Thursday, July 31, 2008

Daily highlight #68: Bacon! Chocolate! Bacon and Chocolate!

I really shouldn't have to comment on this one at all. Seriously, how bad could it be when you combine BACON and CHOCOLATE? We are talking sweet and savory, crunchy and creamy. When it says bacon, Vosges does not kid around. This is no bacon essence, bacon smoke, or bacon decoration. Throughout the milk chocolate, there are unmistakable real bacon bits, neither greasy nor gritty, just crispy bursts of porkiness. I loved it. Better still, you can now find the bacon bars at your local Whole Foods.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Daily highlight #67: transcending sweets - Bakery - Lady M (New York)

Watching Project Runway always makes me think of A, my fashion designer friend, who is still holding the fort in the big apple. We met eight years ago working at a big bank on Wall Street. While neither of us stuck with the job, our friendship survived. Part of me likes to think that it's because of our shared love for desserts. No matter what happens in our lives, we always manage to get together for a moment of bliss over something sweet. Come to think of it, our shared love saved me on the day of the infamous New York blackout when A tempted me from my office on the 50th floor of the Rockefeller complex, just shortly before the lights went out, to trek down to Union Square for a hot chocolate at the City Bakery. The next day, I was the only one at the office not suffering from leg cramps. :)

Even now, whenever I see A, we invariably end up eating sweets. This last time, we made the hike to Lady M, the ultimate stop for tea and sweet refreshments on the upper east side.

Mille Crepes is the killer item that everyone goes to Lady M to try. Imagine layer upon layer of paper thin crepe sandwiching layer upon layer of fluffy cream. It all sounds simple, but there are so many things that could go wrong. Yet, nothing ever does go wrong. Not here, not at Lady M. This is stuff of dreams.

Besides the mille crepes, it was ridiculously hard to decide among the others, some of which are shown here. We considered all our options without a decision until the man in front of us asked for a slice of strawberry shortcake and showed us the light. This wasn't the rustic strawberry shortcake sporting biscuits. This (top) involved some delicate construction of rip strawberries, soft sponge cakes, and, yes, more fluff cream.

We were giddy with our choices and spent hours forking at the light yet very satisfying cakes while laughing over our lives' ups and downs. Through tears over a lost loved one and excitement over new designs, we found our way back to those glorious days when we look at the Big City through dreamy eyes.

Lady M
41 East 78th St.
New York, NY 10075

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Daily highlight #66: Sad noodles

I love noodles and have waited to try this "noodle house" ever since the first time I saw its "coming soon" sign when I visited the neighboring Shilla's bakery. While the bakery brought pleasant surprises, this one, so very sadly, was a let down. The broth was so bland and one dimensional, I wanted to cry for the noodles that were actually quite slippery and al dente. In my severe disappointment (we don't really have dedicated noodle joints in this city), I failed to write down the precise address. But then again, you are not missing anything. Finally, I am sad to say that I present on this blog a very negative review.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Daily highlight #65: Mom food

Now that the parents are in the city, my office phone rings without fail on Friday mornings. Each time, mom turns on her "you can't refuse me" voice and demand to know when I'd show up for a meal. As always, I falter and commit to something. This past weekend, it was Sunday lunch.

Knowing that the camera will be present, mom presented her bitter gourd salad in "an arrangement." I couldn't help but let out a laugh. She is just too cute.

I know many of you out there aren't fond of the bitter stuff. I, myself, didn't always like it. But mom was persistent. She served it year after year in the summer and grew the stuff in her garden. Finally, one summer, I caught the bug and now I can't get enough. When cooked to the right doness, the bitterness isn't prominent. It just barely registers in the back of the throat and evokes an imaginary sweetness as an after thought.

This bamboo salad, while not superb, due to a lack of fresh bamboo, made me yearn for a lovely snack of my youth. Mom sent me away, far away, for school at the tender age of five. To make the blow softer, she gave me my own pocket money, enough for a few snacks from the street vendor outside of our school. Every week, at the start of my hour plus journey home, I'd buy a little wax paper packet of bamboo salad and pick at it one piece at a time. Fragrant from sesame oil and spicy from a chili fermented soy paste, the salad made the long walk and bus ride home something to look forward to.

Mom already poached the chicken, but asked me to make the blending sauce in the most "I am too busy, can you do this" manner. The thing is, the sauce is the most critical part of this dish and this woman, in my twenty eight years of knowing her, had NEVER let another touch her critical sauce. I was startled, then honored, and then scared to make the sauce. It turned out fine. After all, I have seen this done a hundred times. Dry toast some Sichuan peppercorn and wet fry some garlic in toasted sesame oil, then add the spicy bean paste. Let it warm a bit and take the whole thing off the stove before adding soy, rice vinegar, and a good spoonful of smoked dry chili oil. Finally, let the flavors blend somewhat before dressing the chicken. Back in the day, we would have added a taste of MSG for flavor. Now, even mom has bought into the American brainwashing about MSG... I miss that umami taste. And seriously, a billion people in China haven't turned dumb or dropped dead because of the stuff. But a fight would have proven futile, so I kept quiet.

Finally, the dish of love, garlic chives with smoked pork belly. No matter how many times I've had this, I crave it, always. We used to only have it during Chinese New Year, when grandma comes to visit and smokes her own pork behind our high rise in a make shift smoker constructed out of refrigerator box. If there was ever any doubt where my mom got her determination, one look at my grandma would have settled that. When the woman sets her mind to something, everyone better just get out of her way. After all, she raised three children by herself on a hilly rural plot of land in central China where tractors were a dram and, really, would have just rolled down the hill. She worked and harvested the fields and still found time to make the most beautiful embroidery that I have since transferred onto a precious dress that never fails to draw compliments from all those who see it.

I know, I know, I turn completely sappy every time I write about mom food on this blog. But the truth is, even knowing that she never reads this blog and wouldn't understand even if she did, I can't help but praise her food, because it is food that defines me, not the language I speak, the dress I wear, or even the food I make, but the me that experience all of it through colored lens that she and the women before her gave me.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Daily highlight #64: Absolutely "High" on museum dinner - Restaurants: Aria and Canoe

There are those who spend money to buy guilt. Then there are those enlightened ones like Christie, who generously donate to benefit the arts and, in the process, bring together fantastic chefs like Carvel Grant Gould of Canoe and Gerry Klaskala of Aria and fabulous cellar owners like Louise Sams to create brilliant wine dinners for magical moments with some very lucky friends. If that's not a win-win situation, I don't know what is.

A glass of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame welcomed each guest into the elegantly understated home of the equally elegant Louise. Deep in the heart of the house, a white roses adorned dining table softly glowed in the candlelight.

The open kitchen offered the guests an up close and personal view of the efficient preparation that was in full swing quietly behind an astounding number of open bottles and decanters. While the sheer number of excellent wines got my heart racing, a particular bottle almost stopped it all together. At that moment, there was no doubt that the evening will be a most memorable one.

We settled into our seats with a first pour of 2002 Olivier LeFaive Chablis Fouchaume. A classic chablis, this one exhibited a great bit of refreshing acidity enrobed in chardonnay's vanilla and white flower aroma. It got our palates excited for what's to come.

An amuse bouche of red and yellow tomatoes brought summer colors to the table. Simply dressed with olive oil, the tomatoes shone with their own ample savoriness and played off the sweetness found in a surprising cube of watermelon.

We then moved into our courses, starting with chef Gould's ingenious shrimp and scallop stuffed squash blossom. I say ingenious, not because there aren't other stuffed squash blossoms gracing tables elsewhere, but because this one is the first I've seen that was halved to showcase the beauty within and, at the same time, encased so thinly in a tempura-like batter as to let the bright yellow and green blossom make a statement in both color and subtle sweetness. The other star of the dish was the green cantaloupe puree on which the blossom sat. The salted puree anointed with green olive oil picked up mineralities and nutty nuances I hadn't previously noted in the chablis, fully illustrating the complementary wonders of a great pairing.

A new glass brought a 2001 Gagnard-Delagrange Batard Montrachet. A well-integrated nose blended soft floral with lively fruit leading into hints of toast. The supple mouth feel and creamy long finish foretold a creamy dish to come.

And that dish was chef Klaskala's poached wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon floating unapologetically in a rich pool of cream and accompanied by leeks, fennels, tomatoes, and basils. Normally, I am not a big fan of the sockeye, finding it too lean. But when there is creaminess aplenty in the sauce, sockeye's slightly assertive flavor stood up to the equally assertive aromatic vegetables and cut through the richness of the cream.

Staying with Burgundy, we received a pour of 1990 Laboure Roi Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru. For it's age, this Burgundy was surprisingly expressive in dark fruits, especially that of cherry. Also enjoyable was an interesting interplay of chocolate with just the tiniest bit of licorice.

The plate that accompanied the wine did not at all pale in comparison on the interesting factor. A little bird, the quail, got itself stuffed with the much bigger bird, the duck. The result was pure joy for us diners. A true fan of duck sausages, I quickly cleared the quail of its juicy duck innards, a classic food partner to a red Burgundy. The sausage indeed played nice with the chocolate and berry notes in the wine.

My fascination with all thing miniature also helped to bring about a blissful moment while I gnawed on the tiny drumstick. But the very best part of the dish was found in the innocent looking vidalia onion puree. If I harbored any reservation about whether vidalia deserved to be called the queen of onions, this preparation evaporated all doubts. Sweet, salty, creamy, with an oniony finish, the combination of flavors, for lack of a better description, absolutely rocked. Someone should put this in a jar, so I could take a spoon to it on a regular basis.

Our progression into headier and heartier territories began with a 1982 Ducru Beaucaillou. In my Bordeaux Book, Robert Parker called this "the finest" that this chateau had produced since 1961. Who knew I'd be a true student and sample the example on this night. Of course, I am in no position to either agree or disagree with RP, having performed no vertical tasting of my own, but I will say that the chewy texture and surprising oriental spiced berries painted a slightly exotic yet still very classic picture of what I considered a St-Julien profile.

Chef Klaskala presented a veal filet mignon to accompany the Ducru Beaucaillou. A quick glance at the menu got me a bit worried, the veal was served atop a small mound of artichoke puree. I love artichoke, but am always careful to avoid it when having wine due to its tendency to turn the wine sweet. Since I was thoroughly loving the Ducru Beaucaillou and was eagerly eying the stunner that was yet to come, I really didn't want to screw it up. So I dutifully ate around my artichoke puree with much care. While I regretted not experiencing the dish fully, which judging by the praises all around, was quite the success in its combination of flavors, I nonetheless enjoyed the veal cooked au point.

Then what I had been waiting for, the 1989 Chateau Haut Brion, was poured. Louise took a moment to modestly mention that 1989 was a great year for Bordeaux. What she didn't say was that she was beyond generous in offering these bottles for this dinner. Unless any of us had been old enough and fortunate enough to have tasted the 1959 Chateau Haut Brion at this stage of development, it's hard to imagine that we could have done better than this extraordinary first growth.

The purple tinted ruby color betrayed little of its age. The complex nose initially reminded me of smoke or tobacco. Further sniffs hinted at stewed berries and chocolate. Bits of oak bloomed up in the glass later in the night. In the mouth, the tannin was so soft, it felt like velvet. The finish lingered long and strong and hinted at a vague sweetness I couldn't quite put my finger on. None of this description captures the adoration that welled up in me with every sip. I will just say that the finish will linger on my palate for years to come.

