Category Archives: Travel


My big birthday weekend started with drinks on Friday night at FriendHouse (the new re-location of FriendHouse that is, in the spot formerly known as Hea). I love their lemon-gin mojitos with Asian plum salt on the rim. A bunch of my friends came out and a good time was had by all. Hing was his usual entertaining self, at one point schooling an uber-polite NYU student in the ways of the Dawg (i.e. being a jerk instead of calling people sir and saying thank you and please). Pure comedy, and loud comedy at that.

It was a fun but relatively mellow night since we needed to get some sleep before our trip to A.C. the next morning. And even though we got up by 8:30 on Saturday, apparently it wasn’t early enough to beat the traffic on the Garden State Parkway. I wonder who the genius was that decided it would be a good idea to do construction on 20 miles of the Parkway in the middle of summer. Fortunately for me, it was my bday and I didn’t have to drive. Kat was an absolute saint, cheerfully doing the whole drive while Ricky was passed out feeling nauseous from the after-effects of FriendHouse.

We finally arrived at our destination, Renault Winery in Egg Harbor. But we weren’t there for the wine, we were there for the golf! Kat had done some research and discovered this course, conveniently just 15 miles from The Borgata. It sounded cool, and it did not disappoint. Really beautiful despite some browned out patches which were to be expected given the heat and lack of rain in the past several weeks. A couple of the holes ran alongside and even through the vineyard! It was a fun course to play and very fair in terms of how penal it was to miss the fairway. While there weren’t many trees, there were thick patches of gnarly grasses which if you hit into, you pretty much have a 50/50 chance of finding and being able to play your way out. The best part in my opinion was the greens, many of which were large, and most of which were multi-tiered. It really forced you to look at the shape of the green before attempting your approach shot or chipping on. I also found the greens to roll perfectly true which made dealing with putting from tier to tier more fun than frustrating. I suppose it helped that I was with some of my closest friends and the weather was perfect, but all told, I’d say it was one of the most enjoyable golf experiences I’ve ever had.

After the round, we rushed right over to The Borgata where we had dinner reservations at Old Homestead. I know I’ve written about it before, but it’s worth restating- I still feel it is one of the best steakhouses around. The steak au poivre is always excellent, and I should know since I’ve probably had it twenty times by now. Twoin ordered the prime rib this time and that was also fantastic. While we’re doling out the superlatives, it should be mentioned that Twoin thought it was the best prime rib he’d ever had and I totally agree. It was about 2 inches thick and had to be about a foot wide, and perfectly medium rare. Juicy and fatty in a good way, with a deliciously salty gentle sear around the outer edge. Man, what a slab of goodness.

After dinner it was blackjack all night and all morning for me. Wild swings in bankroll, but nothing I’m not used to. After riding out a tremendously horrid streak of bad cards, I rode out the storm and managed to go to bed up a few hundred bucks. Then after a little nap, I went back to the tables in the morning to win a bit more. It’s nice to leave The Borgata a winner, especially when they refused to comp me a room on my birthday! But even if I didn’t win money I would still have felt like a winner, thanks to my friends that made the trip to celebrate my birthday. Especially a big thanks to Kat for organizing the whole weekend and for driving through that horrendous traffic jam. It was such a fun time and I can’t wait to play Renault Winery again. Who knew that turning another year older could be so enjoyable?

St. Barts, A Food Lover’s Paradise

I finally made my first trip to Saint-Barthélemy (aka St. Barts, aka St. Barths depending where you’re from) thanks to the occasion of Jeannie and Brian’s wedding. As far as destination weddings go, I don’t think you could have picked a better location. The scenery is beautiful, the people are welcoming, and best of all, the food is fantastic everywhere on the island.

The trip into St. Barths is thrilling in itself. The airport consists of a very short runway tucked behind a hill and ending at the beach. So all incoming planes have to basically come in low over the hill and cut the engines so they can descend quickly enough to catch the runway. Once on the runway the plane needs to stop right away in order to avoid ending up on the beach or in the sea. The pilot then has to pull an immediate u-turn to head back to the gate which you passed on the way down. It’s as crazy as it sounds, and that’s why pilots have to have a special certification to be allowed to land at that airport. Search Youtube and you’ll find some good videos of landings, both successful and not!

The great thing is that once you’ve landed, you’re in St. Barts! No long lines at the airport, no long drive to get where you’re going. The island is so small that once you hop in your rental car you are minutes from wherever you want to go- your hotel, the beach, and of course the restaurants. Oh the restaurants…

The thing about St. Barts is that it is a French territory so you are surrounded by great cuisine everywhere you turn. Here are a few of versions of foie gras I enjoyed:

Foie Gras at Eden Rock

The above was at Eden Rock, once of the pricier restaurants on the island, but we were only there for foie gras and drinks.

Foie Gras at Bonito

This was at Bonito, a new restaurant on St. Barts. I don’t remember exactly what the dumpling like thing at the bottom of the skewers were. Blame it on the fact that it was the sixth meal of the day for me so things were kind of a blur by that point. Also I was much less interested in that foie gras as this one was the highlight at Bonito:

Foie Gras with Pumpkin Ravioli at Bonito

It’s a seared foie gras over pumpkin ravioli. A brilliant combination as the pumpkin had just the right delicate level of sweetness, not as overbearing as the syrupy sauce you often find served with foie.

A recurring theme on menus all across St. Barts is the freshest of fish prepared simply, usually some sort of white fish like wahoo or mahi mahi, and often served in tartare or ceviche preparations. Maya’s is reknowned and beloved for specializing in just that sort of refined simplicity. Check out Maya’s ceviche and her asparagus salad:

Ceviche at Maya's

Asparagus Salad at Maya's

And here’s Wall House’s take on raw fish, with a nice little accent of gari, the pickled ginger you usually get with sushi. Makes so much sense as an accompaniment, I’m surprised we don’t see it more often.

Wall House tartare

And here’s the ceviche sampler at Bonito with some very interesting garnishes. That’s mango and watermelon on the left, pine nuts in position two, seaweed salad in the third slot, and popcorn and sweet potato on the right.

Bonito ceviches

Beautiful raw preparations weren’t limited to fish either. At La Route des Boucaniers we had this magnificent pair of raw beef dishes:

Carpaccio at La Route des Boucaniers

Steak tartare at La Route des Boucaniers

The quality of the beef was magnificent in both dishes, but the carpaccio could have used another salty component. The steak tartare did have that component in the form of capers and it worked beautifully. Definitely the best steak tartare I’ve ever had, it was well seasoned without overwhelming the flavor of the beef. Quite a generous portion too I might add, yet wolfing the whole thing down it never felt like a heavy dish. It was just perfect in both flavor and texture, it may have been my favorite plate of the entire trip.

Another must-visit eatery on the island is La Creperie which as you’d expect, specializes in crepes. They do both savory and sweet, but I opted for this gem featuring lemon, honey and almonds and a scoop of lemon sorbet. So good.

Lemon Twist at La Creperie

It’s not just the French food, but even things like burgers are great here. Just ask Jimmy Buffett who wrote Cheeseburger In Paradise after being inspired by the burger at the St. Barts institution called Le Select. I of course had to try one and naturally I got bacon on mine:

Le Select Bacon Cheeseburger

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, “where’s the beef?”, right? Well I’d agree, the patty could have been a little more substantial, but hey, it was only about 7€, probably my cheapest meal on the island (St. Barts is expensive, even with the Euro collapsing). It was a decent burger but I don’t know if it would have inspired me to write a song about it. Elsewhere on the island however, you can get this burger which will in fact make you want to break into song and dance:

Burger at La Route des Boucaniers

It’s a cheeseburger from La Route des Boucaniers. Just look at it. Simple, not gimmicked up in any way. Just a perfectly cooked patty of beef with cheese melted just right and a lightly toasty bun. Classic and delicious, which is a good way to describe much of the food on island.

