November 23, 2014

State #25: Parma, OH

Desperate to hit another state but without the budget for a proper excursion, I had to complete my next phoventure on a layover. Ideally, I would spend 10 hours and 30 minutes in Cleveland sleeping, but this Pho Queen was dedicated. There was pho to be had, and I would have it!

An $18 Uber ride later, I arrived at Tay-Do restaurant in neighboring Parma. It was unlike any other Vietnamese restaurant I'd been to - while most are family-owned, this was solely owned and staffed by a married couple. The husband cooks while the wife serves the front of the house, resulting in long wait times. I couldn't complain, as I was forewarned on Yelp, and the wife also told me when I sat down, "you wait long time, okay?" In response to my eloquent "huh?" she quoted 35-40 minutes.

Husband and wife team
A "homely welcome"

Resigned to a long wait, I settled in and perused the menu. The restaurant felt worn but comfortable, like your grandmother's house. The yellow, red and green color scheme felt almost Christmasy, and it certainly had a mom & pop feel, accented by nationalistic pride. While the South Vietnam flag is featured on the restaurant sign, the American flag stands on the restaurant counter. Dual identities indeed.

The menu of Vietnamese and Chinese specialties was interesting, with pho described as a noodle soup with "cinnamon broth" and canh chua as "tamarind broth." One can only assume that it was designed to be friendly to those unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine. Pho ranges from $6.50-8.50, and I chose the Pho Dac Biet, size large ($8.50). If I was going to wait 40 minutes, I'd better make it worthwhile.

On a side note, I don't recommend coming here by yourself, unless you want to call in your order a couple hours ahead, as the menu's introduction invites. The wait time is a perfect opportunity to catch up with a friend, but by yourself you'll just end up thinking about how hungry you are. I had to break out some leftover Halloween candy from my pocket to tide me over. Thank goodness I received a pot of jasmine tea shortly after ordering. Needless to say, the anticipation was building. Frightfully, the expectations were rising as well.

Tay-Do seemed to have a mixed clientele, with caucasian people and a group of Koreans occupying the restaurant during my visit. Of course, we all experienced long wait times. I think the wife was very nice, but her communication style might be off-putting to those unfamiliar with the common brusqueness of certain Asian cultures. I observed her taking another customer's pho order: "Cooked meat?" she asks. "Cooked meat," the customer confirms.

30 seconds later, the wife returns. "I am old!" she declares. "Rare meat? Cooked meat?"

Pho dac biet

I hate to say it, but the pho was not great. It was not amazing, not really worth such a long wait. It was good...or more honestly, adequate. The broth was light in color and light in flavor, reminiscent of the pho my mom occasionally makes at home. See, my mom doesn't make pho often because it's a lot of work, and it's a lot tastier to eat out. The different meats in this were just okay, and the noodles were a clump of the average store-bought variety. I'd hoped the portion would be a little larger for a large, but I still felt myself getting full.

I don't want to bring down this cute mom & pop shop, but I do think the food could be improved upon. Perhaps if they reduce their extensive menu and focus on core items, Tay-Do can serve higher quality, more flavorful food in a more efficient manner.

Rating Breakdown:

Taste (10/14)
  • Broth flavor- 4/5
  • Noodle & meat quality- 3/5
  • Garnish selection- 1/2
  • Portion size- 2/2
Restaurant (11/16)
  • Service- 3/5
  • Cleanliness- 4/5
  • Atmosphere- 3/4
  • Speed of arrival- 1/2
Total: 21/30

Tay-Do Vietnamese Restaurant
, 11725 Snow Rd, Parma, OH

With that, I'm officially halfway! 25 down, 25 to go! With an Asian vacation planned in December, I probably won't be hitting up my next state until January. Which state should I cross off next? Leave a recommendation below.


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November 18, 2014

Stuff I Like #5: Martial Arts

Every Asian knows martial arts.

While this stereotype is certainly untrue, I think it's a pretty cool one. If someone ever attacks me, I hope to kick their butt and then declare something stupid like "You should have known better than to pick a fight with an Asian!" Of course, if it's an Asian person who attacks me, I don't know what I'll say...after all, they might kick my butt. Since they're Asian and all.

Regardless of whether or not the stereotype works for you, the fact remains that martial arts is awesome. My favorite martial arts movie must be Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's a gorgeous masterpiece with stunning visuals (as expected from Ang Lee), an excellent cast, and it includes this legendary scene:

My knowledge of classic martial arts movies is pretty limited, though. Sadly, I don't know much about Jet Li or Bruce Lee. I watched the Karate Kid movies when I was a kid, and I'm definitely a Jackie Chan fan. I love his comedic balance, and the Rush Hour movies are a lot of fun! But I still need to expand my horizons. My friend Martha says I have to see House of Flying Daggers, so I'll put that on my list.

