In 2014, I slurped ramen in Tokyo and tasted wine in Sonoma. I moved uptown to Harlem, sipped whiskey in Northern Ireland, and hiked through the Sacred Valley in Peru. Distilling a year’s worth of traveling and eating into a single blog post is nearly impossible — so I’m not even going to try. The following five anecdotes were highlights from throughout the year, moments that sneak up on us and remind us why we travel in the first place.
1. A Taste of Thailand in Portland
My September visit to Portland was full of memorable meals, cups of coffee, and some insane pastries, but my favorite meal of the trip — and a culinary highlight of the year — was the tasting menu at Langbaan. This restaurant-within-a-restaurant (it is located behind a bookshelf in a restaurant called PaaDee) is intimate from the start. The small space, the open kitchen, the presentation straight from the chef to the table — it’s all incredibly hospitable, and seriously delicious. The fried chicken (gai todd Hat Yai) alone is worth a trip to Portland. And the rice. It was the kind of rice that silences conversations at the table, that forces the realization of how poor all other rice is in comparison.
2. Bird’s Eye View of Sonoma
In Sonoma, I sipped wine in the middle of the afternoon and took a nap in front of a fireplace. I drove with the windows down, hiked through the redwood forest, and tasted some incredibly fresh food, but the highlight from this trip was squeezing into an open-cockpit byplane with my fiance and flying over the vineyards. In this historic airplane, we sat in the open cockpit in front of the pilot — only a small windshield separated us from the open air. We snapped one small seatbelt across both of our laps and the plane took to the runway, gathering speed. Soon the ground was retreating further and further away, revealing the rows of vines covering the landscape below. Before we came in for landing, we caught a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
I was based in Cusco during my April trip to Peru. The excursion to Machu Picchu requires an early rise — getting up before the sun, boarding a two-hour bus ride to connect to a train, and to a final shuttle bus that winds up a mountainside to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Each step through this 15th-century Incan site seemed to reveal a slightly different view. The views were so vast that they forced me to stop, as if my eyes needed extra time to register what they were seeing, that they had never encountered something like this before. That being said, a lot of time spent hiking around Machu Picchu also includes looking at your feet — while maneuvering up and down steep steps. It wasn’t until sitting down for a local beer afterwards did my brain start to process where I had just been and what I had seen.
4. Caught in a Typhoon in Tokyo
When I touched down in Tokyo in October, all the talk was about a typhoon due to hit the next day. During the day it was grey and not especially rainy (perfect ramen weather!) so when the evening came, I grabbed an umbrella and ventured out to meet a friend-of-a-friend living in Tokyo. By the time I met him at a subway station 30 minutes outside the heart of the city, the rain was falling in sheets. We jetted across a small street and into Harmonica Yokocho, a collection of tiny bars, each with maybe 8 to 10 seats. One big pot of something aromatic was bubbling behind the bar, and the bartender filled heavy mugs with beer. The rain fell heavily around us in these semi open-air bars, at times with such thunder that we had to raise our voices to hear each other. It was a marvelous not-my-life moment.
The rain let up briefly for us to stroll to a restaurant, Momokichi, that specializes in roasted chicken. It arrived on a metal plate, the skin crispy as a cracker. Cabbage and triangles of rice were served with the chicken, and I was instructed to dunk both into the chicken drippings on the plate. It was a study in how simplicity can reach divine levels.
5. A Perfect Night in New York City
Before you move to New York, there’s an assumption about what it will be — for me, that image was small, candlelit, neighborhood restaurants on side streets where there is always an open table and a warm, welcoming host. The reality isn’t quite like that — these restaurants do exist, but they are a rarity, and a waiting open table when you actually want to eat isn’t likely. One sticky night in August, my fiance and I set out for a late evening stroll from our apartment in TriBeCa. We found ourselves in the charming streets of west SoHo, where we once lived, when the hunger pangs started to strike. Turning onto the small block of MacDougal Street between Houston and Prince, I remembered a restaurant I’d been eager to try: Comodo. Maybe it was the heat, or the late hour, but there was one perfect candlelit two-top in the small space. We sipped a glass of wine before even ordering. This is the type of place that achieves a certain harmony, when the music, the service, the low lighting, and the wine are all just right. Over a leisurely meal, we shared a dish of roasted poblano Bolognese (I wrote about this dish for Tasting Table) and Comodo earned a loyal customer.