My Favorite Market in the World is Namdaemun Market in Seoul

I could have spent the entire day at Namdaemun Market in Seoul. Want a knock-off Moncler vest? What about dollar socks? You'll find it all here. 

It's SO much fun to wander around since there's so much to see (and eat). 

I have no idea how big the market is since it just seems endless with new things to see around each corner. The market is always bustling with both locals and tourists and everything from eyeglasses to shoes can be purchased here.

My friend Claire led me around since I was completely lost and overwhelmed. I was like a kid in a candy store. And like a kid in a candy store, I wanted EVERYTHING. Even down to the silicone hair brushes in this one stall that sold all things silicone -- I WANTED IT ALLLLLLL.

We first went down to this underground market, filled with stalls. 

The stalls are small, so they fill it completely from floor to ceiling. There were a few stalls that sold dried fruits and vegetables and I left with a bag of dried garlic and another of dried sliced squash. They were crunchy and flavorful.

I was getting hungry, so we stopped in to get lunch inside the same underground market. This place was something between a fish market and a food stall -- hard to explain. I believe they have only one thing on the menu, which is a raw fish salad, a spicy fish soup, and a bowl of rice. 

Just look at the size of the bowls! Claire and I shared one order, which goes for just $7. Yes, $7! The raw fish salad was just ok, but the spicy fish soup was really good. We were both stuffed.

We ventured back outside and looked at the stalls and shops like this one for stationery. Three floors that make up a crafter's dream. Art and craft supplies galore. 

Before heading back to the hotel, we walked through an alley that was filled with small restaurants where each one specialized in one dish. The kitchen was on the outside so you can see what each place was cooking. And everything was RED. Spicy red. And bubbling on these giant stoves.

My next visit to Namdaemun Market will be to have one of these spicy hot, bubbling stews.

INFO: Namdaemun Market | 21 Namdaemunsijang 4-gil, Jung-gu | Seoul, South Korea

Posted on January 30, 2015 .

Sanmotoonge, The Hardest Cafe to Find in Seoul

There's no way I would have found, or even have know about this cafe, if it wasn't for my friend Claire who lives in Seoul and frequents this place. To get to Sanmotoonge cafe, it takes a subway ride followed by a cab where Claire had to direct the cab driver, and a 15 minute walk -- all uphill! But oh, the views!

Once we got there, I spotted the yellow Volkswagen and it reminded me of Merci, a shop and cafe in Paris that has a tiny car in front.

We arrived there at 11AM, just as they were opening and we took a look around the place. There are multiple sitting areas on different levels. 

The outdoor spaces are breathtaking with wonderful views. It was too cold to sit outside, so back inside we go.

The lower level has rooms set up like a children's playroom and a living room. 

After ordering a couple of tea lattes (a little on the pricy side since you're paying for the view) at the counter by the entrance and picking up our drinks (no table service), we chose a spot one flight up and took seats by the window.

We slowly sipped our drinks (my tea latte came sweetened), snacked on the little packaged cookies, and enjoyed the calming views...

including this one of the Seoul fortress wall that snakes up this mountain.

It's one of those tea spots where you feel completely comfortable and don't want to leave...especially when you know you have a 15 minute walk just to find a cab.

INFO: Sanmotoonge97-5 Buam-dong,Jongno-gu | Seoul, South Korea | +82.2.391.4737

Posted on January 27, 2015 .

Afternoon Tea Review // Palm Court at The Plaza

The Plaza is the one place most people think of when they think of afternoon tea in New York City. Because of that, The Plaza know they can charge a lot more than most afternoon tea places, and they do. They recently had a refresh of the design of Palm Court, where the afternoon tea is served, and I went back to check it out with Sara and Georgia. (See my last visit in 2013.)

SETTING: ★★★
The refresh of the space looked pretty much the same to me, but with some minor changes. The biggest change is the circular bar in the center of the room so it feels more like a bar/lounge than a formal tea room, which was how it felt like before. No more white tablecloths (replaced with mirrored surface tables), more casual seating, and overall the space felt much more casual. I prefer the look of the Palm Court before their refresh.

SERVICE: ★★★★
The service was very friendly and our server did a great job explaining the items on the menu we had questions about. 

TEA & TEA SELECTION: ★★★★★
Great tea menu with a nice selection of Palais des Thes teas. I loved the teapot that seemed normal sized, but somehow poured endless cups of tea. (I didn't even need to ask for more hot water which is rare!) I liked how they used a rectangular piece of paper that was placed under the teapot that had the name of the tea printed on it (or written in my case).

We all ordered "The New Yorker Tea" and it came out on a round three-tiered tray. The sweets at the top, savories in the middle, and scones on the bottom tray. The presentation is lovely. 

SAVORIES: ★★★☆
Let me first start by saying that the afternoon tea at The Plaza is a whopping $65, which is $10 more than most other hotel afternoon tea services. With the premium pricing, I want DAMN good tea sandwiches and The Plaza failed to deliver. For that price I want my savories prepared tableside! The tea sandwiches looked a little sloppy and tasted fine, but not "I'll pay $10 more" amazing.

SCONES: ★★★
The scones came out warm, wrapped in a cloth napkin. I knocked off a star since they brought out one set of clotted cream and jams for all three of us. I really wish they had brought out three sets. One set was definitely not enough, so we did ask for another.

SWEETS: ★★★
The sweets were excellent, with a nice variety -- delicate and tasty. Each mini sweet treat was perfectly portioned and adorable. This was my favorite course.

How could I not give five stars for service when our server was nice enough to get me a pink cotton candy from the kitchen after I spotted one at a table nearby. It's part of the "Eloise Tea" service and as a HUGE cotton candy fan, I loved it. (Very cute idea of using a pretzel stick to wrap the cotton candy around.)

OVERALL: ★★★
I can't get over the inflated pricing, but I would recommend at least one visit, just to give it a try.

INFO: The Palm Court at The Plaza | Fifth Avenue at Central Park South | New York, NY 10019 | 888.850.0909
AFTERNOON TEA HOURS: Daily from 12:30PM - 4:30PM 
COST: The New Yorker, $65 | Menu

Tea & Sweets at Tiny Pinecone Teahouse

Remember Matsunosuke, the cute Japanese bakery that served pies and fluffy pancakes? Well, that place has gone and a pop-up teahouse, Tiny Pinecone has taken its place. They'll be there till mid-February.

What you'll find at Tiny Pinecone are tea and sweets so it's a great little spot for a tea break. 

I met up with Georgia and Sara and we snacked on a bunch of different sweets, all made in-house.

These mini Quince and Goat Cheese scones were a highlight for me. No clotted cream needed, they were perfect on their own. SO, SO GOOD.

To drink, I got the homemade chai, which was a touch too sweet, but still tasty. I'll have to go back for their Royal Milk Tea, which is also offered on their beverage menu, which are all teas, no coffee.

The chiffon cocoa cake with hojicha frosting was also quite good, with the tea flavor really coming through without being overpowering.

All the baked goods were very flavorful, delicate, and not too sweet. There wasn't anything I had that I didn't like. I'll have to go back before they're gone from that cute space.

INFO: Tiny Pinecone | 58 West 8th Street | New York, NY 10011 | 347.469.1119

Posted on January 22, 2015 .

HARBS

HARBS (all caps) is a Japanese cafe and bakery that recently opened in Chelsea. Thanks to Kathy, I was able to join her for a tasting.

The bakery is on the corner of 22nd and 9th Ave., and it seems unassuming, but once you enter and go to the right to enter the cafe, you see exactly how big the space actually is. 

Lots of comfortable seating and they never rush you, so it's a great way to spend an afternoon chatting with friends over tea and slices of fluffy cake.

The servers are very friendly and surprisingly everyone speaks Japanese. They were all trained in Japan for two months.

I LOVE (all caps) chestnuts, so it's not surprising I ordered the Houji-cha Marron, a chestnut flavored green tea. Milk tastes great with this tea so give that a try. The teaware is adorable, by the way.

HARBS does cakes. That's all you'll find in the glass cases at the front of the shop. They do a lot of cream cakes, so if you love cream, you'll love HARBS. 

The first cake I had was the Waguri tarte, a red bean and whipped cream cake with chestnuts brought in from Japan. VERY GOOD.

Next, two more cakes! 

The Mille crepe cake, HARBS-style with fresh fruit and cream in each of its six layers. Cakes are made fresh daily, and once they're sold out, they're sold out. You can really see and taste the freshness with each cake, but this one especially.

The white cake slice is their Rare cheesecake, which is a non-baked cheesecake with crushed peanuts on the outside. It's got an interesting tang to it, and isn't very sweet, so it's not like a typical cheesecake you've had in the past. It's one of those things that you keep eating to see if you like it and before you know it, you've eaten the whole thing.

If you're looking for a new place for tea and cake, this is it.

INFO: HARBS | 198 Ninth Ave. (22nd Street) | New York, NY 10011 | 646.336.6888