E.A.T.ing America 2016

A family trip to America for my sister, Elianne’s, wedding. We started off positive with this big pre-flight meal at the Chinese restaurant at Incheon Airport: spicy chicken, spicy seafood soup, soybean noodles, dim sum, glass noodles, fried shrimp and dumplings.

IMG_3996

We were delayed 12 hours from Incheon, waited an inexplicable and befuddling two hours for our rental car at the never to be recommended JFK Budget rent-a-car, drove the dark, empty NJ Turnpike and grabbed a delicious WaWa hoagie at 2 a.m. before we could finally get a quick shower, conk out and enjoy the week together.

The stress of travel behind us, we started with the rehearsal dinner Friday night, the ceremony and party Saturday and hangover brunch on Sunday. Everything moved quickly, with lots of introductions, dancing and laughing. My littlest sister married to a great guy and newest member of the family, Brian.

IMG_4195

IMG_4280

IMG_4271

My oldest friends from high school came over so we could lovingly insult each other and give plenty of bro hugs while tossing the pigskin.

IMG_4210

The next morning after an impromptu four wheeler ride from our generous neighbors, we packed up for the shore (but not before stopping at King of Prussia mall for a quick shop and burger at Five Guys).

IMG_4262

It was July 4th and the requisite beer, burgers and dogs were a welcome treat. The fireworks went off later under a foggy sky while Jordan and I sat alone on the misty beach.

IMG_4104

The crab traps pulled in, the sky an ominous wave of dark, but the view will eventually get you the amazing sunset you crave. Avalon, NJ is a magical place.

IMG_4073

IMG_4025

IMG_4100

In the morning, we stopped into Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, a local favorite for decades. Jordan got the Hollandaise special, and I opted for a little scrapple, hash browns and eggs.

IMG_4028

IMG_4029

It’s foolish to go to New Jersey without sampling some pizza. One of my favorites is Mackrone’s pizza, a family business and staple of South Jersey. We ordered the “Rio Grande” which had everything. It was outstanding, comparable to any of the great pies in the country. The sauce is the stand-out, but add in quality ingredients and soft dough, brilliant. We finished it off with little Italian Water Ice from the arcade.

IMG_4113

IMG_4107

IMG_4124

In Wildwood, we ate at the delightful Harbor View Restaurant during the brilliantly backdropped sunset. The food wasn’t showstopping, but it matched the scenery well.

IMG_4040

IMG_4039
The Sampler
IMG_4038
Vongole Diavola
IMG_4035
She-crab Soup

After dinner, the boardwalk was calling our names, or maybe it was just telling us to, “WATCH the Tramcar please!” James and I rode the greatest ride I’ve ever done. The 160 foot high Skyscraper. It is a feeling of pure terror, needing to be ridden to understand. We also ate some frozen custard and saw the future of our presidency presented in a standardly embarrassing and over-the-top manner. Enjoy the distinctly combative ‘Murica t-shirt selection.

IMG_4062

IMG_4072

IMG_4071

Avalon beaches are amazing. The sand is soft and the water is cold.

IMG_4225

IMG_4089

IMG_4082

IMG_4077

We went back to Wildwood, to the The Crab House.  We are always unable to settle on one thing, so I ordered the sampler, and Jordan got the high end version. This place was excellent. The fried shrimp was coated with a mixture of hot sauce and Thai chili, which was a perfect mix. Drinking Corona outside, on a picnic bench, with my lady beside me and talking with the family about this and that, it was a wonderful finish to our beach days.

IMG_4142

IMG_4135

IMG_4134

Jordan, James and I left early, driving up the Garden State Parkway New York bound. We had one night in The Plaza Hotel before driving to JFK and flying home to Seoul. It’s a chandelier type environment, the way I imagine early 20th century opulence. They’ve redone it and added enough hip young employees to attract various clientele. The lobby was full of monied people moving slowly the way only rich people can. The room was beautiful, huge bed, bathroom sparkling and the robe was thick and heavy. I felt important  in my gold lace robe, laying legs splayed watching SportCenter on my king bed. I bought a new laptop at the Fifth Avenue Apple Store, which was literally buzzing with excitement. We walked through Central Park, then napped a bit in our lovely suite. Dinner was at Rue 57, affordable and didn’t disappoint (except the lighting was too sexy for good pictures). Dining on delicious Kobe meatloaf, chicken scaloppine, crunchy truffle fries with a delightful bottle of California white before we headed up the midnight elevator to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

IMG_4160

IMG_4269

IMG_4159

IMG_4158

IMG_4161

IMG_4163

IMG_4170

IMG_4171

IMG_4173

IMG_4257

At the airport in the morning, we only had time for a greasy McDonald’s burger, a fitting, but depressing final meal in America. We did agree McD’s is better in America though. Ciao for now!

 

Advertisements

Pizza Tour of New York ~ 2015

It began from a desire to understand why New York pizza was so famous. Two years ago, we drove through all five boroughs and bought at least one pie (and several random slices) from each of the 5 NYC boroughs. We found the question not to be: “Which is best?” but rather “What is exceptional about each?” These pizzerias have nearly perfected the craft. Therefore, we usually order a simple plain cheese, or in certain cases, the specialty pie of the establishment. The day begins at 10:00 in a coffee shop in South Philadelphia, where we plan our route.

DSC_0002

DSC_0005Beginning in Staten Island, our first stop is Nunzio’s (2155 Hylan Blvd.) where we ordered a half mozzarella and half margherita pie. Their sauce is a standout as well as the authentic NY accents of the men serving the food. The hardest part of the first stop is not eating a second slice.

DSC_0008

DSC_0006We moved north to Joe & Pat’s (1758 Victory Blvd.) where pictures inside were proibito. The pizza wasn’t ruined by a manager’s sour attitude. Their cheese had some delicious, aged quality we couldn’t identify. The dough was very flimsy in the middle and hard to handle, still good though.

DSC_0012

DSC_0010

DSC_0011Heading to Denino’s (524 Port Richmond Ave.) we were surprised at the staff’s friendliness here. They asked us about our plan for the day and offered tips. Their slogan is “In Crust We Trust” and rightly so, as the crust is uniformly crunchy and fantastic. We ordered a half cheese and half M.O.R. (meatball, onion, ricotta). Those ingredients are a potent and patently palatable combination. We loved this place with their cheerful servers, jukebox ambience and tasty food. A recurring theme of smiles surrounding a pizza begins~~~~

DSC_0013

DSC_0016

DSC_0017A brief stop to walk off the first few slices, we found ourselves at the Staten Island Ferry and Lighthouse Museum while our next pizza was cooking. It was a brutally cold day, but provided great views of the Big Apple. I can imagine the bustling city docks before they were just broken pilings rotting in the Hudson Bay.

DSC_0024

DSC_0023

DSC_0030

 

DSC_0043

DSC_0020The last stop in Shaolin Island was Pier 76 (76 Bay St.), where the son of Joe and Pat’s opened his own place. We got the vodka pie. Simply outstanding flavors. It was a masterpiece of comfort pizza with the cheese literally becoming part of the dough and the rich vodka sauce holding it all together.

DSC_0047We moved into Brooklyn’s Coney Island and stopped at Totonno’s (1524 Neptune Ave.). 91 years of experience prove enough to give a quality pie. The pizzaiolo was a friendly guy who smiled as he worked. Their pizza was intricately flavored with burned crust and a pleasing appearance. This feels like ‘old school’ NYC pizza.

DSC_0055

DSC_0049

DSC_0048

DSC_0054

DSC_0053Next was a rather forgettable stop at Ramagi (594 Rogers Ave.) as we ran some errands. To be fair it was the only place where we ordered slices, and it was in the slow time of 15:00, but the service was poor and my buffalo chicken slice was boring. The pesto slice smelled and looked much better.

