Airline Meals, Part Eight, Modern Art, Part One?

Since my first flight with them in 2002, Japan Airlines has consistently been one of the more tolerable airlines to choose.  OK, so I find their flight attendants a wee bit too obsequious with Japanese passengers, their in-flight announcements (in Japanese) can last as long as domestic Japanese flights, and some of their meal choices are questionable if not unwelcome. Then again, it could be worse.

Or, it could be somewhere in the middle:

I asked a friend what he thought this was, and he said “mint.”  For context, many New York-area diners used to have round mints – sometimes colored white, other times multicolored – at the register.  Creative response, but with chopsticks and clear broth present, very far off.

Wouldn’t you know it, it’s  fishball soupproudly created by a 3D printer?  Would it be any tackier if it looked like a rainbow?

This was part of an airline art class airline meal on a flight from Tokyo to Dallas.  Oh, what should I say next?  Book a ticket today!

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Posted in Aviation, East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Japan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New York Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan

Disclaimer: Disclaimer: In `exchange for lunch at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan, I am writing this review.

It seems I can’t get enough of this hotel.  Could part of that be because I once made Bill Murray laugh by uttering a Japanese line from the bonus section of the Lost in Translation DVD?  Yes.  And there goes the first and last name drop in BuildingMyBento history.

One of these days, I’ll even stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

Until then, I’ll be very content merely eating there.  In May, it was a nice Japanese meal at Kozue, as well as a couple of drinks at the New York Bar.  This time, after a short stopover on my way home from Jeddah, we’re going to look at the delectable New York Grill.

Two cool aspects about the New York Grill is that you can peer through its open kitchen and floor-to-ceiling wine cellar while walking to the main dining room.  There are even a few seats at the kitchen, though I’m quite partial to those right next to the high windows overlooking the endless Tokyo sprawl. After all, it’s on the 52nd floor.

Park Hyatt Tokyo, New York Grill & Bar– Not Quite the Same View, But…

Lunch is served daily from 11:30 to 14:30, and dinner runs daily from 17:30 to 22:00.  For lunch only, you order the mains á la carte, but appetizers and dessert are served buffet-style.  Also, shorts are permitted during lunchtime, but not at dinner.

Having been denied a lunch buffet on an earlier trip to Jakarta, I was prepared for a quality spread at the New York Grill.

They did not disappoint.

Taken from the Dessert Side, Looking Towards the Appetizers Side…Unless You’re in the Dessert First Category.

The buffet at first glance, looked small and easy to maneuver.  More importantly, however, is that the food tastes fresh and good…in general, I have mostly positive things to say about it.  Even though the New York Grill is mostly influenced by Western European and American cuisines, the kitchen takes a page from Japanese culinary traditions, too, using seasonal and local ingredients where possible.

The appetizers section had salad, sliced fish and meats, a variety of vegetables and condiments, homemade ricotta, and seafood.

Clockwise from 12:00, shrimp, guacamole, homemade ricotta, polychromatic tomatoes, pesto, garlicky eggplant, and seafood salad

Leafy greens, pastrami, katsuo, smoked salmon, and kabocha

Almost as soon as I was seated by the attentive and courteous waitstaff, I got up again to go to the buffet.  In other words, I didn’t even see them place the freshly baked olive bread on the table.  Oh, and that Hokkaido Okoppe Butter is shipped daily to the Park Hyatt Tokyo.  It’s darn good.

Eventually, I took a break from the buffet, and visited the main dish portion of the menu.  Yes, yes, I’m sure the chicken, seafood, and pork loin all would have been equally delicious, but I zoomed right in on a half-half: that is, half Kobe beef, half Sendai beef, served with garlic mashed potatoes and red wine sauce:

It was my first time trying both the Kobe and Sendai steaks, and they certainly lived up to their reputations.  I might actually give the nod to the Sendai cut (on the left), because it wasn’t quite as oily.  They didn’t need the red wine treatment either; they tasted excellent without the reduction.  If only a sampler platter of steak was available, I…still wouldn’t be hungry today.

After eating half of my weight in vegetables and beef, I elected to fill in the other half with dessert.  Given that much of Japan is inching closer towards autumn, plums and grapes figured prominently in the pies.  Other delightful sweets included passion fruit and vanilla custards, a decadent chocolate cake, and doughnut balls with whipped cream.  Without hyperbole, I was pleasantly full long before getting to most of the plate, but the taste and not-so-overpowering sweetness easily sustained my enthusiasm.

Lots of good food, a clean and welcoming atmosphere, and great views, but…who’s the chef behind the scenes?

Beginning in 2003, Hamburg, Germany-bred Chef Steffan Heerdt started cultivating his cooking skills at Park Hyatt Hamburg, before stints at the Park Hyatt Zurich and Park Hyatt Seoul.  He has been with the Park Hyatt Tokyo since December 2016.


I’d return to the New York Grill without question, save for the fact that they have a New York Yankees mural in the main dining room (c’mon, the Mets are the NY team).  Now, if they could whip up an eel and Sendai beef surf and turf for me next time…

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Restaurant Review: Bengawan, Keraton at the Plaza, Jakarta, Indonesia

Disclaimer: In exchange for this restaurant review, I received one lunch at Bengawan, located on the 7th floor of the Keraton at the Plaza hotel, in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Though the disappointing aspects were few and/or trivial, before getting into the details, I should mention that the hotel website led me to believe that Bengawan offered a lunch buffet:

You are invited to an indulgent fine dining experience for breakfast, lunch and dinner, where our splendid buffet spread awaits.

However, the restaurant’s website – which was not the first search engine result – ultimately had the correct description:

The a la carte menu is available on:

  • Monday to Friday from 12pm to 6pm for lunch
  • Monday to Sunday from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner

If you are in the mood for a buffet, it is available for breakfast, on Sundays for brunch, and for catered parties, which are a common occurrence at Bengawan.


With that riveting backstory out of the way, let’s move on to the foodKhika, the Director of Marketing Communications at the Keraton at the Plaza, was very attentive and helpful in planning my review, as well as in handling my request to change the date and restaurant.

Named after a river in the central Javanese city of Solo (Surakarta), Bengawan’s design aesthetic is almost entirely dissimilar from that of the rest of the hotel.  The lobby is sleek and dark, with minimalist touches throughout.  However, I felt that Bengawan had more of a South Florida late 80s/early 90s feel.  As noted earlier in the post, this is a trivial issue, because the design of the chairs and tables has virtually nothing to do with the taste of the food.

In spite of the anachronistic restaurant motif, the ceiling was high, the windows were wide, and the atmosphere was bright and airy.

Unless you’re arriving by car at the hotel lobby (where the elevators to the restaurant are located), you’ll have to walk through the Plaza Indonesia (hence, Keraton at the Plaza) mall.  It’s not the easiest place to access, but I think that’s a positive in this case, as it’s thus a quieter setting.  Bonus: even though one might think the views aren’t too great merely from the 7th floor, they’re actually cool:

to think these twin towers used to be the E’X mall…this is the view north from Bengawan

Instead of eating breakfast that day, once I received confirmation that it wouldn’t be a buffet, I decided to check out the menu.

Bengawan serves a mix of Western, Indonesian, and East/Southeast Asian dishes, cocktails, mocktails, and smoothies.  Admittedly, there was one specific item that immediately caught my attention, called rendang pizza:

Traditional “Padang” beef stewed in coconut milk and spices, tomato sauce, mozzarella and crispy fried onion.

Whaaaat?!  Rendang, one of my favorite (of many) Indonesian foods, combined with pizza, the one meal I crave the most while away from home.  Naturally, it was a must, but being familiar with Indonesian dairy and baked goods, I was incredulous at first.

Still, I have to give the chef credit for this – dare I say – fusion of cuisines.  The rendang tasted just right, with the coconut milk making a not so overpowering appearance, and the cheese and dough were baked for just the right amount of time.

Thankfully, Bengawan chose the right pizza path (thin crust New York-style, not the all dough-no substance Chicago-style).

Wow, I couldn’t wait to talk about the pizza, completely ignoring the fact that the waiter provided bread upon being seated.

As I alluded to above, it’s not easy finding a good Western bakery in Jakarta.  Even the most harmless-looking baguette or brioche has a good chance of being stuffed with meat floss, custard, or who knows what else.  Indeed, I’d give most of the bread basket a pass, save for the quality multigrain roll, and the grissini, if only for their genuine crunch.

I was in the mood for a smoothie, so Khika suggested one with coconut, green chia seeds, kale, bok choi, spinach, banana, and pineapple.  Darn good choice, too.

Realizing that it had been a few days since I had raw vegetables, I…took the easy way out and went with a Caprese salad, made with mozzarella, tomatoes, and in this case, mesclun.

The salad tasted fresh, the tomatoes were juicy, and the vinaigrette wasn’t too acidic.  Although the mozzarella had a rather subtle flavor, it was infinitely better than this local brand.  While we’re still on this topic, I’ll add that the presentation of each dish was appealing; in particular the salad plate was clean-looking and neatly prepared.

This plate was the main event.  Supposedly invented only in 1970 on the island of Lombok (right next to Bali, to the east), ayam taliwang consists of grilled and fried chicken seasoned with garlic, chilies, and terasi, or shrimp paste.  Inside of the banana leaf next to the ayam (chicken) is steamed rice.  The two sambal, or chili sauces, on the bottom of the picture are red chili and garlic sauce on the left, and beberuk terong, or eggplant chili paste on the right.

Compliments to the chef for this one, too.  I don’t typically order bones when I’m in a restaurant, but I almost wanted to eat the whole darn thing, considering how flavorful the chicken was.  The sambal were also addictive, so I started putting them on the rendang pizza.


Bengawan clearly has some good food and an easygoing setting to offer patrons, but its service could use a bit of a boost.  The waiter reeked of kretek, or clove cigarettes, and wasn’t terribly knowledgeable about my menu choices.  That said, I’m adventurous with food, and enjoyed almost every morsel at Bengawan, so I’d try a few different items next time.  Should you find yourself hungrily wandering the halls of Plaza Indonesia, you may want to know that:

The a la carte menu is available:

  • Mondays to Fridays from 12pm to 6pm for lunch
  • Mondays to Sundays from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Indonesia, Languages, restaurant review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

پولۇ Polo (Xinjiang, China)

Ürümqi- Polo 1From the portion size, you can tell they knew I was coming.  From the reused cooking oil, you can tell I knew what I was getting into.

I consumed this tasty polo, better known to much of the world as mutton pilaf, at a hole-in-the-wall behind a cement truck in Ürümqi, Xinjiang, China.  I got on a bus hoping to get to one of the train stations, and I ended up in a construction zone that made you wish you were running a marathon on a Beijing ring road.

Ordinarily, I’d shy away from this unctuous clump of lukewarm rice with carrots and mutton, but 手抓饭 shǒuzhuā​fàn “rice seized with your hands” (or  炸饭zháfàn “exploded rice”) can count Xinjiang as one of its ancestral homes.  At Xinjiang restaurants in Shenzhen, the Chinese city where I’ve spent the most time, it’s often extremely oily and served at places that won’t give you change for ten kuai (~US$1.64 these days)-  who am I kidding, that’s everywhere.  It’s also sweet, for the carrots impart a flavor that I prefer to reserve for dessert.

Ürümqi- Polo 2That’s the actual serving size.  Oh LOOK, more carrots, but those were a nice, vinegary side dish this time.  Tepid tea made with the freshest tap water, a table that looks like Ocean Drive in Miami and a spoon used by all of Xinjiang finish off the autumnal meal.  Judging only by that quintessential Uyghur lunch, I wouldn’t be loathe to order it again.

How does polo sound to you?

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Taiwan, ever UNinvited

Taiwan, or the Republic of China had served as the sole representative of “China” since the founding of the United Nations in 1945.  They were finally expelled in favor of growing international support for the mainland, or the People’s Republic of China, on October 25, 1971.  Though communism was an early contributing factor as to why the PRC was not given a seat at the U.N. by other prominent countries, China gradually won over Western leaders by not being the Soviet Union.

Though this photo was taken in 2005 – back when Taipei‘s main airport was still called Chiang Kai-Shek International, (named for the strongman generalissimo of Taiwan who fought against Mao Zedong), I’m guessing this issue could be raised again under Taiwan’s current “we’re already independent” president, 蔡英文. 

Regardless of your opinion of the effectiveness of the UN, it’s a rather unique advertisement, no?

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Ethiopian Chechebsa

Addis Ababa - ChechebsaChechebsa, or kita firfir, is a nauseatingly filling breakfast item from Ethiopia.  In one sitting, I’ve eaten six slices of a New York (pizza) pie in a sitting, obscene amounts of cheap sushi and half of a lemon- don’t be envious, even though the seat cushions were – but finishing a bowl of this, nay even 3/4 of a bowl proved insurmountable.

So, get to the point: the main ingredients are kita, a wheat bread similar to chappati that also contains the Ethiopian spice blend berbere, and niter kibbe, or clarified butter.  It’s all fried, then chopped up and placed in front of unsuspecting ferenji looking to waste their vacation time writhing in agony in bed instead of touring the sites of Addis Ababa.  Bonus: For all of those mysophobic readers, this is a rare dish from that part of the world that you don’t need to enjoy with your hands.  You know, the bowl and spoon were washed in the local human spray, but at least your hands catch a break.

Without honey, I would’ve been in much more trouble.  As a dessert in small quantities, it’s nice.  Rich, but agreeable.


It’s a dessert!

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Separate Checks

During my last visit to Japan, I finally tried the Kani Douraku (かに道楽) restaurant chain, that time in Kyoto.  They specialize in crab, or the kani in the Kani Douraku name.

Admittedly, I quite enjoyed the meal, though I couldn’t help but notice something stand out on the check:

The first line reads あかり男性.  The word あかり (akari) is harmless enough, and means “light” or “glow.”  The second, 男性 (dansei) however can be translated as “male,” or “men’s.”  Indeed, when the waitress took our order, she asked which of the three of us (two males, one female) would be eating the akari course.  Same price, of course.

Ladies, if you’re in the mood for Kani Douraku, and you have a big appetite, hire a man to order for you.  Or, bring this post to the waitstaff’s attention.

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Human Nature, Japan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment