Thursday, December 30, 2010

Post 43.4: Bay Area - Smorgasbord

I'm all pooped out from writing lengthy posts about San Tung and Burma SuperStar, so this post is going to consolidate all the remaining smorgasbord of meals that I had during my weekend trip to the Bay Area.

Breakfast @ Country Inn Cafe (Bay Area: Santa Clara)

I had my first meal less than an hour after I landed at SJC.  Vickee whisked me away to a very filling breakfast with Ian, Aparna and Jeff.

Country fried steak and eggs over-medium
The country gravy smothered over the top was amazing-delicious.
This was the server's recommendation, and it made the perfect protein-packed breakfast.

Swedish pancakes with lingon berry butter
The crepe-like pancakes were light, but I could barely finish after inhaling the country fried steak.

Wine tasting @ Picchetti Winery (Bay Area: Cupertino)

What's the best way to digest a very filling breakfast? Mid-morning wine tasting of course! This is where my eyes were opened to the Mission Angelica, a Port wine that tasted like honey and was thick like syrup.  The sommelier dropped an ice cube and a lemon rind into each of our glasses for the tasting.  Quite interesting.

The entrance to Picchetti Winery
Wild peacocks roam the premises, so it's not a good idea to bring your pets.
Benches adorn the open grassy area, which makes for relaxing picnics.

The first tasting of many
2007 Chardonnay, Leslie's Estate
Picchetti charges $5 for five tastings.

The tasting room
Festive carolers provide holiday cheer as wine connoisseurs taste their favorites.
Barrels of wine are nestled right under the floor boards of the tasting room.

Lunch @ Santouka inside Mitsuwa (Bay Area: San Jose)

Nothin' beats the ramen from Santouka.  The chain restaurant is usually located inside a Mitsuwa Marketplace food court, but I think their ramen beats out local LA favorites Daikokuya, Orochon, and Shinsengumi.  A simple bowl of noodles in the afternoon really made me feel like I was on vacation.  And a walk around Daiso helped jump start my digestion.

The miso ramen and its spicy sister
Wood ear mushrooms, slices of bamboo and kamaboko lay atop the noodle bed.

The chasu is fatty but firm, and the broth is flavorful but not extremely salty.  The fish cake (kamaboko) is al dente, and the wood ear mushrooms have a texture similar to cartilage.

More wine @ Press Club (SF: SOMA/Union Square)

At Candice's suggestion we headed over to the Press Club near the Metreon to chill out with some wine.  The venue's basement has a spacious modern interior and had different sections of bar counters catering to specific types of wine.  The music was current but not pop, loud but not blaring... the crowd was Financial District yuppie cool.  They've got an interesting concept in terms of paying for the wine.  Patrons swap their Visas and MasterCards for the Press Club's own plastic charge card, and it's later used to cash and check out.

99 bottles of wine on the wall
Jamie, who happens to work for a wine distributor, was kind enough to show us a red wine with tastes of vanilla and leather.  Insert S&M joke here.

Late-night grub @ Golden Boy Pizza (SF: North Beach)

We shed our pre-midnight yuppie casual cool for a bit of post-midnight college kid debauchery at John Colins.  How can you pass up a night out without stopping by Zorro or Golden Boy?

Clam pizza
Minced clams are hidden under a chopped shrub of parsley.  Just a bit of intoxication augments the amazing-delicious taste.  Supposedly, Golden Boy makes the clam pizza only every so often; I'm glad I got to try it before my memory completely faded.

Breakfast @ Curly's Coffee Shop (Bay Area: North Beach)

I've passed Curly's a number a times when walking through the North Beach neighborhood, and I've asked my friend Grace, "How come we never eat here?" It always seemed like a very friendly, neighborhood coffee shop... and it is.  The coffee shop serves up traditional American breakfast with Japanese flair.  I'd stop by again for an early morning meal as a substitute for the long waits of the nearby brunch places.

