It took me a couple of weeks after returning home from Hawaii to grasp what really happened on the islands. Each day was filled with various activities, bringing something new to every day. One thing that has stood above all adventures was the visit to the National Volcanic Park.

Kilauea Volcanic Crater

Kilauea Volcanic Crater under the Starry Sky (Photo Credit: T. F.)

Culture, history, food and natural beauty are usual aspects of travelling that one is exposed on a vacation, but never before has it happened to me that I got a sense of what really this planet was before the beginning of time. On one very memorable evening, my friends and I drove to the end of the highway in the National Volcanic Park of the Big Island of Hawaii. When the paved road ended, we continued journey on bicycles surrounded with complete darkness that was only disrupted by our headlamps and flashlights of other tourists. After passing three road barricades and several warning signs, we arrived to the point where even the dirt road ended. From here onward, it was on foot across freshly cooled lava rocks to that one point in the distance which was glowing brightly. Even in darkness, it was difficult not to spot the unusual beauty of surrounding. Lava rock was glistening with silver luster, texturized on the surface in beautiful extraterrestrial formations. At certain spots, rock surface was still cooling off, crunching underneath my footsteps as my shoes occasional stuck to it as they would to fresh asphalt. The air started to warm up and thicken with tar as the distant glow grew closer. We finally reached the point where silence around us was disrupted, the air became too thick, suffocating and warm, and we couldn’t go farther. Standing on the coastal edge less than 30 m from us, lava was flowing into the Pacific Ocean setting off gasses and flying rocks as it clashed with waves and started to cool off. This was the collision of the mightiest natural forces one could ever witness – the constant mythical battle between fire and water.

In this very moment, I realized that this is how it was way back before the beginning of time, way back before dinosaurs walked on earth. It was only water, air and molten lava. Visiting this particular spot was enough for anyone to fully understand how earth came about to be.  But this particular spot was also a place of hope. Even amongst this barren, uninviting land there were pockets in which fern started to grow symbolically representing light in the darkness, hope in despair and revival after destruction. If we could, we would have stayed longer in the park, but the park was closing for the night. Not to compromise our safety further, we headed towards the red, rising full moon with lava flow behind us – a sight nearly too surreal to be true.

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Full Moon Rising over the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Photo Credit: T.F.)

 


Christmas season is usually the time to reflect back on the past year and to start looking forward to the next year. As many people have reviewed 2016, I will do the same but a bit differently. I will review it through the restaurants around the world that have been awarded Michelin stars and have been ranked on the San Pellegrino& Acqua Panna list of world’s best restaurants. This statement sounds quite pretentious and I’m not an expert by any means, but I was lucky and privileged to dine this year at some remarkable restaurants in Europe and Asia thanks to my good friend K.K.

The restaurants were:

  1. Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand – the best restaurant on the S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna list of Restaurants in Asia in 2016, with its progressive Indian cuisine;
  2. Nahm in Bangkok, Thailand – no. 8 on the S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna list of Best Restaurants in Asia in 2016, with its authentic Thai cuisine;
  3. Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap, Cambodia – no. 43 on the S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna list of Best Restaurants in Asia in 2016, with its Cambodian cuisine;
  4. Dani Garcia in Marbella, Spain – two-star Michelin restaurant;
  5. Jose Carlos Garcia in Malaga, Spain – one-star Michelin restaurant; and
  6. Central Bar in Valencia, Spain – although not a Michelin star awarded restaurant, the place deserved an honorary mentioning because its chef Ricard Camarena has one-star Michelin restaurant in Valencia.

If there is one common thread for all these places then it is the freshness of ingredients and creativity in presenting each of these ingredients with a great deception. Although an award might not always mean a great service, based on my short sampling I came to the conclusion that more Michelin stars a restaurant has, the more impeccable, breathtaking and truly magical the service is. As in Dani Garcia’s restaurant, the fable Little Prince inspired the whole dinning experience.  The interior design tied to the menu and dish representation which consequently reflected in orchestrated service and overall experience. The whole experience leaves one with a huge smile on the face and memories that last and are worth reflecting on.

Happy New Year!

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Dani Garcia Restaurant, Marbella


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Parliament Hill and Ottawa River, Ottawa

Nobody thinks of Ottawa as a place where one would go to indulge in gastronomical experiences, yet a small restaurant in Byward Market area called Navarra contests this thought. Not only was the service very attentive, but the dishes made by the Top Chef Canada winner, Rene Rodriguez, stood out in its colourful presentation that translated into a bust of flavours. Have you ever heard or have you ever tasted hibiscus mole? Deep purple in colour, nutty in texture, and slightly citrusy from hibiscus, I spooned the mole from a small cup while waiting for my dessert to arrive. Although not a dessert on its own, this mole definitely could been one.

An additional perk during my visit was that Mondays were industry nights when all dishes cost $15.00. Ottawa might not be a gastronomical destination, but if one ever ends up over there, go to Navarra and indulge yourself.

 


Wynnwood Walls is a revitalized industrial area in downtown Miami that boosts with creativity and originality. This burst of colour is so visually pleasing that everyone visiting Miami should take time to explore the neighbourhood for a couple of hours. At times it is almost impossible to recognize the image until it is looked through a camera lens.


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Bayon, Siem Reap, Cambodia

There are a few things that travel guide books, blogs and friends’ personal stories had forgotten to mention to me about visiting Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia. If you end up in that part of the world, you should be aware of the following:

  1. It is (nearly twice) cheaper to get a tourist visa for Cambodia once one lands in the  country than obtaining it ahead of time through the Cambodian embassy.

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    Leper King Terrace, Siem Reap, Cambodia

  2. American dollars are well accepted, ATM machines dispense them too, but the prices, despite haggling, also seem to be quite westernized in Siem Reap.
  3. Regardless of where one stays, dust is everywhere, and it is very easy to get congested.

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    Southern Gate of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

  4. Sunrise over Angkor Wat is pretty, but unfortunately it left me disappointed because I expected a more dramatic sight as I have seen with sunsets around the world. Therefore, if you are not a morning person, you can skip the 4.30 am wake-up call.

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    Lotus Flowers at Sunrise in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

  5. Despite everything that you might have heard about Cambodia, nothing will truly prepare you for the stunning, nearly indescribable beauty of Khmer temples engulfed in jungle. They have endured the forces of nature, time, pillage and conflict. Just as human faith, they have remained deeply rooted in spirituality. It is in these awe moments that one will ask oneself how cool it would have been to be Lara Croft, and to reenact a movie scene where the natural setting already allows one to do so.

 


The Beach

27Apr16

Have you ever seen a picture of a place and made it your own mission to visit it one day? That’s exactly what happened to me over a year ago when I stumbled upon a photograph of Koh Nang Yuan, an astounding island in the Gulf of Thailand. The island is composed of three little islands connected with sand strips, surrounded with lush palm trees, glistening white sand and turquoise clear waters.

History, culture, cuisine and natural beauty are just a few reasons why tourists visit Thailand. My personal one was a desire to be a beach bum and to chase sun across the Pacific while the temperatures in Toronto were dropping below -35C. And so I did.

For over two weeks my friends and I travelled through Southeast Asia experiencing Thai and Cambodian culture for the first time. The last eight days we spent living the dream – we beach and island hopped. The natural beauty of Thai islands is remarkable and worth every praise that one has ever heard – from the emerald lagoon enclosed in the middle of Hong Island, to infamous neon blue waters of Maya Beach on Phi Phi Islands that Leonardo DiCaprio put on the world map in his film “The Beach”… the list goes on and on. One could say that a beach is a beach, but in Thailand each beach offered a new, different experience in a distinguished natural setting. There were more than just a few moments that left me stunned by natural beauty; the very last one was the one that made me come to Thailand in the first place. After taking a ferry for two hours from Koh Samui to Koh Tao and then a water taxi for 30 min, I finally landed on that picture perfect tropical beach of Koh Nang Yuan. The weather was slightly overcast but that did not matter because there was I on that photograph from a year ago, taking it all in as a sense of personal accomplishment and awe.

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Map of Visited Thai Islands & Beaches

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1. Krabi, Thailand

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2. Hong Island, Thailand

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3. Maya Beach, Phi Phi Island,  Thailand

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4. West Railway, Thailand

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5. Samui Island, Thailand

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6. Nang Yuan Island, Thailand


Tapaç 24

14Feb16

If one was to name a chef who has left the biggest global culinary impact on modern gastronomy, it would be Ferran Adria. Although his infamous El Bulli restaurant has been gone for nearly six years now, Adria’s eccentricity and knowledge have been disseminated across all five continents by his former apprentices – one of them being Carles Abellan.

Tapaç 24 has been my favorite restaurant in Barcelona for several years now. It is a small, simple, basement restaurant owned by Abellan that is bustling with patrons elbowing each other while tasting some of the most delicious Catalan dishes. It is also the only restaurant where I had everything off the menu in one seating, and where I shall always return.

When Chef Abellan decided to open Tapas 24 location in Montreal, I was overwhelmed with joy. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to eat at the restaurant during my weekend trips to Montreal, I finally got an opportunity last New Year’s Eve.

Restaurant Tapas 24, Montreal

Restaurant Tapas 24, Montreal

Tapas 24 Menu

Tapas 24 Menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The restaurant design with its contemporary lines and Catalan accents is an adaption to North American standards, while the menu touches slightly on Quebecouis cuisine with fois gras and game meat selection. But what truly interested me on the menu were the typical Spanish dishes. Croquetas and bombas are done exactly as expected – crunchy from outside, soft and slightly chewy from inside, with the right amount of spiciness coming from chorizo. Neither chorizo nor jamon iberico were disappointing. In-house pickled salad surprised me because it was served with fresh raspberries. It’s tartness balanced the sweetness of tender braised beef and mashed potatoes. The only disappointed was a squash dish that did absolutely nothing for me. The server said that it was the closest dish to a lentil with chorizo stew, which is served in the Barcelona location, but she was wrong. Very wrong. Just like a fairytale with a happy end, a good meal needs to finish with a chocolate dessert, which in this case was filled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. This was a perfect way to end 2015 and start 2016.

Tapas 24, Montreal

Tapas 24, Montreal

At the end of the meal, I realized that it might have been wrong of me and my friend to compare Tapas 24 in Barcelona and Montreal. But we could not help ourselves. Just as Romans say that the water in Rome makes pasta taste differently, perhaps it is the subtle saltiness of Medittereanean air that makes me prefer the Barcelona location. Nevertheless, for those who may not get a chance to eat at Tapas 24 in Barcelona, the Montreal location is definitely a place to visit.