Of everywhere I’ve traveled and eaten the last few years, I receive the most questions about the underwater restaurant I visited in the Maldives! Named Ithaa, meaning “pearl” in Dhivehi, the local language, Ithaa is a restaurant 5 meters underwater at the Conrad Rangali Island resort!
Dan and I stayed a few nights at the Conrad Bora Bora in August, shortly after French Polynesia re-opened to Americans on July 15th. We had an amazing time at the Conrad. The Conrad is top notch, super classy, and much fancier than the Hilton that we stayed at on Mo’orea or the Intercontinental Tahiti. But, it was also more expensive and difficult to reach. This is Dan and my review of the Conrad for those planning a visit – happy trip planning!
Dan and I visited South Korea in November 2019 and, like many tourists, we had a few discussions about whether to visit the North/South Korean border, referred to as the Demilitarized Zone or the “DMZ.” I very much wanted to and quite frankly, could not imagine going all the way to South Korea without at least trying to catch a glimpse of the infamous country. Dan, on the other hand, had zero interest and preferred to spend his time on more “positive” things. We compromised by doing a half-day guided tour from Seoul to the DMZ with I Love Seoul Tour, which tour got totally restructured due to an “African Swine Flu outbreak.” Reflecting back on our half-day tour, Dan enjoyed it more than he thought he would, and I was underwhelmed. Interesting and historical for sure, but not a “must see” in my opinion. This post is about our personal experience in November 2019. Information and safety at the Korean border changes daily, as do what things tourists can access, and travelers should always review the most up-to-date information before engaging in such a trip.
In planning our trop to Seoul, Korea, Dan and I were very excited to try allll of the food, but we also knew that we would have some trouble accessing some of the more local cuisine, especially of the street food variety, so I booked three (!!!) food tours during the course of our six day trip. Nope, I do not regret it at all and each one was quite delicious. Our first food tour was centered around Gwangjang Market, a busy market frequented by locals, as well as some tourists in the know. More so now with the release of Netflix’s Street Food Seoul episode – featuring Gwangjang Market.
We entered Gwangjang Market early on a Sunday morning and despite it being rainy and cold, the market was largely open and packed with people, mostly Koreans. Our tour guide walked us through the most famous intersection of Gwangjang, as seen on Netflix’s Street Food Seoul edition, and pointed out some less authentic, more tourist oriented stalls in this popular area. He advised us to avoid them at all costs.
Our tour guide then led us to our fist proper stop – a humble stall serving noodles and dumplings – as featured on Netflix’s Street Food Seoul edition (!!), and we sat down for our first taste of the day (well, we did have some breakfast, which would later regret). Sitting at this food stall was quite exciting, as we did not realize this famous one was on the tour! Second surprise, the benches affixed around the cooking area are all heated! Totally genius and this perk made our meal much more comfortable on a cold morning. Our first food was two bowls of kimchi – the traditional red version that we often see is the US and a green variety that, according to our guide, is only found in Korea. We were also given a bottle of soju – Korean liquor – to drink with our breakfast… The kimchi was, as expected, way better than anything I’ve ever had in the US, and the green kimchi was my favorite of the two. It was absolutely delicious! The soju was a little much for a Sunday morning but, when in Seoul? We managed to finish the bottle.
Seoul is the capital of South Korea, the lower portion of the Korean peninsula (the upper portion being North Korea). Seoul is a huge city located in the northwest part of South Korea on the Han River. I have been wanting to visit Seoul for a few years, and Dan and I finally pulled the trigger and visited for six days in November as part of a Seoul/Tokyo trip over our Thanksgiving holiday. I had a bit of a difficult planning our trip and figuring out what to see and eat, so here are the highlights of our trip, as two thirty-something American travelers who are certainly not experts on Korea! We loved our time, found Seoul to be a surprising budget destination, and we absolutely need to go back for the cherry blossoms!
Excitingly, JFK recently added two (!!) Priority Pass lounges to its roster: the Primeclass Lounge in Terminal 1 and the Air India Maharaja Lounge in Terminal 4. This makes 3 Priority Pass lounges in Terminal 1 and 2 Priority Pass lounges in Terminal 4! Very exciting since the current Priority Pass lounge situation in both terminals is busting at the seams. For example, a 30 minute wait for Wingtips Lounge last summer…
Both the Primeclass Lounge and the Air India Maharaja Lounge opened to Priority Pass members in mid-November 2020, and Dan and I just happened to be flying out of Terminal 1 on Thanksgiving Eve for our trip to South Korea and Japan – perfect timing! Of course, we had to visit the new Primeclass Lounge in Terminal 1! Plus, a visit to the Primeclass Lounge fit perfectly into our late night departure (or rather, early morning – 12:50 AM), as the other Priority Pass lounges were not open during the majority of our time in Terminal 1. For example, Korean Air Lounge closes at 8:30 PM and the Air France Lounge does not permit Priority Pass members until 11:30 PM (they do also allow Priority Pass guests in the morning).
