Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daily highlight #89: Day 1 of local food sampling (Singapore)

J's dad is the most eager host I know. As soon as my parents got up on Saturday, we were off to sample some local food in what he called an "easy setting" that would help to ease my parents the first timers into the Singapore food culture.

We arrived at the historical Island Country Club right on time to find the multi-ethnic kitchen crew working a great variety of stations in an open kitchen near the main dining room that has a panoramic view of the lush and vast golf courses. A country club is not where I'd go back in the State for ethnic food, but here in Singapore, good food is pretty much the norm everywhere and this country club dining room has been showcasing the cuisines of all the major ethnic groups of Singapore for as long as it has been in existence.

We ordered way too much, but a good variety to give the parents a taste of the land. First up was an Indian influenced Malay rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad coated with an unusual shrimp paste and peanut sauce and fortified with fried dough fritters. Sweet, spicy, soft, and crunchy, the mixture was a curiosity that kept all the senses busy with every bite.

Next up was a chicken tandoori that nodded to the Punjab region of India. Unlike the alarmingly red and dry version often found in the States, these chicken pieces, which we saw being pulled out of a tandoor oven right before serving were super moist and tasted of strong turmeric, cayenne and red chili powder.

Everyone knew of my love for the laksa and ordered it as soon as we saw it on the menu. This particular version was true to Singapore form with plenty of coconut milk to balance out the curry and plenty of cockles to introduce a seafood flavor.

A similarly rich looking mee siam also graced our table, but the taste here went miles away from the laksa. Meaning Siamese noodle, this thin vermicelli dish is Singapore's interpretation of Thai taste that in its evolution became something that is very much a representation of this country rather than Thailand. Spicy, sweet, and sour, the al dente noodles were pregnant with flavor and a pleasure to slurp.

We went back to Indian flavors with a chicken tikka masala that has been popular in this former British colony ever since the British brought it here from its other famous colony. Cooked in a tomato enriched curry sauce, the large drumstick was fork tender and thoroughly soaked with the intense curry. Our garlic nan went a long way in mopping up the thick sauce.

Finally, there was a char kway teow (top), the popular fried rice noodle dish. Done up with plenty of wok he in lard rendering, this dish was full of prawns, cockles, eggs, bean sprouts and Chinese chives with a nice sprinkling of crispy pork lard on top. Sinful, yes, but tasty without a doubt.

We left the Island club without dessert only to go home for the ultimate treat, durians! Kept in a separate fridge two floors away from the kitchen, the heady smell was contained until it was time to indulge. J's dad, who loves the stuff above all other fruits, closely watched my mom as she took her first bite of creamy durian. Mom looked thoughtful for a second then smiled big for the camera. She loved it, just like her girl. Dad didn't do badly either and went for seconds. What can I say, they are still adventurous eaters at almost sixty. J's dad confirmed that he is now convinced that our families are really meant to be united in marriage. Who knew, durian was the deal breaker. :)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Daily highlight #88: Sorry for the break, flight to Singapore is long!

After a whole twenty four hours of flying, I am here again in the land of the ultimate hawker food. :) The wedding is seven days away with lots left to do. But a hungry girl is useless for tackling tasks. Eating must happen first.

For breakfast, nothing beats a superb bowl of Bak Chor Mee (mince pork noodle). Seng Kee on Changi Road loads up on heavenly mushrooms that impart a depth to its unique sauce. I also like the mee pok noodle here. It is always al dente or QQ as the natives call it and never mushy. Minced pork, while in the name, is not the star of the bowl, that honor goes to the liver pieces. Not funky, but definitely mineraly in the best sense of the word as it applies to organ meats, the liver balances out the eggyness of the noodle perfectly. I can't imagine a better way to start my wedding week.

Seng Kee Mushroom Minced Pork Noodles
316 Changi Road

Daily highlight #87: The other yeast bread - H&F Bread Company

Having never being to the middle east, I can't tell you whether what you see here is an authentic pita. Frankly, there are so many varieties of pita in the vast region that is the middle east, I doubt I could speak with any degree of authority even if I did go for a short tourist visit. What I can tell you is that while tearing pieces of fluffy and well ventilated innards from this pillowy pita, I appreciated, for the first time, pita's classification as a yeast bread.

