Saturday, February 17, 2018

Travel Talk Essential Jordan Tour, Part 2: Ajloun and Jerash

On the first full day of my Essential Jordan tour  with Travel Talk Tours, we visited Ajlun and Jerash and then returned to our hotel in Amman in the evening.

The tour guide picked us up at our hotel in Amman. We had the same tour bus, driver, and guide throughout the trip. The bus was a bit old, but it does have wifi!

The first stop was Ajloun (Ajlun) to visit a 12th century Muslim castle that sits on top of a hill in Jabal Ajlun (Mount Ajlun) district.
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When we got off the bus there was a guy selling hot mint tea for 1 JD. December in Jordan is a bit chilly (40-50 Fahrenheit) and Ajlun being at the top of a hill was a bit windy, so it was nice to hold a hot cup of tea in my hands, although the tea itself was a bit too strong and bitter for my taste (the tea at Hesham Restaurant in Amman was much better).

Ajloun Castle was a Muslim castle, but it was in fact built on top of the ruins of a Byzantine church, and you can see remnants of this as you tour the castle.
Ajloun Castle

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Travel Talk Essential Jordan Tour, Part 1: Amman

Last Christmas holiday, I took a tour with Travel Talk Tours to Jordan, to tick one off my bucket list item: to see Petra! I chose Travel Talk because the dates worked perfectly with the Christmas holiday at work, and it was cheap. Travel Talk frequently has deals (including 50% off last minute tours right now). The base price I paid was $599, although there is an additional local payment of £160 (approximately $215) that you pay on the first day of the tour. The price also doesn't include entrance fees to the attractions, but you can get a Jordan pass for about $100 that also includes the Jordan visa fee, so that's not too bad.

The Essential Jordan tour with Travel Talk is a 7 day tour that takes you to some sites in Amman (the citadel and the Roman theatre), Jerash, Ajloun, Wadi Rum desert, Petra, Dead Sea, and Kerak Caste.
Since talking about the whole tour in one post would be too long, I'll be dividing it up into parts! First is the part surrounding Amman, the capital of Jordan and where you will be flying into.

We stayed at The Art Hotel in downtown Amman (also called Al-Balad). This is the hotel you will spend the most time at, with 2 nights at the beginning of the trip and returning here on the last night. Downtown Amman is a pretty good area to be a tourist in. You can walk to restaurants, small shops selling souvenirs and clothes on the cheap (if you haggle), the market, and some other attractions. The cheap stores help if the airline forgot to transfer your luggage like they did to mine ...
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The room was good. It was clean, there was wifi and enough power outlets. The top mattress pad kind of slides though, and if you have a room facing the street, be warned that it will get rather noisy when traffic starts up in the morning!
Amman
All the Travel Talk hotels provide free breakfast. Here, it's primarily falafel and hummus. Most of the other meals are not included in the tour, though, which was fine with me. I like going out for food on my own anyway so I can choose exactly where I want to eat.

The best thing about the hotel for me was the proximity to a few great restaurants in Amman!
I first had fresh kunafeh at Kareem's in Watertown, MA and fell in love. Naturally as soon as I woke up, I headed to the most famous kanafe / kunafa shop in Amman, Habibah Sweets. It's a tiny take-out only place on an alleyway in downtown Amman, right near the hotel.
Amman

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Drink Progressively Cookbook Dinner with Urban Grape at Harvest (Cambridge, MA)

I only recently discovered that Harvest in Harvard Square does a cookbook series, where they invite a cookbook author to prepare a multi-course dinner with Harvest's chef Tyler Kinnett. I attended one for a wine and recipe pairing book called Drink Progressively from Urban Grape, a wine store in Boston's South End. The book is co-authored by husband-and-wife TJ and Hadley Douglas (who own and run Urban Grape) along with chef Gabriel Frasca (Straight Wharf, Nantucket).
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Urban Grape's concept is centered around something called the "progressive scale". The scale from 1 to 10 signifies how light or full bodied the wines are, so you can find similar wines based on what you like, or which wine to pair with a certain food.

Before dinner we started with a glass of Vermentino, which was a "4W" on the scale (a level 4 white wine).

The first course was Orecchiette pasta, chicken sausage, broccoli rabe, and pecorino. This was paired with a glass of 2014 Failla, Sonoma Coast, California. This was rated 10W on the scale, which meant a heavy, full-bodied white wine.
Harvest UrbanGrape
For the cookbook recipes, they wanted to keep everything approachable and easy to make for the home cooks, and this recipe was one of those that are easy to make yet still delicious.

Slow roasted salmon, bacon braised cabbage
Harvest UrbanGrape
The beautifully cooked salmon was paired with 2014 Lompoc Wine Company Pinot Noir fom Santa Rita Hills in California. One of the founders of Lompoc Wine Company is Rajat Parr who used to run Michael Mina restaurants' wine program.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pasta and More at Testa in DTLA (Los Angeles, CA)

I've been seeing photos of this one uni pasta dish from a new restaurant in downtown LA called Testa. I saw it on all the LA bloggers' feed that I just had to go try it! After all, I absolutely love uni.
I was invited to dinner at Testa, so of course I jumped on the chance.

We started dinner with some Hamachi crudo, orange conserva, champagne vinaigrette, yuzu kosho, fried shallot
Testa
This was a great start to our meal. The garnish did not overpower the delicate hamachi.

Our next appetizer is a heavier dish, that I had to order because I'm a corn fiend.
Crispy polenta, roasted yellow corn, shallots, garlic, tomatillo poblano, spiced aioli, cotija cheese ($12)
Testa
Bold flavors paired with this crispy polenta dish. A very satisfying and comforting plate and a fun fusion of Mexican street corn /elote with the Italian polenta.

Next is what we came for: Spaghettini, sea urchin, katsuobushi dashi ($23)
Testa

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