Tokyo ~ Sights in the City

The crushing population, weird fashion, delicious fish, tasty beer, flashing lights, bowing politely, expensive taxis: it’s Tokyo. Although the culture shock wasn’t too much for me after living in Seoul for seven years, it’s still quite a place to see. There are lots of different neighborhoods, tiny alleys, broad boulevards, a plethora of small noodle shops, cute shopping districts and crazy nightlife. It’s what you expect but still a surprise. Well organized yet confusing. Here’s a few images of our week in the capital of Japan.

At a shrine in Fuchu
Jordyn at sunset
I don’t know Japanese
Cool wolf
Night lit in neon
Quiet forgotten bike in Fuchu
These little places are everywhere
Cemetery beside the city
National Art Center


Robot Restaurant
Opening band at the Robot show
Gonpachi–inspiration for Kill Bill restaurant scene
On the train headed to Narita
Sushi choices
At T.Y. Harbor
Firefighters so cute
Back to Korea

Two Days in Busan

I love film festivals. It’s a bunch of movie geeks come to experience or exhibit new and exciting films. South by Southwest in Austin used to have a pretty good selection and I’d go and try to predict which short films would be in the Oscars race that year. It was always the short films that interested me because of the animated experimentation factor and intense details needed to tell  a story in less than ten minutes.

My stepson, James, and I headed down on the 50 minute flight from Seoul…

IMG_6127early on Saturday morning, checked into the little hotel and headed right to the beach for a seaside lunch.

We were on a burger mission and stopped at Sharky’s. The food was overpriced and pretty poor. Taquitos, frozen and overfried; burgers, dry bun, frozen and tasteless; beer, cold and delicious. The view was nice though.




IMG_6134We hustled over to the theater at Centum City where the Shinsegae Mall is located. Of course, all the movies of the day had been sold out for hours. We had no choice but to head to the fancy, amazing sauna inside the mall called SpaLand.


IMG_6149You pay about 16$ for four hour access to the dozens of hot rooms, hot pools, massage chairs and napping friendly recliners. Check here for a view into the Korea sauna. I was too busy enjoying myself to go back to the locker room and get my phone to take pictures. It’s the best one I’ve ever seen, not too crowded, clean and very relaxing.

We headed to Gwangalli Beach for our dinner burger at HQ Bar. Watching Liverpool and Man United fight to a 0-0 draw, we enjoyed these burgers much more, played some Connect Four and heard some kind of K-Pop girl group sing out the window.

IMG_6155Next day, Sunday, the movie I wanted to see, Hochelaga, a film about the history of Montreal and the natives who lived there when Jacques Cartier arrived with his band of religious zealots ready to Christianize the world. We arrived early for the 10 a.m. showtime and got tickets. A confusing movie for a fourteen year old unfamiliar with Canadian history, but good nevertheless. Burgered out, we grabbed a huge fish lunch by the ocean in the Jagalchi market. Perfect rainy day lunch with a cold Coke.

IMG_6160We walked off the fish playing in the rocking bowling alley, then wasted some time taking funny pictures in Busan’s Trick Eye Museum. It’s 10$ to take inappropriate or goofy photos, little pricey, but fun.








IMG_6175Off to the video arcade for some VR and games.


We grabbed a pizza and popped back to the subway headed for the airport.

IMG_6204Ciao Busan, Ciao Steak Jobs.


Ganghwado ~ Korea’s Muddy West Sea

One Sunday, we got moving too late for the beach, so we headed to an island north of Incheon at the headwaters of Seoul’s Han River, adjacent to North Korea, Ganghwado (강화도). There were ancient Bronze Age settlers long ago who made some rock sculptures, but since then, there’s been very little happening on this island. Although there’s two episodes of white people trying to open up the Hermit Kingdom that didn’t end well on Ganghwado. Once, the Koreans massacred some French missionaries who were preaching there leading to a brief French invasion of the island in the 1870’s. And another, the USS Sherman got stranded in Pyongyang in 1866, sailors tried to establish a connection, wires got crossed and the Koreans killed the sailors and burned the ship. A few years later, American forces occupied Ganghwado “peacefully” until they were fired on, resulting in a brief skirmish before reoccupying.

We stopped for a late lunch and ate some bibimbap (비빔밥) and doenjang (된장) soup at a cute little place with their own garden.

Then, we went to the “beach.” I cannot express how much of a letdown Korea’s muddy beaches are. The sand is soft, the sun is hot, the beer is cold, the ramen is spicy, but the water is missing! Korea’s West Sea, China’s Yellow Sea is a tidal nightmare for bathers but a boon for clam diggers.


IMG_5603Mud, as far as the eye can see. When there is water, it’s ankle deep. So, there was no swimming, but plenty of muddy squelching sounds as we walked along the shore.

There was an old fortress on a hill and Hershey kept guard as we took some pictures of the ships docked in the mud port.





IMG_5618The shallow water makes a good environment for shrimping, so we indulged in some fried goodness, took some home in a bag and good luck guessing what that man is scooping. Jordyn wanted to buy so much, I told her, “one unknown red seafood mush is plenty.” She complied, but bought those little mud crabs marinated in soy sauce too.



IMG_5630There are car transport ferries to get you around to the many little surrounding islands.

IMG_5621There was a Jindo dog statue and Hershey is the Japanese version.

IMG_5708We had a good time, and brought home some delicious ginseng makkeolli in addition to the shrimp, weird seafood and crabs.


Yangyang Beach~ A Snowy Start to 2017

I know it’s late spring now and this post is overdue, nevertheless, we proceed.

Yangyang is smack in the middle of the two larger and more famous coastal cities of Sokcho and Gangneung. It’s tiny and cute and frozen in the winter. We went there because the Pine Beach Condotel was pet friendly, beachside and turned out to be a nice, clean place. The snow fell the day before and the highway from Seoul was plowed and safe when we arrived at midnight to check in and take a dog walk.



The next morning was bright and sunny, a perfect day for a naked scrub;)



We headed for Sokcho’s most famous seafood shack: Bong-po Meoguri-jip. They specialize in weird seafood that I don’t recognize nor especially enjoy. But Jordyn might be a mermaid who sold her voice to a wicked octopus in exchange for legs by how much she loves the food from the ocean depths.


The mul-hwe (물회) or fresh fish soup is not really fish nor really a soup. It’s sort of a mush of random sea creatures who fell into a fisherman’s trap and a few hours later found themselves shucked and in my bowl. Jordyn also ordered a sea urchin noodle dish which is distinctly mucus in both texture and taste if the mucus was marinated in salt water.




The beer was cold. The squid rings (abayi-sundae) were filled with a tasty paste and there was a nice bit of real crab in the rice salad.




We went to a beachfront temple, Naksansa (낙산사), to waste time before dinner. It was beautiful at sunset and very cold. There was a small museum with little trinkets, old ceramics and paintings from past dynasties.

We took photos of the beautiful scenery as the snow had settled and become part of the wintry landscape.








It was getting dark and colder, and that means soju time with BBQ’d shell meat.


The next day we rested in a coffee house looking at pictures, nibbling sugar cakes and chatting over Americanos. There were bronze statues frozen mid song on the beach.




Hershey dog had made a friend. They ran around and chased each other all over the snowy beach freaking out dog-fearing Koreans. The tallest mountain in South Korea, Seoraksan is visible behind the beach.




We ate a big fish lunch with some ginseng wine before leaving on the slow road home. I wanted to drive through the country roads instead of the boring old highway.

Squid legs and weird red squishiness


raw flounder


It was a wonderful jaunt into the country to get ready for 2017.




Many March Meals ~ Back in Korea!

This will be a fairly epic post. I will post names of food items and possibly where they were eaten. But, in several cases, I don’t know the name of the place. It was a busy month, so I’ll get back to shorter and more descriptive posts later. But for now, enjoy some E.A.T.

This is the octopus festival of mid-March near Seocheon on the West Sea. I really liked the lady’s hands who was heating up the dried fish. Also, the bugs are silkworm larvae, and very popular in Korea.




15 - 2





DSC_0125This is classic Korean BBQ. It’s samgyeopsal and moksal, basically thick, fancy bacon. As well as some really tasty kimchi.



DSC_0011This is some cheap bar food (tofu, kimchi stew, dumpling soup) to match the milky rice wine seen in the golden bowls. Yes, the tofu is blurry because it shook like Jello.

15 - 2

15 - 1 (1)

15 - 3

15 - 1

15 - 3 (1)These are some delicious winter soups. The red one is a majorly spicy chicken and onion affair, and the darker one is duck with lots of green onion. Plenty of side dishes as always.


DSC_0018This is Jordyn (looking beautiful) and me (perpetually underdressed) at a fairly classy sake restaurant. We ordered the set menu of a delicately delicious sake, tofu salad, mixed croquettes, seared tuna and odang soup. Odang soup is just fish cake in a variety of shapes. “What’s this hot dog looking thing? What’s this pretty pink square? What’s inside this little edible bag? What’s this brown chunk?” The answer is always, unfailingly…fish cake.

15 - 1

15 - 8

15 - 6


15 - 9This is a late lunch with Jordyn’s family at a traditional Korean restaurant.





DSC_0039This is kalguksu, hand cut noodles with nice dumplings in a salty, healthy broth.

IMG_0298This is tonkatsu, a fried pork cutlet, with all the comfortable feelings of America inside. The set came with the never disappointing Japanese miso ramen soup.

IMG_0068This is a restaurant specializing in maemil. It’s buckwheat. It’s exceptionally healthy, as you can see from the healthy signs in the background. It’s gluten free. And, most importantly it’s wildly flavorful. We ordered the cold noodles, Korean pancake with seafood and mandu. Love it!


15 - 11

15 - 12For some Western food, we start at Vatos Urban Tacos, (Itaewon, exit 1) most certainly famous at this point and deservedly so. We ate the queso appetizer, fish, shrimp and barbacoa tacos, as well as a chicken quesadilla. Go here, recommended.




IMG_0289Here we have my favorite chicken in Korea. Kkanbu Chicken serves up a hefty plate of fried chicken tenders for 17,000 won and it’s all good.

15 - 4And last is a strange sounding item, but decidedly dynamic. It’s called chuah-tang. It’s a soup made of ground up tiny river eels. That ground eel broth is seasoned with some special powder and green vegetables, add in some noodles and rice, and you have an amazing cure-all. It’s famous for being a potent pre-cursor for males. I suppose ingesting all that eel power makes you swim like one too.

IMG_0296I’m including this picture at the end because I want the reader to know you can’t win ’em all. Usually, as mentioned above, I like eel. But this particular restaurant didn’t do a great eel fry. Chewy and fishy and unappetizing, we struggled through this dish.


Pizza Tour of New York ~ 2015

It began from a desire to understand why New York pizza was so famous. Two years ago, we drove through all five boroughs and bought at least one pie (and several random slices) from each of the 5 NYC boroughs. We found the question not to be: “Which is best?” but rather “What is exceptional about each?” These pizzerias have nearly perfected the craft. Therefore, we usually order a simple plain cheese, or in certain cases, the specialty pie of the establishment. The day begins at 10:00 in a coffee shop in South Philadelphia, where we plan our route.


DSC_0005Beginning in Staten Island, our first stop is Nunzio’s (2155 Hylan Blvd.) where we ordered a half mozzarella and half margherita pie. Their sauce is a standout as well as the authentic NY accents of the men serving the food. The hardest part of the first stop is not eating a second slice.


DSC_0006We moved north to Joe & Pat’s (1758 Victory Blvd.) where pictures inside were proibito. The pizza wasn’t ruined by a manager’s sour attitude. Their cheese had some delicious, aged quality we couldn’t identify. The dough was very flimsy in the middle and hard to handle, still good though.



DSC_0011Heading to Denino’s (524 Port Richmond Ave.) we were surprised at the staff’s friendliness here. They asked us about our plan for the day and offered tips. Their slogan is “In Crust We Trust” and rightly so, as the crust is uniformly crunchy and fantastic. We ordered a half cheese and half M.O.R. (meatball, onion, ricotta). Those ingredients are a potent and patently palatable combination. We loved this place with their cheerful servers, jukebox ambience and tasty food. A recurring theme of smiles surrounding a pizza begins~~~~



DSC_0017A brief stop to walk off the first few slices, we found ourselves at the Staten Island Ferry and Lighthouse Museum while our next pizza was cooking. It was a brutally cold day, but provided great views of the Big Apple. I can imagine the bustling city docks before they were just broken pilings rotting in the Hudson Bay.






DSC_0020The last stop in Shaolin Island was Pier 76 (76 Bay St.), where the son of Joe and Pat’s opened his own place. We got the vodka pie. Simply outstanding flavors. It was a masterpiece of comfort pizza with the cheese literally becoming part of the dough and the rich vodka sauce holding it all together.

DSC_0047We moved into Brooklyn’s Coney Island and stopped at Totonno’s (1524 Neptune Ave.). 91 years of experience prove enough to give a quality pie. The pizzaiolo was a friendly guy who smiled as he worked. Their pizza was intricately flavored with burned crust and a pleasing appearance. This feels like ‘old school’ NYC pizza.





DSC_0053Next was a rather forgettable stop at Ramagi (594 Rogers Ave.) as we ran some errands. To be fair it was the only place where we ordered slices, and it was in the slow time of 15:00, but the service was poor and my buffalo chicken slice was boring. The pesto slice smelled and looked much better.

DSC_0060Hoping to please my taste buds after such blandness, we went to the legendary DiFara’s (1424 Ave J.). I love this pizza! The olive oil and basil added immediately after exiting the oven creates veritable pizza alchemy. Dom DeMarco stills crafts each pizza with the help of a few assistants. Arrive early as waiting time often hovers over the 60 minute mark. The only downside was that the cheese didn’t migrate towards the crust enough, so my slice had too much charred dough at the end. As I often say, you can’t win ’em all.




DSC_0066Darkness descending upon us, snow babies ripening in the clouds above, stomachs shrouded in cheese, we crawled into our last stop, the ever so funky, Roberta’s (261 Moore St.). This is a large place that serves as a nightclub and pizzeria. Their pizzas are smaller, at 6 slices each, so we ordered several to taste test. I don’t remember all the names, but the soft doughy texture and spicy arrangements of toppings was a perfect finish to our day.


DSC_0082Meeting up with friends we made years ago while we were all English teachers in Korea, eating pizza together and sharing new stories was a perfect end to the day.

DSC_0098Lost in conversation, we forgot about the incoming blizzard; therefore, driving the 80 miles south to Philly was treacherous, and took us about 4 white knuckled hours to finally sleep the well deserved pizza coma we were all awaiting.

DSC_0071This is the car the next day looking like we drove through the ice planet of Hoth.


Philadelphia ~ Reading Terminal Market

My hometown city, Philadelphia, has a famous place for diners seeking a wide variety of flavors; it’s the market of the old train station at 12th and Arch St. The cheesesteaks are probably delicious, but I wanted to sample a few places instead of just filling up on meat and cheese.

My first stop was at the 12th Street Cantina. I ordered the pork pibil with hot sauce. It tasted the way Taco Bell would taste if they used real meat and quality vegetables. A comfortingly soft tortilla and hot, salty, spiced pork matched the chilled pico de gallo to make a mouth party.


DSC_0023 Next, I saw a hot dog place. They had a dog for only 2$, so I couldn’t resist! Crunchy bacon and cool sauerkraut were perfect toppings, I shouldn’t have added the dominating taste of relish.

DSC_0028After the appetizers, I went for the Beck’s Cajun Cafe. The gator gumbo sounded great. It was tasty but exceedingly spicy. Lucky to have the rice and corn bread.


My mouth seething with spiciness, I went to grab a mango, banana, kale, and carrot smoothie.

DSC_0036Finally, I took home some quality truffles from Mueller Chocolates. The black forest and raspberry were my favorites. Right beside was Termini Brothers, where you can find high quality cannoli.

DSC_0040The market was full of interesting eateries. I tried to go back, but they close at 18:00. So if you’re going, make it for lunch. They offer a full shopping experience as well with cold cuts, organic produce, and other assorted trinkets for sale.






Probably the most famous spot of Reading Terminal is DiNic’s Roast Pork, and I didn’t go for unexplainable reasons. Another time…


Philly is a great strolling city with a beautiful neo-classical city hall that I passed on the walk.


Flagstaff ~ Wild West Brewtown and Amazing Mexican Breakfast

In 1876, a group of settlers en route from Boston to California, stopped to celebrate the July 4th centennial holiday by erecting a large wooden pole to fly the stars and stripes. That flag staff gave the town its name. The characters who filled the streets in those early days gave the town its continuing charm. Route 66 cuts through the heart of this mountain town, bringing pub after pub of craft brew and wooden seating. The busy railroad provides a pleasant background noise to this sleepy city. Flurries seemed to be falling in a neverendingly gentle reminder of the moisture in elevation. Flagstaff sits at over 7,000 ft (2,100m) above sea level, next to the largest mountain range in Arizona, the San Francisco Peaks. Sometimes, it felt like I was catching my breath on each step. It’s a friendly city, people greet you with a smile and “Hello” and plenty of dogs to pet.

My first meal was at Diablo Burger (120 N. Leroux St.) A tiny joint inside of Heritage Square serving up burgers on English muffins and skinny, salty fries. I had the Señor Smoke which was a great mix of avocado, bacon, cilantro and spicy mayo, matched with one of their tasty home brewed porters.

DSC_0119At altitude, I just couldn’t find my appetite, so I missed the normal dinner restaurant times, and was forced to take a late meal at the Lumberyard Brewery (5 S. San Francisco St.) The Knotty Pine Pale Ale was a fruity, elegant and balanced beer, but the pulled pork was just microwaved nonsense and not very good.

DSC_0001This breakfast place, Martanne’s Burrito Palace (112 E. Rte 66), wins a special place in my stomach as having one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve ever eaten. It’s a funky place with cute SnP shakers and Day of the Dead artwork. Their green pork chilaquiles were breathtakingly good followed by a deep roasted coffee to finish off the meal energized me for a hike in the fire scented hills of Flagstaff. I actually ate this exact same thing the next day it was so good. DSC_0005


DSC_0007I stopped in for a hot choco at Macy’s (14 S. Beaver St.), a famous pit-stop for coffee and vegan eats for students at Northern Arizona University. There’s lots of chatting and reading being done here.



DSC_0086For dinner, a trendy little Latin kitchen called, Criollo (16 N. San Francisco St.) had some delicate and delicious fish tacos, fashionable vodka drinks and refreshing salsas.


DSC_0005 (1)

Philadelphia ~ City Tavern

Philadelphia was a major city during the Revolutionary War. The “founding fathers” met and discussed all the issues of creating a country within the brick buildings of Independence Mall. It was the capital of the fledgling United States of America while Washington D.C. was constructed. The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution were both signed in Philadelphia.




DSC_0001City Tavern (138 S. 2nd St.) attempts to recreate the magic of the late 18th century by offering authentic wait staff in costume, freshly brewed beer from old recipes, and hearty food selections.



DSC_0007 We ordered the sampler before choosing our own pints. I went with the dark porter, but all were flavorful.

DSC_0006The bacon wrapped shrimp with sweet glaze for appetizer was great.

DSC_0014The three entrees pictured are: seafood pasta, meatloaf and lobster pie. The food was not spectacular or life changing, just friendly to your ribs fare.



DSC_0021  Dessert effectively finished us off–chocolate mousse cake and creme brulee, sugary deliciousness.


DSC_0023 Finally, we couldn’t resist posing with Philadelphia’s greatest (and completely fictional) hero, Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa.

DSC_0052 (1)A splendid family lunch in the City of Brotherly Love.

DSC_0012Here’s some of the city sights we saw as we walked around downtown.







Washington, D.C. ~ Portraits, Hoagies, Tacos, Indian food, Pub Grub

In the nation’s capital, we find plenty of restaurants, museums and people watching. Our first stop after the easy bus ride down from Philadelphia was Taylor Gourmet Deli (485 K St. NW). We ordered the meatball and cheesesteak. Meatballs gave us burps later on, and weren’t homemade; cheesesteak with American cheese was above average with good bread.


DSC_0056We walked off the food in the surprisingly fun National Portrait Gallery on 7th St. On 3rd floor is portraits of famous celebrities from the world of art and sport. But this super sized LL Cool J won as biggest surprise, I thought it would have been nice to have a smaller painting of the back seat of his jeep.

DSC_0073Jordyn liked the Michael Jackson.

DSC_0071And the award for scariest, nightmare ballerinas:

DSC_0088Giving our best Casey Stengel impressions.

Then Abe Lincoln

Spotting the FBI building, I couldn’t help think of the X-Files, and hope there was a couple of investigators working on the case of aliens who stole Mulder’s sister.

DSC_0098We wandered around and ended up at Oyamel (401 7th St. NW). Packed on a Wednesday night, we had some tequila (repasado–Tres Agaves was good), and plenty of tapas. Started with a tender Hawaiian fish ceviche, a mole and pork tamale, and a pork and beef taco. The beef taco was excellent and the fish was delicately delicious.




DSC_0119After a free concert featuring bassoon, cello and piano at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Millennium Stage, we walked up 24th street to Flavors of India (2524 L St. NW). It was nearly empty and the people in the booth were coughing from the spiciness of the curry. We ordered ours mild. It was the house special: a spicy chicken dish from Northern India served with the aromatic basmati rice, and the appetizer was a mixed grill plate. One of our favorite meals in D.C.



DSC_0043 We ate Chopt (Chinatown) twice for lunch. It’s a salad place where you choose everything you want and they chop it up, season it and put it in a recyclable bowl. It was delightfully filling and healthy lunch. Another fun lunch place was Cava Grill (707 H St.). It’s like a Mediterranean “make your own pita bowl.”

DSC_0001The most disappointing meal was at RFD Washington which had great beer selection and plenty of TV’s, the food was not so good. I had the crab cakes, tator tots and a turkey club. They were purely pub pickings. It fills you up for more consumption of hops, malt, yeast and water.

DSC_0088 (1)