Shenandoah in October (Part 2): What to do in VA

After visiting Shenandoah National Park, we stopped by Charlottesvilla, VA.

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Brasserie Saison:  Amazing meal! For 2 of us, we were satisfied with 3 small plates and 1 large plate, and dessert. (Yelp)

We got chicken liver toast, fried & raw brussel sprouts, crispy scallops (MY FAVE), and steak frites. The steak was cooked perfectly medium rare, and the fries were great. REALLY LOVED THE SCALLOPS — get them if you can. They rotate items depending on what’s in season, which means everything is always fresh and tasty!

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We got their pineapple ice cream which was out of this world.

Timbercreek Market:

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Amazing butcher shop (Yelp)! We wanted to get dinner here but they were closed for an event. So we bought prosciutto and they were the BEST we ever had. Came back the next day to get more (and we finished them in one sitting).

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Their duck rillettes won the Good Food Award so we got that to eat outside with a baguette. They’re prepared with orange zest and rosemary! Love what they do with everything here. They also have beers and frozen foods you can buy to bring home to cook.

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Luray Caverns: 

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Pollak Vineyards:

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Tastings were $10 per person.

I got an additional glass of their Viognier which was excellent. Sat outside on the patio with the best view ever! A pond on one side and the vineyard on the other.

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Gabriel Kreuther: 6 Course Carte Blanche (NYC)

Gabriel Kreuther currently has 1 Michelin Star as of 2018. It is located in the Grace building, right across from (my favorite) Bryant Park. The restaurant serves classic French, specifically, Alsatian cuisine.  I took my parents here to celebrate Mother’s Day and we each had the six course carte blanche, wine pairing for myself since my parents didn’t drink.

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Savory Scallion Kougelhopf 
chive fromage blanc
Of all the breads that were offered that night, this was my favorite. I also enjoyed how light and tart the fromage blanc was.

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Tarte flambée is an Alsatian dish, composed of bread dough rolled out very thinly, topped with onions and some form of lardon – reminds me of pizza but more delicate and light. I’ve only had it once at La Tarte Flambée in NYC.

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Earth & Air 
beet bon bon, horseradish
yuzu-lychee cloud, rosewater glass
I loved air. These were little bites that just melted in your mouth. Of course, I’m a sucker for yuzu.

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Fire & Ice Pate de fruit
cucumber, gin, mint
mezcal margarita, kumquat, chili
Ice was refreshing while fire had a kick to it. Kind of like a refined jello shot.

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Foie Gras Terrine & Pistachio Praline
medjool date jam, strega, fennel pollen waffle
This was a pleasant surprise since I didn’t think that foie gras should be mixed with anything, but the praline added a nice crunch to it. I still prefer whole foie gras though, like a barbarian.

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Langoustine Tartare
flying fish roe, salty fingers, cauliflower-macadamia puree
Cracking through the creme brulee-like top, you reach the scrumptious langoustine inside. This was one of my top dishes that night.

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Green-Walk Hatchery Trout 
scallion crema, rye cracker, champagne sauce 

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Castle Valley Mill’s Polenta 
poached farm egg, parma prosciutto, green tomato

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Rosemary Buckwheat Rolls
whipped lardo, chili, garlic
There was ample bread to go around all night.

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Black Angus Beef Tenderloin
green asparagus, roquefort, leek vinaigrette 

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Cucumber & Citrus 
cucumber granita, lemon cream, crystalized mint
This was a refreshing prelude to dessert.

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Decadent – Chocolate Caramel
mixed media crumble, chocolate mousse, caramel ice cream
So decadent I couldn’t finish it!

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Chocolates, petit fours 
Sugar overload. I had heard about Gabriel Kreuther’s famous chocolates and these did not disappoint. Loved the setting.

I also had the wine pairing but the menu they sent me had some errors on it – amateur mistake on my part for not jotting down the wine names as they were presented. I had assumed they would print me the correct menu. Oh well.

Gabriel Kreuther 
41 W 42nd St
New York, NY 10036
Reservations available via OpenTable

Yoho and Radium

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On my birthday, I wanted to see the sunrise, so we started driving in the total darkness.

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Weather did not cooperate; since it was so cloudy there really was no sunrise.

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But we did get to check one thing off my list…

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Canoeing at Emerald Lake was $60 CAD (as of Sept 2017), muchhhh cheaper than Lake Louise which charged $105 CAD (per hour).

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I loved the color of this lake – so much more than all the other lakes we saw on this trip. It was also less touristy and not as crowded.

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After hitting up Takakkaw Falls, we decided we still had time to go to Radium…

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Dinner at Old Salzburg Restaurant – Austrian food which means schnitzel, spatzel, strudel!

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It was around $6 CAD to get into the Radium Hot Springs.

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It was pretty awesome soaking in a hot pool while staring off into the mountains.

On this Canadian Rockies trip, we checked off a lot of things on our bucket list! The next time we come back (and I hope we do), I want to:

  • Finally get to Maligne Lake
  • Hike to Lake O’Hara
  • See the Northern Lights
  • See more sunrises and sunsets!

Driving through the Icefields Parkway

From Banff, we were set to drive through the Icefields Parkway (and stop at all the lakes in between, of course) to get to Jasper. But in the end, due to the weather (rain/snow), we weren’t able to get to Maligne Lake. However, the drive through the Parkway was beautiful, and we got to walk on glacier. Our original plan was to camp out but that was not possible due to the wind and snow, so we ended up booking the Overlander Mountain Lodge at the very last minute — and it was an amazing stay (highly recommended)!!! In September, you need to be flexible with your plans here because of unpredictable weather.

Remember to fill up on gas before you begin the drive.

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Bow Lake

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Peyto Lake

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Mistaya Canyon

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Ice Explorer!

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Walking on glacier (We did the glacier ice walk as part of the “ultimate explorer” package from here)

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Skywalk (also part of the “ultimate explorer package”) – check the weather before you go! We couldn’t see a thing!

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Athabasca Falls

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The whole drive is supposed to take 3 hours to drive without stopping BUT of course, you will stop to take pictures… a LOT. So it really takes up the whole day.

Found this hidden gem in the town of Jasper called Downstream where you can get this ginormous burger: Alberta beef, chicken breast, smoked muscovy duck, double smoked bacon, cheddar and mozzarella.

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I kept finding these coffee+alcohol drinks on the menus in Alberta everywhere… so delicious.

We scrambled to find a hotel that night in the middle of a storm, and all the hotels in Jasper were quoting $350+ that night. Thanks to a staff member at the Jasper Visitor Center, she found us the Overlander — it was beyond amazing.

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View from our room.

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We continued our drive and found some big horn sheep crossing the road.

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Maligne Lake Road Drive was closed due to the snow storm, so we weren’t able to go there. I guess that means we have to come back!

 

 

 

Banff Lakes: Louise, Agnes, Vermilion

We started our hike from Lake Louise. It started snowing in the middle of the hike and at one point, hailing!

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The snow made for interesting pictures though.

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Mirror Lake

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Went into Lake Agnes Tea House to sit out the hail – apparently everyone else had the same idea. It was crowded, dark (no electricity), but we somehow got seats. Cash only! They take CAD and USD but will only give change back in CAD.

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Lake Agnes after the storm.

After the hike, we drove to Vermilion Lakes for sunset.

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Vermilion Lakes are a series of 3 lakes – we drove from one to another to check out the best spot for photographing the sunset. Honestly, all 3 were spectacular. We decided on the last lake since we didn’t want to risk not being able to park and miss the short window.

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The colors shifted right in front of our eyes. One of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Again, we camped out at Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground (highly recommended).

Banff in September: Moraine Lake, Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass

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For my birthday last year, I decided to check out the Canadian Rockies. We stayed in Calgary the first night. The drive from Calgary to Banff was only 1.5 hours. I liked Calgary a lot – there were a lot of hip restaurants and bars, and outdoor art installations (free interactive musical see-saws!) at the Riverwalk.

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First thing we did after arriving in Banff: went on a boat and cruised around Lake Minnewanka. Then we walked around the town of Banff. I was unprepared for the cold weather in September, which gave me an excuse to buy a new down jacket (love shopping in Canada, feels like a bargain with the Canadian dollar: 1USD=1.3CAD).

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Lunch at Park Distillery – pretty good meal and extremely friendly service. Highly recommended.

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Did the touristy gondola thing.

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This view though.

We camped out that night at Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground – it was perfect, clean, and I highly recommend it. Much better than Lake Louise Campground which we later on discovered.

Breakfast at The Bison – pretty good bison burger!

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We passed by the parking lot leading to Lake Louise and there were long lines of cars outside the entrance waiting to get in. For Moraine Lake, we got lucky. If you wait a bit inside the parking lot, you’ll eventually get a spot – seems like there were fast turnover rates for people visiting the lakes.

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Moraine Lake – where you go to start the hike to Larch Valley. September is the perfect time to see the golden larch trees!

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Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley

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Those larch trees.

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Loved the wide open landscape here.

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Hiking through Larch Valley was easy, but going up to Sentinel Pass was a little more strenuous. Worth it though.

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After this point, turn around and proceed to the top…

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Waiting for sunset at Moraine. There was a huge rock pile for people to scramble up. The higher you go, the bluer the lake looks. It was nice to relax here after the hike.

Bacon Omakase at Belly

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I was very fortunate to have been invited to this private supper club at Belly and briefly met Chef Johnny Wooh. His staff was warm and welcoming, and there was just enough bacon. (Just kidding, there can never be enough)

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We started off with toast with kimchi butter, which was already amazing.

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BACON SUSHI – in my opinion, the best dish.

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Rib & pork bellyyyyyyyy

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Bacon taco. Yes, you can fold it in half.

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Spicy stuffed pepper (sausage inside) – bringing the heat!

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Of course you musta have-a pasta.

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They even make vegetables tasty.

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Donuts with (HOLY) SMOKY CREAM mm mmmmm.

BELLY OMAKASE

355 WEST 14TH STREET
(BTW 8-9 AVE)
NEW YORK, NY 10014

Reservation is required (Omakase dinner is available exclusively for 12 guests per day every Friday and Saturday)

2017 PBP Plate by Plate LA

Last year, I flew to LA for a long weekend for food.

No really, it was just for food. Particularly for this one event called “Plate by Plate” presented by Project by Project. That’s a mouthful.

Since their annual tasting event is happening this year on August 4th, 2018, I decided to dust off the old photos from last year’s event and post them here. (I was just lazy)

So here we go…

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Inside the Wallis Annenberg Building at the California Science Center. Can you spot a celebrity?

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Bobagasm!

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Kazu Nori had the longest line, of course.

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SOOO GOOOOOOD.

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And then this photo was taken outside the venue with my Samsung Galaxy S8, using the pro mode (just thought it was cool).

Cuba: Viñales: Cave, Cigars, Horseback Riding

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I booked a tour through Havana Journeys to check out Viñales. Our driver and tour guide were great! The car was air-conditioned and clearly well taken care of. Highly recommended!

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Coffee with that sugarcane.

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Cave tour. $5.

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Tobacco farm.

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Rode a horse. It was sad because the horses looked weak and skinny.

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Great view at this restaurant.

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Ropa Vieja again. Food was okay here; tourist prices.

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Back in Havana, dinner at Castropol:

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Seems like there are always great views at restaurants in Cuba.

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Cuba: strolling through the streets of Trinidad

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I hired a taxi through BestCubaGuide.com. They emailed me to make the arrangements. The price for a Modern Taxi from Havana to Trinidad was 160cuc(160 USD) back in May of 2017.  We paid the driver directly in CUC. When the driver arrived, he had his wife/partner with him. He didn’t speak much English so we communicated in Spanish. Afterwards, I made arrangements with him directly to come back the next day to pick us up.

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Havana to Trinidad by car: 4-5 hours. In between, we stopped for a bathroom/snack break. Bought a hot dog for $1 and it tasted very strange… We saw a lot of local people getting it but it didn’t jive well with us.

Once we arrived at our casa (also through Airbnb, and I highly recommend this one!), our host Yacquelin presented us with ice cold fresh mango juice which was amazing. She didn’t speak English at all so we communicated through Spanish. For some reason, I understood her more than I understood the driver — maybe she was used to tourists so she spoke slower and used more simple vocabulary? Yacquelin was the perfect host.

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The casa was a house connected to their family-owned ceramics factory, where people took tours! You can also buy souvenirs here.

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After our mini tour, Yacquelin helped us order a taxi to go hiking.

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We hiked to this waterfall and spent some time in the water.

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Our casa was about 15 minutes walking distance away from the city center (Plaza Mayor), so we walked through the neighborhood, which was interesting.

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My favorite part of the Cuba experience was live street music.

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What I noticed while walking through the neighborhood was that you can see through most homes and stores – there were no glass, no curtains. We saw family pictures, furniture, beds, people sitting on their couches watching television — everything could be seen from the outside. It was bizarre, like looking into someone else’s life. Passing through the neighborhood, we saw a lot of locals sitting in front of their houses just chatting and spending time with each other. It was nice to see that they weren’t on their phones typing away in silence, like we often see in the U.S. When we went back to our casa that night, we hung out on the balcony, sitting outside feeling the breezes, just like the local people. Even though it was hot, the breeze felt nicer than the AC.

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We encountered a couple of local Cuban people who asked us for our “things” — my friend’s plastic wrist band, my pusheen keychain hanging off my bag, in exchange for some goods that they were selling. It broke my heart when a father of a little boy begged and said “please, we can never get it here…” A little girl asked my friend defiantly for his wrist band, and her mother said it was her birthday (the father of the little boy also pulled the birthday card). We got the feeling that it was a common thing to do — foreigners would give away “things”, just little things that we usually don’t even notice, but they would treasure them because it was nearly impossible for them to get them. They never asked for money, just things.

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Our host recommended this restaurant, Esquerra – right next to Casa de la Musica, and they had a live band too!

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Complimentary drinks.

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Ropa Vieja

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Casa de la musica at night.

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Casa de la musica during the day time.

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Staying at a casa meant home-cooked breakfast for $5! Our breakfast here was the best meal we had in retrospect. Yacquelin prepared all this for four of us. I LOVED THE FRESH MANGOES.

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Trinidad was my favorite part of Cuba. Definitely worth the trek.