UPDATED TEA in New York: the best quality tea rooms and bars on Manhattan

The very best quality tea rooms on Manhattan are scarce. In this hotbed of competitiveness the real deal is often leapt over by gimmicky phrases echoing current trends. Until recently, tea in New York has not encountered the exotic wonder as it did in San Francisco and in Europe.
Taiwanese oolong tea
Naturally, in one of the fastest cities in the world, tea did not match its frantic lifestyle, but also New York reverberates what I call the Boston complex. The story of an independent America has flipped around the rebellious dunking of a tea shipment from England into the waters of the Boston Harbor, what the historians describe as the “tea party”. The caffeine-boost seeking Manhattan had turned to coffee for its daily recharge instead. While other fast metropoles like Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London find time for a cuppa to start or connect the moments of the day by sitting down, in the Big Apple balancing a busy week with savouring mindfully a cup of freshly brewed tea is still a hard sell. Yet, with mental health consciousness raising, tea has timely entered the New Yorkers’ vocabulary and joined the interest in meditation and yoga there.
porcelain western tea service

It took me a half decade to trace and evaluate the best tea rooms on Manhattan. My globetrotting palate was not convinced that there was enough remarkable leafy Camellia to sip on the East Coast. I always brought tea in my suitcase from Europe, sipped and hoped. Rewardingly, my patience paid off. Now there is enough quality and diversity of tea purveyors in New York, and it seems that the coffee nation is turning to the slower mode with tea. Well, matcha bars are taking the city by storm, and I wrote about the best matcha hotspots in TRENDY MANHATTAN TEA SCENE. Here, I devote my investigative and tea thirsty pen to the established or new, quality and knowledge focused tea rooms and bars stretching from the East Village to the West side of Manhattan. Be it New York, things change fast, so some closed their businesses since I wrote the original post in 2017, but I decided to keep them here for you to see what survived the global pandemic and what has evolved from a tea room into a take-away and retail.

Harney & Sons tea bookbest tea rooms in New York

Harney & Sons

Some tea rooms and shops have existed in New York for decades. The dubious China Town pop ups have matured into Ten Ren outposts, while in SoHo Harney & Sons have finally embraced a more millennial-style sophisticated approach to their customers. The upscale tea importing business was founded by an American family over three decades ago in Connecticut. Harney & Sons is a hybrid of an English tradition and American commercial savvy. Their tea service invites you to cosy in the newly designed minimalist-cum-chic tea corner, but now also includes custom lattes with organic almond milk. Pick from the large menu of teas and your choice of milk will be steamed with it to order. Steeped to go, it will take longer than the whisked matcha, but you will taste the fragrant power in the brew since it is infused correctly – some tea needs up to ten minutes. Well, if you pick the Hot Cinnamon Spice either in black or herbal blend, the innocent bystander may kick your throat with a spicy shock. Perfect for a cold day. Decaffeinated (by rinsing), signature herbal blends, some organic options, but mainly flavoured black tea blends remain the classics at Harney & Sons. Millennial inventiveness like Nitro Iced Tea, the popular flavoured kombucha (by Aquivitea) as well as brews native to the Americas like Guayusa, black or green Yaupon and Yerba Mate sailed in.

 433 Broome St, SoHo

Daily 11:30am – 6:30pm (Sat from 10:30am)Harney & Sons NYC

Tea Drunk is the best Chinese tea bar on Manhattan. Tucked in the East Village, the founder has an extensive knowledge about the sino-leafy diversity and is a fun little box to squeeze in next to other serious tea connoisseurs. I wrote about the tea tasting experience on La Muse Blue, so you can read more on Chinese tea at Tea Drunk.

123 E 7th St, East Village
Mon – Sat 12:00noon – 10:00 pm, Sun 12:00noon – 9:00 pm
Tea Drunk tea room

29B Tea and artisan Asian ceramics by Tea Dealers

Sourcing tea and herbs directly from the farmers using traditional agriculture methods (no pesticides and only natural fertilisers when needed), their selections capture some of the New York’s leading restaurants (the Michelin stared Rouge Tomate, even higher end Jungsik, The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn). Seasonally imported rarities such as the indefinable but intriguing Korean oxidised organic tea Balhyo and low caffeine organic roasted Korean Sejak twigs in the Houjicha style are sold out fast. Their non-caffeinated flower tisanes such as Korean wild persimmon leaf is almost as good as my direct source in Kanazawa, Japan. Other Korean seasonally picked herbal brews that spark the non-caffeinated pleasure are the sublime White Lotus and the roasted black bean. 

best tea rooms in NYCKorean herbal tisane

The intercontinental duo of an American tea dealer Stefen Ramirez and his Korean partner Shin Won Yoon created first Tea Dealers to bring the highest quality of pure, non-blended teas and tisanes from India, Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan to America and they are back in the importing model ever since the pandemic hit New York badly. Still, you can take-away some macha and selected teas for a walk around East Village. On offer are also ceramics from Korea and Japan, exclusively sold here in America. 

Tea Dealers 29 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009

Thurs-Mon 12noon – 6PM; Tue &Wed Closed

best tea shops in NYCJapanese sakeware
Franchia also specialises in Korean tea, but in a more old school tea room style. The “meditative quality of tea” praised in Korea still today next to vegan, Korean Buddhist style food will nourish your mind and body. Specialties include sacred Jilee mountain green tea, Korean date, lemon, ginger as well as teas from China and India. On their own the beverages are served between the lunch and dinner hours. The food is good, nothing otherworldly, but the interior at Franchia is the most fascinating from all Manhattan tea rooms I have seen to date. As if lifted from a Korean temple the wooden ceiling and carved details on the privacy dividers between tables upstairs teleport you away from the New York craze into a mindful zone somewhere far east.
 12 Park Ave, New York
Mon-Fri: 12noon-9:45pm; Saturday: 1pm-10:15pm; Sun: 5:30pm-9:30pm
authentic tea room in New YorkKorean tea room

KETTL founded by a tea master Zach Mangan originally in Brooklyn imports the finest teas directly from small farms in Japan. At first only a tiny shop, ceramic gallery cum tasting room above now a contemporary Vietnamese restaurant on Greenpoint Avenue with most calm and cosy atmosphere from all my picks here, Kettle has stretched its retail and tea to-go arm to Manhattan. On Bowery a small window adjoining the Bowery Market offers expertly prepared tea, a sublime macha or houjicha latte with your choice of milk perfect for colder seasons and if you really crave the focused experience also a ceremonial macha mini ceremony in a tiny counter inside that seats four. Tea cookies change seasonally and satisfy the sweet craving. The quality is as high as it gets and all brews are made with altered water.

348 Bowery, New York, NY 10012

Daily 8am-6pm

tea room in New YorkNew York tea shoptea in New York roasted tea

Physical GraffiTea shop and room is the quirkiest little basement spot, but by no means underserving savvy tea and curative herbal concoctions seeking customers. Some are traveling from Florida to stock on tea, others are local residents coming for a chat, a cuppa and some cookie or kombucha on tap. The Jewish owner knows everything about her pursuits. Mostly organic from the Planet’s fertile grounds, the tea service is not a fancy affair, but the hippie aura emphasised by the Beatles portraits hanging on the East Village no fuss brick walls feels somehow cool. As if the den was forgotten in the liberal decades past. I like her houjicha, and the longevity-promising plethora of organic Ayurvedic and Chinese herbs is valuable to any balanced health seeker.

96 St Marks Place, East Village

Daily 12noon-7pm
authentic tea rooms in New York hippie tea room

Cha An Teahouse is a traditional Japanese tea house with good Nippon food and great desserts. Nested in the corner of the East Village known as “little Japan”, as you walk up the cracking narrow stairs to the first floor, the Japanese team welcomes you to their sparsely lit nest. Linger on tatami benches under the lights of washi paper lamps as the seasonal fresh flora breaths some air into this tea bar cum restaurant. Japanese teas meet the sweet morsels like matcha sponge cake, houjicha ice cream with wagarashi (root starch) jelly cubes, mochis, cherry blossom jelly with a side syrup to sweeten it to your own liking. For the XL sweet explosion, the afternoon tea style desserts tasting box is a must. Houjicha, sencha, but also teas from outside Japan like Darjeeling, oolongs from Taiwan and green, black and pu-erh from China. Specialities include Japanese style iced matcha lattes with adzuki beans, green tea ice cream or a heaping of whipped cream, that like the pure fresh green Tamaryokucha tea cool your body and mind in summer. Cha An feels like the most traditional Japanese tea rooms in Japan transferred to Manhattan.

