Sunday, March 24, 2013
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
|Bike guide Karri (right) keeping us hapless tourists safe. Also, you can see here that each bike rental comes with a custom license plate from that bike's "sponsor." You don't get to choose. The unfortunate plate I got: SCHMERLZ.|
|A large mural by one of the city's first and best street artists, Mart, who started at age 12. Like much of his work, it feels very dreamy, fanciful...and almost French. He uses aerosol paint yet achieves very fine lines somehow. It's a very distinctive style that you can recognize instantly when you see his work throughout the city.|
|Part of a large wall by one of the handful of female street artists, Zumi. It's a perfect example of how street artists tried to cheer up the city after the economic collapse - and why the police let them do it without punishment. Animals and other universally beloved, non-controversial symbols became popular subjects.|
|A piece by pioneering street artist Ever, who often paints faces...but never the eyes. He always does something creative to avoid painting the eyes. As a result, it's also easy to spot his work right away. As for the Mao image, it made me think of how Argentina is currently inching away from capitalism towards isolationism.|
|One of several incredible, large-scale pieces we saw by Jaz, another early and influential street artist. This guy is clearly one of the most talented - he drew these bulls freehand. He's also pretty resourceful. In the early days of the collapse, street artists couldn't afford paint, so they used whatever materials they could get their hands on. This piece has no paint - it is done in mud off the ground as well as charcoal.|
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
|Juban's Restaurant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an ideal road trip stop right off I-10. Epicurean dining in a strip mall, though there's a lovely Southern facade out front.|
|Sweet Potato Chips dusted with confectioner's sugar, the complimentary snack that hits your table upon arriving at Juban's. Clearly a secret plot to rev your appetite.|
|The Strawberry Mint Julep at Juban's. Perhaps the most amazing discovery of the trip.|
|The Pain Perdu at Juban's. Perfect if you like dessert for breakfast.|
|A cup of gumbo at Juban's is a must with any meal. Interestingly, it comes with a smattering of rice on top.|
And that, in the end, was the gastronomic theme of this entire trip: where excess meets ecstasy.
Monday, March 5, 2012
|Sitting on the patio at Shields Date Garden in Indio, CA (near Palm Springs).|
The second was Shields Date Garden, the home of the legendary date milkshake as well as the kitschy short film, “Romance and the Sex Life of the Date.” For nearly a century, travelers have stopped at this tourist attraction off I-10 in Indio, CA, to stretch the legs, buy dates (they grow 10+ varieties) and get a yummy date shake for the road (you have to try one to understand how good it is). Happily, Shields has now expanded into a full-scale restaurant, where we enjoyed bountiful salads on the sunny, palm tree-filled patio.
Given how much these stops helped to buoy our taste buds and break up our drive, I knew I needed to apply the same approach to my upcoming road trip from Houston to Natchez, Mississippi, with a college friend now living in Houston. (This is the same girlfriend from previous gastronomic getaways to
|Our road trip route. A is Houston, Texas (starting point). B is Natchez, Mississippi (destination). Most of our drive time was spent in Louisiana, though. Click to enlarge for better legibility.|
Neither of us had ever done this drive (which follows I-10 through
|Cafe Des Amis, located in a historic building in downtown Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.|
Road trip stop #1 was a place I saw raves about online over and over – Café Des Amis in the cute little town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, dubbed the “Crawfish Capital of the World.” Not surprisingly, Cafe Des Amis is known for its crawfish etouffee, a dish that perfectly represents the bountiful seafood of the region and the distinctive influence of the Acadians, French settlers who migrated from
|Breaux Bridge, Louisiana (population 8,100) is just a few miles east of Lafayette, Louisiana. From Houston, it's about 3.5 hours to Breaux Bridge. From Baton Rouge (which is to the east), it's about 45 minutes.|
Five minutes south of 1-10, Café Des Amis is not just famous for its food – but also for its Saturday morning Zydeco Breakfast. We were coming through on a Friday, sadly, but the meal alone made our toes tap. We started with an appetizer that sounded too ridiculous not to try: Alligator Sausage Cheesecake. This savory delicacy involves crawfish, sausage made from alligator meat, gouda cheese and cream cheese baked with herbs and spices and then smothered with a rich crawfish sauce (read: more cream). In a word: awesome.
|The mouth-watering (and heart-stopping) Alligator Sausage Cheesecake at Cafe Des Amis.|
Next was the Pepper Jack Shrimp Poppers, which are an even better example of how Cajun food is clearly designed to shorten your lifespan. Because who would want to eat four ostensibly healthy shrimp unless they’re stuffed with Cajun tasso (intensely flavored smoked pork) and Pepper Jack cheese, wrapped in bacon, breaded, then deep-fried…and then covered with more of that crawfish sauce? Yes, they were insanely good, and yes, I was beginning to realize that there was no way around gaining weight on this trip.
