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! ūüôā

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 ūüôā I still want this. If we have kids, I want our kids to feel this excitement that I felt.

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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, Espa√Īa¬†

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!

Our venue

I “liked” our wedding venue and they recently posted a photo of how the place looked in the 1920s. Originally it was a ¬†luxury beach facility

. Image

The room we had was the one in the building facing your right, top left corner, overlooking the beach! ūüôā

This is cheesy but I hope we can celebrate our¬†anniversary¬†every year here…I hope the bakery shop that we had our wedding cake made will also still be around, so we can buy a slice of cake from them, sit here where we got married..and just watch the sunset like we did on our wedding day!

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! ūüôā 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!” ūüôā

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! ūüôā

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 fianc√©! 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!

French Butter

Nothing beats a¬†croissant¬†from France. It’s light, flaky, and buttery. When we came back to the states, I ordered my “favorite”¬†croissant¬†in LA at Amadine¬†patisserie. Prior to the trip I didn’t mind it, but it just doesn’t taste the same. Sadness. What is it about the those croissants in France? Obviously I’m not a baking expert, I think it’s the butter! French butter totally tastes different from American butter. One of the couples we met in Paris (traveling from¬†Australia) told us that they bought ¬†some butter at the market and “ate it like it was cheese.” hmmm. The day we made scallops in our Paris apartment, we bought butter at the local Carrefour. We bought one of the cheaper butters, President (which they also served in the Eurostar):

It had an awesome flavor. Yummmy. If the cheap stuff tastes like this, imagine the greatness of the pricier butters!

On chowhound I found that a lot of people liked the Pamplie butter, which we purchased at Surfas in Culver City.

However, it didn’t taste the same. Actually, it tasted like half president and half American butter. Maybe it tastes differently in France? Maybe transporting the butter over made it lose some of its freshness.

The next butter I purchased was something I never knew about. As you may know, the Vietnamese cuisine has some French influence. I learned that a lot of my Vietnamese friends ate canned French butter while growing up! Luckily I was in the Little Saigon area yesterday and my gal pal found it for me! Apparently most of the major Vietnamese grocery stores sell this and at $4.99 a can, it was worth giving it a shot!

I didn’t have this growing up because we lived in Pittsburgh. Since I was only a kid living in Pittsburgh, I assume products from overseas are more difficult to locate in Pittsburgh. So I didn’t grow up eating this canned butter like some of my Vietnamese friends that lived in CA since they were babies. I can’t wait to try this butter. I’m waiting until ‚̧ returns home so we can experience it together. I will keep you updated!

As for purchasing French butter, I feel fortunate that we live in Los Angeles where there are so many gourmet shops. I believe Surfas has three brands of French butter: Pamplie,¬†¬†Isigny Saint Mere, and President. BTW, Surfas is an awesome store for reasonably priced cooking ware and other types of gourmet groceries. I love visiting this store! In my search for French butter, I found that if you don’t live near Surfas, the other places that will sell French butter include cheese shops! In my area, that will include Wally’s Wine House’ Cheese Box and the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.

Enjoy!
Surfas
8777 W Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

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