There was no doubt that millions of little microorganisms had worked their magic on this creation, lifting the dough every which way to create the peaks and valleys within the large pocket. This time, I couldn't hold on to my lone pita long enough to contemplate any sort of filling. But next time, I'd be sure to hold out for some creamy hummus at least.

H&F Bread Company
2255 Peachtree Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30309

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Daily highlight #86: Caught the end of the season - Restaurant: Dancing Crab (DC)

I still remember the days in the early nineties when a dozen blue crabs cost six dollars at the height of the season in Baltimore. Now I'd be lucky to get a dozen for fifty. But still every time I come up to the DC/Baltimore area during the summer, I must get some.

Normally, I rent a car to drive down to the harbor of Annapolis where I can sit on the water at Mike's with my own pile of Old Bay covered beauties. But this trip, I was short on time and long on work, so Dancing Crab in the middle of DC just had to do.

This night only medium males were available, but they were rather meaty little guys. Never mealy and distinctly sweet, the blue crab is unbeatable flavor wise. Where Dancing Crab loses out to Mike's is in the way the crabs were steamed. Mike's does its crabs in vast steamers at high heat, which turns out cooked through, but dry meat. Dancing Crab's crabs have touched water, which left some lodged in the meat that in some instances turned the meat just a bit mushy. In any case, it was still good stuff I don't get in Atlanta and long for every summer. Until next season, I'll have to live on the memory of this dozen.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Daily highlight #85: Reasonable indulgence - Restaurant Eugene

Many restaurants are now promoting various "recession specials" to entice the dwindling dining population. I don't know about you, but a meal titled recession something or another just sounds depressing. Of course I am not saying that I don't love a bargain. I have always loved what's arguably the best dining bargain in town way before this economy decided to take a dive.

On Sunday nights, Restaurant Eugene breathes an air of easy southern gentility and welcomes a large crowd for supper. Even though the entire price tag for the supper (3 courses for $29.50) is less than that of an entree on the regular menu, no server ever made me feel less wanted on these evenings. And just like full price nights, an Eugenified oyster (above) arrived for each diner. The plump oyster almost looked bashful under the layer of delicate granita the shade of sakura. Cool like ocean breeze with just a hint of sweetness, it was a good representation of what this restaurant is about, elegance and substance.

Out of the three appetizers, we all chose the butternut squash soup with crab fritter. The soup had great depth that spoke of bacon, the foundation of southern cooking. The crab fritter was still crunchy, but tasted just a bit more doughy than I would have liked. The honor of best crab fritter remains with Bachanalia where the blue crab fritter is almost entirely crab under the most fragile crust. But I am picking bones here in making such a comparison. After all, the bachanalia meal is more than twice what this supper costs.

I almost couldn't stay away from the awesome sounding pork osso bucco, but having turned down the famous fried chicken a few times before, I was determined to try it this time around. As you can see, this was a tremendous amount of food, especially for the type of restaurant that Eugene is. Not fond of white meat, I started with the dark leg piece. Unlike fried chicken places where a thicker crunchy crust is the attraction, the Eugene crust is thin and mainly there to provide textural contrast and to seal in the juices. And juices there were plenty, even in the white meat pieces. But the flavor of the dark meat was hard to match and proved to be my favorite as usual. I had no problem resorting to fingers when I got near the bone. I am not going to say that this is my favorite fried chicken ever, since I do appreciate the thicker crust and a more down home atmosphere for this southern treat. But for an upscale rendition, the Eugene chicken was utterly enjoyable.

We finished things with a molten chocolate cake, a dessert that is hardly original, but was executed successfully to achieve tender crumb and liquidy center. In combination with the earlier courses, the Eugene supper package was a winner and an undeniable bargain. And it's not called or treated like a recession concession. Now that's definitely a plus.

Restaurant Eugene
2277 Peachtree Road
Atlanta, GA 30309

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Daily highlight #84: Southern sweets for wedding shower

The lovely people at work threw me a wedding shower today. Not only did they create floral arrangements (below) for me out of my wedding flowers, the orchids (below), they also arranged for plenty of bubbly, a good bit of nibbles, and a coconut cake from Southern Sweets decorated with more orchids.

Thanks for making it special. :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Daily highlight #83: Craving!!! - Restaurant: JBSD Dubu House

The color of natural pearl and slightly stretchy like a flat rice mochi, this potato pancake is simply addictive, especially dipped in bit of kimchi juice. Unlike the more common seafood pancake that is more focused on the seafood pieces embedded in a wheat flour based batter, this pancake with some rice flour mixed in is all about the pleasing smooth and tender texture and natural flavor of potato. It's like skillet potato with a chewy and smooth center. It's absolutely fabulous. I need some NOW!!!!

JBSD Dubu House
2645 N. Berkeley Lake Rd.
Duluth, GA 30096

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Daily highlight #82: Braiseless days

I never gave up on braises this summer. This latest pork, plated here over some ginger carrots, was so succulent, even my dad, who almost never comments on food, sang its praise. I really wanted to make another one this week, but unfortunately, the one that normally helps me put it away is away, so the dutch will have to wait for some time yet.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Daily highlight #81: This dirty bird gives rolling bones a run for its money - Restaurant: Fox Bro

I don't go to a bbq place to eat chicken, except at Rolling Bones, where the juicy chicken is perhaps the best offering. But after last night's meal, I may make an exception for Fox Bro as well.

We were at the smoke joint to give J his honest meat fix before he heads to Shanghai for the second time in three weeks. I know, anyone else would find Shanghai an amazing food town. And it is. But for a man who enjoys my simple home cooking and a relaxed pace, the demanding and alcohol level raising Chinese business dinners are not something to look forward to. So when he asked for a variety of meats, I was happy to oblige.

The bird leg was as juice as the one I took out from Rolling Bone's months ago with just a bit less seasoning. Accompanied by a little sauce on the side, the skin clad dark pieces were every bit as enjoyable. What made our rib/pork/chicken combo even better was the ultra rich mac and cheese. Velveeta stretchy, the homey pot comforted in the most satisfying way and made forgiving the too salt collard greens an easy thing to do.

As we chewed away, J looked at me and teased "I bet other brides three weeks away from their weddings aren't eating bbq." I had actually thought about the topic the same morning and informed him my conclusion "I'd be afraid not to fit into my dress properly if I didn't eat as I normal do." Little did he know, I had also altered my dress to make sure that it would accommodate further eating on the wedding day. After all, to let an eight course Chinese banquet go to waste would be a crime.

Fox Bro
1238 Dekalb Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30307

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Daily highlight #80: Chocolate chicken wings - Restaurant: Cafe Circa

No, there is no twist here. We are not talking about salty chocolate mole on chicken wings or some clever dessert shaped like poultry. It's exactly what the menu says, sticky chocolate sauce on salty chicken wings. And you know what, it really works. Had the chicken skin been fatty or flabby, it would have turned out gross. Had the chocolate been more runny, it would have turn out too messy. But none of this happened, the chicken was perfectly crispy under the just gooey enough coating. We all thoroughly enjoyed this finger licking appetizer.

These empanadas evoked images of the fine specimen at Pura Vida. Golden brown, the pastry flaked under just a little pressure and revealed something very unlike any turkey I've ever had. It was dark and almost jerked like. I didn't really taste any dried cranberries, which the menu claims to be in there. No matter, I didn't miss them much. These were rather enjoyable bundles of meatiness.

I love sweet potato fries, especially crispy sweet potato fries such as these. They were coated lightly in flour before frying, which sealed in the moisture and kept the finished product from becoming too soggy too quickly. My salmon looked pretty in its pan fried goldenness. Unfortunately, the frying went a bit too far and dried out the thin skinless piece a bit too much. This is probably the biggest issue with cooking smaller pieces of salmon. The timing is vital and in this case it missed the mark.

