Sunday, September 30, 2012

Costa Rica Day 1 (San Jose)

My plane landed in San Jose Costa Rica just before noon.  I went through customs and got my luggage without too much hassle surprisingly.  However, once I stepped outside I was hounded by taxi drivers asking me to go with them.  I've seen aggressive people before, but these men and women are aggressive and tenacious to the point that I just wanted to really push them out of the way.  Natalia, who was my couch surfing host in San Jose, suggested to take the bus and get off at the last stop at San Jose.  I trusted her of course, and I eventually found the bus.  On the bus I met an American guy by the name of Jacob.  We chatted it up on the entire bus ride.  He was there for half vacation and half business.  He works for Whole Foods, which is pretty awesome and was there to look at potential produce for the supermarket.  Then this where the conversation starts going crazy.  I asked him if he was into couch surfing.  He said he was totally into it, but unfortunately he could not find a host due to him doing last minute couch requests.  I mentioned I was staying with a girl named Natalia, and his eyes lit up.  He mentioned that he remembers asking a girl with that name if he could stay with her for a few nights, but she declined him because she already had a guest which was me.  Jacob shows me her profile on his phone, and lo and behold that was Natalia.  Jacob and I were both freaked out at just what transpired, but in a positive way.  Also Jacob happened to be on my flight to San Jose.  What are the odds of meeting a random person on the bus who happened to be on the same flight as you and also knows your couch surfing host?  These kind of things rarely happen, and I'm sure this won't happen a whole lot in the future or even at all.  Jacob and I parted ways when the bus made its final stop.  I got his number in case Natalia changes her mind.

I had some hours to kill before meeting Natalia at Parque Central.  Just walking around San Jose for the first five minutes, I realized why people don't come here to sight see.  Downtown was relatively dirty, and there were many American stores and restaurants.  I don't have problems with that, but it was pretty much overkill in San Jose.  In fact I had a bad feeling about San Jose when the bus passed a Denny's five minutes into the ride.  It felt like the city lacked culture and authenticity.  I'm a hopeful person, and I hope Natalia would show me the awesome parts of San Jose.  I did stop for some lunch at what I thought was a local fast food joint called Pollo Campero.  I had two pieces of chicken, which pretty much tasted like KFC's extra crispy chicken.  Nothing to write home about, but not terrible at all.  I later found out though that Pollo Campero is actually global and there are some restaurants in Texas.  In fact it was not even started in Costa Rica.  That was so epic fail on my part.  Don't worry, I made it up eventually.  Here is the picture of the chicken I ate.  The whole restaurant also seems eerily similar to Los Pollos Hermanos from the show Breaking Bad.  I wonder if the creator of Breaking Bad was inspired by Pollo Campero. 

I walked around a couple hours more.  Nothing really too exciting other than seeing people dressed up in cool costumes for a show(I assume for their independence day festivities) at the park.  Natalia met up with me at Parque Central, we hopped on a bus to her her apartment outside of downtown San Jose.  We definitely got along from the get-go.  It also helps that she is pretty passionate about food and was relieved that she was not a vegetarian.  We made it to her apartment, which is a two story townhouse.  She gave me a brief tour of her pad and told me about how to use the bathroom the Costa Rican way.  Apparently in Costa Rica, you have to throw the toilet paper in the trash as opposed in the toilet.  The reason being is that the pipes in Central America have much lower pressure, and that toilet paper clogs up the pipes easily.  As any American I was first disgusted by the fact that I would have to put toilet paper in the trash.  However, I was in a different world and I have to tolerate this for a week.  After a day though, I got used to it.

I told Natalia about Jacob, and we decided to give him a call to see if he was still interested in staying with her.  He called back and was down with it.  Before we picked him up, Natalia and I checked out the Independence Day parade near her house.  It was basically kids holding up homemade lanterns.  My favorite lantern was the one with ox and the cart.  There is of course a history to this.  Here is the link for more explanation; Costa Rica Independence Day Traditions.  What I also liked about this parade is looking at the happy faces from everyone.  You could clearly tell that they have so much pride in their country.

After the parade, we went to Walmart which I was surprised that Costa Rica even has one.  I'm not a huge fan of the store because of their business practices, but I couldn't help but be a little intrigued by it to be honest.  The weirdest part about Walmart was that in order to even park at the parking lot, you have to pass through a security checkpoint.  Even in the United States, there aren't even any security checkpoints at Walmarts in shady areas.  It does make sense since from what I hear crime is an issue in San Jose, but I think it's a little overkill.  Inside Walmart, it was quite bright because it had yellow walls and surprisingly a fun place to shop.  I love that many of the meat and fish in the store are local, and I got an opportunity to take a picture of Chocolate Frosted Flakes in Spanish.  Also another good thing about this Walmart was that no customer was a candidate for the People of Walmart website.  I go on that website every so often, and I just shake my head sometimes of the people that go there.

After we left Walmart, we went to fill up Natalia's car with gas.  The gas stations are full service which I find interesting.  If I lived in Costa Rica, I don't think I would ever get used to the idea of full service gas stations. I trust the people that fill up my car, but I like to do it myself mainly because I'm used to it.  

We picked up Jacob at the hostel he was staying at, and we all decided to go to one of the college bars in the city.  We ended up going to a bar that had the name Buffalo.  I can't remember the full name of it.  Anything that has the word buffalo has to be good.  Basically we just hung out, had some awesome nachos which I should have taken a picture of, and had my first Imperial beer, which I will discuss in more detail in a future post.  Below is the slideshow from my first day at Costa Rica.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Costa Rica Day 1(Flying)

A couple months ago, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go on vacation.  For one, I knew I didn't want to go somewhere within the United States or Canada.  Two, it had to be somewhat cheap.  First I thought about going to South America, but the flights were a little pricey.  I looked at Central America next, and there were a lot of good countries to choose from but I settled with Costa Rica.  I chose Costa Rica because it was a beautiful country(minus San Jose as you will know why), stable, and flight round trip was only 400 dollars.

On Sept 14th I flew out of Pittsburgh early in the morning on my way to Houston for a brief layover.  I was actually pretty excited about this flight because I've never been to Texas and was kind of dying to see what it's like despite only seeing it from the plane and just being in the airport.  Fortunately, the person sitting next to me on my flight is originally from Texas, and we had a good solid conversation about Texas and other things.  As we got closer to the airport, I looked out the window, and I saw Texas.  It was pretty much what I expected in the Houston area; flat with a lot of trees.  Now I can cross Texas off my bucket list of states I've been to.  

We landed at the airport, and it was fairly unmemorable.  I think mainly because I wasn't able to step on Texas ground.  That would be an important moment in my life.  One minor highlight though was seeing people drinking at the bar at 8:00 AM.  They are definitely off to a good start for the day.

I boarded my flight to San Jose, and the flight wasn't too exciting other than hitting turbulence for a few minutes as the plane got closer to San Jose.  The plane provided us breakfast, and I would rank it as the worst food I've ever ate and believe it or not I do enjoy airplane food because of the novelty of it mainly.  The meal consisted of a pita sandwich with eggs and cheese, cup of fruit, and a muffin.  The cup of fruit wasn't too bad, but the sandwich was horrible.  It was pre-packaged, and it lacked any sort of flavor even when I put the hot sauce on it.  With pita bread, eggs, and cheese, it should be fool proof even it wasn't fresh.  It was just bland overall and I didn't even bother eating the muffin.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Little Bangkok at the Strip District and a small story about Paula Deen

Yesterday I went to the Strip District to pick up some ingredients for a Korean dish I want to make this week. Before I went to Lotus grocery store, I decided to head down to Little Bangkok for some lunch. I had been there before earlier this year, and I thought it was pretty good. When I walked in around 1:30 PM, S, the waiter, seated me and I noticed that restaurant was entirely empty.  This doesn't bode well, and there were many people at the Strip yesterday.  S told me that this happens occasionally, but nothing to be alarmed about.  Eventually my fears were alleviated because a whole bunch of people came in at the same time fifteen minutes later after I arrived.   I was thinking that I was a trendsetter but probably not.  I'm just a dude that reviews restaurants.  Before the throngs of people came in, S and I had a pretty good conversation.  He did tell me a story about his experiences as a waiter in a Thai restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.  When he mentioned Savannah, I had to ask this million dollar question;  Has the Deen family ever been at that restaurant?  S said that he actually was their waiter a few times.  He mentioned that Jamie Deen's family were pretty nice.  He also mentioned that Paula Deen had trouble deciding what to get at the restaurant.  S said that she did not know a whole lot about Thai food which is okay because Southern cuisine  is her specialty.  If Paula Deen says she knows a lot about Thai food on TV, she's lying.  Anyways let's talk about the Thai food at Little Bangkok.

For the first starter, I got the vegetable soup that is included with the lunch special.  It had vegetable broth with small cuts of tofu, scallions, and two big pieces carrots.  It didn't have a lot of heat to it but it didn't need to because the soup was good overall.  The soup hit the spot and was to the point.

For the appetizer I got 3 crab wontons and 3 fishcakes with pineapple chili sauce.  The wontons contain crab meat, cilantro, cream cheese, green onion and cilantro.  It was one of the better crab wontons I've had. It actually contained real crab meat, which is key.  The wontons were creamy without being too rich.  From looking at the fishcakes, they were fried but not too friend.  I enjoyed the taste and texture of the cakes. They mash the fish and combine it with Thai herbs, string beans, and shredded lime leaf.  When you dip the wontons and fishcakes to the chili sauce, you can definitely taste the sweetness of pineapple but also get that spicy kick at end after each bite.

For the main event I got the Drunken Noodles with basil sauce, vegetables, eggs, and tofu.  I enjoyed this immensely because of the wide noodles and especially the fried tofu.  I was worried that the tofu wasn't going to be fried but I'm glad they fried them.  The skin was fairly crunchy with lots of flavor from the basil sauce.  The vegetables aren't anything too special but they helped give the dish color and were cooked pretty well.  For the spicy scale, I chose an eight which was appropriate for me.  The last time I was here, I ordered a ten.  When they say a ten, they really mean a ten.

All in all I enjoyed my experience at Little Bangkok.  You can't go wrong with authentic Thai food and a Paula Deen story.

Little Bangkok in the Strip on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Warrior Dash and Turkey Legs

This past Sunday I participated in the Warrior Dash in Ohio near the town of Canton.  In case you don't know what the Warrior Dash, it's a 5K obstacle course race where you have to go through several obstacles such as for example crawling through mud, climbing walls, and trudging through water waste deep.  I initially had some concerns about it because some people said it wasn't too bad, and others said it was really rough for them.  Once our heat started, adrenaline started to take over and just went with it.  I almost did all the obstacles successfully except the swimming obstacles because I'm not a good swimmer.  I finished the race with the time of 48:24:55.  It wasn't too bad considering I didn't train too much for it.  The whole point of the race is really to have fun and enjoy it with your friends.  Below are pictures and videos.

Awesome medal I got just for finishing the race

My two friends and I muddy.

Runners awaiting the results.

Runners just hanging out

My results.  I actually finished below 50 minutes, which was more  than
I could ask for.

Awaiting for the dreaded shower

Almost to the shower.  It was mighty cold

Caterers with the turkey legs

The turkey legs were massive.  They were 1.5 pounds.  It was good,
but could not finish eating it.  I really don't think they are supposed to be
this big to be honest.  I am pretty sure this isn't natural or organic.

A dude crawling through mud

I donated my muddy sneakers.  I'm such a nice guy, well most of the time.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How a dating site helped me find the International Village Festival

A few weeks back I was on a dating site, which will not be named, to check out some potential prospects.  Normally I don't disclose to anyone that I'm on a dating website, but I am because it relates to food.  Also, maybe I might get a date with one my readers.  One could hope.  Anyways, one of the profiles I was looking at, one her hobbies was finding all the Greek food festivals in the Pittsburgh area.  I told her that hobby was rather strange, and she replied by mentioning that she enjoys going to the International Village festival in Mckeesport every year.  I researched the festival on the Internet, and I was definitely down to going.  From German to Croatian to Irish food, you can't go wrong.

My buddy D and I went to the festival this past Wednesday, and not surprisingly it was a great turnout.  It was good mix of people from old to young just having good times  What I also like the about these kind of festivals is that each ethnic booth serves simple comfort food from their homelands.  I like foods that are complex, but deep down I enjoy comfort food the most.

D and I separated for awhile since each of us wanted something different.  He wanted Hungarian, and I wanted German.  I went to the German booth and got spatzle and a potato pancake.  Spatzle is an egg noodle dish which primarily contains eggs, flour, and salt.  From the looks and taste of it, they definitely added some cheese to add more creaminess to the dish.  I was worried it was going to by dry but glad it wasn't.  Overall, it was a pretty good egg noodle dish because the noodles were soft and creamy.  The potato pancake was crunchy on the outside, and soft and flavorful on the inside.  The sour cream adds a cool component to the pancake.  I decided not to also get applesauce because I don't like applesauce at all. I just don't like the texture of it.

The highlight of the night was when I went to the Hawaiian booth and ordered pig wings.  They are not really wings per say.  They are pork shank that is cut from the fibula of the pig.  From the looks and taste of the pig wings, they are similar to turkey legs.  The pig wings were lean, flavorful, and juicy.  I added the bacon bits on top to add some crunchiness and bacon flavor to the wings.  Now my next goal is to buy pig wings and make them myself.  It looks pretty versatile, and you can do a lot with them..

I had a very good experience at the festival, and I wish I would I could try more of the food but was too full. I'm looking forward to going back next year.  I'm going to leave you guys a slideshow of the other pictures I took at the festivities including the ones above.  The last picture will make you laugh for anyone who remembers late 90's politics.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sushi Tomo at Mcknight Road

Before I started working at the Strip District, I used to work right by Mcknight Road near TGI Friday's for a year and a half.  One of the problems about working in that area is that you have to drive everywhere if you want to get lunch.  So for the most part, I would either bring lunch from home or go to the nearby Subway shop(I can sense some people shuddering......).  On my way home after work, I would always notice Sushi Tomo on the left side.  The building and the sign does not really stand out, and the place doesn't seem very jam-packed.  It also does not help that no one I know ever talks about that place, at the same though at least  no one talks bad about it.  So on my way to see some friends at Wexford, I buckled and decided to stop in at Sushi Tomo to see what it's all about.

I got to the restaurant at 6:00 PM, and as you can tell above there weren't very many people.  By the time I left though, the place was filling up pretty good.  As far as atmosphere goes, it's pretty much the opposite of Nakama and that's a good thing.  Throughout the whole dinner, I felt very relaxed and the lack of noise was a bonus.  Usually a no-frills atmosphere equates to pretty good food.

Speaking of food, I ended up getting the wasabi shumai which has pork and shrimp as an appetizer.  From the looks of it, I have a feeling that it might frozen just because it looks a little too perfect.  Frozen or not, I did enjoy it.  The skin didn't really provide any heat, and I really think the wasabi skin is just for show.  They brought the mustard in for heat since the skin doesn't provide that.  However, the pork and shrimp mixture was tasty, juicy, and just the right amount for the shumai.

For my main entree, I got the Hammer Roll.  I really wanted to dance like M.C. Hammer when I got the dish, but there were way too people at the restaurant by that time and I really don't want to be a YouTube star if someone happened to record it.  Maybe if I come in at 2:30 PM, then it could work.  Anyways, it's a spicy tuna roll that is topped with sliced avocado, tempura flakes, and wasabi mayonnaise.  The mayonnaise didn't provide a whole lot of heat, but just enough that you notice and you can still enjoy the flavor.  The flakes add a crunchy element to the roll and the sliced avocado adds additional creaminess to the roll.  The tuna itself didn't wow me, but it was certainly enjoyable.  The star of this roll is truly the other parts that go to this roll.

All in all I had a good experience at Sushi Tomo because the food was great, and I was able to enjoy it in a peaceful, quiet setting.  For all you Nakama lovers out there, give this place a shot.  Your bank account will thank you for it.

Sushi Tomo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tried half the sandwiches at Marty's Market

Marty's Market grand opening was last month at the spot where Right by Nature used to be.  Since I work literally a block from the Market, I have gone their 3 times since the grand opening.  They are a grocery store that sells organic and natural food.  They sell everything from vegetables to meats to potato chips.  They also have a coffee bar and a restaurant section, which I will be talking about.  Looking at their menu, they seem to focus on natural and organic ingredients which is a good thing.  For right now, I've only had their sandwiches thus far and will tell you about each one that I've ate.

Roast Beef, arugula pesto, and roasted peppers
on Italian Sourdough.  They don't skimp on the
Roast Beef.

Turkey, spinach, cheddar, and dijon mustard on a ciabatta roll.
Fairly basic sandwich, but fresh and tasted good.  Bread was the
best part.

B.L.T with Niman Ranch bacon, heirloom tomatoes, red crisp lettuce,
roasted garlic aioli on whole wheat.  It was okay, but I've had better B.L.T's.
The bread should have been white as opposed to wheat for this occasion.

Marty's Market, LLC on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Growing up, my mom would sometimes get me frozen white castle burgers from the grocery store.  I would microwave them for 60 seconds and just go town on them.  You could not go wrong with a greasy slider with just diced onions, beef, and a slice of American cheese.  Six years ago, I finally went to my first White Castle restaurant which was in St. Louis, MO.  I was there for business, and when I found that there was a White Castle by the place I was staying at, first chance I had I would go check the place out.  The sliders were similar to their frozen counterparts, but were much fresher and tastier.  Even their crinkled fries wasn't even too bad.   Then a few years later, the sliders craze really started to shape up at different restaurants in Pittsburgh.  From the simple to the complex, you could not really go wrong from the basic slider to the pulled pork slider to the lobster slider(they really exist The Industry House Starters).  These places I've mentioned have inspired to make my own sliders.  I decided to make two types of basic sliders with a few twists.

If I'm going to make a slider, it needs to at least have one ingredient in season and local.  So with that said, I got some zucchini that were grown at Brenckles farm.  The yellow zucchini gives the slider a bright color to the it.  You'll want to cook until it's soft and has char on both sides.  I also sprinkled in some salt as well

I bought two types of cheeses; Vermont cheddar and NY sharp cheddar.  Slicing them to thin slices proved to be a challenge since they are hard cheeses.  It would have been better if shredded them instead.  They didn't quite melt the way I wanted, but they still went well with the burger.

I diced up one white onion, and covered it with water.  I put a spoonful of the onions and the onion water on top of the burger when it's in the skillet being cooked.  Doing this gives the burger an awesome onion flavor and steams the burger as well.

I whipped up some chili mayo sauce using mayonnaise and sriracha put together.  I also bought a can of hummus spread.  It turned out that for 3.5 ounces it was only 99 cents.  It was originally $3.99, but it was being discontinued and sold for $1.99.  Then you automatically get a dollar off of that hence 99 cents.  It would have been better to make homemade hummus, but for time purposes I took it easy.

Now here's the meat(pun intended) of the blog.  I decided to get a pound of ground chuck and rolled them to 20 small meatballs and sprinkled sea salt on them.  The ground chuck has 80/20 fat ratio, and it's perfect because the amount of fat will give the burger so much flavor.  Plus when the meat cooks, it doesn't lose too much of its size.

On the left is the Slider with NY sharp cheddar, diced onions, and the chili-mayo sauce.  On the right is Vermont Cheddar, diced onions, zucchini slice, and hummus spread.  Both burgers were pretty good, fun to eat, and hit the spot.  I ended up eating 6 of them, and almost went into a meat coma.  My buddy D had 10 of them and I watched him slowly go into a meat coma.  Not even watching a George Carlin stand up act on Netflix saved him.  It just goes to show that my burgers were pretty powerful.  Here are the instructions below.  You can adjust it any way you want it.  This is for the Hummus burger

10 Potato Rolls
1/2 lb of ground chuck made into 10 small meatballs
10 small rectangular slices of Vermont Cheddar Cheese
10 yellow zucchini slices cooked till soft and translucent
10 teaspoons of hummus spread
1/2 white onion diced
sea salt to taste
Butter(1/2 tablespoon for each cooking session) for pan

1.  Split four potato rolls.  Spread 1 teaspoon of the hummus spread on the top portion(on the insides) of the potato roll.  Repeat for the other 3 top portion of the potato rolls.
2.  Put diced onion in a medium bowl, and cover with water
3.  Heat large skillet on medium heat.  Put the butter in
4.  As you are waiting for the skillet to be fully heated, sprinkle sea salt on all the meatballs
5.  Once butter is melted and skillet fully hot, put 4 meatballs on the pan and flatten them with a spatula.  Cook for two minutes.
6.  For each burger, pour a spoonful of the onions with the water on top of the burgers and flatten the burgers again so the onion meshes with the meat.
7.  Flip the burgers, and for each burger put a slice of the vermont cheddar cheese, a slice of the zucchini and the bottom portion of the potato roll.  Cook for 1 to 2 minutes depending on your desired doneness.
8.  Slide the spatula under the burger and lay it on the inside portion of the top potato roll.  Flip the burger and Wala....a slider.  Repeat 3 more times.

