The end of the year is the time to sum up all the things tasted, places visited and discoveries made. Flicking through the pictures of food I took throughout the year I realised that there has been a fair bit of things that I posted about on social media networks, but they were left behind the scenes in the blog. Here is the list of some of the most notable food and drink related discoveries I made throughout 2014.
While writing this post, I am sipping on a cup of Ethiopian coffee, freshly ground with my brand new Hario hand coffee grinder that Santa brought me this Christmas. It is a good representation on how important coffee became for me this year. Attending coffee cuppings, checking out some of the best coffee shops while travelling, spending a couple of days in Lithuanian coffee championship (behind the scenes, but still) and meeting wonderful people who live and breathe coffee put this flavoursome drink into the whole new perspective to me. Thanks to all of that now I know the characteristics of different origins such as Ethiopia, Kenya or Columbia and the most popular ways and devices for brewing coffee.
I tried some fantastic coffees from different roasters and origins this year and Panama Elida Estate was a true highlight among them. With a potent aroma and flavour of blueberries it was a very extraordinary discovery for me. Elida Estate averages the highest growing elevations in Panama. Because of that coffee is slow to mature and later to ripen for harvesting. Panama Elida Estate is a fine example of natural or dry-processed coffee, when beans were dried inside the fruit, resulting in natural sweetness and a very smooth finish.
Would you ever dare eating poisonous mushrooms? I never thought I would myself, until I came across false morels (gyromitra esculenta) and stocked up on them not even knowing what comes in the package. It was early spring when I bought these very distinctive looking brain-like fungi sold in the markets in Lithuania. Some research I did later on revealed that false morels are close relatives of true morels (morchella) that are widely used in French cuisine, but false ones contain a fair amount of toxic compounds that can cause symptoms of poisoning and… death.
Even though false morels are prohibited to sell as poisonous in some countries, they are a popular delicacy in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Needless to say I was following the preparation instructions very carefully by cutting them into small pieces, boiling twice in generous amount of water and rinsing the mushrooms after each boiling. No victims were found afterwards, so I guess I prepared them right. They had a very mild taste and worked really well cooked in cream sauce.
Thanks to people I met this year I discovered a lot about wine and started analysing, comparing and discerning varieties of grapes and got to know the differences between some wine regions. Being introduced to Riedel glasses and learning the importance of the right glass to a particular kind of wine helped to appreciate this complex drink even more.
Pinot Noir became the grape of the year and Yarden Pinot Noir 2006 was the most memorable for me. Yarden wine comes from Golan Heights in Galilee region in northern Israel, characterised by rocky elevations and relatively high rainfall.
Intense ruby colour, medium-bodied with raspberry and chocolate on the nose and very fruity on the palate, with dark cherry flavour and a long blackberry finish this Pinot Noir is a pleasant surprise considering the warm climate it comes from.
When it comes to the most memorable bar I visited this year, I can name Artesian bar in Langham hotel in London even without thinking. Awarded as the Best World Bar three years in a row it seems to be worth the title with its sophisticated atmosphere and creative cocktail menu. Mixologist Alex Kratena with his team make true wonders and the presentation of the drinks is very extravagant.
Digidiva cocktail is just one example of the liquid masterpieces you can try here. Consisting of Absolut Elyx vodka, cypress cordial and Aqua di Cedro – a liquor made of Cedro lemons, it comes served in a rectangle glass tube, decorated with flowers and pine tree tips that you smell while sipping the drink. The other concoctions served in this bar are equally spectacular in terms of taste and presentation.
It was a tough call selecting one single restaurant since there were quite a few good ones I visited this year, some of them Michelin starred, some with spectacular views and some run by World-class chefs. My choice might be biased toward national sentiments, but Sweet Root restaurant in Vilnius, Lithuania has it all: light minimalistic interior for a relaxed conversation, well thought through seasonal menu using locally sourced ingredients, beautiful presentations on the plates and palate pleasing flavour combinations. Where else would you get linden blossom dessert with hazelnuts or beetroot cake with juniper ice cream? Vilnius has been missing a place like this and I am happy it appeared on the foodie map.
Visiting Alinea restaurant in Chicago went straight to the top of my to-do list after I got to know of Grant Achatz – incredibly talented American chef and restaurateur. Three Michelin starred Alinea is among the seven best restaurants in the world. Watching a documentary Spinning Plates that was telling a story of three owners of restaurants I was stunned by Grant’s creative masterpieces, let alone his personal talent and determination.
Grant spends hours creating one of a kind dishes, analysing chemistry, physics and even human psychology in order to sharpen all the senses and create an unforgettable dining experience. Words can’t describe the miracles the chef makes with the food, so if you haven’t done so yet, watch the movie or at least some videos on Youtube so you get an idea of his great talent.
Imagine being walked into a pitch dark room by a blind person, seated at the table and served food not knowing what it is. I always sign up for all things unusual, so I simply had to try dining in the dark at Dans le Noir? restaurant in Clerkenwell, London.
During the whole dinner you can’t see even your finger in front of your nose. You have to figure out on how to eat and drink not stabbing yourself with cutlery or spilling the drink all over your, or even worse – your neighbour’s shirt. That’s what dinner in the dark is in the nutshell.
They say that by suppressing the dominant sense of sight the other senses get enhanced. I consider myself being pretty good at discerning flavours, so I expected the guessing game to be fun and I made a few right guesses indeed (the components of the menu were revealed only after the dinner). However, to me the sense that was enhanced the most was not taste, but hearing. It was a good opportunity to listen to a conversation partner and to focus on what you hear without any distractions. The food served there was nothing out of the ordinary, but the experience itself was truly memorable.
Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set is a documentary about five people obsessed with food, who travel around the world to dine in top class restaurants. The passion these people have for fine dining equals to chefs’ passion for cooking. To some extent I can relate to the characters of the movie myself. Every trip of mine becomes a food trip, where I go looking for new things to try and flavour discoveries always make the best memories to bring back home. You can watch the trailer of the movie here.