Dining in Belize: Casa Picasso Offers Caye Coffee Experience

Spending most of my time in Belize doesn’t afford me as many opportunities to attend the fancy wine pairing dinners I was so fond of in Taiwan; however, every once in a while something interesting pops up that I just can’t resist.

Casa Picasso in San Pedro, Belize, has become one of my favorite restaurants for a nice night out. Each week, the creative culinary minds come up with a new theme for “Tasting Thursday,” a multi-course Chef’s Tasting Menu dinner, usually available with a paired wine flight.

This month they came up with a tasting menu that instantly caught my eye — coffee. We have a local coffee roasting company here on the island, Caye Coffee Roasting Co., that is quickly climbing the ranks as one of my top coffees from around the world.

Caye Coffee Roasting Co. in San Pedro, Belize http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/belize-casa-picasso-caye-coffee/ #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Caye Coffee Roasting Co. in San Pedro, Belize

For the special event, all five courses were created utilizing Caye Coffee products as an integral part of each dish. Wondering how a five-course dinner paired with coffee and a wine flight turned out? Here you go!

Casa Picasso’s Espresso Martini on the Rocks

Not your average espresso martini. Made with Caye Coffee, vanilla vodka, creme de cacao and Kahlua, this was the perfect pick-me-up to start the dinner off right.

Casa Picasso Espresso Martini Aperitif http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/belize-casa-picasso-caye-coffee/ #cocktail #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Espresso Martini Aperitif

Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte

We started off with the first course, “Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte.” Local shrimp, flash sautéed with garlic, espresso, and a touch of cream, served over crispy, grilled cheddar grit cakes and a bourbon espresso glaze.

I loved so many aspects of this dish, but it was a little much for my palate when put all together. Not sure if it was the “bite” from the espresso, combined with the sweet glaze, heavy cream, etc., but with the acidity of the wine, it didn’t work strikingly well. That being said, the dish on its own was great and so was the wine.

Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/belize-casa-picasso-caye-coffee/ #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Grilled Grits and Shrimp Latte

Wine Pairing — Yalumba, Y Series, Sauvignon Blanc, South Australia

Front Street Coffee Encrusted “Jerk” Chicken

Each of the Caye Coffee products is named after one of the three main streets here in San Pedro, Belize. While the streets have official names, we typically refer to them as Front Street, Middle Street, and Back Street.

Casa Picasso nailed a home run with this course in my book. The chicken breast had a spicy jerk marinade, crusted with the Front Street grounds and then slow roasted. It was served over fried plantains with a chipotle mole sauce. I have to admit, while I love a good mole sauce, I found myself eating the chicken and sauce separately. I loved the coffee crust on the chicken so much I didn’t want anything to detract from it. And the mole sauce? Trust me, not a drop left on my plate! I could’ve brought home a to-go container of the mole to use on everything.

Coffee Crusted Jerk Chicken http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/belize-casa-picasso-caye-coffee/ #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Front Street Coffee Encrusted “Jerk” Chicken

Wine Pairing: Duck Pond, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Lobster Cappuccino

Throw out the Italian rule of no cappuccino after 11am here. I was excited for this course after having a number of cappuccino soups in Taiwan over the past few years. Certainly a heavy dish, but worth it. Casa Picasso’s Lobster Cappuccino was made with buttery poached lobster, served in a rich Caye Coffee cappuccino-infused lobster jus, and topped with lemon thyme cream. This is how all cappuccinos should be served!

Casa Picasso Lobster Cappuccino  http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/belize-casa-picasso-caye-coffee/ #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Lobster Cappuccino

Wine Pairing: Antinori Bramito del Cervo, Chardonnay, Italy

Turkish Coffee Pork Ragù

This was a hard one…my pick for the best course of the night was between this and the jerk coffee crusted chicken. The creativity in this one really impressed me. Caye Coffee does not make a Turkish coffee, so Casa Picasso made a Turkish-style coffee ragù using the bold Back Street blend.

The dish was made with a braised pork shoulder in the Turkish coffee ragù, complemented by hints of balsamic, black olives, cardamom, and sweet tomatoes. The noodles it was served over — delicious homemade vanilla-scented, buttered noodles.

Turkish Coffee Pork Ragu http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/belize-casa-picasso-caye-coffee/ #food #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Turkish Coffee Pork Ragu

I have to comment on the wine pairing with this course again…surprisingly, I loved it. I was never a fan of Seghesio Zinfandels despite so many people raving about them in Northern California. Living close to Lodi’s famed Zinfandel region and drinking 100-year-old ancient vine Zins out of Contra Costa County probably keeps me a bit biased. This is the first time I can say; I really loved a Seghesio Zin!

Wine Pairing: Seghesio, Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California

Caye Coffee Dessert: Irish Coffee Crème

Prior to attending this dinner, I politely offered to take all donations of this course from any local CrossFit people who are bulking, shredding, avoiding carbs, eating paleo, or whatever else I’m missing. Sadly, no one took me up on it. Guess they wanted this for their “cheat day,” and who can blame them! If I could’ve gotten away with it, I might’ve tried to smuggle a couple of these out of the kitchen (sorry Jackie!)

This was a miniature chocolate cup filled with Jameson’s whiskey and Caye Coffee liqueur, topped with a Bailey’s whipped cream and chocolate covered coffee beans.

Casa Picasso Irish Coffee Crème http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/belize-casa-picasso-caye-coffee/ #food #dessert #coffee #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Irish Coffee Crème

So, what will a dinner like this set you back in Belize? Try only 75 BZ for the dinner itself and the wine flight was another 45 BZ. In US dollars, that is only $60 for a five course chef’s tasting menu and four glasses of wine.

If you’re coming to Ambergris Caye, I highly recommend reserving one night to visit Casa Picasso. They are closed Sunday and Monday and open for dinner Tuesday – Saturday. Be sure to try one of Nicolai’s amazing martinis, and tell the owners, Jackie and Adam, I sent you! They will take excellent care of you on your special night out. And, since you won’t experience this particular tasting menu, be sure to grab a bag or two of Caye Coffee to take back home with you — it’s better than Starbucks…sssshhhhh!

Where to Eat on Santorini: Assyrtico Wine Restaurant in Fira

It’s no secret that eating on the island of Santorini can be pricey, especially at restaurants in Fira that offer stunning views back to the sea. While some tend to be tourist traps offering ‘ok’ food at inflated prices, there are some definite gems on the island, like Assyrtico Wine Restaurant.

Returning to Santorini after seven years, I was determined to locate a restaurant that not only offered good food with a view, but also one whose menu featured a number of local Santorini specialties. We found this in Assyrtico Wine Restaurant. You might recognize the name Assyrtiko, as it’s one of Santorini’s best-known wines; however, the restaurant is actually spelled Assyrtico.

