Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Truckload of Meat

A while ago we got some beef courtesy of our "local" wateringhole/restaurant to grill for dinner for four. You think this was enough meat?

Eating In The Beauty

We went to Carmel over Labor Day weekend. Carmel is, as always, beautiful and quaint. Our agenda, as always, was based around our next meal. We pored over the restaurant lists and decided on go with what San Francisco Magazine recommended - Little Napoli - for our first dinner in Carmel.

The place was as warm and boisterous as described. The owners are from Jersey so that added the additional sense of familiarity for me. The food is definitely old school, red-sauce type but slightly dressed up in California style. We had a heirloom tomato caprese salad to start that we didn't photograph due to the dim lighting in the restaurant and me forgetting my real camera. Then we used the light from a video cam and I took pictures of the rest of the dishes with my iPhone. This photographic set-up produced the "alien aircraft landing" look in the pictures below that I find humorous .

Veal Marsala
Pasta JFK
Profiteroles for dessert
The next evening we had a late dinner at a tiny and charming little restaurant called, Basil. This was definitely California cuisine. Seasonal ingredients and letting the ingredients shine. Basil also opens to fairly late which is nice in a town that seems to roll up the sidewalks around 9pm.

Pan Roasted Halibut over butternut squash risotto, wild mushroom, brown butter vinaigretteDuck Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken stuffed with Monterey jack cheese and oven roasted tomato in a white wine and sage sauce
The chicken dish, we both agreed, was outstanding and one of the better chicken dishes we've had in recent memory.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What Would Chairman Mao Say?

I've been going to Noodle Shop/Mao Family Cooking for lunch every now and then. But I could never order the specialties because it's too much for myself. So I organized a Chowdown there and boy, the restaurant did not disappoint! One of the better Chinese meals I've had as of late. And they serve really "different" things than the usual playlist seen in Bay Area Chinese joints.
Every dish except for two of the cold apps were on the big English/Chinese menu. It's really not one of those places where all the "good" stuff is written in Chinese on the walls. As for English speaking proficiency, when I've been here by myself, they presumed I didn't speak Chinese and the English interchange here was fine. They also do give a lot of guidance on what their specialties are. You just have to let them know if you're okay with spicy and a bit adventurous. Plus, they have a screen with pics of their best dishes. Just point and say you want "that!"
My favourite dishes were the Mao's pork belly, the fish head, and the duck soup. The pork belly is head and shoulders above the sickly sweet brown sauce versions we've been having at Chowdowns at Shanghainese restaurants around the Bay Area the last several years. I know, there is an inherent stylistic/flavour profile difference, but this version just feels more nuanced and complex even though it's supposed to be pure peasant (albeit peasant on a holiday) fare. Stuffing a hunk of this meat into a steaming mini-mantou and each bite was pure bliss. The richness of the fat against the light, Q-ness of the bun. The fish head was very delicate fare... the silken cheek meat contrasted with some collagen. I also liked the duck broth in contrast to the other dishes as it was mellow with entirely different kind of spice (white pepper) that kicked in a couple of seconds after you take a sip. But really, there were no real misses in this meal. Every dish could have easily been the star dish at a restaurant with lesser technical skill. Lots of the dishes we ordered were pretty spicy, but none were in the "spice for spice sake" vein. Meaning, there was complexity and layering of taste - not just dump a bunch of chilies in to burn out your taste receptors type cooking.
Wonder if the Chairman would have approved?

Marinated seaweed
Szchewan style cold jelly
Husband Wife slices
Five Spice Beef Tendon
Cucumber with garlic
Fish and chive dumpling
Mao's Red Cooked Pork Belly
Sauteed kong hsing tsai
Chili dry fried chicken wings
Duck casserole soup
Chili fish head
Numbing pork kidney

Monday, October 5, 2009

I Don't Mess With Texas

I think it's apparent to me by now that every time I have American BBQ, my stomach hates me afterwards. But going to Texas and not having BBQ seems sacrilegious to me. Lambert's was highly recommended in Food & Wine so we decided to check it out during a recent work trip. Lambert's is in a very nice stylized Western lodge looking spaces. We had a table that was front row and center to the kitchen action.
We started off with a vodka cocktail with olives, pepper, and other pickled stuff. Tasted like a VERY dirty martini.
The cornbread that came with the meal was nice.
We ordered a chickpea with goat cheese appetizer. Interesting combo but not very Texan.
Our server recommended the baby back ribs. It came in a huge slab smothered with honey and malt vinegar sauce. Now, I know Texans grill rather than slow smoke and it's a style preference. But the meat was not soft, falling off the bone. You definitely needed your teeth for this one. Even though the menu billed the ribs as smoked, nary a smoke ring was found.
Our 20 oz brown sugar and mustard crusted ribeye was much better. The beef was perfect but kind of disappointed it was Niman Ranch meat and not some Texas ranch.
Fried okra.
Potato gratin.
Fried ginger and peach pie.
The meal was somehow disappointing to me even though everything was well prepared. I think I'm spoiled by SF and NY. That and my stomach hates BBQ.

Hot Peruvian Love

Oh La Mar, how do I love thee... Let me count the ways...
1) Your delectable cocktails - hierba buena and pisco sour pictured below
2) Your complex sauces that come with fried sweet potato chips
3) Cebiche chipotle. Full of spicy, smokey flavour.
4) Causa limena. Dungeness Crab, avocado purée, quail egg, cherry tomatoes,ají amarillo Huancaína sauce with basil cilantro oil. And oh so cute!
Close-up of its cuteness.
5) Jalea. Peruvian fish'n'chips. Fried to perfection. Never met a good deep fried tidbit that I didn't like.
6) Tequeños de seco. Braised lamb shank spring rolls with three dipping sauces:rocoto, guacamole, and creamed beans. Again, deep fried love.

Mastering Taiwanese with Chef A-Chi

Those of you following my blog know that I have been watching Chef A-Chi (the head Chinese chef at my aunt's hotel) on his cooking shows on Youtube. I made it over to Chinese bookstore last month and bought his new cookbook from the TV show. This is the book David and I looked through the book and picked out a few dishes to experiment with.
The first dish is bitter melon with pork in black bean sauce. This was David's first time working with bitter melon. It came out very nice though a tad bit salty without steamed rice. It is less saucy than I usually do on my own but I like it better.
I've wanting to make oyster mee sua for a while. I made my own attempt which wasn't very good at all. Last time I used fresh oysters that come in the jars at the seafood counter. But they are so big and mealy that it ruins the effect of the dish. This time I used frozen small ones. Even though frozen is usually not as good as fresh, the trade-off of having a brinier and better mouth feel was well worth it.
So the basic instructions goes like this:
You boil the mee sua and rinse out the noodles to get rid of residuals. In another pot, add a handful of bonito flakes or shavings, fried shallots, chopped garlic, a bit of soy, a bit of rice wine and bring to boil. Add in the noodles. Then, slowly add in yam flour slurry. Make sure to use chopsticks to blend as you add for evenness. Coat the oysters in dry yam flour. Add in the coated oysters to the soup. Cook briefly til the oysters are done. Make a condiment of black vinegar, crushed garlic, and chili oil and add to soup as desired. Garnish with cilantro.
When I had this oyster mee sua, I was elated! Finally, a authentic tasting version that can quell my cravings.
The last dish, unfortunately we don't have a separate photo of it nor of its cooking process. It's the egg with garlic sauce on the right below. The cooking of the egg process is awesome. You add a tiny bit of tapioca starch slurry to the egg mixture and it puffs up during frying like a souffle. The result is a golden puffy cloud. The outside a a tiny bit crisp and the inside is meltingly smooth and soft. Truly amazing.

The meal wasn't necessarily a good combo of dishes with each other - the bitter melon and the egg dish really needed to go with rice instead and the oyster mee sua stands on its own. But man, what a lovely experiment. We are getting close to never stepping foot in a Bay Area Taiwanese restaurant again.