Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Luxurious Stay at the Mandarin Oriental

I am staying at the Mandarin Oriental during this trip to Taiwan.  It is a new hotel that opened earlier this year on North Dunhua Road in the Songshan district in Taipei.  I find the location a bit inconvenient (and lots of taxi drivers don't really know where it is) however the comfort of the hotel is certainly unparalleled. 

The room is very big and luxurious.  Everything is of very high quality, including 400 count sheets and thick down pillows and comforters, Frette bathrobes, etc.

 The bathroom is incredibly decadent, consisting of a separate soaking tub, a freestanding shower with a rainshower, a spray shower head and a full length mirror.  The toilet is in an entirely separate room. 

 My favorite part of the whole room is the valet box.  It's a box that the waitstaff or housekeeping can access from the outside - so you leave whatever you want taken away (whether it's garbage, dirty laundry, or shoes to be polished) and they replace with whatever you need (clean clothing or newspapers) without having to disturb you.  I love it!

There is a nice fruit platter (though the massive dragonfruit and guava are my personal additions)
 The mini bar rolls out from a cabinet:
 There is illy espresso and fine china cups:

Happy Thanksgiving - Turkey in Taiwan

In order to celebrate Thanksgiving properly, Michael and I decided to go to Carnegie's, one of the staples of the Taipei expat watering scene, in order to procure a proper Thanksgiving dinner.  We knew it would be really hokey, but that was what added to the fun.
The first step outside was made in the form of piano keys.   Carnegie's is basically a big bar, with walls covered in various music posters and musical instruments.

The bar takes up an entire wall and is crammed with an impressive display of alcohol.

They served a set menu dinner consisting of soup or salad, a platter of turkey, stuffing, pickled onions, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, carrots and peas and mashed potatoes, with gravy on the side, and pumpkin pie for dessert.

For a girl who famously declared to Michael on our first date that "I don't drink wine from places like this," it should be no surprise that I did not have any of the red wine that came with our dinner.  It was a... how shall we say.. fruit forward merlot.

My salad was tasty.  Michael's clam chowder looked like it came straight from a can.  But this only added to our amusement. 
The turkey platter was quite generous.  We speculated that the waitstaff piled all of the dark meat onto my plate and all of the white meat onto Michael's plate, because the meat on our plates disproportionately favored one or the other.  The carrots and peas were bland but the cranberry sauce was very tart and tasty.

 I don't think the good people of Taiwan know or understand what stuffing is, because their idea of stuffing seemed to be this slightly lumpy, gravy like substance that they poured on top the turkey.

The pumpkin pie would more accurately be described as a pumpkin tartlette, given how thin it was!
 We realized that we saw more expatriates (and, specifically, Americans!) in the bar than at any other point during our previously (admittedly brief) trips to Taiwan. Even though the food was not gourmet and eating dinner in a bar with other rowdy Americans drinking beer is not my usual idea of Thanksgiving, it was still kind of fun.  It's the kind of random and eclectic experience that I chalk up to, "well, that happened!"  And the kind of fun memory that Michael and I will turn to each other at some point and say, "remember when we had Thanksgiving dinner in a bar in Taiwan?"  That's what makes travel so much fun and so meaningful to us.

I don't mean to sound negative about this Thanksgiving - I actually quite enjoyed it.  I got a kick out of spending it at good ole' Carnegie's.  And we definitely got to experience some Thanksgiving cheer.  Thanksgiving is such a good holiday because no matter where in the world I am celebrating, I feel very connected to the United States.  It also forces me to take the few moments to reflect with gratitude on the bounty in my life.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Back in Taiwan...Happy Thanksgiving!

I found myself back on a plane on Wednesday night, this time heading to Taipei.  It has been a heavy travel period for me lately.  Here is a shot of the airport as I scurried toward the immigration line:
I am here for work this time, not for play, however, my parents are still in Taiwan, which is a nice stroke of luck.  I am glad I managed to see my dad twice while I am here. My dad flies out tonight and I will miss him. 

Michael came out to Taipei on Thursday evening to stay with me for which I was very grateful.  It would be depressing to be stranded in a conference room on Thanksgiving day otherwise.  Not to mention spending my birthday by myself...

I arrived in Taipei in time to have dinner with my mom and dad on Wednesday night.  We went to a restaurant, Shen Yi, where we were pleasantly surprised at how tasty everything was, even though it was fancier than we expected and certainly in a very heavy tourist area.  Our meal consisted of:

Japanese eggplant with basil.  Can never have enough of this!

Taiwanese oysters sauteed in a black bean sauce with green onions.  Also can never have enough of this!

