Hotel Review: Le Meridien Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

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Marshall Park (though it’s more of a park for cars)

Disclaimer: In exchange for this hotel review, I received a night’s-stay in a suite at the Le Meridién Charlotte, North Carolina.  The woman who helped me arrange this was very proactive and accommodating; not only was this a last-minute request, but she also offered another night at the adjoining Sheraton hotel.  Both the Le Meridien and the Sheraton are part of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts group.

A friendly young woman checked me in to the room; I had a hunch that she was from Ethiopia, so we started chatting about kolo, buna (coffee), and Washington, D.C…which happens to be the nexus of Ethiopian expats in the US.  Afterwards, she informed me that all charges would be comped, to which I asked if she’d like anything from the room service menu.  hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-6The lobby appeared dark, modern and a bit subdued.  I found it to be quite clean and with ample places to sit, though the immediate front desk area could get crowded easily.

hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-3That’s a lot of space (particularly for one person)!  Though that’s no news for a suite, I couldn’t help but think how many NY – or Hong Kong – apartments could fit into it.  Maybe even a Lower Manhattan city block?  How cliché are these questions?

In any event, the room was immaculate, had plenty of light sources (though I don’t think it was possible to open a window), and was quite comfortable.

A couple of issues– unfortunately, I very clearly heard the neighbors conversing.  Even playing the tv at a louder volume didn’t help.
A more minor complaint is that the Bluetooth function of the iHome alarm clock/speaker wasn’t functioning.  It would’ve been nice to introduce to my temporary neighbors the sweet truly bizarre sounds of Gazebo.

hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-4Nice…some appetizers were awaiting my arrival.  Not literally, and don’t worry, they were covered before I took the photo.  Not sure if that’s standard for suites, but they were much enjoyed.  The brew, NoDa, was a local brand.  Local is good.

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Westward view from my room

The bathroom was clean, and the shower pressure was quite welcoming.  A few different shower products were available, but a toothbrush/toothpaste were absent.

Though I’m not sure if it’s a Le Meridien-only concept, as long as you’re staying two or more nights – no surprises there – you can earn either an f&b (food and beverage) voucher or Starwood Preferred Guest points if you choose not to have housekeeping.  Thumbs up for a rare bit of forward-thinking news, even if it traces its roots to ol’ fashioned bribery.

hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-7I ordered room service the following day, and although there was a bit of confusion with the operator while placing the order, the food came within fifteen minutes.  Quite fast, though the salad was missing the advertised vinaigrette.  That said, I didn’t need it, and the shrimp were delicious.

(hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-5(Apologies for the grainier quality of this photo.)

I was invited to have s’mores and hot chocolate at City Lights, Le Meridien’s rooftop lounge.  Heck, they even cordoned off a whole section for me.  I felt bad, so I had the manager open up the area to the public, and started to share my s’mores with other patrons.  S’mores are always a nice touch.

The views were good, and the sound system did it well, too.  However, I noticed an unpleasant odor either originating from the heat lamps or another source.  Whatever it was, I felt like it was better suited to Greyhound than an otherwise enjoyable hotel lounge.


Throughout my stay, hotel staff were generally helpful, and responsive to my blunt questions: “Where should I go for barbecue?”  “Barbecue?”  “Do you eat barbecue?”

In all, I’d say Le Meridien Charlotte is worth a repeat visit- facilities were well-kept, staff were friendly, and it’s a good spot for those wanting to be quite close to but not in the center of the action.

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Product Review: Primal Kitchen, Part Two

A bit of a nice surprise from the paleo-friendly Primal Kitchen came in the mail yesterday.

I wrote a review about their chipotle mayonnaise, Greek vinaigrette, and dark chocolate almond bar this past May, and then had an unexpected chat with a few Primal Kitchen representatives at the 2016 New York Fancy Food Show.

In addition to another jar of the quality chipotle mayonnaise, what else was in store for me this time?

primalkitchen_ranchdressingAlthough it has been a long spell since ranch dressing made an entrance in one of my meals, Primal Kitchen’s version with avocado oil is fortunately nothing like the flavor I expected.  Sure, it’s a bit creamy, but I mostly tasted citrus and salty notes, as opposed to concentrated lethargy (e.g. try standing up after eating a plate of spaghetti carbonara).  Though, my main concern with most bottle dressings is the fat content, and this one…doesn’t disappoint.

Lately, I’ve just been doing a blend of vinegar, salt, and pepper, but Primal Kitchen’s ranch dressing is not too shabby.

primalkitchen_dark-chocolate_almond primalkitchen_chocolate-hazelnut

Getting into the collagen (which is often considered to be good for one’s skin, nails and joints) bars now, I have two general complaints.  One, there’s a lot of fat in each bar.  Dos, each one is a very chewy snack.

However, I do appreciate that each bar is quite loyal to its name; for instance, a single chocolate hazelnut bar has a generous amount of filberts, err, hazelnuts, there’s a solid amount of protein, ,and they are quite filling.primalkitchen_macadamia_-sea-salt primalkitchen_coconut-cashew_barIn spite of not liking the dark chocolate almond, macadamia sea salt, and chocolate hazelnut bars, I really liked the coconut cashew version, mostly because of the coconut.  Primal Kitchen, if you try a pistachio coconut or Brazil nut coconut bar, count me in as an automatic fan!

Thanks again for giving me some good grub for the holidays, Primal Kitchen.

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(What Was) The Binghamton Ferryboat in Edgewater, New Jersey, USA

It’s not easy, voluntarily going to New Jersey.  But if you’re into history, like me, and strip malls, unlike me, the borough of Edgewater might be a curious day trip from Manhattan.  Move over, bizarre apartment building probably influenced by a random google image search for Kazakhstan, I’m talking about the Binghamton.

the-binghamton-ferryboat-edgewater-new-jersey-usa-2Full disclosure, I vaguely remember walking by the Binghamton – a Hudson River ferryboat constructed in 1905 to transport folks to and fro Barclay St. in Lower Manhattan – back in 2008.  However, I have no photos of it from, possibly because it was hardly in such an inoperable state back then (abandoned stuff rocks).

Ferry service stopped in 1967, and in 1975, after mooring in its current home in Edgewater, the Binghamton was converted into a nightclub and restaurant.  Meanwhile, the boat was added onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, which in fact, does not affect whether or not one can demolish/remove said artifact/property.

Nelson Gross, the owner of Binghamton’s, the name of the aforementioned discotheque, was found mysteriously murdered in 1997; thereafter, a series of misfortune befell the ferryboat.  Binghamton’s closed in 2007, after years of declining profits.  Soon after, lawsuits, arson, and two hurricanes all helped turn the obsolete Binghamton into a paradise for geese, and for shopping center-goers who enjoy skimming rocks.

the-binghamton-ferryboat-edgewater-new-jersey-usa-1For more detailed info, visit this website; simply put, I had to pay tribute to possibly one of the last surviving Hudson River ferryboats…plus, for even more history, check out the location of the Burr-Hamilton duel, in nearby Weehawken.

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Product Review: Mama’s Malizzano and Ajvar (Macedonian Spreads)

Note: In exchange for a review of Mama’s, I received jars of their malizzano and ajvar spreads.

 

On a recent visit to Sarajevo, I gleefully wandered through the aisles of a local supermarket, nostalgic for various Balkan snacks and condiments.  Really, condiments?  For sure…that region has some under-the-radar specialties, which have led me to take lengthy subway trips to various parts of Queens and Brooklyn specifically for something with tomatoes, eggplant and/or hot peppers.

Although I tend to prefer sampling local products, I couldn’t help being tempted by a jar of Mama’s malizzano, or eggplant spread.  (OK, so the container also had English on it.)

Even better, the ingredients were simple (this jar was one that they sent me; however, the one in Sarajevo also had English): mamas-macedonian-spreads-malizzano-and-ajvar-2It may not look like much, but advertising eggplant and hot peppers (fefferoni), in addition to not having added sugar made this too difficult to pass up.  As it turned out, this was easily one of the best, and somehow one of the freshest tasting spreads I have ever tried.  I can think of some good potential competition – Chinese street-side grilled eggplant with garlic and leeks comes to mind first – but I’m glad to know that it can be found in the US.

mamas-macedonian-spreads-malizzano-and-ajvar-1The concept was started by three Macedonian businessman who, upon trying some local appetizers at a restaurant, were inspired to start producing their own line of Balkan condiments as an homage to their mothers.

In addition to the malizzano and ajvar (ay-var) – or red pepper – spreads, they have other items that include sweetened kiwis, watermelon, and figs, baked beans, and gherkins.  As a self-described breadite – shucks, I thought I just made that word up – I’ll be sticking with their delectable savory spreads. Ви благодарам (vi blagodaram/thanks) Macedonia for giving me another reason to visit!

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Do Not Adjust Your Cyan: The Malaysian Food Edition

Golly, every time I post something, it seems as if I should be adding a new category.  But what could that category be for today’s post?  Rice? Botany?  Printers?

By now, we’ve established that I’ll eat almost anything.  That goes for food, too.  In spite of this culinary agnosticism, I still get tickled by some dishes…

ipoh-malaysia-blue-rice-nasi-kerabuThis somewhat unusual – outside of its homeland – meal was discovered at a roadside stall in Ipoh, Malaysia.  Although Ipoh is a Cantonese stronghold, as mentioned above, I like eating edible things, so I stuck with the Burmese, and in this case, Malaysian food.

It’s called nasi kerabu, which literally translates as “rice with raw vegetables/fruits.”  The topping consisted of dried fried coconut and fish…misleading much?

If you’re lucky – in place of the more likely artificial food colorant – the blue color of the ostentatious rice comes from the butterfly pea flower (in Malay, it’s bunga telang), a plant which is also consumed fried, and as a drink.

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Event Review: 2016 New York City Wine and Food Festival

Note: In exchange for an event review of the 2016 New York City Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting, I received one entry ticket.

The 9th annual Food Network/Cooking Channel New York City Wine and Food Festival – the largest of its kind in New York – occurred from October 13-16th at venues throughout Manhattan.  In spite of its grandiose presence, 100% of the net proceeds go to the Food Bank For New York City and the No Kid Hungry® organization.  The NYCWFF was inspired by Miami’s South Beach Wine and Food Festival, which was first held in 2002.

2016-new-york-city-wine-and-food-festival-at-pier-94-1Entry was somewhat chaotic, made worse – I hate to say it this way – by having to wait outside.  What does that mean?  Smokers.

After being corralled into our respective lines, patrons received wristbands with two tear-off portions; one for a gift bag, and another for a wine glass.

2016-new-york-city-wine-and-food-festival-at-pier-94-7White collar Wal-Mart?  Yet, as much as I’d like to, I can’t say that every show in NYC is a mosh pit.

To sum up the show, it was an odd mix of presentations by Food Network/Cooking Channel stars, big brands side-by-side with one-off restaurants and food start-ups, and get sloshed so that you won’t remember you attended the previous day.  Coca-Cola was handing out bottles of their soda, and Delta – the airline, not the faucet company – was present to remind you of how much better food tastes on the ground.

marinara-jarThe nice folks at Victoria gave me a jar of their marinara sauce.

You know what’s good about them, besides their product line?  The ingredients list.  Take the marinara sauce for example; you can look at the label on the photo above, or be glad that whole tomatoes, onions, olive oil, salt, garlic, basil, and spices compose the whole list.  There’s a groovy comparison graphic on their homepage in which you can click on other pasta sauce brands to lament about see what their ingredients are.

Recently, they’ve begun to use avocado oil for some of their products…will have to try that one next.

2016-new-york-city-wine-and-food-festival-at-pier-94-2There were a handful of memorable bites at the New York Wine and Food Festival.  Casa Lever had a nice scallop dish, and another booth offered the polenta and sardine with bread crumbs and pine nuts dish photographed above.  I apologize for not having photos of everything mentioned.

2016-new-york-city-wine-and-food-festival-at-pier-94-3This jackfruit-focused amuse-bouche took me back to my time in Indonesia.  The preparation style of the nangka, or jackfruit – a sweet stew – was the same, though I would’ve gotten a kick seeing “Carolina slaw” on a Jakarta menu.

2016-new-york-city-wine-and-food-festival-at-pier-94-8Earlier in the week, I was invited to a wagyu event at the Institute for Culinary Education.  Wagyu (和牛/ わぎゅう ), translated as Japanese beef, come with individualized identification cards.  That is to say, if you ever wanted to know where – as a buyer – your cow came from/what its diet was/when it made it to the abattoir, you can search online with that cattle’s 10-digit code.

2016-new-york-city-wine-and-food-festival-at-pier-94-5Samsung was one of the main sponsors of the event.  Jumping on that dubious bandwagon were a number of Korean booths, offering samples of fermented foods, seaweed and in this delicious case, kabocha soup.

Korea, perhaps you should concentrate solely on food exports?

2016-new-york-city-wine-and-food-festival-at-pier-94-6(My) winner for greatest brand at the show- Malk.  Check out this The Simpsons clip for reference.

Pretty good, too, and even better, no sugar added.  I’m waiting for the right time to try the chocolate pecan milk.

I can also assure you that I didn’t go hungry that day, though I may have left in a bit of a stupor.  Yep, various liquor brands – not limited to wine – were present throughout the show…

2016-new-york-city-wine-and-food-festival-at-pier-94-4Pisco, mezcal, gin, whiskey, vodka, plenty of wine and beer?  Yep.  But the standout, at least by flavor profile, was the Strega saffron liqueur.  An herbal delight.


Did you make it to the New York City Wine & Food Festival this year?  Is it now on your list for next year?

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Ken-Ken’s (Controversial) Cuttlefish from Singapore

I’m a yuge big fan of seafood.  Anytime of the day, even lunch.  In general, I’ll opt for some grilled octopus or freshly shucked oysters over a slab of cow meat…or at least, alongside said steak.

That said, I don’t generally eat seafood as a portable snack, unless it’s on a skewer or in a fritter.  Japanese convenience stores have me slightly perplexed with their dried anchovies and almonds, and who knows if that‘s really food in those Chinese vacuum-sealed packs.

Though, every now and then, I’ll give it another go.  Enter, Ken-Ken‘s cuttlefish, from Singapore.  Although the taste was rather ho-hum – it was dry and bland – perhaps there’s a reason I don’t quite go for prepackaged sea creatures…

hong-kong-sar-ken-ken-cuttlefish-chewing-gum-of-the-orientalsChewing gum of the orientals–” once consumed, immediately wash your mouth out with soap, or at the very least, brush your teeth.

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