From a rustic beach fry shack to fine-dining at the Eiffel Tower (well, in Vegas), I’ve had some pretty varied and unique foodie times. While traveling, Cam and I tend to shy away from all-inclusives (with the exception of one or two no-brainer getaways), instead opting to frappe la rue on our own and explore. To me, not only the cuisine but the actual dining experience is all part of the unknown, the weirdness of travel that often makes a good story. (We have another litnus test of how good the restaurant is by what their bathroom facilities look like. I’ll save that for another post.)
Since I refrained from listing every funny little place I’ve been to in my last post of a similar nature (A Dozen Ovens), here’s the second part of some weird and wonderful foodie scenes. Let’s start with one of my favourites…
1. Ibu Oka – Ubud, Bali
Our driver Made accompanied us to this Ubud, Bali institution in the heart of the mountains, where the specialty is fried Babi Guling (suckling pig). The scene is rustic, the menu basic with a choice of four different combinations: Special Suckling Pig (with rice), Different Suckling Pig (also with rice, not entirely sure what’s ‘different’), Suckling Pig Meat, and just the Pig Skin. Grab some Indonesian fruit tea, have a seat on the floor and get cozy with your neighbours. Personally, I found it the whole meal extremely fatty, so I mostly ate just the meat sans skin, giving the rest to Cam and Made. But it was a must-do and undeniably an unforgettable experience. If you go, don’t forget to collect your shoes from the massive pile on your way out.
2. Tapas Bar in San Sebastian – Spain
The old quarter in San Sebastian was home to my first tapa dining experience. Basically, we tried to do what every good tourist should do: follow the locals. So we walked in pretending like we’d been there a hundred times (we couldn’t have been more green), casually sidled up to the bar (more like carefully picking our way through hoards of leering Spanish men), and helped ourselves to the dizzying array of itsy bitsy bites lining the bar (well, I might have wrinkled up my nose and given some the sniff test). The whole time we wondered how anybody would know how much we ate, or who was keeping track for that matter. Turns out the bartender had a pretty sharp pair of peepers, because by the end he had a tally of everything we touched, even including a few glasses of the local vino (which we ordered via the pointing system). He gave us the bill itemized on the back of an old receipt and we were done. Oh, and food was awesome – everything from fresh prawns to thin proscuitto on crostinis – and the atmosphere crowded, smoky and alive.
3. Pizza Venezia – Sayulita, Mexico
Along a dusty, lone Mexican village road appears what at first seems like a mirage, and then turns into a bright yellow surfboard. On it boasts the menu of Pizza Venezia, a place that is both a feast for the eyes and the stomach. All bright reds and yellows and brick, this fire wood oven, thin-crust pizza joint is home to some gutsy Italian-turned-surfer who landed in Sayulita sometime within the last three years. Apparently he liked it so much he decided to stay a while. Delicious and refreshingly uncomplicated, the pizza pies were cheap (an extra-large pie put you back a mere 90 pesos – about $6 Cdn). Perfect for a late-night snack on the way home, the rest saved for a picnic on the beach the next day.
4. Le Baiser Salé – Paris, France
Le Baiser Sale translates to “The Salty Kiss”. Being avid jazz buffs, Cam and I decided to hit up this place after we attempted to get into another jazz club where the cover charge back in ’04 was 25 euros (about $50 Cdn back then). This was at a time when the Canadian dollar was at an all-time low, mind you, but still – $50 to get in? Each? Even though they were open to negotiation (the price got lower as we began backing out of the club), we decided to move on and stumbled upon Le Baiser Sale. Despite the fact that it was ‘only’ $25 to get in, it turned out to be one of the best jazz clubs we’ve ever been to. I’m including it in this dining post because they did serve food – mostly snacks to accompany your champagne – but I think that counts. Enter via an outdoor patio, sweep past a bar and up a narrow staircase to a small, dark room with a makeshift bar and a stage – and when I say stage, I mean a basic platform of sorts. The sheer intimacy of the place was astounding: as four young guys belted out classic Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson, we were so close we could feel the beat pulsing in our chests; see the spit and the sweat. It was like they were playing just for us.
5. Hu’u Bar & Grill – Seminyak, Bali
Picture a dark and romantic outdoor setting, the tropical breeze tickling your bare shoulders as you stroll along the poolside patio under white canopy and twinkling fairy lights. Now imagine the delish taste of duck crepes as you dine surrounded by mosaic-like decorative busts and low-hung chinese lanterns, with cool hip groove beats filling the air. And, if you want your own private dining experience, there’s always the cozy dining day-beds strewn about the property. The food is pretty decent, but it’s really the ambience that keeps us coming back. Where else do you get to lounge about on huge white pillows while sipping on a lychee nut martini? Who knows: you may just run into Paris Hilton partying it up right next to you.
6. Lobster on Booby Cay Beach – near Negril, Jamaica
Let’s face it: this is no fancy hotel dining, or drinks by a hip poolside bar. It doesn’t get more fresh, and I mean really fresh than having your lunch cooked for you right on a sandy cove in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. I think these lobsters were caught maybe 20 minutes before, and the next thing you know they’re on the grill. Delightfully delish. Have Famous Vincent take you over to the island.
7. Kayu Manis – Sanur, Bali
This funny little place is slightly off the beaten track, some distance from the touristy throngs on Sanur’s beach boardwalk. After reading some decent reviews on Trip Advisor, we had our hotel make us a reservation. Still, it took us a while to find it in the dark, and after wandering around for an hour, we found it tucked just off the street, surrounded by trees and tropical flora. Even at 8 pm, the interior was sweltering hot, and much to our dismay, they didn’t serve any booze aside from the local beer. We forgave them because the food was good; however, when we tried to get the bill, they wouldn’t let us pay, no matter how much we insisted. Suffice to say both parties were very much confused. So, we ended up leaving without paying. For some people this is a dream; for us just felt downright strange and wrong. Totally bewildered, we relayed the story to our hotel hosts, who were just as confused as we were. Then about a week later, the restaurant phoned our hotel to say that someone from the restaurant was coming to pick up the money for our tab. Seriously! Poor Cam had to run about to get cash from the money exchange, put it in an envelope, and have it at the front desk for pick-up. So much for thinking we got it comped because they thought we were movie stars.
8. Eiffel Tower Restaurant – Las Vegas, Nevada
For a special occasion, a completely decadent experience (or if you just can’t get to Paris, France for the weekend), the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Vegas is a must-try. It’s pretty close to the real thing, its authenticity bolstered (pun intended) by makeshift tower beams jutting through the walls, an almost pitch-black interior, and a martini bar to die for. My sister and her husband came with us to Vegas last year for a special birthday of mine (see A Most Un-Glamorous Journey for more on that trip), and although my sister got sick the night of my birthday dinner, we still enjoyed a romantic evening for three. Attended to by at least four tuxedo-clad servers (who all seemed ecstatic to be serving us), this restaurant boasted an incredible view of the main strip, notably the fountain show at the Bellagio. It oozed romance and yes, a bit of a cheese-factor, albeit classy cheese. An appetizer of roasted foie gras for $28? Why not? You may as well really splurge and have the Filet Mignon for $56. It’s totally worth it.
9. Random Restaurant at the top of Mt. Batur – Bali
Although the view to Gunung Batur is clearly incredible, the touristy and crowded buffet-style restaurant perched on a cliff at the side of the road wasn’t. Think exorbitant tourist prices for a measly, fly-ridden selection of fried rice, dried-up satay, and wilty greens. I won’t even get into the state of the washroom. Not to mention it was so windy up there, my bad food practically flew off my plate. (To be fair, that’s not the restaurant’s fault). Anyway, an obvious tourist trap, but what can you do – not a lot of choice way up in the middle-of-nowhere-mountains. The only thing that tasted somewhat okay was the prickly red rambutan fruit – plus it was really cool and exotic-looking.
10. Burrito Revolution – Sayulita, Mexico
A Sayulita institution, Burrito Revolution is a gem of a place, with burritos the size of babies and sauces with different spice levels (hint: watch out for the whitish one – very spicy). Although you can sit inside, it mostly caters to the grab-and-go people. Make sure you get lots of napkins, because within one bite you’ll be wiping the delicious stuff off your mouth and chin. Incredibly fresh, handmade and hot – think smoked marlin wrapped up with tomatoes, beans and fresh guacamole. Come hungry and prepare to wait a bit – you’ll be glad you did. The last time we were there, the proprietor let us have a taste of the newest thing on the menu: tacos (yummy). And, you gotta love their awesome sense of humour – I just had to take a picture of this sign!