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Located in the Mission District (Valencia Street between 14th and 15th), Four Barrel Coffee is a place that takes its artisanal coffee to a level of seriousness that you might expect from a master sommelier. Their attention to detail, bordering on the obsessive, would be ripe for parody if the results weren't so impressive. The coffee is amazing, the pastries are fantastic, and the atmosphere is communal in the best sense of the word.
The space is a large warehouse. From the front, you could breeze by (as I almost did) without realizing that there is a coffee house inside. If in doubt, look for the funky bicycle racks and outdoor seating (above).
Immediately on your left as you walk in is a pour-over coffee bar. This "next thing" in coffee is all about the slow brew of coffee through a cone shape filter. Sound familiar? Yes, that's the way most home coffee machines brew coffee. It seems, though, that you can get really particular about the details.
Anyhow, the person working at the bar can also answer questions about their coffees (sourced from micro-regions all over the world and brewed at the back of the shop) and other coffee making paraphernalia. In fact, one lady spent twenty minutes demonstrating the various Japanese made ceramic coffee grinders to me.
The counter and espresso machines are in the center of the room. The baristas have their own personality and flair, demonstrating a level of artistry that your average Starbucks barista will not. Of course, your average Starbucks barista is also now using a fully automated machine that requires no more skill to use than the average coffee vending machine minus the coins.
The coffee roasting takes place in the back half of the warehouse. You can sit at a counter watching the action take place and it gives the space an especially industrial feel, which may explain what attracts the huge number of hipsters.
Besides the coffee, Four Barrel offers really amazing pastries, sources from three different bakeries.
One that caught my heart (and caused me to make two return trips) was the kouign amann, a butter pastry from Brittany that seems to be the new cupcake on the west coast. These are provided by Starter Bakery in Oakland.
Layers of buttery, sugary goodness that caramelize as they bake. You are not allowed to think about diets while you eat this. Just don't.
Another wonderful treat (not sure what bakery it was from but possibly Dynamo Donuts on 24th Street) was a lemon-thyme donut. I'm not generally a huge donut fan, but this was a spectacularly light, pleasant, and surprising donut. The lemon-thyme flavor is refreshing and much more complex than you might expect.
And then there is the coffee. You can order any of Four Barrel's single-origin coffees as an espresso. Not sure what the default espresso is, but I found it nicely balanced, not too acidic, and just what I needed to start the day.
East Coast transplants to Baghdad by the Bay long bemoaned the City's lack of good pastrami. Over the years, the deli scene has scarcely improved. Good news has arrived: Located on 24th Street near South Van Ness, Wise Sons Deli brings San Francisco an authentic Jewish deli, ironically in a corner of the Mission district where tacquerias are more common.
Owners Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman had been serving their deli food for more than a year at pop-up restaurants and from a cart at the San Francisco Ferry Building. This spring they opened a storefront of their own and have quickly gained a lot of publicity. While in the City in May, Tawn and I stopped by for an early lunch.
The interior is homey and comfortable. There is a line out the door throughout lunch and popular items do sell out. Service is friendly and efficient, which makes you feel welcome.
Waiting patiently for our food. You place orders at the register behind me. Food is then delivered to your table.
Matzo ball soup with a tender but not mushy matzo ball and a broth so rich and satisfying that you could easily ascribe to it all sorts of magical healing powers.
Pastrami on rye with a side of potato salad and homemade pickle spears. This is the true test of any deli, right? The good news: it exceeded expectations. The pastrami, sliced just a bit thick for my tastes, is moist and flavorful. The pickles are fantastic and make you wonder why more people don't make their own pickles.
Close up on the meat.
Tawn had a special, a chicken cutlet pounded thin, breaded, and fried in a Schnitzel style. It was very tasty, too. Fries were nice, although nothing substantially different.
Conclusion: Wise Sons is the type of place that, if I lived in San Francisco, I'd visit regularly. The ambience and service are pleasant and the food is top-notch. Will definitely put it on the list to revisit next time I'm in town.
While most people have a limited appreciation for it, after I take a long trip I long to post some airplane porn for Matt and the few other people who read this blog who are aviation enthusiasts. If your pulse doesn't quicken when you watch an airplane take off, feel free to skip this entry and come back tomorrow when we'll return to regular programming.
San Francisco to Maui
While waiting for our flight to Maui, I capture this picture of a pair of United Boeing 757-200s, a United 747, and a Lufthansa Airbus A380 (the largest commercial plane in the world) at the international terminal. Sadly, didn't get to see the "whale jet" depart while we were there.
