All posts tagged: Travel

Restaurants to Try in Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon (Vietnam) for 2018

On my recent trip to Ho Chi Minh City (“HCMC” or “Saigon”), my local friends recommended a few of their favorite restaurants (a combination of classics that we highlighted in previous posts and current hot spots). I was able to try a few and loved their recommendations. As many of my friends and colleagues continue to ask me where to eat in Saigon for their upcoming trips, I decided to share this list. Phở Lệ Address: 303-305 Võ Văn Tần, Phường, District 5 / Tel: +84. 3834.4486 This is an oldie, but a goodie with all the locals. When I had a craving for a good bowl of southern phở, my god sister (a Saigon native) and I ventured to Phở Lệ in District 3 (the second location is in District 7). The restaurant is your quintessential phở restaurant with a short menu of the famous noodle soup with a variety of meat toppings. The broth is rich, sweet (from the herbs and fruits) and robust, which can only be achieved from hours of cooking …

2 Day Temple Stay in Koyasan, Japan – the Birthplace of Shingon Buddhism

In order to take a break from modern Osaka, I ventured to a secluded village up in the holiest mount an of Japan for a spiritual rejuvenation. Mount Koya (or Koyasan) is the birthplace of Esoteric Shingon Buddhism in Japan that was founded by Kobo Daishi* over 1,200 years ago. Today, the UNESCO-designated World Heritage site has 52 shukubo open to visitors. Shukubo are temples that historically offered overnight lodgings to pilgrims, with the majority of them welcoming tourists today. The shukubo experience includes sleeping on a tatami mat floor in a 1,000-year-old temple, eating a vegan feast cooked by the resident monks and participating in certain Buddhist rituals. A trip to Koyasan is an authentic spiritual trip that refreshes the soul. For my recent trip to Osaka, I carved out two days to make my way up the mountain. Normally, this trip would take 90 minutes on an express train from Namba station on the Nankai Koya Line. Unfortunately, two weeks before I arrived in Japan, a typhoon disabled the cable car service between …

Weekend Unexplored: Gluttonous Adventures in Houston, Texas

I had a chance to visit Houston over a long weekend and took the opportunity to check out the city’s vibrant dining scene. For this trip, I focused on a combination of stalwarts and new additions to Houston’s downtown and surrounding area. Which establishments lived up to its hype and which restaurants failed to summit? Saturday After checking into the Hilton Americas in downtown the previous night, my friends and I were ready to start with brunch at Backstreet Café. This is a popular establishment in Houston and of course, we had to check it out. The exterior reminded me of a fancy French country home with a gorgeous patio beckoning us to waste the morning there; however, we could not compete with Houston’s heat and humidity. We were wimpy New Yorkers so we opted for an indoor table overlooking the brick patio. The menu at Backstreet Café focused on American dining. We ordered a few dishes such as Tuna Poke, Housemade Fresh Burrata, Skirt Steak and Eggs, Lamb with Pesto and Gulf Coast Beignets. …

Review: Chef Yu’s Reinvention with Theodore Rex (Houston, TX)

On my recent trip to Houston, I discovered Theodore Rex, a 28-seat restaurant from Chef Yu situated in the same space as his acclaimed and now closed Oxtail. Chef Yu is a James Beard award winner and rose to culinary fame with his vegetable tasting menu. After losing passion for the tasting menu concept over the last 5 years, he decided to open a “new” restaurant with a shareable plate concept. Theodore Rex was so new that I had not heard of it until Chef Takata at Kata Robata recommended the restaurant for my last dinner in Houston. The restaurant opened on Friday, October 6. As expected, reservations were already booked out for October. I called the restaurant and was able to get a walk-in seat. The restaurant reserves four bar seats facing the kitchen and one table for walk-ins. Did Chef Yu’s reinvention live up to the hype? My Uber driver had trouble finding the restaurant in the sketchy looking warehouse district as it has been badly affected by the recent flooding. Once I …

Weekend Unexplored: Escape from Manhattan with Getaway (Catskills, New York)

Like many overworked and overstimulated New Yorkers, I was searching for a place to escape from the concrete jungle for a weekend. I stumbled onto Getaway, a glamping company, as I was researching tiny homes for the blog. Getaway was started by graduate students, John Staff and Pete Davis, in conjunction with Harvard Innovation Lab in 2015 with a mission to help millennials disconnect from city life. The company rents tiny stylish mobile homes, approximately 160 to 200 sqf., that are equipped with a comfortable queen bed, two-burner kitchen stove, mini-fridge, full size sink, hot running shower and an electric toilet for approximate $129-$149 a night. There are 12 tiny houses spread across a 20-acre site nestled in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Renters are notified of the location of their cabin within a week and the cabin name and door code within 24 hours of their arrival. This concept prevents renters from stressing out about the trip. The cabins are located within a two-hour drive from Boston or New York. So, how …

Review: The new “affordable” omakase at Sushi Ishikawa (NYC)

The Upper east side of Manhattan is going through a culinary resurgence with millennials moving into the neighborhood and the opening of the Q subway extension that now connects the area to the rest of Manhattan. Part of this change is the opening of Sushi Ishikawa, a 23-seat restaurant helmed by executive chef, Don Pham.  Chef Pham’s sushi pedigree includes positions as the former executive sushi chef at O Ya, executive chef at Geisha, sushi chef at Morimoto and head chef at Kitaro. Sushi Ishikawa offers two omakase menu priced at $85 for 12 courses and $125 for 15 courses. The restaurant has a lot of buzz as the hot new “affordable” omakase in Manhattan. Did the restaurant live up to the hype? I made a reservation for two through Resy, their online reservation system. A credit card was required to confirm the booking as the restaurant has a very strict cancellation policy. You have until two days prior to the reservation to cancel without incurring a $85 per person fee. Upon entering a simply …

Review: Geranium (3 Michelin Stars) in Copenhagen, Denmark

As soon as I booked my flight to Copenhagen, I was ready to splurge on a gastronomic experience. At the top of my list was Noma and, unfortunately, it was closed during my visit. A good friend recommended Geranium, the only three Michelin star restaurant in Denmark. It was one of the best meals that she had eaten and that was good enough for me. I managed to book a reservation for our group of six for lunch and eagerly anticipated the feast. The cuisine at Geranium is modern Nordic with international influences. Lunch and dinner set menu at Geranium costs 2,000 DKK per person (approximately $320) and requires a deposit of 750 DKK per person (approximately $120). I also selected the juice pairing, which was something I had not seen before. With tip and tax, the meal came out to approximately $400 per person. It was a very expensive meal…but the inventiveness of the cuisine and the experience were worth every penny. Upon entering Geranium, the interiors projected a cool Nordic vibe with its …

5 Days in Cuba: Havana and Varadero

As soon as relations between Cuba and America were “normalized” and direct flights to Havana became available, I booked my ticket to this isolated island nation. I have always been fascinated by this isolated nation. The recent flood of Instagram photos of Havana only increased my desire to visit Cuba even more. Planning this trip was a bit difficult since there is limited information for Americans and requires a lot of research. My original plan was to explore Havana (Wednesday, Thursday and Monday afternoon), Viñales (Friday) and Varadero (Saturday through Monday morning). One thing I did not account for was the heat and humidity at the end of May, which according to Cubans is temperate for spring. The heat takes a toll on your body and I ended up not doing as much as I had planned, so I saved Viñales for another time. This is my 5 days in Havana and Varadero. Note: With President Trump’s reversal of the Obama Cuban policies, travel to Cuba may become restricted again. I recently searched for JetBlue …

Cuba Travel Basics for First Time Visitors

With the recent normalization of Cuban and American relations, Cuba has become a hot destination for Americans. There is limited information for first time visitors to Cuba easily available in one place. This is a list of basics that one should know when traveling to Cuba for the first time from the US. As of the date of this post, President Trump has reversed President Obama’s normalization policy. However, the effect on tourism remains to be seen in the coming months. Maps Google Maps does not allow you to download an offline version for Cuba. However, there is a free app called “Maps.Me” that has detailed offline street maps. Since your location tracker does not need cellular data or Wi-Fi to work, you can use the offline map to gauge where you are at all times. The offline map also has all the popular restaurants pre-loaded and can be helpful when the taxi driver does not know certain addresses or tries to scam you. Direct Flight and Visa *This may change due to the new …

Lounge Review: No. 1 Lounge in Gatwick South Terminal

On our way back to NY from Copenhagen, we had a stopover at Gatwick South Terminal for 5 hours. The South Terminal is small and dated and also serves as a hub for British Airways at Gatwick Airport. The terminal has two levels with the usual shops and fast food restaurants…nothing particularly outstanding. There is a small Harrods’s gift shop at the terminal for last minute British gifts. The terminal itself is overcrowded. When I was there in March, it was hard to find a seat anywhere. Luckily for me, I had access to the No. 1 Lounge at the terminal. Besides the No. 1 Lounge, there is only a British Airways Lounge, thus making both venues busy like the terminal. The No 1 Lounge’s entrance is on the second floor and located between Dixons and JD Sports. I walked through a nondescript entrance that resembled a service entrance to another set of double doors where I was greeted with a representative who was tougher than a NYC bouncer. Apparently the lounge was full around …