The Primeclass Lounge is located in JFK’s Terminal 1 post-security all the way in the back of the terminal, near Gates 8 and 9. Walk all the way down the terminal to find the entrance; a bar/shop in front of the entrance to the Prime Class lounge nearly blocks view of the entrance entirely from a distance.
Our flight left the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and Terminal 1 was, not surprisingly, super crowded when we arrived, even though it was already late in the evening. after searching for the Primeclass Lounge, we eventually found it, and luckily only had to wait behind one person to check in. However, a line multiple people deep quickly formed behind us. Sign-in was not as quick as it should have been, and required our Priority Pass and boarding passes, per usual. The person doing the check-in also gave us two free drink tickets and explained how the lounge works. I think this “explanation” is part of the reason why checkin was not quick. The same could have been accomplished by a handout of signage inside the lounge.
Access to the lounge is down the stairs behind the check-in desk; the lounge is actually located below Gates 8 and 9. There is also an elevator.
Upon entry into the actual lounge, our first impression was that the Primeclass Lounge is crowded. I’m not sure if this is due to the date we flew, the newness of the lounge, or if its always this way, but it was packed. We managed to snag two seats at the bar and set up there, as that was all that was available. The crowds did disburse by the time we left at 11:00 PM, but not until just before then (Terminal 1 is know to have some very late flights!).
Setting aside the crowds on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, guests enter the lounge in the bar area, which consists of a bar and some bar top seating, then opens up into a room with a food buffet and standard lounge seats, which were almost all taken on our visit. Toward the back of the lounge, there is a non-alcoholic beverage station, as well as private bathrooms (which could have been cleaner). Primeclass was decorated nicely, with some very cool New York famed pictures around the lounge and mirrored ceilings.
Since we sat at the bar, I’ll start with my review of the drinks. As mentioned, every patron receives two complimentary drink tickets to be exchanged for an alcoholic beverage at the bar – but only certain beverages, which are explained on a little menus sprinkled around the bar. On our visit the complimentary drinks were a selection of red, white, or sparkling wine and a few types of beers. However, the fancier beers, such as Blue Moon, took two tickets. In addition to the complimentary beverages, cocktails were on sale for $18 US (!!) and you could buy extra wine and beer, too. I tried the complimentary sparkling and red wines. Both were just ok; I would have been annoyed if I had paid for them. The bartender was pleasant and she made drinks pretty quickly.
In terms of the food, all food is set up on a buffet in one corner of the lounge. Almost as soon as we arrived, the lounge announced that it would stop serving food in a few minutes. We visited the buffet shortly after that announcement, but there was almost nothing left (in the lounge’s defense, it was nearly 10 PM at this hour). In fact, the only things left were a few yogurts, a couple pieces of fruit, a bowl of pasta, and some couscous. I imagine the buffet would be more robust during normal dining hours. I would like to come back and try the lounge when it is fully functional. We did try the pasta, and it was quite good. Know that if you have a late flight, there may not be food in Primeclass.
I also grabbed a lot of bottled waters and a Diet Coke from the self-serve drink area near the restrooms. I also looked at the restrooms, which while spacious and private, could have used a cleaning. I will write that off to it being a very crowded travel day.
We stayed in the Primeclass Lounge for our 2 drinks and then left around 11:15 PM and got in line for the Air France Lounge on the opposite side of Terminal 1, and yes there was a short line! You can read about the Air France Lounge here and yes, it is by far the best Priority Pass lounge in JFK’s Terminal 1. Of note – Priority Pass members are not granted access in the evening until 11:30 PM and lines start to form around 11:15 PM. There is actually an entire area set up for Priority Pass members waiting to get in to the Air France Lounge in the evening. If your flight time works out, the Air France Lounge is completely worth the wait. A full buffet was still operational until at least 12:20, when we left for our flight. The pumpkin pie and whipped cream was a special Thanksgiving Eventreat!
In sum, the Primeclass Lounge fills a time void for Priority Pass lounges in JFK’s Terminal 1 and provides additional lounge space, which is much needed in Terminal 1. Hopefully we just visited on an extremely busy day and Primeclass will perform better in the future. I am excited to return and try it at normal hours.
