Thursday, May 28, 2015

Foodicles x Alvin's Penthouse Kitchen Collaboration

From the yearbook room of our high school days to the kitchen of our present lives, it's a Foodicles x Alvin's Penthouse Kitchen Collaboration!

We're almost halfway through the year and we have yet to take our annual BFF vacation.  So while we plan and wait for an open time for that, I traveled to Hong Kong for a long weekend's staycation.  Our staycation involved homemade cocktails, neighborhood eats, and a nice night out (more on this soon).  And, my best friend is naturally my best friend because we share a love for food, both eating and cooking.  So cooking a dish at home became priority number one.

His day job as a flight attendant allows him to bring back fresh, seasonal produce from all over the world.  On the morning of my arrival, he also flew in from Switzerland.  He surprised me with a bundle of goodies - white asparagus from Germany!  White asparagus is unique to spring and for only a short time in the later weeks of the season.

White asparagus has a delicate sweetness, and so it should be treated with a delicate simplicity.  Honoring the vegetable and the lightness of spring, we simply roasted the asparagus and balanced it with a complementing sauce.

The penthouse floor gives Alvin access to a rooftop garden for his freshly grown herbs.  Fresh herbs make all the difference in cooking.  It brightens and livens any dish.  With an abundance of parsley, we decided to make a parsley dressing with a creamy touch.  And with health in mind, yogurt gave that creamy texture, while lemon and olive oil with a touch of seasoning brought it all together.

After cooking, prepping, and food styling the gorgeous plate, we spent an equal amount of time photographing all angles.  Our time was truly rewarded with the succulently sweet bites of asparagus paired with sips of sparkling wine, European and American craft beers, and cocktails.  Much can be said for staycations especially when they are this fun and indulgent.

For more about white asparagus and the details of our recipe, check out Alvin's Penthouse Kitchen!

Food styling and photoshooting

The final product

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Can't stop eating in Tokyo

Like all trips to Tokyo, the eating is non-stop.  Well, it stops when you are so full that you walk it off and then you're ready to eat again.  There's so much to eat and not enough time.

With all our favorite cities, we go back to our favorite restaurants.  Ramen Street in Tokyo Station is a must for every trip.  Some ramen shops change while our favorites remain filled with lines.  The station always has new restaurants and food stalls, plus many food attractions for the kids from burgers to snacks both sweet and savory.

Convenience store eats are another fun place to stock up for breakfast.  I've been pretty obsessed with ikura (salmon roe) lately, so I really enjoyed the 7-11's ikura onigiris (rice balls) every morning.  On the other end of the eating and price range, our hotel Japanese restaurant at the Palace Hotel has such a great ambiance for tradition Japanese dining.

And just when you think you can stop eating, Haneda airport has such a quality selection of eats before getting on the plane.  You have a last chance for tsukemen and ramen; but my favorite is the Japanese curry in the ANA lounge.  It's better than a lot of restaurants.

I got full and hungry again from writing about these eats.  I can't wait to go back to Tokyo!

Shoyu Ramen with Handmade Noodles at Menya Shichisai

Monday, May 18, 2015

Serafina of NYC in Tokyo

Aside from the hotel restaurants, the Palace Hotel Tokyo also offers restaurants in their basement arcade.  They vary from Japanese specialties, like soba or shrimp tempura, to Korean cuisine and Italian American cuisines.  Something for everyone.  The restaurants cater partly to the hotel guests and mostly to the office workers in the nearby buildings.

Serafina is a standard meal each time we check into the hotel.  At least once a visit, and this time we ate there 3 times.  It's satisfying and comforting, while have vibrant taste.  The original location hails from New York City with several branches around the city and continues to grow internationally.

Italian is a cuisine the Japanese have perfected, and here at Serafina Tokyo it's really perfection.  We came for the pizzas, but I fell in love with the pastas.  Perfectly al dente and sauced so well.  After hours of walking around Tokyo and carrying shopping bags and nephews across Tokyo Station, a hot plate of carbs taste so deliciously good.

Margherita Pizza

Rigatoni Bolognese

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Izakaya at Teppen

The fun of staying at The Palace Hotel Tokyo is the constant discovery of Marunouchi's restaurants.  Up in the buildings, the ground floors, and countless establishments in the basements - you can't stop eating in this financial hub.

Most of Marunouchi's eats are casual, but casual among the suits from work.  After work restaurants are filled with drinking, smoking, and eating the day's stresses away.  It's a fun environment, and the more crowded the restaurant, the tastier the food.

In one of the many buildings, !iiyo! or the Eiraku building holds countless eats in a matter of meters.  In an attempt to find a smokefree environment for my nephews, we saw an table made of milk crates.  It seemed like decoration, but still function.  And the menu was filled with grilled and fried Japanese izakaya dishes.  Thankfully, the decorative table was indeed function.  So sitting on cushioned milk crates made for a fun night of eating at Teppen.

There are so many great eats in Tokyo.  I love that these restaurants are understated and low key, while shining with overwhelming plates and tastes.

Vegetables to start the meal.  Look at these beautiful colors!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Always revisiting Tokyo

Tokyo is one of those cities that leaves you wanting more.  One trip, two trips, x number of trips are not enough to be satisfied.  It's so repeatable.  You can always discover new areas in the city and constantly go back to the same places which feel familiar.  Japan and Tokyo are always updating and improving.

We made it a family trip with my little nephews, so it was a balance of shopping in Ginza and a journey to Tokyo Bay for the Legoland Discovery Center.

Here are some pictures from our hotel, around Ginza, and at Legoland:

View from the Palace Hotel Tokyo at night

Thursday, May 07, 2015

More eating in Grand Front Osaka

My favorite kind of hotel has the conveniences of transportation, shopping, and eating all in a nice higher end area.  The Intercontinental Osaka fits my preferences for location, conveniences, and quality of hotel.

On the ground floor of the hotel is a mall entrance to Grand Front Osaka.  This mall has a few buildings, all with local and import shopping brands and a variety of endless eats.  Adjacent by a short walkway bridge is the Osaka Station, which also has two major department stores, Lucua and Daimaru - both with basement floor food halls, and restaurants on the upper levels.  There's soo much to eat that it keeps us coming back to Osaka for second servings.

One of the many views around Grand Front Osaka

Unagi set dinner at Bincho
Changed and elevated my standards for unagi

Monday, May 04, 2015

Cherry Blossoming in Osaka

Back in Osaka, and this time for Cherry Blossom season!

The last time I was in Japan in April I was a toddler; so my memories are few and far between.  This time around I researched the best places for "hanami", which translates to cherry blossom (sakura) viewing.

If you can only choose one destination for hanami in Osaka, it's the Mint Bureau, or Mint Museum grounds.  In mid-March, dates are announced for the one week viewing in April.  This year, they fell on April 9 to 15.  Just those few days to walk just over 500 meters and view 350 trees with 132 varieties of sakura trees.  It's a cluster of incredible.

My first viewing was on day 2, April 10, when the rains went from a drizzle to mildy heavy with winds.  Despite that, the crowd was decent and the sights made up for it.  The next morning, it was cloudy but rainless.  So I went back again.  It's amazing to see the change in blossoms over 24 hours.  That's why the viewing is only for a strict week.  After that the weather, rain, wind, and heat of the sun, will take the blossoms away until next year.

Parallel is a food festival with vendors that seemed to match the number of sakura trees.  Mainly filled with local street food, like okonomiyaki, the vendors are freshly preparing hot food and snacks to make a day of your cherry blossom viewing.

In the past, Japan gifted countries around the world with cherry blossom trees.  While it is beautiful there, it's truly a sight to see in its homeland.

Massive weekend crowd

Thursday, April 02, 2015

This and that around the Bay Area

Aside from planning out reservations for new restaurants, nostalgic bites, spontaneous eats and recommendations from locals and friends fill the rest of my eating and drinking time in the Bay Area.

My trips back to the San Francisco area always satisfy my cravings for contemporary American bar food, Mexican fare, and Northern Californian wines and beers.  From dishes I used to have as a grade school kid to new discoveries, it all tastes like home away from home these days.

Fish and Chips at Bourbon Pub
Petrale sole, salt and vinegar tots, tartar sauce

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dining at The Commissary in San Francisco

Trips back to San Francisco always mean nostalgic eats of old favorites, that sometimes date back to my grade school days, and discoveries of newly opened restaurants around the bay and particularly in the city.

Nostalgic eats in my next post.  First, a discovery of a newer restaurant I've been wanting to try out since it opened.  The Commissary over in the Presidio is a destination spot that's perfect on a gorgeous day or night in the city.  Traci Des Jardins adds Spanish influence to her Californian cuisine - tapas to share and entrees for bigger appetites.

There are multiple dining areas - outdoor for those special nice days in the city, a spacious main dining area with large tables to order many tapas, and a bar area with an open kitchen in the back.  The restaurant has noticeable Californian influence with local ingredients and entrees, but the heart of the restaurant honors Spanish cuisine and culture.  Respect of fresh ingredients, simplicity with flavor, and social dining.  Good food and good company all the way.

Salt cod fritters, lemon aioli

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pizzeria Mozza in Singapore

For our last night out, we wanted to enjoy a night out with good food and a bottle of wine.  Mozza at the Marina Bay Sands was the perfect place for a girls night out because of its casual, yet classy atmosphere.  Pizzeria Mozza, opposite the more formal Osteria Mozza, has a great selection of appetizers and pizzas for the whole table to share.

The service was friendly, thanks to fellow Filipinos happy to serve with their warm hospitality.  The food comes out at a good pace to enjoy the sequence of antipastis, appetizers, pizzas, and the sweet endings.

The food quality is up to par with Batali, Bastianich, and Silverton restaurants world wide (at least those that I've tried in NYC, Vegas, LA, and Hong Kong).  And, the pizza ranks up there with some of the best texture and tasting of pie crusts and quality of toppings.

Marina Bay Sands has a great selection of restaurants from international chefs.  Mozza is definitely a place to consider for a tasty night out.

Bone marrow al forno

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Din Tai Fung in Singapore

Singapore has a delicious list of local specialties.  And, they also have a growing list of imported restaurants quickly filling up the city.  One of the most notable is Din Tai Fung.  The famous Taiwanese restaurant with some of the best xiao long bao around.

Since we were hungry for a late breakfast/early lunch, we headed to the location that was already opened nearest us in Marina Bay Sands.  Compared to the endless lines when it first opened in this mall, we were now promptly seated with many vacant tables in the opening hour.

The menu had the staple dumplings, noodles, vegetables.  It also included local specialties like Chili Crab and Pork Buns.  Overall, it was as clean and tasty as Taipei and Shanghai.  And if you're craving for Taiwanese dishes in Singapore, this is the place to go.

Steamed Pork Dumplings

Monday, February 09, 2015

Weekend eats in Singapore

Back in Singapore for another weekend getaway.  This time around I was introducing the city to a couple of my closest friends.  We stayed at my friend's hotel in the Central Business District, the Westin Hotel, as she was in town for work.  It's a quieter area to stay, but like almost everything in Singapore, it's clean and safe.

CBD is walking distance to Chinatown and the Marina Bay areas.  Over the course of the weekend, we enjoyed bites all around the districts of the city - Marina Bay, Clarke Quay, Chinatown, and Orchard Road - the usual areas that first timers should check out.  We tasted a mix of local and Western dishes.  Tiger beers, chicken wings, chili crabs, and oyster omelettes for the local side; and fries, pizzas, and wine for the Western side of the plate (more on that in my next posts).  For now, here are some of the local bites and neighborhood treats from the weekend.

Friday afternoon beer

Monday, January 19, 2015

Food Chronicling around Japan

Japan is a country where the great eating and drinking never stops.  Something tasty is around every corner.  Some bites are better than others.  And some bites have been the best I've tasted in the course of my food travels.

Here's a look at some of the tastiest bites from my week in Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo:

Afternoon break on the hotel balcony
Palace Hotel Tokyo

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki in Osaka

Back in Osaka and back to eating some of the city's specialties.  Okonomiyaki is a filling and satisfying meal that packs in flavors and textures.  Momojuu the second time around was just as fun as the first visit.  This time we learned more about monjayaki.

Originating from the Tokyo area, monjayaki is another savory "pancake".  The differences between okonomiyaki and monjayaki are the seasonings and cooking style.  Okonomiyaki is a firmer pancake form, while monjayaki is softer, spread throughout the iron cooktop, and eaten straight from that heat source.

I love both dishes, but if I had a choice I would go for the monjayaki.  It's lighter and more fun to eat because of its interactivity right in front of you on the cooktop.

The table

Monday, January 12, 2015

My best tempura experience to date

At a reputable luxury hotel, it is almost guaranteed that the food will be enjoyable.  The setting, the service, and the quality of food are all top notch.  The Ritz Carlton Kyoto's dining selection is no different.

Below the lobby, the hotel's Japanese restaurant, Mizuki, features 4 kinds of Japanese specialty cuisines: kaiseki, sushi, teppan, and tempura.  You can sit at eat specialized station or in the main dining area to eat a little of everything.

When in Japan and there's a beautiful tempura bar, you must go there.  At these bars, each piece is fried at your eating pace.  I thought my tempura experience in Tokyo was amazing, and this just brought up the bar.  Mizuki's tempura has been my best experience to date.

The seafood and vegetables were all local and seasonal.  The chef, who is a humble genius at the fryer and with his tempura artistry, watches as you dine and eat.  He paces your next bites, fries them according to your pace, and explains how each bite will be best enhanced with sauce, lemon, or salt.  The batter was perfection and paper thin while perfectly fried inside.  So amazing.

Steps down to the Japanese restaurant

Tempura bar

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Overnight at the new Ritz Carlton Kyoto

Food is the main feature in every city I travel.  Equally important is the hotel.  It's where I spend a third to half of my time so it's crucial that the hotel is clean, well maintained, and centrally located to the better parts of the city.  If it's a reputable brand name hotel, that adds points.  And massive points go to brand new hotels all with the above criteria.

One of my favorite things to do online is to research new hotels, more specifically new luxury hotels in cities I'll potentially visit in the next couple of years.  If it's a new city to visit, it's all the more important that the hotel is new, or opened within the last two years, to guarantee clean comfort.

The Ritz Carlton Kyoto is the newest in the city.  It was actually supposed to open after the Four Seasons, but the Ritz Carlton stayed mostly on track while the Four Seasons is still delayed.  So on February 2014, the hotel opened along the Kanagawa River.

For one night (thanks to a lot of accumulated Marriott Rewards points), my family and I enjoyed the Zen luxury in one of Japan's most beautiful getaways.  Any time of the year is great to visit Kyoto.  Early fall was perfect as the trees were still lush green and the temperature was perfect for walking.

The hotel's Japanese architecture influence is evident all around in the simplicity, and the establishment's pampering is evident in all the detailed luxury in the rooms and around the hotel grounds, including the friendly service of all the staff.  This overnight break was the perfect pause between the busier cities of Osaka and Tokyo.

Unfortunately, I completely didn't take any room shots - just photos of the rooms details like the coffee and tea sets.  I got to lost in being impressed with the luxurious details, like Christofle silverware, two kinds of tea and coffee stations, and the beautiful Zen surroundings.

Ritz Carlton Kyoto

Monday, January 05, 2015

Kyoto's Natural Beauty

Back to Japan!  Flying back from the Bay Area, we took a weeklong layover in Japan.  It was a long journey to get into a bed - from San Jose, CA to Narita, then a train ride from Narita to Tokyo, dropped off our bigger luggages at our hotel in Tokyo, and then another bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka.  Close to 24 hours.  Whew.  It's a sweaty adventure hauling all our 2 months worth of luggages around.  Which reminds me, advice for packing in Japan: pack efficiently so you can travel from point to point within the country with ease.

After a couple of nights in Osaka, we hired a hotel van to take us from Osaka to Kyoto.  Prior trips to Kyoto we took bullet trains and local trains, about 20-30 minutes each way.  This time around, and with our heavy luggages, we decided to take a little roadtrip to see the sights along the way.

In the 2 hour drive, there really wasn't much to see (unlike roadtrips around Europe where the scene changes frequently).  However, the clean, efficient highways are quite admirable.  Once you enter the Kyoto area, the city is pretty spread out.  Driving around the city, I realized it's actually pretty necessary to get around the city via a vehicle or by the various train lines combined with a lot of walking.

The in-town drive revealed so many hidden enclaves humbly showing off Kyoto's natural beauty.  This city personifies nature.  Clean, orderly, green, lush, mountains, water.. it has it all.  There are endless temples, gardens, and paths.  It's overwhelming if you're in the city for a short stay, in our case for one night.

One of the main landmarks we visited was the city's famous Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion.  Crowds and crowds huddled on designated sides for their best photo opportunity.  And then serene, clean, shimmering beauty of the golden temple on the water.

Another highlight of the trip was a walk along the Kamagawa River, located right next to our hotel, the Ritz Carlton (more on the hotel in my next post).  The wide river has huge step stones to cross the calm water, bridges for cards and pedestrians, and restaurants lining the water for patrons to enjoy the quiet setting.  The small city has so many restaurants along the river, in side streets, along the main roads, and in covered street alleys.  Eating is non-stop and endless.

Kyoto is a beautiful break from the bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka.  Many parts of Kyoto have modernized over the years, with name brand department stores and shopping brands.  And despite that, the city has managed to preserve its history and natural beauty.

Golden Pavilion