DSC_0060Hoping to please my taste buds after such blandness, we went to the legendary DiFara’s (1424 Ave J.). I love this pizza! The olive oil and basil added immediately after exiting the oven creates veritable pizza alchemy. Dom DeMarco stills crafts each pizza with the help of a few assistants. Arrive early as waiting time often hovers over the 60 minute mark. The only downside was that the cheese didn’t migrate towards the crust enough, so my slice had too much charred dough at the end. As I often say, you can’t win ’em all.

DSC_0065

DSC_0063

DSC_0058

DSC_0066Darkness descending upon us, snow babies ripening in the clouds above, stomachs shrouded in cheese, we crawled into our last stop, the ever so funky, Roberta’s (261 Moore St.). This is a large place that serves as a nightclub and pizzeria. Their pizzas are smaller, at 6 slices each, so we ordered several to taste test. I don’t remember all the names, but the soft doughy texture and spicy arrangements of toppings was a perfect finish to our day.

DSC_0067

DSC_0082Meeting up with friends we made years ago while we were all English teachers in Korea, eating pizza together and sharing new stories was a perfect end to the day.

DSC_0098Lost in conversation, we forgot about the incoming blizzard; therefore, driving the 80 miles south to Philly was treacherous, and took us about 4 white knuckled hours to finally sleep the well deserved pizza coma we were all awaiting.

DSC_0071This is the car the next day looking like we drove through the ice planet of Hoth.

DSC_0110

New York ~ Museum of Modern Art

Begun in the late 1920’s as an idea from John Rockefeller’s wife, Abby, it is one of the most famous modern art museums in the world. Walking through the museum can be exhilarating and sometimes frustrating. While art is always subjective beauty, some modern art is just confusing. The randomness and varied styles mixed with creative self-expression makes modern art so intriguing. Here were some of my favorites.

DSC_0213

DSC_0196

DSC_0205

DSC_0206

DSC_0208

DSC_0194

DSC_0192

DSC_0167

DSC_0166

DSC_0185

DSC_0164

DSC_0163

DSC_0162

DSC_0210

DSC_0216

DSC_0219

DSC_0207 Here’s one that made me crazy. It was a white canvas followed by this description:

DSC_0175Here’s one of me becoming the art, thus putting myself inside the “the image, the story, the symbolism.”

DSC_0221Modern Art can be very random and confusing:

DSC_0170

DSC_0171

But the purpose of art is eliciting emotion, and with seven billion people, that’s a lot of random and confusing emotions to go around!

DSC_0154

New York ~ Quick Bites at the Food Trucks of Middle 50th Streets and Pizza at Cer té

On a recent trip visiting the Korean Consulate in Manhattan, I tested a few kebab trucks in the area of Park Ave. and the 50’s. First stop was Uncle Gussy’s (51st St.), which had a loquacious owner who seemed quite familiar with most of his customers. “Hey, Paula, green salad with chicken and spicy sauce? Whoa, Gene, where you been lately? Hi Donna, you stayin outta trouble?” I got the chicken and lamb pita with “the works”. The lamb was great, but chicken was just lumpy protein. I ate on the steps of St. Bartholomew’s Church.

DSC_0102

DSC_0103

DSC_0106

DSC_0107Next I went for a kebab plate at Rafiqi’s (53rd St). Evidently, there are many Rafi’s who like to cook kebabs. As I walked down Park Ave., I saw 3 more trucks with the same name. The “original” Rafiqi was a few quarters cheaper than Uncle Gussy, but offered more trimmings to add to the plate such as beans and veg. Nothing special here, but good for a quick, cheap bite.

DSC_0109

DSC_0113 Each street, from 50th to 58th and possibly continuing up into Harlem had their own food cart, some better looking than others.

DSC_0115

DSC_0116

DSC_0117

Last, as I made my way to the MoMa, I spotted a beautiful facade of a Catholic Church.

