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Gaggan – Fine Dining in Bangkok

Our time in Bangkok was limited. We were using this time to relax from more than a week of schlepping through Myanmar and in addition to a wonderful luxury hotel, we wanted some phenomenal food. Thai cuisine is one of my favorites – and spending so much time in Myanmar, with their bland, forgettable food, we needed something amazing. The 50 Best Restaurants in the World list has lead us to some great places and the first thing that popped up when we looked in Bangkok was Gaggan (#7 at the time). While not Thai, but a modern take on Indian, we decided it was a must visit.

We booked reservations a few weeks before we left Chicago and were able to get seats at the chefs table doing the tasting menu. Gaggan, the restaurant, is captained by Gaggan Anand and has been open since 2010 and according to Wikipedia, his plan was to re-envision Indian food into a refined, fine dining experience — he truly succeeded. The interiors of the restaurant are muted, with lots of whites and beiges, it just helps to bring your focus to the food.

The old townhouse that has been turned into one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World.

Our reservations were at 21h30 and we were fortunate enough (and quite by chance) that we could walk from the St. Regis to Gaggan. It was quite humid – it is Bangkok you know, but the walk was less than 10 minutes and it would have been utterly insane to take a taxi. We arrived shortly before 21h00 – I mistakenly thought we’d be able to grab a drink at the bar, but no such luck. We arrived early and waited about 10 minutes then were escorted upstairs to the large horseshoe bar area surrounding the kitchen.

Chefs and Assistants preparing for service at the common kitchen/bar table. 23 Courses do take some preparation.

We were the first to be seated. There were eight other people joining us upstairs for the amazing tasting menu.

The menu was delivered almost immediately when we sat down. There were no comments or directions, just the menu. Just Emojis. Just simple color printings on velum. Just emojis…A ton of them…25 to be exact. A 25 course tasting menu starting at 21h30 now seems like quite the daunting task. Remember, 15 hours ago we were hopping on a bus, heading to the airport in Heho, Myanmar for our two flight trip to Bangkok.

The menu was delivered on velum and only showed a single emoji for each course. no further guidance was given until the course was delivered.

Unfortunately there wasn’t an option for wine pairings with dinner. We could select bottles or by the glass if we wanted though. We asked the sommelier (who wasn’t a Master Sommelier) for guidance and this was by far the most disappointing part of our entire trip. His response: “Well, I’d suggest you get what you like.” Ok, I get it. With this many courses, we aren’t going to pair a new wine with each of the 25 courses, but with an emoji menu, we need some guidance. We didn’t get any. When we asked about a specific wine, we were told it was good and we should get it. When I asked if it made more sense to start with a glass of champagne first, then jump into a white or would the champagne do well for the first few courses, his response, was the same – “Do what you want.” If he would have said something about the first 16 courses are quite varied so a traditional pairing won’t work, but I’d recommend two to three glasses (even all at the same time) and then pairing them separately with the various courses, I’d have bitten and got three to four glasses of wine. As it was, we ended up with two glasses each. I was looking for the full experience here and the sommelier really did not deliver.

Chef came out and welcomed us all, asking us to introduce ourselves to our fellow diners and say where we were from. There were a couple Americans dining with us, but none who still lived in North America. We were surrounded by mostly people living in Bangkok. We were then told that the first 15 or so courses would be quick-fires (single bites that come out in rapid succession – which does lead back to the trouble with proper pairings), then we’d move into slightly larger courses, but nothing would be a full and proper meal course.

The first plate was set down in front of us at 21h28 and another course would be dropped every 2-5 minutes. It started to feel like a whirlwind. Everything was so tasty – great texture, great flavor combinations and a truly one of a kind delivery.

A (Spice) B (Citrus) = C (Cola)

Yogurt Explosion

Bombay Bhel

Eggplant Cookie

Chili Bonbon

Green Peas Mushroom Roll

Idly Sambar

Charcoal Prawn Amritsari

Aloo Gobi Caviar

Citrus Waffle Goat Brain

Closeup on Citrus Waffle

Amazaki Liver

Uni Ice Cream

Chu Toro (one of my favorites!)

