szg's birthday TYO - betrayed by UA, etc.

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by violist, Nov 8, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    1009 UA6159 BWI ORD 2118 2223 ER4 12C
    was 1930 2035
    was AA3936 BWI ORD 1805 1920 ER4
    and AA2078 ORD SAN 2015 2220 738
    was UA 152 BWI ORD 1657 1801 738
    and UA 651 ORD SAN 2024 2230 752
    was UA 453 BWI DEN 1611 1803 752 2F
    and UA1694 DEN SAN 1903 2027 739 2F

    So I got to the airport two hours before my flight the way
    they say to; really, an hour is plenty, but I usually allow
    two just in case the bus breaks down or something.

    Anyhow, the bus didn't break down, but security did - the
    lines were crawling; half the machines weren't being used.
    Some guy at the end of the line whined he'd never seen it so
    bad; I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was kind of
    annoying, but nothing like, for example, Christmas eve.

    An hour to my flight, and I was kind of thirsty and very
    sleepy, so McDonald's with its medium (the smallest it
    serves) Coke beckoned, and when I got there, my stomach
    decided that a Big Mac was just the ticket: whatever.

    I really do like Cokes, having been brought up on them long
    before it was figured out that children really should not be
    given large doses of caffeine. The Big Mac, well, I examined
    it in as unprejudiced a way as I could. Okay. It's medium in
    size, two small patties, 3 sesame bun sections, a handful of
    shredded lettuce, Americanoid cheezoid, and special sauce.
    The taste is not bad (there was some Latin guy in back
    making them to order) - it's well balanced, the slightly too
    sweet bun counteracting the slightly too greasy meat, the
    cheese unobtrusive but adding both salt and creaminess, the
    sauce a little aggressively relishy (it appears to be mayo
    and relish; I seem to recall it used to have a substantial
    ketchup component) and with that odd tendency that such
    pickled things do to stench up one's breath and one's hands
    way out of proportion to their aroma and taste the first
    time round. Oh, yes, there were three half lengthwise slices
    of dill pickle in there, too.

    For 30c more I could have gotten a dipper of fries, but I
    thought that with dinner coming up on two separate flights
    I should be moderate in my intake. Little did I know.

    I showed up at the gate just around preboard time and found
    that something was amiss - the gate agents were conversing
    in hushed tones and pacing about in an uneasy way. About
    departure time it was announced that there was a maintenance
    issue, and the flight was "on decision" with further news
    within 30 minutes. As 30 minutes would make my connection
    difficult, I immediately called the premier line (there is
    no longer a dedicated line for the fancy flyers; we're just
    put at the head of the regular queue, or so they tell us)
    and was rebooked on an ORD connection leaving in about an
    hour, all I had to do was stroll to the other gate, get
    my boarding passes (all in first class), easy peasy. Off to
    the other gate, where the agent was having a meltdown over
    the first of two or three customers. It took at least 10
    minutes to handle the first person in line, so I went to
    another gate, where an agent typed away for a while,
    frowned, and said that the previous agent at the previous
    gate had closed the flight, and only she could put people
    on it, so back I went. I was now about #10 in line. It took
    45 minutes to get through the first five, which meant that
    this flight was going to be late, which flustered the person
    even more, which meant that reissuing boarding passes came
    to a complete halt, and people were getting admitted on the
    flight no matter what kind of paper they had in their hands,
    just so it was paper. The agent we had been waiting for left
    the dirty work to someone else and hid behind the next
    counter - when one of the guys behind me went over and
    confronted her, she apparently hissed "don't talk to me" and
    turned her back on him. A supervisor was requested. Of
    course it turned out that she was the supervisor. So I and
    two people in front of me and maybe a dozen behind me, all
    with confirmed reservations, didn't get on the plane.
    Apparently the plane left with empty seats, too.

    I slunk back to the other gate, where a willing but
    exceedingly slow agent typed for a good five minutes before
    opining that nothing could be done for me. I suggested an
    alternative connection via ORD on AA, which he said he
    couldn't do. I shrugged and, trying to be polite, thanked
    him and so back to the phone.
     
  2. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The first thing I heard out of the phone agent's mouth was
    that it must have been my fault, I arrived at the gate too
    late to board the flight. I was too shocked to scream. When
    I eventually found a voice of any sort, I got her to look at
    the record, which she did and discovered that I had already
    been rebooked on that AA flight, and why hadn't they told
    me? Of course, by the time I found this out, it was too late
    to go out of security, get my ticket endorsed at UA, go over
    to the AA, have it revalidated, reenter security with no way
    to cut in line, and get to the next plane.

    My problem: There was now no way I could get to SAN in time
    for my flight out of there to DFW, so pretty please could
    I go directly to Dallas? Oh, we can't usually do that, but
    it's a special circumstance, and I'll go ask the supervisor.
    Lengthy hold. Well, this isn't normally done, and your return
    is from SAN, and how are you going to catch that? I assured
    her that I could get to SAN on my own. She continued to call
    supervisors - one of the saddest things about the new United
    is that the line personnel have no discretion to do helpful
    or commonsense things, and the supervisors, probably ex-Cons,
    who were famously bad at dealing with irregular operations,
    haven't been chosen for their everyday common sense. I was
    on hold for a long time.

    Meanwhile, there was the question of getting my ticket next
    day changed from SAN-DFW-NRT to just DFW-NRT. I called
    lili, who has some clout with American (here I am who hates
    phones talking on two at once), and she said she'd do what
    she could. Apparently by some miracle, she talked directly
    to a supervisor who said it was okay, but when he heard that
    the problem had been caused by United, he was reluctant to
    do anything but was eventually persuaded to fix the ticket.
    This took two calls, as they were cut off while he was
    documenting the record, and by some other miracle, when she
    called back, she got the same person on the other end. So if
    I could get to DFW on time, I was golden with upgrade
    intact, but woe betide if not.

    At some point the UA reservation change was made, but I had
    spent close to two hours on the horn. It took that long to
    make that change of destination from SAN to DFW next day.

    So there I was confirmed on this cramped little plane to
    Chicago and thankful for it. The call center girl, once she
    figured out the enormity of the incompetence that had
    inconvenienced me, was both helpful and sympathetic. She
    promised there would be someone waiting for me at the gate
    in Chicago, so I could continue to be treated like the
    slime, er, king that UA thinks I am. Fat chance, said I
    to myself cynically.

    By this time it was past time for my rescheduled flight, the
    last one of the day, and I was lucky that it was delayed by
    an hour and half.

    And so I was happy to get on a bumpy, smelly, crappy flight
    on an admittedly less uncomfortable uncomfortable plane. And
    instead of two wonderful United dinners I got none at all.

    We made up no time, and so it was quite late when we landed,
    and, big surprise, there was nobody to meet me at the gate.

    I trooped over to customer service, fully expecting the very
    tired-looking agents not to know what I was talking about.
    When it was my turn I asked the guy to look up my record,
    upon which he said, oh, yeah, I was supposed to meet you at
    the gate but was too busy. He had already printed out a
    voucher for the Hilton and some food coupons, so I went away
    reasonably mollified.

    The Hilton was not expecting me. It's an enormous hotel,
    though, so there was no problem putting me into a pretty
    nice room with a dazzling view of the garage, which is
    remedied by two sets of heavy wood French doors, the outer
    ones solid, the inner ones equipped with frosted glass
    windows. A somewhat classy solution to an eyesoricious
    problem.

    As I'd been told the kitchen closed at 0030, and it was well
    past 11, I hightailed down to the bar, and good thing I did,
    as they had decided to close it down at 0000, as business was
    relatively slow. I got in in time for a burger and a Sam
    Octoberfest, which chewed up some of my food coupons. The
    burger was large and done rare, quite good actually, and the
    beer improved my mood a bit. I sat next to a couple who had
    been even worse inconvenienced than I had - they had I
    believe $60 or $80 in chits, and as the mister flashed them,
    I felt compelled to ask what heinous thing United had done
    to them to give them all those: they'd been forced under
    apparently similar circumstances to misconnect on a flight
    to Dublin, so they had lost a day of whatever they were
    going to do, in exchange for spending a delightful day in a
    city they had no intention of visiting in the first place.
    In the rain.

    I decided to save my other coupon for breakfast, not needing
    another beer to sleep. The Hilton bed was pretty nice, and
    too bad I didn't have much time to enjoy it.
     
  3. Sedosi

    Sedosi Gold Member

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    I'm very sorry for your IRROP's but the McDonald's review in this post was perhaps one of the funniest things I've ever read. Kudos to you.

    Back in my (much) younger days I spent some time working at a Micky D's, this was back when they used to run a promotion selling Big Mac's, Quarter Pounders etc. for $1. One day, during the promotion, we were running out of Big Mac Sauce. Our manager took a packet of 1000 Island dressing and compared the ingredients to the special sauce. There was only one ingredient's difference. It was a thickener for consistency.


    We put 1000 Island on several Big Mac's until someone could go get some sauce from a sister store.

    Look forward to reading the rest of this report.
     
    Jimgotkp likes this.
  4. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Out of there at 0530 so I could go to the club for a banana
    before going south. PreCheck wasn't working for several
    people in a row (same as happened to me at National
    recently), and the fellow in front of me remarked, as he
    waited for his ID to be checked ever so sl-o-o-o-wly, that
    it was a silly system if you have to be there early anyhow,
    to which I agreed, to which the TSA guy indignantly exclaimed
    "SIRS!" and launched into an explanation, rather tirade,
    about how the airline randomly selects people for
    disqualification from the system, something like that, thus
    blaming everything on United (by now I offered an almost
    willing ear to this, but not from the TSA, which I distrust
    even more than I distrust the airlines). To which my
    co-offender remarked again that it was a stupid and
    irrational way about going about things, to which I agreed
    heartily, and I wonder that we were not pulled aside for
    extra-special additional screening. The process itself was
    the usual song and dance, unimpressive in any way except
    for its uselessness.

    The club didn't have any bananas, just apples and yogurt and
    other inedible things. I sulked in the corner but didn't have
    long as it was time to check on my upgrade. Which didn't
    happen. My record on US Air as a low-tier elite is better
    than as a high-tier elite on UA, even despite the leg up
    of certificates that supposedly confirm early upgrades on
    the latter.

    UA 507 ORD DFW 0650 0909 320 12B

    Full flight.

    I was stuck between two grumpy middle-aged businessmen,
    both obviously displeased at not having gotten their
    upgrades either.

    We landed somewhat early but in the usual way had to taxi
    around for a while, so we ended up more or less on time.

    As I didn't have a boarding pass for the next flight,
    I hopped a train to the D terminal to look for a customer
    service desk. I couldn't find one. So being a sensible male,
    I found the next best thing, an information counter, whose
    occupant informed me that American has done away with such
    dead weight as customer service desks, but the good news was
    that all gate agents not actually working a flight were (he
    intoned solemnly) required to help me. He pointed to a
    nearby gate, otherwise empty, with someone typing away at
    the console. Try her, he said. Off I went. The person looked
    up at me and said in a perfectly pleasant tone, I can't help
    you, because I'm not a gate agent. All righty then. Can you
    tell me what kind of uniform the gate agents wear? Oh, same
    as mine, she replied. I sort of sighed and went off. Next
    gate. Why are you here, the person asked. I explained. What
    flight are you on? Sixty-one. Oh, he said, that's
    international, you have to check at the gate the flight
    takes off from. Trudge, trudge. At that gate a petite
    Japanese woman, not perfect English, fine, no big deal.
    Which flight are you on? Sixty-one. Would you like to
    go on the earlier flight, in business? No, I said, I'm
    meeting someone. Well, you could wait for them when you
    arrive. No, I explained, I'm meeting her here. Oh.

    [type, type].

    Oh, you are already in business, here is your boarding pass
    [bowing]. The business class lounge is over there [gesturing
    back toward the information desk]. I bowed slightly back.

    I've been at this lounge before. It's okay, actually quite
    luxurious and uncrowded compared to the United one, and the
    wine is marginally better. I chilled my jets for an hour and
    change before going to lili's gate.

    The original plan had been for me to fly out on United to
    San Diego, thus assuring top status on that airline, then
    have a nice dinner with lili and her nearest and dearest
    for her birthday, then getting a room at the Four Points,
    thus assuring mid-tier status at Sheraton (as it stands I
    am now one stay short), then meet up with her in the
    morning and fly back to Dallas on American (thus assuring
    elite status on Alaska, which allows me to credit Delta and
    American miles to that account). So this snafu endangered a
    whole bunch of well-planned machinations. In order for
    someone of my modest means to enjoy all the upgrades and
    perks, many hoops have to be jumped through, and now as a
    result, even more hoops that are detours - for example, I
    now have to spend an extra $250 to make a random trip
    someplace to make up the Alaska mileage and an extra $100
    to get that Sheraton stay, and United, not that I want to
    be loyal to an airline that has screwed me over several
    times this year, that will require some effort.
     
  5. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Anyhow. On the way I decided to use my last food voucher at
    Cousins, supposedly the best of the fast-food outlets in
    this airport. A brisket sandwich with extra meat costs
    $8 something, and the voucher was for $10, what could be
    bad? The cashier said, there's still money on this thing.
    I said, just count it as a tip, to which she said, we can't
    do that, don't you want dessert or a drink or something?
    Okay, I relented. The only drink I saw that I knew wouldn't
    have caffeine was Grape Crush, so I asked for one of those
    (turns out there were other soft drinks in the other
    cooler). She rang it all up, and it came to a bit over
    $10, but she accepted the chit happily. I gave her a buck,
    and she said, now you can tip, and dumped it in the jar.

    Though lili's plane came into C, the shuttle train comes
    every minute, so I got there well before her plane arrived
    a couple minutes late. There's another AC right by her
    gate, so we went there instead of the one at D.

    We got a bunch of drink coupons - the cheap stuff is free,
    but top shelf liquor and premium wines go for bar prices,
    i.e., in the $8-10 and up range, so coupons lighten the
    load; this system is designed so international premium
    customers who will supposedly end up getting the good stuff
    on the plane can start early, while the plebs de la creme
    have to make do with no-name booze and Budweiser.

    I asked the bartender for a glass of each of his Cabernets,
    of which there are three. He sort of grinned and said, is
    that all?, and that started off a bit of a banter. Turns
    out he does wine tastings in his other life. So there was
    the house stuff, free, the midrange stuff, maybe $7 or 8,
    and the high end, over $10, which here is from Joel Gott
    (a brand that used to be "value priced" but now qualifies
    as "prestige"). Well, I did like them in the order of
    price, but the lower two were quite similar and comparable,
    the midrange one a bit oakier and more tannic, which I like.
    The Gott had some depth, with good vanilla oak, brambles,
    the usual classic style. He said that he actually liked the
    free pour better than the midrange, to which I said that I
    could understand but disagreed.

    I believe that lili liked the Gott but would have been
    happy drinking the others (whose names I forget); so I gave
    her most of that and drank the other two. Bolted is more
    like, as she had scheduled only 80 minutes for an
    interterminal international connection. We still had a
    couple coupons left and gave them to some random guys, who
    seemed grateful (hey, can you use these, our flight is
    earlier than we thought). Funnily, it took a few tries
    before we could unload them. We'd had the same problem
    giving away $20 in food vouchers at Dulles once. I guess
    we look disreputable and untrustworthy.

    By the way, the Cousins brisket is a little too lean but
    is reasonably tender and goes well with Joel Gott Cabernet.

    We had intended to check out the duty-free (which at this
    airport is said to be pretty crummy) to get a gift for our
    friend mjm, who had invited us to dinner, but we'd had
    enough fun with the wines that there wasn't time for that.

    Thank the gods, the train did not fail us, and we got to our
    gate during our proper boarding sequence so settled into our
    comfy seats half an hour before takeoff.
     
  6. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    AA61 DFW NRT 1245 1615 777 11B

    Only. The seats were not comfy at all - lumpy and
    intransigeant and making creaking and squeaking noises when
    you tried to do anything to them. Rather like flight
    attendants, only on this trip the flight attendants were
    actually quite nice, though of a vintage where I suspect
    they might make creaking and squeaking noises if I tried
    to do anything to them.

    The red on offer was the Fabre Montmayou Malbec Reserva,
    rather cherryish, a little stemmy not too bad; Chase's
    Choice, the supposedly special wine loaded in limited
    quantity and made available only to those who ask for it
    specially, was a nasty Garnacha that was worth half of the
    probably $10 a bottle it goes for. We asked for more of the
    Malbec; our attendant approved.

    The sparkler on offer was Gosset Brut Excellence, a very
    clean, pleasant, but not particularly characterful wine.
    The attendant remarked that I would like it. I did.

    Mixed nuts: the most notable thing about these was that in
    addition to the usual suspects, there were a couple
    pistachios thrown in.

    Vegetable rice noodles with shrimp: the most notable thing
    about these was that the noodles seemed not to be rice
    noodles but some kind of bean noodle, but with a soft
    texture. The shrimp, big ones, were crisp and better than
    United shrimp tend to be.

    Fresh seasonal greens had seen better days. I regretted
    getting mine dry. The dressings were Asian sesame or
    vinaigrette.

    Grilled fillet of beef - marinated beef fillet accompanied
    by ginger sake sauce, kapakahi mashed potatoes, mushroom
    medley and seasonal vegetables: that was their description.
    The beef was okay, done mediumish, a little salty; its sauce
    was an annoyance only, actually kind of bad tasting. I
    merely played with the rest of the stuff. The mushroom
    medley was a shiitake and an enoki mushroom.

    Ben & Jerry's sweet cream and cookies ice cream topped with
    chocolate shavings: I rather like ice cream but don't allow
    myself the indulgence very often. The excuse that it came
    anyway is convincing only until my stomach starts to churn
    as it generally does. Luckily I have been conserving pills,
    and I find this batch of Kirkland brand very good.

    After a good snooze - though not very comfortable, the
    almost lie-flat lumpy bed seat was conducive to sleep, if
    you slept on your side - it was lunchtime.

    Grilled scallops - grilled chile marinated scallops with a
    cucumber and onion salad: these were pretty good tasting,
    caramelized on the flat sides though rather overcooked.
    The salad was the sweet-and-sour normal thing.

    Glazed peaches with sugared puff pastry - the pastry was
    okay, but I couldn't tell what the fruit was without a
    scorecard, speaking of rubbery.

    I drank the Malbec with all of this, as the flight attendant
    continued to be enthusiastic about it, and neither the
    Albarino nor the Sauvignon Blanc appealed.

    More snoozes, and there we were in Narita. A bored customs
    agent asked some cursory questions, and we were out in the
    abnormally warm and sticky air. We took a while to sort
    ourselves out, hit the jackpot with some tens of thousands
    of yen out of a machine (note to the wise - when getting
    money from the ATM, don't get a round round number, as ten
    thousand yen notes are cumbersome), picked up some maps and
    information from the handy booths staffed with what looked
    like girls not yet out of high school, and rested a bit
    before going out into the world.

    Thanks to a friendly girl at the ticket counter who sold
    us tickets for a local train leaving in five minutes! we
    managed to get to our district, Ueno, for only $13 or so
    each on a noisy train that reminded me of a New York subway.
    This also gave us some vital small bills for later.

    When we alit some 70 min later (the twice as fast train is
    twice as costly), the choice was: subway with an interline
    change, taxi for ten bucks, or walk half a mile. We walked
    half a mile, trundling our rollaboards through the rather
    rollicking shopping district, where lili wanted to linger a
    bit, but I made us push on, then through a deserted area
    that, as it was Japan, concerned us not at all.
     
  7. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The Villa Fontaine Ueno is on a semi-major street at the
    edge of this district. When my computer did its malfunction
    trick, the last word I'd had from lili was that she was
    looking into an apartment type situation, and we talked no
    more of it, and so I was surprised and perhaps relieved that
    we were headed for a biggish modern and full-service hotel.
    After checking in, we went upstairs to find a couple dozen
    rooms on each floor surrounding an enclosed courtyard,
    rather cute I thought. The accommodations are comfortable
    if rather cramped by American standards, the room being
    about half the size of my bedroom in Washington. We'd paid
    extra for a room with two beds; these turned out to be
    within inches of each other, so it is good that neither of
    us snores loudly. A no-frills bathroom with a relatively
    elaborate knockoff Totoish toilet, a source of endless
    amusement with its warmable seat (high, low, or off),
    adjustable bumwasher, and bidet.

    A good sleep on the hard close beds followed by a decent
    breakfast - hard-boiled eggs, bread and jam, and cakes of
    meatloaf-like substance, of which I had several, as they
    were loaded with onions and quite tasty. Salad with a
    mustard dressing and broth to wash it all down. I believe
    yogurt and other milk products were available but have
    blanked out that memory.

    lili wanted to see the Ueno area, or what, from some
    tourist map, she thought was. That map wasn't to scale, so
    this area extended quite a way. We ended up confining our
    investigations to the immediate area, which included the
    big park and its lakes and the National Museum, three
    buildings of which were closed, which was fine, as it was
    close to sensory overload anyhow. Best: seniors get in
    free. Extraordinary examples of the potter's art,
    brushwork, and sculpture coexisted with the most impressive
    products of the armory, exemplifying the dual psyche of the
    Japanese. More national treasures than anyplace else, plus
    dozens of Important Cultural Properties, some of which I
    thought exquisite, some of which I couldn't understand at
    all. We passed up the science museum (despite the presence
    of an exhibition on chocolate and the stuffed carcass of
    the famous dog who returned to his master's subway stop
    every weekday for something like nine years after his
    master died, hoping he'd be rewarded, which he was by
    becoming named another national treasure and being stuffed),
    the museum of western art, the memorials to various pioneers
    in the conquest of syphilis, a modern art museum, and other
    wonderful landmarks.

    Instead we turned hungrily to a random noodle place under
    the train tracks on the strength of its having an English
    sandwich board out front. The cashier actually spoke some
    English, which was good, as my Japanese is horrendous. As we
    can be quite contrary at times, neither of us had noodles.
    For lili, who is mostly a meatarian, I ordered a tonkatsu;
    for me, a beertarian, a couple of Asahis. Asahi is the local
    Tokyo brewery just as Kirin is the Yokohama brewery and
    Sapporo is the, uh ... .

    The tonkatsu was a quite big pork cutlet, quite tender, with
    a nice rim of fat hidden by the panko breading (we like
    fat). This came with rice, which we shared, miso soup,
    which I got most of, despite its being excellent for miso
    soup and not fishy at all (lili had experienced a very
    fishy version in California and had been seriously put off
    by it). Also some dishes of pickled things, ginger,
    cucumber, that kind of stuff, which I got all of, and a
    weird concoction of squeaky but discolored green beans,
    natto, several kinds of mushroom, a mountain of grated
    radish topped with dried bonito shreds: a Bizarre Foods
    episode in a dish, though not bad for that.

    The stroll back to our hotel through the shopping district
    took just a few minutes, as we were unencumbered by bags;
    these we took back and lugged on the subway to the IC, a few
    miles off. Turns out the IMF conference was putting up lots
    of its delegates here, so we got a somewhat average room and
    a somewhat chilly shoulder from the front desk (we were, it
    is admitted, rather sweaty and underdressed). It wasn't in
    fact a bad room, but the wireless was slow and spotty, no
    doubt from being overused by diplomats and their officials
    and functionaries sending reports back home. The toilet was
    just like at the Villa Fontaine.
     
  8. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    I am usually underdressed, some say shabbily, but here I
    was more severely underdressed than usual. I wore my torn
    old jeans and flannels proudly among the vast preponderance
    of dour black suits, which seemed blacker and even more dour
    than the ones out on the street. mjm said, though, that
    t-shirt and jeans would be almost overdressed in the
    sanctuary of his home, though, so I didn't change to go out.

    He'd called and said he'd tell the concierge how to direct
    the taxi to his place. It turned out that it was about a
    10-minute walk from the hotel, but we didn't know that at
    the time. Plus it was dead easy to get to. My theory on
    this is that the address is one of the most prestigious
    in the city, so if it was made known that we were visiting
    such a location, some of that prestige would rub off on
    us, and so we'd get better treatment thenceforth at the
    hotel. That's just my theory based on how the devious
    occidental mind works.

    When we went down to consult with the concierge, she
    remarked that mjm's Japanese was so good she initially
    had thought that he was a native. She went with us to
    talk to the cab driver to make sure we got to our
    destination directly and without incident (the fare was
    the exact same both ways).

    The ride, owing to some disturbance wherein some crazy
    was driving along shouting his tirades on a megaphone,
    took longer than the walk would have.

    I haven't seen mjm in some years, and it was surprising
    how settled he looks now. I guess we all grow up at some
    point, and as he has two teenage children it is perhaps
    appropriate to look settled.

    Lovely apartment, quite roomy by Japanese standards. mjm
    inquired about our stay so far, so we recounted our
    adventures, and he said, and the earthquake? Apparently
    there'd been one in the afternoon, five point something,
    around the time we were at the noodle restaurant. We
    didn't notice it at all, probably thinking it was the
    train overhead.

    He poured us a nice glass of Conn Creek Chardonnay, and
    we discussed the pros and cons of oak in white wine: this
    was moderately oaked, so the crisp citrusy aspect was
    balanced by the vanilla pretty nicely. I prefer an oakier
    style, myself, that has become somewhat unfashionable in
    recent years, but this had enough to please me.

    mjm, having Irish blood, had been asked to make a pot of
    Irish stew to sell at his daughter's school fair; we had a
    generous taste of that for our first course. He had boasted
    over e-mail that he made an especially good Irish stew, and
    I guessed, oh, do you brown it first? He said yes, and he
    also put wine and bacon in it. Oh. You can see where this
    was going. The stuff was almost unrecognizable as Irish
    stew but gave the impression of being a very good beef a la
    bourguignonne. Of course it was an especially good stew.

    In addition to the Irish, most of which was earmarked for
    that other purpose, mjm had his son fix beef stroganoff
    under his supervision. The kid seems to have a culinary gift
    - it was a very nice stroganoff with extra onions the way I
    like it, over al dente European egg noodles.

    Faust Cabernet 05 from Quintessa is an excellent wine, just
    ready, any residual edginess taken care of by the sour cream
    in the dish. Luxuriant with berries, pleasantly oaked, it
    was a great pleasure to taste it.

    For dessert I contributed a bottle of Double Black from the
    airplane duty-free (there hadn't been time to check out the
    duty-free at Dallas, which is said to be dubious anyhow).
    This was interesting, much smokier than other Johnnies, also
    much less blendy-tasting.

    Taxi back cost the same as the taxi over, to the yen.
     
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  9. bonnerbl
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    bonnerbl Gold Member

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    Nice to read your post. Missed you at the MegaDo.
     
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  10. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Out of there at 0530 so I could go to the club for a banana
    before going south. PreCheck wasn't working for several
    people in a row (same as happened to me at National
    recently), and the fellow in front of me remarked, as he
    waited for his ID to be checked ever so sl-o-o-o-wly, that
    it was a silly system if you have to be there early anyhow,
    to which I agreed, to which the TSA guy indignantly exclaimed
    "SIRS!" and launched into an explanation, rather tirade,
    about how the airline randomly selects people for
    disqualification from the system, something like that, thus
    blaming everything on United (by now I offered an almost
    willing ear to this, but not from the TSA, which I distrust
    even more than I distrust the airlines). To which my
    co-offender remarked again that it was a stupid and
    irrational way about going about things, to which I agreed
    heartily, and I wonder that we were not pulled aside for
    extra-special additional screening. The process itself was
    the usual song and dance, unimpressive in any way except
    for its uselessness.

    The club didn't have any bananas, just apples and yogurt and
    other inedible things. I sulked in the corner but didn't have
    long as it was time to check on my upgrade. Which didn't
    happen. My record on US Air as a low-tier elite is better
    than as a high-tier elite on UA, even despite the leg up
    of certificates that supposedly confirm early upgrades on
    the latter.

    UA 507 ORD DFW 0650 0909 320 12B

    Full flight.

    I was stuck between two grumpy middle-aged businessmen,
    both obviously displeased at not having gotten their
    upgrades either.

    We landed somewhat early but in the usual way had to taxi
    around for a while, so we ended up more or less on time.

    As I didn't have a boarding pass for the next flight,
    I hopped a train to the D terminal to look for a customer
    service desk. I couldn't find one. So being a sensible male,
    I found the next best thing, an information counter, whose
    occupant informed me that American has done away with such
    dead weight as customer service desks, but the good news was
    that all gate agents not actually working a flight were (he
    intoned solemnly) required to help me. He pointed to a
    nearby gate, otherwise empty, with someone typing away at
    the console. Try her, he said. Off I went. The person looked
    up at me and said in a perfectly pleasant tone, I can't help
    you, because I'm not a gate agent. All righty then. Can you
    tell me what kind of uniform the gate agents wear? Oh, same
    as mine, she replied. I sort of sighed and went off. Next
    gate. Why are you here, the person asked. I explained. What
    flight are you on? Sixty-one. Oh, he said, that's
    international, you have to check at the gate the flight
    takes off from. Trudge, trudge. At that gate a petite
    Japanese woman, not perfect English, fine, no big deal.
    Which flight are you on? Sixty-one. Would you like to
    go on the earlier flight, in business? No, I said, I'm
    meeting someone. Well, you could wait for them when you
    arrive. No, I explained, I'm meeting her here. Oh.

    [type, type].

    Oh, you are already in business, here is your boarding pass
    [bowing]. The business class lounge is over there [gesturing
    back toward the information desk]. I bowed slightly back.

    I've been at this lounge before. It's okay, actually quite
    luxurious and uncrowded compared to the United one, and the
    wine is marginally better. I chilled my jets for an hour and
    change before going to lili's gate.

    The original plan had been for me to fly out on United to
    San Diego, thus assuring top status on that airline, then
    have a nice dinner with lili and her nearest and dearest
    for her birthday, then getting a room at the Four Points,
    thus assuring mid-tier status at Sheraton (as it stands I
    am now one stay short), then meet up with her in the
    morning and fly back to Dallas on American (thus assuring
    elite status on Alaska, which allows me to credit Delta and
    American miles to that account). So this snafu endangered a
    whole bunch of well-planned machinations. In order for
    someone of my modest means to enjoy all the upgrades and
    perks, many hoops have to be jumped through, and now as a
    result, even more hoops that are detours - for example, I
    now have to spend an extra $250 to make a random trip
    someplace to make up the Alaska mileage and an extra $100
    to get that Sheraton stay, and United, not that I want to
    be loyal to an airline that has screwed me over several
    times this year, that will require some effort.
     
  11. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Yeah, Brian, I would have loved to be there, but I was off doing
    gigs - this retirement stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be.
     
  12. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Gagnaire I
    We rose early. No free breakfast, apparently, for platinums
    at the IC, and as I don't eat breakfast unless it's free, so
    we headed out to see what the neighborhood had to offer. We
    walked to Roppongi; we determined that mjm's had been less
    than a mile away, though admittedly not by a particularly
    direct route. On our way we strolled through a garden
    district off by Suntory Hall and saw a small temple or two
    and some pretty urban plantings.

    Roppongi in the morning wasn't all that interesting - I
    figure everyone was out partying the night before and was
    still huddled under the covers when we went through. We
    did cut through this multilevel mall, which really didn't
    appeal, but which was in fact full of people. Instead, we
    hustled into the subway and went downtown to the Imperial
    Palace, whose East Garden and its small museum of treasures
    is one of the gems of the city. Wandering through the
    grounds was a couple hours well spent, but eventually it
    was time to return to the hotel.

    We repaired to the room for showers and a change into our
    Sunday best for our reservation at Pierre Gagnaire, which
    as luck would have it was a minute's elevator ride from
    our digs. It was a weekend, so there wasn't the express
    lunch, which allows you to spend $50 and say you've eaten
    here, without having actually experienced it. There was,
    however, a $100 prix fixe (double it with the wine), which
    we jumped on. The menu is called Apinac, after the ancestral
    home of the Gagnaire clan.

    The service is very suave, as befits a place that gets four
    cutleries in the Michelin guide (in addition to its two
    stars, which I am not completely convinced it deserves).

    Bread - some kind of buttery roll not a brioche, brown
    walnut and fruit bread, and a small wild yeast (sourdough
    but not quite so sour) wheat loaf. They were very good, and
    the sweet butter was very good, but I am not a bread person.

    Amuses not on the menu:

    a canape of tuna with tiny broccoli bits over cucumber;

    something unmemorable and which I thus totally forget, I am
    pretty sure it involved fried lotus root and some aioli
    type thing;

    a dish of popcorn with poppy seeds, also unmemorable
    but for the banality of it (lili liked it);

    "autumn leaf" - fried something in the shape of a leaf
    with a blob of strangely intense tomato puree, quite good;

    a so-called hazelnut, which turned out to be a nut butter,
    sort of like a somewhat less sweet Nutella, with lots of
    truffle oil.

    In general these things were fun but things that you could
    make at home without either working or thinking too hard.
    The leafy thing was remarkable for the verisimilitude to
    something you'd pick off the sidewalk in October, plus it
    actually tasted pretty good.

    Small appetizers:

    Champagne sorbet with grapes - real pink Champagne made
    into a not-too-sweet confection, sided with peeled fruit
    that somehow had been transformed so you couldn't tell if
    they were a gelatined facsimile of grape or the real thing
    artfully carved and transformed. I am inclined to believe
    that there were a few of each.

    Chestnut soup, Chantilly cream with rum and orange juice -
    really good soup, but I thought why tart up the whipped
    cream with rum? There also seemed to be a bit of vanilla,
    which went well. The orange was a sour, bitter contrast,
    and I was not completely convinced by it.

    Just sizzling sanma fish, red pepper pulp and mizuna leaves
    - the fish looked like a diagonal cut of mackerel. It was
    excellent. lili had let it be known that she didn't eat
    fishy things, and her slice of fish was replaced by a big
    fat beautiful cepe, which was hugely savory and went
    perfectly substituted in this treatment.

    Slices of smoked quail, sour lotus with saffron, gingerbread
    powder - very satisfying tastewise if not portionwise; not
    a tour de force, but just really nice. The smoke seemed to
    have partially been tobacco smoke.

    Sauerkraut salad, pork and seaweed flakes - the French
    description told a different story with its "oreilles de
    cochon"; I waited until lili had eaten the dish (no seaweed
    on hers, by special order) to tell her; she was not put off,
    luckily. The kraut was pretty normal, though to the Japanese
    palate it might have been a bit unfamiliar. The pig ears
    were julienned very fine and so pretty tender though still
    with that cartiaginous crunch. Some very thin nori batons
    completed the dish.
     
  13. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Gagnaire II
    L'entree - the starter:

    Taraba crab meat, wild mushrooms fricassee with autumn
    fruits, bouillon of Sauternes - this was pretty good crab,
    a couple ounces, not so nice as Maryland blue, which in my
    opinion is the best in the world, paired with several kinds
    of mushroom: shiitake, two kinds of enoki, matsutake, and
    a couple others. The Sauternes essence brought the mess
    together. Very nice, though not for lili. To substitute,
    they offered her two fingers of foie gras, more than an
    ounce each, dotted with the Sauternes bouillon, with a
    painstakingly constructed sculpture of fried vegetable
    chips and sticks, which, of course, she wouldn't eat,
    and which, of course, I did. One can hardly go wrong with
    two plus ounces of foie gras. I got one of the ounces. It
    was good.

    The Trimbach Pinot Gris 09, bright and citrusy with a
    little herbaliciousness, did well with the appetizers.

    The meat:

    Challans duck cube roasted with cumin, slice of foie gras
    pan-fried and marmalade of cabbage with black olive,
    amaranth leaves - a multitude of 1/2" cubes of duck breast,
    skin attached, in a salty, very cuminy sauce. Mixed in were
    small cubes of duck ham, also with skin, and equal sized
    cubes of foie gras. Minced black olive did not help at all.
    The greens were radicchio, amaranth, and tatsoi cabbage,
    all done just tender and excellent. Rich.

    I picked us the Nuit St. Georges Les Pruliers (Henri Gouges)
    07, which seemed to be a relative bargain at only a hundred
    bucks or so for half a bottle. It went excellently in a
    cherryish licoricey Pinotish way, and the acid was good
    against the fat and salt, though the cumin did wrestle it
    to the ground at times.

    A set of predessert amuses, not on the menu:

    burnt caramel ice cream - very creamy and a little sour, not
    so assertive nor so interesting as Toscanini's, which I
    believe Corby Kummer anointed as the greatest ice cream in
    the world; well, this was really nice but not in the top
    hundred or so;

    lemon something floral tart - as this was just about half
    a teaspoon's worth, the lemon was the only impression,
    with the violet or whatever it was a fugitiveness;

    square jelly thing - tartish, tropical fruitish, pretty nice
    for those who like jelly things, but not identifiable, which
    might have been intentional;

    a strawberry marshmallow, just what it sounds like;

    a pistachio tartlet, just what it sounds like, only sweeter,
    which set up the

    almond tartlet with bitter orange rather nicely.

    The great dessert of Pierre Gagnaire: Desserts inspired by
    traditional French pastries. Created using fruits, seasonal
    vegetables, low sugar confectionery and chocolate.

    The first dessert was so unmemorable I didn't remember it.

    Number two, a complicated construction of almond ice
    cream, raspberry meringues, a violet marshmallow, some
    fig compote. This confused me.

    A chocolate petit four filled with blueberry, with a nice
    bitter chocolate sauce, laced with crunchy hazelnut. This
    was not overcomplicated and restored my faith in my palate
    and good sense.

    The slightly over-the-top meal cost more than we should have
    spent but not much more than it should have, and there ended
    up being enough food, which is a rarity in these circles.
     
  14. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Took the subway back to Hibiya and Andy's Shin Hinomoto,
    an anomaly in the Japanese restaurant world, largely in that
    the chef is a tall bald Englishman who is famous around the
    Tsukiji market, where he carefully shops every morning for
    the day's offerings.

    Birthday boy szg had chosen this place from having been
    introduced to it on a previous trip. It is also written up
    various places as one of the great bar restaurants of the
    city.

    A sedate downstairs, presided over by Andy's in-laws, and
    a rather rowdy upstairs, Andy's bailiwick. English is spoken
    only upstairs. You sit at these long communal tables, of
    which our group had reserved one, and eat fish and drink
    beer to your heart's content. Life is good, and Japanese
    beer tastes a lot nicer on its home territory. I had a liter
    each of Kirin and Sapporo. I liked the Kirin better.

    The specialties are grilled fish and shellfish, garlic
    prawns, seared Hokkaido scallops, and sashimi allsorts. We
    ordered most of these things, but instead of having Andy
    do omakase, we ordered chaotically and individually; this
    ended up working out okay, because we had a couple vacuum
    cleaners at table, but there were also a couple who I think
    were shortchanged, as they were small appetites.

    Sashimi I think was the majority order. Perhaps we should
    have had big festive platters passed around, but in a
    tribute to individuality, several of us each asked for an
    individual portion. Well, this complicated things, as the
    plates came piecemeal; my order didn't come and didn't come,
    and other people's came, which was irritating. I inquired,
    and then lili complained testily, and Andy came by and
    said, equally testily, it's coming, which it didn't for a
    long time. What I ended up getting was essentially the same
    as everyone else's, a generous portion including tuna,
    whitefish, salmon, skipjack; only under the jack fish was
    hidden one slice of ttoro so fatty it was almost white, I
    figure as a sort of apology. It was all very fresh, and the
    serving was quite generous for the price.

    While I was waiting I'd gotten a taste of delicious oily
    eel tempura leftover from across the way.

    As the meal wound down, some of the folks down at the end of
    the table ordered a Taraba king crab, which was enormous
    and expensive - I think it might have increased the final
    tally by 50%. They passed it around, and everyone who wanted
    a taste got a taste. The misconception is that the legs are
    the only things edible on the beast, so after these were
    consumed, half the crab was left. Being one of the vacuum
    cleaners described, I tore the body open and served bits of
    the meat to whoever wanted; there was a lot left over, so
    I ended up going from pleasantly sated to stuffed like a
    sausage in the fullness of time.

    Speaking of sausage, lili was sort of out of place here,
    as she doesn't eat anything that came out of the water and
    doesn't favor beer. She had red wine, which was okay, and
    a plate of bangers, pretty ordinary but just what the
    doctor ordered.

    There was a table rowdier than ours nearby; a bunch of
    expatriates. At one point they ordered their big cheese a
    big beer, which dominated the table. I went over and asked
    Andy about it; he said they were regulars, that the big
    beer was three liters only, and he was disappointed by the
    guy not having finished it by now.

    There was some discussion about what to do after dinner; I
    pled age and infirmity for me and lili. After a couple
    liters of beer I was in no position to party with a bunch of
    hard-drinking Germans half my age, so goodbye to szg and
    all and homeward to the hotel, which was extra welcome.
     
  15. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    As a major day's wandering over several different kinds of
    conveyance was in order, we got all-in-one train passes to
    maximize flexibility.

    Killing several birds with one stone, we rode to Meiji
    Jingumae to see the Harajuku shopping district, Yoyogi Park,
    the shrine itself with its wine and sake barrel offerings.

    For lili the main draw was the Sunday gathering of anime
    characters, or at least people dressed like them, near
    Harajuku station. We walked past a few and figured that
    there were going to be more later (the guidebooks speak of
    hordes of them) on the way back. There weren't. It was a
    little lowery, and perhaps makeup doesn't do so well on
    inclement days. The shrine and its torii (one of them the
    largest of its kind in the country) are most impressive,
    and I for one felt a little out of place as a mere gawker.
    The barrels were a peculiarity. As it started to rain we
    went back to Harajuku to see if we couldn't find some of
    those freaks, as they were represented to us, but there
    were none dressed up in their Sunday best as described.
    We did a cursory scan from the pedestrian overpass (a huge
    gathering of schoolchildren at the stadium across the way)
    and then walked south to our next stop, the reputedly
    busiest intersection in the world at Shibuya. It was
    Sunday, so it was busy but not spectacularly so; I was not
    particularly disappointed. A mandatory stop for all tourists
    is to visit the statue commemorating the faithful dog
    Hachiko, who would meet his master at the subway stop every
    day and walk him home, but one day the old man didn't come
    back, having had a stroke and died. But every day until he
    died nine years later the dog waited at the stop, becoming
    a local and then a national celebrity in the meantime. This
    is apparently not an unknown phenomenon, and there's a whole
    Wikipedia article listing similar cases; but Hachiko has
    become an object of veneration to the Japanese, who prize
    such steadfastness and loyalty. We took a while finding the
    monument, as the maps are not clear what side of the street
    to look on. A lot of outlanders taking pictures of and with
    the statue, the locals taking it for granted and just
    hanging out there.

    Being a little hungry, we toured the food court almost
    directly underneath but didn't find anything that floated
    our boat. We considered a doughnut or some bread, but there
    wasn't a place nearby to eat, and the merchandise didn't
    appear to be spectacular enough for us to risk looking like
    the uncouth foreigners we are. Eventually we took the train
    back, picked up our traps, and then pointed ourself in our
    next direction, which was Shinagawa, which is oddly not
    served by any subway line but rather by a dozen or more
    railway lines, some of whose trains look just like NY subways.
     
  16. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The Strings is the top several floors of one of the office
    buildings overlooking the station. You take the elevator to
    reception and then a different one over yonder to the room
    area, which surrounds an atrium, very attractive.

    The front desk staff were working hard to help a family that
    had been out and whose taxi had taken them to the wrong
    Inter-Continental hotel after their adventuring, and who
    consequently were well positioned to miss their flight at
    Haneda, which is only 20 minutes away; but from what I
    overheard, they had less than an hour to get there, checked
    in, and so on. so we waited a few minutes, upon which our
    check-in person was hugely apologetic in the Japanese style.

    We got a very pleasant little room toward the upper end of
    the hotel with a nice view of the station and the Tokyo
    skyline behind. The toilet was first rate, the real Toto
    product instead of the knockoffs at the Villa place and the
    other IC. Cleanup and then more adventures.

    Snackies at the station: red bean paste bun for her, pumpkin
    for me. It was the luck of the draw, actually, as there was
    no way of telling what was what. I had a slight clue as the
    top of mine was adorned with two pepitas artfully arranged.

    Yebisu Garden Place, one of the, well, let us just say that
    it has a fleece lining. There are a number of celebrity
    places represented there, including the 3-Michelin-starred
    Chateau, at least nominally supervised by Joel Robuchon.

    I'd been looking forward to the Yebisu Beer Museum, but when
    we got there it was closed for a private function. I suppose
    we could have watched the dignitaries parade in (serenaded
    by a band) and sulked, but rather than doing that we walked
    around in the drizzle looking for a brew, and, look, what do
    we have here, the Sapporo Beer Station (Sapporo owns the
    Yebisu brand), which as I understand it is housed in the old
    brewhouse. As it was almost dinnertime, and I was getting a
    bit peckish, we got some not too costly snacks with our
    alcohol. lili ordered the "German sausage," hoping it was
    going to be a Knackwurst or Bockwurst; instead, it came out
    as Bratwurst, flavored with cardamom and pretty much her
    least favorite kind of sausage. The mustard was okay to
    cover it up. My dish was supposedly Kurobuta schnitzel, but
    it was drier, less marbled, and in general much inferior to
    what the stuff served at that noodle shop the other day. It
    was also about the same price, and when something in one of
    the toniest neighborhood in town costs the same as the same
    dish under the tracks, beware. I ate part of her sausage and
    chivalrously offered some of my schnitzel, which after
    trying a hesitant bite she refused with the same observation
    that I just made above. With her unsatisfying meal she had
    something called Ordina red wine, which tasted like a blend
    of Passover wine and nail polish remover - something your
    dotty old grandfather might have made in the cellar if he
    was particularly incompetent. My choice was the black, which
    I was surprised to find was a pretty typical Dunkelweizen
    that I'd have found difficulty distinguishing from a German
    product. I was sorry to have ordered a large.

    Our day passes allowed for travel across all Tokyo's various
    lines, so we headed for Asakusa, one of those bucketlist
    places - and a worthy one, as it turns out.

    The temple precinct is gorgeous at night - I suspect more
    attractive than during the day, and the shops that litter
    the southern precinct less tacky-looking. I got some waving
    cats to fulfill my friend Annie's request (she collects such
    oddities), and we windowshopped as the stalls closed - first
    the food shops, then the knickknacks; the booze stand was
    still open later, but its offerings looked unpromising and
    quite expensive.

    We walked across the river to marvel at the Philippe Starck
    Asahi Flame, known to locals as the Golden Turd, if you find
    a picture you can see why, and then continued on toward
    Skytree, the tallest tower in the world. It was a longer
    walk than it looked on the map (damn these not-to-scale
    tourist maps), and it was getting late, and admission is
    quite stratospheric, so we gave Skytree a pass and were
    content with looking at it from a distance. Picked up a
    bottle of red hooch for later - Frontera Malbec from Concha
    y Toro, at a 7-11.

    We came back on a Toei line subway, connecting to the metro
    to Shinbashi, then transferred to one of the JR lines back
    to Shinagawa. Here's a question. The Toei line is run by the
    Tokyo metropolitan government. The Metro is run by the Tokyo
    metropolitan government and is owned by them in partnership
    with the national government. Okay, there are probably many
    protocol and territorial issues of long standing, so I can
    see why they operate separately (cf. United and Continental
    and Southwest and Airtran in the airline department), but
    why they have separate ticketing systems and pricing is just
    incomprehensible to me.

    The wine was bearable, not too sweet at least, and certainly
    much cheaper than anything we could have got at the hotel.
     
  17. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    There's a ramen district right by the east entrance of the
    station, so after finishing our Malbec for breakfast we took
    a stroll there to see what was what. As we can't read any of
    the signs, all the recommendations in the world didn't help
    - we had to find a place by gosh and by golly; it helped
    that it was early not all of the places were open; we took
    a tour of the area before choosing one that had pictures of
    pork on its signboard up front. It was on the third floor,
    with a fishy-oriented place on 4. Naturally, lili wanted
    to push 4, but I reached over and pushed 3 instead. There
    was already a smattering of custom at 11, a good sign, or
    perhaps it was the only place open.

    The joint is not tourist oriented, but I asked hesitantly
    for an English menu, as I have difficulty with pictographic
    scripts but can't read kana (or any nonroman noncyrillic
    alphabet script) at all. Surprisingly, one was found, and
    between its pictures and its Jinglish enough of the dishes
    were vettable for ingredients that we ate pretty well.

    lili went conservative and got the simplest thing on the
    menu, rice with red-cooked pig belly, poor people's food
    but excellent, a serving big enough so I could have more
    than a taste listed on the menu for Y300 ($3.60) but charged
    at Y200, maybe because she's a cute little old lady.

    I got dan-dan noodles in tonkotsu broth for Y850; this came
    with little bowls of rice and pickled veg. The broth was
    excellent with its rich and concentrated porkiness, and I
    almost regretted the addition of the sesame paste. Soba
    noodles were a peculiarity - I expected regular ramen -,
    and both taste and texture were slightly wrong. There were
    three thin slices of roast leg on top, and I was slightly
    envious because lili had gotten more than that of tastier
    stewed belly meat; turns out that after working my way
    through the big bowl of noodles and broth that the bottom of
    my bowl was lined with similar slices of pork, and though I
    was full, I was not too full to enjoy this unexpected treat.

    Kirin autumn brew cost Y500 for a double bottle. Very crisp,
    though with pronounced malt flavor, about as hoppy as the
    regular lager, which is to say much more bite than AB Kirin
    Ichiban.

    It was time to pack up and take the train to Yokohama. The
    shinkansen takes 15 and goes to the new station, but our
    hotel is near the old station, and there are expresses that
    take 20 or less and cost a fraction. We found one that was
    scheduled at 17 but actually took only 15. Got off, turned
    the wrong way, and walked through a sort of yellow light
    district, then diagonaled it up the street to the Sheraton,
    a couple blocks off. Here we were greeted in a most friendly
    way and told to please check in at the lounge, which we did.

    Very pleasant accommodation, with a separate lady's closet
    and wash-up area opposite the entrance hall from the toilet
    room and the bathroom. As lili is not one of those women
    who takes hours for her toilette this was largely redundant,
    but the gesture was much appreciated.

    Before dinner we decided to wander around a bit, so we went
    down into the bowels under the station; it's a huge mall
    that essentially goes from one department store, Sogo, on
    one side of the station, to another, Takashimaya, on the
    other, with all sorts of restaurants and stores in between.

    We poked around the Takashimaya food hall and then Queens
    Isetan for a while, marveling at the high quality (making us
    hungry) and high prices (quieting that hunger again). We
    settled on a bottle of Ikeda red wine for supper, which
    turned out to be a quite respectable vin ordinaire at cru
    bourgeois prices, not a huge surprise. Slightly overripe,
    tobacco and barbecued meat notes.

    Did a dry run to the Yokohama City Air Terminal, which is
    really just a booth at the east bus terminal; good thing we
    did, as we found a way to get there from the hotel without
    any stairs.

    At the club lounge, terrific views north and west, mixed
    nuts, a no-name red Bordeaux. I had a Ballantine's, which
    was better than I remember. Some woman had posted herself
    next to the hors d'oeuvres tray, and miraculously every
    time I noticed the staff replacing it, by the time I got
    there there was one sad-looking item left. That was fine,
    there were candies and mixed nuts available. Also salad,
    which I wasn't interested in. Anyhow, the ramen lunch had
    spoiled us for food, and not only did we not scavenge here,
    we decided not to go out for dinner at all, relying on the
    wine for our additional Calories.
     
  18. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    A standard American breakfast with an additional Japanese
    section and a "Chinese selection," plus a few oddities.

    From the first, bacon two ways, crisp and limp; "house-cured
    ham," actually loin, barely cured, not very salty, a nice
    though rather tough example of the piggish art; eggs every
    which way, of which lili had a hard but not unpleasant
    omelette.

    Japanese: I tried two kinds of fish, an unidentified
    mackerelly fish that might have been that beltfish thing
    and salmon, both rather overcooked. There were also various
    vegetable and noodle monstrosities, all appalling enough that
    even the Japanese guests took a look and hurried away.

    Of the Chinese selection, vegetable dumplings were filled
    with pork and bok choy chopped together, vegetable enough
    for me but perhaps not for someone who wanted vegetable
    dumplings. Shrimp dumplings were the usual; chow mein
    involved soy-soaked wheat noodles and shredded vegetables.

    An oddity that I waited until the end to dare to sample was
    spaghetti agli, olio, e peperoncini with the unexpected
    addition of bitter melon. It was quite good, especially
    paired with the ham, and I hoped that something even more
    peculiar and interesting was going to be there tomorrow.

    The ramen museum was closed, or so we thought; later other
    documentation indicated that it was the cup noodle museum,
    an offshoot of the original ramen museum in Osaka, that was
    closed; the other ramen museum (transliterated raumen, if
    you want to look it up) in Shin-Yokohama, had indeed been
    open and had even had a special admission for seniors 60 and
    above - Y50 (60c), but when we found this out it was way too
    late to go. We looked into the possibility of taking the
    Kirin brewery tour, but not only were the tours in Japanese
    only, so was the reservation system, so we gave up on that.

    We looked at the Landmark Tower from afar and decided that
    was enough (it costs Y1000 to get in, or, I'm told, you
    can go up to the bar for free, but the drinks there cost
    Y1000 and more a pop).

    As we had not managed to get to the Tokyo open-air museum,
    Sankei-en Gardens seemed to be the next best thing. There
    are various buses that go there, and we found one leaving
    in two minutes, so we hopped it and took a tour of the
    city; half an hour later, the announcements turned to
    English, and shortly after we were there.

    Beautiful gardens. Apparently this guy Sankei Hara, a
    budding artist and poet, met a girl whose family owned the
    biggest silk company in town, and they got married. Hara
    eventually became the head of the company and is said
    through his thinking outside the box to have saved the
    Japanese silk industry, but the writings available onsite
    might be a tad prejudiced. Anyhow, he became rich enough
    to indulge in his hobby of collecting historic buildings,
    which he moved to his estate in Yokohama. After the war,
    this became a park open to the public.

    Second to the Imperial East Garden, I'd say this was the
    sightseeing highlight of the trip. It took us nearly three
    hours to get through the site, and we were tired and foot
    weary as we made our way to the bus stop, where it appeared
    we had just missed one, with the next not to come for an
    hour. At some point another bus came by, which did not go
    back to the station, but by dint of asking for alternate
    destinations, I somehow got the driver to drop us off at
    another stop, where we could pick one up that did. And
    actually, the bus we ended up getting on took us to the
    southern end of Chinatown, by the hospital. Lucky us.

    Yokohama's Chinatown is said to be one of the biggest and
    cleanest in the world. We did some wandering around and
    poking into likely-looking stores. I was in search of
    conpoy, the essential flavoring of the congee that my
    friend Billy has asked me to make for him, as he is likely
    never going to Asia again, and Japanese conpoy is said to
    be the best. Several failures, but eventually we found a
    little storefront that had it hidden away in a cabinet. The
    little old lady in charge corrected my pronunciation
    ("in Chinese, we call it 'gang pei'") but I left with some
    really nice-looking dried scallops at not much more than I
    should have paid - and approximately what they would have
    cost in New York or Boston for less good merchandise. Okay,
    looking at food. Here the food was reasonably appealing but
    hideously expensive, until you got to things like Peking
    duck, which cost about the same as they would stateside;
    but dim sum was going for twice what I expected, and the
    simplest plate of noodles or fried rice with, say, broccoli
    beef, was well into the quadruple digits. lili, being a
    good sport, said that she wasn't particularly hungry at
    these prices, so we just took the bus back to the hotel and
    checked out the club offerings again.

    Ch. Les Belles Vignes was the red on offer; it was said to
    be better than the previous night's. I tasted it; it was
    more tannic and structured than other wines we had had on
    this trip, but it was certainly still ordinaire. Instead, I
    drank a bastard concoction of vodka, cassis, and vin blanc
    ordinaire, a "kir que vous botte," if you will.

    Tonight's hors d'oeuvre was a toothpick-stabbed tower of,
    in this order, a cube of shrimp paste with carrot and other
    vegetable dice embedded in it, a slice of salmon, half a
    black olive, and half a green olive. Not bad.

    At last we were hungry enough to justify finding a place for
    dinner, so back to the station to see what was available.

    Din Tai Fung is one of the most famous dim summeries in the
    world - it started in Taipei in 1980 and rapidly grew in
    reputation and outlets - there are now 60 of them, two of
    which, both in Hong Kong, have won Michelin Stars (which
    the mother ship and many of the other outlets take credit
    for, which they shouldn't). Anyhow, I was happy to see one
    here in the Takashimaya restaurant floor, and with a happy
    hour special at that: half an order of xiao longbao (4), a
    pint of Kirin lager, and an appetizer plate of chicken
    drumstick slices, sweet-sour pickled wood ear mushrooms, and
    soybean sprouts in sesame for ten bucks or so. We had one
    each and a side order of steamed pork bao. The XLBs were
    exemplary, as good as at other DTF restaurants and better
    than I've had anyplace else with the exception of a Shanghai
    place in Lexington, Mass. that is long defunct, and my
    experience of which was perhaps colored by my being there
    with a colleague of the owners' daughter. The sides were
    equally delicious. The pork bao, however, were completely
    mediocre, the buns suffering from an odd texture that I
    would guess came from being stored too long or perhaps even
    frozen. I should have stuck with the XLBs, maybe gotten
    a third dose of happy hour instead. Kirin lager is perfectly
    fine on its home territory; as you know, the stuff that we
    get here is made by AB in Los Angeles and tastes more like
    Michelob than Kirin.
     
  19. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The same breakfast; knowing what I liked, I had two big
    platefuls of spaghetti, which this time had much less bitter
    melon, and a few slices of ham, which today was almost
    totally uncured (i.e., roast pork). I also tried what was in
    a cauldron labeled "Chinese soup" - it turned out to be
    eggdrop with pumpkin, most peculiar. This time lili's
    omelet was made in a flash, moist in the French style,
    perhaps too moist.

    I sort of expected lili not to want to go exploring,
    as she had expressed tiredness, but there she was raring to
    go, so off we went; as we left, I pointed out that we had
    no map, no compass, but she didn't want to turn back for
    them, and I figured, an adventure, what could be bad.

    According to what I'd recalled of the tourist map, the
    waterfront area was south of us, so we went mostly in
    that direction, through that slightly sleazy district,
    then down a promising-looking diagonal, and ...

    I had thought that Landmark Tower would have been a good,
    well, landmark, but we never saw it.

    Turns out the waterfront was south and east of us, and we
    had gone astray when we crossed on the highway bridge, which
    took us way west of where we wanted to go, and we had walked
    way, way past the interesting part. Damn the tourist map for
    not having north up top the way it should be.

    We went past more neighborhoody neighborhoods, in the shadow
    of some pretty impressive hills, nothing seeming familiar at
    all. At some point we decided that discretion was the better
    part of valor, hopped a bus, and took it back home just in
    time for us to check out and find the YCAT bus to the
    airport ($40 each, 90 min). The bus got us there right
    on schedule, even counting the roadblock for document and
    luggage inspection at the perimeter; this meant a good hour
    and half to enjoy the Sakura Lounge and the Admiral's Club.

    At the former, you go downstairs to the sitting area but
    then back upstairs for food and drinks, I wonder what that's
    all about. The bar is self-serve until a certain hour, 3 I
    seem to recall, with the top-shelf stuff inaccessible.

    I had famous JAL beef curry, which is very dark and heavily
    scented with cloves. It had been well picked over, so it was
    mostly gravy with some fatty and gristly bits hiding within,
    but that was fine as I prefer those anyway. It wasn't bad on
    the Japanese-style mushroom rice and went well with the
    cheap Japanese Scotchoid on offer.

    After a while, though, the novelty wore off, and I accepted
    lili's offer to show me what was bad about the Admiral's
    Club. Turns out that it was much better than last time she'd
    been in it (always going to the Sakura or JAL F lounge
    instead I guess). It is a little crowded, and the food
    options ungenerous, but the booze is better than you get on
    the plane, and the decor is based on Hiroshige's 100 Views
    of Edo, which is kind of nice.

    Our plane left from the satellite terminal, which is really
    easy to get to, the people mover taking just a few minutes.
     
  20. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    AA 170 NRT LAX 1555 0950 777 11B

    Menu:

    warm mixed nuts

    a selection of sushi

    fresh seasonal greens

    lobster risotto - orzo pasta risotto with a savory
    lobster tomato sauce topped with diced lobster and
    fresh parsley (a signature Sam Choy item)

    beef fillet with Dijon sauce - grilled tenderloin of
    beef complemented by Dijon mustard sauce, parsley mashed
    potatoes, sauteed broccoli, carrot and radish

    vanilla ice cream accompanied by strawberry sauce
    and crumble topping

    The sushi turned to be ebi, california roll, and an
    inarizushi, not much different from what you might get at
    Trader Joe's in half of one of those $3.99 lunch packets.
    I'd have expected somewhat more interesting if not better,
    but that's what there was.

    A mostly fresh salad - I ate it dry using my fingers,
    which would have earned an eyebrow or two if it were not
    for lili, who doesn't care, or doesn't let on that she
    cares, being next to me.

    The same wines as before, none of which tickled my fancy, so
    the crew kept me in Courvoisier.

    My lobster "risotto" was okay - the pasta was not too mushy
    and actually tasted like something; I'd have preferred real
    rice. Its topping of four chunks of spiny lobster tail was
    tasty if a bit resilient. If I had it to do over, I'd have
    spread butter on them before eating. I'm not sure that Sam
    Choy would have been particularly proud of this, but it
    wasn't bad bad. lili's beef was again hugely salty though
    actually kind of rare in parts. She gave me part of it, and
    I found it parching enough that I actually had a dish of
    ice cream (no junk on top) to counteract all that saltiness.

    The seats were surprisingly uncomfortable even given the
    lumpiness of last time. I reflected on how my attitude
    towards the 777 is still colored the excitement of flying
    them back in the 1990s and how I have been reluctant to
    give up my impression of them as a new aircraft.

    Breakfast was offered: a cheese omelet or cereal
    and yogurt - I passed.

    Okay, plenty of brandy, but water refills were few and far
    between. Toward the end of the flight, an FA offered me
    water, and I said sure, and she said, if you still have your
    bottle, that would be nice, so I gave her my empty bottle,
    saying, that's kind of weird. Her retort: this is not a
    supermarket, you know, whereupon she filled my bottle
    putting the lip of the big bottle against that of mine
    (a contamination right there) and then tried to put her
    bottle cap on my bottle and mine on hers (another); when I
    pointed that out, she huffed a little and went forward and
    got me a fresh bottle (though what she did with the big
    bottle I don't know).

    The person across the aisle had a cold and snuffled and
    coughed and sneezed throughout the flight; I don't know if
    this was a coincidence, but lili ended up with a bad case
    of the sniffles, which I never caught.

    We landed late, rather annoying, and were forced to hike to
    customs and immigration at TBIT, which was reasonably speedy
    and not too hostile. After which it was a hike back to the
    American terminal, through security again (this didn't take
    long, and the TSA guys were not overtaxed and somewhat
    genial), so we had time for a beer at the club, and then
    a bus ride to the dim and unattractive commuter terminal.

    AA3038 LAX SAN 1140 1235 CRJ 11C

    The exit row is not substantially nicer than the rest of
    the rows, plus when I sit there I feel obligated to be
    awake while we are still on the ground.

    This flight was a little longer than it should have been,
    and the accommodations were a little more uncomfortable than
    they should have been, and the ramp guys took an inordinate
    amount of time getting the gate checked stuff off, so people
    were unduly eager to get off the plane, a crush forward that
    stopped only when the guy next to us got up and planted
    himself immovable in the aisle. I had tried to be a little
    subtle and put my legs partway across, but all that did was
    get me a few bruises.

    I'd booked a decompression room, as it were, for cheap at
    the Sheraton Bay Tower, but on getting there, I was told
    that I'd been walked to the Marina Tower, which is said to
    be more prestigious. It certainly had a great view across
    the marina to the other hotel and the west, and the sunset
    was very pretty.

    As a parting gift, lili took me to Hodad's, famous for its
    surfer atmosphere and overstuffed sandwiches; I had a bacon
    burger that was as big and messy as its reputation, though I
    got a single rather than the famous double with cheese. My
    meal was quite good in the McDonalds way (only the thing
    was about 3 times as big as a Big Mac).

    I noted a big sign saying Sierra Nevada on tap so ordered
    one; the sign is just for show. I had a Longboard instead;
    lili had a half pint of really wretched red wine. We left
    perfectly happy with the food but somewhat put out by the
    alcohol, so after a short detour to gawk at the surfers, she
    took me to Pizza Port, which offered various Oktoberfests at
    $3; but I was intrigued by the house-made ABLE Stout, a
    better deal at $5 something but 8.4% alcohol - this was a
    darkly coffeed brew, a little bitter midpalate, some malt
    on both ends, most of it burned. Not bad.

    Before saying goodbye, she took me to Baron's, which used to
    be a wine store but has turned into a yuppie supermarket; I
    picked up half a pound of very salty roast beef - I'd bought
    it because it looked nice and red and a bottle of SKN Merlot
    07 - a cheapish tasting lightish Merlot of the type I don't
    particularly go for, but the price was right, and it was a
    screwcap, the most important thing, as lili was abandoning
    me and taking her corkscrew with her.

    The club lounge is pretty cushy and has great views over the
    entire area. Snacks included, as this was California, two
    kinds of salad, ample crudites, and a cheese plate. The hot
    offerings were something I thought was cheese blintzes but
    turned out to have blue cheese and walnuts inside and pot
    stickers that tasted okay but had obviously been reheated
    many times, as the wrappers had gone translucent and brittle.
     
  21. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    jiggity jig

    Breakfast: a rather nice cold cut plate; rather nice cut
    fruits; rather nice little Danish pastries, of which I had a
    marzipan one and a blueberry and cheese one. An extra-fancy
    espresso machine (with posted hours) that was out of regular
    beans but whose decaf reservoir was full, so I had some fun
    making various espresso drinks while the rest of the people
    looked enviously by.

    Walked around a bit, not much else to do, and then snoozed
    again before my flight.

    When it was time to go, I inquired about the shuttle, and
    they said it would be 15 minutes, to which I said if I were
    to walk, I could be there by then, and they said, but
    there's this big highway to cross. It takes 10 minutes or
    so to get to Terminal 1, and security as almost always was
    pretty quick, so I had time for a wee dram at the club.

    UA1114 SAN DEN 1524 1848 738 2A

    Dinner: tomato basil bisque followed by a chicken parm wrap
    (the other choice: chicken breast on greens); both actually
    tasted pretty good. It was accompanied by a fruit bowl with
    unripe honeydew and stuff and an oatmeal-raisin cookie,
    which I stupidly allowed to fall into the workings of my
    seat, never to be seen again. Trapiche Malbec was its usual
    cheap-tasting stuff, and after one glass I switched to
    Courvoisier, which came warmed and relatively delicious.

    UA 748 DEN BWI 1955 0108 752 2B

    Not a long wait before my connection.

    The snack was a bizarre presentation represented as a deli
    plate but was really an exploded Greek salad with large
    piles of white stuff that might have been feta and smaller
    piles of sliced red pepper, olives, and I couldn't see what
    else. On the side a regular bowl of salad and pita chips
    with some other stuff that I couldn't see, I imagine hummus.
    My seatmate and I both passed, of course, which is why I
    couldn't really make out some of the food.

    We had to wend our way through bunches of weather and landed
    half an hour late. Channel 9 was on and quite interesting at
    times.

    Even if we'd been on time there was no way I could have
    gotten back to the house, and so I had booked a great rate
    at the Embassy Suites BWI. Rolled in there mighty late, and
    was disappointed in that the first room offered was smoky; I
    sleepily dragged myself back to the desk and swapped keys.
    The second was just about perfect, and I slept like a log.
     
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  22. Gaucho
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    Gaucho Gold Member

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    Outstanding read.... you are quite a writer, Sir... :cool:
     

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