Exploring New York: Bar Americain, Aladdin, Benjamin, and Milk Bar

I’m finally back writing my blog again. It’s been quite a while since my last update because I’ve been super busy with work and other things so I don’t really have much time – but since I’m on here now, let’s continue our journey in New York City.

On the second day of trip, we started our day by trying out Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain for brunch. We were served assorted bread which includes some coffee cakes that were super delicious, but other kinds of bread were good as well.

We started by ordering the shellfish cocktails tasting menu which includes:

  • Shrimp-Tomatillo
  • Crab-Coconut
  • Lobster-Avocado

The shrimp with tomatillo sauce was OK, maybe it’s because I don’t really like tomatillo, but I think it was a little bit too tart, though the shrimp was fresh. Crab-Coconut was my favorite. The creaminess of the coconut with the sweetness of the mango salsa adds so much flavor to the crab itself. I think it was the best dish of all that we’ve tried. The last one that we tried was the lobster with avocado. I usually really like lobster but I found that this one, though cooked perfectly, has some off-putting flavor that I can’t pinpoint. I think overall, the dish was a successful execution.

For the entrée, I ordered the Burger Americain with Gruyere cheese with bacon as Bobby Flay is specifically famous for his burger/grill, I have a high expectation of the burger. The burger was perfectly cooked though I found that the burger was a little bit underseasoned. However, overall, I think it was a good burger though it’s not something that I would go out of my way to eat since there doesn’t seem to be anything quite special about it. The burger comes with fries and 3 sauces (ketchup, spicy mayo, and another sauce which I don’t remember what it was). Fries were OK and I have nothing to talk about it.

My friend, on the other hand, ordered shrimp and grits, and he let me tasted his dish a little bit. I found that the grits were on the verge of overseasoned which overpowers the natural sweetness of the shrimp but the overall dish was good and flavorful.

Photo Jul 02, 9 07 14 AM.jpg

We also tried ordering the Brooklyn Hash Brown which is the first time we try this dish. I don’t like it whatsoever. I think it’s very dry and doesn’t have much flavor. Also, as a Californian, we wouldn’t call this a hash brown, so I guess a New Yorker has a different idea of what a hash brown is compared to us.

Ugh... this thing tastes horrible

After the meal, we went to see the Aladdin the musical which I’ve been wanting to see for a long time, and I can tell you that it doesn’t disappoint. The actors (and actresses), the music, and the set was perfect. There is also some new music that Disney created for the show specifically which I found to be pretty good (though I prefer the music from the original animation). So if you find yourself in New York, and love Disney and Aladdin, this show is a must.

I’ve heard that Peter Luger steakhouse is the best steakhouse in New York, but as they don’t take reservation online and it’s really hard to get one, I was recommended by the hotel concierge that Benjamin steakhouse was as good (and they take credit card!) – so we ended up going there for dinner.

We started by getting some crab cakes for starter, and just get the classic “Steak for two” for entrée with mashed potatoes as a side dish.

I found the crab cake really good and the crab was fresh. I think it was one of the best crab cakes I’ve had. Now move on to the steak itself, I found that the steak was cooked to perfection but it looks like they really char the outside of the steak so that there is a bit more crunchiness when I bite into the steak – it definitely gives a different texture to the beef. The flavor of the steak was very good as well, however, the service was a little bit lackluster considered this is a pretty pricey restaurant (though I’ve heard that Peter Luger’s service is much worse).

If you think that we didn’t have enough to eat, we decided to get some dessert at the Milk Bar which is a dessert place by Christina Tosi who is the judge in the past 2 seasons of the TV show MasterChef. I tried her famous cereal milk soft serve and it was REALLY good. I also bought a bunch of cookies from the shop and I thought those are really good as well.

Our day ended with a nice dessert, and we’ve walked around the street of Manhattan before we took an Uber back to the hotel.

Exploring New York: Intro, United p.s., and my first day

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated the blog, but I’m back and I’ll be talking about my trip to New York City.

A friend of mine who frequently travels to the east coast for work asked me about a month before 4th of July whether I would like to go to NYC over July 4th because he’ll be there for work. I was a little bit hesitant because this is going to be the first real vacation I’m taking after I started a new job, but luckily, my company also gave us July 5th off as well as the usual July 4th, so it wasn’t a super hard decision for me to decide to go.

For the flights, I booked a United BusinessFirst flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Newark (EWR) since United no longer flies to JFK and I wanted to try out their premium service (p.s.) flights, so I transferred about 40,000 miles from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to United. I flew out on July 1st around 8 am and I got to Newark at around 7 pm. This flight is quite interesting because the weather around the Newark airport was really horrible, so they closed the airport down for landing/departing, and for an instance, they were even thinking of diverting flights to Albany airport, but fortunately, we got to land at Newark even though it took us a lot longer than the scheduled time. (Plus we were about an hour delayed already from San Francisco).

We checked in to Andaz 5th Avenue (I used points from my Hyatt Gold Passport for the room) around 7 PM. The service at the hotel was pretty good; however, the “front desk” people weren’t as enthusiastic as the Andaz Napa or the one in Tokyo.

 

After checking into the hotel, we went to have dinner at Tony’s di Napoli after I checked its Yelp ratings and realized that it’s pretty close to the hotel. When we first looked at the menu, I was shocked because the price of everything seems to be very high, but when our waitress (who was from California – yay!) came and explained to us that everything is supposed to be shared and the portion of each plate is huge, we understood why everything was expensive (though it’s still quite a bit more than I expect regardless). We’ve ordered the meatballs as our appetizer and the seafood squid ink pasta as our main course, and we got a small salad. The amount of food that arrived on our table was enormous. There was no way that 2 people can finish everything even if we didn’t order the appetizer and the salad. I thought the meatballs were pretty flavorful though it's pretty dense and I personally prefer a fluffier meatball (the fluffiest meatballs I’ve had was at Bund’s Shanghainese restaurant in Chinatown San Francisco). The Cesar salad was pretty generic, but the highlight of the meal was the pasta. It was a squid ink linguine, and it contains an abundant of seafood including squids, salmon, shrimps, clams, and mussels. The sauce was pretty good as well even though I thought it was a little bit sweet to my liking.

After the meal, we walked around Time Square for about 15 mins, and it was pretty late already so we decided to go back to the hotel.

Overall, I would say it’s an impressive meal, and it was a good first day to start my New York trip.

Poutine Battle: Vancouver Edition

Let me first say that I'm not a poutine expert whatsoever, but since I've been in Vancouver a couple of times, and I love the food scene there, so I thought I would write something fun about the poutine shops that I found in Vancouver, even though I know that I would probably get better poutine in a French-speaking area of Canada -- that would have to wait for the next episode.

I'll start by explaining what a Poutine is, in a nutshell, a poutine is thick cut fries, with cheese curds, and gravy on top (and of course, with optional toppings). Originated in the provinces of Quebec in Canada, poutine becomes something of a Canadian national dish.

As I live in the U.S., poutine is considered something exotic (at least where I live in California), so today I'm going to talk about 2 shops that I went to. 

Smoke's Poutinerie

Smoke's Poutinerie is one of the international poutine chain. They even have one in Berkeley, CA but I never visited there and I didn't know that they have it there until I came back to the U.S. and did some research about it.

When I went there, I had the original poutine because it was the first time that I was going to have the real poutine in Canada. The fries were just right, they didn't make it too crispy, and you can actually taste the potatoes. They also give you a ton of cheese curds (which is what I really love about poutine), and they don't skimp on gravy either. If you're like me, I love gravy and every time I go to KFC, I always wish that they give me more gravy for my mash potato. The result is a pretty good poutine; the only thing I found that they might want to improve on is the gravy is a little bit on the lighter side (which I guess is what the real poutine is supposed to taste like anyway).

 

Fritz European Fry House

I was introduced to Fritz by a staff member at the Regency club at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver. I didn't expect much since I thought it might be about the same as what I get at Smoke's, but oh man, was I so wrong. The style of the poutine here is very different than what you get from Smoke's. I think the main difference is the gravy. Fritz's gravy is much thicker and much more flavorful. It's also a little bit spicy from a lot of pepper in the gravy.

This time, I've tried their pulled pork poutine which was one of the most popular items on the menu. The pulled pork was really tender, however, I would like them to be a little bit more smokey -- maybe that's the American in me :)

As with Smoke's, Fritz just gives you a ton of fries, cheese curds, and gravy. They even layered the pulled pork inside them as well, and to be honest, I just couldn't get enough of it. The only downside though is that the gravy is super flavorful, but it could get salty when you eat a lot of them, but overall, I think it's another amazing poutine shop.

Judging

Even though I like both of the poutine places, I actually prefer Fritz just because I love their gravy so much and it's just so flavorful. However, to get Fritz, you have to go to Vancouver, but if you live in California, I don't think you'll be disappointed with Smoke's at all! Let's the best poutine win!

Swifty Switch

I've been gone from the blog for a while, not because I'm lazy (maybe a little bit), but because I just started a new job. I now work at Google as an iOS Software Engineer. I know, it's ironic, isn't it? Working for the company that creates Android, but work on the iOS app. :)

Anyway, with my new job, we decided that the app would be written entirely in Swift. That doesn't mean that everything that we write on top of would be Swift. For instance, Google has a whole bunch of internal libraries that we rely on, and all of them are Objective-C, as well as all of Foundation and UIKit.

Today I'm not going to talk about Objective-C and Swift interoperability, though that maybe a very interesting topic that I could write about in the future, but I wanted to talk about switch/case in Swift.

As you may have heard, Swift implements pattern matching in a very good way that you can actually use it for a lot of things. In this case, I want to show you a couple of things that I found interesting with Swift's switch/case.

Optional Binding

Switch statement in Swift has the ability to do optional binding, which means that it will safely unwrap the optional, and bind it to a variable, if the condition meets. Let's take a look at a snippet of code here:


let view: UIView = ...
   
switch (view) {
case let button = view as? UIButton:
    button.showsTouchWhenHighlighted = true
case let textField = view as? UITextField:
    textField.placeholder = "This is me"
default:
    break

As you can see above, if view is an instance of a UIButton class, the first case will get executed, and the variable button will be set. This is really nice because you can be sure that button is of type button, and even if view is an optional type (UIView?), we would still be sure that button is not nil.

I usually use this to cast variables to different types especially when I have a non-generic array type from Objective-C, or even a base type array such as an array of UIView.

Breaks not required

When you look at the above code, you'll see one thing missing from each case statement. There is no more break in each case statement, unless the case statement is empty. This is new in Swift, and could be unfamiliar to C/Objective-C developers. The question, though, is how is this going to work if you want to case to fall through. For instance, you may have code that handles 2 different enum values the same way. Swift introduces a keyword fallthrough to allow that. Let's take a look at an example.

These are some of the things that I found interesting about Swift's switch statement, and I hope you learn something from this posting. I'll be posting something soon, hopefully.


enum DownloadState {
    case: Unknown, None, Downloading, Downloaded
}

let state: DownloadState = ...
switch (state) {
case .Unknown:
    print("Unknown state")
    fallthrough
case .None:
    print("None")
case .Downloading:
    print("Downloading")
case .Downloaded:
    print("Downloaded")
}

In this case, if the variable state is .Unknown, the console output would be:

Unknown state
None

Singapore Airlines First Class SFO-ICN

It's the end of the year again, and for me, that means it's time to fly back to Thailand to visit my family and friends. This time, I've got a chance to fly Singapore Airlines First Class on a 777 from San Francisco to Seoul (Incheon), and my second leg on Thai Airways Business Class from Seoul to Bangkok (on an A330). Unfortunately, Thai Airways does not operate First class from ICN to BKK, so we'll have to deal with business class for now.

To book the flight this time, I decided to transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Singapore KrisFlyer program. You can get Chase Ultimate Rewards points from many credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Preferred (I recommend that everyone gets this card), and Chase Ink Plus.

First, let's take a look at the boarding passes I have once I checked in at the counter.

The check in agent informed me that I can either visit the Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge or the United GlobalFirst Class lounge at the airport. I decided to check out both lounges, but first, let's take a look at the SilverKris lounge. Unfortunately, there is no specific first class lounge from Singapore Airlines in SFO, and when I was there, the food spread was kind of awful since they only had some potato chips, cold cuts, and some cold salads.

I spent about 15 mins in the SilverKris lounge and then I decided to check out the United GlobalFirst lounge. As I've reviewed the United GlobalFirst lounge before when I was on ANA First Class last year, I'll just leave the link here, but I also have some extra pictures of the lounge this time.

I found that the United lounge is tranquil, and quiet. The food spread is really good. I found that the food in the UA First lounge is somehow way better than what I found at Singapore SilverKris lounge, as you'll see in the pictures below.

What's really funny about this trip is that my colleague is also flying on the same flight, and he's also flying First Class! I met him in the UA lounge and we decided to walk together to board the plane.

Once inside, we were greeted by a so-called Singapore Girl introducing herself and hanged my jacket. Another male flight attendant then came over and asked me for what choice of welcome drink I would like to get. As I mentioned to him that I would like to get a glass of champagne, he mentioned that on the ground, they're only allowed to serve Dom Perignon, but once we're cruising, he'll be able to serve Krug as well. I decided to get a glass of Dom Perignon 2004.

My welcome drink. Dom Perignon 2004 Vintage

After the welcome drink, I received the pajamas. Singapore Airlines used to have a Givenchy pajamas but they're now just having their own brand. The pajamas are super comfortable and soft. It's one of my favorite first class pajamas.

After the pajamas were distributed, we started taxiing and taking off.

Once we are at cruising altitude, the flight attendants starts asking me for my drink of choice, which I picked Krug. Then they bring warm nuts and amenity kits. Singapore Airlines first class amenity kits is by Salvatore Ferragamo, and it includes a good size of Ferragamo's famous Aqua Essenziale fragrance.

Now I went to explore the bathroom, as well as change myself into the super comfy pajamas. In the bathroom, most of the amenities are Ferragamo as well. Interestingly, as you can see, SQ does not distribute things like toothbrushes and comb with their amenity kit, but all of those can be found in the bathroom. Unfortunately though, the bathroom is not big, so it's a little bit tight to change.

Now it's time to dine. In this flight, Singapore Airlines serves lunch and "light" dinner.

IMG_1973.jpg

As my colleague and I fly together, we decided that we were going to have lunch together, so I moved myself to the middle seat and we started our feast!

I started by taking Singapore Airline's famous garlic bread, and some olive oil/balsamic vinegar.

And of course, one can't go wrong with Dom Perignon. In this case, they serve both 2004 and 2006 vintage -- plus Krug. So I asked the flight attendant to give me both 2006 and 2004 to try and compare. The result is that I like Krug the most, I think it has a much deeper flavor and a little bit of smokiness as well. Then I like 2006, then 2004 Dom Perignon.

From the menu, we're supposed to either pick the caviar or the smoked duck. However, I decided that I would like to try both, so we started by having the caviar first. I'm having my caviar with Dom Perignon 2006.

Chilled Malossol Caviar with melba toast and condiments

The caviar is super tasty and the condiments work perfectly well with the saltiness of the caviar. However, as I don't like raw onions, I didn't mix the red onion into my caviar mixture. The toast works really well by adding the texture to the caviar.

Then the smoked duck follow suit:

Gotham's Smoked Duck with melon salad and lime vinaigrette.

The smoked duck is salty, and tender. The fat melts down in the mouth and the whole dish has a good contrast of flavor from the saltiness from the duck, the sweetness of watermelon, and honeydew, and the sourness from lime vinaigrette.

The next course is the soup course, I decided to get the seafood chowder and it didn't disappoint. The soup was rich and the seafood was not chopped up. I was able to scoop up 2 whole scallops and shrimps rather than bits an pieces of it that you usually find somewhere else. The chili flakes adds a nice kick to the soup and reduce the "fattiness" of the chowder.

Seafood Chowder with bacon bits and chili flakes

The next course is salad. The choice of dressing include red wine vinaigrette dressing or the creamy garlic ranch. As you can guess, I went with the ranch. I found that the salad is a little bit bitter and the dressing doesn't have much flavor, so I'm a little bit disappointed in the salad.

Butter Lettuce Heart with mixed cress and cherry tomato with Creamy garlic ranch dressing

Butter Lettuce Heart with mixed cress and cherry tomato with Creamy garlic ranch dressing

The next course is supposed to be the highlight of the meal. After I booked the ticket, I used the "Book the Cook" feature of Singapore Airlines which allows me to pre-order premium meals to go on my flight. For lunch, I ordered 8 oz rib eye, but when I looked at the menu, I found that they have a seasonal item of "Roasted Christmas Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing" that sounds really amazing, so I asked my flight attendant to see if I can get both, and they are willing to comply.

5 oz. rib-eye steak and peppercorn sauce with grilled yellow squash, asparagus spears, baby carrots, roasted Roma tomato, and fried potatoes AND Roasted Christmas Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing and Gravy, cranberry sauce, winter vegetables and potatoes

I also asked for a new glass of wine which my colleague really recommends. I try out the Corton Grancey Grand Cru which is a Burgandy wine and it was de-li-cious. The wine is rich and works really well with the beef.

However, the beef itself is a disappointment. It was tough and dry. It's almost impossible to chew. I told my colleague this but apparently the flight attendant overheard our conversion, so she asked if I would like to get a new plate of entree, so I asked what is available. I eventually decided to try the on-the-menu sirloin steak -- and I asked them to cook it medium-rare.

The new steak didn't disappoint in the case. The beef was cooked perfectly and the sauce works very well with the steak. I got my medium rare steak and I finish the whole plate (sans the vegetable salad).

Gotham Prime US Sirloin Steak with Onion Puree with summer vegetables, baby lettuce, sherry vinaigrette and steak sauce dressing

The next course would be dessert. As usual, there are a lot of choices when it comes to dessert and I can't pick one, so the flight attendant suggests that he can do the "yin and yang" approach to the dessert, and have me try both the warm Christmas pudding and the cold peach parfait. Both of them are perfect! The mango sorbet is one of my favorite component of this dessert.

White Peach Parfait on Meringue Base with mango sorbet and fruit tuile, raspberry compote AND Warm Christmas Pudding with vanilla ice cream (which I didn't have on my plate) and raspberry sauce

I then finish my lunch with a cup of TWG Silver Moon tea which works amazingly after all of the heavy food that I just partook.

After the meal, I asked the flight attendant to make the bed for me, so he did it on my original seat while I can still watch movies on the seat that I had my food. The bed was quite comfortable, but the cabin temperature was too warm, so I didn't really use the blanket, though it was really soft and comfortable. I also found that the bed was a little bit hard since it was just the back of the sear rather than the seat itself, so I wouldn't say that it was the most comfortable bed I slept in the sky.

In the middle of the "night," I woke up and felt a little bit hungry so I asked the flight attendant to try out the egg noodles with seafood, and it was quite delicious.

Egg Noodles with prawns, vegetables and Oriental chicken stock

After a good night sleep, I was woken up by the flight attendant asking whether I would like to have my "dinner," or whether I would like to sleep a little bit more. I realized that I had enough sleep, so I decided to have the meal.

There was no choice for the appetizer for the light dinner and it was Greek salad with Parma Ham. I didn't particularly like Greek salad, so I asked the flight attendant to see if I was able to get the caviar again, and my wish was granted!

Next up, another "Book the Cook" disk that I ordered online. This time I tried the lobster thermidor. The lobster and the sauce was delicious; however, I found that the lobster is overcooked and the meat was a little bit tough.

Lobster Thermidor with buttered asparagus, slow-roasted vine-ripened tomato, and saffron rice

... and of course, when I looked at the menu I found the noodle dish that I would like to try, so I asked if I can try the Abalone and Chicken Udon soup and it was really delicious.

You might've thought now on how in the world I can eat all of this food. First let me tell you that I didn't eat everything on the plate. For instance, I barely touch the rice on the lobster dish, and the same goes with the Udon noodles in this noodle dish as well.

At the end, the dessert of panna cotta is served, and as before, it was really delicious, especially the fruit salad on top of that.

Panna Cotta with Grand Marnier Fruit Salad

Alas, the flight came to a conclusion, we landed at Incheon Airport in South Korea.

The flight was one of my favorite. I found that the selection of alcoholic beverages is one of the best in the sky. The flight attendant was very attentive and the food was quite good, even though there were some quality especially when it comes to steak. However, I found that the bed isn't one of the most comfortable one in the sky, so if you think that you'd be sleeping like a baby, think again.

The next episode of this trip would be Thai Airways Business Class from ICN to BKK.