Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Seattle

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If you’re feeling fancy or are in the mood for a nice cup of tea, The Georgian Restaurant at Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle offers a great backdrop for afternoon tea with friends and family.

Like all afternoon tea sets, you select your tea and enjoy it with pastries, sandwiches, and sweets. This set also included a refreshing berry starter.

Attire is smart casual, and reservations are recommended. You can give them a call at (206) 621-7889.

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Seoraksan and a New Shabu-Shabu Experience

Seoraksan National Park is a beautiful place if you love mountain views. It has multiple hikes to choose from, but we decided on the one that included a cable car ride.

After the cable car, we climbed a few steps up the rest of the way to Gwongeumseong Fortess, where a castle used to stand. Wear shoes with good traction, because once you get to the mountain itself there are no more stairs. We visited on a dry winter day, so the ground was rough and had good grip.

After the mountain, we stopped for lunch at Chaesundang Shabu-Shabu, where they served amazing veggies and a new experience for me.

After our meal, they added rice and later an egg, then made congee! It was delicious, and everyone should do it.

Go on a hike, grab some hotpot, ask them to make porridge (jook).

Wine and Shakespeare

We caught a few days of sunshine and drove down to Ashland, Oregon to see a play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The play we saw, Shakespeare in Love, had an awesome dog (although the queen was the standout performance).

Weisinger Family Winery

On the way back up to the Eugene / Springfield area, we stopped to taste wine at a few fan-favorites. Of the five tasting rooms we stopped at across two days, I found most of my favorites at Weisinger.

Here’s what we tasted and some speed notes.

  • 2014 Gewurztraminer – Nice minerality, light and bone dry. Refreshing citrus on the nose, with green apple flavors. This was made from old vines planted 1978 – 1979.
  • 2013 MV (Marsanne & Viognier) – Should be paired with food, at least newly opened.
  • 2015 Rose of Syrah – One of my favorites of the flight (I got a bottle). Wonderful balance of sweetness and spice, not too heavy.
  • 2013 Estate Pinot Noir – Strong pepper on the nose, which always reminds me of Oregon PN. Bolder than the Willamette Valley PNs, with purple fruit and good ageability.
  • NV Mescolare – This Syrah-dominant blend is supposed to be non-vintage, but it just so happened that all the Syrah that went into the bottle we tasted was 2013. Lots of pepper, but finishes like a Cab Sauv. Nice soft tannins.
  • 2013 Claret – Black pepper and plum, with strong tannin but not overwhelming.
  • 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – Chocolate and licorice on the nose, dark purple fruit.

Bonus tip: Where to stay

The Flagship Inn doesn’t look like much from the outside, but we drove down to Ashland with no plans and no reservations. We cruised around town and stumbled upon a cute motel with nice rooms, WiFi, and breakfast for under $100/night.

P.S. Okay, Internet peeps. Which one of you left a surprise meme?

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Myeong-Dong Shopping Street

If you ever visit Seoul, the Myeong-Dong area is a must-see for foodies and anyone who likes skincare products. The streets are lined with shops, and at night (around 6 p.m.) the food stalls open up and it turns into a gastronomic dream. There are so many things to do, places to stay, and shows to see you could easily spend a month in this area alone and still have plenty to discover.

Where to stay

We stayed at Hotel Creto, close to the well-known Sejong Hotel (named after the Korean king who created the Korean alphabet). Shout-out to the friendly staff, who helped us get a lost phone back–and even charged it and cleaned it while it was waiting for us at the front desk!

Street food

More than one person has told me about the street food in Korea, so of course I had to check it out.

Once offices get out, colorful, interesting food can be found on the streets of Seoul. Myeong-dong and Insadong, are excellent streets for street food and shopping.

Go for dinner, enjoy the lights (Seoul is a city to see once it gets dark), and let your taste buds wander.

My favorites: Tteok-galbi meatballs, pomegranate juice, and the cheese butter baked scallops.

Warning: The snails made my niece sick. I spit them out after I took a bite.

Restaurants

The Myeong-Dong area has plenty of awesome restaurants to choose from. Three of my favorites were a dumpling and noodle shop, a Korean barbecue restaurant, and a local hangout with awesome kimbap (pickled radish, carrots, meat, and cucumber rolled in rice and seaweed).