I took Taekwondo in my youth, but only got a blue belt. I'd like to continue my martial arts study someday, at least to protect myself. Taekwondo, jiu-jitsu and karate are all great, but Muay Thai and Krav Maga are also becoming increasingly popular. Aikido, a defensive martial arts style that uses the opponent's force and momentum against them, is particularly perfect for women looking to defend themselves. Some of my favorite characters from anime and manga are martial arts experts, and I'd love to be more like karate champion Ran from Detective Conan or aikido master Misaki from Kaichou wa Maid-sama.

However, my favorite ass-kicker to watch on a regular basis is Ming-Na Wen, who voiced Mulan, starred in The Joy Luck Club, and can now be seen weekly on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She is absolutely amazing, and it's insane that she's 50! You have to watch her on this show! Get a taste from this badass clip in which her character, unusually clad in just a slip, fights an impersonation of herself:


Needless to say, she's become an idol of mine. If you're on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bandwagon, we can enjoy the ride together!

Personally, I don't know how much butt I can actually kick. When I took Taekwondo, I always focused on technique over power. (I guess my perfectionist qualities stem from a young age.) These days, I wish I had more strength along with technique, so I could depend on myself and not others. Of course, that's the practical side to liking martial arts, in addition to appreciating it as art. It's beautiful, really: the ways people can move, the balance of power and control. I want to be a part of that club. I feel like it should be a secret that actually, not all Asians are proficient in martial arts. Shhh.

November 14, 2014

The Nature of Vancouver

Waterfront and filled with boats and trees, bridges and gorgeous buildings, Vancouver is truly a beautiful city. I had a layover there for the first time ever, and was lucky enough to hang out with my new friend Lea, who I'd met at ARASHI BLAST in Hawaii. Like me the week before, she was able to enjoy being a tourist in her own city.

The Vancouver waterfront is just so pretty. Weirdly enough, the city strongly reminded me of Hong Kong, from the harbor views to the style of the high rise buildings - but of course, a quieter, cleaner version of Hong Kong. I soon found out that Vancouver's nicknames include "Van Kong" and "Hongcouver" due to the influx of Hong Kong Chinese immigrants.

Lionsgate Bridge 
Canada Place

Vancouver's infrastructure is top-notch, having hosting the Winter Olympics in 2010. They built first-class event facilities and an Olympic Torch, and new foods emerged as well. Japadog is a street food chain that started in Vancouver, selling hot dogs inspired by Japanese foods like okonomiyaki. Lea told me that they were very popular during the Olympics, with long lines at each stand. While the craze has since died down, Japadog is here to stay, and even opened locations in Los Angeles. Of course I had to try it, and it was delicious!

Olympic Torch

Fortunately, we were able to meet with Lea's friend Debbie, who I'd also met at the concert. She worked over by City Hall, so I got to see another area of the city as we joined her during her lunch break. We had a nice Japanese meal at the cute, independent Marulilu Cafe on Broadway.

I'd heard that Capilano Suspension Bridge Park was a worthy attraction, so we drove there after lunch. It's a nature park in a rainforest, with three main attractions: Capilano Suspension Bridge, Cliffwalk, and Treetops Adventure. Apparently, I can get in for free with my work ID, and as a British Columbia resident, Lea could get an annual pass for the price of one visit ($32.95 CAD). Not a bad deal at all!

Picture perfect!

The suspension bridge dates back to 1889 and is an iconic Vancouver landmark. George Grant McKay, civil engineer and land developer, purchased 6,000 acres of forest on either side of Capilano River, built a cabin at the edge of the canyon, and suspended a footbridge made of hemp rope and cedar planks so people could get there. He used a team of horses to swim the ropes across the river before pulling them up and anchoring them to huge buried cedar logs on the other side.

The bridge and McKay's cabin became a popular destination for adventurous friends, but after his death, the bridge was replaced by a wire cable bridge in 1903, which has since been reinforced. The bridge currently stretches 450 feet across and 230 feet above the river. It's impressive to see, fun to cross, and offers impressive views.

Cliffwalk is the park's newest attraction, having opened in 2011. It's a walkway set along the cliffs above Capilano River. Some areas are suspended, and some are very narrow, but the whole thing is quite beautiful as you're immersed in nature while casually strolling about the side of a cliff, high above a canyon with a roaring river.

Treetops Adventure is the third big attraction at Capilano, but I didn't think it was very exciting. Seven suspension bridges are strung across trees in the rainforest, offering a "squirrel's eye view" 110 feet above the forest floor. For me, it's possible that the sheer awesomeness of Cliffwalk took away from Treetops Adventure. I mean, it's still pretty cool...

Yoga everywhere!

If you find yourself in Vancouver, I definitely recommend visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. It's impressive and refreshing to have such a big forest just minutes away from downtown. It's easy to get there too, with a free shuttle service running every 30 minutes. For a lazy person like me, it's a great way to get some exercise, since walking around such a beautiful place doesn't feel like a workout. Rest assured, climbing stairs and inclines is indeed a workout!

The holidays are the perfect time to visit Capilano. From November 29 to January 3, the park runs Canyon Lights, where you can enjoy holiday activities at the park when it is lit up by thousands of lights strung throughout the rainforest, across the suspension bridge, and all over Cliffwalk. Go forth, and perhaps make a new friend?

November 9, 2014

Playing Tourist in SF

Living in a big city, you take certain things for granted. You think you can see the sights whenever you want, and ultimately you rarely do so. Every now and then, it's wonderful to be a tourist in your own city.

I've been living on the the San Francisco peninsula for over two years now, and I don't make it downtown enough. Traffic and parking are a hassle, but it's such a shame because there's so much up there! There are always events going on, amazing food, and lots of culture. Luckily, my parents recently came up for a visit, and I got to play tourist. It wasn't their first time here - we once went and saw the big sights a long time ago. I must have been in middle school back then, so it was definitely time for another visit.

We mostly stuck to the typical activities, like visiting Fisherman's Wharf. There are a lot of street musicians trying to make it, but we had to stop and enjoy the musical stylings of Les Edwins. Not only was there a crowd of people enjoying Les's covers on that lovely day, but the wharf is totally overrun by giant seagulls. They're many and huge! If only people would stop feeding them!

Les Edwins
THE BIRDS. I think you're evil! EVIL!

We made our way over to the popular Pier 39 and ducked into a few souvenir and handiwork shops, caught the end of street performer Bob's act, said hello to the sea lions, and enjoyed the views.

Bob's balancing act and juggling knives on a triple unicycle. NBD.
See the sleepy sea lions.
Golden Gate Bridge.

As one must in San Francisco, we had some great meals. I must recommend dining at Hog Island Oyster Bar in the historic Ferry Building. Waterfront with pretty views of the Bay Bridge, they serve a small menu of excellent seafood entrees, specialty cocktails, and delicious oysters. Entrees are about $15, and you can get 6 oysters for $18. They're not cheap, but go for the Kodomo. So good.

Bay Bridge
Ferry Building Marketplace
Clockwise from top left: seafood stew, clam chowder, oyster po-boy, oyster menu, and watermelon cocktail.

Also at the Ferry Building, I finally tried the famous Blue Bottle Coffee. Made from the finest single-origin beans and individually brewed with care, it has a unique, strong, and rich flavor. My thoughts? It was good, but I still like my Starbucks. Please don't hate me. Next on my list to try: Phliz Coffee.

We had a nice dinner at The House, a small Asian fusion restaurant. Reservations are recommended, along with that night's big winner, the flank steak with wasabi noodles. At $19, it was the cheapest entree of the three, but it was the most remarkable, with the wasabi noodles' unique kick and the perfect tenderness of each steak slice. Don't get me wrong, my sea bass ($28) and my mom's seafood special were also quite delectable, but I'm adamant about coming back for that steak and noodles.

Best of all, The House is right next to Chinatown, so you can walk off your meal there! Definitely stop by the Golden Gate Bakery for their famous egg tarts. They are delicious, especially when fresh and warm from the oven, and well worth the hype. Remember those words: Golden Gate Bakery. Egg tarts. You won't be sorry.

Clockwise from top left: halibut special, The House, sea bass with soy sauce noodles, flank steak with wasabi noodles

On their last day, my parents simply wanted to visit the beach. We drove over to Pacifica and made a brief stop at a beach where the sand looked like dirt. Surfers seemed to like it, though.

The next beach we found, Gray Whale Cove State Beach, was much more beautiful. Apparently it's a nude beach, but no one was nude that cool October day.

Thanks to Mom and Dad for coming up and giving me reason to play downtown. I'm glad it wasn't terribly difficult to fly nonrev here and back! I hope you had a great stay. I wonder when the next time will be?