Panama… more than just a canal.

Panama. Before travelling to Panama the only thing I really knew about the country was that there was a famous canal there. I will even admit that prior to visiting the Panama Canal I didn’t really know anything about it either. But what an incredible country. We spent a week in Panama, but this post will focus on one adventure in particular: El Valle De Anton.

I don’t consider myself a particularly avid hiker, but I do fancy a day walking through the wilderness every once in awhile, and when I’m in a foreign place I’m always down. We didn’t make a lot of plans prior to getting on the plane to Central America, but I did know that I wanted to hike in the Rain Forest. We got one day in El Valle De Anton, and it was incredible.

Located inland, the valley is an inactive volcanic crater and is surrounded by dense Rain Forest; which is where our hiking adventure begins. We had a guide to help us navigate through the forest – this  is not required, but we chose to bring a local along as not to get lost. It was a grueling hike to the peak – but it was well worth it. The upward path was filled with waterfalls, thousand year old stone etchings, and dense, damp, green jungle.
As we made it to the top, the forest opened up into vast hills with views of the valley below. And then…all of a sudden — MIST. It happened so fast that it was had to believe. The valley below disappeared into a thick fog and less then 10 seconds later rain began to pour from the sky. It was one of the most beautiful and happiest moments of my life thus far. Truly incredible. The rain began to turn into a downpour and our guide suggested making our way down as it was only going to get worse.
I had thought the walk upward was difficult – I was not prepared for the slippery waterfall awaiting us on the way down . As we made the descent along the same path we had ascended it turned into a river before our eyes. My first thought was that our journey down was going to be dangerous, but storms in the Rain Forest can last for hours, so it was the only option. We cautiously found our footing and made it down the mountain to the town. I slipped a few times – only once all the way on my ass. It was slow going, and the path that was clear on the way up had rushing water halfway up our calves on the way down. By the time we reached the town we were soaked to the bone and exhausted. I loved every second.
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East Coast Food.

2013.

I’ve traveled to the East Coast on various occasions – each one filled with a lot of fun and food – but in 2013 I experienced one of my most memorable trips. Accompanied by my 3 roommates I traveled from Flagstaff, AZ to Boston, MA and over the course of 5 days we did Boston, NYC, Saratoga, New Haven, and Martha’s Vineyard. It was an exhausting whirlwind and so worth it.

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The Green Dragon – Boston, MA

*In 2013 I was still a full blown omnivore and although I was aware of my allergy to wheat I was still willing to suffer for good food.*


Boston, MA

Boston is one of those places that every time I visit I can 100% see myself living there. The food scene alone is enough to make me want to become a Bostonian and not to mention when you live in the cluster that is the New England area you’re never far from anywhere else (NYC, Vermont, Maryland.. even Canada).

Mike’s Pastry – Home of the Cannoli. If you’re walking around Boston it’s not difficult to figure out that Mike’s Pastry is the place to visit – locals and tourists alike are carrying their signature white and blue pastry boxes all over the city. Inside it’s exactly what you would imagine for a popular New England bakery – loud and fast. There are multiple lines, numbers, and you can tell that the employees are no-bullshit (with a smile). You better know what you want before you get to the counter because you do not want to be the person holding up that well-oiled machine. Home of the Cannoli indeed.

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Mike’s Pastry – Boston, MA

Regina Pizzeria. That’s one thing about good East Coast eateries – lines lines lines. Every place is well worth it though – why else would people line up around the street? There are now many locations all over the city, but the original Regina Pizzeria (since 1926) is in Boston’s North End on Thacher St. — Once inside it really just feels like any other local sports bar with pitchers of beer and crankin’ out the pizzas. One good indicator of the amount of tables this place goes through is the fact that they use paper plates – no time for washing dishes. For delicious, local, brick-oven pizza – Regina Pizzeria is the place.

