three cheers for BUTTERBEERS!

i’ve been known to use harry potter jargon in everyday situations. like ‘you know in harry potter and the goblet of fire, when harry opens the dragon egg and lets out the shriek of the merpeople? that’s what a cicada sounds like.’ or ‘osama bin laden is dead? SOMEBODY FINALLY FOUND HIS LAST HORCRUX!’

but nothing beats the full hogwarts experience like the wizarding world of harry potter at universal studios in orlando. my family (sans daddy choo who is visiting family in korea) recently went to orlando to feel all the hogwarts magic.

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forbidden journey

we ended up riding this three times, so you could say we liked it. it was much more terrifying than i had expected (too many spiders!) but is THE ultimate in the harry potter experience. the line takes you through hogwarts past talking portraits and dumbledore’s office which actually makes the waiting time fun.

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  • tip 1: ride this either first thing in the morning or last thing at night. any other time (especially 12-4p), the line will be LONG
  • tip 2: any purses or bags must be stored in lockers (which are free during the ride), so if you can, pack light (ID, money, phone only) in your pockets to avoid these locker lines

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flight of the hippogriff

this is the most kid-friendly ride of harry potter world but it still had my sister shakin’ in her boots. it is a ‘roller coaster’ but rather tame and short. still fun and definitely worth doing.

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dragon challenge

please do not eat before this ride. of all the rollercoasters in both islands of adventure and universal studios, this was definitely the most dizzying, scariest one. at one point the two separate coasters (chinese fireball and hungarian horntail) come within 18 inches of each other. so much fun, just don’t ride them back-to-back or you’ll feel like you just ate a puking pastille.

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three broomsticks & hog’s head pub

this was my favorite restaurant of the trip (surprising for theme park food). i just loved the atmosphere and the service was very efficient. come during dinnertime when most of the crowds have left and the restaurant is much more mellow. make sure to get the fish and chips!

       

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butterbeer & pumpkin juice

so how were they? delicious.

the butterbeer is like cream soda on the bottom and butterscotch foam on top. the frozen version is the best! i’m not much of a soda fan and even i drank 3 butterbeers during our trip. i could actually use one right now…

  • tip 3: skip the long lines at the butterbeer stands outside and get them at three broomsticks or hog’s head. they’re much colder and tastier there.
  • tip 4: the commemorative mug is a bit expensive (~$10) but makes a great souvenir. refills of butterbeer are $3.25 ($4.25 for frozen) and soda refills are $.85 at both parks. definitely worth it for us!

i think you either love or hate pumpkin juice. it’s not too sweet and reminded me of a spiced, pumpkin-y apple cider.

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honeydukes/zonko’s joke shop

i think i’ll let my sister christine, the sweets expert, write this section. afterall, she did go into honeydukes four times.

Honeyduke’s was by far the place I was most excited to visit in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Two items that I knew would be purchased before even entering the store were Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and a chocolate frog, mostly for novelty purposes. The chocolate frogs come with trading cards just as shown in the movies, so they were a must! Items can be quite costly, but of course are well worth it. Chocolate frogs were $9.95 each (yes, ten dollars for one frog!) and the beans were $10.95. There are a plethora of tasty treats offered to satisfy all taste buds! There are jelly beans, hard candies, and gummies sold in a serve yourself fashion that are priced according to weight. There are also more prepackaged Wizarding World style treats such as Peppermint Toads, Tongue Toffee, Chocolate Cauldrons, Chocolate Wands, and much more! Peppermint Toads were also purchased and I can tell you from personal tasting that they are smooth, dreamy, delicious, and well worth the $7.95! As you make your way further into the store there is also a display case which has loads of bakery style goodies and caramel apples behind it. This leads me to my favorite Honeydukes purchase: a caramel and toffee apple ($7.95). It is just as the name would suggest, a granny smith apple coated in the most delicious caramel I have ever eaten, and then covered liberally with toffee chunks. Needless to say, all four trips were both worthwhile and practically necessary! (P.S. Margaret just gawked at the length of this.)

