Category Archives: Travel

Queenstown, New Zealand

If God created a place for all his children so that they can run, play and marvel at pure, awesome beauty, then that place would have to be Queenstown.

View from Mt Remarkables

View from Mt Remarkables

I think I am at home in the cold, surrounded by snow capped, jagged edged mountains that touch the clouds.  I think I am at home in a place surrounded by tall pine trees, so thick and dense that the colour green places my heart and mind at ease.  I think I am at home beside the wide and vast lakes that make it seem you are at sea when you look into it, with it’s dark blue clear waters that stretch on for miles, disappearing behind the mountains that frames every view of the city.

Queenstown City Centre

Queenstown City Centre

I love Vancouver, the place where I first fell in love with snow capped mountains and the deep dark waters of the lakes in and around it.  It seemed peaceful and the people seemed to be so relaxed.  The views are breath taking and I can remember thinking that I never wanted to leave the place.  Switzerland was the other place close fitting to this scenery.

DSC00489

Queenstown is much the same and I never thought I would say this, but I think it’s more breath taking than Vancouver!  I’m sorry BC, I still love you but man Queenstown is something else.

On the plane ride in, I was swept away by the views.  We flew in on a dreary day, over cast and from the onset, it looked dark and cold.  The plane, upon its decent felt like a feather falling from the sky, swaying from side to side, dipping, diving and suddenly dropping.  It was a plane landing where I seriously thought might not end  like traditional plane landings but we managed to land safely, some how!

As soon as you get out of the plane and onto the tar mac, you are first reminded of how cold this place is then, as soon as you look around to get your bearings, you are swept away by the beauty all around you.  The colour blue, green, white surrounds you.  And the air, it’s noticeably fresh, clean and so refreshing.

On my first day there, I checked into the Hilton Queenstown.  Right on the foot steps of the Remarkables, which are the snow capped mountains that stand as the back drop to Queenstown and one of the ski hills frequented by the ski bunnies in winter.

The Hilton is about 15 minutes drive from Queenstown city centre but don’t let that discourage you.  So long as you have a car (which is pretty cheap to hire and a necessity if you want to sight see), then every thing is quite easy to get to.

View from the room

View from the room

Hilton Queenstown is on the banks of the lake Wakatipu and it is by far one of the most beautiful hotels I have stayed in and believe me, having worked for many brands of hotels for most of my career, I’ve seen my fair share.  The location is prime, with clear views of the town from all angles.  The mountains are so close you can almost touch them and you can walk right down to the lakes edge and look into Queenstown in the distance.

The hotel is laid out much like a ski lodge.  The building is not tall, which is great because it doesn’t spoil the view and the rooms it self are fantastic.  With twin basins and deep baths in the bath rooms, right through to the open fire place.  The room I was in had double balcony’s with a flat screen TV that swings around to all angles, allowing you to watch it from bed.

The hotel’s amenities are fantastic, particularly the bar where you can enjoy your beer and meal by the huge open fire or the out door deck surrounded by the scenery or simply at the bar being entertained by the superb hospitality of the Hilton bar staff.

Completing the experience were the wonderful staff that worked there.  Every one was helpful and suggested so many activities, locations to visit and places of interest and the concierge team and Nathan in particular were truly amazing.  He organized tours and bookings and showed us places I would other wise never thought of.  In short, this hotel is by far the best I have stayed in; service was great, location amazing and the rooms were definitely five star.

Inside the room, complete with open fire

Inside the room, complete with open fire

In the five days I was In Queenstown, I enjoyed so many things that this fabulous town offered.  Firstly, to enjoy this town, you must get a car.  I got a small but new Holden Barina, great to drive and great on petrol.

There are really only two ways to go, left or right.  You sort of do a loop to Wanaka and back.  From Queenstown, I drove to Cromwell, from Cromwell to Wanaka and then from Wanaka to Arrowtown and back to Queenstown.

On this tour I stopped of at a few wineries in Gibbston Valley, one being Wild Earth.  Placed close to the rapids just outside of Cromwell, this little place is a gem.  Their pinots are amazing and I must say, one of he best I have tasted in a while.  I stopped there to also taste their intriguing food.  It is a tasting platter, complete with matching wines.  What is intriguing about this food is that everything is cooked in converted old wine barrels to give a unique flavour to the food.  Quentin, the chef and proprietor of the place, came up with this way of cooking and it was rather interesting to say the least.  I was fascinated at how they presented their food, on small slabs cut from old wine barrels and the wine flight was also served in the a small part of a wine barrel.  This food presentation was something I will definitely look into, I thought it was very clever and appealing.

Entrance to Wild Earth Winery

Entrance to Wild Earth Winery

Quentin with his barrel ovens

Quentin with his barrel ovens

Don’t worry about the wines, you get only a small taste of each wine so you won’t fly over the limit if you’re driving and the food is good, a definite lunch stop if ever you are in the area and if you’re into it, it is also where the jet boats are launched from!

Food cooked from the barrels with matching Wild Earth Wines

Food cooked from the barrels with matching Wild Earth Wines

From there I headed to Wanaka, with the weather getting better and better as the day went on.  I was lucky to have picked an awesome sunny day to visit Wanaka and it was the type of day you can sit by this beautiful lake, soak in the rays and enjoy the scenery.  More lakes and snow capped mountains fill the scenery.

Whilst I was in Wanaka, I decided to have an organic smoothie at Soul Food, located on the main street of Wanaka city centre.  Paul is the owner of this place and it’s nice to see so many varieties of organic food being sold and prepared at such a beautiful and engaging shop.  Visit him, his smoothies are great and drink it under the shade in the little veggie garden he has out the back!

Wanaka on a gorgeous day

Wanaka on a gorgeous day

Just outside of Wanaka, go to a place called Have a Shot.  This place was a highlight for me.  I love guns, especially rifles and for around $75 you get to hit golf balls at a range, shoot a bow and arrow, shoot a .22cal rifle but the most exciting of all, the clay pigeon shooting.  I looked forward to clay pigeon shooting and as it turned out, it truly was great fun. I’ve shot guns before but this time I enjoyed shooting them at a moving target.  I enjoyed it so much that I just had to go again.  I am convinced that I’m addicted; I think I might take it on as sport!

Shooting clay pigeons at Have a Shot

Shooting clay pigeons at Have a Shot

The drive from Wanaka to Arrowtown is amazing.  You come from high up the mountains, slowly winding your way down into Arrowtown.  The view opens it self up more and more as you descend down, with each turn giving you a new perspective of the valley below.  The road is meanders down the hill, turning into some very tight corners forcing you to really take it slow, which is great because you get to enjoy the views.

View coming down the mountains into Arrowtown

View coming down the mountains into Arrowtown

Arrowtown is a small little town, about 15 minutes away from Queenstown.  I was instantly drawn to this little town.

Surrounded by trees, its made up of a small main street no longer than a couple of hundred meters long and both sides of the road lined with small little shops in buildings that were probably the original buildings built so many years ago.  It wasn’t snowing when I was there, but I could imagine that this place would be a carbon copy of little towns you would normally find in the Swiss Alps, it just had that look and feel about it.

The houses beyond the main street were so beautiful, made of wooden slats and a lot of them lined with picket fences.  I loved this little town, because it seemed so peaceful, a type of place you can easily let go and forget the hustle and bustle of the big cities.  If there is any one in Arrowtown looking for an experienced chef, please consider this as my application, I would move there at a drop of a hat!

Main street of Arrowtown

Main street of Arrowtown

Tree lined street in the suburbs of Arrowtown

Tree lined street in the suburbs of Arrowtown

Food

Now for the best bits, the food.

Queenstown offers so many choices from fine dining right through to tasty, no fuss meals.  I decided to have a taste of both worlds.

Ferg Burger

Ferg Burger staff

Ferg Burger staff

An institution in Queenstown.  You know you are in the right place because it is constantly packed, so much so, there were people lined up outside waiting, just to get a burger.  I was excited, anticipation was high after seeing the line up and the buzz outside this place.  This must the place where so many people have told me about “the” most amazing burger and if you know me, I love a good burger, ribs or hot dogs.

The menu is quite big and the there is something for every one, ranging from the moderately hungry right through to the very hungry.  The burgers are pretty big and very tasty.  A nice, chutney type sauce in the burger and the meat patties are quite tasty.  Ferg Burgers are good but I am sorry to say, I’m still in search for “the” great burger, nevertheless, these burgers did the job and I can’t help but think that the hype has built this burger bigger than what it actually is.

The Famous Ferg Burger

The Famous Ferg Burger

Flame Bar and Grill Restaurant

Flames Bar & Grill

Flame Bar & Grill

I must have walked past this place a million times trying to find it.  I could smell the goodness before I even saw the place.  Again, this place is packed, how ever you can book here and I suggest you do before you just walk in because chances are, they would be full.

This restaurant is right down my alley.  It had all of my food vices in one place from burgers, flame grilled sticky pork ribs, chicken wings and even grilled fish.  I ordered the pork ribs, one whole slab please! And I tell you, THE best ribs I’ve had for a long time.  They were tender, juicy, sticky, smokey and very very tasty indeed!  They didn’t last too long, it was devoured with in minutes.  I was full but just on flavour alone, I think I could have done another slab, EASILY but I didn’t in the risk of being judged by the people that packed the restaurant.  Highly recommend this place and on my way out, I found out you can get a combo meal consisting of ribs, grilled steak, sausage and chicken wings! OMG – true awesomeness on one plate!

