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Kanishka

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About Kanishka

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  • Birthday 05/27/1979

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  1. The few bowls of East Asian-style noodle soup we've had in our little corner of the world, at restaurants, have been highly mediocre. I am fairly certain that it's about the broth, which is typically limp and watery. We've made our own broth a few times when craving, but that's not always feasible. And paradoxically, with our time here dwindling, I am craving food I can't get here more and more. So when a friend suggested Mike's Mighty Good Craft Ramen, and I saw that I could get it on Amazon, I took the plunge. If you think you're getting Top Ramen or Cup o' Noodles, wrong! Mike's has none of that awful, sodium-heavy saltiness. The three varieties I've tasted, savory miso, spicy beef, and pork tonkatsu, have been rich, earthy broths. The noodles aren't like you'd get at a Seattle pho shop, but they are far better than the college instant ramen you remember. The small oil packet takes the soup over the top by adding a welcome richness. We've taken to throwing in a few elements to make a small packet into a meal -- a soft boiled egg, some homemade karaage, or maybe a sheet of dried seaweed. I'd like to add some slow-cooked pork the next time I do up a bowl. If you're in a noodle soup desert like we are, Mike's Mighty Good is an awesome substitute. It's not homemade of Toki-quality ramen, but it's as close as you can get with about six minutes of prep.
  2. There's a new spot in town! Le Hublot is on your right as you're driving out of Cotonou on La Route des Peches, just before Cabane du Pecheur. It's a blue-and-white three story building, and the rooftop restaurant has a stunning view of the ocean and the surrounding communities. At sundown the breeze and the view alone make it a winner, but the food, at least on first bite, is equal to the surroundings. We started with beignets des courgettes and gazpacho. The courgettes, topped with feta and served with a garlic aioli, were cooler and drier than versions I've had before but somehow it worked. The gazpacho was probably the weakest dish of the evening, served too warm and simply "OK." They do however get bonus points for actually *having* gazpacho on the menu the first time I've seen it here. Entrees were terrific. I went with gambas and got a half dozen monster-sized shrimp, lightly seasoned with salt and butter. These were probably caught earlier that morning and were the best gambas a la plancha I've had in Benin. Marisa had a grouper filet, served on a bed of ratatouille. The presentation was far "fancier" than the average restaurant here, like you'd find at a serious middle-range restaurant in DC (of the type I understand is rapidly disappearing these days.) I had a tiny bite and was impressed by the simplicity and freshness. We'll have to go back to see if they can maintain the theme. We went simple with the kids -- a burger, tagliatelle bolognese -- and they were pleased. Probably the most notable thing about Le Hublot is the beer list. In this land of pale yellow Castel, it's amazing to see Belgian beer on tap (Affligem) and an extensive Belgian bottle list too. Le Hublot says they will have fresh mussels and oysters at some point. I'll believe that when I see it, and I'm not entirely sure if fresh oysters from the Gulf of Guinea are a good idea. But such fresh shellfish temptations aren't a necessary component for us to go back.
