A Taste of Prague

Prague: Where hotel rooms have chandeliers

Boutique Hotel Constans Prague

You know. Casual.

And tourists fill every square inch of the city.

Gate to Mala Strana

So busy today! I think I saw more tourists today than I’ve seen anywhere else combined.

Also, apparently there was a hockey game? USA vs. Czech and the USA won! Which is only great when I’m not in Prague, trying to take pictures of a beautiful building that no one cares about because there’s a game! on! the! giant! TV!!!

Old Town Square

I couldn’t beat them, so I got a beer and a dog and joined them. Go USA! (sorry Czechs…)

Prague sausage

The time is fast approaching when sausages and beer will lose their appeal. I’m not there yet but I can see it in the distance. How do these Europeans live on a diet of bread, beer and sausages without dying of scurvy? I don’t get it.

I’ve been here only a couple of hours but my favorite thing in Prague so far is the Charles Bridge. It’s part of the old Royal Road, a procession route for newly crowned kings of Bohemia to travel to their castle. Here’s the view off the bridge into the Staré Město, Prague’s Old Town

Staré Město Charles Bridge

The bridge is lined with statues and joins the Old Town and the Mala Strana, the Lesser Town where the castle resides.

Charles Bridge

The sun sets directly over Mala Strana and shines through these gorgeous gates on either side of the bridge

Charles Bridge

So far, Prague is pretty cool. More tomorrow.

Charles Bridge

Goodbye to Chicago

Chicago Skyline

5 days went quick!  And this is my last morning in my favorite city.

A shout out to Lotus Cafe

Lotus Cafe

A tiny place in University Village run by two former UIC students and with the most incredible banh mi sandwiches.

Lotus Cafe 2

Fresh toasty bread, thin buttery pork slices and all that greenery? Incredible. I traveled quite far for that sandwich and it was worth it.

Also to Balena


Where I had a luscious burrata (in even more luscious light) and conversation with my friend Rob. Balena is right next door to the Royal George Theatre and across the street from the Steppenwolf, making it the perfect pre or post show stop.

I tried Maude’s Liquor Bar, a charming little French place on Randolph Street

Maude's Liquor Bar

It’s a tiny easy to miss place with a dark door that’s not well marked by GPS. The entrance is actually right on Randolph Street by the burger bar.

I met my friend Lisa there and we shared a number of small plates, including mussels, smashed potatoes and this incredibly colorful shaved vegetable salad

Maude's Liquor Bar shaved salad

So delicious! As was the conversation and the company. Lisa is one of my favorite dining companions and I always come away from our conversations thinking more deeply about where I want my life to go.

Up in Roger’s Park I went to Uncommon Ground

Uncommon Ground

A restaurant  committed to operating as green-ly as possible. They have an organic farm on their roof! I ate here with Julian and Kristin, college friends of mine whom I adore. We all started in theatre together and have taken that training in very different directions. It’s remarkable to know people for 20 years, see their lives unfold and enjoy their company even more than I did 20 years ago. I’m lucky with my friends.

And while that’s not all, that’s all you get of Chicago this trip.


Bye bye Chi-town. See you in awhile.

New Restaurants in Chicago

I always come to Chicago to eat. I have a running list of places I’ve never been and really should try and then I  also look for what’s new and hot so I can try that too. It was a fair amount of eating this trip but even more time in transit since I stayed way north at my friend’s condo in Andersonville. Sometimes I forget how big this city really is.

But all that traveling was worth it and here are the two new restaurants that made an impression on me this week.

Dove’s Luncheonette

Dove's Luncheonette

The new tex-mex diner from the One Off Hospitality group that includes chef Paul Kahan and restaurants like Big Star, Blackbird and Avec.

Diners are my favorite places to eat uncomplicated food. Breakfast especially. I like sitting at a counter watching short order cooks do their business, the food always arrives hot and fast  and I can get in and get out in 30 minutes for $10. However, when famous chefs open diners they serve complicated expensive food and it usually takes forever to get it.  While I appreciate the homage, the anticipation and immediate popularity of such places combined with the menu prices eliminate all the great elements of the original concept (fast, cheap, unfussy), leaving only the visuals.

A couple of years ago I tried the Little Goat Diner right after it opened. The wait was SO LONG and the food was only ok because there’s hardly any food in the world worth a 2 hour wait. I haven’t been back to Little Goat and I’ve been leery of famous chef diners ever since.

