Friday, February 27, 2009

Highlight #148: No food there

While I am a firm believer that we should only love one person at a time, when it comes to other passions, I live by the rule of more is more. If you are reading this blog, you already know my professed love for all things food. But beyond that, I also love pretty things, particularly things I can wear. The reason that a blog dedicated to those things lag three years behind this one honoring food is really that of practicality. It's much more difficult to take photos of oneself without the help of another as opposed to clicking away at the ever posing food. Of course I am talking about my amateurish food photos, not those superbly composed ones of the skilled food bloggers.

This year, a partner in crime came along and "a tale of two styles" is born. Just like this blog, ATOTS is first and foremost a journal for the bloggers than a site dedicated to readers. But if you'd like, you are welcome to view the photos and read the story telling blurbs. One word of warning though, THERE IS NO FOOD THERE.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Highlight #147: Very cold butt, but very warm belly - Restaurant: Serpas True Food

I went to Serpas for drinks the second day it opened, but ate no food then since it was already post dinner time and still too early in the restaurant's life to get a fair assessment of the food. The one thing I noticed was that the chairs were just like the metal ones that Floataway used to have. The kind that chill me to the bone. Post renovation, Floataway's chairs have cushions or at least you can request them, but I never forgot that cold down under feeling. I made a note to self to come back to Serpas with a jacket in tow for use as my own seat cushion. But just like my many other notes, they fail. I came back and had nothing of the sort...

Chilled butt aside, somethings are simply too cute to resist, like pig n' blanket. Perfectly portioned for snacking, they come out dangerously hot on an adorable miniature skillet. I say dangerous because we couldn't resist popping them into our eager mouths right away. Burn may be unavoidable, but the taste is superb. In particular, the chunks of chorizo are very nicely spiced and not too salty, which is often my problem with eating them alone. The puff blanket further tamed the salty spicy combo of the chorizo with a dose of starchy sweetness. I loved the slight chew of the dough. A very good bar snack.

Girlfriend J picked out the duck rolls. I didn't know what to expect. It could have turned out to be one of those tired Asian fusion dishes or it could be something totally interesting. Well, it actually turned out to be something in between the two. Like a well-made Chinese spring roll, the skin was thin, very crispy, and not too greasy. I heard some online complaints about the small amount of duck inside, but I like the abundance of veggies as that is how a Chinese spring roll is constructed, it is supposed to taste fresh and, well, springy. The duck was seasoned well and tender. It did have distinctive sweetness, but not unpleasantly so. I enjoyed my pieces and didn't feel too oiled up. Again, another great bar snack.

As we were only snacking, we refrained from mains, but moved on to dessert. We asked for some suggestions and were told that a critic was there the night before and claimed that the lemon poppy seed cake the best thing on the menu... What is a girl to do after hearing such endorsement? She orders it. I can definitely tell you that this is not the best thing on the menu. I am not saying that it's bad, it tastes the way it looks, simple and straight forwardly lemony. But when the expectation is built so high, one can't help but feel just a little let down... The ice cream was pistachio, one of my favorite flavors in the world of ice cream. This one was fine, but not among the best I've had. For one thing, the raw pistachios had gone soft from immersion in the cream, maybe they could have benefited from a bit of toasting and salting. All in all, this is an adequate dessert, just not the "best" thing.

After seeing that we didn't finish the dessert, the barman took it off our bill without being asked. We were grateful, but felt guilty thinking that we had shown dislike without meaning to. I explained to him that we really thought it was fine, but he was insistent that we not pay for it. So you see, at Serpas, they do really care about the food. Maybe that's what true food in the name means.

I plan to go back for that good looking burger I saw passing me by.

Serpas True Food
659 Auburn Ave. #501
Atlanta, GA

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Highlight #146: The start of big birthdays! - Restaurant: Michael Mina (San Fran)

J's mom kicked off the big birthdays in our family. With four people turning something followed by zero this year, we'll be doing lots of feasting. Being the nice parents they are, they decided to come meet us in San Fran rather than having us fly back to Singapore. Not that we would have fought that, but a four day Singapore turn around trip would not have been fun, at least not for the part on the plane.

After considering the tolerance of the in-laws (they are not the type to sit through a three hour tasting menu), we decided on Michael Mina for the big dinner. Getting to the restaurant was somewhat challenging as we ran into a parade taking place right outside the portion of Union Square where the restaurant is located. After twenty minutes of trying to get through the crowd with a car, we abandoned it in a park garage five blocks away and walked.

We were half an hour late for the reservation, but had no problem claiming our prime seating right in front of the window overlooking, what else, but the parade. :) It was much more fun to watch from the inside. The table centerpiece propped up a birthday card from the restaurant, a very nice touch.

Soon after getting settled, we asked for the five course tasting menu and sat back to enjoy the evening. Things started quickly with the first oyster topped with a slightly sweet sorbet. I am use to acidity on my oysters, so the sweetness was a surprise. Gentler, it countered the brininess with a less direct approach. A good way to lead into the meal.

As you can see, when foie gras terrine hit the table, I forgot all about the obligations of a food blogger and took a bite first. But maybe I can take this opportunity to explain something about this food blogger. The thing is, as much as I am immensely grateful to the 70-90 people that come to read this humble little blog everyday, what's written here is really not intended to please the readers, but is rather to document my eating life, to keep a record of sort in delicious details for me to look back and relive. And look back I do, often. My husband is a bit scared by the fact that I can recount almost every single meal we've had together as a couple (even before this blog, although much easier with the blog). But beyond that, he is amaze by how much these meals speak of our life together. This blog outlines my travels and documents my many joys and the occasional disappointments. As I said in my very first post, this is really just an open journal. I am glad that you read it and enjoy it along with me, but it is, at the most fundamental, a place for me, to put up things I like and write without editing, with no case citations or blue booking. The photos are what tie it all together. They compose a theme that string along the random thoughts. So, considering that I even forget to take the right photos sometimes, this blog is probably not "together" enough, focused enough, or tailored enough to be the kind of "it" blogs that attract a massive following. But that's okay. Because this blog is, at its heart, a personal indulgence to me. And to that end, it's more than good enough. It makes me smile every time I post to it or read it.

Now getting back to food, the foie gras was excellent. :) The under layer of crumb is actually crispy gingerbread that, together with the huckleberry gelee, really balanced out the very intense richness and savoriness of the thick as fudge foie. Even J's mom, who tend to like much lighter tasting things, loved this.

Taking a slight step back from intense richness, we were served seared sea scallops as a second course. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture the lobster mousse in its more solid form before it melted from the heat of the scallops. Regardless, it was the most fabulous element of this whole plate. I mean deep lobster essence and cream, that's a winning combination no matter what it's on. And it fell on some superb scallops. Just caramelized on the outside, these were not the biggest, but certainly very naturally sweet specimen. The black trumpet mushrooms and celery root gratin in the middle were fine, but neither tasted strongly of what they were made of, so paled in comparison to the scallop and lobster mousse combination.

The "crispy" skin striped bass was not very crispy, but it was well-cooked and seasoned right. The savoy cabbage on the side, however, was sublime, because it harbored within a big nugget of braised short rib. Now that's what I call a very pleasant surprise.

By now, you can probably tell, Michael Mina isn't the most obsessed with plating. Most of the dishes so far were arranged, but more organically than artistically. This is especially true of this chicken dish, where the chicken pieces looked very much like something out of my own kitchen. Although they were quite juicy (not to say that mine are not, they usual are). The leg roulade to the right was much deeper in flavor. Perhaps because there was some sort of bacon addition in the filling? I certainly felt the love of the pig.

This innocent looking dish absolutely blown me away! When I first saw it, I was almost a little upset by how much a supplement they charged for such normal looking "kobe beef." Where's the marbling? Where is the pinkness? But I was so wrong! This flesh was so tender it literally melted in my mouth. So so so lovely! I can't even come up with fancier words to describe this dish. I simply savored every mouthful.

The birthday girl got her apple tarte tatin with a burnt cinnamon ice cream. A simple and well-executed classic dessert to end a good meal.

In the end, the in-laws really loved that the whole meal felt special, but still approachable, which is the point of such a celebratory meal. I am so happy that we went.

As always, I looked forward to the petite four. Maybe I just hate to see a good meal end no matter how full I am. The fruit pates were excellent. The s'mores could have used just a little more caramelizing though.

The happy family left very full.

Michael Mina
335 Powell St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 397-9222

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Highlight #145: Best ice cream in town! - Restaurant: 4th and Swift

When I took this photo, I had no idea that the best ice cream in town is peeking at me from the other side of that biscotti. After my first taste, I was way too busy deciphering the flavors in my head and fending off girlfriend J's fork to worry about taking another. So all you see is the faintest outline of a third scoop here. But ice cream is not for looking, it is for lusting and gluttonous feasting and this one is definitely lust worthy and definitely for the gluttonous. :)

I've eaten a lot of ice cream and this is the first time I've encountered this flavor - salted macadamia brittle. Think B & J's chubby hubby and then switch out the pretzels for the aforementioned macadamia brittle and you get the idea. The macadamia pieces are huge and almost over saturate the ice cream. It is precisely this overabundance that shows the power of the tempering salt to bring everything into balance. The base ice cream is also very good and dense. I could feel the thick cream glide down my neck as it warmed.

Girlfriend J and I not only finished ever bit of it, we asked to get pints to go. At last, that's not available... This is not a regular flavor on their menu, so if you are interested, call ahead and see if they have it.

We, of course, didn't go just to eat the ice cream. Although, now I may just do that. On this slow Monday, we sat at the bar and snacked, which is one of our favorite things to do. We were both in the mood for fried something or another, so J ordered up the usual calamari. 4th and Swift does not serve the lighter rice flour coated version that I adore at Fritti. But theirs has its own charm. The crunch factor is higher from a slightly thicker breading, but not so thick that it takes on a life of its own and come apart from the main deal. The calamari itself was tender and tasted fresh.

One important thing to note in this economy is that all the bar "snacks" are quite big and all hover around the $10 mark. J and I got pretty full on two snack dishes and had enough to take home for another snack.

The large portion is easily evident in this veal schnitzel snack plate. The schnitzel is about the size of a large man's hand (I was going to use my own paw as measure, but then remember that most people have trouble visualize a woman with hands smaller than a 7 year old's... I found this out trying to buy gifts for my angel tree girl one Christmas. She was, in fact, bigger than me in every way. It was mildly disturbing to say the least...) The veal was tender, but could have use just a bit more salt in the breading. The runny egg on top was a superb addition to an already rich dish. I believe all this was around $11.

For the quality of food, The prices at the bar were quite good, especially if you end everything with a bowl of ice cream!!!!

4th & Swift

621 North Avenue NE
Atlanta, GA 30308


Monday, February 16, 2009

Highlight 144: girl trip - restaurant: the National (Athens, GA)

One thing that really surprised me when I started working for our firm office in Atlanta was how many attorneys had once walked the halls of either UGA or Georgia Tech. Before this, I had never knew that people stayed in the town where they went to school. Of all my friends and acquaintances that went to Carnegie Mellon, I know only of a single person who now lives in Pittsburgh and he doesn't even work there (job in Chicago and flies back every weekend. I know, crazy! But he loves his wife :) A good man is what he is.) I suppose this staying around says something about this town. I suppose it says that this is a place where people feel that their dreams of adulthood can be realized. And that is a good thing. But that's not the point of this post. The point of talking about this is that I work with many who know and love Athens, Georgia, the home of UGA, and they highly recommend that I check it out. So this weekend I finally did.

As with all my trips, this one started with food. My first choice was Five and Ten, but it was not open for lunch on Saturday, so we ended up at the National, Five and Ten's little brother. At 11:30am on a Saturday, the National was quiet and extruded a sort of quaint small town charm. Naturally arranged branches and flowers adorned the tables. Yet there was a certain unforced refinement to it all. Just look at that kumquat in the vase on our table. I dare you to name another restaurant in Atlanta that has these arranged so beautifully yet casually on its lunch tables.

The lunch menu is fairly simple with mostly salads and sandwiches, but each sounded just a little bit special. An open face lamb sandwich caught my eye and I placed my bet. And a good pay off was my reward. For $11, I received an artfully arranged meal. Set on top a bed of dressed baby arugula was a crispy hunk of grilled bread generously slathered with soft goat cheese. On top of that was a soft mound of very thinly shaved roasted lamb leg. Perfectly pink, the lamb was very tender, but unmistakably lamby, the way I prefer. The whole thing was really quite simple, yet very elegant and well done, just like the the kumquat arrangement on the table.

Lunch or dinner, I am incapable of finishing a meal without dessert, so we got two. Somehow, when I eat out with people, we always end up with a chocolate thing, even though I never order it. I guess chocolate is the ultimate dessert. The funny thing is I am the one that is known to eat big chunks of chocolate for what I call breakfast dessert at 9am... Go figure.

The dulce de leche, in this case, outshone the chocolate tart, which was too hard from hanging out in the fridge. The dulce de leche was just soaked enough to be milky all through, but still structurally sound to hold its shape against our repeated assault.

After lunch, my girlfriend and I worked in a good afternoon of vintage shopping. While we didn't end up buying much, it was the hunt that was fun. After working off the calories we made it home just in time for her big homemade V-day dinner with the bf. With the husband out of town, I expected to come home to a quiet glass of wine, which is really the way I prefer. Not one to be forgotten completely (him not me), the husband managed to have two dozen bright orange roses waiting for me by the door. As much as I never cared about V-day as it's mostly a horrible day where all the restaurants are full and less than stellar food is served, it's always nice to feel loved especially by one who is freezing his butt off half a world a way. :)

The National
232 W. Hancock Ave.
Athens, GA 30601

Friday, February 13, 2009

Highlight #143: Another good deal - Restaurant: Dogwood

Last week's NYT's dining section featured an interesting article on restaurants "hugging the customers." Until last night, I really haven't felt this hugging, at least not such intense hugging. I am not saying that we got kiss-up service, we just got really attentive, warm, and personal service, the kind you get at a place where everyone knows your name, except they only learned ours last night.

The place was Dogwood downtown, more specifically the bar area of Dogwood downtown. I had only previously been here for lunch, so this was the first time I really took in the bar setup. I must say, it's a nice setup with cushioned leather bar stools both against a long counter and around four-top tables. There is also a small sofa lounge area against the sidewall, where a group was having a round of martinis.

I took a seat at a table and waited for my girlfriends. While waiting, the barmen warmly introduced themselves. And once they learned my intention to dine on the all you can eat mussels special that also comes with a glass of wine, got me started on the wine. I was additionally offered warm bread, but decided to wait for the good stuff.

This is a lot of food for $20. Besides the glass of Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc, one gets all the mussels one can eat. The mussels didn't come out in a massive pile, but rather in a large morning cereal sized bowl. You may think that this is Dogwood's way of deterring overeating, but I see it as a way of preventing waste. Because right before we were about to finish our first bowl, our server appeared to assess our interest in the next bowl in the nicest manner. And we were interested. These were good mussels. Plump and fresh, the mussels held their own, but it was the broth that made the real difference. Everyone of us took note of a distinct, but not overpowering smokiness, which we found out came from the hickory smoked tomatoes. That's a great idea this time of year, when the tomatoes are less than superb. The warm bread soaked up the broth beautifully, but it's best not to overdo it as the mussels are great.

For $20, this is a wonderful deal that you should check out Tuesday to Friday when it's available in the bar area. This type of offerings make it easy for us to support competent restaurants in during this difficult time.

If you are feeling indulgent and we were, you can also supplement the savory with a round of sweets. Every dessert come with a different homemade ice cream flavor and you know how I feel about ice cream. We had the blackberry shortcake with sour cream ice cream and the chocolate thing with dulce de leche ice cream. Both were very good, but the shortcake won overall with a less sweet composition of slightly salted biscuit and distinctly sour cream flavored ice cream. The dulce de lech ice cream accompanying the chocolate cake was just a little over the sweetness line in comparison.

565 Peachtree Street
Atlanta, GA 30308
Tel. (404) 835-1410

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Highlight #142: What we are missing - Restaurant: Yoshi's (San Fran)

Someone said that Atlanta is a town with very few quality dining options in the middle price range. I am not sure if I complete agree with that. In the last four years, we have found more than a handful of places that provide just that. But if this someone had rephrased that statement to say that we don't have many quality Japanese options intown, I'd readily agree.

Of course I am not saying that we don't have reasonably priced Japanese places that I can go to any night of the week. But these places I can go, especially if I don't feel like going far from my intown neighborhood, don't have pristine uni or glistening fresh scallop, such as above, lying around for whenever I feel like it. In my part of town, the only place that I can think of that regularly serves both is MF Sushi.

Yoshi's in San Fran's Japantown is a regular stop for J and I when we visit. Without a reservation, we can just pop by and get a table on a Friday night when Yoshi's turns into a busy Jazz Lounge. We can start with some fresh sushi and then move into hot food like these sake steamed mushrooms and eggplants.

Then fill up on some grilled hamachi collar that showcases the fattiest part of the oil rich yellowtail.

If we have the parents in town, we'd also get some miso-glazed black cod, a favorite we had once gotten sick of eating in Hawaii.

And even score some perfectly cooked lamb to up our iron intake.

Best Japanese food in San Fran this is not. There are too many quality Japanese places in San Fran. But it has everything I desire. And for not having to plan ahead, it's a sweet spot. Let's hope we get more places like this in our town soon.

1330 Fillmore St
(between Eddy St & Ellis St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 655-5600

Monday, February 09, 2009

Highlight #141: Mochie eating day

In China, the lunar new year holiday lasts a whole month. It starts about fifteen days before new year's day and lasts fifteen days after, until today, the day of the first lunar full moon in the new year. Peak outside and you'll see that thousands of years of wisdom is not wrong, the moon is indeed round and bright. On this day, we perform the last ritual of the new year period (a different ritual takes place every day of the new year period and mostly revolves around food), we make and eat mochies as round as the moon.

In my childhood, my mom would start soaking some glutinous rice harvested the previous year shortly after new year's day. A couple of days later, we'd all participate in making the rice paste that'd go into our mochies on the day of the full moon. To do so, we'd grind the soaked rice into a liquid paste using a large round millstone. My duty was always to feed the rice and water into the hole cut into the top grinding part and it never ceased to amaze me how two simple pieces of stones were able to rubbed together and turn the translucent rice grains into a milky liquid. A sloped stone channel that wraps around the millstone catches all the dripping and feeds it into a cloth sack.

Mom would hang the sack to drain over a bucket for a few days until the paste inside reached the consistency of play dough. If mom timed it just right, the paste would be ready on the full moon day and we'd all gather again to make mochies.

As a little girl, I favored the mini mochies that are unfilled and boiled in broth made of fermented rice and sweetened with cane sugar. It always made me incredibly happy. Now I know why - fermented rice equals unfiltered sake!!! :) Mochies boiled in sake, now that's a beautiful thing. The adults always preferred the filled mochies, and my mom made the most wonderful roasted black sesame ones that filled the mouth with rich liquidy sesame goodness made sticky with rendered lard. Think hot butter and sesame paste and you get the gist of this combination. Now image that unleashed with abandon in every bite of the smooth mochie skin. That's wonderful stuff.

My husband also grew up with the mochie eating tradition, but in Singapore, his mochies floated in a sugared hot ginger broth. Now, we make both the sake and ginger versions to make everyone happy. The above photo shows a mochie filling my mom concocted this year that included freshly ground roasted and salted peanuts. It was a textural surprise and quite well received.

Can I say again how nice it is to have family around again after twelve years of being away? It's mighty nice.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Highlight #140: Eat steak for free - Restaurant: Morton's

(photo from

I met more people who have recently lost their jobs in the last week than the last five years combined. But I met them all at food and drink places, so I guess, employed or not, people are still drinking and eating. This got me thinking about places where one is able to eat and drink well for very little or even free, and then, one place came to mind. Okay, maybe it didn't just come to mind, it almost knocked me over in the head.

The place is Morton's, more specifically the bar at Morton's in my work building downtown. It is definitely old school, awash in dark mahogany. But thanks to the steady tourist traffic, it is far from stuffy. The space is not big, but sizable enough to create a convivial environment right before dinner time. Order a drink, a cheap beer if you are short on cash, and hang out for a bit. Before you know it, someone from the kitchen will come out with a very large tray of hot sirloin sandwiches, which, today, almost knocked me off my bar stool. When I say sirloin sandwiches, I don't mean stale things made of odds and ends. I am talking about slices of medium rare sirloin in fluffy and buttery buns. Take as many as you'd like, they are FREE. Enjoy and laugh inside as you caress the cash still in your pocket.

Morton's Downtown
SunTrust Plaza Bldg.
Peachtree Center Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30308

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Highlight #139: Nominate Dirty South Wine

Locally grown and totally cool, Dirty South Wine deserves your vote for the best wine blog nomination because wine reading has not been this fun since . . . well, ever.

To put in a nomination for Dirty, simply click on the icon above and follow the instructions. The process is super simple and should only take a minute. It's always nice to support someone local.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Highlight #138: better as a pub - pub: the Porter

Someone told me that the only economy-proof business is a pub at a foot traffic heavy intersection. And this has proven to be true at the Portor. On a Friday evening, this place was packed to the hilt with all walks of life. Apparently a beer was a great idea whether one is celebrating a birthday or getting over the shock of being fired. And believe me, I met both kinds that night.

Unfortunately, with the crowd did not come a culinary revolution. Instead, it appears that the Portor has take a step backwards, but none of those elbowing their way up to the bar for a drink seemed to care. Besides the still lovely sinuous clearing salt and vinegar popcorn, my group, after an hour and half of fun conversation and good drinks, received the pictured forgettable food.

The fried goat cheese fritters had a very crispy outer layer, but were just a little too mushy and bland in the middle to deserve total adoration.

I got the mussels and was happy to receive none fishy ones. It was, however, somewhat bland...

My J had previously gotten their burger when they first opened and liked it's juicy medium interior. You can see for yourself the doneness here, so I won't say more.

The redeeming Irish car boom, however, was awesome. Simple yet sublime, it had ice cream that was creamy, caramel sauce that was sticky and slightly salty, and Guinness that was well just classic Guinness. It all worked so well together. It put smiles on all our faces.

In comparison, the chocolate thing was just fine. Really not bad at all, but not the bomb.

If the Porter is a restaurant, I would have been a very unhappy camper that night, but the Porter is not a restaurant. It's a pub, a place where you catch up with friends you like, find kindred spirits in misery, or just enjoy safety and body heat in a crowd. The Porter is all that. The food is what you get to keep the drinks flowing and, for that, it is adequate, as long as they stop touting about that Seeger's pedigree. :) Truth be told, I am so happy that we all have a place to go where we can forget the depressing state of the economy for awhile. So, I'll toast to a long and prosperous life for the Porter.

The Porter
1156 Euclid Avenue
Atlanta GA 30307