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant Santorini Entrance http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant’s entrance

The masterminds behind this innovative venture are two of the best chefs on Santorini. Nikos Pouliasis from Koukomavlos and Vasilis Zaharakis from Nichteri joined forces to create Assyrtico Wine Restaurant, offering a creative take on some traditional Santorini dishes.

And the view is pretty amazing. Assyrtico is located up a set of stairs where you are met with a beautiful arched balcony that looks directly back to the caldera of Santorini. It was pretty windy the day we were there, but we braved the less than ideal weather to sit at one of the best tables.

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Oh what a terrible view in Santorini!

Assyrtico Wine Restaurant Santorini http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Just in case you didn’t get enough of the “terrible” view from Assyrtico Wine Restaurant

Assyrtico offers an excellent Greek and International wine list. If you are interested in trying some of the best local varietals, the staff is quite knowledgeable. We opted with a P.D.O Assyrtiko from Hatzidakis Winery as recommended by our server.

Assyrtiko Wine http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #wine #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Local Santorini specialty is wine made from Assyrtiko grapes

Normally, I have trouble choosing between appetizers to try and this was my worst challenge yet. Assyrtico’s six different starters made it so hard to choose – we opted to forgo an entrée and try all six since they represented some of the best in local Santorini dishes.

Amuse Bouche – Homemade Breads and Hummus

We started off with a basket of homemade breads and hummus. The bread had local Santorini capers baked inside and the hummus was one of the best I’ve had in Greece.

Assyrtico's homemade bread with local capers http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s homemade bread with local capers

Assyrtico's fresh hummus http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s fresh hummus

Tomato Ball Pancake

Made with sundried tomatoes, spearmint and watermelon chutney with lime and feta cheese from Tripoli. Light in texture, the tomato ball pancakes were well balanced and the watermelon chutney with feta was a nice way to cut the richness from the pancake.

Assyrtico Tomato Ball Pancakes http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Tomato Ball Pancakes

“Like” Zucchini Fritters

These are giant beans from Prespes and zucchini from Santorini, mixed with a sesame crust and served atop a curry avocado yogurt sauce. I was worried the sesame crust was going to overpower the delicate bean and zucchini flavors, but they worked well together. The curry sauce added some cool spice and a subtle hint of sweetness that was a nice finish.

Assyrtico Zucchini Fritters http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

The “Like” Zucchini Fritters appetizer at Assyrtico


If you try only one thing in Santorini, it should be fava. Fava beans are locally grown on the island and absolutely delicious. Typically served as a puree, Assyrtico’s version is served with pickled onions in forest fruits, mousse of smoked pork from Mani, capers and sage scented olive oil. This was easily my favorite dish – the fava puree was divine and the pickled onions were so flavorful, but not overpowering in the slightest. I could’ve eaten two, maybe three of these myself!

Assyrtico Fava Puree http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s phenomenal Fava dish made with locally grown Santorini fava beans


The saganaki appetizer at Assyrtico features Gruyere cheese from Mytilini Island aged in olive oil. It’s wrapped in a pastry crust and served with a chutney of Greek dry fruits marinated in Vinsanto wine. The chutney on this dish was a clear winner with both of us. The Gruyere was mild and the pastry crust not soggy in the least.

Assyrtico Saganaki http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Saganaki Cheese – another specialty in Greece

Kataifi Fillo

The kataifi fillo was one of the most stunning dishes we had that afternoon. It’s made with four types of Greek cheese, scented with mastic, mandarin sauce, and rose petals confit. It’s hard to argue with this dish just looking at it. It’s delicate – both in presentation and flavor. If you’ve never heard of mastic, it’s a Greek specialty product. Mastic is a “gum” found only in the mastic tree, which is grown in only one part of the world – the Greek island of Chios. Mastic is used in a variety of products, from culinary specialties to skin and beauty products made in Greece.

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Kataifi Fillo featuring four different types of local Greek cheeses

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Loved the presentation on the Kataifi Fillo so much I had to post both photos!


“Santorini” Bruschetta

The last dish featured several Santorini products as well – sautéed squid, smoked mouse of white Santorinian eggplant, topped with an aioli sauce with cuttlefish ink and seaweeds. At first glance, the seaweed and the thick cuttlefish ink may be a turn off to some, but don’t skip this one. The squid was perfectly prepared and the white eggplant mousse was sublime. The seaweed and cuttlefish ink were perfect accompaniments for this appetizer and had we still been hungry, I would’ve been tempted to order another Santorini Bruschetta.

Assyrtico Santorini Bruschetta http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/eat-santorini-assyrtico-wine-restaurant-fira/ #food #travel #santorini #greece #ourtastytravels #ottmed14

Assyrtico’s take on local Santorini Bruschetta was amazing

Due to Santorini’s landscape of volcanic ash, there are no natural trees and very few plants, making local food products somewhat of a rarity. Items like fava beans, tomatoes, and certain grape varietals thrive in volcanic soil, helping earn the island an excellent reputation within the gastronomic community. Santorini’s fava bean production is so respected, it has been granted P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) status.

Prices at Assyrtico are reasonable, especially as compared to similar restaurants along the “waterfront”. Appetizers range from 8 euros to the most expensive at 11.50 euros (as of May 2014). Assyrtico’s main courses looked amazing as well but we obviously didn’t have near enough room to try one nor the desserts sadly. We definitely plan to return again and try the chefs’ individual restaurants as well.

Assyrtico Restaurant

Φηρά, Σαντορίνη (Fira, Santorini)
84700, Ελλάδα  (84700, Greece)
Phone: +30 22860 22463,
+30 22860 34255

Email: info@assyrtico-restaurant.com

This is the first in a series of upcoming posts from Our Tasty Travel’s 23 day tour of the Mediterranean on Holland America’s MS Noordam. Follow the hashtag #OTTMED14 on Twitter and Instagram for more yummy photos and social media recaps from our incredible adventure of the local culinary culture in many parts of the region. 

Street Food Saturday: Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize

I will never forget the first time I ever tasted an empanada. I was 18 and working with a girl from Argentina who brought them in one day for us to try.

I was immediately hooked. 

Those empanadas were definitely integral in opening my eyes to the world of culinary travel an unmentionable number of years ago.

For today’s post on the A to Z Blog Challenge, I can’t resist sharing a photo of my favorite empanadas here in Belize. They are masa based, stuffed with fish and served with a cabbage relish that is divine. They are lighter and less filling than many other empanadas I’ve had, which means I can easily scarf down an entire order on my own.

If you visit Belize, I definitely recommend giving these a try! Also, try the coconut shrimp curry – it’s one of my favorite dishes of all time! 

Empanadas from Elvi's Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/street-food-saturday-empanadas-elvis-kitchen-belize/ #food #travel #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Empanadas from Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize

Dining at One of the World’s Best Restaurants: Two Michelin-Starred Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan

Last year, S. Pellegrino released their “50 Best Restaurants in Asia,” a spin off of the regular World’s 50 Best list. Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan, topped the 2013 list — and Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa has been awarded two Michelin stars on top of it. Everything I read indicated it was nearly impossible to get a reservation. We’ve had magical luck in the past with securing reservations at some hard to get into places (still never made it in French Laundry through, go figure), so why not give it a shot for my birthday?

If only I had as much luck picking winning lottery numbers, I’d be set!

So what’s the verdict? What’s the Best Restaurant in Asia like? Here’s a detailed look at our impressive lunch at Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan.

Narisawa Tokyo Japan

Narisawa menu and building in Tokyo, Japan

The menu at Narisawa is continually changing, and the day we dined was part of the “Spring Collection, 2013.”  The theme for this collection was Evolve with the Forest.

Chef Narisawa is known for his mastery of French cooking techniques while showcasing Japanese ingredients, with a heavy emphasis on flora aesthetics. The wine list was quite impressive, featuring a number of local Japanese offerings as well. We opted to go with the suggested wine pairings for each course.

Wine: Champagne Vilmart et Cie

We started off with a glass of Champagne from one of the premier houses in France. The Premier Cru estate dates back to 1890 and is located in the Montagne de Reims region. Beautiful Brut fermented and aged in oak casks for 10 months and specifically labeled for Narisawa.


Champagne Vilmart et Cie labeled for Narisawa

Champagne Vilmart et Cie labeled for Narisawa

I knew we were in for a treat when we were told that the interesting concoction on the table was bread…which would be fermenting right before our eyes!

“Forest 2010″ Bread of the Forest and Moss Butter

Chef Narisawa is noted for his “Bread of the Forest” which rises with the use of candlelight. Several courses in, the bread has grown enough where it is popping over the sides and they bake it table side in a stone pot for 12 minutes. The stone pot has an oak tree lid, with the faint aroma of yuzu seeping through.

Narisawa Bread of the Forest

Chef Narisawa’s creation of “The Bread of the Forest” fermenting at the table

Baking Bread of the Forest Narisawa

Baking the “Bread of the Forest” tableside

Accompanying the bread was a very interesting butter, resembling a pile of moss! The black is dehydrated black olive and we were told the green powder was parsley.

Moss Butter Narisawa

Moss butter served with “Bread of the Forest” at Narisawa

Essence of the Forest

Starting off lunch, we were served three small dishes at once. The first of the courses to arrive was called “Essence of the Forest” and it was meant to symbolize the Spring forest season. Definitely a lot going on with this course and we were told, “it’s ok to eat with your hands.”

Really? In a Michelin-starred restaurant with perfectly pressed white tablecloths? Needless to say, more of my forest ended up on the table cloth versus in my belly.

While intimidating to eat, Essence of the Forest was an impressive presentation. The cup was the key to the forest and contained its “essence”. The cup was Japanese cedar filled with oak-infused water. The forest was created with Japanese herb tempura, the “bark” is skin of the Jerusalem artichoke, while the orange is a kumquat. The forest floor scattered around the plate was made with Japanese soy pulp mixed with green tea powder and black tea powder mixed with bamboo powder.

Essence of the Forest Narisawa

“Essence of the Forest” course at Narisawa

Chiayu, Japanese Sweet Fish

Baby sweet fish in Japan are a delicacy, often called chiayu. We were told the livers were left in, which gives a very bitter contrast. The green dots are sansho pepper leaf sauce and the fish are topped with additional sansho leaves. Lightly tempura fried, the taste of the chiayu was surprisingly mild, however a definite contrast with the bitter livers.

Chiayu sweet fish Narisawa

Chiayu sweet fish with sansho chili pepper sauce and leaves


Sumi means charcoal and this is an important element in chef Narisawa’s creations. In this instance, it was akin to a charcoal deep fried onion bread.

Sumi Narisawa

Sumi “charcoal”

Wine Pairing — 2008 Toriivilla (Imamura) Blanc Cuvee Tradition

This pairing was for all three dishes — the “sumi charcoal”, chiayu and “Essence of the Forest.” It’s a local Japanese wine made in the Bourgogne style — very smooth with elegant honey-apple flavors. The mix of mountainous soil and wind coming down from Mt. Fuji makes for a complex minerality on the palate as well.

Toriivilla Imamura, 2008

Toriivilla Imamura, 2008

“Soil 2001″

As the name suggests, the next course was not just paying homage to the soil of the forest — it was the soil of the forest. Now, before you go, “ewwww dirt soup”, it was a very calculated course with the terroir of Japan being recreated in a soup. Chef Narisawa created this recipe in 2001 and it comes from the Nagano region. The soup contains no salt or pepper, only burdock root seasoning. We were told the winter soil makes for a tastier soup.

Soil 2001 Narisawa

Soil 2001 soup at Narisawa

So how was the soil soup? Surprisingly quite tasty. It was one of my favorite courses. And maybe I am just easily swayed once you throw the term “terroir” at me as I’m very aware of the role soil composition plays in the flavor profile of wine grapes.

Soil 2001 Narisawa

Soup made with “terroir” of Japan — chef Narisawa developed this in 2001, hence the “Soil 2001″ name

Spring Garden

Green asparagus cooked over broiled chicken to retain its flavor and texture — compared to a chicken butter vinaigrette.  In the mix was snapper sashimi with a seaweed sandwich. Pan fried oysters and basil rounded out the dish, which was a wonderful blend of color, texture, flavors, and aromas.

Green Asparagus Narisawa

Green asparagus with sashimi, salad and floral accents

Wine Pairing: Riesling Lion, Edel Wein, 2011

Japanese Riesling from the Iwate Prefecture. Very few vineyards make rieslings in Japan and this is a hybrid of Riesling and Koshu Sanshaku grapes. It is said this wine was once deemed “too delicate” to serve with food and was not that popular, however, this crisp and refreshing  wine has been gaining notoriety in the past few years. Narisawa’s talented Sommelier, Yoshinobu Kimura, does a magnificent job at including this gem in the tasting menus. 

Riesling Lion 2011

Riesling Lion 2011

“Ash 2009″ Scene of the Seashore

The presentation of “Ash 2009″ was rather impressive. The course started off with a beautiful piece of squid and then the ash was created table-side from a mix of olive oil, lemon juice and liquid nitrogen. The ash was spooned over the squid which released a stream of liquid nitrogen across the table. The red sauce was puree of paprika and salami. Very delicate flavors, nice grilled essence from complex paprika sauce, and the squid was perfectly cooked.

Narisawa Ash 2009

Ash 2009 – Scene of the Seashore done table-side at Narisawa

The scene of the seashore concept is to represent the typical Japanese fishermen returning with their catch, the misty ocean at night and the smell of charcoal as they cook the day’s bounty.

Want to attempt this at home? Chef Narisawa shared his grilled squid recipe on Fine Dining Lovers

Wine Pairing: Domaine Andre Vatan 2010 Sancerre Les Charmes 

Hailing from the Loire region of France, this is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Some vines are planted in limestone, so look for a zesty minerality with some smokiness on the palate. This was the perfect wine to cut the richness of the squid.

Sancerre Les Charmes 2011

Sancerre Les Charmes 2011

Fugu, Blowfish, Hagi, Yamaguchi

Deep fried fugu or blowfish. This was the first time I’ve had fugu outside of a dedicated blowfish restaurant in Osaka. Despite the hype of the dangers surrounding eating fugu, it’s a relatively uninteresting flavored fish (at least how I’ve experienced it). Chef Narisawa managed to make it interesting, give it texture through deep-frying it and a tart finish from the Japanese sudachi. Sudachi is a small round citrus that is primarily used for flavoring rather than eaten. Served on butcher paper, we were told to eat with our hands again.

Fugu Narisawa

Deep fried fugu or blowfish

Wine Pairing: Beblenheim Riesling, Domaine Trapet, Alsace

Alsace is definitely the spot in France for quality Riesling, but add the name Trapet, and it’s guaranteed to be a hit. Jean Louis Trapet is a very well-known name in Burgundy, especially among the great estates of Gevrey-Chambertin. His wife’s family has the property in Alsace and both estates produce biodynamically-farmed wines.

Domaine Trapet Bablenheim Riesling 2010

Domaine Trapet Bablenheim Riesling 2010

“Luxury Essence 2007″ Ise Ebi, Lobster

This complex dish showcases Narisawa’s talent for creatively combining flavors and textures. The lobster was lightly deep-fried and served in a broth made with chicken, pork, ham, and water cooked in a convection oven for eight hours. Add Japanese radish, Brussels sprouts, carrot and more for a unique dish.

Luxury Essence 2007

“Luxury Essence 2007″ with lobster and a broth that requires 8 hours of cook time

On sensory overload at this point, I accidentally missed snapping a separate photo of the glass drop bulbs suspended on a hanging rack that held the steaming broth for “Luxury Essence.” You can get the general idea with this overall table photo I took when they first brought the dish out.

Luxury Essence Narisawa

The start of “Luxury Essence 2007″ before pouring the broth

Wine Pairing: Domaine de L’Hortus Grand Cuvee 2010

This beauty is from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Nice oaky nose with fruity notes on the palate.


Domaine De L'hortus Grande Cuvee 2010

Domaine De L’hortus Grande Cuvee 2010

Rockfish, Odawara Bay

The next course was Rockfish from Odawara Bay, served with Japanese nanohana greens.

Rockfish Odawara Bay

Rockfish from Odawara Bay in Japan

Wine Pairing: Chateua De La Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

This premier cru (1er cru) from Meursault is made from Chardonnay grapes and  comes from Côte de Beaune in the Côte-d’Or region. It’s balances nicely with dishes like the rockfish.

Chateau de la Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

Chateau de la Velle Meursault 1er Cru 2005

“Sumi 2009″ Hilda Beef

The last savory course is where the sumi made an appearance again. The beef was covered in charcoal, made with carbonized leek powder. It was presented whole on the small grill and removed for carving. The meat undergoes a slow cook with heated olive oil continually poured over it for 30 minutes.

Sumi 2009 Hilga Beef Narisawa

“Sumi 2009″ Hilga beef presented whole

We were given a cup with sake granita to eat in between bites to cut the richness. Served on a plate that also included Japanese white bamboo shoots, onion, and more sansho pepper flowers, which only bloom about two weeks out of the year. The sansho flowers were also the basis for the green sauce swirled on the plate.

Sumi 2009 Narisawa

“Sumi 2009″ served with a cup of sake granite to cleanse the palate

Wine Pairing: Lynsolence St.-Emilion 2001

This Grand Cru is produced with 100% Merlot grapes and hails from Bordeaux’s famed Right Bank area of St.-Emilion. Small production (around 625 cases) and only 20 cases of those were brought to Japan. The wine still exhibits rich color, fruity notes and lots of spice on the finish. The 2001 Lynsolence stood up nicely with the rich taste and fatty texture of the Hilga beef.

Lynsolence Saint-Emilion 2001

Lynsolence Saint-Emilion 2001

Salty Dog

The first “dessert” to arrive was not truly a dessert at all, but rather a cocktail to cleanse the palate. Salty Dog is made with grapefruit juice and vodka, served in a salt-rimmed glass. Chef Narisawa’s version included Japanese grapefruit with pulp, confit grapefruit skin, and a rim that was a bit sweet and salty.

Salty Dog Narisawa

Salty Dog cocktail prior to the grapefruit juice being added

Kuzumochi – Sakekasu – Strawberry

Let the sweets begin! The base was a strawberry sorbet, handmade mochi cakes made with kuzu starch, and sake lees jelly. A fresh milk /cream sauce is then poured over the dessert table side.

Strawberry sorbet Narisawa

Strawberry sorbet dessert

Wine Pairing: Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

This unique wine was more of a fortified wine that had lots of raisin and orange flavors, with a nutty finish. Selosse utilizes a small number of Chardonnay barrels that he leaves outside around six years. He added leftover grape juice from Champagne making and many call it France’s version of Greek retsina. It is called Ratafia and hails from the Champagne region.

Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

Jacques Selosse Ratafia de Champagne il etait une fois

Petit Fours

This was pretty much the equivalent of a dessert buffet. They wheeled over a rather large table filled with an impressive array of sweets. It was overwhelming to choose just a couple, but I did try to refrain some — and then I spotted the tray of mini-macarons. No way was I skipping those!

Petit Fours Narisawa

Petit Fours table at Narisawa

Petit Fours Narisawa

My plate of Petit Fours

Mini macarons Narisawa

A whole tray of mini-macarons!

After the meal, chef Narisawa came out and took the time to say hello to each table in the restaurant. He is extremely down to earth and quite humble. What a pleasure it was to meet him after experiencing one of the best meals we’ve had during our travels.

Chef Narisawa Tokyo Japan

Meeting Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa as lunch was winding down


Minami Ayoyama 2-6-15
Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Tel +81-3-5785-0799

Opening Hours: Lunch 12:00 – 13:00 (last order) Close 15:00; Dinner 18:30 – 21:00 (last order); Closed Sunday

Website: Narisawa

Traditional Catalan Cuisine: Pont Vell Restaurant in Besalu, Spain

If your travels take you to the Catalonia (Cataluyna) region of Spain, consider a stop in the charming village of Besalu. Here you will find an interesting array of history, including a Jewish Quarter and a 12th Century Romanesque Bridge.

Situated right at the base of the bridge, you will find Pont Vell Restaurant. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better view and the food is traditional Catalan cuisine.

Interior of Pont Vell Restaurant

Pont Vell Exterior Dining Area under the Bridge

Pont Vell opened in 1981 in an 18th century building next to the bridge that crosses the river Fluvia. Owners Artur and Nuria have perfected dishes that are certainly on par with the superb location.

View of Romanesque Bridge from Pont Vell Restaurant in Besalu, Spain

We were invited guests to Pont Vell, along with a private group of other bloggers. Two other bloggers, Kate (Adventurous Kate) and Michael (Go, See, Write) had eaten there previously and absolutely raved about the food. Pont Vell rolled out the culinary red carpet for us. We ended up sampling a host of their specialties, and the owners were more than gracious with us as cameras flew around the tables documenting every plate that came out.

The evening kicked off with a host of starters including Escalibada, which was eggplant, onion, and red peppers all roasted on a grill. We also had fresh onions and tomatoes from their own garden.

Escalibada appetizer

Fresh Tomatoes and Onions

Other appetizers included my personal favorite – the homemade pate — and we had a plate of beautifully prepared green asparagus with a Romesco sauce.

Pate Appetizer

Beautiful Fresh Green Asparagus

The evening’s star of the show was definitely the fideua. It’s very much like a paella, but made with noodles. We always called them fideo noodles growing up in Southern California. They are often used in a Mexican soup I ate a lot as a child “sopa de fideo”, basically a tomato noodle soup.

We had the clam fideua, which could’ve probably fed the entire village of Besalu. The presentation was impressive and the taste was even better. Fideua is available on the regular menu for two or more people. They also have a black one, assuming made with squid ink that would be interesting to try.

Clam Fideua

If the fideua was not enough, they served two additional main courses – leg of lamb and sweet and sour rabbit. I’ve read numerous mentions of the sweet and sour rabbit as a Pont Vell house specialty.

Leg of Lamb Entree at Pont Vell

Sweet and Sour Rabbit -- A Pont Vell Specialty

One note about Pont Vell and cuisine from this region – you are likely to find a lot of game meat and fowl. Guinea hens, pigeons, rabbit, and other hearty meats are used in a number of dishes. Don’t be dissuaded if you are not a fan of the stronger flavor meats. Personally, I do not typically order deer, rabbit, or pigeon, but I’ve found the sauces and accompaniments often tone down the “gamey” flavor, creating an enjoyable dish.

Surprisingly, we managed to find a little room left and sampled some dessert – the brownie with strawberries, raspberries, and kumquat.

Brownie Dessert with Strawberries, Raspberries and Kumquat

Pont Vell
C/Pont Vell 24
17850 Besalu (Girona)
Phone: (+34) 972 59 10 27
Email: info@restaurantpontvell.com
Website: http://www.restaurantpontvell.com/

Hours: Lunch 1pm – 3:30pm, Dinner: 8:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Closed Sunday and Monday nights, and all day Tuesday. Also closed from 20th of December to 20th of January and the first week in July. However, after that, they are open Sunday nights in the summer months of July and August.

Las Vegas Restaurants: First Food and Bar inside The Shoppes at The Palazzo

I was in Las Vegas, Nevada earlier  this year for a food and travel writers conference (IFWTWA) and some of the attendees were talking about this fantastic restaurant called First Food & Bar. Sadly, it was not on my rotation schedule of restaurants I was to visit as part of the conference. So, I ducked out one afternoon between sessions and went to check it out myself.

Despite being mid-week, and post-lunch rush, many of the restaurants we passed in The Shoppes at The Palazzo were still packed. I was a bit worried we were not going to get in, but relief set in when they said they could still take a party of two on a walk in.

I did some reading up on the chef and the menu before we went and one main menu item kept popping up…

Doritos Mac N Cheese

Oh yeah! Voted “Best of Vegas” By Las Vegas Weekly, this interesting side dish had made it on nearly every review, blog post, and article I read.

There was only one problem though…pretty much everything on the menu had come highly recommended. I warned Mom to loosen her pants and get ready to chow. Sadly, we didn’t get to sample as much as I would’ve liked, but it was enough to know that I will definitely come back on my next trip back home to Vegas (why oh why did all these great restaurants come after I moved from Sin City!?!)

Here’s a look at what we sampled:


Warm Goat Cheese “Souffle” ($14)

The warm goat cheese was crusted with pistachios and had cranberries, Asian pears, and white balsamic vinegar. My mom has never had goat cheese and is really not an adventurous eater at all so I was shocked that she ended up loving this.  And I do mean loving it…to the point that she still talks about it months later!

The goat cheese was soft and just a hint of sweetness. Combine that with the sweetness from the cranberries, the tartness of the balsamic vinegar, and the crunchy saltiness of the pistachios — definite home run for me.

Warm Goat Cheese Souffle appetizer

I love goat cheese and the best I ever tried was home made at a winery in Australia.  I loved it so much we bought a jar to take back to the hotel with us.  I have since searched for goat cheese that rivaled this for three years since, without avail. This goat cheese was the closest in flavor profile so I was nearly moved to tears.

Yes, I almost cried over goat cheese!

BBQ Pulled Pork Eggroll ($15)

This dish I had to try because of the BBQ sauce, which is made with Dr. Pepper. I have a friend in Belize who is literally obsessed with Dr. Pepper and many of his followers swear by BBQ sauce made with it. The eggrolls also had buttermilk slaw and corn slathered on top.

I will probably be chastised for saying this…I did not get a whole lot of Dr. Pepper flavor, but it was extremely good. The pulled pork was moist and juicy and the BBQ sauce was rich and had just a bit of spicy tang.

Dr. Pepper or not, I’d definitely order these again.

Egg Rolls with Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce

Philly Cheesesteak Dumplings ($17)

Asian dumpling, meet Philly Cheesesteak. Enough said!

This is a match made in heaven for the other half of Our Tasty Travels. Brett is a bit of a Philly Cheesesteak connoisseur growing up near Philadelphia, so he would’ve jumped on these no doubt. They are served with a spicy siracha ketchup that was amazing.

These still call out to me in my dreams. I will have you again…one day!

Philly Cheesesteak Dumplings


Waldorf Salad ($15)

Moving on to more entree type dishes, my Mom ordered the Waldorf Salad with toasted walnuts and the most interesting croutons — frozen grapes! I only had a bite of her salad as I was pretty much already stuffed after splitting three appetizers.

Waldorf Salad with Frozen Grape Croutons

Doritos Mac N Cheese ($10)

Now, this is listed as a side dish, but was easily an entire entree for me…one I still would’ve had difficulty finishing without devouring three appetizers. It’s made with four different cheeses, including pepper jack and cream cheese, and then finished off with a crust of crumbled Doritos chips. Rumor has it, there is even Doritos seasoning in the mac n cheese itself.

Doritos Mac n Cheese

Would you believe this was actually taken off the menu at one point, but after tons of requests, they put it back on. My guess is it will always have a home on the menu now.

I would love to say we sampled some desserts, but alas, the food coma was already taking hold and I had to head straight to a wine tasting seminar (such a rough life, I know!)

I’m dying to get back to Vegas so I can tackle First Food & Bar’s dessert menu, but I probably need about 10 people to help me.  Double Down Dirt Cake, Delilah’s Brulee, Matt’s Moochin’ Monkey Bread, and Milk & Cookie Dough Truffles…you will be mine!


About First Food & Bar

First Food & Bar is great because they are open until 2am, making it a perfect late night stop on the Strip. The restaurant has a cool vibe – a bit of modern, industrial grunge and goth style, blended with dark, warm colors so it’s very hip yet casual. There was everyone from tattooed rockers to business men in full suits the afternoon I was there.

First Food & Bar interior design

Chef Sam DeMarco, better known as Chef Sammy D, is the culinary mastermind behind the menu at First Food & Bar. If you are hip on New York City’s dining scene, you might recognize Sam’s name from ironically, FIRST, the restaurant he opened back in 1993 in the East Village.

First Food & Bar
Open Daily 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 a.m.
(702) 607-3478

We were hosted at The Venetian Resort as part of our travel and food writers’ conference, but all views and opinions expressed are my own.

Tequila Tasting at Taqueria Cañonita in Las Vegas, Nevada

Copious amounts of wine tastings, whiskey comparisons, beer samplings, and now I can cross tequila tasting off the list. As part of a food and travel writers’ conference I attended earlier this year, we were treated to a tequila tasting at Taqueria Cañonita inside the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ready for tequila tasting at Taqueria Canonita


I have to say, before I even got situated and ready to take photos, the first thing I spotted was…



Fresh guacamole ready to be devoured


Growing up in California and living a life deprived of quality avocados in Taiwan, the sight of guacamole always stops me in my tracks.

The verdict?

This was some awesome guacamole!

But, I digress…on to the important task of the day — learning about tequila!

I have to say, learning about tequila under the faux sky of the Canal Shoppes was a bit distracting and confusing as I’m sitting there envisioning my best Mexico memories, but hearing the serenade of gondeliers nearby.

Executive Chef, Reed Osterholt, put on a great demonstration for us, teaching us the nuances between Don Julio tequilas.


Chef Reed Osterholt discussing Taqueria Canonita's use of tequila in cooking

The three types of Don Julio tequila we sampled

Blanco: Double distilled from the finest 10 year old 100% Blue Agave. Ultra smooth, rich and clean. Has crisp agave aromas blended with hints of fresh citrus on the nose, a lightly sweet flavor, and bits of pepper on the finish.

Reposado: The Reposado is double distilled and spends eight months in American white-oak barrels, giving it the beautiful golden amber color. Mellow lemon and citrus on the nose with hints of dark chocolate on the palate, and the finish has a touch of caramel apple.

Anejo: The Anejo is also double distilled and this time, aged in American white-oak barrels for around eighteen months. Definite citrus with notes of caramel on the nose, lots of rich, thick, honey sweetness on the palate, and the taste of honey lingers through to the finish.

And, after admiring the different qualities of the tequila, what’s the next best thing to do with it?


Flaming dishes of course!

Chef Osterholt uses a "little" tequila in his cooking

Chef Osterholt began an impressive display of preparing one of Taqueria Cañonita’s signature dishes — Roasted Mussels & Shrimp Skillet with Tequila, Pasilla Oaxaca, and Mexican Chorizo.

Chef Osterholt preparing the flaming mussels and shrimp skillet

Roasted Mussels and Shrimp Skillet at Taqueria Canonita


Although our menu sampling was limited, I was rather impressed with Taqueria Cañonita. Its menu concept is pretty simple — to recreate the “soul food” dishes of Mexico City, with a New America ambiance.

The native Los Angeles girl in me would’ve bypassed a place like that when I was living in Las Vegas in favor of the cheap taqueria down the street. However, if you are looking for something more upscale with good quality and authentic food, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

And, truth be told…I am still craving that guacamole.

Taqueria Cañonitas
The Venetian Hotel and Resort (Located in the Canal Walk)
3377 Las Vegas Blvd, South
Las Vegas, NV
Telephone: (702) 414-3773
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Daily
Dinner: 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday – Thursday; 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Reservations recommended, take-out available
Website: www.canonita.net

Although I was a guest of The Venetian and Palazzo Resorts, all views and opinions are my own.


Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno at Taipei 101

Last November, Taipei 101 became home to a new restaurant by renowned five Michelin-starred Chef Yannick Alleno. His new venture in Taipei, S.T.A.Y. (Simple Table Yannick Alleno), is the third namesake location following the opening of Beijing and Beirut in 2011.

In conjunction with S.T.A.Y., Chef Alleno designed a more casual outlet to showcase traditional Parisian style tea time, along with signature French pastries. In January 2012, Sweet Tea soft-opened on the 4th floor of Taipei 101, just steps away from S.T.A.Y.

Back in March, Chef Alleno visited Taipei to coordinate a gala dinner and celebrate the official grand opening of Sweet Tea with a presentation for local media. I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Alleno at the gala dinner the night before so I was looking forward to the press event and learning more about his latest creation.

Chef Alleno has a background as a pastry chef so the creations at Sweet Tea were quite intricate and extremely elegant. The concept of Sweet Tea is very feminine on purpose and definitely caters to Taipei’s more upscale female population.

The open-air tearoom sits in the middle of the most scenic area of Taipei 101’s mall, flanked by luxury stores and one “leg” of Taipei 101 itself. The theming and attention to detail certainly blend with its location, in the more ritzy XinYi area of Taipei.

Yannick’s vision for Sweet Tea was to have pastries treated as luxury items and, therefore, presented as artful creations. They are showcased as “luxury jewels” in elegant crystal boxes, all of which seemed to be a big hit with the female members of the local press.

Elegant pastry creations available at Sweet Tea http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Elegant pastry creations available at Sweet Tea

Many pastries at Sweet Tea come in fancy jewel-like boxes http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Many pastries at Sweet Tea come in fancy jewel-like boxes

The colors at Sweet Tea also lean to the feminine side, as bright pops of blue, yellow, pink, and green, are found on everything from glasses to the boxes and bags. The feminine design is not nauseating to the point where a man would be uncomfortable enjoying tea and a decadent French pastry as well.

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101 http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101 http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101

One of the benefits of attending a press event is the ability to try the food you are writing about, and, of course, there was an abundant supply of pastries for us to enjoy.  They had created tiny versions of several signature pastries, which was perfect.

While we only sampled a small portion of what is available at Sweet Tea, I am confident when I say that probably anything you order is going to be amazing. All pastries are made fresh daily and include classics like croissants, macarons, and Madeleines.

Samples set up for media presentation at Sweet Tea http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Samples set up for media presentation at Sweet Tea

Here’s a look at some of what we sampled:

Vanilla Mille-Feuille

This classic French pastry is very popular, but it’s not one that I’ve typically been drawn to. Most times, I find it too sweet and rich for my taste.

Gasp! I know….how could I not like it right?  Well, I’m the girl who scrapes off ¾ of the buttercream frosting on cakes if that tells you anything.

I was surprised to see Yannick’s take on the traditional classic pastry – rather than the expected square, his is round. The cake layer is quite crisp with sweet caramelization on the top.  The filling is one I would never scrape off of anything – a rich Tahitian vanilla – one of my absolute favorite flavors.

Mini Vanilla Mille-Feuille from Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Mini Vanilla Mille-Feuille

Full size Vanilla Mille- Feuille at Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Full size Vanilla Mille- Feuille

St. Honore

This is named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, Saint Honore. Typically, this pastry has puffed pastry, small cream puffs, caramelized sugar, and finished with whipped cream that utilizes a special St. Honore piping tip.

Mini St. Honore pastry at Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Mini St. Honore pastry

Full size St. Honore pastry at Sweet tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Full size St. Honore pastry

Chocolate Croissant

Yannick had come by to talk to me early in the event and told me I needed to definitely try the chocolate croissant as it’s one of his personal favorites and a signature item at Sweet Tea. He calls it “Choc Alleno” and it is pretty much a chocolategasm. The croissant itself is flaky and rich, while the chocolate is decadent without being overpowering.  Not surprisingly, Yannick insists on using only the best French chocolate for this pastry.

Yannick's signature chocolate croissant http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Yannick’s signature chocolate croissant

Yannick's Signature Chocolate Croissant http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Another shot of the chocolate croissant

Macarons and Madeleines

Two other French classics were on hand for us to sample. I’ve become a bit of a macaron addict the past several years as new chocolatiers and pastry shops open in Taipei – many of them renowned artisans from Paris and Japan. Macarons are either hit or miss – they either seem to be perfect or a disaster, never really in between.  I’ve probably sampled macarons from 10 or more shops over the past six to eight months and these were definitely among my top two. The meringue on the macaron was so delicate and light, while the filling was not overpowering or sickeningly sweet ganache.

The Madeleines were divine and next to Robuchon’s, the best I’ve had.

Madelines at Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei


Sweet Tea Macarons http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Sweet Tea Macarons

Sweet Tea Macarons http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Sweet Tea Macarons

Chef Demo – Sweet’dwich

During the event, Chef Alleno drew the biggest crowd when he demonstrated how to make one of his best signature items, the Sweet’dwich.  Every photographer ran up to capture this while one of the local journalists served as his assistant.  The Sweet’dwich is inspired by traditional salty sandwiches, but contains some beautiful sweet elements.  He uses brioche bread instead of a crispy puff and you can choose from three flavors: strawberry, praline chocolate, and Tropezien. Each one is quite different and Yannick uses a variety of flavors and textures to really create a unique culinary experience.

The strawberry is the most popular, which is a mix of pistachio flavor custard and fresh strawberries, topped with pistachio crackles and sugar powders.

Chef Yannick Alleno demonstrating his Sweet'dwich http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Chef Yannick Alleno demonstrating his Sweet’dwich

Chef Alleno and Loic, the Pastry Chef at S.T.A.Y. and Sweet Tea http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Chef Alleno and Loic, the Pastry Chef at S.T.A.Y. and Sweet Tea

What the Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno sweet'dwich looks like completed - yum! http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

What the sweet’dwich looks like completed – yum!


Salty Sandwiches

While the main focus is on pastries, there are also a number of tea style salty sandwiches available.  Both at lunch and in the afternoon, there is a small menu of salads and sandwiches. We sampled several of the sandwiches, which were also nicely executed with soft bread and good flavor.

Salty Afternoon Tea sandwiches http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Salty Afternoon Tea sandwiches

About Chef Yannick Alleno

For those unfamiliar with Chef Alleno, he earned three Michelin stars for his work at Hotel Le Meurice in Paris in 2007.  He was elected “Best Chef of the Year” in 2008 byThe Chef Magazine.  In the same year, he developed his own company, “Group Yannick Alleno”, which has since been responsible for his ventures outside of Paris.  In addition, his mission is to help hoteliers and food professionals by offering his skills. He became involved in Le 1947 at “Cheval Blanc” in Courchevel, and after one season, it earned two Michelin stars.  Alleno also took over the F&B operations of “The Royal Mansour” in Marrakech with two “Grande Table” (French and Moroccan), andthe “One & Only The Palm” in Dubai.  In addition to his two S.T.A.Y. outlets in Beijing and Beirut, he also opened a Sweet Tea in Beirut as well.

L-R: Executive Chef Angelo Agliano from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Chef Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

L-R: Executive Chef Angelo Agliano from L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Chef Yannick Alleno

Chef Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Chef Yannick Alleno

Erin de Santiago of Our Tasty Travels with Benoit, the awesome Sommelier from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Me with Benoit, my dear friend & awesome Sommelier from L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Chef Angelo and Sommelier Benoit from l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Erin De Santiago from Our Tasty Travels, and Chef Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Chef Angelo, Sommelier Benoit, me, and Chef Yannick

While I attended this event as a member of the press and my afternoon was comped, all opinions and views expressed are my own.

New Ice Monster Shaved Ice Opens in Taipei, Taiwan

A couple of weeks ago, we heard the bad news that Yongkang 15, the mango shaved ice establishment that replaced the venerable Ice Monster on Yongkang Street in 2010, had closed it’s doors.  This was quite a shock, especially considering that Taiwan was in the middle of mango season, the best time to visit for a mango shaved ice.

It turns out, the news isn’t quite as bad as it appeared!

While heading out to On Tap for some fish and chips the other night with some coworkers, I was surprised to see a huge line of people waiting for something on Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, just before the intersection with Yanji Street.  This was still a few blocks ahead of the dance clubs on Zhongxiao, and the crowd was a much more diverse mix than you’d expect for a club, so I knew it couldn’t be for that.  But what was it?

I apologize in advance for some of the photos – I was not expecting this find and only had my phone with me!

Line for Ice Monster

Lining up to get into Ice Monster

As the taxi drew closer, I saw the sign that made my day…Ice Monster is Back!

Ice Monster - a new one or reopened back in Taipei, Taiwan?

Mango Delivery at Ice Monster

Only open again since May 29, we decided to brave the line to try out the new Ice Monster after our dinner.  What better dessert could you imagine than some iconic Bao Bing and Xue Hua Bing?

Display of Ice Monster merchandise outside the shop

Display of Ice Monster merchandise outside the shop

Back after dinner to try Ice Monster in Taipei

Entry and order counter

Pineapple and Red Bean ice pops they serve up while waiting in line

Ice Monster Napkin Dispenser

Decorative glass door at Ice Monster

Counter area when you order

The line went pretty quick, we were around 30 people back and our wait was only around 20 minutes.  There were staff at the front of the line handing out the menu and taking orders in advance of your entering the shop, so that helps the line run smoother.  They also don’t let people into the shop when there are no seats available, unless you tell them you just want to order for take away, then they may let you cut into the shop while those wishing to dine in wait longer in the line.  There are around 50 total seats in the shop, so turnover is fairly quick, and being indoors, it’s much more comfortable than the old exterior seating of 15 Yongkang Street.

Fresh Fruit for the desserts

Ice Cream / Sorbet options

Interesting display tank behind the prep area

Back seating area at Ice Monster in Taipei

Main seating area at Ice Monster in Taipei

Private Seating Room at the back of Ice Monster

Private Seating Room

The Ice Monster menu has four main sections; Avalanche for the Bao Bing shaved ice, Sensation for the Xue Hua Bing snow ice, Mocktail for mixed juice drinks, and Freeze for the frozen drinks.  Many of the menu items seem to be more similar to those that were on offer at Yongkang 15, not quite back to the offerings of the original Ice Monster.

Ice Monster's Menu

Avalanche Section

Sensation menu offerings

Freeze menu options

Mocktail menu options

We ordered two Mango Avalanches for the three of us, we actually wanted one to be a Fresh Mango Sensation, but I misordered! The avalanche was a delicious mix of shaved ice with sweet condensed milk and brown sugar syrup, a mango jelly and a scoop of mango ice cream, with a heaping serving of fresh mango mixed in for good measure.

Mango Avalanche at Ice Monster in Taipei

Mango Avalanche

Mango Avalanche

I do not know why, but the staff could apparently see our enjoyment of the avalanche, and perhaps thinking this was our first / only time stopping in, they decided to sample out some other wares on us!  We were each also given a scoop of their lemon ice, a scoop of melon sorbet to share, and they even gave us a small Fresh Mango Sensation to share as well!

Scoop of Lemon Ice

Fresh Mango Sensation

The Mango Avalanche and Mango Sensation were both outstanding, but I have to say, I think the lemon ice was one of the best I’ve ever had!  This tasted exactly like the Italian ice I used to get as a kid, and I thought the only thing that could have possibly made this one any better would have been the little white paper squeeze cup I remember from my youth.  I’ll definitely order one of the lemon based items on my next visit to Ice Monster, most likely the Lemon Jasmine Tea Sensation which caught my eye.

Mango Avalanche, Mango Sensation, Lemon Ice, Melon Ice.

Ice Monster
1F., No. 297, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District
+886 2 8771 3263
Hours: Monday – Sunday / 10:30 – 23:30

Ambergris Caye, Belize Restaurants: Sunday Brunch at Red Ginger inside The Phoenix Resort

One of the “must try” Ambergris Caye Sunday Brunch spots I keep hearing about from my friend Rebecca at SanPedroScoop.com is Red Ginger at The Phoenix Resort.  When I was down in October I had hoped to make a visit, but like usual, ran out of time.  Ironically, we were spending a couple nights at The Phoenix (including a Sunday) during my trip last month, so we planned a morning dive with my friend Robbie, giving us just enough time to hit brunch before it ended.

Red Ginger has developed quite a reputation both on and off the island for its tapas, wine specials, and of course, its Sunday Brunch.  The menu is simple as compared to other restaurants you might be used to back home, but the options are excellent, and there are some lunch entrees and flatbread pizzas available as well.

Red Ginger at The Phoenix Resort in Ambergris Caye, Belize http://ourtastytravels.com/restaurants/ambergris-caye-belize-restaurants-red-ginger-sunday-brunch-at-the-phoenix-resort/ #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Bar inside Red Ginger at The Phoenix Resort in Ambergris Caye, Belize

We asked our server what he recommended, or the menu item(s) Red Ginger is most known for during brunch, and he quickly replied with the Huevos Rancheros being number one. Despite my deep-rooted love and passion for Mexican food, Huevos Rancheros is something I typically never order nor have I really ever been a fan of.

Deciding not to shy away from what was said to be the best item on the menu (despite the orange crepes that continued to call my name), I went with the Huevos Rancheros ($18 Belize).

Best. Decision. Ever.

Red Ginger Belize Huevos Rancheros http://ourtastytravels.com/restaurants/ambergris-caye-belize-restaurants-red-ginger-sunday-brunch-at-the-phoenix-resort/ #breakfast #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Huevos Rancheros ($18 BZE) from Red Ginger

Especially hungry after scuba diving, the plate arrived and I may have audibly let out a squeal of delight.

If you aren’t familiar with Huevos Rancheros, it’s a classic Mexican breakfast dish that is quite popular in the Americas as well.  Traditionally, it is simple fare of fried eggs on corn tortillas with a tomato-chili like sauce.  Some restaurants may serve it with rice and/or beans on the side as well.

Red Ginger’s take on Huevos Rancheros was a bit more hearty and all-inclusive.  Starting with a large, thick flour tortilla, there was a generous slathering of beans, eggs over-easy (you can choose how you want the eggs cooked), chunky salsa, queso fresco (love the cheese on Ambergris Caye!), and some chopped cilantro.  You can choose a side of bacon, ham, or sausage and I went for the bacon, my favorite artery clogging part of the pig.

Despite being starving after diving and the fact it was nearly 2pm and we were eating our first meal of the day, I could barely finish it — don’t underestimate that thick tortilla!

The Huevos Rancheros had a little spice, but definitely was mild enough for non-spicy eaters.  The thick tortilla with the beans, gooey egg yolk, and fresh crumbled cheese was a definite win.  The bacon was crispy and thick with just the right amount of fat.  Sounds odd, but not all bacon is really the same and I’ve become quite picky about bacon in my world travels.  I’ve found that bacon in Europe is often pretty boring and bland, and pigs in Taiwan make for great sausage, but fall short in the bacon department as well.

Huevos Rancheros at Red Ginger inside The Phoenix Resort http://ourtastytravels.com/restaurants/ambergris-caye-belize-restaurants-red-ginger-sunday-brunch-at-the-phoenix-resort/ #breakfast #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Thick tortilla, beans, eggs, queso fresco, cilantro, and a side of bacon

Sadly, I was fairly dehydrated from diving and all the travel the day before, so I opted not to drink any alcohol, but I have heard fantastic things about Red Ginger’s Bloody Marys and Mimosas.  Given the fact I have been craving the Huevos Rancheros since that day, I think it’s safe to say I need to come back on my next trip in June to get my Huevos Rancheros craving satiated and report back on Red Ginger’s Bloody Marys!

Red Ginger can hold large groups for brunch as well http://ourtastytravels.com/restaurants/ambergris-caye-belize-restaurants-red-ginger-sunday-brunch-at-the-phoenix-resort/ #belize #ourtastytravels #cayetobelize

Red Ginger can hold large groups for brunch as well

Red Ginger is open for Sunday Brunch from 9:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and the menu offerings can change every week, but rest assured I think the Huevos Rancheros is a regular menu staple.  If you are a guest of The Phoenix Resort, you are entitled to 10% off your bill at Red Ginger, along with the other affiliated food outlets — Caliente, Wine de Vine, and Blue Water Grill — during your stay.

I was hosted by The Phoenix Resort for this particular (lodging) portion of my media week in Belize, but all views and opinions expressed are my own. For more on travel in Belize and upcoming posts and articles from this media tour, please join my new Belize Travel Examiner page on Facebook.

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