Will travel for food

“Will travel for food” might as well be my philosophy for life, because I rarely mind a trek— be it by foot, train, plane or automobile— if there’s a good meal waiting to be had at the end.

When my Lisbon-living friend suggested we take a daytrip to Tomar, a small town about a 2-hour train ride away, to have lunch at a great family run restaurant where you had to tell them what you’d be having when you made the reservation so that the lovely little grandma in the kitchen could start the appropriate preparations, I was sold. (I mean, there was also a visit to a thousand-year-old castle at the top of a hill thrown into the pitch, but really, he had me at lunch.)

Chico Elias, did in fact, involve a hike. No, really. After our two hour train ride, my friend and I had to cut through town and hoof it up a hill, on the side of the road, under the unrelenting August sun to reach our lunchtime destination.

Like showing up at your actual family’s house, the door was locked, and someone, possibly one of the children, answered the door and let us into the cool, still dining room. No menus or English either. My friend confirmed our order in Portuguese and I just smiled and nodded.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

First out was the duck, prepared in a way like no other I’d ever had. Served in a heavy casserole type dish, it came out as a mountain of a most delicious mix of stuffing-like cornbread, pine nuts, walnuts, greens, and buried inside like the treasure that it was, tender, juicy, perfect duck. Each heaping spoonful had a little bit of all of the ingredients and all of it was perfection. The blend of textures and flavors including crunchy, sweet, nutty, juicy, soft, meaty and earthy was just everything I needed and wanted, with all of the comfort and warmth of a home cooked meal.

Roasted goat and the most perfect potatoes in Portugal

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If my own home cooking were this good, I’d never leave the house.

Next up, the goat, a rich, meaty dish so good that even after the absolutely filling duck before it, I couldn’t stop shoveling it in until it was done. Served alongside the juiciest, most savory, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes and equally juicy, delicious greens, good enough to convert even the most veggie opposed eater, the outrageously tender, soft roasted goat was one of those foods you can’t eat without at least once closing your eyes and letting out a deep mmmmm.

Just like at home, where your family (or at least certainly mine) never thinks you’ve eaten enough, it’s worth noting that the portions at Chico Elias are massive. Each dish we had could easily have been split between three people, who would’ve all walked away well fed and beyond happy, but between the two of us we had two. So yea, enough food for five to six people.

Faitas de Tomar

Faitas de Tomar… slices of cloud like dessert

But because no truly perfect meal is complete without dessert, we went with local specialty, faitas de Tomar, a moist, spongy cake like sweet made with egg yolks and sugar. It was just the right amount of sweet and light to balance the heavy, savory feast we’d had.

Would I ride the L train from Brooklyn to JFK, fly across the Atlantic to Lisbon, jump on a train to Tomar and haul my butt up that hill to eat at Chico Elias again? Damn right I would.

Love and happiness… and goat

Here’s a little fun fact about me: I love weddings.

Another fun fact: I loooove vacations.

And you know what I really, really love? Destination weddings! Cause BAM! You get a two in one combo of things I love!

So when my good friend/coworker Vilmarie announced she was  getting married in the Dominican Republic, where her family is from, I verbally RSVP’d monts before she even sent out her save-the-dates. Wedding, out-of-town trip, friends, fun, DONE. I’m there.

And as I expected, it was loads of fun. We went rafting, saw waterfalls, ate mangoes straight off the tree, laughed till we cried,  made new friends and cemented old friendships, danced like fools (or maybe that was just me), got misty-eyed during the ceremony, and for the purposes of this blog: ate a ton of delicious Dominican food.

But of all the tasty eats I had, without a doubt my absolute favorite was the traditional plate of chivo con tostones I devoured at the beautiful Jamaca de Dios, a restaurant nestled high up in the hills, overlooking lush Jarabacoa.

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Weddings are about love, and I love this goat.

Chivo, or goat, might not sound appealing to some, and the three other people at my table looked at me with that slightly skeptical look I should be used to by now, but let me tell you, when everything came out and everyone’s dishes were tasted, mine was the one to garner all of the food envy. The goat, similar in texture to stewed beef, was cooked in a rich, red wine sauce with peas and red peppers, and was so unbelievable soft and tender that each bite was a little cloud of meaty deliciousness. The tostones, crunchy, salty golden plantains, fried and flattened, were a great complement in texture and taste.

I’ll always remember Vil’s wedding as the beautiful celebration of love, family and friendship that it was, but in the back of my mind I’ll also think fondly of that delicious goat.

K-Town feast

Most weeks, by the time Friday rolls around, I’m beat and like to unwind by eating. (Yes, I know…) Sometimes, like last week, I ring in the weekend with a snack like a cupcake or cheesecake (or both) and other times, like this week, it’s with a whole feast. The kind that makes you look around to make sure no one is watching when you undo the top button on your pants.

Korea town was just a few blocks from where we were, and a couple of restaurants on 32nd street, between Fifth Ave. and Broadway in the most concentrated part of K-Town, were on my to-do list so that’s where we headed.

Maybe it was because of the nasty cold rain steadily coming down outside, but the second we walked in to Kang Suh I felt that we had made the right choice. A great choice. A warm and delicious smelling choice.

The menu was huge, an encyclopedia of Korean eats and sushi. Two asian girls at the table next to us had a dozen different dishes, bowls and what looked like a skillet before them. I wanted to lean over and say, “Hey, would you guys mind ordering for us? Cause your table looks awesome.” But I didn’t. Cause really, that would be awkward.

So after lots of flipping back and forth through the menu, bargaining and strategizing with Flaneur, we were ready when the waitress came by for our order.

We decided to split an appetizer but before it came, a waiter came by with a tray full of small plates which he arranged across our table before walking away without comment.

“What is this stuff?”

“I dunno. Let’s eat it.”

The plates just kept coming and coming...

From left to right in the picture, the first dish seemed to be some sort of hot peppers. So hot that Flaneur practically spit his out and said I could eat all them. (And I did.) Next, on the top was some sort of fish bits in a sweet teriyaki style sauce. The plate below it was full of tangy, slightly spicy cabbage leaves. The middle plate had soy sauce with what appeared to be scallions and possibly something else. (Garlic maybe?) Next to it on the top were some mixed pickled vegetable strips. Below it was something that tasted like shellfish and cucumber. (Flaneur’s allergic to shellfish so I never got a second opinion.) Finally, on the right was a broccoli type green veggie. I’m a little unsure about everything because like I said we never ordered it. It just came mysteriously with no explanation. But it was good and that was enough for me.

Next out was our appetizer, the tasty-as-all-hell mandoo gui. Fried to a crispy golden brown on the outside and stuffed full with beef, these things were addictive. Sometimes dumplings are greasy (if they’re fried) or have that rubbery, almost greyish dough on the outside but these had neither. They were pretty perfect if you ask me.

Delicious dumplings and creepy carrot butterfly.

Flaneur’s entree came out first, but it didn’t matter because we /I had decided to split both main courses. Japchae, Korean starch noodles fried with vegetables and beef seasoned in soy sauce came in a giant mound and were delicious. It was hard to keep myself from shoveling it all down my throat in one sitting but I managed to restrain myself.

Noodles, veggies and beef

Next came my pick, which I have to admit was something I chose because it sounded a little unusual, like something I’d never had before: Heukyomso Tang, a spicy stew of black goat meat with pepper, sesame leaves and vegetables served with rice. It came in a black cast iron pot  with thick swirls of steam billowing out of it. One of those things that makes people at other tables look over and wonder what you’re eating. With the dreary wet weather outside, this was the perfect thing to be eating.

Spicy goat stew

When we were finally done eating our table looked like a deserted battle field: all empty plates, abandoned chopsticks, stray noodles stuck to dishes, stew dripping over the side of the mini-cauldron. And then there was us, almost panting, bellies full, pants just a little tighter. Although the rain was unrelentling and I could see the wind snapping people’s umbrellas’s inside out, I was prepared to deal with the walk home. I was full and happy, just the way I like to be after my kick-off to the weekend.