Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Complete Pepin

Flipping through the channels the other day and found the show "The Complete Pepin" on some random PBS channel. Like I've said before, the quality of PBS food shows vs the Food Network are night and day - or kinda like McDonald's vs Le Bernardin. Jacques is truly a master and explains things so well. This particular show was on eggs and he explains proper technique from mixing the egg yolk and white with the fork to using a push pin on the egg shell to make the perfect hard boiled egg. The thing that amazed me was his two techniques for cooking omelets (country style vs French). After watching it once, I tried making the country style omelet right away and it came out great...try to tivo this show if you can. Your cooking technique will improve tremendously...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bourdain...on the Food Network again

Flipping through the channels and I noticed the Food Network is re-releasing Anthony Bourdain's show "A Cook's Tour" primetime on Tuesdays. Quite shocked, considering this was filmed in 2000, so it obviously seems the Food Network is trying to steal away some thunder from his current show on the Travel Channel. I think it's shite for Bourdain, but good for the viewer since I feel A Cook's Tour was a little edgier. As I said before, some of his recent episodes kinda feel flat to me but I guess if I was traveling for 5 years filming TV it would probably get old also.

So, I started to use "the google" to see if I can find anything on this. Well, here's the link to his blog post on the subject if you want to read it. It is hilarious and obviously he's quite pissed.

Excerpt - classic Bourdain: "I howled out loud in the general direction of the sea. A few small children by the kiddie pool began to cry - frightened perhaps, by my primal outburst. Why - after all these years - would they put my old episodes back on the air? The damn things were filmed in 2000 and 2001!! They have nothing newer, or fresher or better - after all that time - than my first, stumbling, nascent attempts at making travel/food television? They don't have any material from anyone else - like from someone who doesn't make constant rude and obscene suggestions about their stable of "stars?" Surely they haven't reached so far down the bottom of the archives as to want ME back?!

This was like being unexpectedly groped and publicly slipped the tongue by the ugliest girl at the prom. You're flattered by the attention - but frankly ... embarrassed. And the timing seemed suspicious. As I ordered two more and then a third Mai Tai, paranoia began to set in."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How I Learned to Cook

On the trip to Taiwan, I started reading the phenomenal book: "How I Learned to Cook: Culinary Educations from the World's Greatest Chefs." Finished it recently and I really can't rave enough about this book. Basically the premise is 40 big name chefs write a short segment on how they learned to be a chef or just something they'll never do again (like TV cooking). For those of you with a short attention span like me, this is such a great read. Each segment is probably 6-10 pages long and almost all of the segments are a quick and extremely entertaining read - I was reading segments on my subway ride to work. The great thing is seeing who inspired these chefs (pastry chef Gaston Lenotre is mentioned a lot) and also seeing what inspired the apprentice vs the head chef (e.g. Chang worked for Collichio, Carmellini worked for Boulud, Andres worked under Adria).

Some of the notable chefs include:
  • Ferran Adria (El Bulli)
  • Jose Andres (Jaleo)
  • Mario Batali (Babbo)
  • Anthony Bourdain (not a chef anymore, but hella funny article)
  • Daniel Boulud (Daniel)
  • Andrew Carmellini (A Voce)
  • David Chang (Momofuku)
  • Tom Collichio (Craft)
  • Gary Danko (Gary Danko)
  • Jonathan Eismann (the funniest story of the bunch...a must read)
  • Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin)
  • Masaharu Morimoto (Iron Chef)
  • Jacques Torres
Funny excerpt from Bourdain (who else) describing a Midwest morning TV show host eating steak tartare he created for the TV show: "The word Ewww! actually escaped from her lips as she tenuously reached for a meat-smeared crouton. Like a nun giving a blow job, she took the tiniest nibble, fighting the urge to gag - her head swimming with images of spongiform bacteria riddling her brain, turning it into swiss cheese."

Monday, January 28, 2008


- Sunday, Twelve Hundred Thirty Hours, 65 East 55th Street -
I stood in front of the table flabbergasted at the brunch buffet spread at Aquavit.
It was my first time there for Sunday Brunch, and what a call it was. I'm going back ASAP.

This is as well rounded a restaurant as it gets. They do everything very well.
Lunch and Dinner service are amazingly delicious as well.

As for Brunch, you are recommended to not pile your plate like a Las Vegas buffet line, but to take multiple trips and enjoy the courses of trational Swedish Smörgåsbord fashion ...
You first go up and pick from a selection of 8 different herring dishes.
e.g. Pickled, Cherry infused, Cream and Dill, and even Curry and Tandori.
This is to be paired with boiled baby potatoes and Swedish rye bread.
The second trip up is to try the various gravlax, pate, and cold cuts...
And finally, if you still have some room left, there's the hot station where you will find roasted lamb daube, braised beef brisket, swedish meetballs, and baked anchovy potatoes.

What a treat!
There's even a dessert table as well.

I've done the typical brunches here and there in the city, and they are all the same. i.e. Balthazar, Artisanal, Normas, Sarabeths, Tavern on the Green. They all have the predictable freshly squeezed juices, 4 different types of eggs, some sausage or bacon and fresh pastry breads.
Aquavit offers something completely different and quite frankly, of higher quality.
If I had my say, Aquavit would definitely be listed as a NY Times 3 star restaurant. I'm not too sure what they are doing over at the Times... Sheer neglect.

- The bottom line-
This foodie loves Aquavit and highly recommends it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Taiwan 2008 - Wrap Up

As you can see by the abundance of posts, Taiwan is a serious foodie destination - lots of cheap food and viva variety. For those of you who are adventurous enough to go, I have to give you a warning - I went with my fiancee and she rocked the mandarin for all the ordering. Everyone is generally friendly (except the politicians), but some of these food vendors probably don't speak English. You can probably point to what you want and you should be ok though...

Goals for the next trip
1. Eat more home cooking - I think it blows away the so-called fancy restaurants
2. Try sushi. I'm figuring it's relatively close to Japan, so there should be some great sushi chefs/fish there.
3. Eat everything I ate in the previous posts. It ruled.

Here's the rest of the restaurants we visited in order of wow factor for food...

Ling Ja Gan Mien
- No 11 Chuan-Chou St, Taipei, Taiwan (Near Taipei Chienkuo Municipal High School)
Comments - The best noodle we had in Taiwan...seriously almost rivaling pastas I had in Italy. An amazing springiness to it (different than al dente) and great flavor. $1 for a medium bowl

Lau Jiang Neyo Row Mien - Jin Shan South Road, Section 2, Alley 31, Taipei, Taiwan
Comments - Great beef noodles. An intensely flavorful, spicy broth and tender beef.

Mwoh Zhi Yang - (will post location if I find it)
Comments - A lamb dish was Chinese, yet it tasted like Thai food. Basil, sour, sweet, chili thing going on. Regardless, it was spectacular...uber tender lamb.

Ikki - No 207, DunHua North Road, B1, Taipei, Taiwan
Comments - Really trendy looking place and the price point is insane. Star was the garlic oyster soup which tasted like the sea. $25 for 7 courses.

Shin Yeh - No 34-1, Shuang Cheng Street, Taipei, Taiwan
Comments - Very tasty egg and oyster dish, but the service is bad and the price point is high for Taipei standards. Other dishes were average. Porthos swears by this place though as do the abundance of Japanese tourists, so I may need to revisit.

Tatun Flowers - (will post location if I find it)
Comments - Beautiful location in the mountains and the food was pretty tasty. The star was the stupidly tender lamb.

Jen San Yuen - (will post location if I find it)
Comments - Taken out by the future mother-in-law's friends for a huge Chinese banquet meal. Star was the blackened chicken soup. Amazing depth of rich chicken flavor, if you can get by the gross looking chicken.

Wu Wei - No 106, Sec 2, Gongyi Rd, Taichung City, Taiwan
Comments - The best hand picked tea in a serene and peaceful setting. You'll get a serious education in tea here. A must visit if you're ever in Taichung city.

Rose House -
No. 15, Lane 14, Sec. 7, Chung-shan North Rd., Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan
Comments - Old school looking British style tea house. Lots of them all over Taiwan. Teas are great here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Piedmonte, Italy

My brother in-law Vanni (Giovanni for short) scheduled a trip to Piedmonte to visit a vineyard in Barbaresco.
Yes, f'n Barbaresco. What a treat!

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the owner of the vineyard who not only is an excellent wine maker, but also the 1977 Italian Rally Car Race Champion. (yah, seriously)
We took a tour of the land in his 1.9 liter turbo charged Alfa Romeo.
Zipping through the narrow streets up and down the hills was so much fun.

His vineyard is within a stone's throw away from the world reknown Gaja estate.
I was in awe. I was going to taste 4 different styles of this gentleman's wine, take a private tour of his estate and his bottling plant, and be served a meal prepared by the his staff in true essence of Piedmonte style. Viva L'Italiano !

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Restaurant Week

One of our viewers emailed about "what's the deal with Restaurant Week" in a Seinfeld-ian voice. First off for those who do not know, Restaurant Week is actually 2 weeks where 200 NYC restaurants charge $24.07 for a 3 course lunch or $35 for a 3 course dinner. I thinks it's a great concept and definitely good for the city, but I usually do not partake.

1) Most of the interesting restaurants to me are only available for lunch Mon-Fri - e.g. A Voce, Aureole, etc.
2) This week is difficult to get reservations at any of these places for lunch. I remember they used to be booked 3 weeks in advance.
3) The restaurant week menu is usually not a great representation of the real restaurant. They gotta make money, so you might be getting second grade stuff.
4) There are great deals available all year round - you just gotta look for them.
-Jean Georges - lunch menu same as the dinner menu, 2 courses $28
-Nougatine (connected to Jean Georges) - 3 course lunch $24
-Sushi Yasuda - $21 pre-fixe dinner

If I had to recommend "restaurant week" places for dinner, here they are based on places I want to try or places I've been...
  • Anthos (Greek)
  • Alfama (Portugese)
  • Aquavit Cafe (Scandanavian)
  • Chinatown Brasserie (Chinese)
  • Compass (New American)
  • En Japanese Brasserie (Japanese - decent place, but cheap enough where you don't need a deal)
  • I Trulli (Italian)
  • Mai House (Vietnamese)
  • Megu (Japanese)
  • Payard (French)
  • Perry Street (New American)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Train ride to Venice

Venice is about a 3 hour train ride from Milan.
So my wife and I decided to make the most of it and took an 8 o'clock train to the floating city.

Funny but true, the Italians are not known for their punctuality. And the Italian train system is no exception.
But I wasn't about to let a 30 minute delay damper my mood.
So I followed my nose (er, stomach) and ended up at a panini bar.
And there, I experienced the best panini of my life.
Light, warm and crisp panini bread, with a thin layer of cheese and cured ham. What a great little snack!

