Top 10 Instagram Moments from 2013

2013 was an amazing year. I don’t know if any other year will every compare, considering it was a year of great change. I lived in three different cities, visited 11 cities in nine countries, graduated from my MBA program, found a job that I love and relocated to Shanghai. I fully recognize that I probably will never travel that much in my life ever again. I definitely cherish every single moment of 2013. However, I’m excited for what 2014 will bring and for new Shanghai adventures.

It’s too difficult to rank my favorite moments of 2013, but I did want to capture 10 of my favorites (brought to you by the lens of my iPhone 4 and Instagram).

1. Invalides (Paris, France)

InvalidesI had just moved out of the suburbs of France and into Paris. After having a lovely brunch on a cold, snowy day, the Métro broke down and I had to walk home. What started out as a inconvenience, turned into an absolutely stunning walk and I got to capture this gorgeous shot of Invalides (which never would have happened if the Métro worked!).

2. Burj Khalifa (Dubai, UAE)

Burj KhalifaIt was my first trip to the Middle East and Dubai was such an eye-opening experience. I learned so much about the local culture and was also just stunned with the entire city. Everything was so opulent and it was more than I could have ever imagined. The Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world and I loved the way it was lit up at night with its own sparkling lights like the Eiffel Tower.

3. Château de Chenonceau (Loire Valley, France)

Loire ValleyI felt like I was on the set of Downton Abbey while wondering the vast halls and gardens during my Loire Valley Châteaux tour. It made me feel like a Pretty, Pretty Princess. The Loire Valley is definitely worth visiting and I personally enjoy it a lot more than visiting the palace in Versailles.

4. Victoria Harbor (Hong Kong)

Rubber DuckWho doesn’t love a giant, 6-story inflatable rubber duck? It was awesome to be in Hong Kong the same time as this wandering art installation from Dutch artist, Florentijn Hofman.

5. Arc de Triomphe (Paris, France)

Arc de TriompheThis was the night I found out that I was accepted for an amazing opportunity in Hong Kong and that I would be leaving the wonderful City of Light. It was such mixed emotions for me as I was excited to go to Hong Kong, but I was so sad to leave Paris earlier than anticipated. I took this photo right before hopping on the Métro. It wasn’t until afterward that I realized that I had captured a picture perfect “stolen moment” of a couple in love. I feel like this picture captured the true essence of l’amour and my own love affair with Paris.

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Hong Kong: Jackie’s 25 Things to Eat Before You Die

Black Pepper Crab at Katong

Black Pepper Crab at Katong

Mango Drink at Hui Lau Shan

Mango Drink at Hui Lau Shan

High Tea at Sevva

High Tea at Sevva

My time in Hong Kong has unfortunately come to an end and I’m off to a new city for a more permanent move. I’ve had the most amazing four months in Hong Kong and this is the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent here. I’ve fallen in love with the city, the people and most of all– the food!

I’m definitely not an expert on the food scene in Hong Kong, because it is absolutely epic here. Between the Michelin-rated restaurants and the down-and-dirty street food, there is such a wide variety of choices! I could honestly live in Hong Kong for years and probably not even make a dent on the restaurant scene.

From left to right: xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung; tomato crab vermicelli soup at Nha Trang; fish tacos at Brickhouse; steamed papaya soup at The Chinese Restaurant

From left to right: xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung; tomato crab vermicelli soup at Nha Trang; fish tacos at Brickhouse; steamed papaya soup at The Chinese Restaurant

I wanted to continue my tradition of creating a food guide when I leave a city. This follows the same vein as my 100 Things to Eat in San Francisco to Eat Before You Die and 50 Things to Eat in Paris Before You Die. You probably notice a pretty gaping hole and ask: “Jackie, where is the dim sum?” Don’t get me wrong. I had great dim sum, but I don’t feel like I’ve been able to truly explore the best of the best of Hong Kong’s dim sum. It was difficult since you can’t really order dim sum for one person. I leave that for my next challenge!

So finally, in no particular order, I present to you:

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Paris: Jackie’s 50 Things to Eat Before You Die

Escalope de foie gras chaud à ma façon at La Fontaine de Mars

Escalope de foie gras chaud à ma façon at La Fontaine de Mars

Affogato at Pozzetto

Affogato at Pozzetto

Oeufs de poule mollets roulés à la mie de pain, toasts de beurre truffé at Le Violin d’Ingres

Oeufs de poule mollets roulés à la mie de pain, toasts de beurre truffé at Le Violin d’Ingres

It is a little crazy to think that around this time last year, I was leaving San Francisco and developed my own list of 100 Things in San Francisco to Eat Before You Die. This past year in Paris has flown by and I’ve done so much (understatement of the year). I still can’t believe that this is my last week as a true Parisian.

Éclairs at L’Éclair de Génie

Éclairs at L’Éclair de Génie

While I cannot claim to be an expert on the crème de la crème of the food scene in Paris, I thought I would compile my own list of my favorite things in the City of Light. I believe that there is SO much good food still out there; alas, I can only vouch for the things that I’ve personally eaten.

Truffle risotto at Dans Les Landes

Truffle risotto at Dans Les Landes

I wish I lived here long enough to develop 100 things to eat before you die, but I guess you will just have to settle for 50. You’ll notice that some restaurants have multiple dishes listed because they just simply excel at gastronomy. One dish is not enough to list. Also, you’ll probably notice that there are a lot of desserts on the list. What can I say? No one can beat the French when it comes to pastries and dessert. In no particular order, I present to you:

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Paris: Pierre Sang Boyer

Pierre Sang laying the final touches on dessert

Pierre Sang laying the final touches on dessert (photo by: Amy-Actually.com)

I know that I talked about Frenchie being my best meal in Paris, but Pierre Sang Boyer (55 rue Oberkampf) gives Gregory Marchand a run for his money. How good is Pierre Sang? I ate there twice in one week.

First Meal at Pierre Sang

First Meal at Pierre Sang

Pierre Sang: Beautiful Plating

Beautiful Plating

Diane was kind enough to introduce Pierre Sang to me. The restaurant does not take any reservations (they don’t even have a phone line) and has mostly counter seating with a few tables upstairs as well as downstairs. I would definitely opt for arriving early and grabbing a seat at the counter to watch the magic unfold.

Pierre Sang Sous Chef

It is practically lunch and a show

The menu changes daily and is based completely on whatever local produce the chef is inspired by. For lunch, diners can choose the “simple” (2 courses), “initial” (3 courses) or “freestyle” (4 courses + cheese). Freestyle is the way to go. For 35 euro, you can watch Chef Sang unveil his culinary genius before your eyes. Lunch was so amazing that I had to take Amy (click to read her review) back the same week.

Pierre Sang: First Course

First course: Razor clams marinated in red wine with asparagus, anise, pickled onions and olives

Pierre Sang: second course

Second course: Smoked haddock with grapefruit rinds, cauliflower, shaved carrots, salsify, served with lemon sauce and herb foam

Pierre Sang: Third Course

Third course: Pork in red wine reduction served atop wild rice with napa cabbage, alongside mushrooms, fried garlic, and shaved turnip

Pierre Sang: Cheese Course

Cheese course: Cheese served with a coconut and yogurt cream sprinkled with white chocolate shavings and cracked black pepper

Pierre Sang: Dessert

Dessert: Opera cake with chocolate and coffee layers served in pineapple sauce with peas marinated in cardamom and tarragon, topped with a macaron and sliced strawberry

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Paris: Les Papilles

Les Papilles

Les Papilles

One of Amy and my old co-workers highly recommended Les Papilles (30 rue Gay Lussac) so Amy was quick to make dinner reservations. I am so glad we went because Les Papilles is a hidden gem in the 5th arrondissement. For just 35 euro, you get a beautiful four-course dinner with big portions and a lively atmosphere. The restaurant is also a wine cellar with all the bottles lined up against the wall with prices. You can browse the collection and pick the bottle of wine you want to accompany dinner.

Les Papilles: Carrot Soup

Les Papilles: Carrot Soup

Every night, Les Papilles has a set menu with soup, main course, cheese and dessert. Our first course was a cream and carrot soup with fresh carrots, bacon, croutons, coriander, chives and curry powder. I loved how each of us got our own bowl and it was self-serve. The family-style of food really added to the warm and homey atmosphere. While the soup base did not have a strong carrot taste, I liked how it had a great mix of textures with the croutons and bacon.

Les Papilles: Beef Pot Roast

Les Papilles: Beef Pot Roast

Les Papilles: Tender Beef Pot Roast

The meat was so tender

Our main dish was beef pot roast cooked in red wine with baby potatoes, carrots, peas, garlic and thyme. Our waiter told us that they cook the beef all night. I believed him because I could not believe how tender and easily the meat fell apart when I gently touched my fork to it.

Les Papilles: Blue Cheese and Apple Panna Cotta

Les Papilles: Blue Cheese and Apple Panna Cotta

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Paris Croissant Crawl

Croissant

My amazing friend Amy is visiting this week! Given that she loves food as much as I do, she was the perfect partner in crime for a croissant crawl. Ever since reading David Lebovitz’s “Paris’s Best Croissants” in Travel + Leisure, I have been wanting to judge all of those boulangeries for myself. Amy and I did even better by trying SEVEN croissants (take that, David!) from different bakeries across town with a very specific mission– find the best croissant in Paris.

Ronde Des Pains: Croissant for 1 euro

Ronde Des Pains: Croissant for 1 euro

We started at my local bakery on Rue Cler, Ronde Des Pains (45 Rue Cler). We hungrily ate our first croissant of the day. I noticed that the croissant was not very dark, but it was still crispy and doughy inside without feeling too heavy.

Pain et Chocolat

Pain et Chocolat

Pain et Chocolat: Croissant for 1.20 euro

Pain et Chocolat: Croissant for 1.20 euro

Next, we walked a couple blocks to Pain et Chocolat (16 Avenue de La Motte Picquet). I always loved the name of the café – Bread and Chocolate – but I had never actually stepped inside.We were lured inside by the croissants on display in the window, which were significantly darker than the one we devoured at Ronde Des Pains. After talking with a staff member, we learned that they roll all the dough overnight and bake it in their ovens downstairs. It’s good to know that even a café is willing to bake their own pastries (one would hope with the “bread” being in the name). Pain et Chocolat’s croissant was definitely crispier (probably due to the longer baking) and less doughy, but I thought it was really buttery and heavy. I had butter all over my hand as I ripped the croissant into pieces.

Blé Sucré

Blé Sucré: Croissant for 1.2 euro; Four Madeleines for 3.4 euro

We took the Métro all the way across town to Blé Sucré (7 Rue Antoine Vollon). I was a little embarrassed to admit to Amy that I had never really explored the 12th arrondissement of Paris before. We found an adorable store front overlooking the Square Armand Trousseau. These croissants were massive, much wider and taller than I had ever seen before. I had read all the online reviews that raved about their madeleines (people, I take my food research seriously) and so we also bought a four-pack of those petite cakes. Blé Sucré’s croissants were impressive. Out of all of the croissants, it was the flakiest and surprisingly had a sweet hint to it. We tried to decipher if some sugar was lightly coating the croissant or if the batter itself was sweet.

I know this is a croissant review, but I have to take a brief moment to review their madeleines. Those bad boys are the most delicious madeleines that I have ever tasted in my entire life. They are very light and fluffy and don’t have an almond taste (unlike the ones you normally find in the U.S.). The absolute clincher was the layer of sugar coating one side of the madeleine. I’m guessing that it has to be some sort of diluted sugar frosting because it actually wasn’t that sweet. BUT, that little bit of frosting added an audible crunch to the madeleine, giving some delightful texture to the moist and soft cake. The madeleines are only sold in a four pack, but you should just buy them. Trust me. You will eat them all.

La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac: Croissant for 1 euro

La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac: Croissant for 1 euro

After Blé Sucré, Amy and I walked ten minutes to La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac (24 Rue Paul Bert). His store has some beautiful pastries and I especially loved the presentation of his lemon meringue tart. Cyril Lignac’s croissant seemed like the best croissant that was well-rounded. The ends were super crispy and the middle section was not too doughy. It was buttery but still very light at the same time. I wish I had some fleur de sel in my back pocket because just a sprinkling of fresh sea salt would have made it the perfect croissant.

28 Boulangerie: Croissant for 1 euro

28 Boulangerie: Croissant for 1 euro

Amy and I were suffering from a croissant coma, but we powered through because I wanted to go to Le Moulin de Rosa (32 Rue de Turenne). Christophe had taken me to that boulangerie before and I remember thinking the croissant was good. In dire need of some digestion help, we happily walked the 30 minutes to the Marais. While walking to Le Moulin de Rosa, we passed by 28 Boulangerie (28 Boulevard Beaumarchais) and smelled the most amazing baked bread. Our pit stop did not lead to any viennoiserie revelations. It was a solid croissant but really nothing to write home about.

Le Moulin de Rosa: Croissant for 1.1 euro; Financier for 1.2 euro

Le Moulin de Rosa: Croissant for 1.1 euro; Financier for 1.2 euro

Finally, we arrived at our last stop, Le Moulin de Rosa. It was flaky, buttery and much better than 28 Boulangerie, but it definitely was not the best. I had to also order a financier because they make the best financiers. You can actually taste the almonds and there are trace amounts of ground almond and vanilla bean baked in.

Final Verdict: For me, it was a tie between La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac and Blé Sucré. I think Cyril Lignac has the best classic croissant. It seemed like the perfect combination of all of the seven croissants we tried. It had fantastic crispiness and flakiness while not being too overwhelming and heavy. If you want to try a croissant with a slight twist, Blé Sucré’s croissants really have a certain sweetness to them. Amy’s favorite croissant of the day was from Blé Sucré. The journey to Blé Sucré would be worth it just for the madeleines. I’m already plotting my next trip to the 12th arrondissement.

Do you have a favorite croissant in Paris? Please do share! I’d love to discover more boulangeries!