Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tasting the new and rediscovering the old

The proximity of a place to home is often inversely proportional to the time that elapses before we make a visit. Top Flr is close to home, too close to feel like "going out" when an adventure is what we seek. Had our friends not suggested the place to meet, we probably still be waiting for the right time to go.

The upstairs space is small and narrow, but rather cozy. I tucked myself into a tight corner by the door with pillows and felt instantly at home. Service was not particularly speedy, but the food kinks mentioned on the AC forum were no longer apparent. The duck confit on the rustic pizza was succulent as opposed to stringy. The pizza crust was pleasantly puffy and slightly chewy. It's hard to find fault with soft dough, gooey cheese, and salty duck cooked in its own fat. I enjoyed the richness and softness immensity. :)
Despite all the positive reviews written about FAB downtown, the few lunches I had there did not blow me away. Perhaps I haven't ordered the right things. It's hard to be in the mood for super buttery dishes when much work looms in the inevitable future. My opportunity to try something rich came at our Christmas lunch. The intoxicating smell of truffles permeated the dinning room when half of the office received the white bean soup drizzled generously with truffle oil. Salty and thick, the soup satisfied in the way that mashed potatoes do on a cold night, but with a sophisticated flare. The critic reports may suggest that truffle oil is over used in restaurant dishes, but to the average mortal, it's still a treat when paired with the humble beans.
Allegro opened without much fanfare across the street from One Midtown Kitchen. Like Sotto Sotto, where its chef worked previously, Allegro attempts to offer a more authentic taste of the boot-shaped country. Unlike Sotto Sotto, the Allegro space is much larger and darker, and as a consequence, lacked a bit of the warmth that has become a signature of Italian establishments. Our visit was perhaps too early in the life of the kitchen to allow just judgement. Many dishes seemed to have the best intentions, but came through just shy of perfection. For example, the large head-on shrimps in a vibrantly acidic tomato sauce had a wonderful flavor, but were a tad overcooked and took on a rubbery texture. With some time and a sizable crowd, this place may be a gem yet.
C & S Oyster bar evokes mixed feelings among food lovers. There is a bit of an identity issue. It's tough for the restaurant, situated in a Kroger trip mall, to stick to its urban bistro soul, while also please the family-oriented suburban clientele. It does, however, succeed in one area, the seafood platter. The oysters and clams were fresh and unmessed with. The crab legs and shrimps were lightly cooked with no toughness. Sunday supper for two couldn't get better than sharing a platter with some bubbly.
J and I ate our first real restaurant meal in the atl at Dish, the unassuming V-highland neighborhood favorite. It took us almost three years to return, which, in a way, was good timing, as the restaurant's ten year run will come to an end this month. Sad news, especially because the mussels absolutely took my breath away. I swear I have not had such meaty and well-seasoned creatures for as long as I can remember. I am almost afraid to go back before the year end, fearing that I might ruin a perfect memory.
Another veteran of the ATL dinning scene is the dated Buckhead Dinner. From what I heard, the menu hasn't changed much since its opening. The maytag blue cheese potato chips are still on the menu as is the veal meatloaf. Both were good on my visit, if not excitingly new. Then again, who said new is always better. Good is always good.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Open to the unknown in Barcelona

Besides being fun, traveling could also be very stressful if the travelers do not possess at least a bit of that happy go lucky spirit. Plans often don't work out and accidents, well, they often happen. Besides missed flights and lost luggage, we also encountered our fair share of failed fooding attempts on this Barcelona trip. But despite it all, we ate incredibly well, perhaps better than if my plans work out.

On our second night, fresh from a nap and shower, we headed out to the much raved neighborhood nook Bar Mut for dinner at the prime Spanish dinner hour of ten PM. After a brisk walk through the chilly air to arrive at the very adorable, but incredibly small dinner spot, we found it packed to the hilt with locals and no one seemed in any hurry to move. Hungry and cold, I requested that the waitress suggest a place nearby. She immediately recommended what sounded like "cupid," which she described as a "white house with windows" a block and half away.

The place turned out to be Qvid. It didn't look particularly white, but it did have windows, just like all the other buildings along the street. It was clearly a place for locals. Everyone looked up in surprise when we burst in the door. The owner spoke no English, but we managed to get seated after a bit of confusion. We further thrown him off by requesting an espresso with our cava to help one of our companions combat jet lag. We then encountered more issues when I tried to order langostino as a part of our starters. What I thought to be prawns turned out to be a two foot long live orange fish, which he brought to the table on a platter to show us. (I still haven't figured out where we went wrong) All this may have been too much for the man, as he soon suggested, as much as we could make out through gestures, that we trust the ordering to him and he will make sure to include the big orange fish as a part of the deal. We were happy to do so in hope of getting an authentic meal.

