sushi for breakfast

lanterns at hozen-ji temple

lanterns at hozen-ji temple

Did you know that Osaka has more Michelin stars than Paris? And that it is the birthplace of conveyor-belt sushi and ramen? From the high end to the low end, Osaka has a lot to offer in the culinary sense.

Why am I talking about Osaka? After a couple of painful last-minute changes of itinerary, my husband and I decided to start our Asian trip in this southern Japanese city at the heart of the densely-populated Kansai region. It’s not the most obvious first stop for a Japan virgin, but, with the sudden realization that Tokyo and Mount Fuji would have to wait for the next trip, I decided to embrace this alternate destination and all it had to offer. Osaka, I figured, was still better than no Japan at all.

Osaka

But first, let’s try to set the scene: Osaka is far from being the most picturesque part of Japan, which is partly explained by the density of its population and the need to optimize the use of space. Also, a large part of the city was bombed during World War II and quickly rebuilt after the war to accommodate the population. But the city carries a strong identity and a rich and dynamic culture, shaped by shintoist and buddhist traditions as well as by an amazing capacity to reinvent itself.

We stayed in the flamboyant Dotonbori district, a nightlife hub with its shops, restaurants and Pachinko parlors. It reminded me of Times Square, but bigger, louder and tackier (if that’s even possible). The streets are saturated with neon signs and bring massive waves of young people ready to party, shop and gamble. But sometimes, even in the middle of the bustle, you make a detour onto a quieter street to find tucked away amid the chaos a little shrine, a gem of the past that makes you forget about the ambient confusion and the noise of the city.

In such an overwhelming urban area, the need to escape to calmer places was strong, but unfortunately, parks and open spaces were rare. We managed to find some quiet on the grounds of Osaka Castle and at the oldest Buddhist Temple in Japan, Shitennoji. And we found unexpected respite at Namba Parks, a unique 8-level rooftop park.

Shitennoji

Shitennoji

‘Kuiadore’: Eat until you drop…

Every meal we had in Osaka was amazing, from the typical Japanese breakfast at our hotel (rice pudding, grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, fermented soy beans…) to the bowl of ramen enjoyed in a small eatery in a train station, or the delicious okonomiyaki we tried at a popular restaurant in Dotonbori.

Okonomiyaki

The Japanese word kuiadore means “to ruin oneself with extravagance in food” and is part of a traditional proverb that says: “Dress (in kimonos) until you drop in Kyoto, eat until you drop in Osaka”. And that was all the permission we needed to stuff ourselves.

Osaka is known for its food, and if there’s one thing you should absolutely try while you are there, it’s the local street food specialty takoyaki, or fried octopus balls. It’s surprisingly good: crispy on the outside with a gooey wheat flour-based batter made with diced octopus, green onions and spices inside. It is served piping hot, covered with ponzu (soy sauce with dashi and vinegar) and dried bonito flakes. The way they make it in a cast-iron griddle with half-spherical molds is fascinating: the takoyaki are furiously flipped with a pick so that the uncooked batter is at the base of the rounded cavity where it is cooked at a very high temperature. There seem to be a couple of places in Seattle where I can find takoyaki, and I can’t wait to try them!

Takoyaki

Japan is matcha paradise

For all the cooks out there, if there is one thing I would recommend bringing back from Japan, it’s matcha powder. I love baking with it, but its price here in the States makes it a luxury good that I try to use sparingly and end up not using as often as I would like. The matcha powder I found in Japan is 7 to 10 times cheaper than what I’ve seen in the States. 40g for less than 4 dollars: Where can you find a better price?

Matcha goodness

Matcha goodness (warabi mochi)

As a matcha fan, each time I spotted a green baked good or sweet you can be sure that I tried it: matcha and chocolate cake, matcha mochi filled with red bean paste (my favorite!), matcha pudding, matcha jelly and… matcha Kit Kats and Oreos! To my husband’s consternation, I tried everything, happy to discover new flavor palettes. What I love about Japanese pastries is that they’re not overly sweet and they use ingredients that are largely unfamiliar to my Western palate. Mochi, for example, is made with glutinous rice flour and filled with jelly, paste or ice cream; warabimochi, a jelly dessert, is rolled in soybean flour; and dorayaki, a sort of thick pancake, is filled with red bean paste…

Delicious dorayaki

Everything is perfectly designed and beautiful to look at, almost too beautiful to eat. And if you go to a nice bakery, they will pack it with thick, colorful paper, the kind you only use for gifts. That’s when the pleasure of the palate meets the pleasure of the eyes…

Matcha chocolate cake

I think I’ve never seen food so colourful and strangely shaped, and I’ll certainly have a closer look at Japanese baking recipes in the future.

