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Xi Yan

In Food - HK on April 29, 2011 at 11:02 am

Xi Yan is an Asian restaurant, but one that borrows, partially, the concept of a many-course meal from the French.  The dishes are carefully crafted and attempt to be “special” or “interesting”, a key in modern gastronomy.  However, unlike in most modern French (I use the term “French” loosely) restaurants, it does not serve dishes individually.  In fact it is much like Table No. 1 in Shanghai, where all the dishes are shared within your own party.  The dishes are the same for everybody in the restaurant, and only portion size differs from table to table.  I had been anticipating this meal for a while, for I had eaten at this restaurant a while back and didn’t remember much about it.  The casual Xi Yan restaurant by Pacific Place 3 is one of my favorite restaurants for a quick meal in Hong Kong though, so I really wanted to try this fancier one.

We started out with a sticky rice ball filled with plump salted abalone topped with balls of ikura (one per person).  This ended up being one of my favorite dishes of the evening; I liked how the sticky rice complimented the chewy abalone and how the ikura burst and moistened the whole dish.

Abalone wrapped in sticky rice with ikura topping

While the salmon was of a good quality and was tender as well, it did not boast of anything special in appearance, taste, or texture.

Thick Salmon Slices

The next dish is one that I found most disappointing.  Xi Yan is supposed to have, in a sense, asian food elevated to the next level.  Though the diced vegetables that fill this roll is of a different kind, this dish has extreme similarities to the Shanghainese “malantou” which is essentially the same thing with a different vegetable (and without the dried shrimp dotted on top).

Diced Vegetables wrapped in Beancurd

I personally did not enjoy this dish much, but it is definitely open to consideration as the other 4 friends I was dining with thought this the best dish of the night.  It is the classic Sichuanese “housuigai”, peeled chicken atop glass noodles with thousand-year-old eggs to acompany, all in a spicy soyasauce based sauce.  I love spicy food, but frankly, this was too much for me.  (The waiter did ask how spicy you want the dish to be before it is served, and we said spicy).  To me, the spiciness masked the taste of the chicken, noodles, and eggs but I guess if you really enjoy spicy foods you’ll enjoy this.

Spicy Chicken with Flat Transparent Noodles

The next dish I did like:  clams and sticky rice cakes in a clean yet rich broth.  The soup wasn’t too filling but was certainly fulfilling, and the clams went surprisingly well with the chewy rice cakes.  It was a complete opposite to the above dish, making it a good follow-up.

Clams in Broth with Chewy Rice Cakes

A little palette cleanser, a longan sorbet:

Longan sorbet

Steamed fish is a classic, and this was pretty decent.  The fish was tender yet firm, and the green onions, my favorite accompaniment, were plentiful and were nice and crispy.

Steamed Fish

Our vegetable dish was a plate of “gailan”, dotted with ginger cubes.  The vegetables were cooked well; the shoots were firm and a little crispy.  The presentation was also quite nice, with the ends split and the whole dish a vibrant green.  However, the vegetables were in no way any tastier than any other normal restaurant, though the presentation of the dish is better than most.  It also did not boast of anything “interesting” and is quite common.

Vegetables - "Gailan"

The dessert was a homemade mango ice cream, and it was surprisingly good.  It had a creamy, smooth, texture and the mango flavor was perfect – a little tart but not too sweet or sour.  This refreshing end to the meal was actually my favorite part of dinner at Xi Yan.

Homemade Mango Ice Cream

Although the food here certainly tasted good, it did not meet my expectations of eating “interesting” food.  Xi Yan is supposed to be a restaurant that serves such food, and although presentation was good and seating was comfortable, the food did not reach my hopes for an exciting dinner.

iPhone 4 in WHITE

In Technology on April 29, 2011 at 6:03 am

I could not resist posting another Apple-related post, for the iPhone 4 has come out in white.  And we  didn’t have to wait for the iPhone 5 model for it.

Usually Apple would have their classic silver and black matt backing, but because the iPhone 4 has glass at the back the iPhone 4 is white on both sides.  This is uniquely sleek, and I’m loving it already:

iPhone 4 in White

Adobe iPad Apps

In Graphics & Assorted Photographs, Technology on April 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm

After getting the iPad (I have a mini review of it here: https://effli.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/new-ipad-2-review/) I realized that good apps on the iPad are surprisingly rare.  Sure, there are some fun games, some pretty apps, but once you put them on the iPad, not many of them are that useful or fun.  Good apps are hard to find! This post is going to be about Adobe iPad products.  I will post one on other iPad apps shortly.

I tend to buy a lot of Free Apps not because I’m cheap but because if it’s free, why not download it?  I always think it’s better to download and delete than to contemplate, because apps might be on sale!  One free app, Adobe Ideas, has quickly become my favorite. (I’m about to go on about Adobe products now, and if you aren’t interested in design you might want to skip down.)   Adobe Ideas is a sketching software, and allows you to adjust brush size, opacity, and color.  Unlike many applications where you have a limited choice of colors, Adobe Ideas gives you the whole range of web colors.  You do need to pay $4.99 USD if you want to buy layers, which is really useful.  A recommendation for improvement is to have a color picker when choosing colors so that when you have a non-white background, you can easily erase mistakes without having to buy layers. Another feature I also really like is how I can create color themes from pictures and work with them.  If you want your own color themes without having to take them from pictures, you can just make a color chart jpg (on your computer photoshop) and get the color themes from there.

Being Adobe, the Adobe Ideas interface is really sleek:

Adobe Ideas Interface

Here are some examples of what I’ve done with the program.

Afternoon Tea Set

Easter Chicken

Another Adobe app that is already out, Photoshop Express, is mediocre.  It is nothing like the actual photoshop in any respect, and its only useful features are adjusting saturation, contrast, and exposure (as well as rotating and cropping).  The other effects there are disastrous, they ruin your photo.

Photoshop Express interface: This photo was NOT taken by the iPad, and NOT entirely edited with Photoshop Express

Now, Adobe is rolling out a trio of iPad apps, coming out early May: Adobe Eazel, Nav, and Color Lava.  Eazel is much like Adobe Ideas, except you get more features (it costs $5) and your tools can be brought up by using all 5 fingers.  I’ve only looked at the commercials online, and it is a pretty cool design but does not differ so much in its function from Adobe Ideas, from what I can see.

Adobe Eazel

Adobe Nav is an iPad based navigator for toolbars on Adobe programs on your computer, such as Photoshop.  You can customize your own toolbar with tools from the Adobe program and work full screen on your computer.  I don’t think this is that useful, but $2 for an Adobe product might just be worth it.

Adobe Nav

The app I’m really interested in is Adobe Color Lava.  Color Lava is a digital artists palette.  You can mix colors, have colors bleed onto other colors, wet your brush and mix again on Color Lava.  I love to sort my colors and create color themes so this program is ideal.  It is also the coolest of all three apps, and it’s fun simply to go wild with colors!

Here’s a snapshot of it, but if you want to watch the video to see how it works, go here: http://www.photoshop.com/products/mobile/colorlava.

Adobe Color Lava

There is also another program that I have and would like to see in action – Adobe Content Viewer.  It’s free, as you need Adobe InDesign on your computer to use it.  Using InDesign, you can create special iPad books/magazines that are interactive.  On watching the tutorials online, the tools seem pretty self-explanatory, and watching the new features video I think I can do it.  There’s only one problem: no matter what button I press, I can’t get the toolbars to show up (I have Adobe CS5), which is extremely frustrating.  This also means I can’t do anything with InDesign, so I’m hoping to solve this problem.  But if this does work it would be really cool to create projects with!

