Saturday, March 3, 2018

Travel Talk Essential Jordan Tour, Part 5: Dead Sea and Kerak Castle

After our tour stops in Wadi Rum and Petra, we left Wadi Musa to stay in Amman again, with a couple of day trip/ stops in between. The Dead Sea and Kerak Castle trip actually took place on two different half days.

After our morning Petra run, we left Wadi Musa for Amman, stopping to see Kerak Castle in between. As with other castles here, Kerak sits on top of a hill with a nice view of the city.
Kerak castle
Kerak is a Crusader castle that was constructed in the 1140s (fairly young compared to all the other stuff we've seen!). In the 1180s the castle was captured by the muslim Sultan, Saladin. Then it was captured by rebels. Then by the Egyptians. It was also the site of a terrorist attack. Quite the tumultuous history, no?
Kerak castle

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Travel Talk Essential Jordan Tour, Part 4: Petra!

So far I've talked about my Travel Talk Essential Jordan tour in Amman, Jerash, and Wadi Rum desert. On day 4, we left Wadi Rum and made our way for what is (to me) the highlight of the trip: Petra! Petra is the ancient Nabatean city built into the sandstone rocks and cliffs.

So, all I knew about Petra before was The Treasury, which you and I have seen on many Instagrams and of course, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I didn't realize how big Petra really was! It is 264 sq km (102 sq miles). So what I'm basically saying is, be prepared for a hike or at least a long walk.

The main trail goes from the Visitor's Center to the start of the steps to the Monastery, and it is 4km long (2.5 miles) - that does not include the steps though.

From the visitor's center you will walk through The Siq. It's a 1km crack in the mountain so you are walking in a narrow corridor surrounded by tall sandstone cliffs. There are a few things to see in the Siq, a taste of what's to come. At the end is a view you might have seen on Instagram as well. The narrow corridor opening up to the impressive Treasury!
And there it is, in full view. I wonder how long it took the Nabateans to carve this into the cliffs.
Now, if you really want to see the monastery but don't think you can cut it hiking up the steps, they do offer donkey rides (I'm not sure how much, depends on how good you are at negotiating, but one of the people on our tour group got one for 10JD). She did say riding the donkey down the stairs was a bit scary! Anyway, I decided to be healthy and hiked it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Travel Talk Essential Jordan Tour, Part 3: Wadi Rum Desert

So far I've told you guys about my tour through Amman and to Ajlun and Jerash. On the third day of the Travel Talk Tours' Essential Jordan Tour, we left our hotel in Amman and headed to Wadi Rum!

On this day we are joined by a second group who is doing the longer Egypt and Jordan tour. There was some change from the regular itinerary, since the political climate meant people were having more issues crossing the land border, so the group coming from Egypt was now coming by ferry and our guide / bus need to pick them up in Aqaba.

The change ended up good and bad for us, in my opinion. On the bad part, originally they were going to have us go to Aqaba too, but that was an extra few hours drive for our group for not doing much. Instead, we got dropped off at our Wadi Rum camp, Hillawi (Sand Rose) Camp.
Wadi Rum
The original itinerary says we were supposed to get lunch included in the camp that day, but with the changed schedule we arrived only after lunch. This was kind of a sticking point for us as well, as there was nothing going on that morning. We could've been picked up earlier and arrived in time for lunch. Oh well.

The rooms at the desert camp is pretty basic, but it has what you need. Wall outlets to charge your phones, en-suite bathroom with toilet and running water. There's no hot water in the private bathrooms, although supposedly there's hot water in the communal shower area. Since we were only there one night, I'm pretty sure everyone skipped the shower :P. Wadi Rum
Even though there's no hot water, there's pretty good wi-fi, especially in the dining area. I was there in December, so the nights can get pretty chilly. I had to use all the blankets and slept with socks and my sweater on, but it was manageable. Just a warning to pack appropriately.
Wadi Rum
 Anyway, while our guide and bus driver went to Aqaba, we settled in and was given the option to take a short camel ride through the desert. This was an extra 10 JD (about $15) and everyone in the group took it.
Wadi Rum

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sakana Sushi Lounge (Downtown LA)

by @discovering_LA

I recently visited Sakana Sushi Lounge in DTLA. It is located on 9th street just east of FIDM. Fortunately, Joe owns a lot of parking lots in downtown LA and I was able to find parking a block away from the restaurant. Sakana Sushi Lounge has a hip and modern decor. Effective use of wood, glass and color make for a classy interior. The dining room seating is a combination of comfortable tables and booths. Decorative steel chain curtains give window seat customers some additional privacy.