Chinatown Boston, MA. I don’t know about everyone else – but when I’m traveling and there is a Chinatown located in one of the cities I like to venture that direction because I know I’ll find some good eats. Boston was no different. Boston Chinatown is one of the largest and well known in the U.S. — it has a great location in the heart of the city, so it’s easy to get to and easy to get to where you’re going next. Restaurants, bakeries and shops line the colorful streets.

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Chinatown – Boston, MA

James Hook & Co. You can’t visit Boston without enjoying a Lobster Roll. I’ve sampled Lobster Rolls on the East and West coast.. and sorry, home – but they’ve definitely got us beat. There’s just  nothing like the traditional New England ‘lobstah’ roll. Located on the water’s edge it feels right walking into James Hook & Co’s tiny building and sampling fresh seafood. Do yourself a favor and order the classic lobster roll and you won’t be disappointed with the mountains of lobster meat between 2 buttery sides of toasted bun.

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James Hook & Co – Boston, MA

Connecticut

There’s quite a lot to see and do in Connecticut, but I’ll focus on New Haven (home of Yale University) and Norwalk. As a side note, I’d like to point out that Yale is the closest thing to Hogwarts I’ve ever experienced (besides The Wizarding World of Harry Potter of course).

Memo’s Colombian Restaurant & Bakery in Norwalk, CT is an experience to say the least. It’s an incredibly unassuming establishment that had I not been accompanied by a Colombian from Connecticut I’d never have even known it was there. Having never eaten Colombian food before and with no idea what to expect we decided on the follwing — order one of almost everything on the menu and multiple bakery items. I mean… I had 3 strapping young men with me to assist in consuming these heaps of food. Try as we might we couldn’t finish everything, but it was delicious, heavy, meat-forward food that made you want to nap for the entire rest of the day. Just plain good ol’, home-cooked food.

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana – New Haven, CT. We walked all over New Haven exploring the campus of Yale University, a local farmer’s market, and then through some shady neighborhood streets and across train tracks to get to Frank Pepe Pizzeria. A little history is necessary with this classic Napoletana style pizza joint. New Haven, CT is considered one of the best pizza cities in the nation – but often overlooked due to it’s small town status. Frank Pepe’s was started in the early 1900’s by one of the many immigrant families from Napoli, Italy and immediately established itself as the number one pizza place in the area. A bit unique in it’s style their pizza is coal fired, thin crust, and popular toppings include white sauce, clams, tangy tomato sauces and sometimes cheese. There is a notorious rivalry between Frank Pepe and Sally’s Apizza – so don’t hesitate to check them both out and make your own decision.

Lines. Lines. Lines.

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Frank Pepe Pizzeria- New Haven, CT
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Frank Pepe Pizzeria- New Haven, CT

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White Clam Pizza

New York, New York.

I am always down to visit New York City. It’s everything you would ever imagine based on the countless TV shows, movies, and stories you hear about the city that never sleeps. You could live there your entire life and never experience all of the culinary wonders awaiting around every corner – but every time I visit I’m drawn to two places time and again – Chinatown and Little Italy. There are Michelin star restaurants, hole in the wall pizza joints, and delicious delis lining every street of this grand city, but my heart (and stomach) wants what it wants.

Chinatown – NYC. 

One word: Noodles. If you like dumplings, whole cooked ducks on display in the window, and lemon chicken (yes lemon.. not f***ing orange) – then Chinatown NYC is for you. I myself search out dem noodles. It’s difficult to go wrong in choosing a place to eat – I’m sure they’re all amazing. I was on the search for my favorite NYC Chinatown place – ‘Happy Lucky’ but on the way we ran into a women on the street that said – “Do you like noodles? This place has the best noodles.” How did she know!? So I said “Sorry, guys, I know I was raving about Happy Lucky but we’re going here instead”.

Best. Decision. Ever.

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Little Italy – NYC. Little Italy and Chinatown are located conveniently adjacent to each other in NYC making it very easy to have two full meals one right after the other — because obviously. Go anywhere in Little Italy for a good slice of pizza, amazing pasta, and delicious cannoli. I’m not even joking – there are old Italian men, dressed to the nines, sitting on chairs outside of their restaurants, and grandmas yelling in Italian at each other out of apartment windows across the busy streets below… it’s surreal.