The most incredible slab of ribs I have ever tasted!

The most incredible slab of ribs I have ever tasted!

Saffron

Saffron is a restaurant in Arrowtown.  This restaurant is beautiful and the type of place I could see myself comfortably enjoying a meal in the middle of winter.  It has that cosy feel about it, with a open fire place in the middle of the room and warm yellow lights that illuminate the wood and stone that make up the structure of the entire restaurant.

The food was presented well and punched big, bold flavours.  The plates were so colourful and the smells that came out of the kitchen were delectable.

The flavours seemed to be influenced by Thai cuisine and the menu certainly read that way.  I started with a crispy whitebait with lemon and ailoi which was tasty and well seasoned.  That was followed up with a crispy pork and squid salad with a tangy lime and soy dressing which was really big on flavours but tasted rather nice and for mains I had the braised beef in wanton with crispy ribs, served with a type of Thai influenced curry sauce.  It was a strange combination of flavours and textures but it was still a nice meal.

Saffron is a lovely restaurant and the service staff were very attentive and were very good.  They knew their product well and we were served professionally, fitting of that type of “higher end” restaurant.  I had higher expectations of the food and was really excited to dine there but although it was an ok experience, it certainly doesn’t make it in my top ten restaurants.

Advertisements

Boston

Boston

The last leg of my American tour – Boston.

Just a quick recap, so far we have been in New York for eight days, then a bus through to Washington DC and Georgetown for four amazing days of sight seeing and amazing American food and now onto Boston for five days.

Boston is a cool city.  For Aussies, if you like Melbourne, then you will like Boston, it’s like a bigger version full of culture and for food lovers; there are lots of things here for you.

We caught the bus from Washington to New York and then New York to Boston.  It really wasn’t a bad bus ride but if you are going by bus, please make sure you pick a good bus company and that you get your tickets well in advance.  Don’t expect to get a seat on the day you’re traveling because chances are you might not get on and secondly do some research on the bus company.  Because we did not book the tickets the night before and was forced to get on another bus with another company, it made our first leg to New York a really bad experience.  The toilet on the bus was just made the bus smell like a suer.  Imagine being in an enclosed area with raw sewerage for four hours; that’s what we got! Along with seats that reclined buy itself every five minutes, no fresh air coming in and to make it worse, we took the long way to New York (via Philadelphia); not good but the bus company we took from New York to Boston was better, Lucky Star bus company from China Town.  Free WiFi, TV, air con, even a power plug for you lap top and more importantly the seats were comfortable.

My friend and I were too knackered to do anything on our first night.  We simply checked into the Hotel Marlowe, a beautiful hotel run by Kimpton Hotels.  Very good rates and the rooms are quite big and it was very comfortable, definitely will be staying there again.

We met up with Jon, my pastry sous chef who is from Boston, his wife Jess and Jon’s mum for a quick night cap.  Awesome timing seeing Jon and Jess arrived earlier on the same day from San Francisco.  It’s always great when you have a tour guide who knows the place intimately and with some one you know well.  You can really relax , shut off and enjoy the ride.  Jon and I (and Jess) planned this trip a while back when Jon heard his sister was getting married.  Unfortunately the wedding plans changed but since they had the tickets booked already, they thought they would still go, so naturally I saw it as a great opportunity to see Boston with a Boston native.

Hanover St, Little Italy

The first day was like a quick orientation day.  Jon took us around Boston by metro, which is convenient like all the metro systems we have used in America.  We headed for the North Side where Boston’s Little Italy, great restaurants, markets and shopping areas are.  Our first stop, Mike’s Pastry.

The box, tied up with blue and white string

Huge pistachio cannoli at Mike’s Pastry

Mike’s Pastry is on 300 Hanover St in the North Side in Boston’s Little Italy.  Jon told me that this place is an institution and most of the locals know about it and upon entering, it really did seem like every one in Boston knew about it. The place was packed, you couldn’t move.  The first thing you notice apart from it being popular, were the blue and white string hanging from various parts of the roof and the menus of all the goodies they sold with the common commodity being cannoli prepared in many different flavours along with slices and muffins and every thing else it seemed.  I had the pistachio cannoli with ricotta and it was the biggest cannoli I have ever seen (not surprised with everything up sized in the U.S.).  They were tasty, really fresh and you can taste that this was made with skill.  The pastry was crispy, the filling so fresh, it’s no wonder why this place was an institution!  If you like pastry and are in Boston, do your self a favour and stop here for a cannoli and coffee, I highly recommend it.  Now I know what those people walking down the road had in their white boxes tied up with blue and white string.

We continued to walk on through to Salem St, still in Boston’s Little Italy.  Jon showed us a few good restaurants to visit and then onto the street market.  This is the bit where it reminds me of Melbourne.  Freezing cold day, small marquis set up in the middle of the road amongst tall red brick buildings with people selling produce from fruit and veg to seafood.  Clams and oysters; I think I’m finally getting the gist of this place.  It seems anything that comes from the seas with some sort of shell is at its best in Boston and I now see why clam chowder is so acclaimed here, because they’re huge and are in abundance!  Aussies call it cockles or pipi’s, Boston’s answer to that is the clam, which looks the same but three times the size.  They were sold at the markets along with the oysters – both eaten and sold raw!  I get oysters being eaten raw, but clams?  I had to give it go.  It came with limes, salsa and hot sauce.  The raw clams were surprisingly good, sweet, with that slight taste of mussel and hardly any flavours of the “sea” like oysters do.  The oysters were milder in flavour to South Australian oysters.  They weren’t as plump and “meaty” as South Aussie oysters.  They were good but not as good as the like of Coffin Bay oysters from South Australia!

Street Markets

Street Markets, a scene similar to Melbourne

Fresh clams and oysters for sale

We had lunch at the Union Oyster House.  I had to taste a clam chowder from Boston, I just had to know why they’re so famous.  New England clam chowder was supposedly the best in the world, according to Jon!

Union Oyster House is on Union St on the North Side.  Jon tells me it is the oldest running restaurant in the U.S., established in 1826 and there was no doubting that once you get into the place.  Immediately to the left was a half moon oyster and clam bar with dudes opening fresh oysters and clams in front of guests sitting at the bar.  It seemed the bar itself was as old the as the restaurant.  Multi story building all made of wood, so old it seemed like you were in an old wooden ship.  Every step you took, it creaked, the ceilings were low and the tables were some what close to each other, creating that really cosy, I’m stuck in a wooden ship feel!?!?

Union Oyster House

The Oyster Bar at the Union Oyster House

I ordered the clam chowder amongst other things and so did Jon.  It didn’t get Jon’s approval though, something about the viscosity of it not being right but he did promise us that we would taste a good one before we left.  Union Oyster House is great place for fresh oysters and clams.  It’s probably a place to bring your family at and for tourists as compared to going to a place for that really special meal.  It’s a fun atmosphere, fresh seafood and great service.

We walked around Boston and learnt a little history on Boston by Jon then to Harvard University.  It was a great experience walking around there, reminded me of walking around Trinity College in Ireland, which is a beautiful, old college in Ireland.  We tried to get into the library but no dice!  Still, it was good to see one of America’s finest institutions.

Harvard University

Harvard University Library

Harvard University

We then went to Quincy Markets.  On the outside , it reminded me of Melbourne.  It is an area where the outside is a cobble stone mall with stalls selling knick knacks and street performers filling the mall, giving a great vibe and atmosphere.  Inside the Quincy Markets building was one of the most largest food malls I have encountered.  It was overwhelmingly big, catering for the obese it seems!  It might sound harsh but my first impressions were processed, greasy, sugary, excessive food.

Quincy Markets

Being a chef, I’m not overly hoity toity about food, I just love food but my sentiments upon leaving that food mall was the same as when I saw an episode of Biggest Looser, when they showed how much sugar and fat the contestants ate in a year.  It didn’t excite me; it was just a little disappointing that this sort of stuff was exposed to kids and people with weaknesses when it comes to food.  It’s obvious that that was the intended audience and I thought it might have been the wrong message to put out.  If half of that mall had healthy options, it wouldn’t be so bad, I mean I love pizzas and hot dogs like all people, but in moderation.

Chocolate-caramel Apple

Plastic version of the food they sell, HUGE potions

Just sugar really, nothing creative here!!

Some  fresh fruits!

That night we went back into Little Italy and ate at a restaurant in Salem St.  For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant because we were meant to go to the Neptune Oyster bar but because it was so busy, we went next door in what seemed to be a popular Italian Restaurant.

We had oysters – again!  Followed by pastas.  I had the pasta in tomato sauce with clams and my friend had a marinara type pasta.  I regard Enzo’s as one of my favourite, “authentic” Italian restaurants in Adelaide, I like the “real” tomato sauce with a fresh tomato flavour which doesn’t have that flavour of “tinned” tomatoes.  The pasta here was almost as good and again something Americans are really good at and especially here, was the service.  Impeccable, informative and accommodating.  This is something that is consistent in the U.S., brilliant table service, some thing Melbourne is also known for.

We went for Italian pastries at a place called Bova’s.  Picked up a couple of pastries and had coffee down the road to finish a good day.

Oysters for entree

My friends meal, marinara with fresh seafood

Pasta with clams, look at the size of those clams!

