Paladar Moneda Cubana

Right near the Plaza de la Catedral is Paladar Moneda Cubana, a family-run restaurant that was founded in 1924 by an avid coin collector (hence the name, "The Cuban Coin").

Paladar Moneda Cubana

We stopped here for lunch after our walking tour of Old Havana, climbing up a narrow staircase from the street to find a bright, open-air top floor space. The vaulted ceiling at the top of the stairs had a stained glass mediopunto and flags of the world - including the U.S.!

Paladar Moneda Cubana entrance

The Colonial-styled dining room was richly decorated with dark woods, burgundy curtains, China figurines, and Leonardo da Vinci replicas on the walls, including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. French doors opened up to balconies on either side, and a beautiful breeze cooled us.

Paladar Moneda Cubana dining

As usual, we started with complimentary mojitos (kicked up a notch thanks to Franklin's personal stash of Angostura bitters), followed by shared appetizers (crackers with a sort of ceviche on top), bread, and a delicious entree of chicken, potatoes and veggies (tomatoes, peppers). And, like most of the paladars we dined in, a band serenaded us with Cuban music.


Another popular item in Cuba: ice cream! Here, we had a dish of vanilla with strawberry sauce, jimmies, a sprig of mint, and a sugared rim.

Ice Cream

After downing that delicious treat (which I basically ate every day in Cuba!), I went out on the balcony to investigate the view. What great timing! Some Cubans in Carnival gear just happened to be strolling by.


Another fun, colorful experience in La Habana Vieja!

Cafe Laurent

People keep asking, "how was the food in Cuba?"

To be honest, I had low expectations going in, having heard about its state run restaurants, limited food supply, and ration system under Communist rule. But I was pleasantly surprised - if not by the meal preparation itself, then by the burgeoning private dining industry via the country's paladares.

Paladar is the Portuguese and Spanish word for "palate" and is the designation for the privately run Cuban restaurants - usually out of peoples' homes. They've been around for years, but weren't legalized until the 1990s, when the Cuban economic downturn resulting from the fall of the USSR led the government to open up the country to international tourism and allow paladares to operate.

Initially, the businesses were limited to 12 guests at a time, and could not serve certain dishes like beef and lobster (over which the government had a monopoly). But the rules have been relaxed in recent years, and while many paladars are still small, family run businesses in the home, others operate like more traditional restaurants with professional food service staff and full menus.  Raul Castro's economic reform program started in late 2010 has spawned a wave of new paladares around the country.

Our first dinner in Havana was at Cafe Laurent, a paladar in the Vedado district serving Spanish-Basque cuisine. Its chef has worked in Spain and Argentina, and The Guardian named it one of the top 10 paladares in Havana.

Cafe Laurent

The restaurant offers indoor/outdoor dining in a modern penthouse above a 5-story apartment building; there's no sign out front, just a greeter at street level who ushers you into an old elevator, or points out the stairs. The inside dining room is brightly lit, with white furnishings and fixtures, and 1950s-era newsprint on the back wall.

Cafe Laurent2

We got to sit outside on the terrace, which was wonderful, given the cold weather I had left behind (and sadly, returned to) in Boston. It also afforded us a sunset view of Havana:

View from Cafe Laurent

As is custom in Cuba, they started us off with a complimentary mojito (white rum, sugar, lime juice, sparkling water, and mint), followed by bread, a creamy vegetable soup (also common here - and we had pumpkin soup on more than one occasion, too!), shared appetizers like tuna carpaccio, a main course of grilled mahi mahi with rice and vegetables, and ice cream for dessert.

Ice cream appeared more than once on the trip, too. When I asked why there isn't more flan made available (which I love, and which you normally see in Spanish cultures), I learned that eggs are too hard to come by. The staple foods that appeared again and again included: papaya, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, yucca, plantains, potatoes, beets, chicken and pork. Plus coffee and rum. There were other things, but these items were in heavy rotation, and quality varied depending on the location. From my limited experience, the paladares had more interesting, better-prepared meals than the state run restaurants. But neither produced the flavors - or used the spices and seasonings - you may be accustomed to with other cuisines.

I'll talk more about the ration system, and highlight additional paladares, in future posts.


10 Corso Como

Before I had even arrived in Milan, I had read about 10 Corso Como and was dying to go there. Located near Porta Nuova at the address from which it takes its name, it's a stylish art gallery, bookshop, fashion store, cafe, terrace, and boutique hotel all rolled into one.


It's founder, Carla Sozzani, spent the early part of her career working as an editor for various Italian fashion magazines (including Vogue Italia, where her sister Franca is currently Editor in Chief) and American Vogue. Over the years, she worked with famous photographers including Herb Ritts, Bruce Webber, Robert Mapplethorpe, Juergen Teller, and William Wegman, publishing several books and photography catalogs along the way.

But it was in 1990 that Sozzani used her years of editorial experience to create a "living magazine" in a former mechanic's workshop at 10 Corso Como. Beginning with the Galleria Carla Sozzani, the concept space eventually evolved into a multi-level shopping and dining complex selling art, fashion, music, contemporary design objects and more. 


