Monday, September 18, 2017

London: Jump For My Love

My big trip this year included a weekend stopover in London, a return to Calabria after five long years, and some island time in Sicily.

There were multiple times during the trip when the music playing was the perfect match to the situation.  For example, in one London cab ride while driving over Tower Bridge, the Scissor Sister's "Jump" came on the radio, and I was transported into my favorite movie, Love Actually, and the Prime Minister Hugh Grant's jolly little dance scene.

In Palermo, at one point there was ironically (and much to all tourist's sick pleasure) an accordionist playing the theme to The Godfather, and another evening, our outdoor bar's live band played the Beach Boy's "California Girls", making Brittany and I feel like extra-special guests in the audience!

But before I "Jump!" ahead, let me tell you more about my few days in London with Lauren and Letizia.  Lauren's currently living in London, and having a comfortable, homey place to stay with a friend was so convenient and fun.  We enjoyed lots of time at and near home, from heart to hearts on the couch, to dining out at pubs and restaurants, to Greek take-out while watching A Knight's Tale.  She was thrilled (inexplicably almost to the point of tears) with my gift of three cans of her favorite, nonexistent-in-Europe sparkling water.  Sometimes it's the simplest things!

My first day in London, I hopped from the British Library to a massage/facial, and then swung by Borough Market before heading home to meet Lauren and Letizia.

Letizia took the train in from Paris to join us for Friday-Sunday.  Before my trip to Europe last summer, it had been four years since we'd seen each other.  Now, we've had three meetups in the last 12 months!  For this quick trip, we managed to pack a lot into 48 hours.  Such as...


We are all obsessed with this place and it was an awesome way to kick off our weekend together!  Each time I go the waiters recommend different things and I'm never disappointed.  


Letizia could've made a great career as a paparazzi!  Saturday we meandered towards Regent Street (eventually having to run to make it in time!) for high tea.  She almost never walked next to me, always a step behind snapping photos.  Along the way, we found Borough Market, The Globe Theatre, amazing artist galleries, a multitude of buskers, and spectacular views over the Thames.  The people-watching was top-notch!  We could've spent the whole day just wandering and discovering little pockets of London life.

Letizia couldn't stop saying how much she'd like to be and could see herself living in London.  For now, we'll satisfy ourselves with weekend visits!

Being Excessively British

Our tea reservations were at the Oscar Wilde Room in Hotel Cafe Royale.  Their website claims that, "It is in this very room that Oscar Wilde fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas, Aubrey Beardsley debated with Whistler, David Bowie retired Ziggy Stardust and Mick Jagger, [and] the Beatles and Elizabeth Taylor danced the night away." 

The setting was opulent, with floor to ceiling mirrors framed by gold gilding, and small tables surrounded by velvet chairs and benches.


We felt very posh, and pinkies lifted of their own accord.  High tea is always such a luxurious, pampered experience and I'd like to go to one weekly!

That evening, we decided to take in a show, and chose the most local one we could find, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, knowing we would never see this one anywhere else.  Perhaps if we'd more thoroughly read the website ("Prepare thyself for…really rude language, flashing lights, pyrotechnics, lots of sexual references, excessive drinking, and extensive use of the smoke machine"), we might've been less surprised by the show! 

More than anything, I couldn't believe how thick the cockney accents were, and it wasn't until about halfway through that my ear really started to grow accustomed to it.  The entire cast was made up of young women playing teenage girls (and really whatever other role was required) on a not-so-pious choir trip, and it was a very intimate, raw, and moving show.

We were hungry afterwards (not believing we still needed food after stuffing our faces full of finger sandwiches earlier that afternoon), so we popped into the Smoking Goat, a BBQ/Thai restaurant in SoHo.  If you go, you have to get the chicken wings (just trust me). 

We were infatuated with our bartender/waitress, the very image of worldly, who was half Argentinian, half African, born in Venice, Italy, and spoke English perfectly.  There are so many fascinating people in the amalgamation that is London!



Sunday revolved around markets.  After coffee in a converted watch tower near the house, Letizia and I made our way (on a double-decker bus, no less) to Brick Lane, an extra-vibrant section of Shoreditch with tons of unique shops, markets, food trucks, food halls, performers, and more.  We were seriously overstimulated, but happily so.

Eventually we made our way to our goal, the underground vintage market.  After some time, we realized it wasn't just a giant vintage store, but a compartmentalized market with each section reflecting the unique finds and talents of its buyer/collector/bedazzler.  Once we realized that, we had to backtrack and return a few items we had been considering, but in reality had stolen! 

Towards the back of the market, I was in trouble.  I had found the most luxurious vintage fur collar, and in a color not matching my hair.  I was in love!  I wore it around for at least 30 minutes, chatting with the tight network of stall owners (including a Baby Spice look-alike with a chihuahua) in that area, and trying to justify a purchase that I'd hardly ever have the opportunity to wear.  Fortunately, I was able to bargain down what was already a steal and now I finally own my own arctic fox fur!  Now I just need to drum up fur-worthy occasions.  Letizia, I see a Paris opera in our future. 

We had so much fun!

Then we headed back to the London Bridge neighborhood to meet up with Lauren for lunch at the quaint and very local Maltby Market.  Hidden under the railway arches, amidst wood planks and forklifts that are fully functioning during the workweek, are delicious food stalls with everything you can imagine: gourmet grilled cheese, bratwurst, African burgers, gin & juice, fluffy waffles, and more.  

We each grabbed something and brought it back to the table for an international feast accompanied by Greek wine and followed by waffles covered in chocolate and berries.  More than anything, what was amazing about this market was the friendly, neighborhood vibe.  Everyone was just so happy to be there sharing their Sunday together. 

Note the wood and forklift in the background!

Vanna Waffle

After that, Letizia and Lauren both had to head back to reality.  I had one more day in London, which was spent emptying my wallet around Regent Street, Carnaby, and St. Christopher's Place.  Then it was time to make my way to Calabria...

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Supper Club: Californios

This week marked our inaugural supper club dinner!  The concept is simple: get a group of foodies together and take turns coordinating reservations at some of the most in-demand, renowned restaurants.  Our current crew consists of Brittany, Ari, Maryana, Elyse (who unfortunately couldn't make this one!), and myself. 

Brittany kicked us off with the Michelin-rated Californios, featuring a seasonal 16-course tasting menu that builds on traditional Mexican cuisine.  The food was simple and delightful, not to mention refreshing for summer.  Many dishes took tried and true recipes to the next level by focusing on the technique, such as grinding grain longer for a smoother texture, or adding incredibly high quality, rare ingredients to the mix.

Walking in reminded me of Alinea, as the building was minimalist and unmarked.  The restaurant itself was very small, with only about six tables lining one wall, and an exposed bar/kitchen on the other. The tones were dark, with splashes of color in the art on the walls or the dahlias on the tables. 

We were infatuated with the staff, who kept things light and friendly.  There was never an air of pretension, and we had a great time with them!

I'll walk you through our meal with captions, and highlight any anecdotes along the way.

"Let's jump a page and go right into France." 
-Assistant GM, and our favorite on staff

Melon agua fresca, hella fancy watermelon, and cured wagyu chicharron

You can't have a Michelin meal without wagyu beef and caviar (both to make appearances later on, too)!  I think it might be a rule.

Masa and pineapple al pastor in a treasure box

Soft-shell crab taco
Black bean tamale
(they ground the masa for 6 hours-it was SO smooth!)

Delicately folded coconut ceviche

Corn and crickets (we found out the latter later) 
A crowd favorite!

Lobster taco (!!)

Octopus with tomato water

Three bean puree with caviar
Another winner!

Bass with carrots
"I've never tasted a more carroty carrot" -Brittany
(We all agreed.)

Carne asada wagyu 
(The 2012 Mi Sueno cab was spectacular!)

DIY lamb tacos

At this point I was starting to hope we were almost done...16 courses really starts to catch up with you!

I love how Maryana almost looks like she's in prayer as she takes in each new dish.  I have multiple photos of her looking just like this at different points in the meal, hands in lap, head bowed, taking in the miracle of food before her!

 Goat cheese and berries

White guava sorbet on pistachio butter

This pistachio butter had us all raving.  It was so tacky (great describing word, Maryana) and smooth.  We told them to bottle it, and we would've bought several on our way out! 

At this point I'd had enough wine (plus the margaritas we'd had at El Techo before dinner!) that I thought Maryana's head in a glass was an elevated form of art.  Nailed it.


Finally, here's a look at the menu they give you at the end of dinner.  Not a ton of insight into exactly all we ate and the details they put into each dish, but a good reminder of our journey at Californios!

The whole evening was an absolute delight-looking around the table and laughing with ladies I love, indulging ourselves at our every turn, learning from the meal and from each other-I can't wait for more nights just like this one.

Stay tuned for the next Supper Club in October!