I travel all the time, to lots of places, but I also work all the time, and that means that the lion's share of my life is spent in New York (where my job is located) or Philadelphia (where I was born). Sometimes, I eat at the obvious places, the usual suspects; sometimes, though, I want the unusual suspects. In New York, that means Decoy, one of the best Peking duck spots in the city, and one of the strangest addresses—it's 529 ½ Hudson, which sounds like a kind of magical, not-quite-true address, like a half floor in Being John Malkovich. It also means The Magician, Dan White's show at the NoMad Hotel: You can get drinks and flavored popcorn during the performance, and roast chicken for two downstairs in the restaurant afterwards. In Philly, I end up at Nom Wah Tea Parlor for dim sum or at Hardena/Waroeng Surabaya Restaurant, a tiny Indonesian bodega in South Philadelphia that has some of the best food in the city. You can eat like a king for under ten dollars and even have leftovers. Get the collard greens!
When you spend your life programming your meals, "off the map" means serendipity, the sheer joy of wandering around, peering at menus until you find a likely looking place. That's how I lucked into one of the most memorable meals of my life, at Gli Archi. I was in the ancient seaside town of Sperlonga, seventy miles from Rome, doing a story on fresh mozzarella. My son and I followed a fisherman up from the sea and into a restaurant. Before we knew it, the table was covered with fresh seafood prepared in dozens of different ways. The food was fantastic, but the surprise made it taste even better.
With a life spent on the road, I bump into plenty of out-of-the-way eateries. For instance, Badjao Seafood House in Palawan and The Appia Yacht Club in Samoa, along with dozens of others would have been great choices five years ago. But the food geeks, who collect meal experiences like some kids obsess over baseball cards, finally discovered them — probably my fault, even — ruining it for the locals. Given that, it's with a sense of trepidation that I share these places with you. But, at the end of the day, restaurants want customers, even the ones that are "off the map."
Taxinge Krog is an intimate restaurant located on the grounds of a stately old castle that's about an hour's drive outside of Stockholm. Open only half the year, the menu is entirely based on what masterminds Thomas and Gustav find in the woods, grow in their garden, or get from their neighbors, who include a lake fisherman and a dairy farmer who milks her cows by hand. In this tiny restaurant, exploring the oldest traditions of their culture is leading them in the direction of the most modern culinary thinking of our time.
Kana is famous for making traditional Okinawan foods from when the island was still a sovereign kingdom called Ryukyu. In the small town of Kitananakagusuku, eighty-two-year old Fujiko Gaja, lovingly called "Okaasan" (mother), makes a set menu of twelve meticulously prepared dishes each night for just one seating of a handful of lucky diners. From house-made tofu with peanut caramel to irabu (sea snake soup) and three-times-braised pork in rice wine, soy, and rock sugar, this is the Okinawan food of your dreams.