goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream, philadelphia-style

goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream

Did you know that July is National Ice Cream Month? And that the third Sunday of the month is National Ice Cream Day? President Reagan called for all people of the United States to observe these events with “appropriate ceremonies and activities.” So Em and I decided to have an ice cream week. But it’s really because President Reagan wanted us to do so.

Following Em’s experimentations with the ice cream maker, I felt suddenly inspired to come up with my own flavor, and, taking advantage of Em leaving the city for the weekend, I proposed to “take care of” our new favorite kitchen item. This is I think the start of a long love story. But this love story is unfortunately doomed: Besides the fact that I have to give back the machine, my kitchen does not really have the space to welcome it. And my freezer is so small that it makes the storage of the bowl and the ice cream almost impossible. In the meantime, I’m satisfied knowing that it is available five floors up. Em does not know it yet, but her kitchen has just become an extension of mine.

blueberries

Over the weekend, I tried one recipe: goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream, aka taste-bud paradise. I know this combination might sound strange, but it’s delicious. The inspiration came from one of the best ice cream shops I’ve been to: Salt & Straw in Portland, Ore. This shop alone would be enough of a reason to visit Portland. I once tried their blue cheese pear flavor and it simply stole my heart! The hubby was not convinced, but he does not like blue cheese anyway. Not sure what’s wrong with him…

Salt & Straw

Anyway, as the good French girl that I am, I’ve always been obsessed with cheese pairing, trying all sorts of savoury sweet combinations. My latest crave: cantaloupe melon, feta and mint. Irresistible! And what’s better for dessert than some goat cheese with walnuts and a drizzle of honey? Keeping that in mind, I had a feeling that the lactic, citric tang of a mild goat cheese would pair perfectly with the tart-sweet blueberries. Add some honey (or lavender honey if you have some) for a bit of sweetness, let the machine do its trick and wait with spoon in hand (I did!).

I used Em’s egg-free base made with whole milk and cream but added some goat cheese  for a dreamy creamy texture. I really waffled on whether to add egg yolks. We all tend to think the richer the better, and it’s true that a custard-based ice cream (French-style), because of its higher fat content, will maintain a softer, creamier texture when frozen. But the fat also tends to mask the flavors of the other ingredients. The eggless version has a delicate taste and a milky smoothness and is apparently called Philadelphia-style ice cream.

Philadelphia-style ice cream

Instead of just adding whole blueberries, I cooked them in a pan to get something in between a coulis and a jam. Just to add some texture to the ice cream.

For better results, pre-chill all the ingredients overnight.

Goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream

Yields about 2 quarts.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or lavender honey)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 ounces young mild goat cheese
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Combine whole milk, honey and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Stir to dissolve the honey and sugar.

Put the goat cheese in a large bowl, pour over the warm milk, and mix together until smooth. Incorporate the heavy cream, let cool and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare the blueberry “jam”. Place the blueberries in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add water and honey and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for about 15 minutes until most of the liquid evaporates, occasionally mashing the mixture to the desired consistency. I personally prefer keeping some texture. Let cool and refrigerate overnight.

blueberries

The next day, pour the goat cheese mixture into the freezer bowl and start churning. When the mixture is already quite thick, add gradually the blueberry puree. Once churned, transfer to an airtight container and let the ice cream solidify for few hours in the freezer. Before eating, put in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes to soften the texture, and then start scooping.

The result: To be honest, Philadelphia-style ice cream is best eaten right out of your ice cream maker or after a few hours in your freezer (but still great after few days, and I’m currently writing this post while eating ice cream, for breakfast!). The ice cream was intensively flavored and smooth, more refreshing than a custard-based ice cream and a bit lighter (but still very rich thanks to the goat cheese and cream). Enjoy!

goat cheese blueberry honey ice cream 2

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let them eat ice cream (for the pool-less on a hot day)

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A recent acquisition in my kitchen is an appliance that I probably would never purchase. It is, however, an appliance that someone might buy raffle tickets to win but after the excitement of the prize, it might sit in the basement, forgotten about until spring cleaning. That someone is a very kind colleague and the prize appliance is the Cuisinart Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker. My colleague asked if I would like the long forgotten ice cream maker. Without any hesitation (who would hesitate? It’s a FREE ICE CREAM MAKER!) I said yes and long story short, I, Em of deuxdilettantes, am the proud owner of a soft serve ice cream maker.

The timing of this addition to my kitchen couldn’t be any more perfect. With the recent change of temperature (hello Lake Washington, my savior from the heat), a bit of homemade ice cream felt just right. I invited Bee to join me in the christening of the ice cream maker. The whole event was a bit comical. It must have been 90 degrees in my flat. I don’t have AC and the windows hardly open. We watched the neighbors frolic in their pool as we made ice cream and wondered if we could tempt them with cool treats so that we might take a dip in the refreshing water. I’m pretty sure we made all the rookie mistakes as we created a lovely ice cream mess in my kitchen.

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It was messy (and that picture was taken after we cleaned up) but we had a blast. And we ended up with darn good ice cream.

Even if your not crazy about our flavor combinations, at least consider the following two tips:

1. The freezer bowl MUST be cold. The owner manual suggests 12 hours in the freezer but I suggest 24 hours just to be safe.

2. Adding anything solid (dare I suggest chocolate chunks?!) to the milk/cream liquid mixture WILL clog the machine and create a mess. We suggest allowing the mixture to thicken and then add, slowly.

photo

Lavender cardamom vanilla with chocolate chunk ice cream

Yields 1.5 pints

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk (plus extra)
  • 1/4 cup lavender
  • 10 pods cardamom (split open)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream (very cold)
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

1. Combine 1 cup milk, lavender, cardamom and vanilla in a medium sauce pan. Bring to simmer and then reduce heat to low / low-medium. Gently stir and cook for about 20 minutes.

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2. Strain mixture and discard lavender buds and cardamom pods. Pour the mixture into a measuring cup and top off milk mixture to measure 1 cup. Put in refrigerator or over an ice bath.

3. Once milk is cold, pour into a mixing bowl and add sugar. Whisk or mix until sugar is dissolved. Then add cream. Mix and pour into freezer bowl. Turn on ice cream machine and let it do its magic.

4. As the milk/cream mixture starts to thicken to a soft serve consistency begin to add chocolate chunks a small spoonful at a time. Once the mixture is past soft serve consistency but prior to ice cream, turn off the machine and begin to scoop out ice cream into a freezer safe container. Freeze until mixture has hardened and then serve! Or serve immediately as soft serve!

Dutch chocolate with cinnamon and chocolate chunk ice cream

Yields 1.5 pints

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk (very cold)
  • pinch cinnamon powder
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups heavy cream (very cold)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

1. Combine the cocoa powder with sugars in a medium bowl. Mix until lumps are removed.

2. Add the whole milk and mix until smooth. Add cinnamon, cayenne and heavy cream. Mix and pour into freezer bowl.

3. Turn on ice cream maker and allow to mix.

4. As the milk/cream mixture starts to thicken to a soft serve consistency begin to add chocolate chunks a small spoonful at a time. Once the mixture is past soft serve consistency but prior to ice cream, turn off the machine and begin to scoop out ice cream into a freezer safe container. Freeze until mixture has hardened and then serve! Or serve immediately as soft serve!

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Strawberry with balsamic caramel ice cream

Yields 1.5 pints

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup whole milk (very cold)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups heavy cream (very cold)
  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and pureed

1. Combine the granulated sugar, water and balsamic vinegar in a shallow pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Let simmer for about 15 minutes – until the consistency is thick and syrupy but not yet a caramel. Remove from heat and pour into a heat safe container. Set aside and allow mixture to thicken as it cools.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the whole milk, brown sugar and vanilla. Whisk or mix until smooth. Then add heavy cream. Stir and then add to freezer bowl. Start mixing and as mixture thickens begin to add the strawberry puree, slowly.

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Allow mixture to continue to thicken and then slowly add the balsamic caramel.

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Once the mixture is past soft serve consistency but prior to ice cream, turn off the machine and begin to scoop out ice cream into a freezer safe container. Freeze until mixture has hardened and then serve! Or serve immediately as soft serve!

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As I write this, I realize that over the past week I have eaten more ice cream than I should ever admit to. But hey, that was all for research! It doesn’t count. We are dreaming up all sorts of ideas for the machine. There has been discussion of coconut milk… almond milk… sorbets… oh the possibilities!

Have a lovely week and stay cool. And eat ice cream!

XOXO, Em

currently crushing on…

cintli

We hope you had an explosive 4th of July and that the weekend is looking good. And because it’s been a while since we last shared what makes us happy, here is a quick list of what we are currently crushing on:

Cintli: the latest addition to Seattle’s café scene, but it has a Latino theme and you can buy adorable Mexican jewels and trinkets. Try their Mayan mocha made with spicy chocolate or their horchata latte.

Do you say pop or soda? A great infographic shows American’s language peculiarities.  Apparently in the South, when people ask for a coke, you have to ask which kind because coke means soda… So confusing, but how fascinating!

Edible flowers in Em’s P-patch (that’s Seattle’s term for a community garden). Now we want to play with this book.

Because you might have some leftovers from yesterday’s grilling, here are 5 ways to use corn on the cob.

movie that looks cute for a date (versus this movie, which we won’t bother watching, but the book sounds great).

oysters

The perfect continuation of that date night: a plate of fresh oysters at Taylor Shellfish Farms.

Finally, here’s a sneak peek at Monday’s post. We all scream for ice cream!

ice cream

Have a lovely sunny weekend!

Bee & Em.

the ultimate refresher: the pimm’s cup

Pimm's Cup

How are you planning to celebrate the Fourth of July? For us, it will be spending time with friends, grilling fresh fish on the barbecue, watching the fireworks, of course, and… Em and I have talked about going swimming in Lake Washington. (Call us crazy! I just hope I won’t die of hypothermia.)

And to mark the holiday, deuxdilettantes is proposing a little cocktail recipe that might soon become one of your summer favorites. Forget mojitos and caipirinhas. Get ready to fall for the Pimm’s Cup, an iconic garden-party drink that is to Wimbledon what the mint Julep is to the Kentucky Derby. A British cocktail on July 4th? Yes, there is really nothing better on a hot day than this long icy drink. Just think of it as a conciliatory gesture toward our one-time colonial overlords.

4 Pimm's Cup

I already mentioned that every time my husband and I go to New Orleans we have to stop at the Napoleon House* to get their house drink, and somehow the Pimm’s Cup found its way into our cocktail routine — or, should I say, his cocktail routine.

Although I’m liable to produce batch after batch of macarons in pursuit of perfection, I have very little patience with cocktails, and I’m just happy to sit, sip and enjoy. My husband, on the other hand, showed some interest, and I sort of encouraged him… very strongly. When I moved in with him, I needed to reclaim the tiny kitchen that was full of glasses and liquor bottles — a misuse of precious cooking space! — so I suggested that we buy a bar. I sold him on the idea by insisting that it would be a great opportunity for him to perfect his mixology skills, but it was really all about space optimization. Not that I’m complaining in the end — How cool is it to have a bartender at home, right? — but I may have created a monster: Not a dinner with friends goes by without some new cocktail experiment, nor a date at a cocktail bar without him trying to recreate a drink at home. But back to the Pimm’s Cup.

Pimm's

The Pimm’s Cup is a great summer cooler and can easily replace the overdone mojito and gin tonic, or even a beer. It will add a slight touch of class to even the most casual barbecue. Another great point: The alcohol content of Pimm’s is relatively low compared to other spirits (25%), and I found myself drinking a couple without even noticing.

For a Pimm’s Cup, you will need Pimm’s No. 1, a light gin-based liqueur with herbs, spices and citrus. And if you wonder why this liqueur is numbered, it’s because there used to be five other sorts of Pimm’s, respectively based on Scotch, brandy, rum, rye and vodka. Today, aside Pimm’s No.1, only Pimm’s No. 6 with a vodka base is still available (as well as No. 3 but seasonally and in confidential quantity). All the other kinds were phased out.

Ingredients Pimm's Cup

The Pimm’s Cup is subject to multiple interpretations. Besides the base liqueur, it may contain any combination of cucumber, orange, lemon, strawberries, mint, rosemary and sometimes maraschino cherries(!). My favorite garnish is cucumber, mint, rosemary and some citrus. Add some fizz (ginger ale, lemon soda or sparkling lemonade), adjust your hat (it’s a garden party after all), and sip while soaking up the sun. The traditional recipe contains 1 measure of Pimm’s for 3 measures of fizz.

the deuxdilettantes Pimm’s Cup (courtesy of Mr. E, aka the hubby)

Yields about 10 drinks.

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle of Pimm’s No. 1
  • 1/2 unpeeled cucumber cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 3-4 sprigs of mint
  • 3-4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1/2 orange quartered
  • Lemon soda (Sprite or 7-Up), lemonade or ginger ale
  • Ice cubes

In a large pitcher, place the herbs, cucumber slices and orange quarters and muddle. Pour over a bottle of Pimm’s and allow to rest for at least a couple of hours in the fridge.

Muddling the ingredients

To serve, fill a highball glass with ice and pour in the Pimm’s mixture to fill about 1/4 to 1/2 of the glass. Top with ginger ale, lemon soda, lemonade or even Champagne or sparkling wine for a Pimm’s Royal. Garnish with mint or rosemary, cucumber and an orange slice.

Happy sipping!

Bee

*Speaking of the Napoleon House, when my husband was a kid in Louisiana, he met Sal Impastato, a famous Louisiana restaurateur and current owner of the Napoleon House, which is said to be the biggest buyer of Pimm’s in the U.S. If my husband had known at that time, maybe he would have asked Sal about his secret recipe for a perfect Pimm’s Cup.

Pimm's

a dessert for the lazy: the clafoutis

Clafoutis

Last weekend, as I was browsing the Broadway farmers market in Seattle, I suddenly realized that we’re right in the middle of le temps des cerises (the cherry season). I’ve been travelling so much recently that I completely lost track of the seasons. In France fresh cherries mean clafoutis, one of the easiest cakes you can make. It’s about as complicated as making pancakes or crêpes. Actually, no. It’s easier because you just have to throw it in the oven and wait. A clafoutis is a rustic dessert, filled with fruits, the consistency of which is halfway between a cake and a custard. Today, people make clafoutis with any seasonal fruit, but the true, authentic clafoutis is made with black cherries (griotte).

Cherries at the market

Cherries are like madeleines to me. They’re nostalgic and bring back lots of tender memories. While I was pondering whether or not to buy cherries, I thought about that beautiful cherry tree that still stands in my grandma’s garden and how every summer I would fight with the birds to pick the best cherries and be rewarded for my epic victory with an amazing clafoutis. Nothing can top my grandma’s clafoutis, but you will have to take my word for it, because even if I wanted to, I would be unable to give you the recipe. Not that it is a family secret, but my grandmother does it intuitively, without a scale or a recipe book, and it’s always delicious. She would rinse the cherries, lay them in a single layer in a dish, whisk together two or three eggs, add some flour, sugar, milk and cream and pour it over the cherries. Then she would bake the delicious mixture until the batter is just set with nicely browned and puffed edges.

Cherry Clafoutis

My recipe is slightly different and includes some almond powder, but everybody in France has his or her own take on this classic, notably when it comes to leaving in the pits or not… There are two schools of thought on this: The traditionalists recommend using unpitted cherries, as the pits supposedly release a nice flavor when the dish is cooked. But nowadays, the modernists prefer clafoutis with pitted cherries, since it’s easier to eat. Personally, I always leave the pits — not because I’m a traditionalist but, to be honest, I’m just lazy. I really think the story about the pits adding more flavor to the clafoutis is just a way to justify the cook’s laziness.

Cherries

Pick your cherries carefully. Choose the nicest fruits: plump, firm, shiny and juicy. I bought some Utah Giant cherries: They were very flavorful, sweet and slightly sour — an important detail if you don’t want your clafoutis to be overly sweet. Bing cherries would also be a good choice. Don’t hesitate to adjust the quantity of sugar based on the sweetness of your cherries.

Cherry clafoutis

Yields 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon softened butter
  • 1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
  • A pinch of fleur de sel
  • About 1.5 pounds cherries (enough to cover the bottom of a baking dish)
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (10 cl)
  • 1 cup whole milk (25 cl)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Grease a baking dish, cast-iron skillet or a Pirex pie plate with the softened butter. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of brown sugar and the fleur de sel (my secret touch!). Wash the cherries, remove their stems (and their pits, if you want), and layer them in the prepared dish.

Cherries layered in a baking dish

In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer if you like, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture almost doubles in volume. Gradually add the almond meal, flour, cream and milk, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients as you combine them. Mix until the batter is homogeneous.

Clafoutis batter

Pour the mixture over the cherries and place in the oven for about 40-45 minutes, until golden and puffed. If you desire, sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy lukewarm or cold (with homemade lavender-chocolate-chip ice cream, as Em and I did! — more details to come soon).

Cherry Clafoutis 2

sushi for breakfast

lanterns at hozen-ji temple

lanterns at hozen-ji temple

Did you know that Osaka has more Michelin stars than Paris? And that it is the birthplace of conveyor-belt sushi and ramen? From the high end to the low end, Osaka has a lot to offer in the culinary sense.

Why am I talking about Osaka? After a couple of painful last-minute changes of itinerary, my husband and I decided to start our Asian trip in this southern Japanese city at the heart of the densely-populated Kansai region. It’s not the most obvious first stop for a Japan virgin, but, with the sudden realization that Tokyo and Mount Fuji would have to wait for the next trip, I decided to embrace this alternate destination and all it had to offer. Osaka, I figured, was still better than no Japan at all.

Osaka

But first, let’s try to set the scene: Osaka is far from being the most picturesque part of Japan, which is partly explained by the density of its population and the need to optimize the use of space. Also, a large part of the city was bombed during World War II and quickly rebuilt after the war to accommodate the population. But the city carries a strong identity and a rich and dynamic culture, shaped by shintoist and buddhist traditions as well as by an amazing capacity to reinvent itself.

We stayed in the flamboyant Dotonbori district, a nightlife hub with its shops, restaurants and Pachinko parlors. It reminded me of Times Square, but bigger, louder and tackier (if that’s even possible). The streets are saturated with neon signs and bring massive waves of young people ready to party, shop and gamble. But sometimes, even in the middle of the bustle, you make a detour onto a quieter street to find tucked away amid the chaos a little shrine, a gem of the past that makes you forget about the ambient confusion and the noise of the city.

In such an overwhelming urban area, the need to escape to calmer places was strong, but unfortunately, parks and open spaces were rare. We managed to find some quiet on the grounds of Osaka Castle and at the oldest Buddhist Temple in Japan, Shitennoji. And we found unexpected respite at Namba Parks, a unique 8-level rooftop park.

Shitennoji

Shitennoji

‘Kuiadore’: Eat until you drop…

Every meal we had in Osaka was amazing, from the typical Japanese breakfast at our hotel (rice pudding, grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, fermented soy beans…) to the bowl of ramen enjoyed in a small eatery in a train station, or the delicious okonomiyaki we tried at a popular restaurant in Dotonbori.

Okonomiyaki

The Japanese word kuiadore means “to ruin oneself with extravagance in food” and is part of a traditional proverb that says: “Dress (in kimonos) until you drop in Kyoto, eat until you drop in Osaka”. And that was all the permission we needed to stuff ourselves.

Osaka is known for its food, and if there’s one thing you should absolutely try while you are there, it’s the local street food specialty takoyaki, or fried octopus balls. It’s surprisingly good: crispy on the outside with a gooey wheat flour-based batter made with diced octopus, green onions and spices inside. It is served piping hot, covered with ponzu (soy sauce with dashi and vinegar) and dried bonito flakes. The way they make it in a cast-iron griddle with half-spherical molds is fascinating: the takoyaki are furiously flipped with a pick so that the uncooked batter is at the base of the rounded cavity where it is cooked at a very high temperature. There seem to be a couple of places in Seattle where I can find takoyaki, and I can’t wait to try them!

Takoyaki

Japan is matcha paradise

For all the cooks out there, if there is one thing I would recommend bringing back from Japan, it’s matcha powder. I love baking with it, but its price here in the States makes it a luxury good that I try to use sparingly and end up not using as often as I would like. The matcha powder I found in Japan is 7 to 10 times cheaper than what I’ve seen in the States. 40g for less than 4 dollars: Where can you find a better price?

Matcha goodness

Matcha goodness (warabi mochi)

As a matcha fan, each time I spotted a green baked good or sweet you can be sure that I tried it: matcha and chocolate cake, matcha mochi filled with red bean paste (my favorite!), matcha pudding, matcha jelly and… matcha Kit Kats and Oreos! To my husband’s consternation, I tried everything, happy to discover new flavor palettes. What I love about Japanese pastries is that they’re not overly sweet and they use ingredients that are largely unfamiliar to my Western palate. Mochi, for example, is made with glutinous rice flour and filled with jelly, paste or ice cream; warabimochi, a jelly dessert, is rolled in soybean flour; and dorayaki, a sort of thick pancake, is filled with red bean paste…

Delicious dorayaki

Everything is perfectly designed and beautiful to look at, almost too beautiful to eat. And if you go to a nice bakery, they will pack it with thick, colorful paper, the kind you only use for gifts. That’s when the pleasure of the palate meets the pleasure of the eyes…

Matcha chocolate cake

I think I’ve never seen food so colourful and strangely shaped, and I’ll certainly have a closer look at Japanese baking recipes in the future.

Japanese sweets

Sushi expedition at the fish market

Without a doubt the culinary highlight of our stay, Endo Sushi is a small restaurant located in the city fish market where the sushi is made with the day’s freshest produce and sold at an affordable price. Each 5-piece maze (set) cost about 1,000 yen (less than $10). The cuts were generous, and the quantity of rice was on the small side (which I personally prefer, since it’s all about the fish). A nice surprise is that you don’t dip your nigiri into the soy sauce but rather apply it with a brush. This makes it easier to get the soy on the fish instead of the rice.

Endo sushi

Endo is a bit off the beaten path, but with the aid of Google Maps and this helpful blog post (thank you, dear fellow blogger!), you won’t have any trouble finding it. The place is small, and I’ve read that its gets rather busy around lunch time. The good thing is that it opens at 5 a.m., in keeping with its fish-market location. Since we were still struggling with jetlag (Seattle being 16 hours behind), we had no trouble visiting for breakfast. Yes, sushi makes great breakfast food. Another must on the menu: the clam miso soup, which was rich and wonderfully tasty.

The staff were nice and made an extra effort to commmunicate with us. The sushi master, who must be in his seventies, seemed to come right out of one of those Japanese anime cartoons from the 1980’s, with his rounded white-framed glasses and his traditional wooden platform shoes. He stayed planted on his chair the whole time, checking severely the movements of his staff (and nodding off occasionally…), reminding us a bit of the subject of the film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“. When he offered us a smile at the end of our meal, amused by our obvious satisfaction, I felt like I’d been inducted into a secret society of sushi connoisseurs.

Unique drinking experience at Bar Core

This might be the smallest bar in Osaka and among the smallest in the world: There are no seats, and only seven or eight people can comfortably stand, including the bartender. And if you don’t drink whisky, you won’t be drinking here.

Bar Core in Osaka

It takes a bit of courage to enter, and I would recommend avoiding it if you have claustrophobic tendencies. The space is so small and narrow that private conversations are almost impossible, or at least impolite. Try to imagine us, with our 10 words of Japanese, sidling up to the bar on a Sunday night: Keep in mind that once you step through the door, it’s already too late to change your mind. When we entered, conversation ceased and 3 pairs of eyes glanced warily in our direction; stepping back would have been more awkward than staying. On the other hand, knowing that this place has been featured in The New York Times’ “36 hours” series, we figured the bartender must be used to greeting unwitting foreign tourists who, like us, stumble in and try to quickly assess whether to stay or flee. We stayed.

Following the NYT recomendation, my husband ordered a glass of Hibiki, an intense, award-winnning 17-year-old blend. I decided to go for something else and tried to explain it to the bartender, in a combination of English and signs. One of the two clients came to my rescue and pointed at what he was drinking: A 12-year-old single malt that happened to be very smooth. I mumbled a thank you in Japanese and tried to disappear into my drink. Fortunately, the other client had studied a little bit of English in high school and engaged in conversation with us. And, one thing leading to another, and with the alcohol helping, we ended singing some songs, in French, by Michel Polnareff, famous in France and in Japan too, apparently. This client happened to have all his songs in her iPod.

Shop at Takashimaya

If you want to buy just about anything — from traditional hand-held fans and origami paper to expansive clothing and jewelry — Takashimaya is your temple! We found ourselves inexplicably drawn to this sprawling department store, more than necessary…

Making dorayaki

My favorite part? The basement food court, which reminded me of the one at Harrods. A perfect place to take a culinary tour of all the Japanese specialties: yakitori, tempura, sushi, ramen, mochi… Buy a few items for your lunch and go eat them at the top of Namba Parks, as we did, for some relative peace and quiet in the middle of the urban craze.

Tempura at Takashimaya food court

Traveling in Japan can sometimes be intimidating, but don’t forget that when it comes to food, it’s actually pretty easy. Lots of places have window displays with plastic food: Just point at what you want to order and you’ll be served. Easy!

Next stop: Hong Kong. Stay tuned!