Repeat directions 4 more times except steps 2 and 4.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kelly O's at the Strip District and Bonus "Entertainment"

One of the many advantages of working at the Strip District is access to many of its restaurants and grocery stores.  From Wholey's to Chicken Latino to Penn Avenue Fish Company, the Strip District offers something for everyone that works or lives there.  Kelly O'Connor just opened her second Kelly O's office in the Strip District.  I've been to her diner at the North Hills location, and I thought the food was pretty good but didn't get a chance to review it.  Opening a second diner is a pretty good indication that her business has been doing very well.  I believe that her restaurant's appearance in Diners Drive Ins and Dives has really helped Kelly O's get exposure and of course more customers.  This past Sunday I went to Kelly O's with my friend E to check out their new digs and see if their food is just as good as the one in the North Hills.

Upon walking in, we were immediately met with a line of people, and of course pictures of celebrities who were in the Kelly O's restaurant at North Hills.  I was not surprised some of the pictures were of course Guy Fieri.  I also noticed that all the waitresses' t-shirts had a saying in the back "As Seen On Diners Drive Ins and Dives".  So that definitely tells you that show has made such a positive impact on the restaurant.  Personally, I think the t-shirts were a little bit overkill.  I don't need to be always reminded that they were on that tv show.  Being as successful as they are, they don't need to reference that show so much anymore since it aired more than three years ago.  That's pretty much my only nitpick of the restaurant.

They have an Orange Juice Machine.  How bad ass is that?

The kitchen.  Would have been better without the accidental
elbow shot.

Looking at the breakfast menu, we decided to get the Crab Benedict special.  We both wanted something that we would normally not eat for breakfast.  Plus we are both crab fanatics as well since we both lived in Baltimore at different points of our lives.  The waitress told us that it would probably be a 45 minute wait, which is understandable because everything is made-to-order, and there were many customers that morning. I normally don't like to wait too long, but at least the waitress was honest about her assessment.  The food came and it looked and huge.  The shredded potatoes were one of the best breakfast sides I ever had in my life.  It was crispy on the outside while maintaining its softness on the inside.  I ended up putting blue cheese on top of the potatoes.  I know it's a fairly odd combination, but it works.  The Crab Benedict was fantastic. The crab was fresh, meaty, and even more flavorful when the egg yolks go all over them.  The hollandaise sauce was also fantastic because it was rich, smooth, and creamy and there was plenty of it.  Even though there was lot of the sauce, it didn't drench the rest of the ingredients thus achieving balance all over.  

Now here is where I talk about the bonus "entertainment" at our restaurant.  While E and I were eating, a take out lady that sat next to us looked to be upset because it appears that her food was taking too long.  She started complaining to one of the waitresses, and the waitress told her that they are doing their best to bring her food out.  The lady then complained more, and it was back and forth between her and the waitress being as calm as possible.  I can feel the tension just two feet away.  I can understand the lady getting upset, but she has to realize there were a lot of people that morning and the food was made-to-order.  Her expectations should have been that the food would take a while to cook.  You can't make everyone happy I guess.  By the time the lady got her food, she was still not satisfied.  She asked if there was cheese on the scrambled eggs and if there was syrup.  The way she asked about it was really mean and condescending.  I am so glad I left the food industry over 10 years ago.

Overall, I had a very awesome experience at Kelly O's.  Since I work near the place, I'll have to come back at least a couple times a month to try their other dishes.  Plus I really commend them for handling difficult customers.  It's not easy to deal with those kind of customers, but they handled it as well as they could have and without going to the same level as that horrible customer.

Kelly O's Diner on Urbanspoon
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