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Is Inflation Coming? May 30, 2009

Posted by hslu in Economics.
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Is Inflation coming?

Mr. Paul krugman published an Op-ed on NY Times on May 28, 2009 arguing that the Big Inflation Scare is not founded.

He reasons that banks are not lending and, in some cases, even return the money back to the Fed. He also suggests that Japan, facing similar difficulties in late 1990’s and early 2000’s purchased a tremendous amount of debt. But the consumer prices there fell instead!

I am not sure this is a legitimate comparison though. Japan is facing two very serious  problems: aging population and low birth rate which I believe are the primary reason, among others, responsible for falling consumer prices. Government spending has limited effect because Japanese, especially older Japanese, are savers instead of spenders. We know that savers do not grow economy. Spenders, such as American, do!

Japan’s economy is heavily dependent on export which has been under serious competition from countries such as China. As a result, its economy has not been able to grow like it did in the 1980’s. As economy stagnant or slowed down, consumer prices fell despite heavy government spending.

The economy of the United States is consumer-driven which accounts for roughly 70% of the GDP. Americans are accustomed to spending and, as a nation, our savings rate has been hovering around 0% for many years. The financial crisis has changed our spending habit and has raised our savings rate to about 4% in recent months. The reduction on consumer spending and tight lending practices have been largely responsible for the contraction of GDP since December 2007. Despite government spending which is inherently inefficient and wasteful, the recession will not end until housing market recovers, bank lending returns to normal and job market stabilizes. Government spending by itself will not end the recession, period.

In other words, credit will eventually start to flow to corporations and consumers. Otherwise the economy will not grow very fast. Without growth, the recession will not end. Lending will come back because banks will not sit on their reserves forever and investors will demand a better return. The consumer will return to spending once stock market recovers and housing market bottoming out. As we feel better for our future and our jobs, savings rate will decline again and consumer spending will pick up.

When that happens, the extra money supply that the Fed has been putting in the system will eventually lead to inflation. All we need now is time.

We will see in 2 years whether Mr. Krugman is right or wrong.

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A mysterious egg in my back yard May 29, 2009

Posted by hslu in Health.
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I found an egg in my back yard by the fish pond the other day. It was about twice the size of a regular chicken egg.

I am not sure where it came from and after 2 days it disappeared from where I found it.

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Han Gang Korean Restaurant – Little River Turnpike, Annandale, Virginia May 29, 2009

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Han Gang Korean Restaurant – Little River Turnpike, Annandale, Virginia

Han Gang restaurant is new; it was about 4 months old when we visited it one evening in early April, 2009.

Han Gang restaurant is huge; the free-standing building is about 4,000 sq ft and the restaurant has more than 250 seats. It also has two private dinning rooms to the right of the front door which can accommodate 40 guests each. The front of the restaurant has a narrow but long rock garden completed with a pond, some koi or gold fish and plastic toys ducks and sail ship. It also has several underwater light of various colors in the water and in the rock garden.

Han Gang restaurant is nicely decorated inside; dark-color waist-height wood panels, modern ceiling and track lights, blue-colored walls with pictures of Korean scenery, black, shinning table tops and upholstery chairs, and decorative cases with multi-color glass balls hanging from the top. I particularly like the display near the cash register talking about the importance of Han Gang (Han River or 漢江 in Chinese) to Korean people throughout its long history.

But Han Gang Korean Restaurant is over-priced. It was about 10 – 20% more expensive than comparable Korean restaurants in the area. Its food wasn’t 10% or 20% better tasting nor was its portion 10 – 20% more. The higher prices were necessary probably because of the change over from the previous business to a restaurant with numerous venting and fire protection systems to accommodate table top BBQ cooking through out the restaurant.

We were trying to find a Korean restaurant for a later dinner. We drove along Columbia Pike and Little River Turnpike in Annandale but couldn’t find a restaurant that would stay open long at that time. We didn’t want to go to Yechon because we’ve been there too many times. As we drove up and down the Little River Turnpike, Jennifer spotted a restaurant that looked like a good place to eat. We arrived at the restaurant about 45 minutes before closing. The restaurant was quite empty with a couple of tables. After we sat down we were offered only 3 or 4 small dishes or panchan. I thought that was all we were going to get and was somewhat disappointed because good Panchan is essential to any respectable Korean restaurant. After we placed our order, more panchan came but they were the usual dishes we could get from other Korean restaurants.

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Our order included these dishes:

1. Dolsot Bibimbap – Seasoned vegetables, beef and egg over steamed rice in a hot stone bowl served with spicy mixing sauce. The rice wasn’t browned when it was served to us. I guess the chef wanted to go home bad.

