Review: One Fulton Square, Flushing, NY (USA)

 

ILast week, I was invited by the affable Rob McKay of the Queens Economic Development Corporation to attend an eating and press tour of Flushing, New York’s One Fulton Square mixed-use development.  The aim was to promote dining in a COVID and post-COVID world, as well as to showcase the variety of cuisines available at One Fulton Square.

Wesley Sin, of the F&T Group, a joint American-Taiwanese property developer, helped showcase One Fulton Square, their newest property, which combines a Hyatt Place hotel, condominiums, and numerous eateries focusing on food from throughout East Asia.

Long story short, in spite of periodic spells of rain, the temperature was pleasant, the atmosphere convivial, and the food plentiful and tasty!

First, let’s take a look at the One Fulton Square property, located just a few minutes walk from New York City’s third busiest intersection of Roosevelt and Main:

One Fulton Square, Entrance Sign

One Fulton Square, Flushing, New York

Indeed, it might look more crowded in the photos, but that’s due to indoor dining temporarily being prohibited in New York.  Otherwise, there would be enough space to walk around and enjoy the aromas of Sichuanese cuisine, bakeries, and Korean fried chicken.

So, what about the food?

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I’ve decided to add in photos of my three favorite dishes from the spread, plus sushi for good measure.

Living in Shenzhen, China opened my eyes up to the breadth of regional cuisines – it’s basically China’s version of New York, but with internal migrants contributing to its diverse culinary tapestry.  Normally, I entirely ignore Chinese food in the US…but these restaurants cater in larger part to folks from China and other parts of East Asia, so I’m down with them.


All in all, it was an enjoyable night with the QEDC and the F&T Group at One Fulton Square, and I look forward to future food tastings in Flushing!

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Hotel Review: Marina Bay Sands, Singapore (May 2019)

Hello everyone.

Firstly, I hope that you are all well and safe, especially during COVID-19.

I apologize for the lengthy delay in writing an update on BuildingMyBento.  My plans of moving to Japan earlier this were swiftly dashed as a result of the pandemic, but my desire to move overseas is greater than ever.

After catching a glimpse of tumbleweeds crisscrossing my passport, I decided to write this review of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands hotel.  Please note, some of the photos are from an associate, who stayed in a Premier City View Room.

Opening date: 17 February 2011

I can’t recall the first time I read about the Marina Bay Sands, herein known as the MBS. But, I do remember it being a big deal in Singapore, since it would be the home of its second casino, and thus competition for the recently opened Resorts World Sentosa.
Naturally, I was drawn in by the MBS’s unappealing though avant-garde architecture, possibly vast breakfast buffet, and of course, the rooftop infinity pool.

Access

You can reach the MBS by MRT (metro system) at Bayfront station.  However, I just took rideshares everywhere, since I’m not a fan of Singapore’s MRT.

First Impressions / Check-In

Marina Bay Sands Lobby

Marina Bay Sands Atrium

My colleague had never visited Singapore before, and was overzealous about everything regarding the MBS, which he even termed a Singaporean “national landmark.”  To me, it was another obnoxiously large hotel – albeit with a nuanced pool -with the anticipation that nothing would be efficient, given the number of guests and day-trippers.

Indeed, both of our expectations were met.

Each of the three towers has guest rooms, although check-in was only at Towers 1 and 3.  Naturally, our rooms were in Tower 2, so the early flight coupled with the slow-moving traffic at the hotel entrance + lobby zoo was most unwelcoming.

Nevertheless, we eventually received our room keys; my colleague had a Premier City View, and I had a Premier Garden view.  Each tower had sizable elevator banks, so the wait was never too bad.

Premier Twin Garden Room

Premier Room Bathroom

The room was very standard issue; I would say the best part about it was the signature MBS souvenir pen.  Nothing was remarkable, but nothing was broken, either, so the room served its purpose.

My room had a view of the Gardens by the Bay, known for its vertical gardens in the shape of “trees”– (the following photo wasn’t the view from the room balcony)

Gardens by the Bay “Supertree Grove”

Given that I disdain smoking of all forms, I did reserve a non-smoking room on a non-smoking floor.  Naturally, the fact that the hotel had a casino – and, let’s not beat around the bush here, mainland Chinese visitors who often consider casinos their second homes – didn’t help this situation.

I alerted hotel staff to the strong cigarette odor in the room, to which they first told me “we politely asked the Chinese guests to stop, but they wouldn’t listen.”  GREAT SERVICE, GUYS!  I escalated the issue to the Night Manager’s attention, who admitted that relocating me to a different room would be in vain, so I got a breakfast buffet out of it instead.

MBS Environs

After a brief rest on my balcony, I met up with my colleague to tour the MBS grounds.

Marina Bay Sands, Shopping Centre

Marina Bay Sands Atrium

There is also a path directly from the hotel to Gardens by the Bay; Gardens by the Park is a modern park both with tropical, Japanese, and Chinese aspects.  Although it wasn’t open that day, you can also view an observation deck atop one of the Supertrees.

The casino was another pathetically designed section.  Firstly, you have to go through a passport check to enter, since local Singaporeans need to pay to gamble (gambling is a vice!  But…smoke if you got ’em.)  The lower level of the casino allows smoking, and the upper doesn’t…but the smoke just rises to the upper level, completely defeating the purpose. Cool.

Rooftop

Getting to the rooftop was a bit of ordeal.  Firstly, non-guests aren’t “allowed” up there; in other words, you need a room key once you’re up there to swipe to the pool area.  Also, you have to switch from the room elevators to the much more maligned rooftop elevators, which often have guests harnessing that Singaporean “kiasu” (FOMO) mentality, in that they’ll try to run you over to get there first.

Folks without key cards can pay to visit another part of the roof; guests can access this part free of charge.

View from the Marina Bay Sands Rooftop

Secondly, there’s no changing room on the rooftop, but staff do provide towels up there.

Marina Bay Sands Rooftop Pool, Stormy Morning

It was cool to “swim up” to the Singapore skyline – you may be interested to know that there’s a pool for kids/families and one not for kids, but either way you will encounter some of the world’s most obnoxious people wading right beside you.  Yes, it’s a social media frenzy, but some folks had selfie sticks measuring the entire width of the pool…or thereabout.

There are places to eat on the roof, too, and waiters infrequently walk around the pool/hot tub area to see if you want a drink/snack.

Breakfast

As dull as I find Singapore, I do delight in much of its food.  Chili crab?  Dosas?  Kaya toast?  YES, HAVE SOME.  That said, I received a free buffet due to the MBS’s incompetence, so here we are.

The Tower 1 buffet restaurant was called Rise, and it was as busy as ever.  I expected that, and I just added to the crowd.  It was mostly mediocre, but I was able to replicate one of my favorite breakfasts of all time, along with another plate of fun:

Rise Breakfast Buffet, Marina Bay Sands

Anywhere that has decent bread pudding won’t get the lowest marks from me, but the whole set-up and lack of order, in addition to cramped seating arrangements was a big disappointment.

Summary

I wouldn’t return.  I went to the pool, I admired the MBS spectacle for a few minutes, but it’s just not a relaxing place to be, especially when you have limited vacation time.

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Restaurant Review: Eat Me, Bangkok, Thailand

Disclaimer: In exchange for a review, I was invited by the lovely Ann at The Marcom Pro to enjoy dinner and cocktails at this restaurant.

Eat Me Entrance

Located at 16 Convent Road, slightly detached from the major expat and nightlife scene in Silom, Eat Me stands out for its design and its cuisine.

2nd Floor Dining Room

1st Floor Courtyard

Since its founding in May 1998 by Darren and Cherie Hausler, the 120-seat (including 28 outdoors) Eat Me has established itself as one of the go-to trendy choices on the burgeoning Bangkok restaurant scene.  Its post-modern and stylish decor, international blended with pan-East Asia menu, pleasant waitstaff, and unique cocktails have earned Eat Me numerous accolades and awards, including a repeat presence on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list between 2013 and 2018.

Indeed, Eat Me’s chef/owner Tim Butler, who joined as Executive Chef in 2010, has clearly played a major role in the restaurant’s success, having already proven himself at highly-rated restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles.

Right, let’s have a look at the food:

As a special amuse-bouche from the chef, Ann and I started off the delectable journey with Chico Bay (Washington state, US) oysters and caviar.  Nice combination of salty and sweet, and served at just the right temperature.

Clams with nam (Northern Thai) sausage in a lime coriander broth.  This tasty plate packed quite the diverse flavor profiles, bringing in a saline sweetness from the clams, a smoky umami in the sausage, and a citrus sweet and sour floral bite from the broth.  I could have asked for more, but there was so much broth left over that I was really craving…

…bread to lop it all up. For a region that doesn’t excel in baked goods, this bread was quite alright, and served with olive oil, and a nutty, smoky (I tasted a lot of cumin) blend.  Ann kept advising me that we still had much food to tackle, so I eventually abandoned this photo in favor of mains.

Charred whitlof (chicory) with burrata, preserved lemon, and cecina, or salted dried beef.  Although this wasn’t among my favorites, I quite liked the seldom seen bitter chicory – a member of the endive family – meshed with Mediterranean flavors.  More importantly, everything tasted fresh, in spite of being four rarely used ingredients in Thailand, and the burrata was homemade.  Mmm.

This spicy wagyu tartare with onion, chili, sesame seeds, coriander, and egg might have been my most enjoyable non-dessert of the evening.  Though I was slightly nervous to try uncooked meat, due to potential health consequences, clearly I wasn’t nervous enough.  The flavors were all so simple and delicate, but paired excellently with the quality cut of Japanese beef.  In fact, it was that rare moment I didn’t even want to eat bread, as the tartare was damned good by its lonesome.

Lobster bucatini (Roman pasta with a hole running lengthwise through the noodle).  The lobster was sumptuous, and the bucatini cooked just right.  I suppose my only issue with this dish was that it didn’t have more wagyu tartare hidden somewhere.

Straight outta Spain, here we have grilled Iberico ham with hazelnuts, leeks, and Argentinian chimichurri.  Quite rich, and a treat for those who can’t get enough pork. Though, as someone who can’t eat much garlic, I was oddly disappointed that the chimichurri wasn’t heavy on the healthy bulb.  Spicy tip: if you want some heat, ask for the chili garlic sauce, which might have been called nam jim jaew.  Fiery, but worth every tear.

Red wine poached pear with goat cheese ice cream.  The ice cream had a very strong flavor, and wasn’t particularly sweet.  Whereas I liked the pear because it reminded me of autumn, I felt that the goat cheese lingered a bit too long, and overpowered the rest of the plate.

