live blog: chow(der) hound

Local fish supplier Charlie Sexton has fished the waters off the coast of the village of Doonbeg for the past 25 years. The Atlantic coast is home to hake, cod, monkfish, and tiny prawns – all of which he catches to end up in the seafood chowder of Chef Wade Murphy, seen here teaching me how to do it properly, with the addition of clams, mussels, and salmon, in Darby’s at The Lodge at Doonbeg.

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under the spell of amber

My first Michelin-starred meal in Hong Kong turned out to be quite the doozy. Under the guidance of Dutch chef Richard Ekkebus, Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental has two of those coveted stars. But wait, there’s more:  the San Pellegrino “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” Awards ranked the eatery at number 37 earlier this year. Not only is it the only Hong Kong restaurant on the list, it’s the only restaurant in Hong Kong to have made the list since 2005. (I’d been told the city is emerging with enormous gastronomic energy – this factoid only served to solidify my stomach’s growing expectations.) Needless to say lunch at Amber did not disappoint. From the amusing amuse of foie gras lollipops shellacked with beetroot to the perfectly-formed olive-studded focaccia, my meal was a languorous mix of creative aesthetics and fresh, contemporary flavors grounded in traditional French technique. Dungeness crab with crème fraiche, avocado, Granny Smith apple and cucumber was so composed I almost hated to mess the plate. Line-caught Atlantic cod was roasted with the skin on and served with salted celeriac and Iberian pork neck in a Cabernet reduction that perfectly played off the meatiness of the fish. For dessert a terrarium of tiramisu was inspired – so, too, the cheese trolley – yet the  bliss of dark chocolate gunaja with speculoos crumbs was downright genius.  This wasn’t at all what I expected of Hong Kong – but I’m so happy to have had my expectations thoroughly upended.

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stone street scandanavian

Who even knew there was a Stone Street down in the Financial District? I sure didn’t. In fact, the short thoroughfare connecting Pearl and William Streets is the oldest cobblestone paved street in New York City. It’s also home to a good dozen or so bars and restaurants that spill out onto the cobbles, creating an atmosphere similar to that of a European biergarten. Smorgas Chef, an unassuming Scandinavian restaurant, is one of them. Tucked into a table in the window with a friend in the from the UK I had the odd sensation that it was I visiting him – and not the other way around. Glasses of caraway and anise flavored aquavit warmed our cockles. Yet it was the food that possessed all the comfort of a raging fireplace and fuzzy slippers on a snowy night: Icelandic cod in a potato crust on a bed of forest mushrooms, Swedish meatballs and lingonberries with chive mashed potatoes, gravlaks croquettes of house-cured salmon and horseradish creme fraiche. Bundled up against the winter winds, I anticipate returning to Stone Street again and again.

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live blog: leisurely lunch, cod & chips

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some like it hot


The Hotel Del Coronado sits across the bay from San Diego on the misnamed Coronado Island – it’s technically a peninsula – and harkens back to a time when people summered by the sea. (or in this case along the Pacific) A sprawling, late-Victorian ensemble of cottages, spa, villas, shops and a proper hotel, too, it’s as architecturally distinguished as anything you’re likely to find in Southern California. For movie aficionados, however, it’s held in especially high regard as a former playground for the stars of Hollywood’s golden age – in addition to being the scene of Billy Wilder’s classic comedy Some Like it Hot. And while these days the hotel is family friendly to a degree I would describe as just this side of unpalatable, an early morning breakfast overlooking the ocean made for a very pleasant high-calorie way to greet the day. Across the street from The Del, as it’s commonly called, I was able to yet again indulge my near insatiable passion for fish tacos at Brigantine. (Hours later, thank you. Not right after breakfast.) And since it’s my last day in San Diego, I opted to go whole hog. Or er, fish. Tacos three ways:  classic batter fried, grilled tilapia, and pan-seared cod, all on soft corn tortillas.  Life in San Diego is swell – and very much as it should be.

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fishy fast food

Long before there were McNuggets, there were bolinhos de bacalhau, or fish balls; bite-sized quenelles of salt cod mixed with mashed potato that are Lisbon’s answer to fast food.  Eaten hot or cold, as a mid-day snack or evening appetizer, they’re ubiquitous. And delicious. They also go great with a beer. The logic behind it is unimpeachable, too. A high-protein, low-fat snack or a trough of deep-fried McParts? No wonder the people here are all so trim. The secret to the bod must be in the cod.

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