Thursday, June 30, 2016

Spring/ Summer 2016 Men's sale edition

It's that time of the year again.  The last calls at various department/ online stores are in full force.  So far, Saks, Bergdorf, and Barney's have hit the "up to 75% off" sale.  Neiman, on the other hand, is still stuck at 55% off.  But I'm pretty sure they will get in line soon enough!  After all, one only have so much money to spend, and people are not likely to wait till Neiman to go Last Call before heading to other clothing stores to grab all the good deals. 

First up, Bergdorf Goodman.  Not much is left online and the perennial that's not really 75% off does apply to their online store.  Case and point, Moncler is still only 50% off among what's left.   But these days, only very few Moncler stuff ever goes on sale anyway and there is couple wintery looking jacket/ vest that smart buyers can pick up now for later usage.  Most of the Saint Laurent stuff are not even close to 50% off with few exceptions here and there.  But since Hedi left, this is the second to the last season you can pick up his work so buy what you can before it's too late.  Valentino stuff are also slim picking and most are barely 50% off anyway.  Honestly, I would say skip the Bergdorf website unless you have nothing better to do as the "in" brands is pretty much only 50% off if that with couple exceptions.


Next Saks.  There is a Saks in SF so I went there to see what's up since nothing much is left online.  I have to say in person, there are a lot of stuff.  If you like Givenchy, they have a pretty decent selection.  But as you Givenchy lovers know, everything is cut either super big or regular.  You just never know.  There are some camubutterly neoprene sweatshirts.  I think they have all the sizes.  If I didn't have the hoodie version already, I would have totally jump on them since they are 75% off.  Yes, literally 75% off.  Not up to.  Saks really have the best selection in SF of the Last Call markdowns IMO.  If you are in SF, you should definitely hit it up.  Unfortunately I didn't see any accessories or shoes on sale at Saks.  So that's the downside.  What's left online in the men's section is pretty pathetic.  No need to bother.  They do have the late Starchitect Zaha Hadid Rim Vessels cups online for sale at 70% off in the home section!  I believe the price is for a set of four.  These will be a collectors item for sure since I don't think it's widely distributed.  Plus the designer is dead so there isn't exactly going to be lots more of Zaha Hadid home stuff in the future (if any).  There is also decent amount of Missoni Home stuff on sale.  Some of them are only 30% off while others are 70% off.  My suggestion is buy the 70% off stuff online and head to Gilt.com for other Missoni Home stuff.  There is also a healthy selection of Alessi stuff.  Alessi barely ever go on sale so this is pretty good.... although the markdown is only 30% off.  Kinda lame.

The third one I would mention is Barney's New York.  Honestly, there isn't much left online to buy.  They do have a pretty decent selection of Valentino stuff on sale.  Sadly it's 60% off not 75% off like Saks in person.  In store they have the wolf version backpack here in SF on sale.  Online you can find the dragon backpack on sale.  I like them except I don't ever carry a backpack.  I guess if you live in NYC, then this maybe a good buy for you.  There really isn't much left in store.  I saw a Gamme Bleu sports jacket that look like something out of circus (black and what stripe pattern).  That was the only Gamme Bleu stuff left (and for good reason).  Not a lot of shoes left either.  One Valentino Camo hightop left.  I think it's a size 10.  Couple Christian Louboutin spikes shoes available if you are into Loubs.  Speaking of Louboutin.  On the ground floor, there is quite a few Louboutin card case/ wallet left.  I didn't bother to see how much they are but I suspect probably around 60% off.

Who could forget MrPorter?  Good thing about MrPorter is that not only they don't charge sales tax, they are up to 80% off too.  So you can always find a good deal or two.  Sadly what's left of their Valentino selection is only 40% off.  Comparing that to Saks' 75% off, it's kinda a turn off.  The best piece that's left is the Color-Block leather varsity jacket.  But at 2k+ after 40% off, it's still quite an investment.  There are still quite a bit of Balmain left.  Most of the stuff are only 50% off so not terribly attractive at this point.  I think their collaboration with H&M late last year probably turned off most of their loyal customers.  I'm not surprised MrPorter still have plenty of Balmain left.  Bottega Veneta are mostly 60% off.  The selection is not great but it does have a panelled cotton jersey zip up hoodie left in size 46 and 48.  I'm all about hoodies these days and at 60% off I think it's buyable. There is a pretty good selection of Saint Laurent stuff left.  Discount range from 30% all the way to 70%.  The 70% off stuff is mostly leopard print stuff.  Think Peggy Bundy!  LOL.  I think the best piece left is the Camouflage print cotton field jacket at 50% off.  There is one S and one L. 

