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Basilicata, in southern Italy, is the land of wild boar. And wine. And the best bread in Italy. It’s a place to which few people travel, a region that has gone from being the shame of Italy to one of the country’s greatest hidden treasures – especially for anyone who likes to eat. Basilicata has never been a wealthy region, like Tuscany, Campania or Emilia Romania. Instead, this sparsely populated state has always been one of the poorest, an arid, mountainous, dusty, no-man’s land between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Taranto. There are no major airports or train stations in Basilicata. You don’t pass through here on your way to somewhere else more important. You really must choose to come. To do so, you travel first to neighboring Puglia, then rent a car and drive past the hookers who solicit truckers on the roadside on the outskirts of Bari… Read the story
Chinese food is supposed to be cheap and quick. The best, or at least the most “authentic,” Chinese restaurants require a certain amount of funk and grime. We gladly put up with service that is gruff or indifferent, even downright rude because, well, that’s the way it is. Or so goes the stereotype.
But when I’m dining at Pearl in Las Vegas, and the amuse-bouche – for lack of a better word – arrives, a far different reality emerges. The waiter leans in and gently speaks, almost whispering: “This is homemade tofu with shredded thousand-year-old egg, along with flying fish caviar and XO sauce, compliments of the chef.”
The waiter is wearing a tailored gray suit. I never hear his footsteps. He comes and goes in silence, announcing each new dish with the grace and finesse of a British butler…
Chinese dining like this does not exist anywhere else in America. But in Las Vegas, it abounds. The Strip has quietly become one of the world’s most important destinations for Chinese cuisine. Outside of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing and perhaps Singapore, Chinese dining of this caliber rarely exists… Read the story
Buca Lapi has survived many things. This is the oldest restaurant in Florence, serving since 1880 in this same dank basement of Palazzo Antinori, a city palace owned by the famed Antinori family, who have been making wine in Italy since before the Duomo was finished. And for as long as anyone remembers, this has been one of the hardest reservations in Florence. I requested my reservation one month in advance, to the day, which is when they open the books. They emailed back two days later. I was in.
The kitchen occupies a small corner of the restaurant, just inside the front door. Pots clang against the stove. I can hear oiled steaks sizzling over red-hot charcoal as they hit the grill. The visibly misty scent of grass-fed, dry-aged Chianina beef dominates the foyer. A waiter rushes through the crowd with a bottle of wine, a crisp white napkin draped across his arm. I hear a loud “thwack!” I turn toward the kitchen. The chef has just slammed a meat cleaver into a 4-foot slab of porterhouse steaks, lopping off a single T-bone that weighs probably 5 pounds, the quintessential bistecca Fiorentina. I want that… Read the story
The air is hot and sultry, weighted with smoke and sea salt and the heady balm of pig fat. It’s not exactly soup weather. It’s the rainy season, July, when I’m in Zihuatanejo, which doesn’t translate to any actual rain but rather a steamy, lazy heaviness that’s boxed in by an unrelenting sun, with the Pacific Ocean in front and the Sierra Madre del Sur behind. The smoke hints at something delicious. It wafts over residential walls from busy kitchens whose stoves are powered by wood. The aroma of simmering pork broth outpaces the idle breeze that carries it from El Profe, a pozoleria on the outskirts of town, on an unmarked road just off the empty highway.
It’s the middle of the afternoon. It’s Thursday. And in Zihuatanejo that means only one thing: It’s pozole time… Read the story
Death returned to Kashmir this month. A fresh wave of violence erupted after a teenage rebel — a local celebrity on social media — was killed in a shootout with police.
Upon landing in Srinagar, I see soldiers and army vehicles at every turn. The airport shares its runway with Indian fighter jets, which screech overhead. Guards patrol the tarmac and arrivals hall with assault rifles. Oddly, this didn’t deter two petty thieves from snatching my bag from the carousel and running for the exit. I chase after them. “STOP!” I yell at full stride, my backpack bouncing loosely around on my shoulders. Armed guards grabbed all three of us… Amid the chaos, I don’t hear the grenade… Read the story
This food is not simple. It is scientific and cerebral but also artistic and fleeting, like edible philosophy. This is tweezer food that involves hours if not days of advance prep, yet the memories of it do not linger nearly as long as they should. The kitchen makes its own butter, bakes its own breads and dehydrates all manner of citrus for beautiful cocktail garnishes. Time is but a concept here. Even when the dining room sits naked, the lags between courses can stretch to nearly 30 minutes. I can’t imagine how the kitchen might handle the crush should this restaurant ever to fill to capacity. Read the story
We eat with our eyes. This is confirmed at lunchtime at Faith & Flower.
First come the deviled eggs. The filling is tinted orange from kimchi paste. The eggs are speckled with black sesame seeds. These aren’t colors and textures I’m used to seeing in my eggs, but the artistry is spectacular. I can already taste them before I take a bite. There’s a slight pickle effect, a spiciness, a tickle in the throat.
A dozen freshly shucked oysters arrive, resting in a bowl of shaved ice. The simplicity is stunning: the sparkle of the ice, the pearly shimmer of the shells, a lemon. I can taste the freshness before I touch anything.
Agnolotti are equally pornographic. Pasta wrappers bulge with oxtail as they bathe in a nage of bone marrow and tangerine. They are topped with the most angelic chicharrones — if chicharrones can indeed be called angelic. They are wispy and light, like cirrus clouds hovering above the plate. I can feel the melted bone fat on my lips. I can taste the tangerine in my throat. I can feel the pasta between my teeth. And I haven’t yet taken a bite. My mind is salivating, racing, anticipating… Read the story
The woman in the linen tunic leads me along the candlelit path around a curve in the cliff’s slope. We climb a narrow flight of stone stairs polished by thousands of years of footsteps. She slides a skeleton key into the clunky lock and turns it, then pushes open the heavy door. “Do you like your suite?” she asks.
I find myself impotent for language, able only to nod my head in awe. I’m struck by the absolute void of color and sparseness of furnishings. A wooden chest lies next to the door. On it, a vase is stuffed with fistfuls of herbs, lending an invigorating scent to the air. Five steps up from the foyer, the living room stretches long and wide, with a slender bench and wooden table draped in linen at the far end. A thick board protrudes from one wall—a rudimentary sofa of sorts—and next to that, a burlap cushion is slumped into the corner. It is unconventionally luxurious. Beautiful… Read the story
I stuff a few dollar bills into the jukebox and scroll through the CDs: Banda Machos, Gerardo Ortiz, Juan Gabriel, Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera … and settle on the younger Iglesias, plus The Eagles, The Cars and Eric Clapton.
The Eagles’ 1979 hit “I Can’t Tell You Why” begins to play, and everyone in the dining room seems to approve, even the two guys in the corner wearing dusty cowboy boots and sharing an ice-filled bucket of beer.
El Coyotito is easy to miss. It’s a tiny place with a squeaky screen door and minimal air conditioning. The dining room consists of merely six or seven tables, plus a few stools that surround the kitchen counter, which doubles as a tortilla prep table, cashier station and the bar. Pretty much everyone who works in the restaurant (three or four people at most, most days) floats from one position to another. The person who takes your order might be washing dishes a few minutes later, or squeezing limes to make a margarita, or toasting the bolillo for a torta to be filled with carnitas and jalapeńos… Read the story
A waiter rushes through the dining room carrying a steak, and heads instantly turn. Eyes follow. Fingers point. “Did you see that?” a guy at a nearby table says, leaning into the aisle to get a better look.
“There goes another one.” Heads turn again, jaws drop. Barely contained on an oversize platter of industrial heft, one of these steaks lands on my table with a graceful thunk—a 2-pound USDA prime ribeye, nearly two inches thick and still smoldering. Steak for one. The heady aroma of perfectly charred beef does not just perfume the air at LasVegas’s Old Homestead Steakhouse, it consumes it, intoxicating everyone within finger-pointing range. Wine glasses clink. Laughter mingles with the racket of nearby slot machines. Another cadre of strong-armed waiters bearing massive hunks of meat hustles by.
All it takes is the nudge of my knife to slice completely through a steak bigger than what my local grocer passes off as a pot roast. Juices puddle underneath. And after 21 days of dry aging, the meat delivers a serious, full-bodied punch. Steak does not get any better than this. It is dizzyingly good. Revelatory—even for me, the son of a fifth-generation cattle rancher… Read the story
The air is thick with the scent of brown butter and duck fat and smoldering embers. The musk of charred meat seduces the room like a flirtatious ghost. First it’s here, then it’s not. Sparks flutter up from the grill like a swarm of fireflies. And if you look into the mouth of the kitchen’s fiery brick hearth, you can see its throat pulsing with fury. Servers hurry through the dining room carrying sizzling cast-iron skillets, cautiously shielding their hands with thick rubber mitts.
“Don’t touch that!” warns the waitress, gently but firmly, as I’m reaching for the handle of a pan she’s just plunked on our table. “That came straight from the fire.” … Read the story
Singapore Airlines flight SQ380—the first commercial flight of the Airbus A380—taxied down the runway of Singapore’s Changi International Airport. I was strapped into seat 26F, in the second-to-last row of business class on the upper deck. I cinched my seatbelt tighter than I normally would, and then I pulled it tighter still. The view was roughly the same as from the top-floor window of an eight-story building. From nose to tail, the plane is about as long as a football field—with its wingtips dragging through the bleachers on both sides—and we were now accelerating down the runway.
At precisely 8:15AM—roughly two years late and billions of dollars over budget—the world’s largest aircraft levitated upward with 455 passengers and 35 crew onboard. Whistles, whoops and catcalls filled the cabin, but as I looked out the window and watched a series of tropical islets grow smaller beneath a massive, hulking wing, I couldn’t help but wonder if we should hold our applause until we had landed safely in Sydney. We still had more than seven hours to go until the A380’s first commercial landing… Read the story
When I stop in for lunch, the dining room is thronged, yet strangely no one is sitting at the sushi counter. “Can we sit there?” I ask, pointing to the counter. The hostess gives us one of those polite little bows. “The counter is for omakase only,” she says, apologetically.
My eyes light up. “Perfect,” I say, rushing to sit.
Within seconds of our sitting down, the first dish arrives. It’s a bowl of lightly pickled cucumber slices. “Pickled” is perhaps too strong of a word for these cucumbers, though, which taste not of vinegar but of sake. Almost immediately after this, the first course arrives. “Halibut fin,” the chef says, timidly, handing two small plates across the counter, each sporting a single piece of nigiri sushi. The glistening sliver of halibut clings to an equally proportioned lump of rice. The flesh is vaguely translucent on one end, fading to an opaque white on the other. It’s topped with a single fleck of orange and red relish of some sort. It’s the perfect size for a single, civilized mouthful. It tastes like fresh tears, and with this one bite, I know I’m in for an extraordinary ride… Read the story
The Beijing-style lamb skewers disappear in a flash. The meat is cut from the belly of the lamb, a thick tangle of flesh and fat that turns crispy and musky when grilled, carrying with it the heady scent of cumin and char.
“Should we order more of these?” asks one of my guests as she helps herself to the last skewer.
I’m tempted to say yes, but we’ve already ordered too much. “Would you pass the noodles, please?”
The hand-cut noodles are stained with jet-black squid ink and topped with two large lobes of sea urchin, which dissolve into a velvety swirl that coats each strand like butter. It’s a matter of seconds before the serving bowl is emptied, but not before a few noodles manage to escape the grip of someone’s chopsticks and end up splattered across the white tablecloth… Read the story
It is an hour before midnight, and a large crescent moon has risen above San Miguel de Allende. The clangs of a church bell mark the hour, but silence soon returns to the Mexican city’s historic core. Suddenly, the whinnies and snorts of horses and the clippity-clop of hooves slapping against cobblestone streets signal the approach of a band of vaqueros. The ranch hands, at least a dozen of them, from perhaps three different generations, in sweat-stained straw hats and scuffed boots, pull up to a bare-bones saloon with swinging wooden doors. They tie their horses and one ancient-looking donkey to a railing that has been used for thi s purpose since the Wild West days. A 12-piece mariachi band strolls over from the town square, a half block away, to greet the men with a song. Twangy guitars set a quick rhythm. Trumpets blare. An accordion joins the melody… Read the story
Fast cars. Soccer. Surfing. Fashion. Even women. To the men of the Basque Country, nothing is more important than food. This semiautonomous region has been inhabited by the ethnic Basques for tens of thousands of years. It’s an area roughly the size of Maryland that straddles the border of Spain and France where the two curve together between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Atlantic seaboard—and its restaurants famously boast more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world except Tokyo. The Basque influence is more intense on the Spanish side, but being on either border is quite unlike anywhere else in Spain or France… Read the story
The goal: Find the best pizza in Naples.
“But hasn’t it already been determined that Michele makes the best pizza in Naples?” asks a friend in London who travels to Italy often just to eat.
“Really?” I ask. “Says who?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “Everybody?”
I email a chef with long ties to Naples. He emails back: “Michele makes the best pizza.”
I obviously need more opinions. So I email the chef at the new Romeo Hotel in Naples. He’s a native Napolitano, just back from a stint at the acclaimed Fat Duck in England. His reply comes in. “Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente makes the best pizza in Naples.” But his boss, the hotel general manager, chimes in, too: “No,” he insists. “You must try Sorbillo!”… Read the story
Moses greets me wearing knee-high rubber galoshes and what looks like a military uniform. His outfit will camouflage him nicely as he and I head out for a private walk through the swamp-lined savannah to sneak up on hyenas and hippos in a remote corner of Uganda’s Lake Mburo National Park. An AK-47 hangs casually from his right shoulder.I figure the gun holds at least 50 lethal rounds. It’s 5:30AM and the rain is finally letting up as I climb out of our Pathfinder and step into a puddle of mud. I’m three days into a mountain-gorilla safari—knee- deep in the wilds of Africa—yet I am barely halfway to the apes… Read the story
San Miguel de Allende’s restaurant scene reached critical mass and global acclaim when celebrity chef Enrique Olvera opened Moxi in 2012, which followed hot on the heels of the five-star Rosewood resort, which debuted just around the corner. Olvera is Mexico’s most famous chef. (His flagship in Mexico City is called Pujol.)
His arrival in San Miguel cemented the colonial town’s reputation as having one of the best farm-to-table restaurant scenes in all of Mexico. And that’s great. I’ve been renting a house in San Miguel just about every other year for the past 15 years, and I’ve enjoyed watching the restaurant scene blossom.
But one of the main reasons I come to San Miguel is for the street food. This is one of the safest places in Mexico to enjoy clean, delicious street food: tacos, corn, tortas, birria, hand-churned ice cream and churros… Read the story