I’ve spent the last 2 1/2 years eating my way through Europe.
From fish and chips to gourmet meals, currywurst from a street cart in Berlin to fine dining with white linen – I’ve eaten it all. It’s part of my theory of exploring a new place – to explore its flavors, its hospitality, its creativity with cuisine.
1. Vinaiolo. Munich, Germany: Sometimes, German food can get a little heavy. I like dumplings, and weinerschnitzel just as much as the next girl, but one snowy Sunday in Munich, I got a recommendation to check out the Italian restaurant Vinaiolo. The snow had turned to heavy rain as we approached the warm, welcoming door of the restaurant. We were greeted in Italian, German, and English as our coats were whisked away into a back closet.
A casual ambiance was achieved with the glass case full of wine bottles and other Italian trinkets, but the white-linen and well-dressed servers kept the restaurant upscale. With the rain encouraging us to get comfortable, we opted for a five-course tasting menu that blew me away. Traditional Italian ingredients were reinvented in fresh ways, each dish looked beautiful on the plate, and from my table I could glance into the kitchen to see Marco whipping up his creations. Every once in a while a night out to eat becomes a memorable dining experience – every touch at Vinaiolo was engrained in my memory as authentic, personal, and nourishing.
2. Dax. Dublin, Ireland: Some readers may not believe how great the dining is in Dublin. From Peploe’s to the Winding Stair to Juniors to Aqua in Howth – there are plenty of restaurants that are tempting options. For me, the most tempting is a French restaurant called Dax.
Maybe it was the particularly low Wednesday I was having, or the spur-of-the-moment reservation I made at a restaurant I’d been dying to try – but everything about Dax impressed. The knowledgeable waiters made suggestions without being pushy. When it came to the wine, the waiter recommended a Rioja riserva at a more affordable rate than the bottle we had originally selected – promising it to be delicious. He was right about that.. as well as the seared scallops, duck breast with blood orange sauce, and chocolate souffle. To this day, when I’m having a bad day my restaurant dreams turn to Dax..
3. La Zucca. Venice, Italy: I know I’ve written about La Zucca before – but it needs to be mentioned again for this ‘Best Meals’ list. My first trip to Venice I walked by La Zucca for many nights, never making a reservation, or even sitting down for dessert because I was renting an apartment and each morning bought my fish fresh from the Rialto Fish Market.
But this past trip, I knew I wanted a table outside next to the canal at La Zucca. A symbol for Italy at its best – the dishes were simple, prepared with fresh ingredients, and unfussy. My appetizer was the simplest plate of linguini with a pomodoro sauce, a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese, and a sprinkling of herby pesto. It is possible the atmosphere made the dish taste just a little bit better, but it still was simplicity at its finest.
4. La Leyerda. Hotel Becquer, Sevilla, Spain: After a long drive fromthe coast of Andalucia to Sevilla, the last thing we wanted to do was look for a restaurant. Asking a local for a recommendation, we were pointed towards the tapas bar and coffee shop of Hotel Becquer. At first unremarkable from all the other nearby restaurants, we then noticed that La Leyerda was packed with local families lingering over a long lunch.
There was one table left and we sat down to enjoy one of the most memorable lunches of my life. Far beyond typical tapas of ham or meatballs, this tapas bar offered balanced dishes with delicate sauces and a wide variety of fish. We didn’t stay for dessert – but I regretted it immediately when I walked out and saw other guests digging into an ice cream sundae.
5. Le 1920. Chalet Mont du Arbois, Megeve, France: Read my last post for details on the spectacular meal I had at Le 1920, including unique tableside service, the perfect filet mignon, and my first experience with sea urchin.