For anyone who enjoys travel, being somewhere new is gloriously enhanced by eating something new.
Whether indulging in authentic home-cooked pasta in Italy or rich fragrant stews in Morocco there’s no denying that food forms a major part of a travel experience.
This is especially true for those obsessed with planning their next meal (hey, there are worse obsessions ok?) and for sure, our recent road trip across New England and into Canada was destined to be laden with nibble-heavy side-trips and hunger-inducing mini-adventures. But where to start I hear you ask?
Well, despite having gobbled our way across a road trip covering almost a thousand miles over land, we’ve been forced, for the purposes of time constraints, to sum up, three of our best food memories from the trip. This, may I add, was no breezy easy task, but with a little scrutiny, we’ve been able, to sum up, some of our favourite food adventures from a month-long trip in this stunning part of the world.
From the fascinating and enchanting streets of Georgetown, Washington DC to the lounge of one of Montreal’s finest hotels right up to an unexpected fine dining gem in the heart of Boston’s Back Bay area, we’re about to share with you our three best food adventures from three totally different cities - enjoy!
Washington DC may well be famous for the iconic marble buildings and the seat of American Democracy, but there’s a whole other side to the nation’s capital that actually has a lot more intrigue and history than meets the eye.
I’m referring of course, to the fabulous Georgetown area of the city. Founded originally as a thriving port town and important area for commerce, this beautiful neighbourhood has now been brought very much into the 21st Century with a reputation for designer shopping, hip nightlife and yes, a buzzing food scene.
Which brings us ever so neatly to the first stop on our tour of the best food adventures we’ve had of late. With such a rich history and tapestry of stories in this part of the states, the walking food tour of Georgetown conducted by Carpe DC was the perfect choice for us.
A fresh take on the scene, Carpe DC has a variety of expertly run tours in the DC area and this particular walk/sight see/nibble/learn some things/nibble some more set up does the trick nicely. Combining fascinating history with local Georgetown independent businesses is a winning formula. Not only is Georgetown INCREDIBLY photogenic, but the guys at Carpe DC have really done their research; the food tour takes in a beautifully diverse selection of local fayre that really gives you a sense of how Georgetown’s past as a trade melting pot has come back with a vengeance to create a charming mix of deliciously made food from passionate crafts people.
This same passion for quality was evident everywhere in our foodie adventure in Marrakech Morocco, which, if it takes your fancy, you can read about here.
Our first stop took in the best donut we’ve had in YEARS at District Donut. Who would have known that a freshly made donut drenched in maple icing and crunchy pecans would be a dreamy combo?
Oh, I know, everyone! Thankfully, our little sugar kick was just the start of an afternoon of scrumptiousness.
The amazing business that is Falafel Inc also formed part of our tour which comprised of yes, you guessed it, falafel; but with a conscience. The owner of this fabulous enterprise is a true inspiration and to find out more of his story, click here. Ethics aside, the wraps at this tiny little place were uber fluffy, the falafel moreish and the hummus generously portioned. All round a winning entry into the Carpe DC walking tour.
Authentic Banh Mi came courtesy of the aptly named Banh Mi (they even have a selection of cookbooks for sale written by none other than the owner of this cute little Viet place in Georgetown) That’s what was so refreshing about this particular food tour with Carpe DC.
It wasn’t actually an ‘American’ food tour as such (nor was it intended to be). This was a historically fascinating walking tour littered with delicious food that has popped up in this wonderful neighbourhood; it’s easy to see why they’re going from strength to strength.
Perhaps the most wonderful element of our afternoon with Carpe DC came via our trip to the historic Martin’s Tavern. Classic fried green tomatoes were on our plates while being told about the famous clients that have frequented this Georgetown institution over the years. From celebrities to presidents, they’ve all come to Martin’s Tavern for one reason or another over the decades; heck, JFK sat in their corner booth to write his inauguration speech!
You’d think with such a history that the place would be teeming with tourists grabbing selfies and gawking hordes of tour groups, but not so. Martin’s has all the charm and low-key hospitality of a standard tavern, and all the history of a museum. Definitely a highlight for us.
Alas, with our walking tour of Georgetown almost done, there was time for just one stop, and after strolling down the neighbourhood’s well-to-do tree-lined streets (did I mention, this walking tour is a VERY photogenic one) we were treated to a little something sweet from a home-grown bakery called Patisserie Poupon. Naturally given the time of year and the sheer number of pumpkin adorned doorways I had photographed, it seemed only fitting to wolf down a piece of their finest pumpkin cheesecake; just divine.
Let this be a warning to anyone though; the Georgetown walking tour offered by Carpe DC is no ‘sample sized’ affair. What you get is what you eat; yes, an entire donut, yes a falafel wrap, yes, a whole portion of cheesecake. Needless to say, my historical knowledge of the area has increased ten-fold but frankly (and more importantly I must admit) I got a fabulous cross-section of all the great food options on offer in this gem of a place in Washington DC.
From the glorious U.S capital to the oh-so-chic city lights of Montreal is where we’re headed to next. We’ve been lucky enough to visit many cities over the years and something that will never EVER bore us is indulging in a spot of afternoon tea. This age-old practice shows no sign of slowing down and no decent hotel worth its salt neglects it from the menu. Half of the joy of afternoon tea (in my humble opinion anyway) is immersing oneself in some glorious surroundings, much like our stunning experience at the Amari Watergate In Bangkok. It's opulence where our next stop comes in.
The Ritz Carlton Montreal ticks the box on this occasion. From the stunning entrance to the grand and opulent dining room, there is a lot to be pleased about from a spot of high tea at this place. For sure, we came to the Ritz hungry but with the delicate offerings on display, it almost felt a little wrong to eat them. Almost.
A choice of fine loose-leaf accompanies the high tea on offer at the Ritz Carlton Montreal and as food goes, it really isn’t authentic without cucumber sandwiches, don’t you know. They’re made a touch more elegant with a topping of basil pesto and the little egg sandwiches are served in the tiniest brioche bun you have EVER seen.
But it’s the sweet stuff that one really comes for at high tea and the pastries at this particular Ritz Carlton did not disappoint. Buttery shortbreads, fluffy blueberry scones, chocolate mousse tarts, rich chocolate eclairs and my personal favourite, a salted caramel mille-feuille. Rest assured there were no hunger pangs afterwards.
Perhaps the best element of afternoon tea is the setting and, despite not being a hotel guest at the Ritz Carlton Montreal, at no point did we feel unwelcome. Admittedly, my shoes weren’t the cleanest they had ever been, but frankly, I don’t think anyone is focusing on my shoes in pretty surroundings such as these.
After living it up in Montreal our month-long trip was nearing its end but not before a brief and final stop in Boston, Massachusetts. Famous for being the home of American independence, Boston has a huge amount going for it.
From its eclectic culture scene to fascinating identity, its most certainly a place to immerse oneself in. For us, Boston provided our very last ‘we won’t come back for a while, let just do it’ situation, which, in the past has generally been an excuse to simply splurge a little bit. A great example of this was our spectacular meal at the Aleria Restaurant in Athens, Greece. Boston has something of a reputation for its seafood (what with it being on the coast and all) but since we couldn’t attend Boston’s best seafood place (we don’t eat seafood in my house) a visit to a fine dining establishment that’s been earning rave reviews was in order.
Which brings us very neatly indeed to L’espalier in the back bay area. It does not take long to find this place online, as, its clever use of traditional New England ingredients with a French flair has garnered it as something of a ‘must-visit’ on foodies’ travel lists. Having now sampled what they do at L’espalier first hand, I have only praise to heap on this establishment (which is handy, because after all, this is meant to be the three BEST food adventures, not WORST!)
Head Chef Frank McClelland is the creative force behind the whole ethos of L’espalier and its menu, inspired by the abundance of readily available New England produce is a delight to read and look at, let alone eat! In fact, the philosophy behind L’espalier is, as their literature tells us: ‘similar to that which is found in nature; each individual organism depends on another to operate successfully as a whole’.
It’s a philosophy that makes perfect sense on paper and is a joy to witness in the flesh. From the welcoming front of house receiving guests to our host, a skilled sommelier right up to the person who gives us our coats at the end. It’s a very well-oiled machine but enough of machine talk. We visited L’espalier in order to try a French-inspired New England meal on the very last day of our trip. Call it a celebratory meal if you will. Celebrating a) our successful trip away b) having not died from overeating, which, frankly, deserves a celebration every day of the year given my appetite for all things delicious.
We eventually (after much deliberation) went for the 5-course tasting menu accompanied with wine pairings. A testament to the professionalism of this place, we were able to create a menu of our own choosing since neither of us eats beef or seafood (it’s a long story and not something for today).
There is something very luxurious about having a wine expert pair delicious wines with expertly crafted food and at a fraction of the price of a London eatery. We don’t always go out to fancy places, but on the occasion that we do, we really savour it.
Our starter of roasted cauliflower came with charred heritage carrots and a rich mole. A combination that would not have occurred to me, but worked deliciously. Our main of buttery chicken thighs with candy stripe beetroot and pistachio butter was another selection of ingredients that worked well on paper but really came to life in the eating. That’s one of the real joys of fine places such as L’espalier. While I am indeed a chef, its always a pleasure to be surprised by flavors and textures and this spot hit all the right notes for me.
New England artisanal cheeses also formed part of our tasting menu, served with wildflower honey and strawberry-lavender jam. It goes without saying that I am totally going to steal this gorgeously floral preserve idea for next season.
The dessert course (which, as a pastry chef is always so scrutinised by me) was a playful version of a fruit crumble but with some unique additions. A blackberry sorbet was the perfect sharp contrast to rich and buttery crumble and fresh blueberries were gorgeous and harmonious with a star-anise scented pannacotta.
Are we making you hungry by reading this? Well, that’s what a great menu at a dining room like L’espalier does. I was lucky enough to have a brief look at the various parts of the venue available for hiring out and then a little glimpse into their kitchen. It's clear that the incredibly talented chefs at this establishment know about flavour yes, but also know how to surprise, which in many ways, is even better.
Our time at L’espalier over, we were able to bid goodbye to our fabulous host and sommelier and step out into the autumn chill of the Boston streets.
It's not easy to get bowled over by food as let’s be frank there a lot of underwhelming eating to be had. But after our wonderful tour with Carpe DC, our swish afternoon tea with a view at the Montreal Ritz-Carlton and easily the best meal we had all month at L’espalier, it’s given me a lot to think about in my own kitchen but also, a lot to plan in regards to our next trip. One thing is for definite though; its GOT to be all about the food.
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