouses are found and they have a long history. It was the French botanist Charles Lucien Bonaparte who, in the 1800s, built the first practical greenhouses, for the production of medicinal plants, near the town of Leiden just a short distance from Amsterdam.

Today a total of 40 square miles, some .25% of Dutch land, are occupied by greenhouses. The number of people employed in the greenhouse industry totals 150,000. Approximately 4,000 greenhouses produce around 8 billion dollars’ worth of fruit, vegetable, plants and flowers, 80% of which are exported. A staggering number for such a small country.

We arrived at De Kas on a fairly dreary and cool day. Stepping inside you understand immediately why everything grows well in a greenhouse. It is light, airy, and warm, with the sweet smell of earth and produce lingering in the air. Before reaching the restaurant you must literally traverse a greenhouse, which nicely illustrates Jan’s idea that the quality of the food prepared flows directly from the healthy beds of fresh of citrus trees vegetables and salad greens surrounding the kitchen and dining room.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

Arriving at the main dining room, the bright ceiling is dramatically lifted to 8 meters. The architecture and interior are modern with a strong sense of practicality, as you would expect of a building with industrial intentions. Down at table level, all around the room, settings with simple, colorful glasses are offset with plants, fully integrating diners into the greenhouse environment.

Accenting the glass-covered iron roof structure, large sculptural-glass chandeliers hang like floating flowers, giving the room a lovely glow at night. Which brings to mind an interesting aspect of De Kas: The restaurant has two distinct faces, depending on the time of day – a light and airy one at lunch time, while at night, the dark sky covers the restaurant giving the low night-time lighting a theatrical-romantic feel. And at night, the outdoor reflecting pool spanning the length of the dining room is especially lovely as it reflects the light of the restaurant.

The kitchen is central to the complex of rooms and provides almost a performative function for the dining room. When we showed up at the door the crew was in full lunch-prep mode. We were greeted by Sous Chef Tommy Corns who hails from Coventry, England and now calls Amsterdam home. Tommy related that he dined at De Kas on a visit to Amsterdam and right there and then decided that this is the place he wanted to pursue his career. “Ask and you shall receive” they say, and it certainly must be worth a try because Tommy is now part of the De Kas team.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

Tommy took us through each of De Kas’ rooms. Next to the main dining room is the spacious Garden Room, complete with generous plantings and low seating areas, which give the space a kind of lounge feel. In contrast, just off the Garden Room, the “Business Table” is a quiet, private space, great if you come with a larger group of friends. Next to this is the “Bar Table” which provides a great view onto the dining room (the wait staff was just sitting down for communal lunch when we passed by). Beyond this are extensive out-door patios that greatly increase De Kas’ capacity in the summer months, or for a chilly aperitif at other times. Not for us though. The rain had started to come down at quite a clip so it was nice to stay warm and dry by the fireplace and listen to the soft patter of rain on the roof and watch the patterns of the water reflected on the floor.

Onto the kitchen proper and I found my favorite table. Adjacent to the kitchen prep area, Gerd Jan has made accommodations for two to four food aficionados like me. Book ahead for this table and the chefs will create a meal just for you and a few friends as you watch the night’s food performance unfold.

From the kitchen I catch a glimpse of someone harvesting from the lemon trees in the next room. It makes you realize what it takes to get fresh produce to a kitchen every day and the luxury of having much of your resources in-house.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

Fresh produce is really the key at De Kas and the thing that grounds the whole proposition. The De Kas greenhouses are supplemented by a larger off-site complex that is needed to keep the kitchen constantly supplied with fresh vegetables. Gerd Jan heads up the operation: working the soil, planting, weeding, and harvesting herbs and vegetables for the kitchen every day. Rushing in, crates of vegetables in hand, Gerd Jan stops for a quick hello before dashing into a meeting. The kitchen staff gather round the crates discussing what might be constructed from the day’s harvest.

There are only a few things Gerd Jan’s greenhouses cannot provide, mainly the meat and fish. But Gerd Jan has trusted local sources for these things to guarantee that whatever is served meets his high standard for freshness.

Next we get to the best part of our visit, Tommy has prepared some dishes for us to taste. As it’s winter, we start with a salad of root vegetables with a fresh vinaigrette. This salad is a lovely mix of pickled and fresh flavors. Tommy tells us they do a lot of pickling in the kitchen to extend their harvests through the year.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

The second dish is an earthy broth-based soup. The broth is poured over an ensemble of ingredients from a lovely glass tea pot. A really simple dish at first taste, but fragrance and flavors evolve as you eat. Fish and cabbage blend nicely and fresh herbs combine for a tasty zing at the end.

After 13 years, De Kas is still quite a unique proposition. The greenhouse/restaurant combination shows up in various configurations around the world but it is pretty rare. The success of De Kas is revealed in the numbers. Every year over 50,000 guests are served: quite a lot for a relatively small operation.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

We are already planning our next visit for the summer months. That’s the time when you can tour the full complex of De Kas’ nurseries. Take a tip from the Bearleader, put De Kas on your to do list for you next visit to Holland.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

For reservation, go to; www.restaurantdekas.nl. We highly recommend booking the Chef’s table for 2-4 people. De Kas is happy to accommodate vegetarians, an attitude that is sometimes hard to find in Amsterdam.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Eat London

“The art of cooking as practiced by Englishmen does not extend much beyond roast beef and plum pudding”, said Swedish explorer Pehr Kalm in 1748 on the occasion of his visit to the English capital. And I am sure that Pehr was absolutely correct in his estimation of English cuisine, as this was the general takeaway of visitors until just a few years ago. But the cliché of bad and tasteless food in England no longer applies. To the surprise of many around the world who have not passed through the British capital lately, London has been for a few years now a must stop destination for foodies worldwide.

With a bevy of famous British television chefs leading the charge, the Brits are cooking up a storm. And although one of the first things you hear when striking up a conversation about London is “it’s so expensive”, don’t believe a word of it when it comes to food. Sure you can easily spend a fortune on food in London, but good food doesn’t necessarily equate with a rich budget. There are plenty of outstanding places to dine that won’t break the bank.

For the latest installment of our regular feature, “Eat a city” we are heading to London with a list of establishments offering diverse food at great prices in sometimes unexpected locations.

1 Carousel

With a short trip on the tube, we arrive at Baker Street station and walk a few blocks into the London neighborhood of Marylebone. Arriving at the restaurant Carousel we meet the young cousins of the Templeton family who are well on their way to establishing themselves as food innovators on the London food scene.

Olli, Anna, Will, and Ed tell me they caught the family business bug early following the example of their two dads who were also in business together. It is immediately evident that the cousins complement each other. As we chat they talk in a kind of shorthand, finishing each other’s sentences, and are quick to point out their partners’ strengths over their own. It’s the kind of relationship that could only be found in a family. And the same respectful deference is given when talking about the visiting chefs that they invite in every few weeks to take control of the kitchen and menu.

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Carousel’s concept is as refreshing as it is unique. Instead of sticking to one genre of cooking they have made variety their mainstay. Tapping young and up-and-coming chefs from all parts of the globe, they invite them to take over the kitchen for a few weeks at a time to bring their diverse ideas to the hungry London foodie scene. Carousel then works together with the guest chef to source the best British produce to complement the chef’s cuisine. Olli tells me that many of their guest chefs are really excited to have access to the renowned British local produce for their dishes which, in turn, inspires their varied creations.

And the range of cooking styles on display at Carousel is something to behold. Browsing the upcoming schedule on their website, you can find something for every taste, currently available or coming soon.

Located in a former ‘60s office building, Carousel’s space is split into three levels. The upper floor functions as a gallery with the same curatorial spirit as the kitchen, bringing in a different artist each month and exposing their work to the London scene. It’s also a great event space which is available for private hire, as is the basement.

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On the ground level is the dining area, where guests gather together Tuesday to Saturday around two long communal tables. There is a small bar for drinks before the meal and an open kitchen where the full theater of the day’s culinary performance is on display. When I arrive the pre-show is in full swing. The atmosphere is relaxed and warm. Staffers are friendly and clearly enthusiastic about the food as they get detailed descriptions of each of the dishes that they will be serving.

The innovative thinking at Carousel does not stop with its curatorial chef program. They are also forging a revolutionary system of food management that enables them to greatly increase their efficiency in making sure almost every delicious morsel of food purchased is served to diners.

This is accomplished by expanding their online reservations system to include your seat selection, your choice of meal and payment in advance: Once you book a meal at Carousel all you have to do focus on food and conversation. All the necessary but less enjoyable parts of dining out will already have been taken care of well in advance, and the team knows exactly how much food is required each night. The Templetons hope the idea will catch on and that the vast amount of food wasted each day by restaurants can be avoided

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On the day of my visit the culinary team “Cooking in Motion” was in residency. Cooking in motion is the brainchild of Chef Sebastian Mazzola and his partner, sommelier Sussie Villarico. They travel the world to promote their passion for Peruvian Japanese cooking.

Mazzola has quite the resume. Starting at the famed El Buli restaurant in Spain, he then went on to run Pacta in Barcelona, another of the Ferian restaurant group.

His plates are pure perfection with a delicate balance of craft, creativity and flavor. The food looks amazing and tastes even better. Cooking in Motion may not be there when you visit but you can be sure that whatever chef Carousel has invited, they will be just as interesting.

For a completely unique dining experience you must check Carousel out on your next London visit. You will more than likely be experiencing the work from a future star chef. You can tell your friends, “Yea I know that chef. I discovered him/her years ago at Carousel in London”.

2 Regency Cafe

Next we head where the Westminster and Pimlico districts of London meet. Arriving at the Regency Cafe on the corner of Regency and Page Streets, you will feel like you have stepped back in time for a visit to post-war London. In fact the Cafe opened its doors in 1946, just a year after WWII. And since then it has changed very little, having been owned by only two families since.

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Almost untouched, the tiled walls, gingham style curtains, green painted wood-paneled walls, and Tottenham Hot Spur football players’ photographs on the walls, all speak of a London long gone.

It is so authentic it feels like a movie set. Several movies in fact have been filmed here: Layer Cake, Brighton Rock, and Pride just to name a few, plus numerous fashion shoots and a load of British TV shows.

Voted the fifth best restaurant in London by Yelp, Regency Cafe is where, according to Harry Wallop, famed writer for the Daily Telegraph, you can still get a proper cup of builder’s tea. What’s builder’s tea? It’s a mug of pure liquid copper. The stuff that once fueled the docks, factories, coal mines, and steelworks of Britain, and kept the nation ticking.

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The manner of service is old style. You order, pay, then pick a table and your plate is brought to you. You will most likely be addressed as “love”, an endearing and fast disappearing term more often heard on English TV shows like Coronation Street and the East Enders than in any real place.

Serving a diverse crowd, the Regency caters to a wide cross section of London’s inhabitants: Builders, pensioners, students, fashion aficionados, and tourists, all find something to please on the classic menu of British staples.

For great food and a taste of what the great British Empire was like, Regency Cafe is a must visit.

3 Street Kitchen

Day Three we are eating al fresco at Street Kitchen in the heart of London. Monday to Friday on Broadgate Circle you will find Street Kitchen’s classic shiny Airstream outfitted to serve breakfast and lunch to the hungry hoards working in the surrounding office buildings. The City of London, approximately one square mile in the center of London, is the financial hub of the city. All of the major financial institutions have headquarters here. So every day thousands of people stream in and out of train and tube stations on their way to work, making this the perfect place to locate a mobile restaurant.

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When I arrive, the breakfast crowd is tapering off and the crew is taking a breather before the wave of lunch orders hit. Mark Jankel, the leader of the operation, shows up to say hello and immediately we start to chat.

Mark tells me that he is actually an environmental scientist but worked for 15 years in kitchens throughout London. He has a passion for English produce and had a particular interest in how food impacts the environment. He opened Street Kitchen in 2010 with the dream of developing a sustainable food van serving simple, locally-sourced, seasonal food at a great price to the workers of London.

Now five years on, Street Kitchen has grown to two vans and a fixed location prep kitchen where he has opened a small serving kiosk, and on Broadgate is a Street Kitchen sandwich shop.

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Some of the classic dishes on the menu are the hot smoked salmon with cabbage, the kale salad, and the spice lamb meat balls. Mark credits his wife for the recipes and I can attest that they are amazing. Everyday there is a new special dish, and you can choose that or one of the standard main dished for under nine pounds. It’s a great price for organic, locally sourced, lovingly prepared food.

This is prime tourist territory so if you are visiting London you may very well be wandering by here. Just plan it so you are in the area around breakfast or lunch to partake of one of Street Kitchen’s yummy meals.

Now it’s time for a loo stop. But not the kind you might expect

4 Attendant

Turning the corner onto Foley Street you will see the black wrought iron structure of the former Victorian era subterranean gents’ loo. Built in 1890, it eventually fell into disrepair and was finally sealed up in the ‘60s. It lay dormant until 2011 when some enterprising coffee aficionados recognized the space’s potential, and after a two year renovation, reopened it to an entirely different purpose. Attendant is now a fixture for the java loving London crowd.

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Heading down a few flights of stairs you enter the small original tiled space. There is seating in the old attendant’s nook and the former urinals have been turned into a bar with bright green seating. As you can imagine, it is hard to resist all manner of toilet puns while enjoying a fabulous cup of coffee and a lovely piece of cake while standing at a urinal. Rest assured you are not alone in that.

By the way, where is the loo?


< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

Carousel: Subscribe to the Carousel’s newsletter to stay in touch what is happening. And to check for upcoming chefs in residence and to make a booking go to: www.carousel-london.com

Regency Cafe: 17-19 Regency Street, London SW1 4BY, United Kingdom, Phone: +44 20 7821 6596 / Hours: Monday to Friday 7:00am-2:30pm 4:00pm-7:15pm, Saturday: 7:00am- 12:00pm, Sunday: Closed

Street Kitchen: To find one of Street Kitchen’s two Airstreams and opening hours and the daily menu, goto; streetkitchen.co.uk / Or to see on Twitter whats happening live, goto; twitter.com/Streetkitchen

Attendant: For location and opening hours goto; the-attendant.com. Great photo op during the summer months sit outside along the two wooden benches upstairs.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

The New French Roast

Opened in 2011 by Australian Tom Clarke and his French partner Antoine Netien, Cafe Coutume has become a well-established fixture on the Parisian coffee scene.

One would think that Paris, with its long traditions of local wine and cheese production, all based on highly nuanced subtleties of flavor and texture, would be first in line to embrace a new understanding of coffee along the same lines. Perhaps the attention lavished on these local products has much to do with their direct connection to French soil, so coffee, not being a product of the French terroir, is not favored by a similar obsession.

Café Revolution

In any case, while cafes are a mainstay of Parisian culture, the chief offering of these wonderful establishments has often been, shall we say, a little bitter. The French like their coffee well done. Or as some would say “burnt” and this has become the de-facto standard for the country. And that is not easy to change. I found a similar situation in Vienna and Italy where the classic coffee houses tend to serve very bitter traditional roasts, rejecting the products of younger roasting companies in favor of the status quo.

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It has taken some time, and an enormous effort by people like Tom, to start grinding down the resistance of Parisians to new kinds of coffee roasts and techniques. Now a small but dedicated community of coffee aficionados is taking hold. The realization is sinking in that coffee is like wine in its subtleties, reflecting the conditions and regions in which the coffee bean is grown, and in the way flavors can be manipulated in the preparation process to bring out the best from this delicious little green bean.

The day we visited Tom to chat about coffee, Coutume was buzzing with locals, with a few foreigners mixed in. Tom tells us that when he came from Australia to study in Paris he really longed for the vibrant fresh coffee culture he was fond of back home. Coffee culture came to Australia early, brought by Italian immigrants. And somehow the combination of the Australian give-it-a-go attitude with the traditions and techniques of Italy kicked off a dynamic and innovative coffee culture that is gradually spreading around the world.

To an Australian palette the local French roast was simply not a drink one could enjoy. So Tom began to develop an idea for how a third-wave coffee movement could be started in Paris. The end result is his café cum laboratory cum coffee education center, Coutume.

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Now just four years later, all the hard work Tom and his team have put in is paying off. Coutume is quickly increasing in popularity, there is now a Coutume in Tokyo and a new roasting facility in Paris supplying restaurants and hotels all over Paris and beyond. As a result, there is now great coffee on offer in Paris, which was Tom’s original mission.

Coincidentally Paris’ first coffee house was opened by an Italian named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli in 1686. A former lemonade vendor, he opened Cafe de Le Procope not far from where Coutume is today. The coffee was probably pretty awful to taste but the caffeine would have been a revelation.

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Coutume’s laboratory/cafe/school is situated in a typical old Parisian storefront space partly excavated to reveal its history and partly renovated to accommodate the coffee technology. Walls are scraped back to their original plaster surfaces and old wood floors exposed, in contrast to a gleaming white tiled counter and stainless steel laboratory area for coffee education. The laboratory does double duty as extra counter seating and is accessorized with live lush coffee plants; a reminder that your daily fix of caffeine comes from a little fruit tree far away.

If you are hungry Coutume offers a small, fresh breakfast and lunch menu, and on Sundays brunch is served. The place is usually occupied by locals chatting, working on their computers or having meetings. It’s a dynamic atmosphere.

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Now it’s time for some tasting. Tom and Nikkos, one of Coutume’s barrister crew, prepare a cold brew coffee with the Hairo Syphon, a science-like procedure with equal parts technique and theater. The taste is unlike anything you have tasted from a coffee bean. You realize that coffee beans are actually part of a fruit and what we are drinking is a kind of fruit juice. This kind of coffee tasting is an eye-opening experience. Fascinating and delicious. I highly recommend you give it a try.

Coutume is located in the 7th Arrondissement close to the Rodin Museum and Bon Marche. So it’s a perfect side trip for your next Paris adventure. Now we are off to see Napoleon’s Tomb just around the corner.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

For more information about Cafe Coutume, go to; coutumecafe.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Amsterdam Recommended

We are off to see what’s new in Amsterdam. I love this city, the people are open and friendly, the food is great, it has some of the best art in the world, everyone rides a bike … I could go on and on. So when the City of Amsterdam invited Bearleader to come up and see what’s currently going on, we jumped at the chance.

We firmly believe that the character of a place is mostly down to its people, so what better way to convey what’s going on than to talk to locals. With a bit of research and some recommendations from our friends, we arranged a few meet-ups with some movers and shakers to talk to them about what makes Amsterdam special.

Tijdmakers &
Eau d’Amsterdam

Business partners Saskia Hoogendoorn and Lieuwe Martijn Wijnands are the creative force behind the design agency Tijdmakers (Time makers). They are kind of a local think tank that explores creative ways to influence the public’s experience of the environment through art and installation.

We arranged to meet at de Koffie Salon on Utrechtsestraat, a great little place where locals hang out, meet friends and colleagues and sip coffee while tapping away on their computers. The pastries on offer are lovely and they serve a great cup of coffee. At the time we arranged to meet it was raining, and in true Amsterdamer rain-or-shine fashion, Saskia and Martijn arrived on their bikes.

Many of their projects are internally generated so Saskia and Martijn have become quite adept at not only coming up with great ideas, but also the more daunting job of organizing the logistics that make their projects come to life. Dreaming is one thing, but what is great about Tijdmakers is that they know how to make their dreams come to fruition. And being somewhat of a creative instigator myself, I admire Saskia and Martijn for their ability to drive their dreams into reality.

One of their latest ideas was to create the first ever municipal scent. Thus was born “Eau d’Amsterdam” the official perfume of Amsterdam. And what is the smell of Amsterdam? Ask any Amsterdamer and you will likely get a blank stare. But there is a familiar scent in the air and it took Tijdmakers to track it down.

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As it turns out, it’s the trees, or the Elm trees to be exact. Lots of cities have a particular tree that has been chosen to adorn the streets for practical and aesthetic reasons. There is the “Berlin unter den Linden”, Paris has its “Plane” tree and Amsterdam has the Elm. In fact the old trees of Amsterdam are designated a Unesco World Heritage.

Amsterdam has about 75,000 Elms, some of them as old as 100 years. The first Elms were planted around 1662 and they were held in high regard from the start. The punishment for damaging them could be your right hand.

Saskia tells us the perfume was created by famed Amsterdam “nose” Tanja Deurloo from Annindriya, in cooperation with IFF. They carefully studied the wood, leaves and blossoms to create an interpretation of the city’s Elm-derived essence. The moment Eau Amsterdam hits your nose there’s an “Ah-ha! That IS the smell of the Elms!” Strong and earthy with a flowery feel, the scent ages well on your skin.

The original idea behind the project was to raise awareness of the city’s trees and their importance to Amsterdam life. It also supports another of Sakia and Martijn’s projects, the Amsterdam Spring Snow Festival started three years ago.

The Spring Snow Festival takes place when the 75,000 Elms are in bloom, April 21 – May 21. The blossoms are so prevalent that they blanket Amsterdam’s streets. If it weren’t so warm you would definitely think it was snowing.

The perfume comes in a wonderful dark green glass bottle with an antique style bulb atomizer. I was especially intrigued by the packaging. Saskia tells me the image on the box is a painting by 18th century Haarlem painter Hendrik Keun, and shows a large elm tree on Keizersgracht at Molenpad. The painting was produced around 1775.

To see some of the oldest Elm trees in Amsterdam like the ones in Hendrik Keun’s painting, make your way to Oude Schans, across from houses 72, 58 and 29.

Until meeting Saskia and Martijn I must confess I had not really paid much attention to the trees lining the canals. But for the rest of our trip I could not stop thinking about them. Well done Tijdmakers! Mission accomplished.

Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen & Cottoncake

The De Oude Pijp (The Pipe) district of Amsterdam, sometimes referred to as Amsterdam’s “Quartier Latin”, was the traditional home of poor artists and students. Now it’s a popular area to live, full of interesting restaurants and concept stores alongside a great market and “moeder & pop” shops that continue to do a good trade. This is also the neighborhood of Israeli-born artist Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen, and her studio called Happy Red Fish.

After walking the local De Oude Pijp street market on Albert Cuypstraatwe, we headed over to the concept store Cottoncake Cafe on van der Helststraat where Hagar recommended we meet. This white-box concept store is an eclectic mix of clothing, cake, jewelry and coffee. An odd mix that has attracted a loyal following of locals and it’s one of Hagar’s favorite places hang out.

After marrying a Dutchman, Hagar and her husband moved to Amsterdam, which she now calls home. The medium for her creative work is common sewing thread, but her work is anything but common. She transforms existing photographs using layer after layer of colored thread adding depth and texture and expanding the context of the original image.

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Clearing away our coffee and cake we made room for Hagar’s books which she uses to protect the work. I could not help thinking of how I used to press flowers in books and the excitement I had each time I would check back to see how the flattened botanicals were developing. Hagar’s works have a kind of flattened dimensionality that seems at home pressed into large tomes repurposed for the storage of art.

After a few more coffees and a good chat, Hagar had to get back to work. We kept talking as she walked us to the tram where we set off to meet our next “insider”.

Michelle van der Vliet &
De Plantage

Amsterdam is a relatively small city. You can get most places on a bicycle in less than an hour. So you might imagine that the food scene, while interesting, is relatively tame and slow moving. How many new restaurants and food related happenings could possibly be happening in this compact city? Well, my assumptions here were completely wrong. It is unbelievable how much is going on with food in this city. So much so that someone needed to take on the job of keeping track of all the epicurean comings and goings to keep the rest of us up to date.

In 2012 Amsterdam native Michelle van der Vliet took up the challenge and started blogging about everything food-related in the City. Since then she has gathered a dedicated following of like-minded locals, and occasional visitors like us, who like to keep track of interesting things happening in our favorite cities. Michelle really knows the food scene and if you want to eat well in Amsterdam you should definitely follow her at story154.com.

We met Michelle on the bridge at the corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht, a super picturesque spot which is worth a visit, if just for the photo opportunity. This is close to the Noordermarkt where the food scene is quite dynamic. We took a walk with Michelle to one of her favorite coffee roasters nearby, Headfirst. True to form, Michelle’s recommendation was spot on. The best coffee we had on our trip was here.

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As we left Michelle we asked for a great lunch spot that’s not in the guide books, to feature on Bearleader. Without hesitation Michelle said “I have just such a place”.

Overlooking the city’s Artis Zoo in the beautifully restored Artis building is the restaurant De Plantage occupying the space of the building’s 19th century orangery. It, along with the Artis Zoo, are important fixtures in Amsterdam life today. Michelle is the expert so I will let her fill you in on the restaurant’s particulars. Here is her review.

After a quick lunch we dropped in at the Micropsia Museum, also in the Artis building, and one of the newest museums in Amsterdam. It is the world’s first museum dedicated entirely to the smallest forms of life: microbes. Very interesting exhibit and definitely something you won’t see anywhere else.

Nicemakers, SLA & Noordermarkt

Next we are visiting design studio Nicemakers to talk with designers Joyce Urbanus and Dax Roll about their work, and get their Amsterdam-insiders’ tips. We had only been in Amsterdam for a few days and Nicemakers had come up in conversation several times, so we were sure Joyce and Dax would have some great ideas about what to do around town.

Unbeknownst to us, we had already visited some of the local restaurants designed by Nicemakers and seen some of their impressive work. But we did not realize any of this until we sat down in their studio for a chat.

Long before there was a Nicemakers, there was just Joyce and Dax and even early in their relationship the seeds of Nicemakers were already growing. Dax regaled us with stories of weekends he and Joyce spent stalking antique markets for anything that caught their fancy: early modern furniture, mid-century lamps and peculiar objects and ephemera. They knew all the good spots to find the best stuff.

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Buying on desire rather than need was not unusual so a collection naturally began to develop. Over time, some of their objects found their way into design projects they were working on, and by anchoring their modern design work with objects curated from their eclectic collections a modus-operandi developed. Now they have honed their process into a fine art which has proven phenomenally successful in their rapidly growing practice.

Walking around Nicemakers’ small, sleek studio you can see the continuity in their creative partnership. The clean lines of the fresh white space are offset by their carefully curated collections and meticulously arranged material samples that Joyce and Dax are mulling over for current and future projects. I comment on the great variety of ceramic tile samples carefully arranged in groupings of color and texture. Joyce laughs and says, “we love tiles”.

And now I recall one of Nicemakers’ recent projects for a new local healthy fast food company, SLA. Food blogger Michelle van der Vliet had pointed out the new interior to us on our walk a few days ago. And indeed, SLA’s interior is a symphony of tiles, so I see where Joyce is coming from.

It’s time to go, but as we leave I ask Joyce and Dax the all-important question: What should we visit in Amsterdam? True to form, Joyce gives us a great tip on a local market, “Saturday mornings on the Noordermarkt are a definite must”.

The following morning we check it out. At Noordermarkt the stalls offer everything from fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese to antique collectibles, locally woven linens and a variety of prepared foods. And, being full of locals, it’s a very authentic Amsterdam experience. With lunch just around the corner at SLA we had a full-on Nicemakers experience.

Good tips Joyce and Dax, thanks!

Bearleader & Vivian Hann

Even though this story is about local recommendations, while wandering around on my own I found something great to share.

A short walk down Haarlemmerdijk, just west of Central Station, I did a double-take walking by the display window of a small ceramic and cutlery shop called Vivian Hann. Brilliantly colored objects, simple shapes, wonderful hand-crafted textures, I went in for a look. At the counter I introduced myself. And, as it turned out, it was Vivian Hann on duty in the shop that day!

Vivian originally hails from California but Amsterdam has been her home for many years now. Back in 1998 when she opened the store, Haarlemmerdijk was nowhere near the bustling picturesque street you see today. It was gritty, and walk-in customers were far less frequent. But Vivian persevered and now her shop is in a great location, convenient for locals and in just the right spot for the considerable tourist traffic flowing daily from the nearby train station.

Passionate about design, Vivian has put together an irresistible collection of everyday objects that is sure to strike a chord with visitors. Her enthusiasm for form, function and craftsmanship is on display with a great collection of ceramics, glassware and cutlery. In fact, Vivian’s is one of the few shops in Amsterdam that specializes in functional homeware with an emphasis on the work of Northern European designers.

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With pride of place, and well protected under glass, Vivian has on display her collection of Hugo Pott cutlery. Cutlery is really Vivian’s main interest and Hugo Pott’s designs have all the attributes of simplicity, beauty and functionality that Vivian admires.

I have similar interests to Vivian so I recognized some of the pieces in her cutlery collections, but I did not know much about Hugo Pott. And Vivian was all too happy to bring me up to speed on his life and work. And this is what makes Vivian’s tiny shop such a great place to visit. More than what’s on display, it’s Vivian’s encyclopedic knowledge of design and function that make a visit so interesting. Whether you are looking for a small souvenir or need to find flatware for a crowd, Vivian can lead you to just the right solution and fill you in on the story behind your newly acquired objects.

I say skip the run-of-the-mill souvenir shops and go straight to Vivian Hann for a great memento of your Amsterdam trip. Rather than buying something that will quickly end up disused in the attic, you will have something destined to become your next family heirloom, used and talked about for years to come. A forever reminder of you fantastic trip to the charming city of Amsterdam.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

To get around Amsterdam, I am/sterdam city card offers a wonderful all-included ticket for public transport, a canal tour and entry to all museums (15% off the Rijksmuseum). It’s the one essential ticket for a great Amsterdam visit. www.iamsterdam.com

To purchase Eau d’Amsterdam go to; www.eaudamsterdam.com. And check out de Koffie Salon Where we met Saskia and Martijn, at; www.dekoffiesalon.nl

If you’re planning a trip in spring, try to schedule it so you can take in the Spring Snow Festival when 75,000 Elm trees come into bloom and the city is covered in white blossoms. It happens between April 21st and May 21st. You will find more information here; www.springsnow.nl

To find out more about Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen’s studio Happy Red Fish go to; www.happy-red-fish.com, and here’s a link to Cottoncake; www.cottoncake.nl

For great new places to eat in Amsterdam visit Michelle van der Vliet’s blog at; www.story154.com

For one of the best coffees in Amsterdam try Head First Coffee Roasters at; www.headfirstcoffeeroasters.com

And for a visit La Plantage you can book online at; www.caferestaurantdeplantage.nl. Don’t forget to check out the Micropia Museum next door: www.micropia.nl

To see more of Joyce Urbanus and Dax Roll’s work at Nicemakers, go to; www.nicemakers.com. Or to visit one of their project in person, have lunch at one of the SLA locations. www.ilovesla.com

To meet Vivian at her store Vivian Hann, go to; www.vivianhann.com Keep in mind that she is closed Sundays and Mondays.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

English Breakfast

One of the true delights of a visit to the British Isles is indulging in the long-held tradition of the English Breakfast. But where should one go to experience this morning culinary ritual of the Brits? The simple answer is pretty much anywhere. But as with most things, if you want the best, it’s going to take some nosing around. But fear not, Bearleader is up for the job. We will help you suss out the smartest, most original, most exotic, and most authentic English Breakfast the empire has to offer.

But first a little context. What’s this English Breakfast thing all about? I first checked in with the English Breakfast Society to find out more. Yes there is an English Breakfast Society, dedicated to keeping the delicious tradition alive. As an aside they are currently working to establish April 5 as English Breakfast Day. There is a petition circulating so if you are a lover of England’s most important meal of the day, please lend your support.

From the English Breakfast Society we learn that the English Breakfast has its origins with the landed gentry. As with most things that have endured through the ages, money and power were prime forces. The land was the source of power and the bounty of the land an expression of the land’s productivity. Great pride was attached to the traditions of country life and breakfast was the perfect time to showcase all the wealth and riches of the land for visitors and guests. And looking at a Full-English plate today it is still a good representation of all a country estate might produce.

In the Victorian era the burgeoning middle class and newly rich merchants wanted to emulate the truly powerful land owners, so the tradition gradually became standardized. Over time the tradition jelled into the nationally recognized dish that we know and love today.

After reaching its peak in the 1950s, the English Breakfast slowly declined in popularity as English food generally grew more and more processed and unpalatable. But now, following the return of England to the world food scene, the English Breakfast is back in full force.

Being quite adept at incorporating the traditions of its citizens from all parts of the world into its own dishes, Britain has developed a variety of hybrid cross-cultural cuisines that exist nowhere else. The British/Indian dish Kedgeree comes to mind. We did a story about it that you can read here. And the process continues today. We were fascinated to hear rumors of great chefs specializing in various regional cuisines experimenting with ways to merge their techniques with British traditions to make new British classics. And so for our breakfast expedition we decided to seek out the best and most interesting current developments in the great tradition of English Breakfast. So, let’s get a table and order some breakfast.

1 The Modern Pantry

Day one we are waiting to be seated at The Modern Pantry, a converted Georgian townhouse overlooking St. Johns Square in Clerkenwell. New Zealander Anna Hansen cooked in London for many years before opening The Modern Pantry in 2008. It has been a hugely popular place with Londoners, which speaks volumes for the excellent food and service that Anna and her team bring to the table every day.

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The food is all fresh and the menu seasonally based. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner but I like it best mid-week for breakfast, preferably early before it gets too busy.

There are a few choices for your thoroughly modern English Breakfast at The Modern Pantry. I chose the sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette with green chili, spring onion, coriander and smoked chili Sambal, served with some nice and chunky pieces of toast. The dish is light and the slightly sweet-and-sour taste is delightful. I like to put the omelette on one piece of toast and eat the other piece of toast plain with Modern Pantry’s fresh butter.

It is great to sit out in St. Johns Square in the summer in The Modern Pantry’s outdoor seating. Londoners are hardy so you will find the outdoor seating being used year round. The square is a bit of classic old London with some modern mixed in. The Brits are good at blending old and new to make really interesting urban spaces. This is just such a place.

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If the line is too long or if you just happen to be peckish when walking by, try The Pantry Next Door for takeout, coffee and treats. Everything is made fresh and on-site daily.

If you want to pick up a tasty souvenir for friends and family back home, get a copy of Anna’s cook book, The Modern Pantry. I also picked up a jar of Anna’s homemade Chili Sambal to try out on my own breakfast at home.

2 Dishoom: A Bombay Cafe

Today it’s off to Kings Cross and the newly renovated Granary building, Mostly occupied by Central St. Martins School of Art, but also the home of Dishoom: A Bombay Cafe.

The name Dishoom comes from the Bollywood sound effect used in fight scenes. Kind of the Indian version of Batman’s “POW”. This is the third Dishoom in London, by far the biggest and I think their most interesting interior to date. Housed in the voluminous three-story Victorian space it is set-up like an Indian train station restaurant. Upon entering you are immediately transported back to Bombay circa 1930.

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Adorning the walls throughout is antique signage, graffiti and sepia photographs of families, politicians, poets and writers from the time of India’s early struggle for independence. Old ceiling fans spin, adding to the exotic atmosphere. A juice bar occupies a former Railway ticket booth with its original details completely restored, adding to the feeling that you stepped out of London and back in time.

Dishoom is a great option for breakfast, especially during the week. It is not overcrowded and you can enjoy the short trip to the outer reaches of the Empire before heading out for more London sightseeing adventures.

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If you have a good appetite, try the Keemu Per Eedu, spicy chicken Keema studded with delicate Morsels of chicken liver, topped with two runny-yolked fried eggs and salt crisp-chips. “Keema” originally referred to minced meat and was typically mutton. Dishoom’s breakfast interpretation with chicken is a lighter version.

Option two is Kejriwal, two fried eggs on Chili toast. A favorite at the posh Willingdon Club in Bombay, the first Bombay club to enroll Indian members. Legend has it that the dish was named for a club member who requested it so often it was put on the menu.

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Whew! Those two dishes were quite filling but the fresh juices looked so good we had to give them a try. Pick your fruit and they juice it right in front of you. That’s fresh!

Now something sweet, I ordered the Bun Maska. This is a bun lightly toasted on the outside, with a pat of butter inside, perfect for dipping in your spiced chai. So simple and good, it’s eaten everywhere in Bombay.

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Actually this dish is a classic of Bombay’s many “Irani” cafes. Irani Cafes were operated by Persian immigrants in the 19th century. They were quite common and could be found all over India. Most that remain are located in Hyderabad. But Mumbai has the oldest one, the 102 year old Kyani.

English Breakfast Indian style at Dishoom is a great way of engaging with the long history of these cultures, and the food that helps bind them together.

KOYA bar

Day three we are up early and heading over to Soho. Soho is one of those places in London where you need to know exactly where you are going and what time to go or you can easily get caught up in a crowd of marauding tourists. I find it’s best early in the morning or very very late at night.

We are visiting KOYA Bar, the little sister of the adjacent and well regarded restaurant KOYA. Step inside and you may as well have journeyed to Japan. Its simple, no-frills decor and the handwritten menus in Japanese and English are authentic. I like to arrive just when they’re opening. Soho is beautiful when it is quiet, just as London is waking up.

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You are probably asking yourself, “Why Japanese when I am in London looking for an English Breakfast?” Well hear me out.

Chef Shuko Oda’s food is as interesting as her life. Born in London, she grew up in California and Japan but eventually found her way back to London. Udon is really Koya’s trademark. So when planning KOYA Bar Shuko decided to find a way to serve an English Breakfast Japanese style. She fries up fresh bacon and eggs, places them on top of a bowl of freshly cooked udon so they float like the British Isles, with two mushrooms floating on either side.

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Eaten with chopsticks it is a brilliant English Breakfast and one of my favorite dishes, period. The day we visited we also tried Shuko’s Kedgeree, which is a Japanese take on an English take on an Indian dish. She serves it in a Japanese style with each ingredient in its own dish.

Along with the staples, KOYA Bar has a daily changing breakfast menu which is worth checking out.

A lot of thought a passion goes into the food at KOYA Bar. When you are there it’s hard to put your finger on why it’s so special but I think it has something to do with the relaxed simplicity of place, food and service. English ingredients prepared with an attention to detail characteristic of Japanese cooking, that’s what makes both KOYA and KOYA Bar special.

So be sure to delve into the local breakfast culture on your trip to London, Whether you choose the modern English, Japanese English, Indian English, or authentic Full English versions, or, like us, take four days to try them all, it is a delicious way to delve into the local customs and culture. After any of those fabulous meals you will have more than enough energy to head out and explore all the sights London has to offer.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details

1. The Modern Pantry: For weekend brunch you should make a reservation. also for lunch and dinner. Weekdays breakfast is served from 8am to 11am. Check out The Pantry Next Door for home made take-out treats and for some snacks for the later. Also, check out the Modern Pantry Tote. A great extra bag or a good souvenir to buy for a friend. www.themodernpantry.co.uk

2. Dishoom: There are now three locations in Shoreditch, Covent Garden and Kings Cross. Breakfast is served from 8am to 11am. Check out the website for all the great stories that inspired the Dishoom restaurants. Makes for a great read. We suggest making reservations. www.dishoom.com

3. KOYA bar: Open from 8:30-10:30 pm Monday through Wednesday, 8:30-11:00pm Wednesday to Friday and 9:30-11:00pm Saturday and Sunday. No reservations taken. www.koyabar.co.uk

4. Newmans Tavern: You can book a table online during the week. For breakfast you will be fine just walking in, but for all other seatings I would suggest making a reservation ahead of time. You can book online at; www.48newmanstreet.co.uk

A final thought … all four of the restaurants we visited are great choices also for lunch and dinner, so if breakfast is not your thing, they are all excellent places for lunch and dinner as well.

To read about the English Breakfast or become a member of the English Breakfast Society, go to; www.englishbreakfastsociety.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Eat Vienna

It’s our second entry in Bearleader’s “Eat a City” series, where we pick a city and hit the road to find great eateries we think you will enjoy. This time we are reporting back from Vienna, Austria.

For a major European capital, Vienna is relatively small. With only 1.7 million inhabitants, it is a city that can be easily explore and its old world charm can be absorbed in just a few days. We decided to search for places where you can experience authentic-contemporary-Viennese life, that are frequented mostly by locals. These are places that don’t cater to the familiar Viennese stereotypes. If it’s schnitzel and apple strudel you are looking for, you may want to look elsewhere.

1 Gasthaus Woracziczky

The first stop on our culinary tour takes us to Vienna’s 5th district, close to the famed Naschmarkt, the largest open food market in Vienna. The name of this restaurant is a bit of a tongue twister but don’t let it scare you. It’s pronounced Wora-schit’-ski.

Number 52 Spengergasse was the address of another restaurant for a long time before husband and wife team, Marion and Christoph Wurz, took it over, breathing new life into the place. What was a dark, smoke-filled, wood-paneled dining area and bar has been turned upside down. Now the rooms are bright, light, fresh and airy with classic old Viennese chairs and Marion’s flea-market-vintage bric-a-brac finds, lending the rooms an air of eccentricity.

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The kitchen is in the experienced hands of young Austrian chef Martin Buzernic, who specializes in local, traditional fare, deconstructed and reinterpreted into fresher and lighter versions. The wine list is Austrian only. Not familiar with the local wines? Just ask Marion for advice. She will know the best pairings for the day’s menu.

At lunch hour, the restaurant is full of regulars from the neighborhood taking advantage of a very reasonably priced lunch menu. The crowd is small enough that Marion and Christoph know many of their patrons by name, giving the place the feel of a canteen, but with one important distinction: The food is great.

The menu changes daily based on what farmers bring, which you can see announced every morning on Facebook. It is written in German, but with a little help from Google translator you can easily evaluate the menu’s general yumminess. Or just show up and use Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” technique and order whatever’s on offer. You won’t be disappointed.

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In the evening a new menu is handwritten based on the morning’s experiments. The names of the dishes may be unfamiliar but the friendly waitstaff is happy to assist with descriptions and suggestions.

Gasthaus Woracziczky is a true reflection of Marion and Christopher’s warm charm and kind hospitality. It’s a great place to while away a few hours over good food, wine and conversation.

2 Zum Finsteren Stern

Next we visit Zum Finsteren Stern, meaning “to the dark star”. Situated in Vienna’s first district, the restaurant is on the ground floor of a 17th century Palais where in October 1762, a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his sister Maria Anna gave their first public concert at the invitation of Count Thomas Vinciguerra Collato.

Nowadays you won’t likely hear the sounds of Mozart in the air. But you will hear the rhythmic sounds of horse drawn carriages carrying tourists past the restaurant on their tours though the first district: the carriages are, perhaps, the one sound that would also have been familiar in Mozart’s day.

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At Zum Finsteren Stern, a former actress, Ella De Silva, now pours her talent into creating great experiences for her audience through food and hospitality.

The decor is simple, and direct. Dramatic vaulted ceilings take center stage and in the lower dining room, a series of carved wood panels line one wall, serving both as art installation and light fixture.

If your visit to Vienna is during the summer months, be sure you book a table in the beautiful outdoor plaza. The plaza is sheltered by an enormous tree and dining here is cinematic, enjoying Ella’s delicious creations as horse-drawn carriages slowly roll by, the sound of the horses’ hooves echoing through the narrow streets.

Ella’s menus draw on traditional Austrian ideas with influences from Austria’s southern neighbor, Italy. Fresh local and seasonal ingredients shape her menus.

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I am lucky to have dined at Zum Finsteren Stern several times, which allows me to give you a bit of an inside scoop. Ella makes a signature dessert called “Schoko Bombe”, a rich chocolate dish served cold. It is quite literally “the bomb”. They go quickly, so ask your waiter to put one aside for you when you order your meal. That way you won’t be disappointed, as I have been more than once.

3 Labstelle

For restaurant number three we head over towards St. Stephens Cathedral. Just a stone’s throw away from the cathedral is Lugeck Square, a medieval plaza that was traditionally designated the emergency meeting place in times of war. Now it’s the home of the restaurant, Labstelle.

Labstelle has built its reputation on fresh modern design and farm-to-table cooking. Owner Thomas Hahn works with a tight-knit community of purveyors whose names are proudly displayed on a big blackboard in the restaurant’s entry.

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Style, service and modern cuisine are hallmarks of a visit to Labstelle. The young waitstaff is helpful and friendly, and the dining room is outfitted with Danish Modern Wegener chairs, neutrally-toned linen napkins and reclaimed wood tables. The place is packed full of small, thoughtful, design details, making the space as thoughtfully constructed as the food. The menu is driven by what Labstelle’s purveyors are able to provide on the day, so you are always in for a surprise.

In the summer it is nice to sit in the outdoor courtyard – a quiet spot set back from the hustle and bustle of Lugeck Square.

If you have already been in Vienna for a few days, and just cannot face another schnitzel or apple strudel, Labstelle is a refreshing change of pace. On the day of our visit we saw a steady stream of local professionals, visitors and young creatives coming through the door. A sophisticated and diverse crowd, which speaks well for Labstelle’s local reputation.

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Searching for a special something to bring home from your visit? Purchase a bottle of the house soap that was custom-designed for the restaurant by a young Viennese Soap maker. Feels good and smells great too. We loved it!

4 Zur Herknerin

Next we venture into the 4th district to meet Stefanie Herkner, one of the most vivacious and lively chefs I have come across. Full of life, love and enthusiasm, Stefanie abandoned a career in art management and a stint living in London to take over a former plumbing store and pursue her culinary dream.

The sign from original plumbing store remains in place above the restaurant, advertising “Installationen” (pipe fitting). It’s a good omen that everything still flows smoothly at the plumbing store’s appetizing successor.

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The restaurant business runs deep in the Herkner family. Stefanie’s dad answered to the title “Wirt”, the Austrian term for chef. He was famous for his authentic Viennese cooking and is still regarded as a trailblazer for what we now call gastropub culture. Now it’s Stefanie’s turn to bring her versions of dumplings, gulasch and all manner of traditional Austrian fare to the hungry hordes of Vienna.

For out-of-towners the fully Austrian handwritten menu can be a little hard to decipher. But plenty of help is on hand to assist you in make your selection, and to advise you on, say, the best wine to pair with spinach dumplings, or Spinatknoedel as the menu might read.

In case you want to learn the art of dumpling making, Austrian style, email Stefanie. She sometimes turns her kitchen into a classroom to educate aspiring chefs on the vagaries of the dumpling. Sounds like a fun activity. I make a pretty mean dumpling but I could definitely use a refresher course.

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In the summertime Stefanie installs a few small wooden tables out front on the sidewalk. It’s not quite Italy, but quite enjoyable on a balmy Viennese night. Zur Herknerin was a great find and a fitting conclusion to our Eat Vienna Tour. Bon appétit!

The Small Print

There are a couple of oddities that you might experience eating out in Vienna. Here is a rundown.

First, as of the writing of this article many Austrians continue to have a difficult time embracing the concept of not smoking inside public spaces, that most of Europe and the US have now mastered. The Austrian government has made some half-hearted attempts at complying with current EU law on this, but alas, somehow it is not yet working.

So if you prefer to eat sans smoke, always check that the restaurant you are going to is non-smoking before heading out. If you are a smoker, Vienna is your nirvana.

Second, an issue we came across again and again is that it is rare in Vienna for a restaurant to take credit cards. It is always a good idea to be prepared with cash in hand should the need arise.

And last but not least, if you find yourself in Vienna on a Sunday, many restaurants will be closed. You might be left with few choices, and mostly of the tourist variety. Note to self, find some good places to eat in Vienna on Sundays.

Details

Gasthaus Woracziczky

Spengergasse 52, 1050 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 69911 229530

Open Monday to Friday
Lunch service 11:30am – 2:30pm
Dinner service 6:00pm – 12:00am
Closed Saturday, Sunday and holidays
Closed August 10th – August 30th

Non-smoking | Cash only | Ask your hotel concierge to make a reservation for you.

Zum Finsteren Stern

Schulhof 8, 1010 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 535 2100

Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner only
6:00pm – 1:00am

Non-smoking in the downstairs dinning room until 10:00pm | Credit cards accepted: MasterCard and Visa | Ask your hotel concierge to make a reservation for you.

Labstelle

Lugeck 6, 1010 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 236 2122
www.labstelle.at

Open Monday to Saturday
11:30am – 2:00am
Lunch service 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Dinner service 6:00pm – 11:00pm

Non-smoking | Credit cards accepted: MasterCard and Visa | Ask your hotel concierge to make a reservation for you, or book online.

Zur Herknerin

Wiedner Hauptstrasse 36, 1040 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 699 1522 0522

Open Tuesday to Friday for dinner only
5:00pm – 10:00pm

Non-smoking | Cash only | Ask your hotel concierge to make a reservation for you | To inquire about Stefanie’s cooking lessons email her at buero@zurherknerin.at.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

M. Wells — Art for Eating

Long Island City, or as the locals say “LIC”, is the western-most residential and commercial neighborhood of New York City’s borough of Queens. As the name suggests, Long Island City was formerly an independent city after several villages merged to form it in 1870. Twenty years later it surrendered its independence and merged with the borough of Queens.

With rents ever on the rise in Manhattan, LIC has seen an uptick in interest in recent years from those looking for a reasonable place to live and work within hitting distance to Manhattan. As a result the area is undergoing rapid change, which is a good thing because now more than ever, there is amazing food to be had and great museums to visit just a short hop from Manhattan, over the East River.

LIC was home to the infamous Major Patrick Gleason, an Irish immigrant who fought in the Civil War, failed at several business ventures around New York and then moved to San Francisco where he made a small fortune in the distillery business. Moving back to New York, he established himself in LIC. He was known for his volatile temper and having a stronghold over local politics, being elected three times to office.

One of his legacies was a school he built for local children, the largest high school on Long Island at the time. It educated students for many years, and still stands today as the home of MoMA’s PS1. Major Gleason would be proud to see his legacy still standing.

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So, here is where we start our food and art tour for the day.

MoMA’s PS1 is a major hub for contemporary art lovers, and the largest institution of its kind in the United States. When MoMA took over the space it was already structured in a way quite suitable to the display of art. So fortunately, much of the old school remains intact, and walking around the galleries today it is easy to imagine the halls and classrooms packed with energetic kids.

After you have strolled the galleries, there is one particular classroom you should check out. It’s a classroom turned dining room, on the ground floor, and the home of M. Wells Dinette, a cafeteria-style eatery run by husband and wife team, Hugue Dufour and Sarah Orbraitis.

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Hugue got his start at the famed “Au Pied de Cochon” in Montreal, the restaurant which many say brought nose-to-tail cooking back to the Americas. On moving to New York from Montreal, Hugue and Sarah first tried their luck taking over a small diner next to the Vernon Boulevard Subway stop in Queens. That was not meant to be, but soon the opportunity arrived to take over PS1’s cafe space, and M. Wells Dinette was born.

It’s a good fit with PS1. You feel Hugue and Sarah’s creativity in their unique take on food and place the moment you enter. An open kitchen overlooks the dining room. And in homage to the young, energetic and mostly French Canadian team, overlooking the kitchen is a giant portrait of famed Quebec Politician Rene Levesque, founder of Quebec’s political independence from the rest of Canada.

The food is a natural extension of the PS1 galleries. Unique and inspiring works, in various edible mediums. It’s a tangible and fulfilling experience with art. The menu is at its core French, but the French connection is mainly philosophical. The dishes are thoroughly current and modern, prepared with a love of ingredients and assembled in fresh new ways.

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On the day of my visit there was a bit of a nip in the air and it was gratifying to see that the day’s menu had “comfort” written all over it. Two dishes stood out: foie gras with oatmeal, and diced veal hearts. Yum! There is a great wine list which, naturally, is predominantly French. You will have to ask what the best pairing is for foie gras and oatmeal.

Next stop is a real treat and it’s just a few blocks away. The Isamu Noguchi museum is a quiet, intimate and reflective museum that rarely gets overcrowded. Noguchi designed the museum himself as an open air sculpture garden ensconced within a building that houses ten galleries.

A bit further down the road is the Socrates Sculpture Park. This is a recently built outdoor sculpture garden with regularly changing exhibitions. One feature of this park is the spectacular Manhattan skyline which is something you just can’t see in Manhattan. You have to go to Queens for that.

Depending on when you began your LIC tour, it might be about time to start thinking about your next meal. Continuing on with Sarah and Hugue’s other LIC venue, our next stop is M. Wells Steakhouse.

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For the steakhouse, Sarah and Hugue chose a former car mechanic shop as the location. This provided a great industrial backdrop characteristic of LIC, on which could be added elements of old world charm and glamour, which you would expect in an establishment specializing in steak house fare.

When people ask me where they should head for the best New York steak, hands down this is the place to go. There are some other better known steak houses in New York but you will not find a better dining experience than at M. Wells Steakhouse.

To back up my claim, last September Hugue received his first Michelin star!

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As at M. Wells Dinette, the menu is characteristically French, layered with Hugue’s newly found American roots. My favorite dish for taste and presentation was the French onion soup with bone and marrow right in the middle. It is served with a delightfully small silver fork sized especially to facilitate the marrow part of your meal.

The dish has a magical, slightly fluorescent green tinge to it. An effect which Hugue achieves by topping the dish with a mixture of finely ground parsley mixed with breadcrumbs. It is divine.

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There are brilliant deserts on offer as well, so make sure you leave room. The dessert presentation is on a 1950s style cake trolley. The selection is quite something to behold.

After a day full of amazing food and art it is back to Manhattan on the 7 train. What a great day of amazing creative treats for mind and body.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details


LIC is easily accessible from Manhattan. The number 7 train from Grand Central Station and it takes you right into the heart of it all.

M. Wells PS1 is located inside MoMA PS1. If you only want to eat no need to pay the museum admission fee. For more information and opening at M.Wells Dinette, go to; www.magasinwells.com

The Noguchi Museum has been doing some ongoing renovation work and will reopen in the Spring of 2015. Please check the website for more information about the reopening. Go to; www.noguchi.org

For information about visiting the Socrates Sculpture garden, go to; www.socratessculpturepark.org

Make sure you book early for M.Wells Steakhouse. For more information and reservations, go to; www.magasinwells.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning to make a visit to LIC? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

Toasted, with a Pat of Butter

A few months ago I shared a story about my visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London. The gallery’s name comes from is location in the village of Dulwich. The problem with Dulwich is that it is located just far enough south of London that you wouldn’t likely visit there on a whim. You need sufficient motivation to make the trip. For me the Picture Gallery is more than enough to get me on the road. But on my last trip I decided to take the 15 minute walk from the gallery, through Dulwich Park and into the village, to see what else was going on in Dulwich. And as it turned out, we found another good reason to make the trip.

Situated on Lordship Lane, the main street of Dulwich, is the restaurant Toasted, a collaboration between Chef Michael Hazlewood and Manager Alex Thorp. Michael, or Hazel as everyone calls him, hails from the Southern Hemisphere and began to develop his considerable culinary skills at the well-regarded Attica in Melbourne. He later moved onto positions at a few famous London foodie hangouts.

Michael has a relaxed and quietly enthusiastic demeanor. And in spite of our arriving in the midst of a busy lunch-service prep, he was happy to engage with us as we peppered him with questions about the ingredients for the day’s menu and their sources. I am always intrigued by the alchemy that can happen in a kitchen in the right hands and Michael’s meticulous manner and adventurous ingredient combinations are testament to a real talent for food, beyond what practice can achieve. It’s an inspiration to see him work.

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As we chatted with Michael, Alex was nose-down and up to his elbows in the previous day’s receipts. Surely much of Toasted’s success is due to Alex keeping the front of the house up to the same high standard as Michael’s Cuisine.

By now the dough was fully proved so Michael got to work forming the boules for the day. Speaking of bread, even something as simple as butter has not escaped Michael’s attention. You first notice the color, an unusually bright shade of yellow. And then the taste, like a tangy cream but much thicker. It’s so good you could eat it on its own. Michael makes it daily from fermented raw milk sourced from a dairy just outside of London.

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There are three dining areas, one in front next to the bar, one almost in the kitchen where some prep work takes place (sit here if you want to eat immersed in the kitchen action), and one in an adjacent room.

In the adjacent room are also three large stainless steel tanks, purposely built to hold wine (in quantity) that Toasted has sourced from a small artisanal producer. The quality is good, and buying in quantity makes the cost quite reasonable. Coincidentally, Toasted’s predecessor at this location was a wine shop, so there is also a steady flow of customers looking to take advantage of the on-site bottled wine.

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In the end, Toasted’s charm is that it is simply a relaxed local joint where regulars come for a meal, or stop in for a coffee or a glass of wine. It just so happens that the meals are exceptional and it is an excellent room to hang out for a drink anytime. It’s definitely worth the trip to Dulwich.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details


For more informant, current menus and a schedule for win tasting events, go to; www.toastdulwich.co.uk


Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a visit to Dulwich? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

Eat Munich

We have received several emails of late from loyal Bearleader readers asking us to highlight more great food venues in and around the places we cover. You asked for it and here it is, the first of our new “Eat a City” series. Each time we visit a city we will be searching out four great places for you to dine. We will be picking options in different price ranges, styles of food and places that are good to visit at different times of the day. All our suggestions will serve fresh, local and mostly organic food. And of course any place we suggest will be a fun outing.

First up, Eating Munich. If you are like me, images of Wurst (sausages), pretzels and beer immediately come to mind. But if you move beyond the Oktoberfest stereotype, you will find a small group of enthusiastic chefs working with local suppliers, whipping up a cuisine that is uniquely München. Yes, it is true, if you visit Munich any time in the other 11 months of the year you will have an equally good time, with a bevy of food and activity options that will delight, inspire and entertain. Here is what we found.

1 Garden

The Hotel Bayrischer Hof is a family-owned Munich institution, in operation since 1841. It has recently been renovated to enhance its five-star luxury reputation for another generation. Along with the hotel, the long-running Garden restaurant has also received a makeover under the direction of famed Belgian designer and art dealer Alex Vervoordt. Vervoordt transformed the Garden’s classic winter garden into a light-and-airy glass-enclosed dining room reminiscent of an artist Studio. Large expanses of glass, rough industrial materials and well-worn patinaed surfaces combine with a mix of natural linen fabrics to produce a dynamic lively space.

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Vervoordt controlled all visual aspects of the renovated restaurant with menus designed to his specifications, and commissioned fellow designer Ann Demeulemeester to produce uniforms for the wait staff. Demeulemeester created a work-coat-inspired Kimono in heavy dark blue linen, which is a brilliant and practical flourish that animates the new dining room.

The cuisine is just as inspiring as the décor, with chef Jan Hartwig at the helm since May. This is his first head chef position and along with his young, energetic creative team, the kitchen is producing solid dishes that seem quite mature for the short time he has been in charge.

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A real craftsman, Jan’s dishes all feature carefully composed intriguing flavor combinations, each full of charm and subtle in taste. You will also find a great variety of thoughtful meatless options equal to his more carnivorous concoctions.

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Jan’s love for effusing various fresh herbs into his dishes is a thread that runs through the evolving seasonal menu.

2 Waldmeisterei

Now we are heading over to the Maxvorstadt district to check out Waldmeisterei, a favorite eatery of design-savvy locals and students from the nearby Ludwig-Maximilians University.

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On arrival we are greeted by co-owners Damir Stabo Stabek and Christina Pawelski. We sit down for some cake and a fresh lemon/elderflower gespritzt to chat about how the recently opened Waldmeisterei came to be.

Stabo set out to create a breakfast-to lunch-time venue, offering simple, fresh food with a concentration on great cakes and coffee. It is part deli, part cafe, part local hang out. As we talked there was a steady stream of patrons coming and going, clearly on their daily pilgrimage to Waldmeisterei.

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The interior is quite new but constructed with recycled materials to look well-worn from day one. Walls and furniture are built from rough, reclaimed wood with bright copper-covered counter tops where cakes and other to-go offerings are displayed. Vintage chairs and chandeliers are paired with bold graphic posters to complete the comfortable and modern look.

Christina bakes many of the cakes fresh daily. And you will find a great selection of seasonal lunch dishes on offer each day, prepared by lunch chef Aramis.

A favorite of mine is the classic German-style open-faced sandwich called “Wurstbrot” and “Kaesebrot”. It’s a thick slice of dark whole wheat bread adorned with fresh cold cuts or cheese or both. A nice change of pace from the run-of-the-mill sandwiches we are so accustomed to, and good any time of day

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Afternoon is a great time to visit for “Kaffee und Kuchen”. A very German tradition that is still observed religiously by locals. And with Christina’s cakes, all the better at Waldmeisterei for your afternoon break from sightseeing.

3 Fraeulein Grueneis

Just a short trip south and east and we arrive at the southernmost point of the English Garden, where the Eisbach River rushes into the park.

Of all the restaurants I have visited lately, this one has the best back story. Built in 1906 as a public toilet for the English Garden, it served its intended purpose for many years. Eventually the building acquired a reputation for drug dealing and other illicit activities, and it was officially boarded up and left to decay.

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Then one day a few years ago, the overgrown ruins caught the attention of local residents Sandra and Henning Duerr, who somehow had the vision to see that this dilapidated English Garden folly could be put back into service for public use as a restaurant.

Having a vision is one thing, but bringing that vision to fruition is quite another. Standing in Sandra and Henning’s path was the city’s building department who would have to give them permission to occupy the property in order to move their plan forward. They soon found out that this permission was not going to be easy to extract. As Henning tells it, without Sandra’s dogged determination it would never have happened. Sandra attacked the problem with such tenacity that the city finally surrendered and gave permission, if for no other reason than to stop Sandra from calling them every day.

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With all the paperwork in order, the project began and the building was soon restored to its original exterior appearance. Henning did most of the work himself, and in 2011 the building reopened. When you are there, notice one of the few original details that remain from the original building, the sign “Frauen”, from the women’s room entrance.

Now an integral part of the neighborhood, the restaurant attracts a healthy lunch crowd from local businesses, tourists and surfers arriving from the nearby Eisbach River. There are not too many places you can eat lunch with such a diverse crowd.

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The lunch menu changes daily, based on what’s available locally, with two dishes served as long as supplies last. Sandra and Henning live next to the local green market so they can easily buy their produce fresh daily. A great selection of home-baked cakes and other treats are also available for dessert or “Kaffee und Kuchen” in the afternoon.

Fraeulein Grueneis is open year round. In the winter season, a small wood-burning stove in the main room is enough to keep everyone warm. And with the cold comes mulled wine season, which is well worth braving the cold for.

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Being situated within the English Garden provides more benefits than just a scenic location. To start with, there is a steady supply of wood from the local gardeners to keep the stove stoked all winter. And Henning told us they also tend several beehives in the gardens, producing a steady supply of their own Fraeulein Grueneis honey. A great souvenir to bring home with you from your lunch in the garden.

After lunch, be sure you stop by the bridge over the Eisbach River. From the bridge you get a prime view of the locals surfing the famous stationary wave. The Eisbach River is the only river surfing location in the world within a city. But that is a story for another time.

4 Chez Fritz

For dinner we are heading east over the Isar River to Munich’s French Quarter in the neighborhood of Haidhausen to visit a wonderful French brasserie called Chez Fritz

The Franzosenviertel (French Quarter) district in Munich dates back to around 1871 when, to commemorate Germany’s war with France, many streets were named after battlefields where Germans were victorious.

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The energetic crew at Chez Fritz know their chops. The menu features a selection of French classics such as: Steak Frites, Entrecôte, Jarret D’Agneau, and Moules et Frites. Seafood figures prominently on the menu and the daily fresh offerings are on display for individual selection in the dining room.

The dining room feels like it has existed for at least as long as the local streets bearing French names. Whether by age or design, it’s a great room and just what you would want as a setting for classic French cuisine.

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During the warm summer months, try to get a table outdoors in the shadow of the neighboring St. Johannes church. Chez Fritz’s eclectic mix of vintage furniture under the old trees of Preysingplatz adds to the old world ambience.

Details

For details and reservations at the Garden restaurant go to; www.bayerischerhof.de

For opening hours and additional information about Waldmeisterei go to; www.waldmeisterei.com

For details and information about Fraeulein Grueneis go to; www.fraeulein-grueneis.de

For reservations and additional information about Chez Fritz go to; www.chezfritz.de

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Eat, Chat, Love at Eschi Fiege’s Vegetarian Mittagstisch

Running late for my lunch appointment with author, host, and notorious Vienna vegetarian chef Eschi Fiege, I rushed through the Naschmarkt, one of Vienna’s largest public markets. Passing under the overlapping awnings, the sky opened up, drenching the path that runs between the market stalls and lifting the fresh scent of the market’s exotic foods into the air. It’s getting close to lunchtime and the all this fresh food is making me hungry. A quick dash across the street and I am at Eschi’s building.

The first thing you should know about Eschi Fiege is that Lunch is sacred. It’s her favorite meal of the day. She firmly believes that in our busy lives, it is critical to take an hour out of the day and enjoy a meal, preferably with friends. As Eschi says, “It gets your mind off whatever it is you normally think about, recharges the spirit and refreshes the mind”. She calls it her “secret for success”, and it has served her well. Eschi says “for years I observed people rushing around at lunch, food in hand, rarely taking time to sit down, and vowed to never fall into that trap”. According to Eschi, “setting that one hour a day aside is a key to a more productive day”.

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A few years ago, she decided to test her philosophy by kicking off a project called “Mittagstisch”. This is a German word that generally means lunch, but refers more specifically to a kind of fixed menu lunch for a group or workers. Twice a week Eschi Fiege opens her home to a small group of friends and friends of friends for lunch. Guests experience a relaxing hour with great seasonal, locally sourced, vegetarian dishes, and good conversation with friends and new acquaintances. And Eschi gets an enthusiastic and vocal audience to test out her new dishes.

The food industry wasn’t Eschi’s first choice as a career. At the age of 23 the world of advertising caught her eye and she became a creative director. Following that she moved into copy writing and directing for TV commercials. All this time cooking and entertaining was just a hobby. In retrospect though, her work experience and talents serendipitously led to her current project, combining a passion for food with media savvy to bring her message to a wider audience.

No.32 | The Vienna Vegetarian Kitchen of Eschi Fiege

Eschi’s apartment is packed with character and imbued with the continuity that only comes with a long family history. It’s where she, her mother and her grandmother lived so Eschi has been cooking here ever since she started licking the spoons. In fact, young Eschi took an early interest in cooking, experimenting with her own recipes soon after starting to cook with her mother.

The apartment feels more like a farmhouse than an urban apartment. Two resident cats, vintage furniture, well-worn, creaking floors and a balcony overflowing with plants, combine to give an impression of casual country living. A great place to put out some tables and invite some friends over for a relaxing mid-day break.

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From the balcony the fresh food markets can be surveyed several floors below extending through Vienna’s “Rechte Wienzeile” district. Many of the vendors have become Eschi’s trusted allies in her endeavor to create relaxed, seasonal cuisine for her favorite meal of the day.

A few years ago, Eschi Fiege decided to test her philosophy by kicking off a project called “Mittagstisch”… Twice a week Eschi opens her home to a small group … for a Vienna vegetarian lunch.

Eschi’s recipes draw influence from regional foods: part Austrian, part Italian, part French with a hint of the Middle East. The food is uncomplicated at first glance. On tasting though, the flavors and combinations are surprising and the dishes an absolute delight.

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It’s been a few years now and Eschi has collected a loyal following. One unexpected result from this was a steady stream of requests for recipes. Once again luck was with Eschi when a Viennese publishing house offered her a book deal. The new book is titled, naturally, “Mittagstisch”. So now we can all benefit from Eschi’s years of kitchen experiments. It’s in German, but I am hoping for an English version soon.

Well, I have exceeded my hour-long lunch with Eschi and have to move on with the afternoon’s activities. But I am definitely refreshed by my Vienna vegetarian Mittagstisch and ready for whatever is in store.

No.32 | The Vienna Vegetarian Kitchen of Eschi Fiege

The tag line for Eschi’s book is “Sie kocht als wuerde sie uns lieben”. A rough translation of that is, “She cooks with love”. That’s a good place to end.

Details

If you’re in Vienna you can experience Mittagstisch for yourself. For times, gatherings and information, please email her at mail@lovekitchen.at. Don’t forget to mention that you are a friend of the Bearleader.

For more information on Artist Otto Zitko; www.ottozitko.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

River Cottage To Table

Having been a fan of the UK TV series set at River Cottage farm, hosted by food advocate Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and without any new shows to watch of late, I came across Hugh’s talk at TED Exeter from a few years ago. One thing Hugh said resonated: “In order to help us connect with food, we should seek food with a story.”

With so many aspects of the world’s food supply in crisis, what’s one person to do? Well with River Cottage farm resturant and on the TV show, Hugh has made a personal appeal for us all to live better, healthier and more sustainably, by each week telling his personal stories about food. And his stories have had real impact. The national awareness towards eating locally and sustainably has never been higher in the UK. And in national and international politics, Hugh has successfully advocated for sensible and sustainable food policies in ways that will reap great benefits for consumers the world over for years to come.

Now, sadly, that the show has ended its run, Hugh has turned River Cottage farm over to the public, enabling us all the opportunity to experience, hands on, all the food stories we enjoyed on TV.

Upon arriving for our day at the farm we were greeted by operations manager Simon. He led us down the garden path, so to speak, as we made our way from the reception through meadows of grazing sheep, beehives, and crisp rows of dew-laden crops. Lambing season was in full swing so bouncing baby lambs hopped and scuttled in all directions as we passed through their domain.

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We sat down in the new dining hall and Simon treated us to some hot-drink hospitality as we learned more about River Cottage farms and resturant’s new mission and mapped out the day’s activities.

First, River Cottage farm was a TV set and laboratory of sorts for Hugh to test his farming, foraging, and husbandry ideas. Now it is a working farm and a modern state-of-the-art culinary school, which spreads Hugh’s message through hands-on instruction one person at a time.

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The facilities are state of the art and quite literally set into the landscape with vast areas of glass along the edge of the classroom. The message is clear, consider not just the food in front of you, but also where it comes from. And in most cases, the food prepared at River Cottage farm and restaurant could have been observed at some point through those windows.

The professional kitchen was buzzing with food production for the classes, and preparations for the soon-to-be-arriving guests. Dining at River Cottage is a great outing. You can visit for lunch or dinner year round. I have often been to restaurants where the term “farm to table” is batted around. Always with justification, but in this case the relationship is so close, sitting at the table while observing the farm is an altogether unique experience.

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The range of classes on offer year round cover an amazing variety of skills and topics: meat cookery, bread making, gardening, food foraging, preserves, making cider and beer, butchery. And for each subject taught in the school there is a corresponding book to remind students of what they learned once they get home. The books are also handy if you cannot make it to the farm: There is still a literary route to the River Cottage experience.

… Hugh has turned River Cottage farm over to the public, enabling us all the opportunity to experience, hands on, all the food stories we enjoyed on TV.

Because I am a bit of a fan of the TV show, getting to explore Hugh’s kitchen was a high point. One thing I learned from Hugh was that, with an old stove and an old table and a warm fireplace, you can make almost anything you want. And seeing Hugh’s old stove, table and original 17th century working fireplace in real life, it all looked even less auspicious than the simple set of tools and appliances where Hugh worked his magic on TV.

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Outside the kitchen window is the wonderful Victorian kitchen garden. It was still early spring when we visited, but you could see light green shoots all around starting to push out of the ground.

Simon explained that it took a few years to get the overgrown, abandoned farm back to where it is today. A farm is a machine for food production, but to work naturally it requires time and strategy. Each crop grows best with a certain set of nutrients which may be generated naturally by the crops grown in that ground previously. And once those nutrients are depleted the crops must be rotated. Getting the order right is the key to a productive yearly harvest. And coming up with ways to prepare food from all the crops in the rotation is the key to productive farming. Some plants have become more popular than others and tend to be over-farmed. But each plant is good if you know how to prepare it.

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We walked by a noisy gaggle of geese dashing for the pond to avoid us, and carefully avoided the chickens roaming freely around the farm, pecking the ground for any tasty morsels they could dig up. We stopped off at the pig pen for a visit with a couple of River Cottage’s heritage breed pigs. Simon politely knocked on their roof and both pigs poked their heads out to greet us. Both curious about the stranger at their door, they quickly warmed up to me, having a chew on my Hunter boots, which I took as a friendly gesture.

In the greenhouses, the first lush and juicy strawberries were starting to ripen. A few more weeks and they will ready to serve. Finally we made our way up a small hill, along a narrow footpath, and emerged in a large meadow covered with bluebells in bloom. What a brilliant mass of deep blue. On the way out we made a final stop at the lambing shed, where the newborn lambs were as curious to see us as their mothers were apprehensive.

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It is a great feeling when everybody and everything works towards a common purpose. And this is how the evolving story of River Cottage is being written every day by the people working on the land, in the kitchen and those plotting a future for this amazing place.

They say it is best to leave a place wanting more. And my departure from River Cottage was with the determination to come back soon.

Details

For information about tours, classes, or dining at River Cottage, go to; www.rivercottage.net

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Pigging Out—Oink Oink

In our travels we had heard talk of Chef Robin Rea and his establishment the Rusty Pig Ottery St Mary in Devon. So as we made our way around Devon, we could not resist the opportunity to stop in and visit the man himself, to see what all the talk was about.

Arriving in Ottery St Mary we parked in the town center and walked up the eerily quiet Yonder Street looking for Robin. It was not entirely clear that we were on the right path until we stumbled across a sow-themed shop window, complete with faux knives, metaphorically at the ready, to dispatch delicious pork parts to hungry diners everywhere. Ah, this must be the place.

The Rusty Pig Ottery has the feel of being undiscovered. The kind of place you stumble across in an out-of-the-way place and can proclaim to the world, “Look what I have found”. Unfortunately for us, The Rusty Pig Ottery is quite well known in these parts, and much further afield, as attested by his name coming up several times in conversations with strangers. But, as we discovered, through Robin’s relentless pursuit of his passion for food, charcuterie and various other food innovations, quite a unique establishment has developed. Part butcher shop, part restaurant, part lunch counter and local meeting place, Robin has created the perfect spot to work his magic.

As an aside, Robin welcomed us in one of Teresa Green’s silkscreened aprons. A blood red linen one made especially for Robin. Who is Teresa Green? Check out Check out Journal Entry No.28.

Robin’s story is as diverse as the style of his establishment. He started cooking as a teenager. First leaving Ottery St Mary bound for Australia, and then returning to London, eventually ending up at the nearby River Cottage. Finally returning home to Ottery St Mary, he decided to take over his mom’s former 99p store on Yonder Street. After a gut renovation, the Rusty Pig Ottery was born.

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Passionate about pigs, Robin keeps a few of his own, which he “lodges” at a friend’s vegetable farm. They fertilize her gardens and in return she provides the Rusty Pig Ottery with excellent veggies. He is also on a mission to educate people about animal husbandry and how we need to change our farming practices to be healthier and more sustainable. That means more vegetables generally, but better meat when you have it.

At the Rusty Pig you will only get what is in season from Robin’s local purveyors. But in Devon, that is not terribly limiting. With all its lush farmland and adjacency to the sea, it’s a food lover’s paradise. When I took Robin’s portrait in front of his store I momentarily held up traffic as I backed up into the street. As the trucks passed, Robin realized one of them was his seafood supplier and shouted “Hey! Where’s my fish?” He sped off shouting, “be there in two”. How’s that for a purchase order!

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Wasting food does not sit well with Robin. His roof-top smoker cabinet bears testament to that. He built it himself, to my eye having the approximate proportions of the puppet theaters I remember from childhood. He smokes sausages, hams, but surprisingly, also carrots and any other vegetables he has left over. The smoked carrots are the main ingredients for his home-made ketchup which is just delicious.

… returning home to Ottery St Mary, he decided to take over his mom’s former 99p store on Yonder Street. After a gut renovation, the Rusty Pig Ottery was born.

Sometimes Robin’s drive to not let anything go to waste has driven him to extremes. One of his specialties is blood meringues. For Robin they are part object lesson and part dinner entertainment. Working with a food scientist, Robin found that the protein structure of pig’s blood is virtually identical to that of egg whites. So to illustrate his no-waste message, he now makes beautiful little desert meringues out of pig’s blood. They are slightly beige, and believe me if you were not told otherwise, you would not know the difference between Robin’s blood meringues and their egg-based cousins. “It took a lot of testing”, he says. “You just need to get the sugar level right, or it tastes like you got hit in the mouth”.

Rusty Pig Ottery St Mary in Devon | Bearleader No.30

His real passion is Charcuterie and originally he set out to do exclusively that. But one thing led to another and soon Robin was preparing food for his customers on site, which turned out to be a better business model to support Robin’s constant culinary experiments. And luckily for you and me, you can now enjoy Robin’s extensive talents for breakfast and lunch from Thursday to Saturday. The day we visited, breakfast was already in full swing with locals and urban weekenders, all in for their weekly breakfast treats.

On Robin’s recommendation, we went for the Full English, which I have to say, was my best to date. Seriously, the flavor ensemble was perfect, and it was a food stylist’s dream in a sturdy black skillet with lovely vegetables, simply roasted, with blood pudding, sausages, hash and lovely thick cut of white toast.

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You would think that someone that is so passionate about charcuterie would be snobbish with vegetarians. Not so with Robin. He very clearly expresses that in this day and age a good chef should be able to cook a main course with whatever is available to them, meat or not. Learning to be improvisational allows you to develop a much more interesting palette of taste. And as with doing anything risky, mistakes happen, which then become the next innovations.

So come hungry and don’t be shy about ordering vegetarian. I was torn as to which I liked best.

Rusty Pig Ottery St Mary in Devon | Bearleader No.30

One of the Rusty Pig Ottery specials is his “dinner on demand”. If you make arrangements ahead of time Robin will prepare an ethically sourced four-course dinner for 40 pounds a head. He can host up to 15 people. Just remember, you need to book way in advance. His dinners are extremely popular and patrons travel from far away for the experience.

I left thinking this guy should be famous, I mean seriously famous. And then I remembered, he is already. It was just a lovely down-to-earth experience chatting with Robin and his team. His charm, wit and enthusiasm for food is something you very rarely see. He has created exactly the kind of place where people from all walks of life like to come and spend time with him and eat.

Go there. All I can say you will love it.

Details

For further details go to; www.rustypig.co.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Hugo’s of Portland, Maine

When I drove up to Maine during a winter blizzard back in January, it was a far cry from today’s balmy weather in London, where I sit tapping out my recollections of my visit to Hugo’s Portland Maine. At the conclusion of a harrowing drive, I arranged to meet with partners Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley and Arlin Smith, who took over Hugo’s in 2012 from their former boss Rob Evans. We squeezed in our meeting early so we could get acquainted before everyone headed off to perform their respective duties in preparation for the night’s dinner service.

The restaurant has been located at the edge of the Old Port district since the late 1990s, when Evans opened the place and, with his flair for cuisine, quickly put Portland on the food map. After assuming control of Hugo’s, Andrew, Mike and Arlin put their mark on the place, focusing on locally sourced seasonal ingredients, prepared simply, but in the most interesting and unexpected ways. They soon parlayed their success into a second venture, an adjacent casual eatery called Eventide Oyster Company. Here you can enjoy their ingredient-focused style put to work on fresh oysters, hot lobster rolls and cold beer.

During my short visit I was in a good position to experience the two establishments side-by-side. Both restaurants share a kitchen and it’s only a short hop between them. So I ran back and forth between them, talking to whoever was free, and sampling the two menus. Each dining room has a distinct style. Eventtide is light, airy and relaxed, in a “beach holiday” kind of way. Hugo’s Portland Maine is decorated in a modern-craft style, with recycled wood, stainless steel and warm toned, slightly worn leather upholstery.

At Hugo’s, leather booths line one side of the restaurant with bar seating opposite. The kitchen is open and located just beyond the bar, so if you are at the bar you have front-row seats for the kitchen performance.

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Mike and Andrew, are the chefs of the trio. They met while working at Hugo’s under Evan’s tenure. They lead a young and enthusiastic crew who all share Andrew’s, Mike’s and Arlin’s vision.

Hugo’s Portland Maine is one of those places were a clear vision, enthusiasm and a love for ingredients shapes the place.

Mike started sending out plates as we chatted. First, was a poached duck egg, served with savory granola confit, beach mushroom, parsley puree and candied orange zest, accompanied by bacon on toast. It was a sensational dish. I would say the tastes and textures combine with surprising tenderness. The savory granola was an inspired touch.

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His second dish featured braised beef with pickled black radish and charred onion root, topped with a vegetable fritter made from celery and parsnip, and finally drizzled with beef juice. The slight acidic taste of the black radish perfectly balanced the dish, … outstanding.

Mike then prepared local sea urchin and Hikiki, served on a rice puff, topped with Jalapeño pepper. The dish was plated on a piece of black slate, the whole presentation, a feast for the eyes. The Jalapeño pepper added a distinctive little kick to the dish to round it up, a surprising combination

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And the local sourcing goes beyond the food. Hugo’s Portland Maine worked with local ceramic artist Alison Evans to design many of the dishes for the restaurant. Alison’s work is solid and earthy. She works with a color palette of mostly muted colors that, of course, fits in perfectly with the food and decor at Hugo’s. Mike always knows exactly what kind of plate he wants for a dish; texture, color, glaze, stoneware or stone. According to Mike, it’s all important for the correct presentation of a dish.

Kampachi crudo came next, served with cilantro, sesame and Aglio e Olio, presented on a salt slab. Another delight. There was a sharp freshness to the dish.

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Hugo’s Portland Maine is one of those places were a clear vision, enthusiasm and a love for ingredients shapes the place. Each night they offer three tasting menus; one for omnivores, one for pescetarians and one for vegetarians. If the tasting menu is too much, you can order a la carte. Or if you call ahead, there is the Pièce de résistance, the Chef’s tasting menu. You need to order that in advance. I understand it is quite a special experience. That’s what I will be having on my next visit

Mike’s final dish that evening proved to be a perfect finale for my visit: Maine diver scallops with blood oranges, served with pork-feet Chicharron. This brings “surf and turf” to new heights.

Hugo's Portland Maine for Great Portland Fare | Bearleader No.25

I visited in winter and the crowd seemed to be mostly locals. In warmer months, the population of Portland swells dramatically so this is one time when the Bearleader advises making reservations early. Or plan your visit off season as I did.

After an extraordinary afternoon of good food and conversation, I excused myself. Inspired by the food, atmosphere and good company, and with the sun now shining again, I made my way back to New York.

Thank you guys for sharing with me your great work.

Details

For directions and reservations; http://www.hugos.net/

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Jack’s Wife Freda

Are you in New York City asking the perennial question, “Where shall we eat?” Well then, you’re going to want to check out Jack’s Wife Freda. For my money, this offers the best casual dining experience in the city. In the often crazy and pretentious New York restaurant scene, this is one bright spot you should get to know.

Since opening in 2012, it’s been one of my favorite places to hang out; one of those little gems that was popular from the start. But unlike many new restaurants in New York, this place got it right at the beginning, and now is thriving with a loyal following.

Visiting this time as a journalist rather than as a customer, I had the chance to get some face time with the owners and to delve a bit into what they set out to do with their first solo endeavor. Chatting with them about the restaurant, it finally made sense to me why I love this place and keep coming back time after time.

No.22 | Jack's Wife Freda in New York City

The story began when owners Maya and Dean Jankelowitz moved to New York, Maya from Israel and Dean from South Africa. Both started working for famed restaurateur Keith McNally; Maya as Maître de at Balthazar, and Dean at Schillers. With a few years under their belts in these classic New York eateries, they struck out on their own with the financial backing of actress Piper Perabo—and then Jack’s Wife Freda was born.

First, you are probably wondering about the name. Jack and Freda are Dean’s grandparents, and as Dean tells it, they were quiet the hosts. And that home-spun hospitality became the centerpiece of the new restaurant.

No.22 | Jack's Wife Freda in New York City

The food is local, fresh and simple, always with something surprising to try out. On this visit, house-cured duck bacon was on offer. An interesting idea, a first for me, and I really enjoyed it. For dinner, pan-seared duck breast was on the menu, something I have enjoyed in the past.

… you will soon start to notice the familiar faces of others who have also made Jack’s Wife Freda part of their morning ritual.

But today I am just in time for breakfast. They open at 9:00 am. This is convenient if you find yourself just off a flight and in need of a tasty start to your city excursions. I am particularly fond of the green Shahsuka with a refreshing cup of mint tea. If you are like me and end up making frequent return visits, you will soon start to notice the familiar faces of others who have also made Jack’s Wife Freda part of their morning ritual.

No.22 | Jack's Wife Freda in New York City

A bit later in the day, try one of the house cocktail inventions. Ask a waiter what they recommend, or Maya herself who often comes up with these juicy treats. They change regularly, with the seasons or on a whim, so there is often a liquid surprise in store for you.

The room is charming, and although meticulously styled for relaxed dinning, I have to say that the ambience really comes from Maya and Dean. They put everyone at ease with their friendly relaxed manner and pleasant wit.

No.22 | Jack's Wife Freda in New York City

The decor is bistro inspired with a modern touch. Attention to detail does not stop with the food and decor. Everything from sugar packs to hot-drink wraps is carefully crafted to fit perfectly with Maya and Dean’s vision of the kind of place that they want to come to every day.

Not planning a trip to New York anytime soon? You can still check out Maya’s adventures on Instagram. In her own words she is “obsessed with Instagram”, and, as you will see, a talented photographer.

I’m looking forward to another visit soon. Thank you Maya and Dean.

Details

For information, hours and menus; www.jackswifefreda.com

Maya’s Instagram account

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

High Altitude Greek Cooking

“Forget gourmet, discover gastronomy“ is the mantra of our hosts Fanis, Vagelis and Andonis. And they wear their message proudly. It’s the first thing we saw when they greeted us for our Natour Labs Cretan Cooking Class in the village of Milia Crete at the Milia Mountain Retreat, the words were emblazoned on their T-shirts.

I heard about these three ambassadors of Greek culture during a stay at Hotel Ammos. I contacted Andonis to learn more, and he graciously invited me to join the group for one of their Tuesday cooking courses.

The trip to Milia Crete is a story in itself. Traveling from the warm beaches of Chania to the top of the mountains takes less than an hour. The road is steep and quite rudimentary, with many stretches built with just one lane. For the uninitiated, driving up this road can be quite nerve wracking. But once you learn that what the roads lack in width, the drivers make up for in friendly cooperation, it all seems quite adequate. The caution necessary to transverse the route guarantees a slow and gentle ascent with ample time to take in the breathtaking views.

Milia Crete: High Altitude Greek Cooking | Bearleader No.20

On arrival at the Milia Crete turn off, the road narrows even more and becomes gravel, more a path than a road.

The difficulty in accessing Milia Crete is in fact by design. In the past, the route to Milia would have been invisible to anyone not belonging there. Also, the hidden nature of the village has provided shelter and security during many wars and sieges and it kept the self-sustained villagers safe and fed while they waited for treacherous events to pass. Its obscurity was its main defense and the reason that today you can walk into approximately the same village you might have visited in the 17th century.

Milia Crete: High Altitude Greek Cooking | Bearleader No.20

In the ‘70s, with the infrastructure of the village crumbling, the father-in-law of Tasos, the current owner, decided to save the village and turn it into an eco lodge with a restaurant open to the public. Every Tuesday, this is the home of Natour Labs Cretan Cooking Class. The beautiful stone houses of the village have been restored and outfitted as guest accommodations, with fire places inside, and hammocks outside perfect for reading in the afternoon sun to the occasional sound of bells from goats wandering the surrounding hills.

Milia Crete: High Altitude Greek Cooking | Bearleader No.20

On the day of my visit, a varied group showed up hailing from New York, London, Paris and Greece. Our youngest cooking participant, who came with mom and dad from London, was just short of two years old! Tasos pitched in with child-minding duty and kept the little girl entertained with visits to see the piglets raised on the premises.

Milia Crete: High Altitude Greek Cooking | Bearleader No.20

The island of Crete is rich in agriculture. A diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables has amply fed the islanders for many centuries. Locals were healthy and lived long active lives. Many studies talk about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. However in Crete, as in most countries, modern industrialized food has taken over. Imported foods abundant in carbohydrates and sugar dominate in the local grocery stores, as a result, the Cretans now suffer from an obesity epidemic. I can provide a first-hand account of this as I have been coming to Greece since I was a teenager. Years ago it was rare to see anyone overweight, but on my recent visit it was shocking to see XXXL shops prominently advertised on the main thoroughfare.

Milia Crete: High Altitude Greek Cooking | Bearleader No.20

The mission of Natour Lab is to remind fellow Cretans (and visitors) about the traditional way of cooking and eating, encouraging a return to the practice of cooking with simple fresh ingredients, in season, and from local sources. At Natour Lab in most cases right from the Milia Crete. It’s a message beginning to be heard wherever you travel these days, and one championed by an ever-increasing chorus of voices advocating a more sustainable way of living.

Milia Crete: High Altitude Greek Cooking | Bearleader No.20

The take away from the course was that with few ingredients and little time you can create the most wonderful dishes. Our three-course meal illustrated it. First, was a starter of local mountain cheese and tomatoes on crostini followed by a wonderful tomato and peach soup. Peaches and tomatoes go together naturally, we were taught, as do braised lamb and a honey dish with potatoes and courgette (which is zucchini if you live in the US or Australia).

Milia Crete: High Altitude Greek Cooking | Bearleader No.20

Bread was made fresh that morning in a wood-fired bread oven. Delicious! A high light for us all were the cookies that we made from a simple dough of flour, olive oil, honey, and cinnamon. Repurposing a countertop sausage machine, the dough was extruded into delicate shapes. This resulted in a rustic “shortbread” cookie, just as good as the original, but with no sugar or butter.

The difficulty in accessing Milia Crete is in fact by design. In the past, the route to Milia would have been invisible to anyone not belonging there.

As is usually the case when a group of strangers are thrust into a room together, it begins with a “warming up” period! And as the class was conducted in English with most in our group speaking other languages, we had additional communication hurdles to overcome. But once we all started chopping and mixing, barriers quickly melted away. By late afternoon, we were all seated around a communal table in conversation, eating and drinking the fruits of our labor, wishing we could linger into the evening.

Milia Crete: High Altitude Greek Cooking | Bearleader No.20

Check Natour Lab’s website to see what is being offered during your visit to Milia Crete. They also offer a variety of specialized experiences, including bee keeping, and hiking excursions throughout Crete. You can arrange private classes and tours to suit your schedule.

Some of the more challenging hikes require proper equipment. So if you are interested in those activities, enquire before you arrive, and get advice on what equipment to bring.