I would have been completely at a lost in trying to produce something that would stand up to this Haut Brion. Then again, I probably wouldn't even care when the wine is this good. But chef Gould cared and had just the right answer, a braised Carolina Rabbit "jumper" resting on a swiss chard ravioli, bacon, and candied garlic sauce. The genius here lay in the slight sweetness of the rabbit and the awesome smokiness of the chard and bacon. Somehow they managed to seek out their counterparts in the wine, which were all integrated into a complex nuance. The pairing was so unlikely, it instantly became a classic in my mind.

A 1996 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake Vineyard boldly stepped up to follow the tough act. Generous with dark and ripe fruits, the wine also revealed earthy notes of mushroom and a clean barnyard. :)

To achieve synergy with the vibrant wine, a saddle of lamb came with the most concentrate offering of greens for the evening. Simple and straight forward, everything depended on the lamb being cooked well. And it was. Tender and seasoned with a firm hand, the lamb had just enough lamb flavor to pick up the earthiness of the wine without being too gamey.

A 1997 Antinori Tignanello continued the cabernet sauvignon trend in a super Tuscan blend with sangiovese. Dark and deep, this blend held a power lightened only by aromas of sweet fruits and Italian herbs.

Power for power, the Painted Hills Farm short rib held down its end of the weight scale with truffled potatoes and plenty of rich foie gras in a viscous cabernet sauce. What fault could one really find in melty foie gras cubes, dreamy puddles of mashed potatoes, and a big hunk of long braised short rib? Absolutely nothing.

Last but definitely not least, I got my first peach dessert of the season, a tart with ginger brown butter and vanilla creme fraiche. Georgia peach in season is a beautiful thing. The key is to mess with it minimally. This night, the peach was most certainly in season and enhanced only with caramelized brown butter, sugar, and a whiff of ginger. Gorgeous stuff.

In matching simplicity, a 2002 Huet vouvray Cuvee Constance showcased a lovely nose of honey, which I adore in Chenin blanc. Following close behind were notes sweet tangerine and apricot, all lovely compliments to the buttered peach slices in a tart that was a most fitting simple dessert to finish off a glorious evening of feasting.

Thanks seemed like such a small word at the end of such a wonderful occassion for which many gave generously. As a mere lucky beneficiary of it all, I can only hope to have loved and appreciated what had gone into the making of all this possible whole heartedly. In my own inadequate way, I got super "High" on this museum dinner. THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME!

Many thanks goes out to Christie, Louise, Chef Gould, Chef Klaskala, and the many others who helped to make these blissful moments possible.

Daily highlight #63: No more cold behind - Restaurant: Floataway

Before its renovation, Floataway Cafe melted my heart with it's wood fired pizzas but left my behind numb and cold with its hard metal seats. Post renovation, the great pizzas remain, but the icy seats are replaced with comfy cushioned arm chairs. Now I leave this place happy, inside and out. :)

Cioppino is a dish that makes me nervous. The more variety of seafood that goes in, the more likely that something will turn out overcooked and tough. But I had faith in Floataway and my trust was not misplaced. Everything from the clams to the shrimps was cooked just through and no more. The light but vibrant broth enhanced the unique character of each seafood player without overpowering anything.

Instead of my usual softserve, I decided to change things up and got the blueberry tart. While the tart was by all means tasty with a nice toasted crunch on top, I coveted my neighbor's soft serve terribly. It served as a good reminder that most of the time true love beats the new and different because well, it's true love. :)

Floataway Cafe
1123 Zonolite Rd. Suite 15
Atlanta, GA 30306

Friday, July 25, 2008

Daily highlight #62: The beans matter - Restaurant: Papi's

On my way home earlier this week, I had the incredible urge for rice and beans. Too afraid of standing still in traffic on such a hot day, I did the easy thing, I stopped by Papi's on my short drive home.

The special tilapia sounded good, especially when I was told that it came with rice, beans, and fried plantains. To my surprise, the tilapia was fried. Not that I didn't want fried, I just didn't quite imagine it that way. Well, surprised or not, it was a fantastic piece of fish. The seasoning went all through the flesh under a crunchy crust that was none too greasy. The fried plantains were plump, sweet, and not overly starchy. But best of all, the beans were superbly flavorful and thoroughly imbued the white rice with savory tastiness. When generously spread over everything else, the beans tied all the other elements together for a very satisfying dinner.