A United Airlines Boeing 747-400 taxies to the runway for a trip to somewhere in Asia. Its wings are heavy with fuel and you can see how far they flex back downwards. Pity the poor economy class customers who, on United, are still stuck watching inflight entertainment on "the main screen" at the front of the cabin.
Our plane to Maui, a Boeing 767-300, pulls up to the gate more than a half-hour late. The hills of Oyster Point in South San Francisco are in the background and some of the Genentech campus is visible. Our plane is in the new United color scheme, an uninspired hybrid of the Continental pain job and the United name.
Video of our take off roll from San Francisco as well as our landing over the sugar cane fields in Maui.
Early morning at Kahului Airport on Maui. An Island Air flight pushes back as an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 beings its take off roll to one of the more than a half-dozen destinations they serve from Maui.
Video of our departure from Kahului Airport on Maui and the beautiful reefs just off the end of the runway.
The beautiful view of West Maui as we climb out of Kahului and head towards Honolulu. If you are flying in the islands, I recommend a window seat.
Our inflight service on the short Maui to Honolulu flight consisted of a container of passion-orange "nectar" - which contains only 10% juice. This is the same thing served on every Hawaiian Airlines interisland flight. Talk about simplicity of service!
Alaska Airlines has built up its presence in the Hawaiian islands the past few years, operating these Boeing 737-800s which are certified for longer-distance overwater flights. Alaska specializes in flying to connecting smaller markets (Sacramento, for example) to the islands, trying to avoid as much direct competition with the larger mainland carriers.
Delta Airlines has a large presence in Hawaii since their merger with Northwest Airlines a few years ago. They operate daily flights to Tokyo and Osaka, and seasonal flights to Nagoya and Fukuyoka, Japan. There is a Boeing 747-400 on the left and a Boeing 767-300 on the right. You can just see the tail of an All-Nippon Airways (ANA) jet and the rugged silhouette of Diamond Head in the background.
This United Airlines Boeing 767-400 is originally from the Continental Airlines fleet and operates daily flights to Guam. We flew this flight last year when coming to Kauai, with an interesting Bangkok-Hong Kong-Guam-Honolulu-Kauai routing.
A pair of Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300s, one almost obscuring the other. Hawaii is a popular destination for Japanese tourists and five different airlines complete to carry them.
A view of the Hawaiian Airlines maintenance facility behind the interisland terminal. Must be nice to work out in the fresh air every day, although it must be a mess when a rain shower comes through. Hawaiian usually is at the top of the Department of Transportation's on-time list even though their aircraft work a very busy schedule with a higher-than-average number of flights each day.
Our bird for the twenty-five minute flight from Honolulu to Kona, a Boeing MD-87. This plane is an updated version of the Douglas DC-9, which traces its roots to the early 1960s.
A pair of Korean jets at the gate in Honolulu. In the foreground is an Asiana Airlines Airbus A330. A Korean Airlines Boeing 747-400 is in the background. Interesting that Korean flies such a bigger jet - nearly twice the passenger capacity - in Honolulu. Perhaps this is because of their code share with Hawaiian Airlines.
A United Airlines 767-300 touches down as we taxi to the end of the runway. Tough to shoot these action shots and I missed the burst of smoke when the tires first hit the pavement.
Video of our departure from the "reef runway" at Honolulu International Airport.
Climbing out of Honolulu, you see Waikiki Beach on the left and Diamond Head crater on the right. Our hotel was on the beach right where that large patch of grass is to the immediate left of Diamond Head.
Flying over Maui. Just below the middle of the cloud line on the left side of the picture, you can make out a speck of an island. That's Molokini crater, a fantastic spot where we went snorkeling.
We arrived in Kona and deplaned using this accessible ramp. Much easier for people with mobility impairments to use, although sort of ungainly looking.
Another Hawaiian Airlines MD-87 at Kona. Kona is a small airport with two gate area "clusters". While we had purchased our ticket from United Airlines with the code-share flight on Hawaiian from Honolulu to Kona, connecting to a United flight to San Francisco, schedule changes from both airlines resulted in a short, 45-minute connection time. At most airports, this would be sufficent, but we (and about 20 other passengers who were making the same connection) discovered that you have to exit security from the Hawaiian Airlines gate area, walk around the front of the terminal building, and pass through security again to enter the United gate area. Inconvenient.
Back to the Mainland
While heading out to our plane, I caught this picture of a Boeing 757-200 preparing for its trip to Los Angeles. This plane leaves just a half-hour after the San Francisco-bound plane, resulting in a bit of congestion at the security screening for the United gates.
While we were in a rush to get to this fight, we still took time to pause for a picture. It is a shame that so few airports in the United States board by air stairs anymore. In fact, Kona is the only major airport in Hawaii that hasn't moved to loading bridges. There's a certain romance to walking across the tarmac and it certainly makes you appreciate the size of the planes.
View looking towards the tail moments before entering the plane. Tawn and I were the last passengers aboard.
Short video of us departing Kona airport.
Departing out of Kona, I made sure to select a window seat on the right-hand side of the plane. Tremendous view of Mauna Kea, the 13,796-foot (4200-meter) high mountain that forms the Big Island of Hawai'i. Hard to see in this resolution of the picture, but when I look at it in Picasa, you can see the white specks that are the observatory.
Chicken wrap "meal" for sale on the five-hour flight from Kona to San Francisco. This plane does a turn-around in Kona with the same crew that flew in from San Francisco in the morning. All of the catering, including the food, is boarded in SFO, flies across the Pacific, and then is served (er, "sold") on the return leg. When I was considering my options, the flight attendant mentioned that she still had some breakfasts from the morning flight, in case I wanted to buy one of those.
Back to Thailand
On approach into San Francisco International after our trip to Kansas City. You can see the salt evaporation ponds in the Mountain View, East Palo Alto, and Redwood City area. Taken from a CRJ-700 regional jet, which operates this three-and-a-half hour flight. Long time to be in an RJ but at least United is operating two nonstops a day after years of having to connect in Denver.
A view of the F gates at San Francisco international airport with Mount San Bruno in the background.
EVA Airways lounge in San Francisco. I cashed in some miles so my travel companions could have lounge access, figuring since this was their first time flying so far, it would be good to make the experience as relaxing as possible. The lounge isn't the nicest in the world but offers more comfort than the gate area seats.
Wonton soup. The bowls of wontons are covered with plastic wrap, then you ladle the hot broth yourself. Seems to work pretty well.
A selection of small desserts and a passable latte from an automatic machine.
Before leaving the lounge, I asked the attendant to take a picture of us: Tawn and me with my sister, brother-in-law, and some random man who is looking for a magazine to read. This was their first trip to Asia and you can see the anticipation on their faces.
On the way to our gate, I see a Swiss Airbus A340 preparing to depart for Zurich. A United Boeing 777-200 taxies by in the background.
Brother and sister posing in front of a United Airlines B747-400. We grew up the children of a United Airlines employee and I worked for them briefly after high school, so we have a strong emotional connection to the airline, despite everything it does to try and ruin the travel experience.
Our "Elite Class" (premium economy) cabin for the EVA Airways flight from San Francisco to Taipei. Since it was a daylight departure, I gave Jenn and Kevin the window seats so they could enjoy the view as we climbed out of San Francisco.
A final entry about our trip to Oahu, then we'll be done!
Saturday morning after breakfast, we set out for a drive around the island. We headed southeast from the hotel, past Diamond Head and onto Highway 72. It is a beautiful drive with lots of points where you can pull off the road and take in the magnificent views.
Despite the barriers and warning signs, nearly everybody (including Tawn) decided they needed to climb down the rocks and get closer to the waves that were crashing ashore. I stayed back and caught some pictures of Tawn trying to protect himself from the spray.
After you drive around the easternmost point of the island, the spectacular views continue. We ended up driving all the way around the north shore to Waialua, then drove straight down the middle of the island back to Honolulu. Honestly, I think we would have been fine to have turned back at Kailua, seeing only the southeastern quadrant of the island. The views north of that point were nice, but most of the time you couldn't see much from the main road.
There's lots of free culture available in Honolulu. Every Friday night at 6:00 you can enjoy classical Hawaiian music performed at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in the heart of Waikiki. There's also a free torch lighting ceremony and hula shows four nights a week at nearby Kuhio Beach Park.
On Monday and Friday evenings, browse the farmer's market at King's Village shopping center, also in Waikiki. While the selection of produce is limited, there is still a lot to see.
Among the attractions are fresh baked goods including (left hand side) malasadas filled with a variety of flavors. Feeling peckish before dinner? A stop here will tide you over!
Sunday morning we headed to the outdoor restaurant at the New Otani hotel, where we stayed. With a view of the beach just beyond, it is a enjoyable place to start your day.
Special item from the menu: macadamia nut French toast. Seemed like the right way to end our trip.
One last picture of the two of us at the tail end of our ten days in Hawai'i. I hope you've enjoyed the many entries about our time on the islands. Now we'll get back to the mainland and, eventually, back to Bangkok (where I've actually been for more than two weeks now!)
One corner of Honolulu that we found ourselves returning to throughout our two-day visit was Kapahulu Avenue. This neighborhood runs from the north side of the Honolulu Zoo (which is at the south end of Waikiki) to the H1 freeway near Chaminade University of Honolulu. The approximately two-kilometer distance is gentrifying nicely, with lots of long-time shops rubbing shoulders with a new Safeway supermarket. On our visits there, we ate a breakfast and a dinner.
Breakfast: Sweet E's Cafe
Located in a small shopping complex kind of hidden off Kapahulu Avenue near the H1 freeway, Sweet E's Cafe is one of the higher-rated breakfast places on Yelp.com. To be certain, I take Yelp reviews with a few large grains of salt. That said, it looked like a good bet for a decent Saturday breakfast before we started driving around the island.
Arriving early, we found the dining room less than half full. From the reviews, I get the impression that the restaurant is very crowded later in the morning. The interior is pleasant and the servers were helpful, if not exactly warm.
Poached eggs with Kalua pork. My big beef with lots of places is that their poached eggs are overcooked. This time, the problem was that the eggs were undercooked. In my mind, the perfect poached egg has solid but not rubbery whites, with runny yolks. When I cut into the first egg, the whites were still watery inside. It was right on the line between "worth sending them back" and "not worth sending them back," so I didn't. As the watery whites soaked my English muffins, though, I regretted my decision. The pork and the sauce were tasty, so points there, but the potatoes were bland and would have benefitted from some herbs or spices.
Tawn ordered a basic waffle with maple syrup. It was pleasantly crisp, cooked to just the right point.
We also ordered French toast stuffed with cream cheese and blueberries. The toast itself was nicely done but the blueberries inside the toast were tough, leading me to conclude that they use frozen blueberries for the stuffing and only place fresh berries as garnish for the plate.
Overall conclusion: Sweet E's didn't show such a sweet face for us, at least as far as quality. It has the potential to be very good and if we lived there, we would give it another chance to redeem itself. But if you are just visiting, I would suggest you search out Boot's & Kimo's in Kailua.
Dinner: Sam's Kitchen
On Friday evening, we found ourselves looking for a tasty dinner that didn't involve a lot of expense or effort on our part. Turning to Yelp.com, I searched for "cheap seafood dinner" in Honolulu. Sure, that's probably the last place you want to eat - somewhere serving cheap seafood - but we got a result whose high ratings were accompanied by thoughtful reviews: Sam's Kitchen.
Located on Kapahulu Avenue right across from a new Safeway shopping center, Sam's has a slightly retro dive bar appearance. When we arrived about 8:00, we were charmed by its exterior but baffled (and slightly worried) by its almost vacant state.
We entered and found only a half-dozen customers (if that) listening to live Hawaiian music. I felt a little conspicuous walking in during their performance - after all, it wasn't like we could sneak in unnoticed. The lady behind the counter was welcoming, though, so we figured out the menu and placed our order.
Sam's is about as "Hawaiian" as you can get, a fusion of flavors that represent the different cultures that make up the local population. There is a heavy Japanese bent (and it seems that their original Waikiki location is wildly popular with Japanese guide books), but other cultures are represented, too. Dishes are mostly either rice bowls or bento boxes and their garlic sauce is apparently "famous."
Tawn tried the spicy garlic shrimp rice plate, which came with a salad and a half-ear of corn. This was good food - the shrimp is tender and sweet and the garlic packed a punch - and stayed with us for the next day.
I had the fried mahi mahi with macadamia nuts. The fish was very fresh, lightly breaded, and the sauce was tasty. Both dishes were simple, inexpensive, huge, and excellent. So much so that on Saturday night, our second and final night on Oahu, we decided to visit Sam's again.
This time we stopped at the original location on Royal Hawaiian Avenue in Waikiki. This location is take-out only, although it does offer some self-service tables if you can't wait to get back home to eat. The menu is the same and the customers were mostly Japanese.
Tawn ordered a combo plate (left) with the same two items we had the night before, but half a portion each. On the right, I ordered a garlic steak plate. The steak was tasty, although pretty tough.
With two small bottles of wine from the convenience store downstairs, we celebrated our last night on Oahu with a sunset dinner on our balcony.