Review: QJD Peking Duck Restaurant Houston [Full]

Let me start off by giving a brief background so I don’t have a bunch of people discrediting me for “not knowing anything”. QJD (Quan Ju De) is probably the most famous and widely known Peking Duck Specialty Restaurant, with it’s origins in Beijing. I personally have been to the original QJD Restaurant in Beijing and it was absolutely amazing, from the ambiance, decor, service and quality of food.

There are many different interpretations of “Authentic” Peking Duck. Without getting too off topic, the most widely accepted interpretation is the crispy skin Peking Duck variety, slices of crispy (but not dry) duck skin (usually with a little to moderate amount of meat), served with either a “pancake” or lotus bun with cucumber, scallions and a sweet sauce. Some purists will argue that true Peking Duck is skin only served exclusively with the pancakes. The Beijing QJD style uses the pancakes but you get three different cuts, one skin only, one sliced meat with strip of skin still attached, and one sliced meat – no skin. Regardless of preparation the crispy skin is the star of the dish.

As a brand new restaurant (open for less than a week as of this post), I can overlook mishaps in service and communications as any new restaurant will take some time to iron out all the details. The decor, I can sort of see they want to keep the traditional Chinese feel. But when you are seated and start to take it in, you get this odd sense that doesn’t fit with what you had in mind. The table covers feel plasticy, seats and cushion feel a bit off, super bright lighting, and the 90’s soft jazz playing overhead just gives a bit of a cheap feel to the place.

But nevermind the decor, the whole reason I came to the restaurant was for the Peking Duck. Which I order.
*Second Red Flag* There are two different options for Peking Duck on the menu. There is a “Special” Peking Duck, and a “Luxury” Peking Duck. The “Luxury” is the same as the “Special” but costs $10 more. For that $10 you get ketchup, Siracha, Plum Sauce, White Sugar, and an opportunity to pay an additional $4 for nuts.
After some brief moments of confusion between my waiter and, who I presume to be, the floor manager I am told that if I wanted the duck i would have to wait an hour for them to prepare it. No problem. In fact I would be suspect if they were able to bring it out right away. 30-40 minutes pass by and here comes the duck. IMG_0808.JPG

*Pause* History Lesson: There was once a fantastic Peking Duck Restaurant in Houston, one of the reasons they closed and did not reopen was that they were unable to find a chef or enough people who were skilled enough in carving the duck properly.
In many higher end restaurants that serve Peking duck, they will often carve the duck table side. It is as much a part of the Peking Duck experience as eating the duck itself, because you know, it’s Peking Duck…*Unpause*

So I am served this plate with this heaping pile of sliced duck. As I had mentioned before, QJD is known for having a serving of sliced duck with a bit of skin on it (albeit it usually came with the other preparations as well), so to that end, though not thrilled, I’m OK with it. BUT, the skin is not crispy at all. There is oil and fat everywhere and pooling underneath the pile. Many pieces had the skin detached from the meat and overall it was just a mess. It just looks unappetizing; you first eat with your eyes. A far, far cry from what any picture you can look up for Peking Duck looks like. In fact it looks more like your average roast duck, there is zero resemblance to Peking Duck other than it was in fact, duck. Taste-wise, it tastes like roast duck. That saying if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck definitely applies here. It is straight up roast duck that is being passed off as Peking Duck. If you don’t know or understand the difference I implore you to do some research (if I attempt to explain here, this post will go on forever).

Funny enough, the table next to me had ordered the same thing. Perhaps they thought I had ordered something else, but when their plate came out (which looked just like mine) they were completely miffed and confused as well.

After months of hype and more than a month of delay in opening, I can confidently say that QJD Peking Duck Houston does not even come close to living up to the name. Either big changes need to be made, or it will be destined to disappear and be just a tarnish on the QJD Franchise. But for now, this restaurant, in my honest opinion, does not deserve to bear the QJD badge as it is a disgrace to all other QJD Restaurants. If you are most known for Peking Duck and marketing for Peking Duck, I don’t care what anything else tastes like, that duck better shine.

Verdict: 1/10

 

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The Michelin Quest Revisited: Take Two

So, following the completion of my 3 Star list, I still had about 3 days left of my trip. What a perfect time to do a second take on a couple key restaurants, namely, Le Bernardin and Daniel. As I had mentioned in previous posts, I wanted to try the dinner experience at Le Bernardin and also try to figure out why Daniel had been demoted to a two star restaurant.

Le Bernardin: Dinner: Same space, but this time the ambiance was more of a darker/cozier feeling. To my not so surprise, on the menu again was the Maine Lobster and the Langoustine. If you had read my previous post on Le Bernardin, you would know the issues I had with their lobster. This time, no problems with the lobster, masterfully executed and well balanced. This time however, I did have an issue with the langoustine. Langoustine was a bit overcooked, giving it more of a chewy shrimpy texture than the desired lobster texture. Other than that, the rest of the meal was on point. Really the only other complaint I could give was the portion size of the Wagyu beef was a bit on the smaller side, but that is to be expected.

And here is the photo dump:

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And a shout out to all the Houston Bellaire readers out there: Even at a nice restaurant in NYC, we still do Hennessy.img_20161013_212616

Summary: Le Bernardin: In summary, this dinner solidifies my previous rating of a 4.5/5 (or current 10 point scale, 9/10). An overall very enjoyable experience with just some minor hiccups here and there keeps Le B from reaching full marks on my list. Still, at Le B, you cant really go wrong with lunch or dinner.

 

The Lost Star: Daniel: So coming into this dinner I was biased, I really wasn’t sure what to expect coming back to Daniel after losing a star but a world class experience the first time. After the first couple courses, however, it soon became clear why Daniel is now a two Michelin star restaurant rather than a Three Star. Once again, the photography policy at Daniel is one where pictures of food or phones at the table are frowned upon. On several occasions I saw some individuals take a quick picture of their food, only to be quickly reminded by the waitstaff that pictures were not appreciated. Foodwise, every dish was on point. Upon ordering, I asked the waiter if there was a special Chef’s menu other than the traditional tasting menu, (as chef had recommended me ask the previous visit I had). Initially the waiter said that the 7 course menu presented was the only such menu, which I obliged and accepted. Later on, the waiter came back and said chef was able to do a special menu for me and asked if I had any preferences. Aww yeah, you bet I did. My only request was that chef go less on the truffle (anyone who’s read my previous posts knows how much I dislike the excessive use of truffles to elevate a dish). My resulting meal was a 9 course menu, which largely followed the more traditional 7course menu but with a couple changes and modifications. The 9 Courses were as follows: Poularde (Foie Gras and Truffle), Flet (Fluke, Uni, Caviar), Ormeaux (Abalone), Turbot, Foie Gras (Flambeed tableside), Lapin (Rabbit), Coq de Bruyere (Scottish Grouse), Fraise (Strawberry Sorbet), Sambirano (Madagascar Milk Chocolate).

First course out the gate: Foie Gras and Truffle: This after specifically relaying that I was not a big fan of truffle. A bold statement by chef, laying a sliver of black truffle right next to the foie. To my delight, even as bold a statement for the truffle as it was, the dish was very well balanced and the truffle only remained a subtlety rather then an imposition. This was when I knew the food at Daniel had not wavered since the last time I had visited. If anything, the dishes this time around were more bold and creative, almost as to signal thumbing the Michelin reviewers that his restaurant should indeed be a 3 star restaurant. Dish after dish, course after course, everything was immaculate. Cooked perfectly, finished perfectly, conceived and executed perfectly. If based on food alone, there was no doubt that Daniel is one of the best, all the way through the last dish.

And on top of that, Chef Daniel Boulud has been the only head chef at a Michelin Restaurant (other than the ones at a chef’s table/counter) to actively come out of the kitchen to greet his patrons. This, in my eyes speaks volumes towards his character and his genuine passion for delivering a world class experience.

Then why the downgrade to Two Stars? I can only speculate, but throughout the course of dinner there were several things I noticed. First off, the main dining room is big, very big. I think it is one of the largest open dining rooms for a 3 star restaurant I’ve been in. On top of that, the ornate vaulted ceilings and sunken middle area does not lend well to proper dining acoustics. It is loud when the dining room is full. Not just loud, but you can hear conversations from across the room. This detracts from the intimate feel that you would like at a restaurant like this. Perhaps a few less tables or more sound deadening features could solve this issue. Another issue I ran across was the timings of the dishes that came out. Some dishes came promptly following the previous, while others had a prolonged wait. This meant that with the wine pairings, sometimes the pourings preceded the dish by a large duration. On a couple occasions I found myself having to ration out the wine just to have some left for the dish it was supposed to accompany. Again, this could be attributed to the large amount of tables which can back up the kitchen, or some other factor. All I know was that I was just sitting there people watching for a good amount of time between certain courses. Lastly, there is an insane amount of waitstaff. Probably lined up, there is roughly a little more than one waitstaff per table for the entire restaurant. While this would seem like a good thing where your every need would be promptly addressed, it does create a consistency issue to be able to have everyone perform to the same standards. There were on several occasions I noticed some slip-ups or confusions in the waitstaff.

Summary: Daniel: In terms of food, hands down 10/10, for overall experience, because of the environment and some inconsistencies in service, unfortunately I have to rate a 9/10. In my opinion, does Daniel feel a whole star less than other three star restaurants such as Per Se, or Le B? I think it still deserves to be mentioned in the same category, but I can see why certain critics may feel otherwise. Pricewise, Daniel is still positioned in the same range as a 3Star Restaurant with the traditional tasting menu at 240 with two options of wine pairings at 160 or 230. $400-500 depending on your wine preference. Still, don’t count out Daniel Boulud just yet as I’m sure Daniel will return to a three star status if they just make a couple minor adjustments.

The Michelin Quest Revisited: Day 2

Following a disappointing $700 snack at Masa, we try to redeem ourselves by rounding out the three star list with a visit to Per Se. All indications from other diners pointed to an amazing experience so fingers crossed it lives up to the hype.

Day 2: Per Se is located, conveniently right next to Masa, in the Time Warner Building. There is a front waiting area, for guests waiting for the rest of their party. After entering the restaurant, you are brought through the ‘lounge’, a la carte area. Apparently this area is for walk-ins or no reservations on a first come first serve basis. There are about 5 tables here, and you can order the same chef’s tasting menu as well as a la carte items. So for those who don’t want to commit to a date in the main dining area, or want to go spontaneously, you may want to try out this option. The main dining room is two tiered separated by a short staircase, overlooking Central Park. My suggestion is to request a window table if you can if you don’t mind a little foot traffic but want an amazing view. There is no set wine pairing list, but according to the level two sommelier who was assigned to our table, the way the menu is designed is to be easily paired by a limited selection throughout the course. Splitting three people, we went with a progression of Champaigne, Reisling and Red wine.

The Food: 

The Menu is an eight course tasting menu with some courses having an option for substitutions.

1: Oysters and Pearls || Royal Kaluga Caviar
2: Salad of Roasted Belgian Endove || Slow Poached Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras
3: Sauteed Fillet of Mediterranean Turnbot
4: Hokkaido Sea Scallop “Poelee”
5: Diamond H Ranch Quail || Hand Cut “Tagliatelle”
6: Saddle of Elysian Fields Farm’s Lamb || Charcoal Grilled Miyazaki Wagyu
7: Consider Bardwell Farm’s “Pawlet”
8: Assortment of Desserts

Pre-Course: Salmon Tartar: What a lovely starter. Not exactly sure what all was in it, but this little savory salmon tartar server in a little cone was on point.

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First Course: Oysters and Pearls: First impressions: could there be any more plates? Not to take anything away from the actual dish, but three plates seemed a little bit excessive for presentation. The oysters and caviar were absolutely delicious, well balanced and a strong start to dinner.

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2: Foie Gras: Foie Gras 6 ways. Served with an assortment of salts each with a different flavour profile, this dish really showcases the different ways of enjoying foie gras. Another note of this dish, it is served with a warm buttered brioche, and apparently it is heresy to eat foie gras with a cold brioche. Quite literally, every couple minutes, the waitstaff would come by and replace the brioche with a warm one, regardless of how much of it was eaten.

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3: Turnbot: Nothing extremely stand-out about the fish. Solid dish, well executed.

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4: Sea Scallop. Hands down the best scallop I’ve ever had. Perfect sear. Perfectly cooked all the way through, even with just sear on one side. Delectable sauce and well balanced accompaniments.

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5: Quail: If there were one complaint about this dish, it would be the complexity of the dish. My belief when it comes to complex dishes with a lot of different elements is that on a plate, each element should be able to be eaten with any other part and have the same level of enjoyment. The problem with this dish was unless every element was eaten all together, the sauce seemed overly sweet. Everything together, and it was fine and well balanced. I just have a problem with being forced to eat a dish a certain way.

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6: Wagyu: If I wasn’t willing to spend an extra $150 for the Wagyu beef at Masa, boy am I glad I spent the extra $100 for the Wagyu at Per Se. I guess that is the effect of having a base price at $325 rather than $595. The dollar amount for the extra doesn’t seem as overlooming. But boy, the difference between the beef and the lamb was like night and day. Best $100 spent this trip so far.

