Review: SimCorner – prepaid travel SIM cards

Oh, the things I’ve done to get connected to my phone while travelling overseas. Hovering around Starbucks. Lurking outside of airport lounges. And many years ago, to the mortification of my husband, opening up my laptop in the middle of a small Italian town and waving it around to try to find an unsecured wireless.

In the meantime, while I used to be able to follow a guidebook, or could prepare in advance for travel enough that I didn’t have to always rely on the internet on my phone, these days I’m too lazy and too used to be able to use my map function to get around, and use the internet to find random pieces of information and (ahem, embarrassingly, to play Pokemon Go).

So, knowing that I’d be in New York City for a whole month, I researched my options and came up with this. I signed up for a month for $60. It took less than a week I think for a SIM card to arrive by post. It was activated upon arrival. It was… a godsend.

I could make restaurant reservations and have them confirm them. I got a ticket to Sweeney Todd, a hot item, by lottery through TodayTix, calling my local mobile number. I didn’t get lost too often, as it is so easy to do. I was able to access random information anytime, and not just when I was at a hotel or AirBNB with wireless. It was totally marvelous and I think well worth it.

I think I ended up using about 2.5GB of data. The only issue that I had was that though you could sign-in to a page online, it didn’t really tell me anything except data usage. Since calls and texts with the USA were free, none of that info was listed. And, which was a problem at the end, it didn’t tell me from what day the service was activated and therefore, at what time exactly my service would expire. However, I did get a text in advance of this happening.

All in all though: a very useful service. If you think you might need it, I can recommend SimCorner.

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Sydney Food Diary: Al Taglio, Surry Hills

It seems that the curse of this location has finally been broken. There was Josh and Ai’s little cafe ages ago, a bruschetta place, and another Italian place. No one could ever seem to make it work. But along comes Al Taglio and there’s a nice buzz to it, and I always see it busy. It was time to try it out (Though this was about six weeks ago! My trip to NY interrupted this blog post).

The verdict (shared by my pals D & G): marvelous. Casual feel, casual prices and a perfectly delicious house red wine. The pizza was perfectly delicious and the gnocchi. Oh my god. It’s not a pretty dish, but I could have eaten about three plates of it. Extra points for the waiter’s awesome Italian accent.

Al Taglio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Cafe & Cucina, Surry Hills

I’ve passed by this place at the corner of Holt and Cooper streets a million times. Nice vibe. There’s a bike on the wall. The same week that we dine at Masala Theory on Crown Street with a bike on the wall. There’s a bike on the wall at Book Cafe too. It must be a thing.

Also, the menu looks like good Italian food, and I like the decor. So I’ll have to come back. This time it was only for coffee, so a heaping mug full of latte. After a month in New York City, it’s hard for me to evaluate the coffee in Sydney because it ALL tastes good in comparison. Yum. This was, as it should be, a big delicious cup of Australian coffee.

Café & Cucina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Masala Theory, Surry Hills

Taking over the interesting space (a converted terrace house, I suppose) most recently occupied by Pork’d and before that by the famous Red Lantern is new kid on the block Masala Theory.

While it’s a stone’s throw away from the cluster of Indian restaurants on Cleveland Street, the Maya empire, or the tasty Pakistani restaurant Lalqila, Yashpal and his team are aiming to do something different: bring a very contemporary version of Indian food to the table.

I love this idea. There are some places serving new Indian food. I hear Indu is amazing. I’m totally bummed that the wonderful Sub-Continental closed its doors, after its lease ran out. But I think it’s a great idea to both take some old classics and spin them up in a different way, or to introduce dishes that are less familiar.

Meanwhile, I love the space. It’s colourful and fun. It feels upmarket without being stuffy. We went on a Tuesday night, and it was good to see some steady traffic. It’s a tough market for restaurants in Surry Hills (note Zambo recently closing and Besser next door doing a rebrand).

After a very delicious mango lassi and a chai that had a nice chili kick, we opted for a variation of the banquet menu ($65 a person). What better way to try a variety of food, and Yashpal explained to us that many people, when ordering Indian food, don’t hit the right mix: they tend to order too many spicy dishes. But some of the beauty comes with the contrast of dishes, something more mild balancing out the spice. Good advice, I think.

The appetizer was three different bites – a slider with lamb mince, a crispy prawn with corn, and a tasty piece of chicken.

This ‘Three Sisters Chat’ was pretty spectacular, the sweet yoghurt and the mint and date-tamarind chutneys contrasting with the crispy chickpea wafers. Very interesting, really.

I loved that we got four small dishes of curry, all to ourselves. I find with ordering a curry in a traditional restaurant that the portions can be either too big or too large, and I’m not quite sure how much to order and in what combo.

The ‘village fish curry’ had a thinner broth, slightly sour, in a nice way. I loved the salty and rich goat curry. The butter chicken was super sweet, and yet, apparently with no sugar added, it’s all from the tomatoes and cooking technique. The Chicken Dhansak is a Gujerati specialty, apparently, not found often in Sydney. I liked it: a very homestyle feel, like something your Mom would make during winter. But I was also glad it came as as a contrast to the other curries. I’ve often ordered a house-specialty curry or something that looks particularly unusual, and found that I liked the first bites, but it was too much if it’s the only curry or one of two.

The desserts were a highlight. I loved this chai pannacotta (glowing rather nicely under the pink fluorescent lights of the bicycle wheels). I’ve got to try making something like myself at home!

And this is a motichoor laddoo. This is interesting, it’s a festival pastry, and I think I’ve had it from Maya Sweets or another Indian dessert shop. It’s super rich. Tiny balls of chickpea flour, I believe, deep-fried and simmered in a sugar syrup until they plump up.

Here, it’s been deconstructed, with a scoop of ice cream to add a balance of flavour. You mix it all up before you eat it, and it doesn’t look very pretty then… but there’s something absolutely addictive about the taste and texture. I was hooked.

In retrospect then, as much as anything, these are traditional dishes (as noted in this review in Broadsheet) served up in ways that are slightly more accessible to non-Indians, and in a more contemporary style. Don’t think there were any particular fusions or innovative cooking techniques, but overall, I really, really liked this place, and I’ll be back.

Masala Theory Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We dined as guests of Masala Theory. The opinions and the review are my own. I can see some debate has risen on Zomato about the practice of treating food bloggers to meals. It’s true: it’s a nice thing to have happen, and I’m more likely to look kindly on a restaurant. But I don’t write nice things unless they’re true. If a restaurant is not great, I’ll post some photos and use neutral language. And, I’ll put some sort of disclaimer like this at the bottom of the review.

It’s also interesting to see the opposite effect happen, a review that seemed overly harsh because of the other good reviews, though I’ve seen this before on many food review sites where too much praise results in a pushback. Aussies never like tall poppies.

In any case, it’s good though that we’re all striving to be transparent and objective in the interest of good food. Cheers to that. 

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Big Apple Food Adventures: Pokéteria, Midtown

I don’t remember poke (pronounced poh-kay, which is why some places are spelling it poké) from when I was a kid, visiting my grandma in Hawaii during summer vacation, but I do remember being introduced to it years ago by my brother who lives in Hawaii with his family. Lots of grocery stores and delis had big vats of the stuff behind glass counters and it’s delicious: pieces of raw fish, lightly cured in Asian dressing (for example, soy, sesame seed oil, some red pepper flakes, and chopped macadamia nuts!).

But then I heard that poké had become a trend. Our cousins in Vancouver opened up their very own store, The Poke Guy. Some restaurants in Sydney have started serving it and there’s even a Poke restaurant in Coogee that I have yet to try. I tried making it myself for an appetizer for a dinner party: it was delicious but I wasn’t willing to trust making it with a cheaper cut of fish, yet cutting up sashimi-grade tuna is… pricey.

In any case, I’ve been curious about this trend, and coming to New York City, it seems there are poke sellers everywhere! I tried out Poketeria in Midtown, mostly by chance, and because my days were running out in NYC and I wanted to try it before I left. I am always a bit fascinated with how fast food translates cultures into product, and impressed too, when it works. They’ve taken the spirit of poke (fresh, tasty, raw fish) and then give you a million options.

At Pokéteria, you can get poke burritos, just poke, a poke salad, or poke on rice, which is what I opted for. I chose the fish of the day, but there were about three different fish selections. And four different sauces. And dozens of different things you could put on it. It was a little overwhelming.

But what I ended up with, some mango, Japanese seaweed, edamame, corn and some crunchy bits… all mixed up in a creamy sauce, was delicious. They know how to put the right proportion of ingredients together, and for maybe $15 or $16, including a Japanese ice tea and taxes, it’s a nice meal, healthy enough and healthier still without the rice! I love sashimi but it is pricy, so this is taking the Hawaiian innovation and serving up sashimi, basically, in a more accessible form, and so that you can make a full meal of it. I understand the appeal.

I’m curious whether the trend will continue or peak or fall back into a kind of baseline of poke restaurants that become a permanent part of an eating experience in some cities.

In other news, I think with this post, I’m caught up with all my culinary experiences in the Big Apple. What a fun month it was, and I didn’t come back to Sydney as round as doughnut, as I thought I might. NYC = lots of walking. Also, I exercised some restraint. But NYC: I will be back to food blog my way again through your amazing streets!

Poketeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Maybe Frank, Surry Hills

If NYC was spectacular Korean and Mexican food, Sydney to me seems lately to be spectacular Italian food. It’s not fancy, but the flavours are so punchy, the execution of the dishes so great, and the prices reasonable: it’s got me all aglow.

Pizza Mario was awfully good. They got shut down by some problem with the tax office, and whaddaya know: Maybe Frank is a worthy successor. First of all, it’s just a fun place. Silly music, fun atmosphere, and they even took our booking for 8:15pm on a Friday night. The staff all have fabulous Italian accents too.

We ordered two types of pizza, a red one and a white one… a good contrast. The white one I believe was a Tartufo ($24) with mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, truffle oil and parmigiano… a creamy and rich combo. The red one was, I believe, a Marinella ($20), with tomato, anchovies, garlic, cherry tomatoes and olives. It was very heavy on the anchovies but I didn’t mind the punch of it.

We also had a Spaghetti Burrata ($26), and how can you go wrong with spaghetti over a fresh burrata, with some home made bread crumb, tomato confit and anchovy oil. It was heavy on the anchovy oil but I didn’t mind it. To pretend to be a bit healthy, we had a salad, but I reckon it was the least green and healthy of the four salads on offer: a panzanella salad ($13), the tuscan salad that mixed crisp bread, sweet spanish onions and cherrty tomatoes. I loved this, great combo of textures. The flavour, presentation, everything: awesome. Add to this that they have a perfectly reasonably costing and tasting house red ($36, apparently 2014 from Victoria) and we were happy campers. Impressive.

Maybe Frank Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Big Apple Food Adventures: Desnuda, Williamsburg

The playlist at Desnuda was the soundtrack to my teenage years. Not only the background music but favourite songs by A-ha, Human League, Stevie Nicks and New Order. It was kind of freaking me out.

Luckily, after a delicious, strong, spicy and unfamiliar cocktail called a Conquistador (Peleton Mezcal, Amaro Abano, Luxardo Maraschino, Grapefruit, Lime, Devil’s Tongue, Maldon), I started settling in.

Desnuda is Tracy’s recommendation. Tracy is a newish friend and she is fabulous. It is worth it to take her recommendations.

She not only recommended to come here, but to order the lobster ceviche. Which I did. After three clams and three oysters from the raw bar ($1 each, happy hour!). The oysters came with three types of dressings, and each one was interesting and intriguing (the clams came with a tasty cocktail sauce; actually, I’m not sure if I’ve ever had raw clams before).

The lobster ceviche was orgasmic. It is hard to describe just how good this dish is. I don’t think I’ll try.

Also: I loved the waitress. Good recommendations (i.e. the cocktail) and totally friendly and charismatic. If I didn’t run off to see a show (Groundhog Day, the musical), I would have been here all night… smashed no doubt by the end of it. I was freaking the f*** out how good my drink and food were here…

Desnuda Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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New York City Adventures: The Flower District

I can’t find much or anything recent about visiting NYC’s Flower District, also called the Chelsea Flower Markets, between 6th and 7th streets on 28th Avenue.

But as my mother is a bit of a flower fanatic, I found what information I could (a recommendation to arrive between 7am and 9am, and that the markets are closed on Monday) and we headed down.

It’s a very pleasant street. A working environment rather than a tourist environment. On the street are many different stores, with different specialisations. There’s a Dutch flower shop. An all-purpose one that has lots of pots, containers and even crystals. One that specialises in tropical plants. Various clusters in different stores of orchids, cacti and flowers.

We had fun poking around, and the store owners were extremely nice. No one worried that we were only looking (and many are wholesale only, so we wouldn’t be able to buy if we’d wanted to). One store had particularly lush flowers, and we went in, and I laughed to discover it was a fake flower store. They were pretty convincing when not up close.

In any case, if you’re a lover of plants and flowers, this is a lovely thing to put on your tourist itinerary for New York City, and then after you can relax over a nice coffee or breakfast in the area too.

It’s hard to find info about this on the web. TripAdvisor wouldn’t accept this as a proposed ‘attraction’ or ‘things to do’ in NYC. Other posts are quite out of date, including one that talks about how the shops are moving out of the area (predicting its demise, though it is still alive and kicking). Considering that so many visitors to NYC stay in the Midtown area, this is a pretty fun, and unusual thing to do.

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Big Apple Food Adventures: La Isla Restaurant, Williamsburg

One day, I’m at Margon in Times Square (having Cuban/Dominican food) and the next day, I’m to Puerto Rico. Or the Dominican Republic. I’m not sure. Yelp calls it both. Zomato votes Dominican.

For a quick lunch in Williamsburg before I head to the airport, I stumble across La Isla Restaurant (I was tempted again by Mexico 2000 but there was not a soul inside). All sorts of tasty greasy fried things in the window.

What was hilarious was that even if I do speak some Spanish, I couldn’t get on their wavelength. No menu was offered. I tried to say, cheerily, in English (thinking my Spanish wasn’t good enough), what should I have? The two guys just looked blankly at me, and then would look away and deal with other customers. All of the ladies on one side were having a sort of stew or soup with pork hock. Someone came in and asked how much the rice and beans were ($4) so I decided to go with that (yellow rice and beans of a brown colour rather than black beans) and some chicken stew.

It was delicious really, tender chicken stewed for ages, though again, too much food. I read on reviews on Yelp that I should have gone for the roast pork (pernil). And I’m curious what those fried things were!

La Isla Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Big Apple Food Adventures: Margon, Times Square

Just a last adventure before I leave New York City (drizzling and cold, a good day to leave) and the adventure is food from islands where they speak Spanish. This review in the New York Times for Margon made it irresistible for me to visit.

Originally a Cuban restaurant, and taken over by owners from the Dominican Republic, it serves up humble, traditional food. So, a long line-up at the counter and then the difficulty of trying to figure out what to order. I often go for oxtail but thought I’d try their beef stew.

Chose beans and yucca as my sides and really, this was an enormous amount of food. I have to remember that I like yucca a lot when it’s fried (yucca fries, in fact), but boiled it’s kind of bland. And the stew, well, it was stew. I have the feeling I should have tried their famous octopus and prawn ceviche, or the Cuban sandwiches which looked perfectly constructed. Anyways, it was a fun place to visit, though more fun with more people so you can try different things, and try to figure out a standout dish.

Margon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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