Grissini at the Grand Hyatt

In Food - HK on April 25, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Grissini is famous for, well, their Grissini sticks.  In other restaurants, bread baskets usually come with a few hard, dense, bread sticks that are warm at best, but at Grissini, their sticks are long, chewy, and soft.  I suppose it depends on how you like your sticks, but Grissini’s sticks fresh from the oven are just sublime.  The vinegar they served along with the olive oil was an aged balsamic, something that a lot of restaurants wouldn’t normally spend the money on.

Grissini Sticks

Sunday brunch also came with a glass of sparkling wine, Proseco, which went well with the meal.

Proseco

Sunday brunch was a buffet, and we naturally started with the appetizers.  There were thinly sliced carpaccio, artichokes and eggplants at the salad table, slices of veal covered in a light dressing, and much much more. There was also Burrata, a very good quality buffalo mozzarella cheese.  It was very milky and had a sort of chewy texture that I enjoyed.  I don’t think I had the stomach to try everything but everything I ate not only tasted good but was made of the best, freshest ingredients.

Appetizer Plate

Notice in my above plate the thing closest to the camera is a relatively thick slice of beef tongue.  Beef tongue is chewy and tender at the same time; it’s not like a steak that can easily get tough.  In my life at least, I usually  find beef tongue on a skewer, in a Japanese restaurant.  This cut of beef tongue was certainly no worse.  In fact it was much thicker and plumper than my “usual”,  boiled in mildly salted water with a big gourmet sausage and a beef roll.  The sausage was good too, but it contained a bit too much fat.  Some of these (including the beef tongue, which I acquired in many rounds to the buffet) are to be found on the plate below.

A "Main Course" Plate

At the same table there was a container of soft shell crab which I think many people forgot about in the midst of the boiled meats and lobster, which I’ll get to later.  Though these are quite common, Grissini made a point of making the shells nice and crispy.

So for the lobster.  I think this was the highlight of the meal, and I’m sure that many diners thought so too (you could tell by how often the waiters needed to refill this pot).  The lobsters were huge.  This is saying something considering how much one has to pay for a lobster in Hong Kong.  I’m not sure where these came from (we didn’t ask, but perhaps Boston?  I mean, that was the immediate assumption) but the claws were the biggest that I’ve seen.  We each got a plate of it, and my friend even saw another person go have the lobster tossed with pasta at the pasta station.  And, the lobsters were not only big, but were cooked well in a slightly spiced wine and tomato-based sauce which I quite liked.

Lobster Plate

Huge Lobster Claw

As I’ve mentioned above, Grissini also had a pasta table where you can tailor your own pasta.  I wouldn’t bother going here – the pappardelle that I chose was very al dente and had a nice eggy taste, but the sauces were uninspiring (unless you’re going to add the lobster to the pasta)!

Pappardelle

Now, after a full belly, for the desserts.  The dessert table was considerably big and had variety, but I only managed to try a few.  The custard cake was good but not exceptional, and I ate the meringue (because I like meringue) off the meringue cake.  There was also a caramel cream puff that I tasted, and I think the caramel part on top was too thick and hard.  Based on my experience, Cipriani, another Italian restaurant in a building across from HSBC, had better desserts.

Dessert Plate

All in all though, I love Grissini.  I hadn’t been there for a long time, and the previous times I’d been I didn’t realize the quality this restaurant had.  Some other Italian restaurants may taste good, but this restaurant used very good ingredients to make its dishes, which are fairly traditional.  I expect to come back here soon.

Special Easter Afternoon Tea at the Four Seasons – Central

In Food - HK on April 22, 2011 at 10:59 pm

We waited one hour for afternoon tea.  But it was entirely worth it; today Four Seasons had a special Easter Afternoon tea, and it was cute as well as delicious.  Along with the normal tray platter of savories, small cakes, and scones, there was an easter themed buffet of various sweets.  There were macarons with rabbit ears, little chicken cakes, cookies decorated with fancy egg drawings, and much more (this doesn’t even cover the tray portion of our meal)!

Buffet Preview

One of My Plates (Yes, I went more than once to get food)

This was my favorite dessert from the table: a larger-than-normal apple macaron with grass-cream and bunny ears.  It wasn’t too sweet, a fault of many macarons, and had just the right tartness to it.

Bunny Apple Macarons

Another specialty of today’s easter afternoon tea, the  little chicken “cakes”.  It only had a thin layer of fondant and was filled with a thick lemon paste-like substance.  Quite good, but not as good as the macarons.

Chicken Cakes

The carrot cupcakes were certainly pretty, but the muffin part of it was dry, and the frosting average.  It certainly couldn’t compare to the carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting from Sift.

Carrot Cupcake

Tiramisu (with white chocolate egg on top), looked great in my pictures. The tiramisu itself was pretty normal, and I didn’t get around to eating the egg on it but it was pretty, so I took a glass.

Tiramisu with White Chocolate Egg

One more specialty from the table: a creamy, thick hot chocolate, and fluffy, soft, rabbit shaped marshmallows to go with it.  I love thick hot chocolates and this cup of hot chocolate was perfect.  The rabbit marshmallow that goes with it is like soft powder!

Rabbit Marshmallow on Thick Hot Chocolate

There were also a tray of little goodies on the dessert table, but I won’t go into them all.  There was a very good “popsicle” of room temperature chocolate that had crunchy bits that tasted good as well.

And now for the tea tray:  three levels, as is common, with savories, scones, and sweets.  After the sweets from the buffet, we could hardly munch on the sweets.  There was youghurt (in the cup), a macaron (which I have yet to try, we have brought the leftovers from the tray home), a cream puff and a cake.  Frankly these didn’t taste as good as the stuff on the buffet, but were cute and of quality.

Dessert Plate

Then there were the scones, half of which we packed home as well.  The scones here are huge and very filling, which I’m not sure is quite a good thing.  They gave us two per person, but each of us only managed to eat one, especially with the other goodies around us.  They were warm and had the right texture though.

Scones

We all particularly enjoyed the savory platter.  The sandwiches were all normal, but the egg salad topped with a few pieces of caviar tasted superb.  Also, I really enjoyed the roll, which was a crepe-like pastry wrapping parma ham.  There was also a salmon puff that was quite tasty.

Savory Platter

All in all this was a wonderful afternoon tea (as you may already know, I love afternoon teas in general anyway, but this was special), and the Easter treats were, well, special.  Having this afternoon tea was a one-time experience that I savored; waiting for an hour, not eating lunch, was all worth this visit to The Lounge, Four Seasons.

Sunday Brunch at Whisk – Mira Hotel Kowloon

In Food - HK on April 20, 2011 at 3:10 am

We were in for a nice treat at a relatively new restaurant, Whisk, at the Mira Hotel in Kowloon.  This seems ridiculous, but the first time I visited this hotel I couldn’t find the entrance.  It turns out that their huge glass doors were completely black on the outside but see-through from the inside.

We specifically came to Whisk on Sunday for their brunch, which is known for two things: caviar and roasted suckling pig.  The caviar was properly chilled.  You order the main course (as many as you like) along with the buffet brunch , and the ones we ordered were pretty good too.  I’ll go into a little more detail later.  But what was really special about Whisk was the pig.  Set in their outside garden, the baby pig lay there, juicy and ready to be eaten. I got 2 narrow slices of it and it was sublime.  There was no doubt in my mind; I set out to get some more.

Caviar "Bar"

Suckling Pig

Appetizers were my second favorite part of the meal.  There was a surprisingly large variety of salads, which I enjoyed as the weather was getting hot.  There was a scallop with rose apple and pomelo salad that I particularly liked.  The scallops weren’t extremely thick (it was a buffet after all) but they were plump and refreshing.  Here is an appetizer plate that I got:

Appetizer Plate

The cheese table at Whisk was divine.  I love cheese, and they had an array of 18 cheeses for me to try.  True, most of them I had tried, and a lot tasted similar to the others, but at least these cheeses had quality.  They weren’t just parmesan blocks, or emmenthal slices (though I do like both of these cheeses).  One cheese I hadn’t tried before was Crottin de Chavignol, which was a semi-creamy cheese that was quite strong.  It tasted definitely of cheese and had the right strength – not too much so my nose blocked up but strong enough to be powerful in its flavor.

Cheese Table

Crottin de Chavignol

For main dishes we had Laksa, codfish, and a seabass.  They all tasted good but were nothing special.  I would recommend the Laksa, because the seabass did not come in thick slices and was a little dry.

Seabass

Laksa

Codfish

Now for the dessert.  Dessert was lovely.  They had lots of cakes for us to try, and little pots of various things that tasted good as well.  One that I picked up was the floating Island, which was a soft fluff in a sea of caramel.

Dessert Table

Floating Island

I had an enjoyable lunch at Whisk, and the food was really good, as was the atmosphere.  They even had a DJ there controlling the music!

AmanFayun Hotel Rooms & Scenery – Hangzhou

In Shanghai & Hangzhou on April 19, 2011 at 1:20 am

AmanFayun Hotel prides itself in being an exclusive place of tranquility.  It is in the mountains about 15 minutes away from the center of Hangzhou, near the Lingyin temple.  The hotel is built using the preserved houses of the village that existed long ago, that was, at one point, going to be demolished by the government.

Walkway

Houses and roads are mostly as they were back then, but the interiors were all renovated to be more like a hotel.  Most buildings are around 300 years old, and the oldest building, the building that is now the library, is around 700 years old.

700 year old building - library

To get from place to place we traveled the main village path, where there was hardly anybody walking around.  At times this hollowness could feel scary, with only a few lamp posts to guide you at night.  But at other times this was a place of peacefulness and meditation.  The village was hardly touched yet flowers grew abundantly on naturally twisted branches, and the foliage was enchanting.  The paths were mystically laid with undergrowth and covered with clouds of fog hovering, only for us to break them.

Side Path

Carved Buddha on Mountain side

Fresh Flowers

Our hotel room was huge – there was a canopy bed, a large washroom, and heated floors.  There was plenty of empty space that gave it a clean feel, as well as big, grand yet humble closets that lined the hallway connection between the washroom and main room.  The washroom itself could be considered a room, and a big one at that.  Everything was tidy and clean, with a rustic touch.

Couches

Delicate Tea set

Canopy Bed

Hallway with Grand Rustic Closets

Washroom

Washroom

Toilet

AmanFayun gives such a harmonious feel to it that commercial hotels could not endeavor to do the same with a typical building within a city, or even a common resort. We loved AmanFayun for its sense of peacefulness in the midst of our busy lives, and even our busy holidays.

外婆家 – Waipojia (Grandmother’s House) Restaurant – Hangzhou

In Shanghai & Hangzhou on April 18, 2011 at 9:51 am

外婆家 is a popular restaurant that often pops up in food blogs online, so after a tiring morning trudging along West Lake (though the scenery was very pleasant), we contentedly sat down and waited for a seat.

It was a great disappointment.

One thing we ordered (and we ordered quite a bit despite only being a party of two) tasted quite good, another okay, the rest were mediocre or even bad.  The only exceptionable qualities this restaurant may have had, were that prices were extremely low and the dishes were extremely large – but these alone are not good enough reasons to eat at any restaurant.  Because the prices were so low it caused us to over-order, not knowing that the size of the dishes was humongous.  Inevitably, we wasted a lot that meal.

This was the “okay” dish.  It’s one that is quite common: Pork Slices with a lightly spicy dressing.  The taste of this was good but average, and the pork was certainly edible but was not the tender soft meat that one would expect, especially from such thin slices of meat.

Pork Slices with Spicy Dressing

The one dish I liked was this roasted pork.   Because there was a lot of fat surrounding the meat (which one shouldn’t eat for the pork slices are around 50% fat), the meat was tender, and the spiced powder was flavorful, making the entire dish more exciting.

Roasted Pork with Spiced "Chili" Powder

Vegetables tasted ok but were way too salty.

Vegetable

These razor clams were mediocre – they didn’t taste bad but they couldn’t be called “good” either; not all that fresh.  We were also afraid to eat them because they might not be cleaned well.

Razor Clams on a Sizzling Pan

We ordered this fish in minced green chili and peppercorn as it sounded and looked interesting, but somehow the chili and the fish didn’t seem to go all that well together.  The chili was so overpowering that the fish was rendered tasteless.

Fish with Minced Green Chili and Peppercorn

Noodles with fried eel and baby shrimp.  This is supposed to be a Hang Zhou specialty but came with no flavor at all.  It was bland, bland, bland.  The noodle was also not firm as how I would like it.

Pot of Noodles

A big plate of Nian Gao – Nian Gao that was too thick, too doughy, and too sweet.

Guifa Nian Gao - Fragrant Rice Cakes

外婆家 might be cheap and it might have big plates of food, but if the food isn’t good there is no reason to eat at such a restaurant, and I would suggest you use up your calories somewhere else.

New iPad 2, Review

In Technology on April 16, 2011 at 8:53 am

When iPad 1 came out, I resisted going out to buy it.  It was the first of its kind, a pretty tablet but one that had not gone through the critique and improvement stage.  And I was glad I had waited, for, after trying out the iPad 1 in Apple shops, the iPad 2 is much better, though could still be improved.

Here it is:  my brand new wifi + 3G white iPad, red smart-cover yet to come.

White iPad 2

One of the reasons I didn’t buy iPad 1 when it came out was that it didn’t come in white.  After sacrificing the white color when buying an iPhone 4 (and learning that Apple had pretty much given up on making a white iPhone 4), I wouldn’t buy a black iPad.

iPad 2 has cameras!  Though I’m glad the iPad has cameras, the quality isn’t too good.  The lens, though it boasts of having “HD Video” is the same as on the iPhone, and the pictures on the iPad are all grainy (when seen on the iPad).  No doubt if you compress the pictures into an iPhone-size they will be relatively clear again.

Other than that I have little criticism for the iPad 2.  It is sleek – less bulky than the 1st iPad.  It has beautiful graphics, especially while running beautiful apps.  Also, with the 3G plan of $98 HKD per month, internet access is unlimited and virtually everywhere!  This makes the iPad especially useful, as things like youtube and safari are not limited or dependent on wifi.

A good app that I found is “Pulse”, a news reader app that displays picture icons of any website with RSS feeds.  This includes being able to see the icons and articles from this blog!  When you want to read the article, just tap on the icon and the article will pop up on the side.  You can also visit the actual website directly from the app.

Pulse

So overall, the iPad 2 is pretty good! A new toy and something I can work with too.

Snack at the Lane Crawford Lounge, and Sift – IFC, Central

In Food - HK on April 13, 2011 at 7:04 am

I just wanted to do a brief post about the Lane Crawford Lounge in IFC, Central.  You do have to have a special card to get in, so I thought I would share with my readers.  This lounge is a very comfortable place with large washrooms and nice sofas to just take a rest.  It’s free – if you have the card.

A little preview:

 

Snack at Lane Crawford!

For a few years they served miniature treats from Sift, a shop known for its cupcakes.  (I might do a post on this later, if you want to know about it).  I ordered a mini carrot cupcake that is topped with a cream cheese icing that isn’t too sweet, as a lot of cupcakes are.  Though normally I don’t like carrots (or cupcakes for that matter), this one was very good and the portion was a good size for trying and a light snack.

Sift Carrot Cupcake

We also got a little hazelnut cake from Sift.  This cake looks average, but it was actually extremely good.  After eating it I immediately wanted to go to the shop and see if they sold it.

Hazelnut Cake

And the tea sift was really cool too!  When there wasn’t enough tea in the tea sift, the tea wouldn’t go through the sift!  I didn’t know surface tension worked with holes as well. I don’t know if you can see it, but take a look:

Tea Sift