Nowhere was this classicism more evident than in the desserts. Meringue used to be popular back in the hay day of French haute cuisine. These days, in New York anyway, you just won’t see classic French meringue desserts anymore because nobody wants their menu to appear outdated. But you know, these things are classics for a reason- because they’re goddamn delicious! Example number one, a Vacherin at La Route des Boucaniers:

Vacherin at La Route des Boucaniers

A vacherin is a baked meringue shell filled with whatever goodies you want. My favorites are like this one, filled with a berry compote, but they are also great when filled with mousse. La Route kind of unnecessarily gilds the lily by covering it all with whipped cream, but I’m not complaining.

But perhaps the ultimate throwback was this beautiful classic from The Wall House restaurant:

Oeufs A La Neige at Wall House

It’s the Floating Island, or perhaps better known by its more attractive French name, Oeufs a la Neige which means “snow eggs”. The meringue is soft and cloud-like, floating on a pool of creme anglaise. It’s a dish I don’t think I’ve even heard mentioned since the 80’s, but so satisfying and fun to eat it makes me wonder why we have written it off. All I know is it makes me happy that they proudly serve this sort of food in St. Barts. In fact, most everything about St. Barts makes me happy. It’s my kind of paradise, one that has foie gras and steak tartare. 🙂

An Epic Birthday Week – Episode XI (The Last Supper)

Sunday morning I woke up feeling a little tired but more or less ok because I was smart enough to quit drinking earlier than the rest of the crew the night before. CS, superman that he is, somehow managed to get up early too and was going to go sailing with his dad that day. I said my goodbye to him and packed my suitcase as I waited for Lily to wake up and get the day started. My flight wasn’t until late at night (planned that way in case I was hungover from our Sonoma trip the day before), so this was to be a day of relaxing and hanging with family.

First up was dim sum with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and other cousins. I didn’t catch the name or location of the dim sum restaurant (if any of you cousins are reading this, maybe you can add a comment to let me know), but the food was surprisingly good. Better in fact than the dim sum places I’ve been to in NY or Boston. The pork blood (the same kind that appeared in the Bún bò Huế from my previous post) was especially good, as was the crispy deep fried taro dumplings. But pretty much everything we had was above average to great.

After dim sum we headed back to Tony’s mom’s place to chill out. And for those of you who have had big dim sum meals before, you know that kind of chilling out amounts to dozing off on the couch. It was exactly the sort of lazy afternoon I needed after 10 fun but exhausting days. From there we popped over to uncle Simon’s place for a little while and had some some soup. Good ol’ homemade Chinese soup. Didn’t realize how much I missed it!

By then it was late afternoon and we were planning to round up the families again for dinner, Pho this time. But before we did that, Tony insisted I needed to try the taco truck before I left. I still wasn’t even remotely hungry, and we had dinner coming shortly, but what the heck, you know I can always eat. So Tony took me and cousin Merlinda deep into the ghettos of Oakland to what would otherwise have been an abandoned lot if not for the two big taco trucks stationed at either end. He explained that they own the building behind one of the trucks but they choose not to use it as a storefront and instead only sell food out of the trucks. Fascinating. This was definitely the kind of place that you would not want to come to alone at night unless you had a death wish. But fortunately it was daylight out, and all the unsavory types around us didn’t look very menacing because they were happily chowing down on tacos from the truck. I ordered one lengua (tongue) taco and one al pastor (barbecued pork). Can you believe these little beauties are only $1.25 each?

Taco Truck Tacos- Lengua and Al Pastor

If that picture doesn’t make your mouth water, there’s something wrong with you. As CS might say, these tacos were “ridiculous”. So good. So fresh. It was like tasting a real taco for the very first time. The lengua was my favorite because it had a more substantial chew to it, but flavor-wise they were both superb. Like I said, I wasn’t even hungry, but I scarfed these two puppies down like nothing.

