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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Marlow & Sons -- American New in Williamsburg, Brooklyn



A friend told me about Marlow and Sons last year.  It generated quite some rave reviews.
Finally, a double date on the first day of 2010 seemed to be a perfect opportunity to cross the boarder and visit this place.
The restaurant shares the same owner with the next door restaurant "Diner" and butcher shop "Marlow and daughters" a couple of steps away.
The restaurant is on the same street with the famous New York steakhouse, Peter Luger;
not the most convenient location from the nearest subway stops.



We walked in at 6 PM on January 1.  There were a few empty tables. 
By the time we left the restaurant around 9 PM, the restaurant was packed.



Ordering food was quite a challenge as many dishes on the menu and specials were in Italians.
We had to ask the waitress to explain the menu a few times before we figured out what to eat.

Ravioli Appetizer 


Salad, one of the specials of the day  (It tasted as good as it looked.)


Beef tongue soup  (Rare ingredients in restaurants. I liked the soup.)


East Coast Oysters


Brick Chicken 
(Look the beautiful golden brown color!)


Pork sausages with sauerkraut


Seafood tomato stew 
(Not my favorite.)


Apple crumb pie with vanilla ice cream. 
(Generous portion and very comforting)


Chocolate cake with sea salt

(Chocolate was too rich and dense and too much sea salt. The contrast did not execute well.)


The front portion of the restaurant is a general store.
The restaurant also opens for breakfast and lunch.

The restaurant does not take reservations.
Come early or be prepared to wait!


Friday, February 19, 2010

Despana -- Pintxos & Spainsh Gourmat store in Nolita



Pintxo:
Originated in the Basque Country, a Pintxo is a typical bar snake consist of small slices of bread upon which
an ingredient or mixture of ingredients is placed and fastened with a toothpick,
which gives the food its name "pintxo", meaning "spike."

The difference between pintxos and tapas being that pintxos are ordered and eaten individually,
whilst tapas are usually a small portion of food to be shared.
In addition, tapas are served on a small dish, while pintxos are generally arranged on bread slices.



Since my Spain trip, I had really enjoyed Pintxos.  A while ago, I met up with a friend at Despanan,
a casual chic Spanish Gourmet store in Nolita for their variety of Pintxo selections. 


The store just opened up a small eating area in the back last December. 


Morcilla con Piquillo: Blood Sausage with piquillo pepper
(I am not really a big fan of blood sausages, but this one is really yummy)


Sardina Picante con Tomato: Hot Sardine with Tomato


Croquette de Bacalao: Home made Cod fish Croquette


There are a lot more we ordered but ate it too fast before we took pictures.
Their dessert Tarta de Santiago, flowerless Almond Tort imported from Galicia, was OUT OF THIS WORLD GOOD!

This is a really wonderful rest stop for a quick bite when you are in the neighborhood.
However, the store close at 7PM from Monday to Saturday and 6PM on Sunday.
Come early before some popular pintxos are sold out!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cambodia - After thoughts & Tips





Our Cambodian trip was such an eye opening experience.  We truly enjoyed each and every one of the Cambodian people and children that we encountered. 
  • Cambodia is definitely a country in need.  There are many ways to give and many debates on what is the best way to help. 
    Some people give donations, some volunteer, others may bring supplies to schools or orphanages....
    It could be very overwhelming and paralyzing when you try to figure out which organization and in what capacity you would like to give.  After returning from the trip and some researches, "Friends without Boarder" that funds Angkor Hospital for Children and "Landmines Blows" are two organizations that we decided to support as a way of giving back to Cambodia.  
  • I regret that I did not think of bringing gummy bear vitamins with me.  They would be great treats that actually have some nutritional value for all Cambodian Children we met.
  • For those who are debating whether to hire a guide or not, I would strongly advice to hire a guide for one day first and then decide if you would like to continue using his/her service. 
  • Tuk Tuk is the best means of transportation within Siem Reap and the Angkor Park area.  It was so much fun! Definitely highly recommended.  Our tuk tuk driver, Bunlong truly enhanced the overall experience for us.  He was very reliable, punctual and we felt that he always had our best interest at heart. 
    For those of you who need a tuk tuk driver recommendation, please contact him via email at bun_angkor@yahoo.com and give him our warmest regards. 
  • Bring extra batteries and memory cards for your digital camera.  We took over a thousand photos in 5 days. A tripod is also a good idea if you want to take many sunrise and sunset shoots.  
  • To prevent getting sick from food, we avoided the tap water and took Pro-Biotics pills everyday.
    (Hans is also convinced that daily beer intake helped, but I don't know if there is a scientific proof to his theory.)  
For those of you who are planning on visiting Cambodia, I hope you come with an open mind and open heart.
I am sure the journey will be as enriching and rewarding to you as it was for us. 


