And the winner is . . . .
Gee Emm! This was chosen randomly (using random.org) out of 187 entries. Gee Emm said "I would love to stay at the only North American Club Carlson Radisson Blu... in Chicago!"
I must say, I was surprised how many people picked Radisson Blu in Chicago. I didn't even know about the hotel, but it must be pretty incredible. That reminds me, I really need to get myself out of Chicago one of these days - go back to my Midwestern roots!
Anyway, thanks everyone else for playing. It was heartwarming to hear your comments (I hardly get any comments on this blog, so I'm never quite sure what people think about my posts!). It was encouraging to hear what aspects you all liked, and thanks again for some great suggestions!
Japan is one of my favorite countries to visit. I first got to know the culture when I spent a summer there during college working at a chemical research company. I loved experiencing the simplest parts of everyday life, such as riding my bike to work, shopping for groceries in the market, and cooking in my very Japanese kitchen. I made friends, explored the area, and really fell in love with the culture. It's in Japan that I first learned to enjoy raw fish.
The food in Japan is phenomenal. You won't find better sushi anywhere else in the world. For high end (and very, very expensive) sushi, check out Sushi Mizutani, Sukiyabashi Jiro (post coming soon), Sushi Sawada, Sushi Kanesaka or Sushi Mitani. My favorites are probably Sushi Mizutani and Sukiyabashi Jiro, but you can't go wrong with any of them.
If you'd rather not be forced to eat omakase (which was me after one of those days when I had a huge lunch), some places offer a la carte sushi at dinner, such as Sushi Kanesaka, Kyubey, and Sushi Aoki (post coming soon). It's a way to get that Michelin star experience without paying an arm and a leg.
Another way to save money is to go during lunch. Places like Kyubey have pretty reasonable lunch prices (though be aware - other places, like Sushi Sawada, charge the exact same price for lunch and dinner). Daisan Harumi is a great value, giving you excellent sushi at about half the cost of the highest end places.
Japan is also know for its beef, the most famous being Kobe (though there are many other just as famous types). You can try Kobe beef as shabu shabu at Seryna, where 6 thin slices of the prized meat will set you back over $100 USD (oh but it's so worth it!). There's also teppanyaki, which we tried at Ukai-tei this past time. (According to Bryan, the best steak he's ever had in his life).
The Japanese are obsessive about their pork too. Try Butagumi for specialty tonkatsu (pork cutlet), where you can find over 50 different breeds of pork offered. Maisen is more mainstream (there are several locations) and still excellent. On top of pork, they offer other breaded and fried options, such as shrimp.
For other fried goodness, you must try Tempura Kondo, which is still (to date), the best tempura I've ever had in my life.
Although I've written mostly about high-end food, there's a ton of really good casual food in Japan as well. Just look for long lines at a ramen stall - it's bound to be pretty good. Rokurinsha is one of the most famous, and branches can be found at both Tokyo Station (Ramen Street) as well as at the Tokyo Sky Tree shopping complex called Solamachi. We also loved Suzuran in Shibuya, which is a little off the beaten path and very, very authentic.
For other fun casual food, try an izakaya (Kago specializes in Kagoshima cuisine) or a fun robatayaki when they grill all these gorgeous seafood and produce right in front of you (Inakaya in Roppongi).
Finally, if you want a taste of what cutting edge chefs are doing in Tokyo these days, check out Aronia de Takazawa for some really creative, artistic, and whimsical plates, as well as Tapas Molecular Bar for a sampling of molecular gastronomy bites while sitting at the top of the Mandarin Hotel in Tokyo overlooking the city lights.
Taiwan will always bring back fond, nostalgic memories because that's where my family originates. I have been to Taiwan a lot as a kid but not as many times as an adult. I guess because Bryan hardly ever has business trips there, I have less opportunity to catch a "free ride" to Taiwan compared to Japan, where I've been visiting almost annually the past few years.
Of course, my all time favorite place to eat in Taiwan is the original Din Tai Fung for dumplings. The food is excellent at the other locations as well. I just like the ambiance and feel of the original one, which is more traditional, cozy, and less modern & sleek. For a traditional Taiwanese breakfast, try Yong He Soybean Milk, where you can get all sorts of freshly made goodies such as scallion pancakes, egg pancakes, soy milk, and you tiao (fried crullers) for a mere few dollars. Taiwan actually has excellent food representing many regions of China. Bryan loves Peking duck, so we had excellent traditional (and reasonably priced) Peking duck at Celestial Restaurant. Of course, you can't leave Taiwan without visiting at least one night market. Bryan and I went to Shilin Night Market, one of the most famous ones.
I can't wait to go back again. There are still so many things I have yet to try!
China is a vast, vast country and it will be impossible for me to summarize everything in this short paragraph. Check out the China Eating Guide for more details.
Beijing is well known for its duck, noodles, and dumplings. As a result, we focused largely on those types of food while we were there. If you want to see a cool show of noodle making while you eat, check out Noodle Loft, made even more famous after Anthony Bourdain visited. Of course, there are many other excellent places where hand-pulled noodles are made (e.g., Noodle Bar). In fact, you can even take a class (in English!) and learn how to pull your own noodles and wrap your own dumplings. Frankly for $30 USD, the class was a steal.
We ate tons of Peking duck while we were there. Bryan's favorite is Made in China (he still goes back everytime he goes to Beijing!), while my favorite was Da Dong for their leaner ducks and wide variety of other types of dishes. We sought out several recommended dumplings places and they were all fantastic. Xian'r Lao Man didn't have any English language menus, so we struggled a bit to understand everything that was offered. Even then, everything we ordered was fantastic. Bao Yuan Dumpling had lots of pretty photos on its menu and some English, which was very, very helpful. Bao Yuan offers different colored dumplings (all naturally dyed with beets, veggies, etc), which is both colorful and fun.
Finally, for a change of pace, check out Beijing's best snacks at Nine Gates Snack Street, right near the touristy and popular spot called Hou Hai.
In Shanghai, we mostly spent time at the World Expo. When we weren't visiting all the various pavillions, we had early morning soup dumpling breakfasts at Jia Jia Tang Bao or Yang's Fry Dumpling (both incredible and super cheap) late night dinners at Din Tai Fung and Crystal Jade (fantastic but expensive for China, even though still quite reasonably by US standards).
Bryan and I first went to Rome for our honeymoon over 11 years ago. The past year, we took a spontaneous weekend trip back to Rome. It was my first time blogging about it.
Although high-end dining in Rome was perfectly enjoyable (we had a lovely meal at Il Convivio and Etabli), our favorite meals were actually the simpler ones. We fell in love with Roscioli for their incredible pasta carbonara (among many other things). We couldn't stop raving about the incredibly thin crust pizza at Pizzeria dal Paino. As always, gelato was fun to get, and I ate it almost everyday. Don't miss the excellent coffee at the numerous cafes, of which Sant'Eustachio Cafe is one of the most famous.
A note from our sponsors: Consider traveling to Turkey! Though many of us food enthusiasts undoubtedly will be excited at trying the food there, Turkey has something for everyone. Check out the link and consider visiting Turkey for your next vacation.
I do want to see Turkey some day. The amount of history in that region alone is reason to visit. I've realized from my visits to Greece and Italy that I really love exploring really old cities. Of course, it would be fascinating to sample the cuisine as well. It's so different from Asian food, and frankly, an area at which I'm a complete newbie. My small exposure to Turkish-influenced cuisine in America has been quite positive, so I'm sure I would love it.
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