Spoon (Edinburgh): Haggis and Harry Potter

Jams

J.K. Rowling, as you might imagine, is big in Edinburgh.

The Elephant House, with its sweeping picture window views of Edinburgh Castle, is constantly packed with camera-toting tourists, as Rowling wrote bits of Harry Potter there — back when she could still wander the world incognito, of course.

Besides this cafe, however, there is one other spot that is something of a Rowling shrine — though one that’s considerably less mobbed, as it’s morphed into something else since its Rowling years: Spoon, a bright and cheery first floor restaurant that used to be Nicolson’s Cafe, otherwise known as the place where Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of Harry Potter.

As much of a fan as I am of the series, I’ve never wanted to get in the perennially long line at the Elephant House. Spoon, on the other hand, not only doesn’t have the lines but is also a restaurant whose food I’d heard good things about.

So on a drizzly Sunday, D.B. and I set off for a little look-see …

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Indaba (Edinburgh): Cross-Cultural Tapas

IndabaThis is how small the world is: A year ago, during my very first weekend in Scotland, I was sitting with friends in tiny Rosslyn Chapel (if you’ve seen “The Da Vinci Code,” you’ll know how famous it is) when I suddenly spied a face I knew.

It was a woman I hadn’t seen in some years — a food and fashion blogger in Atlanta whom I’d met at my “A Tiger in the Kitchen” book signing at the Decatur Book Festival¬†in 2011. Lauren — or Lar — and her twin sister Cath, who write the Asian Cajuns blog, are just about the most effervescent, sweet and gorgeous bloggers (and people) I’ve met. And of all the churches in the world, Lar and I had somehow wound up in this little rural affair in Midlothian, Scotland, on the very same day.

Fast forward a year later and we’ve become fast friends — Lar lives in Edinburgh with her husband Matt, and I’ve learned in the past year that they are solid food gurus who won’t steer you wrong. So when I touched down this time, I asked Lar, “Where to?”

Which is how I found myself wending down a slender side street near downtown Edinburgh one bright evening, looking for Indaba …

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Fishers in Leith (Edinburgh): A Seaside Touch in the City

Fishers in LeithIt’s been beautifully sunny and warm here in Edinburgh this week — a shocker, I am told, this early in spring. (It’s been said to me more than once: “You’ve brought the weather from New York with you!”)

The gift of good weather always makes me crave the water — much more so these few days, as part of the enchantment of Edinburgh is the constant sound of seagulls in the backdrop. This may be a big city but its soundtrack is that of a charming seaside town — all the more reason to venture out to the water.

When I mentioned seeking water, Jill, the co-owner of the very lovely bed and breakfast 4 Morningside Place, had suggestions galore. Go to Leith, she said, telling me the tourist traps to avoid once I get there.

“My favorite place,” Jill noted, “is Fishers.” Now, Jill strikes me as a woman of very good taste, judging from her beautiful home, incredibly pretty garden and delicious breakfasts. So she didn’t need to tell me twice — as soon as I could get my shoes on, I hopped on a bus …

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Thanh Da (New York): A Noodle Soup To Remember

Bun RieuThe Ex and I have been on a bit of a quest recently. After a Thrillist list of “10 Best Pho Spots in NYC” by the lovely Patty Lee caught my eye a few months ago, we decided hey, why not check them all out?

My immense love for pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) is well-documented on this blog — not just places in New York, but also Edinburgh, Berlin and even Wichita, Kansas.

In New York, however, I’ve found myself going to the same place over and over recently — the always reliable¬†Xe Lua in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a little place that Chef Simpson (of Cafe Asean) introduced to me and one that I absolutely love. (The pho broth there is intensely aromatic and meaty — very satisfying.) So when this list presented itself, we said, let’s try them all!

With a big blizzard about to hit our fair city, a bowl of hot Vietnamese soup seemed just about right. So off we went, on the trail of Thanh Da, in the sprawling Chinatown in Sunset Park, New York

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Ramen Lab (New York): Umami in a Bowl

Ramen Lab

When it’s 20 degrees out (with a windchill of far lower), just about nothing will get me off the couch and out of the house.

Nothing, that is, besides the possibility of excellent ramen.

I’d been reading and hearing about Ramen Lab for months, a little Tokyo-style noodle joint that Sun Noodle, which has been supplying noodles to some of the country’s best ramen joints (Momofuku, Ippudo, etc.), was opening in New York. Two days ago, after much anticipation, Ramen Lab finally threw open its sliver of a door in NoLita.

Would it live up to the hype? I had to find out …

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