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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?

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!

The Camby, Autograph Collection (Phoenix)

We visit Arizona every summer, usually around the July 4th weekend. These trips allow us to visit family, friends and spend some much needed time relaxing in the pool with a cocktail. We always stay the first night in Phoenix because after a long day of work and travel, the last thing we want to do is drive the few hours from Phoenix to Prescott or Sedona. Plus, Phoenix in July is sweltering, so hotel room rates are low and you can get access to nice properties at a great discount. 

For the past couple of years we would stay at the Aloft Phoenix Airport, but after last year’s interaction with the strippers doing a show in the lobby and manager playing it off as normal and acceptable, we decided to branch out.  Since Marriott acquired Starwood, I’ve been a bit less loyal to Starwood. I’ll get into that some other time.

I searched for great hotels and low prices and found the Camby for only $109 per night, plus taxes and fees, which was only $30 more than the whorehouse Aloft PHX, a good deal in my book. 

After a short delay out of Chicago and a quick pickup of the rental car (Silver Car), we arrived at the Camby around 22h30. The hotel doesn’t offer a self park option, but if you want to skip the valet, you can park at the movie theater that charges and hourly and overnight rate. We opted to pay the $33 per day for the valet…the idea of saving $10 (+/-) but having to walk across the parking lot in 100F heat didn’t appeal much to me.

We were greeted by the two front desk reps with big smiles and a hearty hello the second we were in their line of sight.  I had received a push notification that our room had been upgraded and I’d just need to stop by the front desk to pick up my keys.

The woman helping us was very friendly, she thanked me for my loyalty as a Platinum Member (which I earned by staying 50+ nights with Starwood then matched status with Marriott). She confirmed we’d been upgraded to a Luxe room…which seemed to just have a better view, which wasn’t all that beneficial for our short stay, but it’s better than that awful Zero Floor Upgrade I had years ago in Texas). I chose the 750 Mariott Point welcome bonus, in lieu of $15 off breakfast per person at the hotel (I’m not really a breakfast guy and hotels have such over priced and underwhelming offerings).  I did take the $10 bar credit in lieu of the 500 additional Marriott Points offered. After a long day I needed a drink.

We went to our room to drop off our luggage then headed straight back down to the bar.  The elevator to the guest room  appeared to have some smeared shit in the floor. When we headed back down to the bar, I told the front desk folks, but it was still in the elevator when we went back to our room more than an hour later. It was gone in the morning though.

It appears someone left some feces in the elevator

Broken hand rail in the elevator.

The hallways blended contemporary styles with classic Native American textiles

Our room was a larger standard room, with a king bed, a small seating area and a mountain view.
The bathroom was really nicely upgraded, with great (both smelling and acting) bath products by Nest. The bathroom initially seemed a bit dark, but the white tile really brightened up the area, despite having just two low output lights. The hot water took more than two minutes to actually arrive in our room, which was shocking to me. The only negative thing in the bathroom was the cheap plastic shower floor. It just made it seem a bit low rent, even though everything else was quite nice.

The single vanity bathroom worked fine for us. That shark / clothesline art was pretty cool, in my book.

The shower had great Nest products and wonderful water pressure, but it took an inordinate amount of time for the hot water to kick in.

I really enjoyed the Nest products offered at the Camby.

I really enjoyed the art throughout the hotel’s public spaces and in the guest rooms. It wasn’t the standard hotel cheap you see, it had a local vibe and a modern flair with neon, cacti and clean lines.

Cow skull lighted art in the guestroom. While I don’t want one for our house, I do dig it.

Our room was of decent size, with a quite comfortable king sized bed and a small sitting area.

Our couch continued the Native American theme found in the hallway.

The quintessential coffee and beverage bar.

The bar was a dark but nicely appointed space (it was actually the restaurant and bar). We stayed with the signature craft cocktails on the menu, but interestingly enough, these bartenders had no idea how to make these drinks, they had to frantically run around trying to find the recipe cards. They had the vibe of hipster craft cocktail masters (beards, matte black/gun metal grey linen shirts, red suspemders…yeah, you know who I’m talking about), but not the immediate knowledge. The drinks are good and well balanced and the service was quick too. 
I really enjoyed my 10 hour stay at the Camby and will definitely return if the price is right and the timing works. I don’t like to spend much on these short post flight stays, that being said, if I were spending more time in the area I’d definitely stay again.

Habe you stayed at the Camby? Did you like it better as the Ritz Carlton? What was your favorite cocktail?

Air Asia Economy (RGN-DMK)

Our last shorthaul flight on our trip to Myanmar had us leaving Yangon on Air Asia to Bangkok. I had never flown Air Asia before but I usually try to stear clear of low cost carriers because you can often get stuck paying a lot more in fees (carryon, checked bags, seat assignments, etc), than you initially plan. We really didn’t have an option for this trip as the flights to Bangkok on Thai (our preference) or Myanmar National Airlines all left dramatically later than we wanted. We wanted to spend the afternoon in Bangkok and a 15h30 departure from Yangon would help us out in that regard.

We decided on Air Asia because the flight times were the best we could find, plus the air fare was very reasonable. Air Asia wasn’t flying into BKK,  but DMK (Don Mueang International Airport) instead. It looked to be a bit closer to the St. Regis anyway and our goal was to enjoy Bangkok, so we booked it.

Our driver from Yangon, earlier in the trip, picked us up at the domestic terminal and drove us to the international terminal. It was very generous and included in the price we paid for the tour, but it really wasn’t necessary the distance between the terminals wasn’t long nor was it convoluted.

We had about two hours between the time our flight from Heho landed until we left for Bangkok. Yangon has a contract lounge and with your Priority Pass you can gain access. That is of course, unless you run into the people we did at the airport. The women working the lounge wouldn’t accept our Priority Pass. She said that we weren’t welcome (that’s a quote). I figured I could just pay for access then bring it up with Citi or Chase once we get back home. No deal. We saw another passenger enter by showing some sort of pass (not a printed lounge access card, but a credit card sized pass). He was a young man of European descent. No clue what the issue was, but she kept the lounge locked up like Fort Knox.

There was a lot of empty space and not a lot of seats in Yangon, and almost no power outlets. We found seats near the gate and sat for about 90 minutes. Interestingly enough, while we waited, we met an American couple from my home state…and the woman actually went to the same college as me (20 years prior, but I went to a small school and the only other Americans we ran into having this connection with us was quite exciting).

We boarded the plane and quickly found our seats near the last row. The retired Oregonian travelers were seated in the row behind me. The man in the middle seat next to me was a very tall African man. He had two large Fosters Beers, one of which was half consumed and the other was chugged between the time we were on our take off roll but before we hit cruising altitude. As we boarded we saw a tall European (could be North American) board with a rainbow clown wig, a big red nose and a big horn that he’d honk from time to time.

Pretty tight pitch on this Air Asia flight – awful uncomfortable.

Interior shot of a moderately packed A320.

Before we reached 3,000 meters the flight attendants began service. The flight to Bangkok was less than 50 minutes, but a small snack box was served to all 180 people on board their Airbus A320. The pitch was quite tight and the African dude chugging his Fosters (and silent burping and blowing his beer stink on me) was manspreading like a motherfucker. The seat width is tight on this plane, so it really felt like he was trying to play footsie. It was a rough 50 minutes.

We landed and the Oregonians were asking where we were staying and they lost their minds when we said the St. Regis.  They were staying at an Ibis because they got a rate of 70USD per night. The St. Regis was 140USD. Big percentage difference, but an even bigger quality difference. I love the cheap luxury hotels in Bangkok.  They wanted to split a cab with us, which was probably the last thing in our list at that point. Luckily their phones weren’t working, so we told them that our hotels were in opposite directions, then once off the plane, we ran like Olympic Sprinters to ensure we didn’t have to discuss cab sharing again.

We had forgotten how tight the cabs are in Bangkok too. There would have been no way our suitcases, their backpacks and ourselves would have fit into one of those cabs. Whew.

If I had a choice between Thai and Air Asia, I’d choose Thai. For such a short flight with reasonable airfare and departure time, Air Asia was perfectly acceptable. I would definitely fly them again, if the need arose.

What do you think of Air Asia? Is it worth the hassle to save a few bucks or a few hours of vacation?