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3 Weeks of Excessive Eating in Europe


BryanZ
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Bresse chicken with macaroni gratin

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The gratin was cool-looking, too.

Cool-looking, indeed. Ya gotta hand it to 'em, haute French chefs can be precise with their pasta presentations. See Joël Robuchon's osetra caviar and capellini, Jean-Francois Piege's "spaghetti carbonara", Thierry Marx's spaghetti au ris de veau, cèpes et truffes. Crazy business.

The mid-level restaurants [in Paris], those in €40-€60 price range, are so damn good.

Agreed.

Great stuff so far, Bryan. Thanks!

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Paris - Days 11-13

At this point the focus of my trip would shift slightly. My mother and sister would be returning to New Jersey, and I would be meeting up with three of my friends for the next leg.

For the next three days we'd be in Paris. Although eating would become less important it's difficult to eat badly in this city.

We had dinner one night at Le Comptoir du Relais, the incredibly popular bistro (and hotel) run by Yves Camdeborde. Unfortunately, due to a bizarre technical mishap the photographs from this meal, and an entire day of Paris sightseeing, were lost. And so my fervent documentation of this entire trip was for naught. Lisa, feel my scorn. I'm kidding, kind of.

The cooking here is obviously very solid, perhaps a half-step better than other affordable Parisian bistros I've been to. One of the servers was very dismissive and, despite the efforts of her younger, friendly colleagues, put a slight damper on the meal for a couple of my friends. I would return here, however, as the pig's trotter dish I had--slow-cooked, shredded, formed into a rectangular loaf, chilled, sliced, the aggressively crisped in pan--was excellent.

Our "fancy" meal in Paris would be lunch at the two-starred Carre des Feuillants. This is a R&C property--my mother gifted me a few certificates to help offset the cost of this lunch--with a great prix fixe lunch deal. €65 for three courses, plus all the extras one might expect.

Canapes

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The first round included, olives, a smoked salmon terrine-of-sorts, and something else I'm completely forgetting. The next round was a shrimp fritter. This was tasty.

With this meal we drank a white hermitage for €70. A bit more than I wanted to spend, but I didn't order it. It was a very interesting wine, but a bit funky for me.

Amuse

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Cool avocado mousse with fresh vegetables and some kind of chilled vegetable soup. Tasty but a bit too "soft."

What follows are the dishes for four people.

White asparagus, asparagus mousse, soft-cooked egg

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A classic, updated. We don't get white asparagus this size in the States so this was somewhat new for me. A nice, elegant dish.

Terrine en croute

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A serious terrine, there's all kinds of stuff in here. This was very tasty but perhaps more rustic than I'd expect in a two-star restaurant.

Trio of tuna

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Two of my friends got this. I didn't get to try it, however.

Pyrenees baby lamb

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This dish was served for two. What I've found interesting about European meat dishes, even in haute cuisine restaurants, is that they often serve you bits and pieces from a good part of the animal. This is in contrast to the States where "roasted X" is just one piece of loin, sliced. I think this may be more elegant, but the European style seems more real.

Fish with potato scales

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The best looking dish of the bunch. I had a bite of this; it was tasty. The veggies were a nice accompaniment.

Crusted duck

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Truffled cheese

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For my dessert, I selected this cheese dish. I believe it's a signature dish here. It was very, very rich, very heady.

Pistachio cake with strawberries

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Another re-imagined classic. I had a few bites of this after my cheese. It was refreshing.

Raspberry tart

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A relatively simple dessert. My friend really liked the freeze-dried berries.

Chocolate fondant, aka When your camera says, "I hate you."

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For some reason this was terribly underexposed. Oh well. This restaurant really loves those rectangular presentations. A Photoshopped version of the picture can be seen here. It's a bit of an improvement. Thanks, RobC.

Petits fours

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A fine selection.

This meal was very solid. I didn't see any fireworks--then again, I'm jaded--but they put out a really nice experience for a very fair (relatively speaking) price. This restaurant does a lot of business dining and the menu reflects that. It's unintimidating food made interesting, but not too interesting.

Our other noteworthy meal in Paris was at Cafe Constant, Christian Constant's most casual restaurant. Thankfully we were able to eat without much of a wait. The menu here is €33.

Starters

Lobster ravioli

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Foamy. Two people had this. Neither of them let me try it.

Salmon and oyster tartare

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It was interesting to see oysters in a tartare.

Foie gras

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Nicely seasoned. Would've liked more bread, though.

Mains

Seabass

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Apparently, this was difficult to eat out of the little bowl-plate provided. Reportedly tasty, though.

Stuffed quail

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The lovely lady in our group selected this dish. She chose well. I think it was my favorite.

Roasted veal with white beans

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Another very hearty, yummy dish. Throughout the trip I've been amazed at how flavorful the veal is in Europe.

Bresse chicken

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This dish carried a slight supplement. While not as good as the chicken at Cafe Constant, this was a nice piece of meat.

Profiteroles

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Excellent chocolate.

Floating island, aka "Man, that dessert kind of sucks."

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We had built up a rapport with one of the English-speaking servers by the time ordering dessert came around. The profiteroles were an obvious, and enthusiastically recommended, choice. When I inquired about the floating island--never had it before, and it's so quintessentially French--he at first tried to subtly steer me away from it. When I didn't waver, he was more blunt, using the aforementioned epithet. Still, I really wanted to try this dessert in Paris. In the end, it didn't suck at all. It was subtle and light.

Out of all the cities I visited on this trip Paris, and perhaps Berlin, are the only places I would want to live in. It's such a beautiful and vibrant place.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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Paris - Days 11-13

Profiteroles

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Excellent chocolate.

Floating island, aka "Man, that dessert kind of sucks."

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We had built up a rapport with one of the English-speaking servers by the time ordering dessert came around.  The profiteroles were an obvious, and enthusiastically recommended, choice.  When I inquired about the floating island--never had it before, and it's so quintessentially French--he at first tried to subtly steer me away from it.  When I didn't waver, he was more blunt, using the aforementioned epithet.  Still, I really wanted to try this dessert in Paris.  In the end, it didn't suck at all.  It was subtle and light.

Out of all the cities I visited on this trip Paris, and perhaps Berlin, are the only places I would want to live in.  It's such a beautiful and vibrant place.

I kind of have to agree with your server, Bryan! Floating Island is, to me very meh. Dessert is supposed to be a bang with which to end the meal, not just plain, bland and vaguely sweet.

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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your "snack" at Lateral looks great. I've never been to Paris, but that's exactly the kind of meal I would want to get at a casual sidewalk cafe/bistro/whatever they call it. Maybe it's sterotypical Paris, but sometimes sterotypical stuff can be really damn good.

Now, a question. There are A LOT of "haute cuisine" meals in this trip. Seems like some days, more than one. Does that get a little overwhelming? How can you eat like that so often in a short amount of time? The closest I can come to doing something like what you are doing is going to Las Vegas. I've done the fancy dinner thing there a couple of nights in a row and I get burned out. All the food. The wine. The time involved. It just "kills" me. In a good way, but I have to throw up the white flag eventually.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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your "snack" at Lateral looks great. I've never been to Paris, but that's exactly the kind of meal I would want to get at a casual sidewalk cafe/bistro/whatever they call it.  Maybe it's sterotypical Paris, but sometimes sterotypical stuff can be really damn good.

Now, a question. There are A LOT of "haute cuisine" meals in this trip. Seems like some days, more than one.    Does that get a little overwhelming?  How can you eat like that so often in a short amount of time?  The closest I can come to doing something like what you are doing is going to Las Vegas.  I've done the fancy dinner thing there a couple of nights in a row and I get burned out.  All the food. The wine. The time involved.  It just "kills" me.  In a good way, but I have to throw up the white flag eventually.