Cambodia 1.15 & 16 - Part 2: Sun eclips, Khmer Taste Restaurant, Siem Reap & Photo Album



After the afternoon siesta, Bunlong picked us up from the hotel and headed back to Siem Reap.
The sky looked cloudy and it was not as hot as the past few days.
I had to wear a light long sleeve sweater because it felt a little chilly to me.
On the tuk tuk, Hans noticed that people were looking up, but we did not know what they were looking at. 

We told Bunlong to drop us off by the river since we wanted to take a walk along the river.
Two local girls with long black hair sat on a bench.  One was checking the other girls' hair for lice.
It reminded me of the Khmer life we saw on the bas-reliefs.  Thousand of years ago, Khmer women were doing exactly the same thing. 



After a nice stroll, we went to the meeting point to meet up with Bunlong.  We saw Bunlong wearing a pair of sunglasses.
I thought it was odd, since there was no sun, and I had not seen Bunlong wearing sunglasses the past few days.
Later, Bunlong showed us the Sun eclipse which explained why the weather was much cooler and dimmer than the previous days,
and so many people were looking up to the sky.  It was my first time to see a sun eclipse!
Through the clouds, we could clearly see that the sun was shaped like a crescent moon.
 Unfortunately we were not able to captured it on our camera. 

We had Bunlong drop us off at the Old Market where we sent him home.
It was only 4 PM, we did some souvenir shopping in the old market, and later sat at a cafe to write postcards and looked through our pictures.

Between Hans and I,  I was always ready to try the next new thing.
Hans, on the other hand, enjoyed the old and familiars.
He was always more opinionated about countries that were not part of the western world, sensitive to the new environments, and got sick from foreign food much easier.
So coming to Cambodia, I definitely had my reservations about how he was able to handle it.
 Turned out, he was a lot more open-minded and receptive than what we both thought.
Perhaps being dragged to all the new situations by me over the years finally rubbed off on him.
Over coffee, Hans said, "I want to visit more countries in Asia in the future, especially when we come all the way to Taiwan already."
I rolled my eyes and shook my head.  Can you believe this guy?? That is what I have been telling him all along! 

I was happy that he reacted so positively to Cambodia; then again, it was so easy to fall in love with this magical land. 

People started setting up the night market on the streets.
It was still too early for dinner, so we headed to Devatara Spa for a body scrub and some more massages!


We were tempted to have western food for dinner. But at the last minute, we changed our minds and stuck with Cambodian cuisine.
(I mean, when will be the next time we have Cambodian food in New York? I don't even know if there is a Cambodian restaurant in NYC.)

We picked Khmer Taste restaurant for our last dinner in Siem Reap.
We ordered Banana Flower Salad (Khmer Family's was better), fried rice with basil leaves (child's play), LAB (Some marinated salty ground meat with spices. It reminded me of the meat we saw at the new market.), and Sabak Fish (Local fish that was smoked or grilled.  It was very flavorful and tasty.  Hans loved it, but I could not eat much, again, the fish in the New Market...)

Khmer Taste was a little off from the main tourist hub.  It was much more subdue.  We noticed that the restaurant offered free bicycle rental to customers who dine in the restaurant. 


We did a little more shopping after dinner.  In front of the old market, we saw a food vendor selling Cambodian style pancakes.
The pancakes were similar to french crepe. They were sooooo good that after we finished our pancakes, we went back for more.
   
It was our last night in Siem Reap, and we did not want to go back to the hotel yet.  We went up to the balcony of the Red Piano for drinks and picked a spot that was perfect for people watching.
We noticed more "working girls and boy toys" on the streets as the night went on.  Finally the street vendors were closing up.  It was time to go. 



The next morning, we stayed in the hotel for some R & R and a nice breakfast buffet.
At 10 AM Bunlong came to pick us up one last time to drive us to the airport. 

Bunlong took a different route so we could see Angkor Wat on the way to the airport.
We exchanged our email addresses with Bunlong and said our good-byes for good this time.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Cambodia 1.15 & 16 - Part 1: Silk Farm, Phsar Leu Thom Thmey



Bunlong picked us up at 8:00 AM.  We were happy to see Bunlong. We missed him yesterday.
Because of the planning mishap, we used up all three days of our temple pass yesterday.
(I did not realize that Banteay Srey and Kbal Spean were part of the Angkor Park pass.)
So we did not have much planned for today.

We decided to check out the Silk Farm which was about 20 minutes outside of Siem Reap.
A staff member gave us the free tour.  The tour was really educational; highly recommended for families.

