A night arrival in Kyoto with yakisoba

Woah.. It’s April 2015 already. As always, apologies for the lack of updates. So, let me take stock of everything that happened, I got a new job in Austin, TX, turned 25 and moved to Texas. It’s been such a whirlwind, but I’m finally starting to settle in. I’ve been in Austin, TX for just about a month now. So far, I like Austin. it reminds me a lot of the Midwest, but with a southern flare.

Since a lot of things have happened, I’m slowly going to write updates about those things. The first of those is that I went to Japan last December for work, but took a few days to explore Kyoto and Tokyo.

Having never been to Japan before, I wasn’t sure what to go see. Fortunately, Ray was able to come and provided some more “local” knowledge.

He suggested we get the Japan Rail Pass and go see another city besides Tokyo, so we went to Kyoto.
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If Kyoto and Tokyo are siblings, then Kyoto is the older and more studious child.

The first day we were in Japan, we took the Narita Express to Tokyo and then transferred to a train to Kyoto. By the time we managed to get in, it was pretty late in the evening so we went to a local chain for some small bites to eat.


I was eagerly awaiting my first meal in Japan, although I think I was also a bit deliriously jet-lagged at the beginning of the meal and just wanted to go back to the hotel and sleep

We ended up ordering some kyoto-style yakisoba and okonomiyaki.


Looking back now, I wish I my stomach had been bigger so that I could have eaten a lot more.

Of course we ordered some dessert afterwards, and this we were in Japan, the dessert was really cute.

I guess it turned out to be not-so-small-bites, because afterwards I was pretty full of food. But, that didn’t stop us from swinging by the local convenience store and buying a bunch of snacks.

Even the stuff from the convenience store is so wonderfully packaged.
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On the left is nama yatsuhashi, a Kyoto specialty, and on the right is some rusk, which is kind of tasted like sweet croutons.

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Two-thirds through summer, yet so much to update!

Sorry for the not-very-often-updating. Things have been busy (excuses, excuses). I’ve really been enjoying my summer (well parts of it). I’ve managed to go a few places, see a few new things, and meditate a little bit more about what I want to do in the future.

I’ve been truly spoiled this summer. I’ve had great company since my old roommate Miranda has been staying with me (which also means being really well fed – all the weight from this seems to be distributing in places other than my face and that’s a win in my book). In addition, I managed to take a lovely trip to Munich a couple weeks ago, which I probably wouldn’t have chosen to go on my own, but as luck would have it Ray was there for business and I joined him (more on that later).

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Me in the garden of Hohenschwangau

More regular updates will be coming soon. I have lots of stuff to write about!

Sunday Firecakes donut hunt and other life news

Lately, I’ve been eating a lot of donuts. 2 weekends ago, I was feeling super lazy and couldn’t drag myself out of bed to get brunch somewhere (granted, it does take like 30 mins + on CTA to get somewhere brunch-worthy). Instead I opted for donuts at glazed and infused. This past weekend I wasn’t that lazy, but was craving donuts again. This time I went to Firecakes Donuts on 68 W Hubbard.
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These donuts were pretty gourmet, which surprised me because I thought I had had some fancy donuts before.

I think my favorite donuts are still those with filling, but the Pineapple bacon donut and triple chocolate weren’t so bad

Pineapple bacon donut
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It’s actual size is tiny compared to the other donuts there.

Triple chocolate
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This has cocoa nibs, and valhrona chocolate icing on top of a chocolate old fashion donut. It’s like eating chocolate cake.

And my favorite was the butterscotch praline
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This was better than the butterscotch custard filled donuts I’ve had at Glazed and Infused. This one was far more buttery, with praline pieces covering the top of the donut. If you like caramel and butter, this is the donut for you.

In other news…

I’m going to Milan this week! That’s right Milan, Italy! It’s only a short trip, but I’ll take lot of pictures.

March birthday musings and other miscellaneous items

Earlier in March I had my birthday. It was definitely one of the better birthdays I’ve had in a while, and probably one of the first birthdays since high school that I’ve actually bothered to do something to celebrate it.

The week started out with a concert at the United Center to see Muse. It was a lot of fun, especially since it was with people that I don’t necessarily hang out with that often.

My pre-concert pre-game
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Everybody at the table ordered a flat tire, and poured it into the glasses. Me, not drinking beer too often didn’t know how to pour it without it spilling out over the top of the glass with foam.

And dinner…
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Grilled cheese and fries at Palace Grill, which is a few blocks away from the United Center. Not a bad pre-concert meal.

The concert itself was pretty awesome. Muse live-in-concert definitely did not disappoint.
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I’m a big fan of their old stuff. And this concert definitely showcased a lot of that. The silly fan girl in me came out.

At one point the entire stadium lit up their cell phones.
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First time I’ve seen this in person. (If you can’t tell, I haven’t been to a lot of rock concerts in general.)

I got flowers at work
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These really made my day. 🙂

And then there was dinner with some friends at Balena.
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More to come on this soon.

After that, there were more dinners with other people. I was truly spoiled this year!

Making the most out of service failures at The Melting Pot

Back in February, Ray and I had one of those impromptu date nights where we had decided to see a movie, and then on a whim decide to have dinner before hand. So we wandered the area looking for some place to have dinner. Of course since we had reservations no where, pretty much every trendy place we walked into had an hour wait.

After wandering around for a while we finally got a table at The Melting Pot.

The first time I went to The Melting Pot back in Atlantic City, NJ. It was a nice experience, but my perception of this place had always been that it was a suburban chain that was considered a “nice” place to dine if you were over 30 and had children. But, it still made for a nice and fun dining experience. (I’m referring to the time I went in Atlantic City.)

This time I went to The Melting Pot in Chicago. The service was pretty badawful. We made the most of it. The eating portion of this experience wasn’t too bad, except that our server pretty much neglected us. This meant no water service for long stretches of time, and extended a meal that should have been under an hour to over 1.5 hours long. And finally, because we had a movie to catch we just got up and went to the hostess to pay our check. (This is after our server gave us the wrong check too. Fail server, fails.)

Can’t say I really recommend this place, but I got decent pictures out of it.
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still in a good mood despite the service failures.

Simple cheese fondue of cheddar, beer, garlic, and a little Worcestershire sauce.
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One of these days, I’m going to see if I can try this at home.

Mmmmm…. raw meat.
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Of course once the food actually gets to you, it’s fine.

Still smiling despite the service fails.
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I think at one point we tried asking another serving staff member for some water as they passed by, and instead of just stopping and pouring us some water they went all the way to find our MIA server to come back to get us water.

Of course my favorite part is dessert.
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Everything taste better dipped in chocolate.

Chocolate turtle fondue means pecans in the chocolate fondue!
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Del Seoul: My equivalent of a nice cold beer after work

a couple of weeks ago I checked out Del Seoul for their kimchi fries. This is after hearing so many things about their korean tacos.

Del Seoul kind of looks like one of those hole in the wall taco joints, but it’s sooooo much more. There’s so much deliciousness going on here, with a pretty casual mom & pop feel going on too.
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The kimchi fries… I can tell you they’re pretty darn good. It hits my sweet spot for junk food. It’s that wonderful combination of fatty, greasy, sour, and savory.
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And according to a real Korean, the kimchi was at just the right ripeness to be fried!

In addition, the kalbi poutine is also worth trying. In fact, I think I liked it more than just the regular kimchi fries.
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The kalbi poutine is this delightful mix of pickled red onions, kalbi, cheese, and fries. Since the fries are rather crisp too, they provide this contrasting crisp texture to the texture of the kalbi and cheese.

The shrimp taco is pretty good too.
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Another plus, the service is really fast!

More UWS gems: Crepes on Columbus brunch

After complaining that there were few good food options on the UWS, we finally got a little adventurous and started venturing out in search of good dining options.

Our efforts were not fruitless. We found this nice little creperie on the corner of 109 and Columbus. It’s a little dingy, some would even call it quaint and cozy. Anyhow, Crepes on Columbus has no airs, but serves damn fine crepes!

And if you like really sweet espresso based drinks, this little shop serves decent ones.
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Like I said, it’s a nice a little neighborhood-y place. I could see it being a nice little afternoon coffee hangout place where you can drink coffee, read, and eat crepes.

But, let’s move on to what this place is actually good for: crepes… (their sandwiches also looked really good.)

When you order crepes here, you can choose 3 ingredients to make your own custom crepe or choose from their standard crepes. We ended up ordering two crepes, one savory and one sweet.

For the savory, we put salmon, goat cheese and ratatouille in our crepe.
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Service is pretty friendly. They were nice enough to split the crepe for us.

Inside the crepe was cooked properly. You have a good distribution of the ingredients and it’s cooked evenly.
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Definitely would not mind ordering this combo again.

For our sweet crepe, we got a standard combination of sauteed apples, almond, golden raisin and creme fraiche. It was like eating a deliciously light apple pie.
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I also really liked that the portions were large enough to split between two people but small enough that you could eat one and call it a meal.

Did I mention we got creme brulee on the side?
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The creme brulee was only okay. I think they added too much Grand Marnier, because the custard still had a little bit of the acerbic taste of alcohol, as if it hadn’t cooked away.

But, this place is a creperie, and their crepes are pretty solid.

Hot Mexican Chocolate, Churros, and Pastrami Reubens

In January I went to NYC quite a bit, but this past month I got to stay in Chicago a bit more than usual. The lazy cat in me meant that I spent quite a bit of time sleeping on the weekends still, but we did manage to venture out a little bit.

On my list of places I’ve been meaning to visit were Xoco and Grahamwich, which I finally made my way to this month.

So Xoco is a Rick Bayless restaurant. It’s next to his more famous Frontera grill, which I haven’t been to yet. But, I think Xoco deserves the limelight in its own right.

For starters, the hot chocolate there is quite fresh. The hot chocolate there isn’t the super sweet kind that you’ll find at other place, rather thick, rich, and creamy. Some of the chocolates are almost like drinking a chocolate puree. It’s pretty interesting, but rather delightful on a chilly night that needs some spicing up.

Of course when we went, we were gluttons, so we ordered two orders of churros, one w/ a chocolate shot, another with mexican vanilla soft serve.
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I think both the softserve and the chocolate shot are pretty good. Although, I think Ray said he liked the softserve better.

The hot chocolate was quite thick
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So if you’ve ever been to Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, you’ll know that the hot chocolate there is rich and thick as well. But, Xoco’s is maybe thicker, just as rich, but less sweet. The consistency is what you’d get if you had a fine emulsion of ground cocoa beans and cream/milk.

We also ordered a torta to share, but in my excitement and later regret I ate it really fast and didn’t take any photos. If you do order the Chochinita Pibil, beware the habanero sauce. I didn’t take the warning from both the server and cashier too seriously and doused my sandwich into the sauce soaking it all up. I was fine until about 5 minutes later when the heat hit me. But the sandwich overall is quite good.

Speaking of sandwiches, the pastrami reuben at Grahamwich is also quite good.
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I didn’t realize that rye, pastrami, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing go so well together. You get salty, sweet, and sour all in one sandwich combination.

We also got their maple bacon donut.
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It was okay. I think you can get better ones at do-rite, glazed and infused, etc. I would probably also skip their sodas, as their orange and ginger soda just tasted like orange crush.

Not a bad for a weekend.

Birthday Dinners: Keep the libations coming at Schwa

Happy day after Valentine’s Day! (I didn’t do anything day of.)

Two weeks back was the birthday of a good friend, and in celebration of his 25th, he splurged and went out to two really nice dinners, one right after the other. I was invited to dine with him (how could I pass up the chance for good food?), which lead to lovely dinners at Schwa and Next (post to come soon).

It was a pretty chilly evening so I was glad to get out of the cold after the 4 block walk from the subway station.
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Inside there was lots of food and drinks to be had.
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(Birthday boy on the left there.)

There was plenty of wine.
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9 bottles of wine and another bottle of Jameson. Lots was drunk throughout the night and we all got a little fuzzy in the head. hah.

The amuse bouche was a maraschino cherry chocolate (I think it was chocolate) soaked in liquor.
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You’ll notice that all the photos in this post will be a little blurry. As great as the food at Schwa is, the lighting really sucks. My Nikon J1 was working super hard that night.

There was a rose water palate cleanser after the cherry.
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I honestly don’t remember that much about it. Although, it did it’s job. But the food got pretty serious (sort of) after this.

Next we had an egg custard with mushrooms and other micro-greens. Black truffle oil was all over it.
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It’s got this nice home-y feel to it, but a little bit on the salty side.

It was kind of reminiscent of the quail egg and truffle mashed potatoes dish at Elizabeth.
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^And this was somewhat reminiscent of the “Hot potato, cold potato” at Alinea. I’m sure the daisychain could go on.

The next dish (not pictured) was actually a quail egg black truffle ravioli. I didn’t get a picture because I still hadn’t quite figured out how to get the blur under control (looks like I need some photography classes). But, this dish was really good and I’m interested in trying to recreate it at home.

Honestly, I don’t remember what the next two dishes were.
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I remember they were light and good openers to the menu. I think the one above was some sort of white chocolate dusted in cocoa powder and filled with beet. Kind of like eating candy.

This was followed by a lobster and citrus dish.
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This was pretty interesting. It had a combination of ingredients, from butter, lobster, citrus jam and some pith. So the types of flavors were sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and rich. This was definitely one of those dishes where you want to continue licking your plate even after you’ve finished eating.

Hazelnut and fig (iirc)
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It also had this nice tart, sweet, and savory combination.

Palate cleanser of white wine vinegar sorbet.
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It was a nice continuation of the tart flavors.

Buttersquah(?) gnocchi.
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Schwa was heavy on the pastas. Not that it was a bad thing. In fact, it’s kind of refreshing to see a not so protein-centric menu.

Clowning around from dinner.
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I was trying to get a inconspicuous shot of the left-hand side of the table, but instead caught this lovely moment.

By this point I had quite a bit of wine, but I think we broke out the Jameson shots with the chefs around then.

Schwa has this lovely IDGAF ambiance about it. At one point during the dinner heavy metal and Notorious B.I.G. was being blasted over the speakers, then followed by Macklemore’s Thrifshop.

Venison steak with more fig(?)
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More plays on sweet and savory combination.

Now we we slowly transition into dessert.

Rice Krispie treats
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Which are then followed by…

French onion soup lollipops!
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As this was getting served, the waiter actually dropped it in my hair. No worries though. I just picked it up and ate it anyways. Still tasted fine.

And the final dessert.
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A play on pie. (But, I don’t really remember which pie this was probably due to my rather intoxicated state by the end of the night.)

The chefs responsible for this lovely meal!
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These guys were tons of fun. I definitely recommend Schwa for fine and casual dining experience. But, probably not a great place to go if you’re looking for a quiet dinner.

Dinner date before the New York Philharmonic

January was a very tiring month. Not only with the traveling on weekends, but also work. I think I was dying from work (sort of). I had almost I-Banking hours (okay maybe like 3/4 of their hours) and there was an all-nighter somewhere in there. After all of that work, I wanted to be pampered. Rather, I just wanted a relaxing weekend to break me out of my work rut. This translated into a weekend in New York where I slept for most of it and only got up to eat. Somewhere in there, I managed to go catch a classical concert at the Lincoln Center, but sleep was definitely the priority here.

What I do recall about the dinner before going to see the NY Philharmonic, was that it was decent. Over all the place we went to, China Latina, served very mediocre food. It did have a few highlights though.

One of them was this Chorizo filled Shumai
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The plating is really cute, and the chorizo was mellowed out by the cheese topping, making for a balanced dish.

The tacos weren’t bad either.
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The beef was better than the duck because it was a more consistently juicy bite. The duck confit taco had dry bites and really juicy bites that made some bites better than others.

If you do go there, I would skip their calamari salad. It was too salty, had too much dressing, and the calamari wasn’t that crisp. Their noodle dishes weren’t that great either. It kind of tasted like Chinese take out.

The rest of the evening was pretty fun though.
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I definitely want to try to go to see the orchestra more often.