Marseille swirls with scents and sounds of North Africa

Marseille swirls with scents and sounds of North Africa

If we were placed blindfolded on bustling rue d'Aubagne, the scents of ginger, cumin, and mint and the liquid sounds of Arabic spoken around us would convince us that we were in a North African kasbah instead of the streets of France's second-largest city. That cosmopolitan worldliness is part of the allure of Marseille. It is a global city in the midst of the region that gave “provincial” its name—Provence. To locate an immigrant culture in any city, we always look for the food market. The main thoroughfare of Le Canebière assumes a North African accent a few blocks uphill from the Vieux Port. A jog east onto rue d'Aubagne suddenly immersed us in the immigrant district. A few streets up, a jumble of carts...Read More
Prosciutto and fig pizza rocks with Terso Bianco

Prosciutto and fig pizza rocks with Terso Bianco

Celebrity chef Todd English first made a name for himself in Boston with his fig and prosciutto pizza, It was a sensation because it departed so radically from classic tomato and cheese pie. When we were brainstorming a pizza to pair with a bottle of Marchesi Fumanelli Terso Bianco 2014, we were inspired by English's signature pie. We had some amazing dried Greek figs on hand that had soft skins and deeply flavored sweet flesh. We thought about other tastes of the corner of the Veneto where the Marchesi Fumanelli family has been growing grapes and making wine since 1470. We finally settled on sliced figs, slivers of prosciutto, and a walnut cream base. Instead of the pungent Gorgonzola that English uses, we topped our...Read More
Mixing it up with tequila at Occidental Cozumel bar

Mixing it up with tequila at Occidental Cozumel bar

“If you don't drink tequila, it is not a vacation in Mexico,” Alejandro Santos told me in the Lobby Bar at the Occidental Cozumel (Carretera Costera Sur km 16.6, Colonial El Cedral San Francicso, Palancar, Cozumel, Mexico; +1 52-987-872-9730, barcelo.com). To make sure that guests fully embrace this beverage distilled from the blue agave plant, bartenders set out a tequila tasting in the early evening. Mexicans often drink their tequila neat and favor the premium tequilas made with 100 percent agave. But tequila also works well in cocktails, mixologist Santos Elan told me. “The agave is sweeter than other liqueurs,” he said. “That's why tequila works so well in sweet drinks.” The bar churns out more than its fair share of margaritas, including the signature...Read More
Pueblo re-creation conjures Mayan past

Pueblo re-creation conjures Mayan past

Little remains of the eight villages established by the Mayans on the island of Cozumel. But two years ago, the Pueblo del Maiz (Carretera Transversal, Camino á San Gervasio km 5, Cozumel, Mexico; +1 984-146-5771) opened to show how the ancient Mayans lived. The complex is centered around a series of thatched roof huts called palapas and populated with guides in often rather dramatic traditional dress. From the start, a visit has a great sense of ceremony. After I had been cleansed with fragrant smoke, I made an offering of cacao beans to a goddess and then planted a couple seeds of corn in the dark earth. It quickly became clear that growing, harvesting, and preparing food was a large part of Mayan life. In...Read More
Mayan flavors: fish with achiote paste

Mayan flavors: fish with achiote paste

Floating just 12 miles off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula, the island of Cozumel was first settled by the Mayans about 2,000 years ago. The San Gervasio archaeological site on the northern part of the island shows the Mayan presence long before European contact. The language and the folkways are largely gone, but the Mayan heritage lives on through the foodways. That's why chef Ismael Hernandez of Occidental Cozumel (Carretera Costera Sur km 16.6, Colonial El Cedral San Francicso, Palancar, Cozumel, Mexico; +1 52-987-872-9730, barcelo.com) decided to conclude my introduction to local cuisine with his adaptation of the traditional dish Pescado Tikin Xic. In this case, the “pescado” was the fresh mahi mahi that we also used for a delicious ceviche (see previous post)....Read More
Tasting the Yucatan at Occidental Cozumel