From there we went back to Tony’s place, rounded up the family and went to a local Pho restaurant so I could have one more Vietnamese meal before I left. Sorry, I didn’t catch the name of this place either (can you tell I had already mentally shut down by this point in my trip?), but I ordered the medium sized bowl of pho with sliced beef and tendon. I had been impressed by the quality of all the Vietnamese food I’d had during this trip and this final meal was no exception. The flavor of the soup was so comforting and the tendon had been properly cooked long and slow to the point where every piece was meltingly soft. It was a good, simple heartwarming dinner with family. I can’t think of a better way to close out a trip.

Big thanks go out to everyone who was a part of my week out there. Especially to Nancy, Charlie, Lily, CS, Tony, Mat and Beth. You guys are the best family and friends a guy can have. You gave me a place to crash and kept my plate full the entire time, both literally and figuratively! You guys rock. Thank you.

An Epic Birthday Week – Episode X

Day 10 was the main reason I planned my trip to span two weekends. It was the day that cousin Nancy was renting a bus to take a group of us to Sonoma for wine tasting to celebrate our birthdays and Evy’s business school sendoff. Since it was the main event, we had planned on taking things easy the night before. Of course it didn’t work out that way though. After two wine bars, wine at dinner, and then a bar after that, most of us were toast. When we got back to Lily and CS’s place, I went straight to bed, and I know Lily was feeling queasy too. But CS? He’s more machine than man when it comes to drinking and somehow he stayed up until 3am drinking with friends that came over. Crazy, considering we had to be up at 7am in order to get to Nancy’s in time for the bus pickup!

Impressively, Jin, who was going to drive us to Nancy’s but was one of the ones who stayed up late with CS, showed up right at 7am with a box o’ bagels. Nice. I should point out that the real reason we were getting up so early was that we wanted to stop by Philz Coffee before heading to Nancy’s, and well, you know coffee at Philz takes a little while to make. So as hungover as we all were, we were also coffee junkies that sacrificed an extra half hour of sleep in order to get our Philz fix.

We were a group of walking wounded when we arrived at Nancy’s and in truth I don’t think any of us really came back to life until we got to Sonoma and had our first glass of wine. From there, the rest of the day was a whirlwind. We hit about 6 wineries for tastings with one stop at The Girl & The Fig for lunch (where I didn’t eat because I was deeply into drink mode by that point). I didn’t really love any of the wines I tasted that day, but to be honest, by the 4th winery, Margaux and Manichewitz probably would have been the same to me. I had mainly been drinking reds all day and the tannins had turned my tongue to sandpaper. Even the oysters we had at B.R. Cohn couldn’t refresh my palate. But it didn’t matter, because this trip wasn’t really about the wine. It was about celebrating and just chilling with great family and friends. The bus ride was a hoot, especially with the shots of Cazadores tequila being passed around and CS’s crazy friend Hector holding court and entertaining everyone. It was a great day and by the time we were on our way home, most of us were nodding off as we were stuck in traffic.

But that wasn’t the end of the festivities. We got back to Nancy’s place and fired up the grill for some terrific bbq chicken and kalbi. Nancy also makes a mean spinach dip. Meanwhile Hector taught us all how to properly drink Mexican beer with lime and salt (a flavor profile which I have developed quite a fondness for after having those micheladas and chavelas). CS and Hector are old drinking buddies and the two of them just seemed to feed off of each other’s energy, egging each other on and keeping a fresh beverage in each others’ hands at all times. Very crazy considering CS had been up until 3am drinking the night before, and really, with me as a house guest, he had pretty much been drinking heavily all week. But then again, with Lily as a girlfriend, I guess you could say he’s probably been drinking heavily for two years, hahaha. Speaking of which, happy anniversary to them!

Since I was flying home the following day I knew I didn’t want to drink too much that night and wake up feeling sick. Nothing worse than being trapped on a plane when you’re feeling ill. So with that in mind, I switched to water after my 3rd shot of tequila. Lily also stopped drinking because she was designated driver. And she filled that role properly, as opposed to the kid, Mike I think his name was, who was supposed to be the DD for some of the other guys at the party, but who I guess fell victim to Nancy’s sudden urge to make people do shots (Nancy never does shots, but she was doing them that night!). When we left the party, the poor kid was on the sofa wincing, clutching a pillow to his side as if Bas Rutten had just kicked him in the liver. I felt bad for the kid, but that didn’t stop me from laughing hysterically of course.