Lastly MatchesFashion is an interested place to buy from.  Not least it is based in London and you can actually choose to pay for your stuff in English Pound.  Unless you live under a rock, I'm sure you heard of Brexit.  Along with Brits exiting EU, English Pound plunged about 10% against US dollar.  It had since gained a percentage or two against dollar.  So you can actually arbitrage the currency difference and gain more discount by paying for your stuff in English Pound!  Typically Matches stuff are about 20% below suggested retail so even though most of the stuff are only 30-40% off, you are really getting about 50% off.  If you added weak English Pound on top of that, you can get about additional 10% off advantage.  The best piece in the sale category is the Bottega Veneta Quilted-Leather backpack at 949 pounds (retails for $3900 in USA).  While that is definitely not cheap but it had already been marked down 70% off plus with the currency arbitrage, this presents an insane steal opportunity.  Another very unique purchase opportunity is option to buy some discounted Gucci clothes from this season... some at 40% off!  Gucci had a 30% off sale about a month ago and since then, no current season clothes have gone on sale either at Bergdorf, Saks, or Barney's. 

There's definitely bargain to be had this season if you dig deep within stores/ websites.  I'll be reviewing some of my favorite pieces for the fall/winter of this year soon. Until then, happy hunting.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Aman Surprise


Just got back from Aman Sveti Stefan.  I have to say I'm a big fan of this Aman for several reasons.... Great service, Great food, and Great rooms.

Before heading there, my travel agent had said that several of her clients had not liked this particular Aman because they were bored.  Combining that with the reviews on Tripadvisor, I was somewhat hesitant about going there.  On the other hand, a friend of mine whom had done extensive travels throughout the world (over 100 countries by age of 40) had highly recommended this Aman as he said this resort was very unique among all Aman properties as it's an UNESCO World Heritage site.  So reluctantly I decided to stay there for 3 nights and 4 days hoping this resort will live up to Aman standard.

I was pleasantly surprised.  I wish I had stayed at least one more day if not two.  Although honestly I can stay there for few extra months in my gorgeous suite.... This Aman is on an island right off the coast of Montenegro.  The island is connected to the coast via a walkway so I guess it's really more like a peninsula than an island in my opinion.  Anyway, this island originally was a fisherman's island.  The legend has it that Pastrovici tribe robbed some sleeping Turks off a beach in Montenegro.  They used the money to build this village in 1400s.  By 1800s, the village had about 400 inhabitants.  During the communist era, the island was converted into an upscale hotel.  Famous visitors during this time included: Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, and Princess Margaret.  In 2006, Montenegro became an independent country.  By this time, Sveti Stefan had fell into ruins as it had been neglected for awhile.  In 2007, the new government invited international hotels for bids to reinvigorate Sveti Stefan and Aman won the bid and signed a 30 year lease with the government of Montenegro.  Aman Sveti Stefan officially opened in 2009.

Most of the complaints on Tripadvisor had to do with service.  People complaint that while the staffs are nice, but their English are poor thus lots of miscommunications happened.  In typical Aman fashion, they like to hire locals as locals tend to stay at the hotel for extended period of time.  Aman Sveti Stefan was no different.  However, with that policy, I can see how the problems arise.  While I find most of the staffs' English proficient, there were couple instances where things were not done correctly either because of miscommunication.  But I think as time goes on, the staff there will get better and better.  I would say they are 95% there so good enough for me.

While you would think most of the rooms on Sveti Stefan faces Adriatic Ocean to the West, in fact, only four rooms faces West.  Most rooms face East with some facing South.  Few rooms face North as that's where main dining facility is at.  I stayed at the Adriatic Suite which was one category below the presidential suite (Sveti Stefan suite).  This particular suite is one of the view rooms that have west facing windows.  This room also has three different balconies with one facing Northwest which gets the sunset view whereas Sveti Stefan suite faces Southwest thus only gets sunrise view (and who gets up that early while on vacation anyway....).  The second balcony has direct access to the adult pool on the west side of the island.  The third balcony has two lounge chairs and is also quite private for sunbathing.

