Avoiding Tourist Traps in Trastevere

Walking through Rome's Trastevere neighborhood at night is magical,  but many of the restaurants leave a lot to be desired. I can't count how many bad microwaved meals I've had here- some reminiscent of Chef Boyardee. 

On my latest trip to the Eternal City, I was a bit luckier. 

First up? Pianostrada Laboratorio di CucinaKatie Parla guided me to this gem tucked away on one of Trastevere's narrow backstreets. The place is run by three kind women who offered to cut our sandwiches in three for my two friends and me. 

What to order: The squid ink bun sandwich with mozzarella, fig jam, basil. It is probably one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. A tomato and burrata sandwich was fantastic as well. 

Tip: It's a tiny space so go early to snag a seat.

Place: La Prosciutteria

This wine and prosciutto bar is nothing out-of-this-world but a safe bet in a neighborhood full of subpar offerings.

What to order: A heaping butcher block covered in sliced fruit, stinky cheeses, grilled vegetables, and more. They have a nice selection of wines by the glass as well.

Place: Antilla pub

Not traditional in any way, this bar had extremely nice bartenders and the best damn pina colada that side of the Atlantic. We found our way there several nights in a row and the corner location provided prime people-watching.


On A Search for the Best Lobster Roll

Cameron's Lobster House~ Brunswick, ME

Despite the fact that my mom grew up in New England and I have cousins from Maine, I never experienced the pleasure that comes from eating a lobster roll done right, until three summers ago.

It started with hearing my family's tales about their delicious roll in Ogunquit, ME. I had to stay back at the hotel as I was sick and trying to gain enough energy to attend a wedding the next evening. After I recovered, I made sure to go on my own quest for this New England specialty.  Before the drive back to Massachusetts, I found a perfect lobster roll joint in my cousins' home town of Brunswick, ME. At Cameron's Lobster House (18 Bath Rd), you will ascend to crustacean heaven.
As far as I'm concerned, there are only two ways to eat a lobster roll: either hot with butter or cold with mayo and I'm partial to the latter.

Stay tuned as I'll soon post my own attempt at making a lobster roll all the way out here in the Pacific Northwest.


Loke's Bar in Stockholm

Does the name Lennart "Hoa-Hoa" Dahlgren ring a bell? Well, it didn't for me but this former Olympic weightlifting champion is a household name in his home country of Sweden. Mr. Dahlgren also owns a fantastic neighborhood restaurant, Loke's Bar, in Stockholm's hipster Sodermalm neighborhood. The clientele is mostly local and dinner service is packed on a nightly basis. We stumbled upon the cozy place as it was just a stone's throw from the apartment we were air bnb-ing in. Apparently Hoa-Hoa is a dog lover (Loke is a real-life schnauzer) which was evident in the canine friendly restaurant. We enjoyed dinner there on two occasions and both times, we found dogs sitting under the tables, waiting patiently for a stray Swedish meatball.

The food here is traditional Scandinavian fare: potatoes, meatballs, lingonberry sauce, reindeer toast...

If you find yourself hungry in Sodermalm, stop by Loke's and smaklig måltid! (Bon appetit)


Ristorante da Ciccio in Agropoli

"peasant food"

Sometimes my brothers and I give our mom grief for her ability to strike up a (long) conversation with anyone, even when it means holding up a line, but truthfully, her talent is an asset when traveling. From a Swiss-Tunisian laundromat owner extending an invitation to dinner, to a friendly Calabrian cooking for us out of a shack on the beach, my travel experiences are better thanks to her. 

One of these special moments occurred after wandering all around the Campanian town of Agropoli a few years ago. It was that awkward time between lunch and dinner when many restaurants in Europe are closed, but we were starving. After asking random people in the street where we should eat, an older woman recommended Ciccio and called him to see if he was open. Like everywhere else, he wasn't, but he offered to open his restaurant and feed the starving Americans. Ciccio's food is simple and represents the region and its history as a traditionally poor land. One of my favorite dishes consisted of crusty day-old bread revived with pungent olive oil , fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and imperfectly torn pieces of basil. Extravagant it was not- it represented peasant food of the region, but I felt like a queen eating it. 

As Ciccio's restaurant's website states, "The recipes of The Cilento represent a veritable ode to local products and traditions that are passed down the generations." There has been a lot of discussion about going back to the roots of a region, peasant food, and the like. The New York Times recently ran an article about an Italian DJ ("Donpasta") who's made it his mission to preserve Italian culinary traditions. He isn't interested in high cuisine or TV programs like Master Chef encroaching onto Italy's culinary scene. Neither is Ciccio. Ristorante da Ciccio does an excellent job of showing the region's simplicity and the food shines. We returned the following year for another great lunch and here are some of the things we ate.


Comptoir des Mers in Paris

We're smack in the middle of oyster season, which gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about one of my favorite seafood spots in Paris, Comptoir des Mers in the Marais. Several special memories have taken place in this small restaurant, including the moment I received the amazing news from my friends that they were engaged! I also had the chance to share this place with my mother who then proclaimed that she had the best oysters of her life here.
Not to be missed: any of the seafood carpaccios (their tuna is a standout), fine de Claire oysters, heaping seafood platters, and their crisp white wines like Sancerre

Comptoir des Mers is located at 1 Rue de Turenne in Paris's 4th arrondissement. 

Scenes from Lausanne


Two Rooms in Dublin

I had the pleasure of staying at Two Rooms in Dublin when I was there this past February. From the moment we arrived I felt at home, as Garvan brought us freshly made scones and proper Irish tea to enjoy in the dining room. Fred the dog welcomed us as well.  This bed and breakfast is just what the name suggests: two charming rooms within Garvan and Kevin's lovely home. We had the downstairs room which featured beautiful furniture and a cozy fireplace. Every night on our walk back, we could text Garvan and he would have the fireplace lit and ready. There are no electronic distractions in the rooms, apart from an old-fashioned radio. You will wake rested and refreshed every morning. And then slowly, you'll make your way to the dining room for one of Garvan's masterpieces. It could be fresh fruit and yogurt, a smoked salmon scramble, french toast with blueberry compote. You will eat well and you will eat a lot. You may end up buying the Two Rooms in Dublin cookbook as I did, so you can try to master their scones at home. And that might be just enough to tide you over until you can return to Two Rooms.


A Food Tour in Lisbon: Grapes & Bites

In preparation for my trip to Portugal last summer, I diligently studied up on vinho verde. I use the term "study" loosely, but it made a great afterwork apertif. Vinho verde, literally "green wine", is the term used to describe young wine. It has just a hint of effervescence to it and a low alcohol content, making it the perfect wine to enjoy after a sweltering summer day.

I wanted to learn more about the food and wine history of Portugal so I decided to take a private food history tour of Lisbon, through the tour company Your Friend in Lisbon. In addition to learning local history and sampling specialties (including ginjinha, caracois-- otherwise known as garden snails, and the satisfyingly decadent pastel de nata), my affable guide Alex closed up our tour with a fabulous offering at Grapes & Bites in the Bairro Alto district. 

The friendly owners brought out two boards of amazing meats including pata negra and one with roasted pepper swirls. I tried local cheeses, nuts, and sauces (including an addictive pepper jam, which sadly didn't make it through airport security). Alongside this smorgasboard, I was treated to several different olive oils, fresh olives, and of course, a vinho verde tasting. 
At the end, they brought me a glass of port, though I had my doubts since I don't like dessert wines. Although sweet, it wasn't overly so and it had a smooth finish and a lot of depth- you might even call me a converted port fan. 

If you find yourself in Lisbon this summer, I highly recommend this informative and interactive tour-- it was the best money I spent while in Lisbon. 


Junibacken: Children's Museum in Stockholm

When in Stockholm, you might skip over the children's museum in favor of something a bit more grown-up. You'd be mistaken. Junibacken was one of my favorite sites in Stockholm. Perhaps it has to do with my Peter Pan syndrome or affinity for Pippi Longstocking but nevertheless, I highly recommend Junibacken for people of all ages. As I walked up to the entrance, I couldn't help but be amazed by the orderly line of strollers outside. No one seemed too concerned about theft and they were organized in a perfect row. Inside, the museum was filled with gleeful young children and fatigued parents yet I felt no shame in being there. An admission ticket includes a ride on the "story train," an enjoyable experience into a Swedish literary wonderland. It's a magical journey through orchards, snowy villages, and larger than life scenes.

The other highlight of the museum is the replica of Pippi Longstocking's house. Head on over to the museum and transport yourself back in time, if only for a day.  

Junibacken is located at Galärvarvsvägen 8, 115 21 Stockholm, Sweden


Solo Travel in Malta: Hostel Malti in St. Julian's

Last summer I embarked on my first "Solo Trip."  I stayed with friends in Turkey, the Canary Islands, and the Costa Brava, but the rest of my travels were truly "solo."  In Malta, I stayed at Hostel Malti and it was the best lodging experience of my entire trip!
I arrived on a Sunday evening and Aaron, one of Hostel Malti's managers came down to the lobby to help me check in.  He explained that I had arrived in time for their weekly rooftop BBQ so I made my way up there after dropping off my bags.  11 euros buys you tasty grilled meats, salads, and all the sangria your heart desires.  Everyone was really friendly and welcoming and having dinner under the open air (while fireworks exploded in the sky for one of Malta's ubiquitous summer festivals) was the perfect way to kick off my stay.
Everyone working at Hostel Malti was fabulous.  Aaron took us out my first night there and showed us the buzzing nightlife of St. Julians.  Chris, Hostel Malti's owner, was just as awesome and helped drive us to the boat to Comino one day.  (If you get the chance, ride in the back of the jeep- you won't regret it!)
Another thing I loved about Hostel Malti was the delicious "English" breakfast cooked by in-house jack-of-all-trades, Violetta, a sweet woman from Spain.  Breakfasts are optional but I sure didn't mind forking over 4 euros every morning to enjoy her hearty home-cooked fare.  I loved the roasted peppers and onions and the meat, eggs, and beans were all I needed to get my day started on the right foot.  (I didn't even need to eat until dinner.)
What would Hostel Malti be without its resident cat?  This cutie often hung out by the front door, and most definitely knew all the goings-on about Hostel Malti's travelers.

In a nutshell:
welcoming community environment (There were many solo travelers and everyone in the hostel hung out together)
cost (very, very reasonable)
location (just up the steep hill from the beach and nightlife)
food (Sunday rooftop BBQs, tasty breakfasts)


One more cool thing I experienced?
A blowout for 9 euros by the lovely Joana.  I noticed her ad on Hostel Malti's bulletin board in the common area.  My long, curly hair and the Maltese sun and saltwater don't mix so I took advantage of Joana's great deal.  I called and booked an appointment and she showed up with her blowdryer and gave me a grew blowout for my last night in Malta.  (Be sure and wash your hair right before your appointment so that it is ready to be blow-dried as she does not have these facilities.)

Hostel Malti is located at 41 Birkirkara Hill, Ta' Giorni in St Julians, Malta

Hotel Fevery in Bruges

This hotel is awesome and just off the beaten path in Bruges.  Paul, the owner, is super friendly in a reserved, endearing, European way.  The breakfasts are tasty and served in a cozy room.  The hotel is "green" so the water pressure isn't great, but that's what you should expect in an ecohotel.  Apart from the service, the best part about this hotel is the price.  We got a 2-room suite (with a shared bathroom) for 250 euros (the two-night total!)  I'm sure it's higher in the summer, but this was my second trip to Bruges in March and winter is a magical time to visit Bruges.

Also, there is a direct bus you can take here from the Bruges train station.  It is a short walk from the bus stop and a lot cheaper than a taxi.


Puget Sound Bite: Essex Bar in Seattle

Essex is the neighborhood bar I've always wanted- the place to nurse a stiff drink, eat good food, chat with your friendly bartender, or just zone out. It is also, unfortunately, all the way across town, in Ballard. I live in the "boonies" -- of Seattle, that is. The nearest coffee shop requires a hike up one of Seattle's no-joke hills and even then, you're still not there. The only nearby businesses are a car repair shop and a private office space. As much as I love having a quiet escape to come home to, I'm envious of the city's more vibrant neighborhoods. 
Essex is the place to go for those tired of watered-down, overly sweet drinks. Cocktails pack a punch here so I recommend starting slowly. Interesting combinations regularly appear on the menu and I appreciate the fact that the menu is constantly rotating.
The food complements the complex drinks nicely- dishes are simple, with few ingredients and lots of flavor. Currently, an asparagus dish with hazelnut romesco and Pecorino is calling my name. Blistered shishito peppers drizzled in lime juice and salt might be an end-of-summer option. Dessert could be local peaches and yogurt. Whatever's on the seasonal menu, you can bet it'll go well with your craft cocktail. (House-made grapefruit bitters and Fernet are the norm, not the exception.) Essex's website is minimalist at its best, so check out the Facebook page for the latest food and drink updates.

Essex is located at1421 NW 70th St.
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