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  • Writer's pictureCassie

America: Food For Thought

"You know what you should do? You should be a food writer," he remarked, eyes locked on me as I devoured another oyster slurped straight from the shell. I've never known someone love food like you; you should write about it."

The thought had previously crossed my mind, but 30 seconds after the waiter turned heel from our sumptuous booth at the Bellagio's Michael Mina, I couldn't tell you whether that particular oyster was from the Pacific or the Atlantic, let alone what type it was. I was already giddy from the sheer joy of eating in a new place with dear, well-known company. It's hardly ideal for a budding food critic, but it is highly enjoyable.

"I don't know," I told him, sipping a glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, a favourite of mine. "I need more adventure than that. I want to eat, and I want to travel, and I want to write, and I want to misbehave. As always, I want it all." Food, travel and adventure are inextricably linked together in my mind. There is a primal joy in exploring a city never before visited and, particularly for me, in discovering its culinary gems. So, it's no surprise that my first American tour seemingly revolved around food and other carnal pleasures.

Stop one. Stow your jet lag in the overhead compartment and leave it on board; it's time for wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa. A day of Californian chardonnays, all professing not to taste like Chardonnay. Poor Chardonnay, it has such a bad reputation, but it can be really quite lovely. Crisp and fruity rosé swirled in glasses that gleamed in deliciously warm bursts of surprisingly virile January sunshine. An outdoor table was set on the corner of a sun-drenched Sonoma Plaza, where favourite wines were discussed over the most tender of pulled pork burgers, with sauce oozing out the bun to be licked from fingers and a mountain of salty fries that neither my date nor I could conquer. Stomachs satiated, we made one more vineyard stop to complete a heady day with a delightfully full young Cabernet Sauvignon. "You can't go to California and not drink Cabernet, after all", he whispered in my ear, legs tangled in sheets and each other, a different thirst finally quenched.

Another day, another date. This time, it was a night of delicious indulgence with a lucky gentleman, myself, and two gorgeous friends at the three-Michelin-starred Benu. A long-awaited reacquaintance of friendship and lust over a multi-course menu paired with beautiful wines, sake and even beer. Dim lighting, earthy tones, and a sheltered nook for our table made for a profoundly intimate setting where we could enjoy our food and each other. An array of Asian-influenced delicacies, all perfectly plated, were whisked to the table in a precisely choreographed ballet of exceptional service. My cheeks blushed every time our Zooey Deschanel look-a-like Sommelier appeared to talk us through the dishes and her carefully considered drink choices, thick-framed square glasses balanced on her delicate nose. Beneath the table, a hand grazed my knee, and a foot found my own as we gasped over dumplings bursting with flavour at the very first bite, faux-shark fin soup, barbequed whole quails and the most tender of beef short rib. A hedonistic exploration topped only by piling on top of each other into a self-driving taxi to take us home. It's amazing what you can get up to in one of those...

In Chicago, I swapped my heels for snow boots and set out in the January cold in search of a long-sought-after local delicacy: the deep dish. After much back-and-forth over where to go for the very best deep-dish pizza in the city, I settled on a cosy window seat in Lou Malnatti's to people-watch and indulge. I finally understand why Americans refer to pizza as a pie, and I'm not entirely sure I'm fully won over; I think I'll keep my pizzas Italian. I will say there's nothing quite like molten cheese and bubbling tomato sauce on a frosty day. On my last night in Chicago, I was seated at a cosy, green velvet banquette Italian with oversized but delicious portions. My companions for the night: my book, a robust glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and an enthusiastic waiter full of tips for the best jazz spots in town and adamant I should sit facing the door to entice in more clientele.

Onwards, then, to the culinary climax in New York City. Thankfully, it was not quite so cold, though a little damp and grey—nothing a bottle or two of champagne in a speak-easy hidden away in a subway station entrance couldn't fix. Or how about turning heads in a late-night jaunt to a dive bar? A gentleman accompanied by three impeccably dressed women downing whiskey cocktails and throwing the empties against the dedicated smash wall in the backroom. Pretzels bedazzled with salt crystals and waffle fries devoured between throws and enraptured conversation. Or perhaps plates piled high with a selection of East Coast oysters and fries in The Mermaid Inn washed down with champagne and the laughter that comes only from nurtured, repeated intimacy, make the ultimate antidote for winter city drizzle.

Back in Vegas, my long-term lover and I clasped hands as we sat mesmerised by Cirque du Soleil acrobats springing off the trapeze in perfect pikes and summersaults before gliding into the water below. The arena smelled of crisp chlorine and buttery, soft, warm popcorn. The scent lingered on my skin, my hair and the sheets that night; in my dreams even now.

TimeOut, I'm available as a food and travel writer if you're reading this. I can't promise to behave, though.

Ps. I'll be revisiting America in July this year. Get in touch now for our very own culinary adventure.


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