So somehow 6 of us crammed ourselves into one car and Lily drove us back to her place, a good half hour drive. I now know what it must be like to get smuggled across the border. Those of us in the back seat were all contorted and my left leg was totally asleep by the time we got back. Oh well, as I told Hector, I guess I’m not very good at Mexican yoga.

An Epic Birthday Week – Episode IX

On Day 9, CS was busy but Nancy was able to get out of work early so Lily and I made our way out to meet her for lunch at her favorite Caribbean restaurant in a slummy area of East Palo Alto. This place was seriously in the ghetto. To give you some idea, as we walked from the car to the restaurant, we passed a little alley where I saw two young children chasing a chicken around. I guess that’s what kids have to play with when they don’t have toys in the barrio!

But it was daylight out so it didn’t feel dangerous, and I know Nancy knows good food so if she said Back A Yard restaurant was worth the journey into the hood, I knew I was in for a real treat. In fact, this combo of jerk chicken and ox tails turned out to be perhaps one of the greatest plates of simple honest food I’ve ever had:

Back A Yard Chicken and Ox Tails

I know it doesn’t look like much, but trust me, you would love it. Ok, maybe the salad was a throw away, but everything else on that plate was pure heaven. The jerk seasoning on the chicken was better than the best barbecue you could ever imagine. The ox tail was deeply flavored and cooked so long that the even the little caps of cartilage around each bone would melt on the tongue. The rice and beans were moist and actually had flavor. So often rice and beans are under-seasoned, dry or otherwise lackluster, but not at Back A Yard. Somebody cooked all this stuff with real love. And those plantains were just killer. Sweet with just the right amount of caramelization to them. This for me was the pinnacle of Caribbean food. I don’t know how it could possibly have been any better. I left there extremely happy.

After lunch, Lily and I went to… you guessed it, Philz Coffee again. This time we checked out the Palo Alto branch. Yes, my trip was only 10 days long, but I managed to visit 3 out of the 6 Philz Coffee locations. This one had a much crunchier feel to it, not the modern coffee shop feel of the other two. It also had a quaint little outdoor seating area where I enjoyed my Jacob’s Wonderbar Brew while Lily tried their yummy Turkish blend which was fragrant with cardamom.

From there we returned home to bring CS the takeout we got from Back A Yard. He started eating it thinking he would just have a few bites before we headed out to a wine bar, but it was so good he couldn’t help himself and just decided to eat the whole thing!

We hit two wine bars that day, the first being Tessora’s located in The Pruneyard shopping plaza. There was nice outdoor seating and we had a bottle of wine and some apps there before heading off to the second place, Cin Cin which Mat had recommended. I opened the wine list there and what did I see? Why, it was our new friend the Martella Petite Sirah we had tried at One Market a week ago! This one was a 2004 vintage but tasted pretty much the same, i.e. fantastic. We also tried Cin Cin’s remarkable chicken liver crostini which brilliantly were made with currants and dried apricot. So good.

From there it was time to move onto dinner at Dio Deka, a Greek restaurant also in Los Gatos. We got a couple bottles of Turley Zin and enjoyed what was probably the finest example of upscale Greek food I’ve ever had. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen foie gras at any other Greek restaurant like it was here on this foie gras and scallop dish:

Dio Deka foie and scallops

When you see nice touches like the hearts of palm on the plate you know these guys are trying to take things to another level. Superb. But Greek food to me is measured by the quality of their seafood, and Dio Deka proves their worth with this offering of a fish I believe is called Mero:

Dio Deka Mero

It was hearty like a black cod or chilean sea bass but not as cloyingly oily. Paired with that dill lemon butter sauce, it was very refined but still had the unmistakable flavors of Greece. Dio Deka was the only fancy place I ate at during the entire trip, and it was an excellent choice for the splurge.