Tips/ Travels

Food Travel: Scoring Restaurant Reservations

You’ve chosen where you’re going on your vacation, and figured out where to eat. How do you snag a table at some great restaurants? Hopefully my tips and considerations will help you plan your trip, and make it as tasty as it can be!


1. Make reservations ahead of time

Luckily many restaurants these days offer online reservations, so it is pretty easy to book. I found that booking at least one month ahead of time was enough to snag a seat.

For Michelin-starred restaurants, try booking a reservation 6-8 weeks before and see how their reservation systems operate. There are restaurants that only allow you to book 1 month ahead of time, so time the booking precisely one month before the date you want. I get to the website at midnight in their timezone because that’s typically when online bookings becoming available.

Note: For those looking to dine in Japan, it is not as easy to make reservations to some popular / famous restaurants. I won’t go into this within this post and recommend reading this Eater article if that’s where you’re going.

2. Check restaurant hours/days open, and national holidays

As you’re planning your trip and meals, make sure to check the restaurant closures. Restaurants will close for national holidays, but sometimes they also close during the week (e.g. in Lyon most restaurants were closed every Sunday and possibly Monday). They will have this information on their website or Google.

Additionally, depending upon what country you’re in their dining times can be different. For example, in France most restaurants open earliest at 7pm whereas in America most restaurants are open by 5:30pm.

Note: In case you are in Lyon on Sunday, fear not! There are some restaurants that are still open, including a few traditional Lyonnaise bouchons like Les Lyonnaise Bouchon. It is worth walking around and seeing what is open as well.

3. Consider weekday lunch if dinner isn’t available

Granted some restaurants don’t have availability at all, but there are some places that also offer lunch and not just dinner. It’s worth it to see if the restaurants you want to eat at also have lunch options, especially if it’s your priority to try out a famous or popular restaurant. That is how we ended up at Takao Takano in Lyon!

4. Double check the reservation emails you receive

I don’t find this to be a problem in the US since the only time you get an email from a restaurant is to provide your reservation details. However, restaurants in France will email you to let you know they’ve received your request to dine there OR that you’re placed on a wait-list since they are completely booked.

I know this sounds unnecessary to say, but as a person who made the mistake twice now, it’s likely valuable to someone else too. 🙂 Make sure to read those emails so you know if you’ve actually received the reservation. This happened to me with Jérémy Galvan where we showed up to the restaurant just to learn that we couldn’t dine there. Eep.


If you don’t end up making reservations, no need to fret! Part of traveling is sometimes unplanned exploration and you can still snag seats at some of these restaurants without reservations. Never hurts to go in and ask.

Happy foodjourney-ing!

Dinner/ France/ French/ Lyon/ Travels

Lyon: Experiencing a Bouchon (Daniel et Denise)

I have fallen in love with Lyon. Notably it is the gastronomic capital of France, and its renown cuisine is built upon many occurrences in history: the Medici family brought cooks that focused on creating regional French cuisine, the migration of incredible women cooks from home to restaurants in the 18th century which created dining institutions known as “bouchons” (in French it means “cork in a bottle”), and many famous chefs were created here including Paul Bocuse – the world’s most influential chef of our time. Yeah, they are serious about their food here.

One of my fondest experiences in Lyon was dining at bouchons. Bouchons are casual bistros that serve traditional Lyonnaise food (think dishes centered around offal, beaujulois wine, potatoes with cream). These restaurants hang corks or bushes of straw above doorways to signify that a hot meal can be found here.

Warning: When you’re in Lyon, you will see a number of restaurants that call themselves “bouchons” though they are not necessarily the true traditional bouchon. Aside from the red-and-white checked tablecloths and wooden tables, be on the lookout for those that are official with the badge (see below). You can also find a list of them here.

I did some research and made a reservation to Daniel et Denise at the original location about a month prior to the trip. My planning paid off Рit was one of the best meals I had during my Lyon stay. The entire meal was spectacularly delicious and memorable Рfrom the warm and inviting waitstaff willing that explains each dish in detail to the delectable award-winning foie gras and sweetbread p̢t̩ appetizer that are set at each table.

We decided to order à la carte, though many tables beside us ordered their set menus. Their set menus also offer a great tasting of traditional Lyonnaise dishes so it’s definitely worth getting as well – they start at €33.

The foie gras and sweetbread p̢t̩ in a pastry case (World Champion 2009) was delightful and showcases how good this place was. The foie gras and sweetbread p̢t̩ had a lot of different textures Рmeaty to gelatinous. Combined with the solid crust that encased it, the dish was a beautiful harmony of various textures and flavors. The onion jam was my jam, packing an incredible sweetness from carefully caramelized onions that works wonderfully with the pastry. No wonder this was a world champion dish.

Since we ordered from the daily specials menu, I wasn’t able to capture what specifically we ate. What I will say is that it was really good – it came warm, covered in jus made from red wine, and was a well-balanced savory meaty dish. This dish brought me to the French countryside, and made me feel like I was getting a big welcoming hug.

We ordered a veal topped with tomato and covered in jus. This was a beautiful umami bomb of flavor, and I attribute the roasted tomato on top for that. We also ordered the grilled pork chop with peas, carrots and pickled onions was cooked perfectly, with a light pink on the inside.

While the mains were very good, what left an impression on me were the sides (they come with every main dish). They had lyonnaise potatoes (sliced potatoes cooked in duck fat), carrots cooked in butter and penne covered in bechamel cream. Everything was heavy, but everything was phenomenal. To this day I cannot stop thinking about how delicious the carrots were, and has created a new standard of sides for me.

Their baba au rhum was no joke – it was large, and the waiter came by to douse the baba with rum. It tasted alcoholic given how well the baba soaked up the rum.

This was my first taste of Lyon, and I am so glad it was here. Incredible and without a doubt, I am highly recommending this place to anyone that goes to Lyon.

Lunch/ San Francisco/ Tips

SF: My Fav Lunch Spots in FiDi

SF’s Financial District comes alive when it’s lunch time. Hungry businessmen to tourists wander these streets looking for good food to eat. I’ve made my rounds to a number of different places (e.g. food trucks, stands, restaurants) in hopes to find food that is affordable, yet delicious, quick and filling. Finding these places is not easy, especially in a city filled with lots of tech money and expensive rents.

Fear not, lunch gems do exist! I’ve categorized them by convenience – time is money, money is time – as well as cost.

Grab-n-Go: I Gotta Run to a Meeting

When I first heard about Sushiritto (<$10-$15), I scoffed at the idea of eating sushi in burrito form…until I tried it out for myself. It’s actually pretty great, and especially for lunch. Their burrito combinations are delicious, and I especially enjoy the different textures that come from tempura flakes lining the exterior to the crunchy cucumbers packed inside.

Pro tip: Order on Ritual and you can skip the long lines that form during lunch hour. It saves me a ton of time and hassle!

Onigilly (<$10-$15) serves Japanese rice balls and has various different sets you can get for a pretty affordable price. They use milled rice (the healthy good stuff) and high-quality ingredients for the fillings. These rice balls – or rather triangles – can easily fill you up, leaving you fulfilled and not stuffed.

Proper Food (<$15) is your essential take away stand – there are breakfast sandwiches all day, juices and the best coffee pods and salads that are always made fresh in the morning from seasonal ingredients. They have a great selection of vegan and vegetarian-friendly options too. You can always get your item heated up if you ask so your entree can taste even better, they use kalamata olives in bulk and they are the best.

Fast Casual: I Can Sit if I Want

If you like variety in your sushi choices, this place is for you. Iku Sushi (<$10-$15) gives you the power to choose which pieces of sushi you want in your box, each type ranging anywhere from $1.20 to $2.00. They also have sushi sets, hot and cold appetizers, and soup.

Pro tip: From 4pm-6pm daily they have a happy hour where everything is 30% off!

