When Did We Forget the Bill of Rights?

There is a great deal of furor going on about the proposed building of an Islamic community center and mosque a short distance away from the World Trade Center site in New York City.  On Friday, President Obama made a public statement about the issue, pointing our that “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”

Republicans jumped right on him, accusing the President of “pandering to radical Islam” and saying he “caved in to political correctness.” 

I’d like to ask the Republican leaders a simple question: When did you stop supporting the Bill of Rights?


In case there’s any confusion out there, or Americans who didn’t get civics lessons because their teachers were busy ensuring no child got left behind, let’s quickly review what the Bill of Rights is.  Namely, the Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, and came into effect in December 1791. They include such “golden oldies” as the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Bill of Rights is about our civil liberties.  It is about our freedom, the freedom for which men and women in uniform are fighting and dying.  Protecting our civil liberties is not “pandering to radical Islam” or “caving into political correctness.”  Denying our civil liberties plays into the hands of terrorists, letting those who would undermine American values, win.

Conservatives go on and on about the importance of upholding the Constitution.  Their claim is that President Obama has been “trampling” the Constitution throughout his first 20 months in office.  But suddenly, when he explicitly upholds the Constitutional rights of Muslims to build a place of worship on private land, these “staunch defenders” of the Constitution are nowhere to be seen.

Let’s give credit to Flordia Governor Charlie Crist, the former Republican now running as an independent candidate for senator, who supported Obama’s statement.  Let’s give even more credit to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who actually led the way making a powerful speech in favor of religious freedom on August 3rd.  The video of this 7-minute speech is here.  Here’s the bit that I thought was most important:

“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property, based on their particular religion?”

As we head into the midterm elections in November, before you make a decision about who deserves your vote, I’d ask that you take the time to ask the candidates whether or not they support the Bill of Rights.  Use this case of the New York City mosque as a litmus test, because there really is only one way to support the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution.  That’s to answer “no” to Mayor Bloomberg’s question: the government should not attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property, based on their particular religion.


Food in the US – ‘ino

A grilled cheese sandwich.  One of the most perfect foods to eat, especially if we’re talking about a grilled cheese done in the form of an Italian panino.  (Plural: panini)  Last August I wrote about this little Italian panini shop and wine bar in Greenwich Village called ‘ino.  Opened by Jason and Jennifer Denton, protégées of Mario Batali, this is the cutest place and, though I didn’t know it beforehand, kind of a ‘big deal” in the New York Italian restaurant scene.


The place is tiny – perhaps ten two-seater tables plus a half-dozen stools at the wine bar.  With a brick wall on one side and a bar on the other, it is cozy and welcoming, a place that you just want to stop by on your way home to have a drink, snack on a few tasty bites of something, and catch up on the neighborhood gossip.  It is what I think a “third place” should look like.


The kitchen is thirty square feet, no larger than enough room for two people, two panini grills, and a toaster oven.  It is enough to make me stop complaining about my kitchen and instead think about adding some more shelves.


Tawn’s school friend Rosrin and her husband Sean recently moved to Manhattan from Boston, and had their first child, Quinn.  Being equally big foodies as Tawn and me, we met Rosrin (along with her father and her son) for an early lunch one morning.

Back at home, we regularly make panini as a weeknight dinner.  Cut from a fresh loaf of homemade whole grain bread, two grilled slices with some meat, cheese, and something tangy inside make for a healthy and wholesome meal.  Serve it up with a side of mixed greens and it transforms the ordinary sandwich into something really special.

Simple Italian Sandwiches

While eating, I discovered that ‘ino sells their cookbook, Simple Italian Sandwiches: Recipes from America’s Favorite Panini Bar.  Needless to say, I now have a copy.  Now, why do I need a recipe book for something that is, at its most basic, a grilled cheese sandwich?  Because I realize that my panini, while satisfying, are pretty plain.  I’m not getting the most out of them.  The panini I eat at ‘ino have another level of flavor complexity that elevates them to a whole other plane of existence.


For Tawn, there was one objective in mind, besides visiting with Rosrin: to have a slice of ‘ino’s truffled egg toast.  This thick-cut white bread is toasted, hollowed out, filled with egg yolks, and topped with fontina cheese.  After a few minutes of broiling, a healthy dash of truffle oil is poured on top and some sautéed asparagus is served alongside.  Available morning, noon, and night, the egg toast is the highlight of the menu.

Now that I have the cookbook, I’ve discovered the not-so-secret secret to making their egg toast.  When I tried this at home after our last trip, I put a whole egg into the middle of the toast, which was too much egg and overflowed.  Now I realize that the trick is to use two yolks and no whites. 

I’ve also learned about several spreads and sauces I can make to help spice up my panini at home: roasted peppers, olive tapenade, an balsamic roasted garlic, to name a few.  Watch for some future entries resulting from the purchase of this cookbook.


Above: Panino with pepperonata (roasted bell peppers), fresh mozzarella cheese, and basil pesto.

The panini are really exquisite at ‘ino.  Another lesson I learned is that instead of cutting slices from a loaf of bread, they use ciabatta rolls with the top sliced off.  This ensures that every bite has some crust from the bottom side.  I’ve tried doing this but so far my homemade ciabatta have so many large bubbles that fillings form the panini spill through the bread.  I’ll have to keep practicing and see if I can create (and then consistently reproduce) a ciabatta that compares to the ones made at the Blue Ribbon Bakery, the next door bread supplier for ‘ino.


Above: Scrambled egg, cheese, and sweet onions.  How’s that for a breakfast treat?

We returned for breakfast the day before we left, one last chance to enjoy one of the most fun little restaurants we’ve been to, a gem that we would love to recreate here in Krungthep.


Could you imagine this somewhere along Soi Thong Lor?  Not with people dressed like this, I think. 


Food in the US – Mama’s Food Shop New York

You always knew that Mama wanted you to take care of yourself and eat well.  At this hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan, you can get a healthy serving of good food prepared just the way your mother would want it to be.  This may sound like an advertising claim but it is actually an accurate description of what you find at Mama’s Food Shop.

Located on 3rd Street between Avenues A and B, Mama’s was a recommendation from our friend Biing during our visit to New York last summer.  Biing’s list of recommendations was too long to complete on our last visit, so we used this trip to check a few more items off it.

Arriving to our midtown hotel, the Affinia Dumont on 34th Street, on a rainy and cool Monday evening, we needed somewhere easy for dinner but didn’t want to take a chance on the unknown restaurants in the Murray Hill neighborhood that surrounds the hotel.  We hopped a taxi down to Alphabet City.


The funky decor is shabby-chic with Christmas lights on one wall and portraits of mothers on the other.


The floor is wooden, the seating eclectic and unassigned (table sharing is common), and the smell of frying chicken permeates the space and your clothing.


The efficient kitchen turns out five mains each at $12 a plate with one side: fried chicken, roast chicken, roast pork shoulder, meatloaf, and pan-seared tilapia.  The sides include simple yet satisfying dishes such as mac and cheese, roasted beets, broccoli and garlic, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw.  Additional sides are $1 for an extra serving or you can buy them to-go in half-pint and pint quantities.

So a main with two sides works out to $13 – not overly expensive but not quite a bargain, either, until you consider the quantity and quality.


My plate of roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and beets was huge – three pieces of chicken and a week’s worth of beets. 


Tawn’s tilapia (they also do a veggie plate composed of three sides for $11) included two large fillets to go with the roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli.  Flavors were consistently good although the sides were not piping hot – possibly due to my picture taking.

All in all, Mama’s does right by their customers, including a 10% dinner discount for students.  The food is simple, healthy, and generous.  Next time I think we’ll skip on the extra sides and maybe even share a plate.


Recap of the Trip to the US

After twenty days abroad, I am nearly home, sitting in the Taipei airport awaiting my flight back to Krungthep.  Every trip back to the US and return to Thailand provokes similarly moody thoughts: an awareness that the US doesn’t feel like home anymore and an equal awareness that as much as I like living in Thailand, that doesn’t quite feel like home, either.

Each trip back also produces a similar feeling of exhaustion, of trying to pack too much into the trip, trying to see too many people along the way and not even succeeding in that.  I could explore that issue more deeply but won’t get into it now.  I need, however, to take a trip to somewhere I don’t know anyone.

Thankfully, I did conclude the trip with this stop in Taipei, two nights and a day to wander around, explore the city, eat good food, and other than dinner with an old friend from San Francisco, have no commitments.  With the beautiful springlike weather, it was a much-needed relaxing end to the trip.

Instead of trying to recount my trip in detail, I’m going to share some highlight pictures.  I will, however, do some separate entries in the next few days about some of the meals we ate.


After a day of springlike weather in Kansas City, we were greeted on our second morning there with snow.  The accumulation ended up at eight inches – quite a hefty amount! 


The snow gave me the opportunity to shovel a few driveways as well as an awareness that I really don’t want to live somewhere that receives snow.  It was pretty for taking pictures, though.


As the weather returned to Spring later in our trip, my youngest niece Ava had the opportunity to pedal around the garage and show off her bicycle riding skills.  We really enjoyed spending lots of time with both nieces and it is interesting to watch them grow so quickly.  I realize it won’t be too many more years before they are so wrapped up in their own lives that they won’t really want to spend a lot of time with their uncles.


The primary reason to be there was to celebrate the nieces’ birthdays, one at the start of the month and the other at the end.  We split the difference and visited in the middle.  The cake is a strawberry confetti cake that I made.


Perhaps the greater reason to visit, though, was to see our grandparents.  My grandmother turned 90 this past week and my grandfather will turn 90 in July, when we return for a family reunion.  As busy and active as they are, you could easily mistake them for people in their late 70s.


The next stop was New York City – Center of the Universe.  As the line goes in the musical Rent, “it’s a comfort to know, when you’re singing the hit-the-road blues, that anywhere else you can possibly go after New York… is a pleasure cruise.”  Tawn recreates the dance sequence from the movie version of Rent when they sing the song “Santa Fe”.


New York is a city that we both like very much, perhaps a place we could live for a few years in the future.  We both have our own agendas while in New York, agendas that overlap on only one subject: food.


I found a charming shop that imports handmade pottery and clayware from France in Greenwich Village.  Ended up buying a cute pitcher – small pitchers are something I enjoy and would probably collect them if it wasn’t for my awareness that there’s no need to have more than a few pitchers.


Had an opportunity to look for interesting things to photograph.  There turns out to be no shortage of them, some of which may more interesting to visitors than to locals.


Tested out the new camera and the 18mm wide angle lens attachment while wandering through Times Square.  It works very nicely!


Went to see “Wicked” at the Gershwin Theatre.  A fun show and very enjoyable, although we were frustrated by what seem to be a poor sound system.  Despite good seats, it was often difficult to understand the lyrics.


While Tawn went shopping, our friend Biing and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, something I had never done before.  It is an impressive span and there’s a nice view of the city from Brooklyn.


We stayed at the Afinia Dumont Hotel on 34th Street between Third and Lexington, a perfect midtown location.  While the neighborhood isn’t very charming, it is safe and very convenient.  Here’s a view looking up the street – the hotel is in the middle of the block on the other side of the street – towards the Empire State Building just after sunset.  The hotel is a very good value for the money with large rooms and a friendly staff.


Perhaps a bit touristy and pricey to boot, but Tawn and I went to the Top of the Rock – the observation deck that occupies what was once the Rainbow Room at the top of the GE Building in Rockefeller Center.  It was a windy day and there was a very good view of the entire city.



Arriving in Los Angeles about noon on the 26th, I managed to snap this pretty amazing picture.  From where I was sitting I could see that the American B777 was rolling down the parallel runway for take-off.  It was just a matter of timing the picture so I would get the plane in the field of view.  Tawn had a few hours layover before connecting to his nonstop flight home.  I spent the night in LA and visited San Diego the next morning before flying to Taipei.


Le Bernardin

Eric RipertOf all the thoughtful wedding gifts we received from our friends and family as part of the “New York City Honeymoon” package, the gift certificate and reservations to Le Bernardin was the one about which I was most excited.  As a certified foodie, the opportunity to dine at a three-star Michelin restaurant was one not to be missed.  Now that I know what those three stars mean, I can define what food heaven must be like.

We modified our reservations – originally, dinner, “Billy Elliot” and the hotel were all scheduled for Thursday night – and chose 9:30 Wednesday for this gastronomic adventure.  We also invited my cousin Brad, so there would be a representative of the family to witness this event.

A little bit of background:  Le Bernardin is a seafood restaurant started in Paris in 1972 by siblings Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze.  They moved it to New York City in 1986. 

After Gilbert died in 1995, Eric Ripert succeeded him as head chef.  Ripert, a 44-year old Frenchman pictured to the right, learned to cook in his grandmother’s kitchen and, unlike many celebrity chefs, still regularly works in his own kitchens.

In fact, you may recall an early episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” in which he and Ripert, a chef he has long admired, work a full shift in the Bourdain’s former kitchen at Les Halles, to see who has the stamina to still work in an everyday kitchen.  Ripert breezes through the evening while Bourdain is breathless and achey by the end.

lebernardin Le Bernardin is located on 51st Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, just on the north side of Times Square.  The dining room has a clean, contemporary design that looks a bit like a fusion of a French dining room and a Japanese sushi bar.  Jackets are required for gentlemen diners, something I rarely experience.

The menu has three options: Two tasting menus, which are $135 or $185 per person (seven or eight courses, respectively, $220/325 with wine pairing), and a four-course menu which is $109 per person.  With three of us dining, we went for the four-course option, which would allow us to sample up to twelve dishes.

The four-course menu verges on the overwhelming.  It has three all-seafood sections: “Almost Raw”, “Barely Touched”, and “Lightly Cooked”, which correspond to the degree of preparation.  Basically, you choose one course from each section, plus a dessert.  There were also four non-seafood items that could be substituted as requested.

Some examples of dishes we didn’t choose in each area:

Almost Raw

  • Oyster – Progressive tasting of Kumamoto oyster “en gelee”; from light and refreshing to complex and spicy.
  • Salmon – Yuzu cured Wild Alaskan Salmon; endive and shaved red beet; coriander infused verjus.
  • Scallop – Carpaccio of scallop; ginger; shiso-infused shitake broth.

Barely Touched

  • Sea Urchin – Sea Urchin risotto; toasted nori; urchin-citrus emulsion.
  • Soft Shell – Peppered Soft Shell Crab; avocado-coconut cream; sunflower sprout salad; lime sauce vierge.
  • Mackerel – Seared Spanish Mackerel; parmesan crisp and sun-dried tomato; black olive oil.

Lightly Cooked

  • Skate – Skate “au bambou”; cellophane noodle and wood ear mushroom; spiced bamboo broth.
  • Monkfish – Pan roasted Monkfish; Israeli couscous tabbouleh; black garlic and Persian lemon sauce.
  • Codfish – Sauteed Codfish; stuffed sweet peppers; octopus-red wine sauce and Basquaise emulsion.

As you can see, Ripert’s combinations are pretty fuss-free.  Usually, the main dish will have two or three complementary flavors, leaving the main ingredient’s flavors free to be explored.

Service during ordering could best be described as “unintrusive”, to the extent that I wish the person taking the orders had been a little more assertive in helping us navigate the menu.  I realize that for people who can afford to eat at these sorts of restaurants on a regular basis, such help may be unnecessary, but I found myself struggling with a third course that would follow nicely after the previous two.  When he came back and asked if we had any questions, I responded with a desperate, “Yes!”

Let’s take a look at what we ordered.  Lighting was subdued so even with my gorilla tripod, pictures came out a little dark.

Amuse-bouche: a small portion of tuna tartare served with a citrus vinaigrette and micro greens.  Refreshing flavor really cleansed the palatte for the meal to come.

My first course was marinated Hamachi done Vietnamese style with a Nuoc Mam vinaigrette.  Truthfully, it tasted more Thai style.  The vinaigrette had a lot of lime juice in it, effectively “cooking” the meat with the acid.  This was very nicely prepared, although if the vinaigrette had been slightly less acidic, it would have been more pleasant.

Tawn had the Black Bass tartare served with a mint and ice plant salad and chilled lemon nage (poaching broth).  This was a very nice dish, perfectly balanced flavors.

Brad enjoyed a starter of layers of thinly pounded Yellowfin Tuna, foie gras and toasted baguette with shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil.  This was another lovely dish that really showed off the flavors of the fish nicely.

For the second course, both Tawn and I had seared Langoustine (a type of slim lobster) with mache and wild mushroom salad, shaved foie fras and a white balsamic vinaigrette.  This was a pretty hearty dish and was very nicely done.  The langoustine was perfectly cooked – not overdone or tough at all – and the salad’s eathiness went nicely with the rich flavor of the meat.

Brad’s second course was a curried Crab and zucchini panna cotta (being married to an Italian, Brad loves panna cotta), with vadouvan spiced broth.  (Want to know what vadouvan is?  Click here.)  This was really tasty, too.  The crab flavor stood up nicely to the more assertive notes of the curry seasoning.

For the main course, I had a crispy Black Bass with braised celery and parsnip custard, served with an Iberico ham and green peppercorn sauce.  I had asked for a recommendation of a third course, not sure what would go nicely after the langoustine.  I had debated between this dish and a poached Halibut, and the order-taker steered me towards this.  It was also very nice, although the sauce cooled quickly in the air conditioned room and began to gel, creating an unpleasant texture.

Tawn had the barely cooked Wild King Salmon with sweet pea and wasabi puree, spring vegetables and a citrus-yuzu emulsion.  I love my salmon a bit rare so I found this a really lovely dish.  Tawn, however, prefers his meat drier so for him, it was way undercooked.

Brad, not a huge seafood fan, departed to the “Upon Request” section for his main, enjoying a buffalo mozarella tortellini with wild  mushroom consomme, nettle and a parmesan emulsion.  This was really good.  The consomme was really salty but very flavorful.

With our meal, we enjoyed a $50 bottle of Long Island rose recommended by Aldo Sohm, chef sommelier of Le Bernardin.  In fact, he’s been named the best sommelier in America and won several awards.  This is the first time I’ve been to a restaurant where the wine was tasted (using a little silver cup attached by chain to the sommelier’s waist) before being poured.  Sadly, I didn’t make note of the winery from which the bottle came, but I’ve enjoyed many Long Island wines during other meals in New York City.  One of these days I’ll have to travel out to Long Island again, this time for the purpose of wine tasting.

For dessert, Tawn had the chocolate-chicory, a chocolate cremeux, pain de genes, orange “meringue” and chicory ice cream.

Brad continued the panna cotta theme, having a grapefruit panna cotta with vanilla cream, grapefruit sorbet, tarragon coulis and a crisp merringue.

I had the vanilla poached apricot, with apricot cream and coulis wrapped in white chocolate, with noyau ice cream.  (Noyau being a French liqueur made from brandy and apricot kernels.)

Additionally, having been informed when the original reservation was made that this was a special occassion, the kitchen sent out a complimentary “happy anniversry” cheesecake.  Yes, our fifth day anniversary, I suppose.

After it all, some petits-fours were served.  These were actually better than the desserts themselves, if you want my opinion.  Four little bites, each different, each wonderfully done.  The desserts seemed a little fussy, compared with the meal itself.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing meal experience.  The fish dishes were really well-prepared and very enjoyable.  The service throughout the evening was of the highest calibre.  We went through more silverware, and more differently designed silverware, than I ever knew existed.  Did you know that there are a half-dozen different types of fish forks, depending on the type of fish being served?

If I may make an observation, though: my experience at Le Bernardin reinforces my opinion that “fine dining” is in the eye of the beholder.  You don’t necessarily need to spend a ton of money in order to eat very well-prepared food.  Thinking back to the dinner I had at Orris in Los Angeles, I’d say I enjoyed that dining experience every bit as much as I enjoyed this dinner at Le Bernardin, when it comes strictly to the food itself.  Sure, the service and atmosphere at Le Bernardin were ten times more sophisticated than at Orris, but when it comes down to the most fundamental thing – the food – both were very good.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Le Bernardin – it was a fantastic dining experience and a spectacular way to celebrate our marriage.  But for those of you who may feel like you’ll never be able to afford to eat well, I would stress that eating expensively isn’t a prerequisite for eating well.  Many of my readers are foodies, too, and I’m sure they’ll agree.

