Summer Eating in NYC and Los Angeles

See some food photos from my trip here.

New York is by far my favorite place to eat. When I was last here in 2011, I felt the same as I stepped on my flight to leave. My feelings have not changed. There’s something about walking, public transit, or even flagging a yellow cab as your methods of getting to and from each restaurant – it makes the experience more complete, more of a destination. From the (crack infused) white sauce at Halal Cart on 53rd and 6th to the ‘lightly cooked’ fish at Le Bernadin, food in NYC somehow elevates their game, setting the benchmark unparalleled in other cities. San Francisco, I reside with you, but NY holds my taste buds captive.

Here’s what I ate:

Shake Shack (7.5/10) – Burgers are great but not worth the wait when I have In n out at home.
Momofuku Saam Bar (8/10) – I craved the roast duck from 2011 but I leave this trip with fond memories of the ginger scallion sauce.
Corner Bistro (8/10) – a Burger that you would want at a neighborhood BBQ. Crisp and Simple does it.
Momofuku Milk Bar (4/10) – Crack pie…?
Le Bernadin (9/10) – Quite possibly my best meal of the year until…
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare (9/10) – this intimate experience blew me away. Vegetable centric tasting menus in CA are great, but BK Fare reminded me that $200+ for vegetables isn’t the luxury I crave every fine dining meal.
Ippudo (8.5/10) – Still the standard bearer for Salt Ramen. Had Santouka a week later and it didn’t compare.
Dominique Ansel Bakery (8.5/10) – Cronuts are for real. The 4 hour wait is too. Fig and Mascarpone flavored. #sonutsforcronuts
the NoMaD (7.5/10) –  Egg Quinoa and Asparagus dish is surreal. Food that doesn’t try too hard but is still an awesome meal.
Katz Deli (5/10) – Good but dry after 2 bites!


I have always considered LA as home but I never felt comfortable with the city. I spent my pre-college years there, a.k.a. ignorant years, so I spent time fussing over SAT’s and not culture and neighborhoods. I was fortunate enough to spend a week in LA this summer which allowed for weekday dining, evoking a ‘local’s experience.’ Happy hour specials at Pizzeria Mozza after 10pm on weekdays? Check. Not needing to wait for a table at Son of a Gun? That would never happen on a weekend. LA is full of diverse, cultural, and great food, but besides a select few restaurants like Providence and Alma, I feel that the restaurants lacked a connection with the world trade of food. Perhaps this is a positive thing? Forging its own identity; its own sense of Time and Place if you will…

Spago (8/10) – the Japanese chirashi and seasonal agnolotti are real stars here
Baco Mercat (7/10) – I wasn’t a fan of the baco’s but the vegetable dishes here were stellar
Son of a Gun (9/10) – probably my favorite place in LA. Their fried chicken sandwich is incredible, words cannot describe. Octopus salad and lobster roll are all amazing too.
Dino Chicken (8/10) – the white meat portions aren’t as juicy but the dark meat and marinade is worth the trip (plus its $6 bucks for a flavor soaked meal!)
O Dae San (7/10) – Korean BBQ will always have a place within my heart
Pizzeria Mozza (7.5/10) $20 for a pizza, dessert, and beverage after 10pm on weekdays? Yes Sir – late night meet up spot.
alma (7.5/10) – Alma and noma are the two most conflicting places I’ve had this year. The food was interesting and striving for depth but at the expense of flavors sometimes. I did enjoy the tofu beignets and pigeon.

“Good Night Old Man Jeffrey…”

Organizing Life

Friday night – the moment some have been anticipating since Monday post lunch coma. We are all excited for the opportunity to do what TGIF entails – happy hour with friends, a late night movie, a chance to head out of town.

I chose my Friday to organize life. After deflecting invites for drinks and dinners, I plopped down for a selfish night of me time – a night involving the gym, a prolonged shower that environmentalists would chastise me for, learning about livestock feed made of farmed insects, discovering the Amazon of Personal Services (check the startup out, its cool), among others on my ever growing Evernote to do list.

