Tuesday, February 28, 2006
A new privately held competitor called MAXjet has emerged, and it is competing in the profitable London-Washington market. (It also flies to JFK.) With just 102 seats on a Boeing 767-200ER, MAXjet offers premium service, including the opportunity to enjoy "several multi-course meals and dine in style with restaurant china, proper metal cutlery and stemmed glassware." MAXjet flies into Stansted (STN), which may be very useful for travelers wanting to connect on to a European low-cost carrier, such as EasyJet or RyanAir.
It will be interesting to see how the story unfolds. Will this airline give British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and United, the other competitors in the Washington-London market, a serious shock? Or will it eventually sink into ignominious defeat like Independence Air? (Interestingly, BMI gave up its Washington-Manchester route recently.)
I think I might give this airline a chance! There is an introductory fare of only $750, and that includes taxes and fees!
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
The 2003 Worthy is simply superb, and very good value at around $25. It is made of Cabernet Sauvignon (77%) with the rest being a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc.
This wine has deep red berry flavors (black currants and black berries) and a rich enduring flavor with a very long finish. This is an extremely concentrated wine with a hint of vanilla smokiness. You can drink it now or cellar this wine for at least ten years. I am keeping a few bottles to see how it develops.
Readers in Maryland can buy this wine at the (recommended) Kings Contrivance liquor store in Columbia.
My recommendation of this wine is unusually enthusiastic.
I have tried Axios once, and I loved it!
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Here what's wrong. Nowadays, they give you only .25 miles per mile flown if you are flying on a discounted tickets (G, K, L, M, N, O, Q, R, S, V fares). United gives you 1 mile per mile flown whatever the category of fare. Plus, as Premier Executive, I get double miles -- eight times as many as if I were flying on BA.
BA's rules can be found on their website.
A good way of accumulating BA miles is to use the Diners Club credit card. You get a mile or every dollar you spend, and, during the summer months, they frequently give you a bonus. This used to be 100%, but recently it has been only 50%. I have flown many times on BA using points accumulated on my credit card, including a First Class trip to Tehran and back, which was wonderful!
Monday, February 20, 2006
Almost ten years ago, I had to participate at a conference in Bali, Indonesia. (It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!) A good way of ticketing that flight seemed to be to get tickets that involved a round-the-world trip (RTW) using United and British Airways. The trip to Bali was ticketed separately from Singapore Airlines.
So this was the itinerary:
Baltimore - San Francisco (United)
San Francisco - Hong Kong (United)
Stop over at the Conrad in Hong Kong
Hong Kong - Singapore (United)
Stop over at the Hilton in Singapore
Singapore - Bali (Singapore Airlines)
About ten days in Bali at the Sheraton, Nusa Dua, Bali
Bali - Singapore (Singapore Airlines with an upgrade to First Class!)
Singapore - London (British Airways)
London - Paris (British Airways)
Time for a quick trip to taste wine in the Loire Valley
Paris - London (British Airways)
A couple of days visiting some pubs in Brighton and Chichester
London - Washington (British Airways)
Washington - Baltimore (United Express)
Yes, the last leg was Washington (IAD) to Baltimore (BWI), one of the shortest flights in the world! It used to be operated as a United Express flight by Atlantic Coast Airlines, the company that evolved into the now defunct Independence Air.
The planning for the bump worked like this. We changed our tickets from London Heathrow to Washington to the British Airways flight from Gatwick to Baltimore. (This flight used to be a BA flight operated by USAirways in BA livery but with a USAirways crew). This meant we still had the Washington - Baltimore coupon, and I scheduled that for the end of the July 4th weekend. Getting bumped off that flight was no problem whatsoever. A friend drove me to Washington (Dulles), and I was bumped immediately.
This was also an extremely lucrative trip in terms of frequent flier miles. There were a lot of miles involved with a bonus for flying in Business Class. I also got a $300 voucher because my IFE system did not work on the Gatwick - Baltimore leg. The final free ticket for the bump was icing on an excellent and large cake!
Friday, February 17, 2006
I must confess to something of a prejudice against typical American Italian restaurants. The idea conjures up images in my mind of red and white checked table cloths, basketed Chianti bottles being used as candlesticks, and indifferent food that bears little resemblance to anything you might find in Italy. Amid the strains of O Sole Mio, you face enormous plates of overcooked pasta covered in a bucket of tomato soup.
At first glance Otello looked as though it was about to fit that pattern. But I was in Washington on business, and there was no time to find the perfect place. Certainly the red and white table cloths were there, and the pasta was definitely overdone and covered with excessive tomato sauce, but, actually, I quite liked the meal. We started with a radicchio and argula salad, which was nicely dressed with fresh and tasty vegetables. For my main course, I had salmon poached in white wine with capers, and Ms. D had pasta with crabmeat. The quality of the ingredients were excellent with real crab meat in Ms. D's pasta.
All in all, it was an enjoyable meal served by friendly people. The total bill for lunch was slightly under $50, and that included two salads to start with, two main courses, a large bottle of mineral water, and a coke. Good value and pretty good food. Otello is conveniently located on Connecticut Avenue just south of Dupont Circle. Their website presents both lunch and the more expensive dinner menus although both the dishes we enjoyed were taken from the list of specials written on a blackboard.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
The picture below is the junior crabcake platter, which is served at lunch for $15.95. It is a very large crab cake!
Koco's Pub (4301 Harford Road,  426-3519)
For Mapquest, click this link
I have lived in the Baltimore/Washington area for about twenty-five years and quite honestly, I could not understand what all the fuss was about when it came to crab cakes. I liked them all right and I was polite about them, but I confess to a little secret -- a feeling that this was perfectly OK food, but nothing extraordinary.
That was until I went to Koco's Grill. They have absolutely the best crab cakes I have ever had. These 11-ounce crab cakes have little filler, just the right amount of seasoning, and are made with very good crab meat. In my opinion, no other crab cake in Baltimore comes close to what Koco's offers. They also come with excellent french fries. The crab cake platter in the evening costs $17.95.
This nice little neighborhood bar does not look like much. But why should it? Isn't making the ultimate crab cake enough? (I have been to Koco's at least ten times, and the quality is as consistent as the friendly service.)
Koco's is closed on Sunday and Monday, and reservations are recommended on Thursday, the night for the crab cake platter special. I recommend some places, but I believe that Koco's is simply mandatory. Go there! You will not regret discovering this marvellous place.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
I also thought that the cheddar over the otherwise good mash potatoes was an unnecessary addition to the dish. It seemed to add greatly to the fat and calorie content without doing great things to the taste.
I really liked the vegetables!
"Smoked Halibut" and Goat Cheese. I am almost certain that this was smoked salmon rather than halibut. In any case, it was very good.
I thought this United Airlines flight was going to be late because the East coast had heavy snow this weekend, but everything was absolutely on time. The plane was a Boeing 777, and it was configured with seats that I think are not quite competitive for Business Class on an international airline although I think they are better than Lufthansa's seats on its old 747s. They are comfortable enough, but you really cannot lie down as you can on Singapore Airlines, British Airways, or Virgin.
The plane seemed to be fairly full with few empty seats in business and economy. Early in the flight, the crew announced that they had two fewer flight attendants than usual and asked for our patience. If they had said nothing, though, I don't think I would have noticed the difference. They were attentive and very friendly.
Sparkling wine (I don't know what it was, but it was not Champagne!), juice, and water were served to business class passengers before take off. I was in a window seat (14A) hoping to take pictures of planes, but it was a dreary London February day, and all you can see are rain spots on the windows.
The flight attendants gave us drinks with assorted nuts shortly after take off. I had the delicious Duval Leroy Champagne, which is the same as what is served on Lufthansa in Business Class. This is an excellent champagne that I had not tried before this trip, and I am definitely going to seek it out. The bubbles are tiny and beedy. The taste complex and reminded me of baked crackers. There was also a distinct vanilla taste that I found most attractive. The fruit was something like a good tart Granny Smith apple, but a sweetness seemed to emerge after swallowing. Seek out this champagne! (I suspect that it is good value as well as being excellent.)
Menus were distributed with the drinks. Dinner choices included:
Smoked halibut and goat cheese with sun-blushed tomato
Chunky tomato Compote
Fresh seasonal greens
Sun-dried tomato or Caesar dressing
Filet mignon with roasted garlic demi glace
Cheddar cheese mashed potatoes and Somerset-style mixed vegetables
Roasted breast of chicken with sweet chili glaze
Green beans with sun-blushed tomato and mixed pepper risotto
Harmonica Provençal pasta with Paemsan cheese
Creamy mushroom, tomato and crème fraîche pesto with pine nut sauce
International cheese selection
Stilton and Roubillac cheese
Haagen Dazs ice cream
I had the smoked fish (which I think was actually salmon) and the steak. See my comments above. I also had the cheese but no ice cream.
We had a snack "prior to arrival" with the following menu.
British Tea Service
Crayfish, sweet chili vegetable and chicken with basil sandwiches
Cheese Plate with fresh seasonal fruit
Wensleydale with Cranberries and Red Leiccester cheese
I chose the British tea service, which came with scones and clotted cream. Lovely!
The wines on this flight were interesting. There was an excellent Chablis from Laboure-Roi, but I found some of the other wines a bit disappointing. They offered a Medoc, Chateau Lalande (Vieilles Vignes) 2002, which I found one-dimensional and somewhat vegetal in taste.
I also did not like Pedroncelli Three Vineyards, 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon although I think I will try it again as I have had quite a few Pedroncelli wines that I liked. I was a little thrown because the description says "the wild character of Zinfandel shows through with black cherries, plums, spice and cloves," and I was not getting any of those tastes. I was so disconcerted that I decided to poke around a little on the Pedroncelli site and the description of this wine says that it is made of Cabernet Sauvignon (87%), Cabernet Franc (9%), and Merlot (3%). Isn't that odd!
I also found the Wente Vineyards Livermore Valley 2003 Chardonnay to be over oaked and obvious particularly when drunk beside the wonderful Chablis.
Perhaps the best aspect of this flight was the staff. They were wonderfully attentive despite being understaffed. I always find United flight attendants to be so nice and friendly. I asked if I could have a menu from First Class. Not only did they bring one, but they also brought wine from First Class as well. So I was actually able to taste a very nice red Burgundy -- I will make my comments in another entry.
A final comment on the flight is that the in-seat power seemed to require a strange adapter so I did not even bother to turn my laptop on. I wish everyone would put standard sockets on the planes!
- I am a Premier Executive (Gold) card holder with United, and I have learned that the best lounge experience at Heathrow with this card is the Singapore Airlines lounge. I don't even bother with the Red Carpet Club when I travel on United.
I used their shower facilities which were excellent, had a bowl of Carrot and Coriander soup, a glass of a good Pouilly Fume, and some good little sandwiches (fish, protein, or vegetarian). There are also plates of biscuits and cheese and tubs of ice cream. You can also get a variety of beers, including Tiger (Singaporean) and Boddingtons (Manchester, England). I also managed to use the Internet. All the big Sunday newspapers were there as well as a variety of magazines.
I have only three gripes with this lounge:
- They have stopped serving Champagne!
- They charge for wireless access to the Internet
- The computers need to be replaced. They are still running Windows 2000 and two of the four available computers don't work.
It is not the Virgin Clubhouse, but this is an excellent lounge for Star Alliance travelers. The alternative at Heathrow for United Premier Executives is the SAS lounge. There is a better selection of reading material and it is much larger, but the food and drink offerings are better at SQ. I have not tried the shower at SAS, but cannot believe it can be as good as SQ.
SQ also has a small but well ventilated room for smokers.
I was a little sad to see that the shop was gone, but they have a stand in the regular duty free shop. They have a very knowledgeable staff on hand and some wonderful bargains.
I bought two bottles of Dame de Montrose (the second wine of Chateau Montrose), 2001, for 13.95 pounds ($24.37) and two bottles of Brunello di Montalcino Fattoria Casisano Colombaio, 1999 for 12.25 ($21.40). I think that's remarkable value!
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Other reviews of this restaurant and a map can be found here.
Tonight we had a dinner at Gino's a restaurant in Ealing. Round the corner from Ealing Broadway station. This friendly Italian restaurant offers good authentic Italian food at reasonable prices.
As an aside, I actually wanted to go to my favorite restaurant in Ealing, Lisa's, but we were unable to get a table. In my opinion, Lisa's is the best restaurant I have been to in Ealing, but you do need to make reservations (020 8991 2319). I have not eaten there recently enough to write a review, but I will try to do so on my next visit to the UK.
First courses included whitebait, which came out crispy and were served with wedges of lemon. I asked if I could deviate from the menu, and I had a dish of fagioli beans cooked with wine and prosciutto di Parma. My main course was the risotto, which is made with porcini mushrooms and asparagus. (The porcini mushrooms are not fresh although they are tasty, and I have never found these wonderful fungi fresh outside Italy.) The risotto looks a mess, and Gino's should think about a little cosmetic work on this dish, but the taste is wonderful. Other people in the party had steak and sole. We had zabaglione for dessert, a dish that I have decided I do not like although I think there was nothing wrong with the way in which it was made. Mediocre cappuccino was served at the end of the meal.
We had several bottles of the excellent house white wine and the moderately good house red, which were both priced at about 12 pounds ($21.00). These wines are priced well below other wines on the menu and are quite acceptable.
Dinner for six was 157 UK Pounds ($275). Gino's is a very nice neighborhood restaurant. Reservations are recommended particularly on weekends.
Actually, Morse's house is not in Oxford at all, but in Ealing, a London suburb and the location for many BBC television productions. Looking a little bit delapidated, the house is now up for auction.
The address is 23 Castlebar Park, Ealing, London w5. It's on the corner of Castlebar Park and Victoria Road, which is about a 15 minute walk from Ealing Broadway station.
Friday, February 10, 2006
During my stay in Cairo, I stayed at the Nile Hilton on the the Executive floor, and I recommend this hotel very highly. Here are a few features that may be of interest to the traveler.
1. It is probably worth paying extra to stay on the Executive level. You get a superb breakfast that combines the best of personal service with the best of a buffet with a wonderful view of the Nile. (On the rare clear day, you can even see the Pyramids.) You also have access to the Executive lounge, where snacks are served all day, and drinks are served in the evening. (Drinks are very expensive in Egypt so this benefit is valuable to anyone who enjoys a glass of wine or a cocktail in the evening.)
2. All the staff seem to want to go out of their way to please you. You just get the impression of a well-run, efficient, and friendly hotel.
3. I was advised to stay on the city side as opposed to the river side of the hotel because it does get rather noisy at night. On this trip, I decided to ignore that advice, and it was much nicer staying with a view of the river. It was so pleasant to sit on the balcony with a bottle of wine and to watch the world go by.
4. You can get wireless access to the Internet, and it is adequate. The cost was 600 EGP for the week. However, if you want to use your Ethernet cable, you have to pay again even if you want to do so simply because the wireless access is not working.
5. Food in the hotel is good, and the cost is reasonable. I did not eat on the top floor (except for the free breakfast), where there is an ambitious and very expensive menu.
6. The are in-room safes that are free of charge. They work well and you can use your own combination.
7. The beds are a little narrow, but very comfortable.
8. The area is nice. You can take boat trips on the Nile right in front of the hotel, and there are plenty of nice retaurants in the area. The restaurants in the hotels are considerably more expensive than the independent restaurants, where you can eat very well for $10.00 or less.
9. The cost of my room on the Executive floor was about $140 (USD) per night plus taxes -- in February, 2006.
There are interesting shops at Cairo airport, and it seems a pity to waste time in this rather dismal waiting room.
There is very limited food (stale sesame sticks or sausage rolls). You can drink tea, coffee, juice, or Coca-Cola, which were served with styrofoam cups. There are separate lounges (smoking and non-smoking).
It is amazing to think that the Pyramids were the tallest structures built by humans until the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris in 1898!
Sometimes I almost studiously avoid restaurants in wonderful settings. It seems that restaurants are able to provide nice settings or good food, but very rarely can they do both.
A notable exception to this rule is the Mena House in
Buried deep inside the hotel, this restaurant does not offer a view of the Pyramids, but its exotic decor is as exciting as it is luxurious. Three of us had dinner here tonight, Dr. A, Mr. M, and me! We started off with pappadums ($2.00) and the complimentary samosas. Then we had soup. Dr. A and I had an excellent Mulligatawny soup ($4.00) and Mr. M had a the Tomato Saar soup.($4.00), which he pronounced delicious.
We each had a different dish for the main course. Dr. A chose the Murgh Jal Farizi ($12.73), which tasted as if it was very freshly cooked unlike in some India restaurants where it seems that they achieve long menus by creating any permutation of about five pre-cooked bases (chicken, lamb, beef, shrimp, or fish) with one of a dozen sauces. The sauces and the base don't exactly hit it off because they have never even met before! When I tried Murgh Jal Farizi, the vegetables were fresh, tasty, and crunchy showing that they had been freshly cooked. I found the spices in his dish just a little timid, but tasty. The Chicken Vindaloo ($13.78) was, in my mind, only passable. For my taste, there was too much vinegar in the sauce, and the chicken consisted only of drumsticks and wings. For this class of place, I would have expected a better class of meat. I really enjoyed the Shahi Korma, though. This dish of lamb in a creamy sauce with almonds has always been one of my favorites. I asked them to spice it up a little as I expected it might be a little bland to cater for the international crowd that frequents this restaurant. They added just the right amount of spice, and the dish had a pronounced tasted of black cumin. The spices in the dish were well integrated – you could taste the individual spices but they were somehow unified so that they seemed to be in harmony with each other.
We agonized a little about the wine. Initially, we were presented with a list of international wines, which was really a list of what you might see in the discount section of a British or American supermarket. The collection of French, Italian, Australian and American wines were mostly mediocre mass preoduced wines being sold at outreageous prices. For example, Blossom Hill White Zinfandel was offered for about $85! Eventually, we asked if they had Château des Rêves ($43.60), an Egyptian wine that we had recently tried at the Four Seasons Hotel. (This phenomenon of selling cheap imported wines at high prices is not unique to Mena House. It seems to be standard practice at all the top hotels in Egypt. My best advice is to stick to Egyptian wines.)
A wonderful feature of this restaurant is the little trio that provides music while you eat. A young man plays the sitar; there is a percussionist; and a woman plays another instrument and is the vocalist. Her haunting voice has lived with me since 2004 when I first visited the Moghul Room, and she was there again tonight. (I believe she is a daily feature.) Some of the songs are Indian, but they also adapt popular songs to a very distinctly Indian style, including a version of “Happy Birthday!” I asked them if they had made a CD, but they didn’t. So I will have to come back if I want to hear her again.
My only little complaint with Mena House is the way the bill is prepared. My concern is not with the bottom line. You expect to pay a lot for a meal in a top hotel. But I don’t like the way every little detail becomes an additional item whether you order it or not (chutney, water, raita, and so on.). The total worked out to be about $50.00 a head.
Before dinner, it is wonderful to sit at the bar where you do get a view of one of the Pyramids, which is flood lit. But drinks are expensive, and the measures are very short.
The meal at Mena house is the perfect ending to a day visiting the Pyramids. Highly Recommended.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
For dessert, we had good profiteroles.
The wine was the rather mediocre Egyptian Omar Khayam, which was about $11 for the bottle.
This is a good and economical restaurant just off the Corniche in central Cairo. Funnily enough, the Egyptian staff did not speak any English as they do in most Cairo restaurants, and all business had to be conducted in French.
Everything about this restaurant is blue including the lighting, which makes everyone look a little strange. The Tournedos was the most expensive dish on the menu, which starts at about $4.00 for chicken. Recommended.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
The Al Azhar mosque is in front of the Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar where I went to buy some presents for my family.
All the shops were open until about ten o'clock. You can buy almost anything in the bazaar -- food, clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, spices, sheets, towels!
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
The other nice thing is that you can linger as long as you like over your coffee and use their wireless Internet connection.
I went to the one in Zamalek (8 El Marsaly Square), but there are other branches in the downtown area, Heliopolis, and in Alexandria. They deliver food as well.
They also have very nice looking cakes, but when I asked if I could photograph one, the manager had to be called. He probably would have said yes, but I was too impatient to wait for a decision!
Monday, February 06, 2006
This picture shows the contrast between the tall spires of the minarets that are built in the Turkish tradition and the shorter fatter ones that are more common in the Arab world.
Cairo's skyline from the citadel
Visitors are allowed into the mosque whatever their faith. You just have to take off your shoes.
The Cairo Cellar has a short menu, including steaks, breaded veal, chicken, hamburgers, and some pasta. Dr. A ordered the veal, and he enjoyed it very much. I had the steak au poivre ($7.85), which I ordered "Very Rare." In Egypt, I have ordered several steaks, and after a little misunderstanding where we discuss whether I mean "Very well done," they always seem to get my steaks exactly the way I like them. The "au poivre" part was really good -- a well peppered brown sauce that smothered the juicy steak. It came with steamed vegetables that were cooked to the point that they were still crunchy. Mr. M ordered the house steak with mashed potatoes.
I particularly liked the starters. We ordered a plate of fried calamari, which were tender, hot, and not at all like the rubber calamari sometimes served in restaurants. We also had another kind of foul, which were steamed fava (broad) beans served with lemon and olive oil. We ate them with our hands disposing of the thick outer skins in a little side plate. I love simple vegetable dishes.
Cairo cafe is a bit like a pub, and we had a bottle of white Sherezade ($14.83). This was a good meal and the price for three of us including starters, a main course, tax, and a generous tip was about $65. If you are in Cairo, this restaurant is friendly and excellent value for the money. It is also nice to be able to have a glass of wine at a reasonable price.
I will be writing more about Egyptian wine in another posting, but Sherezade seems to offer fairly good wine at a reasonable price. (In the shops it costs about $6.00.)
Saturday, February 04, 2006
The cheese and desserts were beautifully presented.