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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andre Carne de Res

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

http://www.andrescarnederes.com/

 

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36 hours in Singapore

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

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

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

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

Day 1

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

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

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

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

 

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Love Letter to Strasbourg

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

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

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

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

What to do:

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

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

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

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

Where to eat:

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

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

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

Grab a tasty treat:

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

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

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

 

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

A love letter to North Fork (and wine)

I like wine.  Okay, I love wine.  And much as I love my city of Manhattan and state of New York, I must admit I didn’t know too much of anything about New York wine.  So I was excited to celebrate the Saturday summer solstice in North Fork vineyards combining a couple of my favorite activities – biking, drinking and eating.  I haven’t “cycled the wine lands” since Stellenbosch during Semester at Sea.  My parents and I drove the car from Stamford, CT (approximately 2-2 1/2 hour drive), strapped two of the bikes on the back of the car and rented one from a super nice guy named Dan in Greenport.

Our first pit stop was Duck Walk Vineyards.  As you enter the building, it opens up to a beautiful, massive event space suitable for 400 guests with high vaulted ceilings, two tasting bars and an outside scenery that includes an expansive outdoor patio and vines stretching acres across the residence.  At 11am sharp, tourist buses, limos filled with bachelorette parties and other walks of life storm through.  Some vineyards like Duck Walk can accommodate huge crowds, but others like to keep the intimate feel of the vineyard, and prohibit tourist buses and large parties.  The talk of the vineyard isn’t the red, white, or sparkling wine but its distinctive Blueberry Port crafted from wild Maine blueberries.  They serve it with a little piece of dark chocolate and recommend you sip, bite and sip again to really bring out the bright, fruity flavors of the port.  I was also a fan of the 2012 Chardonnay that received a New York Times Best Buy, and was a nicely balanced, crisp dry white wine.

 My mom and I were researching lunch spots in the car and came across my friend Charlotte Savino’s post in Travel + Leisure about the delicious scallop BLT at Southold Fish Market and it sounded too delicious to pass up.  It was about a 10-15 minute bike ride from the vineyards.  Sadly, the scallop BLT was not on the menu, but my mom ordered the fried scallops which were deliciously fresh and battered to perfection, while I stuck with a classic lobster roll and few raw oysters to start.

After lunch, our second stop was Croteaux Vineyards, where I was surprised to learn that it’s the only vineyard in the United States dedicated exclusively to producing Rosé wines.   In terms of ambiance and setting, this colorful, hip, European-style vineyard definitely took the cake.  Buses, limos, drop-offs and parties larger than eight are prohibited, keeping the backyard tasting area low-key with a killer view.  Unfortunately, none of the wines blew me away, but naturally I’d think the rosés should be left to the French. 🙂

 

Our next and last stop was Sannino Bella Vita Vineyardone of the newest wineries on North Fork with beautiful outdoor seating overlooking the vines.  I picked up a bottle of their ” 2nd Bottle Red”, a blend of red grape varieties that produced a high tannic and peppery wine with a subtle hint of berries.

So, that was three vineyards out of the many beautiful estates spread across the region.  You can bet I’ll be back to visit a handful more this summer, where I’ll continue to profess my love and raise my wine glass to New York’s North Fork vineyards.

Gros bisous,

Krystina

Where to eat in Honduras (if you can find it)

About an hour to 90 minutes on the single lonely road from San Pedro Sula airport driving towards Copan you’ll find a restaurant that served my favorite meal throughout my eight day vacation in Honduras.

There aren’t too many people flocking to this country for a unique culinary food tour.  Many traditional Honduran dishes are quite simple where the most popular breakfast specialty, the baleada, is a wheat flour tortilla folded in half and filled with mashed fried beans and crumbled queso fresco.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can add a few other ingredients like roasted meat, avocado, plaintains or scrambled eggs.

Don’t get me wrong – like most Latin American cultures, in Honduras you can feel the love and care that goes into preparing (and celebrating) their food.  I think it’s the execution of the simplest ingredients that really made me appreciate how superbly delicious a meal can be.  The thinly sliced chicken breast was grilled to perfection with juices flowing through each bite like it was pulled from the bone with a flavor burst of chimichurri as if it had been marinating for weeks on end.  The plantains were perfect – not too thick, not too mushy.  Crisp bites of banana goodness.  Their version of the israeli salad even had a distinct vinegar dressing.  And don’t forget the extra chimichurri sauce on the side!

We loved it so much we had to stop there on our way back from Copan towards Tela.  Sorry I can’t find an address through Google search, but if you check the Restaurante El Galopa Facebook page you can find the number and call for better directions (if you speak Spanish).

Bon appétit!

Southwest France: Day trip to Biarritz and Saint Jean-de-Luz

If you’re visiting the south of France, you don’t want to miss any opportunity to explore the glamorous stretch of beaches along the Bay of Biscay in the west or the French Riviera in the southeast.  While in Cere visiting family, my parents and I took a day trip to the beaches gliding along the Atlantic from Biarritz to Saint Jean-de-Luz.  The drive was about two hours from Cere.

Biarritz can become a madhouse full of tourists and locals so much like any good beach in the middle of summer, you want to get there and claim your spot early.  While France is famous for its free-spirited topless beaches and promoting a bathing suit-free environment, Biarritz’s cooler Atlantic waters along the Grande Plage attracts a laid back crowd full of bodysuit surfers compared to the more skin-revealing glitz and glam scene you would witness along the Mediterranean.

After catching some rays and waves, my mom researched a perfect little cafe near the beach called Cafe Jean.  It received excellent reviews so we thought we’d try it out.  It took a few minutes to walk from the beach up a semi-large hill along the cute cobble stone streets.  Even though the restaurant didn’t overlook the ocean, you couldn’t argue with the decadence and superiority of the food,  the seriously reasonable prices and relative portion sizes.  Like any good french déjeuner, we started with a bottle of rosé, then dined on local Marennes-Oléron oysters, calamari in squid ink rice, duck confit and warm foie gras.  Whatever you do, don’t leave without stopping in the beautiful market right next door which is full of fresh and local produce, meats, cheeses, condiments and caviar.

A twenty-five minute drive south of Biarritz is Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a fishing port known for its architecture as much as its sandy beach, with narrow pedestrian streets packed with colorful shops and residences dating back to the 16 and 1700s.  The small town is also known for its royal wedding connection inside Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste where the marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa of Spain took place, and sealed the alliance between France and Spain in 1660.

There’s plenty of shopping, beach and beauty to entice me for another visit next year.

Paris in 2 days? C’est possible!

How was I going to go back to France after 15 years and not visit Paris?  I was departing ways with my family in Cere but it would be a great disservice if I didn’t at least carve out some time to refamiliarize myself in the City of Light.   I am pretty well-traveled and have traveled independently for business, but this was my first time solo mission as a tourist.  I was excited and nervous at the same time, but I felt confident about not having a set itinerary.  I had a list of places and things I wanted to see and do and so I knew I would just figure it out from there.

I flew in from Bordeaux at 2pm on Thursday, August 15 and then had to leave by 3pm on Saturday, August 17 so I really only had two full days.  I knew the city would be fairly quiet in August with some smaller shops potentially closed for summer holiday.  Because I was set on not having a run-of-show I was hesitant to make restaurant reservations but then caved and emailed a restaurant high up on my list, Les Papilles, only to receive the disappointing news that they are closed during the month of August.  That’s when I decided I’m really just going to ‘wing it’.

An important note:  I walked EVERYWHERE.  Didn’t take the metro once.  I know it’s a very user-friendly public transportation system but my objective for these two days was to absorb as much of the city as possible.  Even though I was there a long time ago and too young to really appreciate the culture and history, I do remember visiting landmark sights inside the Lourvre and Notre Dame Cathedral.  I didn’t have time to mosey through the museum for five hours or wait in line to ascend the Eiffel Tower.  This was a two day drive-by and my mentality was I’ll stop and savor the moments when I feel it’s right.

Here’s how my itinerary mapped out for the two days: green is half day 1, red is day 2 and black is half day 3.

Krystina's Paris Map

Thursday, August 15

By the time I checked in to my hotel at the Hotel Danemark it was around 3pm so I had to get moving.  I didn’t have a plan but I started freaking out as I walked down the streets because literally EVERYTHING was closed.  Shops, cafes, EVERYTHING.  It wasn’t until much later I was informed it was a major religious holiday and that all establishments should re-open on Friday.  Phew!  Well, there were places I knew would be open today where the huge swarm of tourists were, so I decided to get that out of the way.  Pont des Arts, check.  Lourvre, check.  Tuileries Gardens, check.  August festival in the gardens, double check.  Place de la Concorde, check.  Seine, check.  Av des Champs-Elysees, check.  Arc de Triomphe, check.  Eiffel Tower, check.  Last time I visited I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower so the one thing I was hoping to do was catch a couple aerial views atop the Arc de Triomphe but once I saw the tourist line I immediately about-faced to carry on my tour.

By the time I was done frolicking around with the tourists I had been walking for 5 hours and was ready for dinner and a couple glasses of wine.  Problem:  many restaurants were closed.  I went back to the hotel and had them call six places down my list.  All closed.  Finally I realized one place a friend suggested, Relaise de l’Entrecote was about a block away from my hotel.  I asked the concierge to make one last call and thankfully they were open.  It’s received decent reviews, but they only serve one thing: steak frites with this “special sauce” which is something I have to be in the mood to eat and shocker: I wasn’t really in the mood to eat it at the time. I didn’t care, I just wanted a glass of wine.  Not sure if the restaurant is always like this or if it was just because of the holiday but it was jam-packed.  I ended up leaving semi-satisfied.  In summary, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Friday, August 16

Today I was dedicating my time walking up to Montmartre to see Sacre-Coeur, take in the views of the city at the highest point of Paris and get lost through the beautiful cobble-stone side streets crowded with local artists, galleries, and food markets galore.    It was convenient that I was passing through Centre Pompidou then also strolled up Rue Montorgueil, a popular market shopping street for local Parisians.   And that’s where you get your really good, real taste of Paris.  Don’t bother with a bistro or cafe.  Walk to the market, stop in La Maison Kayser to grab a freshly baked baguette, hit the fromagerie to check out the morning’s fresh cheese and finally pluck a few pieces of fresh fruit, take a seat in the park and bon appétit! You have yourself a delicious petit dejeuner.

After walking up and around Montmartre, I stopped at Pierre Herme on my way home.  Sarita informed me that they have the best macarons with flavors ranging from caramel brûlée, milk chocolate passion fruit and apricot pistachio.  I am generally an ice cream girl and have actually never tried them before, so I picked up a couple to take home.  OK, they were pretty darn good.

Then I ventured over to Ma Salle a Manger where I sat outside and enjoyed a foie gras and rosé dinner with a perfect view of the sunset over the Seine.  And of course dinner wouldn’t be complete without dessert.  I strolled through Rue de Bac on my way home and spotted a Berthillon ice cream cart.  Now THAT was my kind of dessert.  One scoop pistachio, one scoop salted caramel.  Yes please.

Was that a lot of food for one day?  I didn’t think so either.  This is a food blog – keep up!

Saturday, August 17

I am feeling a little bloated but there’s no stopping me now.  My hotel is two blocks away from the Jardin du Luxembourg so I was saving that visit for my final afternoon, along with a couple other nearby markets.

First stop was Rue Mouffetard for breakfast.  You know the drill – baguette, fromage, fruit.  The chèvre was stuffed with fresh figs and it was absolutely divine.  They won’t cut pieces off for you so you need to just eat a little and walk around and save some for later.

There was another nearby market my grandmother’s friend recommended called Market Maubert.  It is a very close two minute walk from Mouffetard so I passed through there on my way back to the gardens.

By the time I reached the Jardin du Luxemboug I was exhausted but it was a gorgeous day and I was completely in awe by the beauty surrounding me.  I plopped down on the grass, pulled out some more of my cheese and baguette and thought to myself, ‘I could get used to this…’