After the Silk Farm, we headed back to Siem Reap.  We invited Bunlong to breakfast at Moloppor Cafe. (I read that it had the best cashew milkshakes.)
Moloppor was a Japanese style cafe by the river.  The cashew milkshake was a lot richer and creamier than the one that I had at Khmer Kitchen the first day.

We told Bunlong about the amazing trip we had yesterday.  I asked him if Cambodians followed lunar calendar like Chinese people since we saw so many weddings yesterday which I thought was unusual.
Bunlong told us that one or two days before the new moon were usually very popular for weddings.
We chatted with Bunlong like we were old friends.  He spoke the best English among the guides & drivers we encountered. 



After breakfast, we spotted the roadside vendors selling grilled bananas & bananas with sticky rice wrapped in banana leafs along the river.
It would be my last chance to sample the street food and I must try it.
I loved the grilled bananas and Hans enjoyed the bananas with sticky rice.

Local food markets have been on my "must see" list wherever I travel.
They were always fascinating to see and were always one of the highlights of our trips.  So, it was to Phsar Leu Thom Thmey (New Market) next!

The new market was the main traditional market for the locals.  We wanted to come in the morning to see the hustle and bustle, but Bunlong told us it was too crazy in the morning.  He was right.  When we got there around 11:30 AM, it was still a lot to take in.

The shock value of this market was beyond words.  First of all, the market was very big.
You could find anything and everything in the market:  fresh produce, meats & seafood under the hot sun, herbs & spices, jeweleries, clothing, hair salons, food courts....

Butchers were cutting meats and hanging them on the hooks; fish were being de-boned on the dirty floor.  To preserve without the refrigeration, meat was being marinated or made to sausages and seafood was smoked, salted, or made to some kind of pate.

There were all sorts of unfamiliar strong smells in the air.  The roads were filthy.
Trucks or push carts were honking and fighting their ways through.
A little boy was peeing next to the food stand.

 It was sensory overload after awhile for me.  If you visited Chinatown in Manhattan at a hot summer day and thought it was bad, this was a thousand times worse.
I had to wonder if all the yummy food we had in the restaurants the past few days came from this market.
If they were, then we were very lucky not to get sick. 


After we got out of the New Market, we were ready to go back to the hotel for the afternoon break. 

For the past few days, we always passed by a building where there was constantly a very long line of local families by the roadside.
On the way back, I asked Bunlong what yhr line was for.
He told us it was local families waiting to see doctors at the Angkor Children's Hospital that provided free medical care to local children.   




Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cambodia 1.14 - Part 2: Kampong Khleang & Photo Album



I gave it a lot of thought prior to arranging the trip to Kampong Khleang.
It was off the beaten path, and I was somewhat nervous about not knowing what to expect.

If we thought we saw enough of the Cambodian Countryside earlier today, we soon realized that we had not seen anything yet.  It took another hour and half from Beng Mealea to reach Kampong Khleang on a bumpy narrow dirt road.
As we got closer to the village, there were rolls of elevated wooden shacks that were beyond disrepair.  Bicycles, motorcycles, push carts, occasionally 4 wheel vehicles, dogs, cows, roosters, piglets, and children with bare feet or completely naked were roaming in the middle of the road creating a dusty cloud.


video

We were both a bit shocked by the severity of the poverty.  We had visited poor countries before, but not like this.
There were no posh 5 star hotels or preppy resort towns to shield us away from the brutal reality.
We sat in the back of the car in silence.
I was not sure how I felt, but I was trying to act normal and unaffected as I knew Hans was definitely feeling uncomfortable.


After it seemed like a long time, we reached Kampong Khleang.  We were the only tourists there.  Our driver led us to a dock.
A pre-arranged boat was waiting for us.  Two young boys were our captains.
Along the muddy Siem Reap River to the endless Tonle Sap Lake, we saw the fishing village and river life.
We were astounded by what we saw.
It was breathtakingly beautiful, moving, powerful, and everything else that I was not capable of describing.
I did not feel that we should set foot in there.  I feared that our "civilized presence" would pollute their world.
Many fishing and farming boats passed us by.  Locals looked at us with curiosity.  Children smiled and waived at us.
How could a world so dilapidated be so beautiful?
How could everything so melancholic be so peaceful?
I live in a modern society that sophisticates and masks human conditions and emotions.
Here in Kampong Khleang, everything was stripped down to the bare basics with no pretense. 
I was being confronted by the rawness of it.
I could barely look at it, but I could not turn my eyes away.

video

As we cruised on the water, another worker's boat packed with mostly young men passed by.  The gave us blank stares.
A scary thought entered my brain: "Nobody knows we were here.  If we were robbed, killed and dumped in the river, no one would ever find out."  I felt uneasy.
Trying to calm my overstimulated imagination, I went to the front of the boat and tried to strike a conversation with our captains.  Unfortunately, the only English they said was "YES", and I could not even find out their names.  I would guess the older one driving the boat was maybe 15 or 16 years old, and the little one was probably just over 10 years old.  They looked out to the water with no facial expressions.  I could not tell if they were shy or indifferent. After about 30 minutes on the boat, we turned around and headed back to the village.  I started to feel more relaxed.


