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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hong Kong Dinner: Lin Heung Kui

 Lin Heung Kui
2-3F 46-50 Des Voeux Road West
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong

Authentic. Traditional. Locals only. The only round-eye in the building was me!

We come into this bustling family-style restaurant and things get interesting right off the bat. We are joined by relatives who are Hong Kong natives, and they begin to bathe our chopsticks, cups, bowls, and spoons in boiling water and tea. I learn quickly that this is common practice in mid-range restaurants to sterilize utensils, just in case. At first sight, I think the wait staff might find this insulting, but I have come to realize it really is a normal thing to do, and maybe I shouldn’t think too hard about why

Let’s fast forward. A few Tsing Tao’s down and the chickpea and chestnut stuffed duck arrives with Chinese vegetable. That is by far the most amazing dish of the night. The duck literally falls apart in shreds, no knife needed! 

Other dishes included squid and celery, spare ribs, fish stomach soup, fish and eggplant, chicken, and jellyfish. None of it was bad. The fish stomach soup was a new one for me but the broth was tasty with chunks of shrimp and tofu. 
Spare Ribs

Squid and Celery

Fish and Eggplant

Fish Stomach Soup

Chicken and Jellyfish

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hong Kong: Tian Tan Buddha

Tian Tan Buddha 
The main event for me in Hong Kong was the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. After a 20 minute subway ride from Hong Kong Station to Lantau, we lined up for the cable car ride up to see the Tian Tan Buddha. I was silly to think it would be a quick ride up. After a half hour of dangling over water, bridges, and steep mountains, we got there. We climbed through thick masses of fog at a glacial pace before making it up. At first, no Buddha was to be found thanks to the fog. But it cleared up partially to allow us some eerie photos of the massive statue. The closer I got to the Buddha, the more clearly I could make out the silhouette and features. It was the world’s tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha (until 2007) so it was an impressive photo-op I found myself in front of. Walking up the 240 steps to get a closer look of the Buddha would have been a lot easier if I didn’t stop working out for the past few months prior to this trip. I’ll go back I swear. Soon. 

 After exploring the Buddha up close, I strolled around the Po Lin Monastery. I witnessed the largest incense in the world (my own assumption) burning a fragrant scent into the air. To end the tour, I spent $1 on a coconut peanut bun, and a vegetarian BBQ bun. It was a sweet ending to my trip to the Buddha.

It was all so spiritual until exiting the area through a strip of gift shops with a Cold Stone and a Subway. Because nothing says “sacred” like a nice 6-inch sub!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hong Kong: First Meal!

Lunch in Hong Kong

My first glimpse of the “Western” area of Hong Kong was not at all like what I remember Hong Kong being. It's more residential and less polished than the "Central" business district which has clean sidewalk platforms and skyscrapers blasting with air conditioning. 
We came across a small open-air restaurant serving pork buns out front. The sign was neon lit and flashing like a scummy NYC adult video store. We decided this would be our first meal of the trip. Thanks to pictures of food on the wall and Cantonese-speaking travel companions, we were able to order a few plates without a problem. I can’t tell if they are arguing or exchanging pleasantries at first.
The food comes and I know it’s not going to be a disappointment. Steamed pork buns, fried dumplings, vegetable with oyster sauce, and dumpling soup. The soup had noodles, clear broth, and cooked lettuce. Cooked lettuce was unusual to me, but tasty. The broth was very bland, so there are several vinegars and sauces at the table for flavoring. 
After dabbling in soupy, fried, and saucy things, I needed some serious clean up. Especially with my chopstick skills (or lack thereof). Thankfully, there’s a roll of toilet paper on the table for us! All is well again!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chicago Brunch

The Publican
837 W Fulton Market, Chicago

After spending the week prior to my Chicago trip researching the best brunch spots, I stumbled upon The Publican. The online menu jumped out to me when I saw red wine poached eggs, pork schnitzel, and bibimbap as some of the entrée options. The interior was simple, with a pig theme. Therefore, it was surely my calling. High ceilings, pig portraits on the walls, wooden communal tables, and pig-pen booths closed in with sliding doors. Making a pig-theme look elegant is not easy I’m sure, but The Publican made us feel like a couple of classy swine on this brunch date!

To start, we had a Bloody Mary garnished with a pickle, radish, and a lemon wedge. It came with a beer accompaniment. We chose a beer called Zombie Dust. It was a great start to the day! 
We shared the pumpkin bread with ricotta cheese, honey, apples and hazelnuts to start. For our entrees, we had the sirloin steak with sweet potatoes, red onions, mustard greens, and cider crème fraiche. Also, pork belly bibimbap. It was our favorite meal of the whole weekend in Chicago. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

J.J. Mahoney's - Grand Hyatt Seoul

J.J. Mahoney's

322 Sowol-ro Yongsan-gu, Seoul
+82 2 799 8601

The Grand Hyatt Seoul is the place to be. Aside from the breathtaking views of Seoul from all around the hotel, there is a lounge called J.J. Mahoney’s with 9 sections to provide a room and a drink for every mood. There’s a dance floor in one room with a DJ playing house music, a tropical bar with island drinks, a bar for those who want to have fresh sushi, sake and soju, and a room to shoot pool with a beer. But my calling is for the room with the live music. Each night at J.J.’s there is a live band performing on the stage behind the bar top. Being that I travel often on weeknights, this place is a guarantee wild night even on a Monday. There are people visiting this bar from all over the world, whether they come for business, holiday, or just locals that want to get dressed up and dance. 

It was a Monday night, and we arrived at 8:30 to find out the band comes on at 9:30. By this time we are feeling the full effects of jet lag, being that it is our first full day in Seoul. We worked up the nerve to keep our eyelids open for another hour as our chins rested on the rim of our beer glasses. I don’t think either of us expected to make it to 9:30, and we almost called it a night. But slowly the bar picked up, it got crowded and the band was introduced. 

It was a group of middle-aged men performing oldies like “brown eyed girl” and several Bon Jovi hits.  I felt like I was back on Long Island at a dive bar, and that’s not a bad thing! After the band took a short break, they came back with a new band member. She was a hot-pants-wearing Korean-American singer. She got the crowd dancing while performing Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Black Eyed Peas. Although the drinks were very expensive, and the singing was off key at times, I would go back without hesitation. While J.J.’s is full of options for any kind of night you plan on having, you can find me in the room with the band.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Seoul, Korea: BBQ

Maple Tree House
Itaewon, Seoul
116-1 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu

We stayed in the Itaewon area of Seoul this time. It’s full of bars, clubs, and restaurants of various international cuisines. Before we left for the airport, we had our final meal at a modern BBQ joint, Maple Tree House. The scent of our final meal would be embedded into our clothes for the next 24 hours before our next shower back in New York. The reason for this being that Korean BBQ is full of beefy, garlicky, spicy smoke. It’s worth it! If I could bottle the scent I would. 

We ordered the beef bulgogi and out came an array of side dishes and cooked sesame leaves to wrap it all in. Among the side dishes, we were given the usual: kimchi, garlic, omelette, scallions, rice. We also tried acorn jelly for the first time, and enjoyed a steaming hot bowl of spicy kimchi soup. We accompanied our meal with some soju and Cass beer. After all, what is a vacation lunch without booze? 

While the bulgogi and veggies cooked, we toasted our drinks to a return trip to Seoul. The sweet little lady cooking our meat at the table knew that us round-eyes would need help cutting the big pieces of meat with only chopsticks to use as our tool. She cut up the beef and veggies with her scissors to avoid us having to rip the meat apart with our teeth like American pigs. Then we enjoyed the bulgogi-stuffed sesame leaves and left with a full belly and happy memories of the Itaewon district of Seoul.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Seoul Street Food (Round 2)

Seoul Street Food 
Round 2
Tornado fries + hot dog
It’s my second trip to Seoul, Korea. With my goals more defined and my eye on the prize, I began my 36-hour adventure on foot. While my goal was to eat (of course), my mom’s goal was to shop. We arrive at Myeong-dong, where both of our interests combined into a district full of life. As we weave our way in and out of shops and boutiques, I reward myself with whatever street food presents itself to me at that moment. 
Various street foods

First, the famous tornado fries I’ve heard so much about. The potatoes are peeled right in front of us, coiled around a long skewer, dunked in batter, then deep fried into a potato chip spiral sprinkled with seasoning. Like a kid again, a little snacky snack for the baby makes shopping a lot easier for mommy.  ($2 each)

Lunchtime approaches, and we don’t skip a meal. After all, we only have 36 hours to accomplish some unrealistic food goals. We find a small bibimbap joint. For mom, beef bulgogi bibimbap. For me, spicy kimchi and pork bibimbap. It comes to us piping hot and we mix it all together with red pepper paste. There’s something special about bibimbap. Why does this simple dish, that's essentially just rice and veggies, taste so good?!
Beef bulgogi bibimbap
Spicy kimchi and pork bibimbap

There’s some more shopping afterwards, but not for long. I spotted the foot long ice cream man! Carefully serving the tallest ice cream cones I’ve ever seen, this guy is getting quite an audience. I go for the green tea and vanilla combo. ($2 each)

My gut is cramping, and I don’t think I can take anymore. But then the famous French-fry-crusted corn dog appears! On a table of fried food-on-a-stick’s I spotted my ultimate Korean street food goal. I don’t know whose idea it was to dunk a corn dog in batter laced with French fries, but I’d like to shake their hand. I never thought anyone would be brave enough to merge the side dish with the entrée! I bought it, obviously. And we each took a big bite before calling it quits. ($2 each)

After all, we have to save room for our big BBQ dinner…

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sicily: 15-Course Seafood Dinner

15-Course Seafood Dinner
Palermo, Sicily
Nothing fancy on the outside, but isn't that usually the case for hidden gems?

Via Torretta, 78
Palermo, Italy
+39 091 532934

I was told to expect the best seafood in Sicily, and lots of it. Over the past year or so, I’ve been training my palate to acquire a taste for seafood, unaware of the marathon meal that was ahead. Some friends took us to their favorite spot in Palermo, where 25 per person gets you 15 courses. Take a look at some of the family-style seafood plates we devoured.
Frutti di mare cold seafood salad.
Stuffed sardines.
Smoked tuna.
Swordfish Polpette.
Fried calamari.
Bait. That's what I called it. Looks like fried bait. 
 Seafood meatballs.
Pasta with clams.
Seafood risotto.
Penne with tuna and octopus.
Fish platter.
Sgroppino lemon sorbet to end the meal and clean the fish taste from our mouths.

I felt privileged to be taken to an authentic Sicilian seafood restaurant, where locals come for a good meal. I was the only tourist in sight, and I walked away feeling like I was let in on a secret. Down 15 plates, and countless bottles of wine, it's time to go home.