I always wondered how strange it sounded to others when I had to explain that I always needed to carve out time to organize life. Jam-packed days of Friday-esque activities is my lifestyle – Mondays after the after lunch lulls, Wednesday 10pm. Often, I fully believe that this 1990 JC model is going to run into some problems, whether mechanical or mental.

And thats where organizing life comes in. Oddly, its become a trend that I choose Fridays to be my “cheat” days where I become in sync with Pandora’s “Easy Listening” channel. On the day the NSA receives the most telecommunication traffic data from cell phones to hang out (self note: big deal the last 2 weeks), I remove myself from the social network and fuel myself for the weekend activities. Its almost an adage that the” best times are often shared,” but equally important are my sacred “me” moments – the uninterrupted hours of calm, meditative moments where thoughts, ideas, and emotions ebb and flow.


At 9pm, I wrapped up whatever masterpiece, foolishness, or junk that I had concocted this evening, and a friend gchats me.

“Good Night Old Man Jeffrey..”

15 Minutes of My Home

Upon returning home from my job today, I decided to head to a coffee shop 15 minutes from my apartment. A colder than normal day, I had on my thickest/warmest jacket – something along the lines of East Coast blizzard attire, but it was the perfect outer layer for this unusually cold, chilly day. Something about wind blowing into you, with your face grimacing and facing downwards, and briskly walking along a busy street is just classic city life in my mind.

The coffee shop I chose is a quaint one, located in an alley not too far nor close to any major pedestrian pathway. It acts as a bookstore and coffeeshop that serves some of the cheapest/affordable food you can find in this city. But what really stands out is that its run by a nonprofit that uses the cafe as a proxy to enable those that have hit rock bottom to get back onto their feet.

This evening was to be a “feel good” alone time couple hours and a “feel good” story definitely added bonus points.

During my magazine reading, two men besides me were discussing personal finance. I couldn’t figure out if the man in the suit was trying to court the young guy’s financial handling or what exactly was going on but it was definitely exciting to let my mind wander into the realm of “Is this young guy a successful start up whiz and just earned a ton of $$?” to “This young guy is networking with the older professional and wants to display his business accumen and impress him.” I wasn’t sure, but I was having fun. #eavesdroppingFTW


On my stroll back, I passed by a Michelin 2 star restaurant with a window lending some insight into their kitchen. I stood there for a few minutes, watching the masterful work of cooks and chefs slicing and plating artistic food. I’ve always taken a keen interest in the kitchen world so that 5 minutes was like a child staring into FAO Schwarz store window … two weeks before Christmas.

This evening of experiences that happened all within 15 minutes of my home(breezy city weather, nonprofit run cafes, professional conversations, and world class restaurants) packaged itself into a single thought in my mind ….

“I love this city.”

… 200 Miles and 2 Million Calories (Restaurant Post)

Summer 2012 was the quintessential post-graduation trip of a lifetime (see earlier post here). It was also where I dined at some of the most acclaimed or storied restaurants that don’t call the US, “home.”

Some of them were fine dining, some of them were Michelin starred fast food joints. But what was truly awesome was to see how flat the world was, how fine dining operated in similar fashions throughout the world, yet with their own subtle, but distinct local flair. Sushi Mizutani in Tokyo consisted of few words spoken, and even less minutes spent in the small sushi temple. Louis XV was spent on the balcony of Hotel de Paris, overlooking hundreds of Bentley’s, Ferrari’s, Maserati’s…

I began in Tokyo with the Tsukiji Fish Market where I experienced the most incredible sushi  at Sushi Dai. With a 2 hour wait at 7 in the morning, the sushi there was surreal. Priced extremely fairly and I was all smiles after the meal, but honestly who isn’t when they walk out of “Big Sushi”? A few days later, I entered the temple of Chef Miztauni at Sushi Mizutani. Photo privileges were denied, but the meal was not even close to the experience I had a few days earlier at the fish market. Its supposed to be on the level of Sukiyabashi Jiro, Mizutani’s former Sushi mentor’s fellow 3 star establishment. It was great, but if I was asked where to go for sushi in Tokyo, I’d direct them toward Sushi Dai in a heartbeat. Mizutani and Jiro experiences can be saved when you mentally prepare yourself to be in front of a true master of a craft, with all the beauty and intimidation that comes with it.

My second food destination was to Hong Kong where in the 24 hours, I had 3 Michelin meals that were priced a good chunk below the average SF restaurant price. Some of the best dim sum and goose was to be had here.

Next, I journeyed to Europe where many of the smaller, unknown restaurants impressed me far more than the heavy hitters. Maybe it was the expectations, but nonethless, disappointment usually occurred with the red book 3 stars.  Gordon Ramsay was more or less unforgettable, but Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard just completely underwhelmed. Maybe I dont appreciate French cooking/genius/whatever.

Heston Blumenthal threw curveballs , left then right. It was ridiculous how fun my friend and I had at the Fat Duck. When you’re having tea with the Mad Hatter or enjoying a dish accompanied by ocean sounds, you cannot possibly leave that playhouse without giggles all over.

I bow to Alain Ducasse. In addition to having the most majestic dining room ever, Le Louis XV showed me simplicity can be artistic culinary genius and truly beautiful. Simple wild strawberries over a mascarpone sorbet prompted me to declare it the best dessert I’ve ever had. His signature cookpot of season vegetables…. words cannot describe… you would have to enter my day dreams to understand how much I enjoyed this.

I returned to Carme Ruscalleda’s sea side restaurant, Sant Pau, and left knowing that my amazing dinner 8 months earlier was no fluke . Equally amazing, the town, Sant Pol de Mar, transformed, night and day, from the quiet winter neighborhood to the bustling seaside town of summer, full of Spanish vacationers to the beaches of the Mediterranean.

Another notable included the amazing views of Chateau Eza, along the Cote D’Azur of France. The food didn’t match the breath taking views, but then again.. what can? (probably the cookpot at Le Louis XV….)

The smaller name restaurants I spoke of earlier were Reinstoff of Berlin and La Degustation of Prague. Reinstoff was a solid modern fine dining establishment, fully deserving of its 2 stars. It was a meal that my San Francisco Bay Area palate was happily familiar with. La Degustation also employed a modern approach, albeit to traditional Czech cuisine. It amazed me that ingredients throughout the world dont vary too much (didn’t encounter any new mushrooms I had never heard of), but the sourcing and preparation play a huge role – I never thought catfish would ever appeal to me, but I would choose this Czech catfish over most halibut, salmon, or cod preparations  .

At the end of it all, I came back with a nice collection of memories, restaurant business cards, and a souvenir knife from L’Arpege. It was an incredible experience, being able to eat at all these dream restaurants with one of your best friends. I’m sure I will return to Europe sometime down the line, Noma proved elusive this time around, but honestly being able to eat meals in a foreign country is blessing itself.

The places I visited this summer:

Chateau Eza* – Eze, France (August 2012)
Hung’s Delicacies* – Hong Kong (June 2012)
La Degustation* – Prague, Czech Republic (July 2012)
L’Arpege*** – Paris, France (July 2012)
Le Louis XV*** – Monte Carlo, Monaco (August 2012)
Lei Garden* – Hong Kong (June 2012)
Pierre Gagnaire*** – Paris, France (July 2012)
Reinstoff** – Berlin, Germany (July 2012)
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – London, U.K. (July 2012)
Sant Pau*** – Sant Pol De Mar, Spain (August 2012)
Sushi Dai – Tokyo, Japan (June 2012)
Sushi Mizutani*** – Tokyo, Japan (June 2012)
The Fat Duck*** – Bray, U.K. (July 2012)
Tim Ho Wan* – Hong Kong (June 2012)

…the state of being everywhere…

Ubiquity: [yoo-bik-wi-tee] noun: the state or capacity of being everywhere.

While strolling the canals of Amsterdam, I came across a billboard with a single word, Ubiquity. It immediately struck me as the way to describe my 2012 summer, of where I had been thus far and what I had yet to uncover (~15 more destinations around the world).
I wasn’t doing a soul searching, pilgrimage trek across the East .. nor was I a “Corporate Downsizer” like George Clooney on a quest to bolster America’s unemployment numbers.
I was just plain blessed to step foot in 18 different countries and the two non-contiguous states of the Stars and Stripes, at the invitation of my family and friends.


Beginning on the island of PengHu (Taiwan) where I rode a moped up to 100km/hr in my second try ever on a motor powered 2 wheeled vehicle.
… Bowing in front of Sukyabashi Jiro (Tokyo) only to be shooed away by Jiro’s apprentice
…Engaging in the juxtaposition of third world Cambodia: tourism of Angkor Wat while children suffer from starvation just steps away from Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider temples
…Gorging on 4 Michelins starred meals of Hong Kong in 24 hours, yet spending less than $50 USD combined on the cheapest Michelins in the world
… Drinking bottles of wine and eating kebabs at the base of the Notre Dame de Paris along the river Seine, only to wake up the next day with intense stomach and head aches
… Discovering a heart touching 70’s Danish punk band in a downtown Copenhagen dive bar
…Learning that German youth spend 10 years of their early education on being reticent about their nation’s past.
… Conducting swim workouts in the Mediterranean in both the Cinque Terre (Italy) and along the eastern coast of Spain (Sant Pol de Mar)
… Piercing cold sweeping throughout my body as friends and I stood through the rain and wind on the Kenai River (Alaska) fishing for Coho Salmon
… Having those special life conversations on a beach front resort patio as the sun set along the Kauai coast.


Along the European stretch, I dined at some of the culinary meccas of our time. Many of them with Pellegrino and Michelin accolades disappointed my palate, but Louis XV of Monte Carlo dazzled and left me speechless. More on this in a separate post.


Originally September included a multi-week solo excursion in New York City. It was to include naps in the various urban parks and splurges at some restaurants I longed to try or return to (Saam Bar! Robertas!).


After all the travels, the mission of this summer evolved.


Summer became just as much about the family and friends in my life as my original mission: a last hurrah before corporate life begins. The autonomous trip to NY just didnt make sense, realizing that the summer was one of the last moments of enduring freedom…
Enduring freedom to hit up LA’s K-town bars on a Tuesday night… to plan an impromptu road trip/friend visit to Phoenix and Vegas… to sleep in till 11am whenever I wanted… to have home cooked meals every night of the week…to conduct whatever shenanigans for all the shits and giggles I wanted at anytime of day.


I collected more postcards, spent more time on a bed/couch/floor, and ate out more than I have ever had and probably ever will in a 4 month period in the summer of 2012, but in a more profound sense, I have never felt so many moments of calm.. so many moments where everything was just perfect.

Red Benches, Beer, and Conversation

It was a Red Bench by the ocean.

The tall grass, who mightily swayed to the wind, stood between my feet and the white grain sand.  The dance of the greenery resembled a pattern of a thousand rats racing through the grass in unison just below the grassline, out of sight, and occasionally changing direction as the wind decided to shift slightly west.

Sunrays radiating on my skin and waves lightly beating the shore, I popped open my 台灣啤酒, a.k.a. Taiwan Beer, and lied down watching the clouds move at unreal speeds. It was a classic moment of having the legs propped up and lying down while clouds race across a crisp blue sky. But how many times have we actually done such a thing?

Two benchlength’s away, the pop of a newly opened can signals my uncle joining me in our alcoholic hydration. We proceed to have Conversation: temples about the ocean God of the island, the lack of wood leading to stone buildings, riding motorbikes, women in bikinis, and more.

It was the kind of talk where I felt the heartstring being touched, despite the level of conversation hovering at the border/verge of reaching actual depth due to my Chinese language limitations.

Over the years, I’ve been about taking advantage of all the time available in vacations and seeing everything, squeezing every last pulp of the “What to Do” Guide. Either growing up or understanding that vacation is only a few weeks a year has gotten me to understand that a single moment like this could define an entire vacation, rather than seeing every last tourist attraction.

Heck, these slow, surreal moments in the middle of a busy week just seem to make the work that much more meaningful, the sky that much more blue, the connections that much more real.

What a blessing life is .. appreciating every Red Bench, 台灣啤酒 , and Conversation.


It Felt So Wrong… It Felt So Right

Falling asleep to the sound of a crackling fire, waves repetitively pounding the shore, the angelic white glare of the bright full moon, I fell asleep besides my two companions, my two comrades in the 4 years Berkeley Engineering War, my two friends who had elected to come camping for 2 nights at the start of our last Finals Week.