So, imagine my pleasure when the wait at Dove’s Luncheonette was only about 20 minutes on a Saturday around 1pm and the food was really really good!

Dove's Luncheonette

I had the chili rellenos. They were super light, fried in tempura batter and filled with fresh farmer’s cheese, the texture of ricotta. I had a spicy bloody maria topped with pickled beans to wash it down and naturally fell into conversation with the friendly group of artists seated next to me. Lunch counter seating encourages conversation with strangers.

I’d recommend Dove’s Luncheonette because the food is carefully prepared and quite great, the window seating has a nice view of passing humanity and it’s literally right across the street from the train station. For visitors, I caution you to temper your expectations. It could be a long wait to sit on backless stools and it’s not a place for a big group. Don’t wait more than 30 minutes or you’ll be annoyed and hate the experience.

Up north in Andersonville is Little Bad Wolf, a new bar from the people that formerly owned The Burger Philisophy

Little Bad Wolf

It’s advertised as American food but the menu has a strongly Mexican influence

Little Bad Wolf

Like chips and salsa. Ok arguably, chips and salsa have been coopted by every sports bar in the US so they could conceivably be considered American. And these were good ones, fresh hot chips with great salsa options.

But Elote?

Little Bad Wolf

Creamy spicy corn? That’s Mexican through and through. The tempura battered avocado was a great touch and I loved everything about this, including the cast iron dish. I wasn’t impressed with the chopped salad we ordered, bland and disappointing (albeit gigantic), but I’ve never seen hard root beer on tap so I had to try it. Too sweet for me but quite an alcoholic kick so… beware.

I liked LBW. It’s a cute neighborhood bar and I enjoy the copper and cobalt

Little Bad Wolf

If you go, order the elote.

Tomorrow, a round up of the rest of my brief Chicago visit.

Tacos in Wicker Park

A conversation about the best taco in Chicago will likely end in a throw down. Tacos are popular all over the city from gourmet tacos by world renowned chefs (hi, Rick Bayless) to tiny taco stands attached to grocery stores that have no websites. A veritable wealth of taco options.

However, in any list of the best tacos in the city you’ll find these two places listed:

Antique Taco

Someone referred to Antique Taco as “pintrest-y.” It’s funny cuz it’s true. There’s a carefully cultured farm kitchen preciousness to the decor from the wide wooden tables and wooden stools to the jelly jar glasses and cloth dish towel napkins. For some of you, this is a draw. For the rest of you, just ignore it and order a taco:

Antique Taco

Whoever decided that bacon belonged on a carnitas taco is a genius and I love them, especially when they also added spinach, fresh cotija cheese and a few slices of creamy avocado.The plate was warm, the tortillas were bendy and slightly crunchy and the whole thing cost $8. $10 once I added the mouth puckering mango lemonade agua fresca. It actually took 15 minutes or so for me to get my tacos and the place wasn’t busy but I know that means that they started from scratch and made it to order.  Antique Taco deserves all their accolades. I can’t think of a better lunch in Wicker Park.

But if I want tacos for dinner, I go to Big Star:

Big Star ChicagoBecause this place is always a good time. Big Star is an established restaurant that acts like a food truck, referring to themselves as a “beer-focused, taco-slinging, late-night honky-tonk” offering a to-go window in nice weather and refusing to take credit cards.

Big Star ChicagoBut the food is the real deal because Big Star chefs go back to Old Mexico for their taco inspiration, offering pollo pibil steamed in banana leaves and carrots with mole sauce. Their tacos al pastor include pineapple, the guacamole is creamy with crispy chips and the honky tonk vibe invites groups of people to stay too long, eat too many tacos and perhaps sample a bit too much tequila. Big Star is a night all to itself.

There are a lot of great taco places in Chicago. These two are just the beginning.

Progressive Dinner on Chicago’s Randolph Street

I’m finally out of the Southwest! And in Chicago for a little less than a week, predictably crazed as I try to see all my friends and eat the entire city.

This post is a thursday throw back to 2014 during the polar vortex when the Chicago river looked like this

Chicago River polar vortex

And my friends Corey, Matt, Rob and I did a progressive dinner on Randolph Street along with Cardboard Ryan. I look insane or super excited…

Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014

The original Progressive Dinner group is Corey, Matt, Ryan and me but Ryan couldn’t make Chicago so we created a cardboard cutout o bring along with us so he wouldn’t miss anything. You want an interesting big city experience? Try bringing along a cardboard cutout as a dining companion. Photo ops for days!

I’ve written about Progressive Dinners before and described them as the perfect solution to an excess of restaurant options with a minimum of time. Why eat three courses at one place when you can eat at three places? Or five?

We’ve now had progressive dinners in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, San Francisco and Zurich. If I were a really responsible blogger I’d have written about all of them. Clearly that hasn’t happened. But over these years of eating and drinking (a lot), we’ve argued (a lot) about how Progressive Dinners actually work and last summer in Zurich we sat down and tried to hammer out Progressive Dinner rules, written very officially on the back of a coaster. The conversation went something like this…

Kaitlyn: first rule is “start early.”

Matt: Second rule is the first course has to be champagne or something sparkly.

Corey: Is there a rule about beverages? Do they have to be alcoholic?

Matt: the first one has to be sparkly.

Ryan: just because we’ve had something sparkly at the last two dinners, doesn’t mean it’s a rule.

Kaitlyn: let’s call it a trend.

Corey: Second rule, one course at each restaurant.

Matt: third rule: one course has to be tapas.

Corey: no it doesn’t, we don’t always have tapas.

Matt: but we mostly have. New Orleans, New York, Chicago…

Ryan: but we don’t have to.

Kaitlyn: Ok, tapas is a trend. Not a rule.

Ryan: Third rule: one person is in charge of each dinner. Not Matt.

Matt: What?!

Ryan: kidding! You can be in charge. As long as there’s something sparkly and some tapas.

Matt: there needs to be a photobooth so we can take pictures.

Kaitlyn: Can we start a new coaster called “Matt’s Trends?”

Ryan: Fourth rule, Matt doesn’t get to make rules.

Don’t you just want to have dinner with us as we eat all night and argue?

Basically the Progressive Dinner rules came down to these:

1. The number of restaurants in a dinner is only limited to how much you can eat in a given night.

2. Chips and salsa is a course and woe betide the dinner planner that omits this course.

3. Every dinner course has to have a drink pairing, sparkly or otherwise.

I will say that walking between restaurants is preferred since there’s so much eating and drinking and I heartily advise that you start early because everything takes longer than you think.

I planned Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014 and picked a series of restaurants on Randolph Street because it’s all very walkable and most of Chicago’s solid fantastic restaurants are centered here right now.

Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014

We started at my favorite cocktail bar in all of Chicago, Aviary

Aviary Chicago

Swanky fancy cocktails with spectacular presentation, like “In the Rocks” where the booze comes inside an ice ball. The server places a slingshot over the top of the glass, one snap of the rubber band and the ice breaks, creating drink on the rocks.

Aviary Chicago

Brilliant. Aviary gets more online chatter than any other cocktail bar in Chicago, with good reason; so I won’t go on and on here but I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Chicago. Make reservations, bring a camera and plan to hang out for awhile. It’s totally worth the time and the money.

RM Champagne Salon was stop #2

RM Champagne Salon

For oysters and sparkly drinks (just for Matt!) as well as lobster deviled eggs, which were divine. Deviled eggs are slowly sliding out of restaurant fashion – overtaken by cauliflower, me thinks – but I’ve enjoyed every creamy spicy sensational bite I’ve had across the nation this past year. Some time on a slow news day I’ll post a deviled egg retrospective. Aren’t you looking forward to that?

Anyway, RM is a cozy brick walled intimate space, perfect for romantic dates… or as course #2 with 4 people and a cardboard cutout. Wherever you might be in life.

Course #3 was supposed to be de cero but… it was closed.

I know. Progressive Dinner fail! And trust me, I’ll never hear the end of it. I neglected to photograph the outrage so you’ll just have to imagine it. Cardboard Ryan got particularly pouty…

Moving on to Course #4, Avec, another of my favorite places in the city

Avec chorizo stuffed dates

The restaurant looks like Ikea designers were cut loose in a closet and instructed to only use blond wood and straight lines, but the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates wrapped in bacon (above) are the stuff of Chicago food legend. Magic spicy sweet crispy roasted bites of heaven. My mouth literally waters as I type. I also highly recommend the whipped brandade with garlic bread, crunchy flat bread with oozy melted salty potatoes that just might change your life.

