Beijing & Hong Kong 2012

We had a fabulous trip to Beijing and Hong Kong!  In Beijing, we finally got a chance to see the renovated National Museum.  Jim and I had last seen it in 1987, and the museum now has more than 5,000 square feet of exhibit space.  The Chinese government had hoped to have it open in time for the 2008 Olympics, but differences on how to cover the various political events delayed the opening until about two years ago.

The museum has two wings–the Hall of Rejuvenation and the Chinese antiquities wing.  The Hall of Rejuvenation covers the history of China starting with the Neolithic age.  The more recent the events, the more amusing the commentary.  (Did you know that Sun Yat-sen’s revolution overthrowing the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 was incomplete because it was not a workers’ revolution?  Neither did I.)  The Chinese antiquities wing has some stunning pieces.  In fact, the exhibits are so extensive that we did not have time to see them all.  (A return visit is on the list.)  One of the more stunning pieces is this large bronze vessel from the Shang Dynasty (16th – 11th century BC).

National Museum bronze

For more about what to see in Beijing, you can go to the Travel section of my webpage.

We then flew to Hong Kong.  After several hours there, our kids independently announced that while they couldn’t live in Beijing, they could live in Hong Kong without a problem.  And it’s quite easy to understand why.  Hong Kong is a unique blend of British and Chinese culture.  It has the order and cleanliness of Britain with an overlay of Chinese culture, language, and commerce.  It is an amazing city!

We went up to the Peak to see some stunning views of Hong Kong:

the Peak

But, without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was Hong Kong Disney.  It was interestingly unique to see Cinderella’s Castle amid the surrounding countryside (typically, Disney likes to have the parks be a world unto themselves, but space constraints made that infeasible here):

Hong Kong Disney

I’ll have my Hong Kong travel tome up in the next couple of days with more details of where to go and what to see.

Victoria & Albert’s, Grand Floridian, Disneyworld

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is just something richly amusing about the fact that the highest rated restaurant in Florida is located in Disneyworld.  (Perhaps it’s picturing the reaction of all those folks who turn their noses up at the thought of visiting The Happiest Place on Earth.  I once had a friend who told me, “I can’t believe you like Disneyworld!  You come across as such a sophisticated person!”)  🙂

Anyway, Victoria & Albert’s is on the 2nd floor of the Grand Floridian hotel, the nicest hotel (in our opinion) in Disneyworld.  (Mind you, half the family still prefers the Polynesian over the Grand Floridian, mainly due to the theme, but the Grand Floridian is still the nicest of the Disney hotels.)  The minimum age for diners is 10 years.  Jackets are required, but ties are optional.  We sat in the Queen Victoria Room and had the tasting menu.

We started out with the requisite amuse bouche, which consisted of a soft poached quail egg with Galilee caviar, chicken liver terrine, cauliflower panna cotta, and porcini mushroom cappuccino.  I’m not sure whether you can tell from the photo, but the porcini mushroom cappuccino had mushroom powder sprinkled on it to make it look like cinnamon.  Oh, and it was divine.  There was a division of opinion as to whether the chicken liver terrine or the cappuccino were the best dishes in the amuse bouche, but you couldn’t go wrong with either.

amuse bouche

Next, for the adults, was an Alaskan king crab with herb aioli and miniature greens.  We asked the restaurant not to serve the kids seafood, on the theory that they would have a better experience as a result (it proved to be a brilliant thought on Jim’s part to make that request).  So, the kids were served seared bison with jicama and hearts of palm salad.  There were homemade croutons seasoned and served tableside.  You could choose from French olive oil (a mild oil), Spanish olive oil (a stronger olive taste) or walnut oil.  For the salt, you had your choice of fleur de sel, a fennel-flavored sea salt, and a British flake sea salt.

alaskan king crabbison

One of our favorite dishes came next:  a “cold smoked” Niman ranch lamb with Fuji apple and curry dressing.  The lamb was unbelievably tender, and the Indian spices brought out the terrific flavor of the lamb.  It was a family hit.

lamb

Another bifurcated course—the adults were served Alaskan salmon with bamboo rice and soybeans, and the kids had sake-soy marinated Kurobuta pork with bok choy and soybeans.  I am not a huge fan of salmon (other than as sushi), but this dish was terrific.  The salmon is wild, not farm-raised (it makes a surprisingly big difference in taste), and it was cooked perfectly, just a bit underdone, and with just a bit of miso glaze.  While the pork in the kids’ version did not go as well with the seasonings as the salmon, the pork itself was marvelous—tender and juicy and full of flavor.

salmonpork

The salmon and pork were served with real grated wasabi served on a sharkskin board.

wasabi

The least impressive (but still delicious) dish was the poulet rouge with calamarata pasta, forest mushrooms and black truffles.  Okay, so by definition, the black truffles made it a very yummy dish, and the homemade calamarata pasta was made to look like calamari (hence, the name) and was delicious as well.  The chicken actually tasted like chicken (it’s amazing that we now have chicken that is sold in grocery stores that doesn’t taste like chicken at all, but I digress).  Under normal circumstances, I would be impressed with this dish, but given the parade of really amazing courses, this one did not stand out.

chicken

The next dish was Minnesota elk tenderloin with a braised red cabbage tart.  The elk was perfect—not too gamey, but full of flavor and tender.  The tart crust was made by the pastry chef (who grew up in Austria), so it was all that a crust should be.

elk

The last non-dessert course was Australian Kobe-style beef with a garlic-potato puree.  The beef was delicately marbled the way Kobe beef should be.  Evidently, the farmer who raises these delectable beef cattle interviews each chef who is interested in getting the beef, and only sells the beef if he determines the chef has the necessary qualifications or skills.

kobe beef

Before I describe the desserts, I can’t forget the bread.  There was a French baguette served with whipped butter from Vermont, a black truffle brioche served with black truffle-flecked butter, and an Austrian brown bread served with salted butter.  The overwhelming family favorite was the black truffle brioche.

Next up was the cheese course (you can see a photo of the cart).  For the ¾ of the family who opted out of the cheese course, we had either white chocolate gelato or spiced apple, red currant, and peach sorbet.

cheese cartwhite chocolate gelatosorbet

A slight tangent about the coffee maker.  It was invented by two medical folks, and it is a great science experiment for the family.  Not to mention that it brews delicious coffee!

coffee maker

The first official dessert was green apple baba with sour cream ice cream.  We were a little skeptical about the ice cream, but it was quite delicious, and the slight acidity matched up well with the sweetness of the apple baba.

green apple baba

The final course was a Peruvian chocolate cylinder with elderflower sauce accompanied by a chocolate and navan bubble.  The chocolate bubble was an El Bulli-style dish, which popped in your mouth, filling it with chocolate flavor.  The dish was also served with a similar style of caramel “poppers.”  Yum!  The chocolate cylinder and chocolate ribbon weren’t exactly shabby either.

chocolate cylinderchocolate bubble

Overall, the restaurant was an amazing experience.  Mike and Beth were our servers, and they were skilled and friendly and were great, not only with us, but our kids.  Definitely a grade A dining experience!

Disneyworld in March

The kids had a 3 day weekend (with Friday off) this past week, so we hopped on a plane Thursday night to go to <drum roll, please> Disneyworld!!  (I know this comes as an immense surprise.)  This trip was very different than most of the previous trips that we have made.  The kids really wanted to go to a Disney water park, so, on Friday, we headed to Blizzard Beach.  The weather was perfect for a water park day—it was 80+ degrees with a slight breeze and sunny.  I really love Disney water parks.  They are clean, well-maintained (no rust spots!), and have a variety of activities to appeal to children of all ages.  We had a fabulous time going on most of the rides.  (The only one we didn’t try was Summit Plummit—the free fall nature of the ride did not appeal to the family.)  And, in keeping with how it really is a small world, we bumped into another Sidwell family (a 5th grade family) in line for one of the rides.

As if the day was not fun enough, we ended it with a dinner at Victoria & Albert’s, the highest rated restaurant in the state of Florida and located in the Grand Floridian hotel in Disneyworld.  (The irony of that always brings me much amusement.)  I will do another blog post later reviewing each dish of the 10 course tasting menu in greater detail, but let’s just say that the meal did not disappoint, even with the high expectations that we had.

Saturday was a day spent in the Magic Kingdom.  It was unexpectedly crowded, especially given how uncrowded Blizzard Beach was the day before.  We did make it on all the rides we had to ride (Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh, Buzz Lightyear, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain being perpetual favorites).  There is also a new interactive game called Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is conceptually similar to the Kim Possible game in Epcot.  The advantage of Sorcerer’s Apprentice is that you collect different spell cards and the degree of difficulty increases as you play, so that the game works well for beginning and experienced players alike.  The disadvantage of the game is that, unlike Kim Possible, the interaction is all software based, as you cast spells and defeat Hades’s corps of villains.  It allows for greater variation, of course, but the special effects are not nearly as impressive as Kim Possible.  But it’s a fun game, and the kids had a blast playing it and can’t wait until they come back to the park to continue playing.  And to continue the small world theme, we bumped into a former colleague of mine from AOL outside the Liberty Tree Tavern, as we were going in for lunch.

We took an afternoon flight back home on Sunday, but before we left, rather than go to the parks, we did an indoor skydiving experience that our daughter has wanted to do for several years.  It’s called iFly, and you “skydive” in a wind tunnel.  It was an amazing experience.  You suit up in a jumpsuit and go into the wind tunnel with an instructor who helps position you so that you’re floating on the 120+ mile winds blowing up into the tunnel, and it feels like a skydiving experience (without the trauma of jumping out of a perfectly functioning plane).  In fact, we had a chance to observe a skydiving group practice its maneuvers in the wind tunnel before our session.  We discovered that it’s a lot more difficult to hold your position than it looks, let alone maneuver to where you want to go.  It was a fantastic experience and a marvelous way to end the weekend.