We started with deviled eggs.

The eggs were soaked in soy sauce and were topped with a nicely whipped mixture containing the egg yolks. The salmon roe on top gave it a nice presentation and boost of flavor.

The tempura cauliflower is the perfect dish for vegetarians. The cauliflower is coated with tempura batter and lightly fried. It is topped with sriracha aioli. The serving size is quite generous and this could almost make a meal for one.

A nice assortment of nigiri followed: hamachi, toro, uni, hotate, sake and kazunoko.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Mark the Dates for Cochon555 Around the Country

Cochon555 is returning - a time of celebration for pork lovers. Each Cochon555 event pairs five chefs to five heritage pig breeders to prepare a nose-to-tail feast. One chef will be crowned Prince of Porc and will go on to compete for the title of King of Porc at the Grand Cochon finale.

In Los Angeles, Cochon555 will be at Viceroy Hotel Santa Monica on March 11 and you can purchase tickets here. There's no signature event in Boston this year, instead there will be a Heritage BBQ on August 5. You can check out the rest of the national schedule on Cochon555's website.

Last year, I was in Boston for their Heritage BBQ event, which is run very similarly to the signature event.

Boston Cochon555
Barbacoa on chicharoon by Juliet
Boston Cochon555
Whole pig break-down

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Travel Talk Essential Jordan Tour, Part 2: Ajloun and Jerash

On the first full day of my Essential Jordan tour  with Travel Talk Tours, we visited Ajlun and Jerash and then returned to our hotel in Amman in the evening.

The tour guide picked us up at our hotel in Amman. We had the same tour bus, driver, and guide throughout the trip. The bus was a bit old, but it does have wifi!

The first stop was Ajloun (Ajlun) to visit a 12th century Muslim castle that sits on top of a hill in Jabal Ajlun (Mount Ajlun) district.
When we got off the bus there was a guy selling hot mint tea for 1 JD. December in Jordan is a bit chilly (40-50 Fahrenheit) and Ajlun being at the top of a hill was a bit windy, so it was nice to hold a hot cup of tea in my hands, although the tea itself was a bit too strong and bitter for my taste (the tea at Hesham Restaurant in Amman was much better).

Ajloun Castle was a Muslim castle, but it was in fact built on top of the ruins of a Byzantine church, and you can see remnants of this as you tour the castle.
Ajloun Castle

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Travel Talk Essential Jordan Tour, Part 1: Amman

Last Christmas holiday, I took a tour with Travel Talk Tours to Jordan, to tick one off my bucket list item: to see Petra! I chose Travel Talk because the dates worked perfectly with the Christmas holiday at work, and it was cheap. Travel Talk frequently has deals (including 50% off last minute tours right now). The base price I paid was $599, although there is an additional local payment of £160 (approximately $215) that you pay on the first day of the tour. The price also doesn't include entrance fees to the attractions, but you can get a Jordan pass for about $100 that also includes the Jordan visa fee, so that's not too bad.

The Essential Jordan tour with Travel Talk is a 7 day tour that takes you to some sites in Amman (the citadel and the Roman theatre), Jerash, Ajloun, Wadi Rum desert, Petra, Dead Sea, and Kerak Caste.
Since talking about the whole tour in one post would be too long, I'll be dividing it up into parts! First is the part surrounding Amman, the capital of Jordan and where you will be flying into.

We stayed at The Art Hotel in downtown Amman (also called Al-Balad). This is the hotel you will spend the most time at, with 2 nights at the beginning of the trip and returning here on the last night. Downtown Amman is a pretty good area to be a tourist in. You can walk to restaurants, small shops selling souvenirs and clothes on the cheap (if you haggle), the market, and some other attractions. The cheap stores help if the airline forgot to transfer your luggage like they did to mine ...
The room was good. It was clean, there was wifi and enough power outlets. The top mattress pad kind of slides though, and if you have a room facing the street, be warned that it will get rather noisy when traffic starts up in the morning!
All the Travel Talk hotels provide free breakfast. Here, it's primarily falafel and hummus. Most of the other meals are not included in the tour, though, which was fine with me. I like going out for food on my own anyway so I can choose exactly where I want to eat.