  • tip 5: make sure this is the last stop of your visit unless you want melty chocolate frogs.


ollivander’s 

i’d hate to tell anyone to skip anything while here, but if you’re short on time, pass on ollivander’s. the line is always long as they only allow 25 people into the shop at a time. it can also be disappointing for little ones (and some of us older folks too) since ollivander only picks one participant for the wand experience. either way, you end up having to buy your wand at the next door owl post anyways. 

  • tip 6: like the forbidden journey ride, make sure to avoid going here during peak hours. when we went around 8p, the wait was about 15-20 minutes for ollivander’s (10 min for forbidden journey)

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owl post/dervish and banges

wands, robes, monster books galore! these connected stores offer everything from quill pens to gryffindor scarves. if you get a postcard, make sure to get it stamped with a hogsmeade postmark at the entrance of the owl post.

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rest of islands of adventure & universal studios

while most of our time was spent with harry potter, we did manage to explore the rest of islands of adventure and universal studios. of all the other rides our favorites included:

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  • brother: men in black II ride (universal studios), the 3D adventures of spiderman (islands of adventure)
  • me: return of the mummy (universal studios), train trolley in seussland (islands of adventure)
  • sister: return of the mummy
  • mom: popeye & bluto’s bilge-rat barge (NOT! soaking wet mother = unhappy mother)

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mythos restaurant 
inside islands of adventure, next to harry potter world
(407) 224.4012

as with most theme park restaurants, the emphasis is more on service than food. but mytho’s does provide a more gourmet menu for those sick of chicken tenders and french fries. my pad thai was especially good (and huge). and even though they messed up my sister’s bbq chicken pizza the first time, our server was so incredibly sweet, we almost felt bad for complaining.

the location is also ideal as it provides for a cool oasis in the middle of the day. make a reservation as this place seemed very popular.

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emeril’s tchoup chop
6300 hollywood way, orlando, FL
(407) 503. 2467

as my first emeril restaurant, i was pleasantly pleased. the interior was upscale polynesian and the food was very seafood-ccentric. our service was top-notch and i loved the interior pond at the center of the restaurant.

my seared black grouper served with thai sticky rice and peanut vinaigrette was delicious. but i would skip the desserts, both the banana cream pie and guava dumplings were just alright.

what a great way to start the summer!

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FLIP (burger) out!

i never craved hamburgers, until i became a vegetarian.

now i crave them voraciously. and while my appetite is often subdued with burgers of the black bean or Boca variety, sometimes you just have to go all FLIPpin’ out! now if you’re a fan of Top Chef, you’ll know that atlanta resident and Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais has several burger joints in the area named Flip burger boutique. my family are all huge fans of the show and of Richard so we were dying to try out the place, which we did. twice.

we even met Mr. Top Chef himself!! he was super cool and sweet. and his hair is just as spiky in real life as i had imagined.

having visited both the midtown and buckhead locations, i have to say that both atlanta locations have similar modern decor but the buckhead restaurant seemed cozier to me with plenty of plush booths. and the food? well, the fauxlaffal, a chickpea based burger, i ordered was decent but i have to say the real winner was the pimento cheeseburger (pictured above). as my first bite of a hamburger in 5 years, it was cheesy, messy, fatty… and completely worth my vegetarian guilt.

the fries were incredibly crispy and delicious with the smoked mayo but then again, i never met a potato i didn’t like. and the tempura onion rings were so good accompanied by a beer honey mustard. but i think the coolest part of the meal were the liquid Nmilkshakes which arrived at the table with wisps of subzero smoke coming from the glass. we ordered both the nutella-burnt marshmallow and the strawberry shortcake. i have to say the nutella marshmallow was my favorite.

so did we enjoy our meal at flip?

maybe a little.

(sorry for the poor quality of the food pics. i only had my blackberry with me, but better than nothing.)

Flip Burger Boutique
locations in Atlanta and Birmingham, AL
(404) 352.FLIP (West Midtown)
(404) 549. 3298 (Buckhead)

i ♥ nashville

dear nashville,

if ever i were to truly call a place home, it would be nashville. a beautiful city full of all the conveniences of a big city and the warmth of a small town, nashville encompasses the best of the south. while known for its country music and fried chicken, there’s so much more to nashville than that. and now that i don’t live there, my recent visit made me miss it even more. so if you’ve never visited this wondrous city, here are some of my favorite spots.

hope y’all enjoy! xo
 
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prime 108 in union station hotel
1001 broadway
(615) 726.1001

my sister promises that when we grow up she will buy this hotel just so we can have brunch here every day. set in an old railway station in downtown nashville, the architecture and interior of the building remind you of setting foot into a gothic cathedral. it’s a great way to treat yourself or someone special to a high class experience at a relatively low price (most dishes are under $15).

my favorites are their crab cake benedict and silver dollar blueberry pancakes.

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sambuca
601 12th avenue south
(615) 248.2888

for a swanky meal set in the swanky gulch, sambuca fits the bill. i’ve celebrated both my past birthday and graduation at this restaurant and at each occasion both the food and service were top-notch. the menu is heavily seafood based with latin and asian influences but there’s something for every palette. dishes such as the shrimp & crab dip and miso sea bass are amazing but i always wait to hear the specials of the night. they’re usually just too good to pass up. if the food wasn’t enough, every night there’s a live band that is guaranteed to put you in a festive mood.

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monell’s
1235 6th avenue north
(615) 248.4747

if you (and your stomach) are in for a good home-cooked marathon, look no further than monell’s. the atmosphere is family style which means you’ll find yourself at a large table passing baskets of biscuits and bowls of banana pudding with strangers. but by the end of the meal, you will all share the kindred bond that can only come from making beautiful food babies.

each night monell’s features weekly specials ranging from spinach lasagna (my favorite) to bbq ribs along with the everpresent fried chicken. but make sure to save room for the banana pudding. it’s beyond blissful.

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fido
1812 21st ave south (hillsboro village)
(615) 777.FIDO (3436)
 
i cannot tell you how many times i’ve sat at fido proofreading a term paper or cramming for an exam. but the truth is i usually tried to find an excuse to ‘study’ here just to eat their delicious goodies. it’s part art gallery, part hipster hangout with a coffeeshop core. from breakfast to dinner, they offer a variety of first-class nosh, including many veggie friendly dishes. make sure to indulge in their unique bakery selection as well which offers goods such as beet-chocolate chip muffins and bagel concoctions. 
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the stage
412 broadway
(615) 726.0504

if i am downtown, i will inevitably find myself at the stage at one point of the night. it’s mostly filled with out-of-towners and tourists but i love the place. the band is ALWAYS amazing and the openness of the two-story bar keeps you from feeling like you’re sweltering in a smoky dive. if the line at the front is too long, go to the somewhat-dark, totally safe alley behind the bar and get in through the back entrance. there’s usually no wait, and you’ll just feel so darn honky-tonk cool.

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big bang
411 broadway suite 201 (upstairs)
(615) 747.5851

with employees wearing t-shirts that say ‘bang this,’ this dueling piano bar provides a really low-key environment with tongue-and-cheek humor. the two pianists who sit face-to-face behind grand pianos will take any song request from beethoven to lady gaga mixed with their own comedic riffs in between. unlike most downtown bars, there is a cover charge of $6 (which is completely worth it). but on a slow night around 1am, i’ve gotten in without paying.

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frist center for the visual arts
919 broadway
(615) 244.3340

nashville is not known for its art scene but the quaint venue of the frist center hosts many traveling exhibitions. this means that there’s always something new and interesting to see. on my last visit, they were showcasing an exhibit solely dedicated to the hindu god vishnu. the building itself, once a post office, is a renovated art deco structure and a work of art itself.  i had the chance to volunteer here during college and can say that the people who work here are truly dedicated to enlightening your experience with art free of any pretense or formality.

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belcourt theatre
2102 belcourt avenue
(615) 383. 9140

i love films. and when i’m in the mood to see something a bit off the beaten path, i always go to the belcourt theatre. an intimate space that showcases indie and foreign films, there’s always something to stretch your cultural knowledge. another plus, they serve booze at the concession stand!

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jack daniel’s distillery
280 lynchburg highway, lynchburg, tn
(931) 759.4221

when in paris, you take a day trip to see versailles. when in nashville, you take one to the jack daniel’s distillery.

found about 1.5 hrs south of nashville in lynchburg, tn, the jack daniel’s distillery will make a whiskey lover out of you. the tour is completely free and walks you through the entire process, from water to whiskey. the tour guides are always hilarious, just don’t mention the cursed words: jim bean.

        

my alma mater, y’all


my friends and i would often joke about how at times our university seemed more like a finishing school than college.  but the truth is, i’m so incredibly proud to call myself a graduate of vanderbilt university. and although i technically graduated last december, it didn’t seem to truly set in until this past friday, may 13, 2011 when i walked across the stage to receive my diploma. 

i have to admit the entire day was not all strawberries and champagne (which were to come after the ceremony). at 5.30 that morning, i received a text alert stating that commencement had been moved from the beautiful alumni lawn on campus to the basketball gymnasium due to severe weather (which never came). i then arrived late to the gymnasium and haggardly ran onto the floor of the gym after the ceremony had started.  yet even on this unluckiest of superstitious days, some wonderful moments seemed to have slipped by.

sitting in the sea of thousands of black caps and gowns, i couldn’t help but think back to my own high school graduation 5 years earlier. the 18 year-old me saw graduating high school as completely passé. it was merely the last hurdle to the ultimate goal: college. i felt ready to leave, ready to move on to bigger and better things. and now the 23 year-old me was sitting in a similar gym, wearing an almost identical cap and gown completely humbled by the fact that somehow i had managed to graduate college. i felt grateful for every moment because i knew that i had worked for it so much more than i had ever worked for anything in high school. i don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this but, college is tough. if you don’t have moments of sheer panic or existential meltdowns about what classes you’re going to take next semester, you probably don’t care about your future. honestly, there were times when i didn’t know how i would ever finish a paper, much less graduate.

so i didn’t care that they handed me an empty diploma (because my real one had already been mailed to me months earlier) or that i was sweating bullets due to the lack of AC in the gym or that i didn’t graduate summa cum laude of my class. because for once, finishing the race actually felt better than winning it.

Margaret Choo, Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience from Vanderbilt University

i cannot tell you how elated i felt when the last name was finally called. because now, i could finally celebrate! my friend and fellow graduate alyssa and i did just that. our families and friends dined at one of our favorites restaurants sambuca and then headed downtown that night to boogie as only newly-minted vandy alums can.

congrats to all the graduates of 2011!  as for me, i’ll be off to nyc in 3 weeks 🙂

my outfit: Tibi dress, Target wedges, David Yurman jewelry

royal what?

the royal wedding is this friday, which unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard about (and even then, i’m sure you caught wind of it via tlc).

but i remember when the latest royal trend was this:

the princess di beanie baby.

which i still have somewhere, tag still intact of course to maintain its market value.

now, i admit i’ve watched my share of royal wedding specials (only because my sister forced me) and this has influenced me to bring a bit of poshness to my own life.

and what better way to be a brit than with afternoon tea?  to celebrate my upcoming graduation, i was accompanied by my sister and mom as we sampled tea and crumpets (and more!) at the ritz-carlton buckhead in atlanta. our visit there was first-rate, as i would expect from the ritz.

i loved that everyone at the table got their own personal teapot and tea leaf strainer. seeing our pots all lined up as trays of finger sandwiches…

   and lovely desserts…   

came our way was really fantastic!  i could definitely get used to doing this everyday. i have to say i enjoyed the entire experience altogether but my standouts were the tea (my orange jasmine was the best tea i’ve ever had) and the french macarons. in my next life, i want to come back as this guy

or maybe i’ll just bring him home as a companion for princess di…

Ritz-Carlton Buckhead
3434 Peachtree Rd, NE, Atlanta GA
(404) 237.2700