Author Archives: brianamasson

Portland Maine

 

 

 

This June I had the joy of traveling to Portland, Maine for my cousin’s wedding. If you know me at all you know how much I LOVE to explore a new city or country. The Northeast is a place that I have wanted to return to after my years of living in NYC. But let’s be honest when you are young and broke and have no car it is hard to explore as much as you dream of.

 

 

So I have heard again and again how fabulous the food scene is in Portland so I was thrilled to try everything. I was in luck because my sister Noelle & her husband Jeremy were my dates for the weekend who love food as much as I do. Unfortunately, Josh had to miss out because of work which was a bummer, but c’est la vie.

 

 

I love coffee so the first thing I do in any city is find the best place to start my day. Luckily our Airbnb was located in downtown Portland where you can walk anywhere in town. I began my day at Tandem Coffee in the West End. This fabulous coffee shop and bakery is located inside an old gas station and has absolutely delicious food and coffee. The space is airy and bright and has tons of outdoor seating. I loved it so much I went back every morning 🙂 !

 

 

 

And because I also love pilates I decided I must take a private lesson while in town. The lovely Meredith Coffin of Springboard Pilates offered to teach me bright and early on Saturday morning. I am always on the lookout for excellent studios and teachers for my fitness concierge service Jette Sette and I needed to expand my network to include Portland. After a fabulous reformer workout on the Centerline – Balanced Body equipment I explored the town by foot. Grabbing a fresh pressed green juice at Farm Truck Juice, I took the long way back to the apartment. (The local ginger they use at Farm Truck is insane!)

 

 

 

On Saturday the wedding took place in Falmouth just north of Portland with some of the most beautiful weather and scenery imaginable. We lucked out! The wedding was a small family event which left us the evening free to explore the town and eat, of course.

 

 

 

We started out at Central Provisions in Portland near the port which is known for their small plates and craft cocktails. Obviously we weren’t starving after eating at the wedding BUT we still had to order numerous dishes including the bone marrow toast. Our dessert course took us to Eventide Oyster Company where we finished our evening with a delightful bottle of sparkling rosé from Austria (I know! Not a French rosé – definitely not my norm but yummy) and the best oysters that I have ever eaten. Seriously. Eventide serves the oysters with tabasco and horseradish ice. This is brilliant! I need this every time I eat an oyster.

 

 

On Sunday our big adventure was driving northeast to Georgetown where my cousin in law’s family have a private island. On Hen Island there are 10 cottages which are passed down through the families starting around the late 1800’s. You can only get to the island by boat and during the summer season a full time chef lives on the island. Where do we sign up?!

 

 

Before getting on the boat we enjoyed lobster rolls at Five Islands Lobster right on the fishing wharf. So full disclosure, I am not a huge lobster fan. I know, I’m crazy! But these lobster rolls were awesome. More lobster than roll and no crazy mayo sauce which I can’t stand. Yummy!

 

 

After our adventure on the island we headed back to Portland where there was a heat wave of 90+ degrees. Way too hot. We decided our final meal should be at the highly regarded Fore Street which has been nominated for “Outstanding Restaurant” 3 times in recent years from the James Beard Foundation. They are known for the food sustainability and most of their dishes are cooked with a wood burning oven, grill or turnspit. We didn’t have a reservation, but we decided to try anyways. We put our name in at the bar and luckily enjoyed a fantastic meal 45 min later. The food was cooked to perfection and the simplicity and flavor in each dish was amazing. This is how I like my food to taste!

 

 

So I basically ate my way through Portland and enjoyed every moment. Next time you get a chance to explore the Northeast please don’t miss this delightful town. The architecture, the food and the people were such a treat, I only wish I had more time.

 

 

Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos 2016

 

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I am so happy that we finally made it to Southeast Asia! As I am sure some of you know I wasn’t sure this trip was ever going to happen, but I am thrilled it did. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos did not disappoint. I can say without a doubt that this trip exceeded my expectations. I long to experience something new each time I travel and this trip fulfilled all of those desires. Everything about Asia, the countryside, the people, the smells, the food, the culture made this trip unique and truly memorable.

My dear friend Molly moved to Ho Chi Minh City last summer for her husband’s work and I knew I must visit her during her brief time in Vietnam. What a lovely place to arrive on our first stop in Vietnam! Josh and I were able to visit with Molly and her family, get over our jet lag and explore HCMC with an insider’s guide. Molly and her family live inside of the French Consulate which is wonderful and in the center of HCMC where we could explore the city on foot.

 

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VIETNAM

 

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Ho Chi Minh – Chaotic, Hot, Melting Pot

Highlights – We had the best food on our trip during our street food tour with Saigon Street Eats. We rode through the night on scooters to District 3, a less touristy area of the city, where we dined an Banh Xeo, pork and broken rice, and an amazing seafood stall with my favorite dish Ngheu Hap Xa  – steamed clams in lemongrass broth. All the while sitting on plastic stools and tiny tables. I never fully understood how important and diverse the herbs used in Vietnamese cooking are until this tour. Their cuisine revolves around the contrasting flavors of the herbs. We also learned that in Vietnam they do not cook with chilis like the Thai because their food is of the utmost freshness. Our guide told us that the Thai spice can be used to cover up the actual flavor and freshness of the food whereas the Vietnamese use spice on the side that you can add at your own choosing. (I love how it doesn’t matter where you travel in the world, each country has such strong opinions about their neighbors!)

 

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Station 3A is a cool side street near the river that houses smaller boutique stores with graffiti lined walls and cafes. We wandered through the stores wishing we had more space in our carry-ons to buy gifts!  Sadec District has gorgeous ceramics that I am still dreaming of.

 

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Hoi An / An Bang Beach – Peaceful, Stormy, Authentic

Hoi An was one of our favorite stops. This is what you imagine Vietnam to be. The old quarter is full of beautiful old colorful houses on streets that are pedestrian only (well except for the scooters!). You can wander through the city which sits on a canal popping in and out of stores and markets and get the feel of what life could have been like in Vietnam 100 years ago. The homes are narrow and long with a shop in the front leading into an actual home where families have lived for hundreds of years.

 

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The best Banh Mi of the trip was at Phuong 2… apparently recommended by Anthony Bourdain which we did not know until later.

We stayed in An Bang, a tiny beach town 4km from Hoi An. Luckily we had 2 days without rain during our stay, but the weather was not warm enough for beach time. This adorable beach village is worthy of a trip during their warmer months for sure! But Josh and I enjoyed the stormy weather and the gray skies. It was a bit magical.

 

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I fell in love at Ava’ Na – a clothing shop in Hoi An. They make beautiful clothes with locally sourced silk and designed on site. I spent a long time in this shop deciding what to buy! I ended up with a long grey sheer silk dress.

 

Hanoi – Ancient, Delicious, Complex

In Hanoi, we stayed in the Westlake neighborhood which is slightly off the beaten path and was quite nice. Apparently this is the upcoming neighborhood and full of expats. We found a wonderful coffee shop called Maison de Tet Decor. Where the owner roasts his own beans locally in Vietnam and makes delicious baked goods… the space is gorgeous as well and overlooks the lake Ho Tay.

 

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Hanoi provided the same chaos as Ho Chi Minh City, but also gave us a chance to look at the city’s historic architecture influenced by the French. You can sense the old and the new blending together in this crazy city. The old quarter “36 old streets“ are named after the goods that were sold on them. Now it is a mish mash of stores, but occasionally you could have your option of where to buy the best pipes for plumbing or socks or chickens.

 

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We ate the most insanely good Bun Cha on the street and then followed it with the famous egg coffee – Caphe Trung at Cafe Pho Co. It sounds like this could be pretty gross, but it is delicious! Of course, the egg is whipped with cream and sugar so really how bad can it be?

 

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The next day on our food tour in Hanoi (Hanoi Cooking Center) we were taken to “Lunch Lane”, an alley connected to the market lined with street food stalls where old women and their families have been cooking the same specialties for decades. Here we sat down to try the snail soup – Bun Oc – which has a broth of sour, sweet and spicy flavors. The way the Vietnamese blend and build the flavors is quite complex. The snails themselves were a bit chewy and this was not my favorite dish, but when in Rome ;).

 

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CAMBODIA

 

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Siem Reap / Angkor Wat – Mythical, Distinct, Sacred

After a harrowing day of food poisoning we arrived into Cambodia and to the Rose Apple B&B by tuk tuk at night. I was unable to make the sunrise at Angkor Wat due to my stomach, but I rallied for the rest of the day. There was no way I was going to miss the temples of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon. There is an amazing mix of Hindu and Buddhist designs decorating every wall and temple. We hired a private guide to help us navigate the temples which was necessary to understand the history of these epic structures. These gorgeous temples were built by kings and the carvings tell stories of the gods which were intended to guide the people with symbolic significance.

 

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LAOS

 

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Luang Prabang – Magical, Colorful, Charming

Luang Prabang is a charming city and another Unesco Heritage Site and we are so happy we made the trek here. Laos was one of the highlights of our trip!

The first morning we woke up at 5:45am to watch the monks walk the streets of Luang Prabang to take alms from the people. This religious ceremony dates back to the 14th century. There are 34 Buddhist temples in the city which is extraordinary. After waking up that early, I decided I needed to move and took a yoga class at Utopia overlooking the Nam Khan river. What a location! The yoga class was nothing special, but who cares when you get to look at that scenery and move your body.

 

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We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets, exploring the temples, climbing Mount Phousi, drinking Lao coffee and watching the sunset over the Mekong River. Not a bad a day in my book.

 

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The next day we spent at the Elephant Village Sanctuary & Resort which was awesome! This lovely refuge is just outside of Luang Prabang. Our wonderful guide Sack was adorable and really made the experience special. The day was spent riding the elephants bareback and bathing them in the Nam Kham river and visiting the Tad Sae Waterfalls. These elephants have been rescued from their logging work and now train with mahouts who do not use the hooks or spears on them. First, we learned our Lao elephant commands – Pi Pi , Sai Sai, Kwa Kwa etc (forward, left, right) – which you must give in a strong voice in order for the elephants to listen. I am going to be honest, if elephants could roll their eyes at the white people yelling these commands they would. We tried our best, but the elephants just did their own thing and took us for a ride which was totally exhilarating.

 

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Overall, I feel like I could go on and on about this trip, but instead I have comprised a list below of the best shops, restaurants and activities we experienced. Please feel free to reach out with any thoughts or questions or stories of your own!

Until the next adventure!

 

Briana Signature

 

VIETNAM

HO CHI MINH CITY

Shop – Station 3ASadec District (high end home goods)

Rooftop Drinks – Hotel des Arts (beautiful rooftop bar and lounge with views of HCMC)

Food – Kokois (concept store & cafe in District 2), HUM (elegant vegetarian restaurant)

Food TourSaigon Street Eats (Awesome! Ask for Binh)

HOI AN

FoodMorning Glory, Phuong 2 – Phan Chau Trinh (Best Bahn Mi of the trip)

Shop – Ava’Na (gorgeous clothes and accessories with fabrics sourced from local Vietnamese tribes)

Cooking Class – Red Bridge Cooking School (wonderful market tour and then boat ride to the cooking school)

AN BANG

StayAn Bang Beach Bungalows

HANOI

Food – Cafe Pho Co – 11 Hàng Gai, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội – Caphe Trung (delicious egg coffee), Madame Hein – Chef Didier Corlou (a chic and delicious restaurant  – the Cha Ca – grilled fish was amazing and cooked right at the table), Cafe Duy Tri – Cafe Sua Chua (homemade frozen yogurt & delicious vietnamese coffee…local spot where the yogurt is made fresh daily), Maison de Tet Decor (incredible cafe with delicious coffee, organic juice and food)

Drinks – Metropole Hanoi (the legendary 5 star hotel has a wonderful bar to have a drink)

 

CAMBODIA

SIEM REAP

Visit – Angkor Wat and surrounding temples

Food – Pages Cafe (cute little cafe with Cambodian and western food)

Coffee – The Little Red Fox Espresso (delicious espresso)

Explore – Kandal Village (a cute street in Siem Reap lined with boutiques and cafes)

 

LAOS

LUANG PRABANG

Food – Tamarind (delicious high end Lao food), Le Bannetton (lovely boulangerie), Coconut cakes (any of the ladies baking them on the street)

Shop – Ok Pok Tok (amazing shop selling textiles from Lao tribes as well as supporting the women who create the art)

To Do – Elephant Village Sanctuary & Resort

 

Russian River Valley

 

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It was finally time for a weekend away and the Russian River Valley did not disappoint! Josh and I were so happy to get out of Los Angeles which was perfectly planned during the miserable heat wave and the Santa Ana winds. I have been to Napa, but never to this particular area of Sonoma Valley. Right away it was perfect! Our dear friends Julie and Scott who were in town from London picked us up at the Sonoma County Airport and the adventure began.

 

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I made our first wine tasting reservation right after we arrived at the divine Copain Winery. What a gorgeous location to do a wine tasting! The views are unbeatable as are the boutique wines that Copain creates. The region is known for their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. I am kind of a Chardonnay snob, preferring my French whites from Burgundy, so I was super excited to learn more about California Chardonnays. Bob, our tasting guide, was adorable and gave us a ton of information about Copain and the Sonoma wine region.

 

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We then headed onto Iron Horse Vineyard where they specialize in sparkling wines with a gorgeous hill top view. Who doesn’t love a tasting of sparkling wines? After enjoying our wines, we quickly realized we needed to eat and headed to the cute town of Guerneville to have dinner at the highly recommended Boon Eat + Drink. But of course we had to grab happy hour oysters at the delicious Seaside Metal before our meal. Finally at Boon we were told it was mandatory to order the brussel sprouts. I have no idea what they do to them but they are so insanely good.

 

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We stayed in this adorable 100 year old cabin called Camp Noon near Forestville and we could not have been happier. There was a fireplace and a record player and it was in the middle of the woods. It was wonderful to feel like we were far away from it all and breathing fresh air.

 

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The next day we decided a canoe down the Russian River was a must! We headed to Burke’s Canoes, which is the go-to in the area. Just a headsup, Burke is a character, get ready! We brought lunch with us and spent a leisurely time canoeing down the river. It was a lovely and relaxing 4 hours enjoying the beauty of nature. We even saw a river otter which I swear looks like weasel and not as cute as you would think.

 

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After our daytime detox we headed into the delightful town of Healdsburg where we started our evening with more oysters and more wine tasting. Surprising, I know. This was followed by a kickass dinner at Barn Diva which I will absolutely go back to on my next visit. The space is exquisite and the sommelier helped me choose the perfect Failla Chardonnay to accompany our food. The other must do in Healdsburg is SHED. A fabulous restaurant, shop and market for all local gourmet needs. I could have stayed in there all day eating, browsing and shopping, but Josh made me leave. I will be back.

 

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The following day we headed into the tiny little town of Forestville where we grabbed brunch and a cinnamon roll at Nightingale Breads – the local bakery. Josh is on a mission to try every cinnamon roll that exists so of course we had to stop by. This day ended with another special meal at Revival which was a last minute surprise as we were invited by friends in town from San Francisco. They are good friends with the restaurateur Crista Luedtke who created Revival as well as Boon Hotel and Boon Eat + Drink. We were lucky enough to experience first hand the new fall menu and chef Ben Speigel’s creations in this gorgeous renovated space. The menu is unexpected and divine with local ingredients from the garden on the property. There is also a vermouth tasting bar if you choose. Run to this restaurant on your next trip!

 

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This weekend was such a blast and I felt so happy to have breathed the fresh air of the Redwoods and visited with old friends all the while enjoying delicious food and boutique local wines. My appreciation of Californian wines has grown and I look forward to my next (hopefully soon!) visit to the Russian River Valley.

 

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