The best thing about the hotel for me was the proximity to a few great restaurants in Amman!
I first had fresh kunafeh at Kareem's in Watertown, MA and fell in love. Naturally as soon as I woke up, I headed to the most famous kanafe / kunafa shop in Amman, Habibah Sweets. It's a tiny take-out only place on an alleyway in downtown Amman, right near the hotel.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Drink Progressively Cookbook Dinner with Urban Grape at Harvest (Cambridge, MA)

I only recently discovered that Harvest in Harvard Square does a cookbook series, where they invite a cookbook author to prepare a multi-course dinner with Harvest's chef Tyler Kinnett. I attended one for a wine and recipe pairing book called Drink Progressively from Urban Grape, a wine store in Boston's South End. The book is co-authored by husband-and-wife TJ and Hadley Douglas (who own and run Urban Grape) along with chef Gabriel Frasca (Straight Wharf, Nantucket).
Urban Grape's concept is centered around something called the "progressive scale". The scale from 1 to 10 signifies how light or full bodied the wines are, so you can find similar wines based on what you like, or which wine to pair with a certain food.

Before dinner we started with a glass of Vermentino, which was a "4W" on the scale (a level 4 white wine).

The first course was Orecchiette pasta, chicken sausage, broccoli rabe, and pecorino. This was paired with a glass of 2014 Failla, Sonoma Coast, California. This was rated 10W on the scale, which meant a heavy, full-bodied white wine.
Harvest UrbanGrape
For the cookbook recipes, they wanted to keep everything approachable and easy to make for the home cooks, and this recipe was one of those that are easy to make yet still delicious.

Slow roasted salmon, bacon braised cabbage
Harvest UrbanGrape
The beautifully cooked salmon was paired with 2014 Lompoc Wine Company Pinot Noir fom Santa Rita Hills in California. One of the founders of Lompoc Wine Company is Rajat Parr who used to run Michael Mina restaurants' wine program.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pasta and More at Testa in DTLA (Los Angeles, CA)

I've been seeing photos of this one uni pasta dish from a new restaurant in downtown LA called Testa. I saw it on all the LA bloggers' feed that I just had to go try it! After all, I absolutely love uni.
I was invited to dinner at Testa, so of course I jumped on the chance.

We started dinner with some Hamachi crudo, orange conserva, champagne vinaigrette, yuzu kosho, fried shallot
This was a great start to our meal. The garnish did not overpower the delicate hamachi.

Our next appetizer is a heavier dish, that I had to order because I'm a corn fiend.
Crispy polenta, roasted yellow corn, shallots, garlic, tomatillo poblano, spiced aioli, cotija cheese ($12)
Bold flavors paired with this crispy polenta dish. A very satisfying and comforting plate and a fun fusion of Mexican street corn /elote with the Italian polenta.

Next is what we came for: Spaghettini, sea urchin, katsuobushi dashi ($23)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Happy Hour with a Sunset View at Mission on the Bay (Swampscott, MA)

Not too long ago I made the trek up to Swampscott in the North Shore with my mom so we can have dinner and drinks with a bay view at sunset. We arrived at Mission on the Bay right at sunset, and managed to take some great photos and videos from our table by the window.
Mission on the Bay
I don't explore North Shore much, and I was pleasantly surprised by the cocktail I had here. The cocktail menu is seasonal, and I had the Go Figure with black mission fig infused bourbon, Cardamaro, and allspice dram. I ordered this because I'm a big fan of figs. The drink was well balanced and complex.

Mission on the Bay
Mission on the Bay also has a great happy hour menu for food (because Massachusetts doesn't allow happy hour alcohol pricing). From 3-7pm on Sunday to Thursday, the bar food menu is half off! You can get more bang for your buck with appetizers like this short rib empanada served with aji amarillo and salsa criolla. The app is normally $12, so during happy hour it's $6.
Mission on the Bay

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

5 Things to Do on A Winter Wonderland Trip to Quebec City, Canada

Quebec City is a great winter destination if you're looking for one that does not involve skiing or snowboarding. Just a six-hour drive from Boston, Quebec City is perfect for a long weekend trip. Here are five things to do in the winter in Quebec City:

