Jewel Bako

Address: 239 East 5th Street, New York, NY

Phone: 212-979-1012

Jewel Bako, a One Michelin Star sushi restaurant in East Village is (ex) NYC couple Jack and Grace Lamb's first venture into the restaurant business, before they started Degustation Wine and Tasting Bar next door, Jewel Bako Makimono (which has since closed down) and Jack's Oyster Bar. The couple also owns a restaurant near their home in Greenwich Connecticut call Harvest Supper, run by a former chef at Hearth. When Jewel Bako first opened a few years ago, East Village was not a place to go for good sushi. The landscape has improved since, with places such as Kyo Ya, Kajitsu, Ushiwakamaru entering the Japanese food domain. But in terms of the place to go for world class sushi in the East Village, Jewel Bako perhaps still reigns over the rest.

The secret to Jewel Bako's success, aside from good sushi chefs and intense management (I felt the intensity of the lady manager when I went there), is its ability to get fresh fish directly from a purveyor in Japan and serving the fish next day after they are caught. The restaurant is perhaps the only in NYC which serves live Lobster Sashimi? I remember watching one of Andrew Zimmerman's Bizarre foods NYC episodes a few years ago, where he went to the restaurant and tried its signature dish - live lobster sashimi.  We did not order lobster sashimi when we went there (not sure if it's still on the menu), but the sushi ala carte (Uni, Toro, Unagi, Ebi etc) and spicy yellowtail sushi rolls we had were excellent!
Sushi ala carte
Spicy Tuna Yellowtail with scallions and cucumber
Restaurant interior

ABC Kitchen

Address: 35 E 18th Street, New York, NY

Phone: 212-475-5829

Of all the Jean Georges' restaurants in New York City, I probably dislike ABC Kitchen the most. Yes the restaurant has a nice contemporary shabby chic style interior, being that it's co-owned by ABC Carpet and Home next door, but to me, that's all there is. The dishes, which focus on local and organic ingredients were mediocre; they were cooked nicely, not burnt, not overcooked, undercooked or anything like that, but it was really pricey for the lack of inventiveness. For example the grilled lamb chops dish we ordered, which cost about $37 inevitably raised our expectation on the dish but they were short on the delivery. The cherry tomato barbeque sauce was rustic but lack the tanginess I was expecting. It's different than the typical mustard or mint sauce but I couldn't find my lamb in there. All there was was the sauce which was confused about being a pomodoro sauce or barbeque sauce.

Overall, ABC Kitchen is a pretty restaurant, with really pretty people dining there. But if you are looking for good food by Jean Georges, look elsewhere in his empire.

Fluke sashimi with sliced grapes, sea salt and tarrago
 Cauliflower Soup rye croutons and rupert cheese

Grilled lamp chops with cherry tomatoes barbeque sauce - it was ok, but pricey @ $37
Crispy Organic Chicken
ABC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Girl and The Goat


Address: 809 W Randolph St, Chicago IL, 60607 

Phone:  (312) 492-6262

I cannot talk about Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard's 6 month old Girl and The Goat restaurant without mentioning how amazing her Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face dish is. If you have tried Head Cheese (a type of European cold cut/meat jelly made from the head of a cow or pig) and really liked it, I can guarantee that you'll be blown away by her Pig Face dish.  Pig face is essentially her take on the traditional head cheese, instead of serving it as cold cut, she braise and roast it in a wood oven. The end product is an absolutely sublime, crispy/juicy/gelatiny meat jelly served with sunny side egg, tamarind and cilantro sauce. It's delicious, different and gutsy. I love this dish.

Other dishes on the menu are equally interesting and exciting, we especially enjoyed the Hiramasa crudo, sauteed green beans with fish sauce vinaigrette as well as the doughnut dessert.  Our only regret was that we weren't able to try more dishes since we had a pretty heavy lunch at The Publican a few hours earlier.

Girl and The Goat is one of the most popular restaurants in Chicago right now and I can see why. It is essentially a gastropub with really awesome food, something like Breslin in New York. Everything about the restaurant reflects Chef Izard's fun loving personality, her techniques and creativity. So I'm actually surprised that Michelin Guide Chicago didn't give the restaurant a One Star. It definitely deserves more than just a Michelin Bib Gourmand nod, if you asked me. But keep up the good work Chef Izard, I'm a big fan of yours now! And your restaurant is a must try in Chicago! 

Wood oven roasted pig face with sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro and potato stix

Open Kitchen and part of the dining room
warm oysters dish
Hiramasa crudo with crisp pork belly and aji aioli
Sauteed green beans with fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews
doughnut dessert

Girl & the Goat on Urbanspoon

Minetta Tavern

Address: 113 MacDougal St., New York (Between Bleecker and West 3rd Street)

Phone: 212-475-3850

I doubt Keith McNally of Minetta Tavern really care that his restaurants were not awarded Three Stars Michelin or were not placed on the Top 50 San Pelligrino's World Best Restaurant list. His restaurants (yes - Odeon, Balthazaar, Pastis, Minetta Tavern, Pulino's etc) are extremely successful and most of the time, difficult to get reservation.

I still remember when Minetta Tavern first reopened in 2009, getting a table for two was almost impossible. Not only was the phone line eternally busy, you practically need to be a celebrity to eat there. Thankfully, the hype and craziness had died down somewhat one year later, and we the commoners are finally getting our chance to dine at this McNally revived institution. A legendary speakeasy and restaurant which started in the 1930s, Minetta Tavern had deteriorate over the years and lost its charm, when McNally bought it over one year ago and revamped it back to its glory days.

Although I did not particularly like the food at Balthazaar and Pastis, I have to admit that McNally is a genius restaurateur who truly understands his clients and what works in this city, building his own successful trademark restaurants. You know when you are in a McNally restaurant: old school and it's so bloody popular (with pretty people).

Since it was only the two of us, we decided to order Côte de Boeuf (for two), rather than their famous black label burger. Minetta's dry aged Côte de Boeuf was truly the best steak we have ever eaten in the city. Move over Peter Luger, I don't think I will be seeing you much after this!  We also had an order of Pasta Za Za, another of the restaurant's famous fettuccine with pancetta dish, supposedly named after legendary sexy siren Zsa Zsa Gabor. This simple runny egg, pancetta and al dante fettucine dish is so satisfying!

 Pasta Za Za
fresh pasta with pancetta, sage, Parmesan, and a fried egg

 Dry Aged Côte de Boeuf for two, with roasted marrow bones and sucrine lettuce salad

Minetta Tavern on Urbanspoon

Trattoria Gianni Franzi

Address: Piazza Marconi 5, 19018 Vernazza, Italy

Phone: 0187-821003
A lot of people chose to park their cars at La Spieza and take the train to the villages but we thought we would just drive to Vernazza, which is located 4 villages away from La Spieza. It turned out to be one of the scariest driving experience; the road was narrow and winding, and we had many heart-stopping moments driving our stick shift rented car especially when facing speeding cars (drivers love to speed in Italy, even on narrow-one-lane mountain roads). Once we arrived at Vernazza, we were dead tired and all we wanted is food. Since our hotel Gianni franzi is also a popular restaurant in the village, we just went there and not expecting much; but the food there turned out to be really good! From their classic spaghetti polmodoro, to Fritto misto to beef ragu, all the dishes were cooked perfect and very flavorful. House wine was delicious too. Needless to say we went back again on our second night!

Frito Misto

Ravioli Pesce (two thumbs up!)

Spaghetti Vongole

Trofie al Pesto - a Lingurian specialty

Il Refolo

Address: 1459 Santa Croce, Campo San Giacomo dall'Orio, Venice, Italy

Phone: 39-041-524-0016

Il Refolo is the sister restaurant of one michelin star restaurant Da Fiore, one of the most exclusive and successful restaurants in Venice by famous chef Mara Martin. While chef Mara runs the kitchen in Da Fiore, his son Damiano takes care of il Refolo near Santa Croce. Il Refolo markets itself as an upscale pizzeria and cicheteria rather than a restaurant, and its location by the canal, surrounded by old Venetian buildings, a bridge and a church, gives a whole new definition to outdoor seating with a view. It is as Venice as it can be.

The food is equally impressive. Their specialty fig and prosciutto pizza was truly amazing, a perfect pie with sweet and savory element combined to create one of the best pizza I've had. The pasta and salume were delicious as well. The excellent house wine also got my "wine shy" friends into drinking wine throughout the trip! Venice is famous for its seafood, but I assure you, you will not be disappointed by Il Refolo's non seafood menu!!

Prosciutto and fig pizza, classic Magherita pizza
                                                       Il Refolo Pasta dish

Da Romano


Address: Via Galuppi, 221, 30012 Burano, Venice

Phone: 041-73-00-30

What is risotto? What makes a good risotto? I'm not familiar with risotto growing up but the main component that makes up risotto, rice, I am very familiar with. Rice is a common starch component in any person's diet growing up in Asia. We have rice for almost every single meal. It's not uncommon to see rice accompanying breakfast. However, as much as rice is a blank canvas as potato is to most western cuisine, they are usually cooked bland in Asian cuisine. We usually start a plate with plain boiled rice and then drench it with main entrees which are usually sauce based or are soupy. When I first had risotto, it was as foreign as it is familiar. But it all makes sense eventually. Why not make it rich and creamy? Why not infuse it with meat or fish or vegetable based broth? Why not make it as flavorful as you can and serve it as is?

When I first saw Da Romano on No Reservation, I knew I had to go there one day. I'm constantly searching for the best Risotto and the Risotto which Anthony Bourdain ate at Da Romano was one of the most appetizing Risotto I've seen. But what is Goh Risotto? Well, apparently Goh Risotto is risotto made from Goh Fish, which is a type of fish that lives in the mud of Venetian lagoon. Da Romano has been making and serving this dish for over a 100 years! But to get to the restaurant, which is in Burano (lace) island, takes about 45 mins ferry ride from Venice. Sounds like a long ride just for food? I promise you it's worth every min of the nauseating ferry ride.

The restaurant is located on the main street, just ask around once you get to the island and you'll find it in no time. Our waiter was very friendly, we told him we came here to try the restaurant's famous Goh risotto after watching it on no reservation. He turned around and announced to the owner of the restaurant (who also appeared in the episode dining with Tony) that it was Anthony Bourdain that brought us here! (I think)

We were invited to visit the kitchen when the chef was preparing our Goh risotto. Even though I have seen it on television, it was still pretty fascinating to see it in person. Watching the chef flip the risotto up in the air with just wooden laddle and the pot was like watching a circus act in a carnival. All of that didn't matter if the end product is not impressive, but the Goh Risotto, just like how it looked on television, was really one of its kind. Maybe it was the intense flipping action which release the starch in the rice in a certain way that blends perfectly with the intense flavor of the "poor man"'s Goh fish broth. Or it could be the bountiful of butter. I can still vividly remember the taste. We also ordered the squid ink risotto (surprisingly is tomato based and has a different flavor profile), Spaghetti ala vongole, Mix seafood crudo with sardine, baby squid, baby octopus, sea snail, langoustines/shrimp, and they were all amazing. The star of the meal was definitely the Goh risotto and it has taken the trophy as the best risotto I've ever had. It was one of the most memorable dish we've all had during this Italy trip. If you're ever in Venice, do take that nauseating ferry ride to Burano for this risotto. It's worth it, and the island itself is really charming, peppered with bright colorful buildings and other photo opportunity. It's as close to an Italian vacation as you'll be able to seek.

We witnessed the famous "risotto flipping" action when visiting Da Romano kitchen. Thank you for letting us into your kitchen!
Our charming and friendly waiter
Mixed seafood crudo
Goh Risotto 
Squid ink risotto 
spaghetti ala vongole

Cantina Do Mori

Address: San Polo 429, Venice (Near Realto)

Phone: 041-522-5401
I am sure if we had more time in Venice, we would have been able to do a bacari crawl and taste different styles of cicheti at both traditional and modern bacaro in Venice, and wash those glorious food down with ombra (wine) - Venice food tour a la cicheti e ombra style. Instead we only had time to check out Cantina Do Mori at San Polo near the Realto this trip. But I hope this is just an introduction to the Venetian bacari world, to be continued in our next trip here.

Cantina do Mori looks like it's been around for a long time; its narrow and dim interior is decorated with pots and pans hanging down from the ceiling,  wooden table with stools, cicheti displayed on glass shelves and wine served in glass from wooden barrels. We told the waiter/bartender to put together a mix platter of their best cicheti for the four of us and 2 glasses of vino bianco and vino Rossi to go with the food. He gave us croquettes, tomato with bread crumbs, salume, cheese and some finger sandwiches, some of the cicheti were pretty similar to the pintxos we had in San Sebastian. Now, the quality of the food at this bacari is not as exciting when compared to the more traditional style of pintxos like Ganbara in San Sebastian, Spain. There's a lack of similar excitement that you would get pintxos hopping in San Sebastian as you seem to get with bacari hopping in Venice. Not sure whether it's the lack of diversity of choices, quality of what is served on the plate, non-specialty food like the mushrooms you get in Ganbara, or most likely, due to our lack of time to explore more while in Venice. The traditional cicheti at Cantina Do Mori is pretty decent but I think I would also like to try the more modern cicheti in Venice next time. I heard there's a whole world of sophisticated bacaro in Venice!
Cantina Do Mori's quaint interior
Wine Barrels at Cantina Do Mori
Our mixed platter with croquettes, tomatoes, sandwich, salume etc

Yaokuis in Italy

Buon Giorno, food loving creatures! Today is our last day here in Italy and we are sad that our gastronomy tour will soon come to an end. Gan, myself and two other friends have literally been eating up Italy all the way from Venice, Rubano, Cinque Terre, Modena, Florence, Siena to Rome using the food itinerary I have put together. Travel websites and travel blogs were really helpful for my research on eating places, but as customary to my food inspiration, I rely a lot more on Anthony Bourdain's recommendations, as well as suggestions on, food blogs and tripadvisors. Our goal was to eat good local food, go to places where there are as few tourists as possible and as authentic as possible. Lo and behold, since "No Reservation" is such a popular show, we ended up seeing a lot of American tourists eating at the same restaurant Bourdain featured on his Italy episodes. He is now officially an industry in the food-turismo (we've been seeing quite a few agroturismo movements here). If all restaurauteurs pay him commissions for each cover he helped guide tourists to their restaurants, I won't be surprised if Bill Clinton will be challenged in his position as the richest man on the planet. Well, I'm sure Bourdain would not, as he always do say in his books, "sell-out" to the evils of the $$ or in this case €.

The craziest thing we have done for food this trip was driving 1 hour from our hotel at Siena di Torrita to Siena for dinner at Il Canto late in evening and returning back to Torrita di Siena/Montepulcino mountains at 2am in the morning. Imagine, driving down the Italian autostrada with no street lights and even more unnerving, driving through the treacherous Tuscan countryside windy roads with approaching Italian drivers driving at like 200kph! Aside from that, I have also gotten food poisoining for the very first time during a trip. I'm guessing the unpasteured cheese I ate at the Siena mercato was too much for my stomach to handle. But nothing is stopping me now, especially when we are in Rome. Traditional Roman Cacio e Pepe dish we had last night at Roma Sparita was a good start to our short Roman holiday. Step aside, Anita Ekberg! I'm having my own La Dolce Vita, cibo style. Looking forward to eating as much as we can today and sharing the food stories and photos soon! Ciao!

Sam James Coffee Bar


Address: 297 Harbord Street, Toronto, Ontario Canada

Phone: (647)341-2572

Hours: Mon-Fri 7-7, Sat 8-6, Sun 9-5

My love affair with good coffee began when my friend Nick introduced me to Abraco in New York City and I started realizing how good a cup of coffee can be. I have since turned into a coffeeholic, not a 3-4 cups a day kind of coffeeholic but more of an I-want-the-best coffee-wherever-I-go kind. So for my very short trip to Toronto, I decided to check out Sam James Coffee Bar, which says serve the best cappuccino in town. Another reason why I picked Sam James Coffee Bar over the rest? The owner and barista, Sam (the guy in black t-shirt) is the Canadian Central Regional Barista Champion! Got to try the best!

The aroma of coffee beans immediately awoken my senses as soon as I walked into Sam James' cute 1930's inspired coffee bar. The stylish barista made me a deliciously smooth cup of cappuccino and I was a very happy girl. One of the best cup of cappuccino indeed. Since there were not many people that day, we were able to chat with Sam for a bit and have more photos ops! Excellent coffee and service with a smile, I'm starting to like this town!

one fine cup of cappuccino!

Service with a smile =)

Sam with my yaokui partner in Toronto
Sam James Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon