Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel

Mexico City, Mexico

Bienvenido!  I’ve been on hiatus for almost 4 years from blogging since I’ve been much more active on my instagram.  A lot has happened since, I’ve traveled quite a bit, ate a lot of good food, ran two marathons (Philly & NYC) and being part of the change in our food culture.  I remain so impressed and inspired by so many bloggers that it struck me after my recent trip earlier this year to SoCal and Mexico City that I should continue to write!  And I’ve gotten a few requests to put together a guide for my visit to Mexico City. So here it is!  Also what better way to pay tribute to Cinco De Mayo than highlighting my recent trip there.


Everyone should visit Mexico City and the airfare is fairly inexpensive right now and while there, the food is incredibly cheap!  It’s a beautiful bustling vibrant city and February is a perfect time of the year to visit when it is not too hot.

Lodging: We stayed at an Airbnb in Historic Center neighborhood and it was a great find.

Transportation:  Uber is uber cheap!  Approx $5 from airport to airbnb (about 40 minutes ride)
Language : We managed to get around with my middle school level of Spanish but thank Google translator.  One very useful word we learned was “La Cuenta” which means bill otherwise, we would have never leave the restaurant.

Things To Do + Places to Eat:
Tues 2.12
– We went to Contramar on our first night.  I made a reservation and it is  recommended because it is so popular.  The tuna sashimi tostada was fantastic.
-Explore Roma Norte,  the Netflix movie Roma is based on this neighborhood, which is a great foreign film too if you haven’t seen it!
Wed 2.13
-Breakfast at Cafe De Tacuba.  Walking distance from our Airbnb.  They have nice breakfast set menu and beautiful Spaniard influenced interior.
– Frida Khalo Museum – Book Tickets ahead of time!
– Explore Coyoacan neighborhood.  One of my favorite neighborhoods and home to Frida Kahlo.
– Mercado de Coyoacan – really good tostadas market stall.  Great place for shopping and getting souvenirs.

– Al Pastor Tacos at Aranda Taqueria near our Airbnb – super cheap tacos and beer. No frills taco place.


Thurs 2.14
– Picked up baked goods for breakfast at Esperanza.  The Conchas is quite good.
 Teotihuacan Pyramid  – day trip, we took a bus from the bus station.  Bring sunscreen and a hat!  Regrettably, we did not.  Big mistake 😦
– El Moro Churros – a must!
Friday 2.15
– Mercada de La Merced – amazing vendors! This is what makes Mexico so special. The people and the merchants.  At the market, there’s fresh fruits, vegetables, meats to home appliance.  Had the best food here at the market stalls.
1. Caldos de Gallina
2. Taqueria, Si Hay, Si Hay
– Pasteleria Ideal – this place is heaven. Assortment of cakes, cookies, breads and pastries.
– Palacio de Bellas Artes – They do a free theater tour twice a day.  We got lucky and joined the English speaking tour.  Pretty interesting history of Mexico City and beautiful design.
– Castillo Chapultepec – great place to get a birds eye view of Mexico City and an amazing collection of artifacts.
– Dinner at El Pialadero De Guadalajara amazing spread of food.  They’re known for their Carne en su Jugo.
– Santa Clara – Ice Cream, great traditional flavors like mango chamoy.
Sat 2.16
– Breakfast at El Mayor.  Breathtaking views of Museo Templo Mayor and overall solid brunch for a very reasonable price.  The green juice was outstanding!
More sites to check out but we ran out of time.  Until next time:
 Que Bo – chocolate!
– on Sunday they closed down the streets for pedestrians to enjoy bicycling, running and skating in Polanco. Kind of like summer streets in NYC but this happens every Sunday!
– Weekend trip to Puebla City Cholula
Hasta Luego!


Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel, Events, New York City Eats

2015 Year in Food Review

Food Collage 2015_3

“I’ll have the usual.”  Maybe its a sign that I am getting old or as my friend tells me, I know what I want. 2015 marks my final year in my twenties. I’ve noticed my eating habit very often included the restaurants I have already been to and I would order my usual.  There’s the tonkatsu ramen at Ramen Setagaya, grilled chicken bowl of pho at Thai Son, brunch at Cafe Mogador and my guilty pleasure carnitas burrito at Chipotles. In a city like New York City with so many cuisine options, the convenience of ordering food at your finger tips and the constantly opening and closing of restaurants that keeps the dining scene exciting makes it difficult to limit to any one restaurant as a repeat. 2015 year in food certainly had some patterns.  I found myself eating various interpretation of ramen, fried chicken sandwich, tacos, Middle Eastern food, the contemporary smoked salmon bagel or is it a lox bagel?  Here is my annual mouthwatering recap of restaurants and cafes I know I will return to soon:

:: MAMAN ::
Among the cute, cozy cafes, Maman in Soho opened in Fall 2014 is a new addition to that list and really hits the spot.  The interior of the cafe is rustic chic inspired by French boulangerie with blue and white floral tiles that is also used on their disposable cups which is too pretty to throw away.  During my visit last winter, I had their lavender hot chocolate which lavender anything in food may not be suitable for all taste buds but the floral taste and bitter sweet chocolate is surprisingly a nice balance. Maman also serves no fuss takeaway meals that includes salads, quiches, and rotisserie chicken and is perfect for the busy New Yorker on the go. Since their Soho location open, Maman has expanded and can now be found in Tribeca, Greenpoint and Toronto, including their offshoot rotisserie chicken takeaway place Papa Poule which is still on my list of places to visit.

Chef Andrew Carmellini of NoHo Hospitality Group, Bar Primi is the reincarnation of this corner Bowery restaurant, formerly the beloved restaurant Peels. With the rise of gluten intolerance and for some people who choose to be gluten-free is missing out on one of the best squid ink pastas.  Bar Primi, squid ink campanelle is worth breaking the rules. With generous portions of crab meats blended into the pasta and with a subtle hint of fresh red chili pepper.  It is a reminder of how delicious and complex the flavors are for a simple pasta dish when it is done well.  It’s true when they say, “Once you go black you can’t go back.” I should also mention the baguette at Lafeyette their sister restaurant is also exceptional.

New York City classic breakfast, smoked salmon or lox cream cheese bagel has made a comeback in recent years and this year the bagel game is strong.  There is the legendary, family owned and operated for over 100 years, Russ & Daughters. Their deli remains a quintessential New York experience. Order the lox bagel with the works which includes tomato, onions, capers with thinly sliced choice of fresh wild salmon is truly the breakfast of champions.  There are the new kids on the block, Black Seed Bagel and Maiden Lane both open their second or third locations in Manhattan this year, also serves smoked salmon bagels.  Black Seed Bagel is a take on the Montreal bagel. The bagel is delicious on its own but by all means go all out on on their signature sandwiches, the smoked salmon is highly recommended.  Maiden Lane known for their tin fish and bar also serves an excellent smoked salmon bagel on a hip Baz Bagel.  The best thing about a bagel is it will last for at least for two meals or of course sharing is an option with someone special.  Sadelle, you’re on my 2016 list.

What I noticed in my recent visit to Jackson Heights is the format of the restaurants.  There is the cafeteria style for takeaways on the ground floor and above is a banquet hall version which is brilliant. It is a way to provide food accessible for all and for any occasion. I was invited to my sister’s friends dinner at Kabab King. From the name you guess it they’re known for their kababs.  The restaurant has an extensive menu of Middle Eastern style kababs, traditional Indian naan and biryani to Chinese haaka noodles. The customers range from families, seniors, men and then there was us.  Imagine children running around, while waiters carrying trays of lassi and men tearing up a stack of naan while a serious game of cricket was on television. Platters of food are served family style, beef, chicken, lamb kababs, goat biryani, lamb chops, curries and  stews. Every dish was bold in flavors and a feast meant for a king.

Queens was named No. 1  tourist destination in U.S.A in Lonely Planet this past year.  It’s the borough of new immigrants where they bring their exotic flavors which is usually authentic and a lot more affordable.  Hot Kitchen Sichuan Style in Flushing is an example and is the new restaurant that has taken over formerly known as Little Pepper.  I came here recently after a day at Spa Castle and had hot and sour soup, mapo tofu, lamb cumin, stirred fried string beans and Sichuan chicken. Every dish was delicious, seasoned well and soulful.  If you can endure the heat and spiciness, a couple of sweat bullets wouldn’t hurt then Hot Kitchen Sichuan Style is worth the trip.

I was first introduced to authentic tacos served in soft tortilla oppose to the hard shell at Tehuitzingo , a hole in the wall deli in Hell’s Kitchen.  Fast forward to 2015, everyone with the desire to sell food seems to be selling tacos because it is a lucrative food business and very often translates to awful tacos.  Goa Taco is not one of those and has taken a traditional Mexican dish and reinvent it with an Indian twist.  Instead of a tortilla soft or hard shell, it is served on a flaky paratha flatbread.  The fillings are Indian inspired as well, stuffed with paneer, masala chickpeas and there are the more Westernized ingredients options like butternut squash and kale. There is also Empellon Al Pastor in Alphabet City, thanks to my friend who brought me here, I am now addicted.  Al Pastor is a  Mexican taco meets Lebanese shawarma, the best of both worlds. The pork is spit-roasted, a common technique for lamb shawarma and is delicately, thinly sliced onto a house made tortilla and is topped with some pineapples for an acidic kick. This technique was introduced by Lebanese immigrants to Mexicans and is a great example of why immigration and cultural diffusion is awesome when great food meets.

There is no shortage of fried chicken in New York City and the fried chicken sandwich seems to be the star of 2015 and it is only the beginning. Chef David Chang of Momofuku empire introduced his fried chicken sandwich with Fuku. Visually, the fried chicken and bun ratio is intended to be out of proportion and those on low carb diet may prefer it including myself.  There is the new fried chicken with Chef Daniel Delaney’s, Delaney Chicken.  The fried chicken and bun ratio is less or more equal with Delaney Chicken sandwich and it is a little slightly more seasoned with mayo, hot sauce and pickles which creates more substance. The fried chicken sandwich as I recalled was juicy and the bun was large enough to hold the grease.  A fried chicken sandwich is certainly not the everyday ordinary meal but for those who loves fried chicken like I do then it is the best item added to the fried chicken repertoire.

Labor Day weekend unofficially marks the end to Summer days. With the long weekend and on a tight budget, a staycation is ideal.  My friend and I decided to bike our way to High Bridge Park the aqueduct which reopened this year after being closed for the last 40 years.  After making our trip there, we cruised through Harlem and nothing shouts summer more than a seafood shack, at Lolo’s Seafood Shack.  Its perfect for a summer day with their outdoor backyard seating with a bucket of crabs and pitcher of beer.  I had their soft shell crab sandwich served on their signature in -house bread known as Johnnycakes which was a delightful treat to refuel my bike ride home.

Every girl most likely played tea party as a child.  For my summer staycation my friends and I dressed up for the occasion and spent an afternoon indulging high tea like proper ladies at the Ritz Carlton by Central Park.  High tea occurs between anytime between 2pm – 4pm.  We each got a pot of tea and was presented with a three tier selection of tea sandwiches, scones and petit fours.  The whole experience was relaxing and extravagant.  A royal custom I can get used to.

:: RAFIQI’S ::
The one thing I’m most excited about working in Manhattan again is not only the convenience but Rafiqi’s food cart.  I’ve seen this Halal cart around town before but never really interest me until now. For $5 Rafiqi’s has on the menu options like falafel, gyro and my favorite is the chicken rice platter, covering all the food nutrition a person needs.  For $5 comes with an impressive assortment of vegetables that includes lettuce, tomato, black olives, corn, red onions, cilantro, the legumes from the black beans and the fluffy yellow long grain rice and protein from the chicken topped with the mysterious white sauce. A great meal to power through the work day on a friendly budget.

Senor Pollo in the East Village specializes in Peruvian rotisserie chicken and on a lazy day or really any day is a great dish for takeaway to add a bit of oomph to any meal. The housemade green sauce or Peruvian Aji sauce is amazingly good. Its traditionally used as a dipping sauce for Peruvian rotisserie chicken and I use it on my cubano sandwiches.  Don’t forget to ask for extra green sauce!

Aside from Buvette, there is a lack of good French restaurants in New York City. When my friend suggested Le Jardin Bistro because they had escargots on the menu, I had to go!  My friends and I went there in mid- June shortly before it permanently closed.  Le Jardin Bistro had all the classic French dishes, cassoulet, coq au vin, bouillabaisse, steak and frites it was like eating out of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook, a very home-style French cooking.  The restaurant located on Avenue C had a second level with a beautiful patio and during our meal there it was magically lit by natural sunset.  Dining at Le Jardin Bistro felt like miles away from the city and this gem will surely be missed.

2015 was off to a rather slow start.  I was motivated to find a new job and while I did, one of the biggest highlight was celebrating my big sister’s wedding day.  As the Maid of Honor I had the pleasure of hosting and cooking for a group of her friends with a pig themed bridal shower. With the help of another bridesmaid, we spent a month planning and a week shopping for the menu which included pork belly tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, pigs in a blanket, bacon pesto pasta salad, vegetable crudites, and charcuterie plate. I think it was the breakthrough moment for the food business I have envisioned for years that it could possibly become a reality.  The twenties was about exploring, educating myself through food, trial and error and more importantly having fun. Here’s to 2016 and to turning 30 – bring it on!  Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!  xo





Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel, Events, New York City Eats

2014 Year in Review

2014 eats_text

photos taken with instagram @iluvpotato

“Nothing is achieved without effort.” 2014 has been a milestone. It was not easy, starting the year and on my birthday being unemployed. But it was an opportunity to take the time to rejuvenate, rethink, and rediscover the city I grew up in and reviewing my personal goals. A transition was exactly what I needed and ever since I have moved out living on my own in an exciting, evolving part of New York City I hardly knew. I also settled into a new job with healthcare and after 4 years it was the perfect timing for a trip to Japan. While I did all of the above, it was the first half of the year during my unemployment when I was able to slow down and leisurely enjoy a meal without the weekend crowds and without the urgency of going back to work or eating at my work desk. Dining out was therapy with the company of friends to help me get through what would have been a stagnant year. Here is my annual top 12 from 2014:

I was unexpectedly invited to Brooklyn’s Taste Talks early this Fall via OpenTable. I have been fortunate through my previous work to have been to a number of food events but it was for the first time and hopefully not my last through my work as a foodblogger where I was invited to a food event. Taste Talks is a weekend festival celebrating New York City food culture and media. I was only able to attend the second portion, the All-star BBQ at the East River State Park. It was a nicely organized group of intriguing chefs and restaurants currently in New York City. Each chef participant exhibit their interpretation of barbeque. My favorites were from Chef Ivan Orkin from Ivan Ramen- grilled duck hearts, Chef Jonathan Wu from Fung Tu – Pig head salad and Chef Rob Newton from Nightingale 9 – barbeque duck which all had an Asian inspired touch to their dishes.

Moving out from my parents has been the biggest step. To celebrate this milestone, I took my parents to Maialino for a 3-course lunch during restaurant week. It was by far one of the best restaurant for restaurant week I have been to and a great spot to bring parents to. My dad being a retired chef / restuaurant owner and my mom, a vegetarian, homecook but somehow still manage to season meat dishes really well are both really hard to please when it comes to dining out. Maialino, nailed it. The ambiance of the restaurant was appropriate and service was exceptional. The food by executive chef Nick Anderer is rustic, refined Italian and the olive oil cake is a must. It is why Danny Meyer’s restaurants continues to have the reputation and the respect the food industry has for him as a restauranteur and his team’s craft.

Alphabet City remains to be a less known part of Manhattan or a part we recalled in the musical Rent. Tompkins Square Park for instance has transformed to a dog loving park and the neighborhood is home to many community gardens and the new St.Mark’s bookstore. It is also a neighborhood with a couple of awesome fried chicken options. I discovered Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter while on the elevator. The restaurant is very small with limited seating but the bar counter is my preferred spot, even with a group of friends. They have a fried chicken supper for four that includes sides and biscuits. A low key spot and has quickly become a favorite of mine in a new neighborhood I am excited to call home.

:: CONG LY ::
For cheap eats in New York City, you can always count on Chinatown. One of my favorite cuisine is Vietnamese for a bowl of pho, sandwiches, or spring rolls. For a very long time, Thai Son was my go to spot until I stepped foot into Cong Ly one day and since then haven’t been anywhere else. It is a family owned spot and a restaurant you can linger as long as desired over a bowl of pho. Other than their configuration of tables, which I am tempted to rearrange, the food is delicious, inexpensive and comforting.

:: BAKERI ::
I made a few visits to Bakeri this year. A small café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with an assortment of cookies, freshly baked rustic breads, pastries and several savory options. The décor of the café and choices of ceramics and silverwares is one of many reasons why I keep going back but mainly because of their lavender shortbread paired with a cup of latte – every girl and gent treat. Bakeri has since expanded a second location in Greenpoint, which I have yet to visit. In the meantime, it is worth heading across the East River.

This year marked my 10 years High School reunion, in addition to an impromptu mini middle school reunion at the Lobster Joint on the Lower East Side. After 14 years, it’s amazing to reunite with friends and to be able to casually catch up where we left off. The Lobster Joint on the Lower East Side sadly recently closed but their Greenpoint location remains open. It had a great happy hour with a wide selection of beer, wine, and affordable, pretty delicious fried oysters, shrimps and lobster rolls sliders. It will be missed.

World Cup and barbeque at Red Hook’s Hometown doesn’t get any better on a hot summer day and is how we celebrate Father’s day. The place is only a ferry ride away from Lower Manhattan and a few blocks from Ikea. Hometown Barbeque is as good as any Southern, Texas barbeque and the food is presented on butcher paper, the authentic way. For dessert, save room and head over to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. The graham cracker crust and the amount of citrus is a nice complement after a heavy barbeque meal.

Two is better than one. Some of the sister restaurants I went to this year included: Freeman’s + Isa and The Fat Radish + The East Pole. Rosemary also opened Claudette, which will be on my list for 2015. Read more on my review on some of the listed restaurants on Brunch. Buttermilk Channel has a cult following and it is likely to be busy even on a rainy, Monday evening which is when I went. On the contrary their sister restaurant, French Louie is far more mellow. The outdoor backyard dining space is probably the reason why I would go back. It is hard to believe it is Brooklyn because it’s damn pretty.

It has been over twenty years since I have been to Hong Kong and the city is glowing and the food culture is astounding. Sorry New York City, but Hong Kong is the new city that never sleeps because its non-stop eating. Mak’s Noodle is an example of what a Michelin Star restaurant taste like without a need for reservation and without splurging. With only a few items on the menu, the wonton noodle soup is the signature dish. The wontons are silky with the perfect ratio of shrimp to pork filling and the handmade noodles are refined submerged in a tasty broth. The bowls are petite but ultimately satisfying.

In the heart of Kyoto, Japan, Nishiki Market is a long strip of various food vendors or also known as food heaven. A taste of everything Kyoto has to offer and surprisingly the best pickles and fermented food I have ever had. There are specialty items to take home and small bites like tofu doughnuts, soymilk ice cream, onigiri, octopus on skewers, rice crackers, and all the samples you can indulge on. I miss the warm welcome of irasshaimase and the hospitality of the Japanese culture. More on Japan in a future post.

The Hong Kong Airport food court is amazing. On our way back to New York City from Japan, we had a layover at the Hong Kong airport and enough time to eat some more delicious Cantonese Chinese food. The challenging part is narrowing down to which one. The Hainese chicken rice dish and Penang style rice noodles was unlike anything I had in an airport and frankly with the limited amount of days spent in Hong Kong, it was one of the best meals we had.

:: PICNIC ::
Summer went by far too quick this year. At one point I was juggling 4 projects and finalizing the apartment was very stressful. One fun activity I did manage to pull together with the help of my sister was an outdoor vegetarian friendly picnic. I made a mushroom, asparagus quiche, quinoa kale salad, a platter of crudités with garlic labneh and pita and homemade lemonade. I have a long way and a lot work to do to become a professional chef and have no means or interest in becoming a chef. What I find most satisfying and joy is creating the menus, preparation and organization aspect. The picnic was a preview of what I am sure will be more of in 2015 – potlucks, picnics, and gatherings. More news on that next Spring.

“Without effort nothing is achieved.”  Food keeps me going, it’s an endless discovery and I am excited to start a new chapter in my new home in this diverse city where you don’t have to travel far to get a bowl of ramen and a lox bagel.  As always, thanks to those who shared a meal, their positive energy, laughter, tears, words of wisdom and the kind support from readers, making 2014 a memorable year. Happy trails and to a fruitful New Year!

Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel

Austin, Texas

austin_2013photos taken by iLuvpotato © 2014

SXSW 2014 may be over but Austin, Texas is a great city to visit year round.  I made a visit to Austin, TX last year during labor day holiday weekend and stayed with my friend.  There was no better way to celebrate the last days of summer than swimming holes, the best barbecue and live music.  Here is my overdue post, a recap of my trip to the Lone Star state and one of the best capital city in the country.

08.31.2013 (Day 1)
I met my friend, a native Texan who now lives in Austin, Texas through working and both for our love of farmers market, so naturally our first stop was the farmers market for a light breakfast. It was considerably early or at least in my internal clock but many items was already sold out.  It made sense because of the climate in Austin, Texas by noon can reach up to and over 100F, so the locals really start their day early then off to swimming hole we go!  One of the most visited and popular swimming hole is Barton Springs Pool and it is a definite must.  As I’m used to swimming at my local recreational center in a body of bleach water, Barton Springs Pool is a whole new experience, with natural mineral water generated from underground springs with an average temperature of 70 degrees is an ideal treat from the heat.  Our lunch stop was at Lucy’s Fried Chicken.  We ordered a 1/2 dozen of Austin oysters, corn on the cob, corn bread muffin, collard greens and a basket of fried chicken to share and to fuel our appetite.  That evening we went to my friend’s parents lake house in New Braunfels, TX for an ‘Open Grill’ which was a term that was new to me and meant you bring your own meat for the barbecue like a pot luck in which I bought some sausages from a local German butcher shop.

09.1.2013 (Day 2)
This was my second time staying at my friend’s parents lake house.  They have visited me a number of times in New York City and in many ways have become my extended family. We made breakfast tacos from our leftovers from the open grill.  It was one of those Sunday meals to linger around with good company without the fuss. Later that afternoon, we drove through the roads passing ranches from New Braunfels to Wimberly, TX.  The views were spectacular and even quoted in guide books, “the Tuscany of Texas!”  My friends and I arrived to Jacob’s Well which was overcrowded, even one man came dashing out after taking a glimpse  and said in a fury with an European accent, “this is disgusting.”  Instead we went to Blue Hole but was also disappointingly full.  Finally we settled and picnic at a less populated swimming hole.  The biggest accomplishment was I successfully conquered my fear in attempting the tarzan swing which was one of the most liberating thing I have done in awhile and I recommend everyone to do the same if you never have.

We drove back from Wimberly to Austin and had dinner at a drive-thru at El Chilito.  I had three tacos a fish, a shrimp and a Puerco en Cascabel aka Cactus tacos with a plate of rice and beans along with horchata.  Later we went to a trendy bar, The White Horse.  It happened to be conjunto night which means ‘gather’ and the Mexicans really knows how to have a fiesta.  There was the usual bar scene with a good selection of beer, pool table, live music and dancing but rarely an old school of Mexicans and young hipsters under one roof in a bar.  The intermix of culture and generation was what really distinguished The White Horse from any bar I have ever been to and the friendly, social atmosphere really made the experience fun.

09.02.2013 (Day 3)
Despite the heat wave, the locals in Austin, TX remains very active with outdoor sports.  People were running, hiking, kayaking, bicycling, you name it.  Well, my friend and I tried paddle boarding in the heart of city.  In addition to being very active, it is also the city where Whole Foods supermarket chain stores was born in the 80s and remains to be one of the biggest Wholefoods in the country and that’s where we had an al fresco lunch follow by some shopping.  I was hoping to purchase a pair of cowgirl boots but a pair goes for about more than a roundtrip airfare. I’ll have to save up besides it will give me a reason to go back.  Instead we opted for some ice cream at Amy’s which are known for their ‘crushn’ method and I had the triple mexx with pecans.  To conclude my trip in Austin, TX, it had to be Texas barbecue at Salt Lick BBQ.  This was the real deal and Salt Lick BBQ takes it very seriously.  There was a bocce court, a wine cellar and a vineyard but the main attraction was of course the pit where a ton of meat was firing up.  We did a family style with an assortment of meats which the ribs and pickles really stood out. It was an epic way to end my visit to Austin, Texas and what the city reminded me was to let loose a little and enjoy the pleasures in traveling and in life.  Thank you to my friend and her family for being such gracious host.

I was lucky to have a friend to take me around on all the hot spots.  An alternative source to plan your next trip to Austin, Texas I discovered while visiting is this charming collection of city guide books: Wild Sam Field Guides.  Unlike any other guide books, I find these personal, authentic and visually creative.  A perfect addition to any traveler or designer’s collection. And for the outdoorsy person, Hill Country Outdoor Guide is a good source.

Amy’s Ice Cream
El Chilito
Lucy’s Fried Chicken
Salt Lick BBQ

Barton Springs Pool
Blue Hole
Jacob’s Well
The White Horse

Sustainable Food Center
Whole Foods Austin, TX
Uncommon Objects

Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel, New York City Eats

2013 Year in Review

FOOD_2013photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

It’s hard to believe another year has gone by and as I get older, “staying in” has a whole new feeling.  Maybe because I traveled more frequent than any other years.  I started 2013 with an annual sister bonding West coast trip from San Francisco, Seattle to Vancouver.  Went to Washington D.C with my family for the spring cherry blossom and visited my friend in Austin, Texas to soak up the summer sun on labor day weekend.  And joined a spontaneous, intense 6 days bus tour with my parents from Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, to Utah, which redefine my perception on how I see America and especially Chinese bus tours.

Or maybe because I will officially be in my “late-twenties” one month from now and in the latest Kinfolk issue covering the subject on Age in an article I can resonate with is David Coggins piece “Acquired Tastes: Only Time Will Tell.”  I’ve noticed my taste palette has changed, where some dishes have really grew on me with an appreciation. When I was a child I used to push aside soups, avoided hot pot and Chinese rice porridge aka congee or ‘jok’ but now I can devour an entire bowl.  Currently, I am passing the oatmeal with black sesame seeds and goji berries my mom prepares me on weekends, well, – only time will tell.

Sometimes it is necessary to “staying in.”  To catch up on personal emails, a book for leisure, or using kitchen tools.  It helps to recharge and rejuvenate from the work week whether in the comfort of my pjs or with a group of friends lounging where time feels endless.  The end of the year is a time for reflection and as we wrap up 2013 what I am most appreciative and find most satisfying is that one good meal.  The one good meal is define by the service, the quality, the environment and most importantly the people you share the meal with.  Here are my top 12 for the year 2013:

El Poblano Farm /// One of the highlights this year was joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with El Poblano Farm. A small one acre farm with varieties of produces to Mexican herbs like papalo, all grown in Staten Island.  By joining a CSA, it introduced and motivated me to cook something I would never have bought. Some of my favorites were, squash blossoms, papalo, acorn squash, and chamomile.  The experience of being part of a CSA that was most rewarding was being part of a community, a visit to the farm and a shared home cooked meal with CSA leftovers.  It also helps the organizers Erica, Ken and farmer Gudelio are all so friendly and such loving people. Thank you for a great season.

Cafe Mogador /// I rarely revisit a place for brunch twice in a year as there are too many choices in New York City but Cafe Mogador is an exception.  Primarily because I am obsessed with their harissa. It’s a condiment that comes on the side upon requested and it gives an extra kick to brunch. I especially love the hustle and bustle environment of the restaurant and the Moroccan inspired decor.  No wonder it’s a favorite for the locals and tourist alike since 1983 in the East Village and it’s certainly has become one of mine.

Dominique Ansel Cronut /// New York City is notorious for long lines for always something.  Since May 2013 when Dominque Ansel Bakery launched the cronut, there has been outrageous lines from 5am. These would be sold out from the moment the doors open, limiting 2 cronuts per person. I would have patiently waited but I’m not a early morning person.  My cousin however, crazily waited and hand delivered to my door and surprised me with a cronut – she is the best.  The flavors changes each month and I had the coconut. We both agreed it was not the best thing we ever ate but I must praise Chef Dominique Ansel for creating this hybrid dessert between croissant and doughnut where both two iconic pastries from France and America meets.  The idea is truly a masterpiece.

Bar-b-cue /// If it’s one cuisine that defines America, it’s barbecue and it’s hard to narrow down to only one when I had so many good barbecue this year.  Mighty Quinn’s who started at outdoor markets opened their brick and mortar shop in the East Village earlier this year. They’re known for their briskets but when I think of barbecue I think of finger food. Ribs is the way to go and their less traditional but creative side dishes like the edamame & sweet peas salads.  I visited my friend on the last days of summer, a native Texan with New York City at heart who drove to the outskirt of Austin, Texas where I witnessed and tasted how it’s really done at Salt Lick BBQ.  It is an impressive estate, there is bocce, a vineyard, a wine tasting room but the main attraction was of course the pit where the meats are smoked.  One of the best barbecue experiences. My friend even tied the knot at a barbecue joint this summer at Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem, one of the married couples favorite spot and how barbecue and weddings is meant to be, pure fun.

Fried Chicken /// If barbecue is the cuisine that defines America, the one dish that defines America has to be the iconic fried chicken – sorry burgers and hot dogs.  Everyone who knows me by now, knows that I Love Fried Chicken and I’m not the only Asian or person who is fascinated with this fried bird.  Foodblogger Donny Tsang started a fried chicken project where he chronicles all the fried chicken he has eaten in New York City. For really beautiful fried chicken photos see his blog.  Chefs across New York City has taken this classic dish and elevated it with their interpretation including renowned chefs David Chang and April Bloomfield with their advanced reservation group fried chicken dining experience.  [Read my Momofuku Fried Chicken Dinner here]  There’s also Chef Robert Newton’s version on a boneless fried chicken at Seersuckers, although the biscuits with three way jams was what really stood out in the meal.  Then there is the Blue Ribbon empire where they finally opened a fast food style or 2013 update on KFC, Popeyes or Hill Country Chicken with Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken.  The wings are outstanding and spices on the fried chicken are flavorful with numerous honey options on the side to experiment with and where playing with food is encourage here.

Mission Chinese /// What’s great about New York City restaurants is, what is authentic when it is common to find a Mexican cooking a bibimbap and a Chinese cooking an enchilada, or who cares as long as it tastes good.  This goes for Mission Chinese, Chef Danny Bowien who is frequently spotted on Lower East Side or Chinatown with his striking long blond hair is Korean descent from Oklahoma and makes kick-ass interpretation on Chinese food including spicy sizzling cumin lamb platter and don’t be too surprise to find kale on the menu.  It’s ashamed the New York City Department of Health closed the location but a block away, visit Mission Cantina where he takes on Mexican food in which I have yet to try.

Lafeyette /// Formerly the Chinatown Brasserie, the location of what is currently Lafeyette has gone through multiple reincarnation and from the two experiences I had, I hope it stays in the years to come. Without having to travel to Paris, Lafeyette has one of New York City’s best croissants that consists the perfect amount of butter and flakey texture, let’s not forget the crumbs. I was lucky to get invited to one of the most lavish and delicious cookbook launch of The Way We Ate.  Where platters of cheeses, charcuteries, olives, mixed greens paraded out and was a preview to what Lafeyette had to offer in which I know I will be back in the nearest future.

Best of Gowanus: Four and Twenty Blackbird /// Lavender Lake /// Runner & Stone
My work office had temporarily relocated to Gowanus, Brooklyn from late April through October and boy did I eat well within the seven months. Gowanus, is sandwiched between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens and it is transforming with the new Wholefoods Market open.  A once industrialized neighborhood and the ever so infamous highly polluted Gowanus Canal is gaining momentum as a food destination.  While working in Gowanus, I got to explore the neighborhood and some of my favorites includes a humble pie shop, Four and Twenty Blackbird.  Where pie by the slice or a whole pie can be ordered and flavors changes according to season. Right on Carroll Street near the Carroll bridge is one of the best bars in Brooklyn, Lavender Lake.  Named after what used to be the color of the Gowanus Canal and formerly a horse carriage house, the structure of the bar has excellent indoor and outdoor seating, with a terrific bar snack menu and the must try roasted brussel sprouts with aioli and beer on tap, although they need to bring the Lefthand stout back on tap!  Last but not least, Runner & Stone.  I’ve always been a fan of their pastries and brioche that they sell at New Amsterdam Market but the baguette is exclusively available at the shop and is incredible.

Egg /// Breakfast is probably the most commonly skipped meal, as I am guilty in being one of those people. We’re always on a hurry in the morning with the extra 20/30 minutes sleep or simply have no appetite.  Egg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn however, if you by chance have a weekday off is a nice trade for the daily bagel or toast.  There’s a set of crayons and white paper as table covering where your inner child or artist is encouraged.  The menu also reflects the contemporary fine art, with dishes like the Egg Rothko, probably inspired by the artist Mark Rothko, in which the tomato resembles that iconic Rothko “red.”

Walrus and The Carpenter /// I’m still Seattle dreaming from my visit to Walrus and the Carpenter in February. Those fried oysters, holy sh** [Read more here]  The team behind Walrus and the Carpenter had open this past year with The Whale Wins which by no surprise has already received critically acclaimed reviews. Walrus and the Carpenter has my dream kitchen and everything about it is spot on, even if you do not like oysters you will likely be converted, I promise.

Buvette /// One of my favorite neighborhoods in New York City is the West Village.  It’s one of the parts in Manhattan that is not a grid and every street corner has it’s own character. Buvette is one of the reasons why I love the West Village even more so than ever.  Voted by Village Voice, “the best cassoulet” and I cannot agree more [Read here]  In my recent visit, I had the opportunity to meet the man behind the design for Buvette, Max Poglia. over croissants and coffee.  It’s rare to find a restaurant that put so much thought into the food that also complements the visual aesthetic.  If you are still figuring out New Year’s Eve plans, why not ring in with their annual Nuit Blanche.

Chez Panisse /// “What is the best meal you’ve had this year?”  Well, it’s hard to pick that one place after eating at so many but the most epic, would have to be at the legendary Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. [Read more here]  The concept of the menu changing daily according to what is available on the day of the market is so simple yet brilliant.  That is how our grandmothers and mothers shopped for their daily cooking and luckily with walking distance to fresh produce, butcher shops and fish market is how I was raised to cook too. My impression I left at Chez Panisse is the definition of success.  Alice Waters has created an institution where like Chef David Tanis and David Lebovitz have all started their career in food.  When you measure success, it is more than your very own but those surrounds you and Chez Panisse has achieved that, in fostering these talents in today’s food industry.

Thanks to the dreary, grey weather we are having in New York City today has allowed me to “staying in” in writing this.  The blinking blank cursor can sometimes be intimidating and distractions from the outside world can get me sidetracked.  So a little encouragement from the rain goddess really helps.  I started writing my annual recaps in 2010 and have continued since.  [Read them here: 2010. 2011. 2012.]  It has always been one of my favorite pieces, as I get to highlight and share these listings.  Rather than one long end of the year post, I will do my best effort to write shorter but more frequent posts in the new year. Until then, it’s good to go out, explore, get a breath of fresh air, travel, get inspired, meet new friends, develop deeper friendships and reunite with old ones over a shared meal.

happy new year and best wishes in 2014!

Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel

Journey to the West

I recently attended a free talk at the McNally Jackson bookstore lead by Lucky Peach magazine on the topic food + travel writing, which is something I am interested in learning in crafting and potentially getting a few gigs (fingers crossed!)  eat, travel, write, repeat, that’s my dream job.  The subject on “authencity” was repeated multiple times but is that all there is to it?  What resonate with me from the talk was in reference to Columbus and how he discovered such and such food.  Which reminds me traveling is more than for leisure, it’s a continuing education.  It’s about discovering something you never had or experienced before or revisiting a place and rediscovering it.  One of my favorite cities is San Francisco, California.  My first time visiting San Francisco was in 2004 when I was 18 years old and I returned in 2007; six years later I am curious in how the food scene has changed in comparison to the East Coast.  I invited my sister as my eating companion on this nine day journey (2/23 – 3/3) starting in San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA and concluding with Vancouver, BC Canada.

sf_seattle_van_20132photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

2.23.2013 San Francisco, CA (Day 1):  I have been hearing a lot about the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and luckily we arrived on the day there was an active farmers market which operates only on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. With a little bit less than an hour, closed by 2pm, we caught the last robust 45 minutes.  It’s a nice time of the year to visit SF farmer’s market as it is citrus season and it’s unusual to see an abundant variety of citrus at a farmer’s market because it is not locally grown on the East Coast.  More amazingly was walking through the market and absorbing the citrus fragrance and tasting the samples.  You would not believe the difference in how oranges taste in comparison to a seasonally and locally grown orange until eating a Californian grown orange in California, sounds crazy but now I know how oranges should taste like!  I wish I was able to stock up on cheeses, kale, mushrooms, romanescos, Meyer lemons and more but maybe another time.  Instead, we noshed on a few things: salmon lox, raclette, and mac ‘n cheese.  SF Ferry Plaza recently celebrated their 10th Anniversary restoration in the rebirth of a landmark, read more here.  The SF Ferry Plaza is a central and active port also with an interior retail space with shops including Blue Bottle Coffee and Cowgirl Creamery. In addition the farmers market is a formula to the success of the revitalization of Embarcadero neighborhood which creates a bustling marketplace for local and tourist who enjoys food to visit.  This is a dream in the making for New York City Fulton Fish Market site, a project I am proud to be currently involved with, visit here.

Later that afternoon, we encounter a couple of Chinese New Year floats parked not very far from the market and learned that there was going to be a Year of the Snake parade.  San Francisco has a long history of Chinese immigrants in the city and has one of the oldest Chinatown in North America and one of the largest Chinese community outside of China.  Even the current SF mayor is Chinese.  We stayed to watch the parade and was mesmerized by the quality in how well the parade is organized and the sense of community and respect in celebrating in more than a holiday but an heritage.  The lions, dragons, and firecrackers reminded me of my childhood before firecrackers were banned in New York City.  The SF Chinese community, not only do they know how to put on a party but reminded me in what it means to be Chinese and how these traditions needs to continue in the generations to come. 

2.24.2013 San Francisco, CA (Day 2): Since it is my third time visiting San Francisco, I wanted my experience to act as a local, so what better way than to jog the city.  My sister and I woke up early that morning and ran through Chinatown, Financial District, and Little Italy. We didn’t have a route planned and ran aimlessly with the goal of reaching the Golden Gate Bridge Park but how to get there, one tip is look out for other runners and so we did and reached Fort Mason and ran towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was a whole new perspective on the city and a good one.  At the end of our jog, we ran a total of about 6-9 miles and even discovered Fort Mason Sunday farmer’s market and was rewarded with a heavenly fresh squeezed orange juice and had brunch at La Boulange Bakery which I saw on our our path earlier.

Being an instagram user, I have seen a lot of photos of Ocean Beach.  With only a bus ride away, the Pacific Ocean is right before your eyes and feet!  Without timing it, my sister and I were able to catch the sunset which was spectacular.  It happened to be a full moon that day and we observed while the sun was setting, the moon exactly the opposite was rising.  I’m not an astrological geek but you don’t have to be one to appreciate it.

Because it was the 15th day of the lunar calendar month which my sister observes, meaning she has to be on a vegetarian diet for that particular day.  To acknowledge that I also went on vegetarian diet for the day.  For dinner we went to a Chinatown vegetarian restaurant, Enjoy.  My sister and I decked out and ordered a banquet for ourselves, my favorite was as simple as it sound was the pine nut and spinach fried rice.  It was chopped really fine and stir- fried in what we called in a good Chinese prepared dish pronounced in Cantonese – “wok hay” and that dish embody that taste.  All the dishes had a great combination of fresh vegetables, flavors and had a great visual presentation with vibrant colors from the assortment of vegetables.  It was not drenched in oil as we are familiar with here in New York City Chinese cuisine and the SF Chinese food proves how Chinese food can be a healthy alternative diet.  This would probably be one of my staples if I were to live in SF and for a omnivore, this is a huge compliment.  Without doubt, I enjoyed Enjoy very much.

2.25.2013 San Francisco, CA – Berkley, CA (Day 3) Being that San Francisco is one of my favorite cities that I have now visited multiple times, I have a favorite restaurant spot located in Chinatown, Yee’s Restaurant.   It’s one of those old timey neighborhood spot where every waiter knows their customers and vice versa for their morning, afternoon tea and low key family meals.  I go back each time for their big bowl of congee and my favorite is the complimentary side dish stir-fried noodles and all for under $4 per person.  You know it’s good if it still exist since 2004 and what I love about it, is the restaurant hasn’t change and the food taste the same.  After breakfast, we made our way to the SFMoMA which will be closed by June 2013 and will go under renovation until 2016.

We then made our way on foot to primarily the reason in why I wanted to revisit San Francisco, Tartine Bakery in the Mission District.  The Mission is what Brooklyn is to New York City in terms of the young entrepreneur food scene.  Most businesses are coined with Mission “blank.”  You name it: cheese, bicycle, even Chinese food – Danny Bowien Mission Chinese.  The neighborhood is located adjacent to a heavily Mexican populated neighborhood and on my way to Tartine Bakery, there were so many Mexican restaurants I would have love to try, the more reason to go back next time.  I couldn’t resist at Tartine Bakery and ordered a number of things a mushroom croque monsieur on sour dough bread, a beautiful latte prepared with Four Barrel Coffee. And for take away, I bought a croissant, scone and a bag of crisp citrus peeled cookies for the next day.  It’s a local leisure coffee and pastry spot but also globally visited by many people from all over.

A restaurant globally known and also visited is Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse.  My boss made a table reservation for me prior to the week I was visiting San Francisco and normally the popularity of Chez Panisse would have required months in advance. What makes Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse so special and for so many reasons,  it’s worthy of one entire post about it but in a nutshell if it’s even possible, Alice Waters redefined American cuisine in the 1980s and have influenced so many talents to start their own food careers.  This includes David Tanis former executive chef and now food writer of NYT, David Lebowitz former pastry chef and writer of several culinary books, and from what I learned while dining, Acme Bread which provides San Francisco including at Chez Panisse excellent breads.  Alice Waters is a chef, restaurant owner, a food activist and also runs the Edible Schoolyard which is a nonprofit organization committed to educating children in where food comes from.  She was currently involved with working with the state of California in passing the prop 37 in proper food labeling non-gmo.  She is one of the most influential women in the food world and I am all giddy and fortunate to be able to dine at Chez Panisse.  Located in Berkley, CA on Shuttuck Ave which is a beautiful and quaint town.  Chez Panisse immediately stood out with an unusual tree growing in front of the restaurant that no one else had on the block.  The structure and ambiance of the restaurant felt like a cabin.  The menu changes every day from what is in season to what is fresh and locally available at the farmer’s market on the day when conceptualizing the menu – genius!  Dining at Chez Panisse was like a well orchestrated symphony; it’s a masterpiece.  From the service to the taste of the food to the presentation was on key every second.  Every dish was thoughtful and executed so well and truly interacts with all the senses, especially sight, smell and taste.  Never have I ever had anything so aromatic as the pork shoulders both sense of taste and smell.  It’s a restaurant institute for everyone who is serious about food and I am a lucky gal.

Here’s what I ate:

February 25, 2013 Chez Panisse Menu
Sonoma county squab and duck salad with rocket radishes and sherry vinagrette
Red beet soup with horseradish

Wood oven braised pork shoulder with fennel seed and rosemary with cannellini beans, kale and herb salsa
California sea bass with celery root purée artichokes and tapenade

Pink lady apple and sour cherry galette with meyer lemon gelato

Flying disc ranch barhi dates and Churchill Brenneis Orchards kishu tangerines
a pot of Mint tisane tea

Unfortunately, an electrical fire broke out on March 8, shortly after a week and a half since dining there and damaged the facade of Chez Panisse, read more here.  Alice Waters announced it will be reopen for business by this summer and I am sure it will be better than ever.

sf_seattle_van_2013photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

2.26.2013 Seattle, WA (Day 4): Heading northwest to Seattle, Washington.  There is the iconic Pike Place Market, Space Needle Tower, the original Starbucks which I overheard from some guy who was leading a walking tour that it is not?  … jaw dropped, but whatever, I’m in java city!   Unfortunately, my sister was not feeling well and the cloudy weather in Seattle certainly did not help either but we manage to make the best of our visit there.  Geographically, the west of North America is closer to Asia, which Asians have a long history in settling in cities on the west coast, this includes Cambodian Chef Seng Kok Ung.  A refugee in 1980 who fleet from Cambodia to Seattle to achieve the American dream in making a living and sharing his culture through his passion in food and is the chef and owner of a humble restaurant, Phnom Penh Noodle House.  These are the reasons why I love food and travel; discovering these stories and flavors.  My sister ordered a tender duck noodle soup and I ordered a Battambang’s Favorite Noodle and an appetizer Hay Cung, which is an interesting version of a shrimp roll and delicious, click on the menu for a full salivating description.  One of my favorite cuisine is Vietnamese because it is light and always highlights the ingredients.  Because Cambodia is a neighboring country of Vietnam, the two cuisine is fairly similar and has influence from one another.  Phnom Penh Noodle House certainly knows how to use ingredients and it really defines the importance of the quality of fresh ingredients and it makes all the difference.  Also important to have a knowledge and palette combination and this is what Chef Seng Kok Ung does so well in all of his dishes.  I don’t think you can go wrong with anything you order from here and besides it’s modestly priced, I would try everything if I had the iron stomach to.  I’m not from Cambodia nor have I been to Cambodia but it has the quality of comfort food that warms your heart.  Who would’ve thought I would find such amazing Cambodian food in Seattle, WA?  Liking the city already…

2.27.2013 Seattle, WA (Day 5): It was our second and last day in Seattle, WA, too short indeed!  During the day, we visited a historic neighborhood in Seattle, Pioneer Square and visited the Smith Tower.  Afterward, we had an early lunch at Salumi which is all things pork and cured meats by salumist, Armandino Batali, Mario Batali’s father.  This narrow storefront with no more than 20 seats would have a line out the door and wrapped around the block during lunch.  All the cured meats are made in house including mozzarella.  For lunch, we had a porchetta and a salumi with mozzarella sandwich to share. The little storefront/ restaurant felt like we were invited to a house party with a mantle of figurines, you guessed it, pigs!  Family portraits hung on the wall and cookbooks stacked on the shelf.  It is nothing like the restaurant empire Mario Batali has built, quite the opposite and what I generally prefer, the ambiance and taste of grandma’s home cooking with a lot of love.

We spent the afternoon sipping coffee, watching the rain fall and listening to music from my high school days at a cafe.  Before our dinner spot, we took a stroll at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Then headed to the outskirt of Seattle, a town called Ballard which seemed far more interesting and wished we had the time to explore the neighborhood more.  We decided to conclude our visit in Seattle at the critically acclaimed  Walrus and the Carpenter.  This place is a hidden gem and literally very hidden; located in the back of what seemed to be an office building.  As quiet and deserted the neighborhood may have seemed on a Wednesday rainy night, entering Walrus and the Carpenter was like time traveling to a vibrant, sunny, warm, happy place; after all what an awesome restaurant name.  Without a table reservation, the wait was no longer than half hour and we were seated at the bar which is my preferred seating where I can observe the oyster shucking, cooking and mixology action.  My sister is not the biggest raw oyster fan and it was only in recent years she started eating raw fish.  On the other hand, I like raw oysters but I now officially love west coast oysters!  And Walrus and the Carpenter does a fine job from sourcing to shucking.  It even changed my sister’s perception on raw oysters on a half shell which is that good.  We ordered only a half dozen and selected: Barron Point, Blue Pool, Hama Hama, Sun Hollow and 2 Totten Virginica – cool names huh?  Each oysters is named after the inlet of the bay the oyster is harvested in and the Pacific Northwest is one of the best, learn more here.  With only a light squeeze of lemon juice, sip and slurp paired with a pint of local Georgetown Porter, was refreshing.  The best was probably the fried oysters.  The panko battered fried oysters with aioli sauce melts in your mouth and plenty to go around until satisfaction for only $8!  We celebrated our last day in Seattle also with a cabbage salad, cured salmon, salmon roe with asparagus and to top off our meal, a creamy panna cotta with a hint of lemon zest and berry.  Walrus and the Carpenter is a young, up and coming restaurant that has already received top reviews from New York Times to Bon Appetit.  I can see what the buzz is all about and it’s definitely worth traveling to Seattle for and solely for.

sf_seattle_van_20133photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

2.28.2013 Seattle, WA to Vancouver BC, Canada (Day 6):  O Canada!  I think taking the train is underrated and not enough travelers take advantage of this experience in seeing America.  It’s a beautiful scenic route on the Pacific Northwest on the Amtrak from Seattle, WA to Vancouver BC, Canada and rather inexpensive ($28 one way per person).  The train ride was 4 hours long.  It was a perfect way to gather thoughts.  We arrived to Vancouver around noon with rain. There was apparently a tropical storm while we were there called Pineapple Express which the meteorologist explained it was a warm air mass from Hawaii.  Not far from our hotel was a strip of shops and many were Japanese and Korean restaurants.  We had lunch at Ramen Jinya.  A bowl of ramen was spot on and perfect for the Vancouver kind of weather.  We took a stroll at Stanley Park but it was raining quite heavy and decided to spend most of the afternoon in the hotel which was nice to wind down and laid in bed and watch television.  I later caught a PBS series called The Mind of a Chef.  It is food series narrated by Anthony Bourdain in the footsteps of Chef David Chang from the Momofuku restaurant empire.  It’s a travel, eating and cooking show and both entertaining and educational.  That evening, we had Korean food at Red Chicken.    As you can tell, we’re taking the Asian cuisine route in Vancouver!

3.1.2013 Vancouver BC, Canada (Day 7):  The beauty of the cities in the west coast is the proximity to the great outdoors.  Within 30 minutes on a public transportation it literally transports you to the wilderness.  We visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge which is a national park surrounded by acres of evergreen from red cedar wood to douglas fir trees to ferns dating back to more than 1300 years old!  Incredible.  It’s an oasis for urbanites.  While we visited, there were downpours and rained especially hard because we were more north; after all it is a rain forest.  Despite the weather the rain, mist and fog created a beautiful also a mysterious visual landscape, it smelled absolutely wonderful, clean crisp oxygen exert from the trees and the rain drops like soothing music to my ears.  I can spend all day at the Capilano Suspension Bridge park and by far one of my favorite destination of the trip.

That evening, we had dinner plans at Dinesty Chinese with my sister’s friends from her study abroad in Beijing, China.  It has been 10 years ever since and two of them coincidentally resides in Vancouver.  Dinesty Chinese, a Shanghai restaurant and is known for their soup dumplings. It was a fairly new restaurant on the block and pretty high tech, taking orders on ipod, waiters communicating with each other on blue tooths.  I was most impressed with their menu design.  All the dishes had a photograph of the dish with English and Chinese translation and icons of the type of meat or vegetarian friendly.  The food reflects the authenticity for flavors, technique and creativity.  It was the first time I probably had such delicate thin soup dumpling skins and still maintain the broth innards which is a technique that is hard to achieve. The Chinese food in New York City has got to step it up!  I agree with Chef Hung Huynh in a recent interview with Serious Eats. We are spoiled with the $1 dumplings in New York City.

3.2.2013 Vancouver BC, Canada (Day 8): Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic and we were hoping to visit Whistler and ride the gondola to see the wintery scenery, except it was just our luck that our Greyhound bus had broke down on the middle of our journey or the bus driver was playing hookie. All for nothing waking up at 4am!  Nonetheless, we took it easy and had brunch at Two Chefs and a Table in a nice part of town known as, Gastown.  I was craving for fried chicken and luckily there was chicken and waffles on the menu.  The waffles was a home run, it reminded me of Hong Kong hot cakes and the pecans added a nice nutty and sweet touch.  The maple syrup was…well, we are in country of the maple leaf.  Although, I still prefer my Pies n’ Thighs fried chicken or deep south New Orleans fried chicken.  Later, we spent the afternoon on Granville Island for some public market reference.  Granville Island is a combination of artist studio space, artisans hand made crafts from yarn, soap to textiles and a public market food hall.  It was an urban redevelopment project and have done a good job in preserving the facade and feel of an industrial mill but made to be a destination for shoppers and visitors from all over.  On our way to the Oakwood Canadian Bistro for our last meal of the trip, a peak of sun came through the clouds.   The sky cleared in beautiful shades of colors and finally we were able to see Vancouver.  There was the landscape with the snow cap mountains on the peak, the tall evergreens follow by the Vancouver cityscape.  Where we were viewing this magnificent view was on a beach.  I cannot think of any other cities in the world where the landscape and the cityscape juxtapose and for this reason is probably what makes Vancouver such a unique city and so desirable to live in.

3.3.2013  Flight back to New York City (Day 9)  After a whirlwind west coast dining tour, there is always something magical about home cook meals and a simple bowl of white rice and being back in New York City.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed visiting the west coast and America & Canada!   I’ve always dreamed about moving out there and according to plans which have been derailed I should have moved to San Francisco at 25.  The trip assured me that it is possible, maybe… maybe, in six months or in a year from now, I will be writing in the pacific time zone?  A thought to be continued…

Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel, New York City Eats

Deep Impact

2012 food
Photos taken with Instagram by iLuvPotato

I am writing this on 12.21.2012 and the world was suppose to end according to the Mayan calendar.  If the world did end and my last meal was at Runner and Stone grand opening party with a 6 course meal then I feel pretty content.  Although, I am glad the predictions of the world ending was false rather it is a beginning to a new era, which sounds very hopeful.  One of my favorite quotes comes from the holy XIV Dalai Lama:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it I am going to use all my energies to develop myself to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry, or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

This quote reminds me to be thankful each and everyday at the best and worst of times and as I reflect back on 2012 it was a memorable, an eventful and because this is a foodblog, it was one delicious year!   So here is my annual top 12 of year 2012 eating adventures:

Parkway Bakery and Tavern /// I started my 2012 with a sister bonding trip to New Orleans.  It’s been a city I have long awaited to visit and with Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf coast oil spill it continuously put the city in the spot light in a negative way which caused the delay to journey down until now.  New Orleans is a unique city with multi-cultural and flavors and is highlighted through the origin of food.  I was recommended to several restaurants but the one I am still salivating over is Parkway Bakery and Tavern.  Known for their Po’Boy sandwiches and probably the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. We ordered the catfish po-boy and the grilled smoked hot sausage pork link po-boy and an order of chili cheese fries along with two vintage bottled of Barq root beer.  The decor, ceiling fans and the Parkway Bakery waitstaff were wonderful with their Southern hospitality making this place worth the trip visiting New Orleans.  Read more here: Fat Tuesday Indeed.

The Breslin /// There are very few women chefs in the culinary industry restaurant world and within that circle, the chefs I admire includes: Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, Chef Anita Lo and the goddess Chef April Bloomfield. I first had a dish by April Bloomfield at Le Grand Fooding in 2010. It was a Blue cheese inspired dish, a Beef, Bleu D’ Auvergne and Suet Pie…mm.  For my birthday this year, I had a birthday brunch at Essex Street with my friends and a post birthday lunch at a restaurant of my choice with my boss.  Thanks RLV!  I had chosen The Breslin because I have been dying to try the lamb burger.  It is probably one of the most photographed, yelped, twittered dish at The Breslin but photos and what you read will not do its justice, most things are better when you try them.  A rustic and beautifully presented burger on a butcher block along with a side of fries or chips as the British calls it was as expected mouth watering and incredible!  A good way to celebrate another year older.

Phayul Tibetan /// I received an impromptu invitation to a Tibetan community artists dinner gathering from my old friend, a Tibetan artist GG. I had to journey out to Jackson Heights, Queens which little did I know it was more than a little India but also resides a great population of Tibetans and Nepalese which means the food must be pretty darn good, authentic and budget friendly.  Phayul Tibetan is a small Tibetan family owned restaurant, hidden on the second floor.  Greeted with “tashi dele”, hello in Tibetan.  We were seated in a long communal table and ordered multiple dishes to share in family style.  Signature dishes included laphing made with mung bean into jelly noodles with chili sauce and parsley and momos – Tibetan dumplings.  We concluded our meal with Tibetan sweet butter tea – po cha which is misleading because it is actually salty and has an acquired taste – similarly to my mother’s DIY teeth whitening recipe: baking soda, hot water and salt.  Sipping teas and exchanging stories in a hidden gem in New York on a drizzly rainy evening into the midnight was poetic.

Roberta’s /// Located in a remote part of Bushwick, Brooklyn an industrial factory neighborhood, Roberta’s is packed on a daily basis.  My friends and I, a group of 4 people waited for over 2 hours to be seated.  Roberta’s is known for their seasonal pizza menu.  They would have their usual margherita, tomato, basil and mozzarella but every time you go, there is something different, innovative and delicious to offer.  The vibe of the restaurant is great too.  Roberta’s is beyond just a restaurant , there is also a radio station streaming from the restaurant, known as Heritage Radio, a station with all things food related including Saxelby Cheesemongers Cutting the Curd segment all about cheeses.  There is also a garden where Roberta’s grows their own basils, tomatoes, and produce when weather appropriate for their pizza.  The thoughtfulness and creativity of Roberta’s is what makes it more than another New York City slice and worth making the pilgrimage here.

Pies ‘n Thighs /// I have a pretty high standard for my fried chicken and especially after visiting New Orleans which made my standards even higher.  I didn’t think I would come across fried chicken as good and as reasonably priced as New Orleans but Pies ‘n Thighs proved me wrong.  Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this place is hillbillyburg good.  I recommend for the first timer to try the fried chicken box, it’s a million times better than KFC and Popeyes, with 3 pieces, a side and a biscuit.  What’s great about Pies ‘n Thighs is their sides and it goes above and beyond the overly processed mashed potatoes, mac n cheese.  The sides are refreshing with a take on what is in season at farmer’s market such as kale, string beans, berries, and currently a lot of squashes on the menu.

Ocakbasi Dürüm Ve Kebap Salonu /// It has been 4 years since I have taken an international trip and this past May I had the opportunity to travel with my friend (MN) to Istanbul, Turkey and Athens, Greece and Greek Islands.  Read more here: Along the Mediterranean Sea in Twelve Days.  One place that really strike me was Ocakbasi Dürüm Ve Kebap Salonu, it was hidden in an alley way near the Spice Market in a market place with only few tables indoor and outdoor seating.  Dürüm is a word seen in many Turkish menus and on signage.  And it will very likely have grilled meats and flat breads.  At Ocakbasi Dürüm Ve Kebap Salonu, it was a feast platter made for a sultan for a modest price.  The platters of grilled meats were seasoned and cooked to perfection.  We were lucky to stumble upon this great restaurant.

Nefeli /// Without knowing it was a hiking and eating tour, a 9 day guided tour with REI, this trip was the odyssey of a lifetime.  Greek cuisine is far more than the diners in New York City and spinach pies, it is full of flavors, nutrition and variety from beans to meats.  One of my favorites includes an authentic gyro pronounced yeer- oh, was from a restaurant in the Greek Islands of Tinos, called Nefeli.  The meal in it’s entirety was mouth watering but one dish in particular made its impression on me that I have since been inspired to use more parchment paper in my cooking. The dish at Nefeli was rather a simple dish, a baked parchment chicken with aromatic rice but the method created a crispy texture on the chicken skin and the flavors absorbed making it a well- balanced dish.  And since my travels, I have cooked and experimented with fish, sausages, and vegetables with parchment paper along with my handy convection toaster – oven.  It is what traveling is all about, being inspired.

Totto Ramen /// After watching Batman’s Dark Knight in late August, I found ourselves in Totto Ramen area between Hell’s Kitchen and Columbus Circle.  Japanese ramen is one of my favorite comfort foods and Totto Ramen really hits the spot.  With very few seating and the popularity of the restaurant, there was a long wait but totto worth it!  I always take the bar seats if the opportunity is given and luckily we did. Of course the reason is to get the full experience and to observe the cooking action, it’s so much more entertaining than a hibachi grill.  Surely, New York City have experienced a growing popularity and demand for Japanese ramen joints.  But what makes Totto Ramen stands out from the pack is their broth since it is a chicken broth instead of the common pork broth most ramen places serves with and the handmade ramen noodles cooked al dente is perfect.  What I appreciate even more is it is actually cooked by Japanese!

Toby’s Estate Coffee /// Among what makes up a New York City block and within less than a mile radius are: banks, drugstores, restaurants and coffee shops.  These are the quintessential of a New Yorker every day needs and if it is the beauty and quality of Toby’s Estate Coffee in their Williamsburg shop, then I would be in pure heaven and New York City would be a better place.  It was in April when I discovered the new coffee shop and ever since I have been addicted.  The interior decoration resembles my dream loft apartment living room and the coffee roasted freshly at the shop literally in a Probat coffee roastery fills the room with the scent and sound of a genius at work.  The coffee is consistent each time, which I recommend their espresso beverages: a macchiato, americano or a latte.  Also while at it, take home a bag of coffee beans for your loved ones.

Má Pêche /// One of the perks in working in the food industry is being invited to forums revolved around the subjects on food.  In late August, my boss was a speaker for a forum, a food series created by Má Pêche in collaboration with NYPL, pretty cool combo.  The subject was on street food vendors, from pedlars to the current popularity of gourmet food trucks.  Inspired by the subject, the theme for the lunch was street food but done in Má Pêche style.  This is my second David Chang’s restaurant empire experience – adding to the list with Momofuku Ssams Bar.  It was an informal cafeteria style and coming back from a trip recently to the Middle East and the Greek Islands, Má Pêche’s take on lamb with tzatziki was a rather nice interpretation and hinting for a visit soon for a real meal.

Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle /// Disgracefully, I was introduced to Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle by none other than my white friend, thanks WG!  Located on East Broadway, Chinatown and owned by Fujianese – which is probably the reason why I always shy away from because I speak the lingo and its often very sketchy looking.  But this place is different, there is a secret weapon and that is a non-Fujianese noodle master who really makes hand pulled noodles.  The menu is no more than 20 items: bowls of noodle soups, dumplings, and glutinous rice balls (sweet and savory) all range from $2 – $5.50 per dish.  The handmade pulled noodle is impressive. The texture is quite the way I like it, fresh, al dente unlike the doughy hand pulled noodles and the combination of soup noodles range from lamb to vegetables.  My favorite is the fried dumplings and dry noodle with minced pork sauce, a meal under $10.

Le Diner en Blanc ///  It never crossed my mind that I would participate in a flash mob but of course if any it would be food related.  Le Diner en Blanc started originally in Paris, France as a garden party with guests dressed in white for a picnic and quickly grew into the size meant for iconic locations like the Eiffel Towel, the Louvre and Nortre Dame which is kept secret until the last minute.  New York City adapted this concept and now is a global celebration.  My sister and I participated in this year’s second annual Le Diner en Blanc and planning for it was stressful because less than a week prior I received an unexpected invitation and was ecstatic!  The event is BYO: table, chairs, food, table clothes, utensils, decorations, etc.  The rules was to dress elegantly in white and it had applied to white table with a certain dimension, white chairs, and plates.  Sounds crazy right?  We spent a whole weekend planning and scouting for the table and chairs but eventually came to a solution.  How it worked was we picked a group to meet and there was a team leader for each group and this was happening all over Manhattan who then takes us to our secret location and the only method according to the rules is to take the subway.  It was during rush hour where we mobbed the trains with everyone dressed in white and carrying bulky tables, chairs, and picnic baskets to a secret location and this year was at the Lincoln Center.  When everyone finally settled down with tables and decorations set up, everyone was in awe.  It was visually spectacular.  To witness and experience a gathering of 3,000 strangers from all over the city for a giant picnic at Lincoln Center is one of many things that makes New York City so special.

I must say I ate really well this past year and when I step onto the scale it reflects that. But as the saying goes, life is short and if it looks good, eat it!  Part of growing up is through exploring and doing things that is out of our comfort zone and experiencing changes and events.  This past year, our family welcomed a new addition to the Yeung family, Allyson Nora Yeung, I jet set to the South and across the sea and have also experienced and witnessed how fragile humanity can be when Hurricane Sandy hitted and attending to two funerals.  But I also witnessed how resilient humanity can be, when tragedy hits people come together to support each other and give each other condolences that creates a ripple effect.  That is what food does, it is beyond the trend, the popularity and perfecting the craft but the impact food has to bring people together because frankly, everyone needs to eat whether in good or bad times.   Thank you to everyone who shared a meal with me in 2012.  Happy holidays and to a healthy happy new year! Cheers!