Travel

Macarons: Laduree, Paulette, Bottega Louie, Payard, Bouchon

I’ve been a fan of macarons before the big hype even started.  Delicate, mildly sweet cakes/cookies that originated in France back in the 1800’s.  I first had them at Laduree at Champs Elysee in Paris…I fell in love! 

Laduree on Champs Elysee and Rue Lincoln in Paris, France. http://www.laduree.fr/en/maisons/monde-details

18 macaron flavors at Laduree in Paris

macarons, pastries and desserts at Laduree in Paris

At 1.50-1.70 euros a piece plus airfare to Paris, it can turn out to be an expensive food craving.  Before Laduree in New York opened in August 2011, my task was to find macarons comparable to Laduree in the Las Vegas/ Los Angeles area.  Here are some of my finds:

Paulette in Beverly Hills, California. They're now called 'lette. They have flavors such as passion fruit, lychee, earl grey, coconut and the usual flavors (vanilla, coffee, chocolate, pistachio, rose, raspberry). http://www.lettemacarons.com/macarons.html

Bottega Louie in Los Angeles, California. Probably the closest thing to Laduree in packaging and shape/size of their macarons.

Chocolates and macarons from Bottega Louie. They have flavors such as matcha (green tea) and grand cru (chocolate ganache) which are both good and the usual flavors. http://bottegalouie.com/menus/BOTTEGA_LOUIE_DESSERT.pdf

Payard in Caesar's Palace - Las Vegas, Nevada. Their macarons are shipped from elsewhere so don't expect freshly-made macarons

Bouchon Bakery inside the Venetian - Las Vegas, Nevada. They have huge macarons. http://www.bouchonbakery.com/las-vegas

Dalloyau - Paris, Tokyo, Dubai, Doha and Seoul.

Sakura and chocolate macarons from Starbucks in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

 For some reason, I don’t have pictures of La Provence (Los Angeles) macarons.  That gives me a good excuse to make a trip to L.A. to get some more and take pictures!  Even when the fad dies, I’d still be eating macarons.  And although macarons from these places are quite good, they’re still no LADUREE.  Sure, vanilla, chocolate and coffee macarons are good in all places I’ve tried.  But my test for good macarons is based on pistachio macarons – nobody can beat Laduree’s pistache!

Pistache/pistachio macaron from Laduree cannot be beat nor copied!

Laduree in Ginza Mitsukoshi - Tokyo, Japan

Valentine's Day edition box and macarons (pamplemousse/grapefuit with vanilla)...I'm not a fan of this flavor as it's very bitter but I still love Laduree

14 macaron flavors in Tokyo at 263 yen a piece

Laduree tote bags

Laduree handkerchiefs and scarves

My late-night dessert when I was in Tokyo: Laduree's Opera (raspberry and chocolate ganache with goldleaf on top).

I’ll be visiting New York soon.  I strategically picked a hotel that’s within walking distance from Laduree!  For now, I’ll be waiting on my cherry blossom macarons from Laduree…

Categories: Cafes/ Restaurants, Food, Japan, Laduree, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Macarons, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Food and Travel

So I was told I should start blogging about places I’ve been to and yummy treats I’ve eaten.  I would start by only backtracking travels from 2005 – any earlier than that would mean searching far and wide for old photos and memories. 

I love traveling because I get to experience and learn new things…and of course, the food!  Seeing travel pictures of my mom when she was much younger plus, Janet Jackson’s “Runaway” video inspired me to pack my suitcase and just go wherever!  The excitement each part of it brings – from planning, booking hotels and flights, reaching your destination and getting lost in the beauty that surrounds you – cannot be explained.  You savor the moment and let everything sink in.  Then you close your eyes (but not for too long) and you’re reminded “$#!t, it’s good to be alive!”  Speaking of not closing your eyes too long, I’ve realized that the only time I would ever drink coffee is when I’m traveling or recovering from my jet lag.  Sleeping and traveling don’t really go well together.  You’re in a different place, explore!  If you want to sleep, stay home.