Furthermore, I kept on thinking where has this panini been all my life?
And why on earth can't I get something this simple yet tasty in the States...

I guess the mighty 'ol US-of-A still has a little bit more to learn from the old world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


George Clooney talks about Como all the time. As a matter of fact, the guy has a very nice summer home (aka bachelor pad) right on the lake.

It's a great city hit hard by tourists in the summer, but practically vacant during January.
All the stores are still open and the lake is quiet and peaceful this time of year.

I went there with my wife and her sister for a day.
Shopped a bit, had some food and walked around the city till dark and headed back home.

-Pugliese Pizza alla Gorgonzola - Gorgonzola Cheese with Onions
-Grilled Veggies
-Octopus Salad
-Shrimp Cocktail with Smoked Salmon
-Grilled Seafood Assortment

Simple cooking with good brick oven.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Market Place

One of my requests upon arriving to Italy was to be taken to the local Market Place.
What a beautiful sight it was.

We stayed with my in-laws in what we would call the suburbs of Milan.
Legnano to be exact. There, the local marketplace is open for commerce everyday.
Because it's a daily exercise to go shopping for food... unlike the supermarket culture where we purchase a week's worth of groceries and end up throwing too much of it away because produce doesn't keep well in dark cold boxes with very little oxygen. (I digress)

Yes, the Market Place was a beautiful sight. The local farmers and their wives would tend their booths and we would talk about their vegetables, their meats, their fish and exchange recipes along with plenty of laughs.

Here is a pic of the locally cured salami. It had the old world smell and characteristic funk. Spectacular!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ciao come stai?

My wife and I just got back from a 10 day trip to Italy. Boy, is there a lot to talk about.
For the next week or so, I will be posting highlights of our trip.

As a full blown foodie, I was completely obsessing over every potential meal and every snack prior to arriving in Italy. But thanks to my wife and her clever scheduling, I was able to also enjoy the centuries old buildings and art works preserved in the various cities we traveled to. We not only booked reservations to restaurants, but also to the museums, and to the opera house as well.

In our brisk 10 day trip, we traveled to Lake Como, Milan, Venice, Florence, and to the vineyards of Barbaresco in Piedmonte.

I take it it's the European way of life, but the Italians really live life in their own slow (by NY standards) and relaxed pace. To not have a care in the world and just absorb life's pleasures. What a concept!

Fight Food: UFC 80

Had some fellas over for UFC 80, so I decided to continue on the dude food theme. Made fancied up manwiches last time, so this time I was figuring lets try some steak sandwiches and fat chips. As usual great times, and some tasty food.

Multi-Steak Sandwiches
I honestly haven't cooked steaks in about 3 years, so after trying some of Porthos's phenomenal
kobe rib eyes I've been craving some steaks. I used three styles of steaks for this sandwich for flavor and cost effectiveness. One rich fatty rib eye, one grain fed lean flavorful ribeye, and skirt steak for some rich beefy flavor. They came out great - flavorful, juicy, and tender. Topped with some pungent gruyere cheese, fresh peppery crunchy watercress, and served on some chewy ciabatta. Good times. Side note - forgot to add caramelized onions. Always important to get a clear plating station with all ingredients ready. I have a hella tiny kitchen, so my cutting area was crowded and thus forget to add the onions.


3 Ciabatta Loaves
1 1/2 pound ribeye
1 pound grain fed ribeye
1 pound skirt steak
Thinly sliced gruyere cheese
1 bunch watercress chopped
4 sweet onions thinly sliced (maui, vidalia, sweets)
Sea salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
3 sprigs rosemary

1) Place medium saute pan over medium heat. Add olive oil,
onions, and salt. It looks like the pan is overcrowded, but it'll cook down quick. Cook for 20+ minutes occasionally stirring until onions take the color of caramel - not burnt. Remove onions and voila - caramelized onions.
2) Cut ciabatta loaves in half and into thirds.
3) Remove all steaks 30 minutes before cooking. Getting it to room temperature. This
will help the steaks cook faster, which will make them juicier.
4) While onions are going, set a stainless steel pan over medium
heat. Sea salt and pepper 1 1/2 pound ribeye aggressively all over - even on the sides. Add olive oil, then steak when pan is hot. Make sure do not move the pan or steak. Add 1 sprig rosemary. After 5 minutes, check the bottom. If it's completely brown with a nice crust, flip the steak over. Another 5 minutes, cook on both sides - 2 minutes each side. Press the flesh for doneness - looking for medium rare. If it's not ready, cook again on the bottom. Set aside and make a tent with aluminum foil - this will keep it warm.
5) Follow the same exact technique for the 1 pound steak. Sea salt, pepper. Cook both s
ides until you see a crust. Remove when medium rare and tent with foil. Probably 10 minutes total cooking.
6) Pre-heat broiler. When the broiler is ready, sea salt, pepper,
and oil the skirt steak. Add underneath the broiler and cook for five minutes. Remove and tent.
7) After the meat has rested for 10-15 minutes, cut all meat into strips again
st the grain. For the skirt steak, make sure they are very tiny strips that you cut.
8) Assemble the sandwich. Layer all three pieces of steak, gruyere,
onions, and watercress on the bread. I personally like more steak, more gruyere, a little bit of onions, and less watercress. Serve immediately.

Fat Chips
Figured some fat chips would go good with the sandwich. Plus the UFC w
as in London, so it made sense. It's a great way to get rid of some old spices too.

5 pound bag of potatoes, scrubbed, and cut into wedges
1 tblsp Kosher salt
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Chipotle powder
1 tsp Dried Thyme
1 tsp Dried Oregano
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1 tsp black pepper
2 sprigs sage
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
extra virgin olive oil

1) Mix the spices together, dry the potatoes thoroughly with paper towels, and add spices to the potato wedges.
2) Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees and add a tray (or two basically enough to hold all the wedges) in the oven.
3) When the oven is at 450, remove the tray with a mitt and oil the tray. Add the chips and make sure that every single piece of potato touches the tray. Add a little oil to the potatoes, add the sage/rosemary/thyme and place the tray in the oven.
4) After 20 minutes check the potato by giving it a taste. Should be crunchy on the outside and very soft on the inside. Keep on cooking and checking until you like it.
5) Once finished, salt the potatoes again (or use any extra spices). Serve immediately or they'll go soggy. It goes great with mayo - I combined mayo, hot sauce, and ketchup.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Fung Ya Xuen - Review

Fung Ya Xuen - Highly Recommended

No 5-1, Sec 2, Din-Ge Rd, Shih-Din Xiang, Taipei County

Phone: 26651891

The two times that we visited Taipei, our friend Paulina totally hooked us up - taking us to some phenomenal places to eat. This time she really outdid herself taking us to her brother's restaurant in the mountains. Great story here...basically every foodie's dream if we had the cajones to do it. Her brother Bruce and sister-in-law Candy used to work the 9-5 job, but decided they wanted to live the mountain life. So, they quit their jobs and got a place in the mountains and opened up this restaurant...she's the chef, he runs the front of the house. Everything they source is grown locally in the mountain - from the tea leaves to the veggies. Any who, phenomenal place and experience.

My Menu

Since I don't read Chinese, this is just my description of the meal. I probably mislabeled things, so I apologize in advance.

1) Rice with Tea, Dried Salmon, Seaweed, Sesame Seed, Scallions
2) Pickled Radish with Chili
3) Stewed Tofu
4) Pickled Big Head Cabbage and Rice Noodles
5) Tofu, carrots, and celery
6) Scrambled egg with a flower herb
7) Lotus root in sesame sauce with apples
8) Shanghai Tips and Tofu Ham

9) Medicinal Soup with Tofu

10) Tomato and Gelatin
11) Tempura Baby Corn and Taro
12) Dorayaki

Dish Comments
1) Interesting dish with tea poured over rice. The combination of the ingredients had a little salty and savory thing going with the tea and salted salmon.
2) A nice almost palate cleanser. The radish was crunchy, refreshing, and slightly sour.

3) They are famous for their stewed tofu dish and it's easy to see why. This thing is definitely one of the top things I've eaten on the trip to Taipei. The broth is so rich and subtly sweet and the tofu had an amazing texture...almost meaty.
4) The cabbage had very similar qualities to dish 2. Crunch and refreshing.
5) Good and simple dish. Crunchy carrots and celery with very good firm tofu.
6) This dish was extremely interesting and very good. I've had a lot of scrambled eggs on this trip and this is yet another preparation. They used a floral herb and the egg oddly enough did taste almost like some type of flower. It was so good, since the egg was rich and the floral herb cut the richness.
7) Another thing I've learned on the trip is that I've eaten a good amount of dishes with sesame paste. Adds a richness to the lotus root that was completely unexpected and the sweet apple cuts it nicely. Now, I've learned I can use my tahini for something besides hummus.
8) Never had tofu ham, but you know what - it really tasted exactly like ham. I still think real ham is better, but this was pretty good.
9) This soup must have taken the whole day to prepare. Incredible depth of flavor here. It was slightly bitter, sweet, and very rich. Amazing soup and the tofu inside had a texture like chicken. It was uber tasty in the soy chili. This was out of control good and surprising it can be done without any meat.
10) Another first time for me. Seemed like cherry tomatoes pumped up with sugar, served in a sweet liquid with gelatin. Great, great dish. Like everything else in Taiwan, sweet enough, but not disgustingly sweet.
11) First time having tempura taro and I kinda like it.
12) Home Made dorayaki. Very satisfying.

Overall Restaurant Experience

  • Food – Very odd that I was so happy with basically a vegetarian meal, but this was probably the most memorable food experience of Taipei. Sourcing local ingredients and cooking them well is always a winning combination.
  • Service – Paulina's brother basically serves the entire 3 table place. Very nice and food comes out at a good pace. Everything is served family style.
  • Atmosphere – First the place is in the mountains and you really can't hear anything there. It's such a calming wonderful experience. When you first sit down outside, you are served some tea and the one we had that night tasted like was amazing and I was told it was really just tea leaves. Also, there are two shiba inus (dogs) on the premise that keep you company...adds to the feeling of happiness. Once inside the restaurant (no dogs obviously), you find out there are three tables only. Basically how it works is there are no walk ins and there are three tables served the whole night. The last dish served will be around 9pm. Beautiful calming Japanese inspired interior with some jazz music playing lightly in the background. So, peaceful and relaxing and gets you in the mindset of having a great peaceful night.
  • Price – Ok, so like I said everything is hella cheap...well I believe the basic tasting menu is 350NT or $10.93 US per person. I am not kidding. I believe there are some extras for the soup, but either way this maybe the best deal on the planet. I guess they want to charge a fair price and aren't about ripping people off. So funny, considering we went to French Laundry last year and paid $350 a head for 8 or 9 courses...

