By the time I made it through immigration at Denpasar airport (separate lines for purchasing a visitor's visa and getting your passport stamped; you can only pay cash and naturally the nearest ATM was out of order), it was fairly late at night. I was feeling a bit peckish but many places had already closed for the night so the friend whom I was staying with and who dutifully waited for me outside Starbucks - the wonderfully talented Talita of Talita's Kitchen - had her driver stop on the way home to pick up some freshly roasted corn smeared with chili sauce from a roadside stand.
As we sat at the kitchen table devouring our hot corn, she warned me that bugs and other critters often found their way into the bathroom after dark - "the Bali experience," as she called it. Sure enough, that first night a beetle about the size of my palm descended through the gap between the slanted thatched roof and the wall, buzzing madly and ricocheting off every surface. I retreated to my bedroom, only returning when I heard the noise stop - I guess it had injured itself because it was trying unsuccessfully to crawl up the base of the toilet. It was too big to squish without making a huge mess so instead I trapped it under the laundry hamper. The following night a bug crawled out of the drain when I was taking a shower. It's funny; I'm okay with visiting countries with documented cases of violence against women on my own, but put me in proximity with anything that creeps or crawls and all hell breaks loose.
Anyways, being a keen chef and foodie, Talita knew all the best places to eat and drink on the island. We had our first real dinner at the newly opened Cuca - a tapas restaurant whose head chef previously worked at the legendary elBulli. With its bold flavors, chic design, fresh ingredients, surprisingly modest prices and immaculate presentation, it was easily the best meal I've had on the trip thus far. Chef David has countless molecular gastronomy tricks up his sleeve (the hallmark of elBulli), like one of my favorite dishes - the Bali Breakfast - a bowl of whipped coconut confection with a mango "yolk" that broke and oozed just like the real thing when pricked with a fork. Joining us for dinner was Rafi, a new acquaintance of Talita's and the French expat mastermind behind Monsieur Spoon, which serves up the best millefeuille and viennoiseries I've had since leaving Paris.
Over plates of barbecued octopus and marinated pulled pork, Rafi and Talita talked business ideas and industry anecdotes. As incredible as it's been seeing new things, meeting new people and finding inspiration in the exotic flavors of the local cuisine, I'm eager to embark on my own endeavor, especially after seeing some of the side projects and businesses my former classmates have started (Ornella-Bianca, Cupcake & Co, and Whisked, to name a few). Cooking classes have been a help, I suppose, but I really just want to get back in the kitchen and start working.
In addition to more established joints like Mozaic, Gusto Gelato, Potato Head and Rock Bar, Talita also took me to some low-key places mostly frequented by locals, where I got to try traditional dishes like suckling pig and mixed rice. Not only could she explain what everything was, but she also placed our orders in Indonesian and probably got better service than I would have on my own. That's been the most unexpected benefit of attending LCB - having friends from all over the world.
Eating and Drinking in Bali
For sweets: Monsieur Spoon (multiple locations) for pastries and Gusto Gelato
For eats: Cuca, Mozaic and Bodag Maliah Cafe (an atmospheric organic restaurant situated in the middle of a rice paddy in Ubud; they grow their own ingredients)
For drinks: Potato Head (inventive cocktails and upscale beach club vibe) and Rock Bar (it sits on a cliff right above the water and has amazing sunset views)