After the boat ride, we told the driver that we would like to walk around the village before we hit the road again.  We saw some young monks meditating in a temple.

While we were taking pictures of the village, a little girl walked towards me holding hands with her younger brother.
The little girl had a pink eye, messy hair, and a dirty dress on.  Her younger brother was completely naked.  They had the most precious smiles that just melted my heart.  The little girl was curious about my camera.  I showed them the pictures I took.  They looked at them with wonder.


I felt unprepared.  I felt the urge to help these people, but I would not know what they needed.  I was also nervous about my footprint in the village.  Somehow, I thought that Kampong Khleang was so enchanting and fragile that it should be left undisturbed. 


Finally, we were ready to leave.  From Kampong Khleang, it was a little less than one hour before we reached Siem Reap.
Our driver stepped on the gas, drove through the roads as he honked the horn.  We were nervous that he would hit a kid or some animals.
When we got back to Siem Reap, we hit the rush hour.  All the vehicles were fighting for their space on the roads.  There were no traffic rules in Siem Reap.  Honking the horn meant: "Get out of my way."  Whoever drove the bigger vehicle won.

Our driver dropped us off near the old market.


Tonight, we went to Khmer Family restaurant on Pub Street.  We had fried shrimp with pepper sauce (loved it!), Coconut chicken with watercress (just okay), Amok fish (safe bet), roast honey duck (the meat was chewy and way too sweet), and coconut milk with some unknown fruit jelly for dessert (yummy).

The massage became the nightly ritual after dinner.  At Madam 1, Hans had another foot massage and I had a Khmer massage.

It was strange how easy it was for us to slip back to the world that we were comfortable and familiar with.
Yet, the haunting images of Kampong Khleang will stay with us forever.
This was one of the most incredible experience I have ever had.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cambodia 1.14 - Part 1: Banteay Srei, Kabal Spean, Beng Mealea & Photo Album




View Day 3 in a larger map


We had a new driver picking us up at 7 AM as we arranged a car for transportation today.
The driver was a young man who barely spoke any English.
He showed up with an old car from Thailand that had the driver seat on the right side.

I was really excited about today as we would venture out of Angkor Park for a change of scenery.

First stop: Banteay Srei
Distance:  45 minutes drive from Siem Reap
Entrance Fee: Included in the Angkor Park pass. 

Banteay Srei was very different from the temples we had seen so far.
It was much smaller in size.  The sandstone gave the temple the distinctive color.  The carvings were very decorative and exquisite. 

By the time we came out of the temple around 9 AM, there were buses after buses of tours arriving at the site.  I was glad that we beat the crowd.  After some traditional Cambodian noodle soup for breakfast, we were ready to go.


Second stop: Kbal Spean
Distance: 30 minutes drive from Banteay Srei & 45 minutes hiking to the riverbed stone carvings
Entrance Fee: Included in the Angkor Park Pass. 

I enjoyed the hiking more than the carvings. It was worth having a local to show you around as some of the carvings were hard to find.
We were told that the water was blessed by the gods and goddesses carved on the river bed.  The sacred water then fertilizes the soil of Angkor.


 
After the Kabal Spean, it was another solid hour to our next stop.  We were deep in the Cambodian country side: the water buffalos roaming in the rice fields; little kids laughing and playing in the woods; elders laying in canapes under elevated wooden shacks;  teenagers in school uniforms riding bikes; little piglets stuffed in bamboo cages on the back of motorcycles....

No doubt that the living conditions were harsh, but it was hard not to romanticize what we had seen.
Children had the cutest faces and brightest smiles.
People were at ease with their surroundings.
Time seemed to go at a slower pace in this part of the world.

Perhaps it evoked the nostalgia in me of the simpler eras that our ancestors had once lived when humans were one with nature.

We made frequent stops at the roadside vendors and outdoor markets and past by at least 4 wedding banquets blasting loud and festive music. 



