Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Menus in Nepal

Posts are indeed sparse as I work toward getting the restaurant on its feet. While registration and paperwork continue in the background I've spent the last several days working on the menu. The text of the menu took quite some time and is essentially done, pending final decisions on which items we are going to run. Something I've wanted to do is put a menu together that is very reminiscent of the pub style menu's that you get in the US, one that integrates graphic elements, good descriptions and maybe a little wit into a menu that is more interactive than the typical menu that you find here- which tends to be rather boring and often depicting pictures of food that the place couldn't produce in a million years.

  Buffalo Wings!

One of the things I'm most excited about seems simple enough, but nobody does them here and that is Buffalo wings. Now outside the US people have no clue what you're talking about apparently as many other expats from Britain and other places have looked at me like I had three heads when I brought up the term. They cause a bit more confusion here when you consider that Buffalo (or buff) is a normal staple on menu's and thus the term Buffalo Sauce can cause confusion. Due to this, and other cultural variances in food lingo, I've added various text boxes that explain what stuff is. In this case it's a place, Buffalo New York and not the animal. Other cases are things like chili being what Americans think of it as, and not the the little peppers or the sauce that you get here when you order "chicken or chips chili" which is entirely different. 

New Hampshire wins best licence plate hands down.

On the menu and eventually in the restaurant we're hoping to create a fun environment by adding things like US licence plates, odd street signs...although how you top some of the stuff you around here I don't really know. That said it'll be some small pieces of home that will be something new for people here and something familiar to those who come from the west, giving a different kind of appeal to both groups. Slowly over time I'm hoping we can collect some really cool stuff to decorate the place from both around Nepal and on various trips back home and around the region.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lots of Updates & No Time to Write

Time is not a commodity I have too much to spend at the moment, as everything seems to be happening at once. Most of it has to do with starting Brian's Grill House, but there is more to it than one might think. Interwoven in the process of setting up the business is getting a visa. The paperwork required for this combined effort is mind numbing, including signatures, thumb prints, letters, statements and more passport sized photos than you can shake a stick at. Combine this with a culture where it takes several hours to do anything, and the involvement of six busy people in the restaurant itself whom I have to collect signatures, photos and various forms from and you can begin to see that this is a time consuming process.

Paperwork though is not the only thing we are trying to manage at the moment. Having found the space we will be using we had to quickly figure out the layout of the restaurant so that the head engineer of the building could remove and erect walls as required, put toilets and doors where we needed them etc. This isn't an easy task as you have to take into account how everything is going to run. What kitchen equipment will we be using? Where will staff place orders, how will they place orders, where will dishes be dropped off, how will clean glasses be delivered to the bar, will the guy working the grill want to kill the guy working the fry station if I arrange the kitchen this way? Bathrooms were incredibly tricky as there were columns in unfortunate positions, making it very difficult to split them into men's and woman's rooms. Differences in how ventilation, lighting and separation of facilities is done here made this even more of a challenge.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

When Cows Attack and Immigration Office Migrations

At what point in time individuals of any given country became the property of their respective government I'm not entirely sure, but the paperwork involved in staying outside the geographical confines of the place you were born is a headache it seems for everyone on the planet. Still to avoid further headaches it's a game we all it seems have to play. So while walking up toward the grocery store other day I was texting back and forth with my Lawyer about getting an extension to my visa. Walking and texting in Nepal can be a bit challenging, as there are very rarely sidewalks, there are many sink holes, occasionally cow dung, uneven pavement and other traps can be underfoot. The road is often in use by pedestrians, cars, trucks, mopeds, motorcycles, fruit vendors, ice cream carts, wandering cows, and street can be a congested place. At one point I was walking along the side of the road and had to move past a bull and a few cows on the side of the road, oncoming traffic demanded that I walk within about a foot or two of them.

Now normally cows, even bulls here are quite docile- calm as Hindu cows. In all my time here I've never seen one do anything rash, and people often touch them and then touch there head as they walk by as the cow is considered holy. Well this bull, for what ever reason, was not a fan of me and while walking by he decided that he'd put his horns into my arm...which kind of hurt and got my attention in a hurry. Now looking over at the bull I could see that he still wasn't happy with me and decided to come at me again, throwing me out into oncoming traffic. The guy driving the car that was coming toward me had a look of terror on him, I think he thought the bull was going to continue to come after me, but I walked out of traffic, and on my way as if nothing had happened, and I had no more trouble from the bull. Still it was a very odd experience, and I may avoid walking too close to those things in the future. Once it kind of dawned on me what had just happened I got quite a laugh out of it. These aren't the kind of things that seem only a little strange here, but when I tell people back home it sounds like I'm on another planet.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Brian's Grill House

I have alluded several times to the fact that there may be a restaurant coming soon with me cooking in it, and it is now looking like this is just about certain to happen. Locations have been found, documents are being signed and hands have been shaken. So after many weeks of debate about the name we all decided on Brian's Grill house. No I did not suggest this, and I think I was the last one to know. Although no ones ever accused me of being too modest, I'm also not so ego driven as to suggest a restaurant that five people are putting together be named after me. In fact there were two other names that didn't mention me that I potentially liked more, but we are all happy with this and it will translate easily to our bottled products.

Early Logo Draft for the Restaurant

Saturday was a particularly productive day for us, as aside from settling on a name finally we also found a stunning location. Although it won't be great for foot traffic it has far more space than we initially thought we'd get and has stunning views of the valley and, when clear, spectacular views of the Himalaya. Further we're getting all this space at a price that is about the same as if we'd rented about a third or even a fifth as much in some of the other locations that we had looked at. This has opened up opportunities to add some cool features that I'll be glad to talk about when things are a little more set in stone. 

Now that the name and theme are better defined we will also be getting to work on a more concrete version of a menu. I have a general rough draft of one already penned up, but now we can start giving the plates names, and pricing things out. Our concentration will be doing pub style food really well, with much of my cooking having a bit of an american twist to it. So as far as I know we will be the only place in the city doing real wings (and we plan on having 6-8 different flavors), and we will have an array of different burgers as I've mentioned in previous posts. On top of this I plan on doing some American BBQ, authentic Tex-Mex and I'm sure we'll work to get some British offerings in there as well (though to be honest those will not be my recipes). Kathmandu also seems to attract an incredibly large number of vegetarians, and we'll be taking this into account as well, with many vegetarian selections despite my personal desire to add meat in some form to almost any dish. 

Aside from the food, which is what I'm probably most excited about, we will be putting together a bar that will try and provide the same level of quality and selection that you find in the US or Britain. Our beer selection will have some limitations just due to laws and our geographic location, but that said we hope to have the best offering in this country as well as putting together by far the best cocktail bar in Kathmandu. Just like our food there will be certain ingredients and even glassware that we plan on sourcing from the US to make sure that we do things right. I plan on putting my experience as a bar tender at a very nice restaurant back in the US to work and aside from properly training staff, it gives us an opportunity to offer some really great looking and, more importantly, great tasting drinks that people are not all that familiar with here. 

All of this doesn't come without its challenges, and we will be extremely busy in the coming months to put this all together. I have a little bit of concern that the trip I was planning to go to the US, which initially was primarily to see family and friends will now predominantly be a trip to get stuff for the restaurant and I'll be quite busy working on it even when I'm not in Kathmandu. Also I imagine that from the month preceding us opening and through the first 6 months or so I foresee roughly 14 hour crazy days followed by only slightly less crazy 12 hour days for the next year possibly. As a result it is altogether conceivable that this blog may suffer slightly as a result, if for no other reason than the content will be lacking its normal diverse experiences as I don't think I'll get out of the restaurant too often, let alone outside of Kathmandu. Still it will be all more than worth it as this is something I've wanted to do for some time, and it will add something that is not at all present in the current dining environment of this city. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More Thoughts on Monsoon Trekking & Travel

A glance over at the sidebar of this page shows that the most popular page (as of today) on this site is a post I did called The Big Monsoon Lie. This has been the case, almost since I wrote that one, and it continues to be the most common question I get asked about on this blog or via e-mail from people who have stumbled upon this site. Having spent almost another full year here since I wrote it, and talking to more people and friends on the trails, I am even more convinced of what I wrote now. Increasingly I'm starting to think that people who trek during peak season put up with far more hardships and problems than those who trek on the cusps of the monsoon, and possibly even those who go right in the middle of it.

It is now the beginning of June and most guide books list this as a time when you shouldn't travel to Nepal, but truth be told the weather has been even better than last year. Sure there are occasional afternoon storms but those have been going on since April, and they are just short one or two hour rain storms, nothing to get excited about or to make travel difficult. Another American couple we are friends with just got back from a trip around Annapurna (and can read about the trip on their blog; The Kathmanduo) and they had a very similar experience to myself as far as weather. Now true, this isn't officially monsoon season yet, but because of the way most advice is dished out I know they were quite concerned about weather and views before they left. Not only are the views quite good (there pictures and mine seem to prove that) but the lack of crowded trails, avoiding temperatures well below freezing and snow on high passes just seems like such a bonus.

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