Best Eats of 2016

Although I had no idea when I published Eating Through 2015, the meal I described in my last paragraph set the course for a wild and wonderful gastronomical journey through 2016:

…I kicked off 2016 with an extremely memorable meal at Prato, thanks to a certain sous chef’s generosity and desire to treat our party with his favorite dishes – such as bone marrow crostinis, sea urchin bites, and snapper collar swimming in a shallow pool of warm pancetta vinaigrette. Who knew charred cabbage and kohlrabi could be so delicious? I don’t even know what kolhrabi is, but it was a savory part of my most memorable meal of 2016 – to date!

I realize that we are well into 2017 and that this post may seem extremely ill timed. However, with a baby on the way and the impending doom to my childless dining days, I want to fondly remember all of the fantastic culinary experiences during my travels of the previous calendar year. So, indulge me while I recount my most memorable eats of 2016 and add these fantastic European eateries to your own Travel Bucket List.

Justin worked in Paris a fair amount in the beginning of 2016. Naturally, I just had to meet him there for a wintry weekend in the City of Lights and Love. With some successful research and a bit of luck, we landed reservations at two excellent restaurants in Paris that I totally recommend you try, too!

Le Chateaubriand in Paris
When Basque chef Iñaki Aizpitarte opened Le Chateaubriand in 2006, he attracted much attention for spearheading the neo-bistro movement in Paris, as explained in this Wall Street Journal article. At Le Chateaubriand, Aizpitarte makes high-end and creative cuisine accessible with an air of casual humility – he just wants good food to be enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere, which is presented through his multi-course tasting menu. (There actually is no menu. It’s chef’s choice every day!)

Justin and I thoroughly enjoyed the series of small plates, each bursting with flavor, which appeared on our table throughout the course of the night. The amuse-bouche of mini-rolls tasted like the offspring of a cheese straw and croissant roll (we called them cheese star pillows), and the spicy shot of tender white fish ceviche sufficiently whet our appetites. I was completely charmed by the tempura fried itsy-bitsy-baby shrimp sprinkled with a passion fruit dust, the most exotic flavor of Fun Dip ever. Justin wanted to lick his plate after devouring the perfectly seared scallops in a red wine sauce. And we landed in dessert heaven – first with a presentation of pumpkin gelato and second with their signature dessert, a caramelized egg yolk dropped onto an almond cloud.

Undoubtedly, Paris has hundreds of phenomenal restaurants all across the city. But after a meal like that, I will always be willing to return to Le Chateaubriand!

Semilla in Paris
We enjoyed another stand out meal in Paris at the sleek and chic restaurant, Semilla, in the St. Germain quarter of the 6th Arrondissement. With an open kitchen and the hustle and bustle of a Saturday night, this restaurant was notable for its swirl of activity and the giant chateaubriand steak we ordered – partly in honor of the restaurant we ate at the night before and partly due to the fact that a good steak in Switzerland is exorbitantly expensive. Before the juicy hunk of beef appeared, we gobbled up a delicate foie gras appetizer and washed our shared meal of bliss down with a French red. Then, we concluded our Parisian eats with a decadent dessert. Seriously… how can you not fall in love when eating this well in Paris?

Before some dear friends in Zurich moved back to the USA late last year, we road tripped together to the Champagne Region of France to indulge in the world of bubbly. With birthdays to celebrate and fond farewells to toast, we also sought out rich dining experiences in Reims, which are completely worth writing home about.

Le Jardin Les Crayères in Reims
As described in the online MICHELIN Guide, Le Jardin “is a smart, very contemporary and elegant brasserie with its own veranda and terrace just opposite the herb garden” of the Château les Crayères, whose main restaurant sports two Michelin stars. Although the atmosphere at Le Jardin is certainly less formal than that of its “big sister,” a meal at the brasserie is sure to be just as memorable. With a menu dedicated to “flavoursome seasonal cooking” and a significant selection of champagnes, it was hard to choose just what to order. However, the sea bream filet on leaks in a champagne sauce and the roasted quail with mustard greens were both excellent and did not disappoint. If you are looking for a great dinner in Reims, I cannot recommend this restaurant enough!

Le Millénaire in Reims
This one-starred Michelin restaurant in the center of Reims was an elegant place to celebrate Justin’s birthday. Of course, we chose to dine in style by choosing Le Menu, a progression of delicate bites that began with assorted amuse-bouche and ended with divine desserts. Overall, it was a magical evening of rich flavors and beautiful presentations that were made even better with great company.

When it comes to Spanish tapas, the range in quality and creativity is as vast in scope as Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia is seemingly unending in construction. My job as a Trip Leader with Global Works Travel afforded me significant time in the Catalonian capital in 2016 (including extra days to enjoy the city with friends and family), resulting in the discovery of three great eateries that brought a fresh perspective to my beloved Spanish cuisine.

