Culinary Adventures with Hope

June 3, 2013

It’s time to give you another taste of nourishing meals. So, grab a snack, your beverage of choice and pull up a comfy chair.

Not the best opening for my tale but my first night in Wellington was, well, sketchy. My recommendation for putting such things behind you is to embrace the beauty, hope and joy of life even more fully the next day. And, whatever you do, don’t carry the ooglies with you.

So, after an outrageously great start at Memphis Belle the next morning (thank you so much to everyone there, especially my friend in the Iron Maiden tee), I was ready to explore the city and surrounding areas.

As mentioned in a previous post, I found my way to Zealandia (more available in Photo Galleries). There, I spent hours hiking hills, rainforests and reservoirs over several kilometers. When I finally stopped, it was to take a seat at Zealandia’s Rata Cafe. I must admit that I went in with mediocre expectations for a dining establishment in an animal sanctuary. I was superbly surprised. Not only was it gluten-free but it was a collection of local, seasonal flavors that warmed the spirit and the body.

Rata Cafe at Zealandia

Bleu cheese, harvest vegetable risotto

With a busy agenda and many things still to see in a few hours, I didn’t get a chance to nourish myself again until later that evening. On my way to my new accommodation, I stumbled across a politically irreverent, totally fun and top-notch restaurant called The Backbencher Gastropub. I treated myself to three delectable courses and some chit-chat with the wonderful staff.

Starter at Backbencher Wellington

Pistachio tomatoes, haloumi, balsamic

Salmon carpaccio

Citrus salmon, dill, peppercorn, pecorino

Venison linguine

Venison linguine, chilli, shallots, BBQ, boconccini, spinach, herb crème fraiche

The next day took me via ferry (more like cruise ship) to the South Island. On the way, I met a fantastic, gifted new friend from India. She and I connected immediately, and it made the journey that much more remarkable. Once ashore, I grabbed brunch at Seabreeze Cafe. This healthy twist on fish and chips was gluten-free, not greasy at all and super fresh.

Healthy fish and chips

Pan-fried fish with lemon, tartare, chips, salad

Later the same day, I was further blessed with a late afternoon stop in Kaikoura—known for crawdads, tourism and delightful cafes. Groper Garage called me in with its glowing fireplaces, mix of metal and wood decor, and the smell of grilled seafood.

Groper Garage in Kaikoura

Mix of wood, metal, fire and irresistible

This gluten-free pizza was called Lord of the Squid Rings and was unbelievably awesome. I was in a rush to catch my bus, so I offered the few remaining slices to a young backpacking couple at a nearby table.

Lord of the squid rings

Garlic olive fish, mussels, calamari pizza

The following day, I took the TransAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth. I highly recommend KiwiRail, the onboard staff, the breathtaking views and the whole experience. It’s hard to fathom but even the food on the train was pretty good. However, what I will share next is The Landing Restaurant in Franz Josef, just around the corner from my motel.

Shanks for the memory

Lamb braised in ale, potato cake, veg, jus

With a glacier hike ahead of me the next day and a strong desire to linger near the warm wood stove next to my table, it was easy for one of the managers to “talk me into” a comforting dessert.

Dessert splurge

Apple strudel puff pastry, ice cream, crème anglaise

After rain, snow, ice, hiking, walking and dodging rockslides, I didn’t hold back on dinner the following night. I walked over to Canavans at the Scenic Hotel. I think the hotel staff thought I fell off the mountain with my layers of clothes, windblown hair and ravenous look. Still, they served me a nice meal.

Kicked up calamari

Chilli salt squid, mesculin, feta mayo

Curried cheese pie

Curried cottage cheese pie with cheese fried rice

Admittedly, it took me a couple of days to rebound from the grains, gluten and fried food. I sustained myself on tea, soup and eggs (ok, one fig and walnut chocolate trouffle). Then, on my second day in Queenstown, I found Avanti Restaurant. The server was sweet and skillfully handling the lunch crowd solo. Still, she took time to coach me on their allergy-conscious menu options. This gluten-free penne was tasty beyond words.

Pasta at Avanti Cafe

Chicken, sundried tomato, pesto penne

Next, I was thrilled to arrive in Dunedin. Despite a long walk from the relocated bus terminal in the industrial district to the Octagon in the city center, I was full of hope for my time there. The city has a strong Scottish influence, lots of architectural character and a bustling culinary scene. Potpourri Vegetarian Cafe was a little gem that popped out immediately. In fact, with gluten- and dairy-free options, I visited it on two separate days for lunch and breakfast.

Mixing up the veg

Potato, beans, pico, Moroccan chickpeas

Pre-travel breakfast

Porridge with cranberry, banana, honey

Ah, but going too long without a snack is a dangerous gamble. For the sake of food intolerances, I should have been more mindful about my dinner selection. But this sign and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective playing on the bar television was too hilarious to resist.

Witty sign in front of Alibi

Witty sign in front of Alibi

Alibi was a hopping spot and offered a remarkable menu of flavor combinations.

Gourmet pate

Chicken liver pate with brandy and pistachio

Duck wraps

Spiced up duck wonton wraps with micro greens

In lieu of jumping the bus to see the castle, trekking to the university or rambling along the harbor, I took it easy the following day. I started at the award-winning Nova Café Dunedin. I wanted to be extra cautious about my selection, so the chef and server were gracious enough to turn three gluten-free, dairy-free sides into one phenomenal breakfast. I could not give higher praise for the taste, the presentation, the service or the ambience.

Creation of sides

Smoked salmon, spinach, potato cake

Fueled with nutrients and hope, I visited the free Dunedin Public Art Gallery next door. Taking a momentary artistic tangent from my culinary report, my favorite piece was “Hope” by Edward Burne-Jones (view it). I highly recommend investing time in the outstanding collection on the ground floor.

A few hours later, I headed to the Dunedin Chinese Garden. Sitting amidst a zen space of tradition, tea and scholarly inspiration was exactly the reset my travel-weary spirit needed.

Dunedin Chinese Garden

Winter warmer afternoon tea

For dinner, I chose to sample the treasures of Cambodia. All I can say about San Restaurant is “wow.” Had I not veered onto a new path walking back from the Chinese Garden, I would have never found it. I was so intrigued that I walked in at 5:30 p.m., right as they were opening for the night.

San Cambodian cuisine in Dunedin

San Cambodian cuisine in Dunedin

The restaurant is owned by a family of female refugees, who have gracious spirits and a love for inventing new spice combinations. The San dressing (their signature accompaniment) is addictive. I took my server’s recommendation and added chilli flakes . . . yummmm. Gluten-free was a bonus, as the light dishes, Halal chicken and fresh veg danced on the palate. If you are ever in Dunedin, not stopping here would be tragic.

Khmer rice rolls

Prawn and veg rolls with amazing sauce

Bring on the ban chow

Chicken pancake, bean sprout, San dressing

Making my way north again, I have to give a nod to this snack in a little cafe in a little town on the east side of the South Island. They were in such a bustle to close up at 3 p.m., and I was in such a flurry to reboard my bus, that I failed to catch the name. Regardless, the break and bite were appreciated.

Tea and snack break

Sencha green tea and veg frittata

On to my final day in New Zealand . . . just down from the ferry terminal in Auckland, I found Ebisu. It was the day before Queen’s Birthday (a Kiwi holiday) and there were just a few patrons in for early dinner.

Ebisu in Auckland

Interior of Ebisu, Auckland waterfront

I researched and deliberately chose this restaurant as a last hurrah. All of the airport food, bus stop snacks and hours without a substantial meal left me craving my favorite thing: sushi. I was anything but disappointed, as I savored, sampled and sipped my way through a five-course meal.

Oysters on the half shell

Bluff oysters with tosazu, jalapeño salsa

Sushi at Ebisu

Sashimi, cucumber, tobiko, ginger, sesame dressing

Salmon sashimi

New Zealand salmon with gold leaf, seasonal blossom

Seared duck breast

Duck breast, soy and ginger pickled nashi pear, shichimi pepper, green tea salt

Final New Zealand treat

Red bean ice cream, handmade truffle

So, having explored the nourishment of New Zealand and tried some incredibly tantalizing dishes, I am returning to the smaller portions and mindful eating that works best for my sensitive system. I’m not looking at it as deprivation, as some of my choices (although delicious) were pretty tough on me.

Upon arrival in Sydney yesterday, I stopped for the lunch special at Bar 100. I chose a salad and side combo that is gluten-free and full of flavor. Oh, and the staff was increasingly friendly during my patio dining experience.

Winter salad and potatoes

Chicken, radicchio, rocket, fennel, tomato, feta and smashed rosemary potatoes

Right this moment, I’m sitting in a Bohemian-inspired apartment in Newtown, sipping my green tea, and nibbling sweet orange and ginger hazels (hazelnuts) from a farmers’ market. I hope that being present with my food choices will honor my body, enabling me to feel and act with a lighter state of being. Everything in hopeful moderation.

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