Details

For more information about Natour Lab; www.natour-lab.gr

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Time-honored, Locally Sourced

Crossing the threshold of E Smith Mercantile, it is immediately apparent that this is not your everyday modern store. Curiosities, locally sourced goods and traditional products that you just don’t see anymore. Part museum, part general store, part saloon: for an Austrian kid who grew up reading about cowboys and indians, this is how I pictured the general store.

The authenticity comes honestly. Inspired by their grandparents, Elmer and Mary Smith, who lived in a small gold-mining town at the edge of the Sawtooth mountains in Southern Idaho, Kate and her two daughters, Sarah and Jessie, built a brand-new shopping experience that rests gently on the past but points clearly toward the future. Once popular products that have long disappeared from modern shops are brought back to prominent display. And new products with a traditional ethos are promoted for their local sourcing and sustainable manufacturing. Old and new are presented on an equal footing and the balance is spot on.

E Smith Mercantile Seattle, Washington | Bearleader No.12

The ease with which their product range fits together is no surprise once you spend some time talking with Sarah, Kate and Jessie. As a family, they truly exude the relaxed charm and freshness that the store expresses.

E Smith Mercantile is truly a “general” store with interesting offerings in a range of product categories. And like any general store worth its salt, it also offers an interesting range of local edible goods and beverages. Just past the merchandise you will find yourself greeted by bartender Jessie at a wonderfully crafted “U” shaped bar. At four o’ clock the bar is open, along with a tiny well-organized kitchen which prepares small dishes of locally sourced food. Have a seat and you will find yourself in the company of locals and like-minded patrons for good conversation, food and cocktails, all made with local ingredients … of course.

I tried a few things, and heartily recommend all of them.

First, the house-made Ricotta with oven-roasted tomatoes on rosemary nut toast seasoned with E Smith Mercantile’s own salt. All served on vintage plates and glasses. Delicious.

E Smith Mercantile Seattle, Washington | Bearleader No.12

Second, the “Peg Leg Annie”. As Kate tells it, her real name was Annie Morrow, quite the woman. She set out one night in May, 1896, with her girlfriend “Dutch Em” from the town of Atlanta, Idaho, to the town of Rocky Bar. They got caught in a blizzard and lost their way. Dutch Em froze to death and Annie’s feet were amputated due to the frost bite. Alas, the name Peg Leg Annie. The drink is a chilly concoction of black-pepper vodka, Framboise and lemon.

E Smith Mercantile is truly a “general” … And like any general store worth its salt, it also offers an interesting range of local edible goods and beverages.

Then, vodka infused with pine. Refreshing and unique.

E Smith Mercantile Seattle, Washington | Bearleader No.12

Finally, Jessie whipped me up a “Cure-All” (no story needed for this one) containing Horehound infused bourbon with Cheery Heering liqueur and orange. It puts some steel in your spine.

As we sample drinks and culinary delights, the Pooles describe to me their heartfelt belief that people yearn to reconnect with things made by people they know in their local community. And they want a place to have real conversations without music so loud you cannot hear a word their neighbor is saying. So simple, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s time for this.

E Smith Mercantile Seattle, Washington | Bearleader No.12

I am looking forward to my next step back in time at E Smith Mercantile to see what new things they have cooked up. Also, if you are lucky, your visit may coincide with one of E Smith Mercantile’s hosted dinners, each time with a different local guest chef. Look for an announcement on their website. It will make for a totally unique experience, and a lovely story to take home from your visit to Seattle.

Details

Store hours – Monday through Saturday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Sunday 12 noon to 5:00 pm. Back Bar hours – Tuesday through Saturday 4:00 pm to Close. But please check the E Smith Mercantile
Journal or Facebook page for any changes to the published hours.

Contact: 208 First Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98104
Tel: 206 641 7250, E-Mail: info@esmithmercantile.com
www.esmithmercantile.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Foraging for Food

As I put pen to paper to recall my foraging expereince, I am just around the corner from the former St. Vincent hospital in New York where, in November 1953 at the age of 39, the Welsh Poet Dylan Thomas passed away. Along with Richard Burton, he is one of the most well-known sons of Wales.

On December 14, 1944, nine years before Thomas’ legendary drinking got the better of him, he recorded a reading for the BBC of a wonderfully lyrical description he wrote of the quaint village of New Quay on the south coast of Wales where he was in residence at the time.

“Who lived in these cottages? I was a stranger to the sea town, fresh or stale from the city where I worked for my bread and butter wishing it were Laver-bread and country salty butter yolk-yellow Fishermen certainly; no painters but of boats: no man-dressed women with shooting-sticks and sketch-books and voices like macaws to paint the reluctant heads of critical and sturdy natives who posed by the pint against the chapel-dark sea which would be made more blue than the bay of Naples, though shallower.”

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

Reading Thomas’ words now transports me to my recent trip to the very spot where those words were recorded, and my first hearing of the term “laver-bread” (pronounced LAW-ver). I was on my way to a small patch of Welsh coast known as Fresh Water West, to meet chef and expert at seaside foraging, Jonathan Williams.

When I contacted Jonathan about foraging for food with him, I had no idea what to expect. I arrived at the beach early in the morning at low tide according to Jonathan’s instructions. The beach and surrounding area is part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. If you are a fan of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you will have seen Fresh Water West. The shell cottage was located right on this extraordinarily wide beach where I now stood.

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

Jonathan’s Cafe Mor (mor means “sea” in Welsh) at Fresh Water West is open daily during the summer season from May to mid-September. They serve fresh food, mostly sourced locally, and a range of packaged goods under Jonathan’s brand, Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company.

Fresh Water West is a nature reserve so no fixed structures are allowed in the park. Cafe Mor, therefore, is on wheels arriving in tow early each morning.

I ventured out onto the beach and across the tidal pools with Jonathan, on his daily harvest. Rocky outcrops divide the vast areas of flat sandy beach, with grass-covered dunes behind. On the day of my visit, the sky mirrored the landscape with spacious blue interrupted regularly by fluffy clouds drifting by making for a dramatic and constantly evolving light show.

This stretch of beach is perfect for foraging, an edible feast of seaweed. Jonathan took me through the different habitats, each with its own characteristic seaweed species. Some of the varieties we sampled were Sea Spaghetti, Sea Moss-Caragheen, Dulse and Laver-bread or Bara lawr, as it is called in Welsh. If you’ve had Sushi, you have had Laver-bread. In Japan seaweed is washed, dried and flattened into sheets called Nori. Laver-bread in Wales is prepared in a very different and much moister form.

When I contacted Jonathan about foraging for food with him, I had no idea what to expect. I arrived at the beach early in the morning at low tide according to Jonathan’s instructions.

In fact just behind where Jonathan forages, you can see one of the original seaweed drying huts. It has been restored by the national trust as a reminder of this important local food source in the history of Wales. At the height of the local Laver-bread industry, there were as many as 20 huts along the beach, each one maintained by a local family from the nearby town of Angle. Seaweed harvesting was a thriving cottage industry in the area throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and was still in operation as recently as 1950.

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

The first recorded Laver-bread description was written by William Camden in his work, Britannia. There he vividly describes the springtime harvesting of Laver-bread at the beach of Eglwys Abernon, dating back to 1607. In 1862 we find another mention, from the writer George Borrow, who wrote in Wild Wales, that he ate “moor mutton” with piping hot Laver sauce. In recent years Laver-bread seems to have fallen from favor, but with renewed interest in the reviving of old customs and traditions it is coming back and can now be found on the menus of some of the more interesting UK restaurants.

One person described Laver-bread to me as the Welshman’s caviar. It is black, salty and has a very distinct taste, but that’s about as far as it goes. So how do you eat Laver-bread? Typically the raw seaweed is boiled for about 40 minutes until it breaks down. Then it is layered out to drain away all the excess moisture. It is served as a side dish in a kind of stewed or fried form with many local foods such as cockles, sausage, or bacon and eggs, which makes for a very hearty breakfast. Laver-bread is exceptionally healthy, containing iron, iodine and over 50 vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C and D as well as some B-Complex. Laver-bread was a dietary staple for hard-working miners who would take it with them into the pit for flavor and energy.

At the lowest tide, the rocks furthest out are revealed. And this is where you find some of the most interesting seaweed delicacies. Wading around in water up to our knees, Jonathan pointed out a variety called Dulse, and picked a sample for me to try. He handed me a bunch of small purple colored fronds and asked me, “What it taste like”. It was familiar, but when you are eating raw seaweed while standing in a big puddle it is hard to put the flavor in context. When Jonathan said, “It is also called the truffle of the sea,” it clicked. It really does taste just like truffles with a touch of pepper and, as it grows marinating in salt water half of every day and night, it really is pre-seasoned to perfection. It’s delicious.

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

Jonathan opened my eyes to the great variety of flavors growing in the tides. Eating sushi, I had never really noticed the taste of Nori. It seemed more of an edible container rather than an actual food itself. Now I see it in a whole different light. The different seaweeds Jonathan showed me were all amazingly flavorful, with distinct and, surprisingly, non-“seaweedy” flavors.

We foraged for about two hours, taking in the natural environment and tasting as we walked. It’s a totally unique and delightful experience. You can arrange a foraging excursion with Jonathan via his website (http://www.cafemor.co.uk/index.php). He will show you some amazing things the sea has to offer, tell great stories … and provide a picnic to boot.

A note of caution: It is prohibited to forage on your own. You need a license, and expertise, to ensure that the seaweed is harvested in a way that keeps it growing for future generations. Jonathan is an accomplished forager and licensed to harvest.

After our trek through the tidal pools, Jonathan prepared one of Cafe Mor’s signature dishes, a seashore wrap: pan-fried flatbread with Pembrokeshire bacon, cockle and laver-bread mixed with egg and cream—absolutely delicious! And it was packed with enough energy to fuel a long walk along the dunes to enjoy the rest of the wonderful scenic views.

Foraging for Food in Wales | Bearleader No.7

As the tide came in, the beach grew smaller and smaller and the rocks slowly disappeared, immersing all that seaweed in the swirling waves to grow again for another harvest.

Details

Foraging: Jonathan runs both scheduled and private foraging trips. Check the Website for scheduled times and be sure to book early, the groups fill up fast. Costs start from: £25 per adult, £10 per child (Under 12’s), Free for kids 5 years or under. Email Jonathan directly to arrange a private foraging event.

Cafe Mor at Fresh Water West: Opening times follow the parks schedule. And be aware that times may vary from day to day. So its best to check their Twitter feed for the latest.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Good & Proper

In 2012, Good and Proper Tea founder Emilie Holmes decided to take off her corporate advertising hat and don a trader’s apron, bringing her obsession for tea to the people of London and beyond.

Leaving a successful career at Ogilvy & Mather, Emilie had a vision for tea done right. She parlayed her corporate advertising savvy into establishing a new “classic” brand that restores quality and craft to this quintessential component of British culture. She bought herself a stylish 1974 Citroen H van, had it fitted out for the tea trade, and opened her side window to London’s tea lovers. And the people of London are better for it. Emilie makes a mean cuppa.

Good and Proper Tea first caught my eye while exploring around the King’s Cross area in late summer. I stopped by for a tea and a short chat with Emilie. Both tea and conversation were pleasant and stimulating.

Knowing that Good and Proper Tea also traded south of the river at Brockley Market, a few weeks later I headed over to enjoy another tea, try out the crumpets, and to have a closer look at this quaint neighborhood market.

Good and Proper Tea at Brockley Market | No.9

Arriving early, the market was in full set-up mode. The locals were out in force ready for a quick breakfast and to stock up on groceries for the week.

I went for the Good and Proper Tea “Golden Tips” brew. And to accompany my tea, the “Posh Crumpet” …

Brockley has a nice nostalgic feel tempered by a bevy of hipster handcrafted food offerings. A good mix of meat, vegetables, bread and flowers are on offer as well as some specialties. The game meat purveyor and raw milk concession caught my eye. I’m going to try out those guys on my next visit. Interspersed amongst the food suppliers is a good variety of street food vendors. You will, without a doubt, find something there to suit your cravings.

Good and Proper Tea at Brockley Market | No.9

Even before opening, Emilie’s operation was in full swing, her array of special “steep” timers counting down the seconds to pure tea happiness. Customers and traders alike had started to queue. There was no shortage of self-proclaimed “tea snobs” in line for tea steeped to perfection.

I went for the Good and Proper Tea “Golden Tips” brew. And to accompany my tea, the “Posh Crumpet”, a lovely breakfast treat of salmon, cream cheese, and cheese piled high on a square crumpet – sort of a sister snack to the Manhattan classic, coffee and a bagel with lox and cream cheese. Communal tables and benches are dispersed around the market making for a fun place to mingle and strike up conversations with the locals.

Good and Proper Tea at Brockley Market | No.9

Emilie now provides her loose teas beautifully packaged for home brewing. You just need to supply your own timer. It’s a perfect souvenir of modern British culture, looking forwards and backward in equal measure. Take some home and share the experience with friends and family.

Looking for an authentic London experience? This Saturday-morning outing fits the bill.

Details

You will find Emilie and her spiffy Citroen on Saturdays at Brockley Market, or on weekdays at Kings Cross. Follow Good and Proper Tea on Twitter or Facebook.

www.goodandpropertea.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger