Monday, September 29, 2014

Cavalock and The New York Korean Food Splurge

Sometimes I do wish I knew someone overseas. When I'm in a faraway city, I thought it would be absolutely smashing if I already knew a friendly local who would show me around. On social media, I see folks I know with friends all around the world and I can imagine how exciting it would be if I'm in a new city, there'll be a familiar face there. Know what I mean? Anyway, in New York we only had one reliable contact to show us around and that's our trusty online friend Mr. Google. Since we were staying in Koreatown, it would be stupid not to try some of the food there and with the beef being good ol' US beef instead of the Aussie meat we have back home, we had to try us some Korean BBQ for sure!

So for dinner Mr. Google directed us to a few popular restaurants along our street, and we hungrily scouted them out before deciding on the one with the most crowd cos everyone knows that means the food must be good, right? And that would be the popular New Wonjo Restaurant right across the road from the our hotel in Midtown West. There was a line leading out the door on the ground floor but we managed to jump it as we were ushered up to the above BBQ floor. Now you know you really blend in with the locals when the restaurant staff start speaking to in their native tongue the moment they see you.

We ordered the Wonju Combo for 2 plus a couple side dishes like that egg pancake thingy. The combo was US$63 and consisted of short rib, sliced beef brisket, sliced ox tongue and pork belly. Gawd, everything was so good especially the ox tongue. An extremely gratifying dinner that I wouldn't mind having again if I'm ever back in the Big Apple.

Presenting the latest obligatory food collage, this time from New York! This may had been a short trip but I'm really glad that I got to savour several proverbial favorites like having breakfast at Dunkin Donuts and enjoying a Smores pie for dessert.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cavalock and The Long-Awaited Lego Pilgrimage

If you have seen some of my earlier posts, you would know that I have a penchant for checking out overseas supermarkets to see what local specialities they have on their shelves. Spotted these while in a grocery store in New York. Here we have every hipster's favorite veggie, kale! Done four ways and ... er ... kale ain't exactly my thing so I gave a miss but my friend bought them for his colleagues. Sure hope they liked them.

Other items that look extremely enticing but you can't find back home here (yet). Not a big fan of sorbet or frozen yogurt, but I would go for the mint Oreos. It took me a minute to figure out that the bacon doesn't come with the bacon bowl. I looked at it initially and my first thought was "this has got to be REAL bacon, and not that fake turkey stuff you find in Singapore."

Coming to New York, I did have a short checklist of things I wanna do and one of them was to check out the popular official Lego store at Rockefeller Center. I only started seriously collecting Lego about a couple years ago and have been dying to visit a REAL official Lego store. Well, this place was everything I expected it to be. I must have taken over 50 shots of the amazing Lego displays and to showcase them all in a tiny collage here wouldn't do them justice, so bear with me.

One of the cool specialities that an official Lego store has is a Build-Your-Own-Minifigure stand and that's something I was really looking forward to. It wasn't as infinite or limitless as I thought it would be, as there was a fixed selection of different heads, bodies, etc. in there. So you really could only come up with maybe a dozen or so minifigure combinations. But hey, better than nothing!

My loot for the day! Made six different minifigures and bought a couple of Lego sets that if you do find them here, would probably be at least 3x the US price tag. Geez, I really hate local game and hobby stores that blatantly practise profiteering. After seeing how cheap they are in the US, I can't believe shops here are jacking up the prices that much. A US$10 game shouldn't cost around S$30, it's just ridiculous! It really pisses me off when they give the age-old high shop rental excuse for their daylight robbery. Especially the miniatures and boardgame shops, it's like they aren't really into promoting the hobby at all and are simply interested in fleecing their customers. Ok, rant over. ;)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cavalock and The Night Run Through Hell's Kitchen

Well, it's official. I'm a country boy and not a city boy. After just less than three hours in New York City, I am already sorely missing the wide-open spaces and greenery of Indianapolis. The Big Apple was definitely way more crowded and filled with more tourists than I remember it to be back in 2000. Dashing through the streets and avenues on our first night there, I swear I must have recognized half a dozen other languages before I caught a word of English. But even though it's a million times more crowded than Indianapolis, you could feel this huge positive vibe in the air. We walked right past a park where there was this night garden party going on and just being next to it, it actually felt magical to me. The weather was good, people looked happy, most were dressed up and you can hear some jazz coming from the park so really, what's not to like?