DSC_0127After a great afternoon admiring art, some pizza was needed for the quick drive home through New York rush hour traffic to Philadelphia. I went to Cer Té (50 W. 55th St.) I started with their February special slice, bacon, root vegetables set on a creamy white base, which was more milky than I like, but tasty. Also, there was an Italian Wedding Soup slice with sausage, spinach and Grana Padano, which was the winner.

DSC_0224

DSC_0226

DSC_0228 New York’s heavy traffic doesn’t bother me as much when I’m walking.

DSC_0118Before my nighttime drive through the jungles of the New Jersey turnpike, I stopped in a cafe named for one of the most famous names in coffee from the 1980’s.

DSC_0229

2015 Philadelphia Auto Show

Shiny paint, hot girls in tight pants, new car smell, big horsepower, powerful engines and steep price tags are spread out across the carpeted floors of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. I’m not a car guy, but everybody here is a car guy tonight. Brand new cars and wonderful examples of the past give plenty to talk about. I was very impressed by most of the displays. Japanese and German manufacturers dominated my eye, but American companies are making strides forward with better gas mileage and sleek design.

The night started poorly, with a heavy rain falling and Dad and I eating probably the saddest, dryest cheesesteak in Philly.

DSC_0001It got better inside the convention center where the glitz and shine was on full display. Enjoy the pictures.

DSC_0006

DSC_0013

DSC_0020

DSC_0025

DSC_0029

DSC_0034The old cars were my favorite as they carried a sense of history with them.

DSC_0050

DSC_0052

DSC_0054

DSC_0056The crew enjoying some bro time.

DSC_0057-SMILE

DSC_0061

DSC_0062

DSC_0065This is an amazing car, sized like a mini mini. No blind spots.

DSC_0071There was also a customized section where the car dudes could show off their creations.

DSC_0076

DSC_0079

DSC_0084

Philadelphia ~ Reading Terminal Market

My hometown city, Philadelphia, has a famous place for diners seeking a wide variety of flavors; it’s the market of the old train station at 12th and Arch St. The cheesesteaks are probably delicious, but I wanted to sample a few places instead of just filling up on meat and cheese.

My first stop was at the 12th Street Cantina. I ordered the pork pibil with hot sauce. It tasted the way Taco Bell would taste if they used real meat and quality vegetables. A comfortingly soft tortilla and hot, salty, spiced pork matched the chilled pico de gallo to make a mouth party.

DSC_0024

DSC_0023 Next, I saw a hot dog place. They had a dog for only 2$, so I couldn’t resist! Crunchy bacon and cool sauerkraut were perfect toppings, I shouldn’t have added the dominating taste of relish.

DSC_0028After the appetizers, I went for the Beck’s Cajun Cafe. The gator gumbo sounded great. It was tasty but exceedingly spicy. Lucky to have the rice and corn bread.

DSC_0033

My mouth seething with spiciness, I went to grab a mango, banana, kale, and carrot smoothie.

DSC_0036Finally, I took home some quality truffles from Mueller Chocolates. The black forest and raspberry were my favorites. Right beside was Termini Brothers, where you can find high quality cannoli.

DSC_0040The market was full of interesting eateries. I tried to go back, but they close at 18:00. So if you’re going, make it for lunch. They offer a full shopping experience as well with cold cuts, organic produce, and other assorted trinkets for sale.

DSC_0026

DSC_0027

DSC_0030

DSC_0031

DSC_0035

Probably the most famous spot of Reading Terminal is DiNic’s Roast Pork, and I didn’t go for unexplainable reasons. Another time…

DSC_0037

Philly is a great strolling city with a beautiful neo-classical city hall that I passed on the walk.

DSC_0016

Flagstaff ~ Wild West Brewtown and Amazing Mexican Breakfast

In 1876, a group of settlers en route from Boston to California, stopped to celebrate the July 4th centennial holiday by erecting a large wooden pole to fly the stars and stripes. That flag staff gave the town its name. The characters who filled the streets in those early days gave the town its continuing charm. Route 66 cuts through the heart of this mountain town, bringing pub after pub of craft brew and wooden seating. The busy railroad provides a pleasant background noise to this sleepy city. Flurries seemed to be falling in a neverendingly gentle reminder of the moisture in elevation. Flagstaff sits at over 7,000 ft (2,100m) above sea level, next to the largest mountain range in Arizona, the San Francisco Peaks. Sometimes, it felt like I was catching my breath on each step. It’s a friendly city, people greet you with a smile and “Hello” and plenty of dogs to pet.

My first meal was at Diablo Burger (120 N. Leroux St.) A tiny joint inside of Heritage Square serving up burgers on English muffins and skinny, salty fries. I had the Señor Smoke which was a great mix of avocado, bacon, cilantro and spicy mayo, matched with one of their tasty home brewed porters.

DSC_0119At altitude, I just couldn’t find my appetite, so I missed the normal dinner restaurant times, and was forced to take a late meal at the Lumberyard Brewery (5 S. San Francisco St.) The Knotty Pine Pale Ale was a fruity, elegant and balanced beer, but the pulled pork was just microwaved nonsense and not very good.

DSC_0001This breakfast place, Martanne’s Burrito Palace (112 E. Rte 66), wins a special place in my stomach as having one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve ever eaten. It’s a funky place with cute SnP shakers and Day of the Dead artwork. Their green pork chilaquiles were breathtakingly good followed by a deep roasted coffee to finish off the meal energized me for a hike in the fire scented hills of Flagstaff. I actually ate this exact same thing the next day it was so good. DSC_0005

DSC_0006

DSC_0007I stopped in for a hot choco at Macy’s (14 S. Beaver St.), a famous pit-stop for coffee and vegan eats for students at Northern Arizona University. There’s lots of chatting and reading being done here.

DSC_0083

DSC_0085

DSC_0086For dinner, a trendy little Latin kitchen called, Criollo (16 N. San Francisco St.) had some delicate and delicious fish tacos, fashionable vodka drinks and refreshing salsas.

DSC_0003

DSC_0005 (1)

Tucson ~ San Xavier Mission, Bamboo Terrace and El Guero Canelo

Tucson, settled next to the imposing mountains filled with human-like Saguaros, has a long history with Spain and Mexico. The Spanish settled here in the 17th century and of course built some churches to convert the local heathens. San Xavier Mission is one of the most prominent. It is located on autonomous Native American land maintained by the Tohono O’Odom tribe. The chapel is a mix of old wood and stucco. Intricate Catholic details abound, as well as a scary wooden replica of St. Francis.

DSC_0042

DSC_0048

DSC_0049

DSC_0051The “Old Pueblo” has been growing rapidly in recent years. Restaurants are everywhere, chains, casual, dive and strange. I only had one day, so we started out with the enormous portions of Bamboo Terrace (1754 W. Ajo Way). My grandma ordered her favorite, chicken egg foo young, and I had the won-ton soup and sesame chicken. The food was suitable for any palate, not spicy nor seasoned, just Chinese American food.

DSC_0056

DSC_0054

DSC_0055For dinner we wanted to go to Karichimaka (5252 S. Mission Way) for the famous cheese crisps, but alas, they were closed on Mondays. Instead, we went to the ultra casual El Guero Canelo (4519 S. 12th Ave). It’s counter service with cheap prices. The guacamole was outstanding and the carne asada tacos were decent, but as always with Mexican beef, every 4th bite required me to pull out a fatty piece. Their specialty was Sonoran hot dog, which is a bacon wrapped hot dog with beans and onions. For the price, it was good, although choice selection was too small with only cheese, chicken or beef fillings. (My grandma had a flashback to her first washing machine which was now used as a mere decoration.)

DSC_0114

DSC_0116

DSC_0117

DSC_0111Night was settling in with the arrival of the cool desert air as the trailers began to glow from the lights of their TV sets.

DSC_0108