Bova’s Pastry

Bova’s Pastry, huge selection

Bova’s Italian Pastry

The next day was Easter, not much to report here except that everything was closed.  We got on the metro and walked around Boston a little more.  That night we went back to the North Side and met up Jess and Jon at a place Jon used to frequent and work at, Finale.  Located in Park Plaza, it was kind of an up market dessert bar where you can sit and enjoy desserts ordered in or take away.  The place was huge, and what amazed me was that one, it was full (we had to wait for a table) so late at night and secondly the choices of dessert they had on the menu.  From individually plated through to share style platters.  The desserts are good quality, none of this pre made stuff.  In South Australia, we’re now just catching on to this idea, and it’s good because I’m convinced, using Finale as a model, that this type of restaurant would definitely be a good investment.

The next day, we went to Salem, home of the witches and Jon’s home town.  It’s a little way out of Boston, about a 30 minute ride on the train.  Pretty cool little town, lots of history here, predominantly relating to witches and Halloween.  It’s very quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of city living.

Salem

Jon showed us around Salem for while then we hopped into a car and drove to Essex for lunch.  We stopped at Woodmans for lunch, supposedly the home of the great New England Clam Chowder and fried clams.  This place is another institution in Boston.  Only a select few tourists get to experience this, simply because it is a way out from Boston.  I was glad we got to experience it!  I got a mixed plate of fried clams and other seafood like calamari and small bowl of the clam chowder.  My friend ordered a lobster roll, which seemed odd to me, such an expensive ingredient in Australia, mixed with a mayonnaise type dressing and shoved in a roll, it didn’t seem quite right!

Woodmans, great fried clams

The clam chowder was excellent.  It was best I have tasted in Boston (or any where else for that matter) and the consistency was a little thicker, Jon was right.  What was good about being at Woodmans was the fact that Jon and I talked about one day visiting  this place years before, never thinking it would really eventuate and to have been there eating it with my good mate was an awesome experience.  The fried clams were good, once you start eating them, you just simply cannot stop.  Woodmans is not an every day place to eat at, again it’s a family day out with a food destination.

We did some sight seeing that day around Jon’s neck of the woods.  We drove to Marblehead where the lobsters come from.  No lobsters for sale that day (they sold out) but it was still nice to walk around this “pretty” little town.  It is the kind of town you can drive to from the city, spend an entire weekend at, simply to get away and forget the city life.  It has a similar feel to Georgetown, with houses packed in close to each other and most made of wood.  Colourful street, with all the buildings in different shades of colour, some white, blue, yellow and so on.  It was really quiet that day, it was mid after noon and it seemed we were the only people walking around, I’m sure it wouldn’t be like this in summer, because it has the potential of a summer beach crowd to it but for now, the quietness was welcomed, it was nice to stroll around with the town to our selves.

Marblehead – with the different coloured buildings

Marblehead

That night we went to Spanish tapas restaurant back in Boston.  Similar all the tapas places in Australia, except the décor was a little different.  A lot more Spanish feel to it, especially the tiled bar upon entrance and again, the service was fantastic, if only we can get a fraction of that service quality here in Australia, restaurants would be doing roaring business!

Tapas Restaurant, tiled bar

The usual tapas selection including garlic prawns

On the last day in Boston and my last day in The States was spent shopping in the morning then another walk around Boston.  That night we went to The Boston Gardens.  I know a lot of people wont get this but, The Boston Gardens is home to two of my sporting team idols.  I love Chicago Bulls but grew up watching the likes of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale who were Celtics greats back in the days and I am also a Boston Bruins fan.  Walking into The Boston Gardens was something special to me.  Apart from the delay at the beginning with my back pack (no back packs allowed in the stadium, so I missed five minutes of the game to check my bag in) being there watching the game, Celtics in their white jerseys, I couldn’t have been happier.  Another boyhood dream come true.  Sure, different players, but the iconic parquetry floors, bordered by the Celtics green was right there in front of my eyes,  along with the Celtics players in green and white, which to me seemed the same as when Larry “Legend” Bird once graced these floors.  I watched in awe, hotdog in hand, beer in the other, friends by my side, Celtics thumping Philly, what more could a basketball tragic ask for!  We finished the night off in Little Italy on Salem St, having beers and pizza, a perfect night with my favourite people!

I will keep this ticket for the rest of my life

The iconic court!

Celtics handing out a whooping to Philly

The last day was super hard.  Firstly, I knew I wasn’t going to see my good friend for a very long time and that was a really tough moment compounded by the fact we just had an amazing two weeks in America.  It was hard saying good bye to her and at the same time saying good bye to America.

My U.S. trip was definitely one I will not forget.  I loved every minute of it.  I got to spend it with my family and my close friends, for something that was so last minute, it could not have gone any better than if I sat down and planned it.  Plenty of things to see, the food here is awesome and as I read some peoples food blogs from the States, I know I only got a taste of a very miniscule portion of what is in that country.  It is cheaper than I initially thought and the food culture was better than what I had imagined, there really is a deep food culture that is so diverse in America, I could only imagine how much I could learn there as a chef.

In all I love America and I plan to go back soon, real soon!  Maybe next year, West Coast!!

Foot Note

Things I learned about New York, Washington, Boston

  1. Don’t over pack your suitcase, plenty of shopping to be done here
  2. Catch the metro every where you’ll work off the massive amounts food you eat and you see more, it’s cheap and very safe
  3. If you are catching a bus form one state to another, research that bus company and pay in advance to reserve a seat
  4. China towns in the U.S. are huge and amazing
  5. Food comes in HUGE portions and are really cheap
  6. Visit restaurants, you won’t regret any of it
  7. Shopping is killer, save your cash before your trip because it will be worth it when you come back with clothes that most people can’t afford in Australia
  8. Plan your day/week well in advance, so you don’t miss anything (my friend did this well for us!)
  9. Visit other boroughs apart from Manhattan, well worth it especially if you want food culture (we missed out, stayed mostly in Manhattan except last day)
  10. Be a tourist, see the cool things like Empire State Building, Central Park etc, you get a sense of what the place is really like
  11. People are helpful enough if you are stuck with directions etc
  12. Walk every where, you see more and experience more
  13. Put your money in a travel card, you save more with international transactions
  14. Find a good coffee place immediately because they are rare, its not like in Australia where there is a good barista close by
  15. Get a map form the hotel, maybe two
  16. You will need more than 5 days in Boston, it is an awesome state
  17. If you are seeing a game in any stadium DON’T BRING A BACK PACK.  They will make you stand in line for 40 minutes to check it in and you will miss some of the game
  18. Organize your tickets for the games early, they sell out quickly especially in Boston and New York
  19. Aussies, speak slowly, they think you’re speaking in a foreign language and definately no Aussie slang, it just makes it worse

Washington DC

Washington DC

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of going to Washington DC.  I thought of many other places to visit in America, like for me, San Francisco for the food scene, Napa Valley for the wine, New Orleans for some good ol’ fashioned Southern food and Chicago for the restaurant scene and to see Chicago Bulls play in their home court but I am so glad I went to the Capitol City.

So as you may have read, this is the next part of my U.S. trip, the next leg from New York City.  I went to Washington to see my niece and nephew (and also my sister and brother in law).  They wanted to go to Washington for the museums and to show the kids a little more about American history and boy, what great a place to learn – about anything!

I was in Washington for only four days so it had to be a really quick tour.  We arrived by bus from New York which was a four hour trip costing us around $25 one way, a bargain I thought.  The bus service goes from China Town NYC to China Town Washington DC, convenient really because China Town in Washington is right in the middle of town and near the Metro.  We left at 8 in the morning from NYC and arrived around noon and upon arrival, my first impression was – “small” town!  No high rise buildings here but I guess we weren’t really the business district.  Our hotel was in Silver Springs, almost the end of the Metro on the Red Line, heaps far but for thirty bucks a night for a hotel, I wasn’t going to complain really!  Our first day was quite exhausting so we took it easy in the hotel and went and had Ethiopian food after checking in Silver Springs.  If you have never had it before, Ethiopian food reminds me of Indian curries.  I don’t know much about Ethiopian food but they have a lot of spiced braises using chicken, lamb and beef and the sauce tastes so similar to Indian cuisine.  What I love most about it is that they eat it with this fluffy bread called injera.  Imagine a huge crumpet the size of a pizza, that is light and fluffy.  The point is to rip a bit off and use it to mop the juice up, really nice way of eating, again similar to Indians with their naan bread and curries.

For those of you who didn’t know, Washington is full of museums.  It is the home of the largest museum and research complex in the world, The Smithsonian with 19 individual museums and 9 research complexes.  The area is just one huge museum all spread out in Washington DC area.

Think of the longest rectangular park, on one end, the Smithsonian divided in as many buildings lining on and around each side and on the other end are the huge monuments that are synonymous to DC starting with the Washington Monument and going right through to the other side ending at the iconic Lincoln Memorial.  This is how it is set up and the beauty of it is, is that you can walk around and visit all you want to visit.  The name of this rectangular, open area park is “National Mall”.  We were fortunate enough to have sunny clear days which allowed us to see the place more comfortably on foot.

National Mall looking at the museum end

Smithsonian Castle

Museum of Natural History

On the first day, we started on the museum end of the National Mall.  There are many museums here, ranging from Natural History, American History right through to Air and Space Museum and the great thing about all the museums was that it was ALL for free.  It all seemed a little unreal, something so fabulous, all for free!

We started at the Natural Museum.  It took about 3 hours to get through and we got to see everything nature had to offer from prehistoric animals to prehistoric rocks, gems and minerals, even moon rocks.  Quite fascinating really, what was even more fascinating was that is was jammed packed, a huge building totally full of people, especially kids.  One thing we learnt early was, if you want to see exhibits, and some have a ticket quota each day like Holocaust Museum, you must get in early.

From here, we walked from the Washington Monument which would be in the middle of the National Mall.  If you don’t know what that looks like, it resembles a huge four sided needle.  This monument would mark the start of the memorials.  From here you walk down the park to the War Memorial, then the Lincoln Reflecting Pool and then at the end, the huge Lincoln Memorial, all in one, long straight line.

Washington Monument, looking towards the memorials

We took our time around the war memorial.  We walked around and really took note of the sacrifice that was made by these men and women.  A great way to pay respects, especially  for the young ones to help them understand the sacrifice these people made.

War Memorial,Reflecting Pool then Lincoln memorial at the end

Looking at Washington Monument towards the museum side from the War Memorial

War Memorial

The Reflecting pool was unfortunately under going reconstruction when we were there.  The whole entire pool was surrounded by fencing which did not even allow us to get near the pool, but it was nice to see where it was.  As I was walking past there, I couldn’t help but think of the movie “Forrest Gump” when Forrest jumps into to the pool to hug Jenny!  I was trying to figure out which part of the pool it all happened in.

Finally, after a long walk (over 600 meters from the War Memorial), we made to the Lincoln Memorial.  Huge! I mean, I thought it was going to be huge but never that big.  Below the memorial, was the actual museum bit, telling people about the history of this monument.  It is where Dr Martin Luther King once stood and delivered the famous “I have a Dream” speech.  The actual Lincoln statue was awesome.  I don’t know what it was, I’m not American but it sure made you feel just a little bit of the American patriotism sitting there looking at the statue of a great man and reading the Gettysburg address behind him.  From where Lincoln sits, he looks back down the long Reflecting Pool, into the War Memorial then onto the Washington Monument.  You can literally sit there and enjoy the same view Lincoln has for such a long time.  It is peaceful and beautiful.

Lincoln Memorial

Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln Statue – awe inspiring really!

The view Abraham Lincoln has from his chair, looking down the Reflecting Pool

From here, we walked around the lake to see the cherry blossoms.  We were lucky enough to be visiting the Capitol City right in the middle of  the cherry blossom season.  Apparently these trees were a gift to the city from the Japanese and like the Japanese, they celebrated each year it blossoms with festivals and parades.  Quite beautiful really, the lake lined with white, pinkish and purple blossoms.  Such lucky timing to witness that!

The next monument to see was the presidential memorial of Thomas Jefferson.  A huge bronze statue of America’s third president sits in the middle of a circular dome held up by marble columns.  This memorial sits to the side of the National Mall but you can still see the Lincoln Memorial from here, just over a lake.

Thomas Jefferson memorial

Thomas Jefferson looking onto the lake, towards Lincoln Memorial

Huge Bronze Statue of Thomas Jefferson

We were pretty beat by this time, so we headed back into town.  Stopped by a Cuban bar for a few mojito’s made with Cuban rum; what a way to end a day.  For dinner, we stopped at a 60 year old real American Diner called “Tastee Diner” back in Silver Springs.  We had ribs and hot wings with Samual Adams beer, an awesome brew from Boston.  I could have sat there all night eating those wings, by far the best American food experience so far.  We downed about 30 hot wings, plate of ribs and several beers.  That night was a high light of the trip, sitting there in that 24 hour American diner, enjoying my friends company, the food and American beer.  Amazing how the simple things in life are often the best!

The next day was the Holocaust Museum.  I saw a film when I was young called “White Rose” which was a documentary about the Holocaust.  I would have been around 12 and to see that at that age was a little bit confusing and left me with a lot of questions.

The Holocaust Museumunfortunately no cameras allowed inside

If you want to visit this museum, you must line up early in the day, preferably at 8am.  The tickets do go quickly and they only let in a certain number of people every day.  This museum does tell the entire story and from many angles.  I must warn you all though, emotions will be stirred up and some of the exhibits are very confronting and visually disturbing but to get the whole story, one must show all of what happened during that time.  You will need a day for this, we did!  We looked at everything and read everything it seemed but those questions I had as a kid were definitely answered that day.

For the remainder of the day, we went to the Air and Space Museum.  Fricken amazing!  I am sure that all boys at one stage wanted to fly and this museum seemed like it was purpose built for boys (and big boys who never grew up).  Past, present and future on aeronautical achievements.  From the first flight manned by a human right through to first landing on the moon.  It is a every boys dream to go here I am sure.  Very fascinating and very informative!

Another full day and we decided to go to the same diner we ate the night before.  We repeated the night prior with wings and beer and it didn’t fall short of the previous nights experience.

The next day, we went to Georgetown.  On our way, we visited the President at the White House, well stood outside of the White House any ways.  It was smaller than I thought it would be.  I was expecting this huge house but in reality, it was kind of small, I mean I don’t how long it went but the front looked small.

Georgetown is one hell of beautiful town.  You knew where Georgetown started, the buildings were different, they were older.  The streets were lined with trees and the architecture was superb.  The homes were town house type homes which looked like well kept hundred year old houses made of red brick and wood.  The main street or high street was much the same.  There were no buildings here that looked out of place, meaning it seemed like there were no buildings here that were built in the modern architecture of straight lines of steel and glass, just red brick and wood – beautiful, makes you feel like you were in another time!

Lunch was at an all American BBQ house – excited!  This place looked like a saloon from an old Western movie.  Wooden floors, wooden bars, porcelain sinks in the middle of the restaurant, wood every where!   All they needed was a spittoon and it would have completed the picture nicely!  The food was sublime; my dream food.  I thought we had already eaten the best soul food in Harlem but I think this place might have topped it.  A mix of Southern food, Tex Mex and BBQ; heaven in one place; a smile from ear to ear for me.  I had the sticky grilled chicken and sticky ribs and my friend had the grilled pork ribs and brisket, again with you had choice of sides, we went with the usual mac and cheese, collard greens and mashed potatoes.  What was also good was the corn bread.  My little nephew thought it was little cup cakes which was an honest mistake because they did look like cup cakes.  Finally, some really good corn bread, better than any I’ve tasted any where including any where in the U.S.  The table had all these different types of sauces, all very very good, all house made!  I just wish I could have sat in the kitchen and watched them for a while, learn the secrets behind this amazing food.  I now see how BBQ’s are so different to Aussie BBQ’s.  The Aussie BBQ serves a purpose for us, but American BBQ’s or cookouts are just something else, it’s an art form that requires skill, attention and time to prepare– plenty of time!

The choice of sauces, sooo bloody good

Corn bread with whipped butter

Grilled sticky chicken and pork ribs with collard greens and mac and cheese

Grilled ribs and brisket with mashed potatoes

My dad, bother in law and niece

That day we visited Arlington Cemetery.  Arlington National Cemetery is a military cemetery established during the American Civil War.  It is a picturesque place, well maintained and on well manicured, green land.  It is a beautiful place for both the final resting place of these fine men and women and also to pay respects.

Arlington Cemetery

Cherry Blossoms line the cemetery

We were also fortunate enough to witness the changing of the guards ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just in front of the Arlington Amphitheater.  From here the view is magnificent.  It sits on top of a hill overlooking the entire DC area.  Arlington is also the final resting place of John F Kennedy and wife Jacqueline Onasis.

Changing of the guards

JFK and Jaqui O‘s final resting place

Famous words once spoken by John F Kennedy

After this we went to the Pentagon.  Nothing much to report here, you can’t get any where near the building with out being questioned by soldiers so we went to meet my parents back in Washington, at Hooters.  Yes my parents, my sister, my niece and nephew all went to Hooters.  Great place, it really isn’t the seedy place people seem to think it is, plus the Buffalo wings here are simply the best along with their steins of beer served by some lovely ladies, what more you ask for in a family restaurant really??  Ahh yeah, those wings were hot and spicy and really good!!

My nephew with the Hooters girls!!

So that’s Washington and most of its parts!  I loved learning about America and this place is so rich with history, predominantly in American history but a lot about world history as well.  I was glad I came to Washington, it was educational and certainly did stir up a few emotions with all the memorials.  If you have children, you will not be disappointed in taking them here, they won’t be bored nor will you run out things to do.

stay tuned for the final part of my U.S. trip – Boston………………….


New York (part three and final part)

New York (part three)

So we’re on the final few days in New York and the fun bits are yet to come.

First we had lunch at place called Chipotle, a Mexican fast food restaurant like no Aussies have ever seen before.  I have been in search of a few ideas for a lunch concept and the idea I had in mind was some where business people can come in, spend 10 minutes max in the restaurant and leave with a fresh product that will satisfy a large cross section of people, from the health conscious eater to the indulgent eater.  Chipotle was excellent.  We arrived just before the lunch rush.  As you enter, there seemed to be an expectation that people who go into this restaurant knew exactly what to do and it was obvious we didn’t.  We lined up and as we got closer to the counter, the menus we had been staring at still made little sense to us so as we have done before, we followed what  the people before us did.

What we ended up with was a huge burrito!  We figured out that you order a burrito and just keep moving up the line with each server adding an ingredient in it, kind of like Subway.  We liked the sound of all the ingredients so we just kept adding things into it.  What surprised me was, how the fricken burrito could fit all the filling in, I mean it must have been a super stretchy burrito because as we ate into it, the burrito was perfectly formed around this bulging filling made of freshly cooked rice, beans, salsa, chicken, avocado.  It was super fresh and tasted really good.  I was surprised at the quality, probably because in my mind, I always think that nothing good could come out of a fast food franchise but here I was being proven wrong.  We sat there for about 20 minutes and noticed that the place was full and the line up was almost to the door but surprisingly, it moved quickly.  The patrons seemed like they were seasoned patrons, they knew exactly what they wanted, ordered, moved along, payed and with in ten minutes, they were out.  I also noticed a little window on the side saying “Phone Pick Ups”.  Yep, you can phone in your order from the office, come in and pick it up and your off, back to the office within five minutes lunch in hand.  Now, I seriously know that if I lived here, it would be so hard to diet with so much temptation around the place and all of it so convenient.

After that, we walked to MoMA.  The Museum of Modern Arts is located on 11WEST 53RD ST.  MoMA was a great experience.  I loved the Louvre in Paris when I went there and I expected the same experience from MoMA.  I really enjoy art and culture, I think it enriches the soul because in my mind it tells us so much about humanity and reminds us that we’re human, intelligent; that’s my opinion any ways!

Plenty to see and experience in this huge building.  The building is made with minimalistic approach with straight lines of metal, wood and glass, beautiful building.  The exhibits range from the photographic exhibits from Cindy Sherman to the famous painters of Matisse, Picasso and Monet’s Water Lilies.  You will need three or four hours to visit all the exhibits here, depending on how much time you really want to study the work.  Some are really interesting and with any thing, you’ll find some that are a miss with your tastes and move along quite quickly.  I loved Monet’s panels of Water Lilies.  I loved the story behind the paintings, the history and just sitting there in silence staring at these huge panels of art, it was really kind of peaceful.

From here we went to The Late Show with David Letterman.  Located in the famous Ed Sullivan theatre on West 53rd and Broadway (near Time Square); my excitement started to mount as we got closer.  For as long as remember being a chef, I have always watched The Late Show with David Letterman.  In Australia, the show is aired late at night, usually when I get home from a shift in the restaurant, so around 1130 at night.  I got so hooked on the show, I started taping it at one stage so it was one of those dreams that was about to come to reality.  I wondered what it would be like to sit in the audience and watch celebrities in the flesh, see David Letterman in the flesh and to see the set with CBS Orchestra.  Some people think it’s lame but hey!!

Outside the Ed Sullivan Theater

Unfortunately the show wasn’t that interesting.  No celebrities on that night, typical!  Instead they had the ex president of the Maldives.  The topic of conversation was interesting but I was more in the mood for some one like Drew Barrymore in the infamous episode when she lifted her shirt up at Letterman, NBA players, famous bands playing at the end etc, but we got a pretty lame show.  I mean, it was still special to be part of the audience and super cool to see David Letterman and Paul Schaffer but the contents of the show wasn’t what I expected.  Not to worry, I still love the show and probably always will until I actually leave the cooking industry!

During this time, we also walked around Time Square during the day, which was rather different, seemed lack lustre in the day light and whilst on West 54th, we also stood outside the famous club, Club 54 which no longer trades as a night club but still has the sign out the front of the building, very cool to see in person!

The famous Club 54

From The Late Show, we hoofed it to Madison Square Gardens (via Macy’s for my friends benefit)

As we arrived (with hoards of people around the stadium, arriving at the same time)I swear, I almost had a tear in my eye! I was so excited it is almost hard to describe just how excited I was.  You have got to understand that basketball is in the Leslie blood.  I love the game, my dad played and coached and I practically grew up in basketball stadiums.  I watched as many NBA games as I could growing up and straight after watching the game, I would practice the moves I saw on TV.  I grew up watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson early on and then my idol, Michael Jordan along with Shawn Kemp, Clyde “the Glide” Drexler, Carl Malone and pretty much all the players that made up the first Dream Team.  To be at the hallowed grounds where I watched these masters of the game play from years ago  on TV and from so many miles away; well I can tell you the feeling was overwhelming.

Madison Square Gardens is located just up the road really from the Ed Sullivan Theatre on 7th Ave and West 32nd St.  We had seats way up in the nose bleed section but the view was still awesome.  I must say that the tickets were rather steep, I paid $145AUS for one ticket but hey, I would have paid more just to get in and see a game and experience a childhood dream come true.  It wasn’t my team playing (that would be Chicago Bulls) but Knicks at home against Magic was good enough.  First we had a beer at the top of the stadium looking at the rafters where the some of the greats of the game have hung their numbers in retirement like the great Patrick Ewing.  Then armed with a few beers and a couple of hotdogs, we watched the Knicks steam roll the Magic, just like they were putting on great show especially for us.  Upon leaving, I just wanted to shout out with joy.  I couldn’t believe we just saw the Knicks at the Garden!!

Retired Knicks numbers

View from our seats

The next day was kind of a catch up day.  I was in search of pair of Jordan 5’s so we searched pretty well all of Manhattan for them but with no luck.  We went back down town into SOHO and went for a bit of shopping excursion.  Nothing much to report here from a blokes point of view except, if you want the coolest clothes, shoes and anything fashion related really, come to New York with an empty suitcase, because shopping is at its best and bloody cheap.  Sneakers at almost half the price, shirts at a quarter of the price compared to Australia and that’s just the start.  I left Australia with my suitcase weighing in at 9kg, when I got back from America it weighed just under 22kg.  Shop till you drop because it is a shopping Mecca.

That night we went to Nobu.  I started cooking over 15 years ago and there is no other chef who has inspired me more than chef Nobu Matsuhisa.  I love his story, his food and I like how humble he is.  His flavours, I think are unique and his presentation always inspires me, simplicity with elegance.  He gets the best out of ingredients with out loosing freshness or integrity of the produce.  In the world we live in where conventional cooking is no longer recognisable, Nobu’s food, in my humble opinion, is still the best.

Located at 105 Hudson St, Tribeca, this Nobu restaurant is the original restaurant opened with Rodert DeNero in 1994.  The restaurant looked so unique.  As we walked in we were greeted by the host and we were taken past rows of what looked like leave less trees growing in the restaurant.  This building was once an old bank and we were sat right next to the vault which was converted into a bar.  The restaurant was dimly lit but you can tell the walls were painted in earthy colours, which makes you feel like you’re in country side in autumn along with the trees scattered about.

We ordered a few dishes from the menu which was undoubtedly Japanese with Nobu’s modern flare.  We had a tasting menu, ordering down the menu with a selection of dishes which included some of Nobu’s signature dishes like the Monkfish Pate with Caviar, a delicate pate with exquisite flavours, sweetness, smooth texture and the sauce was something I have never tasted before.  I’ve read about this dish in his cook book but never imagine it would taste like this, in one word – divine! Tiradito Nobu Style, Eggplant with Miso and Beef Toban Yaki to name some of the other dishes we were treated with.   The bill, which I thought would break the bank simply because the food was excellent, was actually reasonable.  What we paid for that night for three people with tip, you would easily pay for one person in Australia in a high end fine diner and I can tell you what I would rather any time!

Nobu lived up to my expectations.  It was another realisation that I had just experienced another dream come true.  I read about this restaurant and this great chef, I walked away totally satisfied and absolutely happy with experiencing Nobu!

On our last day, we went to Harlem to experience “soul food”.  The best soul food was said to be Sylvia’s Soul Food.  Located at 328 Lenox Ave, which is a block or two away from the 125th St subway station.

Harlem

The restaurant is nothing fancy, nothing compared to where we were dining the night before but we weren’t here for the décor, we were here for soul food.  We don’t get a lot of this type of food in Australia but I can tell you that if we did have a restaurant like this, it would be jammed packed.  Why? Because who doesn’t like pork ribs done in so many flavours like tender beef ribs done in a rich sauce, Southern fried chicken and the dish I really wanted to try, chicken and waffles; sounds wiered but looked so bloody good.

Sylvia’s Soul Food

Like every thing we have eaten so far, again I have to say just how huge the servings were, like it’s super sized if you were to compare with Australian serves and again bloody cheap.  We ordered ribs! My friend ordered pork and I ordered beef ribs both with a rich, sweet, spicy sticky sauce.  Also, both had sides that you ordered with it, huge servings of mac and cheese, gumbo, mashed potato and collard greens, which I could have eaten until the cows came home.  Again, it was another reminder of how fat I would be if I lived in New York because there is always cheap but excellent food like Sylvias Soul Food.  Aussies, if you’re in New York and want good tucker, go here mate, you will leave feeling like kings who have just devoured a feast!

Beef Ribs, Sylvia style

On our last night, we went to Brooklyn for our last meal in New York.  I never realised how many great little eateries there are in Brooklyn  I learnt way too late that the different ethnicities here meant that there were a plethora of choice in food and style of food.  If I ever come back here, I will definitely spend more time of Manhattan to experience the ethnic foods available.  Instead, we chose a funky place called Submarine 21.  Looked new.  It looked like an old pub painted all black with booths and bench seatings which were closer to a very small service kitchen. This place only served subs from veggo’s, chicken and chorizo sausage subs.  Served with waffle cut fries, they were really tasty.  Unlike the subs you get at Subway, these subs came in a freshly baked sub with freshly prepared ingredient’s.  Again, simplicity at it’s best!

So that’s New York in eight days! Eight days is not enough.  There were still so many things I wanted to see but ran out of time to and my preconceived ideas of New York were some what a little skewed.

In a nut shell, New York is safe, clean, cheap, fun, with so many great restaurants and with so much shopping.  There were other restaurants I wanted to go to but I am sure this will not be the last time I will be going to NYC, no way in hell!!


New York (part two)

New York (part two)

So we were in on the third day in New York by now.  We left the hotel early and as usual we caught the train to Central Station.  New York Central Station is a landmark , much visited by the tourists, so being a tourist we headed that way.

This reminded of the scene out of “Friends With Benefits”

Massive building with huge marble facades

I love the old ticket boxes

You’ve seen it in many movies before and the movie that plays in my head is Friends with Benefits on the very last scene and for some reason The Untouchables, the scene where the baby’s pram is rolling down the marble stair case in slow motion but that movie was in Union Station, Chicago.  I guess it’s because they look the same with their huge marble facades, marble stairs and brass stair banisters.  So bloody big and I love that they kept the old station ticket boxes and wooden benches but what I loved the most was the food stalls (of course).  It was located under ground and as soon as you come in, you see rows of tables then just behind that was the array of food stalls selling things from salads and soups and from Mexican to Asian food.  Usual gamut of choices but what made it stood out for me was their set up.  Yeah it was a food court but they didn’t make it look cheap, they really did build it to fit the grand old building, keeping the integrity of it.

From here we made our way to Union Square where I was introduced to the “whole foods” concept.  Whole foods is a fantastic concept.  Food packed in ready to be cooked, minimal prep time for the consumer, just simply buy and eat or in some instances, you just need minimal cooking time; cool idea for the time conscious New Yorkers.  I also saw a lot of hot food and cold food ready for packaging then sold over the counter, another cool idea.  This way you really you do get a home cooked meal but with out the fuss of getting your kitchen dirty.  I assume this is to save time in the kitchen.  Seeing that the apartments there didn’t really have a lot of kitchen space, it’s not only uninviting to cook but chuck the hussle and bussle of New York in there and I see why this whole food concepts would really take off.

View from Union Square 

Pre-cooked food ready for packaging

Packaged sauces, curries etc

Hot food pre made

We were on another walking tour of NYC, so again we started in mid town and made our way down.  I had a list of restaurants to visit, whether to eat or just to have a look at what they were doing.  One of the restaurants was Momofuku.  Momofuku is made famous by an American-Korean chef, David Chang.  I have read a lot about the chef, his history and the food he cooks.  I was so looking forward to experience it all first hand, so under the guidance of my friend, we made our way to 171 1st Avenue.  When we arrived, we stood out side the door and again, I found myself with a smile from ear to ear.  Another tick off the list.  I think we stood at the doors like geeks for at least a couple of minutes before entering.

We were seated right on the bar over looking the kitchen, prime position to observe the chefs doing their craft.  The restaurant was set up in booths on the right hands side as you walk in then the bar on the left where you can also sit at and eat.  Further down the narrow galley like set up, the kitchen is on the left and bar stools where you can eat and watch the chefs.  The furniture was made of light wood, reminiscent of Japanese interiors.  We were excited and eager to taste the food so we ordered a couple of Japanese ales and started with pork/shitake –hoisin, scallion and cucumber steamed buns.  Very nice. The filling had braised pork, all sticky and super tender and soft that it almost fell apart when you picked it up.  As described, it was sauced with hoisin and finished off with cucumbers and sliced spring onions or scallions as they called it and it was wrapped in flattened version of Chinese steamed bun, folded in half with the filling in the middle like a sandwich, great idea from a service perspective (chef thinking cap on here) and a fantastic way to start a meal.  We then had a serve of the Grilled Octopus- scallion kimchi, salsify, cara cara orange, a refreshing little number with an awesome orangey sauce that went extraordinarily well with the octopus; it was so refreshing.  My mate had the Chilled Spicy Noodles – Sichuan spiced sausage, cashews – which was a salad type dish with these spice covered nuts and egg noodles.  It was very spicy from the chilli oil I presume but the sausage was just magic. I had the Momofuku Ramen, pork belly, pork shoulder and poached egg.  It was a ramen type dish with a nice broth.  It was nice but we couldn’t finish it all, we had so much to eat by this point, especially starting out at Union Square eating pulled pork (which wasn’t that great, greasy, I’ve had better and made better).  In all, I was glad I had eaten at Momofuku but as we got talking to the chef’s I did find out a few of their trade secrets which unveiled the curtain of mystery and from there it just didn’t seem as special, from a chef’s point of view.  I loved that we ate there but I think there are places like Wagamama is as fitting or on the same level but still, I can now say I ate at Momofuku!

Excitement was mounting………

Cool Japanese like furniture

Steamed buns

Chilled Spicy Noodles

Momofuku Ramen

We left there and found out he Momofuku milk bar around the corner.  Another cool thing we just had to visit.  Again, we sat outside like tourists and took pictures.  We were way too full to eat so I’m sorry to say that we didn’t even get to eat a cookie!

Momofuku Cookie Bar – cool concept really!

After that, we went further down town to the financial district.  First we walked around SOHO for a bit of shopping  then down to Chinatown and walked around there for a bit of sight seeing.  We also took our time taking pictures of the two bridges and getting to know lower Manhattan.  It seems to me that this area of Manhattan is hip, happening and where the “cool” people seem to be.  It is safe and you do get all the hip restaurants and cool shopping precincts.  I love this area and if I was to live in NYC, I think I would enjoy living in this part of town.

The two bridges, Manhattan (left) and Brooklyn (right), looking into Brooklyn

The financial district is some what different, more buildings – huge buildings!  When we popped out of the subway, I thought I was in the business district of Sydney.  It was a concrete jungle.  We were close to Ground Zero and I was curious as to where these two towers once stood and to find out a little more of what happened that day.

I remember exactly where I was that on that fateful day.  I was in Oxford , England getting ready for work.  I saw it being played out on TV  and it all seemed surreal and I really wanted to see where it was and to pay my respects.  We made our way to the 9/11 Memorial.  It was a solemn moment, seeing the two infinity wells where the two towers once stood, the names of the victims inscribed on the side.  It was a beautiful memorial in such a beautiful space to pay your respects and as you look up, you see  two towers being built, supposedly it will be the highest buildings in New York once more.

Infinity pool with names of the victims inscribed on the side

Beautiful memorial

New towers reaching for the skies

On our way out from the memorial, we get a call from the staff of the David Letterman show.  Earlier in the week we entered our names for a couple of tickets to the show and they called to say we were lucky in receiving two tickets for the next days show.  Now we had David Letterman in mid after noon followed by a Knicks game at Madison Square Gardens, can this trip get any better?  But for now, its photos by the bronze bull in the financial district, walk up Wall Street and a bit of shopping at the outlet stores then dinner at Peasant.

Bronze Bull, depicting aggressive financial optimism 

Looking down Wall St

Financial District looking towards Wall St

Peasant is an amazing Italian restaurant, located on 194 Elizabeth St in Nolita.  Peasant is an Italian restaurant oozing with that lower Manhattan attitude and it was noticeable right from the start.  The restaurant was recommended by a colleague who used to work here a few years ago and he had instructed his friend Paul, who still works there to show us Peasant in full light.

Paul greeted us and sat us down right next to the kitchen.  From here you can see that this place was full of energy.  I love the décor, wooden floors and exposed bricks, the kitchen is open and you can see the action happening in the wood fired oven, with the chefs behind stoves and the guys plating up in front and centre!  The restaurant was a cross between villa in the middle of an Italian country home and a trendy art gallery with food! The place hummed, it was full of buzz but not too loud that it was distracting.  Just from looking around the full restaurant you can see that this is a place to be seen, cool and hip and the people eating there that night certainly looked like trendy New York crowd.  I was fricken loving the atmosphere and being so close to the kitchen, I can smell the goodness being cooked up.

The waiters were very good; I mean they were on another level.  They knew their stuff and more importantly they knew their product and passion oozed as they described the dishes, it simply made you want to try every thing and from looking at the menu, we truly did want to try every thing.

The menu ranged from salads, pizza’s, pastas right through to suckling pig and baked sardines.  I don’t know if New York coolness was getting to me but even the way the menu was written sounded cool like Polpi In Purgatorio which translates to baby octopus, chilli peppers which is one of the dishes we had.  We ordered but we got more than we ordered!  We had cow’s milk cheese and roasted tomatoes which was simplicity, authenticity and freshest indgredients at it’s best.  Baked razor clams, prosciutto amongst other things and of course, we could not leave with out trying the Porchetta Arrosto, rotisserie suckling pig which was cooked to perfection.  That wood fired oven certainly was working over time.  It seemed almost everything came out of that oven and it made look and taste fabulous.  The octopus was definitely my favourite.  It came out sizzling in an earthen-ware dish, fresh from the wood oven I assume.  Just when we thought we could eat no more, chef and owner Frankie de Carlo sent out desserts which sent us over the edge.  Along with a bottle  Italian rose for the night; we truly made a good effort at putting away this fine food, served by absolute pros and cooked by geniuses! Peasant restaurant, thanks for the lesson in Italian cuisine!

We tried to find this cool Mexican bar  I heard so much about which was supposed to be near by, but with the cold and being tired from the day’s activities, we decided to call it a night, I mean, the next few days in New York were jammed packed!  The best is still to come!!!!

To be continued…………………….


New York City (part one)

New York (part one)

The title alone looks exciting right!  Just reading that gets a lot of people excited and rightfully so.  New York is one hell of place!

I organised this trip right on the 11th hour.  My good friend was going to be there and she knows New York really well and my mum and dad were going to be there to celebrate my mum’s 60th birthday which meant that that my sister was also going to the States to meet up with them, seeing she lived close by and to give my parents the opportunity to see their grand children and for me to hug my niece and nephew.  This was enough reason to convince me to go to NYC.

Since I was a kid, I have had a fascination with America.  I have a bucket list and on the America bucket list is to see Michael Jordan playing in Chicago, Bruins in Boston, Grand Canyon and to eat a hot dog in Central Park, amongst others on the list.  I couldn’t do a lot of those things on this trip (some for obvious reasons) but I could definitely achieve the last at the very least.

So I left little ol’ Adelaide on a Sunday and the exciting thing about that is that I arrived in New York on the same day.  Now that to me is travelling at it’s best, you don’t lose any time what so ever, like 6 hours (but in reality it was almost 30 odd hours of travelling).  I arrived in JFK and immediately felt the electricity.  Tired from travelling, I thought the jet lag would kick in, but it didn’t, not yet anyway.  I managed to find an airport transfer bus, suggested to me by a fellow Aussie (now a New Yorker) who sat next me on the plane from LA to New York.  Nice lady, she actually mentioned a few other places for me to visit especially the hidden eating places since she found out I was a chef.

Checked in and ready for the shower my friend arrives at my hotel door, I was so glad to see her and it only made the excitement go to another level, the prospects of seeing NYC with a friend and with some one who knows the place.  After a quick chat and a shower, we were off to Manhattan Island in a yellow taxi, another cliché I so wanted to experience.  Destination unknown, we told the driver to drive down town and we ended up in the Meatpacking District. Amazing! The first thing I noticed was, taxi’s are so bloody cheap.  My hotel was over the Queensboro Bridge in Queens which comes out onto Manhattan on 59th and a taxi ride from there to Meatpacking District would have cost me a cool 25 bucks had it been in Adelaide but it cost nothing more than 15!  The second thing I noticed was pebble stone roads.

I don’t know if the cab was going fast or if I was tired from the travel but I couldn’t get my bearings quick enough and I only started to notice my surroundings after I got out of the cab.  It was cold, damn cold, the kind of chill that was similar to the one I felt in Ireland where the wind was cold enough to cut through all the layers of clothing and it woke me up like a boost of adrenalin.  We walked around a while for a bit of site seeing but we were a little peckish so we hunted down a restaurant.  My friend took us to the Spice Market, a restaurant on the corner of West 13th and 9th in the Meatpacking District. It is a magical looking restaurant. The doors you entered through were made of this beautiful thick wood and you were greeted by  hostesses on the other side of the door, happy people with a welcoming gesture to take our coats. Immediately you are in awe of this restaurant’s décor.  Wood every where with intricate carvings on the edgings of every banister, cornice and furniture.  It instantly reminded me of the those Chinese kung fu movies where the fight scenes are in one of those multi story buildings from old Chinese restaurants like a scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The furniture reminded me of Balinese furniture with an eclectic mix of bench seatings, buckets chairs, and even seats at the bar over looking the chef’s pass.  Sat at a table for two, we had a great view of the kitchen, right in the action.  The food was heavily influenced by my Asian flavours, from Vietnamese cooking, to Malay and of course Indian .  These flavours were something I was totally familiar with in eating and cooking and I assume a lot of Aussies would be too.  Thai beef skewers, Vietnamese spring rolls and Indian curries appeared on the menu, so we were comfortable and confident in making the choices.  With all the dishes served family style, we ordered the usual suspects like tuna with Asian pear and lime, a hot pot, rice and some vegetables.  The food was good but apart from the surroundings, which was absolutely magical, it didn’t really blow my mind, in fact, for Adelaidians, I think Ying Chow or East Taste would have been a better culinary experience.  We left happy with the experience and we continued our walk around the Meatpacking District, which was amazing and started to head up town.  My friend and I had a lot to talk about and catch up on and before we knew it, we found our selves walking past Madison Square Gardens, then into the theatre district in Broadway.  Another reality check.  It was one of those moments that I just found my self smiling.  I was there; I was really there standing on the streets that glowed with neon signs and brightly lit, huge billboards.  I was standing on one of the streets of New York which is a land mark that billions of people know and I even saw the guitar playing cowboy in his white jocks, cliché number two ticked off (Time Square that is not the guitar playing, jock wearing cow boy).  We continued our walk past Rockefeller building then it was time to call it quits for the night.

Time Square at night

Huge neon signs

Outside Rockefeller Building

The next day, the jetlag kicked in so I was in the gym trying to kill it by running on the treadmill at 7 in the morning; didn’t work though, I was wide awake and raring to go so we had an early start that day and I’m glad we did.

The subway is the best way to travel in NYC.  Again, using the movies as my guide, I thought the subway was dangerous, dirty and really dodgy, not to mention how confusing it all seemed but in reality, it was clean, a cheap way of travelling and really, really safe.  My friend was the subway expert.  In my head and I dare say only in my head, I called her the subway “Nazi”.  She had that time table and map to fine art and I did not dare mess with her system, which suited me fine but if she wasn’t there, I would say that my pea brain could have easily worked it out.

We started up town on 5th Avenue , home of the shopping precinct.  Rows and rows of famous retail brands.  The longest road of shopping I have ever seen.  It was cool to walk on this famous strip but I don’t think I was as excited as my friend; none the less it was good to see the fashion of NYC.  I won’t write too much on this subject except for, if you want fashion and fashion accessories at the top end, go here, you’ll find every thing.  I was excited though to see the Apple store on the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th.  On ground level you see a glass cube with the Apple sign in the middle, pretty cool design which was very fitting of Apple really, then you travel underground to one of the biggest and busiest Apple stores in the world.  Being an Apple fan, I was very chuffed to be there.

Trump Tower on 5th Avenue

The entrance o the iconic Apple store on 5th Avenue

That day, we must walked and caught the subway every where.  I was glad to play the tourist, being led around this fine city, I could really switch my head off (which is rare) and it doesn’t happen often but I could really take it all in and enjoy the moment, immerse myself in the sights, smells and culture of the city, I knew I was creating memories that would last until my dying day.

We zig zagged around lower Manhattan  and made our way to Greenwich Village.  We visited the famous Bleecker St, known for all it’s eateries including The Magnolia Bakery, made famous by the TV show, Sex in the City.  The baked goods were good but again nothing compared to some of the top bakeries in Adelaide or Melbourne I thought.  We enjoyed walking around the place, seeing the New York architecture and the terrace apartments with its streets lined with cherry blossom in lower Manhattan, the most picturesque and beautiful part of the city.  I couldn’t help but day dream of what my life would be like living in one of these apartments; day to day living and working in Lower Manhattan, even just saying that name seems cool.

Bleecker St known for all the paces to eat

The Magnolia Bakery made famous by the show “Sex in the City”

I finally found what a pumpkin pie looks like!!

The scenery lived up to my expectations but  I was still waiting to be wowed by the food.  We finally found Zabars, a delicatessen full of Italian cheeses, small goods, salads, whole food, pre-prepared food and the list goes on.  It was a shop with everything you wanted to eat, like a scene out of a small Italian village shop with salamis hanging all over the place and cheeses displayed every where and the smell of fresh bread looming around.  The place was jammed packed full of food and upstairs was jammed packed full of cooking gear, again I was like kid in a lolly shop!  But we didn’t stop there for lunch, instead we caught the subway to Houston St on the Lower East Side and headed for the infamous Katz’s, the Jewish delicatessen that sold the well known “Reuben” sandwich.  Katz’s is home to the Pastrami on rye sandwiches, the matzo ball soup and where the famous orgasm scene from the movie “When Harry Met Sally” was filmed but more importantly, it is the home of the very well known juicy corn beef sandwich called the Reuben!  Upon seeing the Katz’s sign I was heavy with excitement and anticipation.  Entering the restaurant, we walked through a very old turn style, first sign that this place has history and we were then handed what looked like a small bus ticket, which we later found out was our food docket.  The people who worked there must have thought we knew what to do with it but instead we just stood around wondering what the hell to do next, and more importantly how to order.  I asked a dude walking past me with this massive sandwich on his plate how it all worked and he helpfully went through the process with us, so from there,  we were off.  I stood at the counter and ordered the Reuben.  Whilst I waited, the guy behind the counter making my sandwich was very chatty and handed a side plate with small sample of the meat that was in the Reuben for a taster as I waited for my order to be made.  I felt special, I thought I was singled out with a nice a gesture but as I looked around, I realised every one was getting a sample.

