Friday, November 30, 2012

Playa Jacó

Nestled deep in tropical Centro America, bordered by Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the South, lies the exquisite country of Costa Rica, which meaningfully translates to "Rich Coast". The unofficial national slogan Pura Vida or Pure Life embodies the nature of its gorgeous landscape and kind-hearted people to a tee. A funky little Pacific surf town with a wide stretching volcanic black sand beach called Jacó (pronounced haco, rhymes with taco) is where we spent most of our days, outsmarting the waves, exploring the shores, and hunting down the shaved ice cart. 

The ocean defies expectations - swells are fierce yet the temperature is incredibly warm; swimming (and our water sport of choice: boogie boarding) is an adrenaline rush and a comfort at the same time. Flanked by intense lime green palm trees and beachfront bars, dotted with rocks and driftwood; daily beach walks lend treasures abound, while venturing to the outer edges leads to hiking through strong current inlets and around fascinating volcanic rock formations. Colorful iguanas and lizards also make an appearance at the beach!

The main strip or downtown Jacó, just a block off the beach, is a mecca of kitschy tourist huts meets laid back surf shops, along with fantastic restaurants and plenty of tour-guide agencies at your disposal. Downtown at night makes no apologies (prostitution is legal, and someone will inevitably offer to sell you drugs), yes, Jacó has a well deserved reputation as a party town. Don't mistake that for lack of charm, as common sense will dictate, that type of scene isn't hard to avoid despite its presence. Oh and speaking of nighttime, the sunsets are incredible. 
The food in Jacó was always delicious and incredibly inexpensive, from the eclectic must-visit Taco Bar, to authentic lunches at Soda Jaco Rustico, to dinners at Tsunami Sushi and Mono Verde, every type of restaurant stands to impress. We even had a traditional Thanksgiving feast at Lemon ZestFish is abundant and fresh caught - from Corvina (Sea Bass) and Dorado (Mahi Mahi) to Atun (Tuna), you will find ceviche offered on almost every menu, along with hearty grilled or fried entree portions. The country offers a wealth of tropical fruits - impeccably ripe and juicy mangoes, pineapple and bananas were the best I've ever eaten. Starfruit is also common, mostly as a drink garnish! Guacamole was prepared with large, ripe aguacate (avocado) at our condo on a regular basis, usually consumed alongside an Imperial or five, the official beer of Costa Rica. 

As to be expected, lots more on the adventures and restaurants to come! 

Friday, November 16, 2012

on travel

It's time to pack my bags once again. I very much enjoy a constant slew of travel in my life. I like calling a new space home for a week at a time. I'm drawn to the rush of airports and drinking an airplane cocktail. I like flying. I like exploring where I've never been. These snapshots, however, are from Charlestown in late summer. A nice picture of home.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Harvest | Madison

One of my favorite meals in Madison was at Harvest. Located in the downtown isthmus on Capitol Square, it presents itself with crisp earth tones and white linen table cloths. Wall art is simple but eye catching, an oversized vintage Lillet poster presides on one, while smaller black and white photographs are precisely placed on the opposite. It's upscale, while the vibe remains intimate and relaxed. It's the type of place you want to linger over a meal beginning with a strong apertif - try a Marquette & Joliet ($9) made with local Death's Door Gin, fresh lemon, angostura bitters, and house bubbly.
Specialty cocktails keep the pace, when I inquired with the waitress as to how the Vesper Rouge ($9) was she replied "strong", and explained that it was inspired by James Bond's cocktail of choice in Casino Royal and Quantam Solace, combining two parts extra dry gin with one part vodka and Lillet Rouge (it's Blanc in the Bond movies) with a lemon twist. Another local, small batch distiller, Yahara Bay, supplied the gin and vodka for this one.

I was here with a large group (nine of us) and that worked out well; our waitress had a good knowledge of the menu items, the evening was set at the perfect pace, and everyone's dishes elicited high praise. An amuse bouche of mushroom and butternut squash soup was a delicate sip balancing the earthiness of one vegetable with the sweetness of the other. Rolls are served hot with soft butter. (There really is something special about the butter out there. It never fails to be really good anywhere you go.)

My first course was a memorable Duck Confit ($9), served with pickled plums, frisee, fennel and a five-spice plum puree. The pickled plums stood out, sweet and juicy, they added a dynamic counterpoint to the tender pieces of duck . I also tried the Pan Roasted Sea Scallops ($14) - some of the biggest, meatiest scallops I've seen, cooked perfectly to boot, topped with toasted pistachio and sitting in a vibrant green puree of herbs and brown butter, alongside concord grapes. 

For my main course, the house made Pumpernickle Gnocchi ($19) was an exciting twist on your typical potato version. They were slightly grainy in texture, and super fluffy. Tiny cubes of butternut squash, pickled cranberries and an apple-caraway jus emphasize the fall season and compliment the gnocchi well. 

The dessert menu is worth checking out. I sipped on Holz's Apple Crisp Liqueur ($8) (also produced by Yahara Bay Distillery) while sampling bites of the Carrot Cake ($8) with cream cheese ice cream, toasted walnuts and carrot caramel and the PB & J ($8) consisting of chocolate miso pound cake, hickory nut mousse and grape gelee. Carrot cake was the sure winner, the miso cake was dry and probably the only dish this evening that didn't make fans. 
The choice to dine at Harvest was a good one. They succeed at elegantly preparing dishes and drinks using the finest seasonal and local ingredients, and while this is nothing new, it's still worth mentioning, they're doing it right. Have dinner here and you will certainly not be disappointed. 
Harvest on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Old Fashioned | Madison

This place is great. A local tavern serving Wisconsin fare, I felt it was necessary to order an Old Fashioned, the bars namesake also gets an entire page on the menu dedicated to it. I picked the Rye Bourbon Old Fashioned ($7), it's made with Redemption High Rye Bourbon, a brand which I have long been a fan. After that, a pint of Ale Asylum Madtown Nutbrown ($4) to fill my WI beer quota; and then I couldn't resist the little guy I spotted in the beer case, so I wrapped my time at the bar with a Rhinelander "Shorty" ($1).  In the meantime, I snacked on a Spicy Pickled Egg ($1) and a plate of most exceptional Wisconsin Cheese ($12) a Camembert (sheep's milk and cow's cream, Butler Farm, Whitehall), an Evalon (Goat's Milk, La Clare Farms, Chilton) and a Avondale Truckle (cloth bound cow's milk cheddar, Brunkow Cheese, Darlington.) Accoutrements included wheat crackers, walnuts and green apple. On another visit, the No. 13 ($6.95) which is the house made Wisconsin beer battered cheese curds, prove themselves worthy
Old Fashioned on Urbanspoon
If you love cheese as much as I know you all do, there is no way you could be disappointed if you randomly had to travel to Wisconsin. Between happy hour (free apps) at my hotel, meals out and about and the stash I brought home, I am constantly eating WI cheese and couldn't be happier about it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Restaurant Muramoto

I found the sushi at Restaurant Muramoto to be lacking. I guess that's my own fault for having higher expectations of sushi in the midwest? The maki roll I ordered, called viper ($15) was rather unappetizing from the browning avocado to the poorly sliced hamachi, even the white rice lacked that firm stickiness needed to keep everything together. The sauces that accompanied, a spicy and an eel sauce were quite good, though. The tako ($4) nigiri were just ok. However, the rest of the meal fared much better - I had a miso soup ($3), a perfect bite of a hoisin glazed pork belly shao bing ($3), and a fantastic sashimi oyster ($6) in ponzu sauce with a quail egg. A local told me (after the fact) not to expect much from the sushi around here, all things considered. If you're coming from the coast, Restaurant Muramoto probably shouldn't make the cut, save exception for small bites and sake.
Restaurant Muramoto on Urbanspoon