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Monday, May 21, 2018

Spice Route - Paarl, South Africa - Day 12

We are wined out and dined out by the time we hit Paarl. We keep it simple and stay at Spice Route, an estate that houses just a little bit of everything. 

For a breakfast break from all that wine, Wilderer Distillery offers some alternative flights. 

First, there is a flight of grappa, the vintner's leftovers, a distillation of grape skins and pulp. The Shiraz is deep and assertive, the Muscato is nurturing and sweet, and the Pinotage is exceptional, like a lighter port with a sprinkling of sugar or a denser ice wine that shows some restraint.

For a flight of the harder stuff, there is a gin infused with Cape Fynbos Healing Herbs that assaults with pungent notes of licorice-like herbs, the very vision of an Asian apothecary. The Fynbos Gin is drier than dry, stronger than strong, yet it finishes with a blissful, bitter burn. Bierschnaps is indescribable. A not-so-carbonated hoppy but not-so-IPA, kind-of-gin notes but not so is different, the good kind of different, but it's hard to outshine that gin. 

Liquor then beer? Nope. Skipping the microbrewery (regrettably) in favor of the master meat tasting. There is standard salami, hard and airy pork rinds, and a spicy chorizo that sings with sherry and singes with garlic. They turn the less popular neck cut of coppa into something exceptional here, and the stripes of fat are delightful. The proscuitto is even more fatty and firm, and it's among the better ones I've had. Meats by Richard Bosman...Do not skip.

Meat-snack then dessert. De Villiers Chocolate, a full-circle tasting of almost every awesome chocolate bar they make. The chocolate and confectionery tasting is a journey through dark, cocao-packed bars, aromatic infusions like Orange Peel & Vanilla and saucy Cinnamon & Chili, sweet milk chocolate mixed with salted caramel, and curiosities like chip-like snacking thins and an airy orange-cranberry nougat.

It's quite the journey at Spice Route, and there's much to amuse. It's not all food and booze, mind you, there's also a gorgeous gallery of artisan glass and a couple of shops for higher-end souvenirs. It's easy to stay day - you can devour and imbibe to your heart's content, and you can even take a pilates class to burn off the Bosman. I would have like to see more of Paarl and what lies beyond the Spice Route complex, but for a fun-filled, less exertional day, Spice Route is where it's at.

Reuben's Restaurant & Bar - Franschhoek, South Africa

In Franschhoek, the name on everybody's lips is Reuben's:

Q: Where should we eat?
A: Reuben's. 
Q: Best restaurant in town?
A: Reuben's.
Q: YOUR favorite restaurant?
A: Reuben's.

Either Reuben's is sleeping with everyone in town or it really is the best.

It's the best restaurant in town. Immediately, from the very first sip of the Hot and Sour Prawn and Tomato Soup, I can see and taste the real deal. The sour sets my mouth on fire, and the hot is a glorious burn. There's a real passion in this soup, from the slurpable al dente udon to the succulent shrimp, and the tomato tang just amplifies the explosion.

For those who are weak, there is a side dish of coconut sorbet, an icy salve to soothe the sting.

The Poke Bowl is lighter starter, a fresh feast of cured Franschhoek salmon trout, sweet like teriyaki with a fresh breath of wasabi. They fry the ball of sesame-coated sushi rice, and it really pops against fish roe and all sorts of pickles.

Full disclosure: we ordered the Josper Roasted Cod for the asparagus, and it turned out to be so much more than just a veggie fix. The tender cod is fresh like I've never seen, and the skin is a delicate crisp. This dish is a showcase of both creativity and skill; the cod could stand alone, but add a velvety champagne basil cream draping over sweet pea puree, soft mussels, and spongy gnocchi, and there is not a single spot on this plate you won't be licking clean.

Surf n' turf with the entrees; the Asian Braised Beef Cheek and Oxtail is the land to the roasted-cod sea. The cheek is marbled with fat, and the tail is so rich it's falls off the bone in gooey ribbons of gristle. The cauliflower creme enriches and lightens the fondant potatoes all at once, a silky bed for a hoisin-sauce sensation.

In Franschoek, you don't look for good food. This proud small town self-identifies as a food hub, and they have the cred to back up their claim. It's not so much about looking for good food; it's about looking for different food after a few days of FrenchFrenchFrench. Reuben's manages to be both. The dishes are exquisitely made, and the Asian fusion adds an element of spontaneity, an unexpected extra to the tried-and-true. Each dish holds a spark of imagination, a hint of ingenuity, and fusion of originality that we didn't find anywhere else. Almost every restaurant is good in Franschhoek, but Reuben's really is better. 
Reuben's Restaurant & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Werf Restaurant - Franschhoek, South Africa

Determined to hit up yet another vineyard, we cruise into Boschendal on our way back to Franschhoek, seeking lunch and another flight of wine.

The Werf has a gorgeous view from the windows, and even the dreary rain doesn't make the gardens of Boschendal look any less like a fairy tale.

The menu is promising, a plethora of small plates, promising creativity and with descriptions that sound like tempting tapas.

A complementary starting gift from the chef is an earthy mix of refreshing veggies in endive and sour cream. The sun-dried tomatoes still hold plenty of tangy juice, rounded out by ground seeds and nuts, and the whole combination reminds me of fresh earth after the rain.

The Ribeye is cooked quite nicely, a pretty medium rare. Dauphine is a fancy term for fried potato rounds, a thinner, Frenchier version of hash browns. These are fried golden brown and crunch with a satisfying chomp. Clouds of horseradish break up the heavy meat n' potatoes, and this may be the only truly edible dish we order.

We intend for the Pumpkin Seed Dumplings to break up all the meat, but that doesn't happen. The wrapper is as thick as a Triscuit, and each bite is flour mush, like it hasn't been quite cooked all the way through. The filling is a dry, diced mixture of seeds with no filler to either hold it together or to at least disguise the resemblance to birdseed. They drown these birdfeeders in half a centimeter of oil (that yellow liquid is just olive oil, NOT soup), and despite the perfectly tender texture of the oyster mushrooms, the salt forces you to wash each bite down with an entire glass of water. 

The theme here is OVERKILL. Even the Roasted Carrots, which are supposed to be a vegetable on the side, possess a cloying quality so intense you're done after a single carrot. They are sticky, like a saturated dishcloth with a quantity of cumin that proves to be suffocating. There is no detectable citrus, and the honeycomb compounds the problem. 

The "new season" Figs are more like dry season figs. They are flavorless and leathery, and the pecan pralines are the only source of sweetness. The fig leaf ice cream, however, is interesting and fun, just like their namesake foliage.
The effort is clear, the concepts are fair, but the execution is utterly unfortunate. All the ideas work on paper, but they definitely don't work together. Boschendal is beautiful, and they have some promising wines, but boy, does The Werf need a little work.
The Werf Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Van Ryn Brandy - Stellenbosch, South Africa

First the wine, now the wine distilled. Van Ryn Brandy is right down the road, and we start with a tasting flight paired with truffles. The 10-year is young, and it finishes with vibrant caramel and vanilla. It pairs with a dark chocolate pistachio. The 12-year is my favorite, richer and darker but also with notes of citrus. This one pairs with peanut molasses. The 15-year is next. It gets darker and bolder, a sweetness they describe as fruitcake. The dark chocolate almond truffle enhances its nuttier properties.

Everything seems to be more spread out in Stellenbosch. We drove through a functional city on our way in, and there's even a college campus here. Franschhoek is a town built for tourists in comparison, but we're no less eager to get back to it.
Van Ryn's Distillery and Brandy cellar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, May 18, 2018

Stellenbosch, South Africa - Day 11

An early morning start sends us along the winding highways to Stellenbosch. 

First stop: Spier, with a colorful array of bold blends, a full-bodied cab, a spunky Shiraz, and a creative block collection whose name says it all. 

Their Pinotage has a warm, well-rounded finish, and we can't leave without a bottle of that.

The Pinotage and every other wine on the list pair well with an extensive Charcuterie Platter. All the cheese are light: blue camembert has only veiny hints of strong stuff, and the Kleinrivier danbo is a very mild cream. 

The biltong pate is more like an onion dip, but I dig the rooty, earthy beetroot hummus. The bresoula and proscuitto are right on, and bites of grapes and olives break up the heavier meat and creamy cheese. 

Even a weeping sky can't make Spier dreary. The lakeside view is gorgeous, even without the fountain in full swing.
Spier Wine Tasting Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Foliage - Franschhoek, South Africa

There's a reason the World's 50 Best Restaurants committee labeled Foliage one to watch. Foliage presents some of the most beautiful plates I've seen in a surprisingly casual restaurant, with an ambiance that has all the chill. 

Every plate is a fortress of formidable foraging, piles of glowing greens like fallen autumn leaves. The Charred Beetroot Salad is a celebratory starter, festive bulbs of beets that twinkle through wild mixed green like lights on a string. An otherwise crisp and airy salad is rooted by earthy celeriac, A creamy remoulade has a sharper edge with nasturtium and a strongly aged vinegar.

Firm crumbles or pan-fried Black Pudding are a savory blast, much like the meat-butter of bone marrow. Broccolini sits in perfect charred on soft sweetbreads and whimsical pickled peaches.

A dense Ballotine of Guinea fowl, duck, and chicken sits pretty under a canopy of pomegranate and lush greens. Layers of flaky pastry cradle a supple sunchoke in a sea of fennel seed veloute.

The Yellowfin Tuna is from another world. A river of sweet n' sour tom yum engulfs seared circles of meaty red. Medallions of Cape crayfish are succulent and spry, and the squid is strangely soft. Strands of crunchy beach herbs wriggle through like a wormy green tumeric, crisp and citrusy, with notes like lemongrass.

A mousse-like Caramelia Delice plays coy next to a fluffy peanut butter & cannabis leaf marshmallow, bulging from a shattered chocolate rock. Crispy honeycomb completes the ensemble, and a thus a marvel of meal is complete.

Like a significant portion of its ingredients, Foliage requires some foraging to fine. Franschhoek's fine-dining supersaturation makes it hard for restaurants to distinguish themselves, and Foliage is a small corner stop, subtly labeled so that even active seekers might pass it more than once. Well the location may be a little bit hidden, but it'll be a long time before anyone takes their eye off Foliage.
Foliage Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato