Monday, May 21, 2012

Halong Bay with The Au Co

Hoan Kiem Lake by day

I had been looking forward to the trip for months. I wanted to give Hanoi a second chance because my first visit was a disaster. It was the result of bad luck and poor planning. I scheduled the trip in July when Hanoi was searing hot. I had nothing on my itinerary but Hoan Kiem Lake and a bit of shopping. Having done both, I had nothing better to do so I made a hasty booking for a tour to Perfume Pagoda. Bad decision, as the last leg of travel was a one and half hour (one-way) canoe ride under the blazing sun. I had one big migraine upon return, lasting till the next day, which made me forego another hastily booked tour.

I regretted not making time for the big-ticket item among Hanoi visitors – the much-exalted cruise along Halong Bay. I was fazed by the four-hour travel time just going. But the idea of plying the waters of Halong Bay in a wooden junk kept haunting me for years. I finally decided to put the voices to rest.

Halong Bay sunrise

For this trip, I searched Tripadvisor for the best Halong Bay cruise provider and found top of the class Bhaya. I knew that a day tour would kill me and an overnight tour would be shamefully short. So I opted for a 3-day, 2-night package.

Hotel de L'Opera’s lobby

Upon arrival at my hotel in Hanoi (Hotel de L’Opera, great choice), I received an email from Bhaya informing me that they were offering me an upgrade to their newest boat, the Au Co. I knew about the Au Co from my extensive research online so I was aware of their top-dollar price. This was much too good an opportunity to pass up so I kissed my wooden junk cruise idea goodbye (great decision, you’ll know why later). Traveling to Halong Bay on board the Au Co turned out to be one of the most unforgettable travel experiences of my life!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A lunch to remember

This post is long overdue but I couldn’t let pass of the opportunity to talk about one of the best meals I’ve ever had. It was a treat from Chef Kyla for the final day of our basic culinary foundation course.


It started with seafood Veracruz, a cold appetizer with shrimps, poached squid and scallops in a bed of creamy, velvety sauce. What a start.

This was followed by a hearty French onion soup, generously piled on with translucent, caramelized onions; mixed with gooey cheese that stretched with every spoonful; and topped with crusty, cheese-laced bread toasted under a salamander. For the main course, we had the protein that we earlier prepared in class.


We prepared the pork tenderloin by pulling out the thin skin that clung over the silverskin, a white, silvery connective tissue that we also trimmed off. We cut both ends of the tenderloin (the head and the tail) so that the meat is almost even in diameter. Then we tied it with kitchen string so that it would retain its shape when cooked.

Next, we worked on the lamb rack. Again, we had to peel off the thin skin that wrapped the bones, leaving just a thin filament that a knife could easily slice through. Then we removed a flat cartilage sandwiched between the layers of meat and fat.


We made a cut on the fat side of the rack, perpendicular to the rib bones. My cut was an inch thick (thickness depends on the size of the rack). I pushed the end of the knife through the flesh between each rib and freed up the meat from the thin membrane wrapped over the rib bones. We had to make sure that all the meat was cleaned off the bone, a very tedious process. Even Chef Kyla took a while to do it.


The effort was well worth it because both the tenderloin and lamb rack were perfectly cooked and superbly plated over mashed potatoes. The seasoning was mild, allowing the flavor and tenderness of the meat to show through.

Dessert was a light cheesecake topped with chocolate chip brittle (something I MUST learn to do). I was smacking my lips well on the way home.


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