Friday, May 31, 2013

tSH goes to Paris!

And within 24 hours of landing at Heathrow I was back out the the door again after a full day at the office to go to...Paris!

Such is my life. Really. I didn't even plan it this way intentionally this time it just ended up being this way. I had the weekend in Copenhagen planned, then Paris was planned because of the conference I would attend on Monday to ensure my manager's ticket would not go to waste (she was presenting on the weekend but had parents in town so needed to return to London by Monday) and then Helsinki ended up getting planned in the middle of it all. It was the only time I could squish it in before I yet again, in a few days, jet off to the States for another business trip, so well...that's my life. be honest I'm starting to wish I could be in London a little bit more consistently. But I'll talk about that some other time.

For now let's talk about Paris.

This was the first time I would be flying through a different terminal of Heathrow since I was, unlike most times I was flying, not going with my platinum status alliance (which is One World and has airlines like British Air, American Airlines, and Finnair). Instead I was going with Air France, which is part of the Delta alliance, otherwise known as the SkyMiles alliance.

So, terminal 4 it was for me, instead of terminal 3 or 5.

And it turned out on the day I was to leave that there were a bunch of a problems with the track signals going in and out of Heathrow, so everyone was in a mad rush getting from terminal to terminal (since the trains also use the tracks to get to and from the terminal, and while you can also use the underground to get to and from terminals it is not free, unlike the train).

Luckily, having heeded the advice of my intern I had left early enough to get to my gates early, even with the delay and skipped to my gate with all of the proper time.

...just to find out that my flight was delayed anyway.

Sigh. Well, I guess this would give me proper time to shop for a gift for my couchsurfing host, since I was going solo for the first time and in my haste hadn't had time to buy anything (as always).

So I did some duty-free shopping and picked up some nice yummies from the Harrod's branch that was there and called it a day.

What felt like ages later we boarded, flew, and landed.

Unfortunately what the delays had caused (unbeknownst to me, otherwise I would have been a lot more pissed off when it happened), was that by the time I landed, all of the trains and buses had already stopped for the night. Yes, Paris is like that sometimes. Apparently. And then the airport started closing down and scary armed guards with dogs and huge semi-automatic rifles started patrolling the hallways. I have no idea what that was for, but whatever it was, I wasn't going to stick around and find out.

My host was frantically texting me trying to figure out ways to get me to his house but eventually I found out there was a shuttle bus that would take me to the center (or close enough). It would basically get me to Paris, in some form or another. It was my only option other than a really expensive taxi (like 50euros), so I jumped on it, not knowing where it would drop me off.

Turns out that it dropped me off on the northern most part of the ring (around Paris). This is not a terrible position to be in. As I was getting off the bus though, everyone and their mother was running or walking toward the nearby train station, so I followed them, assuming I would be able to orient myself (more than what I could already see on my phone) and then map myself a route accordingly. Or just taxi from there.

However as I was approaching the station someone who worked there was basically screaming "last train into the city center!" and everyone started panicking. So I jumped on the train with them, not knowing where it was going or what line it was. This was probably my first mistake (of many).

I still had reception though, and a fairly good idea of which line I should be on to get to my host's house, so I plotted my course and figured out where I would transfer.

Awhile later (like 20 minutes) I got off and made my way to the appropriate line...

...which led me outside. Ah crap.

Once again my navigation skills failed me.

At this point (past 1am I believe) I was willing to just pay the price to taxi the way to my host's house, so I attempted to see where I could hail a taxi. Incidentally I bumped into a group of drunken American girls (from the east coast) and they offered to take me to a taxi hub that was one tram stop away.

Good thing I found them because I found out from the only sober one among them (the other ones were trying to chat up young French guys on the tram with things like, "This guy just came from playing with his band!" Uh, no, I just play in a band. "His band's name is Panama!" Uh, actually my band's name is the Burning Monkeys. "He plays the guitar!" Actually I play the drums... etc) that you can't hail taxis like in most normal cities. There are designated hubs where you are supposed to wait and get them. Luckily though, since they had taken me to the bigger street where they stopped most frequently, I was able to call one over anyway and get to my host's place. I think I was fairly lucky in this since this is not customary.

Anyway, around 1:30am I finally got to my host's place. Safe and sound.

But anyway, yay me welcome to France (again).

And that's how I entered Paris.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Earning my Michelin star

It is altogether likely that I've eaten at a Michelin star restaurant before in my life. Very likely, in fact. But if this has happened, for whatever reason I can't remember it. Maybe I wasn't told that I was at such an establishment. Or maybe I was drunk (never that drunk at fancy restaurants though, so this is also improbable). Or maybe I just have too much to hold in my brain now so it was discarded along with other things I wish I could retain but don't seem to (like directions).

Whatever the situation may be, I'm taking this opportunity to record my first remembered Michelin star restaurant experience. Because I like celebrating the little things, and this experience was pretty exceptional and special.

First off, the restaurant was pretty much empty. Hong Kong P and I arrived, about 10 minutes late (well, I got there stupidly 15 minutes early and she got there 10 minutes late, so if you average out our times we were actually, in fact, early). This made no matter though. We were greeted by a lovely Canadian waiter (who I later befriended, because he was the nicest and most lovely person I've met in a long time, but I'll get to his life story later) only to be told that it would be a very quiet night.

Why's that?

Because a party of 9 that had reserved a table in the restaurant had failed to show. So it would be just us, a table of two. And another table of two, business men, who were already dining.

The room wasn't particularly spacious, but still, even in a medium sized room this is a bit weird.

But Hong Kong P and I are never daunted by any task, so we took it in stride and said that we would make up for the silence. Our waiter was delighted.

He took our coats and brought us to our table. It was beautiful inside, but relatively plain and actually, not particularly memorable. Or maybe it's that the conversation and food were so memorable. And the waiter. So I didn't really notice the environs. Whatever the case is, I didn't particularly notice. Plus we were seated next to a gorgeous view of the harbor. That probably helped as well.

At this particular restaurant they let you choose 3, 5, or 7 course meals. You can also get the accompanying 3, 5, or 7 wine pairings that go with those courses. Ohhh the agony of having to go low-fi on this experience. I was on a business trip after all and I was already going to surpass the food quota for the day. But whatever, I was at Michelin star restaurant. So worth it!

So we went with the three course meal and a single glass of wine for the main and half a glass of the recommended dessert wine for our desserts. Hoohoo!

After we selected from the rather simple menu (which was not simple in actuality), we continued talking and our waiter soon brought over other food that we hadn't ordered. Apparently this Michelin star restaurant felt the need to feed you inbetween your courses! Well, don't mind if I do!

The first was an appetizer dish (or set of them) called "Tour of the World." Each little bite-sized nibble was a calling from some part of the world, redux!

This was the first plateful of them. From top to bottom:

Little deep fried balls of delicious paste inside, sort of like a dough ball but a lot more flavorful. I almost want to say it was some sort of fish paste ball but the texture was too smooth. I know the waiter told us exactly what it was but I'll shamefully admit that I've completely forgotten by this point. Anyway, the gist was smooth, slightly crunchy on the outside, savory, slightly fish-tasting, and very nice.

The middle was supposed to be from Germany - headcheese with a froth of something on top. Basically this is terrine made from pig or cow head (like the delightful pigs head terrine I had at Kuurna that one time). This one was a little less jelly and a little more chunky meat patty, but still very much along the same lines. It was slightly pickled, as these things tend to be, and with the addition of the foam (which I believe maybe was a cabbage foam?) it had a pleasantly preserved aftertaste. Not too strong.

The third to the left were miniature kebabs. Delightful. Little chunks of lamb in tiny little buns. These were the most delightful. There was a dab of some kind of creme in there and even a splash of something slightly spicy, as it is in real kebabs.

Nothing particularly mindblowing, but a nice way to start the meal.

Except that that wasn't just the start of the meal. There was more.

As we were finishing our first nibbles (my fried ball still sad and lonely at the top of the tray), our waiter brought out more niblets for us to eat. The tour of the world continued!

From left to right:

Bowls of basil perfection. I don't know what the little white cubes were, but it's possible they were either the lightest cheese ever or very silken unflavored tofu. In either case, they were amazing. This all in basil oil and tomato water. Yes, tomato water. Imagine the juice you get from the sweetest tomatoes you've ever had then take out the acidity and you're left with pure tomato nectar, in water form. It was glorious. Whoever thought of distilling this liquid was a genius. A genius I tell you.

In the center were spoonfuls of a nod to England. Strong cheese is all I remember, and we were advised to eat it last as it had the most lingering (and excellent) of flavors. It had a little cracker and crumbs on top as well but those weren't as memorable as the slightly soft and melty strong aged cheese flavor. I am a lover of cheeses, as you well know, so this was right up my alley.

And a salute to Sweden on the far right. Flaky crackers with a circle of salmon, creme, and roe. Simple in its perfection and pure in its flavors. This is exactly what you'd expect it to be, and quite Swedish to boot. It was fabulous.

Did our ordered appetizers come after that you ask?

Actually they didn't. The free (first!) round of bread came next.

With fresh organic Finnish butter. I can't tell you the difference this fresh organic butter stuff makes. I don't buy butter for myself normally because...well, I'm cheap and I don't eat it that often (i.e. I don't cook that often for myself anymore), but man if I did...this is something I would actually spend the money on. And admittedly the stuff I do have in my fridge is wholly olive oil based, so it's not like I'm cheating myself into eating petroleum or anything. ;)

This was bread #1. Mushroom turnover. Tasty and not too oily. Went with the fresh butter very nicely. I've never been much of a bread person but if I were, this would be up my alley.

And then...

the appetizer:

Absolutely gorgeous. I don't have any other way to describe this dish. Gorgeous. Whoever does their plating (I'm assuming they only have the one chef but who knows) has a gross attention to detail. Who does this with their food? Apparently Michelin star restaurants do. It's a bit mindnumbing to think about.

Anyway, this was my toast skagen, redux. The waiter had made it very clear that it was an updated version of toast skagen so I shouldn't expect the plain old normal version. And god I'm glad he warned me because if I had been expecting traditional and gotten this I could have been incredibly disappointed. Instead I was pleasantly surprised. How do you even call this "toast" anymore?

Apparently the orange goo in the middle, is bread that's been turned into its alternate self.

Yeah, really, that's what I was told. It's bread that's been foamed.


Anyway, the general verdict? Delicious. Let me dissect this dish a little for you:

There were actually two kinds of shrimp going on (not that it's easy to tell from the photo). There were cooked, smaller shrimp (cooked to perfection and cold, btw). And there was another, raw shrimp that was larger. This type of shrimp was an amaebi - the same kind that is usually served raw for sushi and is generally known as "sweet." Sweet it was, and amazing. Fresh is all I can say about both of those types of shrimp. Fresh.

The jelly was vinegary and slightly savory, like unsmelly fish sauce that had been solidified. The foam/creme bread was good but not heavy - almost like a chpotle mayonnaise but less intense. The green liquid beneath everything was actually the strongest part.

Overall this dish was very good. The mixture of flavors worked really well together. There wasn't much variety in the texture (mostly soft and squishy, as you could imagine) but I don't think that detracted from it, to be honest. Flavorful and rich, but not heavy. I give it a thumbs up for sure. Updated? Oh yes. But did it beat the traditional version? Actually I don't think it did. Good, but no absolute winning cigar.

Anyway, after that was cleared away it was back to good conversation (not that that had ever stopped) and...

bread round #2.