216 Ponce De Leon Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30308

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Daily highlight #61: A good piece - Restaurant: Cantina El Tesoro

We were in the area, but I really went because what I had heard about this tres leches cake. To act somewhat normal, I fought the urge to eat dessert first and got some tacos to start.

They were fine. The ingredients seemed fresh, but neither the duck nor the fish stood out. Of course, I am spoiled by what can be found for less than a dollar on Buford highway. These are competent for their Decatur location.

Now back to the cake. In short, it was good, even bordering very good, if I haven't already tried the fluffy and creamy slice at Tierra. But in comparison, the frosting was a bit denser than the dreamy marshmallowy mound on the Tierra cake and tasted a bit frigid from the refrigerator. Maybe it has been sitting for a while and lost it's youthful lightness. Maybe what I really need to do is to try both cakes back to back. Now that's a good thought.

Cantina El Tesoro
129 Church St.
Decatur, GA 30030

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Daily highlight #60: Seeing is believing - Restaurant: Rosa Mexicano

I am not a fan of the "scene" at Atlantic Station and I know little of Rosa Mexicano's extended menu. But you know what, I have yet to find another place where you can drink a nice bubbly glass of cava while watching your guacamole been prepared table side with fresh avocados. So if what you want is a fresh snack at the bar before the movie, this combination is pretty unbeatable.

Rosa Mexicano
245 18th St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30363

Monday, July 21, 2008

Daily highlight #59: Vegatable identified

Yesterday I set out to find out the name of this vegetable. Within the day, I have the answer. It's really amazing that in this super connected network age, all one has to do to find out the answer is really just to ask the question. Thanks goes out to your comments, Chinese yahoo, my mom's knowledge of Chinese vegetable names, and wikipedia.

Without further ado, let me introduce Malabar spinach or basella alaba. Also know in Chinese as 木耳菜 or 潺菜. For more information, check out the relevant wiki page.

Whatever name you may choose to call it, this is good eats. :)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Daily highlight #58: Name this vegetable

After eleven years of being apart, my folks are again in the same city as me. For my mom, that means she now has the right to call my office everyday at 5pm to see if I'd stop by for dinner. As much as I declare time and again that I am busy with work or have other engagements, it inevitably warms my insides to know that she is thinking of me everyday.

Saturday night I dutifully made my way over to their place and mom served up eight homey dishes for the three of us. (Didn't I tell you that this woman is hard to live up to?) Among the familiar were this vegetable dish I've had a hundred times, but still have no idea what it's name is. It's a broad leafed plant with supple flesh and a slightly slimy consistency in the way of okra. Do you know what it is? Please leave a comment for me if you do.

A few dishes among the eight we ate included

smoked lean bacon stir fried with leeks and carrots,

A soy stewed fish with chilies,

and toasted rice flour covered beef slices steamed with green beans.

When dad saw me taking pictures of the food, he said "you know your mom's everyday stuff isn't always the prettiest, but it's pretty tasty. You should take pictures when she is doing a banquet." Before he went further, he was summoned away to help mom season her squash stew, which will no doubt end in mom's complaining of his inefficiencies and lack of good taste buds. :) He has good taste buds alright. He is just not mom. No one can be. She is just one of a kind.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Daily highlight #57: Not everyone's comfort food - Restaurant: Bonjuk

Comfort foods are often those that remind us of being protected and loved when were were children. Here in America, more often than not, we are talking some sort of potato or pasta. But on the side of the world where I spent my youth, comfort food inevitably revolves around rice. In its most comforting form, the rice is twice cooked into a porridge or congee. My mom was a purist and our congee was always left plain and cooked from fresh rice to let the characters of the rice shine through. To make the finished congee take on a sticky and satiny feel, sometimes mom would add a bit of baking powder to the congee to help break up the rice grains. I loved the plain version all through the scorching summers, but when the nights become short and the chill sets in, I always secretly start to crave the leftover congee mom makes for Sunday lunch when she puts all the Saturday dinner sauces and meats into the second day rice congee. This second day congee could be dominated by the essence of fish, pork, chicken and/or vegetable depending on what we had the most of from the night before. And this range of flavors are what Bonjuk offers in abundance. I am not saying that you'll be eating leftover food. Far from it. Everything at Bonjuk is added fresh to the long cooked congee base. But the array of flavors run from exotic abalone to octopus and kimchi to black seasame. The combinations are rooted in Korean traditions and some are based on Eastern medicine. For example, the black sesame version is supposed to be awesome for complexion. And sure enough, in the short time we were there, we saw two ladies ordering it.
I didn't feel like working on my complexion. Instead, I decided to give myself a spicy wake up call and got the octopus and kimchi. The flavor was wonderfully spicy and savory from the kimchi, but the octpus pieces were very smalled and turned rubbery before my first taste. It's probably just the nature of the congee that makes it unsuitable for items that do not benefit from prolonged heating. Next time I'll try to stick to something more conducive for stew type of dishes.

2645 N. Berkeley Lake Rd. Unit 140
Duluth, GA 30096

Friday, July 18, 2008

Daily highlight #56: Go for the spread - Restaurant: Mediterranean Grill

In my world, there could never be too many hummus and falafel places. For one, there are so many subtle variations of both among the hummus and falafel eating nations. This week, I stopped by the midtown branch of the Mediterranean grill to experience their take on these good eats. Besides hummus I was also tempted to get some baba ghanoush. Both the hummus and the baba ghanoush were delightfully creamy. I could taste in the hummus much richness from the good dose of tahini. It was right up my alley as I love tahini's unparalleled smoothness. The baba gahnoush, while containing no tahini, nonetheless achieved a level of wonderful creaminess from the blended eggplants. I loved both.

What was disappointing was the pita. While I gave MG credit for warming up the pita, the doughy stuff was not at all fluffy and began to harden into crackly sheets almost as soon as I got them. Note to self, I must secure my own pita the next time I order here.

Also disappointing was the single falafel I bought for a taste. My heart sank when I saw the dark color. And sure enough, it was dry, dry, dry. I'll just stick to the enjoyable spreads the next time.

Mediterranean Grill
985 Monroe St.
Atlanta, GA

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Daily highlight #55: The black goat - Restaurant: Hanil Kwan

While most discussions on Korean food here in Atlanta tend to focus on the bbq, J and I are bigger fans of something else, the boyang tang (black goat stew). Relatively recently we tried the version at Hanil Kwan and quite liked it. What made it good was the abundance of shredded goat meat and the heady black mustard seed filled spicy soup. J is fond of the dip that comes with the dish, but I generally opt to eating the meat as is. Whatever your preference for eating your goat meat, there is no mistake in generously pouring your soup over the rice for a tongue tingling homey treat.

Hanil Kwan
5458 Buford Hwy NE
Doraville, GA 30340

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Daily highlight #54: Why isn't this hyped? - Lunch stall: Afro Dish

It's so hard to make brown food look good, but O.M.G. was this incredible stuff. It took me three years to revisited Sweet Auburn market and actually have food there. Now I am kicking myself big time for not having tried this the last time around. Afro Dish, the normal looking Jamaican stall along the left wall from the parking lot entrance served up everything from oxtail to stewed goat to jerk chicken. With every meat choice came one among three rices and two of many sides.

For a split second, I couldn't quite decide between the oxtail and the stewed goat, then went for the goat when I saw the cracked open marrow bones. While we pay top dollars at the cutting edge restaurants for such "delicacies" now, places like Afro Dish practically shower lunchers with the stuff. For something healthy on the side, I got myself some spicy spinach and beans. Everything was amazing! The goat, of course, was rich from the marrow goodness. But the most surprising was the yellow rice. So nicely spiced and savory, I could have eaten bowls of the stuff without anything else you see here, and I am not even the biggest fan of rice. (I know I am a sorry excuse of a Chinese) This is awesome stuff. The beans were creamy and spinach were spicy, if just a tad salty. But hey, it's supposed to go with rice.

My friend J (it's amazing how many of my friends have this initial), who didn't appear immediately captivated by the oxtail or stewed goat on display went for some jerk chicken. She generously let me try a piece and it was fall off the bone tender even without the help of a knife. The spice got our body heat rising for sure. This was not the tongue burning kind of spice, but was the variety that tickled the throat and warmed the insides slowly.

If like me, you have not visited Sweet Auburn market for a while. Run and try some of this stuff. I know I will, again!

Afro Dish
Sweet Auburn Curb Market
209 Edgewood Ave SE
Atlanta, GA 30303

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Daily highlight #53: Borat's chocolate

Z at work graciously shared with us some chocolates straight from Kazakhstan. She promised that, contrary to what Borat would have us believe, the chocolate contained no fermented animal byproducts. :) Of course, that comment really wasn't meant for my benefit. It's no secret that I have yet to meet anything I would not eat, and I have met quite a lot. Aside from the usual Asian "delicacies" such as chicken feet, pig's ears, durian, stinky tofu, congealed blood, bird's nest, and duck intestines, I've also being lucky enough, in my twenty eight years on this planet, to have tasted such snacks as roasted African silk worms, fried beetles, stewed bear paws and, yes, deer penises. So, the point is, Borat does not scare me. :)

I wanted to say that these chocolates were the same as any other you'd find here, but, you know what, there was a nuance that was quite familiar to me, but I couldn't quite place when I first tasted it. Then it came to me in the early hours of the morning, when I was lying in bed half awake (many things come to me during those minutes of half consciousness). There was a toasted dairy flavor that I enjoyed in the chocolate, a flavor that was reminiscent of my earliest memory of experiencing chocolate as a youngster in China. It's the flavor of toasted milk powder. I am not talking about milk. No, I am speaking of milk powder. If you've grown up in a third world country, where the stuff was rationed to kids, or have tried milk skin, the layer that forms when boiled unpasteurized whole milk is cooled, you'd also recognize the taste. It's completely different from that of milk, in a way that is much more concentrated and earthy. I really enjoyed this, not because it's the most complex or smooth milk chocolate I've ever had, but because it reminded me of a time when life was simple and having chocolate was the ultimate joy in life. :)

Ever once in a while, we all deserve a moment like that. Thanks Z!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Daily highlight #52: My laksa article in the paper

As you will see, Tom's photo is a whole lot more appetizing than mine, but I tried. :)

Check out my article in the Atlanta Cuisine paper here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Daily highlight #51: Where ten dollars take you a pretty long way - Restaurant: Stella Trattoria

Thankfully, the economical downturn hasn't affected our dining pattern dramatically, but it doesn't mean we don't appreciate finding a place with prices that are good to the wallet. I didn't go to Stella expecting it to be such a place, but I am glad to report that it is.

J has an infatuation with caprese salads, so we ordered this six dollar version and were surprised to find the tomatoes nicely roasted and tarted up with a pretty decent balsamic.

The pork ragu pappardelle was slightly more expensive at thirteen dollars, but considering that the pasta was freshly made and the pork from Riverview farm, this was really not such a bad deal. The only thing the dish wants for was some salt. It would have dampened the mood had I paid premium price for the pasta, but sitting outdoor facing the "peaceful" view of the oakland cemetery, it really didn't bother me all that much. Plus, it wasn't my dish.

I got the simple margherita pizza at eight dollars. The crust wasn't the stuff of dreams, but it was delightfully crispy. You can't really go wrong when there was cheese on top and fresh basil scattered about.
We splurged on some peach gelato. And it was a worthy splurge. Creamy and fully of peachy essence, I finished the whole thing despite declaring at the outset that it was too much.

Stella Trattoria
563 Memorial Drive