Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sal Curiouso

Popcorn with mussels

Lamb meatballs with chickpeas

Ribs and roasted tomatoes

 Last week, I went to check out Sal Curiouso with a friend after going to a jewelry trunk show at the Flying Winemaker.  We then got a few bites to eat at this newly opened tapas join in LKF.  I forgot to take a picture of the last dish, which the chef sent with his compliments.  (It was a deconstructed kingfish ceviche  with pickled onions and orange and avocado puree.)

Sal Curiouso was a very spacious venue and the food was pretty tasty, even though the menu seemed a bit scattered.  The portions were much bigger than I expected.  However, I probably wouldn't go back, as I thought the venue a bit lacking.  While there was a lot of space, there were also not many patrons and the environment felt a bit bland.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

False Nostalgia, Blue Garlic and a Re-Perm

It's weird, often in Hong Kong I feel a very strong yearning or appreciation for a time period that I've never experienced.   I googled this concept to see if there was a term for it.  Apparently it's called "false nostalgia."  Gee, you'd think they'd have been a little more creative with that one.

Anyway, it happens a lot to me in Hong Kong.  I think because some restaurants are institutions and don't even try to hide that they haven't changed anything, including the soup spoons, since 1970.  Like when I went to pick up dinner on Sunday night at this congee shop on Queen's Road Central:

Separately, I just discovered blue garlic.  This is totally bizarre and rocked my world a little bit.  I mean, I thought I have been handling garlic for quite a time now.  And I use it liberally in all forms - minced, chopped, sliced, roasted, sautéed, grilled.   So how have I never seen this happen before??  I was roasting my broccoli like how I always do (lemon, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper) when I popped it out of the oven to do a little flip and toss.  Holy smokes, the garlic pieces were a radioactive looking neon blue.  I figured it had to be a reaction to the acid and not to my beloved silicone baking sheet, but did you guys know about this?

And, just an update on my hair: I went back and had to get it re-permed because my curls had practically disappeared by the time the one-week mark rolled around.  It turns out my hair is too soft.  Doh.  Here it is the night after they gave me tighter curls and styled it.  Let's see if the curls stay this time!

Monday, January 21, 2013


We went bowling this past weekend with our friends in their beautiful, swanky apartment.  Yes, you read that correctly, their building has a legitimate, bona fide bowling alley.  It was so much fun!  I bowled so much better than I expected.  The last time I went bowling, I vaguely recall a horrendous score of something along the lines of... 46.  But maybe it was closer to 64, because this time I bowled an 88! Nothing to crow about, but at least it was a respectable showing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

New Hairstyle - Digital Perm

Indulge me as I launch into a very lengthy and detailed post about my hair.  This past weekend, I tried something new.  I guess it is inevitable that if you have straight hair, you want curly hair, and vice versa.  I've always had straight hair, with no perming, dying or any chemical treatment of any sort.  After 29 years, you can conclude that the hair is pretty healthy (or at least undamaged) and also that I am pretty bored of it.  So I decided to get a digital perm.  

Basically, the digital perm leaves your hair with bigger, looser ringlets, and is only done on the bottom half.  It appealed to me because it's supposed to be very low maintenance (I could never do the blow drying, curling iron, wax/gel/mousse maintenance thing) but still give you curls that look like they've just been styled.  Think Kate Middleton on a humbler scale.

I asked one of the secretaries at work where she got her hair done, because I loved her curls.  She recommended her longtime salon and senior stylist at Salon Mis, a branch of the Il Colpo group, out in Kwun Tong.  It was a nice salon with individual television screens embedded in the mirror to keep you entertained and a tea lady that asked if you wanted any beverages upon your arrival.  And of course, a ton of magazines.