Hmmm, odd choice of words, there, jsmeeker! :raz:

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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White asparagus, asparagus mousse, soft-cooked egg

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I've taken about every vegetable I can think of from seed to table, including asparagus (little gnarly roots to start with), and I'm ever interested in the preparation. That definite line of demarcation is fascinating---mine always have little nicks and chips from the plain old vegetable peeler---I suppose I would have expected nothing less than perfection in planning and prep from such an august place, but that's just so crisp and smooth---amazing. Looks for all the world like my Aunt Lo's ivory cigarette holder.

I suppose they girdled it with a knife, then made all the peels from there. Just beautiful---I hope Chufi sees this.

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Now, a question. There are A LOT of "haute cuisine" meals in this trip. Seems like some days, more than one.    Does that get a little overwhelming?  How can you eat like that so often in a short amount of time?  The closest I can come to doing something like what you are doing is going to Las Vegas.  I've done the fancy dinner thing there a couple of nights in a row and I get burned out.  All the food. The wine. The time involved.  It just "kills" me.  In a good way, but I have to throw up the white flag eventually.

Indeed, there were a lot of haute cuisine meals on this trip. I guess the short answer is that I don't believe in white flags. You're in Europe you might as well experience it as best you can.

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Now, a question. There are A LOT of "haute cuisine" meals in this trip. Seems like some days, more than one.    Does that get a little overwhelming?  How can you eat like that so often in a short amount of time?  The closest I can come to doing something like what you are doing is going to Las Vegas.  I've done the fancy dinner thing there a couple of nights in a row and I get burned out.  All the food. The wine. The time involved.  It just "kills" me.   In a good way, but I have to throw up the white flag eventually.

Indeed, there were a lot of haute cuisine meals on this trip. I guess the short answer is that I don't believe in white flags. You're in Europe you might as well experience it as best you can.

Fair enough. Getting over to Europe isn't as easy as jetting off to Las Vegas. But still, after so many back to back, do they start to blur together? Does it make it tough to appreciate the meals, or do you get jaded to the whole experience?

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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White asparagus, asparagus mousse, soft-cooked egg

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Just beautiful---I hope Chufi sees this.

she did :smile:

Bryan, white asparagus are one of my favorite things to eat. I like them on the 'well done' side, which is how I cook them myself, but I've noticed a trend in restaurants here and in Belgium to serve them more al dente. I'm interested to hear how these were cooked... where on the scale from crunchy to meltingly tender?

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Bryan, white asparagus are one of my favorite things to eat. I like them on the 'well done' side, which is how I cook them myself, but I've noticed a trend in restaurants here and in Belgium to serve them more al dente. I'm interested to hear how these were cooked... where on the scale from crunchy to meltingly tender?

As these were rather large specimens crunchy certainly would not have been optimal. I would call these just past al dente, as they were firm but certainiy had no "bite" whatsoever.

I'm a little suprised by the conservative dishes served by Carre des Feuillants.

But of course there still is a market for classical french food served at a very high standard.

The other restaurant I was considering for this meal was Le Grand Vefour. In the spectrum of French cooking CdF certainly is no Gagnaire or even L'Astrance in terms of creativity, but I was happy with my selection. This was undoubtedly French food just reimagined and slightly updated. Also, keep in mind this is effectively the business lunch menu, so that demographic needed to be accounted for.

What was that vegetable/salad type thing next to the (very decadent looking!) truffled cheese?

This was simply fresh salad greens served with a creamy dressing with some herbs in the mix, I believe.

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Bryan, thanks for this great blog.

I just have a few simple questions for you. How did you plan your itinerary? What guided your choice of restaurants and places to visit? I am particularly intrigued by how little of the more traditional dishes found their way to your stomach.

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Bryan,

I am really enjoying reading about your restaurant adventures...

I just have to ask though... Do you have a really quick metabolism?

I can't imagine walking away from this much eating without blowing up a few sizes!

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I just have a few simple questions for you. How did you plan your itinerary? What guided your choice of restaurants and places to visit?

I addressed this briefly a bit earlier but when it comes to choosing restaurants I was motivated by three main factors: 1) R&C membership, 2) Recommendations from people I trust, 3) eG, food blogs, CH, etc.

I am particularly intrigued by how little of the more traditional dishes found their way to your stomach.

I'm not sure what you mean by this. I think we did a good deal of traditional eating and sampled a wide range of cooking in each of the countries. Do you disagree?

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Amsterdam - Days 14-15

I won't lie, I wasn't very impressed with the quality of food in Amsterdam. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong places but I've taken to describing Amsterdam as follows. Imagine the East Village of NYC but with a lot of canals. There's the feeling for the architecture. Then, take all of NYC's Starbucks and McDonald's locations and replace them with vaguely Argentinean steakhouses that all serve English breakfast in the morning and you've got a good pretty strong sense of Amsterdam's cuisine scene.

Of course, this characterization isn't entirely fair, but that's how I saw the city. It only dawned on me to contact Chufi on my second and final day in the city. Talk about a missed opportunity.

I didn't take very many pictures of what I ate here as much of it was unremarkable. A lunch at a cafe, a quite tasty schwarma, one of those bizarre English breakfasts served in an Argentinean steakhouse in the Netherlands, you get the idea.

On our first day, however, we chanced upon a couple of these very Dutch fish stands. Having no idea what to order, I sampled the lightly cured herring with pickles and onion.

Fish, umm, sandwich

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Not the greatest thing in the world, especially when viewed in the context of being street meat. I didn't find it objectionable, however.

On the recommendation of an eG member however, we did make the trek out to De Kas, a beautiful restaurant set in the park on the outskirts of the city.

I should note that this restaurant went above and beyond to fit us in. For those who read Foodies Gone Wild I, you're well acquainted with my Amex conceirge woes. Don't worry, they struck back again this time. To make a long story short they managed to send me a reservation confirmation with the right address and restaurant name but the wrong phone number. For some reason unbeknownst to me or any other logically thinking person they made a reservation at another restarurant, Restaurant Cristoforo to be exact. Needless to say, I was quite perturbed.

The reservationist at De Kas pulled a few strings and still managed to get us into the fully booked restaurant when I made it clear how much I wanted to dine there. She said she'd call be back if anything became available, but what she managed to do is put my party of four in their semi-private dining room that seats easily eight, if not more. Granted, this wasn't booked for the evening so it's not like they sacrificed, but it was a nice thing to do.

The restaurant is a special one, located in a converted greenhouse. They serve a set menu that changes daily that works out to be about 3.75 courses. I say .75 because the starter is actually a small portion of three different dishes. Then there's a main, then cheese or dessert. Everything is effectively served family-style at the price of €47.50 per person. All produce is brought in daily for their farm in the countryside. They also grow tomatoes, grapes, and other small items in the unused portions of the greenhouse and on the surrounding bit of property.

Get ready for shades of Ad Hoc and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Restaurant

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I may have stolen off to the back of the restaurant to steal the odd cherry tomato or two. They were absolutely delicious.

The main dining room is through those doors.

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It's very bright and airy.

Olives

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These were the biggest, meatiest specimens I'd ever had.

Starters

Leeks wrapped with jamon Iberico

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This was pretty amazing. My favorite dish of the evening.

Garden salad, pea puree, falafel

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Clean and delicious. Nice textural contrast throughout.

Lobster salad with beets, currants, and radishes

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Another very elegant dish combining sweet with bitter.

For our main, each of us received a plate of grass-fed veal and every two people split a pot of gnocchi with chanterelles.

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Assertive, as far as veal goes, in flavor and color. A perfect main course for the time and place.

Dessert

Cheese

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A choice of a traditional dessert or cheese was offered. I chose the latter. I really liked the super-concentrated apple-fig syrup.

Strawberry trifle

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This was really nice and light. Great balance of sweetness and acidity.

Although service was a bit slow--probably because we were in the back room--I really enjoyed this restaurant. The fact that it doesn't have a Michelin star surprises me, but then again perhaps it's just not that kind of place. A really enjoyable meal.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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Amsterdam - Days 14-15

I won't lie, I wasn't very impressed with the quality of food in Amsterdam.  Perhaps I was looking in the wrong places but I've taken to describing Amsterdam as follows.  Imagine the East Village of NYC but with a lot of canals.  There's the feeling for the architecture.  Then, take all of NYC's Starbucks and McDonald's locations and replace them with vaguely Argentinian steakhouses that all serve English breakfast in the morning and you've got a good pretty god sense of Amsterdam's cuisine scene.

Of course, this characterization isn't entirely fair, but that's how I saw the city.  It only dawned on me to contact Chufi on my second and final day in the city.  Talk about a missed opportunity.

missed opportunity, I'll say!

I'm sorry I did not get the chance to show you another side of Amsterdam. If you went away feeling that Argentinian steakhouses define Amsterdam's dining scene... you really visited another city than the one I live in :smile: Although I admit Amsterdam may be shorter on high end dining than Paris, there still are a number of places that would have been interesting for you to check out, Le Ciel Bleu, Bordewijk, Ron Blaauw, to name just a few.

I'm glad you enjoyed De Kas though. It's been on my wishlist for a long time.

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Of course had I been with my family I would've surely seen another side of city. I should clarify and say that I was somewhat disappointed in the low-end dining in Amsterdam, given my budget and all. There didn't seem to be a distinct Dutch cuisine, at least from what I could see. Aregentinean, English, French, American, Middle Eastern were all duly represented but this, to me, does not make up a country's distinct cuisine. The closest thing I found was the fish stand, a unique experience indeed.

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I just have a few simple questions for you. How did you plan your itinerary? What guided your choice of restaurants and places to visit?

I addressed this briefly a bit earlier but when it comes to choosing restaurants I was motivated by three main factors: 1) R&C membership, 2) Recommendations from people I trust, 3) eG, food blogs, CH, etc.

I am particularly intrigued by how little of the more traditional dishes found their way to your stomach.

I'm not sure what you mean by this. I think we did a good deal of traditional eating and sampled a wide range of cooking in each of the countries. Do you disagree?

I guess it is the number of dishes with foam and the likes that surprised me. Now that I look back at everything, it is true that the range of cooking that you sampled was quite wide but I was in the impression that there was more or less of a direction, or at least a clear interest in, for lack of a better term, "cutting edge" or modern cuisine. I think I got that impression from your comments as well but I guess I was wrong.

Thanks again for making all of us so jealous! :wink:

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Amsterdam - Days 14-15

I won't lie, I wasn't very impressed with the quality of food in Amsterdam.  Perhaps I was looking in the wrong places but I've taken to describing Amsterdam as follows.  Imagine the East Village of NYC but with a lot of canals.  There's the feeling for the architecture.  Then, take all of NYC's Starbucks and McDonald's locations and replace them with vaguely Argentinean steakhouses that all serve English breakfast in the morning and you've got a good pretty strong sense of Amsterdam's cuisine scene.

Bummer...sounds like you might have missed the city entirely. Basically what Chufi said: this characterization describes a part of the city I never see. Your disappointment and confusion over the lack of a distinct cuisine are a result of being stuck in the completely artificial tourist center...trying to extract a sense of Dutch cuisine from this sample is like trying to make some determinations about the local cuisine of Disneyland. You missed some great, unusual eating...hopefully you'll get another chance!

Great report in general, thanks....

Edited by markemorse (log)
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Indeed our accommodation was selected by two of my friends for their proximity to other forms of entertainment. Surely, this was a touristy area, perhaps the most touristy area, and I'm certain there's wonderful food to be found in the city. De Kas demonstrated that.

With that said, in the other cities we visited, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, even the touristy areas showed examples of a local cuisine that, while not the highest quality, was still quite tasty and spoke to city's culture and terroir. I didn't get this sense in Amsterdam.

Please don't take this as an affront--the city is beautiful and with more time to explore I surely would've eaten better--I simply did not eat as well as I might've hoped.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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