We drank a lot of wine and my friend Rob joined us

Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014

And then we progressed to course #5, Randolph Street’s piece de resistance Girl and the Goat

Girl and the Goat

Also my favorite Cardboard Ryan photo op of the evening. I’ve written about Girl and the Goat before and I took better pictures then so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice it to say that the food is still splendid, reservations are still needed and order the pig face. Really.

Post Girl and the Goat we ran into problems of time with my planned nightcap location, so instead of Maude’s we went to Lone Wolf

Lone Wolf

Where they mix really good brown liquor cocktails and offer a drink called Zombie Dust.

After Lone Wolf it had already been a long evening of drinks and hilarity so why we felt like we needed yet another nightcap is beyond me. I think it was Cardboard Ryan’s idea

Berkshire Room

But it was the Berkshire Room, conveniently situated in the bottom floor of our hotel. I guess that made a demented drunken amount of sense. Plus Cardboard Ryan never passes up a photo op with a pretty girl. I’m gonna say that one nightcap was probably enough and it was good we were already home by that point.

6 hours, 6 courses, 4 humans and 1 cardboard cutout. And so concluded Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014 on Randolph Street! Long night, great eats and some of the best company anywhere.

Matt and Cardboard Ryan

More Chicago tomorrow!



Tucson’s Best New Restaurant

The Coronet in Tucson

I don’t come to Tucson to eat rustic European cuisine at a brasserie style restaurant. It somewhat shocks me that there is such a place here, and that it’s popular, and that the food is good AND that the location and restaurant interior are so perfectly on point! But that just proves that my ideas about Tucson cuisine are badly out of date because The Coronet has worked some serious magic and created a cozy bistro that fits in perfectly right at the junction of downtown and 4th Ave.

The Coronet in Tucson

The Coronado Hotel building dates back to 1928. Chef owners Sally Kane and Gregor Kretschmann took over the restaurant space in 2013 and opened The Coronet last year. The original windows are gorgeous and the rest of the interior blends Mission tile floors, Victorian stained glass and furnishings collected from all manner of far-flung places on Craigslist. This eclectic blend of European influences inside an old adobe building brings the Spanish style of Old Tucson into the funky setting of 4th ave. and makes it all work. Sally Kane said she wanted to create a café like you would find in any major city and she’s succeeded well because The Coronet feels true to the desert spirit but the food is definitely 21st century.

The Coronet in Tucson My friend Eric and I had cocktails and we tried the sardines, the pate and the cheese plate. All the food was beautifully presented, the cocktails weren’t too sweet or too pretentious and our server was both knowledgeable and attentive, sometimes a rare combination in Tucson. Of all the food, I least loved the pate de campagne, which I expected to be mostly meat but instead had layers of vegetables and seemed more like a terrine. But that was a fault of expectations I think, and not the actual dish.

The Coronet is completely delightful. It looks good, it feels good and it tastes good. Tucson food lovers, this is the place you’ve been waiting for. I hope you get a lot more like it.

Breakfast Around Las Vegas

There isn’t much between Arizona and Elko Nevada except for Vegas. However, I really really don’t like Vegas. Too loud, too noisy, too much artificiality and distraction. Can’t handle it, even for breakfast. So, if, like me, you find yourself on a road trip through the infinite empty roadways of Nevada and you need eggs and bacon, here’s where you should go instead of Sin City.

Omelet House in Henderson

The Omelet House in Henderson Nevada isn’t much to look at outside. Or even inside, for that matter. It’s got a local Denny’s kinda feel to it with big booths, round tables and industrial carpeting. But the food is really surprisingly great

Omelet House in Henderson

And there’s so much of it you won’t know what to do with yourself. That omelet, hilariously, is called the “health nut” and I’m guessing it had 8 eggs with zucchini, mushrooms and swiss cheese. There were a lot more eggs than filling but since I could only eat half of it, I was ok with that. The potatoes were light and crispy crunchy like potato chips and the pumpkin bread was homemade and spectacular. Plus the whole shebang cost about $11, which in Nevada is about 20 seconds with a slot machine. I’d recommend the Omelet House if you have a big love for breakfast or a big family with big appetites.

World Famous Coffee Cup Cafe

Slightly further from Vegas, The Coffee Cup Cafe in Boulder City is World Famous. It says so on their T-shirts. And all those people you see in that picture are waiting for a table.  Some places are famous because of hype and TV coverage and some are famous because they serve really fantastic food and their service is top notch. Coffee Cup is both. It’s been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, their food is outstanding and their servers are cute-as-buttons college girls that handle incredibly busy shifts with smiles.

