Monday, March 24, 2008

US trip report ...

I went to New Orleans for a CiviCRM training. Getting there direct from AKL involved spending a lot of time at LAX. I opted to break the journey in San Francisco (on both directions) primarily to meet a few friends and wrap up some paperwork. On a related note, booking a multi-city trip on the Air NZ web site is pretty much impossible. I tried to use Judy our NZ travel agent to book the tix, but her response seemed to span quite a few days. Finally I just did it online and booked two separate round trip tix ( AKL <-> SFO and SFO <-> New Orleans)

Did not spend too much time in San Francisco. Did have a few good meals though :). Madras Cafe in Sunnyvale served a pretty yummy mysore masala dosa and a filter coffee (does not come close to the one at Mitra Samaj though). An excellent takeout meal from Shalimar (naan, chicken kofta, bhuna ghost and rice). A pretty good seafood meal at a Vietnamese place in South San Jose (at the vietnamese mall on Story Road). Phu preferred to eat at Cha Cha Cha's over Spices, so we ended up there for lunch. Luckily for us his older brother and family were also there. So it did help to have a bigger crowd and get to taste more dishes there. I think I'm done with Cha Cha Cha for the next decade. The sangria is good but not compelling enough to go back. I think we also need to introduce Phu's family to a few more places in the city :)

The New Orleans trip was a bit more hectic than i would have preferred. A combination of jet lag and 12+ hour work days did not really help things. As such our food experience was good but not great. I definitely would want to go back with mari and spend a week in that part of the country. Might not be a bad idea to do a couple of months road trip with mari, maya and pj on one the school holidays (with wireless network cards pretty much omnipresent in the US, its quite easy to be connected anyplace / anytime).

While walking to the group dinner, we stopped at Fiorella's for a quick snack. We split the catfish poboy (above average) and an incredibly awful gumbo. Not a great start to our NO food experience. Next up, was the group dinner at HerbSaint. I was fortunate to be seated next to Sarmeesha who also is a keen foodie. We decided to get the two soups (shrimp bisque and gumbo) and split 3 small plates (spaghetti with some great cheese and tasso on it, crawfish gratin and shrimp and crawfish over grits (my favorite dish)). All 5 dishes were excellent. I also managed to barter some food with dave for a taste of pork belly with side dishes of dirty rice and collard green. That dish did not seem to be as good as our plates. Dave did mention that his arugula salad with beets and cheese was amazingly good. Overall HerbSaint came out with a score of 7.5/10.

We had a quick breakfast of cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde. The coffee was mediocre, the beignet were excellent (according to beignet expert dave). We did find a cafe with pretty good coffee, envie, on decatur street. So the next couple of days we had our coffee there.

Our two sandwich lunches were quite bad, so I will not mention the places here. Suffice to say, dont eat in the central business district of New Orleans. We were a bit disappointed that the line at Mother's was way too long, and hence with a sad heart skipped it. I also had lunch with the US PIRG folks at Casamentos. We had some raw oysters, an oyster loaf (basically a fried oyster sandwich) and a seafood platter. Most of the food was fried (good frying technique, not too greasy), but i do think that all fried food tastes quite good. You cannot judge a place on frying technique alone, so i'll avoid rating it :)

The next night we had dinner at Coops. We shared the jalapeno's stuffed with crawfish (mediocre), 2 pieces fried chicken (good) with rabbit jambalaya (mediocre, a bit too sweet for my taste) and an excellent shrimp etoufee. Unfortunately they had run out of mint (and hence mojitos), so i settled for a decent spicy bloody mary. Overall coop gets a 6/10

We had an excellent training session (in our opinion, need to get feedback from the folks who attended the training!), so we decided to celebrate with a good dinner. We lucked out and got a reservation at our first choice Brigsten's. So off we went. The appetizers seems to be a bit more interesting than the main courses, so we decided to split 3 appetizers and the seafood platter. The appetizers we had were: fried catfish (excellent), crawfish (good) and shrimp etoufee (excellent sauce). The seafood platter had a great jambalaya, and an excellent shrimp with pernod sauce. The rest of the platter (oysters and fish) was mediocre. The service was great and overall i'd give it an 8/10

New Orleans is definitely an interesting place to visit. Its a super touristy town, but also a bit poor compared to some of the other cities I've seen in the US. I suspect this was true even before Katrina and the neighbourhoods we walked thru (quarter, marigny, garden district), most blocks had a mixture of run down homes and good homes. It does seem quite well integrated racially and ethnically.

some good news and bad news ..

The good news is that the both the kids got into San Francisco School in the city. The bad news is we needed to make a decision and figure out some long term plans. Most of you who know us, realize that we like to avoid making any long term plans, but in this case some quick decisions had to be made. They give you a week to decide. Mari and I had an informal agreement that if the kids do get into a school that we like (sf school, live oak and friends school met that criteria) we'd head back to the US.

So we are off to the US for good in September. I'm a bit sad since we do enjoy living in NZ and have a great circle of friends. I really like our work and play schedule and the amount of time we spend with each other as a family. The less traffic / population density and close access to all the things we like doing make it a great place to live. As with everything in life, there are pros and cons with everything. Will be interesting to see how we react to life back in the US for the first few months.

This also means that if you are planning to visit us in NZ, you better do so NOW :). The NZ winter starts in may/june so the earlier the better. We plan to do a fair amount of travelling and seeing a few places down under before we head back. Some of the places we'd like to visit are queenstown, wanaka and southland in the south island, taranaki, gisborne and coromandel in the north island. We'll also try to visit australia (melbourne, tasmania) and potentially stop over in some islands (fiji, tonga, tahiti) on our return trip home.

Seems like we'll switch our travel schedule and go to places when the kids have summer vacation. I'm currently thinking it might be a good idea to spend time in a different country every summer for the next 8-10 years (assuming the kids still like hanging out with us!). Some countries we'd love to visit and stay in include South America (Argentina or Costa Rica), China and Japan.

Quick trip back to San Francisco

I'm headed back to San Francisco (actually at auckland airport / in mid flight) while writing this for a quick business trip. Dave and myself are doing a CiviCRM training in New Orleans, so i'll be spending most of my time there. This is the first multi-day trip in a long time without kids, and it already feels a bit strange. I did the same routine we did with the kids the last time we went via AKL airport. Bought a couple of postcards and stamps from Whitcoull's and sent them to the kids in Nelson. I'll try to do the same from the other two cities i visit on this trip. I was a bit sad on the long flight back and did miss playing and chatting with the kids. Since this was a business trip, I flew premium economy. For the additional cost, this is definitely worth avoiding. The food is relatively good (they serve you business class meals), BUT the seats are just a wee bit better than economy. The number of seats per row is the same as economy, so simple math does dictate that you will not get a lot more space. The seats do not recline a lot more either. Would have been so much better if they had traded off the food and seats. Seems like a scam of the highest order :( On the return trip, I did manage to get a decent rest. I was a bit stupid and did not call up and get a window seat ahead of time.

New Orleans seems to be a food mecca. The number of good places to eat seems to be mind boggling. Need to spend less time at work and more time walking and eating around the city. Our good friend Lara seems to know all the good places there. So we've got a long potential list of candidates. ChowHound is quite good to do research also. Between the two, i think i can spend at least a month eating and walking around New Orleans. More food reports as I visit those places.

We've ordered a lot of toys and games from amazon. Things in the US are significantly cheaper than NZ. A card game that cost us NZD 25, costs USD 8 at amazon. The price differential seems crazy and stupid. Since I'm traveling along and light, I figure I can pack a couple of bags filled with toys (and some food too!)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bouterey's Restaurant

After a 2+ hour hike up the Richmond hills, Kath and I showed up at Bouterey's. We were hungry. The restaurant was full on a Saturday night. The other diners were dressed nicely and more than casual and we were not. Thank you Bouterey's for not having a dress code.

I was looking forward to dessert so I only ordered a main dish. Kath ordered the curry bread and vegetable side. The very knowledgeable waitress reccomended the bread and said it was amazing. She wasn't kidding about the bread. It was amazing. We ate all but one slice which Kath asked to pack for home. Somehow it didn't get in the doggie bag. Every bite of the curry bread tasted like it was dipped in curry. Yumm. I asked if I would be able to order the bread, but it's made to order so it depends on how many reservations they get on the day, etc., but worth a try to call and request.

On to the main course. Kath ordered the monk fish which she said was very tasty and cooked well. They stacked the fish and layered it with vegetables, salad, and a few ravioli's.

I ordered the vegetarian - a tower layered with beetroot, pumpkin ravioli, and mushroom. Very good, tasty, special sauce. Eating the bread along with the meal made it a satisfying and delicious meal. The portion was enough that I had room for my own dessert.

I ordered the vanila creme brulee with ice cream. It was good. Sweet enough and rich enough for my sweet tooth. I wish I could've had more than a one spoonfull of ice cream. Kath ordered the chocolate souffle and fondant. It was chocolate and more chocolate of very good quality chocolate.

We left the restaurant feeling not stuffed but eating a very tasty delicious food.

Since I was making sure I'd have room for dessert, I didn't get a chance to try the starters. I'd definitely want to go back and have a couple starters for my main meal next time.

Bouterey's is on my restaurant list, just wish it could be on my lunch list as well.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Life back in Nelson ...

So its been a bit more than 3 weeks since we returned from our trip. It is indeed very nice and relaxing to stay in the same place for some time. Living out of a suitcase gets tiring after a couple of months :)

We've been having a lot of fun the past few weeks. The kids have gotten back into their regular schedule and so have the parents. The kids have made great strides in some outdoor sports. They are both now getting fairly comfortable in the water and can swim a few strokes without floats. We've been hitting the pool at least 4 times a week and have been spending 30-45 minutes or so on each visit. Not sure where the kids get their energy from, but i'm exhausted at the end of the day :) Its still summer here (not that u can tell from the temperature sometimes), so it does not get dark till 8:30 pm or so. We typically go to the pool after an early dinner (6:00 pm), but late enough so that we can use the hydropool (which is a super warm training pool). Its a lot of fun to swim with the kids and see them learn and figure out stuff. Maya right now is experiment with her back float and attempting to do underwater flips. PJ, as always is willing to jump in the deep end and figure out things in real time. As with most things, they each have a very different approach to how they learn and grasp things.

In other news, maya decided it was time for the training wheels to come off. Saturday was the day of the big no-training wheels ride. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, so we went swimming instead!. Sunday turned out to be a great day, so off we went to Neale Park and the Railway Reserve Bike Trail. mari taught maya how to just use her legs to kick off and get the balance feel. I'm a bit sad that we did not hear about the Wooden Bikes at a earlier stage (would have made things a bit easier). Maya did get a quick feel for the balance and pretty soon she was pedalling with mari / me running behind her holding her up for balance (hard work!). We did this for an hour or so, and quite a few times let go and she pedalled quite nicely. So looks like she'll be up and pedalling away in the next few weeks. Am looking forward to doing the railway reserve ride with her and also the ride along tasman bay (near the airport)

After a short afternoon break, we headed back to the pool for another swim session. We were joined by zack/maddy/chris so the kids had an extra long pool session. We returned home quite tired and rested for a bit. After dinner the kids still seemed to be a bit energetic, so we marched them up the famous tamaki st stairs. The kids managed to get up 250 or so steps before they wanted to head back down. All in all not a bad sunday :)