Saturday, 27 February 2010

Pacific Grill

4 Staunton St, Soho
Visited 26th February 2010

I met a couple of friends for dinner Friday night and decided to try the Pacific Grill. Having got distracted by the delights of happy hour, we arrived late without a booking, but the friendly manager found us a small table at the restaurant’s open front. The restaurant is small, almost crowded, but is rather pleasant tucked away on the high side of Staunton St. It’s owned by the same crowd who run Al Dente and Sahara.
Pacific Grill offers a couple of salads and pastas, but the focus is obviously on steaks and seafood. I'm guessing someone here is Australian with a 'Melbourne' Greek salad and egg, beetroot and pineapple topping the burger. We decided to start by sharing an octopus and squid salad. This dish consisted of mini squid and octopus smothered in a sticky red sauce and served atop a few lettuce leaves. While my mate enjoyed it I thought it was pretty average; the sticky sauce took any freshness away from the dish, while the simple lettuce leaves were boring. For mains it was all about big chunks of meat; my friends went with a 200g rib-eye and "mega" 300g sirloin, while I couldn't resist going a little retro with surf ‘n’ turf. My 200g fillet mignon was topped with a single prawn; though it was char-grilled and tasty, one prawn really isn't much and I felt a bit ripped off. Accompanying this lonely crustacean was a totally flavourless steak along with mash and a few chunks of vegetable (the identical, boring sides that concerned me at Al Dente long ago). For a restaurant that specialises in steaks, what was on my plate was a really disappointing, poor quality meat. My friend offered me a taste of her rib-eye and it was better, being tenderer and actually tasting like beef. To drink a bottle of red would have been good, but my friends are both white drinkers, so we ended up with a bottle of Peter Lehmann 'Stump Jump' White, an interesting Riesling based blend with Chardonnay and Marsanne added to the mix. It was a nice drop though the mark-up on the $265 they charged was ridicules.

I was uninspired by the Pacific Grill. The octopus salad and my steak were both average, though the mouthful of my friend’s rib-eye was better. The friendly guy who initially seated us was really switched on – he let me try the couple of wines they had by the glass to see which we wanted a bottle of - however the lady who was waitressing was unfriendly and created a bit of a negative vibe. Soho is never going to be cheap and the rib-eye was $165, while my mate’s sirloin and my ‘tough turf n a little surf’ were both $195. While probably what you expect to pay in this part of the world it wasn’t particularly good value as the quality just wasn’t there. The Pacific Grill did absolutely nothing to inspire me and I can’t imagine I’ll bother coming back.

Visit restaurant website.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Snap Shot New York City

Visit to New York
14th to 20th February 2010

For a city so ingrained in popular culture it was strange that I didn't have too many expectations of what to expect in New York, though arriving from the dessert of Nevada to one of the worst snow storms in American history was a bit of a shock. I have several good friends in New York and they all helped to make the experience a memorable one.
Empire State Building, Stars and Stripes; here I am.
A hot corned beef sandwich on sourdough; I just wish the coffee was as good.
New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art really is a spectacular place to spend a snowy afternoon.
Tobogganing in Central Park.
While it wasn't warm, it was beautiful. I was almost expecting Mr Tumnus to appear.
Looking back at Manhattan Island from the Staten Island Ferry.
I'm sure we all recognise this fine lady.
Of course sampled a slice of New York pizza or two.
Construction is just beginning at the site of World Trade Centre and tragic September 11 bombings.The view from my mate's office; looking north from Wall Street.

Friday, 19 February 2010

McSorley's Old Ale House

15 East 7th Street, New York
Visited 18th February 2010

McSorley's Old Ale House is the oldest continuous running pub in New York and perhaps the United States. It was founded by Irishman John McSorley in 1854 and has remarkably be pouring out the same beer ever since. I'd organised to meet some friends for lunch here and really didn't know what to expect. The sawdust on the floor impressed me, as did the rustic wooded tables, stained with beer from year-a-year. This place was packed with fascinating memorabilia and apparently they have never removed anything from the walls. There wasn't a hint of the 'circus' aspect so often found in places of this nature (just look at the Hong Kong chain with the same name). I arrived first and must have looked a little confused as I stood at the bar. The bartender threw me a knowing smile as he quietly asked "light or dark". Yep that's it folks McSorley's just serves two drinks; both their own, original recipe beer (though I do think they also sell sodas). Starting with a light I was presented with TWO sloshing glasses of a creamy, gutsy larger. My mate, who had eventually managed to sneak out of the office, explained the theory behind the two three quarter full glasses rather than a single full one was to make pouring faster in peak periods. We switched to the more full and rich dark ale and managed to get through quite a few. OK so I was impressed with the setting, impressed with the beer, but how was the food? To be honest I've got no idea. I met my mate for lunch, I saw a chalkboard advertising sandwiches, but apart from sharing a plate of cheese and crackers, it somehow ended up being a liquid lunch. McSorley's Old Ale House could have so easily become a tourist trap, but it wasn't. This place really was an authentic old school pub; most of the drinkers were regulars and there wasn't a souvenir t-shirt in sight.
I loved the simple beer selection, I loved the two half filled handles and I would have dearly loved to have tried the food. I had a blinder of a time at McSorley's and will remember it fondly when I think of New York.

Visit pub website.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Basketball + Hot Dog = USA

Knicks vs. Bulls, Madison Square Garden
17th February 2010

From Vegas it was onto New York and after a couple of days of sightseeing, snow and culture it was time for a night out. A New Yorker mate had organised tickets to the basketball and I was one excited camper. As a kid I grew up watching the NBA and was excited to be seeing my first game. I was also pretty pumped to be visiting the iconic Madison Square Garden, a venue that had somehow found a place in my heart because of its appearance in one of very favourite movies; the 1980s classic Highlander.
We had beers beforehand, beers afterwards and big plastic cups of beer during the game. I was in America watching sport and drinking beer, there was only one thing I could do; eat a hotdog. The dog itself was an average affair; a flavourless sausage, stale bread and disgustingly synthetic 'cheese', and 'pickle' toppings. Despite a good first half by the Knicks at the final buzzer it was a win for the Bulls, a headache for me the next day and one very fun night.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Snap Shot Vegas

Visit to Las Vegas
11th to 14th February 2010

Chinese New Year, a mate's birthday and suddenly I was off to Vegas. It wasn't a trip I'd planned, it wasn't a trip I was even sure I wanted to make, but one thing was for sure, I was going to have fun. The classic unwritten rule of all unwritten rules clearly states: "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas", but I thought I'd still better show you a couple of snaps of some of the more, argh ... 'level 1' rated moments of my trip.
Welcome to Vegas - the sun rises over the strip.
First call is a helicopter trip with stunning views of the Nevada dessert, Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon.Hoover Dam with Lake Mead behind.We landed in the Grand Canyon for brunch. It was rugged, arid and truly awe inspiring.Looking up 'The Strip' from the air. Caesars Palace sparkling away.
The impressive fountains at Bellagio. The spectacular view of the dessert from my hotel room window; sometimes it's worth getting up early in Vegas.
The Roller-coaster at New York-New York.All the pretty lights of Vegas by night. This shot is taken from the bar at the top of the Palms.
Party time at the Palm's massive club Rain.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Hooters Las Vegas

115 E. Tropicana Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Visited 11th February 2010

If you could choose to go anywhere in the whole world to celebrate your 30th birthday where would it be? Well it was my mate's 30th and here we all were celebrating with lunch in Hooters Bar, Las Vegas. I know, I know; what can you say? This ''restaurant' is located in the Casino of the same name, one block bag from the Strip on East Tropicana Avenue. The bar is decked out with plenty of rustic wood panelling and TVs blaring sports.
What delicious culinary treats were on offer at Hooters? Well fried gunk might be a bit harsh so let's just say there were wings, wings and more wings supported by a couple of burgers and the token quasi healthy salad selection. I was pretty uninspired by it all and just shared a plate of chicken wings with a mate. We were given a choice of ten sauces, as well as how hot we wanted the little flappers and if we wanted them breaded or 'naked' and with or without bones. We went for 'hot', breaded and boneless with barbecue sauce. When they arrived I ate them but didn't really enjoy them; the breading on the outside was thick and congealed, while the sauce was disgustingly sticky and sweet. To drink it was jugs of beer and they at least went down rather well.

I didn't particularly enjoy the food at Hooters, but the experience was pleasant enough; cold beers on a sunny afternoon are always a good thing. Its staff selection policy means Hooters is pretty famous for its, well its ... staff. Ignoring the obvious I was actually pretty impressed with the service; the waitress who looked after us was helpful and explained the menu choices. When they discovered it was my mate's birthday they suitably embarrassed him with singing, handclapping and candle studded cake. Hooters was just as terrible as I expected; filthy fried food, overpriced and oh so, so tacky it was everything I don't want in a bar, yet I was in Circus Vegas and so on the other hand it was a beautiful thing; filthy, fried food, overpriced and so, so tacky it was just like everyone wants Vegas to be. I was at the home of tack and Hooters fitted all the stereotypes.

Visit restaurant website.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Enio Ottaviani 'Novecento 28' 2007

San Clemente, Emilia-Romagna, $128, cork

In Hong Kong shopping is king and I'm not sure whether I should be ashamed or proud that I was able to purchase this within the confines of the Yuen Long West Rail train station. Goodwell where I found this provides me with pasta, dried fruit, all things tinned and in this case a bottle of plonk. It's an IGT wine from the often poorly rated area of Emilia-Romagna. Produced by a family company based near San Giovanni in Marignano, a town 120km south of Bologna, it is a blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. The colour is dark, rich and red (though I'm not sure why I bother telling you this). There’re big aromas all over the shop; it smells of spice (cinnamon and star anise), red fruit, cherry bubble gum and strangely enough oats. The palate’s all about sweet fruit with flavours of strawberry jam, cherries and plums, though there’s also a touch of mocha. This is well put together with big, chewy tannins and a full, rich feel in the mouth. I enjoyed drinking Enio Ottaviani 'Novecento 28' 2007, but to be honest it felt a little generic and boring; I was expecting Italy and instead got 'IGT Red Wine'.

Visit winery website.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Snap Shot Windows on the World

Visit to Windows of the World
31st January 2010

The night before we'd stayed in a cruise ship parked in the middle of a golf course, today we were off to a theme park to see 130 of the World's biggest tourist attractions. I'd heard strange things about this place, but it really was a weird setup; a 108m 'Eiffel Tower' dominates the skyline, while pyramids sit next to an African villages and Mt Fuji huddles beside the Taj Mahal.
Mt Fuji put in context by Shenzhen's residential towers.
This Japanese garden looses a lot of its appeal once you realise the flowers are all plastic.
A decent replica of Angkor Wat.
A rather less regal version of the Valley of the Kings.
The Sphinx and Pyramids. This young girl isn't just in the photo because she is wearing cool sunglasses, but she also adds perspective to these really rather puny monuments.
I'm not sure what the "danger" is, but you've got Venice and the Eiffel Tower in the same snap.
Australia wasn't forgotten with this lovely version of the Sydney Opera House.
Uluru seemed to have attracted a crowd of exhausted sightseers.
To complete the day we headed into the indoor ski slope for the most fun I had all day.

Visit theme park's website or read about it at Wikipedia.

Hunan Renjia Restaurant

Taizi Plaza, Taizi Road, Shekou, Shenzhen
Visited 31st January 2010

Sunday morning in Shekou and before the strangeness got even weirder with a visit to Windows on the World we decided brunch was in order. A stroll around the plaza at Sea World didn't come up with many exciting options so we wondered across the street and found this little place tucked away on the first floor of a building off a small mall. I'm not totally sure of the address in English, but in Chinese it is '南山蛇口太子路太子廣場'. The restaurant is a pretty big space, though it's relatively dark and even at this early stage of the day there was the mandatory filthy cloud of cigarette smoke.

I'm no expert on Hunan cuisine, but apparently it's all about garlic, shallots and lots and lots of chilli. The menu had English translations and once we saw the bargain prices we ordered in a greedy frenzy. Our 'quiet' brunch suddenly consisted of steamed chicken with garlic, cellophane noodles, dumplings and beans with pork. First off arrived a big bowl of sweet potato based cellophane noodles; simply served with a light chill dressing these slippery noodles were filling and tasty. Next came half a steamed chicken smothered in a mountain of garlic, chilli and an oily soy based sauce; this dish was packed with intense flavour and was really tasty. I couldn't work out what type of beans we got, but the big green monsters were crisp and tasty. Accompanied by pork, garlic and again lots of chilli I really liked this dish. Our final order was a plate of dumplings ... twenty dumplings, yes twenty. We were already stuffed at this stage, but these steamed parcels were stuffed with pork and chives and while good, were nothing memorable.

I'm really glad we stumbled across Hunan Renjia Restaurant. I enjoyed trying the tastes and flavours of Hunan, though I'm not too sure how often I could handle the hit of garlic and chilli that seems such a key element of this style of cuisine. Our tasty meal was excellent value at just over RMB100 for a mountain of food. The service was good, though the food was pretty slow to come out. Hunan Renjia Restaurant offers an authentic alternative to the coffee chains and western restaurants around the Sea World area.

Tairyo Teppanyaki Restaurant

1-4, Seaworld Plaza, Taizi Rd, Shekou, Shenzhen
Visited 30th January 2010

Shenzhen is usually pretty high on my list of 'places I can't see the bloody point in visiting', but the need for a night away meant that Joey and I headed across the really sexily named 'Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor Cable-Stayed Bridge Bridge' and into a world of weirdness. We stayed at the Cruise Inn; a strange, strange place in the expat enclave of Shekou. The hotel is really an old cruise ship that's been dumped on dry land; there are bizarre views of a golf course and shops out the portholes. For dinner we took a recommendation from a mate and tried Tairyo Teppanyaki Restaurant. This Japanese joint is located out the front of the hotel in the Seaworld Plaza; an area where bars and Italian restaurants jostle with branches of bad international coffee chains. The restaurant is scattered with individual teppanyaki grills surrounded on by bar style seating.

Tairyo Teppanyaki Restaurant offers an all you can eat and drink dinner option for RMB150 that sounded like a bargain to good to refuse. While we waited for our chef to appear we were bought a number of nibbly snacks including some OK tempura and eel sushi. The deal basically includes everything on the menu apart from wagyu beef and lobster. We munched our way through a fair bit including scallops, prawns, steak, lamb chops, chicken and mushrooms. The food was well cooked and tasty and I particularly enjoyed prawns and tasty lamb. My only complaint would be the lack of variety in the seasonings - it would have been nice to have seen the chef use something other than a mix of garlic, soy and wine that flavoured all the dishes in the same way. Included with the deal was plenty of cold, free flowing Asahi, a mystery red I didn't try and a surprisingly palatable Great Well White.
China can offer pretty mixed results in the eating and drinking department, but I really enjoyed my visit to Tairyo Teppanyaki Restaurant. The staff were extremely efficient and I was impressed with how we were kept topped up with both food and booze. We weren't rushed at all and as we didn't feel any pressure to leave it was great to be able to just kick back, chat, drink and enjoy the odd freshly prepared little barbecued snack. Though it certainly wasn't the most exciting or innovative Japanese food I've ever had it was all well prepared and tasty. At RMB150 Tairyo Teppanyaki Restaurant seemed to offer a bit of a bargain, especially considering the amount we ate and drunk. My only problem was the filthy clouds of cigarette smoke exhaled by the rude and ignorant, but that's just a hazard of being in China and nothing against this restaurant. I had a fun night at Tairyo Teppanyaki Restaurant and would love to come back with a big group for a boozy night out across 'Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor Cable-Stayed Bridge Bridge'.