Spam and eggs
The infamous canned lunch meat grilled alongside eggs with toast and hash browns
I ordered eggs over-medium... not solid but not too runny.  Perfect.
The hash browns were crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.

The ramen
Japanese ramen submerged in a pork broth with chasu and egg.
The soup was sticky and thick, almost like gravy.  The egg was cooked very well... medium-boiled with a slightly gooey and runny yolk.  The broth was a little on the salty side.

I was actually quite surprised at how much I accomplished in less than 48 hours in the Bay Area.  Half a dozen meals, wine tasting, spontaneous bar hopping, 2 near-missed flights, and 2 chance encounters with Nick Wong who ate at the same restaurants for lunch and dinner, San Tung and Burma SuperStar, as I did in the same day.  Minus the sprint through SFO to make my flight back to LA, I felt accomplished and ready to take on corporate America on Monday morning.  Until the next trip, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110113/20101212

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Post 43.3: Burma SuperStar, a Cinematic Experience (SF: Inner Richmond)

In the Richmond District is Burma SuperStar, an insanely well-known restaurant whose name has floated around in conversations amongst friends for ages.  I had only gotten into the car to leave from my afternoon meal at San Tung when Diana called and said that it was time to finally see about the hyped-up superb Burmese cuisine.  Eating at San Tung was like watching the matinee showing of an animated comedy, but eating at Burma SuperStar was like catching the midnight opening of a highly anticipated blockbuster.  To delve into my analogy further, I had just finished watching Tangled and was about to see Tron.  I felt reluctant yet excited the same time.

During the half hour wait, I squatted down Asian-style not to rest my feet but to hide from the ridiculously chilly San Francisco wind.  Dilemma.  I wanted desperately to step into the warm restaurant, but doing so would only require me to digest the food from San Tung immediately.  That was impossible.

We finally got seated in a corner, behind a pole and next to the front door that let in a draft each time someone walked in.  It was clearly the best seat in the house.  So the menu and ordering duties thrown upon me, I ordered every possible recommended item that four people could finish... an appetizer, a salad, a noodle dish, and a curry and a stew to pair with rice.  After much anticipation, we were ready for our cinematic experience with Burmese food.  Let the curtains rise...

The previews - Tea leaf salad
Fermented tea leaves (lahpet), peanut halves, slices of fried garlic, split yellow peas, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds were the hodgepodge of ingredients that comprised the tea leaf salad.  As the server tossed the salad right at the table, we gushed a few oohs and ahhs the same way the film's audience laughs, gasps, and claps during a film's previews.  There is much excitement, and this portion of the experience is highly memorable... but previews don't tell the film's story, and the tea leaf salad is not an accurate reflection of Burmese food. 

There is always at least one preview that inspires your return to the theater.  That was the fermented tea leaves for me.  I focused my attention to the tea leaves because the distinct taste playfully beckoned with exotic appeal.  It's the pretty girl with the blue eyes checking out apples in the produce section.  It was not the shrieking baby crying for her pacifier in the bakery.  The taste is pleasingly potent and not overly robust.  It was clearly the star Burmese dish, and it's the one I would return for.

Courtesy reminder - Burmese samusas
The server brought with him a scent of curried chicken and potatoes, but the fragrance was gone as quickly as it had arrived.  Hands impatiently grabbed the deep fried raviolis for a quick dip in the sweet and spicy sauce, and in one swift motion, the samusas were on their way to digestive doom.  The scene reminded me of how theatergoers scramble to turn off their cell phones when the 'please turn off your cell phone' flashes on the screen.  Everyone knows that as soon as the cell phones are turned off, and as soon as the appetizers are finished, it's time for the main attraction.

Opening scene - Bun tay kauswer (coconut curry chicken noodles)
Sometimes the opening scene of a film tells you little about the plot.  Sometimes it tells you nothing at all.  Sometimes the scene is blisteringly bright, and it hurts your eyes.  Sometimes it's so dark that you can't even tell the film has begun.  It takes a few moments to adapt to the opening scene.  With my first bite, I tasted the spicy curry flavor of the noodles, and I wondered silently... is this what Burmese food really is? I'm not quite sure.  Is it good? Oh, hell yeah. One more bite, a different nutty, creamy taste from the coconut rolled over, under and around my tongue.  I tried to figure out just exactly what was going on, but the action continued.

First conflict - Pumpkin pork stew
The sudden onslaught of various spices brought on the first conflict between characters.  The big chunks of savory pork clashed with the even bigger chunks of sweet pumpkin.  My stomach turned between the suddenly spicy, suddenly sweet, and suddenly savory tastes.  Had the pork and pumpkin been cut into a slightly smaller size, the flavors in the stew would have been blended together more smoothly.  This was the point that if the conflict didn't get resolved, then the drama would escalate, and disaster would be imminent.  Just my luck... an even spicier curry had just been served.

Intense climax - Burmese style curry with lamb
The lamb curry completely exploited the foundation of conflict that the pork stew had set up earlier.  If the pork stew lit the match of spiciness, then the lamb curry was the strong wind that ignited the wildfire.  The intensity of the spice formed beads of sweat on my forehead, and I could not continue eating.  With my stomach churning and the beads of sweat falling down my face, I resorted to gasping for air and downing water by the glass.  The Burmese curry was like the confrontation between Simba and Scar, the final sinking of the Titanic, and the toys' escape from Andy's room. 

Conflict resolution - Coconut rice and tan poi combination
The solution to my stomach's conflict with the spicy curry was just a few spoonfuls of the sticky white jasmine rice that was sweetened with coconut milk.  Even the cinnamon and raisins cooked in the tan poi's basmati rice were just sweet enough to soothe the burning.  The combination of rice slowed the sweat, and well, that made everyone happy.  The uncontrollable fire of spiciness had been put out.

Fin, credits - Coconut ice cream
The dessert, like the final credits, are simply not worthy of a diner's time.  But for others dessert, like the final credits, is a required element of a complete dinner.  The coconut ice cream was sweet and refreshing.  It helped soothe the spicy rumblings of our just-finished Burmese meal.  What was unique about the ice cream were the hidden shreds of coconut flesh submerged within the confines of the spherical scoops.  Using my childhood experience of digging marshmallows out of rocky road, I went after the coconut flesh like I was searching for buried treasure.  Simply delicious. 

An eye-opening first experience with Burmese cuisine was complete.  We had moved from Inner Sunset to Inner Richmond where the Asian cuisine is just as delicious and just as well-known.  The food from either one of these areas beats the Chinese cuisine from Chinatown without a doubt.  This is where adventurous culinary explorers should begin their search for delicious delicacies.  There are rows and rows of excellent restaurants in the Sunset and Richmond districts... perhaps there are just as many stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  It's impossible to conquer all the deliciousness in one visit to San Francisco.  That's probably why Yelp bookmarks pile up the same way the films in a Netflix queue do.

A gracious thank you to Justin for standing out in the freezing cold while Diana navigated her way through San Francisco... no thanks to her GPS.  Happy eating to all. 

Next post: Wining and dining smorgasbord

ML - 20110104/20101212

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Post 43.2: San Tung (SF: Inner Sunset)

During my visit to San Francisco over the summer, a friend introduced me to Yummy Yummy, a Chinese style Vietnamese restaurant in the Sunset District.  Right next door to Yummy Yummy is San Tung Chinese Restaurant, a restaurant that is known for its dumplings, black bean sauce noodles, and fried chicken wings.  Some of the items such as the black bean sauce noodles are prepared in a Korean style, which makes me think that the owners are ethnically Chinese but born and raised in Korea.  But I never got a chance to ask.

Naturally, my style of culinary exploration required that I order all the well-known items on the menu.  And when I asked the server what else is good at the restaurant, he replied, "Nore more! You got 'em all."  

With the help of Pei, Joanna, Larry and Jon, we ordered just a few more dishes.  Just a few.

Complementary kimchi
San Tung's kimchi is drier in that it's not submerged in a bright red pool the way that authentic Korean kimchi is.  From my numerous visits to Korean style Chinese restaurants, I've noticed that the dryness is a characteristic of kimchi made by the ethnically Chinese from Korea.  However, dry doesn't necessarily mean bland.  The kimchi has tons of kick and spice, which helps break the monotony of flavor from the black bean sauce noodles.

Pork with green onions
It's a seemingly simple dish that is actually quite complex in flavors.  It's savory from the sliced pork, sweet from the garlic and soy combination, and salty from the onions (both green and white).  Like the kimchi the wok-fired white onions provide a bite that gets addicting.  I only wish I had a bowl of rice to go with this dish.  That the rice and pork would pair well is a complete understatement.

Pork dumplings
These little fists are filled with ground pork and shredded Napa cabbage, and once dipped into some soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil, they pack a powerful punch of savory bliss.  I like that the skin is not too thick and not too thin.  I felt like I was eating a meatball wrapped with dumpling skin rather than just simply eating dumplings.  The shrimp and leek dumplings are popular here too.

Black bean sauce noodles
I noticed that there were two black bean sauce noodles on the menu... one was listed as dry and the other was supposedly... wet? I asked the server what the difference was between the two, and he responded, "one dollar."  Okay... funny guy.  So after clarifying that monetary value was not the answer I was looking for, the server let us know that both noodles include shrimp and calamari, but the dry noodles contain scallops, and the supposed wet noodles are made with beef and a creamier sauce.  If there's an Asian version of an alfredo sauce, this is it.  Black, Asian, alfredo.  Oxymoronic? Perhaps... but it tastes good.

The group voted 4-1 in favor of the dry noodles over the wet noodles.  But I think that the beef infuses more flavor into the wet noodles, and the creamier sauce just can't be beat.  Tip from the server: mix, mix, mix until the noodles are all black... no, not yet... keep mixing!

Spinach with garlic
The simply sauteed spinach with surprisingly lengthy stems helped diversify the color of the dishes on the table... and of course it provided a healthy dose of fiber for the digestive system as well.  The larger bits of garlic dotted throughout the forest of spinach was a pleasant reminder that the garlic was most likely diced by a chef wielding a large Chinese butcher knife and not spooned in from a jar of machine-minced garlic.  No shortcuts here.  The taste makes that evident.

Dried sauteed string beans
Is this the place to get the best string beans? Eh, maybe not.  But it is a decent place to get some crunchy greens.  The flavor is a bit shallow... on the surface level.  But either a hefty helping of salt and pepper or adding ground pork to the stir-fry just might amp the flavor up just a tad.  But otherwise, you can't go wrong with a side of these veggies.

Original dry fried chicken wings
Salty, sweet, spicy, sticky, crispy, crunchy, burning hot, heartburn-inducing... ahhh... all the components of a delicious chicken wing.  From what I remember, Yummy Yummy next door has a version of the fried chicken wing as well, but the wings here seem a bit more established... less saucy, more sticky.  The ratio of chili pepper seeds to dripping honey seems to have been perfected.  These wings indicate that they have been the veteran on the block for years.  Now if only my hot tea were a Tsingtao and if the restaurant chair were a backyard hammock... oh, how happy I'd be.  I'd lap up plate after plate of chicken wings, toss the bones to the grass below, get lost in the clouds and wonder how the hell the honey gets cleaned off the plates.  Shrug... smile.

So after all these dry, not dry, and wet descriptions in the names of the dishes at San Tung, I think I've finally figured it out what they all mean.  Dry doesn't mean dry... the dish still has a decent amount of sauce.  However, dry means that it's dry compared to the wet version of the dish, which apparently indicates a substantial amount of sauce. 
Still confused? No worries, just eat.  Perhaps that's the same ideology that so many locals have adopted because many make return visits on a consistent basis.  The locals know where the good, authentic Chinese food is, and I'll give you a hint... it's not in Chinatown.

Next post: Superb Burmese

ML - 20101229/20101212

Monday, December 27, 2010

Post 43.1: Running Late with Cupcakes (BUR-SJC: WN 1876)

Arms full of guava cheese rolls and red velvet cupcakes, Jessica and I walked out of Porto's Bakery at 7:50 a.m.  Boarding was in 10 minutes.  

Luckily, in the next fifteen minutes, I managed to arrive at the airport, check in my bags (filled with Cactus Cooler for the Bay Area kids who lack this delicious pineapple flavored soda), get through security, run to the gate, hop on the plane and buckle myself in... just in time.  Thankfully, I made it.  How we managed to do all that in fifteen minutes... I'll never know (thanks Jessica).  But flying down Hollywood Way while polishing off chicken croquettes in order to catch a flight to San Jose for a birthday brunch is not something I ever want to do again.  Ever.

I wanted to bring some of Porto's finest pastries up to the Bay for Vickee's birthday.  Seeing Vickee, Aparna and two fully grown men gleam at how moist and soft the red velvet and dark chocolate cupcakes were made the morning panic completely worth it.  

Tip: let the cupcakes sit out of the fridge for at least 10 minutes for best taste and texture.

Side note: San Jose Airport's newly remodeled terminal is gorgeous.  And I say that relative to LAX and Bob Hope Airport.  The natural sunlight from the skylights and wide windows gives the terminal a bright and clean look... although the long walk from the gate to baggage claim (or security to the gate) really should include a people-mover.

Happy birthday, Vickee!

Next post: San Tung Korean-Chinese food

ML - 20101227/20101211

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Non-F.A.T. Post 1: Clippers vs. Spurs

If you get S.O.F.A.T. you gotta balance it out and slim down with some non-F.A.T., right?

Uhh... that may have been a failed attempt at being witty.  What I meant to say was that this post is not really a story of food and travel (S.O.F.A.T.), and thus it's a non-F.A.T. post.  I just wanted to show some pics and gloat about my birthday present from my buddy oolong-milk tea.  He's not very good at remembering dates, so I was quite surprised to find a birthday card in the mailbox... containing tickets to the Clippers-Spurs game.  Like... whoa.

Before the game started, Duke laid out a spread of asada and al pastor tacos from El Gallito taco truck.  It was complete with grilled onions and a salsa buffet... and in true Duke fashion, there was a mile-high stack of napkins.  You never know when those come in handy... seriously.  I usually visit El Gallito in Pasadena after a night of ever-so-slight accidental inebriation, but sober or not, El Gallito has some really awesome tacos.  Why I didn't take any photos of the tacos is beyond me.  I think I was just excited for my first live basketball game.

My second fail was a complete and utter lack of pictures from the game play itself.  Call me a noob, but I was just in awe of the whole experience.  Tim Duncan was... right... there.  For once I could say I was in the same room as Tim Duncan.  And Blake Griffin was absolutely mesmerizing to watch live.  His first dunk completely caught me off guard... he flew from floor to hoop in the blink of an eye, literally.  And all I could do was stare wide-eyed with my mouth gaping open.  This was an awesome experience.  It was like watching my first baseball game at Dodger Stadium with my ah gong when I was little.  But c'mon, Michael! Remember to take pictures!

Thanks, D.
Clippers 90, Spurs 85.

ML - 20101213/20101201

Monday, December 20, 2010

Post 42.2: Thanksgiving Leftovers - Turkey Curry in a Hurry

Families try to get creative with their turkeys every year... some switch it up with tofurkey, and others may feast over a deep fried turkey at the dinner table.  But the leftovers seem to always be the same.  We can get creative with not just Thanksgiving dinner but with our Thanksgiving leftovers too, right?

With the exception of the one or two years we had hot pot for Thanksgiving, we've had many years of Taiwanese-influenced turkey rice porridge for breakfast, mile-high turkey sandwiches and shredded turkey salads for lunch, and turkey noodle soup at dinner.  Last year my dad thought it would be a great idea to toss the leftover shreds of turkey into Japanese style curry sauce and serve it over rice.  Here's how we get rid of our turkey even before Christmas rolls around.

The products:

The process:

Brown the onions with vegetable oil.  Sprinkle in salt, black and white pepper.
Toss in corn from a can.  Mix together.

Dice potatoes in bite-sized cubes and toss in.  Sizzle with butter and curry powder.

After a good sizzle, add enough water to cover the top of the potatoes.
Blend cubes of curry and stir until fully dissolved.  Simmer.

Shred leftover turkey with a fork.  Incorporate into the curry sauce.
Adding the turkey to the sauce early on dries out the turkey... and nobody likes dry turkey.

Pour curry sauce over the top of steamed rice, preferably short grain Japanese rice.

Some variations that I've found to be just as good:

1.  Garnish with thinly sliced almonds for crunch.
2.   Use carrots and celery instead of corn.
3.  Pour curry sauce over instant ramen noodles.
4.  Top the curry off with a poached egg for breakfast or brunch.
5.  Substitute turkey and curry for ham and Hollandaise in your brunch benedict.

What does your family do with the leftover Thanksgiving turkey?

ML - 20101220/20101219

Friday, December 3, 2010

Post 42.1: Thanksgiving Means Turkey... Not Hot Pot

A tour guest recently asked me what a Taiwanese Thanksgiving feast is like.  Hmmm... I had never really thought about it... but I can't speak for other Taiwanese or Taiwanese-Americans.  

For me I guess I always took Thanksgiving to mean turkey, and anything Taiwanese would be saved for the remaining 364 days of the year.  Anytime any family member proposed to have hot pot for Thanksgiving, I put up strong opposition, and that usually led to our having a turkey at Thanksgiving.  

The one year that hot pot was elected over turkey, my cousins and I boycotted dinner with an I Love Lucy style hunger strike.  There was much yelling, but there was even more silence.  Not that my family ever ate hot pot on a regular basis, but hot pot was too typical of a meal for me... it wasn't special enough for this once-in-a-year holiday.  I mean... I don't particularly like turkey, but Thanksgiving without turkey is like Old Glory without the stars and stripes.  Thanksgiving meant turkey, and my cousins and I would find a way to get our roasted bird no matter what it took.... even if it was compromised with sticky rice stuffing.

This was the spread at Aunt Christy's house this year. 

Cream of mushroom soup with a swirl of sour cream and Pillsbury croissants.

Ham from Honey Baked Ham Company.
Condiments are champagne honey mustard and pineapple marmalade.

Originally prepared as asparagus in garlic and olive oil.
But later tossed into a salad of mixed greens and crispy bacon.

The golden turkey.  No stuffing... but surrounded by mini potatoes.
My aunt made the Cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries and added orange zest to it.

The seafood dishes are must haves in our family.
Shrimp cocktail with cocktail sauce on ice.  Linguine and clams with a forest of parsley.

Sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and pecan crust from Ruth's Chris.
No mashed potatoes this year? No problem.  Bye bye flat stomach.

If Aunt Jessica were stateside this year, there be two or three Marie Callender's pies on the table too, which probably makes our feast probably indistinguishable from from any other typical family's Thanksgiving feast... so I'm not sure if that answers the question, "What is a Taiwanese Thanksgiving feast like?"

But to throw in a little variation... how about another Taiwanese-American Thanksgiving feast from across town? Aunt Li doesn't eat turkey, chicken... or anything that walks on two feet, and her Thanksgiving dinner guests don't eat beef.  The compromise? Pork ribs from Tony Roma's. 

What was your Thanksgiving feast like?

ML - 20101202/20101125