Sticky date toffee pudding with butterscotch and vanilla ice cream.  Now we’re cooking with gas!  This is Eat Me’s signature dessert, and really should be offered on the menu no matter where I’m eating.  Although it’s a filling and very flavorful dessert, have a coffee or an aperitif between the mains and this.  Many of you will be glad you did.

But wait…we haven’t even discussed the cocktails yet.  Eat Me’s Buntanes “Pop” Direkrittikul is one of the more widely recognized bartenders/mixologists in Bangkok.  What kind of crazy and avant-garde drink ideas has he come up with?

For starters, the Laab Moo.  Pop uses his native Thailand’s gastronomic influences to create otherworldly cocktails, such as this one made of ingredients from the spicy northern Thai staple, laab.  This one has mint, shallot, cilantro, serrano bacon, lime, roasted rice, and Ketel One vodka.  With laab being one of my choice Thai dishes, I can say that this drink was on point.

My mouth is still on fire from this one.  Kaeng tai pla, Though tai pla refers to the southern Thai condiment of fish entrails, Pop simplified this one by removing that, and instead employing shallot, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, curry, and Buen Bicho Mezcal.  Asking for it “peht peht” (very spicy) might have been a mistake.  Considering the quality of the drink, I only half regret it.

Khow Nhew Ma Maung…or a “mango sticky rice” cocktail.  Mango, nut milk, coconut oil, and Phraya Rum?  That’ll do!  Next, I should pair this with the actual mango sticky rice for a superlative effect.

Another haute meal in Bangkok, another very satisfied stomach.  Eat Me would certainly merit a repeat visit, both for its gastronomy and its nuanced drinks.  Though it did get a bit loud at times, I quickly refocused my attention on the next dish.

If you’re looking to stop by, Eat Me is open daily from 15:00-25:00.  The menus can be found here.


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Hotel Review: Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok, Sukhumvit 15

Disclaimer: In exchange for two nights, I am writing this review.  Additionally, I would like to specifically thank Ann at The Marcom Pro for helping to arrange this review, and Jern, a marketing manager at this hotel, for meeting with me.

The Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok, Sukhumvit 15 (though completely Marriott-owned now)is located in the Asok neighborhood of the Thai capital, very close to the BTS Asok (skytrain) station, Sukhumvit MRT (metro) station, and a short taxi ride/metro ride from the Makkasan Airport Express station. Among the nearby attractions are the Terminal 21 shopping center and significant nightlife, and the hotel is a short BTS ride away from other popular shopping malls such as Emporium, Siam Paragon, and the MBK Center.  As a bonus, the hotel offers a free tuk-tuk service to both the MRT Sukhumvit station and Terminal 21.

Furthermore, it is close to many businesses and embassies, and as such, sees significant numbers of business travelers availing themselves of the brand’s more affordable comfort.

Hotel Lobby (Stock Photo)

The Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok has two wings – the Pool Wing and the Garden Wing – totaling 249 rooms and 19 suites.  Also, there are four meeting rooms with 3, 810 square feet (roughly 354 square meters); guests of the suites have complimentary access to the meeting spaces for a period.  The whole of the hotel prohibits smoking, and there is wi-fi available throughout the property.

Check-In

After exiting the Asok BTS station (closest to station exits 5 and 1), I easily found the Four Points Bangkok, thanks in part to the descriptive hotel name.  At the front desk, Mariaa and Best were nice, and briefly explained to me some of the features of the hotel, as well as the hours of the breakfast buffet.

6th Floor Corridor

I made my way up to my 6th floor corner room, though as luck would have, neither room key worked.  Leaving my bags at the foot of the door, I asked housekeeping to contact reception to bring new keys, but she at first told me to do it myself.  Sigh.  Eventually she caved in, and Best brought over the new (functioning) keys.

Room

My first impression of my Deluxe Room was one of simple comfort.  The interior was mostly wood paneling, with a sizable work desk and two large nightstands.  All rooms at the Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok have floor-to-ceiling windows, although you wouldn’t stay at this hotel for the city views.

Part of the work desk had jacks into which both USB and HDMI cables could connect to the tv, clearly a nod to business travelers aiming to finesse their presentations and/or other documents.  The minibar was well-stocked with your usual drinks and snacks, and the luggage storage shelf was conveniently placed.

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The HVAC system had an easy-to-use wall panel, and one light switch at the bedside controlled almost every light in the room, in addition to offering many places to charge standard electrical and USB devices.

The bed was easily one of the most comfortable I have slept on in recent memory.  I can’t begin to describe how much of a treat it was.  I don’t take naps, but this bed makes them rather difficult to pass up.

Lastly, the bathroom had that bizarrely East Asian-quality to it, in which it opens up for a view of the bedroom…yet the shower is somewhat frosted.

My two biggest complaints were the finicky internet connection, which logged me out every now and then, and the single-use plastic containers in the shower.  However, I’m going to be thinking about that bed for a long time, especially when in China where I’m subjected to “concrete” mattresses.

The Eatery

The Eatery is the primary restaurant at the Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok, offering both buffet and à la carte options.

I made my way down to The Eatery at around 06:00, but it was a bit busy even at that point.  One waiter served me both Earl Grey and peppermint tea, so the drinks were set.

