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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Restaurants

Yosemite's Luxe Side

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Yosemite's Half Dome

Full disclosure: We didn't totally rough it while in Yosemite (left). Although we spent our nights on the valley floor in the $5-a-night backpacker's camp, we also ate our first meal in the Ahwahnee Dining Room, the park's best restaurant. Normally I would steer clear of a place like this: diners reserve tables weeks in advance, seemingly for the dramatic dining room steeped in California lore, leaving no real need for the chef to put out great food. But the Ahwahnee was much better than it had any right to be, even if the dress code meant I had to change from hiking boots to high heels in the lobby. The service was friendly and efficient, and the food was tasty: my Arctic char was flaky and perfectly seasoned, while my husband's venison was tender and paired well with cranberries and späetzle. The homey chocolate fudge–pecan pie was an indulgent, messy-in-a-good-way dessert—I'm not at all surprised they've kept the same recipe for decades.

Wine

Workout and Wine

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wine

© Donna Da Vine
Brooklyn's Donna Da Vine wine shop.

I have a “work hard, eat well” mentality. I’ll run 12 miles or bike two hours, and rather than refuel with a protein shake, I’ll go someplace like ’Fatty Cue and feast on pork spareribs and ’cue coriander bacon. So I was curious when friends invited me to a workout-and-wine-tasting event last week at Donna Da Vine wine shop in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Personal trainer Leanne Shear meets a group at Cadman Plaza Park and conducts a 45-minute workout with running and some strength training. Afterward, the group goes back to Donna Da Vine for a wine tasting. The first session was such a hit that there are plans to start holding a Bootcamp and Beer version when Donna Da Vine opens its sister shop, highlighting local beers and cheeses, next month.
 

Travel

Campfire Cuisine

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Breakfast is served.

The one drawback to back-country camping is that you have to carry all of your food with you. Last week I did it in Yosemite, which added another layer of meal-planning complication: everything had to fit into a smallish bear-proof canister. Many people rely on the ease of chalky freeze-dried foods for these trips, but I wasn't willing to go there. I wanted flavor and nourishment, so we packed energy-rich foods that wouldn't take up a lot of space (think tortillas, not bread) and were able to make it work. Breakfast was scrambled eggs (left), oatmeal with homemade granola and tea. Lunch was cheese, salami and dried mangoes. But the dinners were the best part. Spanish chorizo added a spicy bite to our rice and beans one night; another time, we dropped homemade jerky into a corn-and-potato stew. Dessert was Italian chocolate with hazelnuts. Great fuel for days spent on the trail.

If I had car-camped, these recipes would've been at the top of my list.

For more on enjoying the great outdoors, here's travel editor Jen Murphy's guide to going luxe (or rustic) in some of our National Parks.

Restaurants

Cheap Eats in Puerto Rico, Part 2

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ola lola's

© Jen Murphy
Ola Lola's in Isabela, Puerto Rico

 

I thought the excellent food at Isabela’s Texaco station would be the most surprising food find of my recent Puerto Rico surf trip. Apparently, the best food is in the most unassuming places. My friends and I stayed at an awesome (and affordable) oceanfront apartment at Villa Tropical. The superfriendly Canadian owner, Trevor, recommended a local hangout up the road called Ola Lola’s

Locals refer to it as “the green shack” because the restaurant is little more than a small roadside shack with a few bar stools and a handful of tables. It’s only open from 3 to 9 p.m., Friday to Monday. When it’s closed, it looks like a shed—but when it’s open, people are overflowing into the streets.

The draws are both the crazy-good food and the adorable owners, Elaine and John. The Kalamazoo, Michigan natives took over Ola Lola’s three years ago. John tends the bar, while Elaine (who remembers every customer’s name and greets return guests with a hug) cooks and runs the food. Not-to-be-missed signatures include an out-of-this-world Asiago-artichoke dip (Elaine says it went through some many variations to reach perfection that John, her guinea pig, won’t touch it) and the bizarre-sounding, yet delicious, peanut-butter burger. John’s frozen piña colada may be the best I’ve ever tasted—supersmooth and made with real coconut—and he has also stocked a laudable selection of craft brews, like Ruedrich's Red Seal Ale from California’s North Coast Brewing Company. Elaine puts a fun twist on the banana split, skipping the ice cream and actually splitting the banana and filling it with toppings like chocolate, peanut butter and marshmallows. I noticed that John waves to every person who walks or drives past. When I commented that he must know the entire island, he confessed, “I have no idea who that was. I wave to every single person who passes. Eventually, they stop in. It’s a no-fail marketing plan.”

Travel

Cheap Eats in Puerto Rico

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donut

© Jen Murphy
Omar's just-baked doughnuts.



Every year, my girlfriends and I take a surf trip. No matter where we end up, our itinerary is pretty much always the same, revolving around surfing, eating, napping, and more surfing and eating. I just got back from this year’s trip, a quick few days in Rincon and Isabela on Puerto Rico’s northwest coast. I can’t share the spots we surfed (the locals would never let us back), but I can share some excellent food discoveries.

Discovery No. One: Isabela’s Texaco Gas Station
Bizarrely, the Texaco on Highway 110 is the daytime social hub of Isabela. On Sundays there is even live music, in a back corner under an enormous, shady tree. We found ourselves making regular morning stops for the incredible homemade doughnuts (try the coconut and guava-filled) at its little bakery, Deli Delights Donuts. If you look closely at the sign, in supersmall print you’ll see “by Omar.” (The owners of Ola Lola’s restaurant—more on that tomorrow—told us that Omar is the best baker on the island, and they buy all of their bread from him.) At the other end of the Texaco is a black tent with a sign that reads “Killer Tacos and Pinchos.” Underneath are a few plastic chairs and tables and a grill manned by a local surfer woman who cooks up ridiculously good, cheap food. The secret to the tacos (pork and chicken were our favorites) is a superfresh papaya salsa. Pinchos (skewers) of chicken, beef and pork and ceviche are also on the menu. Hours, however, depend on how good the waves are. If the swell is up, the owner is usually out surfing.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Already looking forward to next year (June 19-21, 2015)? Relive your favorite moments from the culinary world's most sensational weekend in the Rocky Mountains.