Category Archives: noms

A Taste of New York

If there’s one thing you can’t fault this city for, it’s food. Their extensive variety puts even the abundant SoCal selections to shame. Not only that, but it’s practically a gluten free paradise which thrilled me to no end.  About every corner in Manhattan you can find Halal carts, but only a few of them actually are worth visiting, according to my guide.  That didn’t stop me from sniffing the grilled kabobs like a curious hound when hiking through the city.

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Shake Shack (DoBro)
My first official meal in the city and frankly the best one.  There are multiple locations but I headed to the one near the apartment. There was hardly a line at 11:30 when they’ve just opened but I knew later in the day a sea of customers would descend.  It’s a nondescript building, very clean and modern looking with black and green motif.
I didn’t expect much after hearing everyone rave about its greatness, but my philosophy is that when you have a name you should make it count.  Therefore, the shakes should knock my socks off.  They feature frozen custard (their own recipe made daily on the premises) and use it as a base to their shakes; I chose the flavor of the week which was red velvet.  The problem I have with shakes and dessert in general is the excessive amount of sugar, but here they’re light on sweetness, smooth and rich in flavor at the same time.  My verdict?  Instant love with this blissful concoction that took me to the moon and back.  I would only make the cup slightly more artistic since it is their signature item and for what you pay, should be a visual marvel, not a humble minimum.
Their other items were pretty great I have to admit.  Even if I prefer skinny fries their crinkle cut ones were definitely crunchy and cooked to perfection.  Their patty is made from Angus beef, seasoned with a crispy charred exterior.  I didn’t have a lot of the bun because of my intolerance but they’re toasted of the standard diner variety.
I feel like a traitor to my state preferring it over In-N-Out but I can’t fight this feeling anymore, I’m so gone for them. I would say though that it’s hardly comparable since they’re probably more than triple the price of my local legend.  Yes, I will be back to partake in your shakes, and since one recently opened up on my coastline, it will be soon.

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Il Buco (SoHo)
Our birthday celebration took us to this authentic Italian spot in the ever so hipsterlicious neighborhood where you may find all the artsy Ho Hey bohemian type shops and population.  The homey atmosphere and European waiters took me back to Venice.  Our server explained the menu changes daily depending on what the chef found at the market that morning.  Also there are no changes allowed since the ingredients are chosen to harmonize in a particular way.  I liked that control freak aspect, it makes sense in a non corporate setting.  I wished I could partake of all the fresh handmade pasta but alas.
Side note: they don’t carry soda (!)

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NoGlu (Manhattan)
A Parisienne chef crossed the ocean to bring America the gift of an entirely gluten free bakery.  With bakeries I learned there’s a tricky aspect I call game of timing.  If you walk in first thing when they open, which is what I did, they don’t have everything on their menu ready since the baker works on making things fresh throughout the day.  Should you try to visit later on, you risk missing out on popular items that will sell out as soon as they’re available.  I was dying to try their chocolate tart but since it was too early, settled for other items instead.

Brioche: incorrectly named muffins (brioche is supposed to be a rich fluffy yeast bread), I loved the blackberry ones, the dough was slightly sweet and the almonds on top were a nice touch; the chocolate one was dry and tasteless

Blackberry tart: berries were fine, a vanilla bean base and a dry gritty crust was not very pleasant, I think they should go for a traditional pate sucree which would be more tender

It was a priority for me to visit this shop but next time I’ll skip it and explore the 20 other bakeries on the same street that offer gluten free items.

Side note: Is it just me or are places opening later and later, like why would bakeries open anytime after 8am? All customers want to eat their bread before they go to work or school, do they not want to wake up for more profit?  Makes no sense!!!! <end rant>

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Pio Bagel (DoBro)
Somehow I forgot that New York is famous for their bagels (I knew about the pizza, but missed my chance, grr).  This building is across the street from where I was staying and I didn’t consider going in until I saw a sign saying they carry gluten free ones.  Hold the phone!  The morning of my departure, I stopped in first thing. I appreciate these kinds of places since they’re tasked with feeding people on the way to work, in a sense, fueling America one morning at a time.
I went with the classic bagel with cream cheese.  And guess what, it tasted like the normal chewy bagel, unbelievable.  I took another one in sandwich form so I could later devour it on the plane.  I noticed they were generous with their meat and wrapped the whole thing twice with butcher paper – now that’s quality. I long to have one again, bagels will haunt my dreams for a while.

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Profile: Anthony Bourdain

 

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A man of the world best known for his shows No Reservations, Layover, and recently Parts Unknown. He is living the dream – traveling and eating with all expenses paid.

Hotness factor
He has a certain rockstar quality. Tall and dressed usually in a button up shirt and jeans, he strolls foreign streets with swagger.  He’ll rough it camping with the locals and will dive into any exotic dish.  Ultra confident and adventurous, no wonder men and women alike swoon for him.

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Food Fan
Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.

As a chef he appreciates food on a deeper level than most, knowing what it takes to create a dish and hold a restaurant together.  He encourages viewers to leave their jobs and families in pursuit of incredible eats, an offer we all are keen to take watching him enjoy his meals. It’s made clear numerous times his number one love = sausage.

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Avoid the Obvious
Skip the Eiffel Tower.  Boo, London Eye.  Colosseum, nah.  Since the audience doesn’t want to see the same common landmarks, he’s got to mix it up a little.  On the occasions he has less than 48 hours he prefers to go to less crowded areas and hit local pubs so he can play and drink at leisure.

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Sarcasm
Tony hails from the kitchens of New York so you have to expect a crusty edge.  I love how he mocks guide books (apparently not rock n roll enough for him).  I guess he thinks he’s the final authority when journeying around the world.

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Nightmare List
What ruffles Tony’s chill?  A bar spontaneously bursting into song of course!  He was definitely not feeling London that night.  Also, mimes are just wrong in his book.

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Hipster Hatin’
His disdain of tights wearing preppies in fedoras swarming in hot spots is legendary.  Just say no to wheat bread and tahini.

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On California
Try as he may to fight it, he is all about the Inn N Out life, yo.  Between the beaches and opulent hotels and cruising in style, he knows he can get used to this.  And yes, our weather is absolutely glorious, thanks for noticing!

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Global Bridges
A white male shows us he is unafraid to enter ethnic restaurants and rough it in remote areas.  In this way he is our key to places to see and people to connect with.  We realize there is so much out there we are missing out on if only we take the first step.

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Thanks Tony, for showing folks like me how to hit the roads less traveled!

*dedicated to JSJ*


London, Baby!

We took in as much sights as we could within a single day.  We did good, taking into account a few key Underground lines were down for maintenance.

The water in the Thames is unlike the mild jade-colored Seine or the rolling verdant canals of Venice. It’s sepia and violent like it’s looking to kill someone.

London Eye
The huge wheel near London bridge on the other side of Big Ben.  A point of interest with no historical significance whatsoever.  My brother said last time it was blue when he took his friends there to ride it.  But when we proceeded there at nighttime it was illuminated green in my honor.
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Big Ben
All regal and stern in its wood and gold appearance.

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Reminded me of its graceful presence in English movies.
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St James Park
All the birds!!!

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Buckingham Palace
After traipsing through the park I was barely able to stand and wasn’t in the mood to see another drab building.  The only features I liked were the large fountain with the gilded statues and perhaps the soldiers in the distance if only for their colored uniforms, which I believe make them easy targets.

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                                                           Harrods
 Now this is a shopping center.  Maybe the best one there is. Watches the same price as a new car.  Dazzling quail egg-sized jewels.  7 floors of uncluttered displays of luxurious wares as well as amazing food halls.

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Chocolate Room
A giant wonderland of over 8 internationally renowned chocolate companies for everyone who loves the cacao product.  Of course it hit me right after I made all my purchases that nothing in this room is Fair Trade Certified. That gave me no little remorse, all this pleasure generated from suffering child slaves.

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Ice Cream Parlour
That’s what the place is actually called.  They serve gelato sundaes and their special involves a flowing display of dry ice.  We ordered the Bosco Meringato: Mango and strawberry sorbet, vanilla and yoghurt ice cream, raspberry coulis, meringues drizzled with chocolate, selection of seasonal berries and whipped cream. It was phenomenal, just the right amount of sweet and smooth, like an Ed Sheeran ballad.  Yummm

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Toy Kingdom
Only interested in the Lego replication of Harrods:
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Other la di da home goods

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HOLD UP there’s a Laduree cafe here?!  Don’t mind if I do!

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Tastes the same as home, excepting the Orange Blossom flavor, which I’m not sure you can find easily.  In case you can’t tell, their box is flimsy and poorly designed.  Step it up, Laduree!

A quick peek at the Queen Victoria bridge before our night was over
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Back to the Underground for Eppings in zone 6.

Cheerio, London!


English Eats

Can any good food come out of England?

Answer: absolutely, mate!

Not only are their dishes tasty, they follow strict regulations that don’t allow as much room for drugs or additives.

WAG Free
London, de la ghetto in the hipster row of Brixton Market
Wheat And Gluten Free place with a Brazilian theme décor.  A hole in the wall would be an upgrade from the small bare interior, I figured my 10×10 room may be larger than this joint.  Their menu boasts the best burger you’ve ever had.  Ok sure, venison burger with white cheddar it is.   The flavors were intense and harmonious, the patty wasn’t gamy but had a vivid taste close to pork filling found in dumplings.  My brother cleaned his succulent pork ribs and guacamole like a vacuum.  The service was knowledgeable and friendly, we were impressed that all the flour blends were done in house.

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Organic Deli Cafe
Located in Oxford
I think their concept was great but the execution was poor.  I ordered a pesto chicken sandwich with sun dried tomatoes.  The gluten free bread was fresh and soft, however the ratio of chicken pieces was low therefore it was difficult to enjoy.  They also had smoothies that tasted like froth and begged for sugar.  I would not recommend this amateur place at all.

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Rumble Fish Bar
Found in Mildenhall
Features more than 5 kinds of fish with a side of chips.  It’s bland, the sort I expect in a small town.  It’s interesting they would season the takeaway food with vinegar, as that would make it soggy when you got home.  At the same time they would not give you small containers of condiments, the only option would be to buy a 10oz bottle.  Makes me appreciate my local fish and chip shop a lot more, considering.

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Maze Grill
London, by a sophisticated posh
district.
Checked in my bag and coat like a boss and was seated near the window.  90% of the menu features dry aged beef. Their rump roast was tough but it was tolerable because of the peppercorn sauce which was an add on option.  I’m so glad that I ordered the first rate velvety deep jus because it saved the meal.   Not a-maze-ing but pretty weak save for the presentation and nuance of aged flavor.  The dulce de leche cheesecake was nice and creamy, not too sweet, but I hated they put peanuts randomly on the plate, so low class (give a girl some hazelnuts at least).  A stream of limos outside were visible throughout the evening with parties leading to the inner dining hall where I imagine they drink champagne with diamonds in their glasses.  By the way, this is Gordon Ramsey’s place.  That tosser needs a talking to, letting us down like this is rubbish.

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Pizza Express
Downtown Newmarket
This is a big chain and most of their pizzas are available with a gluten free crust.  They provide your own pizza wheel which is cute but I never liked to work to get my food ready.  I loved the intensely savory marinara sauce and delicious mellow cheese.  Too bad their crust was tasteless like a tortilla and countered the toppings.   In the end I prefer Domino’s over this place.

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The Bull Inn
Barton Mills in a quaint cottage
“Pan fried halibut & king scallops, potato and thyme rosti, garlic kale, bacon, apple and vanilla jus.” The halibut was cooked just right and it had a great flavor, close to snapper.  And the seared scallops were divine, they really know their seafood here.  I even ate most of the kale which was alternately crisp and soggy drenched in a syrupy sauce.  Dessert was a joyful trio chocolate toffee vanilla pod ice cream.  I shared an apple and cinnamon crumble which was bomb with the side of crème anglaise.

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The Pack Horse
By Newmarket
Food here was a little above average.  No complaints about their presentation and innovation, but the flavors were lacking.

Sole and rock shrimp with baby vegetables

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Loin & shoulder of Fordham pork, pear, spring onion & pomme purée

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Last, but definitely not least:
IMG_7037Steak and rice with a side of broccoli by Chef Jin!  Seasoned and seared in a cast iron skillet, it was a class A job.  Ramsey, take notes.

I was surprised by how elegant their dishes were even away from the big cities.  No one was more shocked than I finding authentic delicious Chinese food at Dragon House and a buffet called Lucky Star.  There is always a full bar with tap beer even in diners that resembled Dennys.  Overall their food is a lot cleaner and sourced locally (“killed next door” stated the sibling) and I’ll miss it terribly.


Odds & Ends in Britain

I was impatient to leave Italy but knew what a stressful hassle it would be….
Pack bags
Take water bus to airport
Check in and wait at the gate
Take plane trip
Go through customs
Finally…
I’m back in England!

The chilly breezes were more than welcome after days and nights of sauna conditions.  Compared to the big stone cities, it was a positively provincial week with miles and miles of looking at countryside like this:

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King’s Church in Mildenhall
A small Baptist church not too different from mine.  They taught from Matthew about being the light for others, especially our lovely neighbors, and who we can share with in our sphere of influence (complete with tree charting activity!). Didn’t really catch me off guard to meet someone from California here.  A husband and wife with their 2 kids moved there from LA a few weeks back.  I think it was something I half expected to happen and was glad to pray for their adjustment to the roads and weather in UK.