The basic goal of mine is to guide all other curious travelers or soon-to-be-travelers as to important things to know about places that I’ve been: where to go, what to eat, how to get there (just don’t expect turn-by-turn directions), etc.  I’ll post reviews and my personal opinions about restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions and all that good stuff.  So, I hope you keep reading and looking at pictures on here – just don’t steal anything!  🙂

Categories: Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ghibli Museum – Mitaka

View from the rooftop. Inokashira Park behind Ghibli Museum

If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli/ Hayao Miyazaki movies, you have to visit Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan.  Take the train going to Mitaka on the JR Chuo line.  I stayed in Ginza and took an hour to get there.  When you get to Mitaka, go to the South exit and follow the signs outside the train station, go downstairs, make a right to get to the Mitaka Community Bus Station. 

Follow the signs that say "South Exit" or "Ghibli Museum" and it will lead you outside the Mitaka station. Go down the stairs and make a right to get to the Totoro bus stop where you take a 10-15minute Cat bus ride to the museum

You’ll see a Totoro bus stop sign.  You can either buy bus tickets near the bus stop for 300yen roundtrip or use a PASMO/Suica card.  The Neko/Cat bus operates in 10-20-minute intervals from 7:20am to 8pm.  The museum is open from 10am to 6pm and is closed on most Tuesdays.  Purchase your museum vouchers in advance as they only allow a certain number of people each day.  You can purchase Ghibli museum tickets from JTB (http://www.jtbusa.com/en/other/o-ghibli.asp) for about $19 (ticket price + service charge).  Or you can buy tickets at a Loppi machine in Lawson, convenience store in Japan.  For instructions on how to use the Loppi machine, go to  http://www.lawson.co.jp/ghibli/museum/ticket/english.html. The ticket costs 1000yen/adult.

Just follow the signs

When you find the Cat bus stop, you're at the right place. Just wait for the yellow Cat bus...you won't miss it!

You can use a PASMO/Suica card or a bus ticket to get on the Neko/Cat bus. It operates from 7am to 8pm in 10-20minute intervals.

Inside the Neko bus

It’s a small place but you could be there for hours.  Everything in that place is detailed and you’ll be surprised as to what you might see if you take your time to look around.

Ghibli Museum gate

We got there at 9am and the museum doesn't open 'til 10am so I just took pictures

Group pic at Totoro's Reception

Totoro's everywhere!

This is on the side of Totoro's Reception

The entrance where you can exchange your voucher for tickets

 The museum has two souvenir shops: Ghibli Museum Shop and Mamma Aiuto. Ghibli Museum Shop has books, posters and printed materials.  Mamma Aiuto has everything – hoodies, shirts, washcloths, tableware, DVD’s, CD’s, figurines, toys, keychains, magnets, framed movie cells, cookies, candies and other souvenirs.  They didn’t have a lot of Ponyo souvenirs but they have a lot of Totoro stuff.

Mamma Aiuto souvenir shop

Souvenirs and Ghibli goodies!!!

All that walking and shopping is bound to make you hungry.  The Straw Hat Cafe is open from 11am to 6:30pm.  They have sandwich, rice dish, soup, desserts from 420-1200yen served on Ghibli plates, bowls and cups.  The cafe gets packed from noon onwards and the wait could be about an hour or so.  If you’re really hungry and don’t want to wait, to the left of the cafe is a small window where you can get hotdogs and ice cream.

Straw Hat Cafe entrance

If you can't wait an hour to eat at Straw Hat Cafe, there's a hotdog and ice cream shop right next to the cafe.

Straw Hat Cafe

Straw Hat Cafe menu

My lunch: Free-range pork over rice and beans + milk tea

Coffee with the Straw Hat logo

straw hat cafe chocolate parfait

I went home with bags and bags of souvenirs and treats.  Books, coffee mug, toys, etc.

Categories: Cafes/ Restaurants, Food, Ghibli, Japan, Museum, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gucci Cafe (Ginza)

First thing on my Tokyo itinerary: Valentine’s Day dinner at Gucci Cafe.  Located on the 4th floor of the Gucci store in Ginza (there are 2 stores so make sure you go to 4-4-10 Ginza Chuo-ku, Tokyo) near the Wako building/ Ginza Mitsukoshi) and across the street from Dior and Armani.  If you go there around lunch time, they have a prix fixe menu.  Items on their menu include: vegetable salad, vegetable soup, prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Piadina, Sformata di Verdure, risotto, roasted organic vegetables, lasagna, roasted chicken, manzo brasato al Vino Ross (from 1300-1900yen).  It wasn’t busy at all when we were there.  Despite the fact that our server had B.O., the ambience was nice and you have a nice view of Dior and Armani stores.  You get all that plus pretty good food for a very reasonable price. (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars). 

Gucci Cafe's exterior

4th floor please!

Gucci Cafe's interior

Menu in Guccissima leather

My focaccia, prosciutto and piadina, and mint tea

that's about $27/person...not bad at all!

As a chocoholic, I had to buy their Guccissima chocolates (370yen a piece).

Guccissima chocolates

"weatherproof" Gucci shopping bag of chocolates

Categories: Cafes/ Restaurants, Chocolate, Food, Gucci Cafe, Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tokyo – Feb 2012

Tip# 1: traveling does not mean you have to go for broke!   Avoid the crowd because it’s always cheaper when nobody wants to go where you want to go.

After spending 5 days in the Philippines for a friend’s beach wedding and not sleeping since I left Vegas, I flew to Tokyo, Japan on Valentine’s day.  I told myself I’d go to Japan after I graduate but due to the earthquake in March of last year, plane tickets and hotels were significantly cheaper so, I had to go. 

I remember when I first went there as a teenager back in 1997.  I didn’t really have resources/guides or a digital camera to capture and enjoy my short time in Japan.  I was not friends with Google yet.  I didn’t know a lick of Japanese.  In short, I was unprepared.  All I had back then was plain curiosity and knowing the currency conversion from USD to JPY (which was 1USD = 100JPY at the time). 

Tip# 2: learn a few phrases, the culture and custom.

I bought a Tokyo guide in 2006 and a Japanese phrasebook in August 2011.  I packed my bags in November 2011, had my itinerary and my yen ready.  February 14, 2012 – I came back with a vengeance!  However, I had forgotten all the Japanese phrases I’ve learned except for one: korewa, ikura desuka? (“how much is that?”) – I used that phrase a lot and I used it well.  Even in the capital city, Tokyo, most do not speak English.  Japanese people are generally nice especially if you show that you try to speak Japanese.  I said gochisosama (“thank you for the food”) to my sushi chef in Tsukiji and he walked around the counter just to find something to say to me and thank me.

Tip# 3: it is okay to push at subway stations/inside the subway.

For non-Japanese passport holders, you can purchase the Suica card which is a refillable pre-paid card you can use for trains, buses and shopping at convenience stores/ duty free shops.  If you’re arriving at Narita International Airport, purchase the Suica/N’EX pass if you’re only traveling around Tokyo(shinkansen/bullet train requires a JR East pass). The busiest train stations in Japan are Tokyo Central station and Shibuya.  Don’t be offended if somebody pushes you, push back and push harder!  During rush hour, trains get too crowded  (think sardines in a can).  There’s nowhere to sit, you can swap faces with the person next to you and you don’t even have to hold onto anything to keep your balance.  Evenif that’s the case, you can be confident that your stuff won’t be stolen as there aren’t any pickpockets anywhere in Tokyo.

JR East Suica/N'EX (Suica card is a refillable pre-paid card you can use to ride trains, buses and for shopping. You simply slide/wave it on the card reader at your starting point then slide/wave again at your destination where the fare gets deducted from your card. N'EX (Narita Express) is used for the shinkansen from Narita airport to certain parts of Tokyo/ Tokyo Central station. You have to reserve seats for a specific date and time).

Categories: Japan, Travel | Leave a comment

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