Seoul Fashion Week F/W 2014: Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)

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Recently we attended Seoul Fashion Week, one of the most anticipated fashion week in Asia in recent years. Something very special about this particular fashion week was the opening of its mega design complex - Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP). The Dongdaemun area changed quite a bit in the past 4 years of our constant travel to Seoul, but some things just never change, like the 3 elements basic elements that made up Dongdaemun - Design, Dream and Play, which became DDP's fundamental design concept.

Dongdaemun was originally a fashion market for younger generation to go and buy the latest and trendy fashion, it combined both retail and wholesale in the many buildings of this area. While the wholesale market remains, the retail prices changed drastically as tourists increase in this area. These days, Dongdaemun is no longer a shopping destination for locals, but rather catering to Mainland China, Hong Kong, and surrounding nations' tourists. Known for the city that never sleeps in Asia, there are lot of things to do in Seoul at night, in fact, evening is when all the fun and cool things come alive! Dongdaemun is made up of multiple shopping complexes, with majority of them open until 5am, perfect for tourists that doesn't want to sleep at night. However, as culture and lifestyle changes, government and developers also need to adapt to the needs of its people as well. That's why Seoul started planning and building the new DDP back in 2006, with plans to turn this new area into Dongdaemun's new transportation hub with a restful and relaxing park, on top of that, places within the complex to explore the historical Korean culture while inspiring the latest in designs. The newly built $451 million DDP will be open 24/7 throughout the year.

Designed by Zaha Hadid, a Iraqi-British Pritzker Prize winner, the DDP officially opened its doors on March 21, the first day of Seoul Fashion Week. The plaza features futuristic design, with a spaceship-like exterior and lots of curve lines that represents characteristic of Hadid's previous projects. The exterior of the building features a curvy shaped facade comprised of 45,000 pieces of aluminum panels in various sizes and curvatures. At DDP, there is an interesting architectural landscape that revolves around the ancient city wall and cultural artifacts discovered during archaeological excavations preceding DDP's construction.

"The design integrates the park and plaza seamlessly as one, blurring the boundary between architecture and nature in a continuous, fluid landscape," said Zaha Hadid Architects in a statement. In fact, I got lost many times in this gigantic plaza, but thanks to the helpful information screen throughout the plaza, I was able to find my way around easily. Designed with 8 floors above ground, and 4 below, the variety of public spaces within DDP include Exhibition Halls, Convention Halls, Design Museum, Library, Lab and Archives, Children's Education Centre, Media Centre, Seminar Rooms and Sky Lounge; enabling DDP to present the widest diversity of exhibitions and events that feed the cultural vitality of the city. Surrounding the plaza is also the transportation and cultural hub, not only connecting to surround businesses in Dongdaemun, but also a place with many shops, restaurants and cafes available around the clock.

Going forward, DDP will host fashion & design related events, concerts, conventions and other major events throughout the year. This feature will kick off our Seoul fashion week feature, which we saw many young talented designers taking inspirations from Paris, Milan and New York.

Be sure to include DDP as your next destination in Seoul, on top of all the shopping and dining! With a completely different vibe during the day and night, this is also a great place for photography. DDP is now the new destination to hangout for local art and design crowd, with people dressed in trendy fashion snapping inspirations and to get away from the city noise.

For more detail on DDP, you can check out:

Euljiro 7-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul 
Open 24 hours

Text by Leon Yuan, photo & video courtesy of Zaha Hadid

A Weekend in Taipei Part 3 - Novotel Taipei Taoyuan Airport

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In case you are visiting Taipei and have a early morning flight and does not want to get up at 3am for your early check-in, a stay at Novotel Taipei Taoyuan Airport is your best choice! Like my flight to New York earlier, which was 8 am in the morning, I really hate having to give up sleep in order to get to the airport on-time for check in, at the same time, stressed about waking up late for the flight. On this past trip, I arrived in Taipei late afternoon on Friday, and have a 8AM flight the next day, so I decided to stay at the Novotel Hotel and explore what this hotel has to offer.

The hotel offers free and quick shuttle ride from both Terminal 1 & 2 every 15 minutes during normal hours. Connected to China Airlines' headquarter, the hotel is actually also invested by the airline as well. Upon entering the hotel, I was greeted by the grand lobby, with warm and welcoming seating and lots of festive decorations(it was Christmas time). The check-in was prompt and efficient, in less than 5 minutes I had my key and was making my way up to the room. The hotel is very eco-friendly, and a bit self-served as well, while there are bell attendants, but don't really count on having your luggage brought up to the rooms for you. Not that they don't, but since a majority of the guests are transit passengers, and are likely to travel with luggages, so you might as well take it up yourself to save some time waiting. Personally, I really like the design of public areas at the hotel, the seatings were comfortable to lounge and relax. As one of the most eco friendly hotel in the country, I was happy see a battery and CD recycling station at the hotel! Novotel Taipei participates in Accor Hotel Group's The Earth Guest Program: Planet 21, a green movement initiative since 2006(for more detail about this program, you can read it here). 

The room itself wasn't huge, but very compact and have everything you will or may need. There's a couch by the window for perfect plane spotting. And while it's an airport hotel situated right next to the terminals, you can't really hear the loud engine roars at night. There were a few bottles of complimentary water available, and a welcome fruit plate, which were very nice and warm touches. Bed itself was comfortable with lighting control panels in reachable area, as well as reading lights on both sides of the bed. 

In between the closets, there's a well designed seating area, facing the bathroom's french style doors. The seating area can also be used to place your luggage. Bathrobes, ironing board and iron, slippers, laundry bags, all these are available to you!

The bathroom feature separate shower and bathroom with rainfall showerhead and Smart Glass feature(one touch fog screen). Eco friendly bath soaps, shower and bath gels, tooth paste and brushes, saving cream and hair comb, everything is prepared for your hassle-free stay. 

After settling into the room, I decided to walk around the hotel to see its amenities, first stop, the gym and pool. The fitness center is very large for hotel standard, but its also shared as a member's club, so during peak hours it does get somewhat crowded. Right next to the fitness center is the indoor pool, equip with jacuzzi tubs for ultimate relaxation. The hotel is very family and kids friendly, so everyone can enjoy the same amount of fun here! The pool is also divided into lap pool as well, in case you want to burn off the calories from delicious Taiwanese food. 

If spa and massage is what you're looking for, check out the In Balance Spa, which provide an ultimate relax and elegant setting for your total relaxation from travel stress. After a nice massage, you can also soak into the private jacuzzi tub, bring your travel companion alone, for double the fun and pleasure!

I made the way down to the lobby again after to check out the Q Bar, which often have live band performing. Be sure to grab a nice custom cocktail and emerge yourself into the nice park view setting. Right around the corner is also the kids corner, so you can check up on your kids while you grab a happy hour drink with friends. There's also a complimentary Mac corner by the check in counters, allow you check emails or browse the web in case you left your computer back home. 

Since it was Christmas season, the hotel set up quite a bit of holiday themed ornaments and decorations. 

For dining options, there's The Square, a all day buffet serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in various cuisines. I had breakfast here before my flight, and the were tons of options to choose from. For dinner, they had made to order Chinese soup noodle, Mongolian barbecue, Japanese sushi and sashimi, just to name a few. If you're in a hungry mode, then The Square would be your destination. 

At the entrance to The Square is home to The Deli, offering a wide selection of handmade European bread, Macaron and French pies, and freshly baked pastries. They also had some holiday themed cookies and gift options available, in case you forgot to get some souvenirs for family and friends back home!

For Shanghainese cuisine lovers, you will find yourself enjoying the Chinese themed Wei Fang on the second level. This sophisticated dining venue is distinctly designed in red, black and gold, with tassels and Chinese red lanterns , delivering a total Chinese dining atmosphere. There are 6 private rooms separated by curtains, perfect for small family reunions. The restaurant is known for the artfully steamed, broiled, stewed and braised Shanghai cuisines prepared from meticulous choice of fresh ingredients. 

Our last stop was the Premier Lounge, located on the 9th floor. The lounge is specially designed for executive guests(and Accor Platinum members) to enjoy a sensational and memorable experience. The Lounge designed in a modern and trendy atmosphere with colorful furnishings, the cozy lounge chairs and large bar tables offer a great environment to sit with friends over drinks and snacks. The lounge also offer a great airport runway views, creating a lively space with serene ambience perfect for relaxations. On top of the drinks and snacks, you can also request special services with their executive secretary. You can also grab some free cocktails during happy hours (18:00-20:00) at the lounge with some light snacks, or make yourself a fun cocktail with their custom designed recipes. 

Overall, Novotel Taipei is a great airport hotel, for those travelers seeking a more relaxed time before the flight home. On top of all the amenities in the hotel, they also offer a free shuttle bus to downtown Taoyuan as well, where you can enjoy more of the local scenes like night markets and fun street vendors. Some personal services like wake up calls and (snooze calls) make sure you won't miss your early morning flights. If you are only in Taipei for a short overnight transfer, I would also suggest the Novotel Taipei since you can always find something to do at the hotel, or jump on the quick shuttle to the airport terminal, for some great Taiwanese food and souvenir shopping. 

No.1-1, Hangzhan S. Rd., Dayuan Township
Taoyuan County, Taiwan 
+886 3 398 0888

Text and photo by Leon Yuan

Bow Tie Review: Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse New York (best Italian steakhouse in Manhattan)

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We're a huge fan of French and Italian cuisine, as you can likely tell by reading our features so far. Italian cuisine is quite distinctive by regions, and since we have not been to northern Italy before, we're interesting in trying the flavors from there. If you travel to Boston often, you are likely to have heard about Davio's. In 1985, the young and ambitious Steve DiFillippo(24 year-old then), purchased a locally-owned family restaurant called Davio’s on Newbury Street in Boston’s trendy Back Bay, and transformed its identity completely ever since.  When we heard about their opening in Manhattan, following Philadelphia and Atlanta, we just can't wait to try out this new Northern Italian Steakhouse. 

Situated right next to Grand Central Terminal, Davio's Manhattan is the perfect destination for all day dining. In conjunction with the hotel above, Davio's is open from 7am in the morning everyday, serving delicious breakfast. Hidden in the basement level, at the corner of Lexington and 45th Street, the perfect location for lunch meetings, cozy and not so crowded happy hour, as well as formal dinner dates after work. We loved this place the moment we stepped inside the upscale Italian steakhouse, on a freezing and snowing New York night, we received a very warm and welcoming greet from the hostess.

Designed by Restaurant Design Group’s design director Steve Todisco, the 130-seat restaurant is housed in a recently erected building. Similar to other Davio’s restaurants, the space is both elegant and intimate. Staunch square columns complimented by warm wood tones and inviting wall colors.

First off, we must say that Davio's provide above and beyond excellent customer service, not just in Steve DiFillippo's book, "It's all about the guest" but it's definitely something they work towards. We had one of the best customer service in New York, even above some of those fine dining restaurants in Manhattan. As we get settled into our table, Christian, our cool waiter greeted us and took our drink orders. 

To start the evening, we ordered a few cocktails, specially created by their in-house sommelier / mixologist, Chris Sweet. Chris is responsible for Davio’s beverage menu, which includes a vast selection of 425 wines sourced from Italy, France and the U.S, many of which are available by the glass. 

The First Press - Chardonnay infused Spring 44 handcrafted vodka, with organic white grapes.
A Forma Di Perra - Calvados, Rye whiskey, autumn pear, and raw nutmeg.
BoCoCa - Rye whiskey, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Antica Carpano Vermouth, Amaro, with clementine peel.
All the drinks were a little bit on the heavier side, great for happy hour relaxation or a great kick to start off the evening date. 

Anti Pasti
American style Kobe beef meatballs, soaked in delicious tomato sauce and Caciocavallo baked cheese on top.
Baked (jumbo)Shrimp, celery mixed with Cacciuco sauce pressed down from lobster, and black currant croquant.

Capellacci, Slow Roasted Squash, Amaretti Cookie, Walnut Cream Sauce
Hand-Rolled Potato Gnocchi, Organic Mushrooms, Basil, White Truffle Oil

Before the entree arrived, Chris, the sommelier helped us pair a bottle of wine to go with the meat and and fish. Our bottle apparently is great cutting the fat out of all the food we had.

12 oz Center Cut Filet Mignon

The perfect medium-rare
Seared Yellow Fin Tuna

Tonino’s Spinach alla Romana
Goat Cheese Puffs(much like croquet)
Spicy Broccoli Rabe(on the spicy side, nonetheless, a flavorful companion to the fried and baked)

The most anticipated dessert rolled out on a cart, took away all our attention that night. We had the affogato(the perfect ending to a delicious Italian night), 7 layer lemon cake was made Italian style (on the thicker and heavier side of cakes, which we enjoyed more than fluffy cakes), and the panna cotta with mixed berries (mouth watering still).

Stainless steel tea pot
At the end of the night, we enjoyed everything about Davio's New York, from the authentic northern Italian cuisine to the luxury detail touches, and excellent customer service. This is also the perfect place for private dining, as there's a secret wall that opens up to another section at the back of the restaurant. We would very much suggest Davio's to anyone, whether you are visiting the city and looking for the best steakhouse in Manhattan, or companies looking to host a private business lunch or dinner, Davio's is the perfect destination for you!  
Christian, this young fellow is well trained and sincere in his service.
We had an excellent night all thanks to his attention to detail and listen to what we wanted rather than suggest what the chef wanted us to eat. One of the best fine dining experience in New York
Every time we walk away, our clothes were folded nicely upon our return.

Excellent decor and atmosphere, above and beyond service, and impeccable Italian cuisine, there's nothing we can pick out from Davio's
Definitely a 5 bow ties on our list!

Lower level, 451 Lexington Avenue(at 45th Street) 
New York, NY, 10017
(212) 661 4810
Hours of operation, click here

Text and images by Leon Yuan, video courtesy of Davio's