World Famous Coffee Cup Cafe

I had a basic breakfast and the bacon was thick cut and peppered, the browns were crispy and the toast was also thick cut homemade sourdough. Had I tried to get a table at 9am on a Sunday, I think I might have waited 45 minutes. But I slid in and sat at the breakfast bar and had eaten and gone in 45 minutes.

Coffee Cup deserves the hype. Go check it out. Either sit at the breakfast bar or try to get a table in the shade outside and maybe have a mimosa while you’re waiting.

So, clearly I lied because I had one more Nevada post in me. But this is it. Promise.

Tomorrow is Arizona and Route 66. See you then…

Kyoto and Kitcho: conclusion

This is my Friday story telling series and the conclusion to a story I started two weeks ago. Read Part 1 and Part 2

We could have arrived in Kyoto and been at our hotel in 10 minutes had we been able to read our map. And find the north gate of the train station. Factor in the unreadable kanji, the railway tracks on multiple levels and the station taking up 2 city blocks and it’s a miracle we found the hotel in under an hour. But we did.

We arrived around 6:25 by which point I was literally panting with impatience as I watched the minutes tick by.

And then we checked in.

One at a time.

With one desk attendant.

Filling out paperwork.

Getting our passports copied.

Each one paying for the entire bill as they checked in.

Finding money. Getting change, getting directions to our rooms, waiting for an elevator…

I ran off the elevator, found my room, opened the door, thought “’oh, it’s cute,” threw everything I was carrying on the tatami mat and hit every switch on the wall trying to make the lights turn on, to no avail.

The plan, such as there was one, was to meet in the lobby as soon as possible. That’s frighteningly unspecific and I have a habit of being late to… oh… everything… always. But I had no intention of paying this money and not eating this food. So I found my dress in the half twilight (hey, it’s twilight and I’m in Kyoto! It wasn’t pure fiction after all!), dressed in the twilight, put on makeup in the twilight, changed my shoes and ran out the door. Top to bottom, 4 minutes. Didn’t even get that longing look at the shower.

And then arrived in the lobby where I was the only one there.

People, this is why I’m late for everything! I hate showing up early and waiting around!!

Everyone sauntered in over the next 5 minutes and no one seemed to be a crazed as I felt (imagine that, if you will…). It was now 6:50 and there was not a prayer of us making this reservation on time. Fortunately, I’d had a brief moment of forethought and called the restaurant earlier in the day to ask them exactly how long they would hold our reservation before they put our collective first born on the chopping block. They said they would give us until 7:30. But it’s Japan and it’s all about manners and showing up late for a reservation seemed rude and so un-Japanese.

You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you just know how the chips are going to fall? You have that gut feeling you’ll make it or that dread feeling that you won’t? I wasn’t getting those feelings. I was right on the fence and truly felt it could go either way.

We had investigated the subway ride to the restaurant but it involved finding our way back to the train station, finding the right train and the right platform, taking the 20 minute train ride and then walking an uncatalogued number of blocks to the restaurant. My gut definitely told me that that route would lead us into the pits of despair and dawn would find us unfed and wandering the remote corners of Kyoto.

I voted for a cab.

The girl at the front desk took a long thoughtful look at the map and the restaurant location and didn’t seem to understand where it was but when finally she figured it out she said that it would be at least a 30-40 minute cab ride. And she was against it. Too long. Too far. Too expensive. You’ll never make it on time. Take the subway instead.


Well, that can’t be true.

It won’t be true.

We’ll certainly never make it on the subway so we’re taking a cab and I’m eating this dinner and that’s the end of it.

I said none of these things but instead said “arigato gozaimasu!” asked her to call the restaurant and tell them we were on our way and we went and hailed a cab. Sometimes it’s good to be an American because “can’t” isn’t in our genetic makeup.

A cab ride of which I remember nothing ended 20 minutes later when we arrived at Kitcho at 7:20 and saw a sprawling low building charmingly tucked away off the road, between the river and the mountains.

The door man met our taxis, knew exactly who we were, waved us onto the winding driveway and two beautiful, charming English-speaking Japanese girls in kimonos met our taxi at the door. They bowed to each of us as we got out of the taxi, assured us that we were in no way late or imposing on their schedule, they were simply waiting for us and the chef was waiting for us and dinner was waiting for us, and would we please take off our shoes and come right in. So we did.

East, please meet West. Awkwardness ensues.

Here’s the hard thing about being a westerner in Japan: there are so many rules.

On my best day I’m aware of about 5% of these rules, which I try really hard to follow. But when I’m in a rigidly mannered situation like this dinner, the overarching feeling that follows me all night is that the other 95% of that rule set is hovering just out of sight and perhaps there are things I should be doing but I don’t know what they are. So I tried to be polite but I didn’t know all the things the Japanese do to be polite, so I tried to relax, but that’s hard too… You get the drift. The two cute girls did everything they could to make us comfortable but it was SO uncomfortable at the outset.

The tables were low, too low for tall westerners with long legs. Just getting down to the ground on a cushion and putting my feet under the table with a long tight skirt on was a feat of some aerobics I’ve probably not managed since. After 5 minutes I discovered that sitting on the ground is uncomfortable but there wasn’t much for it so I looked around. Straight ahead of me were glass doors leading outside, slightly cracked open and showing lanterns set in the garden. The rest of the room had the traditional paper screen walls and tatami mats but with no decorations at all except for a long brightly polished table running down the center of the room and super bright lights that reflected off the table. In no way was it a place that westerners would create for relaxation and enjoyment. It was like sitting on the floor of someone’s formal dining room under a spotlight.

Drinks, please!

One of our servers came in, bowed and showed us a menu for drinks with no prices. We ordered 2 bottles of sake, which they made themselves, and the food started coming. The first course was lobster with water weeds picked out of the small stream running right by our window followed by lobster and tuna belly sashimi to die for and eel in a broth so crystal clear and highly flavored that I wanted to bathe in it.

More sake!

Gorgeous gorgeous food. Fish in sterling silver baskets on tiny individual hibachi grills, sizzling away over hard wood charcoal. Tiny little cups for condiments shaped like shells and fans, cold courses served in crystal dishes floating over ice and sheets of gold leaf, sake served in silver buckets with condensation dripping onto the polished table.

More sake!

One course was a giant platter carried by two people with a whole landscape of food. Flowers in pots nestled into tiny bridges, shrimp with teensy dabs of miso lined in rows on water lily pads, small square pots of broiled octopus, a miniscule house had a ceramic roof that came off with pieces of fried flat fish inside. It was all plated tableside by our beautiful kimono clad girls who described each dish and struggled mightily with the translation. Then they poured us more drinks.

Somewhere around the 8th course and the 6th bottle of sake we started discussing the price of the sake. Which we didn’t know. Which we hadn’t asked. I jokingly said that any restaurant that charges $100 for it’s cheapest bottle of wine, probably has expensive sake. And Gene said “If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it!!” General laughter. And then Martin said “How many bottles have we had? 6? We probably want to know how much this all costs.”

A small silence followed. And a chill.

And the fruit course, which included the most amazing grapefruit custard that I would eat for the rest of my life but didn’t really enjoy since I was all of a sudden guesstimating on the price of sake.

Finally Gene asked how much each bottle of sake cost and the smiling kimono girl bowed and said “35,000 yen.”

Brief thudding silence as everyone did sake-addled math.

And then Martin said “Well, that’s $350 apiece. I think we’re done with the sake.”

Ryan was frozen mid-sip when that number came out. He put his glass down, sighed and said “Well, I kind of figured I’d spend as much on alcohol as I did on dinner.”

Cate had her sake glass in her hand. She heard the number, took a careful sip, looked at me with big eyes and whispered “That just cost $80.”

I tried to mentally split the price of six $350 sake bottles amongst 5 people and add in dinner. I figured I should just rest at $1000 per person and I took a very deep breath.

There aren’t words to describe the next 2 minutes because everyone retreated into their own little private world of finance and I’m sure some very dark and dirty deeds were considered.

But by the next course we all rallied, because what are you going to do? You already drank it! Too late now… lesson learned for later… small chuckle, small sob, etc. etc.

We finished the meal with matcha (powdered green tea) served in 400 year old tea bowls, our lovely servers bowed and thanked us for our presence, gave us sandalwood scented bookmarks and beautiful pictures of the restaurant and then asked us how we wanted to pay.

A couple brave souls handed her credit cards, propped their faces on their hands and waited while the rest of us paid cash. When the lovely girls returned with the cash bills, a wave of shock swept through the room.

The bills were only $600 apiece!


Turned out that the sake was 3,500 a bottle. That’s $35.

