Adventures in Japan

IMG_5783 Okay to start, I know it’s been forever and a day since I’ve posted anything.  I had a crazy few months of work and then needed some detox time after weeks of working 80+ hours.  Now that things have slowed down, I’m hoping to start posting again more regularly.  I have a bunch of ideas in my head so I’m going to try to be diligent about getting it up here.

Now to the whole purpose of this post.  My boyfriend and I just got back from a 10 day trip to Tokyo (a first time trip for both of us).  I know what everyone is thinking, 10 days is a  long time to spend in only Tokyo.  While I agree, it was a long time to be in Tokyo, and we were definitely ready to come home by the end of the trip, we definitely kept ourselves busy and didn’t even cover everything that we had wanted to.  It’s okay, though, now we still have some things on our bucket list to do on our next trip to Japan.

I know this may sound crazy, but since this was our first trip to Japan and our first trip alone outside of the country, I spent hours preparing and researching for the trip.  I wanted to make sure that I had a good idea of everything Japan had to offer so that we didn’t come home realizing that we had missed something amazing.  My research included places to go, things to eat, tours to consider, stores to shop at etc.  That being said, based on my experiences I’m thinking about starting a new travel series to share everything that I found during my research and from our experience in Japan.   Honestly, there’s just so much from this trip that I’d like to share that I don’t think I could fit it all into one post.  While I pull my thoughts together, though, I’ll start off with a few of my favorites from the trip.

Gundam

{Giant Gundam – Diver City Odaiba}

Odaiba

{Exploring Odaiba – There was surprisingly a lot to do in Odaiba, including 4 different malls}

Sensoji Temple

{Sensoji Temple}

Sanja Matsuri Festival

{Sanja Matsuri Festival}

Sanja Matsuri Food

{Sanja Matsuri Festival Food – Fried potato twist with cheese and onion powder, rice stick wrapped with beef, and okonomiyaki}

Asakusa

{Street vendors in Asakusa}

Mister Donut Cronut

{Chocolate Cronut filled with Custard from Mister Donut}

Ramen Museum

{Ramen Museum – Miso Ramen, Shoyu Ramen and Tonkotsu Ramen. Can you guess which one was my favorite?}

Harajuku

{Ladies in Harajuku}

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{Famous Shibuya Crossing – crossing this street was madness}

Shibuya

{The streets of Shibuya}

Mt. Fuji

{View of the top of Mt. Fuji from the 5th Station}

Mt. Fuji 5th Station

{Exploring the Mt. Fuji 5th Station}

Lake Ashi Cruise

{Lake Ashi Cruise – Can you spot Mt. Fuji in the distance?}

Komaga-take Ropeway

{Going up the Hakone Komaga-take Ropeway

Top of the ropeway

{Made it to the top}

Chirashi Bowl

{Breakfast in Tsukiji Market – fatty tuna, uni, shrimp, crab, fish roe, scallops, regular tuna and tamago}

Tsukiji Market

{Exploring Tsukiji Market, but let’s take a minute to focus on that amazing marbeling}

Shellfish Bar

{Found this gem of a stand. If this market is still around the next time we go to Japan, I guarantee we’ll be revisiting this guy}

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{5 year old scallop cooked in sake and shoyu = happy belly}



Adventures in Chicago

IMG_51601I recently had to take a trip to Chicago for work.  This was my first trip to Chicago, and I must say that I loved the city.  Maybe it’s because I went during one of the few months where the weather was wonderful, but I love the architecture, the hustle and bustle in downtown and of course the food.  Deep dish pizza . . . oh yeah!    When we went, the weather was perfect, probably between mid 60s to mid 70s, which is cool enough to not break a sweat while I power walked down the streets, but warm enough for me to handle.  While I was there for work, we were able to make some time to see the sights, try the food and of course make it to a Cubs game.  Here are a few snapshots of our week out there

skydeck

{SkyDeck in Willis Tower}

architecture tour

{amazing architecture}

architecture

{love the spiral buildings}

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{Cubs game . . . I love the building top bleachers outside the stadium}

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chicago

{some of our eateries . . . look at all that cheesy goodness}

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{the BEAN}

crownfountain

{Crown Fountain}

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{Jay Pritzker Pavilion}

Yakiniku Hiroshi

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Recently, it was my boyfriend’s birthday so I wanted to take him to a nice dinner of his choice.  Of course he picked a place known for its meat, and I must admit, it did not disappoint.  Not to overhype Yakiniku Hiroshi, but it was hands down the best meat I’ve had of my life.  We got the pre-set menu, which included beef tongue, kobe rib eye steak, garlic shrimp, kobe kalbi, kobe toro kalbi, a variety of dipping sauces, and a good selection of sides, including kimchi, nori, rice, salad, daikon, roasted garlic and more.  Words cannot express how amazing the meat was.  It was the perfect way to end a long week of work and celebrate a special day.

IMG_4904 IMG_4910 IMG_4913Can I just say, look at that garlic!  How amazing does it look, because it’s probably the best garlic I’ve ever eaten.  Roasted nicely so it’s soft and flavorful,  and doesn’t have that sharp garlic bite.  Also, I don’t know how they did it, but all the cloves had a nice golden brown color.

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Let’s talk about this Kobe beef.  Take your pick, the rib eye, kalbi or toro kalbi, all three were AMAZING.  Don’t believe me?  These meats were melt in your mouth delicious.  They were so tender, that we could cut the kalbi with our wooden chopsticks.  Toward the end of our meal, my boyfriend said, “I feel so sad after each bite because it’s one less bite I get to eat.”  Yes, it was that good.

IMG_4935Oh dessert.  How can you end such an amazing meal without a nice dessert?  This is a green tea and vanilla ice cream cake drizzled with chocolate.  It’s served with a cup of hot green tea.  A nice way to end such a wonderful meal

Addition to the family

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I’d like to introduce everyone to Boots, the newest addition to our family.  My boyfriend and I have been thinking about getting a pet for awhile.  While I’m more of a dog person, he’s more of a cat person, and realistically with my job, I’m not home enough to take care of a dog.  We decided to go to the humane society last weekend just to see what our options were, and I fell in love with this cutie.  She is definitely a ball of energy that keeps us on our toes, but I love her playfulness; and I must say, it’s nice to come home to her sillyness after a long day of work.

Adventures in NYC

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{Times Square}

After a long and over extended busy season, my boyfriend and I finally got to take a much needed vacation to NYC.  Since it was our first trip ever, we decided to stay in Times Square, right in the middle of all the action.  I can definitely say that NYC is a whole new world compared to Hawai’i.  The middle of Times Square is ridiculous.  The lights shine so bright at night, it’s almost like it’s still daytime.  There are so many places to go and things to see that we obviously could not pack it all into our 5 day stay, but we did our best.

centralpark

{Central Park}

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{Halal Chicken and Rice}

Oh this chicken and rice.  What can I say about this chicken and rice other than it’s mindblowingly delicious.  Yes, I think I just made up my own word to help describe this.  When you walk around Times Square, I think there are Halal carts that sell this chicken and rice on almost every corner, but you need to find the one on 53rd and 6th.  There may even be another cart on that corner, but don’t be fooled, you’ll know this cart because it’s the only one with a line.  Don’t be skimpy with the white sauce because it’s what adds the mindblowlingly to the delicious.  Maybe add some BBQ sauce if you want too, but be warned the hot sauce is HOT.  They’re not lying.  So if you think you can handle super hot foods, I suggest you try a little first.  Don’t want to ruin your entire dish because you want to prove you can handle hot.

Eataly

{Eataly}

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{Rockefellar}

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{Radio City}

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{Subway Station}

katzdeli

{Katz’s Deli}

The infamous Katz’s deli.  This place is known for their pastrami sandwich, and let me tell you, it’s not overrated.  I’ve never had pastrami that’s so moist and almost melts in your mouth when you eat it.  They give you a small plate of pastrami to taste while you wait for them to make your sandwich.  The meat is so tender that it was falling apart when I tried to pick it up.  But now let’s talk about the lovely knoblewurst sandwich.  The pastrami gets so much hype that I feel bad for this ignored sandwich because it’s also sooo good.  It doesn’t get the attention that it too deserves.  I mean, how can you go wrong with a grilled garlic sausage people.  Yes, garlic sausage, nuff said.

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{Rice to Riches}

momofuku

{Momofuku Noodle Bar}

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{Hershey’s Store}

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{Cafe Habana}

Are you noticing a pretty dominant food theme yet?  Yes, we were determined to try as many food places as possible.  Unfortunately we didn’t make it to some of the landmarks that I wanted to see, like the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty or Ground Zero, but I can tell you that we ate good.  I’ll save those things for the next trip, along with the long list of food places that we didn’t have time to visit.

Russanddaughters

{Russ & Daughters}

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{Lombardi’s Pizza}

city

{Walking the streets}

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{Laduree}

Macarons, who doesn’t love macarons?! I mean how can you go wrong with two cookies, crispy on the outside and so soft and moist on the inside with a creamy filling.  I cannot begin to explain how determined I was to make it to this place.  I’ve heard so much about these macarons that I was literally power walking down 6 blocks at 6:55 to make it before they closed at 7:00.  Needless to say, picking what I wanted to buy was the fastest decision I’ve ever made in my life since I walked in at like 6:58.  Unexpectedly, I think pistacchio was my favorite, but all of them were delicious.  The worker recommended salted caramel, rasperry, pistacchio and rose so of course I got one of each.

Okay so after all the researching and planning that I did for this trip, I’ve come across a new monthly blog theme that I’m hoping to bring to life.  So starting in July, I’m going to try and do a monthly post on some of my foodie favorites.  Each month will have a new topic, like dessert, garlic or bacon, and I’ll be sharing some of my favorite foods/places.  Realistically, it will be skewed (just trying to be honest) since I’ve only traveled to a handful of places, but hopefully it will help some people plan their food destinations on any upcoming vacations.

Adventures in Kauai

With the holidays here, I decided that I should take a much needed vacation with the boyfriend.  While it was only a couple days long, it’s always nice to escape to an outer island away from all your responsibilities and just relax.  While Kauai is definitely a peaceful island, let’s be honest, there’s really not that much to do.  For all your outdoors people, there are beautiful beaches, lots of nice hikes and some good tours that you can do.  Personally, next time I want to do the Zodiac tour along the Na Pali coast, as well as these inner tubing tours that take you down an actual lazy river.  However, if you’re more of an in doors person (i.e. shopping, bar hopping, etc) it might not be your cup of tea.  We decided that we would just take it easy and really not to much of anything.  I just wanted a break from everything, well mainly work, and the opportunity to just do nothing.  It was wonderful to get away from schedules, meetings and deadlines and to be able to do everything on our own time, no rush to get anywhere. Here are some of the highlights from our trip.

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{Puka Dog}
“Puka” in a local terms (pidgin) means “hole,” and “Puka dog is exactly what this is; a hot dog shoved through a bun with a puka, rather than your typically bun. I got the polish sausage with spicy garlic lemon secret sauce, mango relish and lilikoi mustard. I’m not gonna lie, I’m not used to all that sweetness in my hot dog so I think by the end of the dog I was puka dog-ed out. The first half was awesome, but then I started to get a little overwhelmed by the sweetness, so the second half was not as good. Either way, still something unique and worth the experience.

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{Fresh Squeezed Lemonade”
You can’t go wrong with fresh lemonade when it’s sunny and muggy outside. This definitely hit the spot.

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{Drive from the airport to the hotel}
I’m not sure what kind of trees these were, but driving through them was like driving through a tree tunnel. Pretty cool, I know.

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{Wailua Falls}
First time I’ve been to a waterfall that you can drive to and it’s right there, no hike necessary. Not to mention, this was probably one of the nicest waterfalls I’ve seen in Hawai’i up close so far. Per Yelp, it sounds like there’s a way to actually hike to the bottom and walk behind the falls. This time I wasn’t properly dressed to attempt this, but next time I go I plan to be.

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{Lychee Sangria at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill}
This is probably one of the best sangria’s I’ve ever had. Sooo good.

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{Rock Shrimp and Duck Confit Tacos at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill}
Favorite dish of the night. The taco shell was like a crispy won ton and the meat was moist and wonderfully seasoned. On top of the tacos I think was a mango relish, which added a nice freshness to the dish.

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{Tempura Rock Shrimp at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill}
Who doesn’t love shrimp tempura? The presentation of the dish was pretty awesome. Below the plate was dry ice to keep the rice cold.  As the dish is brought out, all the smoke from the ice flows out through the holes in the plate, adding a nice effect. The dish had a good dimension of flavors and textures, even temperatures (okay the cold rice against the hot shrimp might have been a little weird to me). If you eat the ginger between bites to cleanse your palette, it also brings our the shrimp flavor in your next bite.

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{Fish Tacos on the way to Waimea Canyon}
I got the mahi mahi tacos, which were delicious. The fish is nicely grilled and the slaw accents the tacos nicely. Plus I just love fish tacos.

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{First stop on the way up to Waimea Canyon}
There’s something just relaxing about standing at a view like this with a gentle breeze and the sun in the sky.

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{Waimea Canyon}
The view of this canyon is beautiful and as you drive up to the top there are numerous scenic stops to take pictures. A quick tip, this canyon has tons of hikes that you can do. If you’re interested, I recommend starting your day early. The hikes range from as short as 0.2 miles to I think 5 or 7 miles. When we were almost to the top there was a gift shop/museum stop that showed all the different hike routes. There were so many trails I think you could spend over a week hiking everything.

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{Rooster}
Kauai is filled with chickens and roosters. Believe it or not, we saw a chicken crossing the road . . . in a side walk.

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{Ni’ihau Facts}
Did you know that Ni’ihau is a privately owned island and the locals speak Hawaiian as their first language?

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{Bird in the Grass}
I think this was a plover bird. It looked so peaceful just sitting there by itself and enjoying the sun.

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{Wai’ale’ale}
Apparently Waimea Canyon has got one of the wettest spots on earth. I did see quite a few people coming back from the hike with mud covered legs and shoes.

Adventures in the Bay: Incanto Leg of Beast

This may be a little late, but I figure, better late than never right?  So a couple months back I went to the bay area for training, yeah remember this post?  Anyway, I decided to extent my stay a little over the weekends so I could catch up with some friends, and we decided to try Incanto.  I have been meaning to go to this place for years, basically ever since I saw it on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on Food Network.  What held me back?  You need 6-8 people in order to order this meal, not to mention you must order it in advance.  So yes, there is definitely some planning involved (thanks Grace).  Now I know what you’re wondering, what is the “Leg of Beast?”  It’s a braised beef shank that is cooked over several hours until it is, well basically, as tender as meat can get.  For $55 a person you get a 3 course meal, served family style.

Our first course included a salad, an antipasto platter and a variety of breads and bread sticks, served with what I think was an olive spread.  Now I’m not the biggest fan of olives, so the spread was just meh to me.  However, I am a sucker for foccaccia, and to be honest, I probably could’ve eaten half the loaf myself.

What I love about this salad is that it feels light, perfectly dressed and complimented wonderfully with the apples and walnuts.  I don’t know about you, but I love fruits in my salad.  The perfect amount adds a nice sweet touch to balance out any salad.  Plus, I love the extra crispiness.

I don’t know what to say about this antipasto platter other than, roasted garlic!  That’s right, two whole bulbs of soft roasted garlic that spread almost like butter on your bread.  The meat was okay, but I think it’s because I’m not the biggest fan of antipasto platters.  I think out of all of them the salami or prosciutto was my favorite.

Now let’s get to what you’ve been waiting for, the meat.  You see that picture below, believe it or not, but the waiter picked it up by the bone and all the meat just fell off.  Maybe I missed him using the tongs because I was so amazed by the large piece of meat and side of bone marrow, but I swear that’s what I saw.  The meat itself is tender, but I’ll be honest it could use a little more flavor.  They serve it with a side of sauce/gravy, and I definitely recommend using it.

These beans, what can I say about these beans?  Honestly, I usually don’t really like beans, but these beans were sooooo creamy.  Who knew cannellini beans could taste so good?  I didn’t.

As I ate these turnips my mouth just felt confused.  I kept looking at them, thinking they were brussel sprouts and then I would start chewing and I’d be like turnips!  The turnips themselves were nicely cooked and still had some bite to them.  The flavor of the turnip itself is generally stronger than many vegetables, so I think the turnip flavor couple with the mustard grains almost overpowered the pesto.  But I still really enjoyed the dish.

The meal comes to a close with a choice between two desserts.  Since there were eight of us, we all paired up and ordered one of each so we got to try both.  Between the two, the almond cake was my favorite.  It was nice and moist and had wonderful flavor.  I also thought that the sorbet complimented it well.  The mousse was very chocolate-y.  I don’t think I could’ve eaten the whole thing myself, but it was nice for a taste.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of the orange marmellata that was inside of the mouse, I almost felt like I was eating small bits of candied orange skin.  However, the chocolate balls that it was topped with were delicious.

Final verdict you ask?  Overall I enjoyed the experience.  I don’t think it’s something that I would do a lot going forward because I felt like it was more about the experience and the atmosphere than the food.  Am I saying the food was junk?  By all means no.  The food was good, innovative and unique.  I just wouldn’t say it was the best thing I ever ate.  The experience, however, and watching the biggest piece of meat I’ve ever seen just fall a part in front of my eyes was pretty awesome.