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2. Go Deung-uh Gui – Grilled mackerel. Good presentation and nice taste. The menu says the fish is fresh. I am not sure it was though.

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3. Haemul Soon Dooboo Jjigae – The quintessential tofu stew with seafood, vegetables and egg. This dish wasn’t as good as the tofu stew at Lighthouse Tofu near K-Mart. The broth lacked that freshness taste that is so essential for this dish.

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4. Naeng Myun – Chilled buckwheat noodles topped with Asian pear, thin slices of beef brisket, cucumber, seasoned radish and boiled egg. This is a dish that we never had before. We were a little adventurous when we decided to try this dish; a favorite summer dish for Korean. The broth was refreshing and chill, very suitable for hot summer but not that much for an April evening. But, it wasn’t bad at all.

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We stayed a little over closing time and left the restaurant because we didn’t want to keep the waitress there any longer than necessary. The meal came to $92.08, about $15 to $20 more than a comparable restaurant. I don’t think I will go back to this one anytime soon.

Fisherman’s Inn and Crab Deck in Maryland Eastern Shore – May 2009 May 27, 2009

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Fisherman’s Inn in Maryland Eastern Shore – May 2009

Jennifer came home for her yeye’s birthday celebration on Wednesday May 6th, 2009. We had a very nice dinner at oriental Gourmet Chinese restaurant in Arlington, VA. She stayed until the weekend to help with the cooking extravaganza at 依府 Yi’s resident for Mother’s day celebration.

We decided to take Jennifer on a day trip to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for some seafood on Saturday, May 9th, 2009. I have googled the restaurants in Eastern Shores the day before and decided on Fisherman’s Inn for lunch. It is very popular with the tourists and has been there for more than 70 years. We left the house around noon and it took us about an hour to drive to the restaurant on the other side of the Bay Bridge.

fisherman's Inn and crab deck

The restaurant is huge with about 500 seats in separate dinning rooms. The waiting room near the front door has several rows of wooden benches for about 40 people. We were led to a window booth over-looking a small garden complete with a small waterfall and a pond. The garden was well maintained which reminded me of the work I put into my backyard. The restaurant also had displays of old style china for oysters which filled several cabinets thought out the dinning area and hall ways.

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We quickly checked out the menu and ordered the following:

• Hot Crab & Artichoke Dip ($11.99) with very generous portion of lump crab meat but not a lot of artichoke hearts though. I didn’t like the cracker that came with the dip either.

• Two orders of Oysters on the half-shell for $7.98 each. They were served with shrimp cocktail and horseradish on the side. The oysters were fresh and great! I believed that Jennifer could eat another 2 orders.

• Deep-fried Crab Cake ($15.99) with French Fries. It has good amount of crab meat but sure tasted different from eating a whole crab.

• Shellfish Linguine ($12.99) with plenty of shrimp, clams and crab meat in a marinara lobster sauce. This dish was the best dish among our entrees. The linguini was coated with creamy sauces and the seafood was properly cooked so that they were tender and not chewy.

• Oven Boiled Flounder Fillet with lobster cream sauce for $17.00, This dish wasn’t worth the plate it was served on even though the serving portion was very large for the price: the fish was bland, slightly over-cooked and tasted like coming out from a plastic bag than from a boat.

• A ½ bottle of Adelsheim Pinot Gris for $18 from Oregon. The wine was crispy but lacks the depth and complexity of Pinot Gris from California and Italy but it was okay for $18.

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We finished the lunch and walked to the fish market and crab house next door. Jennifer was disappointed that we didn’t go to the crab deck for lunch. I told her that we’ll come back next time when xiao is home. Since it was still early we decided to drive to the Eastern Shore instead of going back home since Rehoboth Beach of Delaware is only an hour away.

Rehoboth Beach is a small beach town at the southern end of Delaware. Maria and I have been there a couple of times but Jennifer hasn’t. There are several outlet shopping malls along the major highway in the town and many stores had great sales probably because recession has affected their sales. Jennifer and Maria each bought some nice looking jeans and tops at less than $10 each. Maria also bought a colorful short jacket for $25. Before heading home, I wanted to take a look of the beach since we’ve only spent time in the shopping center. I followed the sign to the beach and was surprised to find the place was filled with shops, restaurants and hotels. I found a great spot to park my car because it was less than 20’ away from the beach and all the eating places. The beach was clean and there weren’t many people there because it was rather late by then. We walked on the beach and I planned to have dinner there after sunset. Unfortunately within 2 minutes of our stroll, the sky got dark, the wind began to blow and huge raindrops poured down very hard. Luckily I had a small umbrella with me for Maria and I used Maria’s coat to cover Jennifer and myself. Even with our car so close to the beach, I got my shirt and pants all wet. We got in the car and decided to drive back to Virginia. By that time, the sun has begun to set and people started to leave.

On the way back, we decided to have dinner at Fisherman’s Crab Deck instead of waiting for our next trip here. Since my shirt is wet, we turned the heater on full blast and dried it within half hour or so. By the time we got there, it was about 45 minutes from its closing time.

We ordered a pitcher of Blue Moon ($12.99.) a dozen of large steamed crab ($52,) 3 corns ($2.29 each,) a mud pie ($4.75) and an order of onion peddles ($7.99.) I chose the large crab because it has more meat although it was $15 more than the next size.

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After we placed our order, a young man came over and covered our table top with paper. The beer came quickly and everything else came shortly after that except the mud cake. The crabs came on a big tray and all of them were covered with spices. We didn’t waste any time and began to dig in with the help of a mallet and paring knife. Jennifer and Maria each had a bib but I was able to keep my semi-dried shirt clean through out my meal. The crab was great even for me because I usually don’t eat crab at all. Even when Maria got the meat out of the crab shell, I still don’t like it. But this meal was different: the crabs were meatier and covered with spices, the beer was cold and smooth, the corn (quite expensive though) was tender and buttery and it was fun trying to get crab meat out of its claws and body. The drawn butter wasn’t my favorite so I stayed with the old fashion cocktail sauce. The onion peddles was purely a waste of money and the mud cake was just okay.

By the end of the meal, I had already became a mallet expert on blue crabs but Jennifer was still searching for the magic touch. I quickly finished my shares of four crabs followed by Maria. Jennifer turned out to be the last guest in the restaurant who was still working on her crabs when restaurant staff began to leave for the day.

We left the crab deck around 11 PM, took US 50 through the center of Washington DC and got home around midnight. The trip was short but fun. We let our spontaneity to guide us. It turned out to be fun and memorable. We certainly will go back to Rehoboth, visit that shopping area and walk on the beach. We will likely go back to the Crab Deck during the day around September and October when crabs are at their best and to enjoy the scenery of the Chesapeake Bay.

A Day Trip to Shenandoah National Park – May 19, 2009 May 27, 2009

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A Day Trip to Shenandoah National Park – May 19, 2009

Tuesday, May 19th was a perfect day for picnic; high in the low 70’s , very comfortable with humidity in the 20 – 30% range, mostly sunny and wind from the North West around 3 mph. I told Maria the day before that we would go to picnic and asked her where she liked to go: the mountains to the west or sea shores to the east. She chose the mountain. And that’s where we went to in the afternoon of May 19th, 2009.

I got up early around 10: 00 in the morning to prepare food for the picnic:

• Rotini pasta, apple, capers and cucumber salad,

• Potato salad with a touch of vinegar and sugar,

• Roasted quail from a Vietnamese Restaurant in the Worldgate Shopping Center,

• Some Salami, Prosciutto, and Calabrese from Costco,

• A couple of cheeses from Trader Joe’s; Gouda and Jalapeño Monterrey Jack Cheese,

• A ½ bottle of 2007 Santa Cristina red wine made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Melot.

With a couple of plastic cups, plastic forks, knifes, box of napkins, and our running shoes, we headed to the mountain around 12:30 in the afternoon. Since we didn’t have anything to eat in the morning, we got hungry before we left the town. We decided to find a park and eat what we have first. We used Maria’s GPS and found Manassas Battleground National Park near by. We stopped by the visitors’ center but saw the no picnic sign near its entrance. Disappointed, we searched again and found Ellis Barron Park in the city of Manassas about 5 miles away. We followed GPS’s instruction but couldn’t find the park. Frustrated, we wanted to through it out of the window (This wasn’t the first time though but we kept it until we get a new one) but we were too hungry to dive to another park. We turned around and found the park the second time around. It turned out that the GPS had the wrong official address for the park. But fortunately, the park was near by and we got lucky because of our persistence. The park has a good-size playground with swings, slide and exercise bars, 2 covered picnic areas with 4 tables and benches, a basketball court, and many BBQ pits scattered out near by. Several kids were there already and they were having a picnic of their own. We got our stuff out of the car and began to enjoy our late lunch at 1:40 PM. By the time we finished our lunch, it was almost 2:30 PM. More kids showed up at the playground and another kid started to ply basketball by himself. We quickly left Manassas, got on I-66 and headed west to Shenandoah National Park.

