I had the amazing opportunity to visit Shanghai for work, with a little side trip to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a fabulous, modern and trendy city with something for everyone. I enjoyed the Soho area on Hong Kong Island with all of the trendy shops and restaurants. There is an international vibe in this area and a creative energy that reminded me of New York. I would definitely go back to Hong Kong & spend more time – maybe get some custom clothes made.
Below are some of my tips & observations in Hong Kong:
The Regal Kowloon Hotelin Hong Kong was a pretty good place to stay –the price was moderate at about $150/night, the rooms were clean, it was in a good location, included free WiFi, and the breakfast buffet was great! They had breakfast choices available for all cultures including American breakfast, Chinese, they had Indian food, and it was quite a spread. If you want a more glamorous hotel, the Peninsula and Langham Hotels are a staple on Kowloon. It could also be fun to try a boutique hotel on Hong Kong Island, but it won’t be cheap!
My hotel room at the Regal Kowloon Hotel in Hong Kong
Be sure to visit the Soho area Soho reminded me of a mix of San Francisco (with the huge hills) and New York, with the cute shops and restaurants. I enjoyed the Olive Greek & Mediterranean Restaurant, which had great service and delicious food. It has good reviews on Trip Advisor as well. I also spent a nice amount of time in a boutique called Goods of Desire where there is a variety of trendy Chinese-inspired gifts, clothes & jewelry.
The Temple Street night market is a fun experience, but don’t expect much as far as the merchandise. Like my co-worker said, it’s like visiting a huge dollar store. Still a great place to take in the sights and sounds of the city.
Temple Street Market in Hong Kong
Egg waffles are a popular street food to try with long lines. They tasted a lot like a hot fortune cookie but in a waffle format. Not very sweet, but they seem to be all the rage. I personally could have used a little bit of vanilla ice cream and nutella – that would have taken them over the top.
Egg waffles are the thing to eat in Hong Kong!
Public transportation is a breeze! So easy and clean. There is an express train that goes from the airport to Kowloon, and a shuttle that goes straight to the Regal Kowloon Hotel.
On the train in Hong Kong. So clean and quiet
The Big Buddha was an interesting experience, with beautiful views and a little village full of places to shop and things to do.
Me in front of the big buddha
Shanghai has the best skyline I’ve ever seen. The city is slightly overwhelming as it’s very large and spread out with a population of 23 million people. Being from Chicago, our skyline is hard to beat, but I fell in love with the gorgeous buildings and the Shanghai pearl tower.
Shanghai’s breathtaking skyline!
Tips & Observations in Shanghai:
Be prepared for the toilets. They are literally a hole in the ground. It takes a little maneuvering to navigate. Keep some tissues on hand just in case you need them. There are the “western toilets” in some places, like the shopping malls, but this style is common as well.
The toilet situation in Shanghai. Get ready!
Napkins don’t seem to be a thing in Shanghai. Many times you will get a hot towel, but that’s about it.
In the touristy areas, many of the people from other provinces haven’t seen many people from other cultures. As a black woman, I felt like a celebrity sometimes. People’s eyes would get big, they would start whispering to each other, and sometimes walk over and ask for a picture. I even caught some people sneaking pictures – acting like they were taking a selfie, but they were really taking pictures of me! It was crazy how excited they were. They said that we were “foreign beauties.” I’ll take it!
Yu Garden is a fun place to walk around and shop. The French Concession area also has some trendy little unique shops where they had unique restaurant concepts and stores with beauty products.
In the French Concession area frolicking under the umbrellas!
China bans Facebook and Google. You need to get a VPN before you get over there.
Personal space is very small in China. People get very close to you in elevators and trains, and you may be cut off while walking or pushed in a large crowd. Get ready!
The food in China is different than it is here in the states. The sauces are different. It’s still tasty, but just different. Chinese food every day got a little bit tiring, I will say. The thing that I appreciated coming back to the states is our wide variety of cuisines from around the world. The first thing I ate was Lou Malnati’s pizza!
Overall, this was a trip to remember – my first major international business trip. I flew business class for the first time & that’s definitely the way to go for a 15 hour flight. The fully reclining seats & lounge access are a huge bonus. Traveling truly makes you appreciate different cultures, but also reminds you of the things you take for granted (like our freedom of speech and our wonderful variety of food). So long, China! It’s been real!
Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city, and I enjoyed the beaches and fabulous views during my visit in August. There is good food in Rio but you have to know where to find it.
One popular dish in Brazil is a comforting, delicious meal called Feijoada. This black bean stew includes pork and meat, which provides rich flavor. Rice, mustard greens, and a cornmeal dish are served along with it, making it very hearty. I mixed all of the flavors together and it was incredibly satisfying and comforting. My friends and I had this dish at a restaurant called Boteco Belmonte in Rio. This would be a great dish to make on a cold, Chicago fall or winter day – now I just need to find a good recipe!
My friends and I enjoying Feijoada in Rio
The national cocktail is the caiprinha drink, which is mixed with cachaca (similar to rum), sugar, and lime. The best ones are found on the beach, where they are nice and sweet with a kick, and incredibly inexpensive compared to bars/hotels.
Delicious and refreshing caiprinha
Another wonderful treat in Brazil are the corner juice bars. They make juices and smoothies and they are absolutely delicious. They offer a number of different fruits, and one of the popular flavors was Acai – which is a superfruit rich in antioxidants. I had mine blended with banana, and it can be thick enough to be served with a spoon. You can also make a bowl of it and eat it with granola to add some crunchy texture.
Delicious Acai-banana smoothie
Brazil is also known for it’s steakhouses, and there is steak everywhere. Shrimp was on many of the menus as well. Being Americans, we really like having some variety in our cuisine, so we sought out a couple of other non-Brazilian restaurants that did not disappoint. I happened to find Santa Satisfacio restaurant on Yelp. As much as people/restaurants sometimes say bad things about Yelp, I really like to use it as a tool to find good restaurants, even when I’m traveling internationally. This Italian restaurant had some great reviews, and Yelp didn’t steer us wrong. The food was AMAZING. I can honestly say that it’s the best Italian food I’ve had in a long time. The salads were very creative. We had a garlic pasta alfredo dish where all of the flavors were incredibly well-balanced, and a tomato-based pasta dish as well. Highly recommended. If you happen to be visiting Rio, I would highly recommend this restaurant. It’s small and quaint with a trendy vibe and it was a participant in Restaurant week there. Check out this link to see pictures of their food.
Amazing pasta at Santa Satisfacio!
Another great restaurant we found was in Ipanema called Via Sete. My friends and I ate there for lunch and their menu was very creative. The cocktails were great – Pictured here is a Passion Fruit cocktail and one that I made up with strawberries, lime and mint with cachaca, which is like rum. They had a nice variety from upscale sandwiches, wraps, and salads to seafood dishes. I had a delicious chicken wrap, and one of my friends had the grilled octopus which looks amazing. Check them out at TripAdvisor here:
Refreshing cocktails at Via Sete in Ipanema
Grilled Octopus at Via Sete
Rio Travel Tips to Make Your Life Easier:
– Learn some basic Portuguese. People in Rio don’t speak English like you may find in Europe. There may be only one person in a restaurant that knows English. A good way to learn is through an app called DuoLingo. It’s free and a lot of fun. You can learn a language for 5 minutes a day if you are diligent.
– Stay in a hotel that offers beach services, including umbrella and chair set-up, towels and water. This makes your life so much easier. We stayed at the Pestana Rio Atlantica Hotel on Copacabana Beach which has these services included and it was great.
– Go to the Spa at Belmond Copacabana Palace as soon as you land. Don’t delay. Run, don’t walk. I had an amazing massage there. The next time I go on an international trip, the Spa is going to be my first stop!
I had the incredible opportunity to work the red carpet and interview local Chicago chefs and celebrities at Chef Judson Allen’s first annual Chef Blend Weekend in January. The purpose of the event was to eradicate childhood obesity and celebrate locally grown food and restaurants.
This event really was a treat, as local restaurants, bakeries, wine brands, and foodies from all over Chicago came together for an evening full of flavor, music and fun. One highlight of the event was seeing Chef Judson’s team surprise him as they revealed a picture of him on the cover of Cuisine Noir. He had no idea that he was going to be on the cover. I love seeing nice surprises.
I also had a ball interviewing Alderman Bob Fioretti, and cutting the rug with him on the red carpet. Who knew that he could dance? You’ll see a couple of his moves in the video below – at the 2:07 mark. Fun!
Check out the event video footage, and be sure to look out for Chef Judson Allen’s Chef Blend Weekend next year!
The face of lunch in the loop is now much more exciting with the opening of Rustle + Roux Cafe, located in the Franklin building at 227 West Monroe Building on the 2nd Floor Mezzanine.
This upscale, quick dining experience features Italian fare from Mercato by Fabio Viviani, and Mexican flavors from Mercadito Taqueria. (Yes, the same Mercadito from River North is now available in a smaller, lunch version!)