Red velvet is the ultimate southern cake. The red dye serves no other purpose than to make the whole thing appear a bit alarming. :) Most of the time, the red is muted somewhat with a good bit of cocoa powder. But here, it doesn't look or taste like there was much of that. It was, however, moist and balanced out the cream cheese frosting pretty well.

Nothing at cafe circa was more than twenty and most entrees are under fifteen. In this economy and for these big flavors, this place is really a treasure worth a trip to Edgewood Ave. for.

Cafe Circa
464 Edgewood Ave.
Atlanta, Ga 30312

Friday, August 15, 2008

Daily highlight #79: Lisa's meatball sliders on TV - Cabbagetown Market

Tune in to check out Lisa's fine cooking at the very quaint and ultra cute cabbagetown market this coming Monday night on Food Network's diners, drive-ins, and dives.

The super platinum blond Guy was quite a personality and indeed wore his sunglasses backward and forward the entire time. He seemed genuinely impressed with what Lisa was able to do in her rustic kitchen behind the shelves in the landmark market. And he should. Everyone who has tasted Lisa's burger surely wouldn't turn down a stool at her counter.

Cabbagetown Market
198 Carroll St.
Atlanta, GA 30312

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Daily highlight #78: Six feet under but better - Restaurant: Steamhouse Lounge

Blais's old midtown spot (where element used to be) found new life as the location for Buckhead transplant Steamhouse Lounge. Never have I seen this place so packed. Finally the roomy patio of this great building gets the love it deserves.

As the name suggests, Steamboat Lounge is seafood centric. Birthday girl A ordered up plenty of five dollar oysters, the Wednesday night special. You know what, these gulf oysters were actually briny, fresh, and all around damn good in the heat of August. We also asked for a pot of boiled seafood to share. My photo doesn't nearly do justice to the size of this 12 inch dutch oven. Generously filled to above the rim with oysters, mussels, shrimps, and crab legs, there was something for everyone. Luckily no one fought me for the crab legs. While I nibble on most things, when it comes to crabs, my stomach can expand to the great beyond. To my great satisfaction, none of the crab legs were dry.

A slice of lit up key lime pie came for A. After a drawn out birthday song, we got to dig in. The soft and smooth look of this piece raised my expectations during the song and the taste did not disappoint. Cool, creamy, and non too tart, this was a wonderful finish to a great summer boil dinner. I am so glad to know that six feet under, which has really drop the ball on food, now has a serious competition, if not replacement, in midtown.

Steamhouse Lounge
1051 W. Peachtree St.
Atlanta, GA 30309

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Daily highlight #77: Macaron article out in Atlanta Cuisine

"No, this is not the chewy ball of shredded coconut that your southern grandma whips up. That'is a macaroon. When you drop an 'o' from that homey treat, something magical happens. What emerges is a dainty cream-filled almond sandwich cookie, the ethereal macaron."

To find out more about my beloved Parisian macaron, check out my article titled "A Paris State of Mind" in this month's Atlanta Cuisine.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Daily highlight #76: From the mouth right to the heart

Without tasting, it's almost impossible to tell the five spice braised pig heart (bottom right and top left) from the stripped five spice braised tongue. At last, the taste buds know better and found the difference in texture. The heart is far more dense and springy than the comparatively spongy tongue, which holds the spices better in its looser grains. So while my mom enjoyed the chew of the heart, I couldn't get enough of the more seasoned tongue pieces. You could say that we found a good way to share. :)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Daily highlight #75: "I wish they had doggie bags" - Kudzu Dinner and Restaurant Repast

See the hand taking notes in the bottom right corner? That hand belongs to AJC's Elizabeth Lee, who was writing down her impressions of the most recent Kudzu dinner featuring chefs Truex and Obunai of Repast. This weekend, her article published and put my name in the AJC for the first time. No, I didn't say anything profound. In fact, Elizabeth must have caught me saying my quote to friend J midway through the delicious lamb bolognese over hand cut pappardelle. Regardless, it was all true I was so good, "I wish they had doggie bags."