STEAL OUR LOUNGE
Primeclass Lounge: JFK Terminal 1, Post-Security, Near Gates 8 & 9. Open Monday, Thursday, and Sunday 05:30 – 00:00, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 09:00 – 00:00. May 4 hour stay. Two complimentary alcoholic drinks per person. Other alcohol and “premium” drinks and cocktails cost money. Printer available in the lounge. Complimentary access for Priority Pass members. The General Public can buy access for $59.00 for four hours.
Korean Air Business Lounge: New York JFK, Terminal 1, air-side (post-security), near Gate 3. Open 14:00 – 20:30 daily. Accepts Priority Pass and Lounge Buddy, and possibly other cards.
Air France Lounge: JFK Terminal 1, airside near Gate 1. Open daily 6:00 – 17:30 and 23:00 – 1:00 (it is actually open all day, but shuts out Priority Pass members between 17:30 and 23:00). Offers wifi, showers, and refreshments – including Champagne and a Clarins wellness area (“during certain times”)!
ON A BUDGET
If you’re traveling on a budget, I would not pay for entrance into the Primeclass Lounge, – its not worth it. But the food options in Terminal 1 are generally terrible. Eat before the airport and maybe grab a beer and a snack at that bar/kiosk obscuring the Primeclass Lounge entrance.
It’s the holiday season and time to review one of my favorite holiday spots in New York City! You’ve all seen it – Rolf’s German Restaurant on the East Side (22nd and 3rd). This is the famously booked restaurant that is decked out to the MAX in Christmas lights, baubles, dolls, and Santas. Seemingly forgotten until the Christmas rush, Rolf’s offers authentic Alsatian food that is good year-round. However, it is best at Christmas, despite how difficult it may be to score a reservation. Well, this will be my 3rd year going and I’m to give you all the required information to secure that coveted reservation and enjoy a holiday meal (albeit next year)!
First off, if you are looking for a reservation during holiday season, you cannot book too early. I always make reservations in September or early October via telephone (there is NO internet booking capability) early in the day. Rolf’s takes down handwritten reservations and stops answering its phone once November hits (and often sooner if booked up). If you miss the reservation call period and you are in NYC, stop by and try to make a reservation in person. Weekday lunches are your best bet for last minute reservations during the holiday season.
You should also know that Rolf’s has some interesting rules regarding meals during the holiday season. As of this year (2019), Rolf’s only takes reservations of parties of up to 4 people and each reservation is limited to 1 hour and 15 minutes (they will ask you to leave)! Seating is tight and service is quick, but its worth the effort, even for a meager 75 minutes! Also, since the restaurant is so tiny, this is not the place to come with loads of Christmas shopping – there’s simply nowhere to store it!
If you are unable to score a reservation during the holidays, you can wait in line for the bar area (for cocktails only, no food is served in the bar during the holiday season). To do this arrive, as early as possible and join the long queue on 22nd Street. You will probably wait hours for an overpriced cocktail, but this is an option to get that Instagram shot. Bucket list: check. That being said, if you’re local, decorations go up in early October and stay up well into the new year, so you can go and get that shot early or late. We actually took Dan’s cousins in October of this year just to see it! It was not crowded at all and we could stay as long as we wanted!
In any case, if you have a reservation, review the menu prior to arriving at Rolf’s. You do not want to waste your 1.25 hours looking at the menu. You want to waste it taking Instagram pics! Rolf’s makes choosing your food pretty easy – their menu is online and they don’t do specials during the holidays.
The one wild card is the drink menu, which is usually pretty fantastic! Rolf’s always offers fun holiday cocktails, as well as a long schnapps list and beer by the stein. Be ready to make a quick decision. Due to the time crunch, we generally order drinks as soon as the waiter comes by. Usually a Gluhwein, but sometimes we go rogue!
As you will see from reviewing the menu, the menu at Rolf’s is fairly small and is solely compromised of traditional Alsatian dishes. Think pork and veal schnitzels, potato and cabbage based sides, and even rabbit. For the most part, main dishes cost around $35 USD and come with two sides. While a bit pricey, it is New York and Rolf’s dishes are HUGE!
My go-to meal is generally the above-pictured veal schnitzel, which is served with spatzel (German pasta), a lemon, and green beans. The schnitzel is pounded very thin and is always tasty. The spatzel is my favorite side dish, and I barely touched the green beans (I had better things to eat). I usually also order a side of German potato salad to split amongst the table, which was absolutely large enough to split between 4 people.