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We got there around 3:50 PM as we pulled up the entrance gate. The entrance fee was $15 per vehicle. I told the middle age female park ranger that I am 61 years old and asked her if I qualify for senior citizen discount. She said that I have to be 62 years old to get the discount and said that’s something to look for next year. She also said that once I am 62, I can purchase the America the Beautiful life time pass for $10. It basically allows me to drive a car with all its passengers in any national park for free. It also allows me to take up to 3 people in an area where per person charge is required in any national park. I laughed out and said thank you to her. She also said that there were quite a few sightings of animals in the park and asked us to look for them too.

We drove to the first visitor center, the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, about 5 miles from the north entrance. We have been here several time over the years and decided to stop by here in the interest of time. We walked inside and asked the ranger to help with information on a short trail for some light hiking. He gave us a map and suggested us to take the Fox Hollow Trail on the other side of the Skyline Drive. Maria asked him about a small waterfall but he said that was too far to hike since we only allotted 2 hours for hiking. The Fox Hollow Trail was relatively easy with a few steep and long hills along the 1.2 mile trail. It took us about an hour to walk and there were only a few fellow hikers probably because it was kind of late in the afternoon. We didn’t see any animals (not even a squirrel) but heard many birds in the thick forest.

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We finished the first the trail and wanted to jog some more to get additional exercise for the day. We heard some sound coming from another trail and though there might be a small creek near by. We ventured out to the adjacent Dickey Ridge Trail hoping to find the source of the spring. Since it was getting late, we decided to walk for another ½ hour and if we still couldn’t find the stream, we’d turn around and head back to the visitor center. Since the entire trail was 2.7 miles round trip, it could take us 2 hours to finish. By that time, it could be dark outside and we certainly didn’t want to be alone in a forest where bears have been seen (The ranger told us that he has seen 50+ bears since he started worked there 4 years ago.) Well, this trail was easier but we didn’t see any stream after our 30 minute hike. We turned around and got back to the visitor center to enjoy the beautiful view of dark green forest and the wide open blue sky.

The trip couldn’t be complete without a nice meal to cap off the evening. As we drove toward home, we relied on our GPS to find a restaurant for us. We decided to stop by Warrenton for dinner because it was about half way between the national park and home. It also was the largest town on the way home. We searched by category and found Napoleon Restaurant and many others. We decided on Napoleon primarily because its name implied that it was a French restaurant and because no other information was available from our cheap GPS.

When we arrived at the restaurant, it looked not too bad from the street level: big building and big parking lot, an outdoor terrace completed with lighting on the second floor and an entrance with a red canopy. Well, we probably got lucky this time.

After we walked in, I had this uncomfortable feeling that this wasn’t what it appeared to be from the outside: an empty bar, an empty dinning room with a table of two, no white table cloth, no wine or water glasses on the table and no fancy decorations. Well, what can you expect from a town like Warrenton? It turned out that the main dinning room only opens from Wednesday through Sunday and we had to take the dinning room in the bar. Well, I told Maria that we should take the attitude of what Chinese called “即来之, 则安之 ji lai zhi, ze an zhi: since you are already here, take the cards dealt to you and make the best out of it,” and make this an adventure for the evening. We may get lucky the second time in a row.

I asked for the wine menu first and decided to have a half bottle since I still had about 60 miles to drive and didn’t take a nap in the afternoon. I chose a cheap Pinot Gris from California for $23. She bought us the wine and had me tasted it. The wine was very fruity with citrus bouquet but had a very shallow finish. She also bought an old fashion ice bucket to keep the wine cool which I like it very much. We ordered two appetizers; Escargot ($6.95) and Frittata ($7.95), a Caesar salad ($6.50), and shared an 8 oz. Filet Mignon ($21.95.) Since by this time, the whole restaurant had only 2 guests: us, we had the entire attention of our waitress for our meal.

Well, the escargot was the worst I had ever had in any French restaurant: it was cooked in a white-wine sauce instead of baked with butter, parsley and garlic in an oven. Worse, the wine sauce was too watery and it tasted too sour to me because the chef poured too much white wine in the fry pan. I believed the chef didn’t even know how to cook this dish. Frittata, an open face omelet with cheese and basil, was nothing special to write about except that it was definitely way over-priced. I guessed that the head chef was off today and a line cook was on duty who might double as dish washer. Caesar salad was nice and fresh and the portion was nice too. The filet was tender: medium rare like I ordered but the taste was average.

We left the restaurant disappointed despite our effort to make the best of it. I guess that there is only that much one can do when the evening started with the worst escargot we’ve ever had. We’ll look for something else next time when we are in the area.