More sweet potato leaves.  This one cooked in a fragrant light broth with lightly sauteed garlic.  Also can never have enough of this!  (Are you seeing a pattern yet of my favorite Taiwanese foods?)
I struggled to get a good picture of this fillet of fish.  It was pan seared and, topped with some thinly sliced raw onion and a fresh burst of lime, flaky, moist and perfect.
 Traditional Taiwanese style porridge with chunks of sweet potatoes.
For dessert, peanut coated mochi
 I am here for a few more days of meetings.  Hopefully the work will be manageable such that I am able to relax and enjoy this very best of American holidays!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bread Street Kitchen

 I had a fantastic time at Gordon Ramsey's new restaurant in Hong Kong with some good friends the other night.  We all had managed not see each other properly for at least two months.  It's crazy how that can happen here in Hong Kong.  Everyone's schedules are kind of wonky and crazy.
 The restaurant is located in the stairwell in LKF.
 The sign is highlighted in yellow.
 The light fixtures and wine rack add nice ambience to the restaurant.
It was too dim to take any pictures of the food, so I didn't even try.  We ordered a big spread, with appetizers consisting of a salad and short ribs, entrees consisting of shepherd's pie, grilled fish, pork belly, and side dishes consisting of macaroni and creamed corn.  My table mates seemed to quite like the food, but I have to say, I wasn't that impressed.  Perhaps British food just isn't my thing.

Dinner in Taichung

 Here is where we went to eat dinner on Sunday night in Taichung.  Soooo good.

Oysters smothered in garlic served with chives and cracked black pepper, cooked in a light broth at the table.  (Yes, that is a lot of garlic).
These are sweet potato leaves sauteed in garlic.  Yes, sweet potato leaves!  Did you know that you could eat these?  These were so tender and so delicious.
This is a rather self explanatory chicken dish.  I know chicken is usually a boring dish but this chicken is delicious and really tastes like chicken!
King mushrooms and Japanese eggplant sauteed with basil.  Delicious.  The mushroom was cooked to an al dente perfection and the eggplant was meltingly tender.
The soup was great - fish soup with fresh clams and a small non-sweet kind of sour green melon.
I ate to my heart's content...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Taiwan on a Whim

I flew to Taichung, Taiwan on Sunday morning and returned to work on Monday morning.  The brilliant thing about the Hong Kong airport is that it really is quite seamless.  My plane touched down at just past 9 AM and I was in at work by 10:05 AM.  That's pretty amazing, no?

It does mean that I am quite tired though.  Probably not the best way to start off the week -- fresh off of a weekend running around and shuttling back and forth on planes.

But it was so worth the trip and I am so glad I went.  My parents are in Taiwan seeing family as they wind up their vacation (well, my dad anyway) and it seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up.  I wanted to see them, see my relatives, and just spend some rarely found quality time together in our hectic (or just very geographically distant) lives.

No joke, my trip consisted of my flying in on a small plane (flew Mandarin Airlines this time), a joyful reunion at the airport, heading to a restaurant, eating, walking around, heading home, talking, watching the Golden Horse awards on TV, eating persimmons and oranges and drinking tea, shopping, drinking coffee, and then heading to another restaurant and eating some more, going to sleep, then waking up and getting to the airport, then flying back on a small plane.

The food, though, is so damn good that it is my standard trope now to groan that I am still too full from my last meal, then proceed to eat everything in sight.  I don't know how to explain it.  It's not even the fancy stuff that gets me.  This time, it was a humble little "canteen" style family business that serves simple, fresh food in generous portions with great flavor.

Here is the old school airport at Taichung.  It is a tiny commercial airport but huge in size and scope because it is still an active military base.
A view out over the parking lot.
 Speaking of military bases, before we went to eat lunch at the canteen restaurant, we wandered into a park containing old tanks brought in by the US military.

 The poles surrounding the park are leftover shell casings.

This whole area was really charming.  Look at this old house with a scrappy metal door.  With all these red banners, this house surely must be lucky.

We sat down to some old school pickled vegetables and no frills plastic silverware.
 The place was bustling.  We had to wait a while for a seat.
 My first course was pig intestine soup with pickled vegetables.  It was really delicious, but I completely understand that it may not be everyone's first choice.
 Next came chilean sea bass with tofu stir fried in a lightly spicy and sour sauce.
Then the chicken (the most tender, delicious chicken!) came.  They called it kung pao chicken, but it did not look like your typical greasy spoon kung pao chicken.  The dish contained barely any peanuts or filler - just straight up delicious chicken with the perfect balance of numbing spice.
This was a delicious crispy pancake that I loved.  The crispy exterior and the molten center was perfect.
I was so caught up in eating that I forgot to take pictures of the squid dish, the string beans and a few other dishes that we ate.  What a shame!  It was all so good.

Here are the pickled vegetables, prepared in huge glass jars.  I love it!
Here my aunt is slicing a pomelo.  This was hands down, bar none, the most delicious pomelo I have ever had.
Seriously.  It was.

I have more food pictures from our delicious dinner but that will have to come in another post.  Stay tuned.