Other popular dishes are the meatloaf, which is even larger than the schnitzel and is served with purple cabbage and mashed potatoes, and the Jaegar Schnitzel, a non-breaded piece of meat served in a mushroom cream sauce, that is served with green beans and spatzel!
Despite the dishes being huge, I always order dessert, which are really good! Recently, I’ve split the Black Forest Cake and the Apple Strudel, which is served warm(!), with my fellow dinners. Both are terribly delicious and huge.
All in all, I think Rolf’s is a super fun NYC Christmas experience. Its worth the annoyances, but only if you book early or go at an off time. I don’t think waiting in line for just drinks is worth it, but that’s up to you. If you go that route, arrive early and be prepared to wait a long time and be super crowded inside the standing-room only bar.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Rolf’s German Restaurant:281 Third Ave, New York, NY 10010. T: 212-477-4750 and 212-473-8718. IG: rolfsnyc. Open 12h – 20h, closed on Monday through Labor Day. Christmas decor up October – May.
ON A BUDGET
Rolf’s at Christmas is definitely a worthy splurge! If you are on a super tight budget, you can wait in line for access to the bar – but drinks are still $18 – or find another fun bar decorated to the nines for Christmas! There are a lot in NYC!
Dan and I made our triumphant return to Rome Italy between Christmas and New Year’s to celebrate my 35th birthday!! We originally visited Rome in 2008 as a law school summer study abroad and LOVED it but, unfortunately, had not been back – despite having been to Italy many times over the last decade… Since my birthday is in late December – the 26th to be precise – we visited Rome between Christmas and New Years. I was a bit concerned about the timing, the weather, what to do, etc., but we ended up having the perfect trip and now I really want to go back!
Le Grand Colbert is an old-school Parisian haunt near the Louvre (and even closer to the Bourse (aka stock exchange)). Its also right around the corner from Ellsworth, an adorable restaurant that I recommend! Being old-school, Le Grand Colbert has been around for years – since 1900 (current owners since 1992) – and its everything that you would imagine in such a bistrot – gorgeous interior, fancy waiters dressed in full suits, and classic French fare. The building also has tons of history, originally dating to 1637. Be sure to check out the details in the small details, including the mosaic floor!
Doesn’t le Grand Colbert seem like the perfect spot? Well, its also, and somewhat unfortunately, quite popular with the tourist crowds due to the fact that it was featured in the hit American move, Something’s Gotta Give (GREAT movie though!). So while its a classic, you will not likely be enjoying a meal at Le Grand Colbert with Parisians, but with other tourists. Even then, however, Le Grand Colbert is a pretty fabulous meal in Paris, especially for those on a first time (or once in a life time visit)!
As you can probably guess, I dined at Le Grand Colbert on my Ladies Trip to Paris earlier this year, but my mother and I visited Le Grand Colbert way back in 2004 when I studied abroad in Paris! We loved it then and it was just as good this time around. One of the best things about Le Grand Colbert is its classic, and lengthy, Parisian/South Burgundy menu. You want something classically French, its probably on this menu. Le Grand Colbert also boasts a great wine list! Every table at Le Grand Colbert starts with olives, potato chips (my favorite!), and crusty French bread. We paired this with a 2014 Bordeaux from Haut-Médoc from that excellent wine list.
I started my meal with a bowl of French Onion Soup because well, I was in Paris. This one was particularly good and super cheesy! Highly recommended. My only complaint is that it was too much food for me, ha!
I then ordered a classic Parisian dish and one of my favorites, steak au poivre. This is basically a deliciously rare steak in a pepper corn sauce. My steak was served with a slice of tomato with Parmesean crust, really good haricot vert (green beans), and pommes frites! Super Parisian, and super delicious! Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of other peoples food, but other popular choices were the very fresh scallops, and the huge pot of moules-frites (mussels and fries)!
For dessert, because, Paris, I ordered a classic crème brûlée. It was served flaming, and it was absolutely delicious!
STEAL OUR DINNER
Le Grand Colbert: 2 Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris, France. Open daily 12h – 00h. Reservations recommended and can easily be made online. Not cheap, but not as expensive as you would think. Below are some pictures of the large menu (but not all of it) for price point comparison. While touristy, I do recommend this restaurant and would absolutely eat here again. Le Grand Colbert is also good about reserving tables for large groups without issue, a plus for groups or families!
Ellsworth is an adorable little restaurant near the Louvre! With a little American flair and lots of Parisian flair, Ellsworth is fun stop not too far from a very touristy part of Paris. I have been to Ellsworth twice for lunch; once in the summer with Dan and once in the winter on my Paris Ladies Trip. I enjoyed both of my meals and will definitely return again!