230 E, 9th street, East Village

 Mon – Thurs: Noon – 11pm; Fri & Sat: Noon – 12am; Sunday: Noon – 10pm
best tea rooms in NYCCha An NYC
Ippodo, the generations spanning Kyoto tea purveyor with tea rooms in Japan, has also a small concession at the basement of the former  Michelin stared restaurant Kajitsu. Enjoy a wide range of their teas with dinner at the restaurant, but if you come only for the tea, you will have to take it out.
11am to 7pm daily except Sundays
125 E, 39th street, Midtown

tea seed oilCold brewed tea
best tea rooms in NYCtea room design

CLOSED LUV Tea in the West Village offered Taiwanese oolong experience, healthier organic milk teas and cold brewed daily fresh iced tea. The jasmine milk honey was so fragrant that you carried the aroma along with you for hours. Deep hues of goji and rose in naturally long steeped, not artificially enhanced brews. The nutritionist on board stamped their health claims. On Saturdays freshly cooked boba was served in their real Taiwanese bubble tea. The co-founder, a Taiwanese tea master Jaesy Wang, conducted regular tea tastings, while art launching events for the temporary exhibits on the white washed brick sparked some late afternoons. Unfortunately, the pandemic shut the business and now nothing of their kind is found around Manhattan.

tea pillowtea pillow

New York is still well behind San Francisco, London, Paris and almost any major Asian city in terms of the breadth of tea rooms and high quality tea offerings. Diversity of tea rooms would certainly help to balance the scattered minds and rough voices of the New Yorkers.

Gastronomic ceramics in America: from otherworldly architecture to Korean ware

Much of the most exciting gastronomy in the US is in the hands of talented immigrants, second generation Americans or those who returned from temporary stages at uniquely inspiring kitchens mainly from France, Scandinavia or Japan. Yet, in America the most contemporary poised chefs spin their ideas through the wide accessibility to incredible produce and professional workforce to its own unique level. Plus there is one Savannah-raised grown-up child whose imagination surpasses any culturally-inspired culinary approaches.

Culver City designgastronomic ceramists

gastronomic design

I cannot see the “from a time that is yet to be” restaurant by Jordan Kahn (in his own words) anywhere else but in LA. His current futuristic, almost spiritual project is nothing like his previous venture, although not much less talked about Red Medicine. I dined at both, but here we talk gastronomic ceramics, not the food (which in my opinion was great). The entire concept of Vespertine is about the wholeness of the experience. The visual, aural, gustative and intellectual sensory impact feels post apocalyptic and so do the locally made gastronomic ceramics the chef chose.

The sci-fi design of the Vespertine in Culver City collectively transformed the creative television production area of Los Angeles. The extraterrestrial architecture by Eric Owen Moss Architects is not for everyone, but it strikes everyone. Some of the vessels were designed by the otherworldly creator. His architectural water pitcher (pictured above left) is literally a miniature of the building itself.

gastronomic ceramistsgastronomic ceramists

Most of the barred down, rustic and construction pieces resembling tableware is made on the same street by MATCH stoneware. As its name suggests, this studio (pottery classes available) works mainly with sturdy stuff. The rusticity of the weighty bowls and plates invisibly blends in with the architecture. The overwhelmingly black, grainy stone bowls and plates are simple, yet profoundly complement chef Kahn’s visually naturalist cuisine. Some serving utilities by MATCH stoneware are just slate slabs, while others like the bowl for the desert look like broken scraps to be thrown away. Yet, their edges are smooth and safe to handle. The unconventional attracts everything surrounding the Vespertine concept. This casual, rather understated style is what the location is about. Culver City is unquestionably the most 21st century part of Los Angeles.

gastronomic ceramistsgastronomic ceramists

Quite the opposite, culturally immersed and educative dining experience awaits you on Manhattan. At Atomix chef Junghyun and general manager Ellia Park intend to ‘gift,’ innovative Korean Cuisine to New Yorkers. Inviting young South Korean creatives to join them expands the experience beyond its realm into the far-eastern contemporary journey. Atomix commissioned up-and-coming artist Eunyoung Kown, porcelain master Namhee Kim, and even the chef’s cousin ceramicist Youme Oh. In an interview for Bon Appetit in 2019 J. Park says: “I want Atomix to be a way to introduce young Korean talent, there aren’t many channels to enter the market otherwise.”

From the names I dropped so far you get that the restaurant is also a family business. His cousin crafted this jade-hued ceramic bowl by hand to mimic traditional Korean wares.

In my Gastronomic ceramics series, check further out what talent the great French chefs support, how wild the Best Restaurant in the World goes in working with designers in Spain, and learn about the seasonal tableware selections in Japan.

Indulge in Los Angeles at its iconic eateries

All cultish foodies, straight from the LAX airport head to a nearby In-N-Out Burger, a slowly-growing chain of fast food eateries founded in 1948. Unlike countless global cheep food behemoths, the family owned business has never stretched beyond the West Coast. Quality rules by using fresh, unprocessed meat from California and Texas, cut by the in-house butchers and all food is made to order, including the real potato fries. The ‘Animal Style’ burger is the crowd’s favourite (extra onions and pickles), while the carb-conscious go for the ‘Protein Style’ served between two enveloping lettuce leaves instead of the usual starchy bun. It’s plant-based nemesis is the sublime Yuba vegan reuben sandwich at SQIRL in Silver Lake. And I must admit, I was more smitten by that sublimely toasted sourdough sandwich than the famous burger chain.
best burgers in Americabest casual east in LA

Wolfgang Puck: the local food export

To indulge in Los Angeles means checking out one of the homegrown chefs original restaurants. If you are in the mood for something gastronomic and fresh, then dine at the gorgeous Bel Air Hotel. Wolfgang Puck’s newest LA restaurant lures with an outdoor heated patio and an elegant restaurant inside. As the flames of the heaters warm the cool desert evenings in the valley between the hilly Bel Air, the romantic soul in you will be awakened. Sustainable and locally grown produce in his California meets Europe-themed dishes are presented with an elegant flair. The Austria-born Puck was the pioneer of modern Californian cuisine some 30 years ago, when he blended the abundant local ingredients with other world cuisines. You can try his traditional Austrian breaded schnitzel after a raw fish carpaccio there.
Hotel Bel Air Barbest food in Hollywood

Spago in Beverly Hills was the chef’s first high-end success and still, after its recent revamp, remains popular. Here, ask for the Smoked Salmon Pizza, now off the menu, but they will bake it. Its wine list is hard to beat in town, but his newer venture at Bel Air is more consistent in pleasing your palate. Now an export, Puck’s Cut steakhouse is the flashiest of its kind in California and London. LA is the city of contrasts, so aside from some spare glitzy outings, most restaurants are rather simply decorated and you can venture almost anywhere casually dressed.

artisanal Iranian Sangak breadOmakase sushi

Marvelous ethnic cuisine in LA

The “City of Angels” is strongly influenced by its multi-ethnic neighbourhoods. Foodies can reach anywhere for a casual Cal-Mex taco from the moving food trucks (Mariscos Jalisco is a must!), splurge on a Korean bbq ideally in the Korea Town or dive into the new California cuisine blending it all together. The upbeat and trendy food trucks move around town so checking their current location online is a must if you have a specific craving. The ethnic casual eateries around the booming Downtown are hip, but one should also discover some Persian food around West LA for the Iranian community here is the largest abroad. In the Valley there are also some excellent Persian grocers baking the typical stretched flatbreads and selling authentic rose and saffron ice cream that a friend intruded me to unforgettably.

LA sushi  Los Angeles Japanese food LA sushi
LA is a haven for casual as well as high-end Japanese food lovers. From trendy modern sushi bars such as Katsuya, through unpretentious Sugarfish, Wa Sushi and its godfather Matsuhisa, to the ultra-lux and priciest omakase indulgence at Urasawa – the choices are abundant. Hiro Urasawa is often thought to be one of the best Japanese chefs in America and his mastery is demonstrated in the perfectly crafted courses served for a small group of lucky diners, who are not afraid to splurge on delicious food. Not far, still in Beverly Hills is perhaps even more enjoyable and less serious branch of Ginza Sushi Onodera (also in New York), where rare seasonal ocean bounty will take your breath away.

Omakase sushi in LALA fine dining

If your time is limited in LA, must-visit is Nobu’s first restaurant that started the global craze of chic and trendy Japanese dining. The casual Matsuhisa still frequented by Hollywood A-listers rightfully deserves its fame. The food is superb. In West LA along the Sawtelle Boulevard, Little Tokyo transports you far East. Kiriko’s sushi chef and owner Ken Namba creates nice omakase with a much better value than most in the city. Come in the evening and you will not believe you are still in LA. The local specialist grocery stores carry everything Nippon from sencha, seaweed, teriyaki and yakitori sauces to dozens types of noodles. LA is vast, so it has two Japan towns. The larger one in Downtown prides on Sushi Takeda treats you to omakase served only during the first 6:30pm seating by the master chef himself.

For the most sophisticated by Japan-inspired gastronomy head to n/naka by chef Niki Nakayama of the Netflix Chef’s table fame. Her restaurant in Culver City shook the local tastes with its airy lightness.

Best Italian food in America

Ingredients driven cuisine needs excellent produce within reach, and so a wave of Italian chefs made their mark on the LA’s shores. Superb freshly-made pasta can be enjoyed at the always busy Il Pastaio. Nancy Silverton used to create sublime meals at Osteria Mozza (6602 Melrose Avenue), but the pizza at the nearby popular Pizzeria Mozza (641 N. Highlands Avenue) is more worth the splurge today. The most discreet and adored by celebrities is the family managed Giorgio Baldi. Giorgio’s son Edoardo runs it now next to his restaurant e.baldi in Beverly Hills. Schooled in the perfect pasta making, must try are the signature splendid Sweet-corn Agnolotti in white truffle sauce. Sharon Stone is a regular.

Michelin Los Angeles best Italian dining in LA

For more gastronomic Italian experience head to Massimo Bottura‘s Osteria Gucci on Rodeo drive. The legendary Italian chef behind Osteria Francescana in Modena simplified the menu at his first casual dining branch in Florence and transplanted it successfully across the Atlantic. The young chefs duo create a signature tasting based on local ingredients finished with perhaps the best desserts in America by the Northern Italian pastry talent Tamara. Her Santa Barbara pistachio gelato is a must even for the followers of plant-based lifestyle as there is no dairy in it. To indulge in Los Angeles one must try some vegan options sprouting bountifully around.

Pizza at Gjelina

You cannot indulge in Los Angeles without trying once our favourite casual and trendy rustic new American eatery. Before Venice Beach became trendy, you could eat at Gjelina. Now, it is super hard to book. Unless you pop by for workweek lunch, reserve weeks in advance for dinner or wait for hours after walking in. The small plates and thin crust pizza from a wood-burning oven spitting out original toppings are lip smacking! You will not taste the same food anywhere else. Ideally, sit at the back outdoor inner patio with fireplace, from where you can peek into the kitchen. It feels like you are having a gourmet picnic. The restaurant is inconspicuous and easy to miss on the busy Abbot Kinney road, but the assembling people around its corner and the aromas of a freshly baked pizza will lure you in.

For a quick bite next door takeout a superb pizza at Gjelina To Go or drive to nearby Santa Monica for an authentic Californian seafood at Ivy at the Shore. Their crab cakes are luscious, the oven-baked lobster pizza generous and the salads XXXL. Another, more sophisticated yet hearty and casual option in the area is the Michelin starred Rustic Canyon.

mezzebest in LA

Hollywood eatsBejewelled crispy rice

On the other (eastern) side of the city in Hollywood, a must is an Eastern-Mediterranean inspired meal at Kismet, breakfast or hearty brunch at SQIRL in Silver Lake, where you must buy their locally sourced marmalades and the mouthwatering whipped ricotta on toast next to the wholesome savoury bowls. I share more of my LA lunch tips in another post.

LA eats

As you drive through the expansive city seeking to indulge in Los Angeles, do not forget that drinking alcohol while driving is not tolerated, and keeping this in mind saves you troubles. Just check the tabloids for the infamous of celebrities that got into a jail for that! Take your ID to any place that serves alcoholic beverages since you might be asked to prove that you are older than 21, enjoy the pleasures of the City of Angels!

Shion: the purest Tokyo sushi export to Manhattan

Sushi Shion by the namesake Japanese chef Shion Uino sates the highest expectations from the Tokyo frequenting sushi lovers in New York. Hailing from Sushi Saito, one of the most iconic three Michelin sushi restaurants in Tokyo and for many experts the best sushiya in Japan, this authentic Japanese export to Manhattan will not disappoint. The young chef Uino worked himself all the way up to precisely cutting and moulding nigiri sushi at the second counter of Saito, and currently Sushi Shion rivals in quality to Masa, another Edomae-style omakase shrine in New York.

Humble, relaxed, friendly, intimate and focused, right in his first year in New York of opening Sushi Amane chef Shion Uino received his own first Michelin star. While Amane is now headed by another sushi chef bunkered bellow another established Japanese restaurant, the Mifune, Sushi Shion is a headline on its own. Located in TriBeCa at 69 Leonard street, he was called over by Idan Elkon, the owner of both establishments. Taking the game to a grander scale with even more premium seasonal wild products, the chef’s signature plates he learned at Saito, and an elegant setting haloed by contemporary art, Sushi Shion is perfectly set where it should be. Above, I feature some photos from the chef’s dishes and bellow the setting at Sushi Amane. While some plates remain, more rare fish is included now thanks to the wider accessibility of the New York market to these premium products.
The eight-seat bar like at the greatest Tokyo sushi spots is simply decorated the purchase of the highest quality fish and seafood. The $250 (plus tax) at Amane here climbs to $350 ($420 per person with the added 20% Manhattan gratuity) nightly (except for Sunday) omakase menu that sources the best wild sea (plus sweet water eel) produce available on the very competitive market.
The pure edomae, no caviar, foie gras and gold leaves for the Instagram snaps, celebration of the chef’s Sushi Saito apprenticeship is best for those coming to Sushi Shion not to show off but to appreciate. Mastering for hours simmered abalone (awabi), perfectly cooked and marinated laid next to the crunchy yet delicately soft octopus (tako) in Saito style on the US soil awed our palates in full decadence. Marinated red snapper (yokura) or other seasonal zuke style sashimi (marinated in a cooled reduction of sake with shoyu) follow. Slightly charred clams or scallops like two coins are handed sandwiched in a crisp warm nori. A trio of Hokkaido and a small, sublime Kyushu uni are otherworldly. The chef serves the sea urchin from different parts of Japan, particularly priding in his hometown of Amakusa that produces a very elegant, balanced sea urchin.
Pickles, the vinegared sunemono such as cucumbers and cubed (as opposed to the more common shaved slivers) ginger root ready your palate for change. The omakase sushi at Sushi Shion changes sometimes daily. You may get hata/羽太 (grouper) with ponzu and shiso leaf sauce with a yuzu citrus punch, squid brushed with yuzu nitsume sauce, kai (red snapper), kohada (gizzard shad), beaker, akami (red-fleshed bonito) and some rarities like… The omnipresent maguro (tuna), from its lean cut through the more fatty in chu-toro, his was a bit earthy in autumn, to the fattiest belly in the winter in o-toro. The sushi rice at Amane is not as sticky and in so allows for the fish to stand out. An almost undetectable touch of freshly grated wasabi is dabbed on the rice. With omakase sake works wonders, the fermented rice beverage cleans the palate in between the morsels, but the wine list at Sushi Shion is worth glimpsing over if your pocket is not too deep.


Follows hot, steamed fish with its skin, my favourite is kinmeidai. Beware burning your tongue, unlike with the sushi, you can wait to chop stick it into your mouth. Aji (horse mackerel) with chopped spring onion, anago – cooked warm eel in a delicate, balanced, not too sweet sauce, and the last rice filler – the otherworldly tuna hand-roll in the most perfect crispy nori sheet. You can pay for extras. It is your call or the chef can select for you either a different part of chu-toro, horse mackerel and akami that he thought was the best on that day. My salivating husband devoured them with pleasure (getting ahead of the balancing vegetarian meals that I mostly prepare back at home). Miso soup soothes the stomach and a superb tamagoyaki egg cake, sweet with a dense cheesecake texture, juicy pudding like, settles the night’s bill.
sakesake ceramics

Over a decade under his sushi belt taught the chef a razor concentration on his material. He slices each morsel with gentle elegance and brushes the nigiri like a painter with the reduction sauce of nitsume or the nikiri sweet glaze. To witness him in his mindful artisanship is a meditative rather than just a theatrical experience for any participant in this delectable ritual set in the sped-up New York.
As with our first spotless meals at Amane, we now make sure we dine at Sushi Shion every time we fly in. Be on time, if you are more than 30 minutes late for your reservation or cancel under 72 hours prior to your meal there, you will be charged the full fee per guest. Each seating starts when all guest are seated so this is also a lesson in politeness. Book through phone or online on Resy, where I enjoyed an intriguing interview with the chef and the owner of Sushi Shion.

+1 212 404 4600

Mon-Sat 6pm or 8:30pm seating

 69 Leonard street, Tribeca, NYC

Rejuvenate at Miami South Beach through organic food, spa, yoga and the ocean

If Las Vegas had a beach it would probably look like South Beach. This long strip of pure sand washed by a pristine Caribbean-blue ocean is to Miami what Leblon is to Rio de Janeiro. At Miami South Beach, nature persuasively encourages to rejuvenating one’s soul and get the body feelin’ good. Yet, there is more luxurious or rustic chic pampering at the Miami Beach spas, yoga rooms, healthy organic cafes, plant-based restaurants, creative, locally-sourcing juice bars and well-portioned taco eateries. During my recent stay I tasted again my old favourites, discovered new places and harmonised my well-being before embarking for New York. Here are my healthful tips for your next trip to the tropical Miami.
The Settai Miami South Beach Miami ocean

Get movin’ and rejuvenate on Miami South Beach

Getting the svelte beach body has a cultish following in Miami, and now you can get there more naturally and happily ever after. Beyond the noisy and with sweat-soaked gyms, anger-releasing boxing rings, and mindless, repetitions-counting classes, there are yoga studios, core-building pilates groups, and above all the seasonally appealing well-curated spaces on the beach, where you can sun-salute, push up, jump, dip in, roll and twist as much as you desire. Just get there before the heat of the summer and the tropical humidity crawl in to spoil the pure joy from the outdoors. Before the morning bells chime nine or after five ticks off the afternoon between December and April, savouring the outdoor activities out on the Miami beach gets you elated. Scoop a handful of the fine-milled natural scrub and rub it over your feet, shedding any dead skin, that accumulated over time. These are the sweet spots for the Miami Beach joy.

First, if you still want to party, start in the afternoon at the swish Nikki Beach, sip on freshly squeezed juices, no need for champagne, just great music and swing your body right to left, up and down and around. In that heat who wants one’s head to turn around like a merry go round? Me not, so skip that booze and dance like a muse.
Niki beach

Upgrade a staycation into an immersive healthy locals lifestyle

Whether you stay at your house, apartment, at a rented holiday retreat or one of the ultra luxe hotels like the art and design rooted Faena or the South Asia chic Setai, you will not be excluded from any of the kicks of healthy lifestyle that the locals eagerly share. Alongside the beaches there are crossings of creative outdoor workout stations scattered all over the Lummus park, plus when the air cools a bit, there are public tennis courts, swimming pool, baseball and soccer fields right in the middle of South Beach at the Flamingo Park.
There are so many places to stay, but for well-being the only requisite needed is a well functioning, not too noisy air conditioner. The rest is on the beach. The North Atlantic ocean washing its shores is quite chilly for swimming, but the surfers zigzag the waves and the windsurfers fly like birds lost in a hurricane, flipping seemingly haphazardly on the numerous breezy days. Most of them know their stuff, they have been training for years, so you go out there only when the cost guards raise green the flags. More info on the US lifeguard flags here.

beach yogaMiami South Beach design
If your room is tight to roll out a yoga mat or the online yoga apps get too worn out, turn off the yogi autopilot, be more social and join the local ohm tribes gathering at Synergy yoga. This is the oldest yoga studio in South Beach, and comes with a warning as Synergy relishes in the naturally hot, humid and quite crowded classes. Really immersive stuff, like in India. The sharp, Jivamukti trained Brazilian teacher Victoria now directs the yoga teachers’ program at Synergy, and plays the accordion while chanting at the end of each class. I love the view from the small studio. As the sun sets, the heads of the palms cast mysterious shadows, a meditative and grounding sight while holding challenging balancing asanas. The Green Monkey Yoga has a cleaner and leaner feel, and their unlimited week pass will motivate you to come a lot to get most of it. Miami South Beach has so many yoga studios that you will find your soul space. Sadly some closed during the Covid strain, but the above reopened in 2021.
spa at Faena Hotel MiamiBuddha

Spa time

Wheeling on a rented city bicycle (available throughout the beach strip) through the Venetian Highway and breaking at the Belle Isle lands you at the hip Standard Hotel. Founded on the core of wellness, there are yoga classes, a juice shop, Roman waterfall hot tub, Arctic plunge pool, mud lounge wraps, hydrotherapy pools and even a swing lounge (hammocks) so envelop yourself in the tropical gardens, the outdoor spa and the rooftop pool at the Standard. Here, plenty of cool looking youthful faces tan their bodies before realising that the sun will give them wrinkles. Get a hat or sit under a large umbrella, since for your daily dose of Vitamin D, you need only about 15 minutes on a direct sun (as my GP advises).

Faena Hotel MiamiFaena Hotel Miami

Sunrise Miami BeachFaena Miami
For ultimate luxury head to the most holistic spa on the Southern tip, the Tierra Santa Healing House at the Faena hotel, that fuses luxury with a hip fix in the swing of Le Club 55, St. Tropez or La Huella in Punta del Este. Surrounded by handmade embroidery, colourful South American naturally dyed pillows, cosy blankets, body-wrapping  shawls, you may be seduced to buying one of their pricy boutique trinkets. I bought a Tibetan sound bowl, so from now I can carry the meditative state of mind back to Europe with me. The wet spa is the most complete in town – inclusive of an eucalyptus and peppermint infused steam (hamam), a large marbled teppidarium for socialising, cooling in a claustrophobic ice room, lounging on a warm marble platform, and more. Before the wet spa ritual soaping with a sliver of an organic soap that you slice into your own copper bowl and rinsing all the beach dirt, toxins, and any anxiety away under any of the waterfall simulating showers, can change your day. This is just  a start though. An organic, hand-crafted range of muds, scrubs and oils is used in some body rituals and hydrotherapy. I totally surrendered into my masseuse’s hands during the Flor Blanca massage, long strokes incorporating Swedish style remedy. Tiera Santa facials use the concentrated natural products by Biologique Recherché and can be customised as you like. My skin was hydrated, plump, and glowing for hours after my hyper customised 80min facial. Ocassionaly, a cosmetic dermatologist is available for a consultation. Weren’t it raining, I could freely lounge on their beach chairs as my treatments exceeded 80min. Complete with hair and nail salons, it is easy to freshen your outward beauty at Faena.
Art Deco architecture
The spa at the well-established Asian dark wood and elaborate artworks decorated Setai hotel employs top level therapists. Although quite small, each spa suite offers soothing views of the three long palms lined swimming pools (each with a different water temperature, I like to swim in the middle medium warm one), and a sunset vista if you hit the right appointment time. Eastern philosophies fuse on the treatment menu here. A foot reflexology can be as strong as you would get from any serious needly-fingered foot therapist in China and Hong Kong.
The more up-beat, inland canals facing Croydon Hotel offers a more discreet form of rejuvenation. On the top the boutique Ayurvedic Spa heals those who do not like to crowd with too many people lounging around as it happens at the Standard. Saturday morning yoga (10am, sign in ahead) accommodates four yogis inside a homy room and if the weather permits, the rooftop will host a larger class.

Ayurvedic spa in Miami Beachyoga Miami

Eat well, local, organic and balanced plant-based food in Miami Beach vicinity

To rejuvenate on the hip Miami beach, you won’t need to try hard since there is an abundance of local, organic and quite nutritionally balanced plant-based food to peck on.
PURA VIDA Starting a day with a cleansing shot of freshly squeezed wheatgrass with ginger and lemon will get your bowels moving and alkalises. Then after your morning run, yoga, beach stretch or swim go back for a proper refuelling organic breakfast at Pura Vida. Take your time, since the almond milk chia parfait, bagels, eggs all ways, oatmeal as well as the trendy acai and dragon fruit-based raw bowls with cramps-preventing banana, fresh seasonal fruit, coconut flakes and granola are all served all day long. Beware that these wholesome bowls and smoothies hide some 600 calories in one serving! Get active and you will feel the positive vibrations of these zen foods. Locally sourced as much as possible, organic and most of it also delicious, Pura Vida can also set you for a picnic on the beach. To take out, the superb guac & chips, with their own gluten-sparing multigrain chips, the hummus with toasted whole-wheat pita, or a combo of both with veggie sticks are great to share. My favourite salad there is the SOBE of marinated artichoke, greens, chopped ripe mango, roasted red pepper, alfalfa and shaved almonds with a side (great for take-out so it does not get soggy) ginger and nut dressing. I was not that keen on their wraps, and some smoothies are more of a meal, except for the Super Greens with the only added sweetness of pineapple and honey, and the Acai Goes Wild, that is more berry-fresh, than banana and nut butter heavy. Get your probiotics, and grab a bottle of Health Ade Kombucha stacked in their fridge in a few flavours.
healthy greensorganic juice bar
JUGOFRESH If you just crave a quick acai bowl or a zillion”superfood” add-ons loaded smoothie on the go pop over to the Jugofresh juice bar inside the Wholefoods market. Right by the entrance you get “cold-pressed juices, smoothies, foods, and good vibrations. All made fresh daily with high integrity and mad love.” Follow them on Instagram for pop up yoga classes around the city.

superfood shotsAsian vegetarian bowl

LILIKOI ORGANIC LIVING is the most holistic lifestyle cafe in the Southernmost tip of Miami Beach. A bright, welcoming and beautifully painted room invites on for a lunch or dinner. The plates are quite large so ideal for friends or family sharing. The vegan kale salad was one of the best I have had to date, not boring, nori and the cheesy tasting nutritional yeast with toasted sunflower seeds added enough flavour, not too heavy-sauced, but tender after a long marinade. You can add fish, chicken, falafel or avocado as well as a long list of other mostly organic sides at Lilikoi Organic Living, but any plate will do just without. Japan (ramen) meets Tex-mex and some Italian inspirations on the mainly locally sourced and seasonal menu supporting eco-friendly fisheries and discarding any unnatural dairy suppliers. Cheese and dairy feature in many plates so keep the portion under control. The daily gluten-free pizza is tempting, but it does not mean it is any more healthy for you than the regular thin crust. Counter Culture kombucha on tap – strawberry and herb when I sipped on it, while the milkshakes and smoothies make the kids happy. Their alkaline Kangen water is dispensed for free to any customer.
Lilikoi Organic cafeOrganic kale salad

TOCAYA ORGANICA For an evening shopping spree head to the Lincoln Street’s pedestrian-friendly zone, and order customised tacos at Tocaya Organica. The two tacos and two sides is a good deal that makes for a very light dinner. I loved the cotija cheese crumbled on the top, naughty, I wished there was more than the scant amount. The line-caught mahi mahi was fine and organic meat is always a good option, unless you are a vegetarian, for which the vegan taco filling comes as a saviour. You can even go for a lettuce cup instead of the house corn tortilla, but do not skip the plantain and corn chips with a trio of salsas, since they will blow your mind! The side of refreshing quinoa salad, while simple grilled cauliflower a bit yesteryear. Their salads are too large and get boring with every forceful spoonful. The organic ingredients using local Mexican joint is now reaching East to Los Angeles, with two branches opening just recently.
gluten-free chips and Mexican salsaTocaya Organica Mexican eatery tacos
To close any healthful journey, a romantic, candle lit dinner under the wings of palm trees across the bridges in Wynwood is the perfect treat. And you can even have little organic or biodynamic wine with it!

Plant at the Sacred Space is the most elegant healthy dinner setting in Miami. The plant-based, ecological and thoughtful cuisine inspired by the former chef Matthew Kenney crossed the millennial boundaries of what more restaurants should offer. Now, the chef de cuisine Horacio Rivadero, who has led the kitchen since the restaurant’s inception helms the organic menu here. Santè, to your next stay in Miami!
Address book:
Green Monkey Yoga: 1800 Bay Rd, Miami Beach
Synergy Yoga Center: 844 Alton Rd, Miami Beach
Jugofresh at Whole foods market: 1020 Alton rd. Miami Beach
Lilikoi Organic Living: 500 South Pointe Drive, Suite 180, Miami Beach
Pura Vida: 110 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach
Tocaya Organica: Lincoln-Marti School, 920 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach
Plant at Sacred Space: 105 NE 24th St, Miami, FL 33137

Hearth East Village: a political meal that cures your Instagram bug and more

What do the rest-deprived New Yorkers need more than anything for health is a truly nurturing, slow-paced meal at Hearth. Even in the medical field it has been proven that mindful eating, next to meditation and walk in a forest can powerfully remedy the pressures of urban life. While not many kitchens in Manhattan’s apartments are used beyond reheating a delivery, at Hearth your grandmother’s generosity is served casually enough that a weary mum can venture in for a supper with her school kids. Hearth’s hospitality invites awareness and care about what and how you eat to the table — welcome to the family!
East Village restaurantpotato

Real world social meal in New York

First, a note on your table discourages from taking photos during the meal and sharing them on social media. A guilty perpetrator, for this article I had to — secretly and with my cheeks aflame, snap a few. You also eat with your eyes, don’t you? Still, I dined at Hearth so many times that I managed to stay off distracting technology during most of our wholesome meals there. Deepening further your social awareness, food waste, local produce, sharing plates and vegetable-centric menus include educational manifestoes by chef Marco Canora, who knows a great deal about sustainability, but will not force you eating vegan.
Offal, seasonal vegetables from root to tip, fermented grains, sourdough, for long hours simmered broths, sustainably-caught fish and grass-fed, wild grazing cattle cooked with care, Hearth further avoids artificial anything, including sweeteners.
The Italian-American chef laid ground for dining with awareness in the hip East Village on Manhattan. His market-driven cuisine feels satisfying, richer for example than Jean Georges’ ABC projects. Hearth makes a perfect meal in a breezy fall, freezing winter or the rainy spring in New York. wholesome breakfast in New York

Hearty locally-sourced food with a homey feel

Italian recipes inspire some of the menu, but the American melting pot defines the rest. Europe’s food traditions emigrated to the Americas, but the ingredients at Hearth are local. Google describes Hearth as a Tuscan restaurant, the heartiness, perhaps? They serve whole grain pasta, gnocchi, polenta, and bistecca, but the tweaks on the plates are far from the Tuscan tradition I’m familiar with (Tuscany is less than five-hours drive from my home in Monaco). Let’s settle with American-European cuisine.
The popular weekend brunch alleviates stress from any home cook’s shoulders. Seasonal fruits (pomegranates, apples, pears in fall), house crunchy granola, stacked pancakes, plus a warm mug of coffee or tea set you up for the day.
organic chicken in NYC
A must order, warm, long-fermented whole grain bread with grass-fed butter, extra virgin olive oil, and whipped lardo (the bread service costs $6) introduces the costs of real bread to the New Yorkers. Vegetables star. Like the whole baked potatoes nesting on whipped ricotta to start, not just the sides are veggie-centric.
The famous Hearth broths change slightly seasonally. Recently, mushrooms dipped into the vegetable bowl of warm comfort.
To share, the whole Spatchcock chicken is an organic, formerly free-grazing tender beauty, served with sautéed greens and Calabrian chilli. Not spicy, but tastes like your Sunday family lunch if someone cooks very well.
For a serious nose-to-tail indulgence, the bone marrow and the savvy Variety burger (think a blend of brisket, chuck, heart, liver, …) with melting fontina cheese and sweet potato fries is a feast.
Menu at hearth in nycAustrian Riesling

Hearth nurtures rustic romance in the East Village

Although in the evening it gets cosy dark inside, transparency about its provisions’ provenance, like at Raaka chocolates in Brooklyn, is the heart of Hearth. The purveyors list is spotlighted on their website and on the flip side of the menu.
The wine list at Hearth in the East Village is one of the broadest and savviest on the entire Manhattan. Chateau Musar from Lebanon is known for its red Bordeaux blends, but after a broad tasting with one of the family members, I learned that the whites are treasures to age into breathtaking magnificence. On the Hearth list recently a 1975 vintage kicked the splendour off. From the oldest wine regions, greek and georgian wines may inspire your vinous adventure. Still, we often order a bottle from Italy or California, equally far-flown. With a sweet spot on Riesling, find multi-regional selections accompanied with a trip-inspiring, creative musings on the wines, the makers or their location. From Austria to the New York state.
Chocolate is paired with wine as a dessert option, but we love the cheese made from grass-fed dairy to end.
Corinto NeroEastern European wines
Heart is a complete food business. Its generous broths became so popular that a few branches of Brodo opened on Manhattan. A scaled-down convenience, the window selling their slowly simmered broths comforts more healthfully than any take-away in New York. From vegan through chicken, beef and the house speciality the bone Hearth broth either in a paper cup or the more ecological, re-usable (get a dollar off with your next refill of the same! broth) glass jars sold cold for more convenient transport. When renting in New York recently, my time-constrained schedule, welcomed the wholesome additions in my fridge to heat up when feeling down or too tired to cook late at night.
Hearth also offers “take-home, CSA-style package to provide you with the tools you need for quick and healthy cooking”, so stock up with their wholesome ingredients for that rare meal in!
403 E 12th St, New York, NY 10009
+1 646 602 1300
Dinner Mon-Sun: 6-10pm (Fri 11PM); weekend brunch 11am-2pm (Sun 3:30pm)

The Beauty You Must See

Another dimension in the world well trod

Opens to those unfolding the true self to oneself

Unafraid, liberated, strong,

Owning yourself is the path to wealth

Contentment — appreciation of what is now —

The beauty of every morning, the trees simply standing here,

Rivers abundant with life, your wife, friends, a dog

The walking corpses in a crowded city, familiar strangers in a village


Aware of what is and seeing the beauty in all is happiness

That love grants space, a place to thrive, your own hive


This love never clings, owns, possesses

It works, simply clicks

Like listening to poetry when walking up the mountain,

layers multiply, joy grows greater,

the verses bloom with each inhale 


Feel, live this nirvana

Now in this moment is the only time to be

Not strived for in the afterlife —

Will future ever happen as you want it, think of it, crave?

The Beauty You Must See is here and now.


Swiss autumnFrench style

The best teachers in our life are the wise others, some great books we read and our own direct experience. A combination of all these inspired this poem on joy — The Beauty You Must See in the everyday life, the mundane. As the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken ceramics with tinted, often gold-dusted, glue to create even more beautiful objects, the wabi-sabi of seeing beauty in imperfection changes your outlook.

flower powerFrench village

When I was selecting the images to accompany this poem, I found way too many in my 100k-rich photo library. This made me smile, as I realised that I truly live by what I write about in my poetry. I see beauty in so much that surrounds me every day, minute, place and space. I hope, that you will find inspiration to see it clearly too.

If your lenses wear the magic, the spell empowers your entire life. A positive attitude, marvelling at all there exists, the wondrous joy of a child, these all teach us to be appreciative of all that becomes ‘normal’ for most adults. Kids can teach us so much, as any good mother would say.

hiking in the Himalayasspirituality

In Brooklyn, there is Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. book store, a part of a community schooling group where you can get books written by those who just learned to compose sentences as well as sensitive teenagers. I encourage you to browse around. You might be surprised how much wisdom dwells in those young souls! I grabbed a few.

children booksbook lovers

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co
372 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Open daily except for holidays 12noon-6pm

Raaka: unroasted and fully transparent chocolates made in Brooklyn

Raaka means raw, wild in Finnish. That is the echo of how these Brooklyn-made chocolates are crafted from the organic, fair trade-certified, gluten-, nut- and soy-free, all kosher and vegan ingredients. In an easy fall weekend, I enrolled myself and my husband into a decadent chocolaty experience at their Red Hook production facility. After re-tasting them all myself, my other half gasping with pleasure nodded to my inclusion of Raaka in my post on the best chocolates made in America.
artisan chocolateartisan chocolatechocolate tourBrooklyn chocolate

Raaka: the ‘Virgin’ chocolate approach

Like an extra virgin olive oil, Raaka uses only unroasted cacao and processes the mass in as low temperatures as possible. The virgin chocolate maker believes that some of the cocoa’s fruity and bold flavours are better expressed by not exposing the beans to an extreme heat.
At our visit, we started with tasting two types of raw cocoa nibs from the rich Peruvian and the tropical Tanzania beans. The African queen captured me so powerfully, that I lured for more of their raw pleasure. Like Alain Ducasse‘s cracked cocoa nibs, these Tanzania cracking pleasures should be sold by Raaka in bags.
artisan chocolateartisan chocolate

Equitable business model

Transparent trade is the core of the business at Raaka. Sourcing from small cooperatives with sustainable growing values, and paying a substantial share from the sales, often a double above the fair trade minimum, Raaka steps closer to a guilt-free chocolate indulgence for eco-conscious consumers. At the back of each label, the exact price paid for the cacao used in your bar compared to the commodity and fair trade charts alerts you to the stark market pressures. Perhaps the most important aspect of quality is the access and harvest of the raw ingredients.
Every step – from bean to bar – is in detail explained and demonstrated during the tour. Thinking deep into the details, the leftover cocoa husks are donated as a compost to sustainability promoting projects like the Edible Schoolyard in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn chocolatechocolate making equipment
Established in 2010 in Red Hook, the industrial workshops domaine of Brooklyn, the chocolaty pleasure is made in small batches.
Starting with an improvised sorting machine (PHOTO ABOVE: an intriguing combo of an old juicer, a vacuum cleaner and a fan), a curious relic from the first years in Raaka’s production, now replaced by serious Swiss-made machinery.
Moving to the strict temperature-controlled grinder mixers (watch the seductive videos bellow) from which we got a heaven-meets-my-tongue taste. Watching the smoothening of the cocoa mass through tightly-set cylinders, our mouths were drooling with anticipation. The wavy folds of the creamy substance started to shine like a cup of real hot chocolate.

Tempering is an essential step in chocolate making, and even Raaka would not skip the smoothening of the product that would otherwise result in undesirable grey maps all over the chocolate. Our guide showed us such a ‘dusty’ piece that needed to be re-tempered. Some hippie, raw chocolate makers sell chocolate like this, but this rustic, lazy process yields dry, powdery texture.
undesirable grey maps all over the chocolatechocolate making process

Playing with sweetening agents and original flavors

Raaka makes pure single origin dark chocolates, but also smartly flavored blends. They experiment with the sweetening agent – I saw sacks of organic cane sugar, coconut sap sugar (its nearby competitor and another favorite of mine Fine & Raw uses exclusively this low GI sweetener), maple sugar, and yacon, which is a Native American root that has a low GI. Some are blended together in certain bars. In my favorite Peruvian Pink Sea Salt in Zorzal 71% cacao from Dominican republic, cane meets maple sugar. In Maple & Nibs 75% bar from the CAC Pangoa farms in Peru, the crunchy nibs play with the smooth maple crystals sweetened chocolate like an exotic fruit breakfast granola immersed in a thickened Nesquik.
From the same cocoa is another sweetheart of mine – the Oat Milk, where 58% Peruvian cocoa meets luscious, dairy-free, powdered oats with ground coconut. I prefer this blend to their pure coconut milk version. The creamy texture comes from the coconut, but its toasty coco taste is balanced by the addition of the oat flour that adds more robust texture on the tongue.
American chocolate
The recent label and logo redesign (photos bellow) shifted into a more simple, impactful, functionally colorful landscape renderings over the former graphic patterns. The new logo was designed by New York-based Andrea Trabucco-Campos and Simon Blockley from California took over the intensely hued landscapes for each cocoa’s origin. I liked the look before (photo above) more, but a business seems to require bold labels in the stiff on the shelf competition. Packaging in post-consumer recycled paper as they used to do and using a biodegradable foil to wrap each bar is an eco-echelon yet to be climbed by Raaka.
fair trade chocolate

Experimental chocolate with an American inventiveness

Seasonal flavors and monthly subscription introduce experimental, limited editions titled ‘first nibs’ to your palate. Cherry Creamsickle, Vanilla Maca Crunch and Raspberry Mint are some we tasted. At our fall visit, micro batches of Tahini Swirl and Orange Halva made it into the hedonistic box of pleasure shipped all over the US.
The Green Tea Crunch contains a roasted genmaicha, as opposed to the often-used powdered matcha that does not pair well with dark chocolate in my opinion. A 66% Dominican Republic cocoa with organic puffed quinoa adds an extra crunch. I am not keen on the monkey Bananas Foster, the overtly embellished Cocoa, Coconut and Strawberry and the Cabernet Sauvignon cask flavors, as they overpower too much the impact of the cocoa.
American chocolate

Back to the virgin origin

From the pure bars, the unique Peru Nacional varietal, with lighter beans called “white” cocoa because of their inherent higher percentage of the cocoa butter, is naturally sweeter, lighter and smooth. In 2012 Raaka created single vintage bars from this Maranon Valley origin. Available in various percentages for all tastes. I go above 80% when I can.
For serious cocoa addicts, 100% cocoa from the banana leaf and fruit scented Tanzania beans in a bar of chocolate is the ultimate expression of the soil in its growing place. From the same beans, the Bourbon Cask Aged 82% dark chocolate with a lingering oak scent, a touch of caramel, vanilla and bright cherry aroma has been my go to treat ever since I discovered Raaka at the irresistible ABC kitchen section years ago. The unroasted beans acquired a one-month-worth woodiness in a used Bourbon cask. This is upcycling with a decadent result.
American chocolate
You can experience the chocolate making process at the Raaka manufacture every Saturday. The $15 includes a full tasting, from the cocoa bean to their wide range of chocolate bars. Long pants and sleeves, closed shoes and wearing a hair and mustache nets are mandatory as the working space must comply with the hygiene standards for food production, so beware — not the ideal first date. Gourmands above eight years old − from a curious schoolboy, young couples, parents accompanying their bellow 18 offsprings to intrepid elderly friends, formed our white-capped group.
Raaka unroasted cocoa
Raaka reasons its restrictions: Our tours and classes can be quite information heavy, and all of our chocolate is dark.” Hence, kids may not get it, and who wants complainers in a serious chocolate immersion?
Beyond savvy gourmet shops in America and Canada, you will find Raaka’s chocolate bars also in Europe (Selfridges). Competing with the old continent’s by centuries-polished knowhow, I discovered that indeed “happiness is unroasted”.

José Andrés: The Bazaar in Beverly Hills is a theatrical trip to culinary wonderland

Any meal at The Bazaar is fun, topped with the quality seal of a James Beard Awarded chef. José Andrés is a Spanish-American Michelin starred chef (Minibar) who brought the small plates dining to the US soil. The Bazaar in Beverly Hills is his high-end, multi-dining pursuit among the myriad of restaurant concepts he oversees. The culinary setup at the SLS can be confusing – Trés, a bistro comfort with an additional self-service desert counter, SOMNI serves chef’s tasting menu in an intimate 10-seat counter, while The Bazaar forks out into two dining rooms — a classic spread on sleek checkerboard tiles in a dim-lit Rojo; and Blanca, a more modern, living room-like comfort. The menu remains same at both rooms. Connecting all that activity is Bar Centro where inventive cocktails stir the night.

SLS Beverly Hills

modern tapasBazaar by Jose Andres

Tradition meets modern culinary techniques at The Bazaar

Generally in LA, the ingredients are highlighted over technique, and ethnic cuisine over experimental transformation. José Andrés, heading from the West Coast seeded the change for chefs like Jordan Kahn of the late Red Medicine and now Vespertine to bloom food magic in Los Angeles. The sprawling metropolis has never caught up with the starchy seriousness of Manhattan dining, eating out was about ethnic food, California seasonal wholesomeness and wear a mini or your sweatpants kinda outing, yet the show part of entertainment has surprisingly kicked out fro its margins.

A proud offshoot of the Spanish modern culinary maestro Albert Adria, who with his brother seeded Catalonia as a progressive pioneer of the 21. century food culture, The Bazaar like Minibar employs molecular techniques in its repertoire. José Andrés includes OLIVES FERRAN ADRIÀ (image above) where modern molecular morsels marinated in escabeche are served next to traditional stuffed green olives, in a homage to his mentor. Your head might turn over the extensive offerings. Some 80 items pop on his menu at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles. Divided into two sections – traditional and modern tapas – to ease you into the distinct experience. We always order from both camps.
tapasJose Andres restaurant

Extraordinary Iberian produce stars at The Bazaar by José Andrés. Ham, olives and sardines are brought from Spain, while American farms provide most plants and seafood from the American coast. The “traditional tapas” include hand-cut JAMÓN IBÉRICO DE BELLOTA that has been sustainably produced by the pig breeders by law required to allow the grazing animals access to their favourite snack, the acorns. Due to such indulgence their meat tastes like no pork you have ever had. Its nutty, cured salty richness masks any potentially unpleasant smell a pork dish may carry. A side of Pà Amb Tomàquet, Catalan-style toasted white pan de cristal with fresh tomato. Ham croquettes with fried quail eggs and escalivada purée, seafood tapas (the pan-sauteed SCALLOPS are exquisite, my husband loves the SAUTÉED SHRIMP, but I don’t like the guts in my seafood, the Spanish style) and cheese plates honour the classic Spanish culinary excellence. The OCTOPUS TOAST avocado, tomato, serrano chili, sea lettuce is rich and soft in its core. We also love the wild MUSHROOMS & CREAM with fried egg and pan de cristal. Nevertheless, the PAPAS CANARIAS potatoes with mojo verde & rojo were too dry and shrivelled.

modern Spanish cuisinemodern Spanish cuisine
From the Iberian quesos we always get the famous hard sheep MANCHEGO and PASAMONTES” LA SERENA, the creamy, sheep cheese from the Extremadura desert.

trendy LA dining
Descendientes de J. PalaciosIberian ham

raw cuisineContemporary tapas

I met the celebrity chef at food conferences across the US. Immigration and sustainability his mea culpas, the Washington University alumnus proudly praises anyone moving the culinary world forward in a mindful way. Chewing through his bocadillo (a Spanish ham sandwich) during a talk focused on “Immigrants feed America”, the outspoken, round bellied, sweat-dropping and everyone embracing Spaniard showed his tender heart. From the rather eccentric mini sandwiches, the Philly cheesesteak in its lightest miniaturisation of still recognisable, yet 90 per cent different mini me may disappoint gluttonous diners accustomed to this iconic Philadelphia street food staple, where a large steak meets melting cheese and onions in dozens of mouthfuls. At The Bazaar, the “PHILLY CHEESESTEAK” was rendered as a finger size puff filled with creamy cheddar cheese and topped by a thin slice of fatty wagyu beef. Andres takes you to the new millennium, when sedentary lifestyle calls for restraint without compromising on flavour. On the mains though, the grass-fed Tomahawk for four makes for a substantial and simple main to share. 

Contemporary tapas

Through entertaining curious eaters The Bazaar dishes surprise, each in a unique facet. For example the SWEET CHIPS like many other mystery foods of the molecular cuisine deceive. Looking like whipped cream, the goat cheese, tamarind and star anise dip for vegetable fried chips are fun to share.

From the the Eastern-inspired morsels, the SEA URCHIN STEAMED BUNS (three baos) with avocado, generous eel sauce and crisp tempura flakes, the KING CRAB baos, and CHICKEN with miso are yummy.

cuisine by Jose Andres

The female chef de cuisine at The Bazaar in Beverly Hills served me delectables at the Star Chefs congress in New York. Her wide smile and warmth radiate generous hospitality. By far the best bites I savoured during the three days of mental as well as physical gluttony. Stripped from the menu in LA, the PORK BANH MI was not a sandwich but like a mini burger, the succulent meat patty in Vietnamese coat impressed. I relished in the reduced, intense flavours in the MUSHROOM RAMEN with a side of pork belly, and finally her personal tweak on The Bazaar chicken, cooked sous vide, so slowly that the bird almost melted without chewing. Served on an umami bed of miso with mustard seeds, a perfection.

SWEET CHIPSmolecular cuisine

José Andrés at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles includes entertaining finale if your sweet tooth allows for a transfer into yet another part of the lobby living room. Philippe Starck designed the entire hotel in his signature shine and surprise glamour. Either in the deep sofas or by high sharing table order a la carte or browse through the market of sugary indulgence. Bordeaux canelè, macaroons, flavoured chocolate squares, marshmallows, cotton candy, but also more substantial cakes displayed like jewellery in Monsieur Pierre Hermé fashion seduce even those not intended to succumb to temptation. Our friend, a dwarf of tiny pilates instructor, who eats less than a rabbit, gets it going at Trés. When we “shop” at this devil’s counter, her interest does not rest with visuals. Discerned pastry globetrotters, who sampled the best desserts in Paris and Tokyo, won’t wonder of its display, but everyone else will be impressed by the presentation.

desert bar
chocolate sculptureliquid nitrogen

Order a pot of tea or tisane, for late owls coffee can be brewed and a nightcap served as a finale to the gustatory journey with José Andrés at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles. Time for bed, or…

The SLS Hotel conveniently borders the vibrant West Hollywood and the well-heeled Beverly Hills. The Bazaar promises a unique food show under the umbrella of Starck design that has for over a decade entertained diners of all ages. The popular chef is also an activist (immigration reform) and philanthropist (Hurricane relief in Puerto Rico) and was featured in Times Most Influential People List twice. Expanding South from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, South Beach, Florida, Texas, Mexico City and Puerto Rico, his entertaining food empire grows.
The SLS Hotel: 465 La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Closed Mon-Tue, Wed-Thurs: 5:30-10pm; Fri & Sat 5:30-11pm
+1 310-246-5555

Invisible: Hiking the wild-side of LA and finding peace in nature

California offers splendid trails as sprawling as its legendary roads. Naturally traffic-free, hiking the wild-side of LA and finding peace in nature is my favourite thing about the stretched sunny metropolis. My chosen hikes reward any traffic jam battle with cleaned mind, lungs, an aromatherapy of wildflowers and well-lubricated joints. Finding peace in nature is a healthy maintenance for the body and mind.
California hikes

How to become invisible in the City of Angels

Hiking is trendy. As nude bodies promenade through Runyon Canyon, poodle-clad barbies in Griffith Park join the bussed in Chinese groups aiming for the Hollywood sign, a true naturalist covers one’s eyes. To be unseen is the underlying desire not just of most privacy seeking Hollywood stars, but also of genuine nature lovers, inner calm seekers and flâneurs. Living in a city with an access to hundreds dusty miles of trails, all within a short drive, is the most precious asset of Los Angeles.
Still, unless you live by one of them, you have to board a vehicle to reach the hills. There is always parking, some free with gratitude to the generous donations, some pricy, since necessity pays off. Forget the Culver Steps, parking there is a hell of luck, plus too touristy. Some local natural workout buffs climb the widely-stretched rocks of steps up, other jog on the hillsides.
Desert hiking
I still hike the Griffith Park, but I found some less populated hillsides east from the Greek Theatre (free parking). Above the tennis courts, circle the hills around their back spine with views over the Universal City and the San Gabriel Mountains, and circumnavigate the Mount Hollywood where picture hunters set up their gear. Parts of the trails you can jog, shirt off (not you, lady!). There is not as much living wilderness as at some other LA hikes though.
East, also inland in Pasadena, the San Gabriel Mountains attract hikers to its 40-foot waterfall on weekends, so better stroll around during the week. Park by 1999 Veranada Avenue, Glendale.
More people can puff up safety for solo hikers, but the constant distraction of human chatter, and the Americans share their intimate stories loud, how entertaining! Oh no, gasps the escapist. For space and freedom, move elsewhere.
hikingGriffith Park
The safest and best maintained is the Tree People Trail. Ever since my first few hikes with a personal trainer to Robbie Williams, the singer, this central touch with nature has become more populated. Off the scenic Mulholland Drive, splitting the Valley and Beverly Hills, the scenic hike practically stretches the stiff limbs of freelance workers al fresco. Tree People is a charity educating, providing support for visitors and free parking. Electric charging booths inclusive. Wooden chairs shield from the sharp desert sun and comfort your weary legs, perhaps accommodating a good read at hand. Spreading over the Willacre Park towards the Coldwater Canyon east, dotted over with California sycamores, black walnut and coast live oak the loop takes about an hour. My go to hike when I am short of time.
La hikesrest

Best hiking season in LA

Spring is the best season to hike around LA. The inland desert greens up approaching the ocean. Waterfalls gush with the spring rain, wildflowers bloom into carpets of sunshine, and the verdant hallmarks of photosynthesis light up the paths with leafy salutes. Some of the local plant specimens are easily searchable on the Santa Monica Mountains app. Give curiosity the fodder it craves if the phone signal happens to reach the corner you hike yourself up to. The mild temperatures and much welcome rainfall (usually in February and March) awaken the hidden mysteries of the desert. Be mindful, eyes wide-open.
After a few incidents, I advise bringing layers and plenty of reserve water as in the coastal desert the climate differs marginally from the cooler oceanside to the inland blaze. Between December and May it is not scorching hot neither too dry as in the fall. Still, wearing long pants, sunscreen and a hat is wise in the ozone-poor Southern California, where added perils throw in prickly desert plants, ticks, snakes and poisonous spiders. Your bare skin lures them, fragrant with perspiration. Apart from the coiling rattlesnakes and hairy tarantulas, it is dusty too. Ideally do not plan fancy lunch right after your hike. A meal before is better as we often do at the Farmshop bordering Brentwood and Santa Monica or the airy Malibu Farm. Coming before noon cuts the waiting line there with precious minutes to add to the day.

Getting wilder

For a scant human presence and real mountain lions, I like the Temescal Canyon hiking in LA. So far, I have not had the pleasure of meeting one of the sharp-toothed cats from eye to eye, instead, once a lone crazyman rose my adrenalin to the red high. Topping the looner, I was cursing the lack of water I took along and virtually zero phone signal. I strongly advice don’t hike there alone as I did. Either find a pal or a hiking guide whose CPR and first aid certified skills and a backpack well-stocked with water can literally save your life. I found Bikes and Hikes LA (Info@bikeshikesla.com) responsive and able to accommodate my last minute request. The over two-hours-lasting private hike cost $195 with self-transport. Picking you up it would double. In groups, the hikes are much cheaper. From all options the back approach to the Hollywood sign is the most popular.
My guide Eric, a former radio host, was a great companion, knowledgeable of most plants, and further expanding my knowledge of LA gossip as well as lending an ear to my ramblings about life. As an experienced hiker, I was a piece of cake, still he got a great workout keeping up with my antelope legs.

From the Temescal Canyon you can easily transplant into the Topanga State Park as we did. The vast, spiky phenomenon looks like Taiwanese mountains or the hilly island trails around Hong Kong. The air is dry and due to Californians eco-consciousness, way less polluted than most Asian trails that I absolved. In its vastness, getting lost is not that unusual, as the signage wipes off the further you go. You can start at the Will Rogers State Park, where the paid parking, keeps your vehicle safe. Depending on season you may catch buckwheats flowering, sticky monkey bush in its neon bloom, the brick orange of California poppy, the cherry blossom-like of lemonade berry, the gushing whiteness of Chaparral Yucca next to edibles like sage and lupine.

High above everything, the Pacific fog hijacks you from the car maze of LA, if alone on a meditative stroll, suddenly you feel freedom unlike anywhere in the city. Now, it is you and the nature. Hiking is liberating.

Spring bloom in California Malibu hiking trails Malibu hiking trails Malibu hiking trails Malibu hiking trails
For a similar, yet closer to the ocean and the Pacific Coastal Highway, experience the Malibu hiking trails. Spanning over the stretchy coastal community, there are countless routes, some signposted other unmarked. With a local friend we embarked on shorter, about an hour-long hikes. Spring thrust surprises on each trail. This April millions of monarch butterflies, migrating north, swiped over the coast in hiving gusts of flickering wings. Sadly many get injured and lose a wing or chip some while madly seeking community. We were awestruck by their numbers. One could forage too, with edibles like wild fennel, rapeseed, sunflowers and cereal grains lining the hillsides for a plentiful spring feast. The Cameron Nature Preserve trail has very limited parking along the last houses before the road ends, but rarely full. We only met two musicians and a fit lady marching up.
The Malibu Creek trail further north is more frequented. M.A.S.H. staged there so fans visit specifically for the snaps on the scene. When lucky with rain, jump in the rock pool to freshen up your weary legs. The longer eight-mile loop is a close enough encounter with barred nature. Park at 1925 La Virgenes Rd, Calabassas.
Unlike the sweat in gymnasiums, their artificial air, ears-busting cardio machines accelerating the human rat race, and heavy weighted shrieks of macho males, moving in nature gives you freedom, space and calm, perhaps even inspiration.

Experience California through sustainable, health-conscious and mind-opening activities. Hike LA and you will see it like a local. Feeling happy, replenishing Vitamin D outdoors, the endorphins last longer after an hour or more in the oxygenated La La Land.

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