29 January 2013

United Noodles' Unideli, Minneapolis MN

Have often tweeted ( I'm at @weninchina ) about the great food being served at United Noodles' own Unideli.  Here are some more photos from lunch our family had there a couple weekends ago:

The Unideli is open for lunch and early dinner.  Most items are cooked-to-order so expect about a 5-minute wait after ordering at the counter.  Find a seat & they'll call your name when your food is ready.  

There can be a good line going on weekends, we like to get there about 11:00 before the crowd shows up!  
You could probably have a reasonable meal with just the "appetizers" - here's a couple taiyaki - deep-fried batter (tastes a lot like waffles) with sweet red-bean filling (tastes a lot like chocolate).  These are awesomely great on a cold winter's day.
Takoyaki, served in a little bamboo boat!  Lots of bonito flakes, Kewpie Mayo, and other furikake on top...  The puffs are steaming hot when you get them so give them a little bite to let the heat out, but then gobble down a minute later!  Nice chewy fried texture on the outside, pancake-batter creamy on the inside, with a nice meaty chunk of octopus!

I tell the owner he really needs to get a stand at the Minnesota State Fair to dish up snacks like these; they're totally festival foods back in Asia...

We've been trying different ramen bowls in recent visits - see how creamy that tonkotsu looks that my daughter's digging into!  That's from pork fat that's been boiling for hours and hours!  Man, it's good!
Here's a different recipe, more of a clear broth.  The swirly piece at the top is chewy and meaty (processed fish - kind of like those "crab" chunks) - and check out that nice hunk of BBQ pork on the left ... there are several more pieces like that underneath!  (The vegetables are really flavorful too.)

27 January 2013

Impressive updates to the international gates at Minneapolis/St.Paul!

My hometown airport of Minneapolis / St. Paul has been in a constant state of updating, which makes every trip fun to discover what is new.  Our hub carrier, Delta, has made big investments to the international and long-haul gate areas that Northwest Airlines had custom-built back in the 1980s and that re-construction has just recently been completed.

On a business trip last week I was able to check out these renovated gate areas and came away very impressed with how family-friendly they turned out!

The gates at MSP are arranged something like a letter "H", and the international gates and Customs facility is in the middle of the left-hand side of that "H". The short hallway to get to those gates used to have a big McDonald's on one side and a gift shop on the other.  No more McDonald's ... and the hallway runs right through a much bigger retail area (kind of like how Copenhagen does it...)
I had read in local media how this remodeling was supposed to appeal to business and high-end travelers, and I agree that it certainly does that job.  The finish, lighting, and quality of goods & foods make this part of MSP every bit as interesting as what I've seen in Tokyo or Amsterdam - well done! But as soon as I saw this frozen-yogurt self-serve bar I thought "my daughter is going to go nuts here when we go on vacation in March!"
They have those new Coca-Cola Freestyle make-your-own-mix dispensers, which is neat. But as a parent what I really appreciate is the big assortment of healthy and tasty deli food & bottled beverages.  Fast-food has its place (and you can still get your fill of it at MSP just a few minutes' walk from here) but when you're on the road you crave fruit ... vegetables ... fresh bread ... a simple bottle of water.  And you can get it all right here.  (And of course if the kids are eating healthier, they're going to be behaving better on the flight...)
A bit more variety of travel-gear than I usually see at most airports, too, in case you need an extra bag or pillow...
You pass through the retail space into the light-filled gate areas. I wasn't expecting the seating to have changed, but this was a real surprise ... extra-wide chairs with tables and electric outlets all over.  If you're holding an infant or toddler there's enough room on that seating to still be comfortable and not stick halfway out into traffic. 
And of course the iPads.  You can't do *everything* on them - and they're meant first to place orders at the food vendors right behind you - but I've been told there are games on these tablets, too.

I don't know what the kids are going to be doing while you're playing games on the iPad.

This used to be kind of a dumpy wall with a few pay phones and people sitting on the carpet.  Now, wow.  That tile curves all the way up onto the ceiling.  The TVs are there, but you're not being blasted with audio, either.
This is the back part of what used to be McDonald's - a nice bistro with plenty of table seating inside. So people who really want to be "in a restaurant" to eat have their space, and people who want to relax in the gate area have their space, and everyone has power and iPads to play with.
And here's looking back through the retail hallway to get back to the main part of Concourse G and the rest of the airport.  Concourse G has been re-done all the way down to the end in a similar fashion, although the seating areas are the best here in G1-G6.  I see restroom upgrades, too (more about that after our next trip) - and some work being done in other Delta gates on the F concourse.

If you're taking Delta to Asia on the Minneapolis-Tokyo run, these updates will make your family travel experience much more relaxing and fun.

I'll be updating the Minneapolis / St. Paul airport guide on weninchina.com this season to incorporate this fresh information, and with more photos, too.

Atlanta airport's new international gates

Last week I was in Atlanta for an educational-industry tradeshow, and had a few extra hours on my homeward journey to explore that airport's new Concourse F.  I left very impressed with what they've built, and I think families traveling from the US southeast to the Asia/Pacific region are going to have a much better experience than previously.

For travelers who live in the area, you'll check in and go through security at the new International Terminal on the east side of the airport - which is directly connected to Concourse F.  (You'll come through the checkpoint at the bottom of this picture.)  Most families will be connecting from other cities, and to get to Concourse F you'll take the underground shuttle that links all the other gate areas. There are no extra security checks, and coming up from the shuttle, you'll see this view at the top of the escalator.

Like Concourses A through E, the middle portion is where you'll find most of the food and shopping, but here they've actually built enough space in the corridor so that people aren't running into each other as they move to their gates or enter and leave the shops.
Unlike the other concourses, there's also plenty of vertical space (and in the daytime, lots of natural light) to reduce feelings of being confined.  The extra space helps reduce stress - and makes it easier to herd children to where you need to be :)
Here's an overhead view of the central area - contrast this to Concourses A - D where the main corridor is only half this width, and where there's no atrium at all where you get off the shuttle train...
There's more room in the gate areas as well, compared to the other concourses.  Restrooms are conveniently spaced, and they've installed family-facilities as well.  There are food and retail options out at the ends of the concourse, too.
They've arranged some of the seating in the gate areas to create little islands where a family can group together and have some personal space, instead of being stuck in straight rows directly facing strangers.

A shortcoming ATL still hasn't addressed even in the new facility is the lack of play areas for young kids.  Perhaps they could replace their infamous "smokers' lounges" with some playground equipment?  Cartoon Network is headquartered in Atlanta; I'm sure they wouldn't mind pitching in with some kid-friendly space ideas...
Atlanta is a global hub, and flights depart and arrive at all times. This 777 is preparing to leave for Dubai, and at the next gate, the Buenos Aires flight was loading.

Korean Air now flies the Atlanta-Seoul nonstop twice daily, and will be using their big A380 on one of the flights beginning this spring. Delta also flies Atlanta-Tokyo from here daily.
The food court is a two-story setup, with restaurants on both floors. Lounge chairs are spaced out on the first floor, and there are plenty of tables on the second floor.
Many options for eating at all different price points, and I like how ATL is beginning to incorporate more local businesses - like the famous Varsity hot-dog stand - throughout the airport.

On the homeward side, a problem that ATL had with their previous International setup was that arriving local travelers from overseas who were leaving the terminal after picking up their bags had to go back through security and ride the shuttle train all the way across the airport.  With the building of the dedicated International Terminal, this is no longer the case. Overseas flights arriving at either Concourse E or F now use one Customs facility, and local travelers may now exit straight outside.

This corridor runs underground between E and F so that connecting passengers don't have to take the shuttle train.  On the other side of this glass wall is a corridor for arriving international passengers to take to Customs, and from there, connecting passengers can take this hallway, or get right on the shuttle train for the other domestic concourses.

I'll be updating our Atlanta airport guide later this season - our family is taking a trip via ATL in a few weeks and I'll be able to get some daylight photos for more detail!

26 January 2013

Que Nha Restaurant, St. Paul, MN

 Now that our little family lives in the heart of the Minneapolis / St.Paul metro area, we've been able to explore many new neighborhoods and restaurants that we just couldn't quickly reach before. St. Paul's University Avenue corridor is a short hop away now, and this neighborhood is in the middle of significant changes - first, a strong increase in Asian populations and businesses, and second, the building of the Twin Cities' second light-rail line - which will connect the two downtowns in 2014.

We checked out the well-reviewed Que Nha Restaurant tonight, located on the corner of University and Victoria (immediately on the Green Line's Victoria station, very convenient.)

The restaurant is spotless, and at 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon, ready to serve that evening's customers. They have a deli counter as well as sit-down service, so great for grab-and-go lunches.


The extensive menu covers all the Vietnamese classics, with a strong selection of seafood (and even goat), with a broad set of southern Chinese dishes available as well.

Our daughter heard they had congee - and talked about it nonstop on our drive there...  here's the big, happy pot it came in (about 2/3 gallon):

And inside was a generous helping of beef, plus ground peanuts, cilantro, green onion, and garlic.

My wife had a grilled chicken on rice with crispy vegetables. The glaze on the chicken was very light, with a nice BBQ tang.  Chili oil in the sidecar for dipping.

They weren't able to make Banh Xeo tonight, so I ordered a curry chicken with vegetables and was mightily impressed.  Ate the whole thing...  the curry was not overpowering & had a nice sweetness from just a bit of coconut milk and crushed peanuts.  The sauce was really nice when I mixed it with rice; the gentle heat from the curry felt good after being in Minnesota's blustery cold.

And the congee was a big hit ... our girl ate three bowls of the stuff (and I had a bowl too.)  Enough for leftovers to have for breakfast tomorrow!