She definitely said 35,000. Dear God.

Never in my life has $600 of anything seemed like such a bargain.

There was an outbreak of relieved laughter, we threw down cash in very casual manner, unwound our long American legs so we could stand stiffly, got in a cab and rode away while all the servers and the chef bowed and waved and laughed and said “Come again” and we all said “we’d love to!”

And as we turned out of the driveway, someone said “I’m still hungry. Anyone else?”

Restaurants in Silver City

Like most small towns, Silver City has a pretty consistent restaurant scene where a few rock steady restaurants thrive and new places have a hard time getting a toe hold. This visit I was pleased to see a couple new places had moved onto Bullard Street and were also thriving.

Tre Rosat Cafe

Tre Rosat Cafe was once a tiny lunch space connected to Cienega Spa. They’ve now taken over their own space downtown and they offer lunch and dinner. Their food tastes super fresh with generous portions, I had the southwest cob salad above and ate it for two different meals. I especially liked the heirloom tomatoes in the cobb salad and their creamy potato salad with green onions, bacon and blue cheese was an incredible combination that I went home and duplicated.

I have trouble describing Tre Rosat’s food vision given the wide range of ethnic influences on a menu that includes a Korean bulgogi hoagie, shrimp po boy and tempura vegetables. However, I find this kind of range in most restaurants in Silver City. I suspect it’s easier for restaurants to offer a little bit of everything rather than narrow their focus to one type of cuisine. In any case, Tre Rosat offers well cooked tasty food so I think that no matter what you order, you’ll enjoy it.

Little Toad Creek

I last visited Little Toad Creek three years ago when they opened out in the Mimbres as an Inn and Tavern. This new iteration of Little Toad is a brewery and distillery on Bullard Street in the corner space formerly occupied by Isaac’s.

Little Toad’s creative pub food menu is a bit of a conundrum. A sampling of their menu includes potato chip nachos, roasted beet hummus and a southwest reuben – above – with green chilies, plus a Chinese chicken salad, chicken and waffles and smoked salmon with cream cheese and rye toast. Where is that all going? I don’t know. They also only offer beer brewed in New Mexico and liquor brewed by their distillery. That’s both a lot of choice and a distinct lack of choice, all in the same restaurant. Very curious.

Here’s the thing: I liked the sandwich. I thought the green chilies worked surprisingly well with the sauerkraut and pastrami. I also tried the stout, which I thought was ok, and their porter, which I really liked. And I love their corner restaurant space because it’s big and roomy and cozy and popular. There’s so much possibility here that I want Little Toad to stay open! However, I look at that menu and I don’t know what’s happening. Clearly I’m not a restaurateur but  I wish upon them a food editor to create a cohesive menu with some regular pub options – like chickpea hummus and nachos with corn chips – and perhaps some creative sandwiches and entrees? A theme, that’s all I’m asking, Little Toad. Let’s see what happens the next time I’m in town.

Curious Kumquat

On the complete other side of the spectrum, Curious Kumquat is an even better restaurant than the last time I was here. The Kumquat is where I met Virginia and I’ve eaten here several times but this last visit showed a cuisine leaps and bounds more interesting than my last visit.

I eat a lot of tasting menus and most of them blur into a happy haze of good food. I love the ones that stand out because of the ingredients or the cooking techniques. The Kumquat offers a unique tasting menu unlike anything else in the Southwest because Chef Rob forages in the hills and lakes around Silver City for edible nuts, seeds and wild plants. He designs his menu around the historic Apache diet using foraged food cooked in a modern fashion and I can tell you that it’s all fascinating and full of things I’ve never eaten. That alone is saying something since I live my life eating in restaurants.

My favorite dinner moments included the cattail salad – above – served with a crisp bitter vinaigrette and the acorn flour muffin bite, which was dense, nutty and sweet. I also had incredible tender rabbit entree, slow cooked until it fell off the bone and topped with a drizzle of tart prickly pear sauce. Kumquat’s tasting menus have surprisingly large entrees so you will not go away hungry. The only misstep for the entire dinner was the dessert, but that’s a common event in tasting menus. I rarely eat a tasting menu dessert that equals or even compliments the quality of the dinner courses.

I applaud Chef Rob for the foraged food direction he’s taking the Kumquat. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere. And that’s a good thing.

New Restaurants in Tucson

Tucson street art

Tucson has a somewhat conflicted food culture. The overall vibe of the city is casual and some of its best food can be found in open air taco stands. However, there’s a growing group of Tucsonians who want to dress up and go out for dinner and cocktails. Every time I come back to town I find new upscale, urban restaurants with long wait times and unusual food choices.

Here are the four new restaurants I tried this visit:

Nook Downtown

Far and away my favorite of the four, Nook is a downtown Tucson’s newest breakfast/lunch place. With wooden tables and flooring, brick walls, padded chairs and a light open airy feel, Nook follows the latest restaurant design trend of stylish comfort. Like you’re at home but it’s way better looking.

Godfather benedict

I had the Godfather Benedict, one of Nook’s signature dishes, with arugula, prosciutto and poached eggs topped with hollandaise sauce and a balsamic reduction. Everything about this dish was perfectly on point. The proscuitto was thinly shaved and slightly fatty, the arugula had a nice peppery bite and this hollandaise might have been the best I’ve ever had. I fear thick clunky hollandaise sauces and so I rarely order benedict but this sauce was thin and creamy with a lemony kick to it. I wanted to lick the plate. Nook is Matt and Nikki Thompson’s first restaurant and I think they’ve knocked it out of the park. I hope Nook gets lots of love and attention so it’s going strong the next time I’m in town.

Oink Cafe

The unfortunately named Oink Cafe is another new breakfast place in town. That picture above pretty much says it all: bacon. Lots and lots of bacon. Pig is the trendy animal of choice in the 2000s and while it’s hard to argue with crispy fatty luscious bacon strips, I don’t know that Oink is doing anything new with the pig. The flight of bacon, above, had 8 different preparations, largely indistinguishable from each other.  I think your average breakfast diner would rate them as “good, slightly spicy, good, maybe sweet?, good, good, smoky?, good.” The rest of the food we had was also good but nothing I’d return to eat. I’d rate this place as solidly average with lots of bacon.

Jackson Tavern

Given that I just spent a week in Maine, i was amused to hear that one of Tucson’s newest restaurants serves New England style seafood. Jackson Tavern is Brian Metzger’s newest restaurant (also Poppy Kitchen and Gio Taco). The polished wood tables and open design of the restaurant bring a casual neighborhood feel to the dining room and the U-shaped bar in the next room definitely looks like the northeast. Of course there are pictures of lighthouses, since I can’t get away from them even in the desert. Design aside, I think the seafood concept is such an unusual choice for the southwest. Who comes to the desert looking for clam strips? But I think this restaurant is a perfect example of the growing food culture in Tucson and underlines the desire to move beyond all the usual food options in town.


I had the clam strips, which were surprisingly tender albeit with quite a lot of breading. We also had deviled eggs that were ok and my friend Chris had the mac and cheese, which he said was really delicious. I think Jackson Tavern is a unique offering for Tucson. It might be a hard sell in a place so far from water but for people who want good seafood in the desert, they won’t be disappointed here.

Reforma Cocina y Cantina

Reforma Cocina y Cantina is going to do really well in Tucson because the St Phillips Plaza area is known for good dining, these owners also run the very popular Union Public House next door and the restaurant itself is lovely. Designed like a Spanish style adobe hacienda with white lights outside and a dazzling full wall display of agave spirits inside, this is exactly the kind of location the Tucson dinner crowd wants.

I wish the food were better. The best things we had were side dishes: the arroz oaxaqueno with poblano chilies and queso fresco was flavorful, spicy and delicious and the esquites, charred corn with chipotle lime crema, tasted exactly like the grilled street corn slathered with crema and cotija sold in Mexico. However, my shrimp tacos had overcooked shrimp and a lack of flavor – though the hand made tortillas were good – and the chili en nogada with poblano chili and vegetarian chorizo had way too much dried fruit and the strangest mealy consistency. Even the tortilla chips in the picture above were slightly tough and the salsa lacked salt and heat. Given Tucson’s well deserved reputation for excellent authentic Mexican food, Reforma’s food was disappointing.

However, like I said, the food isn’t the point here. We had a hard time getting a reservation on a Saturday night so it’s certainly popular and the restaurant has a nice vibe and it’s beautiful.

I’m happy to see another excellent breakfast restaurant in Tucson just as I’m happy to see Tucson’s food culture grow.  I hope that the burgeoning interest in dining out will actually develop Tucson’s food scene into a place where the beautiful restaurant spaces have food equal to the surroundings.