Before we got to the food, Brady of Taste Network already poured plenty of Van Duzer Rose. Nicely acidity and fruity, the rose got our mouths watering for what's to come.

First up was chef Obunai's watermelon & octopus salad with wakame. While most commonly seen in chunks, this octopus was thinly sliced and delicately seasoned. Cooked to just tender, the octopus took on a texture not far off from the cool and briny wakame. This very interesting plate exhibited the great Japanese influenced combinations of chef Obunai.

After the refreshing came the decadent in the form of chef Truex's grilled river view farm pork belly with truffle creamed corn. If you read this blog often you know that pork belly and creamy things are right up my alley. Here they are combined to create a very rich dish. It might have actually been a bit too rich if for the ring of tart smoked tomato sauce, in which I dipped the belly in between bites to cut through the pleasurable fattiness. From these two dishes, it's easy to see the difference between the husband and wife's culinary points of view. It is precisely this difference that shapes the very interesting menu at their restaurant Repast.
Then came the dish of the night, gum creek farm's lamb bolognese over hand cut pappardelle. Sitting across from the lovely family who babied the lamb for eight months and can talk at length about why their lamb is less gamy, one comes to appreciate the importance of ingredients to the ultimate flavor. Here the lamb is treated with a careful hand to achieve a lightness that isn't often found in lamb dishes. The lamb flavor is so mild, I could have believe it to be pork. The soft dollops of ricotta and earthy mushrooms put the exclamation mark on an already excellent plate. It was so good, "I wish they had doggie bags."

Finally, we ended the night with a beech cream farm apple tatin. The Gruyere ice cream unfortunately did not survived the outdoor heat and turned into a glaze. But hey, how many times do you get to eat such wonderful food in an urban oasis this pretty among people who grew the raw ingredients. If I have to live with a few scoops of melted ice cream to get this, I'll do it with pleasure. :)

620 Glen Iris Drive
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 870-8707

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Daily highlight #74: The ultimate summer noodle - Restaurant: JBSD Dubu House

I can't believe I have never tried this until this past weekend. Kong gooksoo is awesome! What you are looking at here is a bowl of slippery noodles floating in a pool of fresh blended soybean milk. I looked up the recipe and it really requires nothing more than what I just wrote except maybe for a bit of sea salt for taste. It must had been the fresh blending of soaked soybeans that made this so special. The soup was not at all like the flavorless soy milk often found on supermarket shelves. This soup actually had texture like that of slightly sandy on the tongue potato soup. It contrasted with and highlighted the ultra smoothness of the noodles. Absolutely lovely for the hottest days of the summer.

JBSD Dubu House
2645 N. Berkeley Lake Rd.
Duluth, GA 30096

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Daily highlight #73: Mom food of the week

Gelatinous texture is the worst for most American eaters to warm up to when approaching the cuisines of the east. But those of us who grew up with it absolutely love it.

Mom made this dish called "cool starch" from scratch. Epitomizing simplicity, all that goes in are rice flour and water. In the right proportion and under the influence of heat, the simple combination quickly turns into a pale white viscous liquid. A night in the fridge turns the whole thing into a jello like block, which mom cuts into noodles ready for whatever sauce pleased us. Cool, slippery, and smooth, this is the perfect summer treat.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Daily highlight #72: Live to nibble elsewhere

This week the live to nibble blog is honored to make appearances on two popular destinations for Atlanta food lovers. First, this nibbler was given the space for a piece about adventurous eating involving things such as pig trotters (above) on the Creative Loafing blog. Thanks goes out to Besha for giving me the opportunity to share and for some very insightful comments. Then, the kind people at Atlanta Dish featured this humble site as the blog of the week. Can you see me blushing? Thank you, thank you for reading! You made my week.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Daily highlight #71: There is a breast in my taco - Nuevo Laredo Cantina

Nuevo Laredo is mobbed by people on a daily basis. Devotees arrive as early as eleven to secure a seat in the dingy half subterranean dining room. It would be unfair to call the food bad. It's not, but neither is it sublime or authentic.

