Food

Tokyo, Japan

IMG_4322My final stop after staying in Kyoto was Tokyo. I again used the Shinkansen to reach Tokyo with my Japan Rail Pass. The train ride between Kyoto and Tokyo takes a couple hours through the country side and also passes Mt. Fuji.

During my time in Tokyo I stayed in the Shinjuku area. Shinjuku is home to the busiest railway station in the world. Surrounding the station you’ll find a variety of entertainment, shopping, restaurants, and businesses. A lot of the major Japanese department stores and camera shops are in the Shinjuku area. I had a lot of fun walking through some of the tech stores looking at camera equipment.

One thing I wanted to do in Tokyo was visit a cat café. Japan is well known for cat cafes and has really embraced cat culture. I visited Cat Café Calico Shinjuku since I could easily walk from my hotel. I’d never been to a cat café before, so I really didn’t know what to expect. This café wasn’t really a cafe, more just a large play room with cats. They sell food and beverage for consumption, but I passed once in the café.

Overall the cat café was an interesting experience but I wasn’t overly impressed. The cats were cute and most of them nice. You could buy food to feed the cats, which is the only time any cat will probably show interest. Without food the cats pretty much ignored most visitors. The cat café was a cute experience, but honestly I would try a different location next time.

While in Tokyo I also made sure to go on a food tour. I went with Ninja Food Tour on the Best of Izakaya tour. This tour was an introduction to Japanese pub food culture in Shinjuku. It was a really great food tour and introduced me to a variety of foods in Tokyo.

On the tour we went to 4 different eateries, including both a chicken and seafood restaurant. My favorite restaurant was the seafood restaurant where we tried 6 different dishes of food, included fresh fatty tuna. The tuna was probably some of the best I’ve tried to date. The tour wasn’t fast paced which made it nice to experience Shinjuku.

While on the tour I met two guys from Norway who suggested a steak restaurant to try in the area called Ikuta. The next day I decided to give the restaurant a try since I was looking to try Kobe beef. I’m glad they recommended it because the food was fantastic. The staff were friendly and helpful with explaining the menu.

Since I was eating on my own, I had to order all my plates individually instead of their meal options. For one person my meal cost around $100 USD. I ordered two different plates of Kobe beef, a salad, and a beer. Additionally, the restaurant provided a complimentary amuse bouche to start with. The meat was tender and flavorful, and truly was some of the best beef I’ve tried. For the quality level of the food, I think the price for the meal was worth it.

The last major point of interest for my trip to Tokyo was the Robot Restaurant. First off this isn’t really a restaurant, it is a theatrical show! There is dancing, fake robots, singing, crazy costumes, and lights.  I’d been wanting to go since I first saw Anthony Bourdain visited on his tv show years ago. It’s become really popular with tourists since then and is extremely gimmicky.

The show actually was fun to watch, though very loud and bright. This place is comical and definitely is a tourist trap. You see very few local people, if any. The show is weird and something fun to do in the evening. I would though stay away from any food or drink offerings. One tip is to buy your tickets online ahead of time, the price is reduced compared to buying at the ticket window.

Accommodation: Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku

During my time in Tokyo I stayed at the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. I had found the hotel through a couple recommendations on travel blogs. Overall, I thought the hotel itself was average. Nothing really jumped out at me about the property other than the location.

The location of the hotel was excellent though. The property is within walking distance from the station and hundreds of nearby restaurants and shops. Another great bonus with the location was the airport limousine. The airport limousine drops off and picks up directly at the hotel. This was really convenient the day I left Tokyo.

Osaka, Japan

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Last year I decided to visit Japan for two weeks over Chinese New Year. I started my trip by spending 3 days in Osaka before heading to Kyoto. Osaka was a city I found easy to navigate and a great introduction to Japan.

The weather during the beginning of my trip was not the most cooperative. It ended up raining my first 2 days Osaka. I decided to check out the various shopping and food areas since most were covered or easy to dash between. One area I walked around was Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street. This street is well known for shops that sell kitchen and cooking utensils.

Besides exploring the shopping areas, I decided to take a food tour with Drink Osaka. This ended up being my favorite food tour in Japan, and possibly my favorite food tour in Asia. My tour ended up being just the guide (Rodney) and myself. Luckily, Drink Osaka didn’t cancel my tour since no one else booked for the evening I was there!

The tour explored the Dotonbori area of Osaka, which is home to hundreds and hundreds of bars and restaurants. I’ve never seen so many restaurants and bars in one area. Dotonobori is busy with locals and tourists trying the various foods and bars. During my tour I tried kushikatsu, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki. We also stopped at two local bars to sample sake and Japanese whisky.

Rodney then took me to a restaurant not included on the tour, where I had the opportunity to purchase and try fugu. Fugu (blowfish) is a poisonous fish and that should only be prepared by certified chefs. The restaurant had less than 10 seats and somewhere I never would have found on my own. Supposedly Jay-Z visited the same restaurant the year before during his visit to Osaka.

I tried fugu two different way. One version was roasted fugu in warm sake, known as Hirezake. The other was fugu served with soy sauce. I had the chance to try handmade tofu, which was some of the best tofu I’ve tried.

 

Accommodation: ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka

IMG_2906During my time in Osaka I stayed at the ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka. The hotel is located in downtown Osaka and overlooks the nearby Dojima River and highway. There are multiple subway stations nearby and a free shuttle to Osaka Station.

The ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka was modern and recently updated before my stay. Upon check-in I was upgraded to a queen room with a view due to my IHG status. The room was the largest and most spacious I encountered during my trip to Japan. There was even a small sitting area that overlooked the Dojima River and highway. The only downside was the noise late one night from the nearby highway. The highway is popular with the infamous street racing that takes place in Osaka.

 

South Beach Food and Wine Festival 2016

IMG_4513At the end of February I had the opportunity to partake in the South Beach Food and Wine Festival (SOBEWFF). I thought I would share some of the photos I took during the festival for those who may be interested and who may not be on my Facebook. The only reason I went was due to my work requiring me, which as some of you may know I try to avoid South Beach like the plague.

This is a huge event that takes place on the beach and at various venues throughout South Florida. SOBEWFF has now expanded to a couple events up in Ft. Lauderdale this past year. For those who may be cruising in late February or early March, this may be a fun weekend activity to look into before or after your cruise.

I was only at the Grand Tasting Village in South Beach for 3-days. Many of the employees who work at SOBEWFF are volunteer students from Florida International University. The event actually supports the hospitality program at FIU and provides scholarships for students. When I was working on my master’s degree at FIU I could have volunteered, but due to classwork and research I avoided the event for 2-years.

Even though I worked the event, I had the opportunity to taste and walk around all 3-days I was at the Grand Tasting Village. Tickets are normally pretty pricey, with the tasting village tickets running over $200+ for one day. Most events are a minimum of $100 and events hosting a celebrity chef seem to be running over $200.

Friday is Trade day at the Grand Tasting Village, but the general public is unable to purchase tickets for this event. Tickets are given away by businesses or are given to those in the industry. I actually won a ticket from Yelp in 2014, but was unable to go. *(Check out Yelp in South Florida starting in January for chances to win tickets to many of the events).

Trade day is primarily alcohol with really no food. There were probably over 70+ tables ranging from wine to spirits. I just tried the spirits since that’s all I had time for. There were a wide range of bourbons, tequilas, rums, and vodkas. Many of the products being served were well over $80 a bottle.

On Saturday and Sunday the event has less alcohol but more food. I had the opportunity to try some of the samples of food and a few more drinks. The food I tried was delicious. I had a fancy bacon donut from a place in Wynwood and guava barbecue dish from somewhere in South Florida. I also had a slider with fried cheese on top.

Saturday and Sunday are much busier since these days are the expensive tickets for sale to the general public. There are demonstrations in the tents as well from celebrities and chefs. I had the chance to see Neil Patrick Harris, Rev Run, Emeril, and Rachael Ray (to just name a few). These events are huge draws and are completely packed with many people IMG_4547standing.

Now the Grand Tasting Village is located directly on the beach, so you are walking in sand. If you have any problems walking, I probably would not partake in this event. Some people were in wheelchairs made specifically for the beach, but I saw people struggling pushing these chairs. Also highly recommend sunscreen, I learned after day one and was pretty sunburned.

Overall, SOBEWFF and the Grand Tasting Village is a fantastic event. I highly recommend not driving to South Beach and getting a hotel room for a night, or taking an Uber/Taxi. The only way to really experience the event is if you don’t drive. Luckily I had rides for 2 of the 3-days and could really taste some of the fantastic drinks.

Magic Kingdom (Part 1)

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During our stay over the Christmas holiday we decided to visit Magic Kingdom before Christmas day, due to numerous websites and reviews reporting after Christmas would be madness in Magic Kingdom. The following days after Christmas Magic Kingdom was closed for entry to various ticket holders due to reaching capacity. We were all really happy we went to Magic Kingdom before Christmas Eve and day.

For our first day in the park, we didn’t make any dining reservations since we had originally booked the dessert party later in the evening, but that was cancelled on us by Disney. Since we arrived at the park earlier than we had planned, we checked out the new Jungle Navigation Co Ltd Skipper Canteen.

In December the restaurant was not taking reservations since it had just opened a few days before we arrived. At this time you could tell the cast members were practicing various jokes and memorizing a script since many of the cast members were using the same exact phrases. Luckily our waiter did not partake in the corny jokes during our meal.

We had around a 15 to 20-minute wait before being seated in the “secret dining room.” The restaurant has a jungle cruise theme obviously and the food is inspired by “exotic” cuisines around the globe.

We started with the falafel appetizer and we all really enjoyed this. The meal also came with bread and a honey dipping sauce (the dipping sauce is fantastic). For my entree I ordered the Char Siu Pork, which was great and the meat surprisingly tender! Everyone else ordered the “A Lot At Steak” Salad, which was a Thai marinated steak salad. Overall a great new restaurant addition to Magic Kingdom.

After our late lunch/early dinner we waited for our FP+ reservation time at the Jungle Cruise (Jingle Cruise in December). In December the ride was decked out in Christmas decorations and all the jokes were holiday inspired. Afterwards we walked around since it was getting late and we had a FP+ reservation for Holiday Wishes.

Originally we had booked the dessert party for the first night, but Disney cancelled our reservation due to overbooking. To make up for the cancelled reservation Disney gave us a FP+ reservation for the firework show and a $100 gift card. The FP+ reservation for the firework show was new to us and gave us access to a fenced off area to watch the fireworks without having to stake out a spot for hours.

The fenced off area opened up about an hour and a half before the firework show started. Before the fireworks started there were  also two different shows in front of the castle. The first was A Frozen Holiday Wish, which was a castle lighting ceremony. The castle lighting is actually very pretty, minus all the Frozen hoopla. The second show was Celebrate The Magic, which is a musical light show focusing on various Disney stories. Celebrate The Magic starts around 15-minutes before the Wishes Fireworks show begins. This show was really great and showcased what seemed like some of the forgotten Disney movies.

The real highlight though of the evening was the Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season. The firework show seemed to be around 15 to 20-minutes long and of course put everyone in the Christmas spirit. Once the show was complete we decided to head back to the hotel after the drive from Miami that morning.