Bangkok Food Tour, our own Hangover @ Sky Bar, and Chinatown

After getting about an hour of sleep, we somehow miraculously got ourselves up and headed out the door for the Bangkok Food Tour.  If we had known that we’d be out until sunrise the night before, we would never have signed up for it, but since it was already paid for, we just sucked it up and marched on over.  I can’t imagine what the other folks on the tour thought of us at first when we showed up looking obviously like we’d clearly been partying hard just a few short hours earlier.  But we did end up enjoying ourselves quite a bit and despite being aggressively hungover it was real nice having some great conversations and getting to know everyone else on the tour.

However, my review of the Bangkok Food Tour is this: if you’re already typically an adventurous eater, I wouldn’t bother.  This is not a criticism of the tour itself.  Our guide was great, and like I said, it was actually amazing that we were able to get along and have fun with all the other tourists in our condition.  But for my buddy and I who are already always trying exotic foods on the menu, the food at the stops that we made didn’t really live up to what we already do on a regular basis.  But I’ll give you an overview of the tour anyways and you can decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth the 1200 baht.

The tour stops at 5 local spots and here’s the food that each offered:

  • Pig leg at a Chinese restaurant.
  • Rice Noodle in Yellow Curry with Egg, Coconut, Milk, Peanut, and Beef along with a Chicken pastry at a Middle Eastern/SE Asian fusion place.
  • Thai Salad (very spicy), Deep Fried Chicken with Lemongrass, Pork and Mushrooms at a very local, alleyway place.  This was probably the best of the stops in terms of food and getting to go to a real “local” eatery.
  • Green Custard Buns and Thai Iced Tea at a Chinese bakery.
  • Green Curry Chicken w/ Roti and Coconut Sorbet at an Indian/SE Asian fusion restaurant owned by a member of the Thai royal family who has an affinity for Indian food.

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So like I said, it was a perfectly fine tour, but not worth it if those food options don’t “excite” you.

After that, we napped for a good while and then headed to the Sky Bar at the Lebua Hotel.  If you’ve ever seen the Hangover II (ironically, we went hungover as well), this was the bar featured prominently in that movie and in turn posters of the movie are featured prominently in the hotel’s lobby.  It is easy to see why the movie producers chose this for the film.  Bangkok is known for its multitude of rooftop bars, but I can’t imagine one with a view more spectacular than the one at Sky Bar.  From the bar you can see a solid 270 degrees over Bangkok.  We showed up at sunset and had a perfect view of the sun coming down in the West.  The drink prices are expensive, probably even a little expensive for Western standards, but this is to be expected because the clientele are all wealthier tourists.  But a drink or two is a small price to pay for the relaxing atmosphere, great view, and surprisingly not too packed bar area.  There is a smart casual dress code, so make sure to shower and change before you go.

From Sky Bar we made our way to Chinatown for dinner.  It’s here that you can really find street food central.  The chaos isn’t all that much different from a lot of other Chinatowns around the world, but the difference here is that the sidewalks aren’t for walkers – it’s for all the tables set up for the street food carts.   So essentially the road is full of cars, cabs, Tuk Tuks, and pedestrians (Keep Your Elbows In!).  I can’t honestly say for sure I knew what some of the food was that we saw, but we kept it relatively safe and tried a bunch of different carts featuring food I recognized including:

  • Roast BBQ Pork noodles.
  • Shrimp at this one cart where the cook was putting on a ridiculous fire show with his wok.
  • Pad Thai — the best Pad Thai we had on the trip.  Word of advice: look for the Pad Thai carts that throw a whole fried egg on top of the noodles.

 

All of this food cost 300 baht per person ($1 = 30 baht).

A couple of other quick places we stopped in on our way back to the Landmark on Soi 11.

  • Oskar Bistro: Typical expat bar with a good amount of porch seating to watch the party scene on the streets of Soi 11.
  • Levels Club:  We came in here to see what the club scene is like and this place is the place to go if you want to dance.  You take an elevator up to the second floor club consists of two floors.  Go-Go dancers perform at the front by the DJ and there are multiple bars making the wait for a drink very short.  There’s also a large outdoor porch area if you want to get away from the loud music for a bit.  Folks keep in mind, there are prostitutes lined up along the edges of the dance floor ready to pounce.

Sydney – Part III

Our third day in Sydney consisted of a bit more of the wildlife that Australia has to offer, so I’ll call it our Wildlife Day in Sydney.  We made our way down to Darling Harbor where you’ll find a wealth of restaurants and museums.  On a nice day, like Circular Quay, it’s a great place to just sit and people watch as most of the eateries offer outside seating/seating that looks out onto the water.  Here’s what the day looked like.

What we did

SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium

In Darling Harbor there’s a weird cluster of buildings that house the Aquarium, Wildlife Zoo (I’ll touch on this one next), and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (skipped this because we’ve been to a few in other cities).  Of these three, I think the Aquarium is the only one really worth going to.  At first glance, you don’t think it’s that big.  But as you take the long ramps down there are very sizable tanks that house some amazing fish.  Easily the highlight of the aquarium are the tunnels.  The tunnels run through the tanks and have a glass ceiling that is about a 200 degree arch.  There you can get really up close with some sharks, stingrays, and some friendly and ginormous Dugongs (similar to manatees).  There are several other smaller tanks where you can see jellyfish, giant crabs, and a tank where you can touch various sea life creatures such as starfish.

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WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

This zoo is actually adjacent to the Aquarium and I would say is probably not totally worth visiting.  Admittedly, we didn’t time our day right as we wanted to go to the much more famous Taronga Zoo, but it was too late into the afternoon by the time we wanted to get there to make it worth it (it’s a bit of a bus ride outside the city).  So we just settled on the zoo in Darling Harbor.  Now this zoo isn’t horrible, there are actually some pretty good ranger talks that we took advantage of at the kangaroo, crocodile and koala dens.  And the crocodile, named Rex, is a ridiculously large 6 meters and a neat animal to see up close.  My sister also really wanted to cuddle with a koala, but unfortunately in Sydney that’s now illegal or something, so you can only get a picture standing next to it (at a price of course).  Which is one of the main reasons why I’d say to skip the WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo.  The Taronga (even though we didn’t go) I heard is much larger and has more species of animals on display.  Also, if you go to different parts of the country, the laws there are not the same so eventually my sister did get that picture with her actually cuddling the bear.  So save a few bucks on the Sydney zoo and go to Taronga and/or if you’re looking to get a picture with a koala, pay for one where you get to hold the damn thing.

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Paddy’s Market
Market City
Cnr Hay St & Thomas St
Sydney NSW 2000

If you want to do some good souvenir shopping, Paddy’s Market is the place to go.  It’s really similar to the Cusco Artesian Market in Peru, where you can buy all sorts of trinkets, clothing, food, whatever for yourself or the folks back home.   They don’t really bargain as much at Paddy’s, but the prices are pretty low regardless.  The funny thing about Paddy’s is while the bottom floor is a flea market, if you take the escalators up, on the second floor is a legitimate, modern looking mall.  There you can find retail stores and a food court.

Bondi Beach & Coastal Walk

Bondi beach (pronounced “bond-eye”) is the premiere beach in Sydney that most of the locals and tourists flock to in the hot summer months.  It’s a bus ride away from the center of Sydney and only takes around 20-30 minutes to get there.  Shops and restaurants line the road along the back of the beach and you can grab ice cream, swimwear, sunblock, anything you’ll need for the beach.  Because of the rainy weather though, we didn’t do much suntanning or swimming.  We did however partake in the coastal walk the runs along four of the beaches starting at Bondi.  The trail takes about two hours round trip to walk, and is a great way to see the coast, a few of the other beaches, and get some great shots of the Pacific Ocean.  Hopefully if you go to Australia, you’ll be able to soak in some sun more than us.  Tip: The public bus does go there.  You can take either the 333 or the 380 bus.  Take the 333 – it takes more of an express route and doesn’t make as many stops as the 380.

Where we ate

Sydney Fish Market

Ironically, after the aquarium, we were in the mood for some fish for lunch, so we took a walk to the Sydney Fish Market.  Unless you’re in Sydney for more than just a few days, this really isn’t worth seeing.  It’s a giant warehouse, and it is bustling, but there’s no wow factor or anything.  There’s just a bunch of stores selling fish, and while it’s cool to see so much of it in one place, it’s not anything you’d can’t see in most cities in the US.  We went to a sushi kiosk for food, and while it was good, it wasn’t great.    On a nice day though, I could see how locals, and visitors who are in Sydney for an extended period of time, would enjoy walking down there, buying some fish, and having a seat at the big picnic area along the water.

Spice I am – Surry Hills location
90 Wentworth Ave
Surry Hills Sydney 2010
CASH ONLY

Now this is the solid Lonely Planet place that we thought Din Tai Fung was going to be.  Small, local, with a group of people waiting on the sidewalk to get in, Spice I am has some pretty good Thai food that is relatively affordable for Sydney (though, the $3 for a bowl of rice really pissed me off).  The panang chicken I had was very spicy, but had very good flavor to it.   Because of the size of the place, the restaurant moves fast, so I wouldn’t go there looking for a long leisurely meal.   Full disclosure, I didn’t realize there were a few locations in Sydney until I looked up the URL for this blog.  Looks like their other locations are bigger, so those branches might be a little more casual.

Blackbird Cafe
Balcony Level
Cockle Bay Wharf Harbour Street
Sydney NSW 2000

After walking up and down Darling Harbour, we wanted to grab a bite to eat at a place with a view of the water.  We saw the menu of this place along the sidewalk, and it looked like it had a pretty good, standard selection.  The cafe was on the second floor, so from the ground we couldn’t really see inside.  We walk up and, BOOM, it was like we walked into a club.  It was loud, boisterous and full of 20-somethings enjoying themselves.  My first reaction was, “The food here isn’t gonna be good” as I assumed it was a place more for drinking than eating.  But we sat anyways because the hostess brought us to a table on the balcony with a great view of the water.  Our waitress was super friendly (she told us she was English and had been living in Australia for 3 years), and fast bringing us our food and drinks. I was pleasantly surprised when the food arrived.  The chicken burger I had was really, really good.  The other dishes my family members got were apparently very delicious as well (I didn’t get to sample them).  We chatted a little more with our waitress and she said all the food in Australia is pretty solid.  She said compared to other countries (specifically England), Australians really take good care of themselves and eat a lot of organic foods without a lot of fat or frying oils, and that included random club bars where you wouldn’t expect that.  Still, if you have little kids with you or grandparents, I wouldn’t go to Blackbird.  Otherwise, it’s a good place for a fun atmosphere, good view, and lots of drinks.

 

 “Australia from Beth”

-Take a day trip to Palm Beach. It’s Sydney’s most northern beach and it is beautiful and has great views by the lighthouse. This is where the Aussie show Home and Away is filmed.

-Roar & Snore at Taronga Zoo is incredible http://taronga.org.au/taronga-zoo/accommodation/roar-snore-more-information.  It is pricey but one of the coolest things I got to do in Australia. You get a private nighttime safari, great food, behind the scenes experiences (feed a giraffe, go into the chimp building), and you get to sleep over at the zoo in a tent/cabin overlooking the entire city skyline. Seriously amazing.

-DO NOT take the Pride of Airlie boat to see the Whitsunday Islands. I might have just had a terrible boat captain but it was the least enjoyable tour I went on. Research tour/boat options, there are tons leaving from Airlie Beach.

-DO NOT fly with Tigerair. They are a budget airline but are extremely strict on baggage weight and other small print items. I ended up having a sort of yard sale at the Melbourne Airport giving away all of my toiletries to reduce my baggage weight and avoid checking my bag for $100. They are notoriously sticklers.

Melonhead at Coogee Beach (pronounced “Could-gee”) has the best smoothies in Sydney and great sandwiches too with reasonable prices.

 

Little Serow

1511 17th Street NW
Washington DC 20036

Hours
Tuesday-Thursday: 5:30-10:00 PM
Friday-Saturday: 5:30-10:30 PM
Sunday-Monday: Closed

I’m going to say this right off the bat: Little Serow is my favorite meal experience in Washington, D.C. up to this point.  More than living up to the hype, Johnny Monis, the head chef of the famous Komi restaurant (which is regarded by many as the best restaurant in D.C.) has created a cheaper, Asian restaurant right next door.  For $45, you get a pre-fixed menu consisting of mainly Thai flavored cuisine.  And you’ll be hard pressed to find a better $45 meal anywhere else in the city.

In order to find the restaurant you’ll want to find and face Komi first; Little Serow’s door is the unmarked basement door to the lower left.  Keep this in mind: there will most likely be a very long wait.  They don’t take reservations, so you have to put your name on the list with the hostess.  In most cases, there will be a line JUST to put your name on what usually is a 2-hour wait list.  From what we heard, on the weekends that line can even be as long as 20 minutes.  It is a ridiculously long wait time to be sure, but it’s worth it.  Just plan accordingly, and plan on having a drink at one of the nearby bars while you wait.  They will text you when your table is ready, so you can go as far away as you want.

The restaurant itself has very limited seating; there’s only about five tables that seat 4, three tables that seat 2, and one communal large table that seats about 12.  The atmosphere is like being in a minimalist kitchen with dim intimate lighting.  The music is not too loud and all the waitresses are dressed like mothers or Laura Ingalls’ look alikes.  And they were great; perfectly attentive without being too intrusive.

I would typically give a review of each individual food item, but because the menu routinely changes up, there’s no real guarantee that what I’ve tried will be on the menu for you.  The menu apparently changes up on a weekly basis.  After doing a little research though, it does appear that there are a few staples that are on often regularly on the menu, including the pork ribs on ours.

So even though there’s no point giving individual critiques, as a whole the food was DELICIOUS.  There were so many flavors that felt totally new, yet familiar at the same time.  The food was very, very spicy too – I cannot stress this enough.  The side of vegetables and sticky rice will be your best friend throughout the meal.  Our dinner ended up being 7 plates with a small dessert.  The standouts on our menu were the mushrooms, which were a unique flavoring of sweet as you first eat it and then spicy as you finish it, and the pork ribs.

To sum it up – try this place.  It’s not going to kill your wallet at $45 and you’re guaranteed to experience flavors that you’ve never tasted before.  I plan on going back to try some different plates and it only takes a quick look at its critics, Yelp, and TripAdvisor reviews to see a communal appreciation for the place even though several different meals were sampled.  For me personally, if Little Serow was this good, I’m more than curious to know what his even more prestigious Komi restaurant is like.  It looks like I’ve got something new to save up for.   Grade: A

UPDATE: I emailed the restaurant to get a better idea of how much the menu changes.  They responded very, very quickly and told me that one item usually changes a week.  So if you want to make sure you go back and have a totally different menu, I’d give it a couple months in between visits.

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Fatty Crab

West Village location
643 Hudson Street
New York, NY
212-352-3592

Monday – Wednesday | Noon to Midnight
Thursday & Friday | Noon to 2AM
Saturday | 11AM to 2AM
Sunday | 11AM to Midnight

Upper West Side location
2170 Broadway
New York, NY
212-496-CRAB

Monday – Wednesday | Noon to 11PM
Thursday – Saturday, Noon to Midnight
Sundays | Noon to 10PM
Happy Hour | Monday – Friday, 4pm to 7PM

If Tao was the big, glitzy dinner, then the Fatty Crab was the opposite of that.  Located in the West Village (with a second location in the Upper West Side), the Fatty Crab is a small shack serving some of the most unique Malaysian-Thai hybrid food I’ve ever tried.  With seating for only about 30 (and about 6 at the bar) in the dark and intimate hut, you should expect to wait a little bit for a table if you’re a party bigger than 2.   Not to worry though, there are seats outside the restaurant and when we arrived there was a little crowd out there with their libations in hand (Note: Not totally sure if them drinking on the sidewalk outside the restaurant was legal, but they were going for it).

My buddy and I took a seat at the bar, which offers a full menu as well.  The menu is very small with only a handful of entrees and appetizers.  We got some recommendations from the bartender, who was more than happy to answer any questions we had about the food all night.  For starters, we gave the pork steamed buns a try.  Now these aren’t like the typical pork steamed buns you might get at Dim Sum in Chinatown; these required assembly.  The buns shaped like flattened donuts and we had to put the chunks of pork, along with what I think was plum sauce, and cabbage on top of it.  From there it was a little awkward trying to fold it up like a taco because it was so bulky, but it was damn tasty even as messy as it was.

For our entrees, we tried the Nasi Lemak and Beef Rendang.  Of those two, the Nasi Lemak was the far more bizarre one.  The dish consists of a platter of some of the craziest flavors put together.  There’s a large chicken leg, that tasted like it was slow cooked and it came off the bone with ease.  The chicken was on top of coconut rice that we were instructed to mix with the poached egg on the plate.  Also on the plate was a fish paste called “otak” which was on top of these spicy, sardine eggs (or something crunchy that was fishy).  I didn’t mind the fishiness of the paste, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the spicy sardine eggs.  I liked the spice, but the sardine part was just one step too salty, fishy for me.

The Beef Rendang was the more traditional looking dish, but just a tasty.  The dish was made up of short ribs that were braised in lemongrass chili and it came with an interesting sweet paste.  The short ribs were very good, a tad bit over cooked for my taste, but still tender, and very savory.

The restaurant is a good example of a place having a small menu, but doing each item very well.  All it all, it’s a great little place to try some exotic flavors, or to take a date who doesn’t mind a little adventure in their meal.  Grade: B+