We take everything with us when we travel – our clothes, our money, and especially our appetites. Navigating restaurants when abroad can be an expensive thrill at best and downright cheap and frightening at worst. Followsummer was recently asked to name our top dining experiences as one of the world’s Expert Travelers. So here, in no particular order, are followsummer’s Top 12 Best Restaurant Experiences – straight from the source.
1) Edulis, Toronto, Ontario
Visited by the venerable Ruth Reichl (“So many restaurants insist that the experience is about them: their food, their ambiance, their wine. At Edulis, it’s all about you. They feed you wonderful food – but they understand that a great meal transcends what’s on the table.”), Edulis’s eclectic pairing of French and Spanish cuisines make Tobey Nemeth and Michael Caballo’s small room a delight. Difficult to get to on a cold, white February evening, but so worth the snowy effort. Go.
We readily admit our skepticism when the Saint John Tourism Rep sent us a list of potential dining spots; frankly The Saint John Ale House did not jump out at us as a desirable Saturday-night-in-Saint John, fine ‘pub(ish)’ dining option. However, we dig in, do our research and discover the praise worthy and progressive pub food offerings of Chef Jesse Vergen.
3) Vij’s, Vancouver, British Columbia
Whether for work or play, we always make the effort to wait in line (no reservations) often to be greeted by the great Vikram Vij himself (followsummer has personally been welcomed twice by Chef, not so much so of late that he has become somewhat of a national celebrity) to his family style restaurant. Chef serves simple yet outstanding sophisticated flavours and house-made spices, turning up the volume and giving us Vij’s take on classical Indian cuisine. Call ahead for take-away as well.
4) Les Trois Domes, Sofitel Lyon Bellecour, Lyon, France
My 50th birthday celebration included a trip to Lyon to sample and savour all things Classic Lyonnais food. Les Lyonnais take their food very seriously with delicacies like Andouillette, Tête à Veaux and Veal Foot Salad a must on their must-eat collective dining tables. Not for the faint of heart and perhaps one of the odder food experiences we’ve had in our travels. The saving grace of the trip was our dinner at Les Trois Domes: let’s just say come for the Foie Gras Tasting, stay for the Foie Gras Tasting.
During our time in Languedoc Roussillon, we were visited by a very good friend who insisted on taking us out to a fabulous meal and overnight in nearby Montpellier and discover Le Jardin des Sens, a beautiful, simple hotel, with one of the best restaurants in the world. The room is beautiful, although we wish it were warm enough to sit outside on the equally beautiful courtyard. By 9:00 the room is full of Gallic flair and yet the service still exhibits that carefree “French charm” that we have observed elsewhere in France. A lovely treat. Thank you Rosemary.
A surprising new entry into the Palm Springs dining scene, Workshop Kitchen + Bar pushes the foodie envelope with their Farm to Table approach. Owners Michael Beckman and Joseph Mourani have realized a contemporary, somewhat austere Modernist industrial design in a beautiful Colonial building which offers a compelling staging point for their ‘Americana’ style of food, offering everything from wood-fired pizza, sous-vide offerings, duck rillette, pan-roasted scallops, black truffle risotto, to Large Format Plates that are great for a ‘family service’ style evening of shared food and conversation. We left feeling well fed with plenty left on the wooden groaning board if we chose to doggy-bag it.
Booking a table at such a traditional, ‘clubby’, Palm Springs restaurant is not usually our style but the name Spencer’s is synonymous with Palm Springs’ classic style and its historically significant mid-century charm offers a stylish elegance and comfortable informality that apparently was not to be missed. Located in Old Palm Springs and situated at the foot of Mt. San Jacinto, the summer air-cooled, and winter propane-heated patio is legendary with the stunning surroundings matched only by great food and unobtrusive yet attentive service. This was, perhaps our best meal in Palm Springs.
Just up the street from our hotel and near the very busy Night Market Street in Chiang Mai is a beautiful looking restaurant, The Whole Earth. The restaurant is situated in a traditional Lanna Thai pavilion and appears to float slightly above ground and we sit on a long open-air veranda with beautiful views of the gardens. Our meal is delicious – I have Tom Yum Soup, and the tastes of lemongrass, ginger and chili are divine on my tongue and Greg’s sweet and sour vegetables are lovely – not too sweet. We returned several times to indulge in their yummy variety of Thai, Indian and Vegetarian food, blissfully combining two cultures of traditional Thai and Ayurvedic Indian cuisines.
9) Fat Pasha. Toronto, Ontario.
Ahhh Fat Pasha. Difficult to secure a place at one of their communal tables but when you do…you’ll be feted with a ton of Middle-Eastern-Meets-Your-Jewish-Bubby food with a focus on the Veg side. Did I mention a ton of food? The Fat Pashas also owns Rose & Sons and Big Crow as well so if you can’t get in to FP, try their other eats. But try to taste the Fat P.
10) Lüke. New Orleans, Louisiana
Chef John Besh’s Lüke, is a lovely homage to the grand Franco-German brasseries of old New Orleans and is an easy NOLA saunter around the corner from the International House Hotel in the Central Business District. We are greeted by a bustling bistro room and a welcoming oyster bar and are feted and feasted by Chef Matt Regan’s wonderful food. A truly lagniappe “first night welcome to New Orleans” feed.
11) Cochon. New Orleans, Louisiana
Dinner at Cochon in the city’s up and coming Warehouse/Arts district, is a must. The room is warm and bustling with warehouse-themed brick predominating the theme. We have an early reservation (did I mention how busy the New Orleans eating scene is?) and once seated, we immediately acknowledge some more New Orleans lagniappe: as with dinner last evening at Lüke, we find ourselves engaged in animated and unreserved conversations with our fellow diners. Typical NOLA behaviour. Delicious starters of arugula & watermelon salad and a mushroom salad with beef jerky and lemon dressing are followed with oven-roasted red fish “Fisherman Style” with pickled fennel for me, and a delicious soft-shell crab for John.
12) Atchafalya. New Orleans Louisiana
A Jazzy-Honky-tonk trio welcomes our rain-soaked feet and damp spirits to a highly anticipated brunch at Atchafalaya. When seated, we indulge in their popular make it yourself Bloody Mary bar, featuring numerous types of home-pickled garnish options (including green beans, asparagus tips, peppers and cauliflower) to top off our choice of green tomato or traditional homemade tomato juices. John opts for the Oysters Rockefeller Eggs Benedict garnished with Apple Smoked Bacon and I nosh on The Boudreaux – sunny side eggs, alligator sausage, jalapeño corn bread, crystal potatoes and creole hollandaise – rainy day wonderful.
Travel and eat well, my friends!