  3. Don, this is a story begging for closure.
  4. Has anyone been to Baden Württemberg recently? The guide books are wanting.
  5. Last full day in South Africa -- 4.5 hour drive from Oudsthoorn to Stellenbosch. Two very pleasant dining experiences, each different, to write about. If you're looking for a fun alternative way to access the Garden Route, the Western Cape's Route 62 does not disappoint. We did it backwards -- westwards, headed back to the Cape Town area. The kids napped just long enough for us to reach The Barn on 62 in beautiful Montagu right around 1 pm. This spot is recommended by Lonely Planet and was fantastic. They've opened a new shop selling various products from around, so we started with a small, fresh baked loaf of rosemary bread and some charcuterie, which the boys ate intermittently between playing on the garden's jungle gym (which we were seated right beside.) This was the single best 66 cent loaf of bread I have ever eaten outside of France -- so good that we bought another loaf for car snacks for the remaining two hours to Stellenbosch. The boys had toasted sandwiches for lunch -- egg and bacon, cheese and ham, and just cheese, in descending order of age. Marisa had the terrific 62 Burger, smothered in mature cheddar, while I had the chicken tikka masala bagel, served with what tasted to me like a variation on the classic Balkan shopska salad, the remix being adding basil leaves. Fast service, a beautiful garden setting, and a great lunch for five for a bit under $40 (including various beverages). This is a great lunch stop. Dinner was something else entirely -- at Mont Marie, another kid-friendly fine dining restaurant in the Winelands. Not as refined, definitely more casual than Werf, but with a beautiful lakeside location and (theme alert) another playground, this one almost all beautiful wood and clearly designed to not disrupt the surroundings. We were seated right around 6:30 PM and opted for the three course option, with a bottle of unoaked chardonnay. The kids had chicken fingers *2 and one small fish and chips -- a bit disappointing range of selection I think, but it worked. The adult meal was just great. I had the pickled fish appetizer and the fish of the day, which was kob (I later learned this fish is threatened, and I regret not asking if it was farmed or caught.) The Cape Malay pickled fish was not at all what I was expecting -- it was firm cubes of fish in a light and sweet curry sauce, rather than the more oily pickled fish I've had in Portugal and elsewhere. Not at all a knock, as I can still pleasantly remember the taste about four hours after having first tasted it. The kob was restrained, letting the fish lead the way. Very little salt or butter, and some great herbs and mixed saute of tomatoes, celery, onion, and various other vegetables. Marisa didn't speak while having her watermelon soup (a positive sign) and loved the ostrich steak as well, though we both agreed the corn cake it was served on was far too sweet. We all had desserts --vanilla for the boys, pot de creme for Marisa, and a cheese plate for me. Can't say I am a cheese expert, but I thought the bleu and chevre were both fantastic. The creme in Marisa's dessert was barely sweetened chocolate, which she enjoyed thoroughly. Total bill, with kids meals and kids desserts, and wine, $100. We leave South Africa fatter, happier, and thoroughly relaxed, with a few thousand photos to sort through. These entries are the result of the kids' early bedtimes and my desire to write more and read fewer websites about topics political. I hope you've enjoyed traveling with us. K PS: If any of you need tips on loooooong trips with young kids in tow, please feel free to ask.
  6. For the last three nights we've been staying at Long Hope Villa, a private home in the Nyathi portion of Addo Elephant Park in South Africa's Eastern Cape. This was our first (and possibly last) safari and so we went for the fences and splurged. The villa is a converted 19th century three-bedroom farmhouse that comes with a private chef, butler, and game driver. The chef, Sam, has been there for 16 years. I only got a smidgen of what he was capable of -- we didn't really let on that we were food lovers as he was cooking for both us and the boys and we were there for the animals and not the dining*. That said, the meals were terrific if a bit too big -- for dinner, beef tenderloin and fish one night, pork the other, and an awesome venison pie for our last night. We were asked for our preferences ahead of time and told them we wanted vegetables. They sent out multiple roasted vegetable dishes each night, which the kids devoured. Breakfast spreads were "continental plus," with excellent cheeses, fresh bread, fruits, and eggs made to order. On our last morning we had springbok carpaccio, which needed just a few flakes of Maldon sea salt to wake it up. Lunches were light roasted meat with salad -- perfect! The highlight however were the game drive snacks. This sounds weird, but for each drive (early AM and 4 PM) Chef Sam prepared four sets of canapés, which we ate in the middle of the park surrounded by nature, towards the end of our drives. These included cheese and chutney sandwiches, beef tips, meatballs, amazing pumpkin fritters, and fresh fruits. We were truly spoiled. Long Hope is not cheap, and this entry should really go under hotels but whatever. That said: we saw elephants, buffaloes, kudus, three of the five lions, a hyena, rhinos (from a distance), zebras, ostriches, warthogs, etc... and we ate like champs. What an experience. As we drove out of the park, our five-year old started to cry (true story), saying "I want to stay here forever." 😢Broke my heart. *Why go to a place with a private chef and not take full advantage of it? Because peace at the dinner table is so nice after a few weeks of stressful kid management at restaurants. Maybe we'll do something equally insane when the boys are older...
  7. Thank you for the recommendation! We spent the bulk of today at Babylonstoren. While staying there and/or dining at Babel (after Werf yesterday--more on what we're spending on in a few days) would have broken our budget (even more acutely with this furlough) the garden tour was wonderful. Most of the fruits and veg sadly weren't ready, but there were some terrific edible shrubs that we got to taste, and our middle son found what the guide said was probably the first ripe pear of the farm this year. We ate lunch at the Greenhouse, with a ham, cheese, and local veggie sandwich for me; a local sausage with tomato relish for M; mac and cheese for the boys; and watermelon and tomato gazpacho, and freshly fried "chips" to share. We finished off with a scone. A pretty indulgent lunch, but worth it. The meal isn't the highlight though -- the farm is. It is a huge, intense experience once you realize everything in the garden is edible or has some sort of purpose in the agro-chain. If it isn't food, it's protecting against pests, or it has a medicinal purpose. If you don't get in on the garden tour none of this is obvious to the non-gardeners *raises hand* amongst us. For us, with the boys in tow, it was totally worth it. Our eldest was entranced by the guide's presentation, which held his attention for the full hour! The smaller ones liked picking herbs, or those fruits or vegetables available, and were very excited when they encountered the two turtles, the ducks, the chickens, or the turkeys. The Babylonstoren garden is an incredible, fun place that is an absolute must visit, in some capacity, if you want something other than the usual wine tastings in Franschhoek. What fun.
  8. Tonight was our official blowout meal (something we tend to do on all vacations), dinner at the beautiful Werf at the Boschendal Winery near Franschhoek. I chose the spot because of the fact that according to all my research, it offered kid-friendly fine dining. Not wrong! The gorgeous dining room, which looks over the restaurant's impressive vegetable garden, was filled with kids, all making various sorts of noise. So I felt not at all guilty that our two-year old kept yelling "all aboard!" (why? I have no idea.) or how our other two boys were fidgety and needed to be taken out to the deck to look at said garden multiple times. The restaurant itself strikes me as quite beautiful -- all blond wood and natural light, with plants on many of the surfaces indoors as well as outdoors. Our meal started with an amuse bouche of fennel roti with roasted carrot hummus and roasted radishes. There were tiny edible flowers scattered on the dish as well, with an odd familiar flavor that was not chive. The sweet carrot hummus and the radish made it clear that veggies would be the star of our show. The boys had kid's steak with roasted potatoes and a fantastic salad of shaved carrot, shaved golden beets, and fennel pollen dressed with a vinaigrette. Marisa and I opted for the three course option: Her Grilled garden leeks, "vichysoisse," dill, cured egg yolks Yellowtail, smoked potato puree, taramasalata Grilled Angus steak, giant garden marrow (NB: basically, zucchini), pickled kale Me Confit white onion, nut cream "tzatziki," green coriander seeds, watermelon, fennel pollen Crispy baby marrow flower & pickled mussels, chokka (local baby squid) & parsley "risotto," horseradish Slow roasted lamb shoulder, maize porridge, Werf Food Garden vegetables The meal also came with a complimentary bowl to share of the same salad the boys had, and a second salad of marrow, green beans, and bok choy in a parsely vinaigrette. The meal was wonderful. Low points were my onion dish (eh) and the pickled kale (which wasn't.) Everything else was very produce-forward and tasted of peak mid-summer. Both seafood dishes were standouts, and the chokka and parsley risotto was just out of this world bright, like the first rays of summer sun exploding on your palate. The yellowtail, when paired with the smoked potato, was as if the fish itself was smoked. Separated, it was a completely different plate. It was fun comparing -- and it was quite rightly paired with a lighter red rather than a white. The gratis salads were also wonderful, especially the bok choy and green beans. Our eldest loved picking out the beets and nibbling at them slowly, and telling our very kind waitress he loved the veggies. We finished with a single dessert for the five of us, because we were stuffed: Ariette biscuit, baked vanilla custard, roasted apricot sorbet. The tangy, nearly sugarless sorbet was my favorite, though the vanilla custard won the day with the boys. I also had a glass of their top-end "vin de memoire" Syrah ($11.50 a glass -- this is their top end!), which was a nice way to end the evening. After dinner we walked in the vegetable garden a bit to work off a very nice but very filling meal. I do have to say I felt pretty virtuous, because the two older boys couldn't stop talking about how great vegetables are and how you don't really need too much meat. That's me on my high horse, I know. It's still a nice feeling. I have to thank the management of the Boschendal Winery for opening a fine dining experience to kids. Every dish was just as attractive as the restaurant itself, reminding me of Restaurant Eve during its best days. What a pleasure to share it with our sons, even though they did make their fair share of noise. They were very entertained by the nature all around them -- especially the inch-long mantis they found crawling on a wine bucket near the deck, which the staff made no effort to shoo away. It's a garden after all. Two kids meals, three three-course meals with wine pairing, three sodas, one dessert, one additional glass of wine, $150 with a generous tip.
  9. Many of the old-timers here know what I do, and to those I say: I'm currently on an unpaid vacation. It's not wonderful, but we have spent several years in some of the tougher (though not toughest) parts of the world, developing a cushion that allows this family of five to travel out of one of those said hard places for a bit and enjoy things like "paved roads" and "clean air." Oh and "sidewalks," "playgrounds," and "no malaria." I continue to be thankful to the organization for which I work for making this trip possible. I just wish I were receiving my next paycheck. I am not. Vent out of the way. Tonight is our last night in Cape Town -- we go from here to Franschhoek, and then further east along the Garden Route. Tonight we had dinner just a block or so from our rented house, at Ferdinando's. It's a pizza spot that was written up in Lonely Planet, so is reservation-essential (we thought ahead) and is busy busy busy. We started with delicious beef carpaccio, lightly dressed in lemon and served with parmesan, capers, and arugula. The best arugula I have had in many years, frankly. This was the standout of the night. We moved on to pizzas after that -- margherita for the boys, the Maiala de Mare for me, and the Mamma Mia for my wife. All were excellent -- Two Amy's quality maybe? It's been to long to judge. I should mention (again) that it's been so long between truly good meals out (we're talking months if not years) that I can't compare, but I can say that we all shut up and just devoured our pizzas when they came, even the little ones. I also got a side of the artichoke salad, but we barely had room to finish half between the two adults. The seafood on my pizza was wonderful, but I do wish all of the mussels and shrimp were unshelled. I think this may be a European thing -- like unpitted olives on pizza. We closed with dessert, ice cream for the boys, a milkshake for the lady, and a double Negroni for me. That was one big Negroni -- based on the price ($4) I thought a double would be smart, but it was laaarge. As in "would cost you $20+ in DC" large. Oh well. Walking home. Ferdinando's is a fun place I would absolutely recommend for families visiting Cape Town with a car and/or Uber. The upstairs is perfect for littles, with tons of noise and distraction and a wonderfully accepting management. 1100 rand ($80) for a bunch of sodas, a beer, apps, dinner, dessert for five.
  10. After wandering Bo-Kaap, the South African Museum, and The Company's Garden for most of a day, the kids were exhausted and liable to kill each other. So we decided to find a location about an hour away and let them nap it off -- planning to arrive at Darling right around dinner time. Sadly I am in vacation mode, and forgot that it was Sunday -- and that the Darling Brewery restaurant would be closed. We ended up at Cafe Mosaic. The TripAdvisor reviews are bad and probably not inaccurate, just grumpy. This is a no-frills place, and we sat outside at picnic tables as the temperatures plummeted (NB: this is a summer thing here -- je suis si tropicalisé que j'ai oublié que la temperature chute quand le soleil se couche). Between the five of us, we had two plates of fish and chips, a "fishy platter" (fish and chips + calamari), a 500ml bottle of cheap local white, three apple juices, and a sparkling water. The fish and chips was of the lightly-battered variety and the calamari were cut thicker than back home, roughly the size of the accompanying fries, which is to say Brit-style. It was good! Not the best meal by far, but with a play area a few meters away to give mom and dad some peace, decent fries, and just a pleasant local feel, it was what we needed. All for 500 rand, or $35.75. Worth a trip? No. But good nonetheless.
  11. Wandering down the aggressively hipster/crunchy Lower Main Road, the main stretch of Obs (Observatory), to the east of central Cape Town, we were starting to get nervous. It was dinner time, the boys were exhausted, and yet every restaurant seemed closed. Many until January 7 -- or just three days before we leave to explore the western and eastern Cape (d'oh.) But lo and behold, just north of the KFC and McDo, there was the inappropriately named Timbuktu, an Ethiopian restaurant I had scoped out but had given up finding. It's not at all obviously marked, like most of the other restaurants in this part of town. Ironic that we picked Ethiopian for our first meal (as a family -- i've been here once for work) in SAfrica, and yet had (decent, but not amazing) Ethiopian at the Ramada in Addis Ababa on New Year's Eve, less than 20 hours earlier. But this was better. Dare I say it, probably the best Ethiopian I have ever had outside of the greater DC area. We went all-in and got the "serengaya," the "everything on the menu except lamb" platter built for four. Our eldest son was the trail blazer, trying everything on the plate and providing commentary for his little brothers ("yummy!", "a little spicy...", "try this! try this!") Marisa and I dug in, though she worked a moat around the beautiful berbere spiked kitfo, leaving it all for me. I take that back -- the eldest had that one too, but mixed with the stewed beets. "The meat and the beets get in a fight in your mouth," he said, "and the spicy from the meat loses to the sweet from the beets, but then it comes back, but then it loses again, in that kind of pattern." Couldn't have said it better myself. The stewed collards were fantastic, in my opinion better than anything in DC because the vinegar/acid was upped by a bit. The two younger ones (three and two) were more hesitant, but eventually both found dishes they liked, leaning towards the softer doro wot and all of the lentils. The beef tibs was probably the loser (out of a platter of at least 12 different preparations!), because the pieces were cut a little too big. The berbere was smoky and hot, some of the best I have had. I haven't had Ethiopian in the States (DC or Seattle) in over two years. My last two times were at the aforementioned Ramada, and at the Addis Ababa airport last summer (protip: don't do it.) So maybe I don't remember exactly how good Zenebech at its heyday was. All I know is that our family of five walked home happy, the youngest with a layer of doro wat sauce on his sleeve, the eldest saying "maybe [he doesn't] like Ethiopian, but maybe [he] loves it." $45, including four freshly pressed lemonades and a sparkling water.
  12. Fu-fu -- pounded yam here -- is not at all like dumplings -- it's a two-fist sized lump of pasty manioc/cassava/whatever goop that is flavorless, designed for farmers and laborers who need quick calories to go back out and do what they do. Locals love it, I do not. But you know, differing opinions are perfectly fine. I will sing the praises of Maryland steamed crabs while my lovely wife will silently tell everyone around her Dungeness crabs are superior. Such is taste, I suppose. And I love the brainteaser, but Lome and Rome do not rhyme -- there's an accent missing for the "e" in Lomé (LO-may). It's a nice town, btw, but I've only ever eaten at friends' houses when there, and one random Lebanese fast food joint. I guess that is valuable to mention -- there's a ton of Lebanese influence around these parts.
  13. In case you were wondering: still here! And still eating out regularly. I have come to the sad conclusion that Beninese food is not up there in terms of my world favorites, with a few exceptions. Palm oil tastes unpleasant. The bitterness of local leaves is featured rather than diminished, as is the "goopiness" of okra. And I find the king of local food, igname pilé, aka fu fu, basically awful. I am an adventurous eater, but Benin has been challenging. OK, caveat time. Southern Beninese food is challenging. Mid-Beninese food too. But when you get to the Sahelian north -- voila! The flavors change. Perhaps my favorite place in northern Benin is Le Secret de la Vieille Marmite, in Parakou, a confoundingly organized quasi-buffet style, quasi-fast food style spot. You go to the buffet and point at what you would like, which the staff dishes up onto a plate. They hand you a ticket with a price calculated seemingly out of thin air. You pay, sit, and they deliver the plate to your table, and a few seconds later yet another staff member comes to get your drink order, which you pay for separately. Why so many steps? Why can't I carry my plate to the table myself? Why can't I pay for my drink and food together? These and myriad other questions disappear once you tuck in to your repas. On a week-long trip up north, I ate at La Marmite four times, each time enjoying something different: tender brochettes of mutton with red rice, fried wedges of local cheese with couscous and vegetable sauce, spiced chicken with amiwo, and a grab-bag plate of various items with a vegetable-accented rice dish. I had liberal servings of piment each time, and each preparation of that ubiquitous hot sauce tasted slightly different. Each meal cost about 2500-3000 FCFA ($5-6 dollars), beer included, and service was fast fast fast. Parakou is my least favorite town in northern Benin, a sprawling carrefour with limited local culture, mostly used as a jump-off point for other, more colorful places. But as a trading post, it has OK hotels and decent places to eat. If you find yourself there, La Marmite isn't a bad option for eating at all.
  14. Any more recent recommendations for Cape Town or the Western Cape?
  15. Hi Andy -- In all of your travels, do is there any type of cuisine you consider unjustly ignored or overlooked -- hidden gems, or cuisines not given the adulation deserved?
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