The team prepping the Akami Tartar

Akami Tartar (a close second!)

Close Up on the Akami Tartar

Tomato Matcha

Pork Vindaloo Cutlet

Scallop Curry Cold

Quail Chettinad – Caged

Quail Chettinad – UnCaged

Chef prepares the fish course – I’d never expect the fish course to require a blow torch…

Post Torching Fish

Cedar Wood Paturi (sorry for the blurry pic!)

Lamb Kebob Hot Dog

Crab Curry Chuwanmushi – a bland picture but an amazing course.

Beetroot Blue Cheese (YES PLEASE!)

Basil Chocolate Butterfly

Strawberry Ghewar

The final course, the Strawberry Ghewar was delivered at 23h12. We were full. We were sleepy. We were pleased to have visited Gaggan. The restaurant will be closing in 2020, so if you have a plan to visit Bangkok, I highly recommend you stop by and pay Mr. Anand and his team a visit. After he shutters Gaggan in Bangkok he’s moving his restaurant to Japan — yes, it’ll be on my short list for sure.

Before we departed, we were given the full menu – and by full menu, I mean one with words. Not an elaborate menu, mind you, but one that provided much more detail than the emoji menu we encountered upon our arrival.

Our final menu, complete with emoji and description.

St. Regis Bangkok

Our final stop on our trip to Myanmar was the St. Regis Bangkok. We’ve stayed at this property at the end of our last two week trip through Southeast Asia (after we visited Vietnam and Cambodia).  Staying in luxury hotels is very easy in Bangkok – there are a ton of them and they are so much more reasonably priced in this market than anywhere else I have seen in the world.

We figured it would be utterly foolish to book the St. Regis on points, as it goes for 30,000 Starpoints each night or we could pay cash for only 150USD per night.  We opted for the latter and as an SPG Platinum member who stays 50+ nights annually, I am awarded 10-suite night upgrades, which I used two for our stay in Bangkok.  We were only going to be there a single night, but our flight home (via Munich) was scheduled to leave around 01h00 and we didn’t want to deal with luggage handling or vacating our room at 16h00 then finding something to do for four or five hours, especially at this price point.

After ditching those Oregonians who wanted to split a cab into the City, we pulled up to the main door at the St. Regis, around 16h00 and were greeted by several doormen, all smiling, bowing and graciously taking our luggage.  Reception is on the 12th floor of the hotel, while the first floor houses several seating areas, a chocolate retailer and a Concierge Desk and what appeared to be a Tour desk.  Our luggage was whisked away and we were escorted to the main elevator and walked directly to a young German man who was waiting to check us in.

We did not catch this German’s name (I know he told us, but we forgot).  We called him Rolf (from the Sound of Music…not because we thought he was a member of the National Socialist Party, but because he looked like the actor who played him in the film).  He was young and seemed a bit confused during most of our interactions.  He was clicking and typing away as he confirmed our stay details, scanned our passports and made small talk.  He had been in Bangkok for a six month rotation with SPG and he was very excited to get out.  He didn’t like the heat.  He was heading off to Madrid and would do a six month rotation at the Westin Palace, which we had stayed a year or two prior to this visit to Bangkok.

Rolf welcomed me as a Gold member and informed me that he had personally upgraded us to a standard room with a better view because of my loyalty and before I could correct him, he began telling me all about the benefits of being a Gold Member.  I let him finish.  I then told him I was a Platinum member and that we were confirmed into a Suite. He suggested that SPG had downgraded me to Gold for some reason (perish the thought).  It looks like the St. Regis wasn’t pulling all the current info on my record into their systems, but were just using the info from my most recent stay (Gold Status and old US address).  It took some convincing – and asking him to check with someone else on our status and our room.  He did and got it cleared up.  He graciously personally upgraded us to the room that we had been confirmed into five days prior.  We were happy with the result but the round about way to get there was frustrating.

Rolf escorted us to our room and showed us all the features.  We didn’t have much Thai Baht on us at that time and we wanted to make sure the more local folks would get that, so we tipped Rolf in Euros which he seemed to appreciate (he had less than a week left in Bangkok).

Our room was stunning.  The room was way too big for us, especially since we’d be spending little time in the room and only sleeping there one night, but it was very nice to have ample room to stretch out and enjoy the space.

As you open the main door you are greeted by a very long entry way, with an entry table and a beautiful orchid.

First sight as we entered our suite.

Better shot of the beautiful orchids on the entry table. Every entry needs an orchid, don’t you think?

To left is the living area, which included a dining area with seating for four, a couch paired with a couple of club chairs facing the TV and closest to the hallway was a bar.  The bar had a fancy Siemens Nespresso coffee machine, which was lost on us as we aren’t coffee drinkers. I did make a cup of tea though.

A view from the bar in our suite. Ample seating for relaxing and entertaining.

A view of our dining and sitting area with the bar off in the distance.

The bar was properly stocked and a coffee, some tea or a cocktail were at your finger tips…or just call the Butler to make one for you.

Our bar had wonderful Nespresso beverage station, which was almost totally lost on us non-coffee drinkers.

On the dining table the welcome amenity of fresh fruit was waiting our arrival.  The fruit was very tasty and the Butler replenished the items we ate when we stepped out.

 

Our welcome gift, waiting for us as upon arrival.

The room also include small half bath between the main hallway and the living space.  Not really a necessity for us, but it was very nice to have.

The suite had a half bath, they billed as for “guests”. While a total luxury, I really love the half bath in hotel rooms.

To the right of the main hallway was the bedroom, which had a TV, a small writing desk and a king sized bed.  I love the modern muted colors of the St. Regis.  The bed was very comfortable, but during turn down service we were given only milk chocolate, which is pretty standard, but something I’d rather skip.  Give me dark or nothing!

While not the most efficient use of space, the I really enjoy the colors and textures of the St. Regis Bangkok.

The bedroom in our suite was large, comfortable and perfect for our one overnight in Bangkok.

The closet in the master bedroom was stunning – although for a one night stay we didn’t unpack.

Who lines up paperclips like this? I do love a properly stocked desk when traveling. Interestingly enough, the room did NOT have St. Regis stationary.

The bathroom was large and beautiful.  The large shower with a view into the City was separated from the rest of the room and tucked away in the corner.  The separate bathtub did not get used this time – last time I had the Butler fill me a bubble bath where I enjoyed champagne and read magazines that I’d schlepped half way around the world.

The double vanity in the main bathroom was lacking a bit of counter space, but worked out well for us.

The bathtub was calling to me. Bubbles (both bubble bath and champagne) are a guilty pleasure that I didn’t partake in this trip.

The master toilet…and obligatory phone.

The water pressure and temperature were phenomenal.  The Elemis products (from the spa on site) were perfectly acceptable.  I wasn’t really digging the scent, but they did their job and each time we left the room the bathroom was reset with new products (old ones weren’t taken away, but anything that we had used, an additional one was brought in, so we had no fear of running out).

The Elemis products found in our bathroom were the same products used in the spa onsite, of the same name.

As a Platinum Member, we were welcomed each evening to the Bar on the 12th Floor where a special area was reserved for Platinum members – for a daily reception.  This was part of our welcome amenity.  Complimentary cocktails and snacks were offered, which I enjoyed both days I was there.  I lounged by myself on our second day, as Mike didn’t want to fill up because we had the Thai Royal First Ground Experience plus Royal First on a Thai 747 to Munich too.  I’m a glutton, so I had prosecco and snacks before we started our journey home.

The SPG Platinum Wine Appreciation Menu

The cocktail menu at the Platinum Reception.

The St. Regis Bangkok doesn’t have a lounge, so a portion of the bar was blocked off for a Platinum Reception.

I really enjoyed our stay at the St. Regis Bangkok – this stay ended on a much better note than the last time we stayed.  No drama with checkout or extremely stressed, panicking staff.  I would return to this property again in a heartbeat.  We do a poor job of exploring Bangkok when we are here, at this point of our trips, we are usually ready for some luxury and the St. Regis property and the wonderful team who staff her provide exactly what we are looking for.

Where do you stay when in Bangkok?  Do you jump in with both feet to the luxury hotels the city offers or do you prefer to save some travel money and visit the more normal hotels that go for as low as 50USD?  When in this city, we like to splurge, but love to hear about other properties too.  Where should we stay during our next visit to Bangkok?

Transit to / from O’Hare (ORD)

O’Hare International Airport (ORD) sits just 27 kilometers (17 miles) from Chicago’s Loop (the Central Business District) on the far northwest side of the city.  There are three main ways to get to or from ORD from the loop: CTA (subway/elevated train), Metra (Commuter Rail) and Car (taxi, Uber/Lyft, self).

Without fail, I find myself taking the CTA Blue Line whenever I travel to the airport. The ride from the Loop to ORD is 45 minutes. Taking a car (taxi, Uber/Lyft, or driving yourself) is much more variable. Traffic on the Kennedy Expressway is the x-factor here, depending on when you travel, it could tale you less than 30 minutes to 90 minutes (or more).

I’m a guy who doesn’t like to wait around at an airport, so the idea of getting there too early makes me cringe, while the idea of arriving late and missing my flight causes angst.  That’s why I take the train. Yes, you can be sitting on the Blue Line (which can smell like pee sometimes) and take a look out the window and see traffic (full of people going to the airport) just whizzing by…you can also be in that same position on another day and find traffic at a complete standstill and YOU are shooting past the backed up car traffic while on the train.

I would rather see vehicle traffic shoot by me and know that I’m still on schedule than sit in a car stuck in traffic. Yes, a car is more comfortable (usually less pee, but not always…has Uber lowered their standards for vehicles lately???) but the peace of mind knowing I will arrive as planned outweighs that short term comfort issue for me.

The Metra (Commuter Line) has service that takes you from Union Station to an Economy Parking Lot at ORD, which then requires you to hop on a shuttle bus to the airport tram system.  Two transfers to get to the passenger terminal at ORD just doesn’t make sense to me.  The Metra itself is a much nicer and more comfortable ride than the CTA Blue Line, but it also costs twice as much and the ride from Union Station to ORD (the transfer station, where you pick up the shuttle bus to take you to the tram that takes you to the passenger terminals….) takes about 30 minutes.  I’ve tried a couple times to try out the Metra connection to ORD, but not all of the trains that serve this commuter line actually stop at ORD.  I’ve never been able to make it work and believe me I’ve tried.  The nicer commute is reduced by the double transfer for me.

If you are in the Loop or starting your journey anywhere along the three branches of the Blue Line, the CTA is really the only way to go to ORD in my mind.  Always plan for a little extra time, as things can go wrong.  Don’t give yourself just 45 minutes from the Loop to ORD — if you do, there will invariably be some sort of issue.

How do you prefer to get to ORD when you are in Chicago?  Am I missing an aspect of one of these modes that really sells it — or really puts the nail in the coffin?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on Chicago’s connected Airports and the best ways around them.

Minneapolis: Need Advice

I remember way back when….I use to ask for advice and recommendations when I traveled from the blogosphere. I’ve fallen out of that habit, often to my detriment. I’m going to dip my toes back into the untamed world of asking for help from complete strangers again. I will say, you all have provided some great recommendations in the past…

I’m off to Minneapolis for work in a couple weeks. I’ve got hotels all squared away, but I need help on finding the hot new places to eat and drink. Those who are regular readers know that I’m not a fan of chain restaurants…no matter how “great YOUR PF Chang’s is.”

Some basics on my trip. I’ll be traveling with a junior member of my team  so I will be very strict on our expenses…you know, setting a good example. So dinner is capped at $55/person, all included. We are staying downtown and will have a car, but will likely be Ubering around because we will want to have a drink.

IMG_20170707_190436_872

I always enjoy a fun cocktail when traveling. Where can I get a great drink and a bite to eat in Minneapolis?

I don’t care about fancy restaurants, even if Michelin did rate Minneapolis, places of that ilk aren’t really going to work on this trip. I’d love to find a great little place for a pre- or post-dinner cocktail. I want a quality restaurant that is unique to Minneapolis (or St. Paul, but not too much farther afield).

Where is your favorite place to grab a drink when you are in Minneapolis? Do you life in the Twin Cities and love pushing out-of-towners to places they’d never stumble upon by themselves? If so, I want to hear from you!

Glamorous Business Travel

Anyone who thinks regular business travel is glamorous either has never traveled for work or has one of those elusive jobs where you travel to picture perfect places and aren’t dealing with the general public… I have never met anyone with a job like that.

I spent some time in Seattle for work recently, which had consisted of long days and a few technology hiccups, all of which were pretty run of the mill. The flight back home is where things took a stomach churning turn for the worse.

I was seated in 5B on an older B757. I still love United’s B757 for transcontinental travel (not intercontinental though!) – I love turning left for the First Class Cabin. This frees up the aisle so you can get a nice pre-departure beverage and not get bumped by the 100+ people sitting behind you.

All started out well enough. We boarded, we got a drink, we had a quick roll and a flawless take off. Lunch was served and by the time they got to me, the pasta option was gone and only the Beef Provançale was left. The Stew called it the Provonckal…with a very hard “Kah” sound. It tore my Francophile ear to shreds. Fine. I’ll have the beef.

The gentlemen in 6E (across the aisle and one row behind me), began eating his pasta and through my noise cancelling headphones I heard a bit of a commotion. I turn back and I see him profusely vomitting all over his tray of food. I don’t mean he had a little air sickness or a sour stomach. He was profusely coughing, but he wasn’t choking. It was like someone turned on the vomit spigot to full blast. He was just pouring his insides out onto his tray.

The poor guy next to him (trapped in the window seat) began frantically ringing the call button (rightfully so). The Stew came back and saw the mayhem that had commenced and she turns and runs back to the galley. Within 10 seconds she had returned with gloves and a dust mask (for some reason) and a big hefty kitchen trash bag.

He continued to vomit.

She gave him a couple air sickness bags.

He continued to vomit. Not just a regular total evacuation of your insides either. He was pouring vomit from his mouth and nose. And the nose vomit was blowing big bubbles as it escaped, as if the vomit was cheering its new found freedom. It took everything for me not to become his second in a vomit duo 35,000 feet above Idaho.

The Stew grabbed his tray and dumped it into the garbage bag and he, in a muffled, vomit stoked yell, said he wasn’t finished with his meal. Yes, the meal on which he had just regurgitated at least a liter of goo. The Stew ignored him and hurried back to the galley.

The second Stew come back to help, but she’s wearing more personal protective equipment, including what appears to be an apron, but not a traditional serving apron. No, this apron looked like something from Saw or Hostel…it was like she decided the only way to remedy this situation was to dismember this passenger.

Luckily it didn’t come to that.

He had finished vomiting. The Stews did a stellar job of cleaning up all the nastiness that had befallen that seat (at least as I could tell from the relative comfort of Seat 5B).

This guy wasnt drunk. This guy didn’t appear to have issues any other time in the flight. He looked pale, but that often happens when you throw up 5% of your body weight while in transit. He didn’t look sick (like he was undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment…and I can personally attest to how awful those flights are when traveling with someone who is). I don’t know what the trigger was, but I am sure as shit happy as a mother fucking clam that I didn’t sit next to that poor bastard.

Do you think United called in a special maintenance ticket to clean the shit out of that seat…or did the just wipe it down with a Clorox wipe and move on to the next destination. The poor sap who sat in 6E on the next leg likely had no idea what awfulness his seat had just gone through.

Oh the humanity.

What’s the grossest thing you’ve seen while traveling on a plane?