|The Crawfish Pie at Cafe Des Amis. The puff pastry just went "poof" upon being punctured!|
Then came the entrée – which we split after all that gluttony. Called Crawfish Pie, it’s a puff pastry filled with crawfish etoufée and accompanied by corn macque choux (a Cajun dish involving corn and veggies braised in – what else? – bacon fat) and dirty rice, both of which were outstanding. The entrée itself? I decided crawfish is a bit fishy for my taste. And we could have done without the puff pastry, which collapsed into nothingness, as shown above. But it’s probably for the best, because if it had been an irresistibly thick crust, I might have died of a heart attack on the spot.
Read Part II, which dishes on our Creole meal at Juban's in Baton Rouge on the drive back.
Friday, December 23, 2011
At one point in my life, I seriously thought I would live in another country. And I attempted it – first in
Instead, as fate would have it, I relocated to
But it wasn’t until I was reading the January 2012 issue of New Mexico Magazine that another very important - and very appealing - factor crystallized. It was put into words by author Hampton Sides (who wrote Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson) in his reflection on
“Yet even with statehood, I’m not sure
Bells went off when I read this paragraph. I didn’t carry out my expatriate dream, technically, but I found something of an equivalent in my own country. To say that
For further proof of
- Many Americans do not know there's a state called
. New Mexico
- Those who do realize it’s a state are often confused about it.
- The license plates say “New Mexico USA” to clarify things.
- It’s the only state in the
with a bilingual constitution. US
- Along with CA, it’s one of two states with a Hispanic majority.
- We have the first female
governor, Susana Martinez. Latina
- The state flag colors honor Isabella of Castilla.
- The state flag symbol (the Zia sun symbol) is Native American.
- Most city (“
”), street and forest names are Spanish. Santa Fe
(“adobe”) style architecture is one of a kind. Pueblo
- The government tested the atomic bomb here. (Ahem.)
You get the point. It just took me a while to get it – that New Mexico is clearly an extension of my previous wanderings and the strong tug I felt to move to Latin America. Now, as I drive home on a dirt road looking at cows in the field, I realize it’s not unlike a scene I would see in rural
So I guess there's just one thing left to say: Feliz Navidad!
p.s. On January 6th, the US Postal Service will release New Mexico’s official Centennial Stamp, which is pictured above. Keep an eye out for it as it’s quite gorgeous.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Barren. Arid. Boring. Like Mars.
Recently, the New Mexico Department of Tourism conducted focus groups in
I wasn’t completely unaware of
Yet here’s where this all gets squirrelly. Clearly, people ARE visiting
- 2011 TripAdvisor Top 10 Food Destinations (#7)
- 2011 Travel + Leisure Favorite Cultural Getaway (#1)
- 2011 Away.com Top 10 Christmas Destinations (#4)*
- 2011 Conde Nast Traveler Top 10
Cities (#3)** US
*See my Christmas Eve in Santa Fe blog; **Believe it or not,
Then there’s the fact that the New York Times certainly considers New Mexico a worthy destination to cover at least once a year, with a recent 36 Hours in Albuquerque piece (yes, Albuquerque!) as well as past features like The Art of Being Santa Fe and The Thrifty Wintry Charms of Santa Fe. I’ve also seen recent features on
So I ask, where is this poor or vague reputation coming from? Clearly, it’s not from the travel media, which treats
It also makes it a ball hosting first-time visitors to the state – who are by far the majority of our visitors – and introducing them to a landscape unlike anything most have ever seen. It is just so different here, and entirely unlike
Or maybe they shouldn’t say anything, and we’ll just keep it our little secret.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Last Friday, I took the high road. Finally.
A fabled 56-mile scenic byway, the “High Road to Taos” refers to the mountainous route between
Before I can tell you about this spectacular little church – considered the most important Catholic pilgrimage shrine in the
As a result, the families of these early Spanish settlers in
When you step outside of the holy dirt room, you find yourself in the prayer room, which is filled with symbols of suffering, healing and gratitude. I’m talking rows and rows of crutches, casts (from broken limbs), rosaries, baby shoes and photos of military men and women. These are the tokens of the more than 300,000 annual visitors to this National Historic Landmark, some of whom make the pilgrimage by foot. This is especially common during Holy Week, when thousands of pilgrims from the
I’ve failed to mention the lovely, rustic sanctuary, which is filled from floor to ceiling with incredible religious and folk art, including dolls, reredos (brightly painted wooden screens) and bultos (statues). The thing that struck me most was the striking contrast between the subjects’ facial expressions– usually one of suffering or sorrow, with eyes closed or looking down – with the incredibly vivid colors used in the artwork. I felt both saddened and uplifted.
Just a short distance away is the Santo Nino (“Holy Child”) Chapel, with perhaps even more impressive art. Recently renovated, it displays the striking contemporary work of artist Fernando Bimonte and others. It’s the “cheerier” of the two structures, aesthetically, with a feeling of innocence and gozo (joy). As the sign out front instructs, you should enter with “the heart of a child” to fully appreciate the chapel – and, of course, get into the
Between these two amazingly ornate adobe churches and their fantastic gift shops, you could easily make an afternoon of that part alone. But there’s even more to Chimayo, including art galleries, historic weaving shops and chile vendors. I recommend stopping into
Once there, I ordered the carne adovada (pork marinated in red chile from Chimayo, of course), which was served with posole (hominy). It’s their signature dish, and I was expecting greatness. Sadly, it was not something I would write home about. The posole was far from spicy, and the carne adovada did not compare to the best I’ve had thus far, which was at El Bruno’s in Cuba, NM, where the pork was super tender and moist. Fortunately, I was tipped off to what may be the best food in the area a few days later. Unlike Rancho de Chimayo’s beautiful setting (see below), this humble food is served out the window of a roadside shack. I should not have been surprised. It’s the golden rule: eat with the locals, not with the tourists!
Located on Route 76 between Chimayo and Espanola, the original location of El Parasol (now a family-run mini-chain with five locations in
I may have used more napkins than I care to admit during the meal, but as we sat at our picnic table watching streams of locals rolling in, I knew I’d finally found the spot for crave-worthy New Mexican food. And that, I realized, is another pilgrimage completed.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
(Read Part I, “The Unexpected Coolness of Cream City,” if you haven’t already.)
I wasn’t alone in having my comeuppance on
Happily, the confusion started to wane the first night, when we strolled through East Town’s massive, four-day Bastille Days festival, hit up the $6 wine stand and nibbled on fried cheese curds while lounging in a grassy park listening to a great blues band. Don’t know what cheese curds are? I didn’t either. Turns out they’re the solid parts of curdled milk. It sounds gross, but they are a big
By the next day, I couldn’t even remember why I’d been confused. Randomly, I picked a hike and a lunch spot that were both winners. The Seven Bridges Trail in
They weren’t exaggerating. Hidden on an industrial street that looks abandoned at first, Barnacle Bud's is the offshoot of Skipper Bud’s, a boat storage facility. Delightfully ramshackle with picnic tables and beer served in buckets of ice, Barnacle Bud's was serving up its Friday Fish Fry to everyone arriving by car and boat. I opted for the outstanding crab cake appetizer (voted Best in
That night, we perused Glorioso Brothers Italian Foods market, picked up some provisions (including cheese, of course) and enjoyed a delicious spread on the porch of our lakefront condo. By Saturday, we were refreshed and fully in vacation mode. With a new zeal for exploring this now-intriguing city, we headed to the Historic Third Ward, home to tons of new, happening places to eat. We settled into a rooftop table at Benelux and studied their menu, which focuses on the cuisine of Europe’s Lowlands (
From there, we walked along the nearly-three-mile-long River Walk to downtown and took our obligatory tourist photos with “The Bronze Fonz” (aka a statue of actor Henry Winkler). As you may recall, the classic television sitcoms “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” were both set in
We then crossed the river into the charming
Nightfall brought us to a wine tasting event at Bastille Days, where we took in more great bands while sipping wines from around the world. A perfect ending to a big day. On Sunday, with only a few hours (and a tiny bit of energy) left, we relaxed at Bradford Beach, a beach right in East Town where you can rent cabanas and beach chaises. On the way in and out, you can also grab burgers and custard at Northpoint, the famous custard shack located right in the beach parking lot. While the custard was cold and creamy, I have to say the burger was the thing that struck me: a truly mouth-watering hamburger on Cioppino bread with pickles, my favorite classic condiment.
An hour later, I left
You just never know.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
When I first saw that
This revelation was one of many last weekend, when a group of friends convened in
But the truth of the matter, as I’m prepared to set straight today, is that
Beyond this aquatic bounty, there are great urban areas like the Historic Third Ward, where industrial buildings have been transformed into hip lofts, food markets and rooftop restaurants; or the
The fact that the cost of living is so reasonable (e.g. luxury three-bedroom waterfront condos between $200-$300K) doesn’t hurt. Another major ingredient is that this is a young town, which I definitely noticed. The median age is 30.3 years, which is six years younger than the national average of 36.8 years. Fittingly,
Read Part II of my head-turning date with