The indoor/outdoor cafe on the ground floor is in a quiet courtyard surrounded by plants and flowers:



We sat outside and enjoyed a decadent lunch in between browsing the various floors.


Also on the ground floor is a large retail space featuring an assortment of apparel, jewelry, and accessories from high-end designers:


Heading upstairs, there is a bookstore with an extensive collection of fashion, design, art, photography, travel, and food titles:




Turntables for the DJ:


And 3 hotel suites overlooking the courtyard, each with it's own private entrance and all furnished in homage to mid-20th and 21st century designers so that visitors can live the 10 Corso Como experience.

The top floor houses the original Galleria Carla Sozzani art gallery, which was exhibiting the winners of the 2014 World Press Photos contest, including this haunting image of blind Indian albino boys by Brent Stirton.

Last, but not least, there is a beautiful rooftop terrace, full of brightly tiled furniture, metal and stone sculptures, lush plants, and great views.



I just love everything about 10 Corso Como; it's a must-visit spot if you are ever in Milan.

Castello Sforzesco

On the edge of Parco Sempione sits the massive Sforza Castle, originally built in the late 14th century, but transformed (and renamed) into a ducal residence in 1450 by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. It is a massive, sprawling structure that is now used primarily as a museum and exhibit space. Image

The day I visited there was an outdoor exhibit from Cracking Art Group, which specializes in innovative use of plastic materials to evoke a relationship between the natural and the artificial. This particular installation, "Nido di Rondini" (swallow's nest) consisted of huge plastic, multicolored birds throughout the courtyards. Image
On the street outside the castle, I browsed through a market with all sorts of food stalls (Italian cookies and candies, nuts and spices, cheeses, even a pig on a spit...) as well as jewelry, art, and crafts. Image

As you can see, it is hard to go anywhere in Milan without getting exposed to some sort of art or design!

Porta Nuova

Porta Nuova ("New Gate") refers to one of the major wall gates in Milan, as well as the surrounding district. The actual gate, a triumphal arch made of sandstone, was built between 1810 and 1813.

The district has gone through a resurgence after a period of urban decay, and is now home to an eclectic mix of historic buildings and modern highrises, as well as contemporary retail shops and restaurants.

It is anchored by the enormous UniCredit Tower, a 758 foot skyscraper and the tallest building in Italy.

Behind UniCredit is the Vertical Forest, or Bosco Verticale, a pair of residential towers that house over 900 trees on 96,000 square feet of terraces, in an effort to make city living greener. Image

Traveling down the pedestrian way Corso Como, past an array of shops and restaurants, you arrive at Porta Garibaldi, a Neoclassical arch that was built to commemorate the visit of Francis I of Austria in 1825, and later renamed for the ruling Garibaldi Family in 1860. In another mix of old and new (so common in Milan), you can see the shiny UniCredit Tower in the background:


Nearby is Eataly, a 54,000-square-foot Italian food market established by businessman Oscar Farinetti and sponsored by the Slow Food movement. American chef Mario Batali is a part owner of Eataly's recently opened New York outpost.Image

Eataly Milan is located in the former Smeraldo Theater, which was built in 1942 and hosted artists from Ray Charles to Bob Dylan. To honor its history, Farinetti had a stage built on the second level overlooking the entrance where musicians perform. His goal was to "re-create the 18th-century popular theater, where people would eat, walk and talk as artists were on the stage." You can see it in the lower left part of this picture, as well as the three floors of gourmet food, wines, and restaurants/cafes:

Between the architecture, shopping, and food in this area, I was in Heaven. It is also home to the fabulous retail/art/dining hybrid, 10 Corso Como, which I'll cover in a separate post.

Sapori & Sapere

My mom asked me why I haven't (yet) mentioned much about the food in Italy, and I told her that we simply saw and did so much that I haven't taken the time to post about the meals. Instead, I'll do one post later with the highlights. But this one deserves a post of its own.

On Wednesday afternoon we had lunch and a wine tasting at Sapori & Sapere, an edicola, libreria, and enoteca in Paderno Dugnano. In English, that translates to Flavors & Knowledge, a newspaper stand, library, and wine bar.


It's in an unassuming building in a residential area, but when you go inside you are greeted with a wide assortment of the best Italian wines (including a yummy Sangiovese from Il Valentiano Campo di Marzo, Brunello di Montalcino), food products and pastries.


They set up a long table for us, and proceeded to stuff us with an amazing assortment of meats (including some of the best prosciutto I've had), cheeses, olives, bread, handmade lasagna, and of course, wine. Needless to say, we were all a bit tipsy after lunch :) But it was great fun, with lots of stories and laughter.


But my favorite thing about this place is their philosophy and mission. From their website:

It is a place to meet and exchange ideas, opinions, and experiences between people who share the pleasures of the table and reading."