Tasting the Yucatan at Occidental Cozumel

In all my years visiting Spain, I've stayed in a number of Barceló hotels. Founded in Mallorca in the 1930s, the group is now the third largest chain in Spain. They also have properties in another 20 or so countries. On a short winter break to Mexico, I finally experienced their international hospitality at Occidental Cozumel (Carretera Costera Sur km 16.6, Colonial El Cedral San Francicso, Palancar, Cozumel, Mexico; +1 52-987-872-9730, barcelo.com). The property is less than 20 years old, but it has a gracious, settled feel. Low-rise buildings in Colonial Mexican style sit in a natural preserve. Nobody blinks at iguanas lounging by the swimming pool or raccoon-like coatis hanging out near the bridge across a mangrove swamp to the white sand beach. Resort...Read More
Provençal rosé cries out for pissaladière

Provençal rosé cries out for pissaladière

Sometimes the wine demands a departure from the best-laid plans. With a pretty upscale version of Provençal rosé on hand, we racked our brains for flavors of the Provence countryside. But we couldn't bring ourselves to make a lavender pizza. So we did the next best thing. We adapted the classic flatbread snack of the Riviera to a pizza-like round topped with onions, black olives, and anchovies. It was a match made in heaven—or maybe in Nice. The wine: La Combe Rosé, Château Roquefeuille Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire The 250-acre estate of Château Roquefeuille sits in the heart of Provence at the south end of the Sainte-Victoire valley. A gorgeous pale pink, La Combe Rosé embodies a very different style than the Fleurs de Mer...Read More
Preview two bright wine pours for spring

Preview two bright wine pours for spring

Winemakers often go out on tour this time of year. In the northern hemisphere, they've just bottled and released their lighter wines. In the southern hemisphere, the harvest hasn't quite come in. We sat down with Florian Lacroux from Provence and Hamish Clark from New Zealand last week at Stephanie's on Newbury (stephaniesrestaurantgroup.com). They were making the rounds for the wine giant E. & J. Gallo (gallo.com). That company has taken its name off jug wines (Naked Grape, Barefoot Cellars, and Carlo Rossi make them instead) while producing fine varietals under the Gallo Family Vineyards, Gallo Family Estates, and Gallo Signature labels. But California can't make New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Provencal rosé. That's where Clark and Lacroux come in. Gallo imports one wine from...Read More
Small-town culinary greatness: Patty Queen’s Cottage

Small-town culinary greatness: Patty Queen’s Cottage

One of the pleasures of touring rural France, Italy, or Spain is discovering amazing country restaurants far from population centers. The U.S. has some places like that, too. But few of them can match the Cottage Restaurant & Cafe (427 Farmington Ave, Plainville, Conn.; 860-793-8888, cottagerestaurantandcafe.com) for staying power and consistently terrific food. Located at a nondescript crossroads in Plainville, Connecticut, a little southwest of Hartford, the Cottage should be celebrated as a Nutmeg State treasure. Full disclosure: We met Patty Queen at a 1996 book party celebrating the publication of Julie Stillman's Great Women Chefs (https://goo.gl/Rxutaq). Queen was among the youngest chefs featured. Ever since, we've been driving more than 100 miles to eat at the Cottage three or four times a year. We're...Read More
Brilliant Sancerre boosts saffron & roasted-squash pizza

Brilliant Sancerre boosts saffron & roasted-squash pizza

We have to admit that we prefer good Sancerre to the New World versions of Sauvignon Blanc—even the highly touted wines from New Zealand. The French take on the grape drinks well with cold-weather dishes. So when we pondered a pizza pairing for one of our favorite Sancerres, we remembered a hearty risotto. We often make a risotto with saffron and onion broth that is studded with bits of bacon, roasted butternut squash, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's perfect with a zingy Sauvignon Blanc. Surely those flavors could be adapted to a pizza. The Wine: Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre 2016 The pairing was perfect. This Sancerre is fermented cold with wild yeasts and ages on the lees about three months. The yeast notes from the...Read More