You can always make your way to Delica in the Ferry Building for some bento boxes made fresh daily. They have a great selection of “deli-style” salads such as wasabi potato salad or a hijiki salad where you can get them in 1/2 pints, 1 pint or more and priced by weight. Their fried items like shrimp cake or crab croquettes are done well – not oily and flavorful – so you know they are using real ingredients.

The Bird serves some legit fried chicken sandwiches. You can choose to make it spicy, and it’s served with pickles and slaw. It’s simple yet very tasty. It can get pretty busy during the week, so make sure to allot some time for a line.

A Bit Pricey, but Worth the Time and $$$

If you want to be transported back to Japan, and enjoy an omakase, go to Grubbies. They serve their chirashi bowls (~18-$25) through a window so it’s easy to miss. If you get their omakase (~$40), it’ll come wrapped using a furoshiki and have an assortment of fresh fish from Japan, miso soup and rice.

Pabu Izakaya (~$30-$60) is one of my favorite restaurants in the Mina Group because they serve some pretty delicious dishes. Their take on izakaya food is certainly a deviation from the traditional, but it still tastes great. Their sushi is also very fresh. It’s really easy to spend a lot there, so it’s a good place to splurge for lunch if you have the budget.

Pro tip: They have a great happy hour special – Monday through Friday in the Bar & Lounge area, from 3:00pm to 6:00pm – where drinks are under $7 and bites are ~4-$11.

Even though I love Mourad for dinner, their lunch (~$30-$70) is just as good. It’s a great place to take a client or customer out (aka have someone else foot the bill) since it’s not cheap, but it is delicious. They do a nice job creating a lighter menu for lunch, and I appreciate how it is different than their dinner offering.


Are there other notable lunch spots? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you enjoy this post, subscribe to the blog or follow me on Instagram (@terryeatsalot)!

Events/ Tips/ Travels

Coachella Eats Review 2019

Coachella has been stepping up their eats and drinks game to elevate the festival to the same level of amazing artists, stages and art installations. This is one of the most Instagrammed festivals: beautiful sunsets and palm trees line up the scene against a backdrop of colorful balloons and massive stages. Coachella is letting the world know that this festival brings the best to all elements of a festival experience, even if food has been often an afterthought for attendees. Not for me though!

So, how is Coachella food really? Does it look as good as it does on Instagram?

My quick answer is yes. Coachella’s list of vendors is extensive, each year making it bigger and grander. They feature local LA vendors as well as big names like Shake Shack. This year they even had a restaurant by Chef Curtis Stone that you can book via OpenTable.

When I go to music festivals, I don’t like to bog myself down with food experiences *surprisingly* since the focal point is to be able to enjoy the music and eat when I want. My ideal festival food is:

  • delicious and flavorful,
  • relatively filling (you need to dance for hours and not want to sleep after eating), and
  • not get all over your hands kind of food.
  • WATER WATER and more water, the most essential, you can take your ior get there and there are some custom bottled water so cute as a souvenir.

Food Review & Recommendations

My favorite snack / bite of Coachella is always Front Porch Pops Watermelon popsicle. It is always the first thing I get when I am on the grounds, and what I look forward to every year. It has the delicate sweetness and flavor of watermelon without the pulp and seeds.

My recommendation is to get one per day. I always get at least two a day! They have run out of this flavor before.

Even though they didn’t serve any pizza, Square Peg Pizza‘s BBQ brisket sandwich was delicious. The brisket was tender and had melt-in-your-mouth texture. Each sandwich had a plenty of meat to give you enough energy to dance throughout the day. Highly recommend!

Shake Shack burgers were reliably delicious. The soft potato bun sandwiched fresh lettuce, tomato, cheese and juicy burger patty made this my go-to for any meal (lunch or dinner). The fries were also perfectly fried – they were crispy and had ridges for you to get ketchup into those crevices. Definitely recommend having it at least once!

The Kogi BBQ pork belly rice bowl filled me up. It was wonderfully flavorful and saucy, which mixed really well with the rice. I appreciated how they had some veggies since not many foods at Coachella did. I recommend this if you’re in the mood for something fast near the main stage.

If you want something quick and filling, paella is the way to go. It was packed with chicken, shrimp and peppers and came in a pretty large bowl too.

One of the most disappointing eats I had was at Konbi – their pork katsu sandwich. The white bread was dry, and the pork was cold. It seemed like it was recently defrosted. There was no lettuce, unlike what the press photos had, so the texture of the sandwich was rubbery and really unpleasant to eat. I couldn’t even finish it.

Photoshoot:

From Eater LA | Wonho Frank Lee

Reality:

I do not recommend coming here and getting any of their sandwiches.


Despite having a bad experience at one vendor, I have a number of incredible memories including sitting in the shade with a Shake Shack in hand listening to Arizona at the Coachella stage. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to enjoy so much at the same time – music, food and friends. Until next year! 🙂

Dinner/ Hawaiian/ San Francisco

SF: My Guide to Liho Liho Yacht Club

I often get the question, “I’ve heard of Liho Liho but never been there. Is it worth it to go to?” My answer is undeniably yes. It is totally worth getting a reservation there or trying to snag a seat at the bar. Note: If you want a table seat, go right when they open – 5pm – and line up.

So what makes Liho Liho spectacularly good?

  1. Their food is consistently delicious. After going 10 times, I can say that everything has tasted just as good as the first time I went. That’s hard to pull off for a restaurant, and they’ve done it.
  2. The service is laid-back and friendly. At the same time, the staff is able to give detailed descriptions of dishes/drinks, and attentive. This is my perfect mix.
  3. The ambience is warm and upbeat, bringing in the Hawaiian feel using ocean-colored floor tiles and pineapple-yellow wall tiles in the open kitchen. There’s usually some early 2000s hip-hop playing in the background, adding some groove to the place.

Okay, so what should you order?

Beef tongue buns

Ahi tuna poke

Roasted cauliflower

Housemade spam over rice (off-menu)

Baked Hawaiian

I’d love to hear about your Liho Liho experience. Share your thoughts in the comments below. Subscribe to my blog or follow me on Instagram (@terryeatsalot) for more photos and content!

BBQ/ Dinner/ NYC

Hometown BBQ: Melt-in-Your-Mouth Meats in Red Hook

I took a hiatus from eating BBQ since I stuffed my face at a barbecue festival in Austin this past November (no regrets). Luckily my friends took me to Hometown BBQ in Red Hook, even though the rain and cold, to eat here. Now I finally understand why.

Once I stepped into the bbq restaurantwhoosh – the smells of smoked meats and heat permeated my whole being. Excited and hungry, I was ready to pounce on all the meats and stuff myself silly. Our plate was filled with corn bread, Hometown coleslaw, brisket and pork ribs.

Foodjournies-Hometown-Barbecue-Plate

This beef brisket was magical, and barely was able to be held with my fork because it was so soft.

Foodjournies-Hometown-Barbecue-Brisket

The wood fired chicken used an Oaxacan marinade, and served with pickled onions and salsa verde.

Foodjournies-Hometown-Barbecue-Chicken

Beef ribs, close-up.

Foodjournies-Hometown-Barbecue-Ribs

Pickle backs

Foodjournies-Hometown-Barbecue-Picklebacks

Picklebacks, just because.

Foodjournies-Hometown-Barbecue-Banana-Bread-Pudding

Banana bread pudding, one of the best ways to end a delicious meal.

So glad to have come here, and cannot wait to go back! No reservations needed, though I’d make sure to go there on an off-peak time like we did (~9pm on a Friday).

Hometown Barbecue
454 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
(347) 294-4644
Google Map Link

American Traditional/ BBQ/ Breakfast/ Chinese/ Dinner/ Italian/ Korean/ NYC/ Seafood/ Travels

NYC Recap: My Top 5 Eats

Thanks to the Magnesium Chloride Flakes I found on this site to treat my skin condition and go out in confidence, I’ve made it a point to go back to New York every few months despite living in San Francisco. Not only is it to see my family and beloved friends (love you all), but it’s also to keep abreast to one of the most diverse, ever-changing culinary scenes in the world.

This trip was a full week (Friday to Saturday) of meeting up with friends, working virtually and eating. I made it a point to work and visit as many different neighborhoods as I could. Staying in Brooklyn made it easy to do that and needless to say, I discovered a lot of delicious places!

My Top 5

Below details out my top five food picks of this trip. Each of these places stood above the rest (out of 29 restaurants/stands). It goes to show (1) how much you can eat in a week (got to live your fullest life right), and (2) the extent of the different types of food you can get in NYC.

For those who want more NYC recommendations, I’ve also updated my NYC Recs Google Map as well.

5. Decoy

I finally got a reservation to eat their famous Peking duck meal, after years of not being able to make them. Their Peking duck was fantastic. It had beautifully crispy skin along with tender and juicy duck meat. They had three different sauces to choose from to go with your duck wrap. I particularly enjoyed the consomm̩ Рit was incredibly flavorful and coated your mouth with duck jus.

Be prepared to eat a feast – you get to choose from multiple items from 4 sections of the menu. It’s not a cheap meal, but you’re guaranteed to have leftovers.

4. Jeju Noodle Bar

Korean cuisine has been hitting the mainstream, and for good reason. Esteemed Korean chefs have begun innovating and elevating Korean food for the masses, where it has produced a lot of amazing restaurants in New York. Jeju Noodle Bar fits into this category, bringing to life a particular Korean regional cuisine, and mashing it with contemporary techniques and flavors.

The ramyun noodles were perfectly cooked, and I felt had really interesting combined flavor combinations such as chicken, dill, cucumber and pork belly. Also, don’t stop at only ordering ramyun. I recommend ordering their appetizers as well. These dishes were beautifully plated, and gave an even fuller picture of new combinations of Asian flavors.

3. Cafe D’avignon at Dekalb Market Hall

Croissants are a simple yet difficult pastry to master, and this bakery has it made. There was a perfect crispy exterior and an extraordinary light, soft buttery interior. Let’s just say if I lived close by, I would become a regular and have a hard time eating anything else for breakfast.

2. Scampi

This was one of the most beautiful and delicious restaurants I ate at during this trip. It brought me back to Southern Italy, where seafood was incorporated into most pastas and crudos dominated the appetizer section of the menu. It was easy to relax in here, and the host was particularly hospitable too. There was a warm friendly nature to the staff there, which made the entire dining experience even better.

1. Hometown BBQ

While I love a good sushi meal, having some high-quality soulful BBQ makes me just as happy. After hearing my friends gush over this place, we made our way to Red Hook (even through the rain) to eat here. It blew my mind away, and felt that it was as good as barbecue I ate in Austin.

All the meats were delicious, juicy and tender. Their BBQ sauce melded to the meat in a way where smoky and savory met with sweet and tart in all the right ways. I couldn’t stop myself from eating a lot of brisket, just to have the sensation of brisket melt in my mouth again and again, and again.

I cannot wait to go back to New York and eat a lot. 🙂 If you want to see where else I’ve been going, subscribe to the blog or follow me on Instagram (@terryeatsalot).

American Nouveau/ American Traditional/ Chinese/ Dinner/ Food Media/ San Francisco/ Seafood/ Spanish/ Thai

SF Picks: Where to Take Your Out-of-Town Friend

Your friend is coming into town, and you’re wondering where to take them. Anxiety starts building. Your mind races, and starts going into panic mode. But what if they have a bad burrito…Okay, let me stop you right there. I got a list for you.

It’s hard to think of places where food that can meet or even exceed expectations, especially if those expectations are someone else’s. On top of that SF’s food scene can be hard to navigate (I mean, what is “Californian” anyway?) This list of recommendations feature places that SF has to offer that are stand-outs to me, and can make any well-traveled urbanite happy. I kept this list within the scope of San Francisco – strictly within the 7×7.

In no particular order:


Hog Island Oyster Bar ($$, Embarcadero/FiDi)
– located within the Ferry Building, Hog Island Oyster Bar sits across from a beautiful view of the Bay. I’m always ecstatic to grab one of their bloody mary’s and slurp oysters by the dozens. What makes this a stand out? They are quinessentially SF, embodying what this area has to offer – delicious seafoods, incredibly tasty drinks, and classically American. Pro tip: It gets packed during the weekend, so try going during the weekday. Minimal lines.

Bellota ($$, SoMa) - this restaurant stands out above the rest that embodies SF, not only because of the delicious food it serves, but because it resides within the Airbnb HQ building (yes, tech is a thing here). When you walk into the restaurant, you’re immediately tossed into the world of Spanish food: large carving station for your jamons, a bar filled with sangrias and Spanish liquors/wines, and ovens filled with paella. Not only do you get to eat a great meal, but you get to walk around in the beautiful space afterwards. Pro tip: Take a tour in the Airbnb HQ lobby (after all, the bathrooms are right there). You can sit on couches and awe at the space itself for as long as you like. Make sure to look up and find the different themed conference rooms!

Liho Liho Yacht Club ($$, Tenderloin) – Hawaiian is in, and Liho Liho has been on the top of the list for a number of years now. Their food is delicious: juicy homemade spams top fluffy rice bowls sprinkled with furikake, tender beef tongue buns with kimchi where one bite the sauce will coat your hands, and desserts so tasty where you will finish before you even realize it. The most difficult part? Getting reservations. Pro tip: If you need to snag a seat, line up when they first open at 5pm. Otherwise the bar is first come, first serve.

Lazy Bear ($$$, Mission) – This restaurant is a great example of new school Californian dining. Their dishes feature seasonal ingredients, and chefs talk about the inspirations and process of cooking while you’re being served. They only offer communal seating at their two giant wooden tables. No fancy white table cloths. “Feel free to walk over to the plating area and ask questions to the chefs. Interact with us”, they say with a big smile. This is when you realize what food is all about – understanding ingredients and process-to-plate of a delicious and masterfully thought-out meal while engaging in the community (aka talking to other diners and staff) around you. What can be more Californian than that?
Note: If you’re looking for more details on a meal there, here’s a previous blog post. Their menus change based on the season. Pro tip: The only way you can get a seat is through their ticketing system, and they are released every 15th of the month.The cost of the menu varies by day, so if you don’t have a preference on the day of the meal go for Wednesdays!

Les Ros Thai ($, Tenderloin) – I’d say this is probably one of the few places in SF that offers delicious and legit Thai food for reasonable prices. I came here right after a trip to Southeast Asia – which included Thailand – and I felt like their food tasted pretty close to what I ate there. It’s open until midnight, so you can always get this delivered late night. Pro tip: If you don’t want to wait, order take-out or head to their other locations.

Mister Jiu’s ($$, Chinatown) – I’d say there’s maybe a handful of places that serve “Chinese-American” like what they do here, so it’s worth a visit. It’s not your standard General Tso’s chicken Chinese takeout restaurant. What they do is create new takes on traditional Chinese dishes, and it’s done in a way where it’s refined and use local produce. So if you are craving for a chinese food online order, you might want to check this out. Expect your tomato egg soups to use early girl tomatoes and the pork buns to use dutch crunch bread – all Californian ingredients yet it doesn’t feel over-engineered or pretentious. In fact, it’s incredibly delicious. Pro tip: Don’t worry if you don’t snag resos! You can always order food and drink at the bar, which is first-come first-serve. All it takes is circling the bar like vultures.

Basik Cafe ($, Russian Hill) – Lines are out the door for this place on any weekend, and for good reason. Their açai bowls are delicious and healthy, so it’s a great way to start the day. Since it’s aligned with being wholesome, it’s perfect to have pre- or post-workout. That is why you’ll see the lines packed with people wearing their Nikes and Lululemon. Pro tip: If you can, go during the weekday because there won’t be any lines. 

Craftsman and Wolves ($, Mission) – This bakery makes a lot of beautiful pastries and tarts, and they are really delicious too. I haven’t had something there I didn’t like. You can find them as a vendor at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and at their storefront in the Mission. Pro tip: Don’t just order their famous Rebel muffin, try any of their tarts or sandwiches. They are just as beautiful if not tasty.

House of Prime Rib ($$, Russian Hill) – It’s amazing that their menu and prices have stayed the same for years given how expensive this city is. We’re taking about prime rib and sides for under $50. What’s even more impressive is that they continue to serve martinis with its shaker, and perfectly cooked cuts of prime rib with a variety of sides. They don’t skimp on the details: a cold fork for eating salad, warm loaf of bread immediately served when seated, 2nd portions of meat if requested. What more can you ask from a steakhouse? Pro tip: If you can’t snag a reso, head to bar eating. They’ll try to squeeze you in…and eventually you’ll get to a table. Drink some martini’s, and time will quickly fly by.

Are there any other establishments you would add onto this list?

Food Media

David Chang’s Podcast: It’s More Than You Think!

What does it take to open a restaurant? How does a successful and opinionated chef think about things? You can find it all in the latest new podcast by David Chang, the David Chang Show. If watching Ugly Delicious isn’t enough, listening to his thoughts on restaurants, culture and sports is pretty fascinating and personally enriching. He lays it all out there.

It’s also not all about him. He interviews people who have been making waves in this world such as Chloe Kim, Helen Rosner, Alan Yang. You’ll hear him ask provocative questions to try to peer into the mind of another person he greatly respects. There’s discussion on how these “heavy hitters” came to be, and their perspective on our current cultural landscape.

Apart from the restaurants and food he’s produced, I found myself drawn to all the media he’s come out with and been on: Lucky Peach Magazine (RIP), Ugly Delicious, In the Mind of a Chef (Season 1), and now his podcast. Being Asian American myself, I enjoy hearing how he brings his Asian American perspective to the forefront and tries to stay true to who he is – a crazy perfectionist chef who has strong opinions about the world and likes to challenge the norm.

It takes courage and a level of self-awareness to be honest and open to the masses. You don’t need to agree with everything he has to say. I certainly don’t. However it’s equally important to recognize that he’s putting it out there for the world to see and hear.

If you take a listen to the podcast, what are some of your thoughts? Is it interesting to you? Post a comment below and share your experience.

Dinner/ Japanese/ Travels

Kikunoi (菊乃井): Wellspring of Deliciousness

Usually when I travel, I don’t venture to very high-end restaurants. Whether it’s because I want to maximize on tasting local cuisine or curb my spending (traveling hurts the wallet), I don’t end up going to these fine-dining institutions. However, this time was different! I wanted to get this experience in Japan, and ended up scoring reservations at a three-star Michelin restaurant. Since Japan is home to the highest number of Michelin Stars, I figured why not there?

I locked in on Kyoto, the home of kaiseki dining, and pulled up the long list of places. Kikunoi appeared first on a list and was recommended by two of my foodie friends (thank you Mark and Teresa). Having read a little bit about them – established in 1912 and third-generation chef-owner uses well water that looks like chrysanthemum flowers to cook their food – I was determined to go to such a special place, and got the reservation.

Before diving into the meal itself, there are a few things to note:

  1. It’s not easy making reservations – I’ve included my personal experience in the Reservations section below. Make sure to book at about a month ahead of time using your hotel, not an Airbnb. They want to make sure you will be in Japan for the reservation.
  2. They have four different menus based on price (16,000 yen/20,000 yen/25,000 yen/

The whole experience was pretty incredible. You also get a private room for your entire party and since the room is probably larger than a hotel room in Japan, it’ll feel very comfortable. Also, they change the decor of the restaurant to match the seasons so going back will likely have a different look and feel.

Kaiseki

The food was exceptional. Their ability to present all these different dishes, with various components in a variety of dishes/bowls/utensils was amazing. Every detail was well thought out and interesting. Flavors were complex yet delicious. The best aspect of the experience was realizing that, between the private dining atmosphere and interesting dishes, everything felt natural and authentic. They were showing you who they were, and what they were all about in a fluid yet intentional and calculated way.

Not all the dishes we are are in this post since there many, so I’m going to highlight a few instead.

Gelee of mountain yam, octopus, shiso flowers, and wasabi jelly was incredible. Each component brought a different texture, and melded together so well.

KikunoiThis box carried an assortment of appetizers: tai (red sea bream) sushi wrapped in bamboo leaves, anago eel rolled with a gourd strip, pickled myoga ginger (a type of Japanese ginger), tai roe terrine, marinated fried greenlings, edamame, pickled tai, taro and fermented soybeans. It was delicious and enjoyable, giving you a small taste of many things.

A close-up of the tai (red sea bream) sushi wrapped in bamboo leaves.

Sashimi seared bonito with shaved onion, shiso and radish sprout, ground red pepper radish and a ponzu jelly. Even though the sauce looks super thick and possibly overpowering, it wasn’t! It coated the vegetables and fish nicely, giving you a perfect bite.

KikunoiOne of the most memorable dishes of the night – tea-steamed tilefish, with fresh green tea leaves, tea soba noodles, egg, shredded green onion, and ground red pepper radish. The delicate and flavorful broth that surrounded the tea noodles was out of this world.

They tell you to break the fish so that everything in the middle releases into the broth. As you ate the this dish, the broth evolved due to the other parts of the dish incorporated within the broth. It changed it in a way that made it more bright but kept its lightness. Pretty much blew my mind. I’m not sure how it was made, but it was definitely well executed.

Grilled smoked ocean trout and duck breast dish was one of the best pieces of trout I’ve ever had – it was moist and tender. The smokiness of the trout gave it that extra char which adds that nice extra layer of flavor.

A jade eggplant with vinegar sesame dressing – the texture of the eggplant was perfectly tender. The sesame dressing was a nice contrast, so there wasn’t a loss in the texture and instead highlighted the nutty and sweet flavor of the eggplant.

KikunoiSpiny lobster was steamed in its shell, and placed into a lobster consomme with white miso, bamboo shoots, green beans, sansho pepper flowers. This lobster dish was also very well prepared and cooked. All the other vegetables were nice and soft, and provided a soft contrast of flavors against the richness of the miso and lobster.

Of course, can’t forget about dessert. They gave us two desserts: one that is very traditional Japanese – warabi mochi in kinako powder – and you can find these in many snack stores in Japan; the other was a strawberry dessert, essentially gave me blasts of strawberry flavor in each bite, and was balanced out with a delicious milk ice cream. It was the perfect combination of sweets that I love – Western and Eastern styles!


Warabi mochi covered in kinako powder, wrapped in a leaf.

KikunoiMilk ice cream and strawberries covered in strawberry sauce. The essence of strawberry was so strong and sweet, which paired perfectly with vanilla ice cream on top. As simple as this is, it was incredibly delicious. I wanted to lick all of this off the bowl.

Even though reservations are tough and it’s not the cheapest meal, I’d recommend going if you can. It’s a beautifully constructed, interesting and incredibly delicious meal highlighting what Kyoto produce has to offer. Gochiso sama!

Reservations

I’ll make note to say getting reservations wasn’t easy. The reservation was made in March and our meal was in May. While they have websites in a few languages, the English website felt unmaintained. The reservation section didn’t seem to change, and consistently reminded you that no reservations were available. The Japanese website experience, on the other hand, was a world of difference. Beautiful imagery of their meals flooded the main page, though their reservations required you to call them. That’s when I tapped my cousin’s on the shoulder.

Admittedly I am very lucky, and through a series of calls and emails between my cousin and hotel, we were able to snag a table before they were released to the public. As I mentioned earlier, this wasn’t an easy process so I can only hope what I share here will help you get a table in the future.

Kikunoi (菊乃井)

Japan, 〒605-0825 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, 東山区下河原通八坂鳥居前下る下河原町459