Tucked away in Barrio El Raval, Robadora is a hip restaurant the delivers tapas with a modern twist. From its cool and quirky décor to its tasty renditions of classic Spanish dishes, this trendy establishment was the perfect place to share a meal with friends. I would gladly order these delicious menu items again: La Croqueta de Leopoldo, a bangin’ ball of flavor; Patatas bravas con un toque asiático, a saucy take on a common dish; Dados de salmón curados y pimenta pink, melt-in-your-mouth bites of salmony goodness; Steak tartar de ternera de Gerona a la francesa, a delectable main course; Costillar “Duroc” lacado con patata frita trufada, a succulent set of ribs on a bed of stringy truffle fries.

Bar Clemens in La Boqueria
Located off Las Ramblas, La Boqueria is Barcelona’s most famous food market, where fishmongers, butchers, farmers, and spicers show off their wares in eye-catching displays. And while I would not eat at La Boqueria normally (due to higher prices and higher traffic than other markets), I had a surprisingly great meal at Bar Clemens when visiting with my student tour group. The teachers and I shared a lunch of classic, top-quality tapas: Navajas, gambas al ajillo, verduras a la plancha, patatas bravas, sepia frita, and Butifarra (Catalan sausage) with pimientos de padrón, y pan. Everything was straightforward Spanish cuisine, but it was all done right… and that’s really all you can ask for.

Bodega 1900
Ferran and Albert Adrià of the legendary El Bulli are growing a microcosm of top-rated, Michelin-starred restaurants within a few blocks from the Plaza de España. Since reservations at Tickets, the capital of the Adrià Brothers’ gastronomical empire, were unavailable, the Orlando Domecks and I managed to pull up three stools to a barrel tabletop on the patio at Bodega 1900.

Bodega 1900 is a vermouth bar and specializes in the simple flavors of Spain, such as cured meats and cheeses. We sampled an assortment of tapas, such as navajas, pulpo, Sliced lomo and Manchego cheese – all familiar dishes set to the highest standards of quality. The presentation of these mainstays can be as atypical as the price tag; Bodega 1900 had a reputation to live up to, and it has the prices to match!

Just remember: no visit to Catalonia is complete without a glass of cava or two. Salud!

As a way to add epic adventures to bringing #BasiltheKooiker home from her birthplace in Norway, the Orlando Domecks joined Justin and me on a journey through Scandinavia in the summer. We focused on the capital cities of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark to get a taste of the home of the Vikings… and we all couldn’t rave more about the savory spoils of our trip.

Coffee, Cinnamon Buns, and the Art of Fika
While fika is a Swedish word, it can also represent the standards and ideals behind the Nordic coffee culture. While I’ve already recommended my favorite places to fika in Stockholm in this blog post, I have to mention that Tim Windelboe in Oslo and The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen are both travel-worthy establishments for the coffee enthusiasts.

Nytorget 6 in Stockholm, Sweden
An evening at Nytorget 6, located in the Katarina-Sofia district on the island of Södermalm, was a standout experience to my first visit to Stockholm. So much so, in fact, that we returned for lunch during our 6-hour stopover on our Baltic Sea Cruise this year! Nytorget 6 is a chic neighborhood restaurant and bar with a mind-blowing menu and drool-worthy food. From the smattering of scrumptious small plates we ordered for dinner, I can say with full confidence that you’d also swoon over these dishes: Soft shell crab with spicy papaya salad, Reindeer heart with Lincoln berries and horseradish, Mini Tuna tacos, Sweedish fish on bread with caviar, Fried rooster wings, and, of course, Swedish meatballs.

Mathallen in Oslo, Norway
One of my favorite meals of 2016 was a mouthwatering meal of king crab from the Vulkanfisk Seafoodbar at the Mathallen, Oslo’s trendy food market. As I shared in this post, I also tried whale for the first time. Furthermore, I got an education about wild Norwegian salmon, learning that you can only get truly fresh salmon from June to August. After the lesson from Simon at the Vulkanfisk counter, we bought a healthy portion of the best salmon I’ve ever tasted in my entire life and savored it over a glass of wine at our Airbnb that night.

Relæ, Manfred’s, Bæst, and Mirabelle in Copenhagen, Denmark
My experience in Copenhagen was almost exclusively focused on the culinary world created by Christian Puglisi. Check out my post Copenhagen à la Chef Christian Puglisi for a complete exposition of my exposure to the creations of a top chef of Denmark, and you’ll understand why these four establishments are unquestionably on the list of Best Eats of 2016!

Before sailing along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, Justin and I first got a taste of the Adriatic Sea from land. Croatia has scores of romantic restaurants where diners can watch the sun set over the deep blue waters. As a result, we enjoyed several scenic meals during our time in this beautiful country.

Restaurant Bruschetta in Zadar
While we enjoyed many a seafood dish in Croatia, one of the most memorable was a sumptuous platter of fried calamari, prawns, and whole fish at a classy restaurant on the Old Town peninsula of Zadar. With sunset views and a glass of local wine, Restaurant Bruschetta proved a great way to end a day that actually began with an adventure through Plitvice Lakes.

Nautika in Dubrovnik
In a celebratory fashion, we commemorated our 6-year wedding anniversary with a dinner at Nautika, which claims to be “Dubrovnik’s finest restaurant.” With the Old City Walls glowing across the plaza and the sound of the sea lapping against the rocky shore below the terrace, it’s no wonder that Condé Nast Traveller labeled Nautika the “sixth most romantic restaurant in the world.” The service was impeccable and the food was exquisite. From Adriatic scallops and shaved chili strings over mashed leaks to perfectly grilled sea bass and succulent lobster tail over homemade pasta, every dish at Nautika highlighted Croatia’s natural resources. If you are looking for a fine dining experience in Dubrovnik, look no further than Nautika.

Justin and I spent a week in Tuscany with my parents in the early fall. Of course, it wasn’t hard to find great food in the land of vino, pizza, pasta, and those fresh, simple flavors of Italy. Yet, on that particular trip, two epicurean experiences stood out among all the rest.

Acqua al 2 in Florence
With its cheery and compact interior, Acqua al 2 is a memorable little restaurant in the heart of Florence. So memorable, in fact, that neither my mom nor I have forgotten it since our first meal there 10 years ago. Acqua al 2 is famous for its “Assagio” of salads and pastas – a delightful sampling of the chef’s choice for the day – and for its steaks, particularly the blueberry steak. Yes, blueberry steak does sound strange (and doesn’t look particularly appetizing), but trust me: it’s one you won’t forget!

Osteria del Caffè Casolani in Casole d’Elsa
Casole d’Elsa is a small, medieval village perched on a hilltop amidst the rolling hills of Tuscany west of Siena. While staying at the nearby Terre di Casole Hotel, we supped at the Caffè Casolani one evening, dining family style and inhaling whatever the server brought to our wooden-benched-table. From fresh salads to tender chicken, each dish was simple in concept and made for an authentic and memorable Tuscan meal, especially when paired with a local wine from Casolani’s enoteca.

Not all of my “memorable meals” of 2016 involved food. In fact, many of my favorite travel moments revolved around the world of beer and wine – two beverage types that I’ve sorely missed out on in 2017!

Après Ski in St. Anton, Austria
After shredding down the slopes in Austria’s Arlberg region last winter, our ski posse enjoyed an afternoon of revelry at the Mooserwirt, one of the most famous après ski establishments just above St. Anton. Jamming to American hits and traditional Tyrolian tunes with hundreds of others decked out in their ski gear (or cow costumes) while raising a glass of Weissbier is not an experience I’ll forget anytime soon! How we managed to ski down the final slope after dark, on the other hand, may remain a mystery for all time…

Impressed by the Craft Brews in Sicily
I collaborated with a fledging company called Clear Sicily in the first half of 2016, which took me back to the Italian island. One of the most surprising experiences of that week was a visit to Birra Tarì in Modica. This local brewery faces many challenges with introducing the craft beer culture to a country that’s been steeped in wine for millennia, and they are producing award-winning beers that I hope will rise to international acclaim in the years to come. Their dedication to flavorful brews in the face of adversity made a bold impression, just like their golden beverages.

Touring Tuscany’s Wine Region
While traipsing through Tuscany with my parents, we focused on exploring the Chianti region – a land of rolling hills, medieval castles, and fine wines. I believe the local scenery makes the wine taste that much better, and with views like this, how can you not agree?!?

Savoring Champagne in France
From a private tour at the champagne house of Veuve Clicquot to a guided walk through the vineyards of Trigny, I learned so much about champagne, its history, and the many details that set it apart from other sparkling wines. (Needless to say, THAT post is also long overdue!) This trip opened my eyes to the diversity of flavors among champagne vintages, and it completely turned me on to the liquid gold of wine… only a few months before I found out I was pregnant! #talkabouttiming

Sipping on Swiss Wine in the Lavaux Vineyards
One of Switzerland’s best kept secrets is that it is a wine producing country. However, I think the Swiss like it that way, as they only export a small fraction of their wines. One of the best places to sample Swiss wine is in the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, a 30km stretch along the northern rim of Lake Geneva in Canton Vaud. We spent a sunny afternoon here with dear friends that couldn’t have been a better setting for our conversations and peaceful contentedness.

Apparently, 2016 was the year for great eats and fun drinks for the Swiss Family Domecks. Let me be clear: I don’t write this post to boast about all our traveling experiences. Rather, my sincerest hope is that when you make it to any of these destinations, you can rely on these recommendations or be inspired to seek out your own Best Eats of the year. So, with a grateful heart, I also wish you many a memorable meal in all the years to come – Cheers!

Hey there, fellow foodies! When you travel, are you as determined to find good eats like I am? Do you have some dining recommendations to share?

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