Case in point, my chicken mole taco arrived cradled in a small baking dish. It's really a good thing that it did, the support was absolutely necessary. An entire halved breast had been stuffed uncut inside the tortilla. While the thick and sticky mole sauce pleased with its savory sweetness, it also completely reduced the tortilla into a gooey mess around the chubby breast. There was no picking up this taco.

Between licking my sticky fingers, sipping my margarita, and chatting with a table of ten, I had a good time. But is this the "best Mexican food" in Atlanta as the website claims? Not by a mile. For that, I'd drive the extra miles up Buford highway any day. But do I believe that there are real "Mexican cooks" in the kitchen also as the website claims? Absolutely. Just as there are plenty of Chinese run restaurants serving food unheard of in China, Mexican cooks are equally capable of catering to those other than their own. Would I go back with good company who long the place for something quite tasty? Of course, especially when we can get there early enough to beat the line.

Nuevo Laredo Cantina
1495 Chattahoochee Ave
Atlanta, GA 30318

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Daily highlight #70: late as always - Restaurant: Pura Vida

As always I am three weeks late in reporting this brunch. If you are a faithful Atlanta blog reader, you already know that everyone else, such as the consistently on the pulse Blissful Glutton, had already talked about the excellence of this menu. So why am I jumping on the bandwagon? Well, call me silly, but I was just so tickled by this hilarious dish, I couldn't help but share the photo with you.

When the menu said fried ripe plantains in the plural, we expected slices or chunks. No, we got a whole caramelized plantain oozing goat cheese foam. E and I looked at each other and laughed. Even more amusing, when we finally cut into the plantain, it squirted warm cajeta (sort of Mexican caramel) everywhere. We laughed some more, but at the end of it all, enjoyed everything working together.

I am sure you can conjure up the exceptional combination of a ripe plantain that is slowly caramelized with the sticky molasses flavors of a dark caramel. What's surprising was the slight tartness of the goat cheese foam, a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the other elements. I highly recommend that you try this dish, just watch out for the squirting innards.

Also great were the slightly sweetened duck sausages. Neither too greasy nor too tough, the patties had just enough duckiness to tone down the sweetness and create delicious bites that do not tire out the palate.

Pura Vida
656 N. Highland Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30306

Friday, August 01, 2008

Daily highlight #69: Another well-spiced lunch - Restaurant: Spice Market

Spice market hasn't gotten much love from the AC community. But you know what, I still like it. This is not authentic to the core street food. It's JG's interpretation of the flavors of street food. And the man, if anything, has a good understanding of flavors, even when he sometimes misses on textures.

At this lunch, I broke away from my table's bento trend and ordered a short rib noodle soup. To be honest, it was the pea shoots that got me. It has been long since I've had some. The presentation was cute with a personal tong for my fist sized piece of short rib, which was quite unnecessary as the short rib was tender enough to pull apart with chopsticks. The stuff that looked burnt on top were actually marinated and caramelized onions that further enriched the soup already heavily perfumed with five spice. The thick egg noodles absorbed just enough soup to plump with savoriness. Best of all, the pea shoots were dipped into the soup barely cooked, so the delicate greens remained crisp when they reached the table.

I am convinced that Spice Market has some of the best ice creams in town. Besides the little pint sized ice cream in Chinese takeout containers, ice creams also show up in various plated desserts. At this lunch, I opted for the coffee tart cleverly paired with a condensed milk ice cream in an attempt to mirror the flavor combination in a Vietnamese coffee. I thoroughly enjoyed the ice cream, which announced with the first bite its ample condensed milk content. The tart had a great crumbly crust and creamy innards. What didn't agree with me was the quite acidic and heavily toasted coffee taste. Perhaps the intention was for the diner to combine a bite of the tart with some of the ice cream, but since I had already finished the ice cream when I got to the tart, I had nothing to soften the blow. I am not saying that you won't enjoy this tart, I just couldn't finish all of it without more ice cream. Had they given me more ice cream, I am sure things would have been very different. :)

Spice Market
188 14th St. NE
Atlanta, GA 30361