Where to eat, drink & party in Colombia: Andres Carne de Res

Last New Year’s I visited Colombia with my favorite travel buddies.  While the region wasn’t one of my favorite travel destinations, if you find yourself in Bogota, you need to plan an evening at Andres.  There are a slew of locations now, but if you want the true experience with the locals you go to the original spot and take the 45 minute drive out to Chia.

One of my friends was there before so for the New Yorkers, the best way she could describe it was a glorified, more intense version of Sammy’s Roumanian.  She couldn’t explain it much more than that and once we got there, I got it.  How can you explain a place where there are grown men dressed in dog costumes who come by to dance with you and then throw confetti all over the place, adorn you with Burger King style crowns and sashes and colorful tiki drinks in ridiculously decorated mugs.  It was an absolute circus.

The restaurant can seat up to 2,000 people, which isn’t immediately clear walking in because there are so many different dining sections, mazes and little hideaways but then you quickly freak out once you realize the enormity of it all.  I am immediately hit in the face with so many lights, colors, crazy quirky knick-knacks hanging from the ceiling and rooms full of laughter and loud music.  The atmosphere was something like I’ve never experienced before.  Within a half hour of being seated you feel like you are at a massive dinner and dance party celebration with hundreds of friends you are just meeting for the first time.  

Arrive early to claim the best spot in the restaurant, which is clearly by the dance floor. While all of the food is tasty, the menu is obnoxiously long and the portions are huge so order in waves.  The steak is the best (duh).

While I thought the decor and knick knacks were hilariously over-the-top, it was nice to know everything in there was hand-made in Bogota, and most items were available for purchase in the adjacent shop.

I didn’t take many photos as I was busy dancing but again, you really need to experience it for yourself.  There’s no other way.

Andre Carne de Res

Cl. 3 #11A – 56, Chía, Cundinamarca, Colombia

http://www.andrescarnederes.com/

 

36 hours in Singapore

Bonjour mes amis.  So sad it’s almost been a year since my last post.  While I have been extremely busy with work, as I sifted through hundreds of photos struggling to remember a wine I tried recently in Santa Barbara, I reminded myself why I started this blog – to catalog some of my favorite recipes, restaurants and travel experiences for myself, friends and family (but mostly for myself because I have the worst memory).

The best way to motivate me back into the groove is to write about my favorite region of the world (and where I call my second home), Southeast Asia.

I was heading to Bangkok for a weeklong work trip so a colleague and I decided we would stop in Singapore on our way home.  We had 36 hours but no reason not to feel confident after watching The Layover.

The good news is Bourdain wasn’t unrealistic in setting expectations for a 24 hour trip – Singapore is very walkable and easy to see everything in that timeframe.  The key is to simply walk or drive through the city as much as you can so you can at least get a glimpse of major landmarks, but identify in advance where you want to spend most of your time.  If you know me, you know it’s generally around food, and Singapore just happens to be known for it.  Below I’ve included my itinerary with the highlights and big to-dos to check off your list!

Day 1

3pm:  Land at SIN and make our way to the beautiful Holiday Inn Atrium – a great location near the Singapore River and the heart of the city.  Disclosure: my cousin is the GM there.

5:30pm:  Greet my dear cousin Charles and immediately head to the SkyPark bar atop the Marina Bay Sands for an aperatif and catch the sunset.  Yes, it’s a super touristy stop but you really won’t find a nicer 360 view of the city.

7:30pm:  Take a quick ride over to Chinatown.  The streets are bustling with benches and chairs filled with people, surrounding sizzling street food vendors churning out noodles, other mom and pop restaurants lining the alleyway and Chinese lanterns illuminating from above. Charles takes us in to the Noodle Man.  This guy hand-pulls everything right in front of you and outside of the delicious noodles, the xioalongbao (soup dumplings) are one of the best ones I’ve had to-date. The paper-thin skin makes consumption on its own a skill set, and it certainly becomes devastating when you lose any of the delicious meaty soup broth.  I’m not a big beer drinker, but you drink beer in SE Asia – they brew some of the best stuff and it’s a perfect complement to combat the spice and the heat (of the dish and physically outside.. it’s really hot!)  Tiger Beer is one of my faves, and if you are traveling the region I also highly recommend Beerlao (Laos), San Miguel (Philippines) and Bia Saigon (South Vietnam).

11pm:  Nightcap at Smoke & Mirrors, another cool rooftop space tucked away inside a gallery with, once again, another beautiful view of the city.  From this spot we receive a nice evening view of the Marina Bay Sands (where we had our drink earlier) and the Esplanade.  Naturally, I am drinking a negroni and taking it all in.

 

Day 2

9am:  Wake up and grab croissants and sandwiches down the street from the Atrium.  I don’t remember the name but Charles notes it’s the best bread he can find in the city.

11am:  While I am not hugely into gardens, if I were going to move forward with one non food or beverage related activity, I knew a visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens would be it. For a moment the air feels reminiscent of Central Park with runners, dog walkers, families lounging and playing in the grass.  The lush greenery, stunning pops of bright floral colors with scenic gazebos and serene sounds of nearby waterfalls and river streams makes these hundreds of acres of land feel truly unique.  Honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the National Orchid Gardens houses the largest orchid collection of 1,200 species and 2,000 hybrids.

1pm:  The Garden is located at the end of Singapore’s main shopping belt on Orchard Road so it’s easy to hit these two sights back-to-back.  We don’t have a desire to go into any of the shops, but it’s nice to walk down the street for a bit.  As a marketer, it’s always fascinating for me to observe retail and CPG packaging and advertising across the globe.  When I’m traveling solo, I could literally spend hours inside a grocery store.

2pm:  We are starving, and I wasn’t going to leave without hitting up a good hawker stand. We drive to Old Airport Road Hawker Centre.   We walk in and I am blissfully overjoyed and overwhelmed at the same time.  THERE ARE SO MANY CHOICES!  I take a deep breath and think of the simple wise words of Anthony Bourdain – just step into the line that’s the longest and you know you’ll have a great meal.  There are at least 3 rows of food stands so we grab a beer and walk around to take a look.  It’s balmy as hell.  I need a refreshment and remember my friend recommended sugar cane juice.  I wish I still had my Snapchat saved of how they were hand making and pressing the juice fresh in front of you, but believe me when I say you can’t go wrong with sampling this signature drink.  After making a full loop and ending up where I started, I noticed this one line in front of the noodle stand grow significantly in the last 10 minutes so I hop on board.  I’m starving and sweating, but my friends keep passing me beers since they finished their meal.  I was determined to wait in line. 25 minutes later I order both the beef and prawn noodle soup.  Worth it.

4pm:  If I didn’t mention it enough, it was disgustingly hot, but Belinda and I wanted to continue to walk around and explore.  We decide to get dropped off in front of Little India.  I didn’t like it too much there and don’t really see a need to go back.  There were a lot of old electronics stalls and jeans galore, so if you are in the market for either of those things in Singapore maybe that’s the only time you should be in Little India.  Belinda and I powered through and stopped at the nearest bar for a Tiger or two.

6pm:  We’re a little tipsy, tired and super sweaty, but still walking.  Our goal at this point is to find a good foot massage parlor because our feet are angry.  I had trouble finding one open near us so we walk all the way past the river back to the hotel to ask for a recommendation, and if I can tell you the best part of the trip it was this.. GET A MASSAGE INSIDE THE HOLIDAY INN ATRIUM.  There’s a massage parlor on the second floor attached to the hotel.  Go there, it was glorious.

8pm:  We enjoy a lovely meal at home with my cousin, drink a good bottle of wine and Skype with friends and family.  It was a perfect ending to a short, yet successful 36 hours in Singapore.

 

Where to eat in Paris: Les Papilles

Les Papilles tops my list as one of the best restaurants I’ve visited in Paris.  This cozy, casual bistro in the Latin Quarter brilliantly couples as a wine shop – pick a bottle off the shelf and pay a €7 corkage fee to drink it with your meal.

It’s ill advised to show up without a reservation, but I came in right at 11am for lunch and was traveling solo.  Chef & owner Bertrand Bluy almost didn’t allow me to step in without a reservation but then begrudgingly let me saddle up at the bar.  Bertrand’s appearance and demeanor wasn’t quite what I expected as the former pastry chef at Michelin three-star restaurant, Taillevent.   He towered over me with a bright, shiny shaved head and bursted out orders across the room that made me recoil a bit in my bar stool.

Ordering at Les Papilles is no fuss – the recommendation is to go with the four course fixed menu that includes a soup, main dish served family-style out of a copper pot, a plate of cheese and dessert.  The plates change daily based on the season’s freshest ingredients.  The portions are generous and the price tag affordable at approximately $46 US.

You could honestly enjoy an entire meal just from the luscious velouté, a velvety soup served from a large tureen and poured over a bowl of fresh herbs, spices, foie gras mousse and tiny homemade croutons.  But you won’t – you’ll drink heavily, stuff your fat face then waddle around Paris for 5 hours trying to digest.

Bon appétit!

30 Rue Gay-Lussac
Paris, Île-de-France 75005
1-43-25-20-79
www.lespapillesparis.fr

A Love Letter to Strasbourg

As I make my way through France in exploring my French roots in Cere and Southwest France, I had an opportunity to visit another family member in a completely different part of France – the Northeast capital of Alsace. Traveling with a local native is by far the best way to see and experience a city.  I didn’t need to plan a single thing, just enjoyed the scene and excellent company with my cousin/tour guide.

Strasbourg is most notable as the “Christmas Capital”: it holds the spot as the oldest and largest Christmas market in Europe. Unfortunately, I missed the markets as I visited Strasbourg in January, but I was still able to feel the city’s wintery warmth and witness the festive lighting that dons the beautiful 15th century houses, medieval churches and city buildings.  Aside from the food and wine, I was completely blown away by city’s architecture.

Strasbourg is definitely an overlooked tourist destination in France (at least for Americans), as everyone flocks to Paris, southeastern Provence region and Mediterranean French Riveria including the celeb-sighting, champagne-popping St. Tropez.

Well, I’m in love with Strasbourg, and here’s why…

What to do:

Cave Historique de Hospices:  This was the coolest, just because it combines history, culture, and my favorite – wine. My cousin’s fiancé works as a surgeon at the hospital and after we went to visit her during her break, we just hopped underground where you also happen to have the world’s oldest wine cellar. Created in 1395, it served as a place to store wine for the church’s holy communion, as well as for patients, since it was believed that wine lessened both pain and other side-effects of illness.  I agree with that statement to this day.

You can walk around to view the entire cellar, where at the end you’ll find an iron gate with a handful of relatively smaller barrels, but with a more ancient shape and architecture. One of these barrels contains wine from 1472. What does this 543-year-old vintage taste like today?  Winemakers at the cellar boast that it has retained it’s original vanilla and woody notes, and an alcohol content of 9.4%.   It has been served only three times over the course of its history, last tapped in 1944 for the general who led the army division in liberating Strasbourg from German occupation. Most regional winemakers are granted to age their wine in their esteemed kegs. Also available are private tastings and tours, and bottle browsing and purchases were available in the adjacent store.  I picked up a bottle of 2010 pinot gris but I have not tried it yet so tasting notes forthcoming.

Stroll through Petite France: The 15th century ginger-bread style houses and quaint cobble stone streets made me feel like I was frolicking through these magical alleyways straight out of a storybook. I later found out that Petite France, located on the Grand Île main island, was classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city centre.

Climb to the top of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral de Strasbourg: You’ll be amazed by the overlooking view from the top, but beware of all the hype around the astronomical clock. Yes, the intricate design, architecture and multi-layered visual construction is something to see, but all said and done, incredibly underwhelming and wouldn’t recommend standing around for the 12:30pm queue.

Where to eat:

Chez Popol:  The second you walk in the door of this tiny, 12-seated restaurant you are immediately embraced by a jovial, portly, wise-cracking man with a a mustache Brooklyn hipsters would die for – Monseuir Popol himself. The warm, inviting atmosphere is what really makes this place great, as if you are being entertained at a friend’s house. We dined for lunch where the salads were simply well dressed with fresh shaved cabbage and vegetables, a healthy portion of fresh swiss cheese and ham. Complemented with a bottle of wine, of course.

Restaurant L’Aigle (located right outside of Strasbourg):  Tarte flambée is the specialty food d’Alsace and easily enjoyable for any American: imagine a wood-oven baked thin crust pizza with little bits of bacon or ham, swiss cheese, onion and heavy cream. Mmmm.  Drink the Picon bier.  For those not familiar, Picon is a bitter made from fresh oranges and is traditionally added to the beer in Alsace, which gave the beer a little spicy, earthy orange tint of flavor.

Les Haras Brasserie:  This former 18th century horse stable was renovated by Alain Duacsse’s design team and the menu hails from three-star Michelin chef Marc Haeberlin.  Whatever you do, don’t ever pass on the foie gras (served with a warm baguette and fruit chutney).

Grab a tasty treat:

Maison Alsacienne de Biscuiterie:  Apparently the lines wrap round the block during Christmas here as the bakery prepares the finest Alsatian gingerbread, macarons, raisin-stuffed kougelhopf and butter cookies flavored with nuts and spices.

Pains Westermann:  Christine Ferber, an internationally known master patissière nicknamed the “Jam Fairy” who has worked with culinary luminaries including Alain Ducasse, has more jam flavors than you can possible imagine.  She has concocted it all from the basic home-made strawberry to the crazy unique creations such as Black Cherry with Pinot Noir, Apricot and Spiced Apple, Rosehip and Vanilla, Rhubarb with Acacia Honey and Rosemary, and Banana, Orange, and Chocolate <<(WHAAAAT!) She even has a Christmas jam (confiture de Noël) which is a mingled mix of dried fruits, almonds, and walnuts with spices such as cardamom and star anise.

I picked up a jar of the specialty Mûroise, which is a loganberry (combination of bramble/blackberry & raspberry).  I wish I had grabbed a few more, until I did some digging and found you can order them online here (YOU’RE WELCOME): http://www.borneconfections.com/christineferberjams.aspx.

 

That’s it, now go out and plan your next French vacation in Strasbourg!

Where to eat in LA: Animal

I like to consider myself an adventurous eater.  I’m fortunate enough that I do not have any dietary restrictions or allergies that would refrain me from eating an ingredient or type of food.

Animal has been on my bucket list since opening its doors nearly six years ago, but I don’t travel to LA as frequently and it’s usually for work where dinner arrangements are generally made.  Well, last month I had a work trip with an open dinner so there was no questioning where I’d take my solo dining.

I propped up at the bar where I was greeted by extraordinarily friendly and hospitable staff. I asked the server what’s good.  “Pig ears hands down.”  That’s when I scrunched my nose, remembering I took the daring leap to ingest pig ears a few years ago at a restaurant in NYC (I can’t remember the name or else I’d share the info) and was deeply disturbed by the squishy texture and recall an unpleasant taste.  It may have been the preparation, but that’s when I decided I’d consider pig ears only as a treat for my dog. After declining and explaining my historical pig ear problem, he convinced me that this preparation is different, and GUARANTEED that I would like it. Ok, fine.  He was right, and no regrets.  The pig ear was crisp and fried in little shreds on top of a bed of julienned vegetables, sautéed in a spicy red chili lime sauce and served with a duck egg on top to break and mix in.  Maybe the key to any unsavory ingredient is to fry it because this certainly worked for me.  And that red chili lime sauce gave it a splendid kick.

His second recommendation: the hamachi tostada.  I actually think I preferred this dish over the pig ears.  Also enveloped in punchy Thai-style fish sauce vinaigrette, this was hands down the most beautiful, brightly colored dish I have seen and eaten in awhile, towered with powerfully flavored herbs, greens and peanuts.

I was severely full after both dishes, but I didn’t know when I’d come back and I had my eye on the bone marrow with chimichurri and caramelized onions. Note to readers:  eating a decadent, super fatty dish on an already full stomach is NOT ideal.  I’m happy I ordered it because it was delicious, but after two bites I needed to surrender and call it a night.

All-in-all, I am a huge fan. The three dishes were reasonably sized, well-presented and packed with big flavors.  Next up – Son of a Gun! Check out the menu here and make your next reservation:  http://animalrestaurant.com

Where to eat in NYC: Almanac

Classically French-trained chef Galen Zamarra opened up Almanac last month in replacement of mas (la grillade) in the heart of the West Village.  It was a favorite of mine but, unfortunately, some neighbors weren’t too fond of the wood-fire grills and smoke.  When I heard about the hyper-seasonal concept of Almanac I wasn’t a bit surprised.  Chef Zamarra has an incredible knowledge, understanding and passion to honor the freshest ingredients of the season and bring them to life on a plate.  And it’s not just the farm-to-table approach that every other restaurant advertises, but you TRULY see and taste it in his dishes, as he narrows it down to what part of the season and what phase of the moon we’re in.  The preparations even change as the food evolves throughout its season. I’ve been down to the kitchen and have witnessed first hand just how much love, care (and oh my, the steps!) that go into plating a single dish.  AH-mazing!

Aside from the delectable fare and service, I must say I prefer the dining setting and decor in Almanac.  The rustic wood, dark red colors and dimmer lighting brings a more inviting, relaxing vibe.

Choose a la carte, or a three-, five-, or seven-course tasting menu.  I won’t share my favorite dish because everything is divine and the menu will change next week. 🙂

Go ahead and make a reservation, and check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Bon appétit!

Sunday Dinner Series: Ready for soup season

It’s not quite soup season yet.  Yesterday in New York it was a humid 90 degree day.  But right about now is when I start getting sick of eating salads every day for lunch.  My mom makes a pot of soup almost every Sunday in the winter and sends me her recipes, but I stumbled upon this Black Bean-Tomato Soup with Cilantro-Lime Cream recipe from Cooking Light and was eager to test it out.

Let me tell you the reasons I’m a fan:

  1. It’s super easy to make
  2. Has a lot of staple ingredients that wouldn’t require you running around to specialty stores (including some of my favorite spices and herb – yes, pile on the cilantro! Oh, and BACON)
  3. It’s semi-healthy, which may seem counterintuitive after my bacon comment, but I swear it’s reasonable!
  4. I have leftovers for lunch this week

The tomatoes provided a nice balance with the beans, and the chipotle chile powder and cumin gave the soup a nice kick.  Just because I like it hot, next time I would add a jalapeño as well.

Below is the recipe and steps which you can also find here.

Bon appétit!

Ingredients:

  • 2 center-cut bacon slices, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1 small)
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added organic diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Preparation:

  1. Cook bacon in a large saucepan over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, reserving 1 teaspoon drippings in pan; set bacon aside. Add onion and celery to pan; cook 5 minutes or until celery is tender. Stir in 3/4 teaspoon cumin, chile powder, and garlic; cook 1 minute. Stir in bacon, pepper, beans, tomatoes, and broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Place half of bean mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining bean mixture; process until smooth. Keep warm.
  2. Combine sour cream, remaining 1/4 teaspoon cumin, cilantro, rind, and juice in a small bowl. Dollop cream over soup.