I Found Soul in Auckland

May 19, 2013

I’m a foodie. With that in mind, there is a special bond between my chapter “Hope is nourishment” and my everyday life. Friends, I reiterate gently that what you consume matters to your well-being.

This wall of confections did in my willpower at Honolulu Airport. Aloha melty, indulgent happiness.

Hawaiian confections

A plethora of Hawaiian confections

Normally, I don’t care much for ultra sweet treats; however, if it involves dark chocolate, roasted nuts and sea salt . . . forgettaboutit. This box stood zero chance of leaving the country intact.

Dark chocolate-covered macadamia nuts

Dark chocolate-covered macadamia nuts

Even the airplane food (thumbs up Hawaiian Airlines) was good: fresh fruit, cheese and tea were all pleasant surprises. Entering New Zealand, I felt comfortably nourished, which was especially nice at the exhausting hour of 10 p.m. local time.

One of my first Kiwi culinary “wow” moments was at an eclectic little bistro in Devonport. Correlli’s Cafe was my safe haven from the rainy streets, with the promise of a hot pot of tea and this outrageously good lamb burger. (I opted for bunless and they graciously gave me extra veg.) The service was exceptional.

Bleu cheese lamb burger and field salad

Bleu cheese lamb burger and field salad

Next, came a pleasant encounter with a vegan, gluten-free restaurant in Auckland Central called Raw Power Cafe. It took me a moment to get used to grilled tomatoes but the eggs were awesome. Breakfast foods are hard to beat on the get-the-day-off-to-a-hopeful-start scale.

Vegan breakfast at Raw Power

Vegan breakfast at Raw Power

Being a foodie means I have spent countless hours watching cooking shows, culinary competitions and chef tastings. It also means losing myself in the kitchen after a busy day and being inventive. So, I ventured up the street to a local market. The selection was truly impressive.

Amazingly fresh produce

Amazingly fresh produce

With supplies in hand and a sense of hopeful creativity, I opted to let New Zealand cold smoked salmon be the star of this show. Below are rice crackers topped with lightly aged goat’s milk brie, a hint of evoo, green leaf lettuce, avocado, the salmon, a squeeze of lime and a dash of sea salt. Mmmmm.

My spontaneous salmon creation

My spontaneous salmon creation

Ok, when I decided to journey to the Shire in Matamata, I loaded up on snacks, unsure of what menu options I would have to choose from. Lo and behold, I found a cafe called Eat. Urban Foodstuffs with this all-vegetable pizza (even the crust is dehydrated veggies).

Super colorful vegetable pizza

Super colorful vegetable pizza

Next up is the Ponsonby district in Auckland, full of boutique shops, little cafes, a cute Lululemon store and a bunch of culture. Landreth & Co. has one of the best menus I have seen and, as an added bonus, put up with me working online for around 90 minutes (a bit long by New Zealand standards). This is the Waikanae crab, paprika and spring onion omelette with fresh lime. I added their fabulous dill potatoes. It was perfect and didn’t even need cheese or any extra seasoning. No wonder they have won awards.

Crab omelette and dill potatoes

Crab omelette and dill potatoes

I wish I had taken a picture of the stellar vegetable risotto that I had at Mecca Chancery in Auckland. The server was a sweetheart and the patio dining was the ideal way to recharge my hopeful outlook midday.

My next ferry excursion took me to Waiheke Island, where the hiking, fresh air and waves resulted in a profound appetite. I refueled with this corned beef, potato, poached eggs and herb specialty at Wai Kitchen. I’m not much of a red meat gal but their corned beef was prepared without a flaw. The view from the glass patio overlooking Oneroa Bay didn’t hurt either.

Housemade corned beef

Housemade corned beef

Let me pause for a moment to advise you that New Zealand dining is relatively pricey. So, when I found a $13 Thai lunch special, including soup, I was skeptical. The ambience at Sukhothai was open and inviting, so I sat down. I ordered the deep fried monk fish cakes (one of two gluten-free starter options) and the green curry chicken. Loved the soup, liked the spices in the fish and enjoyed the bright heat of the curry. It had some vegetables I wasn’t used to seeing in curry in the States as well as a thinner sauce but, overall, was nice. Word to the wise: Kiwi hot is plenty.

Green curry Thai lunch special

Green curry Thai lunch special

My playful side cannot help but mention this fun place, which happened to be closed as I passed by. The concept is delightful and, should I venture back through Auckland, I sense I will need to get my milk and cookie mustache on.

Milk and cookie bar

Milk and cookie bar

As I learned the area and met outstanding contacts around town, my hope for fabulous dining experiences grew. I was not disappointed by this lucky find or, as I refer to it, the soul of my culinary journey. Soul is across from the docks and just down from the ferry building; therefore, I walked up expecting a selection of seafood. I could not have been happier with their menu or their personable service. Both the hostess and my server were truly wonderful women. They accommodated me without a reservation (shhh, don’t tell) despite a busy Friday evening crowd and even followed up as I left to ensure I had a superior time. The food shined. From the oysters with ponzu, chive and caviar, to the salt + pepper calamari with saffron and mint . . . seriously, blew my tastebuds away.

Oysters and calamari

Oysters and calamari

And, just when I thought my night could not get any better, they delivered this pièce de résistance: lightly smoked Gameford Lodge duck breast with mandarin puree + autumn beets and grilled haloumi. Holy heaven, Scrooge McDuck. (Forgive the lighting; it was all candles and street lamps.)

Duck, beets and haloumi

Duck, beets and haloumi

Last, but in no way least, was the culmination of my sushi reconnaissance. I could not believe how many so-so, takeaway, preprepared sushi joints there were in the city. So, I had to really work to find an authentic sushi bar. I definitely hit the jackpot with Sharaku.

Entrance to Sharaku sushi bar

Entrance to Sharaku sushi bar

I was going to post the New Zealand salmon sashimi (light, delicate and fabulous), the tamago, the kanpyo roll, the shinko roll (Japanese pickles) or the red snapper. Instead, I will highlight this tummy-warming wonder: chawan mushi, or steamed egg custard with chicken and prawn. The broth, the lightness and the decorative presentation made for a savory finale to the meal. My compliments to the cheerful staff.

Chicken and prawn custard

Chicken and prawn custard

To close, hope is a lifestyle. If that lifestyle involves healthy choices, food explorations and a balance of nourishment, then you are on your way. That’s why so many cultures toast meals “to your health.” Treat your greatest tangible gift (your body) with the greatest of care.

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