Latei cafe- Amsterdam, Netherlands

The intricate canals of beautiful Amsterdam run through all of the historic neighborhoods and marketplaces, lined by leaning rows of tall narrow houses stacked side by side.  What better way to spend a warm lazy Sunday afternoon than to take a leisurely stroll admiring this unique architecture and discovering the city.  Weekends are an especially good time to explore outdoor markets and bazaars on foot or on bicycle, the preferred mode of transportation in the city.

At the edge of Amsterdam’s famous Red Light district, leading into Chinatown, is Nieuwmarkt which means ‘new market’. A majestic building called De Waag, originally a gate leading into the Medieval city wall and later functioning as a weighing house, stands tall in the center of the square as Nieuwmarkt’s landmark.  On Saturdays Nieuwmarkt is a bustling farmers market, and on Sundays it comes alive as an antiques market where one must rummage through a lot of junk to find those rare treasures.

More than antiques there seems to be a lot of random clothes, boots, jewelry and souvenir stalls at Nieuwmarkt, but it’s still a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends before stopping in to any of the restaurants and cafés in the square.  With such a peaceful and laid back atmosphere, it’s hard to believe that during World War II the square was used by the Nazis as a collection point for Jews who had been rounded up to be sent to concentration camps.

A perfect place to take a break after browsing at Nieuwmarkt is Latei, a quaint and lovely little café where you can sip on cappuccino while continuing your afternoon of flea market shopping.  Virtually everything in the restaurant, except for the servers and customers (even though it’s close to the Red Light district), are for sale.

Stepping into Latei is like going through the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ famous Chronicles of Narnia into a magical attic of beautiful knick-knacks.  Delicate vintage chandeliers crowd the ceilings, each with a handwritten price tag dangling from a draping handle, while colorful travel bags, decorative mirrors, dated posters and random toys stud every inch of wall space.

Order a warm croissant with butter and jam to go with freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast while reading the day’s issue of De Telegraaf, or sink your teeth into the Dutch goat cheese sandwich with a side of soup for lunch at the small table by the large window which is optimal for people watching.  On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays they also serve vegetarian Indian food for dinner.

Finish off your meal with a satisfying wedge of warm Dutch apple pie with a shot of espresso or a cup of hot chocolate.  All of this eating and drinking is, of course, part of test driving Latei’s tableware to see if it’s something you want to buy and take home.

Whether upstairs in the little loft or down under the staircase in the semi-private den, every nook and cranny in this small café is filled with fun stuff- second hand furniture that may include creaky wooden chairs and red leather banquettes from a bygone diner, kitschy eyeglasses displayed on cut out green paper faces, and even a shiny silver disco ball scattering little specks of light onto the vintage wallpaper.

Everything has a price tag at Latei, but even if you leave empty handed, a lazy afternoon spent at this wonderful café debating everything from world politics to celebrity gossip with friends over apple pie and coffee is priceless.


Zeedijk 143
1012 AW Amsterdam, Netherlands
020 6257485

Random trivia:  Did you know that ‘antiques’ are defined as objects that are at least 50 years old? ‘ Collectibles’, on the other hand, are possible antiques of the future and are generally less than 50 years old.


Jean Philippe- Las Vegas

The Aztecs drank it, the West Africans grew it, the Dutch produced it, the English sold it, the French refined it, the Easter bunny wore it, and everybody loves it- chocolate.  Archaeological findings suggest that humans were enjoying chocolate as far back as 1400 BC when it was consumed as a beverage.  The Mayans made it into a frothy bitter drink while the Aztecs, who called it xocolatl, often flavored it with vanilla, chili pepper or annatto.  With the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate crossed the high seas and fell upon the lips of the Europeans, leading to a continental frenzy over this little bean that could.  The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657, and the rest is history.  Everybody in the world knows what chocolate is, and everybody, whether or not they want to admit it, loves it.

Flash forward to the 21st century, and we now have chocolate available everywhere we turn.  Supermarkets stock entire aisles of it, and even local gas stations have a pretty impressive collection by the Cheetos rack.  But the really good stuff comes from learned pastry chefs and chocolate makers who have dedicate their lives to pleasing us with enchanting sweets.  On a whole other different level we have master chocolatiers, who are artisans in the art of chocolate who have studied the history and chemistry of chocolates and trained their skills extensively.

On a previous visit to Paris I was blown away by the artistry of Patrick Roger and his beautiful gallery on Blvd St. Germain.  One of my guilty pleasures when I visit my family in Tokyo is to nibble on a few of French chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin’s treasures at the Isetan in Shinjuku.  Los Angeles isn’t host to a distinguished chocolaterie yet, but with the recent surge of fine dining establishments and discerning gourmands, I’m hoping that it’s not too far in the future.  On my recent trip to Las Vegas I got a chance to revel in the beautiful cacao installments of patissier Jean-Philippe Maury on the Vegas strip.  At the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie in the Bellagio and now the Aria, die hard sweets fans can sinfully indulge in Meilleur Ouvrier de France and World Pastry Champion Jean Philippe Maury’s sensational creations.  There is something for everybody at Jean Philippe, where he offers not only chocolates, but pastries, salads and sandwiches too.

The Pâtisserie on the ground floor of the Aria has multiple sections, starting with an impressive display of rotating white and dark chocolate flowers by the gelateria.  Adjacent to the gelato and sorbet section is a crêperie where skilled crêpe makers will make a savory or sweet crêpe for your liking, followed by the beautiful retail store with rows and rows of enticing chocolates and candies.

Nougats, brittles, spreads, sticks, artisan jams, caramels, cakes and even rice crispy balls are all made on site every day by a team of 80 bakers in the kitchen.  At the chocolate bar, you can choose from a variety of sensational hand crafted artisanal chocolates with flavors like anise, amaretto, banana, peanut orange and vanilla rum, and take it home in beautiful boxes.

Imaginative displays of chocolate sculptures sit high on rotating pedestals, delighting shop patrons even further with Maury’s whimsies.  All of the edible works of art are colorful, vibrant and dramatic in true Vegas style.

My favorite chocolate sculpture was the chocolate bonsai, delicately carved with fine details of the tree bark and spiny leaves, and accompanied by a dainty three-tiered sakura cake in celebration of spring.

Long glass display cases line the other end of the large pâtisserie, showing off endless rows of pastries and breads, and intricate cakes like tiramisu in a glass cylinder, cheesecake encased in a soft folded white chocolate envelope and tarts with raspberries piled high in a tall pyramid like a croquembouche.

What I love about this pâtisserie is that it’s not just a take away boutique like most pâtisseries.  It’s also a cafe where patrons can experience instant gratification at any one of the cafe tables that face the display cases.  Salads, paninis and cold sandwiches are also offered here, giving diners the option of having an entire light meal here.  Naturally, hot chocolate is on the menu, and with so many options for dessert, one may easily have a continuous dessert tasting and never leave the cafe.

Fortunately there is a reason to leave the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie at Aria- the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie at the Bellagio.  There you can take in the dramatic floor-to-ceiling 27 foot chocolate fountain that put Jean Philippe on the Guinness World Records.  Nearly 2 tons of dark, milk and white chocolate cascade down leveled tiers in a glass enclosed space in a spectacular display of this true life Willy Wonka factory.  On your way out, don’t forget to buy a box of chocolate truffles for that person you love.  Who are we kidding?  Buy it for yourself.

“Like jewelry or perfume.  A blend, a shape, a texture.  Creating a candy with precision, emotion and passion.  Give yourself the pleasure of gods.”  – Jean Philippe Maury

Jean Philippe Pâtisserie

Bellagio – 3600 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV, 89109
(702) 693-8788

Aria- 3730  South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(866) 359-7111

Open 6am-12am

Random trivia: Recent studies show that chocolate gives us many health benefits.  It is believed to suppress the symptoms of migraines and stop diarrhea.  Regular consumption of dark chocolate can lower the possibility of a heart attack.  Post-exercise consumption of lowfat chocolate milk in athletes provided superior muscle recovery in studies.  Theobromine in chocolate proved more effective at cough suppression than codeine.  But eating chocolate for our health is just an excuse.  Studies showed that melting chocolate in one’s mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted 4 times as long after the activity had ended.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Poilâne Bakery & Cuisine de Bar

IMG_5770Poilâne bakery in the 6th arr. on 8 rue Cherche-Midi is one of, if not the most famous bakery in Paris.  Still standing in its original location since it opened its doors in 1932, it is adored and frequented by both locals and tourists alike.  Fortunately, the bakery is still in the trusted hands of the Poilâne family, and the tradition of baking their breads with stone ground flour and Guérande sea salt in wood fired ovens carries on to this day.

The moment I stepped inside the charming bright space, I was greeted with the comforting buttery aroma of freshly baked warm bread.  Although they don’t have a large selection of breads and pastries, I can tell that each piece is made with great care and finesse.  Their croissants and rustic apple tarts were flaky, rich and delicious.


Poilâne’s signature bread is the large 2 kg round sourdough loaf with the big ‘P’ inscription.  They can be ordered with custom made designs and messages, which make for wonderful gifts.


The tiny and quaint Poilâne store also sells ‘Punitions’ (small butter cookies), ceramic bowls, linen bags, bread and butter knives, wicker baskets, jams and the famous Poilâne cook book.  The whole experience will make you hungry, and fortunately you can go right next door to La Cuisine de Bar for breakfast or lunch.

Cuisine de Bar is a small casual minimalist café that serves a variety of savory tartines (open-faced sandwiches) on the famous sourdough Poilâne miche.  Although you can order individual tartines, the best deal is the Formule for 14 Euros: salade de saison, tartine au choix, boisson au choix and café.

The ‘seasonal salad’ was a plain iceberg lettuce salad with lentils and a tangy mustard grain vinaigrette that was a bit too strong for my liking.  I chose a glass of Chardonnay for my drink of choice, which was lovely with my sardine sandwich.    The tartine sardines: toasted bread, sardines, butter, aged wine vinegar and chives.  Pleasantly tart, nicely salted and simply delicious.


The tartine crottin: toasted bread, provençale tomato purée, goat cheese and coppa ham.  A classic, unpretentious and delectable combination.


The tartine for’bon: toasted bread, whole ripe Saint-Marcellin cheese, Bayonne ham, marjoram and olive oil, perfectly grilled under the broiler (extra 3 Euro charge).  This was my favorite tartine, a refined take on the classic grilled ham and cheese with the best ingredients.


Other tartines that sounded delicious: tomato and mozzarella, shrimp and avocado, chicken club with garlic aioli and capers, and foie gras. Sel gris, herbes de provence and caraway seeds were set on each table for sprinkling on the tartines, but there really was no need for them.  We had a nice tangy tarte citron; they also had apple and chocolate tarts that day.  The coffee came with a very cute Poilâne butter cookie spoon that they sell in the bakery.  A nice after-meal experience of sipping, dipping and eating.


The next time you are in Paris,  visit Poilâne and Cuisine de Bar; make sure you get to the café before 3pm.  Afterwards, take a nice stroll to the Bon Marché and La Grande Epicerie just around the corner for the ultimate shopping experience.  The moment I set foot inside La Grand Epicerie, I almost fainted with excitement.  I was in awe…and then I was in love.  There are endless aisles of select gourmet olive oils, sea salts, foie gras, charcuterie and truffles, and almost too many display cases of fresh fish, meats and prepared foods that can either be eaten in the store or taken home.  It’s the type of place I imagine my version of heaven to be like.  I bought cepes mushroom sea salt, white truffle sea salt, raz el hanout, vanilla powder and a beautiful bottle of wild carrot olive oil that I am very excited to use.

Poilâne bakery

Rue du Cherche-Midi
75006 Paris, France
01 45 48 42 59

La Grande Epicerie de Paris

38 Rue de Sèvres
75007 Paris, France
01 44 39 80 00

Random trivia:   Ounce for ounce, sardines provide more calcium and phosphorus than milk, more protein than steak, more potassium than bananas, more iron than cooked spinach, and have the highest amount of EPA of any fish.

The Curious Palate

This is a long overdue blog entry about one of my favorite joints in Los Angeles, The Curious Palate.  It’s a very special and sacred place that my friends Mark Cannon and Elliot Rubin opened in Mar Vista last December.  Constructed with reclaimed material and  ‘green’ engineering, and designed with eco-friendly paints and antique flea market decor, this farm-to-table concept eatery represents everything that I love about food.  They can tell you exactly where they got all of their ingredients, whether from the local farmer’s market, a select fishmonger, a certain butcher, or a specialty cheese producer.  Their menu changes to incorporate seasonal specialties and flavors.  They offer an incredible selection of gourmet chocolates, oils, jams, cheeses and sodas.  They will welcome you with a warm smile and give you the best personalized loving service you could ever dream of.


The newly opened beautiful patio

The newly opened beautiful patio

I’ve always been a huge fan of Mark’s cooking.  I’ve known Mark for many years now, as he is married to one of my childhood friends Emi who I’ve known since the 6th grade.  I could tell that he had an electic and refined taste in food by the dishes he ordered at our outing to Grand Sichuan when they still lived in New York City many years ago.  I was impressed when he cooked an elaborate 10 course meal for 14 people in their Brooklyn apartment.  I was touched when he roasted a delicious leg of lamb for us at his wife’s mini slumber party.  I was intrigued by the selection of exotic seafood that he bought during our stroll through Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo when we met up over one winter break.  So you can imagine, I was ecstatic when Mark and Emi decided to leave New York to move back to Los Angeles a couple of years ago to open a gourmet market and kitchen.

Chef Mark in the kitchen

Chef Mark in the kitchen

The Curious Palate is the brainchild of best friends Mark and Elliot.  The Curious Palate offers a wonderful selection of salads, some of which are dressed with Elliot’s famous balsamic vinegar dressing.  The vegetables soups and hearty double pork chili will nourish your soul.  The signature dish here is Mark’s Famous Mac and Cheese.  It’s made with Gruyere surchoix, goat cheese, blue paradise and sharp vintage cheddar.  Beware- it’s highly addictive!

IMG_3251They offer several main courses, of which I am a huge fan of the Bratwurst with cumin carrots and onions, and the Lamb Lasagna with spinach, roasted tomatoes, ricotta and fresh mozzarella.  They’re both absolutely delicious.  Next on my list of items to try are the Yucatan pork stew and the Miso braised short rib stew, but they always change up their menu to offer new innovative flavor combinations using fresh seasonal ingredients.

The Curious Palate is perhaps most famous for their wonderful sandwiches.  They have about 20 to choose from, and it is always a huge dilemma for me every time I step into that restaurant.  I’ve tried pretty much everything on their menu, but every time I go to the restaurant, it seems like their list of menu items written on big hanging blackboards keeps expanding.  My favorites are….

The Cubano: slow roasted pork, Fra’Mani ham, house cured pickles, cheese and mustard which they sell in the store, on a pressed rustic roll. The succulent slow roasted pork and Fra’Mani ham give the sandwich a wonderful smokey flavor.  The house cured pickles are just incredible.  This used to be my favorite sandwich until they introduced the pastrami reuben.

IMG_3246The smoked salmon sandwich: locally smoked salmon (they can tell you the names of the people who smoked it!), avocado, cucumber, sorrel and mustard seed oil on 5 grain bread.  The thick slices of smoked salmon are extremely tender and simply melt in your mouth.  I love the slight kick of the mustard seed oil and the citrus tanginess of the sorrel.  A wonderful play of flavors!

IMG_2110Sloppy Giuseppe (Italian version of the Sloppy Joe): slow braised lamb shoulder ragu and white bean puree on a brioche roll.  Absolutely tender and melt in your mouth good.  I’m actually a bigger fan of the Sloppy Jiao (asian version of the Sloppy Joe) with slow braised pork, scallions, shiitake mushrooms and spinach in a soy ginger sauce on a brioche roll.  It’s not currently on the menu, but I will start a petition to bring it back.   Here’s a photo of that delicious Sloppy Jiao that I so dearly miss:

IMG_3249Another wonderful sandwich is the BBQ Pork: Berkshire pork braised overnight, with BBQ sauce on a brioche roll.  It paired nicely with their homemade coleslaw.  Succulent tender pulled pork with its savory juices and drippings penetrating into the soft buttery brioche bun.  Mmmm…divine!

IMG_9006Other sandwiches that I recommend are the prosciutto panini (prosciutto, mozzarella, baby artichokes and red peppers on a pressed rustic roll), the meatloaf burger (their signature housemade meatloaf to die for, lettuce, caper mayo on brioche), and the blue paradise (flat iron steak, arugula, pickled scallions, blue cheese spread on a baguette).

For dessert you can try the chocolate chip cookies, scones, choco vivo brownies, or tarts made with house made pate-sable dough and organic custard with farmer’s market berries.  Accompany it with Intelligentsia espressos, lattes and teas freshly brewed in-house.  My choice beverages at The Curious Palate are their freshly squeezed orange juice and strawberry juicy.  Afterward, browse through the market to see their amazing selection of gourmet goods.  They have chocolates from Eclipse (12 types, including sweet basil-mint, sea-salt nib and blackberry sage), Lula’s, Bovetti, L’oven, Chocovivo, Michel Cluizel, Michael Mischer, Coco luxe, Café-Tasse and Kshocolat (try the Orange Cardamom).  Their fridge is stocked with drinks like Vignette wine country sodas, Fizzy Lizzy fruit sodas, Mill Road apple cider and flavored Kombucha.  Go home with any of the Breakfast in Paris preserves or Vila Vella honeys.  Or better yet, try the Curious Palate housemade raspberry, blueberry and strawberry jams.

IMG_9007Press your nose up to the cheese and charcuterie glass cases and admire the selection.  What will you have tonight with your bottle of wine?  Angelo and Franco ricotta and mozzarella?  French Brebirousse, Italian Blu di Langa, or Canadian super sharp vintage cheddar?  Shall we pair it with Fra’Mani salamis, guanciale, bresaola or Bratwurst?  And don’t forget the balsamic glazed strawberries, marinated beets, and marinated artichokes, all made with love and care by Mark.

The Curious Palate is now open for breakfast, and the citrus perfumed French Toast and smoked salmon omelette are to die for. 

Intrigued?  CURIOUS?

Then go!!

The Curious Palate

12034 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles 

 (310) 437-0144

Random trivia:   Rou Jia Mo is China’s version of the Sloppy Joe.  It’s chopped stewed pork stuffed inside ‘mo’, a type of flatbread.  Rou Jia Mo could be the world’s oldest sandwich or hamburger, since the history of the bread dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC) and that of the meat to the Zhou Dynasty (1045 BC to 256 BC).


Little Next Door


One of my favorite little cafes in LA is the Little Next Door which opened a few years ago.  I used to frequent this place when it first opened, when I was completely enamored with the cute Parisian/Moroccan decor, handsome friendly French waiters and delicious sandwiches and wines.  After a year’s absence, I went to have lunch with some friends, and it reminded of why I fell in love with this place to begin with.  The decor is still cute, with the striking cobalt blue walls, quaint front patio, and high ceilings; the wait staff are all wearing white long sleeved shirts with blue horizontal stripes, and the majority speak French- Sacre Bleu!! Am I in a Paris?  Oh, and did I mention that the waiters are cute, friendly and attentive?  Yeah, and the food is still great.

Little Next Door

Little Next Door

They have sandwiches, soups, salads, crepes, quiches, entrees (pasta dishes, steaks, grilled chicken, lamb shank), homemade pates and terrines, cheeses, wines, coffees/teas and desserts.  Anything to please your taste buds.  It’s very relaxing to sit on the patio while sipping cafe au lait and doing some people watching.


We opted for soups, deli salads and sandwiches since it was lunchtime.  I got the ‘Little Next Deal’, which includes a soup, half sandwich, 1 deli salad, and a macaroon for dessert.

French onion soup and chicken lentil soup

French onion soup and chicken lentil soup

The french onion soup was very traditional, packed with caramelized onions, soaked baguettes in veal/beef stock, and a heaping mound of gruyere.  I got the chicken and lentil soup, which to my surprise was packed with large tender chunks of savory vegetables.  I was expecting a somewhat bland and simple brown lentil soup with maybe some bits and pieces of chicken, but this was a very hearty and satisfying soup that made me want to cry out for my maman.

Sandwiches and salads

Sandwiches and salads

I got the smoked salmon sandwich, with tzatziki and arugula on a brioche bun, with a side of triple beet salad.  It was wonderful.  My friend got the smoked chicken sandwich, likewise on a brioche bun, with a side of celery root salad.  Very simple flavors, but delicate and delicious.



For dessert, pistachio and lavender macaroons.  They also had dulce de leche, rose and chocolate.

And what’s more, you can enjoy this brief escape to the streetcorners of Paris with the perks of LA food culture- I got my cafe au lait with soy milk.  What’s not to love about this place?  A tout a l’heure!

Random debate: So are macaroons cakes or biscuits?  Well, they are considered to be more like biscuits, since they don’t rise when baked, like cakes do.