You Are Visitor Number:

You Are Visitor Number:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Woeser Bakery Lives Up To The Hype ... Scrummy Pastries, Good Coffee, Excellent Service

Woeser Bakery

Jogiwara Road - Below Black Magic Restaurant- 
McLeod GanjDharamsala 176219India
Prices: $$$$$
Woeser Bakery is not easy to find as it sits down the stairs in the basement under Black Magic (restaurant, bar, and disco) on Jogiwara Road ("market" area) in McLeod Ganj and just south of the large Buddhist temple (stupa). The sign is easy to miss, so look for Black Magic on the east side of the road and the staircase down to the basement.

Small is an understatement, with just two tables and three barstools, 11 patrons and two employees can cram into the tiny space no bigger than a bedroom. The owner and pastry chef busily prepares her sweet delights as patrons come and go. There are a selection of 17 or so pastries, coffees, teas, and assorted cold drinks available in addition to a small menu of breakfast and lunch items (eggs, cereal, bread, and one sandwich).

Chocolate Crisp
I had a Chocolate Crisp (40 rupees/65 cents) and a Café Latte (70 rupees/$1.10) on my first visit. The chocolate crisp was crispy as advertised with chocolate covered corn flakes decadently shaped into a ball half the size of a billiard ball. It was rich and flavorful. The café latte was made from a French press and served in s large cup with a foamy milk topping and a swirl of chocolate. The coffee was not as strong as an espresso-based drink, but was very good and an excellent value. I even got the remaining coffee from the French press to top off my latte!

Panino
I can see why Woeser Bakery is THE top choice on TripAdvisor in McLeod Ganj and only wish that they remained open later than 7pm, had a few more savory options, AND A LITTLE HEAT on a chilly late-Autumn day.


CombatCritic Gives Woeser Bakery An Initial 9 Bombs Out Of 10 and a promise to return again ... MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!





Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite '14/'15 Member) And  TripAdvisor ("Top Contributor") Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

Key Words: Woeser Bakery, Woeser, bakery, pastry, pastries, cake, cookie, coffee, café, caffe, latte, tea, McLeod Ganj, McLeod, Ganj, Dharamsala, Dharamshala, India, travel, value

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dal Lake? More Like A Big, Dirty Pond!

Dal Lake
Adjacent To Upper TCV Complex
Dharamsala Bus Road
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India

When I first heard about Dal Lake, I pictured a "sacred" and serene mountain lake as advertized. But when I arrived, what I saw was a large pond contained by concrete, so murky that you cannot see the bottom through six inches of water. 

There are a couple of small "cafés" (shacks that sell instant coffee and tea), but you probably do not want to spend more than a few minutes here. The auto-rickshaw (chuk-chuk) ride from McLeod Ganj Main Square is 90 rupees ($1.45) each way, so I recommend saving your $3 and having a nice lunch instead.

The only reason I gave Dal Lake 2 Bombs (and not 1) is because of the lovely mountain setting, but you can experience that anywhere in the area without spending another 180 rupees.

CombatCritic Gives Dal (Pond) Lake 2 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!


Key Words: Dal Lake, Dal, lake, pond, attraction, TripAdvisor, Yelp, McLeod Ganj, McLeod, Ganj, Dharamsala, Dharamshala, India, Dalai Lama, bus, road, TCV, CombatCritic, travel, value

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Just Like Momo Used To Make

Momo Café
TIPA (Dharankot) Road - Just West of Main Square
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India
Prices: $$$$$

Entrance - Dalai Lama Temple (Dharamsala, India)
I have tried to eat at Momo Café since reading the great reviews on TripAdvisor, but until today I was unsuccessful. With just three tables, seating 10 people max, you must be lucky or persistent to score a meal here.
They have all of the standard Tibetan fare ... momos of course (Tibetan dumplings, steamed or fried, filled with veggies, cheese, potato, meat, or a combo thereof), thupka (long noodles in a broth with assorted veggies), and my favorite thenthuk. 

Momo Café Looks Dicey, But Is A Great Find!
As I sit waiting for my vegetable thenthuk (homemade sliced noodles in a broth chock full of vegetables - 80 rupees/$1.30), I glance at the young Tibetan women at the next table enjoying theirs and it looks pretty darn good!

Twenty five minutes later and no sign of my lunch, I am wondering if I will make it to Rinpoche's teaching at 2 pm near the Dalai Lama Temple. Just as the ladies leave, food appears from the tiny kitchen, but alas it is for the three young men at the only other table in the place. I hear chopping from behind the curtain, obviously coming from the preparation of my thenthuk. The good news ... my meal will be freshly made ... the bad ... I will almost surely be late for the second day in a row to my Buddhist philosophy class.

Vegetable Thenthuk - 80 Rupees ($1.30)
When the thenthuk finally arrived 40 minutes after arrival, it was in-fact fresh, hot and delicious, one of the best I have had since arriving in Dharamsala. At 105 rupees ($1.70) including a liter of mineral water, it was also one of the BEST VALUES in India so far!



CombatCritic Gives Momo Café 9 Bombs Out Of 10 ... BOMBS ARE GOOD!






Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite '14/'15 Member) And  TripAdvisor ("Top Contributor") Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

Key Words: Momo Café, Momo, momos, café, thenthuk, thupka, tsampa, Tibetan, food, restaurant, CombatCritic, travel, value, McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, Dharamsala, India, Dalai Lama

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stairway To Heaven ... NOT!

Pink House Hotel
Jogiwara Road - Below and Across From Yongling School
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P., India
Prices: $$$$$

Balcony View - Room 204
Javid, the owner of Pink House, was very helpful and friendly, answering questions about my reservation and upcoming visit to Dharamsala. He arranged for a ride from the airport in Gogol for 700 rupees ($11.35) upon arrival, which I thought was a decent price by US standards for a 10-mile taxi ride. Considering that the taxi from my hotel in Delhi (where everything is more expensive than in Dharamsala) to the airport was just 400 rupees ($6.50 for a 13-mile journey), it turned out not to be such a great deal after all. The driver dropped me on the street and pointed to some extremely long, very steep, dangerous looking stairs in varying degrees of disrepair (note to self #1 … is this the only access point?”) and said “look for the sign”.


Second Floor Room (Corner - Room 204)
The hotel is nice enough, not swank and not a dive, with many rooms having balconies and views of the foothills and Himalayas. Javid was updating many of the rooms during my stay, making them more comfortable, but also causing noise problems and clutter while the repairs were being made. The rooms have differing views depending on which direction you are facing and which floor you are on (1st floor rooms have poor views), but all have cable TVs (old CRTs), balconies, large beds, cabinet (no closet or wardrobe), bath with western-style toilet, sink, and a shower with no enclosure (your bathroom is your shower in India), but no heating system in sight (note to self #2 … “it seems awful chilly in here”). There is also Wi-Fi throughout the hotel (note to self #3 … “I hope the Wi-Fi isn’t as slow as it was in Delhi!”), with a router on each floor, so the signal is strong everywhere … WOO-HOO!

Balcony
The first few days I had breakfast at the “rooftop café”, which is just barely that, a roof with a couple plastic tables and chairs, no roof, no cover, and no heat on cold November mornings. Still recovering from jet lag, I was up early each morning watching the gorgeous sunrises and noticed that the servers first arrived to take orders at varying hours, sometimes 7:30 am, other times well after 8:00 am (note to self #4 … “I wonder what time they start serving breakfast?”). The Tibetan bread, which became my morning staple, with locally made peanut butter (70 rupees/$1.15) was tasty and a pot of milk coffee (warm milk with varying degrees of instant coffee added) set me back another 80 rupees/$1.30, so $2.50 seemed fair enough (note to self #5) for a decent, not great breakfast.

Steps - View From Street (Top)
I quickly became exhausted by and very concerned (see note to self #1) about the hundreds of stairs from Pink House up to Jogiwara Road. Being a disabled Veteran with very bad knees and back, the stairs, which are extremely dangerous by day and treacherous by night (very little light), vary widely in height, have loose or missing rocks and bricks (many steps are crumbling), and many are constantly soaked with the water escaping from the numerous pipes crisscrossing the steps (another tripping hazard). I stumbled on several occasions due to varying heights and uneven surfaces, twisting my knee on one occasion and nearly tumbling head over heel down the steep incline on a few others. Having made a commitment to stay long-term (I was visiting for 7 weeks and received a small discount on my room), I decided to stick it out until I felt my health or life was in danger.

