A Work Trip to Austin, Texas

I’ve been very fortunate to get to travel for work a few times a year. Most recently, I was in Austin, Texas for 4 days and got to explore the city a little bit in between work.

On my first night, I had a lovely dinner at Dai Due, a butcher shop themed restaurant that’s a little bit away from the main downtown area. The combination sounded a bit weird, but their Chicken Liver Mousse with Pickled Green Strawberries, Macerated Strawberries, and Grilled Buttermilk Bread was phenomenal! The creamy liver mousse contrasted very nicely with the tart/sourness of the pickled green strawberries and the sweetness of the macerated strawberries. I think this was my favorite meal of the entire trip.

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On the morning of my first full day in Austin, I made the walk over to the State Capitol building just a little after sunrise. The building was quite beautiful in the early morning light and I had a lovely walk around the grounds. The inside of the building was just as impressive. They open every day at 7am and offer free tours as well for visitors.

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My first official Austin lunch was at Iron Works BBQ, where I had some amazing brisket that just melts in your mouth. I know it’s not one of the famous BBQ spots where people line up for hours, but it was pretty darn good!

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We also made the trek out to the South Congress Bridge to try to catch the bats leaving the bridge for the night. Our hotel gave us the tip of arriving by 7:30pm and going across the bridge to a small grassy area just under the bridge. This was a great idea as we had a great view of the bats coming out. You have to wait about 15-20 minutes after the sun has officially started setting. Then a few bats will come out first, to scope out the situation, and then go back in. Then, if they’re going to come out, they start flying out like confetti being shot out of a confetti machine. It’s truly an incredible sight!

I had a great time in Austin and had some truly amazing food. I can’t rave enough about the meals that I had in Austin – everything was so good! I would love to go back one day to explore some more.

Takashi

Takashi has been on my list for a very long time. When it came time to pick a restaurant for my birthday dinner, I knew exactly where I was going to go! Takashi, located on Hudson Street in the West Village, is a marriage between Japanese yakiniku and Korean barbeque. A lot of the dishes feature traditional Japanese dishes paired with Korean flavors.

We had reservations for 4 people (they actually only allow reservations for 4+ people) and was seated right away. At 6:30pm, all the tables were full and most of the counter spots were taken as well. They take your jackets and store them in closets so they don’t smell like barbecued meat, which I thought was very nice.

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We opted to start with a few shared appetizers and then move onto the yakiniku. Our first appetizer to arrive was their Instagram-famous Niku-Uni ($26), which features raw chuck flap topped with sea urchin and served on top of a shiso leaf and seaweed. I really enjoyed each bite (spoiler, I had 2). The uni was really fresh and creamy, and all the flavors meshed really well together.

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We also decided to be adventurous and try the Testicargot ($12), or cow balls cooked escargot-style with garlic shiso butter. I’ve had bull penis as well as turkey balls before and neither of them was a good experience, so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one either. It was actually quite pleasant! To be fair, the cow balls were smothered in the garlic shiso butter sauce so you couldn’t really tell what you were eating. But, I did enjoy the texture and taste a lot more.

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Our last appetizer was the Stewed Beef Tendon Casserole ($16), which was more stew than casserole. I really enjoyed this dish. The beef tendon was very tender and the stew was extremely flavorful and fragrant. I kind of wish the dish was a little bit bigger because I wanted more beef tendon!

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We sampled a variety of meats during the yakiniku phase of our dinner. We ended up trying:

  • Kobe Kalbi, or short rib ($26)
  • Kobe Ribeye ($26)
  • Beef Belly ($20)
  • The Tongue Experience ($25) with Tan-saki, Tan-suji, and Tan-moto
  • Sirloin

All of the meats we ordered were really good, but I think our favorite of the night was the Kobe Ribeye, which we ended up placing a second order. Everything tasted really fresh and a lot of the meats practically melted in our mouths (except for the tongue, of course).

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They only have one kind of dessert here – Homemade Madagascar Vanilla Soft Serve ($5), which you can add a variety of toppings. I went with the, “I’ll have it with the works” ($10), which has every single topping and your choice of a syrup. It comes with Shiratama (mochi), Kurogoma Kinako (black sesame and soybean flour), and azuki (red beans). I opted for the green tea syrup, which helped to cut the sweetness of the ice cream. It was really, really good and made me think of my time in Japan last year where the soft serve is definitely better than it is here.

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Service was attentive and they changed our grill a few times during dinner, which helped prevent the meat from sticking. At most barbeque places I’ve been to, they have to grease the grill. Here they don’t grease it at all, which I guess speaks to the quality of the grill. I did enjoy yakiniku more in Japan, but I think Takashi was definitely my best experience in the US.

Las Vegas Day 5 + 6

Technically, we didn’t stay in LV for Day 5 and only spent half of Day 6 there. Still, since it was where we started off and ended, I’ll label it like so!

X and I woke up early to pick up the rental car from the airport and then drove back to pick up S and M. We ended up with a slow start since there was a hot choco issue in the car. Our first stop was Boulder City to pick up some sandwiches for lunch and to have breakfast at World Famous Coffee Cup, which S found online.

They were featured on Diners, Dives, and Drive-Thru’s so we wanted to try it. I made my own omelet with mushrooms, cheese, and avocado. Every omelet comes with a side of toast and your choice of fruit, hash browns, or home fries. I, in an attempt to be healthier, went with fruit. End result? I couldn’t finish all of it! The waitresses were all super nice and I really enjoyed our breakfast.

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After breakfast, we made our way to the Hoover Dam. We arrived around 11:30am and brought tickets for the 12:00pm tour. We paid $30 for all three parts of the Dam – the dam tour, the plant tour, and the Visitor’s Center. You start off with a short video explaining the building of the Hoover Dam. Then you’re separated depending on the tour you’re going on. If you do the whole tour package, you’re first taken on a plant tour and then switched to another tour guide to do the dam tour.

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Both of our tour guides were nice, informative, and very professional. It does get a bit cramped in the dam part of the tour so if you’re prone to claustrophobia, you might want to reconsider doing that portion of the tour. It is really quite amazing that they were able to build the Hoover Dam in such a short time and without the same machinery that we have now. It’s definitely worth a visit – whether or not you’re a history buff or an architecture buff.

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Expect to spend about 2-3 hours and plan accordingly. I think we definitely didn’t plan enough time and ended up staying later than we thought we would.

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After the Hoover Dam, we swapped drivers for the drive to the Grand Canyon South Rim. M drove and S navigated while X and I took a nap. We swapped again a few hours later, so I got to experience riding shotgun while driving in the dark with no roadside lamps. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, so it was a new experience! We arrived at about 6pm at the Maswik Lodge, our home for the night.

The plan was to get some sleep and wake up at 6am to catch the sunrise at the South Rim. End result – we got up at 6am to a floor full of snow!

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Las Vegas Day 4

In retrospect, it was probably not a good idea to have a ton of drinks, get back to the hotel at 12am, and then have to wake up at 4am to make a sunrise hot air balloon. Despite the fact that we complained the entire time, I think we all agreed at the end that it was well worth it.

We had brought Groupons with Vegas Balloon Rides and opted to do a sunrise ride instead of a midday ride. For those skeptical about buying a Groupon for this, don’t be! Redemption was super easy and everyone in the crew was super nice. You make your reservation and call the night before to confirm if the flight is going as scheduled. We had to meet at their office by 5:45am, which was a bit hard!

Once everyone has assembled, they drive you out to a lot where they blow up the balloon and then you’re off! Our pilot told us that this was their first flight in 15 days, so we felt very lucky indeed. We managed to get over the canyons, which was beautiful. It was a bit scary being up so high, but the view and the experience itself was so worth it!

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We ended our ride with champagne with the crew (none of them actually had any) and they even drove us back to our Strip hotel. We asked to be dropped off at the Cosmopolitan since we were planning to grab breakfast and then naps.

Breakfast was at Eggslut, which was recommended by a friend who had it in Los Angeles. Eggslut is a pretty popular new breakfast spot that specializes in egg dishes for breakfast.

I split the Fairfax Sandwich (cage-free soft scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and sriracha mayo in a warm brioche bun) and the Slut (cage-free coddled egg on top of a smooth potato puree, poached in a glass jar and topped with gray salt). To be honest, both were super delicious in their own way. It’s really hard to decide which one was better!

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The soft scrambled eggs in the Fairfax Sandwich were really soft and gooey – really hit the spot. But the Slut was also really good – the potato and egg mixed together very well and tasted great both on the toasted baguette and by itself.

Las Vegas Day 2 + 3

Our second day in Vegas began with a late brunch at the Wicked Spoon in the Cosmopolitan. The Wicked Spoon is one of the highest rated buffets on Yelp and TripAdvisor, so we knew we had to go during our week in Vegas. The buffet isn’t as big as say the Bellagio or Caesar’s Palace, but I definitely think the food is better.

I particularly like that a lot of the dishes are in small pots or pans – this really helps me portion control while eating!

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We ended the day with Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles LOVE, which was an amazing show. I highly recommend it – especially if you’re a Beatles fan. X is and he absolutely loved it.

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Our third day in Vegas started off bright and early at the Neon Museum, which is about a 15 minute car ride off the Strip. We had booked their first tour of the day since we also wanted to hit the Mob Museum and Fremont Street Experience that day.

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The Neon Museum was really interesting and our tour guide, Beth, was informative, funny, and charismatic. I think we all enjoyed the tour very much. It was really nice seeing all the old neon signs and learn about neon. I had no idea how neon was made before this, but Beth really passed on a lot of info during the tour.

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Our night ended at the Laundry Room after a fantastic Happy Hour at Park on Fremont (4pm – 7pm daily with discounted appetizers and cheap drinks). The Laundry Room was exactly what we needed and was a solid highlight of our trip. The Laundry Room is a speakeasy, so you have to text to make reservations ahead of time. The waitress will then let you in and explain their menu. They have a set menu of drinks, but their mixologist could also come tailor a drink to your tastes. I tried both options and loved both. Hands down, some of the best drinks I’ve ever had I my life.

 

Las Vegas Day 1

Back in December, a few friends and I suddenly decided an impromptu trip to Las Vegas was going to happen in January. We started planning in the beginning of December. Or well, S and I planned. The boys, X and M, decided to leave most of the planning to us. We all decided a week would be a good amount of time to explore Las Vegas and allow for mid-week trip to the Grand Canyon (more on this later). Since X and I were flying from the East Coast, we both flew in the night before.

So technically, my first day in Las Vegas was a Friday night – but by the time I had landed, the day might as well have been over! So, I’m starting with our first official day, which was a Saturday, or AKA the day that S and M arrived.

After settling in, we headed over to Bruxie for a late breakfast that wasn’t quiet brunch. Bruxie, located near the NYNY, serves chicken and waffles. After much contemplation, I opted for their Buffalo Bleu Fried Chicken Waffle Sandwich, which features fried chicken coated in buffalo sauce and served with crisp vegetable slaw, bleu cheese crumbles, chives, and ranch dressing.

The chicken was very moist and tender on the inside and super crunchy on the outside. Surprisingly, the “structural integrity” (words that get thrown around when you travel with engineers) of the waffle was very strong. You can hold it up and eat it like a real sandwich without it falling apart!

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Our plan for the day was exploring the Strip, which we did very efficiently. S and I had read online that you can’t walk the Strip in one day or you’ll be wrecked after walking through 2 hotels. These people were obviously not New Yorkers (or people who have lived in NYC, like X, S, and M have)!

We walked by the Paris hotel, which is pretty hard to miss with the neon hot air balloon and miniature Eiffel Tower. They have an Eiffel Tower Experience, where you can go to the top of the tower and get a gorgeous view of the Bellagio Fountains. We didn’t opt for it, but I’m sure the view is spectacular!

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We also spent a fair amount of time at the Bellagio, checking out their Lunar New Year themed Conservatory and their gorgeous lobby ceiling. The highlight, however, is definitely their Fountains and the show. The Bellagio Fountain show comes on every half hour during the day and then every 15 minutes during the night. We saw the show a few times during the day and a few times during the night.

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Atoboy

When it came time to decide on a restaurant to have our annual pre-NYE dinner for my sister’s birthday (because who wants to have to deal with prix fixes on the day of!), she decided she wanted to try out Atoboy, a Korean-inspired small plates restaurant in the Flatiron area. Opened by the former chef de cuisine of Jungsik, the menu at Atoboy features your choice of 3 plates for $36. The tasting menu comes with a bowl of white rice or you can add on their seasonal rice for an extra $2.

I arrived earlier with my mom but they seated us while we waited for the rest of our party. Both the hostess and our waiter confirmed with us that we were celebrating a birthday, a note I had put in our Resy reservation. I love this small attention to detail – something that might be or has been overlooked at other restaurants. Our waiter waited until our entire party had arrived before reviewing the menu with us, as we were new visitors.

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Pom Pomme Cocktails with complimentary seaweed chips

 

We all wanted to try something different from the menu, so we tried to diversify our tasting menu choices as much as possible. For our first course, we picked:

  • Tofu with Soybean, King oyster mushroom, and Mustard
  • Littleneck Clams with Avocado, Rice cracker, and Gochugaru
  • Fluke with Moo radish, Pomelo, and Sesame seed
  • Beef Tartare with Oyster and Potato

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The tofu was the biggest dish of the bunch, but I think my favorite was the Littleneck Clams. The avocado puree-like sauce that it came with was really complimentary to the spicy sauce they used for the clams. The Beef Tartare was also really enjoyable – good quality beef with a great marinade. My least favorite was definitely the Fluke – I’m not a big grapefruit fan so the pomelo was a turnoff.

For our second course, we picked:

  • Asparagus with Spicy cod roe, Shallot, and Egg yolk
  • Egg with Sea urchin, Watercress, and Quinoa
  • Corn with Taleggio, Bacon, and Doenjang
  • Squid stuffed with Pork and Shrimp, topped with Salsa verde

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My favorite dish is a toss up between the Egg and the Squid. I opted to pay an extra $10 for fresh Californian Sea Urchin instead of a puree and it was well worth it. The crispness of the cucumber in the egg really contrasted with the smooth texture of the egg and sea urchin. I really liked the taste contrast as well – the egg had a light and fresh taste while the sea urchin was salty and a little sweet. The squid stuffed with pork was very fragrant and flavorful. It was possibly the most flavorful dish of the night. In fact, all dishes in our second course was spectacular and I think it was my favorite section of the night.

For our last course, we picked:

  • Octopus with Kimchi, Chorizo, and Parsley
  • NY Strip Steak with Arugula, Poblano, and Wild sesame oil
  • Brisket with Foie gras, Ginger, and Garlic

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We ended up with two orders of the Brisket because we were very attracted to the concept of foie gras brisket! Again, all the dishes in this course were spectacular and really delicious. I had a brisket dish to myself and boy, oh boy, was it good! The brisket came apart the moment you bit into it and was not stringy at all. The foie gras made it a very, very rich dish. I actually ended up dumping my entire bowl of rice into the leftover sauce (Side note: The seaweed rice was phenomenal and I highly recommend selling out the extra $2 for it!).

For dessert, they have three options (not included in the Tasting Menu). We opted to go with the:

  • Honey Panna Cotta with black rice vinegar and pomegranate
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake with yogurt and pumpkin seeds.

Our waiter brought out the Pumpkin Cheesecake with a candle in it for my sister and comp-ed us their third desert, Sujeonggwa Granita with burrata and walnuts. I honestly do not have a single bad thing to say about any of the desserts! However, if I had to pick a clear favorite it would probably be the Pumpkin Cheesecake, which was silky and smooth. The Sujeonggwa Granita was also a brand new experience and I’m so happy I got to try it. Sujeonggwa is a traditional Korean cinnamon punch, which they made into fine granita to top the burrata. The result was a sweet and cinnamon-y topping for the otherwise flavorless burrata. The inclusion of tiny fruit cubes and walnuts added texture to the gooey burrata.

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Service was attentive, personable, and on point. We really felt like we were taken care of and as I mentioned earlier, I really appreciate that they made my sister’s birthday dinner special. I’m not one to expect comp-ed desserts or what not for birthday celebrations, but I really do appreciate it when I don’t have to pretend to use the bathroom in order to find my waiter/waitress to ask them if we can add a candle to a dessert.

Another HUGE selling point for me: the music was low and tasteful. We were able to talk and hear each other perfectly find without having to shout at each other. And finally, extra points for being so well-lit. Sometimes, candlelight is romantic. But there’s a difference between being romantic and having to use my iPhone flashlight to read the menu!

All in all, 5 out 5 for Atoboy. In fact, I’d say they’re a 10/5!