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About astrid

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    Northern Virginia
  1. Dining at Airports

    PS - guide for ATL http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/11/best-food-atlanta-atl-hartsfield-jackson-airport.html#comments-248406
  2. Dining at Airports

    ATL - had a long-ish layover in Atlanta and tried Varasano's Pizzeria and One Flew South. One Flew South is kinda pricy but the food is indeed very good for airport food. Fresh ingredients and well prepared. Having said that, I did like Varasano's better. Good thin crust pizza and good salumi board, not cheap but priced at a level commensurate to the quality/quantity of food.
  3. Belize

    Just back from Belize after 3 nights in Caye Caulker, 2 nights in San Pedro, and 5 nights in San Ignacio (do not stay overnight in Belize City - think really rough parts of Detroit or Baltimore). Overall we had a really good trip. Did the Blue Hole flyover, full day and half day snorkeling on Caye Caulker, snorkeling around Mexico Rocks in San Pedro, Mayan sites (Caracol/Tikal/Cahal Pech/Xunantunich), ATM cave, cave tubing, and finished off with a pontoon ride to see 3 cool waterfalls. We were in the middle of conch and lobster season, so I ordered conch cevich at every opportunity. Fresh conch is delicious and totally different from the rubbery conch you might get in a Korean/Chinese supermarket. It's sweet with a slight chew and really addicting, maybe like the meaty part of a goeduck clam but sweeter. The lobsters are good grilled. Make sure to ask that the conch and lobster were caught the same day - there's a huge drop-off in flavor/texture if it's not fresh. In Caye Caulker we ate at: Chef Kareem's UnBelizeable Lunch - good atmospheric location and good inexpensive food, you will be waiting a long time for the food but that's just a chance to soak up the charms of this roadstand location. The Little Kitchen - it's in a slightly iffy portion of CC, so probably not for everyone. But we felt pretty safe in CC and it was fine. The food was very good but took a long time to get out of the kitchen. Cake Lady - I didn't notice her Tripadvisor reputation until after I took a chance and bought a rum cake and a coconut pie from her. They were good, not amazing as proclaimed by Tripadvisor, but really hits the spot when you want something sweet. La Cubana - My parents went there and got a big grilled lobster and raved about it. But you can get good grilled lobster anywhere in CC, just make sure it's freshly caught. Fantasy Dining Wine N'Dine - we ended up eating there twice because they were open during the awkward break between lunch and dinner and were close to the diving/snorkeling shops. I thought the food was quite good and they made a particularly good version of conch ceviche (we didn't have time to try the 2 purportedly best cevich places on CC). In San Pedro we ate at: Waruguma - blew the other out of the water for quality and value. The food was good and not explicitly catered to direct from North America tastes. We probably would have eaten all our meals here, if we realized how much better it was compared to everything else we tried on San Pedro. Red Ginger - overall pretty good and not too pricy, but a little generic. We ate here for lunch since it was the onsite restaurant for our hotel (The Phoenix, which was REALLY NICE). Elvi's Kitchen - very much catering to direct from North America tastes. Not bad per se and the fried chicken was very very good. It's okay, but Waruguma is just much better. Caramba! Restaurant - it was okay and close to our hotel. But it was expensive for what we got (about 2X the price of waruguma for seafood), our lobster was off (definitely wasn't caught that day and the meat was starting to get chaulky) and their conch ceviche was weird tasting (fresh but very poorly seasoned). In San Ignacio we ate at: Hode's - I liked the fried chicken here and soursop drink, my parents were less thrilled with their fried seafood. It's a bit of a mixed bag. It's relatively cheap Guava Limb - definite miss, go here if you want mediocre and way overpriced tourist food. Their conch cevich was the only one that used less than fresh conch. Their fried food had a hard greasy shell. Should have trusted our instincts and stayed away. Erva's - pretty good and authenic, I think the kitchen isn't as good as some of the others in terms of technique but the food tasted good and fresh. Random Chinese restaurant next to the Western HWY near Cahal Pech - we got chicken and fries takeouts and it was pretty good and cheap (6 BZD each). For tours - I liked French Angel in Caye Caulker a lot for snorkeling, their guides are very experienced. We took snorkeling tours with Stressless and Chuck & Robbie's as well, they were fine but French Angel's guides were much better. For ATM and Caracol, we went with Luis of KaWiil Tours (he usually just does ATM tours but luckily guided us for Caracol) and highly highly recommend him. He's very knowledgable, engaging, and thorough, and you'll spend a lot of time onsite with him. For both tours, we probably spent 1+ hours more time on site than the other groups. He didn't just point out items of interest, but told you the archeology and history behind the items, their symbolism, etc. Our guides for Xunantunich (Blue Morpho) and Tikal (Inland Xplorer) were okay, but seeing Caracol with Luis was a much more enjoyable experience. ATM is really cool and worthwhile - you have to be physically fit enough to walk in wet clothing for 5 hours, do short swims in cool (but not cold) water and climb unprotected sections, but it's worth it. We flew the Blue Hole with Javier's Flying Service and had a great experience - you need clear sunny weather to make the flying worthwhile. We got that and it's just beautiful. Jungle Splash pontoon ride was nice, especially if you could book for just your group. Robert takes you really close to 3 beautiful waterfalls and see the jungle and wildlife. Final note - don't rent a car - some of the roads are pretty rough and for most of the sites, you will want a good guide.
  4. Sun Noodles Ramen Pack

    Hana Market has them, so do most Korean supermarkets. I found them in my local Wegmans. Look for them in the frozen foods displays, next to Japanese dumplings and mentaiko.
  5. Ramen

    Most restaurant ramen I've had has been noticeably less good than what I can make with a Sun Noodles ramen pack, for quality of noodles and broth. Dump in a little chopped veggies, butter, Asian chili paste and some carnitas to finish. Daikaya, Haikan, and late lamented Crane and Turtle were the only places that consistently turned out ramen that wowed me. Some of the worst restaurant ramen were had at otherwise good "new American" restaurants that really strayed out their lane, with weirdly seasoned and luke warm broth and mushy noodles (often not even proper ramen noodle) that cost $20+. +1, who is not of Asian heritage, often comments that these atrocities are "not bad", making me wonder if most non-Asians just don't notice noodle texture as much. Though...I hated Momofuku's ramen and Yona's ramen (from when Yona was still helmed by Yona) too.
  6. Tom Sietsema's Online Chat

    Yeah, being Chinese myself, I can interpret the waiter as a friendly praise, kids generally pick at food and get bored long before the end of the meal, so the waiter is probably saying good on him that he ate a lot, like the man of the house. But humor and complements sometimes don't translate well across cultures. And yes, that recent incident probably have an inexperienced waiter who didn't get a clue and stop the first time and inexperienced diners who didn't know how to shut down in unwelcomed conversation. Though, a ton more people complain about being surprised by portion size on Sietsma's chats, so the waiter was probably trying to error on the side of caution. I wonder if the waiter followed up repeatedly precisely because the customers were thin and fitted the profile of people who typically complain about waitrons misleading them regarding portions. In any case, weird to characterize this as fat shaming if they were actually so confident in their fitness. Maybe they should get a social interaction business card printed out with all their possible triggers listed ( with blank slots added so they can pencil more in as they discover new triggers), so they can hand it to all the retail clerks and waitrons that they might accidentally have uncomfortable conversations with. (Yes, I know I am being mean now by American standards, but I bet most Chinese people would find my suggestion funny).
  7. Tom Sietsema's Online Chat

    Sietsma and his devotees are so over the top clueless and smugly self congratulatory that I read his chats purely for entertainment value.
  8. Tom Sietsema's Online Chat

    It's possible that the waitron was really over the top, but I suspect it's snowflakes customers (it can happen in any age bracket) over interpreting an innocent effort to warn them that a lot of food is coming. We regularly order 2-3x more food than we look like we can eat, and never gotten more grief than a friendly warning that a lot of food is coming. Okay, and being congratulated when we clean off our many plates at the end of the meal, I guess some people may find those comments offensive.
  9. National Chains

    They all order their American menu sauces from the same wholesalers, in 5 gallon buckets.
  10. National Chains

    Costco is currently selling Red Lobster biscuit mix. I went through a box and had okay results, but you can probably have amazing results with any biscuit mix or recipe, if you add a lot of shredded cheese to the batter and brush the top with a lot of butter.
  11. Trader Joe's, 16 Area Locations

    TJ's has amarena cherries for $3.99 a jar! They are as good as the stuff I occasionally order off of Amazon for 4-5 times as much. Our checkout clerk said that they are a seasonal item, so I will probably run back to buy more.
  12. Sorry to hear about the not so great service. In our experience, it's above average for fine dining and generally friendly, though not comparable to Kinship or Little Serow. It's our favorite easy to get into DC restaurant and a natural choice before a show at the 930 Club. Haikan across the street is great too, Daikaya level noodles without the line.
  13. Ate there this weekend, before a nerve shredding visit to IKEA. I love the chicken, very flavorful and juicy with a light batter. In my opinion this is the best version of traditional southern fried chicken that I have ever had. Still like Himitsu's non traditional fried chicken better, but good luck getting into Himitsu these days with less than 1 hour wait. Based on sampling at a not busy time, Gus seems highly favored by UMCP students of Korean extraction.
  14. Belize

    Though I just realized that I can solve my 2 caye related dilemmas with 1 solution. Stay on Caye Caulker in an Airbnb, then stay at the Phoenix for 2 nights, and rest of the time in San Ignacio. It looks like there are regular water taxis between Caulker and Ambergris, so I should visit both!
  15. Belize

    (What lucky children you have!) Thanks for recommendations and feedback on your trip! Our current, still evolving, plan is to fly into Belize City, spend the first 5 days on a caye doing snorkeling cruises and maybe beginner scuba if there's a suitable option. Then pick up a rental car at the airport and drive to San Ignacio for the remaining 5 days, seeing ATM, cave tubing, Tikal, and hopefully drive to 3-5 other major Mayan sites in Belize. Then return the car at the airport and fly out. For lodging, we're currently looking mostly at Airbnb options since they're cheaper and may be more suitable for a party of 4 adults. But we are also willing to consider lodges and hotels if they add value to the stay. Are there safety / environmental / convenience factors that made staying at a lodge / hotel a better option? Or is it mostly a matter of amenities and personal preference? We were trying to decide between San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) and Caye Caulker. Currently leaning towards Caye Caulker because it's somewhat cheaper, walkable, and appears to have better beach access. However, I've read that Caye Caulker doesn't have as many snorkel/dive excursion operators, so maybe staying on Ambergris would be a better choice. Was there any factors that made you decide on Ambergris Caye? The Phoenix is posting rates that are kinda on the extreme high end of our budget (currently mostly looking at well rated 2 bedrooms in the $100-200 per night range, the Phoenix has a 2-bedroom for $400 per night and appear to be really well reviewed), so I'm...intrigued. We're thinking about renting a car and driving to all the Mayan sites in Belize, and hire guides on site. The thinking goes that it's likely to be cheaper for 4 people, let's us set our own pace, and hopefully help to avoid large tour groups. Based on what you observed, do you think its reasonable to do independent traveling in Belize? For example, are the roads in pretty good condition and well signed? Do people drive like Italians or the Mainland Chinese? I think that we would do a San Ignacio based guided tour for Tikal for logistics and safety reasons, but what I read so far makes car based tourism in Belize sound straight forward. Again, thanks so much for your detailed feedback on Belize. Definitely will look into Belize Culture Tours and hopefully will be able to write my own trip report in about a month!