France and Spain – repeat

I had the opportunity to visit these countries for the third time in 10 years! It’s not a lot but hey, it’ll do for me! In France, besides visiting Paris for the third time, we also visited:

-Nice
-Cannes
-Le Rouret
-Mougin
-Verdon Gorge
-Moustier-Sainte-Marie
-Rousillon
-Luberon
-Aix
-Avignon
-Tavel
-Chateauneuf du Pape
-Gigondas

We also went to Monaco while in France!

In Spain, besides visiting Barcelona for the third time, we got to see Ibiza! 

There were so many wonderful experiences during this trip…driving along the south of France, which some have said is comparable to driving along PCH but I have to say it is such a different drive. Both are beautiful but have its own character. My favorite part was when we drove through Villefranche, going towards Monaco. I also feel so fortunate that my husband and I were able to visit the Cote du Rhone region, one of our favorite wines prior to this visit! Chateauneuf du Pape had a cute, small town and a castle with 360 degree view of the region! I love how intimate it felt and seeing how the wines we love grow. I would be curious to see what other oenophiles feel about this area.

We also had the honor of going to a wedding in Barcelona. It was by far one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to. It was in a castle…the food was delicious…fireworks…and an awesome couple! It was my second wedding overseas (India was my other).

While I love traveling every time I return home I love the feeling of coming back to California. This is repetitive but seriously, the weather here is awesome! 28 countries later and I still love CA! So where to next? I’d love to see more of Spain, like southern Spain (Granada, Seville, Valencia, etc). I guess we’ll see ūüôā

I’ll leave you with one photo…when we stopped in Villefranche.Image

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Spain the honeymoon – Rioja

Got back from Spain two Fridays ago. We were there for two weeks and it was technically a “doublemoon,” where we went with our friends that got married in September. Overall of Spain? I really enjoyed it! We visited La Rioja (staying in Logrono), Bilbao, San Sebastian, Mallorca, and Barcelona. Let’s start with La Rioja!

We drove from Barcelona to La Rioja. We stayed in Logrono since it was our first day in Spain, I had a feeling we would feel some jet lag and needed to be in an area that was close to lots of restaurants. If we stayed in any of the winery area, then it would’ve been tiring to find a restaurant after our long flight and drive. Logrono has a couple of streets that are famous for tapas. Here is what one of the streets (Calle Laurel) looks like in the day time. I forgot to snap a photo at night because I was so excited to start eating!

Each place has a specialty so it’s easy to know what to get. Alternatively, some places display all the tapas that they have available or you can have something not displayed made to order. It was awesome because we got to go on our first tapas crawl together. So much good food for reasonable prices! It is helpful to know some Spanish, like understanding what they are asking you and knowing how to order. Here is one of my favorite tapas on our first night. It’s so simple and yummy. Mushrooms grilled with lots of olive oil, garlic, and salt. A shrimp is placed on the toothpick and then three mushrooms are placed beneath the shrimp. Then, the stack is placed on top of a piece of bread to soak up all the juices. So easy!

The next day we drove through the wine area. It’s so BIG compared to Napa! I’ve been to most of the major wine regions of CA but nothing prepares you for how big La Rioja is. Maybe it’s because in CA, there are lots of hills so you can’t see how far the vineyards stretch? I want to go back when the vineyards have grapes on them!¬†Prior to our trip, we did our due diligence with wines from this area. Luckily we live super close to a few great wine shops. We learned about Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. All labeling intended to tell the reader how long the wine has been in the barrel and bottle before selling. Crianza being the youngest and so forth. It was cool seeing that our local wine shop really did carry the famous wines…we even tried two wineries that we had from our wine shop! Speaking of wineries, in Spain wineries are called bodegas. ūüôā Here is a photo of the vineyard at Bodega Baigorri.

Hopefully I remember to post about the other parts of Spain!

Guy Savoy – Paris

Our “splurge” meal in Paris was the one and only Guy Savoy. We didn’t do Joel Robuchon as we went to the one in Vegas in November 2009. We wanted to try a different chef this time. Let’s start off with location. Guy Savoy is located by the Champs Elysees boulevard, literally two streets down from the Arc de Triomphe. Since Guy Savoy doesn’t have as much “buzz” as some of the newer restaurants, we were able to make reservations through the normal process. When we walked into the restaurant, we were warmly greeted by three hostesses. Everyone wore a charcoal gray suit, very business professional looking…like being in a bank. Make sure you dress in business casual, at minimum! Everyone working in the restaurant greeted us. That’s quite lovely. The restaurant is divided into separate rooms. Each room had 4 tables. You can easily arrange to have a family dinner in one of the rooms, semi-privately.

Onto the amuse bouche – asparagus soup

underneath the soup cup was a beet tart!

As we reviewed the wine menu THE chef came out. Yes, I mean Guy Savoy came out and welcomed us to his restaurant. Holy cow, my jaw dropped. Does Thomas Keller greet his customers at Per Se or French Laundry? Does Robuchon greet his patrons at any of the Robuchon locations. This was a first for me!

their bread cart. impressive but if you’ve seen Robuchon’s bread cart, this one seems OK. It’s because at Robuchon they had more than 8 different types of breads and they warm the bread for you.

My appetizer: chicken breast, foie gras and artichoke, with a truffle dressing. It was presented like a terrine and I absolutely terrines. It was served cold but it was so fitting. I was suprised by how MOIST the chicken breast was, that it totally matched the texture and consistency of the foie gras.

‚̧ had the artichoke and black truffle soup. It also came with a layered brioche with muchrooms and truffles topping the soup off. Do I really need to describe to you how awesome the soup is? Well you have to like artichokes first and foremost. Because this soup tasted like liquid artichoke hearts…to me that’s yuumy!

I had the springtime veal. This time I had green asparagus, versus the white asparagus in my appetizer. I really like asparagus and didn’t feel it was redundant.

‚̧ had “Foie gras and radish,” just fried turnips and “roasted-caramelised” duck. The interesting thing about <3’s dish is that they showed us how it looked before they cut the duck. It was cooked in a foil case that had a clear window. WHen they came out with the foil, they pulled open the clear window and you were overwhelmed with the smell of duck. MMmm.

:

A palate cleanser

Their ice cream cart is so smart looking!

‚̧ had the Mille-feuille pasry with vanilla pod (made to order). I loved the vanilla in this dessert, but it was a little hard to eat. Like you can’t just run your fork through it.

I had the “strawberry textures” and indeed it was full of textures. The best part? No rhubarb! Thank you! There was freeze dried strawberries, slightly sweetened strawberries, ¬†strawberry ice, and a bit of a strawberry glaze. Everything tasted like the sweetest, freshest strawberries you’d find at a farmer’s market. I loved this dessert!!!

We even had a bit of ice cream!

Overall I really enjoyed our meal. Like I said before, I feel like Michelin’s ratings sway more towards “fine dining” and exceptional service. Guy Savoy definitely fit that criteria. My favorite dishes were the appetizer and dessert that I ordered. Anyway, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Enjoy!

Guy Savoy
18, rue Troyon
75017 Paris France

Nomiya – Paris

Pop up restaurants…I’ve been to a few in LA and have been disappointed. Yatai for its barely warm ramen and LudoBites for its overcooked quail eggs, among other things. I think these fail because the staff is not working in their own territory. At least, that’s what I hope it is. So when the new york times posted their latest 36 hours in Paris list and featured a pop up bistro, I was a bit¬†resistant. However, because this one had a¬†gorgeous¬†view of the one and only tower, I figured let’s give it a shot! First off, the restaurant was originally supposed to close summer 2010. Due to its popularity, they continued to run it a bit longer! In order to make reservations, you have to go to Nomiya’s website which is sponsored by Electrolux. The restaurant features all Electrolux appliances. Reservations can only be made online and the day that you want becomes available one month in advance. The restaurant only offers one seating for lunch and dinner each day. Also note that the restaurant only serves 12 patrons for each seating. ¬†That’s where Google calendar comes in handy!

The restaurant sits on the roof of the Palais de Tokyo, a modern contemporary arts museum.

This is how close the Eiffel tower was to us!

Here is the inside of the restaurant. First you see the kitchen. Through the kitchen you see the main dining area.

The view from the inside dining area:

They were very generous serving champagne and wine as we waited!

As you may have guessed, because the place only fits 12, you’re sitting with 10 other strangers. In our seating, everyone was a local from Paris. The locals were surprised that two Americans were able to get reservations! They told us how difficult it is to make reservations. I told them it helped that we were in a different time zone when we booked! ūüėČ

Onto the food! The server told us what the food was in French. Due to our limited French, we used our other senses to guess what we were eating!

Thankfully we cook with different colored beets all of the time, so we knew instantly this was beet ravioli! One was made of golden beet and the other from the pink beet. It was also topped with baked to a crisp red beet. The inside was filled with crab meat! They served this with avocado sauce on the sides.

The next dish were slices of raw scallops topped with a citrus sauce. It also had thin slices of lime peel and pieces of

orange peel. It was so refreshing!

Our main entree was beef topped with chopped tomatoes and cilantro/green onion foam. I remembered this one because it reminded me of eating a carne asada with salsa fresca. On the side was a rattatuoille. The inside had fresh carrots, peas, onions and was wrapped in zucchinni. Eventhough beef is a “heavy” dish, it tasted so refreshing because of the produce.

Our dessert was a blanched strawberry/rhubarb tart with ice cream. I know people like to pair strawberries and rhubarb together, but I personally do not like it. I don’t like rhubarb because it reminds me of celery. I hate eating celery because it’s so thready! Anyway, the rhubarb in this dish was prepared such that the “stringiness” of the rhubarb wasn’t so bad.

This has got to be the best pop up restaurant I’ve been to thus far. I believe it’s because this pop up has been around for many more months than the ones I’ve been to in the states. I also liked how we dined with complete strangers who obviously loved food as much as us. It was a great time for us, interacting with local foodies and enjoying the amazing view!

If you have a chance to dine here, I highly recommend it! Enjoy!
Nomiya
13, avenue du Président Wilson
Paris, France

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London

My next favorite meal on our Europe trip was Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

Prior to arriving in Europe, we didn’t have any intentions of coming here. We knew that it would be super cool to go to the Fat Duck but we didn’t want to spend 160 pounds per person on the tasting menu, especially when you add wine to the bill. The couple that we met in Paris told us that they went to Blumenthal’s pub, the Hind’s Head and recommended that to us. Our plan was to go there. However, on our train ride from Paris to London, the Metropolitan magazine mentioned Blumenthal’s new restaurant. Located in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Dinner is bigger with over 100 plus seats and lower priced than Blumenthal’s Fat Duck. I told my London friend about it and we attempted to make reservations. Open table didn’t have any availability for months. Wait, we know better than to just rely on opentable! We called the restaurant and they told us that dinner reservations were fully booked until July! Whoa. Ok, what about lunch? Apparently they had availability for two on Thursday. Score! We had lunch…at Dinner. Ha!

Between Monday to Friday, they serve a set lunch menu with three appetizers for 28 pounds a person! I wasn’t really interested in the set menu (because we had quail a few times during our trip already) and wanted to try something from the a la carte menu. You’ll notice that after each dish there is a year next to it. This date represents the year the actual recipe came from. The back of the menu also shows which book the recipe came from.

We’ve read that the meat fruit is popular. Good thing I didn’t research what the meatfruit would look like. It was so cute when it arrived! The outside was mandarin with a texture similar to a really moist fruit roll up. The inside had super smooth chicken liver. This was really tasty. The mandarin flavor replaced the typical cornichons you usually get with pate. The grilled bread was nicely grilled, not too tough (I hate when it’s super hard and hurts the roof of your mouth).

I had the powdered duck. The waiter told us that the duck was cooked for over 12 hours. It was sooo moist, fall off the bone tender. It was on top of roasted fennel. Fennel has a subtle anise-y taste to it and complimented the roasted duck well.

‚̧ had the roast turbot. It was topped with cockle ketchup and leaf chicory. His comment: second best fish I ever had! (first best being Le Chateaubriand).

For dessert I was so full that we shared dessert. In the beginning the waiter told us that the most popular dessert was the Tipsy Cake. It has a spit roasted pineapple that you can see on the spits in the kitchen. If you want to have this dessert, you have to let them know when you order your main entrees. However, we opted for chocolate and ordered the chocolate bar. The inside of the chocolate bar had passion fruit jam and it was served with ginger ice cream. As a side note, we saw the play “Children’s Hour” and during the intermission they served ice cream. Ice cream at a play?! We had the ginger ice cream there and it was yummy. If we hadn’t had the ginger ice cream at the play then this would’ve been a pleasant surprise! Still, it was a great dessert.

In general food in London was meh so this was a pleasant surprise meal for us. Dinner had well executed, tasty dishes. If you’re planning a trip to London, make sure you book reservations the moment you book your plane tickets! This was definitely worth it and I’m so glad we tried it.

Enjoy!

Dinner by Heston
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
+44(0)20 7201 3833

Le Chateaubriand – Paris

I wanted to post about my favorite meal in Paris. This is in line with how we are always in search of good food, the trials and tribulations we’d go through to get to that food.

I’ve been relying on San Pelligrino’s world’s best restaurant list for awhile now and I feel like it’s a good resource on where to go for different types of cool dining experiences (Biko and Pujol in Mexico City were pretty spot on). In this case, San Pelligrino listed Le Chateaubriand as one of the top 50 best restaurants in the world. It sounded interesting enough, chefs trying to change up French cuisine at reasonable prices. At 50 euro a person, you are indulged in whatever they feel like creating for that evening. Sounds like our type of place! The night before arriving in Paris, San Pelligrino announced that they were awarded #9 best restaurant in the world. The highest ranking for a French restaurant this year! Knowing this I wanted to go there the evening we arrived. Unfortunately, they were CLOSED. WHAAAAT? No signs, nothing, just..closed. Another couple looked equally disappointed as us…luckily they found out the restaurant would be open the following day!

So the trick to going to this restaurant. You can try to book a reservation, though you need a local phone number to accomplish this. Iff you don’t have that as an option, you must wait in line at the restaurant. It’s not as bad as it seems. Well, first you need to mentally prepare yourself to eat dinner at 10pm. I really mean that. This is the norm in Latin America and Europe that you will be dining “late.” Good thing ‚̧ got me accustomed to eating our dinners normally at 9pm! So, get yourself to the restaurant by 9pm and stand in line. At 9:30 most diners will start leaving and the staff will let you in the restaurant to the bar area. From here, chill out and get a glass of wine or something. The¬†chalkboard¬†tells you what’s available.

By the time you have a nice little buzz you’ll be seated! The couple we met the night before came 15 minutes after us and were seated at the table next to us! On to the menu. You don’t even have to think about what you’re going to eat, they will tell you what will be served (just make sure you tell them what allergies you may have). And off you go!

I almost forgot to take a photo of this. It was little puffs of bread with a cheesy taste. You know how pao de quejo has a chewy/mochi like consistency? Well these have the same flavor as pao de quejo but with fluffiness.

Our next plate was ceviche. When we saw the bowls we were like…where’s the ceviche?! When I drank it I felt like I just had ceviche. Whoa, what powerfully pink liquid ceviche you are. Tricky, tricky. Who knew what looked like a diluted mess would pack such a ceviche punch.

Next up were duck hearts. Whoa, hearts? I’ve had hearts before but I still feel a little sadness because it’s the little critter’s HEART…uncooked! My sadness quickly faded and I enjoyed how the seeds on the hearts added a crunchy texture to an otherwise sad chewing experience. The flavors of the seeds also adds a¬†nuttiness¬†to the gamey flavor.

Next up, artichokes. I really do like artichokes. I especially like them grilled. This may seem like a simple dish but it’s cooked so well. For one thing the outside of the artichoke, the leaves where you can suck on the underside to get some meat…were steamed. However, the heart of the artichoke…they sliced it thinly and grilled those guys. Oh, what a nice transition. Usually you have grilled artichokes and the outside becomes dry and the heart isn’t necessarily grilled perfectly. Then they topped it off with a bit of cheese, kind of like queso fresco. Delightful!

We then had a seafood bouillobaise. See the little radishes? ‚̧ made a comment saying “did he get these radishes from San Diego? haha.” This is in reference to the little radishes/carrots that SAAM served us. At that time, the chef told us that those radishes were from SD! Such a little bowl of soup but packed full of flavor. that’s the nice thing about teeny tiny radishes…it’s like 1 big radish packed into the size of your pinkie!

This next dish was OK for me. I’m not really a fan of cucumbers. But if you like persian style cucumbers and you like oil that tastes refreshing like cucumbers, then you’d like this dish. The fish tasted watered down, as if this was the fish that lost all its flavor from the ceviche and ended up on this plate…soaking up the cucumber. Yeah, so you have to like cucumber.

Oil poached fish. This was perfectly cooked fish! They poached it and then crisped the skin. Wow, just wow. Oh and the carrots are a nice touch because they were slightly raw, for crunch.

Our next dish was pigeon. I remember tasting five spice in the seasoning. As far as I know, game bird and five spice is always a win win. Maybe this goes back to how my mom would prepare quail. She’d always put five spice in it. It must get rid of the gaminess?

I couldn’t even finish the pigeon because I was getting so full! Anyway on to dessert. You get TWO. The first one was a fruit sorbet, I believe it was peach. I don’t remember exactly but it was tangy, but not sour. They put coffee grounds underneath it. Very refreshing!

The next dessert had chocolate cake. It was topped with flakey pieces that tasted like…an ice cream cone! It’s like a broken ice cream cone in a bowl!

Lastly, strawberries with sides like fennel on it. It was like a strawberry mint, similar to the stuff they give you after dinner at an Indian restaurant!

Overall, the food was pretty good. I would definitely recommend Le Chateaubriand as one of your $$$ dining experiences. That’s the nice thing about a San Pelligrino versus Michelin rated restaurant – don’t walk into this restaurant expecting world class service as you would a 3 star Michelin. They just serve food their way and well. It’s totally different from traditional French cuisine. It’s no wonder they climbed higher in ranking this year. They are doing something different and it works. Enjoy!

Le Chateaubriand
29 Avenue Parmentier, Paris 75011, France
+33 (0)1 43 57 45 95

Paris part duex

My second time in Paris and I love this place. It’s like an old version of New York. Lots of awesome food, history, and easily accessible by public transportation. Just like New York, the weather can be super hot or super cold. My first time I spent a week in the summer of 2003. From what I remember, it was one of the record high summers at that time. Even elderly people died because of the heat! This time we went during a great time, warm days with cool evenings! I definitely recommended people visit Paris during the spring over the summer!

I’m listing out where we ate so i won’t forget and will post pics later

Tuesday –
-brassiere in the marche montoguiel
-attempt at Le Chateaubriand and then le compotoir du relais

Wednesday –
Nomiya for lunch
le Chateaubriand for dinner
Bar behind a closed Mexican restaurant with our Australian friends

Thursday –
Chez Marianne
Guy Savoy

Friday
Picnic at museum Rodin
Creperie Bonaparte
Comptoir de gastronomie

Saturday
crepes
J’go – Rotisserie chicken

Sunday
Crepes at Bastille market
Made dinner

Bruges

So Bruges is our second side trip during our break. I picked Bruges because I wanted to go to Belgium. Considering Belgium is in between the other countries we are visiting, it made logical sense. My good friend recommended Bruges over Brussels. Also, based on the  research I did over the two cities it seemed like Bruges came up quite often. Bruges is favored by people from the UK as a nice sleepy town getaway.  It took about four hours to arrive to Bruges from Amsterdam.

Initially I was appalled by the number of tourists here! It was just as crowded as when I visited Venice. Bruges is also famous for its canals like Venice and Amsterdam. What’s different from Amsterdam and Bruges is that Amsterdam is predominantly young people whereas Bruges feels like a place for adults and older people to hang out in.

So far I like the peacefulness of this city. It’s definitely a nice contrast from Amsterdam! I’ll post about food later!

Amsterdam first impressions

On my first trip to Europe, I originally wanted to go to Amsterdam but after traveling for almost two months I was tired. So we stayed in D√ľsseldorf for a few more.days instead of going to Berlin and Amsterdam. To this day I regret not going to both back then. Well this time I told ‚̧ we have to go to Amsterdam and he happily agreed (made it easier when I used hotel points!)

Before I forget here are my observations of Amsterdam :
-spare ribs
-doner kebabs
-fries!
-apparently Indonesian food is popular too
-“coffeehouse”
-the most bicycles I’ve ever seen in my life
-very touristy and crowded like Venice

Will post pics later!

London

Hello from the UK!

I wanted to post some first impressions. First off it’s my first time in London! It’s a bit chilly, in the 50s which isn’t too bad when you’re walking around. One thing I love about cold weather which you don’t see in southern California are girls wearing pantyhose. I love pantyhose, especially patterned ones and I rarely have an occasion to wear them at home!

I love how the streets have “look left” or “look right” painted on the streets for tourists!

I also like the pedestrian friendly crossings (noted by the flashing yellow light posts).

Can anyone explain why some lanes are crooked? My gf has lived here for over a year and doesn’t know.

Some English terms, some we are already familiar to:
Yield  Рgive way
Elevator – lift
Restrooms – toilet
To go – take away
Sidewalk – foot path

Tap water is drinkable here.

I love nivea deodorant which I can’t buy in the states so I’m definitely going to get some here. Tomorrow we are off to Amsterdam, can’t wait to cycle! We will be back in London later on this month!