Day Nine: Fisherman's Wharf, and Meat Is Sexy Murder
January 30, 2007
My mouth is dry and tacky. It is dark and murky inside the throbbing recesses of my brain. I try to ignore the insistent banging in my head and slip back into unconsciousness, but I have the unfortunate realization that the banging is coming from outside my head, not inside. It's a hotel employee at our door, trying to tell us that we need to get the hell out. Check-out time, you see, is noon, and it's a quarter to one.
We throw our crap into our bags and flee the hotel. Our plan for the day is to see a couple of casinos that we missed the previous day before heading back to the mainland. In particular, we're interested in what our friends called Fisherman's Wharf, a series of wildly different casino buildings on the water. Apparently there's some thematic link to San Francisco somewhere in there. We joked about what it would be like.
"They'll have a vegan restaurant," Joe piped up, "run by expat hippies."
"No, they'll have a great steak place, " I said. In Kowloon, we were much amused by a sign advertising a restaurant named the San Francisco Steakhouse. There are probably as many good steakhouses in San Francisco as most other major cities in the U.S., but I wouldn't say that the Bay Area is widely known for its steak. We imagined eating dinner there just so that we could call the waiter over and say: Mmmmm, this steak is great...tastes just like the steak back home. There's nothing like a San Francisco steak.
"The shuttles that go from the parking lot will be done up like itty bitty cable cars," Joe suggested.
"They'll have a tiny little Castro district," I offered, "populated by overly flamboyant gay midgets."
"They'll have a place that serves clam chowder," Joe proposed. "But what's really cool is that the bowl will be made of bread! You can eat the bowl!"
(Clam chowder in a bread bowl is something that many tourists think of when they think of the San Francisco, because some gimmicky restaurants in Fisherman's Wharf do this. But the Wharf is mostly populated by tourists, so it's not really part of a San Franciscan's self-identity; I'm much more likely to think of burritos in the Mission district as being characteristic of food in San Francisco than anything in the Wharf.)
We hopped out of the taxi at the first of the many small casino buildings in the Wharf area. The first one was an elaborate floating casino with a Chinese motif. Next was a strange Babylonian building built into a hillside. After that, a giant Chinese fort.
"Maybe the San Francisco-themed stuff is further down," I said.
But the buildings only got more bizarre. There was a place with a Disneylike Arabian theme, a bizarre artificial volcano with a steampunk bent, and then we reached an Egyptian-themed casino. To our right was a diminutive Roman Colosseum, alongside some buildings that looked vaguely Mediterranean, and there the Wharf seemed to end.
"Maybe it's not San Francisco-themed at all," I said, pretending not to be disappointed. Maybe it just used to be a wharf. For fishermen."
"Are you hungry?" Joe asked. "Let's look for something to eat."
We decided at that point to head through the Egyptian casino to see what it was like on the inside. We must have chosen a back door, because we wandered through empty and rather featureless halls for a few minutes before emerging into an area that had a few shops. And then I saw a restaurant. Painted on the wall in the middle of this Egyptian-themed casino was a giant mural depicting the flagship dish of this small eatery, which was: clam chowder. In a breadbowl.
To this day I don't understand. Either the "Fisherman's Wharf" theme was meant to evoke San Francisco (in which case why isn't there anything even remotely related in all of these casinos besides this restaurant), or it wasn't (in which case why in the hell is there a clam chowder place here in the middle of Egypt in the first place?). I'll probably never know. It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma served in a bread bowl.
Naturally we had to have some. We sat out by the water and ordered our chowder. It was the worst clam chowder I've ever had. Clearly these people have never actually eaten clam chowder. Perhaps they saw some images on the internet and labored to make a soup that looked like what they'd seen in the pictures. In this they had some success. They should not have stopped there.
We headed back to Hong Kong soon thereafter, and immediately got down to the business of answering the all-important question: what would we have for dinner?
We'd been in Hong Kong over a week, and we still hadn't had hot pot. Fortunately, our co-workers had made a couple of recommendations for us, including a spot that wasn't too far from the hotel. We were fortunate enough to get one of the last tables; by the time we walked out of the restaurant, there was a huge line outside.
The hot pot broths were excellent, particularly the spicy one. (Or it could have been that I had enough of the spicy one that I couldn't really taste the one that wasn't spicy.) There was a wide range of dipping items available. My favorites were the wide noodles and the mushrooms, both of which soaked up the broth like sponges. The meats were good, too, although the lamb tenderloin was cut with the grain, and this made it a little chewy.
Halfway through our dinner, two pretty Asian girls sat down at a table nearby. They made their order, and minutes later, the waiter brought them a giant plate of meat...and then another...and another. By the time we left, these two skinny girls were surrounded by platters of meat. It was easily twice as much food as we'd had, and we were stuffed full. They smiled sheepishly at us when we looked over their meat orgy as we left. I thought it was pretty hot myself. But then, I'm probably not representative. Earlier in the week, while waiting for a tram, I saw an anti-fur poster from some animal advocacy group that featured a sexy woman wearing the bloody, battered body of a small fox around her neck as though it were a stole. I have no love for the fur industry, but I must admit that the first thing that went through my head was "Wow, that's hot." I'm not sure what this says about me, except this: never again will I have a vegetarian girlfriend.
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