Japanese sweets

Sushi expedition at the fish market

Without a doubt the culinary highlight of our stay, Endo Sushi is a small restaurant located in the city fish market where the sushi is made with the day’s freshest produce and sold at an affordable price. Each 5-piece maze (set) cost about 1,000 yen (less than $10). The cuts were generous, and the quantity of rice was on the small side (which I personally prefer, since it’s all about the fish). A nice surprise is that you don’t dip your nigiri into the soy sauce but rather apply it with a brush. This makes it easier to get the soy on the fish instead of the rice.

Endo sushi

Endo is a bit off the beaten path, but with the aid of Google Maps and this helpful blog post (thank you, dear fellow blogger!), you won’t have any trouble finding it. The place is small, and I’ve read that its gets rather busy around lunch time. The good thing is that it opens at 5 a.m., in keeping with its fish-market location. Since we were still struggling with jetlag (Seattle being 16 hours behind), we had no trouble visiting for breakfast. Yes, sushi makes great breakfast food. Another must on the menu: the clam miso soup, which was rich and wonderfully tasty.

The staff were nice and made an extra effort to commmunicate with us. The sushi master, who must be in his seventies, seemed to come right out of one of those Japanese anime cartoons from the 1980’s, with his rounded white-framed glasses and his traditional wooden platform shoes. He stayed planted on his chair the whole time, checking severely the movements of his staff (and nodding off occasionally…), reminding us a bit of the subject of the film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“. When he offered us a smile at the end of our meal, amused by our obvious satisfaction, I felt like I’d been inducted into a secret society of sushi connoisseurs.

Unique drinking experience at Bar Core

This might be the smallest bar in Osaka and among the smallest in the world: There are no seats, and only seven or eight people can comfortably stand, including the bartender. And if you don’t drink whisky, you won’t be drinking here.

Bar Core in Osaka

It takes a bit of courage to enter, and I would recommend avoiding it if you have claustrophobic tendencies. The space is so small and narrow that private conversations are almost impossible, or at least impolite. Try to imagine us, with our 10 words of Japanese, sidling up to the bar on a Sunday night: Keep in mind that once you step through the door, it’s already too late to change your mind. When we entered, conversation ceased and 3 pairs of eyes glanced warily in our direction; stepping back would have been more awkward than staying. On the other hand, knowing that this place has been featured in The New York Times’ “36 hours” series, we figured the bartender must be used to greeting unwitting foreign tourists who, like us, stumble in and try to quickly assess whether to stay or flee. We stayed.

Following the NYT recomendation, my husband ordered a glass of Hibiki, an intense, award-winnning 17-year-old blend. I decided to go for something else and tried to explain it to the bartender, in a combination of English and signs. One of the two clients came to my rescue and pointed at what he was drinking: A 12-year-old single malt that happened to be very smooth. I mumbled a thank you in Japanese and tried to disappear into my drink. Fortunately, the other client had studied a little bit of English in high school and engaged in conversation with us. And, one thing leading to another, and with the alcohol helping, we ended singing some songs, in French, by Michel Polnareff, famous in France and in Japan too, apparently. This client happened to have all his songs in her iPod.

Shop at Takashimaya

If you want to buy just about anything — from traditional hand-held fans and origami paper to expansive clothing and jewelry — Takashimaya is your temple! We found ourselves inexplicably drawn to this sprawling department store, more than necessary…

Making dorayaki

My favorite part? The basement food court, which reminded me of the one at Harrods. A perfect place to take a culinary tour of all the Japanese specialties: yakitori, tempura, sushi, ramen, mochi… Buy a few items for your lunch and go eat them at the top of Namba Parks, as we did, for some relative peace and quiet in the middle of the urban craze.

Tempura at Takashimaya food court

Traveling in Japan can sometimes be intimidating, but don’t forget that when it comes to food, it’s actually pretty easy. Lots of places have window displays with plastic food: Just point at what you want to order and you’ll be served. Easy!

Next stop: Hong Kong. Stay tuned!

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seeking atmosphere in new orleans

It’s not that the story of my tipsy eating marathon in New Orleans wasn’t interesting, but it offers an incomplete picture of the fantastic things that this city has to offer. That’s why I thought it would only be fair to share some more sober impressions and explain what makes the atmosphere there so unique.

Saint Louis

Do you speak creole? …or cajun?

New Orleans has a strong, singular personality. The product of this cultural mélange is greater than the sum of its parts (French, Spanish, African and Caribbean) and gives the city its dazzling and vibrant creole identity — whether it’s in the food, the music, the architecture or the language. Not to be confused with Cajun French, derived from the Acadian French as it was spoken in the colony of Acadia. It makes for a rich and diverse linguistic landscape. And as a French person, I always enjoy finding French influences in the colorful creole and cajun wordings, even though the relation may be sometimes far fetched. My favorite? Fais deaux deaux or fais do-do, the name of a Cajun dance party derived from the French children’s lullaby fais dodododo is a shortening of dormir, the word for sleeping. New Orleans is the city of fusions!

Saints

Don’t stick to the Quarter!

As easy and tempting as it might be to wander endlessly the streets of the French Quarter, there is much more to see without even having to go far. Like most people, I happen to enjoy the Quarter craze, but only for a while. If you get tired of the hordes of tourists staggering from bar to bar on Bourbon Street but don’t want to escape the party scene altogether, abandon the noise of the Quarter and cross Esplanade to get to the Faubourg Marigny. You can start breathing again… Some of the city’s best bars and music venues are waiting for you, notably on Frenchmen Street.

And if you’re a little bit more adventurous, push it slightly further downriver, until you arrive in the Bywater, a rakish and gritty waterside neighborhood that’s more recently acquired an artsy and bohemian vibe.

entree des artistes

I first discovered Bywater a year ago, the day after my wedding, on a hot afternoon, when I was looking for a way to escape the ambient craze, and I immediately fell in love with the washed-out look of the creole cottages, the sleepy streets and the nostalgia that lingers in the air, making it so present and unreal at the same time.

Clouet street

What struck me while we were walking through Bywater is the sentiment of complete abandonment. The place was practically empty. It was nap time but I would not have been surprised if people were in fact watching us, the intruders, through their blinds.

house

house2

Fading colors, bright colors. Everywhere you’re reminded of how beautiful and tragic, cheerful and fatalistic, the city is. Doomed by the elements but always rebuilt, The City That Care Forgot is a unique jewel.

Lose track of time

The pace is different in New Orleans, more laid-back, to the point that waiting has become a religion, whether it’s for food, the bus or the tram. It will get there when it gets there! The inner neighborhoods are human-scale, and the air smells like honeysuckle and jasmine (except in the French Quarter where it smells like fried food and alcohol). I love that this city is so full of contradictions.

house3

house4

Cats. Lots of cats. It made me think of the Town of Cats featured in Murakami’s novel 1Q84. New Orleans is the city of cats, and you don’t know what sort of tricks they’re planning behind their sleepy eyes. Beware of the cats!

cat

two cats

For a ride through New Orleans history, hop on the iconic St. Charles streetcar. It provides a unique and cheap way to admire the beautiful oaks that line the avenue and enjoy the endless architectural variety of the city — from colonial houses with wrought-iron plantation balconies in the Garden District to Greek revival mansions and typical Victorian houses further uptown.

Jazz it up at Snug Harbor

In New Orleans, live music pulsates everywhere. Inside, outside, in the streets and restaurants, whether you want it or not. But mostly you want it!

instruments

people dancing

Looking for the essential jazz club? Snug Harbor is your place. Don’t expect anything but the best musicians in the city. Ellis Marsalis, the legendary pianist, usually plays on Fridays. I’m not a jazz specialist, but I sincerely enjoyed his show.

Snug Harbor

Grab a drink, grab a seat and enjoy the music that softly washes over that dim and cozy place.

Cruise the Mississippi River on the Natchez

The Mississippi River is a key element in the history and legend of New Orleans, so if you visit the city don’t forget to pay your tribute to it. And what better way than by taking a cruise on the last real steamboat still navigating the Mississippi, with calliope music, live Dixieland jazz and tasty southern food?

Boat

My husband and I got married on the Natchez and decided to celebrate our first anniversary by taking the cruise once again. Quite frankly, I don’t remember much from the first one. It’s true that I had many other things in mind. (Did I talk to everybody? Where did my plate go? And my glass? WHERE IS MY GLASS?) But this year I was able to relax completely and enjoy the scenery.

Natchez

Natchez2

What I mostly like about New Orleans is that although it’s an American city, it looks like no other place in the U.S. It feels foreign, almost European, which makes it difficult to understand but fascinating to observe. It’s a place where getting lost is almost obligatory, and if you’re like me, you’ll be glad you did.

food highlights from the big easy

I know it’s been a little silent here over the last few weeks. Em and I have both been quite absorbed by our respective professional activities. (It might be difficult to believe but we have a life outside of our little deux dilettantes bubble.) I have also been traveling, and this is just the beginning of my travels. As I’m writing these lines, my suitcase is wide open and it looks like a tornado went through the apartment, and by the time this post is published I’ll be in Asia. More on this later, but for now, here’s a recap of what’s happened over the last few weeks.

zatarain

While I was psychologically preparing to turn the big 3-0 (I survived, no worries), I spent some time in Louisiana and Florida. There is nothing like a Hurricane/Bloody Mary/Pimm’s Cup (delete as appropriate) to make you forget about the gloomy milestone you are facing. The main reasons behind this trip were the celebration of our first wedding anniversary and the 95th birthday of my husband’s grandmother. (And I was the youngest person at that party, which definitely helped me put things in perspective.)

French market

I already mentioned that my husband is from New Orleans, and I’ve grown sort of attached to his hometown — even more so since we got married last year on the Natchez, the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River.

Each time we visit New Orleans, we have a list of things to “absolutely” do, even if that means eating 5 times in a day and being tipsy by 3 p.m. What can I say? We’re very committed when we travel. And it certainly does not help that New Orleans has such a vibrant food tradition! Mark Twain said that “New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” I think we can all agree on that. Let me take you on a small tour of some of signature food places and dishes I’ve experienced in the Crescent City.

Elegant lunch at Commander’s Palace

Commander’s is a New Orleans institution (it opened in 1880!) located in the Garden District, and it’s all you can expect from a genteel and respectable southern house: Antebellum elegance, character, overzealous waiters and ridiculous amount of cutlery. But far form resting on its laurels, Commander’s offers an innovative menu that captures the essence of Louisiana cuisine while incorporating new influences. And if you go for lunch on a weekday, you can take advantage of an insanely cheap 25-cent martini offer. They’ll cap you at three, as my husband’s friend demonstrated, but that’s still enough to put you in a happy mood for the rest of the day. (Why not four? Well, you must know the saying: One martini, two martini, three martini… floor!)

Commander's

Start with their soups 1-1-1, a delicious sampling of three soups — usually a seafood bisque, the gumbo of the day and their signature turtle soup. Then continue with one of the restaurant’s staples: shrimp and grits or the cochon de lait (approved by the hubby). For dessert, the bread pudding soufflé gets high marks and looks great, though I haven’t tried it yet. I can, however, personally recommend their strawberry shortcake. On my list for next time: The Sunday jazz brunch, which I’ve heard good things about.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for the same kind of chic and old-fashioned atmosphere, Arnaud’s, in the heart of the French Quarter, is worth a try, and their French 75 is to die for!

Chargrilled oysters at Acme Oyster House

They’re not on the menu, and they don’t need to be. Everybody comes to Acme to try them. And when I say “everybody”, I’m only slightly exaggerating. Be ready to wait in line, but you will be rewarded with a life-changing oyster experience. Topped with butter and Parmesan and grilled on an open flame, they arrive bubbling hot and are served with French bread for soaking up the sauce. Irresistible!

chargrilled oysters

Beignets at Café du Monde

You can’t go to New Orleans without stopping at Café du Monde, the city’s most famous coffee stand. It’s open 24/7 (except on Christmas) and basically has two items on the menu: café au lait and beignets.

Beignets

The deep-fried beignets are light and puffy pillows of doughy deliciousness. They’re served generously dusted with powdered sugar. Cafe du Monde has its own special coffee blend, which is a mix of coffee bean and chicory. Mixed with milk, it has a nice hazelnut flavor.

Café du monde

The one inconvenience is that the place tends to get busy, especially mid-morning. If you feel discouraged by the line at Café du Monde, try Café Beignet on Bourbon Street (which might also have a line, but it’s likely to be shorter). They have a lovely patio, and the beignets are just as good.

Café beignet

Drink a Pimm’s Cup at Napoleon House

No need to go to Wimbledon to enjoy this famously refreshing long drink. Turns out, it’s a hit in New Orleans, too, and the mecca of the Pimm’s Cup is the historic Napoleon House. (Legend has it that this house was offered by the city’s mayor to the twice-exiled emperor, who died before he could find his way to New Orleans to take up residence and plot his comeback.)

Napoleon House

The Pimm’s Cup is a well-suited drink to the sweaty climate, and it makes a perfectly respectable cocktail for daytime drinking, as its recipe is pretty innocuous: Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based liqueur with pleasant flavor and low alcohol content, topped off with 7-Up or ginger ale and garnished with cucumber. It hardly even counts as an alcoholic beverage. (Recipe to come soon on deux dilettantes.)

Napoleon House

I also tried their Pimm’s ginger mint julep, basically a julep made with Pimm’s, ginger beer and mint. Nicely refreshing, but I found it slightly stronger than the Pimm’s Cup. I sipped it while enjoying the sunshine in the beautiful courtyard. But hot weather, alcohol and sun don’t go well together: We had to be at the Natchez at 2 p.m. and the walk to the boat was not pretty to see.

Other remarkable places for a drink: Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, New Orleans’ oldest bar, only illuminated with candles at night, Molly’s at the Market, the only bar that stayed open through Katrina to provide respite to the locals, and Bar Tonique, a trendy neighborhood place on the outskirts of the Quarter, with the perfect balance between dive bar and cocktail bar, as suggested in their tagline “handcrafted cocktails without the pretense“.

Try the muffuletta at the Central Grocery Co.

If you’re a meat lover you might want to try a muffuletta, a sandwich consisting of a flattened round Italian loaf split in half and garnished with layers of mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, provolone and the (not so) secret ingredient, a chunky olive salad.

Central Grocery

There is apparently no better location to get it than at Central Grocery, where this famous sandwich was created in 1906. It’s a small and slightly run-down Italian deli but it sure delivers. You can buy half or a whole sandwich, and even the half is plenty for two people. I have become obsessed with their olive salad and I’m dreaming of making it. Maybe this summer, spread on grilled bread like a NOLA-style bruschetta.

That sandwich apparently gets even better when it rests for a little while, just long enough for the bread to absorb the olive juice while staying crusty on the outside.

And I can’t leave out the po’boy, the humble sandwich that’s a New Orleans staple. I haven’t been, but according to a well-informed source (my husband), Parkway Bakery is the place to go for po’boys with a variety of stuffings, from fried seafood to hot sausage. Order yours “dressed”, which by default means with mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles.

Crawfish boil

Each time we are in New Orleans we have to get our fix of crawfish. They’re difficult to get in the Northwest, and if you happen to be in Louisiana during springtime, don’t hesitate!

Crawfish boil

Attending a crawfish boil is the ultimate Louisiana experience. We were lucky to be invited to a crawfish boil hosted by our friends, which made me realize of how much of a social event it is. But if you don’t have that opportunity, many restaurants offer great boiled crawfish. You can also attend one of the various crawfish fests organized during the season. I remember my first Louisiana crawfish experience few years ago at Morton’s, in the Northshore suburb of Madisonville, and it was delicious.

As with all kind of shellfish, you have to be ready to work for your food. But, as we learned at our expense while being gently mocked by our friends, there is a proper way to eat crawfish with minimal effort, and it does not involve painfully peeling off the entire tail. While I have the excuse of not being a local, getting schooled in the art of crawfish peeling was a matter of wounded pride for my husband, who spent the first 18 years of his life in Louisiana. To sum it up, pinch the tail and suck it to get the meat out. Enjoy with fresh Abita beer, the local brew.

Bring back some pralines

Pecan pralines are a New Orleans specialty. The pecans are coated with a mixture made of cooked sugar, butter and cream. This Southern treat finds its origin in France but has evolved from its French counterparts, which are simply made with almonds and caramelized sugar. In Louisiana, the more readily available pecans replaced almonds in the recipe. (Below, a fresh batch at Aunt Sally’s in the French Quarter.)

Fresh pralines

I’m personally not a huge fan of the Louisiana-style pralines. I think they’re too sweet, and their creamy texture reminds me of fudge, which I don’t like either. But they make nice gifts for the sweet tooths among you, since they take minimal space in the suitcase.

Aunt Sally's pralines

There is certainly much more to say… New Orleans is one of those rare places in the States where you can still find a true regional cuisine. Best advice? Immerse yourself in its rich and diverse cuisine and trust the locals. Go where they go and eat what they eat. You won’t be disappointed. But don’t totally rule out some of the more touristy places. There is no shame in joining the crowds for a spot at a New Orleans landmark. There’s a reason why these places became popular, and many of them still live up to their reputations.

Snow Balls

And remember, when you think you’re stuffed and that you will never be able to eat again, there is always a little bit of space left for a sno-ball (a favored summer refreshment made of shaved ice flavored with syrup) — a fact proved many times by the hubby.

Bee

6 highlights from the big apple

Central Park

I’m back from a short week in New York City with my husband, and I decided to share with you a little account of my trip. We stayed in the Upper West Side, a neighborhood I had never really explored before, and even though I had to work, I found time for the occasional stroll. Far from the idea of playing the city guide, just consider these as some very personal and subjective highlights, in no particular order, from this specific stay.

Irving Farm Coffee

This is where I spent most of my time, working. By Seattle standards (and they’re pretty high), this coffee shop does not disappoint: a solid selection of coffee beans, a cool space and friendly service. If only they had wifi, it would be perfect. (Instead, I had to hack the neighbors’ internet connection.) Try their green tea lemon cookie, it’s pretty damn good!

Irving Farm Coffee Shop

Chelsea

Having just read — two years after everybody else — Patti Smith’s autobiography, Just Kids, I made a point of spending some time in Chelsea with the objective of visiting the Chelsea Hotel in the secret hope of feeling the spirits of all those bohemian artists who still haunt its legendary corridors, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Janis Joplin to Jack Kerouac. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the hotel had closed its doors a couple of years ago. The building’s façade is certainly still worth seeing, though, and from there you can meander on to the Chelsea Market.

Chelsea hotel, NYC

The High Line

Located in the middle of Chelsea, this elevated former railroad line has been repurposed into a park that overlooks the Hudson River. The High Line delivers some of the best views of the West Side of New York. Although it was too early in the season to enjoy the foliage, it was still impressive to be above ground and able to weave among the buildings.

High Line

I particularly love the set of stairs with the panoramic window overlooking the traffic and a vantage point where you can spot the Statue of Liberty through a rare clearing in New York’s urban jungle. A perfect spot for the Big Apple’s urban sketchers!

High Line

Bleecker Street Pizza

Definitely the best pizza I’ve tasted in New York (so far!), Bleecker Street Pizza will now count among my staples.  Be careful, though: The place is so tiny that it gets crowded pretty easily. The culprit? Imagine thin slices with a crispy crust and generous toppings. I sometimes think heaven must taste pretty close to a Bleecker Street Pizza slice. Sorry, Hot Mama’s, I love you and you’re the best in Seattle, but now that I have tasted perfection, it might be a while before I can come back for a slice.

Bleecker Pizza

The Guggenheim Museum

Even though I have been to New York a fair number of times, I hadn’t visited the Guggenheim until now. This is a must-do, at least for its architecture, which gives a unique and pleasant viewing experience, but also for its collections, especially if you’re into contemporary art. An exhibit about Gutai, a Japanese postwar avant-garde movement, is currently on display.

Inside the Guggenheim

If you have the opportunity, check out the temporary exhibit from Indian-born American artist Zarina, who dedicated herself to the exploration of paper as a medium, whether it’s through sculptures, collages, calligraphy, topography, poetry or painting. It was compelling, profoundly moving and very delicate. I sincerely enjoyed each piece of it and hope you will too.

Sushi Yasuda

I kept the best for the end: my favorite sushi place. This is the very first sushi restaurant I ate at with my husband, long before we got married, during our first trip to New York (which was my first time on the American soil). I guess he wanted to impress me, and that he did, as this was the best sushi I had ever eaten. But it also spoiled me forever, because once you try the fish here, there is no going back. You will be cursed. The bar will be so high that you might never look at average sushi the same way again. I know: It’s tough. I’m supposed to go to Japan in a couple of months, and I live in the fear that it will ruin sushi for me. Definitively.

Don’t even consider going without a reservation and if possible ask to be seated at the counter. There is nothing more entertaining than watching the sushi master deftly wield his knife. Yes, it’s on the expensive side, but isn’t the promise of life-changing sushi worth the splurge?

Sushi Yasuda

Order the omakase. Don’t expect funky rolls; you’re in for some very traditional nigiri and sashimi. Every piece is so fresh, soft and buttery that it will melt in your mouth. My husband and I have instituted a tradition: We always end our meal with an order of unagi, a barbecued freshwater eel glazed with sweet sauce. It’s our dessert, not to be confused with “U-NA-GI”, as Ross from Friends would say. (This always cracks me up!)

I could also mention The Hummus Place for great Middle-Eastern food or Le Pain Quotidien, which reminds me of my time spent in Belgium (yes, the chain is Belgian, not French) or my necessary stops at my favorite French brands such as La Durée or Palais des Thés, but that will be for another post.

Bee