Holybelly

What would happen if an Australian or American style brunch place landed in the City of Light? No need to hypothesize: head to the 10th arrondissement and visit Holybelly to find great coffee, great breakfasts and friendly service.

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Holybelly is located near the Canal Saint-Martin, a working class neighborhood that has been increasing in popularity over the past few years and is gentrifying at an increasing rate. It still has its rough edges but the yuppies and hipsters of Paris are plentiful.

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The narrow interior leads to a larger, skylit seating area near the kitchen. The restaurant would be at home in Melbourne or San Francisco and differs from most breakfast restaurants in Paris by being coffee obsessive and offering a larger range of foods on the menu.

One notable difference from Parisian peers is the restaurant’s bold friendliness: the board above the coffee bar announces “Welcome to Holybelly, where the customer is always loved but ain’t always right.” The menus also offer similar salutations in both English and French. Tawn and I were first to arrive followed quickly by a rush of customers, most of whom seemed to be regulars, greeted warmly in French and English by the employees.

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The menu is fairly simple. We chose eggs cooked to order with two sides: roasted and pan fried mushrooms with thyme and garlic, and a homemade pork sausage patty. Everything came with beautiful artisanal bread from Du Pain et des  Idees bakery, where we had nearly wound up with a dozen croissants the previous morning. They also offered some varieties of pancakes and homemade granola for breakfast. A brief lunch menu kicks in mid-day.

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The highlight is the savory stack: a stack of griddled pancakes with fried eggs, bacon, homemade bourbon butter and maple syrup. You can turn that into “The Champ” by also ordering a topping of roasted and fried mushrooms. It was a pretty outrageous, and outrageously delicious, dish!

The coffee was fantastic, brewed from locally-roasted beans from la Brulerie de Belleville. Nice to have a proper latte after several days of cafe cremes that showed that Parisian coffee these days isn’t as great as it once was.

If you want to better understand Holybelly, read the facts page on their website, complete with Game of Thrones references. Better yet, fly to Paris and visit them.

Holybelly
19 rue Lucien Sampaix
75010 Paris

Open 9:00 am weekdays, 10:00 weekends, closed Tuesday and Wednesdays

 

 

Waffles

April and May have quite a few holidays here in Thailand. Days off can be strategically taken to have, for example, a five-day weekend using only one vacation day. Since I am still relatively new at my job and am saving up my vacation time for my family’s visit this summer, I am not taking any time off. But I did decide to celebrate the long weekend by making waffles for breakfast.

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There are countless recipes for waffles, but I quite like the one on the Pioneer Woman Cooks website. Ree Drummond’s recipes are well tested and her waffles are light and crisp, exactly the quality I admire in a waffle. The trick is to whip the egg whites into stiff peaks and then fold them into the batter just before cooking. This helps the waffles puff up instead of turning soggy.

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Truthfully, I’ve not sure that waffles are as great a breakfast choice as they may have once been. I am reaching an age where a heavy, carb-loaded breakfast doesn’t give me strength to go out and plow a field. It just gives me the strength to take a long nap. Which may be perfectly fine since it is a long weekend.

 

Food in Bangkok: Karmakamet Diner

Hot new “must try” restaurants in Bangkok are like dandelions: they pop up frequently but don’t last long. One recent flowery addition to the local dining scene, Karmakamet Diner, stands a chance at staying around, at least if their brunch is any indication.

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Karmakamet is a local brand specializing in high-quality and beautifully packaged perfumes, aromatics, and candles. They started with a small shop at Chatuchak Market and grew slowly. Eventually, a small tea shop opened at Central World Plaza and then not that long ago a cafe opened in Silom.

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In the last few months, they have opened their first full-blown restaurant in a stylish converted warehouse tucked just behind Emporium’s second car park structure. The building resembles a greenhouse-cum-factory with views of the pretty garden through windows glazed to keep the sunlight from being unbearable.

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The interior space is richly designed with lots of vintage-looking details. Most of the dandelion restaurants in Bangkok also feature fetching interiors, but Karmakamet Diner seems to have been more thoughtfully designed than most. It really is a pleasant space with interesting things to notice whichever direction you look.

Of course, my primary concern in any restaurant is the food. While I haven’t been there for dinner yet, I have had weekend brunch there three times over the past six weeks. Each time the food quality was consistent, the presentation attractive, and while the dishes are relatively pricey, I find them a fair value given the quality, portion size, and beautiful setting. Let’s take a look at what I tried – rest assured I dined with other people and didn’t eat all of this food myself!