The Adriatic suite is actually two levels.  The bottom level has a kitchen plus access to one of the four rooms that has a West facing window thus making this a perfect family suite if you are traveling with your kids or other family members.  Outside the kitchen, there is a stair that leads to the upper level of the suite.  The upper level consist of a living room, a dining room, a powder room, and a master bedroom with a generous sized bathroom.  There are four access points to the Adriatic suite.  One is via kitchen.  The other three are through the balconies.

Aman Sveti Stefan actually consist of more than just rooms on the island; it also includes a villa on the mainland called Villa Milocer.  This villa used to be the summer palace for Tito, the communist dictator.  It has now been converted to 8 different suites.  The first floor is consist of public areas such as a restaurant, a library, a reception hall, and a meeting room.  Next to Villa Milocer (about 5 minutes walk), Aman constructed a series of spa buildings in the style of the Villa Milocer.  This collection of buildings has a spa, a gym, and a indoor/outdoor pool.  There are three different private beaches that Aman guests have access to (all of them rock beaches not sand).  The best one, in front of the spa buildings, is called Queen's beach and is the most private one of all three beaches as public has no access to it.  The second best one is called the King's beach and is in front of Villa Milocer.  This one is not particularly private as there is public access road that cut across the private beach and Villa Milocer.  So anyone walks pass the public road can see you.  The most public beach is the one in front of Sveti Stefan called Sveti Stefan beach.  If you are on the mainland facing the island, the right side of the beach is private and my understanding is public has access to it provide they are willing to pay a high premium.  The left side of the beach is public. Thus what you see is you have gazillion people using the left side and maybe one or two people on the right side.  Very weird and odd.  On the island, there are three pools.  One is inside the Sveti Stefan suite's terrace.  This is the only room that has a private pool.  The second one is called adult pool facing West.  Gorgeous view of the Adriatic Sea but it's small and not very deep.  The third one is right next to the main dining room.  Part of it is actually inside the building and part outside.  It's about twice as long as the adult pool.

On the island, there are four orthodox churches.  One was actually where Novak Djokovic, arguably one of the best tennis player ever, got married.  All the churches are quite small and the one that Novak got married in can perhaps fit 15 people at most.  There aren't many original icon paintings inside the churches.  I assume those had been moved to churches on the mainland or museums.

The main dining room (which has inside and outside seating) serves Montenegrin/ European food fare.  There are a good selection of seafood (no surprise here).  Another restaurant is located at the piazza which serves Italian food.  Montenegrins actually make good Italian food as Montenegro used to be ruled by the Venetian Empire.  The third option is at Villa Milocer on the mainland.  I had a fish soup there once during lunch and was very surprised at how good the soup is.  The soup has lots of complexity to it and is comparable to any one Michelin star restaurant.  It's that good.

While I was at the resort, I signed up for two activities.  One is to the Skadar Lake.  This one is not to be missed as the lake is just stunning... especially when you pass through thousands of lily leaves to get to the center of the lake.  There are tons of birds flying around.  The water is also very clean.  They have a mirror look to them.  Hard to explain as you have to see it in person.  The second activity was a trip to Kotor and Perast city.  Both are located on a fjord.  This fjord is unique as it was not made by glacier (like the ones in Norway) but by rain.  Kotor is the bigger city of the two and has various architectural styles (think French and Italian) from different centuries.  I wish I had more time to spend at both cities...very unique setting.  One thing that is missing is cultural activities on the Aman activity menu.  For example, when I was at Amanjiwo, I had a chance to listen to Buddhist monks chanting at a local temple.  I would have loved to visit a local traditional Montenegrin home and experience Montenegro through Montenegrin eyes.  To me that would be quite interesting.  My understanding is the new general manager is planning more activities in near future.

Overall I would highly recommend this unique Aman property.  This is one of the few Aman properties where each room is different.  I feel as this resort ages, it'll get better.  My understanding is that the general manager at Amanpulo had recently been reassigned to Aman Sveti Stefan.  Given all the rave reviews I read of Amanpulo, I have no doubt in a year, people will be raving about Aman Sveti Stefan as well.  I look forward to return to Aman Sveti Stefan again soon. 


       
           

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

British Airways First Class review


This is a review of British Airways first class from Heathrow to JFK.  I would say the best part is probably playing with the window shades!  LOL.  But I digress.  Let me start from the beginning.

At Heathrow airport, they separated the first class lounge from the business class lounge.  The business class lounge is on the top floor of the airport.  It's large and there are buffet areas where you can pick up food a la cafeteria style.  I find this lounge typically packed with people.  There is no sense of serenity for sure.  Essentially not that different from the regular waiting area outside with the exception of buffet.  Well, maybe I'm being harsh.  The finishes is nicer than outside regular area but it has a hurdling cattle feel due to large number of people inside the lounge. 

Luckily I flew first class this time.  First class lounge is on the second floor, a floor below business class lounge.  The area seems smaller but obviously a lot less people fly first too.  The lounge was packed with right amount of people.  It wasn't empty but certainly was not over crowded like the business class lounge.  There are couple good things that differentiates first class lounge from the business class lounge.  One, you can reserve a resting pod where you can take a shower, make phone calls, or take a nap.  It's nice to have an amenities like this.  However, the pods get booked up quite often so if you know you want a private pod, best reserve one well in advance.  The other good thing is that there is a restaurant within the first class lounge.  Everything on the menu is free.... well, sort of, since it's included in your ticket price.  The food is actually not bad.  I would say better than your run of the mill restaurant food but below Michelin star level.  There is also free spa service right outside the first class lounge.  I believe it is shared with the business class passengers.  If you want to get a spa treatment, I would definitely put your name on the list before you enter the lounge as they seems to be very booked when I tried to get an appointment.  I did managed to get one though.

Now to the airplane experience.  I thought the seat was nice.  Not as wide as Cathay Pacific's first class (that's a review for some other time) but finishes was nice.  I thought the shape of night light was an elegant touch.  There is a large private compartment to store one's jacket which I like.  You can also put your shoes in the compartment.  The electric window shade was probably the best part of the seat.  Sounds dumb moving a window shade up and down.  But since I never done that before on an airplane, I thought it was cool.  I also like the lighting.  They had a overhead blue light which makes the cabinet looks futuristic. 

You get two giveaways from the first class.  One, you get a set of pajamas.  They are quite soft and great for lounging around.  The top has a nice BA logo with the word First on it.  The other amenity you get is a wash bag from the Refinery which is a grooming specialist brand based in London.  The bag is actually pretty nice; it is made of canvas and leather.  I can see me reusing the bag for future trips.  Inside the bag there are: revitalizer moisturizer, eye gel, lip balm, deodorant stick and shave gel.  I thought the deodorant stick was a nice touch as one doesn't typically get them in an airplane wash bags.  In addition to these Refinery brand products, the bag also has a brush/comb, disposable razor, British Airways First branded pen, reusable toothbrush and travel size tube of Colgate toothpaste.  I pretty much chucked most of these and only keep toothpaste and pen.  You also get an eye mask and a pair of socks which again, I chucked as I never use them.

The airplane food was not bad.  Not as good as the one I had at the first class lounge but they do have pretty decent selections.  For example, you can choose to have dishes such as: duck confit terrine with pickled apple puree, carrot, celeriac and grain mustard salad and a beetroot jelly or/and chicken tikka masala with dal makhani and jeera pilau rice (don't ask me what's jeera pilau rice... I just assume it's a rice from jeera pilau region....but honestly, I think they just put that in to make the dish sounds fancy).  Dessert selection includes: rhubarb and red currant tart with rhubarb compote or warm chocolate and hazelnut torte.  

After dinner, they came and fluff up my seat and turn it into a bed by adding a quilted mattress (not really a mattress.... more like mattress topper) and a duvet.  It's very civilized I must say.  The mattress did make sleeping more comfortable for sure.

I thought the service was good.  They were very friendly and when they found out it was my first time taking BA first class, they explained all the buttons to me.  Having been on their business class many times, I have to say the service in first class is noticeably better.

Overall I enjoyed the experience very much.  My understanding is that airlines such as Singapore airline or Etihad airline offers better hardware experience but since I never been on either airline before, I have no way to compare them.  But from reading online reviews, I'm sure I'll enjoy those two airlines very much.  I hope someday I get to try them!
        

