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Robb Report

TASTE ADVENTURES

Shuck and Slurp Down Under

TASMANIA

WILD, UNTAMED, and hidden away at the bottom of the planet, Australia’s southern island of Tasmania is nature as it long ago was, home to some of the purest air and cleanest water in the world, where pristine bays meet powder-white beaches and craggy mountain ranges. And just beneath the iridescent waters that fringe this primal paradise lies a wonderland of mouthwatering marine life: giant rock lobsters, succulent trout, and some of the freshest oysters on the planet.

For a true taste of Tassie’s unspoiled spoils, get immersed—literally—at Saffire Freycinet (saffire-freycinet.com.au; available through Swain Destinations, swaindestinations.com ), a super-lodge set on the secluded Freycinet Peninsula between Oyster Bay and the Hazard Mountains. Here, it won’t do to simply order the local seafood off a restaurant menu; instead, Saffire takes you straight to the source. Guests suit up in rubber waders and head into the bay, where, standing at a half-submerged dinner table, they can pull handfuls of Tasmanian Pacific oysters from the thigh-high water. The plump bivalves are a revered specimen for their rich, creamy, and seaweed-infused flavor. Shuck them on the spot and wash them down with a savory Pinot Noir or crisp Sauvignon Blanc before heading back to Saffire for a degustation menu of more fresh catches paired with local produce and wine. —JACKIE CARADONIO

(HANGZHOU: JOHAN SELLÉN)

A Chef’s Guide to Night-Market Dining

BANGKOK

FOR NEARLY A YEAR, chef Leah Cohen lived in Southeast Asia to explore, eat, and cook. She fell hard for Thailand and her cooking was changed. When she returned, the chef who was formerly on a fine-dining track opened Pig and Khao on New York’s Lower East Side, serving outstanding versions of her favorite meals from her travels, especially from night markets.

Across Southeast Asia, as the sun sets, the cities’ bustling bazaars come to life. With a mix of merchants selling wares, musicians performing, bars slinging drinks, and street-food vendors whipping up delicious fare, the markets become a rich social hub for tourists and locals alike. Exploring them should be on any food adventurer’s list, and Cohen offers her expertise in tackling them.

Bangkok has multiple night markets to choose from, and Cohen’s favorite is the JJ Green Market. Walking in, it may be a bit overwhelming, but let the wisdom of the crowds guide you, she says. “If you see 15 locals lining up at a food stall for a specific dish, you know it’s good.” While she’s sampling food from all around the market, Cohen gravitates to a variation on larb—the traditional spicy salad made with minced meat—where instead of chopped pork, the dish is made from fried chicken. And she especially craves the mussel pancakes, where the shellfish are mixed with a rice-flour batter and then cooked in oil on a wide griddle.

“The mussel-pancakes vendor also does pad thai,” Cohen says. “It’s so cliché to say, ‘Go to Thailand and eat pad thai,’ but it’s so much better than any pad thai you’ve ever had. You’ll really get to appreciate what pad thai is supposed to taste like.” —JEREMY REPANICH

(BANGKOK: DYLAN KUSHEL)

Drink from the Dragon Well

HANGZHOU

LONG THE TEA of choice for the Buddhist monks of the Zhejiang province, Longjingwhich literally translates to “Dragon Well”—became a national treasure in the 18th century when the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty declared it an imperial tea. While some accounts credit the green brew’s sweet, rounded flavor for currying the emperor’s great favor, others claim the fragrant leaves provided a miraculous cure for his ailing mother. Thus, a legend was born.

That legend continues at Amanfayun (aman.com), a 46-room resort set within a former tea-workers’ village among the rolling hills of Hangzhou. It was here that the Kangxi Emperor bestowed his great honor on Longjing, which today sells for upward of $100 per ounce. Guests of the resort can take guided tours to the fabled bushes from which the emperor sampled his first taste of tea before sipping their own at Tai Ji Teahouse, where tea masters clad in long blue robes and red hats serve the region’s finest, performing choreographed movements to dramatically pour Longjing from long-stem teapots. Back at Amanfayun, visitors can live like the tea farmers of the Tang dynasty who once called it home—albeit with a few added modern luxuries—by residing in ancient cottages adorned with paper lanterns and ornate latticework, soaking in baths infused with tea leaves, and sipping more of that famous green elixir at the resort’s traditional teahouse. —JACKIE CARADONIO

ARain-Forestto-Table Adventure

THE AMAZON

THE AMAZON rain forest’s cast of native characters reads like a catalog of phobias—green anacondas measuring up to 29 feet long, poison dart frogs that harbor enough venom to kill 10 men, and red-bellied piranhas with razor-sharp teeth all call this sprawling tropical region home. But there’s a delicious side to South America’s mythical land of dense jungle and winding rivers, where fruits, fish, and rare mushrooms are all hidden in plain sight—if you know where to look.

Enter Felipe Schaedler, the innovative chef pioneering new Amazonian cuisine with his acclaimed Banzeiro restaurant in the city of Manaus. A glimpse at the young chef’s menu reveals the bizarre bounty of the Brazilian rain forest: Edible flowers, rustic tubers, and murupi chiles are just a few of the ingredients that dress up rare river delights like grilled piranha and tambaqui. For one Robb Report reader and up to five friends, however, Schaedler will share more than just a meal. Along with a local member of the native Apurinã tribe, the chef will guide his guests on a foraging journey by private yacht to discover the hidden culinary wonders of this fabled region.

Available through the London-based outfitter Cazenove + Loyd (cazloyd.com), the adventure begins on the Rio Negro, home to more than 3,000 species of fish. Guests can trawl for piranha the local way—with nothing but a string and hook—before dropping anchor and heading into the forest. Depending on the season, they’ll forage for cubui (wild yellow tomatoes), mushrooms, and camu camu(a cherry-like fruit), and attempt the local practice of palm-tree climbing for açai. Then it’s off to the nearby villages to source Amazonian leaf-cutter ants (a healthy source of protein with the distinct taste of lemon-grass) and tucupi (the region’s staple sauce, which, if prepared incorrectly, is poisonous). Back at the yacht, the grand finale will be a rain-forest-to-table feast prepared by Schaedler, featuring everything from passion-fruit caipirinhas to camu camu ice cream. —JACKIE CARADONIO

(ALINEA “HOT DOG”: BILL WISSER)
(GRANT ACHATZ: MARK MANN)

Grant Achatz’s Epic Hot-Dog Tour

CHICAGO

TWO WINDY CITY icons, the Chicago-style hot dog and Grant Achatz’s Alinea, occupy opposite ends of the culinary spectrum. The dog started as simple sustenance for laborers, and Alinea is a Michelin three-star temple of modernist cuisine. But Achatz has found a way to bridge the gap.

The Chicago dog was fusion long before the term existed. In the early to mid-1900s on Chicago’s Maxwell Street, immigrants sold clothes, dishes, toys, and food to one another in a sprawling open-air market. The mixing of cultures and nearby laborers’ need for cheap meals led to the dog’s creation.

At the time, nearly 80 percent of the country’s beef came from the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, and Jewish merchants worked the Maxwell Street Market, so it makes sense that the German sausage evolved into the Chicago style’s core: an all-beef kosher dog. It’s nestled in a poppy-seed bun (poppy seeds are from Eastern European Jews and the bread from Germans) with yellow mustard (German), relish (English), white onions (pan-European), tomato wedges (Jewish, Greek, and Italian), dill pickle (Germans and Eastern Europeans), sport peppers (Mexican), and a dash of celery salt (celery used to grow plentifully in town).

Of course, Alinea isn’t going to make just any old dog. Since it opened in 2005, Achatz has created one of the world’s most innovative and exciting restaurants, which now stands as the only three-star venue in the Windy City. Always looking to push the boundaries of what is possible in food, he’s done it again with his Chicago dog. He and his team use a rotary evaporator to distill the essence of the dog and its component parts down into one surprising, delightful, crystal-clear bite.

