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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Yes, You Can Dine at a Michelin-Starred Restaurant for $10

Michelin has awarded one star to a modest noodle joint in Tokyo, the first time ever for a restaurant that serves mainly soup and rice bowls.

Tsuta is a nine-seat neighborhood ramen shop that was cited for its flavorful broths, such as porcini mushroom and rosemary pork.

Ramen at Tsuta (Photo by Guilhem Vellut via flickr)

The spot is also known for its house-made soba noodles and for the soy ramen, "a clear soup made of kelp, pike fish, and clam stock added to a chicken base and naturally brewed soy sauce." Its pork over rice is another signature dish.

While there are 217 Michelin-starred eateries in Tokyo, none is as affordable as Tsuta. Steaming bowls of ramen can be had for under $10.

Low prices do not buy convenience. Expect long lines. The place was extremely popular even before being anointed by Michelin. (Bloggers report that lines move rather quickly, however.)

Why the fuss over an unassuming little cafe? The blog Japan Real Time explains: "While ramen can be a cheap and simple meal, few dishes are taken more seriously in Japan where eateries continue to introduce different styles of soup, noodles and ingredients."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Annals of Luxury: The Big Money
Never Sleeps in Las Vegas

The race to develop show stopping hotels in Las Vegas is about to shift into high gear yet again – to what result no one knows.

The Wall St. Journal reports that investor Carl Icahn has put his under-construction $3 billion Fontainbleau Hotel up for sale. In 2010 the tycoon purchased it out of bankruptcy for a mere $150 million. Doubtless he believes he can make a profit of at least several times that, as he passes the build-out and launch obligations to others with more willingness to gamble.

The dreams of low-rollers and billionaire developers converge in Las Vegas

It is worth noting that Icahn realized a gain of about $1 billion in 2007 when he sold his interest in the Stratosphere Hotel and related properties at the top of the market. With the announced sale of the Fontainbleau complex, does the billionaire know something that we don't?

Vegas tourism is not dying on the vine, but some hotel operators are. The transformation of the old Sahara Hotel and Casino into the SLS Las Vegas is a case in point. The 1620-room complex has performed poorly since opening last year. It hopes to revive its fortunes by converting one of its three towers in a W Hotel in partnership with Starwood.

Odds getting longer for SLS Hotel Las Vegas

Neither a foundering SLS nor Icahn's exit from the Fountaibleau are putting a stop to the hopes that other investors hold for striking it rich in Sin City. Nor will they be deterred by a lengthy history of announced hotels that never opened,  a number of which actually broke ground and then halted construction in midstream.

A Malaysian group started work this year on a $4 billion Chinese-themed resort. Another group is planning a new hotel on the site once occupied by the now demolished New Frontier.

Visitors descend on Las Vegas with the aim of winning big. Well-heeled investors and developers are no different. It's the stakes that are higher for those willing to make billion-dollar bets.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Enlightened Traveler: Beware of Changes to Your Airline's Frequent Flier Program

Hate the way airlines treat you? Here's another complaint to add to the list: recent and forthcoming changes to frequent flyer programs will make it even harder to earn and collect awards tickets.

Hoping to upgrade to this? Dream on!

Jet Blue and Virgin America are now basing the amount of points you can earn not on miles flown but on the amount of money you spend on a ticket. Delta and United have announced that they will do the same starting next year.

With the U.S. Airways management team firmly in charge, there is little doubt that the lone holdout, American Airlines, eventually will adopt similar regressive reforms.

Also read: Some Tourists Avoiding Manhattan in Favor of Brooklyn

The reason for all of this is simple. Airlines want to retain the loyalty of their most lucrative customers, the ones who buy full-fare business and first class tickets with regularity. Consider yourself lucky if you are in this group.

The rest of us should prepare for further indignities from the airlines. Consider using your miles sooner rather than later. Their value likely will only decrease in future years.

Look here for more on this subject.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Enlightened Traveler: Bargains Abound As Russia's Economy Falters

Your dream vacation to Moscow awaits. Or at least it's a lot more affordable now.

The U.S. dollar, Euro, and British pound buy as much as 50% more in Russia than they did a year ago. The New York Post reports that rooms at the Four Season St. Petersburg are as low as a bargain $185 per night.

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

Similarly cheaper rates can also be found on flights from the U.S. and Europe on Aeroflot, the national airline. Note that it may be harder to book desirable dates and times because Delta, Lufthansa, Etihad and other major carriers are reducing or eliminating flights to Russia due to declining demand.

Catherine Palace, St. Petersburg

Foreign tourists and business people are staying away, and locals don't have the money to travel abroad. The reason for Russia's economic woes? Plunging oil prices and international sanctions are taking a heavy toll.

Also read St. Peterburg's New Faberge Museum

Now is the time to see Red Square, the Pushkin Museum, Moscow Zoo, attend a performance at the Bolshoi,  or stroll through the city's pristine historic quarters. And there's the Hermitage Museum, Mariinsky Theatre, and the multiple cultural delights of Russia's second city, St. Petersburg.

Red ink means golden opportunities for savvy travelers.

Click here for tips on other top destinations that recently have become affordable.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Paris Comes to L.A. Via Koreatown

In Southern California, until a few years ago, it was impossible to get a true pain aux raisins or any of the other wonderful breakfast pastries the French call viennoiserie. If you looked hard enough, you could find a half-way decent croissant, but a genuine Parisian brioche or raisin Danish – never!

Paris Baguette danish a la mode Francaise

The Luxurist  does not understand why his fellow Angelenos had to put up with this mauvaise situation for such a long time. But I digress. Suffice it to say that things improved mightily with the arrival of Paris Baguette.

Also read Dinner Is Served: Pasta Explained

This small chain of French bakeries is not exactly what you might suppose. To begin with, it's not French at all. Nor is it run by Indochinese, North Africans or anybody who comes from one of the many former French colonies.

PB serves coffee in these cute blue-striped cups

It's owned by a South Korean conglomerate –a rather large one at that – and staffed with Korean bakers and friendly young Korean-American waiters and baristas, decked out in striped boat neck jerseys and berets – the kind of thing that represents French style to everyone but the French. But, again, I digress.

In other words, don't even think of speaking French at Paris Baguette. You won't be understood.

You will find a few other eccentricities at PB: they don't serve skim or non-fat milk with coffee, even though nowadays the French will. But, of course, PB is not a French company.

Most of their stores are located in outlying communities such as Buena Park, Rowland Heights, Arcadia, and West Covina, where many Asians live. The firm's only Los Angeles stores both are in Koreatown. The one on Western Ave. is just down the block from the K Town Boxing Club, in case you feel the need to work off calories after gorging on PB's fresh strawberry cream buns, fruit tarts, pains au chocolat and peanut crumb breads.

There are a few other U.S. stores in New Jersey and a new, large, popular eatery in New York City, just off Times Square.

Also read The Enlightened Traveler: A Paris Institution Returns

By baking in a nearly authentic French way, Paris Baguette is not catering to the taste of Americans, but to the half million Koreans and Korean-Americans who live in Southern California. Thank goodness for that. Koreans not only produce fabulous flat-screen TVs, they also are more advanced when it comes to viennoiserie.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Things Not Available In The U.S.: A Camper For Your Bike

The Luxurist does not ride a bike, but appreciates that many otherwise levelheaded folks do.

Who is The Luxurist to argue with the tens of millions of  Dutch, Swedes, and other Europeans who ride their bicycles every day to commute to work, shop, and do other errands around their compact cities?

(The Luxurist admits that in theory this does appear to make some sense. But I digress.)

Here in the U.S., bikes comprise only about 2% of the traffic on the road, which is why the new Wide Path Camper for bicycles isn't yet available in the U.S. Well, you cannot exactly buy one in Europe either until July, when the company that makes it says they will begin shipping the first units.


The camper weighs a calf-enhancing 100 lbs. and measures 3 ft. 3 in. x 4 ft 3 in. on the road. The makers claim it sets up in three minutes, expanding to about 8 1/2 ft. long with headroom of a little more than four ft.

While you cannot stand up in it, two people can at least sleep in a bed that converts from a small table and banquettes.


The cost? About $2,200 in Europe. Order yours here.