So that’s a wrap on the New York entries.  We returned Monday morning to Krungthep and are settling back into work and our regular routine. 


Strolling the High Line

Friday afternoon, after Tawn and Biing had shopped and Brad and I had taken the Staten Island Ferry, we met up at the rooftop bar at Hotel Metro on 35th Street.  This hidden gem has the most amazing view of the Empire State Building:


I can only imagine how much better the view must have been after the sun set.  On a future trip, we’ll have to return and take it in.  Sally and Malcolm also joined us.  Below, Tawn, Sally and Biing.


We were fortunate to have seen the three of them multiple times throughout the trip, and especially fortunate that Biing was available to make suggestions, show us around and take Tawn shopping.  You know those people who always know the perfect place to go?  He’s one of them.

Unfortunately, we had time for only one drink before we had to head to Astor Place.  Despite this being our last night in New York, there was still time for a few more Xanga meet-ups.  The venue was Grand Sichuan restaurant on St. Mark’s Place.  The food was very tasty.  Best of all was the opportunity to see Aaron again and to finally meet Tae and Oates in person. 

Aaron predates Xanga as a friend, going back to an early visit I made to New York City with a friend and former colleague from my days in Hong Kong.  There was a large group of us having brunch at Danal, all of whom were Cantonese speakers except myself.  While I don’t expect a whole group to speak English just to accommodate me, Aaron was the one person who made the effort to be inclusive.  Since then, our paths have crossed again and again and he’s even gone to teach with me in Bangkhonthiinai.

Tae and Oates are two other Xangans, both Thai, with whom I’m been interacting almost since the start of my blogging days four years ago.  It was fun to be able to meet them and I hope they’ll come back to visit Krungthep again soon.  Sadly, none of the three update their blogs with much frequency anymore.


From left to right: Brad, Tae, Oates, Aaron, Tawn and Chris.


Saturday morning, our final day in the Big Apple, Tawn wanted to sleep in so I went down to the Village for one more serving of truffled egg toast at ‘ino and a latte.  Oh, you can just imagine how much trouble I got into with Tawn for doing that.  “What!?  I wanted to go there, too!” he said when I returned to the hotel room with truffle oil on my breath.


While there, I snapped this picture of their extremely small but functional kitchen.  It is about the same size as my kitchen at home and, I tell you, I need to do some seriously remodeling to fit in nearly as much equipment and shelf space.

Once Tawn was up, we headed to the Chelsea Market on Ninth Avenue at 15th Street.  Housed in the former Nabisco factory where the Oreo cookie was invented, it is now an urban food concourse, similar to Pike’s Public Market in Seattle, Victoria Market in Melbourne or the Ferry Building in San Francisco.  Most of the vendors produce cooked goods, although there is a fresh fish monger, too.


Best of all, there was a location of Amy’s Bread, one of my favorite bakeries in New York.  Their entire production complex had large windows so you could follow the process from proofing, above, to shaping and baking, below.  That reminds me, I would like to get a few of those bannetons, the baskets used for proofing the loaves, shown in the photo above.



I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you how long I could have stood here, watching them make bread?

Our reason for being over on the west side of Manhattan was two-fold: we were supposed to meet my high school friend Scott and his partner, who were driving in from Philadelphia, and Tawn was also supposed to meet his second cousin, who lives in New York and was recently married.  We headed our separate ways for this, since planning and scheduling hadn’t worked out so well.

Brad and I joined Scott and his partner Michael for a visit to High Line Park.  Several other people have photographed and written about this extensively (Rob has entries here and here that are worth checking out), so I’ll simply explain that the High Line is an old viaduct that allowed trains to deliver and pick up from the meatpacking and manufacturing districts without interrupting the flow of vehicular traffic. 


Having long since been out of use, the line was going to be torn down but was instead saved and renovated as an elevated urban park.  The space is fantastic, giving unique views of the city and featuring much of the same flora that had naturally overtaken the old tracks.


One point of the park has this seating area that looks down onto the street, sort of an opportunity to view everyday life on the street as theatre.  This would seem boring, I suppose, but while we were there, a scantilly-dressed lady in sandals came running around the corner and down the street, crying out after her small dog, which was on a tear, his leash dragging behind him.  Despite the sandals, this amply-endowed woman was making good time along the avenue, although her dog was faster, dodging onlookers who helpfully tried to catch him.


The park also features benches and lounges from which you can enjoy the beautiful weather.  These were interestingly mounted on the rails and could be rolled together or apart. 


Most of the buildings in the area are converted warehouses, although some newer structures (I believe this is a hotel) are making their appearance.  A third segment of the park is still under construction on the north end, which will run from 20th to 34th streets, doubling the length of the park.

In my previous entry I talked about some of the changes being made in the city that make it more pedestrian friendly and more human in its scale.  The High Line is definitely one of these improvements and well worth checking out.


We returned to the Marriott Marquis to check out then went for a bite a few blocks away before Scott and Michael, who were heading past Newark on their way back to Philadelphia, dropped us off at the airport.  Above, Chris, Scott, Michael and Tawn over a quick dinner.

I hadn’t seen Scott in twenty-one years since graduating, although we had been good friends in junior and senior high school.  It was fun to meet up again and I’m glad we’re back in touch.

Tomorrow, the long-awaited entry on dinner at Le Bernardin.


A More People-Friendly New York

I’m sitting at Taipei International Airport, “borrowing” Singapore Airlines’ wireless service (I’m sitting just outside their Silver Kris lounge – don’t tell them, please) after a relatively painless 16-hour flight from Newark, including a one-hour refueling and crew change in Anchorage, Alaska.  Time for another update on New York.

As part of his summer work schedule, my cousin had Friday off from his job at MTV, freeing him up to accompany us around the city.  After lunch at ‘ino in the Village, we stopped by Magnolia Bakery, a place made famous (as I understand it) in Sex and the City, ostensibly for their delicious cupcakes.  I tried them and have to say that the cake was very dry and the icing too sweet.  But then, there are few cakes that I really find all that moist.  Below, a line of Sex and the City groupies, queuing for their cupcakes.


Biing joined us at Magnolia and then he and Tawn went for some more shopping.  I’ll tell you one of the secrets to great trips together: when you have divergent interests, sometimes it is better to spend a bit of time apart on the trip, following those interests with people who are like-minded.

As such, Brad and I headed to the southern tip of Manhattan for a ride to Staten Island.  This free ferry service, which departs half-hourly from the South Ferry subway station, is a good way to catch a view of the skyline and Statue of Liberty, without enduring the expense and crowds of a harbor tour.


It takes about twenty minutes on the trip and as soon as you reach Staten Island, nearly everyone rushes off the lower exit and back up the stairs to board the same ferry for the return trip, such is the minimal appeal of this borough.  There’s probably enough sites to merit a little exploring, but we followed the crowd and made an immediate return, too.


The South Ferry subway station has been completely redone, as has the ferry terminal.  It is beautiful, clean, and very tourist-friendly.  In fact, having visited New York regularly over the past twenty years, I have to say that there are a lot of recent changes that are making the city more and more people-friendly, both for residents and visitors. 

One of these changes is the recent reworking of several blocks of Broadway in Times Square, closing it to traffic and making it into a pedestrian-only area. 


In this photo taken from our room at the Marriott Marquis (where we stayed our final night), you can see three blocks of Broadway, painted red, which is now off limit to vehicles.  Additionally, changes have been made to Seventh Avenue, creating more room pedestrians and giving over designated lanes to vehicle making left turns.

While I understand there has been some initial grumbling by those who have to drive in the city, the changes certainly make the space much more pleasant and safer for pedestrians.  No longer do you have to take a risky walk in the gutter to avoid the awed crowds; now you have much more pedestrian-friendly space in which to navigate.


Above, a view of a piece of sculpture installed on the closed portion of Broadway in Times Square, a collection of damaged beach chairs.

Interesting thing: after alighting from the Staten Island Ferry, I saw this dragonfly perched on a piece of rebar.  I’m a bit amazed my camera could actually focus on it!


Our flight boards in ten minutes, so I’ll add more later.


New York Bites

May I tell you about my ideal New York vacation?  If I could have any type of vacation in New York, it would be a strictly food vacation.  I’ve loved seeing my friends and meeting Xangans, but the absolute best New York vacation would be going from place to fantastic place, trying all the great food that is available in this city.

The highlight of the trip was our dinner at Le Bernardin, which I’ll write about in the next few days.  That wasn’t our only good eat, though.  Here are some other places we went:


John’s Pizza – three locations in the city, this one in Greenwich Village – has been widely hailed as the best pizza in NY.  This is a matter of opinion, of course, as everyone has their favorite place for pizza pie.  John’s coal-fired ovens are something of a dying breed and lightly char the thin crust.  We ate here with Malcolm, Sally and Biing and really enjoyed it.


The better of the two pies was this bianco – no sauce, just mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and ricotta.  The crust is a little thicker than the Italian style pies I’m familiar with, but still thing with just a little chewiness.  Excellent pizza.


We actually spent a lot of time down in the Village and the surrounding neighborhoods.  This little street was very cute.  It reminds me of the “New York Street” on the Universal Studios backlot.  Something about it doesn’t quite look real.

P1190084 After the pizza, Biing took Tawn shopping.  Knowing he would enjoy it better without me, I headed off with Malcolm and we hung out at a coffee shop, browsed for books at Strand Bookstore (“18 Miles of Books!”), and stopped by Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Mario Batali’s foray into family dining to try his olive oil ice cream.

Yeah, it may sound a little strange, but there is an olive oil ice cream as well as a salty caramel ice cream on the dessert menu.

I know what you’re going to ask: What did it taste like?

As much as I don’t want to answer, Like olive oil, that’s the best answer I can give.  It wasn’t super sweet, but the predominate flavor was of very good quality olive oil. 

It was very interesting to try and I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I’d be running out to eat more of it anytime soon.

The salty caramel was notable because, unlike “salted” caramel, which implies a little bit of salt flavor added to the caramel, this ice cream truly was “salty” caramel, something overly salty.  It went beyond complementing the caramel flavor and ended up overwhelming it.


Above, olive oil and salty caramel ice creams, along with a scoop of Santa Rosa plum sorbetto.  The plum was really the winner of the three, tasting just like a big bit of ripe plum.  Reminds me of the creative seasonal ice creams I enjoyed in July 2008 at Ici in Berkeley.  More about that here.


Thursday evening we headed to Grand Central Station (below) for a pre-show dinner at Grand Central Oyster Bar, with my college classmate Steven.  The Oyster Bar dates from 1913 and is an institution that still earns its reputation.  The seafood here is really fresh – they run out of many things later in the day because they only stock one day’s worth of inventory.


I haven’t seen Steven in the 15 years since I graduated university.  Not only were we classmates, we actually worked together (along with Andrew) on our senior research thesis and were also disc jockeys at our school’s radio station, KSCU.  He’s been in New York for many years and married just this past year.  It was really nice to catch up with him and see him again.


Preparing to get a little messy, Tawn dons a bib.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar is, not surprisingly, known for their fresh oysters.  There were more than a dozen types on the menu Thursday evening and we ordered two samples plates, each with two types of oysters from each coast.  From the West Coast we had Carlsbad Blonde (Baja, Mexico) and Chef Creek (Washington).  East Coast options (smooth edges versus rocky ones on the left coast) were the Tatamagouche (Nova Scotia) and Wellfleet (Massachusetts). 


The flavors were very distinct: sweet versus briny, fruity versus metallic.  All were wonderful.  Sadly, I became confused about what was what and so couldn’t provide any more specific tasting notes.


Tawn and Steven had the bouillabaisse, one of their classics, with a rich tomato broth filled with lots of fresh seafood.  The quality of the seafood was excellent.

I was looking for some crab crakes, but they only have those on Wednesday.  For some reason, I took the waiter’s suggestion of deep fried softshell crab, which are in season.


The two crabs were very tasty and not oily at all.  But the side of waffle fries was just too heavy.  Something lighter – maybe a vegetable? – would have gone with the crabs much better.

We weren’t able to linger and visit over dinner as we had tickets – also part of our wedding gift from friends and family – to see Billy Elliot at the Imperial Theatre.  The show was nice, with superb dancing by the young boy playing Billy (David Alvarez, one of three boys who rotate the role).  The language was quite salty, especially given the number of young people in the audience. 


Above, two days after the show, Tawn is still inspired.

The music (Elton John) and books and lyrics (Lee Hall) weren’t catchy.  Fifteen minutes after the show, I couldn’t hum a single tune.  The dramatic flow was also a bit stilted; had I not seen the movie, I wouldn’t have been able to clearly follow everything that was happening.  Still, we had excellent seats and from and entertainment value perspective, we had a great time.


Friday for brunch we followed the recommendation of one of Tawn’s friends and headed back to the same corner of the Village where we’d enjoyed John’s Pizza.  This time we ate at ‘ino, an Italian wine bar that serves excellent bruschetta and panini.


This restaurant, at 21 Bedford Street, is a tiny hole in the wall.  We saddled up to the bar and had an excellent culinary experience.  Our server was a friendly lady named Annie and another guy – maybe he was the owner – came over and spoke with us very knowledgably about Italian wines.  Since Brad lived in the Milano area, he had some specific questions about varietals from that area.  The man helping us really knew his stuff.


Four types of bruschetta from back left: Sweet corn and ricotta; sweet onion; artichokes and peccorino cheese; white beans, tomato and basil.


Four types of panini from back left: Pork loin with spicy mayo and fontina cheese; summer squash; prosciutto, bel paese and sweet onion; and bresaola (beef prosciutto), asparagus and pecorino peppato.


The real highlight – and I want you to understand how amazing this was – was the truffled egg toast.  A thick slice of bread, hollowed out in the center, filled with fontina cheese, two eggs, and black truffle olive oil, then baked.  The eggs are still soft, fresh black pepper is cracked on top, and lightly sauteed asparagus are the perfect foil to the truffle flavor.  This is heavenly!


Tawn and I in the bar mirror.


We concluded the meal with an affogato – gelato with two shots of espresso poured over it.  Yummy.

The truffled egg toast was so good I came back for another on Sunday morning when Tawn wanted to sleep in an extra hour.  He wasn’t happy to hear I had gone without him.


I’m sitting at Newark Liberty International Airport as I write this.  We’re on our way back to Bangkok.  I’ve been in the US for 24 days, my longest trip back since I moved.  It has been a lot of fun and I still have more to share about the trip, so I’ll be back on in a few days!


Upper East Side

Wednesday (after breakfast, of course) was mostly about the east side of Manhattan.  We were up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art twice, met another Xangan for lunch and strolled across Central Park.  All of this before going to dinner at Le Bernardin!


I’ve been here countless times both for work as well as pleasure.  My most recent visit to New York was in October 2005.  It was the last point I was in the US before moving to Thailand.  New York is also important to me because I had accepted a job here at the end of 1999 and almost moved here.  Had I not decided the job was flawed for several reasons and quit before moving here, I never would have gone to Thailand between jobs and met Tawn.  So you can see why NYC holds a lot of meaning for me.


On our way to the museum the first time, walking from the 86th Street subway station, I spotted a Tim Hortons donut and coffee shop.  This Canadian chain, which I like, is making inroads into the northern US, it seems.  Good for them!  I doubt they’ll supplant Dunkin Donuts as the morning snack of choice for New Yorkers, but you never know.

P1180871 Our first visit to the museum was mostly spent in the exhibit on ancient art from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul

It contained many beautiful pieces that reflect how much of a crossroads that country was, with so many different styles and techniques, adapted from many different cultures.

We also headed to the American wing, a newly renovated space that has a superb collection of silver.  Tawn was taking pictures of lots of tea sets and I’m sure he was disappointed that the gift shop wasn’t selling any reproductions of them.

The museum also has this interesting space that looks like an Etruscan courtyard.  The museum does a great job of intermixing spaces and the use of natural light in many galleries to keep visitors from feeling like they’re going from one darkened room to the next.

We could easily spend days on end browsing through the museum’s broad collection.  We had an eye on some other exhibits and resolved to come back later in the afternoon.  But first, we had an appointment in Bryant Park with another Xangan.

Yes, this has quite unintentionally become the trip of meeting Xangans.  In this case, it came about because Wai Sze, a fellow blogger with whom I’ve been corresponding about an upcoming trip she and her husband will take to Thailand, noticed that we’d be staying nearby her office.


Bryant Park is a great space with lots of trees and shade, free tables and chairs and games spread throughout the place.  It reminds me a lot of Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, a public place that invites people to linger and enjoy the space.

We had a quick lunch at Witchcraft, a sandwich and salad kiosk located in the park, and a short visit before Wai Sze had to head back to work.  My cousin, who had also joined us, headed back to work, too. 


After Tawn took a few more pictures around the park, we headed back to the Metropolitan Museum, where we met up with our friend Biing.  A long-time New Yorker, Biing really knows his way around and has given us lots of tips of places to eat, things to see, etc.


Here, he and Tawn are on the museum’s rooftop garden and Biing is pointing out famous sights: Yoko Ono’s home, Madonna’s home, etc.

After a few more hours at the museum, we walked across Central Park to the west side.  It was threatening to rain the whole way, but luckily we never had more than a few drops at any time.


Posing in front of one of the most-photographed spots in New York City: Bethesda Fountain.  We also stopped by Strawberry Fields and saw the John Lennon memorial before finally catching the subway back to Brooklyn.  This would seem like a long day in and of itself, but we still had dinner to catch!

Stay tuned…


The Egg and I

We arrived without incident at New York LaGuardia airport on Tuesday evening, taking an approach path that brought us right over midtown Manhattan.  I shot some video, which didn’t turn out perfect, but which is worth seeing.  Will try to get that together soon, although no promises as I’ve been pretty busy.

While we were waiting for our plane in Kansas City, Tawn discovered that his camera has a feature that combines multiple images.  He played around with several interesting ones, including this comparison of our travel outfits:


We are staying with my cousins Bradley and Silvia in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.  I’ve not spent any time in Brooklyn before, so it is nice to explore another borough.  Sadly, Silvia is back in Italy this week visiting her parents, so no opportunity to see her.

Brad and Silvia have a trio of cats, two of which came from Italy when they moved back here a few years ago.  The third cat, which they adopted from the shelter, has one eye and is named Willy. 


The cats seem to be everywhere, all the time!


Thursday morning, Brad had to go into town to work, so Tawn and I started our morning with breakfast at Egg, a southern style breakfast place in the Williamsburg neighborhood.  Above, cousin Brad waiting for the train on the opposite platform.


While not much to look at from the outside, the little patio area was pleasant and the service was friendly.  Oh, and the locally roasted coffee was fantastic!

P1180837 SNC13642  

We sat outdoors and since the table was covered with butcher paper, started putting it to use.  Tawn remembered that today was Mother’s Day in Thailand (which coincides with Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday – August 12th).  After unsuccessfully trying to reach his mother by phone to wish her a happy Mother’s Day, he settled for drawing something for her and taking a picture of it, which he can show her upon his return.


I added my own wishes.  I’ll let the Thai readers evaluate my penmanship or, as the case may be, crayonmanship.


Of course, all this doodling led Tawn to start sketching ideas for our house, based on things he had seen that inspired him:


The food at Egg is really good.  They are known for their buttermilk biscuits, which happen to be a specialty of mine.  I tried them with pork sausage gravy and a side of scrapple.

The biscuits were flaky, but also pretty dense and tough even with the flavorful gravy smothering them.  Points for flavor but points taken away for texture.


Scrapple is a breakfast meat with German/Amish country origins.  It is made by boiling the scrap meat and bones left after butchering a hog, then combining the meat with oatmeal, cornmeal or another thickening grain, and seasoning it.  It doesn’t sound good, perhaps, but it is very tasty.  My mother makes a batch every Christmas and gives it to family members as a gift.  The scrapple at Egg was especially well-seasoned, with some chili powder and anise seeds adding a kick to it.


Tawn had a cheese omelet, bacon, hash browns and a tomato compote.  The eggs were beautifully done and the hash browns were deep-fried and yummy.  The common theme for all their food was that things were well-seasoned.

After lunch, we headed into Manhattan and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  More about that soon.