Myeongdong Kyoja

Myeongdong Kyoja was established in 1966 and is still going strong until now. It’s known for knife-cut hand-made noodles, and delicious broth. I was a huge fan of their dumplings (akin to a meatier xiao long bao) and noodles. The soup was savory, flavorful, filling, and perfect in the cold weather.

Ouga

We were drawn to Ouga because of three large ceramic pots outside that sparked our curiosity.

Ouga is a Korean barbecue restaurant that has delicious pork and beef dishes. I love the vegetables in Korea. Wrapping the meat in different types of leaves made a huge difference in the flavor–bigger than I expected. My favorite was the kale + beef short ribs.

Korean Style Pancake

Right in front of our hotel was a local hangout spot. I know this because as we were looking at the menu a Korean man came out for a smoke and told us it’s delicious in there.

I couldn’t get the English name, but it was just to the right of the street in front of Creto. It also had red tarp that advertised “Korean Style Pancake.”

They had amazing kimbap, bibimbap and Korean pancakes. Basically everything we ordered there was a hit, right down to the kimchi side dishes.

Reminders

The norm for restaurants in Korea is one menu per table, not per person. It isn’t a tipping culture (although I’ve noticed people are grateful if you do tip, especially if they can tell you’re foreign), and if you don’t see utensils anywhere check the sides of your tables for hidden drawers. It’s also customary to have one order per person, ie. they don’t like it if three people share two orders.

Nanta

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Nanta is a non-verbal cooking-themed comedy show that’s right in the Myeong-dong area. We got our tickets, did a bit of shopping/eating, and then hung out in the theater cafe before the show.

I recommend seeing the show. It’s hilarious, the actors of the night were awesome, and they’re good with audience participation.

Cat Cafe

Last but not least, if you’re into animals or want to try something interesting, grab a cup of coffee at the cat cafe. I didn’t know what to expect at first, but the cafe was overflowing with cats (usually hanging out in boxes) and they were unusually calm. My favorite thing to do was hold their paws while they napped. The coffee wasn’t bad either.

My favorite one was a little cross-eyed, but that just made me like him/her more.

Nearby: Insadong

insadong

A 20 minute walk away from Myeong-dong is InsaDong, a street that has cool street food, old fashioned houses-turned-restaurants, and cute boutiques to shop at. I also found a gallery to explore. Don’t forget to explore all the side streets you can turn off into, since that’s where we found some awesome tiny cacti.

Insadong is where to go if you want Korean-made products. I found things a little more affordable than Myeong-dong, plus it’s close to the SaChoom Theater, where you can catch some cool shows.

Tugu Kungstring Palais

Tugu Kungstring Palais is a culturally rich restaurant that combines Oriental, Dutch, and Indonesian art and architecture elegantly. I wasn’t impressed by their food, but the atmosphere and details were spectacular. They also have a great gift shop–I bought beautiful handmade cards from a local orphanage.

Our meal at Tugu Kungstring Palais

  • Beef rendang
  • Tofu and tempek
  • Genjer (veggies)

In addition to the main dining room, which features a beautiful panting depicting the last drink of a national hero, there’s also a Oriental-inspired bar that’s a lovely place to have a drink.

Seribu Rasa in Plaza Indonesia

Seribu Rasa is a seafood & grill chain across Indonesia that serves amazing Indonesian food.  We visited the one in Plaza Indonesia, which is a nice place to go shopping.

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Here’s what we got (I took the names from our order form);

  • Orange juice – a blend of local Indonesian oranges, served hot
  • Deep fried tofu kinabalu – tofu that’s mixed with vegetables, then deep fried
  • Oxtail soup peranakan (Sop buntut) – a famous dish that I’ve seen all over Jakarta
  • Nasi lemak beef rdng – a rice platter with an assortment of food around it

Indonesian flavors strike me as savory without being too spicy. Whereas Philippine dishes run sweet and Singaporean runs spicy, Indonesian food is savory with just enough spice to give it a kick. (I can’t handle that much spice, so if you enjoy highly spicy food you may want to ask for chili pepper.)

Bespoke Kitchen: Fresh Market Fare

Bespoke Kitchen is primarily a cafe and coffee shop, which you can deduce from their early hours. They close at 5 p.m., which is a popular time for cafes to close around New Zealand. Pure coffee shops typically close around 4:30 p.m. even.

bespoke-kitchen

As is typical with cafes, they have an assortment of pastries and sandwiches to choose from, to go with their surprisingly strong coffee. I tried one of their salted caramels, but it can’t compare to Honest Chocolates.

However, their food menu is most impressive. I had their pulled lamb flatbread, which was soft, well-seasoned, crunchy, and came with fresh delicious greens. The arugula played off perfectly with the sweetness of the pumpkin hummus.

Great for an afternoon treat, or before checking out the Skyline and Kiwi Birdlife Park.

Wine Tasting Expeditions: The Winery, Queenstown

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The Winery in Queenstown is a haven of enomatic machines and bottles of wine from around New Zealand. All of the labels I saw there were brand new to me, even after working with a wine retailer in the Philippines and in the Oregon wine industry. This most likely means that if you want to get a hold of great New Zealand wine, you’ll probably have to visit the country.

Although I’ll start with the whites for this post, I tried the Pinot Noir before moving to the Riesling and Gewurztraminer. This was a good thing, because both of the whites I sampled were a bit too sweet.

mt-difficulty-riesling2015 Mt Difficulty Riesling

A pleasant balance for those who like sweet wines. It’s still on the sweet side for me, but has enough acidity to keep things interesting if you want to drink it all afternoon. It’s floral and fruity, with flavors of honey and apple. Edging towards a late-harvest Riesling profile.

chard-farm-gewurz2014 Chard Farm Gewurztraminer

Great floral and herbal notes, true to their tasting notes it also had cardamom spice. Sweet finish.

I was definitely in a more red wine mood today, perhaps due to the temperature as well. This was the day I acclimated, so I was happy walking outside with a sweater top and windbreaker.

New Zealand Pinot Noir at The Winery

According to the helpful sales associates at The Winery, 2014 was an excellent year for Pinot Noir, so I started with that. Their wines are delicious, age-worthy, and I lean towards their cooler climate selection (great climate for Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay).

valli2014 Valli Burn Cottage Pinot Noir

This Pinot Noir has a sharp nose with a bit too much alcohol for my taste. It’s a good choice for people who like juicy alcoholic reds, otherwise I think it needs a few more years in the cellar. Some plum flavors, but overpowered by the alcohol and tannin.

super-nanny2014 Super Nanny Central Otago Pinot Noir

A softer nose than the Valli, with nice red fruit. Although this was also a 2014, it was more developed in terms of balance and flavor. There was round, supple cherry on the mid-palate, with a nice softness from their French oak barrels. Nothing too complex, and can be aged for a while longer. Easy drinking.

mountford-estate2011 Mountford Estate Pinot Noir

My favorite of the wines I tried. It has the same lovely complex nose of an Oregon Pinot or Red Burgundy. Lots of bright spice, with tannin that has had some time to soften out. It has great balance now, five years after its vintage year. It finishes a bit flat, but is definitely more well-rounded than the first two (which is likely thanks to longer time in the bottle).

If you’re a wine lover, do yourself a favor and visit New Zealand. The stuff you see internationally doesn’t do the local selection justice. The Winery is an excellent place to taste because of the selection, the knowledgeable staff, and their useful enomatic machines.

Sasso: Italian Dining in Queenstown

Sasso is an Italian restaurant in downtown Queenstown that serves an excellent chef’s choice menu. For $65 NZD they serve three courses selected by the kitchen, and how can you resist that deal?

The first course was home-made gnocchi with steamed clams. Their gnocchi was cooked well, but I’ve always preferred it a little over-cooked. Clams were delicious, especially over the decadent butter.

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Then came lamb and caramelized cauliflower. The lamb was delicious as expected from New Zealand, but the star of the evening was their cauliflower. It was yummier than any vegetable has the right to be, with just a bit of crunch to go with the smokey flavor.

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The finale was the Panna Cotta for dessert, served alongside raspberry sorbet. I’m not a huge dessert person, but this dish was light and airy, and not too sweet. It was more gelatinous than creamy, which was just fine by me.

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Overall the food was delicious and the prices were upscale but fair. Absolutely worth checking out if you’re at a loss for where to eat.