Over time Paris has grown to be one of my favorite cities. I love everything about it; the culture, the architecture, the nightlife, but most of all, the food! I can't help going back for more. However the challenge that comes with frequenting a city over and over is finding new adventures to explore and keep it interesting.
Well on my last trip I was browsing the net for good eats and suddenly found myself on the EatWith website... This is a great site that connects you with local Chefs in different cities who invite you to purchase a private dining experience in their homes. I saw an event hosted by Master Chef winner Jean-Yves who does an amazing French/Asian gastronomic fusion and my mind was instantly made up. I knew I was in for an awesome foodie adventure!
I arrived at the disclosed location promptly at 8pm with an empty stomach and a world of excitement. My first impression of Jean-Yves was a very friendly and welcoming one. (Though I can't imagine anything less from someone that runs this kind of experience) Feeling very much at ease, I entered his home and formally met him and his Sous Chef David, who was also a stand up guy.
I was escorted into the dining room where I met the only other guest at the time, Ben from the U.K. We jumped into conversation like we were old buddies and swapped stories of food and travel as we waited for the rest of the guests to arrive. Shortly after that a local Parisian and his father, another lone traveler from Amsterdam and a fun couple from Chicago joined the table. It was a great group of well-travelled foodies and I knew right away this was going to be an epic night.
The dinner started with a brief introduction from our host, accompanied by a glass of delicious champagne garnished with fresh cranberries. He gave us a little background on his career and hosting style, and told us what to expect from the night. With this we were ready to start our meal!
The first course out was the Madame Butterfly Rolls. A lemongrass grilled chicken wrapped in rice paper and garnished with cucumber, mint and a delicious sweet and spicy sauce. As it came out, Jean-Yves took the time to explain what it was and how to eat it. The roll was first, then the cucumber and mint together to cleanse your palate, followed by a lettuce boat of delicious sauce for an extra kick of flavor. We were off to a great start.
The next course out was the Imperial Ravioles, served with prawns and mushrooms in a sabayon sauce. Again, Jean-Yves broke down the dish by teaching us the difference between ravioli and ravioles. Then he explained the sauce ingredients and told us the history behind the French flower garnish. Another great dish and I could tell by the progression in flavor that he would be taking our palates on a very welcomed roller coaster ride.
The next and main course was one of my favorites! A duck breast Rossini grilled with foie gras, a sweet potato mousseline cream and zucchini cake with a fresh seasoned yellow pepper garnish. He topped it all off with a homemade crunchy cheese cracker and mmm mmm mmm! Not sure how many times I can tap the "like" button on this one, but let's just say my thumbs would go numb! The flavor was impeccable, the duck was cooked perfectly and the crunch of the cracker helped to balance all the textures in the dish. It was simply amazing and my favorite of the night.
That was until dessert was served. I don't have the biggest sweet tooth these days but I can always appreciate a great dessert. Especially when you're in Paris, eating with a renowned chef who specializes in gourmet macaroons. Umm, need I say more? The softest most delicious raspberry and passion fruit macaroon with a melon ganache, cornflake gold dusted chocolate ball and lychee pearl. Like, what?! I literally had to stop myself from licking the plate. Well-done sir... Well done.
Just to recap: The food was divine, we had wine pairings with each course and Jean-Yves was very cool with me invading his kitchen for behind the scenes photos. Now I've been lucky enough to have some amazing food experiences in Paris and around the world, and I'm no stranger to good food; but this was that and so much more. It was a curated night of memorable experiences. As good as the food was, what I loved even more was sharing a table with a group of traveling foodies and chefs that spoke my language. Swapping stories and sharing laughs made it feel a lot like family, and to me food and family go hand in hand. I highly recommend exploring this and other experiences that EatWith has to offer. It won't be my last, that's for sure!
So usually when I fly to Estonia, the flight options include a layover in Helsinki since there are no direct flights to Tallinn. On my last trip I finally figured why not take advantage of this and explore this Nordic neighbors backyard?!
I landed in Helsinki with an 8 hour layover and an appetite to explore. It was a fairly small but efficient airport and it was really easy to take the half hour bus ride into the city center. I went with the Finn Air bus, which is kind of the equivalent to the US Bolt bus. Comfy chairs, outlets and wifi for a little over 6€. You can't go wrong!
I got into the city center around 7:30am so it was still pretty quiet. Aside from a few work commuters, it kind of felt like I had parts of the city to myself, which was pretty cool. Also the city isn't that big so you can walk most of it comfortably in a few hours. Here are a few of my favorite sites:
The bus lets you off at a giant bus and rail station, which is fairly central to the town. Knowing that the cathedral was a must see for me, I decided to head that way first. I really love catching photos of churches and monuments before they're swamped with tourists. The cathedral was really beautiful but closed, so I didn't get to see the inside. Still worth taking a look though.
Next I made my way over to the market square, which is a popular outdoor market where people go to shop for fresh local produce and souvenirs, enjoy breakfast near the sea or book boat tours of Helsinki. When I got there most vendors were just setting up and it was really nice to sit by the water with a coffee and take in the bustle of tourists starting to fill up the market place.
Knowing that the only two other things I really wanted to see were all the way on the other side of the city, I started to make my way across. Now I know I said the city was walk-able, but I did not say you wouldn't get a workout in the process! Let's just say it was a hot long walk with a heavy backpack and I'm really glad I wore comfy shoes! There are a lot of great apartments and scenic streets along the way though so it's definitely not a boring walk.
Temppeliaukio kirkko... Or more simply put, The Rock Church:
This is probably the coolest and most popular piece of architecture in the whole city. It was built in the late 1960’s by architect brother duo Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, and the structure is literally built in solid stone with a glass rooftop that allows light to pour in everywhere. Talk about shining down on you! It felt pretty magical and spiritual in there. Take a seat, reflect, pray or just admire the beautiful art that this piece of architecture is. Definitely a must see.
Linnanmäki Amusement Park!
So I thought it would be fun to see what a Baltic amusement park would be like, so I made the trek mostly uphill to this tucked away adolescent paradise. Thinking the whole time, "This better be worth it!" My plan was to ride the Ferris wheel and get some amazing aerial shots of Helsinki then be on my way; but when I finally got there I learned that access to the park was about 40€ for the day and 80€ for a single ride! 80€! Yeah... No thanks. I'll be shooting from the ground today!
Luckily walking through the park was free, so I decided on that and still ended up having a ton of fun! I watched other people ride, took pictures and stumbled on some of the best street food I've ever had that far out east. They’re all about hot dogs there, and I had a pulled pork “dog” that knocked my socks off! I capped it all with a great ice cream cone which was hard to avoid because they literally sold it everywhere you turned, and decided it would keep me busy on the way back to the bus.
I took the scenic route back, which actually ended up being almost a straight shot from the amusement park along the rail line and through two really pretty lakes. Overall I thought the people were nice, and the sites were fun. I highly recommend taking the trip, but skip the overnight here and do it in a day.
On my last trip to Spain I visited Madrid, which was amazing and I’ll be posting highlights of that trip on the blog soon. However before I left Madrid I was scheduled to do a daylong tour to Toledo and Segovia, which I was very excited about. Unfortunately on the morning of the tour I went to the wrong meet-up spot and missed my bus. L Refusing to be defeated by this turn of events, I decided to pick one of the destinations and venture out on my own to see it. After a little research and some internal debate, I decided to go with Segovia.
Transportation from Madrid to Segovia was surprisingly easy! I’ll try to walk through it for anyone wanting to try this trip on their own. Apparently you can take the bus or the train to Segovia from Madrid. From what I read before going, the train drops you a little far from the City Center in Segovia and isn’t that much faster, so the bus seemed like the way to go.
To catch the bus, first you want to take the metro to the Moncloa station in Madrid. The metro in Madrid is pretty easy to navigate so this part shouldn’t be too difficult. You can download the metro map app to help with this. Once there, you want to look for Isla 1, which is the terminal the buses leave out of. After that you’ll go down a floor to the box office or La Sepulvedana, which is where you’ll buy your tickets. I got a round trip ticket for about 15€ and the ride took me about an hour. Not bad at all!
Once you get there the first thing you want to do is stop at the bus depot window and plan your ride back. If you don’t actively select a return time you could get stuck without a ride! After that you’ll want to exit, cross the street in front of the bus station and start heading straight down Carretera Granja. You’ll start to see the famous aqueducts and the tourism office will eventually be on your left. I started in there to get a map and draw out my route. The staff was extremely helpful with this. Now we’re ready to see the sights!
The Aqueducts are the first main site you’ll come across; and since this is the last of the Roman aqueducts in Spain, it’s definitely worth stopping for the awesome photo opp. Take it in from the ground then climb to the top of the stairs for a completely different view.
I loved walking through the streets of Segovia. With all the old medieval architecture and cobble stone roads I felt transported to another place and time which is something I love to feel in my travels to old cities like this. Not to mention some of the prettiest views I’ve seen.
Some of my other favorite places to see in Segovia were the Cathedral, which had some amazing architecture, and Plaza Mayor right next to it which was a great square to grab a bite or do some people watching; another one of my favorite things to do on trips. I took a break here to grab some lunch from the famous restaurant Jose Maria, which was amazing. (Check the food section for my write up of the restaurant)
I ended my walking tour at Alcázar de Segovia, which is a castle at the edge of the city that is said to have inspired Walt Disney’s vision for the castle in the iconic fairytale, Cinderella. You can actually see the similarities between the two. Though the castle is a lot smaller in person than you would think. I walked it all twice and took pictures in less than 30 minutes.
After that I took a slow stroll back to the bus station through all of the communal squares, which had come to life by that time. The town was pretty quiet when I started my tour so the energy was really great and obvious on my way back. Another thing that stuck out was that even though the streets were full of people by that time, I was still the only tourist of color there that I could see. This didn’t really affect my experience and I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised, but it always still shocks me given this new age of young travelers from every ethnicity. Overall I thought Segovia was a great and relaxing day trip. Perfect if you only have a few hours and want to explore something close and historical. Don't let the lack of melanin deter you though. Check it out!
This season a designer we know and love decided to introduce something new to the world. Robert Geller unveiled his new line entitled, Gustav Von Aschenbach. Personally I think it’s kind of a mouth full of a name for a clothing line, but Robert said he named it after a character from one of his favorite childhood books, so I suppose it includes a level of nostalgia for him.
Regardless of the name, it’s the clothes that stand out here. Pretty different from his namesake line, this one has a more casual, baggy silhouette. I think the goal was to produce something that was a little more diverse and ready to wear. It’s also priced significantly lower than his other line, making it a bit more accessible to the public.
The presentation itself was what really got my attention though. Starting with the casting- we all know that diversity hasn’t always been embraced in fashion, but lately I’ve been noticing a lot of designers casting more diverse and interesting young models in their shows. At this particular show, Geller’s choice to cast all black models brought a smile to my face. It’s not something you see often especially when the designer isn’t a person of color. I’m not sure if the choice was made to make the clothes look more urban and cool, but in all honesty I don’t care. I’m just happy to see more of these young models getting booked.
Aside from the cool casting choice, the set was interesting to me as well. Each model was placed in front of a solid color door. Each door matching the color of their garment and representing one of five colors that made up the palette for the whole collection. Overall I thought the presentation was clean and cool. I didn’t love all the color choices, but I think there were some pieces in there for everyone. I’m looking forward to seeing where this new line goes for Geller and if it will match the success that we all know he is capable of.
Picture yourself at the beach on a warm summers day. You can hear the waves crashing against the shore, the slight call of a seagull or two in the distance while feeling the sand in between your toes. We all love a great day at the beach, but have you ever looked out at the ocean and wondered what lies beyond your line of sight? Whether there was more to life under the sea or a part of the world that remained untouched by the modern man? These were all thoughts provoked during the intro to Nick Grahams most recent presentation at New York Fashion Week Men's.
Mobile images of deep ocean life and phenomenon’s around the world were projected on the walls before the show; taking us into a place of unexplored fantasy and beauty, and setting the tone for his new collection entitled, Atlantis. "What if the lost city of Atlantis wasn't lost at all, but around us all along just waiting to be discovered?"
With the mood set, the show began and he took us on a journey through his interpretation of the mythical world of Atlantis. He showcased all of the beautiful colors of the rainbow that one might encounter below sea level. Suits in bright hues of yellow, orange, green and red were shown with blue being the dominant feature throughout the show. Then accents in the styling like little sea creature accessories and bubbles on the runway all helped to create the scene and complete the vision.
I'm always a fan of how clean and well-tailored Nick’s collections are, and this season was no different. We saw some of the accents we know and love him for but in a whole new world of possibilities. To top it all off, he featured a few women's pieces this season which we’re not used to seeing from him. I think this is a good indicator that Nick still has a lot to say and I’m personally looking forward to hearing it.
So you all know me pretty well by now, and as soon as I decided to take a day trip to Segovia on my last visit to Madrid, the first thing I did was look up where to eat! I knew Segovia was known for great Castilian food and most of all a good cut of pork, so I brought my palate and appetite ready to explore!
Mesón de Jose María, as it’s formally called is one of the go to places to try Segovia’s cochinillo asado, or suckling pig. Now there are other options to choose from on the menu here, but if you don’t eat pork or are turned off by large portions of meat then skip this recommendation all together; but if you’re a true foodie like me and open to most food experiences or just love a good cut of pork, then this is a must visit for your trip!
On initial approach this place seems like a small pub, but once you enter you’ll see that if you follow the bar towards the back, it opens into a larger yet still cozy dining room. I heard it could get pretty busy during the lunch hour there so I was taking a gamble, but I walked in with no reservation and used my best Spanish to kindly request a table for one. Luckily it wasn’t too crowded and I was seated right away.
I scanned the room and took in the crowd. I saw a mixture of families, solo diners like myself, and even a few tables of suited businessmen that seemed to be on work lunches. The staff was pretty attentive, as I never had to wait long to get their attention. It was a communal staff so no one had a dedicated waiter as they all kind of worked all the tables, which was nice when I needed help. However I will say that some of the staff was extremely nice and patient and a few were slightly cold and seemingly annoyed. I chalked this up to a culture shock since I was the only person of color in the restaurant (and all of Segovia that day from what I saw) No one was outright rude though and they still gave me full service so that was easy to overlook.
They started me with a breadbasket and plenty of marinated olives, which is pretty much a staple in Spain. I asked to pair my pending meal with a glass of red wine and was pleasantly surprised to fall in love with their personalized house bottle, which was delicious. I found the way they served the wine to be interesting as well. He asked me if I would like a glass or a bottle. Obviously not looking to tackle a whole bottle at lunch solo, I told him I would probably have two to three glasses. He said “no problem, a half bottle!” I expected him to show up with a small carafe but instead they put a bottle on your table and leave it on you to pour and abide by the honor system, which I found interesting.
On to the first course! For a starter I ordered the “Ensalada de cordero lechal en escabeche con manzana confitada” or more simply put, marinated lean lamb confit paired with an apple confit. It was a cold, tart dish, which I didn’t expect but the flavor was good and the portion was a good size for a starter.
For the main course and primary reason for my visit, I ordered the “cochinillo asado de nuestra corte y hornada.” This is basically a milk-fed suckling pig, slow roasted in a traditional oven. (about 26€) I don’t know which part was better, watching them serve it or actually eating it! Almost everyone comes for this dish so they bring them out as whole pigs at a time and crush through them with heavy plates as opposed to a boring knife and fork carving, which is amazing to watch. Don’t worry though; the quality of the meat matches the hype! Crispy on the outside, soft and flavorful on the inside, not a lot of excess seasoning; just a nicely cooked great cut of meat! Just beware; this dish comes with no sides so if you can’t chow down on this alone, you’ll need to order some a la carte. I ate it with my bread, as I knew ordering anything else with those portion sizes would be a waste by myself. Also it comes with a delicious broth that is great for bread dipping so that was a win to me and everyone else apparently as I repeatedly saw people requesting more of the broth to do just that!
At this point I was stuffed to the max so I skipped desert and cut off my wine intake (pretty sure I was at half a bottle anyway lol) Overall I thought the food was pretty good here. Not the ideal place to dine alone though. I think it would be really great to go there with a group, share the meat along with some other dishes and take your time to eat, converse and enjoy the experience. It’s definitely worth the stop and the story though!
I recently wrapped up what is now basically known as “fashion month” here in New York City. I started with the men’s week, which is a fairly newer installation in the process. Men’s and women’s used to showcase side-by-side, but curators in the past couple of years have decided to separate menswear, giving those designers their own time to shine! You can imagine the excitement from menswear enthusiasts like myself. However this season we saw something even more interesting then your usual collections. A lot of designers used this opportunity to say something more with their work. Given all the political controversy in this country currently, a few designers used this as a chance to take a stand against the current administration and give voice to those that currently need it. I think that art and politics have a special bond and I really enjoyed watching artists like Robert James and Ricardo Seco use their work to stand up for something they believe in.
Photography by Eric Acquaye
Photographer & Stylist: Eric Acquaye
Makeup Artist: Sheryl Lawrence
Hair Stylist: Laura Boland
Model: Autumn J
The holidays are a magical time of year in the city that never sleeps. From decorated storefronts to massive art installations, there are plenty of visuals to help spread the holiday cheer in New York City. Whether your thing is to watch a Christmas show or grab the best hot chocolate in the city, there is literally something for everyone. I have some routine sites that I make it a point to visit every year to help me find my holiday cheer and I’d love it if you all tagged along this year!
5. Gingerbread House Boulevard in Madison Square Park: I love going to see these life size edible treats. A newer installation in the city but fun for the whole family!
4. Bryant Park skating rink: I love this rink because it’s centrally located in midtown Manhattan and despite being closer to Time Square, it’s usually a bit less crowded than it’s Rockefeller Center counterpart. Go to skate, or just sit at the café and enjoy a winter cocktail!
3. A stroll up Avenue of the Americas: I always enjoy the walk up 6th between 47th and 50th street because they put up giant Christmas installations at this time of year. It’s the same art every year, but that just makes it a bit more nostalgic to me. My walk ends at Radio City Music Hall where you can feel the energy from the Christmas Spectacular show radiating from the building all season long!
2. Rockefeller Center: I always end my Christmas walk at Rockefeller Center. It’s not Christmas until you stop to see the famous Christmas tree at the Rock! Beautifully decorated every year, this tree serves as the community tree for those who may or may not have one at home. A big piece of Christmas cheer for everyone to enjoy and a prime photo opt for anyone looking to add some Xmas spirit to their Instagram feed!
1. A little cup of heaven from Jacques Torres: My last stop is not about an attraction but a treat! I always end my Christmas tour with one of the best cups of hot chocolate I’ve had to date from Jacques Torres Chocolatier. If you haven’t had it before, do yourself and your taste buds a favor and get there, stat! The hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies are to die for here and I guarantee by the time you finish one you’ll feel the full potential of your Christmas cheer!
I didn’t know what to expect when my job asked me to fly to Estonia. I learned that Estonia was the startup capitol of the world and that it was somewhere in the Baltics, but aside from that I knew nothing about the place. Always open to new travel, I learned a hand full of Estonian words and got ready for my trip.
I felt eyes on me as soon as I walked off the plane. Being a man of color is something that immediately sticks out there as there aren’t too many of us in the country. In fact throughout my whole stay, I noticed the innocent stare of children and got a lot of odd celebrity like attention while out at the local bars and clubs. It was never in a negative way, but more from a place of intrigue.
Aside from sticking out like a soar thumb, I have to say that my experience was a very pleasant one. Everyone was incredibly nice and accommodating and there were lots of fun things to do. I stayed in the heart of the Old Town in Tallinn, which was absolutely beautiful. With a sort of mid-evil theme to the architecture, it boasted of a town filled with history. However this wasn’t some boring historic landmark of a town. With great food and a nightlife scene complete with fashion shows, rooftop lounges and lots and lots of beautiful people, there definitely wasn’t a dull moment. Tallinn may not have been at the top of my list of places to visit, but I’m glad I got the chance to see it and I would totally go back again!
Photography by Eric Acquaye
HOMMES EN MONOCHROME
Photographer: Eric Acquaye
Stylist: Omar Campbell
Grooming: Mandrill Hardge
Models: Adam and Craig (RED Models)
Looking for a quick winter weekend getaway from New York City? Gather a handful of friends and head upstate to Monticello, NY! This cute little town in the Catskill region is an oasis for anyone that doesn't mind a little snow tagging along their trip. Book your stay with Red Cottage Inc. to make the experience that much more unforgettable!
I recently made the weekend trip with a few friends and it was a bonding experience like none other. From snowy hikes through the woods to cooking all of our meals and everything in between! We played games, soaked in the hot tub and got to know each other that much better!
I'd suggest this as a weekend run for anyone looking to strengthen the bonds amongst friends or lovers. It was a quiet weekend with a great group of people that I would gladly do again before the season ends; and Red Cottage Inc. gets two thumbs up for providing a great atmosphere for that magical weekend!
It’s no secret that the French know how to eat, and we all know Paris is known for its amazing culinary scene. I recently got to experience some of the best food Paris has to offer and believe me when I say the experience was life changing. I’m talking about The Restaurant Laurent. A gem of an establishment tucked away in the gardens of the ever-popular Champs-Elysées.
I was happy enough knowing where we were going that night so you can imagine how much wider my smile got when we walked past the main entrance to a back door that led straight to the kitchen. A friend of mine is good friends with the head chef, Alain Pégouret and let me tell you, it paid off.
The service was impeccable. 12 courses of edible artwork and the visual of these artists cooking up a storm in front of you. I was speechless. My palette has never been so affected, so alive or so intrigued. I absolutely loved every minute of it. I didn’t stop there though. As a true foodie and ambassador for foodie establishments, I took a walk around this venue to get a sense for the whole experience and there was no disappointment. The staff was friendly, the décor was beautiful and the food was incomparable. This is worth the stop and money for any seeker of fine dining in the city of lights. I'll let the images from that night speak for themselves...