Third stop:  Beng Mealea
Distance: 1 hour drive from Kabal Spean
Entrance Fee: $5

After we past the entrance checkpoint, a park keeper led us inside the temple where we did not encounter any tourists. The park keeper was an older woman with dark wrinkled face, small frame, and limped right leg when she walked.  The temple was mysterious and mystical.  Climbing on the rocks through the ruins of library and galleries, I felt I was in the "Indian Jones" movie set.  It was so surreal, even the park keeper felt like a character  in the movie.
The temple was so quiet that Hans and I whispered to each other, not wanting to disturb any spirits that were present.
We did not want to leave.  If it was not for the park keeper who were waiting for us, we could have stayed in this temple the whole day.
We thanked the park keeper and gave her some tips for taking the time to show us around.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cambodia 1.13 - Part 2: Angkor Wat, 60 meter market, Cambodian BBQ, Dr Feet & Photo Album



We hung out by the hotel pool before we met up with Bunlong and Kimson again.
Although Le Meridian's pool had an unique Khmer inspired design, I must say it was not very "swimming friendly" with too many structures and corners in the pool.


By 3PM, we were ready for our afternoon Angkor Wat tour. It was such a dreamy experience seeing Angkor Wat. One could spend hours and hours in the temple soaking everything up. Yes, there were tones of tourists, but it was either the heat or the crowd. So you chose the lesser of two evils.

Hans kept saying that he would love to sit in a quiet corner and meditate. (He is convinced that he could be a monk.) I did understand where he was coming from. The temple had such a spiritual and mystical atmosphere that I felt a different frequency of calming energy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cambodia 1.13 - Part 1: Angkor Wat Sunrise, Angkor Thom & Bayon



View Cambodia Day 2 in a larger map


This morning, we had an early start to see the Angkor Wat sunrise.  We had hired a guide based on the recommendation from the tripadvisor Forum.  When we went down to the hotel lobby at 5:20 AM, another guide showed up and told us that the guide I requested was "sick".  Somehow, I didn't buy it.  I chose the guide because of his good reputation despite that his quote was higher than others I have inquired.  It would be nice if he called or e-mailed to explain the situation.
Anyway, I did not want this little surprise ruin my mood and decided to let it go.



Since we were visiting two most important temples in the Angkor park, I decided that it was worth having a guide to show us around.
It was a nice change not having to figure everything out on my own.  Our guide, Kimson, took us to the viewing spot for the sunrise.  The reflection of Angkor Wat towers in the Lotus basin under the soft glow as the sun rose was serene, mystical, and absolutely glorious.  We lingered around and took picture after picture.

We invited Bunlong and Kimson to join us for breakfast at a nearby eatery after the sunrise.   Hans enjoyed the Cambodian coffee with condensed milk.  Although Bunlong's chicken leg with Rice dish looked pretty good, I was not ready for a heavy meal first thing in the morning.  Over the breakfast, We talked about Bunlong and Kimson' family, their jobs, Cambodian food and culture.
Kimson told us that he was the oldest child of 12.  He wanted to be a school teacher when he was in college.  A scholarship opportunity to Japan came along.  A week after he went to Japan, his father had a very serious accident, and he had to come home.  Shortly after his return, his father passed away and he lost his scholarship.  He stayed to take care of his mother and young siblings, and eventually became a tour guide. 



 After breakfast, we began our morning tour with Angkor Thom's South Gate, Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Royal Palace, Terrace of Elephants, and Terrace of Leper King.
Kimson gave us some introduction of Angkor Thom's history and background.  He also pointed out the meanings and symbolism behind many architectural details.

It was also a lot easier having Kimson to guide us to the best photo spots and being our photographer.




The famous giant Buddha faces at Bayon were definitely one of the highlights.  The temple was kept in a fairly good condition.  We were able to see the details in design, architecture, and decorations.
Kimson showed us all the interesting characters, stories, and Khmer lives on the bas-reliefs, which was really fun to see.

At Phimeanakas, we learned that the Khmer King had to come to the tower to sleep with a woman transformed from a nine head snake every night; otherwise the king would have died.
Hans and I joked about how men could come up with all kind of excuses to cheat.  "Well, I don't want to, but I HAVE to sleep with this woman to save my life!" I imagined that's how the Khmer King explained to his Queen.


When we walked out of the Victory Gate, I spotted a woman selling Cambodian milk fruits, which I had never seen before.  Hans and I bought a few, and tried one right there.  The fruit had a white milky juice.  It was sweet, soft, and super delicious.

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped by another roadside vendor for some bamboo sticky rice with coconut milk and red beans. The flavor was pretty subtle, but quite filling.

We made one more stop to get some Vietnamese sandwiches for lunch before we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon sieasta.