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Jamie Jo Hoang - Author & World Traveler

Category: EatWell

Travel Iceland


Iceland is a paradise unlike anywhere else. An island in the Arctic Circle, it’s a haven of colorful architecture, kind-hearted locals, and otherworldly landscapes.

Make your way to Reykjavik and get your walking shoes on. Your first stop for the afternoon must be Baejarins Beztu Pylsur: The famous hot dog stand.

A simple hot dog, it’s covered with mustard and a gravy sauce. The best part though is the crispy onion beneath the hot dog. Come hungry and order two with all the fixings. 

Continue on your walk and you’ll discover colorful buildings, ornate churches, snow-white swans, souvenir shops, wool clothing stores and cafes galore.

Now that you’ve worked off the hot dog, hop in your car and make your way down to the Blue Lagoon. A place synonymous with Iceland it is not to be missed. Stop by on your first day or make it your last stop on your way out. A large pool with cloud blue water, a swim-up bar, facial station, bridges to cross under and a waterfall to stand under it’s an oasis like no other.

 

When you’re done relaxing, hop in your car and head for the Golden Circle. Strokkur, Geysir Hot Springs, and Thingvellir National Park are must-see attractions. Personally, Gullfoss Waterfall was a bit of a letdown. Yes, it’s massive in size, but its water is a murky brown and it’s so touristy that its grandness gets lost among the crowd. I’d skip it.

After the Golden Circle, you MUST dive Silfra. Silfra is in Thingvellir National Park and was formed by the divergent tectonic drift of the Eurasian and North American plates. It’s the only place in the world where you can dive between the fissures. At 2 degrees Celcius it’s a bit chilly, but that’s what your dry suit is for! With visibility up to 100 feet, it’s one of the most incredible experiences you’ll ever have. 

After a peek into the deep, make your way south to the Ring Road (Route 1) which goes all the way around Iceland. You can start north or south but I recommend starting in the south so that you’re prepared to drive in the north. Just like in Game of Thrones, winter hits the north first. We’ll come back to that later.

If you loved the Blue Lagoon, but didn’t like the smell and want a smaller more intimate hot spring to sit in, make your way to The Secret Lagoon. The water is crystal clear and fresh (no need to lather yourself in conditioner). The sand beneath your feet is a sparkling black and all around you are bubbling geothermal hotspots in case you didn’t get enough of those at Strokkur.


 

Driving along the Southern Region, you’ll see why I said to skip Gulfoss. There are waterfalls everywhere. Anytime you see a sign with “foss” as the end make you take the detour if you love waterfalls. Here’s a few of our favorites. 

Thingvellir National Park

 

I am convinced that the only way to see Iceland is to rent a car and drive. The roads are well paved, but I’d recommend getting windshield insurance because it’s inexpensive and flying gravel is common. 

We traveled to Iceland in late September so it was raining at times. Because of this we skipped Vik and went onward toward Jökulsárlón. This natural phenomenon is where black sand meets giant furniture sized glaciers.

 

 

Frolic around on the beach, take your photos and then continue on up toward Myvatn. The Myvatn Nature Baths are the Blue Lagoon of the North. It’s smaller in size but filled with the same famous sulfuric blue water. The temperature here is less regulated so you’ll find hot spots and cool spots within feet of one another. Visit during the day to see the blue water, but come at night and you may catch a glimpse of the Nothern Lights. 


If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones then your next stop must be the Grjótagjá CaveIt’s unfortunately no longer open for public bathing because the geothermal hot spring has risen in temperature and can get up to 45 degress Celsius. Hot to the touch, it won’t burn you if you fall in, but it’s far too hot to be comfortable. Still, it’s worth a visit.

A trip to Iceland is always going to be uniquely yours. Where you stop, how long you stay and what you see are all up to you. You don’t need an itinerary, in fact, I’d recommend going without one. Pick one or two places a day that you definitely want to see and then give yourself the freedom to stop or keep driving as you please. Don’t rush through the trip or you’ll miss out on some amazing rainbows! 

And last but not least, download the My Aurora Forecast App and make sure you look up at the sky! You can pay $150/pp to take a Northern Lights tour with no guarantee that you’ll see them, or you can be diligent and catch them on your own. They can last anywhere from five minutes to two hours, so check often.

Traveling Finland & Estonia


It’s been a while since I’ve posted about travel. Life–as it happens–got in the way. But I finally got my wings back and I feel enriched in a way that I haven’t in some time. In my twenties, I launched into travel after heartbreak and in my thirties, it would appear that it’s been revived by love. Go ahead barf away (I won’t lie, typing that made me gag a little.) But it’s true nonetheless. Anyway on to the good stuff. 

Finland. We landed in Helsinki in the dead of the night, grabbed a shuttle to a nearby hotel to crash and then picked up our rental car and headed up north. I was hellbent on seeing the Northern Lights and if that meant driving 12 hours to the Lapland then that’s what we were going to do. Finland in September is lush with Autumn colors. The roads are well maintained but mostly two-lane and you can drive for miles and miles and only see one or two other cars. 

We stopped in Tampere for lunch and through the blog of an expat American living in Finland, found Kauppahalli, this fantastic marketplace with a wide variety of things to taste. If you’re traveling in a large group or are a foodie this is the place to go. Walk around and you’ll find bread shops, jam shops (get the cloudberry jam), famous fish soups, meats, desserts, and souvenirs. 


 From Tampere, we drove to Oulu, Finland. Oulu is a small town on the western border of Finland which touches the Baltic Sea. Great for walking around, the area is surrounded by tiny islands that are connected by bridges. If you’re into food there’s also a fantastic restaurant Sokeri-Jussin Kievari restaurant known for their karelian pie, salmon soup, bread cheese Leipajuusto (cream and cloudberry jam), homemade cloudberry ice cream, compote. The cloudberry ice cream alone is worth a visit. 

Also, look out for these fantastic walking signs everywhere on the streets. Love it.

On your way out of Oulu, to stop and stretch your legs during the long drive, you’ll want to stop at Cafe & Bar 21 in Rovaniemi, Finland. The hot chocolate and waffle desserts are amazing. They also have this super creative vibe that makes you want to pull out your laptop and tell a story. 

Once we finished  writing, drinking and stuffing our faces (just kidding we didn’t write, but we thought really hard about doing it.) We made our way up to Kakslauttenan.

The entire Northern area above Noway, Sweden, and Finland is called the Lapland and it’s known for being one of the best places to spot the Northern Lights. 

Since this was our honeymoon we splurged and got a cabin with an igloo attached. An oasis in the Arctic. Equipped with our own sauna, fireplace, kitchen, living room, and incline beds inside the igloo sipped hot chocolate and waited for the Northern Lights to show up. We waited and waited some more and then realized the darn clouds were just not going to go away, so we went to eat came back, started a fire and looked up just in time to catch a faint glimpse of some green in the sky. Once we caught a glimpse it became an obsession which I’ll talk more about when I get to Iceland. 

The great thing about having this cabin for two days was that there was hardly a need to leave it. We went on a hike but the weather wasn’t cooperating, we fed some reindeer at the reindeer farm on the property and then we were forced to do something we hardly ever do. Relax. At first, it was hard, we’d sit and then talk about what we should do next but then I crawled under the covers to get warm and became a bear in the dead of winter–hibernating. 

Relaxed and ready for more sightseeing we booked it back down to the port of Helsinki and made our way to Tallinn, Estonia. 

When we booked our trip to Finland we started asking friends who had been for suggestions on where to go and three out of the three people we asked told us to go Tallinn. Weird. We’re asking you about Finland and you’re telling us to go to another country? Humm…

Just a two and a half hour boat ride from Helsinki to Tallinn we disembarked from the boat and immediately understood why everyone told us to visit. 

A town that modern and medieval it’s a mixture I’ve never seen before. 

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The town is 100% walkable. So much so, that I would say a car is more of a hindrance than an asset. Here a few highlights: 

The St. Petersbourg Hotel. This 700-year-old hotel looks simple from the outside, but it’s full of decadent art and design on the inside. Also, their customer service is top notch making it worth the higher priced rooms. 


For places to eat, there is the famous Pegasus (shown above) which has one of the best chai tea’s I’ve ever had and this snack plate with crispbread, and meat, fish, and vegetable paté’s was phenomenal. Also if you’re looking for a more traditional meal Olde Hansa is a  must. The servers are dressed in traditional costume and the whole atmosphere is like being transported back in time. 

And then, before you go you MUST MUST MUST visit this bakery, KALAMAJA PAGARIKODA, in the Northwest part of town. You can the smell the fresh pastries as you walk up the block. They’re served warm and just melt in your mouth. 

Old town is small so you don’t need a map. If you decide to stay at the St. Petersbourg, just orient yourself from there and wander. You won’t get lost and you’ll find lots of cool little gems hidden along the way. 

 

And to cap off the trip, we spent some time in Suomenlinna. A Unesco World Heritage site, the fortress was built in 1747. The island is built almost entirely of stone. There are long pathways where you can wander around the island but the most interesting thing was these tunnels which run so deep that even the during the day it’s pitch black inside. We went in the evening and most everything was closed, so I would recommend doing this during the day. 

End cap: The fish in Finland is amazing every time. You can’t go wrong. Their coffee however is hit or miss (mostly miss) but their hot chocolate is superb. Always get the hot chocolate.

 

Eat Well – Brasserie 19


Brasserie 19 - The Place to be Seen

One of the finest restaurants in Houston, Brasserie 19 is not only a social scene, but a meal not soon forgotten.

Influenced by the fine cuisine in France, the restaurant has one of the finest Sommelier’s I have ever come across. The selection of wine is vast, reasonably priced, and all four bottles that we had were a perfect compliments to the dinner.

From my tasting Menu:

Crispy Gulf Oysters – A delicate arrangement of fresh oysters. Thinner than even the Kumaoto, the oysters were the perfect start to a meal. A palate refresher.

Pickled Anchovies – The perfect combination of sweet and salty and a nice twist on what is normally considered to be “the poor man’s food.”

Charcuterie – Not normally a dish I like, Brasserie’s assortment of salted meats, were delightful.

Bouchot Mussels – Served in a bowl in a tomato based broth with crispy strips of bread to match, these mussels were a little over cooked and the seasoning a bit flat for my taste. But the ingredients were fresh and the subtle flavor could be attractive to those with a less salty palate.

Grilled Octopus – Quite possible the best octopus I’ve ever had. Massaged and cooked perfectly so that the tentacles were not overly chewy, this dish was a hybrid between octopus sashimi and dried squid, with the smoky flavors of the grille

Steak Tartare – Served atop small slices of toasted bread, the steak tartare was well flavored and with just the right amount of lemon.

Dry Aged Ribeye – Garnished with a giant slice of bone marrow, this was hands-down the best steak I have ever had. Cooked to perfection, the steak was delicious even reheated the next day.

Filet Mignon – Normally my cut of choice, Brasserie’s Filet is on par with my favorite steakhouse in Los Angeles, Ruth’s Chris. And the potatoes on the side made for a nice combination.

Pan-seared Alaskan Halibut – a great dish for pescaterians. The fresh fish nearly melts onto the fork, so you can imagine how great it tasted in the mouth. Fantastic and bold flavors, I would definitely have it again.

Vanilla Creme Bruelee – A classic dessert to end the night. A little too chilled, but nicely presented. Not too heavy, and went well with the moscato dessert wine.

As with most high-end restaurants, the service was great. Our waiter was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. Even with a packed house, his demeanor remained professional and at ease, making our dining experience relaxed and enjoyable.

With a clean white structure and design, the elements in the room that stand out are actually the people.  One of my favorite things about Brasserie 19 is the people watching. Such an eclectic crowd of wealth: both young and old, who come to toast each other, dine, drink and converse some more.

 

Revival Market – The Heights, Houston


Revival Dog

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a food post because it’s taken me a while to get situated in the food culture of Houston, but alas I have found it!

Situated in the heart of the Heights neighborhood is the Revival Market. This local gem caters to the food lovers sensibility with high quality hot dogs, sandwiches, and homemade desserts. The decor, vibe, and pricing are similar to something you’d find at the Farmer’s Market in San Francisco.

Here are some really great things to try:

1. Revival Dog – It’s everything you’d expect from a $9 hot dog. Juicy meat situated in a soft pretzel bun and topped with seeded mustard and pork rhines. This is the creme de la creme of hot dogs. Get the potato salad on the side, I promise you won’t regret it.

2. Pulled pork sandwich – Well cooked (juicey) pulled pork on lightly toasted ciabattta bread and seasoned with a yellow curry paste. This is a really good light option if the dog seems too heavy. The thai influenced cole slaw makes for a perfect side.

3. Handmade Oreo cookie – These sell out fast so get there early. It’s a large cookie that looks and feels heavy, but it’s surprisingly light.

4. Coffee – I bought a bag of the coffee beans from Brazil and as a lover of coffee it was the greatest investment into having a good morning I’ve ever made. Smooth rich beans without that smokey charred taste that I hate.

Lastly, I advise that you take some time to roam the store. The Revival Market has a lot of really interesting things to purchase like: jams, rabbit and duck pate, gourmet cheeses, freeze packed dinners etc.

The market is pretty small and parking can be a problem so be prepared to parallel park down the street and bump elbows with strangers inside, but the friendly staff and low key atmosphere more than make up for the inconvenience.

On a nice day, they have seating outside and it’s a great place to catch up with an old friend while soaking in some Vitamin D.

Eat Well – Central Market, Houston


image

If you’re ever in houston, this is the place to go grocery shopping. It’s like a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s combined with the Farmers Market.
The first thing I noticed was a sign outside that said, “Foodies Crossing,” obviously it was speaking to me!
Upon entering, I met with an eager lunch crowd, and heard all sorts of conversations that all started out with, “They have the best…” and, “I love their…” A very good sign.
Turn the corner and I found a fully stocked grocery store with fresh organic produce, then there it was – heaven. Two full aisles of CHEESE. French, Swiss, Italian, New Zealand, you name it, they had it. How can you not love a store which so obviously appreciates fine cheese?
Continuing on my stroll, you’ll never guess what I found (okay maybe you will)…macaroons! Large beautiful authentic french macaroons that just melt in your mouth. And the best part, only $1.29 each. Cheaper than France!
Okay enough typing, time to eat!

Eat Well – Crepe Republic


Umm...umm goooood!

There is a misconception that “eating well” requires a lot of money. This is not true (unless you’re the $1 menu type, in which case god help your pancreas). I am a food enthusiast and as such I make it point to try a new restaurant every week. Mind you, I do live in Los Angeles, whereby I could eat at a new place 365 days of the week and never come close to trying them all. But this week I’m on a tight budget because for the last two weeks I’ve spent money on food with reckless abandon.

With groggy eyes at 7:30am I check my phone (yes I am one of “those” people) and see that restaurant.com is having one of their famous 80% deals. Sweet! Jamie is Eating Well tonight!

After about 20 minutes of trolling nearby restaurants I stumble upon “Crepe Republic” which caters my to sweet sensibilities and for $2 I purchase a $25 gift certificate. That’s right I just made $23 for a ½ hr of morning internet trolling! I am awesome.

I scroll through my phone book full of foodies and pick a person with which to share this delightful meal. Her name is Anh, a former roommate and food enthusiast. Game on! Here’s what we had:

2 Vanilla Lattes (Delicious)

1 Sea Breeze – Crepe filled with Shrimp, Salmon, White Fish, Avocado, Fresh Spinich, Garlic, and Jack Cheese,.

1 Skinny Jeans (not my pick)  – Crepe filled with Artichoke, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, mushrooms, onion, basil, zucchini, fresh leaf spinish, jack cheese and alfredo sauce.

1 Sinful Pleasure – Strawberries, Banana, Custard Cream, sprinkled with condensed milk, Nutella, topped with light whipped cream and mixed nuts.

And you want to know the best part? With tax and tip we spent a whopping $16. So for $8 bucks we got a two-course meal and a new experience at a different restaurant.

Be flexible, do some research, and you can eat well on a dime.

www.creperepublic.com

Three Forks.

 

Eat Well – Stephan’s L.A. Farm


So Hot it's Sexy!

I love to eat. So naturally I eat A LOT and it’s always a rare treat when I find a new neighborhood gem. I would have to say that L.A. Farm hits somewhere in my top 25 new restaurants in LA. Let’s break it down.

Price – I came here with a $25 restaurant.com gift certificate that I purchased for $2. So our totally meal came out $9.88 + tip (8 dollars) = $20 Bucks. AMAZING. But this was not without being conscientious. No cocktails, just tap water (save money, lose weight – win win) and we ordered small plates and one entrée. One could easily spend $60-70 here on dinner.

The Décor – Fresh and Fancy. Located on a quiet section of one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles, Olympic Boulevard, the restaurant manages to feel quaint and unpretentious. Be sure to ask for the “fireside tables.” You don’t get to sit upright and proper while you eat, but you get to eat in front of a fire pit! Much more interesting (also great for people watching!)

The Food – I opted for small plate dishes and definitely would recommend that as the way to go. Here’s what I had:

Kumamoto Oyster shooter – Good, but I would say a little over seasoned. I love oysters so I’m a bit of a purest.

Shrimp and lobster Bisque – If you like ginger and have a salty palatte, you will love this, but again it was a bit much for my taste.

The Salted foie gras – Again a bit too salty for my taste, but also just mediocre. Really great foie gras melts in your mouth like butter and this was heavier in consistency

Salmon – Pan seared and seasoned with a yogurt dip. This was probably my favorite dish. Cooked well and not overly seasoned which kept the fish fresh.

Deep Fried balls of Awesome (aka I can’t remember the name) – Delicious. I can’t remember what the waiter said was in this, but it was a ball of heaven.

The Burger – This is my eating companion’s plate, but I of course had a taste and I would say that it’s a pretty competitive burger considering it’s up against Father’s Office, WestSide Tavern and Rush Street. The bread is really what makes that burger, a light sort of pretzel bread, that adds flavor but isn’t thick and heavy.

The Service – Top Notch. Water glasses always full (seems simple right? You’d be amazed) and server attentive but not over bearing service. Best part though, he didn’t belittle us for 1) using a coupon and 2) not ordering drinks or expensive dishes. Whaddya know? He wasn’t a pretentious asshole! Nothing annoys me more than a waiter who serves me poorly because he assumes I don’t know to tip on the entire bill. I always, always tip on the entire bill and usually tip about 20%, but I digress, as most people are not as generous as I am.

Three forks.

 

Eat Well – Jiraffe


 

Banana Creme Pie

It’s that time of year again! DineLA has swept through Los Angeles and Jamie’s fork and knife have dove in with enthusiasm. I had heard about Jiraffe from a rich kid back in college who had taken his girlfriend there for their 2-year anniversary. The guys couldn’t stop raving about the meal, so naturally I wanted to try it, but the $200 price tag was a bit steep for this starving artist. He lives in Crazytown (a town most of us wish we could be privy to, where money is no object). I on the other hand live in reality so I went during DineLA,’s Restautant Week where I could have a 3 course meal for $44 ($56 after tax and tip). Expensive? Yes. But fine dining is an experience and one that I quite enjoy so if I have to pick between a new handbag or a nice dinner, food will win every time.

Décor – Old school. Kind of feels like you’re eating in a Victorian house.  Small and intimate, but fits a surprisingly large number of guests.

Food – Here’s what I had:

A creamy mushroom soup

Starter to cleanse he palette.  Courtesy of the Chief. Thanks Chef!

Roulade of Hudson Valley Foie Gras & Crispy Potato Wrapped Big Eye Ahi Tuna

Confit of Baby Leeks, Plum Wine-Szechuan Pepper Sauce. Wrapped in sashimi with a crispy outer layer. Seasoned so lightly that the natural flavors of the goose and fresh sashimi mixed well together.

Filet of Beef

Roasted Salsify and White Asparagus Puree, Red Flame Grapes, Salad of Julienne Celery Root, with Creme Fraiche, Whole Grain Mustard, Madiera Beef Jus. Cooked to order the steak was juicy and tender.

Caramelized Banana Cream Pie

Banana Crème Pie – A light crème filled custard with glazed and torched bananas on top. A great top off to a very filling dinner.

Service – Great. Knowledgeable staff with a human touch. Our waiter cracked jokes and even though he knew we were there just for restaurant week, he treated us with respect and courtesy.

 

Three Forks.

 

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