The Annual Round-Up v.

2016.Jan.03 Sunday · 4 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes, Life, Restaurants

Time once again for that annual look back at whatever, in my mind, made last year interesting.

Let’s hit the Casa SaltShaker stuff first. 120 dinners, 1041 people. That’s pretty much the same as the previous year, at 123 dinners and 1096 people. Those are both a drop from the previous couple of years which ran closer to 140-150 dinners and around 1200-1300 people. Mostly, I think that’s due to taking more vacation time – both of these last years we took six weeks off rather than our usual three to four, plus, both summers, i.e., the beginning of the year and the end of the year, we had to cancel a few dinners because of power outages here that left us without electricity and water for several days at a time. None of that was good for the household coffers, but the vacations, at the least, were good for the souls.

In terms of oddities of requests and such, I’ve taken to posting some of the more unusual exchanges over on my personal blog: E-Files #1 and E-Files #2. More to come, down the line, no doubt.

A lot of new dishes this year, especially since I’ve decided that we’re a) established enough, and b) not interested in “same old”, to just go full tilt on cooking what I feel like cooking and stop catering to whims and requests of guests. Some new favorites:

Blue cheese pudding, molasses roasted strawberries, walnut crumble.

A daikon, coconut and strawberry dessert.

Sous vide lamb loin, lamb fat potatoes, spicy black olive tomato sauce.

Pejerrey tempura, cauliflower puree, tahini-sumac sauce.

Pachamanca of jibia (humboldt squid).

And, a new long, long, long term project, The Bread & Soup Project, where I’m exploring the national soup and stuffed bread (empanada-ish sorts of things) of each country on the globe, in turn.

We spent a bit of time traveling this year once again. At the beginning of the year Henry headed off for a few weeks with his family in Trujillo, while I took a two week solo vacation in Costa Rica, meeting new friends in the restaurant world, and, putting on our first real “pop-up” dinner, on Valentine’s Day, at Side Street Bistro in Jacó.

I did a lot of exploring of San José and surrounds, a bit less in Jacó. Lots of butterflies. Cool art. You can go back and read all about it.

Most interesting meal, certainly the creative kitchen stylings of chef Richard Neat at Park Cafe.

On the same post, however, my favorite dish in San José. Completely non-Costa Rican, but the slow cooked lamb at Beirut was just nigh on perfect.

I can’t say I was overly excited or intrigued by Costa Rican cuisine. Most of it was pretty basic fare, lots of rice, beans, and fried potatoes. Some interesting things to try in the mercados. It’s all summed up here and there in the posts of my visit, several of them covered here.

Our big vacation this last year was Colombia and Ecuador, the first time in both for both of us. We spent, all told, over a week in Bogotá, and really loved it. A few days in Cartagena, mildly interesting, more of down time at the beach or pool. And a few days in Medellín, which we weren’t particularly enamored of. Then on to a few days in Quito, which we quite liked. We met some wonderful people in all the places, both in the restaurant and dance worlds, and had a great time.

Unquestionably, our most interesting meal was at Leo Cocina y Cava, our first evening in town. Fascinating food, and we wished we’d been a bit less sleepy and able to do something like the full tasting menu.

Our favorite meal food-wise was easily the incredibly good fare at Tábula, where we ate amazing potatoes, and oxtail, and all sorts of “modern rustic” dishes.

But the most fun, was getting to spend time with friends at a couple of meals: Jorge and Guillermo at Doña Elvira, and Cody and Danielle at Central Cevichería, made our time in Bogotá truly special – not only in joining us for meals, but in recommendations for more, and also things to do in and around town. I did up a bunch of videos on this trip – here’s the one for Bogotá.

As I said, Cartagena was mostly about downtime. A day exploring the famed historic walled center of the city, and then, there’s not much to do besides laze about.

We did spend one day out in the mangroves with a guide and had an amazingly simple and delicious meal of freshly caught fish. And a really interesting meal at El Gobernador by Rausch, getting to meet new chef friend Jaime, and another delicious meal at Marea by Rausch, obviously part of the same restaurant group. All in the video here.

Medellin, well, what can I say. We just didn’t really care for it, sorry folks from there, it just wasn’t our cup of tea. Video here. Only really good plates of food we had were at a little hole-in-the-wall called Ajiacos y Mondongos, where we had a couple of amazingly good cazeulas. The cazuela de frijoles, a bean stew, was so good, that after Henry finished his other stew, he ordered a half portion of the beans for himself instead of dessert!

And, the single worst dish of the trip, and possibly the worst dessert I’ve ever confronted in my life, at Carmen, “black olive gelato, rice and coconut pudding, mocha sponge, coffee caramel, violet gelatin, orange”. Nothing about it worked. Nothing. And didn’t help that the staff had more attitude than a pack of contestants on Project Runway.

On to Quito, Ecuador, where we ate much more local fare, and really only gave one stab at a creative place (not successfully, either). Our favorite, hands-down, our meal at Los Geranios, where the chef attended to us personally, and we had an amazing local version of locro de papas, a potato and cheese stew, plus some delicious main courses. We liked Quito quite a bit too, though unfortunately only had a few days there. The movie….

From there, it was on to Trujillo for the obligatory family visit. It was all casual eats, either at the house, or at neighborhood dives. Some truly great fish dishes while were there, including this guisada, a fiery, chili based fish stew.

I only stayed a short few days and then while Henry stayed behind to spend more time with his family, I headed down to Lima for a visit with some friends, and a lot of eating. Some great food. River snails at ámaZ; a fantastic day spent with chef/owner Mitsuharu Tsumura at Maido, first in the kitchens, and then being treated to the full tasting menu, and hey, another river snail, totally different preparation; and, an afternoon at friend Dennys Yupanquí’s new restaurant, Cuchara, and one of the best grilled octopus dishes I’ve ever had.

Back here in Buenos Aires, while we’ve eaten out a lot, it’s been almost totally casual eats. Partially economics, partially that it’s an in-between year for my Fodor’s gig, so I don’t have anything that I “need” to be checking out.

The only new, higher end spot we’ve really checked out this year is La Mar Cevichería, everything that it’s predecessor, Astrid & Gaston, wasn’t.

We also really enjoy the new spot Sintesis, here in the ‘hood, with its great pan-Asian flavors. It also kind of helped kick off a shorter project, checking out all the ramen I could in the city (still a trio of spots left to try).

And that kind of sums up the year. This was the first year since moving here that I didn’t go back to the States for a visit. I missed that, and plan to make up for it this year. Various new plans in the offing, we’ll see what comes to fruition.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jill January 3, 2016 at 07:03

Great recap Dan. Happy New Year to you both!

dan January 4, 2016 at 13:26

Thanks! And to you as well!

Nicole Wolverton January 18, 2016 at 10:38

So happy to see the squid dish on your list of new favorites. I still talk about it. Of course, I think I might be back in BA in June this year, so I’ll be hoping to get a reservation and looking forward to what’s new.

dan January 18, 2016 at 18:51

Oh cool. I really like that one too. Looking forward to seeing you again! Any new novels out?

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