So anyway, my friend and I were rushing to grab a late dinner with another Singaporean gamer who arrived a day earlier. We were all supposed to meet at a popular joint called Five Napkin Burger in Hell's Kitchen but when we got there, the place was packed but our friend had already left. Apparently getting from our hotel to the restaurant took us longer than we expected and we also couldn't hear our phones ringing while navigating through the noisy streets of New York. Oh well, time to look for dinner elsewhere. Fortunately we found ourselves at Junior's near Times Square and Broadway.

It was pretty crowded on that Monday night but we got a table for two almost immediately. My friend reminded me to order their famous cheesecake which we both did although seconds after the waitress left, it dawned on us that we might each be served a way too humongous slice of cake. My half roasted chicken was actually better than I expected when I first saw it, yah, that gravy does look a little too thick for comfort. As expected, the portions were huge but I cleaned up my plate with ease. The above cheesecake was incredibly rich, not unlike the Japanese cheesecake we have in Singapore but much heavier. All in all, a wonderful dinner to end my first and exhausting night back in New York.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cavalock Returns to The Big Apple

As I leave one US city for another, the local airport is a venue that I look forward as it's often filled with little surprises or oddities that one doesn't find back home. At the Indianapolis airport souvenir shop, I noticed more than a few milk-related mementos. Initially I thought this meant that the state was famous for its dairy or something similar, and was kinda disappointed that we missed having a glass of this famous homespun refreshment. Well, later I discovered that it was a Nascar Indy 500 tradition that the winner of the race drinks a bottle of milk! Here's something we don't see at our Changi Airport (yet?). A benefit cosmetics vending machine!

Snapped this pix while flying into JFK Airport. Doesn't this view remind you of the Borg's cube planet ship from Star Trek: The Next Generation? Er ...ok, maybe this is something only geeks would get. Anyway, the last time I was in New York was way back in 2000. I was prepared for almost any surprises except for what happened next.

I knew our New York vacation was off to an eventful start when our ride from the airport made a left turn on our way to the hotel and we found ourselves right smack in the middle of Koreatown. Then the car screeched to a halt and, I was like, are you freakin' kidding me?!? Our hotel is in Little Korea, directly next to a Paris Baguette cafe! I mean, how much more Korean can you get?!?

So when we booked our New York hotel, we were just looking out for a reasonably-priced one in a convenient location, it never occurred to us that that would take us right into the freakin' middle of Koreatown! Hey, I'm not upset or anything. It's just so crazy and it's like the last thing I would expect to happen to me in New York. We later discovered it's actually a good thing as we seemed to have landed during some K-Pop girl-band auditions or something cos the neighborhood sure was looking mighty fine, if y'know what I mean (nudge nudge wink wink). But seriously, I much prefer staying in a location where I could easily blend in with the locals.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cavalock and The Neverending Quest for Greens in Indy

After my last Dickens-inspired, narcotic-laced non-food post, it's time for a final look back at my Indianapolis food trail.  I know it wasn't a very comprehensive one on what that fine state has to offer but it was a memorable and most importantly, an enjoyable experience for me. Now I did mention that we stayed just across the street from several interesting food joints including our regular breakfast bagel place here. But for a couple mornings, the place was just too packed with fellow Gen Con gamers rushing for their morning bagels and coffee too. So we headed next door to Soupremacy which specialises in what else, but soups! Regrettably they don't serve soups for breakfast. I had a bowl of 'steel cut Irish oatmeal' instead with my choice of fruit toppings, and the all-essential cuppa coffee and slice of coffee cake. When I was a wee-little kid, me late mom prepared Quaker oats for breakfast every morning, so I gotta admit I was sorta hoping to recapture a bit of that culinary nostalgia there. Well, unlike my late mom's hot oats, this was served cold and much thicker. Not bad but I miss my bagels!

I also did something I would never do back home and that's having breakfast at Starbucks. Hmmm ... we kinda noticed too that folks there like drinking iced coffee in the morning. Most unusual I thought, perhaps cos it's summer. A breakfast bugbear over there is that it's also my only opportunity to consume any fresh fruits, like bananas at the bagel joint, berries in my oats or a cup of fruit salad at Starbucks. Maybe if I'm ever back there, I ought to pack some multi-vitamins or something.

Lunch at Giorgio's Pizza was quick and good too. Step in the cosy diner and Giorgio himself would call out vociferously to you from behind the counter as he shovels whole pizzas into the oven. My friend and I each called two different slices, woofed them down and left. A quick and hearty meal with personalised service at its best.

Our last dinner on Sunday evening was across our hotel at Dick's Bodacious Bar.B.Q.. Like most restaurant meals there, they all came in huge servings. Go on, have a go! Guess which plate was mine.

Yah, it's the above one with green beans! I need my greens! I can't survive on just meat and cheese! The side serving of apple sauce I ordered was a big hit too as it seemed to go nicely with almost all of everyone's meats. And yes, that's my beer but no, I didn't choose it just cos it came with a slice of vitamin C. :P

Now I am aware that my recent writings do reveal a rather distinct lack of worldly travel experiences on my part. My continued candid observations on local food as well as amenities may sound somewhat unsophisticated. The sights that confound me or the dishes that amaze me may possibly be those that already appear mundane to the weary explorer. But these are still my honest annotates and as clumsy as they may be, I can promise you that they are all genuine and a part of who I am. Thanks for dropping by! Next stop, the Big Apple!!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cavalock and The Pharmaceutical Wonderland of Sleeping Aids

Now even though I was in Indianapolis for "four days of non-stop gaming", one of my most memorable moments there had absolutely nothing to do with boardgames. It was when I stepped into a local drugstore to purchase some water and found myself transfixed in front of a whole glorious shelf of sleeping aids. I was completely awestruck, not unlike being confronted for the first time by a rack of colorful new comic books back when I was a child. I wish I had taken a photograph of it but it was such an overwhelming sight that I was reduced to a quivering mess of junkie euphoria.

All right, so maybe I exaggerated a little. But I was definitely mesmerised by the kaleidoscope of sleep medications that were so easily available as well as inexpensive. I am sure one can tell by now that this is not something one finds in Singapore. Dozens and dozens of bewitching sleeping drugs to choose from, there were pills, elixirs, tablets, ones for you to chew or just leave them to melt in your mouth. All readily attainable without a single doctor's prescription necessary!

I must disclose that even though I do not presently suffer from any sleep maladies I simply couldn't resist experimenting with a dose or two. The idea of falling into a gentle blissful slumber at one's command is most alluring! It is always the forbidden fruit that is famously tempting.

It took me awhile to decide which remedy to purchase. Finally I decide on one that promised not only to be "non-habit forming" but also to dissolve smoothly in one's mouth. The grape flavor was also a delightful bonus that made the entire experience all the more gratifying. But I am getting ahead of myself.

That night after my purchase, I gleefully proceeded to consume two of the tiny purple tablets in my hotel room. My friend and I then began to play one of the many new boardgames that we had picked up earlier in the day. I believe it was approximately 20 minutes into the game and perhaps a half-hour after I had taken the drug that I found myself helplessly nodding off. There is always that sense of elation when one knows one's drug of choice is doing its job.

Till today, I still don't understand why we can't have the same thing here especially in such a convenient over-the-counter manner. They are not addictive and all they promise is a good night's rest at an affordable price non? How is any of that a bad thing?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cavalock and The New Grub Revelation

I must confess to having a culinary checklist of sorts when I was planning my trip to Indianapolis. Yes, the food truck experience was on it and so was the desire to sample an honest-to-goodness pulled pork sandwich, something one can't find here in Singapore. The fascinating thing was how I stumbled upon it one afternoon.

So after another morning of unrestrained boardgame purchases, it was time for lunch again. My friends wanted to grab a quick bite in the convention center but I was vehemently against the idea, having read numerous articles on how sucky and expensive convention food is. But I finally relented. Joined the shortest queue around and ordered the above pulled pork sandwich as I haven't had one yet. You can imagine my surprise when I took my first bite out of it, geez, definitely my top three best eats in Indianapolis! Can't believe how moist and flavorful the pulled pork shreds were. Even the bun and gherkin were delicious. I wish I could find something similar back home but it's just impossible I think.

Since the only four or three Mexican meals I have ever had in Singapore turned out disgustingly foul, I have stayed the hell away from them. So in Indianapolis, it was with much trepidation that I stepped into a popular Chipotle outlet for the very first time that fateful afternoon. I must have stared at the order board above the counter in a most baffling manner for at least five minutes before deciding on the burrito. I had mine generously stuffed with grilled chicken, black beans and white rice, can't remember now what else went into it. I thought it was a decent meal, at least much better than what I had in Singapore although it was rather massive and I couldn't finish it no matter how hard I tried.

After the last three food posts, let's not forget why I was in Indianapolis in the first place. It's to attend the biggest gaming convention in the world, Gen Con 2014 and I have blogged about it extensively at local geek site Here Be Geeks. I was fortunate to snag some pretty good buys. My friends are much more dedicated gamers than myself and they bought at least two or three times more than my loot below. But then again, you really only need one copy of a boardgame to play in a group.

Er... yah, that is My Little Pony you see there. My friend and I took part in a My Little Pony collectible card game demo and after that, they gave us a couple of freebies like a booster pack which contained a rare foil card and an exclusive My Little Pony Indy Con card. Also, the above boardgame Splendor has turned out to be a huge hit among us and I have been carrying it to all our boardgame sessions since I got back.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cavalock and The Food Truck Enlightenment

Food trucks! Read about them, salivated over them on TV but never actually seen one in real-life until last month at Gen Con in Indianapolis. With over 56,000 gamers descending upon the convention center, I thought it was a brilliant move by the organisers to have about a dozen food trucks prominently stationed round the building.

We were actually looking forward to our first taste of food truck cuisine but when we saw the extremely long lines during lunch, we figured ... hmmmm... maybe not just yet. Cos we already spent most of the morning queuing for exclusive stuff like limited edition boardgames and accessories, plus our hands were full and we didn't wanna stand and eat by the sidewalk. 

Also, our hotel was just a ten-minute walk away so we decided to dump our morning purchases back in the room, lunch around there, then head right back to the convention center. Makes sense, right? Anyway, the food trucks were offering a lot of quick fried options and sweeeeet desserts that we don't really have the stomach for at the moment.

But... but .... but I did finally had a food truck dinner experience in the end. It's a monstrous turkey leg which I devoured standing by the side of the road. The weather was cooler in the evening making it less of a chore eating while standing out in the open. The meat was gratifying but dry and we didn't have anything to drink. So after that, we headed straight to this little fruit juice shop run by a middle-aged Korean couple in the mall. Far as we know, it's like the only place to get any fresh juice in the area so it became our regular after-dinner stop. And speaking of drinking, something unusual that I noticed was the complete absence of any liquor shop or convenience store selling booze in our area. Oh, you can still order alcohol maybe only in restaurants however I could be wrong. Was kinda thinking of kicking it back in the hotel room with a cheap brewski or two but no such luck.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Cavalock and The Breakfast Bagel Bounty

One of two things that I was clearly looking forward to in Indianapolis was all new games at Gen Con 2014, and the other being the food! Its been almost 15 years since I been to the US and back then, I wasn't much of a foodie. So I figured it'll be interesting to see and try some local favourites now that I'm slightly more aware of what's out there.

Breakfast has always been my fav meal of the day and in Indianapolis it's still is. My friend and I were fortunate to stay just across the road from an Einstein Bros. Bagel outlet. It became our go-to breakfast joint on most mornings and where my new love affair with bagels began. My usual would be a bagel, a banana and all the coffee I could drink. Tried a few different bagels on the menu but the above "Thintastic Eggwhite" quickly became my fav. You got a nicely done spread of eggwhite, melted cheese, asparagus and mushrooms all in a thin bagel. It was so good and more importantly, filling. And their cherry pastries are damn tasty too!

An interesting thing I noticed with food in the US was the liberal amount of cheese that goes on top of just about everything we ordered, even salad which was almost the last thing we expected to see covered with cheese. As much as I love cheese, I don't think I can stomach copious amounts of it with every meal.