Travelling and eating well go hand in hand. Many of my favorite moments in my life have been fantastic meals while out and about in the world. Here is a list of my 4 favorite nights out when travelling. Ya, that’s right, 4 not 5. Everyone does top 5 lists and to be honest, I have problems with 5 as a number in general. Whether it has been on loto or in sports, that number and I, we don’t get along. Anyway, enough of that and onto the list!
4) L’etang du Moulin- Located in the gorgeous Franche Comte region of France and led by chef Jacques Barnachon, this place is set in a beautiful backdrop out in the country. Barnachon was awarded 1st place in France’s National
Foie Gras rankings in 2000. So, if you love foie gras there isn’t much about this place you won’t love. But a great dining experience is not just about the food. It is the overall experience. Let me give you a little backstory that led to this opulent night….In 2006 my girlfriend and I were planning a return trip to visit friends who were living in Strasbourg(nicest city EVER!) at the time. We were also on the waiting list to adopt a child here in Quebec and just before booking the flights my girlfriend decided she would stay home since she had a feeling we would get a call for a baby soon. I booked my ticket for that fall and sure enough less than a week before leaving we get a call and are told to pick up a baby girl at the hospital in TWO DAYS!! So, happiest moment, celebration and all that and then I realize I am supposed to be leaving soon! I tell the lady friend that I will cancel the trip obviously. She tells me I should go and consider this my bachelor party! I don’t say this often enough, so please don’t tell her I said this, but what an amazing woman. My good and great friend the Sasquatch was meeting me in France too so I knew things would get ugly out there. I was greeted by him and my French friend illegally parked basically just off the runway, with a bottle of champagne opened as I walked out. Oh, and it was 8h15 am….So, onto the dinner!
One of our friends that we are visiting is a sommelier and he booked a wine tour through Burgundy for us at some of the top vineyards you can visit and also booked a dinner at this place. It also turns out that he worked with them at some point on their wine list so once we get there we get the red carpet treatment. Everyone was in a celebratory mood what with my daughter arriving days before so the champagne and wine were flowing. The service here was impeccible, almost to the point of being uncomfortable really, but an interesting experience none the less. I absolutely love foie gras and to have some here from such a renowned foie gras champ is something I will remember for the rest of my life. I can’t even tell you how many courses of food we had but it was a substantial amount of food. Once the main course was done two servers roll out what I can only describe as a chariot of cheese. No kidding. A portable buffet is wheeled to our table with 3 shelves of cheese; cow, goat, and sheep. There had to be close to 100 selections. And we are told we can take as much as we want! Total insanity.
Maybe it was the company I was with, maybe it was the occasion, but fine dining in France is like nowhere else. We were there, eating the whole time, for at least 5 hours. It does have a bit of a stuffy fru fru fancy vibe to it when you walk in which I am not usually crazy about, but maybe it is because our friend knew everyone there, but once we sat down it was full on party time.
3) The Spotted Pig- You can find this place in the West Village of New York City. Before I tell you about eating there let me say that they do not take reservations so it is good to get there a bit early and put your name in. I’ve been a few times and the wait is usually about 2 hours. They make fantastic drinks and have great beer on tap so feel free to grab a spot at the bar but it is also in a nice, funky area of the city so I like to give my cell number to the host and go wander in search of a place to grab a pint or two. Chef April Bloomfield has been awarded a highly coveted Michelin Star 7 years in a row now and let me tell you it is well deserved. In my experience any Michelin rated restaurant will have at least some fancy la di da stuffiness to it that I don’t enjoy. Here the staff is laid back, the vibe is relaxed, the dress code is as casual as it gets and the food will blow your funky mind. Don’t get me wrong when I mention the staff. They are efficient, very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, drinks and all that. I’ve been here for lunch with the lady friend and we both loved the atmosphere and of course the food. The burger is brilliant and gaining legendary status in the city. The fries? Hands down the best fries I’ve eaten in my life.
I’ve also been with Pete, from Pete Eats fame right here on this site, and we had a blast. Chef Bloomfield is a snout to tail kind of cook, meaning nothing on the animal will go to waste, so you can see unique dishes like crispy pig’s ear salad or a pork rillette served with housemade pickles. It has been a few years since we’ve been but Pete still talks about the sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi he had that night. It is a tiny place so you do end up cramped up against other tables and depending on your mood I suppose that can be unpleasant. But I am an out of towner on vacation feeling no stress. I prefer to just strike up a conversation with others near us and talk about the meal.
These trips with Pete and the guys started off as being about sporting events but restaurants like this have put the sports on the backburner. If you knew how much I love sports you would know that this is no small feat. How much do I love this place? Any time I go to NYC I now insist on making this one of the stops. I’ve pointed several friends in this direction and everyone has come back more than happy with the experience.
Damn, just writing about this place has me missing it very much. I am going to have to head to NYC sooner rather than later. New York is only a six hour drive from Montreal people so get down there!
2) Lola Bistro- What can I say about Iron Chef Michael Symon’s signature restaurant that I haven’t already covered here? This was my second trip to Cleveland and the people of the city have won me over. Some of the friendliest people you’ll meet are here and they love their town and LOVE their sports teams. I am talking about a city that hasn’t had a championship in decades in any sport and they are still diehard fans. I respect that. The friendliness of the people definitely is felt in this establishment too. Everyone was all smiles and loved the fact that we travelled from Montreal essentially to eat there. The wine list is probably the best I’ve seen anywhere outside of Europe, with extremely affordable prices and an immense selection of wines from both the old and the new world. While some may think the use of an Ipad as a wine list is a bit gimmicky I loved the idea. You could click on a bottle and get a nice description of the wine and the details to the cocktails too. I won’t go into specifics of how good the drinks were again. All you need to know is: Kick. Ass.
Symon also employs the snout to tail philosophy of cooking and we were all fans of that. You can find grilled lamb heart on the menu, beef cheeks, bone marrow and pork belly and ear. Even more common cuts like a hanger steak (seen here) is treated differently. Here it is cooked in a pickle sauce and the meat is aged to perfection. The decor of the restaurant really does give off a relaxing feeling and the soft, ambient lighting even made me about 27% better looking. After a few drinks I even got funnier and more charming. True story, you can’t just make this stuff up.
The trend in restaurants now is to cram as many people as possible into a place and work rapid turnover, well it at least feels like that in many places. But here the design is wide open where you have plenty of space both at the bar and at your table. We dined at our own pace, popped open a couple of great bottles and just capped off a great trip.
And now my favorite night of all….
1) Girl and the Goat- Have you ever had one of those perfect days on vacation where everything goes well, everything you chose to do is a blast and then you cap it off with one of the finest meals you ever had? That is the only way to describe our last day in Chicago last October. Chef Stephanie Izzard, winner of season 4 of Top Chef, has created a vibrant, visually stunning, and warm environment to dine in. I do a ton of research when I travel. I mean A TON. No matter what site I checked this restaurant was on every list of hot spots to eat at. If you want to go make sure to book months in advance. I called at least 3 months before and there were slim pickings left in terms of tables. Much like many chefs that I admire chef Izzard combines flavors in ways that you wouldn’t expect and creates tastes that you will remember, and crave, forever after. I can still taste the the beef tongue cooked sous vide for 2 days and then flash fried and served with a salsa verde. There were dishes I had that night that were so different that it is hard to compare this place to anywhere else I’ve been. And that’s a good thing!
The meal is set up much like tapas style which I am usually not a fan of. I don’t normally enjoy sharing food. But unlike tapas the dishes here range from small enough to have a few bites for the 4 of us each, to a nice healthy main dish big enough for us to share. We got 8 dishes in all and of course much like the name implies, goat is on the menu. We had a zazzy pork belly with a vanilla bourbon sauce from that portion of the menu. I can’t say for sure what the best dish of the night was but the chickpea fritters are Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally! style good. To say the food was good would be an understatement but a night like this isn’t just about what we ate. the music was spot on and at just the right level to create a lively vibe but not so loud so as to force us to scream at each other. For 4 dudes we had plenty of space and didn’t feel cramped. I can’t think of any place that outdid the Goat in terms of service. All of us were blown away. Every single detail was taken care of. I didn’t want to leave but our server recommended a blues bar by the name of Kingston Mines not too far off as a great way to finish off our trip and he was not wrong. He even came outside with us, flagged a cab and told the dude where to take us.
How good was this place? Well, I turn 40 next year (hard to believe considering how fabulous I still look and feel, right ladies?) and my goal is to celebrate it here 14 hours away from Montreal. The question is not IF I will go back but when.
So there you have it folks. Don’t look at this as a definitive best ever list or anything. I just wanted to share with you some of the best nights I’ve had in my life with food and friends. You can often wander around a new city and stumble upon a great spot to eat and have a good time but do yourself a favor and take a bit of time to do some research and talk to locals when you get there. When a place is so fun that you want to travel back to that city just to go there…well, there isn’t much better than that.
Categories: Phood Philosophies