And now you know why I love this place :)


The Lake Region

After our visit to Alessi we drove through the nearby Lakes region, past the beautiful Lake Como (currently famous for being George Clooney's second home, but rich in true history: it's one of Europe's deepest lakes at 1,345 feet; the town of Bellagio on its shores has been an English enclave for 200 years; Pliny the Elder (born AD 23, Roman author, naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire) and Pliny the Younger (lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome whose letters are one of our main sources of info on Roman life) both lived here; Alessandro Vota (self taught physicist who invented the battery and for whom "volts" are named) was born here in 1745; and Benito Mussolini and his mistress were executeed here before being taken to Milan where his body was put on display.

But my favorite bit of history is that many of the Romantic poets that I studied in College - Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, and fellow Bowdoin grad Henry Wadsworth Longfellow all wrote here. And I can see why: it's a beautiful landscape to draw from. We drove on to the smaller Lake Orta at had lunch at Ristorante Giardinetto on its shore. There, we sat outside on the terrace with the Italian Alps as a backdrop: Image
Dozens of swallows (rondinello) were busy making mud nests in the rafters above us: Image
And I ate the most delicious lake fish made with butter and sage followed by Liquid Naples Pasteria (a sort of pudding with chunks of yellow cake and citrus bits, cinnamon ice cream, and pastry crumble). Image
Heaven. Image

Baseball, GIFs, and Eggs for a Cause

Wow! How about them Red Sox?! I'm slightly obsessed with making my own animated GIFs, so here's one to celebrate their World Series championship (featuring my coworker, Mike):

I also enjoy Bill Littlefield's latest verse from Only A Game:

Baseball's Season End

What do you do when it’s over? What do you do when it’s done? 

Each autumn the question arises, no matter who’s lost or won.

What if you’ve no taste for football? And your hockey and basketball jones

Doesn’t kick in ’til the playoffs? What if you feel in your bones

The cold of the on-coming season, the darkness of each empty park

Where baseball is played in the summer? And what if your life lacks a spark

Because baseball is closed for the winter, the players dispersed in the fall,

Some to return in the spring time; some, I suppose, not at all.

Sure, there is on-going soccer, here and in Europe as well,

But if you think soccer is boring, you won’t buy what they have to sell.

So what do you do when the echoes of all of the cheering subside?

And one great big part of the country commences the annual slide

Into wind, sleet, and ice on the highway, and lost gloves, or lost glove, at least…

I don’t know ’bout winter where you live; where I live it can be a beast.

The answer? I guess we depend on the fact that we never forget

The moments we choose to sustain us, on days when it’s cold and we’re wet.

The buzz of the overbooked ballpark, the roar at the timely homerun,

The fielder sprawled out on that greenest of grass when he’s stretched at the end of his run,

And he holds up the ball for the umpire, and all of those gathered to see,

Or the closer who brings the unhittable pitch, and the tension his pitch can set free.

The end of the long baseball season, when every last out has been made,

Continues to live in the minds of the fans even after they’ve watched the parade.

It's also the last day of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You've no doubt seen tons of pink merchandise over the last 31 days, but have you seen this? Yes, even Eggland's Best got in on the act (although my package made no reference to it on the exterior, so I was pleasantly surprised when I opened them up).



Have a happy & safe Halloween!


On My Radar

The crush of correspondence/news/information I receive these days has made it increasingly difficult for me to make time for long-form blog posts. But I continue to discover and  share a variety of interesting things throughout the day, and I miss my blog and the conversations that it spurs. So, I'm switching to a micro-blogging approach here for awhile. Enjoy!

Here's what crossed my radar today:

Eye Candy

VERAMEAT-for-Of-a-Kind-Frenchie-Ladder-Cuff-102713-780 Poppy Necklace

The Frenchie Ladder Cuff by Verameat and the sparkly Poppy Necklace by Piper Strand.

Brain Candy


I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
    in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
    of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

Just for Fun

A Cherry on Top

After a long wait (and some controversy), the new Whole Foods market in Charlestown has finally opened up and I couldn't be happier (and it's not because of their signature Charlestown sandwiches!).

Together with the Charlestown Farmers Market (which sets up shop on Main Street, Wednesdays through October) we now have two great options for fresh produce in town.


Have you ever heard of a lemon cucumber? I hadn't until I came across this one at the farmer's market:


It's not actually a hybrid of the two fruits, but rather a cucumber that happens to look like a lemon. But it tasted similar to the more familiar green kind (maybe a bit milder) and I chopped it up into a summer salad.


And while I think cherries peak in July, Whole Foods had some gorgeous ones in there on my last visit, which allowed me to make this delicious recipe for Cherry and Goat Cheese Crostini, courtesy of Women's Health magazine. The recipe below is copied from their site, but the photo is my own!


Set oven rack five inches from the broiler. In a bowl, toss 2 cups cherries (stemmed, pitted, and halved) with 1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon sea salt, and 1/8 teaspoon sugar. Let stand 10 minutes. Meanwhile, brush 24 baguette slices (3/4-inch thick, from a 12-ounce baguette) with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Broil until just golden around the edges, about 90 seconds. Cool. Spread with 1/2 cup goat cheese. Spoon cherry mixture onto crostini, dividing equally. Garnish with 3 thinly sliced sage leaves.

Makes 24 pieces
Per piece: 80 cal, 2.5 g fat (1 g sat), 13 g carbs, 135 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein