Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to see Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan Skyline for Free

Visiting New York City and don't have much time to see the sites?  I tested some fantastic insider advice this week to see the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan sky line quickly and for free.  One thing I hate while visiting a new place is standing in long lines with pushy tourists waiting to pay big money for a view.  Problem solved for NYC.  Wherever you are in the city the subway is there for you.  It doesn't matter where you are staying in the city, the transit system in New York has you covered.  Next time you have a few minutes in NYC jump on the subway anywhere in town and head south.  Get off at either Battery Park or South Ferry, either stop will take you right to the Staten Island Ferry terminal.   Jump on the Staten Island Ferry for free and enjoy an amazing view of the Statue of Liberty right next to the tour boats.  You will get to Staten Island in about 20 minutes and must exit the Ferry, just get right back on and take the next one back for an amazing view of lower Manhattan.    
Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry
Lower Manhattan Skyline
Staten Island Ferry with Lower Manhattan in the background
Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges from Staten Island Ferry

Freedom Tower and 9/11 memorial just a few blocks from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One Of Many Simple Reasons Why I Love Italy

  Normally I am not a big city guy. Don't get me wrong, I do love the energy of big cities like New York, London and the likes.  However, the fast and furious pace is not really my style.  Italy has held a strong position in my heart for as long as I can remember.  The simple elegance of its food and the laid back method in which they celebrate the day is how I try to approach life.  With this in mind, Milan and I have never had a serious love affair.  Anytime I am in Italy I cherish it. However, there are places I would rather be than Milan.  With business and fashion being major players in the personality of Milan, the slow simple charm of the country itself takes a back seat.  My most recent trip to Milan was a game changer for me as I had the opportunity to see Milan in a different light.  As usual, it was an arrival straight from the U.S. and our itinerary included a landing at 9am and a departure the next morning.  After putting the airplane to bed and a quick breeze through customs, we arrived at the Hilton Milan at 11am.  Very ready for some food and much needed sleep we rallied in the lobby right away and began the search for lunch.  The front desk staff quickly guided us just across the street to a wonderful place as the lobby bar was not open for food yet.  A sign reading Trattoria Toscana Il Cerchio was what I was to look for.

Even though the sign above the door clearly states the name, I walked past it 3 times.  In fact, I returned to the hotel to get redirected as the graffiti and bland buildings looked the same for miles in both directions.  With the insisting of the hotel concierge I reluctantly walked in.  We were the only guests in the entire place and the wait and kitchen staff could not care less that we were standing in the doorway.  After a few minutes of feeling like a complete fool, a quick gesture came from the chef pointing to a table.  Sitting down and getting completely ignored gave me the chance to slow down and watch the real story unfold.  It wasn't quite race time and the pit crew was giving final touches to the race car.  The staff was in one constant fluid motion working in silent harmony to put the final touches on the dinning room and kitchen for the lunch rush.  Five minutes to noon all the motion stopped, a tiny wooden door to the kitchen opened and out came the chef and his sous chef.  They brought with them a bottle of unlabeled Grappa.  The rest of the staff joined them in a quick toast of espressos mixed with grappa and it was on.  A well oiled and finely tuned show ensued.  Pasta orders came fast and furiously each cooked to order and flowed quickly through the tiny pass.

Beautiful, thick cuts of Prosciutto were cut by hand and served in generous portions.

 Pasta Fagioli, one of my favorite Italian comfort foods was drizzled with beautiful local Olive Oil.

The chef, I never got name, invited me very briefly into his work place. It was an,, inferno of flying freshly sauced pasta and giant stockpots full of boiling pasta water.

A most amazing pizza followed my brief kitchen visit topped with house cured Salumi and a free range localy grown fresh egg, perfection!

Once again, its a reminder to slow down a minute and really take a look at the surroundings you are confronted with.  You may see something you never thought possible, a diamond in the rough perhaps.  The chef and a woman, introduced to me only as "Mi Amore", bid us farewell with a nip of that secret grappa with our afternoon espresso.  Oh, and yes, I returned for dinner and will again!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Northern California Abalone Adventure


Since I was a little boy I have been enthralled with all things having to do with the sea and the air.  I believe my culinary fire was sparked when I started harvesting creatures from the sea at a young age.  When I was ten years old, my cousin and I had the experience of a lifetime.  We were left alone on Catalina Island, just off the coast of Los Angeles, California, aboard a thirty-two foot sailboat for two days without any adult supervision.  I can almost hear the horrified gasps of some of you reading that last couple of sentences, but growing up in an era without today's technological advances made me more self-sufficient and really shaped my adolescent years.  We had a small dingy, a spear gun, and a fishing pole.  We ate what we caught, and I had the most fun a ten year old could have.  On that trip, a deep rooted respect for the ocean and its creatures began for me.  I have since furthered my quest to honor the ocean and its bounty by preparing it to the best of my ability.  Spearfishing and harvesting food from the ocean are still a huge part of my life, and my quest for knowledge about cooking them is insatiable.  Abalone is the topic of this article and one that is very dear to me.  For me, Abalone trips take place about once a year.  The drive alone to get to them is about twelve hours one way.  In California, Abalone are only legal to take north of San Fransisco.  You can only take them by free diving which means you are limited to breath hold only, no Scuba Tanks allowed, and the average water temp is around fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  Oh, and did I forget to mention the White Shark population is very large?!  The best part of these trips is being with like minded individuals who are serious about free diving, respect for the ocean, and the love and camaraderie that food creates.          
Tom Chung and I getting into the 50 degree Nor Cal Waters
My brother (left) and I after a dive with our daily limit of tasty Red Abalone
One Daily Limit of 3 Red Abalone
   Abalone are very good eating, and live on and around rocky reefs.  They have a protective outer shell and the underside is one very strong solid foot.  Some people say it's like eating shoe leather as the meat is very tough.  To those people I say too bad for you!  Prepared with some care and a little bit of effort it is most definitely a rare ocean delicacy.
Preparing fresh Abalone Sashimi 
Fresh Red Abalone Sashimi and Fresh California Yellow Tail Sashimi taken free diving with a spear gun by Ken Okutake, Check out Ken's Amazing gyotaku fish prints at
Fresh Asian inspired Abalone Salad with Chili and Mint

Traditional preparation sliced, pounded thin, breaded and fried
This is the favored preparation by my Chinese friends.  It is stewed for 24 hours until it's fork tender