The Oxfordshire
We went to the distinguished Bodleian library and were given a tour where no pictures were allowed out of respect for the students (blast-ended skanks!).  Our guide was a keen sort who was interactive in querying our historical know-how.  I think our group did quite well in going over the impact of Henry the VIII, the beginning of printed books, and electricity.  This was actually the first university and the amount of old books were humbling.  And of course it was exciting that this was a location for filming Harry Potter!

 

 

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Finally I was able to watch Avengers Age of Ultron.  It was an action-packed movie with evil robots and starred a hammer or something.  Loved it.


Mangia Bene

Don’t list: pizza, pasta, calzone, breadstick, tiramisu, cannoli

Say there’s a song on a cd or radio you really like.  You connect to the lyrics and the melody and think it’s the best jam in a long time and enjoy wearing it out on repeat.

Then you buy tickets to a live show where the band plays the song as it was meant to be heard and experience it in a completely different way.

You get swept up and lost it as it lifts you up and binds you with sweet meanings beyond words. There’s no thought about the product being given, only appreciation that you are there in the moment.

Same goes for food.  I’ve had good pasta.  I’ve had semi-incredible fresh pasta assembled from scratch. But never one that affects me like it does when it’s locally made with love and married with local quality ingredients prepared expertly with the right blend of seasoning that harmoniously comes together.

And I’m not even supposed to have it…bother all.

Ristorante Taverna San Trovaso
What seemed to be a normal tavern turned out to be a Trip Advisor favorite packed to full capacity at noon with locals.  The scallop appetizer had a divine flavor even if it was slightly overcooked it left me aching for more.  The fried calamari and shrimp main coarse was standard in looks and taste.  My brother had the spaghetti carbonara which happened to be the best flavor and texture of any pasta dish of my experience. Since I failed my mission to try cheval (horse meat) in France, my brother asked the waitress if she knew of any place that served it locally (known there as cavallo).  The next two places were based on her recommendations.

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Pizzeria Ristorante al Profeta
We found our way to the back dining area where a man with a sweet dachshund was seated next to us.  We ordered a kangaroo dish as well as donkey stew.  You read that right.  The kangaroo was tender and tasted like a lean steak but I preferred the salty flavor of the donkey which balanced well enough with the polenta.  We switched our plates to our mutual benefit.  I kept singing “I’m a kangaroo” to the tune of Albatroaz on the way there and back.

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The next day we hopped over to our illustrious goal of trying horse meat at long last.   It was sweltering in this crowded restaurant but we managed to endure until sunset.  The regulars were all crazy for the cichettis (mini bruschetta) which they took outside on plates, sometimes with glasses of wine, to the seating area which happened to be boats.  How cool is that?  We had our horse and though it was a bit tough in places, feasted on the My Little Pony until there was almost nothing left.  Success!

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Pizzeria Casa del Nobili
This place was a stone’s throw from our room so we sauntered in to an abandoned dining area.  Of course I enjoyed the paintings and the grilled sea bass was quite all right.  My brother ordered a pizza and gave me a sample.  Oh man, it was the best I ever had save one experience.  The taste and texture was identical to Barros Brothers from my childhood city, which heightened my sorrow of the forbidden foods lost to me.

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Le Cafe Restaurant
Our nearby plaza featured a nearly upscale place and I wanted to try the gnocchi so we sat and ordered.   I can’t really say I enjoyed the gnocchi as it was too thick and gummy to eat.  If it wasn’t for the rich butter sage sauce it would have been a total loss.  My brother ordered the spaghetti bolognese which I sampled and resented for it was exquisite.  I told him that he was unadventurous but still always won with his simple choices and he replied that they were classics after all.  This cafe also featured many elaborate ice cream drinks and pastries, which I’m sure were amazing if their cream puff was any indication.  The white fluffy center is not merely a whipped cream but a diplomat custard sort which sent me to a state of cloudy bliss.

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Grom
Our local gelato place which we probably visited every time we passed nearby.  The service is friendly and quality is on point.  I wouldn’t say I really like gelato, it’s only ice cream with concentrated flavors to me.  But if it’s creamy enough and helps beat the heat I can’t complain.

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Handay
On our last night we stumbled into this funny location, a self-serve gelato shop.  You had me at yellow butterfly motif…But when we stepped in you could have knocked me over with a feather.  Gluten free cones?!  The lady assisted me by opening the wrapping and filling in with a plain yogurt flavor.  I could scarcely believe my luck and just thinking about this place lessens my scornful memories of Venice.

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Frenchy Food

Don’t list: coffee, baguette, croissant, wine

Tons of walking meant I needed to stop for fuel quite often.  Luckily, cafes were strewn everywhere in Paris, and there were countless choices on every street.  I liked that they provided menus outside their establishments so you can peruse before committing to be seated and English translations were almost always available.

Cafe George V
My first Parisienne meal was on the Champs Elysee.  I ordered my favorite French dish, beef bourguignon, which was served with tourne potatoes and sweet carrot slices.  I loved the kitchen’s attention to presentation and plating as well as the waiters’ careful placement of the elements, which fully engages my Le Cordon Bleu background.  This particular waiter decided to comment about leaving any vegetables behind and kept checking back to let me know I needed to eat all of them.  I was full, but being embarrassed and a little apprehensive about insulting the chef, I downed it all.  My friend ordered duck breast and sweet potato which I loved even more than my beef, which I found to be a little on the dry side.  She told me he was probably giving me a hard time because that was his way of flirting but I didn’t see it that way, feeling like it was a parental lecture even though he wasn’t bad looking.  She also made a comment that the natives, if they were hypothetically on diets, just don’t eat, which makes sense considering how seriously they take their food.

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Cafe Marly
The pretentious meal we had at the Louvre.  My brother had the burger of all things, which was a cool 30€.  There wasn’t much on the menu I cared for but I went with the rack of lamb and basmati rice.  Mais oui, that was marvelously juicy and tender.  The seared outer portion was crispy like a savory candy and it was a generous amount of meat overall.  I refrained from pouring the gravy sauce shot all over the plate but proceeded to season the plain rice with it near the end.  Also a pleasant was our nice-looking waiter, someone my brother and I agreed vaguely resembled Paul Walker.  He asked how we liked everything and I replied “c’est magnifique!”

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Taverne Karlsbrau
A seafood restaurant complete with lobster tank!  I wasn’t hungry and regrettably decided to try their pate du fois gras.  It was bland and buttery, though the pear chutney was delicious in its mild complementary sweetness.  I think it really would have helped being able to eat the bread with it.  As there were various kinds of fois gras it was a rookie mistake not ordering it somewhere it was made in house.
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Au Bon Pho
The bowl of pho is similar in taste and appearance as the one we had at home, so there’s not much to say about this place, just that it was a novelty seeing an authentic Asian place in France and thankfully their canned soda was about half the price of the bottled type.  I chose to find this kind of food since it’s my brother’s favorite and he was in need of it for his cold after all.
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Helmut Newcake
Cakes and tarts are just sweets I have long since tired of since consuming them in excess as a pastry chef 10 years ago.  But since they were forbidden for some time I will pounce on any chance I have with them that will not result in illness.  My friend researched my list of gluten free bakeries and decided on this one for its ideal convergence of ratings and prices.  I’m quite familiar with places featuring gluten free items but a whole patisserie dedicated to such classic desserts seems unreal.  I purchased a box of beauties and can’t really describe in words the quality of the chocolate cream puff and the opera cake besides the “mmm” and almost tears. Apparently they tend to sell out fairly early in the day and a second location had recently opened up; I’m obscenely appreciative of them and glad for their success.
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Le Cheval de Troie
This is where my self absorption nearly got my company into a disastrous situation.  I wished for my last meal to be at a seafood place, aware that my brother dislikes that genre.  Then I remembered my dedication to trying horse meat, which led to this restaurant, which my friend found out to her chagrin turned out to merely have “horse” in its name and dishes without actually serving it.  While we were being served hot tea, I recalled my friend also didn’t care for seafood but didn’t mention it during our planning.  It was warming to know they were prepared to suffer for my sake but instead enjoyed a Turkish meal for the first time.  Needless to say I was endlessly amused.   They had kebabs while I picked at lamb pieces in bechamel sauce.
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Other Notes
Something of note was their “smoothie” which was a drink of fresh pressed fruit and vegetable juices containing no ice or added sugar.  I had one with strawberries and pineapples and liked it quite a bit even though it was thought to be healthy.  I weep knowing that I will have tough access to terrines back home.  On the other hand, I actually preferred the States’ version of onion soup (darker broth and taste), perhaps fortunate.  Coca Cola was on average 8€ so it became my expensive habit, as fountain machines did not exist there.  It gets a little tricky ordering water (as a tourist), one has to ask for a carafe otherwise they will just sell you a bottle of their house Evian.  The restaurants I visited usually took orders down on an electronic pad and credit card payments were taken on the spot with a portable machine.  The portions weren’t tiny as I expected and often they were so rich I couldn’t finish them.

I failed to try half of what I had on my list but then again I had too few days to cover all the dishes I desired.  Having gone through this glorious food journey thus far, I doubted there would be any meals of worth in the future countries.  I was happy to be proven wrong.