Saturday, June 28, 2008

Restaurant Week ... kind of

There are many great things about having people come and visit you when you're far from home, but one of the best is having a perfect reason to try out that restaurant you've been wanting to go to.

Brian's father came to town last week and we took the opportunity to try out several new (to us) places. Our culinary tour around Hong Kong reestablished my faith that there is good food to be had in the city. I've been pretty down on Hong Kong cuisine, but we found a few gems that you should try - even if you don't have company in town.

Yellow Door Kitchen
This Cantonese restaurant in Central is like going to a good friend's home. You show up and the meal is served. The menu is only there to let you know what you will be feasting on. And feasting it is. About seven courses are served in all. The favorites were the tea-infused pork ribs and the sweet and sour fish.

Perched high above Kowloon, commanding an amazing view of Victoria Harbor, you almost don't care if the food at Hutong takes second bill. Luckily, it's mostly spot-on. Beijing standards like shrimp-filled dumplings and spicy lamb skewers pleased al around. Tofu and green-bean veggie dishes were other standouts. My only complaint was the duck, which was fried, not roasted. Regardless, this stays on my list as a must-see for out-of-town guests.

Brian's dad spent a week in China before coming to visit us in Hong Kong. By the time he arrived, all he wanted was a burger. We were anxious to please, so we headed over to Duke's, which is essentially a pimped out burger joint complete with velvet sofas and chandeliers. The menu is made up of burgers only. There's no other entrees to be had here, just sides of fries. I chose the rabbit burger topped with crispy sweetbreads. Brian and his father had the standard beef version. I think we all pretty much agreed the rabbit was the reason to come back. While the joint is classy, ketchup is still the condiment of choice.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rain Dance

I thought moving to a sub-tropical location meant that I would be able to go to the beach every weekend. Well, I was wrong.

It rains A LOT here. First, there was the winter monsoon season - cold, clammy and rainy. And now it is the summer monsoon season - hot, humid and rainy.

This summer has been wetter than in years past. So far, it's rained like three weeks straight - some days continuously. My umbrella is rusted ... no joke! I've never had an umbrella rust!

Could this be part of the problem?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Doing the Duck

Back in Beijing, I had one goal: do the Peking duck.

Duck de Chine is one of the latest duck eateries to open in the capital city. Housed in the trendy, new 1949 complex, the restaurant is both glam and gourmet. Duck comes prepared in a wide array of cuisines - the duck tacos were fabulous - but the main attraction is the original Peking style.

The bird's arrival is announced by the low clang of a gong and it is then carved table side by a black-clad chef. From there, you can load it into light, wispy pancakes with a sprinkling of scallions and dollops of hoisin.

How was it? Check out Brian's commentary below:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Don't Forget the Charmin

OK ... it should be don't squeeze the Charmin, but when you go to China don't forget to bring toilet paper. Bathrooms are ... how should I put this ... rudimentary at best.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

High-end hiking on the Great Wall

The Great Wall recently earned the title as a ‘Wonder of the World’ from the recent campaign to update the Seven Ancient Wonders, despite the fact that the terrain it covers, its engineering and sheer length have been a marvel for centuries.

I knew there were several quick daytrips out to The Wall that one could take, but I figured a world wonder warranted more time to be thoroughly enjoyed and explored. So we booked ourselves into the Red Capital Ranch at the base of where two sections of unrestored wall meet in Yanxi Township.

The hotel is a destination itself, fusing elements from Manchurian, Mongolian and Tibetan culture. Take for instance the Tibetan Tiger Lodge, the hotel’s bar that is adorned with brightly colored doors and furniture from the region. Even the cuisine takes its cue from traditional ingredients and spices: corn dumplings stuffed with mountain vegetables, leg of lamb with Tibetan rub, and chicken soup with forest berries.

The architecture is said to be reminiscent of a mountain lodge that Emperors of the Qing dynasty frequented. The owners boast of hiring crews responsible for restoring the Forbidden City to build the Manchurian-styled retreats. Inside, the rooms are decorated with a Zen minimalism that is rustic but comfortable. One of the highlights is the Kang style stone bed, which originally would have been heated by the family’s cooking hearth attached to it.

But the real attraction is the property itself. Nestled in a river valley below the shadow of the Great Wall, the hotel’s rooms and pavilions offer breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, rivers and streams.

From the property, you can access two hikes. The Eastern Route is the more challenging trail, but the Western Route allows you to travel to Mutianyu, if you have the time and equipment; we found that upon reaching the eighth pavilion, the route became quite treacherous.

The trails along both sections are unrestored. This keeps the tourists away and affords the adventurous time to gaze out from watchtowers with no one in sight – just as the soldiers would have liked it!

The Western route climbs slowly uphill. On most sections, you can walk on the remains of the wall, but there are places where the deterioration is so bad, that you bypass the wall through the forest.

The Eastern Route is a vertical climb that then splits in a North and South direction. Legend has it that the contractor who built the Southern wall was beheaded: the general’s plans ran North. Hikes also follow the North route, high on the mountain ridge where you can gaze far out across the valley. Only three watchtowers can be reached before you come to an impasse in the trail.

Both climbs will take about half a day. But even on these treks, you only get a small taste of the sheer size of The Wall. It constantly snakes away from you into the distance … but it does this over 7,300 kilometers.

Back at the Ranch, I got some relief for my sore muscles with a Tibetan body massage. I’m not sure how often Tibetans practice this therapy, but for this infrequent hiker, the service was truly therapeutic.

Details: Red Capital Ranch, Yanxi Township, Huairou District. Rooms start at $200. Hiking from base of the hotel.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Public buses are no fun

They don't allow anything ... not even spitting.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I hanker for a hunk of cheese

Chinese cuisine is governed by rules: Balance spicy with sweet; Cut food into bite-size pieces; Include a fish with each meal.

Yet one rule in Western cuisine has no place in the Asian handbook: the more cheese the better.

Diary is all but absent from Chinese food, so it should come as no surprise that trying to find cheese when one is hankering is no easy feat. Even most Western grocery stores that have cheese departments seem to have added them as afterthoughts rather than as mainstays of a deli department.

So I'm asking you, readers ... are there any good cheese shops out there? Until I find one, I'll be humming this tune ...