Kopitiam – A Singapore Restaurant in Lafayette, CA May 18, 2009

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Kopitiam – A Singapore Restaurant in Lafayette, CA

It was quite a coincidence that we met Denica’s mother and her brother right in front of Kevin’s apartment when we visited him the second time after his knee surgery. We were about to go out to dinner about 7 in the evening on April 6th. The sun was still out and the weather was quite nice and comfortable. I had just pulled up my rental car in front of his apartment and was waiting for them to come out. When they finally showed up, Denica’s mother was happened to be there waiting for his son to get off from a class. She spotted Kevin first and called on him to say hello. She asked Kevin about his surgery and showed sincere concern about the progress of his recovery. She more than once praised Kevin for his good nature and personality and asked him if he had talked to Denica recently. She said that Denica was coming home that weekend for the annual Chinese Wushu competition at Berkeley and wanted to invite us for a dinner. I told her that we were only here until Wednesday and said that she really didn’t have to do that. Maria instead jumped in and said that we should be free Tuesday night and said that she wanted to thank Denica’s mother because she had taken care of Kevin when we were not in Berkeley. Well, Denica’s mother said that she’d come over tomorrow night and take us to dinner. Well, that’s how my first encounter with Singapore cuisine came about.

Kopitiam is located in Lafayette, California about 15 miles east of Berkeley. Denica’s parents and her brother came over Tuesday evening and her mother rode in our car and took us to Kopitiam after a 20 minute drive. Kopitiam stands for a traditional breakfast and coffee (Kopi) shop (Tiam店 or shop) found in Singapore and South East Asia. The restaurant is located in a strip mall of about 20 stores. The outside of the restaurant was It is quite small with about 30 seats. There are a few displays on the wall and in the window showing awards won by the chef, Mr. Thian Boon Leong. Apparently Chef Thian had been in culinary business for 28 years and opened Kopitiam in Lafayette about 2 years ago. The restaurant looked very new to me, clean and with little decoration. A dark-colored wooden counter in the back of the restaurant separated the dinning area with the waiter station which was also used to prepare some of the dishes. The layout of the dinning room was a bit unusual because the seating arrangement and a waist high counter near the front door were such that it was kind of inconvenient for customers to get in and out of the restaurant.

When we first entered the restaurant, Denica’s parents were warmly greeted by the lone waitress and a few other people behind the counter. It appeared that they were regulars at this restaurant. We were seated near the entrance and Denica’s parents patiently explained some dishes to us and compared them to what they had in Singapore. Our waitress was very nice, offered timely suggestions to Denica’s parents and answered a few of my questions.

I ordered Roti Prata ($4.75) which I thought was similar to our 蔥油餅 and a couple of Otah ($1 each) which was fresh fish paste wrapped in banana leaf. They ordered Kopitiam Organic Chicken Rice ($8.95.) the most famous Kopitiam dish. It was prepared with de-boned organic chicken, steamed and cooked with chicken favored Jasmine rice. Soy sauce and minced ginger were served with this dish. Other dishes included Sambal Eggplant (Grilled eggplant in Sambal sauce at $5.95) and curry fish.

The Roti Prata turned out to be more like Indian’s Naan than Chinese’s 蔥油餅. It was thin and cooked in a pan using vegetable oil. I was disappointed at Otah because it wasn’t properly seasoned and lack of banana leaf flavor. I couldn’t make out what the Sambal sauce was like because I was totally unfamiliar with its taste. The Organic Chicken wasn’t my favor because I didn’t like chucks of chicken breast meat but the rice was fluffy, soft and full of flavor. Curry fish was heavy in curry taste but there were other spices I couldn’t identify. The fish was slightly over cooked too. Since this was the first time I had Singapore cuisine, I was interested in the way it was cooked and how it tasted in my mouth. I found that I didn’t like their food that much probably because I was unfamiliar with their cooking technique and wasn’t that crazy about curry or coconut milk in many of their dishes.

I also spent some time talked to Denica’s dad about Singapore: the island itself, the country, its relationship with its neighbors especially Malaysia, and its politics using the only name I knew about Singapore from my college days in Taiwan, Premier Lee Kuan Yew. The island is very small: about 3 times the size of Washington DC but has grown bigger slowly by creating new land from filling the seabed with dirt from the hills in the country. However, it has run out of space to the north and had to expand to the South which is more costly. I found out that, like us in Taiwan, all male in Singapore have to serve in the Army for 2 to 3 years before college because Malaysia, being a pre-dominant Muslin country, had wanted to take over the small island country to the South when it became an independent country in the middle of 1960’s. The fact that Singapore has been under the control of Chinese and the living standard of Singapore is way higher than its neighbor didn’t help the situation either. As far as Premier Lee, Denica’s dad told me that he ran the country with a heavy hand and it would be unthinkable to be his enemy when he was in power. Although he has stepped down from the Premier position, his son is currently in power.

