Monthly Archives: August 2017

Llama Inn – The Odd Couple

Llama Inn TiraditoThe first thing I have to tell you about Llama Inn in Williamsbutg is how gorgeous it is.  Out of all the Peruvian I’ve been to in NYC, this is possibly the best looking.  Albeit oddly situated in a not so attractive location by the highway.  In fact I’m pretty sure the last time I came here this building was a gas station surrounded by other gas stations.  The space is stylish even for the hotel filled chic Williamsburg standards.  Designed by Joseph Foglia Designs, one can see how much time and effort went into this project.

The second thing I have to tell you is that we hardly saw any of this.  As soon as I saw the space I regretted not bringing my big boy camera as there was plenty of light outside.  But by the time the food start arriving I was content with my little boy phone.  It was dark!  It may sound cliche but we do like to use all of our senses while eating.  A well crafted dish doesnt need to be pretty but it needs to be seen.  Its like you get a prize for best tattooed arm in the country fair, and you decide to cover it up in the evenings.   We essentially turned into my father in law.

The third thing I have to tell you is that midway through the meal we realized something we rarely experience in NYC.  At mid 40’s we were the oldest couple in the room.  This is a place that got significant buzz and praise when it first opened, and this was totally unexpected.  We were that odd couple in need of hearing aid and glasses.  Both kinds of glasses I should add.  The staff was professional alright, even when we politely asked for ‘regular’ wine glasses to replace the stemless.

And what is it with the stemless glasses lately.  Are they trying to be cool and trendy forgetting that we are creatures of habit.  I’m all for moving forward and design that make things simpler.  But getting white wine in what looks like a regular water glass feels like a regression in dining elegance.  What will the restaurants do once wine scientists discover that plastic cups is the best way to serve your Gewurztraminer.

The food was a mixed bag.  The best sounding items on the menu were large dishes that seemed a lot more expensive ($60’s) than they should be.  A whole Branzino at $60 better be the baddest Branzino in town.  Same for the Tenderloin sit fry ($68)

Anticucho – These little skewers feel like street food one can find off the streets of Lima for 25 cents.  In Williamsburg they go for $5-8 a pop.  For about $2 per bite you do get pleasant complex flavors out of the chicken and pork belly.  But I would skip the Shrimp

Quinoa – One of the more popular dishes here for some reason.  With the occasional presence of bananas and bacon not every spoonful is the same which normally is a good thing but not here.  With her getting all the bacon and me getting all the bananas, something has to give.  Its like the Russian roulete of Quinoa

Sea Bream Tiradito –  Best dish by far.  Although the Sashimi is swimming in sauce the acidity is restrained.  And the occasional Cancha (toasted corn kernels) added a nice crunch.  The one dish that reminded me that I’m eating Peruvian

Rock Shrimp – This should not be a surprise if you do your homework.  But while the rest of the menu lists the main ingredient first, this is more of a well crafted seafood paella.  It includes rock shrimp but also mussels, squid and clams.  Some of the seafood is breaded which just didnt work for us

Short Rib.  Another meh!  Slightly overcooked meat with grilled summer beans that stole the show.

Llama Inn
50 Withers St, Williamsburg
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Tiradito

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Madame Vo – Real Vietnamese Housewives of East Village

Madame VoThis post was supposed to be about the other housewife, from Hanoi.  Both Madame and Hanoi House opened in East Village around the same time earlier this year, pretty much turning the Vietnamese scene in East Village upside down.  Both heavily reviewed by local media, sometimes even together.  Early consensus indicated Hanoi to be the slightly more serious contender of the two, so I set my sight on the hot looking Madame on St Marks.  We had a little fling.  A little fun with the Bun Cha if you will, and the always dependable Beerlao (which both have).  But it felt like I wanted more… Trout!  There’s this great looking whole trout on the Hanoi menu, setting the anticipation for round #2.

But it never arrived.  Well, not yet at least.  The culprit?  A Jewish theater!  You see I always wanted to see a movie in Village East Cinema, a converted movie theater that was once a Jewish theater.  One of the remains from the old Yiddish Rialto days when some two dozen Yiddish theaters spread along 2nd ave.  I visited the theater over 100 times during my East Village tours but havent actually watched a movie there.  And while the two Vietnamese hotties are not exactly miles apart, Madame Vo’s location made more sense this time.  Besides, I was intrigued.

Madame Vo feels a bit more Madamish and less East Villagy than Hanoi House.  In fact next to Vo, Hanoi feels like Trashy Debby.  I am however attracted to both kinds.  But especially to the one with the chutzpah to put a beautiful mural of herself (presumably, but looks very similar) in the front.  Who does that?  Imagine Ivan Orkin mural in front of Ivan Ramen.

Madame Vo Ginger Chicken

And as for the menu, just like with any Nevada bunny ranch this is the kind of lineup that makes you want to order more than you can handle.  After three visits so far, I feel the emphasis should be on the mains.  Its a spring roll heavy lineup early on that is uninspiring when compared to the rest of the menu.  And that is broken into noodles and rice, where the latter may just mean that it comes with it.

Chao Gio – Spring rolls as satisfactory as spring rolls can get.  These were stuffed with shrimp, crab and pork, with the shrimp taking the lead role

Banh Xeo – This is the one dish I didnt quite get.  Crepes filled with bean sprouts, shrimp, pork belly and more bean sprouts.  Some of the pork was more edible than others, and the dish overall required a heavy dose of the table condiments (Hoisin, Sriracha).  I was instructed to make lettuce tacos with these as I often do in Vietnamese places but the flavors were just not there

Garlic Noodles.  This dish has a few things going for it including the robust garlicky flavors, and the easy to remember English name.

Bo Lu Lac –  No english here, but this dish does speak the universal language of delicious. Rib eye cubes with fried egg come sizzling and oh so perfectly spiced and juiced.  This one is a must.Madma Vo steak

Ga Kho Gung – This is another big winner here.  Delicious white chicken meat cubes infused with Ginger arriving in a clay pot that keeps the heat and juices intact.  Loved picking those scallions off that thing

Goi Cuon – “Summer rolls with shrimp, vermicelli, lettuce and mint” according to the menu.  “Lettuce rolls” according to Ziggy.  Thats all I tasted

Mama Ly’s Fried Rice – A good if not standard fried rice.  A bit on the sweet side for my taste.  Table Sriracha to the rescue again.

Its odd that this reviewer did not try the signature Pho during his three visits, but during the summer heat he starts sweating just by being in the same room as one.  But all accounts indicate that this is a very proper rendition.  Another big plus, worthy of rounding up to two stars (from 1.75) is the fact that Vo’s dinner items are available for lunch as well, in addition to the lunch specials.

Madame Vo
212 E 10th St, East Village
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Garlic Noodles, Bo lu Lac, Ga Kho Gung

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Brooklyn Tour FAQ

Updated: Jan 25th, 2020

What is the Brooklyn Tour?

Its a full day driving/walking tour of Brooklyn where we explore about 6 distinct neighborhoods not very easily reached otherwise.  While there will be plenty of interesting food involved, the tour is more of a cultural immersion experience with the goal to show visitors the “real” New York

What time does it start and finish?

9 am to around 4-5 pm although an earlier finish time can be requested.  I’m usually around the pickup location 15 minutes prior.

How much does it cost?

At the time of this writing its $100 per person for 3 or more people in the tour (regardless if its the same group or not), and $125 per person for just 2 people.  Private tours can be arranged as well.

Is Food included?

Yes.  In all three tours (East Village, Hell’s Kitchen, Brooklyn) food is always included

Can I come solo?

Yes!  But as long as I can combine you with another group.  Many solo travelers have joined this tour, and its a great way to meet other people.  But I need at least two people for the tour.  If I dont have any tours scheduled on your dates, I would dot your name/email and contact you as soon as I schedule a tour

When should I book?

As early as possible, and as soon as you know your dates.  Considering the size of the tours, these book fast

How do I book?

Just send me an email with your dates, and the number of people.

How many people can the tour include?

4 to 5, or as many as I can fit into an SUV with a folding third raw.  4 comfortably plus 1 smaller person in the back.

Where is the pickup location?

Mattress Firm Tribecca – 140 Church St.  Thats in downtown Manhattan, not Brooklyn.  Its very convenient to most subway lines and our purpose.  The goal is to leave Manhattan asap and have as much time as possible in Brooklyn.  I may on occasion, depending on the situation pick from convenient locations in Brooklyn (most Brooklyn locations like Williamsburg are not very convenient for this tour)

Where is the drop off location?

Just across the river in or near Brooklyn Heights.  Traffic patterns in the afternoon often make it very difficult to drive to/from Manhattan, but I will make it as convenient as I possibly can for you.  Many prefer to be dropped in Dumbo and walk Brooklyn Bridge back, concluding a wonderful day in Brooklyn.  Some prefer to be dropped at the most convenient subway station.  Its just one quick subway stop from the pickup location.

What neighborhoods are we going to see in Brooklyn?

Dumbo – Brooklyn’s most scenic, Instagrammable hood
Red Hook – One of NY’s most trendiest, up and coming neighborhoods.
Green-Wood Cemetery – Possibly the most beautiful and important cemetery in the US.  Once the number one attraction in the city.
Brighton Beach –  The nations biggest Russian speaking neighborhood.
Coney Island – Perhaps the most iconic Brooklyn neighborhood.
Sunset Park – Home to the most genuine Chinatown in the US, and largest in NYC.
Brooklyn Heights – Brooklyn’s oldest and most affluent neighborhood.

If we have time:  Prospect Park South – An historic district consisting of large homes in a park-like environment

What are we going to eat?

All sorts of good stuff.  Nothing is set in stone as some places close sometimes and the tour does change on occasion (it gets better).  But it may include a visit to a chocolate factory, experience the best key lime pie in NYC, Portuguese egg tarts, Chinese, Uzbek, Uyghur, Georgian.  We will also visit some International stores and supermarkets.

Should I make dinner plans?

No!  Unless its late, after 8:30 or so.  You will probably not be hungry for a while.  This may be a good day to have some late pizza and I can certainly help with that.

What about gluten-free, vegetarian, allergies?

Yes, all can be accommodated.  The only thing I cant promise is avoiding the possibility of cross contamination.  Also, many of the people working in some of these places have extremely limited English but I will do my best.

My husband is a very picky.  Will he starve?

I had plenty of picky eaters so far that came back very satisfied.  If anything, some of this may change your views on food.  And there’s always Nathan’s!

You are not available for my dates.  Can you recommend a similar tour?

I get this asked often.  I’m not aware of anything remotely close to this tour unfortunately.  The closest I know are the various pizza tours like A slice of Brooklyn and Scott’s Pizza Tour.  These are bigger, more organized bus tours that are fun no doubt, but you can get amazing pizza in Manhattan as well.  I concentrate on the things you cant.

Can I customize the tour with you?

Only if you are the only people in the tour.  If you want to see other parts or eat other foods like pizza, we can.

How much walking is involved?

Not much.  Between 15 to 30 minutes in each neighborhood with plenty of stops to rest

What about rain, hurricanes, sharknedo?

I normally dont cancel unless its severe weather… snow storm or 100% heavy rain throughout the day.  Most of the time this can only be predicted the morning of, or the night before.

What movies can I watch in preparation for the tour?

Saturday Night Fever
Mister Robot (TV show)
The Warriors
Lord of War
Sophie’s Choice (Let me know if you watched it as I may need to take a detour)

What if I fall asleep in the car.  Will you drive around the drop off location for a while until I wake up, and put some easy listening in the process?

Yes, I’ve done that too.

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Eating in Istria

IMG_3785“What, no Seafood?!?  No problem, I give you Octopus!”  No, I didnt crash a Greek wedding, nor have I actually heard this said before.  It was simply the pre-trip imagination at work, anticipating yet another seafood heavy leg.  I imagined after 10 fishfull days, we stumble onto a small family Konoba somewhere on the Istrian coast, begging an English speaking baka (a Croatian Babushka) for some meat.  But luckily for us, not only we never really got tired of those Adriatic crustaceans, we wanted more.  And just like its big sister to the north and across the pond, inland here means meat.  Wonderful glorious meat! 

Istria was the one.  The most highly anticipated leg.  But what I didnt anticipate was that we would have plenty of exceptional meals going in (In this case quite literally).  Places like Amfora in Dubrovnik, Nostromo in Split, and the brilliant Konoba Pece in Vinjerac.  The bar was raised pretty high.  But overall, we did… borrowing from Mr McConaughey … alright, alright alright.

La Vela (Rovinj) – Whats better than a slow long dinner in that part of Europe?  A slow long lunch.  And after doing one of those one day, a fast pizza may be in order.  La Vela, tucked inside a side street, feels almost like a local speakeasy.  And the pizza, while it wont win any awards in NY, is satisfying.


Barba Danilo (Rovinj)– One of the finest gems in Rovinj just so happened to be a 5 minute drive from our apartment.  On the modern, elevated side with a refreshing oddity of the owner being one of the waiters.  Food ranged from delicious crafty combinations like Polenta with shrimp and sun-dried tomato ‘toasts’, to a spicy squid and veggies concoction.  There was also a nicely seared tuna (though could have used some sauce), and a fantastic crab salad.  And of course that famous Istrian pasta with meat ragu we were enjoying on this leg



Batelina (Pula) – One of the premier seafood destinations in the country.  The menu is all… wait.. do they even have a menu?  “So, lets talk about tonight’s menu” is the menu.  This is what I like about Croatian dining scene.  Menus in many cases simply serve as eye candy, until the real eye candy comes in a form of Today’s Catch tray.  At Batelina your meal may start with an array of clever cold apps like conger eel pate with scallions (so good), sea bream carpaccio with Tapioca ‘eggs’ doing their best caviar impersonation, sardines, shark liver pate, a tuna like Bonito fish.  The anchovies here were the only thing I didnt care for.  Middle course may consist of perfectly cooked scallops, and/or pasta with bay scallops, before sharing the mammoth  seabass cooked two way, because the woman behind you just snagged the last Scorpion Fish!  Note: after she finished eating, the scorpion thief went into a long violent cough which I believe I may have caused with powers I didnt know exists.

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Konoba Stari Podrum – You go for the location, the family, the look, the food, the wine.  You just go!  when you arrive it feels like you just entered a mystical gateway into Tuscania, with unicorns, puppies and flying Bisteca Fiorentinas ready to come into the picture.  The place is right next door to the stunning Kozlović winery which is another reason to visit.  We enjoyed the app plate of mushrooms, prosciutto, salami, and truffled cheese.  Gnocchi with meat ragu featured very tender, juicy beef, but surprisingly the pasta with asparagus and cheese won me over more.  So light and delicate, yet so delicious.  And yes there was a Bistecca, while cooked slightly longer than across the border, a delicious one nonetheless.

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Viking – Sometimes its the unexpected and unanticipated that produce the fondest memories.  The only place in Croatia we visited twice.  The second time, we were greeted with hugs and kisses.  And while I dont usually recommend places for their location, this lake like setting is hard to pass on.  Though its not a exactly a lake, but a gorgeous Fjord called Limsky.  This is the kind of old school I admire.  No fuss, keeping it simple, doing things the same way generations of Vikings have done before.  Another solid prawn risotto.  Fresh seafood plate (top of page) featuring some of the sweetest scampi of the trip.  During the meal I recalled that Char-grilled oysters were first introduced in NOLA by Croatian immigrants and sure enough they have them here.  So we had to come back the next day.  Cant say they were amazing, but the raw oysters here tastes mighty fine.

Histria Aromatica – A very unique herb plant farm.  Striking views from its modern building that also serves as an education center.  You can stroll around for a small fee, or take a tour for a bigger fee.  Restaurant and pool on siteIMG_3388

Stancija Kumparička – A goat cheese farm near Pula.  We had a blast spending time with Sasa, Ales and their goats, dogs, and chickens.  A educational tour, tasting and plenty of animals to keep us entertained.  Their fresh ricotta with the homemade Dulce de Leche was insanely delicious.  By the end, sitting there in that table in the country side under a tree was like visiting new old friends.

Karlić tartufi – I already wrote about this truffle gem and their scrambled eggs here

Stancija Kovačići – Technically not in Istria, but worth mentioning.  We need to get to Istria somehow and legally we have to leave at some point.  Might as well make this your resting spot

Karlić Tartufi Eggs



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Legend of Taste – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Eating With Ziggy

legend-of-tasteAugust 10th, 2017 Update:

Note to self, when taking your family and taking the Chengdu Fish home, you will be the only one eating it the next day or 3.  That sneaky heat will be in your face, slap you mama kind of heat, the next day

Note to self 2, When ordering the Chongqing Diced Chicken (or at least I think thats what it was, from the first page of the new menu), you will be the only one eating it right off the bat.  But that’s fine, since its delicious.

February 18th, 2017 Post:

This one is for the 1%.  No, not that 1%.  But the 1% of the readers that can make it to this one.  The location is, well, let me put it this way.  When you sit around with 5 hounds (as in Chowhounds), and one of the topics of conversation is where…

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Seafoodpalooza – South Maine Style

I didnt think it would take 7 years and 348 days.  That’s 2,903 chalk marks of lower L (for lobster) in my man cave that I can finally erase.  That’s 2,886 days without a proper lobster roll, 2,872 without clawed lobster, and 2,745 without any lobster at all.  I have a Sheldon Cooper style spreadsheet that helped me cope.  The occasional Caribbean spine lobster did help, dont get me wrong.  But that’s only after choosing BYOC establishments that would allow us to bring our own claws.  My father always used to say, “a lobster without claws is just a tail”.

The game plan was not to go Meshugenah, and have lobster for only lunch and dinner.  We stayed in a little resort town called Ogunquit.  It means “A beautiful place by the sea” in the Abenaki native American dialect who settled there in the late 1600’s.  However judging by the type of crowds that visit this place, one may think it means “she whose bosoms defy gravity”.  Essentially we came, we ate, and then we came and ate somewhere else.  Pretty much sums up the trip in a nutshell.

West Boylston Seafood (MA) –  This was a worthy stop on the way over from NYC. and a nice welcome into seafood country.  A perky hostess and waitress takes your order in the front, and brings your food to your table.  By the end of the hour, perky hostess will know everything about you including your favorite color, and where you stand on stem cell research.  Simply grilled swordfish seemed fresh, and cooked without crossing to the dry side as Swordfish often do.  Haddock stuffed with bacon (who knew!) was excellent as well


Perkins Cove Lobster Shack (Ogunquit) – Those Steamers!  Plump and very flavorful.  But I never had to clean my own clams before.  They give you hot water and you need to work it.  You taste the sea and then some.  Our first Lobster of the trip did the trick  But it was the wonderfully spiced and sauteed haddock tacos that perhaps stole the show.  A classic shack in the middle of picturesque Perkins Cove.  A smaller than expected line outside to place your order, managed by one of many Eastern European students flocking Ogunquit in the summer.  So you may want to brush up on your former Yugoslavia geography

Jake’s (Ogunquit) – Another fine lobster stop though in this case not planned.  The plan was to eat at Beach Plum lobster but… Houston we have a problem.  This is the point a father realizes that one of his children is not exactly fond of the lobster.  Beach Plum turns out serves nothing but cheap lobsters (and steamers), with picnic tables outside.  It is just about as shacky as it gets.  Jake’s, recommended by Mr Plum to the rescue.  In addition to the lobsters and fish and chips, we particularly liked the crab roll.  And for this NYer $26 for a double lobster seemed like a reverse robbery.


Surf Portsmouth (NH) – The big miss of the trip.  The seafood heavy menu looked extremely promising and prompted me to come for dinner instead of lunch on the way back.  People wait for hours to eat here.  But for the most part if felt amateurish and pretentious.  Low grade, flavorless tuna as tuna crudo.  After eating that I should have cancelled the almost eatable sesame crusted tuna with wasabi mash.  Uninspiring Portuguese Seafood stew, and Shrimp Vindaloo that was missing its Vindaloo (more like regular Thai curry).  Other than that it was great!


Eventide Oyster (Portland) – Come for the lobster roll, stay for the Lobster Stew!  A revelation of sorts, and the only thing on the trip we had to order seconds.  Like the most delicious creamless lobster bisque you will ever eat.  Ample amount of Lobster and Maitake swimming in this ridiculously delicious broth.  And while I loved the famous brown butter lobster roll, I was missing that toasty crunch (see next).  Good burger too.  I deliberately chose Monday for the full day in Portland and still had to wait 40 minutes for a table (lunch)

Bite Into Maine (Portland) – A food truck dishing out killa lobster rolls in For Williams overlooking the stunning, and I mean stunning Portland Headlight area.  If there’s a better lobster roll/setting combination on this planet, I would like to know please.  Sinful, sinful stuff!

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Street and Co. (Portland) – Over those 8 incredibly difficult lobster challenged years, I had a lot of thoughts, sometimes inappropriate, about this place.  Yes, Portland has an amazing dining scene with trendier places like The Honey Paw and Duckfat.  But its the menu of Street that continues to speak the most to this Seafood challenged New Yorker.  A whole fish, Branzino in this case was simply sensational.   Lobster with Linguini and garlic/butter sauce as good as I remember.  And a tomato based Fishermans stew with Romesco was a lot more Portuguese than the Portuguese stew from the day before.  They love the nutty Romesco here judging by some of the dishes.  Great mussels as well.  The only miss was with some of the small “Tastes” like the haddock and the mushrooms plates which didnt quite work.  In the mushroom dish the pesto for example completely overpowered the Chanterelle


Roost Cafe (Ogunquit) – Enjoyed this one for breakfast overall.  A little stuffy inside.  $4 for real maple syrup sounds excessive, considering the pancakes cost $11 already.  I’ve seen them for $7 on other menus throughout Maine.  The blueberry pancakes, another Maine staple dish, were a little too thick for my liking.

And…  We also visited Maine Mead Works, one of the only Mead producers on the east coast.  Mead is an alcoholic beverage made with fermented honey.  We got a tour, got educated, and got drunk.  On the way over to Maine, we stopped by Exeter NH, and visited a fine Chocolate store called La Cascade Du Chocolat where we sampled and purchased chocolates that may last till the end of the year.  In the store I was flipping through a pastry book by Standard Baking Co whose delicious pastries we enjoyed two days later Portland.


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Hell’s Kitchen – Dining With the Family

There was a time when Hell’s Kitchen was just about the last area in North America you would take your family out to dinner.  There was a time, not too long ago, when I would drive with friends just to see the prostitute action along 10th and 11th.  We would not even roll down the windows, let alone get out of the car in this neighborhood.  Of course I’m talking about when I was a teenager, not in my mid 40’s.  Hell’s Kitchen was a rough neighborhood.

But boy is it different today.  Not only its safe to dine out with your family at all hours, the options out there are endless.  In this month’s W42st magazine you see all over the neighborhood, the theme is family.  In the insert you will find these 5 places I would take (and took) my family in Hell’s Kitchen.  Notice there’s no Trip Advisor family darling Carmines on the list.  Works for some families.  Not so much for mine.  “Family style” sharing is something you can do easily with any of these places

Pio Pio – The sprawling high ceiling basement space of this Peruvian is perfect for families of all sizes.  The usual Peruvian suspects like the Chicken and Ceviche are spot on.

The Marshal – Small space with a sound family friendly menu.  Whether its Frittata and Mac and Cheese for brunch, or Meatloaf, Chicken, and the best bread and butter in town for dinner

Mercato – Who says family style means large plates of chicken and eggplant Parm.  A pasta feast at Mercato is a lot more interesting for Hell’s Kitchen kids

Ippudo – Kids love the atmosphere, energy, and all that yelling…”Welcome in”, “thank you”, and presumably “aim well” when going to the bathroom

Blue Ribbon Sushi Columbus – This pick may raise a few eyebrows, until you see how shareable some of the hits are like the fried chicken, oxtail fried rice, and sauteed squid.


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