When asked about the best chocolatiers in the world, many people think of northern Europe: France, Switzerland, and Belgium. But enter Spain, whose Cacao Sampaka has redefined the traditional gastronomic experience of cacao. Owned by Albert Adrià, the former pastry chef at El Bulli and brother of Ferran of Tickets & 41ºfame, its whimsical chocolatiers have made traditional, handcrafted chocolates cosmopolitan. They have redesigned ingredient pairings to create unique flavor experiences; gone are the ganaches and nougats in place of unorthodox, almost schismatic, ingredients. From curry to parmesan to wasabi to balsamic vinegar, these Spanish chocolates exhibit the infinite creativity in the art of chocolate making. Creations of single bean origin – Tanzania, Ecuador, and Madagascar – sit aside those with ingredients of Indonesian origin – clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg – in a display of chocolates that would please the exquisite palate of even the most discerning of chocolate lovers. While many would call this a gourmet chocolate shop, gourmet is too mediocre. It is simply sublime.
I recently found myself wandering the streets of Groningen in The Netherlands on a cold December day when I came upon The Pancake Ship. Yes, The Pancake Ship. The Dutch pannenkoeken are far from the typical Bisquik pancakes and maple syrup we Gen-Xers grew up on; rather, they are as big as a charger plate and just a bit thicker than a French crèpe, and the Dutch top them with everything, smoked fish included. The extensive menu at The Pancake Ship cuts across sweet and savory, but if you go for the savory – with meat or cheese or both – be forewarned that the fries and salad are served not on the side, but on top of the pancake. This is a purely logistical presentation as the pancake is so enormous that it hangs off the edge of the plate. The savory pannenkoeken here are a triple layered concoction of heartiness that are best eaten with a pint, or maybe a half pint, of the local beer. If you go for one of the sweet versions, know that the sugar level is high, but oh so worth it. And get a beer with the sweet ones as well. In fact, always get a beer.
Once the pancake extravaganza was over, one of the owners asked me where I was from – an innocuous question I’m often asked when traveling. I told her that I live in DC, but I grew up in Florida. And then the most unexpected thing of the day happened. She began to reminisce about living in Daytona Beach, Florida, when she was in her teens. She talked of crusin’ the main drag and on the beach in a convertible with the radio blaring. I myself have done the same thing, so the bonus part of The Pancake Ship turned out to be a bit of nostalgic chatting about old Florida.
Fancy a fab cup ‘o’ joe on quirky furniture that spans decades of styles? Welcome to the “Best Little Coffeehouse in Utrecht” — The Village Coffee & Music. Grab a hand-crafted cup of coffee or a decadent hot chocolate, relax on vintage comfy chairs, and check out the art-lined walls. This is a great joint for relaxing…and listening to The Cure & The Smiths. They may look like hipsters here, but I do believe there’s more than a bit of Gen-X going on.
The Danes are known for their love of traditional smørrebrød — open-faced sandwiches of buttered rye bread with meat, fish, or vegetables. Aamanns Deli & Take Away in Copenhagen offers this Danish classic, yet with a modern twist. Here, they pile them high with such delicacies as beet-cured hake, pork rillettes, and barrel-cured herring. A mighty fine sandwich indeed.
Owned by the only woman in France to hold three Michelin stars, La Dame de Pic offers a unique new concept. Chef Anne-Sophie Pic has teamed with Takasago perfumer, Philippe Bousseton, to create three fragrances that reflect the flavor pairings in her menus. Before being presented with menus, guests first experience the notes of a signature perfume and then carry those notes into their food choices. This is Parisian haute cuisine at its finest.