We finished our dinner around 8:30 PM and said good-bye to each other at the parking lot. I am sure that some day I’ll have another chance to try Singapore cuisine, most likely in Singapore. By then, my experience at Kopitiam will be a good reference point to build upon. At least I’ll know more about Singapore food than before I ate at Kopitiam.

Katzs in New York May 17, 2009

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Of all the sandwich varieties, I like Pastrami on Rye the most. I started to appreciate Pastrami on Rye after Jason’s Deli opened a shop on Parker about 2 miles from our house when we lived in Plano, Texas. We used to take Jennifer and Kevin to eat at the deli and enjoyed their thick sandwiches, fresh salad bar, clean facility, family atmosphere, affordable prices and free small chocolate cupcakes.

I like pastrami on rye because I enjoy the hot, tender and juicy pastrami meat, the smell of coriander and mustard seeds, and the smoky aroma slowly permeating in your mouth through each bite. The rye bread elevates the eating pleasure to a higher level because of its fluffy texture and fennel seeds. With a slice of crispy pickle and a cold beer, I’ll call it a good meal.

On an earlier visit to NY, I told Jennifer that I wanted to try a good NY pastrami sandwich next time when we visited NY. She had mentioned a deli close by her place but I decided to check the web for the most famous deli in NY and decided to try Katzs for the original NY pastrami sandwich.

It was a miserable rainy afternoon on April fool’s day when we visited Katzs in a part of NY Manhattan I had never been before. I dropped Maria and Jennifer off at the front door and started to look for parking. After driving around the block a couple of times, I found a perfect spot right by the entrance of Katzs. Parking wasn’t cheap but it was a lot better than have someone else park for you at a parking garage.

The interior of the deli was open, old and not very inspiring. Three rows of back to back fluorescent lights along the length of the dinning room ceiling provided enough lighting to compensate the grey sky outside. The long, open kitchen behind a wooden counter occupied 1/3 of the dinning room along the wall on one side. On the wall above the kitchen, there were several menu boards, about 200 2-, 3- and 5-lb dried salamis, several T-shirts and three or four neon lights advertising the type of beers available on site. On the other wall, there were hundreds of framed pictures covered the entire wall. I guessed after 121 years, it would have developed quite a following from local business people and from tourists alike. The rest of the dinning room had 3 rows of tables, chairs and a few booths. The tables had Formica laminate tops and some had dents  like they were beat up by small kids.

When we came in, we each was handed a piece of crappy ticket about 1 1/4” wide by 5 1/2” long with three rows of numbers.

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Maria and Jennifer did the ordering: a pastrami sandwich, a corned beef sandwich, and several pickles. The guy made some note on the ticket and handed it back to them. I ordered a Sam Adams for myself and the guy behind the counter made a mark on my ticket. I examined the tickets but couldn’t figure out their system. Well, I hoped the cashier knew what all that meant to charge us the right amount.

When I first saw the sandwich, I was kind of disappointed: it wasn’t as big as I wished. The pastrami just wasn’t thick enough! The sandwich was nonetheless very tender with spice, flavor and smokiness I liked. The rye bread was fresh and soft but I had to say that I had better pickles before. The corned beef sandwich wasn’t my favorite because it was kind of bland. The beer was cold though. We also ordered another pastrami sandwich for Bobby because he had to work.

When we left the deli, we handed over the crappy ticket to the girl in a booth near the door, she looked at the ticket and quickly gave us a total of about $65: $14.95 for each of the three sandwiches and the beer probably cost $5 or $6. Not cheap at all!

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Well, here is what I have to say about Katzs: If you like pastrami on rye like I do, please don’t go to Katzs’. There has to be something better and cheaper somewhere in New York City. I’ll continue my search for the perfect pastrami on rye and will definitely try the one suggested by Jennifer next time when we visit NY.

欲知后事如何, 请听下回分解

yu zhi hou shi ru he, qing tian xia hui fen jie

Composition of China King Customers May 17, 2009

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Recently I have been doing head count analysis of my customers with the intention to have a better understanding of what my customers are like. The method wasn’t scientific and the data was incomplete and probably flawed to certain degree, but I believe it gives me some idea of where my customers come from. With this information, I can better develop new dishes to satisfy my customers’ requests or to attract new customers.

Here is what I have found out so far during late April and early May of 2009:

Latinos – 37.4%, Indians – 12.4%, White – 26.4%, Black – 9.2%, Chinese – 5.6% and others – 9.1%.

I have done the same analysis back in February 2004, and the make up of my customers were:

Latinos – 37.5%, Indians – 9.6%, White – 33.0%, Black – 4.9%, Asian – 12.4%, and Middle Eastern – 2.6%.

It is remarkable that the percentage of my Latino customers stayed essentially the same at 37% over a 5-year span. I know I shouldn’t extrapolate beyond the decimal point but I can’t help but be amazed at these two data points.

It appears that I have lost some white customers most likely during the lunch time. There have been many casual dinning restaurants and fast food joints opening up in the Tysons area and in Falls Church such as Panera Bread, Five Guys, Chipotle, Jason’s Deli and Cosi. I think it is difficult for us to compete with sandwiches and hamburgers even though our prices are lower.

The gain in Indian and Black customers make up the loss in Whites. Some Indians moved into the Pimmit area behind our restaurant.  They are here to attend Stratford College on the other side of the Leesburg Pike. Quite a few black customers work in a metro maintenance facility on Idylwood near by.

I also noticed that we had more Chinese customers in recent years and that was why I add Chinese as a separate category. Back in 2004, Chinese customers accounted for less than 1% of mu customers because we really didn’t have any dishes that would enticing them to eat at our place. Since we added several typical Chinese dishes such as Pork with Dry Bean Curd, Chicken in Black Bean Sauce and Hot Pepper Chicken, we have noticed the change.

I am also evaluating all times on my restaurant’s menu hoping to spot dishes that very few people like.

The economy in Northern Virginia hasn’t completely escaped the recession and we have seen it at our restaurant too. More people come to our restaurant because our low prices and excellent value. Credit card usage has dropped a bit too.

The considerable and probable long-lasting damage on personal wealth in term of 40% drop in stock portfolio and home equity have forced people to rethink their living style. In times like this, it is the low end restaurants such as ours that have gained business at the expense of high end dinning places. I guess you can call this the siliver lining of recession.

Mon Ami Gabi – Tang Family Reunion, Saturday, March 28, 2008 May 4, 2009

Posted by hslu in Restaurants.
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Mon Ami Gabi – Family Reunion, Saturday, March 28, 2008

This French restaurant is our favorite among all restaurants in Reston Town Center, past and present. We went back to try their authentic French cooking again on Saturday, March 28, 2009. This time we bought a crowd with us. The occasion was family reunion and cherry blossom festival in Washington DC.

Jennifer and Bobby came down from NY because Bobby was on his last few days of a 2-week vacation. Jennifer’s xiao ayi flew in from Houston, her dajojo came in from Phoenix, her da ayi came from Livingston, New Jersey and her xiao jojo lives here in NV. I wanted to celebrate this special occasion with a meal they will remember for a long time. I also knew that Jennifer will like this place because their escargot is fantastic and their steak is thick, juicy, tender and median rare. The way it should be.

Our reservation for a table of 8 was at 7:30 PM and we arrived there on time. We were led to a table in the back of the restaurant surrounded by a noisy crowd of about 80 people in that section of the restaurant. We quickly decided our seating and then waste no time to dig into the warm petit baguettes with whipped butter and two other spreads. As they were deciding what they each liked to eat or share, I already knew what I wanted: Escargot, a 6 oz. Filet, and a bowl of French onion soup. I as usual went for the wine menu and started going down their lists of red wines from France. Since I barely heard 1/10 of the wines on the menu, I decided to pick one from the Medoc region of Bordeaux. I picked that particular wine, Haut Medoc – Chateau Camensac, 2005 for $66, because I knew 2005 was an excellent vintage for Bordeaux wines, Camensac is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which would be easier to drink for several people on the table, and $66 seemed to be reasonable for a Bordeaux wine in a French restaurant like Mon Ami Gabi.

After much debate and going back and forth, here were our selections:

Appetizers:

2 Escargots de Bourgogne – oven-roasted snails, garlic-herb butte

Chicken Liver Mousse – burgundy red wine mustard, warm country bread

Steamed Mussels in Calvados sauce – full order with Fritte. Calvados is an apple brandy from the Normandy region in France.

2 Duck Confit on a bed of lentils, pearl onions with a balsamic reduction

Soup and Salad:

Frisee Salad

2 Salade Maison with goat cheese, olive crouton and vinaigrette

Butter Lettuce – apple, gruyere cheese, walnuts in cider vinaigrette

2 Onion Soup au Gratin – “the French classic” – baked with gruyere cheese

2 Butternut Squash soup – crème fraîche with chive

Entrees:

New York Strip Steak with shallots and burgundy sauce

Filet Mignon – with butter and red wine (Melot) reduction

Bone-In Ribeye – 22 oz. with red-wine wine sauce

Slow-Braised Pork Shank – with white wine and rosemary

Sides:

Green Beans

Cream Spinach

Veggie Sampler

Desserts:

Profiteroles – a vanilla ice cream filled pastry, fudge sauce

Apple and Pear Crumble with vanilla ice cream

Crème Brûlée – a classic. vanilla custard with burnt sugar

Chocolate Cake

The escargot was as good as the ones I had here before: a lot of butter, garlic and parsley. I knew that a lot of Baguette was consumed trying to get the last bit of the butter from each of those 8 holes. The chicken liver mousse wasn’t as good as the country pate we had before. Duck Confit was warm and tender. It wasn’t very greasy but needed a little more seasoning. The bed of lentils was good though. The steamed mussels were definitely above average and the sauce went well with baguette too. Although I could use a little more brandy in the sauce.

The salads were fresh but since it wasn’t my cup of tea, I had a few bites and that was enough. My French onion soup was hot and it was topped with a thick layer of cheese like it was suppose to be. The bread was a bit thick though but the beef stock was concentrated and filled with onions. I didn’t like too much of the butternut squash soup probably because I didn’t like the sour cream in the soup.

The wine was good but not great: dark ruby red in color, fruity on the nose (I couldn’t tell what kind of fruit it was because I am still learning the tricks of wine tasting.) The wine, as expected, was gentle on the palate probably because of the Melot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend. However, the finish wasn’t very strong. I am not too sure what other people thought about the wine but everyone had some and I ordered two bottles so that I would have enough to last the entire meal.

My piece of steak was great: tender and warm in the center. Juicy and with the right amount of seasoning! I also had a few bites from the others but by that time I was too full to fully enjoy other dishes. Desserts came quickly after our table was cleared and cleaned. Some of us had coffee and others decided not to order any after a full meal. Of all desserts, I only had some crème brulée because I was too full to eat anything else.

The bill came with 18% 18% gratuity added. I would certainly give him more than 20% if it wasn’t added to the bill. I added $20 more tips to make it about 23.5%.

Here is the breakdown of the meal:

Food: $313.75.

Wine: $132

Tax: $23.79

Tips: $105.64

Total: $605.18.

Housing Market – Sign of Bottoming Out? May 4, 2009

Posted by hslu in Economics.
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Housing Market – Sign of Bottoming Out?

A friend of mine bought a townhouse from a bank last Thursday, April 30, 2009.

The foreclosed property, built 6 years ago, is located in Loudoun County off Route 7 just west of Route 28. She and her friend visited the property on Tuesday and on Thursday entered a cash bid of $385,000, about $10,000 above the asking price. When their agent talked to bank’s listing agent about the bid, she was told that there were 8 other bids on the table and the highest bid was $420,000. She was also told that the bank has decided to take the highest bid and made arrangement to close the sale on Monday, May 4, 2009. It appeared that my friend’s dream of owning a house was once again spoiled.

Early Thursday afternoon, my friend received a call from their agent and was told that they might get the house anyway because the bank liked the cash bid and had decided to re-examine its decision.

Later that afternoon, their agent informed them that the bank is willing to take their cash bid and asked them if they want to close the sale that afternoon. Since they liked the property, they went to their bank, got a cashier’s check, went to the title company and signed the contract that afternoon. It turned out that the bank preferred cash on hand instead of waiting up to 60 days to close the deal with the other buyer.

Based on county data, the property had a market value of $500,000+ in 2006. The bank took over the property about 3 months ago. Renovated the property and put it on the market less than a month ago.

My friend came from Shanghai and has been in the US for about 10 years. Her family and her friend’s family have been sharing an apartment in McLean for 6 or 7 years. They desperately wanted to buy a house so that they don’t have to pay the landlord without any equity on hand. They wanted to pay cash so that they don’t have to have a mortgage to worry about. They took advantage of lowering housing prices here and have seen many single-family houses and townhouses over last 18 months. They have entered many bids but were over-bided time and time again. It appeared that my friend got a very good deal this time.

Looks like the housing market in the metro area is bottoming out! The fact that so many people bid on a single property indicates that the free-falling of the housing prices may be over. However, there are still many foreclosure properties on the market and the recovery of the housing market will take some more time. The uptick of the housing prices will not come back until we see improvement in the labor market.

One piece of data to watch is the number of people claiming continuous unemployment benefit (after drawing their first week unemployment benefits.) Currently, that number stood at a record high of 6.271 million people in the week ended April 18, according to the most recent data. Past data indicates that recession will not over until that number starts to decline.

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