I came, I saw, I ate

For an introvert who spends almost an hour riding crowded subways every morning and then again every evening, has a job that entails answering emails, calls and in-person questions/requests/demands all day, works out at a gym where people hover around treadmills like sharks in the water, and who in the entirety of her life thus far has only ever lived by herself for six months, going on vacation alone is a deliciously selfish  indulgence.

Sure, I love traveling with my boyfriend, select friends, and for short periods of time even my sister, but let me tell you, my favorite travel companion is ME.

Traveling alone means I wake up when I want to, go only where I want to, spend as much time in museum gift shops as I want to, and best of all, eat whenever, wherever and most importantly, whatever I want to.

Last month, in a move that was part anniversary trip (ten years since I left a two year stint in Italy for NY) and part desperate need for at least a temporary change of scenery/weather/daily routine, I went to Puglia, the part of Italy known as the heel of the boot. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, in large part because of all the great things I ate… alone.

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All the company I needed. 

In Polignano a Mare, a beautiful little town perched up on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic, I had one of the best meals of the trip, one that I’m pretty sure would have sent my boyfriend head first into the ocean had he been there with me.

The fried octopus sandwich at Pescaria had been recommended to me before I left but when I showed my boyfriend photos of it, he recoiled in disgust. He’s what I call a closeted picky eater (because he vehemently denies being one) and specifically refuses to eat octopus. (Something about the little suckers.) I, of course, couldn’t wait and went my first night in town, and then just because I could and had no one to even suggest otherwise, I went again the next day for lunch.

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It was huge, this octopus sandwich, with a thick smear of creamy ricotta, peppery turnip greens cooked in garlic and olive oil, fig compote, a drizzle of anchovy oil and several large, fat, fried octopus tentacles (suckers fully visible) bulging out from underneath a large, bumpy topped roll that resembled a turtle shell. I held it with two hands, my fingers spread wide to get a good grip, and with every bite, something delicious toppled out or smeared on my face.

With no one there to interrupt me with conversation, look at me funny because I had ricotta on my chin or a stray crumb in my hair, or judgily ask me if I was actually going to finish all that (the answer is always yes, ok?) I was able to happily wolf down my sandwich in peace.

Sure, there were times on this trip when I wished someone had been there with me to share a particular moment, but eating that fried octopus sandwich—both of them I should say— was not one of them. That meal required my undivided attention and I was all too happy to provide it.

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Food lust

One bite in and it hit me. Pure, unadulterated joy. My whole body tensed up, my eyes squeezed shut, and inside my boots, my toes curled. It took everything in me not to slam my open palm down on the table over and over, screaming “Yes! Yes! Yeeeesss!”

Dinner at The Spotted Pig was a series of foodgasms, one right after the other. One had barely subsided when oh, wait, maybe, ohmygodohmygodohmygod BAM! Another one.

Sage and anchovy crisps

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Sister, sister

DNA is about where the similarities end between my sister and me.  She’s loud and sassy. I’m quiet and sarcastic. She says I dress like Mr. Rogers. I say she dresses like a hoochie. She drives fast with the music up and the windows down. I prefer to walk.

We speak differently, live in different states, have different hobbies, listen to different music, date different types of guys, and don’t even look alike, if you ask me. (Further supporting my theory that I am, in fact, adopted.)

And now, because life’s dealt her a particularly bad hand, we don’t even eat the same. Because of a serious health problem she’s developed in recent years, my sister— brace yourself cause it’s ugly —is on a sugar-free, fat-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, vegan diet.

I kid you not, folks. My heart breaks a thousand times for her. No sugar, fat, wheat or dairy. That leaves what, air??

This presented major food problems for my visit to Miami. We’d be going to eat but where the heck could we both go?

“Don’t worry,” she said drearily. ” I can usually find white rice and grilled chicken on any menu.”

Uhm. No. Not happening. Not on my watch.

I turned to my vegan and vegetarian friends in Miami, and found just the place: Metro Organic Bistro.

With the beau and our mother also with us, we set out for the design district eatery that boasted lots of fresh, organic, healthy and vegetarian friendly options.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit skeptical. I can’t help it. It’s the sugar-crazed, fat-loving carnivore in me. But Metro Organic Bistro, I’m happy to say, completely floored me. If this is what being super healthy was like, sign. Me. UP.

Dinner went like this:

Entree 1: my mom’s

My mom ordered the braised chicken (free range and natural, thank you very much) with truffled polenta and organic green beans. The polenta wasn’t as creamy as I like it, but the truffle flavor made it buttery and smooth.

Entree 2: my sister’s (not vegan)

My sister ordered the tuna Nicoise, though not a vegan option (hey, she’s new to the game). Fat, juicy hunks of yellowfish tuna came on a bed of organic greens, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, boiled eggs, onions, Nicoise olives and anchovies. She doesn’t like anchovies but I do, so guess where those little guys wound up?

Entree 3: Mine

I went for the Mahi-Mahi, a tender, juicy, lemony, grilled (and wild caught) steak topped with shaved fennel and watercress, topped with a zesty cilantro drizzle. Everything was organic, but more than that, everything was vibrant, colorful and crazy delicious.

Entree 4: the non-De Angelis at the table

Last but not least was Flaneur’s. He opted for one of the specials not listed on the menu: a plump and wonderfully juicy and smooth piece of salmon, so perfect it seemed to just melt on your tongue. Underneath it was a mound of red quinoa and broccoli florets, to lend it an earthy, veggie goodness.

Dessert 1

And because no meal, healthy or otherwise, is every complete without dessert, we got two to share amongst the four of us, though I’m pretty sure the boy and I did most of the damage. First was the chocolate bouchon a la mode, a warm chocolate lava-cake paired with a creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with some of the fattest blackberries I’ve ever seen. When the gooey, warm chocolate inside poured out, it was like dying and going to healthy food heaven.

Dessert 2

Our other dessert was another special not on the menu: a fig tart with mascarpone and more juicy blackberries. The tart was sweet and nutty, with a taste reminiscent of roasted chestnuts, and fat little chunks of figs throughout. Being the fig-fiend that I am, this was perfect.

In the end, there was no pork belly or lard, nothing deep fried or oozing with cheese, but everything was delicious, clean and healthy. And that’s something my sister and I, different as we are, both agreed on.