Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thailand Trip 2014

When Doug and I started planning our honeymoon, we knew for sure that we wanted to go somewhere that neither of us had been to before. That left a large swath of Europe out since we've both taken a few trips there separately with not much overlap in countries. Spanish-speaking South America seemed a little too similar somehow to my Guatemala trip to visit Doug a few years ago so that was a no-go too. But a place unlike anywhere either of us had been before? Asia seemed like the answer and after some quick research, we decided Thailand would be the perfect intro.

I have to give Doug major props for planning the majority of our honeymoon. While I spent the months before our wedding thinking about bridesmaid shoes and table rentals, Doug developed our whole itinerary and booked all our lodging. Doug, you're the best!

Similar to the post I did about our Spain trip, here's our itinerary, some general observations about Thailand, and our favorite activities/excursions from the trip. I'll follow that up (I promise!) with posts about what we ate and drank in Thailand and during our short pit stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Bangkok
Day 2: Bangkok
Day 3: Bangkok
Day 4: Bangkok
Day 5: Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Day 6: Chiang Mai
Day 7: Chiang Mai
Day 8: Chiang Mai to Phuket (Karon)
Day 9: Phuket (Karon)
Day 10: Phuket (Karon)
Day 11: Phuket to Ko Lanta
Day 12: Ko Lanta
Day 13: Ko Lanta to Krabi
Day 14: Krabi to Kuala Lumpur
Day 15: Kuala Lumpur

What would we have changed? Our resort in Karon on Phuket was really nice, especially since they upgraded us to a poolside room. But while it was a good change of pace to have a few days of relaxation by the pool and I'm glad we got to experience Patong's nighttime craziness, Ko Lanta's laidback rural vibe was much more our speed than Karon's tacky Russian-filled seaside tourist paradise. Krabi was more of the same (minus the Russians), so looking back we would have swapped a night in Karon for another on Ko Lanta and nixed Krabi altogether for an extra night in Kuala Lumpur.

General Observations

1) Thailand is hot. Like really hot. Somehow when I looked up the weather report the week before we left and saw temps in the 90s, I was unconcerned. I packed 2 hoodies and a jacket plus black skinny jeans to wear on temple days. Wrong. So wrong. The only time I wore a jacket was on the plane and I ended up buying light-weight "genie pants" from a street vendor because the skinnys were not happening. We sweated a lot and drank a ton of bottled water and we made it work- but I think we were both looking forward to Portland's fall weather by the end of the trip.

2) Rick Steves needs to get to Asia ASAP because Lonely Planet sucks. Ok, maybe it doesn't completely suck (Kuala Lumpur's author seemed to have a way better handle on things than Thailand's) but we really missed Rick's walking tours, insights about tourist sights, and food recs. Luckily Doug came across a food blog that was super helpful with street food recommendations, but we did feel like we missed out on some of the significance of a lot of the wots (aka temples) and Buddhist sites that we visited with no Rick to tell us about them.

3) Prepare to be scammed. Doug and I like to think of ourselves as pretty savvy travelers but Thailand really put us to the test. From tuk tuk and shuttle drivers who dropped us off at suit designers and travel agencies before they would take us to our actual destination to what seemed like a city-wide conspiracy in Bangkok to get us to go to the "special one-day only sale" (we liked you, guy running the Leaning Buddha wot and you too, guy from Singapore who told us he used to work at HP), it seemed that no one's friendly or helpful advice or services were actually that. We probably took way too long to learn that anyone who deals with tourists is someone who should not be trusted, with the only exception being people working for excursions like our cooking class or elephant park visit. To be honest, it was a hard lesson to learn because we had been told that the Thai are such friendly people, but it was a lesson that was reinforced over and over again. A bummer for sure, but something that is super important for other travelers to know.

4) Bangkok is the best. A lot of the research we did suggested only spending a couple of days in the city, but Doug ignored that and planned 5 days- and we could have had more. Yes, all the wots and the grand palace did not take long to see, but Thailand's real draw for us was the street food and there was so much to be tasted! We also loved the city's varied public transportation options including the sky train and commuter boats which made it super easy to get around. All in all, we decided it was our second favorite foreign big city after Barcelona and hopefully we'll be back someday.

5) The food is amazing. You've probably already picked up on that, but I'll say it again. Portland has a surprising number of high-quality Thai spots (Pok Pok, Nong's, PaaDee) so we were expecting great things from the motherland and in Bangkok and Chiang Mai especially, she delivered. Stayed tuned for a post about all the most delicious things we ate.

Our Favorite Activities/Excursions:

1) Thai cooking class in Bangkok with Silom Cooking School:
We learned how to make tom yum soup, pad thai, fish cakes, and red curry. Our teacher was very nice and entertaining, the school was spotless, and the food was delicious. We loved it!

Happy Hour Honeys-  Tom Yum Soup from Silom Cooking School in Bangkok

2) Elephant encounter outside Chiang Mai with Elephant Nature Park:
Many places in Thailand focus on trekking aka letting tourist ride elephants through the jungle. While that may seem fun, most if not all of those places do not put the elephants' needs first. That's why we chose to visit Elephant Nature Park instead of going on a trek. The park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center that is currently home to 41 elephants. Most of those elephants have been saved from trekking camps, illegal logging, circuses, and forced breeding camps and many are blind or suffer from abuse-related injuries. At ENP, we helped to feed and bathe the elephants and got to hang out with them as they enjoyed their day roaming the park. So much fun.

3) Snorkeling around the islands:
There are a ton of companies that offer these 4-island snorkeling trips and they're all pretty much the same but we ended up choosing a long boat tour with Green Group. We had a great time snorkeling around Ko Chuek and Ko Maa , exploring the emerald cave on Ko Mook, and enjoying a Thai lunch on the beaches of Ko Ngai.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Portland Restaurant: The Alameda Cafe

What: The Alameda Cafe 
Where: 4641 NE Fremont St
When: Wednesday - Sunday 5 - 10 PM
Honeys Heart: Steamed Mussels 

The Alameda Cafe and I go way back. I ate there with Mimi and Papa as a kid, I bussed tables there in college, I blogged about their happy hour in 2009, but it has since been reborn and deserves a blog revisit in a big way.

The restaurant has been an Alameda neighborhood joint for 30 years- hence the new owners hope to keep the name, but revive the image- but for the last few years it has struggled with it's identity, consistency, and ownership. Cameron Addy, formerly a chef at Ava Gene's and Papa Haydn and owner of Belly has, with partners, purchased the cafe, remodeled the dining room and kitchen, and gave the menu a much needed overhaul. The small, but particular menu has a Pacific Northwest focus with occasional southern influences (Addy's roots).

We had a family dinner there a few weeks ago and left pretty impressed. Mimi opted for the Pan-roasted Halibut ($22) which was arguably the best dish at the table. The generous portion was cooked perfectly with crispy edges and a sauce worth eating in spoonfuls.

Adam and I shared the 40 Day Dry Aged Ribeye (for two- $40) with "twice-baked potato" which were really once baked, once fried, but who cares- they were delicious! The meat was really flavorful, though Adam felt it was a little too fatty making the $40 price tag seem a bit steep. 

Pork Chop ($24), one of the six main dishes to choose from, was my mom's pick. I believe her exact words were "this is the best pork chop I've ever had." I tried it, it was pretty damn good. The pumpkin puree and pear mustard gave it a taste of fall and it, like the fish and steak was perfectly cooked.

A unique option is the Primetime Special which is served every night around 7pm until it is gone, allowing the chef to feature dishes that are best served immediately. The dish and price varies. On this particular night it was a White Lasagna ($14) with homemade pasta, chicken, braised greens, and a white sauce. Definitely a great comfort food.

Of course all of this was accompanied with bottles of wine or, in Adam's case, Manhattans. I started taking pictures too late so you're missing Steamed Mussels ($11) with salsa verde aioli and grilled bread, Roasted Cauliflower Salad ($7), Cheese Sticks ($8) of crispy fried taleggio with apple butter, and Apple Salad ($7).

I'm sure we'll be back as Fremont Street and The Alameda Cafe hold a special place in our hearts. The menu will evolve and I'm waiting for a happy hour (hopefully!), but I'm liking what I see, and taste. I could go for those mussels again soon. So good.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Portland Restaurant: Ken's Artisan Bakery

What: Ken's Artisan Bakery 
Where: 331 NW 21st Ave
When: Monday Night Pizza 5:30 - 9:30pm
Honeys Heart: Fennel Sausage and Onion Pizza (and free bread!)

A few weeks ago, Katie, Doug, Adam, and I checked out PREAM at Ned Ludd as our second Monday pizza night. Keeping this new tradition alive, last week we headed to Ken's Artisan Bakery's Monday Night Pizza.

Ken's Artisan Pizza on SE 28th serves up pizzas nightly, but pizza is only available at the 21st location on Mondays, making it fit perfectly with our "Monday night pizza" theme. We put our names on the list around 7pm and sipped some drinks down the street while we waited.

One theme for these pizza nights is waiting. We were seating around 7:50 and since we had already spent some time with the menu, we were ready to order. We started with a bottle of Cianti ($28) and a Caesar Salad ($8).

The salad was bigger and less bitter than PREAM's. It was definitely less adventurous, but sometimes a classic caesar hits the spot.

For pizzas we went with the Soppressata ($13), Fennel Sausage and Onions ($13), and the Butternut Squash ($12) which we added arugula on top of ($2).

The Fennel Sausage won first prize. It was nicely flavored and not to "fennel-y". Katie isn't typically a fennel fan, but she liked this one too!

The Butternut Squash was the runner up. The flavors were very "fall" and the arugula made this otherwise simple pie more interesting. Adam said he could have used a little more sauce, but I was pleased.

The Soppressata was our least favorite. Not bad, just really spicy. It did say spicy on the menu, but we all appreciate a little heat and weren't worried about it- but we should of have been. It was too hot to really enjoy.

We came for the pizza, but there were some additional perks of Ken's Artisan Bakery's pizza night. First they brought over little shortbread cookies with our bill that were pretty tasty!

They also offer up any of the leftover bread from the day for free, so we both left with a couple slices of leftover pizza and an entire baguette. Keep this in mind if you're looking to do some carb loading for some reason... or you just love bread (ahem, Adam).

How did Ken's compare to PREAM? The pizzas were good- Adam really liked the dough/crusts, and they were little cheaper, but also slightly smaller and more simple. Of our pizza nights so far, I would probably pick PREAM, but Ken's is still a great option and was closer to home.

We have an ongoing list of pizza places to try. Apizza Scholls, Pizza Maria, and Vincente's to name a few. What are your favorites? We'll need more ideas!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Portland Bakery: Farina Bakery

What: Farina Bakery
Where: 1852 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Honeys Heart: Portland's best macarons (for reals)

Writing for AboutFace Magazine has introduced me to a number of amazing Portlanders that I otherwise would have never come in contact with, including my favorite husband and wife architecture/interior design team from Fig and the awesome owners of Viridian Farms. But usually after the interview is completed and the piece is written, contact is pretty much done and I don't hear much, if anything, from my former profile subjects- which is completely understandable.

However, that has not been the case with one of my all-time favorite profile subjects, Laura Farina. I wrote about Laura and her nascent macaron-focused bakery last summer and was struck by her unassuming and thoughtful nature... and her amazingly delicious macarons.

My love for macarons is no secret and so when I was planning my wedding, it was a no-brainer that they would be part of my dessert table. And now a month after the wedding, I think it's safe to say that I've gotten more compliments on Laura's strawberry and raspberry macarons than I have about any other single element of my wedding. The mini raspberry and lemon cake she made for Doug and me to cut into was pretty amazing too.

So obviously, I'm a big supporter of Laura and her pastries and therefore was very excited to hear that the brick and mortar shop that she had been dreaming about when I first spoke with her last April has already become a reality.

Last night Doug, Kelly, Adam, and I drove out to Hawthorne to celebrate Farina Bakery's grand opening. Tomorrow is the shop's official first day, but we got to sample some of the delicious treats that Laura will be offering.

Macarons, of course, were on the menu (lemon was our group's top choice) but the shop will branch out with cakes, muffins, cookies, and other pastries as well. 

Aren't those macaron cakes the cutest things ever? Obsessed.

I can't wait to stop back in and check out the shop once it's in full swing. Congrats, Laura!!

More coverage of Farina Bakery's opening: