Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Summer heats up in Espana and London!

Early 2012, bunch of friends and I talked about going to Europe. The initial plan was to go to the Tomatina Fest. We've been on an international festival kick. We talked about it for a bit but timing just didnt work out. This year our focus was Ibiza and the 2012 Summer London Olympic Games!

We knew that Ibiza would be our last stop before the London games so we planned backwards. We played with a bunch of options of where to fly into and fly out of but we finally decided on roadtripping!! International driving is pretty intimidating since there is a language barrier and the roads are structured differently. We first flew into Madrid, which wasnt my top choice since I had been dying to go to Barcelona.  My biggest recommendation when traveling abroad with a big group is to get phone service! We wasted too much time waiting to gather everyone and this happened in Germany too. Time is money especially when you dont have a lot of time! After we found everyone, we headed to check in at Petit Palace Italia on Gran Via. Hotel was good, nothing spectacular but it was nice because we were all together and had our own bathroom to share. Our first stop was Plaza Mayor and then of course headed to Mercado San Miguel.

As we all know from my previous blogs, that I'm a total foodie so this was the best first stop! The first thing when you walk in is mounds of fresh fruit, smoothies, different tapas, and  pan con tomato, last but not least, A LOT of jamon!!!! Anyone who was with us can tell you how obsessed I am with jamon! I'll just let the photos do its talking. After tasting the first pan, we immediately fell in love with anguillas (baby eels). Texture was smooth, not fishy at all, a little chewy and great flavor with toast.

We didnt really have much time to explore each city in depth as we were driving throught 5 cities in 5 days. The next day, we went to pick up our car rental. This was an absolute nightmare. We had to split up because we had six people, three in each car. We had no way of getting in touch with each other and my group took about two hours to find where the actuall car rental office was. It was nicely tucked away on the upstairs corner of a train station which had a very obscure entrance. The estimated time when we left each other was about 45 minutes to an hour... when we finally got the car, we circled aroud a traffic circle and just parked and thankfully the other car just kept circling until we found each other. My friend Iris and I were the drivers of the trip so we coordinated our GPS' and headed to Bilbao. Bilbao is about 2-3 north of Madrid and we were there to see the Guggenheim. Cute little town but we didnt get to spend much time there as we stopped for an hour and half and continued onto San Sebastian which was a short drive of an hour.

San Sebastian is the perfect retirement town. When we arrived and started to find our hotel, I knew this is a place that I'd have to come back and visit when I was older. It was gloomy as we arrive around early evening but in the morning, the sun was bright, the water turquoise, the sky was blue, and the sand was sparkling. Needless to say, we didnt spend much time here either. We did have an awesome dinner at Bernardo's Restaurant in the old town. We had these little seafoody creatures called barnacles and they were actually really good! I'm definitely looking forward to coming back to San Sebastian.

After San Sebastian, we start driving south towards Valencia with a night over in Zaragoza. Zaragoza is a very different type of city. It was a bit more medieval and had a lot of history and definitely a quieter city compared to Madrid or from what I've heard about Barcelona.  We had an awesome 4 bedroom apartment in Zaragoza and it overlooked town with a huge double balcony. We eventually made it to Valencia which is also a very historic town. We had to have paella of course and it was super tasty! This is where we did most of our souvenier shopping, it wasnt anything too crazy though. We did have a really nice duplex apartment in Valencia. We mainly walked around town, checked out the beaches, the port, and went to the really cool museums that were around.

Finally, the last leg of our Spain trip had finally arrived! We were flying out of Valencia to Ibiza via Ryan Air! Stay tuned for updates on Ibiza, Ushuaia and Pacha Ibiza!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Soba Totto

Now that I am living in NYC, we tend to have random family dinners in the city. Though we have our favorite spots, we're starting to explore a bit more. We've gone to Soba Totto a few times and its never disappointed us. We had my 1.5 year old nephew with us and it wasnt a problem with noise or being kid friendly. Staff was attentive and service was good. We ordered a slew of tapas, rice dishes, and soba of course. Soba Totto is pretty intimate and space isnt huge but good for a smaller party. Some of the smaller plates (shown below) we ordered fried avocado, beef tounge, bacon wrapped inoki, 3 tastings of their homemade tofu, grilled fatty salmon (salmon belly), and fried chicken wings. It was unanimous that our ultimate favorite was the beef tongue. The first order was good so we ordered a second and it was grilled to perfection. It was fresh, thick cut, and well seasoned. I would go back just for that! The soba is freshly made so that was a real treat as well. My sister and I actually went to an event at Soba Totto where they demonstrated soba making and the process is quite complicated but the quality of the soba is totally worth it. One of the better izakayas around! Great date place too! 
Soba Totto 5/11/12

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Celebrations all around!

We, as a family are always looking for reasons to go out and eat! Perhaps thats where I get my foodie side from. This was a pretty special meal for us. We were celebrating my brother in laws belated birthday, my cousins early birthday/graduation, and the most special of all, my parents 35th anniversary. My sister picked out a wonderful restaurant right in Kips Bay called Momokawa known for their shabu shabu/sukiyaki. I've heard great things about this place from her but we had to see it for ourselves. When I walked in, I was slightly confused since there was a hostess stand but no one in sight. After one family came in and walked up the narrow staircase, I followed and realized, there was no hostess on the first floor.

Here is what we ordered:
- hamachi (yellowtail) shabu pot - They are sold out extremely fast and we called 3 days ahead to make the reservation.
- wayshu beef shabu pot + two extra orders of beef (alacarte)
- uni: served with freshly grated wasabi and nori. Very fresh uni and I couldnt get enough!
- homemade tofu: nothing too special, but refreshing and good
-  oyakodon with salmon flakes and ikura
- grilled hamachi belly
- grilled hamachi fish pocket

There were so many dipping sauces for all of the dishes, it got confusing! Though it was confusing, given the right combination, it became a great marriage of flavors. The hamachi pot shown below came with vegetables, mushrooms, glass noodles, and sliced hamachi. The sliced hamachi could also be eaten as sashimi and they provided soysauce and wasabi (freshly ground). I think that was one of the best parts of dinner. Most of us didnt even want to shabu the fish! The pot for the hamachi was a daikon broth with lots of grated daikon. The beef shabu pot was very traditional and the beef was fatty and tender. 3 seconds in the brother and it was good enough to eat. Unfortuantely for the 6 of us, the beef wasnt enough so we added two more orders of the beef. The a la carte beef was not as tender or fatty as the wayshu beef so make sure you order wayshu. We also wanted the red snapper head but that was sold out as well. We settled on a yellow tail fish pocket and grilled yellowtail belly. It was probably the best grilled fish I have had in a long time. The skin was crispy and slightly seasoned with salt and the fish was very fine and fresh. No bones either which was a plus! At the end of the two pots, they gave us some udon which were to be cooked int he broths and tossed in wasabi salt combo. Delicious! We opted out of dessert since we had cake at home but I'd definitely go back again but never without reservations!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Shop vs. Factory?

 So a friend asked if I wanted to join him for dinner at Meatball Factory recently. He bought a Groupon deal which was expiring soon (the only reason he asked me to go, but hey, I'm always down to eat) that included a bottle of wine,  two salads, 3 orders of meatballs, truffled mac n' cheese and dessert. Not bad for $39! When we arrived at 5:30, it was fairly empty and we were able to choose our own table. People started to crawl in and full up the place around 6-6:15. The menu is pretty simple. Aside from apps and sides, you can mix and match 7 types of meatballs with 8 different kinds of sauces. Salad was pretty simple, just some mixed greens with a vinaigrette dressing. Our three orders of meatballs is as follows: meatzza meatzza with shroom central, old school with fire roasted marinara, pork with truffle thyme, truffled mac n cheese, pig sticks. I was looking forward to trying the turducken meatballs but they were out. The shroom central and fire roasted marinara didnt wow me. The truffled thyme was great though. Creamy with a hint of thyme, great marriage of flavors. Truffled mac n' cheese was baked to perfection topped with some bread crumbs. You never feel great after a lot of mac n cheese but this was one of the better ones. The dessert was a peanut butter bar that I didnt get to take a photo of but it wasnt all that either. Tasted like dry pb with oatmeal that crumbled in your mouth. I added an order of pig sticks. Now, this was a great idea. Ive been looking for chocolate covered bacon in NYC for a while now and I know its out there but I just hadnt gotten a chance to find any yet. I was excited to see this on the menu but was very quickly disappointed when the waitress brought this out. There were about 6 slices of microwaved bacon. Sauces were barely warm and overall presentation was terrible. If it was up to me, I would have the bacon already dipped in the sauces and add a few sprinkles of Hawaiian sea salt to the caramel dipped ones. I would use Hawaiian sea salt because its slightly mellower and earthier which would be a great combo with the sweetness of the caramel. Anyway, great idea, terrible execution.

Shop vs Factory? Hands down Shop wins! I went to Shop about six months ago and waited about 45 minutes. Maybe the wait makes the balls taste a bit better but even if the meatballs were bad, I'd wait an hour just for the ice cream sandwiches. When I was at Shop, I ordered some naked balls with tomato sauce (figured I'd go classic) with family jewels. Eggs make everything taste better! The ice cream sandwich special was cocoa peppermint cookies with caramel white chocolate ice cream sandwich. Most amazing ice cream sandwich I've ever had. Cookies were baked with crunch on the edges and chewy center. Each bite of the ice cream had all the necessary flavors and it was just simply great. 

The difference? Shop is opened up by an ex chef (Daniel Holzman) who began working at Le Bernadin, and after CIA, worked with Jean Louis Paladin, as well as as Wylie Dufresne (who know owns WD-50). He co owns with Michael Chernow. Factory is opened up by Chef Dave Martin, who was a finalist on season one of top chef. He's definitely a chef with eccentric ideas.

Summer 2012 is here!

As we round the corner into Summer 2012, I've compiled a list of events up through the Fall. Check back for updates and additions!

Smorgasburg @ Brooklyn Flea
April 7 - Mid Oct 2012 (Every Saturday)
10am - 5pm
East River Waterfront (btw. North 6 + 7 St.)

Hell's Kitchen Flea Market Gourmet Food Truck Bazaar
April - Oct (Every second Sunday of the month)
11am - 5pm
Hell's Kitchen Flea Market - 39th st and 9th ave

Hester Street Fair
April 28 - October 27 (every saturday)
10am - 6pm
Hester and Essex St.

Tribeca Family Fest Street Fair
April 28, 2012
10am - 6pm
Greenwich Street (from Hubert to Chambers St) NY, NY 10013

Sakura Matsuri @ Brooklyn Botanical Garden
April 28-29, 2012
10am - 6pm
1000 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225

Queens Taste
May 1, 2012
6pm - 9pm
Citi Field's Caesars Club, 123-01 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing

May 2, 2012
11am - 2pm
World Financial Center: Winter Garden

LuckyRice Festival 2012
May 1-6, 2012
Multiple Events - see website

Cinco De Mayo at Grand Central Station
May 4, 2012
43rd St. from 3rd - Lexington Avenue

The Fourth Annual Spring Handmade Cavalcade
May 5, 2012
11am - 5pm
Littlefield: 622 Degraw St, Brooklyn

Lexington Avenue Festival
May 5, 2012
Lexington Avenue between 60th and 66th Streets.

The Vendy Award & New Amsterdam Market Present: International Meats Local
May 6, 2012
1230pm - 230pm
New Amsterdam Market - South Street between Beekman Street and Peck Slip

Amsterdam Avenue Fair
May 6, 2012
Amsterdam Avenue between 96th and 106th Streets.

24th Annual Broadway Spring Festival
May 6, 2012
Broadway between East 86th and 96th Streets

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic
May 11-15, 2012
Multiple Events - see website

Times Square Fair
May 12, 2012
Broadway from 47th - 57th Street

Passport to Taiwan
May 13, 2012
12pm - 5pm
Union Square North Plaza - 17 St & Park Ave

Restaurant Days @ Rockefeller Plaza
May 16 - May 18, 2012
11 - 2pm

The Great GoogaMooga
May 19-20, 2012
Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Ninth Ave International Food Fair
May 19 - 20, 2012
9th Ave from 42st to 57st.

Taste of Tribeca
 May 19, 2012
11:30am - 3pm

Lower Third Avenue Spring Festival
May 19, 2012
3rd Avenue from 6th - 14th Street

Murray Hill Neighborhood Festival
May 20, 2012
Park Avenue from 34th - 40th Street

Crawfish Boil by CrawfishNY
May 26-27, 2012
Outside along the East River in Stuyvesant Cove Park, (solarONE 2420 FDR Service Rd East)

Lexington Avenue Spring Festival
May 26, 2012
Lexington Avenue from 42nd - 57th Street

The Annual Spring Jubilee
May 27, 2012
Lexington Avenue from 23rd - 34th Street
The Liberty Street Fair
May 28, 2012
Liberty Street from Broadway - Trinity Place

Beekman Beer Garden Concert, Love Music + Crawfish Boil
May 31 2012
6pm - 1130
89 South Street, New York, NY 10038

Children of the World Festival
June 2, 2012
6th Avenue from 42nd - 56th Street
Third Avenue Spring Fair
June 3, 2012
3rd Avenue from 14th - 23rd Street

Lobster Rumble
June 7, 2012
6pm or 7pm
125 W 18th St., New York, NY 10011

Big Apple BBQ Block Party
June 9-10, 2012
Madison Sq Park (Madison Ave and 23st-26st)
11am - 6pm

The Annual Village Fair
June 9, 2012
Broadway from Houston - Grand Street

Mattituck Lions Strawberry Festival
June 15-17, 2012
Strawberry Fields: 1175 route 48 Mattituck NY 11952
1175 route 48 Mattituck NY 11952

Grand Central Spring Festival
June 15, 2012
41st Street from 3rd - Lexington Ave.

Times Square Expo
June 16, 2012
Broadway from 47th - 57th Street

The Turtle Bay Festival
June 17, 2012
Lexington Avenue from 42nd - 54th Street

Grand Central Festival
June 22, 2012
43rd St. from Lexington - 3rd Avenue
6th Avenue Summerfest
June 23, 2012
6th Avenue from 34th - 42nd Street

Times Square Block Party
June 24, 2012
46th Street from Broadway - 8th Avenue

USO - Avenue of the Americas Summerfest
June 30, 2012
6th Avenue, 42nd - 56th Street

Central Park Precinct Block Party

July 1, 2012
60th Street from Madison - 5th Avenue

Great July 4th Festival
July 4, 2012
Water Street from Fulton - Broad Street

New York Unfolds Street Fair
July 7, 2012
Broadway from Houston - Grand Street

NYC Celebration of Nations Festival
July 8, 2012
Madison Avenue from 42nd - 57th Street

Times Square Summer Fair
July 14, 2012
Broadway from 47th - 57 Street

Lexington Ave. Summer Spectacular

July 15, 2012
Lexington Avenue 23rd - 34th Street

Earth Awareness Fair at Herald Square
July 21. 2012
Broadway from 34th - 39th Street

Annual Tribeca Fair
July 22, 2012
11am - 6pm

West Broadway between Barclay and Chambers Sts

Grand Central Carnival
July 27, 2012
41st Street from 3rd - Lexington Ave.

Festival of the Americas
July 28, 2012
6th Avenue from 42nd - 56th Street

Madison Avenue Summer Fair
July 29, 2012
Madison Avenue from 42nd - 57th Street

Maine Lobster Festival
August 1-5, 2012
9am - 8pm
Rockland, Maine 04841

Seaport Festival

August 4, 2012
Water Street from Fulton - Broad Street

Lexington Avenue Summerfest
August 5, 2012
Lexington Avenue from 42nd - 57th Street

Times Square Summer Fest
August 11, 2012
45th Street from 5th - 7th Avenue

Chesapeake Crab and Beer Fest
August 18, 2012
Multiple Sessions (2)
National Harbor, MD

The Great Irish Festival
August 18, 2012
6th Avenue from 42nd - 56th Street

New York State Fair
Augist 23 - Sept 3, 2012
Multiple Days & Events

Lexington Avenue Fair
August 25, 2012
Lexington Avenue from 42nd - 56th Street

Sixth Avenue Summer Fair
August 26, 2012
Sixth Avenue from 42nd - 57th Street

Astor Place Block Party
Sept 1, 2012
Astor Place from Broadway to Lafayette

Murray Street Block Party
Sept 1, 2012
Murray Street from Broadway to Church

28th Annual Brazilian Day Festival

Sept 2, 2012
6th Avenue from 42nd - 56th Street

Hammer and Claws Blue Crab Fest
Sept 7-9, 2012
The Tunnel @ The Terminal Stores
269 11th Avenue, Chelsea, NYC

Gramercy Park Summer Festival
Sept 8, 2012
3rd Avenue from 14th - 23rd Street

San Gennaro Festival
Sept 13-23, 2012
Mulberry Street from Canal to Houston

Upper Broadway Autumn Festival
Sept 15, 2012
Broadway from 110th - 116th

Eighth Avenue Festival
Sept 16, 2012
8th Avenue from 42nd - 57th Street

Broadway Autumn Fair
Sept 22, 2012
Broadway from Waverly Place - 14th Street

Central Park Autumn Fair

Sept 23, 2012
60th Street from Madison - Fifth Avenue

Grand Central Fall Fest
Sept 28, 2012 41st Street from Lexington - 3rd Avenue

Hudson Valley Garlic Festival
Sept 29-30, 2012
Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex in Saugerties, NY

Union Square Autumn Fair
Sept 29, 2012
Broadway from 17th - 23rd Street

Upper Broadway Harvest Festival
Sept 30, 2012
Broadway from 110th - 116th Street

Oyster Bay Oyster Festival
October 13-14, 2012
Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park

Monday, April 23, 2012

One year older, one year wiser

I picked RobatayaNY for a close friends birthday not only because I heard great things about it but heard about the food and the intimate atmosphere. Since we didnt have reservations, we had to wait a bit but service at the front was great. I put my name down and when our table was ready, which was less than the promised time, I received a call on my cellphone. We walked in and was a little taken aback by the market like action going on. Once you walk past the front counter area, the back area resembled a Japanese garden. It was absolutely soothing and made you feel at home. We were able to catch up and eat at our own pace. Service was polite but not pushy. So the three of us girls decided to order a few small dishes and two main entrees. First up was the grilled uni topped with konbu which is a type of japanese seaweed. My take on uni is that if it's fresh, it should only be eaten raw. However I was pleasantly surprised. The portion was a good size for what it was. The texture was smooth and creamy. The konbu added a nice touch to it. Next came the 5 sashimi special. This included salmon, tuna, red snapper, seabass. All five types were fresh and it was a good selection of fish. A plus would be the freshly grated wasabi. Since its not so easily found in markets around here, I tend to overdose on it and make myself cry but my goodness its a great feeling. Third dish came the grilled stingray fin. We wanted to try something a bit unusual. This came with a small scoop of sweet miso and a slice of lemon. Very well paired and we were told the cartilage was edible. It was a bit hard. The meat of the fun was extremely fine and well cooked. Our other main dish was a grilled ribeye cooked medium rare and perfectly medium rare it was. It was served with a dipping sauce that resembled aujus with a bit of light soy sauce. Lastly we ordered two orders of grilled rice cakes. We didn't want to order rice or noodles but we needed substance. When I was in Japan I would eat this every morning. They're grilled mochi squares that are brushed with a light layer of soy sauce and ten wrapped in seaweed. Filling, simple, and delicious! Of course we couldnt leave without dessert. We ordered a green tea ice cream topped with soybean powder and brown sugar syrup and mung bean/green tea soup with strawberries an rice cakes. The soupy dessert was a bit sweet for me but the ice cream brought me home to Japan. I loved the experience here and I will be coming back except I'll be sitting at the front counter area where all the action is taking place! Anyway, happy birthday Melissa!

Monday, April 16, 2012

And a little bit there...

About a week after Vancouver, I hopped on a plane over to my beloved Asia. This time with my sister, brother in law, and my little man, Sebastian. Quick recap of the 7 weeks I spent there.

Taiwan which is always always amazing , Thailand which has really become my third home and Cambodia which was an eye opening experience for me and I am so thankful that I was able to go.

This time in Thailand, we decided to scrap most of the typical touristy stuff and venture on our own. Bangkok is a place that has great transportation, safe for the most part, and the food is nothing short of amazing. We stayed at a boutique hotel that was named top 10 in bangkok called Hansar. Hansar really was tiptop and location was wonderful. it was right outside BTS Skytrain Rajdamri station. It was convenient to everything we wanted to do and a very safe location. Service at Hansar was great as well, people were polite and attentive. Not to mention the assortment of food for the breakfast buffet. Along with an order of hot food (eggs, bacon, sausage, etc), you also had pastries, fresh fruit (and if you know anything about Thailand, you would know that fresh fruit here is not even comparable to USA, its 100000x sweeter and fragrant), as well as porridge, fried rice, and so much more. After breakfast, we headed down to Chaopaya river for a bot ride. We took a ride down to the Wat Pho (laying buddha) and walked around for a bit since I've never been. Then we hopped on the boat again and went to Wat Arun. Wat Arun is as beautiful as any and all of the pictures out there. The detail on the architecture is just pristine.

Chinatown was next and we walked through, or rather ate our way through. We ate these awesome cakes with raisins, i can still taste them! On our way to Chinatown, we saw fresh pomegranate juice! I hear they were end of season so it was a bit sad we didnt get anymore the rest of the trip. On the bright side, at least we go to have some! On the way out of Chinatown, becuase we always get lost, we took a tuktuk! my first and definitely not last tuk tuk ride!

One of the best parts of this trip was taking a trip to Amphawa. Amphawa is a small town outside of Bangkok about an hour away. Without knowing the language, it is quite a challenge to get out of town! You'd have to be REALLY adventurous... like a backpacker! So we were really out of our comfort zone. Anyway, we went into town at Victoria Monument station. I had read there were a lot of buses that head that way. We found a bus, hopped on another mini bus and an hour and a half later, we finally arrived! Oh I should mention that Amphawa is known for their floating market, similar to Damnoen Saduak but less touristy and populated. 

As tradition, we HAVE to spend hours upon hours at Chatuchak (JJ) market and MBK. JJ market is a weekend flea market that sells EVERYTHING you can probably think of. MBK is a shopping mall that sells electronics and all sorts of crazy things. We spent about 4 hours at JJ market and then about 3 hours walking around MBK. The things we picked up were unbelieveable. During the night times, we'd check out Patpong... no we did not go to any pingpong shows, although i wanted to! It was just a pretty chill, relaxed, atmosphere. Eat as you go and go as you eat! Dont forget to get a massage while you are there too! And i'm not talking about a happy ending, although any time spent in Bangkok is happy ending ;)

And now on to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia! I actually joined a tour with my aunt, which is something I would have never done. Tours just arent my thing. This one turned out to be a lot of fun to my surprise. When we landed in Cambodia, we were shuffled into a bus in about 98 degree weather. The heat was practically unbearable. I actually think it was hotter than Thailand! One of the first things I learned about Cambodia was that their money is really worth nothing. They would rather tourists pay in USD than in their own money. I remember the exchange rate being completely absurd to the point their money was pretty much useless. Our first stop was the Tonle Sap River. This was a river village, very small, with not much going on. These people really bank on tourists to survive. After the river village, we headed back to the hotel which was pretty decent, a 4-5 star on their scale which is about a 3.5 in US star ratings. I laid pool side for a while before we went out again. Most of the trip was visiting the ruins that were really incredible. You see the photos of Angkor Wat and it was really just that. Completely mesmerizing and the stories behind all of the architecture was very interesting which says a lot since history bores me! I convinced my aunt a few times to stray from the group to do our own thing. We went to the old night market in Siem Reap, which was walkable from the hotel one night. We also went to the day market for some noodles and breakfast. It was bustling and busy busy. That was another market similar to JJ market on a smaller scale though that had a ton of random goods. Lastly but not least... i had really really wanted to try some balut (a duck egg but in fetal stage). It was an experience... It doesnt taste as bad as people thought but first bite was definitely scary. I was super nervous i'd have feathers in my mouth! It was just something I wanted to do and try to appreciate.. Not sure if i was able to appreciate it the way SE asians do but at least i was able to try it!