The tapas came quickly. We were in awe of the above perfectly grilled plump squid. They were tender, naturally sweet, and not at all rubbery like their counterparts tend to be on this side of the pond.
I had also asked for some mussels, having seen them disappear quickly at a nearby table. Pleasantly salty and garlicky, these little guys were addictive.
What impressed everyone were the salt cod fritters. Tame in salt content, the salt cod flesh was milky, flavorful, and almost greaseless. The chef had done right by this Portuguese specialty.
We all went quiet when our orange monster fish came to the table presented as small fillets atop slivers of fried potato and garlic chips and adorned with hot grease-crisped basil. It smelled awesome. I regretted so much not snapping a picture early for a before and after. The flesh was much more creamy than flaky. A bit of condensed balsamic glaze seriously kicked the flavor up a notch. We stopped talking for the duration of this course. It was terrific!
It's hard to top the fish with the dessert course, so I went for interesting instead. This typical Catalan dessert is essentially bitter orange marmalade topped with a fresh farmer's cheese drizzled with honey and sprinkled with walnuts. It was good in the way that my Greek yogurt similarly treated back home is good. My companions were not terribly impressed, but no one was disappointed sipping a complementary Muscato with it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

First day of awesome eating in Barcelona

A trip to Barcelona is, for most food lovers, a pilgrimage. With all the buzz surrounding the city, it's almost impossible to scale one's expectation to any realistic level. It's then perhaps a great thing that I brought along with me, on this sure to be food filled trip, a man who eats hardily, but cares very little if at all about what or where to eat. We have learned, through our years of traveling together, that as long as I don't stress him out with too much talk of food or what appears to be active food seeking, he would happily ingest whatever we "happen to discover" along the way. :)

Having survived the mad Thanksgiving crowd and a two mile trek to get our messed up tickets reissued in Madrid, we finally found ourselves in Barcelona sans luggages, which are chilling somewhere else in Spain. Ravenous from the ordeal, we strolled to Cerveseria Catalana near our hotel for a drink and some snacks. J ordered a local beer from the extensive international beer list, while I secured my first glass of cava. For nibbles, I was compelled to ask for the sampler plate of Iberian ham, having read and heard so much about it. You know what, the ham did not disappoint. Salty and lip-stickingly fatty, the ham went equally well with J's beer and my cava. My favorite of the bunch was the soft type on the far left. We happily sat around for a few well-deserved leisurely hours nibbling and people watching.
With all that salt on our lips, we craved something sweet and cool to round out the simple meal on this first night. We had no destination in mind (truly for once), but harbored hopes of running into a gelateria, having read that the people of Barcelona are rather fond of this Italian import. Sure enough, we walked right into one within five blocks. It's amazing that J and I never have trouble making a decision in a gelateria when faced with a dizzying range of selection. He always goes with the chocolate and coffee, while I invariably pick dulce de leche, pistachio, and some sort of caramel. The small shop had no seats inside, so we ducked into the glitzy department store across the street to lick our little cup of indulgence in warmth, while ogling at stylish houseware designs.
Jetlag knocked us out early the first night and then rudely drove away the sleeping bug the next morning well before dawn. Unable to rest more, we set out to explore the famous Boqueria market. We found Juanito holding fort at the tiny, but must raved about Bar Pinotxo near the entrance. We snuggled up to the bar to watch Juanito expertly brewed up two hot coffees for us. He also handed me a cute little croissant to nibble on and insisted on snapping a goofy picture for us. Unfortunately, Pinotxo doesn't start any real cooking until an hour later, so we bid goodbye to look for more substantive munchies. We found what we were looking for at the much bigger Bar Central towards the very back of the market. The husband and wife team were already working on the final stage of a fragrant stew when we approached around 7:30 am. The kind faced husband immediately offered up thick pieces of freshly fried bacon for us to taste, while the wife poured two beers for themselves. How could I help but love a good old couple who believe a cold beer is the right way to start a busy cooking day on a chilly morning.

We gladly accepted the wife's suggestion that we share a seafood plate composed of the fresh catch just arriving at the stall. As we watched, the husband tossed an assortment of squid, razor clams, prawn etc. on the sizzling flat top. A few minutes later, we were handed the above beautiful platter of just cooked through seafood, loving arranged and lightly drizzled with a green olive oil. As unconventional a breakfast as this was, it was the most tasty in recent memory. Each piece of seafood tasted so well-seasoned, it's hard to believe that it is dressed with nothing more than salt and a little lemon juice. Much varied in texture, no single piece was overcooked. Simply magnificent.
Very very satisfied, we strolled through the market to check out the fresh fruits. I could not walk pass a large tray of wonderfully dewy figs without taking some back to the hotel. They were a bargain at 2 Euro for a half kilo. Look at that ripe garnet flesh! Can you really fault me for being greedy?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Wonderful nibbles around ATL (Part II)

4. Chicken Liver Appetizer from Shaun's - I have been telling anyone who would listen about this appetizer from Shaun's for months now. I was rendered speechless the first time I laid eyes on this pair of monster rustic country toasts overburdened with the chunkiest chicken liver concoction imaginable. The dish made no apologies for its extremely creamy mayo-centric southerness. I imagine Paul Deen would have let out a giggle upon tasting it. Although I suppose she would have topped the creamy chunks with her favorite green onions as opposed to the high-brow micro greens.

Again, I must go back to the hugeness of this "appetizer." Even J, who I swear has an easily dislocatable jaw, had trouble fitting the whole thing into his mouth. Being the nibbler, I felt, for once, quite normal dissembling the elements and then reassembling my own smaller, but no less complete, version. The taste is incredible, hitting the salty, creamy, even the iron note that's unique to liver at the same time. I loved this dish! It imprinted in my mind the kind of taste memory that I shall use to comfort myself with the day I lie on my death bed with hardened arteries.
5. Oyster with pearls from the now closed Element - Chef Blais may be too edgy for this town in which people flock to the newest glittery dinning room to people watching as much as to eat. Even with all the foodie hype, the oddly decorated Element, where Blais put in a brief stint, never managed to fill the modest-sized dinning room. While the turn out was sad, the food that Blais turned out at Element was some of the most exciting I've seen anywhere in this city. For this early tasting course, the same technique for making Dipping Dots, the less than tasty mall ice cream, was use in creating the bright citrusy pearls. Like a shot of fresh lemon juice, the pearls gave the briny oyster a puckering jolt. Unlike some richer creations that satiate within a few bites, this course left me yearning for more more more.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Not done with the best bites compilations yet, but...

I just couldn't resist putting up a short post for this adorable fella - my pumpkin spice cupcake. This is really not an attempt to jump on the cupcake bandwagon that seem to have finally arrived in this city. This little guy and his friends were the result of some quick thinking when I woke up too late to bake the planned pumpkin bundt cake before work. Thank goodness for the extra sleep. Aside from the wonder it did for my skin, it also allowed me the opportunity to finally put to good use some pretty pretty sugar candy thoughtfully gifted to me.

As for the cupcake trend spreading in this city, I have yet to sample too many as I am no die hard cupcake fan. I never lined up with my fellow New Yorkers in front of the Magnolia bakery at the height of the cupcake craze when I lived there. I have, however, received enough of those famous cupcakes as gifts to know that I don't care for massive amounts of beyond rich buttercream on top of otherwise unremarkable cupcakes. My cupcakes this week had a more reasonable frosting to cake ratio. The mound on top is due more to the natural dome shape of the cake than to the heftiness of the frosting. Though the fluffy stuff did provide a fitting cushion for the cute sugar candies. Based on the good feedback from those who consumed the cakes, there are frosting lovers aplenty out there.

One intown cupcake place I did visit was Sweet Pockets inside the Irwin Street Market. The shop is whimsically decorated with a good size display case lined with darling mini-cupcakes. I couldn't resist buying one of each flavor. Good thing I did because the moistness ranged from rather dry (vanilla) to quite perfect (cookies and cream). The best thing I got, however, was not edible. I picked up a perfect cupcake T-shirt to add to my expanding food shirt collection.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Wonderful nibbles around ATL (Part I)

My recent compilation of best nibbles in the past year seem to suggest that most of the good eating that I have done were all away from the ATL - my adopted home city. This couldn't be further from the truth. My tummy has never been happier anywhere else. Just within the last month, I've sampled some rather memorable eats around town. So while I've still yet to exhaust my list of wonderful nibbles away from home, I'd like to also present a list of great bites in and around town. Again, I list these in no particular order as my mind prefers chaos (my preferred excuse for a lack of organization).

First up is the much hyped tres leches cake from Tierra. Located along a lonely stretch of Piedmont Rd in midtown, Tierra's odd yellow facade always caught my attention, but never looked attractive enough to beckon a visit. After reading much press about the place in the three years I've lived here, J and I finally managed to go for a weeknight dinner this past month.

I wanted so much to like everything about this cozy chef-owned place. Unfortunately, the savory food simply didn't live up to my expectation. My rubbery mussels floated in a rather watery broth, while J's pupusa tasted dry. The turning point of the meal was when the famous tres leches cake came out of the kitchen. The cake had very little adornment and it didn't need any. It was creamy creamy creamy, having soaked through and through with a sticky sweet tres leches mixture. If you haven't noticed, I am fond of creamy things. And that particular night, my sweetness tolerance was way high because this cake doubtlessly measures at the very top of the GI scale. My favorite part was the down comforter looking frosting. It reminded me very much of marshmallow fluff straight out of the jar. If you don't like that concept, then maybe this is not for you. But I happen to find marshmallow fluff quite yummy and very nolstalgic.

I have a weakness for foods exhibiting a savory and sweet combination. Salted caramel, yum. Honey on Stilton, double yum. Adding a stick a butter to this winning combination, hmm, triple yum? You bet! Sotto Sotto's Granny Smith apple sausage ravioli in a sage-laced brown butter sauce is exactly that kind of a dish. The apple note was much more pronounced than in other apple sausages I've experienced. The sweet tart flavor perfectly punctuated the rich flavor of the meat juice and the fragrant butter sauce. Even the nibbler couldn't resist taking more than a few bites.

Few things provide more pleasure than consuming a big plate of slow-smoked bbq outdoors under gently rustling trees. One of those things being also receiving a generous helping of super crisp onion rings with the que. These good sized examples from the much anticipated Fox Bro BBQ on Dekalb Ave. totally overshadowed their plate mates. The slightly sweet crust and addictive crunch will get me to go back even without the que.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The best kind of birthday gifts - wonderful edible nibbles

October is a complicated time around these parts. It's a time to remember a great loss, a loved one much missed. But the month always manages to end on a wonderful note, because, well, I turn a year older this month. And love pours in through my mailbox all month long, in edible forms of course. :)

First to show up was a bag of Garrett's potent popcorn mix from Chicago. Cheddar cheese and caramel may not sound like the dream combination. But Garrett has turned it into an art form. Lightly salty, deeply cheesy, and punched up with a good dose of sweetness. Yum!

Next came a little wooden crate of John & Kira's chocolate covered figs from Philadelphia. These little guys keep a wonderful secret. underneath the Valrhona chocolate robe and the thin fig skin reside a big ball of ganache filling. Silky and smooth. I love little surprises!

Then came my new obsession, Fran's caramels. The precious little gems waltzed into my life via two day air from Seattle and instantly took over my heart. Studded with a little pinch of gray or smoked sea salt, each caramel delivers the ultimate burst of savory, creamy, and sweet. I have no idea why, but every time I take a nibble, I feel as if I am smelling crispy autumn sea air on a cliff with a buttered rum in hand.

Last but most definitely not least, came the love of my life. I may covet the caramels, I may become infatuated with tiny figs, but I will always always LOVE the macarons. This year, these cute representatives came wrapped in what else, but the prettiest boxes covered in polka dots (another obsession). L. A. Burdick in New Hampshire actually calls these Luxembourgers. No matter, they are what they are, delicate little macarons (not macaroons) in my favorite autumn flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, and of course chocolate for good measure. About the size of a silver dollar, the cinnamon puff quickly became my favorite for how it disappears on the tongue like a tiny piece of cloud, cloud that tastes like the holidays - of cinnamon, cream, and warmth.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Best bites this year (Part II)

4. Grilled ostrich fillet at Five Flies in Cape Town, South Africa - Before I even get to the food, I am compelled to tell you a little about the restaurant. A deceivingly small white-washed building off a quiet street in the heart of Cape Town is home to Five Flies. Immediately upon stepping inside the heavy wooden door, I could feel something special in the air. The unusually high ceiling and wide-planked dark wood floor betray the building's past life as an exclusive colonial club. Many entrance ways open into the foyer, but none so directly as to reveal the rooms and alleys within. One entrance led us to a set of stairs on the side of a beautiful courtyard. A few well-linened tables for two glowed romantically in the candle light under trees that seem to reach, in my memory, all the way to the clearing at the roof of the building. We had a drink at an old school mahogany bar upstairs, while a tall and handsome bartender with ocean blue eyes told small jokes.

Our table was in a private room at a corner of the downstairs dinning room. We had the choice to pick our own courses to construct a three course menu for less than $30. It's a beautiful thing when the dollar is actually strong against the local currency. I didn't come half a world away to eat T-bone, so ostrich seemed like a natural choice. What was presented to me was a revelation. The lean fillet had been expertly grill to a perfect medium rare. Each bite was tender, but greaseless so unlike a steak. Some pan-fried mushrooms tucked under the fillet provided a bit of earthiness to match the pleasant gaminess of the ostrich. The exclamation mark was the pool of port jus. It was assertive without being overpowering. The plate was a harmonious marriage of local ingredients that enhanced each other when eaten together.

5. Pan seared scallops on curried lentils with blueberry glaze at Helene Darroze in Paris - Helene Darroze was the second three stared Michelin restaurant I've eaten at. Actually, it's technically the first, since Le Meurice had yet to receive its third star when I visited last year. Both restaurants offered some of the best and most unique bites I've ever had. It is truly a wonderful coincidence that both also gained their final golden star together in the red book this year.

While Le Meurice extrudes elegant old world refinement like Cathrine Deneuve lounging in a soft cashmere sweater, Helene Darroze shines with a modern edginess akin to Vanessa Paradis walking the red carpet in one of her unusual Chanel couture. This scallops dish exemplified the confidence that is so sexy about Darroze as a brilliant female chef. The flavor combinations were new and different, but well-calculated to balance each other. Backing that up with precise cooking that took the scallops to just off the raw edge, the lentils to just over crunchy, and the blueberry glaze to just thin enough to drizzle smoothly, Darroze created a plate that was a master piece to feast the eyes as well as the palate.

6. Sometimes the best food on earth is the homey fare lovingly prepared in my own orange kitchen and shared with friends. I made this prime rib roast last Christmas after days of marinating and fed it to the teethed members of E's family while little Luke watched us longingly from his boaster seat. Maybe this year, he could gnaw on something I make.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Best bites this year (Part I)

October finds me a year older. Being the strange cookie that I am, I still look forward to turning the page on the calendar year after year. I also enjoy spending some alone time to reflect on the days gone by. Food often plays a major part during that reflection as they are intertwined with my memories of happy times, sad times, and all the times in between.

This year, I found myself revering in the wonderful memories of the terrific tastes that have hit my palate, many of them undocumented on this blog due to my laziness. I thought it would be fun to put together a best bites list to show off all my unused photos. This best bites list is not in any order because, well, I don't keep things in order in my mind. It is also because I am incredibly lazy during my free time. I intend to list three bites at a time. I'll stop when the good eats run out.

1. Pretzel bar from the Chocolate Bar in nyc
The photo above shows the loaded shelf inside the tiny store. The folks there have concocted a dizzying range of nostalgic bars with creative artsy wrappers. My absolute favorite is the pretzel bar, a beautiful combination of salty and crunchy pretzel bites encased in rich dark chocolate.

2. Grilled Hamachi cheek from Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta
What separates a truly talented chef from the mere mortal is the chef's ability to show restraint when faced with great ingredients. In this case, Chef Linton Hopkins prescribed light grilling that brought out the natural creaminess of the hamachi cheek. The yuzu-based dipping sauce added just a bit of fruity acidity to cut through the fattiness.

3. Pan-fried hairy crab soup dumpling from the Whampoa Club in Shanghai
Chef Justin Leung ingeniously hid the aged dark rice vinegar inside the pork dumpling, creating a soup dumpling of sort. The sticky porky mixture oozed out in dramatic fashion with my first bite to flavor the thick sauce laden with the most robust hairy crab roe underneath. For those who know how much hairy crab roe cost in Shanghai and how much cholesterol it contains, the decadence of this dish is astounding and exemplifies the spirit of old Shanghai.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Where the little fishes are plump (New York restaurant: Otto)

If the phrase "Anchovy pizza" conjures up images of hairy brown creatures swimming in little pools of oil on a Domino's pie, you, my friend, have been denied one of the greatest taste pleasures your mouth could ever hope to experience. One remedy for this deficiency would involve a trip to Otto, Mario Batali's cozy pizzeria in New York, preferably for brunch. Without the loud evening wine bar scene, the terracotta/red hued interior, bathed in sunlight from the large windows, extrudes warmth and happiness, the perfect atmosphere for a lazy Sunday brunch.

I am not going to tell you that Otto makes the best pizza in New York, at least not the style of pizza that defines New York. Otto's version exhibits more characters of Italy than those of its resident city. The crust is crisp thin, incapable of the New York fold. It is, however, well charred and serves as the perfect non-distracting vessel for the bright flavors on top. The Otto tomato sauce is distinctly fresh tasting. The vibrant color alone is enough to get me salivating, but it's the sharp acidity that really cuts into and balances the richness of the cheeses.

While a plain cheese pie is a wonder on its own, the anchovy version takes the taste sensation to another level. The plump Italian anchovies adorning the Otto pie come preserved in good olive oil. They bear no resemblance to those tinned hairy bits of the same name found in the canned food aisle of your local supermarket. The heat of the brick oven turns the chubby little guys to an almost melty texture inside, so when your teeth break the fire-crisped skin, the creamy flesh squirt out and deposits a good dose of warm salty juice on your tongue. Ahh... Heaven!
Of course, you can't go to Otto without also trying the excellent gelatos. Get the option that allows you three flavors in one chilled goblet. My favorite is the caramel. Otto doesn't make the salted caramel version that I lust for in my dreams, but I do ask for a bit of good sea salt to put on it myself. The combination is sublime, if not quite out of this world like the salted caramel scoop from Berthillon in Paris. The most unique flavor at Otto has to be the olive oil. It pretty much tastes like wonderful olive oil in sweet and frozen form. Hard to imagine, I know, but incredible nonetheless.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Hidden Gem (Ice Cream Counter: Inside Dr. Bombay)

I have eaten my fair share of ice cream in town this summer, none of which were of the supermarket variety. This was almost unexpected. With the closing of What's the Scoop on Highland and the moving of beloved Hank's in Grand park, the pickings looked slim for a while. Then things looked up the day we drove by Dr. Bombay near Candler park. The unusual name set off a light bulb in my head. I had seen that name some time ago, in the context of some hidden ice cream counter.

We got a prime parking spot right out front on that lazy Sunday afternoon. Walking in from the bright sunlit street, I had to take a moment to adjust to the dimness within. The tiny space was crammed with tall bookshelf, mismatched tables, and well worn sofas. It looked like some one's well lived in den, inviting and comfortable. A man in an equally well worn t-shirt sat at one of the little tables sipping a cappuccino over a book. He didn't look up. Neither did a couple quietly chatting at the sofas on the other side of the room.

We felt self conscious for a second in the quiet space, feeling like intruders. Then I saw a rack of baked goods on a counter in the far back corner and relaxed. The counter was old fashioned and displayed only a handful of ice cream flavors behind glass panels that threaten to become too cloudy with age. The flavors were straight forward, banana, vanilla, chocolate, etc. None of it looked fancy, but the texture of the offerings looked creamy.

We each got a single scoop split between two flavors. The single scoop turned out to resemble two stacked baseballs in danger of toppling over the too small styrofoam container. We carefully balanced the massive construction on a high top near the counter and dug in. Creamy, creamy, creamy was the word of the day. Pinky sized pieces of banana studded throughout the big ball of frozen cream on the top of my cup, while little nibs of cookie punctuated the smooth vanilla ball underneath. The cream was so rich, I almost couldn't take it after a few bites, almost.

The monster of a scoop defeated me about half way through. But I planned to go back for more, perhaps with a good strong cup of black coffee.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sometimes nothing is better than a Krispy Kreme

I am not a die-hard Krispy Kreme fan. The flashing "hot" neon sign has never held any special power over me. I drive pass the cheerful green roof every morning without a second glance. I am immune to the whiffs of buttery fried dough that occasionally blow through the streets.

I should know better than to write the above. I should know that there aren't too many things in life one can state in the absolute and be right, especially when it comes to cravings for sweet things. For instance, it's hard to be sure when driving down an empty road late at night, uncertain of how far or how treacherous the journey ahead would be, that a fluffy circle of sugary thing wouldn't seem as comforting as the safety blankie from childhood. (I've actually never had such a blankie, but I can imagine its power).

It's probably a good idea to use the drive through. It would be too cruel to tear oneself from the warm cocoon inside the car. Get the original glaze if you are a purest. Get the glazed blueberry if you want something different. Heck, get a dozen if you can't decide. Pull into an empty parking lot if that's easy. Park under a street lamp if you are worried about dropping crumbs or if you'd just like to see the way the glaze crack between bites. Eat the donut exactly the way you'd like. If that means tearing the poor thing into twenty little pieces and smushing each between the fingers before licking the digits clean, do it. (Okay, maybe that's just me. I have no shame in practicing my weirder than most nibbling. If one single gulp suits you, do that.) Feel the sweetness spread within your cheeks and coat your insides. Sign with satisfaction and maybe a little sadness when it is all gone. Have a sip of milk to chase everything down if you were wise and had the foresight to buy some. Now, drive on into the darkness with sweetness in your stomach and warmth in your heart for having just had an unexpected and, most likely, undeserved sweet moment all your own.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The best cuppuccino I've ever had (coffehouse: Octane)

Let me first set forth the disclaimer that I am not a coffee connoisseur who roasts her own coffee or profess to know the nuances among the different roasts and beans. All I am saying is that Octane made the most fragrant and creamy cup of cappuccino that I could remember drinking since, well, ever. The friendly service and very very cute foam art didn't hurt either. I love this place.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Better late than never (snacks from Singapore)

I've seriously neglected this blog since my trip to Singapore/Vietnam. I could use work as excuse, but it wouldn't be the truth. At least not the truth I know in my heart. The fact is that I have fallen into a funk. The kind of funk that momentarily allows food to fall from the very top of my priority list. This is not to say that I haven't been eating. I have, probably more so than usual. What went missing was the excitement, the twinkle that a beautifully moist cupcake used to put in my eyes. How could I have let this happen? I don't know, but I am slowly trying to get my sanity back... Consider this post my first step in rehabilitation.

There aren't too many things in life quite as exciting as walking into an expansive hawker center for the first time. Whether in the smoldering heat off a busy street or behind monotonous shops in an urban mall, the sight of rows and rows of stalls frying, stewing, steaming, and boiling imaginable and unimaginable, recognizable and unidentifiable food items of every sort sets my pulse racing. No longer a novice, I can now attempt to discern what I truly desire among the stalls without suffering too much sensory overload. But unless I am careful to avoid passing the mee rebus stall upon first survey of the premise, my resolve to move on tend to dissolve quickly before the steaming bowl of spicy noodley goodness.

Ladled on a foundation of chewy yellow egg noodles, the spicy curry-like gravy composed of potatoes, curry power, salted soy beans, dried shrimps, and peanuts bursts with layers of flavor. The garnish of hard boiled egg, calamansi limes, spring onions, Chinese celery, green chillies, fried tofu, fried shallots, and been sprouts add crunchy as well as other textual interest. From the first bite, this dish keeps my taste buds dancing until my stomach begs for mercy.

Teow Chew dumpling must be one of the most perfect breakfast foods ever created. The outer layer is beautifully transparent and perfectly toothsome. I want to say that it contains rice flour and/or tapioca flour, but can't be sure. The innards consist of a stir-fried vegetable medley that is so well-seasoned, it's hard to argue a place for meat in that mixture.

Some think fries are the perfect hang-over cure. I can only say that it must be because they've never tried a bowl of bak kut Teh - meat bone tea the morning after. At its simplest, the soup showcases a long marriage of meaty pork ribs with a complex broth of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, etc. The steamy concoction cleanses and nourishes with its warmth as well as medical properties. If fried carbohydrate must be ingested, the youtiao - fried dough, provided for dipping should do the job nicely.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Two weddings and a full belly (second wedding in Singapore)

The Chinese bash in the evening was decided different from the opulent Indian fair earlier in the day. For starter, people were much much louder. Drinks, not of the mango lassie variety, were free flowing. The non-religious couple had no formal ceremony. They simply started the celebration with an elaborate champagne pour. The groom, ever the jester, specially ordered formally-dressed servers, bearing large trays of expensive appetizers such as abalone and lobster, to march into the ballroom under flashing lights and to disco tunes. All the guests went from looking slightly puzzled to laughing out loud as the servers broke out dance moves in unison with the large platters parked on their shoulders. How could anyone not love a couple with a great sense of humor. They will surely weather life's twists and turns well.

I expected the food to be okay, but not as good as it turned out to be. The couple swapped white gloved service for big sharing platters. We hardly had a miss in eight courses (Chinese lucky number). The braised abalone was tender, not chewy. The pickled jelly fish supplied a great dose of flavor without being laden with MSG. Not being a fan of the dirty bird (chicken), I almost didn't try the Chinese fried chicken in a sticky hoisen-based sauce until my neighbor served me a piece, which forced me to eat it out of proper Chinese etiquette. It was awesome. The crispy skin perfectly set off the tenderness of the au point meat underneath. I almost went for another piece, almost. That's saying a lot.

I also wasn't attracted to the homely looking scallops. But a surprising wonderful bite absent mindedly ingested while watching the hilarious baby picture slide show changed my mind. Maybe laughing enhanced the taste because I was doing a great deal of it. The too cute photos included captions such as "chicks dig it" accompanying photos of the groom wearing the most dorky black-rimmed glasses in primary school. The artfully edited slide show sent the room into fits of laughter.

Many more dishes flowed out of the kitchen as the night progressed. We wrapped Peking duck in fluffy bun pillows and tangled our chopsticks in yards of tender fried Cantonese noodles. My taste buds worked into frenzies while my stomach steadily expanded. Many times through the night, I patted myself on the back for having had the good sense to pick an empire waisted dress that left plenty of room in the middle section for spontaneous growth.

My favorite of the night, "taro mud," rounded out a terrific meal. The purple taro mush coated the mouth in a silky and fragrant layer. The nuggets of ginkgo nuts studded throughout the mush provided pleasant textual contrast. Pools of sweet coconut milk added the quintessential southeast Asian flare and contributed to the sticky mouth feel. I loved this stuff and this intimate wedding.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Two weddings and one full belly

How much wedding food can this girl handle? Apparently A LOT!

The wedding tour began with an elaborate northern Indian celebration at the Ritz. As soon as we stepped into the great hall, energetic costumed bongo dancers greeted us with songs while servers passed around mango lassies and Indian snacks. Our late arrival scored me a prime spot near the elevator bay when the most decked out bride I've ever seen emerged to meet her groom. The bride had so much gold and gem draped all over, around, and behind her, I was surprised that she could move at all. Once I got pass the sparkles, it was obvious that our friend's wife was quite the beauty with or without the blings.
Her grand entrance was followed by a slew of complicated wedding rituals involving both families and a spiritual man under a flower-covered tent in the ballroom. We couldn't understand much of it, but could still gather that some sort of negotiation took place between the families for the hand of the bride. Once a "deal" was struck, yards of threads were tied around the new couple, who were made to circle a fire pit quite a few times. This was no easy task, I assure you. Both the bride and groom were draped in so much fabric and jewelry, one misstep could start a fire in the Ritz ballroom that I am sure cost an arm and a leg to secure.
The most exciting portion of the wedding began soon after more rings were exchanged between the newly wed couple. The couple already had so many on, the poor justice of the peace even got confused as to where the new additions should go and said something to the effect of "please put the ring on the third finger of the left finger"??? No one minded the little mistake though as the couple looked head over heels in love with each other and we could smell the buffet in the adjacent banquet hall.
Wedding food was definitely not bad food at this wedding. The Ritz chefs set out arrangements of enormous buffets on each side of the large banquet room and a long table of desserts at the center. The buffets were divided multi-culturally into Chinese dim sum, Indian curries, and tempura. How cool is it to have a made-on-the-spot tempura station at a wedding buffet - too cool! I passed on all the Chinese offerings, thinking that I'd be getting my share at the other wedding that we were to attend in a few hours, and went straight for the curries. Everything was tasty, especially the spinach and Indian cheese combo. The only disappointment was the nann. This usual favorite of mine was lifeless and rubbery thanks to the long hours spent on the steam table. Desserts were hit or miss, which was fine by me since I got one of everything to try in my usual style. The mango pudding was way too watery while the white chocolate cake failed in the way that most Asian cakes do - it simply lacked the butteriness of. . . well . . . butter. The creme brulee had a very flavorful custard portion with a hint of orange essence, but the sugar crust was pitiful. All in all, the best desserts were the exotic fruits that included J's favorite jackfruit. A little tart, a little sweet, and very crunchy, it provided a very refreshing ending to a spice heavy meal.

We left the wedding party at around 4 pm, enough time to do a bit of quick shopping before having to get ready for the next big bash in the evening.

To be continued.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The best jet lag cure - Mangosteen!

Twenty six hours, three plane rides, and one elbow fight with an annoying neighbor who insisted on sleeping in my lap later, I emerged into the suffocatingly moist Singapore night. Raccoon eyed and smelling like stale airplanes, I was in no condition to partake in the first of the three wedding festivities that had brought me here. Instead, J cranked up the AC and drove me to his home.

I had all but given up on the idea of a midnight snack, my usual ritual in Singapore, when J came out of the kitchen with a plastic bag and a mischievous smile. "It's mangosteen season you know..." Before he could finish the sentence, I had already ripped the bag from his hands.

Adorable little guys they were. Perfectly chubby and round with cute little green caps, these babies were almost too beautiful to eat, almost. A hungry girl can only admire looks for so long, she must first answer to the call of the belly! No peeling or even washing required here. A bit of pressure put to the chubby cheeks was sufficient to force the skin apart to reveal the snowy white flesh within. All that left to do was to slurp/suck out the juicy tenderness with flourish. Mega mega yum!!! The segments burst in my mouth with a gentle coolness followed by an intense sweet/tartness somewhere between a ripe lychee and a white peach. If I didn't know better, I would have swallowed the few seeds in my haste to get to the next one.

Ten minutes and many mangosteens later, I had all but forgotten the horrid trip over and was ready to get some sleep in preparation for a long day of fooding to come.