One Robb Report reader will have the exclusive opportunity to experience both versions of the Chicago dog with Achatz. He’ll join you and one friend in Chicago and whisk you through a tour of the city’s best purveyors, from the raucous Wiener’s Circle to the über-traditional Portillo’s to Dog House, where you can try gourmet hot dogs made with alligator, kangaroo, and duck. After the tour, you’ll head to Alinea to see how Achatz creates his take on the Chicago classic, and then you’ll enjoy dinner for two in the restaurant’s gallery.

For details and to purchase the $35,000 package, e-mail hospitality+ robbreport @ alinearestaurant.com. —JEREMY REPANICH

Air Italia

TUSCANY

TUSCANY IS A bucket-list adventure for those who are passionate about Renaissance history, Sangiovese in its myriad forms, and plates groaning with the best steak in the world. While the cypress-lined roads, silver-green olive groves, and hilltop villages are immensely picturesque, during the best-weather months the streets are shared by multitudes. Now there’s an option to skirt the traffic and enjoy sweeping views instead—by helicopter.

Access Italy (accessitaly .net), a travel-management agency known for its customized, private experiences, has designed a day specifically focusing on Brunello vineyards (from $16,000 per couple). Flying over the iconic medieval town of Montalcino, the helicopter drops travelers into two of the region’s wineries: internationally acclaimed Casanova di Neri and biodynamic Val d’Orcia (both of which are conveniently equipped with helicopter pads). The chopper provides transportation to lunch, as well, at Michelin-starred Osteria Perillà.

For those intrigued by southern Italian regions emerging on the international wine radar (like Puglia and Sicily), Access Italy has a second plan ($85,000) that allows oenophiles to stretch their helicopter travels over more days, interspersed with ground travel to take in natural and cultural sights. Land at Puglia’s Polvanera; the vision of Filippo Cassano, who was inspired by a love of Primitivo, the winery offers a fascinating look at this close DNA match to California’s Zinfandel. And in Sicily, a private tour, tasting, and lunch at irresistible Donnafugata will connect wine with art and soul (its collection includes “a wine for each desire”). —SARA SCHNEIDER

Epic Surf and Turf

ICELAND

FOR THE ROVING gourmand who’s tasted it all, there’s one final frontier of straight-from-the-source dining left to explore: Iceland. The North Atlantic no-man’s-land—known best for its dazzling aurora borealis and impossible-to- pronounce language—is the improbable setting for outfitter Epic Tomato’s (epictomato.com) latest journey, offering intrepid foodies a crash course in polar culinary survival.

The 3-night trip (priced from about $7,100 per person) will take travelers deep into the Land of Ice and Fire, to the base of southern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano and into the isolated highlands of Midgard. There, guided by modern Vikings, they’ll cut through thick tundra to fish for trout and Arctic char (Iceland is the largest producer in the world of the latter), forage among the icy landscapes for lichen and other local “produce,” and learn ancient practices for surviving in this famously inhospitable land. Days of hunting and gathering will be followed by evenings of traditional meal preparation, smoking the day’s catches in dung to draw out the most intense flavors, and barbecuing fresh Icelandic lamb over an open fire for the most tender results.

Of course, this native feast isn’t for the faint of heart—and neither are the rough igloo accommodations, which guests can construct themselves. (A small log-fire-warmed cabin is also available.) But the bragging rights—not to mention the most succulent meat you’ll ever taste—will be well deserved indeed. —JACKIE CARADONIO

(SAN SEBASTIÁN: ALEX ITURRALDE)

Go (Michelin) Stargazing

SAN SEBASTIÁN

FORGET WORLD TOURS and coast-to-coast quests. Food obsessives on a mission to meet as many Michelin stars as possible need visit only one particularly decorated destination: San Sebastián.

Surrounded by sprawling beaches and panoramic mountain ranges, the coastal Spanish Basque town is home to 10 restaurants holding a combined 17 Michelin stars, making it one of the world’s most star-packed cities per square mile. What makes the food there so special is the fact that restaurants take the region’s amazing seafood and produce and deploy them in both traditional and modern fare alike for dishes that are playful and delicious.

Start with a titan of the region: Arzak. In 1897, chef Juan Mari Arzak’s grandparents built the house that would eventually be converted into a tavern and wine shop. When the chef took the helm in 1966 he began turning it into a culinary powerhouse of a restaurant. Today he shares the kitchen with his daughter, Elena, and together they continue to offer diners traditional Basque cooking with an elevated twist.

Just 10 minutes from town is Akelarre, the three- star dining destination from chef Pedro Subijana that opened its doors in 1970. Take in Bay of Biscay views in between bites of whimsy-packed plates, such as roasted pigeon with mole and cocoa, or the “broken jar of yogurt,” complete with shards of violet sugar candy and seasonal berries.

Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz (shown) and his team have spent 20 years delivering experimental, multisensory experiences for their diners at Mugaritz, a Michelin two-star restaurant, with the goal of feeding the mind as much as the stomach. Case in point: Courses like the Noble Rot, an apple with fungi, were created as a tribute to the beauty (despite the taboos) of foods gone bad. –NICOLE SCHNITZLER

Taste the World’s Most Expensive Chocolate

ECUADOR

HOW CAN A chocolate bar cost nearly $400? Spend a few hours with the team behind To’ak (toakchocolate.com) and the investment becomes obvious. The company takes one of the oldest and rarest varietals of cacao on earth and creates limited editions of single-origin Ecuadoran dark chocolate. Now chocolate fanatics have the chance to experience To’ak’s craft through its Chocolate and Art Tour, a private tour meets master class held within the former Quito home of renowned Ecuadoran painter and sculptor Oswaldo Guayasamín.

Upon arrival, visitors are guided through the artist’s residence, which includes a stop in his workshop and a discussion surrounding the most significant pieces of his private collection. Next up is a visit to the wine cellar, an intimate, party-ready room where guests can taste through a plate of raw cacao beans and several editions of To’ak chocolate as they learn about preserving Ecuador’s national cacao variety from extinction. Enjoy carefully selected liquor pairings while a resident chocolate expert leads a discussion on the many variables that influence the aroma and flavor profile of each expression of the high-caliber chocolate, from cacao genetics and terroir to fermentation and barrel- aging methods.

To bring back souvenirs for people at home, opt for the flagship edition, a variety that is aged for 4 years in a French-oak Cognac cask before being meticulously packaged in a handcrafted Spanish elm-wood box (complete with an engraving of the individual bar number). Make sure to help your recipients maneuver the accompanying special tasting utensils and 116-page booklet—after all, by then you’ll be a pro. –NICOLE SCHNITZLER

Carb-Loading withthe Berbers

MOROCCO

FOR THE BERBERS of North Africa, bread is more than flour and yeast. The doughy daily staple, known as khobz in Morocco, is a sacred part of life. It is never thrown away, and if a piece falls to the floor, it must be picked up and kissed. The scent of freshly baked khobz is pervasive throughout the country, wafting through every narrow corridor of the medinas, from every casbah in the mountains, and across every desert village.

Offering the opportunity to break blessed bread with the Berbers is the Royal Mansour (royalmansour.com), Marrakech’s mosaicked and marble-swathed resort founded by King Mohammed VI. Available to just one Robb Report reader and a guest, the hotel’s Berber culinary journey (priced at about $44,000) will take travelers into the heart of the Zagora Desert to cook, dine, and stay with the nomadic people who have called this region home for thousands of years.

The experience begins with a helicopter ride through the Draa Valley before touching down near the rolling sands of the Chegaga Dunes. There, among roaming camels and colorful kilim rugs, the Berbers will provide a lesson in their ancient culinary traditions, baking khobz stuffed with fresh herbs and spices in earthen ovens heated by brush fire and preparing other time-honored dishes—many of which have changed little throughout the centuries—including tagine, méchoui (barbecued lamb), and couscous. Following the feast, guests will sip mint tea from silver teacups under a sky full of stars before retiring to their tents for the night. Come morning, they can further explore the native palate with a foraging trip to the vibrant purple fields of Marrakech’s Tnine Ourika saffron farms—another staple of local life that the Berbers hold deliciously sacred. —JACKIE CARADONIO

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