1. Visit the Ice Hotel / Hotel de Glace

The Ice Hotel a.k.a. Hotel de Glace is a must visit for those who are in the area for the winter season. Staying on the ice beds are not required, as the hotel is open during the afternoon to visitors. Day visitors can visit each room (each room has a unique decoration) during the day, as well as drink in the ice bar from a glass made of ice. Hotel de Glace is open until March 25, 2018.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

BOA Steakhouse: dineL.A. Restaurant Week Exclusive Series Preview

by guest blogger Bryan Tsunoda @discovering_LA

Dine L.A. Restaurant Week for Winter 2018 begins Friday, Jan. 12 and runs through Jan. 26. Approximately 300 LA area restaurants are participating for this event. Also returning is dineL.A.’s exclusive series: 16 select restaurants have created a special menu only available during dine L.A. These exclusive dinners start at $95 and BOA Steakhouse in Santa Monica and West Hollywood both return after successfully participating last year.

BOA Steakhouse is modern and has an impressive decor which quickly establishes the tone of the restaurant. We sat in the expansive outdoor patio which is designed to protect its diners from the elements. In January, al fresco dining is unheard of in most cities and I appreciated the experience.

Their dine L.A. menu is a four-course dinner featuring multiple selections per dish and the choices available are quite impressive. Foie Gras Torchon, black truffle cannelloni, Japanese Wagyu and pan seared scallop are just a few of the savory selections. A duo of exquisite desserts round out the last course (you can check out the full menu here).

BOA Steakhouse is well known for their caesar salad.

Prepared tableside it is fun watching the preparation, but it is also prepared to perfection. Foie gras lovers will appreciate the torchon method because it is prepared sous vide and is the ultimate way to prepare foie gras. It was placed on top of a funnel cake with blood orange marmalade giving it a salty and sweet experience.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Sun Basket Meal Kit Review

I recently revisited Sun Basket, a recipe kit delivery service that also offers gluten-free, paleo, or vegetarian plans. I tried Sun Basket before a couple of years ago, but felt that they have improved quite a bit recently with much more interesting and well balanced recipes.

The current recipe offerings are much more interesting, with recipes spanning multiple cultures that are relatively authentic (to a point), easy to cook, and tasty, like this dan dan noodles that I got in my box. Sun Basket also claims to use organic and sustainable products.
(If you're not familiar, dan dan noodles is a Sichuan noodles dish with a spicy sauce of preserved vegetables, chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced pork, and scallions served over noodles.)
Sun Basket
Sun Basket costs $11.99 per serving if you do the classic menu, which comes with 3 recipes for either 2 or 4 people each week with 18 recipe choices. With the family pricing, it's $10.99 per serving for 2, 3, or 4 recipes for 4 people with 6 recipe choices.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Public House by Evans Brewing Co (Huntington Beach, CA)

by guest blogger Bryan Tsunoda @discovering_LA

The Bella Terra Mall is an outdoor shopping mall in Huntington Beach. Because it is clean and well laid out, it is quite popular with OC residents. Popular retailers like REI and Costco bring in the crowds and their restaurants are good. The PublicHouse by Evans Brewing Company opened last month in the Bella Terra Mall  and nicely filled in a niche for innovative food and craft beer.

Parking in the Bella Terra Mall can be challenging, but I got lucky and found a space only steps away from their establishment. I found The Public House by Evans Brewing Company to be a warm and inviting venue featuring exposed brick and local artwork. Large screen TVs are present, but since they aren’t on each wall, diners can choose whether or not they wish to watch TV.

The Public House made a strategic decision to use their strong craft beer offerings as ingredients for many of their food and craft cocktails. As an example, their sausages are infused with their craft beer, their Moules (mussels) uses Hefeweizen as a key ingredient for the sauce and their caramelized onions are simmered in their KrHOPen IPA.

I was impressed that they had 14 of their craft beers on tap, but I instead veered towards their innovative cocktail list. Affordably priced at $10, each contained between 3-5 ingredients and is topped with a splash with one of their craft beers. An example of this is their Berry Wasted, made with silver tequila, fresh orange juice, lime juice and topped with their Triple Berry Wheat beer. This drink was both fruity and refreshing.

The Dandy Shandy is made with Sobieski Vodka, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and fresh blackberries. It was both sweet and sour and I liked enjoyed the fresh blackberries on top - nice touch on the presentation!

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