Pink House staff are very friendly and helpful most of the time. Rooms can be cleaned if you make the journey to floor number 4 to drop off your key in the morning and inexpensive laundry services are also available ($1.00 to $2.50 for a few shirts, pants, socks, and undies), dropping items off (again on the 4th floor) in the morning and picking them up the same evening.

Steps - View From Bottom
Being November and at an altitude of over 5,750 feet (1,750 meters), days were very comfortable when in the sun (plentiful this time of year) and a bit chilly in the shade, but nights dipped into the 30s and 40s and the rooms quickly became very cold (see note to self #2). In-fact, I had not seen a heater anywhere in India since my arrival, including restaurants, other businesses, and hotels, which may not have been an issue in Delhi, but made for some mildly uncomfortable experiences in the mountains. After a nearly two weeks of freezing my bum off in the middle of the night when I had to use the toilet (loo) and in the morning, I asked about the possibility of getting a heater in my room, but was told “you have two blankets don’t you?”. I decided to suffer a little rather than make an issue out of it because the steps were making it likely I would not be there much longer anyway.


The Wi-Fi signals were great due to the routers on each floor, but unfortunately the internet was extremely slow (note to self #3). Being an avid blogger, TripAdvisor “Top Contributor”, and wanting to upload reviews and photos, as well as keep in contact with my family and friends via Skype and Facetime, the Wi-Fi was woefully inadequate. Beside the numerous and frequent power outages in McLeod Ganj which resulted in no Wi-Fi (or TV), the Wi-Fi quickly became an issue due to the inordinate amount of time it took to do anything and the frustration caused by Skype and Facetime calls home where I could only hear every fifth word being said.

Again, after the first few days, I decided to move indoors to the “relative” warmth of my room for breakfast, not knowing when the servers would arrive on the roof each morning (note to self #4). I asked when breakfast was available each morning and was told 7:30 am, but I found that the staff in general do not seem to awake early because when I called at 7:30 sharp each morning I either spoke to someone who had obviously been awakened by my call (staff sleep in the reception office, which is not on the ground floor, but on the 4th floor next to the rooftop café) or someone else who barely spoke English. Most of the time, my breakfast arrived within 15 minutes and the young men delivering it were friendly and helpful. However, on a few occasions my order did not arrive after 45 minutes to an hour, causing frustration and late arrival to my 9:00 am (not including the nearly 30 minute walk UP THE HUNDREDS OF STEPS and down Jogiwara Road from McLeod Ganj) Buddhist Philosophy class at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archive. I also inquired about an early breakfast during the Dalai Lama’s teachings (November 11-13 2014 – 8am – 12pm daily with arrival NLT 7:30am), but was told “the kitchen opens at 7:30am” … maybe), so I ordered my breakfast the night before and drank cold coffee and ate stale Tibetan bread for three days. After 20 years in the Air Force, I have experienced worse conditions.

I never ate anything at Pink House other than breakfast because I avoided navigating the dreaded steps except for a trip up each morning and one down each night. The menu was extensive and from what I saw the food looked pretty good, but the value is questionable based on my breakfast costs and comparable meals in town. Having paid $2.50 for a small pot of weak coffee, a piece of local bread that can be purchased for 10 rupees (16 cents) in town, and a tablespoon of peanut butter, in comparison to the wonderful $3.00 dinners I regularly ate, the food did not seem like such a great value after all.

After 3 weeks, I had enough of the treacherous stairs, painful knees, and risk to my existence on Earth, the widely varying and undependable breakfast hours (they probably got tired of me waking them up every morning at 7:30), and the very slow Wi-Fi, so I decided to find a place closer to the road, the Tibetan Library, town, and my yoga instructor … mostly the deadly stairs … finding a comparable room and view at less than half of the price (333 rupees per night or $5.35), being centrally located between destinations WITH NO STEPS!

At first glance and in terms of western standards and prices, Pink House appears to be an exceptional value at $10-$20 per night, but comparatively speaking in McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala, that did not necessarily turn out to be the case. The longer I stayed in the area and the more people I spoke to, the more I realized that Pink House was one of the more expensive and isolated places in town. A Buddhist monk friend paid 2,00o rupees per month ($32.00) for his centrally located room, a basic but clean room with shared bath, and another was paying 300 rupees ($4.85) per night for a double room at a monastery just off the main market with a private bath, so $15 per night was quite expensive in this neck of the woods.

Like Jessica1100 (TripAdvisor), my 880 rupee ($14) deposit was not applied to my bill at check-out even though it was meticulously itemized down to the rupee, taking close to 20 minutes even though I told them I would be checking out that morning. I am not saying that it was done intentionally, but considering that they do not accept reservations without a deposit equaling one night's stay, it should be a standard inclusion in the billing process.

If Pink House where in the U.S., Europe, Japan, or Korea (among other more expensive destinations), they would get 8 or 9 Bombs Out Of 10. But in terms of other local (India in general, Dharamsala in particular) establishments, on which I base my “VALUE” determinations, Pink House is very middle of the road. Therefore, if you have great knees, do not mind the cold or paying a bit extra for the convenience of eating in your room, and enjoy beautiful views, fair service, and in-house laundry services, then Pink House is a fair choice. But be warned, there are better values out there, particularly for those visiting for extended periods where significant discounts of 50% to 70% can be had over nightly lodging prices … and make sure your deposit is applied to your bill!

CombatCritic Gives Pink House Hotel 4 Bombs Out Of 10Deductions for Dangerous Stairs, Slow Internet, Varying Restaurant Hours, No Heat, and Missing Deposit ... More Bombs Are Better








Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite '14/'15 Member) And  TripAdvisor ("Top Contributor") Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

Key Words: Pink House Hotel, pink, house, hotel, rooftop, café, menu, wi-fi, internet, laundry, McLeod Ganj, mcleod, ganj, Dharamsala, Dharamshala, India, travel, value, Yongling

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Long Walk (Uphill Both Ways), All For Not

I decided to try Taste of India on a nice Sunday afternoon in mid-November, walking 15-minutes up the steep TIPA Road from the Main Square in McLeod Ganj. 

When I finally arrived, low and behold the door was locked (2:45 pm), the TV on, and the windows looking like they had not been cleaned in years. I had doubts as to whether the place had been abandoned or not, but the TV made me believe that their were inhabitants, food or no food, but they were nowhere in sight.

I was looking forward to some authentic Indian food after reading the many good reviews on TripAdvisor, but it was not meant to be, so I strolled back down the hill in search of other options,

CombatCritic MUST Give Taste of India 1 Bomb Out Of 10 ... MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Good, Reasonably Priced Fare In A Country Not Well Known For Great Italian

Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen
Jogiwara Road, Market Area (Upstairs)
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, H.P. India 176219
Prices: $$$$$

Dining Room
Jimmy’s is the only restaurant in town that serves only Italian food … bruschetta (learn how to pronounce it Americans), pasta, pizza, main courses with actual meat and more! You have to look up and on the right as you walk up Jogiwara Road (from the direction of the Dalai Lama’s Temple) about halfway through the McLeod Ganj “market” (shopping area) on the way to the Main Square to see Jimmy’s neon sign up on the third floor.

TV and Asian Style Seating Area
The restaurant is large by Dharamsala standards and nicely appointed with marble-top tables, nice modern colors, plenty of windows, and movie posters on the walls. They have a large screen LCD TV, which happened to be televising a cricket game while I was there. There are two small areas, one in the front as you walk in and another in the back near the TV, where those with good knees can sit at a low table on mats Asian style. Being an old military retiree and disabled Veteran, I went for a table and chairs.

The menu is large with numerous antipasti (appetizers), both veg (vegetarian) and non-veg as they are referred to here, several primi (first courses), including pizza and pasta dishes, as well as homemade ravioli, lasagna and gnocchi, and, finally, secondi (second courses – think meat) where you can choose from chicken, mutton, or pork prepared in a variety of ways. They also have many drinks, including milk shakes and lassi (a yogurt-based drink found throughout India similar to a milk shake, but without the ice cream).

Veggie Bruschetta
For my antipasto, I decided to try the mixed grilled vegetable “bruchetta” (90 Rupees/$1.46 - spelled “bruschetta” in Italy and unlike the pronunciation used by most Americans, pronounced “brew-sket-a”, not brew-shet-a, as the “sch” in Italy is pronounced like “sk” is in English). What I received was four large toasted slices of the best Italian-style bread I have had in India to date with an abundance of tasty grilled veggies (eggplant, mushrooms, onion, and bell peppers) with melted mozzarella cheese on top. Normally, bruschetta is served with cold vegetables (tomato, vegetables) on top and no cheese, but I was quite pleased with the taste. Bravo!

Gnocchi in Pesto Cream Soup, I Mean Sauce
For my primo, I chose the handmade gnocchi with ham in a pesto cream sauce (190 Rupees/$3.10). The gnocchi was excellent and perfectly cooked, not too chewy and not falling apart in my mouth, and the sauce was flavorful, not requiring salt, pepper, or added cheese as is the case with most pasta dishes I have had in India, but with a touch too much garlic (and I love garlic). My only complaint, and I shared this with the owner before leaving, was the same as at many restaurants in the U.S., and that is that there was far too much sauce. Proper pasta is served “al dente” and lightly basted in the sauce just prior to serving by flipping the pasta in the pan containing the heated sauce, but many restaurants outside of Italy overdo the sauce and mine was more like a thick soup with the gnocchi and ham being overwhelmed by the sauce. The owner shared with me the reason it is served this way and that is because his Indian customers are used to thick sauces (think curry, jalfraizi, and vindaloo) and believe that al dente pasta is undercooked, so he is catering to the majority of his clientele. Fair enough.

Chocolate Milk Shake
Feeling hungry and decadent, I also ordered a chocolate milk shake with ice cream (120 Rupees/$1.95) because I had read that they had an excellent peanut butter milk shake (not on the menu) on TripAdvisor. If you order a milk shake in India, do not expect what you normally think of a shake in western countries as they do not contain ice cream unless so stated. Drinks in India are routinely lukewarm as refrigeration is not great and ice is not a good idea because of potential water-born illnesses, so your milk shake will likely not be cold and frosty as you would expect. Mine tasted good enough, but the ice cream was not fully blended and at nearly $2 it was probably one of the worst values in my restaurant experiences here in India.


I spent Thanksgiving in Dharamsala, so because there was no turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie, I decided to have the next best thing ... ITALIAN FOOD! Normally eating a bowl of thupka or thenthuk (Tibetan noodle and vegetable soup), I splurged and ordered Jimmy's Tomato and Mozzarella Salad ("Insalata Caprese" - Salad From Capri In Italian - 120 Rupees/$1.95), an order of garlic bread (40 Rupees/65 cents), and the Penne Romano (al dente penne, olive oil, garlic, chili pepper flakes, and parmesan cheese - 150 Rupees/$2.40).

Penne Romano
The insalata Caprese was actually very good with an abundance of fresh, sliced tomato, slices of mozzarella cheese, a little lettuce, and drizzled with an light olive oil and vinegar dressing. The mozzarella was sliced a bit too thin compared to the Italian equivalent and you would normally have fresh basil (instead of lettuce) on top with extra virgin olive oil (no vinegar), but it was excellent nonetheless. The garlic bread (the bread is made fresh and in-house) was perfectly seasoned and toasted, and the perfect accompaniment to the tomato salad. The penne Romano, although arriving far too soon and shortly after my antipasto had arrived, was al dente just the way I like it and the olive oil and garlic sauce tasty although a little too dry. A bit more olive oil would have helped, but it was delicious in any case.

CombatCritic Gives Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!






Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite '14/'15 Member) And  TripAdvisor ("Top Contributor") Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

MENU



















Key Words: Jimmy’s Italian Kitchen, Jimmy’s, Jimmy, Italian, kitchen, pasta, pizza, restaurant, McLeod Ganj, mcloed, ganj, Dharamsala, India, Jogiwara, road, market, CombatCritic, travel, value, menu


Featured Post

His Holiness and I

By C.T. Sorrentino “His Holiness”. I first saw him on TV, a documentary, 60 Minutes, I forget exactly where or when, but he i...

Search Our Blog