Archive for March, 2013

Fodors.com pick Sarong rises in Miele Asia 20

March 29, 2013

Best restaurant lists usually provoke equal parts envy and ennui. I’d love to enjoy some top-notch gourmet experiences, but decorated eateries tend to be upmarket joints where dishes bear little resemblance to what real people eat and are served with sides of high prices and attitude. Moreover, my taste runs more toward dai pai dong jok (congee from a street stall) and vegetarian “meats” from wet markets.

While working on the Lovely Planet Indonesia guide and the inaugural edition of the Borneo guide, I steered travelers away from Samarinda’s purported best burgers toward authentic local foods ikan bakar lalapan (barbecued fish served with fragrant kemangi leaves) and soto banjar. That’s territory where best restaurant reviewers are rare.

But on the recently released Miele Asia’s Top 20 list, I found a restaurant that fits my taste, one that I’ve sampled, enjoyed and perhaps even influenced.

Sarong has been a mainstay at the top of Bali’s food chain for several years. It debuted at number 18 on the Miele Asia list last year and rose to 13th place this year. Friends have come back from Bali raving about Sarong, and I’ve passed the word to others on their way to Bali, many returning with their own glowing reviews. When asked to work on the Fodors.com guide to Bali, I put Sarong on my restaurant list and was lucky enough to sample it, along with some of the island’s other stars including Bumbu Bali and Naughty Nuri’s.

As noted in my Fodors.com review of Sarong, the menu captures the flavors of Asian street food and family cooking, served in elegant settings and paired with creative cocktails and fine wines. Leaving Sarong, I ran into chef Will Meyrick, and we began talking about the restaurant and the just completed meal. While the scallop appetizer, curry and roast lamb were overwhelmingly delicious, my wife (who is Indonesian) and I focused on the Acehnese specialty burung puyuh sembunyi (hidden quail) – a bird chopped into parts and buried in a mound of greens that in Aceh would be marijuana. We noted that the leaves seemed to overly indulge the Indonesian passion for deep frying. Meyrick defended the dish as capturing the essence of its Acehnese model.

A few nights later at Mama San, Sarong’s more casual sister restaurant, we ran into Meyrick again. After we thanked him for another memorable meal, he said, “A few of us tried the burung puyuh and you had a point. So we tweaked it a bit. Thanks for letting us know.” We gained new respect for Meyrick for giving credence to our opinions.

Now we’ll be happy to lend our thoughts to Robuchon Au Dome in Macau at the top of Miele Asia list or its Hong Kong cousin, L’Atelier de Robuchon, at number three. Please send an email to arrange a booking.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

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Meet the new bosses

March 18, 2013

As a teenager, I was a big fan of The Who, a band that spoke to my adolescent angst in the tenor of those anti-establishment times. Their classic song Won’t Get Fooled Again by lead guitarist Pete Townshend concludes with the line “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Last week, 2.5 billion people around the world got new bosses. Despite the waves of optimism greeting Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China, we’d all do well to heed Townshend’s words. Don’t expect either of these freshly minted leaders to let loose the winds of change in their domains.

Yes, the Pope likes to cook his own breakfast and Xi visited Muscatine. Iowa, to study agriculture and even made a reunion trip there. But they are both products of sclerotic systems that have lost their way and, more importantly, their moral authority through the bad acts of cadres. Search the headlines for Catholic Church and you’ll find more about scandal, sexual and otherwise, than sanctification.

The true nature of the Chinese leadership isn’t embodied by anything said at the National People’s Congress but by the corruption of Chongqing’s ousted Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, the man who wasn’t there at last week’s national conclave.

Bo ruled autocratically under the banner of Maoist revivalism, stole millions, and was complicit in his wife’s plot to murder an alleged accomplice who threatened to blow the whistle. As I wrote in Asia Times, Bo is still behaving with his customary impunity, even as a prisoner.

The Catholic Church and China’s Communist Party are both organizations that rely on top down leadership and complete loyalty, promising rewards to their acolytes while mainly delivering them to their top echelons, the very people who selected these new leaders. These elites, handpicked by the system that enriches and empowers them, wouldn’t dream of selecting a boss that might rock the boat.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Surgeon-Poet Hall doubles in LA book awards

March 5, 2013

Dr Neal Hall, a hit at last year’s Ubud Writers Festival, has scooped up more awards. The eye surgeon’s poetry collection Nigger for Life has won both the poetry prize and grand prize at the Los Angeles Book Festival. Hall will collect his honors at Hollywood’s legendary Roosevelt Hotel on Friday.

Hall also won the poetry prize at last year’s New York Book Festival and New England Book Festival, as well as the Ubud Festival’s poetry slam. He extends the tradition of acclaimed poets with day jobs that includes Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, and fellow physician William Carlos Williams.

Title notwithstanding, Hall asserts Nigger for Life isn’t about race, but about freedom, told from the only perspective he’s got. Hall’s poems are both lyrical and extraordinarily powerful, well worth reading and richly deserving of their accolades.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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