To Go Coffee Shop / Seomi & Tuus House Object Gallery – Seoul, KOR


To Go Coffee Shop / Seomi & Tuus House Object Gallery
32-21 Chae-Dong, Chongro-gu
Seoul, South Korea
+82 (02)-720-5001

With long business hours (Mon~Fri, 7am to midnight; Sat, 7am to 11pm; Sun, 9am to 10pm) and a serious dedication to contemporary art and design – given their ties to a nearby gallery – the To Go Coffee Shop housed within this quaint brick-and-glass building made for the best of both worlds. Open early enough for a warm cup of coffee to get your day going, but also laid back and aesthetically interesting with its display of modern artwork to make you want to stay longer than you normally might just to take in the scene.

The bukchon neighborhood follows a similar dual dynamic.  Retro remnants of a by-gone era with traditional architecture and residences that take you back in time, flanked by rows of ultra hip and trendy shops popular with the city’s busy youth.  The latter characteristic reminded me of the ura-Harajuku area of Tokyo. I have a friend who works as an assistant director at one of the many galleries here, and I’d always heard interesting things from her about hanging out and working in this district, so I had to check it out for myself, camera in hand.

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Kafé Kalik – Orlando, FL


Kafé Kalik
4969 International Drive
Orlando, FL
(407) 248-0889

A short reprieve from the business at hand led me and a partner to hit one of the larger outlet shopping malls in this wildly spaced out city.  As such, some quick shopping was our main focus and grabbing a quick meal before we had to return elsewhere wearing uncomfortable business attire under the sunny skies was secondary.  Out of pure convenience, we popped into Kafé Kalik, who’s signage claimed they were a “taste of the Bahamas”.  While I have never been to the Caribbean, my Spanish speaking pal has many times so I had to twist his arm to join me – while we both knew we were likely in for some underwhelming wannabe-ethnic cuisine.

Our suspicious were confirmed as once we were seated in a very empty dining hall near the bar side, I spotted a connecting sushi bar that was tied to the business.  I think in spite, my dining buddy actually ordered a sushi roll as his main meal.  With this Japanese and Caribbean fused sushi roll menu that included things like tempura conch, and curried tuna among them, it kind of reminded me of the eclectic mix at The Lions Den Cafe.   I won’t even go there as I’m not sure it deserves any comment.  Our server was a cheery and quite outgoing Latina woman, who was overly interested in pushing the special items on the lunch menu.  I hardly paid attention as the first mention was some kind of trio of  mini burgers.  Not exactly unique.

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National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill – National Harbour, DC


National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill
201 Waterfront Street
National Harbour, DC
(301) 965-4000

Some places and food just go together.  As a lifelong baseball fan, for me, this sport is all about hot dogs.  Its part of the experience of seeing MLB games live.  Strangely enough, having been through enough pork processing plants in my lifetime and gaining a full view into what goes into hot dogs, you would think I’d stay away from them.  Alas, I can’t when it comes to watching America’s favorite pastime.  This isn’t even limited to the outdoor environment, as if there is a game on in the bar, I’ll look to see if there are any ‘dogs in the house.  Yup, I’m predictable that way.

For those fans of the sport, you’ll know that Canada lost one of its top professional teams to the Americans.  The glorious  Montreal Expos franchise that gave birth to so many amazing players has relocated to Washington, DC.  The Nats as they are affectionately called are a fairly forgettable bunch, without a winning season in six years of their new existence.  I wondered when I came across this sports bar within this massive hotel facility, if it was tied to the franchise (I did see a logo on the front glass), given its name.  Its a little mixed, as I did see a lot of football paraphernalia adorning the room, including a pretty cool display case with helmets from all of the NFL clubs.  Looking for a quick bite to eat and to catch a glimpse of whatever sports game was on the gigantic screens that covered on side of the room, we were quickly seated by a slightly unenthusiastic hostess at one of the high tables in the middle of the floor.  A prompt order of some non-alcoholic beverages – since we were on the clock – and so began our lunch.

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Chronic Tacos – Vancouver, BC


Chronic Tacos
382 W. Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 709-8226

l’d say that I was among the early birds several months back to spot the disappearance of the former tenant at this location (that served horrible pho) and the pending notice that Chronic Tacos was going to set up shop – mainly due to the fact that I pass this Cambie/W. Broadway corridor very often.  As a result, I kept making a mental note to stop in once things got up and running, which I did hear about from a loyal reader when they themselves passed through their open doors.  A further few weeks passed since that heads up but I finally made my way in on a recent Sunday afternoon.  Coincidentally, as it was just past the 2pm local time kickoffs for several NFL matches, the place was rocking inside and all tables were occupied, which led me to understand that this joint has a serious sports bar vibe and relevant customers (many decked out in the uniforms of their favorite teams).  I thought this was interesting, not assuming the proprietors would take this angle, but it sure has proven to be a success judging by the boisterous room.  While glancing at some screens to get updated on the scores (I happened to be listening to the Seahawks game on the radio on my drive over), I made my way to the very back where the ordering and prep counter is situated.  I didn’t bother to check, but I don’t think there is any table service here, which one might expect given how busy the place was upon setting foot inside and how the seating layout was designed.

With no intentions of dining alone inside – not that there was even a single free chair – I got my order to go.  A few signs on the walls and a menu board are posted up high and are quite visible, and given its a fast food-type of place, its not rocket science to decide what you want and the choices run the usual gamut of popular North Americanized (despite the claims of authentic Mexican recipes) items such as burritos, the hilariously named “fatty” tacos (in reference to the whole chronic thing – “whatup Dr. Dre!”), and other assortments such as nachos and quesadillas.  I’m sure their website would reveal more history and the rationale behind the name, so will leave that to you to delve into and I won’t regurgitate anything here (urgh, that’s a really bad word to use when writing about food, but so be it!).

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The Grove Yerba Buena – San Francisco, CA


The Grove Yerba Buena
690 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 957-0558

Unfortunately I did not bother to shoot a photo of the exterior of The Grove’s outlet in Yerba Buena, so this below capture from Google Street View that shows the location before they set up shop was the best I could do.  Suffice it to say, its easy to find being just three blocks from the Montgomery Street BART station, and just a block from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  Next door is a coffee house and the general area is populated by numerous large hotel chains for the business and leisure traveler.  After overpaying for some ridiculously priced hotel breakfast the previous day, we opted to drag our overworked behinds out onto the streets and by sure luck we found this place where things were more relaxed, both in terms of atmosphere and prices.

Something about the west coast lifestyle that pervades in this beautiful city must have impregnated itself in my mind for breakfast, as I was on the hunt for something nutritious and light.  Coupled with a smooth tasting Americano, my order ended up being a simple plate of fresh ingredients,  highlighted by two small poached eggs, two thick slices of grilled zucchini, and tomato bruschetta.  Given the backup in the kitchen, a number sign was given to me and it was brought out to my table by a server in a few minutes time.

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Kongerang – Gyeongju, KOR


Kongerang
346-2 Ha-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
(054) 743-6282

After a morning spent outdoors in the sweltering summer heat taking in some live acrobatic performances and a long walk around the touristy Shilla Millenium Park, we headed back to the cooling comforts of our air conditioned car and sought out more places on my native host’s list of places to eat at.  A simple search in the auto’s GPS device turned up another location that was not too far away and so off we went.  Best known as a restaurant that specializes in dishes that contain beans (soybeans, peas, lentils, etc.), Kongerang was set just off the main road that passed by it.  It was situated in an older looking, traditionally-built Korean country home.

An ample parking lot was situated right on its parcel of land and it was full of cars!  A young man (who’s job I would never want) was sitting on a folding chair on the side of the road and as we approached, he came to our driver side window and explained their parking system.  Essentially, there were no open spots available now (and thus no unoccupied tables inside), but he was soon on his headset conversing with someone inside and gave us an estimated wait time of thirty minutes.  He allowed us to park on the shoulder of the street, and as one car left the lot, we were permitted to move the car onto the rocky stone-lined parkade.  This however did not mean our table was ready yet, but this place was prepared as they had a large tented (and air conditioned) area towards the back where other waiting patrons were patiently sitting.  Later on, a voice came out over the speaker inside noting our number and we then proceeded into the building housing the restaurant where our freshly set table was waiting.  A swift and efficient system!

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Rosa Mexicano – Oxon Hill, MD


Rosa Mexicano
National Harbor
153 Waterfront Street
Oxon Hill, MD
(301) 567-1005

Mexican cuisine in Maryland you say?  This chain of nine restaurants concentrated mainly on the east coast (with a lone western outpost in Los Angeles) was chosen among the limited within-walking-distance places to eat a late dinner by our traveling group after a long day.  Coincidentally, the troop included a native Mexican, who we consulted about Rosa Mexicano.  According to him, he had heard it was not Mexican food in the traditional sense, but had some dishes listed on the menu near the front door that he considered quite unorthodox and amused him enough to say, “let’s give it a try”!  And so with that directive, we did just that…

This particular location was situated in a new development of commercial and residential buildings in National Harbour, and sat on the banks of the Potomac River – although the direct view was obscured from the outdoor backside deck where we were sat.  Water taxis could be ridden back and forth across to the beautiful Old Town district of historic Alexandria, Virginia, making this area a prime piece of real estate.

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Nan Chuu – Richmond, BC


Nan Chuu Japanese Izakaya
1160-8391 Alexandra Road
Richmond, BC
(604) 276-8391

Its been a while since this visit to Richmond actually took place, but as with many restaurant experiences, something that happened remains strongly ingrained in my memory that I just can’t shake and its what I’ve come to associate with Nan Chuu as a result.  Marketing and branding experts would call this a touch point or moment of truth – when a customer comes into contact with any dimension of the restaurant and something is noticed, assessed and interpreted about the enterprise.  For me on this particular weekday evening (incidentally not too early or late enough to avoid the horribly inadequate parking situation near this part of town), it was the a flurry of awkward service interactions that disrupted the enjoyment of an otherwise decent array of dishes sampled. 

It stemmed from an apparent lack of training or preparedness on the part of both the experienced Japanese-speaking veteran servers and those who clearly had no idea what a waitress is supposed to do.  The language barrier between the Japanese and Chinese speaking staff was apparent to me.  From what I could overhear from the obvious floor manager/lead wait staff member, there was also a new girl who had recently come to BC after a working-holiday stint in one of Banff’s better known Japanese restaurants.  She seemed to know what she was doing from the get-go, but was getting some finer tips from her team lead.  There were two other girls who looked identical to eat other with their dark colored hipster glasses and long dark hair, and my guess would have put them at barely being legal to serve alcoholic beverages.

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Papalote – San Francisco, CA


Papalote Mexican Grill
3409 24th Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 970-8815

In seeing Shokutsu’s review of venerable Mission Burrito institution Papalote, it got me thinking. It’s so interesting how two people with a similar philosophy and preferences can look at a similar place with a completely different view point when dining in isolation.  Especially when they come in with different expectations. From his perspective, it was a recommendation from a local guide. “Several good meals” had been had. A solid, yet unspectacular review.

On the other hand, in my never ending quest for great burrito’s, driven by my first experiences in Pasadena CA, I ran across super burrito fan website burritoeater several years ago, who consistently had the Mission location of Papalote rated in the top 3.  Of particular note was the consistently high scores for the Carne Asada and the Tofu. The carniverous side of me was intrigued that someone who was so diligent and structured in his passion for burritos could place tofu on the same pantheon as meat!! Truly shocking.

Just off the corner of Valencia and 24th, around the corner from my favorite San Francisco coffee house Ritual Coffee Roasters, Papalote can be difficult location to spot.
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Shilla Tteokgalbi Chongshik – Gyeongju, KOR


Shilla Tteokgalbi Chongshik
226 Nodong-dong, Gyeongju City
North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea
(054) 741-7600

On day two of this three-day visit to Gyeongju, we continued to mow through the list of restaurants that my local friend had created through his own research and advice from contacts very familiar with the area. Nestled in a building that was offset from the main street that we navigated through on this rainy evening was Shilla Tteokgalbi Chongshik.  As we climbed up the stairs to the main entrance, we were quickly greeted by a gentleman who seemed to be the manager this evening.  Occupying the entire second floor, it was quite spacious inside.

As mainstream Korean cuisine overseas is highly associated with beef, in particular barbecue, our visit on this occasion was to explore another meaty dish.  Tteokgalbi is derived from the words for marinated meat and also those thin sticky rice cakes.  But, there are no such rice cakes involved at all in this.  In fact, I’d describe it as being more like a hamburger patty.  In most cases, its made from a melding of beef short ribs and fattier pork to balance out together in a juicy meaty delight that young and old can enjoy.  Plus, there is no killer spice to deter anyone who is sensitive to heat.  Instead a drizzle of sweet tasting sauce usually completes the picture.  I’ve seen these patties made small (tinier than the palm of your hand) or larger, and shaped in a square or circular like a disc.

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Papalote – San Francisco, CA


Papalote Mexican Grill
3409 24th Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 970-8815

The Mission district has what I call a lot of “flavour”.  Colorful characters, simple ethnic shops, groceries  and eateries (many of the Latin persuasion), and a very “real” feeling about it compared to the more tamer parts of this beautiful city by the bay that I adore.  I headed down to this part of town to meet some folks before visiting their home on the edge of this area, and after being pitched a few options for something to get for takeaway chose the taqueria.  My local guide said this place was very well known and he’d had some good meals there so left it in his capable hands to drive us over after I arrived by BART.  The scene below is where I was standing waiting for my ride just across from the 24th street station, ironically in front of a McDonald’s…

So we soon ended up on the street by Papalote.  From the outside, it looked nothing special, sort of diner-like as I peered into the space where you can eat in.  Walk-in-and-take-out traffic seems to be heavy here too, as we were soon joined by a few people grabbing a menu card and giving their order to the cashier.  I was enticed by the many offerings, including the tasty sounding vegetarian ones, but in the end opted for the fish tacos.

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Sushi Bang – Vancouver, BC


Sushi Bang
500 W Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 875-0131

Normally, I would just dump the poor pics shot with my cell phone and not even comment on an unforgettable meal like this and deny it in my mind that it ever even happened, but I just had to share this unique experience with our readers. I’m sure you’ve read online on other food blog sites, of the growing “taking photos in restaurants” issue that occurred with the burgeoning crowds of people interested in documenting their eating experiences on the internet and the proliferation of affordable digital cameras. I have heard opinions on both sides of the debate and concur and disagree with many of them, such as “its distracting to other diners”, “it steals the chef’s art”, etc. Honestly, everyone has an opinion on the subject and in the end, the proprietor certainly has the right to set the rules in their establishment as they please. It might be heavy handed or draconian in some cases, but as long as its under their roof (owned or leased), I figure they have a right to tell me their guidelines when it comes to photographing food, though I am sure there are those who say that if its the customer who is paying, they should own the privilege. I won’t digress further, but you are free to comment on it if you so desire…

But in this case at Sushi Bang, that I dropped into for a simple take away meal after spending the day on the beach volleyball courts at Kits, the “reason” I got from the waitress who ordered me to stop taking photos – that I was doing very casually since I was waiting for my order and frankly had nothing better to do – just perplexed me. While checking some text messages and lying my phone on the table, I angled it upwards to snap a shot of the wall facing me. Figured I could use an interior shot if I ever decided to post about this, which was quite low in terms of possibility given the quality of the offering here. Its no place that readers need to bother with frankly, as its so run-of-the-mill and the kind of the place you can find just about anywhere in Vancouver. When suddenly, I heard a strong voice from the side, coming from a female waitress saying I had to stop taking photos. I’m surprised she even saw me doing it, as I wasn’t even looking at my screen and was actually aiming blind up at the wall. She must have had her eye on me for some reason, which I guess makes sense as I was the only customer this early summer evening.

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