In 2010, the cash-strapped owner of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Washington, placed an ad on Craigslist for a head chef. Blaine Wetzel, who was raised in nearby Olympia and had spent the last two years cooking (and, of course, foraging) at Noma in Copenhagen, was looking to come home. “Home” soon meant a 9-square-mile island dangling in the Puget Sound just 30 miles south of the Canadian border.
I have been trying to enjoy Los Angeles. Or at least dismantle my aversion to it. It all started in January when my L.A.-based friend, who knows I’ll find any excuse to decline a visit—impromptu family reunion, cardiac arrest—gave me two robust months’ notice for her 40th birthday party. I was going whether I liked it or not. And besides the two-plus hours of stop-and-start maniacal traffic, I think L.A. finally broke me.
It’s easy to get a good meal when you’re paying a lot for a renowned chef to prepare your freeze-dried foie gras, but perhaps a bigger challenge is finding casual and affordable food that’s done well. Above, pork belly ramen that my brother refers to as “crack cocaine” at Hashigo near his office in downtown Tokyo. I can see why: the flavors we could pick out of the rich broth were sesame, yuzu, garlic, and soy sauce, but Hashigo likely guards its recipe closely as “the best ramen” is always of great debate.
Michelin stars don’t always mean a fancy experience. The buttery (often aged-for-tenderness) fish we enjoyed at Sushi Saito—which has three Michelin stars—was served up in quick succession in an austere room. You could be paying the check in less than an hour. But the two-star Édition Koji Shimomura and one-star à nu retrouvez-vous deliver the traditional white-linen experience. Both Chef Koji Shimomura and Chef Shohei Shimono, respectively, trained in high-end French restaurants, and each brings a personal approach to the cuisine by using Japanese ingredients and honoring local taste preferences, but—as you’ll find—their interpretations are distinctly unique.
More than once during my trip to Tokyo my brother Matthew would point to a drab building with no signage and tell me it was one of the best restaurants he had tried in his two decades of living there. Just as it took us 10 minutes of circling a nondescript office building to find the three-Michelin-starred Sushi Saito, yet another unadvertised delight was tucked inside what looked like someone’s home in a residential neighborhood.
I thought I had reached a sushi pinnacle when I dined at Kyubey the last time I was in Tokyo, but Chef Takashi Saito—who once worked at Kyubey—has taken it to another level at his seven-seat Sushi Saito. While Kyubey has a warmer atmosphere more conducive to lengthier meals (if desired), Sushi Saito serves what could be considered a “quickie lunch,” albeit an extremely high-end one delivered with the utmost care.
Our first time in Cabo San Lucas, situated on the southernmost tip of the Baja California peninsula, we knew it would be more margaritas and less Mayan ruins. This is a sun-and-fun getaway for Americans: you can use dollars interchangeably with pesos, you’ll find both Costco and a luxury shopping mall, and it seems almost every visitor we spoke to owned a time share. And if you don’t own a time share, there is someone with a clipboard who would like to speak with you.
In case you haven’t heard, Tijuana is the next big thing in food. Not only have people in the know been frequenting Baja for years, but the media finally caught on, too. Anthony Bourdain, Rick Bayless, and Andrew Zimmern made recent trips with camera crews in tow, and media darling Javier Plascencia was profiled by the New Yorker and the New York Times for innovative cuisine served in a modern glass box above the city’s rainbow-colored bungalows.