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 🙂

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

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SE Asia

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a great 2012 because I sure did! We got married, that was a wonderful day filled with our favorite people. I’m glad I got to spend 2012 with the people that matter most. I got to see many different milestones among my friends and I’m so glad we got to share in these new experiences together.

In November we visited Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Why these countries? It was originally sparked by a friend who invited us to go to Vietnam…however after much research I was more drawn to visiting Thailand. The Mr. has been to Thailand a few times, he wanted to see Singapore since he hadn’t visited since he was a kid…and then we thought, why not visit Kuala Lumpur since it’s right there! At least husband gets to visit one new country on this trip! 🙂 I have tons of hotel points from my days of traveling for work that I saved for our honeymoon. Turns out you get more bang for your points in SE Asia than anywhere else in the world. That’s because 4 star+ hotels are really nice here. Also, we’ve been wanting to visit these countries for awhile, always noting that airfare was ridiculously more expensive during Christmas. So why not go during Thanksgiving?

I’m including food pics:

Singapore – it was really hot. as in, in the 80s and humid. Singapore’s kinda boring. It’s very clean at least?

Brunch – Greenhouse at Ritz Carlton

Unlimited Moet…Rose and Grand Vintage Brut

Tian Tian Chicken Rice – the rice was disappointing

Jumbo Seafood

Kuala Lumpur – definitely one of those, “OK I’ve been here” and as fun as it was, I’m indifferent about going back.

Afternoon Tea at the Mandarin Oriental

Famous “last” coffee shop Yut Kee

Thailand – I ❤ Thailand. I love the food. Thai people are so nice. The islands are stunning, unlike any islands I’ve seen before (I heard it looks similar in Vietnam too). I’m so happy we went, I would love to go back.

Street food is awesome here!!

our island for the day

Here’s to an awesome new year!

Portland, Oregon

In September we made a quick trip to Portland, Oregon. It was my first time there and I really enjoyed it! I would definitely go again because the food is so good. The food prices are very reasonable, with no sales tax to top it off! Since we both love wine, we also drove out to the Willamette Valley, pronounced “Will-lam-it” or as the phrase goes, “Willamette, damnit!” Willamette Valley is one of the largest wine regions in Oregon! It was the perfect time of the year because the weather was beautiful and the wineries hadn’t harvested the grapes yet, which meant that you saw tons of grape clusters on the vines still. YAY! Oregon is famous for Pinot Noir, which is a wine varietal that I prefer (husband prefers more medium to heavy bodied).

We went to four wineries, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene, White Rose, and Alexana. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience at the last two. The first two were definitely more mainstream which I’m not too keen on (reminds me of stuff like V Sattui and Wilson Creek). We also ate at Jory Restaurant as our lunch break from the wineries.

Before I forget, just wanted to include the places that we ate at:

Pok Pok Noi – the bar version of Andy Ricker’s famous Pok Pok restaurant. We came here because it had a food menu with the key entrees that we wanted to try and supposedly less crowded. When we arrived we were seated immediately! I’d have to say Andy Ricker reminded me of Roy Choi, except with Thai flair vs Korean flair.

Pine State Biscuits – I looooove biscuits and gravy. Of course I had to come here…twice! 🙂

Voodoo Donuts – I had to see what the fuss was about with the maple bacon donut. It was OK.

Salt Straw Ice cream – Texture and quality was like SAMO’s Sweet Rose Creamery with the flavors that Scoops would make.

Toro Bravo – Tapas with locally sourced ingredients. This place was soooo good and reminded us of the tapas we had in Barcelona! Highly recommend.

Tasty n Sons – Since we were so impressed with Toro Bravo, we went to their other spot. American brunch served tapas style. I thought Toro Bravo was better than Tasty n Sons, but still a good alternative if you don’t want Spanish style cuisine. Chef John Gorham’s restaurants reminded me of LA’s Animal/Son of a Gun, a bit of WEHO’s Salt’s Cure, and SAMO’s Farmshop (all are great restaurants in LA, so hopefully no one’s offended by this comparison!).

We also tried the coffee, like at Stumptown. The coffee is indeed good, but living in LA spoils you because we have our fair share of great coffee places, like Intelligensia, Balconi, and the Conservatory to name a few.

I’ll leave you with a photo from Domaine Drouhin’s facebook page since their photo looked much better than mine. This is how the Willamette Valley looked when we were there. It’s so pretty!!

Asador Etxebarri – Bizkaia, Spain

Another restaurant that we tried during our honeymoon was Asador Etxebarri. If you’ve ever seen the Anthony Bourdain episode where he goes to Spain, Bourdain stops by a place that is famous for grilling meats. It is also one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, according to San Pellegrino’s list. Supposedly they have the best grilled shrimp in the world. My husband loves shrimp so we had to find out!

We started with chorizo. It was thinly sliced and had intense flavor. One of our friends said for such a thin slice it was very meaty. It also wasn’t too greasy for sausage.

Next was the shrimp! They were prepared very simple…isn’t that the best way to do it? It was cooked perfectly, you didn’t see any grill marks or anything burnt about it…but you could taste the grilled flavor. They were lightly salted. The best part was how sweet the shrimp were. I’ve never had shrimp so sweet. Prior to this meal, we thought maybe it IS the way they grill it. But after having shrimp throughout the trip, the shrimp in Spain is AMAZING. For one thing, the shrimp is already bright pink/orange in color while live. The closest thing in California would be the Santa Barbara Spotted Prawns…which come at a pretty steep price (unless you get them in the Asian markets like 99 ranch!). Awfully sweet shrimp + grilled to perfection = absolute shrimp bliss.

 

Then we had clams. They weren’t grilled but perfectly cooked! Sweet, buttery, and you could taste some white wine. It was great to dip with bread.

Up next, the beef chop! We had it rare and split among 3.25 folks (the 1/4 being our friend who doesn’t eat beef at all, but for this occasion she decided to give it a try!). It was a lot of beef and SO good. I also liked that it was grilled, some restaurants char the steak and I’m not a fan of that style. Oh and as you can see, they also served salad with the beef.

At this point I gave up eating and it was up to the men to finish the beef. What a dilemma 🙂

We then had dessert. I don’t even know how I managed to eat any because I was soooo full from everything else! It was smoked milk ice cream…which tasted more like frozen yogurt. It looked heavy but was actually light tasting. It was a pleasant surprise.

This was a pretty satisfying meal. If you happen to visit Bilbao and San Sebastian, this is definitely worth a visit. Besides having great food and a break from the drive, the area where this restaurant is situated is lovely. You’ll see pretty green hills full of sheep! How cute! This concludes me posting about the food during our honeymoon.

So where to next? I feel like I’m running out of time to travel! We’re debating between Thailand or Vietnam for our next trip to Asia. For Europe I’d like to visit Greece, specifically Santorini or Mykonos, or is that too touristy? I’d also like to visit Istanbul, Turkey…and I’m interested in Croatia. I heard Croatia’s pretty and they even have vineyards! I’m definitely keen on visiting anywhere that is known for wine! Maybe Champagne, France? I figure it’s best to visit the places that are 12+ hours of flying now, while my body can handle these long haul flights!

Asador Etxebarri
P
laza San Juan I
48291 Atxondo, Bizkaia, Spain

 

China 2002

As I was cleaning one of my closets, I came across a journal that I kept while in China. China was my first trip overseas, ever, where I taught conversational English to middle school aged students. There was barely any internet while I was there, so it was a good thing I had a journal! I wanted to share some of the things I wrote.

Keep in mind I was 21 years old! 🙂

7/10/2002: “OK so I’m finally in China! It’s so surreal. I don’t really feel like I’m in ANOTHER country.”

My first time seeing Hong Kong, we flew from LAX to TPE to HKG:  “Then we went on a plane trip to Hong Kong which took an hour. It was soooo cool bc I saw so many clouds, I could see the ocean. It was SO pretty!”

When we arrived in the HKG airport and I ordered McDonald’s: “first glimpse of Chinese portions…dude a large is a SMALL”

“I got my first blast of humid weather. Oh my gawd it’s horrible. It’s Vegas twice as bad. I hate Vegas in the summer. I hate stickiness. I especially hate getting a blast of hot weather coming out of a cold place. I think it’s worse when you’re just in a relatively hot area and you’re sweating…ugh…”

When we went to Walmart…which btw, prior to that Walmart I had never stepped foot inside a Walmart in the states: “Went to another Walmart and bought our first jelly drink. Pretty good. I’d buy it again. Fay picked up live shrimp with her bare hands. She also “netted” some live frogs there. Interesting. A Walmart with take-out food. More than half of it was a grocery store.” As you can see, the Walmart there had live food!

Lastly my favorite entry that I wrote on 7/21/2002:
“I’m so happy I did this China program…it just opens my eyes and makes me appreciate…living and being excited to try new things. I can’t wait to do more. I can’t wait till I’m older where I’m with someone who wants to travel with me! After this, I want to go to Italy, Greece, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, South America (the Caribbean!)…I’ll look into this stuff. I want to travel a lot before I have kids. That way, when I have kids, I’ll take them to places that I know would be good! :P”

Ten years later..funny how some things don’t change 🙂 I still want this. If we have kids, I want our kids to feel this excitement that I felt.

La Rioja – Baigorri

Sorry for my lack of updates, I’ve been feeling quite tired lately but I’ll try to do my best!

One of the bodegas that we visited was Baigorri. Since La Rioja is SO stretched out and we already had tapas the night before in Logrono, we also ate lunch at Baigorri since they were one of the few places that offered a tasting menu. Just to note, one of the interesting things about La Rioja is that visitors cannot just walk in to any bodega expecting to be served wine, like you would at most of the wineries in CA. You have to make a reservation and usually it comes with a tour. Anyway onto the food! Per the English translated menu which I’m sure, probably sounded much more pleasant and more descriptive in Spanish. So what I’ll explain to you is my interpretation of what I ate, and what I think was in the food, due to my limited Spanish and the staff’s limited English (it works perfectly well if one person knows both really well, haha).

Crunchy Salmon: toasted whole kernel corns aka America’s “Cornnuts” with smoked salmon. Good thing they crushed the kernels instead of serving them whole.

Mini talo riojano with idiazabal cheese sauce. This was like a firm quesadilla with a red bell pepper/onion filling. Idiazabal cheese had a slight goat cheese taste to it, but it had a room temperature – butter like texture which made it spreadable.

Morcilla delights with apple marmalade. The morcilla was covered in toasted hazelnuts so you couldn’t taste the typical blood sausage. I really liked this one. The apple marmalade was warm, like the thick, gooey parts of a homemade apple pie. It went really well with the morcilla.

Riojan bean cream. White bean soup…mixed with onions and red bell peppers…which caused the red color, but definitely had the red bell pepper taste to it…all blended together to make this rich/smooth soup. Then it was drizzled with olive oil and a pickled pepper to top. The pepper wasn’t too spicy and it wasn’t sour like those dreaded banana peppers. It definitely added a little bit of kick to the soup. The bits on top tasted like crunchy bits of pork, most likely Iberican pork as our next dish was that.

Iberico pork slow cooked in baigorri red wine with garnish. I was too full at this point to even eat this! Husband said it was excellent, very tender pork.

Crunchy ice cream. Oh, it was sure pretty, at this point I felt like I was going to explode!

All of this yummy food. I was worried. I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy my time in our next city, San Sebastian, especially with our much anticipated meal at Mugaritz! Will post that soon, if I remember…

http://www.bodegasbaigorri.com/
Carretera de Vitoria, 0, 01307 Samaniego, España 

Pre-moon

Hello 2012! A lot of exciting things are happening (not that the other years weren’t exciting!)…this year we are getting married! I have a few friends having babies and I’m so excited for them. We also have four friends getting married, I am the bridesmaid for one of them too! We’re definitely at that age where people are more settled and making big life changes!

We rang in 2012 in Bali, Indonesia with a few friends. It was essentially a “last minute” trip. One of <3’s best friends was like, hey, are you guys interested in sharing a villa in Bali for NYE? we were like, hmmm we are getting married soon, don’t know if that’s a good idea. then we got to thinking, well, why NOT? it’s not like we had any pressing wedding errands to do during those two weeks and we didn’t have any plans during the holidays. so we decided let’s do it, how often and how difficult is it to get a group of friends to travel overseas, right?? We also added on a side trip to Taipei, since EVA airlines flies through there first.

We spent 3 nights in Taipei. I really enjoyed Taipei. It’s like Tokyo/Seoul/HK but cheaper, and not as clean as Tokyo (but Tokyo is pristine, everywhere else looks dirty!). I would definitely want to go back to Taipei with a group of friends just to go shopping, eating and drinking. It’s reasonably priced and pretty easy to navigate due to their MRT. My favorite part was walking through the crowds of people at the night market! Next time I want to go to more night markets! The food wasn’t phenomenal but it’s a great way to see the different types of local cuisine available at cheap prices.

We spent 7 nights in Bali. Bali was OK. Indonesia is now the 23rd country I’ve visited in 9.5 years. I would have to say Bali ranked pretty down there. I think media definitely hyped up Bali by only showing the pretty parts, like the book and now movie Eat Pray Love. First off, I hated the book because I’m not one of those folks that need to “find myself” by going to some exotic location. Maybe to folks that have never seen poverty, aka always lived in a vanilla suburban area, this would be quite exciting and they would “find themselves” there? It’s quite evident Bali has a lot of poverty, it’s sad seeing tourists act condescending towards the locals, and it’s also annoying that the locals try to rip you off (which I get because every bit of USD is far more valuable to them than to us). It IS a pretty place, in certain parts. However, it IS a developing country. The infrastructure is terrible, obviously. If you have a villa, it’s not like you can step outside of your villa and walk to different things. I’m believe I’m more of a city girl, I like easy access to lots of local businesses. So cities that I’ve visited…like SF, NYC, Chicago, Taipei, HK, Seoul, Tokyo, Paris, London, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City appeal to me a lot because there’s sooo much to do and very convenient to get to. If you’re looking for a place to escape from the city bustle, then staying in a Villa is a great way to relax. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel super stressed on a regular basis (yet), we live very close to some decent beaches, and southern California has AMAZING weather in general, makes me think that living in so cal gives us easy access to “get away and relax” from the comforts of our own city! While traveling, I can only relax for one day to get over the jet lag and then I want to do-do-do! Granted you can hire a driver to take you to places, but I don’t mind doing the hard work of driving/walking/taking public transportation to get to wherever I need to! It was indeed fun to go explore and party with friends. Though you can have fun ANYWHERE if it’s with the right people! 🙂 I will try to post some pics later!

We haven’t even booked our honeymoon yet! We’re leaning towards Spain. I’ve visited Spain in 2003 and am OK with going again, I just want to see more than just Barcelona. First thing’s first, gotta get married! Things to remember, don’t slouch, smile, and say “i do!” 🙂

Update – I’m just going to add one photo from Bali the trip…we had a drink at the Pan Pacific resort while watching the sunset down at famous water temple, Tanah Lot. The resort had a nice lobby area, including this infinity pool:

Update, whoops

My bad! 🙂

We are inching closer to the big day! How do I feel? Surprisingly, not as stressed as I thought I would be. Having been a bridesmaid 4 times so far, I’ve seen my fair share of how brides can be on the day of! I was scared I would be a bridezilla…maybe that will come out the month before the wedding day? I think what’s kept me calm is having an awesome fiancé! I always joked that I’m the COO and he’s the CEO and after planning a big event like this, I really do believe it. I’m really good at finding stuff but ❤ is the best when it comes to making the “executive decision.” Because you know, before we got knee deep into wedding planning, I was all sorts of anti-wedding. I still am, I hate weddings.  I don’t think anyone should plan a wedding if they’re not financially ready. And the biggest thing a bride should admit is that…if you’re not an event planner, most likely you have not planned a big soiree like this before, so be willing to take feedback from people who got married! Let a professional help you, that’s what they do best! After all of this wedding planning, I would NEVER want to be part of the wedding business. I can’t imagine dealing with the bridezillas out there!

Anyway, I hope everyone gets to enjoy some time off before the new year. Cheers to 2012, I know I’m excited!

Puerto Vallarta

Just when I thought I was finished traveling to Mexico ever again, one of my best friends wanted to have her bachelorette party in Puerto Vallarta. I’ve never been to PVR so I was excited to check out a different part of Mexico. Previous to this trip, I’ve only been to Rosarito, Monterrey and Mexico City. I’d have to say Puerto Vallarta was on one my least favorite places to visit…and I think I’ve visited a number of cities all over the world! Why? Tourist trap. I hate hate hate tourist traps. Have you been to Orlando? It’s like that. Everything feels like it was intentionally created for the tourist in mind. Tour agencies and resorts everywhere. Typical Mexican food was non-existent.

I don’t like going on tours either. I actually hate them with a passion. I feel like the best way to see what an ugly American is like is to be on a tour, in a tourist trap city.

I think places like PVR makes other awesome places like Mexico City look so bad. I have absolutely no desire to go to Cancun or Cabo. As a matter of fact, someone told me that Puerto Rico is like PVR, except with more English speakers. I know that PR is US territory which probably explains this, but I don’t have any desire to go to Puerto Rico now either! I also don’t want to go to the Caribbean. If I ever do go to the Caribbean, it’s probably because I’m old or someone else made the decision to go there. I even told <3, I do NOT want to go anywhere that’s remotely touristy for our honeymoon. I just don’t want to be around the ugly American!

I’ll give PVR some credit. My friend and I shared a garlic grilled fish that was pretty awesome. I think that was the best meal of the trip. Granted the tours served us things like bbq ribs and paella, so it’s not like I had many great options! BTW, how is paella Mexican food? Oh, get this, you hear foreigners pronouncing paella as “pie-ee-ya” instead of “pie-a-ya.” geez…

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved Hawaii. I could go back to Hawaii many times. I don’t know, Hawaii just has such charm…

Since 2009, I have now been to Mexico for 13 weeks. Do you know any non-Mexicans that have gone to Mexico that often? Next year my other best friend’s boyfriend invited us to go to Baja with them. I’m actually looking forward to that trip. I would love to have local Baja food!

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