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Little Italy – NYC

Many more adventures than this were had by me and my compatriots throughout this New England trip, but I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of the best food I’ve ever had.

And cheers to the best housemates I’ve ever had also.

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Saratoga Race Track – Saratoga Springs, NY

Mike’s Pastry – 300 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113

Regina Pizzeria– 11 1/2 Thacher St, Boston, MA 02113

Boston Chinatown

James Hook & Co– 15-17 Northern Ave, Boston, MA 02110

Memo’s Restaurant and Bakery – 60 S Main St, Norwalk, CT 06854

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana – 157 Wooster St, New Haven, CT 06511

Chinatown NYC

Little Italy NYC


My First Michelin Star Experience

As a soccer player, I wanted an FA Cup winner’s medal. As an actor you want an Oscar. As a chef it’s three-Michelin’s stars, there’s no greater than that. So pushing yourself to the extreme creates a lot of pressure and a lot of excitement, and more importantly, it shows on the plate.       – Gordon Ramsey

For a foodie like me I can’t believe it has taken me this long to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant. What better place to start than Napa, California.

I will say the difficulty I have imagining eating at many of my dream restaurants is this — how can I experience them correctly as a gluten-free, vegetarian eater? Most of my list – The French Laundry, Alinea, Noma, etc. – these are made up of tasting menus. The chef makes meals according to his whims and what’s fresh and local. Ironically this is what I love most about the world of culinary adventure – so why am I so scared? Because here are my choices:

1. Eat food that will potentially make me sick and go against what I know makes my soul and my tummy most happy.

2. (And to me even worse than potential tummy troubles) Step on the creative process that is the reason I’m drawn to this world in the first place.


Back to La Toque. I chose this restaurant after doing a little research. Napa has 7 Michelin starred restaurants, but La Toque offers a Vegetable Tasting Menu and when I called to ask about gluten-free the chef confirmed he could accommodate my request. I was over the moon.

Let’s get right to it. The atmosphere was fine – elegant and somehow also laid back – perfect for Napa. But most important is the food, so I’ll dive right into that.

La Toque

Vegetable Tasting Menu

*gluten free version

Amuse Bouche

I’m not going to include a description on this one. Just know each of the 4 bites was small, evocative, and thoughtful.

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First Course

Sunchoke mousse. Sous Vide onions. Nuts. Chives. 

That’s right: sunchoke mousse. It was incredibly light and airy – the sunchoke flavor subtle and not overpowering. The onions and nuts added the perfect texture to the pillow of sunchoke. Great start.

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Second Course

Grilled Melon. Grilled Avocado. Shiso Oil.

The first thing to strike me about this dish: the vibrant green of the shiso oil. Shiso, also known as Chinese basil, is a a wild herb in the mint family. I was skeptical about this one due to its uniqueness, but it ended up being in my top 3 dishes of the evening. The grilled melon and avocado were both texturally and flavorfully pleasing. The flavor of the shiso oil was delicate and complimenting. A+ for presentation and taste.

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Third Course

Fried Green Tomato. Creamed Corn. Green Tomato Relish. Flowers. 

Beautiful dish. Very aesthetically pleasing. This was not my favorite — this has more to do with the fact that I don’t really enjoy tomatoes not anything negative about the food. I understood the flavors and textures; they’re just not for me.

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Fourth Course

Squash. Onion. Brussel Sprouts. Mushrooms. Green Apples. Deglazed in sherry vinegar.

This. This was my favorite course – also the simplest one of the evening. The earthiness of the mushrooms and brussel sprouts, sweetness of the squash and onion, tartness of the apple, slight bite of the vinegar and caramelization on every piece — amazing. Each vegetable was cooked precisely to create the perfect texture. It was fantastic. Enjoying it on the cusp of fall didn’t hurt either.

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Fifth Course

Potatoes. Beech mushrooms. Mascarpone sauce. Crispy leeks.

*original course meant to have mushroom ravioli – substituted for potatoes to accommodate gluten allergy
This was just yummy. The potatoes were soft, the mushrooms perfect and hidden throughout like little gems on a treasure hunt. The sauce was tart from the mascarpone and wine, which cut through the heavy potatoes. The leeks added a nice crunch.
By this point I was getting very full, so I didn’t eat all of the potatoes.
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Dessert Course
Winter truffle ice cream over baby peaches.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one…truffle ice cream? I was pleasantly surprised. Simply delicious. I was full and planned to just try the dessert course – instead I cleaned the plate.
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I’d also like to highlight the service at La Toque. Although it is to be expected at a restaurant of this caliber, the staff was exceptional. Thank you to Chef Ken Frank and team for a beautiful evening and culinary adventure.


La Toque – 1314 McKinstry St, Napa, CA 94559

Portland.

Less than three days. That’s all the time I spent in Portland. Flying home to California I somehow feel like I’m leaving my home; it’s a crazy sensation. I’m not done with you, Portland, but goodbye for now.

I made the most of my time to say the least. This trip came on the tail end of a partnered adventure with my friend Bridget – we crammed Napa and Portland into 5 days (keep an eye out for my wine country post – coming soon).

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Bridget and Lizzy

The moment I stepped off the MAX light rail and onto the streets of downtown Portland I felt at home. The culture, the climate, the people… it’s me.

*public transit in Portland is fantastic

The city is also very walk-able. We basically only walked or utilized the MAX to get around.


Day 1 (evening only):

First things first: FOOD. Bridget and I had the same thought after landing at PDX – where are we going to eat. After dropping our stuff at the beautiful new AC by Marriott downtown we picked a pizza place and made the 2 mile trek across the river. Well worth the walk. I’ll be doing a dedicated post on the food scene in Portland, but this pizza deserves a highlight here. It was insanely delicious, had great atmosphere, and fantastic service.

Virtuous Pie – vegan and gluten free
Top ‘Curry Mile’ – Bottom ‘Stranger Wings’ 
Banana & Coconut w/ activated charcoal

I looked up every live music act I could find happening that first night and landed on a 3 band show in SE Portland at a local joint called Bunk Bar. The bands were Castles, Naked Walrus, and Grey Fiction. The venue was intimate and the crowd even more so. I don’t think there were more than 15 patrons at one time throughout the entire evening. Which is surprising because every band was AWESOME.

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Bunk Bar – SE Portland

After the show we had a few drinks and vegan tacos at Conquistador Lounge.


Day 2: Full Day

SE Portland is fantastic for exploration. It has blocks full of vintage shops, record stores, tiny local food joints, tattoo parlors… and they’re all nestled in between neighborhoods. We spent a good half of our day here exploring and practicing the art of will power by not purchasing every single thing we saw.

Hawthorne District
The Sweet Hereafter
Noun 
*We can’t have will power all the time. I bought the eff out of these books.

Portland Art Museum is $5 after 5pm on Fridays… so that was a must. They had a few of Monet’s paintings and a really great contemporary art exhibit.

Deschutes Brewery is a given when in Portland… and they even had gluten free beer on tap for me which was a pleasant surprise. I also hear good things about their food menu (straight from the mouth of one Mr. Brent Shirley).


Day 3: Half Day

This was my solo day in Portland. And it was magical. I missed my travel companion, but I also really got to feel the pulse of the city as I explored it on my own.

Saturday morning Farmers Market at Portland State University 
Verde Cocina
Hoyt Arobretum

After exploring Washington Park I headed back into the city and then to the airport (another $2 ride on the MAX). My heart fairly heavy, but I was excited to get back to Jack and to my own bed.

THANK YOU, PORTLAND.


Bonus: I had the best Pho of my life at the Portland airport. Bambuza Vietnam Kitchen… not your expected airport food. But then again, if my short trip was any indication, Portland isn’t really your expected kind of place.


Food and Drink

Virtuous Pie –  1126 SE Division St #200, Portland, OR 97202

Virtuous Pie is an elevated fast-casual restaurant, focused on handcrafted pizza and ice-cream, made 100% from plants.

Bunk Bar – 1028 SE Water Ave, Portland, OR 97214

The Sweet Hereafter – 3326 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97214

Hip, bustling bar with a vegan menu, cocktails served in mason jars & a sprawling covered patio.

40 lbs Coffee – 824 SW 2nd Ave, Portland, OR 97204

Conquistador Lounge – 2045 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97214

Tasty n Alder – 580 SW 12th Ave, Portland, OR 97205 

*although described as a Steakhouse – we enjoyed a delicious vegetarian and gluten-free meal at Tasty n Alder

Deschutes Brewery – 210 NW 11th Ave, Portland, OR 97209

Portland Farmers Market – Portland State University: 1717 SW Park Avenue

Farmers and artisan food producers fill 140 stall spaces with the bounty of our region.

Verde Cocina – Enjoyed at the Portland Farmers Market – multiple locations available

Bambuza Vietnam Kitchen – Enjoyed at Portland International Airport – multiple locations available

Entertainment

Bunk Bar – 1028 SE Water Ave, Portland, OR 97214

Hawthorne District – A few blocks of Hawthorne Blvd is SE Portland

Portland Art Museum – 1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205

Washington Park – 4001 Southwest Canyon Road, Portland, OR 97221

It includes the Zoo, Forestry Museum, Hoyt Arboretum, Portland Children’s museum, Rose Garden, Japanese garden, amphitheater, memorials, archery range, tennis courts, soccer field, picnic areas, playgrounds, public art and many acres of wild forest with miles of trails.

*There is a stop on the MAX for Washington Park and a free shuttle to the various attractions

Portland Farmers Market – Portland State University: 1717 SW Park Avenue

Accommodations

AC Hotel Portland Downtown – 888 SW 3rd Ave, Portland, OR 97204

*This is an amazing hotel located in the heart of Portland’s downtown area. It was less than 1 block from the nearest MAX stop, less than 1 block from 40 lbs coffee, and everything you could want is within walking distance. The decor is modern and heavily influenced by Portland’s hipster vibe while still holding true to Marriott’s expected service and amenities. For leisure or business – this is a MUST stay. Property includes a coffee shop, bar/lounge, kitchen business center, spacious lobby, fitness center, local art, and a small library. Also, it is pet friendly.

Transportation

Portland International Airport – 7000 NE Airport Way, Portland, OR 97218

Portland International Airport, the airport has been named the number one best domestic airport in the United States by Travel and Leisure for the fifth year in a row.

Tri Met and The MAX – Transportation from the airport and all around the city.

Experience.

Experience is a word that I would use to describe the purpose of this blog. I am all about it – both in the way I live my life and the way I like to affect the lives of others. I’ve always been an adventurous person – the word impulsive has been thrown around a time or two. In my adult life I’ve found the opportunity (or rather made the opportunity) to take my experiences to new levels.

In this blog I will focus on my favorite expressions of the word: travel, food, and music.

TRAVEL: I currently reside in sunny San Diego, California. My travel posts will include international adventures, exploring at home in the US, and some right in my own backyard.

Monkey attack – Phuket Thailand

FOOD: I am a foodie. Vegetarian by choice and gluten-free by nature. I’ll be posting about restaurant experiences and at-home culinary adventures. As in my life, food will more than likely dominate my blog.

Virtuous Pie – vegan pizza – Portland, OR

MUSIC: My music posts will be a little more random. There are some singular songs I could probably write an entire post about, and of course live musical experiences.

Jason Mraz – Mraz Farms – Oceanside, CA

So I hope you’re quite ready for another adventure…because I know I am.