With negative wind chills, blizzards and real-feel temperatures in the single digits, something in me longs for warmer climes.
Let's revisit Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Spring Break, circa March 2008.
Our lodgings. The proprietors here were so friendly and gracious. We often had continental breakfast in the mornings - simple toast with marmalade, ham, eggs and sausage - followed by meat stews and rice and beans for supper. Oh, and I can't forget the Mama Juana "on the house" - that potent brew, served in a simple shot glass, was a mixture of rum, red wine and honey soaked over time in a bottle with herbs and tree bark. It is known as an aphrodisiac and has similar effects as Viagra. Yeah.
The lights are pretty.
Bob is another guest who was staying at the Casa Valeria. He was middle-aged, very tall with an athletic build, and, like us, American. Bob was here with his female companion. My dad later spotted him windsurfing at a nearby beach in Cabarate. Because we kept running into him at different locations throughout the DR, we jokingly referred to him as our Waldo, from "Where's Waldo?".
Maria is a sweet Dominican lady who was our waitress at Casa Valeria's restaurant. She had a child around my brother's age (6, then). Though her English was limited, we still chatted with her about family and the Island lifestyle. Her lively chatter and robust laughter echoes in my ear even now.
Sis sips coconut water.
This is my favorite shot of the bunch. Look how refreshing this young coconut looks! See here the smiling pucker of approval from my sister, she of the polka-dot-handbag-carrying variety. And my mom, who's normally a cold-head, is actually (wonder of wonders) shedding her jacket! Crazy.
After nearly shattering our vocals during three hours of intense karaoke, my friend C and I were on the hunt for victuals. Still unable to consume the more fiery offerings of Pocha 32 (notably, the kimchi and gochujang-soaked budae chigae), I chose Gahm Mi Oak for a change. From outside, sparkling white Christmas lights cast a soft glow over the people eagerly eating and chatting away within.
Gahm Mi Oak's taste palate is actually more akin to a hybridized take on Korean cuisine than straight-up Korean BBQ. In fact, Gahm Mi Oak doesn't even sell Gopdol (stone-bowl) Bibimbap, only the cold version, which C and I had. At $14.95, it was one of the less expensive items on the menu, thought it was rather light and not fully satisfying.
The decor is more classy and upscale than traditional Korean restaurants. Faux-stone walls cast a historical landmark feel to the restaurant, like an antique relic culled from an archaeological dig. Landscapes from different cities were laid out side-by-side on the walls, reminding me of the artwork from a hip Italian cafe or chic coffeehouse.
Our waiter was efficient, if a tad smug toward non-Korean customers, which made up about 50% of the clientele. He delivered a large fresh batch of kimchi to our table, then proceeded to chop it up with scissors. I found already on the table a hunk of onions, scallions and fist-sized green Jalapeno peppers encased in lettuce leaves...presumably for eating with meat, if we so desired. Next to these stood a rectangular dish of ssamjang, or an orange-red sauce made of fermented bean curd and red pepper paste. I really enjoyed the crunch and full bite of the kimchi, but I anxiously waited for the rest of the banchan that never came.
Mixed with Gochujang.
The bibimbap itself was pretty standard and scant on beef. We each received a bowl of milky beef broth soup and, at the end, a stick of Lotte chewing gum, which I found funny because it was labeled "Charming."
This isn't really the type of cuisine I dig. I could find better Korean food for cheaper at one of the dozen-odd Korean joints in Ktown. To be fair, I didn't try the meat dishes, but that would blow my wallet (most ran upwards of $23+). I hear the sulongtang is the best dish here.
Gahm Mi Oak was good for a try, but the haughty service put a sour puss on my face. And c'mon - don't be so stingy with the appetizers! I was expecting a full entourage of six or seven small trays of pickled, fermented and spicy appetizers. Didn't happen.
Final consensus: Good kimchi. Portions were on the small side. All things considered, I probably wouldn't go out of my way to make another trip here. Gahm Mi Oak was just OK.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Location: Gahm Mi Oak 43 W 32nd St New York, NY 10001 212.695.4113
Forgive the graininess. These pictures were taken from an old cell phone, circa 2007-08. Some good times...
Sun-dappled Lake. Rindge, NH.
Toah Nipi is one of my favorite retreat centers. I trekked there at least three or four times in college via the big yellow cheese bus (AKA school bus). It was really an oasis away from the grind of city-/student-life. I would throw on my red life vest and go canoeing with a few buddies, or just sit by the quiet beachy area and watch the ripples on the shore.
Everything in slow motion. No cars screeching, horns honking, people yapping on their phones. Not even a Green Peace-er in sight! Hallelujah!
Aya Battles the Giant Flowers.
My friend Aya traveled with me to San Francisco the summer of 2007. Soon after, she visited me in New York, and I took her around all my old haunts. Here, we stroll down Flushing Botanical Gardens and admire the leafy plumage. She tries not to get zapped by the crimson buggers. Yes, we're a little theatrical.
For me, nothing screams "comfort food" like omelets or curry. And when they're together...well, you better watch it because your senses will be knocked out! This dish tastes so homey and good you'll almost forget how you're already full two-thirds of the way in.
Omu Curry ($13) comes with tender slices of beef drizzled on top and chopped up ham in the omelet. It's a lot more filling than I anticipated. The sauce, though, is the best part of all. Bursting with flavor, but not in an overpowering my-mouth-is-so-hot kind of way. Subtle.
Sis dug into the Beef Curry ($11) with aplomb. Look at that hulking mountain of rice! Hiroko's carrots are very soft and sweet.
I could eat this every day. Well, maybe for a week.