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Home made granola with fresh fruits and yogurt. Tasty, although it is granola so I’m not sure that I can expect anything amazing.

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The crab-avocado sandwich has a spicy truffle mayonnaise, rocket, hard boiled egg, and tomato confit. This was a tasty sandwich although the use of plain thick-cut white bread was a bit of a letdown. Something whole grain would have been nicer.

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Panini with roasted vegetables, melted cheese, pesto, and a ridiculously tasty portion of ratatouille. A pretty simple dish but well-executed. The choice of bread was very good.

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The croque madame was one of the highlights. Layered buttered toast with Gruyere cheese, ham, bacon, and sous-vide egg, topped with melted Mozzarella. It is every bit as rich and decadent as it sounds. Perhaps not for the high of cholesterol!

2014-02-10 05A pasta dish featuring capellini with cod roe and garlic. This was a nice dish, pleasantly salty from the roe. There was also a very spicy crab pasta (not pictured) that was enjoyable and, true to its promise, very spicy.

2014-03-01 5Penne with N’Duja, an Italian spicy sausage that seems to be quite the favored ingredient here in Bangkok these days, along with Burrata cheese. The sauce was really tasty, though, and the pasta was properly cooked.

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Eggs Benedict – available with either ham or smoked salmon, or with salmon patties as a substitute for the English muffins. I tried the ham and the salmon patty versions and enjoyed both. The eggs were perfectly cooked with firm whites and liquid yolks. The Hollandaise sauce is smooth and velvety although just a bit more tart than I like. There is a careful balance to achieve with the acidity, maybe a matter of preference more than anything else.

2014-02-10 03The “full breakfast” features just about everything you would consider to be a breakfast food, plus a bit of mixed greens salad. It is a huge portion and makes you glad that food is generally served family style here in Thailand. As a side note, food at Karmakamet Diner did come out family style in a hodge-potch manner. Diners ordering individual plates be forewarned!

2014-03-01 2The so-called “can’t resist pancake” – the pancake is buried under duck confit, sautéed potatoes, crisp bacon, and sour cream served with a side of maple syrup. My first reaction (before taking a bite) was “what the heck is this mess?” After I tried it, all was forgiven. The pancake is really just there to absorb all the tasty flavors from the bacon, duck, and syrup.

2014-03-02 3For dessert, we shared a massive slice of French toast surrounded with fresh fruits and topped with an orange sauce and maple syrup. Shared among four or six people, it is just the right amount of sweet with which to conclude the meal.

Service was generally attentive and responsive. One thing that I greatly appreciate is that the kitchen properly warms the plates before putting food on them. Especially for dishes like Eggs Benedict, a cool or even room-temperature plate will cause the sauce to quickly form an unappealing skin. The plates were warm, almost hot, to the touch. Bonus points for attention to that detail.

Without having tried the dinner menu, I’m not yet sure if Karmakamet Diner is just another pretty dandelion restaurant, soon to fade with the changing trends. But if brunch is any indication, I think they may blossom into something much more lasting and substantial.

Dining in Bangkok: Rocket Coffeebar

For nearly eight years living in Bangkok, I have lamented how few good breakfast and brunch restaurants we have. This has started to change recently and Rocket Coffeebar on Sathorn Soi 12 is a welcome addition to the breakfast scene.

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Opened by several of the people behind Hyde & Seek on Soi Ruamradee, Rocket Coffeebar’s vibe would fit in well in Stockholm, Sydney, or San Francisco. The interior is small – seating perhaps sixteen people – and is done up in stylish marble counters and tiles. Continue reading

Pancakes with Ice Cream?

It must be a cultural thing. Saturday morning Tawn and I went to a local branch of the Australian chain The Coffee Club for breakfast. Since I had been really good all week, working out and eating well, I decided to treat myself with an order of pancakes. Now, I will admit that pancakes are not the healthiest breakfast out there. But I was not expecting this:

The stack of pancakes was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some whipped cream. Add to that the syrup and it was a plate full of adult-onset diabetes as the way to start my day. Yikes!

I must say, though, that I like the little circle they cut in the top pancake of the stake, to better hold the scoop of ice cream. Thoughtful.

Food in Shanghai – Part 1

Shanghai is a city of immigrants and the most international of Chinese cities. This mixture of people and cultures means that there is an opportunity to try many different types of food from lowbrow to high-society. We arrived in Shanghai armed with a list of recommended restaurants and were hosted by people who had their own “must try” lists, so we had more places to eat than we had meals! I’m combining a few different meals into this entry.

Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Knowing that, we wanted to see how folks in Shanghai fuel their day. The morning that we arrived, Tawn’s cousins Paul and Nicha took us to a Kiwi restaurant near their apartment for a satisfyingly typical western style breakfast. On subsequent mornings, though, we went native for our breakfasts.

A common breakfast dish anywhere with Chinese influence: rice porridge, known as jok (“joke”) or congee (“con-jee”). For breakfast, you can also order these “Chinese donuts” which are fried sticks of dough perfect for tearing up and adding to your jok. They are not sweet, though. If you are a porridge sort of person, as I am, you will probably enjoy jok.

Another breakfast snack was what might be described as a rice burrito. Sticky rice rolled around some dried pork and pickled vegetables. This is the exact same thing we had for breakfast when we were in Taipei in November 2009.

Another breakfast item, bought from a Muslim vendor, was this roti – a thin, multi-layered pancake with salt, green onions, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Tasty but heavy.

At the same vendor, we sampled these thin cakes stuffed with black sesame paste. The cakes are griddled and have a very flaky texture.

Detail shot showing the light, flaky texture of the cakes and the black sesame filling, which is slightly sweet. We also bought a hot beverage that was made from blended black sesame seeds. It had a very pleasant flavor.

 

Lunch

Shanghai is known for its dumplings and everyone has their favorite type of dumplings and their favorite vendors. On this trip, I fell in love with sheng jian bao – a pan-fried pork soup filled dumpling sprinkled with sesame seeds.

We tried sheng jian bao from a few different places but kept returning to the place where we first tried them: Yang’s Dumplings. With a few branches in Shanghai, Yang’s popularity is clear by the queue that stretches from the front door most anytime during the day. You queue up on the left, ordering and paying at the cashier, and then queue up on the right to wait to collect your order.

 

A view of the cramped but efficient kitchen at Yang’s Dumplings on Wujiang Luu above the West Nanjing Street subway station. The menu has only about a dozen items but these dumplings are the superstar item.

The secret that makes sheng jian bao different from xiao long bao (made popular at places like Din Tai Fung restaurant) is that the sheng jian are fried in a heavy pan and steamed at the same time, a process making them a relative of Japanese gyoza – potstickers. This provides a crispy, crunchy bottom with a tender, steamed top – the perfect combination of textures. An order is four dumplings, enough for a hungry person or for two people to share if you have also ordered some soup or greens.

Tawn and his cousin’s wife, Nicha, demonstrate two techniques for eating sheng jian bao: steamed top up or pan fried bottom up. The trick here is to be very careful because the inside of the dumpling is filled with ground pork and a minor ocean of hot soup. You don’t want to let the succulent soup spill so you have to gently tear the top of the dumpling and slurp the soup out. I found the “steamed top up” technique to be easier.

The sad circumstance that we kept facing throughout our visit to Shanghai was this: an empty bowl, its tasty contents just a fading flavor on our tongues.

 

Breakfast or Dessert?

Recently had brunch at Gastro 1/6, a small cafe at the RMA Institute deep in Sukhumvit Soi 22. When I ordered the following, they asked if I wanted a scoop of ice cream with it.

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I guess I thought of French toast with fresh fruit as more of a breakfast dish than a dessert, but when the fruit is this sweet and it is drizzled with maple syrup, I guess it isn’t that far from a dessert, is it?

 

Chloe, Ella, and Savor – A Trio of San Francisco Breakfasts

During our final pass through San Francisco, we set out on a small project to revisit a trio of our favorite breakfast restaurants from when we lived there. San Francisco is a great city for breakfasts – the same cannot be said for Bangkok, at least for Western style breakfasts – and we were excited to indulge in some early morning reminiscing with a few cups of coffee and plates of eggs, pastries, and meat products.

Savor

Our first breakfast was at Savor, a southwestern themed restaurant located on 24th Street in Noe Valley. In addition to Miss Millie’s, a now-defunct restaurant that was located on 24th at Castro Street, Savor was a frequent stop for breakfast when I first moved to San Francsico in the late 1990s.

The interior space is pleasant. You walk past the kitchen at the front of the restaurant and find a large dining room and a bright but shaded patio behind the restaurant. The interior is, as mentioned, southwestern and a fireplace lends a cozy atmosphere to the high-ceilinged space. We visited on a weekday morning and the restaurant wasn’t crowded. A friendly bear was our server and he had an amiable, almost maternal manner.

Tawn ordered the Coronado frittata. Years ago, frittatas were on the menu but have been removed and only omelettes remain. Tawn enquired with the waiter, though, and he said they’d be happy to make any of the omelettes as a frittata. This was a nice touch. The Coronado has avocado, sharp cheddar cheese, and onions and is topped with black bean chili, salsa fresca, and sour cream. 

I ordered the Santa Fe, one of Savor’s many crepe selections. The Santa Fe has grilled chicken apple sausage with scrambled eggs, green onions, provolone cheese, and salsa fresca. The side of home fried potatoes was disappointing as they are under seasoned and would benefit from the use of some herbs.

One treat at Savor is their spicy cornbread, which is toasted and served with jalapeno jelly. This is what I remembered about the restaurant and was eager to try it again. Like the potatoes, I found the cornbread underseasoned, begging for a little more salt.

Overall conclusion was that Savor remains a comfortable place with friendly service and decent food, but the food seems more about quantity than quality. The quality isn’t bad, mind you, but it doesn’t stand out from the crowd. If they could reduce portion sizes slightly and improve the flavors, then they would have something really special.

 

Ella’s

The second of the trio is Ella’s, a self-described “neo-classical American” restaurant located on Presidio Avenue where Laurel Heights meets Lower Pacific Heights. More upscale, Ella’s has a sophisticated but inviting look. Waits can be long on weekends but on a weekday morning, we were seated immediately.

One of the two dining areas. Banquettes line the windows and tables are tightly spaced. On a busy morning, there is an energetic vibe and service is very prompt, encouraging a quick turnover. Service was detached and while employees were not outwardly rude, they also weren’t very friendly.

We started by sharing one of Ella’s famous cinnamon pecan rolls. These gooey delights are generous enough for a quartet to share but not as overwhelmingly sweet as, say, the rolls from Cinnabon.

Perhaps the most famous item on the menu is the chicken hash. (Which, unfortunately, is hidden under the eggs so you can’t see it!) Made with a combination of Russet and Yukon Gold potatoes, their hash is an immensely satisfying breakfast. The lumpy mashed potatoes are combined with sage, thyme, parsley, sauteed onions, and mustard, then formed into a patty and fried. My only complaint with this dish is that they garnish it with a heap of raw green onions, which give it a “grassy” feel. I just brush them to the side and enjoy the hash ungarnished. 

Tawn tried some French Toast, which was nicely battered and cooked to that perfect point where the bread is rich with the eggy custard but not soggy. Portion sizes are more moderate than at Savor, leaving you feeling satisfied but not stuffed.

One of Ella’s charms is that they bake their own, very good bread. The entry area shows off their baked goods, which are available for takeaway purchase. Overall, Ella’s hasn’t changed in the years since I left and remains a nice place for a special breakfast.

 

Chloe’s

My final morning in San Francisco, I headed down Church Street to Chloe’s while Tawn slept in. Arriving a few minutes before the restaurant opened, I browsed the newspaper and waited on the seats outside. A long-time neighborhood attraction that occupies a small space, Chloe’s quickly has a queue and waits can be long on weekends.

Not fifteen minutes after they opened, most of the inside tables were full. The space is cozy and the staff is buzzing about, refilling coffee, taking orders, and keeping things moving without ever making you feel rushed. Only open for breakfast and lunch, the restaurant’s daily specials are written on the chalkboard and always include a scramble of some kind as well as a soup of the day.

I decided on buttermilk blueberry pancakes with scrambled eggs. Most breakfasts come with the option of toast, a pastry, or a bowl of fresh fruit. Obviously, I took the healthier option. While simple, the food is made with top-notch ingredients and is well-prepared. Your cup of coffee never gets cold thanks to the attentive employees who keep filling it up.

An F-Market car passes Chloe’s, heading up Church Street to start its day. There’s enough housing the in neighborhood to support a restaurant twice Chloe’s size, but they keep it small and are able to stay on top of the details. Chloe’s really has a neighborhood charm to it.

 

Conclusions:

Of the three restaurants, Chloe’s remains my favorite. While the food at Ella’s is a little fancier, Chloe’s has the scale and charm of a true neighborhood restaurant. Ella’s, located on a busy corner, seems more isolated. Although not a bad choice, Savor is a distant third when compared with the other two restaurants. Its service is friendly but its food isn’t as good as at the other two restaurants.

 

Breakfast and Lunch in Honolulu

One corner of Honolulu that we found ourselves returning to throughout our two-day visit was Kapahulu Avenue. This neighborhood runs from the north side of the Honolulu Zoo (which is at the south end of Waikiki) to the H1 freeway near Chaminade University of Honolulu. The approximately two-kilometer distance is gentrifying nicely, with lots of long-time shops rubbing shoulders with a new Safeway supermarket. On our visits there, we ate a breakfast and a dinner.

 

Breakfast: Sweet E’s Cafe

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Located in a small shopping complex kind of hidden off Kapahulu Avenue near the H1 freeway, Sweet E’s Cafe is one of the higher-rated breakfast places on Yelp.com. To be certain, I take Yelp reviews with a few large grains of salt. That said, it looked like a good bet for a decent Saturday breakfast before we started driving around the island. 

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Arriving early, we found the dining room less than half full. From the reviews, I get the impression that the restaurant is very crowded later in the morning. The interior is pleasant and the servers were helpful, if not exactly warm.

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Poached eggs with Kalua pork. My big beef with lots of places is that their poached eggs are overcooked. This time, the problem was that the eggs were undercooked. In my mind, the perfect poached egg has solid but not rubbery whites, with runny yolks. When I cut into the first egg, the whites were still watery inside. It was right on the line between “worth sending them back” and “not worth sending them back,” so I didn’t. As the watery whites soaked my English muffins, though, I regretted my decision. The pork and the sauce were tasty, so points there, but the potatoes were bland and would have benefitted from some herbs or spices.

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Tawn ordered a basic waffle with maple syrup. It was pleasantly crisp, cooked to just the right point.

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We also ordered French toast stuffed with cream cheese and blueberries. The toast itself was nicely done but the blueberries inside the toast were tough, leading me to conclude that they use frozen blueberries for the stuffing and only place fresh berries as garnish for the plate.

Overall conclusion: Sweet E’s didn’t show such a sweet face for us, at least as far as quality. It has the potential to be very good and if we lived there, we would give it another chance to redeem itself. But if you are just visiting, I would suggest you search out Boot’s & Kimo’s in Kailua.

 

Dinner: Sam’s Kitchen

On Friday evening, we found ourselves looking for a tasty dinner that didn’t involve a lot of expense or effort on our part. Turning to Yelp.com, I searched for “cheap seafood dinner” in Honolulu. Sure, that’s probably the last place you want to eat – somewhere serving cheap seafood – but we got a result whose high ratings were accompanied by thoughtful reviews: Sam’s Kitchen.

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Located on Kapahulu Avenue right across from a new Safeway shopping center, Sam’s has a slightly retro dive bar appearance. When we arrived about 8:00, we were charmed by its exterior but baffled (and slightly worried) by its almost vacant state.

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We entered and found only a half-dozen customers (if that) listening to live Hawaiian music. I felt a little conspicuous walking in during their performance – after all, it wasn’t like we could sneak in unnoticed. The lady behind the counter was welcoming, though, so we figured out the menu and placed our order.

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Sam’s is about as “Hawaiian” as you can get, a fusion of flavors that represent the different cultures that make up the local population. There is a heavy Japanese bent (and it seems that their original Waikiki location is wildly popular with Japanese guide books), but other cultures are represented, too. Dishes are mostly either rice bowls or bento boxes and their garlic sauce is apparently “famous.”

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Tawn tried the spicy garlic shrimp rice plate, which came with a salad and a half-ear of corn. This was good food – the shrimp is tender and sweet and the garlic packed a punch – and stayed with us for the next day.

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I had the fried mahi mahi with macadamia nuts. The fish was very fresh, lightly breaded, and the sauce was tasty. Both dishes were simple, inexpensive, huge, and excellent. So much so that on Saturday night, our second and final night on Oahu, we decided to visit Sam’s again.

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This time we stopped at the original location on Royal Hawaiian Avenue in Waikiki. This location is take-out only, although it does offer some self-service tables if you can’t wait to get back home to eat. The menu is the same and the customers were mostly Japanese.

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Tawn ordered a combo plate (left) with the same two items we had the night before, but half a portion each. On the right, I ordered a garlic steak plate. The steak was tasty, although pretty tough.

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With two small bottles of wine from the convenience store downstairs, we celebrated our last night on Oahu with a sunset dinner on our balcony.

 

Big Bite Breakfast

The morning after attending Big Bite Bangkok, I decided to make myself breakfast using some of the ingredients I had purchased.

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Bagel sandwich with scrambled eggs, Provelone cheese, a slice of ham from Soulfood Mahanakorn that had been cured in a dry rub for four days then smoked of Thai herb cuttings, and some salsa made from Adams Organic tomatoes.  Add to that a latte and it was a pleasant start to the day.

Speaking of Adams Organic, I was invited to visit their farm in Korat so yesterday made the drive up there with Chow and Ken.  Lots of footage to share so I need to take several days to digest the information, write the entry, and fact-check.  Stay tuned!