Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Post 60: San Francisco - For Love and Adventure

Back in April I headed up to San Francisco to witness Boy and Girl tie the knot.  Boy and Girl's wedding theme was For Love and Adventure, a very fitting theme considering that Boy and Girl love to travel, love food, and of course, love each other very much.  I thought it would be creative to put a little wedding spin on this post and dedicate it to Boy and Girl.  Here are something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue that I came across on my adventure through San Fran. 

Turtle Tower (SF: Civic Center)

Something old - Chicken pho (pho ga long)

It's not that the chicken is stale or that the noodles are old... in fact, the chicken is juicy and tender, and the noodles are picked up by the owner fresh each day.  Chicken pho is old in the sense that it's something familiar, something homey, something comforting.  Speaking of comforting, this big bowl of chicken noodle soup was what cured six Saturday morning hangovers.  And what better way to cure a hangover with a steaming bowl of clear broth made from organic, free range chicken? Only in San Francisco will you find the chicken used in pho to be good not only for man but for the animal as well.  Think chicken pho is good? The server says, "pho ga long is better!" If you're alright with giblets, you'll certainly agree.

Little Delhi (SF: Union Square)

Something new - Badami chicken

The first dish I order at Indian restaurants is usually chicken tikka masala.  The creamy yet spicy curry dish is simply irresistible.  This time, however, I went for something new.  The first dish that I ordered was the house recommended badami chicken, a dish prepared by adding tandoori chicken to creamy curry with ground pistachios and cashews.  Grinding up the pistachios and cashews contribute a depth of flavor to the curry so that it's not just spicy but a bit nutty tasting too.  It went great with the garlic naan, and it tasted even better as a dipping sauce for the samosas too.  Even Kevin, who wanted nothing other than garlic naan, helped himself to a few extra spoonfuls of this exotically fragrance dish.  Badami chicken was definitely something new for me.  If only more Indian restaurants served this dish along with the other items on the menu.

Hong Kong Lounge (SF: Outer Richmond)

Something borrowed - Sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf (秘制果蒸粽)

I'm not sure what inspired Hong Kong Lounge to create an enormous, eight dollar, Chinese sticky rice wrap at dim sum, but I wouldn't be surprised if they borrowed the idea of super sizing everything from the land that's known for foot-long sandwiches, double-decker burgers, and extra large slurpees.  Often times dishes that are made to gargantuan proportions are somehow neglected if not by health, then by flavor or by lack of quality ingredients.  This sticky rice wrap is not the case.  It's full of savory pork, flavorful Shiitake mushrooms, roasted peanuts, fresh egg yolk, and saucy sticky rice.  Check out how big the wrap is sitting next to the tea cup.  That's some heavy duty Chinese flavor, for real.

SFO Aviation Museum & Library (SF: San Mateo Co.)

Something blue - Boy and Girl's wedding (SF: SFO Intl Airport)

If I were to really highlight something blue that I ate, it would just be the bleu cheese from the salad at the wedding.  But how far would I get talking about the bleu cheese in a salad? What was truly blue (in color not emotion) was the wedding itself.  From the Pan Am stewardess outfits on display to the creatively packaged Hershey's chocolate bars to the handmade table decorations to the groom's tie and the M&M's, there were vibrant shades of blue everywhere.  A beautiful color... a beautiful wedding theme... a beautiful couple.

Cheers to the happy couple, Moritaka and Cheryl.  I wish you a lifetime of happiness, much love and much adventure! I can't wait to hear more stories of food and travel.  Until next time let's get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110428-0501

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Post 59: Decimated by that Ten-Course Omakase (LA-South Bay: Torrance)

After seeing pictures from the last omakase I had, a soon-to-be-wed Mr. Zhou said, "I want that."  And that he was about to get.  So the more we talked about that, and the more others heard about that, the more people wanted that.  So that became an event, and I made it my duty to gather together the long lost souls of my fraternity (and their significant others) so we could have... that

That became a ten-course omakase at Hirose in Torrance.  In a tiny, little shop in a gigantic strip mall, ten of us attempted to devour ten courses (each) of freshly prepared Japanese art.  Some succeed... some failed.  Some were smart and decided against decimation.  The only Japanese one at the table went for the teriyaki instead... maybe they know something the remaining Sinos and Formosans don't..?  Hmm...

This is what our that looked like... and if it seems like the pictures get progressive blurry, it's because they do.  Somewhere along the second or third course, I thought it was an incredibly intelligent idea to pair the remaining courses with a shot of sake (each)... and then some.  The day after this omakase meal was the Sunday of Father's Day, and let's just say I learned how to say hangover in Mandarin.  See how many sake glasses you count in the pictures below...

Braised pork
bonito fish broth

Itadakimasu! One bite of a simple cube of pork started off the meal.  Not only was it balanced by the savory flavor of the soy and the sweetness of the swine, the lean meat to fat ratio was perfectly balanced as well.  The green onions provided just a hint of fresh crunch to the square.

Sardines ambish

Ambish? Korewa nandesu ka? To my knowledge this word is not in the English dictionary.  Trust me, I looked it up via Webster and Google.  But from what the server told us, ambish is a word that describes something that has been deep fried and then submerged in vinegar.  So that is exactly what we had for our second course... a duo of deep fried, battered sardines served chilled in a dish of light vinegar.  Not eye opening, but horrible either... something to jump start the saliva, I guess.

Duck with potato salad
red and green shishito peppers

Two succulent pieces of duck lay atop a fluffy bed of whipped potato.  The potato salad had just enough mayo to make it creamy, but it wasn't so delicious that it stole the duck's thunder.  The duo of dueling colored shishito peppers added a vibrant color to the presentation, but the tender and flavorful duck was still the star of the dish.  Oishii desu

Raw oyster with ikura

Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! When the fresh oyster had arrived, a little school girl's scream may have been heard at the table.  And it may have been me.  As small as this little devil was, it was just enough as a teaser to prep my tongue for the fresh fish that was about to arrive.  Although the two drops of ikura on top tempted many of us to order another round.

Sashimi course
Yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, amberjack, octopus, sesame sebring snapper

Glistening fresh, vibrant in color, smooth in texture... what more could you ask for in a sashimi course? The chef even skipped out on the salmon and yellowtail that's typically served and presented us with some rare choices such as amberjack and sesame sebring.  The yellowfin and bluefin tuna were both meaty, yet they melted away with ease.  And the color of the sesame sebring was as beautiful as a fluffy white cloud with a metaphoric silver lining.

Salmon, tofu, yam and pumpkin braised in shoyu broth
This is usually a dish made at home and simmered in a large pot by an obachan.  Like a pot roast or a beef stew, it's a hearty and somewhat soupy dish that is supposed to conjure up feelings of home and the warmth of grandma's kitchen from childhood.  Halfway through the bowl of tofu and yam, I started missing the oden that my grandma makes.  You know it's good when the chef can give you a feeling of home in the form of a bowl of veggies.

Tempura course
fish stuffed zucchini flower, snow crab leg, salmon wrapped with shiso tempura

This tempura zucchini flower was the product of a delicate Japanese ingenuity.  Flaky white fish was the hidden surprise inside the flower of a vegetable that seemed to have more aesthetic appeal than nutritional value.  The zucchini flower announced its subtle flavor without even a whisper.  No self gloat, no bragging, just simple confidence.  Just a little sea salt, and it's good to go.  No tempura sauce necessary.

Beef top sirloin over five vegetables
bamboo shoot, Brussels sprout, eggplant and yuzu, pear and string bean, Yukon potato

Another dish was presented to us with an attention to detail so microscopic that only the Japanese can claim.  Five pieces of medium rare beef sat on top of a line of five different complementary vegetables, all of which provided the meat with a evenly balanced texture and flavor.  Not only were the vegetables merely placed beneath the beef, they also  helped anchor the beef in a way that helped us enjoy the angled presentation.  My favorite was the yuzu essence that somehow made its way down either side of the plate so that even the bamboo shoot on the far left and the potato on the far right was influenced by a hint of the spicy pepper.  Consistency over variation... I liked that.

Noodles with chicken yaki 
grated daikon radish, ginger, and sesame in soba sauce

Although the noodles were accredited as the lead in this dish, it was the supporting elements that really helped the dish come together.  White meat chicken and carefully grated radish along with ginger and sesame created a harmonious lightness that was a great way to end the meal.  Many times, Asian cultures (think Chinese and Korean) serve carbs (think fried rice) as the final dish to ensure that the guest has been stuffed full... but Hirose found a way to nudge us close to 100% rather than pushing us over the brink of satiation. 

Azuki red bean mousse
grapefruit, melons and mint

Nine courses down... one to go.  Even if you're stuffed, how can you refuse dessert? It's dessert! The good thing is that the dessert was served in a shotglass-sized cup... bad thing is that the shotglass-sized cup reminded me of all the sake we already drank.  And if there is just one lesson that I have learned from the glory days of college, it's that dairy and alcohol don't mix.  Remembering my lessons learned, I decided to have some fruit... and pass the mousse down.  Okay, I had one little bite, and it was smooth, creamy, but delightfully light... a nice way to finish a ten-course meal formerly known as "that."

As I channel the emotions I felt at the end of that dinner for this post, I sensed a gradual creep of the infamous post large meal food coma... which is what I sense now.  A slow, lethargic, I want to stop writing kind of feeling.  I feel decimated.  And so... the writing shall stop.  Until the next omakase, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110618

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Post 58: Be Happy... Chatting over Tartare (LA: Beverly Hills)

Back when I still had full use and employment of my teeth, a long lost friend and I decided to throw on our bourgeois attitude and roll up to Chaya for a five-course chef's tasting.  I had B.H. tattooed on my aura for that meal.  And if the letters B and H didn't mean Beverly Hills at that time, it meant be happy for the two of us.  And we were as happy as two long, lost friends could possibly be... we watched beautiful people sit and just be as beautiful as their food... and we chatted as puffy, white clouds rolled away in the big, blue sky... and we chatted as the big, orange star we call the sun lowered itself to cast a shady gloom over my risotto... and we chatted until the last dollop of vanilla caramel ice cream camouflaged itself against the ceramic dish it came in.  These are the three dishes from Chaya Brasserie that made us the most happy.

Melon y jamon
compressed melon, burrata cheese, salame, arugula, aged balsamic vinegar reduction

The first time I had melon and cured Italian meat in combination, I was a recent high school graduate vacationing with family in Canada of all places.  It was the Fairmont resort somewhere in the wilderness of Alberta that introduced me to my first combination of sweet melon and salty Italian prosciutto.  I hadn't had a serious relationship at the time, but I knew I was in love.

There's something about the contrasting sweet and salty flavors and the rough and smooth textures that makes complete sense... like when smooth slices of salty ham is placed on top of fibrous triangles of pineapple on pizza... when sprinkles of course sea salt is introduced to smooth, sweet caramel anything.  I love that I can take the salami or prosciutto and fold it over a freshly cut piece of melon.  I breathe a sigh of happiness when I do it... as if burdens have been lifted from my shoulders and pressures from life tip toe away from my heart.  I feel the same comfort when I wrap myself in blankets at bedtime.  It's not the same blanket wrap that I do when I'm freezing in the middle of winter or the blanket wrap that I do at the end of a tough day.  It's a light, delicate wrap.  A peaceful one that produces a sigh of happiness.  The kind you do on vacation.  Yes, that one.  And each bite is like having your head hit the fluffiest of down pillows... again and again... happiness.

Salmon tartare and mi-cuit
tartare: wasabi tobiko, cilantro blossom, pickled daikon radish squares
cucumber raita, wild arugula, ahi amarillo aioli, seaweed jelly
mi-cuit: sovid, wasabi creme fraiche

It's not quite tuna tartare yet not quite salmon sashimi... it's a profound dish in its own right.  The seemingly simple dish of salmon tartare actually produced a couple of wows.  The tenderness of the salmon protein became even more supple as the light layer of olive oil marinated with the salmon's own natural lipids.  Is anyone thinking about bikini mud wrestling besides me? Not so much? Hey, the analogy works.

What else works are the uniquely shaped but uniformly sized pieces of salmon.  They fit together like a chaotically constructed Jenga set teetering on the edge of collapse, yet they remain as stable as the Bird's Nest in Beijing.  So rather than being distracted by which piece of salmon is bigger or smaller than the other, the tongue can simply relax and focus on how fresh the salmon is... and the brain can say, "wow, this is good... wow, wow, wow."  The brain will be so pleasured by the bliss of deliciousness that it won't know it's fish at all.

Spring pea risotto
Japanese green risotto, sugar snaps, English peas
Parmesan, mascarpone, curry, basil, confetti flowers

Normally I wouldn't find rice and vegetables to be very exciting, but the spring pea risotto invoked a sense of happy relaxation in me.  It was as beautiful tasting as it was beautiful looking, albeit the image was marred by both the lack of natural lighting and my lack of savvy with photo editing.  But no matter... what's good is still good.

The feeling of intense absence of tension in my body was brought by the sudden surprise of curry in the waves of creamy rice.  I had a feeling that it was Japanese curry powder, which unlike Thai or Indian curries, is a bit more subtle and slightly sweet.  The taste is not as prickly on the tongue as a Thai green curry or an Indian masala.  Other surprises came in the form of a pea here and a pea there, just the right amount of healthy vileness and just the right amount of pleasant, non-shocking discovery.  This was the kind of dish that I could eat by the pool.  I wouldn't mind replacing the obligatory poolside cocktail with this risotto dish either.  Swirling a big, metal spoon around in creamy, not firm, not mushy, perfectly spiced rice is so much more gratifying that twirling a swizzle stick in a martini glass.  It's just not the same.

The final dish was a beef duo of short rib and tenderloin with porcini puree and daube sauce.  It was... alright.  And the dessert tasting was a chocolate croissant bread pudding with vanilla caramel ice cream.  I was already too happy to be bothered with a sugar high.  But no matter... good food and a good friend to jumpstart a Friday evening creates a casual, lingering happiness that carries over into the start of Saturday.  To the start of a happy weekend, everyone... let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Esther of e*star LA posted on her off-menu tastings at Chaya Brasserie here.

ML - 20110610

Monday, August 1, 2011

Post 57: Wisdom Teeth Food

Not everyone remembers when their first tooth fell out, but everyone remembers when they had their wisdom teeth pulled out.  I was fortunate enough to experience this extraction of dental knowledge this past week.  After being completely scared by all the wisdom teeth horror stories from friends and family, I was hell bent on making sure I had all the culinary concoctions to make my discomfort bearable.  The last few days I have been able to consume the following items... most of which are not the least bit glorious, but I guess that depends on who you ask.

Lucky me... Kimmy dropped by with a dozen mini Beard Papa's cream puffs and two regulation sized puffs.  I started off by scooping out the insides of one mini cream puff... but by the end of day, I managed to devour seven mini cream puffs (the puff portion and all) and one regular sized cream puff.  Yes, I did that in just one afternoon.

I also managed to spoon in two cups of my favorite Japanese flan from Mitsuwa Marketplace... along with a number (four to date) of Korean honeydew melon flavored jumbo popsicles.

Since my face was throbbing with crimson fury, and the Maytag-produced hemispheres of ice weren't sufficient, I thought that the best way to calm the swollen rage down was with some Taiwanese shaved ice.  I dragged my mom with me to a local joint called Tasty To Go for their acclaimed mango shaved snow.  Being the obedient son that every Asian parent hopes to call their own (even I make myself sick sometimes), I ate all the cold, frigid, brain freezing ice... and left the nutritious, fiber-filled, vitamin-rich mango for my mom.  Heh, heh, heh...

After I thought that I would hit the roof with an uncontrollable sugar high, I decided to counter all the sugar with some protein... eggs.  I employed a very sumptuous recipe for Japanese style chawanmushi (茶碗蒸 or steamed eggs), which is a soft and simple way (and probably the most glorious of the aforementioned food choices) to endure the discomforts of wisdom teeth extraction.

2 eggs, beaten
1 can of chicken broth
1 package of ikura and/or uni (optional)

To set up a makeshift steamer, pour four or five cups of water into a large soup pot.  Fill a rice bowl one-third of the way up with water, and place the rice bowl into the large soup pot.  Fire up the stove.

Combine the two eggs and just half a can of chicken broth into a ceramic bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Carefully place and balance the ceramic bowl carefully on top of the rice bowl into the large soup pot.  This is now your makeshift steamer.  Place the cap of the pot on top, and let the eggs steam away for no longer than five minutes.  a chopstick into the middle to see if the eggs are still runny; the eggs are ready when the center has solidified.  The texture should be similar to a soft custard or a delicate flan.

Here's the glorious part.  After the chawanmushi has cooled off, spoon some ikura or uni onto the surface of the egg.  All of the ingredients should be easily conquered by even those who under the effects of Vicodin or Tylenol No. 3.  Here's my disclaimer: if your medication says you should not operate heavy machinery, please do not attempt to build a makeshift steamer no matter how simple it is.  Let your mom and dad, spouse, significant other or indentured sibling do this for you.

I hope these eggs distract you from your dental debacle.  Oh, and if the steamed eggs work, fire up the stove again... as long as there are more eggs, you still have half a can of chicken broth left! Until solid food invigorates my diet, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110728-31