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My hotel contact, Jern, mentioned that the chef was particularly proud of their Thai dishes, and you know what, that food was pretty good.  Other choices included a few Japanese, Western, and Indian selections, a salad bar, omelette bar, noodle bar, fruit, breads, and yogurt.  Having no expectations coming into the buffet, I was pleasantly surprised.  Also, Meya, the only waitress who stopped by after I had sat down, provided good service throughout the restaurant.

My only complaint was that there was no “sneeze guard” to cover most of the foods.

Operating hours of The Eatery are 06:30-10:30 (weekdays)/06:30-11:00 (weekends), and 11:00-23:00 for lunch and dinner.

Amenities

Hotel Pool and amBar (Stock Photo)

In addition to a 24-hour gym, the hotel pool on the 8th floor (of the pool wing) is open daily from 07:00-22:30.  Interestingly, the pool also has the distinction of being the first location for a pool party in all of Bangkok.  It is held on the first Saturday of every month.

On the pool level, there is also amBar, a cocktail bar open for dinner nightly.  If you’re craving pub food and nightly live entertainment, check out The Irish Pub Bangkok, open everyday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


Overall, I  would stay at the Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok, Sukhumvit 15 again for its quiet rooms, comfortable beds, and decent buffet.  Although the immediate neighborhood is not for me, it’s convenient public transit-wise, and it’s close to many restaurants of diverse cuisines.

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Hotel Review: Pullman King Power Bangkok, Thailand

Disclaimer: In exchange for a two-night stay at this #BangkokCityHotel, I am writing this review.

The Pullman King Power Bangkok is located in the Phaya Thai neighborhood of the sprawling Thai capital.  It is near to the transportation nexus of Victory Monument, from which one can take buses to both Don Mueang Airport and Suvarnhabumi Airport.  Furthermore, the #PullmanKingpower is very close to the Phaya Thai BTS station, and the Phaya Thai (Suvarnhabumi) Airport Express train line.

#PullmanKingpower Main Entrance

Although the #PullmanKingpower is operated by the France-based Accor Hotels group, this particular hotel is directly associated with Thailand’s largest duty free company King Power.  In fact, in the same complex as the hotel is the headquarters for King Power, as well as its largest duty free store in the country.  In addition to chits for select hotel services, in-house guests receive discount coupons for the duty free shopping experience:

The #PullmanKingpower has 354 rooms and suites – ranging between Superior Rooms, Deluxe Rooms, Deluxe Rooms with Balconies, Executive-Level Rooms, and Suites – twenty meeting rooms, and two ballrooms with capacities of up to 600 people.

Check-In

Alighting the Airport Express from Suvarnhabumi, I saw that the #PullmanKingpower was within walking distance of the terminus.  However, I ended up walking the long way around (my advice for those taking public transit, look for Exit #4, then there will be a shortcut by way of pedestrian bridge).  With luggage in this constant heat, it was no fun, especially as the closest intersection has a nearly interminable traffic light.

At the front desk, Milk, a jolly and helpful trainee, and Pai both helped with check-in, informing me about the King Power duty free store across the way, and about the Accor Hotels membership program.  Thereafter, Milk walked me to my room, and shared with me that I had access to the Executive Lounge.

Indeed, for those guests expecting a higher level of service, the Executive Lounge, which can be found on the 20th floor,  is accessed by a simple swipe of one’s keycard in the elevator.

20th Floor Executive Lounge

The Executive Lounge is open daily from 06:00-23:00, and offers both breakfast and a happy hour with canapes from 17:00-19:00.  It also offers one meeting room, ample seating, and floor-to-ceiling windows.  Kan, the executive lounge manager, Music and North, two floor attendants, were pleasant to chat with, and helpful in suggesting lesser-known (to non-locals) places to visit in Bangkok.

Room

I had a Deluxe Room on the 11th floor, fortunately (for me) located in the corner.  The hallway had a muted aesthetic, and like every other public area at the #PullmanKingpower, it was quite clean.

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The Deluxe Room was in good shape, and nothing looked worn.  My biggest issue was maintaining a stable connection to the internet – though there was no problem with connectivity anywhere else in the hotel.  Another negative was the presence of small, single-use plastic containers; even at Accor’s Ibis properties, showers have large, easily refillable containers.  Nevertheless, the bed was comfortable, the corner location of the room made it quieter, and the water pressure in the bathroom was good.  Two water bottles were offered daily, since water isn’t potable in Thailand.

And what Southeast Asian hotel would be complete without a pool and gym?  Many, but not this one.

Hmm, merely thinking of physical activity is making me hungry…

Food & Beverage

Before getting  into detail about the restaurants available at the #PullmanKingpower, I’d like to emphasize that the hotel has received an official HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) certificate, offered by the Swiss-firm SGS, a group that recognize companies excelling in food safety and quality, as well as in the reduction of food loss and waste.

At  this #BangkokCityHotel, there are three primary restaurants, two bars that serve cocktails and snacks, and a co-working space that combines a café with a new-age bar.

Cuisine Unplugged

The first restaurant that I tried is called Cuisine Unplugged.  Although it also offers an à la carte option, it is most popular for its buffet.  However, in a crowded field of hotel buffets in Bangkok, does this one stack up well with the rest of the lot?

For the most part, I wouldn’t say so.

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As usual for buffet days, I woke up to be at the restaurant as soon as it opened, so as to take photos with less human traffic.  Although the presentation of the food and seating areas was clean and welcoming, there didn’t seem to be much staff until about an hour later, ostensibly because more diners had showed up.

Although the Thai breakfast section – two different types of porridge with various toppings – was one of the more positive notes, and the fruit and sugar-free “detox” juices also stood out, the main prepared dishes were just satisfactory.

Moreover, when I stopped by the night before to reserve a specific table, the woman at the Cuisine Unplugged reception gave me a hard time, not to mention the duty manager warned me to “be on time,” as if 06:00 was the usual peak period. Nice try.

Cuisine Unplugged open weekdays for breakfast from 06:00-10:30, and weekends from 06:00-11:00.  Their lunch buffet lasts from 11:30-14:30, Grand Ocean Seafood and Barbecue Dinner Buffet runs between 18:00-22:30, and the Grand Sunday Brunch with Free-Flow Beverages goes from 12:00-15:00.

Tenshino

On the second night, I had dinner at the Japanese-French “fusion” restaurant Tenshino.  Although most dishes use ingredients shipped straight from Japan, some cooking styles and finishing touches, as well as much of the ambience of the restaurant, reflect French inspiration.

Private Dining Room

Although Tenshino was busy that night, Nancy, the manager, and two of her waitresses,  Baitoey and Cake, showed that they were well-trained, and enjoyed chatting about the seasonal menu and sake selection at their restaurant.

Speaking of the seasonal menu, I was quite eager to try the autumnal flavors of Japan, in spite of being in a city whose coldest temperatures are found either in a fridge, or a shopping mall.

Let’s have a look!

First, choose your chopsticks and hashi oki (chopsticks rest).

Kanpachi (greater amberjack) otoshi (Japanese amuse-bouche) with ponzu sauce at the top, and maguro (tuna), madai (sea bream), and kanpachi sashimi with salmon roe.  All very fresh and clean tasting, even though it all made it to Bangkok – direct from Toyosu Market in Tokyo – by plane.

The only miss of the evening, the pumpkin croquettes were uninspired, and I feel would have paired better with tempura sauce than the more savory tonkatsu sauce.

The highlight of the night was also the main dish.  Grilled kanpachi with houjicha (black tea) sauce served with chestnut steamed koshihikari rice.   The sea bream was very well cooked, lightly salted, and paired expertly with the slightly bitter and sweet houjicha sauce.

Chestnut parfait with a coconut cream base.  Another delectable course in one of the  4-course fall menus.  The earthiness of the chestnuts balanced well with the tropical sweetness of the coconut cream.  This dish obviously borrowed a bit from Japan, France, and Thailand; I wish there had been more of this mix scattered throughout the menu!

Paired with carefully selected sake, each bite of the seasonal menu transported me to a rural part of Japan, as if I were peacefully gazing at fall foliage while enjoying the delicious kanpachi.  Save for the croquettes, I would gladly return to Tenshino for another meal, and for the good service common to restaurants in Japan.

Other eating options include Tenko, a Japanese restaurant known for its omakase (let the chef decide), The Junction at Pullman, a co-working space, the Glen Bar with its private mezzanine and modern Thai eats, and the Pool Bar on the 4th floor.


At the end of the day, the most important factors in a hotel for me are peace and quiet in the room, ease of access, and a stable internet connection.  The #PullmanKingpower hits the first two marks, but my room had very spotty internet throughout my stay, requiring me to re log-in numerous times.  Of course, that may vary depending on which room you’re in, and not everyone stays at a hotel to use the internet, but it’s a necessary evil these days.

Except for Cuisine Unplugged, service was friendly throughout, and facilities looked clean and taken care of.  The hotel works for shoppers, business people, and people on short trips transiting between the two airports.  Although the PR people didn’t introduce themselves to me – the first time  that has happened – I  would stay here again, but would feast at another Bangkok buffet instead.

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Hotel Review: Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho, Tokyo

Disclaimer: In exchange for two nights in a Hollywood Double room, I am writing this review.  Photos are my own, and from the Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho.

Tokyo-based Fujita Kanko’s newest brand, Hotel Tavinos, was opened to the public on August 1st, 2019, in the Hamamatsucho neighborhood of the Japanese capital.

Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho is located close to the Asakusa and Oedo subway lines at Daimon station, the Tokyo monorail at Hamamatsucho station, and the Odaiba monorail at Takeshiba station.  Further benefiting those flying from/to Tokyo Narita and Tokyo Haneda, the Asakusa subway line at Daimon can take you nonstop to both airports. Additionally, nearby tourist spots include Shiba Park, Tokyo Tower, the Hama Rikyu Garden, and ferry piers.

It’s not particularly central to the usual tourist attractions, but given the excellent (though not 24-hours) public transit in Tokyo, guests are not more than a 25-minute train ride to the hotspots.  That said, staying somewhere as perpetually busy as Shinjuku or Shibuya might not be for everyone, so the quieter location can also be considered a positive.

In theory, the 188-room hotel was designed with millennials in mind, as it incorporates touchscreen maps in the lobby, borrows from manga in its room designs, and has a sleek, minimalist aesthetic.

But, how does this traveler feel about the property?

Ground Floor

My first impression was not good, for three main reasons.

One, I disdain hotels that lack lobbies on the ground floor.  At least, in this hotel, the same elevator can take you between the 2nd floor lobby, as opposed to transferring between elevator banks.  Think about it, if it’s a hotel created for a younger audience, why couldn’t we just check-in/check-out through an app, and completely avoid the lobby?

Two, there are no stairs that can be readily used.  Save for older Japanese business hotels, I’ve found this to be a common problem at other national (e.g. Toyoko Inn, APA) chains, too.

Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho Lobby 1

Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho Lobby 2

Three, I didn’t understand check-in.  Nobody greeted me, and once someone did, everything was (slowly) processed at the computer terminal next to the front desk.  What’s modern about that?  If someone still needs to be present, time will inevitably be wasted.

Free Luggage Storage

Since I was too early to check-in, I stored bags in the free luggage storage locker room.  However, it was mentioned to me that an add-value train card (such as Suica or Pasmo) was required to use the lockers, so fortunately I had a couple of them.  Again, I wish that both check-in/out and the lockers could take place on the ground floor.

Interactive Touchscreen Map

For those less familiar with Tokyo, there’s a giant interactive map on one of the lobby walls, available in Japanese, English, and Chinese.


After returning from another entertaining day in Tokyo, I went to the lobby to get my room key.  This time, a more cheerful woman helped me out, and explained that every morning, there are free snacks, mostly bread, water, and coffee, to enjoy.

Typical Hotel Rooms Corridor

Hollywood Double Room

The artist Roy Liechtenstein immediately came to mind after checking out the design of the Hollywood Double room.  It was very clean and compact- as Japanese hotel rooms tend to be – though with the large window in the center, it didn’t feel so limiting.  I wish that there had been a small refrigerator, and that the air conditioner didn’t aim directly for the bed, but overall, the room was comfortable.

Regarding the bathroom, I felt that it was slightly larger than the average Japanese chain, though didn’t have enough hooks.  Regardless, there was ample body soap, shampoo, and conditioner, and the water pressure was great.


In all, although I found some issues with my stay at the Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho, the room was clean, luggage storage was easy, and for those transiting to either Tokyo airport or a boat, the location is good.

In other news, the Tavinos brand plans to open a second hotel in Asakusa in May 2020, just in time for the Tokyo Olympics next summer.

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Restaurant Review: The Chocolate Buffet at The Sukhothai, Bangkok

Disclaimer: In exchange for two chocolate buffets, I am writing this review.

Although a few Thai desserts come to mind, when I’m traveling to Bangkok, my mind is set on the spicy mains, the soups, and exotic juices.

However, if you’re in town for a while, sometimes you want to take a break from all of that delicious street food, and delve into the Western world of cakes, pastries, and…chocolate.

The Chocolate Buffet at The Sukhothai has been delighting patrons for more than 20 years.  It was the brainchild of Swiss-born Executive Pastry Chef Laurent Ganguillet, who jovially will prepare you whatever he can with his array of chocolate buttons from around the world…including Mexico, the native home of cacao.

Already booked a table?  Then let’s see what’s in store for you–

What have we here?  Cakes with passion fruit, chocolate-covered bananas, vanilla marshmallows, truffles, chocolate tarts, and much, much more!  Grab yourself a glass of milk, pace yourself, and grab another glass of milk.

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But we haven’t even seen the chef in action.

Wait for It.

Now we’re talking!  Chef, let’s start off a hot chocolate with cinnamon and almond shavings.

Beautiful!  But I’m also feeling a bit peckish.  What do you have in the food department?

Churros with chocolate fondue (no doubt paying homage to the chef’s Swiss roots)  and housemade whipped cream?  You shouldn’t have!

But, did you know that in Spain, churros are served with hot chocolate?

And just like that, I had another hot chocolate to my right…As well as a Thai Iced Tea, for when I needed a short break from the chocolate.

That said, in spite of its tempting name, The Chocolate Buffet isn’t just for the sweet tooth in you.

Preparing the blinis for my caviar plate

On the other side of the hall from the desserts were fruit, caviar, savory snacks, and canapés intended to be eaten alongside tea.  Overall, I’d stick with the sweets, but I did quite enjoy some tropical fruit, caviar, and a sampling of sushi.


Intrigued readers can visit the chocolate buffet every Friday – Sunday, between 14:00 and 17:00.  Now if you will excuse me, I have some hot chocolate demanding my attention.

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Restaurant Review: The House of Smooth Curry at The Athenee Hotel, Bangkok

Disclaimer: In exchange for a review, I was invited to lunch at The House of Smooth Curry.  Photos are both my own, and of the restaurant.

In Bangkok, one is never bereft of choices.  Hotels pop up left and right, street food is seldom more than a block or two away, and no matter which taxi you take, the driver will…often choose not to use the meter.

So many choices.

But, if you’re only in town for a few days, you don’t want to err in where you stay or eat, especially if trying different foods is one of your motivating factors.

Don’t worry, I’m here to help.

The House of Smooth Curry, located at The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, could easily be added to your list.
The House of Smooth Curry reopened within the past two months after undergoing significant renovations.  Curiously, The Athenee Hotel was built on the site the former Kandhavas Palace; indeed, the main dining room was designed to evoke the 1920s-1930s residence of Princess Valaya Alongkorn.

The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Bangkok

One of my favorite PR people, Ann at The Marcom Pro, as well as the affable and environmentally-conscious GM of The Athenee Hotel, Ms. Choo Leng Goh, joined for lunch.  The Executive Chef, Mr. Montri Jiratitankit, also stopped by to chat about how important his family was in inspiring him to cook.

As much as possible, The House of Smooth Curry tries to use sustainable, local, and regional ingredients.  Nearly 80% of the menu is organic, and many dishes were previously only spotted on royal menus, adding further uniqueness to the dining experience.

Hungry yet?

Let’s start things off right by ordering a Thai Iced Tea, which quite simply is black tea, milk, and sugar.

Thai pomegranate juice, non-oily prawn crackers, and roasted chili paste.

Poh Taek Talay, or soup with organic seabass, black tiger prawns and Hokkaido scallops, with galangal (has an earthy citrus flavor, and looks very similar to ginger) , tomatoes and basil.  It was a quality opening dish, as soups tend to be.  Light and welcoming, and generous with the amount of seafood.  Although it’s typically made spicy, I generally want it even spicier.  And this is Thailand, so prepare yourself for both types of heat!

Gang Run Juan Neua, or spicy Pon Yang Kham beef curry with shrimp paste, onions and basil leaves.  Gang Run Juan Neua is one of the aforementioned meals not widely known outside of a culinary historian’s textbook.  In spite of having beef, it was also not overpowering, and the Thai basil leaves were a fragrant and pleasant addition to the meat-focused plate.

Saeng Wa Goong, spicy organic prawn salad with ginger, lemongrass, and mint, crispy catfish, and cashews.  So good!  Everything tasted so fresh, Thai flavors stole the spotlight, and did I mention I love seafood?  Now to find out the names of those edible flowers…

Gai Phad Takrai, or stir-fried organic chicken with lemongrass and chili, tied for my favorite non-dessert of the meal.  I would snack on this – with more chilies thrown in – everyday.  The chicken was tender, and its umami taste meshed well with the herbal citrus qualities of the lemongrass and the heat of the chilies.  Well done!

Also photographed is the beef curry listed above, and my other favorite dish, red chicken curry.  It was eaten too quickly that I couldn’t get a better photo.

Moving on to dessert–

Som Choon, mixed seasonal fruit (including litchi and longan) shaved ices with keffir lime peel.  After all of those bold flavor profiles, having a snack of some of what Thailand does best – tropical fruit – was timely and refreshing.  I will have to make a repeat visit to get the mango and mangosteen duo.

Kha Nom Kho Kathi Sod, or glutinous rice balls filled with shaved coconut and served in warm coconut milk.  This is another meal I would eat everyday, if I didn’t ever have to worry about the consequences. In spite of it being coconut-heavy, the flavors don’t overwhelm your palette.

Before learning about this dish, I would make a beeline to mango sticky rice, and the grilled bananas with caramel sauce.  Now that I know about this, I will have to diversify the ever-crowded dessert field.


Check out The House of Smooth Curry any day or everyday of the week.  They are from 12:00-14:30 and 18:00-22:30, and the dress code is smart casual.

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Event Review: 2019 New York Summer Fancy Food Show

The Specialty Food Association’s 2019 New York Summer Fancy Food Show took place at New York‘s Javits Center from 23 – 25 June.  The membership-based Specialty Food Association was established in 1952 to foster interest in specialty foods companies in the US, although currently there are vendors from all around the world.  The Fancy Food Show has been an annual event since 1954; furthermore, in the winter, San Francisco has hosted a smaller version of the expo for a number of years.

As I’ve done for the past five years, I will give a brief rundown of standout booths, or folks making foods that I was really craving at the time:

Contender for one of my favorite booths: Turkish Baklava

and sticking with the Turkish theme…

Dondurma refers to Turkish-style ice cream, but is chewy, doesn’t melt in the mouth, and is meant to be eaten like a slice of cake.

Avocado Leaf Tea, based in Temecula, California, USA, is one of the American pioneers in this market. The leaves naturally have many health benefits, and the tea itself is smooth, airy, and a bit earthy. Delicious stuff.

Seedly, a Long Island, NY, USA-based trail mix bar start-up, aims to blend seeds and pulses with Iranian influences.

Belgian butter is better

Sidekicks Salsa is a Cleveland, OH, USA-based company co-founded in 2013 by Danny, one of the friendliest people I encountered at the 2019 show.  He and his co-founder Jessie were very enthusiastic about their four different salsas – Garden Citrus Mild, Ohio Hot, You’ll Need a Cold Beer Extra Hot (with Thai bird’s eye chilies, some of my favorites), and SoGreen Salsa Verde.  Although their inclusion of honey in the recipe makes me scratch my noggin, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the You’ll Need a Cold Beer Extra Hot, because I generally want to add a kick to my meals, but also long for the Southeast Asian influences that bird’s eye chilies impart.  You can find Sidekicks Salsas throughout the Midwest and Pittsburgh-area, or order them online at Green Bean.


Which of the above foods do you really want to try?

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Hotel Review: The St. Regis Mexico City, Mexico

Disclaimer: In exchange for this hotel review, I received a one night-stay at The St. Regis Mexico City, Mexico in one of their Deluxe King rooms.

Located on Mexico City’s primary thoroughfare Paseo de la Reforma, in front of the Diana the Hunter fountain, Reforma district, The St. Regis Mexico City is also a less than fifteen minute walk from the Sevilla metro station.  The 31-story hotel boasts 189 guest rooms and suites; moreover, all rooms are smoke-free.  The immediate neighborhood doesn’t have much to offer, save for the excellent Chapultepec Park nearby.

Ground Floor Waiting Area with Access to Residences and Hotel Lobby

Generally, when I check-in to a hotel, I like to be able to do so right away at the main entrance.  However, at this hotel, you have to first ascend to the 3rd floor, from where there is a separate elevator bank to the rooms.  In this case, it wasn’t a problem, as elevators were efficient (they only stop at a few floors).

3rd Floor Main Lobby

Small but adequate business center, located next to the 3rd Floor Reception Area

Check-in was fast and courteous; when it was completed, I was introduced to my butler, Mario, who would also help in taking bags up to the room and unpacking them, pressing clothes, and preparing tea/coffee.  Omar, a room manager, was there to supervise Mario, and chatted with me about Lebanese/Syrian immigration to Mexico.

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A common theme at The St. Regis Mexico City seemed to be cleanliness.  The hallways, restaurant dining rooms, lobbies, and my guest room were all nearly spotless. 

My Deluxe King room had, among other things, a well-stocked minibar, Nespresso machine, very comfortable robe, even more comfortable bed, and an umbrella.  The shower unit had both a handheld and “rain” option, and the bathroom came with St. Regis-amenities by Laboratoire Remède.  Right by the guestroom door, I didn’t find that it was well-soundproofed, but as soon as I hit the relaxing bed, I passed out, in spite of the weekend revelers.

There was also a master control panel by the bed, for air conditioning, lighting, and DND (do not disturb).  However, it didn’t control the curtains, which I was slightly surprised about.  Nevertheless, I didn’t spend much time in the room – i.e. when in Mexico, eat everything! – so it also wasn’t a big deal.

Soon after taking a peek at my room, I went up to the 15th floor to inspect the indoor pool, gym – which was divided into two sections, and spa.  Coincidentally, there was also a children’s play area.

I’m not much for these activities, but I do enjoy the urban views.

After visiting the pool/gym area I went down to the St. Regis-original King Cole Bar.

Being a New Yorker, I have certainly walked by the storied St. Regis hotel, located at 55th St and 5th Ave.  However, until staying at The St. Regis Mexico City, I had no idea that the New York location might possibly have been the place where one of my favorite cocktails – the Bloody Mary (in Spanish, Sangrita Maria), fka Red Snapper – was created.

Another aspect of the hotel that I quickly noticed was that service on all fronts – food and beverage (f&b), room, guest help, concierge – was excellent.  Hotel staff weren’t just there to help sort out a problem, but they also wanted to chat about life in the capital, their favorite foods, and where else they have worked.  Service had a humanside, and I appreciated the chance to speak with a variety of employees about their life and the St. Regis.

Standing on the border between the King Cole Bar and Restaurant Diana

Back at the bar, I was eager to sit outside and enjoy the cool Mexico City nighttime temperatures.  However, a big no-no for me was that the outdoor terrace – which the King Cole Bar shares with Restaurant Diana- is that smoking was allowed.  Isn’t it a smoke-free hotel?  Consequently, I sat inside, which turned out to be fine.

In any event, let’s start checking out the food!

Above, we have a Sangrita Maria, guacamole with seasoned chapulines (grasshoppers), and a diverse set of totopos (tortilla chips).  Locally-inspired bar snacks, with one of my favorite drinks?  Count me in!

At one point in my conversation with one of the waiters, I mentioned that the next day, I would have to leave the hotel before lunch, since I was meeting friends.  Just then, he suggested that I try one of the more famous The St. Regis Mexico City meals, an avocado pizza, baked at the Jean-Georges Vongerichten concept restaurant J&G Grill:

All that was missing was…another sangrita maria.

As for the J&G Grill, I was there the next morning from 06:30 until about 10:00, talking with Cesar, the f&b manager, Alberto, the head chef, and other restaurant staff.  In fact, the J&G Grill isn’t generally open for breakfast (lunch and dinner, yes); though, since it was Mother’s Day, they had a special morning buffet.  (Restaurant Diana is the standard breakfast buffet and Sunday brunch restaurant, that also offer lunch and dinner.)

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While Cesar and I were talking about Mexico City, every once in a while Chef Alberto would stop by, suggesting various dishes to try.  (It might be time to say that thus far, my three favorite countries for food – tied for first place – are Japan, Turkey, and Mexico.  In other words, when I’m in Mexico, and a chef is asking me “what would you like to try next?,” I get that child in a candy store feeling.)

So, what’s next?

OK, I cheated a bit.  Lately, I’ve been trying to recreate the classic New York breakfast – Novy (smoked salmon) with cream cheese on a bagel -wherever I go.  To “localize” it a bit, I added avocadoes.  Yep, I’m already sold.

Next up, refried pinto beans with cotija cheese, eggs with chorizo verde (hailing from the nearby city of Toluca), and chilaquiles, basically warmed-up tortilla chips doused in salsa roja (red chile sauce), topped with onion and crema.  I could eat that green chorizo everyday, but then I’d have to…exercise.

One of the late-morning dishes was eggs with machaca (dried beef, popular in the north of the country), avocado, refried pinto beans again, and salsa roja.  Just another in a long line of delicious Mexican meals, all due to the expertise of Alberto and his kitchen staff.

After becoming completely stuffed, I had to check-out, again at the 3rd floor lobby.  The process was anything but, and after about thirty seconds, I was already in the elevator, awaiting the reunion with my friends.  Overall, this was one of the better stays I have had in recent memory, with everything from staff hospitality and maintenance of public spaces and my room to quality and taste of food being on-point.  Thank you again St. Regis Mexico City for such a pleasant stay!

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