Waking up was just as majestic. The same eternal sea graced the shore at a lesser decibel as low tide was in effect. Seals barked from the jetty and Blue Jays chorused in the bushel around me.

I wash up, I organized camp, and I start my essay on the Mekong River Hydro-dam.

Why am I writing a paper along the sea shores of the Pacific Ocean? Who writes papers while camping, drinking a beer, and digging his toes into the fine grain sand?

To borrow the words of Katy Perry, it just felt so wrong and yet it felt so right.

4 years at Cal taught me to appreciate the slower, the picturesque, the beautiful things of life. Sitting by the ocean means tenfold more to me now than it did when I grew up by the body of water. Sitting on a patch of grass overlooking my university, falling asleep along the way, feels so natural to me, as compared to when I couldn’t sit still or vegetate for more than 10 minutes pre-college.

Now 5 days away from graduating, I’m finishing up my final assignment. But my mind is more engaged in the fact that I am ending college with the greatest lesson Cal taught me …. Appreciation of everything and everyone around me.


I have since graduated (12 hours ago) and I’m overwhelmed with emotions. I can’t convey what I’m feeling as simply as thoughts materialized when I was typing away on the beach. More on this later…

Getting What You Wished For

2008, I had 3 gmail contacts online, even during prime evening hours.

During a freshman seminar class taught by a senior undergrad, he projected his Gmail home screen onto the whiteboard, revealing a list of 20+ green dots paired with names. I felt so unpopular at that moment. Being a freshman at Cal, you’d understand the feeling of not knowing enough any people.

Four years later , I’m that senior with 30 + green dots, 30 + red dots, 30 + yellow dots, and hundreds of those other grey dotted people who lurk invisible.

…. How I ( & Gmail Contacts) have grown.




Cooking Steak in a Ice Chest (Hanger Steak Sous Vide)

Buying cuts of meat from a butcher shop is always exciting. Undoing the paper wrapping from the butcher feels like Christmas morning gift unwrapping for me, you already kind of know what you’re getting but you’re genuinely exhilarated anyway.

Making steak sous vide style in an ice chest with hanger steak purchased from a butcher shop? haha, you can only guess my excitement here.

Prep Station, steak with some rosemary, onions, and garlic. Carrots with similar garnishes and olive oil

Steak and Carrots in Ziploc bags (dont trust cheaper ones..). Carrots need to be kept at around 183 F, so that was put in a pot on the stove top where the temperature fluctuated between 175-185F.

Steak in a ice chest/cooler, changed the water around 20 minutes. Surprisingly, the temperature only dropped 1 to 2 degrees every 20 minutes. Medium rare to be kept around 135-138 F.

Around 70 minutes later, I removed both from the bag to sear on a cast iron at the highest heat. (I normally preheat the cast iron in the oven).

Steak turned out a little more rare than I thought, but it was still amazing.. I’ve never made a beef cut this well, including my ribeye that I’ve tried to perfect after over 15+ preparations. I’ve had so much worse steak preparations at many M-starred restaurants, and I could’ve even made this better by just maintaining the water temp a little higher to get a more medium rare.

Do these world class chefs cook out of ice chests? haha! My post college dream was to purchase a couple hundred dollar sous vide machine but I think my ghetto version with an ice chest will do just fine.


Finding Owls

Owls are ridiculously difficult to see in the wild. I once read a photographer laid in the snow for 40 + hours to get a shot of a Great Horned Owl snatch a rabbit in some tundra.

Nocturnal + Camouflage = No Owls for You.

Except when you have a sign like this ….

I spent the next 20 minutes gazing upwards toward the tree line…..

peek a boo, i see you.

I felt so giddy, like the first time I tore open a Pokemon Card booster pack and got a holographic Charizard, both events involved me grinning like a fool and looking left and right for someone to share my excitement with. (I usually settle for some typical Jeff tribal dance gestures until I realize someone might catch me in my absurdity).

You must understand, you just DON’T see owls in the wild.

I’m going to miss you, Berkeley. Owls and all.


(Check out news about this owl here)