Chef Fabio Viviani
Chef Fabio Viviani will be onsite at the grand opening on Monday, June 9th from 11am-1pm for cooking demos, giveaways and more.
Rustle + Roux will offer seven food stations:
– Mercato – Napoli-style pizzas, fresh salads and a variety of gnocchi and pasta made from scratch
– Mercadito Taqueria – delicious salads, tacos, and traditional side dishes
– Grill’d – freshly made sandwiches
– So Deli – a sandwich station complete with a carvery
– Create – a station of daily made to order items
– A salad bar – fresh, seasonal ingredients
– illy coffee bar
As a food blogger, I was invited to visit Rustle + Roux to check out the place and taste some of the food. I had the opportunity to try the Baja Mahi fish tacos, fried plantains, and guacamole and chips from the Mercadito Taquiera, and they were all delicious. The tacos tasted just like they do at the original Mercadito location (which happens to be one of my favorite restaurants), and I was especially excited about the fried plantains, which comes with a fantastic lime sauce and is not something that is offered very often on lunch menus.
Chips & Guac from Mercadito Taqueria
The Mercato station is a mini version of the ever-popular Sienna Tavern restaurant with the homemade gnocchi and pizza options. I tried the Basil and Parmesan pesto gnocchi from the Mercato station, which were soft, fluffy and delicious, with full of flavor, along with the slow braised Bolognaise, which was just perfect.
Delicious Mahi taco at Mercadito Taqueria
Each station will have a specialty menu, in addition to new daily and weekly options featuring fresh ingredients and scratch-made entrees that are sourced locally whenever possible.
The café will serve breakfast and lunch weekdays from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., with illy coffee and to-go menu items offered until 3 p.m.
Rustle+Roux will also offer catering, so for those of you that have the option to select lunch meeting food, this would be a great option for catering. Wouldn’t it be great to have tacos from Mercadito Taquiera for your office lunch meeting?
The cafe also offers free WiFi, which is a great touch for those that need to multitask during lunch.
Lunch in the loop has definitely taken a step in the right direction. Break out of the monotony and check it out – I will admit that it’s a little tricky to find at first (go up the escalators after entering the lobby to the second floor, and follow the signs), but once you go just once, it’s easy to get to. More information can be found at the Rustle+Roux website http://www.rustleandroux.com. See you there!
This past weekend, I attended “A Charitable Confection”, which was a dessert-centric fundraiser to benefit a charity called Project Orange Tree. As a food blogger, I received complimentary admission to the event, and I want to share these amazing dessert finds that you absolutely need to know about:
– Brown Sugar Bakery – Brown Sugar is a classic – you really can’t go wrong with Brown Sugar Bakery, especially if you like southern desserts like sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding and caramel cake. Stephanie the owner is really sweet, and will work with you on custom orders. This bakery won the Best Bakery award on Steve Harvey in 2013 (you can see the clip on their website at http://www.brownsugarbakerychicago.com, so if that doesn’t tell you anything, then I don’t know what to tell you!) Brown Sugar is truly a Chicago staple.
– Yum Squared Bakery – Yum Squared is a great place for you to go if you need dessert catering for an event. I had a wonderful strawberry champagne cupcake – it was the perfect consistency and the flavor was just the right balance of not being too sweet. I also tried the salted caramel chocolate cake, which tasted just as good as it looked. They offer organic ingredients and also have vegan and dairy-free options, which is a nice touch. http://www.yumsquared.com
– Spin-Spun Gourmet Cotton Candy – Have you ever had salted caramel cotton candy? Probably not, but let me tell you- it’s the best cotton candy I’ve tasted! It’s all-natural, so it doesn’t have the colors that typical cotton candy has (it’s all white), and the flavors were not typical of cotton candy flavors. A couple of other flavors that were on the menu included Coconut and Tabasco-Watermelon. Very creative, and something to keep in mind for a little something different at a party. http://www.spin-spun.com
– BAKE is a bakery in Wicker Park that focuses on classic American desserts, including Whoopie Pies, Pop Tarts, Cookies, Cakes and Pies. I purchased the pretzel cookie, because I love cookies and it looked interesting and I could only imagine the sweet and salty flavor. I could tell that this cookie was made of high-quality ingredients. Check them out at http://www.bakechicago.com.
– This Jam is the JAM! If you like homemade jam and preserves, definitely check out Pear Tree Preserves. I tasted an apple caramel jam that they had, which led me to purchase the strawberry citrus jam. I liked some of the different flavors that they have, including cherry citrus and honey blueberry. I had some of the strawberry citrus jam on my toast for breakfast, and it was delightful. It mainly has a strawberry flavor with a hint of orange, making it taste really fresh, like you just tasted a little bit of summertime. You may find them at a Farmer’s Market in Chicago, and can check out their website at http://www.peartreepreserves.com.
I know that these places will satisfy your sweet tooth because they certainly did for me. Enjoy!
*This blog post is dedicated to Leonore Draper, who was a part of organizing this event and lost her life later that evening. May Project Orange Tree and other anti-violence organizations continue to find & support solutions to stop the violence.
Thursday, I attended the Common Threads Cook Off hosted by the Associate Board (which I’m a member of). What a fantastic event. This is the kind of event that leaves you feeling like an honored guest – well fed, well watered and well taken care-of.
The event was held downtown at the Fulton’s on the River restaurant, which is an excellent venue for an event of this magnitude. The entire downstairs section was used for this event, which was very well attended with approximately 350-400 guests. The tables on the terrace outside allowed guests to admire the breathtaking views of the Chicago river.
Chicago-area chefs from all of the popular restaurants came together to duke it out for the best dish in a glass, on a stick, in a shell and on a bun. The chefs seemed to have a level of friendly competition between each other, encouraging the cook-off guests to vote for them by placing a voting chip (in the form of a bottlecap) into their bucket. Sara Greunberg (Top Chef Runner Up) was there representing Spiaggia and was shaking her bucket like “vote for us!” Very fun.
When I walked in, I was almost overwhelmed by the number of restaurants participating in this event. All of the popular Chicago restaurants were in one place, including some new restaurants that I’ve been wanting to visit. There was so much food, but below were some of my personal favorites and highlights:
Pecking Order: This country chicken sandwich on a Filipino-style bun had me saying Chik-Fi-Who? K-F-what? Best chicken sandwich I’ve had in quite a while. It was dressed with pimento mayo, gouda tomato, onion and cilantro. The bun and the sauce are what really made it stand out. Pecking Order is a relatively new restaurant headed up by chef Kristine Subido – formerly of the Wave Restaurant in the W Hotel. She told me that they are now open for brunch on Sundays, along with lunch and dinner during the week. I gave Pecking Order one of my chips. Guess where I’m going to be going for brunch?
ZED 451: Served this amazing Maple Cajun BLT. Time stopped for a moment and my eyes literally rolled to the back of my head. For the “On a Bun” category, this place tied with the Pecking Order for me.
Lockwood: Heirloom Tomato soup and Burrata Cheese Crostini served in an elegant shot glass. Best tomato soup I’ve had in a long time. The crostini is what really made it shine.
Masa Azul – Chef Jonathan Zaragoza was representing Maza Azul (Mexican restaurant) in Logan Square, and had a tender and delicious Grilled Chicken Thigh Kabob with Chipotle Greek Yogurt Sauce. I love Chipotle anything, and this was very tasty. This is another restaurants that is on my list. How could I not know about this place? It has 4 ½ stars on Yelp. I’m going.
Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar – Union Sushi gets the “out of the box” award from me because they served Grilled Kangaroo with Citrus Zest and Sweet Potato Cream. I have never seen Kangaroo on a menu, and I didn’t know that people ate Kangaroo. Quite frankly, I was a little disturbed by the thought because they are so cute. But then I thought to myself, “When would I ever have the chance to taste Kangaroo.” (Unless I go to Australia). I reluctantly tasted it, but was pleasantly surprised. It tastes like beef with a hint of lamb. Very good.
Spiaggia – Sara Gruenberg at Spiaggia had a very creative presentation of a Cured Salmon and Squid Ink Grissino. The salmon was beautifully wrapped around a twisted black breadstick (grissino), and the black color came from Squid Ink. This was a well thought dish.
In addition to all of this food, there were also mixologists that had beautiful and delicious custom crafted cocktails. I loved the creativity that came from the chefs, and this event reminded me that these chefs really are culinary artists. This is their art. It was beautiful and delicious.
From the food and drinks to the adorable kids walking around helping to get donations, this was a wonderful event. Where else can you have amazing food from Chicago’s top restaurants, and contribute to a great cause at the same time?
The icing on the cake for me was when Art Smith came by my table and introduced himself. Art is a well-accomplished celebrity chef and the founder of this organization, and it really meant a lot to see him there supporting the Associate Board and interacting with the guests. This is an organization that I’m proud to be a part of because it allows me to serve the community through my passion for food. The best of both worlds.
The next Common Threads event is the World Festival in March. I’m told that the World Festival is a super-sized version of this event, and rumor has it that the event in March is going to be the best one yet. Stay tuned!