Closing Comments
This place is very difficult to get to (40 minutes outside of Taipei) and you'll definitely need help getting there. However, if you're ever in Taipei, I highly, highly recommend paying a visit.

Din Tai Fung - Review

Din Tai Fung - Recommended

No. 194 (corner of Yunkang Street), Xinyi Road Sec. 2, Taipei

Phone: (02)23218928

Din Tai Fung is known all over Asia as having some of the best soup dumplings (xiao long bow) on this planet. I've been here before and I was completely blown away the first time. Now that I feel like I've had my fair share of very good to excellent soup dumplings, I wanted to see how it would hold up. Kinda like Babbo pre-Italy and Babbo post-Italy. Din Tai Fung still is a must visit, but a little of the wow factor is slightly diminished. Overall, I give the restaurant an 83/100.

My Menu

1) Crab and Pork Dumplings – Highly Recommended
2) Shrimp and Pork Shumai – Recommended
3) Vegetable Dumpling - Average
4) Snow Pea Tips - Recommended
5) Red Bean Bun - Highly Recommended

Dish Comments
1) Like I've said before the key to a great xiao long bow is tender skin, good broth, and flavorful meat. The thing that amazes me about this dumpling is that there are 20+ folds, which is a perfect vehicle to catch the soy/vinegar mixture...kinda like the fork presses in a nice gnocchi. Also, the skin is so tender, yet incredibly resilient. Most soup dumplings that have tender skin, rip easily...this does not. Great dumpling though I wish the broth was a little warmer.
2) I love the Hong Kong style shumai and this is way different. Like the xiao long bow, there's broth inside of the shumai skin. Quite weird, yet quite good. I was looking for the big powerful pork flavor that I love about the shumai. This is more delicate and still really good.

3) The vegetable dumpling is beautiful to look at (just look at the folds), but the flavors are ok - filled with shitakes, cabbage, carrots, and other stuff. Clean and nice, but I think there are better things on the menu to order.
4) Snow pea tips are a favorite of mine and this is done very well. Tender and still a little crunchy and the flavor is very clean - tasting the nuttiness of the snow pea tips.
5) This like all the other Taiwan desserts are off the chain good. Insanely soft bun filled with a perfect red bean puree...again not too sweet, but sweet enough. I would have ordered two more if I didn't eat 20+ dumplings by my lonesome.

Overall Restaurant Experience (83/100)

  • Food 8.4/10 – The wow factor is slightly diminished, but this is still the number one soup dumpling place in my opinion.
  • Service 7.8/10 – Food came out at a relatively quick pace. You place your order even before you step in the place.
  • Atmosphere 7.0/10 – Ok, so this place is uber famous in Asia, which means it takes forever to get in. We waited 1 hour for lunch at 12pm on a Monday. If you decide to wait, you'll hear numerous dialects...mandarin, cantonese, japanese, korean, and english. Once inside, you're whisked by what looks like a crack lab, but it's really the workers making those perfect dumpling folds. Once inside, it's a relatively small place that doesn't look like anything special.
  • Price 7.5/10 – Cheap for US standards, but pretty pricey for Taiwan standards. Bill came out to $40US, which isn't terrible for two people.

Closing Comments
After the trip to San Francisco and recent visits to Grand Shanghai, we've had our share of very good to great Xiao Long Bow. Din Tai Fung is still number one in my opinion due to the perfect skin and perfect folds. However, I am proud to say that NW Jers represents since Grand Shanghai stood up to a lot of the great places in Taipei. Still, if you're ever in Taipei, this place is a must visit.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Taiwan - Home Cooking

On our trip to Taipei, we were lucky enough to experience some great home cooking. That's really a great way to experience what people really eat...and man are they lucky. We had two different home cooked meals and we were very grateful they opened up their homes to us.

Our first meal was at our friend Yingfeng's place. Chinese hot pot was on the menu. For those of you unfamiliar with hot pot, it basically consists of a communal broth that you cook meats and vegetables in. This version was a hot tasty broth that was very comforting and satisfying.

Our second home cooking experience was with my fiancee's aunt. This, no joke, was one of the best meals we had in Taipei. We actually stopped by to say hello to the fiancee's cousin, but were invited for a casual dinner. The meal was Jiang Su style (region in China) and it was incredibly delicious. The chicken and soybean dish was an amazing revelation of a new region (to me) in China. Slightly sweet, meat that falls off the bone, and the addition of the nuttiness in the soybean made this wonderful. A lot of the dishes had that subtle sweetness that I've never had before in a Chinese dish. The sweetness that I'm used to in Chinese food is the ungodly Orange color chicken...way too sweet. All dishes were amazing, but the other two that stood out was the eggplant and ground beef dish as well as the fried eggs and onions. Again both were subtly sweet with a meaty kick to it. Great stuff.

Taiwan - Pastries

In between the smells of pork and dough frying, you'll also catch a whiff of butter and sugar walking around town. Pastry shops line the streets of Taipei and when you walk in, your knees get a little weak (at least mine did). The intensity of butter and sugar is almost too much when you first enter the pastry shop. Once you take a bite, you understand why though since the pastries are so buttery and delicious - sweet, but not too sweet. The Taiwanese pastries are also about texture - most are light and fluffy like a cloud.

The two most memorable desserts were from our friend Yingfeng. The first was dorayaki - a Japanese dessert that consists of two sweet pancake like items filled with cream and a sweet red bean paste. This was by far one of the best things I had on this trip and I'm usually not a huge pastry guy. The pancakes were soft and fluffy and perfectly sweetened. The cream was so light and delicate and the red bean puree was the best I've ever had...again very light and perfectly sweetened. It was like eating a sweet cloud...pretty ridiculous stuff.

The second heavy hitter in the dessert category was this milk jello thing covered in peanuts. Very strange, but I loved it. Basically, whole slightly sweetened milk that was gelatinized and covered in sweet ground peanuts. This was very light, but had a nice mouth feel (a little like soft tofu) to it since it seemed like whole milk was used. A texture and flavor combination I've never had, so it was definitely a memorable one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Seafood...bad for you?

Passed by this article talking about problems with seafood. Seafood has been attributed to lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and so on due to the healthy omega-3's that these fishies contain. Unfortunately, here comes Debbie Downer (random SNL reference) telling us why seafood has the potential to be bad for you. I bet you didn't order PCBs or Mercury with your grilled tuna steak. Any who, the article basically says the benefits of salmon far out way the risk...too much to worry about these days. Just slather on some bernaise on that grilled salmon and enjoy :)

Faux Gras

I was vaguely watching the news yesterday when I thought I overheard the TV state that cloned meat received FDA approval to be sold in stores. Not only that, but the consumer will not know if the meat is from a cloned or a real animal. I went online, and sure enough, below is a link to the new story.

Tuna Fishing

Through the miracle of Tivo, I just finished watching Sunday's 60 Minutes. Great segment on the big market of tuna fishing off Sardinia. It seems like the worldwide demand for sushi has driven this huge race to catch as much tuna as possible. This has to be due to the Minado's (all you can eat sushi) and sushi-kaiten's (cheap conveyor belt sushi) of the world. The segment then talked about limits not being enforced, which means we could potentially see tuna's extinction in our lifetime. Japan being the huge tuna consumers seems to have 60,000 tons of tuna that they have frozen...called their strategic reserve. Funny stuff...

The right thing would be to say bypass the all you can eat places to limit the demand, but that's probably not going to make a difference. I say just enjoy your toro in all forms (hopefully aburi) and savor it, since it maybe gone before you know it...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Taipei - Food Court

When you hear the phrase food court, it's really a love or hate thing. I personally don't mind having my choice between Nathan's, Popeye's, or the generic crappy Japanese wannabe place. Food courts provide variety and variety is the spice of life. In Taipei however, food courts are some seriously good eating - not the chain restaurants you see in the States.

At the bottom of the many Japanese department stores (e.g. Sogo or Shin Kong Mitsukoshi), you'll find the great food courts of Taipei. There will be one occasional KFC, but the majority of the places will be hella cheap, hella tasty, and loads of variety - a reoccurring theme in Taipei. Down in the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi food court, you can have your choice of Teppinyaki, Korean, Singapore, Thai, Malaysian, Mexican, and the list goes on and on. We opted for the teppinyaki - it was 195 NT ($6.09) and uber satisfying. In Taipei 101 (tallest building in Taiwan), the food court is larger and much nicer. However, with the nicer atmosphere, the price is higher, but the quality is arguably worse...still solid though.

Taipei - US Fast Food and Stores

US Fast Food
Going to the Taipei 101 food court, I noticed there was a good share of US fast food joints - KFC, McDonald's, and Subway (Burger King is in Taipei, but not at the food court). The first thing you notice is that the non-Asians flock there. People can do whatever they want, but I think it's kinda silly that someone would potentially pay $1,300 to fly some where and eat Subway where it's the exact same menu. I mean it's not like they're serving cobra heart in the food court. There's fried rice, noodles, dumplings - nothing really crazy but hey...I guess to each their own.

The interesting thing about fast food joints is some cater to the region. KFC serves pork wraps and little egg tarts for dessert. McDonald's serves fried chicken and something that looks like a McRib (pork is big in Taiwan). Only BK and Subway seem to have the same exact menu as they do in the US. I must admit, the next time I go to Taipei I may pick up a pork wrap at KFC.

7 Eleven
Like food courts, the mention of 7 Eleven will mean different things to different people. For me, it was a great place for a red cherry Slurpee after a slice from my local pizza joint. In Taipei, there is some decent quick food to be had - no joke. Not the standard 7 day old hot dog and 5 day old sandwiches that we're used to. Again, cheap and variety is the theme. You can get some killer onigiri (triangle shaped rice, stuffed with fillings, and wrapped in seaweed), bento boxes (rice, protein, and veg), good sandwiches, and killer pastries. Sadly, no slurpees though...

The one thing that is upsetting is that there's a Costco in Taiwan. Again, I don't mind Costco for the one year supply of paper towels or the two gallons of mayonnaise. But, it was very sad to see Costco opening up shop in Taichung, Taiwan near an area where people were selling fresh vegetables and meats. I guess it's kinda like Whole Foods opening right next to the Union Square Greenmarket. The Greenmarket will still continue to flourish, whereas I'm not expecting the same fate for those farmers I saw in Taichung.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pearl Oyster Bar - Review

Pearl Oyster Bar - Recommended

18 Cornelia St, New York 10014
Btwn Bleecker & W 4th St
Phone: 212-691-8211

Met up Mr. Risotto and D'Artagnan for dinner and was itching for some seafood. My first inclination was to give Mary's Fish Camp a try. Saturday night 7pm, no reservations, no luck...that place is tiny and it was at least a 1 1/2 hour wait. I suggested Pearl Oyster Bar. I've been there before and always found the food very solid. It didn't fail. Overall, I give the restaurant an 83/100.

My Menu

1) Fried Oysters – Recommended
2) Pearl Caesar – Highly Recommended
Bouillabaisse – Recommended

Dish Comments
1) I'm a sucker for oysters and really anything that's fried. These are nice. Crispy, juicy, and flavorful. If the remoulade sauce was better, it would be highly recommended...something not so great about it. A little too sour and not fatty enough.
2) OK, so I haven't ordered a Caesar salad in a long time. As a kid, I loved the Caesar salad, but the dressing was always the crappy generic white sauce from a squeeze know what I'm talking about. Pearl's Caesar would have made Julius or Octavius proud. Refreshingly crispy lettuce and the proper dressing (garlic, raw egg, parmiggiano, anchovies (?) and other seasonings).
3) Quite different from what I expected. Generously and surprisingly packed with seafood - sea bass, mussels, clams, scallops, and lobster. All items were nicely cooked and the broth was quite flavorful. Wish there was more broth though. The garlic bread was decent, but could have been better.

Overall Restaurant Experience (83/100)

  • Food 8.5/10 – Food is consistently solid here. Nothing blowing me away, but everything making me very happy.
  • Service 7.5/10 – Waitress was a little rude, but it was pretty packed in there. Food came out relatively quick.
  • Atmosphere 7.5/10 – Classic oyster bar. Marble bar, white wall with some mirrors. The place was very packed and basically no room for people to wait. Took about 45 minutes to get a seat without reservations, Saturday 7:15pm. Lots of couples there older and younger. Groups of 2 and 4.
  • Price 8.5/10 – Good price point for the quality. My portion of the bill was around $50 which wasn't so bad for salad, entree, beers and a portion of the fried oysters.

Closing Comments
There's a bunch of fish shacks all over the city and I'd like to try more - BLT Fish Shack and Mary's Fish Camp come to mind. However, Pearl is consistently solid and way better than The Mermaid Inn. Side note - I was a little reluctant to go to this place, since the owner (Rebecca Charles) is suing Ed's Lobster bar for copying her ideas - the marble bar, the packets of oyster crackers, the dressing on the Ceasar. I think that lawsuit is horsesh!t and if that were the case, any New England or San Francisco fish shack/oyster bar should be suing her ars. All restaurants draw influences from other restaurants, just like most movies are influenced by other movies. End of rant...regardless of that thought, for the price and quality, Pearl still rocks.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Revisit to Bar Stuzzichini and P*ong

Our friends from Berkeley recently moved to NYC, so we wanted to show them around town. Italian was what they wanted, so I figured Bar Stuzzichini would be the safest bet for solid food and guaranteed seating. Bar Stuzz totally did not disappoint. We ordered a myriad of little plates and they all rocked. Highlights included the Polpo (way better than last time - smoky and perfectly tender), gamberoni (smoky, crispy, and flavorful prawns), and the pasta with pork ragu (perfectly cooked pasta with an unctuous pork sauce). Actually everything we ordered was solid. Great place and great value.

For dessert, we settled on P*Ong. Unfortunately, the service was awful and the desserts were just OK. Got there at 9:15 and understandably had to wait. However, our tables were eventually empty for about 15 minutes and no one set the table for us. Only after we gave the "evil eye" to the host did they do something about it. Once we got seated, we had to flag someone down after another 10 minutes to take our order. Completely disorganized. The same desserts that were great the last time were just good this time. The "Kabocha Squash Coconut Soup" was a salty mess. Pichet was not there this time, so that may explain the subpar visit. I think I'm done with this place due to the inconsistency - drinks are always solid though. Next time, we'll stick with our fave dessert bar Chikalicious.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Perfection in Midtown

Once again, I ventured into the Four Seasons Hotel and sat down for a meal at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. It was Tuesday night, the city was unusually warm for the season, people were talking about the New Hampshire Primaries and I was about to have the meal of my life.

Even before getting there, I knew I was in for a treat. But I kept my cool and tried not to think about it too much during the day. Knowing the chef definitely helps, but it's Robuchon after all. It's not just good, it's perfect.

I have to admit, it took me a few tries to fully understand and appreciate Robuchon's greatness. (and if you are a regular reader on our blog, you will have noticed my metamorphosis under the Robuchon labels)
Perhaps I am not fully aware yet, but every time I go eat at L'Atelier, I learn something about myself and about the meal. I am better able to define my boundaries. My likes and dislikes. And every now and then, a dish is presented to me and I am completely floored by it. My senses buckle, and I am left speechless wondering how on earth does one cook so well?

So with a clear head, I sat down with my guests and immediately the chef came out to greet us.
For those of you who may not be aware, Chef Suga is considered one of the top rising star-chefs in the country and practically a genius in French Cuisine. At the age of 25, he was appointed Executive Chef of L'Atelier Robuchon in Tokyo by Mr. Robuchon himself. Enough said...

What came out of the kitchen that night was one of the most memorable meals of my life. If not #1 of all time. Two other most memorable meals I can remember would have to be, Restaurant Seryna in Tokyo (August of 2000), my first experience with top grade Kobe Beef, and the other being L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon New York on August 7, 2007.

Oregon Pinot Noir

Amuse Bouche:
Foie Gras Parfait with Balsamic Fond de Veau Glace and White Foam

King Crab Salad with Couscous
Tuna Carpaccio with Soft Poached Quail Egg
Langostine Carpaccio with Micro Flowers
Scallop in Pasta Shell, Seaweed butter with Black Winter Truffles
Lobster Salad with poached sliced Daikon
Sea Urchin Puree with Black Winter Truffles
Sea Urchin with warm Fennel Broth
Pan Seared Turbot with Artichoke Sauce with Black Winter Truffles

Pasta with Black Winter Truffles

Meats and Game:
Foie Gras Hamburger with homemade Pomme Frites
Sweetbreads with Fresh Laurel
Seared Foie Gras and Gratinated Grapefruit w/Balsamic Fond de Veau Glaze
Foie Gras Stuffed Quail with Pomme Puree and Winter Black Truffles
Wagyu Steak with Pomme Puree

pre-dessert : Caramel Praline Mousse with Vanilla Apple Gelee
Baba Rhum with Okinawa Black Sugar Ice Cream
Chocolate Mousse with crushed Oreo cookies (it was funny. chef was playing a joke on us)
Rice Pudding

This meal was the most mind blowing, ethereal, over the top, yet humbling culinary experiences of my life. There was complete unity between the floor and the kitchen... Obvious perfection in execution of each dish, one after the other. Everything was cooked, plated, presented, tasted and smelled amazing.

After the meal, Chef Suga came out to chat with us and of course, to collect feedback.
Needless to say, everything that came out of the kitchen that night was top notch.
It's been roughly 3 days now and I'm still feeling quite euphoric.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Taipei - Night Market

What seems to be an important part of the nightlife in Taipei is the night market. Basically, think of the San Genaro festival in Little Italy (NYC) placed in a super narrow alley that's 5x the length, 2x the amount of people, and way more variety of cheap awesome food. It's complete chaos, but the whole entire alley is filled with the amazing aroma of killer street food. In addition to food stalls, there are open stalls for games and even clothes shops. The variety of the street food is endless - from Hong Kong style dim sum, sushi, teppinyaki, and even pastries and fresh fruit. Again the theme is cheap (most items will be less than $1) and lots of variety. All the street food I listed the previous day is available at most night markets as well as some extra pictures I've taken below, which again is probably only a tiny fraction of what you'll find at the night market.

Here's a listing of some of the major night markets in Taipei:
  • Shilin Night Market
  • Shida Road Night Market (Near the National Taiwan Normal University)
  • Linjiang St Night Market (Near Tonghua St and Xinyi Rd)
  • Snake Alley (a tourist trap, something Bourdain would have visited in his first season of A Cook's Tour - eating live snakes and the like)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Taipei - Street Food

The thing that I love the most about Taipei is the variety of street food. Perfuming the air of a lot of streets in Taipei are pork and multiple types of dough frying. You can buy these dishes on the sidewalk and get instant gratification - faster than fast food. New Yorkers have it good with the street food - pizza, bagels, falafels, etc. However, for the price and variety, I think Taipei beats New York for street food. Below's a list of street foods that I had - my fiancee thinks the list I compiled is 2% of the street food available in Taipei. I've listed the names in Mandarin (I don't speak it), so here's my crappy approximation of what they sound like.

Shen Jian Bow (Fried Soft Dumplings) - 12NT or $0.38
This is the first thing that I want to eat when I land in Taipei. The dough is thick and soft, but gets a nice color from being seared on the grittle. Fillings inside are super juicy and flavorful. They consist of pork (shien row), garlic chives (joe chai), or cabbage (ga-lee chai). Usually topped with a sweet soy mix and a chili paste. The chili paste they use in Taiwan is much different than what I'm used to. It's more salty and not really spicy at all...I like it a lot.

Tsong Yo Bing (Scallion Pancake) - 15NT or $0.47

Basically thin and round like a crepe, but pleasantly chewy due to multiple layers. Scallions fill this pancake and adds a nice savory and slightly sweet flavor.

Tsong Jwa Bing (Fried Dough with Sausage) - 15 NT
I think the same pancake as the tsong yo bing, but crumpled up to get an even fluffier texture from rocking two spatulas and bashing it up. I added the slighty sweet, super fatty sausage patty and I was in heaven.

Dan Bing (Egg Sandwich) - 20NT or $0.63
A nice, soft sesame bread stuffed with a fluffy
egg and topped with some familiar ingredients - scallions, sweet soy, and that same chili paste. The perfect breakfast item. There are different variations of this as well using the tsong yo bing and filling it with the egg and scallions.

Cho Dofu (Stinky Tofu) - 20NT

Stinky tofu is exactly what it sounds like. It's fermented tofu th
at gives it a really rich flavor, kinda like a blue cheese. This is then deep fried to get a crispy texture. Served with pickled cabbage. Most people (outside of Asia) can't stand the smell of this...some may describe it as rotten garbage. I disagree and thinks it tastes great...granted I've heard some versions of cho dofu are unbearable.

Hu Jiao Bing (Pepper Bun) - 15NT

This is like a dumpling, but instead of a soft texture you have what's like a crispy sesame roll. The pork inside is slightly spicy from what I assume is white pepper and like most dumplings in Taipei - this is juicy and very flavorful.

Hey Shang Chaung (Black Sausage) - 10NT or $0.31
An aboriginal sausage that is hella tasty. Cooked with a sweet wine and chinese herbs, this sausage is crispy and super fatty goodness - there are huge chunks of fat in the good.