The whole process took nearly four hours.  I had to get my hair washed, cut, treated, rinsed, rolled, permed, sprayed, rinsed, blow dried.  I was bored stiff.  I never thought that it'd be hard to sit and be on the receiving end of a beauty treatment, but it is.  It's really tiring.  Here are some pictures that I tried to take during the process to amuse myself:
The first of many washes

After the haircut, before the chemicals
The contraption

Hooked up - a digital timer counts down as it cooks your hair

Getting impatient - are we done yet??
In big curls
I was starving after the hair treatment so didn't take the time to get a few good pictures immediately after the stylist blew out the hair and applied wax to the tips.  In retrospect that was really unfortunate, as it's pretty much impossible for me to get that post-salon blow out look.  Oh well.  This was taken the night of:
It has taken a while to get used to this hair.  You're not supposed to comb the ends where the curls are and you really can't towel dry it by rubbing it back and forth (leads to frizz city).   I tend to lose volume and curl as the day wears on, but it curls up again once I spray it or wash it.  Overall, I'd say that while the hairstyle is relatively low maintenance, it isn't that low maintenance.  I had to get curl-enhancing shampoo and conditioner, as well as a curling creme.  It takes some care and coaxing, especially after the gym or in the morning.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Grassroots Pantry

I went to brunch with two girlfriends at Grassroots Pantry in Sai Ying Pun on Saturday.  It is a vegan joint that serves a variety of foods, but the menu in particular seemed to reflect Chinese, Moroccan and Indian influences.

The space is very cute and channels the New York vibe that I miss so much:

Tri-coloured couscous with roasted root vegetable medley 
Asparagus and mushroom spaghetti with truffle oil
Caramelized apple cake
I felt very healthy (and surprisingly full) after brunch!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Filming in Hong Kong

Fun little diversion on my walk to work the other day:

Too bad I don't recognize any Hong Kong pop stars...or watch any Cantonese movies.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Space Heater

The last post pretty much summed up our Christmas and new year holidays.  Now it's back to the grind.

We returned to Hong Kong super excited that we were back in warm weather.  Even though Hong Kong residents were grumbling about the cold snap that had just swept the city (12 degrees Celsius, or approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit), the city felt positively tropical to us after skiing in Ruka in -18 Celsius!  It's all relative.

However, our apartment was disappointingly frigid.  I don't think I've previously mentioned, but apartments in Hong Kong usually aren't equipped with any heat.  For some reason, when it cools down just a bit outside, it becomes bracingly cold inside.  When we returned from vacation, it was so much warmer outside than in our apartment that we opened all of the windows, hoping to warm up the interiors.

Two more days of shivering under the covers and walking around with thick layers, and we finally succumbed -- we bought a space heater.  It seems so silly to have to buy a heater when you live in Hong Kong, but we finally took the plunge and haven't looked back.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Last Day in Moscow

We pulled into Moscow at almost 8 AM on January 1, to an absolutely quiet city.  The streets and the metro were deserted.  In Red Square, we could only see some stray bits of confetti as evidence of the previous nights' festivities.  From there, we walked around in vain searching for an open coffee shop or bakery.  I knew that Russians took their New Year celebrations seriously, but I had thought at least some cafes would be open.  I was pretty much dead wrong on this point.

After walking for ages in vain, we finally spotted what looked like an open restaurant.  I was super excited until we got closer and saw the door swing open and a couple stumble out.  It was a nightclub, and the party was still going at 10:30 AM.  Impressive.

Finally, we heard music being pumped out of a diner.  It turned out to be The Beverly Hills Diner, serving up America's finest breakfast and burgers:

Oh well.  We were cold enough and hungry enough to stumble gratefully into the only establishment open in all of Moscow.  After loading up on breakfast and coffee, we began our tour of the Moscow metro.   Commonly referred to as "The People's Palace," the metro was one of the USSR's most extravagant projects.  Nearly all of the stations have marble walls and floors, high ceilings and lots of chandeliers.   Today, the Moscow metro carries over 7 million passengers every day - the largest flow of commuters in the world.  Taking a tour is quite cost-efficient too, since every ride costs the same no matter the distance traveled and regardless of the number of transfers.

When we travel in Asia, people always think that I'm the local and Michael stands out as the tourist (not surprisingly).  Before this trip, Michael and I had laughed that I would finally stand out more than him in Russia.   But many Russians that we saw on the street and in the metro have strong Asiatic features.  In the end, we concluded that I still stand the better chance of blending in as a local!

Overall, I'd have to say Russia was one of the most interesting places we've been.    The people are... brusque (but they left us alone -- no pickpockets, no stop and frisk by the police -- which is better than we expected).  The food is hearty and tasty.  And finally, and obviously, the architecture is out of this world stunning.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ringing in the New Year

I'm glad people are reading and enjoying the posts of our trip.  Thanks for your kind comments!  Sadly, this is the penultimate post of the Russia-Finland chronicles, as the trip, much like the entire year of 2012, flew by.  At the time, we couldn't believe that New Year's Eve had rolled around so quickly. 

St. Petersburg has so many beautiful cathedrals that I knew I wanted to add as many as possible to my sightseeing list.  For some churches, we had the pleasure of seeing them both during the day and at night.

We first saw the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, or just "Church of the Spilled Blood," one of the most famous cathedrals in St. Petersburg.  The church was built on the very spot that Tsar Alexander II was assassinated -- hence the name.  With its richly decorated facade and colorful onion domes, it reminded me of a gingerbread house.  No longer providing any services, this cathedral charges a rather hefty fee to go inside, so we opted to skip the tour and see the interiors of churches still in use instead.
The backside, which was easier/better for picture taking
St. Isaac's Cathedral is the largest cathedral in the city and also no longer provides services.  We skipped the interior (now a museum) and only went up the Colonnade, to catch some panoramic views of the city: 

We also saw the Kazan Cathedral, which is dedicated to one of Russia's most venerated icons, Our Lady of Kazan.  It was modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.  The Roman influence cannot be denied, especially when you're standing in the eaves of the church, flanked by the soaring Corinthian columns.  Because it is an active church, we could not take any photographs of the interior. 

We circled around the back and immediately noticed the color contrast due to the church's abandonment of further (expensive) conservation efforts.   
Finally, last but not least, we went to see St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, a Baroque Orthodox cathedral near the Marinsky theater.  I was very much struck by the beauty of the church, nestled like a blue and gold jewel in the gleaming white snow and shrouded by the dark trees.  The entire scene felt magical.   

We were very fortunate to catch an evening service here.  In Russian Orthodox churches, there are no pews or chairs as it is deemed disrespectful to sit; instead, the idea is that everyone remains standing as humble worshipers before God.  During this service (it ran well over an hour), tourists were asked to stand behind a wire chain fence and refrain from taking any pictures.  I mourned the inability to capture the gilded interior.  The entire place was illuminated by skinny tapers and shimmering chandeliers, crammed top to bottom with icons and gold, gold glorious gold everywhere one chose to look. A full choir was present, and the high ceilings captured the sonorous baritones and tenors to melancholy perfection.  Michael and I were quite moved by this spiritual experience.

A fruit stick dipped in sugar syrup, bought from the Chinese vendors.  So good!
Aside from all our tours of these churches, we also visited a Christmas market where all kinds of traditional Russian and Caucasian snacks (cheese filled bread, mulled wine, candy apple, pork patties, dumplings, sausages, etc.) and handicrafts were sold.  There, we found a stand run by Chinese vendors (the man took one look at me and asked in Mandarin, "You Chinese?") and had some fun conversing with them in Mandarin.  Their Northern accents were quite pronounced and I enjoyed listening to them switch between Russian and Mandarin.

We had a little bit of time before we boarded our New Year's Eve train back to Moscow, so we spent it wandering around:

St. Isaac's Cathedral lit up at night
Then we headed to the train station, where we boarded the Red Arrow sleeper train bound for Moscow.   As tradition dictated, a train attendant stood outside of each car, and a song was piped over the train station loudspeakers right before departure.

We departed at 11:55 pm, so it was on the train car that we popped our semi-sweet champagne (we used the pretty serious steins the train provided) and lit a couple of sparklers.  As the train sped out of the station, we saw and heard fireworks all over St. Petersburg and the outlying suburbs.