This was an olive oil focaccia. Definitely olive oil. The kind that comes off on your hands. A bit too much oil for my taste, though it was very high quality extra virgin (and you could taste that).

And finally our wine arrived (who doesn't love wine!). Red wine for the goat entrees.

And hooooo how delicious this red wine was! I have the name of it pinned to my fridge so I can potentially get bottles of this, should I ever choose to be so choosy. This wine was absolutely lovely. Not too alcoholic on the nose or mouth - smooth while being extremely pleasant and not dull. Had all the right notes.

And soon after, the goat entrees:

Another artful array of food, though this time everything slightly more recognizable. Candy cane and golden beets cut into the cutest little tokens, goat medallions and tenders, and a creme made from the goat's own milk. Hong Kong P and I talked about how slightly wrong it was that a meat was cooked with its own milk (we are starting to see the logic of that particular kosher does seem a little wrong, doesn't it?).

The goat was...well, quite goaty. Goat has a particular flavor, similar to how lamb has its own smell and taste. To be honest this goat wasn't anything special, though it was tasty. It was meaty, and goaty, and...well, that was about it, actually. There isn't much you can do with goat, and what was being done here was pretty much what you do with goat.

The rest was nice though - crunchy beet tokens, the goat creme was nice (and again, had that nice specific goat flavor). We both finished it and enjoyed it immensely with the red wine but agreed that it was nothing special (we'd both had goat before).

And so we chatted and looked forward to dessert, though admittedly by this time we were getting full. We hadn't anticipated being fed so much free food inbetween our courses so we were thankful we'd only ordered the 3 course instead of the 5 or 7 courses. What a disaster that could have been. Especially after having had steak for lunch at work.

And what should appear before our dessert? Another dessert!

I believe we were told that this was warm milk and cold rhubarb jelly, but I didn't taste much rhubarb in it (it tasted like sweet jam of some kind, potentially apricot though it was indistinct) and the milk tasted a lot like what creme brulee smells like and what white rabbit candies (Chinese chewy candy) tastes like. A delicious mixture, nonetheless, but Hong Kong P was not impressed. She thought it tasted particularly artificial and that bothered her. I enjoyed the little shot of refreshment but I agree that it didn't taste particularly natural.

And then our desserts arrived, with our dessert wines as well (half glasses only):

I had ordered the sea buckthorn berry oatmeal. As you can tell, there is no actual oatmeal on this dish. Once again to cut the heaviness they made the heavy ingredient (this time the oats) into a foam. It was more like a whip with oat chunks in it, but it definitely wasn't what it used to be.

This dish was definitely...unique. And I do mean that in a slightly positive way. It had fresh sea buckthorn berries (little orange berries the size of currents that taste...well, sort of like juicier sweeter currents), tiny carrots and this oat whip. Plus some sea buckthorn berry or another fruit sorbet with it.

It was...odd. To say the least. A bit too raw and crunchy to be a completely enjoyable dessert. I liked the flavor a lot (like one of those concentrated juice popsicles you could get as a kid...or not), but the oat whip kinda threw that to the wind and the raw carrots just made everything weird.

It was worth experiencing but definitely not something I would order again.

The dessert wine on the other hand, was blissful. Like the lightest riesling you've ever had - not at all cloying or syrupy, clean on the tongue after the finish, and no aftertaste. Glory, it was glory.

Hong Kong P had likewise ordered a sherry for her dessert (which was a very rich tiramisu) and hers was perfection - like liquid raisins. We also got the listings for these drinks, should we decide to be choosy at another occasion.

So overall I'd deem this And considering it's a Michelin star restaurant, I feel like that's kind of low. Not particularly worth its price, though in general it's not that expensive compared to what I've paid for other meals lately (like this was still cheaper than the meal we had in Copenhagen, which didn't include appetizers or desserts and only one glass of wine).

I know I'm a food snob so this comes from that place, but I'm not sure I'd recommend this restaurant for anything except the waiter, Xander, who we ended up spending a long time with after the restaurant closed and befriending. Here is a blurb on his life story if you're interested, otherwise here is a link to the restaurant:



Xander moved to Finland about five years ago to marry his husband, a Finnish guy he met online while he was living in Canada (where he's from). Sweetly they met online while both living in their respective countries and never thought anything would become of it. Guess it just goes to show (and I'd like to say this just adds fuel to the flames of my theory) that if someone cares enough, they'll prioritize you and make it work. They met online from overseas and still made it work. And now they're married today and one of them moved to be with the other. Boom.

Xander obviously works as a waiter at Luomo, where we were eating, but has had a varied career in theater arts, writing, and at other fancy restaurants in his past.

The thing we talked about most though was the fact that he realized, only recently, that he doesn't have any true friends in Finland. Similar to many expats before him, it's been difficult for him to find friends, especially English-speaking friends, who he can relate to. He's made great friends with one of the New York sisters who founded the Brooklyn Cafe (which I reviewed previously). He said that's why he was drawn to our table in the first place - for whatever reason I reminded him of her. It turns out that the sisters are half black half Asian. I would have never guessed. But gotta love it. :)

Anyway, he spends the time he's not waiting tables with his writing club, which is where he met the Brooklyn Cafe sisters. They rent a space together (along with several other writers) to have a place to meet up and work and help each other out with their respective writings/books. He's currently in the process of writing a children's book.

After meeting us he feels a lot better about meeting new people in Helsinki, despite the fact that I don't live there anymore. Hong Kong P promised to hook him up with the group that I used to be part of that still meets every Friday for their drinks at Teerenpeli or with the Helsinki Social Club. I wish Xander the best in making new friends and finding a new avenue of life in his chosen city.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Couchsurfing experience #4: Laura

Our couchsurfing host this time was named Laura. Since all of us were pretty overworked (this is a normal thing, btw, but it's more a question of who has time and whether or not we actually do read everything we send each other), German K had once again booked the reservation for us and sent us the profile but I hadn't actually looked at it until I was in Gatwick airport trying to buy our host gift for this person I didn't know.

After reading her profile this is what I surmised: she was a lesbian who loved to do graphic art. She had some photos of her work up on her page and another page. Before reading her profile page I was thinking I would get her some typical London stuff - some cute reusable bag with "London" written all over it or some sort of journal. The conclusion after reading her profile? That business would be unacceptable. If I'd had the time to actually plan the gift I would have gotten something from the Lichtenstein exhibit when I had been there with Hong Kong P the other weekend. But alas, such was the circumstance.

So I bought her a fantastic sampler of Fornum & Mason tea (with fancy embossed tins) and called it a day. Everyone loves tea, especially English tea. German K ended up bringing some great Finnish Fazer chocolate with her as well, so we had a nice blend of our countries represented (none of which we are from, hilariously).

Anyway, this host was a bit different than our previous hosts in Oslo. Namely, she gave us a key to her apartment (which was huge and gorgeous, and she owns, like a few of our other hosts, namely Daniel in Oslo) and then let us roam free. She had her own plans that weekend and we had pretty opposing schedules, so we didn't get to see much of her until Sunday morning when we were all at the same place at the same time.

It worked out fine since we were all pretty chill that weekend, exploring the town on foot and not wanting to go out and she had a party on Saturday night with some girlfirends, so all was good. But it was an interesting contrast to what we had done before.

Also hilariously we found ourselves in an interesting sleeping situation. She had a couch and would normally have had a blow-up mattress to fit all three of us, but the mattress was mysteriously missing this time so we had to improv a little to make things work. She had a small yoga mat-like cushion for one of us (German K took the hard job of taking that) and then Hong Kong P and I switched taking the sofa and the cushions that came off of the back of the sofa to create a long but very narrow fake mattress on the floor. Needless to say it worked but there were many jokes made about how we were all too old and all had various issues in the middle of the night. Rolling off the narrow makeshift mattress was one of these problems.

Turns out after speaking with her she's had quite an interesting life. She's currently working as the web creator for a psych unit. She does a lot of the admin tasks associated with the website and other data collection points. She finds her job really lonely because there is no team associated with these tasks, only her. This is particularly hard because she's really social and wants someone to discuss her projects with. But the money is really good and she has stable hours that allow her to pursue her true love, which is art, which she now does as a side gig and it's starting to pick up.

She bought her apartment as part of a socialist cooperative and it's a pretty interesting situation. She bought her apartment (which is huge, probably around 60 square meters, one bedroom with separate rooms for everything, wood floors, wonderful lighting and huge windows) for 15,000euros. She pays 600euros in rent every month to pay for rent and overall property maintenance, homeowners association, etc. The way she explains it it's basically a cooperative where you buy in and own the place you live in but it's not like you can do anything with it as an individual. Like individual modifications are not allowed because you're part of a group of owners, despite the fact that you own your individual unit. Also, should you ever decide to sell you get back exactly the 15,000euros you bought it for, there is no such thing as making profit according to market fluctuations. It was very interesting to learn that Denmark had something like this, though Hong Kong P told me that Hong Kong had something like it as well. Laura said there was basically a 2 year waiting list to get into the complex she was in (which is the biggest in Copenhagen, with close to 700 units) and you had to know someone else who was already living there (her aunt and uncle live in a unit close to hers). Fascinating.

The other thing we talked about a lot: love. Everyone in the world always ends up talking about love, even if conversation starts off with talks of what you're studying or working on. She's currently deciding if she wants to get back with her girlfriend, who she left when she moved back to Copenhagen from Amsterdam, where she lived for several years after going to school and working before getting into a tough financial situation that wouldn't hold out. This girlfriend didn't want to move with her to Copenhagen but they didn't really ever sever ties. Now she's open. So the question - try things again or move on? Always the question I suppose.

But staying at her place was wonderful. Another great couchsurfing experience. I look forward to my next one (this one will be solo) in Paris.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Christiania and Tivoli

The next day was just as relaxing as the first though it took a little more planning because our host's house was not particularly near the airport nor the downtown sections we were interested in checking out. No matter though, we caught a bus this time so we didn't spend our entire day walking around town.

First matter of business - more shopping. This was actually for a practical reason (rather than merely for pleasure) - unfortunately the incredible amount of walking we'd done the day before had taken its toll on poor German K's feet (and her choice of shoes), so we had to stop and make a pit stop for more practical flat shoes. I suppose it shouldn't have surprised us but about half the shops were closed on Sunday, observing religious...something. Considering Denmark is similar to Finland in its religious ferocity (which is not at all) we were a bit surprised. In any case, eventually appropriate flats were found and then it was off to find more noshables.

This time it was to be Dalle Valle, a cafe recommended to us by the wonderful Korean tea man the day before. This one was a real budget eat as compared to what we'd been having yesterday - 10euros for a breakfast buffet! Hoohoo! It was actually really good. Less variety than Riz Raz, but whatever. Still tasty. I appreciate the Danish proclivity towards hummus. I am an absolute lover of hummus in the UK (now that it's so easy to get and cheap to boot), so this has become an absolute regular part of my diet (along with a crazy amount of raw veggies and fruit...this is no lie...I eat probably the recommended amount of both now...daily).

An odd mix of fried seafood, veggies, and cooked pastas...lots of hot food. What really stole the show though, in an odd way - their pineapple (fresh) and their bowls of raisins and banana chips. Wonderful. Hong Kong P and I went back for seconds, possibly thirds of the pineapple and raisins. Weirdos...yes, but healthy? Absolutely yes.

I forgot to mention that yesterday, during our walk around town, after the teahouse but before dinner, we wandered around a very famous part of town: Christiania. Famous because of its history of soft drugs. That kind of famous. From what I've understood (this part was not detailed in the guidebook), it's actually controlled by a mob of some sort. Whatever the case may be it considers itself a free city and has its own set of rules. Rules like:

  1. No photos of any kind (hence why I'd forgotten that we'd gone there the day before...because there was no evidence...I use my photos as memory aids).
  2. No running (it causes panic because the police regularly raid the town in attempts to shut down the soft drug trade that happens rather openly doesn't stop anyone).
  3. No weapons or fighting (you'd think this would be kind of a given but I guess it needs to be explicitly said).
  4. It's probable there were other ones that I've simply forgotten. I guess I must not have broken them though because no one was particularly staring at me/us and we didn't get booted out or arrested.
Anyway, what they say is true: the soft drug trade does happen there, and quite openly. There are stands with goods just sitting out there, with stuff you can buy. And smoke, right there. It was kind of shocking, to be honest. I have no issue with the stuff, or people doing the stuff of their own volition (I believe in free choice and I did vote for legalization because I do believe in the benefits and there are more harmful substances that are already legal, such as alcohol and cigarettes), but this was kind of weird. You could literally buy something from someone and within two feet of that (or even right in front of where you bought it), light up and be on your merry way. There were cafes and bars for you to sit at, even a little place for you to dance away. Relaxed hippy town. I will say though - there seems to be a sort of culture (visually, at least) that seems to follow this sort of industry. Strange how that always seems to happen. I don't know why it would need to, but somehow it's always there.

But back to the point - it was openly done here and there was no issue. I can see why they enforced the rules they had - no pictures to put people in awkward positions and no running to cause panic that something was going down. There were a lot of people loafing about having a relaxed time, no reason to ruin their day for no good reason just because you felt like running and being an ass. This was a different part of the country, that's for sure.

And now back to Sunday. After filling ourselves with pineapple and raisins we made our way to Tivoli, Copenhagen's theme park. It's right across the train station, where we'd left our luggage for a convenient getaway to the airport for our flights later in the day and we all agreed that it sounded like a lovely way to pass the sunny day.

And lovely it was. I love theme parks. Always have, always will. This past December/January when I was last back in Disneyland I'd had the sudden and rather uncomfortable realization that it was likely the last time I'd be there until I had kids - I'd been there enough times to not find it so much fun. Maybe it was just that time but I didn't feel the need to be there anymore. It'd lost its charm for me and I enjoyed doing the old-people things at the park instead - watching people, enjoying the weather (if there was good weather to be had), sitting on benches. Old people stuff. I didn't feel the need to strategize for every ride or gleefully run to each next attraction.

We three realized also that that's what was happening in Tivoli. As much as we looked around with nostalgia at the adorable attractions, we didn't feel the pull to go on any of them. And when we did finally think that we wanted to go on their one big roller coaster (just Hong Kong P and I, German K decided she would sit it out), we actually ended up voting against it because of...cost, of all things. It would have costed over 10euros for that one ride. It was over 40euros to buy the multi-ride ticket, versus the 15euros to get into the park without a ride pass (which is what we had bought since we only had 2-3 hours there).

So we walked around and looked at everything, got some ice cream and...sat on park benches in the sun. And listened to the multiple gospel concerts happening. Apparently we are those old people, enjoying old people things. Felt a little weird, to be that person in the park, instead of the young person waiting in line for the next ride. When did this happen?

But anyway, Tivoli was great. I would love to come here again with more time to actually enjoy the rides.

And before we knew it, it was time to leave again. Time to get onto a train back to the airport.

But there were no tearful goodbyes. True to WT form, I'd be seeing them less than three days later for a business trip to Helsinki.

Haha such is life. Croatia is in the works next for the three of us. But for me next: Helsinki. Then Paris. Then the US. All with London between.

Thanks Copenhagen, it's been wonderful.


Sorry for the hiatus yesterday, it was (yet) another wonderful bank holiday in the UK (same as the US), so we got the day off. I spent it shopping and meeting up with Specs, Sweets, and Spaz. But I'll get to that some other entry. For now enjoy a double posting to make up for the absence.



This is what we ended up calling the city, after walking around it for about 20 minutes. Once again similar to Oslo, it was hard not to compare it to Helsinki.

It was like Helsinki and Oslo had a gorgeous bastard child and it was called Copenhagen. We would later learn that it was an incredibly expensive version of these two cities (way more expensive even than Oslo, which was shocking to us, in all ways), but whatever. It was wonderful.

We also recognized that it was likely we were rating it higher because the weather was more beautiful - sunny, around +13. This was the best weather that Hong Kong P and German K had had all season. Probably for the last 8 months. I had been a little more lucky - I'd had Thailand, of course, and my time in California for the holidays, but also London had finally had spring arrive (though in spurts). We'd actually had a day around +18 earlier in the week. And it was wonderful. I'd finally been able to put away my socks for a day and wear flats to work. My British counterparts actually wore flipflops to work in celebration. It was hilarious. And a little overdone I'd say.

(My feet from that one warm day in London when I could wear flats to work).

But Copenhagen. It really is as beautiful as they say it is. And clean, so clean. And friendly. We actually had people smile at us on the street. Not your typical Scandinavians. Wonderful.

We ended up walking basically 3 kilometers to our brunch restaurant that first day. An unintentional walking tour of the city. Along the way we stopped into various bike rental shops, hoping to rent some bikes and make our journey a little easier. No such luck - on a beautiful day like the one we had, everyone had had the same idea (and much earlier in the day), so all bikes were out and rented. Plus we did some price conversions and dang...those bikes were not cheap. Not by a long shot. So we continued to plod our way into the central part of town (near the canal) and eventually made it to Stroget, the famous shopping street area:

Around this area is where our destination was: a (mostly) vegetarian buffet recommended by my family as well as the guidebook (and numerous others on the internet and other sources). It's a place called Riz Raz. Commended as a "budget eat" you can eat as much of everything as you like. It's a mixture of salads, cheeses, veggie sticks and dips, and even a small amount of desserts. It was pretty tasty business.

We sat outside to take advantage of the sun (which unfortunately was fading in and out of dark clouds, though no rain appeared). We stuffed ourselves with delicious food.

It's kind of funny though - for a budget eat we were still paying basically 20euros for this buffet. If that's budget we were not really sure we wanted to find out what non-budget eats looked like. It was good and everything, but 20euros? Jeebus.

Btw in case you're curious, the conversion rate is about 7 Danish kronors to the euro. So our individual bills were about 140kronors each. Yeah. We each had a drink (two apple juices and a diet Coke, each 35kronor) and that was it. No alcohol, not even more than one drink. Just a single drink.

After sitting and talking for awhile we decided to take in some shopping. There was an amazing design store right across the alley we were sitting in, so we stopped in there and once again, noticed how ridiculously expensive everything was. But Danish design really is something to stop and stare at (and purchase, should you have the money). So things were bought.

We wandered the city after that again. Hilariously we didn't make it far though. Maybe it was the temperature dropping or something else but we got as far as a teahouse and decided to stop once again for refreshment. We ended up staying until 6pm, when it closed. It was called Sing Tehus.

It was run like a more traditional Asian teahouse but put into contemporary Scandinavian settings. Kind of a confusing but strangely comforting setting. And we had the most wonderfully friendly Korean server who was happy to serve two Asian girls and a German girl who were clearly becoming one with their sofa. We literally sat there for hours and drank all of the tea he offered us, even after our original pots had long gone dry.

We had mint tea with licorice and oolong as our original teas. But soon after this, when the shop was emptier he took it upon himself to start making more original concoctions and share them with us. It was delightful. He also told us his story - he was from Southern Korea and had come to finish his second bachelor's degree (his first he'd finished in Korea, which was in industrial design). This second degree was in financial management. He had a longterm girlfriend back at home and planned to move back there relatively soon. He'd grown up both in Korea and Denmark though, hence why he could speak Korean, Danish, and pretty good English.

We left only when their shop was closing and we felt we should leave before it became impolite to linger longer. We wished him the best and left to wander the streets longer before making it to the one restaurant we were able to make reservations at from the guidebook: Salt.

We got there perfectly five minutes before our reservation.

Admittedly this restaurant wasn't our first choice - we originally wanted to eat at Geranium - a completely ridiculous restaurant that totes the awesomeness of biodynamic farming. Basically this takes a holistic approach to farming - everything is considered in the system as a whole (plants, animals, soil, etc). But get this - it gets even weirder - they plant by the astrological calendar and count on the mystic powers of things like crystals and sympathetic magic. This could include things like burying a piece of quartz in a cow horn around the plants that are to be grown and harvested. Did I also mention that everything is grown organic and in a sustainable fashion? Anyway, Hong Kong P and I were instantly fascinated and felt we needed to try this outrageous approach to food. Naturally they were completely booked, as were several other restaurants we tried from the guidebook. So, we ended up at Salt, which was still very highly rated (and was in the Zagat guide).

And it didn't disappoint. It was lovely.

For aperitif (and free with the meal), was a little jar with a potato chip or two and a mixture of nuts, beans, and some sort of thick cream (tasted a lot like really thick sour cream). Tasty and seemed pretty simple to make. A nice start to a nice meal.

Also on the table was a setting of three salt tastings. I delighted in this (as I've always enjoyed tastings of many varieties).

Each of the salts were from a different region - one from Denmark, another from France, and another from Essex (England). They were all very different from one another - my favorite was probably the one from Essex, the one from the middle. Large crispy flakes, pure white in color. Crunchy, great texture, not too hard. A slightly mineral flavor finish that lingered just a little bit on your tongue. The one from Denmark had a cleaner finish, not so strong, much more subtle (Hong Kong P and German K liked this one best). The one from France was dirtier in color and smaller in size but much more aggressive in flavor - very strong finish that lingered long after you'd had it in your mouth...almost a sulfur flavor. Fantastic if you had something strong to pair with it, like a strong dessert liqueur.

And for the main entree (we'd all decided against appetizers at this was already going to be a pricey meal anyway, and Hong Kong P and I couldn't resist a glass of wine...Hong Kong P's motto in life is "Money spent is money earned."):

Baked hake with mussels and spring cabbage with a shellfish bisque sauce. As you can see from the picture they're still stuck on the whole "froth" trend that overtook the culinary scene a few years. Though not my favorite trend by any means it does allow for some incredible flavors. And this was no exception.

The fish was good, though not exceptional in any way. The mussels were wonderful as it seems all sea-bordering countries in Europe have been so far. Smooth and perfectly cooked, no grainy sacks of organs here again. Wonderful.

The best part of this dish though, and I love to admit this: the cabbage. It was literally just a quarter of cabbage that had been perfectly braised. And covered in smoked lard. I kid you not. It was more like crunchy bacon bits by the time it reached me but the braised flavor in the cabbage was to die for. Imagine the most perfectly stewed cabbage you've had in your life that's not overcooked. That slightly earthy almost aromatically bitter flavor of cabbage with the crunchy smokey flavor of well, lard. Imagine perfectly crispy (but not hard) bacon bits. Fabulous. I ate it with relish (as in delight, not pickles).

Wonderful. And paired with the sauvignon blanc that was oddly chosen for me (and which I didn't get to taste before it was poured out for me...shame on you, fake sommelier!) it was great. The wine was nice though not outstanding. It had a really mineral, almost metallic finish, but nothing to shout or complain about. I felt good about it but it wasn't amazing.

Our meal ended up being around 100euros each. Pretty ridiculous for what we got but it was a lovely and quality meal. I can only imagine how much Mr. Biodynamic Farming would have cost, but it would have been worth the experience I imagine. Sometimes things are just worth the price. I plan to try blind dining in London sometime (I've understood that exists here, as it has been shown to me in CSI...yes, I'm that dork).

Anyway, being the delightfully overworked career girls that we are, we went back to our host's house after this lovely dinner and talked into the night before calling it quits. It was a good day.

Friday, May 24, 2013

tSH goes to the Daneland!

Or to be PC, Denmark.

For whatever reason whenever I'm tired or befuddled, it comes out as "The Daneland" instead of Denmark. Whatever. I chalk it up to having to remember so much at one time all the time. My brain is great...just not all the time...for all things. Whatever, still great at some things (sometimes).

Anyway, German K, Hong Kong P, and I had decided that we would continue the saga of seeing each other every month or so (yes we all travel a ton for work already as it is, but what is life if you can't see your best friends as much as possible...especially when you have the means and well...airline points do so?). We've already sketched out a rough itinerary of what country for each month until the fall. Yeah, that kind of planning. Destinations include Croatia, the Faroe Islands, southern Spain, Ibiza, and the weird parts of eastern Europe that we've all thought about going to but have decided should never go solo to.

This weekend it was to be Copenhagen. Planned in advance, it was surprisingly cheap. I got my roundtrip flight from Gatwick to the Copenhagen airport for 90euros. Amazing deal. They got their flight with points and some other discounts, so not too much more. I did find out on the trip back that my traveling time to and from the airport, because of its location (since I now live so close to Heathrow) took way more time than the flight it's very likely that in the future I will not fly out of any airport other than Heathrow. My time is just worth more than the money I'd be saving. Plus the train ticket to Gatwick was more than double my train ticket to Heathrow, despite my awesome, I think that pretty much seals my deal.

Anyway, back to Copenhagen. Admittedly, similar to our trip to Oslo, none of us had done research beforehand due to hectic work schedules so we basically just landed Friday night, got to our couchsurfing host's house and said we would wing the entire weekend. We didn't even know how to use the public transportation system and our host wasn't around most of the time. Hilarious.

But that first night in was just us girls, chatting away quietly in our host's living room, where we all slept. Catching up on girl things, despite the fact that we'd just seen each other Easter weekend. Apparently lots had happened during this time and despite talking pretty frequently, we still had much to talk about.

And thus concluded our first night in Copenhagen. Good start to a good weekend.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Foodgasm at St. John

Otherwise known as the best restaurant I have eaten at since moving to London.*

*as seen thusfar. And I've eaten at a decent number of restaurants here. Especially in comparison to how often I went out in Helsinki.

My bestie from back home, Rhinda, recommended this place to me via an Anthony Bourdain article. Basically the tone of the article was, "if I had to die with something rolling out of my mouth, these are the places I would choose to be eating at when that happened."

He then chose the 13 places around the world that he would die happy eating at. This was first on the list (not necessarily in priority, but just listed first). Hoho, Don! Something to be proud of!

The parents and I were contemplating eating at this place for my dad's birthday but it ended up being too much of a hassle for Easter weekend, hence why we ate at Papaya instead, which was also delightful. Hong Kong P and Turkish C being in town, however, well...that was just a reason to celebrate. And being known foodies...well, I can think of no better reason than to go out and try this place.

I made the reservations. Unfortunately they were completely booked for the weekend so we only got reservations on a Monday night. Whatever, we were going to make it work in order to taste this food glory.

And oh my god was it food glory. Anthony Bourdain, you definitely do not disappoint in your food recommendations (not that I'd ever in my life think that he would, but this just reaffirms my faith in the man and his good taste in life choices).

We arrived half an hour early after my nervousness of potential transit delays and just our general running-lateness. Contrary to what happens with Finn, however, we were shown to our table despite being early and were able to be served right away. This was pretty amazing all things considered.

I just realized I've not named "the place." The place I'm about to rave about incessantly? St. John. It's located between Farrigondon and Barbican tube stations in the central part of London (very much zone 1).

The inside is absolutely adorable. Even before you get to the restaurant you're greeted by a gorgeous bar and bakery. I would definitely come here on some random day just to sit and admire the natural lighting and fabulous interior design. Whoever did this should apply for a job at Apartment Therapy. I'm sure they already work there, actually:

The inside of the restaurant is actually pretty plain. Similar lampshades, pure white tables with white chairs and white table cloths. There are white pegs lining the walls so you can hang your coats (extremely practical and beautiful at the same time). Simple and tasteful. The focus is on the food and the wonderful open kitchen. We were seated at the table next to the kitchen. We watched our food being prepared. It was mouth-watering.

So, to the meat of the situation. What did we order?

A crapton of food. That's no joke. Three foodie girlfriends, one very well-regarded restaurant known for its bone marrow offerings and other weird land animal dishes? Uh, yeah, lots was going to be ordered. And wine.

The Appetizers

We ordered three appetizers. We considered ordering more, but we wanted to pace ourselves. There was so much we wanted from this menu. And it was all fairly reasonably priced (anywhere from 5-10pounds per dish). Very reasonable given the quality of restaurant.

We asked our waitress what she would recommend and we ordered all three of her recommendations: the bone marrow (highly raved about and recommended by every piece of news we'd read about this place, including the Anthony Bourdain article...we would have ordered this even if she hadn't mentioned it), crispy pig skin, and ox liver salad.

The ox liver salad. Thinly sliced, tossed with marinated onions and greens (I don't know what they're called but they come in clusters and are very common in all salads I've had here). Absolutely fantastic. The dressing was something very similar to hoisin and it was delicious. Bit savory, bit sweet, but not cloying or overbearing. The ox liver itself was meaty, not chewy, and did not taste like organ. It was more like meat than anything. Very enjoyable. Highly recommended.

The crispy pork skin. This was more like crackling that had been made into chips, sort of like pork rinds but much much crunchier. Like pita chips. These were then tossed with some sort of veggie stems (not sure what these were, to be honest), all in a mustard dressing. The pork skins, I'll be perfectly honest, were a bit too much. They were really fried and really crunchy. A bit too hard at times. Like eating really thick pita chips made out of pure pig skin. Normally that would be an awesome thing but I could taste their oil and somehow this wasn't appealing, despite the greens and the mustard sauce. We all agreed that this was our least favorite dish. Worth trying but unfortunately not the best.

The very highly-anticipated bone marrow plate. We were so excited about this. And it was well-worth the excitement.

We were each given little implements to scoop the marrow out as well, though these looked like seafood forks. I've understood from watching Martha Stewart that there are actually dedicated marrow spoons that look like elongated salt spoons. Narrow and a bit deep. One of these days I will have a beautiful set of them, just for my marrow consumption.

Anyway, this was a bit of a process, but I'd do it all again in a heartbeat to eat this dish.

First you scoop the marrow out onto your bread, then sprinkle it with course sea salt (which is also on the plate, though you may not see it), then top it all off with the parsley salad (parsley, red onions, all coated in olive oil).

In a word: incredible. The marrow was juicy, succulent, exploding with flavor. If you've never tried marrow before I encourage it with all my heart. It's like the best (warm) pate you've ever had. This was oilier than I remember my previous marrow experiences, but this did nothing but accentuate the experience. No detractions whatsoever. I was in absolute food heaven at that point. I didn't care that there was marrow oils dripping down my fingers. I would gladly have eaten that entire appetizer dish of marrow by myself. And if I ever go here again, I definitely will.

The Mains

Hilariously we all ended up ordering the same thing: the grilled ox heart. Not sure what it was about this that all called to us, but it did. I was reminiscing about my wonderful experiences eating seared baby reindeer heart and decided to go with it because of that. Hong Kong P also decided the same because we were both debating between the same two dishes - this, or the pigeon that was cooked medium rare. Tough choice, because pigeon is always delicious (I'd just in the past few years figured out that one of my favorite fowl, squab, is actually pigeon)...but you can get pigeon anywhere. Especially in Chinese food. Where else could you get grilled ox heart?

So the decision was made and three orders of grilled ox heart were ordered.

Actually it just ended up being okay. And I'll tell you why: though the meat was tasty (sort of tasted like organy-steak), the horseradish it came with was completely overpowering. So despite the meat itself being really quite good - you could tell it was well-marinated and certainly grilled to perfection and quite good when it came to you still warm on the plate - eating it with the accompanying sauce was like having someone shoot acid into your nose over and over again.

Eventually we broke down and asked for a small serving of honey to go with the horseradish. I know, total sacrilege when it comes to eating in gourmet restaurants...but really, something needed to be done about this horseradish situation. The chef definitely gave us the "look" when we asked our waitress to bring the honey over. What can I say? I absolutely love food and most ingredients in their raw and powerful forms. I even love extreme spicy. But acid in my nose? Just a little too much for me.

The carrots themselves were braised to sweetness and were glorious, but overall I thought this dish was a bit disappointing in comparison to the appetizers and what was to be the experience of the desserts. But I'll get to that next.

The Desserts

As if having three appetizers wasn't enough (and it wasn't) we decided to order three desserts as well. This came about as we were looking at the dessert menu and three things called to each of us.

First, Chef (our friend, not the chefs here, who probably started rolling their eyes at us since the honey incident) recommended that we order the madeleines off the menu. So that was already one of our choices checked off.

Second, there were many specials of the day that sounded fabulous.

Third, why not three desserts? There were three of us anyway and they were all reasonably priced again (about the same as the appetizers). We decided we would live a little.

So we ordered the madeleines (six, not twelve), honey mousse, and a chocolate pot.

The honey mousse was perfection. Like a parfait that's so sweet and light you just want to eat it slowly. Accompanying it were spiced prunes that had been stewed in bergamot. I heart these so much. They were heavenly. There was also a gingersnap cookie or something similar with it. All three combined brought me to my knees. Sweet, creamy, spiced, and a little bit of herb. Fantastic combination. The guy who made this dish? Promoted in my book.

Next was the chocolate pot. A bit different than we were expecting (and smaller). Surprisingly served cold instead of hot (we were expecting something like fondue, not a fudge). This was basically cold fudge with creme on top, served with a honey shortbread cookie. The cookie was fantastic, I'll say that. The chocolate itself was smooth, but otherwise disappointing. Not particularly memorable, unfortunately. I would recommend something else if you're gonna get something.

And the madeleines. Oh the madeleines. Chef was not wrong in recommending these. Now I've had madeleines all my life. And they've always been good. But oh my god. Hot and fresh from the oven? So soft they're like bread in your hands? And so sweet and buttery they're basically like cornbread but without the texture? I have no words for this but delicious. I could eat these all day, everyday. And that's no insult to the madeleines I've had before - they're all good. But these were incredible. The funny thing was, they weren't even that pretty. Just goes to show, you never can tell.

By this time I was feeling euphoric. Very good food is a fine and rare treat for me and everything was splendid. Even the wine, which we all got single glasses of:

A French red, Le Clos. 2011. Incredible. Fruity, smooth, absolutely no aftertaste. Exactly what I wanted. Not even a breath of overalcohol. Fabulous. According to some internet research I believe it to be this bottle.

This, was a splendid evening out. And with my visiting Helsinki ladies, no less!

I will say that any foodie friend of mine who visits should come to this place, hands down.

Total, including tip, we paid 40pounds a person for the food we had. Including the wine. And I didn't even mention that it came with bread and butter at the beginning. Yeah, that kind of awesome. I can't even imagine what this kind of food would cost me in Helsinki (we're talking a good 80euros likely) or even in California (probably something like $85).

Yes, I will definitely come back here. That, you can bet on.