Top 5 Tastes: The Traveling Table

Behold, 5 delicious things that warmed my soul and filled my tummy.
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It's travel time, and all I want is heavy, filling items that don't impact my physique in a swimsuit. Airplane hours and jetlag are hard enough, without having to worry about eating kale. Behold, 5 delicious things that warmed my soul and filled my tummy.

1. Tortilla Casserole -- No.7 (Brooklyn, NY)

The word casserole usually seems to cover all manner of sins -- a bunch of things thrown into a ceramic dish and baked until the top resembles the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' faces. At No. 7, the tortilla casserole was far from haphazard and UV-rayed; but steamy, crispy and primordially comforting. The combination of ricotta and Swiss cheese melded together in a fromage power team; the Swiss deepening the flavors and the ricotta making for an endlessly creamy texture. Avocado only added to the smoothness, while pickled chilies and radicchio cut the intensity of all that dairy. Now, if only all casseroles were like this...

2. Little Chef Sandwich -- Saltie (Brooklyn, NY)

As someone who hates flying, and refused to eat plane food for many years of my life (youngest child, what can I say?), I know that the only permissible food to eat while airborne is a sandwich. A trip to the best sandwich joint around, Saltie, revived my spirits before a bicoastal flight, and I picked up one of their "Little Chef" sandwiches, with Mortadella ham, pecorino cheese and chopped green olives. Like a pared down Muffuletta, the sandwich was decadently potent; the buttery reams of Mortadella making each bite that much richer while the cheese and olives emitted the essence of savory. After a morning of running around, delayed flights and high stress, I consumed the sandwich en route to Newark. It just felt right.

3. Cioppino -- Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn (Big Sur, CA)
To say that the Sierra Mar restaurant at Big Sur's Post Ranch Inn is a room with a view, is like saying Beyoncé is a singer -- an understatement of the highest proportion. Sitting in the dining room, one is ensconced in the Pacific Ocean, with the restaurant literally built into a cliff. The day we went the azure sky was cloudless, and we spent the meal (a 3-hour one at that!) ogling the deep blue beyond. Our lunch was a three course prix-fixe affair, celebrating a big birthday for my brother in style. The Cioppino, an Italian-esque fish stew created in the Bay area, was nothing short of revelatory. The broth was swarthy and luxurious, packed with marine flavor and accompanied by a squid ink toast topped with sea urchin butter. Within the soup we found a perfectly cooked piece of cod, sweet, pillowy spot prawns and plenty of fragrant dill. Staring into the sea, both outside our windows and inside our bowls, we savored the moment for many moments indeed.

4. Homemade Pizza -- Casa de Eliza (Brooklyn, NY)
With the insanity of the holiday season, it's not always easy to fit in relaxed, non-tinsel themed time with amigas. My friend's newly inhabited hearth kitchen was the perfect backdrop for an evening of homemade pizza and a few too many glasses of bubbly. Although (unintentionally) gluten-free, the pizza was crunchy on the bottom and gooey on top, with a coating of perfect homemade tomato sauce, thick disks of mozzarella and crisp pieces of prosciutto. I covered my slices with fresh basil and relished in some much needed ladygabbing.

5. Fish from Bottega -- La Bottega (New York, NY)

Amid last Saturday's snow flurries, nothing seemed more right than some steamy fish surrounded by grains and vegetables. We asked and we received; sitting at a delightful greenhouse table at Bottega, cozy and warm while we looked out on meteorological mayhem outside. The sides and skin of the fish were browned and crisp, while the inside was flaky and fell apart with only slight fork prodding. Creamy root vegetable farro was the perfect counterpoint -- luscious and indulgent but still hearty and (relatively) healthy.