Walking to the Whitney Museum on a mild winter day is a treat. Eager to be out and about in Manhattan, we begin our trek from The Marcel at Gramercy Hotel on East 24th Street near Gramercy Park. Walking down 23rd we make our way to the High Line – a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side that will deliver us to the Whitney.
The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. Species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species.
Italian architect and engineer, Renzo Piano, designed the new Whitney Museum. From a piece in the New Yorker I read:
“He (Piano) expressed pride in the startling mismatch of the museum’s eastern and western fronts”. On the east, the building descends in tiers—“to bring down the scale,” he said—toward the historic low-rise buildings of the neighborhood. The side that faces the river is “more massive, more strong,” Piano said. A truncated-pyramid profile with jutting banks of large windows, it “talks to the rest of the world” from an attitude of confident majesty. Immodestly, but with proof in the product, the architect cited the elements that he had sought to incorporate in the design: “social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry, light—an immense rich bouillabaisse.”
Popular even during the week on a winter day, we wait in line outside for about 20 minutes to enter the Whitney. Observing the action in the Museum’s restaurant Untitled we decide to begin with an early lunch. Occupying a long, narrow space with glass walls on three sides, the restaurant, like the rest of the museum, was designed by Renzo Piano.
Untitled is a new restaurant from Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and its menu is inspired by the seasons and the creative environment of the museum. While waiting we look through his cookbook – V is for Vegetables – delicious doable recipes with short ingredient lists and color photos, designed for home cooks.
Sitting at the Untitled bar, lunch was delicious and social. Our waiter was knowledgeable and guided me through what turned out to be a fairly gluten-free menu, and highly recommended their acclaimed chocolate chip cookie (entirely gluten-free). Turns out the recipe was born when pastry chef Miro Uskokovic took it upon himself to create the ultimate chocolate chip cookie – one combining a soft, gooey interior with a toothsome, crunchy exterior. Playing with varieties and ratios of sugar and butter, he settled on a combination of brown and white sugar with clarified browned butter. Then, to see if the cookie could be made gluten-free on special request, he tested the cookie with Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. The result? The staff actually preferred the GF version.
The Whitney Museum of American Art was born out of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s advocacy on behalf of living American artists. At the beginning of the twentieth century, artists with new ideas found it nearly impossible to exhibit or sell their work in the United States. Recognizing the obstacles these artists faced, Mrs. Whitney began purchasing and showing their work, thereby becoming the leading patron of American art from 1907 until her death in 1942. Today the Whitney’s collection includes over 21,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
At the time of our visit a special exhibit – Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist – caught my attention and was the highlight of my visit. Archibald John Motley Jr. (1891–1981) was a bold and highly original modernist and one of the great visual chroniclers of twentieth-century African American life. As the Whitney exhibition notes of Motley’s artistic interest in these portraits: “On the one hand, he believed that seeing themselves in art would help African Americans feel pride in their own racial identities; on the other, he hoped that seeing beautiful contemporary black subjects would dispel stereotypes and undermine racism.”
Savoring Motley’s paintings of jazz and blues, we end our day at Jazz Standard. Home to world-class jazz, warm Southern hospitality, and award-winning Southern cuisine and barbecue. Finding the setting intimate and comfortable we settle in to enjoy Children of the Light, two-thirds of the legendary Wayne Shorter Quartet. The music is clear and beautiful. Acoustic sound with some electric touches, simple but also majestic. Danilo Perez is the excellent pianist, John Patitucci is the great bass player and Brian Blade is called “one of the best drummers in this moment”. Amazing day… and only a 10 minute walk back to the Marcel at Gramercy Hotel!
“Barcelona bubbles with life in its narrow Barri Gòtic alleys, along the pedestrian boulevard called the Ramblas, in the funky bohemian quarter of El Born, and throughout the chic, grid-planned part of town called the Eixample. Its Old City is made for seeing on foot, full of winding lanes that emerge into secluded squares dotted with palm trees and ringed with cafés and boutiques. The waterfront bristles with life, overlooked by the park-like setting of Montjuïc. Across the city, the architecture is colorful, playful, and unique. In this vibrant city, locals still join hands and dance the sardana in front of the cathedral every weekend. Neighborhood festivals jam the events calendar. The cafés are filled by day, and people crowd the streets at night… If you’re in the mood to surrender to a city’s charms, let it be in Barcelona.”
~ Rick Steves
Late afternoon sunlight greets us as we walk out of the Barcelona Sants train station. Having just traveled up the coast from Valencia by high speed train we are tired but relaxed. Excited to grab a cab and get our first glance of Barcelona as we travel across the city to our hotel on the famous Las Ramblas Boulevard.
Months before we decide to visit Barcelona I am visiting one of my favorite blogs – Remodelista – and read this:
“The next time you’re in Barcelona, soak up the city’s infamous architecture by staying in the Praktik Rambla, a budget design hotel housed in the historic Casa Climent Arola building. Constructed in the beginning of the 19th century by the Spanish architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano (the Sagrada Familia was his commission first, as in pre-Gaudi), the grand building with is modern interiors allows you to immerse yourself seamlessly into the spirit of Barcelona.”
The Hotel Praktik Rambla renovation design conserved the original Art Nouveau elements of the building, such as the mouldings, the high ceilings, the mosaic floors (original 19th century tile work), and mixed them elegantly with parquet floors, modern lamps, vintage bathrooms, large, comfortable white beds, touches of design and elegance and, above all, loads of comfort… four days of elegance, comfort, and quiet are ours at a very reasonable rate in February.
Saturday morning we hear, then see, “Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia” – Barcelona’s biggest annual festival for children. The festival takes place at many venues all over Barcelona but it is mostly in the Ciutat Vella – old city of Barcelona. The program for the Santa Eulalia festival includes many typical Catalan traditions like parades with “gegants” and other fantasy figures.
One of the many things I enjoy about travel is the way I become immersed in the city and area I am visiting… researching the story behind what I am seeing to satisfy my own curiosity and share in my writing.
The history of the Arc de Triomf began in late 19th century when it was built for the World Expo of 1888, which Barcelona hosted. The arch was designed by the noted Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca. The design by Vilaseca stands out from other well-known triumphal arches, in particular the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Instead of using sandstone or marble, Vilaseca decided to build the arch using red bricks.
Using bricks as the main material is a typical feature of the rather unusual architectural style the arch is built in. The arch is inspired by Muslim architecture, in particular the style is known as “Mudéjar” which emerged during the 12th century on the Iberian Peninsula. The style was created by the Moors and Muslims who remained in the area after the Christians had recaptured and repopulated the whole Iberian Peninsula.
Walking up Passeig de Gràcia we get our first taste of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s work – La Pedrera.
Situated on an asymmetrical corner lot, this large apartment building was immediately dubbed “la pedrera,” or “the quarry,” because of its cliff-like walls. There are various theories regarding the source of Gaudí’s inspiration – from ocean waves to a variety of specific mountains, even a mountain crest with clouds. This unique limestone building appears sculptural, with undulating curves, and black iron balconies that contrast nicely with the lightness of the limestone.
La Pedrera or Casa Milà was constructed between 1906 and 1912. Due to its unique artistic style and heritage value it has received major recognition and in 1984 was inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List.
Barcelona is a city made for walking, a visual aesthetic feast. Window shopping and people watching are a delight… as is the casual search for the next cafe in which to enjoy a coffee, snack on some tapas, or sip a glass of wine or beer.
The Museu Picasso in Barcelona is rich in regard to work from the formative years in the life of the artist, up to the Blue Period. Young Picasso’s genius is revealed through the over 4000 works that make up the permanent collection, and it was stunning to see his level of accomplishment as a teenager. Opened in 1963, the museum helps us realize his deep relationship with Barcelona, one that was shaped in his adolescence and youth, and continued until his death.
The museum occupies five adjoining medieval stone mansions on the Carrer de Montcada. The original palaces date from the 13th-15th centuries, undergoing major refurbishments over time, the most important in the 18th century. Today the elegant courtyards, galleries and staircases are as much a part of the experience as the collection inside.
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” ~ Pablo Picasso
The Joan Miró Foundation opened to the public in 1975. Interest in a museum began after Miro’s exhibition in Barcelona, in 1968. Several figures from the art world saw the opportunity to have a space in Barcelona dedicated to the his work. The museum’s exhibits give a broad impression of Miró’s artistic development, and in accordance with his wishes, the institution also promotes the work of contemporary artists in all its aspects.
Designed by Miro’s close friend, the architect Josep Lluís Sert, the Foundation was designed in accordance with the principles of Rationalist architecture, with different spaces set around a central patio in the traditional Mediterranean style and with Sert’s characteristic skylights.
“I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.” ~ Joan Miro
Our go to place for tapas in Barcelona is Cervecería Catalana. Recommended by the hotel, it is considered one of the best places in the city. You can find all kind of tapas and “montaditos” (food on bread). The cold tapas are on display and you can order hot tapas from their menu. Several mornings began with breakfast at the bar – enjoying a tortilla (Spanish omelette) and the patatas bravas (fried potatoes served warm with aioli and a spicy tomato sauce – fantastic). The large dining area is bustling and its fun to see what others have ordered. Service is skillful and helpful… located on Carrer de Mallorca, #236.
Los Caracoles was recommended by a fellow foodie we meet at Catalana. He visits Barcelona often and especially enjoys the rotisserie chicken at this old family restaurant located nearby in the Gothic district. Cave-like with dark wood, murals, and tiles, we pass through the bar, then kitchen, on our way to one of several dining areas.
After sharing a house salad, we enjoy the roast chicken and lamb ribs – both finger lickin’ good, and enhanced by the elegant setting and professional service.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain
Note: Spain’s RENFE rail system offers senior travelers 60 and older the Tarjeta Dorada (“Gold Card”). With the Tarjeta Dorada, you will save 25 to 40 percent on train tickets, depending on the day of the week you travel and how far in advance you buy your tickets. You can buy your Tarjeta Dorada at a RENFE station for 5.05 Euros; it will be valid for one year.
The Central Market of Valencia (Mercat Central) is filled with people bustling about when we visit mid-day. In the city’s hub, it is a great spot to to experience the local culture. Inside are close to 1000 stands, large and small, each run by a different vendor. Here you will find cured meats like the local jamon, fresh fish, local fruits and vegetables, nuts, and bakery goods. We stocked up on two of our favorite snacks… Valencia oranges and marcona almonds.
Known as one of the largest and oldest European markets, this wonderful piece of Art Nouveaux architecture was designed by Catalan architects Alejandro Soler March and Francisco Guardia Vial between 1910 and 1928, when it was opened to public.
The Central Market is open Monday through Saturday year round.
With its innovative concept of serving “haute cuisine at a good price” Mar d’avellanes revolutionizes and democratizes the dining scene in Valencia. “Innovating from the essence” they offer a sublime dining experience through a cuisine in which quality and creativity are a premium. The decor and the culinary offerings provide a unique style and experience. At Mard’avellanes we enjoyed the most deliciously sensual meal of our trip.
Looking for a restaurante to enjoy Sunday lunch with the locals, we got a great tip from a lovely lady in one of the information centers – La Cigrona – a hidden treasure located on a quiet street close to one of the old towers of Valencia. Priding themselves on using the freshest local ingredients, they are farm to table. Arriving without a reservation, the owner graciously found a table for us among the local, multi-generation families.
Restaurante de Ana’s specialty is Valencian cuisine. They are known for their wide range of delicious paellas and rice dishes. Located in downtown Valencia just a short walk from our hotel, the meal was good, though the restaurant is larger and more formal then we prefer… kind of like the Vincci Palace Hotel where we are staying… professional but impersonal.
A note on Spanish wines… Throughout Spain, we found the diversity and deliciousness of the country’s wines impressive and the price tag very reasonable. Ranging from 3 to 4 euros for a glass of wine, an excellent price for the quality.
One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.
~ Luciano Pavarotti
Jay fell in love with Puerto del Carmen in Granada, Spain… imagining a whole evening spent puffing on a good cigar, indulging in their mediterranean inspired dishes, sipping wine, people watching… As it is, we enjoy two meals there during our day and a half in Granada. A common gesture in Spain is to bring a free tapa after you order drinks, and here our gift was a small plate of shrimp with delicate tempura vegetables on top. First class. Then came the entrees…
For simpler fare the young woman at Hotel Casa 1800 Granada suggested a lovely little cafe – Carmela. Open all day, a blessing for weary travelers, we find our way there late afternoon and enjoy the potato prawn salad and a sublime vegetable moussaka.
Taken with the local wine and olive oil served at Carmela, the waitress gives us a tip on where to find them, which leads us to Jamoneria Casa Diego. An old world charcuterie not far from the restaurante with hams, meats, cheeses… and the Muñana Rojo from Sierra Neveda we sipped with lunch, as well as the olive oil! We leave with two bottles of wine and olive oil to bring home… and stock up on our favorite snacks – dark chocolate, marcona almonds and fresh walnuts.
Granada has an edge, maybe due to its large student population (70,000), and is delightfully cosmopolitan for a city of its size. Ethnic restaurants are more plentiful than in other Andalusian cities, and its Islamic past is still present with Muslim North Africans making up about 10% of the population. Much to explore in addition to the Alhambra.
Heading to Hotel Casa 1800 we catch our first glimpse of the magnificent Seville Cathedral. Legend has it that when they tore down a mosque of brick in 1401, the Christians re-conquering Spain said, “We will build a cathedral so huge that anyone who sees it will take us for madmen.” Taking about a hundred years to build, it is the third largest church in Europe, and the largest Gothic church in the world.
The next morning we rise to sun, clear blue skies, and make our way to the Cathedral… take a stroll with us…
The tomb of Christopher Columbus is located inside the Seville Cathedral in Spain. It was designed by the sculptor Arturo Melida. Originally installed in Havana, it was moved to Seville after Spain lost control of Cuba.
Harvest time in the Cathedral’s Patio de los Naranjos (oranges).
Spectacular views as we make our way up the 308′ high Giralda (bell tower). There are no stairs but a gently sloping ramp which ends just below the belfry. It is one of the very few buildings of Islamic Spain left unscathed by Christian intervention, and it is said that the Castillian king, Ferdinand III, rode to the top of the bell tower on horseback on the day he entered Seville on horseback.