       

Friday, April 29, 2016

Not your usual flooring

Are you tire of the usual wood planks on your floor?  I recently came across Jamie Beckwith's collection of floor tiles by Los Angeles based designer Windsor Smith and I have to say I'm in love with her flooring.  Specifically the Hot to Trot wood tiles.  It basically consists of interlocking I shapes and I find the pattern interesting and new.  It really gives more depth to the once boring floor wood planks.  Honestly I'm thinking to myself why didn't I think of this? 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My favorite line of paint

I always advise people buy the best paint you can afford as it'll save you time and money.  For me, it's Benjamin Moore's Aura line.  I love this line as it saves time and has wonderful coverage.  For example, if you want to paint your dining room wall a shade of dark brown.  First what you need to do after prepping the wall is prime the wall.  After primer dries, then you need to put on minimally three coats and sometimes even four coats if you want to make sure everything comes out even.  So minimally you are painting the exact same wall four times if not five.  I don't know about you, but I don't have time to paint the same wall that many times! 

Aura line is great because the paint includes primer so you don't have to prime the wall.  Plus because paint is thick, you really only have to paint the same wall twice or in case of light color, maybe even one time with some touch ups here and there.  This is a huge time saver for most people.  On top of that, Aura paint contains zero VOC.  VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound.  It's basically the smelly stuff you smell from freshly painted walls to new furniture.  Personally I'm not big on paint fumes so I always use Aura line paint for my own home.  Aura line paint cost more than typical paint one finds at home supply stores.  But to me time is money.  Unless you have nothing better to do, why would you want to paint the same wall over and over again to gain full coverage?  Plus you have to use more paint with the cheap stuff.  At the end of the day, you may need more cans of cheap paint which may ended up costing the same as Aura paint.  For my time and money, I go with Aura paint every time.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Gaggan Restaurant, the best Indian food I ever had!


According to the World's Best 50 Restaurant Guide, Gaggan restaurant came in at number 10.  It is the brainchild of Kolkata-born Gaggan Anand.  Surprisingly the restaurant is NOT in India but in Bangkok, Thailand.  I suppose close enough.  I, for one, isn't crazy about Indian food in general.  I like some dishes but honestly not enough for me to volunteer to go to an Indian restaurant.  However, I was very curious about Gaggan and knowing that I will be in Bangkok and that this restaurant is in top 10 of World's Best 50 Restaurant Guide list, I figure it should minimally be good if not great.

After the fabulous dinner I had there few weeks ago, let's just say if I live in Bangkok, I would come here every few months to eat!  The food is that good!  It's absolutely not to be missed when you come to Bangkok if you are a foodie.  The prefixed menu started with bites such as "dew drop", "edible plastic spiced nuts", "foie gras sundae", etc. then the main entrees are compose of dishes called "magic mushroom", "story of fish called Kin-Medai", the obligatory "I want my Curry!!!", etc. Just symphony of specialized herbs that only master chefs like Gaggan can pull off.  And of course you get three desserts to top of a looong list of dishes with ingredients like pistachio cake, sake ice cream, and grape snow.

I look forward to return to Gaggan in the future.  I can't wait to see what new dishes he will have come up with when I come back next time.        

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Four Seasons Resort at Koh Samui


Having stayed at several Four Seasons Hotels/ Resorts in the past, I have to give kudos to the Four Seasons Resort at Koh Samui for their service.  This resort had given me better service than any other resort/ hotel I have ever been to.  Case and point.  When my bed was not as soft as it could be, the housekeeping team came right away to rectify the situation.  When I took the house car to visit places recommend by their concierge, the head of housekeeping was waiting next to the car in the carport wondering if her team had made the bed soft enough to my satisfaction!  I have never been to any hotel/resort where the head of housekeeping is so concern with my comfort and took the time to talk to me face to face to ensure her team had done a satisfactory job.  The staff is really there to make sure everything is to your liking.  I have to give credit to Jeff, the general manager at this Four Seasons Resort.  The service standard is so high here that I don't think I'll ever encounter anything like it anywhere else in the future.  And that's just a slice of the excellent service I received at this hotel.  I can go on and on but enough of the service and let's talk about the resort.

The resort is on a lush hillside.  I believe there are a total of 60 villas and 12 estate lodges.  The estates lodges are basically houses with multiple bedrooms.  The villas, on the other hand, are all basically one bedrooms.  I believe there maybe couple family villa where there is two bedrooms but most are just one bedrooms.  There are basically three categories of villas: duo standing, single standing, and single standing with a pool.  The duo standing and single standing villas also have pools but they are more like dipping pool than swimming pools.  There are three single standing villas with a swimming pool and all are walking distance to the beach.  If your rooms are in the 900s then you can definitely walk to the beach from your villa.  But this also means that you will hear noises from the beach where beach bar/ beach pool is located at.  It's a trade off.  The three freestanding villa with swimming pool is off to the quiet side of the beach.  To access #908 and #909, you will have some small hill to climb.  #910 is literally right on the beach but because it's all the way on the side, paradoxically, it's actually the most private one.  To me, the worst one of the bunch is #908 as if you are walking to #909, you can actually see into #908's pool.  Although I have to think that particular pathway is used seldomly.  I had the pleasure to stay at both #909 and #910.  While #909 is most private of the three, people staying in the Estate lodges can actually look into your pool from afar.  However, because the way #910 is situated, even though you are more or less right on the beach, you can literally swim naked in the pool and no one can see that.  My favorite villa is #910 as it has easy access to the beach and at the same time, the private pool is private when you are in it.  I believe the layout for all the villas are the same and it's laid out beautifully.  The only thing I wish they would change is the outdoor shower only spew out cold water so it's really more about washing chlorine off you than being an actual usable outdoor shower (unless you like taking cold showers).

The public area is quite nice.  The newly renovated pool is huge.  They serve food on the lounge next to the pool.  There is also a restaurant called Pla Pla next to the pool.  It's mostly continental food like burgers, pasta, and such.  If you want Thai food, you have to go up to Thai Kitchen up in the high point of the resort.  The Thai Kitchen can cook anything you want.  I ordered some Thai food that was not on the menu and chef was able to make them easily.  The Health Club is also on a high point so when you do your cardio on a machine, you have a beautiful view of Siam bay.  There is also a boxing area where you can see the other side of the island.  I would say Spa is their weakest point for me.  I got a Thai massage which was good but what's not good about it is the long trek I had to make from the spa reception area to the massage room.  You have to walk outside through jungle on a path that goes up and down.  Normally I don't mind going up and down stairs to reach a destination but after I got a massage, I'm relaxed and the last thing I want to do is trek up and down stairs to go back to the reception area.  When I complained, the receptionist said that they also do in villa treatments too.  So that's what I would recommend, have them come to your villa.

The time I was there happened to be Easter so there were a lot of families in the resort.  Luckily most of the kids are well behaved so I didn't hear a lot of nagging and crying sound.  My guess is Four Seasons wants the family crowd.  I believe there is also a kids play area right under the gym.  I wouldn't necessarily dissuade honeymooners from going to this resort but do make sure you pick the time when kids are in school if you want to avoid them.

There are a lot of water sports activities you can do at the resort.   There are plenty of two person boats, several paddle boards, two water bicycles, etc.  Water is quite shallow overall until you pass the reefs.  There is a resort owned barge pass the reefs where you can put on snorkeling gear.  There are definitely fishes out there but I would say I saw more fishes at Hanauma Bay in Hawaii or Blue Lagoon in Bali.  But this one is right at the resort which is definitely more convenient than the other two.

Couple precautions.... If you hate the sound of cicadas, then this is not the resort for you. The sound comes and go and sometimes can be very loud.  To me that's just part of the nature as we are in a jungle but if that sound really bothers you, then you will have a miserable time if you come here. Also there are definitely mosquito at the resort.  They do provide you with natural and regular sprays but I would suggest you bring your own as you may be allergic to their spray.  And lastly, because Koh Samui is in a bay so don't expect waves.  If you want waves, go to Phuket.  The plus side of being in a bay is that chance of tsunami is very slim.

Overall I would highly recommend this resort to anyone especially if you are very particular about service standard.  Again, I have never encounter such excellent service and don't expect to encounter that again until I return to this Four Seasons Resort.