When I got my sandwich, served with a huge pickle, I really thought I had a slice of heaven on a plate.  I just had a taste of the juicy grilled corn beef and now I see it absolutely piled high, jammed between two slices fresh rye bread with sauerkraut and thousand island dressing oozing from the sides.  We quickly found a seat close by and attacked this sandwich goodness and I must say, it was better than I expected.  It was the best sandwich I have ever tasted and just when you think you can eat more, you put away the last bite and that feeling quickly subsides.  As I sat there digesting my food, I was also trying to soak in this restaurant land mark.  It was a truly magnificent idea for restaurant that reeked of history.  The floors were made of wood and looked as if it had been there since the birth of this building.  It was covered with wood shavings to collect the dripping juice and grease from the meat and this was swept away regularly and a fresh layer of saw dust replaced it.  The walls were filled with pictures of famous people who dined there in the past  and it seemed to fill the wall.  The buzz and the atmosphere from both the patrons and the servers added to the experience of this place.  It has been there for years and judging from my experience, I am confident to add that it will still be there the next time I have Reuben at Katz’s.

View from Houston St, lower East side

Reuben on rye

We continued around down town then we decided to go to the Chrysler Building and the then onto the Empire State Building.  As we lined up to go up the building, the movie “Sleepless in Seattle” was playing in my head.  I wondered if what saw in the movie was what I will see in a few minutes and as we stepped out of the final elevator, I found out that it did look like the movie.  The first thing that hits you is the cold wind, bloody freezing cold.  I made the error of putting on light jacket, but since I was up here in a once in life time land mark, I had to brave the cold.  From here we could see the all of Manhattan from Harlem right down to the financial district and all the places in between.  Over the East River where we were staying in Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn.  I could see the Statue of Liberty and New Jersey over the Hudson.  From here you can definitely see New York and all it’s Borough’s, it was a perfect end to the first full day of NYC.

That night we went to place called Eataly. It was mind blowing!  One of the largest places dedicated to food I have ever encountered.  These Americans it seemed, really knew how to present food to the punters.

Located on West 23rd and 5th Avenue, you entered into a building that seemed to wrap around the whole block. From the 5th Avenue entrance you walk into a long corridor greeted immediately with café from Lavazza coffee.  Espresso coffee, I was so glad to see that because coffee in America is shit, sorry but it truly is and seeing Lavazza hanging on the walls, I knew there was hope of getting good coffee.  As you walk on down the long corridor, you walk past rows of gelato then onto chocolate heaven.  Rows and rows of chocolates so wonderfully presented in their cabinets like precious little jewels.  They looked so tempting, even for some one like me who doesn’t eat chocolate.  We proceeded to walk around the corner into a large space with stand up tables and surrounding that were tempting small goods stalls a couple of bars you can sit at where chefs cook in front of you.  Cheeses from here to wazoo, it seemed we arrived at food Mecca, enough for us to decide on parking our butts on stool at Eataly’s fish counter called Le Cucine di Eataly – Il Pesce.  We ordered an array of seafood from grilled prawn, squid and lemon skewers called Spiedino Misto $17US, which was so perfectly cooked that we ate everything on that skewer, even the grilled meyer lemon; to fried mix seafood of calamari, fish and prawns called Fritto Misto “alla Ligure” $23US, simply lightly battered, fried and served with fresh lemon, so gorgeous, you can taste the freshness.  Sometimes simplicity is the best! Matched with an absolutely wonderful Italian Rose (Il Rosato, a Sangiovese, Merlot by Costello Di Ama), we were in heaven.  I sound like a hypocrite but I am almost ashamed to say that that wine was one of the best wines I have ever tasted.  I love my wines and boy I fell in love with Italy in New York that night because of the food and wine, I got flashes of when I was in Florence with it’s strong culture that revolved around food.  We were surrounded in food, literally.  When we finished eating, we continued to look around.  I saw people ordering wine and slices of parma ham and eating it standing up at the standing tables, just like they do in Italy.  They ate their small goods served on paper, finished their wines and moved on, possibly to the gelato stand to have their desserts.  We found out there was a fruit and veg stall there, a bakery, and other restaurants.  Like I said, it was that big that you would think you were in Italy.  That place was absolutely fantastic; love, love, love that place and if you are ever in New York, visit this place and experience Italy in New York!

To Be Continued………………………


More Islands…………

Thailand

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I traveled to Thailand with a few mates.  It was never on the list places to go to, the only things I was ever interested in Thailand was the food.  The sweet, salty, hot flavours of Thailand.  Their curries were the first I have ever tried to cook, first that was taught to me really  and for ever since, I have fallen in love with their food.  I saw the movie with Leonard Decaprio once, I think it was called The Beach.  I always thought those islands in that movie were awesome but also thought that being such a tourist attraction, you would see nothing but people every where, slightly taking away the beauty of the place.  If in reality those islands were exactly how they were in the movie, I would have traveled there ages ago!

This time, I went because of a mate’s wedding.  It’s had been something that was on line for almost a year and I almost didn’t go, work was always on my mind  (and still is) but it would not have right if I didnt make the effort, so off to Koh Samui we went.

Getting out of the airport was seemed awfully familiar.  The stinking hot, moist air hits you like a brick wall or conversely, it’s walking into a moist, hot wall of air so thick it takes your breath away.  Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Darwin were exactly the same.  The smell was distinctively Asia, a mixture of smokey air, rubbish, and woody material!  To me it smells a lot like the mats Asian’s sleep on at night with smoke blowing around, WEIRDO!?!?!?!

After a long flight ( I think we took the long way) we arrived in Koh Samui, an island amongst other, smaller islands.  A beautiful place indeed.

Architecture is much the same as semi “rural” places any where in Asia, tins roofs which has been almost rusted out, wooden shed looking shops and house, mixed in with modern buildings.  Bare land sporadically placed and most have little fires smoking out (see there’s the smoke smell) and dogs all over the place.  Immediately picked out the little tin sheds used as restaurants where, at the point where we first drove by in the morning, it was full of young students, lined up on the tables eating in their crisp white school shirts and blue shorts and skirts for the girls.

The hotel, The Kala, was something else I tell you!  You enter through a massive set of wooden gates which closes the place in and keeps the rest of the world out. Immediately upon entry you are faced with the view of the water, the islands in the distance and the sea braze taking your breath away along with the feeling of “you’ve just entered heaven”.  The view is spectacular and the place made its way down a set of marble stairs to levels of hotel services, the top level being the check in desk (all of which is still outside). Greeted with a refresher towel and a cooling non alcoholic cocktail, we were checked into a grand room, which you guessed it, over looked the same view that welcomed us.  The room had the ability of opening right up like a studio apartment, right up to and including the balcony.  You can have a bath in your bath room and still enjoy the view.  The amenities were spectacular and the room was exquisitely presented, something you would pay a thousand bucks a night for in Australia.  The terace continued down to a bar by the infinity pool, and even further down to an infinity decking over looking the rocky coast of the island onto the smaller islands that looked back at us.  From down here the view up the terrace was also spectacular, looking into the hills of Koh Samui.

The shopping there is wicked.  Suits tailor made for under a hundred bucks, made from wicked fabric and the workmanship is spotless, so a I got a few along with the generic, touristy shirts and shorts.

We entertained our selves with riding  scooters around the island.  It was great but I crashed it with in 2 seconds of being on it.  U-turn, front wheel slipped on a pebble and I went straight down a two meter ditch.  Survived with nothing abut a broken side mirror.  So $2o down and ego badly bruised, the first day was filled of the statistics we read on a brochure stating we got on arrival at the airpot stating “over 200 tourist are injured or fatally wounded when driving a scooter” replaying in my head.  It got better though. I did manage to not think of it and by the end it was like riding a bike.  So when in Koh Samui, TAKE IT EASY on the scooters

The food, sublime.  We rode those scooters around Koh Samui and stopped at those out door eateries we passed by on the first day.  FRICKEN AWSOME!!  No joke, these guys are masters and I thought that if they had this very same thing in Adelaide, they would be rich and wanted by the show,  Master Chef.  It was unbelievable and again, it proves my theory about food “don’t fuck around with it too much, you don’t need to”.  Here were guys making fish cakes in front of my eyes, deep fried mini fish, soft shell crab, spicy silver bait, Som Tum and many other things upon placing an order, my first impressions were right, I WAS IN HEAVEN!

Bangkok was amazing.  First day in we had soup in the street which was great.  Then when we finished we saw rats walking around the tables we were sitting at! whoops!

We stayed the Millennium Hilton Bangkok, one of the best hotels in Bangkok.  We ate amazingly hot food, like the green pepper fish curry.  The hottest things I have placed in my mouth and I can eat chillies like there is no tomorrow.  The waitress who served it had a bit of a laugh, I wondered why, then upon rethinking about the situation with sweat beading on my fore head, I realised why , bloody bitch! We also learnt a few tricks the Hilton and how they prepare their stuff, especially with chocolate.  True……CHOCOLATE.  They were wizards at it, of all the places, I would never have thought they would be good at chocolate work??

We traveled around Bangkok with relative ease, we had a great tour guide in my cousin who lives and teaches there.  Jefferson was great, he traveled from a long distance to show us around and there was no stone unturned.  Temples, restaurants, shopping and other places of interest.  We were lucky to have him around because Bangkok is so HUGE it was really intimidating.  We also saw a snake fight and the water markets where we ate hot and sour soup on the “long tail” boat driven a 3 year old boy and his farther.

Still a lot I missed out on with Thailand but I think it can wait for another time or if I don’t go there again, I think I will be happy with what I experienced.  Maybe I was too old when I went but it was an ok trip.  What made this trip special was the occasion and the people who were there.