In the distance is the Real Maestranza, Seville’s historic bullring, which we will visit tomorrow…
Gourmet tapas bars are the current trend in Seville and plentiful in our Santa Cruz neighborhood. Young staff at the Hotel Casa 1800, where we are staying and highly recommend, suggest two tapas bars near the hotel – both delicious – and for paella the more traditional, Cuna-2 Restaurante.
La Azotea is a stylish, small restaurant, with good service and delicious food. Innovative and beautifully presented tapas are the norm. Our first night in Seville we are spoiled by their tapas… a beautiful roll of salmon tartare, grilled octopus on a potato puree, rice triangles filled with crayfish and cheese. We return another morning for a comforting american style breakfast of omelet, meats, bread (including gluten-free).
Our last night in Seville we dine at El Pasaje. Another gem for tapas, small and cozy with an outdoor terrace in the rear of the restaurant which is enclosed and heated for the winter. Another feast of tastes is enjoyed… artichokes with almonds and ham in a vinaigrette, octopus with rustic potatoes, grilled salmon with a tasty sauce, and chicken masala with black rice. We drink glasses of the house Rioja – inexpensive and delicious (most wines by the glass are 3 to 4 euros in Spain).
On the other end of the dining spectrum is Cuna-2. Housed in a four-story mansion designed by the great Ánibal Gonzalez. It’s been beautifully restored – a cool mix of old world beauty and ultra modern designer furniture that creates a uniquely stylish ambiance. Lovely tapas and traditional entrees like paella (which we enjoyed), are attractively presented in a number of pretty moorish tiled small dining areas flowing from a fountained central courtyard. Service was impeccable, friendly and informed. Their lovely roof terrace and cocktail bar would be a glorious in warmer weather.
Mercado da Ribeira (market near the river) is a Lisbon treasure, and the city’s largest open food market. Housed in a beautiful building topped with a Moorish-style dome, the food market sells everything from inky octopus and fresh seafood to fresh fruit, and funeral flowers. But, beginning in May 2014 the gastronomical area opened, representing the best restaurants and chefs of Lisbon. The area has about 30 spaces for food vendors and seating for around 750 in the center area. Being foodies and on vacation, this was the focus of our attention… thanks for the tasty tip Lisa and Jeff!
The idea is brilliant: you grab the food and drinks from one or several restaurants of your choice (can be different than your family and friends), and find a seat in the food area where you’ll be able to interact with everyone there.
Spit roasted pork belly immediately caught our eye, as did the salads from another booth…
With delicious results…
And still room for a sweet or two from Arcadia…
We visited a second time on a Saturday night and the food area was overflowing. Seats were full, the most popular stands had lines and the atmosphere was dynamic. Having already eaten dinner, we tried some chocolate cake and stood at the end of a bar-like table. Conversation started flowing when one of the guys heard we were from Seattle – he had seen the recent Seahawks game leading up to to the Superbowl, and was very excited to compare notes with Americans, and Washingtonians at that! Turns out he and his friends are from Iceland, and two of his buddies are competing in the European Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Gotta love travel!
The Lisbon Connection is a great resource for travelers in Lisbon with articles and reviews on just about anything having to do with the city. Check it out next time you are traveling to Lisbon. Their article on Cervejaria ‘Ramiro‘ prompted us to check out this very popular seafood restaurant. Serving superb fresh seafood at a really good price, it’s always crowded with tables full of locals, all having a great time. The atmosphere is loud and exciting.
Lisbon’s Rua Nova do Carvalho was cited in a New York Times travel article – Favorite Streets in 12 European Cities. Closed to traffic, painted a cheerful shade of pink it is Lisbon’s most bustling new party strip… and it is just a few blocks from Mercado da Ribeira.
In autumn Vancouver Island abounds with heirloom tomatoes, pears, apples, plums, exotic squash, pumpkins, wild mushrooms…
Bengal Lounge ~ Fairmont Empress Hotel (721 Government Street). Drawing inspiration from Queen Victoria’s role as the Empress of India, this colonial style lounge is known throughout Victoria for its authentic curry buffet and signature cocktail menu. Frequented by residents and visitors alike, the lounge offers a delicious curry lunch and dinner buffet, an international à la carte menu, and signature cocktail and martini drinks. On the evening we dine, the Indian buffets tempts us with butter chicken, tandoori chicken, lamb stew, basmati rice, paprika onions, mango chutney, cilantro green sauce, pappadoms, and a cardamom crème brûlée for dessert. This authentic buffet is delicious with many gluten-free options.
Camille’s~ Located in Bastion Square, in the heart of Old Town Victoria; Local Food Restaurant Of The Year 2012. Camille’s is nestled into the cozy nooks of an 1898 heritage building giving the restaurant a lovely combination of fine dining in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. The menu is diverse, seasonal and changes daily. The evening we visit, several entrees are prepared sous-vide. I choose the flank steak stuffed with sausage and Jay has line caught ling cod with a tarragon mouse and crumbles of dried chorizo. Both are delectable – cooked perfectly and moist. Camille’s is a restaurant at the top of its game. (Sous-vide is a culinary technique in which vacuum-sealed food is immersed in a water bath and cooked at a very precise, consistent low temperature for longer periods of time.)
Cafe Brio ~ 944 Fort Street. An old favorite that we return to each visit to Victoria. Tonight we begin with a homemade pâté with pistachios, lamb salami, and an olive stuffed with meat and fried. On this cool, damp night I settle on the venison loin with red wine, cabbage, apples, and a pear with cacao nibs. Jay hones in on the succulent lamb shoulder steak with braised fennel, heirloom tomatoes, and cannelli beans. Very full, but still sipping a little red wine we end with two homemade chocolate truffles. Glorious… thank goodness we are walking back to our hotel.
Brasserie L’Ecole ~ 1715 Government Street. A Brasserie is “an unpretentious restaurant that serves drinks, especially beer, and simple or hearty food“. This definition parallels Brasserie L’école classic French bistro/brasserie design and nightly changing menu. This time of year you can enjoy Mussels & frites, Sooke trout, Roasted chicken with chanterelle, Steak & frites… The name “l’école is a nod to the history of the building, which once was a Chinese Schoolhouse. They don’t take reservations so plan to arrive a bit before they open.
Red fish Blue fish ~ 1006 Wharf Street (at the foot of Broughton on the pier). This funky seaside fish shack is an outdoor waterfront eatery in an up-cycled cargo container on a wooden pier in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It’s a unique, fresh, and sustainable approach to the old fish ‘n’ chip shop. There is always a line and we jump right in, ordering a BBQ wild salmon tacone with spicy spot prawn mayo, and a Seafood Poutine (local shrimp + smoked tuna belly bacon bits + crispy shallots & miso-clam gravy) with Kennebec Chips. Top notch food and a fun waterfront experience. Closed November, December & January.
Rebar Modern Food ~ 50 Bastion Square. Since 1988, Rebar Modern Food has been Victoria’s favorite restaurant and juice bar, featuring fresh, healthy, predominantly vegetarian fare. We stepped in for a late morning meal. My decaf mocha made with almond milk was delicious; my scrambled eggs okay. Jay dug his Miso soup and Blue bridge fruit drink (blueberry, apple and grapefruit juices). The Rebar Modern Food Cookbook is popular with vegans, vegetarians, and anyone looking for delicious ideas with a funky twist.
Tre Fantastico ~ Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa, 810 Humboldt Street. Born from a passion for ale, wine & coffee, and featuring great food accompaniments & light meals using house-made products and local food. We don’t usually eat in the hotel, but this café is an exception… great coffee, and our favorite breakfast becomes Poached Eggs & Beans: 2 Kalamoon Farm Eggs served over Spiced White Cannellini Beans with Double-Smoked Bacon. We notice the Housemade Granola with pecans, pumpkin seeds, raisins, natural yogurt & rhubarb compote is very popular…
Murchies Tea & Coffee ~ 1110 Government Street. John Murchie immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1894 and founded Murchie’s Tea & Coffee. Today the downtown location is a vibrant tea room, bakery, coffee shop and retail store. Seeking respite from the cold we duck into Murchies for another yummy almond milk mocha, hazelnut hot cocoa, and warm slice of their flourless chocolate cake. YUM.
Santé Gluten-Free Café ~ 2630A Quadra Street. Victoria’s first dedicated gluten-free café. Santé accommodates dairy-free, soy-free, low/no sugar and almost any other sensitivity. Desserts, muffins, and other baked goods are created daily. We pick up a grilled chicken wrap and a breakfast wrap to go which are yummy. The menu also includes a Paleo section, a soup du jour, Quiche, pizza, lasagna and salads.
Origin Bakery (Gluten-free)
Origin opened its doors in March 2010 to become the first bakery in Victoria to offer exclusively gluten-free baked goods! It all started when two friends, Tara Black and Marion Neuhauser, realized that their friends with dietary restrictions were having a hard time finding tasty wheat-free baking. “Our use of high quality, natural ingredients (many are local and/or organic), along with our discerning sense of taste, ensures we provide baking that everyone – gluten intolerant or not – can love. Since we only use gluten-free ingredients, we can make sure there is no gluten contamination, so go ahead and enjoy without worry!” We didn’t get to indulge this trip, but will next visit.
Those of us who read the New York Times know Frank Bruni as an Op-Ed columnist; I had forgotten he was the restaurant critic of The Times from June 2004 to August 2009. Enjoy this thoughtful salute to his mother and musings on Ireland as he travels the country by car…
I went in mid-September, and I went mostly, truth be told, because it promised spectacular scenery, bountiful seafood and an infinity of pubs, which my traveling partner, Tom, was especially excited about. We covered as much of the country as we could in a week’s time, dipping into Cork as well as Dublin, logging over 700 road miles, lounging beside a lake in the southwest and ambling along a creek in the northwest.
But I also went for a sort of communion with, and investigation of, Mom, who died almost 16 years ago. It was like an adult version of that classic children’s book “Are You My Mother?” except that I wasn’t a lost bird asking a kitten, a dog, a boat. I was a grown man asking a country.
Ireland has assumed a central place in poetry readers minds, due to Nobel Prize-winning poets, W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, and 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner, Paul Muldoon. Doing a little research for this article brought forth Dennis O’Driscoll. Well known in Ireland and Britain, it seems he is not widely read in the U.S. but considered by some one of the most interesting poets writing in English. I leave you with the first section of his poem – Weather Permitting.
by Dennis O’Driscoll
The August day you wake to takes you by surprise.
Its bitterness. Black sullen clouds. Brackish downpour.
A drift-net of wetness enmeshes the rented cottage,
towels and children’s swimwear sodden on the line.
Dry-gulleted drains gulp down neat rain.
Drops bounce from a leaking gutter with hard,
uncompromising slaps: and, like resignation
in the face of death, you contemplate winter
with something close to tenderness, the sprint
from fuel shed to back door, the leisurely
ascent of peat smoke, even the suburban haze
of boiler flues when thermostats are set.
You warm to those thoughts as you sit there,
brainstorming ways to keep the family amused,
plans abandoned for barefoot games on dry sand.
Handcraft shops? Slot-machine arcades? Hotel grills?
In truth – manipulating toast crumbs backwards,
forwards at the unsteady table’s edge – you’d prefer
to return to your bed as if with some mild
ailment, pampered by duvet, whiskey, cloves.
This Easter we are up in the air, flying from Seattle, WA to Washington, DC non-stop with Alaska Airlines. Thinking about our food plans, I do some research on restaurants in Fredericksburg, VA, which we will be passing through around dinner time on our drive to Norfolk, VA.
Bistro Bethem rises up as I search. Seasonal modern American cuisine with a Southern accent. Sounds delicious and not formal (we are in comfy casual travel clothes)… oysters on the half shell or fried, wood oven pizzas, creative salads with roasted beets or asparagus, and entrees ranging from a Painted Hill’s all-natural cheeseburger to lamb loin with a coriander-fennel rub. A nice range of choices depending on our appetites. I email to see what there hours are on Easter…
Christopher from Bistro Bethem replies promptly – Thanks so much for thinking of us! Unfortunately, we will be open for brunch only, from 10am-4pm. I’m not sure of other restaurant’s holiday hours, but I can recommend Kybecca, Foode, and Poppy Hill. Hopefully you’ll keep us in mind for the future.
I discover that Easter brunch is popular, and by 6pm his restaurant and all the others will be closed. However, I came away with four good choices for eating in Fredericksburg, VA, so why not share them…
Kybecca Wine Bar & Shop in downtown Fredericksburg began as an eclectic wine shop and soon evolved into a full service wine bar and outdoor café. Here’s what the Washington Post reviewer says about their Sunday brunch – “Sit outside under the bright red awning, sip a glass of chilled prosecco and dig into a plate of slow-braised corned beef hash topped with a poached egg and a drizzle of vinaigrette (one of Kyle’s home recipes). Or try one of the crisp, yeast-risen waffles sprinkled with local berries. Or a crepe filled with spicy, locally made chorizo and scrambled eggs.”
The philosophy at FOODE is simple: Joy & Beth believe that the freshest, cleanest ingredients make the best dishes. Joy’s the chef, Beth does everything else. I love their story… We suppose it’s just like every other story that involves two people with a dream: they save up until they can leave their corporate jobs and jump into the great unknown. Our unknown took us from Atlanta, Georgia to the historic district in Fredericksburg, Virginia. So what about the food? The menu changes weekly, they have a children’s menu and a community table. Right now they are having Fried Chicken Wednesdays, and other nights 1/2 of an organic Ashland farms chicken, marinated in herbs and lemon and slow roasted… served with creamy organic farro and mixed field greens from Glenburnie farms. Lots of familiar, comfort foods with attention to good ingredients. Sweets ~ three chocolate chunk cookies, gooey warm from the oven with a chilled glass of organic milk ~ yes!
Poppy Hill Chef Scott Mahar blends his New England sensibility with the lighter sauces, roasted meats and fresh pastas from the Tuscan region of Italy. They prepare each dish from scratch with only the most wholesome, farm fresh ingredients, and all pastas are made on site daily. Flavor Magazine notes: “Offering seasonal items keeps prices at market value and new items on the menu. Patrons flock to the restaurant when pumpkin ravioli in a brown butter sauce with sage makes an appearance in the fall. Sunday-night gravy (which, for the uninitiated, is tomato sauce) made from fresh tomatoes and basil, short ribs, house-made Italian sausage, and meatballs served over Scott’s house-made pasta is also a menu staple”.
So those of you in the Washington Metropolitan area looking for a getaway, head to historic Fredericksburg for a weekend of good food and history… and let me know what you find.
Deciding where to dine in Santa Fe is serious fun. Our generous hosts, Dorsey & Richard, have sampled all the best local fare and together we have a terrific time experiencing some of the local favorites…
Tesuque Village Market, 138 Tesuque Village Road, is a charming market and restaurant about 15 minutes north of Santa Fe. Located under a canopy of cottonwoods at the center of a quaint village, you can dine outside in warm weather or inside where the decor is funky Santa Fe. We visited twice for breakfast, both times enjoying various egg dishes – Huevos Rancheros with blue corn tortillas, Breakfast burritos with chorizo… and as I walked around I saw delicious looking blue corn pancakes and the ultimate french toast made with croissants. Nice sized portions for a reasonable price. Lunch and dinner are also popular, and there’s often a crowd. A kids’ menu is available. (photo above)
Tune-Up Cafe, 1115 Hickox St. Owners, Jesus and Charlotte Rivera, offer a comfortable, affordable, fun, and flavorful dining experience. The menu is an eclectic assortment of El Salvadoran (veggie or steak pupusa and banana leaf wrapped tamales), New Mexican (chile relleno, enchiladas, tacos) and American favorites (buffalo burger, flat-iron organic steak). The desserts are house-made by Charlotte – fresh-baked scones for breakfast, decadent peanut butter cookie sandwiches, custard filled cupcakes… Okay, I’m hungry!
Mucho Gusto Mexican Restaurant, 839 Paseo De Peralta, is another great little neighborhood restaurant where the locals go. One of the favorites is “The Bomb”, their famous chicken breast stuffed with jack cheese, poblano chiles, almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, and then topped with a mushroom chipotle chile cream sauce. Grilled salmon, grilled shrimp specials, moist chicken fajitas… the food is consistently good and not expensive. The sangria and agave wine margaritas get rave reviews.
The Shed, 113 East Palace Avenue, is known for their red enchilada plate with red chile… arriving on a piping-hot plate, swimming in a red chile sauce complete with beans and posole. One fan describes it very well, “At The Shed, the cheddar is melted to a creamy, liquid-like texture. Miraculously, the cheese stays that way throughout the entire meal; even as I polished off the last of the beans at the end, the cheese stayed soft and stringy within the sauce. The restaurant uses blue corn tortillas, which retained their texture and sopped up the savory mixture of chile and onions. Little kernels of posole were tender and flavorful. Even the beans, which are usually the most neglected item on a plate, were perfectly cooked—neither grainy nor mushy. Best of all, the red chili sauce was pleasantly spicy with just a touch of the natural sweetness that comes from using the best quality dried red chilies.” The Shed red chile sauce is famous around the world and available to buy online at their website.
Paper Dosa, 551 W. Cordova Road, has quickly become a local favorite, serving a south Indian menu heavy on dosas, uttapams, and spicy curries. The interior is inviting, the service is good, and the food is consistently first-rate. Packed on the Sunday night, we opted to sit at the bar. A great first experience as we were able to see the dishes coming out of the kitchen! We began with the Cashew Calamari – calamari sauteed in a cashew nut based curry served with greens – absolutely delicious… then shared a dosa filled with collard greens cooked down in spices with sweet peppers – just as delicious… and a lamb curry made with green cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves and peppercorns. If I lived in Santa Fe I would be here every week!
Vinaigrette, 709 Don Cubero Alley, a salad bistro that raises the “salad bar” with delicious entrée salads. Their perfectly dressed gourmet salads boast innovative flavor combinations from the savory All Kale Caesar to the sweet Nutty Pear-fessor and balanced Salacho taco salad. It’s healthy comfort food that Chef Wade grows the bulk of on her own ten-acre farm on the historic Cano Acequia in Nambe.
Jambo, 2010 Cerrillos Rd, is African/Caribbean cooking at its finest. Chef Ahmed Obo served as chef at the Zia Diner for ten years, and now is treating Santa Fe to the food of his native land, Kenya. His mission is to give “quality ethnic cuisine for a good value,” and that is precisely what he does. His African and Caribbean dishes are authentic and richly flavored. We enjoyed the curried black bean & sweet potato soup, a delicious goat stew, a marinated chicken kabob flavored with cumin, coriander, thyme, garlic, lemongrass, paprika and allspice. Then shared a warm chocolate mocha brownie with vanilla ice cream sprinkled with fragrant cinnamon. Oh my, what sweet memories.
The Pantry, 1820 Cerillos Rd., has a diner atmosphere with a busy counter and tables, and is always full of locals and tourists alike. Their breakfast and lunch choices are some of the best you can find in Santa Fe. We enjoyed their red and green chile sauces and chorizo, ordering omelettes with spinach, green chile and chorizo. I just read about a new addition to the Pantry – cold brewed coffee. Evidently, the cold brewing process removes all the acidity and produces a smooth full-bodied flavorful coffee unlike anything we have experienced. Brewed in cold water for two days and mixed with different flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, and toffee. A definite must on our next visit to Santa Fe!
Pink Adobe, 406 Old Santa Fe Trail, was established in 1944 by Rosalea Murphy. Known affectionately by locals as “The Pink,” the restaurant has grown into a local and national landmark since its humble beginnings. Located in the center of the historic Barrio de Analco, across the street from the San Miguel Mission, which is considered the oldest church in the United States. Great martinis, and the Steak Dunigan receives excellent reviews (check out the photo on their website).
Harry’s Roadhouse, 96 Old Las Vegas Hwy, a review I read online sums it up nicely… “A funky, colorful, rambling restaurant, Harry’s Roadhouse is many things to many people. It’s part roadhouse, of course, part diner, part bar, and, in summer, part garden café. It’s also a popular gathering spot, an easily accessible halfway point for folks in town and those more far-flung. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offering a huge range of foods and styles, a lot of which it does well. Maybe “nothing ever changes there,” as a friend of mine recently said — but, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Recommended: buckwheat pancakes, wild mushroom pizza, gala apple salad, blackened catfish, and chocolate cream pie.”
Ready to do some of your own cooking? Head to the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market. It is open year round on Saturday mornings at its permanent home in the Railyard, 1607 Paseo de Peralta (at S. Guadalupe St). Here you can find many varieties of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, some available year-round. In addition to seasonal produce, you can always find quality meats, dairy, and eggs; flowers and houseplants; traditional dried foods; superb baked goods; jams, jellies, and honey; natural body care and herbal products; and original crafts and homespun garments. During the planting season, you will also find compost, worms, and an extensive choice of bedding plants.
The Market is not exclusively organic, but many of the growers are Certified Organic, or Certified Naturally Grown, and they post their Certificates or Crop Lists. You can ask the farmers how they raise their crops. They have baskets of beautiful produce grown without chemicals.
Whether you are eating at home or dining out at a local restaurant, San Miguel de Allende food is tasty and affordable…
La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) ~ Calle Barranca at the corner with Calle Huertas. Happening little neighborhood cantina, dating back to the 1920s. Nothing pretentious. No white tablecloths. Just good, fast service and delicious fresh seafood and ginger margaritas. On several visits we enjoyed the tacos, tostados and ceviche – good fresh seafood. Another night we devoured the BBQ ribs and the melt in your mouth ham hock as carry out. Oh yes, the artichoke appetizer is yummy too. Cool place to have just up the street from our rental.
Hecho en Mexico ~ Ancho de San Antonio #8. A recommendation for great jazz was our introduction to this restaurant and we were not disappointed. The “house” quartet is outstanding. Some of the musicians played with Doc Severinsen. There is no extra charge for the music if you have dinner. Ten of us sat around a big table and received great service. We started with homemade guacamole & chips, and as a group enjoyed the Spinach & Beet salad, Cheeseburgers, Fish Tacos, Shrimp Broquettes on rosemary stalks and Arranchera (traditional marinated Mexican flank steak). One of the side dishes, jicama salad, is like a slaw and fantastic. They have a nice choice of tequilla and good margaritas. Dinner and a drink cost about $12 USD. Wonderful historic setting with an interior cactus garden.
Cafe Rama ~ Calle Nueva 7. Vogue magazine describes it well – “a funky outdoor establishment that has a 1970s Berkeley vibe with Pop Art decor.” Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relaxed with a bottle of wine as we receive a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of Spanish Serrano ham, goat cheese, pickled watermelon, olives and salty/sweet almonds, we go on to enjoy a savory polenta with a tasty tomato topping, a crispy risotto pancake topped with a shrimp, mussels with garlic & ginger, and several others. Ending with a sensuous dessert finale of cappuccino crème brûlée and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. A delightful experience for me, as the chef easily and creatively accommodated my gluten-free diet needs.
Mandinga ~ Correa #24. We meet a vegetarian friend at this pizza and empanadas restaurant housed in another very cool old building with an inviting outdoor courtyard set up like a dining room. They also have an indoor café/bar with a fireplace but it was a beautiful evening and we chose the outside dining by candlelight. We arrive during Happy Hour when they offer two cocktails or glasses of wine for the price of one… our waiter suggested a very nice red wine to go with our empanadas, pizza and salads. Jay declares these the best empanadas he has ever had and our friend devours his entire pizza with gusto. Big bowls of fresh spinach, cheese, olives made up our delicious salads. One note – as a gluten-free eater this may not be the best choice if you are hungry for more than a salad.
Cafe de la Parroquia / La Brasserie ~ Jesus 11, Centro Historico.
Cafe de la Parroquia is a great spot for breakfast. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses the morning we were here. Delicious fresh mini baguette come with a wonderful avocado salsa, butter and jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf, and many varieties of egg dishes are served. We love our scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, and scrambled eggs with chorizo. Green drinks and fresh carrot juice are another healthy option. The service is very good, with the owner often in attendance.
Once the wrought-iron gates of La Parroquia close on the late lunch crowd, La Brasserie starts gearing up to delight diners in the same space. It becomes a French bistro with a Mexican accent—one of the most pleasant restaurants San Miguel style. La Brasserie’s owner/chef, Valeria, is the daughter of Francoise, the French-born owner of La Parroquia. She grew up waiting tables there and helping out in the kitchen, so she knows the business top to bottom. Steak, frites and salad are excellent, as is the Chicken Enchilada Mole. This mole sauce is the real thing with 50+ spices and peppers in it. Reasonably priced in a pleasant setting.
The Restaurant ~ Sollano #16. Six of us totally enjoy the Mo’ Better Burger Thursday Night Special at The Restaurant and I have total confidence that any night would be terrific. This is an upscale restaurant with a casually elegant setting in a beautiful old stone building. Service is impeccable and friendly. As a starter we try the Caesar salad and Spinach salad – both are first-rate with very fresh greens. Four of us have variations of 1/2 lb. beef burgers (ground in-house). – all come medium as ordered, deliciously juicy and pink inside and served with house cured pickles, and crispy potatoes with garlic, rosemary and parsley. I have the Mafiosa burger with balsamic roasted onions, oven dried tomatoes, parmesan crisp & arugula. Outrageous! Jay has La Griega – a ground lamb burger with roasted tomatoes, feta cheese, pickled onions and spinach on an onion bun. Delish. A great wine list – we enjoy two bottles of red wine from the Baja region of Mexico.
Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar & 1826 Bar ~ Rosewood Hotel, Nemesio Diez 11. Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar serves up savory Mexican and Spanish tapas in a casual atmosphere which we enjoyed on a 2 for 1 special night. It is a tempting place to linger after a day of sightseeing in the city to take in the breathtaking views of La Parroquia, the city and magnificent sunsets. Situated across from the main restaurant, the 1826 Bar offers delicious snacks and a full bar with a full range of tequila (tastings on Wednesdays) to enjoy in a quiet, and elegant setting. Highly recommend the rooftop bar even if it’s just for one drink to enjoy the views of San Miguel.
Ole Ole Restaurant ~ Loreto #66. Bullfighting posters and memorabilia fill the walls and the tasty fajitas are very reasonably priced. Our group started with one order of the sautéed mushrooms with onions and peppers which came with warm tortillas and served four. We dined on the chicken, beef and aranchera fajitas – all the meats were tasty – although I would recommend the aranchera if you like beef, it is especially moist and tender. Portions are large and prices are very reasonable. You can easily eat a full meal for under ten dollars. Negro Modelo beer was the drink of choice.
Carcassonne ~ Correo 34. Carcasssonne Restaurante & Bar is in a beautiful historic stone building with elegant curved arch doorways and a glass enclosed wine cellar. Elegant is the word. We enjoy the delicious lamb ribs and our friends enjoy their steaks. All cooked medium as we ordered. Service is professional and deliberate; we inform our waiter that we have a movie to go to and he makes sure we are finished on time.
La Posadita – Cuna de Allende #13. As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margaritas. They are wonderful and intense, not like anything we’ve ever tasted. In the evening sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. The following week we return for dinner with our friends and enjoy the asparagus wrapped in bacon served on grilled onions & tomatoes, but find the ribeye and arranchera dinners average. My suggestion – go for the view and have a drink.
Tacos Don Felix “En La Casa” ~ 15TH Fray Juan de San Miguel St. Take a cab out of the historic district into this Mexican neighborhood to find a true Mexican family restaurant. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and ex-pats. We start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots come piled on the platter… then a taco sampler for each of us. Seven tacos – beef, pork, huitlacoche, spanish style sausage, shrimp, chicken, beef rib with onions. Delicious. A neighboring table has steaks which look and smell tempting. The service is gracious and after dinner they are happy to call a cab for you.
Los Milagros ~ Relox 17. A very friendly young waiter drew us into this centuries-old colonial house vibrant with Mexican decor and featuring the “miracle-making” figurines called Milagros, as we look over the menu in the entryway. He recommends the “Volcano Bowls”, so we ordered two of the arranchera beef bowls. The beef is cooked in green sauce and served with grilled cactus, green onions, chiles & white cheese. On the side comes guacamole, refried beans and corn tortillas. They are very tasty and the “bowl” retains it heat well, so the food stays nicely warm. Servings are very generous – next time we may share one volcano bowl.
El Pegaso ~ Corregidora &, México. The prices are moderate, the service is friendly and efficient and the place is spotless. The decor is Mexican funky—with lots of color and good examples of folk art on the walls (all of it for sale). Check out the cheerful little painted tin nichos made by the well-known Cielito Lindo workshop in Colonia Guadalupe. Colorful and funny, they feature Day of the Dead calaca figures in common, silly and occasionally risqué tableaux. Known for breakfast and lunch, we enjoyed a fantastic spinach salad garnished with fresh papaya slices, tamales, enchiladas and homemade soup. It is conveniently located one block east of the Jardin.
El Ten Ten Pie ~ Cuna de Allende 21, corner of Cuadrante. The name “El Ten Ten Pie” is a play on words. It comes from the Spanish slang term tentempie, which translates loosely as “a little something to keep you on your feet.” This is a favorite San Miguel hangout with a popular outdoor café. Have that “little something”— a taco, a quesadilla or the best flan in town—or you can fill up on the comida corrida, for about eight bucks. It includes soup or salad, a main dish with rice and beans, and dessert. Good for lunch and people watching – we had a good salad and tacos.
Cafe Buen Dia – on Callejon Pueblito. Several Sundays we relaxed in the sun on the rooftop for a nice brunch with friends. Known for their espresso coffees – cappuccino, café au lait, americana – we sipped coffees and a yummy hot cocoa while waiting for our Special breakfasts to come. Starting with a bowl of fresh fruit or juice, then your choice of eggs, toast, coffee, potatoes or beans. We especially like Brad’s scramble with mushrooms, spinach, cheese and nice crispy bacon… our friend recommends the Huevos Rancheros.
Cafe Santa Ana in La Biblioteca – Insurgentes 25. To keep up with the numerous cultural events (often in English) taking place in this city, La Biblioteca is a good resource. Here you can find information and tickets to lectures, house tours, concerts, and theatrical productions, many of which are held within the historic library building itself. The library’s jungly outdoor Café Santa Ana, with tables clustered around a central fountain, is a pleasant place for a cappuccino, banana bread or other snack or light meal.
Cumpanio ~ Correo 29. High quality bakery & restaurant known for their homemade breads, pastries, and contemporary dining space serving elegant meals. Just a couple blocks from our rental house this was our closest bakery and what a treat. Great pastries, breads and homemade truffles in the bakery. Four of us had a delicious lunch one day in the contemporary restaurant – a perfectly seared tuna sandwich and fantastic burgers with french fries. Our friends returned for breakfast and raved about it.
El Petit Four ~ Mesones 99. Delicious French-style cakes and pastries; wonderful espresso (they use Lavazza coffee) and sandwiches made with house-baked baguettes. Highly recommended like Cumpanio.
La Buena Vida ~ Hernandez Macias 72. This little place is situated in the back of Plaza Golondrinas, across from Bellas Artes. They offer whole grain and sourdough breads, as well as, an assortment of pastries, brownie and doughnuts. Open 8 AM – 4 PM. Closed Sunday. Their booth at the Saturday Organic Farmers Market always has a line.
Pura Vida Juice Bar/Cafè – Pila Seca #9. Finally some gluten-free baked goods! Alicia Wilson Rivero is the owner of both the Pura Vida Store and the Cooking School at the LifePath Center. She shares in a global mission to create and offer healthy, delicious food using locally harvested, fresh and organic products. She develops menus and provides meals for LifePath retreat guests interested in following a special menu plan. Raw food, vegans, wheat-free diets are among the diets she can cater to.
The day we stopped by she had gluten-free banana muffins, gluten-free carrot muffins, raw date snacks, and a decadent flourless chocolate cake. She also offers freshly made drinks, nourishing self-care products, and a wifi-ready rooftop terrace where patrons can relax and enjoy a healthful meal.
Via Organica ~ Margarito Ledesma 2. Café, bakery, vegetable shop, grocery store. We visit Via Organica weekly for organic fresh vegetables (grown by local farmers), freshly made almond or peanut butter, gluten-free crackers & cereal and baked goods (gluten-free and regular). Their café serves delicious Mexican and international dishes which you can also get as take away. One visit we picked up some cilantro pesto which we have enjoyed on everything from veggies to pork. Via Organica is one part of Organic Way AC – a Mexican non-profit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic farming, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. They also have a booth at the Saturday Organic Farmers Market.
Bonanza ~ Mesones #43-A. This terrific little grocery store in Centro San Miguel has a deli section, imported foods, all kinds of nuts, an impressive gluten-free section, local breads, fresh tortillas, cheeses, fresh yoghurt, Chinese noodles, balsamic vinegar, liquor, shampoos and more. Large bins of rice, grains, beans, flower and spices sold by the gram. Between Bonanza and Via Organica we find all we need.
¡Buen provecho! (Bon Appetit!)
While in San Miguel, I wrote a blog post each week, click on each week below to view photos and read about our adventures:
The Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende is one of many “regional museums” of Mexico. It was the home of Ignacio Allende, who was a principle protagonist in the early part of the Mexican War of Independence. The structure, built in 1759 with Baroque and Neoclassical elements, is located next to the San Miguel parish church, La Parroquia. The museum focuses on the history of the local area from the prehistoric period to the present, especially the area’s role in Mexico’s national history.
The first floor has exhibits about the founding of the town, its role in protecting the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which was the Royal Inland Road, also known as the Silver Route. Although it was a route motivated and consolidated by the mining industry, it also fostered the creation of social, cultural and religious links in particular between Spanish and Amerindian cultures. I really enjoy the upper floor which has exhibits related to the family of Ignacio Allende and rooms preserved as they were when he lived here.
If I have not mentioned this before, San Miguel de Allende is a city to be explored on foot, so I recommend you bring comfortable shoes because the streets are cobblestone and the sidewalks uneven stone with frequent steps.
Cobblestones are stones that were often used in paving early streets and the word derives from the very old English word “cob”, which had a range of meanings, one of which was “rounded lump” with overtones of large size. “Cobble”, which appeared in the 15th century and meant a small stone rounded by the flow of water; essentially, a large pebble. It was these smooth “cobbles”, gathered from stream beds, that paved the first “cobblestone” streets.
This is our last week in San Miguel and we have a list of things to do and see before we leave. One of mine is to visit the LifePath Center and the Pura Vida Store/Cafe on Pila Seca #9. My friend, Polly, brought me a gift of their decadent flourless chocolate cake, and I want to visit myself and check out the other gluten-free goodies!
Alicia Wilson Rivero is the owner of both the Pura Vida Store and the Cooking School at the LifePath Center. She shares in a global mission to create and offer healthy, delicious food using locally harvested, fresh and organic products. She develops menus and provides meals for LifePath retreat guests interested in following a special menu plan. Raw food, vegans, wheat-free diets are among the diets she can cater to. The day we visit I find two deliciously healthy and moist gluten-free muffins – one carrot and the other banana.
LifePath is a center for personal growth and wellness of body, mind, and spirit. It has served the international community for over a decade, and offers programs for learning, healing, and retreat in their centuries-old villa.
Also on Pila Seca Street, just across from LifePath, I come across a wonderful little shop which sells a unique array of one-of-a-kind merchandise. The store opened in July 2007 with the philosophy of supporting artists and exposing people to an eclectic mix of local, national and international products. Their collection includes distinctive jewelry, interesting furniture, clothing, creative greeting cards and a variety of home decor and furnishings.
Our friend, Elisabeth, suggests we dine at Tacos don Felix (15th Fray Juan de San Miguel) before we leave, so Friday we hail a cab and venture out of the historic district. We arrive at the restaurant on the early side and easily get a table for four. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and local ex-pats. Hungry for some veggies we start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots are piled on the platter. Known for their tacos we all get the taco sampler. Seven tacos – beef, pork, huitlacoche, spanish-style sausage, shrimp, chicken, beef rib with onions. Delicious. A neighboring table has steaks which look and smell tempting. The service is gracious and the owners young son is very official in his white jacket. After dinner the hostess happily calls a cab for us.
As I look in the cupboard to see what needs eating before we leave early next week, I discover a bag of Pamela’s Gluten-free Classic Vanilla Cake Mix. Brought along in my suitcase from the U.S. I decide this mix is not getting a roundtrip ticket. Besides I have a few other acquisitions to pack… So, I decide to bake a Lime Poundcake (following the directions on the bag, but adding lime juice and making it dairy free by using olive oil instead of butter). We are having a little dinner party so Jay gets creative with the fresh blueberries – cooking them briefly in tequila and a bit of agave… the result is outrageously delicious!
Today we take our last Sunday morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary three sheep surprise us as we round a curve on the path.
Walking down the hill into town for breakfast we spot Suites Santo Domingo on Callejon Santo Domingo 16. Elisabeth has friends coming who are looking for a place to stay so we venture in and look around the lovely property.
Our walks always end with breakfast and today we go to Cafe de la Parroquia. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses this morning. Delicious fresh mini baguettes come with a wonderful avocado salsa or butter and & jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf. Many varieties of egg dishes are on the menu. We enjoy scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, scrambled eggs with chorizo, a green drink and fresh carrot juice. The service is very good and the owner stops by to thank us for coming in.
As our month in San Miguel comes to its conclusion I will remember the joy of discovery in coming to a new place ~ the visual beauty of this historic city and the quiet dignity of the Mexican families that live and work here.
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”Author, Bill Bryson
To read posts from our first three weeks in San Miguel de Allende, click below:
Entering the Saturday Organic Farmers Market one of the first things we notice is an outdoor dining area under the shade trees filled with people eating. Then the aromas of tortillas and gorditas frying on the griddles. Two Mexican families are cooking and serving up a storm of tacos, tamales, quesadillas, and huaraches – their tables covered with earthy brown pottery pots of all sizes filled with beef in red mole, guacamole, lamb stew, chicken in green sauce, chorizo and egg, grilled onions, spinach, beans… we quickly decide that this is the place to have Saturday brunch.
Before or after filling your stomach there is the rest of the market to discover. A row of organic farmers selling their fresh vegetables – our weekly list includes avocados, kale, chard, tomatoes, cilantro, radishes, and a beautiful bag of mixed salad greens. Then there are the bakeries with delicious homemade desserts, breads, donuts, pastries, and pies. Other booths are selling natural skin care products made from distillations of cactus, wonderful small batch dark chocolates with ginger or orange, colorful embroidered pillow covers, rugs, and jewelry.
One of the food stands is Via Organica where they sell fresh organic eggs and other foodstuffs from their store. We visit Via Organica store during the week to restock on organic fresh vegetables, pick up freshly made almond or peanut butter, gluten-free crackers & cereal and baked goods (gluten-free and regular). Their café serves delicious Mexican and international dishes which you can also get as take away. One visit we picked up some cilantro pesto which we have enjoyed on everything from veggies to pork. Via Organica is one part of Organic Way AC – a Mexican non-profit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic farming, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. During our stay in San Miguel they had several viewings of the film, Food, Inc., which lifts the veil on the U.S. food industry, exposing how our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.
2 medium avocados
5 tablespoons of cocoa powder
3 tablespoons honey OR 6 dates, pitted and soaked (to soften, if necessary)
3 tablespoons coconut milk or water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
In a food processor or heavy-duty blender – puree avocados, cocoa powder, honey OR dates, coconut milk, vanilla extract and orange zest until smooth. Before serving, sprinkle with sea salt. Serves two.
Surprisingly good and best made a day ahead so the flavors meld.
Gluten-free, dairy-free & vegan.
p.s. While in San Miguel, I wrote a blog post each week, click on each week below to view photos and read about our adventures:
Each Sunday since our arrival in San Miguel de Allende we begin the day with a morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop 1.5 km northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary we come upon this fantastic tree decorated with cactus hearts and skulls (perhaps an homage to Dia de Muertos – Day of the Dead).
Heading to town after our walk, an artful old structure exposes its bones.
A favorite activity is strolling around the city with camera in hand. Today we seem to be attracted to a certain yellow/gold color vibe.
January 21 is General Ignacio José de Allende’s birthday (January 21, 1769 – June 26, 1811). He was a captain of the Spanish Army in Mexico who came to sympathize with the Mexican independence movement, and attended the secret meetings organized by Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, where the possibility of an independent New Spain was discussed. He fought along with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the first stage of the struggle, eventually succeeding him in leadership of the rebellion. In 1811 Allende was captured by Spanish colonial authorities while he was in Chihuahua and executed for treason. Each year his birthday is celebrated with a parade and all day festivities at the Jardin Principal.
To add an elegant and distinctive touch to a horse’s appearance, many of the riders create a design on their mount’s hindquarters. The most common of these designs, which are known as quarter marks, is the checkerboard pattern. A horse bearing quarter marks indicates that the owner has gone the extra mile in grooming and care.
We take a respite from the days festivities to have breakfast and shop at the Saturday Organic Market, where along with great vegetables and foodstuffs, we come across the local domestic violence booth. A blog post focused on the Market will be posted soon…
From the market we head to the Jardin Principal where, amid all the birthday festivities, a wedding is under way at La Parroquia.
Well into the evening the festivities continue with various musical guests, a full military symphony and choir.
Our day comes to a satisfying conclusion at Cafe Rama, Calle Nueva #7. Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relax with a bottle of wine as we received a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of serrano ham, goat cheese, pickled watermelon, olives and salty/sweet almonds, we go on to enjoy a savory polenta with a tasty tomato topping, a crispy risotto pancake topped with a shrimp, mussels with garlic & ginger… then a sensuous dessert finale of cappucino creme brulee and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. Muy Bueno.
Note: Cafe Rama was able to accommodate my gluten-free needs without any problem.