We stopped in Auckland on our way back to the US. We didn’t need to, there are direct flights from Brisbane to the US, but we saved a mint, so decided to do it. We arrived on Monday afternoon and left on Wednesday morning, deciding to take a brief culinary tour during our stay.
We began with dinner at Masu, a Japanese restaurant in the downtown area (Federal St.). The decor is comfortable, with wooden tables. Diagonal beams hung overhead suggest the roof of a house. The menu includes sushi, kitchen specialties, and a robata grill. We chose items from each section, with black cod cooked on the grill as our main dish. It was all delicious. As I am a dessert lover, I don’t mean to diminish the buttery sushi, the crsipy, spicy calamari, or clams steamed in buttery broth, but what really stood out was dessert. When is the last time you had a truly delicious dessert at an Asian restaurant? Masu really delivered in this category. The chocolate hazelnut pudding arrived in a small wooden box, with umeshu ice cream (made with Japanese plum liqueur). A server sprinkled green tea powder on top of the baked pudding at the table. Spoon out hot pudding with a crispy bit of topping, followed by a bite of ice cream–what flavor! I scraped out the corners of my little box, glad there wasn’t more, because I would have eaten it.
We took Uber back and forth from the city to our hotel by the airport, and the process went smoothly once I learned not to order a ride until I was in an easy-to-find location.
On Tuesday, we began with lunch at the Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar, once again arriving in the downtown area via Uber. There are no reservations at the Depot, but we were seated immediately, right around noon. Taking advantage of our location, we ordered a dozen raw tuatua clams, followed by a small plate of charcuterie, then venison cheek on creamy polenta. The charcuterie was both delicious and a bit unusual, including rabbit rillettes, cherry relish, wild pork salami, and locally made bresaola, served with fig and fennel seed toast. Best of all were little batons of head cheese that were rolled in crumbs and deep-fried; hot and crispy on the outside with melting meaty flavor on the inside.
The day was overcast, and we opted for a walk to the Auckland Art Gallery. There was Maori art, art of the western canon, and a surprisingly engaging exhibit, “Guerrilla Girls: Reinventing the ‘F’ Word – Feminism!.” The Guerrilla Girls are a collective of artists who point out inequality where they see it. They make posters to plaster in public places with titles like “Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum?” The poster lists statistics about the representation of women in the Met’s collection, where it turns out there are far more female nudes on the walls than work of any kind by female artists.
By this time, we were getting museum fatigue and took a break for tea. Refreshed enough to continue, we headed for the harbor, strolling the pedestrian shopping precinct in central Auckland. These few blocks are full of international brands, with the occasional tourist souvenir shop butting in. We window shopped our way to the water. Two huge wharves have been converted to hotel and restaurant venues. We found our dinner spot, Euro, out on Princes Wharf. Our reservation was early, since we’d be getting up at 4 am to head for the airport. Our third restaurant meal was as interesting and as delicious as the previous ones. Jonathan couldn’t resist a few local oysters, and the two first courses were excellent. We started with “scorched” steak tartare, a delicious nearly raw chopped beef covered in a cloud of tiny kumara (yam) chips. Next came duck ham, slivers of ham draped over a pastry tube of delicate duck liver mousse. We cleaned up every bit of it. Jonathan went on to a main dish of crispy beef cheek while I held out for dessert. When I asked our waiter what to choose, he suggested he bring me something, which turned out to be half portions of two different desserts, cheesecake cigars with ginger ice cream followed by tapioca with pineapple curd, panna cotta cream and so that it wouldn’t resemble pudding, shards of white chocolate and dried pineapple fanning out of the top like the sails of a ship.
Our culinary visit to Auckland showed there is lots of fresh shellfish and well prepared seafood. There is also excellent meat and specialty products from local producers. Add some New Zealand wine and you have menus that focus on New Zealand products with delicious results. We don’t usually eat out, so this visit was a real treat, and we were more than satisfied with each of our stops.