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7: Pawlet: Eh, well thought out but not quite executed the way it should have been. Kind of a let down after the Wagyu.img_20161011_223512

8: Assorted Desserts: After getting knocked down by the previous dish, it was all made better with the dessert course. Only complaint here was that after this, I was stuffed to the brim. Just barely able to finish everything.

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But wait, there’s more! Similar to 11 Madison Park’s ‘I dare you’ jar of granola, Per Se just plops down a tower of confectionaries as if they didn’t know you cant possibly fit anything else into your stomach. Luckily, we were able to get this packed to go.

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Summary: Overall the few little dings throughout the course pushes my rating to a 9/10. Miles above the previous night at Per Se though. Total of about $600 with all the extra substitutions and wine, it was a much more enjoyable experience, but not quite on the same page as Chef’s Table and a hair short of EMP. Still I would put this on a try again list.

Fine: So with this visit, I’ve finally completed the 3 Michelin Star tour of NYC. Chef’s Table, Daniel*, Eleven Madison Park, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Masa, Per Se. As for what’s next? Likely a revisit to some of the lunch restaurants to see what dinner holds. Also, a revisit to Daniel to see if Daniel less one star is the same.

The Michelin Quest Revisited: Day 1

Picking up from two years ago, we revisit the incomplete list.

3Star:

  • Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
  • Daniel
  • Eleven Madison Park
  • Jean Georges
  • Le Bernardin
  • Masa
  • Per Se

Since then the major change to the list: Daniel has dropped out of the 3 star category to a 2 star restaurant. This doesn’t really change what needs to be done. So NYC 2016 will focus on rounding out the 3 star restaurants with visits to Masa and Per Se.

Day 1: Masa

As usual, another one of these, no phones, no pictures restaurants. When you make a reservation, (if you call early enough) you get the option of either sitting at a table, or at the sushi bar. Obviously the sushi bar is the better option, but there are only 10 seats, so reserve early if you are planning on going. First impressions feel like an upscale version of Chef’s Table but with less structure and less chef interaction. Actually, unless you show up well early and one of the first to get seated you will be left to the mercy of one of the assistant chefs to prepare and serve your food. There probably isn’t much of any difference between Chef Masa and one of his assistants serving you, but the fact that you weren’t served by THE Chef Masa does take some points away. There was no wine/sake pairings, so again, unless you know what you want, you’re at the mercy of the waiter who will predictably recommend one of the more expensive reserve sakes. We ended up getting one of the cheaper sakes which seemed to match fairly well.

The Food: Starting off with a sea bass sashimi. Definitely one of the best sea bass courses I’ve had. Light and refreshing start to what would be an epic meal. Quickly followed by a Tuna Tartar with Caviar, another solid dish. Third course, Roasted Sea Urchin with White Truffle. Those who have read my previous posts know how much I criticize the overzealous use of truffle. Surprisingly, this dish was well balanced, truffle wasn’t too overpowering and complimented the sea urchin well. Next up Hairy Crab salad with something something, couldn’t remember. Nothing special, but it was well executed. Highlight of the first portion of the dinner was the crab leg topped with sea urchin. Perfectly cooked crab legs, topped with just the right amount of sweet uni in a broth filled crab leg shell. I could have eaten that all day. Spoiler alert, they asked if we wanted to have the wagyu beef dish for $150/person. I don’t care what kind of beef it is, but I’m not paying $150 for a piece of beef that i can swallow in one bite. Needless to say, I kindly declined. Then came the second (main) part of the dinner. This is where the chef just goes on rapid fire and starts spewing out sushi after sushi. Honestly I could hardly keep up with trying to remember what was served and what I just ate. All I knew was that it was some of the freshest fish i’ve ever been served. Chu-Toro, Snapper, Gooey-duck, Scallop, Sweet Shrimp, Mushroom, Uni, O-Toro, and more. And then came the dreaded ‘truffle ball’. WHY TRUFFLES?! Seriously, this was literally a little ball of rice (about the size of a grape) covered with shredded white truffle to the size of a golf ball. Needless to say, it tasted like truffle. A lot of it. Very strong. Truffle… Don’t get me wrong, the taste of it was like the taste of pure luxury, but to me it had very little culinary value. Anyone can go out buy a truffle, and recreate the same exact thing… Truffles! Shortly after, the dinner came to a bit of an abrupt end. A mint/taro wrap, and persimmon and that was all she wrote. Overall food-wise I would give Masa a 9/10. That truffle ball just left a bad impression.

Cost: Here is where I had the biggest issue with Masa. At $595 per person, it is the single most expensive meal of any restaurant I’ve been to. Without drinks. Even with splitting a bottle of sake with my sister and her husband, (which we were then charged $10 x2 for water) each of our totals came out to around $720. $720 for a meager 20-ish bite meal which left two of us not ready to burst at the seams is a hard sell. In terms of value, it is seriously lacking.

In Summary: My overall review of Masa would be a 7/10. The high cost and extra add-ons they try to sell you, really detract from the experience of the food. They could probably do away with the truffle ball and knock off ~$100 from the cost and it would be a win-win. But what do I know? All I know is that I will not be returning to Masa as it is now. Especially when there are literally streets full of good sushi at a fraction of the cost. But at the quest of eating at every 3 star restaurant in NYC, I will suck it up and accept it, but just this once.

Up Ahead: Rounding out the list Per Se. Later on, revisiting Le Bernardin (for dinner) and a visit to Daniel NYC to see why they lost a star.

Year in Review: 2015

As another year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on major events of the past year as well as look forward to plan ahead for the year to come. Though I haven’t posted much at all this year, that, by no means made it an uneventful 2015.

Edge Dental

Where do I start with this? I remember having a target opening of late spring/early summer. Well, as with construction, everything goes out the window when the city decides its own time schedule and their office suddenly gets inundated with building permits due to weather related issues. Not to mention a landlord who has so much red tape that it takes a week for documents to get sent from the rep to the main office for approvals for changes and another several weeks for any resolution, coupled with a monopolized high speed internet market that also likes to set their own schedule. So after months of delays, in August, finally fully operational. Was it worth it? Most definitely. The office looks absolutely amazing. My vision for it to become a portfolio worthy project for those who were involved really came to fruition. The clean lines, contrasting ceiling, open feel, and little accented details really set it apart. Sure there are some minor things that I would have wanted to be different, but overall I was very happy with my new space. More pictures and information can be found at our website, EdgeDentalHouston.com or find us on Facebook.  A couple sneak peeks of the office:

Houston Modern Dental Office Operatory Houston Modern Dental Office Hall

Houston Modern Dental Office Waiting Room Houston Modern Dental Office Hallway

Houston Modern Dental Office Sign Night

As it is still in its infancy, I believe that taking the right steps, and getting things set up properly will set us up for a successful 2016.

Supercar Update:

So I’ve been driving my Aston for a little over half a year now. Every time I get in it, I still am struggling to hold back the massive smile I have from the joy of driving this beauty. I haven’t really had any major issues come up lately, and fingers crossed hope it stays that way. I know I’m going to get some flak for this, but since my last post I just couldn’t resist doing some minor modifications to the car while it was in for maintenance. First up, just s minor oil line update to replace the old oil radiator and upgrade the lines from the original factory rubber to stainless steel lines to prevent oil leakage which Astons had been known for. The other modifications were an ECU flash, Hi-flo sport cats, and a full Quicksilver SuperSport exhaust system. All together, the overall performance only increased by about 50hp rounding out to the 500hp range, but boy is it more fun to drive now. It’s loud. But not an unpleasant loud. I found that stock, the exhaust noise was a bit too tame under 4-5000rpm and even above that it could use something more. Now, sitting at idle, it truly sounds like a proper supercar with that deep throaty rumble. Foot firmly down and it sounds like you’re in the middle of a GT race and then when you let off a bit, it sounds like the heavens open up and you can feel Zeus’ wrath smiting those around you. Words, really don’t do it justice. As my daily driver, I couldnt be more pleased with it.

2016: The Road Ahead

Though 2015 may not have been as successful as I had hoped, it puts me hopefully in prime position to really hit it big this coming year. With big plans and even bigger ambitions. On the business front, I have really begun to ramp up our marketing efforts. Later half of 2015, I found myself hesitant to spend much on marketing and it seems that might not have worked as well as I had hoped. Whether it be problems with the economy, ineffectiveness of marketing, or just bad cyclical trends of the industry, a new approach to get patients through the door will be assessed. Another issue I had not anticipated was just the amount of stress and lack of free time that goes into opening and running your own office from scratch while still trying to work at another location. There are just certain things that I can not do when I want them done because it literally does not fit in my schedule no matter how I try. So, starting early Q1, I will be cutting back on my secondary job and hopefully wean myself off it by Q2. Hopefully by then, the new office will be self sufficient by then.

Elsewhere on the homefront, I’ve decided that it’s about time for me to start looking for a proper place to live. As rent keeps increasing each year, I figure I could be putting that money towards a mortgage payment on a decent house and still have some left over. I mean, I’m already pretty much locked into my business for the foreseeable future so it just makes sense. Looking for a relatively new construction, 1990’s and newer, in the 400-250k range depending on neighbourhood. Which leads me to the stretch goal of 2016. It’s actually one of the reasons and factors to why I decided it’s time for a house. If I could get my hands on a McLaren by the end of 2016, that would just put it over the top. No, not a 675LT, I’m more realistic than that. An MP-4 12c would be just fine. Brand new at ~$240k, McLarens have a knack for losing value in a ridiculous short time due to a new model coming out seemingly every year (couple months). Since the MP-4 12C in 2011, McLaren has come out with, in rough chronological order, the P1, 650S, P1GTR, 675LT, 540C, 570S. With each new addition pushing older models out of demand. With the average price of a decent used one running around $150k, if all goes well next year, and I see one dip down in the $120k range I’m going to need to have a place to put it.

McLaren MP4-12C – Frontansicht (3), 30. August 2012, Düsseldorf.jpg

All in all, an ambitious set of goals for the coming year, but then again, if we don’t have goals, no matter how big or small, there’s no motivation to make progress and move forward. If we just accept where we are in life and are content living on autopilot, then we have let our mind go to waste. So I’ll conclude with a question for yourself. What are your goals and plans for the exciting year ahead?

My First Supercar: Aston Martin DB9 – Impressions

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Upon delivery of the DB9, I was still kind of in shock and had a bag of mixed emotions. On one hand I was just so excited and elated that I had in my possession a car that I used to and many others could only dream of. On the other hand, I knew there was still quite a bit of work before I could breathe easy about the soundness of my decision. On top of that, I was concerned that maybe an off day impulse buy would be one that I would want to take back a later day. My test drive probably wasn’t as thorough as it should have been, after all the test drive was the first time I had ever even sat in a supercar, much less drive one. Then the worries about how much these seemingly little minor repairs would cost crept up.

I mentioned before how Ferarri’s and Lamborghini’s have become commonplace in pop culture, and that showed itself when I began to look for a garage that could properly service my Aston. Well, in Houston, there are Ferarri and Lamborghini dealerships who can service your respected car, but for Aston Martins, there are zero. In reality, I have found only 3 reputable garages that can properly service an Aston. Naturally I took the car to Sphere Motorsports close by my work place to have them take a look at it since they were the ones who did the initial inspection so the car should be familiar with them.

And so, as discussed before I bought the car we came up with a list of issues with the car.

– Check engine light: Misfire in Cylinder #6.

– Nav Screen Gears not working (very common problem as gears are made out of plastic).

– Aston Martin Manufacturer update for rubber oil lines to metal tubing.

– Air Conditioner not as cold as it should be.

– TPMS light fault (known common issue with Aston Martins)

First thing is to address is the check engine light. The likely fault is a bad coil pack and spark plug, so cheapest try to fix is to replace the whole set of coilpacks. I could just replace one, but the labor cost of replacing one vs all of them is about the same and I would rather not have to pay that amount again if another one goes out. about $4K and 3 weeks later (parts had to be shipped from England), problem appears to be solved, with instructions to use some fuel additive to clean out the system. Cool, problem solved. Or not? Couple days later check engine light comes back on. Car is running much better than before but the light worries me a bit. Take it back to the shop and the computer returns a general misfire code on startup. I am advised to continue using the fuel additive to really clean out the system. The light doesn’t come back on. Nice. About 5-600 miles later, I decide to stop using the additive. Surely by now all the crud has been flushed out. Nope, light comes back on and returns the same thing. So where I am at now is the car is due for it’s regular 30k mile maintenance. I’m hoping that I’ll take it in, do the regular maintenance and have them completely flush and clean the fuel and intake lines. button up the rest of the issues. This is what happens when you buy a car that’s been sitting in someone’s garage for who knows how long with the same tank of gas in cold climates. In reality, though, there seems to be nothing wrong with the engine after the coilpacks were replaced, so I consider myself very lucky to have dodged a big bullet and avoid a $20k+ repair bill.

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Clear Bras and Paint Protectors – side rant

Whoever decided to just cover the front 18 inches of the car with this clear film needs to be punched in the face. I understand the want to protect your paint from small rocks and debris, but if you’re going to do it, do the whole panel. Having a clear line run across the bonnet and fenders just makes the car look cheap. If you are truly concerned about your paint, just do a wrap on the entire car. This way you can change colours whenever you want all while protecting and maintaining your car’s original paint. A heat gun, some solvent and 2 hours later, clear bra and adhesive is removed. Can still tell where it used to be but only under certain angles of light.

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The Drive

So now how does the Aston drive? I will give you my complete biased opinion of the car. It is without a doubt the most well rounded car I have ever driven. Hands down. And I will argue that it is the most well rounded supercar ever built.

First off, performance. Let’s face it, the reason you buy a supercar is because it goes fast. Performance is a huge part of why you buy one in the first place. Now don’t get me wrong, if you want a car that can top 200mph and perform like a banshee on steroids you’re probably better off looking at a Ferarri, Lamborghini, McLaren or the likes. The Aston just cant match that level of performance, but it ranks pretty high up there. With the stock 2005 model 6.0L V12 pushing out 450hp and a mean 420lb-ft or torque it will do 0-60 in 4.7 seconds with a top speed of 186mph. For a car that weighs almost two tons, that is enough to make your eyes light up. The suspension and ride quality on the Aston is absolutely spot on. I was expecting a super hard ride, one that would send shocks down your spine over every pavement buckle, bump and dip, but I was surprised with just how comfortable the ride is. Built as a GT car, it is designed for long hauls so comfort is a key element in the design. But the way it is able to provide the perfect balance of comfort and performance is just amazing.

Now asthetics, the Aston Martin DB9 Coupe has got it down pat. Number one no exceptions. The bodylines, the subtle curves and flares, the iconic Aston Martin grille, the low and wide stance. Again, it is the perfect balance between the elegance you’d expect from a superluxury car and the aggressiveness of a sports car. I would probably just stare at it all day if I could. And the aesthetics don’t end outside. In the interior, plush headliner and leather dash and upholstery, aluminum center console, wood grain finish. Now I will have two complaints about the interior that bug the crap out of me. Back seats. WHY? Who on earth decided it would be a good idea to put back seats in a DB9. I would argue unless you are a family of midgets, there is absolutely no way you can fit four people in a DB9. Even two small adults and two infants or children would not be able to fit. There is absolutely no reason for the back seats, end of discussion. My second complaint, which annoys me more than the back seats, is the lack of cup holders. Come on. A GT car with no cup holders? I don’t think I need to say much more about the lack of cup holders.

But wait there’s more. The aesthetics don’t end there. The sound and symphony the car makes is unmistakable. Not too loud and overbearing but distinct enough to let people around you know that you’ve got some serious hardware under the bonnet. I used to think the sound of a V8 was where it’s at, but when you hear the 12 cylinders fire up and rev the engine to 6-7000+rpm, it is the most satisfyingly terrifying sound you can produce.

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Versatility. The DB9 is a car that I feel can be used as a daily driver. I mean you spend all this money on a car only to drive it once every now and then? And by daily driver, it’s not just about using it for everyday activities. It is also about the level of comfort that you have when you drive it. Not having to be overly cautious about every bump and dip, or every driveway. Having enough room in the boot for everyday items.

Then, there is the value. For roughly $190k brand new I challenge you to find another car that can come close to doing what the DB9 can do.

So, for under $50k as of now I am convinced that the Aston Martin DB9 was the best purchase I can remember to date. When I talk to other car enthusiasts and tell them, every last one of them agrees it was a hell of a steal. Would I ever sell it? Not in the foreseeable future.

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My First Supercar: Aston Martin DB9 – Selection

I began my hunt for a nice car probably sometime around 2007/2008. At the time I was driving a 2000 Acura Integra with minimal mods; Cold Air Intake, Coilovers, Wheels, Body Kit. At the time I really didn’t know what I wanted. I had considered looking for a cheap older model 240sx or 350z that I could use as a daily and a drift car. Fix it up nice, upgrade and engine swap, and be able to run with some higher end cars for relatively cheap. As my schedule and education career became busier, I found that there really wasn’t enough time for me to commit to building a car and drifting at the time so the idea of a project car went out the door. As I was looking for a replacement for the Integra, I knew I wanted something different, something sporty, something that catches people’s eyes, something moderately practical, something not overly expensive, and something I could really enjoy. Clearly a Ford GT, Ferrari, Lamborghini, or McLaren would be way out of my range, that and I personally am not a huge fan of Ferrari or Lamborghini as I feel they are too common in pop culture and there are too many examples of bad connotations associated with them. Don’t get me wrong, they are magnificent cars, just not my style. I just don’t like BMW’s so that was a no for me as well. Jaguar and Maserati have had reliability issues and honestly, at the time I was looking, the available models didn’t look that great. I also came to realize with my long legs, I don’t fit comfortably in a lot of cars. Strike out the MR2, S2000, and Mini (these dont sound like very impressive cars, but with the proper aftermarket parts and modifications they can perform on the same level as some of the higher end cars).

Eventually, what it came down to was between 3 cars:  Nissan R33/34 GT-R, Acura/Honda NSX, Aston Martin DB9

Nissan GT-R: Ideally a RHD R34. What gear head wouldn’t want one of these? Dubbed the supercar killer, the R34 is one of the most respected and feared sports cars to come out of Japan. Only problem is that importing them as a car is illegal due to safety and emissions standards. The only way to own a street legal R34 is to import the parts, and build it as a ‘kit car’ and then you’d still need to get it inspected and hope that the state allows you to register it. Or try to find one that has already been through all that. Note that R33’s can now be legally imported under the 25 year old antique car exemption.

Acura/Honda NSX: Again, ideally I would have liked the RHD JDM Honda NSX. Same problems as the R34 in terms of importing (early models can now be imported). The NSX just has the profile of a super exotic. Low profile, wide body, lightweight. Designed to mimic the performance of a Ferarri 348. The NSX is a beautiful mid engine car that has the performance to back it up.

Aston Martin DB9: Why not the Vantage or older DB7? The DB7 is a great car, but the styling to me just wasnt aggressive enough for my taste. As far as the Vantage, personally I feel that the V8 Vantage has diluted the market. I understand trying to produce a car that is more affordable to more people, but an 8-cylinder Aston Martin seems out of place. My personal opinion on people who buy a V8 Vantage is a cop out buy to own an Aston. The V12 Vantage S is a relatively newer model and as such it is difficult to find one for sale that meet’s my requirements. Now, the DB9 is arguably one of the most if not the most aesthetically pleasing cars designed for its time. Respectable power, and unlike many other super sports cars was designed as a grand tourer so the ride is not quite as harsh. Also, got to be a coupe for me. The Volante looks amazing with the top down, but the canvas top just doesn’t make the car look right when it’s up.

 

In the end, realistically, it came down to either an Acura NSX, or ASton Martin DB9. Every now and then I’d check to see if someone was letting their R34 GTR go for a reasonable price. Around 2009/2010, during the recession, there were several listings for good condition NSXs in the $20-30k range. and a couple DB9’s going for the low $40k, upper $30k range. Had I not been inundated with the responsibilities of school and lack of an actual income, I would have been all over them. Fast forward to 2015 with checking prices on a fairly regular basis, I felt sick that every time I would check, the average prices of the cars would increase. A good NSX now will set you back at least $50-60k. A good low mileage DB9 will set you back around $60-70k.

And then it appeared. 2005 Aston Martin with 27k miles for under $50k. Something like that seemed too good to be true. And really in all honesty at the time it was. 3 previous owners from New Jersey, Minnesota, and Texas. Carfax report had minor accident, rear bumper and trunk damage which had been since repaired. Check engine light on for misfire in cylinder #6, unknown cause. The accident damage was repaired by a certified shop so that wasn’t a huge concern for me. Being from the northern part of the country, I was more concerned about rust damage from road salt than damage from a fender bender. Oh and that cylinder issue as well. So I call the dealership to get more information on the car and he just gives it to me straight. I wish all used car salesmen were like this one. Tells me everything that’s wrong with it over the phone. Previous owner traded it in for a Porsche 911 so really they’ve already made their money on that sale. Gives me the information on an independent shop that inspected the vehicle and the shop tells me the exact same things. Go to the dealership the following week to look at the car and then they tell me instead of them fixing the check engine light that they were going to sell the car as is but knock off a couple grand for the cost of fixing it. At this point, it’s a pretty large gamble. Test drive didnt seem too bad. Misfire was a bit more noticeable in the lower rpm but overall the ride was smooth. Most of the electronics worked as they are supposed to. Managed to negotiate it down to below $40k, but realistically I’m looking at at least $43k with the estimated repairs. And that figure could quickly balloon up to $60k or $70k if it turns out to be a major problem like a cracked cylinder or piston. Looking at what Astons of similar mileage and condition are going for, $60-70k is about average, but not what I wanted to pay. So after much deliberation, couple free shirts and a several bottles of water later I’m holding the keys (or key rather) to an Aston Martin DB9.